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Monday, 5 August 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: The Mill, New Tricks, Shoplife, The Dealership and Celebrity Masterchef

A little later than normal here's a look back at last's weeks highs and lows in the world of television.


Last Sunday night I was about to tuck into my roast dinner and watch Channel 4's new historical drama The Mill but I soon regretted my decision. That's because, about a minute into the drama, a little lad gets his hand caught in a mechanical device meaning that he eventually had to lose his arm. Not surprisingly I felt a little queasy after this and struggled to finish my broccoli. But The Mill didn't get any easier from here as we saw scenes of sexual and mental abuse on the young workers. The series is based around Cheshire's Quarry Bank Mill with the majority of the characters being based on real-life figures. The essential theme of the series is one of change as a campaign is underway to stop children being treated like slaves while the worker themselves are becoming more idealistic. The leader of these disenfranchised workers is Esther Price (Kerrie Hayes), who tries to stand-up for her colleagues after the factory's overseer Charlie Crout (Craig Parkinson) misses the aforementioned industrial accident as he's too busy with his hands up the skirt of young Miriam (Sacha Parkinson). Though Miriam is too scared to admit anything to the mill's bosses, Esther's actions signal a change in the way that the mill is run and the episode ends with her attempting to get one over on Charlie. Meanwhile heir to the Quarry Bank empire Robert Greg (Jamie Draven) hires mechanic Daniel Bate (Matthew McNulty) as he's hailed as the best in the business. The only issue is that Daniel is a fairly spontaneous chap who doesn't do well with orders and helps out Esther just as Charlie is about to have his wicked way with her. While the episode doesn't end on a particularly good note for any of our heroes, I got the impression that Esther's campaigning will soon lead to brighter things for the mill's workforce.

If your idea of Sunday night costume drama is Downton Abbey or Lark Rise to Candleford then you should probably skip The Mill. The programme is probably closest in tone to the recent BBC1 series The Village but whereas that had brilliant cinematography and well-written characters, The Mill has neither. I feel the main issue with the programme is that it tries to stick too much to its historical text and feels more like a historical re-enactment than a prime time drama. The other problem is that everything feels incredibly clich├ęd from evil overseer Charlie abusing the young girls to the protesters outside the courthouse yelling at the mill's owners. Odder still is the fact that The Mill is written by John Fay who has previously contributed to a number of critically-acclaimed programmes including Clocking Off and Torchwood: Children of Earth. The Mill also seems to have squandered a great cast with Kerrie Hayes, who was great in Good Cop, here stuck playing a gobby Scouser whose protests fall on deaf ears. Similarly, Matthew McNulty isn't given much to work with as mechanic Daniel and the brilliant Craig Parkinson is reduced to snarls as evil Charlie. The one thing The Mill has going for it is its realism aspect and anybody looking for a history lesson will probably get a fairly accurate one. But The Mill isn't promoted as a historical documentary and I feel Fay and director James Hawes have forgotten that dramas need to captivate an audience not just educate them. The Mill is one of those frustrating programmes that I really want to like but I'm just not able to. I would say that there is definite room for improvement but I'm not sure if I'm going to stick around to find out if it does get better. The only thing I know for sure is that, in the future, I won't be watching it while I'm eating my dinner .


If you wanted a drama that was the complete antithesis of The Mill, then look no further than New Tricks which returned for its tenth series on Tuesday. This series will usher in a lot of changes as both Alun Armstrong and Amanda Redman are set to depart by the final episode. This opening instalment focused in on Armstrong's Brian Lane as he beat up a former colleague who he believed had ended his career. Brian's assault resulted in his suspension, and possible dismissal, from Ucos meaning that the team were a man down. This was an issue as they'd just taken on a case involving the shooting of the heir to a shipping merchant company which had been linked to the death of a young boy in Gibraltar. The connection obviously meant a trip overseas which both Gerry (Dennis Waterman) and Brian (Denis Leary) were treating as a holiday. However boss Sandra (Redman) had other ideas and set them to work trying to find out more about the murder weapon and the connection between the two killings. But Sandra was soon being wooed by suave casino owner Harry (Jules Knight), who just might be the prime suspect in the murder. As somebody who's never watched New Tricks before I didn't know what to expect and what I got was a jolly old caper involving some veteran actors. After ten series, the chemistry between the cast is superb and you really felt that these four knew each other so well. Armstrong was absolutely brilliant as Brian whether he was attempting to find justice for a boy he'd let down or trying to explain the intricacies of a case by using Lego figures. I did however find that the central investigation was a little bit familiar and almost played second fiddle to the story involving Brian. Meanwhile, I could've also done without the subplot involving Gerry's room being ransacked by a comedy monkey. However, I don't feel that these issues prevented me from enjoying what was a good slice of populist drama and I can absolutely see why the programme attracts record viewing figures. I'm just hoping that the series can maintain this quality following the numerous cast changes that are set to occur.


Thursday night saw two new docusoaps explore the world of work in very different ways. The first of these was Shoplife which told the stories behind the youngsters who worked behind the counters at some of the stores in Gateshead's MetroCentre. Our characters included Sushi-waitress and aspiring model Helen as well as part-time boutique worker Abbie who wanted to become a supervisor in the shop. However, it seemed that the makers of Shoplife wanted us to sympathise most with Skate Shack employee Joey. Joey lived with his ill mother to whom he paid £30 a week in rent, money that apparently contributed to them not having to move to a one bedroom flat. You'd think with that pressure on his shoulders, Joey would buckle down and do some work but instead he spent his time messing about at the counter, flirting with the female customers and spending too much time in the stockroom blasting music out of his speakers. I really had no sympathy when his boss chastised him from being late and I really don't think he knew how lucky he was to have an actual job. My favourite character from episode one was definitely Jon, who served at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop and spent most of his wages on the merchandise. In fact watching Jon demolish three doughnuts for breakfast was a disgusting scene that I just couldn't take my eyes away from. Unlike Joey, Jon seems to work hard but is on a zero hour contract meaning that his boss can mess with his hours. Jon's other issue is that he needs to look fabulous constantly as, by night, he's a drag queen going by the name of Tina Colada. BBC3 have had a good record with docusoaps so far this year with both The Call Centre and People Like Us, but Shoplife is a rare misstep. My issue is that BBC3 seem intent on getting viewers tweeting about it by introducing every character with a hastag before their name. My other thought was that this was almost like an hour-long advert for the centre itself with a focus being put on the plethora of stores available as well as constant scenes set in the swanky champagne bar. But, after seeing how most of its employees act I feel that Shoplife detracted me from going to the MetroCentre rather than encouraging me to visit.


Faring a little better was Channel 4's very similarly-filmed The Dealership. The programme introduced us to the Essex Car Company in Rainham and notably to its most prominent staff members. Top salesman James was definitely the star of the show as he laid on the patter almost instantly. From the way he tried to valet a car in two seconds to his oily charm, James was every inch the salesman and he even openly-admitted to hating cars. The episode's best scenes involved James attempting to sell a mini to young Katie whose father seemingly wouldn't budge from the price that the dealership was offering. These scenes were comparable to two heads of state attempting to sign a peace treaty as James kept returning with boss Greg in tow. Eventually the salesman won once again and everybody was happy, apart from Katie's dad who looked like he felt like less of a man following the exchange. Relative newcomer Scott was on the other end of the spectrum and had failed to sell a car since his time at the dealership. Scott was constantly sweating and really didn't seem like someone who knew how to clinch a deal, often letting his customers simply wander off. Though, by the end of the programme, Scott did score one deal I don't think its going to be a regular occurrence. By far the best character in episode one was lanky work-experience nerd Declan who looked like he should be a trainee undertaker rather than cleaning cars in the dealership's forecourt. Declan's friends apparently all look down on car salesman and instead aspire to be criminal psychologists however I've got a feeling that Declan has more realistic aspirations than his friends. Overall The Dealership is reminiscent of old school docusoaps such as Airport or Driving School. Even though former Eastender Jamie Forman's narration makes you think you're watching a Guy Ritchie movie, I still found The Dealership to be an easy and entertaining watch. The programme was full of fun and I have to admit I laughed out loud when Declan began retching after downing the contents of a teabag.


Finally we come to the return of Celebrity Masterchef which returns to evenings after an odd scheduling decision meant that it was only being shown in the afternoons. This week were given two and half helpings of the show which ran on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night and whittled down the contestants from four to two. Even though the episodes featured Sugababe Heidi Range, comedian Katy Brand and Ronnie's ex-wife Jo Wood; this week belonged to one woman - Janet Street-Porter. Right from the off we got the impression that JSP had written some derogatory pieces about Gregg Wallace in the past. Despite Janet bein the strongest of the four chefs, and a master at cooking roadkill, it seemed that she still couldn't impress Gregg with her presentation skills. Janet is an old-school cook who doesn't take nonsense from anyone but at the same time did show some signs of emotion when she got positive praise. Of the rest, Heidi was the nervous one who put too many chillies in one of her dishes and later went to pieces in a professional kitchen. Jo was the oddball one who based a lot of her dishes on ones she cooked while on tour with The Rolling Stones but, as they were no doubt on some sort of substance at the time, they probably didn't notice when she doused her chicken burgers with coconut oil. Meanwhile Katy was the 'jolly hockey sticks' character who got stuck in to every challenge and came across as the strongest competitor.After Heidi was ejected at the end of episode two, the final three cooked for the crack team of Andi Peters, Christine Hamilton and Lisa Faulkner who ultimately eliminated Jo. Though I always enjoy a bit of Masterchef, there was no jeopardy here as Katy and Janet had been the strongest since night one and had continually impressed everyone they'd cooked for. I really don't think they needed to string this out over two and half hours and I would've cut one of the programmes completely as the challenges began to got too similar. Having said that the four ladies made the shows as entertaining as possible and any time somebody wants to have a go at Gregg Wallace for shouting in their face then I'll behind them one hundred percent.

If you want to know more about my views on TV follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites

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