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Friday, 5 August 2011

How not to do a TV review

On Twitter a few days ago I put out a tweet:

'noticed recently that TV reviews are often 'say what happened & add a bit of humour' rather than actual reviews with real observations.'

 A follower, @sjhoward, succinctly tweeted back a few wise words, stating:

'the best reviews often have little to do with television' 'the form historically suffers from folk not caring about [the] review if they saw the show, and inability to see it if they didn't'. 

He then finished up with the excellent observation:

'Maybe with catch-up services, there's an appetite for *actual* reviews of TV shows'.

Thecustard.tv thinks Simon Howard is right: catch up services have been going for a long time now: BBC iPlayer left beta in... wait for it... December 2007 and 4OD went live at the end of 2006! Yes, we've had the ability to catch-up with both the Beeb and Channel 4 for almost five years and yet still reviewers are spending the bulk of their TV reviews telling us what happened without a gem of insight into whether the show was much good, worth your time or even the money or effort spent in producing it.

Several TV reviewers are guilty of this laziness and, as Simon points out, is there any point in it? If you've seen it, you don't want to read what happened: you want to hear an opinion, maybe even feel vindicated if you pondered the fact you'd never get that hour of your life back or buoyed by the discovery the reviewer has a similar sense of taste. And, as @IanSadler_ says, if you're really interested in the plot because it's part of a series and you don't have the time, inclination or resources to 'catch-up', there's always Wikipedia or IMDB...

Well, thecustard.tv strives to be better and actually tell you what's good and what's not, and, most importantly, why we think so... not just 'what happened'.

Follow Luke @lukeinthecustar and Tannice @CPoeticLicense for more thoughts, reviews and recommendations.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The TVWEEK: Saturday 6th - Friday 12th August 2011

9.00pm Ronnie Corbett's Comedy Britain ITV - 2-part series in which Ronnie Corbett takes a very personal trip through the subject of British comedy, looking back at his extraordinary 60-year career and meeting up with his own favourite comics to share laughs and compare notes about the world of comedy with contributions from John Cleese, David Mitchell and Stephen Merchant,
10.35pm Amy Winehouse Tribute BBC2 - Jools Holland presents a collection of Amy Winehouse's performances on Later, the Hootenanny and at the Mercury Prize between 2003 and 2007. Continuing with the BBC1 Sessions at 11.35pm
9.00pm Inside Nature's Giants Channel 4 - The Animal Autopsy series returns with an examination on a Sperm Whale.
12.00pm Let's Do Lunch With Gino & Mel ITV - Live Daytime chat and cookery show.
9.00pm Horizon BBC2 - The landmark science series returns with a look at how we see the world.  You may think a rose is red, the sky is blue and the grass is green, but it now seems that the colours one sees may not always be the same as the colours seen by someone elses.
9.00pm Hugh's Big Fish Fight: The Battle Continues Channel 4 - Hugh returns to see whether the efforts he made to stop discard in the fishing industry earlier in the year have been successful.
9.00pm Cherry's Parenting Dilemmas BBC3 - Cherry goes to meet other mums with very different parenting styles. From a pro-smacking strict parent to a super-liberal single mum, and from a mum who works all hours to buy her kids everything they want to a mother in crisis with her teenage daughter, Cherry finds out what being a mother is all about.
10.00pm Shooting Stars BBC2 - New series of the zany panel show fronted by Reeves & Mortimer with panelists Jack Dee & Urika Johnson and guests including James Martin and Ross Noble.
10.00pm Jennifer Saunders: Laughing at the 90's Channel 4 - The Absolutely Fabulous star recounts the story of a decade during which she became an international star. Comedy became the new rock 'n roll, packing out stadiums once reserved for pop stars. 'Cool Britannia' was born. She shares anecdotes with Dawn French, Adrian Edmondson, Vic and Bob, David Baddiel, Paul Whitehouse and her Ab Fab sidekick, Joanna Lumley. Other comedy stars appearing include Adam and Joe, Ardal O'Hanlon, Reece Shearsmith, John Thomson, Arabella Weir, Patrick Marber, and Rebecca Front.
10.00pm Babes in Hollywood More4 - Documentury on pushy showbiz mothers who dream their child will become Hollywood's next big star.
7.30pm National Treasures Live BBC1 - Dan Snow and Sian Williams present a brand new magazine series celebrating all aspects and eras of British history Live from Dover Castle in Kent.
8.00pm Village SOS BBC1 - 6-part series begins as property expert Sarah Beeny follows a passionate group of locals as they spend a year trying to rescue their community. When the residents of Talgarth near Brecon applied for a grant from the BIG Lottery fund to renovate a derelict mill, they had no idea what was in store.
8.30pm Timothy Spall: Back at Sea BBC4 - Untrained mariner Timothy Spall has spent a fortune on technology for his new challenge - the unpredictable Irish Sea - as he and his wife continue their mini-odyssey around Britain. From Cardiff they head west to Milford Haven at the end of the River Severn and all seems well. However, Captain Spall bungles his departure to Fishguard and ends up going nowhere at full speed due to the turning tides.
9.00pm Who Do You Think You Are? BBC1 - Ninth series of the family tree series starting with EastEnders star June Brown.
8.00pm Monty Hall's Great Irish Escape BBC2 - Monty Hall returns to his roots as a marine biologist, living on an island near the fishing village of Roundstone and trying to feed himself from the sea and what he can grow in his cottage garden.
8.00pm Carrot or Sitck?: A Horizon Guide to Rasing Children BBC4 - Child psychologist Laverne Antrobus delves into the Horizon archive to find out how science has shaped our approach to parenting and education over the last fifty years.
10.35pm Me, My Sex and I BBC1 -  Sensitive documentary that  unlocks the stories of people born neither entirely male nor female.
9.00pm Chilean Miners: 17 Days Burried Alive BBC2
10.25pm How Hip Hop Changed the World Channel 4 - For four nights Channel 4 takes to the streets; from street dance, urban sport, street art and graffiti to rap, spoken word and hip hop, and featuring an all-star cast, the Street Summer season explores the influences that have shaped contemporary urban cool and showcases the most exciting new talent from the underground. Presented by actor, DJ, MC and lifelong hip hop fan Idris Elba and featuring stars from both sides of the Atlantic - including Snoop Dogg, Mark Ronson, Nas, Rakim, Debbie Harry, Jessie J, Chipmunk, Tinchy Stryder and N Dubz - the first programme in the season, How Hip Hop Changed the World, counts down the defining moments of a culture that exploded out of the wastelands of 1970s New York and went on to become one of the most dominant global economic, political and social forces of our time

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Essay: The Sex Education Show.

Important times for sexual freedom; the illiberal agenda and the interesting case of Nadine Dorries, MP

I had several titles in mind for this article. One played on the statistics that ran through the programme that suggested Welsh VW drivers who read the Independent were more likely to cheat on their partners. Another was about titillation and grandmothers. But, overnight, I realised that the raging war of pro-life and pro-choice agendas was more important. So, bear with me for a moment before I get on to boobs and willies and the appearance of a starkers Antonio Francis from Britain's Got Talent. There's something important going on that may lead to the erosion of women's rights in the UK and would hark back to pre-1967 standards of care for women.

In May this year, MP for Mid-Bedforshire, Nadine Dorries and Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, tabled an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill. Dorries and Field are calling for independent counselling for women seeking abortions. At first, this seems sensible. There are many reasons why independent counselling is a good idea, whether you're pro- or anti-choice. However, a report in the Guardian claims undercover reporters found that these anti-choice, pro-abstinence centres were giving out wholly inaccurate information about abortion, claiming that women would have to 'dispose of the bodies themselves' and deliberately talking about baby clothes and 'the child'.

Meanwhile, The Ministry of Truth blog has some interesting information, alleging the existence of a smoking gun document and claiming there are 'clear and verifiable links' between Dorries and the Christian right:

"Dorries’ current campaign and amendments are part of long-term strategy put together by an alliance of prominent anti-abortion organisations with the overall objective of securing the complete prohibition of abortion in the UK on any grounds, including rape, serious foetal abnormality and even serious risk to the life of mother."

Dorries also supports the teaching of abstinence to girls because the UK is "saturated in sex" despite, as Chris Bryant (MP for the Rhondda) notes, this is 'the daftest piece of piece of legislation' he'd ever seen due to there being no evidence to support the idea that this reduces incidences of STI infections and teenage pregnancy. Even more damningly, the Office for National Statistics notes that teenage pregnancy is at its lowest rate since the beginning of the 1980s.

Are we to go back to Vera Drake era of back-street abortions? This reviewer shudders to think that we might.

So. On to Channel 4's pre-watershed Sex Education Show ("which includes sexual themes" - thanks for warning me): a show that, if Dorries and Field were to have their way, would be sold on DVD in brown paper bags under the counters of newsagents. But Channel 4 is sensible and progressive and shows us that sex is not dirty, not wrong and perfectly natural, to boot.

The show opens with a rundown of 'what's to come': what happens in a sexless marriage, what we inherit in terms of body shape from our parents and grandparents and the results from their survey. There were also hints that children would be asking their grandparents about their sex lives. Awkward. 

So what did we learn?

The show, now in its fifth series, is known for its frank portrayal of full-frontal nudity and it was here in spades: featuring none other than Antonio 'Popeye' Francis from Britain's Got Talent and his son, 19, who's inherited his Dad's size 11 feet but not his belly. We don't find out whether he can pop his eyes out.

Presenter Anna Richardson opens up the floor to the kids, who ask some odd questions. "Is it normal to have more pubic hair than your Dad?" One can only imagine the calibre of ribbing that kid will get after the show. We learn that penis size is not always inherited, nor is it at all related to the size of your feet - an answer relayed to a boy who then gladly admits to having 'average' sized feet. A mother and her two daughters are also gawped at and their stomachs, boobs and nipples are examined, leading up to a titillating report on bouncing breasts and the right bra to wear when running. "Why has she got bigger nipples" (than the other two)? - "that's just the way she is". So what have the kids learnt? That you get what you're given: "you can't really change it" - a nice antidote to assertions that the media and pornography is belittling young adults' self-perception. After all, it's a great thing that we don't all look the same, otherwise we'd become a writhing mass of largely homogeneous beings, unsure of who to hook up with and practice abstinence.

The 7.5 thousand respondents to the Sex Education Show's survey have provided some fascinating statistics, scattered throughout the program:
Of all places in the UK, East Anglia is the most faithful, with only 29% having cheated on a partner. There's no surprise that of all the age groups, those aged 45-54 have cheated on a partner (39%), as there's disillusion and the mid-life crisis sets in. They've also had more opportunity than the young'uns. The sexual landscape of Britain was also revealed: 16% of respondents have had a threesome and 13% had not tried it, but would like it. And as for those VW-driving, Independent-reading, Welsh? 39%, 36% and 40% respectively. So be on the look-out for them.

So, was it educational? Yes. Will it help educate young people? Yes. Should sex education replace talks between parents and children? In this reviewer's opinion, no. I have a theory: call it a bible allegory, if you wish. I adhere to the idea of the 'Adam and Eve' idea of sex education: teach them young, before they 'eat from the tree' and get embarrassed and start covering up with fig leaves; when they're running about the garden, spraying each other with a hose and you're trying to keep them from soaking next door, who might report you to the water board because there's a hose pipe ban. Tell 'em when they ask why you're as big as a cow and eating pickles with strawberry ice-cream. Just tell your kids something because, just maybe, soon, they won't be told at all.

Posted by Tannice for the custardtv.blogspot.com Follow Tannice on Twitter

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Pod is Coming....

Podcast Promo by user8055060

Dragon's Den: The Business Inspector & 'Secret Millionaire' breathes new, fiery life into the Den

I have to admit, after the end of the Lord Sugar-a-thon that concluded with my favourite, Tom, winning and the recent demise of Four Rooms, I was heartbroken. What would come next to fill my 'must-see' programming? Imagine my elation when I learned Dragon's Den was back on the tellybox! Eagerly awaiting the start of the show, I turned to Twitter to see what was going on. There was talk of a drinking game. There were too many rules to concentrate on, watch the telly and take notes, so I decided to take a drink whenever a Dragon said 'I'm out'. This could be risky.
Hilary Devey

Dragon's Den was in danger of becoming second fiddle to The Apprentice and with a wealth of business programming filling our screens, it needed to pull something out of the bag. Lucky then, that Hilary Devy is on hand to stoke the fires of inspiration when meeting with the newest slew of entrepreneurs asking for a bit of the self-made wealth she has amassed; her worth subtly conveyed by the piles of cash before her.

​Within just a few minutes, this firebrand was trending on twitter but, to my consternation, it wasn't her straight-talking, constructive commentary, cojones or eccentric turn of phrase that were causing the most interest amongst the Twitterati, but her appearance and dress sense. Well, rest assured, this review won't be casting any aspersions. Trial by Twitter can't be nice, especially when @'d at you.

Hilary Devy is the very definition of the newest replacement for cool; 'fierce', which urban dictionary describes as "being bold, displaying chutzpah, especially relating to fashion, clothes, hair or makeup" and, no doubt, will soon be a gay icon. But it wasn't her vast, Alexis-from-Dynasty (returning soon to a screen near you) shoulder pads that impressed me most, but her bewildering knowledge of websites, asking Present Club website entrepreneur Georgette, 'What language is it [website] written in?'. The poor woman, asking for £60k for a 10% stake in her business, clearly struggled not to reply, weakly, "English?", after having already fluffed her pitch and dried less than a minute in.

The Present Club took some explaining and it wasn't until several questions later that I deduced her idea was Amazon Wish List for kids, where you could 'pledge' money towards a big ticket item.

Duncan Bannatyne, the most traditional and conservative of the Dragons, hated the idea and declared himself out (drink!), bemoaning this sad indication of modern times and the fact that kids would no longer be able to unwrap plastic Kinder Egg surprise toys at their birthday party, their bits strewn around amongst wrapping paper, consigned to rattle disconcertingly around the bagless Dysons now ubiquitous across the land (other vaccuum cleaners are available).

However, Georgette wasn't overly flummoxed by this objection or her previously 'shambolic' pitch. After revealing her past as the youngest female yellowcoat at London's stock exchange and flinging out terms like 'empowering', 'drop shipping' and 'direct dispatch', this city girl got what she came for. Georgette eventually secured her deal with Theo and Peter for an extra 10% equity and earned encouraging praise from Hilary, who clearly related to Georgette's fight as a single mother making her way in business.

Next up was a man who'd invented the ultimate in toilet accessories: a rubber ball which, when placed into a toilet, prevents splash-back from, well, you get the picture. The less said about the questions that this item evokes, the better. ​

All dragons out. Drink x 5....

Next up was the biggest load of woo since... the last pitch. Well, maybe that's a typo. Let's just say that it was the worst, most unscientific pitch I think I've ever seen on Dragon's Den which, thankfully, didn't go unnoticed by the Dragons.

Miruji Health and Beauty brought their 'Sit & Slim'/'Sit & Quit' [smoking] system - a chair with headphones. This was presented as a 'cure for obesity' without a glimmer of irony since their customers would be sitting in a comfy massage chair, listening to 'mind-coaching' audio for their 'treatment'. Apparently 500 suckers (customers -Ed) were benefiting from this system, bringing in a turnover of £195k (£145k of profit). After a bit of grilling from the Dragons and some exasperated facepalm moments, it becomes clear that the main man at Miruji Health and Beauty worked his sums out on the back of one of 'Sit & Get Ripped Off''s' customer's discarded fag packets.

Hilary, taking a drag from her own pack of Woodbines, didn't pull her punches and declared this businessman 'ridiculous', coming out with the quote of the episode: 'you'd make my foot itch, mate' and beseeching him to come back down to 'Planet Earth'.

More unsuccessful ideas included a deluded couple who wanted investment to fund their human cannonball act. Peter declared Rodrigo Perez 'talented' for achieving half the world record for the furthest a human has been propelled into the air (around 60m) and Hilary came out with a brilliant, unintential pun, asking 'what are your projected figures?'.

There was also 'gloven', an oven glove with fingers, enabling better in-oven dexterity: a necessity, with all that fancy fingerwork everyone does inside hot cabinets. Duncan wasn't convinced and insisted it was a stupid name given that it wasn't a cross between a glove and oven. It needed to be more like a spork.

The episode ended with no deals for Hilary who is, let's not forget, an unknown quantity, in the absence of James Caan, and a great deal for the Solar Panel entrepreneur who had all five investors clamouring to make a deal.

So, an ending on a high but with no final drink to finish off. I bow down to thee, Hilary Devy, for you are more than worthy of your new title of Dragon: the fiercest one yet!

Total drink tally this episode: 17 (disclaimer: may be incorrect due to drunkenness)

More on the Show
You can follow Dragon's Den and all the Dragons here:
@BBCDragonsDen | @DuncanBannatyne | @dragonjones | @theopaphitis | @hilarydevey | @debmeaden
More on Hilary
Record Ratings for Den Return
Posted by Tannice for thecustardtv.blogspot.com

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Angry Boys: laughing with, laughing at, or not at all? Angry Boys, BBC3

For those of you who are unaware, Chris Lilley, star of Angry Boys, is apparently one of Australia's living national treasures, along with Rolf Harris and the kangaroo. That's knowledge that came after I watched episode one of Angry Boys.

Having never heard of Chris Lilley, never seen 2008's Summer Heights High and, watching without my glasses on, not noticing how many characters he played in it, all this hype was lost on me. I'm glad it was, because I would have been even more disappointed than I was. It was a single recommendation from a Facebook friend that spurred me to watch this Aussie 'mockumentary' and I will question that friend's taste forevermore.

From the start, I wasn't really sure what this was supposed to be. Filmed in short bursts between Daniel and Nathan, identical twins, and Garingal Juvenile Justice Centre for 10- to 18-year-old boys, there was no voiceover from a disembodied voice explaining parts of the 'mockumentary'. A good voiceover is often key to the credibility of programmes of this type, giving sometimes inane but sometimes well-observed commentary on the lives of the protagonists. Voiceover was provided by the characters themselves, often deliberately showing their self-perceptions to be wildly deluded. This kind of voiceover works well if it's from an outsider, lending comedy to their assertions of, say, being good at surfing, then filming them wildly flailing in a river, their surfboard catapulting from beneath them.

Lilley welcomes us to their farm in Dunt (180 acres, middle-of-nowhere, Australia) with a few swearwords and mise-en-scene shots of the desolate scrublands that surround the home of the twins. Daniel shouts at twin Nathan, who's 'deaf... he's a little bit retarded too', urging him to come down from a corrugated iron roof. Nathan pointedly replies with a raised middle finger (a common theme throughout, first seen in the opening credits, which we'll come back to later).

Heavy on the swearwords, which are apparently employed to lend some comedy to the dry storyline, Angry Boys takes us through the lives of 'Danthan' (a portmanteau, รก la Jedward), their journey through adolescence, when they inevitably 'went a bit more different', their hijinks winding up Steve, mum's boyfriend, and their 'legends wall' (comprising Dad, Gran, and a pin up girl).

Gran, also played by Lilley, is 'a real asset' as the head of Garingal Juvenile Justice Centre, where 'the worst boys in the state' serve time for breaking and entering, assault and manslaughter. Gran 'knows the place better than any [of the other employees]' and has been the chief of the juvenile centre for more than 25 years, with her own house on the site, complete with several guinea pigs. Her raison d'etre does seem to be the well-being and discipline of the boys, though she does appear to revel in their subservience to her, especially when doing one of 'Gran's Gotchas'. The 'gotcha' is commonly done with a sense of good humour - sending up the victim, seeking their reaction for fun, rather than plain humiliation - so the first gotcha; falsely telling a boy he was getting an early release, seemed to be mean rather than funny.

Her role is varied; she's a counsellor, jailer, entertainer and, above all, a racist, foul-mouthed harridan. It's difficult to know whether fans of the show are laughing with Lilley's creations, or at them, for their vile behaviour. This is the real crux of whether you find Angry Boys funny; the racism and juvenile, toilet humour.

And so we go back to Daniel, Nathan and Steve, mum's much-maligned boyfriend, who struggles to earn their respect. He's innocuous enough and has a sidekick - his 'fag dog', Marcos, dubbed 'fuckos' by Daniel. Apparently the dog's gait and the shape of its rear end suggest its sexual leanings.

​Call me a prude, but I don't find swearing for the sake of it funny. Call me PC, but I don't find casual racism or homophobia funny. Not to mention the mocking of 'retard' Nathan. This might be an up-tight reaction to a program supposedly lampooning these racists and chauvinists, but I ask again: are we supposed to be laughing AT them? Gran's role in overseeing the boys seems also to be one of demeaning them, especially in a scene where a football team is separated thus: 'light skins versus dark skins... you're a light skin, I know you're an aborigine, but you're a light skin'. A nod to Gran's behaviour is made by one of the centre's staff, who says she 'turn[s] a blind eye to the way she operates... she delivers results'. Gran even acknowledges her own methods, in a rare moment of self-reflection and exonerates herself with the notion that she needs to 'make an impact on them... [they're] bad cookies'.​

It's difficult to think of a similar program, having not seen Lilley's previous incarnations in Summer Heights High, but I would liken this to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, in that it supposedly mocks bigots. Difficult to swallow in the case of Angry Boys, especially since the next episode sees Lilley 'black up' as rapper S. Mouse.

I'm sorry to report that I laughed just once in the 28 minute program: at Daniel who, speaking to Steve, who's just moved in, asks "What's four minus three?" and answers before Steve can retort, with a raised middle finger. It was a call-back to myself at age 13, brave enough to make a finger gesture at my own parents. But it was a short 'I-recognise-that-cockiness' snicker and a far cry from the guffaws and cackles I was hoping for.​

There are, no doubt, several people who've reached episode ten on BBC 3 by now and love it. I'll give it another episode, just to be sure. But I won’t hold my breath for that second laugh.

More on The Show
More on Chris Lilley
Follow Chris on Twitter
Catch up On Iplayer (UK ONLY)
Buy Angry Boys
Buy More Chris Lilley

Posted by Tannice for thecustardtv.blogspot.com

Why I Love.......Embarrassing Bodies, Channel 4

Why I Love.....

According to Channel 4's latest press release the show and its associated website is relieving some of the pressure on the ailing NHS to the tune of £283,000. A figure that's helpfully quantified as 16,677 pairs of crutches or 2,024 self-propelled wheelchairs, in case you had trouble understanding what the NHS might spend that princely sum on.

The website, developed in conjunction with NHS Direct is very useful for those red-cheek moments and potentially a life-saver, especially for men and women who are too shame-faced to visit their GP about potential testicular, prostate or breast cancer. The website shows you how to check various parts of your anatomy for all kinds of maladies, including swellings that shouldn't be there, bumps that definitely should be there and lots of photos that will have teenage boys and girls rapt for hours.

Wonky toes, inflamed pustules, growths and protuberances are the bread and butter of the Friday fright-night show. We’re so not the same: I don’t have bits sprouting out of my head, resembling men’s dangly bits, nor do I have a suppurating leg wound that threatens to stink out the surgery.

What surprises me the most is that anyone should ever want to appear on the show. We’re introduced to scores of patients who’ve not revealed their disgusting ailments to anyone, not even their doctors, who’ve hidden their secrets for years… who then peel off their underpants and show the entire Channel 4 demographic (and those who watch on 4OD) their naughty bits. One can only imagine the water-cooler conversations they’ll have once they return to work on Monday morning.

It’s shows like this that make me realise how normal I am. Yes I may have eyebrows that need plucking more than average, or perhaps slightly lopsided ears, but I, thankfully, don’t have any of the ailments that are given airtime here. And I thank my lucky stars for it every week.

If you, like me, can't get enough of this amusing, yet sometimes disconcerting freak-show and you're on Twitter, you can follow all three doctors.


More on the show...
Posted by Tannice for thecustardtv.blogspot.com

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