Best new TV shows to stream: 3 August
- Brian Donaldson
- 3 August 2020
Including Little Birds and Ramy
From murderers in nursing and academia to identity issues in the UK and US, here are new shows for your small screens.
'Keep your sins hidden'. It may be a line spoken by one person to another in the second series of Ramy but it could well work as a mantra by which almost every single character in the show operates. Despite its billing, there's a hesitancy in calling Ramy a comedy, as it features some extended passages which are entirely smile-free (a couple revolve around Dennis, a young Iraq war veteran with severe PTSD who converts to Islam). But when Ramy Youssef's series shows its humorous hand, it positively crackles.
Both the comedy and drama flourish when people strive in keeping their sins, lies and double lives a secret. Ramy's mum Maysa (Hiam Abbass who plays Logan Roy's wife in Succession) has a mild flirtation with a client when she takes an Uber-esque job; his dad Farouk (Amr Waked) conceals the shame of his unemployment, sister Dena (May Calamawy) suffers a worrying hair loss which she is determined to keep to herself, and the alpha bluster of uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli) seems to be masking something a little more nuanced.
The real triumph of the show (in this second series as with the first) is that it can pull focus away from our eponymous anti-hero and dive deeply into the lives of secondary characters, the storylines of both Ramy's mother and sister being particularly developed this time around. Mahershala Ali makes a gravitas-filled appearance as the sheikh who takes Ramy under his wing before deciding that maybe a Pitbull called Boomer could provide him with better spiritual guidance.
The televisual lineage of Ramy can be traced back through other US shows that have traded in an indie-ish lo-fi comedy-drama sensibility such as Master Of None, Girls and Louie, but Ramy clearly has its own unique viewpoint. With a flawed New Jersey Muslim at its centre, wrestling his faith, porn addiction and self-obsession while trying to navigate a path to becoming a better human being, it can't help but result in a captivating and original series.
All episodes on StarzPlay, Thursday 6 August.
The Beverley Allitt Tapes ★★★☆☆
Britain was still reeling from the 1980s trials of serial killers Dennis Nielsen and Peter Sutcliffe when along came the murderous early 90s exploits of a nurse called Beverley Allitt (it could be argued that the country hadn't seen nothing yet, with the 90s later revealing notorious murderers Fred and Rosemary West, and doctor Harold Shipman). A quiet young woman in her early 20s, there seemed to be nothing in Allitt's background or her demeanour at the time to suggest she was capable of snuffing out the lives of four children and the attempted murder of many more while on duty at the Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in Lincolnshire.
This three-part documentary brings together interviews with the father of one child who survived, some of the investigating officers, and experts in various academic fields, plus news footage and photographs of Allitt at work and play (the same eight or nine pics are shown throughout the three parts which will get a little wearing if you do this in a oner). Of course, the title gives away the main draw of the programme, as we get to hear Allitt on tape denying all charges and trying to deflect blame in either a cool and relaxed manner or a slightly irritable one as the interrogation drags on.
What the documentary is unable to nail down is a fixed motive behind Allitt's crimes. One expert rejects the widespread analysis of the time that Munchausen syndrome by proxy was to blame, while some ex-cops just spout the word 'evil' over and over again. What The Beverley Allitt Tapes does do is make an unlikely semi-comic character out of retired DI Neil Jones, who talks of how quiet their patch was previously and not filled with those 'toerags from London', and announces that Grantham is 'the home of Margaret Thatcher, and described as the most boring town in the country'.
All episodes available on NOW TV.
The Talk ★★★☆☆
'The talk' is a concept that white parents in Britain are unlikely to even have to consider. No Caucasian kid has been sat down by their mum and dad and told that there are places they can't go and people they have to avoid, simply because of the colour of their own skin. This one-hour documentary interviews a number of well-known black Britons, some alongside their parents, who discuss how 'the talk' came about when they were a child, and some reflecting on what they will do, or have already done, now that they have kids of their own.
The Talk is a one-off documentary but almost feels like the start of a bigger conversation about race, identity and parenthood. Among the interviewees are Little Mix's Leigh-Anne Pinnock, solo chart stars Emeli Sandé and Tinie Tempah, journalist Gary Younge, and Diversity dancer/choreographer siblings Ashley and Jordan Banjo, and they share differing opinions about whether the talk is a good idea or not: is it simply an extension of universal parental warnings about the big wide world, or does it merely make a child fearful of their own future?
Despite its relative brevity and fast-paced nature, The Talk does have enough an emotional punch, particularly when Sky news anchor Gillian Joseph recalls being a young girl with whom no one wanted to play at school, or when actor Lennie James remembers leaving a holiday in the West Indies to head back to the UK. As the flight took off, he realised that he had to once again put on the psychological armour that meant he could face up to the racist parts of modern Britain. The Talk is an often dispiriting hour that will hopefully lead to yet more conversations as well as positive action.
Channel 4, Tuesday 4 August, 10pm.
Little Birds ★★☆☆☆
Anaïs Nin (or to cite her full name, Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell) was a French-Cuban-American writer who dabbled heavily in the erotic. A close pal of Henry 'Sexus/Nexus/Plexus' Miller, her writing spanned five decades and is seen as a vivid counterbalance within a sub-genre largely dominated by the male voice and libido. Apparently written sometime in the 1940s, Little Birds is a collection of short stories, posthumously published in the late 70s.
This six-part TV version has all Nin's hallmarks of playful sexuality with hints about the dark side of human nature. It's lavish, it's luscious and occasionally downright filthy. But it's also crashingly dull, devoid of weight or any sense that we should care a jot for a single one of its characters. The phrase 'style over substance' could very well have been invented for this series.
Set in the cultural melting-pot of 1950s Tangier, it stars Juno Temple as Lucy Savage, an arms manufacturer's daughter who heads to Morocco to hook up with her husband-to-be for a life of sweltering bliss. Except Hugo (Hugh Skinner) only has eyes for men and is somewhat peeved when Lucy branches off to investigate the seedier side of Tangier, aided by a BDSM queen called Cherifa (Yumna Marwan) and Nina Sosanya as a filmmaker/party-thrower of some disrepute. All this occurs to a backdrop of Morocco beginning to challenge its status as a satellite of colonialist France.
Sounds like it would be an exhilarating treat, right? But somehow the viewer might well end up caring nothing of its various players and their tortured psycho-dramas. Perhaps its glorious setting shot through with a lens of many dazzling colours becomes a blinding distraction to whatever subtleties may have existed within the screenplay.
Sky Atlantic, Tuesday 4 August, 9pm; all episodes available on NOW TV, Tuesday 4 August.
The Deceived ★★☆☆☆
While it may have acted as a jumping-off point and ongoing frame of reference for the makers of this drama, 'modern Hitchcock' has proved to be an overwhelming burden for The Deceived. Scripted by wedded pair Tobias Beer and Lisa 'Derry Girls' McGee, they have clearly aimed for the classic paranoia Hitch of Vertigo, Dial M For Murder and, more explicitly, Rebecca (there's a big fire and a woman makes a huge mistake by dressing in a dead lady's clothes), but with some very ropey dialogue and an even shoddier voiceover narration, you might wish they'd decided to replicate Alfred's silent era.
Donning a superb beard, sleazy academic Michael (Emmett J Scanlan) is seemingly happily wed to successful author Roisin (Catherine Walker) but unfortunately has an eye for his young female students. Emily Reid's Ophelia (you just know she'll be in some petal-filled water at some point) is the object of his latest inappropriate affections, but when a house fire in Donegal appears to ruin Michael's life, Ophelia's suspicions about him begin to raise merry hell in her mind and events soon spiral out of control.
The folk at Five should be congratulated for getting some fresh new scripted drama onto their regular roster of Diana, Nazis, hoarders and body shaming, but The Deceived is fooling no one.
Channel 5, Monday 3–Thursday 6 August, 9pm.
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