Minx – Paramount+
Minx is so close to the much-missed GLOW you’d be forgiven for wondering when the wrestling starts. They’re both period comedy dramas about feminist culture clashes, the social upheaval of redefining womanhood, with wonderfully sassy performances. Central to both is a relationship between an uptight woman and a sleazy man where they both learn from each other and, despite their differences, become friends. Welcome to GLOP; the gorgeous ladies of publishing.
Written by Ellen Rapoport and starring Ophelia Lovibond as Joyce (remember Izzy from W1A?) and Jake Johnson as Doug (best known for New Girl), this is incisive, hilarious and extremely raunchy. Joyce is obsessed with The Matriarchy Awakens, her failed feminist magazine. She’s earnest, preachy and snobbish, pathologically unable to have fun. “Do people enjoy your company?” Doug asks. “Not typically” she responds. She refuses to even pitch her magazine to Doug because he peddles tacky pornography. “I’m not illiterate” Doug reminds her and nor are the centrefolds of Asian Asses who become her first fans. Despite his failings, Doug has gotten hold of the central issue (he defines feminism as “making shit fair and equal for the chicks”) and sees a way to expand into the untapped female market. He’ll publish Joyce’s magazine under one condition: The Matriarchy Awakens must become the erotic Minx.
So prudish Joyce herself is awakened to the world of Bottom Dollar Publishing. Jessica Lowe plays the irresistible Bambi, a blonde bimbo who dives right in and reads the Kinsey Report. With Richie, a talented gay photographer and Tina, Doug’s right-hand woman, she spends all day looking at dicks for the first centrefold. Insert your own joke here about a hard job. The team want hot; Joyce wants a guy who is an intellectual too, who can sell the philosophy of the magazine. Hilarity ensues and Joyce learns a thing or two about the power dynamic from the other side of the lens.
Minx delivers. It’s funny, sexy and thoughtful, paying homage to the pioneering thinkers and activists of the 60s and 70s who helped us all by pushing the boundaries of what women were supposed to want and need. It looks great and sounds great right up to the closing credits which are a riot of sound and colour. Enjoy.
Bad Sisters – Apple+
Absolutely everyone has been telling me to watch this new dark comedy drama from Sharon Horgan. Smugly I told them I knew all about the show, based on the Flemish series Clan which aired as The Out-Laws on Channel 4’s Walter Presents in 2016. But did I watch the whole of that series? Well, that’s a question for another time.
You can see straight away why this is so popular. The marble-run credits is so inventive. The locations are dreamy. Everything and everyone is stylish. Expensive open-plan interiors are lingered over and disorientating overhead shots giving us a God’s eye view. In Ireland especially, he’s always watching.
This is the story of a family of five sisters; Eve, Grace, Ursula, Bibi and Becka. Grace (Anne-Marie Duff) is the archetypal mousey housewife. Her family are united in their hatred of her awful husband John Paul, played by Claes Bang at his most adenoidal and least attractive. His nickname is The Prick. His main hobby is making their lives a misery with his creepy, sexist, bullying sense of humour, and sabotaging their fun just because he can. His relationship with his wife and daughter is abusive, and we have hints at a jealous, violent temper. The twist is we know he gets his comeuppance as we meet the family at his wake. Flashbacks show us how his sisters-in-law joked about offing him, and then got serious. The game now is for us to figure out what or who got him. Our interest is peaked when we learn it was a “grizzly way to go”. This nicely combines whodunnit and howdunnit for maximum enjoyment.
Youngest sister Becka has a sweet but unfortunate meet-cute with Matt the insurance agent, part of a bumbling duo of brothers convinced John Paul’s death is fishy and determined not to pay out the life insurance claim. Meeting five sisters and setting out the main plot points in the opener could have been a daunting task, but neatly we are not overwhelmed. We have the whole series to get to know them and their motives.
The script has had a makeover from Sharon Horgan, who plays the older sister Eva, with all kinds of personal motives to bring down JP. The Belgian characters of the original were much more broadly comic, almost pantomime, which worked for me, but I can see why the tone has shifted slightly. And I wish the title wasn’t so unremarkable. It’s still very satisfying to see a twisted misogynist meet his undoing.
Am I Being Unreasonable? – BBC iPlayer
Daisy May Cooper is a staggering talent but since the end of BAFTA award winning This Country, it feels like she’s been trying to find the right path. BBC2 sitcom The Witchfinder wasn’t it. But this feels on target. Doubtlessly it helps that she wrote it.
She plays Nic, a wealthy woman in a stylish house in a picturesque English village. She is socially isolated and unsatisfied with her marriage to Dan. She’s far more irresponsible and desperate to be liked than her adorable 9 year old son Ollie. Their scenes together are charming, their relationship something you can believe in.
Nic has a devastating secret. Alex, a man she was having an affair with, died in a horrible train accident which we see in dreamlike flashback at the start of the episode; an unforgettable moment, as a wintery scene straight out of Love Actually takes the darkest of turns.
Secrets abound, and there’s much here to uncover. The central mystery is her new friend Jen (co-writer Seline Hizli) who she hooks up with at the school fete, an urgent desire to upend her loneliness. Is there a moment of recognition between Dan and Jen, or is the first episode giving so little away that I’m placing too much importance on a fleeting glance?
At the culmination of a hilarious drunken evening Jen tries to get Nic to confess to her relationship with Alex while taking a sneaky video of her. And what exactly is up with her husband, drinking and sobbing at the kitchen table. Her reaction is not one of shock. Does this happen frequently, and why?
The off kilter vibes and themes of modern female mid-life crisis, obsession, abandonment, and trust issues remind me of another complicated but lauded comedy drama I Hate Suzie starring Billie Piper, which also garnered wall-to-wall five star reviews. This isn’t an easy comedy, but with Daisy May Cooper at the helm, it’s worth your time.
The Serpent Queen – StarzPlay
This boisterous period drama went straight to the top of my to-watch list when I saw it starred Samantha Morton as a wicked queen. She’s extremely good in bodice-ripping dramas such as Harlots. Here it’s 1560 and she’s the Queen Mother, awaiting the coronation of her son Charles IX of France. Her whole staff are terrified of her and she relishes her reputation. A trembling
God-fearing serving girl is our way into the story. Catherine needs someone to listen to her life story. The older Catherine narrates and the younger Catherine (played by Liv Hill) occasionally talks directly to the camera. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but with it.
She is of course Catherine de Medici, daughter of one of the most powerful dynasties in Europe, unfortunately currently despised. I did a bit of Italian renaissance history and it’s very confusing. Appropriately, the start of episode one is nothing short of chaotic. But then Charles Dance turns up on horseback as the pope, because of course. Orphan Catherine has a very powerful uncle. While having an intimate medical procedure performed His Holiness explains he’s arranged her marriage to Prince Henri, the second son of the French king. Catherine takes this news in her stride. She’s intelligent and resourceful, angry and vengeful, which is handy as alliance-building in the upper classes is a dangerous game. She’s far better suited to the task than her teenage namesake in The Great. She picks her retinue, like she’s building her Ocean’s Eleven girl squad. Just the essentials; a fortune teller, a cynical dwarf, a musician and a poisoner.
The round-faced and wide-eyed Duchessina arrives in France in 1536 to be assessed by various big name British actors in ridiculous costumes. We like her a little better when she sings to a frog and talks about her mother, showing a tiny chink of vulnerability to her betrothed. Court gossip Madame de Poitiers, Henri’s substitute mum and Catherine’s cousin, offers some dark advice on her wedding day. She says a widow is the best thing a woman can be. You get to keep all the money and if you’re sufficiently devout no one expects you to take another husband. It’s the closest that rich women can get to freedom. Catherine herself may well be wishing for death as the court gathers to watch them consummate the marriage in what they call ‘a joust’.
Patti Smith’s Gloria rolls over the closing credits. This is punk rock history as entertainment, an absolute romp, if you can hang on until it all starts to make sense. It’s not quite in the same league as The Great, but very watchable all the same.
Cunk on Earth – BBC iPlayer
Philomena Cunk is a powerhouse of a woman who needs no introduction. You must know her schtick by now. In a perfectly pitched parody of TV documentaries, specifically the type hosted by Brian ‘wonderful’ Cox, she’s been delighting audiences and baffling experts since the character, played by Diane Morgan, was conceived as an everywoman talking head on Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe. This time she’s taking on the whole of human history and civilisation. Ain’t no biggie.
You can rely on Cunk to ask the big questions of her experts: “Early man: Were they made of the same meat as us, and did it have a brand name like beef or pork?” It feels like the relationship has changed considerably between her and her interviewees, no longer Ali G style gotcha with fusty academics who don’t own a TV. I can’t believe someone like Jim Al Khalili isn’t in on the joke. Wildly bearded Irving Finkle from the British Museum is lovely, taking her inane flights of fancy in his stride. I think they’d be a sensational double act.
Put Diane Morgan in front of the camera and she can’t help but make you laugh “I’m entering a cave, not by mistake or because I am a wolf”. And of course there must be a Great Roof of China. What else is the wall for? It’s just logic. She’s funniest when skewering the modern documentary style, the locations and the budget. “Hard to believe I’m walking through the ruins of the first ever city because I’m not. That’s in Iraq and that’s fucking miles away and dangerous.” Cunk has a point, but it didn’t put Michael Palin off.
Michael Palin Into Iraq – Channel 5
Too young for Alan Whicker’s wordly witticisms, Michael Palin was my travel hero growing up. I thought he had the most incredible job, and so does he. You can see why despite being in his mid 70s he’s not retired quite yet. He admits he’s a big fan of travelling to countries where people’s best advice is “Good luck!”.
In this three-part series he’s off to the birthplace of civilization, following the great River Tigris, out beyond the military checkpoints that dominate our limited understanding of the country. This first leg sees him travel from Turkey into Northern Iraqi Kurdistan, a relatively peaceful and secure region. Rather confusingly given the build-up, he lingers a while to learn about the Kurdish population in Turkey and their desire for increased autonomy, and a Kurdish state.
To ramp up the tension we’re reminded that Iraq was famously part of President Bush’s supposed Axis of Evil 20 years ago. But is this talk scaring anyone? Michael’s been to North Korea. Ok, so there’s a possibility of kidnap and roadside attacks. Can you imagine the risk assessment?
We travel from the ruins of Mosul old city where, five years ago, 10,000 civilians died in the crossfire between Isis and the Iraqi army. Without very much understanding he ends up playing in the street with kids. Catapults are fun whatever language you speak. On the other side of the river he visits a beautiful terrace cafe and talks to university students about their ambitions for the future. The ostentatious wealth of Erbil is quite a gear shift with its glitzy Las Vegas vibes and Instagram-loving hipsters. We end in the hill town of Akre, the heart of the Kurdsh new year celebrations, with a stunning but chaotic torchlight procession, some fireworks, gunfire and tracer bullets. Maybe he explained exactly why noise was so important, but I couldn’t hear him. In classic travelogue cliché, truly, this is a country of contrast. And Michael is loving every moment.