This week we go all nostalgic with two shows set in the 1990s and one that celebrates the 1980s but feels like a relic from the 1970s
We start with a show that is set during my early teenage years, 1996, as we witness the welcome return of My Mad Fat Diary. The comedy drama brings us back to find Rae (Sharon Rooney) feeling better now that she has her new group of friends and is loved up with Finn (Nico Mirallegro). However, her therapist Kester (Ian Hart) believes that she is lying her to herself and that she isn’t as well as she thinks she is. Indeed, as the episode draws on Rae starts to question her romance with Finn and in particular why someone like him would date someone like her. Events come to a head when the gang start college and Rae finally realises that her new relationships still can’t prepare her for being around large groups of people. When the new series of My Mad Fat Diary began I did worry slightly that it dwelt too much on the comedic side of things and that it had lost the balance of light and shade that made it one of my favourite programmes of 2013. Even though some of the comic exchanges made me laugh out loud, particularly the line about Finn developing gills, the dark side seemed to have slipped away. The turning point for me was the word association game that Kester and Rae played followed by Rae’s beliefs about the way she and Finn were perceived as a couple. Writer Tom Bidwell really has a knack for presenting Rae’s illness as a condition that she has to live with rather than something that hampers her on a scene by scene basis. Once again, the mid-1990s setting allows Bidwell to play around with previous references, namely one character getting excited after purchasing a TV with a built-in VCR. But at the heart of My Mad Fat Diary is the superb central performance from Sharon Rooney who deserves to at least be nominated for a TV Bafta. She proves herself to be both adept at delivering comic dialogue as she is in connecting with the audience on a more personal level. Even though I don’t think I’m exactly the target market for My Mad Fat Diary I don’t think it should just appeal to people in a similar situation to Rae’s. Instead, I think anybody who has ever felt like an outcast will be able to identify with the programme in some way and ultimately the programme deals with these feeling in a funny, stylish and relatable way.
Going back a few years to 1990 was the second series of Sky One’s Moone Boy which catapulted us right into the time that Ireland was gripped by World Cup fever. Both Martin Moone (David Rawle) and his imaginary friend Sean (Chris O’Dowd) are obsessed with the tournament and want to stay in and watch every minute of the match. Even Martin’s mother (Deirdre O’Kane) is gripped with the action and only his father (Peter McDonald) remains unconvinced by the joy of the beautiful game. So the Moones remain dejected when they are forced to go on holiday by Mr Moone. Martin is so frustrated that he aims to hitch all the way back to Boyle, but ends up being taken in by a Romanian family. The only problem is that Martin has to watch the clash between Romania and Ireland at the house of said family meaning he finds it hard to show any joy when his team wins the match. The first series of Moone Boy was a glorious treat that Sky One gave to us back in 2012 and I was worried that this second run couldn’t live up to it. Thankfully, I was wrong and by the time we saw Mrs Moone screaming at her TV, I knew we were back in safe territory. Incredibly funny, Moone Boy also rings true primarily when it deals with the dynamics of the Moone family and the characteristics of Martin’s three sisters. O’Dowd employs the period setting to maximum effect as he focuses on an event that we all remember and then creates as many comic scenarios as he possibly can. Young David Rawle is perfect as Martin, combining the wide-eyed innocence of a young lad with superb comic delivery. O’Dowd himself is better used as a writer than star with Sean’s presence becoming seemingly unnecessary in every episode. Alongside Rawle, it is some of the other younger cast members who really shine namely Aoife Duffin as Martin’s sister Trisha and Ian O’Reilly as his extremely enthusiastic friend Padriac. Ultimately Moone Boy is a joy to watch as it’s a comedy that’s actually funny and one that presents realistic characters in an identifiable situation.
A programme you can’t apply that statement to is Sky’s other new sitcom of the week, Doll and Em. The comedy stars actresses Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells as exaggerated versions of themselves. Whilst Mortimer will be familiar to most from The Newsroom, as well as countless Hollywood films, Wells’ name is less well known. However, most will have seen Wells over the years in one sitcom or another and she’s probably best known for her appearances in Star Stories and Some Girls. The loose story of the show sees Dolly split up with her boyfriend and head to America to work as Emily’s assistant. Obviously, this balance of power between the pair builds up a tension based on the fact that one is much more successful than the other. Several comic sequences throughout the episode increase these hostile feelings including one in which Dolly can’t work out how to use Emily’s sat-nav and another where Dolly finds herself inadvertently locked out of Emily’s house. Doll and Em draws obvious comparisons with The Trip, as it features two real-life friends working together and the slight resentment that builds during the show. The difference is that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are both well-known and the problems that arose during The Trip made both men question how their careers had gone. Meanwhile, Doll and Em is a lot more one-sided with the former being an almost unrecognisable presence and the latter being an actress whose hit it big in America. Despite Emily’s fame though, I just can’t buy the fact that she’d be stopped on the street and asked to pose for photos, which is what happened in one scene in this episode. But my main problem with Doll and Em is that it really didn’t go anywhere and at the end of the day felt quite inconsequential. I didn’t find it funny nor did I identify with either woman and in addition I know exactly in which direction this series is going. Whilst I can see what Wells and Mortimer were trying to achieve with their show, it comes across as a self-indulgent passion project rather than a fairly well-observed comedy drama.
Talking of comedy drama, ITV hit us with another new offering in the completely pointless Edge of Heaven. Set in the titular Margate B&B the show focused on the sprawling Taylor family headed up by matriarch Julie (Camille Coduri) the co-owner of the establishment alongside her chef husband Tandeep (Nitin Kundra). Julie’s two adult children still live with her and while ex-army recruit Ann-Marie (Laura Checkley) is happy to stand about and make sarcastic comments, Alfie (Blake Harrison) is planning for the future. The future that Alfie envisions involves him settled down with would-be-wife Carly (Justine Cain) but, on the eve of her wedding, she begins to doubt her love for Alfie. It’s incredibly clear that Alfie belongs with Carly’s friend and colleague Michelle (Louisa Lytton), but at the same time it seems that we’re going to have to wait six weeks for them to figure out they like each other. The Taylor clan also includes Julie’s brother ‘Bald’ Gary (Adrian Scarborough) and his partner ‘Camp’ Gary (Robert Evans) who both love watching True Blood as well as Alfie’s Nanny Mo (Marcia Warren) a foul-mouthed X-Box loving pensioner. I do wonder why Edge of Heaven was created in the first place and who exactly its marketed towards. The extended brood aspect of the show makes me think that ITV wanted this to be their version of Modern Family, but what we get instead is a bunch of clichéd characters going through the motions. It’s clear that writer Robert Evans has come from children’s TV as all of the Taylor family feel like stereotypes and I just didn’t believe in any of them. The B&B setting is equally unnecessary with only a couple of scenes devoted to the establishment’s single guest. It’s a shame that talented performers such as Coduri, Scarborough and Warren have wasted their time on appearing in this nonsense. Meanwhile Harrison continues to play the same character he did in both Big Bad World and Way to Go. Ultimately, Edge of Heaven will go down as another forgettable ITV drama that I’m sure will be demolished in the ratings once Jonathan Creek returns next week.
In fact it wasn’t a great week for ITV, with The Brit Awards receiving their lowest ratings in some years and to be fair I can’t blame people for switching off. Hosted for the fifth and final time by James Corden, the event just doesn’t have the same rowdy feeling to it as it did when I was younger. As I alluded to earlier, the winners and nominees at the Brits reminded me how out of touch I am with the current hit parade and who the big stars in music are. In a way I feel that’s for the best as a lot of today’s music acts seem like incredibly bland personalities from Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith to Bastille and Disclosure. Though I can’t question their musical talents, especially after Bastille and Rudimental’s collaboration was one of the evening’s only highlights, they just don’t seem particularly interesting. On the other end of the scale you have the big awards winners The Arctic Monkeys, with lead singer Alex Turner taking the rebellious attitude a little too far. In fact the biggest character to win an award didn’t even bother to pick it up himself, that being David Bowie who won Best British Male. The sequence in which Noel Gallagher and Kate Moss accepted his award reminded me of the heyday of The Brit Awards before everything became so awfully corporate. Indeed, for the second year in a row, corporate creations One Direction won an award for selling a lot of records overseas. The fact that the audience is made up primarily of PR people and management meant that a lot of host Corden’s jokes fell on deaf ears. I actually enjoy Corden as a host and feel like he respects the musical aspect of the event while at the same time trying to add a bit of humour to proceedings. I believe part of the problem of The Brit Awards is the O2 Arena, which doesn’t have the intimate feel that previous venues provided. The event is also missing the award for Lifetime Achievement which saw a well-loved band perform a selection of their greatest hits to go off the air. Hopefully things will change next year with a new venue and the return of the Lifetime Achievement award, but I have to say I don’t think either of these will happen. I have to say I feel most sorry for Corden, whose time as a host has ended with a whimper rather than a bang, but at least he didn’t end the night being sworn at again.
Next Time: Silk, Jonathan Creek and Bluestone 42