By chance, two of the major new arrivals this weekend are British and the third one feels very British-y. The two big ones are very different in tone and style. One’s a charming dose of melancholy. The other is a frenetic and violent epic about gangland warfare. Something to suit everyone with British tastes, then.
US (starts Sunday, CBC, 9 p.m. and streams on CBC Gem) is based on the novel by David Nicholls and is summarized in some BBC material as a “holiday family drama,” which it isn’t. That is, a family goes on holiday, but the drama is so lugubrious that its charms are very bittersweet, and it takes a wee while to grasp the true fun of it.
The opening gives a lot away. In the middle of the night, Connie Petersen (Saskia Reeves) nudges her husband Douglas (Tom Hollander) awake and says, “I need to say something. I’ve been thinking about leaving. I think our marriage might be over.” There is no furious argument or angst. Douglas is shocked but very civilized. There is a hitch, though. Connie and Douglas are about to embark on a trip around Europe with their teenage son Albie (Tom Taylor) before he goes off to university.
After some frightfully restrained tensions, they decide to go forward with the trip. In advance Douglas makes a list of things he can do to, perhaps, change Connie’s mind. One item is, “Be organized but maintain a sense of fun.” There follows a traipsing around European capitals that is drenched in gallows humour but at times outright hilarious. Part of the appeal for the viewer is the chance to be with this family as they see Paris, Amsterdam and other capitals. Made just before the pandemic struck, there is a keen sense for the viewer of the loss of freedom to travel.
But in the drama itself what’s clever and captivating is a series of scenes that dramatize how Connie and Douglas met, fell for each other and began a life together. We see young Douglas (Iain De Caestecker) woo young Connie (Gina Bramhill) on the basis that opposites attract. He’s a biochemist and geeky, she’s an artist and very chic. These scenes are beautifully done and you slowly sense the possibility that they were ill-matched from the start, but unwisely fell in love. The four-part series is a true gem; warm, humane and rooted in a very relatable kind of middle-class existence.
Gangs of London (starts Sunday, AMC, 10 p.m.) is set in a very different England. The complicated plotting revolves around one Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney), who is a major crime boss. He has formed alliances with others – Albanians, Kurds, Jamaicans, Irish Travellers – and they all facilitate each other, with the Wallace clan being the kingpins. In the opening, Finn is shot dead, but by whom and to what purpose? His son Sean (Joe Cole) is furious and very suspicious about one particular gang. So he stops the family and associates from doing any business until his dad’s murder is solved.
This mean violence verges on mayhem as shady characters are tracked down, beaten or tortured, and, all the while, there’s a guy who has infiltrated the Wallace gang on behalf of the police. Brisk, violent and very interested in how young men try to prove themselves, Gangs of London is a very contemporary gangland epic; seething with male rage and a sense of urban corruption that is visceral. Not for those who don’t like brutal violence portrayed with gusto. But for those who can take it, the series is really an intriguing chess game about seizing power.
In contrast, Atlantic Crossing (Sunday, PBS, 9 p.m. on Masterpiece) is almost sleepy even though it’s set during the Second World War, with action sequences. Loosely based on the real friendship between Franklin Roosevelt (Kyle MacLachlan) and Norwegian Crown Princess Martha (Sofia Helin), it switches back and forth between Europe, as the Nazis invade the Nordic countries, and Washington, where Martha tries to persuade an infatuated Roosevelt to have the United States enter the war and save Europe. It moves at a stately pace – mostly in English with some Norwegian and English subtitles – and concentrates on various royal figures rather than fighting men and women. It looks gorgeous but you have to wonder about the point of it all.
Finally, there’s old school TV. NBC repeats the debut episode of Law & Order: Organized Crime. To begin with, Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) returns to meet his old friend and colleague Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) on Law & Order: SVU (Saturday, NBC, 8 p.m.) but he’s really only there to announce he’s off to join the fight on Law & Order: Organized Crime (Saturday, NBC, 9 p.m.). You know, gangs, wise guys, mob bosses, in New York City. Unlike the other shows this weekend, this doesn’t have many surprises.
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