Best new TV shows to stream: 21 September
- Brian Donaldson
- 21 September 2020
Including Ghosts, Utopia and Tehran
From Grayson Perry's road trip to Danny Dyer's memory lane, here are new shows for your small screens.
Danny Dyer On Harold Pinter ★★★★☆
Those who associate geezah actor Danny Dyer with documentaries about football hooliganism, dodgy lad mag columns, and a long-anticipated residency in Albert Square might be surprised to learn of his close relationship with Harold Pinter. British theatre's pioneering pausemeister became something of a mentor to the young Danny, after making his TV debut at the age of 16 in Prime Suspect as, unbelievably, a young tearaway. Pinter ('Pintah') clearly had a soft spot for this rough diamond, spotting a genuine talent who could slot into his dystopian dramas and domestic horror stories where not a drop of blood was ever spilt, even if the permanent threat of violence became almost an extra character onstage.
Like many critics and audiences, Dyer often 'didn't have a clue what he was on about' with plays such as The Caretaker and The Homecoming, but it didn't stop him from appearing in Celebration, first in London and then in New York. Danny being Danny back in 2000, his taste for the party life resulted in him drying up on stage at The Lincoln Center with disapproving co-actors such as Keith Allen revelling in the discomfort Dyer endured (the pair have at least kissed and made up, as this film shows).
Danny being Danny in 2020, at times he can't stop himself, calling critics of Pinter's work 'slags'. It's clear that the feelings of respect and admiration between protégé and mentor were mutual, and the moment when Dyer visits Pinter's London grave to open a bottle of the playwright's favourite red (Danny couldn't stand the stuff, always a lager man) is genuinely moving. To some he'll probably remain a figure of fun, but Danny Dyer will surely go up a few notches in many people's estimations with this touching tribute to a unique British talent.
Sky Arts, Tuesday 22 September, 9pm.
From those terribly clever people involved in Horrible Histories comes a fun-filled second series of their grown-up show, Ghosts. When we left the first instalment, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) were still struggling with money concerns having been bequeathed the mighty country pile of Button House. This crumbling estate has nooks, crannies and basements that are filled with many centuries worth of spooks and spectres, all of whom thankfully are full of good cheer with no intention of scaring the wits out of anyone.
While Alison can see the ghouls (thanks to her near-death experience at the very start of the show), Mike has come to terms with the fact that he is totally in the dark while his partner is being permanently 'haunted' by ghosts of the manor such as a scout master, army captain, Byronic poet, a woman burned at the stake and, most recently, a disgraced, trousers-free MP.
Having deftly established this large collection of characters straight away, the Ghosts writers can focus on setting up scenarios that straddle the divide between life and death, while keeping Alison and Mike busy with trying to make money so they can stay at Button House. In this series, they're visited by TV ghosthunters and host a big wedding, while we gain a little more insight into the various fates which befell the late residents. Warmly amusing throughout and not without its moments of pathos, Ghosts is a continuous delight.
BBC One, Monday 21 September, 8.30pm.
Dubbed by the conservative wing of the Iranian press as part of 'the Zionist regime's…production line of anti-Iran material', there was probably never any hope that espionage drama Tehran would elicit a hands across the barricades response. The Tehran we see here is actually Athens, but everything else about the show feels authentic, beginning with the jauntily Persian theme tune.
Tamar (Niv Sultan) is an Israel-raised Iranian who is now an expert hacker and Mossad agent sent to Tehran to infiltrate anti-government groups. From there, she aims to get closer to the machinations of power for a mission that is likely to change the course of Middle Eastern politics. There is a distinct 24 vibe about the little twists and turns here amid a sense that no one can ever be fully trusted. But the Kiefer Sutherland-helmed show revelled in more directly laying out the specific threats, setting traps and putting the viewer through several wringers while wondering how this or that person would ever solve the dilemmas while getting out alive without ever having to ask where the nearest lavatory was.
If Tehran keeps us guessing, it's purely about the character motivations as it takes us at least six of the eight episodes to find out exactly what the purpose of these manoeuvrings are. It's a curious strategy, and one that merely provides the watcher with one frustration piling up on another.
Apple TV+, Friday 25 September.
Grayson Perry's Big American Road Trip ★★★☆☆
In taking the temperature of the black and white world of American politics and social affairs, Grayson Perry's colourful outlook is a gust of fresh air. Aboard his 'psychedelic chopper', the self-proclaimed member of the liberal elite shoots around the States in three episodes, hanging out with a number of people who would typically tag him as the enemy. But on his ventures across America, Perry (like Louis Theroux before him) charms the locals with his open, non-judgemental manner and a cackle that would have Sid James grinning in his grave.
Taking in Atlanta, Washington and Wisconsin, Perry meets an assortment of people on different sides of the culture wars: some well-heeled Martha's Vineyard liberals, Georgia's 'black elite' (including a cast member of The Real Housewives Of Atlanta), and Bikers For Trump whose tirade against schools who put 'five-year-old boys in dresses' has our host visibly squirming.
Perry is an amiable frontman whose shouty summaries contain more sideways detours and grasps for profundity than a Russell Brand podcast intro, while you might find your finger hovering over the mute button given the propensity for the series editors to insert a Trump 'speech' over the action. As with Sue Perkins' recent TV visit to the US/Mexico border, Grayson Perry does offer an entertaining perspective on America's bloody in-fighting, but you might yearn for a John Pilger or a Michael Moore to dig a little deeper into that nation's heart of darkness.
Channel 4, Wednesday 23 September, 10pm.
With writer Dennis Kelly and director Marc Munden helping to spook Sky viewers right now with The Third Day, here's a chance to reflect on some of their dark material from almost a decade ago. Utopia was a smash hit for Channel 4 when it first aired in 2013, quickly burning out and fading away during its second series. Long-term talk of a US remake has finally resulted in this big-budget affair penned by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) which retains some elements from the original while attempting to carve its own path.
With the sequel to comic book Dystopia on the way, fans are getting very excited about the imminent publication of Utopia. But a whole set of other determined individuals and shadowy groups are so keen to get their hands on the new comic that they're willing to activate a series of atrocities such as gouging eyes out with a spoon, shooting to kill without mercy, framing a ten-year-old boy for mass murder, that sort of thing. Some deeply personal stories as well as the secrets of the universe are apparently embedded deep within these two comic books. And connected to all this somehow is, and this is where it gets a little too close to all our bones, the race for a virus to halt a pandemic: at one point, a character even compares the impending heath crisis to the Spanish Flu, and a bat is mentioned as a possible carrier.
Folk such as John Cusack and Rainn Wilson have been drafted in as star attractions, but Utopia's younger stars are the ones who keep its often convoluted and rather arch plot ticking over. As with the original series, its opening couple of episodes appear to offer something fresh and exciting before being sadly bogged down in conspiracy thriller and shoot-em-up cliché.
Amazon Prime Video, Friday 25 September.