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Sunday, 19 July 2015

Matt on the Box: The Outcast, Dragon's Den, Hair and Yonderland

Hi Folks. After a bit of time away I'm back to talk all the goings on in TV-land over the past seven days.

We kick off with BBC One's new Sunday night drama in the form of Sadie Jones' two-part adaptation of her own novel The Outcast. While doing my research on the show I learnt that Jones had previously been offered the chance for her story to be adapted into a two hour film. However she felt that it deserved more screen time than that and so took the BBC up on their offer of two ninety minute instalments. Part of the reason for this is that Jones felt that what happens in the latter half of the book deserves some context and therefore she wanted to take the time to delve into the backstory of the characters. Reading the premise for the book it appears that the majority of the first ninety minute instalment was indeed backstory as we learned of the tortured upbringing of The Outcast's lead character Lewis Aldridge. In my opinion the best part of this first instalment was its opening half hour in which we learned of Lewis' relationship with both his loving mother and his emotionally distant father. This was partly because the scenes were played so well by Finn Elliot as the young Lewis and by Hattie Morahan as his mother Elizabeth. However, it wasn't long before Lewis' downfall began after his mother drowned following an ill-fated picnic. Soon after this incident Lewis' father (Greg Wise) remarries the much younger Alice (Jessica Brown Findlay) and as a result he starts to get ignored even more. As he begins his teenage years Lewis (now played by George MacKay) suffers physical abuse from the local boys and later starts to self-harm. This anguish builds up into a final scene in which Lewis burns down the local church, an incident for which he is later arrested and jailed for.

One thing I will say about The Outcast is that it's ably directed by Ian Softley, who goes out of his way to make the piece look as good as possible. Therefore the earlier scenes are all presented in soft focus whilst the later moments are presented in a much harsher light. The period detail is also splendid down to the fact that when Lewis visits some seedy jazz bars, you can almost smell the cigarette smoke. Unfortunately everything else about The Outcast is either mediocre or downright abysmal and I personally struggled to even get through this first instalment. The chief offender has to be Sadie Jones herself whose inability to edit down her own work means that The Outcast is a long, rambling mess. I do feel it's almost always a mistake when a writer adapts their own work as they aren't distant enough from the story to make the tough decisions relating to which scenes should be cut. Even with better editing, I think that I still would've struggled with The Outcast primarily as none of the characters are particularly endearing. Even the supposedly sympathetic Lewis is hard to identify with especially as he is presented as an emotionally distant character. In fact the only times that I really warmed to Lewis was when he was conversing with the tomboyish Kit Carmichael (Jessica Barden), who is clearly the woman who he is destined to end up with. After being very impressed with his performance in Pride, I was disappointed with George MacKay's turn as the teenage version of Lewis. Even though he was hampered by a thankless character, I felt that MacKay failed to make the audience care about Lewis in any way. MacKay's performance wasn't the only one that was lacking in depth with the usually reliable Jessica Brown Findlay and Nathaniel Parker both failing to make an impression. After watching the first episode of The Outcast I really struggle to see who would've stuck with the drama aside from those who've read the book. Suffice to say, after suffering through the first half of The Outcast, I won't be tuning in for the concluding instalment as I don't care one iota whether or not Lewis is released from prison in one piece.




Also airing on Sunday night was the return of one of BBC Two's longest running shows; Dragon's Den. The thirteenth series of the business show saw its biggest personnel change ever as three of the five Dragons have never appeared on the show before. The three spots on the panel have been filled by fashion magnate Touker Suleyman, restaurant entrepreneur Sarah Willingham and Moonpig founder Nick Jenkins. The trio joined the returning Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden for a show that contained a lot of the clich├ęs that fans of the programme will recognise. To the show's credit I think two of the three newcomers showed their potential early on and suggested to me that they were the right people for the job. I felt that Touker was a natural showman and his conversations with the candidates were some of the episode's most entertaining. Meanwhile, Sarah seemed to show a genuine interest in a lot of the products but at the same time wasn't afraid to speak her mind when she felt she was being offended. Only Nick Jenkins didn't stand out to me and I personally felt that he didn't show enough fire to truly be described as a Dragon. As somebody who's been watching Dragon's Den for a while now I can almost always guess when a candidate will get an offer and when they will fall flat on their face. Take for example mum-of-four Farnaz Kharn who delivered a confident pitch only to fall apart when quizzed about her profit and loss figures. Similarly property expert Fraser was onto a loser from the very moment he revealed he wanted a million pounds for a 5% share in his crowdfunding website. Those who were more successful included yoga instructor Thierry who got an investment for his beam block yoga system, something that I didn't really understand. On the whole I feel that Dragon's Den is a show that you can't get really get wrong and the newest faces on the panel have already shown that they can hang with both Peter and Deborah. My only criticism would be that I felt the show has lost some of its bite, possibly due to the departure of the steely-faced Duncan Bannatyne, however the fire may return to the Den in future episodes and I for one hope that that's the case.

Another week, another show that has moved from the soon-to-be-destroyed BBC Three to the safer ground of BBC Two. This time it's reality competition show Hair which in my eyes is the most bizarre programme that has been saved from being buried during the online move. During its first run, Hair really didn't set the world alight and therefore I'm not quite sure why BBC Two were clamouring to get their hands on it. My only theory is that it fits in nicely with the channel's portfolio of Bake-Off replicates such as The Sewing Bee and the upcoming Pottery Throwdown. Another odd move seems to be replacing reliable if mundane host Steve Jones with Canadian comedienne Katherine Ryan who to my recollection has never presented a show. Ryan's inexperience show and her role is incredibly minimal as she only appears to remind the contestants how much time they have left in their various challenges. Ryan also doesn't provide voice-over during the challenges and it instead left to someone who was obviously deemed to have a more pleasant voice than the presenter. The basic premise of Hair centres around ten amateur hairstylists all competing to be crowned Britain's best over the course of eight episodes. Hair also features the requisite pairing of a demure female judge and a more striking male counterpart in the form of coiffeurs to the stars Alain Pichon and Denise McAdam. One thing I did like about the new series was that the episodes were split into thirty minute instalments which I found easier to digest. Of the two, the second episode was definitely the better as it saw the contestants go out into the field and design retro hairstyles for a number of guests attending an old-fashioned dance night. Whilst I think people interested in hairstyling in general will have a passing interest in the show, I don't think Hair particularly appeals to a mass audience. I'm also still shocked that it made the jump from BBC Three however I do think its reprieve will be short-lived and based on this week's evidence I don't believe that Hair will be returning for a third run.

Finally, we have another show returning for a second run in the form of Sky One's Yonderland. As a fan of the odd blend of puppetry and Monty Python-esque humour that series one delivered, I was glad to see Yonderland return for a second series. For those who missed the series the first time round, Yonderland is brought to us by the same team behind Horrible Histories. The first series saw ordinary housewife Debbie Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas) transported to the eponymous fantasy land of the title as she was heralded as the person charged with bringing down the evil Negatus (Simon Farnaby). The double bill that Sky One aired on Monday night suggested that not much has changed as the tone of the show remains much the same. However the writing team has introduced a new villain in the form of Debbie's mortal enemy Imperatrix who is even more intent on destruction that the slightly campy Negatus. In the style of Monty Python each cast member plays multiple roles, some of which are recurring whilst others only feature in one episode. This to me adds a sketch show element to Yonderland which I quite enjoy and it seems that all the male members of the cast revel in portraying a number of outlandish characters. What the writing team has also nailed is how to deliver a successful family show with sight gags that appeal to the youngsters and more subtle lines that the adults will understand. In order to further entertain younger viewers, each episode ends with a moral message of sorts as Debbie is able to solve one minor problem in Yonderland before returning to her own home. There was also plenty of nice little parodies throughout the double bill, especially in the second episode where Negatus received an Ofsted inspection while Debbie worked with a detective who had a hint of Poirot about him. Although it's not exactly highbrow, Yonderland is a gloriously silly programme that doesn't take itself too seriously but at the same time it's clear that the writing team have worked hard to create a comedy that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

That's your lot for now, remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I'll see you next soon for more of the same.

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