Family feuds! Fist fights! Earthquakes! Weddings! Burglaries! Corporate backstabbing! A terminal illness! Overhead panning shots of horses galloping in fields!
And that’s all just in the first episode. Dallas is back with a bang. Read more
The first series of The Voice UK is nearly at an end and what a debut it has been. It’s received a constant battering in the press (admittedly more in the BBC-phobic papers), suffered a tumble in the ratings and even its own stars have taken to bad-mouthing it on chat shows fronted by funny Irishmen. With a second series already guaranteed, we wonder what the BBC could do to return its new talent show to Saturday night glory.
Here are our wonderings..
1. Speed It Up
On programmes like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, the judges’ commenting on a performance is what we’re all really waiting for. On The Voice, the ‘coaches’ remarks are the least exciting part of the whole process. When he’s not saying the word ‘dope’ like a stuck record, Will.I.Am seems to take an eternity to make a coherent sentence, littering what he does eventually say with random full stops, numerous “umm” noises and enough sound effect impressions to make Larvelle Jones from the Police Academy movies jealous. Tom Jones also has a tendency to ramble about his favourite duet or his favourite type of cheese (I’m not sure that’s true – I lose interest mid-sentence) before finally deciding that the performance was “great” and Jessie J has an irritating habit of whining that the other coaches are picking on her before screwing up her face and adding ‘u-lo-so’ to the end of a word. Danny’s on the other hand isn’t bad at all. And he’s got a brogue. The point is, this section needs to become snappier, more stream-lined and less rambling, especially during the elimination stages as the tension is mostly non-existent.
2. Curb the ‘singing’ chat
‘Licks’, ‘runs’ and ‘light and shade’. We hear these phrases bleated weekly on The Voice but to the average viewer it means very little, unless you happen to be a singer, a singing coach or eating an ice lolly, suffering from diarrhoea, under a parasol on a sunny day. More relatable language might make the comments from the coaches seem less thunderingly dull, as at the moment, Gary Borelow on The X Factor seems a more exciting proposition.
Just think about those stats for a second. This show has been going since 1990. For those of us in our mid-to-late twenties, it’s hard to think of a world pre-Nevermind or Jagged Little Pill and this programme has outlived the careers of the artists behind each of these seminal albums (although for very different reasons, obviously). To rack up 43 series of a TV show is nothing to sniff at, especially since it began life on BBC2 as a broadcast spin-off of a Radio 4 show called the News Quiz, before eventually graduating to a prime BBC1 slot ten years later. In short, I bloody love it and this is why the following paragraphs are essentially a love letter to Have I Got News For You – or ‘HIGNFY’ for those of you who see life through hashtags.
I grew up watching Have I Got News For You. I used to beg and plead my mum to stay up late on a Friday night to watch it and even though I didn’t really understand the jokes, I saw my parents screeching hysterically at one of Paul Merton’s non-sequiturs or Angus Deyton’s deadpan deliveries from the autocue and I’d laugh along too. I even went out of my way to look up what some of the jokes referred to afterwards. This show actually encouraged me to learn new things in the days before the internet was invented (it may have been invented – we were quite poor) and when usually the only appeal of a newspaper was a titillating lingerie advert in the back pages. I’ve spent entire weekends just watching historic clips on YouTube (mainly when I was single) marvelling at the old-fashioned set which somehow still looks the same now and recognising how many of the topics are depressingly similar – recession, civil unrest, newspapers abusing power, a Tory government etc. Read more
Cookery shows have become a ubiquitous presence on our screens and can generally be considered as the ‘bread sauce’ of the television kitchen cupboard – bland, unnecessary but a traditional staple. However, millions of us still tune in to watch a myriad of chefs compete to activate the salivation membranes in our stomachs (that’s a scientific fact – don’t bother checking), my appetite for these kind of shows – such as it was – couldn’t be more unwhetted.
If you take a quick glance at the current broadcast schedules there seems to be one particular ingredient dominating televisual recipes: testosterone. The latter months of 2011 seemed to have a lovely feminine touch, with Nigella making love to our eyeballs with her own unique brand of food fuckery and the perfectly lovely Lorraine Pascale bringing a delicate warmth to cookery programming, mostly in a bid to prove that her recipes weren’t as bland as her presenting style. The dawn of 2012 has seeded a new crop of cookery shows that all seem to emanate an annoying middle class blokey swagger, which has caused the likes of the comparatively prim and proper Anthony Worrall Thomspon to go on the rob in order to earn some ‘geezer’ points.
The newest of the current batch of culinary stars are The Fabulous Baker Brothers. One is a baker, the other is a chef and they’re brothers. You know they are brothers because it’s in the title and because we are reminded at the beginning of every show and then at ten minute intervals throughout the rest of the programme. Obviously they love competing because they are brothers and because they are brothers they act like little scamps and throw flour and get each other in headlocks and mess up their hair and stuff. They hold meat pie baking competitions, throw ingredients cavalierly into hot pans and chop up incredibly manly things like bruschetta with an oversized axe, which is in no way compensating for an undersized manhood. Just to cement the fact they are blokey rascals, their surname is Herbet. Tom and Henry Herbet. In case you still harbour some affection for these Fabulous Baker Bastards, take a look at this photo.. Read more
Casual drug taking? Check.
Completely insane peripheral characters? Check.
Laughs? Well after a few dismal specials which tarnished the show’s reputation somewhat, Absolutely Fabulous seems to be back on fine, if predictable, form. Not much as changed in the world of Ab fab. Edina is still a fashion victim, Patsy still exists on a diet of drugs and booze and Gran is still a kleptomaniac. The only real change is that Saffy is now an ex-con (the episode’s big ‘twist’) with an adopted African baby. However, despite some hard prison time (she helped people get into the country illegally or something – the finer details really don’t matter) she is still the same quiet and meek girl that puts up with her mother’s antics in a futile and muted rage.
The plot revolves around Saffy’s prison buddy terrorising the family because, through an unlikely coincidence, Patsy owes her a considerable amount of drug money. Luckily, Patsy is owed years and years worth of unclaimed pension and uncashed pay cheques from her magazine job. She pays off the dealer and everything goes back to normal. Thankfully, the plot is pretty much inconsequential, as the main reason to watch this Christmas special is for the reliably superb performances by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.
The X Factor is suffering this year. We know this because every tabloid tells us so and things have deteriorated so badly that an angry Simon Cowell had to storm home to give everyone a stern talking to. Well they assumed he was angry, the Botox made it hard to tell. But what has gone wrong this year? It all started of rather well, with Kelly being all American, Tulisa doing her own version of a Cheryl Salute (for the love of God, please just stop that), Gary being Northern and dashing (albeit boring) and Louis spouting the same old spiel from the previous seven series. However the viewing figures have taken a tumble and the show seems to have fallen into a parody of itself, with less than interesting contestants and forced inter-panel bickering. Luckily I have put together a list of small suggestions to improve this ailing talent contest, for I am the reality show whisperer.
1. Keep Frankie Cocozza in the Competition.
I know that we all hate him. He is a talentless, cocky, big-haired waste of skin with a voice as slight as his waist, but that’s why he is BRILLIANT. Frankie unites a nation every Saturday and Sunday night, as we collectively jeer at our screens and post STD jokes on Twitter and Facebook. Let him dick about and spread venereal diseases and keep him in the competition until he wanders on stage blind and mad from syphilis, shooting up heroin, while flatling mumbling ‘Celebrity Skin’ by Hole into a mic. Without his faux-rockstar posturing, forced ‘swagger’ (Guh. I hate that word) and that lovely one dimensional lilt to his singing voice, this year’s X Factor would be much duller. Gary Barlow dull.
2. Make Misha speak.
Gosh isn’t Misha brilliant! She’s a star already! Look she raps and sings without being Cher Lloyd-y! She has massive hair! Etc. All of that is dandy but when it comes to personality off-song, she doesn’t really reveal much of it. When being interviewed by Dermot, she stands there coyly, eyes to the ground and only occasionally glances up to force a smile and lick her teeth. If she is a full-blown mega-bitch then I want to see it. I could sense the rage that formed behind Misha’s make-up enveloped eyes when Tulisa called her a bully but instead of a finger waggling diva jibe off, she thanked Tuilsa for her comment. It has been suggested that the reason Misha was in the bottom two last week, resulted from her tarnished reputation as a bully. I think it’s the opposite. To survive, she needs to stop pretending she is modest and shy and become an out and out arsehole. I want backstage reports of Misha kicking Kitty in the face and slapping Janet every time she wistfully stares out of a window.
3. Merge the Groups.
Let’s face facts; the groups aren’t working this year. The Risk were little more than the worst aspects of JLS and The Wanted merged together (they don’t even do back flips!), Little Mix are a poor man’s Vanilla (the girl group that sang ‘No Way, No Way’ pop history fans) and the less said about Nu Vibe the better. This year’s X Factor seems to have no qualms in bringing back voted off contestants and sticking them in other groups, so why not avoid the slow and painful elimination process and merge them into one super-group. Think how amazing Little Risk would be. There would be the non-back flipping action of the boys, alongside the graphic cartoon fashion sense of the girls, and then they could get voted out next week and save everybody some valuable time. Read more
It’s the one where:
• Neil goes rogue and spits a lot when he shouts.
• Paul’s family are taken hostage.
• Someone takes a bullet to the head.
• Paul tries to re-open ascension.
• Paul and John finally arrive at their prophesised ash-sodden show-down.
All the cannibalism, all the death, all the blood and all of the unintentionally sprouting of wings when spaffing has been building up to this. The Fades has a lot to get through in its final episode and it delivers in spades (a small but weak funeral-based pun for you there). It’s breathless and packed full of gore, witty one-liners, sci-fi references, tragedy and just a little bit of nudity courtesy of Sarah. Basically it’s an all out geekgasm. And I loved it.
There are several impressive set pieces in this episode, the starkest of which is the murder of Jay in front of Paul’s eyes by a now desperately unhinged Neil. In the backdrop of what is now essentially an eerie ghost town (which I guess has always literally been the case) her execution with a bullet to the head really is quite affecting. Paul’s outpouring of grief as he cradles his girlfriend’s body in his arms and Neil’s gun-toting manic-ness makes for very tense viewing. Obviously Paul has the power to eviscerate Neil if he wants to but he doesn’t, instead blaming himself and marking the moment his character evolves from hapless teen with powers, to selfless hero.
It’s the one where:
• Paul is all better and coma-free.
• The school comes under attack by the newly flesh fades, led by John/Polus.
• Paul discovers a cool new power.
• Natalie is eviscerated.
• Everybody legs it out of town.
• Mac gets kidnapped by Neil.
• Sarah is reborn.
After last week’s breathtakingly tense episode, where we saw John/Polus (as I’m going to be referring to him a lot, let’s call him J-Po for brevity’s sake) snacking his way through the town’s citizens like middle class white couples chomping churros at a street food market in East London, Sarah begin her transition from fade to rebirth and watching Paul die, seemingly betray the Angelics and then experience a last minute resurrection just before he ascended (in one of the most spectacular moth and butterfly-based scenes I’ve seen on TV all year) you would think The Fades would allow the viewer to take a moment and process this battery of plotlines. If this was an American supernatural drama, we would have a nice filler episode right about now, perhaps a throw-away story where the local swim team turn into big monster fish men or something. Fortunately we live in the ruthless, unflinching (and budget restricted) TV landscape of the UK and episode 5 keeps up the frenetic pace and doesn’t miss a beat when ramping up the already considerable threat. Read more
Before I begin any sort of critique of Comedy Central’s new homegrown British sitcom Threesome, let me explain the show’s set-up in a brief series of bullet points:
- Alice lives with her boyfriend Mitch and their gay best friend Richie.
- They all like getting drunk. A lot.
- On the eve of Alice’s drug-fuelled binge of a 30th birthday, the trio end up having a ménage a trois.
- Alice learns she is pregnant.
- Mitch learns he is infertile.
- Richie learns that the baby is his.
- They decide to keep it.
If your instant reaction to the premise is to clamp your hands over your eyes and scream “Arghh! BBC3 comedy” in terror, then the opening five minutes of the programme will do little to assuage your fears. It’s essentially an extended Skins-style party montage with ‘zany’ camera angles akin to the opening few minutes of an episode of Hollyoaks. However, if you can push past the introductory moments, then what you will find is a comedy that is actually quite funny.
The show hinges on you instantly liking the central trio, as little time is given to building characters and you are thrown straight into their little world. It’s a brave, and ultimately winning, move on the part of the show’s creators and makes what could have so easily been a ‘dramedy’ affair into an out-and-out comedy. While there is nothing groundbreaking here, it does seem fresh and fast-paced and, as yet, doesn’t spend huge amounts of time dwelling on the emotional / moral ramifications of their situation (which is good because that would be dull). With all the clichés the programme subverts, it more than balances out with the clichés it embraces (the sexually promiscuous gay character for example), which should make it palatable for those that like their comedy smart and those that like it broad.
Threesome is written by Tom Macrae, the man behind the sublime and arguably series highlight of the current run of Doctor Who, The Girl Who Waited (although he has also written an episode of Bonekickers but we won’t hold that against him), has some solid performances from the leads and some cracking one liners. Frankly, any show that can kick-off with a sex-pun about the Secretary-General of the United Nations is a winner for me. This is a sitcom with potential and as long as it avoids the trappings of most comedy pregnancies (see season 8 of Friends) then I might just watch the rest of the series.
Scottish comedian/actor/friend of Michael Parkinson, Billy Connolly is inviting you with him on an epic journey across America via its famous highway, Route 66, in a show aptly named Billy Connolly’s Route 66. He literally does invite you; he says it at least three times in the first 15 minutes utilising his warm Scottish brogue. So it’s a personal road trip just you and him, two cameramen, a sound guy, the director and the million or so viewers who are also watching.
Despite my cynicism of the format, it genuinely does feel like he is your personal tour guide, showing you places you may never normally think to visit and regaling you with tidbits of local history, coloured by his obvious love of the country.
It all begins in Chicago, where he ascends to the top of the Sears Tower (which is apparently now called the Willis Tower – I’ve gone done some learning from this show too) and immediately activates my vertigo by standing in the 1,353 feet high glass-bottomed skybox. As he admires the scenery (and I cling to the arms of my sofa) his passion for the city is evident and actually quite infectious. He takes a tour of the speakeasies where gangsters did their gangstering and the young, the hip and the alcoholic got their drink on during the prohibition of the 1920s. It’s genuinely fascinating stuff. For instance, did you know that notorious gangster Al Capone was responsible for the inception of the ‘sell-by’ date? Take that Michael Palin. We also get his views on Donald Trump’s architectural influence on Chicago: “Trump pulled down the Chicago Sun building and built that piece of shit… He wants to be the President? The place would be in the toilet if he became the President.” I think I love him.
Billy then jumps into a ridiculous bike contraption thing (I have since been informed that he is riding a Boom Lowrider LR8 Muscle trike and that I’m an awful bastard for mocking a marvel of automotive design) and begins his journey along Route 66, stopping to admire giant advertising signs and to taste pie. It’s not all frivolity and baked goods however, as he does get into some of the darker underbelly of Americana through his meeting with artist Preston Jackson and their discussion about the race divide that dogs US history.
While it isn’t groundbreaking television, it is a funny, informative and breezy documentary/travelogue that is made engaging by Connolly’s quick wit and warmth.