The Kennedys, BBC2, Friday
James May's Things You Need to Know, BBC2, Monday

Bobby's the best of a pretty grim bunch in this disappointing depiction of an American dynasty

The chequered history of The Kennedys – the TV mini-series, rather than just the family – is already well known.

Originally commissioned by the History Channel, it was dropped by the station in January this year. The producers and director argued indignantly that every episode had been vetted for accuracy, and approved, by the top brass at History TV; they hinted darkly that its banishment was due to the disgust of influential family friends at its unflattering portrayal of the Irish-American dynasty as a corrupt, bribe-dispensing, complacent gang of priapic and amoral upstarts.

Seeing its first episodes, one wonders if the objections might be simpler than that. Maybe they just couldn't stomach such a rich chronicle being given such cheap production values and such a tacky script.

Early episodes showed the transformation of JFK from a mumbling dweeb to a master rhetorician simply by his spotting an army widow weeping in the third row and talking to her. ("They liked him because he spoke from the heart.") His chronic priapism was signalled by the subtle advances of a blond Monroe-esque PR. ("And if there's anything else you need, I'm Cynthia ...") Despite Jackie's mother's warnings ("He'll never be faithful, not for a single day") they are married, off-screen ("They're calling it the wedding of the century" grates her new father-in-law), and soon Jack is roused from his slumbers to be told by the kids, "Wake up, Mister President".

Friday's episode offered more of this risibly clichéd gallop through American history with JFK facing his first challenge: the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Contrasting the doomed offensive (in brief, all-purpose war footage) with the President's glitzy schmoozing at a White House reception, it balanced Kennedy's liberal worries against a gung-ho general ("Sir, we have a Communist bastard not 90 miles from our shore") who failed to factor into his invasion plans the foreseeable obstacle of a full moon. But Jack humbly informed the nation he'd screwed up, and soon was looking at an 80 per cent approval rating.

This is comic-strip, sub-Wikipedia history with a side order of boys-will-be-boys hagiography. Equally troubling is the production design: now that we're used to Mad Men, The Kennedys, like its hero's girlfriends, looks cheaply mounted. Even the Oval Office boardroom seems to have been bought from Ikea in the sales.

Greg Kinnear is physically well cast as the golden boy of Camelot without ever hinting at either the charm or the moral depth of JFK: the same toothachey grimace of irritable concern creases his boyish face whether he's pondering the fate of US troops on a Cuban beach or phoning an available horizontale when he can't sleep. The wardrobe department have kitted out Katie Holmes, as the famously stylish Jackie, in unflattering frocks before and after her ascension to First Lady. After an initial burst of sophomoric sassiness, she's settled into a one-note performance of sulky gloom as though rehearsing for the funeral. Tom Wilkinson (born in Leeds) is excellent as Joe Kennedy Snr, radiating hard-won political nous and 18-carat unscrupulousness. The one to watch, however, is Barry Pepper, who played the ace sniper in Saving Private Ryan. His Bobby is a family man, bullied by his dad into playing a part in government. Once there, he grows convincingly into a hard-ass when confronted by generals and J Edgar Hoover, following a similar moral trajectory to Al Pacino's in The Godfather. The show won't impress anyone keen on historic subtlety, but I'll be back to see how they portray Frank Sinatra in Part Four.

If The Kennedys was history-lite, James May's Things You Need to Know was biology-ultralite. The Top Gear presenter with the hairstyle and clothing sense (the floral shirts! the cable-knit jumpers!) of my lesbian Aunt Madge used graphics, Victorian cut-outs and similar comical accessories to take his audience through procreation (the competitive racing sperm were very Top Gear-ish,) genetics, digestion, excretion, human bugs ("The human body is a walking zoo of bacteria and parasites"), tapeworm, the common cold, teenagers ("80 per cent of teen skin is like pizza"), hangovers, ageing and death – all in half an hour. May is a reassuring cove, and delivered his talk from the depths of a leather armchair, like a family doctor. But who was it meant for? Adults would have found it banal, teenagers a bit condescending – and would the 11-year-olds who were its natural audience have been around to watch it at 10pm?

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
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

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

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

Comics
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.

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back