So here it is finally, the blog with the last shows for me to cover in 2011 but don’t be concerned there’s still a whole heap of 2012 ahead of us.
Kicking off with one of the traditions of the limbo week between Christmas and New Years – the literary adaptation and this year we were spoilt with a take on Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations as part of the season celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charlie’s birth. Like with all the reviews I do of literary adaptations I do sometimes wonder if I should recite the plot so maybe just a quick recap. The story sees young Pip help out a convict and then get recruited by the lonely spinster Miss Havisham to play with her young ward Estella who he later falls in love with. An older Pip is then told he must go to London and learn to be a gentleman and when he learns from lawyer Mr Jaggers that his mystery benefactor wants to be unknown then he assumes it must be Miss Havisham but as most of us know the revelation is much more sinister. A lot of criticism has been levelled at the casting of this version of Great Expectations namely that Gillian Anderson was too young to play Miss Havisham and also that Douglas Booth was too attractive to play Pip. Well firstly all the critics of Anderson must be eating their words after seeing her tender and fragile performance here sure she’s not the elderly harridan that some people may imagine when reading the book but what she does encapsulate is Havisham’s inability to love or see good in any man. Meanwhile where Booth is concerned I’m really not sure I’m qualified to judge another man’s attractiveness but overall I thought he did an admirable job of taking the lead here sharing the screen with some formidable faces. Personally though I didn’t feel there was much chemistry with Vanessa Kirby’s Estella and the younger versions of the central couple seemed to share more of an attraction to each other than their more mature counterparts and I felt that this Pip was more in love with Herbert Pocket than he claimed to be with Estella. Of the other established parts it seems that Ray Winstone was born to play the outwardly evil but inwardly warm Abel Magwitch and David Suchet relished at playing the by-the-book Jaggers. However it was some of the supporting players I wish to single out I thought Shaun Dooley got his part spot on as Mr Joe, Mark Addy was a fine Uncle Pumblechook, Paul Ritter excellent as Mr Wemmick and Tom Burke getting the antagonistic streak just right as Bentley Drummel. I also thought that this was quite an inclusive adaptation in that people who might not be fans of Dickens’ work would stick around as I didn’t find it particularly hard to follow even for those with no prior knowledge of the book. As you can probably tell I really enjoyed this adaptation and everything from the camerawork to the sets were handled perfectly as were the majority of the performances and with my only problem being the lack of chemistry between the leads I have to say that this was a very good if not excellent version of a story we have seen bought to the screen numerous times in the past.
A more modern drama with a Christmas feel was ITV’s Fast Freddie, The Widow and Me. This saw Lewis star and Mr Billie Piper Laurence Fox star as stereotypical posh arse Jonathan a thoughtless car salesman who is issued with community service following a drink-driving conviction and ends up helping out a children’s charity. As it turns out it is the tiniest most underfunded charity in London overseen by Sarah Smart’s Laura who is the widow of the title. We are quickly told by the writers and are onscreen mother that she has thrown herself into the charity to forget about how empty her own life is. I can’t recall the names of the kids themselves but there was kid that spells things out, troublemaker, fat girl and teen mum with only the titular Freddie getting some kind of backstory. But Freddie was a character with multiple woes having been given up by his mother and hampered by many problems with his internal organs which will soon see him pass away. Jonathan and Freddie bond incredibly quickly and the former decides to give the latter his perfect Christmas by finding his mother and implanting her in Freddie’s dream home. But the mother wants nothing to do with him so instead Jonathan uses serial fraudster Patsy Morgan to pose as Freddie’s mother with various ex-cons to play the rest of his family. I really wanted to like Fast Freddie and to be fair Fox and Waterloo Road’s Jack McMullen as Freddie were brilliant but unfortunately they were let down by one of the worst scripts of the season. I have seen the same story tackled a lot better in comedy dramas such as this there were so many plotholes throughout and there wasn’t much of an attempt to create a romance between Jonathan and Laura that their probably should’ve been. I also felt there should’ve been more of a transition of Jonathan’s character and I don’t think he learnt that much of a lesson through his relationship with Freddie. The whole thing rocketed to an inevitable conclusion but I have to say I didn’t really feel as much for the characters as I thought I would and therefore I do think this drama achieved its potential which is a shame as all the elements were there for a cheesy festive tearjerker.
Undoubtedly one of the BBC’s biggest hits in 2011 was Frozen Planet despite the controversy over the whole polar bear cub shots it was garnering large audiences throughout its run and now it seems to have a successor in the airborne adventures depicted in Earthflight. Narrator David Tennant promised us a birdseye view of the world and indeed it seemed as if the episodes would be divided up into continents, one imagines that Arctic may be left out as all of its resources have surely been exhausted, starting this time with North America. The main crux of the episode was the journey of the Snow Geese from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada where they were to give birth to their young all the time trying to avoid being caught and killed by Bald Eagles who themselves were being followed. The best scenes in Earthflight were when the camera took us across famous American landmarks so we saw steamboats in Mississippi, the New York Skyscrapers, the Golden Gate Bridge, Niagra Falls and most notably of all the Bald Eagles journey along the Grand Canyon. We also saw many examples of how American birds track and eat their prey for example pelicans sometimes follow dolphins who in backs circle around shoals of anchovies and when they finally dive the pelicans dive in with them to try and get their food also. But we were taken all over America seeing bison travelling across the desert accompanied by the cowbirds on their back and the final snowy descent of the geese as the eagles had one last go at finishing them off. Like with Frozen Planet and other nature documentaries, Earthflight succeeds thanks to the great amount of camerawork employed and indeed there are some spectacular scenes here as I have already mentioned. The problem with this first episode though was there were too many similar scenes there are only so many times I can watch flocks of birds dive into water to get fish in one hour despite the fish or the birds being different it is a similar scene and one that becomes less special each time you watch it. Tennant’s voice-over is also fairly poetic but not as dominant as a David Attenborough or John Hurt and I did find myself tuning out during some of his explanations. But for the majority of Earthflight I was gripped especially during the scenes in which the eagles tried to swoop and catch the geese although I hope that all the episodes differ in some way apart from them being set in different continents and featuring different landmarks that being said I don’t know how entertaining an hour’s programme about the pigeons that swarm around Nelson’s Column would actually be.
Over this week Channel 4 has aired two more instalments of the Comedy Showcase series possibly because they thought they would get more of an audience over this limbo week or just maybe because they had to get them out of the way before the New Year. Whatever the reason they both had pretty big star names behind them especially sitcom Felix and Murdo which saw the reunion of Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong to the channel where they first made their name as a double act. Miller’s Felix and Armstrong’s Murdo are both upper-class twits living in 1908 the year that the Olympic Games first came to the capital. Felix and sister Winnie both run a bank and there are several jokes in these scenes about the first calculators which are supposedly funny. While Murdo not-so secretly lusts after Winnie, Felix is engaged to the devout Christian Fanny who won’t let him have sex with her before the wedding so instead we hear jokes about what they do do instead. When Murdo finds Winnie enamoured by an American javelin thrower he attempts to enter the event himself and both he and Felix start training sessions which basically involve taking a lot of fancy drugs. For me the main thing Felix and Murdo had going for it was its stars who can seemingly make even the most ludicrous thing somewhat funny. I can understand what Simon Nye was after here sort of an early 20th century version of his own Men Behaving Badly and with his two leads at least he has the chemistry down to a tee. What he lacks are big laughs with most of the jokes either being overly smutty, completely obvious or too obtuse and the only really laugh-out-loud segments involving someone getting maimed in one fashion or another. I do feel though that this had enough going for it to be transformed into a whole series if some changes were made to it as I could see Felix and Murdo stumbling their way around a city preparing for the Olympics as we are currently. I think Channel Four would be amiss if they didn’t at least give this a chance in a year where all the networks will be creating shows about the games it would be nice to have something a bit alternative to all the praise heaped upon it and after all aren’t alternative views what Channel 4 is all about?
The second comedy pilot was a mock chat show hosted by Dan Skinner’s loveable burger van owner Angelos Neil Epithimou who most will know as the scorekeeper on the most recent series of the now departed Shooting Stars. Epithimou was accompanied here by best mate Gupta plus many more of his burger van employees. This was a mixture of audience participation, taped segments and a celebrity interview. The interview here was with Krishnan Guru-Murphy the joke here being that Jon Snow had originally be asked to appear but had to pull out so now Angelos was left with a man he’d done no research on. Gupta got his own segments also in a mocked up spoof of all those on location film reports he proved to be an even worse interviewer than the main man. Finally there was the obligatory competition where Angelos revealed to a member of the public that he had been to their house and stolen something of theirs and now was offering money to them to buy it off them. In other hands The Angelos Neil Epithimou Show would’ve been a disaster a lot of what was on offer had been seen many times before but thankfully Skinner is Angelos and as we have seen on Shooting Stars he adds a lot of depth to the character. The set is suitably naff and the new characters introduced bounce off Angelos extremely well so while I was not always bell-laughing I did at least have a smile on my face because as well as being funny Angelos is generally a loveable idiot. If I was going to compare this to anything it would be Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show on BBC3 a similar character orientated studio-based show which I have enjoyed on the few occasions that I have seen it. I do feel that Channel 4 could find a place for Angelos although maybe this would be better suited to an E4 audience who I feel would take more fondly to the character in addition to the fact that ratings would be less of an issue on a multi-channel station. But personally I found this a very funny if unoriginal offering from a character who should be sticking around on TV despite his original show being unfairly cancelled.
As this week has seen the run-up to the new year we have had the stereotypical review of the year shows ITV have had a mainly comic output but also focused on the royals while Channel 4 gave Jon Snow a platform to discuss his major news stories and BBC1 had The One Show air their less controversial moments of the year. But for me it was all about Friday night on BBC4 where the great and powerful Charlie Brooker presented his 2011 wipe. For those of you who have only got on the Brooker train since 10 o’clock Live you may not be familiar with his Wipe show that goes back years on BBC4 starting with Screenwipe and later morphing into Newswipe. Brooker’s look at the year obviously focused on the obvious the phone-hacking, the riots and Made in Chelsea however nothing on the promised Rastamouse discussion. Brooker’s look through the year was as fast-paced as ever but he obviously slowed down when talking about the deaths of the major dictators including my favourite piece where he opened up his piece about the death of Osama Bin Laden via the announcement from WWE wrestler John Cena. My other favourite segments here involved Brooker going into depth reading the final episode of the News of the World and also his mocking of the fact that they weren’t allowed to use clips from any courtroom hearings because they were classed as an ‘entertainment show’ by using Made in Chelsea cast members to act out incidents including that comedian throwing the foam pie into Murdoch’s face. We also heard from bitter US comic Doug Stanhope as well as a fascinating small piece from documentary maker Adam Curtis about Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. As always with these Charlie Brooker programmes the mix of humour, media mockery and genuine insight makes them a pleasure to watch. The only downside of this is that I know their won’t be any more Wipes till next year even though he is a big star now with a celeb wife and a kid on the way he shouldn’t forget his roots and BBC4 should try and drag him back into that broom cupboard for at least six weeks so we can see even more advert bashing despite me feeling slightly sorry for Freddie Flintoff after his Morrisons advert was mocked so mercilessly.
And as we’re talking about comedy lets end by looking at a tribute show to a comedy legend. I have already waxed lyrical about the genius of David Croft in this blog several times since his death and finally after three months the BBC has done the same by producing a very tasteful tribute entitled You Have Been Watching. It focused on all five of his major comic works: Dad’s Army, Hi de Hi, ‘Allo ‘Allo, It Ain’t Alf Hot Mum and Are You Being Served? Each got a great deal of time devoted to it especially Dad’s Army his first major work with Jimmy Perry. The major themes in his sitcoms were discussed at length namely that of class and unrequited love the latter very much present in the relationship between Gladys and Jeffrey in Hi de Hi. Out of everything that I learnt I think my favourite thing was that he and Perry and later other writing partner Jeremy Lloyd would act out the scripts onto a tape recorder and play them back to see if they sounded funny to them. We also learnt of the controversy levelled at his shows namely the two that were set in wartime because how dare he mock the home guard or make the evil Nazis a comic foil! Also It Ain’t ‘Alf Hot Mum was accused of being racist because one of its Indian characters was played by a white man but in fact Indian actors saw the character as incredibly respectful as he was one of the only smart ones in a sitcom populate by British fools. More than anything else Croft’s sitcoms were all funny and thankfully back then he didn’t have to worry about target groups or political correctness instead he could just make his shows as funny as possible. It was great to see a variety of talking heads from all of his shows but at the same time it did highlight how many actors have died in the past few years, especially the cast from Are You Being Served? It was also fitting for Miranda Hart and Andy Hamilton to appear as people whose work has been directly influenced by that of Croft. The biggest surprise of all though is that the creator of Dad’s Army thought that his best work ever was You Rang M’Lord? Something which has never had the everlasting appeal of some of his other hits but it just goes to show that the writer’s opinion often differs from those of the audience. Whatever he thought there’s no doubting that the BBC respected him fully as was evident by this tribute and I feel that if BBC2 daytime is to become littered with repeats why not just show Croft’s sitcoms non-stop as the evidence is there that people will watch them. Whatever happens there will definitely not be another David Croft which is a damn shame indeed.
Next time on the blog: Sherlock, Public Enemies, Endeavour, Eternal Law, The Bank Job and much more