TV reviews: The Traitors; Simon Schama's History of Now; Granite Harbour

Claudia Winkleman, host of The Traitors, a new reality competition series. Studio Lambert Associates, Mark Mainz
Claudia Winkleman, host of The Traitors, a new reality competition series. Studio Lambert Associates, Mark Mainz

SHAME on you, television, for that whole Matt Hancock, I’m a Celebrity carry-on. You let us down, you let yourself down, and you made a shedload of money. Normally I would say nothing could erase the stain of your disgrace, but here comes Simon Schama’s History of Now (BBC2, Sunday).

Cards on table, I adore Simon. The classiest of historians, simply watching him makes a person feel smarter, more cultured. Best of all, he’s not Neil Oliver. That’s always something to be thankful for.

As Simon said, he has written a lot of history and, at 77, lived a fair bit of it besides. In his view it has been artists, musicians and writers, not politicians, who have been the true “agents of change” when it comes to truth and democracy. Using their lives and works, and outstanding footage, he explained how we got to the here and now, adding his own experiences along the way.

We begin in London, 1945, where Simon was born to the sound of bombs dropping. From there it is a leap to Picasso, Orwell, Pasternak, Havel. All the greats, and a new face in Nadya Tolokonnikova, founding member of punk collective Pussy Riot. Throughout, Schama is at pains to show how ignorance of the past, or the distortion of it, leads to danger in the present. Yes, a certain Mr Trump does make an appearance.

The stories and arguments will be familiar but, as another wise man once said, it’s the way Schama tells them. I liked the idea of him popping up, Zelig-like, in history. Well, almost: he was in Czechoslovakia, for example, three years before the Prague Spring; does that count?

The Traitors (BBC1, Tuesday-Thursday), being a reality show built around greed and betrayal, could have meant a quick return to the gutter. But this was the BBC, so blandness was the order of the day as contestants gathered in a castle in the Highlands for an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery.

With a few exceptions, the contestants were annoying, the concept was in bad taste – all that talk of murder – and laughs were nowhere to be had. Meanwhile, Claudia Winkleman was trying on a Mean Girl hosting style for size. I cannot see it, or The Traitors, catching on.

Just as The Traitors carried echoes of other reality shows, crime drama Granite Harbour (BBC Scotland, Thursday, BBC1, Friday) had a familiar feel. Romario Simpson played a Royal Military Policeman from Jamaica who rocks up in Aberdeen with an ambition to be a detective. Any resemblance between this international job swap plot and Death in Paradise, set on a fictional Caribbean island, was purely coincidental. I can’t help feeling the Granite Harbour mob came off worse, weather-wise.

The script, veering between bursts of originality and cliche, has yet to find its tone and some of the characters were broad brush.

But the cast featured the always fab Dawn Steele as the tough talking boss, Aberdeen looks grand, and the whole show has a nicely old-fashioned feel. I hope when they do find the culprit who knocked off the oil magnate they send him or her to Crown Court for trial (when oh when is someone going to bring back that classic?).

It has been ages since we last had a programme featuring celebrities on holiday. Apart from I’m a Celeb, of course, and Alexander Armstrong in South Korea, and that one with Fred, Gino and Gordon, and so on. This week it was the turn of Ruby Wax, Mel B from the Spice Girls, and comedian Emily Atack to have an all expenses jolly in Colorado.

Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Road Trip (BBC2, Monday) was not just any old freebie. The three flung-together amigos were following the trail blazed by the Victorian explorer Isabella Bird. Not to the letter, mind you. While Miss Bird rode alone through the mountains for 800 miles, Ruby and co were in an SUV with a camera crew in tow and a firm plan in mind.

You could almost hear the cogs whirring in the commissioning editor’s mind. Women. A range of ages. Max viewer appeal. Opportunities to “grow” (send them horse riding, rock climbing). Empowerment. Fireside chats about life and stuff. A poptastic soundtrack. Perfect. It’ll be like Thelma and Louise except no-one dies and there are three of them.

If you could forget the manufactured nature of it all there were some choice moments, most of them featuring Wax. “It’s like being with the Spice Girls again,” said Mel B. If only. I have a horrible feeling the trip will end not in tears but with hugs and pledges of lifelong friendship, a bit like with Matt Hancock and the British viewing public. Aye right.