I’m back in the saddle, after a week away due to the lack of shows on TV I’m back with a cavalcade of a fortnight of TV highlights and lowlights.
First up this week we have more from Sky 1′s attempt at homegrown comedy. Following hot on the heels of Trollied and Spy comes The Cafe a very quaint seaside set sitcom written by and starring Ralf Little and Michelle Terry. The Cafe in question is nestled on the seaside of Western Super Mare and is run by Carol an amiable sort who has financial concerns about her business as well as concerns about her writer daughter Sarah who has returned back home from London follow a separation. Michelle Terry plays Sarah who is probably the most compelling character who stares whistfully out of the window and wonders where her life as gone as she comes back to the place where she has grown up. Sarah’s woes are doubled by the fact that all of her old school friends still frequent her mum’s cafe including sincere care worker and guitar teacher Richard who was her ex-boyfriend in college and is someone who still holds a flame for her. Sarah’s other peers include ditsy hair stylist Chloe and ultra-camp human statue Keiran. Someone who Sarah can relate to is John another former school chum who has journeyed back to the area to visit his senile mother and the two form a rapport based on their similar situations. Rounding out the cast are Chloe’s florist father who has a thing for Carol and Carol’s mother Mary who is the stereotypical old sage not saying a lot but offering a lot of sound advice when she does. I do find it hard to give any criticism to The Cafe as its such an amiable and likeable show but there are a lot of things wrong with it. One is that I feel is there are a lot of stereotypes here and also there are far too many characters for a show that is trying to emulate The Royle Family. Speaking of The Royles I feel Little has tried to bring too much of an influence to this programme and is obviously trying to impress Craig Cash whose direction is solid yet a little meandering at times. The other problem is that The Cafe is ultimately trying to be a sitcom mainly about nothing, for example one episode is majorly based around how to probably put the jam and cream into a scone, but I feel these elements are a little forced and it’s no coincidence that the programme is at its best when dealing with the actual plotlines. On the plus side all the acting is great especially from Terry and Ellie Haddington as Carol, even though I did get sick of her saying ‘talk of the devil’ to everyone, and the scenery is lovely but for me it never made me laugh which at the end of the day is a prerequisite of any comedy.
Moving on now to Amish Country, Pennsylvania to be precise, as six teenagers experience the simple life in Living with the Amish. For those of you have fairly good memories you will recall that Channel 4 made a programme about the Amish before as teenagers from that background came over to live with our young people. Now the Amish are returning the favour in this new programme and obviously all six teenagers have been well cast with colourful backstories or spoilt upbringings. The first episode mainly focused on 17 year old unemployed James whose mother was arrested and charged with arson sending him into care and now living in a hostel. We were presented with this image of James of being this slacker who at the beginning of the adventure didn’t want to join in with the hard work that the Amish males have to do but by the end had bonded with their host Jonathan and was his fishing companion. While the men have to go and do all the work the women stay at home washing, cleaning and gardening and so wouldn’t it just be great if you had a girl who didn’t do any work at home? Thankfully we have Charlotte who is spoilt and this is represented in her opening vignette in which her mother brings her a sandwich while she is lounging by the pool. Charlotte is seen struggling with chores and pretending not to know how to use a brush but again bonds with the woman of the house Marietta who teaches her that she doesn’t need make-up to make herself look beautiful. The other teens seemed to lurk in the background but I’m sure they will pop up throughout their journey through Amish country and they are 17 year old Hannah who wants to rediscover her faith, Sierra Leone born fashionista 19 year old Siana, 18 year old Jordan and 17 year old George. I did like this programme in terms of the teens having to live without electronics and piercings and their bonding with Jonathan and Marietta as the show went on. However what I didn’t like was the manipulation of the characters in order to create a narrative such as the aforementioned brush scene with Charlotte and some of James’ lines as well. I know that this programme does have to compete with a lot of other shows but I felt throughout that I wasn’t get a true telling of real Amish life. Despite that I think this was a good one-off show, so it is a shame that it’s being stretched over many parts.
A couple of shows that the Amish would take offence to now. Firstly the latest in of the constructed reality genre this time set in Liverpool and entitled Desperate Scousewives. This title is obviously misleading as none of these women are married and in fact the only married couple in the show are the two gay gentlemen who run the beauty salon. The programme is part-narrated by the bleach-blonde self-confessed bimbo Jodie who has returned to Liverpool after working in London, presumably they’d had enough of her and kicked her out. Jodie introduces us to all the characters in a confusing opening montage before we get to the crux of the episode however are erstwhile narrator only has a small part in proceedings as she gets a job at the gay couple’s salon. The rest of the characters are preparing to go to the Style Awards where local celeb Amanda is presenting an award as we see her getting ready with best friend and nurse Chloe who obviously works at a hospital that doesn’t need her that often. The alpha-male of the piece is club promoter and player Joe who we first see the morning after spending the night with local slag Layla who then goes completely psycho on him and continues to stalk him throughout the episode. Joe has also had a relationship with journalist Elissa who’s best friend is bitchy blogger Jaiden who in turn is essentially scathing towards Amanda throughout the episode. There are also twin sisters Gill and Debbie the latter of which is beginning a relationship with DJ Dan much to his ex-girlfriend Alex’s disapproval and finally there’s entrepreneur George who basically struts around and wears a suit. Desperate Scousewives presents a horribly shocking vision of a dystopian future in which major British city names are replaced on the map by the ‘constructed reality’s shows that represent them however I doubt the Livepudlians would be too happy if they thought the country saw Scousewives as fair representation of their daily lives. Firstly some of the cast are horrendous at the constructed reality acting especially Layla who’s first scene with Joe is just embarrassing. Secondly this is so shockingly staged, I’m aware that Towie and Mic are as well but at least they have the good grace to make it look as realistic as possible and in addition to this the Scousewives characters even talk directly to camera. The main problem however was that I didn’t really find myself liking any of the characters and it was all a bit too WAG-ish for my liking whereas TOWIE is just lovingly naff with most of the cast being hapless losers rather than models, bloggers and general high-flyers. I can see why this would be some people’s thing but for me the only highlight was seeing Ricky Tomlinson as an audience member at the Style Awards but I must have missed the period where long grey beards and dodgy T-Shirts were in style.
From Liverpool back to Essex however this isn’t TOWIE but a spin-off involving departee and Celebrity Big Brother housemate Amy Childs or as she calls herself me, Amy Childs from Essex. Obviously it seems once you do a Channel Five show you have to then follow it up with a reality fly-on-the-wall style programme even if, like Miss Childs, you’re really not all that interesting. Like with the late Jade Goody part of this programme sees Amy opening her own salon however if you’re thinking this is the main story of the episode thing again it basically sees Amy, her mum and her manager Claire look at a possible premises that’s it really. It’s All About Amy can really be split into a couple of categories the first is the scenes in which Amy is posing in her underwear whether it be for her calendar or for an American Sports Shoe company who seem to want to focus a lot more on her chest than her feet. The second is hanging out with Harry who, for now at least, is still a member of the TOWIE cast and possibly more relevant than his cousin. Harry recalls the day that he first came out to Amy however seriously if you look at the boy he doesn’t really scream heterosexuality does he? However the bulk of the programme is dedicated to Prince Childs, Amy’s dog whether it’s her and Harry shopping for a diamond collar, Prince peeing on the floor everywhere or Prince attending an obediance school the dog takes up a lot of the time here. Really I’m not that interested in Amy in the first place so why I would want to see her faff about with a dog for an hour is beyond me. I think if the producers want to make this a better programme focus more on her salon woes and less on her canine conundrums as at the moment this is all over the place. As Amy tells us next week there’s problems with the salon and she’ll be riding horses and inevitably falling of them, and next week Amy I won’t be watching.
Finally a bit of substance and my pick for Christmas Number One as The Choir revisits the Unsung Town of South Oxhey and I catch up with the Military Wives. Yes this Monday saw a ‘revised repeat’ in which we basically saw what happened in Gareth Malone’s previous series of the choir and heard some of the talking heads of the town, including ultra-butch Matty, wax lyrical about their experience of working with the choir master. We saw the trials of getting the whole choir together and we learned that since the programme aired Malone stayed with the choir for another eighteen months before having to move on to his next project. Which as we now all know was getting the Military Wives together singing and performing at the Royal Albert Hall. I have to say that I never really cry much but I was in floods at least three times during the last two episodes of Military Wives. The sort of tipping point came when Malone enlisted the military kids to help the wives out with welcoming the men back home with a burst of that choral classic ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston. But the concert at the Royal Albert Hall was the brilliant finale of the piece as the wives got to sing an original piece of music written for them based on the letters they had sent to their husbands who had been sent to Afghanistan. The song ‘Wherever You Are’ was given a solo part eventually sung by Samantha Stevenson who throughout the episode had been seen to be very nervous and lacking in self-confidence but at the Albert Hall she came into her own and belted the tune out in front of all the royal family, it even got Camilla crying. Now the Military Wives have got their confidence back they are releasing Wherever You Are as a single and hoping to get it to the top spot at Christmas. And here at the blog we are supporting them whole-heartedly as this isn’t a reality show winner doing karaoke neither is it a Facebook campaign to get an ancient rock song at the top of the charts. Instead this is a song with a message and that is being delivered by people who really mean the words that they are singing, if you are going to download a single for Christmas week make sure its this one, and if not at least make sure it’s TOWIE’s cover of Last Christmas. I’ll leave you with the Military Wives’ single and you can judge for yourself.
Next Week: Black Mirror and Without You