Archives for posts with tag: channel 4

The nineties are making a big comeback at the moment. It seems the decade of choice to go to analyse retrospectively and plunder for ‘new’ ideas. Some are less new than others. Take the return of The Crystal Maze. It doesn’t seem to fit with any modern programming anymore – not gladiatorial or particularly humiliating like Ninja Warrior, nor that highbrow.

I have found memories of the show from my youth. I even had the board game and was jealous of my friend who had the PC game. So this was going to be a big test for me. Would I cringe at the things I used to delight in? Would they change it too much and leave me heartbroken? Would it pick up new fans?

I can’t answer the third question to be truthful. But I can the first two. No, it wasn’t cringe inducing in the slightest. There was the right balance between gentle mocking of the show and a sincere love of it to make it enjoyable. And little has changed – new games yes, but nothing that wouldn’t have fitted the original series.

Speaking of new – the big talk is, of course, the choice of host in Richard Ayoade. For me, he is the perfect fit. He has a streak of Meta in him that suits the show. “You will look different in the next room, don’t worry it’s editing” is one example. He is clearly having fun in the slightly robotic, straight-faced way he does.

It is a smart move starting the show off with celebrity specials as it allows us to settle back into the concept without fear of wooden contestants. Joey Essex was a surprisingly good booking, the interplay between him and Ayoade such a source of joy that I almost want them to have their own show.

Of course, the test will be when the show moves on to ordinary members of the public. Ayoade is an acquired taste and not everyone understands his deadpan humour. It will be uncomfortable viewing if we have an hour of the public stonewalling him. I also wonder if he will be forced to tone down some of his more acerbic comments for fear of causing an upset, which would mean the show loses one of the planks of the success the revival has been built upon.

It has to be said though that this is wondrously joyous, if tense, hour. It may not have been the bravest commissioning idea that has been made recently, but it is one of the smartest. Making TV that is fun is challenging and under-rated. Hats off to Channel 4 for looking like they have got this one right.

It is often hard to work out who school-set dramas are pitched at. The teenage characters’ heady hormones are distant memories to many parents, while it is hard to imagine the younger generation being interested in storylines concerning the private lives of teachers. Both groups would feel that 50% of the show is uninteresting and a distraction from the stories that they do want to see.

Yet they are popular. The current horse from that stable is Ackley Bridge. It shares some key features with its predecessor Waterloo Road. Troubled school in a northern town. Plotlines that are soapy to the extreme. Relationships between teachers being every bit as rocky as those between the kids.

But Ackley Bridge is on Channel 4, so therefore is a little, but only a little closer to the edge in the social commentary it offers. For a start, this isn’t a comprehensive, but an academy. How much they explore the influence of ‘sponsors’ on how education is delivered remains to be seen, although there have been hints at it.

The big theme though is multi-culturism. This academy is formed from two previously segregated schools (not deliberately, just as a result of the postcode lottery our education system creates), one from a predominantly Asian community, the other largely white. The cultural conflicts form a major thrust of many of the storylines, whether it is exploring LGBT relationships in BME communities or the tension between assimilating into a nation whilst being proud of your religion.

There is some debate as to how much we should put these kind of issues through the soapy treatment shows like this create. It feels as if these issues are almost too big to be reduced to be mixed in with others plots like affairs. At the same time though, not everyone is going to watch a hard-hitting drama or searing documentary series, so if telling them the story through a slightly more trivial medium allows the message to spread wider then it is all to the good.

Of course, none of this matters if the show is rubbish. Well, it isn’t. Granted, I don’t love it. The headteacher-husband-sponsor love triangle is a bit too predictable, and I do wonder if there is perhaps one plot too many, making it hard to grasp on to any of the characters. But there are worthwhile storylines as well. Nasreen exploring her sexuality with the help of her friend Missy seems a strong seem to follow, and I’m intrigued enough to see where the Jordan Wilson plot goes to keep investing. Plus there is Sunetra Sarker playing the sassiest dinnerlady ever created.

At just six episodes, the first series may be too short to do it justice. But if it gets a second one, an extended run could help the show find its legs.

Confession time – there has been little new for me to watch this week. No new series have taken my fancy and my week has fell into a humdrum pattern of viewing. The good news is that this week coming there are a couple of new things on the horizon. For now though, you will have to suffer me talking about something I’ve discussed before.

The Last Leg has built a loyal following over the last five years. It has moved beyond its original remit of just being a Paralympics companion show to becoming an incisive current affairs programme, gleefully mixing pop culture references with satire to cut through the news of the week.

By and large, it does an excellent job. Neither forced to be neutral like the BBC or owned by someone with an agenda like our newspapers, it can break down stories to make them understandable whilst offering social commentary. It is positive and uplifting and is capable of discussing both sides of the argument whilst still able to draw a line when one side is talking nonsense. They even have a special ‘bullshit’ button to know when that line is being crossed.

Of course, time restraints mean that they can never go into too much detail, but shows like this are only ever intended to be a jumping off point, especially ones like this that aim to give some light relief. Of course, it is seen by many as a home to ‘libtards’, although this seems harsh when you consider they have been as quick to criticise the shortcomings of Clinton and Corbyn as they have to May and Trump, it’s just the latter two have now got power and need to be more accountable for what they say and do.

My biggest critique is that actually, for all its talk of equality and diversity, it sometimes fails its own standards. The last three female guests on the show, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Sandi Toksvig and Sharon Horgan, have all been paired with male guests, with only Horgan’s understandable, as it was her writing partner Rob Delaney. Both Coren Mitchell and Toksvig could hold their own. There didn’t seem to be a need to book a female guess to counter balance Kevin Bridges, and, as Harry Hill pointed out when he appeared, it was ironic that the show broadcast on International Women’s Day had five men and no women.

Similar arguments could be made regarding race and LGBT figures (Stormzy the sole BME guest and Toksvig ticking the LGBT box for the series). Nobody wants this reduced to a box-ticking exercise but something as simple as allowing female guests to fly solo would be a start.

Am I being pedantic? Maybe. But it would be a shame for a show that covers equality and diversity so well in other areas to fall on something as basic as this. Otherwise it might be their hiring policy that is termed ‘bullshit’.

After what feels like an age, we are finally being treated to the second series of cop drama No Offence. This is easily one of my favourite things to watch at the moment, although it seems to be overshadowed all too easily in the eyes of the critics and viewers. The fuss given to mediocre reality shows like Let It Shine and lightweight dramas, such as The Halcyon, makes you wonder if those who seek to create genuine brilliance on TV are wasting their time.

Still, it is a delight to welcome back the irrepressible DI Viv Deering and her team. The show has neatly built on some of the loose threads of the first season, for example Dinah’s maternal interest in teen mum Cathy. We also have nods to the dramatic finale of the first season, where Deering’s husband died via cement spray and the secret she and Dinah must keep as a result.

The second series has enough fantastic plots of its own though. The long-running thread is of taking on Nigerian gang matriarch Nora Attah. What began as merely preventing gang warfare has now become a story of child sex trafficking. The twists have been fantastic and often introduced at a break-neck speed. Sometimes, this can make a show appear tacky, as if the next thing must top the last. Producer Paul Abbott has sensibly made it so that every twist seems real and natural though, every piece still fitting in the jigsaw that is being built.

It is also quite daring in its structure. Take episode two, where the gang warfare is at its peak. The first half is dedicated to scenes of rioting and high-stakes scenes, with people trapped in burning buildings and the pursuit of the henchman responsible for supplying the weapons. The second half focuses on the tidy-up. Any other cop drama would have made the riots the climax of the episode and brushed away the tidy up neatly. But the team behind this show now better – the riots aren’t the meat of the story, it is what they uncover that is.

Everybody is so good in the show, it is hard to single anyone out. Obviously Joanna Scanlan is fantastic as the tough, uncompromising yet loyal and caring Deering. Sarah Solemni is a clever addition as new Det. Superintendent Lickberg, a rule follower who begrudgingly admires Deering’s unorthodox methods. But my favourite is Paul Ritter as Professor Miller, a slightly pervy and unstable but incredibly astute pathologist. On average, he gets six lines an episode and slays them all.

If I had one moan, it would be that the leftover of the murdered husband plot is seemingly forgotten, despite being hinted at in week one as still factoring in on people, aside from the odd line. I wonder if in the last couple of episodes this is going to come back, or like Banquo’s ghost, just be something that haunts Deering and Dinah forever.

But this is a minor grumble. I love this show and want the world to see it and recognise it. So go on, give it a whirl. You will not regret it.

Anybody who has read some of my previous posts will know about my love for Jo Brand. She has a fantastic dry humour and strong streak of self-depreciation, without sinking into self-pity or cruelty. For all her frustration at the world, she is never hurtful and offers a glimmer of hope. Getting On and Going Forward were great examples of this. As nurse/carer Kim Wilder, Brand depicted someone weighed down by bureaucracy and other modern evils, but who still cared about those around her, be they patients or family.

There is a similar tone in her new sitcom Damned, set in a social services office. As with her previous work, where she drew on her time as a mental health nurse, she uses her insight into this world to create a real picture for the viewers, this time through her mum’s career. There is also the searing political streak of an industry cut to the bone financially.

As with her other work, there is a dark humour at play. Some of the funniest moments come in the opening establishing shots, where snapshots of phone calls from people are played, from the ridiculous query of how much alcohol is safe for a 12-year-old to drink, to the actually quite horrific of repeated abuse from a gang. It is slightly uncomfortable at times, but it needs to be. There’s no point making a comedy about social services if you paint with the stereotype of a bunch of earth mother’s or dragons with clipboards swooping on families. Instead, we are shown a system that is being stretched both my penny pinching and the fecklessness of the people that try to use it.

Another highlight of the show is the meetings. The most recent episode had a debate over whether it was safe to give a baby ice cream, which led to the bizarre exchange with the temp: ‘What flavour ice cream was it?’ she asks. When Alan Davies’ character (who is brilliant, by the way) asks, ‘Why does that matter?” she replies with, “Well, if it’s tutti frutti it might class as one of their five-a-day’ with a straight face that only people who are unaware of their own dimness can achieve.

And the glimmer of hope? The fact that some of the people the social workers interact with genuinely want the help and want to learn enough so they no longer need it. In the most recent episode, a couple with learning difficulties prove themselves to be good parents when they take it upon themselves to actually find out what they should feed their baby, with Alan Davies desperately trying to ensure that his more draconian superiors don’t swoop in and take the child away before they have the chance to learn. It’s a bit of warmth in a challenging environment.

This show won’t be for everyone. It is that little bit too real for those who like their comedies to be about happy families doing ridiculous things. But for those of us that can stomach the sharpness, it is fantastic. Brand’s golden touch continues, it seems.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there seems to be a bumper crop of comedies around at the moment. Amongst them is a long-standing favourite of mine, the glorious Friday Night Dinner. The set-up is surprisingly basic – a Jewish family get together every Friday night for dinner. The two adult sons are both old enough to live alone but also still have mum’s apron strings well attached. Dad is eccentric, although whether these have been always present or just developing through old age we are never sure. Nothing particularly extreme here.

But that is actually help, as such a basic premise allows the writer to hinge everything on a plot. No need to run ongoing narratives. Just a comfortable pattern of an opening situation slowly bubbling up into outright farce. There isn’t even a need for everything to be resolved, as we take it as given that the family will be back together next week, making another attempt to have a normal night.

Take the first episode of the new series, which was nearly perfect. Dad has invited a university friend over for dinner, only to discover he invited someone with a similar name who he hates. This man also happens to have irritating quirks, including blinking too slowly. The focus is on getting him out, which leads to the ridiculous lie of a grandma dying. As the episode progresses, more characters get sucked into the lie, including a barmy next door neighbour, until the grandma in question suddenly appears, causing the whole façade to come crashing down. The episode ends with the dad trying to insert a pineapple up his friend’s arse, for reasons you need to watch to fully understand.

What this show does well is balancing the need to for sight gags with ensuring the plot for the episode keeps momentum. Everything has its purpose, even a throwaway reference to a broken watch.

It also, for the most part, is brilliantly warm. Whilst the family may wind each other up, no one actually seeks to hurt anyone else, beyond some low-level humiliation. In fact, the only time there is a crack in the show is when other bystanders get roped in to situation. We accept Jim the neighbour, Grandma and Val could get caught up in things, but not anybody outside the circle. That is the only time uncomfortably funny becomes almost unbearable painful.

Nevertheless, it is still a pocket of joy. The fact that it is so unrewarded is a small outrage. Maybe its lack of a dark heart or the fact the humiliations are comparatively minor mean that the critics pass over it. Then again, a lot of programmes don’t get their due. Instead, their fans get to enjoy them, safe in the knowledge that, although it never shocks, it always entertains.

I have said it before and I will say it again – comedy is a broad church. If Boy Meets Girl is the epitome of cosy and low key, then at the other end of the spectrum is the brash, farcical Man Down. Such is the gap, I often wonder if I am the only person who watches both, or rather, watches one and records the other for a less hectic night.

When it comes to choosing which one to watch live, Man Down wins every time. It has a natural energy that draws you in. I also feel that, in some respects, it has matured over time, and has settled into a nice rhythm, without losing its anarchic edge.

Take the most recent episode. Dan’s soul-searching, Jo’s shop opening, the bipolar menace of Daedalus, all long running themes of the series, combined together nicely with one-off plots to build to a crescendo at the end. In this instance, Jo’s disastrous shop opening is rescued by Dan being snapped out of his selfishness by a talking to by Nesta, who just so happens to have lost her driving licence. One stolen police car later, combined with Brian’s infatuation with his local MP, leads to a relatively happy ending, with lovely side veers into Brian being tormented by a group of tweenage girls and a newspaper editor obsessed with Dan’s knee.

In many respects, this series feels like the strongest yet. Dan is actually showing sign of emotional maturity. This is a positive for me, as I was always slightly unsympathetic to his plights in the past. As shown in the example above, his friends are no longer purely there to get him out of situations; he is capable of saving them as well.

In fact, the whole ensemble cast seem to be at the height of their confidence in performing their roles. Along with Greg Davies’ Dan, Stephanie Cole is fantastic as professional battleaxe Nesta, and the casting of Tony Robinson as Daedalus is inspired.

As a result, I know feel invested in what happens. Does Dan go to America? Will he realise Miss Clarke has a crush on him? Will people finally realise what a nutjob Daedalus is? I genuinely want answers.

Yes, the comedy is daft and broad. This isn’t some sweet and ground breaking tale. It is essentially about some over-grown child, who should know better. But it’s funny. And that is all we need ask of it.