sat 23/07/2016

TV reviews, news & interviews

Imagine... Danger! Cornelia Parker, BBC One

Marina Vaizey

Squash! Bulldoze! Blow-Up! Tie Up! Break-Up! Re-Build! There is practically nothing the artist Cornelia Parker won’t and can’t do with found materials, offcuts, the discarded and the recycled, not to mention tieing up Rodin’s The Kiss at the Tate in miles of string. Since she discovered bulldozer drivers like nothing better than bulldozing, she has been practically unstoppable. That DANGER! sign can be all too true when she is blowing something up, although found materials have included...

The Secret Agent, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Based on an abortive real-life attempt to blow up the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in 1894, Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent has sometimes been held up as a harbinger of the kind of terrorist attacks the world has been subjected to by the likes of Baader-Meinhof, Al Qaeda and Isis. Doubtless this was part of the BBC's motivation for making this new three-part dramatisation.However, any real-world resonances weren't assisted by the sluggish pace and melodramatic air of the piece, and...

The Hunter, All4

Matthew Wright

Crime and detective drama often shows us who we think we are. Despite typically baroque plotting, and murder statistics in which the sleepiest of...

The Banker's Guide to the Art Market, BBC...

Florence Hallett

This programme was not ironic, humorous or in any way lighthearted. I’m fairly sure of that, but worry that perhaps I’ve missed the joke.  A...

The Job Interview/My Worst Job, Channel 4

Barney Harsent

First appearances can be deceptive. You should notice them, take heed of them and then park them. This was the advice of Phillipa Darcy who, along...

The Secret Life of Children's Books, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

The Victorian fairy tale that influenced social reform

19-2, Spike

Mark Sanderson

Variation on cop buddy drama unfolds on the clean streets of Montreal

Brief Encounters, ITV

Jasper Rees

Penelope Wilton sells sex toys in the foundation myth of Ann Summers

Freud: Genius of the Modern World, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Dr Freud takes his turn in the psychiatrist's chair

The Living and the Dead, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Enlightenment battles superstition in this new historical chiller

EU Referendum Results – BBC, ITV, Sky News

Barney Harsent

In an evening of unexpected victories, Sky News did surprisingly well

The Good Wife, Series 7 Finale, More4

Adam Sweeting

Outstanding legal drama draws to a not-quite-perfect close

The South Bank Show: Joyce DiDonato, Sky Arts

Marina Vaizey

Not in Kansas any more – the mezzo who conquered the world

The Border, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Polish border guard drama captures the zeitgeist

The Disappearance, BBC Four

Jasper Rees

French crime drama finally ditches the red herrings to keep it in the family

Eurotrash, Channel 4

Jasper Rees

Zut. The return of bent fruits, continental chortles and jiggling Euroflesh

Marx: Genius of the Modern World, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Bettany Hughes probes the legacy of the co-author of the Communist Manifesto

Guitar Star, Sky Arts / Outcast, Fox

Adam Sweeting

Rockers, jazzers, classicists and bluesniks compete for guitar stardom

New Blood, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Anthony Horowitz's moreish Big Pharma drama is light on its feet

Versailles, BBC Two

Mark Sanderson

Sex, scandal and lots of dressing up in historical Euro-romp

Cameron and Farage: Live, ITV

Barney Harsent

The big hitters from either side of the referendum debate lost to an impressive audience

Handmade: By Royal Appointment, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

New series examines the renaissance of the artisan artefact

Wallander, Series 4 Finale, BBC One / Dicte: Crime Reporter, More4

Adam Sweeting

A gloomy farewell from Kenneth Branagh, and the arrival of Dicte Svendsen

Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments and Modernism, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Il Duce gets the treatment in Jonathan Meades's gallery of great dictators

Revolution and Romance: Musical Masters of the 19th Century, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

The birth of the notion of musician as superstar

The wisdom and wit of Carla Lane

Jasper Rees

The creator of 'The Liver Birds', 'Bread' and 'Butterflies' recalled in her own words

A Midsummer Night's Dream, BBC One

Matt Wolf

Russell T Davies's revisionist Shakespeare delivers on its own, often puckish terms

Top Gear, BBC Two

Matthew Wright

The starry partnership of Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc misfires in series relaunch

Going Going Gone, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

Nick Broomfield in elegiac mode holds out for history

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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