Worth Watching: “The Lazarus Project,”“The Midwich Cuckoos” and “Sherwood”
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Welcome to Worth Watching. Hope you’re having a great week.
Usually June is quite dead when it comes to compelling new television, but this month has been surprisingly blockbuster. Some of the shows out at the moment (such as Sherwood) will be remembered as one of the televisual highlights of the whole year.
Here’s five shows that I have enjoyed lately, along with the usual news and analysis. And thank you to the nearly 100 of you who subscribe to the non-monthly edition of this newsletter. You really do help support my work. If you want to receive more editions throughout the month, simply click on the link below.
A GREAT, UNSETTLING THRILLER
The Midwich Cuckoos (all episodes available on Sky / NOW) - This is an absorbing little sci-fi thriller, set in a fictional British town called Midwich. It starts with a freak event where many of its residents all collapse at the same time. Not long after they make a recovery, all the women of childbearing age become mysteriously pregnant.
What makes this show so watchable is not just because Keeley Hawes is involved in it (although it helps – she played Lindsay Denton in Line of Duty and Ritchie’s mum Valerie in It’s A Sin). It’s also the fact that, despite being a sci-fi show, it hardly uses any special effects or CGI. Its realism makes the whole thing feel a hell a lot more compelling and grounded. It fools you into thinking that it could happen.
The first episode is a bit too long for my liking (it really didn’t need to be feature length). Stick with it. It’s worth your time.
A DECENT SUMMER BINGE
Everything I Know About Love (BBC iPlayer - all episodes) - Based on the bestselling book by Dolly Alderton, this semi-autobiographical series follows a close knit set of friends and housemates in their early twenties. And as it is set in 2012, this series is full of references and nostalgia that will appeal to anyone who would have been that age at the time (it is one of the reasons too why Jack Rooke’s Big Boys is just so good.)
It seven part masterfully not only captures the ups and downs of dating and relationships, but also how close friendships adapt, change or fall apart as we get older too. Time flew whilst watching episodes.
SHOW US THE INFRASTRUCTURE!
The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway (two episodes on BBC iPlayer) - There’s two new episodes of that long-running documentary series looking into how Crossrail was built. It is a great deep dive into massive infrastructure projects and the people whose sole job is to ensure that you turn up to work on time (even if you don’t). The most recent two episodes go right up to when the Elizabeth Line opened the other week.
The funny thing is that the name of the series is now technically inaccurate. When the first episodes of this series originally aired back in 2014 it was called The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway. Costs then spiralled by an extra three billion, so it now should be technically called The Eighteen Billion Pound Railway. Oh well. Never mind.
A COMPELLING (NON-BINGEABLE) DRAMA
Sherwood (first two episodes on BBC iPlayer, next two next week) - You can’t go wrong with James Graham, the playwright behind that excellent ITV drama called Quiz exploring on the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? coughing scandal (it was the drama that starred the late, great Helen McCrory).
Graham has now penned this engrossing four part crime drama set where he grew up in Nottingham. Despite being fictional, the series inspired by two murders that took place in an ex-mining community. The strength of the series is how it looks at tensions that have been bubbling under the surface between residents for years.
Graham has also decided to go against the BBC boxset policies but asking that episodes are not dropped all at the same time, so viewers can feel be at the same point of the story together. I like that approach, and it especially works with this story.
THE MOST RIDICULOUS PLOT POSSIBLE
The Lazarus Project (Sky / NOW - from Thursday 16th June) - Paapa Essiedu and Caroline Quentin both star in this mind-bending Sky series that you should make time to watch. It is written by Joe Barton, behind the acclaimed BAFTA winning Giri/Haji (a 2019 BBC drama that was criminally not given a second series).
The plot is ludicrous. It starts with George (Essiedu) experiencing the same six months of his life over and over, a bit like Groundhog Day, with the apocalypse taking place at the end each time. It turns out that he’s a mutant (?!?!) and that he can time travel, so he gets employed by a secret agency that has prevented the world from ending over and over, without us ever even knowing.
All of this takes plot is not from the first episode, but from the first twenty minutes from the first episode. And yet it all works, brilliantly. I never got bored. The plot also helps itself by never taking itself too seriously.
A QUICK BIT OF NEWS…
BBC News at 6 and 10 debuted from a larger studio this week (Studio E, in the BBC Broadcasting House basement). Earlier this week I was lucky enough to have a tour of the new space itself and I chatted to Huw about it. The findings:
The studio is considerably larger than the old one in the newsroom (which will still be used for the news channels). This one means that more guests can be included, which is helpful for election programming.
There’s a set of stairs in the middle of the studio but it doesn’t lead anywhere.
The background is a 4K recorded tape is of the BBC newsroom, which means that you can no longer see when someone has gone for to Pret.
Piers Morgan Uncensored continues to experience some of its worst ratings yet on Talk TV. An episode earlier this week was watched by 30,000 viewers (as a means of comparison, when the show first aired it was seen by more than 315,000).
WHERE TO FIND ME THIS WEEK:
On Must Watch this week we had James Graham on to talk about Sherwood, along with The Real Derry with Jamie O’Donnell and We Own This City.
I was on the Shot & Chaser podcast on Spotify talking about what makes a gay icon, to coincide with Pride Month.
I wrote a report for the IPPR Progressive Review called “Can the public service broadcasters continue to compete with streaming platforms for viewers?” The report is available to read for Wiley academic journal users (essentially University students) and will be free to read on the IPPR website next month.
Next week will be a bit of a Glastonbury special, with a guide of what to look out for and a review of their landmark documentary 50 Years and Counting.
Thank you for reading,
Scott Bryan / @scottygb