Enthralling and unusual – even if you don’t care about Kanye: Netflix’s Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy reviewed

The most disappointing pop performance I’ve ever seen – and in the course of my 15-odd years as a music critic I saw an awful lot – was Kanye West at Glastonbury in 2015. Perhaps he was making some kind of ironic statement on the nature of celebrity and fan expectation: blinding lights all focused on himself; no attempts to engage with the crowd; relentless, mechanical rapping but with most of the amusing samples and catchy hooks removed, the better to punish us all by ordeal with loud, righteous verbiage. But I still admire this irritating genius hugely because besides making often very addictive albums he refuses to play the

The enduring appeal of Peaky Blinders

What’s the next step for a macho gangland drama that’s already built a fanbase in some 183 countries worldwide? That’s right: a collaboration with one of the highest regarded companies in UK contemporary dance. When it opens in September at Birmingham’s Hippodrome theatre, The Redemption of Thomas Shelby – a 20-strong dance production from the South Bank’s Rambert Dance Company – will mark yet another cultural milestone for Peaky Blinders: the BBC’s historic drama about a gang of Brummie ruffians who ran parts of the city between the two world wars. Since it premiered back in 2013, Peaky Blinders has not only gone to conquer Netflix (becoming, according to one analysis, the

Amusing and entertaining – though not very taxing: Amazon Prime’s Reacher reviewed

Jack Reacher is back on the screen and aficionados of the hugely successful Lee Child airport thrillers in which he appears must be hugely relieved. This time he is played not by pint-sized Tom Cruise but by someone much closer to his 6ft 5ins height: a musclebound giant called Alan Ritchson. Not having read any of Child’s 100 million-selling oeuvre (probably because I’m bitterly envious: he’s a Midlands-born ex-media type, like me, but has a slightly larger bank balance), I can’t tell you how true to the original Ritchson is. But he plays him as if he’s on the autistic spectrum — a loner uncomfortable with too much dialogue or

The medical equivalent of The Responder: BBC1’s This is Going to Hurt reviewed

According to the makers, This is Going to Hurt is intended as ‘a love letter to the national health service’. If so, however, it’s certainly not a soppy one. Few non-British people who watch it will, I suspect, find themselves wishing they had an NHS of their own — where the mission statement could easily read: ‘We Aim to Muddle Through Somehow, Despite Everything.’ Adapted by Adam Kay from his own phenomenally successful memoir of life as a junior doctor, the programme opened with Adam (Ben Whishaw) realising he’d slept in. On the plus side, his journey to work wouldn’t take long, given that he’d woken up in his car

Horrifying but gripping: Netflix’s The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman reviewed

It’s 1993 and you’re studying at a top agricultural college with a bright future ahead of you, perhaps in farming or land management, when a chance conversation with a barman all but ruins your life. The barman tells you that he is an agent working for MI5, spying on an IRA cell in college, one of whose members happens to be your flatmate. You might be sceptical but the agent is very persuasive; and besides, someone from your college has indeed just been arrested for supplying bomb-making equipment to the IRA. When the agent warns you that you and your flatmates are in serious danger and must go on the

This year’s best crime dramas

You’ve got to hand it to Ozark, Jason Bateman’s showy crime series about a slippery financial adviser who becomes immersed with Mexican drug cartels. In the years since its debut, the narco drama (whose final season arrived on Netflix last week) has been on somewhat of a journey. And then some. When it premiered back in 2017 – with an opening episode in which Bateman’s character, Marty Bird, goes from sexless marriage to a near-death encounter with a drug kingpin – its shtick felt too obviously derivative to be taken seriously. Here was a drama, you felt, that had been commissioned for one purpose: to serve as Netflix’s ‘next up’

A dog’s breakfast but I’m rather enjoying it: Sky Atlantic’s Yellowjackets reviewed

It has taken me a while to watch Yellowjackets because I found the premise so offputting: in 1996 a plane carrying a New Jersey girls’ school soccer team crashes in the mountain wilderness, stranding the survivors for nearly two years. Through flashbacks, we learn that the girls went through some kind of Lord of the Flies horror scenario, perhaps including cannibalism and ritualistic tribal sacrifice. All of which might explain why the forty-something women we meet today are so raddled, bitter, secretive, paranoid and messed up. Perhaps the biggest red flag is the dread memories it invokes of Lost, the plane crash TV series that ran in the Noughties for

The fatal flaw of Keeping up with the Aristocrats

‘An aristocracy in a republic is like a chicken whose head has been cut off; it may run about in a lively way, but in fact it is dead’. So said Nancy Mitford as far back as 1955 in her Enquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy. More than half a century later, English aristocrats though – just about, even in the era of Prince Andrew – living in a monarchy, are still running about like headless chickens. This time, however, there are camera crews following them offering the entire thing up for public consumption on ITV’s new three-part series Keeping Up With The Aristocrats, the first episode

A cut above TV’s usual #MeToo fare: BBC1’s Rules of the Game reviewed

As you may have noticed, it’s something of a golden age for TV shows about how invisible middle-aged women are — except perhaps, in all those TV shows about how invisible middle-aged women are. At first sight, Rules of the Game — a crime drama set in a northern sportswear company — seemed a fairly standard example. The company in question, Fly Dynamic, has a management style that some might consider a little sleazy, run as it is by a group of men who’ve never met a 16-year-old girl they didn’t want to ply with booze and drugs. Meanwhile their neglected wives amuse themselves as best they can with cheese

How I Met Your Father and the never-ending sitcom

If you’re the type of person who pays attention to these things, you might have noticed Keir Starmer’s new attack line. ‘The joke isn’t funny anymore, prime minister,’ the Labour leader now tells Boris Johnson on a semi-regular basis – attempting to turn his opponent’s clownish entertainer shtick from electoral strength to weakness. Leaving aside the merits of the jibe, this line has one major flaw in its central premise. Namely that the leader of the opposition is evidently still under the impression that comedy has a shelf-life – whereas all evidence from our streaming habits points to that not being the case. And then some. If anything, most of

Vital, damning docudrama about the Sacklers: Disney+’s Dopesick reviewed

One of my first jobs in journalism was as the arts correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. I’d hop on my motorbike in my greasy leathers (which I used to wear around the office, much to my then editor Max Hastings’s consternation) and zoom off to all manner of exhibition and gallery openings, many of them somehow related to the name Sackler. The Sackler family at the time were the world’s greatest arts philanthropists, with galleries and museums and rooms named after them from New York, London and Paris to the Far East. Like almost everyone, I had no idea of the source of their apparently limitless wealth. But I knew

If you watch one thing this Christmas, make it The Witcher

If you only watch one thing on TV this Christmas, make it The Witcher (Netflix). It’s by turns funny, exciting, scary, moving, dark, exhilarating; the special effects and battle sequences and fantastical walled cities are convincing; the casting and acting are pleasing; the storylines are a perfect balance between the intimate and the epic. I’m completely hooked. But what makes it so vastly superior to, say, the other big sword and sorcery series currently on TV, Amazon’s The Wheel of Time ? What it boils down to, I think, is congruence. The Witcher (being based mainly on a popular video game) knows what its preposterousnesses are and inhabits them like

Tells us more about today than the early 1960s: BBC1’s A Very British Scandal reviewed

For people who like a good upper-class scandal (or ‘people’, as they’re also known), 1963 was definitely a vintage year. Even before the Profumo affair came along, the divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll offered plenty to enjoy, with its courtroom tales of her 80-odd lovers and that famous Polaroid of her pleasuring a titillatingly anonymous man while still wearing her pearls. All of which presented something of a problem for BBC1’s three-part dramatisation, A Very British Scandal — and not just because it had to pretend not to be titillated itself. At a time when female blamelessness is such a dominant media theme, could it find a

The best of this year’s Christmas TV

Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the BBC. Upon publishing its 2021 Christmas schedule, the corporation was quickly attacked by some of its more trenchant critics who pointed out that – shock horror – its Xmas day line-up was completely identical to last year’s. What kind of fools do they take us for, they cried. Yet this brutal accusation breaks down almost entirely when you look at the schedule and realise that the vast majority of these alleged ‘repeats’ are actually nothing of the sort – but rather entirely new episodes of the same old Christmas staples. Is that a problem? Maybe. But imagine the backlash if the BBC

Even worse than the book: Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time reviewed

A couple of years ago, in that near-forgotten era when we could travel almost freely, I canvassed social media as to what should be my relaxing but involving holiday read during a fortnight in Greece. One suggestion — and this is why you should never trust the literary advice of random strangers — was Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I started the first book full of bright hope. It would be my new Tolkien-meets-Game of Thrones. Besides the strong personal recommendation and the slew of five-star reviews on Amazon, what persuaded me was the fact that the late author had served two heavily decorated tours of duty as

The return of the 90s

The 90s are back. From House of Gucci, Impeachment and the BBC’s unmissable New Labour documentary, it’s clear that this particular period is enjoying its turn in the cinematic limelight. For fans of the scandalous and surreal, this can only be good news. Hollywood has fixated on the 70s and 80s for years now which – while a boon to costume and wig designers – has begun to feel slightly repetitive. If drama commissioners are now shifting their gaze to the 90s, then we could be in for a wild ride. Admittedly, the 90s haven’t exactly been absent from our screens recently. We’ve already had the superlative The People vs OJ Simpson (and its thematic

More mesmerising than it should be – Disney+’s The Beatles: Get Back reviewed

My late friend Alexander Nekrassov loathed the Beatles, which I used to think was a wantonly contrary position akin to hating kittens or blue skies or Christmas carols. What could there possibly be not to like, love and admire about the band that gave us ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘A Day In the Life’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’? Since then I’ve encountered so many Beatles sceptics that it has given me pause for thought. Some think that the Beatles were just mediocre and not nearly as talented as, say, the Kinks; some even claim that they were as manufactured as the Monkees, that like their bad-guy opposites the Stones they were a

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

Some jolly TV artifice and a rare moment of authenticity: C4’s Miriam and Alan – Lost in Scotland reviewed

Thanks to Covid, the days are gone — or at least suspended — when a TV travel programme meant a thespian in a Panama hat wandering around souks and bravely trying some funny foreign food. Instead, we now have shows in which the presenters, often operating in pairs, drive around picturesque parts of Britain cranking up the bantz, with plenty of aerial shots of their car bowling along an abnormally empty road. Take Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland — by my reckoning approximately Exhibit P. The premise here is that Alan Cumming and Miriam Margolyes are seeking to reconnect with their proud Caledonian roots, which is why the first

A blisteringly bonkers first episode: Doctor Who – Flux reviewed

BBC1 continuity excitedly introduced the first in the new series of Doctor Who as ‘bigger and better than ever’ — presumably because the more accurate ‘bigger and better than it’s been for a bit’ doesn’t have quite the same punch. Still, Sunday’s programme was a definite, even exhilarating improvement on those of recent years. Since Chris Chibnall became the showrunner in 2018, thrills have taken a firm second place to solemn lectures on how the most dangerous monster of all is human prejudice. Yet at no stage here did the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) encounter some acknowledged hero of black and/or women’s history — and so allow us a self-satisfied bask