Go with the soapy sweep of the History Channel’s controversial drama The Kennedys, now airing on BBC Two, or the enigmatic new BBC Four conspiracy series Rubicon?
Given that The Kennedys is already screening in the UK and the early feedback isn’t great, there must be questions over why BBC Two bought the series to show next month.
The JFK story has great screen potential – Martin Sheen’s portrayal of the President, in the 1983 mini-series Kennedy : The Presidential Years, set the standard for the new take.
Despite the presence of 24 alumni Jon Cassar and Joel Surnow, the opening episode was dramatically fairly inert, with long scenes set at Kennedy clan’s Hyannis Port base.
Things got ridiculous early on when Tom Wilkinson’s Joseph Kennedy Snr angrily wielded a crucifix to demonstrate the religion/dirty politics paradox.
Much effort has been taken to create authentic hairstyles for Greg Kinnear’s JFK and Katie Holmes’ Jacqueline. But less care with the characterisation, a thumbnail outline of the central figures at best and the dialogue which is designed to speed through the formative years to the 1960 Presidential victory.
If The Kennedys is determined to do little more than recreate the popular mythology around JFK’s more lurid adventures it does move at pace, which can’t be said for the magisterially slothful Rubicon.
An acquisition from AMC, the Mad Men channel, Rubicon is set in a mysterious New York policy think-tank.
James Badge Dale plays Will Travers, a brilliant but shambling and uncommunicative analyst who sees patterns pertaining to government conspiracies, in newspaper crossword questions.
His colleagues are all dysfunctional genius-types but his mentor-superior, so superstitious that he won’t park in car bay number 13, is killed in a train crash.
There’s also Miranda Richardson as the wife of a multi-millionaire who kills himself, leaving only a four-leaf clover – not terribly lucky in this instance.
If Travers doesn’t find something untoward in the train crash and a conspiracy involving the military-industrial complex then the next three months could be painful. He hasn’t got very far by the end of the opening, glacial episode, which is shot through a somber grey/brown gloopy palette.
Like The Kennedys, Rubicon is a one-series only proposition. Launching with 2 million viewers, it was too cerebral/dull for the AMC audience and the channel axed it.
But the gloomy atmosphere is intriguing and although it won’t become a breakout hit like The Killing, Rubicon should appeal to BBC Four’s upmarket audience if their Sky Plus hard drive isn’t already full of Spiral and other imports.
There’s even talk of some action intervening from week four and the curious inclusion of David Cameron’s travel plans as a plot device in an early episode.
With these two dramas competing against Question Time and C4′s 10 O’clock Live, which really came to the boil with the Prescott/McManus NOTW dust-up, Thursday has certainly become the essential viewing night for politics junkies.