Matt on the Box: This Week’s TV Highlights: Big School, That Puppet Game Show, Boom Town, and Dragon’s Den

by | Aug 16, 2013 | All, Reviews

Welcome once again to another look back to at the last seven days in TV

Over the past six months or so it seems that the current state of British comedy is in a bit of a crisis. With recent offerings such as Vicious, Count Arthur Strong and Badults being critically panned the time is right for a new sitcom that actually makes people laugh. While Big School, might not be the best sitcom around it certainly has some likeable characters, a great ensemble cast and is well-paced. The show is written by David Walliams, alongside the Dawson brothers, while he also stars in the lead role as science teacher Mr Church. Church is one of many teachers who aren’t respected or listened to at the incredibly rough Greybridge School. In fact Church has become so disenfranchised that he drafts a letter of resignation but doesn’t hand it in after meeting the new French teacher Miss Postern (Catherine Tate). Miss Postern sees herself as a progressive teacher who likes to play vocab tennis and French whispers but doesn’t do too well ingratiating herself to sardonic headmistress Ms Baron (Frances De La Tour). Church also has a rival for Miss Postern’s affections in the form of bullish PE teacher Mr Gunn (Philip Glenister), who plans to seduce her after inviting her round for a night of Zumba. After seeking advice from a pupil, Church successfully gets Miss Postern to accept a lift home from him but he hits a snag when he burns out the radiator by playing too much Phil Collins on his radio. From there it’s a battle between Church and Gunn to see who can get Miss Postern in their car first.

While not original in the slightest, Big School still has a lot going for it both in pace and character. Big School is an entirely traditional sitcom where all of the kids are slightly more intelligent than the teachers and often get one up on them. However there are still some witty lines most notably, after Joanna Scanlan’s drama teacher informs the staffroom of her evening plans, Mr Gunn’s remark ‘when it comes to lesbians the internet has got it drastically wrong’ had me in stitches. Indeed, Gunn is a great antagonistic character mainly because Philip Glenister puts in a lot of effort to get the character to seem as disgusting as possible. I feel that Glenister really excelled in his first comedy role and it made me think why we haven’t seen him in many sitcoms before. Though he’s played a foolish character many times before, Walliams still plays to his strengths as the foppish and nervous Mr Church. Frances De La Tour steals all the best lines as the headmistress who often gets drunk on the alcohol she confiscates from her pupils. I’ve personally never been a bit fan of Catherine Tate but I found her a joy here as the bright-eyed teacher who quickly realises that her methods are falling on deaf ears. The dynamic between Walliams, Tate and Glenister is the cornerstone of the show and all three bounce off each other beautifully. The one underwritten character, certainly in this first episode, is Daniel Rigby’s music teacher Mr Martin who wants the kids to learn about The Kaiser Chiefs rather than Mozart. I really felt that Rigby’s character was lazily written and an actor of his comic talents deserves much better. Another positive about Big School is that there is no studio audience laughter meaning that there is no pressure on the viewers to laugh after some of the programme’s dodgier gags. The pacing of the programme is well done, meaning we don’t linger on any scene too long though at the same time making sure that the story of the piece is told. While Walliams hasn’t reinvented the wheel with Big School, what he has done is create a likeable and somewhat funny sitcom with a great cast. Although that may not have been an achievement a few years ago, in 2013 it’s more than we usually get and I feel that Walliams should be applauded as a result.

Walliams’ co-writers, the Dawson brothers, have been busy this week as alongside Big School they’re also the men behind BBC1’s new Saturday night programme That Puppet Game Show. The show is another attempt by BBC1 to create the next big weekend family entertainment programme and this time they’ve called in Jim Henson Productions for help. The company behind The Muppets have created a whole new set of puppet characters to front a game show which every week welcomes two celebrity guests who battle it out to win money for charity. This first episode saw Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins being the unwilling victims of host Dougie Colon and his team of experts. The challenges were all reminiscent of ones we’ve seen on The Generation Game or any of Ant and Dec’s game shows. They included Ross and Jenkins attempting to squeeze hotdogs in the right order, punch themselves, give an awards acceptance speech and be observant while jumping up and down on a trampoline. The game show elements of the programme were counterbalanced by backstage skits involving the show’s experts and producer Mancie O’Neil. The plot of this first episode saw the programme’s boss Udders McGhee, who for some reason was a giant bull, forcing Mancie to fire one of the employees. Mancie’s issue was that they were all as useless as each other and she had more than enough reasons to fire every single one of them.

It’s easy to be cynical about a programme like That Puppet Game Show however I feel like it will appeal to families who want to watch TV together. I feel that the little kids will enjoy the games involving hotdogs, the teenagers will enjoy the jokes involving the weird creatures backstage and the adults will appreciate some of the ruder gags that fly over the heads of their children. As I’m not part of the target market for That Puppet Game Show, I found it hard to get into it but I rather enjoyed some of the games especially the awards acceptance speeches. Ross and Jenkins were both game guests who didn’t seem to have an issue interacting with puppets and sort of had an attitude of ‘we’re both in this together’. Though the humour employed in the backstage skits was hit-and-miss, the gag ratio was high so if you didn’t like one joke there was another one along in a minute. The programme was incredibly surreal at times, including a segment where a family at home was commenting on how they weren’t being entertained by the show, but I felt it had its heart in the right place. I thought that the programme never outstayed its welcome and the forty minute runtime suited it perfectly as it would definitely have run out of steam had it been given a full hour. Though it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, I do applaud BBC1 for at least trying something different and That Puppet Game Show is a thousand times more enjoyable than the horrendous I Love My Country. It will be interesting to see if the show will find an audience, early rating suggest that it didn’t too well, but for now at least I would say that this was an entertaining piece of early-Saturday night programming that would more than appeal to its core audience.

While it was easy to see who That Puppet Game Show would appeal to, I’m having a tough time figuring out who exactly Boom Town was for. The programme was a mixture of constructed reality programme, hidden camera show and sketch comedy. We were told right at the start that all of the characters were real but the majority of the situations had been set up for our entertainment. These characters included rapper Cream, who we met as he wandered round his local Londis, and Kevin the Witch who was showing an estate agent around his flat. The most memorable characters of the ensemble were Salford-based superhero duo The Knight Warriors and Johnny Nash a self-proclaimed ladies’ man who kept making inappropriate comments during a speed dating night. If the purpose of Boom Town was to make me laugh then I’m afraid it didn’t achieve its mission and instead I just sat dumbfounded in front of the screen wondering what I was actually watching. The only show that bares any comparison to Boom Town is Channel 4’s Kookyville, which died without a trace last year, though that was more a spoof of shows like Towie and its ilk. Boom Town is more a celebration of the UK’s biggest eccentrics, but done in a You’ve Been Framed style in order to have these larger-than-life characters interact with travel agents and career advisors. Indeed the scene involving the career adviser and male stripper Louis was perhaps Boom Town’s lowest ebb as the segment went on for far too long. Though the characters may be real, I feel a lot of what they say has been scripted, even though the credits listed no writers. I feel that BBC3 will rely on Twitter feedback to see how people felt about Boom Town but your writer still feels befuddled by the whole programme. I definitely don’t think that we’ll be seeing a second series of Boom Town, but then again BBC3 are the channel that recommissioned Coming of Age and Some Girls so I feel it’s a case of never say never.

Finally this week we step away from comedy as we take the lift down to Dragon’s Den for what is now its eleventh series. One of this year’s changes is that the budding entrepreneurs enter the den via a lift rather than the traditional staircase. Meanwhile there are changes afoot in the line-up as Hilary has left the show to front the awful Channel 4 show The Intern while Theo has also departed to spend more time with Mrs P. In their place we have interior design expert Kelly Hoppen and cloud computing whiz Piers Linney. After episode one, Kelly’s role seems to be to critique the design of the products and give sour-faced looks to the contestants. Meanwhile, Piers seems to want to play the young up-start and regularly mocking his older colleagues claiming that he will bring a youthful element that the other Dragons cannot hope to match. Apart from the new Dragons, this was pretty much business as usual with some women wowing the Dragons with their fake tan and a creepy couple failing to get an investment for their new children’s toy. Most memorable of all was a former personal trainer whose pitch for his low-fat noodles saw him break down in tears when thinking about his wife’s miscarriages. Somehow he was able to get an investment from Peter Jones, who got half of the company and cheered him up no end. Linney claimed in an interview that he and Kelly’s arrival into the den has freshened up proceedings somewhat, but I beg to differ. Indeed, I feel neither made as much of an impact as Hilary Devey did during her first run. What I do like about this series is the fact that it only contains six episodes meaning that we’ll only see the very best pitches during this run. I thought that the last series of Dragon’s Den really outstayed its welcome but, due to the reduced number of episodes, this eleventh series won’t do the same.

To hear more of my views on the week’s TV follow me on Twitter @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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