TV blog: Morgana Robinson’s The Agency

Benjie Goodhart / 22 September 2016

This week’s TV highlights include Morgana Robinson’s new series, plus new thriller The Level.

Morgana Robinson’s The Agency, Monday 26th September, 10pm, BBC Two

I’d planned on writing about this week’s tribute to the wonderful, irreplaceable, irrepressible, late and oh-so-lamented Sir Terry Wogan, on BBC One on Friday, but the programme isn’t available to preview. I interviewed him once, and the recording is among my most treasured possessions. It was like having your own personalised radio show, with him talking just to me. But then, that was his genius – he always made the listener feel he was talking just to them. Thanks for everything, Sir Terry.

So this new comedy, set in a celebrity talent agency, came in as a late substitute. All the celebrities are played by hugely talented Morgana Robinson, and the result is very good indeed. Essentially, there isn’t much plot – just the occasional bit of narrative off of which to hang a series of sketches – but the writing is sharp and funny, and most of Robinson’s impressions are a delight. Kudos, too, to the hair, make-up and wardrobe departments, whose work is so good, you can spot the characters long before they even utter a syllable.

The highlight of the first episode is the storyline involving the comedian Miranda, who Robinson plays with the perfect degree of jolly-hockey-sticks poshness and clumsy vulnerability. Miranda has decided she wants to ditch her comic persona and do a serious, Pinteresque West End Play.

If there is a problem with the show, it is that it has, understandably, been built around the characters that Robinson can play. Two of them, presenter Fearne Cotton and EastEnders star Natalie Cassidy, are quite brilliant impressions, but the celebs themselves aren’t particularly high-profile and, as such, will struggle to maintain interest. And a couple more – Danny Dyer, Mel and Sue – are definitely at the ropier end of her work.

Another shame is that Russell Brand doesn’t appear in episode one. Robinson’s Brand is quite magnificent – and I am happy to report he looms large in episode two, trying to build a Shangri-La spiritual paradise off junction 29 of the M25. But the highlight of episode two is an exquisite look at Joanna Lumley presenting a travelogue from the Premium Inn in Potters Bar, one of the comedy highlights of the year.

The Level, Friday 30th September, 9pm, ITV

I was deeply confused by the opening sequence of The Level, ITV’s gritty new thriller. It featured rather cheery background music, while celebrity choreographer Arlene Phillips invited the cameras into her home. Fortunately, being the quick-witted type, I was able to surmise before too long that I was, in fact, watching Celebrity Home Secrets. That said, I still resent the thirty seconds of my life I’ll never get back.

Having clicked on the correct link, I was taken into a darker and more mysterious world. DS Nancy Devlin’s (Karla Crome) evening starts well enough. She’s getting an award (and later, it turns out, a little more than an award) from a colleague (played by Downton Abbey’s evil footman Thomas Barrow). But a midnight phone call and a flit down to some Sussex woodland sees her witness a horrible crime, and receive a gunshot wound for her troubles.

It gets worse. She has murky links with the victim, and so can’t go to the police. Which means she can’t go to the hospital either (they tend to take a dim view of people shooting each other). She’s trying to get through the whole agonising shot-in-the-stomach, bleeding-and-infected thing, with a few paracetamol. Good luck with that. And, wouldn’t you know it, she’s seconded to the case, and asked to move back to her childhood home of Brighton to investigate.

The story is written by Gaby Chiappe and Alexander Perrin, who previously worked on Shetland, and decided, not unreasonably, to head south for winter. At this rate, they should make it to Australia by 2019. Even after just one episode (there are eight) the script is taut and the tension ratcheted up to satisfying effect.

As is so often the case, there are a couple of absolute clunkers, though. Most notably this one, from a concerned witness: “Someone’s watching me. Meet me on top of Talscombe Cliffs.” If you’re being stalked in a murder investigation, would you really arrange to meet, alone, on top of a cliff face, at night? Me? I’d go to McDonalds, or the pub, or 24-hour ASDA, or basically anywhere that wasn’t a night time cliff top.

The best… and the rest

Monday 26th September

The Retreat with Nick Knowles, 7pm, BBC Two: This five-part series, on every night this week, sees the presenter go on a 28-day vegan yoga retreat in Thailand, complete with cleansing, fasting and regular colemas (don’t ask). I’d stick to DIY SOS if I were you, old chum.

The Fearless Chef, 8pm, Channel 4: Annoyingly handsome chef Kiran Jethwan travels to Mongolia to experience the boundless culinary delights therein.

Tuesday 27th September

Ambulance, 9pm, BBC One: A new three-part documentary series about – you’ll never guess – ambulances! A factual series about the emergency services!! Whatever will they think of next?

Damned, 10pm, Channel 4: Gently compelling new sitcom from Jo Brand and Morwenna Banks, starring Brand and Alan Davies as overstretched social workers in children’s services.

Thursday 29th September

Nature’s Weirdest Events, 8pm, BBC Two: Chris Packham returns with more tales that show that Mother Nature has been at the cooking sherry again.

The Truth About Meat, 9pm, BBC One:  Grocer Chris Bavin looks at the dangers of eating meat – presumably more dangerous for the animal providing the meat…

The Fall, 9pm, BBC Two: Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan return in the grimly absorbing Belfast-based thriller.

Friday 30th September

Sir Terry Wogan Remembered: Fifty Years at the BBC, 9pm, BBC One:  A look back at perhaps the most natural, warm, and gently hilarious broadcaster of his or any other generation.

The Graham Norton Show, 10:35pm, BBC One: The undisputed king of chat returns with his consistently entertaining show. Tonight he is joined by Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Radcliffe and Robbie Williams.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.