Here we are with another look back at the week in TV which included a lot of quality drama.
How ironic then that I start with a soap. Yes it was BBC’s One to watch all this week (apart from when it wasn’t on) and it was the return of Ricky and Bianca. They’ve been trailering it for months, and those trailers must’ve cost a pretty penny, and it was a week of heartache as Frank was put to rest after actor Mike Reid tragically died last year. It was also nice to see Sophie Lawrence and Charlie Brooks return as Diane and Janine but conspicuous by her absence was fourth daughter Claire who was never present on screen and therefore was conveniently in Australia. But this week was mainly based on nostalgia and featured tour de force performances from the two of the cast longest serving veterans Pam St. Clement and Barbara Windsor. The week started as Peggy tried to convince Pat not to go to Spain while they were the witnesses for a gay couple tying the knot. Ricky and Diane then arrived to tell them that Frank had died and the next day like clockwork his funeral occurred. This was an excuse for the cast to pay their last respects as Ian as the only original cast member turned up to the funeral as did Billy and Phil who in real life I expect where quite close to Mike Reid when he was on the show.
The writers pulled out all the stops interlinking the funeral episode with clips of Frank from that horrible incident where he was completely naked apart from that robotic bowtie – which he left to Pat as a parting gift to clips of their wedding day. We even had a reconstruction of the classic Peggy and Pat scrap from years ago – ’you bitch’ ’you cow’. Diane who we haven’t seen in about 50 years came back to tell us about her new nursing profession and that now she is a lesbian and shacked up with a doctor in France. While there was no explanation to why Janine had a really flash car or if she was there for Frank’s money or to say goodbye to her dad, in the end it seemed a little of both. Each child was given a present – Ricky’s tools (however he is the biggest tool in the box), Diane’s drawings and Mo Butcher’s diary given to Janine. Frank was even given the special treatment of the full closing music you know the one that plays for about two minutes before the end of the episode.
But this wasn’t all about Frank – Ricky and Bianca were back. Or Bianca was back with a whole new brood including Liam – her son with Ricky, a 15 year old stepdaughter whose dad had died just after their kid together was born and then a little black toddler. While I’m sure the writers are trying to put links between her and her mother Carol in the four kids by three different dads scenario other may think it’s just an excuse for those Jackson five adverts that have been polluting our screens because no-one needs to see Patsy Palmer sing or even act for that matter. The first showdown between the two was brief but when Bianca hits the square next week I’m sure a lot of feathers are going to be ruffled. Meanwhile Ricky seems to have hooked up with that dopey one out of My Family who doesn’t seem to do a lot but moan at Ricky and shout at her dad down the phone, so it seems the Butcher boy’s taste in women has not improved.
Nostalgia is a very nice thing and this week has been a fitting tribute to both Frank Butcher and the actor who portrayed him but when actors return to a soap it can be tricky. If you think about it a lot of new fans won’t know who Frank Butcher is apart from two week cameos he hasn’t been a main fixture of the cast for seven years – so the teen demographic has no idea who we’re talking about similarly Bianca hasn’t been in the cast for longer than that and Diane Butcher left about 15 years ago. Character returns can be tricky for example when Dirty Den returned he was painted as a pantomime villain rather than the sly chancer he was in the 1980s meanwhile his daughter Sharon’s return was more successful. The fact that Bianca has got a family with her could go either way on one side there’s a reason to return she needs to see family on the square and try and get somewhere to live for her brood plus she has new characters to interact with. On the other hand is it wise to bring four child actors to a soap in which we already have Ben, the Beale kids and the Branning girls not mention various babies and toddlers. Ricky’s return is less obvious at the moment he has no real reason to stick around and as Sid Owen is only returning on a six month contract I’m guessing he’ll probably leave after that but Patsy has a year and I’m thinking the Jackson kids could become a permanent fixture. And although Patsy Palmer isn’t much of an actress – I speak from experience having seen her in a play a couple of years back as long as she can shout Rick-aaay about a dozen times she’ll keep the Eastenders bosses happy. I’m betting that’s even in her contract.
The phrase they don’t make them like that anymore is banded around a lot, usually by me in this blog but that’s true of the genre of the kids drama. Back in my day the kids schedule used to go Newsround at 4:55 and then a drama at 5:05 and the days when this wasn’t Byker Grove or Grange Hill it was an adaptation of a children’s novel. How refreshing then to see Clay albeit on a Sunday afternoon. The plot sees two friends Geordie and Davey growing up in Newcastle in the 1960s they are altar boys in the church and also going through the hard process of growing up as their friendship was starting to strain after Davey starts dating. Their world is changed when a boy called Stephen arrives in the neighbourhood to live with his mad aunt, Stephen has behavioural issues and the boys decide to use him against the school bully although Stephen is interested in crafting clay models. Davey then helps Stephen build a giant clay monster which comes to life and ends up killing the bully and Davey sees Stephen’s true plans has to stop him. I have endless praise for Clay – all of the chlid actors put there all in trying to convey the tricky plot while the always reliable Imelda Staunton was brilliant as the mad aunt. The art direction and music made you feel that you were in the 1960s and the animation for the clay monster was truly superb. But more than that was the subject matter didn’t patronise the viewers, featuring some quite strong themes including the religious right, sexuality and bullying – Clay didn’t patronise children but tried to educate them while at the same time telling them a captivating story. This makes a change from the usual kids TV which is often patronising or just plain dull. I’d like to see more of this and urge the BBC to try and create a season of children’s dramas on a Sunday afternoon because this was truly a treat.
Just a little mention of the only documentary watched by me last week – the fascinating: The Human Spider. In which we watched the extraordinary tale Alan Robert the man who climbs skyscrapers without any harnesses or any care for his own wellbeing. This was an interesting documentary as it painted two sides of Robert one the daredevil who is able to risk it all to climb a block in Korea. He does this climb without epilepsy medicine and afterwards has to spend five days in jail for his stunt. The other side is the family man who has built a special track on his ceiling to practise his climbing and who loves his wife and children dearly. But the film didn’t really put the two sides together does this man really have to risk life and limb – the directors said yes using choppy camerawork and lots and lots of examples of Robert’s climbing to demonstrate how totally awesome a man he was. But if you stepped back a minute you would see how dangerous and life-threatening this was, I winced when his hand slipped off one of the buildings thinking this man is just stupid for leaving his family to travel and climb these structures. Has an epilepsy sufferer myself I know how dangerous it is to not take your medication every day but to not take it just before you climb a building must be one of the most stupid things I’ve ever seen. Personally I don’t think Robert’s that cool he has a lovely family and a nice home but did these stunts it seemed mainly for notoriety. This could’ve been a film about the risks of a daredevil but it just seemed to be praising a man who was utterly selfish and put his own stupid stunts over the love of his family.
Now it’s time to look at some quality drama this week starting with Poppy Shakespeare. It demonstrated more than anything else the wealth of character actresses that we have in this country. Anna Maxwell Martin who shone in White Girl a couple of weeks ago here showed another side of her acting prowess while Naoime Harris who has been lurking in substandard films reminded us why she was heralded as the next big thing after her stunning performance in the adaptation of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Poppy Shakespeare sees Harris play the eponymous anti-heroine of the title who has a normal life with a job and a child but is one day committed to a mental health centre where she meets ’N’ played by Martin and together the two hatch a plan to make every believe that Poppy is sane by proving she is mad. There were some nice pieces of humour between the members of the ’day centre for dribblers’ which evoked memories of mental health films like Girl, Interrupted and especially – One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Although it was hardly feel-good it was a good piece of drama and as I’ve already stated the best part of Poppy Shakespeare were its two lead actresses who carried the thing from beginning to end.
The first two instalments of the Curse of Comedy season have seen the downfall of its protagonists as they felt they were one-trick ponies destined to be remembered for their comic characters and not being allowed to delve into more dramatic performances. Hughie Green – Most Sincerely was different we followed the host of some of the most popular entertainment shows of the 1960s and 1970s including New Faces, Double Your Money and Opportunity Knocks from his childhood to his funeral. Green is seen as a despicable man who had countless affairs, was horrible to his children and was very one-minded when it came to his programmes. But for the first time we also saw another side to this man who was also perceived as a genius – realising that what people wanted to see on T.V. was themselves. Unlike Tony Hancock and the Steptoe and Son actors I’ve never seen any of Hughie Green’s programmes so I don’t know how accurately Trevor Eve portrayed him but reading reviews I’d say very. Either way Eve captivated me with his performance and was even allowed a little bit of sympathy as Green broke down several times after realising he wasn’t allowed to attend his ex-wife’s funeral and finding out that his secret daughter had grown up to be Paula Yates who he was disgusted to find splattered over the tabloids every day. This was Eve’s show and although Mark Benton did provide adequate support as Paula’s supposed-father and occasional producer Jess Yates his role was only really there to give Eve someone to spark off. It’s easy to say that this Curse of Comedy season has been an absolute triumph although I don’t know quite why a light entertainment presenter qualifies as a comedian among the likes of Tony Hancock and Frankie Howard this was a really good drama and one I was captivated by from beginning to end.
Next Time: Britain’s Got Talent and Doctor Who