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Saturday, 2 February 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Derek, Moving On, Utopia, The Big Reunion

Hi folks we're back with another week in TV that saw a mixture of comedy drama, daytime delights and a slice of musical nostalgia jostle for position on my television screen.


I find that in today's society a lot of the most famous faces on TV are viewed as polarising figures with some people seeing no wrong with anything they do while others criticise the entire body of their work. One such figure is Ricky Gervais someone who I've personally struggled to warm to though I did see some merit in both The Office and Extras despite the latter mainly depending on celebrities parodying themselves. This week saw the return of Gervais' comedy-drama Derek the pilot episode of which was criticised heavily last year but due to large ratings has returned for a full series. The majority of the criticism was levelled at Gervais' performance as the simple Derek Noakes who works at a care home for the elderly where he is loved by staff and residents alike. Despite Gervais claiming that Derek is just a simple soul in the same vein as Frank Spencer or Father Dougal it is clear in both Derek's mannerisms and dialogue that he has some sort of learning difficulty. This is actually bought up in this episode as a representative from the council, who have been sent to the home to cut costs, outright asks Derek if he has ever been tested for autism however this issue is never truly addressed. It's a shame that Gervais' performance and the character of Derek are the main talking points of the programme as I personally think there's a lot of merit elsewhere in the show namely thanks to the other characters. This series appears to shift the focus a lot more towards care home manager Hannah (Kerry Godliman) who is able to stick up for herself during the visit from the council and ultimately decides that she will fund the home herself. Hannah's speech about what it truly meant to be a career felt incredibly realistic while Godliman was able to successfully portray a woman whose work has become her life. Gervais' mate Karl Pilkington is another revelation as the home's handyman Dougie whose scenes with the council representative are some of the episode's best even if his final speech is a little much while in addition his ill-fitting wig sometimes detracts from his performance. 

I think the main issue with Derek is that they struggle to feel completely comfortable watching the former David Brent play a slightly challenged individual. Despite his character's name being the show's title I don't think Derek particularly adds much to the overall success of the show and I think if the character weren't a part of the programme it would flow much better. I definitely feel there's room for an old folk's home set comedy drama whose characters include an over-stressed manager and a sarcastic handyman but it just appears as if the character of Derek is there to provoke a response in people. To be fair Derek isn't as present as he was in the pilot, instead he's become part of the overall ensemble, while at the same time Gervais has also toned down the slapstick elements of the show so Derek no longer falls in ponds or sits on puddings. His presence in the programme is almost to suggest that this home is a place for all those who are unwanted by society though I think that message is present already due to the multiple close-ups of the home's residents. Ultimately Derek has some well-drawn scenes and some good performances from Godliman and Pilkington but it just feels like a wasted opportunity due to Gervais' persistence in taking an acting role in everything that he writes. 


Also returning for a fourth series is daytime drama Moving On which are essentially a collection of one-off stories looking at people who are moving on in one way or another. Monday's episode, entitled The Shrine, saw middle-aged couple John and Carol (Matthew Kelly and Barbara Flynn) attempt to sell their house however this endeavour was made more difficult after an accident outside of their house. The accident sees a young man killed outside their house after he walks straight into the path of an oncoming taxi whose driver (Steve Evets) is distracted by other matters. After his death the tree outside John and Carol's house becomes a shrine to the young man while his girlfriend Sarah (Sally Carman) keeps putting fresh flowers around it as a memorial to the man she lost. Meanwhile the couple find that the shrine is keeping potential buyers away from their house while the singing of hymns around the tree is also putting them off being intimate in their own home. The rest of the story becomes a moral dilemma about whether it is better to tell Sarah of their issues head on or deal with the shrine themselves. Moving On is produced by Jimmy McGovern and it is easy to see his influence on the programme as it deals with tricky moral issues that are usually not just black and white. On the whole this episode of Moving On had decent performances, though I always find it hard to accept Matthew Kelly as a serious actor, as well as an interesting central concept about holding onto someone's memory after they die. Overall though I found it a bit heavy-handed and the majority of the dialogue just didn't ring true which is a shame as the BBC do seem to be making an effort to produce more quality daytime drama but I just feel they need to try a little harder. 


Thankfully not all drama feels uninspired and clunky with Utopia being a case in point as I am still utterly enthralled by everything it has to offer. This week's episode had an over-arching narrative concerning lost childhoods as Grant (Oliver Woolford) teamed up with Jessica Hyde (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) to track down the manuscript as they bonded on how they really never got to be kids. Grant has officially now gone on the run after Arby (Neil Maskell) framed him for a massacre at his school using doctored CCTV footage. We learnt more this week about Arby's background as Maskell almost made us sympathise with this cold-hearted hitman who was seemingly created in a lab as he is told he didn't have parents. The Network's shady practises were put under the microscope as the hapless Dugdale (Paul Higgins) journeyed to the Shetland Islands to find out just what was happening to the bodies of the victims of the Russian flu outbreak. One thing we still don't know is who Becky was talking to on the phone last week as she, Ian and Wilson are now trying to cope without Jessica but are able to find a new ally in MI6 agent Milner (Gerladine James). James joins a long line of well-regarded British actors, including Stephen Rea and James Fox, who appear to be having a whale of time hamming it up as the senior figures in charge of the operation. To me Milner comes across as a WI member who just happens to be incredibly handy with a gun and I just hope she appears throughout the series and doesn't get killed off next week but this being Utopia she probably will be. I find it hard to be bored by Utopia as there's always something going on and I have so many more questions than answers however as we're already halfway through the series I think it's time for Dennis Kelly and his team to start solving some of Utopia's key mysteries. 


We end this week with a bit of cheesy fun courtesy of ITV2 as they track down the members of six groups hoping to get them back together for a one-off concert at the Hammersmith Apollo. Taking part in The Big Reunion are 911, Honeyz, B*Witched, Atomic Kitten, Liberty X and 5ive with the last two groups featuring prominently tonight. For anybody who wasn't a teenager in the late 1990s, as I was, The Big Reunion actually gave you a potted history of 5ive including how they were signed by a then unknown Simon Cowell who hoped they'd be the new Take That. Though they did open The Brit Awards I never really saw them as an extremely successful group and it appeared as if two members, Scott and Sean, had had enough and both had mini breakdowns with the latter being replaced by a cardboard cutout in the group's final video. Now older and wiser they are hoping to reform however 'J', the one who couldn't sing so just rapped in the middle of the songs, doesn't want to be part of the group any more so the lads look like they'll be 4our for the time being. There are also other issues namely that most of the members have picked up silly accents with Richie now sounding like an extra from Neighbours since running a bar in Australia and Abz putting on some ridiculous gangster voice. Liberty X meanwhile were famously the rejects from Popstars who found fame with 'Just a Little Bit' but who were plagued with alcohol-related issues and the fact Michelle Heaton was in the band. What I enjoyed about The Big Reunion was the nostalgia factor and felt my youth coming back every time I saw a clip from the Smash Hits Poll Winners' Party or the Radio 1 Roadshow. ITV2 have even gone a bit retro in their choice of voiceover as Andi Peters lends his vocals to the show however I would've gone with Jamie Theakston as these acts were around the time that he was presenting the O-Zone. I have to say I'm looking forward to future episodes of The Big Reunion as these now slightly unfit thirty and forty-somethings try to slip into their old outfits and try to remember those elaborate dance routine. I'm just worried about the lads from 911 when they try to do those backflip as one of them may actually dislocate something.

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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