Howdy folks, thank’s for stopping by and let’s crack straight on with this week’s TV
It seems that Christmas has come early to Channel 4 this week as the majority of their programmes seemed to be festive specials of some kind so this week that will be our main focus. Kicking off though is a programme that, while it is set during the Christmas period, is in fact more than that as it is a welcome return to the This is England franchise. As regular readers of the blog will know This is England ’86 was my favourite show of 2010 and now the action has moved on two years to the equally bleak setting of 1988. We find Lol, this year’s deserved BAFTA award winner Vicky McClure, is now a single mother thanks to her affair with Milky in the previous series. It is not if Milky is an unfit father but Lol has asked him to only be around his daughter Lisa sporadically obviously this means that Lol is struggling to cope and has to seek advice from a kindly Irish nurse. Woody meanwhile has moved on from Lol to a new girlfriend who Harvey describes as posh and thick as f**k to the returning Milky. Woody seems trapped in his new life back in suburbia with his parents and girlfriend it is like something out of Stepford with matching cardigans and long drawn out games of charades. Woody is also offered a promotion something that he hesitates in accepting because it will mean drawing a line under his old life and starting afresh something he is still hesitant in doing. His wanting to re-join his old life is demonstrated in a scene where he leaves his house to supposedly go to work and instead rocks up at his old pub cheerfully looking at his former friends but then gets angry when he sees Milky and you realise why he had to leave his old life behind. The only character who seems happy in the direction his life is going in is Shaun who is now studying drama at college and in a regular relationship with Smell however the latter seems to be fading slightly. Shaun is drawn to his co-star in an upcoming play, Faye, and a relationship is hinted at between the two seeing as Shaun is seemingly becoming increasingly annoyed with Smell’s constant demand for sex. These really are the only three stories that play out and the rest of the gang – Gadget, Trev, Kelly, Banjo and the rest have to make do with the odd comedy segment and conspicuous by his absence his Meggy but maybe actor Perry Benson had a better offer.
After the joy that was the first This is England mini-series, and the film before that, I was a little bit cautious of this new three-parter in so much as I thought it may well sully the legacy that the first two instalments have built up. I think these fears may be down to the commercials which saw Gadget singing Never Gonna Give You Up at a karaoke night however these comedy segments were few and far between in what was yet another great chapter in Shane Meadows’ youth epic. Again it is Vicky McClure who steals the show as the increasingly sympathetic Lol now lumbered with a child that she doesn’t particularly want and life that she never dreamed of. Although at times her story is overblown, seeing her dad in the bath was a bit much, but the scenes in the hospital as well as going to visit Combo in prison were well written and a treat for fans of the entire franchise. Elsewhere Joseph Gilgun gives us a new almost grown-up Woody and is able to portray someone who is not happy with his new life of 2 for 1 vouchers and party games but can’t go back to where he came from. While there is some dodgy acting elsewhere it can be forgiven because there is such a believable chemistry between the cast. It is also good that there are hints of nostalgia in there such as Lol watching the Eastenders Chrimbo Spesh or the mentions of knocking one off over ‘that woman from Countdown’. Meadows seems to be telling us that most of his characters are still stuck in a rut in one way or another but with another masterpiece like this I hope we can return to that rut very soon.
It’s clear that Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has become Channel 4′s breakout hit of the year getting the channel some of its highest ratings in years and seeing it’s star Paddy Doherty go on to win Celebrity Big Brother. It was inevitable then that it received the Christmas special treatment and over five million people tuned into watch Monday’s Big Fat Gypsy Christmas. I was waiting for some revelations here such as at Christmas the churches are closed for weddings and first communions and only nativity masses are allowed. But no, it was more of the same as Thelma Madine returned to make more dresses for the travellers and for the first time she was asked to journey to Rathkeale an Irish town in which travelling families from all over the world return to for the many weddings that take place their hoping to make matches between their children. This programme featured two Rathkeale weddings one was that of Lavinia and James who had a bit of worry when James was down the pub and was an hour late for his own wedding but more than that Lavinia almost went without her precious crown. Charlene was also kept waiting as we were told that it was tradition for men to be kept in the pub for as long as possible I’m guessing this gives their brides a realistic vision of the future. In additions to the weddings we had a mass Holy Communion with under-10s writing in stretch limos wearing dresses encrusted with over a thousand dresses which for me is a bit much. Of course old Paddy made an appearance as it was his and his woman Roseanne’s first Christmas without their kids and also the last Christmas before Paddy was surrounded with agents and celebrity pals. There are some touching scenes as Paddy visits his family’s plot in the graveyard and also some vaguely creepy moments like when Paddy starts handing out sweets to the kids on the park like he’s on an episode of To Catch a Predator. I have to say I don’t really understand the fascination with these Gypsy programmes especially this Christmas special which was the same as all the other episodes I’ve seen before. It didn’t seem to offer anything new in the way of insight we know these dresses as over-the-top, that the kids wear dresses that are too short and revealing for their age group and the men are all incomprehensible drunkards. Maybe people just want to experience Christmas from a different angle but much more likely is they just want to point and stare and that is the main problem I have with this series because it seems to be making light of the gypsy way of life rather than celebrating it.
Channel 4 has also been bringing its Christmas Specials to daytime but not, as some of you may think, on Come Dine with Me but instead everybody’s favourite international Tour Guide Brendan is back with a shortened series of Christmas Coach Trip. Yes Brendan is back and the coach is heading towards Lapland passing through Scandinavia somewhere where this series hasn’t previously explored. As I mentioned Brendan is back and a lot more festive than normal, if that’s even possible, but for a man of his age he is a little too excited to see Santa in his native surroundings. He also has a whole host of Christmas jumpers to show off for a new group of fourteen tourists on this tour through Northern Europe. As always Coach Trip always brings a diverse group of characters together who normally wouldn’t come into contact with one another, unless it’s the celebrity one where they’ve all been on reality shows with each other before. Undoubtedly the biggest characters this year, if not by hair alone, are mohawked Steven and his bitchy fiancé Jamie these are two personalities in a series that’s very much lacking them with the only other highlight being sixty-something Shirley who can’t seem to keep her hands off twenty-something Tom. The activities have been made particularly festive such as Christmas tree-felling, decorating the coach in tinsel and snogging reindeers, don’t ask! While this series is half the length of a traditional Coach Trip it’s still good to see them try something a bit different with the formula despite the fact I don’t think it’s been cast as well as it usually. But anyway my Twitter pal Brendan is value for money just on his own and I would like the next series of Coach Trip to be just him travelling around being bitchy and calling himself an international tour guide all the time.
We’re off Channel Four now but moving onto something else that also feels like a Christmas tradition that being The Royal Variety Performance. However the quality has declined in recent years, no not with the acts, but with the royal in attendance I remember when it used to be Liz and Phil this year but they’ve gone down the rota and realised it was Princess Anne’s turn. Peter Kay once again was chosen as the host for the event and I think this booking made sense as Kay’s brand of seaside pier humour is much more suited to The Royal Variety than it is The Brit Awards. The only thing that bothered me about Kay was his running joke that everybody on the bill was from Salford, where the event was being held, at first this was funny but over the two and half hours the programme was on it started to get tired. The first hour or so was a bit drab with mediocre performances from Pixie Lott, Nicole Scherzinger and Cee-Lo Green as well as some acrobats with the only redeeming feature here being Greg Davies’ routine about school nicknames. Britain’s Got Talent winner Jai McDowell appeared to warble his way through With or Without You accompanied by the choir who, according to their TV ad aired after their performance, were featured on the trailer to both Downton Abbey and The Social Network. We also had Lord Lloyd-Webber come out to brag about his show Phantom of the Opera being 25 years old and introduced four former phantoms to sing against Nicole who returned to play Christine. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the former Pussycat Doll’s musical ability however I was a bit annoyed that the producers didn’t pay the big bucks and get the most famous phantom, Michael Crawford, to reprise his role here. Things went downhill completely when Leona Lewis spoiled the mood with her cover of Hurt which we’ve now heard twice in the same week and it was about as depressing both times. Thankfully then things picked up with the brilliant The Boy with Tape on His Face whose mime act was a joy to watch and was very funny to boot. Barry Manilow got the crowd into it with a medley of Mandy and Could it Be Magic but I was waiting for a Copacabana finish and didn’t get it. Tim Minchin was arguably the stand-out act performing a song he’d written about only being allowed to sing for three minutes which was three minutes long. The show ended on a high with the legendary Tony Bennett crooning his way through two numbers before Cee-Lo and Leona came back with Somebody to Love to end the show. All in all I thought the show was too long but definitely picked up in it’s final hour the fact it was on ITV meant that their were too many ads but at the same time meant that I could go elsewhere and not miss anybody. But I can’t help thinking to myself how much more entertaining the show would’ve been had Jean Martyn triumphed on Britain’s Got Talent.
Talking of Britain’s Got Talent a new episode from the Wonderland strand focused on contestants from the BGT’s predecessor New Faces. In the programme, entitled I Had the X-Factor 25 years ago, we learnt that its peak New Faces attracted up to fifteen million viewers and we also met six finalists from the 1986 series. The main focus of the programme was Vinnie Cadman who was one half of a comedy double act and from the clips we saw he was the funny man to his straight man Mel Walker. It seemed that Vinnie’s star burnt bright the first couple of years before work started to dry up and instead of looking for a proper job he still thought he could be famous and he still wanted that public acceptance that a lot of these talent show contestants are looking for. However it didn’t go well for Vinnie with three ex-wives and eight children as well as prison sentence for drink driving and some time spent living in a bin you would think he would at least have filled out an application form for Lidl but he’s still determined that one day his star will rise once again. From the six featured artists the only one I recognise is Billy Pearce a comedian who was still a big star when I was young and appeared regularly on the Royal Variety and also had his own programme entitled You Gotta Be Jokin’. We heard in the story that Pearce married a much younger dancer called Kerry and you thought this would be the part of the story where she bled him dry and he was left with nothing. In fact it was an investment in a failing club that caused Pearce to lose everything apart from his wife who stuck by him and in the end he didn’t lose his house as his friends bailed him out and he has since paid them back and become a father. I suppose Vinnie and Billy’s stories were similar but where Billy turned a corner was he realised family was more funny than fame and quick glance at his Wikipedia page shows he still at the clubs with Mick Miller, Frank Carson and the rest of them. Of the rest both soprano Julie and violinist Gary are now working the cruise ships the former regretting the fact that she never had children and the latter who was the eventual winner thanking his lucky stars that he has a family to look after him . Wayne, a club singer, has a son but his separated from the boy’s mother and his getting re-married to a Ukrainian woman who he just met on a dating site, good luck there. Finally there’s James Stone, a name I thought I recognised, and that’s because the soul singer actually returned to the talent show game getting to the semi-finals on Britain’s Got Talent in 2008 not that that’s changed his life as he’s in a grotty house surrounded by cats but at least he’s found love. The main message here seemed to be if it’s not going well give it up and concentrate on what’s important finding a partner who accepts you for what you are and being happy in yourself. Obviously we’ve heard the fame costs story time and time again but this was a good little show which demonstrated how we’ve come full circle in our love of light entertainment.
The blog will return Wednesday or Thursday and will feature Strictly Come Dancing, The Comedy Awards, Just Henry, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, Home for the Holidays and much more.