Another varied week of TV goodness.
Obviously to sobre the tone after the Strictly Come Dancing results show, the BBC decided to air a new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Not for the jolly among you, every Hardy book is filled with tortured heroes or in this case heroines who can’t escape their past and feel lost in the world around them their never destined to have a happy ending. I don’t really want to right the entire plot out to Tess as I’ve gone over it enough times when I was doing my English A-Level, suffice to say that Tess’ story goes from being raped by Alec D’Urberville, baring his child and watching the child die, falling in love with and marrying the lovely Angel Clare, to being deserted by him when he finds out about her secret, working for a horrible farmer, Alec coming back into her life and marrying her so she can support her family and finally her murdering him and going on the run with a returning Angel only eventually to be arrested for murder. The main role of Tess was taken by Gemma Arterton who seems to be all over our screens at the moment and is later destined to be a Bond Girl. Her performance as Tess ranged from typically naïve at the beginning to world-weary at the end her range of emotions displayed beautifully. I thought Eddie Redmayne while sympathetic didn’t have enough charisma as Angel. While from the supporting cast Ruth Jones left her Gavin and Stacey routes to give a brilliant callous performance as Tess’ mother, Jodie Whittaker shone as Tess’ friend Izzy and Auf Wiedersen Pet star Christopher Fairbank gave a gritty performance as nasty farmer Groby. But for me the best performance of the series came from Hans Matheson as Alec D’Urberville giving himself such charm at the beginning the evolution of the character from charming about town to complete bastard was great and the closing scenes just before his murder he gave it his all. The adaptation was beautifully shot with sweeping shots of the countryside and the last thirty minutes of the final episode was brilliantly paced especially the scene where the police descend on Stonehenge where Angel and Tess have fallen asleep. I thought the BBC did a wonderful job of bringing this story to life and while it wouldn’t suit the people who are used to the lightness of costume dramas it made a lot more sense to me than it ever did at English A-Level.
The first ever proper reality fly-on-the-wall show was The Family shown on the BBC in 1974 it depicted the lives of the Wilkins family a working class family with six children and it was a warts an all expose. Groundbreaking for 1974 T.V. but flash-forward almost 35 years later and The Family returns on Channel 4. But it doesn’t seem that important or ground-breaking any more since we’ve seen Race Rows on Big Brother, Homophobia on Hell’s Kitchen and the daughter of a former Prime Minister eating Kangaroo’s testicles in I’m a Celebrity. Cameras follow the Hughes family of Salisbury around their house for 100 days and then film the results. The Hughes family are made up of husband and wife Jane and Simon and their four children, three – Emily, Charlotte and Tom live at home while their oldest child Jessica lives down the road with her boyfriend Pat and their daughter Ruby. I did manage to force myself to sit through the first episode of this show but I must tell you it was just a bit something and nothing. I didn’t feel instant hatred like I do for a show like When Women Rule the World or Vanity Lair but there’s not much praise I can lavish on a show that spends most of its time having a couple yell at their 19 year old daughter for not pulling her weight because lets be honest this happens in most of the homes in Britain. Simon tries to be a good dad and discipline his children but Jane will stand there and say nothing then criticise and undermine Simon while the only child we see on a regular basis is Emily who’s always going out on the piss and then ringing in ill for work the next day. The other children Tom and especially Charlotte hardly get a look-in except when Tom comes just to mess around for a bit to lighten up the tone and to be honest I think I’ve only seen Jessica once and if I was her I would’ve left this mad-house when I got the chance as well. It is a typical snapshot of a normal family truth-be-told but in this age of 200 channels can we really be arsed with it?
It’s time for the latest in the Bring Back.. series and this time Justin Lee Collins was in his element as he attempted to reunite the cast of Star Wars and for such a high profile film he did quite well interviewing all the main cast members bar Harrison Ford (obviously) and Mark Hammill (who didn’t want to talk about Star Wars). En Route he learnt that Hammill had a distinct jealousy of Harrison Ford and also that Hammill suffered a serious car crash between the first and second film. He also found out that Kenny ‘R2D2’ Baker had pictures of page three girls sellotaped around the shell of his robot suite. Kenny also discussed his feud with Anthony Daniels who played C3PO, Baker came across as a decent honest working guy who just wanted a chat with a cast mate but Daniels on the other hand came across as a complete luvvie ignoring Baker on the first day of filming simply because he hadn’t read the script. Meanwhile David Prowse the man inside the Darth Vader revealed that he had been given a different set of lines to the ones that eventually emerged spoken by James Earl Jones and that he didn’t’ know that Vader was Luke’s Father until the premiere of Empire Strikes Back. The funniest section of the show was JLC sitting in a hot-tub with Warwick Davies as they discussed is involvement in the franchise playing Wicket the Ewok. But the biggest amount of time was invested in Collins’ interview with the only main cast member he got to see that being Princess Leia herself Carrie Fisher. Fisher was hesitant at first but warmed to Collins’ Bristolian humour and self-mocking. She showed him her sometimes pornographic collection of Star Wars memorabilia and also provided with quite a candid interview. These shows always end with the inevitable reunion in which Collins frantically waits to see if anyone who he’s interviewed will turn up, holding the reunion in London meant the American actors as well as Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca (a Brit that lives in America) failed to turn up although they did send hologram messages. In the end Prowse, Baker, Davies and the man who played Bobba Fett were the only ones present but Collins didn’t care as he got to play with a lightsaber and revel in his childhood. I’m sure this quest could’ve been done in an hour rather than the 90 minutes Channel 4 afforded it but at the end of the day it was still very funny and revealing stuff.
Now onto some praise for a sitcom that I have enjoyed very much since it’s been airing and this is BBC3′s Massive. The programme really has the feel of one of those British comedy films in which some Northerners try to make successes of their normal dreary lifestyles in this two Northern lads Danny and Shay decide to start a record label after Danny’s nan leaves him ten grand in her will. The boys sign two girls from a local bakery who from out of nowhere become a success and they almost break the top ten however things aren’t easy and the fact that the girls aren’t easy on the eye counts against them when they try and get them into celeb parties or when tabloid articles come out trashing them but at the end of the day Massive tries to promote friendship and love in its sub-plot as the boys’ friend Swing tries to lure the girl from the Coffee Shop and these segments are sweet without being too sappy the comedy comes mainly from the supporting players lead by Johnny Vegas as Shay’s dad and Paul Kaye as a DJ who’s trying unsuccessfully to come off drugs. In the lead roles of Danny and Shay, Ralf Little and Carl Rice are both incredibly funny and at the same time have such a unity which makes you believe they have been friends forever, Little especially has impressed me of late in both this and the film The Waiting Room after years of tolling away on the pointless dross that is Two Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crisps he finally has displayed the acting talent that we knew he had. Similarly as the bridge between the two lads, Little’s Waiting Room co-star and former Early Doors star Christine Bottomely brings Good Looks and brains to the combination. Overall Massive for me is this year’s Gavin and Stacey combining warmth wit and characters you fall in love with another reason that BBC3 sometimes gets it right.
We end with my new favourite quiz show Only Connect. Presented by Victoria Coren, daughter of the late great Alan Coren and sister of super-sizer Giles, this game show involves connecting various topics without giving the route of the connection. So four seemingly disparate words will appear on the screen and the contestants will have to connect them or guess the final word in a pattern of four. The game gets harder with sixteen words up on a wall and four connections to solve in a minute and with the final round the category is given but the words are spaced oddly with the vowels taken out. I like this show mainly because it has the University Challenge factor of going over my head most of the time so when I get a question right I feel quite proud of myself. Coren is also a very good host boisterous and unforgiving she’ll only give points for a completely correct answer. The contestants are also very odd ranging from travel writers to council administrators they revel in their good general knowledge and lateral thinking skills. As previously noted some quiz shows survive on the strength of their host but this like University Challenge survives mostly on its questioning and that’s how it should be.
Next Time: Strictly Come Dancing, Merlin and Place of Execution.