I have indigestion. I’m being fed too much period-drama pâté in my Chesterfield wing chair. Dear readers, I am bewigged and befuddled. It’s Sundays that leave me feeling as though my gallbladder is about to burst. Mr Selfridge, Call the Midwife, Ripper Street, Blandings. Thud, thud, thud, thud. It’s like being run over by a steam train driven by a man in a stovepipe hat.
I’m not saying that all of these are awful – I like Blandings. It’s a wispy bit of fun and it’s time PG Wodehouse was dusted off again for television. It’s been too long since Jeeves and Wooster. But four period pieces in one night? And 1950s-set Father Brown for two weeks in daytime on BBC1? I’m the first person to admit that everyone needs a bit of escapism, but there’s escapism and there’s taking up residence and choosing curtains.
Is this the pattern for 2013? I hope not. It’s bad enough knowing that there are ten episodes of Mr Selfridge (TEN!), which in any good drama would be a joy but in the case of Mr Selfridge only makes it feel like it will still be running when I’ve decided to retire to a beach hut on the north-east coast with only a camping stove, Jon Hamm and my Frasier box sets for company.
Mr Selfridge is awful, with a teeth-grinding (my teeth, not his) central performance as Harry Selfridge from Hollywood star Jeremy Piven, all grin, beard and expansive “Look at me, you stuffy British people! I’m an AMERICAN!” arm-flinging.
I know ITV has thoroughly blotted its copybook with many viewers after the Christmas Downton Abbey debacle, a special episode that didn’t have a plot, more a loose coalition of not very interesting stories (Matthew, you’re well out of it). But ITV did some good, interesting things last year – A Mother’s Son and The Town (yes, I know it went a bit weird at the end, but never mind). But I hope it hasn’t gone all shy about doing modern stuff and has decided to stick to the safety of arch men gesticulating in pantaloons.
As for BBC1 – the disturbing, unpleasant and often properly distressing Ripper Street (carved-up women, Victorian snuff-porn, a graphic hanging) is a whole column in itself. And then there is sweet, comfy, everything-will-be-allright Call the Midwife, which is as critic-proof as a nuclear bunker. This lot might all be different in tone, but they are in costume and, en masse, have turned Sundays into stodgy TV drama pies. We need our palates cleansed and our appetites piqued by something more contemporary on the menu.
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