Matt on the Box: This Week’s TV Highlights: The Voice UK, Death in Paradise, House of Fools, The Kumars and Uncle

by | Jan 21, 2014 | All, Reviews

Welcome to another belated look back at last week’s television

Obviously the big story coming out of last week was the return of The Voice UK. The BBC’s attempt at a mainstream talent show has been thwarted from the word go thanks to criticisms of both its format and its judging line-up. After a lukewarm second series, the channel have decided to make some changes, most of which have been for the better. The most obvious change is that the show is now airing at the beginning of the year rather than the traditional spring debut that it has had for the past two years. The main reasons for this appear to be that there is less competition at this time of year (sorry Splash!) and that more viewers will be tuning in due to the horrible weather outside. Changes have also been made to the line-up as the lovely and gorgeous Kylie Minogue takes over from the over-the-top Jessie J. Meanwhile, Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson is the other new addition to the panel, replacing the excitable Irish guy from The Script. Kylie and Ricky’s presence on the panel appears to have brought a new vitality to existing coaches and Sir Tom Jones. The new duo feel a lot more credible than their predecessors and are a lot more relaxed leading to this series feeling like the most professional run so far. Despite being a ridiculously successful pop icon, Kylie seems to have maintained the down-to-Earth charm that we first fell in love with back when she was still on Ramsay Street. She gives decent feedback to the artists and was particularly endearing when she got embarrassed talking to former Streets member Leo the Lion. I personally feel that Ricky’s best quality is his sincerity as everything he says sounds utterly genuine. The look on his face when he was listening to the talented Anna McLuckie told you that this was a man who knew what he was doing. In addition Ricky appears to have a great sense of humour, a quality that was lacking in the man that was sitting in the same chair as him last year.

The third alteration that The Voice UK has made is in its hosting line-up with Emma Willis and Marvin ‘From JLS’ Humes replacing Holly Willoughby and Reggie Yates. There’s no denying that this team makes The Voice seem a lot more contemporary and youthful. Emma in particular is a breath of fresh air and, as she does on Big Brother, makes you invested in what’s going on with all of the contestants. My main problem with the pairing is that The Voice is a programme that really doesn’t need two hosts and I feel that Marvin will be lost when the live shows begin. One problem The Voice has never had is a lack of talent and we had a plethora of extremely talented singers on the first show. From the aforementioned Ms. McLuckie, who played the harp, to the more mature Sally Barker who was after her last shot at fame, everybody on the show felt like they’d deserved their place. An issue I had last year was that there was an over-abundance of contestants who wanted their second shot at fame. Thankfully, in this first episode, we only had Leo the Lion whose VT mentioned his performance at The Brits but not his stint on Celebrity Love Island. Obviously the big test for The Voice UK will be to see if it will maintain this momentum once we’ve passed the Blind Auditions. I would personally like to see more of a focus put on the finalists as I’ve found I haven’t been as invested in past contestants as I possibly should have been. But for now at least The Voice UK is doing what it should be doing, namely providing plenty of entertainment to brighten up these gloomy Saturday nights.

More changes are afoot on the BBC’s other big returning show this week, Death in Paradise. This is because Saint Marie’s stuffy DI Richard Poole (Ben Miller) departed the island for good in the first episode. In classic Death in Paradise style, Poole was murdered during a reunion of his college friends and the mystery then had to be solved by his former colleagues. Despite grieving for their fallen friend; Camille (Sara Martins), Fidel (Gary Carr) and Dwayne (Danny John-Jules) realise they have a murder to solve. Realising they need some help the police Commander (Dom Warrington) provides them with a new leader in the form of DI Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall). Though both well-spoken Brits, Humphrey and Richard differ in almost every conceivable way. Humphrey is a lot more welcoming of his new island life and is lest resistant to change. However, he is a lot clumsier as we witness him falling out of windows and regularly forgetting to take a notepad out with him when questioning suspects. But it doesn’t take Humphrey long to step into Richard’s shoes as he soon gathering them all together in the same room and revealing who the killer is. Death in Paradise is perfect escapist entertainment with the luxurious exteriors of Guadeloupe being perfectly shot throughout the course of the show. Robert Thorogood’s script doesn’t really demand much from its audience and leans more to the side of comedy than it does drama. Though predictable, the mystery plot continues to be a fun distraction and it’s great trying to guess the killer as the skeletons are plucked from their various closets. The one thing I’m unsure of is how well Kris Marshall will integrate himself into the cast, especially seeing as his character is presented as some sort of dimwit. Whilst Miller’s Poole wasn’t always the most-respected member of the team, he had an air of authority about him that made him a believable leader. However I didn’t feel the same way about Humphrey and it doesn’t help that the 40 year old Kris Marshall still looks about 22. But I do have hope that he will ease in to the role and forge a new chemistry with his co-stars as the series goes on, as it would be a shame for this cast change to spell the end of what is a very enjoyable if lightweight drama.

Returning to the BBC for their latest show together are ageing anarchic comedy duo Reeves and Mortimer. Vic and Bob’s latest offering; House of Fools is a sort of parody of a classic sitcom and sees the pair’s unique humour employed in a new setting. Playing sitcom versions of themselves, Vic and Bob constantly war over the former’s love of collecting silly antiques and the latter’s need to settle down. Bob wants more than anything to go on a date with a lovely lady who looks like Sandi Toksvig. Their friend Beef (Matt Berry) attempts to arrange a date for Bob to watch Conan the Barbarian on the television. Bob needs to get Vic out of the house and tries to enlist the help of his half-Scandinavian son Erik (Daniel Simonsen) but he refuses. More chaos ensues after Vic breaks the pair’s TV has to attempt to borrow the set of their neighbour Julie (Morgana Robinson) who is constantly after sex from every man she meets. Just after Bob thinks he’s got everything sorted Vic’s friend Bosh (Dan Skinner) comes to stay with them after being released from prison. Anybody who’s ever seen one of Vic and Bob’s comedy shows before knows exactly what to expect from House of Fools. Their new sitcom essentially Shooting Stars in a house with all of their comedy regulars popping by to sing a song and do a bit of comedy. I have to personally say that I rarely laughed during the course of the show, but that’s to say I didn’t enjoy it. Though the antics of Vic and Bob have begun to get a bit stale, especially after seeing how good Vic is when he acts under his real name of Jim Moir. Luckily there’s a lot of talent in the supporting cast namely from Robinson as the sex-starved neighbour and Berry as the boisterous Beef. I have to say I’m not quite sure about House of Fools yet as I don’t know if it’s trying to be a fully-fledged sitcom in its own right or simply attempting to parody the art of the situation comedy. But I’m definitely going to stick with it for now, mainly because I find Vic and Bob utterly enjoyable in whatever they do.

Moving from the BBC over to Sky One are The Kumars. Sanjeev Bhaskar’s talk show family have now relocated to Hounslow and a new flat over Bimla’s Superstore run by Kumar patriarch Ashwin (Vincent Ebrhaim). As ever Sanjeev is joined on the coach by Ashwin as well as his overly flirtatious grandmother (Meera Syal) but mother Kumar is currently over in India. The new female face in the flat is the Kumars’ landlady Hawney (Harvey Virdi), an aspiring actress who often gatecrashes Sanjeev’s interviews to fawn over the celebrity guests. I did personally feel that this first show had an incredibly impressive line-up what with Daniel Radcliffe, Chevy Chase and Olivia Coleman. All three seemed pretty game for being part of The Kumars experience and were all up for hawking the products that Ashwin was trying to get rid of from the store downstairs. Coleman especially came across as a fantastic sport and really tried her best to make the show as funny as possible. My main issue with the show itself is the way the talk show segments are structured. Whilst the sitcom element of the show is enjoyable, especially the meetings in the discount store, I don’t feel that writers know exactly what they want from the interview portions. The questions often seem a bit muddled and the guests are often asked to recall moments from any part of their careers. In addition, the programme just feels a little baggy, due to the fact that Sky have given it  full hour. I felt that The Kumars was a perfect thirty minute comedy show but the fifteen minute extension makes it feel incredibly slow at times. Though I still enjoy Bhaskar and Syal’s interplay with the guests, I’m not so sure about Virdi’s addition to the cast especially seeing as most of her jokes have something to do with her hilarious name. I do feel that there is still a place for shows such as The Kumars but this latest incarnation of the comedy chat show needs to be better written and have at least ten minutes cut off its running time.

The only comedy that felt vaguely fresh last week was the newest show from BBC3, Uncle. Considering it’s a sitcom, the opening scenes of Uncle were fairly bleak as we saw singer-songwriter Andy (Nick Helm) attempting suicide following a break-up from his girlfriend. Andy’s life was effectively saved by his sister Sam (Daisy Haggard) when she asked him to pick up his nephew Errol (Elliot Spencer-Gillot) from school. Errol isn’t like most children as he seemingly suffers from OCD and doesn’t play well with the other children. Initially, Andy wants little to do with Errol but soon blackmails him into pretending to be his son in order to impress his ex-girlfriend Gwen (Syndey Rae White). Inevitably, the rouse doesn’t work and Andy ends up being chased out of a strip club by Gwen’s transvestite father Val (Con O’Neil). However the day’s adventures do see a strong bond formed between nephew and uncle that look set to carry on throughout the series. I feel the strength of Uncle comes from the chemistry between Helm and Spencer-Gillot whose awkward exchanges really liven up what could be quite an ordinary show. Oliver Refson’s script does have some memorable moments however I personally felt the more tender segments made the sitcom rise above the usual BBC3 fare. Though the final act of episode one was a little over-sentimental it did make me feel that Uncle was a full-rounded show and wasn’t just a one-note comedy. In addition there are some fantastic support performance most notably form O’Neil who appears to be having a ball as the strip-club owning transvestite. I’m just hoping that future episodes of Uncle have the same mix of lowbrow humour and realistic moments that this opener had because, if it does, BBC3 could have another comedy hit on its hands.

That’s it from me, but remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites for more of my thoughts on the week’s TV.

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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