Welcome to this the second full week of TV in 2010.
And to ITV1 we go for two new glitzy glamorous celebrity-centric telephone voting contests. First off the umpteenth series of Dancing on Ice. When it first started it attracted big names such as Dame Kelly Holmes and David Seaman who were way above the ‘celebrities’ that these kind of shows usually attracts. Now on this series the judges are more recognisable than most of the contestants certainly the ‘nasty one’ Aussie Jason Gardiner who is now bizarrely the fashion expert on This Morning. Amidst all the skaters on the panel there is also a new judge – Emma Bunton yes Baby Spice has gone the way of Cheryl Cole, Aleesha Dixon and Louise and is now offering friendly advice to TV nobodies. The first week saw all the women skate and the big news was that Heather Mills was on the show. Yes famous one-legged supposed gold-digger ex-Beatle wife Ms. Mills has already taken a stab at normal dancing on Dancing with the Stars she is now lacing up her boots and connecting her new leg to get on the ice. Actually Mills wasn’t too bad and didn’t rely on her partner constantly throughout the routine. Continuing the theme of female contestants who have lost body-parts, septum-busting sometime soapstar Daniella Westbrook continues her return by performing quite well and opening the show. Westbrook is having a renaissance of sorts after a recent return to the square let’s just hope that she was only attracted to the show when she heard it had something to do with snow. The favourite among the females at the moment has to be Hayley Tammaden apparently from Emmerdale, her male skating partner is an old childhood friend which screams of fix and she seemed like a natural on the ice, almost too good as the judging scores seemed to indicate. It also seems on celeb shows that it is now enough to be married to or have slept with a celeb to be one yourself just look at Alex Reid and that small blonde creature on Celebrity Big Brother or Jo Wood on Strictly. Continuing the trend then is Tana Ramsay, Gordon’s wife who is billed as a ‘cookbook author’ rather than ‘Gordon’s wife’.
Rounding off the bill are some familiar names and some you won’t recognise at all. For example everyone knows olympic swimmer Sharon Davies who I thought was quite accomplished but the judges didn’t agree. While everyone probably knows Sinitta mainly as her work as Simon’s sidekick on X-Factor where she dressed up as a vine tree last year, it’s a wonder Sinitta came back to celebrity reality shows after failing to balance on a ball in Sky’s Cirque de Celebrite. And finally we find Emily Atack, no, no-one, well apparently she has a small role in The Inbetweeners, a sitcom I can’t stand but everyone else seems to deeply admire. But she is really on the show because the producers want to see sparks fly between her and Heather Mills as she is related to Paul McCartney something none of us care about. Even though she was a dreadful and nervous dancer she was saved and Sinitta who was mid-table got eliminated after stumbling over her dance-off number. Of the girls it seemed that only Tammaden and possibly Westbrook posed a threat. The male dancers may fare better as there is a young soap related trio of former Corrie boy Danny Young, Ste from Hollyoaks and Hollyoaks and Bill alumni Gary Lucy while Boyzone’s Mikey Graham may also fare well. The final line-up is rounded off by Holby’s Jeremy Sheffield and Dr. Hilary Jones and Bobby Davro who will surely be competing for the Todd Carty/Andi Peters award. For me Dancing on Ice has lost its charm, stars aren’t as eager to appear on it as it doesn’t pay as well and there is more risk of injury. I have a feeling, depending on the viewing figures, this may be its last series even though ITV1 consistently plug it, if there aren’t enough contestants we know and therefore care about what’s the use in watching?
Maybe a more watchable option, for curiosity if nothing else, is Popstar to Operastar the 3rd channel’s latest attempt to get celebrities out of their comfort zone. Hosted by the odd duo of Mylene ‘will do anything for a couple of quid’ Klass and Alan ‘I miss gardening programmes’ Titchmarsh eight people from the world of music are trained to sing opera by Force’s Sweetheart Katherine Jenkins and some floppy haired Italian called Rolando. As you would expect there’s a mix of current stars and forgotten favourites. The big draw has to be Danny from McFly, being from what is essentially a boyband, his voice isn’t exactly trained for the opera but he gives it a fairly good stab. Vanessa from The Saturdays is the other name that will attract younger viewers, but, as one of the poorer contestants won’t last very long. Kym Marsh is also a big name but now best known for her acting rather than singing it seems odd that she would go back to her routes for a sort of reality show when she’s doing so well on Corrie. Popstars of the past are also represented well ‘Not-so Little’ Jimmy Osmond gives opera a good stab while Bernie Nolan may be the dark horse of the competition. The two favourites of the competition, for me, are Darius, who is no stranger to ITV1 competition shows, who has a big booming voice and plenty of conviction belting out ‘Nessun Dorma’ in week one. While Marcella Detroit of Shakespeare’s Sister ‘fame’ gives the best female vocal. The final name is the oddest booking Blur’s Alex James, who is a bass player and not a singer, James is someone who often crops up on these types of shows already turning his hand as a celebrity conductor (orchestras not buses) and on the celebrity jury. It’s no surprise then that he left the show at week one. Katherine and Rolando also double up as members of possibly TV’s oddest judging panel alongside Rock fuddy-duddy and all round eccentric Meat Loaf and interior designer and opera connoisseur Lawrence Llwelyn Bowen. This is a unique panel as they offer constructive advice and constant praise and are very entertaining without annoying. Popstar to Operastar is entertaining for a number of reasons firstly its very unique if it manages to convert only a few people who have turned in to see Danny from McFly into opera fans then it will have done its job. The production value is also superior to Dancing on Ice’s, the show has its own orchestra and a pretty fancy set, Titchmarsh is a very subdued and kind host which makes a change from shouty people and even though Klass is very over-exposed she has been tamed down a bit on this show. One criticism I would have is that the whooping, shouting and booing audience don’t fit in with the tone of the programme. They’re fine for an X-Factor type programme but here it feels that it lets the overall tone of the show down. But overall I think the show is original and is doing a lot more to promote opera on TV than anything on BBC4.
The success of Hotel Babylon continues to baffle me the light-on-drama guest star laden show has been running on the beeb for ages now. So it’s no surprise that we have a second show from its creators and this time it focuses on the world of fashion. Material Girl sees Sugar Rush and Being Human actress Lenora Crichlow as budding fashion designer Allie who, when the show begins, is working for the outrageous and appalling Davina a lighter version of the character Meryl Streep portrayed in The Devil Wears Prada. Allie quickly tires of Davina’s demands and after she is passed over for the post of head-designer she decides to strike out on her own. Being blacklisted by a gay fashion journalist after he questionably propositioned her for some bizarre sexual act she is pursued by a philandering businessman and soon is working with him. The rest of the story was a bizarre race to dress an actress played by Izzy from Hollyoaks while Allie instead wanted to dress the woman that the film that Izzy starred in was based on. I’m guessing this was all about what is real and that we should be celebrating inner-beauty rather than superficiality. Allie also had time to date a very wooden Craig David look-alike who she had met bowling. Material Girl is just what is says on the tin, not knowing much about the fashion industry I can’t comment on the subject matter but I’m sure its very exaggerated. What I do know about is good TV and that’s definitely not what this is, instead it has guilty pleasure written all over it. Dervla Kirwin is the undoubted star of the piece hamming it up big style as Davina in the meantime I’m wondering why Critchlow would do this she has lost a lot of the credibility she built up in her other shows but I’m assuming she’s looking for prime time recognition. Overall while it’s not going to win any awards, Material Girl definitely is carrying the baton for Hotel Babylon fans and it doesn’t have to rely on trendy guest stars to do it.
Some sitcoms just appear from nowhere and are so funny you wonder how on Earth the writers are able to create such a great piece of work meanwhile a lot more sitcoms are created in a predictable way with generic characters and an even more generic setting. Unfortunately BBC2′s The Persuasionists falls into the latter category. The setting: an advertising agency. The characters: a nervous guy, a bitchy neurotic girl, a weird foreigner, a shouty boss and the normal sarcastic one. Set in the agency H,H,H and H the big name attached is Adam Buxton who plays Greg the guy who isn’t suited for advertising but is forced to sell ideas from the world’s worst advertising guy the seemingly normal Billy. Meanwhile there’s Simon Farnaby’s comedy foreigner Keaton who’s always trying something to woo the girls and Daisy Haggard as Emma is the bitchy gossip who at the same time denies being bitchy and a gossip. Worst of all is Australian boss Clive, who is played by Jarred Christmas most famous for his constant appearances on Big Brother’s Big Mouth as well as advertising pot noodles. Constantly shouting and spouting unbelievably unfunny lines, Christmas is certainly no actor nor in fact is he very funny and while I quite like Ian Lee he is also no actor and brings very little to the character of Billy. It’s a shame that Buxton hasn’t been given a better cast and material to work with because he is normally very funny. But the plot of the first episode involving selling cockney cheese was only funny for its creator Cockeny Jim played by the guy who’s currently buried under the tree in the square in Eastenders. Already shunned to a graveyard slot there’s no chance that The Persuasionists can persuade us to take them seriously or find them funny.
Two impressive documentaries to finish the first is The British Family. This four part series looks at how the notion of family changed throughout the second half of the 20th century. Episode one looked at the couples who were married during the war and then weren’t sure how to carry on when the war finished. Host Kirsty Young met the couples who were so young when they married that they were yet to have sex or know how to keep a house during the ensuing decades. She also looked at the courses that wives were offered and also the sexual problems that these couples had. The final part of the first episode looked at how married couples couldn’t get divorced at the time and couples often had babies out of wedlock because of the laws at the time. Young was a brilliant host, opening up her own experiences being a child of divorce and herself a divorcee. It’s refreshing to see a documentary that is so frank with its subject matter and at the same time is completely informative. Showing the way that politics and government effected the way that families behaved later episodes focused on money and sex in the latter decades of the 20th century. Possibly the best documentary of the year so far, the BBC certainly is onto a winner if it focuses on real life issues in an interesting and thought-provoking way.
Channel 4′s Indian Summer season has been hit-and-miss, quickly cobbling together a lot of programmes to show around the premiere of Slumdog Millionaire. While Gordon Ramsay cooked in India and we had The Secret ‘Slumdog’ Millionaire (see what they did there) one man actually provided us with some interesting programming. That man was Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud who journeyed to the slums of India. Before you ask, no, he wasn’t commenting on the design of the slums but instead seeing if we as Brits can learn anything from the way these Indians live. And he did learn to an extent yes we did. The Indian families on the whole were a lot more hospitable than most British families are one family are able to accommodate Kevin despite already having 23 people living in their small rooms. We saw people packed into rooms four sharing a room, McCloud learning at one point that intimacy was only achieved if a couple decided to book a hotel. On the other hand McCloud also looked into the awful conditions that those that lived in the slums had to endure – the rats, the sewage pipes, the heat. Initially sceptical about the slum lifestyle, McCloud became quite enraptured with it and was impressed by the way the inhabitants enjoyed their work and were enthusiastic compared to most Brits. This was another eye-opening portrayal of Indian culture and McCloud was a brilliant guide. Never patronising or overblown he never let his character come before the subject of the slums. A very good programme and one that at least justifies the ‘Indian Winter’ season.
Next Time: The National TV Awards and The TV Book Club