Generation Kill, FX
A Short Stay In Switzerland, BBC1
Gossip Girl, ITV2
Beverly Hills 90210, E4

The writers of 'The Wire' have put a bomb under the war genre with this gripping, intelligent series

Do we really need another decadent western drama about the invasion of Iraq?

Another desert mirage exploited for its queasy cinematographic beauty, another milk-fed graduate of one of the better drama schools shaving his head, practising press-ups for a week and using his finest voice-projection technique to scream military obscenities? With the final point being, you know, something about the brutalising effects of war? After Jarhead and Black Watch and The Mark of Cain and Three Kings, it seemed unlikely even the masterly creators of The Wire, David Simon and Ed Burns, could introduce something new. Just because you adored Vanity Fair, it doesn't mean you have to give all your loving to Pendennis too, right?

Wrong, because on the strength of the first episode Generation Kill is going to be superlative, less grandiloquent than Jarhead (there are no mystical horses capering beside burning oil wells), as acute as Black Watch but more sustained; more resigned and realistic in its military analysis than the hysterical, finger-pointing The Mark Of Cain. The great strengths of the Simon-Burns collaboration are all here: demotic speech is given dramatic, almost theatrical depth, without ever feeling stagey; it's intensely realistic in tone yet never becomes banal; and a dozen characters – more – are deftly kept simmering without boiling over.

Director Susanna White is better used to Dickens and Brontë which perhaps accounts for the fact that there's more jaw jaw than war war, an emphasis on character rather the mindless glory of explosions. Another reason it's not too Boys' Own is the character of the embedded reporter, our key into the story, our fellow civilian inside the tight-knit squad of marines. Appropriately enough, he's the image of erstwhile embed, hard man Ross Kemp – scared and baffled and trying hard as hell to hide it. As with The Wire, it has (according to Simon) been expressly written not for the average uninformed schmuck but for the people it portrays – every scene mentally tested on a jeering audience of marines. And as with The Wire, there's a "plant": one of the actors actually is the thing he seems to play. Can you guess which? I sure ain't telling.

Now to A Short Stay In Switzerland, a dramatisation of the true story of Dr Anne Turner who ended her life with brave and urgent action before she became incapacitated by degenerative brain disease. Screenwriter Frank McGuinness played it straight, letting the story's natural drama speak for itself. Alas, the drama stayed silent. Only Julie Walters' god-given gifts saved it from mawkish tedium, and even she could not bring to life the epic farewell scene in which she stroked goodbye to her cat.

When she arrived in Switzerland for her final appointment I thought both the drama and character might be reaching their natural conclusion (we were promised brevity in the title, after all). But then Walters looked at her moping children and delivered with huge chutzpah the line "Right, let's see Zurich!", a phrase guaranteed to cause dismay at the best of times, let alone during the final throes of a noble but misguided euthanasia drama. It was also unfortunate that, at the very moment she assured the Swiss clinician that she knew what the poison would do to her, Julie Walters flashed a look – sideways, dubious – that was pure Mrs Overall.

A pandemic of glossy teen dramas presently afflicts us, emanating from the United States in a sulphurous cloud. Gossip Girl depicts what cynical, cheap-rate scriptwriters imagine are the lives of privileged Manhattan teenagers. It is essentially a clothes catalogue come to life and given a voiceover of such relentless, childish inanity ("Would she see her again? Who knows. Sometimes our best friends are actually our worst enemies ...") that it makes Carrie's SATC musings sound like Confucius. The characters' balsa-wood emotional lives are so boring you start to look at it as you would a page in Vogue, with a sort of detached self-interest: could I wear those thigh-high socks? The vapid content seems designed to throw into focus the material items, from the set dressing to the actors' limbs. Inanimate things star in this deathly parable of consumerism. Needless to say, it is a huge success.

Beverly Hills 90210, the latest copycat, is a franchise resuscitated after 10 years off-screen. Like Gossip Girl, it will also make you green round the gills and bilious. There's a slightly higher kitsch value here, though, and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) brings some fun, but it's still basically glassy-eyed social pornography, obsessed with looks, things, and money. Skins (E4) has a touch of the pestilence but generally, thank goodness, it's so scatty, bombastic, witty and hyperactive that you're too busy worrying about where the script is going to notice the clothes.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style