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Saturday, 26 January 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Call the Midwife, The National Televison Awards, Bob Servant: Independent Candidate and Utopia

Welcome back folks to another sideways look at the last seven days in TV and what a week it has been filled with snow and more snow thankfully then we had our old friend the telly-box to see us through the wintry weather.


According to the viewing figures the best way to stave off those winter blues is to watch some nurses cycle around the East End of London in the 1950s delivering babies as they go. Yes the ratings-winner that is Call the Midwife returned this week for a second series which featured the usual mixture of domestic violence, sexual abuse, Miranda being all foolish and posh and Minty from Eastenders going on about bicycle oil. As is always the way Nurse Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) had to interfere in the personal life of one of her patients who this week was domestic abuse victim Molly Brignall. Jenny was appalled by the way Molly's flat looked and later discovered she was being beaten up by her husband so sticking her nose in decided to get Molly's mother to help. Inevitably Wonder Woman Jenny is able to smuggle Molly out of the house however this meddling may have negative consequences which I hope the young midwife can learn from but she probably won't. This week's other major storyline involved flirty blonde nurse Trixie (Helen George) whose general tardiness was annoying Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) who got revenge by giving her all of the horrible jobs. Predictably Evangelina and Trixie had to work together when they were summoned to a cargo ship to oversee the birth of the captain's daughter who he had essentially prostituted to the rest of the crew in order to avoid confrontation between the men. Trixie has to lead the delivery after Evagelina dislocates her shoulder and in turn earns the respect of the once grumpy nun while in addition teaches the captain's daughter to respect herself more.

Despite the aforementioned domestic violence, sexual abuse, Miranda and Minty, Call the Midwife is still a fairly gentle programme that survives on its sweeter scenes rather than those that are fairly brutal. When a programme's most exciting moment is Pam Ferris ascending a rope ladder you know you're in trouble and indeed I personally find Call the Midwife a little dull. Even the supposed comedy that Miranda provides, this week sending herself to sleep after demonstrating the benefits of gas and air, isn't particularly funny neither are the titbits provided by Cliff 'Minty' Parisi as Fred the Handyman. To me the most intriguing storyline going forward is whether Sister Bernadette (Laura Main) will forgo her holy orders to start a romantic relationship with Doctor Turner (Stephen McGann) however I doubt this plot will get much screen time as it involves two supporting characters. In my opinion Call the Midwife's biggest strength is in its production design and cinematography as even I can't deny how beautiful the shots of East End London are however I still find that the programme favours style over substance. I know I'm in the minority as almost nine million people watched the first episode however for me Call the Midwife is one of those fairly twee programmes that will never quite appeal to me.


As well as triumphing in the ratings, Call the Midwife was one of only a few BBC successes at this year's National Television Awards with Miranda Hart beating the much more deserving Sheridan Smith to the Best Actress Trophy what's more she wasn't even there to except it! The NTAs are awards voted for by the public and when it comes to voting for television shows the general public almost always  get it wrong (especially if they're ITV viewers). This is an awards show in which the Jeremy Kyle Show and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings are nominated for awards but Silk and Fresh Meat are not. While my favourite show of last year Sherlock was nominated for a couple of awards it lost out to Merlin actor Colin Morgan and the tedious Downton Abbey. In fact it was ITV who dominated the awards with I'm a Celebrity, Downton, Coronation Street, Paul O'Grady, This Morning all triumphing while Ant and Dec won the award for Best Entertainment Presenters for about the hundredth year in a row. While I am upset about where most of the awards went, as the dire Mrs Brown's Boys won the Best Comedy Award, there's no denying that the NTAs have improved since moving to the O2 Arena and having a change in host. Yes the wonderful Dermot O'Leary, who can do no wrong by the Custard TV Team, presented once again with a brilliant opening segment where he parodied the James Bond segment from the Olympic Games before pretending to jump from space. Later he also showed how much his dancing had come on as he performed a brief routine with Darcy Bussell proving that when X-Factor comes to end he's hopping over to the other side to be a contestant on Strictly.


While the nominees at the NTAs are on the whole laughable I feel it still has an edge over BAFTA when it comes to the general mood of the ceremony which is a lot livelier. This is partly due to the arena crowd and the  number of live performances littered throughout the event which help to improve the overall pace of the show. To be fair not all of these performances were that smooth namely Kimberley Walsh's first solo stint as she murdered the Moulin Rouge version of 'Someday I'll Fly Away' and did little to promote her new album of songs from the musicals. Kimberley was also upstaged about five minutes later when Ashleigh and Pudsey came to the stage to perform 'Gangam Style' and present the award for Best Soap Newcomer. From a performance perspective the night belonged to Ella 'She's Only Sixteen' In fact I was a little worried that two teenage girls like Ashleigh and Ella would cause all manner of havoc at the awards after-party but it was later revealed they were drunk under the table by Mary Berry, Dot from Eastenders and Joanna Lumley. Talking of Lumley, she was this year's recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award and I personally thought she accepted the prize with elegance and grace even though I was a little angry that David Cameron had time to leave the talks about Europe in order to reminisce about the New Avengers. The highlight of the show for  most would've been the overlong tribute to the Olympic Games however I personally feel its legacy has been somewhat tarnished by presenter Claire Balding's monotonous new project Britain's Brightest and medallist Tom Daley's involvement with the horrendous Splash! but I think I might be in the minority once again.


One programme that won't be winning any NTAs any time soon is the BBC4 sitcom Bob Servant, Independent Candidate partly because it's nestled away on a digital channel and partly because it's really not that good. I was expecting big things from Bob Servant primarily because it was from the channel that bought us both The Thick of It and Getting On and because it was based on a successful Radio 4 series that had been critically acclaimed. The comedy stars Brian Cox, the one from the Bourne films and not the physicist, as Bob Servant a former burger van operator who has decided to become an independent candidate in the local by-election in the small Scottish coastal town of Broughty Ferry. The programme sees Servant and his hapless campaign manager Frank attempt to get the town to vote for him using the slogan 'Bob Servant, you know him and he's OK'. The so-called humour of the piece comes from Bob's crazy campaign promises including the fact that he'll ban all dogs from a local park and that he'll illegally sort out any parking tickets given to his voters. Obviously these lies get him into all sorts of trouble, as does a speech at a primary school, which ultimately see him and Frank smuggled into the boot of a taxi to evade some angry dog-owners. Bob Servant, Independent Candidate is so much of an old school sitcom I'd expect it to be nestling on BBC1 between Mrs Brown's Boys and Me and Mrs Jones. Despite a great central performance from Brian Cox, who does breathe life into the terrible Bob Servant, the jokes just aren't there and I was left feeling very underwhelmed. While the programme did have promise I found nothing original about the programme and I just don't think it gave me enough reasons to tune in next week.

I feel I've been a bit negative throughout this article so let's end on a positive with my views on the second episode of the brilliant Utopia which continued to drip-feed us information while giving us more questions by the end of the episode. Two questions answered were who Jessica Hyde (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) was and where she'd been hiding namely that she was the daughter of the author of the 'Utopia Experiments' who had been on the run from the shady network since she was four. In fact her father had been part of the network, a mysterious organisation set up during the Cold War, and had later escaped under an assumed name evading the hunt made by his former partner Mr Rabbit. Jessica quickly gets Wilson, Ian and Becky to adapt or die before taking Ian on a hunt to track down the graphic novel not realising that Wilson knows that Grant has it. To me Grant (Oliver Woolford) is still the heart and soul of the programme and this week falls in love with posh school girl Alice (Emilia Jones) who he gives the manuscript to while he goes off to meet the others. While I feel the characters are still very well-drawn there weren't as many shocks as last week apart from the opening scene in which the publisher of 'The Utopia Experiments' is ploughed down by a lorry. The danger of the network is still present though thanks to Arby (Neil Maskell) going round with that sinister gas canister like a shell-suited approximation of Javier Bardem's character in 'No Country for Old Men'. I personally hope that the manuscript leaves Alice's bedroom before Arby tracks it down but I'm more intrigued to find out who Becky was talking to on the phone at the end of the episode.

For more of my thoughts on the best and worst of TV follow me on Twitter and I'll return around the same week for more praise and grumble of the coming week's TV shows.

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