We seem to have a week in which paying for your TV is the best option however the terrestrial channels also had something to offer but let’s start the show with some expensive comedy.
When it first came onto our digibox Sky Atlantic was presented as a way of UK viewers to watch a cavalcade of HBO shows however over the last year or so more and more British shows have migrated over to it presumably to ramp up Sky subscriptions. This week we had two examples of this kicking off with the return of one of Britain’s best loved comic creations in Alan Partridge who presented us with a look round his native Norfolk in Welcome to the Places of My Life. Alan takes on a visit to his current place of work, North Norfolk Digital Radio Station, as well as some of his favourite places in the area. Possibly my favourite part of the programme was when Partridge took us through the corridors of power at Norwich City Hall while recounting the tale of the battle between the labour and conservative councillors as they argued about parking charges after 7pm. Other highlights include him trying to sell fruit and veg at Norwich market as well as many scenes of him test-driving a Range Rover trying to go off-road to curb his frustrations. As always with Partridge the comedy comes in the fact that he always goes too far and puts his foot in it for example in the market scene where he criticising the market trader’s job as menial labour. The fact that this is a cheap documentary is also exploited throughout the programme as we see scenes that have been recut and interspersed into the film the prime example being Alan walking through the local graveyard with a man he believes to be a priest who constantly stops to reflect on life. Neil and Rob Gibbons have injected some life into the Partridge character who as always is full of hate and worry which he tries to cover up with his false charm take for example a scene in which he encounters an ex-teacher who obviously abused him though we only see the altercation from afar it is clear that Alan has taken out his long-build up frustration on this man who is now confined to a shop-mobility scooter. There is also the case of an NHS letter which we are lead to believe holds bad news for our lead character however he must’ve been given the all clear as he is in a jubilant mood at the end of the programme. Though Welcome to The Places of My Life wasn’t laugh a minute stuff there were still enough belly-laughs to keep you going throughout while the faux-documentary aspect was well-handled. It’s good to see that the new writing team hasn’t fiddled too much with the original character but rather breathed some new life into him with what I’m hoping will be a pilot to a whole new series.
Continuing the Sky Atlantic British comedy theme we also had Walking and Talking which was a much more genteel ride as it was a show that did exactly what it said on the tin. The show is written by Kathy Burke, based on her own experiences growing up in 1979 London, we see her as a 14 year old here simply known as ‘Kaff’ who along with best friend Amy walk home from school every days and talk about everything hence the title. The first episode focuses on the fact that the girls have just done one of those dreaded who do you love tests in which Kaff had only scored two for looks but claimed she got ten for personality. Amy meanwhile is dreading telling her friend that an 18 year old asked her out as she secretly realises that Kaff fancies him but at the same time really wants to go out with him. With this obviously being based on her life Burke makes things as realistic as possible and the dialogue between the two girls feels genuine as they keep referring to each other as ‘guy’ and talk about the things that fourteen year olds would be worried about. As the conversation between the girls isn’t laugh out loud funny, instead it is mainly peppered with observational humour, Burke has added a few asides where she appears alongside Sean Gallagher as Angry Nun and Pretty Nun. Their small conversation this week, about the delight that Pretty Nun feels when it is announced that they will be getting a colour TV, was for me the funniest part of the show while Jerry Sadowitz also added a bit of fun as the aggressive tramp Jerry the Jew. The star of the show though is Ami Metcalf an eighteen year old best known for her role on Doctors, for which she won a National Soap Award, here seeming old beyond her years and nailing the opening monologue which introduces to all of Kaff’s likes as well as her dislikes. She also has brilliant chemistry with Aimee Ffion-Edwards, formerly Sketch in Skins, and you can really believe that the two of them are friends as each is able to guide the other through the perils of adolescent romance. If I was to compare Walking and Talking to anything it would be Roger and Val Have Just Got In but instead of a middle-aged couple you have a couple of teenage girls in the 1970s the comparison is apt as both shows are full of incidental humour but there are no real laughs. I really enjoyed the programme overall I just think over the coming weeks I think Gallagher and Burke need to be in at least two scenes in order to make the balance between the likeable conversation between the girls and the broader comic scenes featuring the nuns.
Finishing off Sky Atlantic’s triple bill of comic treats was Veep a show set in America but having a British sensibility as it was another political satire written and created by The Thick of It maestro Armado Ianucci. Veep is set around the office of vice-president Selina Meyer as we focus on her staff including her aide the always helpful staff, ambitious chief-of-staff Amy, old-school head of press Mike and personal assistant Sue while the main antagonist is White House liaison officer Jonah. This group are soon joined by the smarmy Dan who leaves his position as advisor to Senator Hallows and in the process dumps her daughter while there is also history between he and Amy. Though Selina has very little power she still tries to assert authority by focusing on clean jobs as well as making corn starch utensils a thing of the future however as a lot funding from the government comes in from the plastics industry she has to tread carefully. Though this is an Armando Ianucci show so characters rarely tread carefully and soon she’s making inappropriate jokes and her staff are having to put out various fires for her while at the same time Amy gets her into more trouble when she accidentally signs her own name rather than Selina’s on a condolence card to the widow of a dead congressman. I quite enjoyed Veep mainly down to Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ central performance as she portrays Selina as someone who is full of their own self-importance however Ianucci gives you the impression that most of the initiatives she champions aren’t going to go anywhere. Though she is the vice president it seems the president has very little time for her and every time she enters her office she asks Sue if the president has called to which the answer always seems to be no. Former Arrested Development star Tony Hale is also great as Gary constantly hovering around the president’s ear to remind her of the various names of the politician’s children as we as carrying around a giant bag that he dubs ‘the leviathan’. Timothy Simmons was also great as Jonah who plays the role as an over-excited schoolboy entertaining Selina’s tired staff-members with all of his anecdotes about when he met the president. Also worth mentioning is former child star Anna Chlumsky as Amy who is the only sane one out of the bunch although does muck up occasionally like the aforementioned incident with the card. My only criticism is that I didn’t laugh-out-loud as much as I do when watching The Thick of It as there really isn’t any Malcolm Tucker equivalent to turn up every so often and constantly berate Selina. Thankfully Ianucci’s satirical style still works in America pointing out the ludicrous nature of the office of the vice-president as it is almost someone that is completely ineffective. I do think Veep definitely has the ability to become funnier as the weeks progress and I’ll certainly be watching to find out if it does.
Moving onto the channels that we all have on our tellies and Channel 4 who present yet another vehicle for Gordon Ramsay as he enters Brixton prison to try to make cooks out of convicts in Gordon Behind Bars. Ramsay’s reasons for completing his project are twofold firstly he knows what prison life is like as his drug addict brother was in and out of them while at the same time he wants the prisoners to give something back to the taxpayers who fork out a lot of money to keep the prisons going. Of course when Ramsay first enters the prison the atmosphere is intense as the inmates are asked to shout out his name to try and intimidate him while he plays up the danger of his task by telling us that somebody got their throat slit in the prison only a few weeks ago. The governors and prison officers are sceptical about his project thinking that the prisoners will act up while Ramsay himself is disheartened when he realises none of the inmates can actually cook. He decides to assess them by having half of them make cupcakes and the other half promote and sell them with him being particularly impressed by career criminal boyish Anthony Kelly and the volatile Lawrence Gibbons. As Ramsay wants his final dozen to work all day they’ll have to eat in his kitchen which angers Lawrence who wants to eat in his cell where his tomato sauce is kept however he is eventually won round. Gordon’s big task at the end of episode one is to get his dirty dozen to make lunch for the entire prison and in true cooking programme style things are going wrong all the time but at the end of the day all the portions of chilli con carne as well as the chicken pie are ready to go out. Just as Ramsay thinks he’s turned a corner though he discovers that some of his recruits have been pinching onions and garlic from the kitchen and is unimpressed with this revelation causing another war between the trainee chefs. Though Gordon still swears like a trooper in his Behind Bars series at least here he’s a lot more likeable and down-to-earth even if this does mean he talks in a weird half-whisper. It’s hard to like a bunch of guys that have attacked and robbed in the past but the majority of these guys want to turn their lives around especially Anthony who is probably my favourite of the bunch so far. At the end of the day Ramay’s heart is in the right place here and I can’t see this as a show that he’s going to get a cookbook out of when the series comes to an end what he is doing is commendable and I hope he makes a success of his ‘Bad Boy Bakery’.
Finally this week some cracking new drama that you also don’t have to pay for as BBC2 present the hard-hitting cop show Line of Duty. The drama is written by Jed Mercurio who came to prominence after delving into the underbelly of the medical industry in Cardiac Arrest and later with Bodies. Line of Duty takes you into the action straight away by showing an armed team conducting a raid that goes awry when they are given the wrong information and later this mission goes under investigation. Martin Compston’s Steve Arnott is the one officer who is interested in doing the right thing however this alienates him from the rest of his team however he is head-hunted by Internal Affairs led by Superintendent Hastings who feels that Steve is the right man for his unit. Hasting’s team is starting an investigation against Lennie James’ Tony Gates a charismatic DCI whose crime figures are the best in the station and in the first episode is rewarded with the officer of the year award for three years of outstanding work. Gates heads up the major crimes unit which also includes Craig Parkinson’s DS Cottan, known affectionately as Dot, and Neil Morrisey’s Nige who is Gates’ long term friend and also walks with a limp after being shot in the back. Though Gates’ team respect and trust him he’s not the stand-up guy they believe him to be and though happily married is having an affair with Gina McKee’s Jackie who isn’t exactly trustworthy herself after running a man over and leaving him for dead. As Arnott’s investigation into Gates continues it seems that Tony has to cover up Jackie’s crime or she will reveal their affair to his friends and family. Line of Duty also introduces us to Vicky McClure’s Kate who is eager to join Gates’ team after she hears that he has been ordered to bring at least one female officer into his team but Kate is also another character who isn’t all she seems. I really enjoyed the first episode of Line of Duty as Mercucio constantly points out that all police have to fill in a certain amount of paperwork and differentiates itself from other cop shows which perpetrate the myth that working as a police officer mainly involves high speed chases. I also like how all of the characters aren’t what they originally appear to be as Kate seems innocent enough but is actually more tenacious than she originally seems to be while Gates, as we learn, also isn’t that clean-cut. The performances are great with James, McClure and Compston all shining while of the supporting cast I was most surprised by Neil Morrisey’s flare for the dramatic as the incredibly loyal Nige. Overall a really engaging cop drama that can surely only get better over the coming weeks and it’s a joy to have a programme of this quality that you don’t have to pay for.
Next Week: Blackout, Parents and The Midnight Beast