Matt on the Box: This Week’s TV Highlights: Dates, Happy Families, Big Brother and Britain’s Got Talent

by | Jun 15, 2013 | All, Reviews

Here we are once again with another look back at the last seven days in TV

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month then you will have noticed the adverts hyping up Channel 4’s Mating Season. One of the highlights of the season is Dates, a series of one-off dramas that follow a series of blind dates all taking place in various restaurants and bars across London. It appears as if some characters will feature in more than one episode as Mia (Oona Chaplin) featured in two instalments this week. Mia first appeared as the blind date of David (Will Mellor) a widowed Northern taxi driver who had recently moved to London. The episode saw the balance of power in the relationship shift as David was initially fed up with Mia’s snooty attitude and attempted to cancel the date. However, she argued her way onto the date and the pair actually started to enjoy themselves. But it seemed as if Mia was still on the market as she went on another date this time with arrogant surgeon Stephen (Ben Chaplin). Stephen is soon taken aback when Mia reveals how they met before and he attempts to end the date early. But when he is called to work, Mia accompanies him and sees his surgery skills first hand. Sandwiched between Mia’s two dates is the story of dainty schoolteacher Jenny (Sheridan Smith) who meets up with city trader Nick (Neil Maskell). It is almost instantly apparent that these two both have issues as Nick quickly gets through two bottles of white wine while Jenny is constantly touching a red elastic band that is around her wrist. Though the two seem to be getting on quite well, a shocking incident changes our perception of both characters.

As Dates played out like a series of one-act plays, I found it to be a little disjointed and there were some instalments I enjoyed more than others. The first episode, written by Skins’ Bryan Elsley, set the tone for the rest of the week as the drama focused on who was more in control during the date. Despite the brilliant performance from Oona Chaplin, I never really warmed to Mia and instead found her frankness to be utterly irritating. Thankfully the first episode was saved by the performance from Will Mellor as David, a down-to-Earth guy who most of us can relate to. The mismatch between David and Mia was certainly an interesting concept, but I found that this episode mainly survived due to the strong performances. I can’t say I cared too much for Mia’s second date with Stephen as both were utterly obnoxious. I’m also not too sure about the decision to take the second half of the story into a hospital where the usually flippant Mia is forced to deal with reality. The best of the three episodes was definitely the one focusing on Jenny and Nick, as it definitely felt the most realistic. Sheridan Smith was brilliantly cast as the passionate teacher who may not have been as innocent as we first thought while Neil Maskell also excelled as the charming but brutish trader. The scenes of their small talk were brilliantly written, by Irish scribe Nancy Harris, while the final elements of drama were also well done. Due to its style, Dates was fairly inconsistent but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy some parts of it. The beauty of the show was that you could dip in and out of it so if you weren’t enjoying an episode you could leave half way through, which in some ways made each instalment feel like a real blind date.

A few years ago Channel 4 had a hit on their hands with fly-on-the-wall documentary The Family, and now it seems as if ITV are trying to recreate that success. Their attempt, entitled Happy Families, is quite similar in that it combines fly-on-the-wall footage with hidden cameras, but the series follows four families instead of one. Each of the episodes are themed around a specific member of the family, with this week’s opening instalment focusing on mothers. Firstly there’s Mel, who claims she always wanted to be a mother and has fulfilled this ambition through her five kids. Supermum Mel now has to balance her five kids with her multitude of jobs which include serving spam fritters on a burger van, being an over-the-phone debt advisor and running her own sex toy and lingerie business. Mel and husband Kris, who looks after the kids since being made redundant, live hand-to-mouth and often worry how the next bill is going to be paid. Meanwhile Kent-based Carole seems a lot more well off, but has a house full of eight children, six of whom are over eighteen. Carole’s children and step-children all rely on her to provide meals for them and she seemingly doesn’t want any of them to fly the coop. Despite this, one of Carole’s daughters is about to jet off to Thailand which causes her mother to reflect on a time when her house will be empty. But the most emotionally charged story of Happy Families came courtesy of mother-of-three Janine whose eldest daughter Kayleigh was about to become a mum herself. Unfortunately, Kayleigh and boyfriend Saul discover that the baby will be born with a birth defect which means that it will only have a 50% chance of survival. Happy Families sees both Janine and Kayleigh try to cope with this news in the lead up to the birth and what happens when Janine’s first grandchild is born. I feel that Kayleigh’s story alone could probably have filled an hour’s worth of TV time but the structure of Happy Families means that we had to follow the other mums as well. I really loved Mel’s fighting spirit and Carole’s eccentric nature, but both were eclipsed by a beautifully captured story about what it means to be a mother. Overall I found Happy Families to be engaging and moving and I can’t wait to see what happens when the kids take control in episode two.

What do a pair of musical loving twins, a shaman fisherwoman, a tattooed fire-breathing glamour model and a former male escort have in common? They are some of the housemates making up this year’s series of Big Brother of course. Now in what seems like its hundredth series, the once-loved reality series is hobbling to its inevitable conclusion on Channel Five, the network were all shows come to die. It seems that the channel devote all of their time to booking the celebrity version of the reality series, and not really bothering with the original format. Oddly this series did get off to a good start with an interesting cast of characters and an intriguing ‘Secrets and Lies’ theme. This theme relates to the fact that one of the housemates, cheeky Irish postman Michael, is actually an actor working for Big Brother. I say actor, Michael’s efforts at playing dumb have so far been atrocious and put me in mind of the most cringe-worthy acting from The Apprentice. In fact Michael’s skills thus far probably tell you all you need to know about why a so-called ‘professional actor’ has been reduced to a thankless role in a Channel Five show. I have to say that the housemates are still a cut above the two lots that Channel Five have previously offered us. Though there are the token glamour models, Towie rejects and hunky ones, there are also a couple of interesting characters. For example there’s celebrity publicist Dexter who was once the highest paid male escort in London and dating website entrepreneur Jemima. My favourite though has to be lesbian fisherwoman Wolfy who is a practising Shaman and stole the show on the opening night. Whether she’ll grow to be a laugh-riot or become increasingly annoying remains to be seen. Big Brother also has a fresh look this year thanks to a house that is primarily made from recycled goods and a new host in the form of Emma Willis. Willis, who has taken over from male fembot Brian Dowling, seems to genuinely love the show and her enthusiasm shines through.I have to say I’m optimistic about this series of Big Brother thus far but am yet to decide whether I’m ready to commit two months of my life to watching a bunch of no-marks or if I should go outside and maybe enjoy the summer.

Finally this week I can’t go without talking about the egg-sighting conclusion to Britain’s Got Talent. Though I told myself I wasn’t going to crack any yolks, I just can’t help myself. After a week between semi-final and final, BGT finally crowned a winner in bookies’ favourite Attraction. It seemed that people had decided that the Hungarian black-light dancers were already the winners before they even performed. For me there patriotic routine lacked the emotional punch of their previous performances and almost felt like an attempt to get some last minute votes. Meanwhile, northern comic Jack Carroll came a respectable second and operatic brothers Richard and Adam came third. But Richard and Adam’s performance will be mostly remembered for the fact that an excitable viola player got up from the orchestra and started pelting Simon Cowell with eggs. The egg thrower, Natalie Holt, was apparently protesting at Simon Cowell’s ruining of the music industry, but at the same time she had been given a nights’ work because of him. Though I don’t agree with what she did, Natalie’s actions prove that watching TV live can still have its thrilling moments and I would’ve been crushed had I watched the show on catch-up. The one thing I liked about this year’s show is that the variety acts did a lot better than the singers and for me the best act of the night was ventriloquist Steve Hewlett, who was the judges’ wildcard pick. Hewlett, who missed out on third place by less than 1%, was a traditional entertainer with a modern edge and I found his act captivating. He marked himself out as different from the cavalcade of young singers and street-dance groups and I feel that we’d be talking about him more had it not been for Natalie and her eggs.

For more on my TV views follow me @mattstvbites

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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