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Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Matt on the Box: This Weekend in TV: The Voice, Doctor Who, The Village, Jonathan Creek and Life's Too Short

It seems a bit odd to be writing this piece at the start of the week however seeing as it's a Bank Holiday Weekend I thought I'd give you all a bit of a treat. So this week you're getting two articles for the price of one with this particular instalment looking back at the past extended weekend.


We start with the return of BBC's singing competition The Voice UK which had a mixed reception during its debut last year. The early success of The Voice 2012 were Blind Auditions in which the coaches would sit with their back to the contestants, judging them purely on voice alone. These blind judging rounds were made memorable due to the fact that the coaches would turn their chairs around if they wanted to represent a certain contestant. However once the turning chairs had disappeared, The Voice simply turned into another singing competition and viewers switched off in their millions. Despite these failings, The Voice has returned with the promise of more Blind Auditions and only three live shows. It is clear that the coaches (we're not allowed to call them judges) have all been told to act more enthusiastically as most of them are more annoying than normal. This was instantly evident when Jessie J leapt out of her seat during the first audition to listen to Welsh man-mountain Ash Morgan belt his way through 'Never Tear Us Apart.' Meanwhile Will.i.am was always trying to find ways to appear kookier by leaning in various positions any time he turned his chair around. In fact only Sir Tom Jones came across with any dignity as he waited to hear the whole song till he turned his chair around. The contestants themselves were a mixed bag with some praising The Voice format as they felt that they would be judged on looks alone. This was certainly true of glaucoma sufferer Andrea though I thought it was a bit tasteless that she had to go through a Blind Audition. There was also the contestants who produced a different sound to the one you'd expect. This was best exemplified in episode one by Mike who appeared to be a hip hop artist but turned out to be an accomplished country crooner
 Once again  it seems that if you've had prior success then you probably won't advance any further in the competition. We saw this in episode one as former Pop Idol contestant Kirsty Crawford and 1990s chart-topper Kavana didn't get any judges to turn around for them. But at least Kavana reminded as all who he was and will no doubt get a spot on the second series of The Big Reunion. 


Despite word of format changes, the start of this second series of The Voice seems identical to last year's opener. Indeed we got the same spinning chairs, the same inane banter between the coaches and the same opening number from our fab four. As I previously mentioned the enthusiasm levels of the coaches has been raised which means they are more annoying than ever. This goes double for Jessie J who attempted to upstage all of the acts by making inane facial expressions or clapping like a seal. To be fair to The Voice it still does focus on finding genuine talent and we did have a good mix of singing styles throughout the show. Part of the joy of the show is deciding whether or not the coaches should've turned round for the acts and in the cases of a couple of them, especially kooky vintage freak Katy, they probably shouldn't have. In terms of the hosts I don't feel that either Holly Willoughby or Reggie Yates really add anything to the overall charm of The Voice. Their basic role at this stage of the contest is to stand backstage with the contestants and jump up and down if any of the coaches turn their chairs around. I also contest that The Voice doesn't really need two hosts to begin with especially as Reggie was relegated to second fiddle once the live shows came around. My other issue with this opening episode was that it was far too long and didn't really need to run for almost ninety minutes. I felt that there was far too many filler pieces about the characteristic of the coaches or how they compete for an act they want on their team. Overall I do applaud The Voice for favouring talent over back story however I do think it is a programme that takes itself too seriously. I also think it needs to be shorter as we don't really need another overlong singing competition after last year's overly dull X-Factor series. 


BBC1 were promoting a Super Saturday this weekend as we also saw the return of Doctor Who with the continuation of this seventh series. Those of us who saw the Christmas Special know that The Doctor (Matt Smith) is trying to track down Clara (Jenna-Louise Colman) who he has now seen die twice. For some reason The Doctor is living in a monastery in the 13th century waiting to hear a bell which will inform him of Clara's whereabouts. Luckily this version of Clara is living in London 2013 and looking after kids, just like her 19th century counterpart was doing in the Christmas episode. The basic plot of this episode sees people being sucked into a server after attempting to piggy-back their way onto a mysterious wi-fi network. Luckily for Clara, The Doctor is on hand to stop her being downloaded and therefore falls foul of Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie) who is running the operation from offices in The Shard. It is later revealed that Kizlet is simply being controlled by The Great Intelligence computer, which featured in the Christmas Special, and was reduced to a childlike state by the end of the story. I personally like Doctor Who episodes which work in believable scenarios and The Bells of St Mary's definitely had one of those. I think most of us have tried to steal wi-fi in the past and maybe this cautionary tale may stop some of us from doing it in the future. However this plot seems to be exist mainly this series' main story arcs mainly The Doctor's pursuit of Clara and the continued presence of The Great Intelligence. Colman is able to make Clara instantly likeable as someone who can stand on her two feet and who actually takes the time to consider The Doctor's offer to be his next companion. My hope is that they don't try and create some sort of romance between the pair as I like Matt Smith's Doctor as an asexual figure and I hope Clara doesn't ruin it. Despite this episode not being as memorable as some of last year's offerings it was more of a bridge between the Christmas Special and the rest of this series. Ultimately it's made me see what a good match Clara and The Doctor make and has also set up some intriguing possibilities for the upcoming 50th anniversary episodes. 


Sunday nights have often been the home of traditional period drama however the BBC's latest period piece The Village seems to what to change all that. Narrated by Britain's second oldest man Bert Middleton (David Ryall) it tells the tale of one small Derbyshire village throughout the 20th century. The drama starts in the summer of 1914 where the twelve year old Bert (Bill Jones) is learning about life and love. He is living with his farmer father John (John Simm), his loving mother Grace (Maxine Peake) and his nineteen year old brother Joe (Nico Mirallegro). John seems to love tormenting his two sons and frequently locks Bert in cupboards while at the same time drinking himself silly. Joe meanwhile works at the village big manor house for the disfigured Lord Allingham (Kit Jackson) and his wife Clem (Juliet Stevenson). This first episode documents Bert falling in love with vicar's daughter Martha (Charlie Murphy) who is almost instantly smitten with Joe. Bert is also having trouble with a particularly vicious schoolmaster (Stephen Walters) who likes to thrash him however thankfully he also as a mentor in the form of Gerard Eyre (Matt Stokoe) who sees how bright Bert is. The end of episode one sees the declaration of World War One and with it Joe's exit from the village to join the army however the action will stay in the village rather than following Joe to the front line.


I have to say it took me about ten minutes to properly settle into The Village but once I did I really enjoyed myself. Most of the characters have a sympathetic edge and have been beautifully crafted by Silk writer Peter Moffat. I thought it was a good idea to have a twelve year old boy as the lead narrator because most of the scenes had a juvenile edge to them. The Village perfectly captured a summer of adolescence as Bert runs about the village and spies on the women in the local bathhouse. Antonia Bird's direction made sure that I was fully immersed in the world of The Village due to some stunning shots of the Derbyshire scenery. I personally found The Village a lot more realistic than a lot of the other period dramas that have recently aired on our screens. It was also quite a dark piece at times, especially when John Simm was on screen, plus there was a lot more bare flesh than I was expecting. Speaking of Simm, his performance in The Village was utterly mesmerising and the drama came alive as soon as he appeared on screen. Simm shared great chemistry with Maxine Peake who perfectly portrayed a woman who had long given up on having a loving marriage. I thought Nico Mirallegro was great as the likeable Joe while Juliet Stevenson leant able support as the Lady of the Manor. The best performance for me came from young Bill Jones who made you want to follow Bert over the next five episodes. To me The Village made the most of both its scenery and cast to create what could be a truly epic TV series. Moffat has already stated that he wants to document the entire 20th century in this series and I just hope The Village is a success so he has the chance to do this. 


More traditional Easter Weekend entertainment was provided with the return of Jonathan Creek for a one-off special entitled The Clue of the Savant's Thumb. There have been some changes in the life of Jonathan (Alan Davies) since we last saw him as he has left both the world of magic and his beloved windmill behind. Instead he is now married to the gorgeous Polly (Sarah Alexander) and working as an advertising executive. However when his old companion Joey Ross (Sheridan Smith) reappears with news of another unexplained mystery he soon feels compelled to investigate. The mystery involves Rosalind Tartikoff (Joanna Lumley) who had seen the dead body of her husband Franklin (Nigel Planer) in a locked room. However when Rosalind unlocks the door Franklin's body had disappeared and nobody could explain where it had gone. Wheelchair-bound DI Gideon Pryke (Rik Mayall), who has previously worked alongside Creek, is assigned to the case and soon takes Joey on board as an advisor. But Jonathan can't resist a good mystery and is soon donning his old duffel coat to solve Franklin's murder himself. I have to say Jonathan Creek is one of those programmes that just feels like it belongs on a Bank Holiday Weekend. David Renwick's script provides us with several different mysteries that all relate to Franklin's death in some way or another. One of the great things about Jonathan Creek is attempting to solve the puzzle before our heroes get a chance to. Personally I found the final reveal to be a bit of an anticlimax however I did mind too much thanks in part to the brilliant ensemble cast. Davies is great as the new-look Jonathan who is trying to grow as a person but gets sucked back into his old life once again. He perfectly sparks off Sheridan Smith whose Joey is both intelligent and a little naive as she hovers around the murder scene with her trademark notebook. Rik Mayall, Joanna Lumley and Nigel Planer are all great in their respective roles with Lumley particularly excelling as the woman with a haunted past. While this new Jonathan Creek mystery may  ot be as clever as some of his previous endeavours, the format still has a lot of life in it. I like the new grown-up Jonathan and the dynamic he has with Joey, so it's great news that the pair will return for three new episodes next year.


Finally this weekend also saw the last ever instalment of Ricky Gervais' Life's Too Short, which for most would be a cause for celebration. Gervais' sitcom, that explored the world of diminutive actor Warwick Davis, was critically derided on its initial release in 2011. I personally didn't find much merit to it mainly as I found it to be a cavalcade of celebrity cameos tacked together with a threadbare plot involving Davis. Despite the critical backlash, Life's Too Short was awarded one final episode in order to wrap up various storylines. This special finds Warwick Davis a lot more likeable as he has now found love and realises what a horrible person he once was. Davis also feels that his career may be on the rise when Val Kilmer arrives to suggest that they make a sequel to Willow. The only issue is that Val needs Warwick to contribute to the start-up costs of making the film so Warwick sets about trying to cobble some money together. In addition to holding a share-holders meeting he also decides to become an agent to the Z-List trio of Shaun Williamson, Keith Chegwin and Les Dennis. He moulds them into the 'Super Fun Time Roadshow' and they eventually become a success on the pub and club circuit with their old-fashioned entertainment. Despite initially using the trio as a money-making venture, Warwick soon discovers that they may be a better business opportunity than he first imagined. Though I wasn't a fan of the Life's Too Short series, I found this one-off special to an enjoyable end to the series. Gervais and Merchant certainly made the Davis character more likeable while they themselves only featured in once scene. I personally didn't really care about the Willow 2 stuff too much as for me this special was all about the 'Super Fun Time Roadshow'. Indeed I feel that this was the sitcom Gervais really wanted to make and the scenes involving the three, especially Cheggers, were definitely the most entertaining. Overall I did find it hard to care about the end of a series that I didn't really like to begin with however at least it seems as if Gervais and Merchant have learnt from their mistakes. It's good at least for the show to get a proper send-off as well as letting Warwick have a happy ending of sorts.Personally though I'd really like to see a Les, Shaun and Keith special in a year's time to see how they're act is getting on now they've hit the big time. 

Remember you can always follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I'll be back on Saturday for more of the same. 

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