Worth Watching: “Pachinko,” “House of Maxwell,” “When Barbara Met Alan” and “Derry Girls”
Plus some analysis on the privatisation of Channel 4.
Welcome to Worth Watching.
WHEW. What a busy week of television. With £285 million pounds of cuts coming to the BBC and Channel 4 now set for privatisation, British television is continuing to change quickly. The big question is, for the better, or for the worse? I’ve got a little bit of analysis on the future of Channel 4 later on in this email, but first here are your usual TV recommendations.
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THE DRAMA OF THE YEAR SO FAR
Pachinko (Apple TV+ - several episodes available) - An absolute blinder of a series. Based on the bestselling Min Jin Lee, this series follows four generations of a Korean immigrant family through history. It weaves in the modern history of both Japan and Korea and it highlights how trauma, suffering and hope can be passed down through the generations. You would think that it flicking back and forth through history multiple times an episode would result in the whole thing feeling confusing, but in fact it feels breathless. The closest thing I can compare it to is Cloud Atlas, where storylines set generations apart are somehow weaved together with ease.
The cinematography, score and acting is faultless. This drama also reflects to me how well Apple is doing right now in the streaming wars. Despite releasing far fewer dramas and comedies than their rivals, their hit rate currently seems to be far higher. Other shows on the service worth a look at the moment include Slow Horses and Severance (which has its finale today).
A NEW BBC DOCUMENTARY ON MAXWELL
House of Maxwell (BBC iPlayer - all episodes) - A three-part documentary exploring the life of both the disgraced media owner Robert Maxwell and his daughter Ghislaine Maxwell, who is currently in prison for child sex trafficking and offences linked to Jeffrey Epstein.
If you know a lot about their lives already this documentary won't tell you much more, but it's full of facts and insight if you don’t. A particular focus is on the pain and suffering both of these people caused to others through their own actions. If you are interested in Robert Maxwell’s life, I would also recommend reading (or listening to) Fall by John Preston.
A FANTASTIC ONE-OFF DRAMA
Then Barbara Met Alan (BBC Two - single episode) - This beautiful and powerful drama, based on a true story, explores the fight for rights for disabled, deaf and neurodivergent people through two key activists Barbara Lisicki (played by Ruth Madeley) and Alan Holdsworth (played by Arthur Hughes).
What makes this film so captivating is not only the performances, but how much you learn about the history of disability rights in the process. For example, until the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 there were no legal protections for disabled people in housing, transport or employment (and even when implemented this law was unenforceable and insufficient).
The involvement of archive footage and actual activists from the group Lisicki and Holdsworth were a part of (the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network) is a wonderful touch. The production specifically focused on amplifying disabled talent both in front and behind the camera. Other television productions should take note.
OTHER SHOWS WORTH WATCHING:
Derry Girls (Channel 4) - The third and final series of the show will be out directly after Celebrity Bake Off on Tuesday.
Moonknight (Disney+) - The British accents and shots of London in this new Marvel series starring Oscar Issac are pretty ropey, but there is a lot of fun nonsense in the plot that you just stop caring.
Joe Lycett’s Travel Man (All 4) - After a Christmas special with Bill Bailey, comedian Joe Lycett is back with a new series of his travel show. It starts with a weekend adventure with James Acaster.
The Dropout (Disney+) - I mentioned this drama about the dramatic rise and fall of the fraudster Elisabeth Holmes when the series first debuted. After a bit of a ropey start, each episode gets better and better and better. If you haven’t watched it yet, please do.
AND AN INTERESTING SHOW OUT SOON:
There’s a scene-for-scene remake of Call My Agent coming to Amazon Prime Video next month. It is called Ten Percent. Having a remake when the original is so good raises questions about whether remakes are actually needed.
CHANNEL 4 ANALYSIS:
Channel 4’s remit from its debut - which includes championing unheard voices, to take more risks and to stimulate debate - allows it to think differently than every other broadcaster when it come to its own programming.
In an age of streaming service competition Channel 4’s unique remit makes it a strength because its focus is different than theirs. Yet this remit is now under threat due to privatisation.
Would Channel 4 have commissioned It’s A Sin, or We Are Lady Parts or Jack Thorne’s Help, all of which was nominated for multiple BAFTAs just a week ago, if the channel was privatised? I’m not so sure.
Would Channel 4 have invested so substantially in their Paralympics coverage across their primetime schedule over the past decade, altering the British public’s perception about disability and sport? I’m not so sure about that either.
AWARDS! AWARDS! AWARDS!
The BAFTA TV Nominations are out, celebrating the very best of television from 2021. As mentioned above, It’s A Sin is ahead with 11 nominations. David Carlyle, Omari Douglas and Callum Scott Howells are all competing for the Supporting Actor category. Lydia West is up for Leading Actress, Olly Alexander is up for Leading Actor and Russell T Davies is up for Best Writer.
Other notable nominations include Stephen Graham being nominated for Supporting Actor in Jimmy McGovern’s Time, and being Leading Actor for Jack Thorne’s Help. Kate Winslet is nominated for Leading Actress for Mare of Easttown.
The Elsewhere, Nina Manzoor’s We Are Lady Parts has six nominations, Landscapers has seven nominations and Jack Thorne’s Help has six nominations.
The other week it was the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards at The Brewery in central London, celebrating the best of television, streaming and audio of the last year (disclaimer: I am the Vice Chair of the guild). Former Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow was given the Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting Award.
I also hosted the Student Television Awards last week, back at the University of York where I was once a student. Congratulations to Durham’s PAL TV, who won the coveted Broadcaster of the Year prize.
WHERE TO FIND ME THIS WEEK:
I wrote for Broadcast Magazine about why all British soaps look surprisingly vulnerable off the back of the cancellation of Neighbours.
“In 2017, EastEnders had on average 6.5 million viewers per episode, but the year-to-date figure for 2022 is around 3.7 million, including seven-day catch-up. Coronation Street has gone down too in that time, from 7.7 million to 5.4 million.”
“The picture is even more worrying when you look at the number of 16-34s watching. Both EastEnders and Coronation Street have more than halved their younger viewers in the past five years. EastEnders has declined from around 1.3 million to 447,000, while Corrie has dropped to 459,000, from just over 1 million in 2017.”
To coincide with Newsround’s 50th birthday, I wrote for The Guardian about the show’s impact and how their daily bulletin gets put together. They also challenged me to present a (fake) bulletin. Here is my attempt:
I also wrote a tribute for the New Statesman about the late, great June Brown.
By the way, you can read Worth Watching - by Scott Bryan in the new Substack app for iPhone. It means that you don’t need to rely on your phone to read it each week.
Next Friday’s edition will feature recommendations of what to watch during the Easter Weekend.
Thanks so much for reading.
Scotty / @scottygb