The week in TV: Supacell; Skint: The Truth About Britain’s Economy; A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder; The Man With 1,000 Kids – review

Supacell Netflix
Skint: The Truth About Britain’s Economy (Channel 4) |
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (BBC Three) | iPlayer
The Man With 1,000 Kids Netflix

Is the superhero genre all out of super? The perpetual big- and small-screen deluge has surely led to viewer burnout. How many times can protagonists earnestly zip about, saving the world one CGI explosion at a time? Indeed, in a genre devoted to exceptionality, it’s increasingly difficult for superpower stories to stand out.

Enter Supacell (Netflix), an intriguing new six-part series set in south London, created by British rapper and producer Andrew Onwubolu (AKA Rapman). Six people develop powers (you know they’re about to manifest themselves because their eyes flicker yellowy-gold). Delivery man Michael (Tosin Cole) teleports through time and space, seeing a future he does not want. Single father Andre (Eric Kofi-Abrefa) possesses mega-strength. Nurse Sabrina (Nadine Mills) has telekinesis. Dozy weed dealer Rodney (Calvin Demba) runs at lightning speed. Gang leader Tazer (Josh Tedeku, recently seen in Boarders on BBC Three) uses his power (invisibility) to stab enemies with a zombie knife.

At times, Supacell feels like Top Boy sprinkled with superpowers, in that there’s a mainly black cast, deep-dive characterisation, naturalistic dialogue and a vivid, no-frills sense of place. Racial issues are explored, but they don’t dominate. Instead of noble endeavours, the characters deal with IRL joy, pain, poverty and struggles. Michael proposes to his girlfriend (Adelayo Adedayo from The Responder) and deals with his mother having sickle cell disease. Andre looks for work, but his criminal record holds him back, and so on.

The idea is that you become invested in each character before they get together definitively as a group – which takes a comically long time to happen. Another storyline, involving a secret lab facility and a coolly sinister Eddie Marsan, has a similar deathly pace. Conversely, characters become somewhat briskly accustomed to their powers. I’ve run baths that have taken longer than Tazer and his gang to adjust to his invisibility.

Supacell is scrappy and scruffy (my own Spidey senses deduce there wasn’t a huge budget for special effects), but maybe that’s a good thing. Instead of drowning in CGI, there’s potential here for an imaginative story with multifaceted characters. Will it get a second series? Let’s hope so. The superpower genre needs it.

In an eventful week for British politics came the fact-packed Channel 4 documentary Skint: The Truth About Britain’s Economy, in which the economist Tim Harford gives the lowdown on the state the country is in and suggests solutions.

A Financial Times columnist and presenter of Radio 4’s More Or Less, Harford certainly isn’t short of expert analysis. This unfolds like a horror film with added statistics. The problems include public services, the NHS, housing, taxes at their highest level since the 1940s and more. Disasters include the global financial crisis of 2008, Tory austerity and (ah, here she comes) our prime minister for 45 days, Liz Truss (Harford thinks some of her ideas were right, but she went about it in the wrong way).

Tim Harford, presenter of Skint, ‘a horror film with added statistics’.
Photograph: Channel 4

Harford’s solutions include more housing, bigger investment and greater boldness. The documentary lacks dissenting voices, but it’s otherwise thorough, albeit doomy; a veritable checklist of economic catastrophe (it seems younger people can forget about being wealthier than their parents now) with lights twinkling at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

Towards the end, I grasp why Harford seems – to me – a bit odd. It’s not that he ambles about, all lo-fi, in his tight T-shirts and jeans (though he does give the impression of having come to fix your printer). It’s that he’s presenting his ideas so quietly and calmly, it feels completely alien. Is this another problem for Britain – that we’re riddled with national PTSD and expect everyone and everything to be shouting in our faces?

Who’s in the market for a gen Z Miss Marple? On BBC iPlayer (it airs on BBC Three and also Netflix later), there’s the dramatisation of Holly Jackson’s 2019 young adult bestseller A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, directed by the actor Dolly Wells.

Emma Myers (from Wednesday) plays Pip, who’s aiming for Cambridge University and decides to do her school EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) on a grisly, five-year-old local police case. A teenager, Abbie, went missing (her body was never found); her boyfriend, Sal, confessed to her murder and then killed himself. Pip doesn’t buy this account, and turns her bedroom into a cold-case incident room.

Emma Myers as Pip in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Photograph: Joss Barratt/BBC/Moonage Pictures

There’s much to roll your eyes at here. The fictional town setting is pure middle-England wish-fulfilment (roses around cottage doors; balmy country lanes). The youth scene Pip probes stirs up dark themes (sex, drugs, racism), but, perhaps mindful of the potential youth of viewers, it’s all a bit clipped, as if Euphoria were under parental supervision. Pip herself has wobbly age definition (she’s 17 but Myers seems to play her years younger) and the plot is daft, sprouting more holes than one of Marple’s doilies.

All that said, there’s a warm spark between Pip and Sal’s brother Ravi (Zain Iqbal) as they investigate the case. Anna Maxwell Martin and Gary Beadle lend heft to the thankless roles of parents in a youth drama. Overall, there’s a wholesomeness, a sweetness that feels almost daring for the times. The six episodes slide down like a glass of old-fashioned pop on a sunny day.

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Jonathan Jacob Meijer, subject of The Man With 1,000 Kids. Photograph: Netflix

Back to Netflix for The Man With 1,000 Kids is one of those docuseries you watch through splayed fingers. In three parts, it covers the astounding story of the Dutch serial sperm donor Jonathan Jacob Meijer. Well, I say, serial; maybe “industrial” works better. Although he sweet-talked parents by saying he’d only donate to five families, it’s estimated that Meijer fathered up to 3,000 children worldwide.

This is a complicated tale taking in anguished parents trying to bring him to justice, concerns about accidental incest, and an unregulated donor industry that depends on donors telling the truth. At its centre there’s the unrepentant Meijer (not interviewed here), described by one parent as “the biggest narcissist there is”. A self-styled lifestyle/crypto guru seemingly perma-camera-ready for YouTube videos shot in exotic locales, Meijer swishes his long blond locks around like the singer of some mid-level soft-rock band. It’s later revealed that he views himself as a lion. Of course he does.

Star ratings (out of five)
Supacell ★★★★
Skint: The Truth About Britain’s Economy ★★★
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder ★★★
The Man With 1,000 Kids ★★★

What else I’m watching

(BBC One/Two)
Even without Andy Murray, summer means the Wimbledon tennis championships. It’s Clare Balding’s second stint steering the exhaustive coverage, assisted by Isa Guha.

Eva Longoria in Land of Women. Photograph: Apple

Land of Women
(Apple TV+)
No one does “spoiled rich lady with heart” quite like Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives). Here, she’s a brash New Yorker fleeing to rural Spain, in a juicy, playful six-part dramedy.

Prince and His Songs at the BBC
(BBC Two)
To mark the 40th anniversary year of Prince’s album Purple Rain, the BBC digs into the archives for footage of the late Minneapolis deity, and of artists performing his songs.

The Guardian

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