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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: The Apprentice, Murder on the Home Front, Life of Crime and The United States of Television

Hello folks and welcome to another look back at the last seven days in TV.


This week's biggest show had to be the return of The Apprentice for its ninth series. I think last year a lot of us had written off Lord Sugar's business reality show due to the lack of large personalities and repetitive tasks. However, from the first two episodes that aired this week, I have to say I'm already convinced that the show is back to its best with some of the most obnoxious candidates ever. The first episode saw Lord Sugar do his usual spiel where he instructed the candidates to impress him with actions rather than words. He then explained the first task to them, saying that they would each get a shipping container full of stock each and then would have a day to flog their wares around London. Instead of giving them time to decide, Lord Sugar asked the teams straight away who wanted to be project manager with Jaz sticking her hand up for the girls and Jason reluctantly becoming the leader of the rowdy boys team. Quickly you got the impression that there were a lot of voices that wanted to be heard on the boys' team, now named Endeavour, as the majority of them were full of ego. Meanwhile Jaz's motivational leadership didn't go down well with the rest of Team Evolve, most of who looked like extras from Made in Chelsea. The items they had to shift ranged from the mundane (bottled water and toilet roll) to the specialist in the form of Chinese Lucky Cats. These Lucky Cats caused no end of bother for both teams with Endeavour flogging theirs to a casino, with the promise of batteries, while Evolve only got rid of ten units. In the boardroom, Endeavour won the task by £58 while Jaz was sent packing after her managerial style was rubbished.

But this wasn't it for The Apprentice as we had a second episode on Wednesday this time based around the creation and selling of flavoured beers. Excitable Tim had been a highlight of episode one, so when he was moved to Evolve and made team leader I couldn't wait to see what happened next. But poor old Tim was fighting a losing battle as he tried to make himself heard over seven women, which is a problem when you've only spoken to about three girls in your entire life. Over on Endeavour there was more macho-posturing as Kurt took control while Zee hit out at the way he was being deployed. Indeed on the second day, it was Zee, Jason and Alex who were the highlights as their three man team failed to sell to trade again and again. Most of the reason for this was Jason, who decided to sell their units of beer at a cheaper price than had already been agreed. Evolve's downfall came when they had to scrap a large amount of beer after ditzy Francesca got the numbers muddled up. Locations also became an issue for them when they'd decided to travel to the Kent Beer Festival only to discover it was an event in a small pub. Evolve's second loss saw Lord Sugar lay into all of his female candidates as he noted a divide in their camp. However, it was poor old Tim who was given the boot as ultimately it was his poor decision making that lost them the task. While I was sorry to see my favourite go so soon, I felt that Tim was far too nice for this year's Apprentice and would be better off back in his Mexican restaurant.

I personally believe that this is the best series of The Apprentice for a good few years. After two episodes, I feel I already know the names of most of the characters as well as a little something about each of their personalities. This year the boys team is full of Machismo especially in the form of Neil Clough who likes to refer to himself in the third person and believes all of the good ideas that have been made on the tasks have been his. Posh Jason seems a little bit out of his depth in terms of the competition, while Welsh Dracula look-a-like Alex is fantastic especially when he's swearing. Then there's tanned old-school businessman Myles who looks completely debonair and can even get away with not wearing a tie while in Lord Sugar's company. There definitely seems to be a bit of a pack mentality as far as the girls are concerned with Uzma, Luisa, Natalie and Susan forming a bit of a gang. Though I think the strongest female candidates are award winning saleswoman Rebecca and Irish Doctor Leah. The Apprentice is at its finest when making fun of business types who take themselves too seriously, and that's definitely what we got in this week's double bill. I'm just hoping that this momentum can be retained but, judging from what's to come, I'm pretty confident that it will be.


This week also saw the start of two new ITV crime dramas the first of which was the World War II-set Murder on the Home Front. The drama follows the exploits of Dr Lennox Collins (Patrick Kennedy) a doctor who is keen to champion the use of forensic evidence in murder investigations. It appears as if he is fighting a losing battle when he is called to a murder investigation by DI Freddy Wilkins (David Sturzaker) and discovers that the police have contaminated the crime scene. Lennox later meets plucky reporter Molly Cooper (Tamzin Merchant) who he hires to be his assistant while he helps the police with their enquiries. The killer that the police are after is one who kills women and carves swastikas in their tongues. Their main suspect is German-born Wilfred Ziegler (John Heffernan), who found the most recent victim Mary Williams and who is incredibly odd. But Lennox isn't convinced and, with the help of Molly, tries to retrace Mary's steps in order to find out who would want her dead. However, as the bodies start to pile up, Ziegler is arrested leading a frustrated Lennox to continue the investigation on his own. With its quirky lead detective, focus on forensic investigation and World War 2 setting, Murder on the Home Front came across as an odd mix of Sherlock, CSI and Foyle's War. Writer David Kane, who previously worked on Foyle's War, employs a certain amount of humour to the piece which can be oddly jarring at times. Luckily his central characters are fairly likeable and I felt myself willing Lennox to succeed in his investigation. In addition the plucky Molly made for a great sidekick as she made her way through the graphic world of forensics. Kennedy and Merchant made for a good team while James Fleet and Emerald Fennel also made the most of what they were given. Overall I found Murder on the Home Front to be a good escapist piece of drama and one that I could easily see returning for a full series at some point.


Life of Crime also looks to the past as it tells the tale of one detective who is a haunted by the same crime for almost 30 years. The detective in question is Denise Woods (Hayley Atwell) who has just qualified as a WPC when we first meet her in 1985. As we're slap bang in the eighties, sexism is still rife so Denise is sexually assaulted by her colleagues and told not to act like one of the boys by DI Ferguson (Con O'Neill). Denise is soon asked to accompany handsome detective Ray Deans (Richard Coyle) to diffuse a domestic but she is knocked out in the process. Waking up in hospital, Denise soon bonds with teenage patient Amy Reid (Eloise Smith) who tells Denise about her father beating her. Denise is later devastated when Amy's body is found in an alleyway and attempts to solve the crime alongside Deans. However, she is shot down several times by Ferguson who wants to believe Amy's father is the killer and also wants Denise to know her place. Denise eventually suspects club doorman Mike Holland (Julian Lewis Jones) of the crime but finds it hard to prove especially when she is suspended. Even after Mike is arrested, it seems that this isn't the end as we are promised that this crime will haunt Denise again in 1997. Though Life of Crime isn't terrible, I found Declan Croghan's script to be fairly uninspiring and clich├ęd in places. The sexist aspect of the plot is shoddily handled while the Amy Reid story isn't an incredibly exciting one. In fact my favourite scene of the piece was when Denise and Ray go to a club to interview the DJ, but that's only because of the music playing in the background. To be fair, Hayley Atwell tries her best to flesh-out her character and at least makes Denise seem a little likeable if woefully naive. But overall Life of Crime isn't much to write home about and I don't know if I'll even bother finding out who Amy Reid's killer actually was.


Those who read this column on a regular basis will know I'm somewhat of a TV geek and therefore any documentary about television will have me watching. BBC2's The United States of Television isn't just any documentary about TV; it's one of the best I've seen in a long time. Fronted by Alan Yentob, the series takes one common theme and explores how TV shows have handled it. This week's episode was the best yet and focused on how TV series have handled the representation of the woman. The early evolution of the female TV character was seen through the rebellious I Love Lucy through to the 'woman going it alone' on Mary Tyler Moore. Modern representations of the woman on TV looked at everything from the explicit stories on Sex and the City through to the drug dealing exploits in Weeds and the pill-popping philandering on Nurse Jackie. What stops the documentary from being just another clip show is the quality of talking heads that have been rounded up. Actors such as Danny DeVito and Alan Alda have been lined up alongside TV show creators from Carl Reiner to David Lynch to David Simon. This to me is a fascinating insight into the evolution of TV both in front of and behind the camera. It also got me thinking whether or not a similar documentary series looking at British TV could be produced. If that does ever happen then I'd like to put my name down as a talking head now as I've basically seen every TV show of the past fifteen years.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites for me of my views on the week's TV.

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