Including Opera Mums and The Duchess
From Why Women Kill to men who kill, here are new shows for your small screens.
David Tennant has tackled some serious issues across a success-studded acting career from bipolar disorder in his TV debut Takin' Over The Asylum to autism in The A Word. But your over-riding impression of the former Time Lord is likely to be one of levity and lightness, despite the often heavyweight subject matter he's been involved with. That run would surely be brought to a grinding halt, you'd imagine, as he takes on the role of Dennis Nilsen, the Scots-born, London-based serial killer of young men who had fallen through the cracks of society in the late 70s/early 80s.
Largely inspired by Killing For Company, the book written by Brian Masters from interviews he conducted with Nilsen, if this drama is to be believed then even this role required Tennant to portray a man (Des was Nilsen's favoured nickname) whose casual matter-of-factness masked the grotesque crimes he committed.
In this compulsive three-parter written by Luke Neal, Nilsen is arrested in the first ten minutes: the police's challenge is to identify the victims, many of whom were now bone and ash from being boiled, dismembered, dissected and burned after their deaths which arrived from strangulation or drowning in Nilsen's bath.
Tennant is on fine form as the killer who comes across as 'unremarkable' (this description came from lead investigator DCI Peter Jay) and blankly chilling (under interrogation, he attempts to recall details of his crimes in the manner of someone trying to remember where they left their keys). Daniel Mays is his usual excellent self as Jay, and Jason Watkins emotes a different type of creepiness as Masters, who went on to write about similarly notorious figures, Jeffrey Dahmer and Rosemary West.
ITV, Monday 14–Wednesday 16 September, 9pm.
Opera Mums With Bryony Kimmings ★★★★☆
Performance artist, social experimenter and fearless performer Bryony Kimmings is not much of an opera fan. Finding it particularly 'rude to women', what with all its misogyny and murder, she's set herself the improbable task of creating a mini-opera which confronts a subject very close to her heart: single motherhood.
Ennobled with an unquenchable enthusiasm and an addictive optimism, Kimmings tracks down some mums, singers and a composer to help bring her vision to life, as she tries to tell these mothers' stories through a medium she is inherently distrustful of. The result is both moving and uplifting, with the tears shed in the auditorium's upper circle unlikely to be the only ones falling upon its viewing. There are many people attached to this project that are worthy of admiration, but Kimmings herself has a vibrant presence which the camera struggles to draw attention away from.
One of her aims at the beginning was to have people think differently about single mothers while along the way maybe she would alter her fractious relationship with opera. Mission spectacularly accomplished on both fronts. Give this woman her own series, please.
Why Women Kill ★★★★☆
Why Women Kill is a show which will never worry those Best TV Ever lists (it might not even register in the critics' beloved programmes of 2020). But for sheer, rollicking, daft, campy, over-the-top fun, it rarely gets any better than this. If you were a fan of early 21st century TV and had no idea what this Alibi channel show is about, after five minutes you'd probably peg it as a long-lost catty relative of Desperate Housewives. That schlocky comedy-drama's showrunner Marc Cherry is the man behind the poisonous pen of Why Women Kill, a gawdy, eccentric and snark-heavy affair set in one Pasadena mansion across three time periods featuring relationships that are going so sour that, well, the clue is probably in the title.
Ginnifer Goodwin plays Beth Ann, a 1963, Mad Men-esque devoted home-maker whose husband Rob (Sam Jaeger), with a jawline as sharp as his suits, is discovered to be conducting an adulterous tryst. When Beth Ann finally accepts the terrible truth, she plays a dangerous game by befriending her love rival. Skip forward to 1984, and the twice-wed Simone (Lucy Liu) is about to divorce hubby number three Karl (Jack Davenport) upon the revelation that he has long been unfaithful with a string of men. Outraged beyond belief, Simone embarks on her own spot of infidelity, with the 18-year-old son of a family friend. And finally, we reach 2019, with the open marriage of successful lawyer Taylor (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and struggling screenwriter Eli (Reid Scott) put to the test when one of Taylor's conquests starts living in their home to escape an abusive partner.
Each episode rattles along from one storyline to another, so if you're bored by the 1963 scenario, fear not as the 2019 one will be around the corner soon enough. As the series progresses, doubts might begin to be sown in the viewers mind as to which women are set to do the killing and to whom. This keeps intrigue bubbling along as does a script that positively sizzles with venomous gags and biting sarcasm (mainly in the 1984 strand). If you end up wondering whether you should take a chance on this, the episode titles might help you decide: 'I'd Like To Kill Ya, But I Just Washed My Hair' and 'I Killed Everyone He Did, But Backwards And In High Heels' are but two examples.
Alibi, Friday 11 September, 9pm.
High Fidelity ★★★☆☆
When Nick Hornby first settled down to write about an overly obsessive music fan (basically himself) in High Fidelity, could he ever have dreamed that Lenny Kravitz's daughter would one day effectively be playing him on screen? Probably not. But here we have it, 25 years on from that novel and 20 years after the John Cusack-starring movie. Both of which portrayed just how bad blokes can be when they ignore the real things that count in life in favour of knowing who was bass player on that Bowie B-side, or why this or that cover version was better than the original.
This all-new High Fidelity proves with aplomb, as if we needed it spelled out, that it's not just fellas that can be anal about the nitty gritty of music history, with Zoë Kravitz playing this latest version of the record-shop owning Rob. In between compiling the perfect mixtape, she muses darkly over her top five worst break-ups, one of whom is Simon (David H Holmes) who helps out at her Brooklyn store. But it's the most recent split, with Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir), that is really ruining Rob, especially when she discovers that he might have permanently moved on from her.
There's wit here, much of it supplied by the Dexys loving Cherise (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), as well as a whole heap of fortune-cookie wisdom, with Rob delivering pronouncements to camera of her life's calamitous twists and turns. As with the book and movie, there's plenty for music nerds to enjoy though you might wonder why so many people who are so down on their luck can afford to live in such lavish New York abodes.
Starzplay, Thursday 10 September.
The Duchess ★★★☆☆
Apparently, Katherine Ryan discovered an 'inner prude' while filming her very own brand new TV creation. Coming from a comedian who effortlessly shuns both shyness and shame on stage, blueing it up with the best (and worst) of them, this might seem like a genuine shocker. On screen, in six parts of The Duchess, the UK-based Canadian stand-up and telly presenter is in typically blazing fettle as she hurls creative insults (mainly at her fictional ex-partner Shep played by Rory Keenan) while she tries to keep life on track as a single mum to the very well-spoken Olive (in the real world she's a single mum to the very well-spoken Violet, assuming Ryan's impersonation of her child is accurate).
This 'Katherine', though, isn't a comic, but a potter who co-runs a hip London ceramics establishment entitled Kiln'em Softly. Onstage, Ryan has always been keen to put in a bit of effort with her wardrobe, so perhaps the glammed-up school-run mum here is merely plundering from her own collection. It's fair to say that the lines between the public persona Katherine and The Duchess' 'Katherine' are being blurred left, right and straight down the middle. Those are the same locations where a fair number of zingers are flying too, with Ryan working just as hard on the jokes as she clearly has on gathering up her own spectacular assembly of coats and shoes.
Netflix, Friday 11 September.