The Violence Paradox (BBC Four) | iPlayer
Blinded: Those Who Kill (BBC Four) | iPlayer
Ian Wright: Home Truths (BBC One) | iPlayer
Bloods (Sky One) | sky.com
Johnny Vegas: Carry On Glamping (Channel 4) | All 4
Feeling happier yet? I ask chiefly because some of us seem, on the cusp of release from lockdown, grimly resistant to mere possibilities of better things; of this vale of tears not, after all, being scheduled soon to tip from handcart to Styx. Granted, it all depends rather where you live, how wealthy you might be, and no one likes a smug smiler, but, sometimes, y’know… come on.
Which is why I expect Dr Steven Pinker not to be everyone’s flavour of the week. Ten years after the publication of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, the Harvard psychologist was vouchsafed a truly absorbing double slot to continue to argue that, despite what we’re told, we are living through the most peaceful time in all human existence.
In The Violence Paradox (BBC Four), he had a host of academics to back him up on such contentions as there has been a fortyfold decrease in murder since the middle ages. The second world war may have been the most destructive in history but, taking into account global populations at the time, it falls to a frankly disappointing ninth, with Genghis Khan’s reign having literally decimated the world’s population.
We are, thanks to drops in killy testosterone, the need for keeping the lieges alive to trade and – a pleasant surprise, this – the power of novels to encourage empathy through imagined souls in imagined lands, along with the rise of simple manners, less barbaric than ever. But we feel threatened and anxious, thanks to what Pinker calls the “availability heuristic”. If we’re told by 24-hour media, especially social media, that we should feel threatened and anxious, we feel threatened and anxious. Such societal glimpses, as obvious in hindsight as hitting a cow’s arse with a banjo, might also explain why academics need to use words such as “heuristic”.
By and large, this was a jaw-dropping brace of programmes, of the type now doomed by BBC Four’s imminent and woefully ill-considered demise, and which was also mostly careful to stress and re-stress that things might not be so good where you are on the planet, that racism, tribal prejudice and foul inequality are hardly over. Yet Pinker, for such a mild-mannered and avowedly non-polemical academic who just keeps turning out readable books, has always managed to attract disproportionate opprobrium. Personally, I can’t see how anyone could gainsay a central contention of his: if we are, indeed, doing something right, “let’s figure out what it is and keep doing it”.
Another 10-year anniversary was marked, if in absentia. It’s a decade since The Killing burst on to UK screens, leading to the vogue for Nordic noir and, less directly, a global trend for drama, from Broadchurch on, more concerned with the outcome of a crime rather than simply the solving of one, all of which is indubitably a good thing. Sadly, Sarah Lund shall rise no more, but there’s another splendid Danish mystifier now double-heading our Saturday nights.
Blinded: Those Who Kill (BBC Four), the successor to Darkness: [ditto], yet again features profiler Louise Bergstein and a sprawling cast of suspects on the island of Funen. Intriguingly, it also makes a point of stressing that a serial killer can be a savagely unlikely member of the community. In this case it’s a rather handsome, likable father whose wife keeps disappearing to a high-end job in Singapore: each time she goes, he feels the need to take it out on someone younger, braver, brighter than he. Great to see the slow psychologies at play, and how he’s finally tracked down, and the refreshing subtleties of Danish drama; and, too, to know how they’re not all (or any of them) going to be murdered young women with clothing askew.
Ian Wright: Home Truths (BBC One) followed the former footballer’s searingly honest journey back to the heart of Brockley, south London, and was a wakeup call, as fully intended, to the fact that children suffer when a parent is being domestically abused. A fact that might be snortingly obvious now but wasn’t in the 70s. At all.
Ian suffered equally but singularly. One thing that became clear in this fine programme is that there are few gradations to what it’s like as a powerless child when your dad, or stepdad, is belting your mother every night; no hierarchies of victimhood. In Wright’s case, his dad used to order him to turn to the wall when the Match of the Day theme came on, and block his view. His mother, also as a result of abuse, told the youngster, daily, that she wished she’d had him terminated.
But there were still other cruelties, to which Wright listened with silent tears. Paul, whose wife-beater father used to come to his Saturday morning football matches and loudly support the other side, and laugh when Paul made a mistake. Gradually, through these and other explorations, Wright understood what had made him such a bloody angry, blue-touchpaper player, though he now seems one of the most serene, sane and contained of gentlemen, and a wonderful family man, having broken the cycle of abuse.
Crucially, at the end, he found the words to forgive his mother. It can be no coincidence this was jointly made by the production company Brook Lapping, which always manages to find facts and heart and accord them due prominence. Still, of the 1.6 million women abused in their home in the UK annually, 90% have children at home.
Bloods (Sky One) pairs Famalam’s Samson Kayo with, bizarrely, Jane Horrocks, as a mismatched pair of paramedics. The opener has each of them struggling towards any kind of cultural rapport – he big and angry and avowedly from the ’hood, she librarian-kind and mousy and determinedly from the suburbs of somewhere northern. It somehow works as comedy, if of the sweeter rather than distinctly darker kind. Hugely helped by the outlying cast, particularly Lucy Motherland Punch as the boss with an unrequited crush on sad widower Julian Barratt. Who would (quite inexplicably) rather cry into his pint than jump her bones.
Johnny Vegas: Carry on Glamping (Channel 4), nominally the comic’s “dream” of finding a great wee site on or near a cliff in Wales, glamming up artfully a few old buses or trams or whatever and renting them out to holidaymakers, was surprisingly affecting. Thing is, he cares: cares about the artistic integrity of the project, the history of the fire engines, the aesthetics of it all, and is now running into hard-headed restoration toughies, some of whom want to, on this opener’s evidence, milk a “celeb”, strip the strap-hangings from a Maltese school bus and thus all the joy from the project. I’m hooked: go Johnny go. This might be the surprise hit of the next few weeks.