Clear, thorough and gripping: BBC2’s Horizon – The Battle to Beat Malaria

If you transcribed the narrator’s script in almost any episode of Horizon, you’d notice something striking: an awful lot of the phrases would end with a colon, and for one obvious reason: to play a neat trick on the viewers: that of making them keen to hear what comes next. (You get the idea.) Monday’s programme therefore began by explaining that the mosquito is ‘the target of one of medical science’s greatest quests: the battle to save millions of lives and end a scourge that has shaped human history: malaria’. Unusually for an uncompromising science documentary, the finale was a genuine tear-jerker Now in its 51st year, Horizon has spent

Am I slightly psychopathic to be so obsessed with gangster TV?

Most of my favourite TV shows seem to involve gangsters in one way or another: The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Top Boy, The Offer (that brilliant series on Paramount+ about the making of The Godfather), series two of The White Lotus, Suburra, Gomorrah; even, you could argue, Game of Thrones (cod-medieval fantasy gangsters with dragons) and Succession (gangsters who don’t need to use guns). It’s the first thing in ages where I’ve been salivating to watch the next episode Perhaps there’s something lightly psychopathic about being so allured by a genre which celebrates relentless, brutal killing, where the forces of law and order and civilisation are the enemy, and where the

Utterly bog-standard: BBC2’s The Turkish Detective reviewed

A partly subtitled show set in Istanbul might sound like a brave departure for a BBC Sunday night crime drama. But in fact, if you strip away The Turkish Detective’s minarets and bazaars (not hard given that they supply somewhat perfunctory local colour), what remains is, according to taste, either reassuringly familiar or utterly bog-standard. The series began with Mehmet Suleyman (Ethan Kai) leaving his job at the Metropolitan Police to take up fish-out-of-water duties in the city of his birth. Waiting for him at Istanbul airport was what at first seemed like a straightforward comedy foreigner, much given to muttering the words ‘very good, very good’ and driving like

If you can stand the stress, The Bear is still possibly the best thing on TV

The Bear has been called ‘the most stressful thing on TV’ and I think that’s probably a fair description. It’s set in a Chicago restaurant and – as has become de rigueur in all films and TV series about restaurants – the kitchen scenes are invariably fraught, jerkily shot, uptight, pent-up, explosive, inflammable, past boiling point, chaotic, horrific and generally conducive to the prevailing notion that while war might be hell it’s an absolute picnic when compared to being a chef. It’s also, if you can bear the stress part, possibly the best thing on TV. At least it has been for the first two series, which have built on

Why you should never watch sci-fi series on streaming channels

Jason Dessen, the hero (and, as you’ll discover shortly, anti-hero) of Apple TV’s latest sci-fi caper Dark Matter, is a physics professor at a second-rate university in Chicago. You can tell he’s not that good at his job because he introduces the concept of Schrödinger’s cat (surely the only interesting bit in the entirety of physics) five minutes before the end of a lecture. ‘Oh and the cat dies,’ he says to the uninterested students as they file hurriedly out of class. With no time constraint, sci-fi series on streaming channels can keep spinning you along for all eternity Still, at least he’s happy. His teenage son might have been

How a TikTok dance craze turned into a brainwashing cult

Because you don’t – I hope – use TikTok you will never have heard of the Wilking sisters. But back in the day (2020) they were huge, their homemade videos of dance routines performed at their suburban Michigan home attracting 127 million views. A year later, it all turned sour. Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult opens with one half of the sibling duo, Melanie, talking tearfully about her terrible loss. You think at first that Miranda has died. But no, it’s almost worse, for Miranda has become a living ghost – still present on social media, but dead to her family and friends, and unrecognisable from the

I worry Romesh Ranganathan might not have enough work

Let’s say, for the purposes of this joke, that I was recently staying in a hotel and kept hearing through the wall a voice shouting, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ At first I assumed it was someone having sex – but I later found out that the next-door room was occupied by Romesh Ranganathan’s agent. This year’s Comic Relief featured a W1A sketch where one of the gags was about how Ranganathan now presents everything on television. But the truth is, apart from that sketch, his only TV gigs so far this year have been presenting The Weakest Link, presenting the Baftas, co-presenting Rob & Romesh Vs…, co-writing and starring in the

BBC1’s new Rebus is the kind of TV detective they just don’t make any more

Imagine a new series of Morse in which the real-ale-quaffing, jag-driving opera buff is turned into a speed-snorting mod on a pimped up Lambretta. Or – this one I’d actually like to see – jeune Poirot, featuring a clean-shaven habitué of fin-de-siècle Brussels absinthe dives. This may give you an inkling as to how upset one or two Rebus fans are about the Edinburgh detective’s latest TV incarnation. Confusingly titled Rebus – as opposed to, say, Punk Rebus or Wee Rebussie – the series depicts a protagonist quite a bit younger than his former TV incarnations, grumpy, dishevelled Ken Stott and a mite-too-smooth John Hannah. Still only at the detective-sergeant

Nowhere near as miserable as I remember it: The Beatles – Let It Be reviewed

Beatles lore has long held that the film Let It Be was a depressing portrait of the band falling apart. According to the same lore, that’s why Peter Jackson’s Get Back was such a revelation. Revisiting Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s footage of the group at work in January 1969, Jackson discovered there was far more joy around than anyone suspected – including the surviving Beatles. Yoko remains a darkly brooding presence (the revisionism that sees her as benign needs its own revision) All of which, it now turns out, only goes to prove the ever-reliable power of suggestion. I vaguely remember seeing Let It Be on TV in the 1970s, before it

Why did C.J. Sansom approve this moronic Disney+ Shardlake adaptation?

What would C.J. Sansom have made of the Disney+ version of his novel series about 16th-century crookback lawyer Matthew Shardlake? Sadly, because he died just a few days before its release, we’ll probably never hear the full story. But this comment from the show’s producer offers a hefty clue: ‘Chris [Sansom] has been enormously generous and he wants more people to read the books, and this is such a good way.’ Sounds very much like Sansom accepted this atrocity of an adaptation as a necessary evil: his books had been stuck in development hell for nearly two decades (possibly, because his labyrinthine whodunits about monastic reform and court politics in

How can anyone resist The Piano?

One challenge facing any novel, drama or film about the Holocaust is to restore its sheer unimaginability. In Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark – filmed, of course, as Schindler’s List – when news reaches Krakow of what’s happening in Auschwitz, Keneally pauses for some editorialising. ‘To write these things now,’ he says, ‘is to state the commonplaces of history. But to find them out in 1942… was to suffer a fundamental shock, a derangement in that area of the brain in which stable ideas about humankind and its possibilities are kept.’ The Piano shamelessly seeks to move us – and shamelessly succeeds In The Tattooist of Auschwitz, the same fundamental shock

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.’

Grey, gloomy, and utterly joyless: Ripley reviewed

If you’ve spent any time gawping at Netflix over the past half-decade or so, you’ll already know that human culture has reached its final, perfect form. We made a good effort with cave paintings, epic poetry, theatre, literature and the rest of them, but the apex of culture is the bingeable, episodic rabbit-hole Netflix documentary about a sociopathic liar. Maybe we love con artists because they’re the only people still selling something new There have been so many of these now that it’s difficult to tell them apart. There was the one about the man who matched with women on dating websites by pretending to be the playboy scion to

Dramatic, urgent and intriguing: BBC1’s This Town reviewed

After conquering the world with Peaky Blinders (and before that by co-creating Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), Steven Knight was last seen on British television giving us his frankly deranged adaptation of Great Expectations. Happily, he’s now returned to form with a show that, while not a retread exactly, is definitely Peaky-adjacent. In This Town we’re back in a Birmingham – this time in the 1980s – that’s rundown, riven, violent and soul-stifling, yet that Knight presents with unmistakable love. Nor, once again, is there any escaping the overwhelming power of the family as a blessing and a curse. There’s also the same combination of apparent social realism with

Compelling and somewhat heartbreaking: Girls State, on Apple TV+, reviewed

Here’s a fun thought experiment: instead of entrusting the future of American democracy to one of two old men, what if you put it in the hands of 500 teenage girls? Girls State, the sister documentary to Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s award-winning 2020 film Boys State, follows the events of a week-long civic engagement camp where high-schoolers create an all-female democracy from scratch. A feminist manifesto is much easier to compose than a real solution to culturally ingrained inequality Girls State and Boys State programmes have given argumentative American teens an education in the necessary evil of politics since the 1930s. Each state has its own variations of the

Fans of torture, dolly birds and fat lines of cocaine will love The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie only does one thing but he does it very well: slick, violent, sweary, black comedy capers about the unlikely intersection between toffs and the criminal underworld, invariably starring ex-footballer Vinnie Jones as a loveable tweed-wearing thug. If you were hoping for something different from The Gentlemen, prepare to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you can never quite get enough of shotguns, stately homes, frantically crowbarred-in but still-quite-amusing one liners, rival gangsters, vast quantities of claret (in both vinous and sanguinary forms), torture, dolly birds, travellers, slightly annoying solecisms, fights, gambling and fat lines of cocaine, then this will be your cup of tea, guvnor, and no

Was Carrie Fisher really ‘a genius’?

‘People throw the word “genius” around a lot,’ said a talking head on BBC2 this week, ‘but she was a genius, truly.’ If it wasn’t for the heading on this column, I suspect it might have taken you a while to guess the unquestionable genius being referred to here. But then again, for Carrie Fisher: A Life in Ten Pictures, considered analysis and fear of hyperbole would only have got in the way. Not that this prevented the programme from being inadvertently revealing. Granted, if you wanted to know the full story of Fisher’s life – including the fact that she married Paul Simon – you’d have been better off

Evocative and immaculate: Netflix’s One Day reviewed

One Day is a bestselling novel with a simple but effective premise: a delightful, made-for-each-other couple meet on their last day at university, narrowly miss getting off with one another, then continue narrowly to miss getting off with one another every year for 14 years until finally, eventually they do. Actually, I’m not sure about the pay off. I never got round to reading David Nicholls’s book, nor did I catch the poorly received movie version with Anne Hathaway playing the love interest. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed and shall be very disappointed if the dénouement doesn’t deliver what the plot seems to be promising. All right, so the

CBBC’s The Famous Five shows you can update a classic without trashing it

The new Doctor in Doctor Who has blond hair, blue eyes and a firm handshake, dresses in a splendid red coat and has an exciting catchphrase: ‘Hounds are running! Tally ho!’ No, not really. The new Doctor is so very much what you’d expect the new Doctor to be like that you can guess without my telling you. And it’s not that I think that Ncuti Gatwa is going to be bad as the Doctor. On the contrary, from what little I’ve glimpsed of him so far, he seems charismatic, energetic, and fun. But I do wish the BBC commissars responsible for the series would try to make their social

Still the best thing on TV: Apple TV+’s Slow Horses reviewed

Slow Horses is the best thing on television. And it’s now so successful and popular it can afford to launch series three with a sequence worthy of James Bond: Istanbul location budget; spectacular chase sequences involving cars and speedboats with some thrillingly dangerous manoeuvres round a huge container vessel; a beautiful, immaculately dressed female agent meeting (spoiler alert, though to be fair you can see this one coming a mile off) a tragically sticky end. Except it’s better than Bond – not that difficult these days, it must be said – because it is missing all that grim portentousness, over-earnestness and pomposity. The cars are beaten up and gadget-free; the