Not so long ago, our menagerie of strays and rescued animals reached capacity; my wife and I were in danger of becoming zookeepers. We were living with a gigantic German shepherd called Arnold; a hairy Hong Kong mutt whose ambition was to become the laziest dog in the world; three movie-star rats (seriously, they were trained in Hollywood); a few red-eared terrapins; and an epileptic hamster called MC Hammer. Oh, and eight feline friends, who could be loudly critical if we were failing to give them food or attention at any time they deemed appropriate. Amazingly, other than a few interspecies squabbles over sleeping arrangements, all seemed quite content with the established hierarchy of the animal house. Apart from not being allowed near the rodents' wing, the cats ruled the roost. It was their kingdom. If us humans foolishly neglected our duties, then a quick hiss and an indignant glance would have us falling back in line. But all that is nothing compared with the harassment dished out to their owners by the feisty felines in reality show My Cat From Hell (Animal Planet, Wednesday at 9pm).
These unruly companions are destroying more than just new couches; they are transforming once peaceful homes into living hells, spraying all over the place, attacking anything that moves and even landing their owners in hospital. This is more than the odd hairball. Exhausted and desperate, and quite often bleeding, the frazzled pet owners turn to cat behaviour expert Jackson Galaxy for help. Now, I'm well aware that, with our eight mogs, we are becoming the crazy old couple at the end of the street, smelling of cat pee and scaring the local children, but, compared to Galaxy, we're practically Mr and Mrs Normal. This heavily tattooed fuzzy bearded dude does not look like your stereotypical cat lover and he can get pretty enthusiastic about cat poop. Galaxy was an aspiring rocker and a heavy substance abuser until he took what he thought would be a mindless job at an animal shelter. There he met Benny, a cat that had arrived after being hit by a car, and, as Galaxy cared for the injured feline and the other abandoned cats, he learnt to "speak their language". As his empathy for these complex creatures grew, he found his reason to get sober. Now, the soothing cat whisperer rehabilitates thousands of stray and surrendered cats, and resolves conflict between couples caused by their crazed pets. If you're a pet owner you'll certainly appreciate this show; if not, you'll just think we're all slightly bonkers - and you wouldn't be too far wrong.
Saturday sees the return to our screens of grouchy British comedian Jack Dee, starring as struggling comic Rick Spleen in the sitcom Lead Balloon, in the fourth and final season (BBC Entertainment, 9pm). Through both this show and his lengthy stand-up career, Dee has perfected the pessimistic, middle-aged moaner persona and it's always been a joy to watch his bitterness simmer away in his half-empty glass. Of course, being a sitcom, Lead Balloon pretty much adheres to the same plot structure through every episode: Spleen finds himself digging an increasingly deeper hole for himself as he bluffs and lies his way towards some small form of self-advancement, usually hijacking somebody else's good fortune, only to end up being slightly more miserable than when he started. This week, it all revolves around Spleen buying a pig to convince a journalist that he and his long-suffering partner are a cool celebrity couple. I've rather enjoyed how Lead Balloon has floated unapologetically along within its (sit)comfort zone but after watching this episode, I think it's probably a wise decision to call it quits now, before the programme sinks unceremoniously like a … oh, that's just too obvious, isn't it!
The second series (a continuation of the original show, which ran from 1971 to 1975) of Upstairs Downstairs begins tonight (BBC Entertainment, 9pm), with the aristocrats of 165 Eaton Place and their servants preparing for the second world war. Picking up in September 1938, Sir Hallam Holland is caught up in negotiations to appease Hitler, while Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes; Ashes to Ashes) is a little bored after having given birth. Lady Maud (played by one of the show's creators, Eileen Atkins) is sadly absent from this series, having been replaced by her half sister, Dr Blanche Mottershead (Alex Kingston, Doctor Who), but it's the domestic battles between the servants that are most intriguing. Of course, the programme suffers from comparisons with the superior Downton Abbey, but Upstairs Downstairs still manages to wonderfully balance the small dramas of a household with the larger ones of an impending war.
It's gripping stuff, if that's your cup of earl grey.