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Friday, 30 January 2009

Shameless, Channel 4

Did we like it?
Quality has been variable since creator Paul Abbott ran out of time to write the hyper-real saga of life on the chavvy Chatsworth, but Ed McCardie's opener to series six was a triumph, weaving together four plots and throwing in some surrealism, too.

What was good about it?
• Baby Stella's telepathic conversation with useless parents Frank and Monica, using bad language (“No swearing before you’re six months,” says her father) and vowing to stop eating unless they could find one decent person on the estate. Shockingly, that one decent person turned out to be useless Frank – who we must thank for stopping Tom (most beautiful blue eyes on TV) killing himself when Debbie refused to live with him.
• The opening scene. We're led to believe that the credit crunch has caused The Jockey to be deserted on a Friday night. Things must be serious. Karen, Jamie and Ian have nothing to do. So Jamie goes outside. “All right, fuck the law – smoke inside," he says – and the mayhem we've come to love is restored.
• Kelly smoking during (the non-existent) pregnancy ("I'm trying to keep it small because I'm too posh to push."); the crazed Polish priest; the chasing chavs in the background of external scenes; Mickey's attire; Shane without messy stubble.
• The absence of MiMi Maguire (espeically now we know, thanks to Celebrity Big Brother, thatr Tina Malone is just being herself).

What was bad about it?
• Ian's gone. We struggled to cope without his brother Lip, now TV's best gay character has deserted us. Okay, he doesn't belong amid the underclass ("Why would I want to remember this?") but we deserve one resident who isn't a schemer or waster.
• The demise of Debbie and Tom's relationship.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The TV Week – 7-13 February 2009

3.15pm Psych BBC2 – US comic detective drama series starring James Roday, Dule Hill and Corbin Bernsen.
Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling Bravo – Series in which Hulk Hogan teaches celebrities how to wrestle. Features Dennis Rodman, Danny Bonaduce, Todd Bridges, Dustin Diamond, Butterbean, Trishelle Cannatelle, Nikki Ziering, Erin Murphy, Frank Stallone and Tiffany.
9.00pm Iran and the West BBC2 – Three-part documentary series on Iran and its relationship with the western world. Contributors include Jimmy Carter, ex-President Khatami, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, George Shultz, Jack Straw and Walter Mondale.

7.00pm The British Academy Film Awards: Red Carpet BBC3 – Presented by Claudia Winkleman.
8.00pm/9.00pm The Orange British Academy Film Awards BBC2/BBC1 – Presented by Jonathan Ross at the Royal Opera House, London.
11.00pm Live From the Red Carpet: The 2009 Grammy Awards
9.00pm Just Read BBC4 – Documentary in which Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate, tries to get reluctant young readers to be passionate about books.

Guest list
Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... Tony Bennett. Channel 4, Wednesday
Songbook Albert Hammond. Sky Arts, Thursday

• Clive Anderson, Rich Hall, Reginald D Hunter and Alan Davies QI BBC1, Friday
• Michael McIntyre, Emily Mortimer, Morrissey on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross BBC1, Friday


6.00pm Battle of the Brains BBC2 – Return of the quiz show, with new host Nicky Campbell.
9.00pm Toffs and Crims
Channel 4 – A four-part series on the affinity between the upper crust and criminals beginning with The Princess and the Gangster, about Princess Margaret's association with violent criminal John Bindon.
9.00pm Why Reading Matters BBC4 – Science writer Rita Carter explains how reading unlocks remarkable powers.
9.00pm The Grammy Awards ITV2 – Coverage from Los Angeles.
9.00pm Female Forces Biography – Series following female officers from the Naperville Police Department in Chicago.

5.30pm Grandpa In My Pocket CBeebies – A 26-part comedy drama starring James Bolam.
8.00pm Navy Divers
National Geographic – Series following men attempting to become members of the Navy's elite Clearance Diver Branch.
8.00pm Cheetah Man Five – Documentary exploring the work of conservationist Olivier Houalet.
9.00pm In The Line Of Fire ITV1 – Two-part documentary following the Metropolitan police's firearms division, CO19.
9.00pm Coleen's Real Women ITV2 – Series two of Coleen Rooney's fashion makeover show, narrated by Fearne Cotton.
10.00pm Mad Men BBC4 – Series two of the US drama set in 1960s New York advertising agency Sterling Cooper starring Vincent Kartheiser, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, Jon Hamm and January Jones.
10.00pm The Dark Ages
History Channel
10.35pm Make Me Smart BBC1
10.50pm Party Animals BBC4 – Beginning a rerun of the drama series about young researchers and advisers in Westminster, starring Andrew Buchan, Patrick Baladi, Shelley Conn, Andrea Riseborough and Matt Smith.

9.00pm Nature's Great Events BBC1 – Six-part series narrated by David Attenborough featuring footage of the planet's most dramatic wildlife spectacles from the flooding of the Okavango Delta to the summer melt of Arctic ice, the emergence of grizzly bear cubs and the gathering of dolphins and sharks off the coast of South Africa.
9.00pm Rehab LivingTV – Reality series in which former stars get treatment at the Passages rehabilitation clinic in Malibu. Features models Alicia Douvall and Cassie Sumner, ex-Bay City Roller Les McKeown, X Factor contestant Rowetta Satchell, musician Robin Le Mesurier, US soap star Sean Kanan and comic Victoria Sellers.
9.00pm How Reading Made Us Modern BBC4 – English literature professor John Mullan explores the rise in reading in 18th-century Britain.
9.00pm Disorder in the Court Crime & Investigation – Series featuring infamous courtroom calamities.
9.00pm Red Hot Chili Peppers
10.00pm Girls Aloud: Where Did It All Go Right? Five
10.00pm The World's Biggest Family and Me Channel 4

8.00 Bullet Catchers ITV4 – Documentary about celebrity bodyguards.
8.30pm Alison Krauss: A Hundred Miles or More BBC4
9.00pm The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu BBC4 – The story of Timbuktu's long hidden legacy of ancient manuscripts.
10.00pm We Need Answers BBC4 – Comedy quiz hosted by Mark Watson, Tim Key and Alex Horne based on a successful show at the Edinburgh Fringe.
10.30pm Paparazzi: Next Generation BBC3

8.10pm Festival!: a Film by Murray Lerner BBC4 – Film about the four Newport Folk Festivals of the 1960s.
10.00pm Free Agents
Channel 4 – Six-part romantic comedy written by Chris Neil, starring Stephen Mangan and Sharon Horgan as Alex and Helen, a couple in an on-but-mostly-off romance who work together as talent agents, with Anthony Head as their boss. Commissioned after a successful pilot on Friday 9 November 2007.
12.10am Album Chart
Channel 4 – Return of the music show hosted by Sara Cox, featuring performances from The Script, The View, Seasick Steve and Lady Gaga.

Subject list
Christianity: A History Ann Widdecombe on the Reformation. Channel 4, Sunday
Explore Istanbul and Anatolia. BBC2, Sunday
The South Bank Show The Tempest. ITV1, Sunday
Dispatches Too Old to Work. Channel 4, Monday
Panorama Gaza: Out of the Ruins. BBC1, Monday
Who Do You Think You Are? Fiona Bruce. BBC1, Monday
Storyville punk band Heavy Load. BBC4, Monday
Horizon Why Do We Dream? BBC2, Tuesday
The Culture Show BBC2, Tuesday
Movie Connections Buster. BBC1, Wednesday
Cutting Edge A Very British Storm Junkie. Channel 4, Thursday
First Cut The Seven Ages of Love Channel 4, Friday
Natural World Snow Monkeys. BBC2, Friday

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Generation Kill, FX

Did we like it?
This Iraq war drama created by Ed Burns and David Simon (of Homicide, The Corner and The Wire fame) lived up to the hype, with a powerful, noisy, unsensational and memorable opening edpisode.

What was good about it?
• The chaotic miniseries about a Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright being embedded with Bravo Company, First Recon Marines, in Iraq is played out in a natural, unforced manner, giving a sometimes awkward, fly-in-the-desert feel.
• James Ransone's terrifying performance as Cpl Josh Ray Person, who overdoes it with something called Ripped Fuel (some sort of energy supplement, we think) and noisily puts forwward his Pussy Theory of War ("How come we can't invade a cool country with, like, chicks in bikinis?").
• The Marines revelling in their crudity. “We’re like America’s little pit bull. They beat it, starve it, mistreat it, and once in a while they let it out to attack somebody,” says Person.
• Beside the ranting Ray, in an interesting juxtaposition, is ultracool Sergeant Brad Colbert (blue-eyed hunk Alexander Skarsgaard).
• Lots of good background music that never got intrusive, plus a screeched version of Minnie Ripperton's Lovin' You.
• Love the black shorts and muscled torsos.

What was bad about it?
• We needed subtitles for some of the banter between the soldiers, only catching about half of the insults that flew around (most seemed to involve cock sucking or ass licking. We think). We also didn't cotton on to the importance of wearing black beanie hats or keeping to grooming regulations. And the characters came so thick and fast it was hard to get a handle on them. For some viewers, though, such confusion could be regarded a strength. Like The Wire, this is a drama where the audience has to work hard to keep up.

Lost, Sky1

Did we like it?
Treading water.

What was good about it?
• The humour of Hurley. Just when the inexorable portentousness was filtering into our cerebral lungs, and drowning us with a chimera of profundity, Hurley offered a blessed relief.
• For his ham-fisted, and altogether contrived stupidity, that’s seen him accused of murder after being an innocent bystander as Sayid despatched two assassins, to his frenetic driving through the LA streets with a comatose Sayid as passenger where he was stopped by the very dead Anna Lucia, who gave him hints on how to avoid capture. “Change clothes,” she urged, prompting Hurley to go and buy an ‘I love My Shitzue’ T-shirt.
• The way in which Lost can disorientate the viewer was again, at first, welcome as ‘Dr Marvin Candle’ – who appears on all the island’s videos – was shown getting up from his bed to investigate something down a mine, where one of the miners was sorrowful-faced Daniel – what was he doing there, and how did he arrive at a point in time years before the present day? Sadly, that story so far has been quite dull.
• The best written scene was the one between Kate and Sun, in which the grieving Sun softened Kate up to make her feel guilty about her role in Jin’s ostensible demise, before gently ingratiating her into the plan to kill Ben. The development of Sun has been one of the more subtle changes in the evolution of the drama. She began as the most good-hearted character, but slowly has changed and more of the diabolic nature of her obsidian-hearted father has emerged following her fake kidnap by Charlie, shooting dead one of the Others and culminating with her husband being on the freighter when it was blown up.
• Daniel and Miles, introduced in the last series, at least have the capacity to evolve. Daniel almost seems to have replaced the island itself as the inscrutable font of all knowledge, forever scribbling in his notebook, while Miles’ impassive prescience marries well with the unseen secrets of the island. And Desmond, one of the most well-rounded roles in the show, will surely get a larger part in the coming episodes.

What was bad about it?
• Maybe in America this time-travel yarn is still novel (although we doubt it with such shows as Quantum Leap) but the constant shifting between times after Ben turned some wheel resembled the dismal third series of Heroes (which has jumped the megalodon), and was light years behind the sophistication of Doctor Who (namely Blink). Locke would jump from a time before the plane crashed on the island, to be shot by Ethan (killed by Charlie in series one) to a nocturnal encounter with the seemingly ageless Richard, who knew where Locke would be.
• Sawyer and Juliet, now leading the rest of the survivors (we don’t remember if they’re plane crash survivors, Others, people who have fallen out the sky or ghosts) are assaulted by yet another bunch of hostiles, one of whom sounds as if he’s just graduated from Harrow. This is to go along with the commandoes who tried to kill them all last series. We’re sure they’ll be distinct, but in this double-episode it all seemed to be a retread of the previous series until all the leads can once more be assembled on the island.
• In the real world, Jack and Ben attempted to corral the rest of the refugees into returning to the island. Ben is a fantastic villain, but in this role as a quasi-antihero his menace is neutered. It’s possible, probable even, that he will betray them all once they return but at the moment he just hovers from scene to scene like an ineffectual spectre.
• Kate, meanwhile, is on the run again, which means she pulls expressions of strained anguish, as like almost all the protagonists, she is impotent off the island. And this is a theme that badly cripples the whole show – as they amble about the civilised world, each of the characters goes about their business, no matter how nefarious, as though in a decent thriller. The sooner they all get back to the island, the better – that’s where we can find out about four-toed demigods, about the whispering wind and the smoke monster. Only Hurley offers a sense of otherworldliness, and that’s because of his implied madness.
• The most vexing elements are the turbid statements of unparalleled catastrophe that are hinted at but never expatiated in such a way that it seems as of details are artificially being kept from the viewer. The double-header began with ‘Marvin Candle’ exclaiming “God help us all!”, a nebulous plea echoed by Penny Locke (who we think is Locke’s mum, but we were past caring by then). In between, Ben said: “Everything we do won’t matter at all!”

Monday, 26 January 2009

Stockwell, ITV1

Did we like it?
ITV did a competent job of recreating the day the Metropolitan police did such an incompetent job and the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead.

What was good about it?
• While Jonathan Rudd’s dramatised documentary remained tense, this wasn't sensationalist (which is quite a suprise from ITV which loves its real crimes schlock, making entertainment from misery). There was no hysterical fat; just the lean facts.
• The amateur Chinese Whispers style of policing was dramatically brought to the screen, as rumours were turned into facts, guesses led to assumptions, "He's looking nervous," led to "He's looking jumpy", misunderstandings resulted in a needless death.
• The length. If it had been longer, we'd probably not have bothered. The hour did only give us a flavour of events but was enough to add to our understanding of the incident.

What was bad about it?

• The introductory narration was uneccessarily hyperbiolic, talking about “a city gripped by panic and fear” and “brought to its knees” in the aftermath of the London bombings.
• Through no fault of the programme makers, it provoked a torrent of living room anger as we got an insight inbto the bungling of the arrogant police who take three hours to brief officers yet still cock things up in almighty, deadly fashion.
• We would have liked some attempt to expose the Metropolitan police's desperate attempt to cover up and pass the buck int he aftermath of the dreadful mistake.

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