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Sunday, 2 August 2015

Matt on the Box: Partners in Crime, Life in Squares, Flockstars and BBQ Champ

Welcome to a look back at what was a rather mundane week in the world of TV.


We kick off with BBC One's latest Sunday night drama in the form of mystery caper Partners in Crime. The drama is executive produced and stars David Walliams as Thomas Beresford, a man of fact who finds himself sucked into the criminal underworld after a chance meeting with a woman on a train. Joining Walliams is Jessica Raine as Tommy's wife Tuppence; a fan of mystery novels who feels something's amiss after they're led off their train in France after a fracas involving the seemingly frightened Jane Finn. As the drama goes on Tuppence continues to poke her nose were it doesn't belong and finds herself in a rather frightening position after she visits an illegal gambling den. Soon, in a rather exposition-filled speech from Tuppence's uncle Major Carter (James Fleet), the couple learns that Jane may have been in possession of a recording which reveals the identity of Russian hitman Mr Brown. Carter then employs the rather reluctant sleuthing duo to track down Jane using an advert they placed in the paper to help them with their search. The rest of this opening episode saw the Beresfords go undercover as they interviewed a man claiming to be Jessica's uncle before enlisting the help of one of Tommy's old war buddies to develop some photos. By the end of the first instalment both Tommy and Tuppence appeared to be risking their lives with the former attending a rather seedy peep show and the latter going to work as a secretary from an opera singer who seemingly has something to do with Jane's disappearance. But, as this first mystery has another two episodes to properly unfold, I don't expect much of a resolution to occur in the second instalment.


Despite the fact that this story, based on Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary, is being stretched over three episodes I felt that this opening instalment was well-paced. Zinnie Harris' adaptation includes several changes to the story including making the Beresfords into a married couple and moving the time frame to the cold war era of the 1950s. I believe that both of these changes make sense as the marital bickering between Thomas and Tuppence was one of my personal highlights of the first episode whilst the threat of Russian hitman Mr. Brown gave the story a sense of danger. Unlike previous Sunday night BBC dramas such as Poldark and The Outcast, Partners in Crime never took itself too seriously and this was a pleasant surprise. However the comic touches never undermined the dramatic elements and I felt the opening set piece on the train was a particularly good introduction to the tone that Partners in Crime was going to set. Another pleasant surprise was the fact that David Walliams was in his element playing the straight man of the duo. Thomas is described at one point as a pipe and slippers man and I felt that Walliams perfectly portrayed the character as a rather strait-laced individual. If anything it was Jessica Raine who was the more outrageous of the two as she donned a variety of disguises in her role as Tuppence. I've always been a fan of Raine and I think Partners in Crime is the first chance she's got to really demonstrate how much of a versatile actress she is. As you would expect from a BBC One period piece, everything about Partners in Crime is well-designed from the character's costumes to the various lavish sets. Although there's nothing particularly unique about Partners in Crime that doesn't escape from the fact that I was thoroughly entertained by the drama's opening instalment. Whether my interest will be maintained throughout the coming weeks remains to be seen but for now at least I'll stick with Partners in Crime primarily due to the drama's light tone and great central performances.


While Partners in Crime kept my interest throughout I can't say the same about the BBC's other big period drama of the week Life in Squares. The drama concentrated on the Bloomsbury Group; a gaggle of authors and painters who caused a stir in the early part of the 20th century thanks to their radical ideas. The primary focus of the piece was on the sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf (Phoebe Fox and Lydia Leonard) whose lives intertwine with the cavalcade of men who they entertain. One such man is gay artist Duncan Grant (James Norton) who seems to attract the attention of both sexes throughout the course of the first episode. The opener also explores Vanessa's courtship and eventual marriage to Clive Bell and his subsequent affair with her sister. Life in Squares is the first drama in a long while that has left me completely cold and I have almost no opinion on it whatsoever. Most of what happened on screen washed right over me and I was a little upset from the outset when the opening credits promised a host of actors, including Eve Best and Rupert Penry-Jones, who barely appeared in the episode at all due to the fact they're playing the older versions of the characters. Writer Amanda Coe's script is full of clich├ęs right from the word go with one early example being the scene in which Vanessa and Virginia literally cast of the confines of their uncomfortable dresses. The dialogue is similarly filled with unbelievable dialogue with one of my favourite lines being 'loyalty is a primary colour.' If there's one highlight in the whole thing then it's James Norton who at least tries to make something of his underwritten role. However even the talented Norton can't overcome a script that has seemingly asked him to shoot smouldering looks at every other cast member every ten seconds. Ultimately there's very little to say about Life in Squares other than it's a drama that I'll struggle to remember in a couple of months' time and it's a shame that the BBC have probably spent quite a lot of money on a drama that has very little value.


Whilst the BBC pumped out more costume dramas, ITV continued to have one of their worst years ever with another couple of woeful offerings. The first of these was Flockstars, a programme that I reckon first started life as a name before the concept was even born. The show sounds like something that even Alan Partridge would deem too ridiculous to imagine as eight celebrities become amateur shepherds as they attempt to guide a sheep dog round a specially built course. As you would expect the famous faces are of a high calibre with this first episode seeing Strictly Come Dancing pro Brendan Cole squaring off against amateur estate agent Amanda Lamb. One thing I was disappointed by was the lack of lamb puns especially when Amanda was trying to get her dog to rustle up a quartet of Hebridean sheep. Another question that crossed my mind was what host Gaby Logan had done to her agent to land such rubbish jobs as Flockstars, I Love My Country and Splash! Although I didn't expect Flockstars to be any good I thought at least it may be one of those shows that so bad it's rather enjoyable. However the majority of what I saw on screen was just dull with the main sheep-herding action being particularly tiresome. At the end of the day watching a C-lister guiding a dog round a track and putting some sheep in a pen isn't an enthralling experience even if Logan would have you believe otherwise. The sole highlight for me was during Lamb's trial where the Hebridean sheep decided to try and make a run for it by vaulting over the assault course's weak enclosure. In fact I feel these sheep were trying to send a subliminal message to the audience that they should also run away from the show as fast as possible. I honestly don't see who Flockstars appeals to or why it's even on my TV it feels as if someone somewhere lost a bet that this show wouldn't have a chance of getting commissioned. Additionally I can't see anybody tuning in next week apart from if their particularly interested in catching highlights from the blood feud pitting Lesley Joseph against Fazer from N Dubz.


Although slightly better than Flockstars, ITV's other new show of the week BBQ Champ still didn't have a lot going for it. By the trailers alone I could ascertain that this was the latest in a long line of programmes trying to emulate the Great British Bake-Off. In fact BBQ Champ does feel like someone at ITV suggested doing the Bake-Off but with meat instead of baked goods. However it seems that nobody brought up the fact that barbecuing isn't a particularly versatile endeavour and the dishes that it produces are fairly similar. Possibly BBQ Champ's biggest pull is the presence of Man Vs Food's Adam Richman who most of the contestants seem eager to please. Although Richman is a star of the barbecue world it did seem that he struggled to differentiate between constructive comments and plain old insults. I also got fairly irritated with Richman when he started randomly swearing during the show something that I personally found a little jarring. Adam's fellow judge is Mark Blatchford, a restaurateur who at least knows his stuff when it comes to burning things over wood and coal. Although Mark seemed to know what he was talking about he didn't bring much personality to the show and he and Richman struggled to find an easy chemistry with one another. Another issue I had with BBQ Champ was the lack of big personalities amongst the contestants, many of whom didn't even seem that good at grilling food. The only stand out performer for me was larger-than-life soup kitchen worker Solomon whose big smile and infectious personality means that he'll almost certainly make it through to the final. However BBQ Champ's biggest mystery was the presence of Myleene Klass as the show's presenter especially when, in her own words, she doesn't cook at all. BBQ Champ isn't as bad as ITV's previous attempt to recreate the Bake-Off with the woeful Food Glorious Food but it's just terribly ordinary. I can't imagine anyone who watched the first episode would be gripped to see who'll make it through to the final as most of the contestants didn't even seem that bothered if they won it or not.

That's all from me for now remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I'll see you next time.

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