Reviews

This Week in TV: Any Human Heart, Can’t Bully Me, Four in a Bed, Back on the Job, Peep Show and Robert’s Web

Another slow week in T.V. land so I’ve had to plunge the digital channels to add some bulk to this latest edition.

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But first up a bit of class as Channel 4 take over where ITV1 left off with Downton Abbey by presenting a sprawling period drama taking part over the years of the twentieth century on Sunday nights. Any Human Heart concentrates on Logan Mountstuart, an author, journalist and general man about town as we journey through his life each stage of which is taken on by different actors. We see the final stage of his life first as Jim Broadbent wanders around doing his sad face and looking lonely as he is surrounded by plenty of curios. Soon pensioner Logan is thinking back to the days of being an Oxford student and looked like Pillars of The Earth actor Sam Clafin. This Logan is still a virgin but it doesn’t take him long to meet a comely lass and have several Sunday afternoon shagging sessions with her despite her being with his best friend. When the girl becomes pregnant she marries his friend denying the baby is Logan’s, I’m sure something that will come back in future episodes, meanwhile Logan hooks up with a classier girl and writes a saucy novel entitled The Girl Factory. However this relationship doesn’t luck out and on the rebound Logan marries the rich but dull Lottie, has a baby and turns into Matthew MacFayden. MacFayden’s version of Logan isn’t that different as Clafin’s only he’s a little bit more confident when it comes to the women and a bit more upset about things. Logan soon tires of Lottie’s over-bearing father and runs off on journalistic assignments to Spain where he meets a pretty BBC employee played by Hayley Atwell who, at the end of the episode, reveals to Logan that she is pregnant and that she must leave his wife and be with her. As well as being about Logan’s life there are also big moments of the 20th century including the coronation of Edward VIII, played by Tom Hollander, his inevitable abdication after his affair with Gillian Anderson’s Wallis Simpson and the impending Second World War. Personally I found Any Human Heart a little bit slow and hard to follow as I had to keep up with Logan’s various bed partners and his restless and occasionally awful personality. However there was some nice little performances mainly from MacFayden, Atwell and, when he appeared, Broadbent. The sets were stunning and the writing, based on William Boyd’s book was also quite good. I don’t think I was quite absorbed in the story but they may change as there are three episodes left and the only other thing happening on Sunday night seemed to be Gillian McKeith’s fainting attack on I’m A Celebrity.

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BBC3 have always been quite good with their documentary output and more recently they’ve been concentrating on issues affecting younger people. This week we saw the fabulous Can’t Bully Me, a documentary which followed four boys aged 12 to 14 who had all been horribly bullied and had to be taken out of school. To continue their education they attend one of the Red Balloon centres in the country, here in Cambridge and West London, which deal with educating the children who feel they can’t go back to school. Firstly we met 14 year old Billy (pictured), a recent addition to the Red Balloon family who was so frightened of teenagers that he couldn’t be left alone at the centre without an adult. Billy talked about how he became insecure after children kept telling him he had B.O. and that he got so afraid that he had to hide during non-lesson time at school. Billy certainly came across as a very frightened individual who had obviously been picked on because he was a bit different in the way he spoke and the way he acted luckily, through a lot of one-to-one time with various staff members, he was able to integrate himself into the group at Red Balloon and even made a friend by the end of the episode. Then there was autistic Toby who had been picked on after going into secondary school and had lost a lot of his confidence but again Red Balloon helped him enough to conquer his fears and he made a triumphant return to school near the end of the episode. Possibly the most emotionally stable seemed to be 12 year old Adam who told us that he had been bullied for two years and had been excluded after bringing a knife into school to fend the bullies off. Red Balloon had a positive effect on Adam as he seemed to be working well with others and had even joined the army cadets. Adam’s situation was also harder as he was a young carer to his ill mum which made it even harder to be bullied as he didn’t think he could tell his mother. Finally there was 13 year old Phoenix who was a long-time member of the centre having come when he was 10 years old. He is very lively and artistic but when he is convinced to spend time in a school classroom he has a panic attack and has to go back to Red Balloon. I really enjoyed Can’t Bully Me, all the four boys’ story were compelling and at times quite hard to hear. All these four boys were only slightly different form everyone else but yet they’d all tragically been bullied in such a way that it got to them emotionally. I was also very interested in and applauded the work done by the staff at Red Balloon in relaxing their charges and showing them that school doesn’t have to be a horrible place. This is everything a good documentary should be – involving, eye-opening and warm.

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Earlier in the year Channel 4 presented a programme called Three in a Bed in which three B and B owners spent a night at each other’s establishments before paying how much they thought their room was worth for the night. So in essence they could pay drastically under or over the odds or decide to give them the same amount, the winning B and B would be the one that had got the best percentage of their price from the other owners. The format has slightly been re-jigged for a post-Come Dine With Me slot on teatime there are now four B and Bs in contention and the title has been changed to the inventive Four in a Bed. The other change is that the owners only find out what money they got on the Friday show which is completely dedicated to the ‘reveal’ and deciding who the winner is. So at the end of every day the owners are given feedback forms in which they are asked to rate the amenities, the cleanliness of the room and are asked if they would stay there again. First up was Oxfordshire based The Grange run by former army man Graham and his wife Cherry who decided to open up their family home once their children flew the coop. The other owners liked their friendly style and Graham’s bagpipe playing but their local rivals Terry and Peter didn’t have a good time mainly because Terry didn’t like the smell of curry and had to leave the meal that the couples shared. Next up was South Wales and Happy Donkey Hill run by overbearing Katy and put-upon husband Andy, Katy found an issue in her feedback form from day three host and former Portuguese dancer Tony so she ‘played dirty’ and kept finding fault with their Edinburgh based establishment. Katy and Tony’s feud came to a head during Terry and Peter’s day which left the group feeling a bit awkward and saw Tony leave the restaurant during the final meal. At the end of the day Katy and Andy almost one but thankfully Tony and his partner Dawn-Ann had paid five pound extra at The Grange so the nicest couple won. I basically love any show that has ranking systems, bickering and middle England hospitality and loved Three in a Bed. The only problem with that show was that there was usually a feud between two couples so the ones who weren’t involved would win. Here, with four couples, there’s more of an open field in fact the only problem is that you really only need to watch Friday’s show as there’s the recap of the week’s event and the final result. However then you’d miss out on some of the more awkward and funny moments which make these teatime shows what they are. Overall another guilty pleasure show courtesy of the Channel 4 teatime slot.

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Plunging the depths now we find ourselves on ITV4 of all places a channel where Richard Bacon is allowed to sit about and eat pizza and where everything is very macho and grrrr.. For a few weeks now they have been airing a show called Back on The Job, not a series about down on their luck prostitutes but instead about four male stars who decide to go back to their roots and explore jobs that they previously had. So we’ve had XFM DJ Christian O’Connell, least successful ex-Boyzoner Shane Lycnh and mahogany-skinned King Of the Jungle Joe Swash. But for the final show the channel pulled out all the stops to get Barry from Eastenders and Extras otherwise known as Shaun Williamson, a man who has a Hollywood credit to his name thanks to his friendship with Ricky Gervais who cast him in a fleeting cameo in The Invention of Lying. But there’s not a hint of Hollywood as Williamson patrols his old manor of Maidstone in Kent as the patronising voice-over told us the home of such celebs as Tony Hart and Loose Women’s Carol McGiffin. As he recounts us of tales of his youth Shaun starts off in the boxing ring with his old coach who is presumably still in his old position or, more likely, has been coaxed back by the show to appear alongside his former star boxer. Unfortunately Shaun wasn’t much of a boxer back then thanks to the booze, the women and the fags so he decided to join the navy. We then meet up with Shaun at HMS Raleigh as he struggles with basic training and in a particularly hilarious segment fails to scale up the length of a rope only managing about a quarter-way up. Shaun tells us the story that he left the navy after finding out about his colour-blindness which meant he would have to do one of the lowly navy jobs and he wouldn’t be able to do anything fun like fire a gun who drive a ship. He seemed a lot happier when recounting his days in his early 20s when he worked as Pontins Bluecoat doing it again involved dressing up as a woman and helping ferry around a man in a costume character suit. Back then he used to get up to all sorts with female residents but thankfully he’d grown out of that or at least ITV4 chose not to air that. But this was all about self-promotion so Shaun ended up working in a pub, serving for all of about five minutes before hitting the karaoke machine for a rather raucous rendition of Mustang Sally. For those who want to see Shaun he’s apparently currently starring on a CBBC show alongside a talking puppet, so as the voiceover tells us he has indeed found success in acting.

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Although it has been a slim week we did have the return of a blog favourite in the seventh series of Peep Show. After a lacklustre but funny sixth series, series seven returns with a bang as we return where we left off with Sophie giving birth to her and Mark’s baby. Mark and Sophie separated on their wedding day so the relationship isn’t rock solid by any means and a lot of the time Sophie was sending Mark out for various things including pain relief and a birthing pool. Obviously this being Peep Show Mark doesn’t react well to the birth and instead of being there for the mother of his child, leaves the hospital and goes to get a bucket of chicken from KFC and plays on a shoot-em-up game at an arcade. Luckily he is talked round by Jez and arrives in time just to see his son being born. Elsewhere in the hospital Jez contemplates suicide before meeting a beautiful girl who’s boyfriend is in a coma and may not bull through. Jez decides that he doesn’t want him to die but would be happy with a nice long coma so he could woo the girl. There was also the obligatory Super-Hans appearance as he popped up to get money from Mark to fix their boiler something that Mark doesn’t relish at all but at the end he finds out that there was minimal water damage news that is almost as happy as the appearance of his son. I was ready to be all flippant about Peep Show after not really enjoying last year’s series but this series, certainly the first episode, was sharp and extremely funny. Obviously Mitchell and Webb are on autopilot by now and don’t really need to tweak their performances Mark and Jeremy are perfect, or perfect comedy characters I should say, as they are. But the writing is on the button once again and some of the one-liners, in particular Mark’s, were brilliant. With Peep Show now over-taking the mighty Drop The Dead Donkey as Channel 4′s longest running sitcom it’s great to see that it’s getting back on form. With Mark trying to be a father and Jez pursuing another girl whose already attached there are enough comic possibilities for this series to keep the quality of episode one going over the rest of the run.

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And finally we have the show that immediately followed Peep Show and also featured one of its stars as Robert Webb presented Robert’s Web. As you can probably guess from the title this is all about the world of the internet and in particular the weird and wonderful comments, videos and weirdos that are out there. Some of it was quite topical so we had the Daily Mail reader’s comments made about the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding which, as you can probably expect, weren’t all that pleasant. There was also a clip from the Argentinian version of Strictly Come Dancing which was incredibly raunchy and as Webb described it ‘something for the dads’. Then there was the guy with Tourette’s who filmed himself doing sweary karaoke versions of hits including Lionel Richie’s Hello. Finally there was the hilarious ‘rules of the internet’ which saw a lovely old lady commenting on a picture of a cat only to be called a racist by a fellow commenter with the adage that ‘eventually, whatever you do, someone will accuse you of being a racist’. At the end of the day Robert’s Web is kind of a combination of Russell Howard’s Good News, the weird ads from around the world programme that Chris Tarrant used to present and a reverse version of Points of View. In fact the segments which highlighted the crazy people’s comments on various news items was already done by me and my brother one boring Sunday afternoon when we read some of the more extreme comments about the Catholic Church on the BBC’s Have Your Say column. Even though the show is completely unoriginal thanks to Webb’s comic presenting style it is still funny. Webb’s charm is that he provides the links so effortlessly that you can’t help but warm to him and his goofiness. So overall a perfect accompaniment to Peep Show for your Friday Night comedy helping.

What did you think of this week’s programmes? Leave a comment below

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