TV Review – The Night Manager, The X-Files, Fresh Meat


Combined Harvesters

Unlike most TV reviewers, I’ll admit that I haven’t read War and Peace so wasn’t in a position to criticise the BBC’s recent lavish adaptation for sexing up Tolstoy. When people who had actually read War and Peace pointed out that all that sexy stuff was right there in the book, it was just the latest in a long list of things where TV reviewers overreached. You’ve got to have a broad knowledge to review TV, as the letters of corrections pouring into Private Eye every issue attest.

Noting all that, I will risk saying that I have read John le Carre’s novel The Night Manager but it was a while ago and just about the only thing I remember of it is that Richard Roper, the memorable villain of the book, was not played by Hugh Laurie. Replacing War and Peace in the prestige Sunday night slot is an adaptation of The Night Manager (Sundays, BBC1), starring Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper.

To be fair to Laurie he didn’t think he would be playing Roper either. This adaptation has been so long in the gestation that Laurie aged out of the role he wanted to play, the titular hero and manager of night, here played by the suitably age appropriate Tom Hiddleston. Whilst most people in this country still associate Laurie with roles like Bertie Wooster and the various Georges from Blackadder, Laurie has spent the intervening years not making The Night Manager polishing his anti-hero chops on US show House, a modern day adaptation of Sherlock Holmes done when such a thing wasn’t fashionable.

Laurie doesn’t appear for the first half of the first episode of The Night Manager but his presence is felt, and it’s not a cuddly one. Tom Hiddleston is managing night in a hotel in Cairo during the Arab Spring. He’s very efficient at managing night. “I have several guests extremely keen to leave,” he whisps into a phone as riots and people putting down said riots hit the hotel walls.

He’s just as efficient at attracting female attention. Gangster’s moll Aure Atika wants his bones and she knows exactly how to get them; by photocopying and passing him eyewateringly dangerous documents of recent arms transactions regarding her boyfriend and Mr. Roper, whom she calls the “worst man in the world”. Hiddleston and Atika do get to sleep together but only after she’s had seven bells knocked out of her and they’ve had to escape to a secret safe house.

The documents eventually make their way to Olivia Colman, who you know is a good guy because she’s wearing a chunky cardigan and because she’s, well, Olivia Colman. But they’ve also passed through the hands of David Morrissey, who may as well have Roper’s Tool printed on his forehead. Morrissey works for “The River House”, AKA MI6 in John le Carre’s world, the Circus now having been relocated. Colman works for something called the International Enforcement Agency and, unlike the inhabitants of the River House, sees it as her job to bring down dangerous arms dealers. “Oh yeah,” Colman’s Colman to Morrissey, “instead of putting handcuffs on him let’s give him a seat in the House of Lords”.

Inevitably, Atika winds up dead on the floor of Hiddleston’s hotel. “It was burglar. Crazy burglar,” adjudges the local plod, who also has a mysteriously absent Roper’s Tool tattooed on his forehead. Four angst-ridden years later and Hiddleston is now managing a different hotel’s night, this one in Switzerland. He notices that a late booking has just come in for a R. Roper and the fires of revenge burn in his eyes. Actually, being Tom Hiddleston, he just looks shifty. He spent three Marvel films looking shifty and it’s stuck.

Finally, late at night (it’s got a manager, thanks) enter Laurie via helicopter as the Most Dangerous Man in the World (author’s capitals). “So pleasing to wake up the fucking Germans.” No man who hates the Germans can be all bad, surely. He arrives with a full entourage including some minor royalty and a too-young-for-him girlfriend who is fucking enormous. Seriously, she would trouble chandeliers in ballrooms. Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston are pretty tall chaps but she makes them look like Tom Hollander. It’s unfortunate that the same Tom Hollander is also part of the entourage, as the man Laurie gets to sign everything, although he often struggles to reach up to the desk.

Hiddleston may have the burning acid of revenge seething through his veins but he’s also a highly efficient Englishman, so his revenge is very polite. He photocopies more of Laurie’s documents (not since the transfer window closed has there’s been more photocopying) and passes them onto Olivia Colman again. Because she’s Olivia Colman (a noticeably pregnant Olivia Colman at that) she gets to the point. “Why does a respected hotelier risk his career by snitching on his guests” Hiddleston seems most annoyed that Laurie is English and it offends his patriotic pride that an Englishman would do such things. Surely foreigners are the better people to handle illegal arms deals?

And there is the problem with The Night Manager. It’s an old book now – over 20 years old – and it’s author is even older (very rarely are authors younger than the books they write). Spy stories have moved on a bit since David Cornwell was photocopying things in Bonn in the fifties and thinking of switching careers. Hiddleston’s old-fashioned patriotism and Colman’s terrier-like want to do right seem awfully out of place in a show that also includes the terminal head-scratcher that is the Arab Spring and its after-effects. But Laurie is very good as the villain, tossing about obvious euphemisms such as “combined harvesters” as he controls very high-powered and behind-closed-doors meetings. Sadly the role has been essayed before, by Ray McAnally in the BBC’s adaptation of A Perfect Spy, based on the life of Le Carre’s shyster father. He has a lot of daddy issues.

When it was announced that The X-Files (Mondays, Channel 5) would be returning in TV form, shrugs broke out across the land, pausing only to wonder why such a thing was necessary. Two episodes of this very short season did very little to dispel the air of general insignificance but then this week’s episode arrived.

The thing is, The X-Files was never really about ball-aching season-long arcs about shadowy government conspiracies. That was what was used to smuggle the truly great episodes through: the one-off silly episodes that also spake great truths that were very much not out there. Vince Gilligan was a natural at these, before he went on to create Breaking Bad, but even he would acknowledge the true master of them: Darin Morgan.

Morgan wrote only four episodes of the original series of the X-Files, and very little of anything else, but what exists are widely regarded as some of the best episodes of television ever made. Little one-offs rampant in silly shenanigans, unreliable narrators and deep truths about the nature of humanity. So anticipation was high when it was announced that one of the new episodes would be written by him. And he didn’t disappoint.

Mulder and Scully investigate a were-lizard played by Rhys Darby. The twist being that he is a lizard who was bitten by a man. Darby finds it surprisingly easy to get on in the world of humanity, getting a job in a smartphone shop straightaway and managing to become manager by the end of the day. And that’s before we get to the transexual hooker, the peeping tom hotel manager, the paint-sniffing couple and a serial killer so boring Mulder and Scully immediately cut off his big speech. And for the ladies, David Duchovny once again wears the red speedos once sported on a classic episode of The Simpsons. Anyway, stop reading this now and go and watch it. It’s on the (surprisingly good) Demand Five.

Fresh Meat (Mondays, Channel 4) returned for a fourth and final series, a good job as the cast members are starting to resemble lecturers rather third year university students. Having spent the previous two years alternately getting twatted/sleeping with each other/sleeping with their professors/putting dental drills through people’s faces/killing legendary poets, our Friends-a-like gang of housemates finally realise they will have to get down to work for their Finals.

This impetus arrives in the form of Jack Whitehall’s brother, a character disconcertedly resembling our beloved Prime Minister. Writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong might have thought it a proper wheeze to write down ‘he looks and sounds exactly like David Cameron’ but to actually get that on the screen is the casting decision of the year. Congratulations to whoever cast the spot-on Richard Goulding in the part.

The gang respond to the sudden need to get down to work by naturally going on a “last” bender; almost literally in Whitehall’s case as he lays out his many intentions for this day, including wanting to go to “the gay village and get fucked by a load of really great guys.” Enlightenment comes elsewhere, as he realises he doesn’t want to follow his hyper-worked brother’s “5 to 9” life. Since his only career ambitions are “something to do with lions” or drawing penises, it’s fair to say he would much rather stay a student for the rest of his life.

I wish all the gang could stay students. Oregon, Josie, Kingsley, JP, Vod and Howard, “the Fritzl of revision”. But they’ve all got more grown-up and lesser sitcoms to do.

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