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TV review: Staged, Grand Designs, and Finding Alice

22 January 2021

BBC/Staged Films Ltd

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Staged (BBC1, Mondays and Tuesdays)

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Staged (BBC1, Mondays and Tuesdays)

PERHAPS humankind’s sense of humour is strong proof of God’s existence. Our universal enjoyment of joking and fooling around hardly squares with purely mechanistic and deterministic evolution: are they glorious examples of God’s delight in superfluity, abundance, and excess? And perhaps the most divine form of humour is when we stand outside ourselves, undercutting our basic preoccupations with self-importance and personal agency, deliberately making fools of ourselves and parading our inmost inadequacies.

If so, TV’s most thoroughgoing current example must be Staged (BBC1, Mondays and Tuesdays). David Tennant and Michael Sheen apparently play themselves in lockdown, Zoom-calling from their homes as a planned production of Six Characters in Search of an Author collapses.

It is the most sophisticated, carefully plotted representation of chaos. The latest indignity is that they will no longer even be involved in the project except to mentor the actors who will be their replacement. They thrash around in the very depths of their dark sides: punctured egos, jealousy, vanity, insecurity, and desperation to be recognised and applauded.

Every stereotypical characteristic of the affronted actor is paraded for our horrified delight, and such is their real-life stature that the greatest thespians join in the romp with gusto: Whoopi Goldberg treats them like naughty schoolboys; Sir Michael Palin, the world’s nicest man, is happy to behave appallingly. Has lockdown ushered in a season of desperate misrule? Do we turn everything topsy-turvy, revealing our inmost demons, to keep at bay the horror stalking outside?

Can anything stand in the way of reasonable building improvements more effectively than your diocesan advisory committee? On the showing of Grand Designs (Channel 4, Wednesday of last week), they don’t come close to the local planning authority. Greg (survivor of a brain tumour) and Georgie (living with recurring cancers) want to turn her parents’ old barn into their dream home — but every move is thwarted. They cannot demolish and rebuild; they must respect and employ all existing materials. Well, shouldn’t ancient Kentish barns be rigorously conserved? No doubt; but this eyesore, without architectural or aesthetic value, dates from 1985. Despite every official hindrance, it was a moving story of all adversities triumphantly overcome.

The dream home that Harry has built for his wife and daughter is central to ITV’s new drama Finding Alice (Sundays). On the night when they move in, Alice finds him lying dead at the foot of the stairs. The police are suspicious: did she push him? Within 24 hours, she discovers that his business has collapsed; he is greatly in debt; and an unknown son appears. No one behaves realistically.

Sudden death drowns anyone in grief and confusion; but poor Keeley Hawes is required by every word and action to set up absurd plotlines, as the writer and director insist that this tragedy must play as comedy. Instead, it is thorough tosh.

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