Spooky goings on in this edition as we look back at a somewhat scary week.
First off is the Halloween Special of Psychoville, the programme that was one of my favourite programmes of last year. The Radio Times this week refused to put the programme’s characters on its cover but I have no problem making it my lead story. As fans will remember the last series ended with the revelation that all of the characters had some connection to the Ravenhill Psychiatric Hospital and were all involved in the death of the villainous Nurse Kenchington but it is the revealed that she is still alive and is after her locket that has been stolen. The hopsital was then blown up by Kenchington’s son Mr. Jolly and we discovered that Robert, who wasn’t at the hospital, was wearing the locket. The Halloween special sees flashbacks of the hospital as a young boy is dared by his friends to go in and steal something and he decides on the locket. Soon he is snatched by Kenchington and forced to look at the hospital and its inhabitants. In the present day we find the boy, Drew, now in his twenties and back at the hospital showing round a researcher who wants to make a Most Haunted-style show starring Dale Winton. Drew, Phil the Researcher and in flashback Kenchington all tell horror stories involving the main characters. So we have Mr. Jelly involved in a storyline with some trick-or-treaters, Joy killing and recycling her husband, Lomax finding a new toy and getting an eye transplant and Maureen and David getting involved with a serial killer. None of the stories actually relate to the main plot but they are entertaining nonetheless. As this is a Halloween special the stories are scarier and the deaths are heightened there are some really gruesome scenes and also some very haunting ones. The last five or so minutes of the programme went back to the plot again as it was revealed that Drew and Phil were actually in the hospital at the same time as the explosion and were also blown up. We then flicked to another scene involving a secret government base and Imelda Staunton as an agent who was after the locket as well. I think this satisfied most fans as it was a combination of the macabre humour that we are used to from Psychoville and also gave a little glimpse of where the second series would be leading. It reminded me a lot of The League of Gentlemen’s Christmas episode which similarly featured small stories all told to Bernadette the vicar. As well this was the only way they could really pull of a one-off special before the second series begins next year it gave us some of the mythology behind Ravenhill and it also gave us a lot more of Eileen Atkins hamming it up as Kengihington. I just can’t wait now till the next series to see what all the fuss is about with the locket.
Creepy goings on in the latest ITV1 drama entitled The Little House. The programme revolves around Ruth, a generic blonde primary school teacher who is married to the slightly sinister and very middle class Patrick. In the first few scenes we see the odd relationship that Patrick has with his parents and in particular his mother Elizabeth who still seems oddly attached to him. In the opening scenes of the drama Patrick’s parents buy him the titular little house which is just down the path from their home. Ruth refuses to live their until the couple go to America to find members of Ruth’s family, her parents having died in a car accident the details of which we find out about later on. When Patrick mentions that living near to his parents will mean built-in babysitters it’s not long until Ruth is up the duff after some rough sex with her husband in the ladies bathrooms of a posh restaurant. So Patrick and Ruth soon move into The Little House and eventually Ruth gives birth to a boy or as Elizabeth refers to him ‘our baby’. It’s obvious that Elizabeth wants Ruth out of the way and the best way is to try and prove her insanity. Soon the baby is living in the main house as Ruth starts to have visions of her mother and the accident that killed her. Elizabeth starts to get upset when Ruth goes off to the pub with her bearded colleague and soon an incident with a cigarette burn on the baby ends up with Ruth being carted off to a hospital with Elizabeth holding the baby. I know I do harp on a lot about ITV1 drama being a little over-the-top but The Little House made Whitechapel seem like Cracker. Every little sinister eye flicker or smile that Francesca Amis, as Elizabeth, made was accompanied by creepy gazumping music and weird camera angles. It was obvious from the second that babies were mentioned where this was going and in its second part it will continue to get barmier. Amis is by far the best thing in the drama as she does sinister middle-class madwoman very well indeed none of the other members of the cast even come close to touching her abilities. Like with Whitechapel, The Little House is completely barmy and it is also incredibly predictable but its still a fairly well-made piece of drama.
Also getting locked up are the drug dealers, prostitutes, thieves and general low-lives in Medway, Gillingham thanks to the Coppers. Coppers is Channel 4′s brand new documentary which, just like everything else on that channel, is described as ground-breaking. But in fact they did produce something similar last year called The Force which showed us the police investigating a high-profile murder. But Coppers is much more sedate and almost works like a very dark comedy, think BBC4′s Getting On but set inside a police station. As one of the coppers tells us that they only arrest the stupid criminals as the intelligent ones are two smart to get caught. We do find out some very interesting things such as what criminals get up to in their cells, one of the custody officers thinks that they get treated too well as they come round with food options and reading material. I also learned of the ‘Chatham Pocket’ which is code for the bottom but in particular when it is used to smuggle things in through the police station and one of the coppers tells us once that they found someone who had smuggled in two mobile phones and two charges in their Chatham Pocket, I have to wonder about what kind of reception they’d get up there. Although it wasn’t all jokes and confessions some of it was quite bleak and fairly sad when we were introduced to Carly a 31 year old who had been in and out of the cop station since she was a teenager. We heard from Carly’s granddad who had a photograph of a beautiful Carly behind him and then we saw what the drugs had done to her pretty face. Photographs actually played an important role in Coppers as we were shown the criminals photos from when they first came in to what they look like now so, for example, a 19 year old boy who’d been charged with theft had been coming in since he was 11. But the worst was left for last when we met Carly’s partner Danny MacIntosh was introduced having just been released from prison he had already been caught on CCTV stealing from a car. Danny (pictured) has completely been wrecked by drugs and it looks like his relationship with Carly is on the rocks after another man answers her phone but it seems that Danny has kept the other man’s T-Shirt as a memento. The message behind Coppers seems to be that criminals keep re-offending only if they’re on drugs, if its petty-theft and their not on drugs most believe they’ll grow out of it. As a programme Coppers was friendly, funny but bleak and heartbreaking the final shot was of Danny reciting a poem about his reputation and about how much he hates the police, Danny wants to be portrayed as a powerful man but in most of the documentary looks incredibly weak All in all a very good programme if not entirely ground-breaking.
A lot of people complain that youth based T.V isn’t what it used to be any more with CITV completely disappearing and CBBC focusing on high budget sci-fi fare there’s hardly any non-fiction programmes for the kids to sink their teeth into. But in my opinion that is because the ideals of the old children’s shows have found their way into prime time programming. First up is James May’s Man Lab which for me channels the spirit of Why Don’t You, a kids programme which tried to encourage youngsters to get up and start making things and to go outside and embrace life and was also contained within a big living space. James May also has a large living space – his man lab complete with lashings of fishfingers and chauvinism. May’s mission statement seemed to be to encourage the modern man to stop preening himself and instead learn how to wire a plug. However May didn’t actually teach us how to wire a plug but we did learn important lessons about making fishfinger sandwiches and polishing women’s boots. Throughout the show May was seen trying to diffuse an unexploded World War 2 bomb, another thing most modern men can’t do apparently. Now, while I realise that May is known for blowing things up on Top Gear the bomb segments didn’t really seem to fit in to the skills learning mission statement. May also seemed to want to do some comedy sketches and this involved him teaching a researcher how to serenade his crush with the ballads of Thomas Campion something that didn’t really work but was still quite amusing. Then there was the celebrity-based segment in which a male star tries to do something manly so first up was Alexander Armstrong who endeavoured to assemble some flat-pack furniture while being distracted by May and his buzzer which went off every time Armstrong supposedly made a schoolboy error. May is also joined by Sim a nerdy helper who seems to do all of the monkey work in the man lab and looks a bit like Moss from the I.T. Crowd but with slightly less extreme hair. Sim helps May construct a work top so he can make his fishfinger sandwiches and also construct a train-track that can deliver him bananas when in his office. Although May did demonstrate some practical skills a lot of it was him moaning on about what he doesn’t like about the modern world – parmesan shavings, the cult of celebrity, terracotta paint, moisturiser, colanders, couscous and risk assessment forms. I did find James May’s Man Lab strangely enjoyable, apart from the bomb segments which were just a bit random, everything else was done with a sense of boyish fun and good grace. Although May was a bit too grumpy for his own good occasionally the pace of the show meant that we never lingered on this aspect for very long. I think the programme sits very well in its Sunday night timeslot as it is the perfect thing just to switch your brain off and enjoy.
The second programme that channels old kid shows is more on the scientific aspects of How 2 and Tomorrow’s World and also features kids characters in Wallace and Gromit. Yes the Aardman animation duo are back however this time in Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention they are simply acting as hosts and introduce crazy inventions and real-life facts. We find do find Wallace and Gromit living in a lab which is wind-powered, however cheekily this means that they have tied up Kevin the Elephant and are making sure he farts regularly in order for their lab to be lit. The other segments are voiced by former Extras star Ashley Jensen, who obviously needs some money since all her U.S. sitcom work seems to have dried up. The running theme throughout the episode was inventions that were influenced or used because of members of the animal kingdom. So there were the clocks that were powered by flies and cameras that are used to photography fish. Best of all was crazy Swedish designer Theo Jensen who created massive skeletal animal sculptures which were reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s creations in his films of the 1960s. There was also a science expert called Mr. Jem who sauntered along the sea shore in a stupid flappy hat and Bermuda shorts to learn about homemade snorkels and how man could survive underwater. The whole thing was a little bit barmy and I had to wonder if it would work without the brand name of Wallace and Gromit behind it. While some of it was fairly interesting I never was blown away or wowed by what was going on but maybe I wasn’t the key demographic. If the show does teach youngsters about science and inventions and things like that then it’s doing a massive service as I believe these are things they need to know.
Tuesday night saw the final of Masterchef: The Professionals (for those who want to know the girl won) but that wasn’t the end of shouty bald judge Gregg Wallace as he immediately headed over to BBC1 to take part in their new time-travel experiment programme: Turn Back Time – The High Street. The general concept saw four sets of individuals take over four shops in Shepton Mallett high street a place that, as were led to believe, had become a bit of a ghost town. This had been blamed on internet shopping and out of town mega-stores tearing away consumers from the high street, damn them with their reasonable prices and convenient delivery times!!! Wallace’s role was head of ‘the chamber of commerce’ which also included a stern faced historian and a retail expert. Of course Wallace was a market trader so this was a neater fit than his Masterchef gig a programme which he only seems to be qualified to judge because he quite likes puddings. Wallace’s opening speech to the four would-be merchants was a bit like Debbie Allen’s ‘fame pays’ speech from Fame however he is yet to have a ‘COOKING DOESN’T GET TOUGHER THAN THIS’-esque catchphrase maybe something like ‘DONNING PERIOD CLOTHING AND TRYING TO MAKE A PROFIT BY SELLING VICTORIAN GOODS AND SERVICES DOESN’T GET TOUGHER THAN THIS’. Anyway the four merchants themselves were Simon a blacksmith who became the town’s ironmonger, Caroline and Nigel who were the town’s bakers, Andrew and Michael Sharp a father and son who took over the butchers and Carl who owns a deli and became the town’s grocer. The biggest struggle was in the bakery as Nigel, who is usually back-of-house had to do Caroline’s work of being the actual baker which meant that a lot of the bread was over-salted and inedible. Meanwhile Andrew wanted to show his son that being a butcher was a good thing, we were told that the Sharp’s had butchery in their families for generations (not in that way) but Andrew now had to teach butchery (but not in that way) since his business went under and because Michael had seen what had happened to his dad he know wanted to be a barrister, I was thinking maybe a little courthouse could’ve been set up in order for him to do inflict a little justice a la Garrow’s Law. Like all of these Edwardian/Victorian period shows there was early struggles but by the end all of them had got into their strides and the whole thing closed with a market in which everyone in Shepton Mallet seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Wallace and his fellow Chamber of Commerce members announced that everybody had made a profit and then reset their time machines as next week they will all be going forward a little bit to the Edwardian high street. Although the programme aimed to have some kind of comment about the economy and the loss of the independent business it mainly seemed to focus on ironmongery, sausage making and home-made tea. Plus two and half hours of Gregg Wallace is too much for even his mother to endure.
Sticking along the food related topic we have The Trip in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel round various small hotels so that Coogan can review their food. Coogan and Brydon play versions of themselves as they did in Michael Winterbottom’s A Cock and Bull Story, again Winterbottom directs them although this time things are a lot more calm and sedate. The basic set up is that Coogan has arranged these restaurant reviews in order to show his American girlfriend Mischa around the North of Britain however she has since returned to the States so Coogan begrudgingly asks Brydon to go with him. The majority of the programme is basically Steve and Rob talking and eating and doing impressions at each other. Although people seemed to enjoy the impressions in A Cock and Bull Story in The Trip these segments are very much extended especially one involved around what Michael Caine sounds like now. The programme also looks at the contrast between the two characters; Brydon is very much a family man and brings out his young baby and his wife to see Coogan as they leave. Steve on the other hand has children but is obviously separated from their mother and his relationship with Mischa seems to be failing mainly due to his jealousy over her spending time with other men. Coogan’s career obviously seems to be spiralling downwards as he refuses to do an episode of Doctor Who and telling his agent he wants to do movies. The Trip is funny in parts mainly down to Coogan and especially Brydon they have an obvious chemistry which makes their faux professional rivalry so fun. But at times I did feel this was a little too self-indulgent and a there wasn’t enough going on other than Brydon and Coogan having a good time. I think, and hope, that given more time to establish itself The Trip can make more of each man’s backstory and create a little bit more of a plot but for now The Trip is just fine.