We’re well into 2012 as the usual reality shows start creep back into the schedules.
After last week’s Celebrity Big Brother debut we have more minor stars on our big screen as it is the latest series of Dancing on Ice. Like with Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice starts off with a first episode which sees only half of the contestants take part as this year contains a mammoth cast of fifteen. In other years that hasn’t been much of a problem but this year the people I wanted to see skate weren’t on the bill these two were Corey Feldman and Laila Morse. Morse will be best known to most of you as Big Mo in Eastenders but my biggest curiosity for her performance was whether her real-life brother Gary Oldman would be cheering her on in the stands. Meanwhile Feldman is a kooky character who has recently courted controversy for revealing abuse that he suffered as a child but again he just comes off as a nutcase. However that conversation might be for a later blog in the meantime we had a sense that this was a new start for the format with only male host Philip Schofield, head judge Robin Cousins and to a lesser extent head coach Karen Barber returning for this series. That’s because possibly the show’s biggest talking point, controversial judge Jason Gardiner, has chosen not to return and in his place is Louis Spence a man known more for his camp mincing that his cruel barbs. During his judgments here he tried to make up for the Gardiner shaped hole by being nasty but his constant lisping still made it sound comical still he tried to apply some technical judgments due to his background in choreography which I do think makes him relevant. Emma Bunton, the DOI equivalent of Alesha Dixon, has also left us and been replaced by another champion skater the Eastern European Katrina Witt who seems to be good value for money in that she knows what she talks about and also that she doesn’t seem to know what’s going on half the time. The final changes it that Holly Willoughby has buggered off to the BBC to co-host The Voice and has been replaced by Christine Bleakly someone who is looking for a career resurgence after the Daybreak debacle. Going on episode one alone she didn’t seem to make much of an impact but Schofield does hog most of the screentime and I don’t think she wanted to rock the boat too much.
But what of the contestants I hear you ask? Well they were the usual mixture of soapstars, popstars and presenters and made a mixture of impressions. The Todd Carty Award for worst skater in episode one had to go to Mark of Sam and Mark but then again this is early days and his TV partner is yet to skate. I thought that Kirk from Corrie would be equally rubbish but his routine played to his strengths and the humour-led piece was very entertaining indeed. The other soapstar skating this week was Hollyoaks’ Jorgie Porter and she was for me the best thing on the show probably being the cheeky friendly girl role that made Chelsee Healey so popular on Strictly. For me though the best overall performance came from former Dallas star Charlene Tilton who showed us that women of a certain age could venture onto the ice and perform a more than above average routine which was full of character and crowd reaction. The other three – skiier Chemmy Alcott, Heidi from the Sugababes and Andy from Blue Peter made less of a reaction and I wasn’t surprised when the final two of those had to skate again for survival with Andy facing the chop. I have to say I’ve never been a bit fan of Dancing on Ice for me there is far too much padding, none of the celebs skated before the first ad break, and not too much skill involved. Whereas with Strictly most of the jeopardy comes from how good these famous faces will be at carrying off these routines this programme relies heavily on how confident these people are on the ice. I also feel there are far too many people involved here as for every Charlene or Corey there’s an Emmerdale or Hollyoaks star or the founder of free-running. I honestly am upset that neither Cheggers or Chesney Hawkes made it to the live shows as both suffered serious injuries before the programme began. With the promise that both will be back next year I feel that Dancing on Ice 2013 might be more entertaining than this year’s show.
Though the celebrity line-up on Dancing on Ice is patchy at best this year’s cast is positively A-List when compared to the quintet featured on the latest run of Celebrity Five Go To. Previous series have seen such luminaries as former Apprentice Stuart Baggs and Blue’s Anthony Costa and this time we have another five heading off to Lanzarote. The big draw this time had to be Liverpool’s most famous medium Derek Acorah as he is the only one who really hasn’t appeared on a show of this nature. He is also a fascinating man who truly believes in what he does and throughout the run constantly was seeking guidance and help from his spirit guide Sam. In contrast Bianca Gascoigne has already appeared on ‘celebrity’ versions of Coach Trip and Come Dine with Me so it seems she is doing the famous Channel 4 triumative by appearing here and if you didn’t know Bianca is Paul’s daughter. Ken Morley, Reg from Corrie, is another former Come Dine contestant but someone who is completely off his rocker starting his journey by doing a Hitler impression to insult their German chef. The other two competitors were former Casualty and Hollyoaks actor James Redmond and former BBC correspondent Rosie Millard whose claim to fame seemed to be that her tit fell out during a live report from Hollywood. The format of the show sees each of the five arranging an activity for their fellow holiday-makers to ingratiate themselves to the group before one by one they are voted off by the rest and unsurprisingly Ken was the first to go. The winner was then voted for by the people who had acted as staff and guides for the five during the week and Bianca was declared the victor after Derek’s final speech went on and on and bored the socks off everyone. Which is fitting as this show really did the same the only highlight being Bianca in a bikini but then again you could just log on to various specialist websites to see that sort of thing. I am a fan of Celeb versions of Come Dine and Coach Trip but Five Go To has never grabbed me as I feel its far too long and the so-called stars aren’t that entertaining.
Moving onto something a bit more highbrow, not that that’s very hard, we stay on Channel 4 for the second series of the brilliant Coppers. This first episode centred around the inner-workings of the Mansfield CID as they deal with a variety of cases from a spate of burglaries to sexual abuse. Like in the last series Coppers shows the funny side of the police and a lot of the characters are very witty indeed. There is DC Neil Allsop who fancies himself as a bit of a comedian and also Case Investigator Michelle Tonkin who loves her job as she is able to snoop around other people’s homes. We also get to meet people on both sides of the law as we are introduced to career Thomas Hodgkinson a young man in his twenties who can’t seem to stop stealing things. In his short asides to cameras he asserts that the thieves are smarter than the criminals and that he can just easily breeze through an interview by answering no comment and with the help of his defence solictor a job one of the coppers said they couldn’t do or else they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. However petit thieves like Hodgkinson weren’t the only order of business as we also saw the more serious tale of the mentally ill child abuser Shaun Tudor who had been released from a secure unit for two hours and during that time raped a boy of ten. This case showed what police officers had to deal with and they also revealed how deeply these sort of cases affect them after they clock off. It also demonstrated that not all child offenders are big burly men some are very disturbed weak individuals who aren’t always aware of what they are doing. Finally we saw the sad case of a disappearance of man who was also fairly disturbed after we learnt he had an extensive collection of horror DVDs and a love of serial killers. It was soon discovered that this man had taken his own life and that one of the coppers had never smelt the stench of death before. When it first aired in late 2010, Coppers heralded in a new genre of different establishments being filmed and since then we’ve seen Educating Essex and 24 hours in A&E but Coppers still remains a classic. This opening episode had it all witty and insightful characters, a compelling storyline and a look at how tough life is for both the police and the general public. Everything flows together well during the episode and the three cases picked as subjects were a good balance of the funny, the serious and the tragic and once again we were able to get a first-hand account of life on the beat.
After ITV1′s decision to cut down Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to a number of live celebrity specials they have tried to replace it with several big money quiz shows with more complicated formats. For example the dire Jeremy Kyle fronted High Stakes was confusing and flawed and another case in point is this week’s The Exit List hosted by Rogue Traders’ Matt Allwright. The show sees two contestants, here couple Jenny and David, make their way through a maze along the way answering questions with every right answer becoming a part of The Exit List. As the levels of the maze go up so does the prize fund starting at £1,000 going up to a grand prize of £100,000. However once the couple have gone all the way through the maze one of them then has to retrace their steps going back through each room and reciting part of the exit list which features mainly their right answers. But that would just be too easy for ITV as not all of the rooms just contain questions some of them are panic rooms in which the contestants quickly have to memorise and then recite names of images they have just seen such as types of flowers or what countries do these currency belong. For every image they fail to guess in the panic room a code of letters is added to the exit list which makes it even harder for the pair to remember it. The final twist in the tale is that for every wrong answer all four possible multiple choice options are added to the exit list so essentially every wrong answers adds four things to your list instead of one. Got it so far? Well for Jenny and David they managed to make it to the £100,000 with Jenny being picked to recall the exit list but before she did that the maze offered her partner £22,000 regardless of whether Jenny made it back or not. Nobody apart from him knew what he had decided to do and when Jenny did make it back I thought for sure that he’d decided to take the money but in fact he had faith in his missus and they went away happy. I was glad in a way that he didn’t take the money as that would’ve rendered the whole game completely pointless. I honestly don’t know why ITV bother with these over-complicated game formats and from what I’ve seen they aren’t doing any better in the ratings then Millionaire did. On the plus side Allwright was a good choice for host not involving himself too much in the game but still peppering some bad jokes among all the convoluted tension. Despite that The Exit List really didn’t do anything for me and time has proved that the simpler the game, the more people enjoy it so I do see a quick exit for this game show when it comes to an end.
Talking about exiting to soon some people don’t even finish everything before they pop their clogs and that is indeed true of Charles Dickens who died before he’d finished The Mystery of Edwin Drood a work that several people have had a go at finishing off. This time screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes has a go at ending the story in the first ever TV adaptation of the tale. It tells the story of John Jasper a choirmaster with an opium addiction who’s ward is the titular Mr. Drood who is promised a wife in the pretty Rosa Budd whom which Jasper carries a flame. Into the small town of Cloisterham come Helena and Neville Landless siblings who have journeyed to Ceylon to be stay with and be educated by the town’s priest Reverend Crisparkle. As Rosa feels trapped in her relationship with Edwin she doesn’t want the engagement to occur and the way she is treated by her intended angers Neville who flies off the handle and is instantly reprimanded by the townsfolk. The Mystery of Edwin Drood though doesn’t refer to the young gentleman but in fact his father who has seemingly spread his seed far and wide as the revelations of who in the story are his actual children come to light. As you would expect from Dickens the story is also peppered with comedy characters such as Alun Armstrong as Rosa’s guardian Mr Grewigious, Ian McNeice as the town’s pompous mayor and Julia McKenzie as the easily outraged Reverend’s mother. To be fair The Mystery of Edwin Drood does have a lot of Dickensian traits it is based around a family secret and includes an unwanted engagement but for me it is a brave and dark work in that its villain is also its lead character. John Jasper is a character than cannot be trusted, and who incidentally is played excellently by Matthew Rhys, and is experiences and visions are often affected by his opium addiction. It is also interesting to have Asian characters in the story as it creates as sense of alienation and I think it fitted in with the time that Dickens was writing where a lot of people from these countries were coming to rural Britain. I also believe that Gwyneth Hughes managed to write a great conclusion and it wasn’t till afterwards that I realised that Dickens didn’t actually write all of this as it fit so seamlessly with what had come before. It was also good that I was unfamiliar with this tale as I didn’t have anything to compare it to as opposed to the recent adaptation of Great Expectations which had been filmed many times before. So overall great performances, an intriguing story and a satisfying ending made The Mystery of Edwin Drood an unexpected treasure.
Moving from drama to comedy now as stand-up comic Milton Jones presents a one-off pilot for his new sitcom House of Rooms. The concept of the show is that Milton lives with his mother, played by Victoria Wood regular Susie Blake, and they rent out rooms off their apartment to various tenants. It is clear from the start that Milton is in love with the shy cat-loving Alice who lives in the building and their romance is played out in an almost silent comedy fashion. However new Australian housemate Paul quickly comes in and charms both Alice and later on Milton’s mother who tries to seduce him in a Grease-inspired sequence. As a sitcom lead Milton is full of self-doubt as he tries to muster up the courage to speak to Alice he is thwarted again and again by Paul but just when you think you know where things are going the plot flips on its head. Anybody who has seen Jones on Mock the Week knows that his comedy relies a lot on wordplay and quick one-liners and there’s a lot of that here especially in a scene in which he and his mother play a card game that she has recently learnt. There is also a hilarious gag involving a gas man who tries to tempt Milton into changing packages by wining and dining him. There is a whole surreal nature to House of Rooms that also appealed to me the nearest thing I could compare it to is Father Ted in that it has a flawed but genuinely decent lead and that the humour comes quick and fast and I found myself laughing a lot more than I do at a lot of today’s sitcoms. However I feel House of Rooms also has its roots in more classic sitcoms such as Rising Damp where you have the tenants who don’t necessarily like each other but are forced to get on as they live under the same roof and Ronnie Corbett’s Sorry in which a son still lives with his mother and their relationship is very suspect. Funny, surreal yet traditional House of Rooms does have bags of potential and I hope it returns in the near future.
And as we countdown to the end of this week’s blog we also switch over to Countdown to witness the first show hosted by Sir Alan Lord Sugar’s right hand man Nick Hewer. When Hewer’s appointment to the role was announced last year I think some people were a bit bemused by the whole thing as Nick’s background is in PR rather than presenting. But then again Richard Whitely didn’t come from a TV presenting gig either having previously been an outside reporter for a local news network but he fitted the role perfectly and is still greatly missed in the role. Since his untimely departure I feel that Des Lynam did a good job but since then it has gone downhill partly due to Vorderman’s exit and partly due to a new set that I never really warmed to. On his first show Hewer went in all gun’s blazing with a style that probably went over some people’s heads as he used some interesting adjectives to describe his female co-hosts calling maths whizz Rachel Riley as winsome and Suzie Dent as toothsome before settling in and bigging up young champion Jack’s maths skills. What I noticed about Hewer from the outset was that he tended to play around in the swivel chair during the games a lot more than his predecessors ever did but maybe then he was just getting comfortable and creating a long-lasting arse groove. There were several moments were this gentile mid-afternoon quiz got a bit serious as after Suzie’s explanation of the definition of Morse Code Nick decided to regale her with a story about one of his old war friends and then after the second teatime teaser was revealed to be netizens he took real offense to this ‘new word’ and order Dent to try and extradite it from the dictionary straight away. As a massive Hewer fan I relish the chance to see him on anything and I have to say he did do an admirable job on his first episode but it was almost if he had misjudged the audience. I think a lot of his delivery was too serious and some of his jokes were misjudged especially a final comment about being sandwiched between Margaret Mountford and Karren Brady. I feel that if Countdown ever did a primetime edition then the Nick Hewer we saw in the debut episode would fit right in but I feel that he needs to chill out a bit to fit in with his audience of OAPs and lazy students. I do feel he is at a slight disadvantage in not having the steady hand of Carol Vorderman to guide him through these first few weeks and I do also think that once he finds the right tone he will settle and be the best host of Countdown since the late great Mr Whitely.
Next Week: Call the Midwife, Winners and Losers and Masterchef