Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week Two: When Good Suranne Joneses Go Bad

Monday 12th January
It's a rare day in Top Telly Tipland when a soap wedding runs according to plan - where the bride and groom both turn up on time, the guests don't start fighting or the police aren't hiding in the vestry to arrest the best man. Or the vicar. Thus Molly and Tyrone's big day on Corrie at 7:30 on ITV is bound to be strewn with problems, thanks to Tyrone's over-complicated lifestyle. Particularly where crooked Pam is concerned. And that's apart from the twin problems of a harpist who's stuck on the motorway and the loss of the white doves which are supposed to grace the ceremony. Will the couple make it to the alter on time? And, if so, who is going to take Molly, roughly, up the aisle? Confused? You will be ...

Former Corrie star Suranne Jones has just about managed to exorcise the twin ghosts of last year's apocalyptically bad drama vehicle Harley Street and the awful fake-posh accent that she adopted in it to turn in an affecting performance as a young woman facing up to her criminal past in the three-part Unforgiven (9:00 on ITV) written by the great Sally Wainwright (At Home With The Braithwaites). Suranne plays Ruth, released from prison after fifteen years for killing two police officers as a teenager (blimey - that's hard, even for a kid from Weatherfield). Ruth searches for her young sister whom she hasn't seen since her conviction. There's a lot going on in this rather intriguing story, with a series of snapshots from seemingly unrelated lives weaving in and out of each other. Who, for instance, is the girl involved in a seemingly serious road accident? Is there really a poltergeist making mischief of itself in a remote farmhouse? All in all it adds up to a decent-looking mixture of something like Waking the Dead and Most Haunted. Things slowly start to come together, leaving the viewers interest sufficiently piqued to wonder what’s going to happen next. Give this one a try, you might find it pleasantly rewarding.

The much-anticipated seventh series of the real-time thriller 24 starts tonight on Sky One featuring the iconic Kiefer Sutherland as CTU Agent Jack Bauer a one-man armour-plated killing machine who never needs to go to the lavatory or eat. Yes, Jack's back and it's about time – the last series was two years ago, the writers strike having killed off the 2008 season. In the interim we've had to suffer the wretchedness that was the one-off "special" 24: Redemption (the less said about that abomination, the better). But, thankfully, we're now out of Africa and back on home boy turf in Washington for this season's white-knuckle ride into, frankly, total barking madness. As usual in this show, the entire US military-industrial-entertainment-complex infrastructure is under threat from sinister forces controlled by the spectre of Johnny Foreigners and his filthy foreign ways. This double episode begins with Jack appearing before a Senate investigation into torture. A subject upon which he is, of course, a World Class expert. Just shoot all them liberal-egghead-Communist-sandal-wearing-caravan-towing-craven-cowardly-give-peace-a-chance sons of bee-atches in the head, Jack, you know you want too. I wonder what it's like when the bloke goes down the shops - that must be fun and games. "Tell me in which aisle I can find the breakfast cereal or, believe me, I will kill you!" If you've not climbed on board this mad as toast rollercoaster of a drama before, now's as good a time as any. It's brash, big, over-the-top and the only show in the history of television in which a man (Jack himself, of course), managed to survive a nuclear explosion by "hiding behind a rock." If you don't get something out of 24 you're a lost cause!

Tuesday 13th Jaunary
Trinny & Susannah Meet Their Match at 8:00 apparently. Now, that's funny because I already thought they had since they’re being dropped by ITV after this series is over. In their latest show, the style gurus bring their expertise to three groups whose outward appearance reflects a specific, collective identity and then spend twenty four hours living their lives to understand why these people dress the way they do. Tonight, the gruesome twosome turn their attention to some country ladies - all pillars of their communities - including a town mayor, a local vicar, a Sunday school teacher and a bee keeper. Can they all be given a new look in time for the village fete? Do they want one or, are they just being forced to by the pressures of a society that seems to insist that "new" is always, inherently, better? Girls, listen, time to face facts. That in-yer-face nastiness was popular for about five minutes when you were doing What Not To Wear but it's got very old very quickly. Enjoy your well-earned "rest" from TV.

An unashamedly sombre and emotional episode heralds the start of the ninth series of the hugely popular CSI at 9:00 on Five as the team learns of the death of Warrick Brown, shot dead by a bent sherrif at the end of the previous series. It's brilliantly scripted and, as each of Warrick's friends and colleagues (including long-departed pouty-faced Sara) arrive at the scene, you might get a bit sniffly yourself. But there's serious work to be done – catching the killer. Which, of course, you just know they will. Later in the season we’ve got yet another departure - and this one is even bigger and more significant to the show's future: Gil Grissom himself, Bill Petersen is leaving. His replacement, however, is the great Laurence Fisburne in episodes which are just showing in the US now. So, I’ll have more news on how he’s fitting in later in the season by the time Five have caught up.

That master of trickery and bluff Derren Brown returns to Channel 4 in Evening of Wonders at 10:00. No, I don't know how he does his awesome prestadigitation either, but the man is - and I don't think this is in any way an overstatement - something perilously close to a genius of a showman. Tonight, he holds the audience of a London theatre spellbound with a series of increasingly remarkable routines. Derren, of course, states that he has no psychic ability whatsoever and that his act is entirely based around sleight-of-hand, auto-suggestion and reading body language, something which - literally - anyone could do with twenty years training like he's had. But if that's true then just how does he do what he does? Unlike David Blaine, for instance, Derren also has charm and a sense of humour and his shows are fast and dryly funny. I’m really looking forward to this.

Wednesday 14th January:
I doubt there'll be anything on TV with a greater “Ah!” factor this week than the scenes in which Breeze, a newborn elephant, splashes about in a Kenyan watering hole and playfully shoves her cousin into it in The Secret Life of Elephants - 9:00 BBC1. Breeze belongs to one of three extended families of elephants who are followed by the cameras – and the brilliant father/daughter naturalist team of Iain and Saba Douglas-Hamilton for this three-part series. So, that explains why Saba wasn’t doing Big Cat Diaries at the back end of last year, she was filming this. If you become easily affected by emotion, however, you might want to look away during a, genuinely, upsetting moment when a dead female elephant is - seemingly - "mourned" by members of its family on the savannah. They gather round the body, touching it gently and sniffing the air. A remarkable but distressing sight. However, it does raise the question of whether, in shows like this, we get a touch too anthropomorphic and start to suggest human characteristics and motivations for animals. Still ... baby elephants. Ah!

Now, if you’ve watched the last Top Telly Tip then, chances are, you’re something of a fan of elephants so you might want to avoid Could You Eat An Elephant? at 10:00 on Channel 4 who promise that it concerns the scoffing of “taboo-breaking foods, from songbird brains to dog's leg.” Posh chefs Fergus Henderson and Jeremy Lee tour around Italy, parts of Africa and Vietnam in a quest for recherché meats, the idea being that our British palates have narrowed to - essentially - pig, cow, sheep and chicken when globally the horizons are much wider. Too wide, you may think when you see some of Vietnamese canine delicacies on offer. Snake, though, looks genuinely rather tasty and it’s something of a food staple throughtout the Far East. The presenters, however, baulk at the idea of eating monkey because, as Henderson notes, "It looks like a butchered baby, a sort of battered child. It's just not on." Stick with elephants, then. But, not Breeze because that would be just wrong.

When he was BBC News's economics editor, Evan Davis was brilliant at painting the genuine complexities of the global markets and tough financal subjects in bright, primary colours that could be easily understood by even the thickest of viewers. Then he went off to Dragon’s Den and a potential lifetime of having the mickey taken out of him by Paul Whitehouse. In The City Uncovered - 9:00 on BBC2 – the big-eared and odd-eyed presenter returns to the world of the economy and aims his demystification gun at banking, tracing the turbulent rise and fall of two banks whose collapse has come to symbolise the wider catastrophe - Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers.

Thursday 15th January:
Music journalist turned record company mogul Paul Morley (a bit of a bore on a lot of those "The Greatest Thing in the World Evah" type shows of which he is a frequent talking-head guest but a very good writer) journeys back through time to revisit his own adventures and misadventures in fashion and meets the pop stars who, he feels, are responsible for the way he looks now in All The Young Dudes: Pop Stars and Fashion - 9:00 on BBC4. Paul seeks out the men who have influenced his fashion choices over the decades and finds a touch of himself in touch with the inner-glamour of Slade (get your mirror'd top hats out of the cupboard, lads, the Noddy revival starts here!), the prog-rock bombast of yer Jethro Tull, the glitzy silly-haircut androgyny of The Human League, the long overcoated rainy-day-in-Manchester sombreness of Joy Division and, most recently, the physics teacher-chic of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. Sounds rather fun like a lot of BBC4's pop-culture output is.

Victorian Farm - 9:00 BBC2 - is a historical observational documentary following a team who are attempting to live the life of Victorian farmers for a year. As autumn ends, winterproofing begins: Essential work against cold and frost. The team stock up on animal feed, Peter builds pigsties and Ruth tackles the laundry. The ram arrives on the farm to help produce lambs in the spring, and the team take delivery of a shire horse. The farmers celebrate a traditional Victorian Christmas with the friends they've made over the first four months.

An award is surely due to BBC3 for The Undercover Princes - 10:30 – quite possibly the tackiest and most conceptually patronising TV show of the year so far. And, even given that we’ve still for another 350 days to go, something is going to have to really try hard to beat this. If you haven't heard about it, essentially, it's The Sceret Millionaire meets one of those dreadfully crass US dating reality shows. Three bachelor princes from across the globe come to the UK in search of true love. However, to ensure that the people they meet will love them for themselves and not merely their wealth and status they are going undercover, living and working as ordinary people for the first time in their lives. They set up home together in Brighton, whilst beginning jobs as a barman, a waiter and a hotel chamberperson. Tensions emerge immediately between the gay Indian Prince Manvendra and very butch Zulu Prince, Africa. Sounds horrible. Looks horrible from the evidence of the trailers. Use your remote control wisely!


Dave Webb said...

Derren Brown: I'm in awe of this man. I do love the art of the con, and there aren't any better conmen than Brown.

How he does it is linked to his understanding of the human mind, and the fact that once you are in his presence you're generally - and it's a technical term - Pwnz0r3d and may have been under his influence since you booked tickets for the show!!!

So, there's that and, of course, there's the fifteen orbitting mind control satellites.

Keith Topping said...

It's something in the eyes - clearly.

In the 15th Century he'd've been burned at the stake, now we give him money!

This, ladies and gentlemen IS progress.