Sarah Kennedy takes us through the best TV from last month, in case you missed anything in August. Fear not – there’s still time to catch up.
House of the Dragon – Sky/NOW
The eagerly anticipated Games of Thrones prequel is here. Reported viewing figures for the first episode are a staggering 10 million, depending of course on how Amazon’s secret metrics work. So isn’t exactly a niche recommendation for you. But given the disappointment of the last series is House of the Dragon really worth your time?
I’m happy to report zero teasing in episode one. We’re straight in on the back of a dragon with Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock). She’s our wilful young heroine, trying to figure out her future in a man’s world. Matt Smith is Daemon Targaryen, her uncle, and heir to the throne. His previous royal role was, of course, Prince Philip in The Crown. He’s extremely well cast here; the cocky young prince, impulsive and violent, constantly goading his more level-headed brother King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine). These then, are the main players in this story of succession. And thank the old gods and the new that we don’t have to meet the whole clan and all their hangers-on in the opening episode.
As is the problem with kings, their personal grievances spill out and become a national crisis, usually requiring a couple of armies to fight to the bitter end. As is the problem with George RR Martin, women get short shrift. Their ends are particularly bitter. Our first major death is the Queen, suffering a sort-of mediaeval caesarean as her devastated husband decides to sacrifice her for his baby son, putting the nasty in dynasty. This plays out against the backdrop of a bloody jousting tournament. And I’m not even going to mention the castration.
Swaggering Daemon then infuriates his grieving brother further. The merry monarch no longer, Viserys furiously disinherits and banishes him. Suddenly the King remembers his overlooked daughter Rhaenyra and makes her his heir, at least for now, which flies in the face of tradition. Women can ride dragons but can’t reign in their own right. A messy set-up bound for a civil war, with dragons on both sides. Hot stuff.
Despite the violence, this all looks fantastic. All the money is up on the screen for the viewer to revel in. The Red Keep looks positively Tuscan, no freezing wastelands or decades long winter this time around. Speaking of chilly, the cold open of the first episode relegates the choral version of the beloved Games of Thrones theme to the closing credits which seemed a classy choice. But contentiously the main titles, used from episode two onwards, have kept the old theme tune in its entirety. No remix, just straight copy-paste. Does that tie the two together nicely or is it a lazy way to force a franchise? However you see it, it’s a bold decision.
Good Grief with Reverend Richard Coles – All4
TV and radio personality Reverend Richard Coles is something of a grief superhero, not just because of his day job. His beloved husband David died in 2019, and now he’s a widower helping people in that unfortunate club try to find meaning in grief. Firstly, the Five Stages of Grief are a myth. No human emotions queue politely for your attention. If you think that grief, of all things, somehow magically transforms your psyche into an orderly filing cabinet, I have bad news for you.
This show is a relatively jolly hour of Richard meeting and taking part in therapeutic activities with his fellow widows and grief experts. His own advice is peppered throughout, such as “No one will ever be as nice to you as now, so make the most of it”. The moments of real pain he describes catch in your throat; his not laughing much anymore, not having a partner to push him out of his comfort zone, praise his efforts or mock him in an unflattering outfit. All the little everyday things he misses makes your heart hurt. But widowhood is about trying to find other little things to help fill the enormous void they left behind.
Laughter yoga is a release to boost endorphins but makes you look quite mad. Trauma resolution therapy apparently goes hand-in-hand with surfing, giving people a chance to focus on a single active goal, giving them a quiet respite from grief and anxiety. A sense of mastery and control is also found in boxing, a useful outlet for anger especially in complicated grief. There’s music therapy, the comfort of animals and much more.
I didn’t think I would like the big Caribbean grief cruise ship, but we can rely on Americans to be direct. The hackneyed phrase is that time heals all things. Mitch, the facilitator of the cruise, says that’s “BS” and people who say that deserve a punch. Amen Mitch.
The show is a whistle stop tour with far too much packed into the hour. I’d have liked more than a glimpse at the stories of the people Richard met. Afterwards I felt bombarded by good ideas, but the most important takeaway is without a doubt the power of peer support and the understanding that comes with a shared experience.
Paper Girls – Amazon Prime
I resisted this show for weeks. Whenever it was mentioned it was compared with Stranger Things. And I didn’t get on with Stranger Things at all. But this show, based on the 2010s comic book series of the same name, deserves so much more than lazy comparisons. The resemblance is superficial. Kids on bikes get into trouble in the 1980s and have to save the world from a deadly threat. But that’s about it. There’s no encyclopaedia of revolting monsters here, but rather ray guns, spaceships and time travel. This isn’t cold sci-fi; the girls, lost and confused in 2019 bring all the complicated human feelings. The teenagers discuss their hopes and fears for the future; their adult counterparts are haunted by regrets; those little disappointments, sadnesses and misunderstandings that sit with us for years and re-shape our very foundations.
Erin aged 12 meets adult Erin and gets a preview as to how her life pans out. What would you do if you could spend time with your teenage self? Would they be proud of you, impressed and satisfied with the choices you made? If you still lived in the same house in the same small town, would that signify failure? These deep questions are self-love and self-acceptance served up with a sci-fi twist.
The stand-out performance for me is Sofia Rosinsky as Mac Coyle, the tomboy bully with the granite-hard life, trying to find a future worth living. There’s a very affecting storyline about grief and loss when she meets her successful grown-up brother.
There are battle robots that look like Optimus Prime, and some pew-pew shoot-outs, but don’t let those put you off. The show is well-balanced between action and funny moments like a touching conversation about tampons as the girls try to figure out how they work and what on earth regular and super size means.
The show is also strikingly beautiful with the mysterious menacing purple skies that signify a time-shift and an invasion by a futuristic army. It’s very, very watchable. No word on series two yet, but I’d love to do the time warp again.
Rosie Jones’ Trip Hazard – All4
National liability and comedian Rosie Jones is back for a second series where she invites only the most patient celebrity chums to accompany her on daredevil outings in the UK. She’s not exactly the most supportive companion. As she herself and many of her guests allude to, it’s not her cerebral palsy that’s the problem, it’s her personality. Trip Hazard builds on the nations’ slow realisation that people with disabilities are not made of glass and are just as bonkers as anyone else. Rosie Jones turns this up to 11.
Out in the Scottish Highlands with TV presenter and Strictly contestant AJ Odudu she’s off to do some shooting. Yes, really. She says people won’t let her use a kettle, but she’s getting a shotgun for clay pigeon shooting. How come? Because “Channel 4 don’t read their emails”. The pair warm up to each other during the shoot, and then make each other corpse while mucking around at a whiskey tasting. AJ tries in vain to fill the ‘proper presenter’ role, Rosie does not. AJ assures the whiskey expert “It’s delicious.” Rosie, incredulous, says, “Is it? Is it fuck!” Her disgust sounds particularly great in her Yorkshire accent. Who knew two was the magic number for a riot?
Joanna Lumley, herself a globe-trotting travel presenter, provides the voiceover. Her plumy and occasionally condescending input adds a touch of class to the proceedings. You can’t help but think that the whiskey expert wishes she was in the room instead.
They’re then off to the Cairngorm Mountain with inclusive climbing specialists to scale the summit. A pleasant walk arm-in-arm becomes a craggy moonscape and then they’re stuck in a torrential downpour. I’m happy to watch Rosie do this so I don’t have to. Alongside her hilarious and abrasive schtick there’s the occasional sweet and sincere moment as she talks about accessibility and expanding the opportunities for disabled people.
Alan Carr’s Adventures with Agatha Christie – All4
In the long tradition of presenters having a lovely time Alan Carr is here to talk to us about Agatha Christie. This three-part series is Sunday afternoon viewing that doesn’t require any real thought at all. Alan tells us he’s been a fan since picking up a book on a rainy beach holiday aged 13. We all think we know Agatha Christie, but the stats are astounding. Two billion books sold, making her the third most popular writer ever just pipped by The Bible and Shakespeare. And she was the most successful female playwright of all time. Not a bad day’s work.
Alan interviews her biographer, family members, fans and people with an assortment of jobs tangentially related to her crime novels. Old Agatha was not so stuffy and twee as we might think. As a young woman in the 1910s and 1920s she enjoyed roller skating, wild swimming, and was one of the first westerners to try surfing and bodyboarding. We only think of her as old because she became famous fairly late in life. She was enormously well travelled, and her second husband was an archaeologist. Alan goes to “Every kleptomaniac’s favourite place, the British Museum” to see items from a dig in Baghdad that Agatha conserved.
With her nursing knowledge from the Great War came an interest and a vast knowledge of poisons and injuries. We might relegate the books to ‘cosy crime’ but really, there’s no such thing. Her murders are as graphic as any others in literature, and these tranquil little places where the crimes take place are always revealed as a facade. She revels in the darkness in human nature.
Born in Torquay, she used the dramatic coastline of Devon and the locations of Burgh Island and her own Greenway House as locations in her books, which gives Alan the opportunity to drive a classic car, wear a tuxedo, drink martinis and revel in the high life that Agatha would have known. It’s a hard life.
The trauma that Agatha did suffer, after the death of her mother and the sudden, very public, and very painful breakdown of her first marriage seems to have been the inspiration for Miss Marple, created as the steadfast, unflappable woman she wanted to be. Alan’s obvious personal enthusiasm and knowledge is charming. It’s nice to see a more literary side to him. But don’t expect to see him being grilled by Alan Yentob any time soon. He brings plenty of end-of-the-pier sauciness too, naturally.