Let’s kick off a look back and another great week in TV>
And we’ll start with the BBC’s big new Saturday night feature – I’ll Do Anything. Yes it’s the third musical search for a star (fourth if you count ITV1’s crappy effort Grease is the Word). As the title suggests, this is a search for a star in a new production of Oliver! But this is bigger and better than ever as its the search for a new Nancy and a new Oliver (well actually three Olivers) so four people’s dreams will come true. Although as this first show demonstrates we’re mainly focusing on the Nancys who will be competing for the public vote because obviously we need back storys for the girls we’ll be voting for or we won’t shell out our money. Graham Norton must have a clause in his BBC contract that he has to proceed over anything of a musical nature on the channel and telling us that in JUST 12 weeks we will have a new Nancy and three Olivers. As well as the return of Norton the man the legend Lord Lloyd Webber is back, accompanied by the Phantom of Opera theme music whenever he steps out of a taxi. But Lloyd Webber is not directing or producing or in fact is this is show so why is he doing it? The money? Probably. But in his words he needs to find a gritty raw talent to play Oliver and that will be his job. The man with the money in this production is Sir Cameron Mackintosh (Cam and Andy are referred to from now on as the Sir and the Lord), we are given the backstory of their friendship and a lot of old pictures of them together and disturbingly Lloyd-Webber is topless in most of them. Lloyd-Webber then tells us that his ideal Nancy would be someone like Amy Winehouse, unfortunately for him I think Amy Winehouse is busy. We then have a lot of talking heads telling us what Nancy is meant to be – we here that she is strong and a tart with a heart as Real Eastend folk along with Babs Windsor, Film Oliver Mark Lester and Film Nancy Shani Wallis tell us. I in fact wonder if Wallace turned up to the open auditions in the same raggy clothes that she wore in the 1968 film shouting at the casting director – I’ve still got it.
The casting director in question is David Grinrod who if memory serves appeared alongside the Lord in his excellent Hollyoaks cameos (why he isn’t up for best actor at The Soap Awards is a mystery for me). Grinrod has the unenviable task of listening to a thousand drama school rejects and bored cockney housewives shout ’As Long as he Needs me’ at him. In fact the first girl we met was 18 year old Irish lass Jessie who’d been turned down by not one drama school but two. Personally I thought she was cheating as her rather lacklustre performance was perked up by Grinrod’s encouragement I thought he was just there to listen, Jesse then got through. Just like The X-Factor the sob story girls were out in force, there was Jennifer who as well as putting herself through drama school with a weekend job at a burger bar looks after her sick mum. After she got through she wondered if it was Waitress to West End star, she thinks a lot of herself – I don’t think serving chips counts as waitressing. Then there was Ebony from Cornwall who’d looked after her grandparents who’d recently died and Sarah-Jane the single mum who’d had a health scare. All but Ebony got through. There were the streetwise ones – Londoners Cleopatra and Nancy (who didn’t make it past Nancy School, with a name like that I think it was reverse-discrimination) and the posh ones – a girl from Boarding School who wasn’t really world-wise but had a cracking voice. One of my favourites right from the start was Jodie who’d bought along a fella on her 3rd date and later at the callbacks they were on their seventh. On the second show Jodie made it through, so until she leaves we’ll probably have a running commentary on her relationship.
While all this hoopla was going on with the Nancys we saw Cam and Andy watching some of the pretentious little oiks with their stage parents close by auditioning for Oliver, singing Consider Yourself which was actually sung by Dodger. We saw some audition clips of boys who’d been in musicals before and one who’d been writing his own plays and songs and then made me throw up in my mouth a little. Lloyd-Webber wants another gutsy boy to play Oliver but all the ones he puts through seem really weak. The callbacks are then issued for 50 Olivers and a random 109 Nancys, of the 50 Olivers the 12 for the final shows will be told straight away but the 109 would be whittled down to 30 who then go onto Nancy school where a further 12 drop out and another 6 after a concert until the final 12 are picked.The panel who are doing the picking are firstly the returning David Grinrod who had to hear the same girls sing the same songs at the callbacks. John Barrowman who can’t decide whether he wants to be a T.V. Actor or a Camp Luvvie appearing on this and the Eurovision as well as Torchwood he’s beginning to drag a little bit. Then there’s Denise Van Outen who seems to want to do a West End show just before she’s on the judging panel of these kind of shows, maybe to reaffirm herself as the best diva out there. In episode two we met the fourth judge, Dame Edna Everage himself Barry Humphries who played Mr. Sowberry in the original West End production and went on to play Fagin in another two productions, however in his brief appearances he looks a bit shell-shocked and is destined to be the token ’nice one’.There’s nothing you can really say about a show like I’ll Do Anything, usually I don’t agree with the choices the panel makes but I’m happy with most of the final 12 picks. I also like Oliver as a musical a lot more than Sound of Music and certainly Joseph and there’s not a standard kind of person who can play Nancy which is a good thing. Although Van Outen and Barrowman can ware from time to time I’m sure Humphries will breath some life into the panel and Lloyd-Webber is constantly entertaining. My only problem is that the Oliver casting has seemingly been pushed to the sidelines, it seems the casting of two leads is only to draw in more money when the show opens, however the boys have 1 in 4 chance of being Oliver. I’m sure as the weeks go by it will begin to grate on me but I’ll Do Anything is the best musical audition show to date.
Something that did grate straight away was The Passion. Before I start don’t shout me down in a hail of your anti-religious you’re not allowed to not like The Passion blah blah. If something works it works. I thoroughly enjoyed BBC3’s Manchester Passion and Liverpool Nativity last year in which both stories were told with music from those two cities. But this Passion couldn’t really decide if it wanted to be faithful to the original text or update it, if it was meant to be an update then why was it so long and meandering but if it was a faithful retelling I’m sure Pontius Pilate didn’t have an Irish accent and similarly The Disciples didn’t have regional British accents but in the casting of Jimmy Nesbitt as Pilate and young attractive actors as the disciples (including fresh-faced ex-Eastender Paul Nicholls as the least convincing Judas in screen history) this is what happened. I suppose in some respects I’ve heard this story so many times its hard for me to watch without being bored and this was partly the case but it was so under-acted and slow-moving that I almost found myself switching over to watch Wife Swap U.S.A. on Channel 4. The only credit I can give it is tried to be historically accurate by having the events depicted in each episode on the day that it happened but it kind of did itself in the foot as I’m sure there wasn’t a Jesus Omnibus just before the resurrection on Sunday.
My third favourite show of the whole of last year was Gavin and Stacey but with BBC3 being totally shit since the overhaul I didn’t have my hopes that high but from the first scene it was on top form but there was a slight dip. That’s mainly in the story as where do you go after your couple has met, fallen in love, got engaged and got married. In fact it seemed to be more Nessa and Smithy than Gavin and Stacey in the opening double bill as Nessa finally told Smithy about her pregnancy and then the boys having to hunt Smithy down (including a great cameo from the ever-amazing Sheridan Smith as his sister ’Smithy’). Stacey got to have a bit of a homesick storyline but it mainly seemed to be about the supporting characters. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though Larry Lamb and Alison Steadman as Pam and Mick Gav’s parents are a truly great double-act Lamb (soon to be in Eastenders as the Mitchell Sisters dad) is charming and witty while Steadman is as boisterous as ever. Co-Writers James Corden and Ruth Jones gave themselves the two best characters however Nessa is in danger of becoming a bit too much of a caricature but there were some sweet scenes between her and Corden, Corden himself being both hilarious and touching at the same time. But for characterisation and timing it has to be Rob Brydon’s Uncle Bryn from his pouring over the dinner menu at an Italian restaurant to his singing along to James Blunt – Bryn is one of the best comic creations for years. Gavin and Stacey is charming and funny without ever being sentimental or over the top which means that it should reign for ever more but at the same time have the sense to leave if it runs out of story.
Finally BBC4 last Wendesday presented us with the first in a season called The Curse of Comedy in which our favourite comedians and sitcoms are disected and we find out how much of a crap personal life they had. The first installment – The Curse of Steptoe did just that. In it we learnt that Harry H Corbett (who played Harold) was a seirous theatre actor who was unaware that the show was going to be made into a sitcom and started doing it for the money instead of the acting and he hated himself as his wife left him and his mistress got pregnant. Meanwhile Wilfred Brambell was gay but because it was the 1960s he was in the closet and soliciting in public toilets which made the papers and he wanted to flee to Broadway. This was very well done with nice support performances from Rory Kinnear and Torchwood’s Burn Gorman as Galton and Simpson who didn’t really want to keep on writing the show but were under pressure from the BBC. In fact the BBC were shown as the villains and part of the reason that both men were so lonely. It was also nice that the relationship between Brambell and Corbett was not the focus here they exchanged civil words but never really got on. Jason Isaacs got the lines share of the screen time as Corbett struggled with his life crumbling around him and everyone just wanting him to be Steptoe but it was Phil Davies as Brambell who was outstanding in the few solo scenes he had he managed to convey his tortured life with no words and that’s not an easy feet for any actor. I’m hoping that this isn’t just a one-off and the rest of the Curse of Comedy season will be as good but we’ll just have to see next week.
Next Time: The Apprentice Special