‘Ordeal by Innocence’ – BBC1

Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries are an international literary language; translated, loved and understood the world over. You know there’s going to be a big stately home, a cast of shifty upper-class characters, a few red herrings and a satisfyingly complicated conclusion. It’ll all hinge on the silver sugar tongs, a classified advert in the Times or the colour of the front door which you knew from the start but discounted as an inconsequential detail. It’s clever, gratifying and reassuring all in one shot. For a real-life example, please see me and Mr H on holiday in Turkey in 2014. We were, I’m ashamed to admit, battered out of our skulls on local raki and dealing with a day-long hangover in a hotel room easily as hot as the surface of the sun. What could be more soothing to the addled brain than finding Poirot dubbed into Turkish with English subtitles? In no small part thanks to Hercule we consoled the little grey cells that hadn’t been murdered by alcohol.

Ordeal by Innocence, the Easter Sunday BBC1 drama, is not your Turkish holiday Agatha Christie adaptation. There’s nothing soothing about this production. From the off it’s clear we’re in a nightmarish gothic horror. Producer and writer Sarah Phelps brings us a sharper, nastier, distilled version of And Then There Were None, her tremendous Christie adaptation from 2016. “Nine elaborate murders based on an extremely dodgy nursery rhyme that drive a young woman to suicide in a mansion on a deserted island is not really terrifying enough. Let’s kick it up a notch guys!”

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‘The Art of Japanese Life’

A long time ago, in a country far far away, I had a Japanese roommate. Manabu was lovely, a total gentleman, but not very chatty. I blame the language barrier, or maybe we just didn’t have that much in common. Eventually we bonded over injuries (his sporting, mine alcohol-related), microwave breakfast burritos (he loathed them, I loved them) and our two crazy little island homes. Comparing the UK and Japan is not as odd as it first sounds. Culturally and geographically we have a lot of shared aspects. We’re wilful independent island nations, who revere our daring histories of medieval knights and samurai warriors. Other countries are somewhat nervous around us as if you give us a flag and a gun we tend to get a little carried away and decide to go off and be a colonial invading force. Small countries, big ideas. Despite our macho military history, our national characters are reserved and polite, and we like to know our place in the social hierarchy. We’re the worlds best queuers!

Art historian Dr James Fox seems the similarities in our two nations, although sadly in this series on aesthetics and art in Japanese life, we are yet to hear his opinion on the breakfast burrito. This BAFTA nominated broadcaster has a day job in Cambridge University’s Art Department and first came to my attention presenting Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art? on BBC4 in September 2016.

He’s an engaging, enthusiastic, and quite cheeky presenter. His trademark seems to be a sharp black suit and tie, ever ready for a funeral or a cocktail party. He’s really good at breaking down complex ideas about art, religion and society. These big ideas are discussed in simple terms. His passion for the subject shines through. And, pleasingly, as you’d expect from a BBC4 art show, this whole episode is beautifully shot and framed.

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‘No Offence’ Series 2

Even in a market saturated with cop shows, it’s a most welcome return for DI Viv Deering and the Friday Street team, here to make your viewing schedule that bit grittier and more northern, with so many zingers it’s a struggle to keep up. Paul Abbot’s sharp script throws down the gauntlet to lesser tv writers everywhere.

Our hero is back to work after the horrific death of her husband at the end of Series 1. Viv, played by supremely talented Joanna Scanlan is glorious, and totally unfazed. She’s at a funeral when what could have been a lethal a bomb goes off but takes it all in her stride, as you’d expect. She jumps in the shower back at the police station and stand there in front of her colleagues proudly naked with big thighs and cellulite. This makes me want to whip off my dressing gown and cheer. Viv is sexy and powerful and totally unashamed.It’s Botticelli’s Birth of Venus only with a bright yellow towel instead of long ginger locks.

The body packed with explosives fortunately wasn’t in the coffin, so the funeral goers survived. The big bang reveals a dodgy crematorium, burying the bodies instead of popping them in the oven. Someone’s not been paying the gas bill. Miller (Paul Ritter) who sweetly describes himself as a bi-polar bear, ends up dealing with the “Hieronymus Bosch job” (say it out loud) ; elbows deep in the grizzly body parts violently displaced by the bomb. He’s in his element.

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Beck – ‘On the Box’

Well this is a bit risky. I’m diving in to a series at episode number 31. But Beck is special. It turns out we don’t have very many episodes available with English subtitles. BBC4 only started showing it from last year at around the episode 25 mark. This is a Swedish series that has been running since 1997 so there must be a big back catalogue. And with all the Euro dramas available on BBC4 I wonder, have we reached saturation point already? Or was this my mistake, overlooking a classic.

Beck is based on a number of much-loved books by  Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö written in the 1960s. The excellent Mrs Peabody Investigates says they are recognised as the forerunners to Henning Mankell’s ‘Wallander’ novels and therefore countless other Scandi police procedurals. Beck is the daddy of the genre. So even if this isn’t Episode 01, Series 01 we ought to sit down and take notice.

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Shocking TV – Viewpoint

The promise of a shock is an excellent hook. Who can resist? We might not admit it but we’re all interested to see freakish behaviour in others and we’d love to know what goes on behind closed doors. This compulsion is at least half the reason for the success of Big Brother and other supposed ‘reality’ tv shows. As an audience we don’t want to be calmed or soothed or reassured; we want to be shocked! We want to be outraged or astonished or moved in some way. And for quite a lot of people, the darker the better.

This is also why the most outrageous actions are always on the advert. A good recent example is Bear Grylls’ vehicle The Island. The voiceover says “someone is going to die” and a contestant falls of a rocky cliff! OMG! What happened? Did he die? Tune in to find out! Well no, of course he didn’t die and he didn’t suffer any major injuries either (despite the consensus that he was an awful person and probably deserved getting bashed up a bit). Do you think even in 2016 they would have been allowed to broadcast an accidental death on a reality show? No. Obviously not. But in that moment, in that 30 second advert, we are swept up in the supposed drama and we HAVE to know what happens!

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