An incredibly packed edition this week so let’s get started straight away.
And kicking things off this week we have a new Sunday night drama with Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s novel South Riding. The BBC love using Davies’ adaptations as he has provided them with many hits over the years including Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House and Little Dorrit but, according to one of my old lecturer’s who used to go to the same gym as him, he is a bit of a lecherous so-and-so. Set in the East Yorkshire town of the title during the 1930s, the drama deals with Sarah Burton,a former resident of the town who has moved back from London to become the headmistress of the girl’s school. Anna Maxwell Martin puts in a fiery performance as the flame-haired Sarah a woman who won’t be shaken by men telling her what to do and whose ideas seem to be shaking up the whole town. David Morrisey’s Robert Carne is the man who she faces opposition from from the very start when he is appalled by her comments about the war and women’s place in the house but by the end of the episode they are sharing looks from either side of a cow who has just given birth, what’s more romantic than being covered in bovine afterbirth, I ask you? Sarah’s other main mission is to help two girls one is Robert’s uppity and weird daughter Midge and the other is Lydia a girl on a scholarship who is rough and ready with her firsts but can write a good poem and has troubles at home. The drama is also keen to point out the hypocrisy in the town with John Henshaw’s Councillor Huggins being an adulterer and a pervert but at the same time preaching about religion and what’s best for the town and there is also the issue of East Riding’s poor and in particular the families having to live in the shacks. I thought South Riding smacked of old-school BBC1 Sunday night drama there was romance, inspiring speeches, pretty dresses, lovely shots of the East Yorkshire seaside and even a few laughs courtesy of Huggins. There is no faulting the cast from Anna Maxwell Martin to John Henshaw to Penelope Wilton and Douglas Henshall everyone was top notch. The only person I had a little problem with was David Morrisey who seem to overact the part of the ambiguous Robert. Davies is keen to show us Robert as a young man, not as opinionated or stubborn as he is in the present day, to give him some sympathy but in the last seen most of that sympathy is taken away. I also didn’t much care for the scenes in the girl’s school which seemed to drag on a bit for my liking but I supposed they were necessary for the character development of Lydia and Midge. Despite its old fashioned ways, and the rumours my lecturer told me about Davies, I can’t help but like South Riding and that’s mainly due to the fine performances put on by the ensemble cast.
More drama this time from Stephen Moffatt the former Barrister behind such hit law-related shows as Criminal Justice and North Square. The Wikipedia description of the latter series is as follows – about a group of young barristers all hoping to make their mark on the legal profession. Silk is about a group of slightly older barristers all hoping to gain ‘silk’ or in other words become QCs while at the same time mentoring law students. Rupert Penry-Jones was one of the stars of North Square and his character description is that of a smooth good-looking Golden Boy, in Silk he plays a smooth good-looking Golden boy albeit a cocky one with a cocaine addiction. Although Penry-Jones’ character is the antagonist to Maxine Peake’s Martha Costello, a single woman in her 30s she is driven but also sympathetic and that’s why we like her. We are told that Martha’s life is that of one surrounded by men and that is true the only two women being the young, pretty law student and the prosecuting counsel in one of her trials, both seem to infuriate Martha in different ways. Martha and Penry-Jones’ Clive are both competing to get ‘silk’ but only one of the two will be able to as both have applied and both belong to the same chambers overseen by Neil Stuke’s clerk Billy. We see that Martha is overworked as she takes on two cases one representing a pregnant woman being used as a drug mule and the other with an unpleasant thief who is accused of terrorising and stealing from an OAP. Martha has been so harangued that she misses a vital piece of evidence in the drug mule case and the woman gets sent down for a long time while the unpleasant thief chap gets off after the old legal show trick of re-examining the evidence and pulling out something as if from nowhere. As well as the competition between Clive and Martha we also follow the two law students Niamh and Nick the latter of whom follows Martha around and is there so she can feed him all the expostional lines of dialogue including her mantra that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I went in to Silk with high expectations, I think Moffat is an amazing writer and has done wonders with the law series that he’s tackled in the past. However I found Silk fairly clichéd with its ‘it’s tough out there for a woman’ story rammed down our throats constantly and we are given plenty of scenes of Martha smoking and drinking and unable to get in contact with her mother just to show what the job does to people. To be fair Maxine Peake puts in another spirited performance and apart from Penry-Jones going a bit over the top there’s no faulting the cast. Of particular mention is Neil Stuke as the loveable Billy and Tom Hughes, who was so good in Cemetery Junction, as Martha’s law student and sometime protector Nick. Silk is by no means a bad drama, it was never slow and it was all very neat but at the same time it had nothing new to say and by the end it became ‘just another legal drama’.
After the success of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Channel 4 is looking for another fly-on-the-wall type show to pull in the punters as these shows are cheap to make and often get good ratings. Hence this week we got The Model Agency, a look at the Premier agency as they deal with their busiest six weeks trying to get their models on various fashion shows around the Globe. The Agency is run by the fearsome but down-to-Earth Carole along with her brother and a team of interesting model bookers. It seems that the way Premier do business is that scary American android-like Anthony scouts theme parks, shopping centres and other places where youngsters hang out and brings them in for photos when they’re young. And when they’re 16 they are called back in ready to be ‘launched’ onto the world usually during New York fashion week, saying that back it almost sounds like a plot to a sci-fi film but it ain’t. These girls are then given to Annie who is head of ‘New Faces’ which incidentally was the title of the first episode which revolved around one of Annie’s wards India who, along with another of Premier’s new faces, and had gone to New York but had got sick and was thinking of packing in the game all together. The episode saw how India’s decision to seemingly give up modelling and return to normal life was effecting the agency with Carole swearing every five minutes, Anthony bemoaning the amount of work that had gone into promoting her for the last four years and Annie nervously eating crisps and crying. Meanwhile we were given some talking heads shots from India as she explained her decision to leave the modelling game, she wanted to go to the cinema with her friends, do her exams and generally lead a life where she wasn’t dumped in New York with loads of fashonistas at an age where she should be getting drunk on cider at the park and getting off with spotty-faced lads. But ‘normal life’ wasn’t something that the staff at Premier really thought about instead it was all about business and looks. According to one of the bookers models don’t look normal they aren’t people you would see every day they almost have to look like aliens, again going back to my sci-fi metaphor. The final part of the programme saw Annie unable to convince India to continue on in her modelling career but at the same time see Anthony bring in the innocent Jade, who he had spotted at Thorpe Park, into the agency alongside her family and the cycle began once again. The Model Agency was an interesting show but I’m not sure who we were meant to sympathise with or feel for. Was it the girl who passed up the opportunity to fame and fortune? Or was it the bosses at the agency who didn’t’ see returning to school as an option? For me the most fascinating bits were where the camera allowed us to listen in to smatterings of normal conversations between the bookers which was just very everyday but made these people seem real. These are people who have jobs but there jobs involve dealing with people who sometimes feel trapped as Jade’s fireman dad but it ‘I know how to put out fires, they know what to look for in a model.’ This apparently according to the first episode is a good looking alien who is no shorter than 5 foot 7 and should only have a modest breast size.
From modelling to remodelling, but this time for charity, are another group of celebrities all ready to forfeit their dignity for Comic Relief in the third series of Let’s Dance. Steve Jones is back on presenting duties but this time he is joined by smiley One Show presenter Alex Jones who I thought may well be related but it seems that they were once young lovers but now have both been catapulted to fame. It seems the formula for winning the competition is simply to drag up as Robert Webb did for his Flashdance routine in 2009 and Rufus Hound did as Cheryl Cole last year. But at least these two learnt the dance as well as being dressed as women but the same can’t be said for the winner of the first episode – unlikeable comic Russell Kane who simply dressed as Beyonce and flailed round a bit before being declared winner. Similarly Katie Price, doing something for others for once but at the same time improving her profile post-divorce, dressed as Freddie Mercury and pretended to hoover which, to be fair, might be a little bit of a stretch for her. The good dancers were voted off early with me being particularly wowed by Ed Byrne’s Billy Elliot routine and The Thick of It’s Rebecca Front doing Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet. But good dancing isn’t celebrated on this show instead it is all about dressing up and having fun so it was obvious from the early going that both Kane and Price were going through even though they came up against the ever popular Waterloo Road gang who came third following their big win as Best Drama at The National Television Awards. Let’s Dance for Comic Relief replaced Celebrity Fame Academy a few years back but I for one would like to see the return of the singing competition as the dancing recreations do get pretty old pretty quickly. Although I think it is a lot cheaper just to get these celebs to appear on stage once just to dance rather than finding a place for them all to stay together during the night but then the Fame Academy programme did provide more entertainment. Overall its all for Charidee even if Katie Price is able to use this programme to show what a good person she is, we all know the truth.
Katie Price’s umpteenth self-promotion isn’t the only Mission Impossible on T.V. this week as Heston Blumethal kicked off his four part Mission Impossible series as well. Each week Heston will visit one institution or business area that is seriously in need of an overhaul when it comes to their food production and he will then set about trying to spruce up the menu and of course add the all-important healthy ingredients. If this sounds a bit like his quest to improve Little Chef or Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners programme that’s because it basically was. The first episode was also the most high profile as Heston went to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool to see what the children were being fed every day.As you can imagine the results were pretty dire – cold pizza, soggy chips and fruit salad or ice cream, you couldn’t have both as Heston found to his detriment. What was more shocking was that the chefs cook the meals for the staff and the restaurant from scratch but the kids on the wards only get pre-packaged microwavable grub. As is always the case in this programme the Michelin-starred Chef comes under opposition from the harangued workers outraged that someone comes into tell them how to do their job. However the kitchen staff are still won round with one in particular impressing Heston with her alien-face sandwiches but Heston’s biggest challenge came in the form of Geoff the head of catering who came out with guff about non-sustainable ingredients and health and safety worries. He then set about coming up with cheap, healthy options that had a sort of gross out themes – worms in mud, snot milkshakes, vomit soup and the big attraction that made the papers – real worms injected with tomato ketchup and put atop a pizza. The end result was a good one with the majority of the kids enjoying being fed stuff that tasted like it had been cooked from scratch they also liked the colourful balloon filled sandwiches trays that were created for the lunch menu. Despite Heston telling us the audience that it was a ‘Mission Impossible’ every five minutes once he got on an even keel with the kitchen staff it seemed to flow quite quickly and at the end of the show the hospital board said they would keep some but not all of his ideas. Heston also went to visit Michael, who had spina bifida and had been in and out of Alder Hey since he was three. When Michael was presented with the food he cried and thanked Heston as we got the ‘Snow Patrol Moment’ as Chasing Cars played over this scene, a song that has come back into vogue after briefly being replaced by Elbow’s One Day Like This. This was a sort of odd show, on one hand I admire Heston for trying to improve the quality of food at a children’s hospital where the adults get treated to better meals than the patients. But at the same time Channel 4 seemed to be so eager to create a narrative from Heston’s endeavours that everything felt quite cheap, knowing and predictable with the final scene featuring Michael being particularly tacky. The final thing that worried me is that there was no update from the hospital to tell us if indeed Heston’s plans were successful which makes me think that maybe the kids have gone back to eating the pizza which will leave me quite disappointed if that’s the case.
Continuing with the medical theme we have BBC3′s new offering Junior Doctors: Your Life in their Hands. But really that’s only if you live in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and a prone to multiple visits to the local A and E. The programme follows seven young doctors working in two hospitals in the centre of Newcastle, dubbed by the announcer as the ‘Party Capital of the North East’ and I could’ve sworn that was Hartlepool. At first I wondered how the channel managed to convince these seven to let cameras follow them around on either there first or second year outside medical school then it became apparent when it was revealed they all lived together. The house was obviously part of the deal for them to take part in the show but it also nice and swanky, with a big kitchen and a pool table! Probably more than most young doctors can afford as they’re struggling to pay of student loans at the same time. Although there are seven of them, aged between 24 and 26, the first episode only featured a handful of them. 24 year old Adam was the most prominent of the bunch as he bemoaned how much paperwork he had to do and the fact that he wasn’t being allowed to be near any patients. When he was near patients he struggled to identify illnesses, answer questions from senior doctors or get his bloods delivered on time. Adam comes from a medical background so I’m guessing he was probably forced, or at least gently pushed, into studying medicine and if he doesn’t want a job that involves paperwork may I suggest the drive-in kiosk at McDonalds? Then there was perky, bubbly ‘party girl’ Suzi who wanted to be taken seriously as a doctor as, although she was 25, people thought she was about 18 something she won’t be complaining about for very long. Suzi was a lot more proficient than Adam at dealing with patients and coped with an A and E rotation quite well. We also followed Catherine around as she discovered the joys of working in the Plastic Surgery ward. The other four – Keir, Lucy, cocky Asian wannabe surgeon Andy and the very large rugby-playing Jon were only featured in segments were they were all casually talking in the kitchen or having dinner out together. I quite enjoyed Junior Doctors and think it is a programme that BBC3 should show more often. Even though a lot of it is quite obviously stage managed it does give accurate depiction of life as a young doctor and the skills you need to handle it. I also think it is good for young people, who are supposedly the channel’s demographic, to watch this programme as it would be nice to think they aspire to be like the Catherines and the Suzis rather than Jordans and the Kerrys who parade around in the gossip magazines. Overall a good engaging fly-on-the-wall programme which will get better after we meet all of the characters individually.
To finish up we have a double bill of comedy starting off with the bizarre Irish concoction Mrs Brown’s Boys. The programme, which is already a massive hit in Ireland, sees comic Brendan O’Carrol drag up to play the titular matriarch whose job it seemed was to look after her father-in-law and meddle in her children’s affairs.The first episode saw her argue with her daughter Cathy over the lack of men in her life and also meddle in her son Brendan’s relationship with his long-term girlfriend Maria. Before watching the programme I had read some of the previews of the show and I got the impression that the language was going to be fierce and vulgar but actually it was fairly gentle. There was a lot of fecking, talk of vibrators and tazer guns and men getting their winkies out at the cinema but it was all done with an innocent edge and an Irish accent does seem to make everything seem a little bit less coarse. O’Carrol seems to mix a very old-fashioned sensibility with some quite modern techniques he breaks the fourth wall to chastise his audience when they feel sympathy for ‘Mrs. Brown’ and he also skips over sets when he forgets a certain prop he needs for a certain scene. I did find myself tittering a couple of times but I never found Mrs. Brown’s Boys particularly funny but I did find it quite likeable. This was a gentle sitcom that did have a rough edge but a good heart but after all its laughs it did have quite a deep ending as O’Carrol adressed the audience in a monologue about what Mrs. Brown felt her life was made up of. O’Carrol himself is a larger than life character and at times I really forgot I was watching a man in a dress, but it’s just as well that he’s very talented as the rest of the cast, some of which are O’Carrol’s actual family, weren’t much cop at acting and whose main job seemed to be to react to what O’Carrol was doing at the time. At the end of the day as Irish sitcoms go this is now Father Ted but at the same time it is still quite fun if you can get past the old man in the dress playing a mother of six.
And finally we come to Channel 4′s new Friday night sitcom subtlety titled Friday Night Dinner. The programme comes from Robert Popper who co-created science programme spoof Look Around You as well as working on Peep Show and Bo Selecta and more recently South Park. Here Popper brings together some of Channel 4 comedy’s best loved faces including Black Books and Green Wing’s Tasmin Greig, Green Wing and Spaced’s Mark Heap and The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird. The concept of the show is that Bird and Tim Rosenthal (who likes like one of the other Inbetweeners) are the grown-up sons of Greig and Paul Ritter and only see them once a week for Friday night dinner. As you can expect hijinks ensues however I felt like I had to wait a while for the hijinks to actually begin as the programme began quite slowly with a couple of jokes about old copies of New Scientist and the two brothers acting like they were still twelve. However things got a bit more amusing when a man came to pick up the sofa bed that the dad had sold them on ebay. Friday Night Dinner was an odd one as it did show promise but at the same time wasn’t exactly funny. After her so-so turn in Episodes, Greig is eager to show how good an actress she is when given the right material and she shines as the Masterchef-loving domineering matriarch. Rosenthal and Bird are O.K. as the sons and I find Bird more likeable here than I have in anything else, but something doesn’t really ring true about their relationship and I don’t believe that two brothers of the age they are don’t have a civil word to one another. Meanwhile Ritter seems like a naturally funny guy and pulls of the dad role well but at the same time a lot of the gags stem from the fact that he has a hearing aid and therefore mishears what people say or repeats thing that have already been said. This sort of made me feel uncomfortable and it also felt like a lazy comedy technique. Thankfully Heap was on top form as the neighbour who kept popping in to use the toilet and overstayed his welcome each time. For me I feel that I need to watch one or two more episodes to truly judge if Friday Night Dinner has what it takes to go alongside some of Popper’s other shows but certainly episode one did have some good points largely thanks to the performances of Heap and Greig.
What did you think of this week’s programmes? Leave a comment below
Next Week: Jamie’s Dream School, Love Thy Neighbour and OMG with Peaches Geldof