The Split

9pm, BBC One

For a while there – say the last 28 years – mainstream British television drama looked like it was struggling to come up with anything much that didn’t involve some permutation of crime and troubled detectives.

Recently, though, BBC One has been making an effort to get another game going, putting its money on a sizzling new genre as being just the thing we really want to watch in these uncertain modern times: programmes about people getting divorced.

The preposterous Doctor Foster set this ball rolling in haywire style, and last month came Come Home, which spun a clever inversion of the Dr Foster model: instead of relatively rich people being entertainingly ridiculous while divorcing and slinking around dream homes, it offered ordinary folk being glum while divorcing in the kind of houses most of us are familiar with, in what has turned out to be a fairly unmemorable style.

The trend is now confirmed with The Split, a series that offers more people being divorced than you could shake a dull day in court at. Everywhere you look there are rich divorcees, and any characters not already divorced or beginning divorce proceedings are thinking seriously about doing something that could end in divorce. If there’s a single word that sums up what’s happening, it’s the word Tammy spelled: D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

In addition to all the divorce, The Split conforms to the glossy dimensions of the Busy Coffee Shoes drama, a style popular in American network TV. The series, by Abi Morgan, is set in the slick, sleek and glitzy world of high-end London divorce lawyers, a milieu where the intense work-hard-play-hard, high-pressure stakes require them to endlessly run around looking busy while holding massive cups of takeaway coffee and changing their shoes a lot, as if hoping, like Dorothy clicking her heels, that changing them enough will land them in an episode of The Good Wife.

They spend hectic mornings doing this Busy Coffee Shoes business, their lunchtimes are packed with yet more, and at night they drink wine – in between comes divorce work. Yet still they find the time to lie awake in bed at night, turned indecisively away from their partners, wondering whether or not to do something that could potentially end in divorce.

At the centre of all this sashays the great Nicola Walker and her magnificent eyes, given a sleek Busy Coffee Shoes makeover as Hannah Stern, a high-end divorce lawyer whose mother is another high-end divorce lawyer at a rival firm where Hannah’s sister, Nina, also works, as a high-end divorce lawyer. Hannah, however, is a little different: her new boss helpfully summarises her essential dilemma: “There’s a certain paradox in a divorce lawyer who’s actually averse to divorce.”

Hannah’s aversion might just be rooted in her childhood, when her father, being Anthony Head, walked out. But now he’s back and emotions are running everywhere. Meanwhile, she’s happily married to safe Stephen Mangan, although she seems to be growing antsy, perhaps troubled that he’s giving the same performance here that he’s already giving on Friday nights in Episodes. Whatever the reason, it has her thinking thoughts involving a groomed Dutchman, which could lead to her doing something that could end in divorce.

The Split achieves something remarkable: it makes you appreciate that there just aren’t enough series about crime and troubled detectives. In particular it whetted my appetite for the next series of Unforgotten, in which Nicola Walker will be great and busy again, and where her shoes and her coffee won’t matter quite so much.


The Woman In White

9pm, BBC One

A correction, and an apology. Last week, I wrongly stated this new five-part version of the Wilkie Collins novel that the BBC has already adapted twice before was actually going to start on Saturday April 21.

This error was due partly to a mix-up over some last-minute scheduling information, but it was mostly down to my ongoing giddy delirium over the fact that Tory: Fall Of A City is no longer going out on BBC One at primetime on Saturday nights, and my vision was blurry from the gushing tears of joy and relief.

Suffering slightly from an overly obvious attempt to feminist it up for today, this latest go at Collins’s gothic mystery begins dark and glum and screaming. Former EastEnder Ben Hardy plays the young art teacher Walter Hartright, who encounters a ghostly, distraught woman one dark night on Hampstead Heath. He offers assistance, but is later shocked to discover she has escaped from a lunatic asylum. But what’s really going on? The cast includes a brooding Charles Dance.



9pm, Sky Atlantic

HBO’s none-more-dour updating of the great old pulp movie by Michael Crichton is back for a second series. The first season did a fair job of sucking all the fun out of Crichton’s original story – about a catastrophic glitch at a futuristic western themepark causing the eerily human android hosts to run violently amok – while offering not a single image halfway as memorable as the sight and sound of Yul Brynner stalking relentlessly down an underground corridor.

Instead came much in the way of glum and angsty musing about life and identity, a traditional game of spot-the-robot-who-thinks-they’re-human, a knotty time-spanning structure, debatable slavery parables, and lots of the easy, bloody, meaningless-but-glossy violence favoured by fantasy TV shows styling themselves as “dark” and “adult”.

As we return, there’s more of the same: the first episode of tonight’s double bill is, essentially, miserable characters whispering to each other, interspersed with people getting shot in the head, for an hour. On the plus side: Ed Harris is back in black.


American Crime Story

9pm, BBC Two

It’s the final part of what will undoubtedly be one of the year’s best series, and, after rigorously following a backwards-running structure since episode one, the story suddenly slams forward again, to throw us back down to Miami in the immediate aftermath of Gianni Versace’s murder. As the media goes into a frenzy, Andrew Cunanan (an astonishing Darren Criss) remains at large, but the city is in lockdown and before long he’s holed up alone, hiding out on an empty holiday houseboat.

Surviving on dwindling supplies and dying fantasies, he watches the consequences of his crimes play out on national television, while the net gradually draws tighter around him. As with the first American Crime Story, on the OJ Simpson trial, the series has made what seemed a familiar story strange, rich and relevant, yet the tone has been markedly different.

The OJ story had the deceptive outline of a frantic pantomime, but, shining so much spotlight on Cunanan’s non-celebrity victims and his dismal and deluded life, this has been horrendously, hypnotically bleak.


Barry – 10.45pm, Sky Atlantic

Happy! – Netflix

If you like sitcoms about hitmen, it’s a good night. Barry hails from HBO, and the basic idea is strongly reminiscent of one of the countless ideas thrown out by HBO’s greatest drama, The Sopranos: the time mob thug Christopher decided to explore his creative side by joining an acting class.

Similarly, Barry Berkman (a deadpan Bill Hader) is a haunted professional killer, who accidentally winds up in an LA acting class run by a veteran method actor (Henry Winkler), and feels a flicker in his soul. The blend of black comedy, La-la flakery and bloody violence is well judged, and the series finds its own direction.

Meanwhile, Happy! is a different kettle of feathers. Adapted by Grant Morrison from his comic, Christopher Meloni (Law And Order) plays a violently troubled detective with addiction issues who gets a new partner: a sweet, blue, talking unicorn-donkey thing, the imaginary friend of a kidnapped girl he’s trying to save. A deranged mix of violent pulp noir and Looney Tunes, with Meloni impressively committed as the cracked cop.


Jeff Beck: Still On The Run

9pm, BBC Four

Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, David Gilmour, Ronnie Wood, Slash and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry are among the faces lining up to pay tribute to the former Yardbird in this profile of the man some consider to be the greatest ever British guitarist.

Best of all for fans, Beck himself is on hand to talk through his long, distinguished, restless and slightly disjointed career, beginning by looking back on his formative years: adolescence growing up in Surrey building homemade guitars; a teenage friendship with Page; and the early influence on his playing of heroes such as Les Paul, Gene Vincent’s essential sideman Cliff Gallup, and Elvis regular James Burton.

The film highlights Beck’s status as pioneer – blazing the feedback trail with The Yardbirds – and maverick: he quit that band at the height of their popularity, and subsequently deserted his own all-star group (featuring Stewart, Wood and others) days before their planned appearance at the Woodstock festival.

Meanwhile, a lifelong passion for hot rods has sometimes seemed to trump his interest in his music career.


Performance Live: The Ruins Of Empires

10pm, BBC Two

Daniel Kaluuya introduces this recording of the rapper and writer Akala in performance, giving an abridged but enhanced reading of his epic poem/ graphic novel The Ruins Of Empire, a personal interpretation of history, as told through the voice of “the knowledge seeker.” Accompanied by a musical score from Mala and Paul Gladstone-Reid, the production utilises innovative animation techniques, emerging technology and performance under the creative guidance of Andy Serkis. Employing a host of artists, dancers and actors, to bring to life on stage Akala’s piece about humankind’s relationship with itself and the planet throughout history, setting out to follow the course of evolution via astral travel and multiple reincarnations, in an attempt to discover the cause of the rise and fall of Empires. A lot to cram into 30 minutes, to be fair.


One couldn’t help but feel sorry for the crew assembled to film the walk and talk between Sir David Attenborough and The Queen for The Queen’s Green Planet (ITV).

Recorded on a balmy day in Buckingham Palace gardens, the tête-à-tête was designed to promote a project close to Elizabeth II’s heart: The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, a campaign to create protected woodland parks across the Commonwealth nations, forming a green daisy-chain that will encircle the globe. A great and noble idea, details of which faded in the light of trying to watch Attenborough and Ma’am tell each other about it while they wandered lightly amid the regal shrubbery.

I’m not privy to the recording date’s details, but, given both Her Majesty and Sir David are fairly busy sorts, it seems a fair guess they hadn’t done much rehearsing beforehand. No matter, you might have assumed: these two are pros, sharing between them 140-years’ worth of experience in having TV cameras pointed in their direction.

This notion shattered early, as Attenborough suddenly ran away from The Queen to read a plaque at the base of a passing tree, and, in order to catch the small print, proceeded to plant his feet and bend full over, hoisting the Attenborough bottom high and proud into the air, and aiming it directly down the camera – and, more pointedly, straight into the face of the Defender Of The Faith.

You had to wonder: When was the last time one of her subjects presented himself to her thus? And was the director already screaming inside his head, “Don’t do that, David, you’re 91 years old”? But, hardly had these thoughts occurred before Attenborough was bending and bouncing his booty up into The Queen’s face again.

At this point, to judge by the sudden flurry of pans and zooms, panic set in behind the camera. But then a curious calm descended. It seemed as if Attenborough’s rump had cracked the ice, and he and The Queen relaxed, albeit perhaps too much. What followed, as the camera floated in to frame repeated shots of Elizabeth II looking euphoric, edgy and astonished while silently rubbing leaves, was like an nonagenarian version of one of those 1960s experiments when volunteers took LSD for the camera, blurring into an am-dram production of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, the play in which adult actors romp around playing seven-year-old children.

“That looks as if it’s got a face on it, doesn’t it,” the pair agreed, staring fixedly at yet another tree trunk. “The way the branches grow horizontally makes you want to sit on them, and swing your feet. If you’re a monkey,” Attenborough mused, to royal approval. There came a long discussion about conkers: “I think they’re handsome things,” Sir David offered. “See how prickly they are,” said Her Majesty.

Amazing. An edited version should be the new Christmas message, forever, cut to the tune of The Kinks’ “Phenomenal Cat,” with free mushroom pâté for every household in the kingdom.