Matt on the Box: Wallander, Britain’s Got Talent, Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories and Rovers

by | May 28, 2016 | All, Reviews

I can’t believe another week has passed us by and although TV highlights have been a little thin on the ground I’ve done my best to source them out just for you guys.

The only real big highlight of the week was the return of the BBC’s adaptation of the Nordic noir hit Wallander, which itself is based on the novels of Henning Mantel. Kenneth Branagh is back in the role of dour Swedish detective Kurt Wallander in the BBC’s final run of this drama. Branagh possibly decided to return to the role of Wallander after four years after learning that the first episode of this three-parter would mean a free trip over to South Africa. The episode, entitled The White Lioness, saw Kurt travel to Cape Town to deliver a speech on what he’s learnt during his time as a police officer. Inevitably he struggles to come up with any words of wisdom which leads to a few initial scenes of Branagh looking frustrated sitting in front of a laptop screen. As luck would have it he’s invited to assist on a case which gives him all the inspiration he needs to give a rather rousing speech at the episode’s end. Kurt’s involvement in the investigation comes from the fact that involves the disappearance of a Swedish national whose husband Axel (Alex Ferns) is kicking up a fuss and criticising the police force in the press. When the finger of suspicion falls upon Axel himself I was almost convinced that Wallander and the South African cops had found their man in record time. However my assertion was purely based on the fact that Ferns once played the wife-beating Trevor Morgan on Eastenders and I’m automatically programmed to distrust any character he plays. Soon Wallander was trying to solve the investigation on his own, like any good rogue detective does, and found that anybody who could possibly try to help him was being finished off by a mysterious man in a motorcycle helmet. Kurt’s main ally in the South African police force during the episode was Grace (Bonnie Mbuli) and at times there was the hint that their was a romantic spark between the pair. However there ultimately wasn’t time for a holiday romance as Kurt and Grace learnt that the disappearance, which later turned out to be a murder, was linked to a much larger conspiracy which involved both the chief of police and an inspirational mayoral candidate. As you would expect the case was eventually closed with the culprit taking his own life before being arrested and Kurt being hailed as a hero once again. However you have to wonder if Kurt hadn’t been around would the police have actually have solved the mystery at all as it only seemed to be via his interference that the case was cracked. But I don’t think that that’s something we’re meant to ponder and instead we are asked to marvel at the central performance from Branagh and the fantastic backdrops that Cape Town provided.

I’m sure some people absolutely loved Sunday night’s episode of Wallander by I unfortunately wasn’t amongst their number and found my mind wandering during long periods of the on-screen action. Part of the reason for this was that there was no need for The White Lioness to be ninety minutes long as there wasn’t nearly enough plot to justify that running time. In fact I believe that if you took out every long pause that Branagh’s Wallander made before answering a question then you could have at least saved about fifteen minutes. Whilst I’m a big fan of Branagh both as a performer and a personality, I don’t think he’s every truly captured the essence of Wallander as well as his Scandinavian equivalent Krister Henriksson. Branagh’s performance here was full of blank stares, mumbling and long gaps between words which did nothing to make me warm to Kurt’s character. In fact I found a lot more to like in Branagh’s co-star Bonnie Mbuli, whose feisty Grace delivered some much needed energy into the otherwise dreary drama. The plot itself was incredibly drawn out and felt almost like one of those episodes of Murder She Wrote in which Jessica Fletcher would journey to another city or country and solve a crime that the local police force didn’t have a clue about. I thought that it take too long for Kurt to get involved in the action in the first place and a lot of the first third of the episode was taken up by backstory about the missing Inga Hendeman. After that there were a couple of lacklustre action sequences before we were given dollops of exposition which finally led us to a big final set piece set at a mayoral rally. I do feel that Branagh and company sapped the life of what should have been an edge-of-your-seat final sequence which saw Kurt foil a sniper attack simply by talking the young shooter down. The only positives I really took away from The White Lioness was the fantastically shot Cape Town exteriors and the performance from Mbuli. Other than that this was just a rather formulaic police procedural which felt almost old-fashioned after the likes of Line of Duty have shown how thrilling a crime drama can be if done right. I almost feel as if Wallander shouldn’t have returned as there doesn’t seem to be much place for him in a world in which police dramas have moved on. However, it does feel now like Wallander will be going out on a whimper rather than a bang which is a shame as I like both Branagh and the original Swedish series but there’s something about the combination of the two that just doesn’t gel together.

ITV week nights were almost completely dominated this week by one programme that being Britain’s Got Talent which aired its five semi-finals from Sunday to Thursday. I’m so grateful that I’ve recently got a TV service that allows me to fast forward TV as that means I skip through all of the ad breaks as well as some of the acts that I find tiresome. In particular I’m completely done with sub-par singers whose popularity comes from their back story rather than their talent or stage presence. This is especially true of the likes of Kathleen Jenkins and Wayne Woodward who wouldn’t be out of place on The X-Factor but take up places on Britain’s Got Talent that should be reserved for actual variety acts. The fact that the very talented Mimic Men were overlooked for the semi-final in favour of Twitter-bating novelty acts such as The Deep Space Deviants and Vitaly Voronko really angers me as does the fact that the finals are once again dominated by singing and dancing. I’m not even that impressed by supposed impressionist Craig Ball who mainly mimics cartoon characters and in my eyes doesn’t have the timing that his rival Darren Altman had. Even acts that impressed me in the auditions failed to get me excited here especially 100 Voices of Gospel whose initial appearance built to a crescendo but on Sunday night they started at eleven and had nowhere to progress to. Inevitably the judges couldn’t stop gushing over an act that literally involved a bunch of talented singers shouting at the audience for two minutes. Talking of the judges they really started to get on my wick this week most notably Simon Cowell who seems to suffer from some sort of attention disorder which means that he gets bored if nothing exciting happens within the first twenty seconds of an act. Meanwhile Amanda and Alesha with the latter now trying to add an edge to her judging persona which just doesn’t suit her. Only David Walliams adds anything to the show for me and that’s only because he tries to point out the ridiculousness in what should at the end of the day be a light-hearted show. There were moments of genuine talent with Tuesday’s show being headlined by brilliant magician Richard Jones and the final audition being given by the awe-inspiring Presentation School Choir who didn’t even manage to qualify for a space in the final. But the most irritating part of the entire week is hearing over and over again that this is the tenth anniversary of Britain’s Got Talent when the show is simply in its tenth year. If they try and use this again next year during the actual tenth anniversary then I’ll be furious but I don’t think the team behind BGT really care about their audience unless their spending money on bland singing acts such as Mel and Jamie and Beau Dermott. Ultimately I feel that this is the series in which Britain’s Got Talent lost its mojo and I think that it’s going to have to do something very special next year to find its groove again.

As this was quiet a quite week for the primary channels I started scrolling up the channel guide in the hoping finding something new. Oddly it was on Sky Arts that I discovered a rather surreal new anthology series in the form of Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories. Most will know Gaiman best as the writer of such fantasy works as Stardust and Neverwhere and he translates the slightly creepy elements of those novels into Likely Stories. The series is split up into four short films, the first two of which; Foreign Parts and Feeeders and Eaters, made up this first episode. Off the two, Foreign Parts was the harder of the two to understand as it dealt with Simon (George MacKay) an almost celibate young man who discovered he had an STD. The majority of the story followed the relationship between Simon and the doctor at the sexual health clinic (Paul Ritter) who struggled to deal with his new patient’s illness. But by the end of the tale Simon had seemingly gained in confidence whilst his doctor was seemingly on the brink of divorce. Feeders and Eaters was the easier of the two stories to define as it dealt with an elderly woman Effie (Rita Tushingham) who could only survive on raw meat. This raw meat was being sourced for her by Eddie (Tom Hughes) who was narrating the story of his attraction for Effie to Joyce (Montserrat Lombard), a pregnant employee of an all-night cafe. Feeders and Eaters was a dark Gothic outing that had a real sting in its tale and therefore was the easier of the two tales to get on board with. I think part of the reason for this was the performance of Lombard, who also appeared as a nurse in Foreign Parts, whose Joyce was the only sympathetic character in either of the two films. One thing in Likely Stories’ favour is that there is nothing like on it British TV at the moment with both its tone and structure feeling particularly unique. If I were to compare it to anything then it would be something like Tales of The Unexpected or The Twilight Zone only with a slightly more adult slant. Another aspect I liked of the show was that some of the actors popped up in both stories, such as Lombard and Monica Dolan, a trend that will continue into week’s programme. But at the same time I felt an odd disconnect to Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories which occasionally felt a little distant for its own good. Although stylistically it was impressive and I enjoyed Jarvis Cocker’s score, I found myself not really connecting to any of Gaiman’s stories. That’s a shame because I feel there’s room for a programme like this on TV however in my opinion I don’t think Likely Stories is that series and ultimately it was a drama that left me cold.

Sticking with Sky but journeying over to Sky One to look at their new comedy Rovers which sees the reunion of Royle Family members Craig Cash and Sue Johnston. Cash stars in the role of Pete Moat a die-hard fan of non-league football team Redbridge Rovers and a man who is part of a motley crew of supporters who huddle together in the team’s clubhouse. Among them is his best friend Tel (Steve Spiers) who recently came out as gay and now Pete has to share him with super-stylish boyfriend Mel (Seb Cardinal). Then there’s twin brothers Bruce and Lee (writers David Earl and Joe Wilkinson) who enjoy winding Pete up and the brilliant Ronnie (Mark Silcox) who runs Redbridge Rovers’ very meagre club shop. Overseeing everything is Doreen (Johnston) the queen of the clubhouse who offers up pints alongside salubrious gossip about the team’s captain. As well as playing Pete, Cash also serves as director as he has done on previous Sky sitcoms After Hours and The Cafe with Rovers sharing the gentle vibe that both of those comedies offered. Rovers is particularly reminiscent of The Cafe as it is set almost exclusively in one venue and features a variety of colourful characters having fairly mundane conversations with one another. Earl and Wilkinson’s script is extremely anecdotal and at times is too low-key for its own good. I feel where it works the most is when the characters are discussing their love of the football team and what it would be like to get to the heady heights of the Evo-Stick Premier League. The small scale nature of the club shop was also a nice little running gag which was aided by Silcox’s performance as the deadpan Ronnie. I do feel it’s too early to judge whether Rovers will be a success or a failure especially seeing as Earl and Wilkinson had to introduce a cavalcade of characters in one fell swoop. But although there were some funny moments nestled within Rovers I have to say that there wasn’t really one character who I wanted to root for. Whilst I’m assuming that Pete is meant to be the character we sympathise with his jealousy towards Mel coupled with his astounding stupidity meant that he was hard to warm to. It also didn’t help that Craig Cash was essentially playing the same character we’ve seen him portray in both The Royle Family and Early Doors. In fact everyone from Johnston to Wilkinson to Spiers was playing a similar version of characters we’ve seen them play in superior shows which made Rovers feel a little low rent. So, while it’s not without its charm, I feel Rovers is destined to nestle in the second division of British sitcoms and will never be promoted to the premier league.

That’s your lot for now remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I’ll see you soon.

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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