In this week’s episode of Taskmaster we see artistic silhouettes, a huge number of Calippos, and the return of old friends.
An exciting prize was on offer to the winners of tonight’s episode, as the prize task was to bring the best dinner party guest. Joe Wilkinson won this challenge by bringing along Britain’s sixth strongest man, while Jon Richardson came last for inviting host Greg Davies to the party. The first challenge however was a lot more intimidating: impress Cllr. Peter Hudson, the Mayor of Chesham. While Katherine Ryan won the task by writing a song about him, it was Wilkinson who was the funniest in my view by offering the mayor 42 Calippos, eight cans of strong lager and fifteen quid.
After this the challengers had to make an unexpected silhouette. While my favourite of the lot was Richard Osman creating an alien abduction on the moon using a glass bowl as a flying saucer, Richardson came out on top with a more artistic effort involving a balloon. However, the most interesting things in this episode is the reappearance of old challenges and former contestants.
One challenge was to get a gift for the Davies, something which appeared in the last series; while another task was the first “Team Task”. The teams consisted of Doc Brown, Ryan and Wilkinson, versus Osman, Richardson, and the winner of the first series Josh Widdicombe. After being given a playing card by assistant Alex Horne, the task involved each of the three challenges being placed in a bandstand, and having to pass a potato from between the two bandstands furthers apart: a task made more difficult by having one challenger blindfolded, another unable to hear and the third not being allowed to talk. As with the last two episodes, Taskmaster seem to be very keen on coming up with odd challenges involving potatoes.
This episode does feel like an improvement on last week as everyone was keen on trying to complete all the tasks, even if they knew they were not going to come out on top. Richardson was even too embarrassed to watch his attempt at impressing the mayor, but he still gave it a go at the time. Plus, while Wilkinson may not be winning, he is certainly coming across as the people’s favourite.
Taskmaster in on Dave on Tuesday nights at 22.00.
This BBC programme comes back with a new episode in which it casts a closer look upon children’s fantasy fiction. The episode focuses on Edith Nesbit and its 1902 book Five Children and It which paved the way for the fusion of magic and realism often encountered in children’s literature like the Narnia and the Harry Potter book series.
Samantha Bond takes us on a journey through Nesbit’s life and writing career and shows how the two were inextricably linked across the years. Persevering through personal tragedies such as the death of her father and her sister, Nesbit found inspiration in the simplest of children’s dreams: a fairy granting an abundance of wishes… with a catch. So what if the fairy, the “it”, was the most bizarre of creatures, not so much resembling the hairy leprechaun of the TV adaptation? Nesbit had a vivid imagination, like children do, and her fairy could still teach children that greed has consequences. Her imagination was the fuel to the weird creatures of her books. One of these creatures was the “it”, the sand fairy, also known as Psammead (from the ancient Greek word ψάμμος for “sand” and the nymphesque ending “-ad”). Since illustrations are key to children’s literature, special attention is to be paid to H.R. Millar, the prominent Scottish illustrator, who captured Nesbit’s weird beings on paper.
Nesbit based her characters on people in her life. She had her own family, which included her children and those that her husband had with her once best friend. The structure of this unconventional ménage-à-trois allowed Nesbit to rid herself of household duties and focus on her writing and political activism. Contrary to the victimised figure that one may get from Nesbit’s personal life, she was quite dynamic and assertive in campaigning for actual political reform. The themes in Five Children and It, relevant to children and adults alike, touch upon socio-political issues which aligned with Nesbit’s involvement in the Fabian Society.
A specific event, though, marked a notable difference in Nesbit’s life and writing style: the death of her son Fabian. Nesbit blamed herself for the tragedy and she used her writing as a means to give her son the life he could not have. Five Children and It is different from her previous books, as it was the first one rooted in magic and fantasy rather than realism. In a similar way that the children in the book asked wishes from the fairy, Nesbit used the fairy’s magic to conjure her son back to life. Her later books still involved the surreal and the magical. However, they were more nostalgic and less wishful and not as genre-influential as Five Children and It.
Navigating through Nesbit’s life milestones, the episode shows how her work progressed along with her experiences. Perhaps it does take a personal tragedy to break new ground in one’s career and this may be even more so when one’s life doubles as inspirational material. Perhaps this is the price to pay to walk the fine line between personal stability and pioneering…
The Secret Life of Children’s Books is on BBC Four on 4th July at 22.00.
On this week’s episode of the comedy challenge show, we watch some disturbing music videos, horrible culinary habits, and learn that Joe Wilkinson looks like a battered toaster.
Beginning with the prize task in which hosts Greg Davies and Alex Horne awarded points to person with the trendiest clothing – top marks going to Doc Brown for his rubber converse shoes – the first task proper was quiet simple: eat an egg the quickest. The one problem was that the egg was raw. Obviously there was going to be one person, namely Richard Osman, just ate the raw egg straight away (which you should not do), but the most entertaining was Wilkinson who knew he was not going to win the challenge, so just made himself a nice breakfast. Shockingly Katherine Ryan couldn’t bring herself to do the challenge – which is annoying because we don’t get to see anything funny.
The best challenge of the episode involved making a music video for a nursery rhyme. Brown was always going to come out on top as a rapper, but rightly in my view he tied with Jon Richardson with what ended up coming across as “Three Blind Mice” if it was performed by Radiohead. Also during the show we had the contestants photographing things that looked like themselves; Osman completely failing at ordering a pizza (although to be fair he couldn’t use certain words, like “pizza”); and a live task involving potatoes and snooker cue chopsticks. This last task put me in mind of another task last week which involved throwing a potato into a golf hole, making me wonder if sporting potatoes was going to be a recurring theme throughout the series. To be fair, all the sporting potatoes seen her performed better than Wayne Rooney did earlier in the week against Iceland.
Much of this week’s episode was wonderful, especially Richardson’s haunting “Three Blind Mice”, but I am slightly worried about so many of the panellists not bothering in attempting the challenges. It is not just Ryan and the egg, but in the music video challenge Wilkinson just muttered the words to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” incorrectly while Horne dressed up as the animals. The show is best when everyone puts some effort in, regardless of whether they are brilliantly successful or laughably terrible.
Taskmaster is on Dave at 22.00 every Tuesday night.
Dave’s comedy game show makes a welcome return with brand new bunch of contestants willing to take on the challenges set by the Taskmaster himself Greg Davies.
This time around the contestants are Canadian comic Katherine Ryan, humorous rapper Doc Brown, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown stars Jon Richardson and Joe Wilkinson, and Pointless co-host Richard Osman, who are all competing to win a bust of Davies and are being supervised by his assistant Alex Horne (who also invented the show during the Edinburgh Fringe). There are also some other prizes on offer, as the first task, the “Prize Task”, involved offering their most important document to be won. This was a really big deal for some people as Wilkinson offered his own wedding certificate.
The challenges this week revolved around packing for your holidays, throwing a potato into a golf hole without touching a red putting green, obtaining information from a Swedish person who refused to speak English, and placing giant exercise balls on a yoga mat – which had been placed on the top of a hill during windy weather.
The star of this week’s episode was Wilkinson. Not just for putting his own marriage on the line, but also for his own potato throwing skills when he managed to successfully complete the challenge on his first go – or so he thought, until a slow-motion replay showed otherwise. The audience quickly swept from cheers of joy to cries of anguish, in what had to be the most bizarre sporting event ever recorded on television.
Taskmaster is great at displaying people’s lateral thinking. For example, Osman gets around the issue of the exercise balls by bring the mat down from the hill to ground, while Ryan calls Danish comedian Sofie Hagen to translate the Swedish person. It is a show that manages to get laughs from the unusual ways people solve problems, as well as the way everyone reacts to each other: not just the contenders, but their relationship with Davies and how they use Horne. A great show.
Taskmaster goes out on Dave on Tuesdays at 22.00. Previous episodes including the entire first series are available to watch on UK TV Play.
The first of a three-part series, historian Bettany Hughes examines the lives of three men who helped shape the world today. The opening episode looks at the life of Karl Marx, with latest episode cover Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.
Hughes begins by looking at Marx’s early life in Trier, Prussia, a life that is perhaps surprisingly bourgeois for the man who would later co-write The Communist Manifesto, then his rivalry with aristocratic students lead him to be transferred to Berlin where he became influenced by Hagel. After this there was his journalistic career in Paris, and later moves to Brussels and finally London, where even in the 19th century finding a place to life was ruinously expensive.
The programme not just with his ideas and how he set them out, but with the many problems he has during his lifetime. For example, the fact that Capital (or Das Kapital if you insist) didn’t have the impact he was hoping for, something that Hughes claims is probably to do with the fact the book is so big. There was also his medical complains, which Marx described as a “boils”, but which one modern doctor Hughes interviews diagnoses as being a form of hidradenitis.
Now, it must be said that I already knew a bit about Marx before this documentary aired, so I had basic background knowledge of the man and most of it was covered in this show. The main area of interested therefore was hearing Hughes’s opinions on Marx. She deliberately does not take sides over most of the programme, and appears to balance out the views of those who support his ideas with some elements that might seem controversial given what we know of Marx, such as him once contemplating going into the stock market.
Genius of the Modern World thus seems to be a programme for people what to get a good starting position on what Marx was like as a person and his basic philosophy – one which Hughes points out was the view held by a third of the globe 70 years after his death. It is a useful way of getting people to learn more about the man in greater detail, whether you happen to agree with his ideas or not.
Genius of the Modern World is on the BBC iPlayer, with new episodes out at 21.00 on Thursday nights.
I’ve come to think Game of Thrones as I do weekend benders and their unpleasant aftermath; after a period of animalistic excess, a time of quiet reflection is required to overcome the various physiological and psychological effects of the hangover.
Last week was played out at a suitably sedate, contemplative pace. Yes, Septon Ray (Ian McShane) had his neck stretched and all his followers were hacked to bits – but that was off camera, so doesn’t count as a genuine GoT blood-letting. So, all in all, it was an episode of calming scene-setting which sets us up nicely for another bender.
Thankfully, the Clegane brothers, Gregor (The Mountain) and Sandor (The Hound), deliver the goods with an exquisitely choreographed fix of bloodshed and death coupled with some horribly deadpan dialogue from the latter as he exacts retribution on the men who sacked the peace-loving commune of the dearly departed Ray.
“You’re shit at dying, you know that?” complains the axe-wielding Hound having removed the testicles of his unfortunate captive, before bringing down his weapon on his head. Not sated in his bloodlust, he sets off in pursuit of the rest of the band of killers and finds them already facing execution at the hands of Beric Dondarrion (played by Richard Dormer). After a brief parlay, the brigands meet their maker at the end of a rope and Sandor and Dondarrion make friends – sort of.
Not to be outdone, Sandor’s big brother, The Mountain is the go-to guy for Queen Cersei when those upstart fundamentalists of the Faith Militant enter the Red Keep and command her to accompany them to the High Sparrow. With violence inevitable, Gregor (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) diffuses the situation in his own inimitable way by removing the skull and spine of the first man to cross him.
The Mountain’s highly effective negotiation technique persuades Lancel and his brothers of Faith that conflict will not prevail today and they retire while they are still able to.
With the Blackfish (Clive Russell) holed up in Riverrun refusing to surrender his family seat to the besieging Lannister army, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) arrives on a mission from Sansa Stark who remains stuck in the North with a ramshackle band of Wildings and men of the Night’s Watch.
Brienne fulfils her oath and has ‘a moment’ with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) after he gives her his sword – no, that’s not a Bron-style euphemism.
The Kingslayer knows that force of arms isn’t going to gain his entry to the fortress and sets to work on Lord Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies). With little love lost between the pair, Lannister puts Edmure’s options in simple terms: as the rightful Lord of Riverrun, he should surrender the castle or he’ll see all of his family fetched up and slaughtered in front of him. With only one course open to him, Tully gains entry to and then surrenders his castle. And Blackfish? Unable to leave with Brienne due to family honour and equally determined not to surrender to the Lannisters, he meets his end as a good warrior should – with sword in hand.
Down south in that sunny city of Meereen, Tyrion and Varys busily congratulate each other over the success of the pact with the Maesters and the abolition of slavery. But no sooner has Varys embarked on a secret mission to secure support from Westeros, the double-dealing slavers sail into the port and set about reclaiming their property with a pyrotechnic display of flaming missiles and bombs. Tyrion and his posse retreat to the pyramid to make their stand and breathe a collective sigh of relief when Daenerys returns to save the day.
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), last seen on the wrong end of The Waif’s blade stumbling bloodsoaked around Braavos, turns up in the quarters of Lady Crane and is nursed back to health. Having once saved the actress from the assassins of the Faceless Men, she foolishly leads them straight back to her and the sticky outcome is inevitable.
With the Waif in pursuit, Arya scarpers before being cornered in the candlelit cellars of the bath house. With a flash of her blade, the room is plunged into blackness and having dished out one too many beatings, the Waif gets her comeuppance and loses her face to the Many Faced God.
So what now for her? She’s spent three-quarters of this season being whipped like a dog, but having reclaimed her name and earned the respect of Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), she sets off to find what is left of her family in the north. Can she bring anything to the fight in the north? Will she find Bran? Will she rendezvous with Sansa and Jon the Bastard or will she fall prey to the Boltons. Tune in next week, things are cooking nicely!
Game of Thrones is broadcast on Mondays at 2am and 9pm on Sky Atlantic.
This new series of the comedy talk show, which is airing for 10 nights in a row at 10pm on Dave, begins with a rather poignant line-up, as QI’s resident panellist Alan Davies chatted with both the old and the new hosts of the intellectual panel game.
Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig were among the guests in the opening episode, which also featured stand-ups Sara Pascoe (W1A) and American Alex Edelman (2014 Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe). The format as not changed much – everyone talking in the hope that Davies will be able to find a title for tonight’s episode. The only change is that this time, Davies has been given a pen so that he can make notes throughout.
There were plenty of anecdotes to keep us entertained: Fry talked about Prince Charles only joke and what Princess Diana secretly liked to watch on TV; Edelman chatted about how he nearly punched Barack Obama; Toksvig recalled her troublesome schooldays, having been expelled from three different schools in New York; and Pascoe confessed about her failed attempt to woo a gay teacher.
The best thing about As Yet Untitled is the relaxed atmosphere. It is not a show about who has the best story to tell. It is a show that is about conversation. No-one has anything to plug, nothing to promote, they just want to talk about unusual things that have happened in their lives. It is just a simple idea wonderfully executed, with delightful guests. Among the other guests coming up in the series they include Richard Ayoade, Harry Shearer, Alexei Sayle, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Jessica Hynes, Vic Reeves and (perhaps most surprisingly) Ainsley Harriott.
Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled airs at 22.00 every night on Dave, ending on 20th June.
Hola, Thrones fans. After the death of Hodor, we needed a period of respectful mourning so this week’s we have a bit to catch up on.
The trauma of ‘The Door’ a couple of weeks ago has given way to more familiar intrigues and scheming that make the show’s set piece bloodlettings so compellingly watchable.
The High Sparrow, that devilishly cunning, yet outwardly unassuming power usurper continues to run rings around the Lannisters and the Tyrells. Having lured King Tommen up onto his perch with assurances that he will be reunited with his wife Margaery – after her atonement – he had another surprise in store for the former powerbrokers of King’s Landing, by out manoeuvring an attempt to retake the city and claiming the popular support of the people.
That High Sparrow is such a shrewd operator. See how high he flies. He has said in the past he does not fear death, and in GoT terms that is probably a good thing because his end will be assuredly bloody and brutal when it comes.
Isolated and disgraced Jaime Lannister, who doesn’t have too many friends among the Faith Militant is banished to the provinces, where he assumes command of the siege of Riverrun, but finds a belligerent Blackfish in no mood to surrender his fortress. Still he is reunited with his surly Northern BFF, Bron (Jerome Flynn) and with a force of 8000 Lannister soldiers at his disposal he must find a way to entreat the Tullys to come out or sit down for a miserable couple of years of siege that will prevent him from pursuing his grudge against the Faith Militant and the everyone’s favourite religious extremist, the High Sparrow.
Two old stagers have returned to the fold (in separate plot lines) over the past couple of weeks: Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) stepped out of the frozen north to rescue catatonic Bran and the sled-dragging Meera from certain death as they are chased down by wights; and Sandor Clegane, the late King Joffrey’s sledgehammer (played by Rory McCann), turns up alive and well in the care of Septon Ray and his peace-loving religious commune. Having been nursed back to health, Clegane remains driven by anger and hatred and if ever he bumps into that head-cracking man slayer, Brienne of Tarth, there will be a rumpus.
Being in the employ of the Faceless Men has had its ups and downs for Arya Stark and she would readily admit that losing her eyes for a few weeks while being mercilessly beaten with a stick by The Waif was a pretty low point. But having got back into the good books of Jaqen H’ghar, she promptly undoes all her hard work by warning Lady Crane of a plot to kill her. What a silly girl!
It is not the easiest thing in the world to avoid an assassin who can assume the face of anyone, so Arya rolls the dice and takes her chance. Someone really should explain to her though that gambling is a mug’s game as she obliviously bumps into The Waif (masquerading as an old woman) and finds herself on the receiving end of an assassin’s dagger. This girl really knows how to make life hard for herself; now critically injured and penniless this could be the end for her.
Jon Snow and Sansa continue their tour of the Northern houses trying to muster support against the Boltons and the Night King’s army of the dead. But it isn’t going too well, so far they have gathered a handful of men from House Mormont, led by the precociously slappable Lady Lyanna.
Though they can rely on the Wildlings and WunWun, whose giant physique is always good value when there is violence to be done, Sansa knows they need more men and more time and as the episode closes she writes a note to be carried by a raven. To whom and to where the bird flies, who knows?
With three episodes to go, you could say this is bubbling along nicely. Maybe next week we’ll introduce a sweepstake to see who is still breathing when the final credits roll on 28 June.
Game of Thrones is broadcast on Mondays at 2am and 9pm on Sky Atlantic.
Image courtesy of BBC Pictures.
It is hard to know where to start with Russell T. Davies’s adaptation of the Shakespearean comedy, but at times it did feel more like a comedy of errors. Although to be fair, probably the funniest moment did involve the actual Comedy of Errors.
This adaptation of the play sees two couples fleeing a modern-day Athens, run by the cruel Theseus (John Hannah) depicted as a fascist dictator. In the forest around Athens, the king of the fairies Oberon (Nonso Anozie) sends out servant Puck (Hiran Abeysekera) to find a magic flower, the drops from which tricks its victims into falling in love with the first thing they see, including the fairy queen Titania (Maxine Peake). Not only does this mean that the two couple gets caught up in each other’s romances, but a troupe of players, preparing a play for Theseus also fall victim, when one of their number, Bottom (Matt Lucas), is turned by Puck into an ass, whom Titania falls for.
While I enjoyed Lucas’s comic performance, as well as the more scary performance by Anozie as Oberon, overall it felt a bit of a let-down, and I thought that the CGI was used too much. It is also save to say that this is not a play for purists. While I did not mind at all the part of Quince being played by a woman (Elaine Page), some deviations did seem to go a bit too far. For example one of the characters dies in this version which doesn’t happen in the play. Also while I can understand Davies writing in a gay kiss I don’t see why it was needed, especially as how you already have some gay moments in the show when the two men in the couples, Lysander and Demetrius (Matthew Tennyson and Paapa Essiedu) are tricked into falling for each other, to the annoyance of their lovers Hermia and Helena (Prisca Bakare and Kate Kennedy). You just think it would be better to watch a gay kiss in which the two guys involved are doing it because they really love each other, rather than being tricked into doing it by a mythological creature. The end song-and-dance meanwhile was just naff.
However, the saddest thing about this show was that the funniest things in it were not the stuff that was written by Shakespeare, but by Davies. For example, Bottom goes into a pub he bangs the side of a TV to show a programme called The Comedy of Errors, whose theme tune is the one from You’ve Been Framed!. You even manage to get a laugh out of Lucas making a Little Britain reference.
I don’t think though the problem is the adaptation itself, or the cast or the way the programme is made, but because it is lacking one thing: the sound of laughter. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, like all of Shakespeare’s plays, are designed to be performed in front of a live audience. You are meant to hear people laughing at the jokes. The funniest bit of the play that is actually by Shakespeare is when Quince and Bottom’s play, with a cast that includes Richard Wilson, Bernard Cribbins, Javone Prince and Fisayo Akinade, is performed in a way that is so bad its good. In this scene, the players perform in front of a live audience, and we hear their laughter, which the audience at home can join in.
If this production does serve at least one decent purpose, it is that sometimes a live audience is a good thing. I hate these snooty TV critics who think that any sitcom that features people laughing must be using canned laughter. Sometimes audience laughter is a good thing. It is something that we can all join in with together. There is nothing wrong with that.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is available on the BBC iPlayer.
Ho dear, Hodor! The big chap has been dialogue-lite throughout his time on Game of Thrones but has miraculously managed to convey every emotion through his single line: ‘Hodor’. He’s everybody’s favourite loveable oaf (played by Kristian Nairn), but he was also the holder of a series-defining secret, which exposed the true meaning of the name he came to be known by. More on that later.
This week opened with the oil slick on legs Petyr Baelish’s (Aidan Gillen) arrival at Castle Black looking to grease his way up the social ladder alongside Sansa Stark. It was not the most politic of courses Littlefinger has plotted and, in hindsight, he’ll probably accept that if you sell a young girl into an abusive marriage, it’s probably not a good idea to try and ingratiate yourself with the said child bride… unless you arrive carrying the head of Ramsay Bolton, which he wasn’t, so he got short shrift.
Sansa’s privations at the hands of the Boltons have strengthened her resolve and she is determined to reclaim the honour of the Stark family and find her siblings. With Jon the Bastard at her side, she sets off to build a powerbase among the other houses of the North – but she’d better hurry up because her brother is about to unwittingly lead the White Walkers into the kingdom of men.
The Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea and Burner of Misogynistic Dothraki Khals has proved she is nothing if not resourceful. Having reunited with Jorah Mormont and Daario Naharis, Daenerys now rides at the head of 10,000 blood riders and has a date with the Masters and the Sons of the Harpy. However, having fulfilled his pledge to rescue the Queen, Mormont reveals his true affection for her and his affliction with the deadly greyscale. It is a sequence that should have had some emotional weight given Mormont’s popularity, but it was completely eclipsed by the huge revelations that play out during the episode.
Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is a participant in most of those revelations. The selfish young gadabout, who is tripping his way around the seven kingdoms with the time-travelling/astral-projection Svengali, Three-Eyed Raven, wanders off down one too many frosty paths and gets himself tagged by the Night’s King, the White Walker chieftain. And once you’re marked, the White Walkers know exactly where you are and how to get to you. So, you better run, Bran.
Unfortunately, he can’t run, because he’s still tripping, leaving his companions and the Children of the Forest, who aren’t blameless in this either, to a face a horde of undead. Nice one, Bran!
This, though, is where several Thrones‘ storylines coalesce in a heart-rending final scene that makes sense of Hodor’s role and relationship with Bran. A couple of episodes ago we got a glimpse of young Hodor (Wylis) as an able bodied stable hand to the Starks through the eyes of Three-Eyed Raven and his young pupil.
Bran visits Winterfell once more in a vision, as the White Walkers close in on the cave in which he lies in a catatonic state, and this time causes Wylis to suffer a seizure and exhort ‘Hold the Door, hold the door’. While in the present, Hodor barricades the back exit of the cave allowing Meera to drag Bran to safety as young Wylis’s ‘Hold the Door’ is echoed through time and repeated by Hodor until the two phrases merge as simply ‘Hodor’. A brilliant, brilliant end to a character that has spanned a whole series of books and an utterly mind-blowing reveal even to new converts to Thrones.
Game of Thrones is broadcast on Mondays at 2am and 9pm on Sky Atlantic.