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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Stephen Fry - Out There, The Tunnel, The Nightclub Toilet and Man Down

A little later than normal, here's my look back at the week in TV.


In the last few years, Stephen Fry has been known for fronting all manner of documentaries from BBC2's Planet Word to Channel 4's Gadget Man. However, his latest documentary seems like his most personal project to date as he deals with a subject that is very close to his heart. Stephen Fry - Out There followed the actor around the globe as he attempts to discover why some people are so wildly homophobic. His journey took him to Uganda, a country which is trying to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Whilst there, Stephen argued with a homophobic pastor who seemed obsessed by linking being gay to having anal sex; rather than it having anything to do with being in love. Stephen also got the cold shoulder from Jair Bolsonara, a Brazilian congressman who was attempting to block an anti-homophobia law. His argument appeared to be that Brazil wasn't ready to embrace homosexuality despite the fact that the country holds the world's biggest gay pride parade. But Stephen dished out the most vitriol during his conversation with Vitaly Milanov, the Russian politician who has made it illegal for gay people to promote their sexuality. Milanov was a strange man who seemed to believe that nobody was born gay and that people who claim to be gay were simply doing it for attention. I did actually wonder why Milanov agreed to appear on the programme in the first place as he continued to spout a lot of drivel. Though Fry's interviews with bigoted men provided the meat of the documentary, the real heart came from his chats with young gay people in the countries he visited. He meets a Ugandan girl who was raped so that she would change her sexuality, two Russian teenagers who'd been brutally beaten and an Iranian boy who was currently seeking asylum in the UK as he would be sentenced to death if he'd stayed in his own country.

I don't quite know what I was expecting from Stephen Fry - Out There but I have to say I enjoyed both instalments of the documentary immensely. The fact that Fry spent eighteen months filming the programme tells you all you need to know about his commitment to the show. Fry's message throughout the two parts of his programme seemed to be that homosexuality is about love rather than just sex and isn't any less normal than heterosexuality. During his interviews with the politicians and religious leaders, Fry was his effervescent self and easily poked holes in the theories of these bigoted men. But, when he met some of the brave teenager who were willing to talk about being gay, he stayed silent for the most part and got quite emotional hearing some incredibly traumatic stories. The documentary itself was well put together with each part focusing on a different element of homosexuality. The first instalment was definitely about the antiquated views that some countries have towards being gay while the second instalment looked towards a new generation that would hopefully be a lot more tolerant. I have to admit that homophobia was never a subject that I'd ever thought about in any great detail but, after watching this documentary, it changed my opinion. I really never thought that people could be put to death in this day and age for simply being in love and I found a lot of the countries to be totally barbaric in their sensibilities. But this documentary was never preachy and instead let the viewer make their own mind up about what they should believe. I've definitely got a newfound respect for anybody brave enough to be who they truly are in a country that is unwilling to accept their way of life.


As a lover of World Cinema, I'm never surprised when these films get remade as English-language movies and now it's happening with TV too. The Danish show The Killing got an American remake that bombed and has finished its third and final series online. The Scandinavian show The Bridge went one step further having both an American remake of the same and an Anglo-French remake entitled The Tunnel. The Tunnel of the title is the Channel Tunnel, in which a body is placed precisely between the English and French sections of the structure. Both the French and English police forces are called out represented by Elise Wasserman (Clemence Poesy) and Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane). Elise is presented as someone without a sense of humour or much social awareness, to the extent that she'll change her clothes in the middle of a crowded police station. Meanwhile, Karl is much more personable and is seen as a bit of a ladies' man, having had four children with three different women. Initially, the case is given exclusively to the French when the body is identified as belonging to Marie Villeneuve, a controversial French politician. But, when the body is about to be carried off for further examination, it's revealed that it was only Marie's torso with the legs belonging to a different woman altogether. As the woman is later found to be a Welsh prostitute, who was working in Dover,  Roebuck and Elise are forced to work together. Their working styles couldn't be more different as is seen with the way they deal with Charlotte Jubert (Jeanne Balibar), a woman who had recently made threats towards Villeneuve. Eventually, the police find a potential suspect in sleazy tabloid journalist Danny Hillier (Tom Bateman) but, by the time that they go to him, he might not be in any state to be taken down to the station.


In terms of The Tunnel, I feel that Sky Atlantic were attempting to appeal to an audience that hadn't seen the Scandinavian original. Unfortunately, I'd already seen the original so I spent the majority of this first episode trying to remind myself if the characters and stories of The Tunnel were similar to those of The Bridge. The quick answer is yes; everything from the two halves of the body to the male detective having recently had a vasectomy were all here. The only noticeable difference is in the character of Charlotte, who in The Bridge was in a rush to leave so that she could visit her husband in hospital, but that couldn't happen here for obvious reasons. Though the story is initially the same, I'm hoping that the ending is changed to make the programme a surprise for those who took the time to watch the Scandinavian version. Thankfully, The Tunnel never once comes off like an inferior product and is shot incredibly well from beginning to end. Poesy is perfect as the borderline autistic Elise as she portrays her character's awkwardness with brilliance. Though a lot slimmer than his Danish counterpart, Dillane captures the essence of the male detective due to his warmth and great sense of humour. The duo make the perfect odd couple double act that The Tunnel really needs in order to succeed. My only issue with it is that I'm not quite sure why you'd bother remaking a programme like The Bridge, which was so perfect in the first place. While The Tunnel is a well-acted and well-produced crime drama, I have to wonder why the producers didn't create a whole new series rather than rip-off something that's already proved popular with certain British viewers. However, if you've never seen The Bridge, I'm sure you'll adore The Tunnel and it does seem to me as if Sky Atlantic have another homegrown hit on their hands.


When Channel 4 first started their observational documentaries they set up their cameras in places where lots of human drama took place such as hospitals, schools or hotels. Recently though the cameras have ventured into less interesting venues such as car dealerships and fast food outlets. Now the ob-doc has finally hit a low as Channel 4 literally scrape to the bottom of the bowl with The Nightclub Toilet. The Nightclub Toilet is the first of four instalments of the channel's Up All Night strand which will explore different people who work primarily at night. The cameras filmed over four days in Crawley nightclub JJ Whispers as we met toilet attendants Peter, Desmond and Dami, all of whom came to the UK from Nigeria. Dami, who's affectionately referred to as the lollipop lady by some of the clubbers, talks about how she's always there to help and that she took the job to learn about British culture. Meanwhile Desmond, who was the star of the show in my opinion,  tried to convince his punters to purchase his aftershaves with popular jingles such as 'no spray, no lay.' Desmond was a charismatic chap and was the ideal focus for one of these sort of shows, so I don't know why the producers decided to focus on the clubbers as much as they did on the attendants. To me, those who came into the toilet, were primarily trying to get their face on TV and so acted as stupid as possible. The best example of this was Josie, who kept entering the Gents' toilets throughout her night out with best friend Ben. Though she described Ben as 'everybody's friend', I had no respect for him at all when he made Desmond give him change for a £20 note when he'd actually only given him a tenner. Ultimately, felt like a bit of a missed opportunity to focus on the plight of immigrants who are forced to take awful jobs in order to support their families. What it became was a show about drunken teenagers and the people who were forced to clean up after them. I really hope that Channel 4 are going to be more picky with the venues in which they place their cameras, but then again they can only go up from here.


Sticking with Channel 4, we have a new sitcom in the form of Man Down, written by and starring Greg Davies. Davies also stars in the programme as Dan, a man who is still lives like a child, down to the fact that his flat is connected to his parents' house. Dan only owns one pair of trousers and has conversations with girlfriend Naomi (Deidre Mullins) are all about farting in space. As Naomi realises that Dan can never change she leaves him, meaning he must seek advice from best friends crazy Jo (Roisin Conaty) and sensible Brian (Mike Wozniak). From there, this first episode sees Dan try to go about his daily life as a bad teacher, while at the same time try to win back Naomi. I have to say I really enjoyed the first five minutes or so of Man Down as I felt that this would be the story of a big kid who had to win his girlfriend back by being more mature and failing spectacularly. Then Rik Mayall showed up dressed as a tiger. After this bizarre moment, Man Down got progressively more surreal and came to an odd conclusion where Dan was confronted by a tailor who thought he was a paedophile. There was also a fair amount of Bad Education in Man Down, as teacher Dan's only lesson with his class seemed to involve space travel. It's fair to say that Davies doesn't quite know what he wants Man Down to be yet as it's part surreal comedy, part workplace sitcom and part comedy drama. Thankfully, Davies has assembled a likeable troupe of comic actors and I feel that, if some of the edges were ironed out, then Man Down could at least be one of this year's sitcoms that doesn't have me instantly reaching for the remote.

For more of my thoughts on TV follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites.

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