New British TV Show Reviews

September 6, 2016

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The Aliens (9/16)
Michael Socha stars as Lewis in this E4 series that is similar to 90s series "Alien Nation" about off-world immigrants trying to assimilate into modern Britain.  However, due to the fact the alien's hair can be burned to produce an addictive narcotic, the aliens are all forced to live in a walled-off ghetto called Troy and only allowed out on day passes.  Lewis works the checkpoint the aliens must pass through daily (shades of Palestinians working in Israel) who then discovers that he is half-alien himself (his mum once got on with an alien gangster now serving time). Lewis is quite possibly the dumbest protagonist ever to star in a television series, he constantly makes unforced errors. But Socha specializes that sort of lovable idiot, and keeps you rooting for him even as you slap your face each time he does something stupid.

Ben Miller is the Edward Snowden-like whistle-blower who is trapped in the London embassy of a South American country in this three-part comedy.  As is usually the case, Miller is a bit of a blow-hard who quickly wears out his welcome, yet he has no where else to run. So he and his reluctant hosts are stuck with each other.

Ballot Monkeys (9/16)
Topical comedy series timed with the 2015 General Election and focused on the four main handling teams for each party.  Everyone gets equal abuse, usually set aboard their color-coded buses.

Banana (9/16)
Spin-off series to Russell T. Davies Cucumber with one-off vignettes that take a short scene from that week's episode and show you it from the perspective of minor characters who then have their own little drama separate from the main action. It's a clever conceit and allows Davies to do more world building and character development without slowing down the focus over on Cucumber.

Banished (9/16)
Botany Bay in Australia in the 18th Century was not a very hospitable place, particularly when you are an English prisoner who will be spending the rest of your life at the penal colony there. This series, by Jimmy McGovern, shows the lives of both the prisoners (including Russell Tovey, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Joanna Vanderham), as well as their British wardens (who effectively were just as isolated from civilization as they knew it) and the local clergy in this BBC serial.

The Casual Vacancy (9/16)
The novel that turned out to be written by JK Rowling is adapted by the BBC about the machinations in a small English village. Plans for development that will aid the well-connected, but displace a community center used by the less fortunate, are imperiled when an election to fill a spot on the parish council puts both sides against each other. Michael Gambon and Julia McKenzie play an older couple who think they run the village and attempt to install their feckless son in the position.  We see the positive effect of the community center for those who need it, but Rowling cynically shows what happens when the good guys don't always come out on top.

Two twentysomethings are making out in their parent's basement when nuclear war breaks out and they spend the next 10 years in the fall-out shelter raising their daughter. This is all before the opening titles, the series is about when they finally crawl out and discover what post-apocalyptic Britain is like -- and the fact they might want to see other people now.  They discover a motley band of survivors who are all a bit unhinged in this BBC-3 comedy. It's a low-rent series with amazing guest actors including Jack Whitehall, Nigel Planer (!), and Robert Bathurst as the former Prime Minister!

Cucumber (9/16)
Russell T. Davies returns to writing series TV in this Channel 4 drama about the lives of middle-aged gay men in Manchester (something I'm sure he can relate too). The focus is on Henry Best (Vincent Franklin) who's been living with his boyfriend Lance for years even though they've never had sex. After a fight, Lance throws Henry out who moves in to a loft occupied by twentysomething squatters. At first they treat him with contempt as "the old man," but he makes himself useful at least until he loses his job.  Minor characters got spun off into their own stories on Banana which ran concurrently each week with Cucumber. The actors also talked about the series on Tofu.

Doctor Thorne (9/16)
At the exact same time as he was appearing as the creepy sidekick in The Night Manager, over on ITV Tom Hollander played the nice-as-pie title character in this adaptation of the Anthony Trollope novel by Julian Fellowes. Thorne is raising his "niece" who attracts the attention of the heir of the local estate--much to the horror of his status-conscious parents (Rebecca Front is hilarious as his mum). Can Thorne put all to rights by the end? 

Eve (9/16)
Childrens BBC series about a teenage female android who escapes from the high-tech corporation that built her, and hides out with a family with school-age kids who know her secret.  It follows the usual "What is it like to be human?" tropes of android sci-fi, although the little brother of the girl next door is like a mini-me version of Donald Trump: he'll do ANYTHING in pursuit of making a quid, including exploiting Eve.  Two seasons have aired so far.

Fortitude (9/16)
Sky TV produced this ambitious drama set in a town in the Arctic Circle where various human vices (greed, murder, infidelity) are all trapped in the same place where everybody knows everybody else.  Christopher Eccleston is the Laura Palmer of the series, dead before the end of the first episode, which then sets up the mystery of who killed him and why.  Various story plots include the mayor who runs the local hotel hoping to do an expansion, an archeological discovery that might upset the apple cart, and a mysterious disease that causes its victims to behave in a very strange way.

The Frankenstein Chronicles (9/16)
Sean Bean stars as a policeman in this period drama where a mysterious body washes up on the shores of The Thames just as a bill is going through parliament that would allow surgery on corpses.  Is there a connection? Will Bean make it all the way to the end of the series without dying? Allusions to Frankenstein abound, including having Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin) be a character with a secret of her own in this six-part ITV series. Incredibly, a second series has been commissioned.

Incredible Adventures of Prof Branestraum (9/16)
Harry Hill stars in this TV Movie as a very absent-minded English scientist and his wacky inventions.  Adapted by Charlie Higson from the Norman Hunter novel, Branestraum is the bane of his small village, particularly when his inventions go awry.  Miranda Richardson, Adrian Scarborough and Ben Miller play less-than-amused villagers to his antics.

Jericho (9/16)
The building of a 19th Century railroad viaduct in rural Yorkshire and the shanty town that houses the navvies who are contracted to build it are the focus in this ITV drama series. Young penniless widow Annie (Jessica Raine) brings her two small children to the town and sets up lodging and gets involved with the mysterious Johnny Jackson (Hans Matheson). The foreman dies in an accident (Annie's son was responsible, but she and Johnny bury the body), so an American (Clarke Peters) takes over. Financing problems threaten the project, the dream of Charles Blackwood (Daniel Rigby), but then it turns out that Johnny is his long-lost brother and the rightful heir. It's not Downton Abbey, but I enjoy these costume serials.

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries (9/16)
Jason Watkins plays this real-life person who was wrongly accused of murder and then vilified by the press in a rush to judgment. It doesn't help that his personal grooming made him a target of derision until friends intervened, and finally he is able to hold the media accountable after his ordeal, in this two-part mini-series.

Mapp and Lucia (9/16)
Miranda Richardson is Elizabeth Mapp, Queen Bee in her small English village, but her carefully controlled apple cart is about to be upset when she rents her cottage to Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas (Anna Chancellor) for the summer who proceeds to be much more popular socially.  Lucia isn't mean but Mapp is really asking for it sometimes with her schemes to outdo Lucia at some village function or another.  A remake of a 1980s production.

The Night Manager (9/16)
Tom Hiddleston is practically auditioning for James Bond in this John Le Carre story about Jonathan Pine, a former special forces soldier who gets drafted by an MI-5 operative (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate supposedly untouchable arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Tom Hollander plays Roper's unctuous aide-de-camp who doesn't trust Pine (a real contrast to the sweet character he was playing over on ITV at the same time in Doctor Thorne). Just like Bond, Pine gets to sleep with a number of ladies including Roper's main squeeze (Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki) and avoid narrow escapes.  Laurie is awesome as the charming but snake-like Roper, and also not ashamed to be shot visibly balding on top.  Great stuff!

Puppy Love (9/16)
Low-key but funny series about the relationship between a coarse caravan-living dog trainer (Joanna Scanlan) and a posh dog owner (Vicki Pepperdine) who gets no respect from her dog. Scanlan and Pepperdine also wrote the series and delight in getting the two character's lives entangled as much as possible and (pardon the expression) watching the fur fly.

Remember Me (9/16)
Spooky three-part mystery starring Michael Palin, Mark Addy and Julia Sawalha. OAP Tom Parfitt (Palin) moves into a retirement home where a mysterious death occurs in the same room he was in. Certain horror elements get introduced as we learn more about Tom's past history.
Rik Mayall Lord of Misrule
The late Rik Mayall is remembered in this documentary that interviews -- with one major exception -- everyone who worked with Rik, including an extensive one with Rik himself who talks about mortality and what it will be like after he's gone!  He was very matter of fact about the whole business, probably a perspective gained after a quad-bike accident nearly killed him several years earlier. But the one major collaborator in his life, in fact arguably THE largest, Adrian Edmundson, is curiously absent from the tributes and reminiscences in this show.  A strange omission.

Thunderbirds Are Go (9/16)
ITV lovingly recreates one of the greatest children's series ever for the 21st Century and generally pull it off.  They eschew puppets for the characters, they are all done with CGI, but the exteriors and ships are pure model work executed by Peter Jackson's WETA company.  There are so many great touches including the palm trees that crash to the sides to allow Thunderbird 2 to slide past, and even the slight hesitation in the ramp that slides the character into a secret passage, just like in the old show!  I am very biased because I grew up on Thunderbirds, so this remake is pure nostalgia for me, even though it is very much still a kids show.

Tofu (9/16)
Another spin-off from Cucumber where the actors discuss the issues about each week's episode in this series of 10-minute episodes that ran online concurrent with the series.

Upstart Crow (9/16)
Ben Elton goes back to multi-camera sitcom writing in this BBC comedy about William Shakespeare (David Mitchell) who is vexed by all manner of family, friends, and theatrical hangers-on. Knowledge of Shakespeare is helpful but not essential to get the jokes, even the Bard himself was not above a certainly low-grade comedy to assume the masses, and neither is Elton.

Victoria (9/16)
ITV & PBS's answer to Downton Abbey is this lush production about the life of Queen Victoria.  Jenna Coleman is more than up for the role (I expect BAFTA and Emmy nominations next year), beginning with the day she becomes Queen at the age of 18.  Her mother and her creepy advisor want to form a regency so they can rule, but Victoria is willful enough to avoid their machinations.  Instead, she relies on the Prime Minister, the widower Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell, still dreamy after all these years), but he is too duty-bound to entertain getting into a relationship with her. Based on the pacing of the first few episodes, I expect the producers hope this series will run a long, long time and will take their time aging Coleman over Victoria's 82 year reign over several seasons.

Wolf Hall (9/16)
The life and times of Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) who was advisor to the mercurial Henry VIII (Damian Lewis). Everyone is jealous of Cromwell's chameleon-like ability to survive the changing winds of politics and remain on top.  But finding a suitable wife for the hard-to-please Henry (who desperately needs an heir) is his biggest problem. Rylance is the master of the deadpan look, particular when someone asks him to do the impossible. His hangdog eyes and bushy eyebrows speak volumes about what he's thinking in this lavish BBC costume drama.

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (
September 6, 2016