Sisters are doing it for themselves while the men just seem to be a bit grumpy in this week’s blog.
For anybody who watches TV on a regular basis you will have seen the BBC constantly harping on about ‘Original British Drama’ and one of the programmes featured heavily in that promo is our first programme – Call the Midwife. The show is set in 1957 in London’s East End a fact that is reiterated constantly throughout the show and our lead heroine is Jenny Lee a girl who tells us she could’ve done anything but in the end decided to be a midwife. She arrives at what she believes to be a private hospital but turns out to be a convent with the three main sisters being the programme’s big names – Pam Ferris, Jenny Agutter and Judy Parfitt. The first episode sees the upper-class slightly snobbish Jenny adjust to life in the lower classes where women fight in the street and some houses are crammed full of women who can’t stop having kids to the extent of one abode looking like the Every Sperm is Sacred scene from Monty Python and The Meaning of Life. Jenny is also given backstory as the younger midwives try and find out about her personal life and it is revealed that she has been in love with someone since she was seventeen but we must wait to find out who it is. For me Call the Midwife feels like a programme about England created by Americans in so much as none of the period East End looks real and the dialogue seems stilted and forced. Which is odd seeing as the programme is actually based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth and adapted by the lady who gave us Cranford but for me there were far too many sweeping shots of the young girls in their uniforms cycling down streets strewn with washing lines. On the plus side the main cast are all fantastic Jessica Raine puts in a sterling performance as Jenny and I feel it was hard to make this character likeable especially with some of the lines she has to recite but it is Pam Ferris who steals the show as the stern but loveable Sister Evanglina. I think this first episode struggled as it had the hard task of introducing about eight characters as well as trying to provide us with multiple plot strands and once Call the Midwife gets into its groove I feel that it could provide some cosy Sunday night entertainment to get us through the long winter nights. I’m also anticipating the rest of the series as the wonderful Miranda Hart debuts in episode two as a posh bumbling tall girl, who would’ve guessed she’d get that part?
More female based drama as the smash-hit Australian drama Winners and Losers hits our screens after it has been bought by ITV2. It concentrates on four girls who were all outcasts at high school but get back in contact during a reunion and remember old times. Obviously all four fall into cliché firstly there’s Frances who was incredibly sporty at school so much so that people thought she was a lesbian since then she has moved out of the provincial area and into the city where she buries herself in work only finding company in her gay assistant. Then there’s Sophie who was overweight at school but had since slimmed down but also dropped out of medical school now making money doing something involving working out a lot she is also portrayed as a bit of a slut and not that good with money. The other two members of the group – Jenny and Bec are still friends however the latter’s life has moved on and she is now engaged to her first love and running a successful beauty salon while Jenny still lives at home and hasn’t lost the weight she had when she was at high school. The convoluted set up for Winners and Losers is that three of the four buy a lottery ticket together, with Jenny opting out claiming she’s bad luck, and surprise surprise they win and then have to stick together. As a long time Neighbours fan I spent the majority of the first episode of Winners and Losers spotting as many former Ramsay Street residents as I could but in the end I only caught Stuart Parker as Bec’s other half and Dylan Timmins as Frances’ gay colleague. Eventually came to the conclusion that Winners and Losers, while good, isn’t made for me as its all about girls standing up for themselves and doing something proactive with their lives and it is made specifically for women. I did find the character of Jenny very patronising although there was a scene at the school reunion which I felt was fairly rousing but apart from that the unlucky in love fat girl is a complete stereotype. I can’t really find a lot wrong with Winners and Losers but its just not my bag although I completely see why it has been such a smash with Australian viewers and why a lot of female viewers will probably lap it up.
Last year Masterchef came in for a lot of criticism after it aired an X-Factor like debut double bill of episodes in which potential candidates auditioned with their food and some of it was just plain awful. This year thankfully that part has been scrapped although there are scenes of the auditions in which Gregg and John get the food and then meet the chefs these are small snippets and the focus is on the first leg of the competition. Over three episodes this week we saw the final 24 halved into a final sixteen worthy of wearing those iconic aprons. Once again this saw the all-important invention test with a table full of ingredients and then the would-be chefs picking various elements to construct a dish to wow the judges. While this round seemed not to phase many people John and Gregg liked to point out the moment when two contestants mistook sea trout for salmon, the fools! It seemed that making something ambitious yet disastrous was better than making something safe as a guy who had perfectly cooked a steak was dismissed in favour of someone who had failed to properly master the task of constructing a lemon tart in the time provided, which in itself was an odd one hour and ten minutes. After a double elimination, the final six were split into two and sent off to professional kitchens a process that I always find a little harsh as they get chastised for not really knowing what they’re doing yet most people who start off in a kitchen like these have more experience. On the whole everyone had a pleasant experience apart from those in the first episode who were unlucky enough to end up in Gilgamesh, no not the character from The Smurfs, an Asian restaurant overseen by head chef Ian Pengali a kind of bargain bin approximation of Marco Pierre White who shouted at poor Acki for getting fingerprints all over the dish. The decision on who got the aprons all came down to the final round in which as always the contestants get to cook their own dish and then to the strains of Set Fire to the Third Bar by Snow Patrol the finalists were revealed. I have to say I was relieved that the auditions were just cut to clip size as last year I feel that it made a mockery of the Masterchef format which this year goes back to its traditional roots. Having said that after eight series things are lagging a bit we know that the contestants are going to improve in the professional kitchen and that Gregg Wallace will judge the worth of a dish on how much he is able to polish off so there’s no real surprises. I’ll admit that this week was the heats and now that the finalists have been decided things should hot up over the next few episodes but if they don’t then its not just cooking that won’t get tougher than this but it seems getting a ninth season may be as difficult.
Last year Richard Wilson made a programme for Channel 4 about the rail system in this country and how it was basically crap although he made some good points the highlight was the former Victor Meldrew trying to order his ticket over the phone. So in its infinite wisdom the channel has decided to base a whole programme around the actor’s quest to get his head around the automated world in which we live. In Richard Wilson on Hold he explored a variety of problems facing everyone, especially people of his generation, in terms of trying to get hold of your bank or energy provider. This was demonstrated in Wilson and Age UK setting up a makeshift call centre staffed by bored old people and students with too much free time on their hands who then tried to ring as many banks and energy providers as they could. It seemed that while the banks were quite reliable it was those who supplied our heating and electricity that took up to an hour to get back to the volunteers. Obviously Wilson made the point about this being very costly and it was interesting to see how much hanging on the telephone could cost us. In the programme he also looked at car parking centres that use mobile phones and the self-checkout machines at the supermarket with the dreaded unwanted item in the bagging area issues. But once again it was Wilson getting frustrated on the phone that was the highlight as he tried to book tickets to see The Adventures of Tintin at the cinema as the automated system took him through all the films on offer again and again. As was revealed by a so-called expert it was because these sort of systems only tend to recognise people who don’t possess a regional dialect so that’s most of us screwed. I thought Richard Wilson on Hold worked best when it was Wilson reassuring us that we’re in the same boat and having a good grumble about how these systems are saving the companies money but costing us both money and precious time. It seemed though that this wasn’t enough and the programme went off on a tangent in its final quarter as he looked at his online worth and computer browser storing our cookies so that our information was passed onto other sites. This seemed to be totally different to everything that had gone before it and almost could’ve filled a programme on its own however that isn’t the fault of our amiable host who tried to explain as best he could the problems of the digital age and on the whole I agreed with him.
While comedy actors seem to be presenting more and more programmes outside of their genres one of them has come back as Griff Rhys Jones is the latest old school comedian to receive his own one-off special. The One Griff Rhys Jones started with a sketch mocking his recent career as a host of travelogues something he seems to do a lot of whether it be climbing up a mountain or going off round America on a boat with the beardy fellow and the guy who hosts Mock the Week. This saw Jones stuck up Everest then being met by a BBC representative who managed to woo him back to comedy before saying – I love all your stuff Mr Palin. What followed was a half hour of gentle studio comedy and funny sketches something that, as I’ve said before, seems to be missing from a lot of modern sketch show comedy. My favourites were Jones teaming up with Tom Hollander in a sketch where the latter claimed not to have any interest in football but Jones just kept pressing him with the line, ‘you gotta have a team..’ There was also some ideal casting as Larry Lamb portrayed the head of a criminal gang but Jones here was Mr Green the environmental officer of the group who wanted to make sure that everything about the robbery was as environmentally sound as possible. But the highlight had to be his reunion with long-time comedy partner Mel Smith for one of their classic head to head sketches. The quick fire gags reminded us why we liked them so much the first time and as they concluded they decided they had little in common and agreed to meet again in another twenty years. Which is a shame as all three of these specials, previous ones including Lenny Henry and Jasper Carrott, have demonstrated that there is definitely a gap in the market for some very funny pre-watershed sketch shows. While the three men involved in these specials obviously have the experience there’s no reason why some of these gags and sketches couldn’t be given to an up-and-coming comic who would either sink or swim with their own show like this. It does seem we are crying out for a new family friendly comedy show and God knows that we need that more than we do a Goddam panel show.
And what do you know we did get another panel show this week. Though I’m not sure if the returning Room 101 is a panel show especially if guest Danny Baker has anything to do with it. For those unfamiliar with Room 101 the first or second time round it was hosted by Nick Hancock before being taken over by Paul Merton and welcomed on one guest who would try and convince him to banish their pet-hates to Room 101 for evermore. This time the format has changed somewhat with Frank Skinner taking over as host and welcoming three guests who in episode one were Baker, Fern Britton and Robert Webb. The three were then given various categories to voice their pet hates within so for example when Film and TV came up Baker did indeed pick panel shows with Skinner trying to explain that he was on a panel show. I’m guessing by panel show he was referencing rubbish like Mock the Week and Argumental rather than the more upmarket stuff even so Webb and Skinner do make regular trips round the panel show circuit so instead the host decided to go with Webb and banish my favourite sitcom The Jeremy Kyle Show. Other topics included childhood and youth where Britton picked homework and Baker chose being cool and then there was the wildcard category in which Webb’s baldspot beat dinner parties and punk into the hall of shame. I always liked Room 101 and feel with this new format it is a bit quicker as one guest is quick to pop in with a remark after another has finished. My one critique is that it feels very similar to Skinner’s Opinionated in which he welcomes two guests to talk about similar issues that make the upset but this is more geared towards current affairs. It’s fair to say that not everybody will be happy to see Room 101 back as they will feel that it has run its course but to me I feel its just a bit of harmless fun and should be embraced for the light entertainment gem it is.
Next Week: Birdsong, Skins, We’ll Take Manhattan and Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy