Patrick Melrose

9pm, Sky Atlantic

If you like Benedict Cumberbatch, and you like acting, you might like the opening episode of Patrick Melrose. Not only does Cumberbatch star, he is in every scene, and does a lot of acting in every single one. In fact, there comes a moment, about 20 minutes in, when it seems as if he has done all of it – all the acting. All the acting there is, ever has been, or ever shall be.

He does so much acting I had to hit pause at this point, just to recover, and turned to the news for light relief, fully expecting to see headlines about a sudden global acting drought: live images of Thespian riots on Broadway and London’s west end, protesting performers attacking police with chair legs salvaged from the chewed up scenery, because all the acting had just been sucked up by this one single performance and there was none left for anyone else. But no. Returning to Patrick Melrose, Cumberbatch still had even more acting he wanted to do, and out it came.

It is, basically, a bit much. Some might argue this is the point, because the opening episode of the five-part drama, based on the autobiographical novels of Edward St Aubyn, is about excess, and how dull it becomes. Yet I’m not convinced this was the intention, because there seemed moments that were aiming for comedy, and those were the most wretched of all. But hang on, because things get better.

The Melrose of the books shares the outlines of St Aubyn’s life. Patrick’s father was a horrendous old British upper class ex-military snob b*****d; his mother an unfeasibly wealthy burned out American heiress. When he was a child, the family split life between London and a home in Provence that provided idyllic cover for a living hell.

When Patrick was five, his father started raping him. As an adult, Patrick blotted himself out with heroin and whatever other drugs and alcohol he could lay hands on. Eventually, he tried to escape his past and get better, get clear – rehab, therapy, sobriety, a path toward a life of his own.

The series adapts the five novels that follow this arc, but shuffles them slightly. It begins on the second book, Bad News, to get Cumberbatch in early. Set in the early-1980s, the adult, addled, aristocratic addict Patrick travels to New York to collect his dead father’s remains, and tries to get through the trip, and the assault of memories, by staying bombed and buzzing at all costs.

There are glimmers of decadently wasted, Withnail & I-esque comedy. But watching Cumberbatch’s 60-minute drum solo becomes a long haul, especially as the director, Edward Berger, enables it with endless “drug scene” clichés last popular in British cinema of the mid-1990s.

But the second episode is something else, and infinitely better. Set in the 1960s, when the abuse began, it’s a slow, traumatic nightmare under the buzzing sun, with Hugo Weaving skin-crawlingly good as Patrick’s vampiric father, Jennifer Jason Leigh floating on hazy booze fumes as the mother being careful not to notice, wrapped in her own solipsistic shroud, and Sebastian Maltz heartbreaking, almost silent, as the child Patrick.

The series might have benefitted from paring down the opening hour and editing the first two episodes into one, flashing forward and back. Still, part two makes you want to see how Patrick gets on in episode three, as we return to his adult life amid the snooty set, and he tries a straight life. With luck, Cumberbatch will have exhausted the acting by that stage.



9pm, STV

Sometimes, the warlike gods of ITV decide to cast down an entire series upon us one night after the other across a single week. Is it because the programme is so thunderously amazing? Because it’s so mediocre they want it out of the way as quickly as possible? Ours is not to reason why. But they’re doing it again with this so-so crime drama, starring Lee Ingleby in the traditional role of sad/angry guy released from prison after being locked up for a crime he insists he didn’t commit, in this case, as in most, killing his wife. Technical errors have seen him acquitted as innocent, but suspicions remain. So, who’s lying? Him, or the friends and in-laws like bitter Hermione Norris who testified against him? Angel Coulby plays the cop re-investigating the mystery's stewing secrets, despite being in a relationship with the detective who led the original screw-up, Mad Nigel Lindsay. Co-starring lots of music and slow motion, it continues until Thursday whether you like it or not.



Sky 1

There’s been the odd attempt over the years, but British TV hasn’t really managed a full-on, unashamed, mayhem-heavy, old-school action show since the glory days of The Professionals. To judge a series by its title, however, it seems this six-part cop drama might be out to deliver on that front – sadly, though, I only have the title and press notes to go on, because preview copies weren’t ready. Directed by Nick Love, the man behind lairy lad-flicks like Football Factory and the best-forgotten Sweeney remake, Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke star as odd-couple London detectives Pike (Walters) and Bishop (Clarke), who get tangled in “big, emotional stories with blood-pumping stunt sequences” while “taking on ghosts from the past” in an “authentic, action-packed ride.” This opener sees them dealing with tragedy while investigating a crime ring dealing in stolen luxury cars. Meanwhile, could Pike’s respected police chief father (Clarke Peters) be hiding secrets? Fingers crossed for fun. See Friday for more Clarke Peters, in a somewhat different mode.


The Last Man On The Moon

9pm, BBC Four

On December 13 1972, astronaut Gene Cernan bent to the lunar surface and drew his daughter’s initials in the moondust alongside his bootprints. Then he returned to his landing module and set off back to Earth. He remains the last human to have set foot up there. In director Mark Craig’s documentary, the no-nonsense Cernan narrates his story: from being handpicked as a buzzcut US Navy flier in 1966 and unexpectedly drafted into NASA’s mysterious new space programme, despite knowing little about it; through his first moonflight in 1969 as part of Apollo 10; to finally acting as commander of Apollo 17, humankind’s last voyage to stand on another world. Cernan was there for the entire Apollo era, and as the tale of that mission’s vision, rise and fall unfolds, there come familiar stories. But there’s a particularly sharp elegiac air here given the status of Cernan, who died last year, as the last of our moon-men, especially in scenes that see him walking through the neglected, overgrown remains of the abandoned Cape Canaveral launch site.



9pm, Channel 4

Channel 4’s androids-among-us drama returns for a third series. HBO’s high-gloss Westworld gets more coverage, but both the age-old theme of robot consciousness, and the handy parallels it invariably offers for musings on life and existence and bigotry and all that, get a slightly more, well, human, treatment here. Although there's so much inevitable cross-over between both shows, not to mention every other AI story going back through the Black Mirrors, Blade Runners and Twilight Zones all the way to Frankenstein and Pinocchio, they do begin to blur together a little after a while. As per Westworld, the last series of Humans ended with “synth” servants across the globe getting infected with an upgrade that made them self-aware, with some bloody results – tens of thousands of humans were killed in the aftermath of the “malfunction.” As we pick up several months on, older androids have been sent to live in a prison-style designated zone, while a new generation of supposedly safer synths takes their place.


Tap America: How A Nation Found Its Feet

8pm, BBC Four

Any television programme in 2018 that mentions Slim Gaillard’s Flat Foot Floogie (With A Floy-Floy) is to be celebrated. Bringing it up in this excellent documentary is the formidable Clarke Peters, who encountered the tune as a child, when his mother taught him moves to accompany it, sparking a lifelong fascination with tap dancing. Although best known for his role in The Wire, Peters (writer of Five Guys Named Mo) has long been immersed in the world of the musical, and brings personal passion to this history of tap, defining it as a particularly African-American art form. He highlights the influence of Irish dancing, but his focus is the generation of incredible black dancers who elevated tap to new heights in the 1930s and 40s – notably Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and John W Sublett, aka “John Bubbles” – but never got their due, as Hollywood swung the spotlight on white faces like Fred Astaire (who always acknowledged his debt, particularly to Sublett). Among fantastic performance archive, Peters also draws the line from tap’s heyday to contemporary choreography.