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Saturday, 18 April 2015

Matt on the Box: Britain's Got Talent, Ninja Warrior UK, Play to the Whistle, Newzoids, The Delivery Man and Tatau

Welcome to a particularly ITV-heavy look back at what this week offered up in the world of telly.

We start with what was later proclaimed as ITV's highest rated show of the year, I'm talking of course about Britain's Got Talent. Even though the last couple of years haven't produced many classic acts, Britain's Got Talent can still provide an entertaining show when needs be. This is especially true of this Saturday's opening episode which I found myself constantly enjoying from beginning to end. Despite getting a reputation for focusing on dire acts, I felt that Saturday's episode had more hits than misses. There was of course the obvious quota of singing acts who were represented by outstanding Welsh choir Ysgol Glanaethwy and handsome troubadour Calum Scott who earned Simon's Golden Buzzer. At the same time there was an abundance of variety acts from skating siblings Billy and Emily England to Wendy the Talking Dog. I personally found the most impressive act of the evening was free runner Matt McCreary who literally flung himself off the first floor balcony in order to impress the judges. Unfortunately for Matt this wasn't enough to earn him more than a segment in a montage alongside a Bulgarian contortionist. However, I feel that know we're in the ninth series of Britain's Got Talent there are certain tropes that have become overplayed. This was certainly true of The Ruby Red Performers whose initial cleaning routine earned a buzz from Simon. However, when they started to strip everybody was on their feet and commenting on how it was great to see female empowerment come to life on the stage. But I thought that the way this audition played out was almost a carbon copy of how Paddy and Nico's turn was played last year where initial apathy was turned into a standing ovation.

That being said Britain's Got Talent is still one of the most slickly produced programmes on the box which I think is why it's still going strong after nine years. The editing team deserve particular praise for cutting together the auditions so that those with a memorable back story are featured strongly. The great acts are also well-punctuated with those who provoke different reactions from the crowd. This is especially true of Max the Yorkshire Terrier who seemed to have a particular grudge against Ant and used every opportunity to attack the Geordie host. Despite the great amount of talent on display throughout the episode, I think that Max's attack on Ant was possibly the most memorable moment of the night and I'm sure they'll try to replay it during the live final. The one fear I have going forward is that all the best talent has been showcased in this first episode. In fact both the winner and runner-up of the last two series were featured in the opening episode, leading me to believe that future weeks won't live up to the promise of Saturday's instalment. At this point in the competition the majority of the judging panel isn't winding me up that much although David Walliams' infatuation with Simon Cowell is growing a little stale now. Cowell was the only member of the quartet to frustrate me this week when he wouldn't let nervous singer Jade even finish one verse of a song without raising the hand of doom. The biggest positive that Britain's Got Talent possesses is that it never outstays its welcome and you always know that it's only going to be on for a couple of months. That's why I believe that it isn't suffering the same decline as its more tiresome sibling The X-Factor whose last two series have really dragged. My only wish for the series is that the eventual winner is a bit more interesting than the dull musical theatre boy band who triumphed in last year's anticlimactic final.

But Britain's Got Talent wasn't the only highlight of what ITV were dubbing 'Super Saturday' with two new shows becoming the bread in the BGT sandwich. Up first was Ninja Warrior UK, a remake of the assault course game show which is already a success in several other countries. The premise of the opening episodes of Ninja Warrior is to discover who has the grit and determination to survive the show's tricky assault course. The course itself consists of several elements, most of which result in unsuccessful contestants falling into a pool of water, the last of which is a thin wall which we are informed is the size of a double-decker bus. The show obviously has elements of the BBC's now cancelled Total Wipeout and is based on a Japanese format that has echoes of Takeshi's Castle. However I think that the programme is an approximation of classic agility game show The Krypton Factor albeit a slightly altered episode where every round is the obstacle course. There was also echoes of ITV's legendary Saturday night classic Gladiators as all of the audience appeared to be armed by foam fingers. Just like with Gladiators, Ninja Warrior is also co-hosted by a former footballing legend with Chris Kamara becoming this generation's John Fashanu. Kamara to me was the sole highlight of a hosting triumvirate that also included the bland Ben Shepherd and token female Rochelle Humes. To be honest I'm not quite sure why Rochelle was part of the show as she barely featured to the extent that when she returned to present the final link I'd all but forgotten about her. I was quite sceptical of Ninja Warrior, especially as its formula was quite repetitive, but by the end I really found myself getting into it. Just like Britain's Got Talent, Ninja Warrior was well-edited and the audience really added to my enjoyment so much so that I found myself chanting along with them. Whether Ninja Warrior UK will prove a lasting success remains to be seen but I have to say that this first episode was a pleasant surprise and served as a decent lead-in to the Ant and Dec fronted main event.

The one disappointment in an otherwise solid Saturday night line-up was comedy sports quiz Play to the Whistle. An obvious attempt to capitalise on the success of Sky One's superior A League of Their Own, Play to the Whistle had none of that show's charm or boyish humour. Part of the reason for this was the bizarre decision to have Holly Willoughby host the show which I don't think suited her girl-next-door style. Indeed, I found that she failed to make any of her scripted lines remotely funny and her attempts to act like one of the boys fell flat. In my opinion Play to the Whistle would've been a lot better had team captain Bradley Walsh taken up hosting duties. As anybody who watches The Chase knows, Bradley Walsh is a fine anchor and he was the stand out performer against a mediocre group. The only other highlights were provided by Jimmy Bullard who was the show's recurring character, often competing against team members in a number of challenges. Bullard, who was the best contestant on last year's I'm a Celebrity, would've made a better team captain than the dull Frank Lampard and I do feel the roles on the show definitely need a rethink. The other problem was that each round didn't last very long meaning that it was hard to play along at home or indeed root for either team. One example saw comedian Rob Beckett take on Bullard in a hurdles race which lasted all of about thirty seconds and provoked no laughter to speak of. There was also very little humour provided by the opening five minutes of banter the majority of which didn't do much for the overall feel of the show. At the end of the day, for a programme that's meant to have comedy at its centre, there was nothing about Play to the Whistle that was very funny. I do feel that if Walsh had replaced Willoughby and Bullard had taken his place at least there would've been a bit more fun. But as it was Play to the Whistle is one of those shows that has been written by committee and looks destined to join the host of Saturday night shows that eventually sunk without a trace.

Also not providing many laughs was ITV's new comedy hour on Wednesday nights which featured two very different programmes. The last time ITV put an hour of comedy on prime time it was critically slated partly because it featured the woeful Vicious which thankfully we've not heard of since. This time the comedy hour at least started promisingly enough with topical puppet show Newzoids, which hoped to be this generation's Spitting Image. As is always the way with sketch shows there were some hits and misses but on the whole there were more of the former than the latter. The highlights of episode one were North Korean light entertainment vehicle 'The Un Show' and a very funny sketch involving Andy Murray's wedding night. One thing I appreciated about Newzoids was the fact that it was written quite close to transmission so that the majority of the skits felt topical. At the same time this sometimes felt like more than hindrance than a help with the writing team picking a story then trying to work a joke around it. A prime example of this was the use of Nigel Farage's controversial comments at the leaders' debate which the writers turned into a stand-up comedy routine. This felt like an incredibly ill-judged sketch that wasn't as cutting edge as the writers thought it would be and instead it just felt a bit crass. I don't think Newzoids will have the same impact as Spitting Image partly because of the fact that it's going out at 9pm on Wednesday night. Whilst Spitting Image had somewhat of a cult appeal, Newzoids appears to be going for a more mainstream audience which is exemplified by the focus on the Jeremy Clarkson firing from a couple of weeks' ago. The attacks on the three main party leaders also felt a little tame with Ed Milliband's failure to eat a bacon sandwich and Nick Clegg's claims of abuse being two more examples of weak sketches. But I'm going to give Newzoids the benefit of the doubt for now as it must be hard to write a show of this nature and there were some sketches that gave me hope that Newzoids could at least turn into something that would be worth checking out on a weekly basis.

That's more than I can say about Newzoids' running mate which came in the form of woeful hospital-based sitcom The Delivery Man. I was slightly hopeful going into The Delivery Man primarily as director Victoria Pile created Green Wing whilst writers Robert Harley and James Henry also worked on the classic Channel 4 sitcom. Unfortunately, The Delivery Man has none of the surreal wit or classic characters of Green Wing and instead feels like it's been lifted from the 1970s. The central premise of The Delivery Man sees another Green Wing veteran in Darren Boyd play Matthew, a newly qualified midwife attempting to navigate his way through a female-dominated environment. I think I would've had more time for The Delivery Man if Matthew had proved his female colleagues wrong by proving himself to be a valuable member of the team and changing their expectations of him. But instead he was presented as a bumbling fool who was constantly lying to his patients, their families and the rest of the hospital staff whilst struggling with the simplest of tasks. Whilst watching The Delivery Man I kept wondering what would've happened if their was a sitcom about a bumbling woman entering a male-dominated environment and doing a really bad job. I personally think there would be a general outcry but nobody appeared to bat an eyelid when that was the central joke of the piece. A potential romance between Matthew and fellow midwife Lisa (Aisling Bea) already has little interest whilst the supporting characters all feel a little one-dimensional. This is a shame when the cast includes such heavyweights as Alex MacQueen and Fay Ripley, the latter of whom at least tried her best as well-meaning senior midwife Caitlin. The biggest problem though was that The Delivery Man didn't provoke a sufficient amount of laughter from yours truly. In fact the only real laugh I had was during a joke about Claire's Accessories whilst a scene involving a birthing pool also raised a brief titter. Ultimately I was disappointed with a programme that felt like it had been severely watered down by ITV who seem to favour the sort of broad humour which The Delivery Man had in droves.

The only programme in this week's instalment not to have been broadcast on ITV is Tatau, a new drama from BBC Three. In fact Tatau looks to make history by being the last original drama to be shown on BBC Three before it becomes an online-only channel. BBC Three has a good pedigree when it comes to drama with Being Human, In the Flesh and The Fades all being critically acclaimed. Although the first episode of Tatau didn't have the same impact as any of its predecessors it does have the same sort of supernatural element that made prior BBC Three dramas so successful. The programme centres around Kyle (Joe Layton) and Budgie (Theo Barklem-Biggs) two British backpackers who have landed on The Cook Islands. Tatau starts properly after Kyle and Budgie experience the powers of a hallucinogenic drink which has a profound effect on the former. During his trance, Kyle believes he has seen a girl in a red dress who needs his help as she feels she's in mortal danger. From there on in, Kyle feels that he needs to save the girl especially after seeing her tied up to a coral reef during a snorkelling session. After some investigation, Kyle learns that the girl he saw is the daughter of the island's most prominent family who he believes are covering up his death. However, in the final scene writer Richard Zaidlic changes our perceptions of the events of the episode as we learn that Kyle's tattoo may have a special power that allows him to see into the future. One thing you can say about Tatau is that it's definitely the most unique drama of 2015 so far thanks to Zaidlic's intriguing premise. Director Wayne Yip captures the Pacific island perfectly and makes it an oddly disturbing place where Kyle and Budgie are the sole outsiders. I personally didn't rate Layton's lead turn as the hunky Kyle but felt that Barklem-Biggs added some gravitas to the drama as loveable loser Budgie. Another issue I had was the fact that at only forty minutes, Tatau never really got going and the reduced running time meant there was little chance to really get to know the characters. But, thanks to that ending alone, there was enough intrigue in Tatau for me to at least visit the island of Manutaki one more time.

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


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