Trying to catch-up once again so it’s time to cover the first few weeks of a reality TV king.
As mentioned last time we’ve had a fairly political heavy year what with the general election and everything. Although I do pay attention to an extent when it comes to the world’s political matters the way the election affected me the most was that, because of Lord SirAlan Business Tsar Sugar’s involvement with the labour party, I had to wait till the autumn for the new series of The Apprentice to begin. Although the appetite was wetted slightly over the summer with the Junior Apprentice some of the younger candidates were actually fairly sensible but now with the return of the grown-ups it’s another series of idiots running round London like headless chickens. I can’t help but think that the series isn’t so much about business any more as it is in making professional types jump through hoops to appear on the T.V. whereas at one time we just saw the candidates selling edible goods in the first episode, now they have to make them themselves. Episode One saw the new breed of apprenti being greeted by the over-titled Amstrad maestro telling them that he didn’t want any steady Eddies or cautious Carols he then made them work through the night creating sausages. The girls team Apollo was led by the initially bland Joanna, who has since got into her stride as the series has progressed, they decided to go for gourmet sausages and target upper-class areas. The boys team, the ridiculously named Synergy, was led by former millionaire Dan Harris whose management style seemed to be to shout at the other blokes and swear constantly. Although the girls bickered constantly they won by a slight margin and shouty Dan was fired mainly thanks to posh-boy Raleigh who told Dan that he was shameful. The only problem was that in the first episode I felt that I hadn’t really got to know any of the candidates apart from young upstart Stuart who had described himself as a one-man brand and was totally obnoxious. Sugar bought him up on this and he has since disappeared into the background and other characters have become more prominent.
Week two saw more squabbling between the girls and one of them, Stella, join the boys after Raleigh’s unfortunate early exit to return home due to his soldier brother getting injured in Afghanistan. This was the always enjoyable invention task and this time Sugar, who was projected onto a giant T.V. screen, told them to create a beach product. I thought this was particularly hard task and, unlike previous invention tasks, I would have struggled to think of something myself.. I would probably have settled on something that would easily allow me to access wi-fi while sunbathing but I’m guessing that would be pushing it for the invention team. But even I would have laughed at Apollo’s final choice of something that you could rest your book on while relaxing but took a good hour to assemble. Stella and the boys came up with a better idea a towel with a top part which could be used to store bottles of water and baby food in they then gave it the worst name possible – the Cuuli. Although the bottles of water/suncream storage was bought up during the retail pitches I couldn’t help but think that the Cuuli would be best served by people trying to smuggle drugs through security. Again it was a close result which could’ve gone either way but Apollo’s fate was sealed when pretty but dumb project manager Laura, who had spent most of the episode crying, turned down an exclusivity order with Boots for some unknown reason. However Laura wasn’t fired and instead the dubious honour went to Joy who hadn’t really done much and that was reason enough for her ditching. In my opinion Laura should’ve gone but I know have a theory that because she was easy on the eye she was kept on. With Dan and Stella not being the most attractive candidates and the show now being filmed in HD Sugar seemed to have been advised to fire the ugly ones first.
The third week again saw the candidates being asked to produce food, this time it was baked goods and saw obnoxious food business owner Melissa take on doctor Shibby. At first it seemed as if Naomi’s inability to calculate simple sums would be her downfall she was assisted by Christopher who ran a successful bakery operation thanks in part to his military background. Meanwhile Shibby agreed to an order with a hotel that he couldn’t possibly fill for 1,900 products in the end only being able to give the unhappy hotel chef 16 items and suggesting that his hungry guests go on the Atkins diet for his faults Shibby had to pay the hotel £130 compensation. It seemed to me that, while the team couldn’t produce the full hotel order, that they could’ve done better than 16. The reason for this seemed to be down to the sulky Sandish who constantly clashed with Shibby and refused to do anything in the bakery and also struggled with the sales part of the task. Shibby was fired even though I felt that he did more than Laura did the week before and it should’ve been Sandeesh that went. Shibby’s firing seemed to be for two reasons, the first being that as a doctor he didn’t really need a career with Sugar and the second being that it allowed the big man to rock out some truly cringe-worthy medical related puns.
The characters of the contestants have started to come to the forefront there are the amusing such as outburst-prone Alex and the aforementioned Stewart. The annoying such as Melissa and Australian super-competitive Paloma. And those who have a good chance of winning who at the moment, based on the three tasks so far, seem like either Stella or Christopher. However the eventual winner isn’t remembered as much as the one who gets media success post-Apprentice. There is one every year Saira Khan, Ruth Badger, Katie Hopkins and Raef are all still around in one way or another and this year my money’s on Alex. But I’m often wrong last year I thought James would be find success after The Apprentice but in fact it was runner-up and former chip-shop worker Kate who had the dubious honour of appearing on Five’s rubbish Live From Studio Five which surprisingly has lasted a whole year! The other change is this is the first adult series to see Karen Brady replace Margaret Mountford as Sugar’s female aide. When she was part of the Junior programme she didn’t make much of an impact but she has been fairly prominent in this series after having a go at the girl’s team for showing businesswomen in a negative light. The main problem is that her short cut dresses mean that she is showing far too much leg and she also doesn’t have an amusing facial feature in the vein of Margaret’s eye-rolls or Nick’s open-mouthed horror.
On to higher-class of programme now and the latest in a long line of Sunday night costume dramas as we journey to Downton Abbey. The lavishly produced drama is written by Julian Fellowes who found success as a screenwriter after winning an Oscar for his work on Gosford Park. Downton Abbey follows along the same lines as Fellowes’ previous work as it follows the goings on at the titular residence from the point-of-view of both its upper-class inhabitants and its servants. Although it does pre-date Gosford Park and starts in 1912 and the day on which the sinking of the Titanic is announced. This directly affects the Earl of Grantham as the direct heir to the Abbey was on the vessel when it sank and therefore his daughter’s inheritance and his wife’s money are both at stake. The first two episodes look at the search for the heir the first is an obnoxious count who is secretly gay and conducting an affair with one of the servants. When he leaves Matthew Crawley arrives he is very different and snubs being waited on instead preferring to do things for himself meanwhile his mother rubs up the Earl’s elderly relative, the Dowager countess, the wrong way especially when she decides to start helping out at the family’s hospital. Meanwhile downstairs there is also a jostle for power and backstabbing among the servants with the introduction of Bates a new valet who walks with a walking stick and takes the job promised to footman Thomas. The acting is top-notch featuring some of Britain’s top talents both young and old in particular Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens, Siobhan Finneran, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan and Michelle Dockery. However the cherry on top of the cake is Dame Maggie Smith who excels in playing the snide Dowager Countess and her scenes in which she clashes with Penelope Wilton’s Isabel Crawley are probably the programme’s best. The main problem with Downton Abbey is that there are so many characters its difficult to know who everyone is, this is especially true of the downstairs staff who I still struggle to know by name. Despite this Downton Abbey is still one of the year’s best British dramas thanks to both the superb acting and sumptuous sets. The most surprising thing is that this all on ITV as they aren’t particularly known for their costume dramas and its also a wonder they could afford to pay all the money it obviously took to produce it as I assumed most of the third channel’s cash went into Simon Cowell’s back pocket. It is also seems a little too refined and classy to be shown on ITV but I’m happy to watch it whatever channel its on.
However ITV1 can’t always produce classy drama and its other offering recent offering, DCI Banks: Aftermath, certainly has the marking of the heavy-handed approach that ITV often use for their dramas. The story focuses on Stephen Tompkinson’s DCI Stuart Banks as he comes to the end of his investigation into the disappearance of five girls. The opening of the episode sees two police officers checking out a domestic dispute only to see the young wife half-beaten to death and the husband keeping the bodies of four of the five girls in his basement. The husband then kills the male police officer before the female police officer beats him leaving him in a coma and eventually leads to his death. The first programme looks at several strands of the story firstly Banks trying to find the fifth missing girl who wasn’t in the basement and also trying to fend off that girl’s father. The second sees the introduction of Annie Cabot an internal affairs officer who is looking into the female police officer’s attack on the kidnapper, Cabot and Banks initially clash but predictably almost end up kissing at the end of the episode. There is also flashbacks in which the couple’s neighbour recognises signs of abuse going on and tries to help out the wife but to no avail. I have to say I didn’t really feel that involved in the episode and that was mainly due to Stephen Tompkinson’s performance. I’m not knocking Tompkinson as he’s a fine actor and I loved him in Drop the Dead Donkey and have also seen him perform on the stage. However he struggles to play the grizzled, brow-beaten Banks who blames his divorce on his job and is determined to get to the bottom of the case. Instead he often looks scared and out-of-place in a case as severe of this and in most scenes I found him quite a weak presence. Apparently the story is adapted from one of the Banks novels of which there are many but fans of the books aren’t convinced with Tompkinson’s performance and I can see why. Overall this was very heavy-handed and predictable and I didn’t bother seeing it out to the end, there are plenty more Banks books but I doubt ITV will bother adapting any more of them.
Getting a bit more lighter now with Channel 4′s Wedding House. Wedding related programmes are nothing new and there seems to be an overflow of them recently with guilty pleasure hits such as BBC3′s Don’t Tell the Bride and Living’s Four Weddings there is even a whole channel on Sky Digital devoted entirely to weddings. Wedding House differs as it sees couples journey into what is described as a one-stop shop for weddings. So the couples are greeted by the down-to-earth registrar, an uber-camp wedding planner, a matronly dresser and a couple of characterless hair and make-up types. Each episode features four utterly ludicrous weddings and most of the couples seem to have a screw loose although it seems in most of the cases that it is the brides who have applied to be on the show and the grooms who have to like it or not get married. Each wedding follows a similar formula the couples meet the registrar, discuss their theme with the planner, get put into themed costumes by the dresser and get dolled up by the hair and make-up people. The themes seem to be fairly juvenile and include Alice in Wonderland and also a Dalmatian themed wedding with a bride who seems to care more about dogs than her groom and has a wedding party that includes six spotted-dogs. Although the Wedding House concept could seem like a tempting one to most couples there are also problems due to the rushed nature of the process. For example one groom gets distressed when he doesn’t get the exact trousers he wants and the couple eventually only get five minutes to get married. My favourite of the first four weddings was the final one which saw Barry and Delia, who met at an am-dram group, get a Moulin Rouge themed wedding. The wedding did feature plenty of red and lots of musicians but fortunately for the groom the bride wasn’t a prostitute and she didn’t die of consumption at the end of the wedding. But it was hilarious as Barry had to sing himself down the aisle crooning part of ‘Come What May’ from the film to then be joined by his future wife as they serenaded each other and competed to see which one was more out-of-tune. As am-dram members I thought their singing would be top-notch but I’m guessing their usually part of the chorus and never get the lead roles but Barry did tell us that he had been naked on stage, so it seems like a bit of risque company in the first place. Wedding House is a completely over-the-top and silly programme and that’s why it is so fricking enjoyable and why I hope Channel 4 renews it.
We now journey from a house to a cottage as Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall invites us back to River Cottage for his latest series – River Cottage Everyday. As the title suggests Hugh is introducing us to everyday recipes that can be produced from the natural ingredients that usually feature on River Cottage. However for most of the episode I watched, wish focused primarily on fish, Hugh was away from his beloved home and instead harassing a couple of pretty young female students into cooking fish. Hugh seemed to lurk around Exeter University and then pounce on the two girls and question them about their fish-eating habits only to find that they only consume chip-shop goods or the traditional student fare of fishfingers. From there he takes regular trips to their house to make sure they are cooking the fish correctly and whole thing ends with Hugh joining their student pals as the two girls cook them a Thai fish curry. Although this may sound a little creepy it really wasn’t but what was creepy was when Hugh seemingly took them from their cosy existence and made them learn how fish was caught and then gutted for us to eat it and then made them work identifying fish that had just been caught. He also took one of the girls to the edge of seaside cliff and force-fed her mussels I do know how much Hugh likes his food but this might be taking it a little far. Back at River Cottage, Hugh did show us a couple of recipes including a quick sardine dish and a fish-shaped jelly which seemed to get us back to normal. HF-W is possibly my favourite T.V. chef as he endeavours to show everyone where food comes from but I felt that his efforts with the female students was almost a step too far but this was still a very good show even if it is just a shameless plug for Hugh’s new book which is available just in time for Christmas.
Staying with the food theme we finish off this week with Whites a new chef-based sitcom for BBC2. Whites stars Alan Davies who, for the first time in ages, isn’t playing either a sarcastic magic-trick inventor or being ridiculed by Stephen Fry on QI. Instead he plays Roland White head chef at the restaurant at a country hotel who is more interested in trying to get a book published and sucking up to the hotel’s female owner than running the company. Roland’s sous chef, Bib, is then left to run the kitchen but he is under pressure from both his wife and the new kitchen-hand Scouse who seems intent on stealing Bib’s job. The humour of Whites is fairly subtle and Roland is a bit of ambiguous character not vile enough to be truly hated but at the same time isn’t very warm hearted to be liked. However there are some laugh-out-loud moments such as Roland discovering that he is trying to romance a girl with one-arm or lying about having a brother with Parkinson’s in order to pass a health inspection. I have to say why Roland is the anchor of the show the most likeable character is Bib, played by Green Wing’s Darren Boyd, whose wife is never seen but obviously controls his life and also wants him to provide her with a baby. The cast features a host of familiar faces including Peep Show’s Isie Suttie, Jam and Jerusalem’s Maggie Steed and Katherine Parkinson who has literally been in everything this year. I do really like Whites it does feature a mix of subtle character-based gags and some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments while it doesn’t have enough going for it to be a bone fide classic it’s still a step-up from most of T.V.’s recent comic offerings and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a second series.
The next blog will feature a cavlacade of shows and will include Scottish lesbians, Essex Girls, Single Fathers and 30 Minute Meals, I bet you’re already intrigued.
What did you think of this week’s programmes? Leave a comment below