Catch-up TV reviews: This Is Us, In Plain Sight, Slum Britain
James R | On 11, Dec 2016
This Is Us (All 4)
This high-profile US import more than lives up to its hype with a wonderfully nuanced, funny and moving ensemble of human drama. Not bad going for just its first episode. The show’s premise is simple – it follows the separate lives of people who share the same birthday – but Crazy, Stupid, Love’s Dan Fogelman uses it to wind some wonderfully complex tapestries, which swing from amusing to mawkish without the programme losing its stride.
We meet Randall (Sterling K Brown), a grown-up orphan who finds himself with the chance to meet his biological father; Jack (Gilmore Girls’ Milo Ventimiglia), whose wife (Mandy Moore) goes into labour on the day when he’s meant to be celebrating his birth; Kate (Chrissy Metz), who takes her birthday as renewed impetus to lose weight; and her brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley), who’s a sitcom actor sick of shallow roles. The latter would have no concerns about this show at all, as it gives each strand enough time to breathe, enough chance for the characters to see their life plan go off the rails, and enough warmth for us to genuinely care about every single one of them. Even the doctor helping Jack and his wife gets an abundance of one-liners and meaningful monologues. To do all that in just 45 minutes is an impressive feat. Add in a subtle build-up to an astonishing finale and you have your new favourite TV show right here. Start tuning in; this looks like it’s going to be something special.
Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC
In Plain Sight (ITV Hub)
Like Rillington Place? Then you’ll love this. That’s the kind of cheerful point at which we’ve arrived come the end of 2016, a year so grim, depressing and horrible that a second TV show within a month about a period serial killer is actually something to look forward to. This time, it’s Martin Compston taking on the lead role of Manuel, Scotland’s first serial killer – and he’s magnificent, managing to be handsome, slick, charming, clever and creepy as heck. Released from a nine-year prison term, he launches himself back into the world with the determination to get revenge on the detective who put him there (a sterling Douglas Henshall). There are flashbacks, courtroom manipulation that will make you scream with outrage, and tiny details of horror (Manuel gets off on the fear in his victim’s eyes) that are surely about to haunt your nightmares for weeks to come. Compellingly disturbing stuff.
Slum Britain: 50 Years On (My5)
50 years ago, housing charity Shelter hired Nick Hedges to take photos documenting the poverty in the UK’s cities. In 2016, Channel 5’s documentary marks the 50th anniversary of Shelter by revisiting the families and people once caught on camera. The result is a moving tale of people fighting to overcome their conditions and looking back on their past, but also a striking reminder that poverty still exists today across the country, causing shame, depression and anger. A picture says a thousand words, the old adage goes. These moving pictures perhaps lack the original still photos’ poetry, but their power is firmly intact.