Archives for category: tv

I admit to being apprehensive when I heard there was going to be an entire series of Celebrity Gogglebox. This was for two reasons. Firstly, the one-off specials that had been done had hardly set the world alight. Surely to protect their careers, celebs have to be more conscious of what they say? A misplaced comment on Brexit and that’s their role in panto gone for a couple of seasons.

The second was the other spin off, Gogglesprogs, has never been that great. These two factors combined meant that the whole thing felt like a cash cow or scheduler filler. Even worse, it could have fallen into plugging a celeb’s project. Not a great premise to get people watching.

But I was wrong. The show has actually been a complete and utter joy. Whilst some of the celebs are guarded and a bit bland (a criticism as worthy of normal Gogglebox to be fair) others are absolute delights.

Joe Swash and Stacey Solomon are a brilliant couple and seem to emanate unabashed joy with each other, whilst still feeling like a real couple. They are ridiculously cute together, even when making little digs at each other. They need to be featured more.

Nick Grimshaw and his niece Liv are also gems. The most frustrating thing is seeing Nick bring his natural wit to full effect here when he completely failed to use it on The X Factor. Perhaps he is one of those people who shines best when the light is only on him?

The stars of the show without a doubt though are Rylan Clarke-Neal and his mum Linda. The two of them steal the show every single time. I have doubled over nearly in pain at the arguments between them about various things, from comparing ducks to ostriches, whether Rylan can visit the moon or not on holiday and what happens to a woman’s body parts after giving birth.

The best argument was about Egypt when Linda declared with confidence she wouldn’t go anywhere near a pyramid. This, it was revealed, was due to her fear being trapped in their due to some kind of curse. Rylan tried to explain that real life isn’t like the film The Mummy, to which Linda responded by pointing out the fates of the architects who went exploring. The fact she meant archaeologists was left implicit.

There are countless others on the show I could do without. But that is the nature of the beast. What matters is I have been converted. It is a joyous treat on a Friday evening.

 

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Ackley Bridge has always been the kind of programme to mix soapy elements with hard-hitting issues. Your view on how successful it is at doing this will entirely depend on how much you value either genre. Some will want a deeper expose at the critical underfunding of education in this country and the weight of bureaucracy on schools and feel that too much time is spent on love lives. Others will find the interpersonal fascinating but the political too preachy.

I have always veered more towards the former myself, but I have to confess that it handles the link between the individual and the bigger issues facing our society increasingly deftly. It’s a difficult trick to pull off but it generally gets it right.

Take the rise of hate crimes in this country. They have spiralled out of control, even before Brexit. Ackley Bridge is open in its portrayal of a small town that is a tinderbox of racial tensions, with some sections of the community openly embracing the far right, others resolutely sticking to Islamic values at the expense of integrating with western liberalism.

When a popular member of the community dies, it sparks racial repercussions and escalating violence. It all feels very real and is a classic example of two disenfranchised groups turning on each other.

My only critique is the rather trite resolution. If anything, this is when the soapy nature of the show kicks in, not the relationship stuff. There seems to be this pervading sense of teachers as fairy godmothers. This isn’t to slight the fact that teachers are expected increasingly to be more than just teachers – we seem to expect them to be surrogate parents, social workers and therapists to our children – but how many in the real world would genuinely have the time or patience to be community heroes.

Of course, this in itself is making a strong point. This is a town that is lucky in that it has a school that is willing to lead on fixing the problems in the community. In the real world, many aren’t. Not because they don’t want to. No school would want to actively encourage divisions in the town. But many are battling their own problems without fighting what is outside the school gates.

Also, the focus of this series has been the school becoming part of a trust. A head office that sees students as numbers and exam takers rather than individuals. Again, there is the fairy godmother element of the headteacher being a lone voice fighting this, but the point is made. How can we expect to make education a positive thing when it becomes purely about profits and targets?

I could talk further about individual plotlines and characters, but I don’t have the space. Needless to say, what started out feeling like a run of the mill drama has now become something more. It is a critical voice that holds up a mirror to our society and asks if we like it. Surely the answer has to be no.

Sometimes a programme can be compared to another unfairly purely because of one key similarity. It is never the intention of the writers or cast, who are trying to produce something original, but the marketing and media latch on to something. I feel that Beecham House is suffering somewhat from this, in that you feel that ITV really wanted a new Downton Abbey and, bar a few comparable notes, haven’t got it.

The show is set in pre-colonial India, when it is a trading post for the British and French and plans for either to rule it are still in their infancy. John Beecham, former East India Company employee and now independent trader, has set up home here and his assorted friends and family are descending onto his life, both welcome and otherwise.

The biggest comparison to Downton is in its rather sanitised approach to its lead characters. Just as the Earl of Grantham and his family became pseudo social workers to their staff, John Beecham seems to be a one-man racial equality campaign. He is disgusted by his mother’s prejudices and, it emerges, was briefly married to a ‘native’, producing a mixed-race baby. The ‘colonisation’ of India’s women is instead portrayed through his wayward brother, who has a liking for a local brothel. I’m not an historian, so can’t say which picture is closer to the truth, but Beecham is a man with 2019 sensibilities. I fully expect him not to bat an eyelid at the first same-sex relationship he comes across.

It doesn’t help the show’s aim to form its own identity that Lesley Nicol, who played the indomitable Mrs Patmore, plays Beecham’s mother, channelling a late 18th century Hyacinth Bucket. Apologies for my own snobbishness here, but I don’t quite buy her as a social climber when she still sounds like she should be bemoaning having to make an extra pudding due to unexpected guests arriving.

The biggest problem the show is facing is that, unlike Downton, it is unwilling to give in to its more soapy elements. I have yet to see anything that could be seen as humour, or tension for that matter. Nobody seems under any real pressure or showing any sparks, and the plots seems to grind on. To add to this insult, all the female characters seem to be presented as obstacles to Beecham’s noble quest, whilst somehow also being unsubstantial in personality.

Why am I watching it? God only knows. Probably because there is nothing on and money is too tight for me right now to socialise. But dear God, does bankrupting myself seem a pleasure compared to sitting through this. At least Downton Abbey movie is coming soon. In doing so, it will only serve to expose its competitors flaws.

This is my second attempt at writing this post. The first came to an abrupt end when my other laptop decided to freeze the mouse pad because it wanted to install an update and I lost everything in the reboot. So apologies if this post is tetchier than normal. Although to be fair, my judgement hasn’t changed on the programme I’m reviewing.

Year of the Rabbit is an historical sitcom that follows the exploits of Inspector Rabbit. He is assisted by nice-but-dim posh boy Strauss and wannabe first female copper Mabel. The format generally follows a daft crime of the week that vaguely satirises Victorian culture (and to a lesser extent ours) with a background plot of a shadowy feminist organisation.

Let’s start with the weaknesses. Or rather, weakness that is repeated throughout. It is frankly far too heavy handed in its delivery and character building. Northern chief constable Wisbeach comes out with trite sayings. Strauss’s naivety/stupidity is dull, both in its boringness and bluntness. The jokes about Mabel wanting to be a woman copper and then turning out to be the best detective on the team might as well have massive arrows pointing to them. It is all so overdone, if it was a steak it would come out of the kitchen as a piece of charcoal.

There are bright spots. Matt Berry is good as Rabbit, even if his Cockney mannerisms are as overplayed as everything else. There is at least the balance of a streak of eccentricity in him that allows the unexpected to be played out. This ability to surprise the audience is, after all, the source of the best comedy. Having said that, the fact the best line of the opening episode was his explanation for losing an eyebrow (‘the dog chewed it off last year’) is a good marker for how weak the rest of the jokes are.

The other is Keeley Hawes, although is tends to be a bright spot in everything. As shadowy gang leader Lydia out to get Rabbit she is showing a delicious streak of evil. Best of all, she is actually showing how to underplay something and let the lines speak for themselves. Her plotline is one of the few things keeping me gripped.

This show could have been great if the writing was allowed to be more subtle and the performances likewise. As it is, it feels like a wall of noise and stereotypes. Overall, a wasted opportunity.

Finally, the much-anticipated return of Killing Eve has happened. It was one of last year’s most-talked about shows with what was a breathless mix of action, drama and comedy. Oh, and lots of blood. It was near perfection, and the bar was set high for the return.

Some people felt let down by the season two opener. Too slow was a common complaint. Having spent most the first season building this cat-and-mouse narrative around Eve and Villanelle, the prolonged separation of the two characters, and Villanelle’s lack of ability to move around, was seen as hampering.

Personally, I disagree. It was the show taking a deep breath before plunging us back in again. There was still all the hallmarks we have come to love, not least the whip-smart dialogue. Fiona Shaw in particular seems to deliver every line with delightful glee, revelling in the role and the words. And there was a shocking twist that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but it was precisely the kind of jolt this show delivers like no other.

Besides, the second episode soon blew any fears of cobwebs away. Eve has a new team, and a new shopping habit, whilst still obsessing over the one that got away. Villanelle proved she is still as resourceful as ever as she, for a change, nearly became the victim, and also got a new handler to send her off on a new round of murderous city breaks. And the episode again ended with another neat twist.

The appeal of the show is obvious to anyone who has watched it. It’s smart for a start. Don’t expect to be hand held and have everything explained to you, as the show is too busy careering round the next corner. The dialogue isn’t there to answer your questions but merely to carry you to the next moment, with some lovely dark humour thrown in. My personal highlight was Eve and Carolyn chowing down on a burger whilst inspecting a corpse.

The characters are brilliant, as ever. Although I miss Bill, the trinity of Villanelle, Eve and Carolyn are probably three of the best-written characters ever. And to top it all, there is the tantalising promise of a second female assassin who is the polar opposite of Villanelle – covert and blending into the crowd compared to Villanelle’s love of the theatrics of the kill.

Watching this show is a real highlight of the week for me, hence my refusal to binge watch. A season three is already promised. With something this brilliant, you don’t want it to end.

I like it when a new show I’m watching takes me by surprise. I’m not talking about some big twist, although that is of course welcome. I’m thinking here more of when you watch something that appears fluffy and shallow but actually reveals itself to have a surprising amount of depth.

This happened recently with The Other Two. On the surface, this is a simple mocking of the shallowness of the entertainment industry and fame. The show follows the two adult siblings of the latest teen pop sensation. Both are jealous of his sudden success but also know he could be a passport to greater glories for their own stalled careers. Cory is a failed actor, Brooke a professional dancer.

It is brilliant at getting laughs out of this simple concept. The media machine, both traditional and social, are easy targets but well done. It straggles the line between sharp but not cruel, at least to the characters who aren’t cruel themselves. The episode where Chase’s media team navigates the LGBT fandom, with the video being considered either hot or not depending on the latest tweet, was a prime example of this.

But where this show surprised me is the tender portrayal of Cary. He is a gay man who is out, but still not comfortable with himself. He allows his supposedly straight roommate to engage in sex acts on him despite knowing there is nothing deeper there. He takes pride in not being identified as gay He even straight-washes himself to get parts he wants. The same episode as detailed above saw him realise some of the damage this causing to him. Suddenly, I went from liking him to wanting him to triumph. Drew Tarver is note perfect.

This is not to downplay some of the other characters. Helene Yorke is great as the vacuous, scatter-brained Brooke, who is herself going on a journey and realising what it means to be an adult and taking responsibility. While she hasn’t had the Road to Damascus conversion of Cary yet, I hope she does.

I also think we should recognise Wanda Sykes as the sharp-elbowed and the even sharper-mouthed record executive. She is one of those characters who can steal a scene from only a few lines or gestures.

This show is great. It is genuinely funny and clever, and amazingly hits you with a few sucker punches as well. It will probably pass most people by unnoticed but I can also imagine it gaining a loyal following from those that do watch it. And you really should.

Sometimes, I am very on the fence as if to whether I like a programme or not. I can see the germs of something I like, but also see a lot that I don’t. These are often the hardest shows to review, as I end up writing something that justifies to myself why I’m watching, rather than selling it to you.

The Ranganation falls into this category. The format is that Romesh Ranganathan gathers a cross-section of the British public to talk about the week’s news. It is a blend of Gogglebox and Have I Got News For You, although I’m not sure it has captured the best of either.

The show is at its best in one of two scenarios. First, a member of the Ranganation says something so daft that they become playful cannon fodder for Romesh, who often unleashes the grumpier side of his personality at this point. The second is Romesh’s interactions with his mum, who is very good at innocently stealing the show.

When either of these two things happen, the show really flies. Ranganathan, like many comedians, is better when unscripted and he can just riff off someone. Sometimes the debate within the audience can actually get quite funny as well.

Where the show falls down is when the opposite happens and everything feels boxed in with a script. The opening prelude feels lazy and full of cheap shots. Even worse, it is stilted. The panellists are like coiled springs waiting for the actual show to start.

Of course, the biggest question is around the sincerity of the panellists. Are they really how the come across on camera, or are they putting on affectations, hoping to be the next Scarlett Moffatt? There are also a handful that seem to force themselves to be more prominent than others, even if they have less knowledge of what they are talking about. This show feels ripe for a fact checker to be employed on.

Overall, it’s enjoyable enough and currently uncontested for me in its time slot. But for me, the jury is out on if it deserves a second season or not. It falls in that awkward category of I would watch it if it did, but not miss it if it didn’t.