Great, great, great TV

Great, great, great TV
Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders
Premieres 10 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25
The Inbetweeners
Premieres 9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25
BBC America

Two shows debuting this week come from elsewhere — Russia, Nigeria, Kazakhstan and England — courtesy of two series that are absolutely worth your time. The first, Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders, is an exceptional 60 Minutes—style show featuring fascinating pieces about the impact of music around the world. Hosted by Marco Werman, a producer and anchor for the public radio show The World, the debut episode examines stories that have received little or no attention elsewhere.

It starts with a segment about a catchy '70s-style Euro-disco propaganda song written in praise of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. ("I want a man like Putin/who's full of strength/I want a man like Putin/who doesn't drink.") That the song exists is a surprise — I'd never heard of it, had you? But more than that, it speaks to Putin's popularity. I'd always had the impression that Putin had more or less seized power and was feared by Russians. Turns out, he's extremely well-regarded and admired — beloved, even.

Elsewhere, Sound Tracks takes us to meet Seun Kuti, a son of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. Seun (pronounced "SHAY-oon"), like his half-brother Femi, is taking up where his father left off musically and politically, despite the inherent dangers in going against the Nigerian government. And you probably heard how furious the people of Kazakhstan were over Sacha Baron Cohen's movie Borat — especially the fake national anthem. What you haven't heard is the story of the symphonic apology written by the filmmaker's brother, musician Erran Baron Cohen.

Each segment of Sound Tracks is illuminating and highly entertaining. I don't know if Werman and company can keep up this level of storytelling, but I'm setting the DVR to find out.

The other new show that's positively worth watching is The Inbetweeners, a hilarious, spot-on comedy about four English teenagers doing all the things boys that age try to do — meet girls, buy booze and avoid embarrassment. BBC America has packaged two back-to-back half-hour episodes for the Monday debut, with a new episode then airing 9 p.m. Wednesday.

There's Will, the new kid who has the uncanny ability to blurt out just the wrong thing; Simon, who's in love with a girl who isn't interested in him; Jay, the hornball who's always bragging about imagined sexual conquests; and Neil, who's exceedingly awkward and blissfully unaware of it.

Together, they get into scrapes, mock each other mercilessly (lots of jokes about wanting to have sex with Will's mom, who's "fit") and act like real-life adolescents. Wait till you see Will in a suit buying booze or Jay's dad doing and saying things to mortify his son.

The Inbetweeners is perfectly cast and expertly executed. I cringed from time to time remembering my own exploits, but I laughed far more often.

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