Archives for posts with tag: TV

Normally I try to avoid repeating a blog within 12 months, purely to prevent boredom for both myself and you, the reader. However I am making an exception this week as I return to The X Factor. Previously I had discussed at the audition stage, where judges, acts and presenters were all trying to find their feet. Now we are into the meat of the programme, the live shows, so it is ripe for a return view.

To be honest the live shows have been a frustrating experience, as all the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s format have burst through for us all to see. Problems that have been germinating since August have hampered the progress the show has made, leaving the viewer restless.

Let’s start with what has worked. Firstly, I think on a talent level, the show has never been stronger. All of the finalists either had distinctive performance styles or amazing voices, and some had both. Louisa Johnson and Lauren Murray any other year would have wrapped up this competition long ago, but not only must they face each other, they must also defeat the challenges of Che Chesterman and 4th Impact. It has been a ferocious line-up from the start and is only getting tougher.

The judges also seem to have settled well. Even Rita Ora, who irritated me beyond compare during the auditions, have proven themselves to be likeable and solid mentors. Cheryl, having taken a bit of a backseat last year, has blossomed and is now back to full strength. You really believe that she is enjoying working with acts again and is having the time of her life.

Now to the problems. The first is the lack of live shows, which has increased the double eliminations and has led to many acts going before their time. Alien Uncovered deserved at least another couple of weeks to bed in. Sean Miley Moore’s exit was a travesty. Both of these acts had great visual appeal and were a bit different, which under now normal circumstances would shine through. The rapid culling of acts has led to some odd decisions by the public. Reggie ‘n’ Bollie, the closest thing to a novelty act this year, have survived because they haven’t become irritating yet, which makes them worrying contenders for the final. The whole thing feels a bit rushed.

However, the biggest issue is, as I predicted, the presenters. Olly Murs and Caroline Flack just cannot hold a live show together. They talk other each other, look uncomfortable next to each other and seem to have little clue as to what is going on. And that is before we even discuss Murs’s disaster last week, announcing which act was leaving too early. The show just doesn’t work with two presents. I find watching then talk to the acts backstage excruciating. Asking the how they feel just before they go on stage is the most redundant question in the world – of course the answer is going to be they are nervous! In fact, their whole interaction with the acts is awkward. It is very tiresome and I don’t they will return next year, unless one or both of them have some dirt on Cowell.

These complications are a real frustration, especially as the show still has the capability to be so good. Time is running out though, and the feeling is that even with the obvious problems fixed, the show will still remain on life support. Maybe we have all just moved on, and perhaps Simon Cowell should to.


Another year, another series of The Apprentice. I sometimes wonder if Lord Sugar genuinely gives a damn about investing in another business, or whether he just wants the screen time to help promote his latest book. Perhaps he just wants an excuse to yell at young people for a few weeks, or his wife wants him out the house so she can watch Loose Women in peace.

Regardless, he is back, as are all the shows key ingredients. Loud, bumptious business wonderkids? Check. Tasks that bear only the slightest resemblance to the real world of business? Check. Two ‘aides’, who glower on the side lines at every utterance out of the candidates mouths? Double check. Yes, like GBBO or Strictly, reliability is key to The Apprentice’s success.

This year appears to be a vintage year. There are enough decent candidates to make it look like at least some effort is being put in to match the premise of the show. David, Charlaine, Scott and even Richard have all had moments where you have been mildly impressed by them. True, they have also had some horrors, but it is rare for any candidate to be unblemished by the process.

There are also some nice rivalries stoking up. Richard and Joseph are currently doing a very testosterone fuelled dance around each other, with the former pointing out to the latter that he took himself off to France despite being unable to speak French, with Joseph retorting that Richard’s attempt to get a deal on cheese by playing the bumbling Englishman resulted in the price going up.

The real juicy one though is between Charlaine and Selina. The former has shown some good business sense – she was the only one of the girls to fully understand the cactus task and is half-decent at selling – while the latter appears to have attended the Katie Hopkins School of Charm, spending most of the tasks sulking. Rumour has it that this battle is going to turn particularly nasty, which will either make for compulsive or uncomfortable viewing.

One of the accidental delights of the show is the increasingly tenuous links between the location the candidates are summoned to and the task in hand. This week, Samuel Johnson’s house. A repeat of last year’s coach trip task? No. Invent a language based app? Of course not. Launch a spoof Twitter account of a historical figure? Too obvious. No, turns out Johnson had a cat, so the task was to sell pet products.

Sadly, this week spelt the end of my favourite. Ruth was one of the most eccentric figures in the programme’s history, with her jazzy suits, sparky catchphrases and relentless energy. She loves life and business not for money, but for the sheer buzz. She certainly knew how to flirt her way into selling people seafood salad. Sadly, luxury cat towers were a bit too much of a stretch. Yet she was such a beacon of joy I can’t help feeling the process will lack a bit of light now she is gone. Still, at least we have one hell of a cat fight to look forward to.

Some shows attract such levels of fandom that making any comment about them, be it praise or criticism, draws ire from those who disagree with you. As someone who avoids discussion boards and the like (I literally upload my post and then go) I generally don’t get caught in the crossfire. Having said that, my geekiness towards most programmes is actually very low-key: I enjoy a lot of shows, but get whipped up into a frenzy about very few. In fact, Great British Bake Off is probably the only one that falls into this category.

Doctor Who is one that tends to excite a number of my friends. They pick over episodes, rabidly discuss theories, and speculate over the next casting change. Personally, I enjoy the show, but tend to find myself unmotivated to pursue my interest in it any further. There are some thoughts I have been having about the new series, which I feel in the absence of anything else grabbing my attention, I should share.

Firstly, the structure of the series. This time around two-part stories dominate. I inwardly groaned when this was first revealed, as I find many of them in the past to have been slow and clunky with disappointing pay-offs. However, this time around there seems to have been a general tightening. The first two-parter in particular was a joy, a clever tale of who the Doctor is. I must admit his outwitting of Davros felt slightly derivative – how many times can you play the ‘I knew what you were doing all along card’- but other than that it was near-perfect.

A great deal of this lies in the character of Missy, who is probably one of my favourite characters to be created for any show ever. Michelle Gomez plays sociopath’s disturbingly well, and the lines zing out of her mouth. It has got to the stage now where I long for a spin-off just of her, causing chaos around the galaxies. I’m not sure if this idea has legs or not, but it would be damn fun to try!

I also am warming to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. The dryness of his humour is fitting the rest of the character quite well now, and it’s a pleasant change to have his social awkwardness to actually border on being slightly insensitive rather than it being just a zany affectation. I do feel as if he is a Time Lord carrying the weight of the universe on his shoulders near permanently though, one that is that little wearier of everything. Whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a shock to the system after the hyperactive puppy energy of Tennant and Smith. It will make it harder for Capaldi to play lighter episodes as well.

Finally, Clara. Bless her, no matter what they try I just can’t take to her. I actually think this is no fault of Jenna Coleman, or the writers, or Stephen Moffat. It’s like those relationships where you can see that the other person is wonderful, and they could be good for you, but your heart isn’t in it. Still, at least she isn’t mooning after her late boyfriend constantly. And her interactions with Missy were a joy. If Clara does survive, maybe put her in the spin-off as well. Missy could do with someone to be her moral compass, just to level out things a little bit. Because they will do a Missy spin-off, won’t they? Please?

Reality TV is, to me, a very broad term that encompasses a lot of different types of show with very different audiences. Even within each sub-genre there are massive contrasts – for example the brash and loud The X Factor lives in the same branch of programmes as the genteel Great British Bake Off, although heaven forbid a fan of the latter should find themselves tied to the former.

The biggest boom in this genre is the observational documentaries. Channel 4 has cornered the market in this with great success. 24 Hours In Police Custody, One Born Every Minute etc., etc., etc. One of my favourites in this genre is the Educating… series. The Yorkshire series was a particular delight, and created accidental heroes and starts out of its participants.

Currently the spotlight is on Cardiff and Willows High School. The opening shots make it look like the entire school is feral, as kids swarm over dinner tables and kick pigeons. Lord of the Flies with tarmac and plastic chairs is the best way to describe it. Yet this is quickly exposed as an unfair picture, as 99% of the time the school appears to be run efficiently with disciplined staff who are able to reign in even the most destructive of teenagers.

Each episode follows roughly the same construction: two kids of the same age but with different problems are followed, as is the teacher who has to manage both of them. In episode 1 these were Leah and Jessica, two Year 11’s on the cusp of adulthood. Leah had a problem with attendance and behaviour. Jessica was the perfect student but had low self-esteem and was baffled by the social aspects of school. Mr. Hennessy, who comes from the old-school of work hard and reap rewards later, was tasked with solving their problems.

There were some heart-breaking moments. After weeks of trying to get through to Leah, Mr. Hennessy received a text from her in which she confessed to all her problems. She didn’t see the point of coming to school because nothing would change where she felt she was heading, which was down. Hennessy’s stony exterior broke as he faced a tough choice: give up on her and let go down the path she was heading, or sacrifice even more of his time and try to rescue her. Meanwhile, Jessica was put in charge of the school newspaper, but internally was flailing as she struggled to handle interacting with other students. As someone who has social phobias myself, I felt for her and wished for the breakthrough she needed.

Balancing this high drama were moments of sheer joy. Both students achieved what they needed to, and the time put in by the staff was rewarded. Leah found that by putting a bit of work in, she could give herself options. Jessica, meanwhile, became confident and happier.

At the centre of this though is a question: to what extent does these programmes reveal the success or failure of a government’s approach to education? Certainly, the successes seem to stem from teachers who are innovative, passionate and dedicated. At no point is the government referenced in what support, if any, they give schools. Is it therefore a clarion call for the government to be more appreciative of the work teachers do, and not make them bend to the whim of the minister who is in charge at the time? Or is it praising the growing independence that the government is introducing in the education sector? Perhaps in order to answer these questions, the show needs to tell the teachers’ stories as well as the students. Or perhaps it’s not meant to answer these questions.

Panel shows seem to sprout up like weeds at times. There must be whole meetings, perhaps weeks of them, dedicated to just thinking up a new format. Then there are hosts and team captains to allocate, and a USP to find. So many fail, because quite frankly when you see them executed to near-perfection (Have I Got New For You, QI, Would I Lie to You) anything that falls short of that just looks like a mess with a bunch of ego’s fighting for airtime. Besides, all the best formats have been done. Haven’t they?

It turns out not, and there is still space for genuinely new takes. Taskmaster, currently being shown on Dave, is a panel show with the constraints loosened. The format is deceptively simple. Host Greg Davis, sets five comedians bizarre tasks to complete and awards points based on their success. These tasks range from high-fiving a 55-year-old, to emptying a bath tub of water in the quickest time possible. Obviously the humour is derived from the varying levels of incompetence the comedians perform these tasks with, as well as the subsequent banter.

It is hard to get across how funny this actually is, especially as the humour builds with each episode. You see, each week it is the same comedians, so patterns emerge, and the banter gains power by the fact they learn and use each other’s weak spots. For instance, there is a running theme of Romesh Ranganathan constantly running a constant low-level rage that explodes on certain tasks. Tim Key meanwhile, is constantly portrayed as sneaky, Roisin Conaty as ditzy and Frank Skinner as a calm, elder statesman, governed by logic (even if this logic rarely works).

I have genuinely cried laughing at times at this show, for reasons it is impossible to explain. It is daft, stupid, and ultimately pointless. Yet it is also a stroke of genius, and just the right side of twisted to stop it slipping into uncomfortable territory. At the end of the day it puts a smile on my face, and sometimes that’s all I want.

Regular readers of this blog will know I love a legal drama, especially American ones. Suits, Boston Legal, Harry’s Law: all masterclasses in characterisation and storytelling. One though kept flying under the radar, and that was The Good Wife. I think this was partly because it seemed to be sold as primarily a domestic drama with the legal part of it a side line – woman rebuilds her life by being a lawyer. More than anything though, it always seems to clash with something else. As someone who has only just got Netflix and a Sky+ box, I faced a constant frustration of some nights being bereft of anything decent, and others being too full.

Thankfully, technology is remedying this woe, and searching for something new to watch on Netflix post-OITNB (come back soon gang!) settled on The Good Wife. I must admit to being dangerously close to giving in to the hype and watching Breaking Bad, but I am not ashamed to say that I needed something a little glossier.

And I am thankful I did. The Good Wife is fantastic. Ok, I am only four episodes into season 1, so I have a mighty journey to undertake, but even so I feel confident to state I have found a new addiction. I actually find the domestic angle on it less interesting than the makers want me to, but thankfully it features less than I initially thought it would, and even when it does is less saccharine than I expected.

The cases are delicious us as well. Murder trials brought down by carrier bags, felony murder charges dropped due to neighbourhood watch guidelines, you name it, our heroine Alicia Florrick will find the esoteric piece of evidence and win with it.

The supporting class are bubbling away nicely to, not least Kalinda the investigator, the right mix of respectable and sass to get her job done. I have a sneaking suspicion not all of them will still be there by the end of season 5 and it will be a wrench whoever goes and when but that is the price you pay for investing in excellent characters.

I don’t always get what the fuss is about shows, and I have heard so much hype about Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy that I have made a vow never to watch them. The Good Wife came close to languishing on that list to but fate intervened. And I am so bloody glad it did.

Sunday night is cosy drama night. It’s the law. People forget they have to return to work the next day by absorbing hours of fluff that any other night of the week would be judged as shallow and overly whimsical. Nostalgic/period dramas nestle in the schedules here, along with anything that features bucolic countryside. In some cases, like the former behemoth that was Heartbeat, the nostalgia just so happened to have a rural setting. Plotlines were not allowed to be anywhere above a minimum level of thriller, just in case someone’s geriatric gran got over-excited and keeled over.

Partners In Crime is the latest programme to be plonked in this time zone. It has all the hallmarks of being perfect for it. It is based on Agatha Christie stories, so there is crime, but not horrible levels of gore. It has that nice woman from Call the Midwife in it (Jessica Raine). It is set in the 50’s, where everybody dress smart and people were happy to live off bread and dripping. So far, so sweet.

But here’s the rub. There are attempts to create a genuine layer of menace. There are real gangsters in the East End. People who betray them are killed, with one unfortunate sap getting asphyxiated in front of our very eyes. Assassination plots are discussed and the opening shots of the Cold War are played out. There is even a brothel. Dear God BBC! Have you taken leave of your senses? Granny is having a turn and we have had to break open the cooking sherry to revive her!

It is this level of thrilling that makes the show such an odd confection. On the one hand we have a story that could be very dark, with missing girls, spies and murder. Yet the whole thing is thrown off kilter by the fact that one of the lead investigators is played by David Walliams. No disrespect to him, he has his talents, but playing a man entangled in all this to rescue a damsel from distress, even if accidentally, is not one of them. Even with his life on the line, it was impossible to fear for his survival, partly because we know there is a part 3 to this story as well as a second set of episode to come, but also because I keep expecting him to slip into a Little Britain character. It is hard to really become involved in the scene if you’re trying to work out if you should be laughing at the bumbling investigator or genuinely fearing for his life.

Despite this, it is enjoyable to watch, although perhaps in a more silly way than the cast and production team intended. And let us not forget it is being shown on a Sunday. We are always that bit more tolerant of daftness on a Sunday. Besides, your gran needs at least one night a week where she can stay up past 9.