The week in TV: Breeders; Night Coppers; The Terminal List; Sneakerhead; Big Zuu’s Big Eats

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The Guardian

Breeders (Sky One/ Now TV)
Night Coppers (Channel 4) | All 4
The Terminal List (Amazon Prime)
Sneakerhead (Dave)
Big Zuu’s Big Eats (Dave)

Breeders, Sky One’s parenting comedy, is back, and it’s nice to see some good old-fashioned wine glugging. Of late, there has been too much prim micro-sipping on the small screen, but Breeders seems to have missed the TV memo about consuming wine by the teaspoon. Paul (Martin Freeman) and Ally (Daisy Haggard) hose back the vino as if it were life-saving medication or vitamins, an antidote to their myriad woes.

It took me a while to click with this show. Created by Freeman, Simon Blackwell and Chris Addison, it initially felt like a child-centred, foul-tempered Cold Feet. As a showcase for Freeman being odious – an anti-Tim from The Office – it was almost too successful. Paul was so unlikable – shouting, swearing at his kids, pompously sniffing like Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring – he was borderline unwatchable. Ally’s snarky warmth kept me watching, if only in the hope that she’d kick Paul out, or at least nag him into abandoning the middle-aged mod styling.

Since then, Breeders has evolved into something pithier, more nuanced. From the double episode opener of this third, 10-part series, there is an intricate cat’s cradle of plots, weaving the aftermath of the couple’s son, Luke (Alex Eastwood), punching Paul with the increasingly withdrawn nature of daughter Ava (Eve Prenelle), via work problems, MRI scans, HRT shortages (Ally grapples with early menopause) and a curveball concerning Paul’s parents, played beautifully by Alun Armstrong and Joanna Bacon. If Breeders is still primarily a parenting comedy, it’s an angry dad Motherland with properly nasty rows, red bills and consequences.

At the beginning of the year, Freeman was superb in BBC One’s The Responder, playing a night cop in Liverpool. New Channel 4 docuseries Night Coppers follows real night officers in Brighton dealing with everything from drunken revelry to assault and arson.

‘Ersatz Blue Peter presenters in stab-proof vests’: Night Coppers. Photograph: Blast Films

After a shameful period for British policing – the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by an off-duty officer; policemen sharing images of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman on WhatsApp – perhaps it’s no surprise that there’s a marked sense of reputational rehabilitation to the opener. The young officers – one of whom completed lockdown training via Zoom – are almost too charming and telegenic: ersatz Blue Peter presenters in stab-proof vests. The focus on the social work aspect of policing also feels overworked. Does the world need a good cop/good cop police promotional video?

However, in the second episode (all are on All 4) the atmosphere curdles: officers are abused, threatened, punched, get their nails torn off. You start to glimpse the ever writhing underbelly of after-hours city culture. As the sense of glossy police advertorial falls away, Night Coppers becomes more interesting.

A lumbering Chris Pratt in The Terminal List. AP

Is Chris Pratt OK? Before entering the Marvel/Jurassic Park universe, he gave a nimble comedic performance as the hapless Andy in Parks and Recreation. Now he stars in Amazon Prime’s The Terminal List, and it’s as if an evil rival has tied together his acting bootlaces.

Spoilers ahead – though The Terminal List is so far-fetched, it barely counts. Created by David DiGilio, and based on the novel by Jack Carr, the show sees Pratt play Navy Seal commander James Reece, whose platoon is wiped out in an ambush. After he asks inconvenient questions, his wife and daughter are killed. There ensues Death Wish in combat fatigues, Reece explosively offing suspects, implausibly evading capture. Paradoxically, for a character who has visions of dead people, he’s the most lifeless thing on screen. He lumbers around like a heavily drugged buffalo, with a face that doesn’t seem to know the difference between “heartbroken” and “constipated”.

Feeling unwell when I start watching, I put my bizarre compulsion to salute at the beginning of each episode down to too many blackcurrant Lemsips. Eight stodgy instalments later, it’s clear that The Terminal List is an ill-concealed rightwing conspiracy sending subliminal messages to our brains. Or maybe it isn’t. Either way, be grateful: television this hilariously bad is rare.

Sneakerhead, a three-part comedy on Dave involving some of the team behind BBC Three’s People Just Do Nothing, ran last week over consecutive nights. Hugo Chegwin plays Russell, the reluctantly promoted manager of the Peterborough branch of sportswear chain Sports Depot, which, I’m informed by lawyers, in no way resembles Sports Direct. Not even slightly.

Created by Gillian Roger Park and directed by Simon Neal, it’s a bone-dry mashup of workplace/misfit comedy. In addition to Russell, who declares that trainers are the “gateway to the soul”, there’s Mulenga (grime artist/presenter Big Zuu), who labels a customer “Karen”, and space cadet Amber (Lucia Keskin): “I do worry that this shop is robbing us of our most fuckable years.” Alexa Davies plays Russell’s mean girl love interest: an ice queen nightmare via a TK Maxx sales rail.

‘The sense of aimlessness is spot on’: Hugo Chegwin and Francesca Mills in Sneakerhead. Photograph: UKTV

While the sense of aimlessness is spot on, the plots are too baggy and need tightening up. Still, there are giggles: “My tits always look sad, like they’ve had really bad news.” Best of all, characterisation is strong, with human truths springing from the underpowered Sports Depot loser workforce.

Big Zuu, AKA Zuhair Hassan, can also be seen on Dave with a new (third) series of his double Bafta-winning cooking show Big Zuu’s Big Eats. Charismatic, whip-smart, naturally funny, he’s selling his huge personality, baby, as host, showman, a grandiloquent food truck Barnum. He’s the gravy and the chilli sauce.

‘Whip-smart’: Big Zuu. UKTV

This show is turning into a full-blast foodie phenomenon (you can also see him on BBC Three’s Hungry for It). It’s not really about the food – though it looks every kind of dirty, wrong and delicious – it’s about friends, family, humour, appetite for life. The week before last, he and Johnny Vegas cooked up a riot of spam fritters. Last week, Katherine Ryan ordered Big Zuu’s sidekicks out to buy her thrush cream, and sportingly munched through a school-dinner vat of Tootsie Roll/ banana cake horror-gloop. Big Zuu’s magic ingredient? The guests are as relaxed as the concept, so viewers have fun too.

Star ratings (out of five)
Breeders
★★★
Night Coppers ★★★
The Terminal List
Sneakerhead ★★★
Big Zuu’s Big Eats ★★★★

What else I’m watching

The Real Mo Farah
BBC One
In a week of powerful documentaries on the Beeb, this focuses on the Olympic champion’s recent revelation that, aged nine, in Somaliland, he was renamed and trafficked to work as a servant in the UK.

The Real Mo Farah. BBC/Atomized Studios

Panorama: The Downfall of Boris Johnson
BBC One
A Panorama in which Laura Kuenssberg delves into the scandals, bribes and lies leading to the exit of the “greased piglet”. It features interviews with those who want Johnson’s job or just want him gone. Giant tubs of popcorn at the ready.

Panorama: SAS Death Squads Exposed: A British War Crime?
BBC One
Another strong Panorama, investigating deaths in Afghanistan. Richard Bilton looks at fresh, chilling evidence pointing to dozens of unarmed Afghans being shot in cold blood by British troops.

July 17, 2022 at 02:12PM Barbara Ellen

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