Welcome once again to this saunter through this week’s big highlights in the world of TV.
It’s fair to say that, with one or two exceptions, this year’s BBC One drama output has been quite stale. However this week the channel took steps to redeem itself in the form of its latest drama series Doctor Foster which delivered plenty of surprises during its first episode. The drama’s titular characters is Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones), a GP and practise manager who seemingly has the perfect life. However that starts to unravel when she finds a blonde hair on the scarf she borrowed from her husband Simon (Bertie Carvel) which she leads her to believe that he’s having an affair. The rest of Mike Bartlett’s drama sees Gemma’s paranoia intensify as she starts to look twice at all of the blonde women she encounters from Simon’s assistant Becky (Martha Howe-Douglas) to family friend Anna (Victoria Hamilton). What I liked about the script was the way in which we were put in Gemma’s shoes and followed her as she attempted to uncover the truth. Although I did actually correctly predict the outcome of Gemma’s investigation, I think that Bartlett did a good job at building the suspense before the eventual reveal. Another enjoyable element of Doctor Foster were the smaller subplots including Gemma’s alliance with a sleep-deprived patient who ultimately helps her discover the truth. Also boiling beneath the surface was Gemma’s feud with the practise’s longest-serving doctor Jack Reynolds (Robert Pugh); who she eventually had to fire over his alcoholism. However it was Doctor Foster’s central plot that was the most compelling and Bartlett’s decision to execute the ultimate revolution at Simon’s fortieth birthday party was a brilliant one. The only question I really had about the drama is where it will go next as there are still four episodes on the horizon and both we and Gemma now know the identity of Simon’s mistress.
However one thing I know we will get over the next four weeks are more superb performances from Suranne Jones who completely held my attention from beginning to end. Even during Doctor Foster’s more contrived moments, Jones held her cool and made me believe in Gemma’s dilemma. At times Jones’ was a very physical performance as Bartlett’s script wasn’t as dialogue-heavy as some of this year’s more wordy dramas. Instead Jones made us feel for Gemma through a cavalcade of worried facial expressions and momentary glances as she tried to work out just who it was that was lying to her. Jones was particularly brilliant in the revelation sequence as she portrayed Gemma’s mini-breakdown as she realised just how many people had been lying to her about Simon’s affair. Jones was ably supported by Bertie Carvel who continued to show his versatility as an actor adding his strong turn in this to previously impressive performances in the likes of Coalition and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I also enjoyed Robert Pugh’s appearances as the agitated Jack and Clare-Hope Ashity as the down-to-earth Carly. Additionally I’m hoping we see more of actors who had very little to do in episode one such as Jodie Comer and Neil Stuke. As well as the acting and the writing, I felt the production values of Doctor Foster were very strong. Unlike other contemporary dramas which are often shot in a rather drab style, Doctor Foster felt very glossy and in some ways felt like an American cable drama. The way Doctor Foster was presented made it feel like a grown-up drama and I don’t think it ever tried to insult its audience’s intelligence. Instead it led us into a world of betrayal and revenge which I feel is only going to intensify as the series progresses. Although I did find it a little too contrived at times, I ultimately felt that Doctor Foster was an extremely compelling piece of television that proved that BBC One can actually produce decent drama series when the want to.
From one Doctor to another now as ITV welcomed back everybody’s favourite grumpy GP Doc Martin for a seventh series. The big difference in this first episode is the fact that Martin (Martin Clunes) is without his wife Louisa (Caroline Catz) who is currently living in Spain with their son. It’s clear that Martin isn’t coping well with this temporary separation as he isn’t sleeping at all and hasn’t even agreed to see a therapist. However the mostly idiotic population of Portwenn are causing him to miss various appointments due to the fact that none of them can seemingly make a good decision. This episode’s patient of the week was decorator and lifeboat volunteer Steve (Daniel Ryan) who faked a urine test to garner a medical certificate from Martin. However, later he collapsed at the wheel of his lifeboat after suffering a mini-stroke causing Martin and company to come out to sea to save him. I’ve found that Doc Martin is a show that you have to just go with in order to enjoy as it’s incredibly easy to poke holes in especially when it comes to the poorly-written supporting characters. Luckily, the series is well directed by Nigel Cole who made the lifeboat sequence the star of the show as Martin desperately tried to revive his deceitful patient. Clunes was also on form here especially as he’s constantly able to make the audience sympathise with his misanthropic GP. The scenes I particularly enjoyed were the ones in which Martin was visibly trying to hold back the emotional pain that Louisa’s departure had caused. I’m also looking forward to the rest of the series due to the fact that the brilliant Emily Bevan has joined the cast as Martin’s straight-talking therapist Dr. Rachel Timoney. I do feel that Martin may have met his match in Rachel and I suspect that the scenes between Bevan and Clunes may provide the highlights of this series. Despite a few changes, Doc Martin is pretty much offering the same combination of lovely exterior shots, quirky supporting characters and a brilliant central turn that has kept a loyal audience tuned in for six years. However it does seem that this audience is slowly diminishing so I do wonder if this might be the end for Doc Martin especially if the viewing figures continue to dwindle.
Channel 4 continued to prove their diversity this week with two new programmes that couldn’t really be more different starting with the gripping factual show Hunted. Hunted’s premise is fairly straightforward as we follow a number of Brits who are given one hour to go on the run before being stalked by some of the world’s greatest detectives. The first episode primarily focused on three of the fugitives who were attempting to evade the attention of the team headed up by Brett Lovegrove; the former head of counter-terrorism for the City of London police. Dr. Ricky Allen was the first person we saw on the run and this GP was determined to prove to his kids that he could stay undetected in what was now a digital world. Of everybody featured in the opener I felt Ricky did the best job and it was only when trawling through his internet search engine that the team really started to learn where he was. Best friends Emily and Lauren were the other focus of the episode and for the most part their plan of hitch-hiking and camping was paying off. However Emily couldn’t keep from calling various family members to find out how her young son was and in doing so she and Lauren’s locations were revealed to the hunters. Although primarily a factual programme about how easy it is to find somebody’s location, Hunted almost played like a journey. Indeed not all of the information about the fugitives was given straight away and the fact that Emily had a young son was revealed almost as if it were the cliffhanger ending to a tense drama. The slick cinematography meant that I was on the edge of my seat during the chase sequences and the final scenes in which Emily and Lauren discovered they were in danger were particularly engaging. At the same time I did wonder if some of the scenes had been staged as I felt that Emily’s decisions to constantly ring home felt out of character. However what Hunted did do was present a unique format that hasn’t been attempted before and in doing so gave us a show that was both exciting and informative in equal measure.
Whilst the participants of Hunted were constantly on the run, we also had the return of familiar faces who simply had to sit down and watch TV. I’m talking of course about Gogglebox, whose participants have trouble simply leaving the sofa let alone running for their lives. For the most part it was business as usual for Sandy and Sandra, Leon and June and friends as they picked over the last week in TV. Highlights for me included Stephen and Chris’ comments about Stephen Fry’s Central America documentary series and the Goggleboxers’ views about the rather naughty scenes in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Although I was genuinely glad to have Gogglebox back on the TV there weren’t as many laugh out loud moments than there had been in previous series. Part of the reason for this has to be that the glorious Steph and Dom were absent, a fact which caused a bit of a Twitter-storm. The alcoholic duo will be back next week however and therefore I feel the episode will flow a little better. Disappointingly there was very little of The Malones on this first episode whilst the returning Micheal family were featured throughout. So far Gogglebox has only welcomed one new pairing onto the show in the form of Leeds lasses Ellie and Izzi. Although, as always, it took me a while to warm to the girls they were able to showcase enough personality to make me feel that they’ll be welcome additions to the programme. I’m presuming that Ellie and Izzi are replacing the trio of lads from Reading who did very little during their Gogglebox tenure and I think that the two new girls have already done more than their predecessors did over two series. Despite it being a little underwhelming I think Gogglebox is quickly becoming a British institution and is definitely Channel 4′s breakout hit of the last few years. I do feel that its success comes from the fact that watching TV and passing judgement is a national pastime and therefore I think that it’s a format that can keep going as long as the regular faces want to keep doing it.
One programme that I’m surprised the Goggleboxers didn’t cover during the first episode was Strictly Come Dancing, which made its brief return to our screens for the now annual launch show. This televised version of a meat market saw the newest celebs being paired up with their professional partners. As I’ve said in the past the line-up does suggest that this is the austerity year for Strictly Come Dancing especially seeing that seven of the famous faces are involved with various other BBC shows. The highlights of this first show came in judging the initial ability of the new stars and I have to say on the whole it looks very promising. Only Jeremy Vine, Daniel O’Donnell and weather presenter Carol Kirkwood looked like they would be dancing duds with the rest of the pack seeming that they had least had some sort of natural rhythm. The other joy of the show is seeing the looks of joy and disappointment on the faces of some of the professional dancers as they try to work out how many weeks they’ll appear on the show. After years of being paired with more mature partners, the outspoken Aliona was finally given a chance when she was paired with Jay McGuiness from The Wanted. Conversely Kristina looked a bit down when she realised that she’d be dancing with housewives favourite O’Donnell who seemingly had two left feet. One thing that was clear about the launch show was that everybody involved was there to have fun and that’s what I think marks Strictly out from Saturday night rival The X-Factor. Whilst Simon Cowell and chums want to make their programme feel like a serious music show, those involved with Strictly are willing to embrace the rather mad world of the dance floor. This is particularly true of co-host Claudia Winkleman who doesn’t take the show at all seriously a fact which makes her all the more charming. The Strictly Launch Show comfortably beat The X-Factor in the rating and unless something drastic happens to the latter programme I think that this is going to be a recurring theme throughout the rest of the year.