New Year’s Espionage

January 10, 2015 — Leave a comment

Image credit: ABC/Marvel

It behooves a television critic to say something about the ‘festive telly’ but, hélas, the moment has passed, and what more is to be said? I’ve answered so many questions, seen so many of the same faces, and laughed at so few jokes on celebrity quizzes that I’m sure they must film them all in one go on a revolving cyclorama. On The Big Day itself, the BBC and ITV teamed up to give us schmaltz with both barrels in the form of Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. The latter being two-hours of sentimental fantasy that seemed to drag on for the length of most fantasy films; while the former probably quite accurately depicts life as-lived in 1950s London by those in a family way, but for one crucial point: have you ever known any other quite so favourable a depiction of nuns? Nevertheless, Call the Midwife never fails to see me both choking down another mince pie and back my tears. And both programmes mean big bucks in the US, so churn on!

Unless I was being more than usually unobservant, this Christmas suffered from a lack of noteworthy documentaries, the Christmas Lectures sounded particularly unappealing. However, Snow Wolf Family and Me (BBC Two) was a highlight not just of the Fortnight of Doom but for the entire year. Hardy wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan traveled to the Arctic wilds of Canada to film a pack of wolves. Thus far, conventional enough. But then – is he mad? we cry, realising just how close he wants to get to them. How close? Almost too close for his own comfort. Certainly too close for my comfort, frozen in place as I was on the couch, as he reclined in the scrub, adolescent wolf at the boot of his outstretched leg. I needed no convincing that wolves weren’t the vicious killers of fairytale lore, but it was not until they appeared to be mourning a fallen pup that I realised just how sympathetic they could be.

New year, new headaches for Michael Kitchen in Foyle’s War (ITV). The war might be over but Foyle is stepping into the cold, so to speak, as he deals with the fallout. German industrialists, American oilmen, commies and Frasier Crane’s dad (guest star John Mahoney) were all tied up in a scheme that was quite difficult to follow, but, as ever, the strong performances of Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks (because why wouldn’t an actual human be called that?) made it the perfect Sunday viewing.

Honeysuckle’s character had not only her own subterfuge to handle but also sexism – her husband tried to forbid her to continue her work whilst pregnant. Perhaps this is quite reasonable, given the potential physical dangers, but never let a drip tell you what to do.

On the other side of the Atlantic, similar problems were being faced in Marvel’s Agent Carter (ABC) as the titular heroine, despite her outstanding war record, struggled against her colleagues’ chauvinism at the ‘Strategic Scientific Reserve’. Essentially, this is Agents of SHIELD in the Forties, with all the big band, beautiful cars and period sets you could ask for – and indeed it all looks perfect and gorgeous. This is the first effort by either of the big comic book franchises to have a female lead and Hayley Atwell, as Peggy Carter, portrays a bold, capable, clever and funny (not merely ‘sassy’) protagonist. The whole programme is rather charming – and it doesn’t take itself as fatally serious as the first season of SHIELD did.

Much like the Clairvoyant in that season, however, Agent Carter has a mysterious antagonist – isn’t there always? of course there is! – called Leviathan, who currently manifests itself as a remote-operated typewriter. Let’s hope Leviathan’s identity is more novel that the Clairvoyant’s. (For my money, just as SHIELD has Hydra, I would bet on AIM – Advanced Ideas Mechanics, which is just as ridiculous as Strategic Scientific Reserve.)

Rejoice for The Voice! Or don’t. Does anyone really care about BBC One’s talent show anymore? Turning up as it does, during the January lull, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come-too-early. It’s actually a shame the winner never seems to get anywhere, as some of the acts are quite original, as these things go, and there have been many outstanding singers. But, as Dr Johnson said, if you want to be a successful artist, be a mediocre one. Rita Ora is the new judge this year and already her breasts have got her into trouble on The One Show – in what at least one tabloid simply must have called cleavagegate – for showing too much of them; it occurs to me now that this heinous display of boobage could’ve been nothing more than a devious attempt to drum-up publicity for a flagging format.

Subterfuge and plots: anywhere you look for them.

Jacob Knowles-Smith

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