Last night's viewing - A Mother's Son, ITV1; The Treasures of Ancient Rome, BBC4

Watching a certain kind of television thriller, I sometimes wonder whether I'm communicative enough in day-to-day conversation. Take A Mother's Son, for example, which was only a few minutes in before a classic example of the kind of helpful fact-sharing I have in mind. "It's been nearly two years now," a teenage boy said to his divorced mother, obviously anxious that she might have forgotten how long it was since she'd left his father. A few minutes later her new partner was in on the act too: "We knew it wasn't going to be without its difficulties," he said, about a little family spat. "I mean, what are we? Two months in?" "Seven weeks and three days," she replied, clearly a woman who likes a degree of precision when it comes to redundantly exchanged information.

Anyway, we know where we are now, which is the point. A recently blended family with a lot of step-sibling rivalry, and thus the perfect setting for a tale of divided loyalties. A young girl has been found dead in a nearby reed bed and Rosie (Hermione Norris) is beginning to fret about the bloody trainers she's found under her son's bed. Far more significantly, she found the washing machine on when she came home putting his uniform through the heavy-stain cycle, a fact that I would have thought was the next best thing to a confession. I've occasionally threatened to kill my teenagers to try and get them to put a load of washing in and that didn't work. But I think they might think about it to escape a murder charge.

If you're wondering why she doesn't just ask him how he got blood on his trainers, and why he'd lied about losing them, the same thought occurs to her new partner. "Oh, for Christ's sake, David!" she replied. "He's already vulnerable after the divorce." Well, quite. You wouldn't want to upset him with a relatively straightforward enquiry, would you? Makes much more sense to set yourself up as CSI Southwold, buying hydrogen peroxide to test that ominous stain, bribing the local computer nerd to access his browser history, and secretly enlisting your ex-partner to follow him around town. What drives a thriller like this – which sets up an intractable tension between maternal love and growing suspicion – is the question: "What would you do?" But they tend to work better if you can minimise the number of times viewers look at the unfolding action and say, "I'd never bloody well do that".

"I'm setting out to debunk a myth," said Alastair Sooke at the beginning of The Treasures of Ancient Rome. Before he could do that, of course, he had to conjure one up, which was his contention that everybody thinks the Romans were just about gladiators and aqueducts. "To say that the Romans didn't do art is just nonsense," he told us indignantly. It is nonsense, but I'm not sure anyone worth listening to has ever said such a thing, and he didn't bother with chapter and verse so we could check.

Anyway, if you want a survey of some very fine pieces of Roman art, interspersed with shots of Sooke tootling around Rome in a Cinquecento, this should suit you down to the ground, provided you're not too allergic to worked-up aesthetic responses. "It's so harrowing to look at," said Sooke, looking at a first-century bust. "It's terrifying." Was he terrified and harrowed? I just didn't believe it, I'm afraid, any more than I believed him when he said he was "overwhelmed" by the sheer volume of art in Pompeii. You studied at the Courtauld, Alastair. You knew what was there before you went, which is why it figured on the shooting schedule. Time to sit down in front of The Shock of the New – still fresh after 30 years – and learn some lessons about how words go with pictures.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?