Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am


Slap on your cowboy hat and ready your southern drawl for the return of gun-slinging Raylan Givens in Justified (AXN; Mondays at 10.55pm). Modern-day deputy marshal Givens (Timothy Olyphant; Deadwood) fashions himself as a 19th century-style sheriff, his unconventional enforcement of justice making him a target for criminals and a problem for his superiors. As a result of an eager but 'justified' shooting of a fugitive while on assignment in Florida, Givens is reassigned to Kentucky, in a district that includes his hometown of Harlan, a rural mining community. Last season, he was given a formidable gallery of bad guys to trade fire with: his childhood friend and white supremacist Boyd Crowder, Crowder's crime-lord father, Bo, and Givens' own, ruthless dad, Arlo. It's safe to say crime and punishment aren't straightforward things in their neck of the woods.

With Bo dead, Arlo under house arrest and Boyd a 'self-reformed' miner at the start of season two, the question is whether the villain void will be filled by someone equal to the task. We don't have to wonder for too long. Mags Bennett (right with Olyphant; Margo Martindale; Million Dollar Baby), the matriarch of a pot-farming family, looks every bit the down-home motherly type. Neighbours and associates come to her with problems and she offers kind words and home-brewed moonshine she calls 'apple pie'. But there's something a little off in the way people behave around her; underneath the friendly conversation, there's a nervousness. It's not long before her true character is revealed, as a cold, calculating businesswoman who won't hesitate to order one of her three sons - including Dickie (Jeremy Davies; Lost) - to maim or kill to protect her interests.

In some ways, Bennett makes for an even more challenging nemesis for Givens than the trio of alpha males he dealt with last season. Because she isn't overt in her evil, and because she knew Givens as a child, he has to tread more carefully around her. Acting veteran Martindale has shaken off the character-actor label with this plum role and garnered her first Emmy nomination for an unnerving, fascinating turn as the backwoods sociopath.

As far as Discovery Channel travel shows go, the Samantha Brown franchise is as vanilla as it gets. The presenter has neither the acerbic wit of No Reservations' Anthony Bourdain nor the sweaty, shock factor of Bizarre Foods' Andrew Zimmern. Her blond-bobbed pep doesn't hold a candle to the feistiness of Fun Asia's Janet Hsieh. And even at her most watchable - in Great Weekends, where regional quirks of America's lesser-known towns make for jam-packed weekend getaways - Brown has a slightly uptight, schoolmarm-ishness that doesn't convince us she can have fun outside her comfort zone. The question we pose at the launch of her latest series - Samantha Brown's Asia (TLC, Mondays at 10pm) - is will she finally let her hair down?

The answer, sadly, is a big 'no'. Brown tries bun cha in Vietnam and laksa in Singapore, hangs out with mahouts in Thailand (above left) and gets a fish pedicure in Cambodia. Snore. In Hong Kong, she heads for Temple Street to get her fortune told and learns to make bamboo noodles; we are hard-pressed to think of a travel show that is less adventurous. The only stunts we might highlight as risqu? are the sampling of live ant larvae at a Thai market and a jaunt with a beer-drinking running club in Malaysia. It's clear from the programme's content that Brown's base demographic doesn't include us in Hong Kong. It's unlikely this road-well-travelled approach to a pared-down Asia would appeal to many in our city of seasoned foodies and thrill-seekers.

Glee-mania has found a fun outlet in the realm of reality competition. The Glee Project (Star World; Wednesdays at 8.55pm) harnesses the hyperactive, attention-hungry energy of young, aspiring musical performers for its own teen talent search. The dangling carrot is a seven-episode guest-starring role in the hit series, now in filming for a third season. Twelve finalists were picked from more than 40,000 teenagers auditioned, among them American Ellis Wylie - who is 18 but looks 12 - and Damian McGinty from Northern Ireland. The shapes, colours and sizes of the 12 contestants echo the diversity of the Glee cast and each is endowed with the expected fresh, camera-ready face and incredible voice. As the contenders are put through rigorous paces, we see how the judges - Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy, choreographer Zach Woodlee and casting director Robert Ulrich - measure them up against the series' cast and look for the most inspired new character. The elimination-round 'last-chance performance', where three contenders have to learn a song in two hours and give it their all, is the most nerve-racking segment of the show. In the pilot episode, McGinty manages to save his hide by a gender-bending fluke that has the judges in stitches. Anyone who loves the distinctive, technicoloured Glee attitude will love this talent competition spin-off.

Finally, reality series Ice Road Truckers plucks three of its top drivers out of North America and plants them onto some of the gnarliest roads of India in IRT: Deadliest Roads (below left; History, Thursdays at 10pm). Rick Yemm, Alex Debogorski and Lisa Kelly put their driving skills to the test on the narrow, treacherous mountain roads that lead from Delhi to Shimla, then up to a hydroelectric dam construction site in the Himalayas. First, however, they must escape Delhi's chaos and heat - and, for Kelly, the heckling of male drivers. If roaring engines and incessant honking isn't your thing, you still might want to stick around for this first-rate piece of 'first-world trucker meets third-world traffic' culture shock.