TV review: The Musketeers; The Kumars

Tom Burke, Howard Charles, Luke Pasqualino and Santiago Cabrera in BBC1's The Musketeers. Photo: BBC/Steve Neaves

Paris and its surrounding area is being terrorised by the regiment of the King’s Musketeers, following the unruly example of their ringleader, Athos. In a highly stylised, brutally effective, rain-drenched opening scene, we witness Athos murder D’Artagnan Sr in cold blood, leaving D’Artagnan Jr cradling his father’s cold, wet body and swearing revenge to the heavens.

But there is a definite odeur de rat in the air. For, despite going to all the trouble of disguising himself behind a mask, ‘Athos’ always makes a point of verbally identifying himself at the scene of his outrages.

Only an idiot would fail to realise that it is all the work of an imposter. Enter King Louis XIII – part prince, part popinjay, all pillock. At the behest of the conniving Cardinal Richelieu (played by new Doctor Who incarnation Peter Capaldi), Louis orders that the innocent Athos be executed as an example – an example, presumably, of the king’s own stupidity. Can Athos’ companions Aramis and Porthos, joined by recent convert to the cause D’Artagnan, save him from the firing squad?

So begins The Musketeers, the latest retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, and jolly good fun it is too.

Swordfights, stunts, snogging and scheming are present in abundance, united by the most functional of plotlines, and driven at a galloping pace that is never allowed to let up.

[pullquote]Some of the exposition may clank louder than a suit of armour falling down an escalator, but subtlety is a small price to pay for the thrills on offer in The Musketeers[/pullquote]

Although the 17th-century French setting is meticulously recreated, the series has a modern feel, with all the swashbuckling and bar-room brawls infused with a spaghetti western sensibility. Plus the musketeers themselves look like an emo boy band, all dark looks and dark locks, adding to the contemporary atmosphere.

Some of the exposition may clank louder than a suit of armour falling down an escalator, with the political intricacies of the period reduced to Blue Cloaks versus Red Cloaks, but subtlety is a small price to pay for the thrills on offer. There are some laughs as well, but The Musketeers has the sense to take itself seriously enough not to slide into parody.

I really enjoyed it, and the Sunday-evening scheduling makes it the perfect entertainment to soften the blow of the weekend’s passing and ease whatever pain the prospect of Monday morning brings.

The Kumars are no longer at number 42. Indeed, they are not even at the BBC anymore. After an eight-year absence, their chat show has been revived by Sky1, relocated to a room behind a minimart and provided with Daniel Radcliffe, Chevy Chase and Olivia Colman as inaugural guests.

The trouble is, I still don’t get it. Obviously, it’s subverting television conventions. True, nobody else seems to have a problem with the absurdity of the set-up. But to me and my far-too-literal mind, it doesn’t make any sense. How come the Kumars have a chat show in their home?

Despite being incomprehensible to me, I find the show entertaining enough, especially if the guests play along with their hosts and don’t try to compete with them. Chase looked lost, Colman couldn’t contain her amusement and Radcliffe was charm personified, and effortlessly witty with it.

The Musketeers, BBC1, Sunday, January 19, 9pm
The Kumars, Sky1, Wednesday, January 15, 9pm