So it’s that time of year again where we settle in for long Saturday nights filled with reality TV garbage.
First up it’s time to put on our dancing shoes as Strictly returns for another season with a two part opening weekend where all fourteen dancers took their first steps around the floor over two nights. The Friday show introduced the first six dancers kicking off with Fern Britton and Artem, who was rumoured to have been unhappy with his partner this year, who performed a slightly lacklustre cha-cha-cha which the judges gave average marks to. Though Westlife’s dance moves generally involved getting up from chairs I thought Nicky Byrne would still be fairly nifty on the dancefloor however his routine with new pro Karen Hauer didn’t really do much for me and also earned Craig’s wrath after they performed a lift midway through the waltz. We’ll skip past Micheal Vaughn and go to who I believed would be the main event of the evening that being Olympian Victoria Pendleton who seemed to have put in plenty of training however things didn’t go exactly to plan. Despite her feeling confident with partner Brendan Cole a mistake midway through the routine caused things to unravel and once Victoria lost her stepping there was no coming back as she lost all her confidence and this mistake saw the pair end up at the bottom of the leaderboard. Things improved with Colin Salmon, you know him he’s been in a couple of James Bond films, whose Cha-Cha-Cha with Kristina was impressive and he proved himself as a bit of a mover. Finally up was Denise Van Outen who was predictably brilliant though I know some people have an issue with her being a part of the competition due to her theatre school training however I’m guessing after ten series they just need to get any famous faces they can. Overall though this first programme was a bit of a letdown as of the six dances that featured only two were memorable and Craig’s putdowns were more vicious than ever.
Thankfully everything changed on Saturday night as the show just felt a lot more organic with it being in a regular timeslot on a regular night plus the majority of the dances had something to offer. Kimberley Walsh kicked off the night in style with a cha-cha-cha with last year’s runner-up Pasha, who I’m sure has got a good chance of going to the final again, while Sid Owen surprised me with a fairly accomplished waltz. I have to say it was a bit unfair to give Johnny Ball a Latin dance on week one, he will get a chance to waltz next week, however he coped admirably especially considering he had to change partners with very little notice. I was surprised that Dani Harmer, who was one of my picks to win, didn’t do better however the former child star looked incredibly nervous and I feel there’s definitely room for improvement. I think we’re all in agreement though that the surprise of the night was Lisa Riley who came out with plenty of gusto and performed an incredibly light-footed cha-cha-cha which saw her win unanimous praise from the judges and top the leader board. This year’s camp favourite Richard Arnold actually delivered a fairly vanilla waltz however it seems that Anton Du Beke has once again been saddled with the worst female partner as Jerry Hall did very little dancing during her cha-cha-cha. Louis Smith though ended things on a high achieving an admirable score for his energetic cha-cha-cha despite some of the judges feeling he needed more connection with partner Flavia. Saturday’s was definitely the best of the two shows as it demonstrated the wide range of talent in this year’s contests with surprises coming from both Lisa and Sid while Craig’s comments seemed the most constructive they have been in years. New judge Darcey Bussell took a while to settle in, on Friday saying the phrase ‘OK yah’ far too much, however at least she knows about dancing rather than her replacement who I never rated as a member of the panel. Next week we see the first elimination and first dance-off which I’m glad has returned as it should stop the more talented celebrities going home too early.
Having said that, it didn’t stop the same thing from happening on the first X-Factor results show which occurred this Saturday night as we really got into the autumn reality TV showdown. The Saturday show lost out in the average overnight ratings to the BBC show however with a vague theme and Scouse cruise ship singer Chris Maloney becoming the wild card I don’t blame more people going for the more charming Strictly. Obviously with not much happening Cowell and company wanted a story for people to talk about over the next week and boy did they get that. After some poor performances and general feedback I thought that the bottom two would feature Union J or MK1 plus Jade a contestant who is talented but forgettable. Though all of these acts got through to the next round instead it was comedy act Rylan, who Gary Barlow had absolutely slated during his Egyptian-themed performance of Spandau Ballet’s Gold, up against Barlow’s own act the returning Carolynne Poole. Personally I thought Rylan would survive for a couple of weeks as he would get the joke votes that kept Wagner safe for weeks a couple of years ago however he obviously doesn’t have the same likeability factor as the Brazilian former teacher. For the sing-off country girl Carolynne picked ‘There You’ll Be’ and delivered a safe but competent performance however Rylan’s version of ‘One Night Only’ from Dreamgirls was just terrible and going on talent alone it was obvious who should go home. With Nicole and Gary giving votes to their respective acts we saw Tulisa give the reasonable vote to Carolynne however from there things got a little bit more complicated when Louis gave his verdict. After doing the over-dramatic uncertainty Dermot started harassing Louis to give his answer and it seemed that he had picked Carolynnne to stay though later changed his mind sending it to deadlock and ultimately sending the country singer home. The loss of one of his acts, and over a joke act like Rylan, saw Gary stomp off in a huff while over a million viewers tuned in to The Xtra Factor to see the fallout from the event as Barlow slammed Louis’ decision some more. The controversy continued when people pointed out that a producer talked to Louis during Carolynne’s performance presumably to influence his decision and though those behind the show have denied it all makes sense. Overall good or bad publicity is still publicity and though this series of X-Factor is fairly lacklustre it’ll still be worth watching if not just to see the interactions between the feuding Barlow and Walsh every week.
From Saturday we go to Sunday or more accurately Friday as we welcome the return of Robert Popper’s sitcom Friday Night Dinner centring around a dysfunctional family who always come together for dinner once a week. I have to say the first series of Friday Night Dinner didn’t set my world alight although I felt it was good fun all round and for that alone it more than deserves this second run. Life is much the same in the Goodman house as Johnny and Adam return they are still intent on verbally and physically abusing each other to a quite worrying extent. The majority of this episode is centred around the fact that Adam discovers that Johnny destroyed his favourite panda toy when he was 11 leading him to hunt down and torture Adam’s beloved bunny rabbit Buggy. There is a fairly elaborate sequence in which Johnny ties Adam’s legs together with a belt while he hunts around his room desperate to find the bunny however he is outwitted when his brother gives the toy to Mark Heap’s weird neighbour Jim. Obviously the piece soon descends into farce as the boys go out for a Chinese Takeaway and run into Jim who know believes that Buggy is his toy however I feel that the fate of this story was sealed right when dad bought that lawnmower into the kitchen. Though I’ve never been a massive fan of Simon Bird I have to admit that at least here he has a believable chemistry with Tom Rostenhal with the two believable as brothers even if I don’t quite buy the level of hatred they have for each other. Personally I think the best parts of Friday Night Dinner feature Tamsin Greig as put-upon mother Jackie and Paul Ritter as her deaf husband Martin who is often scene shirtless. Ritter gets the majority of the laughs in this week’s instalment simply by sneezing and causing chaos namely when he sneezes all over the food. The four central actors form a believable family unit and the rigmoral of going back to the family home for dinner is something that a lot of people can relate to. Popper’s script does occasionally feel overly broad but mostly I can believe the situations especially with talent such as Greig and Ritter involved my only question is why is the Friday Night Dinner now on a Sunday?
Next we actually move to Friday night with the latest BBC1 sitcom a channel that bought us such greats as Dad’s Army, Porridge and Only Fools and Horses but has also recently delivered Mrs Brown’s Boys, Citizen Khan and The Royal Bodyguard. Unfortunately Me and Mrs Jones isn’t an improvement on this year’s BBC1 sitcoms as it seems to have been created by a committee who wanted to make the new Bridget Jones however their Gemma Jones isn’t a patch on the overweight literary icon. Sarah Alexander stars as Gemma a single mother of three who is separated from Neil Morrisey’s Jason and has caught the eye of Nathaniel Parker’s debonair single father Tom who wants to go on a date with her. As Mrs Jones is quirky and kooky and essentially annoying she dribbles over the decision for ages before eventually deciding to go for it which causes Kelle Bryan from out of Eternal to take her dress shopping. As well as two daughters with Jason, Gemma has an older son in Archie who comes back home from travelling with a new friend in Robert Sheehan’s Billy. From there the comedy takes a weird route as we have to believe that Billy is head over heels in love with Gemma which means that Sheehan has to do an odd sort of stare every time Alexander walks in the room. Though this is billed as a sitcom there’s not much com and only a little bit of sit as the jokes mainly revolve around Gemma being a bit scatty, Jason’s Swedish girlfriend being a slightly unhinged vegetarian waxer and Jason himself being a bit of an idiot. Suffice to say I didn’t laugh at this disaster once and am surprised it has attracted as big name stars as it has especially Sheehan and Morrisey who both have had big success in dramas yet find the need to navigate back to rubbish sitcom territory I’m just hoping they paid well. I honestly can’t see who would actually find Me and Mrs Jones funny, though fans of the cast members may endure it out of devotion to their idols, and it just shows how much BBC1 comedy has slipped in the last few years.
Thankfully there was one programme this week that proved not all British comedy is doomed as we welcomed the return of Channel 4′s Fresh Meat. Not much has changed for our university housemates since the last time we caught up with them, apart from the fact that one of them has now left. The departed housemate is the never seen Paul Lamb and now our plucky six have to find a seventh member of their team or face paying more rent. JP suggested his friend Giles who had recently moved to Manchester, however he didn’t want anything to do with Giles after he discovered Giles was gay. JP’s struggle to accept both Giles’ news and come to terms with his own sexuality was brilliantly handled. Writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong didn’t make JP’s discovery overly-emotional and maintained the character’s warped idea of homosexuality somewhat in tact. Meanwhile Josie wants her new best friend Heather to have the room, but she’s less keen when Heather starts hooking up with Kingsley. Of course there are still unresolved feelings between Josie and Kingsley and it seems now she’s the one chasing him rather than the other way round. Eventually the new housemate is harsh Eastern European and mature student Sabine who I’m sure will become an excellent supporting player within the show. I personally believe that Fresh Meat has the best ensemble cast in a British comedy since Gavin and Stacey began. All six lead characters have excellent chemistry and have become a more believable unit since the last series which is understandable considering how they’ve now been living together for a longer period of time. Of the cast I think Greg McHugh and Zawe Ashton are the standouts simply because they add life to characters who could purely be one dimensional. However it was Jack Whitehall who excelled in this episode thanks to JP’s storyline concerning Giles’ sexuality and his own public school sexual experiences. Bain and Armstrong’s scripts are amazing and my only wish that Fresh Meat was on earlier so it would get seen by a lot more viewers. But for now at least I know there’s one sitcom out there that isn’t a complete disaster.
OK that’s your lot, I’ll see you same time, next week for more of the same.