Archives for posts with tag: channel 4

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.

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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.

Last year, half the country started behaving as if the sky had fallen in. No, it wasn’t the Brexit result (the outrage of that is only just starting to bubble of out into general discourse now). Nor was it the realisation we had suddenly got Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. It was the news that The Great British Bake Off was leaving the BBC and moving to Channel 4. Not only that, but three quarters of the team that had come to represent the show were not moving with it.

The concerns were many. First of all, how would a channel that had satirised Russia’s hosting of the Winter Olympics with a song called ‘Gay Mountain’ and had created the dating show Naked Attraction handle the most genteel of TV contests? Worries deepened when the line-up was announced. Prue Leith was seen as acceptable, but no Mary Berry. Sandi Toksvig likewise was given a free pass. But Noel Fielding? Surrealist comedian with a glam rock/sci-fi fashion taste presenting GBBO? You could hear the howls of derision in space.

Rumours of problems on set abounded. Toksvig was refusing to interact with the contestants. Fielding wasn’t sampling the goods. Leith and Paul Hollywood, the sole member of the original cast, were not gelling. It spelt disaster.

But, like many of other viewers, I have given it a go. How could I not? And having seen it, I wonder if some of these rumours were people just being malevolent, trying to ensure the failure. True, Fielding is less greedy than Mel and Sue were. But how much he eats isn’t of interest to me. He interacts well enough with the contestants and the judges, and I feel his humour is slowly but surely finding its right footing in the tent.

Likewise, Toksvig is maybe less giddily emotional. But that has always been her style and her calmer tone isn’t as out of place as the detractors make it out to be. If anything, her placidity allows Fielding’s eccentricity more space to breathe and allows the contestants to be more of the stars. Mel and Sue were a great partnership, but it’s refreshing to see a new energy that isn’t vastly different, just slightly changed.

The only weak link is Prue. There are moments where it feels like her and Hollywood are bad cop/bad cop. There is no-one to mellow his damning criticism or smack down his rudeness. That isn’t to say she doesn’t know her stuff. But she lacks that twinkle that Berry had. The cheeky wink when a cake is spot on or the excitement at a healthy dose of booze in a biscuit. Hopefully she has been given some notes as the series goes on to mellow and revel in the eccentricities and be that bit less prim.

Overall, it is still a great show. The food is amazing, although the challenges feel exceptionally difficult this year. The contestants are developing just as they did before. The outrage was, frankly, unnecessary. If this was Arctic Roll 50 being triggered, then it seems Channel 4 having chosen to stay in the single cream market. A wise move, and one that is paying off.

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.