Thursday 18 January 2018

What to watch: The best of television this week

The cast of Mr Sloane
The cast of Mr Sloane

Doug Whelan rounds up the best of the box for the week ahead.

Mr. Sloane

Friday, 9pm, Sky Atlantic

Nick Frost has definitely taken the long way around to becoming a leading man. He kicked off his career playing opposite Simon Pegg in Spaced back in 1999 (see below), the bizarre and utterly brilliant Channel 4 sitcom that would give birth to the three-way bromance between him, Pegg and writer/director Edgar Wright.

The trio enjoyed big-screen success together over the past ten years with Wright's 'Blood and Ice Cream' trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and last year's The World's End, but it's clear that Frost has been itching to emerge from that particular trifecta and prove that he's more than just a funny fat guy.

He played the lead in dance comedy Cuban Fury earlier this year, but here in Mr Sloane there's a far more contemplative air to the humour. Frost plays Jeremy Sloane, a good-natured man who just can't catch a break. It's London in the late 1960s, and Sloane has just been sacked from his job while his cocky best friend Ross (Peter Serafinowicz) got a promotion; his wife has just left him and his house is falling apart.

The series begins with a botched suicide attempt to the strains of For He is an Englishman from HMS Pinafore. Meeting Ross and some other laddish friends for a drink, Sloane smiles his way through a lot of back-slapping and congratulation, but we know the real story and can feel the despair in every word from his mouth.

He's encouraged by his friends' optimism about the future though, and their insistence that they stick together no matter what the new decade and new career paths throws at them.

So, armed with friendship, a set of self-help tapes and the promise of new love with a pretty American named Robin (Ophelia Lovibond), Sloane takes a new job as a substitute teacher. OK it might go down the road of 'everybody learns a little something' from here, but going by the opening scenes it turns out Frost has a knack for quiet expressiveness.

We'd love to see him have a crack at straight- up drama sometime and use his physical presence in a different way, but this is an excellent start. Plus, with the brilliant Peter Serafinowicz on board too (he should be in everything, basically) and Curb Your Enthusiasm writer Robert B Weide behind the camera, there's very little reason why this can't be hilarious and touching all at once.

WATCH IT

Unreported World: Jamaica's Underground Gays

Friday, 7.35pm, Channel 4

Gay rights are more topical than ever. The recent Panti-gate saga here in Ireland and the Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst winning the Eurovision contrasts with Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws and examples of persecution and oppression around the world such as in Jamaica, the subject of this Unreported World documentary.

Homosexuality is illegal on the Caribbean island, punishable by 10 years' hard labour, and extreme hostility towards it is entrenched in the country's culture. Amid this persecution, a defiant gay and transgender group is fighting for equality and recognition amid attacks, persecution and insults because of their sexuality.

A time may come when the fight for gay rights is a thing of the past, but before that day comes, reports like this one from the idyllic holiday destination are shocking and important examples of how far there is to go.

RECORD IT

Mad Men: Mid-Season Finale

Wednesday, 10pm, Sky Atlantic

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday’s Irish Independent

The Sopranos did it, Breaking Bad did it and now Mad Men is splitting its final season in two to build suspense before we learn the ultimate fate of its anti-hero Don Draper.

Since the beginning, Mad Men has been about the social mores of 60s America. The sexual revolution and women's rights have seen Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) rise to a position of power she could never have held at the start of the decade, while the likes of Don (John Hamm) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) are parodies of their former selves.

It's all bound to change one last time and even if you've not been following Mad Men, it's worth getting involved for this finale before the final episodes next year. (Then binge-watch it from the start).

STREAM IT

Spaced

Series 1 + 2 available on 4oD.com

The arrival of Mr Sloane reminded me of Spaced (1999), the sitcom that launched Nick Frost's career. Newly single twenty-something Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg) meets Daisy Steiner (Jessica Stevenson) while flat hunting, and despite barely knowing each other they agree to pose as a couple to better their chances before embarking on a series of weird and wonderful adventures together.

Tim's army-obsessed best friend Mike was Frost's first role (he and Pegg were flatmates at the time, Mike was created specifically for him) and he steals every scene he's in. Impeccably written and acted, Spaced is pacy and surreal, and features countless homages to famous film and TV scenes – almost too many to keep up with.

Wright's flashy directing style lifts it well above standard sitcom fare. It arguably hasn't been bettered since; just don't ask Pegg about series 3. It's just never going to happen OK?

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent
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