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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Britain's Got Talent, The Voice UK, Endeavour and The Ice Cream Girls

Welcome to a look back at another seven days in TV


Firstly this week we had the return of the highest rated entertainment show of last year - Britain's Got Talent. Last year's series had a rocky start, but a mixture of endearing acts and a fresh new judging panel soon caught viewer's interest. This year series doesn't stray far from that winning formula with this ninety minute opener mainly focusing on acts who could conceivably win the contest. Coming off this first episode, the act that received the most universal praise were Hungarian group Attraction. Their shadow theatre piece, in which they told an emotionally engaging story, was one of the most breathtaking auditions I've seen in a long time. The fact Attraction are completely different from anything we've seen on the show also counts on their favour. Elsewhere it was business as usual with three singing acts all wowing the judges for slightly different reasons. In the past I've had some issues with certain singers appearing on BGT as I always thought they'd suit The X-Factor more, however I didn't have the problem with any of the acts in this first programme. We started with gospel choir Incognita who were memorable mainly for Simon's interaction with their leader Pastor Patrick. Next was eleven year old Arisxandra who wowed judges with her mature vocals during her rendition of Jennifer Hudson's 'One Night Only'. Finally there was the gorgeous and humble Alice Fredenham who had an incredible jazz voice which she utilised while performing 'My Funny Valentine.' Alice's tears during the judges' comments seemed incredibly genuine and made her seem a lot more endearing. The final act who really had potential was fourteen year old comedian Jack Carroll who suffered from Cerebral Palsy. Instead of letting his condition hold him back, Jack includes it as part of his routine and I have to say I found him genuinely funny.


Of course there were also the incredibly awful acts, and some just bizarre entries, but I felt that the good definitely outweighed the bad. Another area in which Britain's Got Talent shines is that it never takes itself too seriously. The introduction of David Walliams last series was a stroke of genius as his constant pursuit of Simon is definitely one of the shows' highlights. This was typified when Simon was about to receive a lap dance from the incredibly bendy Keri Graham when David intervened and joined Keri in straddling Simon. The chemistry between the judges is also better than ever as Amanda Holden and Alesha Dion genuinely seem to get on and this quartet is definitely the show's strongest panel to date. I have to say the 90 minutes flew by and felt that the team behind Britain's Got Talent did everything to make this opener incredibly memorable. Whether the show can maintain this momentum throughout its run remains to be seen however, judging on this first episode alone, Britain's Got Talent is back and better than ever.


The same cannot be said for the programme's nearest rival The Voice UK. Unlike Britain's Got Talent, The Voice didn't have a memorable opener and feels fairly stagnant. My issue with the programme is that it drags every week and feels far too long. The structure of the programme is also incredibly formulaic as we basically get a short VT followed by a performance with this formula repeated ten or eleven times throughout the show. Even the small filler segments that are used as a buffer between performances are incredibly dull and add nothing to the feel of the show. Meanwhile I don't feel that there is much chemistry between the judges and I really can't buy that any of them would hang out after filming had ended. It even seems that Sir Tom Jones doesn't have a clue who any of his associates are and often refers to them as 'these people.' That's not to say that the talent still isn't on display and there were several acts this week that I really enjoyed. The opening performance from Cleo Higgins, formerly of girl band Cleopatra, bought the house down and I have to say I really enjoyed it. Similarly there was a personality-fuelled turn from larger-than-life Northern Lasses 'Diva' who really won round Tom. I do though have hope for the show's future as next week it is being moved back so as not to clash with Britain's Got Talent. The programme's running time has also been condensed to an hour which I believe will help the overall flow of show. Hopefully these changes will really help this second series of The Voice UK to thrive because, at the moment, it's really struggling.


As well as cornering the market in entertainment, ITV have also bought us two new dramas. The first is Endeavour, which returns with a four part series after a successful pilot at the beginning of 2012. The programme follows the exploits of the young Inspector Morse (Shaun Evans) as he tries to fit in to the Oxfordshire Police Force in the 1960s. As we saw in the pilot, Morse impressed his superior DI Thursday (Roger Allam) with his lateral thinking in order to solve a complex case. Since that time Thursday has taken Morse under his wing however their relationship may be under threat with the arrival of a new Chief Superintendent (Anton Lesser). Chief Supt. Bright wants everybody in the station to toe the line and believes that Morse isn't ready for the position he has already achieved. Morse fails to ingretiate himself to Bright any further when they investigate the murder of a well-respected Doctor (Dominic Taylor). While Bright wants to play things by the book, Morse insists on stepping out of line and developing a personal relationship with the victim's sister-in-law Pamela (Sophie Stuckey). While the rest of the force believes that Pamela is the killer, mainly because of her mental instability, Morse is keen to prove them wrong. Events between Morse and Bright come to a head when the former questions the latter's orders and is demoted. However this doesn't stop Morse from getting to the truth and once again he is able to use his lateral abilities to solve the case. To me Endeavour feels like a very old-fashioned crime drama and for that reason it took me a while to warm to it. I have to say I found it incredibly formulaic and from the moment Bright questioned Morse's methods I knew where were heading. Thankfully the show is saved by the incredible performances from Evans and Allam who have great on-screen chemistry. Allam is particularly impressive as Thursday a man who realises More's abilities but at the same time realises he's a loose cannon. The addition of Lesser to the cast also helps as he's a great supporting actor who adds some gravitas to the role of Bright. While I personally thought Endeavour was a bit old-fashioned, I still appreciated that crime traditionalists will love it and I think it fits in well on Sunday nights. I just personally like my crime dramas with a bit more grit, something I don't think Endeavour really has.


ITV's other big drama this week was The Ice Cream Girls, an adaptation of Dorothy Koomson's psychological thriller. The drama concerns former friends Poppy (Jodhi May) and Serena (Lorraine Burroughs) both of whom return to their seaside home town after seventeen years away. Poppy has returned after serving a prison sentence for a crime she still claims she didn't commit. Meanwhile Serena is back with her husband and daughter in order to care for her sick mother. Later we learn that Serena was also tried for the crime that Poppy was convicted off with some believing that she was the guilty party. The programme also flashes back to show us what the crime was and the motives behind it. Here we see Poppy and Serena in the summer of 1995 were both were taken in by the charming maths teacher Marcus (Martin Compston). Marcus first romances his star pupil Serena before turning his attention to the more nervous Poppy who also has feelings for him. When Serena learns about Poppy, she attempts to leave Marcus but he stops her and forces himself on top of her. In the end we see both girls standing over an injured Marcus however we are yet to learn who stabbed the teacher. While I didn't think The Ice Cream Girls was brilliant, it still held my attention throughout and I'm definitely intrigued enough to watch the next two parts. Part of the reason for this is due to the performance of Jodhi May as the vacant and dreamlike Poppy who feels lost and alone. Martin Compston is also great as the smarmy maths teacher while the two younger actresses who appear in the flashback scenes are believable as teenage versions of their older counterparts. Overall The Ice Cream Girls is an engrossing if unremarkable piece of psychological drama which is well-acted and stylishly shot, however I don't think it's a programme any of us will remember by the end of the year.

For more of my views on TV follow me @mattstvbites

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