This is the fourth of a new weekly column I am writing for Reaction.Life
Outlander (Series 5), Amazon Prime
Eurovision Night, BBC1
Prepare yourself for quote a big claim. Outlander is the best TV drama series I have seen in the last ten years Forget ‘Bodyguard’, forget ‘Killing Eve’, banish thoughts of ‘24’ from your minds, it is ‘Outlander’ that hits spot. Sex, violence, time travel, beautiful people, great costume and more sex. What more could you possibly want? Oh, I know, a brilliant recreation of the Battle of the Culloden. Yes, in series 1 you get that too. In short series 1 begins in 1945 with a married couple who have been split up by World War II. Post VE Day they go on a second honeymoon to Inverness, as you do. One day Claire, the wife, goes for a walk and happens upon a Stonehenge type circle of stones. She puts her hand on one and is transported back in time to 1743. She meets a handsome young clansman called Jamie Fraser, and their relationship dominates the rest of the series. Periodically she travels back in time. The second series is based mainly in pre-revolutionary France before moving to Jamica, with series 4 and the current series set in the early 1770s in pre-revolutionary America. It’s very expensively produced and the recreation of the Battle of Culloden was quite astonishing in that the viewer feels, rather like in ‘Band of Brothers’, that you’re actually there on the battlefield witnessing the horrors of war. This is the sort of drama the BBC should be making but says it can’t afford to. Not only is it entertaining, it’s genuinely educational and I’ve learnt more about Scottish history than I thought possible from a TV drama. Sam Heughan and Catriona Ralph play the two main characters and it’s fascinating to see how their relationship develops over the course of thirty years, yet their appearance barely alters. Series 5, which portrays the years leading up to the American revolution isn’t quite up to the quality of the previous four but it’s still unmissable.
Which is more than can be said for BBC1’s lamentable Eurovision night offering last Saturday. I’m a bit of a Eurovision fanatic and have even been to two contests. I was one of the first to see Riverdance performed at The Point in Dublin in 1994, and then in 1997 I witnessed the spectacle of Dana International winning in Birmingham. This year’s contest in Rotterdam was cancelled, which from a UK point of view might have been a blessing in disguise given our entry had the rather unfortunate in the circumstances title of ‘My Last Breath’. In place of the planned live contest the BBC offered us two programme, an aperitif called ‘Eurovision: Come Together’ (no sniggering at the back please) followed by an offering courtesy of the EBU which brought up two hours of cringeworthy segments from past Eurovision performers. ‘Come Together’’s aim was to get us to vote for our favourite Eurovision song from a shortlist of fifteen or so drawn up by so-called Eurovision fanatics, aficionados and superfans. The saw fit to include a Belgian song which even I couldn’t remember, which had come fourth in 2016, as well as several others which provoked a bit of head scratching. Surprise, Surprise, ‘Waterloo’ by Abba emerged triumphant. What a complete waste of time. It was a programme which took the audience for granted and treated us like Euro-idiots.
The World at One, Radio 4
Some presenters really suit some programmes or timeslots and some most certainly do not. When Sarah Montague left the ‘Today Programme’ in March 2018 it felt like she was being elbowed out and handed ‘The World at One’ as a consolation prize. It was the best thing that could have happened to her, even if it probably didn’t feel like that at the time. And believe me, I know how that feels… She wasted little time in stamping her personality on the show and she is much more of a personality presenter than she was on ‘Today’. In lockdown, this is even more the case. The programme feels a little more magaziney than it used to, with perhaps a little less emphasis on hard news, but at lunchtime that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Montague is a ‘flexible friend’ kind of interviewer. She can go in hard if she’s being spun, but her natural demeanour is to tease things out of her subjects. She is also brilliant with people who aren’t used to doing interviews, and that, believe me, is a rare talent.
Never Mind the Bar Charts with Mark Park
Mark Pack is a political campaigner and geek, who has much to his own surprise, I imagine, has ended up as acting co-leader of the Liberal Democrats. A jovial chap, he came to prominence as the man who masterminded Lynne Featherstone’s overturning of a huge Labour majority in Hornsey and Wood Green in 2005, ousting Labour minister Barbara Roche. He then became editor of the LibDem Voice website and latterly beat Scottish LibDem MP Christine Jardine to become LibDem president. Having listed all of that I’ve probably put you off listening to his podcast. If I have, I apologise, because even if you’re not a LibDem, this is a political podcast that you should try. Who could resist episodes titled “What must the Liberal Democrats learn from Donald Trump?”, “How do you make someone join a political party?” or “The one in which I get compared to Terry Pratchett”. Pack used to have a co-host and the podcast, was all the better for it because he and his partner in crime could have an initial chinwag about the current state of the LibDems. It’s now turned into a more generic interview podcast. Nothing wrong with that, but they are two a penny nowadays. I should know. I host two of them…