Hello Blog Fans. While I did have a week in which I got addicted to a rubbish MTV reality show I also had time to watch some intelligent British programming, and Luther as well.
In 2009 possibly my favourite author ever, Sir Terry Pratchett, presented a documentary about Alzheimer’s disease and how he had developed the condition. The documentary made my list of the top programmes of that year and now he’s back presenting another programme this time on assisted suicide. In Choosing to Die, Pratchett pondered if assisted suicide would be an option for him as he didn’t want to live as half a man when the dementia fully kicks in. He decided to visit two men both who had decided to travel to Switzerland to end their lives. The first man was Peter Smedley a dignified gent who, with his wife of many years Christine, had to decided to take the trip to Dignitas and end his life. Prtatchett’s first meeting with the Smedleys was very British indeed even though they were talking about Peter’s death it was all kept very formal with offers of cups of tea and the revelation that the Smedleys potted peas for a living. As well as Peter another man called Andrew, who suffered from MS, also met Pratchett, Andrew was a lot younger than both Peter and Terry and several times both Pratchett and his assistant Rob questioned Andrew’s motivations given his age. Both Andrew and Peter went to Switzerland at the same time which was just before Christmas I thought the show did a lovely juxtaposition between the illuminating Christmas trees in the Swiss Backdrop and the realisation that two men were going to die. Andrew’s death wasn’t shown instead Terry and Rob toasted him as they knew the time he would die, a little tear from Pratchett’s eye signified that he’d made an attachment to a young man who had decided to end his life. But the most shocking scenes, and the ones that have courted the most press attention, were those involving Peter taking the drug that would end his life again in a very British way he thanked everybody in the room and kissed his wife. My abiding memory of the documentary will be Peter shouting for water and trying to throw up the pill before breathing his final breath. After watching Choosing to Die I’m still not sure if I’m exactly pro assisted suicide or not but it did illustrate that some people’s lives are precious up to a point and then they don’t want to suffer any more. This wasn’t a one sided affair as Pratchett visited a hospice and met a man with a similar condition to Peter’s who was quite happy to grow old where he was because at least he got to see his wife every day. I just think this was a full, honest depiction of the process but with a narrator who wasn’t judgemental and was very sympathetic towards his subjects. However Pratchett did discover that the doctors at Dignitas wouldn’t administer the drug to him as he is an Alzheimer’s sufferer and they couldn’t be sure he would be in his right mind. I can’t exactly say I enjoyed this programme but once again Pratchett and the BBC have made a well thought out documentary which has presented its case well and on that it should be applauded.
BBC3 also hit the documentary trail this week with Kids Behind Bars a look at the Vinney Green Secure Unit for young people and teenagers from the point of view of both the inmates and the staff. The first episode looked at three boys at differing stages of their incarceration. When we first met Kalem he’d been at the institute for a little over eight months since just after his 13th birthday. Some of the time Kalem seemed like a balanced boy but then he would just snap at either the staff or the other boys in the block and he would have to start at the bottom of the rung. Then there was Kieran who had re-entered Vinney Green after an absence and had been put into the unit with the girls because he had been bullied before. The girls seemed to like mothering Kieran more so than his own mother who appeared briefly he did seem utterly hyperactive throughout and I wasn’t surprised when we’d been told that he’d been put in another unit. Finally there was 14 year old Tali who had just entered the unit and was very disruptive refusing to answer simple questions from the staff and stealing their belongings. He was also a heavy cannabis smoker as well as very violent but again he started to settle down. My one problem was that the documentary never really gave me much about the boy’s problems before they came to Vinney Green. Most of it instead was about what happened while they were there – the fights seen on CCTV, the one-on-one meetings with tutors and other staff members and their general disruptive behaviour. We also got plenty of sound-bites from the staff who told us that the children should be treated with dignity and respect as their punishment is that they’ve been separated from the outside world. I did feel I learnt more about Vinney Green’s rewards system – Platinum and Gold meant that you got lots of treats but nothing if you were on a red card, than I did about the boys themselves which I think was a fault with the story. If they’d just shown the Gran scenes from Angry Boys that may have been better than the first part of Kids Behind Bars but I will give it another shot as different kids are to be focused on every week.
Channel 4 presented us with a new Friday night comedy line-up with the return of Jimmy Carr’s 8 out of 10 Cats and Alan Carr’s Chatty Man. Sandwiched in between the Carrs was a brand new show hosted by a very pregnant part-time film reviewer by the name of Claudia Winkleman. King of… is the not very memorable title of the show in which Winkleman welcomes on two guests, usually one stand-up and one ‘personality, and gets them to debate what is the King Of… certain things or in other words what is the best. The idea is that Claudia writes down all the ideas in her little red book and then leaves it to her children when she dies which to me seems a little bit morbid for a Friday night entertainment show. The problem with the concept is that there seems to be very little time to debate three topics on the show as Winkleman alongside Sarah Millican and Chris Evans had to decide on the King Of holidays, jobs and cheese. Each topic seemed to be a random cavalcade of props, video clips and audience interviews before Winkleman randomly picked something that she’d already had her mind set on. So for example in the jobs question they talked about being a rock star or a movie star for a while before someone in the audience piped up and told the panel she was a chocolatier which immediately went down in the book. However the main problem was it wasn’t very funny this may’ve been the choice of guests, Milican is over exposed and her routine has become tired while Evans didn’t really seem interested and till someone bought some cheese on, but if the highlight was Millican and Winkleman discussing the former’s sex on a beach story then you know you’re in trouble. Although I really like Winkleman this format just seems all over the place and surely the money spent on it could’ve been used to make or at least buy a fresh sitcom. Maybe I’ll have to wait for the King Of… bad programme concepts episode to see if I’m right.
However if you wanted to find the King of.. Barmy BBC Detective Shows that have no bearing on the real world whatsoever then you’d be hard pressed to find something to equal Luther which returned for a second series this week. For those who missed the first series Luther is a maverick cop who formed a strange relationship with a psychopath named Alice and at the end of the series saw is ex-wife get murdered which was a bugger for her new fiancée Paul McGann. At least though McGann made it to the second series as he and Luther are now, for some reason, pals so much so that they play chess together and Luther can use his flat as a safe-house to store underage porn stars. The main story of episode one saw Luther try and track down a man who was killing girls in the street while wearing a pig mask. As he’s a rogue detective Luther has a knack of picking a random person from the crowd, singling them out as the murderer and then chasing them down the street only unfortunately to get Tasered for his trouble. Idris Elba does bring a sort of crazy charm to the whole thing and as John Luther he almost brings a humanistic element to this cartoonish character but some scenes, including one in which Luther plays Russian Roulette, just beggar belief. Luther’s nemesis Alice is also back but as she is behind bars in a mental institute we see less of her which is a good thing as Ruth Wilson overplays it too much for my liking. Instead there’s a sort of Silence of the Lambs vibe to the meetings between Luther and Alice. I’m glad that this series has been slimmed down to just four episodes with the same stories playing over most of it as the writers don’t have to invent some new nutter for Luther to track down every week. It may not be to everyone’s taste but I love the camp feeling of it especially the last five minutes of episode one which played out like an opening scene to a 1980s horror movie.
But if you want the best of ‘The Original British Drama’ that the BBC is so keen to promote than you may look no further than Hugo Blick’s The Shadow Line which finished its run this week. I watched the final episode with my mum who had no idea what was going on and at one point during a scene featuring Christopher Eccleston’s Bede and Rafe Spall’s Jay asked are these the baddies? And she hit the nail on the head as The Shadow Line didn’t differentiate between good and evil and the final scene in which the smug Patterson and Gabriel’s wife made that point clearly. If you haven’t watched the final episode look away now as we got the revelation that it was all in fact about police pensions! I know that was somewhat of an anticlimax but I suppose the real climax was the death of Gabriel from his loyal sidekick DI Honey and this has to be the first time that the word Honey Trap has literally been used. One thing I liked about The Shadow Line was its use of signifiers so for example boiling anything on a stove meant that you were usually going to be dead soon as we saw with boat-dwelling Commander Penny who committed suicide after boiling a kettle and then uttering one of the lines of the series – ‘I didn’t want a cup of tea anyway’. The final episode also bought lighters into the forefront with Patterson menacingly lighting his lighter at the beginning, Babur’s fancy lighter being highlighted in his scene with Jay and Gatehouse’s lighter being the signifier of Gabriel’s death. There are just so many good things to write about this show and if you don’t know who or what I’m talking about you seriously need to watch this. The acting was incredible with Stephen Rea and Rafe Spall particularly standing out for me and also the writing on the whole was brilliant it also had one of the best theme tunes on British TV in the last ten years or so. I have to say The Shadow Line is my programme of the year so far and I just hope the BBC can produce something that tops it but its going to be a hard task.
OK that’s your lot for this week next week summer Saturday night telly kicks in with Lee Mack, Dermot O’Leary, Bradley Walsh and Penn and Teller presenting their offerings plus my verdicts on James May’s new show and the final two-parter of Case Histories.
What did you think of this week’s programmes leave a comment below?