Spoiler warning: details about the murderer lie below!
Mustache-twirling Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is a beloved character in literature, in cinema and on TV. Recently he’s been re-imagined as a Hollywood action hero by Kenneth Branagh in a slightly strange but ultimately well-received version of Murder on the Orient Express. So now to the BBC’s Christmas drama schedules, a big part of which has been Agatha Christie adaptations by Sarah Phelps. Over the past few years she’s brought us Ordeal by Innocence, And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Ginger and restrained adaptations are not Phelp’s style. How do you rip up the rule book but stay true to the source material?
It turns out all you need to do is wait. The passage of time makes characters different people, more fragile and sympathetic, more human. John Malkovich portrays the great detective as a weary yesterday’s man – the ying to David Suchet’s dapper and self-important yang. He’s dismissed as just another nosy parker by the young and very serious Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint). The world has moved on since Poirot’s celebrity heyday. This is all done in an extremely heavy-handed fashion as Poirot’s retired police pal Japp literally drops dead in front of him. Alright, alright, we get it – everyone is mortal. Poor old Poirot is lonely; in desperate need of a Scooby gang – despite first appearances he’s no good at coping with life alone and forgotten.
Enter the murderer who remembers Poirot at the height of his powers and wants to play a game. By letter he tells him he’s off to kill a series of people throughout the UK whose names start with each letter of the alphabet in turn and it’s up to Poirot to figure out the connection between the seemingly random victims stop him. What an effort from the murderous mastermind to troll Poirot pre-Twitter. Think of the expense in stamps alone!
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 Dutyto 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 Leg, Sunday Brunch and probably more besides.
It’s always exciting to see Sarah Lancashire back on TV. I’ve been a big fan for a little while, since Happy Valley really, and drama lovers will agree that she’s a big draw for a new series. Writer Jack Thorne has another ripped-from-the-headlines story for us and hopes are high as he wrote National Treasure broadcast in 2016 which won the best mini-series BAFTA. That was about historic cases of sexual abuse, drawing on various high-profile scandals involving celebrities. This is about vulnerable children under the care of social services and calls to mind some recent real-life cases.
Sarah Lancashire plays Miriam Grayson, a Bristolian social worker who decides to offer unsupervised visits between 9-year-old Kiri and her grandparents. Kiri is a young black girl about to be adopted by a middle-class white family and social services agree she ought to know “where she came from”, and have a chance to develop links with appropriate members of her birth family. While Kiri is on her visit, she goes missing, apparently abducted by her ex-con birth father Nathaniel. This is all made clear in the first 30 minutes, so knowing the laws of TV drama, this means literally anything could have happened to her.
First things first, a disclaimer. I love Richard Osman. Tall, speccy, a little bit awkward, loves telly, trivia and making people laugh. Those features can easily describe us both. Insert dull-sounding tv show here; Nope, I’m not going to watch it. Oh, Richard Osman’s on it? Well I guess I’ll take a look. He is of course the quizzing genius behind the daytime TV phenomenon that is Pointless. A producer and director Pointless was in fact his first foray into jobs in front of the camera.
His new quiz show House of Games is in an early evening slot. I’ve seen it described as Only Connect for everyone, but the one loyal set of celebrities appearing for fives shows over a week reminds me of Dave’s supberb Taskmaster. In week one comedians Nish Kumar and Al Murray are joined by TV presenter Anneka Rice, and Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo. The celebs are well chosen and well mixed, bound to be a bit reliant on stand-up comics for quick wit and general show-off skills. As Taskmaster proves, this is no bad thing.
This is a full review of episode 1 of the new series of The Crystal Maze. If you don’t want to know who gets locked in and whether the whole team make it to the Dome, look away now! If not, then let’s start the fans please!
Now this is the reboot we’ve all been waiting for. It’s The Crystal Maze baby! The gameshow that everyone agreed needed a second chance. Off the success of last October’s Stand Up to Cancer special we have another set of celebrities to introduce the series proper (20 episodes in total with five sets of celebrities and 15 sets of normals) and the much-discussed new presenter Richard Ayoade. The team are familiar as presenters and reality-show fodder; Ore Oduba, Vicky Pattison, Alex Brooker, Lydia Bright and (sigh) Louie Spence. “Society accorded these people celebrity status” intones Richard with much mock seriousness.
Alex Brooker is team captain but easily the most useful team member is Vicky Pattinson Of course she’s got quite the pedigree when it comes to the oddest of odd gameshows, and proven herself to be clever and resourceful. Alex could have done with cloning Vicky. Louie Spence is best enjoyed during his lock-in i.e. off screen and safely behind a locked door. No one seemed quite sure that they want to spend a hard-fought crystal getting him back. Vicky is bold and takes the initiative in the games and when advising the rest of the team. She has a calming presence and is a clear communicator despite Richard’s teasing about her Geordie accent. “Don’t panic flower” she tells everyone. When I get stressed out I need that on a loop.
Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit is a happy little comedy panel show/ game show hybrid which was originally created by comedians Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013, and then transferred to television on Dave at the end of last year. The genial and very recognisable Dara Ó Briain is in the host’s chair, with Steve as Sam acting as team captains, and video game journalist Ellie Gibson as the resident expert. The show invites celebs to join the teams each week to play a series of video games against each other. These days I think the kids just call them ‘games’.
I warmed up to this little Bejeweled Blitz gem last year and was happy to see it’s been recommissioned for a second and third series. More proof that with the internet fueling the mobile revolution and people in all age brackets spending more time in front of screens that gaming is no longer niche. However Go 8 Bit knows its audience and is fondly retro and a warm nostalgic hug. The panelists are asked to come on and nominate their favorite games to play. They range from the ancient arcade classics to the modern commute time-killers, and from the massive studio franchise to the tiny indie developers. The games are adapted cleverly to make them TV friendly. Studio audience participation is encouraged where the audience bet on which team will win each game and that affects the overall points total.
Another sumptuous drama here on a subscriber service. It’s almost like this is where the big bucks reside in these digital days. Z: The Beginning of Everything is the story of Zelda Fitzgerald, Mrs F Scott Fitzgerald to you dear. It’s based on Therese Anne Fowler’s book which Christina Ricci read and wanted to audition for. It turns out no one was making it, so she decided to do it herself. Ricci says that Zelda had suffered bad press over the years, with the focus firmly set on her genius husband. Ricci was sick of her being overlooked and sets out to flip that script.
Ricci with her soulful doe eyes and her fierce blonde bob is Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, a brilliant, beautiful and talented Southern belle, the original flapper and an icon of the Jazz Age in the flamboyant 1920s. Zelda is young and bored to death in her little quaint country town of Montgomery, Alabama. Having never been to the American south it looks lovely to me – all wide tree-lined avenues, sugary iced tea and cotillion balls at the country club.