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Sunday, 6 October 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Strictly Come Dancing, The X-Factor, Atlantis and Citizen Khan

It now appears as if we're fully into autumn now as the Saturday night TV talent show wars are under way for yet another year.


First out of the blocks last weekend was the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing. After its launch show a few weeks ago, the series started for real with a double bill that commenced on Friday. There were few surprises for me overall as the best dancers were the ones we expected, namely Coronation Street's Natalie Gamede, Hollyoaks' Ashley Taylor-Dawson, Countdown's Rachel Riley and Peter Crouch's wife Abbey Clancy. On the other side of the quality metre we had golfer Tony Jacklyn, who tried his best bless him, as well as Vanessa, who did very little dancing during her routine. The biggest surprise of the weekend had to be Mark Benton, whose very polished and entertaining tango shocked a lot of people. For me, Benton has to be this year's Lisa Riley as somebody who isn't built for dancing but still takes the competition very seriously. Somebody who's enjoying themselves without taking things too seriously is Dave Myers, as the hairy biker's cha-cha to 'Moves Like Jagger' was the epitome of embarrassing dad dancing at a wedding. At this stage it's still very hard to pick a winner but I feel Rachel, Abbey and Natalie are the favourites. Joining their number is BBC Breakfast's Susanna Reid, who's jive was extremely lively and marked her out as a contender. Finally, while we're on the dancing, I'm sure Anton Du Beke is glad that he finally has a partner with some ability in the form of ex Bond Girl Fiona Fullerton. 


I honestly wasn't looking forward to this series of Strictly Come Dancing, mainly as I found the line-up to be particularly uninspiring. However, by the end of Friday's show, I was won over by the combination of glitz and glamour on display. The professional dancers were particularly on form during their opening number and the production was a slick as its always been. Unfortunately, the one fly in the ointment is Sir Bruce Forsyth whose old-fashioned jokes just aren't funny anymore. It's harsh to say this about somebody like Bruce who's achieved national treasure status, but I feel it's time that he stopped doing live TV now. Having watched parts of his show with Miranda Hart recently, it's fair to say that Bruce was once one of our greatest entertainers. But his age has finally caught up with him and I hate to see him continue to trip over the autocue, as he did several times last week. It will be interesting to see how the show does this week without him but I have a feeling it will be an overall smoother affair. Elsewhere, Craig Revel-Horwood continues to be the pantomime villain of the judging panel, whose overall chemistry is another winning element to Strictly's success. While I can't say I'll be religiously watching this series of Strictly, especially when it clashes with a certain other Saturday night programme, I'm certainly more interested in it than I was before last Friday. 


Over on the other side, The X-Factor presented its new look Boot Camp with the new 'take a seat' challenge. For those who didn't see it, or hear about it later in the week, each judge had to whittle down their category to just six acts. The successful six would be those sitting in one of six seats, after all of the acts had performed. This inevitably meant that there would be some swapping going on and some rather emotional scenes throughout the course of the weekend. Of those that had to get out of their chairs, nobody took it harder than Essex girl Lydia Lucy, who later spoke out against the format. Meanwhile, the biggest shock for me was the fact that former chart stars Next of Kin, weren't even offered a seat by their mentor Gary Barlow. Apart from Next of Kin, every act that I thought would get through did, but at least the chair twist added a different element to the usual dull task of cutting down the contestants. Personally, I didn't have an issue with the new format and didn't feel it was as inhumane as a certain Strictly judge did. My problems with this weekend's episodes mainly had to do with the fact that the overall editing process seemed sloppy, especially seeing as Sharon's deliberations were stripped over two shows. The fact that there were only a certain amount of songs that the contestants could sing was another negative element. Indeed, I could do without hearing Emeli Sande's 'Clown' for the foreseeable future and if I have to endure 'I'd Rather go Blind' again I really would rather go deaf. Overall though, I felt the Boot Camp seat challenge was a better experiment than the double auditions and I for one hope it returns next year. 


If you weren't enticed by The X-Factor's musical chairs, then maybe you stuck around on Saturday night for the BBC's new family drama Atlantis. Atlantis is basically the BBC's replacement for Merlin and both are connected by the former's creator Howard Overman, who also wrote for the latter. The premise for the show sees Jason (Jack Donnelly), searching for his father in the present day by diving to the point in the ocean where he was last seen. But Jason takes a wrong turn and ends up in the lost city of Atlantis, which is later revealed to be the place of his birth. The reasons for Jason's departure and reappearance in Atlantis look to be the major plot points heading forward, but this first episode was all about establishing Jason's new relationships. Jason is quick to make a friend in Pythagoras (Robert Emms), the nerdy and kind-hearted mathematician who takes pity on Jason. Pythagoras shares a house with an over-the-hill Hercules (Mark Addy), who is less keen to have a new person living in their house. Jason has unfortunately arrived in Atlantis at a tricky time as the citizens are facing the threat of being sacrificed to the minotaur in order to appease one of the many Gods. After Pythagoras is chosen as a sacrifice, Jason decides to go in his place and ultimately kills the beast, essentially become the hero of Atlantis. But the town's oracle (Juliet Stevenson), is seemingly predicting a lot of peril for Jason, which I'm sure will come over the next twelve weeks. Going on the first episode alone, Atlantis has a lot to offer for all of the family. I'm sure the boys will enjoy the action, the girls will lap up the pending romance between Jason and Aiysha Hart's Ariadne and the parents will probably like some of the jokes told by Addy's Hercules. The ensemble cast, most noticeably Addy and Stevenson, get their characters over as well as they possibly could while the sun-drenched Turkish locations are the perfect escape as we try to endure another British winter. While it's too early to say if Atlantis will be another Merlin, I definitely enjoyed this first episode and am definitely intrigued enough to watch at least one more instalment. 


Something I won't be watching any more of after this week is the God-awful Citizen Khan, which returned for a second series and has been inexplicably moved to a primetime position on Friday nights. I wouldn't have watched this sitcom at all if it hadn't been for reviewing purposes and I can say without a doubt that it hasn't improved one iota from last year's dreadful debut series. The main issue I have with Citizen Khan is that it could be quite an insightful and witty look at what it's like to be a Muslim in modern day Britain. Instead we have a programme where the lead character (Adil Ray), speaks like a toddler and doesn't feel like a real person. This week's plot involved Mr Khan attempting to get his daughter Alia (Bhavna Limbachia) into a private school, after she failed her exams. The only issue was that the school's head Professor Stevens (James Fleet), would only accept her as a scholarship student if the Khans were from a certain sect of Islam. So followed a very obvious farce which started with Khan mishearing the word sects as sex and ended with him falling through the ceiling in a bathtub. There was nothing particularly funny or memorable about Citizen Khan, with the biggest joke being that it got a second series in the first place. With the return of both this and Some Girls it's fair to say that this has been one of the worst weeks for sitcom all year. 

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

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