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Sunday, 2 February 2014

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Outnumbered, Dragon's Den, The Jump and Celebrity Big Brother

Welcome to back to what was a fairly quiet week in TV land.

One of the biggest problems with TV sitcoms centring on families is what to do when the child actors get older. This is particularly problematic with a show like Outnumbered, which returned for a fifth and final series this week, primarily because the comedy relied on the innocence and naivety of the kids. Almost seven years on, the children are looking incredibly old most noticeably Ramona Marquez who started playing Karen when she was only five. Now twelve years old, Marquez's Karen was the centre of the action this week as parents Pete (Hugh Dennis) and Sue (Claire Skinner) worried that she was fitting in at her new challenging school. To an extent I feel that writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin have updated the character well as she has now entered her stroppy pre-teen phase. She is a lot sulkier and I was shocked when I actually heard a swear word come out of her mouth. The school that Karen has been sent to has a very strict dress code and Karen is finding some of the work incredibly hard. She's also not fitting in all that well, as we see when she is forced to spend time with her one of her classmates after school. Karen's problems at school lead the ever-worried Sue to send out a late night e-mail to the parents of her daughter's classmates asking if they've had similar problems. The responses she receives are fairly shocking, prompting Pete to tell her that sending any e-mails after 11pm is a bad mistake. Whilst Karen's problems at school ring true, I was less interested in her search for a missing hamster. It just seemed to me like this story was something that Karen would've done while she's younger and I fail to believe that this new sulky brunette girl would be that bothered about a pet.

Elsewhere Karen's two brothers are more ill-served by the storylines especially Ben (Daniel Roche) who is auditioning for the school play. The character of Ben was great when he was a destructive young lad but as a teenager he seems to be a little lost. Though the thought of him playing the lead in a musical version of Spartacus did raise a few chuckles, this was the least realistic of the three plots. I did feel that there was more truth in the antics of older son Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey) who this week got a dodgy tattoo. This was a rite-of-passage story that a lot of teenagers have experienced and the fact that Jake wanted to remove the body art by the end of the episode was also incredibly realistic. Indeed, one thing that Hamilton and Jenkin have always excelled at is making their comedy feel as believable as possible. That's why Outnumbered worked so well when it started and why, for the most part, it still survives in 2014. Jake and Karen's story suited their progression and Pete and Sue continued to be the stereotypical fretting parents. The main thing I found about this series of Outnumbered, as compared to previous outings, is that I didn't laugh as much. While there were a few chuckles and a couple of titters I mostly felt that the comedy was well-observed but didn't find it funny enough to laugh out loud. Despite this I still found a lot to like about Outnumbered and feel that the chemistry between the five actors is still as fine as it was seven years ago. My only hope is that the Brockman family is given a fitting send-off and Outnumbered gets a suitably anarchic final series.

Also returning this week was Dragon's Den  for what was apparently the second part of series eleven. One thing I did feel about this first episode is that new Dragons Kelly Hoppen and Piers Linney have now settled into the den and no longer feel like the new kids. Apart from that there was really nothing new about the show and if, like me, you've been watching the show now for several years, you know the telltale signs of whether or not the wannabe entrepreneurs will grab an investment. For example the first contestant, Freddie wanted one million pounds to continue to develop his self-filling bath invention. Obviously, he was immediately beaten down by the Dragons, and he didn't help his cause by answering their questions with a series of riddles. Similarly, Aurora didn't do herself any favours by talking over the Dragons while they gave their constructive feedback of her clippable pants for travellers. In fact this episode belonged to the young men namely friends Rod and Aiden whose festival-based travel agency got the most bids of the evening and saw them walk away with Piers as a new investor. Meanwhile brilliant young inventor Oliver Murphy accepted Kelly's bid for a share of his solution which would revive any phone that had been dropped in water. I do feel that Dragon's Den is one of those shows that is easy to watch due to its simple format and larger-than-life characters. Part of the charm is attempting to guess if any of the Dragons are going to bid and what pithy putdowns they'll use along the way. While the show isn't as fiery as it previously has been I still enjoy watching Dragon's Den mainly to see some of the cockier entrepreneurs get their just deserts.

Celebrity reality shows dominated the rest of the week mainly on Channel 4 with their Winter Olympics-themed programme The Jump. The Jump was plighted with problems from the start due to the high level of injuries that the stars suffered an issue that highlighted when even Flash Gordon himself had to pull out of the show. The basic premise of the show sees twelve 'celebrities' go against each other in various winter Olympic disciplines with the bottom two in each event having to face the dreaded ski jump at the end of each night. The terror of the jump was built up in the first couple of nights with the looming K40, the highest of the three jumps, appearing to be the most dominant. But the majority of the celebs chose to jump from the lowest level making this supposedly dramatic climax seem a little tame. The level of celebrity also wasn't great; fairplay sports legends such as Sir Steve Redgrave and Darren Gough were in attendance but then so were hangers-on Sinitta and Melinda Messenger. Most obscure of all was fashionista and columnist Henry Conway who had to leave the competition on Wednesday due to not being famous enough. Events came to a head on Tuesday when Towie reject Amy Childs point blank refused to jump and was therefore left at the top of the mountain after she was eliminated. The fact that none of the celebrities wanted to take on the jump was completely ridiculed in the middle of the week when X-Factor winner Joe McElderry and Donal McIntyre both jumped in an attempt to replace Conway. Joe won the jump but Donal later entered the contest anyway making their jump-off seem a little pointless. Even if all of these injury-related problems hand't happened, The Jump would still struggle to be entertaining due to the fact that, aside from the live jump, the show is basically made up of celebrities watching videos of themselves. The one element of the show I liked was that the winners were decided on fact rather than opinion, but then again this meant that there were no judges' comments to break up the action. Ultimately the winner would only receive a cowbell for essentially fracturing at least one bone in the last month but hey, at least they got a free holiday out of it!

Oddly it was Channel 5 who provided the most satisfying celebrity reality show of the week as Celebrity Big Brother finally came to a close. I have already written about CBB in some detail but it's fair to say that it's one of the most talked about shows of the year so far. The fact that the final was put back to allow for more drama speaks for the large audience that the channel has been able to gather due mainly to word-of-mouth. When the celebrities first went in it was widely believed that either Made in Chelsea's Ollie Locke or Towie's Sam Faiers would ultimately triumph but in the end they came third and fifth respectively. I wouldn't have thought it to begin with, but my favourite was Dappy who was a respectable runner-up. To me he went on the biggest journey in the house from manic wannabe gangster to a respectful young man who was seemingly brought up well. Sure Dappy has made a fair few indiscretions during his time in the limelight but it did appear as if he was going to turn over a new leaf. Interestingly his cousin Tulisa came to cheer him on at the final, but I believe she was being eyed-up for a spot in the summer series. However it was Jim Davidson who made the public perception of him change slightly during his time in the house. This was mainly due to his ongoing feud with Linda Nolan, who was made to look like the bad guy during their many rows, however he was able to keep his sense of humour throughout the course of the series and provides some classic one-liners. Whilst probably not my favourite series of Celebrity Big Brother, I would say that this has definitely been the best run of the show that Channel 5 have produced so far. It will be interesting to see what the channel will do with this success going forward and if the next lot of celebrities will be as exciting as those who have entertained us during the first few weeks of the year.

For more of my views on TV, follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I'll see you soon.


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