After years of complaining about British drama, round about a year ago I was stopped in my tracks by two new shows from Channel 4’s stable: the dark, complex, and visually stunning Utopia, which will be returning later this year for a second run; and My Mad Fat Diary, back this week.
Saddled with an unpromising title, which made My Mad Fat Diary sound like an exploitative reality show, this 80s-set adaptation of Rae Earl’s semi-autobiographical novel about growing up with mental health issues was perhaps my biggest surprise of the year: charming, moving, sensitive, and amusing, impressive in the way in which it repeatedly sidestepped predictability, and with a predominantly young cast which clearly believed in the material and adorned it with some of the freshest and most appealing acting you’re likely to see. (But not above giving us a happy ending, which is also in its favour.) I loved it, and I’m delighted to see it back, with the gang off to college this time. Season 1 reviews here, if you’re catching up; weekly reviews of season 2 as soon as I can write them (Monday 17 February, 10pm, E4).
The next night sees another in the expanding genre of faux-documentaries in which actors play heightened versions of themselves: Doll & Em, with Emily Mortimer as Em, big-name actor, and her real-life bestie Dolly Wells as Doll, who relocates to America after a relationship breaks down, and becomes Mortimer’s assistant. In keeping with the conventions of the genre it’s created by Mortimer, and part-improvised, part-scripted by the leads (with director Azazel Jacobs also chipping in). Mortimer is a genuine talent, if perhaps difficult to warm to; Wells I have no idea about, which is, I suppose, partly the point.
Sky Living has been good enough to make the first six minutes or so available, which should be enough to give you an idea of whether you’re interested. Personally my tolerance for humblebragging actors showing themselves being egotistical and unappealing, thus implicitly demonstrating how self-deprecating and captivating they actually are, has been pretty much sated already, so Unpopcult isn’t bothering. But we may, of course, have misjudged it, and over at Slouching towards TV our friend Tim will be doing weekly reviews if you fancy giving it a go (Tuesday 18 February, 10pm, Sky Living; on HBO in America in March).
Finally, I think we can all agree that, after season 3 of Sherlock, Elementary now stands unchallenged as the best Holmesian adaptation presently on TV, with Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock also superior to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal. It’s back for the second half of season 2 (Tuesday 18 February, 9pm, Sky Living). And the slightly-past-its-best Modern Family returns for its fifth season, with a double-bill (Monday 17 February, 8pm, Sky 1).
Coming soon: some welcome old friends, and promising newcomers.