tue 26/05/2020

TV reviews, news & interviews

Defending Jacob, Apple TV+ review - does murder run in the family?

Adam Sweeting

Since it debuted in November last year, Apple TV+ has barely made a dent in a market largely shaped by Netflix, but this eight-part adaptation of William Landay’s bestselling novel is a decisive step in the right direction.

What's the Matter with Tony Slattery?, BBC Two review - absorbing but troubling search for answers

Adam Sweeting

In the late Eighties and Nineties, Tony Slattery became one of the most ubiquitous faces on television, appearing regularly on Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Have I Got News For You while popping up in quizzes and sitcoms all over the place (as well as in the movies Peter’s Friends and The Crying Game)

A Very British Hotel Chain: Inside Best Western,...

Adam Sweeting

Do TV companies get some sort of financial incentive to use the phrase “A Very British…” in their programme titles? This now-meaningless descriptor...

Harry's Heroes: Euro Having a Laugh, ITV...

Adam Sweeting

Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously commented that football is far more serious than a matter of life and death. This couldn’t quite...

Arena: The Changin' Times of Ike White, BBC...

India Lewis

The most obvious comparison for The Changin’ Times of Ike White (BBC Four) is 2012’s Searching for Sugar Man, with its story of a potential star...

Hollywood, Netflix review - rosy escapism serving good causes

David Nice

A top ensemble makes this slick fantasy rewriting of Tinseltown history very easy to watch

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs The Reverend, Netflix review - bold, but only a partial success

Adam Sweeting

Interactive one-off episode works best in nugget-sized portions

I Know This Much Is True, Sky Atlantic review - riding a carousel of catastrophe

Adam Sweeting

Mark Ruffalo's powerful double performance sinks in a sea of troubles

The Last Kingdom, Season 4, Netflix review - blood, guts and dirty politics

Adam Sweeting

There's no rest for Uhtred in post-King Alfred England

Rob and Romesh vs Ballet, Sky 1 review - unlikely lads throw themselves in as bait

Adam Sweeting

The ballet world survives slapstick no-hopers

The A Word, Series 3, BBC One review - Christopher Eccleston steals the show

Adam Sweeting

Peter Bowker skilfully delivers a superior brand of soap

Westworld, Season 3 Finale, Sky Atlantic review - Dolores’s plans come to fruition

Joseph Walsh

Explosive finale exposes some of the season's weaknesses

The Shadows at Sixty, BBC Four review - pop's age of innocence

Liz Thomson

The guitar revolution starts here

Code 404, Sky One review - surreal cop comedy presses the right buttons

Markie Robson-Scott

Robo copper's a bit glitchy: Daniel Mays and Stephen Graham star

Blood, Series 2, Channel 5 review - expertly-crafted thriller turns the screw

Adam Sweeting

Examination of family values under extreme duress

Paul Hollywood Eats Japan, Channel 4 review - Mr Bake Off gets culture shock

Adam Sweeting

What have the Japanese done to deserve this?

The Village, ITV review - the weird and wonderful micro-climate of Portmeirion

Adam Sweeting

Inside Clough Williams-Ellis's Italianate Welsh fantasy

Normal People, BBC One review – adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel evokes the deep cut of first love

Joseph Walsh

Pain, despair and rapturous joy are captured in this richly-rendered drama

Grayson's Art Club, Channel 4 review - too many clichés and platitudes?

Marina Vaizey

Worthy but atypically conventional effort to lift the nation's spirits

Van der Valk, ITV review - can the Dutch detective make a successful comeback?

Adam Sweeting

Marc Warren reincarnates the Amsterdam investigator after a 30-year absence

Westworld, Season 3, Sky Atlantic review – a cyberpunk triumph

Joseph Walsh

It's still rich and intricate, but now stripped down and ready for action

After Life series 2, Netflix review - Ricky Gervais's study of bereavement continues

Veronica Lee

Second series opens slowly

Gangs of London, Sky Atlantic review - bloody terrifying

Adam Sweeting

Gripping and brutal crime epic gets off to an explosive start

The Truth about Amazon, Channel 4 review - buyer beware

Adam Sweeting

Helen Skelton and Sabrina Grant lift the lid on the retail monolith's dark secrets

A Country Life for Half the Price, Channel 5 review - Essex couple Sam and Lucy become rural entrepreneurs

Adam Sweeting

Swapping commuter misery for bees, birds and 'posh cats' in Suffolk

DVD: The Year of the Sex Olympics

Adam Sweeting

Nigel Kneale's vision of broadcasting future is showing its age

Quiz, ITV review - cheats never prosper. Well, hardly ever

Adam Sweeting

Clever and witty TV adaptation of James Graham's 'Coughing Major' play

The Rise and Fall of The Clash, Now TV review - London falling

Kieron Tyler

Absorbing blow-by-blow account of the great British punk band’s destruction

Rebuilding Notre-Dame: Inside the Great Cathedral Rescue, BBC Four review - a race against time

Florence Hallett

A year after the devastating fire, the cathedral's future is still uncertain

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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