Much of the mysteriousness is inadvertent: ITV’s The Reunion reviewed

The Reunion opened in 1997 with some young people being carefree: a fact they obligingly signalled by zipping around the South of France helmetless on motorcycles while laughing a lot. Love appeared to be in the air as well – given that they consisted of two couples: the men in charge of driving (different times), the girls holding them tightly around the waist. But then matters took a darker turn as a voice-over intoned that ‘memory is a false friend’ and we sometimes ‘create our own truth’. And with that, we cut to present-day London where, despite its taste for banalities, the voice-over turned out to belong to a respected

Too in thrall to today’s dogmas: ITV1’s A Spy Among Friends reviewed

In 2014, Ben Macintyre presented a BBC2 documentary based on his book A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. The programme managed to shed new light on a familiar but still irresistible story by concentrating on Philby’s relationship with his old chum – and fellow Cambridge man – Nicholas Elliott. Elliott was sent in 1963 by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to question Philby in Beirut where Philby had become the Observer’s foreign correspondent after a long and successful career betraying his countrymen to the Soviets. Elliott did elicit some sort of confession, but a few days later, Philby absconded to Moscow. So had Elliott helped with

Time to take your meds, Kanye

No one does agonising quite like Mobeen Azhar. In several BBC documentaries now, he’s set his face to pensive, gone off on an earnest quest to investigate a touchy subject and reached his conclusions only after the most extravagant of brow-furrowing. There is, however, a perhaps unexpected twist: the resulting programmes are rather good, creating the impression – or even reflecting the reality – of a man determined to get to the often dark heart of the matter. For a while, it did look as if the programme’s main appeal might be as a comedy of liberal discomfiture In the past, Azhar has applied his methods to such issues as

In praise of straightforward men

When the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips married the rugby player Mike Tindall in 2011, the shallower among us wondered what she saw in him. We’re not wondering now. Watching the monstrous regiment of muppets and divas competing in the latest series of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and seeing Tindall’s equable nature – highlighted by the incompetent creative men who surround him, be they pop stars, actors or alleged comedians – makes it clear that the uncomplicated man is the smart woman’s choice. Tindall seems tremendously capable – an overlooked virtue in a romantic partner, and one that comes to the fore during the hard times. He’s like a human Swiss

Fairly desperate: BBC1’s Unbreakable reviewed

On first impression, you might have thought that Unbreakable was just a fairly desperate reality show cobbled together from I’m a Celebrity, Mr and Mrs, Taskmaster and It’s a Knockout. After all, the format is that people of varying degrees of fame – from Simon Weston to, er, the bloke who presents MTV’s Celebs on the Farm – arrive with their partners at what presenter Rob Beckett calls ‘a big posh gaff in the country’. Once there, they’re made to perform a series of game-like tasks as Rob looks on and guffaws. Naturally, the series does make a few cunning tweaks to its obvious forebears. Unlike in Taskmaster, for example,

Unhurried and accomplished whodunit: ITV’s Holding reviewed

A couple of years ago, I happened to read Graham Norton’s third novel Home Stretch. Rather patronisingly, perhaps, I was surprised by how accomplished it was, especially in its sympathetic but melancholy portrait of life in a West Cork village. Yet, judging from ITV’s new adaptation of his first novel Holding, this was something he’d pulled off before – because, here again, it’s pretty clear both why Norton would want to write kindly about the kind of place he grew up in, and why he would have wanted to leave it. Monday’s first episode efficiently established the rural-Irish setting with shots of fields, cows and wind turbines. We then saw

What’ll happen next – or what’s happened so far – is anybody’s guess: The Ipcress File reviewed

ITV’s new version of The Ipcress File began with a close-up of a pair of black-rimmed glasses just like those worn by Michael Caine in the 1965 film. They were then put on by their owner (Joe Cole), thus transforming him into Harry Palmer – but also neatly establishing the kind of show we were in for. Sunday’s first episode did a fine job of setting up an impeccably twisty (i.e. confusing) Cold War plot. It spared no effort in its quest to show us that the Britain of 1963 was on the Brink of Social Change. And yet, neither of these things really got in the way of its

Tom Slater

The troubling treatment of Piers Morgan

It is the duty of journalists and broadcasters to be sceptical, particularly to claims made by the rich and powerful. Before yesterday that wasn’t a controversial point. But the pushing out of Piers Morgan from Good Morning Britain, purely because he says he doesn’t believe a word that comes out of Meghan Markle’s mouth, suggests we are in a brave new world. When certain claims are made, even by the most privileged, it is apparently now our duty to swallow them or to shut up. In the wake of that explosive Oprah interview, in which the Sussexes said they were hounded out of the royal family by racism and Markle

You’ll miss Piers Morgan when he’s gone

Why is anybody offended by Piers Morgan? That’s the point. It’s his job to be offensive. It’s his job to say out loud what many in society are thinking but lack either the courage or the platform to voice. He is the Wat Tyler of the Whatsapp age. Now of course you won’t always agree with him — perish the thought — but the fact of his existence within the mainstream media ensures the expression of opinions that polite society might find distasteful. There is something almost dialectic about Morgan’s performances. His job is to provoke, and in their response the viewer better knows his or her own mind. But

Shades of Tony Soprano: BBC1’s The Responder reviewed

Older readers may remember a time when people signalled their cultural superiority with the weird boast that they didn’t watch television. These days the same mistaken sense of superiority is more likely to rely on the equally weird one that they don’t watch terrestrial television. So now that the BBC and ITV find themselves in the historically improbable role of plucky underdogs, it’s pleasing to report that this week saw the launch of two terrific new terrestrial shows — one of which already looks set to be as good as anything on Netflix, Amazon or Disney+ (except for Get Back of course). The programme in question is The Responder. It

When did Sunday night TV become so grim? Baptiste reviewed

There was, you may remember, a time when Sunday night television was rather a jolly affair: gently plotted and full of rosy-cheeked yokels, twinkly coppers and warm-hearted patriarchs. Well, not any more — as BBC1’s Baptiste and ITV’s Professor T confirm. Both feature main characters, and quite a few supporting ones, with backstories so abidingly grim that you can only hope they don’t send out annual Christmas circulars. So it is that Julien Baptiste — French detective turned freelance missing-persons hunter — now has a dead daughter to go with his imprisoned son. Meanwhile, Cambridge academic Jasper Tempest’s OCD is clearly linked to the fact that, at the age of

Looks lovely if nothing else: Craig and Bruno’s Great British Road Trips reviewed

To its huge credit, ITV has managed to find perhaps the last two television celebrities who’ve never before been filmed travelling around Britain while exchanging light banter and using the word ‘iconic’ a lot. In Craig and Bruno’s Great British Road Trips, the Strictly judges are driving a Union flag-bedecked Mini through such telegenic staples of heart-warming TV dramas as the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Scottish Highlands. For the opening episode, the choice fell on the Cornish coast, which certainly helped the programme achieve its primary aim of looking lovely. But this, as it transpired, was just as well — because for a fair amount of the

It’s impossible not to feel snooty watching ITV’s Agatha and Poirot

Agatha and Poirot was one of those programmes that had the annoying effect of making you feel distinctly snooty. ITV’s decision to dedicate 85 minutes of primetime Easter Monday television to a books-related documentary was never likely to result in a steely Leavisite engagement with literature. Nor, of course, should it. Even so, it was hard to avoid a dowager-like shudder when, for example, one contributor declared that Agatha Christie ‘will never be surpassed as the world’s greatest novelist’ — especially when the contributor was that well-known literary critic Lesley Joseph. Or when Danny John-Jules suggested that a murder is ‘the last thing you’d expect’ in a book set on

ITV was right to let Piers Morgan go

As a young, millennial female, it’s probably unusual for me to like Piers Morgan. But as a journalist, who began her career in the tabloid press, I have always admired and respected him. While I haven’t always shared his views, I’ve thought him, for the most part, fair and on point. When it comes to holding power to account he is tenacious and single-minded. He is like a dog with a bone until a politician answers his questions. Lesser broadcasters let cabinet ministers obfuscate with endless hot-air; Piers is relentless in his drive to pin them down. His TV interviews are also undeniably entertaining. This not only makes him a brilliant broadcaster

The TV we feared they’d never dare make any more: The Singapore Grip reviewed

‘Art is dead,’ declared Mark Steyn recently. He was referring to the new rules — copied from the Baftas — whereby to qualify for the Oscars your movie must have the correct quota of gay/ethnic minority/transgender/etc people. This, he argued, will lead to the kind of leaden, politicised, phoney art we associate with communist regimes in the Soviet era and which, not so long ago, we used to find eminently mockable. If British and American producers want to lose money on TV shows and movies that no one wants to watch, then good luck to them. All that matters is that there’ll be enough brave dissenters out there to say:

Who watches the broadcast watchdog?

At the beginning of April, I became so frustrated by the supine coverage of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, particularly on radio and television, that I decided to start a blog called Lockdown Sceptics. The idea was to create a platform for people who wanted to challenge the official narrative. In addition to publishing original material by Covid dissidents, many of them eminent scientists, I include links to critical papers and articles, and write daily updates commenting on the news. One of the things that puzzles the contributors is why the coverage on broadcast media has been so hopelessly one-sided. The BBC, in particular, seems to have become

Another drama about how women are great and men are rubbish: C4’s Philharmonia reviewed

On the face of it, a French-language drama about a Parisian symphony orchestra mightn’t sound like the most action-packed of TV watches. In fact, though, Philharmonia (Sundays) is pretty much Dallas with violins. The first episode began with the eponymous orchestra blasting out a spot of what Shazam assured me was Dvorak, before its elderly conductor dropped his baton and collapsed to the floor, never to rise again. Cue a pair of Gallically elegant female lower legs making their way through the airport as one Hélène Barizet arrived from New York to take over the role. David was left in a tartan bag in Belfast; Helen was discovered in a

Party leaders shape up for a week of talking Trump and terror

Tonight’s ITV election debate had a slightly different cast to the seven-way BBC programme on Friday night, but its spokespeople offered pretty much the same soundbites throughout the show. It started with the parties arguing about the lessons from the London Bridge attack, with Conservative Rishi Sunak and Labour’s Richard Burgon repeating the lines their leaders have used over the weekend: Sunak had a slightly softer way of putting the Prime Minister’s argument that only a Conservative government can provide the necessary security for voters. But he did say it was important that the leader of a country responded to attacks like this, and emphasised what he claimed was Boris

Watch: Boris vs Corbyn. The head-to-head in three minutes

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn’s clash last night during the ITV debate was notable for its lack of standout performance from either candidate. The audience, however, provided a much-needed dose of reality for both leaders. Corbyn and Boris’s campaign soundbites were interspersed with bursts of laughter. Whether that was the result of amusement or frustration remains to be seen. For those fortunate souls who didn’t catch the debate, Mr S. has put together a short highlights reel:

Just another Sunday soap

ITV’s new drama Beecham House is set in late 18th-century India where the British and French were still battling it out for supremacy. Its opening credits feature the east at its most exotic, with a montage of ceremonial elephants parading, sari-clad women gliding and lotus flowers opening. The hero is John Beecham (Tom Bateman), a hunky Englishman who proves honourable to the point of mild priggishness as he navigates his way through a world of dusky beauties, inscrutable orientals and treacherous Frenchies. If there were any Indians around at the time who weren’t gorgeously attired rich people, violent bandits or servants who took real pride in their work, we’ve yet