TV reviews: House of the Dragon (Sky Atlantic), State of Happiness (BBC4) and Mo (Netflix)

Well, which are you? Someone who’s thrilled House of the Dragon is finally here – or do you prefer House of the Dishwasher?

The latter is of course Marriage, the Nicola Walker-Sean Bean drama just ended on BBC1, which has been loved by some for the fact nothing much happens beyond domestic mundanity.

For others that show has been too close to home. They don’t want a mirror on real life, rather that TV takes them far, far away from it. House of the Dragon (Sky Atlantic) is the prequel to Game of Thrones, set 200 years before the original, so don’t worry, fantasy fans, there’s still more dismemberment than there are dishwashers.

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Yet as the scene-setting begins I can’t get some all too current and all too real drudgery out of my head. The Targaryen dynasty is choosing a new leader, just like the Conservative Party. A thousand lords, playing the parts of the 1922 Committee, have whittled 14 candidates down to one man and one woman.

For the throne room dripping with gold read No 10, also dripping with gold, thanks to Carrie Johnson’s wallpaper choices. For “ten adult dragons under its yolk” read the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. And so on and so on, right up to the voiceover’s payoff: “The only thing that could tear down the House of the Dragon was itself.”

The man wins – of course he does. But Viserys I (Paddy Considine) proves to be a pretty weak king and after some routine geysers of blood - from castrations and an unwatchable caesarean without anaesthetic, among other gruesomeness – there’s a second succession battle, this time between Viserys’ brother, Prince Daemon, and daughter Princess Rhaenyra.

If this was a Tory contest, Daemon would be the law and order candidate. He’s like Priti Patel with a flanged mace and a morning star (not to be confused with the Morning Star).

Daemon organises vicious night-time patrols to keep the peasants in check, returning with a cart full of limbs. He’s bored basically, which because he’s played by Matt Smith causes me to remember the actor’s portrayal of the young Prince Phillip in The Crown, a man who was also at a loose end for much of the time, but at least he didn’t go about loosening arms, legs and – yes – willies.

Rhaenyra is played by Milly Alcock. Asked her ambitions by her bestie, she says: “I want to fly with you on a dragon’s back, see the great wonders across the narrow sea and eat cake.” Maybe these were the ambitions of the young Princess Elizabeth all those years ago, until suddenly queenly duties were thrust upon her. Let’s see if Rhaenyra will do as good a job, although I fear we haven’t heard the last of the dastardly Daemon.

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Games of Thrones wasn’t me. After the first few episodes I tended to fast-forward through recordings searching for the naughty bits – don’t lie, you did the same – but even got bored of that. House of the Dragon is just as big, which is as big as telly gets. All those candles, all that chainmail, all those extras, all those special effects. But, you know, the occasional joke wouldn’t go amiss.

House of the Dragon begins in the year 101AC, which stands for After Conquest. Some time hence – our 1970s – it is still difficult for women to get ahead, not least in the Norway of State of Happiness, back for a second season on BBC4.

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The first was a cult lockdown gem, kind of Dallas with bobble hats rather than stetsons, as America plundered Stavanger for its oil. The town might have revived the “overpaid, over-sexed and over here” jibe of Brits towards the US from the Second World War as super-smart sheep farmer’s daughter Anna (Anne Regine Ellingsaeter) was stolen from her fiance by good ole Southern cowboy-booted, string-tied lawyer Jonathan.

Bart Edwards and Anne Regina Ellingsaeter in State of Happiness.Bart Edwards and Anne Regina Ellingsaeter in State of Happiness.
Bart Edwards and Anne Regina Ellingsaeter in State of Happiness.

A secretary last time, Anna is demonstrating a sharp economic brain as God-fearing, cod-loving Norway grapples with the complexities of its new bounty – but men are taking the credit for her insights.

If Anna is being patronised, then Toril is being squashed. No one lives by the good book quite like this poor girl’s mother who tried to force marriage on her daughter with a devout bore. Toril was bound to rebel this time, but no one expected her to take over a prayer house and turn it into a nightclub where she nips out from behind the bar to join in the chorus for the house-band’s rendition of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”.

“Has the gas flame become our new Bethlehem star?” is the burning question in Stavanger. Then one of the rigs suffers a blowout. Holy mackerel. Red Adair is summoned to try and save the fish. State of Happiness may have lost some of its sweet surprise – unsurprisingly – but it’s still good.

Also good is Mo, the Netflix comedy about a Palestinian Muslim living on his wits in Houston, Texas since becoming a Gulf War refugee, and after 22 years still waiting on asylum being granted. It opens with him being laid off by a tech shop fearing an illegal immigrant crackdown, so he returns to selling knock-off handbags from the back of his car. It’s a warm, funny and moving tale thanks to stand-up Mohammed Amer drawing on his experiences in the US for the title role, with a quirkily-drawn support cast including smouldering Narcos: Mexico cartel queen Teresa Ruiz as his girlfriend.



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