Damien Love’s pick of the week, plus seven-day listings
Watch how you tread, because Julia Davis is back on the prowl and – as far as I was able to tell, watching through my fingers from behind the sofa – her new series Sally4Ever finds her going the Full Julia Davis. Clearly, this is simultaneously a great thing, and utterly terrifying.
After the cringing rural trip of Camping and the lush period excursion of Hunderby, her blackly, beautifully
twisted take on gothic romance, this seven-part sitcom finds Davis, as writer, director and co-star, moving closer again to the perilous territory of her unforgettable (try as you might) Nighty Night. But it’s a ghastly thing of its own.
At the centre of the hot nightmare is Sally (Catherine Shepherd), who works quietly in a lowly London advertising agency, and can’t quite work out why her life has ended up the way it has.
Specifically, she seems mystified over how she could ever have wound up living with David (Alex McQueen), her long-term boyfriend, whose desires, hobbies, tastes, personal habits, personal hygiene routines and general approach to existence itself have quietly smothered her in a stunned, silent scream of beige suburban horror.
One fateful day, however, while riding the tube to work, Sally lets her eyes wander, only to find them snagged on the dark, knowing gaze of an interesting-looking woman across the aisle: Emma (Davis).
It’s only a quick, penetrating glance, but Sally is already captured, and, after a long and particularly crummy day, topped off by an impassioned marriage proposal from David, she escapes her suffocating house and heads alone into the night to track Emma down.
The path leads to a club where Emma is at the centre of the midnight swirl, giving a wild performance as DJ-artist. Like Alice finding a bohemian Wonderland, Sally is astonished at the life on offer, takes a pill, and finds herself embarking on an unexpected adventure.
She’s never done this kind of thing before, but she kisses Emma, and, just like the song, she likes it. But, as she begins an affair with the stranger, she doesn’t know quite what lies in store from here.
This, more or less, is the outline of the plot in Episode One, but, as ever, it’s the devastating details, curdled dialogue and gobsmacking gags Davis crafts that make the thing come to devious, demented life. To detail them would be to spoil things, but suffice to say that, as the awful David, Alex McQueen (formerly The Thick Of It’s malign, biscuitmunching mandarin fusspot Julius) gives a performance of heroic proportions.
After this, either his phone will be ringing off the hook, or, possibly, he’ll never work again.
It’s amazing stuff, with a tremendous cast (a rogues’ gallery including Julian Barratt, Felicity Montagu, Steve Oram, Mark Gattis, Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan).
And it’s all dominated by another monstrous turn from Davis as a disruptive character who suggests the daemon lover from the old folk songs, by way of the Ting Tings.
Compared with the lurid life of Sally4Ever, More4’s new thriller import Berlin Station is a pallid, predictable thing.
Former Spooks star Richard Armitage pulls on his spy trousers again as a CIA agent stationed in Berlin, hoping to uncover an Edward Snowden-style whistleblower in the Agency’s midst.
There’s a good cast, including Rhys Ifans as a jaded spook and the great character actor Richard Jenkins as their boss, and it passes the time.
But the plotting and pacing is very by the numbers. Not so much George Smiley as generically ropey.
Sally4Ever on Sky Atlantic has a tremendous cast