fri 10/04/2020

TV reviews, news & interviews

Alma's Not Normal, BBC Two review - bare-knuckle comedy pilot hits the spot

Adam Sweeting

Creating the opening episode of a new comedy series is like flipping pancakes with one hand while playing the Moonlight Sonata with the other. You have to introduce your characters and invent the world they live in, while squeezing in enough plot to keep the action moving.

Return to Belsen, ITV review - Jonathan Dimbleby retraces his father's journey to a nightmare world

Adam Sweeting

When the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany was liberated by the British 11th Armoured Division on 15 April 1945, the BBC’s reporter Richard Dimbleby was there to record the occasion.

Ozark, Series 3 review, Netflix - money-...

Adam Sweeting

While not the most headline-catching show on Netflix, Ozark has been steadily accruing critical accolades (including a couple of Emmys) and a devoted...

Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema, BBC Four...

Marina Vaizey

Mirrors and windows, looking at ourselves or out into the world, reflecting the culture or making it: compare and contrast. This was the subliminal...

The Trip to Greece, Series Finale, Sky 1 review...

Adam Sweeting

Could this mock-mythic journey, emulating the trek homewards to Ithaca of Homer’s hero Odysseus, really be the final series of The Trip (Sky 1)? Or...

Pen15, Sky Comedy review - the horror of adolescent schooldays revisited

Adam Sweeting

Thirty-somethings Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle revisit their Y2K pubescence

The Steph Show, Channel 4 review - magazine show debuts from host's front room

Veronica Lee

Steph McGovern to the rescue

Batwoman, E4 review - can Bruce Wayne's female cousin fill his bat-costume?

Adam Sweeting

Ruby Rose plays Batwoman, Gotham City's newest saviour

Rock ‘n’ Roll Island: Where Legends Were Born, BBC Four review - remembering rock's big bang

Liz Thomson

Eel Pie Island was London's answer to the Cavern, but what emerged was less genteel

ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads, Netflix review - a story well told but marred by clichéd style

Mark Kidel

Robert Johnson: a pact with the devil? A myth de-constructed, yet enhanced

Mister Winner, BBC2 review - gentle comedy about one of life's losers

Veronica Lee

Spencer Jones plays a modern-day Frank Spencer

The Two Killings of Sam Cooke, Netflix review - civil rights and singing in an unjust world

India Lewis

An investigation into the life and untimely death of a civil rights hero

Our Girl, Series 5, BBC One review - where soap and warfare collide

Adam Sweeting

Our heroine finds herself persuaded to return to the Afghan front line

Comedy Against Living Miserably, Dave review - standups tread the boards for CALM charity

Adam Sweeting

Comedians become standup therapists to confront mental health issues

Putin: A Russian Spy Story, Channel 4 review - inside the mind of a man without a face

Tom Birchenough

The anatomy of power behind the man in the Kremlin, and where he came from

Slipknot Unmasked: All Out Life, BBC iPlayer – masked metalheads reveal all

Guy Oddy

An intimate show from the Iowa rockers but not a mellow one

The English Game, Netflix review - it's the toffs versus the workers in this version of sporting history

Adam Sweeting

Julian Fellowes's fanciful recreation of the birth of the Beautiful Game

The Story of Ready Steady Go!, BBC Four review - when life was fab

Liz Thomson

The show which started both the weekend and the whole concept of music television

Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings Story, BBC Two review - disruptive political maverick eludes pigeonholing

Marina Vaizey

How Downing Street's secretive adviser set out to create a revolution in Westminster

Feel Good, Channel 4 and Netflix review - a fresh, bingeable comedy that digs deep but feels mild

Jill Chuah Masters

Mae Martin’s dramedy about addiction is honest and enjoyable — but is it that funny?

The Art Mysteries, BBC Four review - secrets and symbols of Van Gogh's famous self-portrait

Adam Sweeting

Waldemar Januszczak throws a different light on a masterpiece

Penance, Channel 5 review - lust, disgust and mistrust in Kate O'Riordan's thrilller

Adam Sweeting

Slow-burning mystery needs more screen time to develop

Sunnyside, Sky Comedy review - the immigrant experience and the American dream

Markie Robson-Scott

Kal Penn's predictable comedy pulls its punches

Belgravia, ITV review - when the toffs and the nouveaux riches collided

Adam Sweeting

Sex, war, money and class: a social history lesson from Lord Fellowes

The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team, Amazon Prime review - how ball-tampering scandal forced a cricket revolution

Adam Sweeting

Compelling inside story of coach Justin Langer's mission to rebuild the Australian side

Five Guys a Week, Channel 4 review - lemming-like contestants make spectacles of themselves

Adam Sweeting

Cattle market dating show is classic Channel 4

Beyond the Grace Note, Sky Arts review - march of the women conductors

Jessica Duchen

A message of long-belated triumph, but there's real exasperation too

RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 12, Netflix review - 13 queens up the game

David Nice

Shantay, they all stay, for now, but who'll win the crown is anyone's guess

Hilary Mantel: Return to Wolf Hall, BBC Two review - the storyteller and the truth

David Nice

The past in the present, engagingly explored by a fascinating personality

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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