A couple of quite enjoyable offerings bookend This Week in TV so let’s look back at them now.
According to one of my old lecturers, Andrew Davies is a sexist and also a pervert who hates creative women on his set. It’s a shame then that Davies is also extremely talented, for those of you who don’t know, Davies adapted Pride and Prejudice for the BBC in 1995 and ten years later gave them Bleak House. Three years later it’s another Dickens novel again not that well known, Little Dorrit is been given the same treatment as Bleak House shown in two half an hour segments twice a week buffered with an hour long opener and closer. One of the problems with adapting Dickens’ books is the wealth of material, Little Dorrit was released in 19 instalments each of which included 32 pages. With that much space Dickens had to fill it with a full cast of characters which worked well back then but within an hour of T.V. we were introduced to eighteen different characters all over London and beyond in some cases and because it was the start of the story some seemed quite disconnected from the rest of the story. The story itself involves Amy Dorrit who was born in the Debtor’s prison in which her father still inhabits she goes to get a job as a seamstress for the wealthy but lonely Mrs. Clenham whose estranged son Arthur comes back from years away in the East to hand the company over to her. When Arthur meets Amy he is drawn to her romantically but also feels he knows the name of Dorrit so goes to meet her father and her uncle at the prison and tries to find a connection between the two families. At the same time Mrs. Clenhams’ manservant Jermiah Flintwitch schemes to take the company away from her with help from his unseen twin brother Ephram. Meanwhile we also meet the Meagles a family of bankers from Twickenham who Arthur befriended on the trip back from Marseilles, the Meagles have adopted a girl they have named Tattycoram who they treat like a servant and at time she is ungrateful and is tempted to run away by the sinister Miss. Wade. There are also scenes in a French prison where the criminal Riguard is let free after murdering his wife and flees to England presumably to join the action.
The Riguard part of the story was particularly hard to connect with as it had no bearing on the rest of the story, I’m sure in a book it works fine but here the main part of the story is between Amy Dorritt and Arthur Clenham and their respective family members that is why similarly I found myself not so much caring about the Meagles and Tattycoram once they’d left the company of Arthur. Of the cast in the leads newcomer Claire Foy is a particularly decent Amy as she is doe-eyed and innocent while after tackling Mr. Darcy in the latest screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice here does what he can with the rather dull character of Clenham. The veteran performers fare better with Tom Courtneay as a spectacularly deadpan Mr. Dorritt while Judy Parfit gives an element of sympathy to the unlikeable Mrs. Clenham. Meanwhile the supporting cast give their all in particular Russell Tovey as the young prison warden, Sue Johnston as Mrs. Flintwitch and Maxine Peake as Miss Wade all gave memorable performances. But it always seems to be Alun Armstrong who does the best in these Dickens adaptations as the Flintwitch twins he is cunning and malevolent but he shares acting plaudits with Andy Serkis as the utterly villainous Riguard. You can’t judge an adaptation especially a Dickens one from its first two parts but the 90 minutes we’ve had so far have been enjoyable stuff saying that it will be interesting to see where the show goes in its remaining eleven parts and how well it will all join together in the final conclusion.
Next up we have Britannia High ITV’s big new Sunday night show set around a stage school which has echoes of E4′s Nearly Famous however this time it’s not a show that’s trying to be the new Skins despite starring one of its cast members. Yes Maxxi from Skins is in this show as well but this time he’s called Danny and isn’t a gay in fact he seems to have styled himself on Danny from Grease down to the leather jacket and slicked-back hair. But the lead in the first episode was new girl Lauren who came to the school without auditioning first as the headmaster had seen her perform as part of an ABBA tribute band at a wedding (what kind of wedding hires an ABBA tribute band I have no clue). The kind of bitchy character is Claudette who is envious of Lauren because unlike everyone else Lauren didn’t have to audition. Now you may think that is a little mean but these other characters have waited years for a shot just to audition and then this girl walks in off the street why shouldn’t she be upset? But of course we’re meant to feel sorry for Lauren even though Danny makes gooey eyes at her every two seconds and she seems to get let off for sleeping in class but its okay because she has to support herself by getting the weirdest after-school job in a kitchen carrying big metallic bands around and being surrounded by six-foot cockney blokes called Pedro. But because of all the pressure she’s put under after mastering the big lift in the dance show at the end of week one she collapses but it’s okay because now she has friends and then its time for the big dance number at the end on top of the roof of the school. There are other characters but they fade into the background because they’re so clichéd and various staff members include a cocky dance coach played by Coyote Ugly heartthrob Adam Garcia and headmaster Mr. Nugent played by everyone’s favourite Building Society spokesman Mark ‘Brand New Customers Only’ Benton from off of the Nationwide adverts. Britannia High is all a bit clichéd not quite Fame, not quite High School Musical either lingering in the middle somewhere its got a bit of a sense of humour to it and a knowingness about the industry which comes from co-creator and Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Philips. The youth of today who’ve grown up on a diet of X-Factor and Come Dancing will probably love it however for people of my generation it will remind them of CBBC fave ‘The Biz’ which starred Paul Nicholls and for me that was a lot better.
In the past I’ve had issues with the National TV Awards dolling out too many awards to soap stars so they’ve rectified the issue by separating serial drama and drama performances into two separate categories instead of having one sole best actor and actress award. Most of the winners were predictable Ant and Dec, Doctor Who, Top Gear and Eastenders all flourished in their separate categories. While in the soap star awards Roxy Mitchell won best newcomer and Max Cunningham Best Soap Performance for his death. I was happier when Paul O’Grady won something for his show besting Ant and Dec and Big Brother. Similarly I was pleased that Benidorm won best comedy and that the woman who plays Madge dedicated it to genius comedy producer Geoffrey Perkins. The award presenters got more time than the honourees themselves, a lot of the time they were big American stars (Mark from Ugly Betty, Sylar from Heroes, Edie from Desperate Housewives and Paris Hilton were all there) but Fergie also provided a moment of unintentional hilarity when she fell behind on her announcing skills while Griff Rhys Jones was ever the comic when presenting the award for Top Gear to The Stig. However this year’s T.V. Awards will be remembered for two things firstly after scowling his way through Strictly Come Dancing topping both of his shows, Simon Cowell was presented with the Special Award. He acted surprised but then again why would Sinitta have been invited if not for him to inappropriately snog her in front of her husband on the way up to collect his award. I was first a little outraged at Cowell’s award but then he has been at the forefront of most of the biggest Saturday night shows of the last five years. And the other revelation was after David Tennant one best drama performance over Gene Hunt, some guy from The Bill and Catherine Tate (?) he announced live from the Hamlet interval that he was quitting Doctor Who after the four specials in 2009. I’m guessing this was so he didn’t have to hide behind a press release and that it came from the horses’ mouth so to speak. The National TV Awards are always going to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the British viewing public (My Family is always nominated in best comedy) but the producers seem to be getting it right bit by bit all they need to do know is get rid of American Shows being nominated in OUR national TV awards (both Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives were shortlisted). All in all a good and memorable event and a step up on the two previous events.
And finally as its Halloween week, E4 presented us with zombie thriller Dead Set over five nights. This is the work of scribe Charlie Brooker more famous for his Guardian column and his brilliant show ‘Screen-Wipe’. Brooker is neither massively fanatical about Big Brother nor completely critical of it, he appreciates that people like it but at the same time mocks mercilessly the people on it. So in this series he has zombies attacking the Big Brother compound and ultimately the BB housemates are the only ones left standing. The heroine in all of this is Kelly, a junior runner on the latest series of Big Brother she’s quite nervous is sleeping with one of the fellow production crew while her boyfriend despairs that their relationship is ending. As zombies start to get into the crowd on eviction night she manages to free herself from the production office and get into the house. The housemates Brooker has presented us with represent the usual bunch there’s the slapper Veronica who’s after glamour model like success by having it off with larger loutish Marky, then there’s Grayson an ultra-camp housemate who reveals himself to be quite a logical down-to-earth charge nurse as the show progresses he allies himself in the house with Angel a black girl whose kind of a free-spirit. Then there’s Space who’s the token likeable housemate, Pippa the annoying Scottish one and Joplin the weird elder one based slightly on Jonty from the other year he is the tragic one who doesn’t realise the other housemates hate him and call him Gollum behind his back and is the person who ultimately brings the downfall of the rest of the characters. The awful producer of the show somehow manages to survive till the end as does Kelly’s boyfriend Rick who after meeting a fellow survivor beats the zombies and manages to get to the house. The show was also laden with BB familiar faces including Davina McCall who sent herself up surprisingly well and made a very good zombie as well as a lot of former housemates most notably Brian Belo and Aisleyne who both got the chance to appear as zombies. As you’d expect from Brooker this would be quite satirical however this was less a satire on Big Brother and more replacing the classic zombie film in a more 21st century location and asking us the question would the BB house be the best place to hide if there was an attack. This was an extremely well-pace horror story the only time the action-dipped was whenever Rick and the frankly crazy Alex appeared on screen but Jaime Winstone as the level-headed Kelly made an excellent heroine and the final scenes were heartbreaking to watch. And frankly when the rest of the output on Halloween is crappy films like Cabin Fever and Creep I’d rather watch this masterpiece from King Charlie.
Next Time: Argumental and Batteries Not Included