We enter the new year with diving, shopping, dating and murder plus a few Northerners thrown in for good measure
First up this week is ITV’s attempt to cash in on The Olympics by having one of its most familiar faces, in diver Tom Daley, front a new Saturday night entertainment show. Lucking Daley doesn’t present the show Splash! but rather acts as a mentor to a number of D-list celebrities all of whom are essentially falling into water in a sports centre somewhere in Luton. The presenting team of an embarrassed looking Gabby Logan and Vernon Kay in an ill-fitting pair of shorts attempt to play up the excitement of the crowd which seems to contain mainly of screeching girls who just want to get a look at Daley in his trunks. The ‘celebrities’ themselves included one of The Sugababes, that bloke from Benidorm and Helen Lederer who always seems to appear in celebrity shows despite the fact nobody can remember what she was famous for in the first place. To play up the tension all of our contestants seemed to have a fear of either water or heights, both of which are essential to the diving process, with Benidorm man in particular frightened to get back in the water after being in Thailand during the dreadful Boxing Day Tsunami which is just the story you want to hear as part of a Saturday night entertainment show. There was also quite a lot of flesh on display namely from the Sugababe who pranced round in a gold bikini for most of the evening and wasn’t even afforded the luxury of a towel to dry herself off after her dive. Another of the things nobody understands about diving is the scoring system so the judges’ scores made no actual difference to proceedings while the judges themselves were either unknowns from the world of diving or Jo Brand seemingly appearing because she participated in that diving show on Dave. In the end it was Omid Djalili who was voted the winner by the public, who had all of six minutes to call into make their votes, with Benidorm man also earning a place in the semi-finals after winning a dive-off against some random blonde woman. Overall everything about Splash! was a disaster from the celebrities picked to the format of the show and even the shorts Vernon Kay was wearing. The main issue is that, unlike singing or dancing, diving is over very quickly so most of the show was populated by multiple replays of the dives from different angles. The only person who comes out of Splash! with any dignity is Daley himself who at least tries to both coach and pass judgment on the diving efforts of the celebrities he’s training to dive. Hopefully Splash! won’t make it to a second series if only to spare the career of the affable Daley who will be more associated with this horrible entertainment series rather than his achievements at the Olympics if Splash! goes on any longer.
As the long winter nights drag on there is room for a little sunshine in our life which has thankfully been provided by the return of murder mystery programme Death in Paradise. For those who didn’t see it the first time around, Death in Paradise stars Ben Miller as straight-laced detective Richard Poole who is transferred to the Caribbean island of Saint-Marie in order to solve various murders which often involve British character actors. Series two sees Poole attempt to adjust to island life a little more but at the same time he still insists wearing his suit and sipping tea like a good Englishman. The first story involves the death of plantation owner Roger Seymour a man who was notorious for his unscrupulous working practises and complicated personal life as he recently ditched his wife Nicole in favour of the much younger Kim Neville. The plantation is also notorious on the island as there are rumours of the dead coming to life and this spooks Poole’s officers namely Danny John-Jules’ Dwayne Myers. Of course Poole uses his uncanny ability to connect pieces of evidence and solves the case gathering all of the suspects together in one room in a very Agatha Christie like manner. This episode also hints at a romance for Poole in the form of his DS Camilla however I think this would spoil their current relationship which is one of the things that makes Death in Paradise work as well as it does. It’s easy to be sniffy about Death in Paradise as it is an incredibly formulaic programme that isn’t particularly original however I think people who say this are missing the point. Personally I feel that Death in Paradise is simply a bit of winter escapism with the luxurious scenery of Guadeloupe providing a cure for the winter blues. Miller also excels in his role as the uptight Englishman while guest stars Stephanie Beacham and Tom Ward seem to be having a whale of a time. Sure Death in Paradise is nothing new but what it does it does very well indeed.
ITV have also unveiled their new drama in the form of department store drama Mr Selfridge which is not to be confused with recently concluded department store drama The Paradise. Unlike The Paradise, Mr Selfridge focuses on the formation of the famous London Department Store and in particular Harry Selfridge himself an American with big plans for Oxford Street. Jeremy Piven gives a bombastic performance as Harry bursting into every scene with bundles of life as he attempts to finance a store with very little money. Along the way Harry has to ask help from the prickly Lady Mae in order to find a new investor while at the same time he falls under the spell of chorus girl Ellen Love who he casts as the Spirit of Selfridges. As well as the formation of the store Mr Selfridge follows the story of Agnes Towler, who is fired from her original shop after Harry makes her display all of the stock she has. Agnes eventually convinces Harry to give her a chance at his new store and she is given the position of head assistant in the accessories department which provokes a negative reaction from head of accessories Miss Mardle. Mr Selfridge is a traditional costume drama, which is no surprise when you find out it has period drama maestro Andrew Davies behind it, which has great production values even if the story is sometimes a little flimsy. The recreation of the Selfridges store in particular is lovingly crafted while all of the costumes add to the period feel of the show. The problem is that this first episode is full of plot that we don’t really get to know many of the characters that well and I’m hoping it will be an issue that is ironed out as the story goes on. Piven’s performance is the other issue as he decides to shout every other line and flap his arms around when entering a room like some excitable school boy. Luckily there are some highlights among the supporting cast namely Aisling Loftus, most recently seen in Good Cop who here adds some much needed gravitas to proceeding as Agnes Towler. There’s no denying that Mr Selfridge is a classic period drama but at the same time it lacks a certain something to make it stand out from the multitude of costume drama that has invaded our TVs in the last year or so.
One of Channel 4′s biggest hits of last year was The Undateables a programme that focused on people who had suffered from various disabilities who at the same time wanted to find love. A lot of criticism was levelled at the title as people believed that the makers of the programme thought that people with disabilities had no chance of finding love however I felt they were missing the point. In the end most came round to what was a sweet-natured programme which focused on a lot of likeable protagonists who found it a little harder than most to find that special someone. Not much has changed as two of the characters from this first episode of Series Two remind me of those featured in the first series. The two people in question are autistic Michael and Tourette’s sufferer Brent both of whom have similar issues to a lot of the protagonists from series one which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I just felt like I was treading old ground. For example Michael’s issue of taking things too far and Brent’s issue of his nerves bringing on his various ticks were both tackled in the first series and I didn’t learn anything new about either condition that I hadn’t learnt in series one. Luckily this episode was saved by the third singleton 22 year old Sarah who suffered a stroke when she was 18 and now struggles to get any words out. I felt Sarah’s story was the most compelling as here was a very pretty young girl whose affliction meant that she couldn’t talk to anyone of the opposite sex however she later arranges an date through an online match-making service. While the date doesn’t initially go to plan her potential suitor Gary eventually is able to coax a conversation out of her and it looks as if there was at least a bit of chemistry between the pair. Though I enjoyed all three of the people featured in The Undateables I ultimately felt like this series was attempting to recreate last year’s success rather than giving us anything new. The only highlight for me was Sarah’s story and I personally believed that she deserved a documentary devoted to her struggle as her was such a fascinating case.
Finally this week we return to ITV for their new Friday night comedy drama which focuses on four Stockport-based friends attempting to live like grown-ups but failing miserably. Great Night Out stars familiar faces Craig Parkinson, Stephen Walters, William Ash and Lee Boardman who play mates Glyn, Daz, Beggsie and Hodge who always find themselves in some sort of scrape or another usually due to their need to impress the women in their lives. This week for example Glyn attempted to impress Julie, who he has been in love with for ages, by attending her Salsa class only he is forced to dance with the pub landlord played by Ricky Tomlinson. Other dilemmas include Daz’s girlfriend wanting him to go to Man United and Beggsie struggling to cope with the fact that his daughter is now living in Australia. The final half of the story is devoted to a large comic misunderstanding involving trains and a wedding that the gang may have inadvertently stopped. The problem with Great Night Out is that some of its scenes are too broadly comic, the salsa class is a case in point, which is a shame as there is much to like. All four leads are incredibly likeable and the show is at its best when they are just allowed to simply banter with one another. Great Night Out shows a lot of promise and I think it will definitely be a decent comedy drama if the writers just calm down a little bit and let the characters shine.