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Thursday, 26 April 2012

Veep - HBO attempts The Thick Of It

Guest Blogger  Dan Owen takes a look at HBOs new series Veep and compare its to the UK original The Thick Of It

Veep debuted to 1.4 Million Viewers in the US
Veep marks award-winning British writer Armando Iannucci's first commission for the American marketplace, after the baby-step of transatlantic movie In The Loop, which quasi-adapted his award-winning BBC comedy The Thick Of It. It comes as no surprise that Veep's an amalgam of both those political efforts, only exclusively concerning the US government. This eight-part HBO series concerns Vice President ("veep") Selena Myers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as she navigates Capitol Hill with her entourage of superfluous staff, feeling like a spare part. Along for the ride is her Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky, a holdover from Loop), Director of Communications Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh) and his hated deputy Dan Egan (Reid Scott), whispering personal aide Gary Walsh (Arrested Development's Tony Hale), White House liaison Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), and executive-assistant Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw).

The pilot, "Fundraiser", saw Selena swinging from one professional humiliation to the next: beginning with a half-empty function after a PR disaster with a comment about biodegradable cutlery replacing all plastic; a meeting with a senator who ignores Selena, her obvious superior; and a slip of the tongue at an important press conference the President couldn't attend, resulting in Selena accidentally saying the offensive phrase "hoisted by our own retard".

I expected to have a stronger and more positive reaction to Veep, particularly as a fan of In The Loop, but this half-hour slipped by innocuously and didn't leave me craving more. The cinéma-vérité style it employs (nay the post-Office"mockumentary" format as whole) is starting to really irritate me, and there was a feeling thatVeep's arrived five years too late. The Thick Of It benefited from running parallel to the divisive Tony Blair/George W. years, and had its own tyrannical monster in profane Malcolm Tucker, whom you couldn't take your eyes (or ears) off... whereas Veep's stuck in Obama's bland era of recession woe. I'm sure many people will enjoy Veep regardless, as it's well-produced and spiritedly performed by a great cast, but from my perspective it feels oddly prosaic. There's nothing new being said by Iannucci after years writing The Thick Of It; it's just the same meal for a different diner. But at least the average HBO viewer prefers sirloin steak over a greasy Big Mac. 

My misgivings probably wouldn't matter if there were sterling performances to relish, but competency is all the pilot demonstrates. I like Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus a great deal, but her character didn't grab my attention, and the people she's surrounded by feel like yawning archetypes. There's time for these characters to develop complexities, because few pilot arrive with everything fully-formed (even ones with the benefit of two "trial run" UK projects), so we'll see if Veep's characters settle into some interesting grooves after a few more episodes.

Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell (The Thick Of ItPeep Show) are two of the UK's best comedy writers, so their script is still peppered with witty one-liners and amusing quips. I'm just not sure the Capitol Hill milieu is necessarily as funny as its Westminster counterpart. You tend to perceive the movers-and-shakers of Washington D.C as capable and powerful people, even if their politics can be crazier and scarier than British policies. Veep should perhaps aim to skewer the unnerving side of American politics, because I didn't find any of the characters inherently funny as personalities. Sure, they said funny things, but that's a different thing altogether. And if we're getting picky about the use of language here, when Americans swear it rarely has the same effect as British swearing--which is half-caustic, half-hilarious, and more volubly creative. American swearing just is what it is: profane. Iannucci was therefore wise to avoid having an "American version" of potty-mouthed Tucker on Veep, but he perhaps should have included a different monster to grab this show by the scruff of the neck. It really needs someone to inject vinegar into its veins.

Overall, Veep's pilot disappointed me but I'm willing to stick around to see if problems can be overcome once the actors grow more confident and Iannucci finds his voice (or American accent). It doesn't help thatThe Thick Of It's illustrious shadow looms over this show for British eyes, which we can't help but compare it to, but I hope Veep finds some unique targets for its satire and utilises the US setting for maximum effect.

                                     Veep will be shown in June on Sky Atlantic in the UK

Follow Dan on Twitter

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The TVWEEK: Monday 30th April - Friday 4th May 2012

8.00pm Foxes Live: Wild in the City Channel 4 - 3-part interactive natural history event carrying out the biggest ever nationwide study into urban foxes in the UK. Using cutting-edge technology, this ambitious project will assemble footage from state-of-the-art tracking technology, camera rigs and user-generated content to provide a fox-eye view of our cities. Every move will be followed with the help of CCTV cameras, GPS tags and mini fox cams that will follow the foxes' movements; from under garden sheds where they sleep to the industrial estates where they mate. No one knows for sure how many foxes live in the UK or whether the population is growing.
9.00pm Escape from the World's Most Dangerous Place BBC3 - Scarlett Johansson tells the story of 21-year-old model Samira, returning to Somalia for the first time since her family fled the country's brutal civil war. In a life-changing journey, with danger never far away, Samira discovers the harsh realities of the homeland she never knew and sees how different her life would have been if she'd stayed behind. 
8.00pm William & Kate: The First Year ITV - To celebrate the first wedding anniversary of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, this documentary tells the story of their wedding and looks back at the last 12 months. 
9.00pm The Hunt for Bin Laden ITV - Documentary about the mission to hunt down Osama bin Laden, which was completed when he was killed in a raid by US Special Forces in May 2011.  
8.00pm Traffic Cops BBC1
8.00pm The British Soap Awards 2012 ITV
9.00pm The Tallest Tower: Building the Shard Channel 4 - The story of The Shard: the colossal glass skyscraper that has transformed London's skyline. Built against a backdrop of massive public opposition and one of the worst recessions in history, this feat of architectural engineering in the heart of the capital will stand at over 1000 feet: the tallest tower in Western Europe. 
10.00pm The Killing Channel 4 - Series 2 of the US remake of the Danish crime drama.
8.00pm The World's Largest Snake Channel 4 - In 2009, a group of passionate scientists stumbled upon the fossils of the Titanoboa: the biggest snake of all time. At 48 feet long and weighing well over a tonne, the snake is one of the greatest discoveries since the T-Rex. The animal is a relative of modern boa constrictors and lived in the rainforest of north-east Colombia 58-60 million years ago.  
9.00pm Shakespeare BBC2 - Nowhere fired Shakespeare's imagination like Italy, but as Francesco da Mosto argues in a new two-part series, Italian cities meant far more to our greatest author than just a sunlit setting. For the young playwright Italy offered a treasure trove of history and legend, while to find his own voice he eagerly plundered its rich theatrical traditions. 
9.00pm The Hoarder Next Door Channel 4 - 4-part series about Britain's growing number of extreme hoarders and their quest to cure themselves with the help of friends and family. In each episode cameras follow the hoarders as they embark upon a unique six week treatment programme with psychotherapist Stelios Kiosses and his team of expert de-clutterers. The first episode features 55-year-old Nigel Jennings in Liverpool, whose only place to sit at home is his mattress - and even that isn't completely safe. Living in the midst of the most extreme hoarding that psychotherapist Stelios Kiosses has ever seen, Nigel hasn't been inside some of his rooms for over seven years.  
9.00pm The Restaurant Inspector Five - Series 2 of the series that comes to the aid of struggling restaurant owners.
10.00pm QI BBC2 - Episode originally pushed back due to issues with Jeremy Clarkson.
10.00pm Awake Sky Atlantic - Pilot of a US drama starring Jason Issacs as a man who lives between  two worlds. One where is son has been killed in a car accident and another where his wife has died. Unsure of which is reality.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Custardtv Live: Our Second TV Chat

The latest edition of thecustardtv Live. Hit play to hear our chat on Louis Theroux, Grandma's House and The Voice.

The show goes Live every Tuesday from 8pm!

CUSTARD TV PODCAST #5: The Bridge, Louis Theroux, The Apprentice and 2 Broke Girls

Luke, Gary and Tannice return to chat the continued success of The Voice UK, Scandinavian drama The Bridge, the return of The Apprentice and US Sitcom 2 Broke Girls.

Listen to "The CustardTV Live" on Spreaker.

The Bafta Television Awards: Our Picks

So its that time of year again and here are my picks for BAFTA 2012. The nominees this year are a true testament to what a massively strong year its been for British television this year. Does that sound to pretentious? My picks are in RED 

Leading Actor
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock)
Dominic West (Appropriate Adult)
John Simm (Exile)
Joseph Gilgun (This Is England '88)

Leading Actress

Emily Watson (Appropriate Adult

Nadine Marshall (Random)

Romola Garai (The Crimson Petal and the White)

Vicky McClure (This Is England '88)

Supporting Actor

Andrew Scott (Sherlock)
Joseph Mawle (Birdsong)
Martin Freeman (Sherlock)
Stephen Rea (The Shadow Line)

Supporting Actress
Anna Chancellor (The Hour)
Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Miranda Hart (Call the Midwife)
Monica Dolan (Appropriate Adult)

Entertainment Performance
Alan Carr (Alan Carr: Chatty Man)
Dara O'Briain (Mock The Week)
Graham Norton (The Graham Norton Show)
Harry Hill (Harry Hill's TV Burp)

Female Performance In A Comedy Programme
Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous)
Olivia Colman (Twenty Twelve)
Ruth Jones (Stella)
Tamsin Greig (Friday Night Dinner)

Male Performance In A Comedy Programme
Brendan O'Carroll (Mrs Brown's Boys)
Darren Boyd (Spy)
Hugh Bonneville (Twenty Twelve)
Tom Hollander (Rev.)

Single Drama
Holy Flying Circus
Page Eight

Appropriate Adult
The Crimson Petal and the White
This is England '88
Top Boy

Drama Series
The Fades
Scott and Bailey

Soap and Continuing Drama
Coronation Street
Holby City

International Programme
Forbrydelsen (The Killing)
Modern Family
The Slap

Factual Series
The Choir: Military Wives
Educating Essex
Our War
Protecting Our Children: Damned If We Do Damned If We Don't

Specialist Factual
British Masters
Frozen Planet
Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret
Wonders of the Universe

Single Documentary
9/11: The Day That Changed the World
The Fight of Their Lives
Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die
We Need To Talk About Dad (Cutting Edge)

DIY SOS: The Big Build
Hairy Bikers' Meals on Wheels
The Great British Bake-Off
Timothy Spall: Somewhere at Sea

Reality And Constructed Factual
An Idiot Abroad
Don't Tell The Bride
Made in Chelsea
The Young Apprentice

Current Affairs
Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields
'The Truth About Adoption' (Panorama)
'Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed' (Panorama)

News Coverage
BBC News at Ten: Siege of Homs
Channel 4 News: Japanese earthquake
ITV News at Ten: Battle of Misrata
Sky News: Libya rebel convoy – live

Sport And Live Event
Frankenstein's Wedding: Live in Leeds
The Royal Wedding (BBC)
Rugby World Cup Final
Tour De France 2011

New Media
The Bank Job

Entertainment Programme
Celebrity Juice
Derren Brown: The Experiments
Harry Hill's TV Burp
Michael McIntyre's Christmas Comedy Roadshow

Comedy Programme
Charlie Brooker's 2011 Wipe
Comic Strip: The Hunt for Tony Blair
The Cricklewood Greats
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle

Situation Comedy
Fresh Meat
Mrs Brown's Boys
Friday Night Dinner

A hugely strong year and a very worthy set of nominees. Do you agree with the Picks? Has someone been cruelly ignored? Get in touch and leave your comments below. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Custard Chats to Richard Bacon, Host of Channel 4's Hidden Talent

Tuesday sees an interesting slant on the Talent Show from Channel 4. Hidden Talent is hosted by Richard Bacon and sees ordinary members of the public discover they have a hidden aptitude for a skill they never knew they possessed.
I spoke to Richard to find out more about we can expect from this reality/documentary series and the aftermath of his recent BBC3 documentary on internet trolls.

How did they pitch Hidden Talent to you and what drew you to the series?
Its an original idea really. Its spinning the talent show around. Its not like other talent shows. Other talent shows are big entertainment productions and this is actually more like a documentary and its factual. In a normal talent show people believe they have talent and they want to be assessed and have someone to take them on and recognize a talent that they believe they already have but what we're doing is finding out whether people have a talent they don't even know about and have never thought about.

So how does the process work?
900 people came along to our test days and they had a range of tests and we find out through those that we had a small handful of people who have got almost world class potential to be good at different talents that they were completely unaware of. Its the biggest experiment of its kind and it hasn't been done before.

What or who stood out to you whilst filming?
I think the best story for me is in episode three. We met a 19 year old who was living in a homeless shelter when he came to see us called James.  He sat our nine tests and he discovered he was the best out of everyone at languages. He'd never had a language lesson before but he had a natural ability.  So we gave him 19 weeks to learn Arabic. He achieved it and he could write Arabic so to really ramp up the pressure we took him to Jordan and he appeared on Jordan's answer to This Morning and was interviewed live for 20 minutes. Normal language students it can take 2-3 years to learn Arabic like that and he did it in 19 weeks so I think that's the best story. 

You said in a recent radio show that your TV review section is becoming increasingly popular. Why do you think that is? Is TV better now do you think?
Probably yeah you can't keep up with how many good shows there are. We handpick what we review and we'll often pick shows that have already got a good reputation or shows that a lot of people are talking about so our reviews tend to be quite positive. Something we're reviewing this week is a Scandinavian drama on BBC4 called The Bridge. Most people probably won't even notice that show but when people say telly's rubbish its because they're not looking for the right shows.  There's a lot of good TV being made in Britain. There's a high hit rate of good ideas and well made programmes.

Does working in the industry change your view of television?
Sometimes I'm amazed by how long the process takes. I made  a documentary recently called The Anti-Social Network about internet trolls which was an hour long which was a lot of filming. You don't realise when you watch these shows how much time has gone into them. Hidden Talent is six episodes on Channel 4 and a series producer has probably spent about five months in the edit. There's a lot more work that goes into making these things than we all appreciate.

You mention The Anti-Social Network did you find that a bit more daunting as it was such a personal thing for you?
Yes. I was anxious about it going out because it was so personal and I mention my wife and my baby. I don't feel particularly anxious about Hidden Talent going out.  It may do alright or may not but its not personally revealing. I did feel anxious about the Anti-Social Network and I had concerns that these internet trolls would turn on me even more and that bothered me. I realised when it went out though that A yes they did and B they're just a bunch of bloody idiots and you can just block them anyway. 

Has making that documentary made you more wary of using social networking sites?
No it hasn't. The best thing on Twitter is the block button.

What do you love and loathe on TV?
I love watching The Daily Show I'm a big fan of that. As far as loathe, I never liked HollyOaks.  Its a boring show full of beautiful faces and blonde hair. It looks like its been cast by Hitler! I avoid that at all costs!

You mentioned on a recent radio show that you'd a lot of long running dramas like Silent Witness but you were very impressed by the episode you saw this year.
Yeah you're absolutely right I'd never seen it till this series. That's another thing I think we take for granted is  how good these long running British serials are. For some reason I'd assumed they wouldn't be very good. Like I only saw the last series of Waking the Dead and you put them on you realise they're really good and really well made. I think I thought these long running dramas would look a bit like a Soap Opera so because of misplaced prejudice's I'd avoided them.

Hidden Talent begins Tuesday 24th April 9.00pm on Channel 4

Follow Richard on Twitter
Hear Richard on BBC Radio 5 Live
More on The Anti-Social Network

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