Reviews

This Fortnight in TV: Eurovision, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Sun Trap

This week we focus on three very different offerings from BBC One which all had slightly different reactions from yours truly.

Electro Velvet United Kingdom at Eurovision Song Contest This Fortnight in TV: Eurovision, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Sun Trap
Regular readers of the site will know that I’m a massive fan of Eurovision, so there’s no surprise that this year’s contest was probably my highlight of the week. In the past few years we’ve been treated to Russian grannies, Finnish brides and Polish milkmaids all of whom made the contest a bit of fun. I have to say that this year’s contest didn’t have that added bit of novelty and as a result felt a little tiring. There were some highlights, which I’ll get to in a moment, but first I want to address the UK’s entry; the woeful Electro Velvet. This year the song ‘Still in Love With You’ was written with no performer in mind and eventually two soloists were put together as a duo. The final performance looked like an awkward blind date in which the couple were forced to do karaoke whilst wearing high-vis jackets. The song meanwhile felt like 1994 number one hit ‘Doop’ which wasn’t even that popular when it was released. Unsurprisingly the UK was down the bottom of the board once again however it were hosts Austria who received no points despite their act setting fire to a piano. Some of my favourite songs including the Lithuanian couple, who shared a far better chemistry than Electro Velvet. In fact at times they almost forgot to sing their song as they were too busy snogging and staring wistfully into each other’s eyes. I also liked Serbia’s entry Bojana Stamenov whose song ‘Beauty Never Lies’ had a positive message in the same way that Conchita Wurst’s winning entry did last year. Unfortunately neither of these countries made an impact on the final leader board which I felt was a bit wrong.

mans zelmerlow melodifestivalen This Fortnight in TV: Eurovision, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Sun Trap
Instead the competitors for the championship looked to be Sweden’s Avicii inspired piece and Russia’s song for hope. However, as the results rolled in it appeared that Italy’s Il Divo tribute act may have a chance of winning. Usually the results reveal is one of the dullest parts of the show itself however this year I found it quite exciting. This is partially due to the fact that some Swedish professor devised an alogrithim to predict who each country would give their points to. This professor did good as Russia’s win initially looked like it was in the bag but Sweden finally pulled ahead in the second part of the reveal. In fact the results portion of the show was more exciting than half of the contest, the second half of which was packed full of ballads. Apparently producers had selected the order of the contestants in order to get the most eclectic mix of songs. However the first half contained the majority of the toe-tapping hits whilst the second segment was full of slow songs that bored me to tears. What I will say is that although this is a lacklustre year, Eurovision is still a fun diversion in a world where there is so much misery. With Twitter playing a big part into how people watch the show now you feel like you’re not the only one whose taking the show with a pinch of salt. Ultimately this was a bit of a down year with an uninspiring winner and no novelty acts but hopefully that will all change when we head to Stockholm in 2016.

Strange Norrell First Look This Fortnight in TV: Eurovision, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Sun Trap
Poldark has been one of the biggest hits of the year so far but I can’t see the same being said for BBC One’s new Sunday night drama. Adapted from the set of books by Susanna Clark, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is set around the time of the Napoleonic Wars and focuses on the two magicians of the title. Of the two, it is Mr. Norrell’s story which gets more time devoted to it including a rather long opening sequence in which we learn that he’s one of the only practising magicians left in Britain. After the episode’s most impressive scene, in which Norrell brings the gargoyles of York Minster to life, he travels to London with the aim of getting some of the country’s most important ministers to let him use his magic to help the war effort. He gets his chance to prove himself by attempting to heal the daughter of one of these ministers but he’s eventually stopped by a mysterious figure known as The Gentleman. This eerie figure agrees to help Norrell with his spell but demands a piece of the girl’s finger as a reward, this intriguing exchange certainly piqued my interest in the show and definitely helped the overall pacing of the episode. While Norrell was quite a hard character to like, Jonathan Strange was a bit more affable even if he was a little work shy. Unlike with Norrell, magic isn’t exactly a career path Jonathan had settled on but he eventually learns that he can perform vary basic spells. In order to impress the woman he loves, Jonathan decides to pursue a life of magic and it’s clear from the start that he will cross paths with Mr Norrell at some point down the line.

webANXjonstrangeep1 555x313 This Fortnight in TV: Eurovision, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Sun Trap
Despite all the intriguing storylines surrounding sorcery, the biggest question I have about Jonathan Strange is who is it actually aimed at? I feel that the usual Sunday night crowd who loved Poldark so much will turn their noses up at a drama that centres a lot on Gothic themes and contains several magical sequences. At the same time I don’t think this is particularly suitable for the same young audience who followed Atlantis and Merlin primarily due to its rather wordy nature. Therefore I do feel it will struggle to find a strong audience and the ratings are likely to dwindle with the key Sunday night crowd switching to Home Fires on ITV. This is a shame in my eyes as Jonathan Strange is a lot more interesting that the paint-by-numbers jam drama on the other side. A lot of the reason for this is the cast with Bertie Carvel giving a spirited turn as the idle Jonathan and Eddie Marsan being perfectly cast as the belligerent Norrell. I’m personally glad that the underrated Marsan is being given the chance to showcase his immense skills in a big glossy drama such as this. Although he has been lumbered with rather an unlikeable character I felt that Marsan still made Norrell into a sympathetic soul. Similarly Carvel, who shone in Coalition and Babylon, breathes life into the more animated character of the title and his scenes were the ones that I enjoyed more. I felt that Jonathan Strange was also a drama that was well designed with particular detail being paid to costumes, hair and make-up. That being said I felt that a lot was packed into this first episode and at times I got lost even though I devoted my full attention to the piece. Although the fact that Jonathan Strange demands the audience’s full attention isn’t a bad thing, I think people want fluffier fare on a Sunday night. Whether Jonathan Strange garners a strong audience throughout its run remains to be seen but I personally found it to be an intriguing and interesting choice for a Sunday night drama.

1363981601602 This Fortnight in TV: Eurovision, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Sun Trap
While BBC One were on the right tracks with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell I felt that they fell of those tracks completely with their latest comedy. Then again calling Sun Trap a comedy is a stretch as I didn’t laugh once and instead I almost cried at how much the show probably cost to make. The show was originally going to be named Woody, after the main character who here is played by Fonejacker himself Kayvan Novak. Though I’m a fan of Novak’s acting sometimes, it appears that he’s been given free reign to do what he wants here and the results are truly shocking. The show starts with petty criminal Woody travelling to Spain to spend time with an old running buddy by the name of Brutus. Former private investigator Woody is looking to lie low and ex-journalist Brutus begrudgingly agrees to let him rent a room near his bar. As Sun Trap is at its best a contrived format, Woody shortly finds himself on a mission to track down the missing parrot of a local criminal who made a lot of money flogging dodgy pensions. The rest of the episode saw Woody take on various guises as he quizzed the main suspects in the parrot theft case. Even typing that sentence made me feel a little dirty and I’m sure that’s how most of the cast feel after watching Sun Trap back. Somebody who should be ashamed with themselves is Jack Dee, who had a guest role as a vet, as he is a comic who I thought should know better. As Brutus, I think Bradley Walsh probably comes off best but even he overplays every line of the script but he’s a low key player when compared to the dreadful Novak. I think the writers thought they could get away with Novak just doing funny voices as its worked before however the story was wafer thin. Novak to me is an actor who needs steady direction and if he doesn’t get it then he just comes off like a bit of a maniac. That’s ultimately the main problem in Sun Trap; a comedy that is lacking any believable story, relatable characters or one funny joke. Suffice to say that I won’t be watching it again and I think BBC One need to get back to the comic drawing board as Sun Trap simply isn’t good enough.

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