thu 24/07/2014

TV reviews, news & interviews

Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, BBC One

Jasper Rees

What is an opening ceremony for? For the taste gendarmerie on Twitter, it’s a juicy chance to fall on the festivities like a pack of wolves and tear the thing to shreds. For homegrown celebrities now domiciled far from the host country, it’s a chance to reaffirm vows of patriotism in public. For everyone else, it’s a party attended by some ridiculously beautiful athletes, plus the codgers of the bowls team.Bombastic? Certainly. Bloated? For sure. Tacky? Hell yes. Any ceremony featuring John...

The Mill, Series 2, Channel 4 / The Lancaster: Britain's Flying Past, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Supposedly, The Mill [*] was Channel 4's highest-rating drama of 2013, and the viewers' reward is this second series. However, the secret of the success of this dour, dimly lit series is hard to fathom. Its attempt to convert the history of working-class protest during the Industrial Revolution into a plausible interplay of character is as teeth-gnashingly literal-minded as it was first time round.Often, writer John Fay hardly seemed to bother with the "drama" part at all, as his screenplay...

The Joy of the Guitar Riff, BBC Four

Andy Plaice

We all love a good guitar riff and so a whole hour devoted to this one simple pleasure sounds like a surefire hit. BBC Four is the go-to channel for...

Glasgow Girls, BBC Three

Lisa-Marie Ferla

A few months ago, Glasgow Girls - Cora Bissett and David Greig’s 2013 musical based on the true story of seven teenage girls from Drumchapel, Glasgow...

Coast, Series 9, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

If you like middle-market tabloids, you’ll be into Coast. Like a reliable tide, the show about the sea has been washing up on BBC Two’s shores since...

Utopia, Series 2, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Dennis Kelly's tortuous spine-chiller roars back in lethal form

Opinion: The docusoap must die, again

Jasper Rees

A generic mutation has come back from the grave, and it still sucks

Britain's Most Dangerous Songs: Listen to the Banned, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Stories of the tunes the Beeb refused to play

The Lance Armstrong Story - Stop at Nothing, BBC Four / The Nation's Favourite Motown Song, ITV

Adam Sweeting

The inside story of the biggest fraud in sporting history

Common, BBC One

Matthew Wright

Jimmy McGovern shines a light on both the humanity and legality of joint enterprise

theartsdesk Q&A: Writer Jimmy McGovern

Jasper Rees

Television's premier dramatist on righting wrongs in his new courtroom drama Common

The Honourable Woman, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

In which Hugo Blick tackles the personal and political complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian question

Rebels of Oz: Germaine, Clive, Barry and Bob, BBC Four

Fisun Güner

A lovely Howard Jacobson essay on four fearless expat Aussies

The Culture Show: Girls Will Be Girls, BBC Two

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Exploration of women in punk strikes only a few bum notes

Arena: The 50 Year Argument, BBC Four

Fisun Güner

A warmly engaging film about the 'New York Review of Books' might have been more than a birthday love-in

Beauty Queen or Bust, Channel 4

Andy Plaice

It's nail extensions at dawn in the battle to become Miss Black Country

DVD: Wallander – Collected Films

Kieron Tyler

Sweden’s troubled detective bows out with a dazzling performance from Krister Henriksson

Shopgirls: the True Story of Life Behind the Counter, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

How British retailing was transformed by its own sexual revolution

Murdered By My Boyfriend, BBC Three

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Domestic violence drama single-handedly makes the case for BBC Three

Glyndebourne: the Untold History, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

How an operatic revolution was born in the rural splendour of east Sussex

A Cabbie Abroad, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Telly natural Mason McQueen finds out about Pol Pot

Fostering & Me with Lorraine Pascale, BBC Two

Andy Plaice

Telly chef unravels the secrets of her tortuous upbringing

American TV not always better, claims BBC boss Danny Cohen

Adam Sweeting

BBC supremo takes viewers to task for their transatlantic tastes

Tigers about the House, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Outrageously photogenic Sumatran cubs do their bit for wildlife conservation

World Cup Finals 2014, BBC One

Matthew Wright

Cool psychological class puts the Italians on top

Going to the Dogs, Channel 4

Tom Birchenough

Man's best friend sought in not very friendly Birmingham locations

Britain's Whale Hunters: The Untold Story, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Adam Nicolson's harrowing history of mass slaughter on the ocean wave

David Beckham into the Unknown, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Becks explores Brazil's interior, and his own

Listed: The World Cup's Most Beautiful Goals

Jasper Rees

In which scoring aspires to the condition of culture

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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