Catch up TV review: Crackanory, Homeland Season 6, Ninja Warrior UK
Ivan Radford | On 29, Jan 2017
Crackanory Season 4 (UKTV Play)
Remember Jackanory? Lots of people evidently do, as Dave’s wickedly fun adult take on the format – one of its flagship original productions – returns for a fourth season. Episodes arrive nightly on Dave from Monday 30th for two weeks – with the first episode now available to watch early on UKTV Play.
It’s an ingenious little programme, getting famous faces to read tall tales to camera that are laced with dark, warped humour. This season’s line-up is even more impressive and more diverse – and a lot of the pleasure simply lies in hearing stories told in such a range of styles. Dara O Briain kicks things off in typically charming style, with the cheeky anecdote of a Roman slave, while Sheridan Smith follows with a tale of a writer penned by Crackanory veteran Nico Tatarowicz. The star of the first week, though, is The Survivor, which is narrated by Anna Friel. The actress, who has branched out into everything from Norway’s The Saboteurs to ITV’s Marcella in recent years, clearly relishes the chance to do something lighter, as she recounts how a man woke up after a long illness in 1850, only to find himself being cared for by strangers harbouring a brilliantly unpredictable secret.
Week two’s highlights include the Faustian fable of a baritone in a 1940s barbershop quartet, which jumps between sweet hints of romance and a cautionary display of quality singing, all delivered with the rhythm and with you’d expect from the fantastic Ben Bailey Smith. The only thing better than seeing Kevin Eldon pen Picked, the twisted story of a young man who stumbles across an old house, is seeing none other than Miriam Margolyes narrate it.
The variety of voices is as key to the appeal as the nasty subject matter, keeping what could be a one-note premise fresh and dark. More than anything, though, in an age of reality TV, it’s a treat to see a programme that celebrates the simple joy of story-telling.
Homeland Season 6 (All 4)
Warning: This contains spoilers for the end of Season 5 and what happens to one of its characters.
As Donald Trump settles into his role as the USA’s new president, any political TV drama would struggle to live up to the events of real life – so it’s both fascinating and a source of some relief that Homeland Season 6 clearly called the election wrong, kicking off the new run with the introduction of female President-elect, Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). Rather than rush to get her hands on nuclear codes, she mostly seems concerned with taking control over – and possibly stepping down – America’s drone missions, something that proves immediately troubling to CIA veterans Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham). Well, specifically, Dar, as the stage seems set for a power shift that may tear apart the two old friends – perhaps not so far from the truth after all.
And what of Carrie? Claire Danes’ former agent is now on US soil, several months after Season 5’s Berlin attack, but is working at a charitable foundation that helps the country’s Muslim community. It’s only a matter of time, no doubt, before she gets pitched headfirst into conflict with her former colleague. The only misstep is the storyline involving Quinn, whose PTSD sees him descend into new depths of drugs and other bad things. The physically and emotionally dedicated Rupert Friend is reliably brilliant, but it’s hard to see where this is going – a problem mainly because you worry they’re setting him up for some kind of return to Jack Bauer-like duty. But with Season 6’s opener marking a slower start than usual for the thriller, could we be treated to a more intriguing character-based drama this time around? Or are we just waiting for Carrie to do something irrational and throw everything into the danger zone? Either way, after the programme’s fantastic fifth season, Homeland still buzzes with excitement – and shows no sign of stopping its knack for pitting its ensemble against each other to explore the grey areas in national security. Well, that and see what new facial expressions Claire Danes can come up with.
Photo: JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME
Ninja Warrior UK (ITV Hub)
Can people from around the UK beat the toughest obstacle course on TV? The idea of Ninja Warrior is nothing new. In fact, it belongs to one of the oldest formats in the book, dating back from Takeshi’s Castle via Gladiators to The Krypton Factor. But there’s something oddly entertaining, in an entirely braindead capacity, to watching people fall over on camera, particularly while trying to jump across rotating beams, and clamber up and down upside down steel structures. The presenters (Ben Shephard, Rochelle Humes and Chris Kamara) are as bland as it gets, but ITV’s format has three secrets to its appeal: Firstly, the obstacles are genuinely tricky (the climax is basically running up a vertical wall). Secondly, the show is smart enough to edit out the majority of the contestants’ runs, only focusing on the key bits where they succeed or (more often) fail. And thirdly, you see someone dressed as an actual ninja run through the whole thing beforehand. As Netflix prepares to launch its own sporting contest, Ultimate Beastmaster, in February, Ninja Warrior UK is no Gladiators, but it serves as a mindlessly enjoyable indicator of where the current bar is set.
Photo: ITV / Potato