As we get further into autumn we have more shows to cover so get ready for this bumper week of TV action.
Although the new series of Strictly Come Dancing is three weeks away we were treated on Saturday night to a Live Launch in which the celebrities were paired with their partners for the first time. This is the second year in which Strictly has hosted this launch show and I feel it’s a good idea. For a number of reasons I think we all like to see who has been paired with who, or should that be whom, and the Launch show gives us that opportunity more so than the old way in which we just saw the pairs meeting in the training room and the announcement had already been made ahead of time. To non-Strictly fans the pairings may not seem important but as the dancers have developed their own characteristics as the series have gone on then the pairing of a volatile celeb with a fiery pro dancer is just as important as the skill each possesses. The second reason this launch show is great is that we get to see the celebs dance together for the first time although it was a very basic dance it gives you an idea of who is better than you thought, Russell Grant can move a bit better than I thought he would, and who didn’t live up to your expectations such as One Show host Alex Jones who must do better. Thirdly was that we got to meet new boy dancer Pasha who basically has the same babyface gimmick as the guy he replaced, High School Musical’s Jared Murillo. But most important for the BBC is that the Launch Show allows them the chance to thaw out (sir) Bruce Forsyth and allow him to get his truly cringe-inducing material out of the way before we head to the live shows. As I hammered on about it so much what about those all-important pairings? Well in my prediction blog I layed down logic to the dancing partners I thought would fit each celebrity and then come the Launch Show I only get one right and that’s only because Natalie Lowe is the tallest of the female pros and therefore had to be lumbered with boxing behemoth Audley Harrison. The most memorable moment of the launch show had to be the look on Lulu’s face when she was paired up with notorious love rat and hothead Brendan Cole so much so that Brendan had to pick her up and carry her away. Lulu’s reaction is a rarity in this show as I think everybody has been told to smile professionally no matter who you end up with which would explain the forced grin on Artem’s face when he thought he was about to have to put Edwina Currie through her paces luckily Vincent drew the short straw with Edwina and Artem looks like he may do back-to-back wins as his partner is actually the main reason I’ll be watching this year – Holly Valance. Valance and McFly’s Harry Judd seem to be the favourites and last year’s winning female Aliona has been paired with Judd but I wouldn’t rule out either Anita Dobson or Jason Donovan from getting to the final. But that’s a long way away, Christmas in fact, and before then we get to see all the dodgy dancing and Craig’s pithy putdowns which have become synonymous with Strictly over the years as has the razzle dazzle and the glitter balls and I for one can’t wait for the ride.
Its fair to say that Simon Cowell’s Red or Black? was an unmitigated disaster for ITV as it was both panned by critics and gained controversy after it was revealed that Nathan, the first millionaire the show had created, was in prison for ABH only a couple of years ago. So the channel really needed to repair its reputation and get a hit hence why Holding Out for a Hero is being paraded around our screens. The programme, hosted by pill-peddler Gethin Jones, follows in ITV1′s recent slew of charity-based shows which included the dreadful Sing if You Can and the well-meaning if repetitive Born to Shine. Here there is no celebrity element instead we have three members of the general public Steve, Sally and Jackie who were playing in turn for Sean who ran a boxing gym which kept the local yoofs off the street, Anna who had set up a small school for children with autism and former stroke victim turned stroke charity head. Now I think what this show should have been about was simply telling the tales of these wonderful people and giving them large cheques however in this post-Secret Millionaire world in which we live televised charity donations aren’t that simple any more. This time the game was the problem it involved a modicum of general knowledge and a whole heap of luck it begins with Gethin asking a question which the contestant then answers, before they find out if they’ve been successful they have to pick a ‘gift card’ which has an amount between £1,000 and £20,000 on offer and will determine how much the question is worth if answered correctly, follow me so far? But that’s not the end the contestant can then decide to double and triple the amount but they have to make sure that their confident in their answer or that amount will be taken off their fund. On the whole the questions themselves weren’t that hard for example one of Steve’s questions was: ‘Carol Ann Duffy was appointed to which position in 2009 was it Head of MI6, Poet Laureate or Speaker of The House of Commons? Answers on a postcard folks. Anyway after five questions the contestants have a set amount depending on what gift cards they picked up and whether they doubled/tripled at the right time. My biggest problem with Holding Out for a Hero was that it was only the contestant who got the most money that would ultimately walk out with a massive cash sum for their hero the other two would walk away with a measly three grand. Personally I really don’t see why they couldn’t come individually and play but maybe ITV wasted too much money giving million pounds to random plebs last week rather than to those who really need it. Additionally I found it in poor taste that the first contestant gets to stay on eyeball the rest of the pack until they are eliminated this means that either they will have to sit their awkwardly while the other charity fails to get the money or look happy after they’ve been defeated. This was definitely a programme with good intentions but was badly-constructed and had a charisma-free host plus part of me felt uncomfortable watching those unsuccessful heroes walk off with next to nothing.
One of the reasons Gethin Jones may have been given this game show to host is that he has been redistributed by ITV1 as last year he co-fronted celebrity arctic adventure based show but on its return this week he has been replaced by Paddy McGuinness who is joined by Sky Sports’ Charlotte Jackson herself replacing the most unluckiest woman on T.V. Kate Thornton who has seemingly been replaced on every TV show she’s been on. For those of you who didn’t catch the excitement last time this is basically a wintery version of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here with ten celebs trying to make it to the 71st parallel north while trying to avoid being nominated to go by their fellow participants, each week one contestant receives immunity by completing a challenge with all the others at risk. This year taking part were three ex-Eastenders: Brooke Kinsella who has become best known for her campaigning against knife crime, Martin Kemp who is equally known for Spandau Ballet and those sofa ads and Sean Maguire who has been credited as a ‘Hollywood Actor’ despite the biggest movie he appeared in was the disastrous spoof Meet the Spartans. They were joined by Loose Women’s Lisa Maxwell, Crimewatch’s Rav Wilding, Olympic Gold Medallist Amy Williams, Fast Show and Cold Feet star John Thompson and TV presenter Anjelica Bell who usually appears on shows with presenter husband Michael Underwood but obviously he couldn’t take the cold. Rounding off the pack was Charlie Dimmock who thankfully has dressed sensibly for the arcitic as she never did when she gardened on Ground Force and Nicky Campbell who has grown both the hair on his head and face so he looks half-man half-lion. Each week the trek sees the ten separated into teams of five and compete in a challenge with one having to spend a night in a tent while the other gets to relax in a cabin. Maguire’s Red Team had a controversial start after the ‘Hollywood Star’ defied the rules not going around the marked route and therefore getting his team disqualified and having to erect a tent themselves however they were triumphant and nabbed the cabin at the last minute. The immunity challenge saw the celebs attempting a tethered swim in freezing waters I wasn’t at all shocked when former soldier Rav emerged the winner as he’s probably done something like this before although I was impressed at Brooke’s attempts beating about half of the pack despite only learning to swim a week before the show began. The conspiracy theories then began after Nicky Clarke was voted off by the red team who wanted to keep Maguire on, to be fair he probably had a lucky escape he gets to go somewhere warm after this. I have to say I didn’t really have much time for 71 Degrees North last year due to the hosting team and celeb line-up however I think the shake-up has done wonders for it. With McGuiness hosting and providing narration it has a less of a serious tone to it, in the same way as Ant and Dec’s commentary on I’m a Celeb, he also has a better chemistry with Jackson than Jones did with Thornton. The fact that it’s on midweek rather than on Saturday night also makes sense as it didn’t really fit as a companion piece to The X-Factor but on its own it is able to stand out more. While I don’t think I’ll be tuning in weekly I definitely think the format has been successfully tweaked to provide more entertainment than it did last year even if there was one too many scenes with Charlie Dimmock in a swimming costume for my liking.
This week also saw the debut of two new crime dramas the first of which saw Waking the Dead’s Forensic pathologist Dr. Eve Lockhart return on The Body Farm a system she had set up to help her calculate the length of a time a corpse had been buried. With Lockhart, still played by Tara Fitzgerald, now separated from Trevor Eve and company we see the Body Farm team and their interactions so alongside Eve is her on/off love interest Mark, the plucky but naive student-type Rosa and Oggy an agoraphobic weirdo who seems very unstable and it can’t be very long before he completely snaps. Lockheart is summoned by Keith Allen’s DI Hale to help him identify the bodies of two boys who were involved in a bomb explosion as they would be cheaper and easier to use than sending his DNA samples to Germany now that their labs have closed down. It’s not long before Eve is wrestling the case away from Hale interviewing suspects and staying two steps ahead of him thanks to her having the resources to make deductions ahead of the police. This case in particular initially looked like a revenge attack for the rape of a young girl at the hands of two boys but was later revealed to be something else completely different. As the team go on in their investigations more parts of the story are shown to us as flashback as we see how the girl ended up in the tower at the first place and the reasons why what happened did happen. At the end of the day the case is solved and Eve’s minions are able to return to their farm and away from the real world apart from Oggy who didn’t fancy going out in the first place. I have to say The Body Farm is an odd one as their investigations are highly unorthodox for example there is one scene in which Mark releases flies into the flat to find the source of blood they can feed off while there is a lot of DNA swabs being used and blood samples being analysed. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and I like to see the proper cops and criminals show with the police going round interviewing various suspects before finding the culprit there was elements of this here but the scientific elements came first presumably to make this a bit ‘different’ but those parts felt a little alienating. I admire Tara Fitzgerald as an actress but don’t think she’s dominating enough to be the lead here, her opening soliloquy in which she vows to help the murder victims by finding their murderers is so lightly delivered it sounds like Eve is advertising Marks and Spencers Food rather than introducing a crime programme – ‘this isn’t just murder, this is Body Farm murder.’ I actually enjoyed Keith Allen being much more reserved than he normally is but still having that prickly edge to him however the rest of the team really didn’t make an impact on me with the only memorable character being the oddball Oggy but he made an impression for all the wrong reasons as I found him far-fetched and unbelievable. Overall a valiant effort to carry on the Waking the Dead brand however lack of authority and memorable characters plus odd crime solving methods means that The Body Farm comes off as a bit of an oddity still well-made and well-acted but with nothing remarkable about it.
Also returning was Stephen Tompkisnon’s DCI Banks who had a two-part series last year and is now returning with three two-parters making up a new six part series. This particular two-parter begins at the canal side following a barge explosion and a body is indentified as Lesley, the owner of antique book store. Soon Banks and his team are looking for someone possibly involved in art fraud as bundles of cash are discovered alongside a Turner painting that may or may not be a fake and this is before the second body washes up on shore this time the daughter of a GP who has a much younger wife. Its up to Banks and his back-chatting DS Annie Cabbot to try and try and work out who the target was of the fire was it Leslie and something to do with the art fraud or what it was the GP and his younger wife out to get revenge on his daughter for some reason. The latter certainly seemed to be more suspicious as Dr. Aspen asked his wife on more than one occasion if she’d bumped off his eldest daughter however the artwork may come into it as well because Banks’ first suspect forger Jake McMahon was also bumped off. Unlike The Body Farm, DCI Banks is very traditional cop show fare with a grumpy old man in charge, when I’m watching Tompkinson I’m thinking that here he wants to do a bit of a Hugh Laurie i.e. be a comedy actor who crosses over into a drama where he plays a professional man with hardly any emotions. To be fair Tompkinson himself is very good in the role bringing a sort of downbeat nature to his part but still being fiercely loyal to his colleagues including somewhat stupidly punching Dr. Aspen in the face after he is racially abusive to one Banks’ DSs. Andrea Lowe, as Annie, makes for an interesting partnership with Tompkinson the two sparring frequently as she goes over his head and then he chastises her for it but I do feel that her burgeoning relationship with an art expert will only lead to doom and gloom, mainly as I don’t trust him. I also feel that putting this out on a Friday was a bit of a mistake I feel that Friday should be more about panel shows, sitcoms and merriment instead of charred bodies I’m guessing that this was originally going to go out on Sunday nights but then Downton Abbey was ready to be aired and DCI Banks had to take a backburner. DCI Banks is a solid show both in writing and acting but that’s all it is, there’s nothing memorable about it, there are no real memorable characters and although the plot is intriguing its nothing you wouldn’t get out of a decent two-part Midsomer Murders.
Sharing a sponsor with DCI Banks, I believe it was a sofa retailer of some description, was ITV1′s other big show of the week was a new travelogue hosted by Billy Connelly this time where we follow him as he takes to Route 66 on an old-school motorbike hitting us with quirky yanks and his own brand of anecdotes along the way. Starting off in Chicago, Bill showed us around some of his favourite buildings including the Sears tower and the views he likes the most in the Chicago skyline. He also wanted to get to the history of Rock and Roll in the area and particularly the racism that was rife at the time of some of the big singers, including Nat King Cole, getting their break. From Chicago it was on the road to small Illinois towns including one called Normal which was essentially a boring slice of suburbia. Talking of slices, Connelly also was able to take time out to visit Illinois’ award-winning pie restaurant in which he indulged in a Peach Pie and learnt how to make the perfect crust. Travelling on he took a detour into Amish country and met up with a gentleman who didn’t want his face to be filmed as he saw it as a sign of vanity, makes a change for someone not to want the camera on them constantly on ITV1, and also told Billy of the recent family tragedy when his son died. Finally Billy crossed his first state line into St. Louis, Missouri and went to a town that had recently been ravaged by a tornado but through the wreckage he found a community who were still in high spirits and anticipating rebuilding and redecorating their houses. For me, what marks out Connelly’s shows out from every other ‘celebrity going on a jolly’ ITV show is that Connelly seems to actually care about what he’s talking about and his quips and jibes add to the fun. One of my favourite parts of the show was where he was looking up at the Chicago skyline and blaming Donald Trump for tearing down one of his favourite buildings and replacing it with an eyesore going on to talk about Don wanting to be present, ‘if he did the place would become a shithole.’ It is essentially eccentric Scot meets eccentric America but that’s what works so well, Connelly is a warm and funny host who clearly cares a lot about the subject and has a lot to share and I for one am keen to know what he wants to share next.
I am trying to think of a polite way to segway between Billy Connelly and a load of old dinosaurs, but I can’t think of one so without a witty double entrende I will continue with my review of Planet Dinosaur. Instead of being a big new sci-fi drama to drown away any memories of the terrible Outcasts, Planet Dinosaur is a new CGI-riffic show in the vein of Walking with Dinosaurs which is now staggeringly over ten years old. The programme basically looks into dinosaurs we may not have heard of and, working from bones and fossils found recently, they are reconstructed and come to life in massive battles. Episode one focused on two discoveries in Northern Africa the first, the carcharodontosaurus, was a massive lizard-like beast and the programme went to great lengths to show how it gnawed away at its prey with its giant teeth. But a more recent discovery was the spinosaurus, which is a bit of a rubbish name if you ask me, which was larger than the T-Rex. I have to say I was impressed by the recreations of dinosaur life, the feeding frenzies and the battles however every so often these were interspersed with Top Trumps-esque facts about each creature so for example ‘size comparison’ would come up and we would see one of the dinos measured against a man and then a dinosaur we already know about. And we were also given the stats so for example the carcharodontosaurus was discovered in 1996, Age – 95 million years, location – Morocco. However you could beat that stat if you had the spinosaurus in your selection but as we were told the two never met and kept to their own territories, obviously an unspoken agreement between the two. Planet Dinosaur was narrated by John Hurt, who seems to be the go-to guy for these kind of things after voicing Human Planet earlier in the year, although I was a little confused as Hurt voices the dragon in Merlin I thought any minute we would have dragon vs dinosaur, fantasy fight or maybe a rip on the hugely popular Deadliest Warrior, the Deadliest Beast? My main quandary with the programme, like with DCI Banks, is that I didn’t understand the scheduling of it as it seemed to have been sandwiched in between the new regime at Waterloo Road and Alan Carr finding out his great-grandad was a deserter in The Great War. The fact it was on at 8:30 and was only 30 minutes long made it seem less signficant somehow and I feel if it had been put on earlier the kids could’ve watched it or maybe it should’ve been an hour long and put on at 9pm and heralded as ‘Event Television’. While everything about Planet Dinosaur was top-notch from the research to the CGI it seemed like filler to me rather than something the BBC was mega-proud of and I’m not sure why as this is the kind of programme the BBC should be making more often informative, entertaining and visually engaging.
And finally, it’s a shame that my five year anniversary list has already been published as there was a show out this week which would’ve made the list, if not the top ten, it had it all – thrills, high drama, big stars, fake tan, Yvette Fielding and vajazzles I’m talking of course about ITV2′s Ghosthunting With The Only Way is Essex. Yes since leaving the Most Haunted franchise Ms. Fielding has taken minor celebrities around various stately homes pop ensembles such as The Saturdays and Girls Aloud have already taken the Ghosthunting challenge but for the first time Yvette actually has some BAFTA-winning stars to help find the ghoulies. Taking up the challenge were Mark and his best mate Arg, the brilliant Joey Essex, Sam, Camp Harry and his cousin Amy Childs who presumably filmed this before she decided to leave TOWIE and share a house with Jedward and a gypsy. The Essex sextet were guided by Fielding to Coal House Fort in Essex a structure build by Henry VIII as a defence measure against enemy ships. As we were told by Yvette there were plenty of ghosts haunting the narrow corridors and she wanted to throw the Towie bunch in there straight away. The Ghosthunting concept is good at the beginning as everybody starts to scream and hold each other as there really scared as thinks break among them but after a while it gets really repetitive. I have to say the thing that scared me the most was Yvette Fielding she seems to have gone a little bit bonkers since her Blue Peter days and is now doing things like tying Arg to a chair and sending these fragile little Essexites off on their own into dark corridors. At 90 minutes this was far too long a runtime but what made it go that little bit quicker was Mark Radcliffe’s sly commentary; obviously taking a leaf out of Come Dine With Me’s Dave Lamb’s book he constantly pokes fun at both Yvette and the Essex gang. In addition there are weird bits in which psychologist Geoffrey Beattie, previously a regular on the Big Brother shows, comments on how well he thinks the gang are getting on. All in all a bit of a weird one this which was good for me as under UV light you can see that Amy is actually blonde and I’m sure this was the thing that frightened her the most.
Next Time on the Blog – Downton Abbey, The Fades, Fresh Meat and Educating Essex