Upright (Sky Atlantic)
It’s surely no coincidence that Tim Minchin’s character in Upright is called Lucky, as this funny and poignant new comedy drama, created by Minchin and fellow Australian comic Chris Taylor, contains much philosophical musing on the nature of fate versus blind chance.
Not that Lucky seems to be having much luck: in fact he feels very much like a man on the edge, as he hits the road to Perth to see his dying mother, frantically popping pills while towing – for reasons as yet unclear – an upright piano. And his day gets even worse when he smashes into a truck being driven by 16-year-old Meg (Milly Alcock), with whom he must then share a fractious 3000km Outback journey across what is essentially ‘a massive weird desert’.
Minchin is best known here for writing hit musicals, but it’s fair to say the potty-mouthed Meg is no Matilda. Lucky (or ‘weird Chewbacca guy’, as she calls him) gives as good as she gets, though, and the pair’s quickfire, rat-a-tat verbal volleys are a delight.
As you might expect from Minchin, the show boasts both musical interludes (including a glorious piano duet with a Hell’s Angel) and plenty of whimsical, existential philosophy. ‘Too many things have to happen to make a thing happen,’ suggests Meg. ‘Nothing happens for a reason, or everything happens for no reason,’ insists Lucky, illustrating his point with a meandering riff on the statistical likelihood of the cellist from the Electric Light Orchestra being squashed by a hay bale.
The relationship between the two leads (both terrific) has echoes of Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in Leon, while the odd couple road movie format put me in mind of Rob Reiner’s fine 80s comedy The Sure Thing.
It’s not all about the gags, though. There’s a bruised and tender heart to the piece, with the suggestion that our fellow travellers are equally damaged individuals, in their own way. Clearly, this is going to be a journey in every sense, and I for one am thrilled to be along for the ride.
Elton John: Uncensored (BBC One)
After the book, the film and the John Lewis Christmas ad, you might be wondering if there’s anything still left to say about Pinner’s Reg Dwight, aka Elton Hercules John. But this hour-long chat largely lived up to its billing, as Sir Elt told Graham Norton how he wrote the rock and roll rulebook – and lived to tell the tale. Just about, anyway: ‘There’s very few bits of me left,’ the 72-year-old admitted. ‘I’m like the Bionic Woman.’
The Mallorca Files (BBC One)
This amusing, featherweight drama about a pair of mismatched British/German cops (Elen Rhys and Julian Looman) solving crimes on Mallorca doesn’t stint on the cultural tourism, from the persistent flamenco guitar to a murder victim being kebabbed by a matador. Stir in some simmering sexual tension between the leads, and the result is a welcome, undemanding blast of Balearic sunshine for winter afternoons.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, 5 December, 2019
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