Hang Ups


10pm, Channel 4

Sporting heroes get all the plaudits for sweat and determination, but if there is one person in the UK who really deserves to be held up as an inspiration to the rest of us just for energy, hard work, perseverance and putting the hours in, it is surely Stephen Mangan.

His latest sitcom, Hang Ups, is the third entirely new series Mangan has appeared in since the turn of the year, following the BBC’s horrendously bad drama, The Split, and Sky’s impressively unmemorable weeping bigamist romp, Bliss. Add in that Mangan also did his thankless duty earlier this year in the fifth series of the life-sapping Episodes, and that works out at him launching a whole new multi-part show once every two months – although I’m plagued by the feeling that he might actually have done a couple more I’ve forgotten about.

Thing is, I – along with, apparently, many of the people responsible for commissioning new TV productions in Britain – quite like Stephen Mangan. And I would certainly never grudge anyone taking any paid work they can get their hands on. Still, there comes a time when you have to wonder: is a strategy of continuing to throw Mangan at the wall to see if any of it sticks really the best way to go about things?

In common with the other Manganese outings of these past eight months, Hang Ups isn’t all that good, although connoisseurs of the bountiful 2018 Mangan harvest might appreciate the way the show subtly calls back to themes familiar from the earlier pieces, as if the whole thing were one vast, unfolding symphony. For several confusing moments, watching the opening scenes of Mangan running around a house as a harassed and hapless father outclassed by his wise wife and sassy/sulky teenage kids, I was convinced I’d started watching Bliss again by mistake, because it opened exactly the same way. Unless I’m thinking of The Split.

In fact, though, the earlier show Hang Ups most resembles is Web Therapy, the comedy about a therapist treating patients online that Lisa Kudrow made around 10 years ago, when webcams were still almost new enough to nearly get away with hanging a tired gimmick on. A loose remake, Hang Ups takes the outline of Kudrow’s series, but changes the tone and content to make it more Manganable. Viewed entirely via webcams and mobile phone screens, Mangan plays Richard, the luckless therapist, with a host of guest stars popping up as his clients, with each remote appointment playing out like a split-screen sketch.

There are excellent people: Richard’s correspondents include David Tennant, David Bradley and, playing Richard’s father, Charles Dance. But, mostly, the therapy skits are strained, tending to involve the patients stretching out one underwritten gag until it expires, while Mangan – given no other option due to the claustrophobic webcam filming shtick – makes mild faces in response. (Worst offender in the first episode is Sarah Hadland as a woman who swears unconvincingly while shouting at an offscreen cat. It’s painful.)

But then, something happens. Popping up on Richard’s Skype comes a character called Neil Quinn, played by Steve Oram, one of the current British masters of unease. Richard is in debt to Neil, and Neil is a very nasty piece of work. If there’s a reason for hanging around Hang Ups, this stuff between Mangan and Oram is it. Suddenly, for a moment, the entire show feels different, and you actually begin to care about what might happen. Whatever does, though, one thing seems guaranteed. Stephen Mangan will return.



9pm, STV

The more that detectives Cassie and Sunny (Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar) dig into their murder cold case, the more secrets and lies come wriggling out into the open. It’s become clear that the four men being treated as the prime suspects in the killing have lied about events around their holiday home on the night of the millennium, and so the cops begin to press harder. The struggling financial adviser Pete Carr (Neil Morrissey, who’s become great at shifty, crumbling characters) has a lot of explaining to do for one thing. But more troubling are the revelations and allegations that come to light when the team interview Derran (Siobhan Redmond), the troubled ex-wife of the seemingly gentle GP Tim Finch (Alex Jennings). And most disturbing of all is information concerning the fragile artist Chris Lowe (James Fleet). Meanwhile, at home, Cassie is growing worried about her dad’s memory. But, then, maybe it’s not her dad’s mind wandering that she needs to worry about.


Sharp Objects

9pm, Sky Atlantic

Five episodes in, and it’s getting hard to avoid the conclusion that the decision to spread this adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel over eight hours had less to do with material that was crying out for the epic treatment than with TV’s current demand for a steady supply of box-set size series. Charitably, you could say the stunned and creeping pace replicates the mood of the sick, sun-dazed Southern town and the hazy mindset of the alcohol-blurred protagonist Camille (a terrific Amy Adams). Really, though, rather than generating deep atmosphere, the show feels caught in a holding pattern of repeating the same limited box of tricks (here come another umpteen memory flashes) over and over again, and eking out revelations we’ve already figured out to pad the running time. Tonight, Wind Gap launches into its treasured Calhoun Day celebrations, but festivities are soured by rising tensions, and the publication of Camille’s newspaper story on the murders. Meanwhile, we learn yet more about the nature of her self-harming.


Mackintosh’s Tea Room, 9pm, BBC Two

Better Call Saul, Netflix

There is – to put it mildly – a bittersweet taste to tonight’s ostensibly celebratory documentary on the successful plan to rescue the Willow Tea Rooms designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, coming as it does in the wake of the destruction by fire of Glasgow School Of Art’s Mackintosh building, and the disruption and devastation around it further along the same thoroughfare. The film follows the passion project by businesswoman Celia Sinclair to have the building, including its interiors and bespoke furniture, restored to the glory of its 1903 opening. Watching the intricate work of builders, cabinet-makers and artists attempting to replicate the original is absorbing and inspirational. But, considering what’s happened around the corner, it comes with a heartbreaking, screaming undertow. For dark drama of a different sort, the Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul, a spin-off that stands on its own, returns for a fourth series on Netflix today, with a hint of change in the air for Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk).


The Prosecutors

9pm, BBC Two

In the engrossing final film of this short series, cameras follow Eran Cutliffe, a senior prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, over nearly two years, as she tries to build a

case against a network engaged in the trafficking and exploitation of children, who are used as slaves in nail bars across the UK. A difficult case is further complicated by two factors. First, it breaks new ground, as the CPS is attempting to bring the first prosecution under the Modern Day Slavery Act of 2015. Second, many of the girls involved appear not to consider themselves victims. Minors found by police in the nail bars are placed into foster care, yet often flee back to the network, which moves them on to another location. As illegal immigrants, with no other options, they are happy to be fed and housed and work for free – or, at least, this is what they have been coached to say. It’s a depressing but fascinating examination of a crime taking place in broad daylight, and the mountain of work the prosecutors face.




Scheduled to arrive today, Netflix’s new comedy has already generated massive word of mouth before an episode has even been seen. Worryingly for the streaming service, it’s almost all been negative. Over 200,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the 13-part series to be cancelled, over accusations that it’s built around “body-shaming”. It’s the story of Patty (Debby Ryan), a high school student who is routinely bullied, ignored and mocked for her weight. After she’s punched in the face and has her jaw wired shut, she sheds pounds, and when she returns after summer break is suddenly deemed “hot” and popular. Thus she sets out to use her new position to embark on a campaign to wreak revenge on the tormentors who made her life misery, aided by Bob (Dallas Roberts), a jaded ex-lawyer-turned-beauty-pageant-coach. Preview episodes weren’t made available to me in time to see the show, so, like most of the people signing the petition calling for its head, all I have to go by is the trailer, which isn’t enough to judge.


Sylvia Plath: Life Inside The Bell Jar

9pm, BBC Two

Featuring a new interview with Sylvia Plath’s daughter, Frieda Hughes, and boasting Maggie Gyllenhaal among the cast of readers, this strikingly filmed documentary sets out to explore Plath’s famous semi-autobiographical novel while placing it, and the writer, against the wider context of the mores, the gender politics and the attitudes to mental health of the early 1950s. Frieda Hughes talks about her mother in detail for the first time on camera, alongside contributions from other people who knew Plath, many of who are similarly discussing her with unprecedented candour here. Around the interviews come impressionistic reconstructions, along with readings from unpublished letters, rare photographs and a wealth of period archive footage evoking the summer of 1953, and the creation of a novel that – by exploding the myth that women were content and life was sweet – would touch countless readers.


As the summer of sport continues to dominate TV schedules, it’s been a good time to sit in a darkened room and make another pilgrimage down into the uncharted basements of the BBC’s iPlayer, to see if any good new old stuff has been let loose from the vaults.

Recently, there’s been a flourish of activity from the drama archive, most notably the appearance of The War Game, Peter Watkins’s extraordinary 1965 film about the impact of a nuclear attack on Britain, still easily one of the most powerful productions ever made for the BBC. So powerful, in fact, they banned it from being seen for 20 years.

Watkins practically invented the “drama-doc”, but few ever used it to his radical ends, or with such merciless control. Despite a low budget, The War Game remains impressive on a technical level: from the long, hand-held opening shot; through the editing; the meticulous blending of facts, figures, plans and quotes with reconstruction and informed speculation; and the employment of non-actors. All combine to immerse the viewer in a horrifying picture of possible reality.

It’s the cumulative emotional, psychological and political impact of that picture that remains staggering, however, and is what saw it suppressed for two decades. In 1966, the BBC’s broadcast of Cathy Come Home sparked outrage about homelessness in Britain. If The War Game had been transmitted in 1965, there might have been revolution. Either that, or mass suicide. Fifty years on, it remains genuinely, necessarily, disturbing and difficult to watch. Children’s eyeballs melting; firestorms; British Bobbies employed to shoot victims in the head; radiation sickness; food riots – all documented in a style at once howling rage and yet disconcertingly straight-faced, almost underplayed. You may find yourself googling current government advice about nuclear attack in horror. It highlights how few British TV dramas of the past 20 years have really been about anything.

For nightmares of a different kind, another striking iPlayer addition is the six-part Quatermass and the Pit. From 1958, the serial was the third and greatest outing for Professor Quatermass, the British scientist created by visionary writer Nigel Kneale. A blend of post-war atmosphere, occult folklore and science fiction, it begins with workers uncovering a five-million-year-old spaceship, and ends with the Devil appearing over a burning London. The ambition of 2001: A Space Odyssey, crammed inside a Crossroads budget.

Elsewhere, look out for Talking To A Stranger, a four-part play written by John Hopkins for the Theatre 625 strand in 1966. Judi Dench leads as a young woman trying to hide fragility and damage behind a flip city-girl façade in a sad, probing, densely woven psychological piece about family. And, from 1956, the Sunday Night Theatre production of Mrs Patterson, a play about race and adolescence in America’s Deep South, featuring one of British TV’s first black leading casts. The inimitable Eartha Kitt stars, which is reason enough for watching.