Another week in TV so let’s get cracking.
Starting off with the programme that Channel 4 had touted as ‘a new reality’ in a kind of sly dig at the end of Big Brother. Seven Days is set around the hustle and bustle of various inhabitants of Notting Hill including two roommates, an ultra-gay hairdresser, an interior designer and her trainee daughter and a wannabe rapper. Channel 4 promoted this as a totally real programme untouched by over-production, as Big Brother was, and filmed only a few days before airing. This was completely evident as almost every character seemed to want to talk about George Michael’s arrest and the pope’s visit. We followed character’s life stories as one girl moved into Notting Hill with her friend and then they went shopping for French maid’s outfits, the interior designer was showing her daughter the tricks of the trade and the rappers were trying to get signed. Meanwhile there was young Asian Moktar who was just starting university and working at John Lewis at the same time and a group of obnoxious professional mothers talking about birthing tips. As advertised this was very much a televised slice of reality but what nobody realised that essentially reality is very dull. Taking a camera around an area and filming the inhabitants will always capture some interesting and funny moments but most of it will be inconsequential. There were a few engaging moments mainly featuring Moktar or the totally bizarre and outrageous property developer Malcolm but overall most of the characters were fairly odious and uninteresting. Channel Four also tried to make the show interactive by offering a ChatNav service where the characters could chat with us plebs and share their views on the programme. However this didn’t work as the application crashed almost as soon as the programme started. Seven Days evoked memories of the early docusoaps of the 1990s especially Paddington Green but the difference between the two is that the characters were given proper introductions and the whole thing was linked together by a voice-over and had an intriguing narrative something that Seven Days was severely lacking. It almost could’ve done with being like one of the U.S. shows like The Hills or The City which follow obnoxious people but still do quite well but those programmes orchestrate scenes for entertainment purposes which Seven Days didn’t do. Ultimately this was a good idea in practise but in execution everybody realised that the idea was very flat and a lot of people commenting online at the time were wishing that Big Brother was back.
Moving on to a bit of Sunday night ITV1 drama and the last drama written by the late Alan Plater who had written for some of the U.K.s best known dramas as well creating the brilliant Last of The Blonde Bombshells. Plater’s legacy was well protected by Joe Maddison’s War a gentle drama following Geordie shipbuilder Joe Maddison and his exploits during the Second World War. Maddison ends up joining the home guard along with his wise-cracking best mate and encounter a few troubles but as the title would suggest it was also about Maddison’s personal war as his wife leaves him at the beginning of the story and he ends up a little depressed until he begins a romance with a woman from the local co-op. Although the war element was dealt with to an extent especially through the story of Joe’s son-in-law it was mainly character based and looked at Joe’s personal dilemmas as his wife wanted him back towards the end of the programme. ITV1 went for the big guns as far as the casting was concerned and got Newcastle’s two most famous modern actors in Kevin Whately and Robson Green as Joe and his mate respectively there was also a small role for Derek Jacobi as the chemist and head of the home guard. Whately provided a well-rounded leading performance and something totally separate from the Lewis character that he has been playing for years now. In fact Joe was closer in tone to Neville, the character Whately played in Auf Wiedersen Pet, as he was soft and set in his ways and in a way the world had almost passed him by. Although the programme did touch on themes of faith and the reasons for war it never strayed far from its cosy Sunday night drama format and ended up with all the characters more or less happier than they were at the start. That’s not to say that Joe Maddison’s War wasn’t a satisfying watch and indeed it was a lot better than Albert’s Memorial the programme that ITV1 had put on the week before it just didn’t have anything particularly new to say. But as I’ve said before it was a fitting tribute to the kind of old-fashioned writing that was attributed to Plater and a good way to showcase his talents after his sad passing.
Now a drama with a bit of a modern edge and Excluded which followed the story of Ian a maths teacher who had just started his teaching career in a really awfully clichéd London comprehensive school where none of the kids wanted to learn maths. Although Ian did struggle to teach them how to figure out was the nth number was in a sequence eventually he got through to them and in particular the emotionally unstable Mark who had acted up for all his other teachers. As we saw from his home life Mark was the product of a broken home a dad who really didn’t want to know and a mum who was being cut off from falsely claiming disability benefits. The writers of the drama seemed to want to show us that Mark was acting out at school because of his tumultuous home life and in particular was clashing with the art teacher played by This is England’s Perry Benson and the other maths teacher played with gusto by Craig Parkinson. But the Excluded of the title didn’t just refer to Mark’s situation but to the school as whole as Amanda the headmistress was looking at transforming the comprehensive into a new academy and therefore excluding a lot of children from the neighbouring estates. Excluded excelled mainly because of its characters and in particular the relationship between Mark and Ian who bonded over Doctor Who and there hatred of The Phantom Menace. But there also seemed to be an over-emphasis on looking at the state of education and in particular a scene featuring Parkinson’s maths class in which the kids didn’t seem to be learning anything from him as Ian watched in disgust as he just got them to copy down the results. So all in all a nice little hour-long drama which worked in its story-telling but not in its social commentary.
The site does seem to be slipping into quite a political groove as of late but I suppose that’s inevitable in a general election year and to conclude this blog we have two programmes that both have a political edge. First of all it is the final of the trilogy of dramas that feature Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and are written by Peter Morgan. Following the Channel 4 one-off The Deal which looked at the supposed deal made between Blair and Gordon Brown and the Oscar winning The Queen which looked at Blair’s first week in power comes The Special Relationship which explores Blair’s relationship with Bill Clinton and was co-produced by the BBC and the U.S.’s HBO. HBO aired it first and it was actually up for some Emmys none of which it won which is a shame as it was very well put together and incredibly acted. The drama pinpointed the crucial moments in the titular relationship between Blair and Clinton notably Clinton’s re-election and Blair’s election victory and then the crisis in Northern Ireland, the Monica Lewinsky affair and the Sarajevo conflict. It was almost pinned as a game of one one-upmanship between Blair and Clinton as we had been told the former had modelled is political strategy on the latter and each tried to outdo each other. But the relationship was cemented when Blair stuck by Clinton during the Monica Lewisnky controversy and Blair ultimately became more popular than Clinton. However The Special Relationship ended on a sombre note as Clinton advised Blair not to get into bed with George W Bush and the last scene was a news clip of Bush and Blair together talking about Colgate toothpaste. This clip reminded me of the foreboding words of The Queen to Blair in the second part of the trilogy in which she told him that the people would turn against him one day and that did happen as the result of his forging of a relationship with Bush. As far as the performances went Sheen was again excellent as Blair a role he has more than perfected by now and he was joined again by Helen McCroy as Cherie who had a lot more to do here than she did in The Queen. Dennis Quaid was an inspired choice to play Clinton bringing both the presence and good humour that the man possessed. The only odd casting choice was Hope Davis who, despite being excellent and giving a really good portrayal of Hilary, just seemed a little young to portray the former first lady. Although there were some massive historical inaccuracies in the plot this didn’t really matter as it was very entertaining and thought-provoking throughout.
Something a bit more recent was More 4′s Miliband of Brothers which was aired two days before Ed just beat David to clinch the labour leadership. This was part drama and part talking head as various political figures with nothing better to do like Tony Benn and Oona King talked about their relationship with the the Milibands and the reason for their rivalry. The programme explored the days with their parents and in particular their radical father and followed both of them to Oxford before both joined the labour party one as Blair’s ally and the other as Brown’s. The parts of the programme that were dramatised were written by David Quantick a man best known for narrating series 3 and 4 of Coach Trip and appearing on the first ever Celebrity Come Dine with Me where he lost to Mica Paris and Ulrika Johnson. Quantick’s style is very satirical but in a slapdash way while at the same time being tongue in cheek so a lot of the scenes were very basic and farcical. I learnt a few things I didn’t know about the Milibands and the appearances by school and university friends of the brothers added a certain authority to proceedings but overall this just seemed to be 4′s attempt to stay a bit current and poke fun at the labour boys. And just to reiterate David Quantick is never ever going to be Peter Morgan.
Next Time: The Apprentice, Downton Abbey and Whites
What did you think of this week’s programmes? Leave a comment below