Welcome to the first Week in TV of March 2009.
And firstly a programme that’s shaping up to be the drama of the year if the first episode is anything to go by. The first of three feature-length episodes adapted from the books of David Peace, the first of the trilogy was set in 1974. In this episode young Yorkshire journalist Eddie Dunford returned from writing down south to his Yorkshire roots partly due to the death of his father. He becomes a junior crime reporter working under the permanently drunk Jack Whitehead. He becomes interested in a story about the kidnapping of a little girl and tries to link it to several other murders that happened in the years before and while snooping he comes across links between corrupt members of the Yorkshire police force working with property tycoon John Dawson as well as forming a relationship with the mother of one of the girls Paula Garland. Eddie is then threatened several times by the police, to the point of total sensory deprivation and when he finds out that Paula has been killed by Dawson he sets out to get revenge. Everything about this was so good the direction captured the bleakness of the North brilliantly while I particularly liked the use of music some upbeat tunes over some of the more horrific scenes especially in the final shot of Eddie driving his car straight into the police cars following him.
But the main point of watching this is that it assembled some of the finest character actors Britain has to offer. In the lead role of Eddie BAFTA winner Andrew Garfield was superb never flinching for one moment in his search of the truth he gets sidetracked by his love for Paula. As Paula, Rebecca Hall once again shows everybody why she’s now starring in Hollywood movies and should be getting more acclaim. But the show-stealer in the first episode is Sean Bean as Dawson, from the first shot of him outside the funeral of Eddie’s murdered colleague, standing in front of his cheesy sports car to his cool-calm manner as he admits to murder and the possibility that he was behind the death of the girls he oozes charisma. But out of these three two are definitely dead and Eddie is presumably dead as well. I’m guessing then that the supporting characters will come into the forefront over the next two episodes of the trilogy primarily Warren Clarke and David Morrisey as bent coppers Bill Molloy and Maurice Jobson who were integral in the capture of Eddie and the need for him to kill Dawson before the truth of their corruption got out. I also have to highlight the always wonderful Eddie Marsan as the antagonistic drunken Jack Whithead, one of my favourite actors John Henshaw as newspaper editor and oft voice of reason Bill Hadley and Peter Mullan who I hope will return as vicar Martin Laws. The next episode will jump six years and feature new characters played by Paddy Considine and Maxine Peake and if it’s as good as this one then we’re in for a treat.
Potheads everywhere jumped for joy, or at least tried to, when they saw a show in the schedules entitled Grown Your Own Drugs. But I’m sure the joy was short-lived when they realised it was on BBC2 at 8:30 on a Monday night and possibly not what they originally expected it to be. Indeed it turned out to be half cookery programme/half beauty treatment show as the semi-Oriental James Wong showed us round his garden and also pilfering things from parks using the stuff he found in weird and creepy ways. For example he showed us that Chicken Soup is good for people with a cold, but oh no it had to have some weird berries and chillies in it first. Then he made a beauty scrub/face mask type thing out of some tropical fruit, a cure for constipation using figs and finally a herbal pillow. It was enjoyable enough as Wong told us the history behind some of the things but it wasn’t that insightful and he hasn’t got as much charisma as some of his contemporaries. It does however fit ideally into the slot that was once occupied by Masterchef. However now the BBC has come up with this idea it won’t be long before a channel, probably Five will have a show called ‘How to Really grow your own drugs’ which will actually excite the potheads for real.
Another cooking show employing weird and wonderful ingredients was expected as it involved notorious blue-sky thinker Heston Blumenthal. Channel 4 has employed Blumenthal to cook different kooky meals for a bunch of celebrities, this weeks ‘stars’ included Richard Bacon, Raggi Omar, Dawn Porter and Heston’s long-lost twin Toby Young. He treats them all to a Victorian Feast inspired by one of his favourite books Alice in Wonderland. He starts with making the infamous ‘Drink-Me’ potion combining all the flavours in the book including toast, turkey and Bakewell tart to the delight of his diners. He then goes about making mock turtle soup i.e. with no turtles involved. The crowning glory is an edible garden with insects which after a small hesitation his guests tuck into. The pudding is absinthe jelly featuring vibrators to make the jelly wobble, there is a fun fact that doctors used to masturbate women with vibrators to cure hysteria and that’s when they were invented, at least that’s the reason for putting the vibrators in the jelly. Overall it’s a good concept, although Heston hasn’t got the charisma say of a Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall his passion and belief in his food combined with his wackiness and fondness for history makes this programme and I’m suspecting the future shows to be good. One criticism is the calibre of guest invited down the rabbit hole but as the next show features Bill Patterson and Germaine Greer things can only get better.
One of my favourite programmes of last year was the inspirational tale of choir master Gavin Malone going to an all boys school and trying to get them involved in singing. The end product was a performance at The Royal Albert Hall and it was very moving. The BBC are now trying to recreate this in new show Rocket Science by having physics teacher Andy Smith come to a school in The Wirral and excite, or rather ignite, the children’s passion for science by getting them to set off a load of fireworks. And even though Andy, or simply Mr. Smith as he was referred to, was a scouser he obviously didn’t think it was a bad idea to let kids from The Wirral handle fireworks. I’m sure there was some science here but the main thing was the spectacle of the fireworks and the science seemed to come second but Smith was certain that the kids were learning something. The main thing the programme wanted us to follow was some of the kids’ stories and the ones who didn’t like science to begin with so there was the girl who wanted out of The Wirral and to move to London and be the next Kate Moss (presumably without the drug habit), gobby and occasionally spiteful Chantelle and permanent misbehaving Charlie who was almost thrown of the science course on three separate occasions but was really just misunderstood because of the all stuff that had happened to his mum. The show followed Smith as he took the kids to Blackpool and let the token disabled boy and one other child start of the annual display. Then they planned a display for the headmistress who was leaving but this didn’t happen because her party was cancelled due to a family bereavement. The main problem I had with Rocket Science was at its heart was a man who wanted to teach kids about science but I personally didn’t think a lot of learning went on and its harder to make an entertaining programme out of a science lesson than it is say watching kids learn to sing in Boy’s Don’t Sing or learn to behave as in the Channel 4 show That’ll Teach ‘Em. This wasn’t as good as either of those shows because of the flaw in its central concept, sure Smith was entertaining and passionate enough but a lot of the show was about chemistry rather than his field of physics. Add to this the choice of narrator, irritating comedian Rufus Hound, whose voice-over often distracted from the main programme. I’m not saying there was anything ultimately wrong with Rocket Science and I’m sure the shows were Smith takes the children to China and the U.S.A. will be more entertaining but I’m not sure if there’s any actual learning going on.
Next Time: A Comic Relief Special