fri 23/10/2020

TV reviews, news & interviews

Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You, Apple TV+ review - his new album is a matter of life and death

Adam Sweeting

Towards the end of this new documentary, an account of how he recorded his new album Letter to You at his home studio in New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen delivers a eulogy to the E Street Band.

Roadkill, BBC One review - David Hare pokes under the floorboards of the Conservative party

Adam Sweeting

A lifelong socialist who has regularly written about the Labour party, playwright David Hare admits that in his career he has “rarely looked closely at the appeal of Conservative values”.

Taskmaster, Channel 4 review - comedy show makes...

Veronica Lee

After nine successful series, a Bafta and an Emmy nomination, Taskmaster has moved from Dave to Channel 4 – amusingly, the broadcaster that its...

Emily in Paris, Netflix review - addictive...

Adam Sweeting

Is Emily in Paris “the dumbest thing on Netflix right now?” or a sugar-rush of escapism in the midst of our global pandemic misery? “We need things...

Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson, BBC Two review -...

Adam Sweeting

Enlisting Hollywood giant Samuel L Jackson to host a series about the history of slavery, his own ancestors having been trafficked from West Africa...

Brave New World, Sky 1 review - Aldous Huxley's novel doesn't look very happy on TV

Adam Sweeting

Lame adaptation enlivened by gratuitous slaughter

Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History, BBC Four review - sounds to treasure

Jessica Duchen

This spirited zip through three centuries of scandalously neglected composers has never been more necessary

Bernard Haitink: The Enigmatic Maestro, BBC Two review - saying goodbye with Bruckner

Peter Quantrill

Candour and warmth light up a thoroughly musical portrait

The Movies: The Seventies review - a mirror on malaise

Graham Fuller

Sky's Hollywood documentary series reaches the Watergate decade

A Special School, BBC Wales review - heartwarming film about special needs education

Saskia Baron

Lovingly made and inspiring new series shows what's possible for students with special needs

Extinction: The Facts, BBC One review - David Attenborough tells a devastating story

Marina Vaizey

This horrifying prognosis on the future of our planet was essential viewing

The Singapore Grip, ITV review - colonial clichés

Saskia Baron

Christopher Hampton’s lacklustre adaptation of JG Farrell fails to develop characters beyond caricature

Away, Netflix review - pioneering voyage to Mars descends into astrosoap

Adam Sweeting

Ambitious multinational space mission is more melodrama than sci-fi

Sheridan Smith: Becoming Mum, ITV review - will motherhood be the gateway to a new life?

Adam Sweeting

Raw account of how depression and insecurity derailed a stellar career

All Creatures Great and Small, Channel 5 review - revival of vintage vet show is full of Yorkshire promise

Adam Sweeting

Comforting escapism for an age of pandemics and eco-panic

I Hate Suzie, Sky Atlantic review - Billie Piper excels as an actress on the edge

Markie Robson-Scott

Celebrity and its perils: a thrilling co-creation by Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper

Our World: Colombia - Saving Eden, BBC Two review - the war is over, but can they save the rainforests?

Adam Sweeting

Short but tightly-focused film tells a bittersweet story

The Truth about Cosmetic Treatments, BBC One review - pain, but not much gain?

Adam Sweeting

Customers risk unregulated procedures in search of physical perfection

The Unbelievable Story of Carl Beech, BBC Two review - a stomach-turning swamp of lies and incompetence

Adam Sweeting

Vanessa Engle's documentary leaves some stones unturned

Manctopia: Billion Pound Property Boom, BBC Two review - winners and losers as Manchester becomes Manc-hattan

Adam Sweeting

Developers and investors are driving the locals out of town

Lovecraft Country, Sky Atlantic review - Misha Green, Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams take us on horror-driven road trip

Joseph Walsh

A timely, pulpy delight full of supernatural and all too real terrors

Mandy, BBC2 review - Diane Morgan's new creation

Veronica Lee

Bite-size dramas

AIM Awards 2020, SBTV review - a game attempt to rewire awards ceremonies

Joe Muggs

Without tables full of increasingly tipsy industry folk, how do awards work?

Cuba: Castro vs the World, BBC Two - turbulent life and times of El Comandante

Adam Sweeting

How Fidel Castro exported revolution to the oppressed masses

The Adulterer, Channel 4 review - atmospheric, addictive and bingeworthy

Sebastian Scotney

This top-quality Dutch series from 2011-15 deserved to be seen sooner

Everything: The Real Thing Story, BBC Four review - brilliant but long overdue

Joe Muggs

The breakthrough Liverpudlian band's story told lovingly and not before time

Imagine... My Name is Kwame, BBC One review - interesting but incomplete

Matt Wolf

Profile of Young Vic artistic director could go still further

The Deceived, Channel 5 review - who's fooling who?

Adam Sweeting

Confused drama can't decide whether it's a thriller or a ghost story

Little Birds, Sky Atlantic review - decadence and intrigue in 1950s Morocco

Adam Sweeting

Adaption of Anaïs Nin's stories is raunchy and risqué

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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