Stranger things

Usually, the return of Killing Eve would be pretty much guaranteed to provide the most unconventional, rule-busting TV programme of the week — where genres are mixed so thoroughly as to create a whole new one. This week, though, there were two new series that were even harder to classify. One was ITV’s Wild Bill: a show so bonkers that the fact it stars Rob Lowe as the recently appointed chief constable of East Lincolnshire mightn’t be the weirdest thing about it. When the resolutely American Bill Hixon (Lowe) first arrived in Boston, Lincs, it looked as if we’d be in for a standard fish-out-of-water comedy, with the traditional differences

The end is in sight

Channel 4’s When I Grow Up had an important lesson for middle-class white males everywhere: you’re never too young to be held up as a git. The series, billed as ‘a radical experiment in social mobility’, gets a group of seven- and eight-year-old children from different backgrounds to work together in a real-life office setting — which in Thursday’s first episode was, rather unexpectedly, Hello! magazine. The editor-in-chief Rosie Nixon began by announcing, in the tones of one making a brave stance against prevailing social attitudes: ‘I do feel passionately about diversity.’ And this, of course, was also the brave stance taken by the programme itself and its on-hand experts,

Let’s talk about sex | 6 September 2018

This week was bad news for fans of good television drama series — mainly because there’s now three more of the things to keep up with if you don’t want to feel left out of office conversations. The one that stirred up the most advance media excitement was Wanderlust (BBC1, Tuesday), on the traditional grounds that it promised to be unusually explicit about sex. And in that, it certainly didn’t disappoint. The first episode began with a flurry of masturbation (not a phrase I can remember using in a TV column before). First, Joy, a middle-aged therapist, slipped a hand beneath the morning bedclothes — until her teenage son came

Full circle

After just one episode, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (ITV, Wednesday) seems certain to stand out from the crowd. In an age when most television dramas range from the perfectly fine to the extremely good, it already looks like a proper old-fashioned stinker. Admittedly, one of its more obvious problems is bang up-to-date: by adhering so spinelessly to the mantra of ‘women and black people good, white men bad’, the programme not only creates an overwhelmingly dreary sense of déjà vu, it also deprives itself of any possibility of genuine dramatic tension. But there are plenty of more traditional flaws too, including such classics as wooden dialogue, leaden humour and

Sunday best

For as long as I can remember, Sunday nights have been the home of the kind of TV drama cunningly designed to warm the sternest of heart cockles. Think, for example, of Robert Hardy cheerfully bellowing his way through almost every scene of All Creatures Great and Small (‘PASS THE SALT, JAMES!’). Or of Pop Larkin’s impressive commitment to chuckling indulgently in The Darling Buds of May. Or of Heartbeat somehow racking up 372 episodes. Even so, ITV has now taken this tendency to surprising new lengths, with not one but two Sunday-night dramas that run consecutively and contain such traditional elements as gorgeous sun-dappled scenery, cute animals, gruff old-timers

Losing the plot | 22 February 2018

ITV’s Marcella (Monday) represents another triumphant breakthrough in the portrayal of female cops on television. Of course, thanks to more or less every other crime show around, we already know that women in their forties can be senior police officers. But what Marcella makes even clearer than, say, Vera or No Offence is that so can women in their forties who are entirely unsuited to being senior police officers. For a start, the eponymous heroine suffers from regular mental collapses during which she often turns violent before handily forgetting — and forgiving herself for — anything bad she may have done. She also seems to specialise in cases where she

Thinking outside the box

These days a genuinely controversial TV drama series would surely be one with an all-white, male-led cast that examined the problems of a bunch of middle-class people. (Just imagine the Twitter outrage!) But while we await that — possibly for a while yet — we’ve now got two highly promising new shows of the more approved ‘controversial’ kind: where racial issues are tackled in a thoughtful and scrupulously responsible way. Kiri (Channel 4, Wednesday) has the distinct advantage of starring Sarah Lancashire, whose character Miriam proves that TV mavericks needn’t always be doctors, lawyers or cops. They can, it seems, also be social workers. So it was that Miriam was

Loose ends

On Sunday night, Holliday Grainger was on two terrestrial channels at the same time playing a possibly smitten sidekick of a gruff but kindly detective with a beard. Even so, she needn’t worry too much about getting typecast. In BBC1’s Strike, she continued as the immaculately turned-out, London-dwelling Robin, who uses such traditional sleuthing methods as Google searches. On Channel 4, not only was she dressed in rags, with a spectacular facial scar and a weird hairdo, she was also living in an unnamed dystopian city, where her detective work relied on a handy capacity to read minds. This was the first and highly promising episode of Electric Dreams, which

Never knowingly understated

At one uncharacteristically low-key point in Sunday’s Poldark — back for a third series on BBC1 — Ross (Aidan Turner) left off the brooding and cliff-top galloping for a while to review his finances. They were, his genial banker Harris Pascoe told him, in good shape. Hearing that Ross’s marriage was going through one of its happier phases too, Harris then turned even more reassuring. ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ he concluded with a cheerful smile. Which just goes to show that Harris Pascoe must never have seen Poldark — because the answer to his question was, of course, ‘Almost everything’. Ross’s wife Demelza could, for example, be summoned, along

Paul Nuttall lacks the personal touch in the leaders’ debate

Oh dear. With both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn opting to give tonight’s ITV leaders’ debate a miss, leaders of the other political parties had the perfect opportunity to step into the spotlight and make a good impression in front of the electorate. Alas Ukip’s Paul Nuttall appeared to miss the mark. Nearing the end of the debate, the Ukip leader referred to his opponent Leanne Wood — the leader of Plaid Cymru — as ‘Natalie’. To make matters worse, he then repeated the error later on. It’s thought ht may have confused Wood for the former Green party leader Natalie Bennett. It seems Ukip may have a women problem after

The turf | 19 January 2017

You had to feel for ITV’s new racing team on their opening day at Cheltenham. It was cold, wet and utterly miserable but they opted not to take refuge in a warm studio but to stay close to the action under their brollies, putting a brave face on things. During what I nowadays look back on as my misspent youth as BBC political editor, I once did the same. As I began a live interview for the Nine O’Clock News from an outside balcony at a Labour party conference, bursting to reveal some exclusive information, the heavens opened. I was drenched within 30 seconds but continued, only for the newscaster

Shall we dance?

‘Blimey! How on earth did they think of that?’ is unlikely to be anyone’s response to Our Dancing Town (BBC2, Tuesday). A few years ago, The Great British Bake Off was adapted into The Great British Sewing Bee by the simple process of fitting another domestic activity to the same formula. Now — after what I imagine was a brain-storming session lasting approximately 30 seconds — the BBC has taken the idea, structure and tone of Gareth Malone’s singing programmes and applied them to a series about dance. Enthusiastic evangelist for the life-changing potential of his chosen art form? Lots of initial sceptics dolefully shaking their heads and insisting that

The Netflix revolution

There have been two revolutions in television during my lifetime. The first happened in 1975 when Sony launched its Betamax video system — which allowed viewers to record shows and see them when they wanted. Of course, Betamax was found to be clunky and unreliable and it was soon replaced by VHS but, without realising it, the networks had lost control of their audience. No longer would we watch the films they wanted us to watch when they wanted us to watch them. Never again, as the technology spread, would the whole nation come together as one to find out what the newscasters had been up to on Morecambe and

Digging for the truth

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb may well be one of the 20th century’s great stories — but naturally that doesn’t mean a television drama won’t want to jazz it up a bit. Or, in the case of ITV’s lavishly produced but distinctly corny Tutankhamun, quite a lot. The programme gives us a Howard Carter younger and considerably hunkier than in real life. It throws in a couple of smitten hotties to emphasise the fact. Above all, it transforms Carter into the archaeological equivalent of a maverick TV cop: a man who doesn’t play by the rules, isn’t afraid to follow wild hunches but, by God, gets results. In Sunday’s opener,

Super Norma

The Royal Opera has opened the season with a triumph, and in one of the most difficult of operas, Bellini’s Norma. Not only is the work itself extraordinarily demanding on its three leading singers, but it is the one opera which is now so indelibly linked to one singer that all later performances are defined by whether they are in the same mould or whether they are resolutely different. One can’t envy listeners who have never heard Callas, in one or another of her many recordings of Norma, because it is so overwhelming an experience, but it would make life less disappointing than it already tends to be. I preferred

James Delingpole

Victoria’s secret: none of it’s true

Did you know that Queen Victoria might never have married Prince Albert had it not been for an amazing stroke of luck on a woodland walk in Windsor Great Park, involving the queen’s beloved spaniel Dash. Dash, as good fortune would have it, managed to break his leg on a handy knife that someone had left lying around. And the hitherto remote and stuffy German princeling, carelessly ripping yet another of his shirts (the second in about a week) to create a makeshift bandage, splinted Dash’s leg with such tender care that flighty Emma knew at once that cold, disapproving Mr Knightley was the man for her. And that, I’m

Fashion shoot

With documentary-makers these days, it can be hard to tell the difference between faux-naivety and the real thing. (Personally, I blame Louis Theroux.) Take BBC2’s Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue (Thursday), directed and narrated by Richard Macer, who often seems suspiciously dazzled by whatever he sees: the editor’s office! The editor’s chair! He also has a tendency to proudly offer observations that aren’t necessarily as startling as he thinks: that the magazine appears to be largely run by women, for instance. But where it’s even trickier to decide whether he’s faking or not is when his off-screen voice anxiously wonders whether Alexandra Shulman, the editor in question, wants him there

Diary – 14 July 2016

I first met a boyish, sunny Tony Blair more than 20 years ago. Our encounters have always been slightly tense since I reported some clumsy remarks he made about tax when he was still an apprentice PM — and he reacted much as Andrea Leadsom did against the Times last week (though via A. Campbell rather than Twitter). On Wednesday afternoon at Admiralty House he is a stricken caricature of how he was: painfully thin; waxy skin; astonishingly terrible teeth. He is a brilliant actor but not that good: he has been tormenting himself over Chilcot. But he isn’t sorry for the invasion, as he told me, and would do

What the papers say: Did ‘Operation Batter Boris’ go too far?

The takeaway point from last night’s EU referendum showdown was the extent of the personal attacks on Boris. The former Mayor of London came under repeated fire during the debate – with his Tory colleague Amber Rudd leading the charge. But did she go too far? And is there a chance the intention of targeting Boris could end up backfiring? Here’s what the papers had to say: Anyone reading The Sun‘s coverage of the debate will probably end up feeling sorry for Boris. The article tells how Boris ‘suffered relentless abuse’ over his apparent ambitions to be the next PM. It also goes on to say Rudd ‘reeled off Government

EU referendum TV debate – Leave and Remain face off in ITV showdown

Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman review the ITV debate: Welcome to Coffee House’s coverage of ITV’s EU referendum debate. Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Gisela Stewart made the case for Brexit, and Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Eagle and Amber Rudd argued for Britain to stay in the EU. Here’s our commentary from the debate, as well as all the audio and video highlights. Here’s Isabel Hardman’s summary of the various speeches: OUT: Boris Johnson: 7/10 – stayed calm under non stop personal onslaught. Still didn’t offer much of a detailed sense of what Brexit would look like. Gisela Stuart: 5/10 – struggled particularly on women’s rights and lacked oomph but helped