The TV shows you need to watch this week: From The Road to Brexit to Alan Partridge

Sean O’Grady hails Matt Berry's new show, the funniest thing to come out of our miserable political stasis

Sean O'Grady@_seanogrady
Friday 22 March 2019 15:17
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Berry’s historian Michael Squeamish skewers Leavers and Remainers alike
Berry’s historian Michael Squeamish skewers Leavers and Remainers alike

The Road to Brexit has an unfortunate title because a casual reader of the TV schedules might conclude that it is yet another documentary about Britain leaving the EU.

It isn’t. It is in fact the funniest thing to emerge from this whole strange episode, which I realise isn’t saying much (BBC Northern Ireland’s brilliant mockumentary Soft Border Patrol is the only other – intentionally – amusing footage you’ll be able to discover. Catch it on BBC iPlayer).

The genius of the programme is the way that Matt Berry, as historian Michael Squeamish (author of “Fish and Chips and Frog’s Legs: Britain and Europe since the War”), manages to skewer both the Leavers and the Remainers, which mean that he merely succeeds in alienating his entire potential audience, one way or another.

Anyway, the sometimes random, sometimes not but always superb choice of archive and stock footage will reduce you to the sort of state of helplessness that the British negotiating team so often experience in Brussels. Bad history, fake vox pops, wild claims, a pony stampede – it’s like the 2016 referendum campaign all over again. Short of psychiatric attention, it’s probably the best way you can deal with the present national trauma. The Road to Brexit is co-written by Berry's Toast of London collaborator and Father Ted co-creator Arthur Matthews.

Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes play the royal couple 

I make no apologies – not that anyone's asked for any – for plugging This Time with Alan Partridge once again. This week: feminism, swearing, shellfish and the relocation of parliament during its refurbishment. Plus, Quavers, a vocal harmony group with a couple of very unusual features. Steve Coogan is helping to prove that Alan has bounced – is bouncing – back. Felicity Montagu, Susannah Fielding, Tim Key, Lolly Adefope and Ellie White provide excellent support, and without once harassing Alan sexually.

Victoria returns for its third series, and this week it’s 1848, year of revolutionary tumult across Europe and an influx of royal refugees looking for digs at Buckingham Palace.

While their privations are modest by the usual standards – one has a moth hole in her gown, while the former King Louis Philippe of France is missing a country to reign over – Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and Albert (Tom Hughes) take a compassionate approach which should be an example to all, even 170 years on. Laurence Fox makes an excellent job of playing legendarily effective foreign secretary Lord Palmerston as a version of the legendarily ineffective foreign secretary Boris Johnson. And they’ve chucked in a couple of Brexit jokes just give us some perspective on things.

‘All Round to Mrs Brown’: Caroline Aherne did this sort of thing a lot better

All Round to Mrs Brown is the product of some sort of evil experiment to cross Mrs Browns’ Boys with a traditional light entertainment chat show. The result is the most hideous thing since Jeff Goldblum got stuck with a bluebottle in his time machine thing in The Fly. With Anna Friel, Teri Hatcher and a bloke in a frock. The late Caroline Aherne did it better.

The only thing wrong with The Yorkshire Ripper Files: a Very British Crime Story is that lazy usage of the formula “a very British”. It wasn’t, in fact, in the sense that serial killers are hardly unique to the British Isles, and incompetent police forces are known the world over.

Otherwise it details with a degree of forensic care absent four decades ago, precisely how Peter Sutcliffe was able to go about his butchery virtually unhindered for many years (with suspicions he may have been responsible for other crimes too).

Even allowing for the fact that in those days the computers were primitive, virtually everything had to be done on paper, CCTV had hardly been invented, let alone DNA analysis or smartphones, the detective teams are culpable in failing to take the testimony of women seriously, simply because they were women, and sometimes had to make a living from sex work. You’d like to think that the same type of attitudes couldn’t persist today, but all too often it seems, from media and police attention, that some lives still matter less than others.

‘Derry Girls’ continues its superb run

Lastly, another reminder that Channel 4’s Derry Girls is still at its magnificent best, as is the BBC’s Fleabag. As I say, the country may be falling about, and the United Kingdom a global laughing stock, but no one finds us as funny as we do ourselves. Just as well.

The Road to Brexit (BBC2, Tuesday 10pm); Soft Border Patrol (BBC iPlayer); This Time with Alan Partridge (BBC1, Monday 9.30pm); Victoria (ITV, Sunday 9pm); All Round to Mrs Brown (BBC1, Saturday 9.15pm); The Yorkshire Ripper Files: a Very British Crime Story (BBC4, Tuesday 9pm); Derry Girls (Channel 4, Tuesday 9.15pm); Fleabag (BBC 1, Monday 10.35pm)

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