It would be fair to say then that I sat down to watch Toughest Place to Be a ... Taxi Driver (BBC2) – the first episode of a new three-part series – expecting a gruelling hour of machismo and superfluous adverbs, and was delighted to be proved quite wrong. What I got instead was a narrativised man-on-a-mission documentary that managed to smuggle in a sizable chunk of insight into life in one of the busiest cities in the world.
This week's hero was lovable London cabbie Mason McQueen, a man as unwavering in his positivity as he was in his commitment to dropping even the most vital "H" sounds. It took McQueen three years to gather the Knowledge required to drive a black cab, but here he was bundled off to India ("What 'ave I got myself into 'ere, eh?") with just a week to adapt his skills to the dusty bustling streets of Mumbai.
There to help him was veteran taxi man Pradeep, who works 15-hour shifts to feed his wife, mother and two children, as well as his widowed sister-in-law and her four kids, earning a little less than £10 a day. Riding along with Pradeep was clearly eye-opening for McQueen. "It's like Mad Max meets the Kumars or something," he laughed in disbelief, after an hour in anarchic traffic and blazing sunshine. "I'm melting in this cab, mate. Are you allowed to drive in your pants here?"
Spoiler alert: the answer's no. In fact, there is a strict set of uniforms for drivers: smart whites for the veterans who own their cabs, and dusty browns for those who rent, and it's when McQueen meets the renters that the show comes into its informative best. Pradeep, who owns his cab but can only dream of being able to afford an air-conditioned one, lives with his family in a house no bigger than a garage, split into two rooms. And yet, we learn, he is one of the lucky ones; for a cabbie in Mumbai, he is doing well.
Not so lucky are the migrant drivers from Uttar Pradesh in the north. They are here without their families, sleeping for a few short hours on the floor of a wooden hut shared with a dozen or more fellow migrants. A renter named Pavan is funding his brother through five years of medical school and hasn't seen his wife and daughter in nine months. Out on the roads McQueen meets a mother from the northern provinces who is sleeping under bridges with her children.
After such a candid look at the lives of the city's most unfortunate inhabitants, the return to McQueen's quest to survive a day on the roads alone seemed contrived and hollow. His driving lesson – taken in a car without indicators, mirrors or a handbrake, and given a Benny Hill-esque piano accompaniment – jarred uncomfortably with the solemnity of the world we had just seen. I doubt I was the only one who, as McQueen fumbled his way through his final test, longed to see a bit more of the reality of life in India and a bit less of the flimsy artifice of his mission. When it chose to show us more of Mumbai than the view from a cockney's cab, this disguised documentary was – as Dyer would put it – seriously interesting.
Shetland (BBC1) was just plain serious. The first of a two-part tale of murder and intrigue adapted from Ann Cleeves's novel Red Bones, it starred Shetland in a scene-stealing performance, alongside Primeval's Douglas Henshall as generic middle-aged detective Jimmy Perez ("We're never off-duty here, have you still not got that?") and a supporting cast of fine Scottish accents, dodged questions and suspicious glances.
The two-part split left Sunday night's episode with a lot of heavy lifting to do setting up tonight's finale. Between a death in the first three minutes and another in the last, the exposition came thick and not especially fast, but there were enough hints of drama to come to ensure that those of us who stuck with it will tune in for the second half, if only to watch the flames on the water at the islands' Up Helly Aa fire festival. Sometimes, you see, a place can be as compelling as a plot.