‘Gomorrah’ – Series 1

Welcome to Italy, Naples to be exact. Only these intimidating inner-city destinations won’t be on any tourist trail. If you end up in these locations you holiday stroll has taken the worst of wrong turns. Welcome to Gomorrah.

Gomorrah is based on the non-fiction investigative book — 2006’s Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano, a journalist who got such a close and detailed look at Naples mafia he is now living in hiding. Gomorrah is the highest-rated show to ever air on the Italian network Sky Italia, far outstripping American imports such as Game Of Thrones and House Of Cards. There’s a strong familial resemblance to The Wire, as this captivating Italian series is also an immersive look at street-level crime, gang organisation and shocking scenes of unflinching violence.

Naples is a colorful city but those colours are washed-out neon, like looking at life through a fishbowl. In similar way to Braquo this is firmly set in the grimy underbelly of the city, filled with leather jacket wearing hard men. This is the territory of the mafia; running drugs, buying crooked cops and dishing out violence to all who cross them. And we meet them at a paranoid time – there’s problems with extra cops, neighbourhood watch and journalists crawling around the blocks. Everything is changing.

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‘Action Team’

Even thinking about writing this review makes me uncomfortable so I’ll keep it short. It feels disloyal to dislike Action Team given how much I adore Murder in Successville, how Vicky McClure and Jim Howick both are well on their way to becoming national treasures, and how I absolutely fancy the pants off Tom Davis. But putting all this aside, I offer you this warning. Guys, it’s not good.

On paper it’s got bags of potential – who doesn’t love a silly spoof spy comedy? Austin Powers is a cultural touchstone (if people don’t curl their pinky fingers when they say one million dollars, are they even worth your time?) and more recently Kingsman and Spy with Melissa McCarthy have been doing big box office business. So why not transfer it to the small screen? James De Frond and Tom Davis are surely the right men for the job, given how masterfully they combined cop show, comedy, improv and celebrity quiz show in Murder in Successville? And they’ve only gone and got Vicky McClure from the all-conquering Line of Duty to keep a straight face as the straight woman. ITV were extremely confident, given the huge advertising campaign pumped out last weekend with posters everywhere, adverts on all commercial breaks and Vicky and Tom’s arses adoringing sofas at The Last LegSunday Brunch and probably more besides.

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‘Somebody Feed Phil’ – Netflix

Phil is friendly. Phil is kind. Phil is funny. But those qualities count for very little over at foodie magazine Eater where Somebody Feed Phil, the Netflix travel documentary eating its way around the globe was cruelly slated as “too cute”, “annoying” and having “no discernible point of view”. Conde Nast Traveler is much kinder, praising the positivity and optimism wrapped up in each delicious bite. So, which one is it? Sweet or sour?

This new to Netflix series is fronted by a gangly beaming Phil Rosenthal, a television writer and producer, best known as the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. He had a similar show called I’ll Have What Phil’s Having on PBS in America, but this is the first time an international audience has seen his culinary adventures.

And what a road trip he’s on. In six hour-long episodes he covers Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, New Orleans and Mexico City. I’m immediately jealous of his experiences and his air miles. He begins in the exotic east, but this isn’t just an American on a gap year, as he’s keen to promote food closer to home too, understanding that not everyone can afford international travel. Each episode also runs the full gamut of food available for the budget conscious backpackers and the money-is-no-object crowd. We seem him try street food out in the road on plastic chairs, befriend old ladies in shopping mall cafes, try all sorts of strange things in cafeterias off the beaten track and other hole-in-the-wall cafes where you’d need a local guide just to find the place.

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‘Requiem’ – BBC1

Warning! Spoilers for Episode 1 lie beneath!

Even before the first shadow crosses the screen Requiem is creeping me out. It’s so obviously a Sunday night drama and should have been on over Christmas for full wintery effect. But for some unknown reason it’s on BBC1 on Friday nights in February. Never mind all that though, that’s an old-fashioned way of thinking about scheduling. Who cares what day it broadcasts when it’s all up on iPlayer to watch straight away.

I’d clocked the adverts but decided it wasn’t for me. Ghosts just don’t frighten me at all. I’d much rather Scooby don’t than Scooby Doo. The genre is so well-trodden and cliche-riddled that the only gasp you’ll get from me is a sigh as I find the remote and click the button. That whole haunted house brand has termites and it’s falling to pieces. But such a high quality cast turned my head and I watched it with a ‘may as well’ shrug as a chaser after yet another disappointing Euro drama (oh Modus, what’s happened to you?).

Requiem looks gorgeous and sounds fantastic. The opening credits are a Royal Blood album cover and the music is part classical emotions, part jarring shuddering electronics, as if the Terminator was in a string quartet. This isn’t just an interesting score; this is fundamental to the story. Matilda (Lydia Wilson) is a successful cellist, riding high with her pianist Hal (Joel Fry, wonderful in everything, recognisable from Game of Thrones where he’s got a similar complicated relationship with a powerful blonde) in hipster London, her haircut, flat and career fitting in nicely to that group of people who hate fitting in. Her lovely Mum Janice (the exceptional Joanna Scanlon, last seen as fearless matriarch Viv Deering in No Offence) is sad they’re spending more time apart, but delighted for her success. Matilda seems restless, her one-night stands interrupted by nightmares of an imprisoned girl.

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‘Britannia’ – Sky Atlantic

Britannia is the much discussed and much trumpeted new Sky Atlantic drama. It’s also the first co-production between Sky and Amazon. It’s written by Jez Butterworth, who seems to have theater and screenwriting experience in spades, but not much on the CV for telly. Not like our collective expectations are set too high, but it’s been bandied about that Sky are in desperate need of something substantial in the swords and bloodlust category as the wait for Game of Thrones will be glacial. But the people who have seen it already are split into two camps – either it’s brilliantly bat-shit or terribly confusing. Well, which is it then?

Set in 43 AD this is about the Roman conquest of Britain. This is the second time around, as Julius Cesar went home with his tail between his legs in 54 BC, and boy, despite the man being long dead, do we hear a lot about that. We meet General Aulus Plautius, played by David Morrissey, not worrying in the slightest about his accent or where in the Roman Empire he hails from. To misquote Doctor Who, a lot of countries have a north. Aye up legionnaires!

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‘Roast Battle’ – Comedy Central

Comedy roast are not all that common in the UK, despite this being the home of the Archbishop of Banterbury, Bantom of the Opera and the Bantersaurus Rex (lads! lads! lads!). While we’re very much at home with taking the piss out of each other in the pub, the playground and all-office emails, this kind of vicious verbal sparring in front of an audience is a format that we’re just not used to in merry old England. We leave that to the Americans, and a proud history they have of it too. Instantly this new Comedy Central show is a bit out of step for the British audience looking for funnies, with a post-apocalyptic set, macho gunshot sound track, and the studio audience expected to shout and point as well as drink and laugh. It’s all a bit too much to believe we can multitask like this.

I love stand-up comedy, on tv and especially live (shout out to the excellent Fat Penguin club nights in Birmingham – if you’re in the Midlands check them out), but I turned this on and watched it through my fingers. I didn’t was this format to fail, but it was bound to be a disaster, right? As The Guardian said “Roast battles and insult comedy? No thanks, we’re British”. But despite the silly gunshot noises and the heavy reliance on Paper Planes by MIA, the battles themselves were not as aggressive as I’d thought. If anything the style is collaborative; usually solo comics acting as a team, building on each other’s jokes, laughing at themselves and visibly enjoying the experience. I was all set to hate it but the four comedians in the first episode did such a good job they quickly won me over.

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‘Witnesses’ – Series 2

As you may have noticed I’m still waiting on the next big Euro drama to cross my path. All the Scandi stuff recently has me feeling a bit flat, with fairly promising starts leading to confused middles and ‘meh’ endings. It’s fine to have a beautiful backdrop of lakes and mountains, but you need to populate it with original characters leading interesting lives. The story needs to be multi-layered, but not too complicated; zoning out and playing with your phone is the absolute death knell for a subtitled drama. Both the good guys and the bad guys need to have clear motivations that we can relate to.

So with a Gallic shrug it might well be time to bid au revoir to the northernmost corners of Europe and see what France might have to offer; after all, the daddy of the noir resurgence in the past decade has been the Emmy award-winning and much loved Spiral. The most memorable dramas I’ve watched recently have been French, or part French; the balls-out action heros in Braquo, stylish super spies in The Bureau and the best character in Midnight Sun was the deeply troubled French detective.

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