In Search of Medieval Britain, BBC4
Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press, BBC4
Inside the Medieval Mind, BBC4
Pushing Daisies, ITV1
Living Goddess, Channel 4

BBC4's season about life in the Middle Ages shows why TV loves digging around in the past – preferably with Stephen Fry on board to make sense of it all

Everyone makes free with the medieval period. It's a smash-and-grab raid. Cervantes, Rossetti, Wagner and Tolkien all took whatever they fancied, be it a see-through nightie or a chunky goblet. Then there's
Camelot, the Star Wars franchise, the cod-cassock fiction genre of monkish sleuths, Dungeons and Dragons, drip-dry goth daywear, and family-friendly jousting. And then vertiginously far down the food chain there's the BBC4 Medieval season trailer, in which musical instruments of torture like hurdy-gurdys and zithers play Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady", while animated skulls and gargoyles do a jerky little dance. Cod-medievalism, with chips.

The season itself has smart stuff in it, but it's predictable. BBC4 found themselves a medieval academic who looks a bit like Erin O'Connor (OK, I admit that is quite an achievement) and sent her off to stand outside windy castles. Dr Alixe Bovey, for so she is called, has a Canadian accent (how modern) and says Doo-ram for Durham. Making her navigate the M3 using the 600-year-old Gough map was a nice touch. With spine-tingling originality they called the show In Search of Medieval Britain.

I don't know why Stephen Fry, right, was chosen to present a programme about the Gutenberg press, but I'm glad he was (Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press, BBC4). His enthusiasm and wonder were considerable, yet he stayed at just one remove from the nerdiness that tends to afflict those who spend their time making working reconstructions of German 15th-century printing presses. He wrung several moments of delightful entertainment out of the subject: he discussed the making of vellum editions of the Bible while standing in front of a herd of cattle, which meant he could point to one calf and say, "You could be Genesis." (Andrew Lloyd Webber's catchphrase "You could be Nancy" sprang uncomfortably to mind at this point.)

Fry's charming presentation also included my favourite sentence of the week, which he pronounced, apparently spontaneously, while holding up the first letter he and his compositor chums made for the press: "This has been hand carved and grooved and shaped and emeried and rasped and shaped and hardened and tempered, and now it is the key that unlocks the technology that changes the world." It's likely that took a few takes, but one of the reasons Fry is a good factual presenter is that he is a good actor.

Best of the season so far, however, has been the excellent Inside the Medieval Mind, by Professor Robert Bartlett for the Open University, because it provides both wise overview and moreish detail. Mad monks' marginalia, illuminated bestiaries, dog-heads, monopods and fish-men all feature, just as they should.

Pushing Daisies (ITV1) has a fairy-tale narrator archly intoning: "When she was eight years, three weeks and 48 hours old, she realised..." Oh puh-leeze. She realised what? That life was too short for this kind of faux-naive crap? Laboriously whimsical, like a Tim Burton-by-numbers, its woozy escapism gives "kooky" a bad name. Sure, it's gorgeous, and the constantlyunfolding visual richness lulls you into a state of happy sedation, but so does In the Night Garden. Pushing Daisies (and honestly, what self-respecting title has a gerund in it? Ok, ok, Leaving Las Vegas aside...) has a fey infantilism that makes you yearn for the salty surrealism of Guillermo Del Toro. That said, Anna Friel is excellent, and her American accent faultless. I bet she'd say Doo-ram, if required. The first series runs to nine instalments, but ITV had only eight slots available, so it has vanished the second episode. Small blessings.

Living Goddess (and now I retract that gerund comment absolutely) was an extraordinary documentary about the Kumari child-goddesses of Nepal, filmed at a dramatic juncture in the country's history. The little girl, painted and preening in her divinity, yawned languorously as her grandmother worshipped at her tikka-daubed feet and the king of Nepal came to get her blessing. Inside her home, all was suffused with the calm of timeless ritual. Outside on the streets, angry Maoists fought for democracy and secularisation.

The material alone would have made a masterpiece, so the film-makers let the material be. They added only subtitles and occasional explanatory text. This rigorously hands-off approach – almost a Dogme documentary – meant the film gained great sensitivity, but lost some clarity. The texture of Nepalese traditions took on their own poetry: the syncopated clanging bells, the colours, the way a man petted a goat's furry neck before killing it – and this meant that when the Maoists in all their modernity burst into the film, the aesthetic contrast was very powerful. Can history be told by aesthetics? Perhaps not, but nevertheless, the film is a marvellous achievement.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine