Saturday, 17 January 2009
Evan Davis made a likeable chummy chump as he strode lankily around New York, Newcastle and Venice while he concisely elucidated how banks have crumbled into a pile of dust worth less than a house on the Gaza Strip. But even in this fun-sized format, the inescapable truth is that banking and financial complexity is so dull it can met glaciers.
What was good about it?
• The most captivating part were those when Evan spoke to camera and explained exactly what had gone wrong with securitisation, how the banks fund their borrowing – employing three London skyscrapers as half-full/empty glasses of money to represent income, reserve capital and outgoings – and how Northern Rock’s arrogance, here almost solely attributed to the lumbering, oafish Adam Applegarth, caused its collapse.
What was bad about it?
• Evan tried his best but everything about banks and financial institutions screams ‘dull’ with the same volume as a banshee stitched together with the undead souls of Bonnie Langford and a fire alarm.
• What we already knew, and what Evan confirmed, is that money is made in the City essentially by overweight men with beer stains down their shirts shouting random numbers across the noisy throng over an office of a hundred other overweight men pretending to be busy. These numbers are then fed into a computer designed by more men, who have bought the morals of Josef Stalin from eBay and wear them like a medal for gallantry. And they all pretend they’ve made money pretty much out of thin air.
• Evan aspired to enliven this cerebral mortuary by inflecting the heads of Northern Rock, Applegarth, and Lehman Brothers, Dick Fuld, with some sort of conveyable compassion. Applegarth loved cricket and Fuld was a keen squash player, and so each were filtered through these colourless prisms to offer the illusion of humanity.
• But he failed, because like so many of their brethren, Applegarth and Fuld have long since forsaken their humanity, content to sacrifice it on the altar of the beastly pleasures of a holiday in Miami, empty mansions adorned with paintings that no one else will ever see and cars so fast they can outrun gravity; yet they are merely compensatory trinkets for a soulless husk all but jettisoned from the human race.
• And it’s because of this estrangement from the rest of the species that made it so difficult to comprehend the motivation of these creatures – as if they had slithered from the mouth of the fictional Gordon Gecko the moment he uttered “greed is good”, oblivious that such aggrandizement was purely satirical.
• There was plenty of hot air from the various talking heads that Evan probed, and while the professors were scathing of the bankers’ conduct they didn’t really appear as if they’d been warning of the supposed financial apocalypse. Meanwhile, the flotsam and jetsam of the finance institutions were equally as damning about how their peers, and sometimes colleagues, had caused and dealt with the situation – yet the indelible impression was that their opinions were only being sought now after the event, whereas had they expressed such opposition before the event then what they said would have been perceived to be as impotent as a sack of dinosaur sperm.
• The peppering of the narrative of BBC news reports, often repeating what Evan had just said as if this would dispel any doubts we had over his testimony. Still, we’d prefer an avalanche of this indulgence to the trembling smiles slapped across the faces of our nation’s newscaster when delivering the perfect story about the ‘miracle on the Hudson’ – it has everything; it happened in America, therefore offering the illusion of global significance; there were about 400 different US TV stations covering it thus ensuring loads of ‘astonishing’ pictures; nobody died, enabling the newscasters to wear the smiles; it had a succession of delirious people in hospital beds to enlighten viewers with that most trite but beloved phrase of the TV news bulletin, “I thought I was going to die!” by people who evidently didn’t; and of course, it soon had its own, by now trademarked, appellation of ‘miracle on the Hudson’
• And now we’ve got the murder trial of those accused of killing Meredith Kercher, a masturbatory conflagration fanned by the eternal middle-class, middle-age lurid fascination with the sexual deviancy of young people, and the fact that one of the accused is pretty. Had Quasimodo or a victim of cosmetic surgery been in such a position, it wouldn’t have merited a mention in the NIBs.
• With very little substance in the main thrust, Evan presented a brief history of banking. But as it was banking this was uninteresting, too, and showed a pale, dreary example of the human race first being constricted by the edicts of the Bible, and then using the ingenuity of a frosted turd to extricate themselves from its dogma.
• While we like Evan, we were soured by his name being part of the title as this is a trend in TV we find quite repellent, as if people are expected to watch because of the person presenting rather than the content – on the other hand, the film industry has been serving up swinefeed often with the figurehead of star power for decades, so it’s perhaps just a natural progression.
Friday, 16 January 2009
9.00pm 1929: The Great Crash BBC2 – Documentary exploring the causes of the 1929 Wall Street Crash.
8.00pm Destination 2012 Channel 4 – Rob Walker profiles athletes hoping to compete in the London 2012 Olympics.
9.00am The Sorcerer's Apprentice BBC2 – Series in which children attend magic school.
2.50pm Smallville Channel 4 – Series seven of the US adventure drama.
8.30pm Lost on Location Sky1 – Iain Lee explores the US drama's set in Hawaii before trying to persuade the and tries to get a walk-on part.
9.00pm A Short Stay In Switzerland BBC1 – Drama about euthanasia, based on a true story starring Julie Walters as Dr Anne Turner who was diagnosed with a neurological disease. With Stephen Campbell Moore, Lyndsey Marshal, Liz White, Harriet Walter, Patrick Malahide, Will Knightley and Michelle Fairley. Written by Frank McGuinness.
9.00pm Being Human BBC3 – Six-part series about a flatsharing ghost, werewolf and vampire, following a pilot by Toby Whithouse. Stars Russell Tovey, as George, a mild-mannered hospital porter who, for one night a month, becomes a werewolf, Aidan Turner as the laid-back Mitchell who becomes a blood-sucking vampire and Lenora Crichlow as Anna, a talkative ghost who has no self-confidence.
9.00pm Explore: Patagonia to the Pampas BBC2 – Series in which Simon Reeve leads a team through the spectacular landscapes of Argentina.
9.00pm Robert Burns – The People's Poet BBC4 – Writer Andrew O'Hagan profiles the Scottish poet to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth.
9.00pm Supernatural ITV2 – Series four of the US drama starring Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.
9.00pm Lost Sky1 – Series five of the US fantasy drama. The survivors starting to feel the after effects of the island being moved. Stars Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway and Naveen Andrews.
10.00pm Pete Doherty in 24 Hours MTV1
10.00pm Generation Kill FX – US mini-series created by David Simon and Ed Burns, based on the book by Evan Wright about his experiences as an embedded reporter with the US Marine Corps during the Iraq war in 2003.. Starring Lee Tergesen, as Wright plus Alexander Skarsgård, James Ransone, Stark Sands, Jon Huertas, Jonah Lotan, Rudy Reyes, Billy Lush, Chance Kelly, Eric Nenninger, Michael Kelly, Owain Yeoman and Marc Menchaca.
10.00pm Sex: How to Do Everything Fiver – US advice series with Emma Taylor and Lorelei Sharkey
10.00pm High Altitude BBC2 – Winter sports magazine presented by Ed Leigh and Graham Bell.
10.30pm Mark Lawson Talks to Bill Bryson BBC4
10.50pm Lost: Season Five Revealed Sky1 – Iain Lee talks to the cast and crew of the US drama series.
11.00pm Live From The Red Carpet: The 2009 Screen Actors Guild Awards E! Entertainment
• Guest list
• Anne Robinson on The Sunday Night Project, Channel 4, Sunday
• Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... James Taylor, Channel 4, Wednesday
• Judge Judy on Shatner's Raw Nerve. Biography, Friday
• Sean Lock, Jimmy Carr, Marcus Brigstocke and Alan Davies QI BBC1, Friday
• Friday Night with Jonathan Ross BBC1, Friday
8.00am Da Dick and Dom Diaries BBC2
7.00pm The Money Programme: Bill Gates: How a Geek Changed the World BBC2
8.00pm Ed Mitchell: What Happened Next ITV1 – Documentary about former ITN newsreader Ed Mitchell, who became a homeless alcoholic.
8.00pm China Power: Art Now - After Mao Sky Arts
8.00pm Beauty Queens Gone Wrong: 15 Shocking Pageant Scandals E!
8.30pm The Book Quiz BBC4 – Return of the Kirsty Wark-fronted literary panel game. Guests are Rosie Boycott, Darren Shan, Julie Myerson and Antony Beevor.
9.00pm Chickens, Hugh and Tesco Too Channel 4 – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall attempts to change the animal welfare policy of Britain's biggest supermarket, Tesco. Part of the Great British Food Fight season.
9.00pm 90210 E4 – A revival of the US drama series Beverly Hills 90210 about rich youngsters in Los Angeles. Stars Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth. The series focuses on Annie Wilson and her brother Dixon, who enrol at West Beverly Hills High School after their family moves from Kansas.
9.00pm What Darwin Didn't Know BBC4 – Documentary in which evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi examines the evolution theory put forward by Charles Darwin in 1859.
9.00pm America's Next Top Model LivingTV – Series 11 of the US modelling show hosted by Tyra Banks.
10.00pm Night Cops Sky1 – Series following British police officers who work the night shift.
9.00pm Naked BBC3 – Series in which psychologist Emma Kenny and image consultant Jonathan Phang launch a radical self-confidence building course with five professionals undertaking challenges designed to help their self-esteem.
9.00pm Gok Wan: Too Fat Too Young Channel 4 – A look at the problem of teenage obesity in the UK.
9.00pm Auf Wiedersehen, Pet ITV4 – Beginning a rerun of the original series of the Dick Clement-Ian La Frenais comedy drama.
9.00pm Crimewatch BBC1
10.00pm/11/00pm Shameless Channel 4/E4 – Series six of the drama series featuring the characters of the Chatsworth Estate in 16 episodes. Debbie (Rebecca Ryan) reaches the age of 16, Frank suffers from post natal depression, Monica (Annabel Apsion) redecorates the house, Micky (Ciaran Griffiths) goes to college and enters the world of porn, Liam (Johnny Bennett) is found to be a genius, nurse Maxine (Joanna Higson) seduces Carl (Elliott Tittensor), Mandy (Samantha Siddall) falls for a man called Joe (Ben Batt), Yvonne (Kelli Hollis) gets an unexpected visitor, Karen (Rebecca Atkinson) and Jamie (Aaron McCusker) have marital problems, Ian (Gerard Kearns) contemplates leaving the Chatsworth Estate and Norma (Dystin Johnston) makes a grim discovery at The Jockey.
10.00pm Three Sisters Make One Baby Biography
10.45pm Catching Britain's Biggest Thieves BBC1 – Documentary about one family's 20-year crime spree.
11.25pm Film 2009 with Jonathan Ross BBC1
8.30pm Tonight in Person: Peter, Paul and Mary BBC4 – A 1965 concert by folk trio.
9.00pm Grand Designs Channel 4 – The 10th anniversary series of Kevin McCloud's encounters with people who are building their own homes.
9.00pm Taggart ITV1
10.00pm The World's Cleverest Child and Me Channel 4 – With comedian Mark Dolan.
10.35pm The South Bank Show Awards ITV1 – Hosted by Melvyn Bragg at London's Dorchester hotel, with live performances from Razorlight, Nigel Kennedy and Michael Ball.
8.00pm A Million Pound Place in the Sun Channel 4 – With former footballer Jason Cundy and his wife Lizzie.
8.00pm Nigel Kennedy: Polish Spirit Sky Arts
9.00pm Jamie Saves Our Bacon Channel 4 – Jamie Oliver campaigns on behalf of Britain's pig farmers.
9.00pm Paris Hilton’s New Best Friend ITV2 – Reality show in which the celebrity tests out 20 people in the UK in a bid to find her best British friend.
9.00pm Piers Morgan On... ITV1 – Series on luxurious lifestyles featuring reports from Dubai in the opener followed by Monaco and Los Angeles.
9.00pm Soho Blues Five – Series following police at work in London's West End.
9.00pm American Dad FX – Series four of the US animated comedy.
11.20pm Explore: Argentina's Dirty War BBC2
9.00pm Gordon's Great British Nightmare Channel 4 – Chef Gordon Ramsay campaigns to get people to use their localrestaurants.
9.30pm Not Going Out BBC1 – Return of the excellent Lee Mack/Tim Vine sitcom.
10.00pm Pushing Daisies ITV1 – Series two of the US comedy drama a man with the ability to bring dead people back to life starring Lee Pace and Anna Friel.
10.00pm Boston Legal LivingTV – Series five of the US drama series.
11.00pm The Site BBC3 – Sitcom pilot set in a caravan park starring Chris Hannon, Paul Kaye, Danny Kirrane, Colin Prockter, Annette Badland and Clive Russell.
• Christianity: A History Dr Robert Beckford. Channel 4, Sunday
• Panorama Frank Skinner on bad language. BBC1, Monday
• Horizon Why Are Thin People Not Fat? BBC2, Monday
• What Really Happened? Princes William and Harry. Channel 4, Monday
• Movie Connections Trainspotting BBC1, Monday
• The Culture Show Robert Burns, theatre director Rupert Goold, Franz Ferdinand. BBC2, Tuesday
• First Cut My Dad the Serial Killer. Channel 4, Friday
• Natural World Man-eating Tigers of the Sundarbans. BBC2, Friday
• Folk America The American folk revival. BBC4, Friday
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
We abandoned the ancient letters and numbers game when host Richard Whitely died (we sat out the Des Lynam and Des O'Connor years), but it was nice to be back. It's easy to see how the show is still a fixture of afternoon television.
What was good about it?
• Jeff Stelling is a legend on Sky Sports, getting excited about the football scores whether it's Man United or Macclesfield. Here, he started off with a bit of self deprecation("You're probably thinking 'who the heck am I?") and then got a bit manic before calming down and delivering a warm, cheery performance. There were some good blokey jokes at the expense of contestant Jim, a Plymouth Argyle fan; his exchanges with David, who has an MA in political theory, were less successful.
• Rachel Riley is very beautiful and very nice – a big improvement on the pushy Carol Vorderman.
• We enjoyed playing along and even managed to take the lead, thanks to COURTIER, but we faltered towards the end (not knowing RAINOUT – "a typical Countdown word", says Jeff) and would have finished second best to Irish lad David, who knows words such as ETHMOIDS.
• Susie Dent is still there – one of TV's unsung heroines – teaching us that manioc is a word and informing us that precycling is going to be a 2009 buzzword.
• The "sparkling new set".
What was bad about it?
• Stelling's banter with the contestants worked well on this occasion, but his gentle teasing may not go down too well with some of the weirder Countdown contestants who have probably never experienced a night of joshing down the local.
• Andrew Sachs was a bit of a miserable bore in Dictionary Corner with his reluctant reminiscing about playing Manuel in Fawlty Towers and his hammy delivery of a "comic" monologue from the 1920s.
We've got plaudits aplenty for this drama which managed to be popular yet intelligent and full of big name actors who are not just in it for the pay check.
What was good about it?
• Writer Sally Wainwright adopts a welcome harder edge than with her previous works (such as At Home with the Braithwaites and Jane Hall) and delivers a compelling story, linking the lives of some disparate folk without daft coincidences and lazy clichés.
• Ex-Corrie star Suranne Jones was riveting as Ruth Slater, a woman released from prison after serving 15 years for murdering two policemen who came to evict her family from their northern England farm with the wonderful name of Upper Hanging Stones Farm . Her wounded eyes, framed by jagged eyebrows convey her continuing feelings of guilt but the best part of her performance was her movement which had every bit of femininity cut away, reflecting her time in the tough world behind bars. We can now forgive Suranne for being so appalling in the forrendous Harley Street (and underwhelming in Vincent); this is a Bafta award-level performance.
• It's not only Ruth who is finding it grim up north. Douglas Hodge and Jemma Redgrave play Michael and Rachel, a couple whose adopted teenage daughter is hurt in a car crash she caused (and in the car of he local drug dealer); Siobhan Finneran and Peter Davison play John and Izzie, a couple of lawyers troubled by poltergeists; Jack Deam and Matthew McNulty play Kieran and Steve, two brooding, miserable brothers who've allowed their father's murder to mess up their lives. All three pairs are linked to Ruth and the way those relationships play out will make parts two and three must watch TV. Will revenge or redemption win the day?
• The bleakness of the story is reflected in the look and the unobtrusive music.
• Will Mellor goes topless in his role as the meat factory romeo who breaks through Ruth's austere barrier and, rather tenderly, takes her virginity.
What was bad about it?
• It's only a three-parter.
Sunday, 11 January 2009
Did we like it?
Perhaps we’re getting soft in our dotage, but this was the third occasion this week when we’ve been sharpening our hatchets in preparation of butchering a pliant corpse of a show, only to have to put them away again and pull out the aromatic flowers. Sure, Demons is a Frankenstein’s Monster of drama that has pillaged its ideas from far and wide with all the shameless grace of Oasis, but they’ve been moulded into an entertaining and gripping whole.
What was good about it?
• Phil Glenister as Rupert Galvin pretty much held the show together through the precarious opening episode. Enigmatic, gruff and American (we hardly noticed the accent by the second episode), Rupert Galvin is the Rupert Giles of Demons – we also admire the way in which Demons lavishly advertises its influences rather than conceals them – as just like in Buffy, the callow, pre-ordained demon-slayer needs a father figure to guide them into the world of the ‘half-lives’.
• Here it’s Christian Cooke as young Luke – that’s from Star Wars, indeed one scene paraphrased the first encounter between Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi about Luke’s father (if so, then we can assume that far from being dead, Luke’s father is the big cheese Demon) – and while we weren’t totally sold after the first episode, in the second he appeared far more confident, wisecracking with Galvin, while also emoting like the mixed-up teenager he is.
• We were also impressed by the way in which his mission to save innocent children from having their souls eaten by a ravenous demon was interwoven with the teenage trauma of a driving test – mimicking the new Doctor Who’s penchant for blending the fantastical and absurd with the horribly domestic.
• Although the most evident domestic influence in the terms of overarching plot and story is the comic Hellblazer, which also has a grizzled demon hunter as the protagonist who is haunted by the horrors of his job. And he even talked forebodingly about how the demon will “take away the children’s souls in one sitting before going back to the half-live”.
• The two male leads are well supported by Zoe Tapper as Mina Harker (a descendant of the Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was, we’re told, built on the foundations of fact rather than fiction), who is archly caustic as she uses her powers to peer into the world of the half-lives, while Holly Grainger is great as Luke’s not-girlfriend Ruby.
• As Demons borrows from so many other sci-fi shows, it might appear that Ruby is a doppelganger for Rose Tyler, and that might have been the intention. But Grainger brings out a unique vivacity in the role, and we hope she becomes much more than just another prop upon which to hang plots about her younger brother.
• Demons also succeeds in that it perversely lightens the bleak tone with black humour, sometimes sending up the obvious influences. Luke’s trauma over his driving test was one such instance, Gladiolus Thrip – the name and the Teddy Boy demeanour and Ruby using the Star Wars staple of “I have a bad feeling about this”.
• While hardly frightening for a generation who have grown up watching Evil Dead, there is the odd chilling moment such as Thrip’s hulking underling trapping Ruby in the lift or the deathly pallor of Ali as she unwittingly acts as a vassal for the demon Gilgamel.
What was bad about it?
• The music is quite appalling. The theme tune sounds as if it’s by The Hoosiers, which if it is, becomes the singularly most egregious example of Satanism in the whole show. While Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs is the sound of someone picking up their feet on the way to the gallows as if hoping it will make a difference.
• However, the weakest element of the first two episodes by a country mile has been the denouements. In the first the homunculus and Thrip’s underling were rapidly despatched by two blasts of Galvin’s gun, while Thrip – who was supposedly a deadly Type 12 – was blown to smegma by Luke’s slightly better gun. And in episode two, Luke engaged Gilgamel with his flaming “sword of righteousness” and after a bit of fencing, defeated him with less trouble than you might normally experience folding up a clothes horse.
More a case of Load of Rubbish then Life of Riley. This is the latest dismal family sitcom from BBC1 – even worse than the recently axed After You've Gone or the bewilderingly successful Green Green Grass, which came on afterwards and seemed like a masterpiece in comparison.
What was good about it?
• The jangly reworking of the Lightning Seeds' Life of Riley.
• Taylor Fawcett gave the most realistic performance as teenager Danny Riley, a combination of Lil Chris and McFly's Danny.
What was bad about it?
• Caroline Quentin can epitomise "harrassed" as well as any actress – but here "harrassed" came with knobs on and was totally ridiculous. And why was she called Maddy when she has already played Maddie in Jonathan Creek? Because she's mad for accepting the role? The BBC publicity compared her character (a woman who marries a man and has to help raise his kids) to Roseanne, Seinfeld and Victor Meldrew, which is like claiming mud is gold, fishpaste is caviar and a Fiat Uno is a Bentley.
• Neil Dudgeon, who can be a fine actor, was as hopelessly lost in this as he was in ill-fated BBC2 sitcom Roman's Empire.
• The hysterical over-the-top acting of Georgia Pritchett's hysterical over-the-top script. This hardly ever felt natural; everyone was being "witty", widening their eyes and laughing at their own clever "gags" (eg "She was like Orville on speed"). Lucinda Dryzek as stroppy teenager Katy was the worst offender.
• Remember Tristram from George & Mildred? Cute little fella in specs and an inquiring mind. Life of Riley tries to recreate him in the form of Ted – but he's just creepy and a little bit sinister.
• The banal "comic misunderstanding" over the pregnancy testing kit. Hilarity – or a baby – did not ensue.