Luke on TV – Louis Behind Bars, American Idol, Shameless, Never Better

by | Jan 23, 2008 | All, Reviews

Shameless

What weird jobs some people have. On our local news the other night there was the usual story about a man who had robbed a bank. They had nicknamed him the Bad Hat Bandit. He is on the run, but rather than focus on the crime he had committed, our local journalist decided to cover the story from a new angle and talk to the person whose job it is to think up names for these wanted criminals.

This man works for the police keeping tabs on the distinctive features of criminals and giving them names that match their descriptions. It turns out this Bad Hat Bandit wears terrible hats when he robs banks. What an odd job, I thought. But then some people in media do have very peculiar jobs and find themselves in situations us normal folk would never come across in everyday life.

Take Louis Theroux, for example. In the past, he has tried his hand at gangsta rap, spoken to Nazis in California and interviewed a rather bitter Keith Harris and Orville (Keith was more bitter than Orville). Theroux’s latest BBC2 documentary, Louis Behind Bars, saw Louis at his most out-of-depth yet. He was allowed access to San Quentin prison in San Francisco, a place where the world’s big-time criminals (watch out Bad Hat Bandit) serve their time and often end their days.

At the beginning, Theroux resembled a scared and nervous young boy on the first day of school in need of a nice kiss and cuddle from his mother, but strangely, as he got more familiar with prison routines and the prisoners themselves, he began to loosen up. What followed was intimate and also oddly endearing and interesting portrait of prison life. Theroux has a great interviewing style. He never asks too many questions and the prisoners seemed keen to have their stories told. This had a different feel to some of Theroux’s previous documentaries and, bizarrely, even though some of those he spoke to were in San Quentin for an infinite amount of years, they didn’t come across quite as odd as some of the people he’s spoken to in the past.

So the second week of 2008 and I’d learnt from my mistakes the previous week which meant no Moving Wallpaper or Echo Beach and to have lower expectations for new dramas.

American TV is still suffering from a lack of writers but this week saw the return of Fox’s savior! All hail the mighty American Idol!. Though in its seventh series, it still gets bigger ratings than the Super Bowl and with very little else to entertain the nation it really has come to the rescue. The problem is that any magic that may have existed has long since died. How much more can we hear Randy Jackson say “Dog”, how many times can we see Paula Abdul bouncing off the walls and complimenting the more hopeless contestants on their shoes or earrings, and how much more can we see Simon Cowell looking plainly unimpressed with every note sang?

Whether you enjoy the series or not, there’s a morbid need to at least see what the audition sessions drag up and the first part (four hours aired over two consecutive nights) was just what I’ve come to expect from Idol. A girl covered in glitter who, out of nowhere, verbally attacked Simon Cowell. A man in a very 60s yellow suit whose voice sounded like he had two cottonwool balls lodged in his mouth, and a man with a strange hat who wanted nothing more than to serenade Abdul. The second problem with Idol is that the oddballs know exactly how to get on TV and the man in the yellow suit has since revealed he was an actor desperate to be spotted by a Hollywood talent agency. The “glitter girl”, as she’s now known, has since been splattered everywhere from the local news to chat shows.

Just like The X Factor, Idol is really only ever as good as the “talent” they uncover and although Kelly Clarkson, Kerry Underwood and Jordan Sparks are still going strong, there’s a bigger trail of Idol corpses that need new blood. I normally give up past the audition stage anyway, but this year one two-hour episode was enough.

Now I know it’s not as innovative or cutting edge or maybe not even as laugh-out-loud funny as it was in its first three series, but I still love Shameless. Most would agree it was better in the days of Fiona, Steve, Kev and Veronica but now in its fifth series and after some of my favourite characters long gone to pastures new, Shameless is still a must-see.

Only three episode in and this series already seems a vast improvement on last year’s more miss than hit run. This third episode centered on Monica’s attempts to be a better mother to the Gallagher clan, Mimi’s surprise birthday party and policeman Stan (half man, half bowling ball) welcoming his Russian mail order bride. It wasn’t a return to the golden years of Shameless, but was a step in the right direction. Of course, anyone like me with a thirst for spoilers knew weeks ago that Monica was pregnant with Frank’s ninth child, but it was nice to see a more toned down and caring Monica for a change. She’s always been a character I haven’t warmed to (I don’t know why, she didn’t abandon me) and even in this episode she didn’t really get me starting a Monica Gallagher Fan Club, but she’s winning me over slowly.

Wednesday saw the return of the thought-provoking Grand Designs with a couple building their dream home underground and, fresh from last week’s attack on all things poultry, Jamie Oliver returned with Eat To Save Your Life, this time literally dissecting the British diet. Even though it featured the autopsy of a 25-stone man who had “literally eaten himself to death”, it didn’t reach the shock or interest level of last week’s Fowl Dinners. Maybe last week had desensitised me, as the sight of a dead man’s fatty heart barely made me wince and although some of the statistics about fat and salt consumption were shocking I felt I’d heard it all before and Eat To Save Your Life was just an extension of something Gillian McKeith might do, even including the essential “lets look at our poo” segment.

I feel for Stephen Mangan since Green Wing ended. He’s struggled to find the right showcase for his talents. Most recently Channel 4’s Free Agents showed only a little promise and the ITV drama Who Gets The Dog? was dreadful. Now he gets another shot with the new BBC2 comedy series Never Better. It feels like a combination of Saxondale and Lead Balloon and, although the first episode last week fell a little flat, the second episode about a mistakenly sent text message raised the right amount of cringe levels I’ve come to expect from BBC2 comedy. I do find it hard to believe in Mangan as a dad of two, or as an alcoholic, but this showed some real promise. It won’t be remembered as groundbreaking but it really made me smile and cringe in equal measure.

I can’t understand why BBC2 would decide to stick this on at 10 and give the highly inferior Little Miss Jocelyn the slot directly after Never Mind the Buzzcocks. This show goes to prove that given a script, Mangan is a comedy genius. With him stealing every scene, you barely notice his supporting cast, perhaps with exception of the lovely Kate Ashfeild who plays his mithered wife Anita. Although at this stage its not likely to be the next Office or even Lead Balloon, it’s getting there and I just hope enough people stick with it and give it the time it deserves.

My second CRUMBLETASTIC medal goes to Louis Behind Bars (as he seemed to change from a deer in the headlights to one of the prison’s regulars in the space of the 60-minute documentary) and my second BLACK PUDDING to those the folks at Fox for more American Idol! Seven series is more than enough for everyone (unless you happen to benefit from Simon Cowell’s bank balance).

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

23/01/2008

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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