HONESTLY, I was prepared to give it a chance. Not a ramrod-straight, nose wiped, monocle polished, Debrett’s Peerage handy, one-eared, no-eyed teddy perched on the lap waving “Hoorah!” kind of chance, but a chance all the same.
STV, Sunday, 9pm
BBC1, Saturday, 8.25pm
The Wrong Mans
BBC2, Tuesday, 9pm
I’d been unkind about Downton Abbey in the past – beastly, indeed – but maybe there would be something to like in the fourth series.
Lady Mary’s voice, for sure. It’s big, deep, flat, dry, solemn, almost dead. It’s incredibly disappointed, incredibly manly but also incredibly sexy. It dominated the episode, a one-note affair about a widow’s grief. This is the power of the show now: it can make us watch, for 90 much-trumpeted, prime-time minutes, a woman lying in bed, getting up to stare from her window into the middle distance, going back to bed, rising just in time for dinner, dressing all in black, crying into her guinea fowl surprise, running back upstairs to bed. Friends who sit in proper deference to Downton – as opposed to your correspondent, who lobs a stone over the wall on the occasion of each season opener then runs away – were disappointed with this one, thinking it just too morose. I was impressed by the conviction or, since we’re talking about such a nobby drama, the sense of entitlement. And as I say, I loved Lady Mary’s voice.
We’ve reached 1922, not so long after the Great War, and yet there are chaps around who’ll become German, adopting the nationality of a country where lunacy is grounds for divorce, in order to marry a Downton gel. This is Lady Edith who’s always nipping “orf” to London. She looks like a flapper in the making. Is her man a Nazi in the making? That’s not going to be known until about series nine, by which time Mumford & Sons will be on their seventh album. Unless there’s a revolution.
My issues with Downton are the old ones. I’d rather watch a drama about the here and now. When Edith coos “I love the Criterion”, I don’t get excited by lavish interiors or reassured by every fork being in its right place. I can’t understand why there’s so little humour – did no-one crack jokes 90 years ago? When the kitchen staff take tentative delivery of a first-generation food mixer I’m desperate for them to go the whole hog and get in a microwave (good for cooking whole hogs – and that’s a better gag than any you hear in this show). I’m surprised by the soapiness (ad-break surges, rueful glances held long enough for the thickest of serf viewers to spot). Plus: I’m a man. This is burds’ TV, isn’t it?
Atlantis is the BBC’s big family-drama-with-monsters hope for autumn to get us to stay with Auntie after Strictly and not switch over to The X Factor. To smooth the transition, then, the first episode gave us an X Factor-ish scene with a large crowd gathered in a public square, as if for conference-centre regional auditions. The contenders were anxious to find out if they’d been selected for the next round. A black pebble plucked from a gargoyle’s mouth meant yes, a white one signified no, with presumably Dermot O’Leary waiting in the wings with a hard-luck hug. Only, on Atlantis, boot camp is a bad place, a dark place, a place from which you never return. “I must go to the labyrinth and face Sharon Osbourne!” wailed some poor sap. Sorry, that should have read: “I must go to the labyrinth and face the minotaur!” Amounts to the same thing, though.
The action began in the present, where a bloke called Jason was searching for his father. Suddenly he’s whisked back to the realm of Greek mythology where he quickly has to prove he can outrun arrows and dangle from window ledges by his fingertips. Just when you’re thinking “Whoever heard of a hero called Jason?”, someone says these exact words. This is Hercules (“I’m not fat, just big-boned”), who flat-shares with Pythagoras (“the triangle guy”). Atlantis would seem to have the right amount of campness, the right amount of thrills and – bonus – Hercules reminds me of Stratford Johns, titan of Softly Softly and the Fox’s Glacier Mints ads. The special effects are nifty too, and I loved it when the minotaur said: “You smashed it. I think you could be the new Michael Bublé.”
The Wrong Mans has a Hercules-Pythagoras thing going on, with James Corden as the big-boned one and Mathew Baynton showing he has the right build for a duffle coat (ie nonexistent). The pair have written this comedy about two dorks who get caught up in a kidnapping caper, recruiting Twenty Twelve and The Thick Of It dependables and even Carrie’s boss from Homeland. It began well (excellent house party and car crash) but then Corden’s over-familiar gormlessness took over.