Archives for posts with tag: channel 4

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.

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This week I am in the same position as last week. Nothing new has come along to tickle my fancy and I am left with my habitual viewing. Thankfully, over the next few weeks there is a handful of new shows to keep me going. Years & Years looks promising and if the last few series are to go by Taskmaster has rediscovered its zeal. We UK viewers may even finally get series two of Killing Eve.

Until then though I am forced to be a creature of habit, one of which is First Dates. This is another show that has lost its innovative edge and instead felt very mainstream. This is not necessarily a bad thing so long as the viewer is still entertained. Having said that, it must also be wary of jumping the shark.

For the most part I still enjoy the show, even if I do find it slightly formulaic now. Cheesy pun introducing the couple related to their jobs, opening thoughts on why they are single, one of them gets to chat to Merlin the bartender, awkward introduction, meal, deeper revelations/sob story over mains, maybe a faux pas and/or something exceptionally sweet happens, decision of whether to see each other again.

Increasingly, it is the ones that go wrong that are worth the watch. I still remember my breath being taken away a few series ago when one half told the other they didn’t find the other attractive before even the mains had turned up, leading the dejected party to walk out whilst the other happily ate their steak and then managed to be rude to Fred (the ultimate cardinal sin).

Nothing quite so spectacular has happened this series, although there was the almost unbelievable stupidity of the guy who felt the way to secure a second date was to tell his prospective other half stories of all the times he got drunk with the lads and when she questioned whether he was boyfriend material responded with the now immortal line ‘geezers gotta geez’.

Some of the sob stories, sorry – background setting, are dull. Yes, where genuine tragedies have separated loved ones that is awful, but it feels increasingly like these are becoming the focus, rather than date itself. Some are still genuinely touching though, and all the better if there can be some positive framing.

My other frustration is the banter between the staff. Whilst it is used as a contrast to the dates and probably works for some people, for me it is a distraction from the stories we want to hear. Narratives are picked up and lost that makes them pointless – whatever happened to Sam and CeCe’s unspoken love?

But overall this is still a good way to pass the time. It needs more eccentrics (I love an older couple where both have reached the point in their lives where they are just themselves) and I have noticed a decline in LGBT couples recently. But these are minor points. It does the job, for now.

I must confess to being a bit stuck what to write this week. There’s nothing new I have started watching and, therefore, nothing new I want to say. It has been a real struggle finding something. Yes, there are new shows popping up all the time, but time is limited and as much as I love TV, I want a life outside of it as well.

Then it hit me. Something that has been gnawing at my brain for a while now. A change in my feelings towards a show. And now is the time to express it.

So here is my declaration: I’ve fallen out of love with Gogglebox. I can’t put my finger on when, but I watch it now out of habit rather than love.

What I do know is why. The biggest reason is that it has lost its naivety and charm. Take some of the intros. Whenever someone pulls out of a bag that they claim they have bought that week to try, I have started wondering if they really have, or if a producer has given it to them. I hate being a cynic, but I feel the participants have become performing seals rather than being one of us. I remember one former fan describing the cast as a group of people desperate to fight their way to the buffet at the National Television Awards, and it seems a very apt description.

The problem is when you have breakout stars. Scarlett Moffet transcended from bit part cast member to a star in her own right. And now so many of them want to repeat the arc. But you can’t review TV as an ordinary punter if you go behind the curtain. Yet the best ones often do. Steph & Dom are missed more than anyone else, bar Leon, who sadly passed away.

I also find myself increasingly infuriated at some of the puerile and ignorant comments. Take the news story on the Extinction Rebellion protest. There was universal mocking across the cast about the actions of the protesters and snide comments. Not one person recognised the issue that the protesters were actually trying to raise.

There are still some bright spots. Pete and Sophie are current favourites, and the Siddiqui and Malone families remain good value. Occasionally the show can still surprise, and any politician worth their salt should watch some of the conversations around Brexit: general tone being they don’t care if it happens or not, just stop talking about it.

It was a fun show while it lasted and had moments of pure genius. But now I feel it should be put out to pasture as it were. Let some new formats come through. Channel 4 is meant to be home of the bold and different, and Gogglebox just isn’t that any more.

Comedy has long been used to make a political point. In fact, that was pretty much the reason it was invented. You can trace it from the plays of Ancient Greece, through the satire of Swift and the comic pieces in Dickens, right up to now, through both stand up and sitcoms.

One of the newest sitcoms to attempt to get some laughs out of modern Britain is Home. It revolves around Sami, a Syrian immigrant who sneaks into Britain in the back of a family’s car. Peter, who we later learn is not even himself fully part of the family but is just mum Katy’s new partner, is appalled, and represents all the anti-immigrant behaviours that we see and hear. The rest of the family though are delighted and welcoming.

A lot of the humour comes from the misunderstandings that we have around immigrants. This includes the sincere and well-meaning, for example, the family automatically assuming Sami is a Muslim and making him a prayer room in the home office, not realising he is actually Christian. But it also covers the less pleasant – the belief that an immigrant comes to take advantage of our welfare system, the constant gnawing fear they may be a terrorist.

When the show is trying to make these points through comedy it can be very, very good. The prayer room scene was a brilliant example of this, ditto the scene where Sami mistakes marmite for chocolate spread.

Yet it also has increasingly become a drama. The scene where Sami found out his family were safe and well in Germany before finding out they had no intention of coming to Britain was designed to be one of ecstasy followed by agony. But the emotional gut punch missed me. It all felt slightly out of place.

The show also strays over into preaching. Maybe I’m too aware of the media bias against immigrants, but the scene where the newsagent showed pro-immigrant newspapers being dwarfed in size and popularity by the anti- ones was as unsubtle as they come. The fact is the people who need to be converted won’t watch this show; they will simply hear the premise and run a mile. Those who do watch will already be in sympathy to the lead character and see Peter’s xenophobia as ripe for mockery.

What Home really needs is to make a decision about what it is – culture-clash comedy or social commentary drama. Whilst it can have aspects of both it needs to wear one hat more (I would recommend comedy) and leave the other in a minor key. Currently it is trying to be all things to all people, causing the message to be both lost and also too obvious. And it is far too important a message for that to happen.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. If by invention we mean ‘try new things’, then I have to agree. A loose end viewing wise Sunday night led me to making a choice between two rather intense looking dramas: Baptiste on the BBC or Traitors on Channel 4. As the former potentially needed me to know what had happened in its parent drama The Missing I chose the latter. The post-World War Two setting helped, as I’m a sucker for a drama with a bit of history in it.

The plot follows Feef Symonds, a well-to-do trainee intelligence officer, working for the Civil Service, where she is recruited by the Americans to flush out a Soviet spy in the Cabinet Office. The first episode mainly sets up her relationships with the key players, including a rather sweet but overly earnest socialist MP.

It does feel in a way as if very little happens in it. There is a lot of talking about what the post-war world looks like and the reverberations of Labour’s shock landslide election win in 1945. A lot of time is spent on people having little dilemmas and trying to circumvent their superiors. I have to confess that the detail at points got rather lost on me, but then I was still rising up from a hangover at this point.

What I can say is that it is well played, without a jarring note amongst the cast. Having said that, the star turn of Keeley Hawes as a senior civil servant is currently underplayed, hopefully in a role that will move to the centre as the episodes go on. I mean, you wouldn’t hire someone of her calibre for the show and then just have her in the background.

The show does need a little more action. After a lively opening scene there is little to light a fire until the close of the episode. Again though, this is probably a passage of time thing. Hopefully by the time we reach the end of episode 2 we have a little more incentive for those that aren’t history buffs to keep watching.

Credit where credit is due though, you do get swept up in the sense of time and place. There is an atmosphere of wounded pride hanging off everyone, and the fight over by whose values we rebuild is palpable.

But if you promise a spy drama you need more than this. I have faith that Traitors will deliver on this. But it needs to do so quickly. A bit of ruminating on the state of the nation is good. Six hours of it though will become an indulgence.

Some shows are comfort blankets. They offer safety and security. The outside world in all its cruel technicolour does not exist. Maybe the world would be less cruel, or more of us would be fighting against it, if these shows didn’t exist, but that’s a rather deep thought.

King of comfort blanket TV is The Great British Bake Off. Twelve lovely people make delicious things whilst two experts offer well-meaning constructive criticism. If things go wrong, they are told how to get it right next time. If it goes well, the praise is effusive yet sincere. Most importantly, the formula never deviates. Bar one exception, there is no shock double elimination, no deliberate ratcheting up of the tension, no purposeful sabotage.

It is not without its controversies. This year saw the series start with biscuits instead of cakes. It shows how genteel GBBO is that even such a minor thing became a talking point. It appears that the logic was that the showstopper, a biscuit selfie, gave you an insight into each contestant, helping you bond with them.

Not that you need much help. Within a few minutes you have favourites. Briony has a lovely self-deprecating wit about her even if she does cry over cake. Karen happily eats crisps when she finishes early, and is therefore my spirit animal. Everyone’s favourite has to be Rahul though – so modest and quietly eccentric, surprised by his own abilities. Whenever he gets sad, which is often, you want to hug him. He is one of life’s Eeyores.

Naturally, there are some you are less keen on. I’ve gone back and forth on Ruby, although her post-naan bread challenge comment of “at least I wasn’t the worst Indian in the room” has put her in the good camp for now. Likewise Kim-Joy, who is sweet and lovely yet also irritating. I hate myself for disliking her because she is innocent of the crime but sadly that is what has happened.

Least popular is Dan. He has an unfortunate condition called ‘resting smug face’. When he is not pulling that, he is contorting it into odd expressions. He also commits the golden sin of the tent, which is being chippy about another contestant. Poor Ruby faces the brunt of it, especially in cake week: ‘good luck cooling that in time’ came the sharp-tongued response when she presented a rather larger than expected tray bake.

But even that villainy is mild compared to some shows, and is an accidental quirk of character rather than an outright maliciousness. GBBO doesn’t do nasty people. It is not a gladiatorial arena. Real life is too much like that already. We don’t need it with cake.

Ackley Bridge has become, by accident rather than design, a small highlight of the week. This is largely down to most of the others shows I love finishing, leaving Tuesday and Friday as the only nights where I have something seriously meaty to watch. I seem to have fallen in love with the show, which is a surprise considering the amount of red flags.

The biggest of these flags is its soapy nature. There is a lot of bed hopping going on at times and no one seems to understand what monogamy means, with the adults worse than the kids. I find such storylines dull, and I have to admit that when Ackley turns the spotlight one a storyline like this, I find myself engaging less.

The other flag is its tendency to wrap things up too easily. The best example of this is Emma’s grief over Sami. She goes after the planting of a tree and a kind word or two from others from a woman possessed stalking the streets for his killer to Queen of YOLO. There could have been a more emotional punch to this story and it was thrown away.

What compensates for all this is that strength in storytelling in other areas. If you don’t like on storyline, there’s another around the corner you will. You invest in many of the characters and want them to succeed. You want Missy to finally triumph academically and to be happy personally. You need Kaneez to rebuild her life because otherwise she is just another hurt woman. You hope Naveen finds they guy he loves (and a lot of us wish it was Cory).

There are also positive lessons to be learned. Kaneez posing as potential suitor for her daughter Nasreen, only for Naz to accidentally send her mum nude shots, is an example of this. What was an already interesting story about the breakdown of a mother-daughter relationship became a tale of sexual maturity and technology’s impact on relationships.

The show is in its own way brave. It openly shows conflict between religion and sexuality. Class and privilege are at the centre of many of the tensions. It even touches on politics of the education system, as well as what the limits of the law are in a multi-cultural society. No one group is painted as angels or devils, because life is too nuanced.

It is easy to paint this show as another do-gooder programme, where everyone is fundamentally nice but have demons to overcome. Such an interpretation misses the point of the show, which is that if you close people out of doors of opportunity, don’t be surprised if they think they’re only choices are to kick them down or walk away. Don’t be confused into thinking this is bubble-gum TV, it is far more important than that.