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

Blog by Chris Lindsay | 24 Aug 2009

Having never studied English history, epic Henry VIII drama The Tudors (Fridays, BBC2, 9pm) never held much appeal, but still very much at the forefront of BBC drama, is was time to give it a chance. Back now for a third series, the show has a reputation for being a somewhat raunched up and camp take on the era, with most reviews focusing on the amount of bum shots we get as Henry works his way through his many wives.

And yes there are a lot of boobs and backsides on show but the whole thing is far more robust than its reputation would suggest. Chock full of intrigue and political and religious machinations the whole thing has more of the air of House of Cards than historical romp-a-thon Desperate Romantics, and I actually felt like I was almost learning something. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is great as a brooding Henry and the whole thing has a stately, tragic air to it. Plus it looks amazing, with aesthetics that’d make many a Hollywood blockbuster blush. Oh and Joss Stone is in it. So there you go.

From the past to the present, as the relentless march of time rolls on, and annual events seem to arrive ever sooner, all underlining the fact that the grave is constantly getting closer. Well, that was the feeling I got when I realised that it was time for The X Factor (ITV1, Saturdays, 7pm) again. Sigh.

What is there to say about The X Factor that hasn’t already been said (it's what Francis Bacon would be watching if he were alive today? - Ed)? By turns manipulative, sentimental and just plain cruel; you’ll claim you’re not going to watch it - and you’ll really, really mean it this time - but you know you will. The new format has the auditions happening in front of packed arenas ala Britain’s Got Talent, further amping up the Christians-to-Lions stakes for the deluded and socially challenged. What was interesting last year was seeing Simon Cowell softening somewhat and (occasionally) seeming ill ate ease when things crossed the nastiness line. As he’s the shows owner and executive producer, as well as its main star, the decision to reformat is his and his alone so I’ll be looking out to see if he continues his character reformation in this new set up… though I’m not going to watch it this year, you understand…

Finally, in the first of what should be a semi-regular occurrence, I am reviewing a classic show that is well worth your while chasing up on DVD. In honour of the fact that I met genius level fantasy author Neil Gaiman at the Book Festival last week I am heartily recommending you check out Neverwhere, the six part BBC 2 fantasy horror show he wrote for the channel in 1996.

Set in ‘London Below’ – a fantasy realm co-existing alongside plain old regular London - Neverwhere sees a frustrated Scots banker getting lost in a magical world under the streets of the English capital, where famous landmarks are made real - the city is ruled by an angel called Islington, there is a Earl holding court and a deadly Knight’s Bridge to be crossed... The show is an adult punk fairytale very much in the tradition of Gaiman’s comic and novel work and fans of either will find much to love. Shot in abandoned underground stations and disused sewers the scope of the piece is mightily impressive as is the story at its heart. Look out for Paterson Joseph’s star turn as The Marquis de Carabas – rarely do you see an actor having so much fun.

A word of warning though; whether you enjoy Neverwhere or not may well rest on your aesthetics. The show was grossly under funded and those with an aversion to bad special effects had best look away now. Cheaply shot, the show doesn’t look good at all and will test the patience of some but fully reward those willing to see past these limitations. In this sense it is comparable to the old BBC Narnia adaptations – stagey and fake looking but magical if you’re willing to let your imagination sweep you along.

The Tudors is available to watch on the BBC iplayer.

The X Factor is available to watch on the ITVplayer.

Neverwhere is available from Amazon, Play etc…