Reviews

This Week in TV: A Boy Called Alex, Duel, Thank God You’re Here and Russell Brand and Friends

So here we are again with a look at last week’s T.V.

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And top on the box last week was the moving documentary, A Boy Called Alex from the Cutting Edge stable. Alex Stobbs is a 16 year old who attends Eton is kind of a young prodigy, he is about to conduct Bach’s Magnifico one of the hardest pieces to conduct. But this story alone wouldn’t make much of a documentary and it is the fact that Alex has incurable systic fibrosis. You’d think then that this hour-long portrait of his life would be marred in self-pity and very sickly, but it wasn’t and I think that was the beauty of the piece. Part of this was down to Alex himself who seemed to have the great British spirit when it came to dealing with his disease. Taking a myriad of pills every morning was just part of his own routine and having to breath unaided wasn’t going to stop him from his conducting duties. His family are also painted in a positive light as his siblings tell us that the Alex illness is always there but they tend not to dwell on it, while his mother is living in the present and saying she at least has a son now. There was also some beautiful shots of Eton as Alex whizzes round on a scooter from classes in some of the lighter moments. These were transposed by the darker moments, Alex coughs up blood a couple of days before the big concert and there are worries that he may not be able to go on but his dogged spirit means that the concert goes ahead. I was half expecting a note at the end to say something like – ‘shortly after shooting this documentary, Alex succumbed to his illness.’ but instead the note at the end told us that he’d won a scholarship to Cambridge and a place at the Royal College of music. The documentary did have its faults, mainly the over-use of director/narrator, Stephen Walker’s voice-over especially in the first half of the show. But if nothing else you warmed to this boy who triumphed adversity and was truly an inspirational example for most children who feel like they can’t do something.

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ITV1 continues its Saturday night entertainment line-up with two new shows, the first of these being Duel, a quiz show hosted by Nick Hancock. Now I like quiz shows and I like Nick Hancock, I thought he did a good job on Channel 4′s Win My Wage (so much so it got into my 10 guilty pleasure watches of 2007), and I do hope they bring that show back. Because Hancock won’t be doing this show much longer. I don’t know why ITV1 has an obsession for high concept quiz/game shows, with this Golden Balls and The Great Pretender why can’t you just have a simple question and answer game. The rules as I understand them are these – two people start out, they have 10 chips and in front of them is a game board with A,B,C and D and holes to put the chips into them. A screen is then raised with Nick Hancock reading a multiple choice question out and then the players have to put the chip down on whatever they think the answer is. But staying in the game is more important than knowing the answer, a wrong answer apparently knocks you out of the Duel, so if you’re not sure between two, three or all four answers you have to lay your chips over the possibilities. If you get the answer right you get your chip back, but every additional chip you added gets taken away and a grand added to the total jackpot. Once you’re out of chips or get a question wrong you’re out of the game. Two add more confusion each contestant also has two ‘accelerators’ which means the other contestant has 10 seconds left to lay down his or her chip(s). Once you win two duels in a row you can then decide to play on or take an amount of money, you then get two cards one with a pound sign on it or one with a % sign, which means either 10 grand or a certain percentage of the overall jackpot, the first guy to win anything took the 10 grand, however if you win three duels you can play for that jackpot. Of course with these quiz shows, its concept and game play first and knowledge second which annoys me and you wonder why these game show aren’t around for very long. Compare this with two of the longest running game/quiz shows of all time – Countdown and University Challenge and these work so well because they’re simple – no accelerators, chips or cards, just words and numbers or simple questions.

ThankGodYoureHere460 This Week in TV: A Boy Called Alex, Duel, Thank God Youre Here and Russell Brand and Friends
On directly after Duel is Thank God You’re Here, an improvisation show starring Paul Merton, so far so hilarious. But then you find out that Merton is only presenting it and four other ‘celebrities’ are taking fine in these hijinks fair enough if they’re all comedians, I’d love to see Lee Mack, Alan Carr, Mitch Benn and others take part in a new version of Whose Line. But the nearest to a comedian you got was Ben Miller, whose more of a comic actor, same goes for John Thompson, then there was an Australian DJ that I’d never heard off or seen on telly before (and I watch a lot of it) and rounding off this quartet of mediocrity was Daytime T.V. Queen Fern Britton. The set-up was quite simple each of these four people would be given a costume and props and then shoved on to a set. On this set were a troupe of jobbing actors who fed lines (mainly questions) to the performers who then had to react to them, improvising along the way. For example Ben Miller was the captain of a space ship and his crew asked him about his latest mission and Fern Britton was a dodgy psychic who’d asked her client to bring her an apple. There was a lot of unnecessary swearing (especially from Britton) and a lot of the gags missed the mark completely. It was up to Merton to save the day as he participated in a sketch himself and in the process completely marred the other four performers who then had to take part in a group sketch where they were all nuns (men dressed as nuns hilarious!) The line – Thank God You’re Here, is what is said to each performer as soon as they enter the scene but its also the beginning line to the classic Whose Line is it Anyway? game Superheroes (as in – Thank God You’re Here, Falls Over All the Time Man). This just wasn’t very funny and it looks like its going to get worse it comes to something when the award for the funniest person goes to Fern Britton.

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Talking of comedy, in the broadest sense of the word, Comedy Live presents Russell Brand and friends. I thought this would just be Brand hosting and maybe doing a little stand-up at the beginning before passing over to other comedians less successful. Brand did start before handing over to quite funny Irish music comedian David O’Donahue. But then O’Donahue passed back to Brand as if he was simply a musical guest on Brand’s show. There was a tedious set from Michael McIntyre and other such rubbish. But it wasn’t all bad, Lee Mack did a set and the Star Stories team did a very good brief sketch dressed as the Spice Girls’ babies. The final act was Roseanne Barr who thought it would be a good idea to trash men for about 10 minutes, hang on hasn’t she been doing this her entire career? But Brand wanted to make sure this was HIS show and none of these other comedians could come close. I just want to rip my eyes out every time Brand prances around the stage saying swines and forsooth and he keeps using the word right like every four seconds. I’m glad he’s gone from Big Mouth and Matt and James are taking over but his continued success worries me as know he’s breaking in to American movies. On a plus point I hope David O’Donahue gets a bit of work out of this because he was mildly amusing.

Next Time: Coleen’s Real Women and Derren Brown: The System

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