Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Top Telly Tips - March 2008

Well, I finally got my act together on this - I've been meaning to do it for about six months. Over the course of the next few days I'll be putting up some selected highlights from the Top Telly Tips slot from over the last six months or so. These are extended (and, sometimes, PG-16) versions of the daily previews I do for local radio in the North East.

Some of them are truly hilarious with a bit of hindsight (watch, with horror, as my early enthusiasm for The Invisibles and Bonekickers, for example, comes to pieces in my hands). Others, I stand by my preview comments totally, regardless of what anyone else thought!

So, let's start back in March. The weather was quite good then, I seem to remember.

2 March 2008:
An Island Parish 8:00 BBC2
I've mentioned this charming little show, about life on the Scilly Isles, previously. This week, we see how the islanders prepare for the long winter months when they'll have no tourists and, therefore, almost no external income similar to somewhere up here like Lindsifarne. Last week’s episode, about the opening of the island’s radio station - the smallest in Britain – was particularly good. Full of local colour and characters. Great stuff.

The Woman Who Stops Traffic 9:00pm Channel 4
Three-part series in which Kris Murrin (who she, you might ask? I don't know, frankly) takes on the challenge of persuading a town to leave their cars at home and go car free, for just one day. Her journey continues in Boston (Lincs, not Massachusetts), but she meets with apathy and opposition from the local council, community leaders and mums on the school run. Watched it last week and, I have to say, she really does come over as a thoroughly interfering busybody! Her heart might be in the right place but you don't win friends and influence people by name calling and having an "I'm right and you're wrong" attitude. Unless, like me, you ARE always right.

Mad Men 11:20 BBC2
Award-winning US drama about the cut-throat world of advertising in the early 1960s. Great cast (him out of Angel, her out of West Wing, etc!), loads of period charm, but why is it on so late? If it finds an audience I expect this to be this year’s big US cult hit. The music is especially great – the moment towards the end of this episode when they play Vic Damone and the Percy Faith Orchestra's version of ‘On the Street Where You Live’ over some gorgeous shots of picket-fenced American suburbia is like something out of a Scorsese movie. Hugely recommended.

3 March 2008:
Rock Rivals 9:00 ITV
New ITV drama starring Michelle Collins and Sean Gallagher as a married couple who are also the frequently bitching judges on a reality TV show (imagine if Simon and Sharon got hitched!) It sounds perfectly *dreadful* but will probably worth a shot for one episode if only to remind yourself that there is life after EastEnders.

Extraordinary People: The Fastest Man on No Legs 9:00 Five
The story of Oscar Pistorius who, with the aid of artificial limps, had become a multi-Paraolympic champion and can even give some of the fastest 100 metre sprinters in the world a run for their money. But now, he’s been banned from the able bodied Olympics this year because, they believe, he has an unfair advantage.

4 March 2008:
Eggheads – BBC2 6:00
A long running smug-fest, featuring five of the smuggest know-it-alls ever to appear on telly. If you had a device that measured smugness, the smuggly named CJ would break it with a smug overdose. His specialist subject is being smug. Pub quiz teams the length of the country line-up to give these smuggers a good quiz kicking only to be beaten daily by a quintet who, frankly, need to get out more. For I change, I suggest they have other pub related activies such as fighting in the car park after last orders. See who's the smug one then.

Phone Rage 9:00 C4
It’s estimated that at the current rate the average Briton will spend a year of their lives on call-holding whilst trying to get through to a call centre, listing to some cheesy music loop or an annoyingly bland voice telling them that, unfortunately, all of the operators are busy right now. This Cutting Edge documentary gives call centre workers the chance to vent their spleen. Well, they took the bloody job in the first place...!

7 March 2008:
Last Orders 9:00pm BBC2
Filmmaker Henry Singer tells the story of the Wibsey Workingmen's Club in Bradford. The club is struggling to survive, and members' worries for their beloved institution reflect larger anxieties about and within their community. With high unemployment, immigration, and the smoking ban, members feel their very way of life is under threat. Part of an interesting looking BBC2 season about the working classes in 21st Century Britain.

Guilty Pleasures - 9:30 ITV
An hour of various groups and singers doing cover versions of songs they'd normally be too cool to admit to liking. Sounds like potential car-crash telly so I'll definitely be watching. Highlight? Sophie Ellis-Baxter doing 'Yes Sir, I Can Boogie'! Let’s face it, you just don’t want to miss that.

Gagging For It - TV's Hunger for Radio Comedy - 10:30 BBC2
From Hancock and The Goons right up to Mitchell and Webb, TV has traditionally plundered whatever comedy radio has been covering for the past two years. This pocket history looks at the most successful (and unsuccessful) transfers ... and asks, when's Alfie Joey's Comedy Cuts going to make the transition?

Wild at Heart - 7:30 ITV
Last of the current season of what's being described in the business as "Heartbeat with Lions". Gentle Sunday night telly in the South African bush though you do wonder how much longer Stephen Tompkinson will be able to get away with that “sympathetic idiot” act he does? Maybe in the next series they should bring in Ross Kemp to make him look like an actor. It must be a tough job, though when the two leads are sometimes acted off screen by an elephant and a giraffe.

Wife Swap - 8:00 Channel 4
This is the American version: Tonight, a daring mother of a family of sideshow performers swaps places with a fashion conscious former Miss Teen. The Americans have managed to squeeze all the life and fun out of this series, but it's still oddly watchable and (very) occasionally feel-good telly. After all, let's face it who doesn’t enjoy watching extremely crazy people arguing with each other? Do you know anyone who would go on this show? If it were viewed from the future what on Earth would it say about us today?

10 March 2008:
EastEnders - 8:00 BBC1
Never far from glowering menacingly, Sean is perfectly disgruntled as he sees Max edging his way back into Tanya's life. Why are there no sympathetic men in this series? How come Max gets away with his lotharo act when he looks like an angry snooker ball? Sean could be a Prince Harry body double, Ian Beale’s never been sympathetic and what about his long lost son who doesn't know if he's Martha or Arthur and looks like a trainee goth with all the character of a door marked exit? Where have all the nice guys gone? Hang on … EastEnders? Nice guys? Nah … forget I asked…

The Fixer - 9:00 ITV
New six-part drama about a former solider released from jail and drawn into the activities of a shadowy organisation. Sounds bit like a watered down The Last Enemy without the quality of script, but it's got Tamzin Outhwaite in it so it'll be nice to look at at worst.

11 March 2008:
This World - Miss Gulag - 7:00 BBC
A Siberian woman's prison might seem an unlikely setting for a beauty pagent but staff believe it raises inmates morale. Among the contestants are Tatania and Yula in, respectively, for assault and heroin dealing. Will somebody try to use the tiara as a deadly weapon?

Mad Men - 11:20 BBC2
Have to mention, again, just how astonishingly good this US import is. Suberbly paced character-driven drama. If you liked, for example, The Sporanos or The West Wing, you will LOVE this. Also, note, if you don't fancy staying up till past midnight watching it, and you've got freeview, episode are also shown on Sunday on BBC4.

Dexter – 11:35 ITV
Another superb US import – and, again, given a graveyard slot due to content. It’s about a nice family guy who works as a blood patterns expect working for the Miami police department but has a secret life as a serial killer (but, and here’s the catch, he only kills murderers or rapists). There’s something really clever at the paranoid heart of this show about waht makes America in the 21st Century tick. It's fear, bascially. Very dark, very gory but also often very funny and occasionally quite endearing too. On late due to subject matter, but it’s worth a look at through your fingers.

12 March 2008:
Brainbox Challange - 6:30 BBC2
Another one of those early evening gameshows designed for people who desperately want to avoid The News at all costs. This one, at least, is quite amusing and is introduced by Clive Anderson which guarantees a few laughs.

Wonderland: The Curious World of Frinton-on-Sea - 9:50 BBC2
I think we've mentioned near enough every episode of this thrilling series on Britain's great eccentrics. Tonight sees the last episode of the series and concerns the - frankly barmy - inhabitants of the Essex seaside resrot of Frinton where, it seems, time stopped sometime in the 1950s! Let's have another series of this marvellous show, BBC.

13 March 2008:
Judge Judy - 6:15pm ITV2
New York City's outspoken family court judge Judy Sheindlin presides over a series of real-life cases and conflicts, trying to find solutions for all kinds of family issues. An episode I saw recently when I was in the US had a woman suing a fellow motorist for damages. I thought they said "fellow murderess". I though, blimey, Judge Judy's going up in the world!

10 Things You Didn't Know About Tsunamis - BBC2 8:00
Iain Stewart (fast becoming BBCs new James Burke) explores the phenomena of tidal waves. Good stuff this, doing something that - via Horizon and shows like it - the BBC has always done so well, making science intelligable to the great unwashed masses.

Pramface Babies - 9:00 Channel 4
Documentary following the trials and tribulations of four young expectant mothers. The featured women are just a few of the 8,000 who give birth at Liverpool Women's hospital each year, which is the biggest of its kind in Europe. A Cutting Edge doc which looks awful but will probably be very good – the one about the two abducted girls last week was fabulous television. When Channel 4 get this sort of thing right, it usually works.

14 March 2008
Sports Relief – BBC1/BBC2 From 7:30
I’m not really a big fan of these all night "charideee" events but there’s usually a few highlights worth watching amid all the crass sermons and the “give us yer money” stuff. Shearer’s great bike adventure, for instance, and A Question of Sport Relief hosted by Jimmy Carr leap out somewhat. Don’t forget, whilst the news is on at 10 o’clock there’s a Top Gear/Ground Force crossover. Should be funny. And controversial, at least with people whose sense of humour died from oxygen starvation a decade ago.

I’d Do Anything – BBC1 7:30
After the success of Maria and Any Dream Will Do comes the BBC’s gift to child slave labour, finding a new lead for Oliver! Barry Humphries as one of the judges should provide a few laughs. Graham Norton presents and the omni-present John Barrowman also shows up. Is there any truth in the rumour that the BBC now stands for Barrowman Broadcasting Corporation?

The Passion – BBC1 8:00
Four part retelling of the story of Jesus’s final week. Looks great from the trailers although the novelty value casting of James Nesbitt as Pilate might provide a few unintended laughs. Also, a quick mention of tonight’s South Bank ShowRevolution 68 – covering a really cool period of history and with a soundtrack to match.

17 March 2008:
Corrie – 7:30 + 8:30 ITV
So, Gail’s had this nasty tumble and the police are breathing down Jason’s neck over his role in the “accident”. David, you naughty little scamp, just tell ‘em what you done! Meanwhile on EastEnders - 8:00 BBC1 - has anybody noticed how downright evil that Christian’s smile is? It looks like a cross between Father Jack and somebody who’s just had a hamster run up their trouser leg.

Alternative Therapies – 9:00 BBC2
Professor Kathy Sykes investigates the complex world of herbal remedies, aromatherapy and reflexology which are becoming very popular. Tonight, hypnotherapy as an aid to quitting smoking and giving up chocolate.

18 March 2008:
The Diets That Time Forgot – C4 9:00
Nine overweight volunteers check into the Institute of Physical Culture to put some old-fashioned weight-loss plans to the test. More desperate food fascism brought to you by Channel 4 - a channel, let's remember, that is seemingly happy to broadcasts adverts from McDonalds and Marks & Spencer’s Instant Heart Attack range. Hypocrites.

CSI – Five 9:00
Last episode for a few weeks because they’ve hit the point where the writers strike kicked in. Radio Times are still claiming this is episode 11 “of 24”. Oh no it isn’t! Tonight’s plot is plain bonkers about a team of sperm-rustlers in the professional bull rider scene. No, really!

The Grumpy Guide to … Work – BBC2 10:00
Exposing the horror that is work – from having to write a CV and decipher meaningless management speak to tips on throwing a sickie. Is that a bit "ethically dodgy" for the BBC to be doing?

19 March 2008
Bill Oddie’s Wild Side – BBC2 8:00
Last in the current series of wildlife shows from that wretched beady little Communist who used to be quite funny thirty years ago but is now a sad embarrassment. Bit of local interest here as one of the location tonight is the Farne Islands looking at how the puffins are getting on. Hope none of them attack Bill cos, you know, that would be terrible.

The Curse of Steptoe – BBC4 9:00
Major drama about the awkward love-hate relationship between Harry H Corbett (The West Wing’s Jason Isaacs) and Wilfred Brambell (a scarily good Phil Davis) when working on classic 1960s sitcom Steptoe and Son. Written by Brian Fillis who did Fear of Fanny last year – another magical slaughtering of some TV sacred cows. Beeb4 are doing a series of these portraits of tortured geniuses – Trevor Eve playing Hughie Green, Ken Stott portraying Hancock and David Walliams as Frankie Howerd.

20 March 2008
Channel Five’s Big Night In!
Rough Guide to Cities – 7:30 Five
Travel series that visits top destinations around the world, presented – with real enthusiasm - by Julia Bradbury (so good in that Wainwright's Walks thing on the BBC recently) and former MTV presenter Toby Amies. Julia explores the cabaret and cuisine of Berlin whilst Toby learns to Samba in Rio.

House – Five 9:00
Fourth series of the award-winning Hugh Laurie vehicle about a rude, arrogant and brilliant surgeon. This year, House has sacked his juniors doctors so he hires about forty replacements and plays games with their minds. And, hopefully, they’ll finally give Lisa Edelstein something worthwhile to do.

21 March 2008
Hannah Hauxwell: Thirty Years On - ITV 7:30.
Daleswoman Hannah became famous in the 1970s when ITV featured her, and her simple but backbreakingly hard, lifestyle on one of their Real Lives documentaries. She lived alone - except for her dairy cows - on an isolated farm in North Yorkshire, without electricity or running water living on just a couple of hundred pounds a year. Yet her cheerful and pleasant outlook on life won the hearts of viewers. A follow-up documentary a few years cemented the public's love affair with her. Eventually she was forced to give up her farm due to her advancing age but she then featured in a delightful series - An Innocent Abroad - in which she toured Europe and America with a camera crew. This documentary catches up with Hannah once again, now in her eighties but still active, alert and, thankfully living in much more comfortable conditions these days in a little cottage in a village near her old farm. Truly excellent, inspirational and heartwarming stuff. Forget X-Factor and programmes like it which celebrate the meanness and ill-tempered nature of modern existence - everybody should watch this. Trust me, you won't regret it.

Dirty Sexy Money - 9:00 Channel 4
Peter Krause, best known as Nate from Six Feet Under, plays Nick, a do-gooding New York lawyer who enters into a Faustian pact with a billionaire – played brilliantly by Donald Sutherland. The deal is: Nick will work for The Man and his brood of spoilt rich-kids if the Sutherland character donates ten million dollars to good causes. So begins a fun, soapy family-saga. A kind of weird mix of House, Arrested Development and The Sopranos. Good stuff and guaranteed a cult following ala Desperate Housewives.

Dad’s Army – 8:00 BBC2/The Vicar of Dibley – 9:35 BBC1
Was the latter as funny as it’s ratings suggest? And, why does the former still get millions of viewers thirty years after the final episode? Discuss!

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - 9:00 BBC1
The great Anthony Minghella died on Wednesday. His final directing gig was this TV movie adaptation of the Alexander McCall Smith novels set in tribal Africa (and co-written with Richard Curtis). Filmed in Botswana (which, seemingly, did survive the Top Gear boys driving across it last year), this stars two of my favourite actors David Oyelowo (from Spooks and The Passion) and Colin Salmon (from the James Bond movies).

He Kills Coppers - 9:00 ITV
London 1966. The era of Harry Roberts and the Krays. DC Frank Taylor is an ambitious police officer weeks away from his dream posting to the Flying Squad. Life hasn't treated ex-Borstal boy Billy Porter well since his national service in the Far East. The lives of these two men become inextricably linked on the day after the World Cup Final. Stars the excellent Rafe Spall among others. Looks tremendous, a kind of Our Friends in South! Made by the same team who did The Long Firm for the BBC a couple of years back.

24 March 2008
As Likely Lad Bob Ferris once noted "in the chocolate box of life, the top layer’s already gone and somebody’s nicked the orange crème from the bottom."

Corrie – 7:30 + 8:30 ITV
Leanne ropes Paul into a dodgy new scam involving burning down the restaurant. There’s no smoke without fire. David, meanwhile, is horrified when he finds out that Gail’s memory of the, ahem, “accident” may return.

Shops, Robbers and Videotape - 10:00pm Five
Second in a two-part documentary using CCTV to explore the ongoing fight against crime in Britain. Featuring incredible footage of thieves in action, the programme how the police and in-store security teams are fighting back in ever more sophisticated ways.

25 March 2008
According to Steven Fry, reviewing television shows is the most pointless occupation in the world. Quite right too. Welcome, therefore, to two more minutes of utter pointlessness.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire - 8:00pm ITV
Chris Tarrant presents as ten hopeful contestants compete for a place in the hotseat and the chance to walk away with a top prize of one million pounds. This used to be really good. It isn’t now! You really need to watch this on Sky+ so you can fast-forward through all the waffle and get to the questions.

Johnny's New Kingdom - 8:30pm BBC2
O Badger, Where art Thou? Following the adventures of Johnny Kingdom, wildlife cameraman, he builds his own nature reserve. It's early June and Johnny still hasn't seen any badger cubs. Armed with his friend's invention, he looks underground.

Hotel Babylon - 9:00pm BBC1
Hollywood has come to town and the team is forced to handle the egos of the latest botoxed-box-office pairing who are filming at the hotel. As Gino and Ben compete for the director's attention in a bid to get 'noticed', Jack has to keep the bickering movie stars happy in order to secure their on-screen chemistry and prevent the sponsors from pulling the plug on the film. John Barrowman (to quote Father Ted “is that gobshite on television AGAIN?!”) guest-stars.

26 March 2008
Storm Chasers - 8:00pm Five
Filmmaker Sean Casey and research meteorologist John Wirman risk life and limb to track and film tornadoes. The storm chasers track an enormous mesocyclone across a desolate expanse of land. A difference of opinion between the team leaders results in a panicked retreat from a gathering storm.

Natural World - 8:00pm BBC2
Elephant Nomads of the Namib Desert. Martyn Colbeck tells the story of two baby elephants struggling to survive. Their first six months are critical in the starkly beautiful deserts of Namibia. This is the most endangered elephant population in the world - it was devastated by poaching in the 1980s, so every new calf is vital. When rivers disappear underground, their survival depends on the females who lead their young from one remembered food source to the next. Remember that the next time your young’un is begging for some pop.

Desperate Housewives - 10:00pm Channel 4
Black comedy drama set in suburban America. This opening episode of the fourth series finds the neighbourhood shocked as the news concerning Edie spreads through Fairview. Lynette is battling the effects of chemotherapy, and a new family arrives in Wisteria Lane. I love the cynicism and sheer nastiness of much of Desperate Housewives and maybe that’s the reason why it has such a cult following. Or, it might just be Teri Hatcher. Either way, this is always “make a date” TV.

27 March 2008
Did you know that the BBC’s motto is And Nation Shall Speak Peace Onto Nation? Remember that the next time Arlene and Bruno are having a right ding-dong on Strictly Come Dancing.

Holby Blue - 8:00pm BBC1
Drama series about the police officers and CID unit of Holby South. John and Luke work against the clock to discover the source of a deadly batch of drugs. Robert realises he wants to be a part of his son's life. I've been quite enjoying this recently although I understand the ratings are pretty poor.

House - 9:00pm Five
Hugh Laurie continues to be jaw-droppingly brilliant as the maverick, anti-social New Jersey doctor. In tonight’s episode he treats a fighter pilot whose confused vision and hearing causes her to hallucinate. Meanwhile, he begins the process of whittling down forty applicants to become his new team. The House/Wilson scenes are a weekly delight for anybody that revels in wry, witty, intelligent humour.

My Name Is Earl - 10:00pm Channel 4
American comedy series starring the excellent Jason Lee charting the misadventures of small-time crook Earl, who after winning the lottery tries to make amends for his past misdeeds. There's a nice "feel-good" element to this show which makes it worth sticking with through some, occasionally, dry and arid spells.

28 March 2008
Benidorm - 9:00pm ITV
Everybody's back at the Solanas for more sun, sangria and swinging - including Madge's new boyfriend Mel, Didsbury's answer to Julio Iglesias. This hilarious Johnny Vegas vehicle makes a virtue of it’s “1970s sitcom” set-up and character and – often – it’s equally dated jokes. Bawdy, daft and usually side slittingly funny. It’s immediately followed at 9:30 by another new dysfunctional family sitcom, Teenage Kicks, this one starring Ade Edmondson whose been away from our screens for far too long. ITV sitcoms, eh? Like London buses you wait ages for one then two turn up at once.

Time Team - 4:45pm Channel 4
Having enjoyed a fascinating trip up this neck of the woods to Hamsterley a couple of weeks ago Tony Robinson and the team end their current season with a trip to South Wales in search of King Harold. Here’s a little bit of trivia for you, in relation to I’d Do Anything. Tony Robinson was the second actor to play the Artful Dodger in the original 1960 stage production of Oliver! The third, was Davy Jones of The Monkees who'd just finished a stint on Corrie as Ena Sharples grandson. There you go, you learn something new every day form Keith Telly Topping and His Top TV Tips.

Around the World in 80 Gardens – 9:00 BBC2
Monty Don concludes his extraordinary journey with a tour of South East Asia, on a quest for the real tropical garden. A nice, gentle, flowery end to the weekend and that old Back to Work on Monday feeling.

31 March 2008:
Coronation Street – 7:30 and 8:30 ITV
Leanne finally persuades somebody – specifically Paul – to burn down the restaurant as part of hugely over-complex insurance scam-type affair. As the inferno rages, will someone Copper's Nark on her and stitch her up like a kipper. She’s led an interesting life, that lass – she’s been a prostitute, a drug addict, a blackmailer, held hostage in an armed robbery in the Rovers and imprisoned in the boot of a car. And worst of all she was Nicky Tilsley’s girlfriend.

University Challenge: The Professionals - 8:00pm BBC2
One of best things about this spin-off is the size of the egos. By and large, students haven't had a chance to assemble enormously high opinions of themselves. But once you get to accomplished men and women of the world - doctors, lawyers, hawkish civil servants - the egos are there for the bruising. Grown men and women who wouldn't quail before a high-court judge or whilst having a cardiac arrest start to freeze in the glare of Paxman's headlights. It's TV gold! First up is a team of Scottish barristers against four hospital consultants who work at the Royal Bolton Hospital. "Come on!"

Delia - 8:30pm BBC2
Delia shares quick curry recipes - chicken Masala, coconut Sambal and Thai green prawn curry. Away from the kitchen, Delia opens a Deli with the daughter of the late, great Radio One DJ John Peel, who once described Delia as the most uncool person he had ever met. Though, did you know she cooked the cake featured on the cover of The Rolling Stones Let it Bleed LP? Oh, you did. Fair enough...