So we’re now in September which means the start of a whole new TV season. With so much to pack in I’ve found myself having to write two weekly pieces the first of which focuses on ITV’s week of debuting shows which featured both some returning names and some new programmes that the channel are hoping will become big hitters.
One of these new shows is three-part drama The Guilty which focuses on the investigation into the murder of a young boy who disappeared five years ago. The Guilty employs flashbacks to show how four year old Callum Reid (Daniel Runacres-Grundstrom) went missing in 2008 and how, five years later, his mother Claire (Katherine Kelly) was still searching for him. But the ‘Find Callum’ campaign soon came to a screeching halt when a body was found by workmen a few yards away from the Reid family home at the once vibrant estate of Arcadian Gardens. The flashback scenes offered up a number of suspects namely the Reid family’s nanny Nina (Madlen Meyer) and her dodgy boyfriend Jason (Theo Barklem-Biggs). Meanwhile the flashbacks also insinuate that all his well in the marriage of Claire and Daniel (Darren Boyd) as she struggles to cope with raising his son from a previous marriage, Luke (Teddy Fitzpatrick). In the present day DC Maggie Brand (Tamsin Greig) is assigned to the case, having initially worked on it before taking her maternity leave. With Maggie already dealing with an autistic son, being on the murder investigation of another little boy is the last thing she needs. At the same time she’s eager not to repeat the mistake of her predecessor, who had to resign following the suicide of prime suspect Jason. With suspicion mounting that Callum’s murderer was more than likely someone he knew, Claire and Daniel’s relationship looks to be pushed to breaking point.
The Guilty was one of those dramas that really grows on you; I didn’t think much of it while I was watching it but by the time I came to review it there were plenty of things I liked. Top of the list was the style of the drama and the differentiation between the two time periods. The 2008 scenes are all filmed with bright colours to signify that this was a time of happiness and laughter. Meanwhile, the scenes set in the present day were filmed with more neutral colours which suggested that all of the happiness had gone following Callum’s disappearance. Debbie O’Malley makes it clear from the start that this is a story about two mothers one of whom who is fighting to find the truth about her son and the other who is trying to solve the case while dealing with son who has learning difficulties. These characters are both portrayed by brilliant actresses who make Claire and Maggie’s situations feel incredibly believable. Since leaving Coronation Street, I’ve found a lot of Kelly’s roles to be lacking a certain warmth however I found Claire to be a fairly sympathetic presence. But personally I found Greig stole the show as the brilliant Maggie who found it hard to be emotional when it came to either her son’s problems or cracking the case. Though ITV have had success with another drama revolving around the death of a young boy in Broadchurch, I feel The Guilty is different enough mainly because this is a case that has already been investigated before. This was another element I quite liked as certain suspects had already been eliminated and pieces of evidence had gone unobserved for the last five years. The Guilty wasn’t perfect though, I found Nina and Jason to be fairly clichéd characters while some of the revelations during the barbecue scene seemed incredibly generic. In addition, I felt that the drama spent too long focusing on the case and not enough time for us to get to know the characters. But overall I found The Guilty to be an enjoyable piece of drama which I’m hoping will become more gripping over the next couple of weeks.
Last week also saw the return of Whitechapel for its fourth series which put the focus on Bulgarian spies and witchcraft. The drama’s central investigation focused on the death of Alexander Zukanov, a homeless man living in London who was later revealed to be a Bulgarian spy. Initially the team believe that his death could be linked to his past in Bulgaria especially when MI6 alert them to the presence in the area of Crispin Wingfield (Brian Protheroe), who was previously suffered torture at the hands of the murder victim. At the same time, we follow the story of Dorothy Cade (Deddie Davis) who spends most of her time doting on her sister. Dorothy’s name is given by Zukanov at the beginning of the episode and by the end she too has met a sticky end. While Zukanov’s murder looks to have had more to do with witchcraft, Wingfield informs Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) that all of the previous Whitechapel cases could be linked. I found this information to be incredibly intriguing and suggests to me that the writers have thought hard about how to make this series relevant. Indeed, I find Ben Court and Caroline Ip’s script to be one of Whitechapel’s strongest elements especially considering that they manage to make the far-fetched stories seem somewhat believable. The stylish nature of Whitechapel, especially the intercuts between scenes, also marks it out from some of the other crime dramas on TV and gives it an identity all of its own. Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis continue to have brilliant chemistry as the mismatched Chandler and Miles continue to work in harmony. Steve Permberton’s Buchan continues to provide the blackly comic edge to proceedings and is as weird as ever despite now being a successful author. The only part of the plot that I wasn’t a fan of was the argument between officers Kent and Emerson relating to the latter’s relationship with the former’s sister. Apart from that though, Whitechapel continues to entertain and disgust in equal measure. While it might not be the most subtle drama on TV there’s no denying that there’s nothing really like it on the box.
After the child murder of The Guilty and the gruesome nature of Whitechapel most people would want to maybe watch something a little bit more sedate. Thankfully, Doc Martin was back on ITV for what is now its sixth series but still sees the titular Doc (Martin Clunes) appear as grumpy as ever. Martin approaches his wedding day with the same underwhelming emotion as he treats everything else in his life. It’s only when he sees his bride Louisa (Caroline Catz) for the first time that he starts to feel a little bit happier. The main thrust of the episode sees Martin and Louisa driven off to a lodge in the middle of nowhere for a surprise honeymoon. This is where a comedy of errors begins which starts when the couple’s luggage is driven off to when they have to trek across the countryside to find the nearest phone. Meanwhile, the rest of the villagers pitch in to help Ruth (Eileen Atkins) when the Ellingham house is plunged into darkness while Ruth is babysitting for Martin and Louisa. This sequence introduces Mike (Felix Scott), a former army electrician who has come to the village to visit his old friend Al (Joe Absolom). As someone who’s never really watched Doc Martin before I wasn’t really sure what to expect. What I got was a far-from-subtle comedy drama that was drenched in cliché but at the same time had an innate likeability about it. Though a lot of what happened to Martin and Louisa didn’t feel realistic, it was bolstered by the performances of Clunes and Catz. I found Clunes to be brilliant as his facial expressions tell the story of how Martin sees most of the villagers as complete buffoons. Meanwhile, Eileen Atkins was absolutely terrific as the matter-of-fact Ruth who really didn’t take to looking after her great nephew. Although I can see myself tiring of Doc Martin after a handful of episodes, I still enjoyed this sixth series opener nonetheless.
Even though ITV had a great week when it comes to drama, it still seems they’re struggling with comedy. Their latest effort was the pre-watershed sitcom Pat and Cabbage which focused on two lifelong friends who were entering into their twilight years. Pat (Barbara Flynn) is the more level-headed member of the duo and is intent on finding love again following the death of her husband. Meanwhile, Cabbage (Cherie Lunghi) is a more worldly-wise divorcee who is intent on having as much fun as possible. The first episode revolved around Pat’s flirtation with Michael (Peter Davidson) and Cabbage’s intent on getting them together even it meant putting her friend in embarrassing situations. Elsewhere Pat’s daughters Helen (Rosie Cavaliero) and Nicola (Diane Morgan) were tasked with cleaning out the family garage. When Helen realised that Nicola didn’t have any friends at school she attempts to rectify that by buying her single sister a hamster. Inevitably comic hijinks ensue when the hamster goes missing and the family must find the animal before Pat returns to the house. Even if it you didn’t watch Pat and Cabbage, and judging by the ratings not a lot of people did, you’ll get the idea of how old-fashioned the show was by the premise alone. Though the show didn’t feature the dreaded studio audience laughter, it still was full of the tired comic capers that just don’t feel funny anymore. I do feel that Pat and Cabbage could’ve been a lot more entertaining as there’s definitely room for a female led sitcom focusing on two older women who aren’t ready to grow up. But, despite the acting talent on display, it seems that Pat and Cabbage just isn’t that sitcom and I doubt we’ll be seeing it back for a second series.
Moving over to Saturday night now where the jewel in ITV’s crown, The X-Factor, returned for its tenth series. While you can read about The X-Factor elsewhere on the site, I thought I’d focus on the two other programmes that aired either side of it. First up was ITV’s attempt to produce a celebrity dance show in the form of Stepping Out. The twist to this show was that the celebrities taking part would be partnered with their real life partners and would have to partake in a different dance every week. This meant that former JLS member Ortise Williams and his girlfriend AJ would have to perfect the tap dance while Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen and wife Jackie would be street dancing. The six couples would then all be critiqued and scored by a panel known as ‘the front row’ consisting of Mel B, Wayne Sleep and Jason Gardiner. My favourite parts of Stepping Out were seeing the couples in their natural habitats and viewing the spats they had during their dance rehearsals. The only problem was that the dancing was either predictably good or incredibly mediocre with only the Llewellyn-Bowens pulling off a truly atrocious performance. Aside from the aforementioned designer and his wife, the only couple who made an impact on me were Glynis Barber and Michael Brandon but mainly because it was great to see a Dempsey and Makepeace reunion on primetime ITV. Unlike Your Face Sounds Familiar, which never took itself too seriously, it seems that Stepping Out wants to be viewed as a serious dance contest. The problem is that most of the couples don’t provide any entertainment value and there isn’t particularly any dramatic value in the lead-up to each performance. In the end what you get is a dance show where the dancing is secondary to the preceding VT and a celebrity show in which the majority of the stars don’t provide any kind of excitement or entertainment.
And speaking of not providing any entertainment or excitement, Keith Lemon was back on terrestrial TV as he hosted a remake of Through the Keyhole. Anyone who remembers the original will probably be aggrieved to know that Lemon both hosts and goes round the houses of the mystery famous people. As someone who tries to avoid Lemon as much as possible, I must say that I didn’t find him that annoying during the show. At the same time I didn’t find him that funny and his repeated mention of the word ‘clue’, which was apparently meant to be amusing, fell on this writer’s dead ears. Meanwhile, jobbing presenter Dave Berry took up a role as chief panellist which generally involved mocking Keith’s Northern accent and guessing the majority of the celebrities. The guests were a mixed bag and included gymnast Louis Smith and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. The most bizarre moment of this episode involved Lemon quizzing Prescott like he was hosting The Daily Politics; but for the most part this was just the usual swearing and sexual innuendo that we’re used to from Lemon. In fact the only thing that made me laugh was the clip of Smith auditioning for The X-Factor back in 2009. Even though I really have nothing positive to say about Through the Keyhole, I’m still not going to make any jokes about David Frost dying the day after this aired on ITV. Oh hang on…
That’s your lot for now, tell me what you thought of the latest TV by getting in touch on Twitter @mattstvbites