Titanic, ITV, Sunday Man Men, Sky Atlantic, Tuesday World Series of Dating, BBC3, Monday

Drama based on tragic, thrilling history manages to be neither. It's hard not to cheer on the iceberg

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Half-an-hour into the first of Julian Fellowes's four-part drama, Titanic, a woman appears, announces she is tired, and leaves. Quite who she was or where she was going I had little idea; all I knew was that her dress sported some darling lace brocade and her hair was delightfully chignoned.

Truth be told, I didn't much care who she was, as I'd already spent 30 minutes being rapidly and vapidly introduced to people who were then whisked away: maids, valets, families-not-quite-in-rags, aristocracy; Americans, Italians, Irish; and, look, the rubber-faced Toby Jones, rather isolated in his excellence; and Sophie Winkleman, pulling off what might be a passable impression of the silent-film star Dorothy Gibson. But, of course, it's hard to know quite what Gibson actually sounded like.

We had hastily drawn, cardboard-cut-out characters and an even hastier romance, between the suffragette Lady Georgiana Grex and American upstart Harry. We had all-engulfing waves of exposition, and entirely obvious breakdowns along the lines of race and class. "I can't see the English wanting to drop the class system any time soon; it's woven into their character," says one Yank, seemingly summing up the Fellowesian doctrine of televisual entertainment.

The idea of this mini-series is that the boat sinks in every episode, and we see it from different perspectives each week, adding intrigue along the way. I'm not convinced many viewers will get beyond this initial affair, when the first moment of interest came 44 minutes in as Lord Manton was accused of philandering. Overnight figures suggest plenty of people didn't sit it out that long: Titanic launched with an impressive 7.3 million, but had dropped to 5.9 million by the final quarter-hour. That's not an insubstantial figure, but it is notable that people lost interest in an event that is innately thrilling and tragic. As for me, it was all I could do not to cheer on the iceberg.

Last week in this paper, I helped set a quiz, asking: which Mad Men character are you? Judging by the audience figures, it seems that few outside the media industry care. When the first four series were shown on BBC4, they averaged 355,000 viewers. Sky reportedly bid up to 300 per cent more than the BBC to air the fifth series, which has arrived after an 18-month hiatus. And its first-night audience? Just 97,000 for the first of the double bill, and a shocking 45,000 for the follow-up. So, that'll be Sky employees and everyone who has written in a newspaper about it.

No doubt more are awaiting the DVDs. And there they will find terrific writing, beautifully unhurried pacing, subtle power struggles, superb acting and the usual attention to sartorial detail. In the background lie Vietnam, the civil rights movement and hippiedom – but this is a show that focuses on the struggle of the individual, and the principal themes continue in this vein: whether Joan can cope with having a baby and returning to work; whether Peggy's talents will ever be taken seriously; whether Don's marriage can last.

More relationships arise in the "comedy reality" show World Series of Dating – though there's no question as to whether these will endure. Three men are given the chance to chat up three ladies in a speed-dating format – though the ladies have lights to buzz (no likey ...) to eject the date should they prove overly boisterous, misogynistic or just plain dull. One-time "US dating champ" Doyle MacManus (played by Rob Riggle of The Daily Show) and James Chetwyn-Talbot (Tom Price of Torchwood) provide a joyous, sports-presenter-like running commentary.

While it is amusing to see how badly dates can go – not least when the objectionable Chris starts his first date by downing a glass of red – it is this presenter duo who give the show life, the outlandishly priapic MacManus contrasting deliciously with the prudish C-T. If only Lady Georgiana's fling with Harry were half as entertaining.