Tv

Audiences don’t want woke: comic-book writer Mark Millar interviewed

Mark Millar has a raging hangover but he couldn’t be more chirpy or enthusiastic. ‘People say they get worse as you get older but I get reverse hangovers where I feel amazing. I wake up at four or five and I’m ready to go!’ I’ve caught him on a Sunday morning, on his way to Mass, after an exhausting three weeks in which he has been doing up to 45 interviews a day to promote Jupiter’s Legacy, his blockbuster superhero series for Netflix. He ought to be nervous: this is his first big project off the blocks since (in 2017) the studio bought up his publishing company Millarworld for a

A TV doc that is truly brave: BBC1’s Ian Wright – Home Truths reviewed

Ian Wright: Home Truths began with the ex-footballer saying that the home he grew up in was ‘not a happy one’. As truths go, though, this soon turned out to belong firmly in the category of ‘understated’. Not surprisingly, Wright’s favourite boyhood programme was Match of the Day — which is why his stepfather would make him stand with his face against the wall while it was on. (‘Just because he could,’ Wright explained.) He also beat Wright’s mother: often, Wright recalled, while she repeatedly cried the word ‘Sorry!’ One consequence of this abuse, he went on, was that she took it out on him — informing him on ‘a

This Is My House has rekindled my love for the BBC

Here’s a thought that will make you feel old. Or worried. Or both. The poke-fun-at-celebrity-houses series Through the Keyhole — originally presented by Loyd Grossman — was first broadcast as a segment on TV-am in February 1983. That means that we are now as far away in time from Through the Keyhole’s first episode as its debut was from the end of the second world war. It has endured almost till the present (I actually preferred the Keith Lemon version to the stilted and slightly turgid original) because it’s such an addictive format. Most of us fancy ourselves as amateur psychologist sleuths, picking up on those telling details missed by

Intelligence-insulting schlock: Sky Atlantic’s Your Honor reviewed

I’m really not enjoying Your Honor, the latest vehicle for Bryan Cranston to play a good man driven to the dark side by extraordinary and compelling circumstances designed to make the viewer go: ‘There but for the grace of God go I…’ The problem with the compelling circumstances in this case is that they feel so desperately contrived. Cranston plays a priggishly upright New Orleans judge who radiates implausible goodness and rectitude. We first glimpse this during the case of a trial of a black woman accused by police of concealing drugs in an intimate part of her anatomy. A white cop, sweating integrity, swears on the witness stand that

It’s impossible not to feel snooty watching ITV’s Agatha and Poirot

Agatha and Poirot was one of those programmes that had the annoying effect of making you feel distinctly snooty. ITV’s decision to dedicate 85 minutes of primetime Easter Monday television to a books-related documentary was never likely to result in a steely Leavisite engagement with literature. Nor, of course, should it. Even so, it was hard to avoid a dowager-like shudder when, for example, one contributor declared that Agatha Christie ‘will never be surpassed as the world’s greatest novelist’ — especially when the contributor was that well-known literary critic Lesley Joseph. Or when Danny John-Jules suggested that a murder is ‘the last thing you’d expect’ in a book set on

The Mozarts of ad music

It’s Christmas 2020 and Kevin the Carrot is on a mission. Snow swirls, ice glistens and roast turkeys and cold cuts wait on the table, bathed in cosy firelight. The visual symbols of Christmas are all present and correct in the big Aldi seasonal advert, but what pulls them together is the music. A hint of John Williams on a solo horn, a burst of swashbuckling rhythm; symphonic strings as our vegetable hero makes it home. It’s all there, sumptuously scored and precisely gauged to make you feel that in 30 seconds, you’ve experienced an epic. And then, of course, to go out and buy parsnips. ‘I was lucky, because

The best cop dramas to rival Line of Duty

As the sixth series of Line of Duty heats up, the good old police procedural drama is clearly back in fashion. If you need an additional fix before the next helping from AC-12, here are our favourite cops on television: Jimmy McNulty, The Wire As a rule of thumb, fictional cops tend to gravitate towards two moral archetypes: rule-breaking mavericks at one end and corrupt cynics at the other. But David Simon’s seminal work about the city of Baltimore blew that spectrum wide open, showing its various police teams as every bit as complex and compromised as the criminals they pursued. At the heart of it all is Jimmy McNulty: the

BBC Four and the dumbing down of British television

The announcement this week that BBC Four is to stop making new programmes and become a largely repeats-only channel – which they are cheekily calling ‘archive’ to make it sound better – is a depressing reminder to viewers of a very long-term trend. When BBC Four was launched amidst much fanfare in 2002, its slogan was ‘Everybody Needs a Place to Think’. Has the BBC decided that they no longer do? Or perhaps the corporation – in focusing on ‘youth programming’ like BBC Three – thinks it isn’t its job to provide one. Oh dear. Whatever happened to television? And in particular, the area that BBC Four was particularly supposed to

Covid virtue-signalling has infected our TV dramas

Not for the first time in its history, Eastenders managed to make a bit of a stir last week. In a break from the more harrowing stuff, viewers were treated to the sight of the ever-sprightly Patrick Trueman waltzing into the Minute Mart to jubilantly announce he’d received his second Covid vaccine. ‘Good for you! I’m due my first one later today,’ replied the shop-keeper, before dismissing the objections of a vaccine hesitant customer (called Karen, of all things). As you can imagine, the scene went down like a cup of cold sick with conspiratorially-minded types online. But you don’t have to believe odd things about Bill Gates to ask

Apple TV+’s new series damn near cost me my marriage: Calls reviewed

Calls is the very antithesis of televisual soma. In fact it’s so jarring and discomfiting and horrible that I think this week’s column damn near cost me my marriage. ‘Why are we having to watch this hideous drivel?’ grumbled the Fawn, who felt cheated of a soothing night glued to our new addiction, the French series Call My Agent! (Netflix). ‘Because it’s my job and this is a new thing and Call My Agent! isn’t,’ I said. So I had to watch on my own. I do understand the Fawn’s objections. Really, it’s more like radio than TV and might work better enlivening a long car journey. There are no

Revelatory and grubby: Framing Britney Spears reviewed

The most headline-grabbing of these three pop docs was Framing Britney Spears, part of the New York Times Presents documentary series, and a bit of a worldwide sensation. It was both revelatory and grubby. As many have noted, the footage of interviews with Spears as a prepubescent and teenager was so deeply unpleasant, so unrelentingly sexual, that it seemed to come not from 20 years ago, but from Neanderthal times. The simple accumulation of the public record was horrifying. No wonder people such as Jimmy Savile were able to thrive. If television interviewers could ask a teenage girl about her breasts, about whether she was having sex, then is it

How stupid do the script writers of Sky’s Devils think we are?

Here’s a worried question I want to plant in your head: when is TV drama going to start depicting the world we actually live in, where almost everyone wears masks, even outdoors? The current state of affairs — watching people on screen in familiar locations interacting closely, as we used to, and not wearing face-coverings — is a bit jarring. But it’s greatly preferable to the alternative: mumbled lines even more unintelligible than they are usually, smiles and teeth and noses and lips hidden behind a rag — and concealed with them not just beauty or character but half the means our faces use to convey emotion. I wonder, though,

Our love affair with the Anglo-Saxons

On 5 July 2009, an unemployed 54-year-old metal detectorist called Terry Herbert was walking through a Staffordshire field when his detector started to beep and didn’t stop. Herbert guessed almost immediately that he’d found gold. What he didn’t realise was that he had made Britain’s greatest archaeological discovery since the second world war. Three hundred sword-hilt fittings, many of them spectacular examples of Anglo-Saxon metalwork; a mysterious gold-and-garnet headdress, apparently for a priest; miniature sculptures of horses, fish, snakes, eagles and boars. The Staffordshire Hoard, as it became known, led to a sold-out exhibition, an Early Day Motion in parliament saluting ‘the UK’s largest haul of gold Anglo-Saxon treasure’, and,

James Delingpole

Impossibly exciting: Sky Atlantic’s ZeroZeroZero reviewed

ZeroZeroZero is the impossibly exciting new drugs series from Roberto Saviano — the author who gave us perhaps my all-time favourite TV drama Gomorrah. What I love about Gomorrah is its utter ruthlessness and total artistic integrity. It’s set amid the warring drugs factions of the Neopolitan mafia (the Camorra) and never at any point do you feel that authenticity is being sacrificed for reasons of marketability or politically correct sensitivities or narrative arc. Not without reason has it been called the series ‘where characters die before they become characters’. Saviano himself has paid a terrible price for his honesty. He grew up among those Neapolitan gangs — ‘I saw

Incoherent and conspiracy-fuelled: Adam Curtis’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head reviewed

‘History,’ wrote Edward Gibbon, ‘is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.’ In this respect, though, history has nothing on the work of Adam Curtis, whose latest documentary Can’t Get You Out of My Head has now arrived on BBC iPlayer — all six episodes and eight and a half hours of it. Anybody who’s seen Curtis’s previous series (including The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares and The Trap) will know what to expect. Once again, he mixes terrific news footage, short clips of more or less anything, mood-inducing songs and a lordly commentary to remind us just how hopeless

Makes me nostalgic for an era when music was more than a click away: Teenage Superstars reviewed

In Teenage Superstars, a long and slightly exhausting documentary about the Scottish indie scene of the 1980s and ’90s, there was a moment when a man revelling in the name of Stephen Pastel — his real name is Stephen McRobbie, and he must be pushing 60 now — was described as ‘the mayor of the Scottish underground’. Such a position — even one, as this, necessarily unelected — would be all but impossible to occupy today. With the internet and democratisation of music — its creation, its distribution, its consumption — has come the fallowing of what were once its most fertile fields: the local scenes created and inhabited by

You’ll wish you were gay: Channel 4’s It’s a Sin reviewed

To promote his new drama series about Aids in the early 1980s, Russell T. Davies insisted in an interview that gay characters should be played only by actors who are actually gay. This was maddening for a number of reasons, starting with blatant hypocrisy. One of the things that made Davies’s Queer As Folk so watchable was Aidan Gillen’s mesmerising performance as the smirking, predatory, cocksure queen of the Mancunian gay scene Stuart Alan Jones. It was the making of Gillen, who went on to star as Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish in Game of Thrones. But Gillen, who has a girlfriend and two children, almost certainly fails Davies’s gay authenticity test.

John DeLorean: man of mystery – and full-blown psychopath

DeLorean: Back from the Future was one of those documentaries — for me at least — that takes a story you thought you sort of knew and makes you realise a) that you didn’t really, and b) what a great story it is. The programme began, as it was pretty much duty-bound to, with a clip of Michael J. Fox and the time-travelling DeLorean car from the movie that inspired Wednesday’s means-less-the-more-you-think-about-it subtitle. A series of captions then introduced us to John DeLorean himself: a man who ‘had everything’ (cue shots of a much younger ex-model wife and some Rolexes) until he ‘risked it all’ in the mid-1970s, when he

Serial killers on screen: from Nilsen to The Night Stalker

As the success of The Serpent and The Pembrokeshire Murders shows, many of us remain oddly fascinated by serial killers. But for all its popularity, the serial killer format can be tricky to get right – with many coming across as distasteful, clichéd or overly sensationalised. Here are eight recent shows – both dramas and documentaries – that strike the right balance:  Des,  ITV Player  ITV’s gripping portrayal of the cold and calculating Dennis Nilsen (known in the red top press as the Muswell Hill Murderer) flips the format on its head by starting with the last thing you’d expect: a confession. But as David Tennant’s ‘Des’ recounts his killing spree

Like trying to understand some obscure but fashionable meme: WandaVision reviewed

‘What the world needs now is a black and white pastiche of classic 1950s and 1960s sitcoms reviving two Marvel superhero characters who were last seen getting killed in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame,’ said… well, I was about to say: ‘said no one ever’. But clearly someone did, because this is what we’ve now got on Disney+: a bizarro series called WandaVision. I feel terribly out of the loop for not quite getting it. But possibly I’m not the target audience. For a start, I haven’t seen either of those Avengers movies; nor am I sufficiently familiar with the nuances of the Marvel comics universe to get all