Hope you’re ready for your weekly dose of TV heaven because here we go.
In 2002 writer Peter Morgan wrote a six part series called The Jury which, surprisingly, looked at the members of a jury who had to decide whether or not a young boy was guilty of killing one of his classmates. Since then Morgan has had awards success with his screenplays for The Queen and Frost/Nixon and has also penned the new Bond film. However he has still found time to right a second series of The Jury which still concentrates on the jurors this time on the retrial of a man convicted five years previously of the murder of three women. Most of the jurors are at least given some sort of character even it if is just being a bigoted serial gambler or enjoying going for a tan during lunch. Others however fare slightly better for example Jodhi May who plays a school teacher who is considering having an affair with a seventeen year old pupil although this may’ve lapsed into actuality when she finds out she is pregnant. Then there’s Branka Katic as a bored Eastern European housewife Krystina with her husband away on business she decides to peruse internet dating sites but as the trial goes on she is less trusting of people who use these sites. Meanwhile Ronald Pickup’s pensioner forms a bond with Sudanese refugee Tahir who is keen to be with his brother in Nebraska and is surprised to find himself called as a member of a jury, similarly surprised are the parents of Rashid a boy who has just turned 18 and has a ‘condition’ which his parents will worry about. What I’m more worried about is that this jury will get dismissed firstly there’s Stephen Mackintosh’s Paul who cares for his sick mother but is being wooed by a woman who claims to have been on the trial in the last jury and is using a feminine wiles to ensnare him and give her information. Then there’s Ann who has formed a bond with the accused after viewing him in court and starts writing to him. Finally we have Lucy Cartwright posing her boss Teresa who couldn’t possibly go to court as she’s in the middle of a big business deal. Out of all of these storylines I have to say that the Lucy/Teresa one bothered me the most as it just seemed completely unbelievable, unless Morgan has actually researched instances of this happening then I really struggle to believe that one woman could pull herself off as another so easily.
Where The Jury really picks up pace is when it is focused purely on the trial this is mainly because of Julie Walters as defence QC Emma Watts. Although Walters seems to be channelling a little bit of Mrs. Overall for the part her line of questioning and her clashes with fellow QC John Mallory, played by the always excellent Roger Allam, are the highlight of the show. The case itself is fairly involving as well as we see John Lynch’s Allan Lane being retried for the murders of three women all of whom he met online and all of whom were murdered with him being placed at the scene of the crime in each instance. I actually do remember watching the first series of The Jury and quite enjoying it but don’t remember having as many flaws as I feel this series does. As I already mentioned I failed to believe the two women swapping storyline and the storyline involving Ann and Alan as well as the teacher romance are equally far-fetched. Apart from when Julie Walters is on screen the best parts for me are seeing the wholly decent Stephen Mackintosh or the exchanges between Tahir and Jeffrey as the enjoy lunch together. Despite all of its flaws though I’m still utterly engaged and find myself wanting to tune in every night, something that I struggle to do with dramas stripped over weeknights, Collision I’m looking at you, Morgan’s script does try and include too much but he still as a decent ear for dialogue especially during the courtroom scenes. It is also one of those programmes where you score points for recognising the supporting players – look there’s Anne Reid, and there’s Sarah Alexander off of Coupling and even wow how did they Gita from Eastenders? The whole thing is well produced and looks brilliant however with underwritten characters and some preposterous storylines I feel The Jury could’ve been a lot better considering who was involved in creating it.
After last week’s disastrous Hot Like Us, BBC3 returned to one of the things in which it’s best at that being documentaries focusing on young people in different situations. Posssibly my favourite example of that particular genre would be the Small Teen, Big World series in which we followed young Jasmine who suffered from dwarfism as she started to become independent. Similarly in Growing Pains of a Teenage Genius we saw Cameron Thompson, a 13 year old who had already completed GCSE and A-Level maths and when we meet him he is in the middle of an Open University Degree. However well Cameron does at exams the main problem is that he struggles as far as his social life is concerned and as his karate teaching parents have to move house so does he. Cameron is eventually placed in a school with a head teacher who understands that he needs help with the more artistic side of his mind and is also willing to give him the time to continue studying for his degree. While at school Cameron meets Tim and they bond over their love of various video games but more importantly because both have a secret wish to finish off Justin Bieber possibly using some sort of flame-thrower to get the job done. As Cameron has Asperger’s he sometimes struggles to express himself but at a sci-fi convention he meets a girl who shares the same encyclopaedic knowledge of Doctor Who as he does and they exchange Facebook details in order to start a possible romance. There is also the problem that while Cameron can do his maths exams no problem he still has problems explaining himself so his parents draft in a Cambridge Professor who makes him understand that he doesn’t need to rush and that he’d much rather he tried to prepare himself for applying to do a degree at Cambridge. All these little elements made Growing Pains of a Teenage Genius a charming little programme with Cameron’s words to camera providing some of the best moments. While I was a little worried about his constant obsession with weapons Cameron came across as someone who was dealing with his situation as best he could and was coping, as all of us do, with the coming on of puberty and the attraction to the opposite sex. As BBC3 recently bought Jasmine back for a mini-series I would really appreciate it if they did the same with Cameron maybe in a couple of years to see what happened with the Doctor Who girl, the OU degree and his application to Cambridge.
And if Cameron doesn’t get into Cambridge he could always try applying to Leeds which is described as the Best Student City in the preamble to E4′s new reality competition show Sorority Girls. The premise of the programme is that five American college students come to Leeds to try and set up the UK’s first official sorority called Sigma Gamma. The five girls are Devon Lockhart the sorority president from Florida, the sorority’s standards chair for whom most things are inappropriate Dominique Cruz, Hannah Hagler the one who gets all the fun jobs as entertainment chair, social chair and well-loved Washington student Devon Lockhart and Arianna Joes who goes to college in The O.C. and is the philanthropy chair of the sorority, no I don’t know what it means either? The girls are sickeningly optimistic about the prospects of finding sorority sisters in Leeds but none of them have obviously been there before as they reckon they will find someone akin to Kate Middleton. Instead they are greeted by mini-skirts, perma-tans, spine piercings and fried egg sweatshirts as the girls come in one by one to be interviewed by the quintet. For anybody who has seen an American teen drama, or in my case Saved by the Bell: The College Years, essentially knows what happens here as the girls select who they want during rush and then the final fourteen stay at the Sigma Gamma house each week being eliminated until a final five appears. As far as these sort of teen-reality shows go this is fairly tolerable much better than last week’s Hot Like us or the rubbish Tool Academy which has unfathomably come back for a second series. Most of the Leeds girls are endearing – the one who wants to get out of her family home, snooty char who is a big name on campus or bnoc and Katie the cute one who all the American girls dub their rush crush. However I can’t really take to the smiley, shiny US fivesome with their door chants, pink obsession and the ability to keep a straight face when the Sigma Gamma mascot is revealed to be a Grizzly Bear and a Ferret. I wish all the prospective Leeds sisters good luck but this is one programme about a group of feisty women that I won’t be keeping up with.
Although the same can’t be said for the programme featuring the women stationed at the RMB Chivenor base in Devon as they worry about their husbands in Afghanistan. These women were the new pet project of choir master Gareth Malone as he returns with another series of The Choir this time entitled Military Wives. Malone has made the drastic step to move to Devon to be closer to this base for an eight month stint which will see his choir go from novices to performing at the Royal Albert Hall. His reasoning for putting a choir together here is for the women to have something to do apart from worry and also to integrate them within the community as very few mingle outside their husband’s own ranks. For people who have seen The Choir before the majority of this programme was same old, same old as it saw Gareth nervously recruiting, the choir moaning about the amount of work they had to do, the shyness of some of the ladies and the final performance they have to put on in the market hall at nearby Barnstable. However the more interesting parts of the programme involve getting to know the military wives that make up the choir and what life is like for them as it is never really talked about on TV other than when one of their partner’s is fatally wounded. We meet Sarah who is trying to keep her two young boys optimistic, the constantly apologetic Sam whose husband is on his first tour of Afghanistan and Nicky who’s been to five bases in ten years and is picked to perform the solo at the Barnstable gig when the women belt out ‘Make You Feel My Love’. Gareth Malone to me is a TV legend apart from the small blip when he tried to think he knew about primary school teaching his choir shows are inspirational. This one in particular had me almost in tears on more than one occasion especially during the final performance although the show does seem slightly dragged out, Gareth doing an army assault course seemed unnecessary to the narrative, overall this is most heart-warming stuff from Malone and co.
And a comedy double bill to finish off this time firstly the most recent BAFTA-award winner for Best Sitcom – Rev. For those unfamiliar with Rev it follows the everyday life of inner-city reverend Adam Smallbone who has to deal with an underwhelming turnout in his church, a wife who he doesn’t spend any time with, a needy lay reader and an archdeacon who really doesn’t like him very much. As we revisit Adam he is at a religious retreat where he runs into Hugh Bonneville’s clergyman who wants to share a hamper of extravagant food and a DVD boxset of The Killing. It is in these early scenes where Rev excels as we see that Adam is a man that wants to be a servant of God but at the same time is glad that he doesn’t have to make talk with a passing nun. Once he returns to his parish there is a joke that has done before: he runs into a passer-by who drops a handbag that just happens to belong to Adoha won of his devout parishioners. From there Adoha marks Adam out as a hero and nominates him for The Pride of Britain Awards and he is also getting recognition in the local community. But Adam just wants to give back and wants to take the local children to the White Cliffs of Dover but they are more interested in shopping and staying indoors. For me what I like about Rev is, unlike a lot of sitcoms, the central character is a thoroughly decent man and the humour comes from modern society’s reaction to religion and the institution of the church. Tom Hollander is great in the lead role and most of the cast, especially Olivia Colman and Miles Jupp, bounce off him very well. There is even a great cameo from a massive star as The Bishop of London which is another highlight which was a very funny return for a great sitcom.
Talking of great sitcoms everybody and their pets think that the greatest sitcom of all time in the world ever is The Office followed pretty closely by Extras. I don’t count myself in that boat while I appreciate the humour I think Ricky Gervais is incredibly big for his own boots and that Stephen Merchant is the real star in their writing and directing partnership. The Gervais/Merchant juggernaut trundles on with another comedy this time a parody of celebrity documentaries this time focusing on dwarf actor Warwick Davis. I’m a big fan of Davis but here he plays an extreme version of himself, like Coogan and Brydon in The Trip or Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, who has an exaggerrated sense of how famous he is and who is going through a divorce after he thought he could do better than his wife. The show basically follows Davis around as he visits his useless accountant and hires a new useless secretary, played by This is England’s Rosamund Hanson making the best of an underwritten part. Of course Gervais and Merchant can’t stay out of this and play themselves siting in an office basically judging everyone else who just aren’t as funny as them. In fact they own some sort of agency and Davis comes to visit them on a regular basis even though they really don’t want them there but this at least means that Shaun Williamson can turn up as their lackey dropping off their dry-cleaning and the like. In Life’s Too Short Davies is playing an amalgamation of The Office’s David Brent and Extra’s Andy Millman in that he feels that everybody should like him because of his position and that he is also obsessed with his own fame. Davis really does as well as he can here playing a man desperate to hang on to his fame but my main problem with the programmes is that Davis always references the film that he appeared in during the 1980s to prove his fame but he has appeared in every film in the Harry Potter franchise and had quite a sizeable role in the last film as well he appeared in one of the new Narnia films and in Ray. Thankfully the mostly average 25 minutes of the show was saved by a cameo from Liam Neeson in the final act who wants Gervais’ help with his stand-up routine but through a laugh-out-loud improvisation sequence it proves that he is shockingly unfunny. Neeson’s appearance will be what this first episode is mostly remembered which is a problem seeing as it is meant to be about Davis, to be fair there’s a lot of plot to get through and characters to introduce so maybe each episode in the series will improve but for now, like Extras, this seems like another show which people will mainly watch to see which massive star will be sending themselves up each week.
Next Time: I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! and Children in Need