The week in TV: World Cup 2022; David Baddiel: Jews Don’t Count; Wednesday; Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen

World Cup 2022 BBC One/ITV | iPlayer/ITVX
David Baddiel: Jews Don’t Count Channel 4 | All 4
Wednesday Netflix
Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen BBC Two | iPlayer

We all thought we knew the drill with World Cup television. Tentative hope followed by sofa-leaping delusion, ending with a desolate trudge to the fridge after England get unceremoniously turfed out on penalties.

Well, not this time, in the tarnished, politically charged sporting arena of Qatar, with its disregard for human rights and women’s rights, its outlawing of homosexuality and its ill treatment of migrant workers, allegations of corruption and so on.

Who feels like tearing open the beer nuts for that? I thought, Just imagine if England won: we’d all be shrugging in the streets. This was proved wrong with huge viewing figures, particularly for the team’s 6-2 victory over Iran. Still, for a thrilling moment, sport stood aside and let integrity score a few – from the BBC replacing the opening ceremony with Gary Lineker’s courteous but still scathing monologue on the Qatari regime, to the Iran team’s heart-stopping courage in refusing to sing their national anthem (echoing the wave of protests back home sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini).

Before long there were reports of Qatar having “buyer’s remorse” about hosting. As for the OneLove armbands, Germany’s players covered their mouths with their hands for the pre-match photos ahead of their game with Japan on Wednesday to indicate they’d been gagged by Fifa, who threatened sanctions against those teams wearing them. Alex Scott wore hers while standing pitchside for BBC One’s coverage of the England v Iran game. Over on ITV for Wales’s opening match against the USA, Roy Keane chided the England squad for not wearing theirs for their first match. “Take your medicine and then in the next game you move on,” he growled from behind a strong beard. Arguably, nobody should be in Qatar, including well-remunerated ambassador for the country David Beckham, occasionally glimpsed looking as though he wished the sand would swallow him up.

On Channel 4, someone who once sang “football’s coming home” had other things on his mind. David Baddiel: Jews Don’t Count is the TV version of the comedian’s 2021 book, which asked why, in this era of heightened sensitivities, Jewish people aren’t included in conversations about racism.

At first it’s a little alarming when Baddiel appears, suited, in black and white: is he going to Ted talk the book at us? In the event, the documentary is just as well argued, weaving through several tough issues, from Jewish stereotypes (running Hollywood; controlling global finances) to Israel/Palestine (discussed by Baddiel and Miriam Margolyes), from cultural prejudice (an evil wealthy character in a Royal Court play was changed to Jewish from Mexican-American to “avoid giving offence”) to mass denial that antisemitism is a factor, even when synagogues are attacked, and more.

Various Jewish celebrities are enlisted along the way. Actor David Schwimmer reveals: “I’ve never felt white. Ever.” Author Dara Horn observes: “There are people who feel that antisemitism consists of murdering 6 million Jews and anything short of that is no big deal.” Comedian Sarah Silverman wonders: “If we controlled things, wouldn’t we have better PR?”

Elsewhere, Baddiel visits his old Jewish primary school and finds that the children now have regular security drills. He also faces up to his own racism when, as co-presenter of the BBC’s Fantasy Football League in the 90s, he wore blackface to lampoon footballer Jason Lee. When Baddiel meets Lee at the latter’s AbsoluteLee podcast studio to apologise in person, it’s politely accepted. Well, ish. It’s actually one of the tensest TV moments of the year.

It’s a cobwebbed understatement to say I expected much of new Netflix eight-parter Wednesday. If we all have an inner child, then make mine Wednesday Addams, baby-goth queen of the acid one-liner. This is what Netflix is up against: those still in thrall to the “true” Wednesday, as flawlessly portrayed by Christina Ricci in 1990s films The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. How could Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar top that?

The first four episodes are directed by Tim Burton (who knows his way around spooks and kooks), while the terrific Jenna Ortega plays Wednesday. The skinny plaits, icicle stare, rigor mortis posture and monotonic delivery (“Sartre said hell is other people. He was my first crush”) are all there as Wednesday sets piranhas on high school swim-team bullies. She’s then sent to the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired Nevermore Academy, basically a Hogwarts for “outcasts”, with Mean Girls noir tribes: Fangs (vampires), Furs (werewolves), Stoners (gorgons) and Scales (sirens).

Nevermore is the alma mater of Wednesday’s mother, Morticia, played somewhat flatly by Catherine Zeta-Jones (think a tranquillised Valley of the Dolls), while Morticia’s all-important spark with husband Gomez (Luis Guzmán) is awol. Elsewhere, la Ricci appears as a Nevermore teacher, while Gwendoline Christie is the stooping, Dahl-esque principal.

One problem is there’s too much going on: psychic visions, stalking monsters, “normie” townspeople, pilgrims, witch burning. Now she’s 16, Wednesday is also given admirers (Hunter Doohan and Percy Hynes White), which is where I lost patience. Bore off with the boyfriends! A rare creature such as Wednesday is beyond humanising. Indeed, nicely done though the series is, it adheres too firmly to the teen mystery/romantic quandary template. For this Addams fangirl, it’s a waste of her specialness.

In the opening episode of the new three-part series Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen (BBC Two), the historian hunts through the author’s early life for clues into her psychology and finds a few: the unconventional family; the spendthrift father; the cut-price Egyptian debutante season; the pharmaceutical know-how gleaned volunteering in hospitals during the first world war; the unsuitable marriage to a pilot beneath her station, who was, Worsley gasps, “incredibly hot”.

Once Christie started writing, a publisher said a courtroom scene didn’t work, and thus the fabled drawing room denouement was born. This is great fun for those of us who are Christie aficionados. (You didn’t ask, but my favourite screen Poirot is David Suchet – naturellement! – while Miss Marple would be a snoop-off between Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan.) Few put a pin through human nature quite like “history’s greatest detective author”, and – delving, speculating, prying – Worsley does her proud.

Star ratings (out of five)
World Cup 2022 ★★★
David Baddiel: Jews Don’t Count ★★★★
Wednesday ★★★
Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen ★★★

What else I’m watching

Tokyo Vice
BBC One
The murky, neon-soaked Yakuza gangland thriller set in 1990s Japan moves from Starzplay to BBC One. Adapted from Jake Adelstein’s crime reporter memoir, with an opening episode directed by Michael Mann, it takes a while to get going, but it’s worth the effort.

Louis Theroux Meets Katherine Ryan
BBC Two
Loved-up, married and pregnant again, the Canadian comedian, actor, writer and one-time single mother talks with disarming candour about how her pre-fame poverty in London drives her.

Echo 3
Apple TV+
Starring Luke Evans and Michiel Huisman, this military rescue tale from the writer of The Hurt Locker is about two men’s attempt to free a kidnapped scientist on the Colombia/Venezuela border.