If the noise of someone driving a tank down a street paved with cats sounds like music to your ears, be sure tune in to Eurovision this weekend, for what is sure to be a real treat for the senses. Witness the coming together of such artists as Alyona Lanskaya, Ivad Von Glooberchev and Roberto Bellarosa—singers who are able to make caterwauling to a backing track seem easy. Marvel at our own hopeful, Bonnie Tyler, who won’t win, not simply because the song is awful, but also because Europe hates us. Then have a drink and fall asleep before the winner has been announced.
But before all of this, here are some of the very best entries this year’s completion has to offer—by which I mean the very worst this year’s completion has to offer.
It looks as if it’s still the 1990s in Latvia, home of the androgynous pop trio PeR, whose music would likely have won the competition, if we were still living in the decade of Sugar Ray and Zig and Zag. “Here we go!” the band sing repeatedly throughout their energetic entry, never stopping for so much as a breath and looking incandescent in their glittery suits. But in spite of their enthusiasm, their cheery song soon begins to grate, until it becomes less “Here We Go” and more “Please, Just go”.
“I’m the man on the moon—call me Andy Kauffman!” raps the lead singer, as if driven to rap badly by an unmaskable disdain for all urban music. “Saga-ho! Saga-woo!” he continues, giving his faux-hawk-wearing band mate the special gesture to unleash PeR’s secret weapon: a blistering keytar lick with facial spasms to boot. Certainly, it’s a fair effort from the boys in PeR, but I doubt it’ll be enough to win the competition.
Our next hopeful may stand more of a chance. With his unashamedly suggestive eyebrow jolts, Andrius Pojavis of Lithuania apparently aims to win Eurovision by seducing music itself, courting it gently before defecating on its chest. At least this is what one can only deduce from his frankly terrifying rehearsal performance of his song Something—not to be confused with the Beatles song of the same name.
“I’m in your head! I’m in your heart!” he sings during the number, staring into the camera with all the psychotic intensity of a man who eats hearts for breakfast and heads for lunch. Still, you can’t argue that the passion isn’t there, as it quite clearly is. The problem is Andrius displays the wild passion of a drunk grasping his erect penis on the bus rather than the passion of a possible Eurovision winner.
Cezar of Romania is the most inspirational artist to appear on Eurovision this year: a man who has silenced his critics by actually finding a song that’s more ludicrous than his voice. In spite of his peanut-sized testicles and piercing vocal pitch, which is only audible to bats and certain breeds of dogs, he’s hoping to score big with It’s My Life: a song that regrettably shares its name with the song that it is so blatantly ripping off—i.e. the one by Dr. Alban rather than Bon Jovi or Talk Talk.
But you can’t accuse Cezar of plagiarism. Looking like a seal struggling to free itself from a bin bag, the man is obviously an original.
Cascada is likely the only Eurovision hopeful that most Brits will actually have heard of, largely due to her music being a staple of ringtone adverts and a sort of unofficial soundtrack to British drinking culture. It’s the sound of boob tube-wearing drunks puking into the gutter outside Oceana. It’s music that the producers of Hollyoaks might play if Tony were to gas himself with hose. It’s the sound of a headache in a clothes shop: a gaudy, overcompressed mess that makes ones ears feel as if they’re being operated on with a bit of rusty coat hanger.
All of which is why Cascada, with her inappropriately titled song Glorious, is unfortunately bound to win the competition. Still, on the bright side, at least it’s not this, which remains to this day the worst thing ever to happen to Israel:
14 May, BBC 1 at 9pm
Few television characters are more inoffensive than district nurse Frankie Maddox, the title character in Lucy Gannon’s new six-part series. Frankie is the sort of smiley generic everywoman who typically features in adverts for Boots, where she’s seen skipping down the street with her girlfriends, seemingly chuffed with her purchase of some reasonably priced lipstick. She’s like a real person, except with the rough edges rounded off: a practically perfect woman whose only flaw is that she devotes too much time to trying to be nicer than she already is.
Of course, in a thirty second advert this completely inoffensive character works very well at suckering viewers into buying mascara and shower gel. But when a character whose sole feature is simply being nice fronts an entire television series, it’s often hard to find them quite as endearing as they’re intended to be.
This is largely true of Frankie, a character defined almost entirely by a warmness that could rid the world of its troubles. Played by the brilliantly talented Eve Myles, the character is driven by a desire to help others: at work she goes to extremes to tend to patients, while at home she finds herself treating her shiftless boyfriend with similar care.
In episode one, Frankie’s patients include an old man suffering from severe memory loss who is desperate to avoid going into care, and the pregnant wife of a serving soldier. She also has to deal with cuts to services that her department would have previously been able to provide. But while there is certainly drama at times, the tone of the episode is kept very light throughout, due mainly to Frankie’s wonderfully sunny disposition.
It’s the sort of series that makes a pleasant, although by no means essential, addition to an evening: a programme that one watches privately while wearing a duvet and eating an entire jar of jam. This is feel good television that is so starved of cynicism that it borders on being saccharine, and yet it never quite manages to turn the stomach.
Even though it uses practically every medical drama cliché in the book, there’s just something strangely admirable about a series that is so void of cynicism. In an age where television is saturated with sadistic dream crushing, one automatically assumes that Frankie is on the cusp of some sort of nervous breakdown or that something horrible is going to happen in her world, but it never does. There is no catch or sinister twist. Frankie is just pure unashamed niceness, from beginning to end.
Pride And Prejudice: Having A Ball
Friday 10 May at 9pm on BBC 2
Fans of Pride And Prejudice: Having A Ball will likely form two camps – those who crave Jane Austen so much that they are prepared to sit through just about anything with her name on it; and those who enjoy frilly gowns, delectable desserts, ballroom dancing and being repeatedly told by a team of experts that these things are “simply fascinating”.
The 90-minute film follows social historian Amanda Vickery and company, as they attempt to recreate a Regency ball on the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Subtext, we’re told, is key to further understanding Austen’s work, and thus much can be learned by discovering how her characters would have behaved, dressed, eaten and danced in the ballroom.
The problem is that 90-minutes of examining these things is enough to make even the most honourable of gentlemen cast aside all social etiquette and hang himself with his own breeches. Thirty minutes would have more than sufficed, and while Amanda and her co presenter, Alastair Sooke, both display endless enthusiasm for the subject matter, it’s hard to stay engaged in what is essentially a feature-length film about cakes and dresses.
The subtext part doesn’t really ring true either, as nothing featured in the documentary really adds to one’s enjoyment of the book. The programme, in fact, is quite a transparent excuse to indulge in the spectacle and splendour that has long made Pride and Prejudice such an adaptable piece for film and television.
For such a beloved book, there seems to be little need to provide 90-minutes of what we’re led to believe is “context”. Does an insatiable craving for heroin improve William S. Burroughs’ books? Does engaging in explicit gay sex add some much-needed perspective to Alan Ginsberg’s poems?
These things might help, but they’re obviously not essential, which is more or less true of Prejudice: Having A Ball — it seems gratuitous. Certainly, it’s bound to please the diehard Austen fans and lovers of period drama, but alas there’s little here for anyone else.
The Job Lot
ITV, 29 April at 21:30
The idea of a sitcom set in a Jobcentre seems promising on paper, not simply because it’s a risible institution that’s about as effective at helping people find work as lazily wafting a hand about in the air is at warding away flies, but also because there are currently more unemployed people in the UK than there are idiots walking around wearing Beats headphones. Plus, in an age of Daily Mail sensationalism and Ian Duncan Smith gaffes, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for such a programme to appear on our screens.
The Job Lot is ITV’s attempt: a decent enough comedy that is unfortunately light on satire, and treads just a little bit too close to territory that has previous been covered by other sitcoms. Aside from the fact that it looks and feels unmistakably like an ITV production, it’s really not too dissimilar from The Office or even Parks and Recreation. Nor is it as funny as either of these two programmes.
Nevertheless, the characters do have some charm: there’s Karl (Russell Tovey), an uninspired art graduate who works at the Jobcentre, but naturally longs for better things; his neurotic manager Trish (Sarah Hadland); Angela (Jo Enright), an employee who seems to delight in making other people’s lives more difficult; and various claimants, ranging from a hapless father signing on for the first time to a man who attends his weekly appointments dressed only in a blazer.
Episode one sees the Jobcentre staff attempting to turn their claimants from unemployed into “funemployed”, a task that seems to spark a string of events that result to Karl storming out of the building and resigning. But his rebellion is short lived, when upon exiting the building, he bumps into Chloe (Emma Rigby), the new temp. Taking an immediate shine to her, and with the intention of getting to know her better, he decides to return to work and pretend as if nothing has happened.
It’s remarkably similar to an episode of Seinfeld in which a desperate George Costanza, faced with the prospect of unemployment, is forced to return to his job after he resigned the previous day. But then originality is hardly what The Job Lot does best, which is a shame, given the programme’s setting.
There are certainly a few laughs sprinkled throughout the episodes, but as a whole, it feels like a missed opportunity for well-observed satire. Indeed, only one scene really attempts to lampoon the Jobcentre and how it operates. It features the sadistic Angela, who tells a man wishing to sign on that, before she speaks to him, he must first call on the phone and book an appointment. He does, but his troubles don’t end there, and when returns, he’s pushed to the very limits of absurd Jobcentre bureaucracy, much to his frustration.
It’s a shame that the first episode doesn’t feature more scenes of this calibre: one can only hope that there will be more satire as the series continues. Certainly, The Job Lot is a fun and very watchable comedy, but if it’s going to be something truly special, it’ll have to do more than that. Fortunately, this is a promising enough start to stick around for episode two.
Attending any premiere requires some dressing up, but when the premiere is for a series as beloved as Game of Thrones, special effort is required. Thus for the screening of Season Three of the HBO series, I felt it necessary to tattoo the word “Game” in thick red lettering on my right cheek, “Thrones” on the other, and “of” on the tip of my nose. Then to finish the look, I obviously needed the sword, not to mention the axe, and the robe, and the beard, and a limited edition Game of Thrones pencil case.
Of course, even if any of this were true, I still wouldn’t have been the biggest obsessive in attendance: for starters I hadn’t built a papier-mâché dragon or carved a shrine to Sean Bean into my chest with a paperclip like some fans had. In most instances, such unashamed fandom is difficult to comprehend, although not in this case, as Game of Thrones is more than deserving of the acclaim it has received.
What sets it apart from similar TV series is largely the writing, by both the author of the novels that the series has been adapted from, George R. R. Martin, and by the show’s writers. There are no one-dimensional love interests or ham-fisted lines of dialogue, and storylines aren’t resolved through unexplainable fantasy.
Ultimately the strong characters are at the forefront of the show’s success, which makes the Game of Thrones universe appealing to even those who are unfamiliar with the fantasy genre. Of course, when the writing is good and the characters are well defined, the acting naturally benefits as well, particularly in the hands of an already fine cast.
As Charles Dance (who plays Tywin) put it during the Q and A part of the evening: “It means you can put all your energy into making the character believable, rather than thinking: how am I going to make this bloody awful line work?”
Fortunately, although not a hugely dramatic instalment, the opening episode of Season Three, “Valar Dohaeris”, is packed full of great lines. As always, Tyrion is on top form, particularly during his interactions with his sister, Cersei.
“You know you’re not half as clever as you think you are,” she tells her brother in one early scene.
“That still makes me much clever than you,” he responds.
In spite of his ever-biting wit, though, Tyrion is not in high spirits. He wants his reward for the part he played in the Battle of the Blackwater, but his father, Tywin — Tyrion’s replacement as Hand of the King — refuses to listen to his plea. In one verbally explosive scene, Tywin makes it plainly clearly that he will always resent his son for his wife’s death during childbirth.
In the far North, meanwhile, Jon Snow is brought before leader Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) in an attempt to earn the trust of the King-beyond-the-Wall. And across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen arrives in Slaver’s Bay with adviser Ser Jorah Mormont with the intention of forming an army.
With Daenerys’ dragons adorning so much of the promotional material for season three, it came as no surprise when the creatures made their very brief appearance on screen. Like much of the episode as a whole, their cameo was a mere teaser more than anything else: a small indication of what might happen later on in the season. But it was at least a satisfying teaser, as much as it set the tone for what’s come, and for everything that was left unexplained, there were certainly a few moments in the episode to really get the heart racing.
One of these scenes subjected the audience to what can only be described as a colossal nipple twister: an act of visual torture that had even the hardcore Game of Thrones fans looking anywhere but at the screen. The cast discussed the other really gruesome scene, which featured an entire castle of dead warriors lying in a bloody mess, after the episode had finished.
“It was a great crack, actually,” said Michelle Fairley (Lady Catelyn Stark) of shooting the scene. “In between takes you’re able to go and talk to them and say, ‘Do you want a tissue?’ When you’re doing scenes like that you need to break the energy somehow—the depression. You have to have a laugh. There’s no social hierarchy in Game of Thrones, so everyone mucks in.”
In addition to the gore, the subject of another Game of Thrones staple was also raised: nudity and sex.
“Well, I got a no-nudity clause so I always get to keep my clothes on,” Fairley said, stifling a laugh. “The producers put it in, not me!”
But the Q and A was mostly dominated by talk of the role that women play in the series.
“To support the male characters you need to have equally strong, if not stronger, women,” said Gwendoline Christie, who plays the warrior Brienne of Tarth. “They constantly have to change, and so there’s nothing stagnant about them.”
Speaking of a previous scene in which the character of Jaime Lannister makes derogatory remarks about her character’s appearance, Christie commented: “Being a 6 ft 3 woman, I’ve encountered that kind of abuse since I was 14 years old.
So being able to take that into a public forum, I felt that I might challenge some notions of prejudice, and if it could change one person’s mind set about how they regard people outside of conventional norms, then I might actually be justifying my existence as an artist.”
By the time the cast were done with their far too short Q and A, the premiere, and soon enough the evening, was over. The episode may have only been a short snippet of what we can expect from Season Three, but it was certainly enough to get the audience talking; and if there was something that everybody could agree on it was this: it’s great to finally have Game of Thrones back on our screens.
Game of Thrones Season Three begins Monday 1 April at 9pm on Sky Atlantic HD
As he approaches 60, Bruce Willis’ days of starring in films where he shoots people in the face could be coming to an end. He’s kicked ass and he’s chewed bubble-gum, but now it’s time for him to focus on what nobody believes he does best: caterwauling with his white guy blues band in front of an audience of credulous Die Hard fans.
For some, including Bruce, it’s a relatively carefree path from the movies to the music business. Although acclaim may rarely be bestowed upon an actor turned recording artist, there will always be a boisterous hoard of unquestioning fans to snap up concert tickets and albums. Read more
Abandoned – New York Masonic Lodge
Thursday 28th Feb at 9:30pm
Americans are masters of dressing up poor programming by dazzling viewers in the same way one might impress an infant by rattling car keys over its head. While there’s certainly no doubting the artistry of US shows such as The Larry Sanders Show or The Wire, when it comes to something like Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, the term “polishing a turd” seems like almost too much of an understatement.
Such programmes are typically adorned with whooshing visual effects, big booming noises and the repeated promise that something is “COMING UP”, often from a man who sounds as if he has to carry his testicles around in a wheelbarrow. Yet all of this is just a way of stretching very little content into something that seems almost impressive.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part, however, is that sometimes even good shows are given this unbearable treatment, as is the case with Abandoned, a series in which a team of men scour abandoned buildings looking for relics to fix up and sell.
A man called Jay Chaikin is the head of the team, and this week he and his buddies Dan and Mark are helping him look through an old masonic lodge in New York. But it soon transpires, minutes into the show, that the team know relatively little about masonry, apart from Jay, whose father and grandfather were both masons: he in fact knows a few things, but still not a lot.
It turns out that part of the fun is watching these three characters stumbling like stooges upon a trove of peculiar masonic artefacts, including some ornately carved chairs that were apparently once used for rituals. Unfortunately, we don’t learn much more about the rituals, but Jay and company do unearth enough mysterious items to make a conspiracy theorist giddy with misplaced outrage.
Having been left untouched since the mid-90s, nowadays the lodge resembles the set of a horror film, so it’s easy to see why the team look so unsettled trawling the grounds. At one time, it must have looked magnificent. Now, though, one can imagine, in its dilapidated state, the building being used for more sinister practices.
Making money is ultimately Jay’s motivation and come the end of the show, he’s made a decent profit. He’s also uncovered some fascinating items. But the way the show has been put together doesn’t do the content justice. Often parts of the narration and footage are repeated, presumably in a perplexing attempt to keep viewers glued to their seats.
On the contrary, the effect makes an otherwise fun programme seem irritating and tedious. It’s as shame, as Jay is an endearing presenter, and he doesn’t need bizarre trickery to make him seem more interesting. Unfortunately Abandoned is like so many US programmes in as much as the show is based on a great idea that has been over-produced—sometimes to the point of incoherence. In Britain we currently seem have the opposite problem: our TV is littered with terrible ideas that have been fairly reasonably executed.
It’s a horribly unfortunate situation, but at least Abandoned—as dressed up and as repetitive as it’s made to seem—is still, at the heart of it, very watchable.
Like a middle-aged divorcée frantically flicking through old photographs of his ex-wife, lest he forget the good times, Channel 4 continued to repeat Friends long after the series bowed out in 2004.
It was after an emotional intervention that they reluctantly moved on, replacing their one true love with The Big Bang Theory, which makes a decent enough consolation prize, but hardly fills the Friends-shaped void in Channel 4’s heart. Read more
Streak! The Man Who Can’t Keep His Clothes On
Channel 4, Thursday 14 Feb, 10PM
The phrase “pinnacle of his career”, when used to describe somebody like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, might bring to mind the writer’s seminal novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Yet when a documentary crew apply the very same term to the working life of prolific streaker Mark Roberts in Streak! The Man Who Can’t Keep His Clothes On, it can only be used to refer to that magical moment when the serial exhibitionist began windmilling his knob in front of a crowd of thousands at the Super Bowl.
Nobody can take that memory away from Mark, not even the bailiffs who keep attempting repossess his belongings because he has failed to turn his streaking into a fulltime career, and has inexplicably taken out high interest loans instead of finding a proper job.
Unbelievably, Mark used to get paid to streak at major sporting events around the globe, but work has been slim as of late, and with two kids in his life, he has to look towards the future.
“I don’t want to be an embarrassment to my children,” he insists, as footage of him slapping his buttocks together appears on screen. “I want to be a great role model.”
Putting this into to practice, however, is trickier than one might think, as Mark has over the years developed an insatiable appetite for undressing in public. He speaks about his perverse hobby as if it were an art form, even though the only message he appears to be saying to the world is: “Look at me. I’ve got my knob out!” He’s obviously an attention seeker, which is perhaps why Channel 4, on hiatus from mercilessly ridiculing gypsies, have given him the time of day.
According to the programme’s narrator, it’s hard not to admire Mark, and yet I found that he exhibits very few admirable qualities, at one point calling a woman answering phones for the bailiff company “a fucking bitch”. It’s also difficult to find his streaking very amusing after you’ve heard him failing to grasp the concept of debt.
“I’ve paid 140 odd quid of [the debt], so I was down to 420,” he says. “Now we find it’s 690! Hang on. How can that be?”
And contrary to Mark’s opening comments about wanting to be a role model for his children, the programme is really about his supposedly final streak: the grandest and most astonishing display of public embarrassment that he can muster. This takes him to Spain, and then finally back to the UK where he hopes to bear all during The X Factor live final.
The documentary crew are quite kind to Mark throughout this, sympathising with his employment situation and debt problems, but occasionally goading him into making a bit of a fool of himself. There are actually a few tender moments in which Mark talks about how he suffered a string of abusive stepfathers growing up, but these are largely pasted over in favour of more clips of our hero waving his wang about on a building site as joyous music plays.
If one were to witness somebody doing the same in the flesh, you’d naturally presume that they were having a mental breakdown, but here it’s supposed to be funny. The documentary team have actually done a fairly decent job at putting the programme together, but Mark’s not the sort of figure you can feel comfortable laughing with—or even at for that matter.
With no money and no prospects due to his criminal record, Mark’s not the clown he seems to believe he is. Hearing his story just made me feel depressed.
Martin Clunes: Heavy Horsepower
ITV, 9pm, Thursday 7 February 2013
Some years ago, around 2005, an advert for a magazine called “I Love Horses” began airing incessantly on television. “I love horses,” chimed its merry little jingle. “Best of all the animals. I love horses. They’re my friends!”
I mention this not merely because that tune has relentlessly been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it, but also because I suspect that Martin Clunes might be a subscriber to that particular magazine. You see, apparently he loves horses: they’re his friends. He loves them so much in fact that back in 2010, after fulfilling his yearly quota of Doc Martin episodes, ITV gave Clunes his very own two-part series called Martin Clunes: Horsepower.
It was a snappy title that was always guaranteed to attract viewers who had mistakenly tuned in expecting to watch Martin Clunes test-driving powerful cars. Seemingly the idea was to lure them in with the prospect of noisy engines and then astonish them so abundantly with exciting horse action that they couldn’t help but stick around for episode two.
Well, it must have worked, because Martin’s back with a special follow up instalment, Heavy Horsepower, in which he looks at the important role of the world’s working horses as he begins training his own beloved Clydesdales to work on his farm in Dorset.
Their names are Ronnie and Bruce, and at two-years-old Martin tells us, they’re like having lovely but slightly naughty teenagers who are now ready to be put to work. As he puts them through their paces, Clunes travels across Europe and to America to discover how working horses are being used in the modern world.
One highlight of the programme features horses trawling for prawns off the coast of Belgium, and there are many suggestions from Martin that specimens like his Clydesdales are a more effective and environmentally friendly alternative to using machines.
Essentially the programme is a love letter to man’s best slave, which perhaps also means that it appeals to quite a niche demographic, as it requires viewers to like both Martin Clunes and horses—unless I’m missing something and the two, inexplicably, go hand in hand.
It’s nevertheless difficult to fault Clunes’ presenting style, regardless of what you might make of the subject matter. He’s terrifically endearing and nobody can really deny that he has a tremendous passion for horses, even if the idea of the star of Men Behaving Badly presenting such a programme seems a little surreal at first, which it does.
Whether horses are indeed the best of all the animals, it’s hard to say. Personally, I can’t claim to really love horses the same way Martin does, although I can certainly tolerate them, as I do all the animals (apart from the chaffinch). But if Martin wants us to consider the possibility of using horses instead of energy consuming
machinery, then I’m willing to listen.