Unlike most American drama series, Fauda isn’t there to make friends.
‘The rule in our household is: if a TV series hasn’t got subtitles, it’s not worth watching,’ a friend told me the other day. Once this approach would have been both extremely limiting and insufferably pompous. In the era of Netflix and Amazon Prime, though, it makes a lot of sense.
There’s something about English-speaking TV — especially if it’s made in the US — that tends towards disappointment. Obviously there have been exceptions: The Sopranos; Band of Brothers; Breaking Bad; Game of Thrones. But too often, what’s missing is that shard of ice in the creative heart that drama needs if it’s to be truly exceptional.
American drama is a slobbering puppy dog. No matter how dark or weird its subject matter, there’s invariably a fatal moment where it suddenly rolls over onto its back and begs you to tickle its tummy. Its urge to show you how secretly lovable it is is more powerful than its desire to be great art.
Comics aren’t what they used to be. In 1976 I was 11 — the perfect target audience for probably the most subversive, gory and entertaining comic series in British history, the now legendary Action.
The strips, often rip-offs of movies we readers were too young legally to see, were quite outrageously violent. Hook Jaw was about a heroic great white shark who eats everyone. Death Game 1999 was a death sport based on Rollerball. Kids Rule OK was about a post-apocalyptic world which made Lord of the Flies look like Mary Poppins. Hellman of Hammer Force was the second world war seen from the perspective of a German Panzer major. Inevitably, after complaints from the likes of Mary Whitehouse helped to create a moral panic, it got banned. But from the ashes of Action rose the phoenix of 2000 AD whose creators realised they could get away with murder, so long as they set all their stories in the future.
But what does today’s Generation Snowflake have by way of comic-book entertainment? Well, 2000 AD is still going — just — though it’s gone so wearisomely PC that my brother Dick, a loyal subscriber since pretty much Prog One, finally gave up on it last year. The situation in the US is worse, though. So much worse that you may think what I’m about to describe is satire.
What’s amazing about Jeremy Thorpe is that it genuinely didn’t occur to him that murdering someone might be illegal or immoral.
Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little, so you can imagine how sickened I was by the magisterial TV adaptation of John Preston’s A Very English Scandal (BBC1, Sundays).
I’ve known Preston for years. It’s him I have to thank for the compendious collection of CDs rotting in my attic, from the ten years or so I spent working under him (he was the arts editor) as the Sunday Telegraph’s rock critic. But though I’ve hugely enjoyed all his quirky, low-key, sardonically amused novels — loosely on the theme of ‘quiet desperation is the English way’ —I never imagined he’d luck out quite so spectacularly as he has with this truly splendid all-star production.
When Winston Churchill was at the nadir of his career, he wrote a biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. In his wilderness years he needed to be reminded that even the greatest men of destiny go through periods when it all seems pretty hopeless. ‘Every taunt, however bitter; every tale, however petty; every charge, however shameful, for which the incidents of a long career could afford a pretext, has been levelled against him,’ Churchill wrote. Those Blenheim Palaces and Finest Hours: they don’t just give themselves away, you know.
I wish someone had told me this when I was younger. Unfortunately, like many of us, I suffered the misfortune of having parents who kept telling me how very special I was.
Plus: the joy of Only Connect lies in its absolute integrity and why Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is better off with Jeremy Clarkson.
Twenty years after it first appeared, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is back for a brief, week-long anniversary run on ITV —with only a few small amendments to the near-perfect original formula. Along with 50/50, Ask the Audience and Phone a Friend, you also get the option to Ask the Host. Given that the presenter is now Jeremy Clarkson (replacing Chris Tarrant) this is an option as risky as it is amusing.
As Clarkson cheerfully explained in the first show: ‘If it’s 1970s prog rock I’ll probably know the answer. If it’s anything other than that I probably won’t.’
Next time there’s a terrorist atrocity in Britain, here’s one of the things that will happen in the immediate aftermath: the mob will look for a scapegoat, someone wholly innocent of the actual crime but who must nonetheless bear the burden of its impotent rage.
Perhaps it will be a politician, usually Nigel Farage, though sometimes Donald Trump. More likely it will be Katie Hopkins or Tommy Robinson. They’ll say something robust and honest, most likely on Twitter. And instead of congratulating them on their courage in telling it like it is, the twitchfork mob will furiously brandish them as its Exhibit A — the hatemonger who created the atmosphere which made this terrible act possible. Meanwhile, the true perpetrators — at least in terms of moral responsibility — will be permitted to get off scot-free.
Quite why people behave this way, I find mystifying. But, as Ben Irvine describes in his fascinating book ScapegoatedCapitalism, we’ve been doing it in different forms since time immemorial.
Plus: gritty, gripping Euro noir on BBC4 and a stylish new country-house whodunit on BBC One
Because I’m a miserable old reactionary determined to see a sinister Guardianista plot in every BBC programme I watch, I sat stony-faced through much of Cunk On Britain (BBC2, Tuesdays).
Philomena Cunk (played by Diane Morgan) is a spoof comedy character who used to appear on Charlie Brooker’sWeekly Wipe and has now been given a full series. Though the character is amiable enough — a heroically thick Northern woman in a smart jacket who goes around Britain making stupid observations and asking celebrity historians dumb questions — I can’t quite work out what the point of the joke is.
Is it a send-up of dumbed-down Britain? Is it designed to make TV history experts look pompous? Is it Molesworth reimagined for 21st-century viewers who’ve never read Down with Skool!? Is it Ali G without the awkward racial element, which would likely never get past the censors now?
This ought to be the perfect time for a rant about how we’ve reached peak sourdough. It’s been all the rage for three or four years now and, really, someone needs to take a stand. As annoyingly overrated foodstuffs go, it’s up there with kimchi and goji berries and organic chia seeds: obsessively prepared by people with far too much beard, raved about in the Guardian and especially big in that epicentre of global communism, San Francisco. And it doesn’t even taste like bread — more like Mongolian yak’s yoghurt.
Problem is, I can’t. Because, like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I’ve been got. It began when the Fawn passed me this photocopy of a recipe, together with a jar with a white-ish substance at the bottom smelling faintly rancid. They had been sent as a gift by a colleague who’d got the sourdough religion and wanted to spread the word. ‘Oh God, must I really?’ I muttered as I pored over the complicated details.
Plus: the latest variant on one of my favourite reality TV genres: unteachables go to brat camp.
I have decided to set up a cult, which you are all welcome to join, especially those of you who are young and very attractive or stupendously rich. The former will get exclusive membership of my JiggyJiggy Fun Club™, while the latter will be essential in financing all the cool shit I need on my 500-square-mile estate, viz: hunt stables and kennels, helipad, private games room with huge comfy chair, water slides, grouse moor, airstrip, barracks for my cuirassiers, volcano with battery of rockets inside, and so on.
What gave me the idea was this new Netflix documentary series everyone is talking about called Wild Wild Country. It tells the story of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the bearded guru who in the early 1980s decamped from India with his thousands of followers to set up a utopian colony on a remote and beautiful ranch in the wilds of Oregon.
If you didn’t know it was all going to go horribly wrong, you might find the early episodes ever so slightly dull.
Something extraordinary and largely unreported has just happened in a court in San Francisco. A federal judge has said that there is no Big Oil conspiracy to conceal the truth about climate change. In fact, Judge William Alsup — a Clinton appointment, so he can hardly be accused of right-wing bias — was really quite snarky with the plaintiffs who claimed there was such a conspiracy.
The case was brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, which have taken it upon themselves to sue the five big western oil majors — Chevron, ExxonMobil, Conoco-Phillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell — for allegedly engaging in a Big Tobacco-style cover-up to conceal the harm of their products. Apparently Big Oil knew about the dangers of man-made global warming but went on drilling anyway. So now the two Californian cities are trying to claim billions of dollars in damages to compensate them for all the walls and dykes and so on they’ll have to build to cope with rising sea levels.
Nice try. But so far Judge Alsup hasn’t been impressed. He said he had been expecting the plaintiffs to reveal ‘a conspiratorial document’ which proved that the defendants ‘knew good and well that global warming was right around the corner.