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The week in TV: Everything I Know About Love; We Own This City; My Name Is Leon; avoidance | TV

Everything I Know About Love (BBC One) | iPlayer
We Own This City (SkyAtlantic)
My Name Is Leon (BBC Two) | iPlayer
avoidance (BBC One) | iPlayer

If the new BBC One seven-parter Everything I Know About Love gets anything across, it’s that youth and beauty aren’t quite the protective forcefields they’re cracked up to be.

Set in 2012, it’s based on Dolly Alderton’s bestselling memoir. Created and largely written by Alderton, directed by China Moo-Young and Julia Ford, it tells the story of Maggie, a fictionalized version of Alderton, played by Emma Appleton. Fresh out of university, gifted with a vast, cheap-as-chips Camden pad that could only happen on television, she and three flatmates whirl around their chaotic twentysomething lives like a millennial operetta of love, lust, drugs, first jobs, dating apps and vodka shots.

Entitled, self-dramatizing Maggie has a crush on swaggering poseur Street (Connor Finch), but remains devoted to her childhood best friend, sensitive Birdy, beautifully played by Bel Powley, who reminds me of the late, great Charlotte Coleman. Birdy is Maggie’s opposite of her, the safety bucket of sand to her reckless firework of her. However, as much as Maggie is gorgeous, bohemian, “an Anita Pallenberg drag act”, she is also laceratingly self-deprecating (“I’m the tragic drunk who buys all the rounds”) and, you come to realize, a bottomless pit of vulnerability. Undone by the ultimate rejection, her cool girl persona de ella turns to ashes.

Controlled emotional screen-detonations, as in the recent Conversations With Friends, have their place, but I found myself drawn to the stumbling warmth, the honest human mess of ANDvery thing… It’s not on the level of Girls: the other two friends, played by Aliyah Odoffin and Marli Siu, are underdrawn, and it can be self-conscious and rambling. But it illuminates a certain stripe of millennial rite of passage: the seismic emergence of dating apps (this generation, after all, was the swipe-right canary sent down the Tinder coalmine); class A drugs chopped out in toilet cubicles; “walks of shame” executed with a giggle. Appleton plays Maggie like someone realizing a beat too late that she isn’t a character in a Lana Del Rey song. It’s a credit to her performance that when, eventually, Maggie is coldly denounced as “exhausting”, you feel a protective pang on her behalf of her.

I was a huge fan of TheWire, David Simon’s bleakly unraveling drugs-and-guns saga set in Baltimore. Now there is Sky Atlantic’s six-episode series We Own This Citydeveloped by Simon and Wire collaborator George Pelecanos, and directed by king richard‘s Reinaldo Marcus Green. Based on James Fenton’s nonfiction book, it details the venality, corruption and fall of the Baltimore police department’s gun trace task force, against the backdrop of the police killing of Freddie Gray in 2015. All of which sounds akin to an ersatz, factual version of the Wire, but with the cameras spun 180 degrees to retrain on corrupt cops. There are elements of that and so much more besides.

‘Gum-chewing toxic energy’: Jon Bernthal in We Own This City. HBO

This is a portrait of a warped world in which violent sociopaths thrive in plain sight, so long as they have police badges slapped on to their quasi-Alpha puffed-out chests. Officers such as Wayne Jenkins (The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal) and Daniel Hersl (The Good Wife‘s Josh Charles) do what they want – steal, racially target, wrongfully arrest, abuse – but are still praised for bringing in criminals. “If you want to do this job, you’re going to get complaints for doing this job,” drawls dead-eyed Hersl. British actor Wunmi Mosaku plays one of the investigators doggedly, elegantly, trying to stop the rot.

WOTC zips around multiple time zones so manically that it dislodges and undermines the narrative. That aside, it is brutal and compelling, with appearances from actors from TheWire (including Jamie Hector, who played drug boss Marlo Stanfield) and eerie nods to the recent past, such as passersby filming arrests on cameraphones. Bernthal in particular is superb: his very skin seems to ripple with twitchy, righteous, gum-chewing toxic energy. Four episodes along, I’m finding that the hooks are in deep and dragging me towards the finale.

the unmissable My Name Is Leon, on BBC Two, is a 90-minute adaptation of Kit de Waal’s acclaimed novel. Written by Shola Amoo and directed by Lynette Linton (artistic director at the Bush theater in London), it stars newcomer Cole Martin as a mixed-race boy in foster care who years to be reunited with Jake, his white baby half-brother of him .

It’s set in 1980s Birmingham at the time of the race protests. At first, nine-year-old Leon struggles to care for Jake, while their fragile, mentally ill mother (Poppy Lee Friar) lies catatonic in bed. Once placed with foster carer Maureen (Monica Dolan), Leon vows that he and his action figure “Sergeant Smith” will find Jake, who has been adopted. Riding on his bike to an allotment, Leon is befriended by Tufty (Malachi Kirby from BBC One’s mangrove), who teaches him about race.

Cole Martin, right, in the title role of My Name is Leon.
‘What to find!’: Cole Martin, right, in the title role of My Name is Leon. BBC/Douglas Road Productions

My Name Is Lion is subtle and nuanced but impactful, with a star-studded cast, though you barely see some of them. Lenny Henry is an executive producer, but appears only briefly in allotment scenes; it’s the same deal with Christopher Eccleston’s character. Plaudits go to the ever brilliant Dolan – kindly fussing in layered knits – and an initially unrecognizable Olivia Williams as Maureen’s deliciously acerbic chain-smoking sister. As for Cole Martin, what to find! In a complex tale taking in family breakdown, the care system, race and Leon’s agonizing separation from Jake (“Is it because he is white and I am not?)”, he breathes raw truth into every moment.

avoidance (BBC One), the new six-part comedy from Romesh Ranganathan and Benjamin Green, stars Ranganathan as speed awareness course tutor Jonathan, a Beta-dad who can’t cope with separating from his partner, and plonks himself on his sister (Mandeep Dhillon) and her wife, played by Lisa McGrillis.

Romesh Ranganathan, Jessica Knappett, Kieran Logendra, Lisa McGrillis and Mandeep Dhillon in Avoidance.
Romesh Ranganathan, left, and co in Avoidance. BBC/ RangaBee Productions/ Gary Moyes

Ranganathan seems to relish playing “small-l” losers, and, obligingly, Jonathan exudes all the fightback spirit of a teddy bear divested of its stuffing. I’ve only seen two episodes (all are on iPlayer), but I did giggle, especially once it gained momentum in the second. At its core, avoidance is about a human being helplessly splashing about in a quagmire of denial, regret and dysfunction. relatable? I’d say so.

What else I’m watching

Jean Smart in Hacks.
Jean Smart in Hacks. hbo max

Season two of the Emmy-winning, Jean Smart-starring drama about a fading Vegas comic who hires a generation Z comedy writer. Finally, Smart is getting the recognition she has deserved since she was Frasier Crane’s hilariously abrasive girlfriend.

The Outlaws
The return of the patchy Stephen Merchant dramedy about a group of misfits doing community service who find themselves embroiled in a violent saga. Claes Bang and Christopher Walken are among the ensemble cast.

Love Island
New series, new villa in Mallorca, hosted again by Laura Whitmore. On opening night, not one fancied anyone. Meanwhile, in some quarters, former England footballer Michael Owen’s daughter, Gemma (all of 19), is being turned into a hate figure. So much for “be kind”.

This article was amended on 12 June 2023 because an earlier version misnamed the actor Monica Dolan as Nolan.

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