Subtle, psychologically twisty drama: BBC3’s Bad Behaviour reviewed

Bad Behaviour is a decidedly solemn new Australian drama series with plenty to be solemn about. It was billed in Radio Times as ‘slow-burning’ – which feels a little tactless, given that the opening scene featured a girl in a boarding-school dormitory setting herself on fire (and burning quite quickly). We then cut to the same girl, Alice, ten years later looking surprisingly well as she gave a cello performance in a venue where the catering staff included a fellow ex-pupil called Jo, who greeted her warmly. Perhaps understandably, though, Alice was reluctant to reminisce about the old days at Silver Creek. It’s one of those shows where you can’t

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

Gratuitously twisty, turny nonsense: Sky Max’s Poker Face reviewed

Imagine if you had the power always to tell whether or not someone was lying. You’d have it made, wouldn’t you? The intelligence services would be queuing up to employ you for interrogations; top law firms would pay you top dollar to act as their adviser; you’d win gazillions in all the poker championships; you’d never buy a dodgy second-hand car, not that you’d need to with all that money you’d have. Admittedly, though, your life and adventures would make for a very boring TV series because everything would be so easy. Hence the tortured premise of Rian Johnson’s Poker Face, in which we are invited to believe that our

The Last of Us is a video game adaptation that actually works

The Last of Us may be remembered as the point when Hollywood’s approach to video game adaptations finally changed. In this, it’s as significant a creative development as Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was in creating a new formula for Marvel superhero movies. The series, which began on Sky Atlantic last week, is set 20 years after a fungal pandemic wiped out modern civilisation. Joel (Pedro Pascal) is a smuggler hired to get 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) out of a quarantine zone and across a post-apocalyptic America. It’s based on a 2013 video game developed by Naughty Dog. For decades, moviemakers have struggled to create live-action films based on the intellectual property of

I think I’ll sue over my appearance in Sky’s Boris drama

There on my television screen, in a somewhat surreal sequence, was Boris Johnson contemplating the women in his life. And suddenly before me appeared the famous Wyatt features: first eyes, then a nose and then a mouth, right into camera. Medium-range shot and then a close-up. Ah, we had faces then. And then I looked harder, and my blood turned to Freon. It was just a large photograph of me stuck on a 10ft projector screen. Couldn’t those cheapskates at Sky have got a goddamn actress instead of a Polaroid?  As it turns out, This England, the Kenneth Branagh series about my old friend Boris, is more Psycho than psychodrama. Someone

Sky’s Boris Johnson drama has a fatal flaw

You almost have to feel sorry for Sky. After spending 18 months building up to their big Boris Johnson drama, they end up releasing it at exactly the same time that British politics enters its own cliffhanger mode with drama that could rival any season finale. This England – which tells the story of the start of Johnson’s premiership and the first wave of the Covid crisis – begins tonight on Sky Atlantic, starring Kenneth Branagh as Johnson and Ophelia Lovibond as Carrie. But should Sky have known better than to air it now? Generally the best real-life dramas follow a simple rule of thumb: time is on your side. Rather

‘Good’s never going to triumph’: the makers of BBC show Industry on bad bankers

Finance in screen fiction is a realm of monsters. From Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho to the crazed party animals of The Wolf of Wall Street, the arena of deal-making is portrayed – particularly in America – as winner-take-all without trace of empathy or redemption. Industry – the British-made television drama that follows a group of young bankers competing on a City trading floor whose second series airs on BBC1 later this month – is a more subtle example of the genre. Its characters are not monstrous but they are all flawed, ruthlessly transactional in their dealings with each other, and frankly hard to

On the brink of delivering something special: Sky’s The Midwich Cuckoos reviewed

A youngish couple leave London and drive off excitedly to make a fresh start in more rural surroundings. They demonstrate their happiness by laughing all the way to their new town, where a cheery sign on the outskirts reads: ‘Welcome to Midwich’. So what could possibly go wrong? In fact, even for viewers unfamiliar with John Wyndham’s famously spooky 1957 novel, from which Sky Max’s modern-day version of The Midwich Cuckoos has been adapted, it’s clear that something soon will. After all, a pre-credit sequence, set five years later, had shown the same couple cowering in fear before their five-year-old daughter. For now, though, while they marvelled at the idyllic

Real life | 1 June 2017

‘You’re probably excited about your new service and keen to start using it as soon as you can,’ said the email from BT, not quite taking the words out of my mouth. I’m sorry to be difficult, but I just want Wi-Fi. I don’t want to get excited. I’ve been excited numerous times over the years and it was, quite frankly, over-rated. I’m getting to the age when I really could do without excitement altogether. I would like to send some emails. And I’d like a land line to telephone my mum of an evening. I just don’t want to get stirred to the verge of hysteria about it. But

If you want to avoid intrusive anachronisms on TV, you have to go foreign

The iron law of TV these days is that if you want to avoid series that are suffocatingly right-on the only way to go is foreign. Any TV emanating from the Anglosphere is guaranteed to be chock-full of intrusive anachronisms. Bridgerton,which reinvents Regency England as a melting pot of diversity, is an extreme example of this, but even previously immune series have been infected. Season five of The Last Kingdom now has a resident black monk, whose ethnicity no one notices, though such a phenomenon, you might think, would have been considered quite remarkable in 10th-century Wessex. Vikings, too, I gather, has allowed its shield wall to collapse and has

Relentless and shouty: BBC2’s Then Barbara met Alan reviewed

BBC2’s one-off drama Then Barbara Met Alan (Monday) told the true story of how two disabled performers on the cabaret circuit of the 1990s fell in love and campaigned together successfully for disability rights. Most of the cast and a lot of the crew were people with disabilities themselves, and the programme provided a startling reminder of how recently Britain was still a country that made little provision for the disabled – and, even more startlingly, of how controversial the idea of such provision then seemed. The central performances were rivetingly good, and the overall sense was of a heartfelt tribute being paid to a couple who did much to

Eddie Izzard is so bad I’m hoping he gets dismembered: Sky’s The Lost Symbol reviewed

If it weren’t for this job I sometimes wonder whether I’d even bother watching TV at all. This mood strikes me particularly in those weeks when I find myself casting round for anything new and vaguely interesting to watch and I end up in front of something as epically dire as Sky’s new Dan Brown adaptation The Lost Symbol. Brown’s hero Robert Langdon, whom we first met on screen in the The Da Vinci Code, is like Indiana Jones with a charisma bypass. Remember that wonderful scene in the first Indie movie where hunky Harrison Ford is giving a lecture to some besotted female archeology students, and one girl closes

‘You should see some of the other scripts that come through’: Robert Carlyle interviewed

‘I always feel slightly sick when I hear actors talking politics,’ says Robert Carlyle — that polished Glaswegian burr sounding no less arresting over a slightly patchy Zoom connection. ‘I mean we’re all entitled to an opinion,’ he continues, sounding for a second as though he might be about to opt for a more diplomatic track. ‘I just find that too many actors find it difficult to get theirs across without sounding like a twat.’ It’s a fair point, you might think. But for Carlyle, it’s also been a good professional move. Reflecting on his career, he credits this aversion to mouthing off with inspiring his long-term commitment to keeping

Bleak, unashamedly macho and grown-up: BBC2’s The North Water reviewed

‘The world is hell, and men are both the tormented souls and the devils within it.’ This was the cheery epigraph from Schopenhauer with which The North Water introduced itself — aptly, as it transpired. Certainly, BBC2’s starry new Victorian drama is not for those who prefer their television characters to be loveable. The first person we met was Irishman Henry Drax (Colin Farrell), who gruntingly concluded his business with a Hull prostitute before heading for the docks in a way familiar to viewers of Victorian TV dramas: shamble up the cobbles, straight on past the women in shawls, turn left at the urchins. Following a restorative dose of rum,

Switch over to Eurosport: BBC’s Olympic coverage reviewed

I’ve not been allowed anywhere near the TV remote control this week because of some kind of infernal sporting event taking place in Japan. You may gather that I have mixed feelings about the Olympics: on the one hand, I like most of the competitors, who are so much more affable and modest (those delightful Gadirova twins!) than the overpaid, overindulged prima donnas who recently took part in the Euros. Also, it’s impossible not to get sucked into the drama of individual stories such as that of Beth Schriever, the humble, underfunded former teaching assistant who took gold in the women’s BMX. But on the other, it’s bread and circuses

The funniest current affairs show since Brass Eye: Into the Grey Zone reviewed

It was something a friend said to me about The Revenant, Leonardo diCaprio’s bloody-minded and brutal Oscar vehicle: ‘The problem with the film is once you start laughing, you can’t stop. And for me, that moment was the second time he fell off a cliff.’ I thought about this a lot listening to Into the Grey Zone, a new podcast hoping to educate its audience about the new forms of constant pseudo-warfare that modern states engage in. This is the world of nerve poisoning in Salisbury, airspace incursions over Taiwan, cyberattacks, mass disinformation and remote interference. None of these things can be considered open warfare but taken together, the podcast

How I fell out of love with the BBC

One of the many technological things I don’t understand is, how come I’m paying to watch television? I know why I used to pay. I used to switch on a box in the corner of the room and marvel at the choice of three quite interesting programmes and something slightly racy on Channel 4. It was all reassuringly underwhelming, with everyone doing as well as could be expected given the circumstances. The cardboard sets on a lot of the shows wobbled and we were happier for it, one could argue. There was an obvious balance of earnestly attempted light entertainment and archly presented informative content and I for one didn’t

I like Brassic but the reason it’s getting such glowing notices is depressing

Brassic (Sky One) feels like the sort of TV comedy drama they last made about 15 years ago but would never get commissioned now, certainly not by the BBC. Almost all of the main characters — apart from love interest Michelle Keegan — are white, male and heterosexual. And it’s set in the kind of Lancashire market town surrounded by rolling sheep country where the opportunities for plausible diversity casting are really quite limited. So how come it has been getting such glowing notices from all the previewers and reviewers? You’ll be depressed when I tell you. Well, it has depressed me anyway. The main character Vinnie — played by

Relative values | 31 January 2019

Boy often likes to rebuke me for having impossibly high standards when it comes to TV. ‘Why can’t you just enjoy it?’ he says. This is disappointing. One reason I ruined myself to give him an expensive education is so I wouldn’t have to share my viewing couch with a drooling moron happy to gawp at any old crap. Worse, whenever I try to draw his attention to stuff I consider to be extra specially worth watching — Fauda, Babylon Berlin, etc. — he rejects it because it has been tainted by my recommendation. So the next brilliant thing he won’t get to see is Gomorrah (Sky). This relentlessly dour