Damien Love gives his verdict on the best of TV Sunday, July 13, - Saturday, July 19.
Sunday, July 13
T in the Park
Loading article content
8pm, BBC Three
It's the final day of the final T In The Park before the festival ups sticks from Balado and moves along the road to Strathallan Castle, and so it's undoubtedly going to be emotional, or, at the very least, quite sweaty. There is extensive coverage online via the iPlayer, and the BBC's enigmatic Red Button channel will be beaming full sets and selected highlights from around the site between 5.15pm-2am. But your proper telly broadcasting begins at 8pm, with the sets from Sam Smith and Bastille, followed by Tinie Tempah and Jake Bugg. The night ends in suitably epic snotty kiss-off style with the headline set from those sons of that rock and roll, Arctic Monkeys.
Monday, July 14, and Tuesday, July 15
10pm, Channel 4
Written by Dennis Kelly and directed, in spacey, eye-popping style by Marc Munden, Utopia had the best opening episode of any British drama last year. The series that followed wasn't perfect, and wasn't for everyone. A woozy conspiracy thriller that revolved, at first, around an obscure old comic book and the geeks obsessed with it, it played like an old cult comic strip itself, the kind of mad, ambitious, political but occult thing an Alan Moore might have written in fever in the early-1980s. As part of that vibe, it dabbled in violence and torture - and, indeed, eye-popping - a little too often, and too easily. Still, if you accepted the graphic novel terrain, it was a great ride; so much so that Se7en director David Fincher is currently assembling The Unnecessary American Remake.
One of the most refreshing things was how, from its off-kilter, blippy-bloppy electronic soundtrack and precise, Poster Paint colour palette to its monstrous characters, Utopia was the first drama since Hugo Blick's Shadow Line in 2011 to wholeheartedly plunge for heavily stylisation (a kinship underlined by the disruptive presence in both programmes of Stephen Rea). For that reason, I wish Channel 4 had held off launching Utopia's second series until Blick's latest, The Honourable Woman, had finished. We could do with more shows busting loose from the accepted form of realism that has a stranglehold on UK TV today; but there are only so many heightened conspiracy dramas we can handle at once.
The two are very different, though. The Honourable Woman is sleek like a sophisticated but juicily pulpy airport novel that leaves you longing for the plane to get delayed so you can read more, and its weird anti-naturalism is applied with a far lighter touch, to pull you toward real, heavy matters.
Utopia, meanwhile, remains the sort of thing printed on thin paper that leaves ink on your fingers, and leaves you thinking about nothing. I really enjoyed the first series, but, as this second began, I realised I couldn't remember much about it. Early in the new series, one character actually says to another, "I thought you were dead," and I found myself thinking, "I thought you both were."
We catch up with them in the second of this week's double bill. It's the first episode that is the keeper, though. If Utopia was a comic, Monday's opener would be a one-shot, a stand-alone special issue. Beautifully designed and presented in TV's old 4:3 ratio, it reminds us what's going on (a diabolical plot to sterilise swathes of humankind, remember) by flashing back to how it all began. Unfolding in dark corners of 1974 and 1979, in classic paranoid style it cherry picks real events - the assassinations of Aldo Moro and Airey Neave, the Three Mile Island accident, Thatcher's election - to weave a fictional conspiracy tapestry.
Against power cuts and gravedigger's strikes, come early sightings of some of Utopia's most striking characters, including the numb asthmatic killer, Arby, left, here a hugely unsettling yet poignant toddler, and, best of all, Milner, the flame-haired spook, played here by Rose Leslie. Recently so fantastic in Game Of Thrones, Leslie dominates, and does a truly brilliant job of foreshadowing the performance Geraldine James gives as the older Milner in Utopia proper. She's so good, in fact, that it's a disappointment to return to present-day Utopia with episode two. Forget the American remake: the petition for a sharp 1970s action series prequel starring Young Milner starts here.
Tuesday, July 15
10pm, BBC Three
A pretty great use of an hour's television. This is an adaptation of the rousing 2012 stage musical that was itself based on the inspiring true story from 2005, when a group of schoolgirls from Drumchapel High launched a campaign protesting the detention of their friend, Agnesa, a 15-year-old Roma from Kosovo, who was taken by immigration officers in a dawn raid, and held for deportation. Challenging the system right up to the First Minister, their actions and integrity eventually helped bring about a change in Scotland's immigration practices. Olivia Popica plays Agnesa. The pals banding together to try and get her released include Amal, from Somalia (Letitia Wright), Roza, from Kurdistan (Aruhan Galieva), Ewelina, a Polish Roma (Effie Scott) and local Drumchapel teenagers Emma (Erin Armstrong), Jennifer (Kirstie Steele) and Toni-Lee (Kirsty Pickering). Gary Lewis delivers a great display of anger and decency as the teacher standing by their side. And Greg Hemphill as Jack McConnell.
Wednesday, July 16
9pm/9.35pm, Sky Atlantic
The first thing to know about Silicon Valley, a shining new comedy from HBO, is that it was created by Mike Judge, the demigod who once gave us Beavis And Butt-head. The same wicked eye remains, but this new series is closer in tone to his cult 1996 movie, Office Space, albeit seriously rebooted. Set, as the title implies, in the tech industry, Thomas Middleditch stars as Richard, geek programmer for a Google-like friendly world-eating corporate behemoth, dreaming of creating his own start-up. When he inadvertently creates an algorithm whose implications are so far-reaching he doesn't understand them himself, he finds himself at the centre of a bidding war between two hippy billionaire industry players. The satire is sharp yet the mood is shaggy, and it's all very funny. A good night for the Yanks on Sky Atlantic continues with Veep, returning for a third series. Armando Iannucci's political comedy started life as an American Thick Of It, but it has become its own thing, thanks to Julia-Louis Dreyfus's terrific performance as Vice President Selina Meyer. Look out later, too, for a repeat of the first series of Enlightened (10.45pm).
Thursday, July 17
The Honourable Woman
9pm, BBC Two
Watching this episode, I went from being just really into The Honourable Woman to being madly in love with it. The tipping point was the very first scene: three episodes in, and Hugo Blick decides to hit us with a woozily disorienting sequence involving a character we've never even seen before, climbing weirdly from the trunk of a car parked out in an ominous bare field beneath the bleak blades of a wind farm. Just what the hell is going on becomes clearer as the episode unfolds and - hurrah - Nessa's bodyguard (Tobias Menzies) emerges from his coma, and begins sniffing into events surrounding the kidnapping of the boy, Kasim. But there are wheels within wheels, and, as the episode travels in an inevitable circle, it gets like watching an episode of The Professionals or The Saint ghost written by John le Carré. In the good way. Meanwhile, Stephen Rea continues to rule as lovelorn, lugubrious super spook, Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle.
Friday, July 18
The Joy Of The Guitar Riff
10pm, BBC Four
See, now, this latest Friday night music doc from BBC Four is fine; but we should draw a line in the sand at this point, and get back to making in-depth films about more specific subjects, genres and artists. Otherwise, we are going to wind up staring down the barrel of a programme called "The Joy Of The Drum Solo," and this is not a position in which we ever want to find ourselves. Anyway: a cast of strummers including Nile Rodgers, Johnny Marr, Dave Davies, Tommy Iommi and Brian May assemble, axes in hand, to discuss, and demonstrate, some of the hookiest chops and riffs to have graced rock'n'roll, disco, metal, punk and beyond. It all begins, as most TV programmes really should, with Chuck Berry. A compilation, Great Guitar Riffs At The BBC, follows at 10pm, featuring The Shadows, Hendrix, The Stones, The Kinks, The Smiths, Pixies and, well… other bands who used guitars.
Saturday, July 19
Live From Edinburgh Castle
8.30pm, BBC One
To get you in the mood for next Wednesday's opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, a live music spectacular from the town that isn't Glasgow, featuring all the top performers we associate most immediately and most intimately with both The Commonwealth and athletics in general: Smokey Robinson, Kaiser Chiefs, Jessie J, Culture Club, Paloma Faith, Rizzle Kicks and 2012 X Factor finalist Ella Henderson. Elsewhere, keeping the screaming horror rolling, Il Divo, Katherine Jenkins, and Your West End star Alfie Boe. At least they're not doing the Chariots Of Fire theme. Or are they? The music will be interspersed with comedy, courtesy of Bill Bailey and Fred MacAulay, and also features the final leg of the Queen's Baton Relay before it arrives in Glasgow tomorrow.