This week we have overflow from last week plus new comedy, documentary and drama and we start off with the big winner from Sunday night’s Emmy Awards.
And of course I’m talking about Downton Abbey a show that was royally snubbed at the BAFTAs but took home awards for its writing, directing and Maggie Smith’s performance on the other side of the pond. My only wonder was why it won Best Mini-Series when it was seven episodes long but apparently the yanks squished our beloved drama into four chunks, obviously had problems with the dialogue. However the opening scenes of series two will be more their thing as we have a cacophony of explosions as we see Matthew Crawley ensconced in the trenches of World War I. The programme has moved two years so there is a lot of plot to get through Matthew and Lady Mary have gone their separate ways with the former now finding love with the ridiculously named Lavinia Swire. Obviously there is a lot of longing gazes between the two and I’m sure by series end there will be more developments. Downstairs love isn’t running smoothly either, although Bates proposed to Anna his wife then refused the divorce and threatened to go to the papers with secrets about the Crawley family so nobly he leaves without giving a reason for his resignation. Obviously war is playing a big part in the story as well Lord Grantham wants to go to France and fight but isn’t being given the opportunity, Lady Sybil decides to enrol in nursing school and the class barrier briefly breaks down as Matthew and former footman Thomas share a cup of tea in the trenches. We also have a new maid in Amy Nuttall’s Ethel who has aspirations of grandeur which don’t settle well with the other members of staff especially O’Brien who sends her off on several fictional errands. The return of Downton Abbey is like the return of an old friend, sure it’s only its infancy but it does feel like it’s been around for a while. The fact that its broadcast in autumn is brilliant timing as the weather gets bad outside and it gets colder and colder we can snuggle up and look at the sumptuous settings with that sweeping score and all those gorgeous costumes. Obviously the plots have moved on but the only real change for me were the scenes set in The Somme, these were incredibly well produced, well-acted and felt incredibly realistic. It would be silly to single out members of an ensemble cast but I have to say that recent Emmy winner Maggie Smith is still stealing the scenes while Bafta-nomianted Brendan Coyle is also a joy to watch as Bates. Overall a brilliant return for this show which at the end of the day tells a great old-fashioned story in a new way and is great at doing it.
A drama a million miles away from Downton is BBC3′s new show The Fades which also debuted this week. BBC3 are a channel known for producing original fantasy drama they debuted Torchwood and Being Human was a runaway hit. The Fades has a lot in common with Being Human in so much as it concerns real life issues but mixed with paranormal goings-on. The programme stars Iain de Caestecker as Paul a college student who is a bit of an outcast and whose chilling dreams cause him to wet the bed. On a random trip to an abandoned shopping centre, which are never the best places to visit at the best of times, Paul sees a woman being attacked by a ghoulish entity which then turns its attention to the man following her. After seeing this he’s convinced that his nightmares are coming true meanwhile it transpires that the woman, Sarah, is the ex-wife of one of Paul’s college tutors and she is also part of a gang who are trying to track down The Fades. The expositional part of the plot is explained by Sarah’s friend Neil who explains that The Fades are people who died and haven’t risen yet and the fact that Paul can see them makes him very special indeed. However the supernatural elements are counterbalanced by the mundaneness of life – Paul being an outcast at school, having a twin sister that hates, being in love with a girl he can’t get and the fact that his mum sends him to a therapist who thinks that Paul’s problems stem for his parents’ divorce. It’s this counterbalance that makes The Fades so good and the writing is eager to mix in both the plot about the programme. One thing I noticed straight away was how well it was produced there is a lot of dim lighting and special effects that one rarely sees in a multi-channel drama this is also backed up by a fantastic script and a creepy score. Iain De Caestecker is great as Paul playing the distant teen but for once this teen has a reason to be distant however to not make his scenes too depressing he has been given a talkative sidekick in Mac played by Daniel Kaluuya best known for playing Posh Kenneth in Skins and Tealeaf in Psychoville. It is Mac who is on hand to make The Fades a little bit post-modern by dishing out horror film references every five minutes. There is also a fantastic supporting cast including The Tudors’ Natalie Dormer as Sarah, This is England 86′s Johnny Harris as Neil and This Life’s Daniela Nardini as a cross-wielding kick-ass priest. Overall scary, dramatic and funny with one foot in real life and the other in the unknown and with a fantastic production design, The Fades is an example of how to create a programme that appeals to a teenage audience without patronising them.
More teen hijinks now and as fresher week begins up and down the country we have an accurate depiction of what it’s like to start in a strange place and be thrown together with random strangers. That’s essentially the premise of Fresh Meat a new comedy drama from Sam Bain and Jesse Amstrong best known for Peep Show but have also helped to pen both Four Lions and In the Loop. Here we have six very disparate characters who have all applied late for halls and ended up being bundled into a share house together. There is likeable Kinglsey played by The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas, nervous and innocent Josie, the intimidating Vod, Oregon who is the smart girl trying to look cool, Howard who has been at the house on his own for a year and posh rap-loving and very sweary JP who is played by stand-up comic Jack Whitehall and I have to say one of the pleasant surprises of the programme was how well he could act. Anybody who has seen Peep Show knows that Bain and Armstrong are the masters of stilted and awkward dialogue and that fits in so well to the uni fresehers week situation. Random conversations about A-Levels and what course people are doing fall flat and there is a very disturbing sexual encounter between two of the housemates. I have to say I didn’t laugh as much as I did in an episode of Peep Show but I don’t think this is always played for laughs and is more observational. Most of the dialogue rings true for example JP bribes his way into having the best room and a private bathroom by offering to pay for Sky Plus HD with all the movies and the sports channels. I did feel at times that occasionally there was a little bit of stereotyping, especially with the Vod character, but I’m guessing now we’ve got the introductions out of the way each character will get their own little story. Overall I did enjoy the programme I thought Josie and Kingston make a cute will-they/won’t they couple, Greg McHugh’s Howard is the stereotypical weirdo and overall this is tightly written the only thing I objected to was seeing more of Jack Whitehall than I really wanted to. Hopefully Bain and Armstrong can find more uncomfortable situations for these characters to find themselves in and thanks to the setting they have a rich source to work from.
From university we move to high school in Educating Essex. When I first saw the title I immediately assumed that this was another show involving the TOWIE gang after they went ghost-hunting last week and several teachers would inform Joey Essex that he’s spelling the word ream wrong and it is a quantity of paper and not an adjective. But instead it is a fly on the wall documentary set in the classrooms and staffrooms of Harlow’s Passmore School and follows in the same tradition as Channel 4′s recent hits One Born Every Minute and 24 Hours in A & E. The first episode focuses almost exclusively on Deputy Head Teacher Mr. Drew a figure we first see munching on cereal and singing along to ‘Fairytale of New York’. The Head Teacher Mr. Goddard describes Mr. Drew as a little sergeant major character who enforces the discipline around the school paying particular attention to the student’s dress code and also trying to stamp out bad attitude. But Mr. Drew isn’t just an enforcer he also tries to make his history lessons as exciting as possible and for most of the school he is one of their favourite teachers as one of the kids puts it, ‘Mr. Drew can be a legend but he can also be really annoying’. The programme also follows Mr. Drew’s dealings with two female students – gobby Charlotte and defiant Carmelita. The relationship between Mr. Drew and Charlotte seems to be strained but he has the right attitude in trying to convince her to get along with the other members of staff and explaining to her that she’ll never have it as easy as she does at school. Charlotte seems to be a nice girl but a little too attached to her mobile phone and she is also aware that she has an attitude problem that seems to have crept in somewhere during puberty. Meanwhile Mr. Drew tries to Carmelita to remove her hoodie which results in her swearing at him and an accusation of assault once she tells her mother why she’s gone home. Obviously Carmelita hasn’t realised that not only is there CCTV around the school but also that the Channel 4 cameras would pick up anything untoward that happens between staff and students this incident ends up with Carmelita being excluded until the new term. Educating Essex does have a lot in common with the brilliant 24 Hours in A & E both show people in high pressure jobs who do have a brilliant sense of humour but also a sense of duty to their charges. Instead of trying to save people’s lives the staff at Passmore are trying to safeguard people’s future and you can more than see that in this first episode. Mr. Drew is shown as a stern but jovial figure who commands respect and gets it from the majority of the pupils. I very much enjoyed watching this programme although I don’t think the horrors of secondary school life were truly related this is only the first episode and next week’s edition, on text bullying, seems to be more shocking but for now I will always have the image of Mr. Drew singing along to The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl which is something I will take with me for the rest of my life.
OK finally the two shows I missed last week kicking off with E4′s new comedy panel programme Show and Tell which is fronted by newest Mock the Week regular. Now I know what you’re thinking there is an abundance of these panel shows and the same comics namely Jack Whitehall, Micky Flanagan and Kevin Bridges, seem to constantly appear. However this is different aside from Addison this seems to be a platform for unfamiliar comedic faces and is all the better for it. Episode one saw Addison welcome Elis James, Roisin Conaty and Chris Ramsey to talk about various items and issues. First up they bought in an item that was personal to them Elis bought in a pair of pants that he’d worn during all the important times in his life, Roisin bought in a porn tape that she allegedly watched by accident when she was thirteen and Chris bought in a stranger’s umbrella. Later on they talked about technology including Roisin’s thoughts on the girlfriend pillow and Elis’ love of the comments on the BBC website. The best description of Show and Tell can be found on the 4OD website where it tells us that these items, ‘act as a launch pad for a stand-up routine on the subject of their chosen item.’ And that’s exactly what it is a bit of stand-up with an easy format there’s no point scoring just stand-up and some friendly banter between Addison and the stand-ups and later the audience members who’ve bought their own things to show and tell. I feel that this is something different from say Mock the Week, the stand-ups don’t seem to be in competition with each other they laugh at the jokes they find funny and even proffer encouragement, Andy Hamilton would never do anything like that. The format is slightly repetitive and some of the jokes are a little obvious but overall this was a likeable spin on a genre that has been done to death.
And finally we get to Celebrity Masterchef. Oh you didn’t know Celebrity Masterchef was on? Well if you have a) have a job) and b) don’t read a weekly TV listings publication then you probably had no idea, more on the scheduling issue later on. But the big question is who’s on it this year? Well I have to say the quality of ‘celebrity’ is about the same as every year but as voice-over lady India Fisher tells us, ‘these people have reached the top of their professions so that must mean that Gita from Eastenders is an Oscar-winning actress or Linda Lursadi has reached the top of the Page 3 ladder, or maybe that should be the top of the topless. Lusardi made the first week of shows alongside runner Darren Campbell, the Scottish lady who owns the bra company and Tony from Hollyoaks. You’d think Tony would ace the programme as we’ve seen him running a small Chester cafe for the past 16 years unless Hollyoaks isn’t actually a fly on the wall documentary if this is the fact then I may have to rethink some things in my life. Anyway the first couple of days trotted along as normal with John Torode and Gregg Wallace giving them the old invention tests and getting them to try and recreate dishes that John had made, and that Gregg had probably eaten. After a while Darren was eliminated from the pack while the other three continued on in their quest. The final task to me was quite amusing where the trio had to prepare a three course meal for a gang of WI ladies who would then judge it. To me I thought there might be a bit of constructive criticism but there was a complete onslaught especially when Michelle the bra lady came out to tell them her chocolate fondants weren’t ready they grilled her so long they were overcooked by the time she came back to the kitchen. If it wasn’t bad enough that they were berating the contestants they even turned on each other with one in particular, who had an accent that was hard to pin down, who thought she was queen bee and didn’t think that anybody should have an opinion that wasn’t hers. However due to her inconsistent timings and her messiness Michelle was gone while Linda and Tony both were let through to the next round. Now you would’ve seen all of that had you been watching the weekly instalments however if you hadn’t realised it was on in the day you’d have to put up with the Friday and Saturday highlight packages which attempt to boil down over 3 and half hours of footage into 90 minutes. Pity poor old Darren for example who didn’t even get a look in on the highlights show obviously the editors didn’t feel that any of his participation in the show was considered a highlight. As the weeks go on and the contestants get whittled down I’m hoping that the BBC change their minds and at least put this on BBC2 in the 7pm, I mean would anybody miss the repeat of Dragon’s Den or the reshowing of the BBC4 hit If Walls Could Talk: The History of the Home. There has been a lot of complaints to the channel so I’m hoping they’ll change their minds but for now the majority of the country will have to either find room on their sky plus box or just catch the highlights as this once again has been entertaining series of a well-loved classic.
Next week on the blog – The Only Way is Essex, Stephen Fry’s Planet Word and Shirley