Brian Donaldson finds that amid the many new Beeb dramas, the best ones have a gaggle of ball-busting females
After all the rough and ready excitement of the festive Doctor Who and Extras specials, what ticklish delights would the BBC lay before us as we, and they, stumble into a brand new year? On the face of it, the usual swathe of crushing disappointments await, yet lying just beneath is a priceless pearl or two. Shame that they’re either American law shenanigans or silly kids stuff. Where have all the good British dramas gone? And don’t say they time-trotted back to 1973 with John Simm.
You can easily imagine lots of whizzing through the dimensions of space and time on the agenda in M.I. High (BBC1, Mon 7 Jan, 5pm •••), as its less than raw second series high fives its way into our homes. Somehow merging The Avengers with Scooby-Doo, it creates three child heroes who are undeniably smart but somehow, thankfully, not smart-arsed, taking time out from their school lessons to solve the unlikeliest of crimes. In this opener, for example, the clock ticks down menacingly as they attempt to find the US president who has disappeared after a magic trick has gone horribly wrong. There’s also the undeniable pleasure of discovering that Danny John-Jules, the guy who played the cat in Red Dwarf, hasn’t been completely put out to seed, archly hamming it up to fine effect as the trio’s guru who is disguised by day as a simple-minded janny.
Andrew Davies is probably a very clever man, but surely he must be losing inspiration when producers ring to ask which period drama he’d like to rehash next? And so here he comes with Sense and Sensibility (BBC1, Sun 6 Jan, 9pm ••), a meandering stroll into the dead white female canon with Jane Austen’s dreary tale of tortured romance and inevitable heartbreak as two sisters battle for and against their passions. David Morrissey shows up as the simmering Colonel Brandon who is so disagreeable that a wench he fancies (Charity Wakefield) would rather risk hypothermia than sip Earl Grey with him. I think I’d rather risk contracting Ebola than be forced to watch episode two of this pointless broadcast.
Still, Sense and Sensibility seems as engrossing as The West Wing when sat down next to Fairy Tales: Rapunzel (BBC1, Thu 10 Jan, 9pm •). You can’t help but think that an agent with talents akin to Extras’ Darren Lamb must be in charge of Charity Wakefield’s acting career, because the poor lass also turns up in this cliché-riddled tedium-fest. The first of a new series of revamped fables features Chas as a long-haired tennis champ whose charms are so irresistible that Lee Ingleby will pretend to be a lady just for half a chance to get close enough to Rapunzel for a ‘love game’ (or at least cop a glimpse as she recreates that scratchy poster image from the 70s). The other tennis-related gag that you’re expecting about ‘new balls’ takes its time, but it arrives sure enough.
Mistresses (BBC1, Fri 11 Jan, 9pm •••) isn’t short of a cliché or five either but for a bit of British sauce and universal guile, it beats the previous adult fare hands down. Happily not merely an update of the early 90s A Woman’s Guide to Adultery, this has a quartet of friends either having affairs or at the wrong end of them, seeking to show that there are only losers in that torrid game. The cast is uniformly fine as a doctor, lawyer, events planner and 9/11 widow deal with grief, guilt and garments of a sexual nature.
When American TV companies can attract the likes of Glenn Close and Ted Danson it can’t ever be a surprise when they come up with stuff like Damages (BBC1, Sun 6 Jan, 10.20pm ••••). A smart and compulsive show staying on the right side of implausible, it features Close as a mischievous, ruthless lawyer hellbent on nailing Danson’s scruples-free billionaire. Meanwhile, comatose anticipation fills the air at Mr Davies’ forthcoming adaptations of Brideshead Revisited and Middlemarch. It’s the sense of ambition in British TV that we love.