Decent TV shows are sometimes like buses. You wait ages for one and then they all come at once. To signal the start of the new season, ITV is rolling out no less than three new dramas this week including fugitive serial Mrs Biggs and post-war crime procedural The Bletchley Circle.
Kicking-off the week in simmering style last night was the first of episode of two-part thriller A Mother’s Son starring Hermione Norris and Martin Clunes. Norris and Clunes lead as affluent second-marriage couple Ben and Rosie, whose extended family’s life is thrown into turmoil when a 15-year-old female student at the couple’s children’s’ school is found dead in a nearby farmer’s field, and circumstantial evidence points to Rosie’s angst-ridden son Jamie.
There was more than a hint of Jimmy McGovern about the script, which had morality and family loyalty at its heart. Given the time invested in the characters and their pasts; we learn that Ben visits his dead wife’s grave regularly, the obstacles faced by Rosie and her ex-husband David made for believable and engaging viewing. Much of the show’s success must be credited to Norris, whose nearing-breakdown Rosie was a different kettle-of-fish to her listless Karen in Cold Feet and Wire in the Blood’s detached workaholic DCI Carol Jordan. Read more
Despite a torrid summer and on-going recession, this year the nation’s spirits have never been higher, with the Diamond Jubilee, medal successes of Team GB and inspirational Paralympics awakening a somewhat lost sense of patriotism and national pride amongst us Brits. But while many of us have celebrated by strapping on a mask of Prince William and drinking flat lager at a rain-drenched street party, comedian Dom Joly has created his own homage to all the upside down Union Jack flags, Fool Britannia.
With Jeremy Beadle unfortunately no longer alive and the BBC’s Just for Laughs having departed in 2007, there’s arguably been room in the Saturday evening schedule for a family-friendly ‘public-gets-punk’d’ hidden-camera show for some time. However, based on Saturday’s outing from the Trigger Happy TV star, fans of this genre will probably agree that it hasn’t been worth the five-year wait. Read more
Chauvinism, one-upmanship and passive loathing form the main themes of ITV’s latest three-part thriller The Last Weekend, a miniseries based on the Blake Morrison novel. Rupert Penry-Jones and Shaun Evans star as former University, or ‘college’ as the show insists on calling it, pals Ollie and Ian, who along with their wives Daisy and Em arrive for a weekend of exchanging stern looks in an unloved cottage in rural Suffolk.
It soon transpires that this is no romantic or pleasantly reminiscent break for the two couples however, as the men take part in an annual wager over who wins a triathlon that spans the entirety of the three-day August bank holiday break with its disciplines. A round of golf promptly ensues, so far, so middle-class.
There does appear to be a much darker side to the show from the off though and it’s cleverly interwoven into the drama’s breezy opening scene in which Ian and Em break-down on a country lane while en route. In the midst of much hot-day tomfoolery, Ian breaks the fourth wall and delivers a menacing direct-address monologue as the action shifts briefly forward three months. Monologues and flashbacks then become a narrative fixture as we’re shown the flipsides of seemingly nice rich-guy Ollie and conceited primary-school teacher Ian. Read more
We’re constantly hearing about how fast kids grow up, but none do it faster than Jack Whitehall’s TV career. Just last year he was on the other side of the academic flip-chart, playing hapless toff student JP in Channel 4’s critically acclaimed comedy drama Fresh Meat. Now he’s playing teacher, in his new self-penned BBC3 sitcom Bad Education.
Whitehall’s severely hungover young teacher Alfie Wickers bursts through the school gates and straight into the nearest sink to throw-up and this pretty much sets for the tone for the next thirty minutes as his hilariously shambolic life and teaching methods unfold in a series of comedic vignettes. The first episode was entitled ‘Parent’s Evening’ and saw Alfie struggling to mark his class’s mock exam papers in time for the titular event as Deputy Head Miss Pickwell breathed skin-crawlingly down his neck. Read more
There was a distinct whiff of irony at the BBC this week as the public service provider ousted 38-year-old Chris Moyles from his Radio One breakfast show slot in favour of Nick-11-years-younger-Grimshaw. Meanwhile, on the box, the Beeb were running ‘When I’m 65′; a season of shows focusing on the older generation designed primarily to show that unlike Michael Parkinson ads for Standard Life, they’re not ageist.
Occupying BBC1’s post-10’oclock-news graveyard slot on Monday was How to Live Beyond 100; a genuinely inspiring retrospective over the life and times of 101 year-old former schoolmaster Harry Wylie. Harry, as it turned out, had lived quite a life, setting up an educational TV network in Florida during the mid-60’s before becoming a headmaster at a failing school in Glasgow, which he quickly turned around.
But why that was all well and good, what we really wanted to know was exactly how do you live on after the Queen sends you that hallowed card of congratulants? While Harry’s answer wasn’t quite as magical as we might have hoped “I use a rowing machine every day” its earnestness made it rather endearing. How To Live Beyond 100 was a gentil and really rather lovely show that had all of the comforting attributes of Bovril.
Airing on Wednesday and also part of the When I’m 65 season was the first of two-part documentary/reality show hybrid The Town That Never Retired. Bestowed with a 9pm prime-time slot, presumably because it was presented by Apprentice facial expression extraordinaire Nick Hewer and his former sidekick Margaret Mountford, the show sent fourteen pensioners back to the world of work.
Watching Lancashire folk the other side of seventy get stuck into skilled and physically demanding jobs such as plastering and roofing was dead uplifting.
Unfortunately, it then fell into the age-old trap of adding unnecessary competition for dramatic effect “Next time those who are staying face young competition” announces Mountford towards the end as it’s revealed that the elderly folks progressed to the next recruitment stage by their employers will have to battle it out for a final position in show two, against younger counterparts. This Are you Smarter than a 10 year-old?-ish change of format seemed completely at odds with the show’s serious points about our ageing population and the competence of the elderly. If we’d wanted a gameshow we’d have watched one, although when was the last time you saw someone over the age of seventy on Total Wipeout?
Secrets are notoriously hard to keep, which kind of makes you wonder why it is that Channel 4 feels the interminable need to bother. First we had The Secret Millionaire, then Undercover Boss and now it’s the turn of eligible singletons in Undercover Lover; a reimaging of FIVE’s cheesily enjoyable reality show The Bachelor by way of Made in Chelsea and Spooks.
“Meet Chris Bull” says narrator Lisa Faulkner at the show’s start “You might think that finding the right woman would be easy for Chris, as he’s fabulously wealthy” she continues, alluding to the contrary and presenting to us, the show’s first real problem; we norms feel no sympathy whatsoever for Chris.
Unlike in The Secret Millionaire where someone who has made well in their life now wants to use their money to ease the suffering of others, Chris just wants to hide it so that he can get laid. “It’s going to need a lot of imagination and a lot of candles” he remarks cringe-worthily whilst surveying his temporary accommodation.
I’m not for one minute saying that The Secret Millionaire or Undercover Boss were in any way perfect; the latter teetering on the edge of patronising at times, but at least it showed that in an age of corrupt bankers and aloof politicians, some big-wigs do care. Undercover Lover offers us no such hope.
Another of the show’s flaws is its’ done-to-death format. Are we really to believe that the first thing people think of when they see a nobody traipsing about with a camera making a documentary on stock-topic-of-the-week is not “They’re undercover!” We’ve had six series of The Secret Millionaire, three of Undercover Bosses and one of BBC3’s particularly ill-judged effort Undercover Princesses from 2010, in which to sniff out the rich from the poor. The ending ‘reveal’ is less explosive than a sparkler in a downpour.
In the end and after streams of banal conversation “Are you a chocolate or a sweet person?” Chris chooses blonde Amanda; “accidentally” revealing himself to be a millionaire in front of the Eifel Tower over another typically bland exchange before treating us to his emotional closing piece to camera in which he expresses delight in Amanda being “genuinely not bothered” by his wealth; guess what Chris? She’s not the only one…
2005 doesn’t seem all that long ago, but as Dara O’Briain pointed out at last night’s recording of Mock the Week, back when the show was starting out “people must have just opened their bedroom windows and shouted “LOL!”
The Beeb’s comedy swipe at the week’s headlines is now in its eleventh season and celebrated its 100th episode last night; a truly impressive feat and a testament to the show’s enduring appeal. And it’s fair to say the show is popular, hell, it’s almost too popular, as demonstrated by an irate Irish woman outside Television Centre last night, squabbling with audience researchers and bemoaning her lack of admittance on account of the audience being over-capacity.
Part of the show’s success rests on the striking simplicity of its format. Developed by Dan Paterson and Mark Leveson and also the brainchildren of cult improv show Whose Line is it Anyway?, six comedians plus host Dara O’Brian mull over headline acronyms, dub news footage, exchange banter and then partake in what is, for many, the best part of the show; ‘Scenes We’d Like To See’. Last night’s “Unlikely things to hear at Wimbledon” presented itself as an out and out assault on “Englishness” and the strawberries-and-cream-loving middle-class. Read more