Let’s get started with another busy week of TV to look at.
And we’ve got a lot of drama to get through starting with BBC’s latest attempt of creating a large sci-fi blockbuster. With the exception of Doctor Who and its various spin-offs the BBC has struggled to create a modern sci-fi/fantasy masterpiece with recent examples including The Deep, Paradox and Survivors. Now we have Outcasts which is set in the Year 2040 a time in which Earth is dying and the human race are trying to find new planets to settle on. One such planet is Carpathia where the story is set and in particular focuses on Carpathia’s president Richard Tate and his Protection and Security Team who have to deal with various incidents in the first couple of episodes. Tate’s right-hand woman is Hermione Norris’ Stella Isen a cold brooding woman who spends most her time scanning people’s brains, sleeping with younger men or worrying that her husband and daughter will never arrive from Earth. Also on the team are wise-cracking Cass, maternal Fleur and the erratic Mitchell who betrays Tate’s gang in the first episode. The second episode sees possibly the last ship from Earth arrive in Carpathia and on it are Stella’s daughter Lily as well as the sinister Julius Berger a man who uses religion as a way of justifying sexually abusing teenage girls and who is also played by Daniel from Ugly Betty. I really did want to like Outcasts but by the end of episode one I was really struggling and did continue into episode two which did introduce the villain and several other plot strands but was just as ludicrous as what had gone before. My main problem is that despite the strong cast there aren’t any particularly likeable characters – Tate is pretty boring and also created a race to try and deal with a disease and then tried to have them killed, Stella is icy and distant and Fleur is just pretty annoying. If we were given more backstory about Daniel Mays’ Cass or Ashley Walters’ Jack I might have cared a little more both of these actors do try and save the programme the former giving his usual swaggering geezer routine and the latter playing the soldier with the sensitive side. While the big budget allows for some big exploding special effects and the South African locations look lovely the dialogue is extremely patchy with my favourite exchange being between Tate and Stella – when she asks ‘what does this mean?’ his reply is ‘I don’t know but it means something.’ It is a shame that this doesn’t work because I can see that there are some interesting themes trying to emerge such as one race infiltrating a land and driving out the natives, our society’s reliance on weapons and technology and the use of religion to justify war and abuse all of which reference historical and political events that are fresh in the mind.
Something that doesn’t just reference these events but draws on them is the new drama from Peter Kominsky Kominsky is known for his controversial subject matter his 2005 piece The Government Inspector looked at the build up to the conflict in Iraq while his most recent drama Britz looked at British suicide bombers. The Promise is no different and looks at the Israeli-Palestine conflict through two generations. We start with the present-day as gap year student Erin is forced to visit her grandad and then steals his wartime diary while at she is with her mother clearing out his house. She then journeys to Israel with her friend whose parents live out there so she can hang out on her gap year but Erin gets involved in her grandfather’s diary and a lot of the events that take place in 1940s-occupied Israel she traces in the present day. Erin’s reading of her grandfather’s diary is seen on screen itself as we see Len still a young man who has signed up for the army for life and after being a hero in World War 2 is taking part in the post-war phase of The British Mandate of Palestine. Both strands are equally compelling and both characters are eerily similar. Both Erin and Len are fairly naive she thinks she knows everything and is quite surprised by the different aspects of Israel she encounters. He on the other hand is conflicted after trying to free Jews from Nazi Concentration Camps he now finds himself having to stop them from crossing the border. Len is also asked to infiltrate Jewish society and begins a romance with a Jewish girl which of course can only end badly meanwhile Erin befriends her friend’s brother himself a political campaigner whom she finds captivating. Kominsky weaves the story together and Erin finds herself exploring some of the places that Len writes about that are also seen by us the audience and so it makes quite an interesting narrative for example when Erin visits the cemetery where some of the English soldiers are buried she finds the names of two of Len’s friends who are still alive in the diary. For a drama that has a lot of serious political points and is focused on two generations experiencing the same sort of conflict I was surprised at how easy I found The Promise to watch and how quickly the 90 minutes passed by. Most of this is a credit to Kominsky’s writing as well as the two lead performances from Claire Foy as Erin and Christian Cooke as Len. Foy essentially takes a stroppy young woman who to all extent we shouldn’t much care for and makes her likeable, personally I think Foy is one of her best acting talents and she has excelled in everything I’ve seen her in thus far. Cooke has the easier of the two roles as Len is much more of the naive hero who is just doing his job but Cooke still plays him with a certain vulnerability and relatable characteristics which make his segments as interesting as those of Erin’s. My main criticism isn’t of anything to do with the drama itself but rather what Channel 4 have decided to do with it. Kominsky’s drama will roughly be about six hours long which the channel could’ve possibly put over two weeks in its 9-10 slot maybe in a Tuesday-Thursday position. But instead it is going out in 105 minute slots on Sunday nights from 9, almost two hours is a lot for people to commit to at the best of times but at the end of a busy weekend when people are preparing for work the last thing they want to do is settle down to a drama about the Middle East conflict. As Channel 4′s weekly primetime slots are occupied currently by birth, weddings, shopping, building and willy warts it seems outrageous that this brilliant and thought-provoking drama has been put in a slot that only those who really want to watch it will be able to seek it out.
Moving to the multi-channel world now and Sky’s fresh new channel line-up which includes a multitude of American drama on Sky Atlantic plus some new drama on both its flagship station and the newly acquired Living branch. Firstly to Sky One’s Mad Dogs a drama about four friends who have lost contact over the years going to visit a fifth friend who has used all of his wealth to buy a villa in Spain. We know from the start that things aren’t going to end well for the quartet as we see them being held hostage as they speak into a camera and say goodbye to their children and loved-ones. It is clear that their friend Alvo isn’t a bit of a dodgy geezer as we see him on the phone to a former Spanish colleague and the way he is speaking makes us think that the business that he no longer has isn’t strictly legit. To start with things are all smiley and happy as the lads frolic in the pool, enjoy the local night life and playing a rousing game of tennis. But then things start to happen a goat is found in Alvo’s swimming pool and then he starts to act more erratic as the week goes on. Meanwhile none of the four seem particularly happy Rick is the only one who is married but yet ends up in bed with a young lass, Quinn it seems has designs on Rick’s wife but lives a lonely life as a lecturer and seems fairly detached, Baxter is a divorcee who is low on money and Woody is a recovering addict whose wife topped herself just before he was about to leave her. The first episode of Mad Dogs I found both slow and heavy-handed there are several moments in the first episode where you think ‘I know what’s going to happen next..’ such as when Alvo tells the boys that if anything happens to him they will get the villa or when they all have a bet that they can go without phones for 24 hours and lock them away in Alvo’s safe. There is also a lot of time where nothing particularly happens apart from a lot of shots of five middle-aged men enjoying Spain by eating and swimming and not doing very much else. But there is something likeable about Mad Dogs which can be mainly attributed to the cast of John Simm, Marc Warren, Max Beasley and Philip Glenister who are all very relatable in these down-to-Earth roles. I think it’s also good to see something in which we have normal men who are neither gangsters nor hen-pecked but instead have the everyday struggles that most of us face and like in real life have sort of drifted apart since their sixth form days. Not since Auf Wiedersen Pet has such a masculine drama been about and despite its slow and obvious plot I found myself swept up in it and due to the events towards the end of the first episode it seems that the rest of the series may pick up in terms of its story-telling.
It was also a historical week as Living, which is now Sky Living thanks to its takeover, produced its first ever in house home-grown drama. Bedlam is also the second drama in as many weeks to be a sort of paranormal affair involving a lot of water-based thrills and spills and a character who has been affected by the drowning of a loved one. That loved one is the brother of Ryan played by Will Young who seems to be going through an acting stage that most pop stars do. Ryan is a nerdy character and we know he is as he wears large dark-rimmed glasses, dungarees and has a dingy room surrounded by computers. But we are made aware of the fact that, unlike the actor who portrays him, Ryan is definitely not gay as he launched upon by Kate the vamp of the piece who shares a flat with Ryan as well as Molly a sort of wallflower type who has a thing for Ryan. The main concept behind Bedlam is that Ryan, Molly and Kate live in an apartment complex that used to be a mental institution and Kate’s dad played by Hugo Speer is behind the renovation using his daughter to try and flog flats. Coming into the picture is Kate’s cousin Jed who has spent some time in a secure ward of a hospital because he was hearing voices he moves in with Kate and the gang because he’s getting weird text messages from the other side telling him to Save Kate. Although you would think Will Young would be playing the lead character his role is secondary to the spooky water-based horror and the over-powering music that appears at least every two minutes just to let us know that all is not what it seems – probably what you’d expect from a former mental insitution. There are fogged up mirrors with the word DROWN, black water coming down the walls every so often and Molly almost getting trapped when her locket is shut in the sink plug while she is washing. Obviously the two main strands to look out for are why Ryan’s brother drowned and a mysterious ring that is passed around from Molly to Kate. Although Marchlands is ridiculous, Bedlam is something else altogether while the ITV show at least has some credible performers and a script that makes sense the general feeling I got when watching Bedlam was being in a damp lonely room with someone coming playing really loud music and shouting BOO! every three or so minutes. Nothing against Will Young, Hugo Speer or the rest of the cast but next time an abandoned mental asylum comes on the market is may be best just to turn into a Wetherspoons or something as they’re quite used to dealing with spirits (I’m sorry).
And finally to Channel 4 with another entry in the televisual genre that they themselves have monopolised that being the food-based issue project show. Programmes in this cannon include most of Jamie Oliver’s output from School Dinners to Ministry of Food, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s chicken-based and recent fish-based fights with the big supermarkets and Heston Blumenthal’s renovations of Little Chef. Now we have Arthur Potts-Dawson a chef that isn’t a big name but still has to command our attention long enough for us to be sold by his idea that being The People’s Supermarket. The main concept behind the show is that of him opening a supermarket that is run, paid for and shopped in by the people as he is desperately trying to wain people away from the Big Four branches namely Asda, Sainsburys, Tesco and Morrisons. After a trip to New York he comes up with the idea that the shop he has purchased will be run as a co-operative so the members of the community will all work for free for four hours a month and in return would get 10% of their shopping. Arthur’s big thing is that he doesn’t want to rip of the farmers like Tesco and the others do but at the same time he has to think about the community who doesn’t want to spend a lot. It is this balance that seems to be the big issue driving the episode as Arthur comes under fire from several older ladies who tell him he’s living in cloud-cuckoo land and that he’s charging too much for dog food and hasn’t got any Cheddar Cheese. Obviously this being a four-part series we have to follow Arthur’s journey so he is delighted when people start to join but upset when they criticise his choice of products. But I’m guessing by the end he’ll have more members than he knows what to do with and the shop will be a resounding success. I know I’m always ultra-cynical about these kind of shows but I quite liked The People’s Supermarket, Arthur really seemed to be passionate about what he was doing and although there didn’t seem to be a clear brand identity behind his supermarket I’m sure it will get one as the weeks go on. It is also nice to see a different chef on one of these Channel 4 shows instead of one of the Big 4 (Jamie, Gordon, Hugh and Heston).
Next week we have yet another awards week with both the Brits and the BAFTAs plus Richard Desmond’s relaunch of OK! TV, the new look Masterchef and more.
What did you think of this week’s programmes? Leave a comment below