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TV review: Spies of Warsaw; Great Night Out; FIT

David Tennant (Mercier) and Janet Montgomery (Anna Skarbek) in Spies of Warsaw. Photo: BBC/Fresh Pictures/Robert Palka

Adapted by Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais from the Alan Furst novel, Spies of Warsaw is a two-part drama set in the espionage-riddled, pre-war Polish capital. David Tennant stars as French military attache Jean-Francois Mercier, a spymaster with a conscience, whose clarity of judgement is further compromised when he falls in love with the mistress of a Russian political exile.

Low on action, heavy on atmosphere and scrupulous in its attention to period detail, Spies of Warsaw is in absolutely no hurry to tell its story and positively demands patience of its audience. This is quite a lot to ask, given that each episode is of feature length. Also, the series is blighted by the eternally perplexing problem of what to do about all the different European languages and accents in use. It opts for a spectacularly botched compromise that sees Germans speak German with English subtitles, Poles speak English with Polish accents and the French speak English with English accents.

[pullquote]Spies of Warsaw is worth persevering with, not least for Tennant’s commanding performance as the enigmatic, complex and conflicted Mercier[/pullquote]

Mercifully, there are no English characters involved or they may have ended up sounding like the downed Royal Air Force pilots from ’Allo ’Allo.

However, the series is worth persevering with, not least for Tennant’s commanding performance as the enigmatic, complex and conflicted Mercier. Romantic lead and action hero by turns, the actor is also called upon to wear a pair of scarlet pantaloons, which he manages without looking altogether ridiculous.

Great Night Out is a comedy drama about four thirtysomething mates from Stockport, whose principal interests are football, banter, women and the pub. That is also about as deep as their characterisation goes, leaving the quartet looking for all the world like stereotypes in search of a lager advert to occupy.

Episode one ambles along inoffensively enough, neatly interweaving a trio of plots concerning salsa classes, an anniversary celebration and a runaway groom on a London-bound train, but despite several winning performances I never really engaged or identified with any of the main characters.

This was a problem further compounded by two scene-stealing cameos from Jessica Gunning and Alex Lowe, as an obnoxiously insensitive party crasher and an endearingly bizarre Lancashire salsa teacher respectively. The characters charged with actually carrying the series looked very dull by comparison.

Great Night Out has so far provided nothing more than an okay night in, but things may improve as the series settles into its run. A few more laughs certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

FIT, the latest sketch show from CBBC, is based upon the themes of sport, fitness and general well-being. However, it is elastic enough in its approach to encompass a spoof charity appeal requesting fart donations to help power wind turbines. Indeed, fart gags are such an inherent part of the CBBC comedy output that I sometimes suspect they have a quota to fill.

Like most sketch shows the quality of the humour is wildly inconsistent, but the performances are energetic, the observations sharp and the approach imaginative. Most importantly, the turnover is satisfyingly rapid, with no sketch allowed to outstay its welcome.

Spies of Warsaw, BBC4, Wednesday, January 9, 9pm
Great Night Out, ITV1, Friday, January 11, 9pm
FIT, CBBC, Monday, January 7, 6.15pm

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