Hi folks and welcome back to Matt on the Box where I look back on some of the most recent highlights that TV has offered up to us.
We start with BBC One’s latest attempt to claim back Sunday nights with their newest adaptation of Winston Graham’s Poldark. Stepping into the shoes of Robin Ellis, who played the dashing Ross Poldark in the 1970s, is Being Human’s Aidan Turner. One positive element of this new adaptation is the casting of Turner who is perfect as the brooding protagonist who has returned home to his native Cornwall. As his family believe he died serving in the American Civil War they are shocked by his reappearance however he soon learns that things have changed since he’d been away. For example, Ross’ father is now dead, leaving behind him a mountain of debt, whilst his beloved Elizabeth (Heida Reed) is now marrying his cousin Francis (Kyle Soller). Though Ross feels that serving in the war made him grow up, you can still see glimpses of his roguish past. This is perfectly exemplified in a scene in which the jealous Ross almost lets Francis drown when the two explore one of his father’s old mines. This juxtaposition between the new and old versions of Ross was the first time that I was really intrigued by the drama, which up to that point I’d felt was incredibly clichéd. But our titular antihero wasn’t the only interesting character in the show as we were later introduced to the wild commoner Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson). When Ross first meets Demelza he’s concerned about her well-being and employs her as a kitchen maid in his crumbling family pile. Despite the pair clashing at first, it’s fairly obvious that Ross and Demelza will soon fall head over heels in love for each other.
After watching the first episode of Poldark I was conflicted about whether I would continue watching the series. On the one hand Debbie Horsfield’s script was littered with exposition but on the other hand the lead characters were incredibly intriguing. Additionally I enjoyed the majority of the performances most notably those of Turner and Tomlinson; the latter of whom was perfectly convincing as the wild Cornish lass who will eventually be tamed by her new employer. Able support was provided by Phil Davis and Gracee O’Brien as the Poldark’s drunken servants Jud and Jinny. It was also great to see Warren Clarke giving what would be his last on screen performance as Ross’ opinionated Uncle Charles. However, not all of the performances hit the mark with Jack Farthing being the main offender as he gave an almost pantomime villain-esque turn as the drama’s antagonistic banker George Warleggan. Capturing the Cornish scenery perfectly was director Ed Bazalgette whose assured helming of the piece at least made it ascetically pleasing. That being said I think that Poldark probably beats Broadchurch’s record of scenes set on clifftops whilst the sea lashes against them. Bazalgette was particularly impressive when overseeing some of Poldark’s many set pieces such as the opening scene in which Poldark’s group of soldiers is ambushed in America. He also made the final scene, in which Ross is set upon by Demelza’s father, equally compelling with Poldark discovering who his true allies were. As the opening episode ultimately had more positives than negatives I decided to persevere and checked out this Sunday’s second offering.
Happily I felt that I’d made the right decision as the second episode of Poldark was a lot easier to watch than the first. This was partially due to the fact that, now that she’d introduced her primary characters, Horsfield’s script wasn’t as story-heavy as it initially seemed to be. Ross’ re-opening of one of his father’s old mine was an interesting plot thread that had a neat conclusion. I also felt that this episode had a better pace for the most part aside from the story of Ross’ cousin Verity’s (Ruby Bentall) romance with a questionable sea Captain (Richard Harrington). Even though I thought this story was rushed it had another excellent set piece at the end of it as Francis decided to prove his manhood by challenging the Captain to a pistol duel. Though Francis almost lost his life; this duel allowed all of the stories to progress most notably the romance of Ross and Demelza who bonded over Francis’ war wounds. One issue I have with Poldark is BBC One decision to begin airing it when the evenings are beginning to get sunnier .With its lush locations and brooding hero; I feel that Poldark would’ve perfectly suited Sunday nights in winter more so than a time when we’re less in need of a bit of escapism. That being said Poldark is classic Sunday night fare given a slightly modern twist thanks to the casting of Tomlinson and Turner and the direction from Bazalgette. Whilst I’m not sure if I’m going to commit to all eight episodes I feel that ultimately Poldark will go on to be BBC One’s latest Sunday night and deservedly so.
Elsewhere, last week saw the return of Masterchef which John Torode and Gregg Wallace opening the kitchen for another forty hopefuls. Now in its staggering eleventh series, Masterchef has a simple recipe for success which includes likeable contestants, a pair of firm but fair judges and lots of close-up shots of lovely food. I find that Masterchef is one of those series that you can dip in and out of during the evening and not really lose track of what’s going on. I personally really enjoyed the last series that saw the brilliant Ping triumph over the more accomplished Jack and the zany Luke. All three were back this week in the obligatory challenge which sees the new recruits cook for former champions and finalists. Watching this challenge I always wonder if the finalists have to sign some sort of contract which ties them to appearing on the series every year until the end of time. In terms of the format itself not much has changed with the amateurs still struggling to get their various dishes out on time. The one alteration is that, after the opening Calling Card round, both Gregg and John pick their favourite contestants who go straight through to cooking for the aforementioned former participants. The other three have to cook again in what is dubbed ‘The Reinvention Test’ which sees them using the ingredients from their Calling Card dish to cook up something that’s going to impress the judges. All of the problems I have with Masterchef remain the same from the slightly irritating voiceover to the fact that the producers don’t really know the meaning of the term ‘basic larder’. That being said Masterchef is the perfect show to watch after a long day at work as you can just switch your brain off and enjoy all of the pretty dishes that the contestants cook up for the demanding judges.
Moving onto BBC Two’s newest comedy drama Nurse; which is written by and stars Paul Whitehouse as a cavalcade of characters. Originally airing on Radio 4, the programme sees Esther Coles star as Liz; a community psychiatric nurse with a number of colourful patients. Whitehouse appears in almost every scene and in the first episode played a total of six characters. As with a lot of character-based comedy not every situation hit the mark especially one in which Simon Day played Whitehouse’s former prison roommate. Whitehouse is now stranger to playing multiple characters having done so in everything from The Fast Show to those ubiquitous Aviva adverts. However I don’t think his brand of humour quite fit the subject matter of Nurse which at times felt quite dark. For a show that’s billed as a comedy first and foremost I didn’t laugh once but then again I didn’t know if I was really supposed to. This was a problem for me as their was an imbalance of tone between Whitehouse’s broad humour and the sensitive subjects that Liz had to deal with during her rounds. Whitehouse has perfectly mixed pathos and humour before, most notably in his underrated sitcom Happiness, however I don’t think Nurse stands up against the comedian’s former offerings. Thankfully there are some bright spots in Nurse most notably Esther Coles who is perfectly convincing as the harassed Nurse Liz. In my opinion I found the most successful scenes were the ones in which Liz was on her own talking to on her phone to her kids or her estranged husband. Similarly Liz’s meeting with the brilliant Rosie Cavallero’s Cat Lady was the first episode’s most moving scene. This leads me to believe that Whitehouse’s insistence on playing the majority of the characters is a hindrance to Nurse’s overall success. Had he simply selected to play one role than I feel that I would’ve enjoyed Nurse a lot more than I actually did.
One project that has mixed humour with serious subject matter for the last thirty years is Comic Relief which aired it’s bi-annual Red Nose Day last Friday. As well as the climax of both The Bake-Off and The People’s Strictly; Red Nose Day saw the return of many comedy icons. The sketch that the team seemed to be most proud of was the Little Britain clip in which David Walliams’ Lou was now the carer for Professor Steven Hawking. However I wasn’t a particular fan and by the clip’s third airing I’d grown tired of seeing Hawking become a transformer and finish off both Lou and Catherine Tate’s Irish nun. The more successful returns came courtesy of Mr. Bean and The Vicar of Dibley with the latter presenting a cameo-laden sketch in which Geraldine meets her rivals for the position of the first female bishop. There were two sketches that I particularly enjoyed the first of which featured a host of famous faces vying to become Britain’s newest national treasure. Featuring everyone from Salman Rushdie to The Chuckle Brothers; this sketch was amusing throughout and had a great pay-off. Similarly I felt that Comic Relief’s take on Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen skit was inspired with a quartet of the organisation’s famous fundraisers competing to see who had the most gruelling experience. There were other little moments that made me chuckle most notably when voiceover man Matt Berry came onto to stage to argue with host Claudia Winkleman. However, Comic Relief isn’t really about the sketches or the laughter but rather the money that’s raised at the end of the night. The final scene, in which Lenny Henry revealed that the organisation has raised more than a billion pounds over the past thirty years, was one of the most heartwarming TV moments I’ve seen all year. Henry’s pride in what Comic Relief has done over the years was brilliant to see and it just proves what the British public can achieve when they put their minds to something.
That’s your lot for now but for more of my views on the week’s TV please follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites