Catch-up TV reviews: Hoff the Record, The Saboteurs, Not Safe for Work, Humans
Ivan Radford | On 02, Jul 2015
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Hoff the Record Episodes 1 & 2 (Dave / UKTV Play)
“Which one of you is David Hasselhoff?”
There’s probably a whole section of HMV dedicated to films and TV shows in which famous people play themselves. What was once a novelty has become a niche genre in its own right. How can that now very familiar formula get a new lease of life? As with many things, the answer is two words: David Hasselhoff.
The idea of the Baywatch hunk sending himself up in a mockumentary-style comedy is, depending on your viewpoint, either incredibly lazy or incredibly inspired. The set-up wastes no time trying to convince you otherwise: we follow The Hoff as he moves to the UK to try and revive his career, which now mostly consists of adverts full of Knight Rider references.
And so we are treated to lots of (deliberately) cringe-worthy jokes about The Hoff not being as young as attractive as he was – and also being a terrible actor. But far from painful or embarrassing, Hoff the Record is very, very funny.
The writing team keep things preciously perched between believable and absurd, while director Natalie Bailey keeps things loose enough to suit to the unpredictable, semi-improvised style.
It also helps that the supporting cast around him are all played perfectly, even making the vox-pop-to-camera sequences seem fresh. His manager, Max, is is incompetent and manipulative as they come, while his assistant, Harriet (Ella Smith), is enjoyably inexperienced. “It’s a slightly smaller ensemble, but individually, they’re large people,” quips one, as The Hoff gets into a taxi with his entourage.
The Hoff, meanwhile, is great at playing an exaggerated version of himself, especially during one sequence in Episode 1 that sees him audition to play himself in a biopic – and face fierce competition from another actor who’s better. “What happens when the music stops?” demands an over-the-top director (played brilliantly deadpan by Submarine’s Craig Roberts). “The music’s never stopped,” The Hoff shouts back. “I hear music all the time!”
Not Safe for Work Episode 1 (Channel 4 / All 4)
Zawe Ashton stars in this workplace comedy drama as Katherine, a civil servant who is moved from her job in London to Northampton. (“So good… they named it,” says her boss, limply.) What follows is a delicious slice of awkwardness that captures the horrible mundanity and stupidity of everyday office life. There’s her new boss, Danny (Sacha Dhawan), who used to be her employee and still knows nothing, and the token strange Northamptonian, whom everyone avoids. Each stock type is so accurately observed that anyone stuck in a dead-end cubicle job will wince in recognition at every new revelation of idiocy – and then laugh shortly afterwards. Ashton, meanwhile, remains likeably depressed about the whole thing. So caustic it’s like brushing your teeth with sandpaper, it takes a lot of skill to make something so harsh so entertaining.
Humans Episode 3 (Channel 4 / All 4)
What began as a vaguely familiar sci-fi set-up continues to build into something fascinatingly complex. And yet the whole thing is still bizarrely accessible, even to newcomers at this point – in short, there’s a bunch of robots who have overcome their Asimov-like programming to become more human than intended. While Colin Morgan’s hacker Leo (who is as hunkily unlike Merlin as it possible to be) tries to help, detective Hobb (Danny Webb) tries to track them down.
One of them, Niska (a engaging and sprightly Emily Berrington), has killed her way out of a job in a brothel – an act manages to subvert both the male objectification of women and the dismissive superiority complex man has over machine. Another, Anita (Gemma Chan), is still upsetting mother and wife Laura (Katherine Parkinson) by stepping on her domestic toes. Parkinson is fantastic as the frustrated, possibly-usurped matriarch, losing control while still trying to assert some authority – a performance matched by Chan, who has nailed the art of staring serenely into space while still looking like she’s up to something.
The ageing George (William Hurt) continues to bring pathos to his struggle of keeping his malfunctioning, out-of-date robot in order – a neat parallel between the frailty of memory and of technology. Neil Maskell’s technophobic cop with anger issues is the icing on an increasingly absorbing cake. Nibble on it slowly to notice the detail in the crumbs.
The Saboteurs Episode 1 (More4 / All 4)
If you’re hankering after some Nordic drama, you can’t go wrong with The Saboteurs, which follows Werner Heisenberg’s journey from Nobel Prize-winning physicist to helping the Nazis build the atomic bomb – and, just as crucially, the efforts of the opposition to sabotage the project.
It lacks more action than some war thriller fans might like, but the pacing itself is thrilling, as the opening episode hops through time like Christoph Bach’s Werner skips across a blackboard with a piece of chalk. From training exercises to theoretical lectures, the momentum builds with a confident intelligence, as professor Leif Tronstad becomes wary of the Nazi’s request to access Norway’s heavy water – and Anna Friel pops up as a plummy female spy.