Critics' Choice

By Jonathan Ross Rag'n'Bone Man Ellen E Jones
Author: Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is a comedian, talk show host, film critic and one of Britain's most successful broadcasters.

Author: Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones is The Independent's TV critic and a columnist for The Independent on Sunday and The i Paper. She runs regular review writing workshops and mentoring programmes for young journalists, yet still finds time to squeeze in a solid four hours of TV-viewing a day.

Author: Rag'n'Bone Man

Rag'n'Bone Man

Rag’n’Bone Man is an award-winning British singer-songwriter whose music is respected by critics and peers alike.

Jonathan Ross says...

Many a youngster has dreamt of being James Bond. But in reality it’s a double-edged sword for any actor who takes on the role. The global fame and hefty pay cheques come hand in hand with the possibility that you will be forever Bond, missing out on meaningful roles that won’t involve you slipping into a tux and saving the world from villainous masterminds.

It launched Sean Connery to a whole new level of mega-stardom, and towards the end of his tenure I believe he parlayed a deal to get a number of smaller films with more challenging roles – which was one way of making peace with the pact. George Lazenby didn’t hang around long enough to get bored, and Pierce Brosnan seemed to love it, but by then it was decided to move the franchise into darker territory so they needed someone who wasn’t connected to the sillier aspects of the Secret Service.

So enter Daniel Craig. He gave the character a massive boost but, while a brilliant Bond on screen, he has never seemed at ease with the rigmarole and attention that comes as part and parcel of being 007 – this despite the Bond movies becoming ever more nuanced, sophisticated and impressive.

I’ve interviewed Craig a number of times, and the difference between our conversations when it’s Bond-related as opposed to other film or stage work is extraordinary. I suspect then that he’d happily talk about his role in the latest Steven Soderbergh movie, Logan Lucky, until the cows come home. The film romps along, and Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are predictably excellent. But Craig steals the show with a funny turn as a professional criminal with a talent for blowing things up. He plays it with a breezy swagger and a solid Southern accent, and the joy that he clearly feels to not be sipping martinis virtually rises off him like steam.

It's understandable, because his earlier roles show a liking for darker less mainstream stories – he was excellent in Enduring Love and The Mother. But even with the extra layers of angst that 007 now endures, I suspect the part will never pose enough of a challenge to keep Craig satisfied. Let’s hope they let him off the leash to do other work, so we get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Rag’n’Bone Man on soul music...

'It’s called soul music for a reason: it’s something that affects you deeply. I recall hearing Al Green’s Take Me To The River for the first time: it instantly connected. Every part of his voice is a sweet spot. There’s an amazing acoustic version of Simply Beautiful he did for VH1. Before we go on stage I listen to Sly and the Family Stone. It’s that beautiful crossover of funk and soul: the guy has infinite amounts of swagger and is crazy uplifting. If You Want Me To Stay is one of my all-time favourites.

When I started getting into soul, I discovered Stax Records through hip-hop producers sampling records, like Ludacris, who rapped over Isaac Hayes’ version of Walk on By on Southern Fried Intro. It’s a work of art.

With funk and soul, all the labels have their own sound. Motown had the songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland, but Stax had its house band, Booker T and the MGs. The way its guitarist Steve Cropper played is as much a part of the records as the vocal. I’ve watched loads of Otis Redding on YouTube. What a guy! I saw a BBC documentary about him – Soul Ambassador – he is one of the best singers and performers we’re ever going to hear. He was big, he gave it everything and he could still write a ‘pop’ song.

One Stax singer I wish was better known is Rufus Thomas. I used to listen to a record called Do The Funky Penguin. Obviously it’s a novelty record but it’s crazy and funky. I’d like to go to the Stax Museum in Memphis – it would be incredible to know how it was made. Newer labels and artists have mastered that kind of sound and learnt from Stax: I consume a lot of new music on the road. Daptone Records has the old school soul sound down to a T.

Digital sounds good these days, but there’s still something beautiful about putting a record on. I like to listen on my old valve 1950s record player, which sounds so different. But I’m no purist. The main thing is you listen to music.

I’ve seen a few of the great funk and soul acts live. I saw Aretha Franklin at Radio City Music Hall in New York: probably the best gig of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotionally moved by a singer. At 75, she just sat down at the piano and sang Natural Woman. I was next to a guy the same size as me: we were both blubbering. Aretha will do that to you.'

Ellen E Jones says...

When did we all get so cynical? Television used to be filled with shows such as This is Us, a moving, award-winning drama about the unusual, yet totally relatable Pearson family. No longer. At this year's Emmy Awards, This is Us was nominated in the Outstanding Drama Series category and, even within such a diverse group of shows, it stood out.

The series, created by Crazy, Stupid, Love writer Dan Fogelman, isn't high concept science fiction like Stranger Things or Westworld. It isn't about important people making world-changing decisions, like House of Cards or The Crown and it doesn't deal the shades of nuanced morality that define Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, and practically every other 'prestige drama' of the moment. No, This is Us is just about a bunch of ordinary people who happen to love each other, with no superpowers or Shakespearean tragic flaws, and it's so much the better for it.

All year round, this show revels in the kind of shameless sentimentality that most TV shows will only indulge in at Christmas time and it's very good at it. This tried and tested tearjerker formula will reliably have you reaching for the tissue box after 15 minutes, yet it doesn't feel hokey or manipulative. That's because in this show no character is merely a punchline, plot functionary or sassy sidekick.

With race such a divisive topic in US culture right now, there's also something subtly progressive about a show that includes black and white characters as members of the same family, but without any 'colourblind' fudging of the issues that this set-up presents.

This is Us may pass itself off as a conventional, non-threatening network drama but, in their own way, the Pearsons are just as boundary-pushing as the Pfeffermans who feature in Amazon's hip LGBTQI drama, Transparent.

Of all the valuable life lessons this US drama teaches us, perhaps that last one is the most important: don't judge a TV show by its trailers. People, and families, are so much more than they seem on the surface.