This Week in TV: The Apprentice Final, Hope Springs, Kingdom, May Contain Nuts and Krod Mandoon and The Flaming Sword of Fire

There was a T.V. bonanza delivered to us this Sunday night so let’s start with the big one: The Apprentice Final.

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In the end boardroom scene Siralan claimed to finalists Yasmina and Kate that they were the two strongest finalists he’d ever seen when in fact they were both quite weak in comparison to former finalists such as Ruth Badger and Claire Young (both of whom came second). See Siralan was under pressure to employ a woman after passing up the opportunity twice (picking Lee McQueen over the more talented Young and Simon Ambrose over the more dependable Kristina Grimes). The easiest choice for a female apprentice would’ve been Deborah Barr (3rd place), but he doesn’t like a woman who’s a bit of the handle and can snap generally, even having a go at Siralan’s aide Nick Hewer, so she had to go. We are left then going into the final with two fairly attractive 27 year old women. Kate is a ‘licensing manager’ for some major firm and used to work in both McDonalds and a chip shop in Stafford. Meanwhile Yasmina also has a culinary background as she runs her own restaurant financed as it seems mainly by her mum. Siralan had problems with both of these women going in, Yasmina’s problem was that she already had her own business so why would she need a new job? While Kate’s main problem is ice-maiden tendencies, her sinister smile and the fact that she looks like a Brummie Heather Mills.

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The task then in the final was creative once again this time a new brand of chocolates was on order and as usual eight former candidates were bought back to help out. One of whom, Kim, has obviously eaten her fair share of chocolates in her time. Also back were comedy James, awkward Lorraine, fey Howard, cocky Ben, cockier Philip, the aforementioned Miss Barr and Rocky who most casual viewers won’t remember as he was fired back in Week Two. It is actual interesting to note that all the Asian contestants didn’t come back for more as the notable absences were the invisible man Noorel, the bearded wonder Maj and the first firee Anita add to this African beauty queen Mona and a worrying theme was emerging. But it’s alright because Yasmina’s from Iran so the ethnic minority quota is filled. After the two girls chose their teams (rumoured couple Kate and Phil were on separate teams while Rocky looked like the little boy who was always picked last for the football team) it was off to choose names and flavours.

Both teams immediately saw a gap in the market for chocolate’s aimed at men but both quickly had to change their idea after like six men told them that they would never accept chocolate as a gift. I have to say that I know many men who wouldn’t scoff at chocolate as a gift and I include myself in that category also. Kate’s team eventually hit on a great concept which was a chocolate box with three drawers: one for women, one for men and one to share. The eventual name for this was: Choc D’amour. Meanwhile restaurateur Yasmina thought combinations such as strawberry and basil and chilli and popping candy were good ideas. Although a good name for this would have been Shocking Awe (ful sweets) in the end they were for Cocoa Electric a name because the chocolates will give your mouth an electric shock. Personally I preferred James’ suggestion of Shockolate, and I will till the end of time.The next thing to do was to shoot the adverts. Comedy arose on Yasmina’s shoot when one of the male models experiencing the electric shock actually spat out his very appetising strawberry and basil treat. Margaret Mountford also wasn’t very happy with the chocolates and when given a chilli flavoured delight told Yasmina and James that she was still waiting for the explosion. Meanwhile on the other team, Kim and Kate directed the Shock D’amore advert and it went from mild porno to full on romp when Kate took over and introduced bondage and the insertion of strawberries into various bodily orifices. The next thing was to decide on box design and Kate went for the three doors while Yasmina impressed with a great pink and black design. Also while her chocolates weren’t particularly appetising the price of just over £5 was a lot more reasonable than Kate’s £13.50 box.

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So to the all-important presentations and while Kate played it quite straight Yasmina went all out. Firstly I haven’t heard Electric Six’s Danger High Voltage that many times since mid-2002, they must’ve played it at least half a dozen times. Then Phil looked as if he’d been dragged out clubbing on the gay scene with Howard when he pranced on the stage adorned in bright blue eyeliner, handing out the chocolates. After all this build-up, Yasmina’s pitch was quite dry and not nearly as perfect as Kate’s was. But then that’s to be expected because Kate is presentation queen. At this point I thought Kate had it in the bag but then the Waitrose rep swayed Siralan when he said that everyone would come to his store and buy Yasmina’s box once for the intrigue factor while Kate’s may not shift because of the price. After the usual stopping and starting in the boardroom, Siralan Shock(olat)ed us all and picked Yasmina over Kate.

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I for one think that if it was any other task Kate’s team would’ve won and Yasmina would be back in the boardroom. But because it was the final he had more leeway and artistic licence in order to wangle and edit to the task to present his eventual winner. In reality I think Siralan had whittled it down to a couple of options weeks ago (Kate, Yasmina and Debra were the only three viable candidates once Mona and Ben had gone) and obviously decided that Yasmina would be more easily manipulated than Kate. And also as accusations of racism and sexism have been levied at the show over the years an Iranian-British woman is exactly the right image for the show after two very alpha white males. But what of the future of the show? Well as Lord Adrian of the Chiles reminds us on a weekly basis not only is the show back in 2010 but a junior version of children aged 16 and 17. There’s rumblings at the BBC though, as now Siralan has been bought in by the P.M. to solve some sort of crisis that he’s not allowed to be a T.V. superstar any more. Coupled to this the fact that we’ve lost Margaret Mountford to an Papyrology Phd (no idea, mean neither) after five years of loyal service and it seems things will be very different whether the Beeb sways Sugar or not.

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Overall this year’s Apprentice hasn’t been a classic we’ve had no classic characters such as Raef, Tre, Saeed, Katie Hopkins, ‘The Badger’ or Lucinda. Instead there’s been quite a few week and cocky young lads and a couple of brainy confident women, the weird Lorraine, the silent Noorel and the star of the show and king of the one-liners James. But it’ll certainly be a big year next year for Siralan he will need to find a Mags replacement which is easily said than done and first he needs to decide if he wants to be Brown’s Buddie or stay being the most entertaining Jew in Britain (fact!)

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Elsewhere this week we saw return of the Sunday night drama but the cosiness was given an edge in the first episode of the BBC’s new show Hope Floats. The show is built around Alex Kingston’s Ellie who is let out of prison after a four year stretch and tries to help her no good husband pull-off one last job. However it is bungled and the pair are both arrested by the police, but in fact it’s not the police but one of Ellie’s mates as they have managed to double cross the broadly sketched Ray and get loads of money from him. They were going to go to Barbados, but because of the credit crunch the BBC wouldn’t let them, so they had to go to Scotland instead. This was because the fifth member of their team and overweight lass had had a heart attack while attempting to collect the new passports for the girls and was going round on the baggage terminal when they found her. So it was off to the cosy village of Hope Floats where Mrs. Meldrew runs a hotel and basically drinks the profits which is why I think the hotel was up for sale. But Kingston and chums bought the hotel and wanted to renovate it having a very happy night getting the ten residents of the town merry. The money then gets burnt and the group are stuck with a hotel and a live in-tenant in Mrs. Meldrew who has stayed on as the licensee. But this isn’t just Monarch of the Glen with stilettos. There is something sinister afoot involving a dead body under the pub and several of the backward locals are involved as well as Mrs Meldrew’s daughter played by Ronni Ancona. There’s also a murderous hitman hired by Ray to track down the girls, but seeing as there’s another seven episodes he’s going to take his sweet time doing it. I can see that the BBC are trying something new here with Sunday nights and I do applaud them with that. But at the same time there are so many plot-holes and too many characters. How these hapless girls managed to pull of such an elaborate double-cross remains a mystery because after the initial sting they become all quite whiny. Also why didn’t Mrs Meldrew’s money burn along with the girls’ when the pub went up in flames. The only other of the girls, apart from Ellie, who gets any screen time is Schoo (played by Early Doors’ Christine Bottomley who is clearly slumming it) who is pining after her no-good lover and making moves on the extremely young bar assistant Ronan. Meanwhile the very talented Sian Reeves has to fret in the background as ‘hands’ and the other girl doesn’t even get to do that. Basically a vehicle for the somewhat overrated Kingtson, Hope Floats isn’t giving me much hope that it will float around for much longer. I say bring back Kingdom.

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And as luck would have it Kingdom also returned for a third series, but this time not focusing on any central mystery. We are given the idea that the Kingdom family mysteries are buried for ever as Simon Kingdom, brother of Stephen Fry’s Peter, is ACTUALLY dead now. If the one-dimensional locals of Hope Floats want to see how to do colourful Sunday night characters probably they need to have a look at Kingdom and its calibre of actor. We have Tony Slattery and John Thompson as locals, Celia Imrie as Peter’s secretary, Hermonie Norris as his sister and Peter Sallis as Imrie’s dad. In fact this week’s obligatory comedy storyline focused on Sallis’ refusal to let June Whitfield through his lock (nothing dirty about this at all). But it all ended good after he let her through once she and her son had saved his life. But there were two more serious storylines this week as an Iraq war solider wanted back in the force despite having lost a leg and an eye. While his live-in partner wanted to join another arm of the army. It turned out that these two people weren’t lovers but were connected by the girl’s partner who hadn’t survived the blast that had left the solider with one leg. The brilliance of the show is to not let it get too heavy, while at the same time focusing on the issues of war and grief. As I mentioned before the colourful characters provide the backdrop (although Hermione Norris is criminally underused only being on hand to be incredibly horny at points) and there’s also the Norfolk countryside to marvel at. Kingdom will never win any awards but it will never offend and as long as Fry and the gang want to participate I’m guessing it will run and run and run.

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If you watch an adaptation of a book you’ve read and enjoyed then you are always going to criticise it in some way. Stephen Frears got it right when he adapted High Fidelity and moved it from London to Chicago and the adaptation of About a Boy was also successful albeit having a completely different ending from the book. This week ITV1 started adapting John O’Farrel’s May Contain Nuts a book I read and enjoyed about four or five years ago. It concerns a family who move into a very posh neighbourhood and Alice, the mother gets taken in by a boisterous woman by the name of Ffion who immediately gets Alice agitated about her abilities as a mother and in particular getting her daughter Ellie into a prestigious girl’s grammar school. Because Ellie hasn’t been coached like some of these more spoilt children she does appallingly badly at a practise exam. So Alice decides to sit the test for her and dress up as an ugly eleven year old girl so she will fly under the radar. It would be ludicrous normally to find a thirty-something actress to play a young girl but not if you’re Shirley Henderson. Those who watch the Harry Potter films will recognise Henderson best as Moaning Myrtle a role she plays quite easily and as ‘Ellie’ she has very little to say. Although as a worried mum, Henderson doesn’t seem to be that bothered half the time and at times finds it hard pulling off the role. Meanwhile Elizabeth Berrington fairs better as the monstrous Ffion and Sophie Thompson also shines as another mum in the pack. The main problem with this is that ITV1 haven’t only given it two slots so often it feels awfully rushed, the fact that Alice decides to sit the test for her daughter after the third break and by the is sitting it made it feel so quick. If the product had been allowed time to breath and given at least one more episode then I might feel different about the adaptation but I found it a rather rushed attempt to adapt a very good book.

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And we’ll end this week with the very oddly title Krod Mandoon and The Flaming Sword of Fire. It is a co-production between the BBC and the U.S. channel Comedy Central which airs the great South Park as well as some other shows. Mandoon is a sort of adventure spoof in the vein of The Princess Bride. In it ex-Eastender Sean Maguire plays Mandoon kind of an American action hero but in this case a rebellion leader with a small group of followers. These include his troll-like manservant, an African-American wizard who actually can’t do any tricks and his girlfriend who is a Pagan which means she can sleep with other men. Mandoon tries to rescue his mentor Arcadius (played by Ashes to Ashes’ Super Mac) but during the prison break Arcadius is killed and Mandoon is stuck with another member to his gang, Arcadius’ gay lover that he met in prison. As the gang disbands, Mandoon is almost killed several times by assassins set by the baddie of the piece the evil politician Donglor played with glee by Lucas, who gets the lion’s share of the great lines in this piece.

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The show opened to mix reviews in the states but the humour is much more British and therefore enjoyable. Mandoon is a hero obsessed with image and PR and saving the day comes as a second priority. People questioned Maguire’s use of an American accent when this is a predominantly British cast but I’m guessing it’s a send-up of the old American films where if the baddie is British then the good guy has to be American. Anyway Maguire is quite an adept comic actor and has to be the straight man here to an array of colourful characters. Of course its Lucas that steals the show with his campery and he relishes playing the villain as is seen where he gets to finish off various villagers. There is a sense of Monty Python in some of the scenes especially where Donglor threatens to kill a villager every minute and someone questions the concept of telling the time. There are a few dodgy gags, especially to do with the prison’s horse raper who is called Hortz Draper and Mandoon’s girlfriend’s jokes about her sexual promiscuity are a little broad. But overall Drog Mandoon is one of the most refreshing comedies of the year and I’m looking forward to watching more of it.

Next Time: Occupation, The Price of Life and Psychoville

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