Monday, January 05, 2009

Week One: Will Demons Be As Bad As BoneKickers?

Traditionally a very big TV week in terms of scheduling, as both the BBC and ITV roll out their first batch of new drama and sitcoms for the year. So, let's kick-off with tonight:-

Monday 5 January
The Diary of Anne Frank (7:00, BBC1) is, of course, a five-part adaptation - shown over consecutive nights this week - of the famous wartime diaries. It's June 1942 and Anne, a precocious Jewish teenager in Amsterdam is given a diary for her thirteenth birthday. But when call-up papers arrive for her sister Margot, their parents hasten their plan to go into hiding from the nasty Nazis. Making their way to a secret annex above Anne's father Otto's spice company, they - along with their friends the Van Daans - are forced to obey strict rules of silence. Everybody adapts to life in the annex differently, but will they be able to keep their presence hidden from the enemy below? Well, if you know the story, you'll be aware of the outcome. If not, keep schtum, eh? There's a whole generation or several out there who may not. A quality cast includes Ellie Kendrick in the title role, Tamsin Greig, Felicity Jones, Ron Cook and Lesley Sharp.

Griff Rhys-Jones, Dara Ó Briain and Rory McGrath return for the second part of their third nautical adventure in Three Men in More Than One Boat (BBC2, 9:00). Dara hitches a lift on a tug and finally learns to respect the power of the sea. Meanwhile, back on dry land Griff explores Redruth's only working tin mine (though, sadly, he doesn't fall into to it, and to his tragic and messy death) and Cornish pride comes to the fore when Rory visits his birthplace. Really enjoyed the first episodes - as with the previous shows it has a very amiable "matey" quality to it (albeit you do occasionally wish Rory or Dara would give Griff a good hard slap on just general principle). And the cinematography is absolutely stunning. I think they must have got some of the guys who worked on Coast moonlighting for them.

Surviving Gazza (10:00, Channel 4) is an unflinching, poignant and moving film about football legend Paul Gascoigne's family as they struggle to cope with an alcoholic father and ex-husband, who happens to be one of the most famous men in the country. Like thousands of other families in the UK, Sheryl and her children Mason, Bianca and Regan must cope with the devastation and heartache of life-threatening addiction and mental illness.

Tuesday 6 January
Having previously been oot on lash throughout both France and the US, Oz Clarke and James May travel across Britain and Ireland to discover the amazing array of drink on offer in Oz and James Drink to Britain (8:00, BBC2). They start their journey at Dover before travelling north to Yorkshire to discover exactly what goes into a pint of beer. Oz tracks down the most northerly commercial vineyard in the country and the pair take to the rails, enjoying the beers in a string of real ale pubs located on station platforms. Yeah nice stuff, this. Very blokey - although James, of course, has a massive following among the ladies - something that constantly baffles many jealous chaps! I was a bit doubtful about the potential longevity of what seemed at the time simply an excuse for a monumental piss-up when the first series started! But, here we are a couple of years later and about to begin series three so, it's obviously got some sort of audience. I like it, anyway and, seemingly, I'm not alone in that.

Actress and presenter Claire Sweeney investigates why it’s so easy to get fat, despite the current government and media obsession with diet and health in Claire Sweeney - My Big Fat Diet (9:00, ITV). You eat a lot, darling. I could've told you that. I've had forty five years of practice - I'm something of an expert on the subject. Anyway, Claire embarks on a nutritional experiment - she will eat whatever she wants, whenever she wants, for six weeks. That's my life in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen. But what effect will abandoning of self-control have on her weight, size and blood pressure? The film examines how her changing physique and body image affect her personal and professional relationships as well as her emotional well-being. More apparentl food fascism from the broadcaster that happily shows adverts for Marks & Spencer's instant heart attack range ("it's not just fud, it's Marks & Spencer's instant heart-attack fud"). Champion bit of rank hypocrasy there, ITV.

Dead Set (10:00, C4) achieved something of a cult following when it was first shown on E4 last year. It’s a satirical horror drama series written by TV critic and all-round thorough chap, Charlie Brooker. As a Big Brother eviction night looms, in the outside world, Britain is in the grip of an apocalyptic crisis. While the housemates remain blissfully oblivious to this, undead hoards invade the studio compound. Big Brother with zombies, what could possibly be better? I do have to note, however, that this won't be to all tastes - it's a proper zombie piece (ala Shaun of the Dead) so it is, in places, very gruesome indeed. It's also very funny so if you like your TV humour with a bit of (literal) bite, this could be the show for you. Bite, y'see, it's a ... oh, never mind.

Wednesday 7 January
Tonight sees the return of Waterloo Road (8:00 BBC1), the highly regarded drama series starring Neil Morrissey and set in a secondary school. Following the fire that nearly destroyed the school at the end of the last season, Headmistress Rachel (Eva Pope) is keen to start the new term with a clean slate and no more mistakes. Her commitment is immediately put to the test, however, when new pupil Earl Kelly gives Waterloo Road the most shocking first day it has ever had.

Kirstie, Kirstie and Phil, Phil are back in Relocation, Relocation (8:00, C4) trying to help people change their accommodation and their lives in today's turbulent property market. In this edition, Stephanie and Dominic are looking for a home in North Somerset and a holiday home to let in Devon. But Stephanie finds it difficult to compromise and her vision of what they can afford is far from anything even approaching reality. Given the current state of the housing market, I wonder how long it’s going to be before we get a property show fronted by these two called You Know What, I Think We’ll Stay Here.

In It's Not Easy Being Green (8:00, BBC2) Coast’s Dick Strawbridge and his son, James, team up with Wor Luscious Lovely Lauren Laverne to find out more about living the eco life. Guest Phil Tufnell – who was a twenty-a-day man even when he was in the test team so he's not the first person I’d’ve thought of as the world’s most "eco-tuned-in" individual - proves that he is, indeed, about as green as a fire engine. Dick gets to grips with his solar panels and Lauren makes a splash with an eco-friendly swimming pool. Sounds rewardingly barmy, actually. I might well give this one a shot myself.

Thursday 8 January
The Life of Riley (8:00 BBC1), the – frankly pretty average - Caroline Quentin sitcom vehicle returns tonight for a second series. When Maddy finds a pregnancy test, she is convinced it belongs to one of her stepchildren. But she has a big surprise in store when she discovers who the real owner is. This is Outnumbered without the jokes, basically. From the evidence of the trailer it looks undemanding but, to be honest, a bit safe and old fashioned. Things which can, sometimes, be a minor blessing but which, in this particular case, really don't look to be that or anything even remotely like it.

It’s a big night for all the BBC’s second division sitcoms (or, that’ll be Championship sitcoms these days, I guess) because we’ve also got the – not particularly anticipated – return of The Green Green Grass at 8:30 which is to Only Fools and Horses what Joanie Loves Chachi was to Happy Days. Marlene has become fed up with her husband's inattention and fears that their relationship is nearing its end. That’d mean the end of the series, though, surely? So, you know, every cloud has a silving lining and all that. Anyway, she seeks the help of a local marriage guidance counsellor, which proves so successful that she ends up throwing Boycie out, but the parting gives them both time to consider their lives. Shame, that.

The Hustle gang are also back tonight (9:00, BBC1). This, of course, is a moderately entertaining drama about a team of con artists made by Kudos Films who also make [Spooks], Holby Blue and Ashes to Ashes. Mickey Bricks (Adrian Lester) returns to London after a close brush with the law in Australia (and a close brush with something perilously close to career suicide in Bonekickers), and finds it a much-changed place. His old team have gone their separate ways and Albert (Robert Vaughn) is detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure. But you can’t keep a good conman down and when Albert tips Mickey off about a pair of obnoxious developers, he and Ash (Robert Glenister) spring into action. Marc Warren's left now but the cast remains excellentand, added bonus, Bill Bailey guest stars. Good to have this one back - it's like an American action series transplanted to London which, slightly ludicrous but strangely endearing results. Not the most original or, often, the most logical of dramas but pretty decent viewing when it's on form.

Friday 9 January
At long last, the sixth season proper of Qi kicks off at a new time, 9:00 and on a new channel, BBC1. Stephen Fry informs us that everything we know is wrong about flotsam and jetsam with Alan Davies and guests Charlie Higson, Andy Hamilton, Rob Brydon. Good line-up, that. Expect all of your other favourite guests (Rich Hall, Dara, Jupitas, Sean Lock etc.) to be turning up in your living room and being highly amusing for the next eleven weeks. As mentioned before Christmas, I really hope the move to BBC1 increases the audience (certainly, the ratings for that episode - five million plus - was very encouraging). Because, if ever a show deserves to be watched and appreciated, in the desperately unimaginative and lowest-common-denominator mind-set of much of the broadcast industry in 2009, it's this one. And, if you've missed any episodes, remember, it's on Dave about four times a day so you'll quickly catch up. Also, tonight's episode gets an extended repeat on Saturday night at 10:30 on BBC2.

Saturday 10 January
Once upon a time Britain’s Song for Europe used to get voted on in Cliff Richard’s Saturday show. These days we’ve got Eurovision: Your Country Needs You. Graham Norton hosts the first of the live finals to discover which six acts will represent the UK in this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Andrew Lloyd Webber reports on his progress in composing the song - I wonder if he got any inspiration from his meeting with The Butcher of Grozny last week? - while Eurovision veteran Lulu (she, of course, once came second), will be on hand to share her opinions. The episode also includes a performance from Lemar. No, me neither. I'm sure all you "young people" out there will know whom he is. Or, indeed, if he is a he? Could be a she or even a they with a name like that. Anyway ... You know the biggest problem with Eurovision these days – apart from the dodgy tactical voting, of course? It’s that everybody else in Europe has moved on and Britain hasn’t, we still think it’s the 1970s.

Demons (7:45 ITV) is a new drama about the last descendant of the legendary vampire-hunting family the Van Helsings who must protect the world from dangerous supernatural creatures and featuring Life on Mars’s Phil Glenister as his mentor. It’s a complete – conceptual – rip-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course (and when I say complete I really do mean complete). And, the first episode was horrible - I mean, Bonekickers-bad - even though it did have a few moments that were passably entertaining (I'll put it no higher than that) in a kind of sub-Torchwood sort of way. So, let’s give it a second chance. The opening night ratings were decent enough (5.7 million) but episode two is usually the point at which you can start to tell whether a show is hitting the kind of audience it would expect to, or not. Tonight, young Luke faces his first true test when children start disappearing - including his friend Ruby's brother. Luke's mentor Galvin thinks the half-lives may be involved and his suspicions are confirmed by zombie priest Father Simeon. To rescue the children, the team must battle a 2000-year-old demon called Gilgamel - who is not afraid to fight dirty. Meanwhile, Willow and rest of the Scooby Gang are ... oh, no sorry that's something else.

Sunday 11 January
Back, for an astonishing sixteenth season is yet another of my favourite shows Time Team (5:40 C4). After last week's tremendously entertaining Roman episode (I enjoyed Tony Robinson and Guy de la Bédoyère comparing the goings on in a Roman temple in the Third Century to the Glastonbury Festival. Genius!) there's a bit of local interest this week. Tony and the team investigate Scargill Castle in Durham. When two archaeologists married, the groom - occasional Time Team contributor Niall Hammond - gave his bride Caroline a ruined castle as her wedding present. The castle is reputed to have been a medieval stronghold in a violent era of cross-border battles between the English and Scottish kings, so the team spend three days exploring the history and layout of the site in order to paint a true picture of what the stronghold would have looked like in its prime. It really does my soul a bit of good to see that British TV is still capable, in 2009, of producing stuff like this. Mad, inventive, interesting, challenging, learned, informative, occasionally poetic and utterly different. "It's a bunch of hippies searching for Woodstock in pottery," Tony said when asked to describe the series a few years ago. "Where else, other than Britain could that be a hit?" Nowhere, Balders old chaps. And that's why it remains absolutely vital that youe continue to make this sort of thing. After all, if we stop, where the hell else are the Americans going to get stuff to fill up The Discovery Channel?

1 comment:

Ian Abrahams said...

I tell you something, they made Redruth look even worse that it really is last night, and it's pretty awful already!