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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: The White Queen, Dates, Quick Cuts and Goodbye Granadaland

Welcome once again to another look back at a week in TV.


The summer months of TV usually signal an endless dearth of repeats, tennis and Big Brother. For those of you not interested in these options, there's rarely anything to watch but this year the BBC are attempting to change this. This is because they have a new 10 part Sunday night drama in the form of The White Queen. Based on a series of novels by Philippa Gregory, The White Queen focuses on three women who were incredibly influential during The War of the Roses. This first episode primarily dealt with the story of Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), a commoner who is attempting to get her husband's land back in order to provide for her sons. Elizabeth waits on the roadside hoping to get a word with the new King Edward (Max Irons), who has taken over the throne from the Lancastrian Henry VI. Though Edward's king-making cousin Warwick (James Frain) advises him against giving Elizabeth her land back, he agrees to it. However, it seems as if Edward wants to have his wicked way with Elizabeth, attempting to force himself on her several times. Eventually Elizabeth, egged on by her manipulative mother Jacquetta (Janet McTeer), agrees to marry Edward in secret and therefore become Queen of England. The announcement of this match isn't met with great enthusiasm by Warwick, or by Edward's mother Cecily (Caroline Goodall) who threatens to disinherit her son. However, it seems as if Elizabeth's magical powers are getting stronger by the day and that she will be able to use them to manipulate her way through the court.

With its mixture of veteran British actors, sex and magic; The White Queen is attempting to appeal to the Game of Thrones audience. Indeed, The White Queen took Game of Thrones' lead in choosing a European location in which to film. The majority of The White Queen has been shot in Belgium and has fully capitalised on that country's Gothic architecture. All of the costumes look superb, while the majority of the cast look like they've stepped out of some sort of fashion magazine. The issue I had with the show was that a lot of the script, adapted from Gregory's novels by Shameless writer Emma Frost, was that there was a lot of expositional dialogue. Each character was introduced with a full backstory, so we knew exactly whose side everyone was on and why they were so cross with each other. Meanwhile the cast is bolstered by some great supporting performances, most notably that of McTeer who is absolutely superb as the manipulative Jacquetta. James Frain was also on fine form as the domineering Warwick, who had plenty of brilliant one-liners in this first episode. The problem was that both Ferguson and Irons failed to make me care about their respective characters and it appeared as if they were just there to occasionally get naked and frolic with each other. However, it seems that the BBC aren't showing as much frolicking as the Americans as, when The White Queen is shown on cable network Starz, there will be plenty more nudity on display. The lack of proper nudity aside, The White Queen got off to a decent start and did show genuine promise in the final third of the first episode. Whether people will stick with a ten part historical series over the summer remains to be seen, but I feel like The White Queen will be a lot of people's cup of tea even if I wasn't wholly convinced.

Over on Channel 4, the Mating Season continued with two more episodes of drama serial Dates. This week we were reintroduced to lorry driver David (Will Mellor) as he turns up to a blind date with teenager Ellie (Montana Thompson). As you would expect the meeting is an awkward one, primarily because it is David's 34th birthday, but by and by the pair actually bonds. We also a learn a little bit more about what's been happening between Mia and David since the last time they met while we also get a little cameo from the former. In addition, Tuesday's episode introduced us to Erica (Gemma Chan), a lesbian who is yet to come out to her traditional Chinese parents. Her date with the much more forward Kate (Katie McGrath) got her to face up to some truths about her life. It also appears as if this isn't the last we've seen of Erica especially after her brother learnt the truth about her sexuality. Dates is an interesting beast, on one hand it is a series of stand-alone dramas, but at the same time some characters come back for second helpings. In that way it's almost like a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' story where you can watch just a single episode, or follow the fate of your favourite character over the course of the series. Once again, I feel that the performances are where Dates triumphs as all four central cast members shone. I personally felt Mellor excelled once again as David's date with Ellie was beautifully awkward. At the same time Chan was the most believable and pulled off playing a tricky role in which I felt she excelled. Ultimately Dates is an undemanding programme with great performances even if it doesn't stick in the mind long after the credits have rolled.


After the success of suffragette sitcom Up the Women, which is getting a full series on BBC2, BBC4 have produced another female-centric comedy in Quick Cuts. The programme describes itself as part sketch show and part sitcom with the majority of the show being scripted apart from the conversations between staff at the titular salon and their customers. The main story in this first episode centred around salon owner Sue (Doon Mackichan) and the problems she was having with lowlife criminal boyfriend Trev (Paul Reynolds). After a customer suggests that she tries some dodgy pills, Sue spends the rest of the day out of her mind, often trying to get her staff to look at her blue urine. Meanwhile the store's only male employee Gavin (O.T. Fagbenle), has lost his credit card and fears that spendaholic colleague Becky (Lucinda Dryzek) has stolen it. Finally Annie (Jessica Gurning), heads out for an internet date only to find out that her potential suitor has been in a coma for the past four years. I can't say that Quick Cuts was as awful as say The Wright Way, but at the same time it was far from perfect. I felt that the cast were all incredibly enthusiastic while the workplace setting at least felt somewhat realistic. At the same time I didn't feel that Georgia Prtichett's script was particularly funny and a lot of the situations that she'd set up at been seen before. In the same week in which Barry Cryer has bemoaned the state of the nation's comedy, I'd say that it's not in a healthy state at the moment and programmes like Quit Cuts are a prime example.


We end with a bit of nostalgia in the form of TV-related documentary Goodbye Granadaland. The programme saw Peter Kay make his way around the famous studios and performing a number of skits in various buildings. He went through the costume department while reminiscing about the glory of Stars in Your Eyes, while he also stole a poppadum from the canteen. Obviously a large part of the documentary saw Kay talk about Corrie and he was allowed to make his way through the soap's props department. Away from Kay's skits, this was also a talking heads style documentary about all the programmes that the Studios have produced. Obviously there were some memorable shows made in the studios including Cracker, Prime Suspect and Brideshead Revisited; but at the same time there were plenty you've never heard of. The abiding feeling I had was that a lot of shows made at Granada featured names that went on to have a lot more prominence elsewhere. The problem I had with Goodbye Granadaland is that it comes so soon after Tales of Television Centre, that it's hard not to compare the two. Whereas the BBC's effort was full of anecdotes and insight, Goodbye Granadaland was a by-the-books storytelling for the most part. The exception to this was Richard and Judy walking through the building in which they first met and telling us about when ITV finally let them present together. While it was entertaining to a point, I found Goodbye Granadaland to be a bit of a dry show that didn't feature as many classic TV moments as its BBC counterpart.

That's your lot for now, for more of my TV insights please follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites

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