Monday, November 24, 2008

The Week in Focus (Top Telly Tips-Wise)

Welcome back, my friends, to the load of old hippy drivel that, literally, never ends. Or something... So, in the words of something with considerably more artistic integrity (and a much better guitar solo) "hey ho, let's go!"

Monday November 24:
This World: American Time Bomb
(BBC2 7:00)
No, this one isn't about the tragic events in Oklahoma City in 1995 as you might expect from the title. Rather, it is a documentary which asks if America is facing an even greater - and more potentially devastating - threat to its economy than either global and/or internal terrorism or the current meltdown of its banking system? David Walker believes that his country is about to drown in a metaphorical ocean of very real debt. He is so concerned about this impending nastiness that he has recently quit his - very well-paid - job as director of the US Government’s Accountability Office (in which he was known as - the excellently named “Comptroller General” - and no, that isn’t a spelling mistake, they’re Americans they do tend to go for grandiose and ludicrously over-the-top job-handles) in an attempt to raise public awareness of the issue. He believes that his message is, quite literally, the financial equivalent of Al Gore's dire warnings about the environment. I must say I don't know whether he’s right or he’s wrong but I did enjoy The Daily Show’s recent observation: The US now owes so much money to China, they noted, that the Chinese government are, quite legally, entitled to keep Americans “as their pets.” Matt Johnson, it would seem, got it wrong twenty odd years ago when he suggested that all the bankers were getting sweaty beneath their white collars "as the pound in our pocket turns into a dollar." It seems we should all be getting used to spending our hard-earned Renminbi Yuan. Mind you, "this is the Fifty First state of the P.R.C." doesn't have quite the same ring to it...

But, it isn't all bad news - Tony Robinson’s new popular science show, Catastrophe (Channel 4 at 9:00) investigates the controversial theory that numerous natural disasters have actually helped to shape human evolution. The first film looks at how Earth's chance collision with another planet led to the formation of the Moon which, in turn, made it possible for life to flourish and which, to this day, still affects things as basic as the motion of the tides. Alternatively, if you prefer something a bit less cerebral and thought-provoking and a bit more invasive and spiteful, there’s always the latest goings on deep in the heart of Ant and Dec's jungle in I’m A Z-List Former-Celebrity Who Is Utterly Desperate To Get My Boat-Race On TV For Long Enough So That You Viewers Remember I'm Not, Actually, Dead Yet. Please, Please, Please For the Love of God Vote For Me To Stay Here For As Long As You Like. Longer If Possible. I'll Even Eat Kangerooo Bollocks If Your Want... on ITV at the same time. Will Mr Kilroy-Silk manage to get through an episode without glowering, menacingly at the camera and grinding his teeth whilst seething and jibbering and bemoaning the manifest unfairness of him being sacked by the BBC whilst Jonathan Ross still has a job to go back to? Will Joe Cole’s girlfriend get through five minutes without bursting into tears again? Will Mr Sulu get to say “defensive shields up, Captain” at any point, particularly in relation to Martina Navratilova? Will busty Nicola manage to keep down the next thing she’s forced to swallow (steady on) and, if so, what will it be? Is the ex-copper going to actually do anything useful, like arrest those responsible for this tripe? Whose bright idea was it to put Timmy Mallett and the bloke out of Dollar in there? All these questions, and more, probably won’t be answered any time soon. Have we really got another two weeks of this nightly - admittedly, extremely addictive - nonsense to go?

In [Spooks] - BBC1, 9:00 - a teenage boy accidentally stumbles upon a massive pan-governmental conspiracy – as teenage boys tend to have a nasty habit of doing in this show - and is instantly absorbed into the murky world of MI5, MI6 ... and all of the various other MI Departments that we don't know about, ending up on the run. Hunky Lucas and the team battle to protect the boy from those who wish to silence him. Meanwhile, spymaster Harry receives a cryptic message from his asset in Russia, which could be the key to finding the high-level Security Service mole. But as ever things are not, always, what they seem to be. And, if you want to know what happens on BB1 next week, tune into the episode on BBC3 at 10:30 to find out.

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day.
"Irksome."
Causing vexation, annoyance or boredom; troublesome and tedious. A right bleedin’ pain in the posterior.
As in “Today’s great debate for our society: Jamie Oliver. Irksome or merely flaming irritating? You decide, people of Rotherham.”

Tuesday November 25:
Tonight’s Natural World (8:00, BBC2) is David Attenborough's entertaining romp through the world of “the cheeky monkey.” When humans look at monkeys we can - if we look hard enough - see ourselves. From memory to morality, from 'crying wolf' to political structures, monkeys are our basic behavioural blueprint. Thus, in tonight's show we get a glimpse of pygmy marmosets 'farming' tree sap; bearded capuchins in Brazil developing a form of production line for extracting nuts; other capuchins in Costa Rica tenderly nursing the victims of a battle and, in the Ethiopian highlands, a refugee baboon has got a serious dose of the blues. If he starts singing “woke up this morning,” I’ll be impressed. I think, on reflection, my favourite monkey has to be Peter Tork. Or, the one in the Brooke Bond PG Tips advert who was asked "Dad, d'you know the piano's on my foot?" Hang on ... come to think of it, that was Peter Tork, wasn't it? Certainly looked like him. "You 'um it, son, I'll play it."

An interesting alternative to The Scum vs Villareal in the Champions League – that’s going to be a question of who bursts into tears first - is provided by Five. High Society’s Favourite Gigolo (9:00) tells the remarkble story of the meteoric rise and subsequent fall of one of Britain's first genuine black superstars. Leslie Hutchinson was a singer, cabaret star and obsessive womaniser from Grenada who came to England, via New York and Paris, to seek his fortune. With his devastating good looks and a voice that stole many hearts, Hutch took 1920s and 30s London café society by storm, propelling himself to the very centre of the British establishment. He was a close friend of the Prince of Wales and Wallace Simpson. He was also bisexual, having relationships with, among others, the songwriters Ivor Novello and Cole Porter (who wrote ‘I’m a Gigolo’ for, and about, Hutch) and the movie star Tallulah Bankhead. Evelyn Waugh is alleged to have satirised Hutch as the social-climbing black upstart, Chokey, in his novel of 30s London decadance and the Bright Young Things, Decline And Fall. His many affairs also included members of the royal circle (including, allegedly, Princess Margaret who was thirty years his junior) and, most notably, with Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of Lord Louis. And then it all went wrong and he was socially ostracised after a scandelous court case in which Lady Mountbatten sued the Sunday People for suggesting that she was having an affair with a black man (albeit, the stupid glakes picked the wrong man and implied that she was "at it" with the noted actor and social activist Paul Robeson rather than with Hutch). This fascinating documentary looks at Hutch’s life and sad decline. The establishment, it appears, simply wouldn’t forgive him his trespasses after the case was settled and the Mountbatten's scuttled off to the continent to let the heat die down: Lord Beaverbrook gave orders that Hutch's name was never to be mentioned by any of his papers. During World War II, Hutch was one of the first stars in Britain to volunteer his services to entertain the Forces, but he received no formal recognition for this (unlike just about everyone else who did - certainly everyone white) and his name would never appear in any Honours list. He was reduced to performing at Butlin's holiday camps at Skegness, or in end-of-the-pier shows. When he died, virtually penniless in 1969, only forty mourners attended his funeral.

Darts Players' Wives - 9:00 on Sky Three - is a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of the women who simple cannot get enough of those veritable giants of men - the professional darters. These, self-proclaimed, ‘Tarts for Darts’ each spend tens of thousands of pounds each year following their larger than life heroes - like Phil The Power Taylor and Andy The Viking Fordham - around the world on the circuit to see them perform their darting magic on the oche with the arras. Double top and all that. There’s a joke about “it was in, but it’s come out again” in the middle of all that but, trust me, dear reader, I am NOT going there.

Sculptor Richard Serra discusses his extraordinary life and work with Alan Yentob in Imagine: Man of Steel (BBC1 10:35). A creator of enormous steel sculptures that terrify and mesmerise, Serra believes each viewer creates the sculpture for themselves by being within it. To this end, a Japanese family are reminded of the Temples of Kyoto, a Londoner finds sanctuary in the work near Liverpool Street station, and most movingly, a Holocaust survivor sees one piece as a wall separating the living from the dead. Always nice to see a bit of a debate on, exactly, what constitutes art.

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
"Malarkey."
Humbug, bunkum, nonsense; a palaver or racket. An event, activity, idea or utterance seen as utterly trivial, misleading or not even worthy of consideration.
As in “What’s all that malarkey masquerading itself as entertainment on The X-Factor, then?”

Wednesday 26 November:
Nick Knowles attempts to give Britain's urban spaces a bit of a makeover in Wild About Your Garden (BBC1 8:30). In tonight's episode, the team meet Mark and Fiona from Bristol, who wish for their unborn child to grow up in an environment surrounded by wildlife. Well, they could always go and live in Kenya, I suppose … bit of a radical suggestion there I know but, that’s me you see, always full of radical suggestions like that. Anyway, the only problem, it would appear, is their neglected garden which hasn’t been touched for twenty years. No, mine neither – do you know anybody who’ll do it on the cheap, Mark and Fiona? Designer Chris Beardshaw and wildlife expert Ellie Harrison are at loggerheads over whether they should try to entice badgers into the space. Personally, I'd start with a strimmer before I let the badgers have a go.


I rather like the sound of Combat Chefs (Five, 8:00), a documentary which profiles the men and women who are responsible for feeding the 120,000 British troops stationed overseas. From battlefield to banquet hall, the chefs are charged with the - often awkward - task of making hearty meals every day, whatever the weather or the military situation. Tonight, soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan are given a rare culinary treat meanwhile the heat is on (heh) for the chefs at a cookery competition on the Rhine.

I’m A Celebrity’s still going strongly (see Monday's rant for the latest goings-on) so, tonight Five use it as the basis for a documentary exploring the success of the popular reality show. I’m A Celebrity … Made Me Rich (10:00) features interviews with various past participants and backroom staff and examines the best tasks, traumas and tantrums that took place in the jungle, revealing how the series became a great opportunity for once faded stars to remake - or totally break - a career.

Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
"Plucker."
One who plucks.
As in, “I saw that Sting bloke playing his lute on the telly the other day. What a plucker.”

Thursday 27 November:
Film-maker Jane Preston follows various members of the Jackson Five from their native Los Angeles to search for a new home in the Devon fishing village of Appledore in Cutting Edge: The Jacksons Are Coming (Channel 4 at 9:00). I wonder if they asked her to show them the way to go? Cos then, see, she could have said it was easy. Easy as ABC. And if only, baby, they’d give her one more chance, to show them that she loved them … Remember, Tito and co, if you have to blame it on anyone, don’t blame it on Jane. Blame it on the boogie. Oooo. Ah, do you remember when Little Michael used to be ... normal? When the only bawdy joke you could make about any of the Jacksons was because one of them was called Randy? Those were innocent times.

Angelina Jolie – using the hardest working and most frequently injected lips in showbiz - talks frankly to Big Quiffed Marky Kermode about her film career in a Culture Show Special (BBC2 at 7:00). They discuss her impressive back catalogue - from her breakthrough appearance in Hackers, through her Oscar winning turn in Girl, Interrupted and Golden Globe nominated performance in A Mighty Heart to her current starring role in Clint Eastwood's very well-received Changeling. But is she going to give all that up to have more of Brad’s babies, that’s what everybody REALLY wants to know, isn't it?

The Oceans team explores a corner of the Atlantic - the youngest of the great oceans and critical in influencing our own climate at 8:00 on BBC2. Team leader Paul Rose, environmentalist Philippe Cousteau, maritime archaeologist Lucy Blue and oceanographer Tooni Mahto make a dangerous dive into a deep sea 'black hole' to discover how different our planet's earliest oceans were more than three and a half billion years ago. Someone reckons “it’s a bit rocky down there.” A bit rocky? It’s Rocky 1, 2 and most of the one featuring Mr. T if you ask me.

Today’s Top Telly Tip TV Word of the Day:
"Sequel."
Anything designed to follow something else - but which is seldom, if ever, as good as whatever it is that it's supposed to be following in the first place. As in “I don’t watch Match of the Day 2 personally. I don’t like sequels. Except for The Godfather Part II. But, that had Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in it rather than Adrian Chiles and Lee Dixon."

Friday 28 November:
Somebody once asked the US chat-show host Dick Cavett if he thought violence on television was responsible for the violence that is inherent in our society. "There's more comedy on TV than violence," he noted in his deadpan way. "Does that cause jokes in the street?" This is relevant directly in relation to a new sitcom, Parents of the Band – 8:30 BBC1 - starting tonight. It’s been far too long since Wor Big Hard Jimmy Nail brought his exciting (and often very entertaining) brand of country-influenced singing and cheery Northern manic-ultraviolence to our screens. In this show he plays Phill, who - autobiographically - once had a hit record in the 1980s and is now getting interested in his teenage son Jack’s new pop group. Much to Jack's obvious distress. Sounds ... different, at worst. Let us just hope this one is more like Spender or Auf Wiedersehen, Pet than the rank failure that was Crocodile Shoes. Because the latter would be really bad.

If, like me, you are a bit of a sucker for the mythology and jingle-jangle morning sounds of the golden era in Californian culture then Hotel California: LA from the Byrds to the Eagles – 10:15 BBC2 on Saturday – will be right up your Sunset Boulevard. Rock Journo Barney Hoskins (ex-NME) tells the story of how Los Angeles changed from a kooky musical backwater in the early 1960s to become the artistic and industrial hub of the American music industry by the end of the 1970s. And how the socially-conscious folk-rock of the earnest young hippies with their acoustic guitars and their peace, lurv and mushrooms, baby, was transformed into coked-out stadium excess with the lighters held aloft and all that bloated pomp-rock nonsense. Man. Features many of those involved - including, not only Mad Dennis Hopper but, also, all of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Gifted and Black. And the Eagles. Jeez, it's like punk never happened. NEVER TRUST A HIPPY.

Despite all the publicity generated by John Sergeant-Gate and Cheri - "should she stay or should she go-go?" Lunghi - The X-Factor has been pretty well creaming Strictly Come Dancing in the ratings all season. Which is, trust me, no cause for celebration for anyone with any taste. But it does, I guess, say something about something concerning life in the early years of the 21st Century. I suppose, if pushed to put my finger one over-riding a reason, I'd suggest that it's largely down to the soap-like dramas involved – like that lass who was voted off after being pictured making a "gun" sign with her fingers at the loser of a previous episode. Mind you, is winning the thing actually worthwhile these days? Whatever has happened to last year’s winner Neon Leon Jackson? Leona Lewis is still selling records by the oil tanker, it's true, but for every Leona there are several Michelle MacManuses (or is it MacMani?) out there ... breeding in the darkness. What do failed Pop Idol/X-Factor/Fame Acamdey people actually do with their woe-begotten lives once the cheering has stopped and Simon, Louis, Danni and Ashley Cole's bird aren't interested in them anymore? Back to the tills at Morrison's, I guess. Either that, or move to Iceland (... that's the Kerry Katona one, not the Bjork one).

The idea of Kenneth Branagh playing a Swedish detective sounds like the opening line of one of Eddie Izzard’s more bizarre jokes but in Wallender – 9:00 BBC1 Sunday – that’s exactly what occurs in this intriguing looking story of a series of terrifying murders in the beautiful town of Skane. What connects the suicide of a young woman and the lurid death of a government minister? Kurt Wallander's investigation uncovers corruption and dodgy-dealing which extend to the very heart of the Swedish establishment. Surely Bjorn and Benny can't be involved in all this? The first of three TV movies which are based on the – brilliant - novels by Swedish author Henning Mankel. Unfortunaterly, a lot of these kind of intense psychological tales don’t really transfer that well from the page to screen (look at Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, for instance - great novels, not all that hot as a TV series). If the trailers are anything to go by, Wallender looks much like Rebus, actually. Watchable, very well-acted and beautifully shot but, ultimately, rather Waking the Dead-lite. Which isn’t a bad thing to be, but I still prefer the original. Greatly. Verrily, bringest thou to me another series of thy goodly Trevor Eve and Sue Johnston vehicle, forthwith. And thence, letteth Sire Ken get ye back hence to showing thy American wretches whatest thy Brad ist about. Allegedly. Foresooth.

Allow me, also, to highlight once again just how good a sitcom Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s Outnumbered – BBC1 9:20 on Saturday – is. This week The Brockmans attempt to revive 1950s values by banning TV and computers for one whole Sunday. Pfft… Philistines. This frees up lots of quality time for explaining things like the facts of life and for playing traditional family games like hide-and-seek. Ben's headmaster seems strangely keen for him to take some time off school and Grandad comes to stay after something nasty happens to his kitchen. Just when you thought television would never produce anything remotely funny again, along comes something to surprise you. Although given that this is from the writers of Drop the Dead Donkey maybe we shouldn't be all that surprised.

Monday 1 December:
Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll: The 60s Revisited – 9:00 on Five – is a documentary series featuring never-before-seen footage of various iconic figures from the decade. Forty years ago, TV personality Bernard Braden (of Braden's Week fame) conducted interviews with some of the then-biggest names in British popular culture. Some of these people are now given the chance to look back at the interviews and reflect on them and upon their experience of the decade. The first episode features stars of music and fashion including Tom Jones, Cilla Black, Lulu, Simon Dee and Ossie Clark. But it's worth remembering according to lots of experts if you can actually remember the sixties then you weren’t really there. So, expect lets of umming and arring from those who, you know, did inhale.

From a retrospective look at celebrity culture to very much up-to-date averice telly as Filthy Rich and Famous – BBC3, 10:30 - explores the world of "celebrity" through the eyes of their closest relations and asks whether whether the cult of celebrity can turn out to be a poisoned chalice. Simon Cowell's brother Tony, Ryan Giggs's brother Rhodri, Elton John's brother Geoff Dwight and Jessie Wallace's sister Danielle Mason show us a slice of their life and reveal how different their - relatively ordinary - lives are compared to the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by their siblings. They say that money doesn't buy you happiness. That may very well be true but, frankly, I'd like to at least have a go at trying to be miserable and rich.

Both Panorama (BBC1, 8:30) and Power Struggles (ITV, 8:00) tackle the sticky subject of the energy crisis tonight. Well, it's that time of the year, I suppose. The latter asks why gas and electric bills haven’t been cut to match the fall in wholesale energy prices. Good question, and one that I'm particularly interested in hearing an answer to since my monthly electricity direct debit just went up from twenty five quid a month to forty two without any stopover in the seventeen quid in-between. The former, meanwhile, is more interested in the recent announcement that the government is ready to reopen several massive open-cast mines and wonders if "clean coal” can really be the answer to our long-term (or, even short-term) energy needs. Clean coal? That’s a contradiction in terms, surely? It's like alcohol-free lager. What next, pork-free pigs?

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
"Callipygian."
Pertaining to, or having, well-shaped buttocks.
As in Sophie Rayworth. Or, if you prefer, Sean Bean.

Be advised, dear reader, Top Telly Tips will return in December.
As will Santa Claus. Are these two things connected? Perhaps we'll never care.

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