The Weekend's Viewing: Downton Abbey, Sun, ITV1
Comic Strip Presents – The Hunt For Tony Blair, Fri, Channel 4
Spy, Fri, Sky 1

 

Matthew went over the top in Downton Abbey this week.

When doesn't he, you might ask, though that would be unfair to Dan Stevens, who is one of the more restrained cast members. And perhaps unfair to the cast as a whole, actually, since while Julian Fellowes's script never stints itself when it comes to melodrama the actors generally do an excellent job of disguising the fact. Take last night's opening scene, for example, which featured a sudden outbreak of paranormal sensitivity. As Matthew and his men charged towards the German lines we cut to Daisy, coming over all queer in the Downton kitchens: "Somebody walked over me grave," she said. For most writers one eerie premonition would be enough but not for Fellowes. Upstairs in the drawing room a china cup tumbled from Lady Mary's nerveless hand as she too felt the disturbance in the ether: "I'm so sorry... I suddenly felt terribly cold," she explained. Unfortunately, Bates – wandering around the place stiffly with his crucifix nailed to his back – doesn't appear to share their psychic gifts. "She's gone now," he reassured Anna as they discussed his malevolent ex-wife. Oh no she hasn't.

We live in more egalitarian times these days, but even so some privileges of rank still hold. So, while both Matthew and William copped a Blighty one in France it was William who ended up dying, after an obligingly extended convalescence that gave him time to marry Daisy. Meanwhile, Matthew came round to find that in all probability he's going to be playing a Lord Chatterley role in series three, wheelchair-bound and impotent as Lady Mary gets over-familiar with the Downton gamekeeper. "You mean there can be no children!" said Lord Grantham, when the doctor tactfully drew him aside. "No anything, I'm afraid," he was told. "The sexual reflex is controlled at a lower level than the function of the legs. Once the latter is cut off so is the former."



This seems unnecessarily cruel. One understands that deferred consummation is essential to all popular drama. The audience is brought to a state where they're gagging for it, and then gratification is withheld. In Downton, we've got Bates and Anna, teetering on the brink of wedded happiness, and Lady Mary and Matthew, blind to a love that seems obvious to us. But to entirely destroy the possibility that we might eventually get relief is harsh, and noble sentiments of self-sacrifice no real substitute. "Go home and think of me as dead," Matthew told Lavinia. "Remember me as I was." Even more cruelly we were teased with the sight of Penelope Wilton arriving at Matthew's bedside – an actress superbly equipped to explore the grief of a mother with a wounded son – and then she was given no lines to say. We had to make do instead with William's melodramatic valedictory, as his father murmured: "He doesn't need you no more, Daisy... he doesn't need none of us no more." As Wilde said of the death of Little Nell, you would have to have had a heart of stone not to laugh.

Still, at least Downton gives you laughs, which is more than you can say for Comic Strip Presents – The Hunt for Tony Blair. Family loyalty would explain the commissioning of this "satire", since Comic Strip helped launch the channel, but I'm not sure anything can explain its transmission. The pastiche was undisciplined (what was Barbara Windsor doing in a 39 Steps parody, other than showing that Ronni Ancona can do the voice?), the script flabby and seemingly unedited ("Here, I was back in the city. Anonymous... apart from my sack-cloth toga") and the plot utterly devoid of satirical bite. It should have been cordoned off with crime-scene tape, not broadcast.

Spy, on the other hand, a new sitcom on Sky1, is very promising. "How was school?" a dad asks his son. "Torpid," replies his witheringly precocious nine-year-old. Thirty seconds in and already more laughs than Comic Strip managed in an hour.

Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Arts and Entertainment
Nicki Minaj's lyric video for 'Only' features Drake as the Pope, Minaj as a dictator and Chris Brown as an army leader

music 'It was inspired by Cartoon Network'

Arts and Entertainment
James Nesbit in The Missing on BBC 1

TV review

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.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
    Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

    What are Jaden and Willow on about?

    Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
    Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

    Cold war

    How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
    Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

    Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

    From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
    Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

    Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

    New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
    Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

    Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

    ‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager