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TV: Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America

Benjie Goodhart / 10 February 2022 ( 10 February 2022 )

In his new documentary series Louis Theroux delves into the underbelly of online extremism, and three-part BBC history series Rise of the Nazis focuses on the Eastern Front.

Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America 1/3, Sunday 13th February, 9pm, BBC Two

The internet is great. I mean, you’re reading this because of the internet, which should be all the proof you need of the astonishing wonderfulness of the medium. But – and I may not quite be the first person to ever come up with this absolute pearl of wisdom – it does also have less savoury aspects to it. Chief among these is the fact that it can act as a mouthpiece for extremists.

Some of those featured in this jaw-dropping documentary from Louis Theroux are racist, homophobic, misogynistic and antisemitic, and wildly, spectacularly, mouth-dribblingly stupid to boot. But this hasn’t stopped them from gaining a considerable following on the internet, because, well, it’s the internet.

The series will follow Theroux as he looks at the online world, and some of its seedier corners, and how it has affected American life. The first episode is all about right-wing extremism, and so he begins by visiting one of its poster boys: A young, photogenic, seemingly-articulate Nick Fuentes. Fuentes, who is fomenting rebellion from his parents’ basement in Chicago, broadcasts live to 10,000 followers each night. Clips of his recordings can reach millions. He has ambitions to be President.

He also possesses attitudes that make the Victorians look like free-love beatniks. He quickly lays his cards on the table with Louis by admitting he doesn’t think women should have the right to vote. His show is called America First. His slogan is America First, Bitch. I think Oscar Wilde may rest easy in his grave.

And yet, believe me, Nick is an intellectual colossus compared to some of his acolytes, who Louis criss-crosses America to meet during this riveting film. On one memorable occasion, he visits a gentleman who goes by the name of Beardson Beardly (yes, he has a beard) who throws him off his property in an expletive-riddled tirade after Theroux questions him about performing a Nazi salute.

Later, on Mr Beardly’s predictably imbecilic live stream chat show, Theroux phones in to continue the dialogue. Beardly swears at him and then hangs up, before delivering the following speech, which will surely go down as the next Gettysburg Address: “Guess what, Louis? My country is better than yours. My friends are cooler than you. I am cooler than you. I’m tougher than you. I’m smarter, I’m stronger, I’m really the total package. You’re weak, and you suck.”

And they say political discourse is dead!

This is vintage Theroux. As always, he is quietly polite but firm and utterly courageous, as he asks pertinent questions and allows his subjects to tie themselves in knots with their witless bile. But the terrifying truth is that these people are out there and, thanks to the internet, they have found an audience. It seems that you don’t need to wit, charm, intelligence and integrity of Louis Theroux to be a media sensation these days. You just need a webcam, a small brain and a big mouth.

Play our fun, free online games, including crosswords, sudokus and codewords.

Rise of the Nazis: Dictators at War, Monday 14th February, 9pm, BBC Two

February 14th. You can just see the scenario playing out up and down the country: “Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. I’ve booked the table at Giuseppe’s for 6pm so we can be home and snuggled up together on the sofa with a bottle of wine by nine, to watch a documentary about the most brutal war in all of history.” Nice spot of scheduling, that.

For a time, about ten years ago, documentaries about the Nazis were so ubiquitous there was almost nothing else on telly. Since then, TV’s obsession with the Third Reich has given way to an almost constant need to show hospital and emergency services documentaries. So much so that it’s actually quite a pleasure to have a decent Nazi documentary series back on our screens. Especially one as good as this one.

This is the second Rise of the Nazis documentary series. The first, back in 2019, showed how Hitler’s monstrous regime came into being, and how he consolidated power in a broken and humiliated Germany. This second series picks up in 1940, and concentrates exclusively on the German campaign on the Eastern Front and how ultimately (spoiler alert) it cost Hitler the war.

It's June, 1940. Paris has fallen. Hitler’s popularity has never been higher. He makes a surprise visit to Paris, where he visits Napoleon’s tomb, spending an hour there. He reportedly tells his entourage “That was the greatest and finest hour of my life.” The Fuhrer feels invincible – that there is nothing he cannot do.

Winning the war in Western Europe, he turns his eyes eastwards – to the Soviet Union. He has signed a peace deal with Stalin, and the two nations have carved up Poland between them. But Hitler has no intention of sticking to the terms of the deal. As 1940 passes into 1941, he is putting together a plan to invade the Soviet Union, and annihilate millions of its population.

A suspicious Stalin sends his foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, to Berlin to meet with Hitler. Russia is worried about the security of its European borders. (How little some things change.) The meeting doesn’t go well, and Hitler loses his temper. At a banquet that evening, events are interrupted by an air raid warning. Molotov and his German counterpart, von Ribbentrop, are forced into an air raid shelter. Here, von Ribbentrop tells Molotov that the war against Britain is all but won. Molotov famously replies that, if this is the case, why are they hiding in an air raid shelter with bombs exploding above them.

Molotov returns to Moscow and tells Stalin not to worry about Germany – its hands are full now with its war in the West. Yet even as he says this, Hitler is planning Operation Barbarossa, which will see the largest invasion force ever assembled storm into the Soviet Union. The message is sent out to the Wehrmacht, to conduct the most brutal campaign in history, including the slaughter of innocent civilians.

This three-part series will tell the story of that campaign, in all its astonishing inhumanity. It details the breath-taking vanity and hubris of the two dictators, and outlines the key strategic errors that both made in choosing to disregard the advice of their military leaders.

As is so often the case in these documentaries, expert testimony is intercut with dramatic recreations and archive footage. But what makes this series so outstanding is the quality of both the recreated scenes – shot with all the beauty and care of a feature film – and the calibre of the contributors. It’s not all historians (although they, of course, have a role to play) but experts including Sir John Scarlett, the former head of MI6, General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the British Army, and Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and keen student of history.

In the UK we have an understandably Anglo-centric view of the war, and a feeling that it was won and lost in the battlefields of Western Europe. This series tells a different story, of Hitler’s gravest miscalculation, and how it was events in the East that really led to the German defeat. Were it not for the events depicted in Rise of the Nazis, the world could have been a very different place today.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 12th February

Tony Robinson’s History of Britain 1/4, 7:30pm, Channel 5: The actor and documentarian presents the second series of his accessible history of Britain, as told through the lives of ordinary people. Here. He turns his gaze to the Roman occupation of the country.

Starstruck 1/6, 8:30pm, ITV: This fairly tacky-looking new Saturday night format sees Olly Murs host a contest in which teams of superfans are transformed into their music idols before stepping onto the stage to sing one of their biggest hits. A celebrity decides their favourite of the night before the voting audience pick just one person to go through to the series final. Or something.

Epic Wales: Valleys, Mountains & Coasts, 8:30pm, Channel 4: Second series of the gently diverting show that documents life in rural Wales. Tonight, it’s all go on a mountain farm where children help put their dad in lambing season.

Sunday 13th February

Wonders of the Celtic Deep 1/4, 8pm, BBC Two: Sian Phillips narrates a documentary about the wildlife that can be found along the coastline of Wales, beginning by following Atlantic grey seals through the year, from courtship to pregnancy and birth.

Monday 14th February

The Millionairess and Me, 10pm, Channel 4: Documentary charting the unlikely friendship between socialite Amanda Cronin and film-maker Martin Read, who has been homeless and spent time in prison, as the two spend time getting to know each other’s worlds.

Wednesday 16th February

Gemma Collins: Self-Harm and Me, 9pm, Channel 4: The reality star opens up about her two-decades of self-harm, and meets other self-harmers to explore what can trigger these destructive and dangerous tendencies.

Thursday 17th February

Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig, 9pm, Channel 4: Sandi Toksvig sets out on more glorious adventures across the country, accompanied by some of the nation's most fascinating and funny women. In this first episode of the new series, queen of comedy and author Sarah Millican joins Sandi in Devon.

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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.

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