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TV review: Karen Pirie, Frozen Planet II, and The Elon Musk Show

21 October 2022


Lauren Lyle stars in Karen Pirie (ITV, from 4 September and ITV hub)

Lauren Lyle stars in Karen Pirie (ITV, from 4 September and ITV hub)

THE body — slashed and bloodied — was found in the cathedral; although, this being the bare ruin’d choir of St Andrews, no reconsecration was required, and divine worship could resume. Karen Pirie (ITV, from 25 September and ITV hub) blew away all the cobwebs from the tired genre of crime thriller. The narrative raced along; red herrings were dealt with before they became too irritating; the violence, though shocking, was not gratuitous.

Pirie herself (Lauren Lyle) was brought in to re-examine this unsolved case on the assumption that, as a woman (and a short one at that), she wouldn’t stand a chance of doing so. She proved to be far more tenacious, determined, and imaginative than anyone expected, enlivening plodding detection with flashes of genius. She was also very funny: a quirky wit pushed the boundaries of police practice.

The resolution was genuinely surprising: we and she had been wrong-footed all the way, and the denouement opened up unexpectedly serious issues. Instead of the prime suspects’ hiding their guilt in a 25-year cover-up, we found that they had instead, at great personal cost, been engaged in an act of loyalty, to save one of them from certain racist condemnation. The wide range of modes — humour, systemic misogyny, failure, triumph — were handled flawlessly. Let’s have more like this, please.

BBC1 has, in recent weeks, polluted the prime-time Sunday evening slot with a shocking parade of sex and violence; but, as this was Sir David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet II, the Corporation probably judged, correctly, that the National Treasure could get away with anything. From the Arctic to tundra and Antarctic, Sir David introduced us to creature after creature, on land, ice, and in the seas. Sooner or later, they copulate; shortly thereafter, they eat one another alive. To a sensitive soul, it is distressing in the extreme.

There is, of course, a serious subtext, which came to the foreground in Sunday’s final episode: we are witnessing a world in collapse. The pack ice is melting; the glaciers are shrinking; the sea is heating up — all at an exponential rate. Species are becoming extinct; and the global rise in sea water will submerge our most populous cities. The filming is, of course, spectacularly beautiful, but it is recording Armageddon.

The Elon Musk Show (BBC2, three episodes, from 12 October) portrayed not merely the world’s richest man, but, apparently, the Richest Man Who Has Ever Lived. The documentary paints a complex picture of fanatical determination and commitment, a brutal genius — he works all night, every night; so why shouldn’t he sack any employee who doesn’t?

Like Sir David, he, too, is appalled by the spectre of global warming, but his solution, fanatically pursued, is to fill the world with electric cars and fire off space rockets enabling Homo sapiens to become an extra-terrestrial species.

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