“Is it a drama or a comedy?” is the question on everyone’s (often hairy upper-) lips in anarchic comedy sprite Simon Amstell’s fictional family during the disarming first episode of that tragicomic festival of awkwardness, Grandma’s House, series two.
But this is not simply the query posed incessantly regarding his new project by pushy mother Tanya (“you’re so frigid! When was the last time you had sex?” she shrieks, poking her shuffling skeleton of a son in the ribs) or by his belligerent and hirsute Aunt Liz – it is also one of many pleasing slices of self-conscious dialogue that pepper the episode, referring to mixed reviews of the first series. Read more
30 Rock, the American comedy series created by the consistently hilarious Tina Fey, is back for a sixth season, and it is a treat. It is the perfect example of why more genuinely original and idiosyncratic American comedies of this ilk should be brought to UK television screens, sparing us the ropey Two and a Half Men and such like.
Fast-paced, detailed and wide-ranging jesting fills the punchy 20-minute airtime to the brim, so much so that you almost want to re-watch it immediately to catch any merriment you may have missed due to laughing too hard.
Every aspect is closely observed for maximum comic effect – a dating site fleetingly referred to is called “Desperationships.com”, a disastrous Frasier spin-off called “Hey Roz” is mentioned in passing, and we are given a brief hint at TV star Jenna’s murky history of electrocuting horses. Read more
The second series of this critically acclaimed mockumentary following the Olympic Deliverance team attempting to organise the Games is equally as hilarious, if a little more self-assured, as its first installment.
With clear inspiration from The Office and Peep Show, the eye-watering awkwardness of the office environment and peculiarity of the individuals who work to “tension the last few guy-ropes and tighten the canvas” of “London’s tent”, as project chief Ian (played by a magnificently downbeat Hugh Bonneville) likes to label the Olympic mission in his customary office jargon, Twenty Twelve is both surreal and delectably quotidian.
The first episode follows a near-diplomatic crisis when the Algerian Olympic Delegation threatens to pull out of the Olympics because the Shared Belief Centre does not face Mecca. France and Morocco become embroiled in the controversy, causing Ian and his team frenziedly to make comments in favour of “multiculturality” to anyone who will listen. Read more
One fateful day, many months ago, a bright-eyed young Maria O’Connor, who started her own restaurant business at the age of 16, was watching The Apprentice and suddenly said to herself… well, shouted, if we’re aiming for accuracy, “I can do that! That sort of stuff is easy! Sod it, what have I got to lose?” Err the second task, maybe?
So she smothered those bright, entrepreneurial eyes with purple eye-shadow, and headed off to Lord Sugar’s boardroom of disappointment, which “isn’t in the City – it’s about 10 minutes away from the Bridge Café” she reveals, shattering the glamorous veneer of slick urban life still held as true by approximately six viewers.
Yet poor, sweet Maria did not find the said “stuff” so easy when plunged into the second task – another brutal introduction into the challenging world of trade: sticking a plastic windscreen to a bath. For our self-made heroine fell straight to sleep at a crucial junction in strategic planning: screeching about taps. Why, Maria, why? Why didn’t you give consciousness 110% just like your illustrious fellow contestants?
“I fell asleep, obviously”, she tells me straight up. No ear-splitting defence, no disingenuous grovelling apology. Come on, Maria, I was at least expecting claims of chronic narcolepsy or that you were in a deep meditative reverie, conjuring images of breathtaking splash-resistant prototypes.
“I’m Greek, I need siestas and that.” Right. So if anyone was in doubt – Angela Merkel, George Osborne, those armies of serious political commentators who read online interviews with obscure Apprentice losers – here is the explanation behind Greece’s financial meltdown.
“There was this phrase that kept coming up over and over again. People have been saying “you never know, you might win the lottery next week”. You know, passing it off lightly but being really worried. I’ve just been hearing that phrase more and more.”
This is writer Kay Mellor’s (creator of Fat Friends) reason for writing The Syndicate, a five-part drama set harshly in 2012, which follows the lives of five supermarket employees in Leeds, all strapped for cash, whose lives are transformed after they jointly win the lottery.
“We are leaning a lot towards bonnets and period drama, but as long as there is a balance then there’s room for everything”, is Mellor’s opinion on the place her new series has on BBC1, eschewing the escapism and nostalgia of British television’s recent influx of period drama, firmly based in uncomfortable present-day austerity. Read more
The maiden voyage of Julian Fellowes’ four-part television series of Titanic is predictably, and thankfully, in the unsinkable upstairs-downstairs format of his recent period soapy triumph, Downton Abbey.
Before we can even draw breath to say ‘encapsulation of entrenched class divides’, we hear phrases such as “not your place” and “it’s not the done thing” among the first lines of dialogue, while witnessing a studiedly representative cross-section of society, from English aristocratic toffs to working-class Irishmen, prepare to board the Titanic.
The first episode focuses on an upper-class family, headed by the kindly aristocrat, the Earl of Manton (which sounds familiar) who must remind his incurably snobbish wife of the absolute gift the story of the Titanic is to a screenwriter of Fellowes’ persuasion: “They’re just people, Louisa, trying to get from Southampton to New York like we are”.
This Lord Grantham-a-like also has the obligatory wayward daughter in Georgiana Grex, whose strident belief in women’s rights causes her visibly to melt at a saucy wink from an ostentatiously Italian waiter, and flirtatiously to remark “please don’t flirt with me” with the nearest young wealthy American she can find before the ominous iceberg music begins.
“It’s not just Downton-on-Sea – that doesn’t get you anywhere near the story”, insists David Calder, the wise and white-haired veteran of British acting who plays the tragic Captain Edward J. Smith in Julian Fellowes’ much anticipated television series Titanic.
The versatile 65-year-old actor, his kind and scholarly face equally as recognisable from Midsomer Murders as James Bond, believes the Titanic story’s appeal is more profound than that of Downton Abbey.
“We are in this period of nostalgia, aren’t we? I think people are so uncertain about the future that they search for some security in the past. But I think there’s something more to it than that in the story of the Titanic. It’s an event that should never have happened, but it happened, and therefore that makes us feel very vulnerable about the world; that there’s no such thing as certainty.”
But just in case of the slim chance that Fantastic Mr Fellowes should be reading this, Calder laughs that he would relish entry into the Downton household – “of course I would, I’m an actor!”
Having worked with Fellowes in the past, Calder speaks of life on set with palpable affection, explaining that he already knew “most of the cast” and that the structure of the four-part series, in which the sinking of the ship is told in each episode from a different societal viewpoint, aided the bonhomie of this close-knit cast.
“I don’t think it was fair, objectively speaking I don’t think I failed the task. Maybe it wasn’t a faultless performance but I certainly didn’t fail it. I think Gaby should have been fired. Katie was very fireable but she didn’t fail the task for doing nothing – if anything it helped. But Gabrielle lacked the leadership and decisiveness a project manager should have.”
Speaking with the headstrong decisiveness she so preaches proved to be Apostolova’s downfall, her 11th hour protestations turning an already riled Lord Sugar against her. “I think I made it so easy for him to fire me it was unbelievable, it was painful to watch. I think I talk myself out of it big time. I think I irritated him right at the end and he made a last-minute impulsive decision, to be honest.” Read more
Lord Sugar, between merry bouts of abusing Piers Morgan over Twitter (“and you kissed how many bums?” is a recent favourite), has thankfully taken the time to make an eighth series of his annual festival of cruelty, sweat and general ineptitude.
Yes, the first episode of The Apprentice series eight is marching, high heels clicking across Millennium Bridge, back to our screens, and happily nothing about its familiar format has changed a jot, from the yearly batch of sad clowns sky-lifted to Canary Wharf (a hangar in West Acton) to the dodgy drop-shadow WordArt title graphic. Although look out for when we do get an exclusive glimpse of the mystery receptionist for the first time.
Its predictability is wonderful. We almost feel as joyful as the Sugar daddy himself, whose glee is palpable in the line: “this is my boardroom, and by the way, this is my money”. He truly has come up with reality telly’s most lucrative business model. He smells wot sells.
Again, we are treated to observing the crème de la crème of hopeless yuppie mediocrity battle it out over vital hard-nosed commercial tasks – in this episode, painting some t-shirts and running around a zoo – in order to earn the reputable accolade of being the business partner of a little manic mogul, mass-producing obscure products to vociferous strains of Prokoviev somewhere in Essex for the rest of their days. Probably.
Firstly (and throughout the rest of the series, presumably), the sixteen candidates have to trot out increasingly imaginative boastful taglines so that they can publicly humiliate themselves before viewers when Dara O’Briain airs them to a cynical studio audience after their inevitable firing. “I can be like an animal, and I will literally roar my way to the top”, should make this series the most colourful yet if “literally” is meant literally, especially if in conjunction with the bizarre “I’m like a shark”.
Then the task begins, branding, printing and selling products on the street. The boys – team Phoenix – are led by Nick, who appears as a rather wayward work experience boy, and wacky Gabrielle leads the girls (team name Sterling, by the way, displaying a rare and cheering confidence in Britain’s currency), but manages to rile some team members up, one of whom makes the insightful critical judgment: “as an architect she can draw, that’s it, she can draw buildings”.
Aggressively suited and booted, our new worst enemies for the next twelve weeks proceed to get themselves into all kinds of business-based, skill-set-dependent scrapes, so we should perhaps leave this episode with the fittingly prophetic words of Stephen “sales basically is what I do” Brady: “I do believe business…is made complicated by idiots”.
*WE TALK TO BILYANA APOSTOLOVA*
“The Falklands holds a very bittersweet place in my heart”, muses Welsh Guardsman and Falklands veteran who was blown up on HMS Sir Galahad and suffered 46% burns.
This bizarre conflict over sovereignty holds a very bittersweet place in history as well, the peace and safety Britain’s victory brought to the islanders at the price of nearly 1000 lives overall fighting for an approximately 1800-population archipelago.
The war’s absurdity is rather overlooked in this one-off documentary, made to mark its 30-year anniversary, which at times falls into one-sided fawning over the British intervention, or loses itself in its own premise – that of bringing three men who were present during the wars back to the islands, to discuss their memories.
A journalist, a marine and a Welsh Guardsman sounds like the beginning of a ropey joke, but here the punch line is a solemn one, about the transformative qualities of battle. Guilt, post-traumatic stress, pride, anger and passion all preoccupy one or more of the participants, and the islanders they encounter, as they recall the life-changing nature of such a “unique” war. Read more