Technical issues have prevented this column from being at its normal punctual hour, but cast your mind back a couple of days as I take a trip through last week’s TV.
What with Southcliffe, Run and The Mill you’d think that Channel 4 would’ve had enough of gritty dramas. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case as Tuesday night saw the return of Top Boy, the urban drama set on the fictional Summerhouse estate. The first series saw cheery stories such as mental breakdowns and live burials; while this series doesn’t look like it’ll be too different. Writer Ronan Bennnett assumes that everybody watching knows about what happened in the last series as one of the opening scenes is the discovery of the body of Kamale. Kamale was killed by drug dealing Dushane (Ashley Walters) who has since become the ‘top boy’ of the Summerhouse estate. Dushane has seemingly gained more respect but has made an enemy out of former friend Sully (Kane Robinson), whom he cast aside a year ago after he became too much of a liability. When Dushane, Sully and Dris (Shone Romulus) are brought in as prime suspects in Kamale’s murder case, Dushane feels like this could be the end of the road. Luckily he has a brilliant solicitor in the form of Rhianna (Lorraine Burroughs) who makes sure he’s let out on bail. Dushane is so taken with Rhianna that he repeatedly asks her out, but keeps getting turned down. Elsewhere Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete) is trying out for a local youth football team but is dragged back into the world of drugs by friend Gem (Giacomo Mancini), whose cannabis plantation suddenly dries up. Finally, Ra’Nell’s mother Lisa (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), has seemingly turned her life around following her breakdown last year. But there seems to be trouble brewing when her hair salon faces closure due to the increase in rent.
I’m glad I made the decision to go back and watch the last series of Top Boy as a lot of what happened in this opening episode wouldn’t have made sense if I hadn’t. Part of the reason for me not watching the entire first series was that it was stripped over one week and I feel that Channel 4 have made the right decision to show this series in weekly instalments. The problem I have is that, because I’ve watched series one recently, a lot of what happened in the first episode seemed fairly repetitive. For example Ra’nelle looks set to get into trouble once again in order to protect Jem while the final scene insinuated that we’d have another turf war this time between Dushane and Sully. Meanwhile I have little interest in Lisa’s issues with her hair salon which will no doubt see her turn to Dushane for monetary support. Currently, the most intriguing storyline is that of Dushane’s pursuit of the older, smarter Rihanna. One thing Top Boy does have going for it is its superb direction as Jonathan van Tulleken really makes you believe in the Summerhouse Estate. Through the cinematography you get the sense that this is a place that very few people escape from and instead wind up either in a gang or dead. Ashley Walters is again on form in the role of the urban bad boy however once again it is the young members of the cast who are more compelling. Though he has little to do, Malcolm Kamulete is an incredibly strong presence as Ra’Nelle, who has grown up a little bit due to the events of series one. Meanwhile Lorraine Burroughs, who was so great in The Ice Cream Girls, is well utilised as scheming solicitor Rihanna. Overall, this was a strong start for series two of Top Boy, which I hope won’t be a retread of the first run. At the moment it is the direction and performances that are the strongest elements of the piece while the script isn’t as sharp as it was before. However, I feel that Bennett has more of a grasp of the urban dialogue than other writers and therefore Top Boy feels authentic if nothing else.
It’s extremely hard to make a connection between Top Boy and The Great British Bake-Off apart from the fact that they both returned on Tuesday night. Yes we make our way back to a marquee in Somerset as a gaggle of new bakers attempt to impress the hard-to-please Paul Hollywood and the delightful Mary Berry. Last year the Bake-Off was the highest rated show no BBC2 and there were strong rumours that it would be heading over to BBC1 in 2013. Luckily it’s stuck to its roots and I feel there is a quaint air about the Bake-Off that lends itself to BBC2. Though the show has become increasingly successful, it doesn’t seem to have let this gone to its head and instead has stuck to the same format. Indeed the only change is that there are thirteen bakers this year which means that Mary and Paul will at some point have to eliminate two in one fell swoop. Our bakers were a motley crew that included inventive designer Christine, whose bakes were fairly artistic, as well as dour student Ruby who didn’t like the way in which Paul criticised her custard. One of the recurring themes in this first episode seemed to be the fact that a lot of the bakers got injured with Michael Gove look-a-like Howard being an early casualty while hairy web programmer Toby’s injuries led to him being the first eliminated contestant. Indeed Toby had a rubbish day which also saw him mistake salt for sugar while making his Angel Food Cake as part of the technical challenge. However I felt he was one of the bigger characters in the show alongside camp teacher Glenn and Military Wives choir member Beca. One of the great things about the Bake-Off is that it is a kind reality show and we saw that here with the star baker award going to Space Satellite designer Robert whose baking skills were out of this world.
That horrible pun was one of many that Mel and Sue probably used during their hosting of the show, another of the elements that keeps me tuning on a weekly basis. Their chemistry with the bakers and each other is part of the charm of the show and without them wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable. Much has been made of how much of a failure the American version of Bake-Off was and that’s probably because it’s such a British show. I can see an American reality show host ruining the quirky nature of the programme while I feel the characters wouldn’t have been as interesting as they are here. I really like the friendship that forms between the bakers over the course of the series and the fact we get to learn more about them on a weekly basis. You can also see how their personality emerges through their bakes such as the scientific nature of Robert’s methods and the rough and ready style that carpet-fitter Mark applied to his ‘Chocolate Monster’ cake. The one thing I thought the programme could’ve ditched now its become popular is the history of baking section. In the early days of the show this was a fairly interesting diversion to be served up between rounds, but now it seems as if the producers are running out of ideas as this episode looked at the history of the courting cake. Aside from that there is very little wrong with the Bake-Off which has the same charming mix of witty presenters, intriguing contestants and lots of cake that made last year’s show such a ratings winner.
The third programme to return on Tuesday night was BBC3’s Don’t Tell the Bride, which is now shockingly in its seventh series. The opening instalment saw football-mad wannabe-mod groom Levi treat his sweet-natured fiancée Jade to a wedding she’d never forget. Unfortunately that meant attempting to have the first ever half-time wedding in the 150 year history of Stoke City. Levi and best mate Damo, who thought they were Stoke’s answer to the Gallagher brothers, made numerous trips to the ground before they eventually worked out a way in which they could have Levi’s special day. This episode had all of the moments that Don’t Tell the Bride is best known for including the bride hating the dress and then loving it as well as at least one of the relatives getting a bit nasty when they don’t what’s going on. As this episode was in my home county of Staffordshire I did spend most of my time trying to see if I recognised where Jade and Levi were. Despite me not caring for Levi very much, I still found this episode quite entertaining due to the fact that Jade actually knew nothing about football. The look on Jade’s mum’s face when she realised she was going to the Stoke City ground was priceless and was a moment that I’m sure will go down in Don’t Tell the Bride history. While we’re on mums, Levi’s mum was absolutely fascinating as her make-up suggested she was going to some sort of heavy metal festival rather than her son’s wedding. Luckily the horrible weather didn’t scare Jade off, though she didn’t look too happy standing in the dugout and shivering. In fact, the wedding went without a hitch and everybody seemed to have a great day. Though you could tell that Jade was secretly unhappy about the day Levi had arranged and would’ve rather have got married somewhere warm than been part of history.
We conclude this article with two comedies, the first of which is a brand new programme. Comedy Central’s Big Bad World focused on the post university life of Ben (Blake Harrison) who had recently graduated with a Masters Degree in Norse Literature. Realising that his qualification was essentially useless, Ben had to decide what to do with the rest of his life. His first resolution was to move out of his parent’s house as soon as possible especially after learning that they’d knocked through the wall to his bedroom in order to extend their own room. This meant having to listen to his parent’s nocturnal activities as he only had a screen to shield his privacy. He eventually decides to volunteer abroad but, upon entering the recruitment office, he bumps into his ex-girlfriend Lucy (Scarlett Alice Johnson) who he still has feelings for. Even though she is able to find him a placement abroad, he decides to stay around as he believes they’ll be reunited. The only issue is that her policeman boyfriend has just proposed, but that’s not stopping Ben from pursuing the woman who feels is the one for him. Obviously, this being a sitcom and all, there is another woman who is perfect for Ben in the form of his charity-collecting friend Beth (Rebecca Humphries). Beth suggests that Ben come to live on the sofa in the flat she shares with mutual friends Eggman (Seann Walsh) and Oakley (David Fynn). Big Bad World is an incredibly traditional sitcom with a fairly obvious storyline but at the same time it does have some pretty believable characters. Even though I didn’t particularly like Ben in this episode, due to Harrison’s mundane performance, I can see that he’s going to grow as a person. I felt that stand-up comic Walsh stole a fair few scenes as the incredibly inappropriate Eggman. However, the stars of the show were sitcom veterans Caroline Quentin and James Fleet who were an absolute hoot as Ben’s parents. Though all of the jokes and situations were fairly obvious there was still a lot of effort made to let us get to know all of the characters. It may be a fairly predictable sitcom, but Big Bad World did make me laugh a couple of times and that’s more than can be said for the majority of comedies that have aired this year.
Even bigger laughs were provided by Sky One’s Trollied, which returns for its third series. The joy of Trollied is that it has so many characters that the majority of the scenes only last a couple of minutes. The main plot of this series seems to be the introduction of Richard France (Chris Geere), a strategist who is aiming to modernise Valco using the Warrington branch as his tester store. Obviously Richard’s bold ideas, including his clothing choices, will inevitably clash with the more traditional views of manager Gavin (Jason Watkins) and his assistant manager Julie (Jane Horrocks). Elsewhere, we are treated more to the tedious love story between butcher Kieran (Nick Blood) and checkout girl Katie (Chanel Creswell). It seems that the now divorced-Kieran is in a depressive state while Katie has finally realised that he’s the perfect man for her. Luckily this romantic story isn’t dwelt upon too long and we get plenty from our favourite comic characters including head butcher Andy (Mark Addy) and senior citizen deli assistant Margaret (Rita May). It is these established characters that get the best gags including the now romantically linked Colin (Carl Rice) and Lisa (Beverly Rudd) whose sexual exploits provide some of the funniest moments in the episode. I’m still not quite sure what to make of weird fishmonger Ray (Adeel Akhtar) and his new apprentice Dave (Danny Kirrane) as I didn’t find their characters to be fully-formed. Ultimately not much has changed in the world of Trollied and I think I like it that way. The jokes are still as funny as ever while the performances from Watkins and Horrocks are great especially when we saw how proud Gavin and Julie were of their summertime display. Though I don’t think this will quite reach the heights of season two, due to the fact that Stephanie Beecham has now left the show, Trollied continues to be a funny sketch-like sitcom with plenty of well-rounded characters.
Tell me what you thought of this week’s shows by leaving me a comment below or contacting me on Twitter @mattstvbites