tue 09/02/2016

TV reviews, news & interviews

The X-Files, Channel 5

Lisa-Marie Ferla

It’s 2016, and The X-Files is the most popular TV show in the world. The very idea that over 20 million people in the US would tune in to a new episode of the pioneering sci-fi drama 14 years after the last one might seem as preposterous as the conspiracy theories the show put forward in its later years, but it was probably more likely than fans in the UK hanging on the fortnight it took for the new episodes to show up on Channel 5.There’s a lot to be said for nostalgiaThe problem, though, is...

War and Peace, Series Finale, BBC One

David Nice

At the end of Episode Five, Brian Cox's savvy old Field-Marshal Kutuzov gave the order to retreat and abandon Moscow, with hardly a hint of Tolstoy's council of war. That left the final hour and 20 minutes to wrap up the burning of Russia's sacred capital, Pierre's capture by the French and his best shot at the meaning of life through the peasant Platon Karatayev, Natasha's reconciliation with the wounded Andrei, the French retreat dogged by partisan attacks and then all the other loose ends. A...

Cats v Dogs, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

This slightly ludicrous programme is really a chance to see a charming range of dogs and cats, based on an assumption that by comparing cats and dogs...

Camila's Kids Company: The Inside Story, BBC...

Adam Sweeting

In 2005, Lynn Alleway made a film about Kids' Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh called Tough Kids – Tough Love. In June last year, Alleway was...

Rise of the Superstar Vloggers, BBC Three

Jasper Rees

This debate about the future of the BBC might be missing the point. In the black corner scowls the Dark Lord of Swingeing Arts Cuts John Whittingdale...

The Good Wife, Series 7, More4 / The Nightmare Worlds of HG Wells, Sky Arts

Adam Sweeting

Welcome return of the upmarket legal saga, plus a glimmer of vintage Gambon

The Real Marigold Hotel, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Real-life trial at retirement living in Jaipur curiously disavows past precedents

Endeavour, Series 3 Finale

Mark Sanderson

The slow, lingering death of the Great British Crime Drama

Stan Lee's Lucky Man, Sky1

Adam Sweeting

Stan Lee got lucky, but maybe not the viewers

The Story of China, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Meet the new China – but how different is it from the old China?

The Jihadis Next Door, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Hair-raising investigation of Britain's home-grown Islamic extremists

Crashing, Channel 4

Veronica Lee

New flatshare comedy drama is a slow burn

Occupied, Sky Arts

Adam Sweeting

Norwegian political thriller may be the real reality TV

The Story of Scottish Art, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Artist Lachlan Goudie's excellent survey of his country's art takes us to Rome

Tracey Ullman's Show, BBC One

Veronica Lee

Brilliant and welcome return to our screens

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands / Mr Selfridge, Series 4, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Anglo-Saxon legend gets unlikely digital makeover

Spin, More 4

Veronica Lee

French political thriller has a lot going on

Jericho, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Once upon a time in the West Riding

War and Peace, BBC One

Tom Birchenough

Promising opening to Andrew Davies's go at Tolstoy's long one

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Mind-expanding trip through the alternative Holmesian universe

Best (and Worst) of 2015: Television

theartsdesk

Triumphs and turkeys from a TV industry in transition

And Then There Were None, BBC One

David Nice

Elegantly cast, well-filmed adaptation of Agatha Christie's most devilish thriller

Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemisia, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

The mysteries of an artistic life and reputation investigated by curious Python

Harry Price: Ghost Hunter, ITV / Homeland, Series 5 Finale

Adam Sweeting

Rafe Spall shows spook-busting promise, while 'Homeland' freezes the blood

Catherine Tate's Nan, BBC One

Veronica Lee

Sweary old curmudgeon returns

Dickensian, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Charles Dickens's characters assemble from all corners in a moreish soap

Downton Abbey – The Finale, ITV

Adam Sweeting

The end? Really?

We're Doomed! The Dad's Army Story, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Touching comedy drama tells of a near miss for a national institution

Fargo, Series 2 Finale, Channel 4

Lisa-Marie Ferla

An uncharacteristically quiet ending to a second satisfying series

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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