Courageous Apple TV+
Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg BBC One | iPlayer
Stuck BBC Two | iPlayer
The capture BBC One | iPlayer
Arena: James Joyce’s Ulysses BBC Four | iPlayer
One of the TV moments of last week: former US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton with Courageous co-host daughter Chelsea sits down with Megan Thee Stallion and discusses her and Cardi B’s mega hit WAP. It’s not a line-by-line dissection of the rap hymn to inspired grime—nothing to delicious—but it’s still something Hillary nods away, while Chelsea ruminates, “She proves what’s possible for female artists when you’re not afraid.” Oh absolutely. Get a bucket and a mop for it.
Sticks to the woman-praising theme of the Clintons’ bestselling 2019 tome The book of brave womentheir new eight-part Apple TV+ series also features Kim Kardashian, who studied law to advocate for criminal justice reform, and Amy Schumer, who took medical stances on endometritis: “‘I’m sorry we have haven’t been able to study it because it only happens to women.’” The Clintons are no fools. This most patrician of mother-daughter double acts knows they need fistfuls of stardust to illuminate the wide-ranging, valuable issues and honorable women around the world they also want to talk to: refugees, labor rights pioneers, climate change activists, survivors of child marriage, and more.
Does the show sometimes feel like a never-ending hyper-worthy Ted Talk? Although interesting and valuable, the answer has to be yes. Part of me wishes the Clintons had embraced their inner trolls and reached out to Ivanka and Melania. While there’s no denying a certain stiffness in Hillary’s presentation style (she still laughs like she taught herself “fun” from an internet course), Chelsea seems less controlled: she doesn’t hold back in her disdain for the comedians who mocked her as a child.
Still, a sense of the real Hillary sometimes comes through. When she talks about how she wishes she’d been more ruthless in the battle against Donald Trump for the presidency (“Oh, to turn back time!”) or why she stayed with Bill, post-philandering (“He’s basically a good person”). , beneath the pragmatism you sense scar tissue cracking.
The maiden edition of BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg (in the former The Andrew Marr Show slot) provided another TV moment of the week. Surrounded by bizarre, giant wiggly doodles of everything from Big Ben to Angel of Nerd, Kuenssberg looked set for a tight first show, which included a warm, enlightening interview with Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska: “Are you scared?” “Yes, we all are.”
She had also snagged interviews with Rishi Sunak and creepy robot Liz Truss, neither of whom could draw on the energy crisis. Sitting on the guest panel with shadow barrister Emily Thornberry and former Tory deputy chief of staff Cleo Watson, there was gushing “support” for Truss from comedian Joe Lycett. To paraphrase: “Haters will say that (after) 12 years with the Tories, it was rubbish… that Liz Truss is the backwash… I wouldn’t say that because I’m incredibly right-wing.”
mischievous? Yes, but also a witty take on the “left wing comedic bias” trope. As a single, such disruption is fresh and fun. (That night, a film of Stewart Lee’s hilarious stand-up show Snowflakes was broadcast on BBC Two, so it was like waking up early for some of us.) Kuenssberg can’t complain: it got people talking about her show.
Stuck was supposed to start on Thursday. Now probably bumped to next week, this five-part comedy, created by comedian Dylan Moran (Black Books), play him and Morgana Robinson (Toast of London) as the couple Dan and Carla, who are “stuck” in a rut.
Each episode, just 15 minutes long, serves as a microscope that examines the “symptoms” of long-term relationships: bedridden ennui, low-wattage arguments, digs about being older: “I just realized I’m holding something that was alive in the 1970s when dragons were everywhere.”
While Carla is exhausted by a needy boss (Juliet Cowan), Dan gets the bumpiest ride: made redundant; grimly worried about everything from Carla’s fidelity to his “moobs”: “I’m going to go find clothes for the bigger-cupped man.” sometimes, Stuck becomes surreal: there is a kind of sexual play in a twisted delicatessen. On other occasions, the argument gets nastier, more interesting. Despite the brevity, Stuck meanders and the jokes, while smart and pointed, feel rationed, but there’s much to enjoy in its wayward, sleazy approach.
I enjoyed the first outing, in 2019, of Ben Chanan’s tech espionage thriller The capture (BBC One), where a soldier was accused of murder, only for Holliday Grainger’s detective to discover deepfake, post-truth “corrections” in a shadowy government operation run by Ron Perlman and Lia Williams.
This time (spoiler alert), Paapa Essiedu’s semi-smooth government minister is caught in an even deeper fake nightmare, finding his utterances manipulated (China? Russia? Others?) at every turn, with a grand, creepy cliffhanger at the end of the latest (fourth) episode. At times this requires Herculean suspensions of disbelief: don’t these malevolent tech-crazes plague cars? Yet the second series of The capture shaping up to be that rarest of television creatures: better than the first.
I remember trying to read Ulysses when I was young and wondered if there might be a Ladybug version. After 90 minutes, Adam Lows Arena: James Joyce’s Ulysses (BBC Two) is a generous explainer of the labyrinthine 1922 masterpiece, here hailed by the novelist Howard Jacobson: “Ulysses invents the modern novel, and in inventing the modern novel it also invents the modern reader.”
Joyce’s own life was complex, and with Ulysses – the story of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom – he plowed a criminal, sexually explicit, decidedly impenetrable modernist furrow. Admirers who discuss Joyce include Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín and Eimear McBride. Jacobson reveals that he received a copy of Ulysses as a school prize: “It took many years before I got around to reading anything other than the rude bits.” Relatable.
There is a jolt as Salman Rushdie appears before the attack. He notes Joyce’s love of Dublin (“In his heart he was always in Dublin”) and chuckles at the Irishman’s audacity. In a documentary marking the centenary of a book about risk-taking and creative freedom, it was good to see him there.
Star ratings (out of five)
Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg ★★★★
The capture ★★★★
Arena: James Joyce’s Ulysses ★★★★
What else am I watching?
How to with John Wilson
In this new series of half-hour oddball documentaries (Small talk? Scaffolding?), American comedian John Wilson tells a story in voiceover using vox pops on the streets of New York. Very original and strangely newer.
The Lancashire-based drama, written by Joe Gilgun, returns for a fourth series. Directed by Danny Brocklehurst and loosely based on Gilgun’s past, it continues to be a whip-smart comedy about working-class life with deep emotional undercurrents.
Originally starting on Radio 4, Liam Williams’ sleazy inventive show returns for a third and final TV series. He looks back on the trials and tribulations of his teenage years – his grown-up self often stepping right into the action to set the kinks aside.