fri 27/11/2015

TV reviews, news & interviews

The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds, Channel 4

Barney Harsent

Kids today eh? Eh? Ask them what they want to be and they’ll probably reply, “famous” or “rich.” I mean, really… what do they aspire to? What do they want? Wearable tech and a free pass to the Boot Camp stage of The X Factor at a guess. Tell you what, let's ask five-year-old Emily. "Emily, what do you want to be when you grow up?" "A jelly maker. A pencil sharpener!" Ooooooookay. I wasn’t expecting that. Good answer. I hope, one day, she achieves her dream. For now though, she and her band of...

Jessica Jones, Netflix

Barney Harsent

After the roaring success of Daredevil this year, Marvel brings us the next instalment in the TV rendering of their universe – or part of it at least. Jessica Jones, created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos in 2001, is a failed superhero and volatile PI who copes with her demons by drinking so heavily that at least one of her superpowers seems to reside in her liver. Super strength, near-flight and a fine line in withering sarcasm make up the rest.Once again, Netflix...

Capital, BBC One

Tom Birchenough

If the title wasn’t already occupied, television-wise, the BBC might have titled Capital “The Street”. It’s got the high soar-aways over urban...

Arena: Night and Day, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Arena is the longest-running arts documentary programme for television at the BBC, and perhaps the world: as the BBC itself phrases it, this...

The Bridge, Series 3, BBC Four

Jasper Rees

The Saga saga has come round for a third turn of the wheel. Much water has flowed under The Bridge since series two. Without wishing to provoke a...

Adele at the BBC, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Reclusive singer announces new album '25' with BBC special on Friday

Imagine: The Last Impresario, BBC One

Jasper Rees

A celebratory snapshot of Michael White, who backed Oh! Calcutta! and more

Storyville: Orion - The Man Who Would Be King, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

The strange story of the Elvis follow-up, who just wanted to be himself

David Gilmour: Wider Horizons, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Eminent Floydsman keeps his powder dry in engaging but undemanding profile

Warren Mitchell - ‘If you could be Welsh and Jewish you really couldn’t miss’

Jasper Rees

The creator of Alf Garnett, and Arthur Miller’s favourite British actor, remembered

Josh, BBC Three

Veronica Lee

Debut of bland twentysomethings flatshare sitcom

Imagine... My Curious Documentary, BBC One

Marina Vaizey

Multi-layered 'mockumentary' both enlightens and baffles

London Spy, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Art imitates life in subtly-drawn espionage chiller

Downton Abbey – The Last Episode, ITV

Adam Sweeting

The final episode of the last series... and not quite all is revealed

Maggie Smith: 'If there’s an old bat to play, it’ll be me'

Jasper Rees

As 'Downton Abbey' draws to a close, revisit a rare interview its biggest star gave on set

Dominic Sandbrook: Let Us Entertain You, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Selling England by the pound in our post-industrial age

Imagine… Antony Gormley: Being Human, BBC One

Marina Vaizey

Memorable encounter with sculptor Antony Gormley finds the 'Imagine...' strand in convincing form

Simply Nigella, BBC Two

Matthew Wright

The food is fresh, the concept stale

The Dresser, BBC Two

Matt Wolf

Ian McKellen is a stormin' Norman in starry yet patchy adaptation from the stage

BalletBoyz at the Roundhouse, BBC Four

Hanna Weibye

Beautiful contemporary dance from Scarlett and Maliphant, plus behind-the-scenes insights

Girl in a Band: Tales from the Rock'n'Roll Front Line, BBC Four

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Great guests, but competent documentary misses a trick

The Face of Britain by Simon Schama, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Virtuoso journey through British portraiture concludes with artists depicting themselves

Catastrophe, Series 2, Channel 4

Jasper Rees

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney return with potty-mouthed jokes about bringing up babies

Jekyll & Hyde, ITV / From Darkness, Series Finale, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Charlie Higson rewrites Robert Louis Stevenson for the age of superheroes

Listed: The 100 Funniest Things about Downton Abbey


Julian Fellowes' juggernaut has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in six series. Here's how he did it

Psychedelic Britannia, BBC Four

Barney Harsent

A whistlestop tour of the psychedelic Sixties proved a musical comfort blanket

The Last Kingdom, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

War, treachery, ambition and vengeance in muddy ninth century Northumbria

American Horror Story: Hotel, Season 5, FX

Fisun Güner

Gross-out carnage meets MTV. Will you be sleeping with the lights on this time?

theartsdesk Q&A: Writer Bernard Cornwell

Barney Harsent

As 'The Last Kingdom' starts on BBC Two, the 'Saxon Stories' author talks about shared history, discipline and putting doors in alleyways...

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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