This Week in TV: White Heat, Dirk Gently, The Secrets of Everything, The Sarah Millican Television Programme and The Secret Policeman’s Ball

Welcome TV fans, let’s get started shall we?
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First up some new drama in White Heat written by Paula Milne about her time living in student accommodation and encompasses several decades starting in 1965. We first meet Charlotte, the equivalent of Milne in the drama, in the present day as played by Juliet Stevenson as she returns to the flat to help clear it out as one of her former flatmates has passed away. We then flashback to see Charlotte now played by Claire Foy being shown around the flat by her prospective landlord Jack who at first sight is a free-thinking liberal who doesn’t want a normal flat share instead feels that everybody should be free to do what they want. Obviously Charlotte gets the flat and moves in with fellow students Jamaican Victor, political Alan, Irish psychology student Orla, flirty art student Lily and Asian Jay. Throughout the first episode we are introduced to the relationships that will form throughout the series and the characters views on life. Charlotte is the focus of the episode as she is attracted to the unstable Jack and starts experimenting with contraceptives but she has also caught the eye of the more caring Victor. Lily and Alan strike up a friendship based on their Northern upbringing and the fact that both of their parents want them in proper jobs but it seems that he wants more from her. Finally it seemed that Orla and Jay may get it on but at their house-warming it is revealed that he also has a secret that threatens to ruin him. There is a scene in White Heat near the beginning in which Alan believes that Jack has gathered them all there as a social experiment as they are mix of races, classes and professions and in a way I feel that’s what the BBC wanted from Milne. You have the radical, the sexualised one, the fat girl, the Asian one, the black one, the unsure one and Charlotte who is by far the best written character but that’s not surprising see that she is based on the screenwriter. Of the performances it is Claire Foy and Juliet Stevenson who both impress as Charlotte although I also thought that David Gyasi was great as Victor and the always brilliant Tamsin Greig also excelled as Charlotte’s mother. I felt that the drama was a little heavy-handed at times especially when reminding us what year we were in but now the characters have settled down and the relationships have been set out I feel that things could get better in next week’s episode. Not exactly a promising start but a debut episode of a drama that had a lot of introductions to do and one that I feel may well improve as it progresses.

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This week’s second new drama had its pilot towards the end of 2010 and was deemed successful enough to be granted a three part series albeit on BBC4. The programme I’m talking about is Dirk Gently, based on a series of books by Douglas Adams, which stars Stephen Mangan as the titular detective who feels that every case he has is interconnected in some way. In this episode he has to solve the case of why a former client, who believed he was being tracked by the CIA, has been killed while at the same time taking on another client who believes all of his horoscopes are coming true but the unscrupulous Dirk also decides to help his wife find out if her husband as been cheating on her. Every detective needs a good sidekick, or at this point a partner, so Dirk is joined by Darren Boyd’s Richard MacDuff who is constantly complaining that he doesn’t feel like an equal part of the business despite donating a lot of money to the agency. The crime solving part of Dirk Gently is well-written enough to keep your attention with the two separate cases meaning that there is plenty going on and plenty for the audience to try and solve before Dirk does. However the main attraction of Dirk Gently is the interplay between MacDuff and Dirk which is mainly done to the brilliant chemistry that Boyd and Mangan have. Boyd is probably the better of the two and seemingly has found his niche playing slightly pathetic characters who cave in easily to their more dominant partners. I found occasionally I got annoyed every time that Dirk mentioned how everything was interconnected and this wasn’t a perfect episode to return on but thankfully this kept its sense of fun and both leads did their job splendidly it’s just a shame nobody had enough confidence to move this to one of the main BBC channels.

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Moving up one channel to BBC3 we find their take on the whacky science shows that will hopefully appeal to their key demographic in The Secrets of Everything. The programme is fronted by Greg Foot a sort of cool, trendy guy who I’m sure the programme makers saw as ‘relatable’ in the same way as Professor Brian Cox is. He introduces himself as an inquisitive sort who studied for a science degree and is now questioning urban myths, learning how to survive various catastrophes and generally mucking about with balloons. Take the first experiment in which Greg tries to find out whether or not everybody in the world jumping at the same time could cause time to turn back. To do this he travels to the Reading festival and gets all the drunk and stoned masses to jump at the same time and has a seismologist on hand to see if this mass jump troubled the Richter Scale at all. In fact it did slightly however Foot then finds out from said seismologist that it would take more than the world’s population to cause a quake that would turn back time which sort of beggars the question why didn’t he ask an expert in the first place? Obviously if he had done this then this wouldn’t be the cool and groovy science show that it attempts to be but at times I felt that the experiments were based around the songs that had been chosen for the episode. So for example when Greg was trying to find out what human flesh tasted like we heard snatches of Britney Spears’ Piece of Me meanwhile when he and his friend where electrocuting each other to see if they could survive a storm it was time for a bit of Crying Lightning from Arctic Monkeys. There are also animated sequences involving Professor Logic a crazy scientist who helps us discover why brothers and sisters can’t marry and basically does the experiments that Greg is too embarrassed to carry out. If you think that The Secrets of Everything sounds familiar then it is as it splices together the US hit show Mythbusters with the former Sky One science vehicle Braniac. So there’s nothing particularly new here but that doesn’t stop this from being an insightful show with Greg Foot proving to be an enthusiastic and engaging host and most of the experiments being quite interesting if not completely original. A promising series which makes a change from BBC3′s usual output of stuff like Hotter than My Daughter and Snog, Marry, Avoid.

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Talking of Snog, Marry, Avoid it is one of the shows that comedian Sarah Millican brings up as an example of a dating show that she hates as she addresses the crowd on the debut episode of her new television programme. Millican’s programme is a mixture of chat show, stand-up and sort of live skits which all build on her persona as the woman who looks quite frumpy but is actually fairly dirty. It is fairly fitting than Millican is the first female comic to get her own chat show since Mrs Merton as the two are very similar and can get away for some very rude gags due to their demure demeanours. The concept of each episode of the show is that Millican will touch on various genres of TV Programmes and talk around each subject bringing out relevant guests and basically being a bit funny. So as I mentioned previously dating shows was one genre that was explored and to help her here she had self-proclaimed ‘sexpert’ Tracey Cox. Obviously this is where the show got particularly dirty but there was a funny sequence towards the end in which Tracey tried to teach Sarah how to pick up men and at a singles night. But the star of the show was Chris Packham who came on to help Sarah talk about nature programmes and things got pretty weird when he started talking about dating birds of the feathered variety and that he preferred feathers to skin. He went on to talk about his dislike of pandas and housecats and try and get Sarah to stop killing spiders but unfortunately all this fell on deaf ears. I do feel that it was only a matter of time that Millican got her own TV show as she’s so ubiquitous that she has fairly solid following and after winning the Queen of Comedy Award earlier in the year the BBC obviously viewed this as a ratings winner. Personally I thought it was OK but the jokes were fairly predictable and at the time I felt that the material was more than stretched thankfully Millican is a warm and witty interviewer and definitely she seemed to feel more confident when she had a guest to bounce off than when she was on her own. Overall then a promising start to a show that refreshingly casts a female comedian as the juvenile cheeky host rather than the standard male equivalent.

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And continuing along the comedy theme we have the return of The Secret Policeman’s Ball the semi-regular event held in honour of Amnesty International which has in the past been home to such legendary British comedy acts as Pete and Dud and Monty Python. For the first time the event is being held outside the UK, in New York’s Radio City Music Hall, presumably to attract a larger amount of big name US comics. However the Brits still outnumbered the Yanks but they were able to stand together at the beginning of the night as David Walliams and Ben Stiller performed a sketch about the differences between British and American words which in fact was the funniest thing anybody did all night. UK comics that the audience have actually heard of came on sporadically with Eddie Izzard doing his stereotypical intellectual routine and Russell Brand appearing on stage twice once doing regular stand-up and once appearing with buddy Noel Fielding as they made their way through a squirm-inducing routine about the benefits of Amnesty International. Elsewhere panel show regulars Jack Whitehall, Mickey Flanagan and Jimmy Carr all did routines that were based around their sex lives with Whitehall adopting a bizarre accent making him sound a lot like Izzard. On the American side I quite enjoyed the guy called Hannibal as well as Muppets Statler and Waldorf but the highlight for me was a short sketch featuring Matt Berry and Catherine Tate among others as the Amnesty Band who performed an incomprehensible song that was still very funny. The whole thing ended with a fifteen minute Coldplay concert that seemed to be double that time with Chris Martin doing his best to support charity as always. I have to say I feel that we need to reclaim our own event as moving it to New York really didn’t work apart from in the sketches I have already mentioned. While it’s hard for me to criticise something that is all done for charity but I feel that quite a few of the acts were trying to impress the Yanks rather than raise money for an important cause and compared to past events this one just didn’t match up.

Next Week: Love Life, Scott and Bailey and Masterchef: The final

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