So here we are with another week in TV featuring injuries, weddings and sequins.
First up this week we have the return of Downton Abbey a show that has really become a dramatic phenomenon and may well have swept the board at the Emmy Awards before you read this. As the last series of Downton swept through the first world war in about seven episodes I was expecting us to already be in the 1970s but instead we’re kick off this year in 1920 a very different time for the aristocracy who were trying to hang on to a tradition which may be dying off. Lord Grantham for example has invested all of his money in the Canadian railways only to find out that the project has gone bust and the Granthams have lost the majority of their life savings. This revelation couldn’t have come at a worst time as O’Brien’s nephew is hired as a new footman with his Lordship worrying exactly how they’ll be able to afford another staff member he only lets his wife and eldest daughter in on the news. Mary of course is all ready to marry the love of her life and her distant cousin Matthew Crawley who also happens to be the heir to Downton and therefore will cement the family’s legacy in the stately home. It seems that Matthew may also be able to help with the financial issues after his late fiancée Lavinia’s father passes away naming him as one of the three heirs to his fortune and with one dead and the other missing it means the he may well be coming into a fortune however it is one that he doesn’t want to take as he never truly loved Lavinia. Though Matthew and Mary quarrel about this money it doesn’t stop them getting married however as times move on it seems that the new groom wants his wife to move out of the manor and live in a smaller, more modest fashion. Elsewhere in Downton Lady Sybil returns with new husband, and former chauffeur, Tom Branson who is embarrassed by one of Sybil’s former flames but proves himself as Matthew’s best man when he reunites the warring pair. With both of her sisters married, and Sybil also knocked up, Edith looks to be the spinster so she turns to the much older Sir Anthony, played by Cold Feets’ Robert Bathurst, for company however their age difference may be a factor into a potential match between the pair. Finally poor old Bates is still in prison with his wife Anna fighting for him on the outside trying to find out why his ex-wife killed herself and who might have known about it however it seems that Bates may get into more trouble when a fellow inmate provokes him.
The other big development this year is that Cora’s mother Martha is coming to stay and is being played by legendary American actress Shirley MacLaine who inevitably has some brilliant spats with Dame Maggie Smith’s Violet. For most these showdowns between these two acting titans will be the standout moments of this first episode and personally I feel it’s a shame that MacLaine is only sticking around for one more instalment. I think series three started on a high for all Downton fans with creator Julian Fellowes not making us wait for the wedding of Matthew and Mary whilst also bringing back the knocked-up Sybil and her former servant husband. We’ve also had the majority of the plots for this series laid out namely the Granthams fighting to keep Downton despite having little money, Mary trying to convince Matthew to use Lavinia’s money to bail out her family, Edith’s pursuit of Anthony, Tom’s constant clashes with the Crawley family, Anna desperately trying to get Bates out of prison and Bates himself struggling to keep his head down while inside. I think Downton is so enjoyable because it is easy to follow and there is enough going on to sustain our attentions throughout its hour or so run. Another strength Downton has is that, unlike most costume drama, it’s not based on a literary work so nobody knows which way the plot will turn next. Personally I still find Downton easy escapism with plenty of stories going on as well as characters we’re all familiar with now and I also enjoy how everything’s going a bit credit crunch this year. Though I’m not as potty about it as some seem to be, and do wonder how it’ll survive without the great Dame Maggie Smith, it’s still great populist drama and so to that end it does what it does incredibly well.
It’s fair to say that, since he was involved in last year’s Christmas Number 1, Gareth Malone has become a household name. As someone who has always been a fan of ‘The Choir’ franchise, I’m glad that Malone has returned to his roots with another series this time entitled Sing While You Work. The general concept is that each week Gareth will form a choir in one of four busy workplaces. This opening instalment saw him travel to the NHS Trust in Lewisham and drum up support for his choir. After some initial resistance, Gareth found that he had a lot of volunteers and ended up holding auditions to get his new choir down to thirty members. Gareth’s first problem was that the hospital hierarchy meant that a lot of the choir members didn’t associate with one another. However he got them on a boat down the Thames and they started to bond with one another. Gareth’s next problem was when he noticed that the choir didn’t put their full emotion into their performance piece of ‘Everybody Hurts’. He spoke to surgeons Eddie and Chindi both of whom said they have to keep their emotion at bay during their job as its hard enough trying to save lives. However it was soloist, speech therapist Natalie, who wowed Gareth with her raw emotion while practising the REM hit in front of her deaf daughter. The end of the episode saw the NHS Choir perform in front of an audience before and I have to say that I felt they were strong contenders going into the semi-finals of the choir competition. The main problem with this new choir concept is that a series worth of ideas is crammed into a single episode. Usually the first episode of a choir series sees Malone frantically attempting to assemble his choir, but this was achieved in the opening ten minutes here. It also seems a little odd that we spent an hour getting to know these characters only for them not to appear again until episode five. Luckily the show is saved by the ever-amiable Malone as his enthusiasm for singing shines once again. As he attempts to get the NHS Lewisham Choir to emote, you can see why he loves doing these shows as he loves getting people to sing. Ultimately if you liked the other choir series, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this but I don’t believe it had the same level of emotion that we saw in the brilliant Military Wives show.
The worst thing in the world that may well happen to you is that you were unlucky to catch Baggage the newest Channel 4 show to be fronted by camp fashion guru Gok Wan who after conquering the worlds of clothing and cookery seems to be playing match-maker. In Baggage Gok, here dressed in a suit that seems to have been made out of tin foil, welcomes on various singletons looking for love before presenting them with three potential partners all of whom have secrets that may impact on the singleton’s decision to date them. For example Gok’s first guest was Gary a simpleton fireman who reminded me a bit of a cut-price Lee Ryan and his potential lady loves were maths student and former pole-dancer Steph, the dog-loving beauty therapist Hayley and Lauren who is blonde and has big boobs. If Baggage wasn’t camp enough without Gok Wan as presenter the whole thing has been given an airport theme with arrival boards introducing the contestants, Gok’s assistants being dressed as flight attendants and these three poor girls having to bring their metaphorical baggage in actual suitcases. The admissions got worse as they went on for example the opening statements were that Steph liked looking at herself in the mirror, Hayley occasionally indulged in the odd plate of mashed potato for breakfast and Lauren bizarrely thought she was a passenger on the Titanic. Gary then had to ditch one girl based on the mystery baggage deciding to ditch the girl who thought she was more intelligent than her boyfriends which shockingly turned out to be maths student Steph while he had no problem with the increasingly off-kilter Lauren being obsessed by Harry Potter. Their were further confessions delivered by friends and family, who were introduced sitting in the luggage carousel, as we learnt that Hayley stalked celebrities and Lauren wet herself after a long run. Finally the last piece of baggage which was the biggest admission where Lauren told Luke that she could never trust a boyfriend often having checked CCTV to see if he was telling the truth so when compared to this Lauren telling him that her granny would never let him stop over seemed like an incredibly small thing. After Lauren correctly guessed that Luke hadn’t fathered three children by three different mothers, don’t ask, the pair were off on a holiday together and luckily Gok wasn’t flying the plane. The problem with Baggage is that it really isn’t that interesting and I would be more intrigued if the confessions that these girls had given us had been shocking like ‘I once accidentally broke my friend’s leg’ or ‘I have to turn the light on and off a 100 times before I get to bed’ may have sent shock-waves through the studio however the minor revelations here were fairly mundane. It’s incredibly hard to get a dating show right and Take Me Out only really manages it due to Paddy McGuiness’ hosting abilities whereas Gok Wan seems to be there just to pick up the paycheck. The airport theme makes the whole thing feel cheap and at the end of the day there has to be more of a hook to a show like this to get me interested and with dull singletons, an uninterested host and a campy theme I think this Baggage will soon be considered too harmful to be carried onto the airline that is Channel 4.
Finally winter is officially coming, no not because Game of Thrones is approaching but because Strictly Come Dancing is back with us – sort of. Yes after weeks of hinting at and revealing some of the celebrity contestants who would be taking part in this year’s contest we finally learnt on Monday’s One Show, and later on this very website, who the fourteen contestants taking part were. Saturday’s show was the third annual Launch show, although billed as the premiere, in which the celebrities and professionals would be paired together for the first time and in addition we could learn more about some of the stars we might not know that much about. The start of this show was truly spectacular as the professionals danced their way through Television Centre with Tess Daly being carried into the studio and Brucie having to hobble behind her. For the first time ever the iconic theme tune was given lyrics and thankfully, for ardent fans of the show, it is also the last time we will hear these dreadful words sung over this memorable melody. As those who read the side will know I already predicted who the celebrities would be partnered with and I got a total of zero of these predictions correct. I still hold though that the favourites have to be Olympian Louis Smith, CBBC favourite Dani Harmer, TV presenter and musical star Denise Van Outen and Girls Aloud’s Kimberly Walsh however I’m guessing Gold medallist Victoria Pendelton and Westlife’s Nicky Byrne will also get the public votes while my prediction for an early bath is Daybreak’s camp entertainment reporter Richard Arnold who hasn’t got enough charm to be this year’s Russell Grant. The other big news is we have a new dancer in the form of Burn the Floor’s Karen Hauer who wasn’t really given her own introduction though new judge Darcy Bussell did get to dance with former regular Ian Waite. As always Strictly is full of fun, sequins, Bruce Forsyth’s increasingly terrible humour and as we saw in the final dance some celebrities dancing a lot worse than others. After all this excitement though I do resent having to wait till October 5th to watch the next instalment of what might be the most successful Strictly yet.
Are you glad Downton’s back? What did you think to the Bake-Off calamities? And do you think they got the Strictly pairings right? Leave Your Comments Below.