Good autumn TV to stay in for
Box of delights
Old stories being retold is the thrust of the new season in British drama with Dickens, Kipling, Shelley and the Bible all being dipped into. EastEnders writer Sarah Phelps is let loose on Oliver Twist (BBC1, mid Dec) with Timothy Spall as Fagin and Tom Hardy as Bill Sikes while the channel also goes period crazy with Elizabeth Gaitskell’s Cranford (BBC1, mid Nov) starring Judi Dench, Francesca Annis and Michael Gambon, as well as Miss Austen Regrets (BBC1, mid-Dec) with Greta Scacchi, Olivia Williams and Adrian Edmondson. Daniel Radcliffe takes his specs off to play Rudyard Kipling’s lad in My Boy Jack (ITV, Nov) while Helen McCrory, Neil Pearson and Lindsay Duncan crop up in Frankenstein (ITV, late Oct), which has Jed Mercurio adapting Mary Shelley’s frightening parable of Man playing God into a modern genetics nightmare.
Set 20 years in the future in the seaside town of Margate, Exodus (Channel 4, 19 Nov) is an epic one-off drama inspired by the biblical fable and directed by award-winning filmmaker Penny Woolcock. Bernard Hill plays Pharoah with Ger Ryan as his wife Batya. The Relief of Belsen (Channel 4, 15 Oct) stars Iain Glen and the Redgraves Jemma and Corin, using testimony and news footage to depict the desperate struggle by Allied forces to bring the camp’s starving inmates back from the brink of death. In the more contemporary corner comes Britz (Channel 4, early November) from Peter Kosminsky. It’s a tense two-part thriller about a young brother and sister, both British-born and Muslim, who are pulled in radically different directions by their conflicting personal experiences in post-9/11 Britain. And Stephen Poliakoff is back with another pair of stately dramas which are linked by an old mansion and the memories of those who have passed through its doors. Capturing Mary (BBC2, Nov) has David Walliams in his first serious role as the charming but nasty Greville, whose destructive tendencies wreak havoc upon the titular character who is played by both Ruth Wilson and Maggie Smith. In Joe’s Palace (BBC1, Nov) Michael Gambon plays a reclusive billionaire who inherits a house in a story about loss and loneliness.
BEST OF THE US
Aaron ‘West Wing’ Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip attempted to uncover the peculiar goings behind the scenes in TV land, 30 Rock (Five, Oct) attempts to do the same, but to comic ends. Based on the experiences of a female writer on Saturday Night Live, William Baldwin stars as an ageing exec in charge of a sketch series called The Girlie Show. It snagged the Emmy for best comedy series this year ahead of Ugly Betty and The Office.
For those still mourning the loss of Twin Peaks, you just have to get over it. But if that’s beyond you, then Hidden Palms (Sky One, 4 Oct) might go some way to easing your pain. From Kevin ‘Dawson’s Creek’ Williamson comes a mystery drama with a young and painfully glamorous cast set in a Palm Spring idyll where nothing appears to be what it seems.
On the crime front, The Nine (Five, tbc) features a bunch of strangers (there’s nine of them) who bond while being held hostage for 52 hours after a botched bank robbery. Tim Daly and Kim Raver are among the trapped. New channel Virgin 1 might be pushing Eddie Izzard/ Minne Driver comedy-drama The Riches but the real gem is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Virgin 1, 8 Oct) a blackly hilarious comedy series which features three buddies who own a watering hole and struggle to find a balance between business and friendship.
While the UK does slow-moving psychological dramas, the Americans just love to hit us with a sensory mallet. In the same vein as 24 and Prison Break, six parter The Company (BBC2, late Nov) spans a 30-year period dealing with the CIA’s underground fight with the KGB. Idealistic Yale graduate Jack McCauliffe (Chris O’Donnell) is recruited into the CIA and sent to the Berlin Base, where he’s mentored by eccentric Harvey Torriti, codenamed The Sorcerer (Alfred Molina). Michael Keaton, Tom Hollander, Natasha McElhone and Alessandro Nivola complete the top-line cast of this $35m production, based on Robert Littell’s novel.
And in the craziest idea of the season corner is Journeyman (Sky One, 8 Nov) in which our very own Kevin McKidd plays a time-travelling newspaper reporter in San Francisco who suddenly finds that he can float back in time to change people’s lives while hooking up with his former fiancée, which causes a problem or two for his current wife. Goodnight Sweetheart US anyone?
After years of hammering away on the world’s stages with little thanks, many stand-up comics can’t wait to get on telly to release themselves from their personal hell. We’re certainly not suggesting that this is the case with Omid Djalili but many fans have been anticipating his big move to the small screen for a while now. With The Omid Djalili Show (BBC1, tbc), the country’s foremost UK/Iranian comic attempts to invoke the spirit of Dave Allen with a new sketch and stand-up show which faces up to the scary and silly world we now inhabit. Another one-man sketch show affair is The Peter Serafinowicz Show (BBC2, 4 Oct) from a guy you may recognise from science education spoof Look Around You and zom-com Shaun of the Dead.
Aiming to unearth and unleash the comics of the future is Comedy Lab (Channel 4, late Oct) which continues to boast about having unveiled Dom Joly, Peter Kay and Tommy Tiernan and in its latest series will feature the likes of Doug Stanhope, Clare Grogan, Karl Pilkington and Greg McHugh. In sitcomland, we can only keep our fingers crossed that David Tennant isn’t about to tarnish his good name with Learners (BBC1, early Nov) a driving school comedy with Jessica Stevenson who seems to spend every interview telling us she’s married and wants to be called by her new surname Hynes. Which is fair enough. Perhaps more promising is the new comedy from Sharon Horgan who previously brought us Pulling on BBC3. Angelo’s (Five, Nov) is set in a London café with Horgan playing Karen, a policewoman desperate for a baby, while Paul Kaye plays her sleazy brother-in-law. Shelly Longworth is an X-Factor wannabe and Alice Lowe plays Karen’s best friend Alicia.
UK DOCUMENTARY & REALITY
Having caused a right royal stink with that promo trailer for A Year with the Queen (BBC1, Nov) in which it appeared as though Her Marge had stormed out of a photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, we all get a chance to see it in its full context as we go behind the scenes at the Palace. Tank Man (Channel 4, Nov) investigates the identity and fate of the lone, brave protestor of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and in so doing provides an insight into the tragic events of 1989 and China’s emergence during the last decade and a half.
Could ‘ordinary’ folk from one of the most agnostic nations on earth cope under the strict authority of Islam? In Sharia Street (Channel 4, late Oct) one lapsed Muslim and six non-Muslims are set to find out as they attempt to live their lives for three weeks following the rigorous laws of the religion. The volunteers immerse themselves in Islam for this unique experiment in Harrogate, which is 97% white and almost 100% Muslim free.
Rarely afraid to put himself in physical or mental peril in the name of fascinating telly, Louis Theroux goes under the knife while investigating the world of plastic surgery in the US in Under the Knife (BBC2, 7 Oct).
Inspired by Lord Clark’s landmark TV series, Civilisation, four-parter This is Civilisation (Channel 4, 26 Nov) follows artist and critic Matthew Collings as he makes a personal selection of the greatest artistic moments and monuments of history from the ancient Greeks to modern times and examines how they have shaped our world. A different kind of history is tracked by Marc Bolan: 20th Century Boy (ITV, Oct) in which we look at the life, work and death of the 70s icon as we approach the moment that would have been his 60th birthday.