Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Week Four: What's More Appertising Between Two Slices of Bread, Fiona Bruce Or Jamie Oliver?

And so, dear blog reader, we reach that funny time of the year (that's 'funny peculiar' rather than 'funny ha! ha!' per se) shortly after 'Blue Monday' when staying in bed all day, every day suddenly seems like not only an option but, actually, a valid lifestyle choice. All the enthusiasm, drive and hope that we had coming into the year has pretty much dissolved and evaporated in a cloud of gloomy indifference. You don't know whether to be apathetic or not about life and, frankly, you don't much care. The weather's been crap and looks likely to remain crap for some months to come; your football team's already out of the FA Cup and just two points above the relegation zone and you don't know where the next point is going to come from; it looks like you might be out of a job before the end of February and you can't even be bothered to do the one you already have most of the time. Getting as drunk as skunk on junk might help a bit but that isn't really an option either because you're pink-lint. Your back is playing up something rotten, as is your knee and you've developed a really annoying limp whenever it rains - which is most of the time, of course - and you've got this niggling pain in your chest and down your left arm that might be indigestion but, if it is, it's the longest recorded case in medical history. You feel like crud all the time and there are some mornings where you can barely be bothered to get out of bed to make a cup of tea. Not that you've got enough money for the electricity to switch on the kettle to make a cup of tea, of course. And, even if you did there's no milk in the fridge (and you're down to your last tea bag). You can't even really afford to get the bus up to Morrisons to stock up on a few essentials because, like pretty much everyone else in the country who isn't a member of royalty or in the Celebrity Big Brother house, you currently haven't got a pot to piss in ... despite, apparently, owning several banks. The once affluent, open and (relatively) safe Western Democracy in which you live feels, suddenly, like it's a part of the Third World - and in some respects, part of the Soviet Bloc - and everybody you meet on the streets is aggressive, depressed and looking for easy answers which, seemingly, do not exist. Plus, there are seditious hippies with their sinister agendas at work telling you that you can't do this, you can't do that (you can't go forward, you can't go back). Do you know that sort of feeling at all? Yeah, me an'all. Frequently. Well, British telly usually has a big - conceptual - dose of it sometime around week four every year. And you'll be delighted to know, I'm sure, that 2009 is no exception.

Friday 23 January 2009
Is TV Too Rude? is a question that I get asked in the course of my work about once every day. My normal reply is, “sh*t, no” … usually with an even stronger expletive of contempt afterwards just to reinforce the point that TV might not be but, TV reviewers, generally speaking, are. Take Charlie Brooker, for instance. On Tonight, at 8:00, ITV get in on the act. "With sex, gruesome violence and profanity a norm in TV schedules" (allegedly), this programme sets out to explore whether or not broadcasters have "gone too far" in stretching the boundaries of taste and decency. Hang on, can we just go back to that statement? Where? Please show me where, exactly, sex, violence and profanity is anything even remotely close to being "a norm" on British television. This is one of those crass and utterly ridiculous comments that gets trotted out every so often by some ill-informed glake - usually writing to the Daily Mail website and with no supporting evidence whatsoever - and yet many seemingly sensible people still buy into it as accurate. Well, what I say is what a right load of old codswallop. Take my advice as somebody who watches a hell of a lot more TV that you probably do (what can I say? It's my job). Try tonight, as an average night of British TV, to find an example somewhere of proper sex, proper gratuitous violence or real, genuine, offensive-to-most-people profanity anywhere on British television - certainly pre-watershed. You'll be looking for a long time before you find even one, trust me on this. Still, why be balanced and considered in relation to important matters of discussion such as this when you can spout headline-grabbing trashy hyperbole and blatant lies instead? Congratulations Tonight, it's taken you three weeks into the New Year but you've managed to make me even more cynical than I already was in 2008. Well done. Jolly well done. I hope your mothers are all really proud of you. Scum.

Speaking of rude telly (and, you simply have to wonder if this, specifically, is why ITV have scheduled the preceding show for broadcast tonight of all nights), we've got the return of Friday Night With Jonathan Ross - 10:35 BBC1 - with a guest list that includes the wonderful Stephen Fry, Lee Evans (who I think's a bit over-rated, personally, but I know he's very popular), the world's best Big Country tribute band Franz Ferdinand and some bizarre teeny-tiny person named Tom Cruise. Get your complaint forms ready just in case Wossy sneezes in the wrong place. They're already available from the Daily Mail website, apparently. Sinister agenda-based conspiracy from right-wings thugs? You may well believe that. I couldn't possibly comment.

Saturday 24 January
I’ve mentioned Qi a couple of times this season on Friday nights and it's been - as usual - awesomely tremendous so far. (Not to mention just a bit rude in a thoroughly satisfying way that's guaranteed to get up the noses of the average Daily Mail website reader.) It’s only fair, therefore, that we should also highlight Qi XL - 10:30 BBC2 – which are the extended versions of the Friday episodes (about fifteen minutes longer in most cases). Tonight, Stephen quizzes Alan Davies, Phill Jupitus, Jo Brand and first-time guest Mock the Week's Hugh Dennis on all things French. Did you see Johnny Vegas's performance last week? Outstanding. In reply to Pam Ayers' complaint that when she joined the R.A.F. and they asked her what she liked doing, she replied "drawing" so they put her in a tech-drawing and mapping department: "Same thing happened to me when I went to school," noted Johnny. "They said 'what do you like doing?' I said 'maths' so they put me in a maths class. Couldn't they see I was built for dancing?"

Sunday 25 January
A much more serious subject is dealt with in what appears to be, anyway, a suitably sensitive and dignified way in A Short Stay in Switzerland - 9:00 on BBC1. This is a dramatisation of the true story of Dr Anne Turner, played by Julie Walters, who took her own life in a Zurich clinic, surrounded by her children. Her ("assisted") suicide made headline news in the papers and television around the world. This film is inspired by Anne's journey to her death; it's not an easy one to view by any means, but it's an incredibly touching and human one. I hope this gets a good audience because it's a subject that requires a serious - and more importantly informed - debate.

The fifth season of the popular American serial-drama Lost commenced in the US on Tuesday. It's one of my particular favourites and I know many listeners to Top Telly Tips and, indeed, many readers of this blog, have also been captivated, charmed and intrigued - if, occasionally, annoyed - by its many twists, turns, cul-de-sacs and general strangeness. The first two new episodes in the best part of a year are shown in the UK on Sky One on Sunday (and they've been a long time coming). If you've never seen it before, then where the hell have you been for the last four years?! Get yourselves to a DVD shop and buy all four previous seasons, you'll thank me in the long run. Lost, for the uninitiated, tells - in a series of very unusual and admirably non-linear ways - the stories (past, present and sometimes even future) of a diverse group of survivors from a fictional air crash - Oceanic Flight 815. And, of the damned strange island upon which they find themselves. (It, seemingly, took many viewers the best part of four seasons to work out that the island, itself, is actually a - major - character in the on-going drama rather than merely its setting.) Several of the character were rescued and/or left the island at the climax of last season. These included some of my favourites characters, the complex and driven Sayid, the humourously good-natured Hurley, the sinister-but-funny Ben and, tragically, that thoroughly boring bastard Dr Jack. At least, though, all Lost 'shippers fanatasies were well fulfilled when the wonderful Desmond and his long lost girlfriend, Penny, were reunited in one of the most touching scenes on TV in many years at the climax. Those who are still stranded (led by the series' best character, the fantastic bad-boy-with-a-conscience Sawyer and duplicitious-bitch Juliet) have, seemingly, disappeared to an unknown location (and an unknown time) along with the island they inhabit. According to Lost's Executive Producer Damon Lindelof, the season is going to be all about "why [the people who have left the island] need to get back there." Seventeen episodes this year, seventeen more next and then it'll be gone, forever. Cherish Lost whilst it's still here because, like the island on which the majority of it takes place, you might never find another one quite like this.

Monday 26 January
Bill Gates: How a Geek Changed the World - 7:00 BBC2 – is a special one-hour edition of The Money Programme profiling the man who has (quite literally) changed the world that we live in but who has also sparked major controversy due to his, alleged, ruthless business leadership. Every single person reading this blog, for example, has had their lives changed (directly) by Bill Gates. If not, necessarily, by myself. Ah well, it's my cross, I can bear it. That pouting vision of mature and minxy loveliness, the thinking man's totty Fiona Bruce gained exclusive access to Gates as he prepared to step down from his full-time involvement with Microsoft in June 2008. I'll tell you what, I'd be thoroughly prepared to give her exclusive access to me if she wanted to tell The Keith Telly Topping Story in her sensitive and dignified way. One can dream, can one not? Dreaming, as Blondie once said, is free. 'bout the only thing in this country that is free anymore. Here, Fiona presents the definitive profile of Gates as he embarks upon his latest challenge - that of giving away the billions he has amassed. Hey Bill, if you've got a few thousand spare and lying around the house, marra, I'm just a click of the mouse away. Genuinely. I'm not greedy. Here's a thought for all readers: Bill Gates, John Logie Baird and Hitler - the three men who definitively shaped the 20th Century (not for the same reasons, obviously). Anybody got any other suggestions? Who will be the three men who will defintively shape the 21st? Clarkson, Hammond and May? Don't bet against it, frankly.

The world is affected by an obesity epidemic, as we are reminded on an almost hourly basis by various gobby know-all experts. (The definition of an expert, of course, is "someone who knows more and more about less and less until, eventually, they know everything aobut nothing.") But, why isn’t everyone succumbing to this epidemic? Errr … because they’re not eating as much as those of us who are? Or, is that far too simplistic an answer for TV? Anyway, Horizon: Why Are Thin People Not Fat? - 9:00 BBC2 – suggests that medical science has become obsessed with this subject recently and is coming up with some unexpected answers to the question. It turns out that it’s not all about exercise and diet. See! That’s what I’ve been telling people for years – finally, some vindication. At the centre of this programme is a controversial overeating experiment which aims to identify exactly what it is about some people that makes it hard for them to bulk up. Pfft. Lightweights. I mean, literally...

It’s the last part of Unforgiven - 9:00 ITV – Sally Wainwright’s quite superb thriller starring Suranne Jones and concerning the effect that a woman's release from prison has on three seemingly unrelated families. This has been brilliant, frankly. In the final episode, Ruth opens her heart to Izzy and offers up some shocking revelations about her past. Emily's plan to reunite Ruth with her sister works, but not in the way she would have wished. Ruth is forced to approach Lucy when Steve bungles his revenge plot. Will a desperate Steve find a way out of the chilling mess he has created?

Tuesday 27 January
In Oz and James Drink to Britain - 8:00 BBC2 – the lads cross the Irish Sea. Having had enough of whisky in Scotland (how can one ever have ENOUGH of whisky?) they decide to concentrate on Irish beer and head to a genuine Dublin landmark, the Guinness brewery. The only problem is Guinness is one drink that James really doesn't like. Me neither, actually. Too thick, I've always found. It’s like drinking gravy. Only, you know, Guinness flavoured, obviously. I've been enjoying Drink to Britain so far, however. It has a very amiable, gentle quality to it that sets it far apart from similar gastronomic travelogues.

The Culture Show - 10:30 BBC2 - comes from the Old Fruitmarket in the heart of Glasgow's Merchant City, one of the main venues in the city's Celtic Connections festival. To mark the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns' birth, they've brought together some of Scotland's finest actors to perform Burns' most striking and rarely celebrated works. Wor Luscious Lovely Lauren Laverne also profiles British theatre's rising star, the director Rupert Goold whose controversial Liverpool/Everyman production of King Lear - starring Peter Postlethwaite - comes to the London and the Young Vic on 29 January. Plus, the world's best Big Country tribute band Franz Ferdinand perform material from their "much awaited" (not by me, I hasten to add) third CD. And, Big-Quiffed Marky Kermode has a look at this week's big cinema releases (including, hopefully, Frost/Nixon).

The sixth series of the darkly comic Shameless starts tonight at 10:00 on Channel 4. After Ian is attacked, he is left wondering how he could have provoked it. Well ... let's examine this - he’s a Gallagher and he’s gay whilst living on a rock-hard Manchester estate, I'd've said a brutal kicking kind of goes with the territory for the poor lad, doesn’t it? After being beaten up for a second time, Ian is hospitalised and wakes up with amnesia. As Debbie turns sixteen, Tom decides that the time is right to go public about their relationship. Kelly has bad news for Shane concerning her pregnancy, whilst Frank and Monica are faced with an almost impossible challenge. The latter is a particularly great subplot about Mad Frank trying to find at least one "good" person on the Chatsworth Estate to prove a point to pouty Stella. It's one of the funniest (and yet, oddly, one of the most touching) things they’ve done in years. Ah, it's really good to have this one back.

Wednesday 28 January
Mark Dolan comes face to face with some of the world's most incredible humans in The World's Cleverest Child and Me at 10:00 on C4. In the first of four documentaries, Mark attempts to find out whether their amazing mental capacities are a product of nature or nurture – so, this is a blatant rip-off of the BBC’s The Making of Me from last year. Hey, Channel 4, make up your own ideas, eh? Oh no, hang on, this is Channel 4 we're talking about, that's a complete contradicition in terms.

Grand Designs - 9:00 C4 - is the property series which follows householders as they build their own homes. And, in today’s harsh financial climate that’s looking like an increasingly good idea to many. Anyone know where I can get some bricks and mortar, cheap? In this episode, Sarah and Dean Berry return to their native South Wales from London, attempting to restore an 18th Century hilltop castle near Newport. Yeah, I had a feeling it wasn't going to be, you know, normal people from a council estate, say, renovating their normal two-up-two-down house. Because, of course, as all Americans know, everyone in Britian lives in a castle...

Unfortunately on very late, 1929: The Great Crash - 11:20 on BBC2 – is a documentary (repeated from last Saturday) exploring the causes and effects of the Wall Street Crash. Over six terrifying days in October 1929, shares crashed by a third on the New York Stock Exchange. More than twenty five billion dollars in individual wealth was lost. Sound familiar, any of this? Later, three thousand banks failed, taking many people's savings with them. Surviving eyewitnesses describe the biggest financial catastrophe in history (to date). And you know what the biggest selling song (in sheet-music terms, anyway) was in the US for about the next two years? Brother, Can You Spare a Dime. Chilling.

Thursday 29 January
It’s been a while since we mentioned The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (8:30 on More4) which is big favourite of all of those on the Top Telly Tips slot. It’s back after a deserved break for Christmas and still hitting hard in all directions, with its slogan "One anchor, five correspondents, zero credibility!" Their current favourite target is the strange-haired Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (always over-pronounced in amusing Jerry Lewis fashion by Stewart), currently facing a raft of corruption charges for, among other thing – allegedly - trying to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder. But that brings up an interesting point, how – exactly – are Jon and his team of writers and colleagues going to deal with the Obama administration? Will they get as much comedy material as they got with the last lot, for instance? I mean, Hillary has her odd Sarah Palin-like moments, it's true, but most of the rest of them seem vaguely sensible. That's, presumably, why they've got the lovely John Oliver on hand, to provide a bit of good old fashioned British cynicism to the mix. (I did enjoy Oliver castigating Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News last week for doing exactly that when he was interviewed on the subject of how long Obama's honeymoon period with American satirists was going to last!) It’ll be interesting to watch what calamities the Democrats provide them with. It’s certainly noticeable that every time The Daily Show has featured a clip of the departing George Bush or Dick Chaney recently, Jon’s usually followed it with an almost heartbroken comment along the lines of “I’m gonna miss you guys SO much!” I also love the occasional segment they do where Jon tries to deal with various youf issues, Jon Stewart Touches Kids! And, again, it's worth pointing out that, all World Class comedy moments aside, this is primarily a political show (which happens to feature jokes). Their various discussions on the complexities of the conflict in the Gaza Strip and on the potential for Israel to be accused of war crimes, for example, was one of the most balanced and well-presented pieces on the subject I've heard - stripped of much of the immotive language and hand-wringing that, say, the BBC's Newsnight or Channel 4 News often brings to the table on this issue. The general consensus of Stewart and several of the show's guests was that the ceasefire will happen wholly on Israel's terms, but that nobody has any power (or, more accurately, any political will) to force Israel to do anything that it doesn't want to. Least of all, the knackerless UN. The only external power which ever effects Israel's foreign policy is the US. It's been America's foreign policy since 1945 to allow Israel to protect itself from its neighbours - even pre-empitvely if that's what they say is necessary - and whilst Barack Obama may be making noises about that changing, it isn't going to happen because, quite simply, he's not stupid. He knows that the amount of Jewish-American voices (and, more importantly, Jewish-American money) in US politics far outweigh the hypothetical public support he may get for any moral crusade which he may wish to initiate. As Stewart pointed out when talking to a guest from Al Jazeera, when was the last time any (non-fictional, I'm not including Jed Bartlet in this) US politician of any party criticised Israel? For anything. It just does not happen. Ever. From left-wing liberal Democrats across to the hardest of hard-line Neo-Cons they all know that in terms of where the money and power in US politics is, Israel is the third rail - you step on it and you die. Plus, of course, the second that anyone attempts to accuse Israel of anything even approaching "war crimes", every Jew, worldwide will - with more than a tiny bit of justification - ask "interesting theory. So, remind me, what were you doing in 1943 to stop the Holocaust?" At which point everyone else's moral arguments promptly lie shattered on the kitchen floor. These, The Daily Show noted, are just a couple of the many reasons why Israel will, in terms of the West Bank, Gaza and the Lebanon, continue to do exactly what it's done since the 1960s. Essentially, whatever the hell it likes. I found that a refreshingly honest thing to hear on TV, actually (albeit in many ways utterly horrifying and repellant at the same time). We need someone, occasionally, to articulate some of the realities of the world which we actually inhabit just to remind us that we're not living in The West Wing universe, however much we'd like to be.

We also haven’t featured EastEnders for quite a while on Top Telly Tips. Not much happening in Albert Square at the moment, I’m afraid – it’s in one of those occasional static periods which most soaps go through from time to time. And this, after some quite good episodes around Christmas. The acting’s still – mostly - very good but, as with all soaps you need some good meaty conflict at the core and, just for the moment, Easties seems to have lost its ability to put on a good punch-up. Tonight, if you're bothered, Janine gets her own back on Jack, leaving him chained to the club. Meanwhile, Bradley is not impressed with his dad's idea of entertainment, and has Jay had enough of the Square?

Lastly, in Jamie Saves Our Bacon, that thoroughly wretched Oliver fellow aims to find out why British pig farmers are having such a hard time. Apparently, it’s because higher welfare standards have left Britain open to cheap EU imports. So, let me see if I have this straight? Jamie Oliver who spent most of last year making TV shows about how terrible and morally indefensible it was that British chickens were kept in such poor conditions before they're killed and eaten is now the champion of British farming methods when it comes to pigs? Hypocrite. Anyway, with the help of industry insiders, he also follows the pig farming process from birth to slaughter. Don't get too close to the revolving knives, Jamie, we wouldn't want any messy accidents on our screens.


Ian Abrahams said...

I know that particular seditious hippie and the less said about him the better :)

Keith Topping said...

Seditious hippy Old Davey might have been (in fact, actually, come to think of it he's a defintive case isn't it?!) but he, actually, had a bit of a point when he wrote that particular lyric.

I'm feeling somewhat constrained and more than a little saddened by various seditious (and selfish) hippies at the moment.

But, you know, it's early in the year yet.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!