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Saturday, 6 July 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Luther, Starlings, Undercover Boss and Your Face Sounds Familiar

As summer starts to heat up, so does the TV with a few new dramas to keep you busy over the next few weeks.


We begin this week with the return of gritty police drama Luther. Now in its third series, Luther has never been a show that lives in the real world but it's still one that I find incredibly entertaining. In this opening instalment, John Luther (Idris Elba) is investigating the murder of Emily Hammond who had been found dressed up in fetish clothing, with the killer also putting a wig onto her. Luther quickly establishes that the murderer is attempting to imitate the work of 'The Shoreditch Creeper', a man who killed three women in the early 1980s. After further investigation, it transpires that Emily was almost a victim of The Creeper when she was a teenager but he was ejected from her room before he could finish the job. Luther is then worried that somebody is attempting to complete The Creeper's work and attempts to track down the people who Emily knew back in the 1980s. At the same time, Luther is tasked with finding the murder of cyber activist and benefits claimant Gerard Cass. Luther is unaware that this murder investigation has been assigned to him by former colleague Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird) who is obsessed with proving that John doesn't do everything by the book. Erin is being aided in her quest by gravel-voiced DS George Stark (David O'Hara) who will seemingly use violence to get his job done. The pair also attempt to get Luther's loyal sidekick Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) on side, but he refuses to betray his friend and instead tries to get John to do the right thing. But Luther is soon back to his old tricks, dangling a suspect in the Cass murder above his tower block until he gets the answers he needs. It's not all bad news for Luther in this episode, as he has seemingly found love again with the quirky Mary Day (Sienna Guillory). But, as this is Luther we're talking about, I'm guessing his new relationship won't exactly end well.


I personally found Luther entertaining and the hour seemingly flew by while I was watching. Writer Neil Cross establishes his sinister tone early on as we watch Emily Hammond getting ready for bed before the killer reveals himself by sliding out from under her bed. This sort of mood is important to Luther, which is definitely one of the BBC's more graphic dramas, but I never found that the violence was overly sensationalised. I personally found that the most gruesome scene involved a blender and the finger of Ken Barnaby (Lucian Masamatti), who was one of the suspects in the Cass murder. Talking of the Cass murder, I personally wasn't a fan of the internal investigation storyline as I reckon it will probably end up with Luther leaving the force. I don't see Erin as a particularly dominating force and the fact that she has to hide behind a violent former police officer speaks volumes. In fact, the only positive factor of this story is that it allows us to explore the relationship between Luther and Justin which has really matured over the three series. I personally feel that this series of Luther will play out as a love story between the two central characters although not in a sort of romantic sense. As for romance, I'm not quite sure where the Luther and Mary plot is going at the moment but it's good to see John having a bit of happiness for once even if it probably won't last. The other brilliant thing about Luther is the amazing central performance from Idris Elba who has made John a commanding presence who will do anything to solve a case. Elba makes Luther a threatening character but at the same time he is someone who is emotionally crippled. I also found that Warren Brown has improved leaps and bounds since series two and I'm glad the chemistry between he and Elba is still there. In fact, the scenes in which we see the pair just sharing a bit of banter, are some of the episode's strongest. While I appreciate Luther isn't for everyone, I found this first episode to be thoroughly engrossing throughout and I can't say I wasn't entertained. Though the programme isn't exactly subtle, it survives due to its pronounced style and Elba's lead performance. Judging from this first episode, I'm going to be entirely gripped by the whole series although I'm not sure if I'll ever go near a blender again.


Those who find Luther far too gritty had another option on Tuesday night with the return of Sky One's gentle comedy drama Starlings. The series is based around the extended Derbyshire-based Starling family and focuses on their day to day lives. It appears as if there are changes afoot for some of the clan as mum Jan (Lesley Sharp) returns to college to start a creative writing course while uncle Loz (Matt King) has similarly returned to the world of education and is now an art teacher. Meanwhile, Starling patriarch Terry (Brendan Coyle) is embarking on his first job as a foreman as he and younger daughter Charlie (Finn Atkins) are working on a new house for a famous local footballer. But tragedy strikes for aspiring goalie Charlie when she steps on a nail and is rushed into hospital. But there is happier news for older daughter Bell (Rebecca Night) as she is proposed to by boyfriend Reuben (Ukweli Roach). Though some have criticised it for being overly gentle, I'm a big fan of Starlings and find all of the characters to be completely likeable. I find Terry and Jan's marriage to be one of TV's most realistic, as they have their problems but clearly love each other. It seems as if this series will see them struggle a little bit more as Jan is drawn to her lecturer (Vincent Regan) and Terry keeps Charlie's injury a secret from his wife. But the mood never descends too much into tragedy thanks to the light-hearted script from Matt King and Steve Edge, who give themselves the best gags as Loz and Jan's nephew Fergie. The only criticism I would have is that I'm not sure why Starlings was moved from its Sunday night slot to a more primetime location on Tuesdays. I personally feel that the mood of Starlings perfectly suits Sundays and moving it seems like an odd decision. However, I still feel that Starlings is a likeable and believable comedy drama which has a brilliant ensemble cast and is a show that I for one really enjoy.


This week also saw the return of Channel 4's Undercover Boss for what is now its fifth series. The opening episode centred on courier firm DHL with their Australian CEO Phil Couchman going undercover as jobseeker Eddie. What I always fail to believe is that, after five series, these undercover bosses can still get away with the cover story of 'filming a programme about finding work in the UK.' However, it seems that that can't happen as much as it used to as 'Eddie' is rumbled earlier by Graham, a wily employee at the East Midlands airport depot. Graham deduces that 'Eddie' hasn't done a hard day's work in his life and feels that he has too corporate of a demeanour. When Phil finally comes clean to Graham, he hears that a lot of employees feel undervalued and that they'd like to hear from management a lot more. Indeed, this episode of Undercover Boss did explore staff morale rather than customer feedback. In Stoke, Phil learnt that the workers aren't happy that they're being paid less than their colleagues in Telford. At East Midlands, Phil found that the heavy lifting some of his staff are doing is having an adverse effect on their health. However, the most emotional scenes came in London where Phil worked alongside Brazilian-born Marcelo who is working to send money back home to his family. Phil discovers that Marcelo is an independent contractor who would love a proper job with DHL but has never been offered one. Of course, in the final reveal scenes, Phil puts this right by allowing Marcelo to become an employee. He also promises to pay the Stoke lot the same as their Telford counterparts and bring in a physio to work with the employees who have back issues. Though Undercover Boss is a fairly formulaic show, it still works if the company is an interesting one and if the employees have compelling back stories. Both of these are true of this first episode and I enjoyed Phil's transformation into 'Eddie' as well as his promises to put things right for his staff. While Undercover Boss is one of those hit-and-miss shows it is still one that I find fairly enjoyable.


As this week's column has been full of praise, let's end it on a low note with ITV's new celebrity singing show Your Face Sounds Familiar. Alarm bells started to ring that this wasn't the best of programmes when it was announced that Paddy McGuinness and Alesha Dixon were to host. Indeed, I find the pair to completely mismatched as he tells the same old gags we've heard a dozen times and she reads an autocue very badly. The judges are equally bewildering with Julian Clary seemingly turning up for the cash and Emma Bunton smiling along but at the same time resenting the fact that all of the other Spice Girls are judges on various Got Talent shows. Donny Osmond's inclusion as a guest judge was also a bit odd and I really don't think he knew what he was signing up for. The programme's big selling point is that the six celebrities have no idea who they'll be singing as until they but their fate in the hands of 'The Randomiser'. Hilariously, men could sing as women and vice versa, but this opening show eased them in by allowing them to stay in their own gender. The programme proved itself to be incredibly naff from the get-go as Denise Lewis strutted around the stage like a bewildered turkey during her turn as Tina Turner. These antics came to a head when Bobby Davro appeared as Tom Jones looking more like Fred West than the legendary Welsh crooner. To be fair, some of the celebs could string a tune together with Alexander Armstrong excelling as Johnny Cash and episode one winner 'Heather from Eastenders' bringing a lot of emotion to her Dusty Springfield performance. I find it hard to knock a programme in which celebrities are doing stuff for charity but I suppose that they could just donate quietly rather than appearing on Saturday night TV dressed in ill-fitting wigs and dodgy costumes. At the end of the show, the randomiser was used for the first time and it was revealed that Lewis would become Lenny Kravitz while Matt Johnson, who's apparently a presenter, will play Taylor Swift. The best reaction came from Armstrong, not because he was that bothered about playing Johnny Rotten but because he realised he'd have to appear on this show for another five weeks and maybe kill his career in the process. But I'm just thankful for small mercies as, in America; this show will be called 'Sing You Face Off' and is hosted by the ghastly John Barrowman.

For more of my views on TV follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites

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