This week we present a mix bag of comedy drama, heartbreaking biopic and high concept factual entertainment all of which has populated our telly box over the last fortnight.
We kick off with the aforementioned comedy drama which comes to us in the form of Channel 4′s Not Safe for Work a programme that struggles to decide exactly what it wants to be. At some points DC Moore’s show is a satirical look at the world of corporate downsizing as our protagonist, Zawe Ashton’s Katherine, finds herself exiled out to Northampton by her London company. These satirical elements continue when Katherine finds her new boss is her former subordinate Danny, who is portrayed as a comic slacker and somebody who only got his job due to his supposed Muslim heritage. Other moments in Not Safe For Work suggest that it’s trying for a workplace sitcom type of vibe especially due to its broadly drawn supporting characters like chirpy Jenny and drunken PA Angela. Although Not Safe For Work does have plenty of comic elements it’s when it hits the dramatic button that it starts to lose focus. This is perfectly represented by the character of Katherine who is going through somewhat of a transition in her life after getting divorced. Going forward its also revealed that Katherine lost a baby the year before which was a result of an affair she had with a man who has now become a new colleague. It’s this odd mixture of workplace comedy, satire and rather human drama that makes Not Safe For Work an odd pill to swallow. There are occasional moments where I feel the show works and that’s when the comic and dramatic elements really gel. A great example of this is the opening scene which sees Katherine’s divorce and her subsequent drunken wallowing. However these moments are few and far between and I think Not Safe for Work could’ve benefited with a little more time to develop.
Part of the programme’s downfall is the fact that it has only been allotted fifty minutes in the schedules which, when the adverts are cut out, means that DC Moore has only been given forty minutes to tell his story. I certainly don’t think this is an adequate amount of time for the opening episode of a series that has so much plot to get through and so many characters to introduce. Another issue is with Moore himself who here has written his debut TV offering after years working as a successful playwright. However I believe that Moore doesn’t understand the difference between writing a TV script and a play because the former only gives you a certain amount of time for the audience to decide whether they’re going to stick with it or not. Based on the evidence of the first two episodes I don’t think I’m going to keep up with Not Safe for Work as the imbalance of tone was just a little much for me. That’s a shame as there was quite a bit to like about Not Safe for Work primarily the fine central performance from the brilliant Zawe Ashton. As a massive fan of Ashton’s, thanks in part to Fresh Meat, I felt she did well to make Katherine feel three-dimensional and by the end of the opener I wanted to root for her. Ashton was one of the only cast members who was able to seamlessly transition between the comic and dramatic elements of Moore’s script with others struggling. However I did quite enjoy the interplay between Sacha Dawan as the feckless Danny and Jo Enwright as his right hand woman Angela. Ultimately Not Safe For Work is trying to be too many things all at the same time and it simply hasn’t paid off. Whilst there are some good ideas in the show there never seems to be enough time to develop them and therefore Not Safe For Work comes off as a bit of a mess.
The other big drama of the last fortnight was the mostly powerful A Song for Jenny which saw the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings told from the perspective of one mother who lost her daughter in the terrorist attacks. Based on the book by Julie Nicholson and adapted by Frank McGuinness, A Song for Jenny told the story of the author’s hunt for her eldest child amongst the chaotic aftermath of the tube station attack. A Song for Jenny was divided up into three chapters; the first involved the search to see if Jenny was alive, the second involved the aftermath of the discovery of her death and the third saw the build-up to her funeral. Of these three sequences I would say the second was the most powerful as director Brian Percival focused on the shocked and hurt expressions of Jenny’s nearest and dearest. The frustration in not being able to do more was also an understandable theme that was well expressed during the earlier moments of the script as Julie and Jenny’s boyfriend James attempted to search for clues. Although I hate knocking a drama that was based on such a tragic event, some of A Song for Jenny just didn’t work for me. Most of it had to do with the dialogue given to Jenny’s younger sister Lizzie especially her small monologue in the build up to her sister’s memorial. Similarly ill-judged was the flashback in which we followed Jenny on the morning of the attack as we essentially saw every second that happened before the bomb went off. Luckily, even in its more suspect moments, A Song for Jenny works thanks to the central performance of Emily Watson. I wouldn’t be surprised if Watson was nominated for a BAFTA for her turn as the loving and compassionate mother who was forced to deal with some extraordinarily tough situations. It’s because of Watson that I’ll remember A Song for Jenny’s more thoughtful moments and I feel that she turned an average biopic into what was, for the most part, an emotionally gripping drama albeit one that may have outstayed its welcome.
Although it’s in its third series now, I’d never particularly bothered with Channel 4′s Child Genius up to now. But with a No Offence shaped-hole on Tuesday nights I’d been boning up on the show which goes behind the scenes at the annual MENSA contest to find Britain’s brainiest pre-teen. The producers of the show have now realised that the programme is more about the parents that their brainy offspring and therefore have focused their attention on them. For example the mother of brothers Ethan and Kale does little but berate her sons for their lack of knowledge and constantly pushes them when they’re at home. However, this didn’t seem to translate to point scoring in the big game with both brothers going home at the end of the second episode. Another child who struggled in the early stages of the contest was nervous Holly who was seemingly incredibly brainy but couldn’t take it when she took to the platform. Only twelve-year-old Thomas impressed me in the opening rounds however he initially came off as fairly obnoxious. It was only when I learnt that he’d lost his father at an early age that I garnered any sympathy for him as he wasn’t exactly the most personable of children. Whilst the parents and their offspring may be quite entertaining I found some aspects of Child Genius to be rather repetitive especially Celia Imrie’s voice-over which must have informed me that four children were leaving the contest at the end of the episode about a dozen times. However I did find Child Genius an easy watch thanks in part to its subjects and the fact that I was playing along with the contest at home. I was actually quite proud of myself when I got more points than some of the contestants but then I remembered that they were all under thirteen and I’m in my thirties.
Whilst Child Genius did exactly what it said on the tin, Channel 4′s newest factual entertainment format Married at First Sight could well have been fined under the trade descriptions act. That’s primarily because nobody got married and instead we saw a panel of experts pair up potential couples who were going to meet for the first time after walking down the aisle. Rather surprisingly 1,500 people applied for the show however only fifteen were ultimately selected by a panel; which included anthropologists, therapists and a vicar, as potential candidates. After much debating, six of the fifteen were paired into three separate couples who would all be getting married in the next few weeks. After discovering that she’d actually being tying the knot with a stranger the strong-willed Sam opted out of leaving her groom-to-be Jack languishing in the pub looking at his phone. But for James and Emma and Jason and Kate it was full-speed ahead as they rushed to get everything organised before the big day. The usual wedding traditions of buying the dress and the stag and hen dos were made oddly stilted by the fact that none of the quartet knew who they were marrying. Although the concept of Married at First Sight, which is based on a Danish TV show, seemed interesting this first episode was anything but. Instead of watching these couples squirm their way down the aisle instead we saw a bunch of experts but couples together and a couple of brides-to-be try on dresses. I did feel that there was a lot of a filler in this first episode and at times I found myself turning the channel due to absolute boredom. That being said I’m more than a little intrigued to watch the second episode just to see what the two couples make of each other and whether they will ultimately stay married or get divorced at the first opportunity.
Finally we journey over to E4 to say goodbye to one of my favourite programmes of the last few years My Mad Fat Diary. Whilst I enjoyed the first two series of this adaptation of the diaries of Rae Earl, I have to say I’ve found this final run rather lacklustre. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the writers have had to pack a series’ worth of storylines into just three episodes which meant the usually reliable pace of the programme has been sacrificed. That being said the finale more than made up for what had gone before and it was more than the perfect ending for Rae and friends. Firstly Rae and Chloe got rid of the rather useless Katie Springer, a character created purely to drive yet another wedge between our heroine and the rather feckless Finn. Secondly I loved how Rae convinced her mother to join Karim in Tunisia and finally was able to stand on her two feet as she made her way to university. She was also able to do this without Finn holding her back and possibly my favourite part of this entire episode was seeing Rae realise that she didn’t need a man to make her happy. The final scene in which Rae say goodbye to all the people who’d been in her life over the last three series, including the dearly departed Tix, was rather emotional and a fitting end for such a great series. Even when My Mad Fat Diary hasn’t been great, Sharon Rooney has always been on form as Rae and for me she has been the shining star of all fifteen episodes. Rooney’s chemistry with her on-screen mum Claire Rushbrook and Ian Hart as her therapist has been a joy to watch. I’m just hoping that Rooney gets the chance to succeed elsewhere in TV as My Mad Fat Diary has proved that she’s one of our best up-and-coming actresses. Overall, whilst I’m sad to see it go, I’m glad that My Mad Fat Diary went out on a high before it outstayed its welcome.
Next Time: The Outcast, Dragon’s Den and Yonderland