Catch Up TV review: Chimerica, The Durrells Season 4, The Great British School Swap
Ivan Radford | On 21, Apr 2019
Chimerica (All 4)
Quietly ushered onto All 4 in all four parts, this intelligent, absorbing drama about truth and media today is thrillingly personal and grippingly political – often at the same time. It follows Lee (Alessandro Nivola), a photojournalist who took the iconic photo of the Tiananmen Square Tank Man – the apparently sole figure who stood up against tanks in the square during the horrifying massacre of protestors. It made his career, and after seeing that moment in the making, we jump forward several years to join him as he works at a New York paper, at the point where his career begins to be unmade. A picture from Syria is his undoing, after a young journalist reveals that he doctored the image. In an age where politicians lie and brand criticism as “fake news”, does integrity still matter? And if an image, even when altered, is still depicting fact, does that make it any less factual?
These are the questions that Lucy Kirkwood is grappling with, and she does so impeccably and provocatively, turning her stage play into a TV thriller that tackles Trump and truth in confident, sweeping strides. Nivola is a superb combination of conviction and contrition, sometimes one more than the other, and he’s supported handsomely by Cherry Jones as a fellow photographer and Sophie Okonedo as a potential romantic interest who works in marketing. She’s the one who doesn’t see the big deal in our media-swamped society, while Jones’ photographer is appalled by his actions. “Do you know you’ve broken my fucking heart?” she scolds him, as angry as she is upset. It’s the same feeling you get every time you look at news headlines in real life. This just might be one of the best TV series of the year.
The Durrells: Season 4 (ITV Hub)
Just as the UK is meant to be departing from European shores, what a treat it is to have The Durrells back to warm us once more to life on the continent. Back once again in Corfu, ITV’s comedy-drama continues the same old routine of gentle family chaos. There’s the sunset, there’s the mild frisson of romance in the air, and there’s the bit with an animal (this time, an owl). Amid it all is Keeley Hawes, who is simply radiant as the matriarch of the battered household, holding everything together through a relentless combination of compassion, humour, chemistry (hello to Greek taxi driver Spiro) and sheer blooming nerve.
Things never change, as Miles Jupp returns as the hilariously hapless Cousin Basil, and keeps the joke firmly on the English, not on the foreigners upon whom these English folk have decided to impose themselves. And that familiarity is precisely the point; even with a Communist fugitive on the doorstep, and talk of war on the horizon, whether it’s the always-excellent Josh O’Connor as amusing would-be writer Larry or Margo (the brilliant Daisy Waterstone) becoming a feminist, ITV’s gorgeously quaint series never fails to warm the insides. Will we ever leave Europe? And will we ever be able to go back to the traditional British dream of escaping to start a new life across the Channel? For an hour every Sunday night, stop worrying about it and escape here instead.
The Great British School Swap (All 4)
Why can’t we all just get along? Or, more specifically, why can’t adults just get along? That’s the question being answered by Channel 4’s new documentary series, which puts Muslim pupils and pupils from a mostly-white area of the West Midlands into school together, hoping to educate each other about their prejudices, incorrect assumptions and the importance of cultural intersection. White people, some of the Muslims pupils believe, have messy houses and sit on the sofa all day watching TV. Muslims, other white pupils believe, have Muhammad Ali as their prophet, smell of curry and shop at Primark. The latter is a particular source of hilarity, as these views are all read aloud in front of the joint class, and there’s something genuinely valuable going on in this collision of religions and beliefs, following in the same vein as Channel 4’s series about kids crossing class boundaries to learn more about others outside their bubble of existence; there’s even room here for a discussion with some kids about their perception of transgender pupil Lucas, who handles being treated and questioned about gender and identity with flawless poise and grace.
Internalised views, as well as those explicitly handed down through generations, are vital to confront, particularly on national TV, and while there’s a superficial quality to cramming this exercise down into an hour of telly, there’s hope in the subsequent two episodes that these will be unpacked in more detail – because for every god-smacking, forehead-slapping quotable comment, there’s also a brief glimpse of young humans doing what humans can do so naturally, if given the right conditions: make friends.