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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Britain's Got Talent, The Voice UK, Up the Women, Psychobitches and The Story of Now

Let's look back at another seven days in the world of TV


This week's TV has mainly been dominated by the semi-finals of Britain's Got Talent which have aired almost every night on ITV. Unlike other years, each semi-final has nine competitors while the final itself will take place a week after the semis have finished. In a way this gives the programme a slightly disjointed feel and I don't think the anticipation will be there as much as it has been in past years. The semi-finals themselves were an argument of decreasing, rather than increasing, the number of acts that make it through each year. This was evident from the get-go when the first act out of the blocks was Martin Healey, who is better known as the man who dances with a broom dressed as a nun. While I understand the need to have these filler acts, I could've done without seeing Maarty Brockman and MC Boy again. The semi-finals themselves were the usual mix of underwhelming singers and street dances groups who are doing moves that we've all seen before. Indeed it was easy to predict who was going to get through to the next round with favourites such as shadow dancers Attraction, young comic Jack, impressionist Francine Lewis and busker group Luminites all winning the public over. In fact, the week's only surprise was that Alice Fredenham, who had previously been rejected by The Voice, didn't even make it to the top three of her semi-final. This was partly put down to the fact that she made a mistake during her song and partly because of the press backlash against her. Personally, the most entertaining part of the whole week was watching Simon Cowell getting more and more agitated by David Walliams' comments. Whether it be criticising his dress sense or talking about their love-making, its certainly clear that Simon is uncomfortable with his David's comments. I also rather enjoyed the moment when Walliams attacked Alesha Dixon after she'd pushed the buzzer after an act had finished.

The main issue I have with these semi-finals is that singing acts always seem to triumph, making Britain's Got Talent the variety show that doesn't have that much variety. Indeed, of the ten acts that have made it to the final, six of them are singers and some of them aren't even that great. Obviously part of the blame is down to the viewers at home who obviously prefer singers to magicians or musicians. But at the same time the Cowell-machine is very devious as he always positions the favourites towards the end of the show in order for them to stick in the audience's heads. I personally got very annoyed when Cowell favoured teenage Irish singer Jordan over brilliantly funny ventriloquist Steve Hewlett. The issue with the programme is that Cowell will always favour the more marketable acts and at the end of the day a cute singer will be easier to promote than a ventriloquist or an illusionist. Though this will never happen, I'd like to see the semi-finals split into different categories which would ultimately allow for a more diverse final. So, for example, all the singing acts would be confined to one show with others being dedicated to musicians, comedians, dancers and so on. My other issue, which has become more prominent over the last couple of years, is that a few of the acts have already experienced success elsewhere. Obviously there's seasoned pro Francine Lewis who has already had her own TV show, while even Jack has appeared on both The Pride of Britain Awards and The One Show. I just feel that Britain's Got Talent doesn't have the same impact as when Paul Potts first took to the stage in 2007 or when Susan Boyle blew us all away in 2009. In spite of this, Britain's Got Talent attracts millions of viewers each night and will return next year with a fresh bunch of singers and not a lot of variety.


If I wasn't getting singers fatigue before Britain's Got Talent, then I definitely was after sitting through more than two hours of The Voice UK. I have to say I was actually warming to The Voice after the first lot of Battle Round programmes, which were shortened to an hour each and featured some genuinely decent performances. However, in their infinite wisdom, the BBC decided to paste the last two Battle Rounds together primarily because they didn't have to compete with Britain's Got Talent. This turned what could've been a lively and entertaining programme into a slow-paced epic that was a chore to get through. In fact, if I didn't have to write about The Voice, I probably would've just fast-forwarded through most of it. To be fair, the talent was still great and there were some brilliant performances most notably from Moni and Joseph. But I continued to be annoyed by the changes to the format, primarily the 'Steal Option' which seemed fairly inconsequential in the long run. Meanwhile, while one of Britain's Got Talent's strengths is the chemistry between the judges, I'm started to get really annoyed by the judges.. sorry coaches on The Voice. Jessie J's gurning is incredibly irritating as are Will.i.am's unfunny quips while Danny has yet to say anything intelligent. It is only Tom Jones who has any sort of credibility and even he seems a little bit bored by the programme. Interestingly the BBC has this week announced  that The Voice will return for a third series next year, news that shocked and annoyed quite a lot of people. I personally love the concept of the show, but feel it has been poorly executed since day one and that the judging/coaching line-up needs a refresh if the programme is to be as successful as it wants to be.


Elsewhere this week we had two female-centric comedies both of which aired on digital channels and starred Rebecca Front. The first was BBC4's suffragette sitcom Up the Women which was written by and starred Jessica Hynes. The programme is set in 1910, and focuses on a group of women who make-up the Banbury Intricate Craft Circle. One of these women is Margaret (Hynes), who has returned from London a new woman after witnessing a suffragette rally. Her hope is that the women of the circle want to start their own suffragette group but she finds opposition in the form of Helen (Front) who doesn't like to divert from the status quo. Helen also sees herself as the unelected leader of the circle and is annoyed when Margaret wants to take the attention away from her. Eventually Margaret is able to convince the majority of the women to join her movement, but Helen is able to tempt them away with the promise of cake. Eventually the two come head to head as they debate the pros and cons of suffrage with Margaret inevitably coming out on top. There's no reason that Up the Women shouldn't work, as its written by the brilliant Hynes and has a top notch cast. To be fair the characters are well-crafted with Front's Helen being a dreadful WI type who always thinks she's in the right. The performances from the majority of the cast, which also includes Judy Parfitt, Vicki Pepperdine, Adrian Scarborough and Emma Pierson, are spot on and all have great comic timing. The problem is that everything just feels old-fashioned from the set to the laughter tracks and especially the script. There are at least two separate jokes that revolve around male genitalia while most of the humour comes from the fact that these women are more intelligent than the men. Ultimately, while I feel that the performances in Up the Women are great, the programme isn't up to much and is another BBC4 sitcom that is probably best forgotten.


Front fared better as the therapist bridging the stories of a plethora of famous females in Sky Arts' Psychobitches. The comedy first appeared as part of Sky Arts' 'Playhouse Presents' strand and was so successful that is been brought back for a five part run. The programme is essentially a series of sketches performed by various comedians, connected by Front's therapist who seemingly specialises in the treatment of famous women through the ages. The highlights of this first episode included Frances Barber and Mark Gatiss who were seemingly having a hoot as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as they bitched at each other mercilessly throughout the thirty minutes. Meanwhile, Katy Brand, Sarah Solemani and Selina Griffiths played the Bronte Sisters who were constantly falling out over sexual desires and book sales. My personal favourite performances came from Sharon Horgan as a delusional Eva Peron and Benidorm's Sheila Reid as Margot Fonteyn who was struggling to come to terms with the fact that she wasn't as young as she once was. Psychobitches could best be described as a combination of Psychoville, Dead Ringers and The Fast Show as it combines surreal comedy, impressions and is incredibly fast-paced. But I feel the pace works in its favour so if one sketch isn't working for you, you'll know they'll be another one along in a minute or so. All the cast involved seemed to be having a ball while Front was the ideal straight woman as she perfect her bemused look throughout the programme. Whether the gags are strong enough to fill an entire series remains to be seen, but Psychobitches was definitely one of the funniest comedies of the year so far.

Finally we turn to ITV's celebration of the nation's most loved compilation album with The Story of Now. The documentary explored the phenomenon that was Now.. That's What I Call Music which was the antithesis of all the compilations that had come before. We learnt, from Richard Branson himself, why he created Now in the first place and how the title came about. We also heard why Madonna never wanted to be on the album and why more alternative acts, such as The Levellers, agreed to have their tracks on Now. The programme itself wasn't so much The Story of Now itself but a bunch of famous faces remembering Now and what their first edition of the album was. We heard from pop artists of yore, including Limahl and the bloke from Heaven 17, about appearing on the first edition of Now and how important it was to appear on CD One. Personally though I would've preferred a more in depth look at how the actual album was put together rather than just a nostalgia-fest filled with useless talking heads. For example I'm not that bothered about the opinions of either Dom Joly or Mark Wright, while I just felt old when The Saturdays were remembering cassette tapes. While some of the anecdotes were fairly interesting, I've just got a feeling that there's a better documentary to be made about the compilation. In fact, as an aficionado of the brand myself, I feel that I'd be able to produce just as good a programme given the resources. But I may instead go in search of the story behind the elusive Indie compilations of the mid-1990s and produce The Story of Shine!

Remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites for more of my insights into the world of TV.

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