The best TV to watch tonight – Friday 31 March 2017

Your indispensable guide to the best things on the box...

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Decline and Fall

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9pm, BBC1

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There’s a cheeky, knowing addition to Evelyn Waugh’s peerless comic novel. It’s a pig’s head that most certainly did not appear in the book’s opening passage, when innocent theology student Paul Pennyfeather is stripped naked by the louts of Oxford University’s Bollinger Club.

The “Bolly” yobs are an exclusive club of braying, vandalising toffs (sound familiar?) who lead to the hapless Pennyfeather’s downfall. Jack Whitehall is perfectly cast as the wide-eyed, serious young man who is sent down after the unfortunate incident in the quad, and ends up teaching subjects he knows nothing about at a terrible Welsh public school. 

The cast is magnificent – Stephen Graham as Philbrick, the sinister butler, Vincent Franklin as the bewigged “Prendy” and Douglas Hodge as the one-legged and quite shameless Captain Grimes. The adaptation is completely faithful, too, as Paul falls headfirst for the lovely Mrs Beste-Chetwynde (“Beast Cheating”) played by Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria. 

Spectacular Spain with Alex Polizzi

9pm, Channel 5

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The working title for this series was Secret Spain but thankfully, Channel 5 has seen sense. After all, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia hardy constitutes a secret, even though Alex Polizzi conquers her fear of heights to go right to the top, which is something most ordinary folk can’t do. 

However, her visit to a different sort of cathedral – a cathedral of wine in the Rioja region – is revelatory. Towering above it is a startlingly dramatic, modernist hotel designed by Guggenheim architect Frank Gehry.

Polizzi, who can be pretty fierce on her Hotel Inspector series, is downright skittish, giggling and batting her eyelashes at the camera. Although that might just be the result of her getting tipsy after an impressive bar crawl in Logroño tasting pintxos (like tapas but smaller) washed down with (lots of) local wine. Watching the Catalan tradition of castellers (human towers) sobers her up though. 

Tony Robinson: Coast to Coast

8pm, Channel 5

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This is a cut above most amiable travelogues, due to the sheer level and variety of activity. The genre’s all about meeting people and having a go at stuff, and Tony Robinson never stops. 

This week he traverses Cumbria’s Eden Valley, which he ends up preferring to the Lake District. Steady on! Perhaps you would too if you’d made Cumberland sausage, milked a Jersey cow, sniffed a wild orchid, investigated ancient hilltop beacons, commanded a sheepdog and overseen a dramatic mountain rescue, all in quick succession. 

Robinson usually charges urgently eastwards on foot, but travel nerds will love the section on the working mid-century buses that are more than a heritage attraction: for villages where all other transport links have been cut, they’re a lifeline. 

Prometheus

9pm, E4

Director Ridley Scott’s eagerly anticipated return to science fiction, 30 years after Blade Runner, shares much of its DNA with Alien, his first foray into the genre, though it’s more of a precursor than a prequel to that 1979 shocker.

In the latter half of the 21st century, a spacecraft with a crew including idealistic archaeologists (Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green), seasoned star voyagers (Charlize Theron, Idris Elba) and a super-computer android (Michael Fassbender) sets out to find an extraterrestrial race that may hold the key to the origins of man.However, upon landing on a faraway planet, other motives for the mission begin to emerge, while the visitors receive an unexpected and shocking welcome.

All the elements are in place for a rattling space opera, but Scott also explores themes of identity and self-worth that run through films like Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise and Gladiator, and asks profound questions about creation and mortality. The thrilling, edge-of-the-seat story is the movie’s beating heart, though, and the well-paced and perfectly structured plot are matched by solid performances and powerfully arresting visuals.

The Most Hated Woman in America

Netflix

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The controversial life of outspoken atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair is dramatised in this  film – it covers her rise and her ultimate demise from her landmark court battles to her infamous abduction.