Never underestimate the joy of seeing thoroughly wretched people made fabulously wealthy.
One such “Bonfire of the Vanities” story was The Undoing (Sky Atlantic, Monday). It based on Jonathan and Grace, a golden pair (Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman). He was an oncologist, she was a psychologist, and they lived high up in the skies of Manhattan with their golden son, tangled-haired. How much class has Grace had? Donald Sutherland was playing her dad, that is for sure.
But there was a scratch under the surface, and not everything was as it seemed. Hooray!-Hooray! Funny English gentleman Jonathan (if Sir Sean had an accent good enough…) had an affair with a woman who lived downtown (the horror). In the meantime, Grace suffered from an unexplained depression that made her walk through the streets of New York at night bearing a series of fabulous coats and scarves.
A nasty murder had come into her carefully regulated world. There was someone who did it, but who? Before all was exposed this week, David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal, LA Law) had the strings pulled for five episodes. If you save the series for later (through this year’s Christmas present, a gift card for a streaming service), I’m not going to ruin anything, but it was satisfying. Cheesy, sure, with plenty of “would-this-really-happen” moments (taking a kid to a bloody murder trial?), but in fine film-noir style, viewers were swept along.
Kidman was the theme song for The Undoing, singing Dream a Little Dream of Me (I told you so, class). It didn’t appear with Neil Brand in The Sound of TV (BBC4, Friday) because it wasn’t the kind of song to which he was paying tribute. The role of Brand was to present intros from Coronation Street and Dixon of Dock Green to The Simpsons and Game of Thrones with the classic “I call the tune in one”
Brand was a delightful guide to theme tunes, not a bad composer and musician himself. He wore his erudition loosely and his heart on his sleeve for television, whether he was speaking to a fellow craftsman or breaking down a piece into its component pieces, as on The Simpsons. We didn’t need a neuroscientist to tell us the tunes of recognition carry us back as surely as a double nougat (the Scottish version of the madeleine of Proust), in time and place, but the producers came up with one.
Brand had good stories up his sleeve as well, from how much Eric Spear won for the Corrie theme song – the huge amount of £ 6 – and how EastEnders’ doof-doofs came to be. As today’s multi-channel, box-set-slurping audiences missed the intros and went straight to the action, there was fear at the end of the first of three films that theme tunes were on the decline. However, Brand held the faith, maintaining that theme tunes would still be “powerful and personal in a way that no other music can be.” I hope he’s right; I’m afraid he’s not.
At first, I thought that the stand-alone documentary The World’s Greatest Murder Trial: Nuremberg (Channel 5, Tuesday) would not be adequate to express the subject’s enormity. Director Jenny Ash took us as near as possible to the courtroom at the end of the war, using original video, audio recordings and first-hand evidence, to see 21 of the highest-ranking Nazis placed on trial for crimes against humanity (along with waging an illegal war and genocide, one of the “new” crimes created for the trial).
The most important moment came when one of the witnesses, Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, an Auschwitz survivor, completed her terrible testimony. She stood up and left the witness stand quietly, her eyes looking for Goring to look squarely at him. He was a coward to the end; she had been a heroine for years.
From historians to lawyers, there were several contemporary speakers discussing the importance of what happened then and now, but they were heard rather than seen. The film stayed based on the large courtroom for much of the time. It centered the mind as a technique to such an extent that 90 minutes proved adequate. A moment more would have been intolerable at certain times, such as during the presentation of evidence.
Coronation Street (STV, Monday through Friday) proceeded to its 60th birthday on Dec. 9 on its stately, if painful, course.
Lately, the street has made for a harrowing sight. How upsetting? There’s something about seeing an assassination attempt as a light relief, as it was this week,