The week in TV: Flesh and Blood; Endeavour; Hunters; Home

Flesh and Blood (ITV) | ITV Hub
Endeavour (ITV) | ITV Hub
Hunters | Amazon Prime Video
Home (Channel 4) | All4

In the end, I wish Mark had been trying to get his big, proud, Irish surgeon’s hands on some filthy loot. It might have made up for at least some of the appalling indignities to befall him for the simple crime of falling for a pretty widow possessed of money and a thoroughly lovely house on shingle sands.

ITV’s Flesh and Blood was one of those things that could have come on NHS prescription: precisely the thing at this time of year for four full nights’ safety quarantined away from storms and sleet and viruses. It was redolent of last year’s Gold Digger, but bolder and better, and Sarah Williams is to be congratulated as yet another emergent female writer who can sustain suspense – just – over all those nights. So: we got Stephen Rea, Imelda Staunton and Francesca Annis, sun-dappled kitchens and sexy wee red MGs, and a tourist board that must be hoping it does for Sussex’s Normans Bay what Broadchurch did for Bridport.

Oh, there were flaws. Partly through the necessitudes of plotting: an underused David Bamber as the investigating copper had to toil through such brambly lines as “there’s an individual lying comatose” or “a human being’s life is the balance” rather than using “he” or “she” and giving away a slice of plot. Chiefly, though, the flaws were with the “idyllic” family themselves. Russell Tovey is a lovely actor, but his spoilt whiny man-child Jake grated at every appearance. And you had to wonder why the ever-watchable Sharon Small, who had nothing to offer him but looks, style, verve, money, sound advice and sex appeal, was paying him for “massages”. Even Annis had little to offer but those cheekbones, and some benign familial simpering.

The daughters had more rounded, credibly flawed lives, admittedly; but the pièce de résistance was, of course, Staunton. As apple-cheeked, meddling neighbour Mary, every smiling, unconfrontational statement, every sugar-coated toxin dripped into a sibling’s ear about poor Mark, was a masterclass in passive aggression. No wonder Mark (Rea) was giving her death stares across the shingle; by the end my own eyes were narrowing in empathy. More of this kind of thing, please: maybe not every week, or even every month, but there are times of year when little else fits the bill.

And as if to hammer home that ITV can do this kind of thing – suspenseful drama – every bit as well (often far better) than the BBC, a shortened series of Endeavour drew to a shudder and a shock of an end. It says much about Russell Lewis’s writing that the plots, the settings, even the direction can take such secondary place to the heart of the matter: that crucial relationship between Morse and Fred Thursday; and, to a lesser extent, the circling orbits of Sgt Strange, Ch Supt Bright, Dr DeBryn and Win Thursday. The settings last week were rather splendid, involving opera houses and Venice’s Cimitero di San Michele; the plot involved some baffling insurance scam, which I, with my in-denial ignorance about all things money, couldn’t even begin to try to explain to you; and, as ever, Morse got his heart broke by a beauty.

But all of this was as nothing compared to the heartbreak of the towpath denouement between Shaun Evans and Roger Allam, Morse and Fred. Their bitter, equally stubborn, snapped recriminations eventually only twanged back to sanity by an appalled Max DeBryn, who defused all with a quietly threatening courtesy – oh, that a few such men might still live, defusing all with steely politesse rather than shouty hammy fists or playground insults – now that’s what they should write operas about.

Is the fallout terminal? Despite something of a rapprochement towards the end (and was there a hint, in Morse’s letter to Joan Thursday, of a return for Sara Vickers?), the haruspices speak ill. Who’d have thought, at the inception of Colin Dexter’s creation, that a simple cop show could pack in such high emotion? I defy you not to encounter a certain… scratchy tightness behind the eyes, as Ch Supt Bright (Anton Lesser) blinkingly refuses to countenance the death of his wife. Or at that too-brief shot of Fred Thursday, now stoic and indefatigible rather than thrawn and belittled, trusty hat beside him and six bullets in his snub-nose, racing to the rescue on the wintry boat train to Venice.

The ‘wonderful’ Jerrika Hinton in Hunters.
The ‘wonderful’ Jerrika Hinton in Hunters. Photograph: Christopher Saunders/Amazon Studios

Outrageously flawed but still immensely, thrillingly watchable is a new 10-part Amazon thing, Hunters. It’s basically a remake of, or at least homage to, Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, the story of a group of Jewish rebels taking revenge on Nazis, but updated from the war era to 1977 Brooklyn. The Son of Sam is haunting New York, and a Fourth Reich is being plotted by immigrant Nazis, brought to the US post-war as Nasa scientists.

It’s terribly cartoony-Tarantinny, with spoof adverts and game shows about antisemitism, and a simplistically angry colour palette. Logan Lerman and Al Pacino are pretty magnificent as young, angry Jonah and his billionaire mentor Meyer Offerman, chief Nazi-avenger. Also grand turns by Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane as Murray and Mindy, ageing Nazi-hunters who lost a son at Auschwitz, and Jerrika Hinton as the impartial FBI lass on their backs, ever conflicted (she’s wonderful).

Where it thrives is in simple plot excitement. There are betrayals, accidents, sellouts galore, but we’re only ever on one (the right) side: the ancient or wannabe Nazis are portrayed with little nuance, although Dylan Baker and Greg Austin manage to wring fat pies from scant ingredients. And I have little chat-time for those who insist the Holocaust can never be a subject for anything other than tearful, solemn reverence. As with the recent Jojo Rabbit, slated by pious reviewers as “inappropriate” but loved by affected millions, surely the getting-the-message-out is the thing, and the only thing. Generations are growing up today who might have missed the (appropriate) commemorations in the recent week of Holocaust Day, now irritatingly unavailable on iPlayer: and by next year’s 27 January it’ll all be a little bittie more forgotten, again, and so surely anything, no matter how cartoonish or sweary, that relates the story of what happens when searing race hatred is allowed to infest a family, a mob, a country, a political credo, is to the good, no?

My main quibble with Hunters, and it’s a biggie, is that Auschwitz/Belsen scenes have been invented. There was never, say, a live chess moment where prisoners were “played” as pieces, armed with knives in a field, and bishop to pawn 5 would mean a throat cut. That’s the gleeful invention of producers, and I hope they’re still hugging themselves at their inventive clevers.

Channel 4’s comedy Home continues to delight to an absurd degree. Sami looks bound to get at least one girl, despite hardly trying: he’s just a thoughtful, kind, funny man. Douglas Henshall is appearing now as an appalling ex, a smug, entitled irritant; it’s as far as an actor can come from Shetland’s Jimmy Perez and still own the same face.

He’s just one of the cast strengths in Rufus Jones’s little ensemble sitcom. Another highlight was an unimpeachable extended discussion between Sami (Youssef Kerkour) and his shopkeeper pal Raj, two non-drinking immigrants, about the perfect British pub. Warm, thought-provoking, clever without clever-clever, always.