The week in TV: Grace; The Flight Attendant; Dark Secrets of a Trillion Dollar Island and more – review

Grace (ITV) | ITV Hub
The Flight Attendant (Sky One) |
Storyville: Dark Secrets of a Trillion Dollar Island: Garenne (BBC Four) | iPlayerThe Great Pottery Throwdown (Channel 4) | All 4
Taskmaster (Channel 4) | All 4

Ah, seasides! The foam-fresh slap of spray on windblown cheeks, the hints of vinegar and cheap perfume, the dank, throat-catching aromas of seagull guano and wet loam inside a coffin as you wait for the worms and silverfish of corruption in a shallow grave…

After years of sterling service as a walk-on character actor in the likes of Line of Duty, Morse and the rest, Brighton finally got the lead part. I spent a few years living in Hove, and can confirm that the wider BN postcode does indeed resemble, in that felicitous phrase, a town that’s forever helping the police with their inquiries. And so it’s a mild surprise that it’s taken a longish time for the novels of Peter James to make it to the screen. The result, Grace, is a handsome and tense affair, as we might now expect from adapter Russell Endeavour Lewis, here pairing up with John Simm as the titular detective.

Simm is one of those actors, like Martin Freeman or Michael Kitchen or indeed Shaun Evans, who excels at playing the overlookable Everyman with steel in the soul; James’s Roy Grace to the nub. And the settings are all you might ask, from the near-obligatory West Pier – what kind of weird gothville, one might ask, concocts as its totem a dead pier, its every month of history mired in tawdry shenanigans? – to the cheerful, liberating sleaze of Kemptown.

Never mind Taskmaster, trapping a giant motorised rat in a net from three metres away should be the primary task for all diplomats and wannabe 007s

And this two-hour opener to what I hope might become an occasional series hangs together solidly, with some fine acting (Alisha Bailey standout as the scheming widow-spider; Simm, of course), and I don’t want to be unnecessarily grudging with my praise. Perhaps I’m just missing too much my Sunday night fix of The Great, which nothing (sadly) can replace. I have tried a couple of times to read James’s thrillers, and was left cold: Roy Grace, despite the regulatory quirks, failed to come alive on the page, although he may now, given the mind’s-eye John Simm.

Yet Russell Lewis, in Endeavour, fostered an entire family of credibles: Fred and Joan and Reginald Bright and the rest of the boys in the band. Incidentally, how did Grace get away with pre-watershed scenes of being buried alive, gaspingly visceral enough to induce, even in me, a mild panic attack? Kids these days must be, despite all we hear, made of sterner stuff.

More gore, but of a decidedly more gleeful nature, came our way in HBO’s The Flight Attendant, now on Sky. This is the tale of a lass-about-town possessed of a job as a long-haul airline attendant, hollow legs when it comes to vodka and a certain exuberance when it comes to leaping into bed with unsuitable men. Let’s face it, Cassie Bowden is every girl your mother warned you about ever a) dating, or b) turning into.

Kaley Cuoco, freed finally from The Big Bang Theory, acts her cotton socks off, and does “rueful trembling hangover” in a way seldom seen better since Kirstie Alley. She gets a bucket of that fresh seaside brine in the face, however, when she wakes with the bloodied body of a lover in a Bangkok stopover room, and, petrified by thoughts of Thai jails, tries to wipe away floor evidence in the worst bleach job since Michael Jackson’s, and flees to London. There will be FBI, and Interpol, and warm friendship and cold calculation, and a wee bit of haunting, and a very fine supporting cast. Bleakly yet sometimes hugely funny, obsidian-dark at times, utterly free of credibility, and I’m going to watch it weekly rather than binge, in the vague hope it can replace The Great.

What a sullenly entitled little island Jersey would appear to be, at least as portrayed in the Storyville special last week on the Haut de la Garenne children’s home and other child-abuse scandals in the dying decades of the last century. Film-maker Camilla Hall tried to affect a certain balance, but there was little doubt where her heart lay: on the side of the occasional rare, brave senator, and the “citizen journalists”, who against most odds managed to have the voices of some dispossessed and abused heard in Jersey’s parliament. Jersey’s haughty parliament of course closed ears: their ears were only for tweaking the screechingly greedy laws of tax twiddling which have allowed it to become known as the trillion-dollar island.

This was a flawed documentary, a little eager to cast aspersions and mood rather than go for j’accuse. But if Hall’s work allows a few more peeks into that extraordinary island, and the depths of kindness and empathy exhibited by the great majority of inhabitants, it’s done its job: already, ancient laws are changing. And why should the massed international tabloid press have fled as fast as it did when it turned out that the skull of a child was in fact a shard of wood or coconut. I suppose decades of vile abuse is harder to cover than murder, and involves difficult thought as opposed to melodrama.

In The Great (no, Sublime! I’ve enjoyed so much!) Pottery Throwdown, Jodie triumphed, a scrub nurse from the Rhondda, against all and mainly her own expectations, with a deco flourish. Art deco is constantly misunderstood, but when it’s got right, it’s got right. Judge Keith Brymer Jones wept, of course, yet I couldn’t avoid feeling thoughts for Sal, so cruelly snubbed three weeks ago for having overlipped a something. Jodie and Sal lend hope to all of us stuck below, yet aiming for the moon.

A new series of Taskmaster began, which has every promise to match the highs of the last. Chief among the promiseers in series 11 is Sarah Kendall, the driest of Aussies, yet we also have grumpy Jamali Maddix, Lee Mack and the like, and the mix works (again) wonderfully well, crushing together those who will solve an impossible problem in methodical fashion and those who will throw proven natural laws to all 13 winds. Trapping a giant motorised rat in a net from three metres away, conveying 24 unbroken dinner plates on a hoverboard through a hangar, inviting a helium balloon to behave – never mind Taskmaster, this should be the primary task for all diplomats and wannabe 007s. As ever, creator Alex Horne and Taskmaster Greg Davies fashion great humour from abject failure. I think Greg’s resolutely kind demolition of Charlotte Ritchie – “you didn’t think your left hand was for anything?” – represents a touchstone in anthropology.