Luke ON TV – The F Word, Bare Facts, Beyond Boundaries, US upfronts

by | May 18, 2008 | All, Reviews

It’s fair to say we’ve had a bit of a Gordon Ramsay overload in recent years but the man normally produces TV gold. The US version of Kitchen Nightmares is always good viewing but I’ve always struggled to decide if I only watch The F Word for its Ramsayness.

The series is now into its fourth run and, although I appreciate the slight genius of the title, I don’t really like the rest of it. The first few series were unorganised, flitting too quickly from one item to the next. Things have calmed down a bit and it flows better but even James Corden and his lovely family couldn’t stop me wanting to turn over. The F Word isn’t innovative or interesting any more yet this is the longest series yet, with 11 episodes still to air and, despite my pleas to Channel 4, every one contains Janet Street Porter. The opener featured Geri Halliwell with her annoying habit of going up at the end of every sentence while Gordon say yes at the end of virtually every sentence. Very grating.

BBC2’s Bare Facts three-part documentary season focusing on teen mums, the abortion debate and virginity were interesting in a week of sparse new television. Abortion: The Choice was marred by over-the-top dramatic music as it focused on the stories of women who have had abortions or came close to going through with a termination. The subject is strong enough on its own without the added drama of pounding guitars and piano, plus distracting in-your-face camera angles. This is the sort of documentary the BBC does well but it would have been more interesting and perhaps more engrossing to hear more from the women and see less of the constant cutaways for more dramatic music.

The Inbetweeners is easily the most pleasant of new comedy surprises so far this year and, after a bit of a predictable episode that followed the boys around a theme park, I was glad it returned to form this week with Will hoping to lose his virginity to school vixen Charlotte Hinchcliff. There have been lots of attempts to make a new teen comedy and most have fizzled into obscurity but the characters in this feel real and likeable. It’s a shame that this real gem is tucked away on E4.

BBC2’s Friday night documentary series Beyond Boundaries: Across the Andes had me on the edge of my seat. The series follows people with varying disabilities as they trek to the Andes, a task which is made harder by having to pull two wheelchairs through the treacherous terrain. As a man with cerebral palsy myself, I found this quite inspiring: people with false limbs, cerebral palsy and deafness all pulling together to overcome their personal struggles. This programme was done with sensitivity but not with pity; at times watching the group was difficult and, at some points, possibly even cruel but it was truly engrossing. I only felt sorry for one member of the group, 16-year-old Luke, who has dyspraxia and quickly became the subject of ridicule within the team.

What I appreciated most was that, unlike the Bare Facts triology, this didn’t include any added drama with of shots of people in peril or dramatic string music to add to the tension, focusing instead on the people and their personal journeys which is what a documentary should do. Again without sounding too much like a bad greetings card, I found the whole thing very moving and inspiring even though, right now, a trip to the kitchen seems like too much of an effort for me to make!

In the States, the axe has fallen with the major networks announcing their lineups for the autumn and the new year. The writers’ strike crippled the industry in the early part of this year and the majority of shows are just starting to make their proper return, but I’ve learned a lot about American television over the past few years: don’t get too attached to a series and don’t believe the hype.

Two of the biggest surprise cancellations this year are Fox’s Kelsey Grammer sitcom Back to You and NBC’s Michelle Ryan-led Bionic Woman. Both these series were heavily praised when they premiered but, less than a year after all the hype, they’ve been tossed into the TV bin.

Back To You wasn’t exactly the next big thing in comedy but I caught a few episodes and it seemed to be finding its feet. As for NBC’s remake of the Bionic Woman, that was advertised as the biggest hit of the year but merey resembled a poorly acted and poorly written bad sci-fi film.

In the States, television seems to be more about finding the hits than showing something truly interesting such as Beyond Boundaries or Bare Facts. At least in the UK most things get a second series to see if they can find an audience. In the odd case – eg ITV’s The Palace or the godawful Echo Beach – the axe does deservedly to fall but I can predict that the majority of the raved-about series in the new US TV season will barely even be a memory come Christmas.

The new commissions include US versions of Life on Mars, The Worst Week of My life and even Spaced (although the fate of Spaced is hanging in the balance). NBC’s The Office has been the only truly successful remake of a UK sitcom in recent years so I don’t hold out much hope for NBC’s rehash of The Worst Week of My Life and, having seen the first trailer of Fox’s attempt at the jewel in BBC1’s crown Life on Mars, I don’t see that lasting too long either. Gene Hunt’s not supposed to be fat!

This has been such a thin week of television, I should give the CRUMBLETASTIC medal to me for being able to throw this week’s column together but I’m far too modest for that and Beyond Boundaries is deserving of it.

The BLACK PUDDING has to go to The F Word for not keeping my attention and taking up the next 12 weeks of Channel 4’s Tuesday primetime slot. I might love my Ramsay fix, but I’ll be avoiding this.

Please feel free to leave your comments below!

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

18/05/2008

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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