Archives for posts with tag: itv

Scandi-noir has a lot to answer for, not least the plethora of pale imitations that it generates. Ditto Broadchurch, with its perfect representation of how a horrific crime can disrupt a small town. Combining these two sources is The Loch. It has the macabre deaths of Scandinavia and its dramatic but gloomy scenery with the small community of people with secrets of Broadchurch. Tartan noir mixed with McBroadchurch if you will.

We have the murder of a piano teacher, and now a local teenage tearaway, both dispatched slightly horrifically. Everyone has a reason to look suspicious, including the paedophile doctor and the ex-con living under a new name. A top DCI from the big city (Siobhan Finneran) is shipped in, upsetting local cops and bringing along with her a ‘celebrity forensic psychologist’. Oh, and there’s a man tied to the bottom of the loch that nobody has spotted yet.

It is as barking mad as it sounds. There’s the man being kept in a drugged coma by his mother, locals looking shifty at each other and random wolves popping up all over the place. It is as if the writers were given free rein to do whatever they like, but when it came to filming the budget kicked in and tripping over into the truly surreal Twin Peaks style was put on hold.

Nevertheless, despite (or maybe because of) its ludicrousness it is actually quite enjoyable. With nobody remotely acting guilt free we have a whole village of suspects, although if it is the local sergeant’s husband I will scream in despair. Once you acclimatise to it, the oddness becomes intriguing rather than distracting.

Of course, for me the making and breaking of crime drama is in how it handles the procedural stuff. This is where The Loch falls sadly short. The detectives seem to just barrel along, doing what the hell they like. If this ever makes it to court, the defence will have a field day with procedural errors. The whole case will collapse in the space of an afternoon. It didn’t have to be this way: Broadchurch, Line of Duty and even Scott & Bailey are proof you can talk procedure and keep the drama.

But maybe that’s the point – procedural dramas are already being done so well, why copy? Hang the technicals, forget the rules, and don’t even consider the paperwork. The eccentricities will be a distraction from all this.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to hear a conversation about forms, or an interview of a suspect done with all the quiet suspense of the show’s rivals. It’s what a lot of us like. You don’t need to dial back the odd, just turn up the real.

American viewers would probably find several aspects of British TV strange, not least the fact that we often have to wait a long time for our shows to come back. In America, a series can end in May and be back September/October. Here, due to shorter season lengths, a show can run in January and February not be back until the same time next year, or even longer.

Take Broadchurch. Season one was out in March 2013. We then had to wait until January 2015 for number two, and the third only commenced in February of this year. Our friends over the pond wouldn’t tolerate this. But then, they have shows put together by teams, whilst many British ones are one-man band operations.

Furthermore, it is worth the wait. This series, the focus is on the rape of Trish Winterman. It is actually a good snapshot of the complexities of such a case. The perpetrator is known to the victim. The victim is traumatised and is only regaining her knowledge of what happened slowly. The shame she feels telling others, as if she was to blame. The muddying of the waters by her own recent sexual past – newly divorced and rediscovering single life. The incredulity of some of the officers on the case.

What creator Chris Chibnall does so well is slowly release drips of information and emotion. The tension isn’t created by fast-paced chases, but by the slow enveloping of the fog around people, for it to clear away at a similarly glacial pace. All this is punctuated by small explosions of emotion. Tempers are lost and then steadied. It is often the pushing down of emotion, as opposed to the unleashing of it, that drives the energy.

For example, the sub-plot of the aftermath of the events of the previous two seasons is handled beautifully. The parents of murdered Danny Latimer have gone down separate paths. Beth has rebuilt her life as a counsellor for sexual abuse victims, being the emotional pillar she so needed those years ago. Mark is on a path to destruction, angry at the lack of justice and wanting revenge. The scene where he is confronted by Beth is harrowing, not least the end where Beth walks away, denying she still dreams of their son. Her ‘no’ is almost choked, because of course she does, but she cannot carry on grieving.

In lesser hands, the ‘guess the rapist’ plot at the centre of this could be tacky. But it is the realness of it all, the fact that everyone is given convincing light and shade, that none of the men under suspicion are without darkness but also not pure monsters, that makes this show rise above it.

It goes without saying that the interplay between David Tennant and Olivia Coleman is as good as chemistry can get. Both playing out their own domestic dramas as they tackle the case. He, fearing his daughter’s every contact with a man, she, scared of her son following his father’s violent past. It’s telling how good this show is that, even with these two in it, plus the likes of Sarah Parish and Lenny Henry, star power never detracts from the strength of the stories.

This is to be the last series, which is sad. But also, it is the right thing to do. After a ropey second series, it is back on a high, and can bow it with its reputation of being a show that is both mainstream and challenging intact.

The coarser end of the humour spectrum is rarely my bag. I am not one for fart jokes, and innuendo really needs to be delivered pitch perfect to raise a smile. I often find that shows like South Park, that at their best offer the most biting satire on TV, let themselves down by filling a gap in the plot with toilet humour.

So it’s a surprise to everyone, including myself, that I make time for Benidorm. There are so many reasons why I wouldn’t watch it. There not one, but two, jokes, that revolved around a character farting and leaving a bad smell, another around urination, and another about that well-worn trope of kissing your mate’s grandma.

Yet somehow, I find something to laugh at. This week’s biggest laugh revolved around a character resorting to wearing a multi-coloured kaftan. Base, I know, but the sheer daftness of the entire show allows your guard to drop. Nobody tunes in expecting something deep anyway.

This series seems to have learnt from its previous dip in form. Last series saw many established characters missing – Madge Garvey and Liam the most missed – whilst those that were still around looked lost. The only saving grace was Johnny Vegas and Elsie Kelly reprising their mother and son double act of The Oracle and Noreen. No signs of them this series so far, but I’m hopeful.

Even if they are missing, there is enough to compensate. The Dawson’s, new and slightly underused additions last series, are being bolstered by the arrival of Loretta, the aforementioned lascivious nan. I’m expecting plenty of scenery chewing from her. Also, Liam is back, giving Kenneth, one the strongest characters, his sparring partner. Their odd couple dynamic – Kenneth all flamboyant and crude homosexuality with minimal morality but a fantastically sharp tongue, Liam slightly camp but straight with a rigid moral compass and work ethic but without the intellect to match – fizzes.

I’m still not sold on Joey, however. The dumb youngster character is overused in shows like this. Perhaps it’s just me and my paranoia that we are living in a society that celebrates stupidity, but I cannot find him funny at all. I would much prefer Tiger to be paired off with Robbie and allow those two characters to really develop, rather than have an odd friendship triangle.

As I said before, don’t watch this expecting clever, erudite humour. It knows its audience and plays to it. Something must be working anyway, it’s on its ninth series. Not many other comedies get to say that.

Sunday night TV is, broadly speaking, an unchallenging affair. The BBC have gone against that recently, with both Apple Tree Yard and now SS-GB in the ‘last thing you watch before you face the strain of being back at work’ slot. Even Call the Midwife isn’t as full of rose-tinted nostalgic whimsy as people expect.

ITV, on the other hand, has gone full ‘comfort TV’ for its Sunday night slot. The Good Karma Hospital taps into the current fascination with India sparked by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Presumably, there is some kind of pseudo-nostalgia at play, watching a culture where family and community are still key and spiritual enlightenment away from a smartphone is just around the corner.

In Good Karma, we have British doctor Ruby escaping her relationship woes by starting here career again in a slightly madcap hospital, led by imperious matriarch Lydia Fonseca. Medical mysteries get solved (nothing too taxing, mind, this isn’t House), families get happy endings and everyone, especially Ruby, learns some lovely life lessons. It is, overall, diabetes-inducing sweet.

The big problems lie in its lack of tension and its predictability. The former is neatly represented in episode two, when Dr Varma has to fetch some anti-venom from another clinic, only for a traffic accident to destroy most of it. But what’s this? One small packet of it survived? Oh thank god, the writers must have remembered at the last minute no-one can die in this TV slot without some deep emotional speech before hand.

As for the predictability, if Ruby and Dr Varma aren’t married by series 4 (if it gets that far), I’ll streak through my local town centre naked. Sure, one or the other will briefly be with someone hideously unsuitable, but the giant flashing signs of ‘they need to be together’ are flashing above this couple. No doubt they will teach other things and soften each other’s character flaws – her becoming less of a wet lettuce, him discovering you can smile more than once a month.

There is one bright spot, which is Amanda Redman as Dr Fonseca, who appears to have strong armed the crew into giving her the best lines, which she then delivers with a delicious relish. Shame that she is given little over to do then descend into a scene, issue a bon mots, and then waft back out again. Someone like her deserves a meaty back story. What I have seen so far suggests the writers will be too scared to give it.

Maybe ITV is only doing what it set out to do – provide a jolly, sunny antidote to BBC’s darker edge. But, as Death in Paradise proves, this doesn’t mean you have to be dull and obvious. If you are going to make a drama, give us drama. We are adults, we can cope with it. Even if we are facing work the next day.

The departure of Downton Abbey has left a hole in the schedules. It was an interesting proposition for a show – a period drama that was indented to soap operas whilst providing a, albeit shallow, social commentary. It was easy to watch but damn good as well, the odd duff note buried beneath the warmth of the whole.

ITV are trying to repeat this trick with The Halcyon, a WW2 set drama in a fictional London hotel. Like Downton, social history is played with slightly to stop the audience feeling uncomfortable. For example, Asian and black characters mix into the rest of the cast with barely a slither of racial tension. There’s also the key ingredients of ‘will they/won’t they’ romances, baddies getting their comeuppance and the idea that family isn’t defined by blood.

But is it as good as Downton? Well, no. There are some excellent touches. For example, the gay relationship between Toby and Adil, which at first looked like a desperate attempt to be another diversity box ticked, has been given some life by introducing a blackmail plot, reminding us how vulnerable the love that dare not speak its name was. The horrors of the Blitz are also well drawn, the fear palpable, the sense of loss devastating.

Where the show falls down is that the different bits don’t come together as a whole. So many of the plotlines are dependent on relationships (Betsy/Sonny, Emma/Freddie/Joe, Garland/Peggy etc.) that anyone wanting the broader sweeps of life will be disappointed. Characters cluster round each other and don’t interact much beyond their circle. The joy of Downton was watching a world change but in a controlled way. At The Halcyon, time is frozen in terms of class.

Also, it wouldn’t kill the show, in spite of its setting, to have a bit of humour. The odd waspish comment here and there isn’t enough. It’s isn’t like they haven’t got the talent. Mark Benton is a great comic actor stuck in a secondary role.

Finally, the biggest love story is, sadly, dull. Freddie and Emma are supposed to be star-crossed lovers. What we have instead is two insipid people who have been given ‘depth’ purely based on their love for each other that can never be announced. I can’t help but feel Emma comes alive more around suave and abrasive American journalist Joe. It almost makes you want Freddie’s plane to be shot down somewhere so she can get over him and move on.

With some fine tuning, this show could really work. There are so many of the base elements there that a bit of tinkering is all that is needed – higher stakes, better romances, greater variety of plots. None of this is beyond the scope of a talented team. If there is a second series, I hope some of the changes are made. It would be a shame for us to check out feeling we hadn’t had the best of stays.

Nostalgia is the theme de jour in TV at the moment. The BBC has had a season of remakes, lost episodes and prequels of its classic sitcoms, with varying degrees of success. Personally, I would have preferred to have seen them invest more in some of the pilots of new sitcoms they were showing on BBC2 – Motherland in particular has legs. Even the all-so-modern Netflix is in on the act, relaunching The Gilmore Girls. None of this is necessarily a problem, but surely the point of a platform like Netflix is to make daring programming that mainstream channels just can’t afford to take a risk on.

ITV’s nostalgia moment is in the return of Cold Feet. I have only hazy memories of the original series, but I was only 11-14 at the time and a lot of vodka has been drank since then. Still, I gave the new series a whirl. Or rather, my mother had it on so I sat down to watch as well.

Actually, it is rather good. The plot is, at times, a reheat of those from decades ago. Will this marriage crumble? Will those ex-partners get back together again? But what has been updated is the reasons. Jenny and Pete are on the brink not because of his fecklessness but his depression. This has been a very well-handled topic on the show. Pete has the dual pressure of a widening gulf between his and his friends’ lifestyles coupled with the ever-marching passage of time.

Meanwhile, Adam has married a woman several decades younger than him but his now caught in a conflict between supporting his emotionally lost son and glamourous wife. It’s clearly the two are ill-suited. It is also very obvious that Adam’s landlady is a much better match for him, down-to-earth and sparky. Of course, this won’t truly dawn on him for a few episodes yet and will no doubt present conflicts in the group of its own.

What hasn’t changed is the spark between the cast. Dramas like this sink or swim depending on whether the different strands come together to form a whole that is at least equal to, if not greater than, the sum of its parts.

Would have been great if ITV had found something similar but that was new? Absolutely, as TV can only survive off old hits remade for so long. But, for now, it is a pleasure to see that the show isn’t tarnishing its reputation. In fact, in allowing the clouds and sunlight to balance out perfectly, it might even enhance it.

And so, to my yearly blog on The X Factor. I feel as if I say the same things every year – the judging panel looking fresh, the format is really working this year, there is some great talent, yada yada yada. Yet, no return to the years where it could scoop up 12 million viewers without so much as breaking a sweat.

Of course, last year was a car crash. Olly Murs and Caroline Flack were single-handedly the worst presenting double act I have ever seen. Chemistry was at zero, and they could barely walk across a stage and speak at the same time. The judging panel also fell flat, the desperate grab for youth too cold. Having to work around the Rugby World Cup didn’t help either. There was a time when a major sporting event would play second fiddle to Cowell’s whims, but not no more it seems.

So obviously this year is going to feel like a return to glory compared to that. But I feel it genuinely is. I haven’t enjoyed watching the show so much in years. For a start, the show is yes less abrasive than it has been, with the bad and deluded kindly shepherded away rather than ridiculed. The judges have a spark between them and seem a perfect balance, with a ‘gang up on Simon’ mentality. The return of Dermot O’ Leary is also a big boost. He is Mr X Factor. Cowell can come and go, but Dermot stays.

The room auditions help. There is no baying mob to face and that gives contestants the freedom to be more experimental, picking lesser known songs or being more creative with big hits. There is some real talent shining through, both in returning contestants like Emily Middlemiss and Janet Grogan, and new finds like Matt Terry and boyband 5am. Of course, there is still the cruel but unmissable six seat challenge, which is always a brutal watch, it feels as if The X Factor is dropping its brutal image for more a family-friendly one.

Whilst it will never be all conquering again, it feels as if the show is finding a nice groove. No longer chasing ‘cool’, it is beating its own path and, as it happens, feeling a lot more fresh. It has remembered how to be fun and entertain. When it is on this kind of form, we could watch it for years to come and not be bored.