TV Review: The Following | Call the Midwife | Great Houses with Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes. Picture: Getty
Julian Fellowes. Picture: Getty
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I’VE tried to start this column with the whooshing noise that slasher movie directors use to denote sudden movement, making you spill your popcorn all over multiplex carpets, but it just doesn’t look right in print.

The Following, Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 10pm

Great Houses With Julian Fellowes, STV, Tuesday, 9pm

Call The Midwife, BBC1, Sunday, 8pm

It doesn’t sound right on TV either, and The Following can seem pretty clunky if you’ve got a couple of sophisticated box sets on the go.

Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) has come up with this drama about a serial killer (James Purefoy) obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe who’s escaped from prison. We’re in Norfolk, Virginia – prime slasher territory with suburban palaces squatting on leafy avenues where no-one walks so your screams will go unheard and… shhhtnnnggg!

No, it still doesn’t look right, but this is the noise one of the killer’s acolytes makes when he creeps up behind a standard-issue Williamson blonde-in-peril at her front door. It’s also the noise of the killer’s handcuffs rattling the interrogation-room table and – in future episodes, nae doot – the noise of his ex-wife’s coffee machine brewing a soothing espresso macchiato, the noise of his son’s go-kart forced to make an emergency stop, the noise of pages turning on Poe’s unfinished last novel as the FBI agent who first captured the psycho wheezingly struggles to follow the clues.

The agent (Kevin Bacon) has a dodgy heart on account of being stabbed. He also has a drink problem, presumably on account of having nothing to do after the case was closed. Or maybe it’s wrapped up in the fact he and the ex-wife have history together and now he’s back in her suburban palace after all these years and she’s perched on the oh-so-tasteful grey sofa and her lipgloss is twinkling and the noise her pouting mouth makes is a lot like (I’m sorry) – shhhtnnnggg! Six degrees of Kevin Bacon there may be, but there’s only one trick to Kevin Williamson.

One trick to Julian Fellowes too, but it’s a top-hole winner. He writes Downton Abbey; you lot lap it up. How ITV wishes it ran 52 weeks of the year (and how I’d emigrate if it did, though of course it’s on everywhere).

The BBC has just reclaimed Sunday nights with Call The Midwife. Fighting back, and presuming the nation to be suffering from some kind of deference deficiency, ITV has sent Fellowes round some real stately homes. “Just point the camera up the drive, blathering in a pair of mustard corduroys – that should do it,” the network might have told him.

The appeal of such a series for the hooses is obvious: prime-time advertisements complete with Downton-esque title sequences mean more bus parties, mean the new toilet block gets built or the mad black-sheep son gets paid off.

I thought Great Houses With Julian Fellowes might come with tour headsets so I could switch to silent mode, or better still locate Radio Luxembourg’s Stuart Henry on some celestial frequency. Our guide certainly ripped round Burghley Hoose in Lincolnshire with gusto; indeed he might have got a bit carried away. Were Burghley’s “secrets” really being revealed for the first time? If I’d paid £10 for a brochure at the front desk, I’d be annoyed if it didn’t contain the story of the commoner wife tragically ignorant about spoon etiquette, or the one about the cook impaled on the fencing sword of the choirboy-fancying earl.

Burghley must have loved the programme, though, for no other pile was featured. Thus the stories had to be stretched – artificially inflated – only here I’m not talking about the one concerning the woman with six breasts. There really were six of them, or at least that’s how she was depicted on the ceiling by the court painter whose advances she spurned.

So Call The Midwife, another one you love. It’s got a brilliantly simple formula: sentimentality, babies, croonsome songs, quiet crimson-capped valour, scamps skipping on cobbles, sentimentality, Swiss rolls, steamed puddings, rows of bicycles, rows of Silver Crosses, even more babies, even more sentimentality – and that all-important contrast between the gorblimey-ing EastEnders men, still ignorant about childbirth, and Miranda Hart’s Chummy: “Tickety-boo … no shilly-shallying… top-hole!” Yes madam, that’s two “top-holes” on the same page – the first time that’s happened since Lord Snooty won ten guineas at the Epsom Derby after Snitch (or was it Snatch?) romped home on the milk-horse.

The big new development in midwifery is gas and air, but the menfolk still don’t get it, being either abusive husbands or exploitative dads. I’d like this show to be funnier, but then I always do. And I should remember that all my attempts at humour during the births of my children fell hopelessly flat. There’s a time for plonking a hospital vomit carton on your head and pretending you’re Freddie “Parrot-Face” Davies, and those weren’t the times.

Twitter: @aidansmith07