TV COLUMN: Timeless, Muslims Like Us, Love Actually, AA Gill

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

James Waller-Davies

You know you’re scraping the bottom of the pre-Christmas television barrel when you have to scroll a few feet down the digital TV menu to find something new to watch.

Timeless (E4) was a fairly big budget pilot hidden away from the mainstream channels. E4 is Channel 4’s younger person remit channel and most of its content is correctly positioned, but Timeless deserved a broader audience for its cast and production values alone.

The time-travel genre comes with its built-in flaw. Ever since HG Wells’ time machine, we have ‘seen it all before’. There are only two twists to the tale: go to an imagined future, or go back to the past and change it.

Inescapably, Timeless was caught in its own time-loop, derivative of Doctor Who, Timecop, and even the 1980’s cult classic, Quantum Leap. Even so, Abigail Spencer’s Lucy Preston, the historian taken back in time to support the muscle of Matt Lanter’s Wyatt Logan, is a believable and engaging character, even if the overall premise was stretching it a bit.

Timeless is one of those mass-produced programmes that has more to do with the amount of money sloshing around American television production at the moment. Its eye is pointed to a global rather than a domestic audience where the potential rewards far outweigh the need for critical scrutiny during pre-production.

Timeless could have been better finished for just a little more care in its inception and it’s unlikely to maintain an audience in light of the Christmas and New Year glut, where there will be less need to scroll down the menu for something to watch. It deserved better.

Muslims Like Us (BBC2) must have been thought up back in the summer when the intern was left in charge of the office. The ‘Big Brother’-style reality television show placed ten Muslims in a house together to see if they had different views. And strangely, they did. This was a revelation that shook the foundations of the Daily Express, who managed to get their “Fury at…” headline out once again.

The producers claimed “debate, disagreement and insight reveal what it’s like to be a Muslim in Britain today”. As with any reality TV show, all audiences got was confirmation that given any ten people locked in a room together, the full spectrum of anything will be seen. “Hell”, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, is always “other people”. The programme should have been more accurately titled ‘Muslims just like the rest of us’.

Love Actually (ITV2) was revealed to be the nation’s favourite Christmas movie this week. Hardly surprising since it benefits from scheduling of the carpet bombing variety. Whilst most channels make do with trailers for their Christmas Day movie, ITV opt for the more ambitious strategy of showing the full thing almost every week of the year.

It’s not a bad film in many ways, owing much to Shakespearian comedy in its multiple plotline structure and tonal varieties on sweet and bittersweet. Unfortunately, ‘Bored Actually’ has had any freshness battered out of it by endless repetition.

‘AA Gill is away’ for good this time. The Sunday Times television critic died this week from cancer. Gill, more renowned for his restaurant column, was nonetheless one of the most perceptive and acerbic television critics of his age.

Often a merciless critic of the BBC, Gill was one who made television imperceptibly better by poking the dross viciously with the pointed stick of his prose. Though he rarely appeared on television himslef, television will be the poorer for his passing.