IoS TV review: The Town, ITV1, Wednesday
The Dark Ages, BBC4, Tuesday
Rome's Lost Empire, BBC1, Sunday

Andrew Scott stars in a drama that delights in fooling the viewer – or just causing confusion

I could be entirely wrong about this, so bear with me. But I think ITV has pulled off quite a trick with its drama serial The Town. It began last week with a scene of true discomfort: late in the evening, a suburban middle-class mother does the rounds of her household – mum, dad, daughter, gran – and heads to bed with her husband. The next morning they're found dead, apparently from an overdose. Of some discomfort to us was the fact that they had just killed off Phil Davis and Siobhan Redmond, the kind of talent prime-time ITV wouldn't usually leave grey-cheeked under a duvet five minutes into episode one of three.

What has since followed has been no less wrong-footing, if more subtly so. The plot, to be sure, is travelling in a familiar direction. The death of his parents forces Mark (Andrew Scott), the family's son, back to his home town from London, at first to sort out the funeral arrangements, and then to begin wondering whether his parents' demise is the suicide pact the police believe it to be. We watched as his presence, predictably, upset the status quo. You know what I'm talking about: teenage sister (Avigail Tlalim) acting up, overlooked gran (Julia McKenzie) forced back into the job market to put bread on the family table, an old flame of Mark's reigniting, and beyond that an increasingly unlikely circle of complicity involving the mayor (Martin Clunes), the investigating police officer, the undertakers and even, somehow, a local florist.

Last week's second episode piled coincidence upon unlikely coincidence – the most shameless involved gran, in her new job as a hotel cleaner, discovering her colleague was the undertaker at her daughter's funeral, immediately before she walked into the aftermath of her grandson's clinch with his ex-girlfriend. Julia McKenzie is to be congratulated for keeping her dignity as the plot lost seemed to lose its.

Now, it could be that the writer Mike Bartlett is betraying his theatrical origins – perhaps such soapy over-exertion might be passed off, one way or another, on stage. But let's be generous. Because there is enough sharp characterisation and decent writing to give Bartlett the benefit of the doubt. The lead actors seem to be enjoying themselves too, Andrew Scott particularly. We know Scott from his campy turn as Moriarty in Sherlock, and have had a glimpse in this series of the crazed goblin that lurks inside his more or less dutiful son. Set against all this, uneasily, is the dreamy summer setting, the woozy lighting and the ripe musical score.

All of which amounts to ... what? An ingenious satire on prime-time mainstream television drama on prime-time mainstream TV? Or a playwright given the keys to a big, gas-guzzling telly genre and just putting his foot to the floor? The former, I think, but who knows? I'll certainly tune in this week in the hope of illumination.

There has been plenty of light in Waldemar Januszczak's series The Dark Ages. His thesis – that the world a millennium and a half ago was an altogether less glum place than the name suggests – is not revelatory. But his idiosyncratic enthusiasm for the cultural highlights decidedly is. Last week's subject was early Islamic art and its talent for, among other things, hydraulics, astronomy and saucy frescos of "high-bosomed virgins".

He galumphed about the extent of the eighth century Caliphate, disarmingly spreading a battered old map on the ground now and then, delivering his deadpan aperçus. The Dome of the Rock, he told us, was such an unexpected architectural hit it was "like a flying saucer or something, that's landed out of thin air".

Two days before, the BBC's history department showed us where its cash had gone. In Rome's Lost Empire, Dan Snow followed an American academic as she used pioneering satellite photography to uncover new aspects of the Roman empire's infrastructure, most impressively the possible location of the great lighthouse of Portus, on the west coast of Italy. Snow had much that Januszczak didn't: the toned triceps, the iPads and, by the raised eyebrows of the archaeologists featured, what appeared to be some genuine historical revelation. Of charm, though, there was little to be found.



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss