wed 05/08/2015

TV reviews, news & interviews

Cilla Black, 1943-2015

Adam Sweeting

The term "beloved entertainer" might have been coined with Cilla Black in mind. Her career trajectory, from a working-class Irish Catholic background in Liverpool's Scotland Road through pop stardom under the auspices of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and thence to mainstream TV and nearly 20 years as hostess of LWT's Blind Date and Surprise Suprise, was a classic fable of determined self-betterment. When it came to casting the lead role for ITV's bio-miniseries Cilla last year, it must have...

Ripper Street, Series 3, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Axed by the BBC at the end of 2013 after its second series, ostensibly because of poor viewing figures, Ripper Street found a new home on Amazon Prime, where the third series began streaming in November last year. With a fourth and fifth series already commissioned by Amazon, the BBC is making up for lost time by airing Series Three. Perhaps the Top Gear bunch will be back on the Beeb yet.Happily, the change of address has done Ripper Street no harm at all, and this powerful opener...

Life in Squares, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

London, 1905. For the Stephen siblings, setting up an independent household in Bloomsbury freed them – especially the sisters, Vanessa and Virginia...

Partners in Crime, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Poirot curls an eyebrow and Miss Marple twinkles, but there haven't been a lot of out-and-out laughs in Agatha Christie’s television career. Partners...

10 Questions for Broadcaster Bettany Hughes

Jasper Rees

How do you live a good life? Is wealth a good thing? How do you create a just society? The United Kingdom's electorate recently pondered such...

Dispatches: Hunted - Gay and Afraid, Channel 4

Tom Birchenough

Meet the American right promoting 'family' values worldwide, resulting violence against gays notwithstanding

Witnesses, Channel 4

Jasper Rees

Gloomy French crime drama needs a shot of adrenalin

Cake Bakers and Trouble Makers, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Queen of the soundbites serves tea and cacophonous alliteration

The Javone Prince Show, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Strong opener for new black sketch comedy

Dispatches: Escape from Isis, Channel 4

Jasper Rees

The horrific testimony of captured women who miraculously got out alive

Veep, Series Four, Sky Atlantic

Barney Harsent

Armando Iannucci's sitcom returns and proves that swearing can be very clever indeed

Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

Archive revelations revise our understanding of the reality of the institution

The Outcast, BBC One / Marvel's Agent Carter, Fox

Adam Sweeting

Dark days in post-war suburbia, and another hit from the Marvel stable

The Ashes, Sky Sports Ashes / Channel 5

Matthew Wright

All-male television commentaries, but the radio even has some women on the job

Vet School, ITV

Marina Vaizey

Exploring the latest frontiers of veterinary medicine with the staff and students of 'Dick Vet'

A Song for Jenny, BBC One

Matthew Wright

Frank McGuinness's adaptation of bereaved vicar's memoir says a lot about bereavement and nothing about faith

Rock 'n' Roll America, BBC Four

Barney Harsent

The story of popular music's ground zero had Little Richard and a big impact

Imagine... Jeff Koons: Diary of a Seducer, BBC One

Fisun Güner

Just what is it that makes the kitsch-meister American artist so different, so appealing?

Dan Cruickshank's Civilisation Under Attack, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

After destroying the historic artefacts, Islamic State will destroy the people. Are we planning to stop them?

Arena: Nicolas Roeg – It's About Time, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Absorbing portrait of one of British cinema's most influential directors

Pappano's Classical Voices, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Series about great opera singing begins with the queens of the high Cs

The Saboteurs, More4

Barney Harsent

Jaw-jaw not war-war makes for an involving and tense drama

Imagine... Frank Gehry: The Architect Says Why Can't I?, BBC One

Marina Vaizey

Portrait of the artist with a passion for questioning everything

True Detective, Series 2, Sky Atlantic

Adam Sweeting

Plenty of acting talent, but the story sounds strangely familiar

Black Work, ITV

Jasper Rees

Sheridan Smith elevates crime drama about undercover policing

La Traviata: Love, Death and Divas, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

How Verdi's opera outraged Victorian London

Glastonbury Golden Greats, BBC Four

Barney Harsent

A musical montage that sacrificed spirit on the altar of showbiz

Thomas Chatterton: The Myth of the Doomed Poet, BBC Four

Jasper Rees

The original druggy young genius is brought back to life

Humans, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Ghost of 'Blade Runner' hovers over promising new sci-fi 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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