Archives for posts with tag: television

It is that time again where I air my thoughts on the results of Eurovision Song Contest. It was a year of contrasting musical styles, with the traditional ballads, dancefloor bangers and ethno-pop meeting pop opera and BDSM techno-punk. Oh, and Madonna turned up.

In fact, let’s start with her. You would think after being in the industry for nearly 40 years she would know how to make chat with TV hosts, but no. Her stilted conversation with the poor presenter was the most awkward moment of the night. Until that is we got to her actual performance. Barely a note was in tune and was actually mind-numbingly dull. A waste of 10 minutes that could have been given to hurrying the vote along so we could have gone to bed before midnight.

Honestly, most of the half-time entertainment was sub-par. Thank god for Verka, who should be a feature every year. At least give him a five-minute cabaret slot at some point.

The songs themselves were all very middle of the road in terms of quality. Bar a weirdly cold Slovenia and an overly saccharine Germany (and the bizarre world of San Marino) there were very few clangers, but also very little genuine quality. Norway was a personal favourite of mine, for actually bringing a bit of a tune and some energy. Azerbaijan was another high point and I have to reluctantly give some credit to Russia.

The biggest talking point was, of course, Iceland. The song itself was deliciously OTT, as was the staging. How they got away with something bordering on BDSM porn is beyond me (we were one ball gag away from an 18 rating), but I’m glad they did. Quite what Europe’s take on their Palestine protest during the voting will be is another matter. It’s interesting Madonna got away with her political statement with the crowd but not them.

The Netherlands were victors. It wasn’t a surprise though. Although not a personal favourite of mine, it obviously had a quality to it that would chime with juries and public alike. It is yet more proof that sincerity, regardless of genre of song, is the biggest vote winner. If you can sell the story of your song to the audience, you are going to be in the running to win.

Which brings me to the UK. Whilst the song was poor and the staging no better, last felt harsh when you consider some of the other songs out there. But it did lack anything to make it sound special. It takes more than a good voice. There will always be a debate as to if internal selection or public is the way forward, but there needs to be quality to begin with.

Still, there’s always next year. Amsterdam here we come!

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Sometimes it’s good to be proven wrong. The new relationship your friend starts that you think won’t last but then results in their eternal happiness. The idea at work you are convinced will fail but actually makes turning up that bit easier. Or, on a smaller level, where you feel a TV show has lost its way only to surprise you by a return to form.

Taskmaster did just this. After what I felt was a ropey series 5, series 6 then became one of my favourites, with series 7 nearly matching that. The fear of downward spiral ended as I was able to put the stumble in quality down to a blip.

I still had worries for series 8 though. The line-up unnerved me. Only one of the cast was a stand-up comedian, although two others admittedly were, just not known for it. The other two are comedy actors, who I feel struggle on environments like this, as there is a certain element of ad-libbing that doesn’t work for those who depend on a script.

If the first episode is anything to go by, I shouldn’t have worried. Sian Gibson, one of the actors, is actually very good at handling the spontaneous nature of the show, perhaps because Car Share, the show that made her a star, was largely unscripted. Joe Thomas, the other actor, struggles more, and looks hopelessly out of his depth. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, as it makes him a convenient receptacle for his fellow panellists’ barbs.

The others (Paul Sinha, Lou Sanders and Iain Stirling) are also on good form. In the case of Stirling this is already bordering on excellent. Sinha is another potential walking punchline as he seems to be the contestant most likely to repeatedly make a pig’s ear of things.

The tasks remain as inventive as ever as well. The first episode saw everything from sexy ventriloquist dolls to competing powerful smells. For a show that depends so much on original and eccentric ideas, it is surprisingly still thriving.

Greg Davies and Alex Horne remain brilliant of course. It is impossible for them not to be. Having said that, an episode of Taskmaster where they are the funniest thing is a poor episode, as the driver should always be the contestants. Good news – they are not.

This show is one of my hours of unadulterated joy. If it can maintain this form I never want it to end. I was as wrong as wrong could be last time. And it has never made me more happy to be so.

This week I am in the same position as last week. Nothing new has come along to tickle my fancy and I am left with my habitual viewing. Thankfully, over the next few weeks there is a handful of new shows to keep me going. Years & Years looks promising and if the last few series are to go by Taskmaster has rediscovered its zeal. We UK viewers may even finally get series two of Killing Eve.

Until then though I am forced to be a creature of habit, one of which is First Dates. This is another show that has lost its innovative edge and instead felt very mainstream. This is not necessarily a bad thing so long as the viewer is still entertained. Having said that, it must also be wary of jumping the shark.

For the most part I still enjoy the show, even if I do find it slightly formulaic now. Cheesy pun introducing the couple related to their jobs, opening thoughts on why they are single, one of them gets to chat to Merlin the bartender, awkward introduction, meal, deeper revelations/sob story over mains, maybe a faux pas and/or something exceptionally sweet happens, decision of whether to see each other again.

Increasingly, it is the ones that go wrong that are worth the watch. I still remember my breath being taken away a few series ago when one half told the other they didn’t find the other attractive before even the mains had turned up, leading the dejected party to walk out whilst the other happily ate their steak and then managed to be rude to Fred (the ultimate cardinal sin).

Nothing quite so spectacular has happened this series, although there was the almost unbelievable stupidity of the guy who felt the way to secure a second date was to tell his prospective other half stories of all the times he got drunk with the lads and when she questioned whether he was boyfriend material responded with the now immortal line ‘geezers gotta geez’.

Some of the sob stories, sorry – background setting, are dull. Yes, where genuine tragedies have separated loved ones that is awful, but it feels increasingly like these are becoming the focus, rather than date itself. Some are still genuinely touching though, and all the better if there can be some positive framing.

My other frustration is the banter between the staff. Whilst it is used as a contrast to the dates and probably works for some people, for me it is a distraction from the stories we want to hear. Narratives are picked up and lost that makes them pointless – whatever happened to Sam and CeCe’s unspoken love?

But overall this is still a good way to pass the time. It needs more eccentrics (I love an older couple where both have reached the point in their lives where they are just themselves) and I have noticed a decline in LGBT couples recently. But these are minor points. It does the job, for now.

I must confess to being a bit stuck what to write this week. There’s nothing new I have started watching and, therefore, nothing new I want to say. It has been a real struggle finding something. Yes, there are new shows popping up all the time, but time is limited and as much as I love TV, I want a life outside of it as well.

Then it hit me. Something that has been gnawing at my brain for a while now. A change in my feelings towards a show. And now is the time to express it.

So here is my declaration: I’ve fallen out of love with Gogglebox. I can’t put my finger on when, but I watch it now out of habit rather than love.

What I do know is why. The biggest reason is that it has lost its naivety and charm. Take some of the intros. Whenever someone pulls out of a bag that they claim they have bought that week to try, I have started wondering if they really have, or if a producer has given it to them. I hate being a cynic, but I feel the participants have become performing seals rather than being one of us. I remember one former fan describing the cast as a group of people desperate to fight their way to the buffet at the National Television Awards, and it seems a very apt description.

The problem is when you have breakout stars. Scarlett Moffet transcended from bit part cast member to a star in her own right. And now so many of them want to repeat the arc. But you can’t review TV as an ordinary punter if you go behind the curtain. Yet the best ones often do. Steph & Dom are missed more than anyone else, bar Leon, who sadly passed away.

I also find myself increasingly infuriated at some of the puerile and ignorant comments. Take the news story on the Extinction Rebellion protest. There was universal mocking across the cast about the actions of the protesters and snide comments. Not one person recognised the issue that the protesters were actually trying to raise.

There are still some bright spots. Pete and Sophie are current favourites, and the Siddiqui and Malone families remain good value. Occasionally the show can still surprise, and any politician worth their salt should watch some of the conversations around Brexit: general tone being they don’t care if it happens or not, just stop talking about it.

It was a fun show while it lasted and had moments of pure genius. But now I feel it should be put out to pasture as it were. Let some new formats come through. Channel 4 is meant to be home of the bold and different, and Gogglebox just isn’t that any more.

One of the biggest frustrations with British TV is that because it doesn’t work on a seasonal basis, the next series of episodes can come out whenever. You can easily find yourself waiting a couple of years for the next batch of episodes, regardless of the intensity of the cliffhanger.

The flip side to this is that it means what is made is done so with patience and love. It allows the writer to only send the show out when it is ready and become a gem polished as close to perfection it can be. It also creates a feeling of event TV, which is becoming increasingly rare in this era of streaming.

Line of Duty has become such an event. We are now two years on from the conclusion of the last series, yet people still flock to it. And it’s no surprise that they do. No other drama on TV can compete with twists and turns, throwing the viewer off guard. It has almost become a game working out what is being told to you straight and what is subterfuge (clue: almost everything at the moment).

One of the central mysteries is the identity of H, the kingpin of bent coppers that are aiding OCGs with their crimes. All the fingers are pointing at Hastings, our previously undoubtable Superintendent. But it is never that simple in the world of AC-12, unless this time it is. What bigger twist than to make its biggest reveal actually the most straightforward and use the paranoia of our own minds to doubt it?

My one gripe with this series is that so much focus is being placed on the UCO and the OCG and very little on bent coppers is that we are missing the beautiful interview scenes. The slow setting of the traps and the surprise table turns are missing or downplayed. Most importantly, where is all the paperwork? I mean, seriously, everyone knows we watch it for the acronyms and the evidence files and not for the explosions or gunfights!

That aside, it is still one of the best shows out there. It is fascinating watching the relationship between our central trio become tested as they begin to doubt each other. Also, it is refreshing to see Vicky McClure, previously the department skivvy, rise up through the ranks and become the de facto second-in-command.

There were initially rumours that the show would wrap up at the sixth series, but now it is potentially heading for a seventh. I hope it doesn’t become over milked. If the storylines fit six series, make it six. If it does work for a seventh, go ahead, but don’t ruin what has gone before. Event TV stops being so when the quality dips. That will be the case no matter what paperwork is done.

Consumer shows are not a favourite of mine. I put this down to two reasons. The first is that I have spent a lot of my working life in customer service roles, and have been on the receiving end of more than one unjustifiable rage. Yelling at the person behind the till should not be an option any sane human contemplates. The second is that they are often dry affairs, where any attempt at humour is so false, forced and overdone that it becomes decidedly unfunny.

Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back is the very antithesis of this. It is a consumer show presented by the aforementioned stand up Joe Lycett, where he rights consumer wrongs through pranks and comedic exposes. For example, he pursues the failure of EasyJet to give compensation to customers by creating an alternative ad campaign and putting it up around Luton airport.

One of the things I like about this show is that it recognises the importance of brand reputation to success. So what better way to move a company into taking action then to highlight the damage the company is doing to themselves in being shoddy.

It does so in a very modern way at times as well. For example, when going after a bank that was failing to refund a customer that was a victim of fraud, Lycett impersonated the CEO on Twitter to show how easy it is to fall for some ruses. This is before descending on their headquarters and doing a song and dance routine in reception.

The humour feels natural. As anyone who watches Lycett’s stand up knows, he is an excellent complainer and is wickedly inventive in how he goes about doing it. His tongue-in-cheek asides as he presents the segments of the show are genuinely funny and he does seem to get results. He also achieves that rare feat of being a stand up who can read an autocue, a surprisingly rare talent.

It is also worth mentioning his sidekick, Mark Silcox, a fantastically dry yet witty person. He is an example of someone who has very few things to say but each one is a gem. I can see him being the breakout star of the series.

All of this would mean nothing of course if everyone is just having fun but not getting results. Yet they do. For all the daftness there is a sense of the wrongs being righted. This show is fun and the perfect tonic to the staid world of consumer shows. I hope it continues for quite some time.

How to make a comedy that somehow appeals to both a niche crowd and the mainstream? How do you mock and pastiche a community without offending the members of that community? Any sane comedy writer would avoid even attempting to answer these questions, particularly the second. In an era of internet outrage, only the most gentle and inoffensive escape unharmed.

Yet Dead Pixels tackles exactly these two issues. The sitcom revolves around a group of gamers who are obsessed with the game Kingdom Scrolls to the extent where the outside world may as well not exist. Dates are cancelled in order to defend a castle. Parenting duties neglected so that the grind can be completed. Potential relationships ruined because the other person is too much of a game ‘noob’.

Making a sitcom about the gaming industry is a risky business. The people who devote their time to it are defensive about the sacrifices they make to achieve success in this world. But luckily the show never strays into outright mocking. It merely shows that for game aficionados, the real world is actually the one they play.

There are some interesting points raised as well. For example, the second episode revolves around the news that Vince Vaughan has been cast to play the lead in a movie adaption of the game. This is the cue for much outrage from the gang. And actually, anybody who has seen a book they have loved adapted for the screen, big or small, will sympathise. I can remember not so long ago having a moan on this blog about the casting of Count Fosco in The Woman In White, writing him as a charming slim line rake, whereas he was written as an obese man.

What it highlights though is the right way to express outrage. A simple online protest or a few terse emails to the movie company, yes. Joining an alt-right gang and sending outright violent abuse to the actor themselves, no. Because as much as the online and real world are in some people’s heads separate, they actually aren’t. It’s a surprisingly serious point in a sitcom that is far from serious.

Of course, amongst all this, we come to the eternal question: does it make you laugh? Well, yes. Even for me as someone who is not a gamer, it is actually funny but rarely cruel to the characters. I mean, I’ve not roared with laughter, but I’ve had a giggle at more than a few bits.

But how are the gamers taking it? Well, I’ve not seen Twitter alight with anger at the show, so I’m assuming well. It seems that the risk has paid off. A mainstream sitcom has managed to have its own niche. More importantly, a community has been ribbed but not hurt. A success all round.