A mixed bag in this instalment with two great dramas, a brilliant parody and one of the worst sitcoms in recent memory
However, we start with the annual march towards Christmas as The X-Factor returns with yet another shake-up of the judging panel. Yes this series sees excitable American R&B star Kelly Rowland replaced by excitable American R&B star Nicole Scherzinger. But Scherzinger’s appointment came fairly late in the day so a number of guest judges have been drafted in to fill in. The first of these appeared in this episode in the form of Mel B. Mel, who filled in at the Manchester auditions, didn’t hold back in her criticisms of some of the artists. For example she told a young lad that he should give up singing while loveable pensioner Louis, no not Louis Walsh, was also given a tongue-lashing as Mel told him she’d almost fallen asleep. There was also incident courtesy of Pink tribute act Zoe Alexander who wanted to get away from playing Pink before singing a Pink song in ‘So What’. After a few bars, Gary put his hand up and Zoe changed her song to Emeli Sande’s ‘Next to Me’. Though it was a competent performance, it still didn’t warrant a place in the next round and the judges told her to come back next year. However, Zoe wasn’t happy with this news so stormed off the stage after insulting the judges. Zoe wasn’t finished there though as her father dragged her back on stage and the pair then began swearing at the panel before being dragged off by security. Zoe continued her rampage by kicking cameras down and finally attempting to destroy the set. Though this looked impressive, the cynic in me thinks that the entire stunt was choreographed in order to create controversy and have a story wind up in the tabloids the next day.
The X-Factor isn’t just about controversy as we also had two acts who showed promise. The first was Jahmene Douglas, who works in the reduced to clear section at ASDA, who had apparently never sung in the public before. Jahmene was very nervous about singing on stage, claiming that he’d never sung for the public however anybody whose watched The X-Factor before knows this is code for ‘he’ll be absolutely amazing.’ Jahmene performed the standard talent show classic ‘At Last’ but actually was able to hit those high notes which is a tough job for any male who hasn’t been castrated. Jahmene earned the honour of getting the first standing ovation from the panel and earned a place in the next round. We had to wait till the end of the show to hear the other brilliant act in the form of sixteen year old Ella Henderson. Ella had penned a song about her late grandfather and was predictably great, but I suppose she had to be as she was singing for a dead relative. Ella was the only act to garner praise from Mel B who complemented her on both her singing and writing, adding that she was truly moved by Ella’s words. Last year’s opening show gave us three memorable characters in Kitty Brucknell, Goldie Cheung and Frankie Cocozza as well as the incredibly popular Janet Devlin. In comparison this year’s opener was a bit of a damp squib and will mainly be remembered for Zoe’s violent outburst and Mel B’s putdowns. However, I have a feeling that things will get better as the series progresses so I will reserve my judgment for now. But I have to say that, after watching this first instalment, I’m a little underwhelmed.
This was also a good week for drama with two shows really impressing yours truly. The first was Good Cop in which Warren Brown starred as PC John-Paul Rocksavage, better known as Sav, who gets into trouble with a notorious gang after rescuing a waitress from the clutches of their leader Noel Finch. Finch swears revenge against Sav and claims that the next time he sees a policeman on his own he’ll kill them. Finch is true to his word and sets up an ambush in which he and his gang are alone with Sav’s partner Andy. While Sav watches on, Andy is beaten within an inch of his life and later dies in hospital. Sav swears revenge against the gang and it appears that if he’s going to try and pick them off one by one. This revenge plot isn’t the only part of Good Cop though as Sav also has issues in his personal life stemming from the return of his ex-girlfriend Cassie. Cassie has come back from America to see some family and has brought Sav’s daughter Libby with her. Sav has never really seen Libby since he and Cassie split and very few people are aware that Sav has a daughter. Sav is later forced to play mentor to Andy’s replacement, idealistic WPC Amanda, who gets off to a bad start with her male colleagues. From the opening scene in which Sav is walking moodily down the road drenched in rain you know that Stephen Butchard’s cop drama is going to be a slick affair a suspicion that is confirmed by the extremely well-produced opening credit sequence. Throughout the course of the episode there are plenty of artistic camera angles and intense sequences which mainly feature Sav brooding over one problem or another as his life seemingly spirals out of control. Warren Brown goes from supporting star to leading man here as a thoroughly decent copper who has a bit of a suspect past and who also makes a rash decision to avenge his friend. Brown is convincing throughout and successfully anchors the programme giving us a character who we can emotionally invest in over the course of the series. Stephen Graham is also utterly terrifying as the sadistic Finch and his handful of sinister scenes are some of the highlights of episode one. Overall Good Cop is a well-produced, well-acted police drama that, while it may have some familiar elements, feels fresh enough to sustain a series and it certainly shows enough promise to warrant me sticking around for the rest of its run.
The other piece of quality drama was a one-off entitled Murder which was brought to us courtesy of Birger Larsen the director of the original Danish series of The Killing. The drama investigates the murder of Erin, a teenager who was out drinking with her sister Colleen before the pair met former soldier Stefan. Initially Colleen fingers Stefan as the suspect but, after further interviews, the police believe that Colleen knows more than she is letting on. Later we meet the other two lead characters firstly matter-of-fact DI Sheehy who is the one who first targets Colleen as a suspect in her sister’s murder. After she is charged, she is defended in court by slippery solicitor Raglin who is obsessed with getting his client off. Some of the best scenes in Murder see Raglin in his hotel room preparing his opening remarks perfecting his big line ‘Sisters don’t kill Sisters’ something he intends to reiterate constantly during the trial. While Murder is one of the dramas that lets the audience make their own mind up in terms of who the killer is it also rewards us with a definitive answer as we backtrack to see what actually happened in the final minutes of Erin’s life. The drama takes a non-sequential structure as we start at Day 1 before eventually fast-forwarding all the way to Day 148 and finally going back to Day 0 to see the murder in detail. The way that Murder is scripted and presented makes it immediately stand-out as the to-camera interviews are completely one-sided which gives you the impression that the characters are speaking directly to you. This series of monologues makes Murder seem almost like a grizzly version of Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads as the speeches are accompanied by still crime scene photos, CCTV footage as well as the video shot on Deena’s phone all of which makes the drama really stand out from the pack. All four leads are utterly brilliant with Joe Dempsie playing a somewhat intense character but one who has a softer side as we hear how excited he is to be the Godfather to his nephew. Karla Crome’s Coleen is a multi-layered character who initially appears innocent but later reveals that her and her sister had a lot of arguments about mundane things. Veteran actors Robert Pugh and Stephen Dillane also add to the piece as Sheehy and Raglin respectively. Overall I would say Murder is the best single drama of the year so far as there is an intensity to Larsen’s direction which is as evident here as it was in The Killing while Robert Jones’ script gives us enough time for us to decide who was guilty before actually showing us what occurred. My only issue is that I wish we had an entire series of Murder to look forward to as this style of drama was too good only to act as a one-off.
Unfortunately, I can’t only cover quality on this website and I’m afraid I must briefly talk about one of the worst sitcoms I have ever had the misfortune of watching. The sitcom in question is Citizen Khan which is essentially a spin-off from the 2010 sketch show Bellamy’s People in which Adil Ray’s Mr Khan was one of the many characters. Here Khan is the self-proclaimed community leader in Sparkhill, Birmingham which is described here as the capital of British Pakistan. This first episode centres around the marriage of Khan’s oldest daughter to the dippy Amjad who almost acts as Citizen Khan’s Father Dougal. Khan fails to book the local Mosque for his daughter’s wedding so Khan must all of his charm to secure the Mosque. The only issue is that the new Mosque leader is recently converted Muslim Dave, played by Kris Marshall who is obviously strapped for cash since those BT Ads ended, who tells Khan that the Mosque is fully booked. This leads both Amjad and Shazia to question if they should get married at all while Khan is secretly happy that he won’t have to pay out for a ceremony at all. It’s a shame that Citizen Khan is such an awful sitcom as the character of Khan is a fairly amusing one and Adil Ray was one of the highlights of Bellamy’s People. Personally I found Citizen Khan to be absoutely atrocious with hilarious jokes including Khan bulk-buying toilet roll as he’s a bit of a skinflint while he also has a horrible way of clearing his throat which apparently is meant to be funny. Citizen Khan is so bad it almost seems like a Goodness Gracious Me parody of a sitcom that exploits Pakistani stereotypes. As someone who briefly worked in Southall I know that there is a lot of comedy to be had from the British Asian population however for some reason Citizen Khan doesn’t pull it off. If I were to use the characters from the show I think the better sitcom would be from the viewpoint of Dave a white man trying to run a Mosque in a predominantly Asian community and the difficulties he faces as a minority in that environment. Overall Citizen Khan is a dated sitcom that is full of stereotypes and didn’t contain one moment that actually made me laugh.
Thankfully not all comedy was atrocious this week as former TV critic Charlie Brooker takes a swipe at all of the British crime dramas he used to have to watch living by co-writing the parody A Touch of Cloth. Brooker, along with Harry Hill’s TV Burp writer Daniel Maier, has lampooned every single element of the new crop of British murder mystery shows and in the tradition of such parodies as The Naked Gun and Airplane all the cast are playing it completely straight. Another scoop was to get two central actors who are associated with police dramas as John Hannah, who has previously appeared in Rebus and Cold Blood, teams up with Scott and Bailey’s Suranne Jones as they both send themselves up royally. Hannah stars as bitter detective Jack Cloth who has been on the edge of the law ever since his wife was murdered however he is paired up with enthusiastic detective Anne Oldman (pronounced Old Man) who is all tits and ambition. The pair have to solve the murder of a Piers Morgan-loving war hero Albert Stafford and connect it to the deaths of an arrogant TV chef and his lover while at the same time facing a rush against the clock as more people start to be killed off. At the same time the Chief of Police Tom Boss wants to suspend Cloth for being a vigilante and asks for Oldman’s help in the matter however she is too busy dealing with her female lover to care though it seems that she and Jack may be drawn together. As time goes on things start to get even more bizarre with a sword-sharpening serial killer on the loose and a random appearance from Todd Carty, it seems that Cloth and Oldman are on a race against time to trot out every crime drama cliché that they can.
If I were to describe A Touch of Cloth in one way it would be hit-and-miss in as much as not all of the gags really work and the majority of them you can see coming a mile off. To me the funniest moments were the set pieces such as when the team are ushered towards a crime scene in a tent, thinking that there is a body in there, only to discover that they have to go through a marquee that is hosting a village fete before they can get to the victim’s house. Other great jokes include sexy pathologist Natasha Sachet who is always ready with a sexual innuendo or five as well as the fact that the team have a see-through board in their office, a must of any TV crime drama, into which DC Asap Quereshi accidentally walks into. To me some of the recurring gags got a bit old such as Oldman correcting everyone over the pronunciation of her name or her constant references to the ‘boys down the station’ however I did like Adrian Bower’s Des whose line was ‘you better take a look at this gov’ just before he showed whoever was near a saucy picture. Of the cast Hannah seemed perfectly at ease with the spoof style however for me Jones was off and on sometimes being particularly funny but occasionally I found her delivery forced. If he’s done nothing else Brooker has managed to constructed a reunion of the Channel 4 show Teachers with actors Adrien Bower, Racquel Cassidy and Navin Chowdry all featuring in A Touch of Cloth. There’s no denying that A Touch of Cloth was incredibly funny however for me I didn’t feel that all the gags were necessary for the spoof and whether it was a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. It seems that the majority of the jokes relating to the British crime drama have already been used up here which is why I was a bit bemused that Sky announced a sequel to the show as it seems there’s very little else that you could do with these characters. However I can’t be too critical of a show that not only has people throwing up every time they see a signed picture of Piers Morgan but also has something for the brilliant Todd Carty to do.