Catch up TV review: Traitors, Sleeping with the Far Right, The Big Narstie Show
Ivan Radford | On 24, Feb 2019
Traitors (All 4)
Between Informer and The Little Drummer Girl, we’ve been somewhat spoiled for espionage television in recent months. Traitors, Channel 4’s new co-production with Netflix, pales slightly in comparison. The series places us in London at the end of WWII, as young Feef (Emma Appleton) is recruited by a suave American spy (Matt Lauria) to spy on her own country – specifically, the government. The government is going through a period of dramatic change, as Churchill’s Tories are ousted in favour of Attlee’s Labour, and the Americans are entering a period of twitchy paranoia, as they suspect possibly Communist infiltration in the heart of the establishment.
This is played out at home and abroad, with the intense (and ever-chameleonic) Michael Stuhlbarg providing the sinister thrills as OSS agent Rowe, and Luke Treadaway’s Hugh Fenton providing the idealistic tirades of a young Labour MP who has had enough of a Conservative leadership exploiting the poor. He’s at odds with Feef, who has inherited her father’s staunch Tory view of the world, and their exchanges feel a little too explicit and blunt to really ring true, despite the chemistry both actors share – things are a step away from “Brexit means Brexit” being dropped into the conversation. Fortunately, there’s promise of the occasionally on-the-nose dialogue being redeemed by yet more impressive casting, as Keeley Hawes pops up as Priscilla, working in the Civil Service, and interviews Feef before granting her a job working in the corridors of power. It’s no Little Drummer Girl, but with slick period production values and a stellar ensemble, Traitors may yet strike up a more gripping beat.
Sleeping with the Far Right (All 4)
“The weirdest school exchange ever” is how Alice Levine describes her Channel 4 documentary, which sees her move in with a far-right campaigner Jack Sen. Too extreme for UKIP and the BNP, he’s the kind of man who spends his time managing multiple websites and Facebook pages, each one spreading hatred and prejudice into the far corners of the worldwide web. Levine sets up shop in his spare room, next to his gym equipment, and stays there for a week, getting to know him and his family. It’s a move that’s intended to give us an insight into the rise of far-right views in society, and Levine plays it like Louis Theroux, softly treading through hot waters without spreading too many ripples. She keeps a straight face while he spouts offensive, irrational views, but you can’t help wishing for her to challenge and answer back – it’s only as the documentary draws to a close that she questions why he changed his name to hide his Indian origins, and he responds with childish anger and condescension, as that carefully composed mask of civility and intelligence begins to slip. A brief admission from him about how he can target someone online and unleash a barrage of fake news about them makes it clear why Levine stays so guarded for so long, but this compelling, tense documentary feels like the start of a programme that is asking for a second half.
The Big Narstie Show: Season 2 (All 4)
A string quartet plays, as audience of politely clapping middle-class people look on. Into this calm room strolls Big Narstie, wearing a suit and tie and talking with slow restraint. It’s a striking change of tone of Season 1 of Channel 4’s The Big Narstie Show, as it returns for a second season, but, of course, it’s all a fake-out, and the gleeful reversion back to what you’d expect from The Big Narstie is a joyous reminder of this talk show’s unique brand of chaos. A refreshing antidote to the late night TV circuit in the USA, this delightfully British offering grabs celebrity guests, sticks them all on the same sofa, and then lets Big Narstie do his thing, while they all look on either surprised, entertained or both. Narstie is an irrepressible force who’s so unquestionably himself in all situations that it’s impossible not to love him, and even with one season under his belt, he’s lost none of the rough edges that made his traditional telly debut feel brilliantly sincere. What has changed, though, is that comedian Mo Gilligan – ostensibly hired to keep things on track – has gotten more confident, stepping into the limelight with funny asides, quick-witted quips and an ability to mock Big Narstie without fear of offending him. They click wonderfully as a double-act, knowing exactly how to approach each of their guests, from This Country’s Daisy May Cooper, who spits bars with hilarious comic timing, to Queer Eye’s Tan, who’s just endearingly enthusiastic about being a part of the show. In between them all sits basketball legend Dennis Rodman, who goes from bemused and confused to increasingly frank over the course of the hour, and that’s before we even mention the big where they all start to wrestle against Stephen Dorff in a homemade UFC ring.