In late 2011 I borrowed a copy of The Social Network for an evening’s entertainment. My date, blaming an 80 hour week, survived only long enough to see Mark Zuckerberg compare Harvard’s female students to the Old MacDonald cast. Although her snoring wasn’t the greatest addition to Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, it did allow me to second screen my own history with Facebook. Interrailing through eastern Europe with a couple of friends during our gap year’s second summer, we met a couple of enjoyable Americans who encouraged us to keep in touch via Facebook. It was four years after the social network’s launch and we’d never heard of the site.
Since most of the marketing emanating from southern California can be summarised as the promise to deliver your lifestyle a (first world-adjusted) Great Leap Forward, it is fair to wonder quite how far behind curve HBO’s Silicon Valley is. A new sitcom from Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge and dubbed “Entourage for geeks”, the show follows six twentysomething members of California’s tech working class. Comedian Thomas Middleditch has the lead role of Richard Hendriks, who during his time away from his job at Hooli (a Google parody), has developed an app containing a potentially revolutionary data compression algorithm which might be worth billions. Completing the socially maladroit cast are Kumail Nanjiani, Josh Brener and Martin Starr as his fellow programmers and T.J. Miller as their ambitiously indolent landlord.
Judge skewered corporate culture in 1999′s Office Space and in his return to TV has shown himself to be equally adept at deconstructing the absurdities of anti-corporate companies. Much of the comedy comes from the shibboleths which are repeated as dogma from the show’s titans to its coders, and underpinning the entire first series is their sincere belief that reduced file sizes could change their, and your lives. Glorious exaggeration to anyone outside the bubble but still utterly dead-on. There might be the occasional missed gag about dynamic tesselation, but for the most part Silicon Valley is a bitingly funny character-driven satire that you won’t need to speak Python to understand.
Silicon Valley: Season 1 is available to own now
The idea of being a superfan is something that isn’t a new concept but in the past ten years has evolved into its own world. With technology making it easier to connect with celebrities and conventions being the new thing for fans to attend to show their obsession, Tom Felton dives into the lives of superfans to see why they do what they do.
Felton is widely known as Draco Malfoy from Harry Potterand overthe past decade, he’s become recognisable all over the world and has gained superfans of his own. The documentary decides to focus on one woman named Tina who has been avidly following Felton for years and has even become friendly with his family and friends.
This special chooses to use this as a running story line mixed in with interviews of other superfans and Harry Potter stars such as Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and the author herself, J.K. Rowling.
It was interesting to see how Felton narrated the whole thing. At times it was heartfelt, like when he met a fan who had overcome depression with the help of Harry Potter or when another fan battled bullying with advice from the series.
A scene I particularly enjoyed was when Felton got to meet and interview William Shatner. It went terribly with Felton stuttering and calling him Captain Kirk constantly, but really showed how starstruck one can get, and for someone like Felton to be so genuinely flustered was refreshing to watch.
What I wasn’t too fond of was how Felton flip-flopped constantly between thinking that superfans were extremely weird people and just ordinary individuals. I saw how he was trying to expose the stories each one of them had, but his changing perspective just seemed too quick and forced.
The redeeming factor that saved the documentary for me was the different perspectives you got. J.K. Rowling was able to talk about how people are not so much obsessed with her and rather the books she created. Radcliffe and Grint talked about the difference between being into a character versus the actor themselves. Felton showed a variety of fans that all had varying goals and perspectives.
This documentary is a good show of the positive sides of superfans and gives those who are superfans validation for their obsession and those who aren’t a better look into their world.
Tom Felton Meets the Superfans is on BBC Three at 9PM on March 23rd.
Inside No. 9 was one of the comedy highlights of last year: a series of half-hour individual dark comedies created by League of Gentlemen and Psychoville stars Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, the only connection being that they always take place in house, flat or room No. 9.
The last series featured an almost silent story, a take on Macbeth, and tale concerning a child abuse. The first story in this second series continues in its twisted comic form, but this time it is a story on the move, taking place on a railway sleeper carriage travelling between Paris and Bourg St. Maurice in the middle of the night.
It begins with a doctor named Maxwell (Shearsmith) trying to get some sleep as he has a job interview the next day, but then a fart-ridden drunken German called Jorg (Pemberton) enters the carriage causing a smelly disturbance. This is not the end of Maxwell’s problems, as Jorg is followed by a couple, Kath and Les (Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mark Benton) who are on their way to their daughter’s wedding; then an Aussie backpacker named Shona (Jessica Gunning) and her posh English acquaintance Hugo (Jack Whitehall) also interrupt the scene. However, there is one particular passenger in the compartment who is going to make things even worse for everyone else on board; one who might jeopardise everyone’s plans horribly.
For fear of spoiling the plot I shall not say what this passenger does, but this character is the key twist to so many of the stories past viewers of Inside No. 9 will be accustomed to. What we can say is that it and indeed the ending make for thrilling viewing. It is not just the dramatic elements that work, but also the comedy. Anyone familiar with Shearsmith and Pemberton’s work will already be familiar with their dark comic tone. One gross-out scene features something unspeakable with a shoebox.
The acting is also great. You have a great mixture of the comic talents of Shearsmith, Pemberton and Whitehall, combined with the more dramatic skills of Hesmondhalgh, Benton and Gunning. The whole thing balances out superbly. It seems that what made the first series so good is still here in the second.
Score: 4 / 5
It is hard to get quiz shows right. Often they end up being cheap, tacky, and full of constants who are unaware that Britain once took part in something called World War II. The Quizeum is not that. It is in fact almost totally the opposite. It is clearly intellectual, smart and knowing. It is also incredibly dull.
The Quizeum, hosted by Griff Rhys Jones, takes place in a different museum in the UK every week. For example, the first episode takes place in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the second in the Wallace Collection in London. All of the questions are connected to exhibits in that week’s museum.
There are two teams of two competitors, and all the competitors are academics: normally art historians and professors. There appear to be two regular team captains: Lars Tharp, an expert on European and Chinese ceramics; and Dr. Janina Ramirez, a medieval art historian. Other people making appearances include art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon and mathematician Marcus du Sautoy.
There are several rounds, which include a treasure hunt in which each team is given a cryptic clue to one particular exhibit in the museum; a “Call My Bluff” style game in which one team gives a pair of explanations about an exhibit and the other team have to figure out which is the correct one; and another round in which they have to figure out how two seemingly unrelated exhibits are actually connected.
It is hard to figure out how to describe The Quizeum. It is not your standard quiz because all the contestants are academics, historians and professors. Therefore it would be more accurate to say it is a panel show: except it is not the sort of panel show that plays the comedy. Apart from Griff Rhys Jones’s attempts to crowbar some comedy into the show, the closest to anything funny that this reviewer has come across was a plate depicting a person’s face, in which the face is constructed using lots of drawings of penises.
The closest thing I can compare it to would be something like the Radio 4 shows Quote Unquote and The Write Stuff – and given that Quote Unquote is the Radio 4 panel show mocked by all the other Radio 4 panel shows, this is not a positive comparison to make. It is a show that tries to be witty, but seems to accidentally exclude people who are looking for something more entertaining and inviting.
There is nothing wrong with a quiz show that is deliberately intellectual, but the best ones are shows that you can still feel that you can take part in. Mastermind is minimalist in terms of setting: just one black chair and a load of questions. Other Radio 4 quiz shows like the long-running Brain of Britain and the cryptic Round Britain Quiz are also helped by being a lot simpler to understand in terms of structure. University Challenge and Only Connect may be a bit hard for most people, but the pace of the former and the quality of the host in the latter help to make it entertaining
The Quizeum was seemingly created by BBC Four to fill the void left by Only Connect when it moved to BBC Two, but if seems to be more akin to another failed BBC Four “panel show”, Never Mind the Full Stops, which was a show for people who liked grammar more than people. The Quizeum fails to entertain and you end of drifting off and wanting to watch something else.
Score: 1.5 / 5
Banished is a new seven part series by writer Jimmy McGovern, creator of The Street and Cracker. Known for tackling social issues and injustices in his work, McGovern applies these themes to the inhabitants of the first penal colony in eighteenth century New South Wales. Convicts and soldiers alike deal with moral dilemmas and matters of the heart against a backdrop of what would be paradise if not for the brutality, exploitation and dwindling food rations.
Banished’s extraordinary setting becomes apparent within the show’s opening moments as a woman wakes from a nightmare in a dormitory that looks like the dank belly of a slave ship and emerges into the colour saturated exterior of an idyllic Australian beach. The scenery darts between the grim and the beautiful; squalid living quarters and ramshackle tents, sunsets and silhouettes and light streaming through tree canopies. The storyline mirrors this duality as it skirts the line between harrowing and sentimental occasionally becoming excessive on both parts.
The narrative plays out like a sort of Upstairs Downstairs in exile as we delve into the lives of both the prisoners and the soldiers of the Royal Navy. By day the men labour on little food and by night the women struggle to maintain their dignity as a result of the policy that bans convict men and women associating together and states convict women are fair game to the soldiers. If the convicts were not already murderers or whores before exile, they soon may be if they mean to survive. Elizabeth Quinn (MyAnna Buring), passionate tart with a heart, suffers what feels like a rape-a-minute existence in the first episode: a life so grim that the surprising decision to suddenly allow her to marry her convict lover Tommy (Julian Rhind-Tutt) feels jarring and near saccharine.
Worth watching are the interactions between the beautiful convict Catherine (Joanna Vanderham) and the hard-hearted Major Ross (Joseph Millson) in the second episode. Particularly compelling is Catherine’s touching tale of how she came to be exiled and her bitter summary of the injustice she continues to endure; ‘you treat me like muck because I have traded my body …but it was you who asked to trade in the first place’. The varied female characters are perhaps the strength of the programme. The exploitation they endure is upsetting almost to the point of vulgarity though, of course, it was reality for many women at the time. When those in charge convince themselves that the convicts do not think or feel (a mindset that is even more disturbing considering that we know, from history, people were exiled for crimes as insignificant as stealing food or clothes) abuse is inevitable. However distressing, these shameful acts of the past should be confronted. Another highlight of the show is the character of James Freeman (played by the intensely likable Russell Tovey) who finds himself outcast by the outcasts when forced to ‘grass’ on a fellow convict in order to prevent starving to death. A storyline that, admittedly, loses some of its urgency considering Tovey’s unchanged physique. It must be also said that the impact of Freeman’s teary protest to the Governor was lessened when he admitted his rival’s campaign against him had only began that morning.
Currently the convicts hold the larger portion of screen time though hopefully this is something that will balance out as the series unfolds. For example, some of the soldiers seem unreasonably unpleasant and context as to why they think and act the way they do would provide a motive beyond cruelty being good for melodrama. They and the introspective Governor (David Wenham) both deserve to be expanded upon in future episodes. The plot and characterisation are, so far, surprisingly simplistic considering McGovern’s previous work though his themes of injustice are still prevalent. Hopefully the series will go on to examine deeper into the characters and what brought them to New South Wales. In a world where everyone is wholly defined by their past crimes it would be of interest to know more about what those crimes were.
At points I found myself recalling glimpses of 2005’s The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant a TV film also based on mistreatment of convicts exiled to Australia. So far, the characters and the story seem familiar but the concept is enough to keep me interested for a few more episodes at least. One notable event in episode two seems likely to provide thrilling consequences. For me, the defining image of the show is of the convict couple having a gunshot wedding upon a gallows scaffold: glimmers of love and hope struggling to endure on a foundation of injustice and cruelty.
Banished will be broadcast on BBC One on 12 March at 9pm
Last week saw the return of Channel 4′s popular observational documentary series, One Born Every Minute. Series seven shows us the trials and tribulations of the maternity ward in Liverpool Women’s Hospital, the busiest and largest of its kind in Europe.
The first episode of the new series showed us two couples, Yvonne, 41 and Gary, 48 who experience the nerves and joy of becoming first time parents at an age when they thought their opportunity to become parents had passed.
We also see Jennifer, 25 and Darran, 26 who are told at the 20 week scan that their daughter has a heart defect, the severity of which they will only know once she is born. The viewers are watching and waiting with the couples, as their labours progress.
With the cameras placed in the corners of the hospital rooms, they are conveniently out of the way of the parents-to-be as they nervously and excitedly wait for their new arrival. No area of the hospital is out of bounds, with cameras in the delivery rooms, operating theatres, neo-natal ward, birthing pools, reception desk, corridors, car park and the staff office, where we see the midwives move between cups of tea, eating cake and talking about the patients.
One of the most interesting aspects of the show is to see the midwives talking away from the patients. This sheds light on the need to move between having a laugh with your colleagues in the staff room, to suddenly having to reassure a nervous couple during a worrying time. The sweet natured midwives are the unsung heroes of childbirth (after the woman giving birth, of course!) as they reassure their patients and take this journey with them, even when the outcome may not be as hoped. It is emotional watching the process of childbirth on the show, let alone having to deliver babies everyday as your profession.
The individuals and couples bravely let us enter their world for a short time, as we learn more about them through the episode and why they decided to become parents, or how they have dealt with the news that they are about to become parents. We hear about the issues facing some of the pregnancies on the show, and the worries that the parents-to-be face. Laughter is clearly needed at a time such as this, and the show is often peppered with nervous humour and jokes from the staff and the patients.
Although a documentary series about childbirth will not be everyone cup of tea for Tuesday evening viewing, nothing too graphic is shown, and the series is the ultimate reality show. With many ‘reality’ shows now losing their realistic element and being obscured by editing or scripting, One Born Every Minute manages to be completely real, very emotional and untimely successful at the same time.
One Born Every Minute is on Tuesdays at 9pm on Channel 4.
Whether one considers it a remake of the hugely popular 1975 series starring Robin Ellis, or a reinterpretation of Winston Graham’s original novels, Debbie Horsfield’s new eight-part adaptation of Poldark comes with the weight of expectations. It’s a show not only with a famous name to live up to, but a difficult task – to replicate the success of its predecessor and turn Sunday nights on BBC One into the home of must-see historical drama.
Unfortunately, while the ambition of the series is admirable, the show itself is disappointingly run-of-the-mill.
The Hobbit’s Aidan Turner stars as Ross Poldark, a “scoundrel and a libertine”, who returns from fighting in the American War of Independence to his native Cornwall. Once home, he discovers that his father is dead, his estate is close to bankruptcy, and his beloved Elizabeth (Heida Reed) is engaged to his cousin Francis (Kyle Soller). Against the advice of his conniving uncle Charles (Warren Clarke), Poldark channels his rage and sorrow into restoring his fortune, finding time to rescue the enigmatic servant girl Demelza Carne (Eleanor Tomlinson) from her abusive father along the way.
At first glance, it’s hard to see why Poldark fails to deliver the rip-roaring yarn that Bazalgette and his team were obviously trying to create. It has all the right elements – a brooding hero tormented by lost love, scheming villains, and thrilling derring-do set against the rolling hills and crashing waves of the dramatic Cornish coastline. What quickly becomes apparent, however, is that while plenty of money has been spent on the series, and both Horsfield’s script and Bazalgette’s direction are perfectly adequate, the show lacks anything original or compelling enough to truly capture the viewer’s imagination.
Whenever a TV show makes bold artistic choices, it risks alienating part of its potential audience. Last year’s atmospheric BBC adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, for instance, faced widespread derision for its use of “unintelligible” and “mumbling” actors, while Peter Kosminsky’s dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall received as much criticism as praise for its deliberate pace and naturalistic cinematography. These are risks that the makers of Poldark seem unwilling to take. In attempting to please as many viewers as possible, the show has smoothed down all of its rough edges and homogenised its visual style. What’s left is a fairly bland, family-friendly drama that no-one will hate but few will adore.
Poldark’s burning, doomed love for Elizabeth, which is presented as the emotional core of his character, is explored in several humdrum scenes that could have been lifted from any BBC or ITV period drama from the last thirty years. Featuring lines such as “all I could think about was coming back to you” and “you must forget me”, they lack any fresh insights on the familiar themes of forbidden desire, romantic rejection and social politics. Even the camera blocking (basic shot reverse shot with a couple of wider shots thrown in for variety) seems designed to get them out of the way as quickly as possible.
Similarly, the scene in which Poldark stands up to Demelza’s father is filmed in the slow-motion, shaky cam style popularised by Steven Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan and now found in every movie and TV fight scene from The Bourne Supremacy to the BBC’s own The Musketeers. It has become a lazy visual shorthand for “exciting action” and it feels particularly uninspired here. This is exacerbated by the fact that Turner’s Poldark, a kind of cross between Mr Darcy and Richard Sharpe (but lacking the charisma or physical presence of either), treats the violent confrontation as a game, never looking like inflicting or receiving serious injury.
The best scene in the first episode is one in which the title character contemplates letting his cousin Francis drown in an underground pool. This sequence hints at the show Poldark could have been if it had been more willing to experiment, with a claustrophobic, handheld aesthetic that is nicely creepy and does more to illustrate Poldark’s mental anguish than the other 57 minutes combined. It’s just a pity that it sticks out like a sore thumb.
The acting in Poldark mirrors the show as a whole – none of the performances are bad but few stand out as exceptional. The late Warren Clarke is reliably accomplished as Poldark’s uncle Charles, half imposing patriarch determined to protect his legacy, half befuddled old man, and Phil Davis and Beatie Edney provide much-needed comic relief as morally ambiguous servants Jud and Prudie. However, the three leads, from smirk-prone Aidan Turner to brittle Heida Reed and suspiciously hygienic Eleanor Tomlinson (surely Demelza would have rotten teeth like her father?), are passable rather than outstanding. None of them sit that comfortably in their roles, with Turner’s uneven performance in particular coming across as affected and misjudged.
Poldark may well find its feet in subsequent episodes when the narrative is less bogged down with set up and establishing its characters’ motivations. However, unless it takes a few more creative risks, it’s difficult to imagine this series having anything like the same cultural impact as its 1975 namesake, or replicating its high ratings.
Poldark begins at 8pm on BBC One on Sunday 8th March.
I know what you’re thinking. The coupling of Jodie Marsh with a niche sexual subject is a recipe for disaster. Depending on your point of view, it’s a pairing that will lead to a desperately embarrassing and anti-climactic wank at best, and a reason to consider an existential crisis at worst. I felt almost certain that I would finish watching this programme feeling personally victimised by the continuing existence of Jodie Marsh. But it didn’t happen.
So far as cheap documentaries about seedy sexual liaisons go, this is actually good. It’s sympathetic and it’s not salacious. Jodie Marsh is not your typical squirming cry-baby presenter usually chosen to host this type of programme. She’s sensitive, polite, non-judgemental, intelligent and a good interviewer. The show also deserves extra bonus points for not featuring Jodie typing ‘women what pay for sex’ into Google at any point or staring sadly into the distance, helplessly considering the moral implications of what other people choose to do with their bodies.
Jodie runs the gauntlet from the high end escort services catering to women, past the middle ground of the industry which features a frankly inexplicable incident with a penis pump and an excruciating display of nudity in a community hall, and culminating in the symbiotically exploitative and morally problematic sex tourism industry in Jamaica.
Of course, every one of these documentaries has to feature an ostentatious tit and this one is no exception. The idiot of the show is a Jamaican escort calling himself Dr Love; a singularly unsexy individual who speaks almost entirely in rhyme and at one point announces: “If everyone would have sex then no one would die.” Well, he is a doctor so I think it’s safe to take that at face value. Jodie is less convinced and tells him right to his face that conversation with him is “like some kind of surreal nightmare.” <3 Jodie.
If there’s a criticism to be made, it is that the striking similarity between the male and female sections of the sex industry is not drawn attention to. Much of the documentary focusses on the emotional connection between escort and client and this is painted as a matter of women being unable to differentiate between love and lust. In fact, every female escort worth her salt has her own harem of lovesick johns. This confusion is not so much borne of acute sexual difference but a natural consequence of the patter of the professional escort, especially when clients are paying for a boyfriend/girlfriend experience. More comparison might have been good but that is a minor criticism of a genuinely thoughtful and sensitive documentary. Featuring Jodie Marsh.
Jodie Marsh on Women Who Pay for Sex premières on March 18
In this one hour BBC special, Philippa Perry explores the world of agony aunts from 17th century Britain to the present day. Perry is an author, psychotherapist and as of September 2013, an agony aunt for Red Magazine.
With her quirky style, she dives into the topic with an enthusiasm and curiosity that flows from her to her viewers. I found myself fascinated by how advice columns transitioned from horse excrement in the 17th century to baking pies in the 1950s and sex questions in the modern day.
Perry, dressed in bright patterns and donning rimmed glasses, uses a variety of sources and brings on a history lesson in a fun but educating manner. She pulls from past and current agony aunts, historians and journalists. The most surprising thing to learn from the special is that agony aunts are not just only women, but men can also be behind the keyboard giving out advice.
Agony uncles, as they are called, exist and have helped to give readers a male perspective for centuries. On the other hand, while most readers and advice seekers tend to be women, a good handful are male. Men and boys write in about the same concerns regarding the opposite sex, giving a new perspective to who really uses advice columns.
Being more than just a history lesson, this documentary goes on to make itself relevant to present day. Though the golden age of agony aunts may have been in the 1970s, they are still a huge deal. People may now turn to Google for answers, but a majority still crave the attention of having a real life conversation with another person, even if it is on paper. Plus, it’s always entertaining for others to read of another’s woes.
I highly recommend watching this BBC special because it really captures the essence of human nature’s curiosity about problem solving and advice seeking. Perry’s sparking personality and valuable guests will keep you happily glued to the screen for 60 minutes.
Sex, Lies and Love Bites: The Agony Aunt Story is on BBC Four at 9pm on March `10
Arthur & George is not your typical Sherlock Holmes story with a dashing detective and clear sense of the villain by the end of the first 60 minutes. This three part ITV series is yet another twist on the many adventures of the famous detective. Adapted from Julian Barnes’s novel, Arthur & George, it focuses on the only case that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever solved himself.
Barnes is an award-winning English author whose book has become the basis for the show. The adaptation is mostly faithful, but lacks the detailed stories of the two main men, Arthur and George. The show seems to give you the sense of who Arthur is, while George takes a backseat.
Martin Clunes (as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and Arsher Ali (as George Edalji) are the new faces of the Sherlock franchise. Besides the main actors, the show itself differs dramatically from the most recent popular adaptation of Sherlock produced by the BBC.
Instead of the modern day twist, the show refocuses on the author of the famous detective. In his lifetime, Conan Doyle was approached on numerous occasions to solve real life crimes, but the case of George Edalji was the first and last time he became a real life Sherlock Holmes.
Viewers are transported back in time to 1903 to solve the case of George Edalji and the Great Wyrley Rippings. The first episode explains how George was accused and later convicted of violently mutilating animals and threatening to attack a school, and after serving seven years in jail he’s out to prove his innocence. George isn’t out to seek revenge, only to clear his name and make sense of the judicial system that has convicted him. Arthur’s job, along with his servant Woody, is to clear George’s name or have theirs tarnished as well.
Viewers are left to decipher much on their own since there are no dramatic murders or quick calculating problem solving that unfolds on screen. They truly get to follow Arthur as he finds his way to the answers. In a sense, there is more of a connection with Arthur because though he is a clever man, one may see him as an equal rather than a superior. Often in other versions of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, Sherlock is built to solve mysteries like a superhuman. One can most often see this in the BBC version, with Sherlock being played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
It isn’t interesting in the beginning because the characters aren’t flashy and the crime committed isn’t outrageously horrifying. However, curiosity grows as the show unfolds. You find yourself starting to care about the characters and debating the innocence of George. Did he do it? Is Arthur clever enough or even capable enough to solve the crime? Or should he just stick to writing about his fake detective Sherlock Holmes?
For those who want to ease into the stories of Sherlock Holmes, this is a great way to begin. It is slowly paced enough to follow and Arthur & George will give you context to the world of Sherlock. Even for an avid Sherlock fan like myself, this show is of interest because I get to see real life events unfold on screen. Fiction has become reality. Viewers will be able to explore a side of Sherlock they have never seen and understand the man behind the detective.
Arthur & George will première on ITV Monday, March 2nd at 9 pm.