Welcome to another instalment of weekly TV goodness.
Kicking off this week with BBC1′s new oddly scheduled Sunday night drama – Sugartown. The reason I mention the scheduling was that it was placed on Sunday after the news with it kicking off at 10:25 while in the main 9 o’clock shot a repeat of George Gently was aired. Notably the last show that was bundled in this slot was Outcasts which was cast out to this place after bombing on weeknights. But it seems that there is no confidence at all in this three part drama and after watching the first episode it’s not hard to see why. Set in the fictional Northern seaside resort of Sugartown it stars Northern comedy-drama stalwart Shaun Dooley as Jason the dependable Jason Burr who is trying to keep Sugartown’s rock factory out of the red and failing miserably. Seemingly the rock factory is the only source of income for Sugartown’s residents bar the beauty salon run by Jason’s girlfriend and later fiancée Emily and the B and B watched over by Emily’s dowdy friend Anne. Sauntering back into the picture is Jason’s evil brother Max who has betrayed his Northern roots and journeyed south to find his fortune now back in Sugartown he wants to update the town and bring in casinos and other establishments. However the residents don’t want any new revenue coming into the town and also want to stop Max from buying out Jason and closing down Burr’s factory so use Max’s former business partner and her daughter to revive Sugartown’s past as a dancing community. Also in the frame is Travis a bit of a wanderer and the only Sugartown resident under the age of thirty who drives a rickshaw, has long hair and never knew his parents but I’m guessing his parentage will have something to do with saving the factory, hint hint, nudge, nudge etc. At the moment it seems the BBC is desperately trying to create a fictional programme that represents real Northerners and has had very mixed success. In With the Flynns was alright for a 30 minute sitcom while Candy Cabs was just plain awful. Sugartown lays somewhere in between it doesn’t have any real humour too it but at the same time doesn’t have any of the bright pink or screeching that Candy Cabs did. There are two main problems with the programme one is to do with casting or particularly picking Miranda’s loveable Tom Ellis to play the dastardly Max, he really can’t play either villain or convincing businessman well while Shaun Dooley struggles to play the frontman after a career spent playing more supporting characters the stalwart supporting cast that includes Sue Johnston and Philip Jackson try their best but the other problem is one of tone which always befalls any show given the dreaded comedy-drama tag as that usually means its neither comedic or dramatic. I do feel for everyone involved in Sugartown as it does feel like something that could’ve been good had it been nurtured, cast well and most importantly put in a timeslot not reserved for people who don’t have work on Monday morning.
Another programme tarred with the comedy-drama brush is E4′s newest offering Beaver Falls but as you can probably gather from the title it falls more on the comedy side of things. It sees three British graduates jet over to America to spend their summer working at the summer camp of the title. They are the charming Scottish ladies’ man Flynn, the affable sex-mad stoner Barry and the lovelorn nice-guy Adil who is friends hilariously call A-Rab and in his first scene is being harassed by the U.S. customs at the airport. But the stereotyping doesn’t end there as when the Brits meet the campers they’ll be looking after they find out they’re all nerds and chubby kids – there’s the wise talking black kid, the former popular kid who’s put on weight since last summer, the spoilt newbie and the compulsive masturbater who is responsible for the worst gag in the whole first episode when Barry finds semen in his flip-flop (there’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d write). But obviously as the boys are after sex they all are given love interests Flynn ends up sleeping with a woman who turns out to be the boss’ wife, Barry develops an unhealthy crush on the beautiful blonde lifeguard who turns out to have a meathead boyfriend and A-Rab is destined to end up with the girl-next-door type camp counsellor. The writers also try and add a bit of deepness to this shallow affair by having A-Rab nurse a broken heart after publicly proposing to a girl at graduation that he hasn’t seen since and Flynn have something he’s running away from which us the audience have already worked out is some sort of fatal illness. As you can guess at the end of episode one the trio bond with their new wards and decide to try and make them as popular as they can and more importantly learn to love themselves. There was nothing in Beaver Falls taht I hadn’t really seen before and none of the supposed jokes made me chuckle but at the same time I have to applaud the cast who make the best out of a bad situation in particular Four Lions’ Arsher Ali who makes A-Rab a sympathetic soul. Beaver Falls also benefited from being well-produced, well-shot and having some great exterior locations however this couldn’t compensate for the clichéd script and I don’t think I’ll be carrying on with this show which tries to emulate the American Pie Band Camp films but ends up closer to a trans-Atlantic Hi de Hi.
Also off on holiday are four affluent 20 somethings but this isn’t another fictional jape instead another of Channel 4′s project shows entitled Holiday Hijack. The first episode saw posho PR girls Louise and Natalie joined by their friends – actress Alex and graduate Dan on a free holiday to the Gambia. But as you would imagine Channel 4 aren’t just going to give a holiday away, oh no, instead the four luxury-loving holidayers are taken to see the ‘real Gambia’ which involves leaving their glorious resort and staying with the lovely Lola in a small hut. Obviously at first all four have trouble adjusting to the culture shock and especially the cleaning method which involves a bucket of water and not much else. In particular Dan, who seems to suffer from a mild form of OCD, can’t bring himself to clean in unhygienic situations and later when the quartet are preparing fish to be sold at a local market his cleanliness obsession also prevents him from doing this. The women meanwhile just get on with it, Louise and Natalie struggle at first but after a while keep giving the camera soundbites about how they’ve never seen the real Gambia and how Lola and her friends have it really tough. Meanwhile Alex the actress just seems to lull into the background she obviously never went on a pre-university gap year and seems to enjoy mucking in with the general tasks which include selling wares on a craft market and helping a woman of their age clean to survive. A lot of what happens on Holiday Hijack we’ve seen before privileged toffs slumming it and helping out the less fortunate isn’t an original concept but in this programme it seems to be tied in with a holiday programme focusing mainly on what to do if you want to leave the hotel and experience the same joys as these four have. Personally I wasn’t really won over by either the show or the adverts for the same experience and felt that the end of the day this was a lazy programme which probably cost quite a lot to make.
BBC3 also love their social experiment programmes and they also presented us with one this week – Geordie Finishing School for Girls. Following on from last year’s Peckham Finishing School for Girls we got another four posh girls slumming it this time on the streets of Newcastle. All the four were upper class toffs who probably failed the Made in Chelsea auditions and had to resort to starring on this programme instead. The voice-over went to great lengths to tell us that Steph, Fi, Lucy and Fiona all were related to financiers, like to shoot and row and had high educational backgrounds. Meanwhile their Geordie guides Shauna, Lyndsey, Makylea and Kimberley all lived on small budgets, had parents on benefits and the latter were both single mums. Guiding the girls through this adventure was former Word presenter and notable lesbian Hufty who has taken some time off from her important job as youth support worker to appear on the T.V. once again. I’m thinking the BBC3 bosses were hoping for conflict with the southern lasses refusing to live on the £59 jobseekers budget for their ten days on the council estate but after the initial shock of not being able to use their blackberries and dealing with the fact there was no 24 hour shops they seemed to take to life on the Toon almost immediatedly. They loved trying on the Primark-style clothes that the Geordie girls had picked out for them and seemed to excel at budgeting when it came to the big shop. The other activities including being taught to speak Geordie by comic and former Viz writer Simon Donald and to blend in at a Newcastle United match also seemed to offer little burden and at the end I was left thinking what’s the point? Without any tears, culture shock or general conflict a programme like this fails to work and instead became a mutual respect club with the girls, and in particular Fiona, acclimatising to life in Newcastle quite quickly. Sure there was the odd revelation of how good they’ve got it but I think secretly they knew this already and after episode one I think that the social experiment had more or less worked and that all four girls would be graduating from the Geordie Finishing School with flying colours.
And finally this week I thought I’d reintroduce one of my favourite programmes of the year so far – 24 Hours in A & E. There will be a lot of you who are unfamiliar with Channel 4′s brilliant documentary but that’s mainly because, for some unknown reason, it has been scheduled up against The Apprentice since it started. However now Sir Al and co. have trotted off I’m able to enjoy watching the staff at King’s College Hospital. What I’ve loved about the documentary over the 10 weeks or so that its been on is the lack of intrusive voice-over which often ruins documentaries or factual reality type shows. Here the narration only introduces us to the hospital and occasionally presents us with this week’s patients but that’s about it. Instead the staff of the hospital, not just the doctors and nurses but the porters, security guards and lost property man, guide as through their day-to-day strife and show us both the ups and the downs of working in the A and E. Although over the weeks I’ve enjoyed a lot of the characters my favourite hands down is Sister Jen the nurse with a tough exterior but a warm heart who is able to break up warring gangs but at the same time comfort the mother of a drug addict who has tried to commit suicide. Each week the programme tries to present us with a theme for example fathers and sons in which both the patients and doctors talked about their love for their fathers or just simply what its like in Kings come Monday morning. I do also like how its all done over one day as it represents just how versatile and different one case might be to another. As a fan of E.R. and other such medical dramas its great that it seems us Brits can create a true medical drama just by putting cameras up around one of our nation’s busiest hospitals. With both this and last year’s Coppers it seems that Channel 4 has cornered the market in showing us the reality of our emergency services. And if you haven’t caught 24 Hours in A & E yet I highly recommend you catch the last couple of episodes before it disappears from our screen.
And also tell me what you thought of Sugartown, Beaver Falls, Holiday Hijack or any other programme that I should be covering by leaving a comment below.
Next week: Dragon’s Den, John Bishop’s Britain and Trollied