Another fine week in TV with lots of highs and one notable low.
So we start with yet another comedy drama from Sky following moderate successes Stella and The Cafe as we head to Matlock in Derbyshire for Starlings. The programme is written by Peep Show’s Matt ‘Superhans’ King and Steve Edge best known as Alan in Phoenix Nights with the pair also taking supporting roles in the programme that follows the day to day lives of the Starlings family. In the first episode the Starlings welcome a new member into the flock as elder daughter Bel gives birth in the home and later her dad Terry, played by Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle, uses the baby’s introduction to the family as a way to give us a potted guide to the majority of our characters. So the Starlings’ son Gravy is a bit of a layabout, younger daughter Charlie is an aspiring goalkeeper, Terry’s father Billy is also staying with the family after recently being thrown out of his house and Starling matriarch Jan who is a no-nonsense woman who loves her family and is played by the brilliant Lesley Sharp. We are also introduced later to Jan’s globe-trotting nephew Fergie played by Edge and King’s character Loz a modern artist who has recently become member of the family after revealing he was Billy’s long-lost son. Starlings is basically about the family unit and their everyday lives so electrician Terry has problems at work as well as with his help, Bel is wondering whether she should reunite with her baby’s father Reuben and in a lighter story Gravy’s spider has got out of the house. For me Starlings is the perfect Sunday night comedy drama and shows that costume drama doesn’t have to be the only staple of that time period with it reminding me of a lot of the programmes the BBC used to air in this time slot. I loved the pace of King and Edge’s script which spent about the right amount of time letting us know each of the characters one by one as well as the stories that each will be involved with. Coyle and Sharp have brilliant chemistry together you can really believe that they really love each other and it’s lovely to see a TV couple who are a solid unit with kids they actually care about. King and Edge bring a bit of comedy to the proceedings playing the more outlandish Loz and Fergie while of the younger actors I thought Finn Atkins was the best as tomboy Charlie. The show is also beautifully filmed giving us great shots of the Derbyshire countryside as the family trek from their house to the pub in order to wet the baby’s head. While it might be a bit gentle for some I feel it’s really warm and welcoming and a great little addition to the Sunday night schedules that you have to wonder why the terrestrial networks didn’t snap up first.
More straight drama next with the return of Peter Moffat’s Silk which seems to have ironed out the edges from last year’s inconsistent series by cutting some of the less interesting characters. So gone are legal students Nick and Niamh while we are also introduced to this year’s big story that being Clive’s jealousy of Martha who is now a QC and has seemingly regressed by buying a motorbike. To fill the gap in the cast we have two new characters firstly Phil Davis’ unsavoury lawyer Micky Joy who deals with the clients that Martha is forced to represent in episode one. Those clients are crime boss Jody Farr and the family’s lackey Brendan Kay who is charged with blinding a car park attendant after they felt he embarrassed them. As she continues her case Martha believes that the Farrs are using Brendan as a fall guy taking these concerns to her clerk Billy however his need for business from Micky may test the relationship between Martha and Billy. Eventually Martha strikes out on her own representing Brendan separately infuriating old-school lawyer Micky with the ever-excellent Davis excelling in theses scenes as this mob lawyer who feels challenged for the first time. Joining Davis as a new cast member is Frances Barber as Martha’s new rival QC Caroline Warwick, who is dubbed Lady Macbeth by her colleagues, and befriends Martha before shouting her down in court with Silk presenting yet another morally ambiguous character. As an opener to series two this episode of Silk was excellent successfully introducing Micky and Caroline as well as presenting an awfully compelling case with Brendan Kay becoming an incredibly sympathetic character as the story progresses. Moffat sets up several plot strands for the rest of the series such as Billy’s relationship with Micky, Clive’s jealousy of Martha and his relationship with new lady lawyer George as well as Caroline’s wish to join the Shoe Lane Chambers. Silk also has one of the greatest cast on British TV with Peake making Martha a fully-rounded character who is both down-to-earth and professional, Barber and Davis both lend a professional edge to the series but it is Neil Stuke who steals the show once again. Stuke gives Billy a playful nature, possibly due to the actor’s comedic background, however the character is motivated by money to the extent that he doesn’t matter who he double crosses even if it his beloved Martha. The character of Billy is just one of the things I love about Moffat’s script as you don’t really know who you can trust while I loved the counter-balance between the banter and the more serious dialogue of the trial scenes. Though the episode does try to cram in too much, including the introduction of a new junior clerk, it seems that this series is already seems that it will outdo the previous in terms of quality by presenting interesting new characters while continuing to presenting Martha Costello as a flawed strong female character and one that stands up against any heroines from past British TV shows.
I’m afraid this week isn’t all about quality though as we got the latest reality show from ITV2 in which six wannabe magazine journalists battle it out for one job living and working together as they take part in a series of challenges. A panel of top showbiz mag bigwigs, including Heat editor Lucie Cave, carried out interviews with interested parties but instead of picking out the most-qualified candidates they instead picked half a dozen ‘characters’. There was eldest candidate Stuart who had no qualifications but felt that this was his ‘last chance’ at the ripe old age of 28 with the panel giving him a chance though he did come across as the resident bad boy of the contest. Then there was uneducated bolshy girl Sunny, snotty-nosed toff Felix, quirky Ellie and sarcastic camp guy Christopher who had plenty of sob stories about growing up in care. Finally there’s Hayley the freelance glamour model who also works at Pizza Hut and is the stereotypical pretty girl whose here to prove she has brains as well as big boobs. Firstly it was off to More Magazine where they were assigned different tasks with Ellie in her element when she got to sort out unwanted clothing however partner Felix was less enthused. Christopher and Sunny seemingly had the easy job of transcribing an interview however when it turned out that that interview was with incomprehensible Geordie and former Big Brother star Michelle Bass they realised they were in for a long day. Stuart and Hayley’s task was to work on a photoshoot for a trio of guys who Stuart didn’t recognise but it transpired that they were the stars of Made in Chelsea. While Stuart looked non-plussed by their presence, Hayley couldn’t be more helpful even rushing to the local newsagents to buy the threesome some Fruitella. The second task was to get interviews at The Brit Awards after-parties with Felix, Sunny and Hayley following the majority off the photographers and scoring interviews with Chloe Green, Tinchy Strider and a very perplexed Mitch Winehouse. The other three decided to go off the beaten track as the ended up at a desolate after party populated by nobodies such as Junior Nunu and ‘The Snake Girl’. Ellie finally managed a big scoop after they went out on the street as she got a picture of Caroline Flack’s legs while the other two insulted Nick Grimshaw when they thought he was Rick Edward before getting completely star-struck by Nick Knowles. There was a final task involving a photoshoot which I can’t even talk about but instead I will say that I wasn’t a fan of any of the elements of The Exclusives with the emphasis really being on the characters rather than the job they were fighting for. Though I did have a soft spot for Stuart, who had absolutely no interest in any of the tasks for More magazine, the other five were completely obnoxious and I had no time for them whatsoever. At the end of the day this was as much about product placement for all the Dictaphones and the cameras used which culminated in a phone-in contest where you could win a ‘journalism starter pack’. The Exclusives didn’t put either our candidates or the job of a magazine journalist in a particularly good light and indeed was more interested in plugging various products on the show. This was a show without any of the humour of The Apprentice and instead seemed like a money-making venture which perpetrated the myth that you could get ahead in journalism by buying sweets for minor reality TV stars.
Finally we have a bittersweet documentary about an iconic landmark that every TV fan will recognise as Tales of Television Centre looks at every nook and cranny of the building in which so many TV shows were made. Richard Marson’s film centred in on every area of Television Centre separately collating a large amount of anecdotes from actors, presenters, executives, crew members and other personalities. Throughout the piece we heard some rather racy stories for example that the dressing rooms were full of people having it off with Sarah Greene basically admitting to having it off with future husband Mike Read as it was the only time the two could spend together. There was also a lot of the musical acts who used to indulge in naughty cigarettes which prompted then Director General David Attenborough to write a very polite letter saying to quash the ‘herbal smells’ that radiated from certain dressing rooms. For most of the talking heads this was a nostalgic piece with memories of the women who used to work on the front desk and the security on the car park who would only let you in if you had your pass. There seemed to be a certain hierarchy in everything at Television Centre from car parking spaces to which side of the building you entered to the three-tiered canteen where executives would sit in the waitress service area on the top floor while the plebs would eat baked beans lower down. Most of the stories here used to revolve around the club from Nerys Hughes having her first drink here after filming an episode of Z Cars to the Doctor Who assistants desperate to get in on a Wednesday night when Top of the Pops was filmed so they could meet the rock stars of the day. Best of all the stories though was how Robert Powell met his future wife, Babs from Pans People, by be introduced to her in the club before taking the entire troupe out for dinner. It seemed then that Television Centre was much more than just a place of work for all of these people involved and I would say that you had a heart of stone if you didn’t tear up when everybody was using one word to describe the building. Marson’s film was a brilliant tribute to all the programmes that have been filmed in TV Centre over the years, the relationships that have been built there and the memories that all have of it. I doubt in years’ time that anybody would be this nostalgic about Media City in Salford and it’s almost like a plea from famous faces not to sell it off however it seems that they are already too late.
Are you sad to see Televison Centre go? Were you charmed by the Starlings? And did anybody actually like The Exclusives? Leave Your Comments Below.
Next Week: Hit and Miss, Apartment 23 and Grandma’s House