Archives for posts with tag: Jack Whitehall

I never had a gap year. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me and seemed an expensive way to get drunk and have stories to tell. I certainly didn’t fancy going to places like Thailand I don’t deny there is beautiful scenery and a fascinating culture, but I like the familiar and my creature comforts.

Jack Whitehall, however, rues his missing gap year. So now he is having one, or at least a gap six weeks or so. And he is taking his elderly father with him, insisting that it will tick off things on his bucket list that don’t even exist. Hence the show Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father.

The result is an incredibly funny programme about travel, families and the age gap. It is the last one of these that is played on most. Michael Whitehall wants his holidays to be about luxury and history. In episode one he took one look at the hostel that had been planned for him and bolted to the more refined hotel down the road, where he refused to eat the local food and demanded a lamb chop. Jack wants the backpacker experience and to take part in beach parties and free running.

It is their prickly but loving relationship that drives the show. Episode two sees Michael writing his autobiography. When Jack queries what exactly he is writing about, Michael reveals ‘well this chapter is about Hitler’ as if it is the most normal thing in the world, prompting Jack to query if his father was in the Hitler Youth. It is the silly meeting the deadpan that produces the biggest laughs, along with Michael’s lack of self-censure, at one point thinking that a man who was serving them had introduced himself as Stuart when he had actually said he was their steward. In another scene, he openly compared a temple priestess to Mollie Sugden.

I think the biggest reason I love this show is that there is a lot of me and my dad in this. There is a similar age gap and political misalignment. My father is as equally befuddled by technology and resistant to the modern world and makes politically incorrect statements and then has no understanding of the uproar he causes. My revenge for this public embarrassment is too be mildly insulting about his ways. The only difference is that my father wouldn’t even countenance leaving the country.

At just six episodes, it almost feels too short. I hope there is a second season, as there are still many cultures for Michael to mildly offend and bizarre situations to throw the pair of them into. It is after all Travels. It would be a shame to curtail their wanderlust, and our entertainment, so soon.

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Adapting a novel for the screen, big or small, must be one of the most challenging projects on TV. It’s all very well having the plot nicely written for you, but this becomes a hindrance. Do you stick to it rigidly, digressions and all? Do you focus on just the main strands but axe some minor characters, who could actually be the most interesting of them all? Do change the ending to suit your ‘vision’?

However you answer these, you are bound to ruffle feathers. Be too close to the book and you risk making something pointless – after all, people may as well just read the story and get the full flavour unless you do something original. Lose a minor character and you remove potentially some of the best moments or give them to someone entirely unsuited. Change the ending or a major plot point and people will howl at the moon if you even put the slightest foot wrong with the change.

When it’s a book you love, you feel very protective of what is created. You have your vision and woe betide anyone who doesn’t go along with it. So I was nervous about the recent adaptation of Decline and Fall, a book I read as a precocious teenager. Or, at least I was nervous, until I realised I couldn’t remember most of it. I definitely recollect enjoying it and finding it funny though.

I suppose then, that this adaptation’s one and only test was to be funny. It stood a good chance with Jack Whitehall in the lead role of Paul Pennyfeather. Yet I was surprised by how lifeless he seemed to make the character. Of course, that is partially due to the nature of the story – the pitfalls that occur are caused by others’ actions on to him rather than his own agency. Even so, book Paul always seemed more robust than TV Paul. This could be partially due to a reader having more access to an inner monologue and the narration, where the satire is probably sharper. It could also be a faulty memory of mine.

Nevertheless, quietly politely rarely carries a story well, so it falls onto the supporting cast to give the story its life. They do this admirably, in particular Vincent Franklin as agnostic minister Prendergast and Douglas Hodge as Grimes, a man who is nearly always ‘in the soup’.

There are hints at the satire that Waugh was aiming for in his novel. The Bollinger Club and the government officials who manipulate their way to the top and stay there, largely by passing blame on to those underneath. The ‘trendy’ approach to maintaining discipline in prison. An education system that focuses on please parents over teaching children. All as true now as then. I can’t help feeling it couldn’t have been more savage though. This was satire with gloves on. What it needed was for a brick to be hidden in it.

Fresh Meat is reaching its close as the students approach their final exams. It’s been a heady three years for them (longer for us viewers due to the gaps between filming), but adulthood awaits. This last season already seems to be ramping up the ‘tragi’ elements to the show, with past errors taking root and a horrible dawning on the whole group of the compromises they are going to have to make.

The most recent episode drew these most sharply, for three characters in particular. Firstly Kingsley, the character most likely to perform acts of pretentious berkery (is that a word? I’ve decided it’s a word), spelled out his dreams of being big in the music industry, only to be reminded that his degree didn’t remotely qualify him for it. His last three years had, in many respects, been a waste. He can’t even write it off as a mistake and must instead accept it has a gigantic error of judgement, one that is costing him £9,000 a year.

Then there is JP, whose ludicrous dreams of success in any old job he fancies doing are getting shot down. Instead, he faces a future in a dull, soul-sapping job that eliminates any joy from life. Still, at least it’s well paid. On a side note, when the career advisor said that the average graduate salary is £22,000 a year, both mine and JP’s jaw dropped. JP as that will come nowhere near close to funding his borderline aristocrat lifestyle, me because I have come nowhere near to earning that amount, even 8 years on from graduating. If JP s feeling like a failure for achieving that, God knows what I’m expected to feel.

Lastly, Vod, who is having the roughest time of all. All of her previous mistakes are haunting. Her lost scholarship means she is mired in debt, her failure to take her degree seriously means her dissertation really is all or nothing and she is still got too much of a streak of self-destruction to really rectify any of her problems or prevent herself from causing new ones. If JP and Kingsley are facing disappointment, Vod is on the brink of disaster.

Like a lot of good comedies, Fresh Meat raises some serious questions about our society. Firstly, do we really need 50% of kids to become graduates? Most jobs I’ve had could have been done by anyone who was willing to learn from scratch. The rise of apprentices came too late for my generation, and the ones who did them are mostly doing much better than me.

Secondly, when you bare the haphazard job prospects and questionable quality of some of the courses to prepare you for the real world in mind, is university worth £9,000 a year. I was lucky, I got in on the last year it was just a £1,000. I pity the poor sods who are coming out with £30,000+ of debt to be told by large swathes of society that all they have got from it is a piece of paper.

I hope deep down that at least some of the cast have a happy ending. Not because they necessarily deserve it, but because seeing six people thoroughly miserable at the end would be such a huge downer that it would make the previous high jinks look incongruous. Sadly though, giving even one of them a happy end could just be the most unbelievable thing of all. Now that is a depressing thought.

When should TV programmes be stopped? When they stop being good? Okay, fair point, but what about shows like 30 Rock or Arrested Development, that even post their high points still outclass their rivals. When ratings are poor? But then most of the best shows of the past decade wouldn’t make it past a handful of episodes. Mad Men and the like would barely have seen the light of day. At their zenith, when it seems it just can’t get better? On the surface that seems artistically the wisest option – but who decides when this is? The producers? The writers? The *gulp* critics?

Perhaps the only fair point to stop a show is when the stories have been told. The characters have got from A to B and, even if not every end is tied up or there is an unhappy ending for a select few, the audience is broadly happy with the destination. Which leaves us to question, why a third series of Fresh Meat? I mean, I love it, but the first two series told the story and it felt as if everything was complete. The group was dispersing. Second year beckoned and you felt as if everyone wanted to move on. We had reached the destination.

Instead, we have a third series that feels like a step backwards. Take JP for instance. Jack Whitehall plays him perfectly, although his critics would perhaps argue the level of acting he needs to do to play a posh berk is minimal. During the previous two series his front as the misogynistic, sex-starved, selfish, arrogant toff got stripped away to reveal an emotional vulnerability that if the character had been played by a less divisive actor would have been in the running for a BAFTA. Yet at the start of series 3 he was back to square one, bullying Howard, chasing women and generally being a pain in the arse.

The problem is, as anyone who goes to university knows, is you go back to your second year that little more cynical, that fraction more hard-nosed, with extra bit of common sense and street smarts. Yet none of the characters have, bar say Oregon, who seems to have completely flipped the other way in terms of character. She even seems unexcited by drugs now (speaking of which this is a second bug bear I had with the episode – since when was it funny to bully a first year into doing drugs? For that matter why did hard drugs have to feature at all? It isn’t The Wire).

Above all else, the question that bugged me is – what is the destination? What is point B? Is it Kingsley and Josie to be together forever? If so, do we need a whole series to get there? A one-off special would have suited this perfectly. And if that is the end point, what are the other characters supposed to do? Actors like Zawe Ashton and Greg McHugh need to be given more than just drifting in and out of misadventures whilst a love-struck couple moon at each other.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Maybe the next episode will demonstrate more clearly that there are more stories for the characters to tell. I do hope so, I would hate to see such a good programme be sullied because people didn’t know when to stop.