The week in TV: House of the Dragon; Euro 2024; The Stormtrooper Scandal; Under the Bridge – review

<span>'Nastier, colder, more clawingly ruthless’: Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy in House of the Dragon.</span><span>Photograph: HBO/2023 Home Box Office Inc</span>
'Nastier, colder, more clawingly ruthless’: Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy in House of the Dragon.Photograph: HBO/2023 Home Box Office Inc

House of the Dragon (Sky Atlantic)
Euro 2024 (BBC One/ITV1) | iPlayer/ITVX
The Stormtrooper Scandal (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Under the Bridge (Disney+)

Look sharp, the dragons are back. Writer and showrunner Ryan J Condal’s House of the Dragon has returned to Sky Atlantic for a second season. The quasi-medieval cos-playing precursor to Game of Thrones (based on George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels; House... is based on Martin’s prequel, Fire & Blood), it certainly has enough of the scaly fire-breathing CGI-crowd-pleasers to keep the cheap seats happy.

At the end of the first HOTD series (spoiler klaxon), a shattering fiery airborne skirmish resulted in Lucerys, son of Rhaenyra Targaryen, plunging to his death. Now comes the aftermath. In the platinum-haired Targaryen corner, Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) is jackknifed with grief and Daemon (Matt Smith) comforts her the only way he knows how (by moodily pacing and plotting to kill).

Rhaenyra’s rightful sword-emblazoned throne is already taken by Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney), the bratty son of Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke). While Alicent’s adviser father (Rhys Ifans) is all heavy dragging robes and Shakespearean frustration, another of her sons, the preternaturally sinister Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), prowls like a panther someone has unwisely let out of a cage.

The series one finale was so thrilling, this opener feels sluggish (or at least muted) by comparison, until there’s another murder (a grim one, even by Westeros standards). Having watched the four episodes available for preview, I can tell you things rapidly escalate: love, death, power, scheming (“It’s time that bitch queen paid a price!”), betrayal, mix-ups, visions, prophecy and another set-piece dragon battle so bloodthirsty and vicious it scorches the soul.

HOTD still suffers from a lack of humour: those refreshing spritzes of naughtiness so essential for lightening the po-faced fantasy load (in GOT, Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion did even more heavy lifting than we realised). In other ways, it’s better: not as tiresomely porny (here, the most full-on full frontal is male) and nastier, colder, more clawingly ruthless. Settle in for a wild, desolate ride.

On to the coverage of the Euro 2024 football tournament in Germany and a question: why does ITV keep making the pundits stand behind a counter, as if they’re serving at a fast-food restaurant? Could somebody at ITV please retire this terrible idea before somebody faints on pundit duty?

Snooping in at the start of Slovenia’s match against Denmark (in Group C, like England, and played at the Stuttgart Arena), ITV Sport presenter Laura Woods and pundits Gary Neville, Eniola Aluko and Joleon Lescott seemed painfully aware that people would be more interested in England’s first game of the tournament against Serbia (which BBC One was showing). The ITV team dealt with it by incessantly talking about the Serbia vs England match anyway.

Before said Serbia-England game (staged in Gelsenkirchen), BBC One showed a montage of the England team’s early exits, fouls and disasters over the years. “It’s never dull with England, is it?” deadpanned hostGary Lineker. That’s the spirit! Make the viewers consider bashing themselves over the head with the TV remote control before it even begins.

The mood continued in ITV’s highlights show that evening, when England’s shining hope, 20-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham, was asked whether the Serbian game (in which he’d scored the winning goal) was an “ugly win” (which roughly translates to: watching paint dry, with shorts on). Looking hurt, Bellingham pronounced this “negative”. Bellingham plays for Real Madrid and he’s clearly getting a refresher course in our unique national brand of gallows sports TV broadcasting.

You’ll need the force to be with you for Stuart Bernard’s BBC Two documentary The Stormtrooper Scandal. At almost 90 minutes long, there are so many tricky concepts to absorb, not least cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which, in this setting, relate to computer-generated art that can be bought and traded.

Explained in basic terms: in 2021, London-based art curator and artist Ben Moore held a vast online auction of NFTs of images of Star Wars Stormtrooper helmets previously customised in real life for his Art Wars charity exhibition by big-name artists including Damien Hirst and Jake and Dinos Chapman. The online auction was an instant sell-out sensation at the peak of the NFT “goldrush”. However, Moore hadn’t told the artists he was doing it, even though he intended to pay them. Cue artists withdrawing work, the auction crashing, Lucasfilm (the Disney-owned producer of Stars Wars) calling in lawyers, investors losing money, Moore being threatened and so on.

The situation is made more surreal by some artists opting to talk in disguise, sporting kind of snazzy gimp masks

At the centre of the mayhem, there’s Moore, who’s initially elated, thinking he’s a millionaire (he wasn’t for long). As things start to unravel, he’s heard in a recording (sounding drunk and incoherent) trying to placate investors on the Discord platform. Among the artists interviewed, Jake Chapman settles for looking bemused, while Chemical X labels Moore “a posh boy chancer”. The situation is made more surreal by some artists opting to talk in disguise, sporting kind of snazzy gimp masks.

All agree that Moore has seriously harmed his reputation in the art world. Interviewed here (dishevelled, hair-ruffling, drawling), Moore does rather give the impression of a mischievous bad boy grifter. At the end, he gets into a muddle apologising for the NFT exhibition, then retracting the apology and so on. This is a riveting watch, with valuable insights into hidden worlds (cryptocurrency, art), but then I’m not one of the burned artists or investors.

Under the Bridge (Disney+) is an eight-part true crime series about disturbed 1990s teenagers on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and the senseless 1997 murder of a 14-year-old Canadian girl called Reena Virk. Created by Quinn Shephard and based on the book by Rebecca Godfrey, it stars Riley Keough as Godfrey and Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon) as the cop looking into the case.

This drama moves in the same dysfunctional small-town territory as Sharp Objects and Mare of Easttown, subtly weaving in elements such as gangs, bullying and race. While it’s a little unfocused and murky, Keough and Gladstone are superb. Even they are outperformed, however, by an amazing young cast led by Vritika Gupta as the rebellious but vulnerable Reena and Chloe Guidry as a young queen bee wielding more toxic power than she realises.

Star ratings (out of five)
House of the Dragon
Euro 2024 ★★★
The Stormtrooper Scandal
Under the Bridge

What else I’m watching

We Were the Lucky Ones
Starring Joey King, a deeply poignant second world war family drama about a real-life Jewish family torn apart by the Nazis and their desperate fight to reunite.

Dead Calm: Killing in the Med?
(BBC Two)
Disturbing documentary looking into allegations against the Greek coastguard about the deportation of asylum seekers and the lethal capsizing of a migrant boat.

The Traitors US
BBC Three)
The second series of The Traitors US is again stuffed with reality stars but it’s much more exciting than the first, with a controversial finale. Former speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow appears and Alan Cumming hosts in an array of fetching tartan shawls.