It does surprise me when a drama I considered to be quite niche ends up doing well in the ratings and, for a Channel 4 serial The Mill did just that. A Dickensian drama with modern sensibilities; John Fay’s drama followed the fortunes of the owners and workers at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire. Despite its unfavourable timeslot, 8pm on Sunday nights, The Mill did surprisingly well earning a BAFTA nomination for Kerrie Hayes and getting itself a second series. Series two moves the drama on four years with Hayes’ Esther being as rebellious as ever whilst Matthew McNulty’s Bate is still attempting to fight for the rights of the workers. But the lives of both are turned around with the return of Andrew Lee-Potts’ Daniel Greg, the younger son of the mill owners who marks himself out as the villain of the piece by slashing wages and rescinding on promises made by his brother. Although The Mill does work as a piece of social history I personally didn’t find it at all entertaining as a drama. With the possible exception of Bate, all the characters appear to be out for themselves and therefore I found it really hard to care about them. Although the cast is great and the direction is solid; The Mill is so bleak that I found it hard to warm to. Fay seems more interested in documenting child labour laws and union rights than he does in creating interesting characters who you feel compelled to follow. Whilst I’m sure The Mill appeals to some people, I personally find it a little too gritty for a Sunday night offering and I’m still questioning why the ratings were so good for The Mill’s first run.
Sometimes, when watching a series that has run for a significant amount of time, I often feel that its on its last legs. This was unfortunately the feeling I had whilst watching the first episode of the twelfth series of Dragon’s Den. Although the programme was initially entertaining, due to the inclusion of a swing dance troupe at the start of the first pitch, it soon descended into a long list of figures and annual turnover. I think that Dragon’s Den has survived for so long due to the unpredictability of the programme and specifically whether the pitchers will get any offers or not. Unusually this first episode including two successful pitches with Scott getting Deborah Meaden on board for his swing school while Jennifer’s shoes for kids caught the interest of both Piers and Kelly. But even though it’s great to see the joy on these entrepreneur’s faces when they get a deal it doesn’t counteract the fact that the show feels tired. Earlier this year we learnt that Duncan Bannantyne was leaving the programme to pursue other ventures meaning the Deborah and Peter would be the only long-running members of the quintet left on the show. I personally feel that the format starting flagging last year with neither Kelly nor Piers making a particularly strong impression. With Duncan going I feel that it might be time to finally put the Dragons out to pasture and I really hope that the next series of Dragon’s Den will be its last.
I’ve often felt the strength of a panel show relies heavily on the charisma of the host and how good he or she is at moving the game along. We’ve seen varying qualities of this over the years thanks to the guest hosts on Have I Got News For You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. This week E4′s new panel show Virtually Famous perfectly demonstrated what happens when you cast a host purely for their level of fame. In the host’s chair was Glee star Kevin McHale who I never particularly rated in his role as Artie and I always wondered why they didn’t cast an actor who was wheelchair bound. But as bad as he is on Glee he’s even worse as himself anchoring a show that doesn’t have the greatest concept ever. Virtually Famous’s panel show format has been cobbled together primarily so the guests can laugh at You Tube videos. Opening round Meet the Makers introduces a guest and then allows the panellists to guess which of three videos he created. Other rounds include lip-syncing and guessing the pun titles of various vegetable-related films. At over the standard thirty minute running time, Virtually Famous wears out its welcome fairly quickly and by the end I was fast forwarding through large portions of it. Although McHale is disastrous in the hosting role the rest of the team don’t help him out too much despite featuring plenty of panel show regulars including Chris Ramsay and Rachel Riley. Whilst Seann Walsh anchors one team, his rival Captain is Chris Stark who apparently works for Radio 1 although I’ve personally never heard of him. Ultimately the combination of weak rounds, nondescript team captains and a woeful host mean that Virtually Famous isn’t a programme that I’ll be rushing to watch any time soon.
If McHale wants to see how a good host can make a half-hearted format slightly decent then he should have watched Alan Carr’s efforts on Channel 4′s The Singer Takes it All. Apparently this comedy talent show has a lot in common with global format Rising Star in that both feature an app which the audience can use to decide the fate of various performers. Where The Singer Takes it All differs from Rising Star, which will be coming to ITV next year, is that each performer is on a conveyor belt which moves backwards and forwards based on their popularity with the audience. Obviously the best moments of the show come when the audience decide to confine a singer back to where they come from as they are flung from the conveyor belt back into obscurity. The only problem with this first episode is that the app stopped working for the majority of the show meaning that Carr had to rely on the studio audience to rank the popularity of the contestants. The Singer Takes it All is perfect guilty pleasure viewing and fits in well with Channel 4′s anarchic Friday night line-up. However, if I was involved in scheduling the show, I would’ve put it on later as it suits the post-pub audience a lot better than those tuning in at 9pm. The fact that Carr and his celebrity guests, in this instance Pixie Lott and Rob Beckett, all seem a bit merry adds to my theory that people would enjoy the programme more after they’d had a few. But at the same time it’s clear the Channel 4 have spent quite a bit of cash on The Singer Takes it All so I don’t blame them for putting it on in a prime time slot. Although I thought I’d hate The Singer Takes it All, Carr makes it watchable and I might give it a go if there’s nothing decent to watch on the other side.