Stern looks, perfect spies and triple helixes

As the days get shorter and wetter, the cricket season draws to a close and people start spending more time watching things other than Andrew Flintoff on TV. So, ever alert to public demand, the TV companies decide this is the time to start throwing new programmes at us, which means this week is a good time to start my new regular Sharpener TV review. Because of a busy weekend, this one’s a little late, but future ones will be appearing at weekends.

Channel 4 made the quickest transition going straight from the conclusion of the cricket highlights into the latest part of David Starkey’s Monarchy series, also known as ‘Anything Simon Schama can do, we can do cheaper’. While the name David Starkey may be a draw for history-minded audiences, it’s clear that his face isn’t, which led Channel 4 to provide lots of employment for people who look vaguely like members of English royalty. While there’s clearly a market amongst lookalike agencies for people who look like well-known monarchs, I can’t help but wonder where they found their dead ringers for late Plantagenets and early Tudors, and was anyone else aware of Richard III’s vague resemblance to Martin Kemp?

Unfortunately, I was forced to wonder on such topics as the more interesting part of Starkey’s thesis about the transition from the Houses of Lancaster and York to the House of Tudor – that Henry Tudor’s style of monarchy owed much more to the absolutist desires of the French court than previous English traditions – was buried beneath the usual 15th century Court Circular of births, marriages, deaths, murders and battles. While the idea of a King putting his brother on trial for making insinuations about the legitimacy of his children was interesting, the presentation of the idea – Starkey stands in an historic building talking, interspersed with shots of the royal lookalikes being stern while two extras in armour try to enact the whole Battle of Bosworth – left much to be desired.

It’s clear what the BBC considers its leading drama for the Autumn season to be – the new series of Spooks not only got hundreds of trailers and a big web push, but also the great honour of having a two-part season opener broadcast over two nights. In essence, we got Spooks: The Movie, with the team battling a bigger, bolder threat than ever before (well, one that set off more dangerous bombs, at least) and an introduction to the new dynamic of the series. After spending last year writing out their three main leads and introducing new ones, this was essentially the pilot for Spooks 2.0, letting us see everyone in action, but retaining one essential feature from the original series – no matter what the plot, no matter how few scenes he gets, Peter Firth will always steal the show with a couple of sardonic put downs somewhere along the line.

One interesting point about Spooks is that it offers us the security services we’d like to see. Just like all emergency services workers in TV drama are noble and self-sacrificing, all doctors (the ones not appearing in Bodies, at least) are competent and exemplary professionals, so we get MI-5 agents who don’t want extra powers from the Government, only ever bend the rules rather than break them and get to be heroes rather than the villains they might be elsewhere.

Of course, it’s time for the new TV season in America as well, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, distance is no limit to catching what’s new over there, especially those that are unlikely to turn up on a channel anyone can actually see in the UK anytime soon. CBS’s Threshold is the latest attempt to try and create a new X-Files, intriguingly borrowing the premise from David Duchovny’s post-X movie Evolution (including a triple helix) and playing it straight. At first glance, it’s intriguing enough and full of some interesting ideas, so it may have a chance to thrive in the insanely competitive world of network TV. If nothing else, it deserves a chance to prosper, just because it has a good cast, headed by the impressive Carla Gugino and Charles S Dutton and featuring Peter Dinklage in what may be network TV’s first piece of ‘height-blind’ casting – here, he plays a snarky linguistics expert who happens to be a dwarf, rather than vice versa. It needs tightening in the scripts, but it has the potential to become something rather good.

Elsewhere, things I didn’t watch on ITV this week included The Golden Hour in which paramedics rush to the scene of accidents and solve problems with consummate professionalism but have problems sorting out their personal lives. Somehow I felt I’d seen it before, with the only question left to ask being just why ITV opened themselves up to all sorts of questions by making it a 90-minute long show. I also missed this month’s Caroline Quentin Triumphs Over Adversity drama, Footsteps In The Snow, the casting of which pointed at the fickleness of acting fate. While her Shallow Grave co-stars have gone on to be Doctor Who and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Kerry Fox is left mouthing platitudes in feel good trivia like this. Life really isn’t fair sometimes.

  1. dearieme said:

    I’m in NZ, so here’s my telly review:-
    “Yes Minister” is a droll new series from the BBC, featuring Sir Humphrey…..zzzzz.

    Mind you, the wine’s superb.