Including Betty, Hillary and Hasan Minhaj
From isolated actors to skateboarding gangs, here are new shows for your small screens.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj ★★★★★
Whether it's taking aim at corrupt private equity bosses for the destruction of local newspapers or calling BS on Trump for his reaction (slow and shitty) to the pandemic, Hasan Minhaj has been on fire so far in the new series of Patriot Act. But the killing of George Floyd and the outpouring of grief and anger that has engulfed American streets over the last week led him to quickly record an extra mini-episode.
'We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd' has a black-clad Minhaj offering a typically erudite and energetic response, rammed with jokes and some cultural references that may or may not fly over the head of viewers located outside of the US. But you don't need to know who Keith Ellison is or understand anything about basketball to feel the passion and hear the call to action coming off the screen when Minhaj talks.
Whether this will be seen as a watershed moment in US politics and society, only time will tell. But the likes of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj has certainly made the last four years a little more bearable for those Americans broken down by fear and mistrust of their nation's leaders.
With lockdown having cut short many a cultural plan or two, Staged brings together two of the country's best-known actors in a series of circular Zoom hells that Dante would have struggled to concoct. After a new West End production of Six Characters in Search of an Author was halted before it got started, director Simon Evans is determined not to let his golden chance of success be derailed and so tries to coax the play's stars, Michael Sheen and David Tennant, into rehearsing over the internet from the comfort of their own homes.
Playing the proverbial 'versions of themselves', Tennant is semi-willing to take part but Sheen is overtly against the idea, seemingly far more interested in waging war with the birds swooping on his garden and cultivating a majestic shrubbery on his own face. Across six 15-minute chunks, you're likely to be left demanding an encore as the pair go from gently ribbing each other to outright hostility as the play crumbles through a series of incriminations and niggles such as whose name should be first on the poster. Featuring two showbiz pals ultimately finding each other's company somewhat of a strain, Staged comes over as a more claustrophobic and less foody version of The Trip. Arguably, it's funnier and less self-indulgent than the Coogan/Brydon vehicle.
Starts on BBC One, Wednesday 10 June, 10.45pm.
Arguably the most divisive woman in modern western politics, four hours of Hillary Clinton telling her own story is unlikely to shift either side from its entrenched position. Throughout Nanette Burstein's excellent Hillary, there's a 'what-if' hanging over everything: most recently, had she beaten that equally polarising orange man in the race for the presidency, what kind of America would exist now? Had she left her philandering husband at the height of his betrayal (a contrite Bill Clinton is interviewed here), she may have earned more respect from some quarters, but to what end?
Ultimately, Clinton admits to having few regrets during a legal then political career which led enemies to accuse of her of everything from fraud to murder. But her optimistic side shines through, taking the positives from two failed presidential campaigns by insisting that hers was an essential journey, a proud signposting on the way to having a woman made Commander in Chief. Still, with two septuagenarian males set to slug it out in November, that dream is a little way off yet.
All episodes available on NOW TV, Thursday 11 June; starts on Sky Documentaries, Thursday 11 June, 9pm.
I May Destroy You ★★★☆☆
At the Edinburgh TV Festival of 2018, Michaela Coel delivered the McTaggart Lecture, in which she opened up about a sexual assault she suffered from while creating Chewing Gum. That comedy helped her rise through the cultural ranks to the point where she is now handed a 12-part drama (with bits of levity) that acts as a response to the horrific crime she experienced.
Coel plays Arabella, a social-media influencer who has been rewarded with a book deal. Finding it hard to meet her deadlines, she instead does a lot of clubbing, consumes a prodigious amount of drugs, and hangs out with pals. One night she staggers home with a cut on her forehead and slowly pieces together a series of confused events which all lead to the belief that Arabella had her drink spiked before being raped. But she can't quite work out what her patchy recollections are trying to tell her.
The drama infuses its mystery element with an exploration of the modern dating game with Arabella's friends indulging in a series of threesomes and Grindr hook-ups which leave them equally as unsettled and damaged, and questioning the whole notion of consent. Clearly tackling an important and prescient subject, Coel proves to be an impressively imposing presence on screen even if the overall time (six hours) spent with her often less than compelling characters feels like a chore.
Starts on BBC One, Monday 8 June, 10.45pm.
The main mystery inherent to Betty is that it has landed on Sky's Comedy wing. There is barely a laugh to be had (either deliberately or by accident) in this lo-fi spin-off from the 2018 movie, Skate Kitchen. Noting that their local skating park appears to be a male-only domain, a gang of young NYC women seek to change all that while conducting a series of relationships that err towards the dysfunctional.
Betty (named after the insult thrown at them by arrogant 'board blokes) lumbers through its six episodes with some vaguely dramatic content infiltrating the more mundane sequences: one episode could best be summed up as, 'it rains. Everyone runs around looking for a missing bag. They find the bag. It rains again.'
A lack of action could be forgivable if it weren't allied to a surfeit of overly downbeat performances: there is some acting on display here that it feels cruel to dub as woeful were it not the most suitable word for that task. Some of the dialogue is so flatly delivered that you have to assume space has been left to encourage heavy doses of improvisation. The chief problem there is that even stronger acting skills are required to pull off quality adlibbing. With its setting and collection of strong young women, Betty might have been going for a 'Girls on wheels' vibe, but the script and performances come off at every stage.
All episodes available on NOW TV, Tuesday 9 June; starts on Sky Comedy, Tuesday 9 June, 9.35pm.
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