BBC1, Thursday, 9pm
Arena: The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour Revisited
BBC2, Saturday, 9.45pm
House Of Lies
Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 10pm
And, to enable her to complete certain key tasks in the course of her job, she’ll sleep with you.
“I’m supposed to screw him, not screw over his kid,” said Samantha at the briefing into her planned infiltration of a major crime family, after she’d saved the lad from a kidnapping (staged). Her bosses were surprised she’d come back to work following a year away, when she rented a cottage in the Highlands and practised holding her breath under water for a long time, a feat which may or may not have been aided by her fantastic pout. Personally, I think extended time off was the least she deserved after despatching five goons, three with her bare hands, in the first seven minutes while pregnant.
And what is her work, exactly? Well, Hunted comes from the makers of Spooks and we’re sort of back in the same arena – spies, gadgets, extreme death, zero domesticity, not so much empty fridges, more a complete absence of cold-storage appliances – except without the occasional brandies with the defence secretary, because rather than MI5 this is private intelligence.
I’m almost certainly clutching at straws with the Morton connection (the name was etched on stonework) and Samantha was only scanning The Scotsman for a tiny coded symbol (but, hey, thanks for buying). So far, Hunted has supplied more running (in our loneliest glens, through teeming Tangier alleyways) than explanation, but I guess if they told us stuff this early, they’d then have to kill us. George, with that pout, is completely unbelievable as a lethal espionage maverick and yet completely watchable, though I can’t say I’m looking forward to getting reacquainted with the real bad guy of the piece, whose party trick is ramming a syringe into his enemies’ eyeballs. Anadin, I fear, wouldn’t be much use after that.
There’s confusing telly and then there’s The Magical Mystery Tour. The Beatles’ road movie came at the end of their most chemically enhanced year. Its proper place was nestling between tangerine trees and marmalade skies; instead the BBC decided to premiere it at 8.35pm on Boxing Day, 1967, flanked by a Petula Clark Christmas special and a Norman Wisdom film. Much of the viewing nation, not yet sprinkling its turkey sandwiches with LSD, was appalled. “The biggest waste of money since the Groundnut Scheme,” went one complaint.
Before a rescreening, Arena: The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour Revisited reminded us just how straight we were. The business world was still bowler-hatted, and even the artist who whipped up something psychedelic for the ceiling of Ringo’s extension put on a suit to go home for the weekend. “Flower power hasn’t come to Leeds,” the drummer was told.
There was a clip of Fyfe Robertson trying to get to grips with the counter-culture in conversation with a young convert set free from her “monochromatic” world. “It can do everything,” said the girl, meaning acid. “But what do you mean everything?” harrumphed the great Scottish inquisitor, which was slightly surprising given he’s always sported tangerine hair and a marmalade beard.
The film’s main creative force was Paul. While the others were all married up in country mansions and he was footloose in London, he got himself a Super 8 camera and started hanging around with some underground chaps, investigating the avant-garde. It seems, from his recollections now, that Macca thought he was Luis Buñuel, but wasn’t MMT just a daft little flick about Ringo’s Auntie Jessie and her chums going on a bus outing? Paul Gambaccini was good value. “It’s a very British concept,” he said, “for the really hip to like having old dears around, and extended family they’re not embarrassed by.” And at least Brits understand the mystery tour. “Americans wouldn’t get it. In the US you just wouldn’t board a bus not knowing where you’re going.”
So that was TV in 1967: experimental, brave, loony. What do we make in 2012? Comedy-dramas about management consultants. House Of Lies, though, started with some decent lines, such as Don Cheadle’s observation: “Why do people say ‘outside the box’ to describe outside the box when the term is so inside the box?” I also like how he’s able to freeze the action to make a point, although they were doing this in 1967 too, brilliantly, on The Magic Boomerang. «