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Saturday, 4 May 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Vicious, The Job Lot, Waterloo Road and Masterchef

So here we are at the end of another week in TV.


This week's big news was the fact that ITV were placing two new sitcoms in the primetime slot previously occupied by Broadchurch. This was considered a bold move by most as Monday night is traditionally reserved for drama and there wasn't an inbuilt audience for either of these new comedies. The first of the two sitcoms, Vicious, at least had some name value as it starred respected thespians Ian Mckellen and Derek Jacobi. The basic set-up of the piece is that Freddie (McKellen) and Stuart (Jacobi) have lived together for the best part of 48 years in their dark, old-fashioned apartment. Freddie considers himself to be a famous actor while Stuart is the house-husband and is yet to come out to his mother. The pair have a small group of friends most notably Violet (Frances De La Tour) who often acts as referee to the couple's squabbles. The pair also have a new neighbour in the form of young, handsome Ash (Iwan Rheon) with whom the trio flirt mercilessly. This first episode deals with the passing of one of the couple's friends who was supposedly infatuated with Freddie. But later it transpires that he was actually in love with Stuart and this sets off a blazing row between the pair. Eventually the duo are reconciled but I get the impression that this is the formula that the series will take every week. The problem with Vicious is that it is incredibly old-fashioned and mainly survives due to the chemistry between its two leads. While McKellen and Jacobi appear to be having a ball, the scripts are very weak and there is only so many times you can hear the pair insult each other. The supporting roles are woefully underwritten with Frances De La Tour given very little in her role as the waspish Violet. Meanwhile Iwan Rheon, who was so great in Misfits, looks embarrassed most of the time and his character Ash is basically presented as a piece of meat for the older characters to salivate over. It doesn't surprise me that Vicious lost a million viewers during its half hour slot as I think people would've grown tired of the programme by the end. While some people seemed to enjoy it, I personally felt that this was very old-fashioned and not particularly funny.


Though I didn't enjoy Vicious, I found that its companion piece The Job Lot had a lot to offer. Set in the West Midlands-based Brownhill Job Centre this focused on the staff and clients neither of whom particularly wanted to work. Our hero of sorts is Karl (Russell Tovey) a young man who imagined he'd have a successful career after he got his art degree but has found himself working in a job he hates. He is constantly frustrated by trying to find work for people like Bryony (Sophie McShera) who blatantly don't want a job and just turn up so they can keep claiming benefits. In this first episode Karl briefly quits the Job Centre only to return when he discovers that  pretty temp Chloe (Emma Rigby) is due to start working there. However this new incentive is a short-lived one after he finds out that Chloe has a boyfriend and also that she'll be leaving after Danielle (Tamla Kari) returns from maternity leave early. Meanwhile manager Trish (Sarah Hadland) is irked by the return of Angela (Jo Enright) who took Trish to court after she fired her. It now appears as if Angela will be doing as little work as possible while Trish continues to head towards an inevitable breakdown. While The Job Lot is far from perfect I found it to be well-observed with a couple of clever gags scattered throughout. In my daily life I've encountered people like Angela and Briony both of whom are bought to life perfectly by Enright and McShera. Meanwhile the programme also has a likeable lead in the form of Russell Tovey's Karl who gets through his day with the help of a drawer full of biscuits. Tovey is always an endearing screen presence and here his likeability is put to full use. I also thought Sarah Hadland was perfectly cast as the increasingly stressed Trish who is the perfect personification of the harassed boss. Though The Job Lot does have some clunky moments, I found it to be a likeable sitcom with plenty to offer. Still I don't think it deserves its place on primetime television just yet and should've maybe been placed on ITV2 instead. I'm also not sure why it's been grouped with Vicious as the two have very little in common and will attract very different audiences. Overall though I don't think it was a good idea to put these two sitcoms on at 9pm on a Monday night and as they continue I think their respective ratings will fall rapidly.


Elsewhere there hasn't been much of note to talk about and for that reason I thought I'd look at the return of Waterloo Road. Now in its third term in Greenock in Scotland, the BBC's school drama continues to go through a lot of changes while having pretty much the same storylines. For example the start of a term once again ushers in a new pupil with a shady past who is arrested by the end of his first day. The pupil in question is Fergal (Sam Smith) who has moved to Scotland from Northern Ireland with his mother Theresa (Josie Walker) for a supposed fresh start. However this isn't to be as some nasty men from their old home town have tracked them down and won't stop until they've got blood on their hands. Meanwhile the school is also threatened with closure once again after Waterloo Road benefactor Lorraine (Daniella Denby-Ashe) has been told to pull her funding from the school. However Lorraine won't lose the school that easily as she has a dream that the school could provide a lasting legacy for future generations. Lorraine also angers head teacher Michael (Alec Newman) when she appoints Nikki (Heather Pearce) as Deputy Head without his knowledge. I also think they'll be a few more raised eyebrows when it is revealed that Nikki and Lorraine have started a relationship. However the most engrossing storyline involves legendary sarcastic English teacher Grantly Budgen (Philip Martin Brown) who was diagnosed with kidney failure at the end of the last term. Since then Grantly has been on dialysis but requires a kidney transplant and his wife Maggie (Melanie Hill) is dejected after it reveals that she can't be a donor. I think there is a little bit of snobbery when it comes to reviewing continuing dramas like Waterloo Road but I have to admit that I quite enjoy it. I'm never bored while watching the antics of the pupils and staff members plus I feel the writers pack each episode full of plot so there's always something going on. With the announcement that four prominent cast members will be leaving this term, this is destined to be a fairly emotional term at Waterloo Road and I for one will be watching throughout.


The main reason for there not being a lot on for me to review is that BBC1 has been dominated by the finals of Masterchef. The cooking competition was given the primetime slot on the channel from Tuesday to Thursday which some weren't too happy about. While I personally enjoy the show, I can agree that it has dominated the schedules for the past two months. Indeed this series seems to have rushed by which is partly down to the fact that there's been three episodes on every week. This year's finalists were East London gal Natalie, Welsh pretty boy Dale and Asian cook extraordinaire Larkin. As always, the final saw the trio compete in some once-in-a-lifetime style challenges. For example, Tuesday's episode saw the three journey to Italy where they learnt from legendary rustic chef Mama Agata. After learning how to recreate her recipes the trio then had to cook for Mama, her family and John and Gregg. My theory was that if they got anything wrong that Mama would arrange a mob hit on them but luckily they all impressed her. While the trio's Italian journey continued I couldn't help notice how gracious all of the Italian people they cooked for were. Even when they got something wrong, the Italians found something good to say, which is more than can be said for those snooty food critics who the semi-finalists cooked for last week. Wednesday's instalment saw the finalists back on home soil as they participated in another dreaded invention test before having to cook for four Michelin starred chefs. In the final episode, we found out more about the chefs namely that Natalie acts as a meal on wheels service for her grandfather and Dale went on a lot of tacky caravan holidays in his youth. The show all boiled down to each contestant cooking a three course meal for John and Gregg however it appeared as if all three had delivered magnificent meals.

It was obvious to me that the judges' deliberations weren't simply to do with who was the best chef but who had been on the biggest journey. So in the end it was down-to-Earth Natalie who triumphed over her two male colleagues even though she essentially cooked a Sunday Roast as her final main course. Despite this series having contained 24 episodes it still feels awfully rushed. I think that next year's show shouldn't feature as many contestants and instead start with twelve or fifteen finalists. I just feel that the programme has been awfully formulaic and the early knockout rounds need to be modified drastically. It also appeared to me as if John and Gregg have had a minor falling out as they don't seem to be spending as much time together any more. Gregg has been much more front-of-house in this series while John has been putting his chef whites on to shout at the contestants. I think maybe Gregg has also been concerned that he won't continue doing those Weight Watchers adverts if his weight begins to balloon once again. Overall Masterchef has been entertaining in parts but has felt both overly long and slightly rushed. But I am glad Natalie won as she was the most likeable and consistent contestant of the final three. I'm just happy now that Masterchef is finished we can have something other than a competition-based show dominating primetime BBC1. Having said that The Apprentice is back next week...

Remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites to get all of my latest thoughts on the TV week.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that 'Vicious' is old-fashioned is one of the reasons why I enjoy it. No 'am I not a clever geek' computer graphics, no four-letter words beginning with 'c' and 'f'. Just a witty script and three or four of the best actors this country can boast. Tastes differ, of course, but it's the first TV comedy I've laughed at since the end of the likes of 'Porridge' and 'Yes Minister'.

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