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Friday, 15 February 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Black Mirror, The BAFTA Film Awards, The Hotel and Utopia

So here we are again the end of  another week of TV and as there wasn't a lot of new programmes I'll be looking at some of the shows I've really been enjoying.


First though the return of one of the most original dramas in years as Channel 4 gave Charlie Brooker the chance to write three more futuristic instalments of his Black Mirror series. In its last run Black Mirror gave us the controversial storyline of the prime minister being blackmailed into being intimate with a pig and this series doesn't look like it'll be any less shocking. In the first episode Broker explores how technology could one day help us deal with the grieving process as we see a young woman struggle to get over the death of her partner. The episode, entitled Be Right Back, saw young couple Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) move into the house previously populated by his family who have seemingly all died over the years. The themes of grief and technology are bought up early on as Ash talks of how his mother hid all the photos of his deceased younger brother while later we also see him watching the news quite intensely on his phone. Quite quickly into the episode Ash dies after crashing the couple's removal van however at his funeral Martha's friend Sarah (Sinead Matthews), who herself has recently lost someone, reveals that there is a computer programme that could help Martha deal with the grief she is struggling to comes to terms with. Martha is initially hostile to the idea but Sarah signs her up anyway and later tells her that the programme mimics Ash's mannerisms by using everything he ever wrote on online. Martha later learns that she can speak to Ash by letting the programme have access to all of their home-made videos and his private e-mails and when she learns that she is pregnant she only confides in the virtual version of Ash. As she gets obsessed by the programme her friends and her sister start to worry about her but there's more to worry about than she realised when Martha agrees to spend a lot of money to use the experimental next level of the programme.


It appears to me as if, just like the last series, Brooker has started this run of Black Mirror with the most memorable episode as some of the latter scenes really stick with you but maybe for the wrong reasons. I personally believe that the first two acts of Be Right Back were perfectly paced as Martha attempts to deal with her grief through increased usage of the computer programme. What I loved about these scenes was the believability aspect namely that I could one day see this sort of software available so that the grieving can contact virtual versions of their lost loved ones. What I wasn't a fan of was the final section where Martha took the programme to its next level and where the aforementioned believability aspect came to an end as Be Right Back turned into much more of a psychological horror piece than the grim technological nightmare that it had started off as. Thankfully there were enough positive elements in Be Right Back for the final act to spoil it completely and they were mainly down to the more subtle parts of Brooker's script and the two central performances. Hayley Atwell was great as Martha who got addicted to having her late partner by her side and I felt she portrayed the gradual realisation that she'd taken things too far with ease. Domhnall Gleeson was also great at playing both the colourful real-life Ash and the more vacant virtual version that Martha becomes addicted to later on. Overall this was an adequate start to the new series of Black Mirror which had enough going for it not to be spoilt by an overly-convoluted final act and an ending that I know some people had a problem with. I'm just hoping that the next two instalments have better final acts than Be Right Back did and for me I'm more excited about what's to come than I am with the episode I've just watched.


Every year I write the same criticism about the BBC's broadcast of the BAFTA Film Awards namely that they should air it live or at least give people the option to watch it online or on the red button. Instead once again we were given an edited two-hour version which meant the BBC got to decide which BAFTA recipients would be seen on the TV in a highlights package at the end of the show and which got to see their full acceptance speech on the broadcast. So it was commiserations to make-up and hair, sound and oddly cinematography who were all given a back-seat in order for us all to see Paloma Faith perform that flippin' INXS cover from the John Lewis advert one more time. Yes the usually splendidly put-together highlight reel was spoilt for me by Faith's warbling and the fact that the camera kept focusing on her choir making its way through the bemused audience rather than showing us the full  year in review montage. For the second year in a row the highlight of the TV broadcast was Stephen Fry who bought the sort of dry wit and tolerance that is needed for hosting an award show plus he has oodles of charm. While he may not be as big a film fan as his predecessor Jonathan Ross he is more of a commanding presence and he was full of memorable one-liners for example when he told the crowd he was hesitant to see Zero Dark Thirty as he'd missed the other films in the Zero Dark franchise. The majority of the winners were predictable as was what they said when they got up on the stage, Anne Hathaway's gushing was a particular low-light for me, though it was a nice surprise when 85 year old French actress Emmanuelle Riva beat Jennifer Lawrence to the Best Actress Award. The awards ended on a high with a great speech from new BAFTA fellow Sir Alan Parker, which should've been longer, but once again I can't escape the fact that this is an edited version of an awards show that easily could've been aired live.


Preceding The Baftas on Sunday night was Channel 4's The Hotel a fly-on-the-wall documentary which is also the funniest programme of 2013 thus far. The series focuses on the staff and guests of The Grovesnor a tacky Torquay hotel and in particular manic manager Mark who can't even pronounce the name of his hotel as he does't realise it has a silent S. Every episode sees Mark doing something more stupid whether it be hire a hotel inspector to act as a mystery guest or don face paint to play an Indian at the hotel's curry night. Mark is joined by his work-wife reservations manager Alison as well as Christian the ultra-camp events manager who spends most of his time dressing up or singing in his office than he does organising actual events. Like any good comedy The Hotel also gives you characters you care about which gave this week's episode added poignancy when Mark realised he had to sell the hotel as he couldn't afford to pay all of the bills and he resigned himself to the fact that he had to inform his staff. I have to say I had a little tear in my eye when Mark delivered his speech to his bewildered staff and you could see that they really liked working under Mark even if sometimes his antics frustrated them. Thankfully The Hotel didn't wallow in sentimentality for very long as by the end Mark was soaking wet after having competed in the Torquay Regatta alongside some of The Grovesnor staff members. Rumours have been circulating that the new owners of The Grovesnor want to keep making the series and I think that would be a great idea but they have to keep Mark on in some form or fashion as it wouldn't be The Hotel without him.


As regular readers of the column noticed, last week's instalment was the first one in which I didn't review Utopia and it was also the first episode of Channel 4's conspiracy thriller that I thought lacked a certain something. Thankfully this week's penultimate episode starting answering some of the questions that we had namely who Becky (Alexandra Roach)  had been talking to on the phone and what it was The Network were actually up to. At the same time there were still plenty of questions to answer such as why did Wilson (Adeel Akhtar) free Letts (Stephen Rea) after the gang held him hostage? Why did Dugdale (Paul Higgins) call the police to inform them Grant  (Oliver Woollford) was at his house? And most importantly who is Mr Rabbit? I am really hoping that all of these questions are answered and at the moment it is The Assistant (James Fox) who looks to be the favourite to be Mr Rabbit though my money is on either Wilson or Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) as Dennis Kelly never seems to take us down the obvious route. Suffice to same I'm really looking forward to next week's finale and will let you folks know what I thought at this time next week.

Remember for all my thoughts on the best and worst in TV follow me on Twitter

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