HIGH­LIGHT OF THE WEEK

Sunday Herald Life - - TELEVISION & RADIO -

Sun­day Elec­tric Dreams 9pm, Chan­nel 4

GEN­ER­ALLY speak­ing, films and TV shows based on books are never re­ally like the books. Cer­tain au­thors’ most pas­sion­ate fans refuse even to see the adap­ta­tions, so as not to sully the vi­sions in their minds, or wince at how the those who adapted it, grasp­ing af­ter lit­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tion, fail to trans­late the writ­ing it­self – in­clud­ing the spa­ces be­tween the lines. Equally, of course, in some cases, the movies are miles bet­ter than the books ever dreamed of be­ing.

Au­thors them­selves, mind you, are of­ten prag­matic about any­one with a bud­get seek­ing to op­tion their work. If you’re try­ing to make a liv­ing from writ­ing, any­body of­fer­ing to pay you is al­ways wel­come. And it’s worth al­ways bear­ing in mind the words of the fa­mous anony­mous writer who was once asked if they wor­ried a movie ver­sion had ru­ined their book. To para­phrase: “Hasn’t changed a damn thing about it. My book is still sit­ting on the shelf over there.” With Philip K Dick, whose sto­ries are os­ten­si­bly the ba­sis for Chan­nel 4’s new sci-fi an­thol­ogy, Elec­tric Dreams, there is a fit­tingly weird spin on this dy­namic: the less like his writ­ing the screen ver­sions are, the closer they fit

his world­view. A man of some­times frag­ile phys­i­cal and men­tal health, who pushed that fragility with an am­phet­a­mine habit, Dick’s bril­liant sci-fi is para­noid, some­times schiz­o­phrenic. Be­yond the so­cial cri­tique the sto­ries of­ten of­fer, he deals in ex­is­ten­tial, meta­phys­i­cal, or just plain cracked ideas of re­al­ity be­ing formed of dif­fer­ent, in­ter­lock­ing, over­lap­ping, or con­flict­ing re­al­i­ties: un­seen lev­els, lay­ers and mo­tives. You thought it was one thing, but it was an­other.

The dif­fer­ences be­tween the two best movie adap­ta­tions of his books are pro­found: Ri­d­ley Scott’s Blade Run­ner is all about the hard, sharp, grubby de­tail of its world. By con­trast, Richard Lin­klater’s A Scanner Darkly cre­ates a softer, dis­as­so­ci­ated stoner dreami­ness. Yet, un­alike as they are, and as un­like Dick’s writ­ing as they are, both are bril­liant, both un­ex­pect­edly mov­ing, and in both you glimpse the shad­owy au­thor, slip­ping be­tween lay­ers.

In terms of un­seen mo­tives, it’s hard not to sus­pect the ex­is­tence of Elec­tric Dreams has less to do with ven­er­a­tion of Philip K Dick, and more with Chan­nel 4 want­ing a se­ries of hip, spacey, showy sci-fi para­bles to plug the hole left when Char­lie Brooker’s Black Mir­ror moved to Net­flix. Much cash has been spent on sets and ac­tors (al­ways-wel­come faces like Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston and Ti­mothy Spall fea­ture in fu­ture weeks).

But in try­ing to stick to Dick while also try­ing to do some­thing else, the first episode, The Hood Maker, feels ham­pered. Set in a retro-fu­ture, it’s a tale of the so­cial un­ease stirred by the emer­gence of a new tele­pathic strain of hu­man­ity, and the un­rest when the State be­gins us­ing them as sur­veil­lance tools, prob­ing the minds of “nor­mals”.

Writ­ten by Life On Mars’s Matthew Graham, it wan­ders from Dick’s orig­i­nal, but only to try to become, in look and plot, a cash-in Blade Run­ner re­make. As sim­i­lar­i­ties pile up, de­lib­er­ately and clunkily, the idea is to re­mind you so much of Scott’s movie that a fi­nal twist away from the Blade Run­ner nar­ra­tive will regis­ter as a sur­prise, tragic, shock. Its suc­cess is de­bat­able, al­though Hol­l­i­day Grainger is ex­cel­lent as the cen­tral telepath.

Yet, again, the au­thor’s spirit still peeks through, as an odd, melan­choly mood be­gins to set­tle. And things might im­prove. It’s an an­thol­ogy, af­ter all: new writ­ers, new di­rec­tors, new faces ev­ery week. Worth sur­veil­lance. And, you know, the books are still on the shelf.

Mon­day Let­ters From Bagh­dad 9pm, BBC Four

OIL is the trou­ble of course. Detestable stuff …” A tele­vi­sion de­but for this evoca­tive, en­tirely fas­ci­nat­ing and art­fully con­structed doc­u­men­tary on the ex­tra­or­di­nary life of Gertrude Bell (1868-1926). An ad­ven­turer, ar­chae­ol­o­gist, au­thor and gen­eral English­woman abroad, Bell was a con­tem­po­rary of TE Lawrence (the “Of Ara­bia” fel­low), and in at the con­struc­tion of mod­ern Iraq – but she un­der­stood more about the spirit and tensions of the Mid­dle East than most of the men around her, or who have fol­lowed. Split be­tween ar­chive footage (in­clud­ing Bell’s own photos) and re­con­struc­tions, the film is con­structed around ex­tracts from some of her hun­dreds of el­e­gant, no-non­sense let­ters, briskly nar­rated by an un­seen Tilda Swin­ton. Else­where, the likes of Rachael Stirling and He­len Ryan con­trib­ute to drama­tised sec­tions. All this, and some ex­cel­lent camels. It’s com­ple­mented by a re­peat of Rory Ste­wart’s 2010 doc­u­men­tary The Legacy Of Lawrence Of Ara­bia (10.30pm).

Tues­day Doc­tor Foster 9pm, BBC One

PHEW. Af­ter last week’s night ram­ble – when Gemma Foster, on wine, went roam­ing around back gar­dens, scared the erotic be­je­sus out of a teenage boy while ask­ing him for more wine, then got fur­ther out of her head down a club and tried to have sex in the toi­lets – things set­tle down. Nah. Only kid­ding. Tonight is off the rails, but the loud­est scream­ing you hear will be your­self shout­ing, “Make it stop.” Sadly, caught wide-eyed in the mid­dle, Gemma’s vul­ner­a­ble young son, Tom, is ca­reen­ing off the rails, too. The only thing wrong with Doc­tor Foster is that, some­times, it still seems to think it has se­ri­ous points to make about life and re­la­tion­ships. It doesn’t, and this is the only thing keep­ing it from be­com­ing a wild twisted thing in the poi­son tra­di­tion of The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil and Bou­quet Of Barbed Wire. If they ditched the po-faces, this could be al­most as good as a movie based on the life of Tracy Bar­low.

Wed­nes­day Fa­malam 10pm, BBC Two

IT’S com­edy pi­lots sea­son at the BBC at the mo­ment. There have been a lot of these one-offs over the past few weeks, but an en­cour­ag­ingly high pro­por­tion have looked like they might be worth revisiting for a full se­ries. This new sketch show is an­other case in point. The top line is that it’s an all-black troupe – Vivi­enne Acheam­pong, Sam­son Kayo, Gbe­misola Ikumelo, John MacMil­lan, Rox­anne Stern­berg – and some of the skits are par­tic­u­larly pointed, play­ing on the cast­ing tropes of sci-fi movies and Bri­tish TV dra­mas (Mid­somer Mur­ders and Poldark both get a slap). Else­where, there are en­thu­si­as­tic par­o­dies of Nige­ria’s low-bud­get “Nol­ly­wood” movies, rep­re­sented here by the ex­cel­lent “Shola Set­tles The Score.” In other places, though, there’s just some gen­eral good non­sense, like a de­tec­tive with a Snapchat ad­dic­tion. Like ev­ery sketch show ever made, it’s hit and miss, and some gags can go on a bit too long af­ter they’ve made their point. But there are enough ideas and en­ergy and daft­ness zing­ing around to carry it through.

Thurs­day The Good Place Net­flix

THE first sea­son of this bright, smart and pro­gres­sively stranger sit­com be­came one of the most chat­tered-about shows in the US last year, and Net­flix has now picked up both the first and se­cond se­ries for a UK de­but. Cre­ated by Parks And Recre­ation’s Michael Schur, it focuses on Eleanor (Kris­ten Bell), who wakes to dis­cover she’s died, and, as re­ward for all her self­less good deeds while alive, has been sent to spend eter­nity in the can­dy­coloured Utopia known as “The Good Place”. Thing is, Eleanor soon re­alises there’s been a mis­take: they’ve mixed her up with some­body else. In fact, she was a ter­ri­ble per­son, and now must try and hide her iden­tity and become gen­uinely good, in or­der to avoid be­ing dis­patched to “The Bad Place”. An­chored by the great Ted Dan­son as her heav­enly men­tor, Michael, it’s good fun, but what pushes it up a notch is how the se­ries be­gins chang­ing into some­thing else, with faint el­e­ments of fan­tasy-mys­tery re­call­ing things like The Pris­oner, The Tru­man Show and even the re­cent West­world.

Fri­day Sis­ters In Coun­try: Dolly, Linda & Em­my­lou 9pm, BBC Four

IT’S a re­peat, but those voices are worth hear­ing again and again. In 1987, Dolly Par­ton, Em­my­lou Har­ris and Linda Ron­stadt joined forces to record Trio, an al­bum that went against the pre­vail­ing pol­ished-up, syn­the­siser-heavy trends of main­stream coun­try, to in­stead de­liver a cool, clear jolt of old-time moun­tain mu­sic, draw­ing more on blue­grass and gospel roots. With new con­tri­bu­tions from all three singers, this 2016 film ex­plores how they came out of very dif­fer­ent styles: Ten­nessee girl Par­ton steeped in the old­est Nashville tra­di­tions; folkie Har­ris emerg­ing out of 1960s Green­wich Vil­lage and then learn­ing a more mod­ern, rad­i­cal LA ver­sion with her men­tor Gram Par­sons; Ron­stadt pur­su­ing a Cal­i­for­nian pop take on clas­sic coun­try that made her the big­gest fe­male star in the mid-1970s USA. When they got to­gether, though, the har­monies ran to­gether like wa­ter in an Ap­palachian stream. KT Tun­stall nar­rates. It’s fol­lowed by Coun­try Queens At The BBC (9.55pm), run­ning from Tammy Wynette and Bob­bie Gen­try to Tay­lor Swift.

Satur­day Black Lake – 9pm, BBC Four Later…With Jools Hol­land – 9pm, BBC Two

IT’S maybe time to give up the ghost with the Swedish se­ries Black Lake, an at­tempt at a crime-horror hy­brid that’s not re­ally do­ing much of ei­ther. Af­ter last week’s dou­ble bill, thanks to a like­able lead per­for­mance and a lot of lo­ca­tion at­mos­phere from the iso­lated ski-lodge set­ting, it seemed in­trigu­ing enough. But as it crawls through the clichés to­ward the half­way point tonight, it’s be­com­ing clear that this is the ma­te­rial of a 90-minute teen-slasher movie (or a 20-minute Scooby Doo episode) be­ing drawn painfully out to eight bloody hours, just be­cause we’re all sup­posed to pre­fer “box sets” these days. On BBC Two, Jools Hol­land’s Later is mak­ing a rare Satur­day-night ap­pear­ance, in or­der to cel­e­brate its 25th year on the air. In the stu­dio for the boo­gie woo­gie birth­day party tonight are big beasts in­clud­ing Van Mor­ri­son, Paul Weller and Foo Fight­ers, joined by fa­mil­iar faces like KT Tun­stall, Dizzee Ras­cal and Gre­gory Porter, among oth­ers.

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