JUST as the shops start to clear out their summer stock in readiness for autumn and Christmas (not cancelled yet!), so television has been saying cheerio to a few long-staying guests.
Baptiste (BBC1, Sunday) had been saddled with a shaky start and too much flashing back and forth. Tcheky Karyo, after seven years in the title role, was looking as tired as viewers felt trying to keep up with the tale of the British ambassador to Hungary (Fiona Shaw) and her disappearing family. Has anyone ever had as much bad luck as our woman in Budapest?
Shaw turned out to be the show’s driving force, with enough acting and star power to bring the series home with its credibility mostly intact. Writers Harry and Jack Williams had some parting fun with Baptiste, giving him more encores than James Brown. While it was touch and go whether it would end happily for ze French detective, there were smiles before bedtime for the one-man Interpol. Have a happy retirement Baptiste; you’ve earned it.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Channel 4, Sunday) has never been a chuckle factory. Being a dystopian yarn about women living under the yoke of a misogynist dictatorship will do that for a drama. Even so, this adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel, now in its fourth series, has gone to some shocking places.
When we last saw June Osborne (the wonderful Elisabeth Moss) she was screaming “I will kill you!” in the direction of Commander Fred Waterford, her jailor and rapist. Having escaped to Canada but forced to leave one of her daughters behind, June is a bottomless pit of rage. When she found out that the Commander had cut a deal to trade information for immunity from prosecution she was hardly going to shrug her shoulders and say, “C’est la guerre.”
But the end, which took an age to arrive, was hardcore even by Handmaid’s standards. These were not scenes to send a body to bed with an untroubled mind. A fifth series has been commissioned, though it is hard to see how they can possibly dig deeper into the gloom. Maybe everyone will get a puppy and live happily ever after.
As the title suggests, Alex Polizzi: My Hotel Nightmare (Channel 5, Thursday), was not the place to head for rest and recuperation. Well it was and it was not. Alex, who earns a crust telling other hoteliers were they are going wrong, had taken on the task of opening a hotel in partnership with her mother. Let that sink in a moment.
Everything that could go wrong did as Alex and Olga, set about transforming a Crossroads motel lookalike in the middle of a pandemic. It looked at times as though Alex was going to self-combust, such was the stress of dealing with builders and a mother who is an internationally renowned interior designer with impeccable taste.
Not being the ones over budget and behind schedule, the viewer could relax and enjoy the fireworks. The final instalment, the one where all the lovely new stuff arrived, was a treat. The place looked fabulous in the end and Alex bought everyone a beer, though I note she was swigging from a G&T tinnie. That’s class.
Stress and hormones were running rampant in Sixteen: Class of 2021 (Channel 4, Thursday). The latest in a long line of fly-on-the-wall school documentaries, Sixteen had the added distinction of being set during the pandemic. “They’re going to write exam questions on us in a few years,” said one youngster perceptively.
Between mock exams, lockdowns, and the general pressure of turning 16 and entering big, scary adulthood, the kids from Dudley did not have it easy, and that was before you factored in their disadvantaged backgrounds.
But firmly on their side were their families, friends and teachers. The head teacher, in a bid to inspire them to study for exams, told them of her own initial rejection from university and how she fought back from there.
Among the kids, one wanted to be a professional footballer, another a psychologist, “in a prison”, who drove a white Bentley.
Kara had a bleak view of what lay ahead for her. “I see myself as a single mum. I don’t see myself living this rich, art gallery life. It’s kinda sad, innit?” It’s bloody heartbreaking, love. Kara was, as her mum said, “a bit of a handful”, but she was also brave and funny and good with words. Hopefully this will be a series that will do the kids proud. Tread softly, filmmakers, for that stuff under your feet are their dreams.
All change at Mastermind (BBC2, Monday) with Clive Myrie taking over the quizmaster’s chair from John Humphrys. The nippy Welsh terrier replaced by a lovely big bundle of niceness. It might have been my imagination, but Myrie’s general knowledge questions seemed easier. A sly attempt to flatter the viewer? Who cares, it worked.