A bit of a quiet week in the world of TV however we do have a nostalgia trip, an unbelievable story and the return of one of the best comedies around to keep you interested for a little while.
I personally feel old whenever I see a TV programme that looks back to the 1990s, the decade when I grew up, and I think some people who lived through the 1970s will feel even older know there’s a history programme dedicated to that decade as we have the imaginatively titled The 70s. Historian Dominic Sandbrook, who wasn’t born till midway through the decade he is exploring, is setting out to explain how influential the 1970s were on our lives today. The opening episode, given the subtitle Get it On, looked at the trends that started in the period between 1970 and 1972. This was a time in which we as a country starting wallowing in affluence as we were able to afford our own houses and holiday abroad for the first time. There was also a focus on Ted Heath wanting us to buy into the European market so that it would help our trade efforts but it ended on a sour note with The Miner’s Strike of 1972 having an adverse effect on Heath’s term at Number 10. For me this was a bullet point history of the early seventies which was more about style than substance peppered with nostalgic newsreel throughout as well as clips from comedies of the time such as The Goodies, The Liver Birds and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads. Not one to leave out the music there was also a section about David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and more notably Marc Bolan’s influence over the way that young males started to dress throughout the decade. Talking of music the soundtrack was one of the best things about The 70s from Boney M to Cream to Crosby, Stills and Nash there was much to enjoy from the soundtrack while Sandbrook was an interesting host even if he was trying to justify the need for this documentary a little bit too much at times. While The 70s was a well-crafted documentary full of nostalgic video clips ultimately it had nothing new to say on a period that has already been covered before in programmes very similar to this.
If there’s one thing BBC3 do really well it’s their documentaries which often feature on young people going through various dilemmas and this week’s offering I Woke Up Gay is no exception. The programme focuses on Chris Birch who once was a rugby playing womanising lad who suffered a serious stroke after rolling down a hill however once he’d recovered, and as the title suggests, he woke up gay. The Chris we meet now is a stylist in a salon, likes to drink wine and enjoys monthly botox injections as well as living above the salon with his new partner Jak. Jak doesn’t believe Chris’ story that his stroke turned him gay believing that he was always attracted to men and used the incident as an excuse to come out. To prove his partner wrong Chris journeys round the country in search of proof meeting a specialist who tells him that in very extreme cases a stroke has indeed affected a person’s sexuality. He also meets former builder Tommy, who also suffered a stroke, and when he got back to his normal life discovered that he could no paint a skill he didn’t possess before. The programme proved that while it was indeed possible that his stroke could’ve turned him gay it’s not all that probable and I’m more inclined to side with Jak as well as the general public who hit out after his story was published in the press. The stroke did obviously change Chris in some ways as he changed his career and his interests but I still failed to believe that he wasn’t always attracted to men. My bigger question was why he was so insistent to prove the doubters wrong as he seemed perfectly happy in his new life, with the possible exception of losing contact with his mother, and if he loved Jak all that much did it really matter one way or the other? Despite a fascinating premise my main problem was that I didn’t really connect with Chris perhaps because he was fair stand-offish or perhaps that he was so adamant that his stroke turned him gay made him slightly one-dimensional. Overall a well-made, well-researched documentary that was certainly interesting however one with a central subject that I didn’t really connect with and a story that never really had a definitive conclusion.
Finally, back this week we have Simon Amstell who has almost his entire TV family back with him for the second series of his semi-autobiographical and unashamedly hilarious Grandma’s House. Since series one Grandpa has passed away, this is because actor Geoffrey Hutchings died in real life, so Simon has moved in with his Grandma to be the man of the house. He is also celebrating as a comedy drama that he has written has been picked up and his mother is happy that he’ll be on telly and more importantly that he’ll be paid. There is a running gag throughout that Simon’s various family members don’t believe that he can act and that maybe he should get more acting lessons which echoes the thoughts of a lot of the critics when discussing the first series, I personally thought this joke got a little tired although it was fairly fun when it first started. Another problem that Simon has to solve is that he has woken up in bed with another young man Mark who turns out not only to be sixteen but also to be a classmate of his cousin Adam of whom his auntie Liz calls weird as he once killed a frog on a sponsored walk. Throughout the show Mark gets more and more weird from referring to Simon by his full name to insulting his mother Tanya to finally doing something that devastates Simon’s grandmother. Tanya’s other problem is that former fiancée Clive is still hanging around turning up unannounced with a karaoke machine to serenade her with such hits as Michael Jackson’s You Are Not Alone. Not counting the tragic death of Hutchings not much else has changed in Grandma’s House Simon is still lurking in the background while the women in his life all have disputes with each other only this time there’s no voice of reason to end the fights. Though Amstell’s acting really hasn’t improved the quality of the show remains the same with both Rebecca Front and Samantha Spiro giving tremendous performances as two feisty Jewish sisters this remains one thoroughly funny and warm if occasionally squirm-inducing sitcom.