The Week on TV: Everything I Know About Love; We own this city; My name is Leon; Avoidance | Television
all i know about love (BBC One) | iPlayer
We haveis the city (Atlantic Sky)
My name is Leon (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Avoidance (BBC One) | iPlayer
If the new seven-part BBC One all i know about love something is that youth and beauty aren’t quite the protective force fields they’re supposed to be.
Set in 2012, it is based on the bestselling memoir by Dolly Alderton. Created and largely written by Alderton, directed by China Moo-Young and Julia Ford, it tells the story of Maggie, a fictional version of Alderton, played by Emma Appleton. Fresh out of college, blessed with a sprawling cheap-as-flea Camden Pad that could only happen on TV, she and three housemates swirl around their chaotic twenty-year lives like a millennial operetta of love , lust, drugs, first jobs, dating apps and shots of vodka.
Titled and self-dramatized, Maggie has a crush on the swaggering poseur Street (Connor Finch), but remains devoted to her childhood best friend, the sensitive Birdy, beautifully played by Bel Powley, who reminds me of the great and late Charlotte Coleman. Birdy is the opposite of Maggie, her reckless firework safety bucket. However, as much as Maggie is gorgeous, bohemian, “an Anita Pallenberg drag act,” she also laceratingly self-depreciates (“I’m the tragic drunk who buys all the tricks”) and, you realize, a bottomless pit of vulnerability. Defeated by the ultimate rejection, her cool girl persona turns to ashes.
Screen-controlled emotional blasts, as in the recent conversation between friends, have their place, but I found myself drawn to the stumbling heat, the honest human mess of Eeverything… It’s not at the level of Girls: the other two friends, played by Aliyah Odoffin and Marli Siu, are underrated, and it can be awkward and rambling. But it does illuminate a certain millennial rite-of-passage swath: the seismic emergence of dating apps (this generation, after all, was the canary on the right sent to the Tinder coal mine); Class A drugs disposed of in toilet stalls; “walks of shame” performed with a chuckle. Appleton plays Maggie as if someone realized too late that she wasn’t a character in a Lana Del Rey song. It’s a credit to her performance that when, finally, Maggie is coldly denounced as “exhausting,” you feel protective pain on her behalf.
I was a big fan of Thread, the dark saga of drugs and guns by David Simon set in Baltimore. Now there’s Sky Atlantic’s six-part series We own this towndeveloped by Simon and Thread collaborator George Pelecanos, and directed by King Richardby Reinaldo Marcus Green. Based on the non-fiction book by James Fenton, it details the venality, corruption and downfall of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trail Task Force, in the context of the police murder of Freddie Gray in 2015. This all sounds like an ersatz, factual version of the Thread, but with the cameras turned 180 degrees to retrain on the corrupt cops. There are elements of that and much more.
It’s a portrait of a warped world in which violent sociopaths thrive in plain sight, as long as they have police badges slapped on their near-Alpha bloated chests. Officers such as Wayne Jenkins (The Walking Deadby Jon Bernthal) and Daniel Hersl (The good wife‘s Josh Charles) do what they want – steal, racially target, wrongfully arrest, abuse – but still get praised for bringing in criminals. “If you want to do this job, you’re going to get complaints for doing this job,” Hersl said, his eyes glazed over. British actor Wunmi Mosaku plays one of the stubborn, elegant investigators trying to stop the rot.
WOTC spins around multiple time zones so maniacally that it dislodges and undermines the narrative. That aside, it’s brutal and compelling, with guest appearances from Thread (including Jamie Hector, who played drug boss Marlo Stanfield) and eerie nods to the recent past, like bystanders filming arrests with cameras. Bernthal in particular is superb: his very skin seems to ripple with nervous, virtuous, gum-chewing poisonous energy. Four episodes later, I find the hooks are deep and lead me to the finale.
The essential My name is Leon, on BBC Two, is a 90-minute adaptation of Kit de Waal’s acclaimed novel. Written by Shola Amoo and directed by Lynette Linton (Artistic Director of the Bush Theater in London), it stars newcomer Cole Martin as a mixed-race boy in foster care who longs to reunite with his half-boyfriend Jake. – white brother.
It is set in the 1980s in Birmingham, at the time of protests against the race. At first, nine-year-old Leon struggles to care for Jake, while their frail, mentally ill mother (Poppy Lee Friar) lies catatonic in bed. Once placed with foster Maureen (Monica Dolan), Leon swears that he and his “Sergeant Smith” figurine will find Jake, who has been adopted. Driving on his bike to a housing estate, Leon befriends Tufty (Malachi Kirby from BBC One’s Mangrove), who teaches him the race.
My name is Leon is subtle and nuanced yet impactful, with a star-studded cast, even if you barely see some of them. Lenny Henry is an executive producer, but only appears briefly in the attribution scenes; it’s the same with the character of Christopher Eccleston. Applause goes to the ever-brilliant Dolan – who bustles sweetly in layered knits – and an initially unrecognizable Olivia Williams as Maureen’s delightfully acerbic chain-smoking sister. As for Cole Martin, what a find! In a complex tale of family breakdown, the healthcare system, race, and Leon’s agonizing separation from Jake (“Is it because he’s white and I’m not?)”, he infuses a raw truth every moment.
Avoidance (BBC One), the new six-part comedy from Romesh Ranganathan and Benjamin Green, stars Ranganathan as Jonathan, a speed awareness course tutor, a beta dad who can’t bear to part with his partner, and pounces on his sister (Mandeep Dhillon) and his wife, played by Lisa McGrillis.
Ranganathan seems to enjoy playing the ‘little l’ loser and, obligingly, Jonathan exudes all the fighting spirit of a teddy bear stripped of its stuffing. I only saw two episodes (all are on iPlayer), but I had a good laugh, especially once it picked up steam in the second one. In his heart, Avoidance is about a helpless human being wading through a quagmire of denial, regret and dysfunction. Reliable? I would say yes.
What else am I watching
The second season of the Emmy-winning drama starring Jean Smart about a fading Vegas comic who hires a Gen Z comedy writer. Finally, Smart gets the recognition she deserves since she was the girlfriend hilarious and abrasive from Frasier Crane.
The return of Stephen Merchant’s uneven dramedy about a group of misfits doing community service who find themselves embroiled in a violent saga. Claes Bang and Christopher Walken are part of the ensemble cast.
the island of love
New series, new villa in Majorca, hosted again by Laura Whitmore. On opening night, nobody liked anybody. Meanwhile, in some quarters, former England footballer Michael Owen’s daughter Gemma (all 19) is being turned into a hateful figure. So much for “being nice”.