I’m trying something a little different with this blog post, in that I’m comparing two shows that are going head-to-head against each other in the schedules. Not that a clash of times is such an issue nowadays, with +1 channels and catch-up services, but it is still an interesting angle to take (I hope).

Both Mr Selfridge and Last Tango In Halifax on the surface fall under the same umbrella of drama, although even at a casual glance it is obvious that the gap between them is so large, it is like saying Mozart and Mark Owen from Take That are the same thing as they are both musicians (although they do share a birthday).

Mr Selfridge is all Downton Abbey­ style period drama, soapy with heavy-handed history and cartoonish heroes and villains. It is a lightweight bauble, a largely decorative affair that soothes and excites in the right ways for a programme that is on the night before the beginning of the working week. You can drift off for minutes at a time and come back to it and still pick up the main threads.

There is nothing wrong with this of course, it is successful because it taps in to that audience that wants TV to be easy on the eye and soft on the ear. However, I do feel the absence of Katherine Kelly as Lady Mae keenly. She, more than any other actor, understood the its soap opera dimensions, and played every scene as if she was channelling a cross between Pat Phoenix and Liz Taylor, with Maggie Smith thrown in for good measure.

In fact, it feels as if a massive reset button has been pressed over the entire show. New or recast characters almost outnumber existing ones, and several have been killed off-screen. It left the opening episode of the new series feeling a bit flat – even Agnes and Henri couldn’t lift it. Hopefully it will find its feet soon.

Last Tango couldn’t be more different. Obviously it is more contemporary, but it also manages to be both more dramatic and comedic than its commercial rival. Light and shade is on full display. What could have been a saccharine sweet tale of childhood sweethearts reuniting sixty years later is actually beautifully layered. The revelation of Alan’s secret child brought out a vulnerable yet poisonous side to Celia, founded on her previous experiences of adultery and disloyalty.

While it does the big things well – births, deaths, marriages – the real strength of it is the way it tackles smaller dramas. One the best scenes was actually one of its most low-key, in which Caroline (Celia’s daughter) discusses her son’s temporary expulsion with Gillian (Alan’s daughter) whilst peeling vegetables. It is a simple, straightforward scene that merely demonstrates a friendship between two very different women who frequently irritate each other. BAFTA don’t give out awards for ensemble performances, but if they did, this would surely be guaranteed to win.

That it is where these two programmes most differ I feel. Whilst Mr Selfridge is driven by one ego, and one that isn’t even that likeable, Last Tango has the confidence to allow all the cast to drive it forward, even those on-screen for just 5 minutes. Not that everyone will agree of course. Whilst some will prefer the adagio being played on BBC1, others will scream like fan girls at the TV equivalent of a boy band on ITV. Still, there’s no accounting for taste.

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