Big week as we head to the annual talent show period of the spring.
Even those who don’t follow TV news particularly closely must’ve known that this week was one of the most important of the year in terms of Saturday night television this was because the BBC’s great new hope The Voice was up against the latest series of Britain’s Got Talent which featured the return of Simon Cowell. The big controversy was that BGT had been moved up a couple of weeks to debut the same week as The Voice and more than that there would be a 20 minute overlap between the two from 8pm to twenty past 8. So first up was The Voice a format that felt fresh to everybody who hadn’t caught the US version online at some point which itself was a show that spawned the incredibly popular hit Moves Like Jagger. The big difference with The Voice is it is purely a singing competition with those on the panel being coaches rather than judges who have to compete with each other to find the best singers to be in their teams. The most notable coach has to be Sir Tom Jones a massive name who has an equally recognisable voice who has been paired here with Jessie J another great singer who is more relevant to today’s charts. Will.i.am isn’t known as the singer in the Black Eyed Peas but as a producer he has got a good ear for the right voice and is incredibly influential in the musical world. Danny O’Donaughe is the only name that isn’t familiar to a mass audience being the front-man of Irish soft rock band The Script he is obviously here to be the eye candy for the millions of female viewers although programme-makers claim that he is represents the rock side of the music industry which I’m sure most people would find offence with. The USP of The Voice is that the coaches don’t see the auditionees when they come on stage instead they sit on special swinging chairs and if they like what they hear they’ll turn around to see the full package and essentially commit to wanting the singer to be part of their team.
A lot of those on stage are already professional singers such as Aundrea Neale who has previously sung back-up for R Kelly and J Marie Cooper who has been plying her trade for years now and recently appeared as one of the singers on a single episode of Strictly Come Dancing. Though the blind audition format didn’t bode well for everyone with the greatest example of this being poor old Sean Conlon formerly from 5ive who failed to impress anyone with his rendition of Coldplay’s Trouble and I get the feeling if he had been seen before he sung somebody would’ve snapped him up. The differences with something like The X-Factor is that here there are no rubbish singers, no comedy acts like Wagner and the judges aren’t subjected to sob stories however we the audience occasionally are. The first act up, Irish teen Jessica Hammond, talked about how she was bullied and how the music saved her while alopecia sufferer Toni Warne gave the most generic sob story prior to her performance they were both good but I think this show should’ve tried to shy away from this as much as possible. The best thing about the show was the concentration on how the voice is an instrument and all four coaches were able to make constructive notes about the tone, melody and breathing techniques while I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word vibrato on any of the eight series of X-Factor. All four coaches have great personalities most notably Will.i.am who I didn’t think would bring much to the party but actually is a fairly quirky and funny individual. The Voice definitely struck a chord with the nation with most polls saying that they preferred the show but I wonder if this because it felt fresh it will be interesting to see what the general public thinks as the weeks go on but for now I’m definitely with them when it comes to this refreshing edition to what was a tired TV genre.
Talking of a tired TV genre it’s time to welcome back Britain’s Got Talent for what I believe is Series Six. As I said previously Lord of Darkness Simon Cowell is back in the programme I think he secretly loves the most and in which there are two new judges to sit between him and Amanda Holden. This year’s picks are camp comic David Walliams and personality void former Strictly judge Alesha Dixon. As always there are the mix of acts both good and bad but this format has become over-saturated and after watching The Voice the singing acts just don’t compare. There’s a rather good-looking bloke who sings an Adele song on a guitar and then there’s a big bloke who comes onto the stage who looks a bit like Hurley from Lost. He obviously can sing but Simon wants us to think he can’t sing so when he belts out some opera we’re meant to be thinking oh that’s amazing however the SuBo quality has long since gone and I feel that Jonathan is just another generic act. Gay dancing duo The Sugar Dandies were perhaps the sweetest act of the night showing that dancing doesn’t always have to feature partners of the opposite sex while some weird German dude managed to get through the process singing Evanesence badly. After episode one it was all-boy male voice choir Only Boys Aloud that stood out especially now choirs are in I’m thinking that this could be Lord Cowell’s revenge for the Military Wives getting the Christmas Number One. What I didn’t like about the new series was the sort of secret cameras in the waiting room which took up time from the acts themselves and also the constant Twitter hashtags which gave me the feeling that Cowell didn’t want us to come up with any amusing ideas to trend ourselves. In terms of the new judges I just feel there’s no bite to them while Walliams adds a certain debonair charm combined with taking the mick out of Cowell for me Dixon is just another bland woman and we already have one of those in Holden. It was thought that Dixon was poached from Strictly so Cowell could get one over on the BBC but in actual fact he’s done them a favour as they can get a female judge who actually knows what she’s talking about. One thing that BGT has over The Voice is its presenting team with Ant & Dec still providing the majority of the gags as compared to Reggie Yates and Holly Willoughby who have little to do at this stage of the competition and maybe shouldn’t have been bought out until the live shows. As I said before its early days and maybe the variety of the good, bad and the ugly will work in Britain’s Got Talent’s favour but for now I feel that The Voice is just edging ahead when it comes to the superior programme.
Not only did ITV bring back Britain’s Got Talent they had a bumper weekend with the final of Dancing on Ice and the debut of the most expensive TV drama of all time Titanic. Downton Abbey head honcho Julian Fellowes has basically been given free range and a massive budget to recreate the story of the doomed ship to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its voyage. Fellowes’ mission was to create a more accurate depiction of the disaster than that was shown in James Cameron’s multi Oscar-winning picture of 1997. Fellowes’ mini-series will introduce over eighty speaking characters over four episodes with all of these ending with the boat hitting the iceberg and then rewind back to before the time that it set sail. The first episode mainly concentrated on Lord and Lady Manton, played by Linus Roache and Geraldine Somerville, who have decided to take their daughter on board the Titanic to get her away from London where she is constantly arrested for her participation in the Suffragette movement. As in all Fellowes pieces there is a focus on class and with there being several decks of the Titanic there is snobbery throughout best represented in episode one by Lady Manton’s displeasure about having to have tea with her husband’s lawyer John Batley and his wife Louisa. In Titanic there is even snobbery between the British servants and their foreign counterparts who don’t think it is right that all the nationalities eat together. As there are so many characters are lot of them are reduced to a couple of lines I felt sorry the most for new Doctor Who companion Jenna-Louisa Coleman who role as chambermaid Annie basically sees her turning down beds and helping ladies take their jewellery off. Some of the bigger names of the cast such as Steven Waddington and Celia Imrie have little to do in episode one and the hope is that their roles are fleshed out as time goes on. There are also some dodgy special effects throughout and the final sinking scenes seem to rely too much on shaky camera angles to represent the fact that the ship is going down. Though well-acted and good to look at at the moment the odd narrative structure means that Titanic is an odd beast but one that should hopefully improve as more of the characters are properly introduced but after all the hype I have to say that this was a disappointing debut.
Another new drama doesn’t have a problem with being compared to one of the most successful films of all time but at the same time it does feel like I’ve seen it before. I’m talking of BBC1′s The Syndicate which is the latest show to be scripted by Kay Mellor who created both Fat Friends and Playing the Field. The story concentrates on five members of staff from budget supermarket Right Buy U who end up winning the lottery as part of a syndicate however this win comes at the end of an episode which sees many ups and downs. The main focus of episode one is Stuart, played by Matthew MacFayden, who is struggling for cash after getting into credit card debt and fears he is losing his girlfriend as well as his young son after they move out of his mother’s house due to personality clashes. His brother Jamie, played by Neville from Harry Potter, suggests that they rob stage a robbery in the store then split the money so Stuart can move his family into a new flat before his wife gives birth to their second child. The robbery seems to be going well until Timothy Spall’s branch manager Bob returns to the store to get his phone tries to overpower Jamie and gets whacked on the head with a bottle of whiskey for his trouble. Bob ends up in a coma so when the lottery announcement is made it is bittersweet as the team worry about their boss’ condition and there is also another problem in that Stuart hasn’t paid his lottery money to syndicate leader Denise for five weeks. Though Stuart is the main focus we are shown that all the members of the team are having problems with Bob’s health suffering, Jamie struggling to control his drug addiction, Denise fearing she is losing her husband and Joanna Page’s single mum Leanne who fears that are former partner will find her now the news of her lottery win is out. While The Syndicate is fairly predictable and unbelievable it is also fairly easy to watch with some fine performances from MacFayden and Spall despite the latter not featuring in it as much as an actor of his calibre should. There’s sometimes nothing wrong with a drama that you can watch without over-thinking and The Syndicate is a perfect example of that because while nothing it is original it still does what it does very well.
Though the BBC have enough money to spend millions acquiring The Voice they don’t seem to be able to afford to hang on to great Sunday morning show Something for the Weekend. Never fear though because Channel 4 saw the worth in a hangover curing show and has poached SFTW stars Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer to host the very similar Sunday Brunch. Like their BBC2 vehicle it sees the pair cooking, chatting with celebrities and talking about football however there is no room for a female co-star so unfortunately the incredibly professional Louise Redknapp will have to spend more time on holiday with her husband. Rimmer has been moved up to co-host and is therefore able to come out of the kitchen to participate in the interview segments with Lovejoy and the stars on this week’s show included Stacey Solomon as well as Zach Braff and Eve Myles who are starring together in Braff’s new play. Channel 4 have bought their own spin on the show though and have to do something for the pair to do going into each break so each guest and co-host gets to pick a track to go into the playlist which is then able to be downloaded which this week included new stuff from Lana Del Ray as well as old-school indie stuff from the likes of The Charlatans. Wayne the cocktail guy as been replaced by a pretty young thing who likes to talk about drinks while the gadgets segment has been re-branded as a section looking at the latest trends. The old adage if it ain’t broke don’t fix it applies to Sunday Brunch as the best parts of the show are those in which Rimmer and Lovejoy are in the kitchen. I still don’t think that Rimmer has settled into his role as co-host and I still feel that a female is needed not necessarily Redknapp but somebody who has chemistry with Lovejoy and is also comfortable with interviews. Unfortunately the move to a commercial station means ad breaks and it doesn’t quite feel right that these guys are now being split up by numerous advertisements while I don’t think the playlist works in the same way that Deja View did. However I would rather have these guys on my TV than not and it’s still fairly early days but I would bring on a female co-host, cut down on the ads and lose the playlist idea to improve the overall feel of a show that I’m still glad is with us on Sunday mornings.
Another programme that I’m glad that has returned is spoof documentary Twenty Twelve which won the best sitcom award at The Comedy Awards early this year. For those of you who missed it first time around I don’t blame you as it was on BBC4 however for this shorter run of only four episodes it has been promoted to BBC2. The show focuses on the Olympic Deliverance Committee a group of people whose job it is to organise all the finer points of this year’s games and in great sitcom fashion they are all fairly incompetent. Twenty Twelve’s lead is Hugh Bonneville as Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher a sort of well-meaning middle-management character who is trying to deal with various issues this series including his divorce and leading a band of nitwits. Jessica Hynes plays Siobhan Hayes a PR-type who has been assigned as Head of Brand and tends to speak in corporate jargon without ever getting anything sorted and half the time doesn’t really know what the Olympic Games is all about. Though Hynes isn’t the first episode very much it is the scenes in which she is acting opposite Bonneville that are the best that the sitcom has to offer. The big problem for the Deliverance Committee is the fact that the Algerians want a Mosque built after realising that the multi-faith centre doesn’t face Mecca. Obviously the Deliverance Committee’s ideas including moving the whole thing around and not letting the Algerians take part because after all who will notice. Siobhan and Ian’s writing of a press release is also a very amusing scene as she is unable to believe that Muslims are the name of the group who are part of the religion of Islam always thinking that they were two separate entities. The first episode though reserves its funniest sequences for the last ten minutes in which Ian and others try and sort out a video conference between the representative of the Algerian committee and Seb Coe which obviously doesn’t go at all to plan. The fact that it features six very talented performers and feels very real is part of the charm of Twenty Twelve which when coupled with David Tennant’s realistic narration makes for a very funny show indeed. What the cast understand is that the faux documentary format is best played straight so all the disasters and conversations here feel very real. It is only a shame that this is running for four episodes and my hope is that we see a third series where the Deliverance Committee after deal with what to do with all the venues now that the games are over.