Welcome to the latest Matt on the Box in which we look back at the TV highlights from the last week or so.
First up is the return of Idris Elba’s bonkers cop drama Luther; a show that I’m personally a big fan of. The show’s return is supposedly due to the fact that Elba didn’t like the way the drama ended two years ago as we saw Luther walk away into the twilight, throwing his trademark coat into The Thames in the process. I actually quite enjoyed this ending but at the same time I was excited about where writer/creator Neil Cross would take the programme next. Therefore I was rather disappointed in the way that Luther’s supposed final two-parter played out especially when it came to the lead character. The problems started early on when Luther’s colleagues DCI Theo Bloom (Darren Boyd) and DS Emma Lane (Rose Leslie) rock up to tell him that Alice Morgan has been found murdered in Belgium. This news obviously sets Luther on a course of revenge which sees him take on clichéd East End gangsters in an attempt to get to the truth. At the same time Theo and Emma are investigating the sort of weird case that Luther thrives on as they track down a man who has not only been killing his victims but also eating their flesh. The hunt for the killer has deadly consequences as Theo is blown to bits after discovering a bomb in a fridge and this event prompts Luther to return to the force. Obviously his ulterior motive is to track down Alice Morgan’s killers but he has just enough time to ignore all of his boss’ warnings and go into a dangerous building unaided. After an underwhelming hour, the first half of Luther’s two-parter did end on a bit of a cliffhanger as a young woman arrived with a message about Alice.
Like all the other Luther fans out there I was hoping for a return from Alice Morgan especially after what had happened in the first episode. However this was not to be, primarily as I’m guessing that Ruth Wilson is too busy appearing in The Affair and other projects to bother with a BBC TV programme. Instead the second episode became a little bit confusing as Cross set up three different plots which intersected slightly during the course of the hour. Obviously the hunt for the cannibalistic killer was still at the top of Luther’s list and luckily he was able to talk him down just before he killed the family of the woman he was in love with as a child. At the same time, after raising the ire of the aforementioned clichéd gangster, Luther had a price on his head and was supposedly being tracked down by every crook in London. However, in actuality, this storyline petered out very quickly and only really existed to necessitate an admittedly thrilling set piece involving Luther taking on a bunch of would-be-assassins. The oddest storyline involved the mysterious Megan Cantor (Laura Haddock) who was supposedly communicating with Alice in the afterlife but in fact had her own connection to Luther that went back years. I felt all the stuff with Megan felt a bit rushed and the revelation about her part in Alice’s disappearance and supposed death was left ambiguous. I do feel one of the biggest problems was that Neil Cross was shackled by having only two hours to tell a myriad of rather complex stories. Because of this it was hard to care about the cannibalistic serial killer or the troubled young woman reaching out to the copper who promised to protect her as neither felt like fully fleshed out characters. As a result I did find it hard to care about the resolutions of any of these side plots and the fact that they were all wrapped up with relative ease didn’t make either feel particularly plausible.
If there’s one thing that makes the Luther return worth it then it’s having Idris Elba back in the role that he seems to love playing. Elba’s performance as DCI John Luther might be quite broad but he makes it work partially due to the ludicrous nature of some of Cross’ storytelling. I do think at this point Elba could sleepwalk his way through the part but he still is able to bring some gravitas to the role especially during the scenes in which he was trying to talk the serial killer down. However Elba suffers from not having anybody to play off as Ruth Wilson wasn’t around and Warren Brown’s Justin Ripley was killed off last series. Cross attempted to resolve this by having Rose Leslie’s Emma Lane be a replacement Ripley however I don’t think her partnership with Luther was ever fully realised. It’s a shame as I do like Rose Leslie but I generally think she was ill-served by a character who was forced to play second fiddle to her male counterparts. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Luther is the mood that Cross establishes which makes the whole piece seem like its set in some sort of strange near future. This atmosphere also helps the preposterous plots to seem a little more realistic and thankfully the bonkers aspect of Luther stayed intact throughout this two-parter. The one big question I have though is whether this is now definitely the end of Luther. If it is then that’s a shame as I feel the ending we got here was weaker than the one that Elba was reportedly unhappy with two years ago. However it does feel that tonight’s episode was leading to something bigger and with Alice’s fate still very much up in the air I do feel that Ruth Wilson may be tempted back if a Luther film were on the cards at some point. But if that’s not the case then I don’t really feel that Luther got the ending it deserved as these last two episodes have been rather underwhelming and have provided very few of the highlights that has made the series one of the best British TV dramas of the last five years.
We move now from one drama that seems out of place in the festive schedules to one that fits right in. We’re Doomed: The Dad’s Army Story dramatises the tale of jobbing actor Jimmy Perry (Paul Ritter) who together with his agent’s husband David Croft (Richard Dormer) wrote one of the nation’s favourite sitcoms. When I first started watching We’re Doomed I thought that writer Stephen Russell’s work would be up there with other making of dramas such as The Road to Coronation Street and An Adventure in Space and Time. However I gradually realised that We’re Doomed lacked the bite of both of those shows and it was a little bit too light for its own good. One of the main problems with We’re Doomed was that Dad’s Army wasn’t beset with many problems aside from a sceptical BBC Boss and an audience who may not have been ready for a comedy about a recently fought war. But what We’re Doomed lacked in edge it made up for in two sympathetic lead characters who were played by a couple of fine performers. Paul Ritter perfectly portrayed Perry as the wannabe star who became an accidental sitcom writer after trying to net himself the role of Walker. Ritter’s animated turn was perfectly balanced by Richard Dormer’s very dry interpretation of the grounded David Croft. The action started to pick up when the familiar faces of the actors started to appear on screen most notably Arthur Lowe who was convincingly portrayed by John Sessions. Sessions made Lowe the star of the show both on and off camera especially when Croft and Perry worried that he’d struggle to remember any of his lines. The humour of the piece was perfectly offset by a couple of more emotional moments such as when Perry realised he wasn’t going to play Walker and when later he watched his hero Bud Flanagan perform the iconic Dad’s Army theme tune. Even though it was a little rushed, I felt that We’re Doomed told its story well primarily due to its combination of wit and sympathetic characters. Ultimately the drama was the perfect fit for the festive schedules and also provided the perfect taster for the upcoming Dad’s Army film.
Speaking of the Dad’s Army film Toby Jones, who is set to play Captain Mainwaring in the movie, returned to the small screen this week for the one-off Christmas Special of Detectorists. Not that there was anything particularly festive about the so-called Christmas Special and it could well have been set during any part of the year. Jones’ Lance was front and centre throughout the entire episode which followed on from his discovery of an ancient medieval artefact at the end of the last series. The rather charming opening sequence saw Lance visit his find in a London museum and attempt to get his photo taken by the display. This to me was the highlight of a rather average episode of Detectorists which saw Lance try to dispel the supposed ‘Curse of the Gold’ that had befallen him since his recent discovery. Lance believes he has been cursed due to the fact that he hasn’t been able to find anything since the end of the last series while he’s also experienced a string of bad luck. The one primary reason I found this episode of Detectorists fairly mediocre was due to the fact that Mackenzie Crook barely made an impression throughout. Crook’s Andy just happened to pop back from Africa in time to see Lance’s disastrous display at the DMDC however their scenes together were limited. Part of the joy of Detectorists are the scenes in which Lance and Andy talk rubbish to each other whilst out metal detecting. Additionally there was very little continuity between this special and the series with no mention of Lance’s daughter or explanation given as to why Sophie was nowhere to be seen throughout. On the plus side I did like the fact that Jones had almost thirty minutes to take centre stage and deliver what I thought was a masterclass is in awkwardness. The scene in which he completely ruins things with a potential new love is squirm-inducing however their later moment together was rather sweetly realised. This led me to ponder whether there will be a third series of Detectorists or if Andy will stay in Africa while Lance will finally find happiness with a lady mechanic. I’m hoping it’s the former as Detectorists has become one of my favourite sitcoms of the last couple of years and I’ve got my fingers crossed that it doesn’t end with what I found to be a rather underwhelming offering.
We now move to BBC One’s Winner’s Weekend which saw plenty of victories both on the dancefloor and in the boardroom. The weekend started with the quest for the Glitterball Trophy as the final quartet of couples lit up the floor in the last episode of this series of Strictly Come Dancing. What I’ve liked about this year’s series of Strictly is the high level of dance quality that has been displayed throughout at least half of this year’s couples. The final four consisted of three couples who had rarely put a foot wrong with Eastenders star Kellie Bright, former Coronation Street actress Georgia May Foote and boyband member Jay McGuinness providing consistently strong performances throughout the series. Also present in the final was newsreader Katie Derham who seemed to have arrived there purely due to her partnership with sentimental favourite Anton Du Becke. Although Katie and Anton were the first to go they at least got to go out with a dramatic operatic-style showdance which perfectly captured their time on the show. Of the other three couples I felt that Georgia and partner Giovanni put together a rather poetic showdance and completely wowed me with their faultless Charleston. Meanwhile Kellie and partner Kevin Clifton were the stars of the night garnering two perfect scores for their Tango and Lindy Hop inspired showdance. It was odd then that it was Jay and his partner Aliona who were victorious as, of the final three, they were bottom of the judges’ leaderboard. Though technically Jay was probably the best dancer in the final three I never developed a connection with his dances in the same way I did Georgia and Kellie. My interest in Jay was at his highest during his Pulp Fiction-jive and since then I’ve connected more with the other couples and less so with him. My feeling is that its fans of his old boy band The Wanted who kept voting for him until he lifted the trophy and I feel the mood turned against my personal favourite Kellie after the majority of the judges gave her their support. Despite my issues with the winner, overall this has been one of the most successful series of Strictly yet both in terms of entertainment value and ratings. Suffice to say that BBC One’s dancing show isn’t going anywhere just yet and in my opinion I think it’s the perfect show for Saturday nights.
We’ll skip over the two-plus hour drudgery that was Sport’s Personality of the Year and instead focus on the final of what has been a rather entertaining series of The Apprentice. Those of you who visit the site on a regular basis will know that I’ve charted the candidates’ process since the series began and so I was quite smug when two of my favourites made the final. Plumber Joseph has been one of my favourites since day one whilst online dating guru Vana had crept up my rankings in recent weeks. I believed that it was the job of the final for us to get to know both of them a little more especially seeing as Vana had been treated as a bit part player for the majority of the series. I did feel that Joseph came across better throughout the course of the final even if his advert for Prime Time Plumbing did feel like an amateur adult film. It was clear that Joseph wasn’t sure about how to advance his business but after conducting some market research realised technology was the way forward. Joseph’s story was also fairly endearing and I do feel that it was his personal journey rather than his business plan that ultimately secured him the win. That’s not to take anything away from Vana who did a good job at mobilising a team who at some points didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Her idea to chat to the guy from EHarmony about how to finance her dating app was a stroke of genius and she came across as a thoroughly intelligent businesswoman during her final pitch. One thing I didn’t like about the final was the way in which the former candidates almost took centre stage especially those on Vana’s team. It’s almost like the producers didn’t think Vana’s journey was entertaining enough on its own so decided to focus on the squabbles of Richard and Charlene as well as Ruth’s mad ramblings. Furthermore I wasn’t a fan of the way that Joseph and Vana seemingly turned on each other just before Sugar picked the former as his business partner. Ultimately Joseph’s win did make the most sense as I don’t think that Sugar’s name would convince many people to download the new version of Tinder. However, one thing I can say is that this series of The Apprentice has provided moments of pure entertainment and I’m hoping that a new series of the business reality show will be announced in the near future.
That’s your lot, I’ll return in a few days to look at some of the major festive TV offerings but for now I’ll say Merry Christmas to all and to All a Good Night.