Archives for posts with tag: channel 4

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.

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I usually steer clear of ‘human interest’ documentaries. You know the sort; the people with obscure medical conditions, the ‘benefit porn’, the sensationalist personal lives. Too many of them are about gawping in the style of the freak show for the people partaking to feel any benefit. Even the feel good ones are morally dubious.

Yet I decided to give Bride & Prejudice a go. This was for two reasons: firstly, the trailer looked like, despite its pun title, it was going to be a serious look at some of the issues, and secondly, there was nothing else on.

Basically, the show is about couples getting married that face opposition from their families. This isn’t just the case of mum thinking bride-to-be is a money grabber or dad sensing your fiancée is a wrong ‘un. There are actual discrimination issues at play here.

The first episode featured three couples. Dee and John faced hostility owing to he being more than three decades than she. Simon and Rob were struggling with Rob’s parents not being able to face up to their son’s sexuality. Jaime and Sheeba faced a double battle with Sheeba’s mum, Faye, dealing with the disapproval of him being white as well as transgender.

It is the latter two stories that are currently most gripping, to me anyway. There are layers that add an emotional punch. Rob had been previously married to a woman and his parents had been front and centre at that wedding, but now want to hide at the back now he is marrying a man. Faye, meanwhile, feels betrayed that her daughter’s best friend is now to become her husband, the trust of allowing them to spend time alone as teenagers gone now that she feels there was more of an agenda.

What I find most surprising is how open Rob’s parents are and Faye is about their anti-LGBT views. Rob’s parents openly admit to being embarrassed about their son’s sexuality and refuse to discuss it or even believe it, as they don’t feel he fits the stereotype. Faye consistently refers to Jamie as ‘a transgender’ – not acknowledging him as a man or even a person, but rather categorising him almost as if he is a transformer, something inhuman.

The contrast is that for Rob’s parents it is all about status – they don’t want the gossip of having a gay son and feel it is not the done thing. For Faye, this is about her culture. She sees Sheeba’s choice of husband as flying in the face of respecting your elders’ wishes. There is still an element of fear of a loss of status, but it is on a bigger scale. It still makes her comments unjustified, but there feels like there is more of a context.

More couples are being followed as the season progresses but I feel it is these two that will hit home the most. There feels more at stake here than a disapproval over an age gap. It’s about how truly tolerant we are. This show suggests there is a longer battle to fight than we thought.

After a bit of a delay, I have finally got round to catching up on Derry Girls. For the unaware, this is a sitcom set in early 90s Derry at the height of the Troubles. Essentially, a coming-of-age story with a darkly humourous backdrop. Derry is a city that behaves like a small town, in that everyone knows everyone else. Part of my keen interest in the show is that one of my closest friends is from that neck of the woods and she has assured me that, yes, it really is like that.

The focus is on Erin, a fairly typical teenage girl, desperate to improve her status despite already having a loyal gang of mates. There is her cousin Orla, who is dim witted and flaky. Claire operates as the group’s moral compass, but is perhaps too moral and is quick to turn grass. Michelle is the gobby trouble causer, who always has a get rich scheme. And finally, there’s James, the only boy in an all-girls school and who has committed the sin of being, gasp, English.

Interestingly, all the characters seem to be increasingly well fleshed out, bar Erin. For a focal point, she seems a remarkably blank canvas. Her main role seems to be to contort her face in disgust at everything around her, which is getting slightly annoying. Thankfully, the other characters have enough of a footprint to raise the show.

The adult members of the cast are also good. Erin’s grandad constantly undermining his son-in-law, who seems to be an ocean of sanity amongst the madness. Orla’s mum, Aunt Sarah, is every bit as daffy as her daughter.

The show is stolen though by headmistress and nun Sister Michael. There is a delicious stony expression that lives on her face permanently, whether it is dealing with a failed attempt by Michelle to bully a Year 7 or banning ‘Love is All Around’ from the school assembly list. Her deadpan comments are a sheer delight and worth the entry fee alone.

The timeliness of the show cannot go unnoticed either. Just as the Good Friday Agreement comes under serious threat through a mixture of Brexit and the power collapse at Stormont, this is a reminder of the bad old days, where bomb threats and paramilitary attacks were worryingly routine. Whilst this is a fertile ground for dark humour (the first episode sees lots of jokes about a suspicious package on the main road through Derry) it should also be a stark message about not wanting to go back in time.

Is it funny? Yes, perhaps not side-splittingly, but will certainly raise a giggle. It is also well crafted and smart. And if all else fails, it has a corking soundtrack of early 90’s classics. Yes, the main character needs work. But that doesn’t stop it being a joy.

Jo Brand is one of my favourite people. I love her self-deprecating stand up that is unfairly stereotyped by her critics as just being ‘It’s hard to be a woman’ humour. I adore her no-nonsense approach to panel shows, not least her slapping down of male guests whenever a whiff of misogyny enters the air (check out her take down of Ian Hislop and Quentin Letts on Have I Got News For You last year). Mostly though, I love her sitcoms. Truthful, raw and decidedly unglamourous, but never bleak.

Damned has returned for its second series. Set in the world of children’s social work, its title comes from the saying ‘Damned if you, damned if you don’t’, referencing the constant kicking social services receive in the media for either intervening or not. It is an aware Brand has an astute knowledge of, owing to her mother working as a social worker.

The characters all feel very real. There is the world-weary Rose and Al (played by Brand and Alan Davies), the latter of whom has no patience anymore for the rule book. There is the obnoxious, but essentially useless, Nitin (Hamish Patel). Dim-witted receptionist Nat is played by Isy Suttie, Kevin Eldon is team leader and slightly OCD Martin. This series sees the edition of virtue-signalling Mimi played by Lolly Adefope. With the exception of Mimi, none of these characters feel like stereotypes.

The situations are on the button as well. Episode one focused on a woman raising two children and having to resort to sex work to boost the minimum income she received for her legitimate work of cleaning. Sounds harrowing, yet the humour shone through thanks to deft and sympathetic writing. Having said that, the end of the episode is heart breaking.

There are some good background plots too. There is the blossoming connection between Rose and her boss Denise’s brother Dennis. The tension is growing between Mimi and Nat, with the latter unimpressed with the former’s being fast tracked. Plus there is the very timely storyline of historical abuse that they can’t tackle, but a growing storm outside is saying they should.

I think I love this because my work inhabits a not entirely different world, working as I do for a government regulatory body. The constant three-way battle between the morally right solution, the common sense answer and what the rule books say is a constant fixture of my world, although the stakes are rarely as high. It’s a relief for someone to be calling it as it is. Especially the chaos that erupts when meetings get derailed.

Or maybe I love it because it is a show about generally good people trying to do the right thing that is also very funny. The humour maybe dark, but it’s never cruel. Rather, it is smart enough to point out what is going wrong. It’s rarely the people on the front line.

After much delay, I am finally getting round to catching up with the latest series of Man Down. It has always been an interesting beast of a show. No laugh track and a slightly depressing premise – man’s life falls apart repeatedly – should put it squarely in the low-key ‘is this even a comedy?’ category. Yet it is highly slapstick in its humour and boarders on the surreal, giving it a manic energy.

I suspect this is why it fails to win BAFTA’s, despite being so neatly crafted and funny it should be showered in them. There is a tendency for critic-driven awards to reward the dour, those comedies that supposedly purport to reflect real life, despite the fact comedy is supposed to be an escape. If I read one more review of a comedy describing it has ‘heart-breaking’ the only thing that will get broken is the critic’s face.

Anyway, Man Down. This series is opening a new avenue of comic potential by making Dan, played by Greg Davies, a father. So far, so predictable, but Davies lifts this with the aforementioned qualities, plus a dose of uncomfortableness.

Take episode two, where Dan went on a mission to find his childhood toy bear, ripped away from him as a child. This leads him to breaking into a children’s hospital to steal it back, only to find his memories have played tricks on him in the most excruciating way possible. Yes, it is slightly uncomfortable but also very, very funny.

As ever, in the background we have Roisin Conaty as Jo still forming mad schemes, Mike Wozniak’s Brian trying to rebuild his own life and being sabotaged by others and, most gloriously, Dan’s mum and aunt sharing a retirement village together. It is often these little details, including his mum in a series of ludicrous outfits (snooker player, judo robes), that lift this show and bring the best laughs.

This will always be an unrecognised show. Too silly to get the awards, too dark to be mainstream. But it will also always be joyously fun. If you want to escape into a slightly odd world, do so with this. You won’t regret it.

Have you ever read a review by a TV critic and wondered what the hell they were watching? I don’t mean the bloggers like me who is happy to admit that they are entirely objective. I mean the professionals who have been given the status of arbitrators of taste. Maybe they slam a show you love, for example, ignoring any joy the programme might give.

More annoying though is when they decree a triumph for a show that isn’t worth of it. Take Back, for instance. This a comedy about Stephen (David Mitchell) dealing with his father’s death, when Andrew (Robert Webb) returns. Turns out Andrew was a kid fostered by Stephen’s parents for five months. The plot revolves around Andrew’s manipulation of Stephen’s family, presumably to claim some money out of the inheritance.

This is a dark premise for a comedy, but not necessarily bad. There is a lot of potential in fact. And it does exploit some of it well. Mitchell draws out Stephen’s fastidiousness well, but then that isn’t a stretch for him. Likewise, Webb is reliably good as the scheming charmer Andrew. There are even nicely drawn side-characters. Some of the lines are funny, and, when allowed to go slightly eccentric, the show really starts to fly.

Yet there are also many faults. There was an unnecessary plotline of a dying dog in the first couple of episodes, which did nothing in my view to draw out any laughs. In fact, it seemed purely to be a device to add an extra humiliation to Stephen. And that is where the show for me has its biggest weakness: it is entirely dependent of humiliating one character, who is basically a nice but fussy guy. I can’t help but think inflicting misery on someone in a comedy that isn’t a monster isn’t actually funny. It works when, say, Edina in Absolutely Fabulous fails, because she is a vain, egotistical person who doesn’t deserve success. But Stephen is harmless.

Not that you would see it as a problem if you read the view of the professionals. This is apparently a brilliant show, so funny yet so clever. I fail to see how a show that maybe raises one or two smiles and one genuine laugh per episode deserves such accolades, but I assume this is why I merely blog and they get paid. There is no doubt some deep, wonderful thing that I am missing.

Frankly, I’m only sticking with it in the hope Andrew gets his comeuppance and Stephen becomes the rather mild-mannered hero of the piece. Although judging by the show’s form, I wouldn’t count it. The critics would probably prefer to see Stephen wither away into perpetual embarrassment then have a happy ending.

Public services are always a hot political topic here in the UK. We are always asking more of our healthcare system, law and order bodies and educational establishments. There is always a kerfuffle when things go wrong and little reward for those that makes things right. Hence the need to set the record straight so often.

It is why the public services feature so prominently in documentaries. These are tales of how the day-to-day is done away from the headlines. Many I don’t watch, especially police-based ones, purely because they don’t interest me. But education ones do. There is something so vital in how your school years form you that make the stakes that bit higher.

Educating Greater Manchester is the latest in the series and offers the usual winning combination of heart-warming stories, humour and serious challenges. The first episode highlighted many of these. It centred round how the community of the school was changing through immigration and how the issues raised are tackled.

The focus of this was Rani, an 11-year-old who had recently arrived from Syria fleeing the civil war. He was struggling to fit in through poor English and was even being bullied. An older boy from Syria, who had settled in the UK three years ago, became his mentor. He also befriended Jack. Between these two figues, his confidence grew. A particularly touching moment was when Rani discovered he no longer needed to be in the remedial class and was able to join Jack in normal lessons, which led him to burst into tears. I may also have had something in my eye at this point.

The humour was provided by Jack and Rani’s gang tacking advantage of a dirty van in the driveway by drawing the usual cock and balls that are so amusing when you are that age. Well, any age really. If you don’t smile at someone having written ‘I wish my wife was this dirty’ on a mucky vehicle I can’t help you. Even the headteacher Mr Povey found himself having to fight to keep a straight face when disciplining the boys, although he did.

But the challenges of integration weren’t shied away from. A friend of Rani’s mentor from Afghanistan was called Osama by another student, leading to an angry confrontation. Even the mentor himself was, albeit more accidentally, called a terrorist by a Polish student, which just goes to show not all the tensions are between natives and newcomers, but also between immigrants themselves.

There was also the backdrop of the aftermath of the Manchester Concert attack, which some students had attended and, thankfully, survived. What was most telling was that Jack, who lets remember is barely 12, was able to process it in a way that some of my generation and older can’t. He knew that Rani was not responsible for it. Nor his family. Not even his religion. It was a bad person who would have always been bad regardless of religion or absence of it. He wasn’t going to end his friendship with Rani. Oh no, they had more cock and balls to draw.