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Monday, 15 June 2015

Matt on the Box: TFI Friday, The Tribe, Running the Shop, Stonemouth and Love Island

Hi folks, after a couple of weeks off it's time to get back into the swing of things as Matt on the Box returns to take a look at the highlights of the last week or so in TV.

Possibly the most talked about programme of last week came in the form of the one-off return of one of the 1990s most iconic show. When I first heard about the return of TFI Friday I didn't think it would be a particularly big deal, however as the guest list was announced it became more and more impressive. The guest list on the night was a mixture of current big names such as Tom Daley and Amanda Seyfried with nostalgic musical acts such as Blur, Liam Gallagher and the legendary Shaun Ryder. It took me a while to get into the show, especially since host Chris Evans didn't seem to have found his mojo straight away, however soon the memories started flooding back. Indeed the best moments of TFI Friday were those that focused on nostalgia as clips aired of some of the original show's most memorable offerings. Chris brought back people who'd competed on Freak or Unique? as well as the infamous Baby Left Baby Right. However those who were kids or babies in the late 1990s are now in their late teens and early 20s a fact that made me feel quite old indeed. Not one to miss out on the action, Shaun Ryder also appeared to remind us that he's sobered up a lot since his infamous profanity-strewn outbursts on the original show. Where TFI Friday fell down for me was whenever it tried to incorporate new elements or focus on up and coming artists. The new musical acts weren't a patch on the Britpop darlings whilst listening to Amanda Seyfried promote her new movie made me feel I was watching The One Show rather than TFI Friday.

However, it was Chris Evans' car obsession which really drove me around the bend especially a section in which he and Jeremy Paxman practised for Evans' Top Gear audition. Evans' time at the Top Gear track didn't end there though as he got his mum to drive around in her shop-mobility scooter whilst he later tried to break some sort of record on it himself. These scenes were punctuated with various interviews with the charisma-vacuum that is Lewis Hamilton who just stayed around far too long for my money. Despite these issues, I still enjoyed TFI Friday and felt that more time could have been devoted to a celebration of a programme that defined the 1990s for a generation. As the programme comfortably won the 9pm slot on Friday night it's more than plausible that Channel 4 may revive the format. However if they do do this then I feel it has to be Evans and his original team including the brilliant Wiiilll MacDonald. Unfortunately it appears that Evans now sees himself as an oldie and instead christened the irritating Nick Grimshaw as the future of the show. As somebody who doesn't fit into the Radio One demographic I have very little to do with 'Grimmy' but whenever I do seem him on TV I squirm. Having him front a relaunch of a programme that many of us hold dear to our hearts would be a mistake in my eyes and I think I'm not the only one who feels that Channel 4 should either bring back TFI with Evans or not at all. But for now at least this relaunch of TFI Friday was the chance for all of those involved with the programme to have the final show that they never got to have before Evans' meltdown. The fact that he got to share the event with his daughter, who recently made him a granddad, made the evening a little emotional and I have to say that I enjoyed most of what I saw on Friday night.

Proving that Channel 4 is possibly the most diverse network at the moment, the night before the TFI Friday relaunch we were treated to a programme that is different in almost every way. The Tribe is Channel 4's latest fixed rig documentary with cameras travelling to the Omo Region of Southern Ethiopia to meet the 20,000 strong Hamar tribe. The documentary's particular focus was on one of the tribe's families who occupied four huts in the village. The family was headed up patriarch Ayke Muko, who I felt was presented more like a sitcom dad than a subject in a documentary. There was certainly elements of Alf Garnett and Jim Royle in Ayke Muko especially when you saw him on screen with his first wife Kerri Bodo. It was clear that the pair loved each other and that their bond hadn't been broken when Ayke Muko took on a second wife in the form of Kerri Suma. Indeed it seemed to me as if Kerri Suma had simply been employed as Ayke Muko's home help and he still only had eyes for Kerri Bodo. One of the more poignant themes of the episode was Ayke Muko coming to terms that he couldn't keep going at the same pace he once did. Therefore he had to bestow more duties on to his elder sons Zubo and Arrada, who were tasked with organising the engagement of one of their younger brothers. Unfortunately for Ayke Muko it seemed that Arrada and particularly Zubo were quite feckless and their argument over goat's with the bride's family reached a stalemate. What I liked about The Tribe more than anything else was the fact that it never patronised its subjects and presented their culture in a respectful rather than mocking way. In fact Ayke Muko's conversations with the documentary's director actually pointed out how some of our customs seem incredibly odd in the eyes of the tribe members. The Tribe also changed the way I thought about Africa, a continent that has long been associated with charity appeals and nasty diseases. It represented the people of Ethiopia as well-rounded, humorous individuals who may have their own way of doing things but at the end of the day aren't that different to you and me.


However Channel 4 don't always get it right, a fact that was particularly established during the first episode of Running the Shop. Based on an already successful international format, Running the Shop is the latest Channel 4 vehicle for Hilary Devey following the woeful The Intern. This time Devey is on hand to advise various workforces who have decided to implement changes at their places of employment. As the title would suggest the staff are then put in charge of running the shop whilst their boss presumably swans off on holiday for two weeks. The first episode was centred round Liverpool-based DIY chain Taskers which is headed up by the exacting boss John Tasker. As a member of the family who started the chain, John doesn't really allow for any creativity from his staff and therefore the show brought them the opportunity to do something different. Of the two primary ideas, the more practical one came from three employees who felt that furnishing a show home with Taskers' products would bring in a new clientèle. However this female trio faced problems from a haughty estate agent whose own sense of style wasn't really up to much. Elsewhere, another of Tasker's employees focused his efforts on creating a window display outside the shop due to the fact that it doesn't actually have any windows. There were a number of problems with Running the Shop not least of which was the fact that Hilary Devey's presence was surplus to requirement. It's clear that Channel 4 are trying to justify poaching the former Dragon's Den star but Devey's contributions to the staff's efforts didn't really enhance the show. The programme also felt confused and at times was edited quite poorly and had two different endings in which Tasker criticised then approved of the changes his staff had made. Channel 4 has had success with programmes like this in the past, most notably Undercover Boss, unfortunately I don't think Running the Shop is a show that will have any kind of longevity and instead I predict it will sink without a trace after this first series has aired.

I was going to write a little about The Interceptor however my learned colleague Luke has already said most of what I was going to so I instead turn my attention to the other big BBC drama of last week; Stonemouth. Stonemouth was based on the novel by Iain Banks and it felt to me as if David Kane's adaptation was incredibly similar to the book in almost every way. The fact that Stonemouth was a literary adaptation was made clear by the fact that its protagonist Stewart Gilmour (Christian Cooke) explained almost everything to the audience. Some of this exposition was necessary as a lot of the story in Stonemouth is told in flashback however I objected a little to hearing Stewart's voiceover during the scenes set in the present. The plot of Stonemouth sees Stewart return to the titular Scottish town for the funeral of his best friend Cal who just happened to be the sister of the love-of-his life Ellie (Charlotte Spencer). It's clear that Cal has burned the majority of his bridges not least with Cal and Ellie's terrifying gangster father Don (Peter Mullan). Although Don begrudgingly gives his blessing for Stewart to stay in town for the funeral, our hero later raises the ire of the Stonemouth citizens by conducting his own investigation. Stewart's investigation is based around the fact that he doesn't think that Cal committed suicide and instead he feels like his old friend was bumped off by somebody he knew. I felt that Stonemouth's success was in the way in which Stewart's old hometown became a creepy character in and of itself with director Charles Martin making into a place where everybody seemed suspicious. The performances were also fairly on point with special mention going to the always fantastic Mullan and the equally reliable Gary Lewis as his local nemesis. At the same time Stonemouth wasn't a drama that I ever found myself truly immersed in and if it weren't for an intriguing final scene I don't think I'd journey back to the town again. But as it's only a two-parter I do feel compelled enough to just check up on Stewart's fate and see how long Don and his family will let him hang around for.


Finally we move on to a show that, like TFI Friday, was revived last week after several years in the wilderness. But whilst Chris Evans and company's return to TV was welcomed, I don't know anybody who particularly wanted the return of the mid-2000s reality TV flop that was Love Island. The original Love Island at least contained a number of self-obsessed Z-Listers who drunkenly flirted with each other in order to get more screentime. Unfortunately this time round there's no Paul Danan or Fran Cosgrave and instead the show started with ten absolute nobodies. All of the girls seemed to be playboy bunnies or glamour models whilst all the lads were labourers but admitted to not actually doing that much work. The most famous of the bunch seemed to be Lauren who, from what I could ascertain, received several death threats from One Direction fans after she had a photograph taken with Zayn Malik days before he left the group. It appears that the producers are also trying to appease the One Direction fans as Lauren got rejected by the majority of the muscle-bound male contestants during the course of the first episode. If you thought Big Brother was brain-numbing then Love Island takes things to a new low with the original ten competitors seemingly sharing about two brain cells between them. Meanwhile Caroline Flack was little use as host and in fact seemed vaguely embarrassed by the fact that she was fronting the show in the first place. I was personally distracted by Flack's opening night denim ensemble which I thought made her look like a member of B*Witched. Flack's threat to launch a love grenade into the house didn't see any of the contestants perish in a massive disaster and instead saw a pair of gormless twins enter the competition. The main thing I noticed about Love Island is how old-fashioned it is in a society where everyone can chat instantly online. The concept of the dating show is very out-dated and unless it's done in a cheesy way like Take Me Out than it just seems a little futile. So ultimately Love Island is a redundant format hosted by somebody who wishes she was somewhere else and featuring a cast of people you'd happily punch in the face. Suffice to say I won't be sticking with it over the next six weeks.

That's your lot for now, hopefully I'll be back soon and in the meantime please follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites



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