Let’s get going with another Week in TV.
Of course the T.V. event of last week was obviously the Life on Mars spin-off – Ashes to Ashes, although we’re not allowed to call it a spin-off according to Philip ‘Gene Hunt’ Glenister. Even though its main cast has three of the five principal cast members from Mars, a person from this time goes back to work with Gene Hunt and the boys and surreal stuff happens. This time its Alex Drake (played by Spooks star Keeley Hawes) who is a police psychologist and worked with Sam Tyler after he came out of his coma and before he jumped off the building (we find out that he committed suicide and died in the finale). The episode actually begins with the old Life on Mars adage ‘My name is Sam Tyler I was in accident and found myself in 1973 blah blah blah.’ But this time it is read by Drake’s daughter Molly declaring Sam mad it doesn’t take long for the action to kick in with Drake almost killed in front of her daughter before letting her daughter go with her godfather before being kidnapped again. The kidnapper in question mentions an empire and Drake’s parents who died in 1981, Drake is then shot and transported back to said year.Straight away we are confronted by Yuppies on a boat with Ultravox’s Vienna pumping out, Drake runs away but is captured by one of the snootier yuppies but then an Audi Quatro pulls up and out jumps Ray Carling, Chris Skelton and the man in question Mr. Hunt. After about seven minutes of assuming Drake is a hooker, Hunt finally comes to the realisation that she is the new D.I. thinking of course Alex is a man. The first case involves bringing down a drug lord and the suspect is main Yuppie who took Alex captive when she first arrived. But Alex being the Psychologist that she is pins down the real culprit who just happens to be the man who shot her in 2008, bringing him down she thinks she will go back but of course if she did it would make a pretty lousy series.
Let’s go with the negatives of the series first and I think the main problem with Ashes to Ashes is that unlike with Life on Mars we know that Gene Hunt and the boys aren’t real, Alex knows this better than anyone and so is constantly using air quotes – ‘stop wagging your fingers at me’ Hunt tells her at one point. Hunt himself as become more of a caricature in the 1980s, out of his Manchester comfort zone Hunt seems a bit lost in the world of the Met while it is never made clear why Ray and Chris came with Gene surely they would’ve been promoted had they stayed up north. There are also a few plot holes – Sam died in 2007 but stayed in the coma fantasy world until 1980 when he was shot (the same time Hunt put in for a transfer which may mean that more of Sam’s story will come out from time to time). The 1980s has been idealised a bit and while obviously not remembering it myself I’m told Yuppies weren’t around till the mid-eighties.
Now the positives, firstly Keeley Hawes as Drake adds a fresh twist on the Gene Hunt companion. While Sam and Gene enjoyed a good cop/bad cop routine, there’s almost a bubbling sexual tension between Alex and Mr. Hunt. Secondly the storyline reason for Alex being in the past is a mystery tied up with her parents, they died in 1981 and it has to do with why she’s there. Her relationship with daughter Molly is also something Sam never had, he really didn’t have any ties and he was quite a cold person in comparison to Alex. The other new character is WPC Shaz Granger played by Montserrat Lombard (I hope I never have to type that name again). While the rest of the gang are back I spose there was no reason for Annie to return she’d been promoted in Series 2 of Mars and was chiefly there as Sam’s romantic interest and maybe as its the eighties and with the rest of the guys in London she may be one of the head honchos in Manchester. Shaz is a lot less innocent than Annie with kind of a tomboy nature she could pass for one of the cool Sixth Form kids in an early eighties edition of Grange Hill, her relationship with Chris is also quite sweet. There seems to be an undercutting sense of despair in Gene this time and Glenister certainly likes to flex is acting muscles, with his marriage in tatters and Sam dead he realises that coppers like him are a dying breed something that the show will probably delve into in later episodes. While Ray has the same old one-liners as he did in Mars, Chris has grown up a bit telling Alex he’s not nervous just cautious. The police hangout has changed from Nelson’s Bar to Luigi’s Italian Restaurant this place seems more fun and it conjurs up the kind of tacky nature of the 1980s. The surreal elements are also better the test card girl being replaced by Zippy and George from Rainbow and the clown from the David Bowie Ashes to Ashes video. You have to question the longevity of Ashes to Ashes, Alex will have to get home at some point and there seems very little motive for her to stay past Season One. So will Gene, Ray and Chris have to return to the nineties or something? I hope not. As you can see I thought the first episode was patchy but this was an establishing episode, now we get the gist hopefully it’ll get better. I don’t think this will ever be as good as Life on Mars but as long as it tries it could make a decent series.
An early contender for worst show of the year has to be T4′s newest programme – Vanity Lair. In it ten self-confessed beautiful people enter a ‘lair’ not a ‘house’ because their ‘lair-mates’ not ‘housemates’ this is a totally different show from Big Brother as apparently this is a ‘social experiment’. Most of these were glamour models or other models with only two students among them these were definitely brainless beauties. Slagging off fat people and ugly people these are the most horrible people I’ve ever seen on a reality show. Tony for example is really stupid and looks like a cross between Jeff Brazier and Liam from Celebrity Hijack. The format of the game is that the original lairmates have to stay in the lair for as long as possible but every week three new arrivals come in and are rated on their attractiveness. We are meant to believe that we’re ranking personality as well but the only new ‘lairmate’ that had any personality was voted out before entering the house. The two new arrivals then have a chance to mingle with the old lair-mates before they are ranked at the end and one gets to stay but not before kicking out one of the originals. But where are the experiments? Well apparently each week the ‘lairmates’ have to subject themselves to weekly tests the first being facial attractiveness as the beautiful people had to take off piercings, make-up and pull their hair back so they could be tested on facial symmetry, this annoyed hair obsessed Tony (who was the least symmetrical) and also Janice from The Muppets lookalike and general make-up magnet Kasey (who was the least symmetrical girl). New arrivals Tom and Kellie were the most attractive but Tom got to stay while Kellie along with original Lair-mate Steph left. This was all presented ad nauseam by crap ex-popworld presenter and T4 hanger-on Alexa Jung who decides to tell us what’s happening every single second like she’s doing audio description for the partially sighted. This was just a horrendous show – horrible housemates, crap presenter and stupid tests – I don’t know who came up with this idea but it looks Shipwrecked look like Bleak House.
Back in 1979 a man named David Attenborough bought us a show called Planet Earth since then we’ve had another five programmes in the Earth series. Almost thirty years later Attenbrough is about to hang up his hat with the final instalment – Life in Cold Blood. I think he’s left this till last because on the whole people may not want to look at reptiles and amphibians the least attractive of all the species covered, he’s left it till now because people know what to expect from an Attenborough show (plus there’s been a lot less crocodiles on T.V. since Steve Irwin died 18 months ago). The show was rather sensitive at times showing the courting rituals of the largest crocodiles in the water, tortoises fighting each other till they get knackered and probably the most memorable scene involved the painted turtles of North America emerging from the snow after hibernation. While the most disturbing scene had to be watching a Python capture and devour an entire deer. The usual mix of computer graphics and compelling Attenborough spirit made this a must-see. The final ten to fifteen minutes of this show were entitled ‘Under the Skin‘. Here Attenborough gives us some behind the scenes treats including comparing and contrasting his recent trip to Madagascar to the one he took in Black and White in 1960 on his first ever wildlife show. The differences between wildlife T.V. then and now (colour specifically) and what Attenbrough has learned in his time studying creatures added another lair of depth to this programme and showed us some insight into the man himself. Attenborough has given insight to a cross section of ages who sit down (or should) together and watch this show and learn. It’s a shame Dave his hanging up his hat and let’s hope a similarly enthusiastic wildlife presenter comes along to take his place.
Finally from one Dave to another, Dave Gorman in America Unchained. Was a one-off as part of More4′s True Stories season. A simple enough premise – a man goes across America trying only to use non-chain businesses. So he can’t stay in a Best Western, can’t eat at a McDonalds, drink at a Starbucks or fill up at a Shell. In any one else’s hands this could’ve been a complete disaster but Gorman is such a funny guy he brings a real light-hearted aura to the proceedings but also has real heart and gets annoyed when things go wrong for him. A week of weakness (where he loses his initial director to a bad back and has to wait a week for the producer to fill in) seems him splurge at burger joints but throw them up. A fascinating tale of eccentric America, Dave stayed in a Beagle-shaped Motel as well as rooms of the World themed one and visited a family owned Soda Bar that was shutting down the day he got there. His erratic nature had plunged the original trip into chaos by wanting to visit as many towns called independence as he could. Light but informative a good travelogue with an engaging host my only issue is that as he spent almost Four Months out there maybe it could’ve been a two or three parter instead of a one-off. Oh Well there’s always the DVD.
Next Time: Phoo Action, Lily Allen and Friends and Skins