Archives for posts with tag: BBC

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.

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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.

Dystopian futures are very on trend right now. This is unsurprising when you consider the extent of the political turmoil the world is in right now and the fact that the pace of cultural and technological change grows ever faster. I normally avoid this genre, as it just gives you further nightmares to the one you already have.

Yet I found myself drawn to Years and Years. The drama revolves around one family over a 15-year period from 2019-2034 as their lives are shaped by the world around them, in particular the rise of right-wing populist politician Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson).

Political crisis so far played out (we are up to 2025) include Russia successfully gaining full political control of Ukraine, leading to a refugee crisis when those opposed to Russia are forced to flee, America’s trade war with China leading to Trump launching a nuclear weapon on a military base and the resulting economic sanctions leading to a banking crisis that dwarves 2008.

But it’s not just politics that is played out. The remorseless advance of technology also plays a part. One family member declares themselves trans-human, wanting rid of their body to be just uploaded as data. Hologram emoji masks and having a phone implanted into their body are just the start of this transformation.

All of this would just be weighty moral lesson learning if it lacked a people dimension, but this is where the show shines. Daniel (Russell Tovey) falls in love with one of the refugees fleeing Ukraine, leading him to divorce his husband and setting up a revenge plot. Stephen (Rory Kinnear) loses all his money in the banking crisis and is faced with a daughter who has more affinity with machines than people.

It is the character of Rosie (Ruth Madeley) that potentially has the most interesting progression. She is the one who, as the series progresses, most buys into Rook’s populist vision. Quite how far she falls and the price she and others pay for Rook’s rise to power is still to be seen, but she does represent how many voters feel. Outside of the London bubble, not sharing in the boom others enjoy but being hit by the bust and generally being economically isolated from the world around here, Rosie is the person made angry about the future and clings to the hope of returning to a past Rook promises.

For all the grimness, there is a sprinkling of humour throughout, particularly from formidable matriarch Muriel (Anne Reid). It’s this that helps you buy into the world and the characters, and makes it feel so real.

Whilst the show is giving me nightmares (nothing presented feels impossible right now), it is gripping. It is a warning for us all. But how many will pay attention to it is another matter.

One of the biggest frustrations with British TV is that because it doesn’t work on a seasonal basis, the next series of episodes can come out whenever. You can easily find yourself waiting a couple of years for the next batch of episodes, regardless of the intensity of the cliffhanger.

The flip side to this is that it means what is made is done so with patience and love. It allows the writer to only send the show out when it is ready and become a gem polished as close to perfection it can be. It also creates a feeling of event TV, which is becoming increasingly rare in this era of streaming.

Line of Duty has become such an event. We are now two years on from the conclusion of the last series, yet people still flock to it. And it’s no surprise that they do. No other drama on TV can compete with twists and turns, throwing the viewer off guard. It has almost become a game working out what is being told to you straight and what is subterfuge (clue: almost everything at the moment).

One of the central mysteries is the identity of H, the kingpin of bent coppers that are aiding OCGs with their crimes. All the fingers are pointing at Hastings, our previously undoubtable Superintendent. But it is never that simple in the world of AC-12, unless this time it is. What bigger twist than to make its biggest reveal actually the most straightforward and use the paranoia of our own minds to doubt it?

My one gripe with this series is that so much focus is being placed on the UCO and the OCG and very little on bent coppers is that we are missing the beautiful interview scenes. The slow setting of the traps and the surprise table turns are missing or downplayed. Most importantly, where is all the paperwork? I mean, seriously, everyone knows we watch it for the acronyms and the evidence files and not for the explosions or gunfights!

That aside, it is still one of the best shows out there. It is fascinating watching the relationship between our central trio become tested as they begin to doubt each other. Also, it is refreshing to see Vicky McClure, previously the department skivvy, rise up through the ranks and become the de facto second-in-command.

There were initially rumours that the show would wrap up at the sixth series, but now it is potentially heading for a seventh. I hope it doesn’t become over milked. If the storylines fit six series, make it six. If it does work for a seventh, go ahead, but don’t ruin what has gone before. Event TV stops being so when the quality dips. That will be the case no matter what paperwork is done.

It’s rare I write one of these reviews where a show has hit all the boxes. There is normally a character that doesn’t work, or the tone doesn’t fit. Sometimes it’s just a sense of a good idea being not quite there. But when it does all come together, it is compulsive viewing.

Race Across the World is joining rare pantheon of programmes that ticks every box. The premise is simple. Five couple race from London to Singapore in the fastest time without taking a single flight. All transport must be land or sea based, and they only have the budget of the standard air fare to Singapore. They must hit pre-determined check points along the way, and can only top up their budget by doing a day’s work on their travels. Oh, and there’s no smartphones or access to technology.

The most immediate reason I love this show is that it features lots of maps. I love a map. I get nerdishly excited at seeing people’s progress being charted. I have had an obsession with atlases since childhood. I think that’s why I lack the wanderlust that others have – I feel I have read enough about the world, I don’t need to see it.

Another thing that won me over to the show is that it avoided the most obvious pitfall of making this all about the ‘journey’ of the contestants, as in the emotions. Yes, we have backstories – a husband and son who have lost touch, a retired couple who want to embrace the final act of their life with as much gusto as possible – but it never overwhelms the sense of competition.

Not only that, but there is never a sense of hunting for fame. Nobody taking part is doing so to land some kind of deal. It is about the thrill of adventure. You get the feeling that, within a day or two of being done, the contestants will all return to their normal lives, albeit with a lot more stories to tell.

The last selling point is that it is fascinating watching the different psychologies at play. One couple decide to use the kindness of strangers to succeed. Another takes advantage of work opportunities to fund the quickest, priciest way out. All reach breaking points. All couple bar one have either bickered or ripped up a map in frustration. It is telling the first to be eliminated where the first to get snippy with each other.

I already want a second series. Hell, despite my misgivings about my ability to hack it, I want to take part. For all of its modesty, it is actually the best show out there. Less is more has won the day.

Some mysteries are easier to solve than others. I for one wouldn’t want to unpick any of those impossible maths challenges. I can however solve the case of the UK’s terrible run at Eurovision.

All the clues are there, but the problem is too many people look at the symptom, the grand final in May, rather than the cause, which in this case is the national selection process, the final of which occurred on Friday. I present to you, the criminal that is Eurovision: You Decide.

The format this year was a little different from normal, with six acts divided into pairs and having a song each. In other words, three songs in two different styles. In theory this is a good idea, as you can pair up the arrangement and the singer better to the song. It does prevent self-written songs though, with all the tracks produced by committee.

Of course, that relies on the three songs being quality to begin with. I don’t think any of them were. ‘Freaks’ was infuriatingly catchy but had awful lyrics. ‘Sweet Lies’ never really hit top gear as either a dance track or a ballad. ‘Bigger than Us’ was the cheesiest of cheese-fests. A stronger performer on all three was fairly self-evident, although if true justice occurred the public would have been able to vote on both versions of ‘Bigger than Us’ and ‘Freaks’ eliminated straight away.

Michael Rice’s take on ‘Bigger than Us’ was the best vocal of the night and an understandable winner. It fails the charisma test though. Some proper performance arts training will help, as will someone teaching him how to keep the microphone in the right place at all times. There is too much arm flailing in the choreography at present and a cruel draw in the final will guarantee us last place.

In some respects the problems run deeper than the songs though. The mocking tone we associate with Eurovision is present here. There is an amateur hour standard of production, with Mel Gidroyc and Mans Zemerlow frequently looking at the wrong camera and Gidroyc even at one point wandering off the set. I doubt you would see such sloppiness on any of the Scandinavian selection shows.

It is this feeling we are taking it as a joke that costs us every year. We can send whatever song we like, but if it is done with a sneer or a giggle we will get punished.

I argue we need to promote Rylan Clarke-Neal from head judge to presenter (he is surprisingly professional for a reality TV graduate). I also think that as good as the matching exercise was in theory, it didn’t work in practice. If they want a twist, make is self-written songs only. This encourages the performers to sing sincerely, a common theme amongst previous winners. And make the whole thing more professional. If even all that fails to produce a result, then we may need to make a second exit from Europe.

If you watch something over and over again, no matter how much you enjoy it, you inevitably start asking questions. In the case of drama or comedy, it could be plot holes or plausibility. Why has a character done x? How could event y have happened? What about thing z? This is perhaps why the best shows only last a few series, because the writers know that in order to reduce these questions they are working in a tighter framework.

Reality TV has a similar problem. Big Brother lost its spark as it drifted ever further away from being about normal people. Likewise, The Apprentice has perhaps lot its way a little as it has become ever clearer that there are people on it who use it as a passport to fame instead of furthering their business.

Because there is always one. They tend to leave about week seven or eight, when it is no longer plausible for Lord Sugar to keep them in, as they have shown they are incapable of running a business. Last year it was semi-professional ‘lad’ Andrew, who used his 15 minutes of fame to go on Celebrity Big Brother and date a C-lister. My money this year is on Kurran, a wannabe actor who can’t act but is a fan of grandiose statements about his genius.

Another problem with The Apprentice is some of the tasks feel deliberately designed to put candidates under ridiculous pressure which I’m not convinced reflects how business is done. For example, would somebody working in the advertising industry be expected to turn around a logo, advert and devise a presentation for an airline in 48 hours? Highly doubt it and you certainly wouldn’t be expecting with no knowledge of said industries to complete that workload.

Of course, there is the argument that this is all about seeing how people react to pressure. But seeing as many of the candidates are running their own businesses, you could argue they know all about pressure already. Lord Sugar could just as easily film them doing their normal jobs for 10 weeks rather than having them jump from gardening one minute to selling on TV shopping channels the next.

But then that wouldn’t be good TV would it? We want to see people flail and fail, having tetchy arguments about the price of plant pots along the way. And many of the eventual winners are actually successful post-show with their businesses. The right person does seem to win even if it takes a while to get there.

How much longer can the show last? Who knows. Once they have run out of ideas for tasks maybe, or Lord Sugar descends into senility perhaps. For now, we just need to sit back and take it all with a pinch of salt.