Let’s crack on with another bumper-packed week in TV land
And we start with the all new Eurovision with El-Tel gone and our biggest hope in years Jade backed by Lord Lloyd-Webber plus the introduction of panel voting it proved to be an interesting night. But compared to recent years there was no extravagance or pomp and circumstance. A lot of the fun acts were taken out in the semi-final including the Czech superhero and the Belgian Elvis impersonator. This meant that the craziest act was the Ukrainian girl whose circus act was so lavish that she had to mortgage her own flat to pay for it. There was two familiar faces among the acts first was Dita Von Teese, the burlesque dancer and ex-girlfriend of Marilyn Manson. Ms. Von Teese wasn’t singing but rather performing her sexy act during the German entry entitled ‘Miss Kiss Kiss Bang’, which I quite enjoyed but Norton thought was crap, although I seem to be in the majority as Britain gave this their fourth highest amount of points.The other big face of course was Lord Lloyd-Webber who’s appearance on the stage, playing the piano for our entry Jade, was very creepy indeed. I thought Jade did an admirable performance by Lloyd-Webber’s ditty was reminiscent of a song that an X-Factor winner has to release to get the Christmas No.1 and Jade actually did look like she belonged on a Cowell based reality show. Personally I preferred last year’s song and you have to wonder if the juries had fifty per cent voting rights last year if Andy Abrahams would indeed have come in last place. In the end we came in fifth place which in my opinion is more than we deserved this year.
Before even hearing that it was the favourite, I knew that the Norway song was a winner, mainly because the singer was on the fiddle. By that I mean the instrument of course but the song ‘fairytale’ was very catchy and the young lad singing it was very personable. As far as I can remember Armenia came second and Turkey’s song which featured some ridiculous lyrics pipped us in the last vote, to fourth place.And what of new host Norton? Well I have to say he wasn’t as bad as first anticipated. I really am not a big fan of Norton’s neither do I despise him with a passion, but I reckon he’s a little bit over-exposed in terms of the BBC using him. I’m sure they could’ve got someone else in who’s not on their channel all the time, Eurovision Semi-Final host Paddy O’Connell does a good job on BBC3 so why not promote him? But let’s face it if it wasn’t Norton doing it, it would probably be John Barrowman or Jonathan Ross which would be even worse. As it was Norton, while not as dry as Wogan, was very witty but never malicious and some of his comments even made me titter. Overall this Eurovision was quite sedate there were no big acts, there were no big surprises and we did quite well. All I hope is that next year we get more of the Lycra and ridiculousness we expect every year from Eurovision. Role on Oslo!
Two new dramas kicking off with possibly the drama of the month in The Unloved, part of Britain’s Forgotten children season. This was the directorial debut of brilliant actress Samantha Morton and is based on her own experiences growing up in care. It showed the plight of 12 year old Lucy who after being beaten by her father was taken into a chaotic care-home. There she was neglected by most and befriended by her roommate Lauren who at 16 was shoplifting and getting Lucy into trouble. Although it was Lucy’s story we were following, it was Lauren’s that gripped us as it was revealed that one of the care-workers was actually conducting an inappropriate affair with Lauren which culminated in a massive reveal at the home’s Christmas party. Lucy meanwhile was waiting to be rehoused but was holding out on hope that her mother would have her back, even though it was her father who had cared for over the years. A couple of scenes filled in the blanks where mother and father would meet up and end having a sleazy one-night-stand with Lucy then coming home with dad. The end of the show saw Lucy fleeing the home to try and track down her mum who in turn abandoned her and sent her back to the home. This was truly shocking and it was given almost a documentary-style feel by its film-makers. While I was watching it, it made me feel like I was watching a Shane Meadows film rather than a debut drama, but maybe it was just the Nottingham accents. The two main adult actors were Robert Carlyle and Susan Lynch as Molly’s father and mother. Carlyle ranged from psychotic to loving (there was a nice scene where Lucy and her dad went to the pub at Christmas) and you could see that he loved his daughter but just didn’t know how to look after her. Meanwhile in her scenes Lynch was very cold to her daughter before her emotional breakdown at letting her daughter go back to the home. Although the acting plaudits belong to the two young actresses who Morton found at the TV Workshop in Nottingham where she herself used to go. As Lauren, Lauren Socha had the lion’s share of the script and had to play almost the bigger sister to Lucy a role she wasn’t ready for and she showed such a range for someone quite young. But Molly Windsor showed what a fantastic young actress she was by putting in a great performance with only 150-odd lines of dialogue in a 90 minute programme in which she was on the screen for the whole time. As you saw the world through Lucy’s eyes, it was with other people doing most of the talking. And I guess that was the point of the programme, that the children who go into care aren’t listened to and ultimately aren’t cared for as much as we’d like to believe.
The second drama was a week of one-off stories aired during the post-Doctors slot and entitled Moving On. As you can tell from the title the recurring theme was people Moving On. It seemed to have a good pedigree with Jimmy McGovern, who has big primetime drama cred with Cracker and The Street, producing and it also had some big acting names in there as well. What a shame then it was just The Afternoon Play but a little bit more melodramatic, certainly the episode I watched anyway. The plot saw Britain’s busiest senior actress Shelia Hancock (also starring in the Sister Act musical and is involved in BBC’s poetry season) as a widow who returns from a seaside holiday with an elderly Indian gentleman who her increasingly idiotic children identified as the taxi driver. Shockingly the episode centred around the race issue as the man from Nepal wasn’t allowed a work visa and was shopped in by her next door neighbour when he started work at a car washing place. Meanwhile Hancock’s horrible children were pissed off that her mum had replaced her dad after a good fifteen years as the show was also meant to highlight their grief although they mainly seemed to be pissed off that now she had a new feller she wouldn’t be available for babysitting duties. Although the plight of the Gurkhas was in the news while this was on, it didn’t really know what it wanted to say about foreign workers. We were meant to be happy that Hancock’s man was working but at the same time disgusted that her next door neighbour was fired because Eastern European women had taken over her job at a reduced rate. Even taking away the messages it was a bit OTT, Hancock’s children were horrible and you had to wonder why an actress of her calibre agreed to be in this, she was the only thing making it bearable most of the time. It was that bad it made me long for the incredibly average BBC daytime drama Missing with Pauline Quirke. What were you thinking McGovern?
Finally this week the last ever episode of one of the BBC’s best sitcoms: Pulling. You may not be familiar with it as it hasn’t got the right amount of viewing figures and that’s why it only got two seasons and this last special commissioned. Yes among all the great programming that BBC3 puts out like My Weapon is a Dog, Snog Marry Avoid, Freaky Eaters and My Life as an Animal there’s just no room for a simple funny filthy sitcom. I have to admit that I myself am a recent convert having caught back-to-back marathons of the first series earlier in the year. But what I found was a comedy aimed at women but that men could enjoy just as much. Sharon Horgan, who I’ve compared to Tina Fey before know because I believe Horgan is our top female comic talent, writes the show and also stars as Donna a very shallow character who dates based on who she think is good enough for her. Although Horgan is very talented at pithy one-liners and neurosis the show is almost always stolen by the versatile Tanya Franks as boozy primary school teacher Karen. The third lead character is bubbly and full-figured Louise played by Rebekah Stanton. The end of the last series saw Karl, the man Donna left at the altar at the start at the very beginning, leaving to go to Italy. Now Donna and Karen have moved into a new flat and Louise is off travelling the world. Donna is dating a rich businessman who doesn’t really care about her and the once fun-loving Karen is dating a misogynist who yells at her if she doesn’t cook him something exactly the way he wants it. Louise returns with a new man in tow who saved her life on holiday so she agrees to move in to his tiny flat although she actually hates him. This sets of a spectacularly funny chain of events in which Karl returns with a new Italian fiancée, Karen runs into her ex Billy (a wonderful Paul Kaye) who tells her that he has cancer and Louise’s new man proposes to her on a hot air balloon and when she says no he commits suicide.
The gags and set-ups in this show prove why it should never have been cancelled but when it was announced there wouldn’t be a third series the words ‘demographic’ and ‘programming’ were used. The BBC really doesn’t have a classic comedy line-up at the moment, those who love pulling criticise its BBC3 stable-mate Gavin and Stacey for not being that funny, but I actually think G and S is as good as it. What should be cancelled is all the other comedy programmes BBC3 spits out including the dreadful Horne and Corden sketch show, the Sheridan Smith vehicle Grown-Ups, the abominable Coming of Age as well as the hundredth series of Two Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crisps and Johnny Vegas’ Ideal both of whose premise wore thin years ago. Bar a couple of stand-out shows such as Outnumbered and Lead Balloon and the patchy Old Guys, BBC doesn’t have a lot of stable comedy hits like it did in the 1980s and 1990s, the news that Pulling was cancelled was quickly followed with the fact that the amazingly hilarious Not Going Out was to air its final episode at Christmas time. I didn’t mean for my review of the amazing Pulling finale to become a criticism of the BBC’s comedy input but it ended on such a cliffhanger that I would love another series. As other channels are always pinching personalities from each other why can’t this show move to another channel who would give it more support and promotion. Spread the word people it must return.
Next Time: Britain’s Got Talent Finals, Mumbai Calling and Benidorm