Until somewhat recently, secrecy has shrouded Bletchley Park, its activities, and its staff. Nestled in Buckinghamshire, Bletchley Park played host to the Code-breakers of WW2; heralding the birth of the information age with the industrialisation of code-breaking processes, and the development of the world’s first electronic computer. Even lesser noted, is that the women who worked at Bletchley during the War far outnumbered the men (on a ratio of almost 3:1).
At the closing of the war many of these women, who had played an integral part in intercepting and deciphering military messages, returned to their former domestic roles; bound by the Official Secrets Act to reveal nothing about their wartime occupations.
It is here that the story traced in the first series of ‘The Bletchley Circle’ (written by Guy Burt) began. A drama founded on the possible pursuits of female code-breakers frustrated in their silent return to ham-boiling and house-wifery. In this series, we watched them use their honed analytical skills collaboratively, to ensnare a serial killer. It was greeted with a positive reception, becoming ITV’s best performing drama series (from a share perspective) in 2012, picked up by American channel PBS, and trended on twitter as #ladynerds.
The commissioning of a second series, therefore, seemed natural. What seemed less natural was the progression in story-line; would these four former-Bletchley women become a super-sleuthing, crime-solving dream-team? Thankfully not. The series has avoided becoming a period-Midsomer Murders, and has instead made use of the wealth of plot-lines available in a 1950s, post-war setting. This is a thriller, not a murder mystery.
It’s now 1953, a year has passed, and the series opens with a former Bletchley worker (Olivier Award nominated Hattie Morahan), incarcerated in Holloway prison, waiting to be hanged. It is a shocking reminder of the barbarism that continued in England into the 60s and sets the tone for a series that examines the parallels and divergences of social issues at play, then and now. The woman, Alice, is to be hanged for the murder of an eminent Scientist; she offers no defence throughout her trial, and yet her Bletchley colleagues do not believe she is guilty, and set out to prove her innocence. Over the second series, the women encounter the British involvement in chemical weaponry, human trafficking and displacement. These themes transcend the period in which they are set.
Beyond the gravity of the content addressed, the predominant theme is the role of women in society. The four protagonists share the frustration and isolation as a result of their wartime work ending; significant as a period of being valued for their intelligence. Paradoxically, being women has played an important part in their investigatory success; they exploit prevailing prejudices to operate below the radar of people’s expectations. The series is not intended to confront a battle between sexes, but it presents an interesting role reversal to the usual gender placement; as Rachel Stirling (who plays Millie) proudly notes, the women are not there “to look pretty or ordinary”.
In the year that has passed between the first and second series, there are notable character developments. Lucy (Sophie Rundle) has left her marriage to an abusive man and is working in a clerical position in Scotland Yard, Millie as a translator, and Jean (Julie Graham) continues as a Librarian. Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) demonstrates reluctance to reunite with her former colleagues and embark on another perilous adventure; still reeling in the aftermath of the danger posed to her young family previously. The relationship between these women is complex and nuanced, and provides much of the substance of the drama. As Julie Graham (Jean) put it: “the conflict between the women is rounded and real; it’s not Josie and the pussycats”.
The second series premieres on the 6th January, and will consist of two self-contained stories. It is a period-drama without being constrained to historical clichés. It is very well written, the characters are well developed and brilliantly portrayed, and the issues confronted are as pertinent today as they were in the 50s.
It might have lost some of its edge after Season 10, but there are moments in Season 16 of The Simpsons that hark back to the show’s golden years. Released on DVD for the first time this month, The Simpsons: Season 16 is a worthy addition to your inevitable Christmas box set binge.
The longest-running US TV series ever at 25 seasons (nope, we don’t know where the time’s gone, either), it’s been eight years since Season 16 of The Simpsons originally aired on TV. Now, viewers can revisit Homer becoming an ordained minister (‘There’s Something About Marrying’), Marge cheating in a baking contest (‘All’s Fair in Oven War’), Bart starting his own t-shirt company (‘Fat Man and Little Boy’) and many more of the beloved yellow family’s capers on a brand spanking new triple-disc set. Themed around popular recurring character Professor Frink, the DVD includes such extras as a trio of bonus episodes, deleted scenes and a table-read featurette.
When Season 16 hits the mark, it’s a riot. Episodes like ‘Don’t Fear the Roofer’, which sees Homer befriend a mysterious man that the rest of the family believe to be imaginary (voiced by Ray Romano), and ‘The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star’, in which Bart is sent to Catholic school and taken under the wing of a charismatic priest (Liam Neeson), are The Simpsons at its inventive, satirical and hilarious best. There’s also the ever-reliable ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episode, which manages to be one of the most entertaining in the show’s history. This installment features excellent parodies of The Dead Zone and Sherlock Holmes, and a wonderfully bizarre segment where a shrunken Simpsons family are sent inside Mr. Burns’ body to rescue an accidentally-swallowed Maggie. Yep – at times, it’s like being back in the nineties again.
Sadly, though, the dud episodes that appear in this collection prevent Season 16 from being one of the show’s classics. Super Bowl-themed ‘Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass’, for example, is nothing short of a mess – crammed with unnecessary celebrity guest stars and jokes that fall flat, the episode is almost entirely void of a tangible plot. Religious spoof ‘Thank God, It’s Doomsday’ and Bart-centred ‘Pranksta Rap’ may contain the odd great gag, meanwhile, but are ultimately forgettable – something no one could accuse those golden-era episodes of being.
The Simpsons isn’t the groundbreaking, controversial series it once was, but it remains a cut above the majority of other TV sitcoms. While it certainly has its low points, Season 16 can be superb entertainment, and is well worth picking up on DVD to snigger at on the sofa over Christmas.
The Simpsons: Season 16 is out on DVD now
Right, the Christmas Season is upon us.
You don’t need to be told this as you are in the midst of it. In fact you’re probably over the Festive Season before it has even begun. With the endless ads seeming to starting earlier each year (fffs this year they definitely started in October), Christmas movies and tinselly, baubley crap adorning the office and shop windows.
So, as I say, you may not need to be told the obvious, but me? For some reason I’m in fucking China and with less than a week to go, it’s only just dawned on me that it’s Christmas.
Just as I was thinking this I got a call from the Editor. Like some kind of TV Santa Claus (TV as in Television not transvestite, though who’s to judge? I am writing this in a nappy, listening to the Ozric Tentacles, sucking on a petrol can) he sensed my unease.
So there I was, be-diapered and high skyping my surprisingly attractive man as woman boss (think Bugs Bunny, in a dress but drunk and more slutty) complaining about missing Christmas and being home sick, when like the go-getting young lady man I have come to respect he immediately knew what to do.
“Why don’t you review a bunch of Christmas Specials? “ he slurred through lipstick stained teeth and last night’s mascara running down his cheeks, martini in one hand, cigar in the other.
“Put a few decorations up, get some sherry in, you can get sherry can’t you?” He asked, lazy hands weaving silver tinsel into his hair.
“I always have sherry, Sir” I replied.
“Atta boy” He smiled kindly at me through my laptop. A smile etched with hardship, delirium and too many cigarettes.
“If you have Christmas Specials and sherry sugar tits, then you can have Christmas. His smile grew weary as he emailed me the list of Christmas shows on offer.
“Merry Christmas you young scamp” he signed off blowing me a kiss.
So two days ago, I sat down with a bottle of cream sherry, a fresh can of Esso’s finest and a makeshift Christmas dinner, consisting of duck neck, owl soup and pickled veg and begun my Christmas Television marathon.
First up was ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’, an adaptation of crime author PD James’s sequel to Pride and Prejudice.
P&P is exactly the kind of high end soap opera masquerading as literature that bores me to tears but I am a sucker for a sequel and this one also being murder mystery, meant it might break the tedium of traditional costume drama. I have also just finished the ‘Anno Dracula’ series by Kim Newman, (sequel to Bram Stokers ‘Dracula’) so I was well up for a much delayed literary follow up.
It opens with Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennet) heroine of P&P, on morning duties. This comprises of swanning round the village, visiting the smorgasbord of classically handsome young men who populate the area. Seriously, if a dashing chap is your cup of sex tea, then you’re in for a treat with this show. However, if it’s the female of the species that gets you hot and bothered then…well…not so much.
Once the morning perambulations are complete, the show drops into cruise control and not much happens. Tens of minutes pass where we are treated to heaving, breathy shots of Pemberley House, its gardens and surrounding countryside. All coupled with long dramatic pauses from the cast and not much else.
It’s all very nice but there is only so much high definition, soft focus and made for 3D composition that I can stand. After a while it becomes less drama and more advert for National Heritage.
Anyway, at some point in the first episode some bloke is murdered. Not much else happens before that; Darcy walks around looking serious and saying little whereas Elizabeth goes on her sex tour of the village.
Once the death happens, the two classic lovers instead of working together, take their own separate journeys into discovering the killer. Elizabeth pretty much by being inquisitive and asking questions and Darcy by being a pompous dick.
This schism in their relationship represents an underlying theme to ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ and P&P i.e. should we marry for love or for duty, this is rammed home at all possible moments.
The second episode is more of the same but without even the revelation of a murder…so it plods along for an hour sighing, looking forlornly out of windows and being wet. Looking gorgeous though, always gorgeous.
At some point Penelope Keith pops in for a rather pointless cameo, and though she does liven proceedings for 3 or 4 minutes, it is not enough to distract from the shows numerous failings in script, direction, casting and Trevor Eve’s ponytail.
The third episodes starts off much like the others, but about half way through the editors realise they don’t have to continue padding this out and finally start telling the story.
This story is quite entertaining if a little predictable and would have made for good TV if they had cut it down to 2 or even 1 episode. But, it’s a Christmas extravaganza and no doubt the BBC’s big thing for Christmas, which makes it rather disappointing. On the other hand its unchallenging nature and themes of love and honour, duty and family, against picturesque English countryside and architecture make it a perfect food coma tele. Not for me though, for my Gran. My dead Gran.
Well that’s the first special done, next up it’s the ‘Bletchley Circle’ or ‘Catchphrase’ Seriously he wants me to watch ‘Catchphrase’. I need more petrol and maybe some duck tongue.
Death Comes to Pemberley is on BBC1, at 8pm on the 26th December
Adventure Time: The Complete Season One
Since this series began on the American Cartoon Network channel, Adventure Time has gone on to become one of the most loved animation series of the decade. The series has built a devoted following amongst both children and adults, and has won a number of awards including a children’s BAFTA. Finally, and just in time for Christmas, the UK has received the DVD release of the comic adventures of Jake the Dog and Finn the Human.
Our heroes live in the post-apocalyptic and magical Land of Ooo, home to many races and creatures of all shapes and sizes. Jake (John DiMaggio – Bender from Futurama) is a viola-playing dog of magical powers, allowing him to manipulate the shape of his body at will. 12-year-old human boy Finn (Jeremy Shada) is his best friend and adoptive brother, with the two living together in a giant “Tree Fort”. Finn has an overwhelming desire for justice, helping out anyone in trouble.
The series follows the duo meeting the residents of Ooo and the various kingdoms within it. These include visits to the Candy Kingdom to help the scientifically minded ruler Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch); defeating the dastardly schemes of the Ice King (Tom Kenny – the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants) who keeps kidnapping princesses in order to marry them; and contemplating the strange and tricky behaviour of Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson – Love Actually).
There are many things that give Adventure Time its appeal. For starters there are the characters which make it so entertaining, with the relationship between Jake and Finn at the centre of the story. As the series has progressed, the relationship develops too, and indeed Finn is getting older unlike most cartoon characters. When the series began in 2010 he was 12, but know he is now 15 in 2013. What will happen to him when he becomes an adult is anyone’s guess.
The humour is also wonderful. Firstly you have the somewhat surreal ideas they are created. For example one of the stories sees the pair free some businessmen frozen in an iceberg who they hire to make their adventuring more efficient. Another sees Jake’s imagination going out of control and starting to make impossible things real, meaning he and Finn must battle with Jake’s overdeveloped creativity. A different tale sees Finn being attacked by a monster with only an approximate knowledge of many things (he knows he is hiding behind a rock – he just doesn’t know which one).
The comedy is also rather subversive. This is what gives the show its adult appeal. While it would be tempting to make just a silly show for kids, the ideas that appear in Adventure Time appeal to people across the board. Where else can you expect people to be attacked by whywolves?
Adventure Time is a wonderful series that by rights should have a broader audience. It’s a fun show, and while there are plenty of things on telly that are comic, fun itself tends to be lacking. If there is a downside, it would be that this DVD release is lacking in extras. Also, once you finish watching the last episode on a disc it is best to take the disc out of the DVD player straight away; otherwise you will find yourself skipping around 20 anti-piracy warnings in different European languages.
Adventure Time: The Complete Season One is released on DVD by Warner Home Video.
It’s Entourage attitude with Kevin and Perry Go Large aftermath. Three guys enjoying an extended adolescence, supporting themselves with the twenty-something equivalent of chores money; just enough to provide them with the lifestyle catalysts to keep their 24/7 interesting.
Workaholics isn’t a show about forgotten youth, what should be or what could’ve been. It’s about three young men from the meaty party of the bell curve trying to survive their day-to-day. There are no real long term ambitions and the closest these characters ever get to a big-picture desire is never more than a two episode arc from fulfillment.
It takes a few episodes before you start to believe that the characters are actually morons embracing moronic behaviour and not just arseholes acting dumb to excuse their actions. Once that becomes clear, the show becomes a lot more enjoyable.
Workaholics might take a little longer than most series to completely gauge your interest; the humour tends to come in bursts and the inside jokes will take more than a couple of episodes to recognise. Part of the problem is that Workaholics doesn’t seem to entirely know what’s going on a lot of the time. It’s not a program that’s ever going to medal, but like Winter Olympians from Saharan nations, it’s enjoyable to watch them try.
Plot over narrative forever.
Comedy Central has already broadcast three series of Workaholics in the US and I would wager that the majority of its potential audience in the UK (students or those still behaving like students) have already seen all of them. Even if you’re not what Malcolm Gladwell called a Maven in the Tipping Point, you’ve probably already seen most of the best moments in YouTube clips. In 2011. This makes it difficult to project an audience in the UK. If you’re not in one of the aforementioned groups, it’s unlikely that you’ll find much worth persevering with.
Workaholics starts on Comedy Central UK on 29 November
As they have been in the news recently it only seems right to quote the words of Monty Python: “Australia! Australia! Australia! Australia! We love you! Amen!”
As you might be able to tell, this is a review of a surrealist sketch show from Down Under. The first thing that should be highlighted is that it’s Australian; making this show something of a rarity. Just about all the UK’s comedy imports are from the United States. We do not really get much in the way of comedy shows from any other countries, even other English speaking ones like New Zealand, Canada or Eire. We often see comedians from these countries, but not the shows from their native lands.
Problems features a small central narrative, namely creator Sam Simmons playing a version of himself who has small problems with the world that he tries to solve while looking after his pet cat Mr. Meowgi (really a man in a cat outfit). In the first episode for example, he discovers that the company which makes his favourite tacos have changed the recipe.
There are plenty of recurring characters in the show. These include his next-door neighbours who sit outside on the front lawn discussing odd issues, such as having to shoot their favourite dog because they were popping out for a moment; the moths who live down the back of Sam’s sofa who behave like a troubled married couple; Sam’s uncle Warrick who hosts a “Mid-Morning Trivia” quiz with stupid questions and prizes like a “sexual trout”; and the man who runs a two dollar shop who seems to have all the answers and has a perfect life.
Some of the ideas to take warming up to, but there is the odd moment that is amusing. Many of these appear to be one-off sketches. For example there is a woman who decides to make promotional videos, one of which is an advert for a dugong killer. Another is of someone singing a song about an officer worker called Ultra Phil, despite the fact the work is not called Phil and objects to being sung about.
Simmons is also a talented performer as well as a writer. One funny scene features him in flashback as a child, although he plays the part as his adult self, and is later showed in tacos with his childhood friends covering him and stuffing his mouth with tacos.
This appears to be a slow-burning sketch show. It may start of slow, but there seems to be plenty of ideas to keep it going.
Score: 3 / 5
Problems starts on Dave on December 4th
Last year digital channel G.O.L.D. broadcast a documentary series called Bring Me Morecambe and Wise, which consisted of five hour long episodes (minus ad breaks of course) detailing the history of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. BBC Two is now broadcasting a short series, consisting of two episodes, both episodes 90 minutes long. This does raise the issue of how these can be “The Whole Story” when the series is shorter in length.
But do not let the length of this series put you off if you are interested in learning more about Eric and Ernie. The first part of the series deals with their early career, starting from their childhood on the stage, their first failed TV series, their first major success on ITV, and finally their move to the BBC. The second episode looks at their career on the BBC, detailing the history of some of their most famous routines and Christmas specials, lightly touching on their move back to ITV and finally the deaths of both stars.
The first episode is the more interesting of the two. Their early careers have been dealt with in other programmes, such as the drama serial Eric & Ernie broadcast back in 2011 which covered their early lives including Running Wild, their first BBC series which totally bombed and their stage comeback. However, this episode also covers their early career on ITV in the show Two of a Kind. This was mainly interesting because of the at-times troublesome relationship between Morecambe and Wise with their writers at the time Sid Green and Dick Hills.
For those unfamiliar with Two of a Kind, they may be surprised to know that many of the routines which became famous on their BBC series were recycled sketches from Two of a Kind. Early examples of the “Singing in the Rain” and the “Andre Previn / Greig Piano Concerto” began on ITV. We also get to learn about many of the comedians and variety acts that influenced Eric and Ernie, which included Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Frank Randle, Sandy Powell and Jimmy James.
Other issues are also touched upon, such as their films and attempt to make it into America (something Wise wanted to do more than Morecambe). However, their final years on ITV are only lightly touched upon. The second episode is nearly entirely taken up by the BBC series, dealing with various sketches and classic routines in-depth, although other subjects are obviously covered; primarily Eric Morecambe’s numerous heart attacks.
Morecambe and Wise: The Whole Story high point is covering the early years. Much of the later half covers moments that many of us are familiar with, so it is primarily interesting only in a technical aspect. However, if you want to get a good idea about the inner workings of the great double act, this is a fine series to watch.
4.5 / 5
Morecambe and Wise: The Whole Story is broadcast on BBC Two at 21.00 on 24th November and 1st December.
In his 1952 travelogue Golden Earth, writer Norman Lewis describes Burma (as few writers have been able to do since) as a place of breath-taking natural beauty, and writes, in the book’s concluding pages, of his high hopes for the country’s future. Unfortunately, in the decades that followed the publication of Golden Earth, Burma instead suffered at the hands of a military junta, and consequently the astonishing wildlife that Lewis saw during his travels was closed to the world.
Now, for the first time in fifty years, Wild Burma: Nature’s Lost Kingdom introduces viewers a side of the country that camera crews have long been forbidden from filming—vast stretches of verdure that have been explored by very few travellers. In the first episode of this three part series, the focus is on the Asian elephant, a species known for its grumpy demeanour, which poachers are speedily hunting to the brink of extinction.
Scouring an almost impenetrable strip of jungle are experts Justine Evans, Ross Piper and Gordon Buchanan, whose aim is to create a diverse species list with which they hope will persuade the country’s policy makers that Burmese wildlife is worth saving.
It seems miserably unlikely at first that the team will be able to ascertain such information: elephants, it is explained, are notoriously hard to track, especially in such thick forest. To therefore increase their chances of finding them, Gordon and Justine take to searching the valleys and ridges while Ross follows up rumours of a second elephant herd.
The team search with some urgency; they must find whole herds of elephants with young, not merely ones on their own. Only by finding groups of them do they have a chance of preserving these wonderful creatures for future generations. And to make matters much more difficult, they must also be careful not to spook the elephants, for Asian elephants in particular have a habit of charging when approached unexpectedly.
This alone makes for gripping television; but then there is also a strangely erotic element to it all, brought on by the programme’s effortlessly seductive narrator Paterson Joseph, who at times sounds as though he not only wishes to save the elephants, but also prepare them a fancy meal while wooing them gently with the smooth, ethereal sounds of Seal.
Once the connection has been made that Joseph is in fact Alan Johnson from Peep Show, it’s near impossible to focus on anything else — or at least this would be true, if the subject of the programme wasn’t so imperative. For anybody with even the faintest interest in wildlife, Wild Burma is essential viewing, offering a rare glimpse at a country that has long been closed to the world. Yet for the animals featured in the series, it could very well be a matter of life or death.
Wild Burma is on BBC Two on 29 November at 9.00pm
Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary celebrations are beginning to kick off, with shows littered across the BBC schedule in the coming months. On every possible channel. The show that will start proceedings is BBC Two’s The Science of Doctor Who, which has Professor Brian Cox answering the queries that Doctor Who has left us pondering.
The show begins with what I found to be a very witty and light hearted comedy skit featuring Brian Cox & The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith), before moving on to The Royal Institution Of Great Britain in which Cox begins his lecture to a face of famous faces (Richard Bacon, Charles Dance, Steven Moffat, etc).
If you’re a fan of Brian Cox, then the idea of him talking about Doctor Who in a serious way is one to get excited about. I would compare his voice to that of a grandpa telling you stories about years of old. He has that sort of delicacy about him. It’s a very soothing, warm voice that allows you to relax and be comfortable around him. Cox demonstrates several of his theories with experiments. Plucking volunteers out from the crowd, the results are both mad but also fascinating to watch. This makes it much clearer for a mainstream audience who might be confused or even bored by Cox’s endless talk on science.
And that’s my real problem with this show. For a mainstream audience not completely obsessed with science, it’s going to be difficult to engage with the content that Cox is presenting. They will find themselves lost and confused by what is being shown, and are likely to change the channel. Hence the reason this is being shown on BBC Two: to attract a niche audience, rather than struggle with a mainstream one. Despite that, The Science of Doctor Who is likely to please its target audience and get viewers of all ages excited about the celebrations to come.
The Science of Doctor Who – BBC2, 14 November
Over the BBC’s ninety years, people from across the political spectrum have taken shots at the corporation and its alleged political bias. From accusations of pro-left, to accusations of pro-right, the BBC has always resisted a fight. However last year, BBC Three commissioned a show that was as political as it was controversial. In attempting to make examples of those in Great Britain who exploit, lie and belittle their opponents for political and financial gain – the Beeb have taken a very definite political stance.
Returning for its second series last Sunday, presenters Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse continue to run amok targeting politicians and companies who they believe have lied, cheated and screwed over the British public. The show creates stunts with hidden camera footage in which the presenters humiliate companies or politicians. Whether it’s through Dale Maily, the sarcastic newsreader mocking people at protests or upper class events; or through James & Barnaby, the fictional MPs gate crashing conferences or secret political events to annoy major politicians, the show is unnerving in tackling anyone who has double crossed the British public.
What I love about this show is that it presents itself with a real recklessness. It gives the show an air of anarchism and frustration through its unplanned and improvised stunts. It’s very good at making the audience clear as to why their targets deserve to be mistreated. A lot of the hilarity really comes down to just the sheer confidence these two have when making their mark on their targets. An example sees the two walking into a number of betting shops posing as builders, in which they then place signs on the billboards outside, which reveal a pun to the public of the company’s misdeeds.
Surprisingly, TRWBT also attacks the BBC itself, in a clip in which Jolyon & Heydon pose as charity beggars, begging members of the public to donate to “BBC In Need” – a charity collecting for bonuses for senior BBC management. It’s great and the public’s reaction is as priceless as any hidden prank show in recent years.
The second series of The Revolution Will Be Televised premieres this Sunday and I can guarantee audiences that it hasn’t lost any of its edge since it last went off air. If anything, it’s funnier, riskier and much more cringe worthy. But in a good way.
The Revolution Will Be Televised is on BBC on Sunday nights