The Herald Magazine - - ETC - ALI­SON ROWAT

JJUST as the start-up chimes of a Mac can pro­duce an en­dor­phin rush in Ap­ple ad­dicts, so the ident of a stat­ic­filled screen snap­ping into the let­ters “HBO” hits the sweet spot among afi­ciona­dos of qual­ity tele­vi­sion.

From the peo­ple who brought you The So­pra­nos, Game of Thrones, and Curb Your En­thu­si­asm comes a dark new com­edy drama, Big Lit­tle Lies (Sky At­lantic, Mon­day). Boast­ing not one, not two, but four A-list movie ac­tors in lead roles, BLL is as sleek as a seal pup and twice as cute.

Granted, we have not yet seen a seal pup in the sea off Mon­terey, Cal­i­for­nia, where the story is set. Episode one did al­low, how­ever, for plenty of coo-ing over Reese Wither­spoon, Ni­cole Kid­man, Laura Dern and Shai­lene Wood­ley. The lat­ter plays plain Jane, the new gal in a town where Wither­spoon’s stayat-home Made­line is com­pet­ing with Dern’s ca­reer woman Re­nata for the job of Al­pha-mom. Float­ing be­tween them all is Ce­leste (Kid­man), a wispy beauty with gor­geous twin boys and a none too shabby Alexan­der Skars­gard for a hus­band.

With the ex­cep­tion of sin­gle mother Jane’s home, every­thing in Mon­terey is fab­u­lous – the homes, the views, the clothes, the chil­dren, the chil­dren’s clothes. When a pupil is wear­ing a de­signer shift dress for her first day of school you know you are not in Kansas or Kil­marnock any­more, Dorothy. (Now Kelv­in­grove, that’s an­other mat­ter…)

So con­fi­dent was the show’s cre­ator David E Kel­ley (Ally McBeal, Bos­ton Le­gal) of hold­ing the view­ers’ at­ten­tion he laughed in the face of spoiler alerts, ti­tling his opener “Some­body’s Dead”. From the flash­ing blue lights of a crime scene the tale moved in flash­back to where it all be­gan: at the school gates with Jane’s son be­ing ac­cused of at­tack­ing Re­nata’s daugh­ter (she of the shift dress).

Sides are taken and war among the yummy mum­mies is de­clared. “Women,” sighs one of the dads, “they’re like the Olympic ath­letes of grudges.” Ah, but who will win the gold?

War Child (Chan­nel 4, Sun­day) was an­other work of pedi­gree, hail­ing as it did from Si­mon Chinn, pro­ducer of

the Os­car-win­ning doc­u­men­taries Man on Wire and Search­ing for Su­gar­man. Chinn and his di­rec­tor Jamie Roberts fol­lowed three of the tens of thou­sands of lone chil­dren who have trav­elled to Europe in the last cou­ple of years.

You knew from the off there would be tears be­fore bed­time, and they would not all come from the young­sters.

When we met 11-year-old Em­ran he was stuck on the bor­der of Greece hav­ing trav­elled thou­sands of miles from his home in Afghanistan. Like his two fel­low voy­agers he was com­pelled to go for­ward for the very good rea­son that he could not go home.

There has been a fair amount of ra­dio re­port­ing on mi­grant jour­neys, but this was a story ide­ally suited to tele­vi­sion. Even while the cam­era took in the squalor of the camps and panned across the ex­hausted faces of the refugees, one could not quite be­lieve one’s eyes. But here it was, Europe in the 21st cen­tury, look­ing for all the world as if it had learned noth­ing from the wretched­ness of the 20th.

There were sev­eral vil­lains to choose from in the piece, not least the peo­ple smug­glers who robbed their vic­tims of dig­nity while they fleeced them.

It was easy to spot the heroes. Old be­yond their years yet still full of hope, th­ese were the kind of chil­dren any coun­try ought to be proud to call cit­i­zens.

De­spite it all, their in­no­cence and de­cency shone through, as when Rawan, 12, trudg­ing through a field in the dead cold of night, stopped to warn the cam­era op­er­a­tor about a hole ahead. Wisely, Chinn’s film was re­luc­tant to give easy an­swers on how to call a halt to this mass mis­ery. Stop it at source is the ob­vi­ous an­swer, but if that fails?

Not long in to the fi­nal episode of The Re­place­ment (BBC1, Tues­day), para­noid Ellen de­clared of her schem­ing ri­val Paula: “There is noth­ing she could pos­si­bly do that would sur­prise me now.” At which point we all switched off and went to bed to read some­thing sis­terly and im­prov­ing by Si­mone de Beau­voir. Aye, right.

Joe Ahearne’s Glas­gow-set drama went out in a blaze of laugh out loud bat­ti­ness in which ev­ery­one was chan­nel­ing Bette Davis by way of Joan Craw­ford. The men es­pe­cially. Stiff gins and Baf­tas all round, ladies.

Big Lit­tle Lies with Reese Wither­spoon, Shai­lene Wood­ley and Laura Dern

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