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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Matt on the Box: Ordinary Lies, The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop, Raised by Wolves and You're Back in the Room

It's time once again to look back at a week in TV that's offered up its fair share of highlights even if not all of them have been great.

After weeks upon weeks of costume drama, this week's main dramatic offering is a rather contemporary affair. Ordinary Lies is brought to us by Danny Brocklehurst; who most recently wrote The Driver but also worked on both Clocking Off and The Street. Ordinary Lies follows in the same vein as both of those programmes as it's an anthology series centring around one location, in this case a car showroom. Each episode will focus on one character in particular and the opening instalment's main storyline featured jovial salesman Marty (Jason Manford). From the offset, Brocklehurst portrays Marty as someone who would rather spend time down the pub than with his ill wife and three children. Marty's nights out result in constant latenesses and due to this tardiness he's given a final warning by his boss Mark (Max Beesley). Rather predictably Marty is late again but attempts to avoid the sack by telling his colleagues that his wife Katrina has passed away. This is really where Ordinary Lies lost me as I found the premise of the central story so preposterous I didn't for one second believe Marty would get away with it. Obviously it took another forty-five minutes of him covering up his lies before P.A. Kathy (Sally Lindsay) finally discovered the truth. However, Marty still managed to sneak in a quick affair with kindly colleague Grace (Rebecca Callard) who felt sorry for the three kids that she thought had lost their mother. As Marty owned up to Katrina about what he'd done and the two entered the showroom hand in hand you would think at the very least he would lose his job. However, judging from next week's trailer Marty is very much still employed by Mark which to me negated the whole reason for his lie in the first place.

That's one of the many problems I had with Brocklehurst's writing in this first episode which at times came off as quite spiteful. There were at least three characters who spoke out against marriage with Marty being very vocal about the mistakes he'd made in having kids with Katrina too soon. The main issue though was that I just didn't like Marty and actually thought that he should be sacked especially if his lateness is to do with heavy nights down the pub. Other critics have heaped praise on Jason Manford's first dramatic performance but I didn't think he added anything special to the role. If anything I think a better actor may at least have had a stab at making Marty slightly more sympathetic but I thought that Manford struggling to anchor this first episode. The one glimmer of hope came courtesy of the storyline involving sales manager Beth (Jo Joyner) and her hunt for husband Dave who went missing a year earlier. The mystery plot appears to be the one that connects all of the episodes and Brocklehurst has certainly intrigued me enough to stick with the show. Anthology series like Ordinary Lies are only as strong as the lead stories and I think that Brocklehurst has started his new drama with one of the weaker offerings. I didn't find Marty's story realistic in the slightest and felt Manford did little to make his character even a little likeable. However, hope lies in the fact that Marty will simply be a background character in the next episode and instead the showroom's two receptionists will take centre stage. Whether or not next week's Ordinary Lies will be an improvement on the opener remains to be seen but I'm at least going to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

BBC One's other big prime time offering came was the family-size bucket shaped documentary The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop. By that very clever introduction I'm sure you'll realise that this is the BBC's warts and all look at fast food giants KFC. I have to say I was personally disappointed early on to learn that the programme wasn't going to reveal the secret coating on the chicken that apparently only two people know. However, we did get to see just how the chicken are kept before they become hot wings and Zinger burgers which I'm sure to some was quite disturbing. I particularly felt sorry for Andrew who seemed quite attached to the chickens but had to do tow the company line when asked whether he was upset about the birds' ultimate fate. Indeed their seemed to be some disparity between the ruthless corporate suits and the employees who donned the infamous KFC caps. On the whole the employees were a likeable bunch, some of whom credited KFC with their own personal growth. As with all of these shows several characters stood out one of whom was Sean, whose job it was to evaluate the success of every individual KFC store. From checking out the cleanliness of the loos to seeing if the chicken was being turned the correct amount of times, Sean could make or break a store as the staff of Merry Hill later learnt. Whilst Sean and several enthusiastic managers represented the positive side of KFC the negatives were seen via a proposition to open a store in the small town of Middleton. Due to the fact they didn't want to see Col. Sanders' face every time they left the house, a gang of residents had got together to block the proposition. However KFC's Head of Acquisitions wasn't budging and eventually the chicken shop Goliath won out over the little people of Middleton. This imbalance of tone between the jovial employees and the business in Middleton made me question what Stephen Finnegan was actually trying to convey throughout his film. As Finnegan employed a scattershot approach the overall result was a confusing documentary which had a couple of entertaining moments but ultimately had very little to say.

Channel 4 were hoping to replicate the success of the brilliant Catastrophe with their newest sitcom Raised by Wolves. The comedy comes courtesy of renowned columnist and award-winning writer Caitlin Moran who created the series alongside her sister Caroline. The siblings based the show on their upbringing in Wolverhampton and are represented respectively by free-spirited Germaine (Helen Monks) and the much more sensible Aretha (Alexa Davies). Germaine and Aretha are two of the six children of Della (Rebekah Staton); the comedy's ballsy matriarch who named her daughters after strong female role models. Although Raised by Wolves purports to be set in the present day, a fact we are aware of early on when the girl's Grampy (Philip Jackson) is on a laptop, most of what we see in the show seems very old fashioned. The characters of Aretha and Germaine especially don't feel part of the 21st century as the clothing they were makes them seem like they belong in the late 1980s or early 1990s. This is probably because the Moran sisters have styled the characters to look exactly how they did in their formative years. This odd mix of old style with modern setting meant I could never fully relax into Raised by Wolves; which is a shame as it did have some highlights. The best thing about Raised by Wolves was definitely Staton's strong comic turn as the brilliant Della who I absolutely loved from the first time she appeared on screen. Jackson also proved to be a skilled comic presence whose scenes as the horny grandfather brilliantly broke up the action. However I personally wasn't impressed by the performances given by the younger actresses which may be partially due to the fact that their characters never really struck a chord with me. Maybe I'm judging Raised by Wolves too soon and I'll definitely keep watching to see if there's any improvement in the forthcoming weeks. However, as I've often been a fan of Moran's writing, I expected more from a comedy that wasn't nearly as funny as it thought it was.

Finally this week we have the latest proof that ITV's light entertainment line-up has been devised by Alan Partridge. Following such disasters as Harry Hill's Stars in their Eyes and Get Your Act Together, the channel were in a need of a new hit. Unfortunately they're not going to find it in hypnosis-based game show You're Back in the Room which sounded like a rubbish idea even before it began. Every week five members of the public compete in a series of challenges including balloon blowing and clay sculpting with the aim to win as much money as possible. The only problem is that they've been put under the spell of the hitherto unknown hypnotist Keith Barry. Whilst watching You're Back in the Room I had the distinct impression that the whole show was a way to get Barry famous and that he'd had to hypnotise the light entertainment department at ITV in order to do so. The only people who'd find You're Back in the Room remotely entertaining are those who feel that one man trying to re-enact the pottery scene from Ghost with another male contestant is the funniest thing you've ever seen. The humour in You're Back in the Room was very base and at times I felt like the only people being entertained were the studio audience and host Philip Schofield. Indeed, Schofield seemed to be having the time of his life leading me to believe that he was seeing something that those of as at home didn't. Obviously there was the big question about whether the contestants were genuinely hypnotised or if they were just acting. However, I don't think this matters all that much as even if they were acting it didn't contribute to a show that was entertaining in the slightest. The best Saturday night shows; such as Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, are ones in which the hosts try to involve the audience at home as best they can. Unfortunately the only people being entertained by You're Back in the Room were those watching it live and as a result I don't see it being back on the box after this series has come to an end.

That's your lot for now, remember for more of my views on the week's TV please follow me @mattstvbites 

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