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Sunday, 23 October 2016

Matt on the Box: Ordinary Lies, Him, Tutankhamun, Married at First Sight and The Crystal Maze


After a couple of weeks off I'm back with a look at a week packed with strange drama, returning nuptials and one big nostalgia hit.


We start with the return of a drama that was one of last year's surprise hits, especially to me as I didn't think much of it at all. However it's all change for Danny Brocklehurst's Ordinary Lies, as we've moved away from the car showroom with the second series taking place in a sports goods manufacturer in Wales. One element of the drama that hasn't changed though is that each episode focuses on a member of the core cast with this opener centring on head of sales Joe Brierley (Con O'Neill), a man who likes to crack awful jokes at the beginning of every day. Whilst fooling around in the warehouse, Joe suffers a minor injury which forces him to go back home for the day where he discovers  his wife Belinda (Jill Halfpenny) is also there and has bolted the door shut. Believing that she's acting suspiciously, Joe feels that she may well be having an affair especially after he read some flirty texts on her phone from her co-worker. Acting on his suspicion Joe begins installing spy cameras into the fire alarms at home in order to discover just what his wife is up to. As he reviews the grainy footage on his laptop, we the audience begin questioning what the ultimate revelation is going to be and if in fact his wife is up to anything at all. In actuality a lot of what Joe discovered was about his son from the fact he smoked pot to the revelation that he was having some sort of relationship with a younger girl from the neighbourhood. Brocklehurst also drip fed us information about Joe throughout the instalment such as the fact that he was a recovering alcoholic and he was attempting to say sober by volunteering with the local scouts brigade. For the majority of this first episode of Ordinary Lies I enjoyed the fact that the central conceit of Joe's story was a lot easier to buy than anything that happened in the drama's first run. Jealousy and paranoia are emotions we can all relate to and the fact that Joe installed the cameras in his whom also felt completely believable. However the final discovery about what Belinda was doing threw any sort of believability out of the window as I found it to be utterly outlandish.


The final scenes saw Joe track down Belinda as she was in the process of exposing a man as being a paedophile, as he thought he was conversing online with a teenage girl. It then transpired that she was a member of a vigilante group who conducted various operations to bring down men they viewed as dangerous predators. When Joe confronted his wife about her participation in the group we learnt that the couple's daughter had previously been abused with the perpetrator ultimately walking free. Whilst Brocklehurst had been able to wrap up Joe's story by the end of the episode, he'd completely lost me after the Belinda reveal and everything after that was almost like white noise. That's a shame as there was a lot to like about this series of Ordinary Lies which almost seems to be a step up on its predecessor. For one thing the cast are more likeable and the characters more believable with everything about Joe as a person feeling completely realistic. Con O'Neill was the perfect choice to play the wise-cracking middle management type who had skeletons in his closet and whose home life rapidly began to play on his mind. I was totally captivated by O'Neill whose screen presence made me really feel for his character even after he started to abuse his family's privacy. I felt he was particularly compelling during the scenes in which he intently checked his laptop for any signs of Belinda's infidelity. As this was Joe's story not many of the other cast members got their chance to shine although we were introduced to all the other characters in passing including Angela Griffin as Joe's boss Jenna who is hiding some secrets of her own. I have to say though, aside from O'Neil's stonking central turn, there wasn't a lot about this opening instalment of Ordinary Lies that I particularly warmed to. I certainly wasn't a fan of the final reveal as it almost sapped all the credibility from the rest of the episode. However the beauty of a series like Ordinary Lies is that it can hit the reset button on a weekly basis meaning that just if you didn't like last week's episode doesn't mean you won't like the next instalment. Furthermore as the next instalment features the wonderful Kimberley Nixon in the lead role then I'll definitely be tuning and I'll have my fingers crossed for a more realistic conclusion in episode two than I received in this opener.


Another drama that through realism into the corner and then trampled on it several times was ITV's new three-parter Him, which is a very weird series indeed. Writer Paula Milne has described the series as a 'domestic horror' two genres that seem like they shouldn't fit together and it's clear as the drama plays out that they really don't. One of the elements of the drama that wound me up from the very beginning was the fact that we never get to know the name of the central teenager played by newcomer Fionn Whitehead. It does seem that Milne thinks that makes her drama seem awfully clever but I just thought it was a bit of a smug plot device. Him's central premise is that Whitehead's stroppy teen is a bit like Roald Dahl's Matilda in that he can make things happen with his mind when adults annoy him. Any time that we see him engaged in a confrontation with an adult his nose begins to bleed and soon enough tragedy occurs. The first instance of this is when his divorced parents (James Murray and Katherine Kelly) are berating him on the way back from a meeting at his college when he causes a car crash with his mind. A similar incident occurs later on when an argument with his stepfather (Patrick Robinson) sees the teen control a number of tools with his mind with the intention of dropping them on top of the adult's head. Even though he eventually thinks better of it we learn that his superpower is inherited from his grandfather and that his grandmother (Susan Jameson) is the only person who truly knows what he's capable of. Although his grandmother tells him that he needs to use his powers for good by the end of the episode he has caused a flood in his father's house trapping his pregnant stepmother in her water-logged bedroom with the insinuation that she's about to lose the twins that she was expecting. In fact the only healthy relationship that our protagonist seems to be developing is with his stepsister Faith (Simona Brown) who seems to understand his position as the outsider in his own family. However the combination of his weird powers and the fact that they're practically related doesn't bode well for this blossoming relationship between these star-crossed step-siblings.


There were many problems with Him most notably that none of the characters were particularly likeable as in every scene they were at each other's throats. Lucy Liemann as stepmother Beth was a prime example, an overbearing pompous stereotype who didn't like the influence that our teen hero had on his step brother. As she would only have him stay over on set days made me hate her almost instantly to the extent that I felt very little sympathy at her dilemma at the end of the episode. The fact that all of the adults are essentially unlikeable would've been okay if Milne had made her central character a likeable chap who you wanted to root for. Instead Whitehead's lead was a withdrawn character whose life we were given very little insight into other than his super power which he seemed to use for anger rather than anything else. The only time he did put his skills to good use was to switch over the TV at his grandmother's care home so that a few of her fellow residents could watch a cooking show featuring Gino D'acampo. That being said, being subjected to watching Gino for half an hour without a remote control next to me would be less appealing than being knocked out by half a dozen tools. Furthermore I feel not giving the central character a name was a mistake as it's another reason we as an audience have got not to connect to him. But I feel the main issue with Him is that combining the domestic drama and the horror genre together just doesn't work in the way Milne wants it to. I just didn't feel the soap opera style squabbles that the central family engaged in fit in with the Carrie-esque story that Milne also wanted to tell. In fact the whole domestic aspect meant that Him could never go into fully bonkers horror territory which in my opinion is what it needed to do if it wanted any hope of working on any sort of level. As it is Him was just a bit of an underwhelming experience which lacked any sort of realism but at the same time didn't want to cross over into outlandish supernatural territory. One thing I do know is that I won't be sticking around for the rest of ITV's first, and undoubtedly last, domestic horror.


ITV also had a task on their hands on Sunday night to replace the popular costume drama Victoria with something that would keep viewers from switching over to Poldark. Unfortunately I don't think many of Victoria's loyal viewers would've been that taken with Tutankhamun, another historical drama but one that lacks the charm or character development which made people warm to the aforementioned royal saga. Guy Burt, who previously worked on another underwhelming ITV adventure drama in Beowulf, takes up writing duties here as he gives a nuts and bolts account of how Howard Carter (Max Irons) uncovered the tomb of the titular pharaoh. This first episode primarily concerns itself with introducing us to the key players and establishing the bond that exists between Carter and his benefactor Lord Carnarvon (Sam Neill). Despite yearning for a bit of action I found Tutankhamun to be overly talky as everybody yammered on about their love of archaeology and the fact that they thought that the valley of the kings was all dug out. I do feel that the story of Carter's hunt for the tomb of Tutankhamun is an interesting one and the series has all the elements that it needs to succeed including a handsome leading man and a love interest in the plucky American Maggie Lewis (Catherine Steadman). However the majority of the first episode of the drama was forgettable as you quickly realised that Carter's ultimate discovery of the tomb wasn't going to happen here. Also, despite Burt being a reliable writer, a lot of the script feels like it was developed by a class of ten-year-olds who wrote it as part of a class project on Ancient Egypt. Lines such as 'some idiot just shot the Archduke of Austria' attest to that theory as does the fact that none of the dialogue particularly rings true. The central performance from Irons isn't up to much either and although he looks the part he doesn't have the charisma to truly make us care about Carter. Meanwhile Neill is simply devouring the scenery as the eccentric Carnarvon and as a result he provides one of the only highlights with the other being the impressive cinematography. With an exciting real life story to tell you would think that Tutankhamun would at least provide some sort of entertainment but I personally found it to be a disappointing drama that none of us will remember come the end of the year.


We turn now to Channel 4 who brought back one of their surprise hits from last year in the form of Married at First Sight, which is one of those programmes whose title explains exactly what the show's all about. Just like last year's series, this opening episode saw couples paired up after an extensive bouts of testing both emotional and physical attributes. The scientific testing took up the majority of the first half of the episode as the thousands who applied to be married were whittled down to a top ten, almost like an X-Factor boot camp. It was then up to a panel of experts to decide how many of the strangers would be paired up and clap eyes on each other for the first time during their wedding day. Unlike last year's opener, which followed all of the prospective newlyweds as we led up to their big day, this time the decision was made to focus just on one couple. That couple were Clark and Melissa; a pair of likeable twenty-somethings neither of whom seemed to be that certain if what they were doing was a good idea. Because the second half of the episode was solely devoted to Clark and Melissa, I found there to be a lot of filler including the former having a meeting with the registrar and the latter having to break the news to her parents. I have to admit that I skipped through a lot of these sections but luckily Married at First Sight pulled it back at the last minute with the wedding itself. It was clear that Clark and Melissa were attracted to each other and seeing them at their wedding made us think that they'd been together for years. But at the same time I would've like to have seen the juxtaposition between Clark and Melissa's big day and the other couples who are being paired up in the next episode. Although I still think the format works, I think the decision to base the episode around Clark and Melissa's wedding was the wrong one as in my opinion it slowed the pace right down. Obviously this must mean that the couple's story is the most interesting but at the moment I'm finding them both a bit bland and hope there's some drama coming up during the rest of the series. I've also got my fingers crossed that one of the couples this year makes it work after the only successful pair from last year's run got divorced earlier this year. Ultimately Married at First Sight is still watchable but I'm hoping that the pace picks up over the next few episodes as this opener really dragged in my opinion.


Finally a show from Channel 4 that had the right sort of pace to it and for me provided one of the highlights of last week. I'm talking about the one-off revival of The Crystal Maze which was provided the right hit of nostalgia for those of us who remember the show the first time round. Airing as part of Channel 4's Stand Up 2 Cancer charity season, the classic game show had a new host in a freshly bald Stephen Merchant. Eager not to ignore the history of the show, Merchant interacted early on with original host Richard O'Brien whose opening gambit included a quip about the original rumour relating to David Tennant potentially helming this revamp. The contestants all appeared to be loving their time on the show especially The Last Leg's Josh Widdicombe whose interplay with Merchant was one of the highlights of the programme. Paralympic athlete Jonnie Peacock was the only member of the starry gang who didn't really seem to know what was going on but that might have something to do with the fact that he was born in 1993. The producers stuck to the original format as much as possible with the all of the zones and the types of game remaining the same. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Mumsie made an appearance in the Medieval Zone as Widdicombe was just about able to match wits with her. What I was most impressed with here was the role Merchant played on the show as I found his sense of humour to be the right for a show like The Crystal Maze. Applauding the team when they did well and criticising them when they didn't understand the easier games, Merchant was an ideal successor to O'Brien even though I don't think he really needed to go bald especially for the role. As this was a charity show, we had the inevitable feelgood ending with the team earning over the required 200 gold credits to win a prize for their chosen charities. However the biggest win on the night went to Channel 4 as the show scooped an overnight rating of three million which is amazing considering the competition it had up against it. The big question now is whether the show will come back full-time with Merchant as host or will it just pop up as a sporadic charity event. I think it will be interesting to see if the large audience would stay around when the novelty died down and if the programme would work as well with civilians as it did with celebs. However I do think Channel 4 may well take the risk and I wouldn't be surprised if a full series of The Crystal Maze popped up on our screens some time during 2017.

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

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