Sitcom

An exquisitely funny sitcom that should be on the BBC

Agathe by Angela J. Davis follows the early phases of the Rwanda genocide 30 years ago. The subject, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, became prime minister on 18 July 1993 but her tenure ended abruptly when she was assassinated by a rioting mob which surrounded the UN compound where she was sheltering on 7 April 1994. She saved her children, according to some accounts, by sacrificing her own life. This is a rough-and-ready play that tells the story impressionistically through monologues, rap lyrics, news broadcasts and reconstructed scenes at the UN headquarters. It doesn’t pretend to offer a full historical account but it generates a horrible mood of impending doom. The most disturbing

Sordid, ugly and threadbare: Jimmy Carr – Natural Born Killer reviewed

Here’s an offensive joke: ‘Jimmy Carr gets paid to do a Netflix special.’ All right, it’s not original – I nicked it from an online chat forum. And it’s not especially funny. But unlike any of the sordid, ugly, threadbare material in Carr’s excruciating set, it does at least contain a measure of critical insight. Carr vauntingly lists all the ‘did he really go there?’ topics he plans to cover: ‘child abuse, domestic violence, abortion, murder, gun control and trans issues’. But his treatment of these subjects doesn’t feel refreshingly transgressive so much as gratuitously unpleasant. Here’s a sample: ‘Climate change is like my niece. It’s getting hotter every year.’

Danny Dyer’s new C4 programme is deeply odd

Who do you think said the following on TV this week: ‘I love being around gay men – seeing a group of men expressing themselves the way they do is beautiful’? The answer, perhaps unexpectedly, is Danny Dyer, whose admittedly convincing schtick as the world’s most Cockney bloke was applied to the question of contemporary masculinity in a new programme for Channel 4. The result was a deeply odd mix of the touching, the illuminating, the silly, the thought-provoking, the cheerfully comic, the pensive and the completely confusing. At first, it looked as if the cheerfully comic would predominate. Danny Dyer: How to Be a Man opened with Danny showing

‘I disliked him intensely’: Richard Lewis on first meeting Larry David

Richard Lewis has died at the age of 76. Ben Lazarus interviewed him for the magazine last year: Richard Lewis first met Larry David at a summer sports camp, aged 12. ‘I disliked him intensely. He was cocky, he was arrogant,’ Lewis says. ‘When we played baseball I tried to hit him with the ball: we were arch rivals. I couldn’t wait for the camp to be over just to get away from Larry. I’m sure he felt the same way.’ Eleven years later they met again on the New York stand-up scene – but didn’t recognise each other. One evening, as they drank into the night, it dawned on

Enough plotlines to power several seasons of The West Wing: BBC1’s Roadkill reviewed

Like many a political thriller before it, BBC1’s Roadkill began with a politician emerging into the daylight to face a bank of clicking cameras and bellowing journalists. In this case, the politician was Peter Laurence (Hugh Laurie), the Tory minister for transport, who’d just won a libel case against a newspaper that had accused him of using his cabinet position for personal profit. Exactly what he’s supposed to have done, we don’t yet know — although it does seem pretty clear that whatever it was, he did it. Certainly his own lawyer thinks so, as does the journalist who wrote the story but had to retract it in court when

Riveting documentary about a remarkable man: Harry Birrell Presents Films of Love and War reviewed

First shown on BBC Scotland, Harry Birrell Presents Films of Love and War (BBC4, Wednesday) was the documentary equivalent of a William Boyd novel, showing us a 20th-century life shaped by 20th-century history. The programme was made by Harry’s granddaughter Carina, who’d been eight when he died, and known him only as ‘a lovable, frail, blind old man’. But then she came across 400 carefully labelled reels of film in the family shed, together with an equally well-organised collection of diaries. Exactly — or even vaguely — when this discovery took place was one of many details that Carina tantalisingly failed to disclose. (Now and again, we did see her

James Delingpole

Village voice

Sometimes — really not often but sometimes — a programme that’s good and honest and true slips under the wire of the BBC’s jealously guarded PC agenda and makes a home run. The latest to do so is a deadpan comedy series called This Country (BBC3). It’s so deadpan that it’s easy to see why an earlier pilot episode for ITV crashed and burned. If you were channel-hopping and lingered on it for five minutes, you might easily mistake it for an earnest, worthy, achingly tedious fly-on-the-wall documentary series about the poverty and despair of left-behind rural England. This impression is enhanced by screeds that occasionally appear on screen giving

The creators of Breeders are locked into a game of How Far Can You Go

Sky One’s Breeders (Thursday) bills itself as an ‘honest and uncompromising comedy’ about parenting. To this end, the opening scene featured Martin Freeman as Paul trying to do some work while his two children under seven made a bit of noise a couple of rooms away. Having given himself a little pep talk about not screaming at them, Paul then screamed at them — bursting in on their blameless fun to yell: ‘Jesus fucking Christ! How many times do I have to tell you to be quiet?’ He further informed them that he was going to leave home and they should ‘tell mummy that daddy’s gone cos he couldn’t stand

Patronising, clichéd and corny: BBC1’s Gold Digger reviewed

Some last taboos, it seems, can remain last taboos no matter how frequently they’re confronted. Grief, the menopause, masturbation, mental illness are all routinely described that way whenever they get depicted on television — i.e. quite often. But perhaps the sturdiest last taboo of the lot is that older women can have sexual feelings: something that appears to come as a rather patronising surprise to TV folk every time they tackle it — i.e. quite often. The latest example of such bravery is Gold Digger (BBC1, Tuesday), a drama keen for us to understand that a woman of 60 can still be both desirable and a goer — although not

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

Planet propaganda

If you liked Triumph of the Will, you’ll love this latest masterpiece of the genre: Our Planet. The Netflix nature series exploits the prestige, popularity and swansinging poignancy of Sir David Attenborough to promote an environmental message so relentlessly dishonest and alarmist it might have been scripted by the WWF. ‘Walruses committing suicide because of global warming.’ That was the nonsense from episode two repeated uncritically by all the newspapers, none of which seems to have been much interested in questioning the veracity of the claim. You’ll never guess what it was that really drove those walruses over the edge of the cliff… Ironically, the likely culprits were polar bears

Comedy returns

BBC2’s MotherFatherSon announced its status as a classy thriller in the traditional way: by ensuring that for quite a long time we had no idea what was going on. At first it looked as if the focus would be on a missing teenager whose phone we saw abandoned in the woods. But then we cut to an American called Max (Richard Gere, no less) arriving in London by private jet on an apparent mission to choose our next prime minister. Then to a younger man running fast and screaming. Then to a veteran female journalist being sacked — and not only because she’d just lit a cigarette at her desk.

Her dark materials | 1 November 2018

The Little Drummer Girl (BBC1, Sunday) is the new John le Carré adaptation from the production company that brought us The Night Manager. It’s also directed by Park Chan-wook from South Korea, a man generally referred to by film buffs as an ‘auteur’. All of which may be just as well, because with a less distinguished pedigree, the first episode might possibly have seemed a bit corny. The opening section, for example, featured the impeccably complicated delivery of a Palestinian bomb to the Bonn residence of a Jewish attaché in 1979, and would, I’m fairly sure, have proved exciting enough without being cunningly overlaid by a series of loudly ticking

Mother’s ruin

It’s a radical thought I know, but I sometimes wonder what it would be like if a new TV thriller began by carefully introducing the characters and basic situation, before proceeding chronologically from there. In the meantime, though, there’s BBC1’s The Cry, which didn’t just start with the traditional blizzard of time-shifts, but continued like that for the next hour. In one of the more prolonged of Sunday’s many opening scenes — it lasted at least 60 seconds — main character Joanna (Jenna Coleman) explained to an unseen listener that ‘that’s when this began, with two faces’. When the scene was replayed 55 minutes later, we discovered that she was

Unintelligent design

On Wednesday, BBC Four made an unexpectedly strong case that the human body is a bit rubbish. Our ill-designed spines, for example, guarantee that many of us will suffer from chronic back pain. Our joints wear out long before we do. Our skin even gets damaged by sunlight. So what can be done about it? Obviously the answer is not much — but that didn’t prevent Can Science Make Me Perfect? With Alice Roberts from pretending to give it a go. The premise was that Roberts would draw on other, less incompetently constructed life forms to create an improved version of herself — the way she’d be if evolution hadn’t

No pain, no gain | 28 September 2017

The best episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm are the ones that make you want to hide behind the sofa, cover your ears and drown out the horror by screaming: ‘No, Larry, no!’ I’m thinking, for example, of the one where our hero attends a victim support group for survivors of incest and, in order to fit in, decides to concoct a cock and bull story about how he was sexually abused by his uncle. This, of course, comes back horribly to haunt him when out one day with his blameless real uncle… But no, I shan’t try to elaborate, for the plots in Curb Your Enthusiasm are as convoluted as

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

Stuffed but dissatisfied

Sandi Toksvig’s new play opens in a Gravesend care home where five grannies and a temporary nurse are threatened by rising floodwaters. In Act One the ladies prepare for a rescue party that fails to materialise. In Act Two they build a life raft out of plastic bottles. There’s a bizarre sequence involving a silly young burglar who gets beaten up and flung through a window by a woman of 71. The ending is more of a petering out than a conclusion. All the characters feel interchangeable apart from the nurse, who claims to come from Cheltenham. Her name, Hope Daly, prompts one of the old dears to quip. ‘My

Cautionary tale

The closing credits of National Treasure (Channel 4, Tuesday) contain the usual disclaimer that any resemblance between its characters and real people is merely coincidental. Well, coincidental maybe, but also entirely inevitable — because this is a drama based on Operation Yewtree. With its choice of subject matter, a cast including Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters and a script by Jack Thorne (author of the all-conquering Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), the series is clearly intended as an Important Piece of Television. Yet, partly for that reason, it’s so far proving a rather careful one. Nobody who watched the first episode could accuse it of sensationalism. They might, however,

Business as usual | 18 August 2016

I should probably nail my colours to the mast and state that The Office is possibly my favourite TV sitcom of all time (bar My Family, which surely goes without saying), but some comedies that have ended should simply stay ended, as no one has ever said, but should have. (Or maybe John Cleese has said it?) There are a few decent jokes here. Some of the bad songs are really good bad songs. But it’s a repetitive rehash rather than a worthwhile continuation of the character, and the comedy and pathos is in exactly the same place as it always was. That is, in the gap between the winner