Pat Stacey TV reviews: BBC4's Hostages, Songs of the South, and Eastenders Live Friday
When is a ropey American drama series something other than a ropey American drama series?
When it’s a remake of an equally ropey Israeli drama series. That would be Hostages (2*), which started its five-week run on BBC4 on Saturday.
You might remember the American version, shown on RTE2 and Channel 4 last year, if only for its daftness. Toni Collette played an eminent surgeon who’s employed to perform a routine operation on the President of the United States.
The night before the op, an armed and masked gang, led by a disgruntled FBI agent, invade her home and hold her and her family hostage. She’s presented with a choice: administer the President a lethal but undetectable poison while he’s under the knife, or see her husband and children killed.
Hopes that Hostages would be the new Homeland, which was itself based, very loosely, on an Israeli series called Prisoners of War, died a swift death as the series piled one implausibility on top of another.
There was little in this double-episode of the original to suggest it’s going to be any different. The set-up is the same, only this time the surgeon is played by Ayelet Zurer, who’s landed a part in Netflix’s upcoming Daredevil, and the patient/target is the Israeli prime minister.
It’s also lumbered with the same gaping plot hole as the remake: the PM is protected by armed-to-the-hilt guards, so why did it not occur to anyone to post a security detail at the home of the doctor who’s about to take his life in her hands?
Spiral and Wallander aside, BBC4 hasn’t exactly been striking gold with its subtitled imports lately. Inspector De Luca was dreary, Crimes of Passion was lightweight and old-fashioned, and Salamander, which will be returning for a second run, was a derivative conspiracy thriller.
I sat through Hostages once; I’ve no desire to do so again, even in a different language. Next, please.
There was a moment during Songs of the South (4*) when our host, the London-based American stand-up Reginald D Hunter, looked like he’d rather be doing anything than what he was doing, in this case square-dancing. Emerging sweating from a clapboard dance hall, Hunter confessed: “I never, ever want to do that again.”
Celebrity travelogues are ten a penny and most of them are a dreadful waste of time. This, however, towered over the rest and had an uncommon edge. Gliding through Tennessee and Kentucky in a huge, red Cadillac in search of the roots of the Appalachian hillbilly music that influenced everything from country to soul to rock ‘n’ roll, Hunter was brushing up against old demons.
He was born in Albany, Georgia, where being a black kid in a school that was 98pc white wasn’t easy. “Even though segregation was officially over, there were still racial barriers to be overcome,” he said. “When I left America, I hated the South.”
But he’s always loved the richness of the music, which crosses race and class divides. There was plenty of it along the way, as well as startling nuggets of information. Who knew the term “hilliblly” came from Scots-Irish who supported King Billy, or that the murder rate in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1907 was greater than that of Los Angeles in the 1990s? An excellent series.
Finally, a shout out to EastEnders’ (4*) live episode on Friday. It was outstanding stuff, brilliantly acted by all, but especially by Adam Woodyatt as Ian Beale. Here we had as great a performance as anything you’ll see in a “legitimate” drama.