Matt on the Box: Critical, The Big Painting Challenge, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and The Brit Awards

by | Mar 4, 2015 | All, Reviews

Welcome back to another look back at the week in TV and as always we have quite an eclectic bunch of shows so let’s get started.

We’re kicking off with a new drama from Sky One which, just like their other productions, doesn’t scrimp on the budget. I was quite excited when Critical was first announced primarily as it was written by Jed Mercurio, who most recently gave us the brilliant Line of Duty. Additionally, former physician Mercurio was previously responsible for gritty medical dramas Cardiac Arrest and Bodies. It was clear that Mercurio was attempting to bring a splash of realism to the script; with the concept of the show being that the staff at the hospital only have an hour to save someone’s life. Similarly, Mercurio hasn’t held back when it comes to portraying the level of blood and gore that is present during most operations. In fact I would go as far as to say that if you’re of a squeamish disposition then it’s probably best avoiding Critical altogether. Although Mercurio has attempted a level of authenticity with the script, the problem is the set which at times looks like something from Star Trek. It’s obvious that, because this is a Sky drama, the production team have been allowed to splash the cash and as a result have created an opulent almost futuristic hospital. The fact that this used to be a bog standard A&E is referenced by Claire Skinner’s trauma leader however I think the script would’ve worked better if the sets had been stripped down. It’s this disparity between the sets and the dialogue that made Critical rather jarring and as a result prevented me from it enjoying it more.

Critical’s other issue is that it’s come at a time when we can easily see what goes on behind the scenes at a hospital. With documentaries such as 24 Hours in A&E and NHS: Life in a Day we’ve been exposed to actual real-time situations. Therefore a drama has to offer something that these factual shows don’t, however I don’t think Critical did this. The fact that the focus is saving a patient’s life in an hour meant that we didn’t get to know any of the characters all that well. Mercurio did feed us scraps of information about them throughout the hour but not enough that I particularly cared about anything they did. Even Kimberley Nixon’s newbie, who was supposed to be our surrogate in the operating theatre, felt thinly drawn and was the stereotypical rookie on the first day of the job. The one shred of hope turned up in the drama’s final five minutes with the arrival of Lennie James’ army surgeon Glen Boyle. Already it’s clear that James is bringing his trademark intensity to the role of Boyle and his pre-existing relationship with at least one of the characters will provide a little intrigue going forward. However, I don’t even know if James’ arrival will be enough to save a drama which is awfully constricted due to its repetitive plot structure. Going forward I’d like to see Mercurio makes us care more about the characters and focus less on the fly-on-the-wall style operation scenes. I certainly will give Critical at least one more go around, however if James doesn’t significantly improve the programme then I’ll be done after that.

A programme that I’m surprised I sat through in full was The Big Painting Challenge; BBC One’s latest attempt to replicate the success of The Great British Bake-Off. In fact, whilst hearing the introduction to the show, if you replaced the word painter with the word baker then you wouldn’t know much difference. Just like Bake-Off, The Big Painting Challenge has an older female judge in the form of Daphne Todd OBE and a slightly younger male adjudicator, figurative painter Lachlan Gaudie. Meanwhile the competition is overseen by the bizarre hosting duo of Sherlock actress Una Stubbs and former Radio 5 Live DJ Richard Bacon. Although both apparently love painting, I felt they lacked any sort of chemistry and were completely wrong for a hosting a show of this nature. I do really like Una Stubbs as an actress but I think that she struggled as a presenter, especially when explaining various tasks to camera. Meanwhile Richard appeared very stand-offish for the majority of the show and didn’t bother discussing the contestants’ work with them in any great detail. Despite being introduced to most of the contestants throughout the first episode, I didn’t really feel I got to know them in any great depth. I think this is another major flaw of The Big Painting Challenge as, to really immerse yourself in a show of this nature, you need to root for at least one of the contestants on a weekly basis. The main flaw of the programme though is that watching people painting for any amount of time isn’t particularly entertaining as for the most part they’re sitting still in one place. There doesn’t ever seem to be that sense of urgency that the Bake-Off contestants feel towards the end of their tasks and therefore The Big Painting Challenge came off as quite dull. Maybe if I had a bit more interest in art then I would’ve enjoyed The Big Painting Challenge a little more but as it was I found this Bake-Off rip-off to be an utterly boring hour that I’ll never get back.

Thankfully TV has provided us with at least some entertainment in the form of the return of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Though the Geordie duo are mainstays on ITV throughout the majority of the year, it always seems as if Takeaway is their favourite programme to front. To me it represents the Saturday night entertainment shows of old such as The Generation Game and especially Noel’s House Party. Very little has changed since the last series but it appears as if the boys have employed a ‘if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it’ strategy. This works for the most part especially in the hair-raising Ant Vs Dec challenge which again saw the boys way out of their comfort zone. In the Beadle’s About-esque part of the show they fooled Olly Murs into believing that he was taking part in a 3-D scan for his upcoming statue at Madame Tussuads. Everything built up to another entertaining end of the show show where our hosts were accompanied by a full marching band and Ed Sheeran. I feel the biggest miracle that the boys pulled off was getting Sheeran to actually smile as he genuinely appeared to be enjoying himself when working with the cheeky hosts. The one misstep in the first episode was a segment in which a primary school teacher was embarrassed by her class on live TV. Though I do like to see Ant and Dec interact with the public, this segment went on far too long and the teacher didn’t seem to take the joke all that well. But this is a minor quibble in a show that is the jewel in ITV’s Saturday night crown and currently is the only programme on the channel that’s worth watching.

Ant and Dec were busy boys last week because, along with the return of Takeaway, they were tasked with hosting The Brit Awards for the first time in twelve years. Ant and Dec had big shoes to fill both literally and figuratively as James Corden has earned rave reviews for his jovial yet professional style for the past couple of years. You could definitely see Ant and Dec trying to replicate this to an extent as they went round the tables during the night to chat to some of the nominees and winners. I always feels this exposes The Brits as what they are, a shallow night for music industry executives to pat themselves on the back. Even though Ant and Dec didn’t look uncomfortable interviewing the stars I didn’t feel it particularly suited their knockabout style. Instead they were at their best when telling rubbish jokes and presenting a running gag in which they picked award presenters out of a tombola spinner in the style of an FA Cup draw. The oddest of these combinations was Jimmy Carr and model Karlie Kloss with the former’s jokes falling flat and the latter completely oblivious to what her co-presenter was saying. It was a predictable night of winners with the majority of the awards going to Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. Meanwhile, the evening’s two most memorable performances stuck in the mind for all the wrong reasons. Whoever thought it was a good idea to have Kanye West on the bill was out of their mind as his profanity-filled number was full of audio-dips and bleep buttons. Closing the show, Madonna proved that she’s a game old bird after continuing her performance despite suffering a nasty fall following a wardrobe malfunction of sorts. I personally miss the time when the closing performance came from the winner of the now defunct Lifetime Achievement award. Call me old-fashioned by a couple of numbers from a group like Blur or The Pet Shop Boys beats out an old woman not acting her age on any day of the week. As it was The Brit Awards was an average affair but didn’t ever feel as special as it probably should have done.

That’s your lot for now remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites for more of my views on the week’s TV.  

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly


Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.


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