It’s nearly ten months since the first national lockdown here in the UK. Before you know it, we’ll have been at this lark of warding-off Covid-19 for a whole damned year.
As a result, many of us have been spending more time than we should in front of the television set. In conditions that are unprecedented, I think that’s all right. But what to watch?
As a self-confessed telly addict – terrestrial and other worldly – I’m going to give you the benefit of my limited wisdom each week to tell you what I think is worth watching and what isn’t. I’d love to hear from you about your recommendations and why.
The Serpent, BBC iPlayer
This crime drama is based on the true story of a serial killer who preyed on backpackers on Asia’s hippy trail in the 1970s. The eight-part serial captures the coldness of the protagonist and the authorities’ indifference to his crimes. The script makes the most of pitting The Serpent against the chain-smoking Dutch diplomat whose painstaking work finally brought him to justice, creating a tension that perhaps might not have surfaced had the story been told in a purely linear fashion. We were hooked.
What’s to like: the 70s fashions, the dramatic tension, the exotic locations.
What’s not to like: the flashback narrative, the worry that the real-life killer is pleased everyone is now talking about him, the brutal horror of his crimes.
Us, BBC iPlayer
Author David Nicholls’ story of a mismatched couple whose marriage is falling apart. This sad yet funny drama sees fruit fly expert Douglas (played by Tom Hollander) and his art facilitator wife, Connie (Saskia Reeves), on a final fling, a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, with their teenage son in tow, headphones on his head and hormones raging. This four-part serial was also scripted by Nicholls, the author of One Day and screenwriter for the recent film version of Far From The Madding Crowd. A great script, as you’d expect, and a thoughtful, sensitive telling of a doomed relationship but with laughs and great set-piece scenes thrown in.
What’s to like: lovely locations, great script and acting squeezing out the comedy and pathos of family dynamics, evocative recreation of Douglas and Connie when they first met.
What’s not to like: the inevitable sadness to come, the reminder that teenagers aren’t interested in history.
What Happened to Monday, Netflix
This science fiction action film is set in a dystopian yet not-too-distant, overpopulated future when families are limited to one child each. Siblings are rounded up, ostensibly to be put to sleep and woken when things get better. The Monday of the title is the first of seven identical sisters (all played by Noomi Rapace) who are named after the days of the week and kept hidden in a top-floor apartment by their grandfather (Willem Dafoe). The girls are smart and learn to live their lives by going out only on their allocated day of the week, pretending to be the same person. But the story becomes silly, with lots of look-away violence, and there are enough plot holes to sink a movie. By the end of it, we really didn’t know what day of the week it was.
Things to like: the plausibility of the premise, a female lead outwitting the world, the baddie played by a chilling Glenn Close.
Things not to like: Glenn Close’s face, gory violence, hammy script.
Military Wives, Netflix
I’d avoided this film so far, expecting it to be a rather twee take on the true story of the Military Wives choir. It’s the kind of comedy drama perfect for an afternoon showing at the Lush Places film club. Gentle, undemanding and very, well, British. Having grown tired of Mr Grigg’s recent choices of all-action films featuring wooden male leads, extensive military hardware and lots of blood, I plumped for this. And we were very glad I did. The ice queen character of Kristin Scott Thomas thawed as the film went on, and provides great dramatic contrast to her nemesis played by Sharon Horgan. The film is a feel-good, moving movie, revealing the healing power of music and how women can be so much stronger when they work together.
What’s to like: female camaraderie, the joy of singing, Greg Wise in uniform.
What’s not to like: stereotypical characters, predictable, undemanding.
The Masked Singer, ITV
The latest series of this lowbrow yet cult TV show comes to an end tomorrow. Thank God for that, some of you will be thinking. Indeed. Light entertainment, especially when it comes to so-called celebrities, usually leaves me cold. Gone are the days when a good Saturday night in meant watching Blankety Blank and The Generation Game. However, we watched this a few weeks ago after hearing that former England footballer and manager Glenn Hoddle had been unmasked as the voice behind the Grandfather Clock. We found ourselves tuning into the show the following week . Late arrivals to the ball but we’re hooked. It’s a completely bonkers show, in which a panel of judges have to guess the celebrity singer behind the outrageous costume. The participant with the fewest votes is unmasked at the end of each episode. The celebrities are people you have actually heard of, such as Lenny Henry, Morten Harket from Norwegian pop band A-ha, Scary Spice and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. So who will be the winner of the Masked Singer? Tune in to find out.
What’s to like: family viewing, singing, amazing costumes.
What’s not to like: celebrity TV, the cut-away sequences to the annoying judges, the ‘take it’ off chant which sounds like the chorus to a gang bang.
Marcella, ITV Hub
We very much enjoyed the first two series of this crime thriller in which Anna Friel reprises her role as the emotionally-damaged and blackout-suffering police officer, Marcella. This time, she is in Northern Ireland, working undercover, investigating a crime family led by Amanda Burton, whose trademark scowling smugness annoyed me so much I wanted someone to kick away her walking stick, especially as she clearly doesn’t need it, scuttling along as she does like a mountain gazelle in sensible shoes. After multiple killings in the first quarter of an hour of the programme, we managed to sit through the opening episode to its conclusion. We felt we had to, if nothing else but as a mark of respect for ITV Drama which has brought us some thrilling belters in recent years. At the end of the programme, we looked at each other and agreed this latest series of Marcella was so ludicrously far-fetched with so much blood and nastiness we wouldn’t bother watching the rest of the series. So there.
What’s to like: twisting and twisted plot, constant surprises.
What’s not to like: dead body count, Marcella’s accent, lack of empathy with characters.
The Bay, ITV Hub
Having missed the first series when it was originally on our television screens, Mr Grigg and I have now binge-watched both 1 and 2 in swift succession.
This is a very watchable crime thriller set in Morecambe Bay. If I was a local resident, I probably would have wished the seaside resort had been given a fictional name, like writer Chris Chibnall did when he dreamed up Broadchurch. It’s all a bit tawdry and bleak but with some sweeping shots of that treacherous beach.
What’s to like: the characters, the photography, the cliffhangers.
What’s not to like: The overuse of the word ‘hey’ as a tentative greeting, the theme music (much improved when you improvise over it with out-of-tune groaning) and the dreadful sponsorship ads for Seat cars in the intervals.
The Dig, Netflix
Anything starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes has to be worth watching. This charming, gentle, slow-burning retelling of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo treasure is a lovely, easy-on-the eye way to spend a Sunday evening in front of the telly.
What’s to like: the delightful first half, rural landscape, acting.
What’s not to like: the unnecessary romance sub-plot, no big reveal on the beauty and enormity of the hoard, Ken Stott’s nose.
The White Tiger, Netflix
I’m a sucker for anything set in India. Based on a Booker-winning novel, this clever film had us rooting for the wronged hero in his bid to climb the insurmountable ladder of class. Best film I’ve seen in ages. But be warned, there is violence and some foul language.
What’s to like: acting, script, humour and pathos.
What’s not to like: I liked it all.