Inspector Montalbano, BBC4, Saturday
How to Grow a Planet, BBC2, Tuesday

Who would want to fill the 'Borgen' slot on BBC4? Sadly, mouth-watering views of Sicily and oodles of pasta do not a detective drama make

Minutes into the new detective series Inspector Montalbano, it was clear that if you had tuned in expecting the finely-wrought Euro-drama that has become BBC4's Saturday night strong suit (Borgen, The Killing, Spiral), you would be disappointed.

The opening titles were promising – sweeping shots of Ragusa, Sicily, a chaotic maze of buildings buttressing bright blue sea, suggesting a sunny port with a shady underbelly.

It was Montalbano himself that made the heart sink. As he rolled grumpily out of bed and into the office, snapping at buffoonish flunkies and dodging calls from his girlfriend, his caricature, sorry, character – and the entire production – began to look a bit noir-by-numbers. Against the backdrop of contemporary thrillers and their diverse male and female leads, a bloke with a five o'clock shadow and the odd snappy one-liner looks quaint at best.

With two murders to solve – a businessman with a knife in his back and a Tunisian fisherman gunned down at sea – Montalbano dutifully spent the remaining hour and a half bombing about the island in his Fiat, pausing occasionally to interview formidable siciliani, eat pasta and have evasive chats about marriage with the girlfriend.

There was a vaguely political dimension – the fisherman turned out to be some sort of terrorist mastermind, but that remained very hazy, strangely so, given that the script was big on exposition elsewhere. By the time the credits rolled, Montalbano had solved the murders, held corrupt authorities to account, proposed to his girlfriend and, in a particularly ludicrous strand, adopted a Tunisian orphan along the way.

It's hard not to conclude that were Montalbano in English it would never have found its way on to BBC4. Subtitles aside, this is Midsomer Murders stuff (albeit with a Mediterranean sensibility; I'm pretty sure I never saw DI Barnaby's other half sitting in bed topless).

It doesn't help that the first film in this prestigious new slot – a couple of episodes have been aired in odd corners before – was made in 1999, long enough to date it, but not to turn it into a period piece. Perhaps when we get to some episodes made more recently things will pick up – the series and the novels by Andrea Camilleri on which it's based are huge in Italy, where it's still running.

The high expectation/low return formula was reversed over on BBC2, where twinkly-eyed Scottish geologist Professor Iain Stewart is on a mission to change the way we think about plants with How to Grow a Planet. "People think plants are passive, static, unresponsive," he lamented, articulating exactly why I embarked on this programme with a sense of educational duty rather than enthusiasm.

"Nature" may be a popular subject among viewers, but for most that extends only to animals, vast expanses of snow and pyroclastic flows. Plants don't usually get much of a look in, but here Stewart did a sterling job championing their vital role in the earth's creation.

Aided by quite a budget, he skipped between continents, seeking out landscapes that revealed something of what the plant kingdom was up to millions of years ago, from African lakes, similar to those in which plants – or their bacterial forebears – first converted sunlight into oxygen, to fossilised forests in Canada.

There were the set pieces that are now the familiar stuff of the science documentary: CGI recreated ancient, super-sized insects; dramatic aerial shots of 90-metre sequoia trees; an interactive experiment (Stewart spent 48 hours in a glass box with 300 plants for company –and oxygen). But it was the old-fashioned time-lapse photography that made the most impact, the creeping of tendrils and unfurling of leaves highlighting the limits of human perception.

Stewart's cheerleading was infectious; I found myself quite indignant on behalf of the underrated plant kingdom. We owe it our lives, after all. And, of course, plants are terribly useful in absorbing the carbon dioxide that results from flying round the world to make a TV series.

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor