Homeland (Channel 4) | All4
Confronting Holocaust Denial With David Baddiel (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Intelligence | Sky One
How to Stay Out of Jail (Channel 4) | All4
This Country (BBC One/BBC Three) | iPlayer
The eighth and final series of Homeland landed with a sense of impending loss – it’s the beginning of the end for Carrie Mathison’s legendary anguished chin quivers, as portrayed by Claire Danes. Still, what a show it’s been. It went daft for a while, mainly because of the plot contortions required to keep alive double agent Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis. (If they hadn’t finally hanged him from a giant crane, I was going to offer to kill him myself.) Then Homeland returned to complex, prescient, uncompromising form – a potent blend of foreign and domestic threats to US security, geopolitics, troll farms, and gut-punches of human betrayal. This series opened with a big question: when held in Russia and – once again! – deprived of her bipolar medication, had Carrie given away secrets? It wasn’t long before Saul (Mandy Patinkin) was crashing through double doors and red tape, insisting that Carrie was needed for a mission in Kabul.
Homeland isn’t a series that values romantic or family relationships. Carrie’s love interests – Brody, Quinn and more – met such grisly fates she makes Killing Eve’s Villanelle look like Bridget Jones. Carrie’s daughter with Brody has been abandoned so often the local social services department should have its own miniseries. Homeland’s core relationship is between Carrie and Saul – one of the all-time great platonic TV partnerships – which has turned mutual professional trust and respect into an intense emotional entity that sometimes derails into scratchy co-dependency.
Within the series’s highly dysfunctional “family”, there’s also Carrie’s surveillance “brother” Max (Maury Sterling). This episode saw him escorted into dangerous desert territory by reluctant, scornful US troops, deriding him as “Cable Guy”, until they learned that Max was on the ground for the Islamabad atrocity. Watching the troops’ irritation evolve into comradely esteem was a subtly built and executed scene – a timely reminder of just how formidable and inventive Homeland can be.
David Baddiel’s grandparents fled Nazi Germany, while his extended family perished, but, as he related in the documentary Confronting Holocaust Denial, one in six people around the world still think that the Holocaust was exaggerated or fabricated, a belief rooted in hardcore antisemitism.
Baddiel met survivors, experts and witnesses, as well as a hopeless Facebook representative who didn’t appear to comprehend the not exactly subtle link between antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Some details were too gruesome to bear – such as deniers stealing and testing chunks of death camp masonry to “prove” that no one was gassed. Oh, and deniers, if you must rage on the internet that “Ann Frank NEVER existed!”, could you at least spell her name right?
When Baddiel talked to Deborah Lipstadt – who famously won a £2m Holocaust denial libel case against historian David Irving – her lawyer, Anthony Julius, pondered the wisdom of giving deniers air time. Baddiel’s eventual meeting with denier Desmond Mulqueen turned out to be equal parts pitiful and terrifying: Mulqueen raved about Auschwitz having swimming pools and bakeries, and how “victimhood is profitable”. He finished with a song (“Outside the synagogue there are 50 Mercs / Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, Auschwitz had its perks”), dubbed by Baddiel “his personal antisemitic Woodstock”.
It was excruciating, but I’d agree with Baddiel that he had no choice. In today’s climate, with the last survivors dying, when social media is king and misinformation is currency, this needs confronting head on. Holocaust denial is only as strong as the deniers are allowed to be.
Intelligence is a new dark UK/US comedy about the intelligence services, starring David Schwimmer as a decidedly “Not Ross from Friends” type – brash, pompous, NSA agent Jerry Bernstein. Bernstein (who boasts having predicted 9/11) is transferred to our own cybercrime-tackling GCHQ in Cheltenham, only to find it peopled by a bunch of misfits, led by Chris (Sylvestra Le Touzel) and including over-friendly Joseph (Nick Mohammed, who also wrote the show).
A lot of the comedy in Intelligence comes from supposedly hyper-contrasting US and UK characteristics, which at first made it feel stiff and dated. The funniest moments came from Bernstein lording it over the Brits: “There’s still this sense that I’ve wandered on to an abandoned farm.” By the end of the double-episode opener, Intelligence (already commissioned for a second series) had warmed up considerably as a horror show of office dynamics.
Jemma Gander’s documentary How to Stay Out of Jail followed an elite police unit in County Durham that tried to enlist criminals in Checkpoint, a programme to keep them out of prison. Once signed up, they’d have to accept help, apologise to victims, keep signing in and, if successful, their charges would be dropped. If they failed, they’d be back in court facing a harsher sentence.
Among the success stories, a father who hit his son with a belt for making racist remarks turned out to have mental health difficulties, and a single mother who’d driven drunk was haunted by the death of her father. Others failed Checkpoint but the documentary still provided a rational argument for rehabilitation over prison, where possible – while 60% of prisoners reoffend within the year, only 26% did after Checkpoint.
It’s the third and final series of Cotswolds mockumentary comedy This Country (also streamed on BBC Three), written by and starring siblings Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper, as Kerry and Kurtan.
The opening episode featured lovable monster Kerry and the wonderfully eerie Kurtan coming to terms with the death of Sluggs (their real life co-star, Michael Sleggs, died last year, aged 33). A letter left by Sluggs revealed that he and Kerry were responsible for a broken holiday bed that Kurtan was blamed for. Furious at Kerry (“Her only loyalty is to herself, staffies and the TV channel Dave”), Kurtan ensured that Kerry lost her new job at a recycling plant (“At the end of the day I’m a very vindictive person. It’s what makes me me”). The episode finished with the pair rebonding over how proud they were of Sluggs for “shit-stirring from beyond the grave”.
What a great tribute to Mr Sleggs. The strength of This Country is keynotes that lie not in cruelty or mockery, but rather affection and silliness, and all so sharply done. I, for one, will miss this feral, witty dance around the Cotswolds.