It’s time for another summer instalment of This Week in TV
And as we’re fully into summer season it’s the annual airing of Who Do You Think You Are? with a mammoth ten part series which won’t finish till mid-October. Although this year’s big draw is Harry Potter scribe JK Rowling she’ll be doing her episode next week but we kicked off with June Brown best known to most as Dot Cotton from out of Eastenders. Brown is the oldest ever person to trace their lineage on the family-tree programme beating Brucie by about a year. Usually when someone from a Jewish background, like June, appears on WDYTYA it tends to descend into a programme about the holocaust however this told a different tale of Jewish expulsion across Europe. I felt it was slightly strange that June had already traced her lineage back to the early 19th century as she had a picture of a bare-knuckle boxer Isaac Bitton who it turned out was very notorious in the world he inhabited. From there she was able to trace Isaac’s family back to Holland in which Isaac and his father moved to Britain leaving his mother with the rest of the children. June found that the rest of the children had died and this lead to the death of the mother and there was the inevitable teary when she visited her grave and sent away the man who had been helping her research. Obviously the camera stayed and lingered but June, who had stated earlier that she wasn’t going to cry, stayed stoic and silent obviously working out her grief in her own way. The journey then lead her to Spain and the story of how the Jews were expelled from Spain, and before that Northern Africa, by the Spanish Inquisition and I feel that is a part of history that rarely is told on these programmes which made it all the more special. For Who Do You Think You Are? to work it needs two things an interesting subject and an intriguing back story and the first episode had both of these. June Brown is a fantastic presence – slightly eccentric but not at all doddery for an 84 year old especially one who smokes as much as she does meanwhile the stories of bare-knuckle fights and the Spanish Inquisition are oddly enthralling. Overall a very strong start to the longest ever series of the programme let’s just hope they can keep it up.
On before the show on Wednesday night was Village SOS a timely example of what can happen when a community pulls together. The show was fronted by Sarah Beeny who has been promoted to the BBC after years of slaving away on Channel 4′s Property Ladder and having to subsidise her income by appearing in those ads for Direct Line Landlord Insurance. Here she travels to various villages throughout the land to document their efforts in re-establishing the economy of the area in numerous ways. First up was Talgarth near Brecon which was once a thriving village thanks to its water mill but in recent times had failed to attract visitors so the plan was to get the community together to rebuild the mill which they were able to do after receiving a grant from the Big Lottery Fund. As this was a community effort the first thing that the Talgarthians did was to bring in someone from outside to oversee the project that was Ann Hillier whose job it was not just to help overhaul the mill but to create a genuine tourist attraction complete with a riverside walk, bakery and cafe. So then the show took two strands one saw the mill being rejuvenated while another saw a group from the town bake using local ingredients and learn how to run a cafe. Every so often Beeney popped up mainly to tell them that they wouldn’t be finished in time while Bill a local cafe entrepreneur told the bakery ladies that they couldn’t run a successful establishment and that he couldn’t envisage anyone wanting to trek to, in his words, Nowhereseville, Nowhere. One thing I noticed was how old-fashioned the projects were in that it was an all-female group who were baking and serving at the cafe and an all-male team in charge of the mill side of things maybe Talgarth hasn’t got to grips with equal opportunities just yet. Of course at the end of the day both Beeney and Bill ate their words, as well as some homemade shortbread, as Talgarth got the visitors in and the cafe opened almost on time. There’s a good message behind Village SOS insomuch as if you get your community interested in a project then you can change things for the better. As I mentioned before this was a particularly timely message as the first episode aired the same day as across the country people were volunteering to help clean up their cities following the atrocious rioting at the beginning of the week. But while Village SOS was indeed positive programming there wasn’t anything that particularly grabbed me about it and I was left less than enthralled by the whole thing and can’t believe there’s another five episodes to come.
Turning to daytime now and with Loose Women on a hiatus while they have a personnel shuffle and welcome Carol Vorderman into the fold there needs to be a replacement programme in that spot. Step forward Let’s Do Lunch which is hosted by two daytime stalwarts Mel Sykes, who previously inhabited this slot with Des O’Connor and regular This Morning chef Gino D’Campo. The programme is essentially 45 minutes of Gino cooking and Mel lurking in the background but is formatted to make you think that that’s not the case so we get Gino cooking in a lot of different ways. At the beginning of the programme he cooks a quick sandwich letting us in on a recipe which we can all make with things we find in our fridges, including pesto and parmesan obviously Gino’s idea of an average fridge is different from yours and mine, which in the first episode was a ham and cheese sandwich. Then he has to cook competitively recreating a dish made by a local chef which this time was an onion volcano essentially slices of onion sliced with a hot onion filling in the middle. Finally he cooked interactively as viewers could decide which meal they wanted Gino to cook, by this point I’d sort of zoned out but I believe it was something to do with chicken. Each day there is also a special guest, Martin Kemp featured in ep one, but even they play second fiddle to the food and indeed I learnt that Kemp was going to be in the new series of 71 Degrees North and that he was directing a film and that was about it. Basically what I’m saying is this was Gino D’Campo’s Cookery Roadshow I really wonder what Mel’s doing there but hey she’s getting paid right? I guess if you like Gino and you like watching him cook then you’d been in seventh heaven but I felt there was too much of the same thing. The entertainment/cookery format has worked well over the years with shows like Light Lunch and Something for the Weekend but there was just too much coking and not enough entertainment for this time of the day.
Comedy now and with John Bishop raking in the ratings on BBC1, ITV have pulled out the big comedy guns to oppose him in the primetime 9pm slot. To beat the BBC, ITV have taken one of their biggest stars got him to interview a lot of their other stars while airing clips from a lot of their famous programmes with the title of Ronnie Corbett’s Comedy Britain. Corbett obviously needed some money to fund his latest golfing expedition so has set off up and down the country finding comedians to talk to. Ronnie firstly focused on double acts, as he was part of a duo don’t you know? So he interviewed Lucas but not Walliams, Mitchell but not Webb and Merchant without Gervais also on the bill was Miranda Hart, not part of a double act but a fan of Morecambe and Wise, and John Cleese who was part of an ensemble I suppose. But sit down chats on their own can be quite dull so to spice things up a bit these interviews took place in some exotic locations. Mitchell and Corbett strutted down the corridors of Cambridge University, Ronnie took Miranda to the studio where Morecambe and Wise’s T.V. programme was shot, he played Vicki Pollard with Matt Lucas and in possibly the most bizzare segment of the show tried on trousers with Merchant. Stranger still was that the clips that illustrated some of the stuff that Ron was talking about were projected onto weird and wacky services including cafe counters, university pillars and stage curtains obviously the works of an over-zealous producer. I honestly don’t quite know what to make of this programme there were some quaint anecdotes about Ronnie’s career and some interesting snippets about what it’s like to be in a comedy double act but it just didn’t feel like it sat right airing in the place where Britain’s Got Talent and The Marriage Ref have gone before and into whcih X-Factor is to return next week. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy parts of it but the whole experience of Ronnie Corbett’s Comedy Britain was a little confusing to say the least.
An odd song about Gandalf, a bemused Brigitte Nielsen and a joke about Ulrika Johnson’s sex life must mean just one thing. Shooting Stars is back! Yes the revival of Vic and Bob’s comedy gameshow continues after a successful run last summer we’re back again with Jack Dee and Ulri-ka-ka as team captains and the brilliant Angelos Epithimou still keeping scores. Along with Nielsen the other guests were James Martin who wondered what he’d agreed too, some bloke from Corrie who tried to play along with the jokes and a mostly subdued Ross Noble who was the obligatory comic booking but whose only contribution to the show seemed to be an oddly jarring conversation with Bob about his Australian home being burnt to the ground. It was Nielsen who was the star guest of the first episode and had obviously fallen out with her agent who hadn’t forewarn her of the dangers of sitting next to Vic Reeves. Throughout the course of the show she went from questioning some of Vic and Bob’s comments to the other guests to seemingly playing along with the jokes like she was in on them. She wasn’t. Shooting Stars is one of those shows that you either love or hate I know for some people that Reeves and Mortimer’s humour goes over their heads and is far too absurdist for an audience who have been fed mainly mainstream fare like Michael McIntyre and the aforementioned John Bishop. But for me I feel that the show has always been rejuvenated at the right time whether it be the addition of Johnny Vegas in the early 2000s or more recently the addition of Angelos who is just amazing his sardonic delivery and random outbursts perfectly compliment the tone of the show. Whether Shooting Stars will be around for a long time once again is a question yet to be answered but I think it is definitely a highlight of the comedy year at the moment.
And talking of the comedy year after ten weeks on BBC3 it was time to wave goodbye to Chris Lilley’s Angry Boys. For me it is Lilley’s most inconsistent programme with We Can Be Heroes and especially Summer Heights High being personal favourites of mine. Don’t get me wrong there was lots to love about Angry Boys, S.Mouse was a great creation a rapper trying to keep up his ‘cred’ while at the same time trying to gain the acceptance and approval of his father while Gran was a brilliant chracter and the revelation of her Alzheimer’s combined with the suicide of a prisoner was the series’ most poignant moment. Twins Nathan and Daniel who are the only characters to feature in every episode have ups and downs and I feel that Lilley found it hard to create twelve stories in the run-up to Nathan leaving for Deaf School and Daniel’s realisation that they weren’t going to run the farm that they’d dreamed off in particular the week involving Chloe from the Video Store was a little dull. But I had my reservations about the other two characters – Blake Oakfield and Jen the domineering mother of the faux gay teen skateboarder. In terms of Blake I just didn’t think there was enough content to sustain an entire story arc and with Jen and son Tim the joke got too old too fast. However the final episode bought everything that is good about Chris Lilley into one episode – Gran having to move back to Dunt and leave Penny behind, the twins talking to their father’s tree and the final scene in which all the legends came to Nathan’s farewell party were all both funny and incredibly moving, I have to admit to tearing up at the end especially when Nathan saw all of his things on Steve’s truck. Overall I think Lilley has sustained a successful series but it hasn’t been quite the cult hit that his previous too offerings were and I feel that’s because he spread himself too thin and we never quite got to know some of the characters in the way we would’ve if there had only been three central figures in the same way there was in Summer Heights High. But I think Lilley has to be applauded for his writing, acting and the creation of some more memorable creations and I hope he returns with another series featuring new characters in the near future.
Remember leave a comment to tell me what you thought of Who Do You Think You Are?, Village SOS, Angry Boys or anything else you think I should be covering
Next week: Celebrity Big Brother, The Bachelor and The Great British Bake-Off