sat 19/04/2014

TV reviews, news & interviews

Watermen: A Dirty Business, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

It’s a misnomer, of course. Water. It’s not even a prissy misnomer as in “when did you last pass water?” It’s more categorical than that: solids rather than liquids are our subject here. This is essentially a show about shit. Shit and all who sail in her.There’s a general principle that the worst jobs attract the nicest people, and clearing blocked drains teeming with raw sewage probably counts as a career path with one of the shorter queues at the job centre. But what delightful people do it,...

theartsdesk at the Final Frontier: Trekkie weekend in Blackpool

Jasper Rees

“I don’t do the costumes,” says an intense bloke called Adrian. “That’s for people without a life. I’ve no interest in that.” Further down the corridor, or the Upper Deck as they’re calling it for one weekend only, there’s Kevin, who presumably has no life. Kevin is wearing a maroon zip-up blouson with black shoulders, retailing at £35. “Last year I wore normal clothes and I felt out of place,” he says. “I’ve been a fan for years but I’ve never had the courage to actually come to one. We’re...

Only Connect, BBC Four

Veronica Lee

EM Forster fans will straight away get the reference in the quiz show's title to Howards End. Those of a less literary bent will make another mental...

Ian Hislop's Olden Days: the Power of the...

Matthew Wright

BBC channels One and Two currently present such different sides of Ian Hislop that his appearances should by now be required watching for trainee...

Under Offer: Estate Agents on the Job, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Hang about with estate agents (for the only reason that anyone would) and you notice the men among them often stand with their hands clasped pliantly...

The Battle for Britain's Breakfast, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Uproarious saga of broadcasting's Eighties new dawn

Undeniable, ITV

Andy Plaice

The ghost of murder past returns to stalk the present in two-part psychological thriller

The Crimson Field, BBC One

Tom Birchenough

Mental as well as physical wounds in Sarah Phelps's haunting World War One field hospital drama

The Trip to Italy, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Destination fundament: ironists Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back on tour

10 Questions for Screenwriter Sarah Phelps

Adam Sweeting

Stage and TV veteran turns to the experiences of nurses on the Western Front in 'The Crimson Field'

Jockey School, Channel 4

Veronica Lee

Disappointing film about a fascinating course for young jockeys

Kim Philby: His Most Intimate Betrayal, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

The point missed on the tangled webs of treachery in over-lavish docu-drama

New Worlds, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Restoration drama looks good but tests credibility

Storyville: Which Way Is the Frontline From Here?, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

Profile of war photographer Tim Hetherington by his ‘Restrepo’ co-director Sebastian Junger

Endeavour, Series 2, ITV

Jasper Rees

Morse prequel tries to bash its young detective into shape

Listed: Celebrating Dylan Thomas

Jasper Rees

As the great Welsh poet turns 100, theartsdesk lists 10 must-see centenary events

Mammon, More4

Veronica Lee

Latest Nordic noir confuses and grips in equal measure

Believe, Watch / Person of Interest, Series 2, Channel 5

Adam Sweeting

JJ Abrams and Alfonso Cuarón has to be a marriage made in heaven, right?

Rev, Series 3, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Desperate times call for desperate measures from the Rev Smallbone

The Widower, ITV

Andy Plaice

Is the story of murderous Malcolm Webster a suitable case for dramatic treatment?

Louis Theroux's LA Stories: City of Dogs, BBC Two / Mr Selfridge, Series 2 Finale, ITV

Adam Sweeting

A canine crisis in Los Angeles, and what Mr Selfridge did during the war

A Very British Renaissance, BBC Two

Matthew Wright

Sections of inspired elucidation let down by sometimes crass script and sound effects

Turks & Caicos, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

David Hare trilogy continues with turgid Caribbean spy saga

Arena: Whatever Happened to Spitting Image? BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

Remembering the bite of the satirical puppet show, 30 years on

Line of Duty, Series 2 Finale, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Gruelling police corruption thriller keeps spines tingling to the end

W1A, BBC One

Veronica Lee

John Morton turns his withering wit on the BBC

Preview: Martin Amis's England

Mark Kidel

The director tells the story behind this Sunday's controversial documentary

I Was There, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

The Great War generation movingly depicted in its own words

The Walshes, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Time to meet Dublin's daftest family

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 - free!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

The Love Punch

Plausibility goes down for the count in feeble British farce

Classical CDs Weekly: Britten, Poulenc, Peter Whelan

Rediscovered scores for stage and radio, sacred French choral music and a s...

CD: Faze Action - Body of One

Underground disco brothers return showcasing characteristic musical smarts

Christy Moore, Royal Festival Hall

All-inclusive atmospherics from the undiminished Celtic minstrel

A View From the Bridge, Young Vic

Arthur Miller classic returns to the stage stripped back and stirred up

Noir Syndrome

A flawed but interesting attempt at a detective game

Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Udderbelly

Popular science show with a few whizz-bangs

DVD: Seven Samurai

There's much more to Kurosawa's scintillating 16th-century epic t...

10 Questions for Director Lukas Moodysson

The Swedish helmer revisits childhood mischief with his latest

Magic Magic

Sebastián Silva's exploration of a fragile mind features a star turn f...