The week in TV: Mood; Peaky Blinders; Killing Eve; Storyville: Tango With Putin

·7-min read

Nicôle Lecky bursts on to the screen in her sizzling lost girl tale; a final flourish for Killing Eve looks unlikely; and a chilling Storyville goes inside Russian TV station Dozhd


Mood (BBC Three/BBC One) | iPlayer
Peaky Blinders (BBC One) | iPlayer
Killing Eve (BBC One) | iPlayer
Storyville: Tango With Putin (BBC Four) | iPlayer

Mood, the new BBC Three six-part series created and written by Nicôle Lecky, waits for no TV reviewer. It doesn’t so much start as erupt into a full-blown pop video: the protagonist – aspiring, mixed-race twentysomething singer Sasha (Lecky) – sashays around her east London housing estate wreathed in pink smoke, until the music abruptly stops and all is revealed as mere wish fulfilment.

In reality, Sasha is a weed-puffing mess: stalking her ex on social media, setting fire to his garden. Thrown out by her mother and stepfather (Jessica Hynes and Paul Kaye), penniless, sofa surfing, she stays with audacious, magnetic Carly (Lara Peake). Carly shows her the ropes as a cam girl on “DailyFans” (a barely disguised OnlyFans), which escalates to real-world escorting. Thus, one of Mood’s themes is how unsafe young female life can be: how anyone could be Sasha, losing their footing with each bad decision, skidding into darkness.

Like Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum, Mood began life on stage: as Lecky’s 2019 Royal Court play Superhoe. Though witty, with a bruising bite, it isn’t a comedy. Directed by Dawn Shadforth, it’s an observational drama with many heartbeats; porn, the internet, race, poverty, sexual predation, dreams falling into a death spiral. Along the way (it’s all on iPlayer), there are Lecky’s co-written songs: gospelly ballads in church, rap in a kebab shop, a ska extravaganza in a benefits office. Christ, you think, have I been tricked into watching musical theatre? But the music has a function: illuminating Sasha’s inner and outer worlds.

Lecky is a striking writer-performer, showing that incredible generosity I keep seeing in these female-led works, giving other characters their own distinct arcs. Peake, as Carly, wholly embodies the intoxicating dark sparkle of the Bad Friend. Hynes and Kaye are a Mike Leigh movie in their own right. Mood isn’t flawless – the later episodes are a little slack and maudlin – but it works beautifully as a modern lost girl cautionary tale, devoid of preachiness.

Sandra Oh originally gave great ‘wry everywoman’ as Eve, but then transformed into a Villanelle mini-me

Peaky Blinders, now world-renowned for making Birmingham cool, returns for its sixth and final series on BBC One. The last time we saw chief Blinder Thomas Shelby, played by Cillian Murphy, his plot to kill Oswald Mosley had failed and he was about to shoot himself; a plan scuppered by his addict brother Arthur (Paul Anderson), who removed the bullets in a rare display of common sense. Tommy must then hold a Romany funeral, a poignant pyre of burning caravan, for slain (by the IRA) gang matriarch Polly Gray, portrayed so vividly by Helen McCrory, who died of cancer last year. Moving forward to 1933, a meeting on the French-Canadian island of Miquelon signals the end of prohibition and Small Heath booze smuggling, ushering in opium, Boston overlords, new problems and bad blood.

I now know not to panic when encountering Steven Knight’s pungent, labyrinthine series-opening episodes. All will become clear, and even if it doesn’t, just sit back and enjoy what has evolved into a fully fledged, early 20th-century underworld opera. Directed by Anthony Byrne, Peaky Blinders continues to echo the emotional colour palette (death, gunmetal, paranoia) of Shelby’s first world war past. Murphy persists in portraying Tommy as a visceral one-man death wish, constantly forced to face the existential void with pale staring eyes. Likewise, the script remains all guttural poetry, despite Tommy’s newfound teetotalism: “I now realise that whisky is just fuel for the loud engines inside your head,” he growls, supping a glass of water.

Threats are everywhere, not least from Polly’s vengeful son Michael (Finn Cole), whose hatred shivers across his skin. The episode closes with a tribute to McCrory, whose loss is definitely felt: Polly was effectively Tommy’s wing-woman equal, leading with him from the front. Perhaps in an attempt to fill the void, Michael’s wife, Gina, played by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), is repositioned centre stage – serpentine, combative – for the Shelby endgame.

Still on BBC One, another drama behemoth returns as spy thriller Killing Eve begins its fourth and final outing, headed by new showrunner Laura Neal. Fans of the spectacular first series, adapted by Waller-Bridge, may have, like me, been willing it to return to form ever since. As gentlewoman assassin Villanelle, Jodie Comer blasted on to the criminal sociopath scene with mercurial brio, before morphing into a frankly irritating Bond villain without portfolio. Similarly, Sandra Oh originally gave great “wry everywoman” as Eve, but then transformed into a Villanelle mini-me. Even their mutual obsession started to feel a bit tiring: does the world need panto Sapphic?

Have things improved? Not especially. Villanelle, swathed in white robes, continues with her finding God malarkey, while Eve’s new security job seems to mainly involve canoodling with a colleague. Villanelle and Eve exchange banter over a fish tank, but it’s all so profoundly anticlimactic, I find myself looking for the fish. Not even Fiona Shaw’s considerable thespian heft is enough to rescue the main plot, involving some sinister network called the Twelve. Still, it’s funny when Villanelle says grace: “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make you thank me.” Dare we dream of the old magic returning?

Related: Meet Natalya Sindeyeva – has she got news for Vladimir Putin

BBC Four’s Storyville: Tango With Putin is a timely documentary about Russian television station Dozhd (AKA TV Rain). Conceived as a funky lifestyle channel by socialite owner Natalya Sindeyeva, Dozhd provoked constant governmental ire with its courageous dedication to independent and critical reporting.

Originally titled “F@ck This Job” (heard blurted by a reporter at a tumultuous Ukraine demonstration), the film is directed by Vera Krichevskaya, once a producer at the station, who reveals how Dozhd has suffered threats, cyberattacks, evictions, and was last year designated a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin.

“Fear ate me alive,” says Sindeyeva, who also suffered breast cancer and saw her marriage collapse. In a brief, sanity-saving respite she is shown learning to tango. Elsewhere in this sobering film, the only sense of dancing is with the devil. It closes with the announcement that, last Tuesday, Dozhd was shut down as part of the Russian crackdown on independent Ukraine coverage.

What else I’m watching…

Rock Till We Drop
(BBC Two)
Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp and rapper Lady Leshurr hunt for wannabes to form bands to perform at the Isle of Wight festival. The twist: hopefuls must be over 64. I was concerned this might be patronising, but it’s rather lovely.

Martin Kemp and Lady Leshurr (and HMS Belfast) in Rock Till We Drop.
Martin Kemp and Lady Leshurr (and HMS Belfast) in Rock Till We Drop. Photograph: BBC/RDF Television

Trigger Point
(ITV)
Last Sunday’s final episode of the six-part bomb disposal drama. The series found its stride after that iffy opener, and lead Vicky McClure is always solid. Mind you, there are only so many times you can watch people sweating as they cut wires.

Putin: The New Tsar
(
BBC Four)
A weighty documentary about Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. First aired in 2018 and back on iPlayer for a month, interviewees include Jack Straw, William Hague and people who opposed or crossed Putin and paid a high price. Unnerving.

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