As unusual and refreshing as a brew of Rooibos tea, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency is back. Like the tea, it takes a little getting used to. At first sip it seems suspiciously sweet, with its homespun touches, moral certainties and helpful children. Children are never helpful on television; it is a rule. Then the darker notes come through: the hungry invalid, the life insurance scams, the talk of bodies buried "where wild animals cannot find them". The blend of the tame and the raw is a beautifully successful formula.
Admittedly, the performances are now less finely calibrated than they were in the pilot, the comedy having acquired a whiff of mugging, the script tending toward flab. When wonderful Lucian Msamati shouted at his tyre-screeching boy racer staff: "We are called Speedy Motors because our work is speedy", it was irritatingly superfluous for him to add: "Not because we soup up the customers' cars ..." But even though this is a less polished version (The No.2 Ladies' Detective Agency? Maybe not ...), it still accomplishes an African atmosphere that is dignified and warm, rare in these times of endless tin-rattling.
Africa is more than the sum of its emergencies, and people tie themselves in knots trying to say so. Up the road from where I live, the artist Carsten Höller has opened a temporary half-Congolese, half-Western restaurant called Doubleclub, where you can order either an overpriced duck à l'orange or a cheaply cheerful, tasty goat curry. I gather this is intended as some sort of good-times corrective to the bad news that torrents out of Africa, but while Doubleclub gets maximum points for novelty, it is using a very complicated strategy to make a very simple point. The No.1 Ladies' Detective club isn't chic or abstruse; it's more valuable than that.
The comedian Stewart Lee is back on BBC2, and about time. Since Jane Root axed him he's been absent for a baffling 10 years, save for a film about atheism for Five. Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle is a welcome burst of intelligent ozone, the suddenly opened window that makes you realise you'd been sitting so long in a stiflingly stupid comedy cupboard that you'd started think bum-willy jokes were funny, if delivered in baroque language. Russell Brand gets shot down immediately. "If Johannes Gutenberg could he have foreseen that one day My Booky Wook would be owned by almost everyone in the country ..." Lee is in executioner mode here, expertly picking off his targets. He's like Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal.except with a friendly Toby jug face. He is right and also ever so slightly righteous, casually affirming articles of faith – "I was listening to the Today programme, as everyone should". He's very much at home in his setting, a space that looks more congenial than a studio but less smelly than a comedy club.
His topic, last week, was the degradation of literature, from Chris Moyles, and his lofty ambition to write a toilet book – "oh Icarus!" – to J K Rowling: What's her latest? Harry Potter and the Crock of Shit? He's like a specialty butcher dealing in sacred cows. Thank heaven for those 10 years off, when he matured outside the idiot box. Sirens do not wail in his brain when he says the name "William Tyndale"; erudition is not, to him, a thought crime. He even dares to slag off other BBC2 stars (listing Jeremy Clarkson's putative book titles – "Women and Their Four Uses" and "Saplings I Have Crushed")which is like burning your nest rather than feathering it.
Marcel Theroux told us he had never been to Japan before. Alarm bells always ring when presenters have nothing to declare at customs but their ignorance. In search of the meaning of the word wabi sabi, he accosted people in Shibuya junction and asked them what it meant. Japan's wonderful strangeness has licensed a lot of lazy film-making. In Search of Wabi Sabi was as rambling and self-indulgent as a holiday home video, leaving us with a baffling array of definitions for wabi sabi, from "Japanese heart" to "peaceful life" to "sense of time passing", to "eliminate the non-essential". I ended up wondering if, like the gap year adventurer whose Sanskrit tattoo of "love and peace" actually says "chicken noodles", he's been had, and that wabi sabi are really the words for "Western mug from famous family".
Fish! A Japanese Obsession was a treasure house of wonders, from cormorant fishing (the pig truffling of the sea) to the ordering of crustaceans online ("internet prawn") via fermented sushi and female fisherfolk. It was fascinating from tail to fin and I can't think why it wasn't the star of the season, with the presenter's name trailed everywhere – except for the fact that it was "Charles Rangeley-Wilson", not "Theroux".
The excellent documentary The Lost World of Communism included clips of the top (the only?) East German children's TV star, Sandmännchen – the Little Sandman, a wan, winsome boy puppet with a humble manner and a straggly beard, like Noddy after a spell in Siberia. With his enervated style and creaky limbs, I wouldn't fancy his chances in a fight against Hannah Montana. The Disney princess would have him on merchandising alone.Reuse content