THINK the book of Job; think Mephistopheles and Faust; think
playing God. Since the illusionist is never one to hide behind
false modesty, the greatest comparisons are invoked by Derren
Brown: Apocalypse (Channel 4, Friday). Here he sets himself a
challenge that is the stuff of fantasy: to turn someone's life
around. Brown is seeing how far his profession of manipulation can
be taken - not merely, this time, to trick a subject into acting in
a way that he or she will later snap out of, and look back on with
amusement, but actually to encourage lasting transformation for
I understand that Brown used to be an enthusiastic Evangelical
Christian, and you can see that he still wants to effect
conversions, but now to entirely secular ends. He has set up the
most extraordinarily complex scam, first choosing, from among
thousands of unsuspecting people, his perfect victim - Steve, a
suggestible young man whose life is essentially selfish and idle;
then, with his family's collusion, hacking fake news items that
warn of a catastrophic meteor strike into Steve's TV, mobile, and
A cast of thousands is employed to convince Steve that he is one
of the few survivors of this disaster. By engineering this total
crisis, Brown aims to shock Steve into living a new life as a
responsible, caring, valuable member of society.
What strikes me is how far removed this is from illusionism.
Nothing could be more real than sending out fake news items, or
printing fake newspapers. We have seen only part one so far; so we
do not know if the ploy will be successful; and already newspapers
are claiming that the whole thing is a set-up.
In terms of effecting change in someone's life, I wonder if this
is how some people imagine God to work - manipulating everything to
this one end. It seems a bit over the top to me.
Homeland (Channel 4, Sundays) - a tale of how CIA
operatives manage to foil (or will they?) an Islamist terrorist
strike - is hailed by most commentators as a superior espionage
thriller. It takes place in the United States at the highest
levels, but this plot of betrayal and double-cross simply does not
grab my attention.
It suffers badly in comparison with our home-grown
Hunted (BBC1, Thursdays), which is maturing very nicely -
if you can cope with an unprecedented level of gruesome violence.
Homeland seems far more clichéd and glossy, its dialogue
more portentous and posturing, and relying on an underlying
conviction that all Muslims are out to get you, and that the US and
its values cannot be questioned.
I suspect that its final episode has a shocking twist in store,
but the fact that even I can see it coming suggests how formulaic
it is. Hunted is much darker, clearly signalling spying
and subterfuge as sordid and morally ruthless. The story and the
set-up are equally preposterous, but, if you like that sort of
thing, then this is infinitely superior.
Dame Fanny Waterman: A lifetime in music (BBC4, Friday)
reminded us that, sometimes, a simple interview gives the most
satisfying TV. Dame Fanny, sprightly at 90, and still teaching,
looked back over her founding and nurturing of the Leeds
International Piano Competition. Here is a life that is giving
genuine opportunity and transformation to all around her.