Last night's viewing: Surviving Progress, BBC4; Revenge, E4

It's hard to imagine that this film won't find a sympathetic audience

Surviving Progress opened with a bit of chimp-teasing, one of our primate cousins having been trained to prop two L-shaped blocks upright in order to earn a piece of fruit. On this occasion, though, the centre of balance of one of the blocks had been invisibly altered so that the task was no longer possible. Anyone well versed in the rhetoric of admonitory documentaries like this might have been tempted for a moment to assume that the hapless chimp was us, baffled to discover that what had worked so many times before was now failing. But the point was that the chimp wasn't us. Faced with the same conundrum, a small boy almost immediately started to investigate the offending block to discover why it wasn't co-operating any more. That curiosity, it was suggested, is at the heart of human technology, and thus at the heart of progress.

Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks's film, based on a book by Ronald Wright, proposed that progress might not always be a good thing, and it almost immediately showed its hand with a rhetorical trope that was more straightforward, that Koyaanisqatsii trick of speeding up film of a busy city, so that human society becomes alien and faintly repulsive. The problem, Wright argued, is that we are "running 21st-century software on hardware that hasn't been upgraded for 50,000 years". Driven by assumptions that the bounty of the world is limitless and more is always better, we're on the brink of consuming ourselves to death.

This is a fairly familiar ecological theme, but Surviving Progress turned out to be a pick'n'mix of old and new pessimism: over-population, resource depletion, Occupy anti-capitalism, scientific pessimism and then – right at the end – a few concessionary gleams of light. Some of its substantive facts were striking: it took 13 centuries between the fall of Rome and the year Columbus set out for America for the world population to grow by 200 million. Now it takes just three years. What's more, an increasing number of that bigger number are getting as acquisitive and resource hungry as we have been for years. Meanwhile, the conventional wisdom insists that growth is the only solution to the problems of growth. "Conventional economics is a form of brain damage," said the biologist David Suzuki, rightly pointing out that describing the environmental costs of advanced technological civilisation as "externalities" is crazy.

But Surviving Progress seemed a lot less certain when it came to explaining how we might get out of the mess. "We have to use less," said one contributor, without explaining how those used to more could be persuaded to sign up for this ethical diet plan. Stephen Hawking and Jane Goodall were briefly allowed to make the case for human ingenuity as a source of hope ("We always do pretty well when our backs are to the wall," said the latter). But others almost immediately contradicted them, to sustain the prevailing mood of enraged gloom. It's hard to imagine that this film won't find a sympathetic audience, as bankers and politicians desperately try to prop up the crumbling remnants of a notionally "free" system. But it would have been nice if it had offered just a little more complexity and at least a vague hint of a solution.

I take it that the American success of Revenge is partly driven by the rage of the 99 against the one per cent. Not sure anything else could explain it, since the dialogue is driftwood and the performances match. An updated version of The Count of Monte Cristo set in the Hamptons, it's essentially like Made in Chelsea with added murder. Which isn't that terrible an idea when you think about it. I think even I might be able to watch Made in Chelsea if there was a guarantee that one or two of its cast members ended up face down in a pool of blood every week.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before