A lot to get through this week so let’s get started.
This week we have two big literature-based dramas kicking off with Doctor Who himself, Matt Smith in Christopher and His Kind. The drama sees Smith play writer Christopher Isherwood during his time in Berlin between 1929 and 1933 which later inspired his novel Goodbye to Berlin which itself was the basis for the musical and film of Cabaret. During his stay in Berlin Christopher first meets a lovely young English boy to fool around with before becoming attracted to a German street-sweeper. He also befriends the singer and sometime prostitute Jean Ross the inspiration for his Sally Bowles character. But this being Germany in the early 1930s the Nazi party soon begin to take hold of the country and Christopher begins to feel isolated as his people from his boarding house start leaving the country and when he learns his kind aren’t welcome he flees back to England himself. After this initial period the drama flicks forward in time to see Christopher’s successes with his book and his characters and also sees him meeting some of his friends from Berlin after the war. Certain elements of Christopher and His Kind were very enjoyable I thought the whole thing was stylistically spectacular with each scene, from Christopher’s Berlin Boarding House to the club in which Jean sang beautifully designed and well thought out. The acting was also superb it was great to see Matt Smith do something as daring as this while he still playing The Doctor. I am well aware that both David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston both starred in big controversial dramas before and after their time in the Tardis but Smith has the balls to play a gay man in a prime time T.V. drama and be quite good at it. I have always been a fan of Smith’s every since I saw him in Party Animals and this just proves he’s definitely got a career in him after he’s finished with the Time Lord. Equally impressive was Imogen Poots as Ross, giving a slightly airy divaish and ultimately likeable character who was never once over-embellished and the always reliable Toby Jones was also brilliant as the old queen who was another resident at the Boarding House. The thing I had the biggest problem with was the script which at some points sped along with Christopher’s life and then slowed down entirely and then had about four different endings. While I can appreciate that the makers wanted to get the adaptation of Isherwood’s memoirs just right at times it did seem clumsily handled and at times there were pieces of dialogue that I don’t thing rang true to the era. But overall this was a bold move by the BBC to air this in a Prime Time Saturday night slot rather than putting it on BBC4. This was a well-acted and well presented portrayal of 1930s Berlin which was only slightly hindered by an uneven script.
Heading to BBC4 for more literary shenanigans we find Women in Love, an adaptation of D.H. Lawerence’s novel which also includes elements of the author’s novel The Rainbow. Up to this point Women in Love’s most famous adaptation was in the film by Ken Russell and that’s mainly because of the scene that features a naked wrestling match between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. Here the focus is on sisters Gudrun and Ursula, played respectively by Rosamund Pike and Rachel Stirling, before they meet the men they hook up with in Women in Love. Here Gudrun has ideas above her station and is carrying on an affair with a married man while Ursula is just getting over a miscarriage and trying to deal with the fact that she is no longer in love with her husband. Playing opposite to this are the lives of the two men that they are about to become romantically entangled with Joseph Mawle’s rich industrialist Gerald and Rory Kinnear’s religious school inspector Rupert Birkin. While Gerald is quite an extroverted individual and a loveable rogue, Birkin has more deep seated problems he is unsure of his sexuality and this conflicts with his strong views on religion and God. The girl’s parents are also strongly focused on here as they struggle to find the romance in their marriage after having so many children, father Will seems trapped and feels old and mother Anna thinks that maybe he should try and have an affair. As you can imagine with a Lawrence adaptation, especially one by James Ivory, there are plenty of sex references and indeed Ursula dumps husband Ivan because she no longer feels satisfied, the parents try and find the sexual spark in their marriage and Birkin struggles to find his place in the sexual world while Gudrun is able to use her body to ensnare the men she wants whether they are married or not. The whole thing is beautifully acted by its four leads, Rory Kinnear especially is brilliant as the confused Birkin, as well as by Saskia Reeves and Ben Daniels as the girl’s parents. The whole thing is also beautifully shot with some wonderful sumptuous shots of Gudrun’s glamorous London life transposed with the dreary reality of the Nottingham home where the sisters live. The one problem I had really was there were too many expositional scenes with people just standing around explaining their feelings and trying to advance the plot. I know that that’s not the fault of anyone other than Lawrence but it still interrupted the flow of what otherwise was a very involving well-acted and well-produced drama. I have a feeling that the second part will be better as that is when the girls get into their relationships with Birkin and Gerald and there may also be a bit more naked wrestling.
To counter-balance the class of having these two period dramas lets head over to ITV2 to get vajazzled and enter the bizarre world of The Only Way is Essex or TOWIE to its fans. After the Christmas special we’re back with two nights a week of fun from Amy’s salon and The Sugar Hut. We lechy lothario Mark dumping both long-time love Lauren and recent girlfriend Lucy and going off with Sam while Mark’s dopey best mate Arg bought girlfriend Lydia a micro-pig named Mr. Darcy. It seems that both Lydia and Mr. Darcy have now got starring roles in the new series as Arg tries to lose weight and learn to drive at the same time. Darcy meanwhile made a splash at Sam and sister Billie’s boutique opening as he weed all over the floor and that started to lap up his urination. He possibly was protesting to the fact that Lydia had painted his trotters in nail varnish to match the colour of her boots. To be fair the classiness of the event had already been shattered when Mark’s Nanny Pat agreed to do the catering and arrived with chipolatas and a Cheesy Hedgehog. Mark’s love life got more complicated as he dumped Sam to get back with Lauren, who had just had a tattoo of his name removed from her intimate area and then he proposed to Lauren in possibly the worst proposal in T.V. history. The thing about Mark is that he doesn’t really talk like a normal person often relaying his love to his female conquests in stilted sentences and clichés. The other men on the programme – Arg and Club Owner Kirk seem much more likeable but are either presented as losers or in Kirk’s case unimportant as his main stories seem to be wrapped around getting his dad a date with car saleswoman and Vanessa Feltz look-alike Gemma. As Mark’s love life and Arg and Lydia’s issues seem to be the main stories of the series even chirpy orange beautician Amy seems to have been cut out to an extent. So far her story arc is all about finding an assistant with help from her gay cousin the terminally-ill looking Harry as well as from Gemma. We also have new characters in glamour model Chloe who seems to have tinkered with her face so much that it’s falling off and her cousin Joey Essex who has hair like a walnut whip and has designs on Lucy or as he tells Mark he wants to ‘Put it on her’. As you can imagine TOWIE is complete rubbish but I really love it I think it’s mainly because these people aren’t real and these situations are so set up its just gloriously trashy. I love the fact that Arg is being pushed into the storylines more as he seems like quite a normal fella who is just trying to get through life the best way he knows how. Mr. Darcy the pig is also a genius inclusion and I’m just hoping that he doesn’t accidentally get added to one of Nanny Pat’s legendary Sausage Plaits that she makes specially for Mark and Lauren’s wedding.
If there’s one thing that strikes fear into me more than most its the term ‘BBC3 Sitcom’ over the past few years I’ve sat in muted wonderment at the atrocities such as Grown Ups, Phoo Action and the dire Coming of Age. I suppose it all really started with Two Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crisps and that programme’s star Will Mellor is at the front of the latest ‘comic’ offering from the channel White Van Man. As you can probably grasp from the title Mellor plays a White Van Man or in fact the son of a White Van Man whose dad has been ordered to stay at home so Mellor has to go out and do some hard graft. Mellor’s Ollie is a dreamer by trade and was a promising chef before he got kicked out of college for serving a marijuana-laced lasagne accidentally mistaking the drug for a herb. To fund the opening of his toast-based restaurant he is tasked with taking on his dad’s painting and decorating jobs alongside the hapless Darren. In one way or another Darren is the cause of all of Ollie’s issues he uses the toilet of a client’s house without asking, he lets another house get burgled and he knocks the daughter of a third client. But its Ollie that gets all the grief and he also runs into an old flame who has stolen one of his many ideas and used it as her own. White Van Man is a bit of an oddity as it has a lot of influences from old-school comedy most notably the ‘Confessions’ series starring Robin Askwith but it also is trying to be edgy and up to date and has done this by casting Mellor and having a lot of vulgar dialogue. The result is a little unpleasant and predictable but at the same time I could never really hate it mainly thanks to Mellor’s performance as well as The Inbetweeners’ Blake Harrison who kept popping up as a thief friend of Darren’s who was constantly getting one over on Darren. There were some uncomfortable moments including making light of someone who had Downs Syndrome and there were also too many toilet humour based gags but White Van Man does have an eon of likeability to it. I probably won’t be watching again but its not entirely awful and that actually means it’s quite a successful offering from the BBC’s third channel.
Channel 4′s ‘lifestyle’ orientated programming went even lower this week with a special edition of its insipid Supersize Vs Superskinny series focusing entirely on the eating habits of the under-16s. Shown throughout the week Supersize Vs Superskinny saw the return of the ubiquitous Dr. Christian Jessen as he tried to demonstrate to children that eating a lot of food would make them fat and not eating enough food would make them thin and neither of these things were particularly good for their health. But thanks to Channel 4′s scheduling restraints he had to spread this message over about five hours so by the end I felt like I knew all I needed to about the inner workings of our digestive systems. The programmes also followed the same formula as each day one chubby child and one stringy child were fed the typical daily diet of the other. In the episode I watched we had 15 year old Iewan who weighs 17 stone and 13 year old Jess who weighs just 6 and a half stone. Jess doesn’t have a particularly healthy diet eating chicken nuggets, chicken fried rice and drinking coke its just that she doesn’t have as much as Iewan who eats mainly burgers and pizzas. Dr. Christian’s plan is to try and convince them that they aren’t doing themselves any favours and in Iewan’s case I would agree with him but in terms of Jess at 13 I’m not quite sure that she wouldn’t grow into her figure at a later date and put some weight on there, I don’t think that she is particularly starving herself. As always on these programmes we are bombarded with statistics about obesity, eating disorders, the body and are also told that it is the parents that are at fault Jess’ dad lets her get away with eating what she wants while Iewan’s mum was deprived of food when she was his age so piles his plate full of things now. After their day living together they are given a diet plan and asked to come back three months later where Iewan has lost 3 pounds and Jess has put on that amount meaning that nothing has really changed for either of them. I honestly thought this programme wasn’t a good idea, while childhood obesity and eating disorders are a problem showing a kid how chubby he is and telling a 13 year old girl that she doesn’t look right are quite negative things. The only benefits this programme had where in the sections that didn’t feature Jess and Iewan, there was a small film done by a 17 year old girl who had an eating disorder that was very well put together and Christian’s diagrams of the body that he showed to the school kids were also a good idea. It just makes me think that Channel 4 believe that the only way to get the message across about eating disorders in children is to actual show them on T.V.and demonstrate how flawed their parents are I disagree with this entirely and think that a compilation of films made by kids who have suffered through the disorders sandwiched together with Dr. Christian’s advice would’ve been a much better idea.
And finally to a series that has been causing quite a stir recently as we usher in a new era on Midsomer Murders. Usually a new series of Midsomer wouldn’t cause much of a stir even if there is a new sheriff in town, Neil Dudgeon’s DCI John Barnaby taking over from John Nettles as his on screen cousin Tom. However the controversy has come from the fact that to promote the new series, producer Brian True-May picked up on the fact that there are no ethnic minorities in the show describing it as the ‘last bastion of Britishness’. Of course any remarks like that are going to have repercussions and soon the word got out about the article people were outraged even if they really hadn’t read what he’d said in the first place and once the complaints started piling up ITV had no option but to let True-May go after this series had finished. Personally I’ve never been a big watcher of Midsomer, I’ve seen a couple of episodes while I’ve been on the treadmill at the gym or its been on in the background while I’ve been doing other things but I’ve never really followed it. I decided to sit down and watch Dudgeon’s first full episode and what I saw was a world in which the upper classes all despised one another and everybody was scheming to overthrow everyone else. The episode, set around a girls school, saw Miss Moneypenny from James Bond and her schoolgirl daughter who looked a lot older than she should’ve been, dealing drugs and also saw the death of a DJ and a local scallywag during the school holding a vintage car competition for charity. With a mainly comic background Dudgeon’s Barnaby was quite quick and also was more reserved that Nettles had been seemingly want to confide in his dog more than in Jason Hughes’ sidekick Jones. Of course everything was wrapped up neatly by the end and Barnaby had become another inhabitant of Midsomer even if he had fended off the advances of both the men and the woman folk alike. In terms of the issue with True-May I’m not for a moment defending his comments but to be fair there aren’t many ethnic minorities in these small villages anyway. I’m not sure if the lack of black faces actually adds to the authenticity of the show but at least they aren’t being portrayed as murder victims or murderers and I actually did see a couple of black extras during some of the scenes with Barnaby and Jones exploring the village. Instead of levelling issues of racial discrimination against something like Midsomer maybe we should be looking at the soaps Eastenders is supposedly set in the East End of London but has approximately 3 white characters to every black, Asian or mixed raced one and Coronation Street, set just outside Manchester, only has four regular non-white characters. If anyone is discriminated against in terms of Midsomer its the Welsh, Jones is presented as someone who really isn’t very good at his job while the two Welsh girls at the Boarding School are seen as easily manipulated charity cases. Overall Midsomer isn’t probably the ‘last bastion of Britishness’ instead it was it is is a cosy familiar set-up in which the upper and middle classes are exposed as being either devious or deadly.
What did you think of this week’s programmes? Leave a comment below
Next Time: Fern, 32 Brinkburn Street and Three in a Bed.