Archives for posts with tag: channel 4

I frequently compare my friends in my head to a TV personalities. One, due to her place of birth, is instantly Erin from Derry Girls. Another as he ages and grows increasingly middle-aged facial hair is Bob from Bob’s Burgers. It’s all harmless fun and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had similar comparisons for me (one has admitted that she sees me as David from Schitt’s Creek).

The strongest one I make is a friend who, due to her build and potty mouth, is an obvious Kathy Burke. Burke is a brilliant person to watch in anything, so naturally I had to settle down to see her documentary Kathy Burke’s All Woman. The premise is Burke exploring the female rites of passage she has eschewed to understand why so many women still want them in an age when, theoretically, they can be anything. Namely, motherhood, marriage and beauty.

Burke is charmingly unguarded in her views. In frequent conversations to the camera she explains why she has rejected all of these. Her pursuit of beauty was fruitless, as at her most conventionally beautiful she was at her unhappiest (not an unusual tale in itself actually). Meanwhile, the motherhood gene switched on, so she never felt the hunger for a child.

While her interviews with others are good, it is her following of one particular subject on a journey that is particularly interesting. In the beauty episode she followed a young woman getting a breast enhancement both pre- and post-operation. Exploring motherhood, she met a mid-30s woman who was having her eggs frozen to help her conceive when she finally meets ‘the one’.

Both episodes saw all roads leading back to one common cause. For beauty, it was social media. Her interview with former Love Island star Meghan Barton-Hanson saw the lengths she must go to look Instagram ready. It was enough to make you want to ban it all.

In terms of motherhood, it was a woman’s most formidable enemy – biology. Quite simply, women have a race against the clock that men don’t, and this can throw everything else out of the window. As one fertility expert put it, unless there is a male menopause that comes along that makes men infertile in their forties, then it will always be the women alone who must shelve career plans to bring up children.

This is a fascinating and accessible series that, even with the copious swearing, should be compulsory viewing for all teenagers, not just girls. It celebrates the progress women have made, the battles they still face, and the ones that for now need to be accepted as lost.

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Sitcoms fall into two broad categories in terms of premise. There is your bog-standard nuclear family or group of friends set up, which are self-explanatory and more mainstream. Yes, there may be a slightly new take on it (e.g. they are all physicists like in The Big Bang Theory), but it is still a fairly straightforward take.

The second is a bit more esoteric, where there is perhaps some surprising darkness to the story. Back to Life, which I haven’t watched but want to, is about a woman rebuilding her life after being released from prison for a horrific crime. Quite often there is something deeper going on here rather than just laughs, which is fine unless you then realise the laughs have been forgot all together.

This Way Up falls into this second group. It follows Aine, played by writer of the show Aisling Bea, as she enters the world following a nervous breakdown that saw her in rehab. She works as a TEFL teacher and has a strong relationship with older sister Shona (Sharon Horgan), who has taken on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Aine whilst also building her own life.

The humour is driven by Aine’s tendency to handle her problems or any uncomfortable moments by making bad jokes peppered with brutal honesty. The writing is smart and does raise a smile, but it never becomes quite a laugh.

The solution is to instead treat the show as a drama with an edge of humour to it. This works because everything else about the show is strong. The characters are engaging, particularly Aine herself, who manages to play someone still dealing with a swirling vortex of chaos inside as brittle but easy to sympathise with. You instantly want good things to happen to her, even when some of the problems she faces are self-inflicted.

The relationship between the sisters is also genuine. There is that mix of sparring and frustration muddled with silliness and protectiveness that close siblings have with each other. It helps that Horgan’s character is developing nicely as well as she faces her own challenges.

This is a good show, but it feels wrong to label it a comedy. It is, however, a good representation of the isolation that mental health can create and the need to present yourself as fine with all the defence mechanisms that involves. The strength of the story alone makes it an excellent watch. Just don’t expect to split your sides.

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.

 

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.

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.