So another week has passed and with it a bundle of TV highlights for me to cover but to be honest the past seven days have really been dominated by one programme.
That show is of course the returning I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here with the jungle antics playing out almost every night this week on ITV. With rumours coming thick and fast throughout the autumn of who’d occupy this year’s camp, I can’t say I didn’t think that the final line-up was that inspiring. Even for someone who watches TV constantly the likes of Joel Dommett, Jordan Banjo and Sam Quek had me searching through Wikipedia in order to compile the site’s I’m a Celebrity preview. But as I know from past years it’s not always the calibre of stars which make a great series with last year’s run being dominated by arguably the least recognisable face in Lady Colin Campbell. One surprise I did have was, after the initial pre-jungle tasks, all ten campers started the journey together with previous series having them separated into two initial sets of five. This meant that the bonding started earlier than usual and by the middle of the week all of the group had formed a cohesive family unit. With the lack of squabbles the theme of this series seem to shine a light on the uselessness of today’s milennials with the younger campmates having no idea how to cook or even start a fire. In fact the most resourceful members of the group seemed to be 55-year-old Carol Vordeman and 69-year-old Larry Lamb the latter of whom seemed to take to life in the wild the best. In fact Larry appeared to be the most popular camper in the first couple of days which is surprising seeing as a lot of commentators felt that he’d take the role of grumpy old man. Instead the public voted him as the inaugural camp president, shockingly polling better than the bookies’ favourite Gogglebox’s Scarlett Moffatt. However camp harmony looked to be shaken slightly by the arrival of latecomers Danny Baker and Homes under the Hammer’s Martin Roberts who were instantly made rival captains of two teams. But, despite the production team’s best efforts, I think the initial campers didn’t take their newfound rivalry all that seriously and instead it was up to Baker and Roberts to construct some sort of feud that I didn’t particularly buy into. Thankfully at least the newcomers spiced things up slightly and perked up what was up to that point rather a dull series.
In theory though the first few days of I’m a Celebrity were only dull if you tune into reality TV for bickering and showmances rather than a united spirit which is what we were offered. Whilst I don’t particularly watch to see people fighting all the time, I think my problem with the series is if there’s no drama then it all feels a bit formulaic. Each episode’s structure seems to be chatting, trial, chatting, dingo dollar challenge, dinner and finding out who’s taking part in the next trial. As somebody who has pretty much watched I’m a Celebrity since it started I’m a bit underwhelmed by the tasks as they all seem very interchangeable. So as much as I loved the comedy aspect of Wednesday’s Bake-Off spoof, Carol and Scarlett’s devouring of the customary anus and testicle platter did little for me. As there’s very little camp drama I also feel as if the tasks are being drawn out more especially in Wednesday and Friday’s shows which were incredibly trial-heavy. In my opinion the most interesting parts of the show’s first week were the intimate conversations that were conducted around the campfire. For example I loved hearing Larry Lamb talking frankly about his long lost daughter and Lisa Snowdon discussing the reasons behind her decision not to have any children. I think these are the reasons that I tune into reality TV as it’s interesting to hear the stories behind the famous faces that we’ve watched on the box for years. Despite what the press and producers seem to think, I don’t think even Danny and Martin’s arrival will stir things up in the long-term and I think Baker will grow on people as the series progresses. Aside from the celebrities intimate chats the most appealing part of I’m a Celeb is obviously the hosting from Ant and Dec; whose services ITV have rightfully secured for another three years. It’s their delivery of the excellently written scripts that makes I’m a Celebrity what it is and, with the lack of conflict in this year’s series, have almost become the antagonists of the group. This year’s running gag about Ant’s growing affections for Larry is also absolutely hilarious and with Martin’s arrival in the camp I’m hoping for a lot more Homes under the Hammer gags. Although not a classic year of the series, I think this year’s I’m a Celebrity has still produced enough highlights to keep me tuning in and with only a three week run every year it’s a show that never ever really outstays its welcome.
As the opening episode of I’m a Celeb always draws in one of ITV’s biggest audiences of the year, whatever BBC One aired opposite it was always going to lose the ratings battle. However I think they picked well, offering those who didn’t want to watch Carol Vorderman dangle over a hotel car park a more sedate viewing experience. That experience came in the opening instalment of five-part Irish wartime drama My Mother and Other Strangers, which actually may not have been as twee as it first appeared to be. Set in 1943, the drama is told from the perspective of ten-year-old Francis Coyne (Michael Nevin); a plane-obsessed youngster living in the small Northern Irish village of Lough Neagh. Francis’ parents Rose and Michael (Hattie Morahan and Owen McDonnell) run the local village store and pub therefore making placing them at the centre of the community. Recently things have changed in Lough Neagh with the arrival of an American Air Force Field meaning that the roads are now full of jeeps and the pub is regularly infiltrated by troops looking for beer. The American influence in the village gets a little close to home from Francis when a lieutenant takes a liking to his sister Emma (Eileen O’Higgins) which doesn’t go down too well with Michael or the other men of the village. The general hostility between the villagers and the American newcomers looks to be smoothed over by the appearance of Captain Dreyfuss (Aaron Staton) however it becomes clear that he and Rose are quite smitten with one another. My Mother and Other Strangers feels like a proper old-fashioned Sunday night drama what with its small-town period setting complete with local pub and small village store. That’s no surprise seeing as creator Barry Devlin is a Sunday night drama veteran having previously written for both The Darling Buds of May and the very similar Ballykissangel. I didn’t particularly have any big issues with the drama as it did exactly what it said on the tin and perfectly signposted the direction that the series was heading in with Rose’s head being turned by Dreyfuss to the extent that she eventually strays from Michael. Of the cast I found Hattie Morahan to be completely enchanting as the English beauty who has found herself trapped in this almost backward village whilst young Michael Nevin had a great energy as the young Francis. Adrian Shergold’s direction makes you feel like you’re almost part of the action in Lough Neagh and brilliantly captures the period detail. However I don’t think I’m particularly the target audience for a cosy drama like My Mother and Other Strangers and therefore I don’t think I’ll be sticking with the show past this opener.
Moving to this week’s other big BBC drama in the form of Rachel Bennette’s one-off adaptation of Zadie Smith’s novel NW. The story basically focuses on two childhood friends who have grown apart one; Natalie (Nikki Amuka-Bird) changed her named from Keisha after training as a barrister whilst the other Leah (Phoebe Fox) has more or less kept herself grounded. However, as is always the way, there are cracks developing beneath the facade of both of the lives of these young ladies. Despite having a lovely house and a wonderful family Natalie is lonely and seeks comfort from sexual encounters she has with strangers she meets online. Meanwhile Leah is pregnant and doesn’t want to keep the baby despite everyone including her French husband Michel seemingly feel it’s time for her to start a family of her own. As somebody who hadn’t read the book I wasn’t aware of the way the narrative splits its time between characters which totally startled me when halfway through the adaptation we were introduced to Felix (O-T Fagbenle). Felix’s story never really overlaps with those of Natalie or Leah however the film’s final scene does pay into his tragic fate. The other story that is told throughout the film is that of Nathan (Richie Campbell) a former classmate of Natalie and Leah’s who has fallen on hard times after a promising football career ended prematurely. Whilst I think the Bennette had a lot of work on her hands to attempt to adapt a large novel down into a ninety minute film it does feel as Felix and Nathan’s stories were trimmed down to suit the length. I never really felt connected to either man despite the fine performances from Fagbenle and Campbell as men at different stages in their lives. Overall though I think that Bennette did well in adapting such a complex novel which was about the area of Northwest London as much as it was about Natalie or Leah. Saul Dibb’s direction brought the high streets and tower blocks to life perfectly with the area almost becoming a character in its own right. Meanwhile I felt both of the lead actresses gave stunning turns particularly Amuka-Bird who beautifully portrayed Natalie’s loneliness which climaxed in a very effective flashback. Although I can’t see it being to everyone’s taste, especially given its non-conventional narrative, NW was a fantastic character study into the lives of two girls whose paths could’ve been a lot different. If you enjoy dramas character-led dramas with a sense of place then NW is definitely for you and I’m personally glad that I invested my time in it.
When BBC Three moved online there was a suggestion that all of the comedies that moved with the channel would appeal to a younger audience. Therefore I’m baffled to why new sitcom Sunny D debuted on the channel’s online platform as it started with a Cosby Show-style opening that nobody under the age of thirty would be able to identify. Sunny D has been created by stand-up comedian Dane Baptiste who plays a fictionalised version of himself; a dissatisfied late twenty-something who still lives with his parents. Early on Dane hankers for a return to his childhood of the nineties where you could tape songs from the radio and be comforted by the goings-on on Dawson’s Creek. I honestly feel that all of the nineties references would be lost on the younger demographic that BBC Three is supposedly trying to reach and I feel this one of the sitcoms main issues. In fact I do feel that Sunny D did skew very much to an audience of thirtysomethings who would recognise the references to Puff Daddy videos, Bill and Ted and Carlton Banks. In fact I think somebody at BBC Three watched this opener and told Baptiste that he needed to make Sunny D feel more contemporary hence a Kardashian gag being shoehorned into the last few minutes of the episode. But there are bigger issues with Sunny D starting with the fact that it’s another sitcom in which the lead character addresses the audience directly. I always find this is a cop-out as it is much easier for Baptiste to introduce the characters by having Dane explain all of their flaws ahead of their introduction. However the biggest sin that Sunny D commits is that it’s not very funny and this first episode, based around Dane’s father’s surprise birthday feels very old-fashioned in a lot of regards. From Dane being constantly being bothered by his extended family members to him getting drunk and accidentally proposing to his girlfriend there was nothing in Sunny D that I hadn’t seen before. I also didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable and I found some of Dane’s comments actively hurtful, especially through some of the insults he tossed in the direction of his twin sister. In fact the only positive I found here was the subtle performance from sitcom legend Don Warrington as Dane’s softly-spoken father. Other than that this was another BBC Three sitcom that in my opinion had very little merit but then supposedly, despite all of its nineties references, Sunny D isn’t a sitcom that should appeal to me anyway.
That’s your lot for now remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I’ll see you next time.