sat 20/09/2014

TV reviews, news & interviews

Legends, Sky 1 / The Strain, Watch

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Let's face it, there are so many big-budget, densely plotted US TV imports around now that it seems a little hackneyed to compare them to buses - but even by those standards, scheduling the two newest ones concurrently seems a little careless. Your choice: Legends, an FBI procedural with a twist from Homeland show-runner Howard Gordon; or Guillermo del Toro's vampire virus horror The Strain.Neither premise is particularly original but Legends (***), with Sean Bean in the lead role as veteran...

This World: Ireland's Lost Babies, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

We think we know the story. As recounted in Philomena, in the 1950s and ‘60s the Irish state and Catholic Church colluded in putting children born out of wedlock up for adoption. A small minority was sent to America, causing a lifetime of trauma and longing in both mothers and children. For portraying one such mother who went in search of her son, Judi Dench was nominated for an Oscar, and the woman she played met Pope Francis. The film’s ending was, if not quite happy, then at least redemptive...

Glue, E4

Veronica Lee

Jack Thorne's new eight-part drama is set in a fictional but recognisable small English village, Overton, where life is centred on farming and...

Cilla, ITV

Adam Sweeting

With Cilla Black still fighting fit and eminently telly-worthy at 71, it feels a bit odd to find a three-part dramatisation of her life popping up on...

The Village, Series 2 Finale, BBC One

Tom Birchenough

You may have had to search for his name in the closing credits of this final episode of series two of The Village, but all plaudits were due to its...

British Art at War: Bomberg, Sickert and Nash, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Andrew Graham-Dixon begins an excellent trilogy about World War One artists with Paul Nash

Boardwalk Empire, Series 5, Sky Atlantic

Adam Sweeting

Final season opener suffers from sensory overload

Tyrant, Fox

Adam Sweeting

The complexities of the Middle East rehashed as slick TV drama

All Creatures Great and Stuffed, Channel 4

Tom Birchenough

'Nowt as queer as folk': Matt Rudge ventures into the wilder reaches of taxidermy

Don't Stop the Music, C4 / The Motorway: Life in the Fast Lane, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

James Rhodes gets music education moving. The M6 remains at a standstill

In the Club, Series Finale, BBC One

Lisa-Marie Ferla

No time for deep breaths as baby drama reaches a suitably eventful conclusion

The Rules of Abstraction with Matthew Collings, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Revelation of early Swedish woman artist opened magpie survey of abstract art

Constable: A Country Rebel, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Tradit Tory or true revolutionary? Alastair Sooke ponders John Constable's heritage ahead of major V&A exhibition

A Season at the Juilliard School, Sky Arts 2

David Nice

Infomercial about arts training looks set to be distinctly undramatic

theartsdesk Q&A: Actress Sofie Gråbøl

Jasper Rees

The face of Nordic noir on The Killing, cancer and playing a queen for two national theatres

Sgt. Bilko - The Phil Silvers Show: The Complete Collection

Nick Hasted

Every minute of the ageless sitcom king

Castles in the Sky, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Eddie Izzard quietly convincing as scientist who invented radar

Our Zoo, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Drama about the founding of Chester Zoo should be wilder

Gems TV, ITV

Tom Birchenough

Ambiguous documentary on 'romancing the stones' - or, new ways to retail bargain jewellery

Return to Betjemanland, BBC Four

Matthew Wright

AN Wilson's highly condensed biodoc rattles along giddily but brilliantly

Andrew Marr’s Great Scots - The Writers Who Shaped a Nation, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

Magisterial, richly entertaining study of Scottish identity through its literature

Blondie’s New York and the Making of Parallel Lines, BBC Four

Kieron Tyler

Superficial tribute to one of pop’s great albums

Stammer School: Musharaf Finds His Voice, Channel 4

Tom Birchenough

Great television as stammerers make moving journey towards self-expression

Star Paws: The Rise of Superstar Pets, Channel 4

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Flimsy documentary is one for the feline-minded

Worst Place To Be A Pilot, Channel 4

Matthew Wright

Fascinating and original concept only partially ruined by condescending direction

Al Murray's Great British War Films, BBC Four

Andy Plaice

Military intervention might have helped spark some life into this panel chat

The Honourable Woman, Series Finale, BBC Two

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Final episode of Hugo Blick's absorbing thriller avoids neat conclusions

Doctor Who: Deep Breath, BBC One

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Capaldi's eyebrows steal the show as a new era begins

The Kate Bush Story: Running Up that Hill, BBC Four

Matthew Wright

A great compendium of Bush's back catalogue, though the talking heads are hit and miss

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.

Close Footnote

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

10 Questions for Musician Gruff Rhys

Super Furry Animal travels to the heart of America in pursuit of a long-los...

Carmen, Welsh National Opera

Bizet's masterpiece, seventeen years on and it shows

Classical CDs Weekly: Gallay, Emma Johnson, Wihan Quartet

Rousing music for natural horns, clarinet sonatas and the Beatles as you...

Albion, Bush Theatre

New play about English nationalism is timely, but undermined by its musical...

CD: Aphex Twin - Syro

yvyll333'n'quakkers, as Aphex might have it - a fine and enjoyabl...

The Riot Club

Play-turned-film is brutal, well-acted, and hard to take seriously

Sarah Jane Morris, Union Chapel

Singular vocalist launches her most complete, most memorable statement to d...

The Real Tudors, National Portrait Gallery

A modest but groundbreaking display brings together portraits of a great dy...

Goat Simulator

You'll believe a goat can sort of fly

DVD: Only Lovers Left Alive

A love story, cool vampire tale and wry comedy in one