Saturday, 30 November 2019

TV Column: GROWING UP POOR: BRITAIN'S BREADLINE KIDS


This article was originally published in The Courier on 30th November 2019.


NEXT WEEK’S TV

GROWING UP POOR: BRITAIN’S BREADLINE KIDS
Monday, Channel 4, 10pm


As we inch ever closer to the most important General Election in years, Channel 4’s Dispatches team present this vital, devastating report on poverty. More than four million British children are growing up hungry. Unforeseen circumstances can send families into tailspin. We meet a mother of two who was forced into emergency accommodation after fleeing from an abusive partner. She’s struggling to support her kids via the catastrophic Universal Credit system. They couldn’t survive without access to one of the many food banks that exist in this great unequal nation of ours. No one should have to live like that. Meanwhile, a depressed teenager who lives with her family in sheltered accommodation struggles with suicidal thoughts. Watch and weep.

HOW TO SAVE £1000 ONLINE
Tuesday, Channel 4, 8pm

Hey, we all love shopping, right? Of course we do! But did you know that online retailers use mendacious techniques to strip you of your hard-earned cash? Don’t worry, though, as here come a pair of breezy experts to tell you how to avoid being ripped off. The immediate beneficiaries of their valuable teachings are two shopaholic families who waste thousands of pounds every year on expensive clothes and holidays. You’ll be forgiven for struggling to care about the overwhelming plight of these poor, beleaguered people. It beggars belief that Channel 4 would show this programme just 24 hours after the transmission of Growing Up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids, but I don’t suppose the contrast ever occurred to them.

MY GRANDPARENTS’ WAR
Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm


As if to apologise for the previous evening’s blundering transgression, Channel 4 get back on track with part two of this compelling WWII history series. This week’s famous guide is anti-war campaigner and one of the world’s greatest living actors, Mark Rylance. His grandfather, Osmond, spent almost four years as a Japanese prisoner of war. A Hong Kong-based banker with no military experience, Osmond bravely joined a volunteer defence force in December 1941. On Christmas Day of that year he was shot and imprisoned. Rylance, who comes across as a lovely, sensitive soul, uncovers the moving story of a man who, like so many men who endured harrowing ordeals during the war, rarely spoke about it afterwards.

COUNTRY MUSIC: A FILM BY KEN BURNS
Friday, BBC Four, 9:30pm


Multi-award-winning documentarian Ken Burns is renowned for his epic accounts of American history. It was only a matter of time before he got around to country music, an ancient stream at the heart of the nation’s divided, complex culture. In episodes five and six he reaches the mid-1960s, a tumultuous era of change and revolt when certain preternaturally rebellious artists from the largely conservative world of country music commented sympathetically on current events. He focuses on Godlike feminist trailblazers Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, indomitable human rights activist Johnny Cash, Fellini-inspired hippie cowboy Kris Kristofferson and the extraordinary African-American country singer Charley Pride. Country music prides itself on integrity: these guys are the ultimate bastions.

LAST WEEK’S TV

KILL YOUR TV: JIM MOIR’S WEIRD WORLD OF VIDEO ART
Sunday 24th November, BBC Four


If you’ve ever wondered where Jim Moir, aka Vic Reeves, gets his kerrazy ideas from, you only have to watch programmes such as this. Moir is an avant-garde artist who became a comedian by mistake. This documentary, in which he explored the colourful history of artists exploiting video technology for wild, subversive means, was probably the closest we’ll ever get to a mission statement from someone whose work defies logic.

MEAT: A THREAT TO OUR PLANET?
Monday 25th November, BBC One

Humans feast upon 65 billion animals a year. Scientific research has confirmed that meat production is one of the biggest causes of our environmental crisis. In this commendably grave and urgent documentary, animal biologist (and meat-eater) Liz Bonnin became increasingly horrified by her findings. She also provided some hope via rational solutions to the problem. Remember rational solutions? How quaint.

THE MAN WHO SAW TOO MUCH
Wednesday 27th November, BBC One

Say what you like about Alan Yentob (I always do), but fair play to the man: his stark documentary about Boris Pahor, a 106-year-old survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, was riveting. Pahor spent time in Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Natzweiler. The latter is rarely spoken about, despite being one of the most horrific camps of its kind. A powerful piece of television.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Television: HOME FREE + ANT & DEC'S DNA JOURNEY


This article was originally published in The Courier on 16th November 2019.


NEXT WEEK’S TV

HOME FREE
Monday, Channel 4, 10pm


In this tender new series, a group of young people with learning disabilities are given the opportunity to live independently for the first time. They’re sharing a purpose-built apartment block as part of a progressive scheme funded by local health authorities. Participants include Anna and Joe, who have Down’s syndrome. They’re about to share a bed after being in a relationship for several years. The programme also features candid contributions from proud, supportive yet tearfully concerned parents, all of whom realise that, despite their fears, their children deserve to experience this rite of passage. As one of the young residents observes, they’re able people who just need a bit of extra support to take control of their own futures.

24 HOURS IN A&E
Monday, Channel 4, 9pm


I know, of course, that this long-running series can at first glance be easily dismissed as a rubbernecking voyeur’s delight, but anyone who’s taken time to actually watch it knows it’s a sensitive, responsible and quietly profound piece of beautifully made television. A nurse sums it up in the intro: “You see people from every thread of life, and it makes you realise that our common humanity far outweighs any differences.” The latest series commences with a broken-legged Bulgarian teenager and his adoring mother, a wrist-sprained bra-fitter, and a severely dehydrated pregnant woman. 24 Hours in A&E is a celebration of humanity, a compassionate character study. Life is precious. Look after each other, please, and may your God bless the NHS. 

BOOM, BUST & BANKERS
Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm

I urge you to watch this chilling documentary about the government-backed redevelopment of Broadgate. That vast, oppressive banking complex, that toxic monument to rampant capitalism, was once the thrusting epicentre of Thatcher’s free market revolution. Vive le banks! You know what happened next. Broadgate is still a financial hub, but in order to keep it afloat it needs to branch out. Enter a new generation of champagne-quaffing toffs who just can’t wait to transform it into an elite leisure hub for the very worst people in the world. They’re contrasted with the security staff, engineers and minimum-wage migrant cleaners working 14-hour shifts to keep this repulsive symbol of inequality alive. An eloquent blast of utter disgust.   

WHAT MAKES A MURDERER
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm


John Massey is Britain’s longest serving convicted murderer. In 1975, he shot and killed a bouncer. A cold-blooded premediated attack, declared the judge. Massey, who was released on parole last year, disagrees. He’s the first guinea pig in a series based on the findings of scientists who believe that certain biological traits make some people more likely to kill. Criminal experts place him under a battery of tests to determine whether neural and environmental abnormalities caused him to commit his crime. “I’m as curious as you are to find out,” says Massey, a bitter, angry, damaged man who attempted to escape from prison on three occasions. My expert conclusion: a broiling psychological stew of risibly self-evident analysis masquerading as mind-blowing insight.

WOULD I LIE TO YOU?
Friday, BBC One, 9:30pm


Let joy be unconfined: Bob Mortimer, the world’s funniest living human, has returned to the only comedy panel show worth watching. I detest most TV panel shows, they’re cheap, lazy vessels of weakly satirical/whimsical pointlessness (please put Mock The Week, Q.I. and the unforgivably Boris Johnson-enabling Have I Got News For You? out of their moribund misery), but Would I Lie To You? is an often hilarious source of spontaneously silly comfort. It exists only to entertain, especially when Bob is on board. This week he tries to convince the panel that he once commanded a daring heist on a campsite tuckshop. As always, you never can tell with Bob. He’s a liar you can rely on.

LAST WEEK’S TV

ANT & DEC’S DNA JOURNEY
Sunday 10 to Monday 11 November, STV

I like Ant and Dec. I don’t watch Saturday Night Takeaway, obviously, it’s an unbearably shrill light entertainment version of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, but I’m rather fond of its presenters. Two bright, funny friends, effortlessly comfortable in each other’s company, the apotheosis of their simple craft can be found in the semi-adlibbed links which brighten uneventful episodes of I’m A Celebrity.

This adequately pleasant Who Do You Think You Are-style forage – delayed by two years due to Ant’s personal problems – reintroduced their seemingly unstoppable brand, just in time for the latest series of jungle mayhem.

Important caveat: at the time of writing this, dear reader, the press were only granted preview access to episode one, during which Ant/Dec spent most of their time eating biscuits in extended family kitchens. If, in episode two, Ant/Dec discovered that they were distant yet direct bloodline relatives of, not only each other, but Isambard Kingdom Brunel, then you will forgive the lack of excitement on my part.

Monday, 11 November 2019

TV Column: GOLD DIGGER + HIS DARK MATERIALS


A version of this article was originally published in The Courier on 9th November 2019.


NEXT WEEK’S TV

GOLD DIGGER
Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm


When Julia (Julia Ormond), a lonely divorcee and mother of three, turns 60, she books herself into a swanky London hotel. While pottering around an art gallery, she bumps into a handsome young man. Sparks fly and before you know it, she’s introducing this mysterious stranger to her understandably sceptical children (Julia is beautiful, but she’s also rich). Are they right to doubt him? Julia’s eldest son, Patrick, suffers from childhood flashbacks which suggest that history may be repeating itself in some sinister way. Gold Digger is an enjoyably melodramatic potboiler buoyed by a sensitive performance from Ormond and a standout turn from Sebastian Armesto as Patrick, who comes across as a knife-edge hybrid of Michael Shannon and Reece Shearsmith.

GARY LINEKER: MY GRANDDAD’S WAR
Monday, BBC One, 9pm


Gary Winston Lineker’s granddad, who is no longer with us, served in the British army during World War Two. He was part of a platoon informally known, with the utmost disrespect and unfairness, as ‘D-Day Dodgers’. In this Who Do You Think You Are?-esque programme, football’s numero uno left-wing groovy nice guy announces, “They haven’t had the credit they deserve, and if I can make a slight difference to that, that will make me feel proud.” Stanley Abbs served as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps during the vital WW2 Italian campaign. Gary, with Stanley’s detailed war diary in hand, mounts a powerful case in favour of the contribution they made to the war effort.

THE YOUNG OFFENDERS
Monday, BBC One, 11:35pm


Gawd, please, spare us from these try-hard, frantically-edited edge-coms about loveable recidivists. Trainspotting erupted 23 years ago, we should’ve got over it by now. Young Offenders follows two teenagers from Cork as they attempt, for a potentially lucrative bet, to stay on the straight and narrow. Their greasy, shaved mushroom haircuts are supposedly a joke in themselves, a lazy stab at instant iconography. The people behind this utterly charmless, witless rubbish presumably won a barely applied-for competition. I’m only recommending it as an example of how not to write a sitcom. We all deserve better than this.

CLIMATEGATE: SCIENCE OF A SCANDAL
Thursday, BBC Four, 9pm

The cataclysmic effects of global warming are an actual fact, as all rational people agree. Ten years ago, however, a cabal of climate change deniers hacked into the emails of several leading scientists with the express purpose of distorting and misrepresenting their views: an insidious campaign of damaging misinformation. Donald Trump fully got behind those spurious findings. Of course he did. Fake news only suits Trump when it plumps up his cushions of malodorous self-interest. This grave, intense, jaw-dropping documentary gathers together many of the scientists who were supposedly exposed during that concerted barrage of lies. These people actually received death threats. Good luck, humanity. Tune in, grit your teeth and weep.

LAST WEEK’S TV

HIS DARK MATERIALS
Sunday 3rd November, BBC One


This adaptation of Philip Pullman’s richly acclaimed fantasy novels (which I haven’t read) began with a patience-testing volley of clunky exposition. Writer Jack Thorne had a lot to get through in terms of world-building, but he appeared to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

Thorne failed to establish any reason to invest in the relationship between Lyra, the 12-year-old protagonist, and her maverick uncle (James McAvoy), a relationship which must surely be crucial to the saga’s appeal.

Lyra, though capably performed by Dafne Keen, came across as Just Another Kid in an expensively oak-panelled fantasia haunted by familiar British character actors.

Fairly impressive production design and seamlessly integrated CGI animals are all very well, but episode one was little more than a poorly paced, fatally muddled compendium of portentous proclamations. Thin gruel on an epic scale.

INSIDE THE SUPERMARKET
Thursday 7th November, BBC Two

Meanwhile, back in the real world, this series wandered the aisles of Sainsbury’s during a challenging year in which it celebrated its 150th birthday. We met busy shop floor staffers and cappuccino-quaffing execs as they struggled to overcome increasing competition from their rivals. The black cloud of Brexit loomed large: panicky, cash-strapped consumers fled to M&S and Waitrose instead. 

One day, in the far-distant future, an alien race may discover an ash-covered tape of this programme, the last remaining trace of our existence, and wonder what the point of it all was.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

TV Preview: RICH HALL'S RED MENACE + THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD


This article was originally published in The Courier on 2nd November 2019.


NEXT WEEK’S TV

RICH HALL’S RED MENACE
Tuesday, BBC Four, 9pm


It’s always a treat whenever the lugubrious Hall pops up to present another one of his feature-length history lessons shot through the prism of popular culture. This one, which is part of a series of programmes commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (see below), recounts the bizarre, sinister saga of the Cold War. Steeped in archive footage and assiduous research, it’s a typically droll, myth-busting essay in which Hall explores decades of anti-Communist hysteria and nuclear panic. While cowering from the insanity of Mutually Assured Destruction, the vast majority of ordinary Americans learned about the Red Menace via films, television and comic books. Meanwhile, ordinary Soviets endured a drab life of toil. As Hall observes, they were too exhausted to even think about invading America.

A BRITISH GUIDE TO THE END OF THE WORLD
Monday, BBC Four, 9pm


This chilling Arena documentary examines the extent of Britain’s nuclear ambitions and preparations for attack during the Cold War. It eschews conventional narration in favour of horrifically vivid testimonies from some of the people directly affected by these plans, including soldiers involved in Britain’s first major nuclear weapons test. As one man recalls, “It actually turned out there were birds on fire… hundreds of them burning. A lot of them were still alive, and blind.” Many soldiers got cancer as a direct result of the tests: “They sent us to that island to suffer the effects.” We also hear from civil servants who were responsible for making emergency plans in the seemingly inevitable event of nuclear war. Essential viewing.

THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL WITH JOHN SIMPSON
Thursday, BBC Four, 9pm


In this ruminative programme, senior BBC News journalist John Simpson exhumes his frontline reports on what he describes as “one of the great days of modern human existence”. With typical journalistic rigour, he wants to analyse the accuracy of his reporting of history. After all, things didn’t work out quite as he expected them to. Like all of us who lived through that terrifying epoch, Simpson assumed that the world could end at any moment. So no wonder the demolition of the Iron Curtain was a cause for celebration. Today, however, Russia and the West are still at loggerheads. It’s an insightful unravelling of a complex saga, overseen by a man who’s actually encountered the likes of Gorbachev and Putin.

THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD
Monday to Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm


Despite its title, this rather brilliant series has nothing to do with the above spate of Cold War documentaries. It’s a deadpan, David Lynch and Wes Anderson-influenced black comedy-drama about a pair of severely dysfunctional yet oddly likeable teenagers on a British Badlands-esque odyssey. As series two commences, we’re introduced to a troubled and vengeful young woman with connections to one of their (deserved) victims. Series one, which I loved, felt like a perfectly self-contained piece, a standalone blast of curious subversion, but writer Charlie Covell has hit upon an effective way of continuing the saga. As before, it somehow manages to combine hip post-modernism with a tender yet unsentimental depth of feeling. Quite an achievement.

LAST WEEK’S TV

WESTWOOD: PUNK. ICON. ACTIVIST
Saturday October 26, BBC Two

Artful and unorthodox, this hugely enjoyable profile of fashion legend Vivienne Westwood struck precisely the right note. A lifelong rebel, distrustful of received wisdom, she came across as a reluctant interviewee. Bored of talking about her life and legacy, at one point she sighed, “But you need this, so I’ll tell you.” Her refusal to play nicely was part of the film’s charm. She was grumpy, funny, generous, unpretentious and eccentric all at once. A rounded human being, no less.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

TV Column: GUILT + CHILDREN IN NEED: GOT IT COVERED


This article was originally published in The Courier on 26th October 2019.


NEXT WEEK’S TV


GUILT
Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm


In this new black comedy from Bob Servant creator Neil Forsyth, two brothers accidentally run over and kill an elderly man. When they try to cover it up, their lives become increasingly complicated. The brothers are a study in contrasts. Max (Mark Bonnar) is a rich, amoral lawyer. Jake (Jamie Sives) is a humble, sensitive record shop owner. Max’s plans to get away scot-free are compromised by his hapless brother’s pesky conscience and burgeoning relationship with the dead man’s niece. Guilt is great, a sharp farce-cum-thriller that confirms Forsyth’s status as one of Scotland’s best comedy writers. It’s also buoyed by an enjoyably demonic performance from the always reliable Bonnar, who’s positively Limmy-esque at times.

WHO ARE YOU CALLING FAT?
Monday and Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm


Britain is in the grip of an obesity crisis, but there’s a growing movement in favour of reclaiming what it means to be overweight. In this challenging two-part experiment, nine people who identify as fat or plus-size spend a week together under the same roof to share their experiences of living with obesity. Sharp differences of opinions ensue. That’s hardly surprising, as the participants include a pair of anti-diet, body-positive activists, a man who swears by his liposuction, a woman who’s ashamed of her body, and the CEO of a charity that regards obesity as a disease. It’s guaranteed to trigger debate and, alas, idiotic comments on Twitter. You know what people are like.

CHILDREN IN NEED: GOT IT COVERED
Wednesday, BBC One, 7:30pm


Earlier this year, ten well-known British actors assembled at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London to record an album for Children in Need. Under the tutelage of a team including hit-making songwriter and producer Guy Chambers, these warbling novices were asked to choose songs that have personal meaning to them. Hence this rather pleasant documentary in which we’re treated to the unlikely spectacle of Jim Broadbent doing a countrified version of Blue Moon, Olivia Colman performing Portishead’s Glory Box with her Fleabag co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge on ukulele, and genuinely touching versions of Yellow by Coldplay and Sunshine on Leith by The Proclaimers performed, respectively, by Doctors Jodie Whittaker and David Tennant. Don’t worry, it’s not as luvvie-ish as it sounds. Cynics need not apply.

GET RICH OR TRY DYING: MUSIC’S MEGA LEGACIES
Friday, BBC Four, 9:30pm


Hosted, with commendable dedication to maximum archness, by Ana Matronic from Scissor Sisters, this depressing, number-crunching documentary explains how the estates of superstar music artists continue to rake in billions posthumously. We meet a financially secure roster of producers, publicists, lawyers and family members, all of whom seem blissfully happy. Deceased legends and born again ‘brands’ under review include the Ramones, David Bowie, Bob Marley (“Sustainability was so important to him,” smarms the American businessman in charge of his estate), Prince and Elvis Presley, who laid the lucrative blueprint for the entire so-called legacy industry. The King has been dead for 42 years and currently has over 14 million followers on Twitter. It’s what he would’ve wanted.

LAST WEEK’S TV

TRAVEL MAN
Monday October 21, Channel 4

The relentlessly ironic Richard Ayoade began his latest series of supposedly affordable 48-hour travel breaks in Dubrovnik, Croatia. His celebrity companion on this occasion was Stephen Merchant. I’ve never understood the point of Travel Man, it’s so lightweight you never get a satisfying sense of the destinations it visits. That’s sort of the point, but so what? Come back Cliff Mitchelmore, where e’er you may be.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

TV Column: THE ACCIDENT + THE WALL


This article was originally published in The Courier on 19th October 2019.


NEXT WEEK’S TV

THE ACCIDENT
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm



Sarah Lancashire stars in this disquieting new drama about a small Welsh community struggling in the wake of a local tragedy. Scenes of a traumatic nature ensue when a group of teenagers break into a construction site for some recreational drug and spray paint fun. The Accident feels at first like an elaborate ‘80s Public Information Film, but it gradually reveals its wider meaning when writer Jack Thorne (This Is England; National Treasure) starts asking provocative questions about guilt, revenge and corporate accountability. Clearly influenced in part by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it’s a timely piece. Lancashire, who excels as usual, is ably supported by a cast including Joanna Scanlan (The Thick of It) and Sidse Babbett Knudsen (Borgen).

THE BRITISH TRIBE NEXT DOOR
Tuesday, Channel 4, 9:15pm


This presumably well-intentioned series could easily come across as massively offensive. Preview copies weren’t available, so I can only hope against hope that Scarlett Moffatt and her Gogglebox family living in a replica of their terraced home in the middle of a Namibian tribal village – yes, really - turns out to be a sensitive study of vast cultural differences. Moffatt is an exceedingly likeable person, she’s smart, funny and nobody’s fool. That means, in theory at least, that the results of this gimmicky social experiment will be quite interesting. I’m nothing if not a cockeyed optimist. In episode one she’s forced to confront her body-image insecurities when asked to wear the traditional Himba dress. Meanwhile, dad introduces the locals to metal detecting. Hmm.

BILL TURNBULL: STAYING ALIVE
Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm

In November 2017, former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. It’s an incurable illness, he’s been told he has no more than ten years left to live, but he wants to know if it really has to be a death sentence. So, in this emotional documentary, he explores various potential methods of prolonging his life. Interviewees include a teenage cancer patient who is certain that cannabis oil, which is illegal in the UK, has kept him alive, and an altruistic man who provides free medicinal cannabis to seriously ill people. Turnbull tries some and gets the uncontrollable giggles, which isn’t something I ever thought I’d witness. He also examines the benefits of a meat-free diet.

K-POP IDOLS: INSIDE THE HIT FACTORY
Friday, BBC Four, 9:30pm

The biggest boyband in the world today aren’t, as history has taught us to expect, from Britain or the USA. They’re called BTS and they hail from South Korea. BTS are merely the tip of a slick, machine-tooled phenomenon known as K-Pop, which in recent years has managed the unthinkable and punctured the West’s long-standing dominance of the music industry. To find out how this happened, music journalist James Ballardie travels to South Korea to meet some of K-Pop’s top movers and shakers. Chief among them is Soo-man Lee, a Midas-like mogul who basically invented the genre. Over the last 30 years he’s produced a never-ending line of strictly-controlled, wholesome pop acts.

LAST WEEK’S TV

THE WALL
Saturday 12th October, BBC One


Hang on, what’s this? A Saturday night game show hosted by Danny Dyer? What a time to be alive. It’s a perfectly adequate crumb of nothingy filler dominated by a large pachinko-like pegboard and Dyer’s carefully honed, one-note personality. Contestants answer non-taxing general knowledge questions asked, for no reason I can fathom, by the disembodied voice of Angela Rippon. Balls drop down the board. Cash prizes are won. Dyer runs through his hammed-up glossary of cockney colloquialisms. There is nothing more to it than that, but it serves its modest and instantly forgettable purpose.

HIDDEN LIVES
Thursday 17th October, BBC One


This excellent new series, in which various writers explore overlooked aspects of contemporary Scottish society, began with a lyrical film from the estimable journalist Peter Ross. He visited the small coastal town of Burghead to celebrate an ancient fire festival known as The Clavie. This lively annual event, which involves hardy souls carrying a flaming barrel of tar on their backs, is a potent symbol of proud community heritage. As Ross observed, the tradition isn’t maintained for tourism or the local economy, it’s maintained “because it’s always been done and it must, and shall, always be done.” A delightful piece of television.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

TV Review; KIRI + HARD SUN

This article was originally published in The Courier on 13th January 2018.


KIRI: Wednesday, Channel 4

HARD SUN: Saturday, BBC One


Miriam is an experienced social worker who one day makes an error of judgement that leads to tragedy.

She arranges an unsupervised visit between foster child Kiri and her birth grandfather. While Miriam is gone, Kiri is apparently abducted by her ex-con father. A few days later, her body is found. The finger of blame points towards Miriam.

This is KIRI, a compelling new drama starring the great Sarah Lancashire. It’s written by Jack Thorne, author of the Yewtree-inspired National Treasure. Kiri is inspired by another explosive issue torn from the headlines, namely the unjust vilification of social workers.

Miriam becomes a convenient scapegoat. The media hounds her. The public turns against her. She’s thrown under the bus by her employers. She drowns herself in booze.

The murdered girl is black. Her adoptive parents are middle-class and white. This complicates matters even further. Within days of Kiri’s disappearance, yer actual John Humphrys is on Radio 4 chairing a debate on the ramifications of children being matched with families from different cultural backgrounds. Right-wing tabloids accuse social services of “ticking their lefty boxes”. It all feels depressingly real.


Thorne is fascinated by the ways in which the media manipulates, exploits and simplifies complex emotional issues. It constructs binary narratives blithely untroubled by shades of grey. It gorges on grief and enflames prejudices it helped to create in the first place.

Though his writing becomes slightly didactic when his passion and sincerity gets the better of him, for the most part he devises plausible scenarios, searching arguments and convincing characters. Miriam, with all her quirks and flaws, is a gift for Lancashire, who’s always at her best when suffering in a pool of anguish and gallows humour.

Thorne succeeds in his goal of humanising social workers. They are, after all, human. They sometimes make mistakes, but they also do a lot of good. You never read about that in the press, of course. Kiri shows what happens when social workers, who devote their professional lives to helping people, end up needing help themselves.

A nuanced polemic and compassionate character study, Kiri is a valuable piece of work.

“Nuance” isn’t in Neil Cross’ vocabulary. The Luther creator deals in heightened pulp fiction powered by graphic violence and a grim world view. He probably wrote Victorian Penny Dreadfuls in a previous life.

His obsessions reached some kind of crazed apogee in HARD SUN, a propulsive sci-fi conspiracy thriller which, like Luther, treads a fine line between entertaining largesse and outright nonsense.  


Blokey Jim Sturgess and the quietly charismatic Agyness Deyn are mismatched London coppers who discover that the Earth will be destroyed by an unspecified solar catastrophe in five years (yes, the Bowie song does appear). The governments of the world want to keep this rotten news under wraps, lest the human race goes bananas.

What’s more, Sturgess appears to be a dodgy copper up to his neck in all sorts of chicanery, while Deyn’s mentally ill son tried to kill her via stabbings and arson. She’s also secretly investigating Sturgess. What a carve up.

In typical Cross fashion, Hard Sun revels in audacious set-pieces and gore. In order to enjoy it you have to set your brain into the appropriate gear. Suspension of disbelief is key.

It is, by its very precarious nature, a show that could go either way, but episode one set things off in agreeably crackerjack style. I’m a sucker for paranoid dramas wreathed in apocalyptic futility, and Hard Sun doesn’t disappoint on that front.