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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Matt on The Box: The Jump, Vera, Back in Time for the Weekend and Celebrity Big Brother

Another week in TV Land is over and that means it's time for another Matt on the Box where I'm struggling again to find many notable highlights.


The TV programme that has probably garnered the most headlines this week is Channel 4's Winter Olympic themed competition show The Jump. However the majority of those headlines related to the fact that the show is almost intent in trying to injure as many of its famous contestants as possible. Indeed over The Jump's past two series some contestants have been injured before training commenced and the first champion of the show Joe McElderry was actually drafted in as a last minute replacement. Although some of them were bumped and bruised, all of this year's celebrities made it to the first show in which they competed against each other in the brutal Skeleton run. Whilst The Skeleton looks hard enough when professionals do it, I do feel it's very dangerous to let amateurs have a go. This was especially true of Arg from The Only Way is Essex who hit the course several times and therefore having to compete again in the dreaded air jump. Arg also told the audience at home that he was severely out-of-shape which sort of ruined the ending of ITV's Sugar Free Farm on which the Essex lad is trying to lose weight. Arg wasn't the only member of the cast to injure themselves though as swimming legend Rebecca Adlington dislocated her shoulder whilst participating in a trial jump earlier in the day. As host Davina McCall brought up it can't have helped that everybody in the busy Austrian bar set was bumping into her all night. But for the moment at least she's in the competition after the jump in which she injured her shoulder wasn't the worst of the bunch. However I'm guessing that the reserve celebrities, in this case former Hollyoaks actress Gemma Merna and The Wanted's Tom Parker, are hoping that Adlington doesn't return only so one of them can get a little bit of TV time. 


In my opinion these sorts of celebrity-led reality TV shows rely on a good mixture of characters in order for them to succeed. Indeed the aforementioned Sugar Free Farm was better than expected thanks to the famous faces that took part in it. Unfortunately the way The Jump is formatted means that we only get to see the celebrities briefly as they train for their event and then as they line-up next to Davina McCall waiting to hear the results. This is a shame as a lot of the group seem charismatic and it would be great to see the likes of former Superman actor Dean Cain mixing with Girls Alouds' Sarah Harding and Olympian Linford Christie. I believe that some of the most entertaining moments of The Jump occur in the few moments when we get to see the twelve celebs interacting at the Athlete's Lodge during training. I would go as far as to say that a preview show which predominantly featured scenes from The Lodge would go down quite well and would act as a good buffer between the event-led shows. One of this year's big changes is the fact that The Jump is only on every Sunday rather than each week night as has been the case for the past two years. This at least helps us to get to know the celebs a little more and invest time in their success or failures. But at the same time I think Channel 4 are taking a big risk in hoping that the audience sticks around week in week out for the next couple of months. In The Jump's favour I do think that the celebrities are quite a game bunch and the segments that focus on the events themselves are actually gripping. Unfortunately the fact that all the winter sports that feature on the show are over quite quickly means that there's a lot of filling which is when my mind started to wander. The Jump is also dependant on the elements which scuppered plans for the live jump in the first show and meant that celebrities were judged on their pre-recorded efforts. Whist this was good news for the injured Adlington, it was bad news for ex-Eastender Louisa Lytton whose feeble jump saw her head home. Whilst I do like the fact that The Jump is a reality show that relies on facts rather than judges' opinions, there's not enough going on to truly get on board with it. I'm actually a little surprised that the show is already in its third series but then I suppose that some of the Channel 4 team do enjoying holidaying in Austria at this time of year. 


Also returning on Sunday night was ITV's long-winded crime drama Vera which I was surprised to learn was now on its sixth series. Although I've watched almost every episode of the crime drama for reviewing purposes I've never once found myself really connecting with the characters originally created by Ann Cleeves. This series started with the discovery of a body on the Northumberland Moors by a little girl who informs a pub-full of locals of what she has found. Soon the raincoat-wearing DCI Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn) and her team on the case to find out just what happened to Anne-Marie Richards and why it was that her body ended up being found on The Moors. One of the things that I feel this drama struggles with is stretching what I found to be quite a weak story over the course of ninety minutes. Unlike other murder mysteries, such as the excellent Endeavour which finishes its run last week, was that it rarely delves into the personal lives of the detectives. In fact the only deviations from the central murder plot came when Vera's partner DC Aiden Healey (Kenny Doughty) revealed that he was getting married and that DC Bethany Whelan (Cush Jumbo) wanted a transfer to the Major Crimes Unit. Therefore I feel that writer Martha Hiller's job was to make us invested in the story of Anne-Marie and wonder who it was that could have killed her. Over the course of the story we learned that she was in a relationship with a younger taxi driver, had alienated several of the locals and was illegally procuring painkillers for one of her daughters. However I personally saw every false lead and red herring coming a mile off which made it very hard to get on board with the episode. Although there were a few moments of action towards the end of the episode, it didn't really make up for what had gone before and following the identification of the killer I found the final couple of scenes to be fairly dull.


I think all that's wrong with Vera can be perfectly summed up by the actress Cush Jumbo, who has played DC Bethany Whelan on and off since the drama's second series. In Vera I don't think Jumbo really ever got to demonstrate what she can do as an actress and instead just became another body who would occasionally find a new piece of evidence. In fact in this Sunday's episode, which was to be the character's last she spend most of the time complaining about Vera's job reference and the fact that she'd been demoted to the role of family liaison on the Anne-Marie murder case. Contrast that to Jumbo's performance in the first episode of the new series of The Good Wife in which I feel she showcased more personality in a single instalment than she ever did on Vera. Another issue with the more recent series of Vera is that Brenda Blethyn has very little chemistry with her new on-screen partner Kenny Doughty. In the early series where Blethyn acted opposite David Leon I felt they made a good odd couple partnership and each character seemed to care about one another. Here Vera seemingly doesn't give two hoots about Aiden's upcoming nuptials or impending fatherhood but then again neither does the writer. In terms of this episode there are only two positive elements I can put my finger on the first being the performance by Blethyn which I still feel is the best thing about the show. Fair enough the writers do give Blethyn a couple of scenes every episode where the character is able to give a rousing speech about the case but even in the quieter moments I think that the actress really shines. The other great thing about Vera are the Northumberland locations which are exploited to their full effect in each episode. The fact that Anne-Marie's body was discovered on The Moors allowed the team plenty of opportunity for outside shots which captured the full beauty of the area. But unfortunately the visuals and central performance of Vera was not enough to make it more than a rather mediocre crime drama that never really had my attention during its more than ninety minute running time.


Last year BBC Two found they had a rather surprising hit on their hands with Back in Time For Dinner in which a modern family were transported back in time and had to experience meal times throughout various decades. So popular was the show that the channel have decided to try and replicate its success with Back in Time for The Weekend which brings us a new family who are tasked with experiencing leisure time from the 1950s through to the 21st century. It appears that the producers wanted to find quite a modern clan and have done in the Ashby Hawkins family where mother Steph is the main breadwinner whilst father Rob cooks all the meals and works from home as a childminder. Obviously the roles changed significantly where Steph found herself having to take part in all the menial duties whilst Rob had to partake in several DIY efforts, something that was quite alien to him. Whilst Steph struggled to cope without a washing machine, it was the couple's daughter Daisy whose life was transformed the most as she was forced to get used to life as a housewife-in-training. However as the decade progressed she got to experience the birth of the teenager and was given a record player on which to listen to Rock Around the Clock and dance rather awkwardly with her boyfriend. This first episode seemed to suggest that most members of the family would be better off in future decades that was apart from twelve-year-old son Seth who got to experience the outdoors. The programme saw Seth and his friends build their own tent, cook their own food and camp overnight; something that the video-game playing youth of today don't do as much anymore. However I do feel that Seth's enjoyment was more of a reward for enduring a faux Sunday School class taught by Anne Widdicombe. Adding the social context to things with the ever-present Giles Coren who kept showing up at the family's door like he had very little to do. Coren referred back to the expenditure survey as a way of making sure that the historical aspect was correct and giving the family new technology when the time was right. Although these sort of programmes have been done before I rather enjoyed Back in Time for the Weekend as it breezed along quite nicely and the Ashby Hawkins brood where for the most part quite a game bunch.


I thought I would bookend this week's instalment with a look at another C-List-heavy show in the form of Celebrity Big Brother which finished its current run on Friday. I've often been a fan of both the standard and celebrity versions of Big Brother but have found this series oddly alienating for a number of reasons. Firstly I found that there were too many initial housemates with the likes of Kristina Rhianoff and Christopher Maloney really surplus to requirements. Secondly there's been far too many crude comments made during the series as well as some housemates revealing far too much about themselves. Although I do like the odd argument here and there, I've also found there's been too much shouting with the cause of most of the aggravation being either Towie stalwart Gemma Collins or former Hollyoaks actress Stephanie Davis. Davis was arguably the most notorious member of this year's group due to her relationship with Irish model Jeremy McConnell which was made all the more controversial due to the fact she had a boyfriend on the outside. Stephanie's closeness to Jeremy turned some of the house against her and also made her public enemy number one with the slightly unhinged die hard Big Brother fans. Despite this Stephanie managed to come second in the final beating out bigger names such as former Eastenders stars Daniella Westbrook and John Partridge. Finishing in third was Darren Day who, judging from what I saw of the show, probably gave the best accounting of himself and changed a lot of people's opinions of him. However it was likeable dimwit Scotty T who was ultimately crowned champion and became yet another Geordie Shore star to triumph on a reality show following in the footsteps of Queen of the Jungle Vicky Pattinson and former Celeb Big Brother champ Charlotte Crosby. If I'm honest I don't think the established reality stars add much to the Big Brother format as they know how to react on camera in order to get the biggest amount of screen time. If I were casting the summer series I would look instead to people who are famous for other things other than already playing the reality game. However I'm sure we'll see the usual mix of Towie, Geordie Shore, The X-Factor and The Apprentice when Celebrity Big Brother returns in August and I'm just hoping it's a little bit more watchable than this current run has been.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I'll see you in a fortnight with another dose of TV highlights. 

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