The State

Sunday–Wednesday, 9pm, Channel 4

Already better known as “the ISIS drama,” The State, which goes out across four consecutive nights this week, gets harder to watch as it goes on. There will come public floggings, hands chopped off, and beheadings. There will be a scene in which children play football with a decapitated human head. There will be rape. And there will be a moment when the camera takes in the devastation of a hospital ward full of infants just after it has been struck by a missile, and all the babies lie dead.

For all this, it might be the opening episode, in which depictions of brutality are few, that is the most troubling. Set in 2015, the series begins by following four disparate young Britons as they leave their homes in the bleary early morning, setting off separately to make the same journey eastward. All last-minute checks, suitcases on wheels, airports and ferry crossings, these could be any young men and women juggling anticipation and anxiety while heading on holiday, or leaving to work or study abroad. But this is a trip with a different objective. They are all heading toward Turkey’s southern border, from there to slip into Syria, to commit themselves to the supposed caliphate established by the group calling itself Islamic State.

What is most unsettling about the first episode is the way it ends, when they have made it, are welcomed, and prepare to take their place in building a new society run along very old lines – an air of excitement, camaraderie and revolution in the air, the sense that anything is possible. Joy, essentially. Amid all the violence, politics, preaching and prophesy, this happiness is the most controversial element in the series, and lies at the heart of the writer-director Peter Kosminsky’s project.

Made with the same painstaking eye for detail he brought to recreating Tudor Britain in Wolf Hall, The State does a persuasive job of showing us what life inside IS might be like. (Researching the series, Kosminksy and his team interviewed several returning jihadis about their experiences.) As much as he wants to get into that, however, Kosminsky also seeks to explore and explain just why anyone would want to sign up for it. Whether he succeeds on this point, however, is debatable.

Rather predictably – and rightly – as it unfolds The State follows the bitter disillusion that sets in among some (not all) of these young recruits, as their eyes are opened to its horrors, lies and madness, realities that do not match the propaganda they had been fed back home. While it is streamlined and simplified to fit the needs of drama, this development is credible enough. But there is maddeningly little sense of just why some of these characters would have wanted to join IS in the first place – in particular Shakira (Ony Uhiara), a doctor who travels to Syria with her nine-year-old son, hoping to work in the hospitals, only to find herself trapped in a Dark Ages version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Kosminsky is a variable director, sometimes even within the same programme. For all its research, his New Labour series, The Project, was thin, didactic and deadly dull. Even Wolf Hall had its wobbles. But, like that, The State has a convincing tactility, and is carried forward on powerful performances, particularly Uhiara and Sam Otto, superb as the main focus, Jalal, who joins ISIS in the footsteps of the older brother he considers “a martyr.” Grimly compelling, it’s not the best series you’ll see this year, but it’s one you should see.


Storyville: Silk Road – Drugs, Death And The Dark Web

10pm, BBC Four

This engrossing documentary by directors Emily James and Mark Lewis charts the rise and fall of black market drugs website The Silk Road, and the investigation to uncover the person behind it, known by the online pseudonym The Dread Pirate Roberts. The Silk Road first appeared on the darknet in 2011 on a libertarian mission, promising users anonymity and the ability to buy any drugs they liked, free from either scrutiny by law, or the violence and danger of street-level drug dealing. Before long, this utopian dream ran into the hard realities of operating a multi-million dollar illegal cartel. America’s Homeland Security, DEA, FBI and Secret Service were soon combining in the largest manhunt in online history to close the site and unmask its mastermind. The directors tell the twisting story like a thriller, using testimony from key players on all sides, including those who set up and used the site – with the exception of “Roberts”, who is currently serving a life sentence.


Trust Me

9pm, BBC One

It’s the penultimate episode of this series, which is fulfilling its stipulated midweek BBC One drama duties almost to the letter: too mushy, implausible and daft to really care much about, and yet put together with enough competence that, when you slump exhausted in front of it and let your eyes glaze in the general direction of the screen, it will numb your mind to the horror of the fact that it is still only Tuesday night. Nurse-pretending-to-be-a-doctor Ally (the excellent Jodie Whittaker) is still pretending to be a doctor, and hoping she won’t get caught. But her confused actual-doctor new boyfriend, Andy (Emun Elliott), has had his suspicions roused, and is finally looking her up online. His investigations lead him to confronting her about who she really is when the two go away for a weekend to a remote cottage, but will she trust him enough to come clean? Just as you’re drifting off, writer Dan Sefton throws in a nailbiting moment strong enough to hook you toward next week’s finale.


No More Boys And Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?

9pm, BBC Two

In the closing episode of this fascinating little series, following Dr Javid Abdelmoneim’s experiment into creating a gender-neutral classroom for a group of seven-year-olds, tensions rise just a little as he seeks to expand his project beyond the school gates, and into the homes of the kids. Visiting some of their houses, he finds not only an explosion of pink and blue toys, and Little Princess-style dressing up, but some fundamental differences in things like the kind of chores parents expect and encourage boys and girls (and mums and dads) to do. He sets the parents homework of their own, to reconsider and try and break down the gender divide, but it’s not certain whether all will be on board. Meanwhile, back in the classroom, it seems that the experiment is already having positive effects, as the previously timid Lexi has a breakthrough. But when Abdelmoneim proposes one more significant change in the way things work at school, he faces some rebellion. “I just want it to go back to being boys and girls!”


Lego Masters

8pm, Channel 4

The opening excited voiceover explains this new series better than I ever could: “Eight of the country’s best Lego-building duos are fighting it out to be crowned Lego Masters! With access to one million bricks, they must prove they have the creativity, skill and sticking power to beat their rivals!” To be honest, I still kind of figure that playing with Lego yourself is probably more fun than watching other people do it. But, then, I also thought that about eating, and, as the music underlines, the cunning minds behind this new series are hopeful they might be able to cream off a little bit of the Bake Off action. Presenter Melvin Odoom oversees the pressing hunt to find Britain’s best Lego builders, as eight increasingly stressed pairs are put through tasks including creating “a brick banquet” and building a chair strong enough for Odoom to sit in. For. Some. Reason. A cannily picked gallery of likeable celebrity cool nerds – Richard Osman, Dara

Ó Briain and Bill Bailey – pass comment. Warning: this show contains Lego faeces.


The Tick

Amazon Prime

Cartoonist Ben Edlund created spoof superhero The Tick – a pumped up, bright-eyed, dim-witted, invulnerable and probably insane man of steel in a bright blue insect suit – in the 1980s, and quickly had a cult on his hands. There was a cartoon ostensibly for kids in the 1990s, followed by grown up live-action series in 2001 that was so good the network cancelled it after a few episodes. But now The Tick lives again! Originally piloted last year, this reboot sees the incredible Peter Serafinowicz pull on the feelers and flex his mighty vocal muscles as he delivers deliciously square-jawed dialogue (“You fingered foul fruit, friend!”) while do-gooding against evil. Reluctantly joining him as bewildered sidekick is Arthur (Griffin Newman), a psychologically damaged conspiracy theorist. The tone veers from the grim and violent to the goofy, but at its best it’s strange, charming and daft. Watching Newman’s troubled neurotic schlub rub up against Serafinowicz’s square-jawed crusader is a little like seeing early Woody Allen trapped with Adam West in the 1960s Batman.


The Sound Of Fury

11.15pm, BBC Four

There’s nothing new worth watching tonight, but there is a repeat for this affectionate Billy Fury documentary. Fury was the real deal. A sharp-dressed rocker with health troubles, a quiff, and a taste for Hank Williams and weed, by the late-1950s he’d perfected a style The Clash were still trying to work out two decades later. When most British pop stars were mouthing other writers’ tin pan songs as puppets of impresarios like Larry Parnes (Fury’s own impresario), he was singing his own material: he wrote every track on his debut LP, 1960’s The Sound Of Fury, the best rock’n’roll album to come out of pre-Beatles UK. He was ahead of the pack in other ways, too: 1960 single “Don’t Jump” is one of the great weird rocking suicide songs; “A Wondrous Place” the same year still sounds a deep blue velvet dream; and he was already covering David Bowie by 1968. This low-budget tribute doesn’t give him the widescreen splendour he deserves, but it covers all the bases.


For fans of The Great British Bake Off who once cherished the show for the big snuggle of cosy warm lovely good vibes it afforded, cold reality is now biting hard.

For a while, after Bake Off suddenly spat its biscuits in the face of the BBC that had stood by it all those years, nurturing it to become the big shot it became, and ran away for Channel 4, a younger channel with more money, there came soothing promises. There’d be no hard feelings. Nothing would change, and everyone would stay friends, and we’d all get along. Now, though, the oven gloves are off. Things are getting nasty, and Bake Off fans find themselves in the position of bewildered children in the wake of a poisonous divorce.

Things came to a head this week as the BBC introduced its woeful new not-Bake-Off surrogate, The Big Family Cooking Showdown (BBC Two), in which teams of families weirdly cook meals together against other families weirdly cooking together.

Even in a week that also witnessed the dawn of Noel Edmonds’s Cheap Cheap Cheap (Channel 4), this stood out as an abysmal idea for a TV show. Say what you like about Cheap Cheap Cheap, at least it leaves you trying to think of something to say. It’s like The Strange World Of Gurney Slade, except made by evil morons inside a terrified home shopping channel they’ve taken hostage. This is Noel’s masterpiece. Listen and you may hear him quietly repeating beneath his beard the triumphant words of John Doe, the killer in Se7en: “People will barely be able to comprehend it. But they won’t be able to deny it.”

From its ungainly title down, The Big Family Cooking Showdown only underlines how not Bake Off it is by trying so hard to be Bake Off, but not so much they can get sued. The plan is: forget the competitive element; emphasise the lovely. So there is lovely music, and a lovely country setting, and lovely presenters, and everyone hugs and chatters constantly about how food is such a lovely part of their lovely lives. And it’s like watching semolina drying.

It got worse when Channel 4 crashed the party by suddenly announcing it would now be launching the new Bake Off next week in a direct clash, competing in the same 8pm Tuesday slot.

For the traumatised Bake Off fan, still reeling from how limply terrible The Big Family Cooking Showdown was, this was like being called into the kitchen by one parent proffering two tin cans and a piece of string, saying through gritted teeth, “Look, we can make a telephone! See, we can still have fun on our own, can’t we? Aren’t we having FUN?” – only for the other parent to come roaring up outside in an open-topped sports car with a model in the passenger seat, brandishing a PS4 and tickets for Disneyland Paris, and claiming angrily that we’d all agreed on this sleepover date ages ago.

Can’t you just stop shouting at each other? Can’t you see you’re tearing us apart? Why can’t it all just go back to the way things used to be?