The week in TV: The Flight Attendant; Lucy Worsley Investigates: The Witch Hunts; Tokyo Vice; Big Boys

Sky’s spiky airline espionage veers off course, Lucy Worsley investigates Britain’s century of witch hunts, and Derry Girls’s Dylan Llewellyn stars in a big-hearted campus comedy

The Flight Attendant (Sky Max) | Now TV
Lucy Worsley Investigates: The Witch Hunts (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Tokyo Vice (StarzPlay)
Big Boys (Channel 4) | All 4

How disappointing when a debut series is all riotous, screwball moxie, rebooting tired espionage tropes, then the second series falls out of the sky like a popped balloon.

So it feels with Sky Max’s eight-part second series of The Flight Attendant, again developed by Steve Yockey. Based on Chris Bohjalian’s novel, the first outing dealt with Cassie (Kaley Cuoco), a hard-partying flight attendant self-medicating childhood trauma with alcohol, who wakes up next to a dead body and finds herself dragged into a labyrinthine spy-soaked nightmare. A murder mystery marinating in an addiction allegory, it was elevated by Cuoco’s tragicomic flair for channelling updated Private Benjamin-era Goldie Hawn with added millennial abrasion.

Season two opens with Cassie at an AA meeting, almost a year sober and in a relationship with a photographer (Santiago Cabrera). She’s still a flight attendant, but she has a secret “part-time job” as a CIA “civilian asset”. Of course Cassie refuses to stay in her lane (the CIA operative seems alarmed by this, as if he’s never met a maverick before), and finds herself caught up in a maelstrom of schemes, explosions and sinister doppelgangers in Berlin.

For all the convolutions – scenes chopping, screens splitting – it’s all mystifyingly boring. I’ve seen the first two episodes, and, dramatically speaking, it felt like being trapped on a red-eye flight with seatbelt warnings (plot non-turbulence ahead!) clanging throughout. Gone is the anarchic, anything-goes ambience that made the first series sing. Tonally, it feels like a soapy spy caper. Familiar characters are flatly reprised: Annie (Zosia Mamet) the uptight friend (we know she’s uptight because she walks with the gait of a Pez dispenser); Rosie Perez pointlessly skulking in some North Korean subplot.

New characters – Cheryl Hines’s spy boss, Mae Martin’s maybe-fishy flight attendant – seem less drawn than hastily doodled on a sleep-deprived TV producer’s napkin. Cuoco retains Cassie’s nervy brio but she is constantly made to interact with her previous selves (party girl, etc). If this is to appease viewers pining for first-series Cassie, it backfires, making you recall how spiky and audacious The Flight Attendant used to be. Sharon Stone is set to appear as Cassie’s mother, which is intriguing casting, so things could yet improve. Right now, it feels clammy and unconfident, and nobody wants to hear the pilot gulping in the cockpit.

A certain type of woman goes through life convinced that, in a bygone era, she would have been burned as a witch. I am one such woman (gobby, sun-averse, form for youthful tarot reading), so my interest was piqued by BBC Two’s Lucy Worsley Investigates: The Witch Hunts, the first of a new four-part series in which the historian re-examines infamous slices of the past.

Lucy Worsley Investigates.
‘A perfect fit’: Lucy Worsley Investigates. Photograph: Mike Robinson/BBC Studios

Part-dramatised, the focus is on Agnes Sampson, accused, with others, of using sorcery to imperil the ship of Scottish king, James VI. Interrogated by the king himself, Sampson was then executed in Edinburgh in 1591, sparking a century of persecution against innocent people, mainly women, across the British Isles. Poor, illiterate, powerless, often working as midwives or folk healers, “witches” such as Sampson were tortured into “confessing” and denouncing others. This, after all, was an era when “witch pricker” – jabbing naked shaved bodies, including genitalia, with long thick needles – was an actual job.

Now, of course, there are other ways of “burning witches” – take a bow, social media – but then it was for real. This documentary emerges as not only an exploration of misogynistic hysteria, but also of religious-political ulterior motives: how it was “good spin” for King James to confront witchcraft. Worsley’s “telly-bluestocking” presenting style is such a perfect fit for the subject matter, I couldn’t help but wonder if she, too, suspects she might have ended up strapped to a stake, with the flames licking. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Over on StarzPlay lurks Tokyo Vice, an imperfect but absorbing eight-part yakuza-gangland thriller set in 1990s Japan, based on Jake Adelstein’s 2009 memoir of his time as a Tokyo-based crime reporter.

The Michael Mann (of Manhunter, Collateral and Miami Vice) co-executive produces and directs the first episode – actually the sloppiest of the five I saw, taking tedious yonks to establish how “gaijin” Adelstein lands his job at an esteemed news outlet, only to be reprimanded for trying to do it properly. Portraying Adelstein, Ansel Elgort (West Side Story) gamely sports the “Young Michael Douglas” partial-mullet of the period. Elsewhere, Rachel Keller is an enigmatic nightclub “hostess”, while Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) plays a world-weary detective and Shô Kasamatsu is a conflicted gangster.

Ansel Elgort and Hideaki Itō in Tokyo Vice.
‘Imperfect but absorbing’: Ansel Elgort, left, and Hideaki Itō (centre) in Tokyo Vice. Photograph: HBO

Partly subtitled, Tokyo Vice isn’t immune to the “western gaze” – there are narrative ripples of “isn’t the American intrepid and marvellous?” – but it doesn’t happen as often as you might fear. The Japanese characters are compelling, and there’s a concerted attempt to show a lesser travelled backstage Tokyo, beyond even the seedy, violent underbelly. After a patchy start, the story – a murky 90s-noir saga of organised crime, drugs, sex and suicide – takes on a Jim Thompson-hits-Japan feel. I ended up properly investing in Tokyo Vice, wondering how it would play out.

Big Boys is a new six-part semi-autobiographical Channel 4 comedy, written and created by comedian Jack Rooke (Happy Man). Directed by Jim Archer, it stars Dylan Llewellyn (James in Derry Girls) as Jack, who is gay, unconfident and floundering in loving co-dependency with his mum (Camille Coduri) after the death of his father.

Finally making it to Brent University, Jack, who has the fashion sense of a particularly outlandish Build-A-Bear creation, befriends the outwardly laddish but mentally fragile Danny (Jon Pointing). The opening double episode rips through fresher campus life (“You can’t call yourself working class unless you’ve burned the roof of your mouth on a Greggs”), and Jack’s inaugural LGBTQ+ night out: “You drank poppers?” Big Boys can be a rough, scruffy ride (think Fresh Meat after downing a couple of cut-price wine boxes), but I enjoyed its Tiggerish spirit and full-hearted embrace of difficult themes. Here’s a comedy that isn’t afraid to bounce into darkness.

Jon Pointing and Dylan Llewellyn in Big Boys.
‘Tiggerish spirit’: Dylan Llewellyn, right, and Jon Pointing in Big Boys. Photograph: Kevin Baker/Channel 4

What else I’m watching

Obi-Wan Kenobi
This Star Wars spinoff series sees Ewan McGregor donning the mythic flowing robes to reprise his big-screen role. Sci-fi fans: may the force and the Disney+ subscription be with you.

Troy Deeney.
Troy Deeney. Photograph: Dean Blecher / Channel 4

Troy Deeney: Where’s My History
Channel 4
Birmingham striker Troy Deeney makes a passionate case for black history to become mandatory on the UK school curriculum. Once excluded from school, now a father himself, he includes young black activists in the debate.

BBC Three
In 2021, this new comedy series put out a hyper-fresh pilot that left me feeling 200 years old and counting. Utilising humour, music and street style, it follows the antics of a group of students in a school’s pupil referral unit and their ever-patient teachers.


Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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