TV Blog: The best (and worst) of the week's telly

Blog by Chris Lindsay | 17 Aug 2009

With episode five shown this week, we’re late in the run of kitchen sink drama The Street (BBC1, Mondays, 9pm), but there is still time to get on board with this gem of a series. Made up of loosely interconnected, stand alone stories all set on the same road, The Street can be dipped into at any stage and, as it’s overseen by Jimmy McGovern - the king of social realist telly - it’s always worth a visit.

McGovern’s reputation is for hard hitting drama but The Street is loaded with equal amounts of pathos as harsh reality. Episode five told the story of an alcoholic who discovers he is the father of a 16 year-old boy with Downs Syndrome. At first rejecting his son and then attempting to stay sober for him, the show was a painful study of the self hatred which drives addiction, told without becoming sentimental - a hard trick to pull off when dealing with this subject matter. Though a little more overwrought than some previous episodes, the show is still the best rebuff I can offer to those who mouth off about TV being a vapid medium; this is grown up, socially engaged stuff - not much fun mind, but bold, literate and compelling. All the more shame then that, due to budget cuts, this will be the final series of The Street but thankfully the whole run is currently available on the BBC iPlayer. Catch it while you can.

At the other end of the sombre-daft spectrum is guilty pleasure Desperate Romantics, (BBC2, Tuesdays, 9pm) a show which takes artistic licence to a new level. Based on the true story of the radical Victorian painters The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the show has taken massive liberties with history, instead aiming to capture the artists’ sense of youth and abandon by casting them as the wannabe rock stars of their day. While most art history dramatisations are dusty, sterile affairs Desperate Romantics is an unashamed romp and it’s good to see this subject treated as something young, vivid and alive.

That’s not to say that the show isn’t very, very silly. In this tale of sex, drugs ’n’ painting the painting defiantly comes last, upstaged by bedroom farce and bohemian lifestyles. But its all great fun and the cast are fantastic – special mention must go to Aidan Turner as Gabriel Rossetti, flouncing around in a big hat, and Mark Heap for his intentionally bad (and hilarious) Charles Dickens portrayal. My only real quibble is that the revolutionary art so often takes a back seat to the domestic drama but this is mollified slightly by the show’s website having a wealth of documentaries for those wishing to cover their work in more scholarly detail. The whole series is currently available on the BBC iPlayer.

Until this week I’d been avoiding Charlie Brooker’s new show, You Have Been Watching (Channel 4, Tuesdays, 10pm). Not because I don’t like the man – on the contrary – I’m a big fan. As the nations favourite TV reviewer he has become a one-man industry; presenting three show in the last year alone – the frankly brilliant Screenwipe, where he deconstructs television’s excesses and dirty little secrets and Newswipe which follows a similar tack, although focused solely on TV news. Brave and uncompromising, Brooker has become something of a foul-mouthed patron saint to those of us who study the telly-box and I found myself reluctant to watch YHBW, afraid that this might be his Be Here Now moment…

Thankfully, on the strength of this one episode, I’ve nothing to worry about. Taking on the fairly standard comedy panel show format of Have I Got News For You, the programme sees Charlie challenging guests to answer questions on current TV shows, in between offering his own comments. Though I miss the homemade aesthetic of Screenwipe, the glossier show and more traditional format have not seen Brooker lose any of his bite – as the slew of near-libellous jokes that opened the episode attested. Plus any show that sticks the boot into Danny Dyer’s ridiculous onscreen personae gets full points from me. I was worried that at an hour the show might drag or be thin on material but Brooker is on form and having a panel of other comedians and commentators helps to keep things fresh. I now need to catch up on Channel 4’s 4OD. I suggest you do the same.