Kiss Me First

10pm, Channel 4

With Ready Player One on its way into the cinema, we could be about to see a new cash-in rash of CGI-heavy virtual reality dramas appearing, which is not something I’m looking forward to. Like most of us, I spend more time than I want looking at computer screens of various sizes every day, and the last thing I want to do of an evening is watch stuff about people staring into yet more computers, unless they’re members of Kraftwerk. When Jeff Bridges first got sucked inside his punky wireframe game in Tron back in 1982, it all seemed novel and exciting. But, at the same time as it has become more relevant to our lived experience, available technology and mutating psychology, the thrill of seeing other people interacting with computer generated worlds has faded.

That said, if Channel 4’s six-part drama Kiss Me First is just the first in a looming new wave of VR stories, it also looks like being one of the best. I’ve not yet seen the full thing, but this week’s opener is among most striking and intriguing first episodes of any new British TV series of the last five years.

Cannily adapted by Skins co-creator Bryan Elsley from Lottie Moggach’s 2013 novel, the story follows Leila (Tallulah Haddon), a lonely, somewhat awkward girl, who, having devoted herself to caring for her terminally ill mother, is left truly alone when her mum dies. She takes a job cleaning a local café, but works only to afford the credits she needs to fund her true passion — her true life, in many of the ways that count — an online game called Azana. Strapping on her visor, once inside that bright world, she is a lithe fighter named Shadowfax, with endless adventure ahead.

On recent visits, however, she has become aware of a figure watching her from the shadows of a digital forest. Eventually, she discovers a secret place beyond the trees: a rebel zone carved out within the larger game, where a group of players calling themselves Red Pill are involved in something else, and experiences far more intense.

Kiss Me First shares some outline similarities with Ready Player One, and, indeed, many entries in the VR genre: characters who escape miserable realities by plugging into bright, immersive computer worlds where possibilities seem endless and they can create themselves anew; uncertainty over whether a person hiding behind a digital mask is who they claim to be; the discovery of a secret inside the game; the rub and tension between reality and its pixelated doppelganger; the question of which reality is real, anyway.

But the series has its own character. It feels very close, partly because it’s set in the here and now, but mostly because Leila, thanks to Haddon’s wonderful, pale and touching performance, is believable and sympathetic.

The story draws on modern techno myths – The Matrix movies are a touchstone – but as Leila gets drawn deeper, and director Misha Manson-Smith plays up contrasts between her hazy, washed-out reality, and the sharp, vivid computer-animated paradise, older fantasies of alt-worlds and escape echo: Alice into Wonderland, Dorothy into Oz. The themes are obvious, but no less pertinent because of that: the same issues facing anyone with an online alter ego, navigating the addictive, gaming-like terrain of social media. There’s no place like home. But when you can carry your life on the device in your pocket, where is home?


Ordeal By Innocence

9pm, BBC One

Originally scheduled for Christmas, this three-part Agatha Christie adaptation was pulled when one cast member, Ed Westwick, was accused of historical sexual assaults (allegations the actor denies). Finally, production company Mammoth Screen decided to reshoot all his scenes with another actor, Christian Cooke, and the remix is now arriving for Easter. Written by Sarah Phelps, who handled the recent versions of Christie’s And Then There Were None and Witness For The Prosecution, it’s a similarly grim chocolate box, boasting the traditional starry cast. Set around an isolated Scottish country house, it’s the knotty tale of the wealthy Argylls, and dark secrets surrounding the recent murder of their philanthropist matriarch Rachel (Anna Chancellor), for which adopted son (Anthony Boyle) was jailed, then died in prison. It’s cluttered with relentless music and constant Significant Slow Motion, and in places it’s easy to spot the joins from the reshoot. But Christie’s basic plot still hooks.


Come Home

9pm, BBC One

After introducing us to Greg (Christopher Eccleston) last week, the second episode of Danny Brocklehurst’s broken-family drama focuses attention on Marie (the brilliant Paula Malcomson), the wife who suddenly left, walking out on him and their three children after nineteen years of marriage, apparently without a word of explanation. To hear Greg tell it, he’s baffled by her actions, but through her hazy memories, we begin to glimpse some of her reasons, some of her desires, and some of the pain she was in during their marriage. Meanwhile, she tries to walk the tightrope of maintaining a relationship with her wounded children, while trying to work out what kind of new life she wants on her own. Elsewhere, Greg’s oldest children, Liam and Laura, are increasingly frustrated by the chaotic presence in their home of his new girlfriend, Brenna (great work from Kerri Quinn, who is unafraid to let herself be utterly unlikeable one minute, and then turns around and is sympathetic again).


American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace 9pm, BBC Two

Time folds back once more, to deposit us around one year earlier than the events of last week’s episode. It is 1996, and Andrew Cunanan has a luxurious life in La Jolla, California, living as the in-house escort of aging, wealthy businessman Norman Blachford, who keeps careful control of his purse strings. Meanwhile, Cunanan has his heart set on getting closer to young architect David Madson, and sets out to impress him by spinning wild stories about his life, and his popularity. Things come to a head, however, when Cunanan asks Blachford for more. With that relationship in crisis, he spends wildly in an attempt to win Madson over, but his desperate bid backfires and, sent into a tailspin, he begins using drugs with a harder edge, and lashes out in a spiteful way at his friend Jeff Trail by sending a postcard to Trail’s family that outs the Navy man. With these friendships in tatters, we catch a first glimpse of Cunanan’s background as he reunites with his estranged, needy mother.


Limmy’s Homemade Show

9pm, BBC Two

Brian Limond is back on the TV with his equivalent of a stripped-down solo acoustic album, all the better to bare his soul. After the mega-budget productions of Limmy’s Show, for this lo-fi one-off he veers back toward the style of some of his online postings: working alone in and around his flat, filming self-shot little bits in which any other parts are also played by himself, adding to the gently schizophrenic, claustrophobic air. Fans of the previous series should know going in that well-loved characters like Jacqueline McCafferty, Deedee and Falconhoof are absent. But the intensely woozy, faintly paranoid vibe is instantly recognisable as he muses on passing thoughts, then gets dragged into them deeper, dafter, and more deranged. Highlights include a lovely tribute to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery And Museum, some nursery rhymes, and a spooky episode about the perils of messing with a Ouija board. But the most memorable moment is the incredible real footage of an enigmatic event, caught by chance during filming. Nightmares.Friday

The City And The City

9pm, BBC One

For years, almost every BBC drama has opted into the same accepted form of “realism,” so it’s encouraging to see the Corporation rolling out an odd, almost awkwardly stylised production like this adaptation of China Miéville’s ambitiously murky science-fantasy novel. Whether many people will stick around to watch it, however, is another question. Miéville’s story is an ingenious noir-tinged mystery with a key twist: the action begins in a city called Beszel – a dingy town with a sooty Balkan-Soviet vibe – which actually occupies the same physical space as a rival city, Ul Qoma. Citizens of the two can dimly perceive one another, but interaction is forbidden, and they’re trained from childhood to “unsee.” Against this backdrop, a dogged detective, Borlú (David Morrissey), investigates a killing that straddles both cities, and stirs troubled memories. The premise serves up an intriguing, noir-tinged stew of Kafka, Orwell and Philip K Dick, but the series struggles to clearly sell the central conceit of overlapping towns and lapses into an overblown mode.


The Man Who Brought The Blues To Britain: Big Bill Broonzy 12.30am, BBC Four

It encapsulated everything I wanted to be. I wanted to play guitar, and sing … and, actually, I wanted to be black.” That’s Keith Richards, recalling the night in the 1950s that BBC TV broadcast a clip of bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, filmed in smoky, surrealist black and white, performing in some stylised beatnik cellar club. “That clip created a mythical world,” recalls The Kinks’ Ray Davies, who was similarly struck. “My ideal world is that club.” Broonzy’s 1950s tours of Britain inspired an entire generation of UK musicians, transfixed both by his powerful music and the potent image he projected – of an old-school folk-bluesman, straight from the mystic fields with his acoustic guitar. In truth, although he came out of the rural, racist deep south, Broonzy’s life had been more urbane, more electric, and more complicated. This excellent documentary profiles a great pioneer, who was also a great self-mythologiser. Other contributors include Pete Seeger and Martin Carthy.


Ambitious” is a relative concept. There can be few better illustrations than a comparison of the two Shakespeare productions the BBC hit us with last week. Earning all the headlines was Hamlet (BBC Two), a recording of the Almeida Theatre’s production of 2017. Set in a slick Scandi-Elsinore that looked freshly unpacked from Ikea’s new Avunculicide range, the basic gist involved TV’s worst Moriarty, Andrew Scott, taking over three hours to decide whether to kill his uncle, while constantly interrupting a randomly chosen selection of perfectly good Bob Dylan songs on the soundtrack.

As these things go, it was pretty tasty. But stacked against the week’s other Shakespearean job, it all looked easy. The audience tuning in for Hamlet knew what they had signed up for – three plus hours of betrayal, grudgeful ghosts, feigned madness, stabbings, poisoned wine and to be poor Yorrick or not – and were probably feeling good about themselves for being classy enough to waste an entire Saturday night watching it.

This, it seems fair to assume, was not the mindset of the restless studio audience assembled for the rival production, a contender for 2018’s most unexpected TV title: CBeebies’ The Tempest.

You have to hand it to this CBeebies gang, they don’t make life easy for themselves. I somehow missed their previous Shakespeare adaptation, 2016’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but, as the Bard goes, you can see how that might have seemed a good way to win over the untapped toddler audience, all enchanted woodland mischief, faerie creatures, and a character called “Bottom” with the head of a donkey.

The obvious follow up would have been Romeo And Juliet, but no: they plunged straight for the difficult last play of black magic and renaissance-era Milanese politics, delivered with the Shakespearean lingo intact, confident the under-sixes would lap it up. And to be fair, judging by the regular shots of the studio audience, the kids watching in the theatre did seem to sit still for it. Mind you, that might have been the hypnotic magic of actually being there live, watching adults in funny costumes throwing themselves around Star-Trek style to replicate an invisible storm. Or it might have been sneaky editing. Whether the audience at home was held similarly rapt for this hour-long retelling is another question.

Still, for grown ups, this was a handy primer. A particularly nice touch was the presence of Shakespeare himself, telling the cast what was going on, because no one could understand what they were saying. As he explained to the naughty pirates from Swashbuckle: “Look. It’s like this. Prospero caused the storm and the shipwreck with his magic. He landed you and all his enemies around the island. He wants his daughter – Miranda – to marry Prince Ferdinand, so she can be queen and he can go home. Got it?”

Well, kind of. But what I know for certain is, I can’t wait for CBeebies’ Titus Andronicus.