sun 06/09/2015

TV reviews, news & interviews

Boy Meets Girl, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Any romcom that begins with a woman saying the line “I was born with a penis” is OK by me. And that's how Boy Meets Girl, a superb new comedy created by Elliott Kerrigan, begins a six-part series.Kerrigan and co-writer Simon Carlyle have neatly made broad comedy without causing offence, and thankfully the tone, in what is the first UK television show starring a transgender actress, is never preachy or worthy. Rather the trans storyline – which has been in shows such as Orange Is the New Black...

Love and Betrayal in India: The White Mughal, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

William Dalrymple has discovered a fascinating true romance from history in this story of the relationship of Indian-born British diplomat James Achilles Kirkpatrick and the Muslim princess Khair-un-Nissa in Hyderabad at the turn of the 19th century. His remarkable programme not only captivated in itself but threw a fascinating light on layers of cultural differences, adaptations and understanding. Individual tolerance and even delight in varying views was threatened then, as now, by societal...

Cradle to Grave, BBC Two

Barney Harsent

Turning autobiography into comedy gold is an alchemy that has often been tried. Among them Caitlin Moran’s Raised by Wolves, Kathy Burke’s superb...

The Trials of Jimmy Rose, ITV

Tom Birchenough

“Breezy” isn't a word we associate with Ray Winstone. We’re more used to something like “big slab o’ bastard”, the epithet he got (they were biased...

Oliver Sacks remembered

Howard Male

Oliver Sacks, peerless explorer of the human brain, has today died of cancer aged 82. Inspired by case histories of patients suffering from...

A Day in the Life of Andy Warhol, BBC Four

Florence Hallett

24 hours in the king of Pop Art's shoes

Soup Cans and Superstars, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Panorama of Pop art from Alastair Sooke ahead of the Tate Modern show

Building the Ancient City: Athens, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Cogent narrative of the pioneering achievements of ancient Athens

The Scandalous Lady W, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

Notes on an 18th-century scandal, with visuals dominating over character

Very British Problems, Channel 4

Barney Harsent

Attempt to turn tweets into telly had too much to live up to

Aquarius, Sky Atlantic

Adam Sweeting

Charles Manson and the squalid underbelly of the hippie dream

The Race for the World's First Atomic Bomb, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

Details of the Manhattan Project abound, to the exclusion of its wider implications

If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World, TLC

Barney Harsent

A bleak vision of a haunted dystopia in a brand new light entertainment show

Buddha: Genius of the Ancient World, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Historian's voyage around the Himalyan prince creates disorientation

Cilla Black, 1943-2015

Adam Sweeting

From cloakroom attendant at The Cavern club to national treasure

Ripper Street, Series 3, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Pungent Victorian crime drama returns to network television

Life in Squares, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

The elaborate lives and loves of the exhaustingly self-obsessed Bloomsbury Group

Partners in Crime, BBC One

Jasper Rees

David Walliams and Jessica Raine have fun as amateur sleuths in updated Agatha Christie

10 Questions for Broadcaster Bettany Hughes

Jasper Rees

She's done Divine Women. Now for three thinkers: Socrates, Confucius and the Buddha

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'

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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