Weekend free-to-air TV

The cast of <i>Hustle</i>.
The cast of Hustle.

Saturday, September 8

Hustle, ABC1, 9.05pm

It must be difficult for the writers of this show - or any con artists who value flair in their work - to keep coming up with audacious heists without resorting to the ridiculous. This is the first episode in the eighth series and while it is still a delicious concept, disbelief is beginning to sag in its suspenders. Mickey Bricks (Adrian Lester) and his well-groomed team are back to steal from the rich and give to themselves. The target is Dexter Gold, a caricatured gold exchange agent who gives peanuts to elderly widows in exchange for their treasures. It turns out Gold is also a middleman for stolen gold bullion, and therein lies his weakness. The scam is scattered with moments of delight, and the production is as slick and easy on the eye as the grifters.

Sinbad, ABC1, 8.20pm

Not the tale of Sinbad the sailor as you might know it, the first episode in this reinvention of the Arabian Nights legend nevertheless sets up the groundwork for what promises to be a grand high seas adventure.

The story opens with a bare-knuckle fight in Basra between Sinbad (Elliot Knight) and Lord Akbari's son, in which our hero unwittingly kills his opponent. Sinbad escapes but his brother does not, and their distraught grandmother places a curse on him that prevents him from staying on dry land for longer than one cycle of the sun until he has atoned for his sins. So he stows away on a boat and what began as a cheerful story about a larrikin thief tightens, like the cursed necklace around Sinbad's neck, into a dramatic narrative.

Up and down the waves, he lurches between near-death experiences involving swords, monsters, tempests and an improbably dressed noblewoman.

Bindi's Bootcamp, ABC3, 5pm

The most disappointing thing about this Double Dare-style children's game show is that Bindi Irwin no longer sports a Jeanne Pratt fringe. She just looks like a normal teenager, albeit one who inherited her father's look of constant incredulity.

Three teams of two compete in a variety of wildlife-themed challenges, including a treasure hunt, a visit to Gross Island and a dangerous dash through an obstacle course. Each competitor is styled as a unique individual with titbits of personal trivia such as ''I don't like it when my brothers torment me'' or ''wants to be a hairstylist'', and Bindi is the host-taskmaster-cheerleader. ''Your time starts now. Go check out that poo!'' she cries. Excellent fun for the scooter-riding set.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the Rolling Stones, ABC2, 11pm

By 1972, the Rolling Stones were the biggest thing happening in rock'n'roll, so their first tour of the US after a three-year absence came as an explosion of pent-up energy. Fans attempted to crash stadiums in several cities and the Stones themselves went into a frenzy of decadence, with more notable excursions, including a four-day orgy at Hugh Hefner's mansion and two nights in the clink.

The Exile on Main Street tour has gone down in rock'n'roll folklore and, like so much of the band's legacy, rumours of their off-stage antics threaten to roar louder than the music. But you won't get any of it here. Starting with the crackle of anticipation before the lights lift and ending with a crowd howling in the darkness, the action is all on stage, and primarily focused on Mick Jagger pouring his voice into the microphone. This music, and the way it is expressed, is what appealed to that generation and here you can see why.

Jagger later said these four Texas concerts were probably unrepresentative of the tour in that the music was much tighter than their usual lackadaisical style. Sold by the Rolling Stones and then largely forgotten until the band bought it back in 2010 and restored the footage, this is a classic concert movie of a great concert tour.


Sunday, September 9

Call the Midwife, ABC1, 8.30pm

Based on the memoirs of midwife Jennifer Worth, this is a wholly charming - if slightly stylised - depiction of the East End of London after the war. The overwhelmingly female ensemble cast does a fine job with a script by Heidi Thomas (Upstairs, Downstairs) but it is the arrival of the glorious Camilla Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne in this second episode that brings it all irresistibly to life. Chummy (as she likes to be called) is played by none other than Miranda Hart in what turns out to be a piece of casting genius.

Meet the Romans, SBS One, 7.30pm

When we consider ancient Rome, so often it is the grand expressions of the state's power that come to mind, largely because of highly visible reminders such as the Colosseum. Mary Beard's strength is in uncovering and interpreting the evidence of what daily life might have been like for average residents.

As she points out, many of the apparent representations of daily life that remain, such as those seen on tombstones, are no more than the ''authorised'' version and bear little resemblance to reality. She peers beneath idealised representations of, for example, Roman marriage to find indications of very ordinary failings such as sexual promiscuity and drunkenness, showing not too much has changed in the past couple of millennia.

Beard is an unlikely TV star, with her long, grey hair and occasional lapses into donnishness (she's a classics professor at Cambridge). But her enthusiasm for her subject is unmistakeable and she communicates it well through the program as she marches around the Eternal City.

Kevin's Grand Design, ABC1, 7.30pm

This gripping two-parter is for anyone who has ever watched Kevin McCloud raise an eyebrow at the ambitions or ideas of the builders on Grand Designs and thought, ''Why don't you have a go then, Mr Smartypants?'' With the sort of bravery - or foolhardiness - that so often characterises those Grand Designs dreamers, McCloud puts his money where his mouth is and embarks on his own property development, embodying all the ideals and principles he has been banging on about all these years.

His ambition is to build a collection of homes in a small development that will be a mix of public tenants and private owners. The venue for this experiment is the Wiltshire town of Swindon, a sort of Everytown that embodies precisely the sort of blandness McCloud wants to push back against.

Inevitably, moving from the world of theory and pontification to the reality of bricks and mortar brings down on McCloud all the problems that developers and owner-builders face everywhere - antsy locals, obstructive planners and cynical builders. Of course, there is an element of schadenfreude as things rapidly plunge downhill for the idealistic McCloud, but it is hard not to be won over by his painful honesty and obvious distress at each fresh crisis. Everything is real: the money, the anger, the weather - and the global financial crisis, which unhelpfully erupts in the middle of the build.

Through it all McCloud plugs away, conducting his one-man crusade against mediocrity and, even if you don't agree with all his ideas, you should at least admire his passion and guts.

Dream Build, ABC1, 8.20pm

Grand Designs this ain't. Well, maybe Grand Designs Lite. What you get with each episode is an eight-minute walk-through of a new home once all the messy, angst-ridden building process has finished.

This week it's the turn of the Smiths from Melbourne who instructed architect Cassandra Fahey to design them a "trophy home", which turns out to mean a very shiny home with a wraparound lap pool. At one point proud owner Darren says they understand "it's not a house that's for everybody", which is something of an understatement. It's clearly not a house for a Carlton fan, in view of the Collingwood-themed bathroom.


This story Weekend free-to-air TV first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.