wed 24/05/2017

TV reviews, news & interviews

The best TV to watch this week


So much to view, so little time... theartsdesk sorts the TV-wheat from the telly-chaff.

Three Girls, BBC One review - drama as shattering public enquiry

Jasper Rees

Television dramas about catastrophic events in broken Britain are meant to be cathartic. They knead the collated facts into the shape of drama for millions to absorb and understand. Then we all somehow move on, sadder but slightly wiser. The Murder of Stephen Lawrence. Hillsborough. The Government Inspector.

Kat and Alfie: Redwater, BBC One review – '...

Adam Sweeting

EastEnders habituees will be familiar with the colourful past of Alfie and (especially) Kat Moon, who have both been AWOL from the mothership since...

A Time to Live, BBC Two review - an exquisite...

Veronica Lee

Imagine a doctor has just told you that you have only a year to live. What would you do? Learn to sky dive, spend every last penny you have, be...

A Time to Live: 'I did not want to reveal at...

Sue Bourne

Do you ever wonder what you’d do if you were given a terminal diagnosis and told you may only have months to live? That question is what my latest...

Born to Kill finale, Channel 4 review – a full-blown psychotic nightmare

Mark Sanderson

Did psychopathic Sam inherit his father's demon seed?

King Charles III, BBC Two review - royal crisis makes thrilling drama

Adam Sweeting

Palace intrigue takes a giant leap from stage to television

Babs review - Barbara Windsor's playful screen therapy

Jasper Rees

Tricksy theatrical retelling of a starlet's dramatic life on BBC One

Britain's Nuclear Bomb: The Inside Story review - 'power, politics and national identity'

Adam Sweeting

BBC Four tells how Britain battled for a seat at the nuclear top table

Midnight Sun finale review - 'terminal silliness, wholesale slaughter'

Mark Sanderson

Life is cheap in Sky Atlantic's berserk Lapland thriller

theartsdesk at The Hospital Club


Announcing a new partnership with the most creative club in London

Line of Duty, Series 4 finale review - 'great acting, great writing'

Jasper Rees

A satisfying, complicated comeuppance for Thandie Newton's Roz Huntley. Contains spoilers

Brian Johnson's A Life on the Road review – ripping yarns of rock'n'roll

Adam Sweeting

Veteran rockers reminisce riotously on Sky Arts

The Good Fight review - 'flawless writing and acting'

Veronica Lee

Legal drama spin-off is as superlative as its precursor

Little Boy Blue review – 'the sum of all fears'

Adam Sweeting

Skilful ITV dramatisation of real-life murder story

Broadchurch review - the final reckoning

David Benedict

Farewell to the nation's favourite hinges on surprise

Homeland review - 'worryingly prescient'

Adam Sweeting

Something is rotten in the State of the Union

Maigret's Night at the Crossroads review - 'more straight faces from Rowan Atkinson'

Jasper Rees

A quiet rural instalment for Simenon's psychological sleuth

Guerrilla review – 'it takes itself fantastically seriously'

Adam Sweeting

Racism and revolution in 1970s London

Our Friend Victoria review – ‘Victoria Wood’s genius is irreplaceable’

Jasper Rees

Julie Walters presents the first part of BBC One's series celebrating a comedian without equal

Vera, Series 7, review - 'brilliant Blethyn stuck in bog-standard drama'

Mark Sanderson

More downbeat detection in a Northumbrian wilderness

Tim Pigott-Smith: from The Jewel in the Crown to King Charles III

Jasper Rees

The actor played pillars of the establishment, but there was much more to him than that

The Last Kingdom - 'one of the very best things on television'

Adam Sweeting

Karma comes to Kjartan the Cruel in the BBC Two blockbuster

Mary Magdalene: Art's Scarlet Woman, review - 'lugubrious'

Sarah Kent

In focusing on the titillating details, Januszczak misses a key question

Henry IX, UK Gold, review - 'return of sitcom classics'

Veronica Lee

Clement and La Frenais' latest sitcom is stuffed with gags

Catastrophe, Series 3, review - 'the end of the road?'

Jasper Rees

Good grief? Channel 4's marital sitcom turns deadly serious

How To Be a Surrealist with Philippa Perry, review - 'exhilarating'

Sarah Kent

The psychoanalyst investigates the world of Dalí, Buñuel and Man Ray on BBC Four

Decline and Fall review - 'a riotously successful adaptation'

Mark Sanderson

Evelyn Waugh brilliantly brought to BBC One with Jack Whitehall and Eva Longoria

Anna Maxwell Martin: 'I like playing baddies' - interview

Heather Neill

She's been Sally Bowles, Lady Macbeth and Elizabeth Darcy. Now for a gritty courtroom drama about rape

Footnote: a brief history of British TV

You could almost chart the history of British TV by following the career of ITV's Coronation Street, as it has ridden 50 years of social change, seen off would-be rivals, survived accusations of racism and learned to live alongside the BBC's EastEnders. But no single programme, or even strand of programmes, can encompass the astonishing diversity and creativity of TV-UK since BBC TV was officially born in 1932.

Nostalgists lament the demise of single plays like Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home or Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, but drama series like The Jewel in the Crown, Edge of Darkness, Our Friends in the North, State of Play, the original Upstairs Downstairs or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will surely loom larger in history's rear-view mirror, while perhaps Julian Fellowes' surprise hit, Downton Abbey, heralds a new wave of the classic British costume drama. For that matter, indestructible comic creations like George Cole's Arthur Daley in Minder, Nigel Hawthorne's Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister, the Steptoes, Arthur Lowe and co in Dad's Army, John Cleese's Fawlty Towers or Only Fools and Horses insinuate themselves between the cracks of British life far more persuasively than the most earnest television documentary (at which Britain has become world-renowned).

British sci-fi will never out-gloss Hollywood monoliths like Battlestar Galactica, but Nigel Kneale's Quatermass stories are still influential 60 years later, and the reborn Doctor Who has been a creative coup for the BBC. British series from the Sixties like The Avengers, Patrick McGoohan's bizarre brainchild The Prisoner or The Saint (with the young Roger Moore) have bounced back as major influences on today's Hollywood, and re-echo through the BBC's enduringly successful Spooks.

Meanwhile, though British comedy depends more on maverick inspiration than the sleek industrialisation deployed by US television, that didn't stop Monty Python from becoming a global legend, or prevent Ricky Gervais being adopted as an American mascot. True, you might blame British TV (and Simon Cowell) for such monstrosities as The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, but the entire planet has lapped them up. And we can console ourselves that Britain also gave the world Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, David Attenborough's epic nature series Life on Earth and The Blue Planet, as well as Kenneth Clark's Civilisation. The Arts Desk brings you overnight reviews and news of the best (and worst) of TV in Britain. Our writers include Adam Sweeting, Jasper Rees, Veronica Lee, Alexandra Coghlan, Fisun Güner, Josh Spero and Gerard Gilbert.

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