Damien Love gives us his verdict on TV for March 30 - April 5
Sunday, March 30
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Ah, endless Sunday nights in gentle Oxford, with a spot of undemanding death thrown in. As it should be. John Thaw's long, grumbling shadow remains untouchable, but Shaun Evans has done such a fine job making the part of this Young-ish Morse his own that it's surprising to remember this is only his second full series. In the first of four films, it's 1966 and, following the traumas that ended last series, Endeavour is returning to work after a long convalescence, still somewhat fragile and fractured. The uprooted Midlands detective is growing accustomed to the snooty ways of the dreaming university town, however, including its denizens' penchant for bumping each other off for arcane reasons. So when a man plummets to his death in an apparent suicide, his damaged radar is twitching. But as he begins pulling seemingly unrelated cases together - the disappearance of a young woman; the theft of priceless Anglo Saxon artefacts - his boss, DI Thursday (Roger Allam), grows worried. Has he lost it? Satisfying business, with nice foreshadowing of the Morse to come, both in the plot and, more subtly, Evans's performance.
Monday, March 31
Clydebuilt: The Ships That Built The Commonwealth
9pm, BBC Two
To tie in with the imminent arrival of Commonwealth Games on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow, David Hayman presents this new series, looking back to the kind of activity that once went on around here. Hayman explores the stories of four of the most adventurous of the Clydebuilt ships: later episodes tell tales of the Robert E Lee, a plucky paddle steamer that went on to win fame as a blockade-runner in the American Civil War, and finally wound up in the fleet of the Chilean Navy; the North Atlantic cable repair ship, CS Mackay Bennett; and the mighty Second World War battle cruiser HMS Hood. He begins, though, with one of the best-known, the Cutty Sark. It's a story of money, mutiny and murder on the high seas which stretches from Australia to her final resting place at Greenwich in London, but all began in the Scott & Linton shipyard at Dumbarton. (Making her, technically, not so much Clydebuilt as River Leven-built. But you get the idea.)
Tuesday, April 1
9pm, Channel 4
One of the year's big disappointments. This is the sequel to 2008's The Devil's Whore, the strange and bloody historical English Civil War drama, following the anti-royalist exploits of fictional heroine Angelica Fanshawe (Andrea Riseborough) and her grim partner, Edward Sexby (John Simm, with a metal hand). The same writing team, Peter Flannery and historian Martine Brant, are behind it, but have lost touch with everything that made the original live and breathe. With a new cast in place, we've jumped forward two decades, to 1680. Fanshawe (now played by the usually terrific Eve Best, not given much to do as we begin) is living a happy life in Oxford, but it is to be disrupted once more, as Charles II seeks revenge for old rebellions, and new rebellion stirs, both in Britain and across the Atlantic among the American colonies. There are some striking moments, but the whole is amazingly cumbersome, as characters explain what's going on and speechify at tortuous length about oppression. Among a cast of Game Of Thrones refugees, focus falls on Fanshawe's daughter, Beth (Freya Mavor) and woodlands rebel Abe (Jamie Dornan, surprisingly dull following his killer in The Fall) - pale shadows of the odd, heroic figures first cast by Riseborough and Simm.
Wednesday, April 2
Kim Philby: His Ultimate Betrayal
9pm, BBC Two
Nicely timed to coincide with this new Cold War, author Ben Macintyre pieces together an absorbing, globetrotting, two-part portrait of the most notorious double agent of the last one. The figure Philby cut is endlessly fascinating, but almost a caricature of "the gentleman spy": a stuttering, charismatic boozer with an eye for the ladies, who worked his way into a position as one of MI6's highest anti-Soviet agents, while all the time spying ruthlessly for the USSR. Macintyre breathes new life into the picture by focussing on Philby's contradictions - the charm, the icy heartlessness - particularly as they played out in his close relationship with his colleague Nicholas Elliott, a fellow MI6 agent who befriended and aided Philby and would defend his reputation, and who Philby exploited callously. Concludes tomorrow.
Thursday, April 3
Alexander Armstrong's Real Ripping Yarns
9pm, BBC Four
The Monty Python reunion shows will be upon us in July, which is a good enough excuse for Alexander Armstrong to rustle up this fond tribute to the excellent series Michael Palin and Terry Jones did after Python. Short but perfectly proportioned, the Ripping Yarns films ferociously spoofed the kind of rousing adventure stories (and attitudes) that Palin and Jones had encountered in Boys Own-style story papers and annuals growing up in the 1940s and 1950s - daft, far-fetched, incorrect, usually downright racist adventures, stuffed with heroics, jingoism, xenophobia and imperial disdain. Armstrong hears from both Palin and Jones about their inspirations, and delves through the kind of literature they had in mind. All very well and very good: the real treat tonight, though, is a repeat of the original, fantastic, 1976 Ripping Yarns pilot, Tomkinson's Schooldays, with Palin as the new boy at Graybridge public school. Just unutterably splendid.
Friday, April 4
The Trip To Italy
BBC Two, 10pm
When the first series of The Trip went out in 2010, it took me roughly four minutes to fall hopelessly in love. Many people went the other way.
The main complaint was the programme was "self-indulgent", a criticism I have a hard time unpacking when it's directed at any kind of creative endeavour, even the bad ones. With The Trip, the accusation amounted to this: it's just Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon sitting around showing off how smart they reckon they are, while stuffing their faces with expensive food and doing funny voices, and nothing happens. That's a pretty fair summary. But it misses what else was going on in all the nothing that was happening.
The Trip was slow, but never lazy. Around a thin fictional core, Coogan and Brydon were improvising, each rising to the challenge the other presented with a tightrope tension. Beneath the banter, the acute versions of themselves they were drawing before our eyes were hardly flattering: this "Steve Coogan" was vain, pedantic, condescending, competitive, pretentious, needy, scared, lonely. The main focus of the story that emerged was his slow crisis. Meanwhile, director Michael Winterbottom mounted their bickering, purposeless odyssey against the eternal, framing them against raw shots of the wild, bare landscapes of the north of England - a contemplation of the sublime, disturbed only by the tiny sound of two men impersonating Les Dawson doing a Woody Allen routine.
So, here we are, four years later. "The Observer wants us to do more restaurant reviews, but this time in Italy," Brydon tells Coogan, and with that insolent nod to motivation, they are off, moving among ridiculously, disdainfully beautiful Mediterranean landscapes for more of the same.
It may be the stupefying sunshine but, if anything, this Trip is even slower. The focus has shifted a little too, with Brydon's journey moving slightly toward centre stage. The imitations come thick and fast, of course. Among the new arrivals, tonight, Coogan and Brydon perform a hilarious extended duet about whatever Tom Hardy thought he was doing with his voice as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. But old favourites remain on maddening, magnificent repeat: Anthony Hopkins, Alan Bennet, Al Pacino. In particular, with weird poignancy, Michael Caine and Roger Moore.
Next week, by the ocean, comes a stupendous depiction of Saddam Hussein impersonating Frank Spencer, delivered by a man who knows exactly how pathetic and yet how very great it is to be doing Frank Spencer impressions in 2014.
Reviewing The Trip last time, I compared what Winterbottom was doing to Journey To Italy, the small but majestically moving 1953 movie by Roberto Rossellini, one of the great "nothing happens" films. I can't help seeing the new series as another heavy nod.
Rossellini similarly gave his stars, Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders, only the bare bones of a situation, then left them to improvise. As a result, they stumble beautifully, trying to discover their story. The Trip shares the loose, random feel, the devastating use of landscape, but has slightly different ends. Bergman and Sanders came up with the closest depiction of a marriage ever seen in a film. Coogan and Brydon arrive at the closest thing to friendship ever in a sitcom. They never stop talking, but never quite say the things they'd really like to talk to someone about, and time keeps passing. Melancholy, funny, pointless. It's far more than two guys doing silly voices. Although, thank god, it's that too. Indulge yourself.
Saturday, April 5
9pm, Sky Atlantic
It's the penultimate episode, and True Detective is easing into a great, hideous home straight, just dripping with atmosphere. Reluctantly reunited with Rust Cohle in the present day, the sceptical Marty Hart hears what his old partner has been up to in the years since they last saw each other: more of the same, it turns out, still doggedly pursuing his mad, spiralling, culty theories about the murder, and many other murders. Cohle wants Marty's help, but he remains unconvinced, until Rust takes him out to the storage unit where he hides his most hideous evidence. From here, a visit to an old colleague is in order. Meanwhile, somewhere out there, lurks a man with the scarred face… Skin crawlingly good.