Victoria Wood: Wood Work, A Celebration

September 27, 2016 by  
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Victoria Wood 1

In looking back at 2016, there appears to have been a great deal of celebrity deaths from the world of entertainment. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Ronnie Corbett, Prince, Caroline Aherne and Gene Wilder and amongst those who have passed this year.

In April 2016, a giant of British comedy passed away at the age of 62; Victoria Wood. It cannot be denied that Wood was multi-talented, and throughout her 40-year career, she composed & performed music, wrote sketches & sitcoms, and performed in dramatic roles as well as stand-up routines. Her work often centred on the observational, bringing a humorous insight into daily life and routines.

Her passing reminds us just how influential her work was on the British comedy scene, and her influence on future female comics in particular, such as French and Saunders. Wood was nominated for 14 BAFTAs over her long career, winning four and being presented with the BAFTA Special Award in 2005, for her work in television over the decades.

Wood Work, A Celebration brings together a great collection of work from Victoria Wood, showcasing her legacy as a writer and a performer. Included in this collection are three television plays written by Wood. The 1982 comedy sketch series Wood and Walters. Her 1988 stand-up show An Audience With Victoria Wood. The television drama Housewife, 49, based on the true story of Nella Last during WW2, whom Wood portrays. A bonus disk includes a one-off television special, Julie Walters and Friends, co-written and co-starring Victoria Wood.

Running at around 9.5 hours and across five disks, Wood Work, A Celebration is a showcase of the many talents of Victoria Wood, and her ability to make you laugh or cry with her writing and performance. We also see a great deal from her frequent collaborator, Julie Walters, who is equally as entertaining to watch on screen. This collection is a must-have for fans of Victoria Wood, or those seeking out the highlights of her brilliant comedy career.

Wood Work, A Celebration is available to buy now from Network.

Red Dwarf XI, Episode 1: Twentica

September 22, 2016 by  
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Red Dwarf Twentica 1

The boys from the Dwarf are back, and things are still as chaotic as before the four-man crew. Well, the one man, one hologram, one evolved cat, one sanitation mechanoid crew anyway.

The first episode in the latest series, Twentica, is a time travel/alternative history story. Lister (Craig Charles), Rimmer (Chris Barrie), The Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) are on Starbug when they come across 4 of 27 (Kevin Eldon), a form of Simulant called an “Expenoid” who is holding another version of Rimmer hostage. They promise to return him in return for something called the Casket of Kronos, which is currently holding up the crew’s pool table.

They agree to trade, but then the re-released Rimmer tells them that the Expenoids are using the Casket of Kronos to travel back in time to change the past. They give chase, where several things go wrong. Because they were behind, several years have gone by between their rival and those of their foes. Also, some kind of electronic pulse knocks out Starbug’s controls and de-actives Rimmer and Kryten. After getting them working again – in the case of Kryten, but attaching jump leads to his red and black electrode nipples – they venture forth into what is the USA in 1952. The Expenoids have managed to change history by enforcing prohibition, but instead of banning alcohol, they banned technology, so humans cannot create anything to defeat them. The crew have to think of a way to defeat the Expenoids in this technology-starved environment, which leads them to a speakeasy where white-coated people are having a good time practising illegal science.

This opening episode is great fun, mixing visual humour with more cultural gags. One of the best recurring gags is the fact the Dwarf crew are perfectly willing to point out that the Expenoids’s plans are incredibly clichéd, while 4 of 27 is happy to wallow in those clichés. The jokes are also great, ranging from stuff about the formula for calculating density, to Kryten, “couldn’t be more fried if he was a Mars bar living in Scotland”. We also got see Danny John-Jules doing some great tap dancing.

One other thing worth pointing out is that in comparison to all the recent sitcom rivals, especially those by the BBC’s as part of its Sitcom Season, Dave’s Red Dwarf revival is one of the few that is justifiable. This is mainly because when the last episode aired on the BBC, as part of Series VIII back in 1999, the series never officially concluded. The last things to be seen were captions saying: “The End”, followed by, “The smeg it is”. The Beeb missed a trick in not bringing back the series and letting Dave do so, meaning that the Beeb has been giving us revivals of sitcoms that ended perfectly well and should have been left alone. Many of these new episodes are superior to the last few episodes the BBC broadcast, so Dave are certainly up on the deal.

It has been a strong start to the series and hopefully the rest of Series XI will continue in the same vein.

Red Dwarf XI is on Dave at 21.00 on Thursdays.

Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls

September 19, 2016 by  
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Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls

You know you’re in for a rough ride when a show begins with a liberal dollop of emotional blackmail to keep you engaged. ‘They’re raising money for cancer research’ – the message is up front and in your face – so maybe these celebs have something to contribute to the world other than massaging their own considerable egos on a sun-kissed beach for a fortnight? That, at least, was the theory, and it proved to be wrong. For here, we have 10 celebs who have rowed themselves to the upper reaches of shit creek, before tossing out the paddles and sinking their boat.

“Worthwhile things in life don’t come easy,” Grylls warns our island chums on arrival. “Embrace our hardships every day. Positivity, positivity, positivity.” It’s sound advice and the celebs take on board the latter as they enjoy a jolly old time bedding down in their new surroundings – brainlessly glugging down their few day’s supply of water -  at the height of a dry season in which temperatures peak in the high 30s.

If you can forego the expectation that these adults should have some common sense, judgement and basic life skills, then there is some fun to be had with this four-parter.

Ollie Locke of Made in Chelsea

Channel 4 have brought together a group of low-level celebrities including Made in Chelsea’s Ollie Locke, comedian and writer Dom Joly, rugby player and model Thom Evans and Dr Dawn Harper. They are complemented in their hopelessness by self-obsessed, low-level celebrity aspirants, Aston Merrygold of the boyband JLS, Mark Jenkins from C4′s The Hotel, former Labour Councillor and ‘selfie queen’ Karen Danczuk, comedian Josie Long, TOWIE star Lydia Bright and former Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon.

Ollie Locke is quick off the mark in trying to win the sympathy vote – with emotions to the fore after twice failing miserably to find a fresh water source and requiring emergency rescue by the support team, he blurted that: “I’m not a complete idiot and I’m actually quite good at stuff and not this stupid kind of pink-wearing guy that I think a lot of people think I am”. So what’s that you’re wearing then, Ollie?

Aston Merrygold of JLS

Having been marooned on a jungle-tangled chunk of rock in the Pacific, the luvvies are now without water, without food and, for some, without hope. Poor old Aston fearing for his life and his vocal chords is ready to chuck in the towel – and we’ve just about reached sundown on day four.

Use the next seven days to steel your resolve and help the camp’s only diva to stick it out. Aston revealed his survival credentials thus: “I didn’t expect it to be this hard. I didn’t come into this thinking it was going to be a walk in the park – but it’s TV. So yeah, I did think it was going to be a walk in the park because its TV.” That’s right Aston, fully hardcore, and you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy it!

Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, episode 2 is broadcast Sunday 25 September at 9pm

Episode one is available on catchup until Monday 7 November 2016.

Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit

September 5, 2016 by  
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Go 8 Bit

This series may be new to TV, but it has been running at the Edinburgh Fringe for a few years, much like fellow Dave success Taskmaster. The first few episodes may seem to indicate another hit.

While the series may have Dara O Briain’s name in the title and him as host, the original creators are the Go 8 Bit’s team captains – double act Steve McNeil (who is a big games fan) and Sam Pamphilon (who is a “games muggle”). Each show features them and a team mate take on a series of five video games, guided by Dara and resident gaming expert Ellie Gibson. The games played are one classic, the favourite games of the guests, a big modern hit, and a bizarre take on an already more unusual game. The points on offer are decided by an audience vote.

The guests in the first episode were comedian Susan Calman and former England goalkeeper David James, where they played blindfolded Tetris, Susan’s favourite Chuckie Egg, David’s favourite Tekken, Star Wars Battlefront (Luke vs. Darth) and Bust-a-Move played using Makey Makey – a device that allows you to turn anything into a console.

While the show partly works due to the interaction between all the guests, the best element of the show is the competitiveness between the teams. This is made even greater by the live audience. While on Taskmaster only one of the task is live, in Go 8 Bit they all are – so you have the audience cheering their favourite team on. It makes for a much livelier affair.

The comedians may be the centre of the show, especially O Briain who seems to be conquering the market in geeky programming after hosting Robot Wars (at his current rate I was surprised he didn’t get The Crystal Maze too), but of the regulars my personal favourite was Gibson, with her expert knowledge of games and wonderful wit.

Among other things to look forward to in this series include Gina Yashere and her love of Snake and controversy when Jason Manford plays FIFA.

On the downside, the revolving stage does feel gimmicky at first, along with everyone’s attempts to mime travelling at great speed. You do however eventually get used to it.

Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit is on Dave on Monday nights at 22.00.

The Lost Sitcoms: Till Death Us Do Part – A Woman’s Place Is in the Home

September 1, 2016 by  
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Lost Sitcoms

Image Credit: BBC/Alan Peebles

The BBC’s sitcom season is one that I’ve treated with some trepidation. I’m not keen on bringing back all of these old sitcoms for fearing the new plots and stories will cheapen the original shows.

The Lost Sitcoms differs however, as they are not creating new stories. Instead they are recreating episodes missing from the BBC archives. The first to get the treatment in this series is the controversial sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, with Simon Day taking the lead role of bigoted Alf Garnett, formerly played by Warren Mitchell.

In this episode, “A Woman’s Place Is in the Home”, Alf is at home distraught: is his dinner is burned, the fire has gone out, and his “silly old moo” of a wife Elsie (Lizzie Roper) is out. Elsie returns home and tells Alf that she, daughter Rita (Sydney Rae White), and her “stupid Scouse git” husband Mike (Carl Au) have been to the pictures. Alf thus gets into a temper arguing that Elsie should be staying at home and looking after the house rather than having fun. Things get worse when Alf learns that the rest have bought fish and chips, but didn’t get any for Alf because they assume he would have eaten. This leads to Alf trying his best to place an order at the local chip shop using the public phone box on his street.

While there were some laughs, especially in the phone box scenes in which lines get crossed, the episode did feel at times rather pedestrian. You get the feeling that of all the episodes the BBC could have picked to remake, this was one of the lesser ones.

While Till Death Us Do Part was known for its colourful language, don’t expect anything racial or sexual to be said in this episode. There is certainly talk of sexism due to Alf’s belief that Elsie should be at home, but other than this the main highlight concerning bad language is a heated-discussion about the use of the word “bloody”, which at the time the show originally went out was the height of rudeness.

One thing that some people have commented on, unfavourably, is the way that the programme began by showing an aerial shot of the studio set, reminiscent of Mrs. Brown’s Boys today. One of the biggest signs of the way the studio is designed is the phone box scenes, where one wall of the phone box has been cut away, like the wall of the Garrent’s front room, so that you can see clearly the actors inside making the calls. Why they needed to do this is not that understandable. It feels a bit gimmicky and cheap.

When it comes to comments from other people though, the one that annoyed me most was The Spectator’s James Delingpole, who said that more repeats from politically incorrect sitcoms should be shown. While I have no problem with this claim, and I myself would like to see more sitcoms that are controversial now to be given an airing to see what people think today, I was annoyed by some of examples of what he claimed the BBC would no longer repeat. One was ‘Allo ‘Allo! which actually was repeated on the BBC last year several times and is still repeated on the partly BBC-owned Gold and Yesterday frequently. Two others were On The Buses and Love Thy Neighbour, but I can think of another reason why the BBC doesn’t repeat them aside from political correctness – they were ITV sitcoms. Indeed, On The Buses is still often repeated on ITV3.

However, I think the main reason why sitcoms like Till Death Us Do Part are not repeated is nothing to do with political correctness. It is because they were made in black-and-white. Nearly all the BBC sitcom repeats are in colour. It would be good if the BBC were to show something older, regardless of the technology.

The Lost Sitcoms is on BBC Four at 22.00 on Thursdays.

Robot Wars: Episode 6 – The Grand Final

August 29, 2016 by  
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Robot Wars 6

Image credit: BBC/Mentorn Media Scotland/Alan Peebles

The most recent revival of Robot Wars ended with last night with the five heat winners and one wildcard runner-up fighting to win the trophy.

Attempting to become the champion were TR2, who has the youngest driver, aged 15; powerful newcomer Shockwave; Carbide, with its rotating steel bar; House Robot defeating launcher Apollo; humming vertical spinner Pulsar; and one-man wildcard team Thor.

There was plenty of damage just in the opening heats. Carbide’s bar was so destructive it destroyed part of the arena’s walls and the match had to be called off early for health and safety reasons.

The final battle was a great watch – one robot has the upper hand before the tables are turned, before becoming a war of attrition with both machines equally matched. It was no whitewash, but a real tussle.

Concerning the series as a whole, I am glad to see that the return has been great overall. There could be some things that might be improved such as the roll of the House Robots and how they are involved in each battle, but other than that things are great. Hopefully another series will be on the cards.

Robot Wars is available on the iPlayer.

Robot Wars – Episode 5

August 21, 2016 by  
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Robot Wars 6

The last heat before the final shows a peculiar mix of robots, ranging from comeback kids to bizarre designs.

Among the robots in this heat include Beast, which had no armour – just an exoskeleton; Gabriel, which consisted of two bicycle wheels and a sword placed between them; Ironside 3, which has a horizontal spinning iron bar; and Pulsar, which has a vertical spinner that made a huge noise.

It was also a pretty sad affair, when one robot, the dragon-like Chompalot, ended up bursting into flames after one battle and being so badly damaged that it was forced to withdraw from the competition. It is strange to think that the most damaging thing in this episode occurred outside of a normal battle.

Most of the battles this time around felt a bit hum-drum at times – which in the case of Pulsar was appropriate giving the menacing hum caused by its weapon. Most of the battles went to the judges, who had to make plenty of tough choices. One thing that did make this episode interesting though was that the range of styles made for some odd battles. For example, because Gabriel was so tall, many robots drove between the two wheels and went straight under the robot.

On the downside, once again another House Robot failed to make an appearance, this time Matilda. We really need to see more from all four of them.

Robot Wars is on Sundays at 20.00 on BBC Two.

Robot Wars: Episode 4

August 14, 2016 by  
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Robot Wars 1

Image credit: BBC/Mentorn Media Scotland/Alan Peebles

This week’s episode features what looks like the next big Robot Wars star – a robot that can take on the House Robots… and win.

The robot in question is Apollo. Designed by some men who worked as Pontin’s Blue-Coats, they described the robot as a “launcher” rather than “flipper”. Indeed, it launched several robots during the show. It managed to launch some out of the arena, even when it had some mechanical faults. However, what Apollo will be most notable for will be that it was able to successfully flip over Shunt, Dead Metal and Matilda. Not only that, but none of the House Robots can self-right, so they were out for the count unless another robot flipped them over. What we really want to see now is if Apollo can take on Sir Killalot.

There were some other interesting robots too. There was PP3D, a robots that was partly made of parts created by a 3D printer; Sweeney Todd, a robot that is designed to move around in any direction; and Storm 2, the most expensive robot in this year’s competition. Although an exact value was not given, it was certainly in the thousands of pounds.

But it was still Apollo that stole the show. With his form against the House Robots, I expect it will do well in the final.

Robot Wars is on Sunday nights at 20.00 on BBC Two.

Robot Wars: Episode 3

August 7, 2016 by  
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Robot Wars 6

Image credit: BBC/Mentorn Media Scotland/Alan Peebles

If there is one thing we learn from this week’s Robot Wars it is this: don’t make a robot out of wood.

One of the competing robots, Overdozer, was made out MDF and powered by a petrol engine. The result was inevitable but hilarious. One reason that it was so inevitable, apart from the obvious, was that it was up against two experienced robots: Dantomkia, with its rather egotistic team leader, and King B Remix, which has had several names over the years, the B standing for Buxton, where it comes from.

However, while these were impressive, also as impressive were the new teams, and the star of this week’s episode was flipping robot TR2. It was able to take on the more experienced teams and come out on top.

Another positive of this time around was we got to see more action from the House Robots, and in particular Sir Killalot, toying with the competitors, dangling over the flame pit. On the downside, we didn’t see all of the House Robots this time around, as there seemed to be no appearance from Shunt.

Robot Wars airs on Sunday nights at 20.00 on BBC Two.

Robot Wars: Episode 2

July 31, 2016 by  
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Robot Wars 6

Image credit: BBC/Mentorn Media Scotland/Alan Peebles

The second episode of the revived series was an improvement on the first, with a lot more destruction from the combatants – at least some of them anyway.

The star fighter of the show was Thor, a robot armed with a large blunted axe/hammer. He caused the most damage in the arena, especially against a robot named Shockwave, which was armed a scoop made from a gas main pipe, which Thor totally destroyed. However, it was not the only battle between Thor and Shockwave, and the other battle was, well, shocking.

We also go to see the House Robots do a bit more damage, especially from Dead Metal, who mainly did damage to a robot called Foxic. This was especially good because Foxic had to be one of the worst robots in the history of the show. Armed with a flipper, it was involved in a battle with a spinner named Mr. Speed Squared, but it was so lifeless that head judge Prof. Noel Sharkey said it was possibly the worst battle in the history of Robot Wars. Not only was Foxic terrible in battle, but the team captain was all mouth and no trousers. The only positive part of Foxic’s performance is that it managed to get under Dead Metal and push him around the arena a fair bit.

It is fair to say that following this episode, viewers will be getting more used to the format and the show is finding its feet, or rather wheels.

Robot Wars is on BBC Two at 20.00 on Sunday nights.

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