Small-Screen Jabber 5 – 11 January

Drama

Les Miserables

The six-part non-musical adaptation by Andrew Davies of Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables (Sun, BBC1, 9pm) started last week, so catch up on iPlayer – despite it only being January Les Mis promises to rank among the top period dramas of 2019. Dominic West is outstanding as ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, struggling to shake off a life of petty crime and changing identity to better himself. Never far behind him is his nemesis Javert (David Oyelowo), the cruel police inspector who tormented Valjean in prison. Valjean hires Fantine (Lily Collins) in his factory, after moving up in the world, and rescues her daughter Cosette after she dies from the clutches of the evil Madame Thénardier (Olivia Colman). Davies’ version is still relentlessly grim but utterly addictive, with fine performances from a stellar cast and stunning cinematography.

manhunt martin clunes

Martin Clunes stars as DCI Colin Sutton in Manhunt (Sun-Tues, ITV, 9pm), a dramatised depiction of the hunt for the killer of French student Amélie Delagrange in 2004 in Twickenham that eventually also led to the conviction of Levi Bellfield for the murder of teenager Milly Dowler. Sutton soon established a link to the killing of Marsha McDonnell the previous year, but his attempts to nail the suspect proved elusive. Clunes puts in a strong performance, miles from his usual lightweight roles, as the detective under pressure in his first major case. The sensitively drawn screenplay packs a sharp punch nonetheless.

brexit uncivil war

Whether you have Brexit fatigue or not, Brexit: the Uncivil War (Mon, C4, 9pm) is a sharply observed, tragi-comic dramatisation of the referendum campaign. Benedict Cumberbatch heads the cast as Dominic Cummings, the man who masterminded the leave campaign, with the slogan “Take back control” and that dodgy £350m NHS claim on the side of their battlebus. Cummings had been an adviser to the Cameron government, a maverick known to think outside the box and who was quick to use social media data to outfox the remain camp. Rory Kinnear plays the remain campaign boss Craig Oliver – cocksure at first, later desperate and panicky. Whichever way you voted, James Graham’s script plays it fair, pandering to neither side, in a thoughtful examination of how events unfolded last spring.

Office cleaner Sam is a single mum struggling to manage on her zero-hours contract at a top City firm. She’s also a problem gambler who is trying to clear her £15,000 debt by gaming on her phone in the hope of a big roulette payout. And when she overhears a trader engaged in insider dealing one night, she decides to grab a piece of the action, knowing full well she is breaking the law. Sheridan Smith (top) stars as Sam in Cleaning Up (Wed, ITV, 9pm), a pointedly political drama that depicts the exploitation of women – both in low-paid drudge work and in how gambling companies target their vulnerabilities – and how the class divide is fuelled by corporate greed. Smith is the go-to actor for downtrodden working class women in adversity and she excels here as the invisible servant getting one over the establishment.

Current affairs

The tribalist Question Time (Thurs, BBC1, 10.45pm) comes from Islington, London, this week and is notable for the fact that Fiona Bruce has taken over as chair from David Dimbleby. The real question is, can she turn the ugly bearpit of populist soundbites and pomposity into something more civilised? BBCQT has lost droves of viewers in recent years because of its shouty, adversarial slant so it’ll be interesting to see how Bruce will reshape the mood.

Music

on drums stewart copeland

In the first of a three-part series that will also look at the guitar and bass, On Drums… Stewart Copeland (Fri, BBC4, 9pm) sees the former Police drummer explore the origins of drums as the founding instrument of popular modern music. Beats travelled from Africa to the US during the slave trade and then beyond, the consistent force behind musical evolution. Copeland plays with some of the most inspiring drummers of the last 50 years – John Densmore of The Doors, Chad Smith of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, New Order’s Stephen Morris and Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins – and there are contributions from Derick Moss of Soul Rebels Brass Band, Motown percussionist Bobby Hall, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell and Roger Linn, inventor of the Linn drum machine.

Comedy

semi detached

Lee Mack trials a real-time 20-minute sitcom in Semi-Detached (Sun, BBC2, 10pm). Hapless Stuart is forced to rely on his ex-wife when his girlfriend April goes into labour. Matters worsen when he asks his neighbour Ted to help too and finds him naked in the garden after accidentally severing his thumb with a chainsaw. Mack acquitted himself reasonably well when he did a live version of Not Going Out just before Christmas, so this could work. Expect slapstick, mayhem and dodgy gags.

sex education netflix

Light-hearted teen comedy Sex Education (from Fri, Netflix) stars Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist Jean Thompson, whose son Otis has somehow still managed to pick up a lot of misinformation about the facts of life despite Jean being the over-sharing type. This does not bode well when he and schoolfriend Maeve decide to set up an advice clinic in school for their classmates. Excruciatingly cringeworthy in places – the scenes, not the acting or script – it’s saved by its obvious warm-heartedness. And Anderson exploits her glaciality to the full with her rarely used comic ability.

Louise Bolotin is Screenjabber’s TV critic. She has a penchant for quality drama and quirky documentaries, slums it with EastEnders and pities people who watch reality TV, which might be why she never writes about The X Factor.

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