The good news about Netflix’s new animated series Disenchantment is that it’s the first new show in two decades from Simpsons creator Matt Groening. This, though, is also bad news for Disenchantment itself, as it means it is doomed to be instantly judged against the revolutionary phenomenon of The Simpsons at its long, magnificent peak, and the great, daft tapestry of Groening’s cultishly adored follow-up, the sci-fi cartoon Futurama, rather than being taken for what it is.

What it is, then, is a fun, smart and amiable, if slightly ambling, little fantasy spoof, skipping along taking knowing digs at the swords and sandals genre, while cracking any other gags that come into the writers’ minds along the way. The other curse facing Disenchantment, however, is that it’s a fantasy parody that has appeared after the world devouring success of Game Of Thrones, meaning some viewers might be expecting a full-on lampoon of that particular show. But while there are nods in the direction of King’s Landing (including a dumb but terrific Iron Throne sight gag in episode one) Disenchantment is more in the lineage of earlier, half-loving genre pastiches, from The Princess Bride to Shrek, Terry Pratchett and, particularly, the Monty Python of The Holy Grail – all squished through a Matt Groening strainer.

Instantly recognisable as Groening’s work from the character design DNA (“weak chin, buck teeth,” as one bug-eyed character berates another), Disenchantment also replicates the dense texture of his other shows. It doesn’t yet have that relentless sensory-overload assault, but many of the jokes are happening in the background, in shop signs and passing décor. Meanwhile, some gags step out from the terrain altogether, to offer self-aware asides, or set up corny punchlines that are funny precisely because you can see them slowly coming.

The action takes place in the magical, medieval, near-bankrupt kingdom of Dreamland. Our heroine is Princess Bean, a layabout misfit, not content with her allotted role – like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, but with silver hair and gambling addiction. Her grouchy father King Zog has set her up for a juicy arranged marriage with a simpleton prince from a neighbouring royalty. But Bean would rather be out, boozing, playing cards.

Into her life come two faintly magical little rebels: Elfo, a sweet elf who has exiled himself from the elves’ hidden candy land, because he can’t stand how unremittingly happy they all are; and Luci, a sly, sleek, black demon, sent by shady wizards to curse Bean, for reasons still unclear. Together, the three go on the run. For a bit.

Unlike earlier Groening series, which have stuck to the traditional sit-com set-up, where each episode’s story is more of less self-contained, Disenchantment teases an on-going, unfolding narrative, to do with Bean’s destiny. Really, though, plot remains simply an excuse to hang gags and slapstick from. Where development might come is in the deepening of the texture, the evolution of the characters and their world.

In Groening’s universe, Disenchantment lies nearer Futurama than The Simpsons. As well as the genre-poking stuff, the Bean-Elfo-Luci relationship recalls Futurama’s Leela-Fry-Bender chemistry. Luci – a weird, one-eyed, inky shadow cat with a cigarette habit – has cult potential, beautifully voiced by Eric Andre as a cross between Bill Murray and George Sanders.

Fans fans will recognise other voices, notably John DiMaggio, previously Futurama’s cranky robot Bender, excellent here as the dissolute King Zog. There’s also a Mighty Boosh semi-reunion, with roles for Noel Fielding, Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry. The latter, of course, plays a polymorphously horny princeling. Thus, while Disenchantment’s journey has only just begun, at least one destiny is fulfilled.


Towards the end of her splendid film Abducted: Elizabeth I’s Child Actors (BBC Four), writer Katherine Rundell lamented a tendency in recent academia and documentary-making: a desire to explain the past as being much the same as the present. Sometimes, as she put it, you come across historical events that can’t help but make you see how “vividly, wildly different certain things were back then.”

The obscure story she presented was a good example. In the winter of 1600, shortly before Christmas, a 13-year-old boy called Thomas Clifton left his home in London to walk to school, as he did every morning. This particular day, however, he never arrived. Along the way, he was violently set upon and abducted.

The first extraordinary aspect of the case was his kidnapper's motive. Thomas was the son of a relatively well-off gentleman, but he wasn’t taken with the intention of demanding a ransom, nor for more immediately violent purposes. Rather, he was bundled away by a self-styled theatrical impresario, Henry Evans, who planned to put him on stage as part of his locally famous company of child actors, a troupe of players made up of other boys seized from the streets.

Thomas’s father soon tracked Evans down and turned up at the theatre demanding his son’s release, which is when the second extraordinary fact came in. Evans simply told him to get lost, claiming he had legal authority to take any children he wanted and force them into acting, a power granted to him directly by Queen Elizabeth I herself.

Plunging into archive accounts and maps of the pre-Great Fire city, Rundell wove a spellbindingly murky tale, conjuring a pungent sense of dark and perilous London streets, and the odd, flickering, candlelit underworld of Elizabethan theatre, where child actors were ogled as much as eroticised objects as thespians. The shadow of abuse was never far away.

Rundell, who has the enthusiastic poshness of a Lucy Worsley, but a darker twinkle, was infectiously captivated by the events she explored, simultaneously repelled and fascinated. The film was a fine example of the work that can be done in the gaps in history. Rundell is an academic, but better known for her terrific children’s books, including Rooftoppers. Her research was meticulous, but it was when she had a chance to fill in the blanks that the documentary flowed like the novel it could become. The sense of a dark children’s adventure was bolstered by nicely rudimentary animated illustrations, Henry Evans skulking like a cross between Dick Dastardly and The Child Catcher.

Yet despite Rundell’s point that the past is a different country, one of the striking things about seeing her film about child trafficking was how it coincided with the news this week that cases of modern day slavery in Britain are now hitting an all time high – a point explored in the The Prosecutors (BBC Two), about young trafficked victims working in the UK’s nail bars. The more times change.



9pm, STV

As the penultimate episode of this strong third series begins, Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) has managed to find some brief respite from the pressures of the cold case, stepping out on a tentative date with John (Alastair Mackenzie), the ex-cop who offered help with information about the original investigation in 2000. But we don’t really come to Unforgotten for Cassie’s private life, and the consequences of her absent-minded blunder with suspect Pete Carr’s (Neil Morrissey) file are about to play out with catastrophic results. Meanwhile, however, her team are still steadily chipping away at the network of lies to uncover the truth about what really happened on the night of the murder 18 years ago. As their work brings to light buried secrets about the troubled artist Chris (James Fleet) and the movements of TV personality James Hollis and his son Eliot (Kevin McNally and Tom Rhys Harries), the focus of the investigation begins to turn in one definite direction.


Mark Gatiss On John Minton: The Lost Man Of British Art

9pm, BBC Four

The sense of sharing a personal passion that Mark Gatiss brings to this loving portrait of the brilliant illustrator, painter and teacher John Minton marks the film out and makes it a joy. With his dark good looks and rapidly evolving style, Minton flourished on the bohemian Soho scene of the post-war era, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud (who painted his portrait in 1952). His paintings and dazzlingly bright book illustration soon brought him best-seller levels of fame, hailed as one of the rising talents of his generation by Vogue magazine. Yet a dark and lonely streak ran through much of his work, rooted partly in the tension he experienced as a gay man in a repressive society that branded his search for love illegal. By 1957, he was dead by his own hand, aged only 39, and with his work already fading from public memory. Following his footsteps, Gatiss does a by turns vivid and melancholy job of bringing him back into the light.


A Passage To Britain

9pm, BBC Two

Part of the BBC’s Big British Asian Summer season, this three-part series is an excellent piece of social history by Oxford professor Dr Yasmin Khan, who pieces together the lives of the some of the new arrivals who came to Britain from the Indian subcontinent between the 1930s and 1960. In each episode, she takes as starting point a ship’s passenger list, beginning with P&O liner The Viceroy Of India, and a journey that set sail from Bombay in 1933. Among those on board were author Mulk Raj Anand and Sir Lancelot Graham, one of the Indian Empire’s last colonial governors. Elsewhere were two young students who would go on to start families in the UK. Their stories, along with the memories of Raja Stokes – an 86-year-old surviving passenger from the Viceroy – illustrate the tense relationship between Britain and India at the time, and illuminate the experience of strangers building new lives in a strange land, while helping their adopted country to evolve.


Britain’s Lost Masterpieces

9pm, BBC Four

A welcome return for this quietly, satisfyingly engrossing series, in which art dealer Bendor Grosvenor and social historian Emma Dabiri turn detective, seeking out forgotten treasures. The idea is that, across Britain’s public art collections, so many pieces are kept locked in storage or hang in obscure corners that there are bound to be some great works lurking that have gone completely overlooked – including, possibly, pieces by some of history’s greatest artists. This week, they could be on the trail of one of their biggest finds. At a house called Knightshayes Court in Devon, there’s a small portrait of the young Rembrandt, long thought simply to be a copy of a famous self-portrait by the Dutch master that hangs in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. But several clues lead Grosvenor to believe the painting is actually an early study by Rembrandt himself. While he’s on the case, Dabiri investigates the history of Knightshayes, an extraordinary piece of gothic revivalism.


Searching For Mum: Sri Lanka

9pm, BBC Two

Over several decades, some 11,000 children born in Sri Lanka were given up for adoption overseas, and often grew up with little or no knowledge about their original families, or the country of their birth. This powerfully moving two-part film charts the attempts of four women who have lived their lives in Britain as they attempt to find their birth families. Tonight, cameras follow the stories of Rebecca and Ria. Raised in London, Rebecca only discovered she was adopted by accident when, aged eight, she found some papers in her parents’ airing cupboard. Now 38, she’s making her third trip to Sri Lanka to try and trace her unknown mother by following a scrappy papertrail. Ria, 27, faces a different challenge. Brought up in Inverness, she has always had plenty of information about her mother in Sri Lanka – but this includes a note that the woman wants no contact with her. Then again it’s hard to know how much of the documentation is genuine.


Blitz: The Bombs That Changed Britain

8pm, BBC Two

Another chance to see the excellent episode of the Blitz series devoted to the nights of 13 and 14 March 1941, and the devastating bombing of Clydebank. The statistics sum it up: 528 were killed, 617 left injured, and out of 12,000 houses, only eight were left undamaged. But the most haunting figure concerns a single address: 78 Jellicoe Street, where 15 members of one family, the Rocks, all died together on the first night. Created by the Who Do You Think You Are team, the film has the same way of blending official records with family archives and local oral histories to bring the past astonishingly close. Alongside a meticulous account of the devastation the town suffered, the programme also does a superb job in sketching the tense political, class-warring divisions along Red Clydeside during the early part of the war. Most striking is a recent interview with Brendan Kelly, last survivor of the Jellicoe Street tenements at the time of the Blitz: “My head’s full of tombstones.”