Squeezed into the Friday night schedule between the usual dreary and lamentably bad soaps and the self-indulgent and utterly crass Jonathan Ross was an hour of fun, lively and stylish British drama, yup Hotel Babylon (BBC One, 9pm) is back.
The charisma free zone that was last season’s new manager Jack was no where to be seen, instead the manager’s office was being occupied Anna Wilson-Jones’s more likable Juliet, installed to oversee the closure of central London’s most exciting hotel.
Dexter Fletcher (who surely deserves top billing by now) was back as the ever-reliable Tony, trying to save the hotel by persuading a visiting businessman to buy it but holing his own plan beneath the water by telling the would-be buyer’s daughter that her fiance had cheated on her.
Luckily the dashing Nigel Harman was on hand to buy the hotel after witnessing the staff’s wartime spirit routine being wheeled out in the aftermath of a major terror alert. Just to add some spice into the mix, the writers have decided to make Harman’s Sam the ex-husband of Juliet’s. No doubt we’ll be treated to some will they, won’t they moments over the coming weeks.
The last series was pretty uninspired, the departures of Tamzin Outhwaite at the end of series two and Max Beesley last year unbalanced the show and replacement manager Jack Harrison (Lee Williams) just couldn’t match up to his predecessors. The decision to place him on a collision course with Tony was a mistake from which the character could never recover and his off-screen departure is probably the only fate the audience would accept.
As Sam, Harman shows his usual eye-twinkling charm and, on this first outing, is a perfect fit for the show. Hopefully he’s signed for a couple of years as the series really needs a returning lead.
A few kind words for Alexandra Moen who plays last season’s other new comer Emily James. Last year the character just didn’t work for me, but some revisions seems to have been made to the role which make the character far more sympathetic.
But as always, the show was most worth watching for the interplay between Martin Marquez and Ray Coulthard, the Zippy and George of the hotel industry. Timing rarely gets better than the exchanges between these two.
Producers of lesser shows (Robin Hood, Merlin) could learn some important lessons from the Hotel Babylon production team on how to improve on a weak series. Last night’s opening episode was an unqualified return to form, the show deserves to be the jewel in the Friday night schedules.