Another week has ended so that means it must be time to talk about the TV shows that populated it.
First up we are back in Barry and Billericy for the third and final series of Gavin and Stacey. Unlike other comedy series this one hasn’t outstayed its welcome but writers and stars Ruth ‘Nessa’ Jones and James ‘Smithy’ Corden have decided that this has to be the final series. In the same way that Fawlty Towers and the U.K. Office bowed out before it became stale and The Royle Family only pops up in specials form so too have Corden and Jones. In reality there’s not much more they can do after the pair got married in Series One and almost separated in Series Two after Stacey became almost manic-depressive and but massive demands on Gavin. Meanwhile Stacey’s best friend Nessa got pregnant by Gav’s mate Smithy and the two had a baby at the end of Series Two. During the Christmas special it was revealed that Gavin and Stacey were moving back to stay with Stace’s mum Gwen in Barry as Gav had got a new job in Cardiff meanwhile Nessa got engaged to new boyfriend Dave much to Smithy’s chagrin. Which leads us up to the first episode in Series Three in which Gavin starts his new job in Wales and has to come to terms with his new cultural surroundings. This included some very funny segments in which he mistakes the seven-aside team he’s been asked to join and is bemused by the Welsh language TV. Meanwhile Gav’s mum Pam along with Smithy have become depressed at Gavin’s departure even though Smithy is now involved in building a new extension for Pam and Mick. The episode culminated in the baptism of Baby Neil which introduced Smithy’s mother the narcoleptic Kath played with great gusto by Pam Ferris along with Nessa’s father Neil an ex-con turned TV extra. At the end of the episode Nessa and Dave held an engagement party and Stacey essentially bullied Gav into having a baby.
There’s a lot to love about Gavin and Stacey there is an in-built warmth to the characters and each has their own sense of humour. Corden and Jones’ script always sparkles with wit and all the characters seem rounded. Of course it’s the supporting characters who get all the laughs. Although Nessa’s gags and catchphrases have become slightly stale there’s more of her human side approaching in her upcoming wedding to Dave and her feelings towards both Smithy and the baby Neil. Alison Steadman is also brilliant as Gavin’s mum Pam with her rendition of All That Jazz while Larry Lamb holds everything together as the dependable patriarch Mick. But it is Rob Brydon who is the scene-stealer of the show as Stacey’s Uncle Bryn. His rendition of Something Inside So Strong at Neil’s christening was absolutely hilarious. My one problem with the show now is that I find Stacey a little bit unlikeable. This stems from her unreasonable demands to Gav in the Second Series and the theme of the baby which will surely see her demand sex from him at every possible moment. The series will obviously end with Stacey finding out she’s pregnant and Dave and Nesssa breaking off their wedding because of Nessa and Smithy’s feelings for each other. Nevertheless there will be lots of laughs along the way until the series wraps up at the end of December. Although I predict this won’t be the end and I reckon there will be a special in Christmas of 2011.
Outside of Doctor Who, the BBC struggles to make good sci-fi/fantasy dramas. Last year we had the so-bad-its-good Bonekickers and the patchy Survivors. This year’s offering is somewhere in the middle of those two. Paradox is set somewhere in Manchester where DI Rebecca Flint is told by slightly creepy Scottish ‘space scientist’ Christian King that something bad is going to happen in 18 hours. On his big computer screen thing he gives her certain images – a coffee cup, a driving license, a road sign that will help and her team try and prevent the catastrophe. Flint is aided by two interchangeable policemen a black guy and a Scottish silver fox who she is having a bit of a thing with on the side. So basically most of the episode sees the police running around or in King’s big computer room type thing looking suspiciously at him like he’s trying to do something. Meanwhile we – the audience, know exactly what’s going on and what’s going to happen as we follow the secondary characters – a family on the brink of bankruptcy and a couple embarking on an internet romance. So when the event itself actually happens it’s kind of a shouting-at-the-screen moment as the police try incompetently to stop the train crashing into the oil tanker. There are some things to like about Paradox, it does try for one to make a coherent story. Emun Elliot does deliver quite a good performance as the creepy scientist meanwhile Tasmin Oulthwaite again gives us her – gritty woman trying to live in a man’s world performance that we’re used to from her by now. Also it will be interesting to see how the series develops as King tries to figure out what is triggering the Paradox thing. At points though I found the acting a little dodgy and the writing a little thin on the ground in terms of character development, the other two police officers are neither here nor there and the incidental music is entirely off putting. In other words Paradox is never going to be a massive hit but at the same time it’s a good try at something a bit different.
After last week’s biopic of Enid Blyton starring Helena Bonham Carter, BBC4 brings us another biopic this time of wartime sweetheart Gracie Fields and her relationship with her Italian manager turned husband Monty Banks. Gracie! starred Jane Horrocks reprising some of the songs that she belted out in Little Voice. The period in which Gracie! was set was at the start of the Second World War so exactly at the same time as last week’s Enid. Unusually for a biopic there was not a constant attack on the subject. Instead Gracie was presented as an innocent somewhat naive soul who just wanted to entertain everyone she met. Fields was already a star at the outbreak of war and everyone loved her films. But at the time of the war she was forced to go to Canada so her husband could be spared prison. Gracie was then booed off stage for being a traitor to the war effort just because she married an Italian even though he himself was a star in America before the advent of sound in cinema meant that he couldn’t hide his Italian accent any more. Gracie then was a victim of circumstance more than anything else and a loyal wife even though just after the period of time that the biopic covered her husband died of cancer. Of course Horrocks was the star of the show her Gracie was brilliant portraying triumph over adversity and showing great poise during the heartbreaking scene where she is booed off the stage in the States. Meanwhile Tom Hollander did the best with an Italian accent and a thankless role as the Italian husband. A rarity of a biopic in that it was mostly joyous and Gracie wasn’t that screwed up, good on BBC4 for presenting a figure who was normal to the bitter end.
Two offerings from Channel 4 to finish off now firstly the comedy-drama Cast-Offs which reverts back to the Channel 4 of old which promised to give us ground-breaking T.V. Somehow the channel has lost its way getting bogged down in Big Brother hogwash but now we are given a programme which is almost exclusively cast by differently abled actors. There is blind Tom, Will who is affected by small limbs, April who has cherubism, deaf Gabriella, Carrie who has dwarfism and wheelchair-bound Dan. These six are marooned on a deserted island for six months and have to cope on their own with only each other for company. In a Skins-esque move each of them is given one episode in which the cameras follow them in their last year before they come to the island. We first follow Dan as the details of his accident are given and we see him trying to deal with how to cope with dating in his wheelchair as well as a slightly creepy moment with his wheelchair basketball teammates who try to get him to gay up with them. These moments aren’t as interesting as the island moments where Danand Carrie become friends and Tom annoys the hell out of everyone. Cast-offs is the first show in recent memory to give us a portrayal of disabled people that focus on the people first rather than the disabilities. The characters in the show are generally like the rest of us some are quite annoying others sympathetic and all of them very real. Having disabled actors on TV gives them the exposure they need. The one thing that I don’t quite like is the backstory segments certainly Dan’s story was a bit plodding and predictable maybe some of the others have better backstories and the show will improve. But good for Channel 4 for having a go at putting disabled actors on the TV and giving them a show like this.
Finally the latest in the Comedy Showcase series of pilots for future shows sees a comedy wishlist cast in a show that has to get a full series mainly because it won’t work otherwise. Arrested Development’s David ‘Tobias Funke’ Cross stars as Todd Margaret a temp in a power drink company who is sent to London by the powerful new boss (fellow Arrested Development star Will ‘Gob’ Arnett) who thinks he is aggressive after hearing him responding to a self-confidence tape. Once in London Margaret’s luggage is destroyed by an anti-terrorist squad who think it is a bomb and then is given an empty office in which to sell his power drink from with only a hapless cockney played by the always brilliant Russell Tovey for company. Of course Margaret’s attempts to sell the drink always end up in chaos either being punched in a pub or overdosing on his product and making a fool of himself in a cafe. The cast also includes Pulling’s Sharon Horgan as a waitress who takes pity on Margaret and is destined to be a sort of love interest if the show gets a series. We know that something goes wrong though because the start of the programme is a list of offences being read out as Todd Margaret is on trial. The show also featured some random cameos from Brit comic John Bishop, Amber Tamblyn and a blink and you really will miss it Kristen Schaal who had no lines whatsoever. This show is obviously going to get a series or most of it won’t make any sense at all with a great American cast of Arrested Development alumni as well as two of Britain’s finest talents in Tovey and Horgan (who needs a bigger role though) this is the best of the Comedy Showcase bunch thus far.
Next Time: The Queen and Big Top