Hugo Rifkind

The Times

Hugo Rifkind writes for The Times. He also hosts a Saturday show on Times Radio, which commands some of the highest audiences of the station. Midway through the show, he chairs a popular television review section along with other TV critics. Listeners enjoy identifying a classic theme tune played each week, and also the way that the host, despite over a decade of TV criticism, can almost never identify them himself.

His own TV column runs every Saturday, near the front of the Saturday Review section. The style is conversational, rather than purely judgemental. Elsewhere in the paper he writes an opinion column, and his reviews will often use this discipline, relating shows to current events. Usually, also, they will make you laugh.

One review is about the sixth season of The Crown, is also an essay on modern royalty itself. “Once upon a time, these people were warlords,” he writes. “My point is, don’t complain about the fiction. Because without it, all this would be is ten hours of toffs drifting round palaces in existential misery, and frankly there’s quite enough of that already.”

The review also considers Matt Hancock in I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! “Parliament has always had its fair share of, say, Lembit Opiks who want to be Ken Clarkes,” he writes, “but Hancock is the first Clarke I can think of who yearns to be an Opik.” It finishes with The English, in which Emily Blunt plays an English aristocrat who teams up with a Pawnee Native American to avenge a murder. Or, “The Sloane Ranger and Tonto.”

Another review, which begins with the classic BBC series I, Claudius, rebroadcast last year, Rifkind brings the tools of modern criticism to the television of an earlier generation. How does the best of the past compare with the present? “There’s so much hard marble everywhere that the whole thing often sounds as if it was recorded in a swimming pool,” he writes. And yet, “It’s amazing. Gripping, dark, complex, compulsive.”

Finally another review starts with David Attenborough’s Planet Earth III. Seals have “honking Chewbacca voices,” and a shark looks like “a Botoxed divorcee.” A sea angel is “a jellyfish with good PR” and a sea butterfly “the Atlantic doppelgänger of Quidditch’s Golden Snitch.”

He moves on to compare this with Netflix’s Life On Our Planet, narrated by Morgan Freeman. “The main problem,” he writes, “is that this is all insane.” Full of CGI, the wonder at reality is replaced by a fear that nothing is real. Nor, feels Rifkind, is it reasonable to describe a meeting of sharks, whales and dolphins as “a coming together of ancient bloodlines.” As he puts it, “Dude, calm down. It’s not Game of Thrones.”

Rifkind’s TV reviews often attract many comments. Valued by readers who are pondering what to watch or mulling over what they have seen, they can also be enjoyed by those with no intention of watching any of this stuff.