So folks he we are again with another week of reboots, returns and pilots as we plunge into the look at this week’s TV highlights.
We kick off with the return of a drama that has been described by a lot of people as a reboot but to me it just feels like another series albeit one that occurs thirteen years after the last series ended. I’m talking of course about Cold Feet whose return has been much publicised and has been greatly anticipated by those who loved it the first time round. Although I wasn’t a massive fan of the original I still have fond memories of it and am always sceptical of shows that come back after a long time away as they often offer diminishing returns. But however Cold Feet is the exception that proves the rule as writer and creator Mike Bullen has made the correct decision of not having the gang reunite after thirteen years away. Instead we simply catch up with the group of friends who’ve kept in contact with each other constantly even though one of their number has been working abroad for the majority of the show’s time away. The character in question is James Nesbitt’s Adam who has been travelling the world as an IT consultant and is currently living in Singapore where he is currently dating the much younger Angela. It is because of Angela that Adam returns to Manchester as he hopes to convince his son Matthew to come to Singapore for the wedding however he is met with resistance when he visits him at private school. Elsewhere Pete and Jenny have since reunited with the former having to work two jobs just to support their son and her daughter who he has decided to raise as their own. Meanwhile David has married his divorce lawyer Robyn but the pair don’t seem to be that happy with David seemingly wanting to get back with Karen as he constantly makes eyes at her during the course of the episode. As the episode goes on Angela and Adam make the decision to get married in Manchester although they face scepticism from his friends. Despite last minute information about Matthew being given to him from Karen, Adam still goes ahead with his marriage to Angela although Bullen gives us the impression that he may go on to regret it.
I do feel Mike Bullen has perfectly captured what made us like Cold Feet the first time around and has actually allowed us to get another snapshot into the lives of characters we grew up with. Bullen’s balance of light and shade hasn’t disappeared as there were numerous laugh-out-loud moments as well as at least two scenes in which I swear I had something in my eye. I personally found the most emotional moment to be when Adam and Matthew were standing outside the house that they lived in when Matthew was first born. Hearing Adam talk about Rachel was quite an emotional moment and I don’t think I’ll be the only one getting a bit teary-eyed when this scene airs on ITV. The chemistry between the cast is still as strong as ever and it was clear from listening to them talk after the screening that they have a great relationship off screen as well as on. It’s certainly clear that they’re comfortable in each other’s presence and I believe the reason the dialogue works as well as it does is due to the brilliant relationship that the five actors have maintained. This is clear from a scene in a Chinese restaurant where the male characters are airing their regrets and praising their friends for the great job they’ve done in their professional or personal lives. James Nesbitt, John Thompson and Robert Bathurst all prove what strong performers they are here and this scene still sticks in my mind as one of the episode’s best. Alongside the original cast I must single out Ceallach Spellman for particular praise as I found him to be completely compelling as Matthew. It must have been incredibly hard for Spellman to be involved in a programme where the rest of the cast know each other so well but I think he earned his place in the show beautifully. The scene in which an emotionally-wrecked Matthew turned up on Karen’s doorstep having been expelled from school beautifully demonstrated Spellman’s range. Ultimately, judging from the first episode alone, it’s clear that any worries about Cold Feet’s return were unwarranted as this new series seems to have maintained all the qualities that made us fall in love with the show the first time round. More than anything else Bullen doesn’t seem to have altered what made us fall in love with Adam, Jenny, Pete, David and Karen the first time around and coupled with great performances from the ensemble means that Cold Feet’s sixth series is so much of a success that it really feels like it’s never been away.
Another show returning, albeit with almost an entirely new cast, is Tony Grounds’ combat drama with Michelle Keegan’s Lance Corporal Georgie Lane replacing Lacey Turner’s Molly Dawes as the central female soldier. But unlike Molly, Georgie isn’t a fish out of water but instead an experience female medic who won’t stand for any nonsense from her male counterparts. However Grounds takes his time on getting Georgie into action and instead the first third of the episode almost exclusively deals with her personal life and in particular her impending wedding to fellow army bod Elvis. The wedding day scenes do allow us to get introduced to the Lane family specifically Georgie’s proud parents Max and Grace as well as her two sisters. However things don’t turn out too well for Georgie as Elvis stands her up at the altar and his best man, the returning Captain James, has to break the news to her. The drama then picks up two years later with another encounter between James and Georgie this time with the former offering the latter the chance to work on a six week mission in Kenya. Although she’s quick to accept the offer, her latest posting doesn’t go down with new boyfriend and hunky doctor Jamie who doesn’t know about her being jilted at the altar. Despite Jamie’s misgivings, Georgie accepts the offer regardless and journeys with James’ platoon to a Kenyan refugee camp on the Somali border. Just in the first series Georgie is met with sexism from her fellow officers but deals with it quickly and I’m hoping that’s the end of it. What I liked most about this first episode was the way it focused on the refugee centre and in particular where Georgie was forced to spring into action quickly and without prejudice. There were several moments of tension such as when the centre’s head medic was kidnapped and later when Georgie had to aide a young boy who had maggots coming out of his mouth. However the main action set piece was reserved for the final scene in which Georgie, who was hospital bound with a patient, was herself kidnapped by a militant group. This edge-of-you-seat cliffhanger was brilliantly done and I hope it pays off in next week’s second instalment.
The first series of Our Girl definitely had its ups and downs and judging by the first episode alone its second run is plagued by similar problems. On the positive front, Tony Grounds has done an excellent job in creating a new and engaging lead character to fill the void left by Molly Dawes. It’s a show that shines a spotlight on a world that most of us don’t even think about and for that alone the show and everyone involved should be commended. As somebody who never saw much of her on Coronation Street my only exposure to Michelle Keegan was in Ordinary Lies where I felt she wasn’t really given a great deal to do. Here however I felt she anchored the series perfectly and made Georgie into a character you could both believe in and sympathise with. She particularly excelled at communicating how Georgie’s emotional turmoil had made her tougher and made sure that her character was a little more forthright than Turner’s Molly. Keegan was utterly believable in the scenes in which Georgie had to utilise her medical expertise and she did an equally good job in the action sequences we’ve come to expect and enjoy. Elsewhere I found that Jan Matthys’ direction was brilliant throughout especially when Georgie first ended the refugee camp as a sense of unease was created. I felt that Our Girl’s weakest element was its dialogue especially in the scenes which feature banter between the officers. It seems to me that Grounds really has difficulty in crafting naturalistic language between young officers therefore we get lines like ‘you’ve got moves like Jagger sir’. Just like the last series I do feel there’s too much of a focus on the protagonist’s personal life and I’m sure Elvis will pop up again in due course to try to sweep Georgie off her feet. However the good more than outweighed the bad during the first episode of Our Girl and I came away confident that Tony Grounds has produced another fine series which feels different from the cavalcade of crime and period drama that we’re given on a regular basis. The scenes in the refugee camp were particularly strong and I do feel that Michelle Keegan deserves particular praise for perfectly filling Lacey Turner’s army boots. I’m just now hoping that Our Girl can sustain the feeling of surprise that I got at the end of the first episode and produce something completely different from what we saw during Molly’s story.
Talking about the cavalcade of costume drama that populates TV at the moment it’s time to return to the Cornish coast for another series of the incredibly popular Poldark. After having watched the first few episodes of the series one I was plunged back into the world of Poldark when I attended a screening of this Sunday’s opener. From what I could ascertain Aidan Turner’s roguish protagonist wasn’t in good stead after standing trial for murder and looting, charges that had been put at his feet by his enemy George Warlaggen.As the trial in Bodmin looms, Ross is more interested in doing a spot of topless mining; which was one of the elements of the series that went down well with a certain part of the audience. So it’s left to Demelza to try and find someone of standing who will support Ross during his trial and save him from being hanged.That supporter may turn out to be Ray Peneven whose future nephew-in-law may turn out to be politician Unwin Trevaunancewho is running in a local election in Bodmin which coincidentally is occurring the same day as Ross’ trial. As all of the series’ prominent characters arrive in Bodmin, writer Debbie Horsefield amps up the tension as we the public wonder if Ross will ever be able to return to his mine again. Part of the reason Poldark is so well-loved is that it provides a sense of escapism which is enhanced by director Will Sinclair’s insistence to focus on the gorgeous coastline as much as he can. One of the unsung heroes of the revival has to be Anne Dudley whose sweeping score provides a great accompaniment to the gorgeous cinematography. It’s unfair to say that Aidan Turner’s popularity mainly comes from his impressive physical attributes however I do feel they contribute to its success. But I feel that Turner is good at playing the brooding, man of few words and that helps to make Ross a likeable hero albeit one with plenty of faults. As his feisty wife Demelza, I felt Elanor Tomlinson was particularly strong however the best performance came from Kyle Soller as Ross’ ineffective cousin Francis. It’s fair to say that by the end I couldn’t help but be swept up in the beauty and simplicity of it all. Poldark is a drama that does exactly what it says on the tin. Whether Poldark will face competition from ITV rival Victoria remains to be seen, but judging from the reaction at the screening and the success of series one I feel Debbie Horsefield’s drama will retain it’s Sunday night crown throughout the autumn.
Finally we turn to the last two of the sitcom pilots that were aired as part of the BBC’s landmark comedy season starting with We the Jury. The basic premise of We the Jury centres around Ed Easton’s cinema employee William who is presented with a jury summons on the day of his thirtieth birthday and finally gets to live out his dream of sitting as a juror. The comedy essentially comes from the fact that the majority of the jury believe that the defendant is already guilty and that the judge is on her last case and has given up on procedure. There’s also a silly recurring gag about a courtroom artist and as the episode develops we see William’s dream almost go up in smoke when he blurts out the details of the case to a girl he meets at a club. By the end of the episode the jury had achieved a small victory by getting the courtroom artist fired but I personally can’t see a full series with another five endings similar to this one. I do think that in a sitcom you can get away with a fair bit of dramatic license but not to the extent where none of your characters feel fully-formed. We the Jury is written by stand-up comic James Acaster who seems to have gone for gags over character development and plot which I feel are the keys to making a good long-running sitcom. We the Jury also squanders a talented ensemble cast by having each of them play a cavalcade of comic caricatures with very few of them actually making an impression. The only actors who were able to make something out of their wafer-thin roles were Sophie Thompson as the one juror who was taking her role seriously and Diane Morgan as the juror who really didn’t want to be there. In the lead role I found Easton to be particularly irritating and I never truly understood William as a character. Acaster included some backstory about William’s longing to be a juror was relating to his father’s incarceration which he attributes to a bad jury. However this is only briefly touched upon and therefore I don’t think I was given sufficient enough information to care about the characters. The main issue I had with We The Jury was that I hardly laughed once and I’d be incredibly surprised if this picked up for a full series especially as one member of the cast has hedged their bets and is appearing in two of these sitcom pilots.
The cast member in question is Diane Morgan who also crops up in a much meatier role in what is arguably the best pilot of the bunch; Motherland. Motherland certainly has the best comic pedigree seeing as two of its four writers are Sharon Horgan and Graham Linehan who between them have created some of the best sitcoms of the last twenty years. Motherland isn’t there just yet but certainly had a strong start especially in its opening five in which harassed working mother Juliais in rush to get her kids to school only to realise its half term. In fact this opening sequence was so good that the rest of Motherland couldn’t live up to it but thankfully there was still enough to like thanks to the wry dialogue of the piece. After discovering that she had no-one to look after her kids, Julia found herself spending the day with other mums in the desperate attempt to get some sort of childcare on the day that she needed to be at work. Motherland explored the hierarchy of the parenting world with Queen Bee Amanda and her friends at the top of the table. Conversely there wasMorgan’s Liz who was seen an outcast amongst the rest of the pack as she was a single mother and slept with the husband of one of the other mums twenty years ago. Liz’s only friend in the parenting world is stay-at-home dad Kevin who is desperate to be part of Amanda’s club even though they always ignore all of his needy e-mails. By the end of the episode Julia has alienated herself from Amanda’s group but has seemingly found herself two allies in Liz and Kevin.The majority of Graham Linehan’s sitcoms have all featured three outcasts who are all trying to survive the best way they can and he has done this again in Motherland. I do feel that this episode was a little rough around the edges as there was plenty of plot to get through before we ended up with what I’m assuming will be the sitcom’s central trio of Julia, Liz and Kevin. It’s also evident to me that Horgan’s input came in some of Motherland’s more awkward moments specifically the scene in which a hungry Julia starts eating leftover Spaghetti Bolognese at Amanda’s house. I do feel that the partnership between Linehan and Horgan is an interesting one and as a result Motherland does have potential. It’s also great to see Anna Maxwell Martin appear in a sitcom and I was amazed how gifted a comic actor she was especially in the episode’s frantic first five minutes. I also think she and Diane Morgan have an interesting chemistry that could develop nicely if Motherland were to be given a series. Due to the talent in front of and behind the camera I think it’s safe to say that Motherland will get a full series on BBC Two at some point in the future providing all involved agree of course. Whilst I did have a few problems with Motherland, of the five sitcom pilots it’s the one that stayed with me the most after watching it and I feel that’s a testament to both the writing and the fine performances from Maxwell Martin and Morgan.
Next Time: National Treasure, Hunted and Paranoid.