Saturday, 18 July 2009
Despite aping Have I Got News For You and Buzzcocks, It’s Only TV But I Like It metamorphosed the audience into a fleshy impression of the Easter Island statues, and while a gentler brand of humour is present here, it’s often just as futile.
The brilliance of Harry Hill appears to have intimidated the BBC that the philosophy of relentless mockery should be avoided, so As Seen On TV instead worships at the altar of pseudo-celebrity, one that identifies Nell McAndrew and Jordan as idols or Any Dream Will Do worthy of something other than unadulterated scorn.
And also one that tries to cast the likeable Steve Jones as the next Simon Amstell. While Jones is a decent TV presenter, he isn’t a comedian. For jokes, he adopts a tone where he starts to speak more slowly as if trying to excavate the city of Atlantis from the bottom of the ocean by the sonorous power of his voice alone. And during his delivery much of his face outside of his twinkling, swirling eyes looks dead, resembling panicking fish thrashing muddily in the last desiccated puddles of the Nile amid a lifeless, arid savannah.
Of the guests, Tina Hobley seemed to be censored as if she was Gerry Adams’ voice circa-1988 to the point where Mollie Sugden would’ve given better value, while team captain Fern Britton has been passed hastily to As Seen On TV from This Morning like an unwanted child into the flaking hands of surly step-parents.
Fortunately, the witty Jason Manford has been hired to at least provide some laughs, and Lauren Laverne and Pauline Quirke were lively guests amid the mire of predictable ego-massaging and ideas plundered from equally asinine game shows of yore.
Some of which, perhaps through a nostalgic familiarity, did actually entertain – the Tiswas sketch when Lenny ‘Trevor McDoughnut’ Henry was confronted by Trevor McDonald, or Sylvia from Hi-De-Hi in the Thingie off the Telly round (even if she does now look like Jon Pertwee with the Panama Canal for a smile as though its alighted there like a distracted butterfly), while The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry is always welcome.
But the most odious crime of all was Jones’ habit of referring to the sides as ‘Team Fern’ and ‘Team Jason’ as though the whole exercise was a team-building mission in the Californian countryside for a bunch of sunblast-toothed, spade-haired executives who habitually commit the semantic sin of employing ‘task’ as a verb, all vulgarities that are becoming more seen on TV week by week.
Thursday, 16 July 2009
How can a capable channel been failing so much of late? Let’s blame the Credit Crunch; its getting the blame for the majority of problems in 2009. Are your flowers dying? That’ll be the Credit Crunch. Is it raining again? That’ll be the Credit Crunch. ITV have been hit by the current economic mess that is the world at the moment but that’s no excuse for producing such simple and tacky TV drama.
Case in point their new comedy/drama Monday, Monday. The term comedy drama is a worrying thing because, apart from Cold Feet or the Braithwaites, the term usually signals that the series isn't dramatic enough to be a drama but not funny enough to be down as a comedy either.
The premise (to save you the bother of actually sitting through it) sees the headquarters of a supermarket move to Leeds with “hilarious” consequences. Its sad to say but this was yet another halfhearted attempt at TV drama that joins the likes of Harley Street, Honest, Rock Rivals and Sold in the graveyard of recent hyped and quickly axed ITV dramas. Putting the content of the series aside, perhaps the its demise will come with scheduling it up against the far superior The Street on BBC1 which oddly is also an ITV production.
Monday, Monday has a strong cast including Holly Aird, Jenny Agutter and the criminally underused Miranda Hart. This is the perfect example of a good cast that are stuck with a terrible teenage script with nothing new or interesting to play with.
Just like busses you wait for a drama on the world of dippy young personal assistants and then two come along at once. Monday, Monday isn’t quite as bad as BBC3’s horrendous Personal Affairs but it's close behind.
This is just another attempt at attracting a young audience relaying on will they-won‘t they romances and attractive bodies rubbing against each other to keep the Xbox 360 generation interested. If that weren’t in your face enough, let’s not make Fay Ripley’s main character interesting or involving when its far easier to make her a manic alcoholic who like a “crazy person” doesn’t turn up for her AA meeting, relies heavily on her PA and hilariously likens a new boss coming in to “9/11” oh how brilliant……..!
Maybe Sex and the City fans will enjoy throwing on their dressing gowns, eating ice-cream out of the tub and indulging in this piece of mindless drivel but if you’re that way inclined surely its far easier to stick a good DVD in the machine.
Everything about the first episode felt forced and dated. It's summer 2009 are we still dancing to Modjo's Lady or Spiller's Groovejet?! Office dramas can work if you manage to get interesting characters that the audience can care about but in the case of this painfully long drama, we were introduced to a bunch of characters who we’d rather hit with a flying toaster. ITV have kept a lot of their better drama offerings such as car crash piece Collision and last year’s surprise hit The Fixer to air in the autumn which I suppose is kind of them because it means we have the next seven Mondays to devote to frolicking in the sunshine and enjoying The Street on the other side.
Ever since the birth of celluloid, it has been callously appropriated for the purpose of propaganda – from Battleship Potemkin to the bafflingly awful films shot in the early 1940s in which Captain Poshchops and his bally good troop of loyal British troops gave the Hun a good thrashing to the modern day when Arab grotesques are maimed in the name of Uncle Sam. But now the world has a new enemy – the amoral bankers who caused the collapse of the world’s economy.
Freefall fastidiously embellishes the glorified hubris of the bankers and then gleefully paints their fall with as much depth as Lucifer’s, all the while pandering to the viewers’ feral lust for clearly delineated heroes and villains. And though much Freefall is less a drama and more a slowly salivating mechanical process, the superb acting and deep seated running theme of emotional dislocation – intimated by characters communicating their unhappiness with stilted, clockwork utterances that they were “fine” – made this a disturbing and gripping 90 minutes.
Aidan Gillen’s Gus was not so much a man but more akin to an organ of the aloof, monolithic bank where he was in charge of making money through a peculiar combination of gobbledygook and masturbation; even his personal life was entombed within his workplace as he only found the time to “f**k” Anna (the underused Rosamund Pike) in the deserted office. Whenever they met outside, they had to deal with each other as people rather than internal zombie-cogs of the bank, during which Gillen’s beautifully crumpled face would breathlessly crumble as if struggling to survive outside an avaricious environ.
His only other genuine human contact was with his estranged daughter – who began the contagious game of “fine” Chinese Whispers – who acted as his conscience for his divorce from society. When he was sacked, after his bank lost billions in bad debts, he was expelled from the building like a transplanted organ rejected by the host body and he went to cry on her cold shoulder, before throwing himself from a bridge onto the hard shoulder of a main road, and in doing so rather too easily satiated the baying audience’s frustrated sense of vengeance on the villains.
Frustrated, because the other villainous protagonist, Dave (Dominic Cooper), escaped with a half-hearted cuffing from his old school mate Jim (Joseph Mawle), after his house was repossessed, before slithering from flogging dubious mortgages to spouting ostentatious blather to gullible middle-class women yearning to salve their ecological conscience through the installation of solar power in their grandiose, life-sapping mansions.
Even though the sale of the mortgage to poor Jim, a sap cipher given life by the tired resignation of Mawle, and his more circumspect wife Mandy (Anna Maxwell), was conducted through a tortuous, picaresque narrative it was vivified as Dave would seduce his customers/victims far more fervently than in his personal relationships, even creepily flirting with Mandy by saying she had “CTB (come to bed) eyes”, with the bashful abbreviation the only concession to his shameless bullying.
Freefall perhaps presaged a much worse apocalypse than actually occurred – however bad it is – and because of this appears slightly dated (not least Gus’s daughter liking the Libertines as if it was 2003), with much of the public fury over bankers having typically abated after the three-month period of revenge – and empathy over Gus’s sacking rather than him receiving just desserts – while the artificial set-up with characters fulfilling predictable allegorical roles rather than three-dimensional people drained it of some theatrical potency.
However, writer/ director Dominic Savage’s bravery ultimately paid off by liberating a brilliant cast to extort a beguiling pathos from such a leaden assemblage of characters mired in the rusting mechanics of the City and the mortgage markets, a feat as impressive as mining compassion from the granite jowls of Richard Littlejohn.
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
There's no better example than this BBC4 documentary which managed something that few programmes on our reality-obsessed screens have failed to achieve for a good few years. The programme in question managed to be interesting, intriguing, funny and moving all in the space of a “lovely” hour of television.
Liz Smith is probably best known for her role as Nana in The Royle Family and, as a huge fan of that series, it was nice to see the woman behind the role. Plaudits to those who dreamt up the idea. Where most TV board meetings seem to take the form of “we’ll take 14 strangers and get them brush each others teeth and the person with the cleanest teeth will win a cash prize and a lifetime supply of free toothbrushes”, someone at the BBC said, let’s take one of the most recognisable faces on TV and send her on a cruise with a filmmaker following her every step.
Once you allowed yourself to become immersed in Liz Smith’s world, it was, to put it a bit melodramatically, lovely. Smith’s world doesn’t differ too much from a lot of 86-year-olds (not saying that I move in those circles). She lives simply in an retirement flat in London populated with women who love a good cup of tea and comparing their tablets, except she doesn’t quite fit within the group and she’s aware of it. As she puts it, "I think it’s the characters they like, not me".
As time goes on it becomes apparent that what was sold as a humorous travelogue turns quickly into an intimate portrait of a woman who, despite her bubbly onscreen personality, has had a lonely and isolated life. It was impossible not to feel a little saddened for Liz as she confided about her lack of true friends. “There are very few real friends, it's very rare to find a real a friend..everyone’s pretending.” The sadness which permeated the documentary was balanced well because you couldn’t help admire her as she stumbled across Croatia, involving herself in the majority of the cruise activities whilst embracing her fans who respected her privacy despite being completely desperate to talk to her.
An hour can be a long time for a documentary but Liz Smith was such a wonderful subject it could’ve been a series and I’d have tuned in faithfully for weeks. What made this so engrossing was the fact you knew you were watching something real. This wasn’t contrived or forced, this was what we should call reality TV.
I was a fan of Liz Smith the actress before this but I’m a bigger fan of Liz Smith the woman now. In a world of TV that has become reliant on young people and the fools they are quite happy to make of themselves, it's reassuring that the BBC can still offer an alternative and provide us folk desperate for something sensible and adult, even if it is a rare occasion. The documentary was simple and cared for its subject. It featured something we really do rarely see on TV and that's a subject dealt with with humour and dignity.
Presenter George Lamb, although ‘clean’ now (another abhorrent drug terminology term), did, once-upon-a-time, take said illegal substances. But it wasn’t really his decision, he was “a young man growing up in London” working the entertainment industry, which was an irresistible compulsion to ingest drugs.
Lamb’s self-absolution over his earlier narcotic dalliances was the paradigm for the kind of philosophy that many people in his documentary adhered to in order to liberate their conscience. They did so by convincing themselves that because the substance they were taking was legal, it was also somehow valid, and separated them from the typical vision of a drug addict huddled in shop doorways, hallucinating the constellation of Andromeda forming in the windswept folds of a prostitute’s skirt.
And the condemnation and opprobrium that Lamb cheerfully and conceitedly directed at the legal drugs and the users seemed, in part, because the BBC cannot be observed to endorse these substances that, although legal, can do some harm. This tempered any balance or enlightenment, while also ignoring the ideological anomaly of a society that vilifies drug use is also one that promotes alcohol as the primary source of pleasure.
But another, more subtle, influence on the perspective was the intimation that drugs need to be illegal in order for them to be part of the stentorian counter-culture that evolved in the 50s, but was attenuated by the complacency of the 60s to the flaccid bible of delusions propagated by pseudo-rebels today (of course, counter-culture does still exists in a contemporary form but isn’t epitomised by Pete Doherty), who flood through the noxious digital delta of Lamb’s 6Music radio show and out into the wider world.
And if drugs were legalised it would denude the world of cutting edge culture, causing the polarised worlds of bristling teenagers and their cynical parents to snap shut like an alligator’s jaws catapulting everyone back to the homogenised uniformity of the 1950s, which may have already happened given the myopic rapture that greeted AOR trudger Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury or the unchecked delirium of the Take That reunion.
However, if the nation’s cultural pulse is set by a hybrid hydra of Edith Bowman, Tony Parsons and George Lamb slapping their tentacles in applause to Fall Out Boy and Razorlight, then perhaps it might be better turning, without fear of arrest, to mind-warping substances that turn clouds into clones of Marie-Antoinette’s liver supplicating the ex-staff of Grange Hill for a fix of brackish poetry.
All of which wouldn’t be so heinous if the programme had been entitled What may have happened, or What didn’t really happen but I need to make my documentary distinct from the effluent avalanche of scabrous speculation. But, we were told by a legend in big black letters in our TV guide, this is what really happened.
Only we didn’t learn anything that hadn’t been disgorged from the flatulent, gushing orifices of a million-and-one ‘showbiz’ reporters who are lingering in LA, casting jealous glances towards the worms in the ground who’ll be able to witness his decomposition.
Like shoals of piranhas digging their fangs in and clinging to a half-rotten sloth that’s tumbled from the overhanging canopy into the Amazon, everyone is scalping their pound of bleached flesh. New books are being rushed out, each with evermore absurd and mendacious claims about Jackson’s lifestyle – he was gay, he didn’t father ‘his’ children, he flayed his skin from an albino pony, his voice was found in a Mexican meteor and brought back to LA in Sammy Davis Junior’s smile – anything to distinguish itself from its forbears and ancestors, each wrought to infuriate his fans, and enable their grief to morph into a more defined corporeal rage against the authors, who don’t care as they are raking in the cash.
And, while not among the worst, Peretti’s documentary had the few grains of truth sieved out of it to leave nothing more than a few nuggets of tabloid hysteria glossed in the fool’s gold of investigative research.
He exhumed the tales of drug addiction, exhaustion and reluctance over the London concerts comeback that have been marching through across airwaves like Napoleon’s retreat from Russia, but feeling he required a novel twist to these banalities, he used his own intuition to interpret them into What Really Happened. This wouldn’t be a problem were Peretti’s instinct for the truth wasn’t less dependable than General Custer’s estimation of his own military worth.
We heard from a Los Angeles doctor who lamented his many celebrity drug addict patients, from whose testimony we meant to swallow that Jackson, too, had a problem just as crippling simply because he was also a superstar who lived in LA. But as the doctor didn’t treat Jackson this was pointless, and no closer to the truth than had Perreti interviewed Jackson’s kitchen sink to see if it could remember any prescription drugs passing through its pipes.
Meanwhile, over at Lou Ferrigno’s gym, the ex-Incredible Hulk and the man who was Jackson’s personal trainer refused to confirm Peretti’s assumption that Jackson was hopelessly unfit for the London concerts. To counteract this obstruction, Peretti employed the presenter’s favourite tool – the overdubbed narration that gave Ferrigno no chance to respond to his speculation.
Perreti was scornful that Jackson could achieve fitness through working with a rubber ball or an elastic skipping/ stretching rope, but was essentially questioning a fitness instructor’s expertise while looking himself like a half-eaten walrus washed up on a polar ice floe that an orca’s given up on after almost choking on the excess guttural blubber, who reacts with the same frothing revulsion to dumbbells as Karl Lagerfeld to non-emaciated women.
Although the most risible, egregious example of Peretti’s wilful misinterpretation was of the last footage of Jackson’s rehearsals. “He held up his hand,” confided Peretti in those mournful tones newsreaders employ for death announcements. “It seemed to be a plea to stop.” When, what really happened was that he performed a routine dance move.
The interview with Terry Harvey, a former confidant of Jackson and the key witness for the prosecution, was bizarrely carried out like some covert assignation in which the pair were arranging an assassination – all hushed tones and rootless talk of conspiracies.
Harvey was such a crude, embittered witness his repudiation of Peretti’s statement that “some people” (i.e. no-one but it would extend the story another two weeks) thought Jackson committed suicide, actually acted as a perverse endorsement to that theory because of Harvey’s unreliability.
But the mention of suicide, and the tiresome hearsay that Jackson was murdered – to perpetuate the trend that nobody famous can ever just die, they have to have been the victim of a conspired homicide – each at the opposite ends of conscious decision, one the choice of the Jackson, the other completely out of his hands, prised apart the established parameters of probable cause of death, an accidental overdose inducing a heart attack or simply a heart attack from heart disease.
Between these newly splayed possibilities, Peretti shamelessly drove his ludicrous, contrived theory like tanks across Red Square that Jackson had succumbed because he stopped taking drugs, but then started again, and his body had lost its resistance to their harmful effects, and with it every last vestige of credibility that this is what really happened.
Clips from BBC3's The Call Centre
BBC3 launches a new fly on the wall documentary tonight. The Call Centre has already been heavily trailed and I can tell you it's wo...
Well that’s us ugly folk doomed, then. The scrap of humanity jettisoned from a dying Earth to a new life on the remote planet of Carpathia ...
Luther Series 3: Watch the trailer Here
The BBC have released the first look at the third series of Luther which is now confirmed for July 2013. Recently I looked at some th...
Amazing cast sign up for Jimmy McGovern drama
Nico Mirallegro, Danny Mays and Jodhi May to star in Jimmy McGovern's film Common for BBC One Jimmy McGovern's new 90-minute film ...
Mad Dogs: Series 3 preview.
When Sky1 launched Mad Dogs in 2011 I sat aghast. Some clever clever casting person managed (by some miracle) to get my four favourite Br...
Meet The Paradise Family of ITV's Love & Marriage
There are two things about ITV's latest comedy drama Love & Marriage that set it apart. Firstly, it's set in Coventry (can&...
Broadchurch arrives on DVD
We've waited and waited but finally ITV's biggest drama since Downton Abbey has arrived on DVD! Broadchurch was a rare creatu...
The BBC announce new Saturday Night Game Show
The BBC have announced a new entertainment show for Saturday nights. Joining forces with the Jim Henson Company they have announced That ...