sat 20/12/2014

TV reviews, news & interviews

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek Live, BBC One

Matthew Wright

It’s never a good start when the performers have more to gain than the audience. The album Cheek to Cheek, of which this was a televised performance, came out in September to a respectfully reserved reception in UK, while American critics, seemingly more demanding of originality, gave it a vigorous pasting. Musically, it has as much substance, and as many holes, as one of Gaga’s dresses, but the novelty of the concept, if not the interpretations, is just sufficient to see the hour’s show out....

The Fall, Series 2 Finale, BBC Two

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Before the second series of The Fall began, I was watching Gillian Anderson being interviewed on This Morning. While the subject matter of the drama - a tense game of cat and mouse between Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson and Jamie Dornan’s perverted serial killer - was never going to translate well to daytime telly, but I was still a little taken aback by Amanda Holden’s fawning over the apparent sexiness of Dornan’s character. In this feature-length finale, new detective on the block Tom Anderson...

The Missing, Series Finale, BBC One

Jasper Rees

So now we know. Sort of. The missing clue was tweezered into view in time for the final episode of The Missing and the fate of little Olly Hughes has...

The Choir: New Military Wives, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

This feelgood programme hit all the buttons with almost unerring precision, as we followed Gareth Malone's project to prepare a military wives choir...

Steph and Dom Meet... Nigel Farage, Channel 4 /...

Adam Sweeting

The idea of having a politician crossing the threshold of one's own home is enough to send most citizens diving for the Prozac (or the taser), and...

Olive Kitteridge, Sky Atlantic

Tom Birchenough

Frances McDormand excels in superlative four-hour adaptation of small-town American life

Canterbury Cathedral, BBC Two

Florence Hallett

The first of three episodes is little more than a puff piece for the Church of England

Wolf Hall comes to BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Hilary Mantel's historical novels journey from page to stage to screen

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, ITV

Jasper Rees

Scandal of press bullying yields touching human drama

Bear’s Wild Weekend with Ben Stiller, Channel 4

Matthew Wright

Garish and daft, but a brilliant alfresco chat show

Brian Pern: A Life in Rock, BBC Two

Barney Harsent

How does Simon Day's prog-rock comic creation fare on his 'difficult' second album?

Karajan's Magic and Myth, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

John Bridcut explores the many contradictions of the superstar conductor

The Story of Funk: One Nation Under a Groove, BBC Four

Barney Harsent

A history of funk that looks great, but has nothing new to say

Imagine... Colm Tóibín: His Mother's Son, BBC One

Tom Birchenough

Rivers of grief and creative accomplishment in the Irish writer's life and work

Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty, Channel 5

Marina Vaizey

Horrible history and medieval mayhem as the Plantaganets get the soap treatment

The Legacy, Sky Arts 1

Jasper Rees

Danish family saga promises heavy weather. Don't miss it

Posh People: Inside Tatler, BBC Two

Fisun Güner

Entertaining enough, but this three-parter is about as vapid as its subject

Sci-Fi Week: Out of the Unknown

Tim Cumming

At last: the cult 1960s science fiction series finally comes to DVD

Confessions of a Copper, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Ask a policeman?

Imagine... Anselm Kiefer, BBC One

Florence Hallett

Entertaining but two-dimensional, Alan Yentob's account glosses over the artist's flaws

24 Hours in Police Custody, Channel 4

Jasper Rees

Gripping documentary series outstrips crime drama

Rosemary's Baby, Lifetime

Fisun Güner

Classic Sixties horror story about spawning the Antichrist fails to deliver

Dancing Cheek to Cheek, BBC Four

Hanna Weibye

Len Goodman and Lucy Worsley trot gently through dance history

The Fall, BBC Two / Babylon, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Dark and chilling return of the Belfast killer thriller

Puppy Love, BBC Four

Veronica Lee

New sitcom about dogs and their owners

Downton Abbey, Series 5 Finale, ITV

Jasper Rees

For all the holes in its hull, the Julian Fellowes juggernaut stays afloat

The Heart of Country – How Nashville Became Music City USA, BBC Four

Matthew Wright

Colourful talking heads bring to life a music both familiar and exotic

Life Story, BBC One

Marina Vaizey

How creatures great and small cope with their own housing crises

Broadmoor, ITV

Jasper Rees

Cameras penetrate the mental hospital for the first time

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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