Aidan Smith's TV week: The Buccaneers (Apple TV+), The Newsreader (BBC1), Robbie Williams (Netflix)
You’ll need a good working knowledge of Scottish landmarks - and to be able to sit through The Buccaneers (Apple TV+) which is really too frivolous and flibbertgibbety for my liking but I suppose fans of Bridgerton will lap it up.
Basically, you’re identifying the drama’s locations. Inspired by an unfinished Edith Wharton novel, it follows a gaggle of New York society gals to 1870s England in search of love, husbands, titles, breeches, buckled footwear, immaculate vowels, floppy hair, country manors, gardens with mazes, stables, libraries full of books no one reads, roasted hog, quince jam, etc etc. Except they’re not in England. Has their boat possibly been diverted to Rwanda? No, look closely at those sturdy cobbles, the crescent’s stunning sweep, the ingenious boot scrapers - it’s Moray Place.
One of the jewels of Edinburgh’s New Town stands in for London for the arrival by carriage of Nan (Kristine Froseth), sister Jinny (Imogen Waterhouse) and their besties. From the Georgian windows, snobs tut-tut (“They’re never still! They all toss about so!”). But the aristocracy can’t be too fussy when the heiresses, along with their New World gaucheness, bring money (“If New York’s rejects must be our mended roofs then we may have to suffer invasion but at least we shall be dry!”).
And they’re not all gauche. Nan is smart and spirited. She can hold a conversation about art. At the debutantes’ ball she exposes sexist sneers with a - metaphorical - knee to the breeches. Nan and Jinny’s mum is played by Christina Hendricks. It’s always a pleasure to see the Mad Men siren, and here to marvel at the superlative engineering of the corsetry. No show which has an LCD Soundsystem track as its theme can be all bad but let’s get back to the quiz. You should easily spot the island in the Firth of Forth and the city council’s HQ but may struggle over the gals’ first glimpse of “Cornwall”. I’m almost certain it’s Cove Harbour, near Cockburnspath. Growing up we had a holiday home there, which wouldn’t in any way qualify as my country manor, but assuming I’m right I hereby claim my prize of a year’s free subscription to Apple TV+.
Meanwhile … bullying, backsliding and backstabbing. Exploitation, misogyny and cynicism on an industrial scale. And a craving for success and getting one over on the rivals that’s desperate, almost salacious. Yes, folks, it’s another hectic day in the newsroom.
Not The Scotsman’s newsroom, you understand, but the nerve-centre of News at Six, setting for The Newsreader, BBC1’s import from Australia, where fictional journalists respond to real 1980s events. A big hit in the homeland, it’s back for a second season. Backcombed, too.
Who in history has ever worn their hair higher than Helen Norville, sombre-toned anchoress for Melbourne’s teatime bulletin? And that issue Oz had with its ozone layer around this time when giant holes were punctured by aerosols - how much was solely down to Norville’s weapons-grade utilisation of set-and-hold sprays? I think we should be told.
I love TV shows about the making of TV. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip remains the favourite, and the sad passing of Matthew Perry prompted me to dig out the DVD and enjoy its Aaron Sorkin zingers all over again. But The Newsreader induces a woozy, wonky nostalgia for a time when journos not only never let the truth get in the way of a good story, but also didn’t allow decidedly caveman work practices halt the pursuit of said story.
News at Six is at a juncture you’d euphemistically call “interesting”. With veteran newscaster Geoff Walters - very old school - now slagging off his former employers from another channel, Helen (Anna Torv) and partner on-screen-and-off Dale Jennings (Sam Reid) are the “golden couple of news”, a tag bestowed on them by the smoothie singing-and-dancing host of some Pebble Mill at One-type fluff at the beginning of the new series.
Helen bristles. Uninterested in the cult of celebrity, she’s serious about her job, only head of news Lindsay Cunningham calls her “aggressive, dominant and shrill”. He hasn’t got much time for women, or aborigines. Goodness knows how he’d cope with today’s culture wars, although judging by the size of that belly and the number of times he spontaneously combusts close to transmission, he won’t be making it that far.
CEO Charlie Tate, who we didn’t meet last time, agrees with Cunningham about Helen and demands a softer approach. You can tell Tate is the big boss because he has three walnut pen stands on his desk. His mansion also overdoes the table lamps, although these are throughout the show so maybe the props department acquired a job lot. Oh, and there’s a double jacuzzi as well, so far unseen.
The Newsreader makes up for in household furniture what it lacks in extras and in the few outdoor shots the streets are always empty. No matter, it’s always exciting in and around the studio. Helen and Dale almost come a cropper during live coverage of Australia’s 1987 election, then there’s a bad-taste blunder during the reporting of a mass shooting. Accusations fly. It’s everybody’s fault but Cunningham’s. He dobs in his news editor and blasts another buckshot of adjectives at Helen: “Abrasive, uncaring, cold.” But Tate doesn’t sack her. Indeed, impressed by her next broadcast, I reckon he’s soon going to be inviting her to share that double jacuzzi.
Four hours of Robbie Williams in his pants? If that’s your thing, here’s his Netflix documentary. But if you’re wary after the recent vanity projects of David Beckham, Coleen Rooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, then know that this is an unvarnished self-portrait. The truth, as far as Robbie can remember it. Warts and all. Drink and drugs. Embarrassing private clips like the one where he says of Take That, having recently exited the boyband: “I f****n’ hate these c***s.”
In his kegs, hardly leaving his bed, watching on a laptop as his pop life unspools, he’s like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Norman Desmond, indeed, but at least the journalist pumping him for confessions doesn’t end up in the swimming pool. Williams rewatches an interview from 1999 before a Slane Castle mega-show. How’s it going, Robbie? “I’ve been in a black depression for the last five weeks.” A re-take is ordered and this time he grins maniacally: “Biggest gig of my life - it’s gonna be a wonderful experience!”
Thankfully, in the midst of all his addictions, angels were watching over him. His American wife Ayda drifts in and out of the doc but has been a vital figure. At one point daughter Teddy snuggles up to him to ask: “Who did you hate the most?” That was Gary Barlow, which seemed to be twisting the knife, given as he says: “I had the career he was supposed to have had.” Happily the pair have kissed and made up.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.