Red Dwarf XI: Episode 2 – Samsara

September 29, 2016 by  
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Red Dwarf Samsara 1

The latest episode of the sci-fi sitcom is a treat for fans of the original series, as well as dealing with what appears to be a major development in Series XI – the increasing prominence of The Cat (Danny John-Jules) as a major character.

The Red Dwarf crew pick up an escape pod from a ship called the SS Samsara, but before the people inside the pod can be rescued, they are vaporised into piles of dust. The crew thus decide to investigate the Samsara to see what it was that made it crash land on an ocean moon, with Lister (Craig Charles) partnering with Cat, and Rimmer (Chris Barrie) with Kryten (Robert Llewellyn).

A series of flashbacks reveal that the people in the escape pod, Col. Green (Dan Tetsell) and Prof. Barker (Maggie Service), were having an affair, but it was going badly due to the ship having a “karma field”. This is similar to something that featured in the original series: the “justice field”, originally in Series IV, in which criminals were placed in an area where it was impossible to commit any act of injustice – i.e. if you try to commit arson, it was you the caught on fire. The “karma field” has both a setting which punishes bad people, but also a setting which awards the good. However, the ship’s field appears to be backwards, as is evidenced when Lister and Cat are trapped together, with Lister being punished for a good deed by having to spend time with the idiotic moggy.

As a fan of the original sitcom, it was nice to see the current series referencing something from so far back, but to also put a new spin on it by having the system also rewarding – a system which gets exploited. The best parts however were two-hander scenes. One occurs at the beginning with Lister and Rimmer playing “Mine-opoly”, with Rimmer constantly bemused by the fact he rolls the same bad throw over and over again. The other is when Lister is trapped with Cat, and Cat tries to talk about his favourite inventor, when in fact he gets the stories of Archimedes and Newton completely mixed up and incorrect.

This is the first of a number of episodes in which Cat, traditionally the character that is most overlooked in Red Dwarf, begins to grow more. The next episode sees him having to do something which is completely against is selfish nature, and later episodes also see him being given more major roles.

Red Dwarf XI is on Dave at 21.00 on Thursday nights.

Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls – episode 2

September 27, 2016 by  
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Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls

So here we are, episode 2 of Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls and after last week’s masterclass in how not to survive on a desert island, this week our modern-day Robinson Crusoes up the ante further still, exceeding even the abject incompetence of their previous failures.

This week’s highlights included:

  • How not to catch a turkey.
  • How not to build shelter.
  • How to catch yourself instead of a fish.
  • How not to prioritise your own survival.

The result was sixty minutes of anti-survival gold dust.

The idea of the show, which supports the Stand Up to Cancer awareness campaign, is to encapsulate that in hardship; even in the darkest hours, that anything is possible – that there is always hope! These guys may have surrendered their liberty for a month (and their fees, which have been donated to the campaign), but they don’t seem to have bought into the idea of what this is all about.

Dom Joly - Obsessive Compulsive Laziness

The castaways have been on the island for four days now, and they have not yet built any kind of shelter, their sole form of sustenance other than what they arrived with and water, has been limpets – with a calorific value of zero. It is a pitiful sight made sadder still by the knowledge that these people’s celebrity status puts them in the position of role models to many.

It came as no surprise that poor little Aston decided that he would be more use ‘keeping it real’ back in the UK than on the island. “I’m just not being 100 percent myself in here,” he reveals to the group. “… I’m just going to go home.”

Having soldiered through four whole days of the four weeks he signed up for, the little cherub harped: “I’m better off sitting in a studio writing songs and choreographing dance routines – it’s a different type of endurance.” Hmmm, just remind me how some of those JLS tracks went. Nope, I’m pretty sure you’re better suited to the island, Aston.

One down, nine to go. The remaining survivalists up-sticks and head off in search of a more amenable living space – I.E. a beach. Carrying with them the camp fire, precariously embered in two fragments of a termite nest. It goes without saying that one of the embers must die en route, and so it comes to pass – due in some part to the frailty of former BBC children’s TV presenter Zoe Salmon, who must surely now have her Blue Peter badge rescinded.

Mark Jenkins isn't everyone's cup of tea

Thankfully, after a two-hour slog through the jungle, they reach sanctuary, and while Mark Jenkins starts to look forward to setting up a hunting party and getting much-needed sustenance inside them, the others decide to head off for a swim.

That’s right, they haven’t eaten for four days. Their only drink has been brackish water and they have no beds or shelter – but show these minor celebs a sandy beach and a blue sea and watch their troubles evaporate. Herein lies the critical errors made by the show’s producers – each of the participants has a GPS tracker and emergency cell phone, which they have used with the frequency of someone calling room service.  They all know they have the comfort blanket of Bear’s ‘safety team’ within 10 minutes and so they wander round as oblivious as turkeys on a farm in the week before Christmas.

It is only the next morning when the exertions of the previous day really start to hit home, that they rouse themselves to action. Off in search of carbohydrate-rich yucca go Karen Danczuk and Zoe and off to the rocks to fish goes the posse of Thom Evans, Ollie Locke and Mark.

As with all their previous endeavours, the hunt amounts to nought; Zoe having had a turkey in her grasp lets it slip away, and Ollie keen to disprove the scurrilous claim that “he’s not just some stupid pink wearing guy that people think I am,” allows the only fish hooked to escape – and, yes, he did it while wearing pink! Good eatin’, though, is tantalisingly close and another hunting party is arranged.

Dr Dawn sets off with Zoe in search of wild turkey and yucca, while Josie Long and Lydia Bright try their hand at fishing. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, quite a lot. The turkeys disappear and rather than hooking a fish, Lydia decides it would be much more entertaining for the viewers if she hooked herself. Whoopsy!

Lydia Bright is hooked on fishing

The panic button is duly pressed in camp and off in search of the good doctor goes one of the chaps. Ambling through the jungle with camera in hand calling out for Dr Dawn, our hapless searcher pans left and spies a turkey – conveniently perched not 10 feet away. So, here’s the dilemma: Do you stretch the turkey’s neck while the opportunity presents itself (no pun intended) or do you continue on your quest so that your camp mate can have a fish hook removed from her finger.

Proving that chivalry is not dead but common sense most certainly is, he opts to carry on with the search. And after finding Dr Dawn the turkey wisely exits stage left and lives to witness at least one more sunrise.

However, a new day brings new hope and a leadership challenge from Mark Jenkins who has had enough of Dom Joly’s profound laziness and lack of any plan. The trouble is, although Mark is organised, nobody wants to follow him and after a brief honeymoon period, strife is sure to follow. He does though send out a foraging party to dig for yukka and, after a couple of hours graft, they return in triumph with a supply of the carb-rich root vegetable and stick it straight in the pot with a gaggle of starving diners watching on.

Dom Joly is given the honour of taking the first bite and to the horror of all present reveals that it isn’t yucca- they’ve spent the past hour boiling inedible twigs.

Man hunk Thom Evans is fading fast

It is all too much for Thom Evans, the island’s male eye candy, who has shed 2 stones in a week and is so weak he can barely bring himself to stand manages to raise his tired hands and makes the call to remove him from the island. “Curses” wail the C4 execs as an army of female fans desert the show for the comforting embrace Aidan Turner in Poldark over on BBC1. And then there were eight!

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.

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