Happy first week of 2011 everyone but as well as partying I hope you were watching some TV as well.
Personally I think it’s a little disconcerting that the first 2011 programme covered on the site is going all the way back to before the Second World War to look at how one of Britain’s best loved comedy partnerships came to be. In Eric and Ernie we followed Morecambe and Wise when they were still Bartholomew and Wiseman and both tolling on the youth circuit. Bartholomew was pushed onto the stage by his overbearing mother while Wise was separated from his father when the talent agent realised that the son had a lot more to offer. When they are cut loose at the age of eighteen, Eric’s mother becomes their agent and they get work firstly in Scotland and then at the notorious Windmill Theatre where they are spotted by an executive looking to put them on the T.V. and gave them the show Running Wild. However this wasn’t a success partly due to their lack of experience on the box and partly because they didn’t write any of their material. After crashing out and temporarily separating Morecambe got his act together and together with Wise they came up with an act which showcased them at their best. The final scene saw Eric’s mother leaving the theatre where they were playing looking content for the first time. Victoria Wood took on the role of Eric’s mother and the whole drama was her creation in the first place. Wood co-wrote the script with Occupation’s Peter Bowker and you can tell that this is Wood’s work as it is full of warmth and wit as well as some cracking performances. Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick as Eric and Ernie were both superb the former playing Morecambe as someone who couldn’t always be relied on to be professional and the latter giving Wise the gravitas of the duo and becoming the more professional. As you can expect Victoria Wood was great as the pushy mother but the big surprise of the whole thing came from Vic Reeves, here acting under his own name Jim Moir, as Morecambe’s father a man of few words who knew his place but was always someone you could rely on. Although it possibly wasn’t the best programme to usher in the New Year, Victoria Wood was more than right to want to make Eric and Ernie as it gave some fascinating insight into what made Morecambe and Wise so great.
More old school entertainment as the theme of the week seemed to be magic. Both of the major networks presented programmes that mainly centred around magicians and tricks. Firstly ITV1′s offering which at least had two big name performers in Las Vegas entertainers Penn and Teller who were out to find a new magic act to perform on stage with them in Vegas. In Penn and Teller: Fool Us, amateur illusionists have to perform a trick that they think will fox the pair and if they do they will automatically get to Las Vegas. So the first guy comes out and does a trick involving a chicken and a duck which Penn and Teller are impressed by and have never tried before but at the same time have obviously heard how its done then a guy comes on with a pack of cards and again they’ve seen it done in the past. But when comedy northerner John Archer appeared with a trick that involved money in five envelopes they were shocked and couldn’t figure out how he predicted which envelope contained the cash so he was off to Las Vegas. Similarly the last act was able to fool Penn and Teller as well so he joined Archer on the plane. Penn and Teller: Fool Us is also historic in the fact that it is Jonathan Ross‘ first hosting gig since coming over to ITV1 its certainly an interesting choice and one that shows his passion for illusion and its also nice not to see him being flung straight onto a chat show the way that Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley were with Daybreak. However I feel that Penn and Teller: Fool Us is flawed for a number of reasons. First of all the fact that Penn and Teller perform two tricks, one at the beginning and one at the end of the show, makes you long just to see an hour long show featuring the named stars rather than people you’ve never heard of. Secondly the concept of the show is that Penn and Teller, or rather Penn as Teller never speaks, have to say whether they’ve figured out the trick or not but at the same time can’t exactly tell us how because it breaks the magician’s code to reveal exactly how a trick is executed. And finally the winners aren’t sent off with any particular fanfare to speak of, as this is there big break you’d think there’d be a little bit of gushing and some actual revelation to where they’ll be performing but no its simply oh by the way you’re going to Vegas, well done. Still it’s good to have an hour long magic show on primetime T.V. as its an old-fashioned tradition that seems to have disappeared all together from the schedules.
Or I would be saying that had Penn and Teller: Fool Us, not been the only magic/illusion show playing this week. In fact BBC1 beat ITV1 to it as The Magicians aired on the first Saturday night of the year and featured three set of magicians trying to wow the public. As there were no big names from the world of magic involved in the programme, The Magicians had to have some sort of celebrity element to it so invited three vaguely recognisable faces to pair with three illusionist acts and learn three tricks each – one that was performed on the street, one that had a big showy feel to it and one that involved a cardboard box. Exotically named magic man Luis de Matos was paired with Diversity’s Ashley Banjo which at least played to the variety element of the programme because, as a dancer, Ashley was able to add a bit of showmanship to the routine and in fact the rest of Diversity were pulled from the cardboard box in the show’s opening trick. Similarly Chris Korn lucked out with Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli who, as we all know, has a large personality so was able to use this in an illusion based around the Frankenstein’s monster tale. So it was comedy illusionist pair Barry and Staurt who in a way drew the short straw with BBC Breakfast co-host Sian Williams. While Sian is a charming presence and a brilliant newsreader she really shouldn’t be one third of a magical act and that is probably why they put her with a duo, she tried God bless her and she had a big smile on her face but at the end of the day her background isn’t in show business. So it was no surprise that at the end of the programme the audience were least impressed with Sian, Barry and Stuart so the two magicians had to face the forfeit which seemed a little sadistic as it was walking on hot coals but nonetheless they managed to pull it off. As I said with the Penn and Teller show it’s nice to see magic back on T.V. but at the same time do we really need the celebrities prattling about and the competition element added to it? I’d much rather have a variety show with maybe a few magic acts, a ventriloquist and maybe an impressionist or a dance troupe. Lenny Henry was a good host and seemed to enjoy himself but I don’ think the celebrities were really needed. Something else I noticed in both shows that all the illusionists were male and the only females involved with either assistants or BBC newsreaders. I do think, in a week in which women’s roles on T.V. have been under the microscope, having two primetime shows featuring mainly males is a little bit wrong.
We have more celebrity-based fun now with Famous and Fearless or is it Fearless and Famous, host Chris Evans really wasn’t sure and that’s quite worrying when the host of a programme isn’t sure of the title. But to be fair Evans looked quite overwhelmed when shouting over the baying fans on the first night of the sort of amateur X-Games at the Liverpool Echo Arena. The basic concept of the programme is that eight famous faces take each other in a series of extreme activities – BMX Biking, skateboarding, car racing and the like and then the male and female winner of that particular activity would take each other on at the end of the night in a more extreme challenge. With the word famous in the title you would think that all the contestants would be familiar, especially to me someone who spends their life watching T.V., but I tuned in a little late to episode one and I missed the introduction to the celebs and was baffled as I didn’t recognise the young blonde boy. It soon became apparent that this was Richard Branson’s son Sam, and I’m guessing as his dad owns half of the country he’s got a right to call himself famous. Charley Boorman I knew from his travelogue documentaries but at the same time he’s more famous for having a legendary film director as a father and Ewan McGregor as a best mate. Charley’s main profession is as an actor but I wouldn’t be able to name a single T.V. show or movie that I’ve seen him act in and he does seem to be a man whose life is one giant gap year. But at least Charley’s a likeable presence and I can’t say the same about Rufus Hound a man who seems to be on every programme and who’s credibility as a stand-up comedian is basically nil after appearing on a show like this. But I am a bit ashamed that I didn’t recognise Jonah Lomu but then to be fair he is usually rushing down a rugby pitch with a ball in his hand so his face is blurred most of the time. The female contingent was more recognisable and arguably had the show’s biggest name in Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes. Mandy from Hollyoaks was there but, as the show was desperate to argue that all its contestants were famous they could’ve least mentioned that she was in The Dark Knight even though she only featured for all of five seconds. Also present was Jenny Frost formerly of Atomic Kitten and Little Mo from Eastenders who was probably hoping to do better than Kat did on Strictly Come Dancing and Lynn did on both I’m a Celebrity and Soapstar Superstar. Unsurprisingly Little Mo finished last in almost every event as did Hound in the boy’s categories and it was the professional athlete Holmes, the biker Boorman and the youngsters Frost and Branson who did the best throughout with Boorman ultimately winning the whole thing. But Famous and Fearless’ main problem was that most of it seemed to be Evans and co-host Claire Balding padding. Each programme was 90 minutes long but featured only five events per programme so there was lots of interviews with the contestants both pre and post event and also another segment in which a non-contestant celeb, such as Danielle Lloyd, would also take on an extreme challenge. Famous and Fearless just seemed to be there to fill up some of the time that Channel 4 used to devote to Celebrity Big Brother, which I rather miss after watching this replacement programme. If it had been chopped down to an hour and had a host that actually cared about the concept I may’ve enjoyed Famous and Fearless a lot more but as it was I found it a programme of little merit or charm which played fast and loose with the word famous wherever it did crop up in the title.
Next to BBC3 who have got another of their classic ‘seasons’ on the go, this one is called Dangerous Pleasures and features such brilliant titles as ‘How Drugs Work’ and ‘Is Oral Sex Safe?’ But the jewel in the crown of this series has to be the brilliant Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents even though it doesn’t really fit into the concept of the rest of the season. The show sees two different youngsters, usually one boy and one girl, set off on their first group holiday without their parents to a notorious destination whether it be Ibiza, Malia or Ayia Napa. But as you’ve probably guessed from the title the twist is that the ‘suspicious parents’ journey out to the location the day after their offspring have landed to check up on them and spy from a distance as well as watch tapes of the antics that they haven’t personally witnessed. First up is Joe who is going on holiday with his friends, they have printed those obnoxious T-Shirts with their nicknames on them so Joe becomes Chi Chi along with his friends who include Snatch, Jip, Chico and Ding but I felt quite sorry for the chubby lad with glasses who had to walk around all holiday with a T-Shirt that said Bitch on the back. Meanwhile classy girl Millie and her buddies also headed out to Malia but thankfully didn’t have obnoxious T-Shirts but instead had quite high standards which was unfortunate when they arrived at their shabby Malia accommodation to find hairs in the bed and dust everywhere. I don’t exactly know what the girls were expecting but if they wanted a nice clean room maybe they shouldn’t have gone to a notorious party location and their holiday was even quite short on alcohol. Joe and his friends seemed to spend most of the holiday drinking, getting hit on by men and getting into fights. However when the parents got out there wasn’t a lot of naughty behaviour for them to comment on, Joe’s dad was upset when he saw that his son was wearing eye-liner and had painted his nails on a night out while mum wasn’t best pleased that he hadn’t used any of the suntan lotion she had packed for him. Meanwhile Millie’s mum was upset with her daughter for not having enough fun the most exciting thing she seemed to do was have a ride on a banana boat and have a bit of a dance she didn’t even get drunk and spend the next morning throwing up, surely a rite of passage? At the end of the holiday both kids were confronted by their parents who did a gushing – I’m so proud of the adult you’ve become, type speech. As this was part of the Dangerous Pleasures Season I expected at least some pleasure especially from a show with the word sex in the title but there wasn’t even a drunken snog in sight. When one of the parents who has come to spy on their kid is bored by their holiday antics, how are the viewers supposed to react?
A bit of history now in terms of the site. In the four and half years we’ve been going there’s one thing that has never happened and that is me writing a programme beginning with the letter Z. But that’s all changed thanks to Auriello Zen an Italian Detective whose surname is the title of his show. In fact Zen isn’t real but is a new suave cop portrayed by the handsome British actor Rufus Sewell. We now that Zen is a classy show thanks to its opening titles which are sumptuously designed and its deep, engaging theme tune. The first episode sees Zen reinvestigate an old murder and also sees a judge being killed at the start of the show by the always terrifying Peter Guinness who has threatened to kill the titular detective before he’s even appeared on screen. Zen is always seen as a professional and above being manipulated by either the corrupt police bosses or the corrupt politicians. He is also very hands on, in the first episode there is quite an involving sequence in which he follows a mentally-handicapped girl through a number of underground passages almost getting drowned in the process and later he avoids being shot about ten times. As you would expect Zen is also a hit with the lady, his manner reminded me a lot of Jude Law’s portrayal of Alfie in the poor remake, he is offered sex at least twice and in one case the gorgeous assistant of the police chief asks Zen ‘are we going to have an affair?’ to which Zen replies ‘yes’. The programme is also filmed entirely in Italy so every scene is very beautifully shot and usually there’s stunning scenery to accompany the action but all the cast speak in English and to that end its very much like Wallander. But that’s where the comparisons end as Zen isn’t nearly as deep, serious or engaging as Kenneth Branagh’s adapted version of the Scandinavian cop show. What Zen is is a very entertaining yet utterly silly crime drama, it’s not as bonkers as something like Luther but still a little far-fetched. Rufus Sewell is totally convincing as the debonair lead and everyone else looks the part but I didn’t feel like the plot of episode one had enough going for it to stretch out over the 90 minute running time. Despite this, it was decent enough stuff especially for a sort of Sunday night drama and it is well-acted which is more than you can say for a lot of modern detective shows.
Finally its time for me to weigh in on the big T.V. story of the week and that is obviously the Eastenders debacle. For those of you not in the know the New Year episodes of the BBC’s flagship soap opera saw Ronnie’s new born baby James sadly die as she went for help she journeyed to The Vic where Kat and Alfie’s baby Tommy lay and in a moment of madness she swapped them. As she went to swap the baby back her husband Jack arrived back from working in Dubai to greet what he thought was his new son. The baby swap story provoked the soap’s record number of complaints a lot of women claiming that post-natal grief would not make a woman do what Ronnie did. However I suspect that a lot of people didn’t watch the show and are reacting to what they’ve heard happened. In the episode Ronnie did try and get help from several people before coming to the pub and then was going to bring the baby back before she was stopped by Jack and decided to carry on the lie to make him happy more than anything else. I’m not saying for a moment that people don’t have the right to complain nor that any woman would react like that in the real world if their child died but at the same time people have to remember that this is a soap opera and that the story does make for a good amount of drama. Over the years all of the major soaps have used subjects like rape, terminal disease and murder to further their stories and in some cases this is more shocking than Eastenders current plotting. One good thing that has happened is that the Eastenders bosses led by Brian Kirkwood, whose former show Hollyoaks did present a realistic portrayal of parents who lost a young baby to cot death, have decided to end the story in April. I do think that the story shouldn’t go on any longer than four months, but I’d say that for a lot of soap stories that seem to go on forever, so it’s good for it to stop there. Anytime something like this happens the media jumps all over it and there are complaints to Ofcom from people who don’t even watch Eastenders. At the end of the day these people are more concerned with people watching their show than those complaining about it so my suggestion to those who don’t like the current storyline is just switch off and then the programme-makers will get the message.
What did you think of this week’s programmes? Leave a comment below
Next Week: Dancing on Ice, The Biggest Loser, Human Planet and Episodes