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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Barbara Ellen

The week in TV: Rain Dogs; Beef; Dreamland; Boom! Boom! The World vs Boris Becker – review

Daisy May Cooper as Costello and Fleur Tashjian as Iris in Rain Dogs
‘Lairy elan’: Daisy May Cooper, right, with ‘nuanced’ newcomer Fleur Tashjian in Rain Dogs. BBC/Sid Gentle Films/HBO Photograph: James Pardon/BBC/Sid Gentle Films/HBO

Rain Dogs BBC One | iPlayer
Beef (Netflix)
Dreamland (Sky Atlantic/Now)
Boom! Boom! The World vs Boris Becker (Apple TV+)

Leave it to dialogue by Cash Carraway, creator and writer of BBC One’s eight-part, soot-black dramedy Rain Dogs, to best describe her lead character: deadpan, defiant single mother Costello, played with lairy elan by Daisy May Cooper (Am I Being Unreasonable?). As stated by Adrian Edmondson’s Lenny, a wheezing, ruined Lucian Freud-esque artist: “The problem is, you don’t know your place. But that’s the best thing about you.”

Similarly, Rain Dogs (based on Carraway’s visceral memoir, Skint Estate, and already on HBO in the US), refuses to play out as an anguished, one-dimensional treatise on class and poverty for audiences to sigh and weep over. After Costello and her daughter, Iris (a nuanced performance from newcomer Fleur Tashjian), are evicted from their flat, the aspiring writer and alcoholic (barely three months sober) scrabbles for work at a peep show, wrangles a room from a stranger by modelling a “nightie” (he says she has a “food bank body… lots of carbs”), breaks into a car, and more. And that’s just in the opener.

Accompanying her on this odyssey to dysfunctional welfare-Oz are “proud pervert” Lenny (he paints her vagina and masturbates as she cleans his flat) and ditzy, spirited Gloria (Ronke Adékoluẹjo). Then there’s putative father figure to Iris and Costello’s main trauma-bonded foil, “classical homosexual” Selby (Jack Farthing), a drug-addled, rehab-resistant Withnail who’s insulated by family wealth. As the episodes unfold, Costello and Iris end up skidding and reeling through various scenarios (entering a women’s refuge; cos-playing yummy mummydom; socially cleansed from London). This, you feel Rain Dogs is saying, is the fever dream of modern poverty: humiliating, exhausting, random.

There are missteps. What should be a deep dive into Costello’s dark family history is kept blankly surface-level. As brilliant and merciless as Rain Dogs is at skewering poverty voyeurism (“I will not be your liberal victim of the week”), the same point is endlessly replayed until it loses its bite. Still, what a bold, wild-hearted ride, and what a fiercely original performer Cooper is shaping up to be.

On Netflix, Lee Sung Jin’s new 10-part black comedy Beef (from A24, the production company behind Oscar-garlanded film Everything Everywhere All at Once) is the epitome of (drawl it, hipster-style): “Well, that escalated quickly.”

After an everyday Los Angeles road rage encounter (sloppy reversing; a raised finger), affluent “plant artist” Amy (Ali Wong) and struggling handyman Danny (Steven Yeun) descend into a feud for the ages: encompassing everything from (spoiler alert) bad reviews, public haranguing and urination to vandalism, guns and explosions. You keep thinking it’s peaked, then it kicks off again, in what becomes a dark, witty parable of crazed, unnecessary intensifications.

Steven Yeun, left, and Ali Wong in Beef.
‘A feud for the ages’: Steven Yeun and Ali Wong in Beef. AP Photograph: AP

The main characters are of Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese heritage, but Beef doesn’t focus exclusively on themes exploring race. Instead, it becomes more of a generalised comment on society (inequality; ennui; dreams broken and realised) and humanity (relationships; parenthood; ego; stress; sex). Just as Amy and Danny oscillate between sympathetic and deranged, the characters around them are also complicated: from Danny’s crypto-currency-obsessed brother, Paul (Young Mazino), to Amy’s drippy husband, George, played by Joseph Lee (“I’m micro-dosing my creativity”). Supporting characters (Maria Bello’s uber-wealthy White Lotus-esque monster; David Choe as an unhinged cousin) slot right in.

At times the feuding (the triggers; the methods) verges on repetitive, just as the sheer silliness occasionally launches the entire venture into overwacky orbit. But Beef truly encapsulates modern rage, and all the different reasons for it. As the episodes slide by, it becomes ever funnier, more inventive, climaxing in an unapologetically trippy masterclass of well-crafted insanity. You end up thinking: what the hell is this? A sophisticated, tightly looping black comedy or just two immature fools apocalyptically trolling each other. It is both things at once and so much more.

Another dramedy, the six-part Dreamland (Sky Atlantic) is based on Sharon Horgan’s Bafta-winning 2017 short, Morgana Robinson’s Summer. Part-directed by Ellie Heydon and set in Margate, it focuses on a family mainly comprising a mother (Frances Barber), a grandmother (Sheila Reid) and four sisters (including Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Gabby Best – who also writes some episodes).

Freema Agyeman and Lily Cole in Dreamland.
Freema Agyeman and Lily Cole in the slow-burning Dreamland. Sky UK Photograph: Natalie Seery/Sky UK/Sky UK Limited

One sister, Trish (Doctor Who’s Freema Agyeman), is so intent on her latest pregnancy producing a girl, she holds a pink-blitzed “mani-festival” party. Into this cerise, hyper-suburban haze arrives fourth sister Mel (Lily Allen). Returning from a job in Paris, swathed in black, smoking (“Wow’, just wow,” sneers Trish, “being a hot mess is very 2019”), nervy Mel could not be more heavily signalled as the outsider.

While seeming at first to be about knotty family bonds, Dreamland soon becomes about secrets, the most damaging of which is nursed by – wouldn’t you know it? – Mel. At first I wasn’t sure about this show: it seemed stagey and garish (Margate transformed into a Technicolor riviera). However, as it bobs along, the story gets deeper, more engaging. In a strong cast (also featuring Ghosts’s Kiell Smith-Bynoe), Allen holds her own, with just the occasional fawn-eyed quiver into shivering nerves.

Boom, Boom!: The World vs Boris Becker.
Boom, Boom!: The World vs Boris Becker: the tennis star ‘as a whole, flawed human’. Apple Photograph: Andy Hayt/Courtesy of Apple

Boom, Boom! The World vs Boris Becker (Apple TV+) is a two-part docuseries on the beleaguered German tennis giant, from esteemed documentarian Alex Gibney. The episode titles alone (“Triumph” and “Disaster”) spell out the central question: how did Becker go from teenage prodigy (at 17, the youngest-ever men’s singles winner at Wimbledon) to the snow-haired, baggy-eyed wreck, a veteran of divorce and paternity issues, interviewed in this film three days before he was imprisoned for bankruptcy offences in 2022.

Gibney delivers Becker as a whole, flawed human: from power-serving wunderkind to cravat-wearing “bonking” playboy (the infamous “sex in a cupboard” didn’t happen in a cupboard), to the older man, sometimes flashing the signature roguish twinkle, sometimes stooping like a battered, injured lion. “Stop, stop… Turn it off,” he eventually whispers. “I’ve hit my bottom.” This is fascinating (meaty; analytical) viewing and a huge treat for tennis aficionados, featuring interviews with John McEnroe, Björn Borg, Novak Djokovic, Ivan Lendl and more.

Star ratings (out of five)
Rain Dogs ★★★★
Beef Netflix ★★★★
Dreamland ★★★
Boom Boom! The World Versus Boris Becker ★★★★

What else I’m watching

Magpie Murders
(BBC One)
A superb cast (Lesley Manville, Conleth Hill) leads this sleuthing mystery series (originally shown on BritBox), dramatised by Anthony Horowitz from his own novel. It’s absorbing and resolutely non-gritty; be prepared for a body materialising in a well-tended front garden.

Lesley Manville and Danielle Ryan in Magpie Murders. BBC/Eleventh Hour Films
Lesley Manville and Danielle Ryan in Magpie Murders. BBC/Eleventh Hour Films Photograph: Nick Wall/BBC/Eleventh Hour Films

Tiny Beautiful Things
Kathryn Hahn stars as a failed writer with a failed marriage who takes on an agony aunt column in this comic drama that includes flashbacks to her younger, troubled self. Introspection served California-style, with a lick of darkness.

Naked Education
(Channel 4)
A new body positivity series from the Naked Attraction team. Presented by Anna Richardson, it debunks myths and insecurities (body hair, childbirth, etc). Full-frontals abound, but this time there’s an educational purpose.

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