Best new TV shows to stream: 28 September
- Brian Donaldson
- 28 September 2020
Including Adult Material and Love Life
From modern American politics to forgotten classical music, here are new shows for your small screens
Adult Material ★★★★★
2020 has been many things, not many of them positive, but in TV it's proved to be a year of many triumphs for British female leads. We've had supreme performances from Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You and Billie Piper in I Hate Suzie, but they are both eclipsed by Hayley Squires with Adult Material. Having previously lit up everything from Call The Midwife to I, Daniel Blake, here the Londoner hits unbelievable heights in the kind of role that comes under the bracket of once-in-a-lifetime.
She plays Jolene Dollar, a porn star who, at the age of 33, is deemed to be a veteran heading towards the end of a career that on the surface has allowed her to enjoy a certain lifestyle and status, but deep down has slowly destroyed her very essence as a human being. A complex creation, Jolene talks up her profession while trying to steer others away from its inherent perils: she attempts to take teenager Amy (Siena Kelly) under her wing but can't save her from manipulation and exploitation at the hands of men helming the business: Rupert Everett as porn baron Carroll Quinn, Phil Daniels playing a director who's shot movies across several decades, and Julian Ovenden excelling as creepy, abusive US actor Tom Pain.
There are isolated moments and entire scenes that are almost too agonising to watch, but this is an essential and thought-provoking four-parter from the pen of Lucy Kirkwood. While offering the odd glimpse of levity, Adult Material pulls no punches about an industry that keeps convincing itself that it trumpets human expression and propagates free thinking, but can't help from leaving in its wake a lengthy trail of damaged goods and lost souls.
Channel 4, Monday 5 October, 10pm.
Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History ★★★★☆
In this excellent 90-minute documentary, the lives of black classical musicians and composers are finally being made to matter. For too long, the names of Chevalier De Saint-Georges, George Bridgetower and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor have been (at best) footnotes in the history of classical music, with their works either neglected, lost or even nicked by those whose reputations are cemented into the canon (naughty Mozart!).
BAME orchestra Chineke!, soprano Nadine Benjamin and violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason are all on hand to bring some of these unknown compositions to life, as presenters Suzy Klein and Lenny Henry erupt with pleasure at the sonic delights unfolding. The inevitable joshing around of Henry is occasionally jarring though Klein keeps everything on a level while maintaining a light tone herself throughout.
But nothing can dilute the extraordinary stories behind those who fought to have their voices heard and talents displayed against all the odds: from the slave who became a published composer to the poor, illegitimate child who won a scholarship to the Royal College Of Music at the age of 15. 'We're setting the story straight,' says Henry before adding 'and it's about time.' No doubt this will provoke the vocal ire of those culture warriors bravely lurking online, but as a means of redressing an obvious imbalance, this should be the start of a long and rich conversation.
Love Life ★★★★☆
After reading its synopsis and watching the first five minutes, you won't be easily convinced that Love Life is worth sticking with. But after ten half-hour episodes of Sam Boyd's very modern but hopelessly universal love story, you should be seduced by its charms. Actually 'love stories' would be more accurate as the series follows all the transient affairs, solid relationships and romantic screw-ups of Darby Carter (Anna Kendrick) covering everything from high-school flirtation to finally (perhaps) finding 'The Person'.
Narrated by Lesley Manville (with an oddly robotic intonation that initially makes you think Alexa has finally made her TV debut), Love Life has a universally strong cast (featuring big-hitters such as Jin Ha, Hope Davis and Scoot McNairy) whose default setting is a pleasing naturalism which strikes directly at our hearts and minds. There are shades of Judd Apatow's Love and Aziz Ansari's Master Of None, with its twists and turns of millennial courtship rituals constructed in an age of relentless social media, but its primal motives are carved from time immemorial.
While covering a lot of bases, Love Life might be no one-off with a second set having been ordered as it pursues the aim of being an anthology series, and taking a look at another individual's dealings in the love department. With equally pinpoint writing and another superior cast on board, there's nothing to suggest this won't be a long-term concern.
BBC One, Wednesday 30 September, 10.45pm.
The Comey Rule ★★★☆☆
The role of FBI director is one of the most coveted in American life. But under Donald Trump, it was barely a surprise that James Comey would become just another slice of cannon fodder to satisfy the White House occupant's narcissism. Sacked due to, pardon the obvious pun, trumped up suggestions about his conduct during the long-running investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails which exploded just before the 2016 presidential election, Comey was informed of his dismissal via ticker-tape headlines on CNN.
This incident is pretty dramatic stuff but most of Comey's career comprised fairly unsensational honour and humdrum duty as he went about his business in a firm but fair manner. The Comey Rule shows us a man (played here with typically elegant poise by Jeff Daniels) who was universally loved by his employees and respected across the political spectrum: a lifelong Republican, he was still feted and trusted by Barack Obama before being chucked under a very fast-moving bus by Trump. Then again, any TV drama which uses the subject's memoir as its main source can't help but come across as hugely sympathetic to the man in the title.
Conversely, Trump's status as both an adequate politician and sentient human being is placed on a block and unceremoniously demolished through an even-larger-than-life portrayal by Brendan Gleeson. It's abundantly apparent that the Irish actor has thoroughly studied the president's ticks and mannerisms and habits such as talking about himself in the third person, but can't prevent the role plunging beyond caricature. So, Trump is disproportionately fixated on details that will make himself look bad (you'll probably not get the phrase 'golden showers' out of your head quickly enough post-viewing) while failing to conduct himself in a way befitting his office (this only confirms his tiny attention span and huge ego).
For those who continue to pine for The West Wing, this mini-series comes close in displaying a similar obsessiveness with the nitty gritty of US political life but it often veers uncomfortably close to hagiography on the one hand and grotesque Spitting Image-like lampoonery on the other.
Sky Atlantic, Wednesday 30 September, 9pm.
The story of Banaz Mahmod is both sad and deplorable. Having contacted the police to report threats to her life on five separate occasions, this 20-year-old UK-Iraqi finally went missing in 2006, presumed dead. Her crime? To fall in love with an Iranian against the wishes of her Kurdish family who then had her kidnapped, raped and murdered. This 'honour killing' was investigated over several years, with her remains finally discovered, and the many perpetrators brought to justice (two of whom had to be extradited from Iraq to face trial).
While this is the story of a tragic young Asin woman, it's told through the eyes of Caroline Goode (this emphasis has been a bone of contention for some from the moment Honour's production was announced), the DCI who fought tooth and nail to keep the investigation open when all hope seemed lost, particularly coming up against a wall of silence within the local Kurdish community. As Goode, Keeley Hawes delivers another sterling performance, with a permanent expression which suggests someone on the constant verge of either crying or vomiting.
Whether the focus of this drama is weighted too much towards a 'white saviour' narrative will be an ongoing debate, but in keeping awareness on the terror of 'honour killings', it's making a positive contribution that can't be denied.
ITV, Monday 28 & Tuesday 29 September, 9pm.