Romantic comedy can survive

America could be on the verge of falling in love with Gavin and Stacey

Gavin and Stacey in the USA

James Corden’s already perilously large ego may be about to go super-sized. If the critics are anything to go by, America may be on the verge of falling in love with Gavin and Stacey. The LA Times called the show, which has just started on BBC America, “funny, touching and welcome proof that the romantic comedy can and will survive irony, Botox, Judd Apatow and all the vagaries of the modern age”. Given the verbal castigation Corden gave The Guardian’s TV critic for wondering what all the fuss was about, it’s possibly just as well.

Immaterial Girl

The Vatican can breathe a sigh of relief, Madonna’s found a new target. Her tours have been ever-less subtle attacks on the Church, from the Blonde Ambition tour which combined sex and Catholicism (leading the Pope to demanded a boycott) to 2006’s Confessions tour which included Madge performing in a crown of thorns on a huge mirrored cross.

Now she’s got politics in her somewhat off-kilter crosshairs. Her new Sticky and Sweet tour features a montage juxtaposing Hitler, Mugabe and, em, John McCain. The McCain camp is unimpressed with a spokesman calling the comparisons "outrageous, unacceptable and crudely divisive".

Meanwhile Sheryl Crow has also been weighing into the American election debate. To encourage political engagement she’s giving away free copies of her new album to the first 50,000 people who sign up three friends to vote. Cynics who think Crow is trying to jumpstart her career should consider her recent dalliances with world issues. Last year she made her own suggestion for how America could tackle global warming.

"I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required."

The Facebook Veneration

Meanwhile Aaron Sorkin’s attempts to revive his career continue apace. After the self-indulgent nonsense of Studio 60 and the tepid Charlie Wilson’s War, Sorkin is writing a screenplay about Facebook. Quite how the West Wing scribe will capture the drama of a game of Scrabulous or the exhilaration of being poked by someone you never spoke to a primary school remains to be seen. Let’s hope it fares better than his last project involving technology; the Farnsworth Invention, a play about the invention of television, which the New York Times compared to an "animated Wikipedia entry".

Don't play with Karl

Finally, Karl Lagerfeld has a new muse – himself. Kaiser Karl, so familiar in his black shades, monochrome suits and fingerless gloves that he caused a collective fashionista intake of breath when he took to wearing pink this summer, has designed a teddy bear in his own image. It’s safe to say this isn’t a toy (along with body odour, fat people, strangers, travelling and technology, Lagerfeld says he hates children), retailing for $1500.

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Broken and The Trial: From Sean Bean playing a priest to real life lawyers

A surprisingly involving depiction of a clergyman provides the saintly contrast to the sinner being judged by a real jury.

I was all set to scoff at Broken, Jimmy McGovern’s new series for BBC1 (30 May, 9pm). A drama about a Catholic priest and his impoverished parish in a “major northern city”, it sounded so hilariously McGovern-by-numbers (“Eh, lad, give us the collection bowl – the leccy wants paying”) that on paper it could pass for a spoof. Even funnier, Sean Bean, late of Game of Thrones, was to play the clergyman in question.

Naturally, I adore Bean, who comes from the major northern city that is Sheffield, as I do, and who is so terribly . . . virile (though when I interviewed him in a car park behind King’s Cross Station a few years ago, and a security guard in a high-vis jacket approached us furiously shouting the odds, he ran and hid in his trailer, leaving yours truly to face the music). But let’s face it: he’s not exactly versatile, is he? The idea of him in a cassock, or even just a mud-coloured cardigan, made me laugh out loud.

Settling down to watch the series, however, I soon realised that no scoffing would be taking place. For one thing, Broken is hugely involving, its Dickensian plot (no spoilers here) as plausible as it is macabre. For another, in the present circumstances, its script seems to be rather daring. Not only is Father Michael Kerrigan shown – cover my eyes with the collected works of Richard Dawkins! – to be a good and conscientious priest, but his faith is depicted as a fine and useful thing. If he brings his besieged parishioners solace, he is sure to be carrying vouchers for the food bank as well.

The flashbacks from which he suffers – in which his mammy can be heard calling him a “dirty, filthy beast” and a spiteful old priest is seen applying a cane to his hand – are undoubtedly clichéd. But they are also a device. Forty years on, he is happy to nurse his dying mother, and his love for God is undimmed: two facts that are not, of course, unrelated. How weirdly bold for a television series to set its face against the consensus that denigrates all things Christian as it never would any other faith.

I don’t for a minute buy Anna Friel as Christina, the gobby, broke single mother Kerrigan is determined to help. Even when covered in bruises – a bust-up at the betting shop – Friel manages to look glossy, and she never, ever quits acting (with a capital A), which is a drag. But Bean is such a revelation, I was able to ignore the voice in my head which kept insisting that a Catholic priest as young as he is – in this realm, “young” is a couple of years shy of 60 – would surely be Polish or African (I’m not a Catholic but I am married to one, for which reason I occasionally go to Mass).

He plays Kerrigan, whose overwhelming desire to be kind sometimes makes him cack-handed, with great gentleness, but also with an uninflected ordinariness that is completely convincing. Part of the problem (my problem, at least) with Communion is the lack of rhetorical passion in most priests’ voices, something he captures perfectly. One other thing: Line of Duty fans need to know that Adrian Dunbar – aka Ted Hastings – can also be seen here wearing a dog collar, and that he looks almost as good in it as he does in police uniform.

On Channel 4 The Trial: A Murder in the Family was an experiment in the shape of a murder trial in which the defendant – a university lecturer accused of strangling his estranged wife – and all the witnesses were actors but the lawyers and “jury” were real. Over five consecutive nights (21-25 May, 9pm), I found it pretty tiresome listening to jury members tell the camera what they made of this or that bit of evidence.

Get on with it, I thought, longing again for the return of Peter Moffat’s Silk. But I adored the lawyers, particularly the lead ­defence barrister, John Ryder, QC. What an actor. Sentences left his mouth fully formed, as smooth as they were savage, his charm only just veiling his mighty ruthlessness. Drooling at this performance – which was not, in one sense, a performance at all – I found myself thinking that if more priests came over like barristers, our dying churches might be standing room only.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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