Television reviews: Summer of sport gives way to a Russian winter of giddy discontent in The Great

Someone once said that “politics is just showbiz for ugly people”. By the same token, I’m starting to think that, for those obsessed by such matters, politics occupies the place that sport does in other people’s minds.

his could be why, as a parliamentary session or football season comes to an end, both types need something to fill the empty hours until the next one resumes, and that’s the role currently being filled by the Tory leadership election in the UK.

Our Next Prime Minister

BBC One, Monday, 9pm

Our Next Prime Minister – and what a defensively proprietorial “our” that is – was supposed to be about weighty issues such as the cost of living crisis, taxation, Brexit, Ukraine. But really it was just a fix for news addicts who can’t bear to be without some political punditry for the next few weeks.

It wasn’t a very exciting debate, in truth. The two remaining candidates, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, waffled as only trained wafflers can, while presenter Sophie Raworth wore an outfit in deep red, the colour of the Labour Party. Whether this had further significance, who can say?

Women’s T20 Cricket

BBC Two, Monday, 6pm

On the other side there was some real sport as the England women’s cricket team took on South Africa in the third of three T20 matches.

Cricket has a reputation for being boring, but actually, with a good run chase in the offing, it can be quite exciting. Not this time, though. With six balls left, South Africa needed 48 runs. Even a novice like me knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Even here, though, politics is inescapable. When England’s fast bowler Issy Wong took a wicket with only her fourth delivery of the match, it was observed that no woman has ever bowled faster than 80mph. Wong hopes to be the first. Some men, on the other hand, can bowl over 100mph.

It led to a brief discussion about the “physiological disadvantage” that women have when compared to men.

No one said explicitly this is why women’s sports need shielding from men identifying as women, but the implication was certainly there. Politics and sport go together like, well, horse racing and gambling.

The Galway Races

RTÉ2, Monday-Thursday, 5pm

Video of the Day

That’s a very clumsy link to The Galway Races, back at Ballybrit with full capacity crowds for the first time since before Covid.

A happy occasion, surely?

Watching the daily coverage, however, I couldn’t help wondering why betting companies are still allowed to sponsor sporting events when other businesses whose profits rely on life-ruining addiction, such as alcohol and tobacco firms, have been shown the door? Slapping on the slogan “gamble responsibly” doesn’t change the nature of the industry.

I also wondered why riders are still allowed to whip horses in this day and age? From this year, the whip has been banned in Sweden. Other countries are bound to follow. Why not take a lead? If no one uses the whip, the best horses and riders will still win. True, I may not be the target audience, but it ruins the fun for me.

It didn’t help when Tuesday’s programme opened with all four of that day’s presenters standing there with giant heads on them depicting the members of U2. They had their reasons. Alas, their reasons weren’t good enough.


England’s Beth Mead scores against Sweden. Photo: Danny Lawson

UEFA Women’s Euro 2022

RTE2, Tuesday, 7.30pm

The final race over, it was time for the women’s Euros semi-final between England and Sweden.

I cannot in good conscience demand more women’s sport on TV since I don’t generally watch any of it, male or female. Those who do watch sport must be the final arbiters of what gets shown.

But it is reassuring to see broadcasters getting enthusiastically behind tournaments which have not always been taken seriously.

Commentator George Hamilton began proceedings by announcing: “There are three matches to go, and this is the first of them.” Well, it would be, wouldn’t it? If it was the second, there’d only be two left.

Over on the BBC, there was rather more highfalutin talk of “the hopes of a nation” resting on the result. By the time England were 4-0 up, we were being told it was “Roy of the Rovers Stuff” and there was mention of “ghosts being laid to rest”. I thought it was only on The Fast Show that football pundits peddled such cliches.

It was a good match. At least, I think it was. How would I know?

In all honesty, I probably won’t be watching Sunday’s final. But these hours of live sport do seem to make others blissfully happy. I don’t begrudge them their escapist pleasures one bit.

The Great

Channel 4, Wednesday, 10pm

The first series of The Great went out on Sundays. The second series, which started this week, has moved to a Wednesday.

I have no clue whether this represents a promotion or demotion, but it would be a shame if it was the latter, because this comedy-drama about the rivalry for the throne of Russia between the future Catherine the Great (Elle Fanning) and her cruel, mad husband Peter III (Nicholas Hoult) is just ridiculously entertaining.

Recently there has been much chatter about how TV plays fast and loose with historical veracity – think Netflix’s Persuasion – but The Great doesn’t care about any of that.

The fact it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a foul-mouthed, violent, bleak, cynical, politically incorrect romp is what makes it work so well.

The first episode ended, typically, with Peter giving his wife a gift of her lover’s severed head.

It’s a testament to The Great’s ability to mix up genres that the goriest moments remain genuinely shocking amid all the bawdy Carry On style slapstick.

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