Aidan Smith's TV week: Franklin (Apple TV+), The Regime (Sky Atlantic), Fallout (Prime Video), Race Across the World (BBC1), The Lodger (C5)

Aidan Smith casts his eye over the week’s TV
Michael Douglas in FranklinMichael Douglas in Franklin
Michael Douglas in Franklin

Early in Franklin, Michael Douglas’ belated debut in the big, boffo, box-setty second golden age of TV, it’s remarked of him: “You are something new in the world of men.”

Remember when Douglas was that in movies? Not so much leading man as leading mouse. Okay, a mouse with a rocket launcher in Falling Down but he wasn’t strong. It was the women who were strong in his terrific 1980s run of sensationist thrillers, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Disclosure.

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His father Kirk took on entire Roman legions bare-chested but the padded shoulders of Michael’s business suit offered no protection against one wronged female co-worker or one ignored mistress. And in multiplexes everywhere, men did the opposite of Sharon Stone and crossed their legs in a show of sympathy for Douglas and recognition of their own emasculation, followed by the simpering plea: “When is this victimisation of men going to stop?!”

Kate Winslet in The RegimeKate Winslet in The Regime
Kate Winslet in The Regime

Anyway, Franklin, and it’s great to see him on the box, in no less a role than that of one of America’s founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin was many things - a polymath - and it’s in his role as a diplomat that we meet him in 1776, arriving in France by boat, a three-cornered hat atop long, flowing grey hair. At 79, Douglas moves almost as slowly as Ol’ Joe Biden. He has Franklin speaking hesitant French but, once translated, the man can charm the birds out of the trees.

Also, the oiseaux out of the towering wigs of the ladies of the French beau monde, these being pretend ones, and there’s a coiffure featuring an impressive warship. Its wearer tries for a compliment and Franklin replies: “Madame, I am sorely tempted to climb aboard and man its cannons.”

That’s the sort of remark which would have Disclosure’s Demi Moore filing a sexual harassment complaint, but you could get away with it back then. “Greed is good” was an era-defining quote in one of Douglas’s non-mouse roles as Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko. He sloganeers here: “Sex is better than war. Diplomacy must never be a siege but a seduction.” Cue gasps from the women at his welcome dinner, but in pursuit of French support in his country’s war against England he must impress important men. “Remind me where America is?” asks one. “Somewhere between India and purgatory.”

Franklin is already much taken with a young harpsichordist, played by Ludivine Sagnier who was a Lolita-esque muse in the film Swimming Pool way back in 2003, so you might be tempted to wonder if sex is going to prove better than politics. And funnily enough that’s a question which can also be asked of The Regime, starring Kate Winslet.

Ella Purnell in FalloutElla Purnell in Fallout
Ella Purnell in Fallout

Though there’s a good deal of chess in Franklin, both real and metaphorical, Douglas still gets to have some fun, puncturing the serious conversation by lifting a bum cheek, letting rip and declaring: “It’s remarkable how one’s mood is improved by the passing of wind.” Winslet as Elena Vernham, chancellor of a fictitious eastern European country, has opportunity for absurdity. At another welcome dinner, also for an American delegation, she gets up and warbles a truly horrendous version of the soft-rock classic “If You Leave Me Now”. If this was Putin there would hopefully be an uprising.

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The Regime is a satire penned by Will Tracy who’s come from the writers’ room on Succession. Though it appears to be set in the here and post-glasnost now - the US are hoping to strike a deal to mine cobalt - Elena’s rules from a palace which out-chandeliers that of Ceausescu. I’m also put in mind of more-commie-than-commie Albania, which the great Scottish journalist James Cameron called “the featherweight nation with the massive and furious pride” (though I suppose his description could also apply to us).

So is it funny? Maybe I was expecting the jokes to be rat-tat-tat like in Veep, which always had to be rewound because some would be missed. The Regime isn’t like that, and Elena’s obsession with the palace’s humidity dominates the slow opener.

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But Winslet is obviously having a ball as her nepo-dictator bad-mouths the US in the kind of plummy English accent you imagine oligarch trophy-wives have perfected during exile in London’s Mayfair. She sashays with such a wiggle in her fabulously tight dresses that any moment it seems she will bump Andrea Riseborough’s housekeeper scuttling alongside right into the next episode.

But not Herbert, also permanently on hand, who was psychotic as a soldier but now tends loyally and lovingly to his boss’s every need and barking whim, beginning with clean-air updates and surely destined to cuckold Elena’s husband before long.

I never stuck with The Last of Us - my loss, so I’m told - but there may be more chance for Fallout, another video game set in a post-apocalyptic America which becomes a drama. It’s the year 2296 and the wealthy live underground. Lucy MacLean, resident of Vault 33, is keen on procreation - “After ten years of cousin stuff I’m definitely excited for the real thing” - so in exchange for seed and machinery parts being sent next door to 32, she gets a husband, first asking him: “So what’s your sperm count?” But the trade deal is a trap (“You’re from the surface!”) and, her father kidnapped, she must brave the terrors of terra firma.

I’m enjoying Fallout because it’s retro-futurist: the blue-and-yellow onepieces could have come from the original 1960s Lost in Space, similarly the gadgets. And plucky Lucy is played by Ella Purnell, my favourite among the Yellowjackets until the plane crashed and she was the first of the girls soccer team to be eaten.

Race Across the World was a lockdown smash as travel became a weird, ungraspable concept and series four - Japan to Indonesia - begins promisingly. Retirees Viv and Stephen - he’s “unintentionally offensive” down the tennis club - should be fun. Best friends Owen and Alfie should be ultra-competitive, with the latter quipping: “It’s taken you ten minutes and 46 seconds to mention wanting to be a pilot - I thought it would be quicker.” Who do I want to win? Sharon and her daughter Brydie, who’s dyslexic. She admits: “On dates I can’t read menus - what guy’s going to want that?” But, used to asking for help at all turns, she reckons she might be good at this.

Finally, The Cuckoo from those zeitgeisty types at Channel 5 where the fascination with air-fryers is matched by the proficiency for engrossing dramas preying on ordinary folks’ worst fears which could be sponsored by the Daily Mail. This time, meet lodger-from-hell Jill Halfpenny.



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