Best new TV shows to stream: 22 June
- Brian Donaldson
- 22 June 2020
Including Alan Bennett and Perry Mason
From shabby private eyes to shaggy dog stories, here are new shows for your small screens
Alan Bennett's Talking Heads ★★★★☆
Aired initially across two separate batches in 1988 and a decade later, Alan Bennett's Talking Heads was an instant small-screen classic. Around the 30 to 40-minute mark, dramatic monologues performed by the likes of Julie Walters, Thora Hird and Patricia Routledge evocatively reflected the disruptions to everyday lives of Yorkshire folk from chiropodists to antique dealers, and military widows to park attendants. For 2020, many of them have been recreated with two new stories added: Sarah Lancashire plays a mum with inappropriate feelings for her teenage son, and Monica Dolan is a grieving widow who discovers a secret or two about her late husband.
Though the pieces are delivered brilliantly by all concerned (it's almost unfair to choose favourites but Tamsin Greig, Lesley Manville, Jodie Comer and Imelda Staunton are all stand-outs), it's almost impossible not to hear the regional burr of Alan Bennett coming right through (Martin Freeman even does a passable impersonation in 'A Chip in the Sugar', the tale Bennett himself performed in 1988).
While the original scripts are largely untouched, there's at least an attempt at addressing the lack of diversity in the original line-ups with Lucian Msamati as a man trying to escape his criminal past, and Rochenda Sandall playing a woman whose husband might be up to no good on his nightly dog walks.
Intact is the indisputably universal touch of Alan Bennett whose witty undercurrents reside even in episodes with the darkest of themes (paedophilia, serial killing and incest are all here), while lengthy pauses are layered with heavy significance. These dozen tales might all be available now, but there's a non-bingey feel to Talking Heads, whose style and structure echo throughout. For some this might be seen as a downside, but to others it will encourage taking your time with each story, savouring every cultivated nuance and exquisite observation.
BBC One, starts Tuesday 23 June, 9pm; all episodes available on BBC iPlayer from Tuesday 23 June.
Perry Mason ★★★★☆
Over the course of eight episodes, the character of Perry Mason goes on quite the Damascene journey. As a self-confessed 'busybody', this shabby Depression-era private investigator makes a living from stepping doors and peeping holes as he uncovers the muckier side of LA life for his own profit. Often, these cases involve Hollywood celebrities such as 'Chubby Carmichael' (who is possibly based on the scandal-ridden Fatty Arbuckle) but Perry's own path towards something like redemption arrives when he delves into the case of a kidnapped baby found dead after his parents have handed over the ransom.
From there, things start to get even bleaker for Perry (played by Welsh actor Matthew Rhys who took his step into the US big league with The Americans) as his WWI PTSD meets a personal life that is, at its best, a total shambles (the great Gretchen Mol is sadly underused as his estranged wife). But when an opportunity opens up at the law firm he's connected to (run by John Lithgow's EB Jonathan and held together thanks to Juliet Rylance's Della Street), Perry has a chance to become the mercurial legalese à la Raymond Burr that previous generations of TV-watchers grew up with.
Corrupt cops and psychologically flawed radio evangelists are thrown into the mix in a sprawling drama that positively crackles thanks to a zinger-strewn script, evocative set design, smoky noirish jazz score by Terence Blanchard, and classy direction largely from Sopranos alumnus Tim Van Patten.
Sky Atlantic, starts Monday 22 June, 9pm; all episodes available on NOW TV from Monday 22 June.
A Deadly Union ★★☆☆☆
We've all been to this kind of wedding, right?: the bride is found dead on the rocks having fallen from a great height while an unknown guest is later discovered fatally wounded. Thankfully, one of the guests is a local cop who was betrayed years earlier by the bride's sister who has returned just in time to see her sibling's last moments. All this threatens his new happy relationship to a keen deep-sea diver whose coach is father of the dead bride. Confused? That's just the half of it. Add to all this some blackmail, misogyny in the military, false imprisonment and neurological illness, and you have a story packed with detail but low on credibility.
Noces Rouges in its native France (which translates literally to Crimson Wedding), this six-parter has a plot with more strands than its running time can keep up with, an opening credits sequence that totally rips off True Detective, and a glorious setting on the French Riviera that merely emphasises that A Deadly Union is a triumph of style over any kind of substance.
All episodes available now on All 4.
The Luminaries ★★☆☆☆
For a drama that has clearly had several budgets thrown at it, you have to wonder why the lights were kept so low in The Luminaries. Perhaps it's a metaphor: after all, across six hours of baffling plotting and character 'motivation' in this muddy adaptation by Eleanor Catton of her doorstopping 2013 Booker winner, the viewer is largely in the dark. Which is usually fine if droplets of sense are allowed into a story from time to time rather than simply keeping us sodden with confusing details and blazingly convoluted zapping between time-frames.
Set in New Zealand during the 1860s goldrush era, Eve Hewson plays Anna Wetherell who meets her 'astral twin' Emery Staines (Yesterday's Himesh Patel) as the boat they're travelling on alights upon that nation. For reasons best known to herself, Anna doesn't tell Emery that they share the same birthday. They plan to meet later but Anna's inability to read means she can't locate the hotel he's staying at (her illiteracy conveniently disappears around episode five). Taken in by the mysterious and mischievous Lydia Wells (Eva Green), Anna develops an ill-fated fascination with Lydia's husband Crosbie (Australian actor Ewen Leslie who adopts the same indeterminate north-west English accent that Laurence Fox brashly wielded in White Lines).
Thereafter a series of men with a variety of facial hair duck in and out of the story as murder, theft, racism, forgery and politics all smash together to a backdrop of astrological hocus pocus which drags the script down with its laughable attempt at gravitas. Matters do reach some sort of conclusion with the courtroom finale, but by that stage your empathy for the key protagonists and their dastardly counterparts will have probably run dry.
BBC One, Sundays & Mondays, 9pm; all episodes available now on BBC iPlayer.
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