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Friday, 1 April 2016

Matt on the Box: The Island, Maigret, Murdered by My Father, Can't Touch This, Two Doors Down and Fresh Meat

Welcome back guys, hope you had a happy Easter and that you like me checked out some of the great and not so great TV that we had on offer. 


We kick off with Bear Grylls' attempt to take over television as he returned alongside twenty regular folks for the the third series of The Island. Two years ago The Island started as an experiment into whether modern men had grown too soft and determined this by dumping them on an uninhabited island and allowing them to fend for themselves. Last year series saw a group of women get their own island which was near to the men's island however the two never met and each set of contestants were given their own separate show. This year however the groups are mixed together on one big island for the first time even though initially neither group now over the others' existence. The first episode plotted both groups' initial steps on the island as they tried to make a camp before hunting for food and fresh water. It was clear to me that the women, who were for the most part led feisty fifty-something farmer Erika, were ahead of the men in terms of progress. For one thing they found the beach quite quickly, something it took the groups in the last series at least two episodes to do. But more than that they were able to handle the surroundings a lot better than the guys that is apart from camera operator Cassie who suddenly decided to leave the island. As much as I love the women's island last year it was the men who fascinated me more this time round. I particularly was stunned by the way phone shop owner Riz reacted when he first stepped off the boat. Instead of acting like he knew his way around the island, Riz instead burst into tears a fact that his fellow islanders really couldn't deal with. It was interesting to see the different reactions of the men with some wanting to give him time to get his bearings whilst others were keen to press on. Towards the end of the episode my opinion of the women's team change slightly when they believed they had found a clean water supply only for Bear to reveal that the water was in fact dirty. This led to a lot of the women feeling sick and I'm sure it's not too long before resentment starts to set in and fingers begin to point at the two girls who decided that the water was fresh to begin with. 


Rather inevitably the episode ended with two of the women spotting one of the guys climbing one of the island's rocks and setting up a world of possibilities for episode two. Even though we'd seen it before I'm still glad that this series started with men and women living separately as it sees how the groups act when they're within their own sex. It'll be interesting to discover how some of the contestants act differently now the two tribes have been integrated and what challenges each will face living with one another. The problem with having twenty people to follow on these shows is that some of them initially don't get a lot of screen time so unless you cause a big stir like Riz or become leader of the group such as Erika then you're almost sidelined. I feel that's why someone like gobby London barmaid Tilly tries to shout as loud as possible because at least then you'll remember her, even if it is for all the wrong reasons. The only other really memorable contestant in this first episode is Hannah a former army corporal who lost her leg and is out to show her kids that their mother can still do anything. Even though it's in its third series, The Island is still oddly engrossing and I think it's a testament to the editing team that works on the show as they are able to create a compelling narrative from very little at all. Another strength in this series is Grylls himself who acts more like a guide to island life rather than a character in his own right. Whilst in Mission Survive, Grylls plays the role of the angry parent here he provides almost a DVD commentary of what you shouldn't do on a desert island. The only moment I felt Grylls got really annoyed was when camerawoman Cassie pulled out unexpectedly as that meant he had to go back to camp and find another member of his filming crew. It'll be interesting to see where The Island goes next especially when the men and women begin cohabiting however I'm sceptical about how many more series that Channel 4 can get out of this format following this recent run. Although it always provides an interesting look at how modern people react to basic surroundings I feel there's only so many times you can see people struggle to start a fire before you turn the channel. 


Moving on to two new and very different dramas starting with the revival of a popular detective brand which debuted on ITV this Bank Holiday Monday. Georges Simenon's Maigret has been adapted for the small screen several times before most notably during the 1990s where the French detective was played by Michael Gambon. Stepping into the role in this new interpretation is Rowan Atkinson, an odd choice primarily as he's an actor who's not known for his straight roles. However, one of the biggest compliments I can pay his performance is that I forgot I was watching Atkinson as the drama rolled on. Maigret Sets a Trap is the first of Stewart Hartcourt's adaptations and takes us to the streets of Montmarte in the mid-1950s. As the episode begins, there is a murderer lurking in the shadows and he has already taken the lives of three women. A fourth woman joins their number towards the beginning of the instalment which leads Maigret and his team to attempt to find the serial killer as soon as possible. Maigret Sets a Trap then sees the detective do just that as he has a number of attractive women sit outside in Montmarte whilst being watched by off duty police officers. This trap works and soon enough Maigret finds the man he suspects to be the murderer but he has a tougher time proving it. I personally found the second half of Maigret Sets a Trap to be quite tedious as Maigret tried to find a motive linking debonair architect Marcel Moncin (David Dawson) to the murders. Although Maigret wasn't exactly high on realism in the first place I think the drama lost me when it introduced the unbelievable Marcel and his even more colourful mother (Fiona Shaw). By the time the ninety minute running time was up, I was already a little bored by the piece which I found took itself a lot more seriously than it should have done. Even a late attempt to add tension by putting a question mark next to Moncin's guilt didn't do much for me and Maigret's summation of the situation fell a little flat. In fact I think that Maigret Sets a Trap suffered from a number of pacing issues as well as a lot of secondary characters who were simply used as plot devices.


That's not to say that Maigret Sets a Trap didn't have its plus points with most of them being attributed to Ashley Pearce's fantastic direction. Maigret was shot in a slightly quirky fashion that I feel differentiated itself from a lot of other historical dramas. Some of the camera angles were particularly unique and I was impressed by the way Pearce visually realised the piece. The period detail is equally impressive with the production design being splendid throughout especially in the scenes in the area's favourite burlesque club. I similarly enjoyed the title sequences and Samuel Sim's central score. As I already mentioned I felt that Atkinson was a revelation as Maigret to the extent that I feel a little sorry that it's taken him this long to feature in a major straight role. Atkinson resists the urge to play any of his lines for laughs and instead keeps a stony face throughout the course of this episode. The problem I had was, aside from Atkinson, none of the other members of what I'm assuming will be the regular cast really made an impression. In fact only Mark Heap's pathologist Moers made any real impression and that's primarily as the actor chewed as much scenery as he could possibly manage. Aside from Heap the general staff of the police station were a bunch of one-dimensional caricatures, all played by a cavalcade of familiar faces but none of them ever really being given the chance to shine. However I don't see this as the actor's fault but rather the fault of Harcourt who places all of the attention on the central mystery rather than getting us interested in characters who will presumably return in future instalments. My problems continued into Maigret's home life which was briefly touched on by never explored in detail even though Lucy Cohu did a good job of trying to make the most of her thinly-drawn role of his wife. Cohu and Atkinson did sort of work as a couple and I would've like to have seen more of them together but unfortunately I was deprived of this opportunity. Whilst I'm not saying Maigret is bad, it was just terribly mediocre and a bad start for a brand that ITV presumably want to roll out over the next couple of years. Although Atkinson's central performance and Pearce's direction was strong overall this was a disappointing attempt at resurrecting a popular detective series.


Meanwhile, over on BBC Three, the channel is keen to show that their output hasn't dipped in quality since the move online. After the stunning Thirteen came to an end on Sunday, BBC Three tried to replicate that success with the one-off fact-based drama Murdered by My Father. As the title would suggest, the drama has a lot in common with the BAFTA-winning Murdered by My Boyfriend as both are based on real life testimonies of real life events. Murdered by My Father focuses on widower father Shazhad (Adeel Akhtar) and his relationship with his teenage daughter Salma (Kiran Sonia Sawar). When she was still young, Salma was promised in marriage to Haroon (Salman Aktar) but now she is older she has since fallen for the charismatic Imi (Mawaan Rizwan). The drama then follows Salma's attempts to keep her burgeoning relationship with Imi a secret whilst Shazhad gradually realises that his daughter has begun lying to him. Events finally spiral out of control at Salma and Haroon's engagement party where the latter spots the former kissing Imi. The fallout from this evident sees Salma's reputation fall in the community and as a result disgrace falls on Shazhad. As the title would suggest the final scenes of the drama see Shazhad conduct what is known as an 'honour killing' of his daughter before he himself attempts to commit suicide. It is Murder by My Father's final scenes that really stick in the memory and screenwriter Vinay Patel choreographs this sequence beautifully. Although we know exactly what's going to happen, Shazhad's murder of Salma is still shocking and credit must go to both Sawar and Akhtar for their performances in this scene and throughout. Akhtar in particular was fantastic and even though he ended up murdering his daughter you still felt sympathy with his character as this was sort of presented as his last resort. If there was a villain of the piece then it was the close-knit community who felt that Salma had shamed her father by conducting a relationship with a man she seemingly loved. However my problem with the drama was that I don't think Patel spent enough time concentrating on the relationship between Imi and Salma before the inevitable fallout from their liaison. I have to say I didn't fully believe that Salma's feelings for Imi would cause her to betray her family's reputation as their relationship didn't feel that intense. That being said, on the whole I felt Murdered by My Father had a lot to offer and dramatised an issue that I wasn't aware of in a powerful and memorable way. At the same time I wish that BBC Three was still on the TV as I feel this important piece of drama needs to be seen by as many people as possible.


Earlier this year I reviewed BBC One's The Getaway Car and noted how it was yet another failed attempt to provide a genuine Saturday night hit for the channel. This week another game show attempts to set early Saturday evenings on fire and it seems as if Can't Touch This is even trying to replicate the success that ITV have found with Ninja Warrior UK. Can't Touch This attempts to imitate the Ninja Warrior model where we watch a string of contestants attempt to tackle the same assault course. Additionally, the BBC seem to have been at the random presenter generator and for hosting duties have drafted in Zoe Ball and Diversity's Ashley Banjo. Whilst Ball is a reliable host, I do wonder why Banjo is involved here as the show has very little if anything to do with dancing. In fact both of the presenters are more or less redundant as the main bulk of the talking is done by Sue Perkins who narrates the contestants' progress through the course off screen. Ball and Banjo's main job seems to be showing the audience at home how they should be reacting to the various scrapes the contestants find themselves in. The majority of the episode is taken up by Round One in which sixteen contestants all try to navigate their way round the course whilst holding their hands up to various touch points which represent one prize. Every touch point they fail to get costs them a time penalty of thirty seconds and only the six fastest competitors get to go through to Round Two. The second round is a bit of an oddity as the six are whittle down to three in a strange way which involves much running and turning. In the end only one contestant actually gets to play for the prizes that they touched during the course of the game and also has the chance to jump up and touch a car. The fact that the aim of the game is for the contestants to touch as many prizes as possible makes the name Can't Touch This a little redundant. Personally I would've named it hands on the prize or would've at least added a question mark at the end of the show's current title. Although I enjoyed Perkins' commentary, I found Can't Touch This to be oddly hollow and emotionless with the central assault cause feeling a little basic. I do feel that the show would've been improved by having a studio audience as that would've lifted the mood especially if we saw the contestants' friends and family. I would've also got rid of one of the two presenters as having both alongside the voice of Sue Perkins feels like overkill in my opinion. All in all, Can't Touch This did have the makings of good Saturday night game show however the lack of atmosphere and the over-abundance of presenters makes me feel like I actually can't watch this again.



Next we journey over to BBC Two for a new sitcom which some people will remember started life as a one-off comedy drama on New Year's Eve in 2013. Two Doors Down reunites us with Eric and Beth (Alex Norton and Arabella Weir) a middle-aged Glaswegian couple who are part of a close-knit neighbourhood. From the opening instalment I got the impression that each episode of the series will be based around one crisis or another that the neighbours have with the rest of the street getting involved in the process. This time it was Eric's late night hunt for oven chips that led to Beth's freezer being left open overnight and completely ruining all the food that was in it. This prompts Beth to invite friends and family around to sample a buffet that includes everything from vegetable pakoras to apple pie. Drafted into help in the kitchen is Cathy (Doon Mackichan), Beth's neighbour who can't help but pass comment on how big her freezer is in comparison to her friend's and how it pains to even help put stuff in the oven. The other story running throughout this first episode is that of Eric and Beth's son Ian (Jamie Quinn) who is about to move in with his boyfriend Jaz (Harki Bhambra) but isn't keen to tell his parents just yet. Whilst Two Doors Down wasn't laugh-out-loud funny what I enjoyed about the show was the way in which you identified with at least one of the characters. I feel most people know an Eric or a Beth or a Cathy and therefore it's not a hard task to imagine these people living on your street. The central gag of the freezer breaking down is an equally realistic conceit and the scene in which Beth and Cathy were trying to work out what went in the oven and what temperature was very funny indeed. I feel that the sitcom's creator Simon Carlyle has a very good ear for everyday dialogue and that's true of both Two Doors Down and his work on Boy Meets Girl. The cast are equally on form with Norton, Weir and Mackichan the highlights of a strong ensemble who were all trying their best to make the show work. My only criticism of Two Doors Down at this early stage is that the supporting characters don't feel as well-realised as the main cast which is true of Ian and Jaz as well as Sharon Rooney's Sophie who doesn't get to do much at all. Overall I would say that Two Doors Down is a promising and likeable sitcom that contains believable characters and situations which is something I couldn't say a lot of other contemporary comedies.


Finally we say a fond farewell and rather a sad goodbye to the students of Manchester Medlock University in the final episode of Fresh Meat. As a massive fan of all four series of the comedy drama I was hoping for a satisfying finale and thankfully I wasn't disappointed. The episode started with all of the gang, bar second year Josie (Kimberley Nixon), learning their final grades for their course. Most got what they were expecting with the exception of Vod (Zawe Ashton) who achieved a 2:1 and Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie) who got a 2:2 despite her feeling that she deserved a better grade. There was also good news for Howard (Greg McHugh) as he achieved his dream of a first and a job at Ordnance Survey however he briefly believed that all of his housemates would be coming with him. Luckily after working at Vod's graduation ball, which was moved to their house, Howard acquired the social skills he needed to live with other people. Elsewhere Josie finally realised that she had feelings for JP (Jack Whitehall) especially after he finally stood up to his brother and rejected an offer of the job at his bank. Instead JP hoped to live his dream of being an estate agent and if he was really being able to drive one of those minis. I do feel that everybody pretty much got what they deserved and the extra scene that was available online saw all of the boys living together whilst Vod and Oregon were in Laos researching the latter's novel. I did worry that writer Tony Roche would have a lot to get through but I think he gave each character an equal amount of time however I felt that this final episode deserved a little more than fifty minutes to wrap everything up. As is always the way with Fresh Meat, the comic moments were incorporated with elements of drama such as JP standing up to Tomothy and Oregon finally revealing her true self to her parents. My favourite revelation of this final episode had to be the fact that Howard actually lived two streets away from the share house and that his annoying parents kept trying to invite the rest of the gang round. Overall I feel that all six of the cast members have benefited from their time on Fresh Meat and most have already gone on to bigger and better things. So while I've enjoyed spending time with the gang over the past four and bit years I feel it's best that we never return to see what these characters are up to again as it would spoil for what has been in my opinion an almost perfect series. 

That's your lot for now thanks for reading and I'll see you next time for more of the same.

5 comments:

Jordan G said...

I quite enjoyed Maigret to be honest and agree that Rowan Atkinson was good in a serious role, would still tune in to the next one. Will keep an eye out for Two Doors Down as not a lot of great comedy on right now.

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