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Saturday, 12 January 2008

Thank God You’re Here, ITV1

Did we like it?
Paul Merton is a national treasure and the format is innovative and ripe for comedy, but it mostly fell flat because the format has a number of crippling defects.

What was good about it?
• Paul Merton’s sketch in which he played a butler to a posh couple luxuriating in their country home was the best sketch of the six, and even that only had one moment of brilliance. This was when the lady asked Merton “Why did you fall out with the housekeeper?” “’Cause she stinks!” Merton replied. “Why did you fall out with Mrs Rodriguez, the housekeeper?” the lady repeated. “No, she doesn’t stink as that would be racist!” Merton backtracked.
• It’s always good to see Paul Merton on TV, championing a comedy cause. We’re just sorry it isn’t a funnier programme.

What was bad about it?
• With Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the obvious antecedent, much of the humour was derived from Clive Anderson giving the performers, who often included Paul Merton, a starting point from where they would embark on a more-often-than-not hilarious improvised flight of fancy confined by nothing more than the limits of their imagination.
• But here, the strict scenario into which each of the contestants is dumped doesn’t allow for this. The actors, who do a decent job with what they’ve got, are contracted not to follow the whim or wit of the performer but to remain resolutely adhered to the prescribed path and this leads to a staccato effect of unnatural conversation making it more resemble a job interview than a comedy sketch.
• Playing a World War Two RAF air marshal Clive Anderson could make a genuinely funny quip about why his squadron were launching an attack on Germany in 1988, only for the script-jacketed actors to awkwardly bring it back to the World War Two story. Or when Michael McIntyre, playing the captain of an incompetent cruise ship, responded to a disgruntled passenger request for “nannies”, he took it to mean nanny goats and scoffed, “this isn’t Noah’s Ark”, but again his invention was stymied by the actors dragging him back to the mundane concerns of the passengers, breaking the little wave of comedic flow McIntyre had started.
• Or in Merton’s sketch when the lord of the manor asks him about his “new uniform”, Merton responds that it should be “an off-the-shoulder cocktail dress with a blonde wig”, to which the lord responds, “let’s break this formality”.
• Merton seems to have been instructed – on pain of series cancellation – to emphasise that “just to conform, none of you have any idea what’s going on” by the ITV1 truth police, even if a little preparation would enhance the laughs. It’s an open secret that Have I Got News For You, QI, Buzzcocks etc all have a certain amount of stage-management, but as long as it doesn’t seem too rehearsed, such as Phill Jupitus roaring with laughter after a pop singer has limply delivered one of their fed lines or William Shatner’s appearance on the awful Space Cadets, it doesn’t matter as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief in the same way you would for Doctor Who or the Coronation Street conveyor belt of death.

Paradise Or Bust, BBC2
Did we like it?
It’s got lovely scenery, a few mildly engaging people and some testing challenges – but, perhaps because you get swallowed by the somnolent surroundings, it is all just a little dull.

What was good about it?
• Becki Hunter, an actress hired by entrepreneur Ben to provide website updates to both customers and potential customers of the eco-village. She seemed quite lonely on the island with just Ben and his brother as fellow westerners, and so spilled out most of her concerns to the camera.
• And this was no forced ‘confessional’ self-promoting, forced gobbledygook, what she said to the camera seemed truthful as she had no one else to talk to.
• The enthusiasm of joint founder Ben Keene who waded through the mango swamps and forests of Vorovoro with the same sanguine self-assurance as the quagmire of financial meltdown, gaily stepping over the quicksand of liquidation with a merry quip and a smile.
• The lovely, lovely scenery of the Fijian island of Vorovoro.
• The most educational parts were those depicting the way of life of the Fijian islanders whether it is preparing a feast to mark the amalgamation of the two tribes of native populace and wide-eyed westerners (which involved the slaughter and cooking of a squealing pig), the peculiar sign in the marketplace that said ‘No spitting’, the building timber and water tanker being tossed into the shallows 50 metres out to sea and dragged on to the shore or the clearing of the land to build the toilets on which began with a phalanx of muscular men hacking away with their machetes harking back to a less technological era only to be usurped moments later by a Fijian with a lawnmower.

What was bad about it?
• Very little seemed to actually happen. This meant that minor events, such as the bizarre hunt for a whale’s tooth in the local market, were stretched out like a heathen on a medieval rack way past the point when your attention snapped like dislocated kneecaps.
• While the scenery was lovely, there did seem to be rather too much of it compensating for the sense of inertia to suit the contrived pacing of this opening episode so that it could culminate with the arrival of the first paying tribes people.
• Becki’s dad, who from what we saw at the airport on her departure, is the least supportive father since Darth Vader about her plans to journey to Fiji to help set up the enterprise. “I think she’s making a massive mistake,” he glumly opined. Becki said: “What my dad said crushed me. It’s really horrible.”
• With next episode previews for such shows, it always promises far worse calamities than actually occur – so as the narrator muttered darkly of conflict on the island it was accompanied by images of smoke in the sky, while the supposedly perilous finances of Ben were again highlighted with such ominous overtures that you imagine that they are battling disasters more potent than those that caused the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Primeval, ITV1

Series two
Did we like it?
Nick Cutter and his team return in the gripping sci-fi series, battling with prehistoric leviathans and grappling with the lack of a decent, sentient foe.

What was good about it?
• For much of this episode, we were gnashing our teeth in annoyance at the ‘new’ character of Jenny Lewis (who is a doppelganger of Claudia Brown – Nick’s new love – after she was wiped from existence at the end of the last series, and only Nick has any memory of her). She is one of those grotesques who makes every situation worse with irrational, stupid decisions, and is cut from the same cloth as every pen-pushing, regulations-constricted lump of corporate plastic in the history of TV drama who obstructs the thrusting valiant hero.
• However, on reflection you realise why she is an essential character. Primeval’s main flaw is that with just a bunch of brainless beasts to combat each week, the cerebral cut-and-thrust needed to be considerably beefed-up. This was impossible with the more placid Claudia, and so what the introduction of the spikier Jenny enables (as well as being a nice plot twist) is for an adversarial battle of wits and wonder, and flirtation and formality between her and Nick that will ultimately evolve into love.
• All of which, we imagine, will lead to the (essentially) character-driven conclusion to the series, where in another twist Nick will be given the choice of either restoring lost love Claudia to existence and erasing Jenny or keeping Jenny and leaving Claudia entombed in oblivion. And, we hope, because of Jenny’s more fleshed-out nature and greater ambiguity – she patronises and threatens the survivors and tells the cuckolded Nick to leave Stephen to his doom – it’s her that he saves.
• Parallel to the moulding of Jenny, the team’s sinister boss James Lester (Ben Miller) has been painted with extra lashings of menace this series, again to provide a formidable foe for Nick. Worst of all he uses the term “tipping point”, which is a phrase only used by crazed megalomaniacs or lazy London journalists who yearn for a transfer to New York so they lick the stale sweat from the armpits of George W Bush and shudder with ecstasy when delivering exclusive reports from the site of global catastrophes.
• The enigma of Nick’s ex-wife Helen who still journeys back in time to explore the lands through the ‘anomalies’. On this occasion she was wounded by a pterosaur and, instead of seeking medical help in a hospital, she went to Stephen’s home where his aid was repaid by sexual favours in the best traditions of frenetic but conservative action films where masculine heroism is reimbursed by the rescued heroine metamorphosing into a common whore.
• Thankfully there’s still enough variety in the monsters the team have to tackle, and as yet they don’t resemble the unwelcome repetition of “this week’s special guest” Barbara Dixon on The Two Ronnies. Well-realised CGI worms laid siege to an office block, wreathed in a ground-hugging fog that they brought with them through the anomaly. The fog’s impact was twofold, firstly it enabled menace to visually roll across the screen with the same sense of foreboding as the fog in The Fog; and secondly it also offered a solution to Nick and the team in that if they could dispel the fog they would vanquish the worms, offering a Doctor Who-esque alternative to unimaginative brute force.
• Humorously adapting the sci-fi cliché of apparent safety when Connor breathed a sigh of relief, “I think we’re all right now.” Just before a worm appeared from the top of the screen and tried to suck his head off. While Stephen killed a worm by ramming it under the photocopier lid.

What was bad about it?
• As Nick and Jenny were assailed by the writhing worms, there just happened to be a display stand for three samurai swords. Now, we know the company in the office did business with Japanese firms, but to have a deadly weapon casually on show like a potted plant or promotional brochures was just absurd.
• While steps have been taken to address the problem of that lack of an intelligent adversary, Primeval’s main flaw remains that each episode is pretty much the same from one week to the next with a bunch of hapless humans being picked off one by one by some initially coy monstrosity until Nick and the team identify it, find a weakness and dispatch it back to its own era/ kill it. And it’s not helped further by the fact that every lethal non-human species that’s ever lived on planet Earth has the cerebral wit of a collapsed post office, therefore reducing to zero the chance of more complex plotting.
• And the behavioural realism of the creatures that do appear is always irritatingly undermined by the habitual anthropomorphosising of them, which has blighted such programmes as Walking With Dinosaurs and The Animals of Farthing Wood and indeed here when a worm managed to slide open a door with the same dexterity as a frustrated secretary.

Primeval, ITV1, Saturday 10 February 2007
Did we like it?
Despite fearing that an adventure series about creatures as extinct as ITV1’s sense of courage would be a cataclysmic disaster, Primeval was actually a hugely enjoyable sci-fi romp bolstered by a likeable (if suspiciously handsome) cast.

What was good about it?
• A great cast, who were each quickly and efficiently drawn before being plunged headfirst into the opening episode about a ravenous, reptilian carnivore terrorising shoppers in the Forest of Dean.
• Despite a silly macho name (it must be the season for them) Douglas Henshall’s Professor Nick Cutter is an agreeable, fizzing concoction of charisma, mystery, vulnerability and bravery. Whether it’s charming the new member of the team Claudia Brown or heading off through a portal into the unknown other dimension from where the monsters are emerging in search of his missing wife he gets the viewers in a headlock and drags them along with him.
• And the rest of Nick’s team have clearly defined roles that are unsullied with anything suggesting complexity and three dimensions – but this is bubblegum sci-fi and such qualities aren’t necessary until the ideas start to run out around series three (usually occurring in the introduction of a long lost child such as Worf’s son in Star Trek: TNG and Scully’s secret alien daughter in X-Files).
• Abby (Hannah Spearritt) even looking like a cross between an albino angel and parasite celebrity number one Donny Tourette, slotted comfortably into her role as the slightly disgruntled impetuous one who cares about things. Stephen (James Murray) is Nick’s right hand man and judging by his twin-barrelled assassination of the marauding monster – by driving into it before shooting it dead – he’s also the action man of the team. Meanwhile, Connor Temple (Andrew Lee-Potts) wins the stupidest name competition and is also lumbered with the inevitable techno-geek role.
• The CGI effects were also surprisingly good. Perhaps it’s our enduring disgust at ITV1’s cowardice, but we’d pre-supposed the effects would be bolted onto cardboard action with all the grace and aptitude of a five-year-old assembling his first model toy plane. But when the big dinosaur was rampaging through the school we were squinting at the TV in disbelief at the attention to detail such as wood shavings splintering as the beast clambered over the school lockers Stephen had tossed in its path.
• Just as dinosaurs are able to recognise their own young through a warm instinctive feeling in the gut, so we were similarly intuitively able to identify that most staple location of British sci-fi – the disused quarry, when Nick went through the portal to hunt down his wife.

What was bad about it?
• If the only ‘villains’ are to be pea-brained beasts from all eras of Earth’s existence, Primeval may become a little dull. Sure it’s great to have a populace panicked by a renegade leviathan for a little while, but if each week it’s just going to be a load of monsters that need killing then we’re going to tire of it pretty rapidly.
• Perhaps Ben Miller’s role as the slimy government minister James Lester will evolve to become Nick’s nemesis in the same way that the Cigarette Smoking Man became Fox Mulder’s, but something will need to be done as simply having anthropomorphic dinosaurs causing havoc each week has a limited shelf life.
• I Predict A Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs. Oh no, not again!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Sandbanks, ITV1

Did we like it?
An unsightly trawl through the unclean lives of the south coast’s filthy rich that was metamorphosed into an arch satire by master presenter Piers Morgan, for whom godhood now surely beckons!

What was good about it?
• Piers Morgan is the most talented man working on television today, and probably in the world. Every atom of his body is like a little egg sac of ingenuity, screaming his genius at a world that is only just waking up to this Einstein of the airwaves.
• Piers archly stating that Sandbanks has aspirations to become “Britain’s Monte Carlo”. And Piers, of course, is just the man to draw comparisons between the two places blessed as he is with a jet-setting lifestyle that befits such a TV titan.
• Smashing his way past the flimsy artifice like the Julius Caesar of real estate, Piers quickly got to the bottom of what makes Sandbanks such an exclusive area. “I’m going to get down and dirty with the new money!” he scorned, in that rasping satirical voice of his that could roast to unchewable char the sugary cakes of lies spouted by Sandbanks’ estate agents.
• And where better to spit his verbal venom than at the number one estate agent of Sandbanks Tom Doyle, who “has two Bentleys” and a permanent grin on his face – aha, aha but Piers has two brains (how else could such genius be contained within one oblong cranium?) and a permanent smirk on his face, the kind of smirk worn by gods when their little human minions get ideas above their station.
• Louis Theroux eat your heart out! You may enjoy your merry jaunt around a dangerous American prison talking with lowlifes who will never amount to a hill of beans in this world, but take a leaf out of Piers’ book, good man. He has gone right to the top of society, and is asking them more provocative questions than you could ever imagine. Take his interrogation of Doyle – there was no jumping in their all guns righteously blazing – he took his time before sinking his fangs right into the aorta of Doyle’s existence. “This home is worth £8m,” boasted Doyle. “How much does £8m get me?” the master questioner asked, biting his lip with feverish joy as the lumbering Doyle stumbled into his masterfully-laid trap. “The view,” Doyle asserted. Barely able to stifle his joy at Doyle’s philosophical clumsiness, perfect Piers sarcastically replied, “Pretty amazing, isn’t it?”
• Short of handing him the spade, Piers was helping Doyle dig his own (moral) pauper’s grave. “Is there anyone you wouldn’t sell to?” Piers asked archly. “Osama Bin Laden?” This was probably the most tensest moment on TV since EastEnders on Christmas Day; Piers has done Doyle up like a kipper – he has placed him in the dilemma of causing his overriding and primary ideal for living, his avarice, to clash with the man-in-the-street’s notion of common decency. “I’d probably have to draw the line there!” quipped Doyle, bottling it.
• We were far more impressed, as was Piers, by property developer Eddie Mitchell. Piers highlighted that he was a Barnado’s Boy made good who now jazzed up homes on Sandbanks by knocking them down and building them up again with the kind of imagination that hasn’t been seen in Europe since the passing of Leonardo Da Vinci. “This is art for example,” Piers observed one of Mitchell’s properties called Thunderbird which was packed to the rafters with opulent art only a keen eye like Piers’ could appreciate. “You have had this vision and personally got this art made.” Poor Eddie is obviously dealing with aesthetic Palestines as Thunderbird has been on the market for two years and still remains unsold, which is like auctioning the Mona Lisa on eBay and only getting a biggest bid of £6.39.
• It was a brilliant way to start the New Year, with someone telling it like it is. After a year of lies and scandal on television we’re glad that Piers Morgan has galloped on to our screens like a modern day St George (and if we’re going to have Jeremy Clarkson as PM (yay!) let’s have Piers Morgan as our new patron saint). This is a man, a prince, a demigod whose reputation is unbesmirched by scandal and lies, who speaks the gospel truth when offering ‘opinions’ on America/ Britain’s Got Talent. So if you do one thing before this week is out, we beg you, it’s watch this programme to see a true master at work.

What was bad about it?
• What the hell is this doing on at 10.35pm? When Jesus rose from the dead he was carried aloft through the streets of Nazareth he didn’t meekly creep through the streets politely knocking on doors to announce his resurrection, which is the sort of treatment Piers has been subjected to. ITV, for god’s sake, this man could single-handedly save your channel – put him on in primetime, shoulder charge Moving Wallpaper into touch if you have to but get him on earlier. God makes the sun rise at about 6am each summer morning and remain glowing in the sky for 12 hours or more – ITV could do much worse than to have Piers on for a similar duration this summer, and we mean projecting his face onto the sun so he can offer the same quality advice and philosophy that he dishes out on Sandbanks. Imagine the joy!

Jamie's Fowl Dinners, Channel 4

Waiters serve champagne and wine to the guests; Jamie turns up in a smart suit, his tie is skewiff to the right.

Jamie says that if you piled all the chicken eaten in Britain over one year it would stretch two-thirds of the way to the Moon. The audience aren’t astronauts or cosmologists.

Jamie places a box of ‘egg laying’ chicks on each of the tables and asks the guests to separate them into male and female. A woman guest with in a long black dress strokes a chick with her fingers, it’s then placed back in the box. A young man in a striped shirt blinks and smiles.

The male chicks are placed in a closed-off transparent compartment. A voiceover warns that “some viewers may find some of this disturbing”. It’s explained that male chicks are “depleted” because “they don’t make economic sense”.

As the carbon dioxide is pumped into the transparent compartment, the eyes of a woman with long flowing blonde hair become as shiny with tears as the ring on her finger or her dangling earrings; the furrowed forehead of the stock-still man beside her glistens under the studio lights.

As the chicks succumb one by one, a red-haired woman with glasses weeps, the camera goes in closer. She drops a hand in front of her mouth like a mediaeval portcullis to stem the tears. Another woman bites her lip, as does another woman with dyed black hair.

Jamie picks out one of the limp chick corpses and nervously drops it inside a snake cage, explaining that the “depleted” chicks are used to feed animals in zoos and pets. The snake isn’t hungry. The women guests aren’t upset anymore, and instead crane their necks to get a better view. One holds her pose as if a model being photographed.

Bill Oddie is introduced to talk about wild chickens in India. The tears are dry now. Oddie fiddles with the chain around his neck as he argues “the farm chicken isn’t really a bird at all”. He is loudly applauded by a sharp-faced man with pillbox eyes who looks as if he spent more time styling his hair than the cumulative lifespan of the chicks that were just gassed.

Jamie wheels on a mock-up of typical battery hen farming cages. The lights are raised slowly as “we don’t want to scare our battery hens”. At the end of the programme, all of them are released into the wild. A pair of ugly women gasp at the conditions battery hens live in.

Jamie brings a few guests for a closer inspection. A man with a thin beard, tumultuous footballer hair and a purple shirt exclaims: “It’s not very nice, is it? I wouldn’t want to live like this!” He isn’t a resident of a Sao Paulo shanty town.

Just before each ad break, Ricky Gervais insults Jamie’s efforts. Until the last few, when his elbows dig into his expensive-looking sofa as he visually illustrates his admiration for Jamie with generous hand gestures. Over his shoulder sits a collection of expensive-looking spirits on top of an expensive-looking sideboard. Gervais’s Emmy Awards aren’t in shot. “If people buy the cheapest eggs and the cheapest bird,” he argues, “they are buying into cruelty.”

Jane saves “spent” hens that are too old to produce good quality eggs and would otherwise be slaughtered. After her film there are smiles all round the audience, some have fixed Jane with a gaze of admiration.

Jamie is shown round an “industrial farm” in Lincolnshire. “No one’s filmed here before; it’s incredible access.” As he is led about the farm, Jamie’s bottom lip starts to quiver: “This has seriously blown me away.” Back at the studio a man strains to elicit his compassion for chickens by looking concerned and doleful.

Jamie “rummages through” the kitchen of Tori, 24, who says she doesn’t eat battery hen eggs. As Jamie finds battery hen eggs in the ingredients of her fridge, her horrified reaction is shown inset. She looks embarrassed, but manages to laugh it off.

Jamie says battery farm eggs are used in Hellman’s mayonnaise. The corporate PR of Hellman’s helpfully advertises that Hellman’s will be using free range eggs by June this year. Jamie thanks him for coming in, the audience applauds. It’s OK to eat Hellman’s.

Jamie makes two separate quiches – one using normal eggs, one using “wet eggs” that is derived from useless, broken eggs. He pops them both on the stove to cook; the audience’s applause is shot from four different angles.

A woman blessed with a pair of eyes doused in mascara, a pair of hands with rings on the fingers, lots of hair styled fashionably, and with no visible mental disability makes a sincere pledge through her lipstick decorated mouth that she’ll change her egg-buying habits after she’s been told how many chickens are squeezed into a cage.

An overweight woman says that she won’t change her buying habits because of the extra cost. Jamie labels her “stingy”.
Jamie’s “employers” Sainsbury’s are one of two companies who meet up with him to discuss battery farming. The spokeswoman advertises that Sainsbury’s have made a pledge to stop using battery hens. The Waitrose spokesman goes further; he insists that there “won’t be any caged eggs in our store at all, even in ingredients”. That’s Waitrose, W-A-I-T-R-O-S-E. You won’t be able to find a branch if you’re “stingy”.

Back in the studio, only two of the invited stores have sent representatives. Waitrose are there again, as are the Co-op, whose representative states, “80% of eggs sold in the Co-op are free range. We won’t have any battery hen eggs by February this year.” The response of the “stingy” woman isn’t shown.

Jamie explains that the “spent” chickens are fed through a “reclaimed meat machine”. He has one in the studio. It’s not a real one, but a “fake one” as the industry realised what he was up to and refused to loan him one as they “closed in on” him. None of the audience members is compelled to say, “No, I’m Spartacus!”

As the chicken carcass is fed through the machine a man with 2007 disco hair smirks and covers his mouth. A posh woman laughs. And again. And again. “It looks like shit!” exclaims Jamie. And again.
There’s a film of a PE teacher we assume is named Darlin’, who runs about but who has a passion for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Jamie visits a factory that processes 120,000 chicks every day. He gathers one in his hand, compliments it on its beauty before placing it back on the production line.

Back in the studio, Jamie asks his table of junk food eaters how old they believe chickens used in fast food are when slaughtered. A fat man in purple offers “six munfs”, while ‘Sweet Pea’ guesses “six months”. Jamie reveals it’s five-and-a-half weeks; a woman resets her glasses on her nose.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie show how cramped conditions will be in 2010 when EU legislation makes it legal to pack 100 birds into a five metre squared space.

Jamie informs his audience that the chickens he bakes with “live to 100 days before slaughter”.

Jamie handles a squawking, distressed chicken where it is electrocuted. A camera has been set up so the anguish of three women in an oblique line can be viewed at the same time. One of them might be crying. We feel upset too, but can’t tell whether we’re upset at the chicken’s slaughter, because the women are upset or that for the last hour-and-a-half how we are supposed to feel about the poultry industry in this country has been dictated to us by an over-dressed, gluttonous, theatrically neurotic miasma of human effluence who before tonight presumed that chickens are born in the same headless, footless, featherless state as they appear on supermarket shelves.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Echo Beach/Moving Wallpaper, ITV1

Did we like them?
While acknowledging that these were too poor programmes, we do admire the inventiveness of ITV in linking a making-of sitcom with a made-badly soap opera. It amounted to an intriguing, original hour of primetime TV and, although it wasn't done very well, we do appreciate it being done at all.

What was good about them?
• Some of the gags on Moving Wallpaper were actually funny. We loved producer Jonathan Pope's ingenious filling of the "ethnic quota" – "Sharon behind the bar; she's now Narinda." And Susie Amy's desperation to get a speaking part in the soap, even offering to get a tan and use a corny cornershop-style Asian accent to get the part of Narinda. In the end, she resorted to fellating the producer (which involved the worst joke of the show when snowjob was confused with blowjob).
• Moving Wallpaper had some good performances, notably from the writing team, who were embroiled in script revision hell, and the ever-reliable Raquel Cassidy, as the hissing head of continuing drama.
• The gulf between the aspirations of the writers – they want the romantic betrayals to act as a metaphor for the economic betrayal of Cornwall – and the ratings-chasing producer, who just seems to want cute young actors gallavanting about in the sand.
• Some of the links between Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach worked really well, especially Martine McCutcheon's Susan having to wear the frumpy pink frock chosen by the producer (she had picked a slinky blue dress but he wanted to nip any diva-ish tendancies in the bud). And there's Narinda, behind the bar. And a wetroom reference. And there's the little girl crying after falling off her bike (the tears, though, are the result of Pope telling her that her parents are dead).
• Even though the Echo Beach plot was as thin as Eldorado on a bad day (or Hollyoaks on a good day), the appallingness of it did work as a satire of the genre, with lots of meaningful looks, over-heightened emotions and implausible coincidences, plus lengthy establishing shots of the Cornish coast accompanied by 'hip' music. The scenes of the town's lithe youngsters dancing frenetically on the beach was the sort of lame thing Home And Away does all the time (we imagine).
• Martine McCutcheon acting posh.
• Mrs McCluskey from Grange Hil as the pub landlady.
* The pussy-loving lads were quite cute but, as Echo Beach was obviously filmed in last year's non-summer, there's too little shirtlessness going on.

What was bad about them?
• While most of the Moving Wallpaper cast were aiming for grim, frustrated realism (previously seen in Extras), Ben Miller decided he was still in a wacky BBC1 sitcom, overacting hopelessly and sticking out like a sore thumb as egotistical producer Jonathan Pope with his flashy sports car, desperate need for a wetroom and "What would Simon Cowell do?" philosophy.
• Echo Beach should have been camper, like an outdoors version of Crossroads.
• Jason Donovan's English accent as Daniel Merrick which sounded like he was a port-sipping 1950s colonel with haemorrhoids.
• Jason Donovan and Hugo Speer sported near-identical haircuts – and similar craggy once-good looks – which was a tad confusing at times.
• Jason and Martine as parents of teenage kids is a bit scary. Where did all those years go?
• The horrible little bit of beard on the chin of Jason's son.
• Johnny 'Mike Baldwin' Briggs doing a Cornish-ish accent.
• The laughable advert for News at Ten in the commercial break with Trevor McDonald and Julie Etchingham talking pretentious nonsense.

Fairy Tales: Rapunzel, BBC1

Fairy Tales: Rapunzel, BBC1
Did we like it?
It was a little too childish for adults, and a little too adult for children leaving it as a mangled farce, but was partially saved by Lee Ingleby, Geraldine James and Charity Wakefield in the lead roles.

What was good about it?
• By the end Lee Ingleby had made you care about the messed-up Jimmy Stojkovic, and his alter-ego of Martina. The funniest scenes were those when as Martina he had to sometimes violently repel the advances of lecherous TV commentator Roger Bateman.
• Charity Wakefield had equally little to play with as Rapunzel, and her most affecting scene was when she confided to Martina that she dreamed that when she let down her long hair out of the window a handsome prince would tug on her hair. Slipping out of Charity’s home where he/she was staying as her practice partner, Jimmy dressed in a suit and made it to where Rapunzel was dangling her hair. However, upon catching sight of him she screamed and branded him a rapist when later talking to Martina about the incident.
• Geraldine James pulled her sternest expressions as Rapunzel’s adoptive mother who ran her home like Stalag 19, keeping men out of Rapunzel’s life with the same zeal as if she were a surgeon sterilising an operating theatre.

What was bad about it?
• A preposterous, shapeless plot that even when set in the context of an updated fairy tale was ridiculous and pretty much severed all attraction to the drama straight away.
• Was there really no better way for a couple to be thrown together than a Balkan tennis player cross-dressing and playing in a woman’s tournament to pay off his father’s debt to gangsters that turned out to be fake and simply part of the father’s overall plot?
• And why did Jimmy have to be Balkan? All this effected was Lee Ingleby putting on a strangled James Bond baddie accent (both male and female) the whole time, while his father (Shaun Williamson) and Jimmy’s brother Boris tiresomely conspiring like a couple of Daily Mail-coloured in Eastern European stereotypes. With his father declaring that to make them appear respectable, “You and I will hire a suit from the finest tailor in Bond Street – Moss Bros!”
• Why did Rapunzel wait a whole year (after Jimmy’s ban had just expired) before travelling to see him and declare her love?

Heist, ITV4

Did we like it?
Did we ever?! This pilot episode of the Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) produced US drama was well-plotted, fast-paced and clever. A great cast of characters are introduced over the course of this opening episode, and we were left eager for the next instalment, as professional thief Mickey O’Neil’s (Dougray Scott) team plots a huge heist on Rodeo Drive jewellery stores. We will definitely be sticking with this.

What was good about it?
• Micky’s team of villains and Amy Sykes' (Michele Hicks) LAPD robbery team are both packed with interesting, likeable characters, and this refusal to clearly delineate the good and bad guys works very well.
• This opener featured Nicky’s team planning a bank job so that they would have enough funds for their jewellery heist plans. But also carrying out bank raids were a really nasty Russian crew whose modus operandi was to kidnap someone, strap a remote controlled bomb to their chest, and send them in to get the money. The first attempt goes badly, as Micky’s right-hand man James, exasperated by being beaten to the punch, tips off the cops that a robbery is in progress. The pizza delivery boy who has been forced to steal the money, meets an unfortunate end as the Russians detonate the bomb and turn him into so much pizza topping. We never though we’d cheer such gratuitous nastiness, but as the delivery boy is played by Zac Efron (Troy in the execrable High School Musical films) we figured he’d got what was coming to him.
• We loved the opening scene where Micky and James ensure they have enough time to rob a jewellers by setting the alarm off two or three times from the control box across the street. Eventually the cops stop turning up to check it out, which is when Micky puts the glass door through and they clean it out.
• We were given a glimpse of some of the gang’s back-stories. On a previous job, Micky had been shot and left for dead by the guy who is now living with his ex-wife and daughter! And we see Pops’ motivation – his wife has Alzheimers.
• We also loved the ill-matched partnership of Detective O’Brien – fat, white Irish-American racist – and Detective Evans, a fit, serious, African-American.
What was bad about it?
• You can see the romance between Micky and Detective Sykes coming from a mile away.
• NBC have cancelled the show after just 7 episodes. Boooo!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Honest, ITV1

Did we like it?
We loved the original, New Zealand’s Outrageous Fortune, which was full of feisty characters and took an adult approach to comedy. But this fell horribly flat – the characters were just painfully bonkers; the comedy was cheap and puerile.
What was good about it?
• The set-up: a criminal family’s matriarch insists they go straight after hubby gets a four-year stretch inside. In New Zealand, this led to great fun. Here, though, the signs are far from encouraging.
• Amanda Redman as Lindsay Carter adds class to the cast, but she's just reworking her harrassed but on-top-of-things woman role (see New Tricks, At Home With The Braithwaites). There's nothing new here.
• It's not as atrocious as ITV1's last primetime comedy drama, Sold.

What was bad about it?
• It desperately tried to be funny and wacky.
• The New Zealand version featured a real nasty piece of work as the jailed husband; here we have rat-like Danny Webb, who looks like the greatest crime he'd pull off is dropping a bit of litter.
• Didn't really like Sean Pertwee as Sergeant Bain, either.
• The New Zealand version featured a very sexy actor in the role of both twins (one a lawyer; one a law-breaker). Matthew McNulty is handsome enough but a far cry from his Kiwi counterpart.
• The New Zealand version featured a real, entertaining contrast between the daughters (one a geek, one a wannabe model). Here the difference was less pronounced and, therefore, less successful.
• The "What's up?"-"You are" hard-on joke sucked.

Barry Humphries: The Man Inside Dame Edna, Channel 4

Did we like it?
Channel 4 tries to get to the heart of the enigma that is Barry Humphries, by following him to his hometown of Melbourne and interviewing childhood friends, adult contempories and the man himself. And despite learning a fair amount about his past, like a good boxer, Humphries dances away whenever things start getting too in depth. An enjoyable, mildly illuminating documentary? Yes. But an in-depth study? Not a chance.

What was good about it?
The documentary makers were refreshingly upfront about how much they’d be revealing about Humphries with the man himself’s opening lines: “While I’m always flattered when people want to make documentaries about me, I do take a certain delight in revealing as little as possible.”
The genuine affection that the locals (of all ages) have for Edna, when she returned to Moonee Ponds, the Melbourne suburb that she is alleged to have grown up in.
Even at the age of 73, Humphries seems like a man decades younger. The mind is razor-sharp, the zinging one-liners show no sign of slowing up, and to say that he still has an eye for the ladies would be a severe understatement, as he charms the attractive young archivist at the Melbourne museum. Ironic, then that his Melbourne Grammar School headmaster, unable to fathom the flamboyant Barry, had apparently said to him, “I do hope you’re not going to turn out to be some sort of poofter!”
When a small child, Humphries was clearly indulged by his wealthy builder father but the seeds of Edna could be seen when describing an incident from the more complex relationship with his mother. As they came back from tea at one of her friends houses, young Barry remarks how much he enjoyed the cake they’d been served. His mother’s one-word response sums up much of the class snobbery of Edna – “Bought!”
Clearly a gifted child, Humphries revealed that his mother and father had told him that “they didn’t know where he had come from” as they clearly had no idea about how to deal with their polymath son. And it was this ‘fish out of water’ feeling that drove Barry’s desire to escape the mundanity of the suburbs.
Sir Les Patterson – he’s sexist, racist and crude. Yet absolutely hilarious. And like Edna, seems to exist separately from Humphries, as both are happy to criticise their creator with lines that have a definite ring of truth about them. Sir Les: “I’ve met Humphries twice, and I don’t like him. He’s up himself!”
The clips from the stage show, where Edna and Sir Les play the audience like Menuhin played the violin, and where a momentary pause can reduce the audience to tears of mirth as much as a caustic one-liner.
The revelation that Humphries has had to re-purchase his favourite works of art two or three times after having to give them up as part of his (numerous) divorce settlements.

What was bad about it?
Humphries seemed to have so much control over the documentary that there was absolutely no chance of a soul-bearing moment. As the Toby Jones voiceover intoned that “we took Humphries back to the house in Christowel Street where he grew up” Humphries cut across it in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “Now what a novel, innovative idea!” And when the voiceover asked if Edna was based on his mother, Humphries leans back in his chair with a satisfied smile on his face – “Now this is where the documentary goes ‘in-depth’!”
Humphries jet-black hair. Surely Edna would have had a field day with a 73-year-old man who was still dyeing his hair?
The conceit of having Humphries and Edna fast-forwarding the parts of the documentary concerned with each other was a distraction that didn’t work.

How Pop Songs Works, BBC4

How this documentary deceives you accepting the orthodoxy of music to accompany you as you gulp down mouthfuls of a seductive sedative in the shape of hot coffee.

Charles Hazelwood says that “pop music can be as rich, affecting and powerful as any symphony”, which was a promising start as he didn’t mark himself out as a classical music snob.
But he concluded this part by claiming that “the ingredients that go into many a pop record remain the same”, which was something he managed to contradict at the end.

Introduced by the Sugababes droning on in their production-line flaccid monotone that so enraptures puerile minds.
Smug producer, adopting the same haughtiness as a wrathful deity, reckoned: “Most pop songs are written within a fifth of an octave. The public don’t want something that’s too complicated.” No, the ‘public’ wants vapid automatons chewing the musical cud they’ve regurgitated from Simon Cowell or some such other faceless record producer.
Guy Chambers also expressed an opinion that John Lennon was the greatest singer in the history of pop but his views on this, and everything else to do with music, are to be assumed to have equal value of Tomas De Torquemada’s views on religious tolerance because of his previous association with musical Anti-Christ Robbie Williams. And compounded by the fact that through his association with Williams he may once have been friends with Robbie Williams’ best friend, and diabolic turd, Jonathan Wilkes.

Nick Ingham: “You need to stick to certain rules – no one is going to play a 15 minute guitar solo. You need to come in quickly and state the message.” Is that why Blue Monday, with its three minute intro, is the best selling 12” single of all time?
John Altman: “You know you’re going to have your intro, a couple of verses, a chorus, another verse, maybe a bridge, a chorus and then you’re out.” The best song of 2007 was Radiohead’s Reckoner, which had a far more amorphous structure.
The Guy Chambers aphorism of corrosive nonsense: “If it’s longer than four minutes it’s probably not saying it clearly enough. You’ve got to take the fat out. The world hasn’t got time to listen to a four minute song.” Utterly incorrect. The only reason this theory is posited is because of the product music fraternity churn out so much dross that they don’t want any potential consumer to ‘waste’ more than three minutes per song as they all cost the same 79p on iTunes.

Richard Niles: “A lyric has to speak in language that everyone can understand.” He hasn’t listened to REM’s Murmur.
The usually sane John Harris is aglow with rhapsody for Dire Straits’ Romeo & Juliet. It doesn’t matter if the lyrics are “spare” they are spoken by the same man who once aspired to crush the 80s in a rusty iron fist of atavistic mediocrity alongside Phil Collins – there can be no compromise or clemency with such criminals.

The Guy Chambers aphorism of corrosive nonsense: “Umbrella is quite sweet, but it is quite confrontational.” Umbrella is something played to human lab rats to give them the illusion that their lives had meaning but in reality they existed as expendable corporate tools.

Phill Jupitus: “Arctic Monkeys are what Oasis could have been. Noel [Gallagher] is very good at dressing up their angst with poetry.” Wrong on two counts – Arctic Monkeys haven’t yet written a song anywhere near as good as Live Forever, and on the other hand Noel Gallagher’s lyrics are mostly rubbish, simply shovelled into songs like cattle being milked purely to fill up the space.

Charles Hazelwood lauds the role of hip-hop in modern lyrics by using the example of the talented Kanye West. He is a fair lyricist, but represents the near-acceptable face of hip-hop for mass audiences. Even with our knowledge of the genre we could think of better examples such as Snoop Dogg (pre-1997), Method Man, Dr Dre and Ghostface Killah.

The wordless hook like too many other elements here focused on the obvious examples rather than the defining cases, such as Kylie’s Na-Na-Na from Can’t Get You Out of My Head or the humdrum Kaiser Chiefs’ Ruby instead of the demented ranting on Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock.

Robbie Williams was featured here immediately rendering it redundant and worthless.

Arrangement and production
Richard Niles: “There are 30 to 40 ways to arrange a pop song – but which is the best and which will connect to the most people?” These may have been his own words, but they could just as easily have come from The Gospel According To Me by Simon Cowell.
Also featured was The Verve’s essence of pomposity Bittersweet Symphony which was the moment ‘Britpop’ plunged into the depths of Hades.

Breaking Rules
In which Hazlewood uses the obvious example of Bohemian Rhapsody as an example of how by breaking ‘the rules’ it’s still possible to produce a stellar pop song – something which anyone who doesn’t buy records at the behest of MTV1 (or 2 for that matter) will have spent the last hour screaming forlornly at the TV set.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Mistresses, BBC1

Did we like it?
It didn’t have a single original thought, action or plotline; the characters annoy like a needle being slipped into the scrotum; and it’s directed at women with more fervour than a Grazia advert – so please can you tell us why we really quite enjoyed it?

What was good about it?
• Despite loathing many aspects of it, the four central roles were played beautifully by four very talented actresses – each, perhaps cynically, wrought to elicit a different emotion from the viewer.
• Trudi (Sharon Small) was widowed by the terrorist attacks on September 11 2001, and is still grieving for her dead husband – even believing the silent calls she receives might be from him as his body was never found. But her luck changes when she meets Richard a fellow single parent whose daughter attends the same school as Trudi’s daughters, and she receives a compensation cheque for £2m for the death of her husband.
• It was touching to watch this sensitive, tender woman dip her toe into a relationship after six years of abstinence – the way she at first rebuffs Richard’s timid advances, but then comes across as a little too desperate was well written, acted and directed. There’s a suspicion that Richard’s interest may be motivated by her new fortune, but we hope this isn’t the case simply to watch their relationship unfold.
• Doctor Katie’s (Sarah Parish) dilemma centres on her affair with a recently-deceased patient, and her mixed-up son’s pursuit of his late father’s anonymous lover. This worked because of the way Parish showed her apparently confident character’s grating insecurities – looking up pleading for sympathy from Trudi after she’d told her about the affair – and the performance of Max Brown as Sam, the grief-stricken son, whose capricious, puerile nature appeals to his surrogate stepmother’s maternal sense that she can’t abandon him, and how this may later evolve into something more serious.
• Siobhan (Orla Brady) is like an eroded cliff about to collapse into the ocean under the grinding importunities of her husband Hari (Raza Jaffrey) to start a family, which includes having sex by the clock rather than when the impulse takes her. The way in which their relationship was cremated to dust was slyly and sardonically illustrated through Siobhan’s robotic purchase of ‘sexy’ underwear, to arouse her functional husband’s mechanical loins, and then compounded by those other damning omens of a dead relationship – sprinkling the bed with roses and lighting candles to force a romantic atmosphere. All she needed to complete the set was to book a holiday in Miami, greet him on the bed while sipping wine and smoking a cigarette post-coitus while reading an article in The Guardian about increasing the value of their house.
• Jessica (Shelley Conn) has a less demanding story this week, but will soon face the dilemma of whether or not she should set anchor in her sexual safari on the island of Lesbos. This of course will raise all sorts of commitment issues that will seem hackneyed but, judging from this episode, will be handled in both a sensitive and engaging way.

What was bad about it?
• While the characters may not necessary be likeable, they do try your patience with some of the most vexing dialogue this side of Dermot O’Leary’s autocue. “I’ll see you in five!” is a phrase that should have been strapped to Snoop Dogg’s ankle upon his deportation and afforded a similar refusal of re-entry; Richard and Trudi’s timorous courtship centres on endless offers of “going for a coffee”, we would rather join Socrates in imbibing hemlock than consume that filth; Jessica uses the phrase “no brainer”, which of course is the favoured slogan of people with no brains whose cranial cavities are instead filled with swirling spectral memories of convivial dinner parties, February ski trips to Cloisters and dreams of building a wine cellar.
• The emergence of the BBC as the new home of corporate placement – Tesco, Sainsbury and Starbucks all had their brand names heralded like the death of the king, while the camera also crept up on mobile phones like a stalking tiger for a good close-up of the latest brand names and models.
• Trudi being characterised as a good person because she buys a copy of the Big Issue. While there are some people who buy that magazine for the content, most people do so as a kind of security blanket of their own piety or to counterbalance a minor sin committed that week, some do out of pity or even to impress someone to whom you’re attracted that you have a ‘kind heart’.
• Law is dull, lawyers are dull. The great triumph of This Life was to make viewers care about lawyers, who in real life are often less sympathetic and more malicious than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Childcatcher. Here, the credibility of Siobhan and Dominic’s affair is shattered by them working as lawyers. Granted the eternal office ennui may induce febrile salacity among workers elsewhere, but in law firms even this isn’t strong enough to dispel the mental gelding guillotine that falls on them each morning.

Pop! What Is It Good For?, BBC4

Did we like it?
Paul Morley is always a joy, even when he talks nonsense, as he does so with such a rare, flustered passion that makes him captivating and refreshing. And when he recklessly gushes into any number of philosophical cul-de-sacs, he always appears quaint; cute even, like a naïve child trying to educate their proud parents on how the world is.

What was good about it?
• The exposure of how Can’t Get You Out of My Head was composed as functionally as a small boy might glue together a model aeroplane. Writer Rob Davis, once of Mudd (“towards the bricklayer end of Glam”) blithely explained to Morley the melody, drums and bassline, and that Kylie wasn’t even the first choice to sing it, that was Sophie Ellis-Bextor, but her manager had chosen the song with the same impulsive bliss as a drunken stag nighter in Amsterdam picks out a whore from the brothel window.
• The deliberately amateurish fashion of the documentary in which the director drones at Morley about what questions to ask and how to frame the shot. This perhaps is because it was shot and edited in the tabloid Blitzkrieg over ‘fake’ TV, as evidenced by the omission of ‘noddies’ and some grotesquely blunt editing.
• Morley’s interview with the gurning Sugababes as they prepared to perform at Children In Need. Their bemused looks and swirling washing machine eyes suggested they imagined he was some kind of lunatic stalker rather than someone who will have a infinitely more enduring and deep impression on pop than they will ever have.
• After Morley had finished his excruciating eulogy about Freak Like Me – “one of the greatest pop songs ever” – Original Sugababe gazed at him as if trying to stare him into a submissive skulk back to the shadows and was affronted that she actually had to navigate her cubic mind into a position where it had to reply to his praise; praise made even more remarkable as they had as little to do with the song as a joyrider has to do with the manufacture of a car they’ve stolen.
• New Sugababe even brazenly offered her opinion on what it had felt like to be offered Freak Like Me even though at the time she had been moored off the coast of Pap waiting to be hauled in like a cage of crabs to the fish market of manufactured music.
• They became very animated after Morley had intimated they were the “prime brand” for songwriters to aim for with their compositions because they wanted to assure him above all else that they “write the majority of our music” – advocates of God make a similar claim about the Bible. But any pretensions of divinity the Sugababes may have had were dispelled by the thunderclap of Phil Collins atrocity In The Air Tonight – at which point New Sugababe started singing along and dancing, indelibly unmasking their true faith to diabolical, mindless music as surely as the handkerchief damns Iago.
• Morley’s rambling but lucid account of how his world was gouged apart through his purchase of T-Rex’s Ride A White Swan; how this one single record uncorked his bottled perception of the world that there was more to life than Stockport in 1970.
• Richard X badgering Morley about his former life in The Art of Noise, one of the strangest groups of the 80s, of which Morley was a member. Sadly, they focused on the agreeable industrial tubthump of Close To The Edit rather than the sublime Moments In Love.

What was bad about it?
• The assumption that everyone watching is an avid reader of Brian Eno And His Esoteric Theories on Music that left everyone else baffled at times. Morley drew comparisons between Can’t Get You Out of My Head and Iggy Pop, Donna Summer and Philip Glass, with examples of the first more familiar two, but nothing of Glass so the viewers had no reference to appreciate this allusion.
• There was also a discussion about minor and diminished chords, and how they are “sad” and mournful – but why so?
• Morley examined the video to Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, in the belief that the futuristic video “creates the perfect imaginative landscape for that song to exist”. This over-accentuates the role of video in music; videos only act to distract the dominant visual sense from becoming bored by the predominant auditory inflow, or at least until the song has become entrenched in the brain. But such a necessity endures when the song is weak and incapable of inflaming the mind’s eye with evocative imagery – which is why Foo Fighters videos are so animated and elaborate.
• Morley’s heavily flawed belief that “all pop songs are great because you can imagine them being sung by Elvis”. While the Sugababes lack of veneration for Morley stank of ignorance of musical history, Morley’s blind devotion to Elvis smacks of ignorance of the musical present. While many of his generation may still worship Elvis, to almost everyone else Elvis is an anathema of culture, little more than Robbie Williams for men too proud to show off their grey hair, a bloated icon of 60s hyperbole whose undoubted innovation has been swept away by a cascadence of bile from a generation who are sick of being told how life-affirming the previous generation was.
• Tahita Bulmer and Morley exaggerating the profundity of Madonna’s Like A Prayer – “the complex things you can say in a pop song”, “Incredibly complex” – if memory serves us correctly it was a licentious and tedious set of flailing arms beating hard on the doors of controversy through allying a song ostensibly about religion with a video featuring a black Jesus while the (trite) lyrics hinted strongly at oral sex.
• Morley presuming the upsurge in British pop music was fuelled by the national shame at the downturn in the fortunes of the empire – “Britain has lost India, but it had gained the Beatles, the Stones and the Kinks” – as the only folk who would have had the time to fret about the fall of the empire would be aristocrats, everyone else still had their noses in the dirt following the Second World War.
• The earnest analysis of This Charming Man’s lyrics, in which poet Simon Armitage intelligently and intuitively attempted to paint a clearer picture of Morrissey’s deceptively whimsical tale of how a “ vulnerable, hapless “jumped up pantry boy” is seduced by the titular charming man. The problem was that our vision of the boy – soaked to the skin with lank hair plastered across his face pushing his “punctured bicycle” with arms outstretched across some “hillside desolate” before his encounter with a rich gentleman in a fancy car – isn’t really very different to Armitage’s, nor, we imagine, anyone else’s as the lyrics are so rapturously evocative.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Damages BBC1

Did we like it?
A "real hard dick bitch" of a drama to wake us up after a Sunday evening spent in the bonneted past.

What was good about it?
• Glenn Close as "real hard dick bitch" lawyer Patty Hewes, who is on the side of good against evil... but not without her own ethical lapses along the way (making her this year's Vic Mackey or Tony Soprano). The drama was written for her, so it's no surprise that she steals the show but it's great to see the astonishing quality of her performance.
• Ted Danson playing against type as the crooked businessman Frobisher, using every trick up his book to ensure the employees he conned don't get their hands on the wealth he's squirrelled away.
• The twist at the end when Tom (The OC's Tate Donovan), who was sacked with the words "Enjoy your tofu, Tom. You're fired!", made a comeback, part of Patty's twsietd machinations.
• Rose Byrne, who was unknown to us, never gets overshadowed by the big-name veterans in the cast. She wins the audience's empathy as Patty's ambitious protégé Ellen Parson, who gets pulled in various directions despite being a hot-shot legal legend in the making, who is so good that the salary offers she receives are met with a "Holy shit!|" reaction.
• There was never the slightest doubt that it would be worth following this series throughout the entire 13-part run.

What was bad about it?
• The flashback technique. We're a bit fed up with how-did-we-get-here formats. We didn't need to know that Ellen's boyfriend ends up in a literal bloodbath.
• The bloody dead dog. Hey, we're a bit squeamish.

Picture This, Channel 4

Did we like it?
It’s a shame that amateur photography has to be clumsily shoehorned into the rudimentary, misshapen format of a talent contest as, from what we could gather, the process is quite interesting. It would have been more interesting if the contestants weren’t such hopeless amateurs – evidently so we could share their ‘journey’ – and the experts/judges didn’t settle on proceedings like a fog of pretentious pompousness.

What was good about it?
• The best of the six contestants, at least in this first episode, was Lizz a recovering alcoholic who started off a seeming novice but who became accustomed to the complexities – though not the deluded pretensions – of photography at exactly the same pace as our interest was stoked. She also clearly explained her thinking behind her portrait of fellow contestant Ed, before confessing her admiration in his confidence as he blithely asked passers-by to assist him as he in turn took her photograph.
• Following the novices as they tackled the simplest forms of photography with as little experience as the viewer in some cases helped lower you into the world gently. Whether they were taking portraits in the park, soothing the genial cantankerousness of Germaine Greer or navigating some apathetic Brighton residents on to the sodden beach for a shot to encapsulate the seaside, it was all quite engaging.
• Of the contestants, Lucinda’s juvenile giggling and art school fervour are by contrast irritating and admirable; Ed is the Javier Mascherano of the programme, dutiful, functional and efficient but he will never provoke people to throw rip their hearts from their chest and toss them into the air in rapturous, impetuous celebration; Aron approaches each challenge like he was a novelist whose books are hamstrung by delusions of being the next Dostoyevsky; Carolyn was eliminated after she was punished for committing the photographers’ cardinal sin of using Photoshop to sharpen up her work; and Jay, also eliminated, was seen to be too inexperienced to keep pace with the remainder of the challenges.

What was bad about it?
• Instances where instead of illuminating the viewer by shining a torchlight into the murkier nuances of photography there was a redoubtable determination to alienate the viewer with an esoteric cipher common to the fashion industry that reeks of an insecurity that this proud pursuit will be exposed as a superficial dalliance rather than a journey to the depths of the soul.
• It probably falls between the two stools, as none of the images really struck us as heart-piercingly beautiful or original – Lizz’s shot of Germaine Greer made up as if she were cryogenically frozen was perhaps the best – but on the other hand, the keen endeavour of each of the contestants to instil some imagination lifted it away from the shark-infested bitchy indulgence of fashion, celebrity and pop/classical music crossbreeds.
• The three judges didn’t really help. Martin Parr is “one of the world’s most influential photographers”. It wasn’t made apparent whether he was “influential” in the inspirational sense or in the Genesis (the band) sense of “this is rubbish, I can do better.” But judging from his photos of Brighton the contestants aspire to emulate – unremarkable garish monstrosities – it was probably the latter, although we won’t slander him by claiming his craft and technique rubs buboes-ridden shoulders with Phil Collins.
• But while we weren’t that impressed by Parr’s photographs, we don’t think he is a bad photographer, we put our lack of appreciation down to our ignorance of photography. And it’s this which makes us, oddly, adhere more closely to the opinions of the judges than our own instincts – in turn annihilating any joy we may get from our perceptions as the first thought on seeing a photo by one of the contestants was never “this is brilliant/terrible” but instead “what will Martin/ Brett Ragers/ Alex Proud think of it?”
• And thus any pleasure derived from the photos of the contestants won’t be from impressions of the photos themselves, but more if we managed to second-guess the opinion of the judges, and so simultaneously become more educated as to established criticism of photography while eradicating every last atom of individual perception from our minds.

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