JUST as the start-up chimes of a Mac can produce an endorphin rush in Apple addicts, so the ident of a static-filled screen snapping into the letters “HBO” hits the sweet spot among aficionados of quality television.
From the people who brought you The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, and Curb Your Enthusiasm comes a dark new comedy drama, Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic, Monday). Boasting not one, not two, but four A-list movie actors in lead roles, BLL is as sleek as a seal pup and twice as cute.
Granted, we have not yet seen a seal pup in the sea off Monterey, California, where the story is set. Episode one did allow, however, for plenty of coo-ing over Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley. The latter plays plain Jane, the new gal in a town where Witherspoon’s stay-at-home Madeline is competing with Dern’s career woman Renata for the job of Alpha-mom. Floating between them all is Celeste (Kidman), a wispy beauty with gorgeous twin boys and a none too shabby Alexander Skarsgard for a husband.
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With the exception of single mother Jane’s home, everything in Monterey is fabulous – the homes, the views, the clothes, the children, the children’s clothes. When a pupil is wearing a designer shift dress for her first day of school you know you are not in Kansas or Kilmarnock anymore, Dorothy. (Now Kelvingrove, that’s another matter…)
So confident was the show’s creator David E Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal) of holding the viewers’ attention he laughed in the face of spoiler alerts, titling his opener “Somebody’s Dead”. From the flashing blue lights of a crime scene the tale moved in flashback to where it all began: at the school gates with Jane’s son being accused of attacking Renata’s daughter (she of the shift dress). Sides are taken and war among the yummy mummies is declared. “Women,” sighs one of the dads, “they’re like the Olympic athletes of grudges.” Ah, but who will win the gold?
War Child (Channel 4, Sunday) was another work of pedigree, hailing as it did from Simon Chinn, producer of the Oscar-winning documentaries Man on Wire and Searching for Sugarman. Chinn and his director Jamie Roberts followed three of the tens of thousands of lone children who have travelled to Europe in the last couple of years. You knew from the off there would be tears before bedtime, and they would not all come from the youngsters.
When we met 11-year-old Emran he was stuck on the border of Greece having travelled thousands of miles from his home in Afghanistan. Like his two fellow voyagers he was compelled to go forward for the very good reason that he could not go home.
There has been a fair amount of radio reporting on migrant journeys, but this was a story ideally suited to television. Even while the camera took in the squalor of the camps and panned across the exhausted faces of the refugees, one could not quite believe one’s eyes. But here it was, Europe in the 21st century, looking for all the world as if it had learned nothing from the wretchedness of the 20th.
There were several villains to choose from in the piece, not least the people smugglers who robbed their victims of dignity while they fleeced them. It was easy to spot the heroes. Old beyond their years yet still full of hope, these were the kind of children any country ought to be proud to call citizens. Despite it all, their innocence and decency shone through, as when Rawan, 12, trudging through a field in the dead cold of night, stopped to warn the camera operator about a hole ahead. Wisely, Chinn’s film was reluctant to give easy answers on how to call a halt to this mass misery. Stop it at source is the obvious answer, but if that fails?
Not long in to the final episode of The Replacement (BBC1, Tuesday), paranoid Ellen declared of her scheming rival Paula: “There is nothing she could possibly do that would surprise me now.” At which point we all switched off and went to bed to read something sisterly and improving by Simone de Beauvoir. Aye, right. Joe Ahearne’s Glasgow-set drama went out in a blaze of laugh out loud battiness in which everyone was channeling Bette Davis by way of Joan Crawford. The men especially. Stiff gins and Baftas all round, ladies.