Hi folks let’s get straight into another week of quality TV.
In the week in which the popular Call the Midwife left our screens it’s writer Heidi Thomas already had another trick up her sleeve as she bought back Upstairs Downstairs for a whole series following a brief revival in Christmas of 2010. In that three part-show original star and co-creator Jean Marsh returned as Rose Buck while her fellow collaborator Eileen Atkins starred in the show for the first time as Lady Holland. Coming back to Eton Place as World War 2 is about to commence we find that Lady Holland has passed on while Rose is in the hospital meaning that the show has to survive without these two veteran actresses who believe in the drama and created it the first time around. In Atkins’ place is Alex Kingston as her half-sister Blanche a museum curate while there is also a new maid around to shake things up. Meanwhile with war on the horizon Sir Hallam is fretting that the prime minister shouldn’t be making a deal with Hitler while his wife Lady Agnes is still in hospital following the birth of her second child. Back at the house there is tragedy when Lady Holland’s monkey dies leading her secretary Mr Amanjit to go berserk and almost shoot butler Mr Pritchard after he found out he was a deserter during World War One. When Hallam ends up in Germany he ends up bumping into his sister-in-law Lady Persie and the two share a brief kiss which I’m sure will lead into something later on. However if it does I don’t think I’ll be watching and it seems that Thomas may have lost her touch when it comes to Sunday night entertainment as I felt underwhelmed during most of this opening episode. One of the problems was the lack of a strong female figure – fair play both Anne Reid and Alex Kingston did their best but the former’s character is just basically the comedy gossiper while the latter is more eccentric than dignified. Elsewhere Keeley Hawes and Ed Stoppard as Agnes and Hallam are farely lifeless and the less said about Newt from Hollyoaks and Phil Wallace from Dream Team the better. The two shining lights in the cast are the underrated Adrian Scarborough as the butler Mr Pritchard and Art Malik as the dignified Mr Amanjit. While a lot of criticism can be levelled at Downton Abbey at least that’s always engaging and never boring but Upstairs Downstairs is fairly pedestrian and there are no characters to root for or interesting plot lines to follow and then all you have left is the pretty scenery. I’m sure some people will continue to watch this every week because it reminds them of a better time and to be fair this show was great in its day but that time has gone and certainly after this series has ended it’ll be time to move on.
If you like your drama a little bit more thrilling then Trevor Eve was also back this week as hostage negotiator Dominic King in the second series of Kidnap and Ransom. As you can imagine with a character played by Eve, King doesn’t play by the rules so that doesn’t bare too well for a group load of tourists on a bus in Kashmir which is held up after one of King’s deals goes awry. As King tries to negotiate the successful release of a family the police get involved which means that one of the kidnappers and his English girlfriend go on the run with one of the hostages and end up on a tourist bus. With the police circling the bus it is up to King to convince them not to shoot which essentially lets Eve do a lot of his trademark shouting however I shouldn’t be that flippant about King’s talents which includes being able to use a marker pen to convince the assembled authorities not to assume the worst of the hostage takers. Obviously the hostages themselves are a mixed bunch of stereotypes including a pregnant woman, a man whose family have decided to go to India as he’s dying of cancer and the daughter of a diplomat who wants to conceal her identity and be treated like everyone else. The other problem is that as all the hostages aren’t Brits the crisis brings in other characters whose embassies all want to deal with the situation in separate ways. Obviously King is a bit of a maverick and therefore his calming influence is his contact back in Blighty played by a harassed Helen Baxendale who just seems to turn up and do a bit of exposition. Overall though the story is involving, the set up intense and Eve is great as the cool under pressure King sure this isn’t ground-breaking drama but I enjoyed it and I feel it is an improvement on series one.
I mentioned last week that I would be covering the newest Nordic noir hit Those Who Kill but unfortunately it seems that ITV don’t have the rights to put it up on their online player so I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet. But thankfully I’ve got a more than worthy replacement in the dramatic opus that is Waterloo Road. For years I was always very snippy about the school-based drama but then I started watching it last year and I have to say I really enjoyed it. This season began with the threat of a new gang infiltrating Waterloo Road thanks to newest student Mason, who we see coming out of a young offender’s institute in the episode’s first scene, alongside Kyle played by former Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson. This gang storyline dominated episode one with the only other plot being clearing up the cliffhanger left at the end of the last run in which Head of English Linda ran over Headteacher Michael after he found out that she had been stalking him. As Michael’s memory came back Linda, played with glazed-eye craziness by Miranda’s Sarah Hadland, tried to convince Mark Benton’s loveable maths teacher Daniel ‘Chalky’ Chalk. But this was Chalky’s episode as not only did he topple Linda but he also stood up to Mason and chums and got him arrested but as we learnt this wasn’t the end of the gang plot for a while as Sampson seems to be its new leader and he will obviously attack people with the use of streetdance. Waterloo Road is sort of the natural successor to Grange Hill although as this is prime time it is a little grittier and there is a stronger focus on the staff members. I have to say that this was Mark Benton’s show who is one of Waterloo Road’s best assets however I was surprised how sparingly Chelsee Healey was used following her Strictly Come Dancing performance. This did what it was meant to do which was provide enjoyable drama for the masses with involving plot lines and decent performances from its young cast and I have to say out of the three dramas that I have reviewed this is the one that I will definitely be watching again next week.
Comedy now with a brand new sitcom entitled Pramface coming from BBC3 who over the years have produced comedies as good as Him and Her but as bad as Coming of Age. This show comes somewhere in the middle of those two and follows the exploits of Jamie and Laura a couple of youngsters who have a one night stand at a party and as a result this she ends up pregnant. Before the event itself we meet both of them individually firstly Jamie who has just finished his GCSEs crashes the party along with his horny boisterous friend Michael who is obviously the writer’s attempt to emulate Jay from The Inbetweeners. Laura, who is two years older, is waiting to go off to University but is still being treated as a child by her mother who has recently grounded her for smoking pot. At the party Laura is very drunk and as this is Jamie’s time he doesn’t know that he hasn’t applied his prophylactic properly and that means the inevitable is on the cards. There are some things to like about Pramface and its mostly all in Laura’s story with Scarlett Alice Johnson proving a very good lead while Anna Chancellor and Angus Deyton are suitably stuffy as her parents that’s not take anything away from Sean Michael Verey as Jamie and Bronagh Gallagher as his mother. The problem is that for me since The Inbetweeners Movie made all that money everyone has been rushing to make the new big teen comedy however Pramface falls short but this does come from someone who’s never been the E4 show that funny. The problem lies in the writing as Chris Reddy, who must be early thirties at the least, tries to imagine how teenagers speak today and it doesn’t quite work for me. To be fair I don’t know how young people interact but I wouldn’t really base my sitcom around it and I also think there’s a lot of plotholes within the story itself. So this isn’t a disaster of Coming of Age proportions mainly thank to a likeable cast with a combination of enthusiastic young actors and seasoned veterans but a very broad script that didn’t make laugh once lets it down.
Another debut comedy this week was sketch show from TV’s newest female double act Ingrid Oliver and Lorna Watson. In Watson and Oliver they presented a series of sketches some of which seemed to be one-offs and others were regular characters. Those regulars include the Georgian Ladies one of whom have drawn-on eyebrows that change with her expression and the prisoner and warden who have an overly friendly relationship. Both of these sketches were very obvious and didn’t make me laugh and the only one I found at all amusing was that of Jenkins a woman who tried to duck out of work early as she’d only had ten minutes for lunch but it just happens that she works for the Met who need her to catch a criminal they’ve been chasing for ages. For me there was also too much poking fun at celebrities in an obvious way for example there was an extended skit in which William and Kate reminisce about the big events on their wedding day or when they constantly pick on Mylene Klass for being likeable. Talking of celebrity involvement there were two long segments involving John Barrowman dueting with both Lorna and Ingrid as themselves which turned into one big publicity stunt for the man himself. Though I wasn’t particularly taken with the programme I was won over by the girls themselves who try their hardest to introduce themselves to a television audience after years appearing on the stand-up circuit. If anyone is to be at fault it is the production staff for littering the show with an abundance of canned laughter and thinking that Barrowman has to be featured so prominently is because otherwise nobody would be interested in a couple of unknown comics which is a shame. I do feel that sketch comedy is incredibly hard to do but on the whole these skits had a rhythm to them so when the joke happened I already knew what it would be. But I still admire this duo and with a bit of tweaking this programme still could become a cult hit among comedy fans.
And finally we come to the annual televised event that always provokes some sort of controversy as the record industry slaps itself on the back for another mediocre year I’m talking of course about The Brit Awards. Indeed the day after the awards aired the news programmes were abuzz about this year’s controversial moment however I’m still struggling to work out how staged it was when host James Corden cut off Adele’s Best British Album speech to throw over to Blur’s eleven minute mini-concert. As the majority of us all know this provoked Adele to make a rude gesture, as the daytime news described it, aimed squarely at the organisers for their shoddy time-keeping ability. If this hadn’t happened though it would’ve been one hell of a dull night with the majority of the performers – Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and the aforementioned Adele all winning awards along with Lana Del Ray and The Foo Fighters who were the only winners not to show up presenting a very lacklustre pre-recorded acceptance message featuring drummer Taylor Hawkins. The performances themselves were nothing special and almost played as a Best of 2011 mixtape the only exception to this rule in my opinion was the Blur set which while not amazing was still something different from the mixture of pretentious and dull that we had been given up to this point. Blur themselves created quite a stir in addition to their part in the Adele incident their acceptance speech when receiving the outstanding contribution award involved Albarn speaking for absolutely ages with his band mates shifting around the stage uncomfortably till at one point they all had their backs to the crowd. Blur’s last at these awards was in 1995 and I do think they probably were wearing the same clothes they did then and of the songs they did do as part of their set it was Tender which stood out for me it was a shame then that this featured as part of the extra footage on the ITV2 bonus show. Host James Corden was in serious mode although he was able to crack a few jokes including one about Adele being a tranny and Rihanna having the painters in but for the most part he wanted to concentrate on the music it was a shame then that the music wasn’t memorable and the controversy was seemingly created to have something for the news programmes to talk about on Wednesday morning.
Next Week: Make Bradford British, The Indian Doctor and Cleverdicks