The Weekend's Viewing: From post-war analgesic to novelistic complexity, anyone interested in the history of American TV would have enjoyed this

America in Primetime, Sat, BBC2 // Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero, Sun, BBC2

America in Primetime contained the single best thing I've ever heard said about great television drama – seven sentences as good as seven weeks of scriptwriting masterclasses. The speaker was David Chase, creator and writer of The Sopranos, and his subject was indirection. He was explaining how his dissatisfaction with the television he was watching shaped the television he made. “People in TV always said exactly what was on their mind, especially in a family situation. But people don't. We all know that. We've all been to Thanksgiving dinners. I would say that 90 per cent of what Tony said, or Christopher, or Paulie or any of them was not the truth. If Tony says 'yes' he means 'no', if he says 'no' he means 'yes'. If Tony says, 'No... I'm in a good mood', you know someone is going down in about four seconds.” In a film eager to exhort us into retrospective admiration, full of very good writers praising the writing that inspired them, that was the line that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. That's The Sopranos encapsulated, a drama that trusted the audience to do something they do every day of their lives. Read between the lines.

The first of a four-part series on American television – made by PBS but repackaged for British audiences by Alan Yentob – “Man of the House” focused on the depiction of masculinity in popular shows, from the now risible simplicities of Father Knows Best to the twisted patriarchy of Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad. And it was, inevitably, a somewhat triumphalist account of what Yentob described as “the most competitive television market in the world”, aware of the global reach of the industry's products and bound up in a nostalgia that wasn't likely to be shared by all British viewers. When David Chase said that “we've all been to Thanksgiving dinners”, he only underlined a sense that the film was addressed most directly to those who, like him, had personal memories of watching The Honeymooners as a child.

But anyone interested in the maturing of American television – its voyage from post-war analgesic to the novelistic complexity of the best cable shows – would have found something to enjoy here. Pretty much everyone who's anybody in serious American television was here to offer an opinion – Mad Men's Matthew Weiner, Carl Reiner (who wrote the groundbreaking Dick Van Dyke Show), Norman Lear of All in the Family and Alan Ball, who created Six Feet Under and True Blood. Even David Lynch showed up, testifying to the consoling nature of Cold War sitcoms, which distracted audiences from the threat of nuclear extinction with impossibly perfect nuclear families. And there are unexpected genealogies too, with Chase, for example, tracing Tony Soprano's self-pitying rants directly back to Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners. One quibble though: The Cosby Show's highest ratings figure was 82 million viewers. Breaking Bad's best showing, by contrast, was just 1.9 million. Some exploration of the dissolving of the mass audience would have been interesting, and perhaps uncomfortably instructive about what had to happen before television could really mature.

In Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero, the stand-up comedian sets out to redress what he sees as a historical injustice: the comparative obscurity of Alfred Russel Wallace, whose writings on evolutionary theory finally prodded Darwin into publication. Why don't we talk about Wallaceism today? Because, as Wallace himself generously conceded, he hadn't properly grasped how the mechanism might operate. He's a very good hero for all that, a self-made scholar-adventurer. Bailey goes where he went and does what he did, from eating durian fruit (“It's like somebody's put a quiche in a car and left it for four days”) to catching butterflies. He looks wild-haired and flushed throughout, which might be down to the humidity and heat but I suspect has quite a bit to do with simple excitement.

twitter.com/tds153

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test