OK so it’s into autumn now with another historical week in TV
I don’t know if I’m the only one who’s a little bit tired of lazy Channel 4 programming where they go undercover and ‘discover’ ‘reveal’ ‘uncover’ or ‘divulge’ shocking secrets about our police force or hospitals or most recently sex criminals. While I’m sure the results are shocking and horrifying I want the Channel 4 back that bought us some of the biggest dramas of all time. Luckily the channel took a step in the right direction with I Am Slave, an excellent dramatic account about a girl named Malia from the Nuba Mountains who snatched during a raid on her town and sold into slavery, it was also a bizarre choice for a Bank Holiday Monday screening. The drama started with Malia’s arrival to stay with a family in London, at first you thought she was a new servant but when she tried to escape and then had her passport taken off her by the lady of the house it was obvious that something bigger was happening. The drama then journeyed back to a 12 year old Malia as she lived a happy existence with her father in their small camp before she was captured and sold to a Sudanese woman. From there the drama flicked back and forth between the Sudan scenes and the London scenes featuring the cruelty Malia suffered at the hands of both women, who were cousins, including physical and emotional torment. Also we saw the struggle of Malia’s father who spent six years trying to find her and almost caught up with her just before she left Sudan. Malia gets some of her confidence back when she strikes up a friendship with the London family’s chauffer but he’s reluctant to help her. Thankfully the story had a happy ending of sorts as Malia was rescued by some of her countrymen and got in touch with her father in the first time in six years. Obviously I Am Slave made a very real and harsh point about the fact that there are over 12,000 slaves living in the U.K. today. This was incredibly well presented drama and had a great script written by Jeremy Brock, co-writer of The Last King of Scotland, which was incredibly simple but thought-provoking using minimal dialogue for maximum effect. However the star of the show was Wunmi Mosaku who bought Malia to life with her big, sad eyes and warm personality she made you care for this girl who, by no fault of her own, had to deal with terrible hardship. Not always an easy watch, I Am Slave is the quality drama that one of our best channels should be producing on a regular basis. The real tragedy is though that the U.K. Film Council were heavily involved in making it and we all now what’s happened to them.
Over the summer BBC3 had provided us with some fairly interesting and original comedy programmes such as Mongrels and Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show, which differed from the normal crappy sitcom that the channel usually produces. I think they wanted to continue that trend with The King Is Dead a wannabe Shooting Stars programme in which the speccy one from The InBetweeners tries to find a replacement for various high profile jobs e.g. the king, Santa Claus or in episode one the President of America. Aided by Tim’s girlfriend from Not Going out and Nick Mohammed who seems to have appeared in most of BB3′s programmes, Bird picks three fairly ubiquitous celebs to audition for the job. The first episode saw Sarah Beeney, James Corden and Peaches Geldof all apply for the job. It was interesting to see how all three were reacting throughout as this seemed like a show where the contestants needed to play along. Beeney seemed like she really didn’t want to be there at first but seemed to lighten up as the show went on, Corden tried to play along laughing boyishly at most of the horrible jokes while Geldof just sit there looking bemused and being sarcastic. The programme did seem to have a points-based element to it but it was fairly irrelevant as were the rounds – ‘is this a line from Predators or from the girl’s screenplay’ or ‘can James Corden survive being crushed by Mohammed dressed as a vending machine’. The insulting jokes weren’t that funny taking pot shots at Peaches’ name or Corden basically being a new Ricky Gervais just felt tired and uninspired and almost slightly embarrassing. The final round saw Beeny and Corden try to kiss as many toy babies as they could in a minute, a sight that would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. I really did want to like The King Is Dead but it felt to me like a low-rent Shooting Stars but there didn’t seem to be a surreal side to it. Instead it mixed old jokes, so-called satire and a fairly talented comic cast slumming themselves with poor lines, which they mostly wrote themselves. It was an admirable try for BBC3 to try something like this but I believe they have to go back to the drawing board.
Two programmes that have been on the air for ages came to an end this past week, first up is The Bill a programme that may have been cancelled because of its lack of relevance. While the Americans are gasping that Law and Order had run for an enormous 20 seasons, we can boast that The Bill has been on our screens just a little longer than I’ve been alive, okay so were both first given life in 1983. When it started The Bill was a fairly revolutionary programme depicting reality on the beat with the Sun Hill coppers. However in 2010 we can see real life coppers on the internet, on 24 hour news channels and Police, Camera, Action type shows. The show kept getting new formats being given a post-watershed slot, reduced to an hour and finally cancelled it reminded me of what happened to Brookside in the early 2000s. Unlike the Scouse soap, The Bill didn’t feature a massive evacuation of the set or one of the character’s moaning about how crap T.V. was the year the programme finished. Instead the double episode entitled ‘Respect’ dealt with the coppers trying to rumble a gang on a run-down estate after a murder and the gang rape of a teenage girl who at first wouldn’t admit to it as she was scared what the gang would do to her. As someone who hadn’t watched The Bill since they had the two sets of copper feet walking down the street I was astounded to see how much it had changed. It almost felt like an American cop show in the way it was filmed and the subject matter however most of the young actors didn’t have the realism to them and something didn’t quite fit. At the end of the day the bad guys were arrested and The Bill’s longest-serving current character Jack Meadows gave a press conference where he cited the word Respect in terms of gang culture it meant stabbing a man or raping a girl but to him it meant the work that the police officers put in every day and what they had to go through. I thought this was a nice little speech which praised both the fictional show and its characters as well as standard everyday plods. The cameras then tracked the characters as we each one got a last hurrah as we followed two PCs off to the pub as they passed other coppers who were just clocking off or still on the job. For trivia fans the last ever line on The Bill was ‘so are we going for that drink?’ however after that talking was over the camera panned to the front of the Police Station as Meadows stood in front of it. This reminded me a lot of the ER finale which was a celebration of the doctors but also gave a ‘life goes on’ kind of feel to it, however none of the old characters came back for The Bill finale. And it’s the old characters that I’ll remember June Ackland (now better known as LaRoux’s mum), Tony Stamp, Reg Hollis, Tosh Lines, Jack Burnside and the fellah who does those Injury Lawyers ads, all will stand out as classic Bill characters. But I suppose if new drama is to flourish then maybe some of these continuing dramas must be cleared out of the way, however I do suspect that The Bill will instead be replaced by a police documentary series which costs a fraction of the price to produce.
However The Bill is a sprightly spring chicken when compared to another show that finished its run this week, that being Last of The Summer Wine which is a whole ten years older. Like The Bill, I haven’t watched Last of The Summer Wine in ages but unlike The Bill it really hasn’t changed at all. Obviously with its cast of old timers inevitably a few of the cast members have tragically left us most famously Bill ‘Compo’ Owen and Dame Thora Hird. But others such as Howard, Marina, Pearl, Barry and Glenda and Hilda Ogden from Corrie are all still present. However the star of the show through all 37 years has been Peter Sallis’ Clegg, who seems to have little to do in the final episode other than complain about mothballs. The premise for the final episode is that all of the central characters are getting ready for a wedding of two friends however we never see the bride or groom instead all of them are worried about the women in their lives. Howard and Pearl have split up but luckily he gets her back in possibly the episode’s sweetest scene while there are mistaken identity cases and a lot physical comedy. The programme has oft been called the last refuge of the elder actor and I have to say that the cast is full of familiar faces – Brian ‘George and Mildred’ Murphy, Frank Thornton, Russ Abbot, Trevor Bannister, Burt Kwouk and even Mick Johnson from Brookie are all here. In the end the wedding doesn’t go ahead so all of the characters head off in a bus driven by a partially sighted man in order to get to the reception, however I felt myself thinking that this may have been a metaphor and they were driving off our screens for good. Even though he had few lines in the episode, Sallis was afforded the last line ‘did I forget to the lock door?’ which was strangely significant. I’m not sure why Last of The Summer Wine was cancelled, it’d probably run its course but then this had happened ages ago. It did have an audience of more mature viewers who liked gentle humour post-Songs of Praise on a Sunday afternoon. To be fair the gags weren’t great but would it have really made a difference one way or another? Anyway its sad to see a British institution like Last of The Summer Wine come to an end so lets say farewell.