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Monday, 13 October 2014

Matt on the Box: Lewis, Grantchester, The Kitchen and The Revolution Will be Televised

Welcome back once again as I take a gander at what TV has had to offer in the last seven days.

ITV crime drama has almost become a genre in and of itself with one channel; ITV 3, almost exclusively dedicated to airing the network's past offerings. Last week also saw two crime dramas start their run on ITV the first of which was the return of long-running Inspector Morse spin-off Lewis. The drama had originally finished its run last year but it appears as if the average rating of eight million was too tempting for ITV not to recommission the show for another run. The biggest change of the new series is that Lewis (Kevin Whately) is now sort of working as an advisory figure after being tempted out of retirement by his old boss (Rebecca Front). To be fair I don't think that Lewis needed much convincing as he appeared to be filling his retirement with Italian lessons and canoe building. Meanwhile Lewis' former protégé Hathaway (Laurence Fox), who looked close to leaving the force at the end of the last series, has now been promoted to DI. But it appears as if Hathaway is struggling in the role and has already lost one sergeant who got sick of working with him. DS Lizie Maddox (Angela Griffin) is Hathaway's latest sidekick but his refusal to give her any sort of responsibility is leaving her frustrated with her job. Thankfully Lewis arrives just in time to give Hathaway some advice about how to be a mentor and how to best utilise Lizzie going forward. Meanwhile the trio also have to contend with the death of a respected neurosurgeon Alistair Stoke (Jonny Philips) who was also the co-owner of a hunting lodge. The fact that Alistair had plenty of enemies will come to no surprise to anyone who's ever watched an episode of any ITV crime drama in the past. However I felt that none of the potential killers felt like real people and instead were just plot devices to create more suspects in the death of the episode's first victim. 

Although I'm not against all crime drama I feel that the central mystery at least needs to feel a little original and this episode of Lewis didn't have it at all. I felt like I'd seen this plot structure a thousand times before and therefore I had very little interest in the episode. The introduction of a new character in Annie Maddox was equally mishandled and I felt I knew very little about her by the end of this episode. The only information that writer Helen Jenkins gave us was that Maddox hated her job and that Hathaway wasn't letting her handle any cases on her own. Lewis' only saving grace is the chemistry between Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox who are still completely comfortable in each other's presence. The scenes in which they appear together are definitely Lewis' strongest and the recurring theme of Lewis attempting to teach Hathaway how to be a mentor to Maddox was the only story in this episode that piqued my interest. However these scenes were few and far between and if it wasn't for the introduction of Maddox I wouldn't know that this was a new episode. Aside from the chemistry between the two lead actors, Lewis' other strength is Nicholas Renton's reliable direction and Barrington Pheloung's incidental music. The main problem with this new series of Lewis is that there was no real reason to bring it back other than due to its strong ratings last time round. The number of plot contrivances that were needed in order to reunite Lewis and Hathaway prove that the original intention was to finish the drama at the end of the last series. Due to this fact I feel quite sad as, judging from the evidence in this episode; Lewis will be ending with a whimper rather than a bang. 

ITV's other big murder mystery drama last week was Grantchester; a 1950's-set series focusing on priest and crime-solver Sidney Chambers (James Norton). Sidney begins his amateur sleuthing when a parishioner claims that a man who was thought to have committed suicide was in fact murdered. After put-upon detective Geordie Keating (Robson Green) fails to listen to Sidney's claim he decides to investigate the case and discovers that the victim's German wife and his jealous business partner were the two most likely candidates. Eventually convincing Geordie that he should be treating the death as a murder; the two form somewhat of an odd couple crime-fighting duo. Most of Grantchester's positives are similar to those of Lewis; beautiful scenery, solid direction and great chemistry between the two lead actors. James Norton prove what a versatile actor he is by convincing as the kindly priest in Grantchester after playing the frankly despicable Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley. It's also good to see Robson Green doing something on the TV that doesn't involve fishing and he seems to relish his role as the career copper. Grantchester is an amiable enough programme but, just like Lewis, the central murder story wasn't at all compelling and didn't hold my attention. I felt the same way about the subplot concerning Sidney's unrequited love for his childhood friend Amanda (Morven Christie) primarily as there is no spark between the two actors. Whilst I've nothing against Grantchester it's just too cosy a programme for a Monday night and for a drama that concerns itself with murder it's just a little bit too nice.

It's fair to say that Gogglebox is one of the biggest surprise hits of the last year or so as nobody at the time believed that audiences would want to watch other people watching TV. Based on the success of the Channel 4 vehicle, the makers of the show appear to be branching out into the rest of the house and last week presented BBC Two's The Kitchen. Just like Gogglebox, The Kitchen presents us with a diverse range of families from across the UK some of whom are fairly reminiscent of the cast members on the Channel 4 show. This is especially true of the bickering Bradshaws from Devon, a Leon and June-type couple who have been married for fifty years. The Kitchen also appears to be covering all the classes from the hoity-toity Garbutts who cook a fish they caught on holiday to the Barry-Powers who have the majority of their food delivered from Iceland. My favourite family in this first show had to be the Mitchell-Cotts; whose posh father had recently fallen on hard times and was now completely comfortable with cooking roadkill and onions that he'd found on the side of the road. The main problem with The Kitchen is that it has very little focus and I can't really see where they can take it over the rest of the series. Whilst Gogglebox's segments are dedicated to specific shows there are no real themes covered in The Kitchen other than how different people eat. Another problem is that, unlike Gogglebox, The Kitchen isn't a fixed-rig programme meaning that the families are aware of the camera crews in their houses. This made it harder for me to believe in the actions of some of the characters, an issue which was particularly apparent when the Garbutts' daughter sat under the table in protest of not being served any dessert. Although The Kitchen was an interesting idea, I feel that it falls down in its execution and by the end of the show I was very bored. I do hope that this failed experiment also stops programme-makers from delving further into the house as I just couldn't cope if the next fly-on-the-wall show focused on British families in their toilets.


If you read this website on a regular basis then you know we're big supporters of the save BBC Three campaign. Despite that, occasionally the channel produces a programme that tarnishes their name and The Revolution Will be Televised is one such show. Whilst I don't blame the channel for bringing back the satirical comedy, especially as it won a BAFTA last year, Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein offer nothing new during this third outing. Old ground is retread courtesy of Dennis Pennis-lite character Zam Zmith whilst plenty of the puns concerning Wonga and Nandos' suspect business policies were just woeful. Meanwhile the duo's jaunt to America means that their coalition MP characters were given the chance to mingle with Sarah Palin and Bill Clinton. This trip to the States also allowed for their character of reporter Dale Maily to quiz several Americans about their use of firearms. These segments took up quite a lot of the show and I thought that the show really sought cheap soundbites rather than anything substantial. I personally feel that the main issue with The Revolution Will be Televised is that both Prowse and Rubinstein come across as self-satisfying toffs who feel jubilant when they get a famous face on their programme. This is best exemplified when they approach Gordon Brown at a book signing with their version of his tome having a different cover from the original. I felt that this segment had nothing to say and instead felt like an opportunity for the boys to pat themselves on the back for getting a former Prime Minister on their show. For a show that won the Comedy Programme BAFTA, the other issue with The Revolution Will be Televised is that it's not funny at all. All the gags are obvious and clichéd there is nothing clever on show here and I for one feel that if the programme hadn't won an award then it wouldn't have been rewarded with a third series. Suffice to say that I won't be watching the rest of this run and I recommend that all of you do the same. 

That's me done for another week but remember you can always follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites for more of my television views. 

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