Best new TV shows to stream: 5 October
- Brian Donaldson
- 5 October 2020
Including Spitting Image and Brave New World
From women dealing with crime to puppets dabbling in satire, here are new shows for your small screens
Spitting Image ★★★☆☆
When Spitting Image was in its ITV pomp during the late 80s/early 90s, the programme managed to turn some barely noteworthy politicians into very famous people. The likes of Geoffrey Howe, Gerald Kaufman and Kenneth Baker would ordinarily have only existed in the minds of those who obsessed over all matters Westminster. But due to their heightened latex versions, they were known and laughed at in millions of British households. Launching a new Spitting Image now seems almost perverse given that our leaders and those working around them are often exaggerated versions of human beings already and nearly beyond lampooning.
Based on the opening episode of this new BritBox series, its targets are once again gleaned from far and wide across the social spectrum, with David Attenborough (senile), Lewis Hamilton (hypocritical) and Greta Thunberg (angry), having merciless fun poked straight into them. There are those who are certainly ripe for satire on a weekly basis (Harry and Meghan, Dominic Cummings, Priti Patel) while others could easily be pensioned off after one lame appearance (the karate-loving Dominic Raab and the puffed-up yet pliable Michael Gove).
As with the earlier era of Thatcher/Reagan, the 'special relationship' is hammered away at, with the buffoonery and entitlement of Trump and Johnson ceaselessly demolished. And fair play to the producers who probably thought this opening episode was firmly in the can by Thursday night, only for a new Covid statistic to send the world into a tailspin by Friday morning. So, there was just time for a cheeky quarantine gag about Melania and her husband's tweeting colon to be squeezed in.
No matter what TV programme she appears in, Edie Falco almost always improves it. The only exception to this is, of course, The Sopranos, where the New Yorker's portrayal of Carmela was just another miraculous performance in a series brimming with them. Put almost anyone other than Falco into the lead role of Alibi's LA-located police procedural Tommy, and its status as humdrum case-of-the-week network fodder would be assured. And you have to pay extra tribute to her for being able to speak lines such as 'strangers are just friends you haven't met yet' without immediately throwing up right there on set.
Having earned her stripes (and many badges) as a high-ranking cop at the NYPD, Abigail 'Tommy' Thomas is drafted in as Los Angeles' first female Chief of Police: it's an uplifting moment for some, a controversial box-ticking exercise to others. For Tommy's grown-up daughter, it's just another excuse to be ignored by her too-busy mom. But Tommy does her best at work and with her family, whipping out zingers in between fending off bigotry (she's also gay) and chucking the big book of justice at bad guys and gals.
As it stands, not even Falco could save Tommy, with the show being binned after this one 12-instalment season, and you can almost hear the ratings slip away with each passing episode. Sadly, the truth is that Tommy isn't bad enough to hate nor good enough to care a jot about when you've switched it off.
Alibi, Wednesday 7 October, 9pm.
Agatha And The Midnight Murders ★★☆☆☆
She may have been dead for almost half a century now but Agatha Christie's stories still hold a grip on those who love crime fiction. Alongside a new version of Death On The Nile heading into cinemas soon (we hope) and the BBC getting into a habit of annually adapting one of her tales for the festive season, is this third in Five's series of imagined mysteries starring a fictionalised version of Christie herself.
Written by Tom Dalton, Agatha And The Midnight Murders features Helen Baxendale donning the tweed skirt and jacket in order to solve a crime in 1940 London. With German bombs falling on the capital, the financially and creatively struggling Agatha is on the hunt for a buyer of a manuscript in which she kills off her Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. Finding herself trapped in a hotel basement with a bunch of cut-out caricatures representing an array of nationalities, the story gets mysteriously nicked from her handbag. Trying to track down a folder clearly isn't dramatic enough (to be fair, it's a pretty boring scenario), so members of this self-isolating gang start to show up horribly dead, one by one.
Baxendale does her best to look bothered by Agatha's fate while her sidekick Blake 'the tall one from The Inbetweeners' Harrison is both shifty and matey. If you maintain interest long enough to reach the end, the denouement may or may not be a revelation. This tendency for people writing brand new stories in the vein of iconic authors might be showing few signs of fading, but ultimately they can never be anything other than a pale and slightly pathetic imitation.
Five, Wednesday 7 October, 9pm.
25 Siblings And Me ★★☆☆☆
Three programmes are squished together into one across the hour and half of 25 Siblings And Me: a documentary about Asperger's, a reality-ish show on a family reunion, and a very BBC Three quickfire ride about mental health and social media. The focus ('star' would feel a little too exploitative a term) is Oli Benjamin, a 21-year-old who has two mums but then discovers he might have many siblings (25 specifically) in the US, all from the same sperm donor. Oli hops on transatlantic planes to visit and try to bond with a bunch of strangers, many of whom have already known each other for years. That sounds like a daunting proposition for anyone, but when you have Asperger's and a lack of filter when it comes to social skills, nothing less than an emotional minefield lies ahead.
It's fair to say that Oli has a hard time in coping with this maelstrom, and while he is prone to sending friendly waves to the camera, the lens returns the favour by lingering awkwardly on him at his most vulnerable. Scenes where he is having a tough conversation with one of his siblings (or his 'dad' Daley) appear to exist solely to highlight his anxiety and frustration at being such an outsider in this world.
There are clearly documentaries to be made about the modern experiences of people with Asperger's and of sperm donation, and to commissioning editors this might have seemed like a eureka moment to get both bases covered in one person. But the end result leaves the viewer feeling discomfort over intruding on a very personal story without it revealing broader truths about the core issues.
Brave New World ★★☆☆☆
With 2020 making an impressive pitch to be named as 'the worst year for anyone to have lived in so far', it feels like mission impossible for TV makers to invent scenarios awful enough for us to really care about. In an age of near-peak dystopia, it was no surprise, then, to hear that Charlie Brooker was putting on hold further plans to pen more futuristic nightmares under the Black Mirror umbrella given how exhausted the human race would be with actual nightmares occurring every single day.
Dipping back into past examples of Planet Earth going awry would perhaps be the way to go were they not as tediously bad as this shiny updated version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Its tale of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Epsilons and Savages is played out over a backdrop of clinical calm in New London and rebellious insurgency (and a drunk Demi Moore) in the Savage Lands. There's one vaguely exciting and very yellow, extremely competitive game of a sport that merges squash and tennis, but the pulse rarely inches above faint across nine wholly dim episodes.
Featuring endless, over-choreographed mass orgies and dialogue that aims to be existentially deep but is shallower than a capsule of soma, this Brave New World is a triumph of so much style over very little substance. Legend has it that the Godalming-born Huxley went to his grave high on hallucinogens. Similar lubricating of the senses might well be the only way to get through an entire season of this non-drama.
Sky One, Fridays, 9pm; all episodes available on NOW TV.