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TV review: The British Academy Television Awards

17 May 2019


Jodie Comer (left) and Benedict Cumberbatch, winners of Best Actress and Actor awards at the The British Academy Television Awards (BBC1, Sunday)

Jodie Comer (left) and Benedict Cumberbatch, winners of Best Actress and Actor awards at the The British Academy Television Awards (BBC1, Sunday)

IT IS a bit like the annual ministerial review: that year-by-year attempt to place your efforts, and your circumscribed local horizon, within a global context: what might the bracing universal perspective reveal about the excellences, and the opposite, of your work? So, for me, The British Academy Television Awards (BBC1, Sunday) enable my weekly judgements to be compared with what the professionals themselves think; and, above all, remind me of how many apparently splendid programmes I have not bothered to watch.

It is a family affair, with all the strengths and weaknesses that that entails. Positively, the glittering audience is rooting for its own, demonstrating to us viewers how interconnected the world of TV is, where (for example) actors in serious dramas have a healthy appreciation of the sheer professionalism required to make far more lowbrow offerings a continuing popular success.

Less helpfully, there is a certain clannish eagerness to forgive and forget, and favourite sons (it’s usually sons) are welcomed back into the fold long before we might imagine a reasonable expiation for well-publicised misdemeanours has been worked through.

There is a measure of negative judgement: in a contemporary version of the penitent’s stool, whenever presenter Graham Norton delivered a barbed witticism referencing personal failings, the camera zoomed in on the victim’s face so that the world could see how much of a good sport he or she was. Even in my most generous mood, I find some of the prizes inexplicable. Are Ant and Dec really the best light-entertainment presenters that we can produce, summoned up on stage yet again, as on every other year? Does Britain’s Got Talent set the standard to which we should aspire?

The serious impact of TV was celebrated: the revolution in the balance of sexes this year was less trumpeted, yet simply demonstrated: again and again, the winning performers, writers, and directors were women. It is clear where so much of the talent and industry lies, and the whole thing felt far more equal.

A sequence of clips celebrated the serious challenge that TV offers to our complacency and self-satisfaction, focusing on climate change and gender stereotyping. One episode of the winning Feature, Who Do You Think You Are?, told the story of Holocaust survivors.

But the real strength of last year’s TV lay in its cornucopia of drama series, and here the prize categories felt inadequate to the field: too much excellence was vying for too few gongs. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve pretty much swept the board — a reflection not just of its sheer excellence but of its absolute originality, as it forges a new fusion of crime and comedy, a sophisticated and knowing remix of crime thriller (TV, 28 September).

What, though, I wonder, will future generations make of our moral compass, as we pile awards on to such a celebration of heartless violence, its psychopathic heroine leaving an ever-widening trail of unmourned victims?

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