Sunday, May 10, 2009

Week Twenty: Mad Dogs and English Women's Employment Opportunities

It's another lazy Sunday morning on the estate and time, I think, for Keith Telly Topping & His Top TV Tips. Now, rather stupidly (and Keith Telly Topping is by no means immune to acts of crass stupidity, dear blog reader, trust me on this one) Keith Telly Topping neglected to preview Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra (yesterday, 9:40 BBC2) in the last batch of Top Telly Tips. Bugger. Pity that, because it was - as you'd expected from the Bill Meister himself, jolly excellent stuff. In part, a serious classic music primer (albeit one featuring Bee Gees songs and a Theremin solo) within the context of a sublime Bill Bailey comedy gig. One in which Bill did his 'Doctor-Who-Theme-as-Belgian-Jazz' (Docteur Qui?) routine for about the first time since his legendary BBC2 debut, Is It Bill Bailey? in 1998 but, on this occasion, with the seventy two piece BBC Concert Orchestra in no-less a surrounding than the Albert Hall. Classy. Anyway, watch out for it if it gets repeated or check it out on iPlayer.

And speaking of human slaves in an insect nation, or something, Keith Telly Topping is still in two minds about whether to go and see the new Star Trek movie this week or wait for a bit until all of the mad hysteria has died down a bit. I think, on balance, I'll probably go to see it tomorrow afternoon. The longer I leave it, the more I'll feel like a medieval leper in conversations that I have with other rabid fanboys. Not that this is, in any way, unusual of course. Bane of my life, that. Rapid fandom leprosy.

There's a really interesting - and startlingly honest - interview with Robert Lindsey and Zoë Wanamaker in The Times this week about the success and the challenges of My Family. I always enjoy it when actors get reflective to the point of masocism! 'Lindsay is emphatic that they are nothing like the Harpers. "Punters on holiday say, 'How's your wife?' and your first instinct is, 'You watch too much television'." Yet this is the kind of life-art confusion that normally only happens with soaps, so it is a testament to the show's impact, as well as the pair's obvious rapport, that viewers get confused.' I gotta say, I still have something of a soft-spot for My Family, for all its The Good Life: The Next Generation conceits it remains the one decent example of British comedy taking on-board the best of American sitcom techniques. Normally, British comedy writers are too snobby to think they can learn anything from the yanks. Ultimately, it comes down to 'do you laugh at the jokes?' I usually get more chuckles out of an episode of My Family than I have in pretty much anything Ricky Gervais has produced ... well, ever.

Moving, briefly, across the Atlantic, this week's penultimate episode of the current season of Bones was the much anticipated 'guest-starring-Stewie-from-Family Guy' conceit. And very good it was too, cleverly weaving together some very silly subplots with a couple of really hard-hitting ones (the reason for Booth's hallucinations in several previous episodes this season being chief amongst them). What a really very good show this has turned into over the last couple of seasons. Congratulations to all concerned, you made a believer out of a doubter.

Lost, as you'd expect, continued at a terrific pace with an episode that, at last, gave just about all of the regular cast something to do at pretty much the same time (yes, even boring Dr Jack and 'missing in the jungle for three weeks' Sayid). First time in about a season and a half that's happened, I reckon. It also had a wonderful performance by 102 Dalmatians' Alice Evans as the 1970s version of Daniel's mother, Eloise. Next Wednesday's season finale is a two-hour special that exists, among other things, to explain a throw-away one-liner from an episode early in season two ('Not long after the experiments began, however, there was "an incident."') That's what I totally love about Lost the writers, seemingly, forget NOTHING. Except, perhaps, what Libby was doing in the same mental hospital ward as Hurley in 2002. That one's seemingly never going to crop up again.

CSI, meanwhile, had its obligatory-Jim-Brass-centric-episode of the season this week. And, rather sadly, it was a somewhat flat and dull affair, a sordid tale of undercover cops, Hell's Angels and infidelity among brothers. Something of a disappointment after the show's genuinely thrilling run of late. But, let's face it, everybody's allowed a week off every now and then.

And, on the bobmshell, here's yer next batch of Top Telly Tips:

Friday 15 May:
On the popular topical new quiz Have I Got News For You - BBC1 9:00 - joining Paul Merton and Ian Hislop this week is guest host, the legend that is Rolf Harris and guest panellists the excellent Andy Hamilton and Julia Hartley Brewer. Make a date for this one, I reckon.

Total Wipeout Fast Forward - 8:30 BBC1 - is what's described in Radio Times as 'another chance to follow the trials and tribulations, the smashes and the splashes of the first series of the biggest, daftest, muddiest obstacle course in the world.' So, a repeat, in other words? Condensed to thirty minutes of action-packed fun, the show is hosted - amiably enough - by the housewives favourite, Richard Hammond and, course-side in Argentina, Amanda Byram. It proved to be a big surprise hit for the Beeb earlier in the year after the critical and commerical mauling that the ostensibly similar Hole in the Wall got in pretty much the same slot. Hence, I guess, the reason why Total Wipeout is now being milked dry with compilation episodes and the American version getting an airing on Watch ... and getting more viewers than Richard and Judy. So, it would seem there is some justice in the world after all.

Saturday 16 May:
2009 is a big year for The Eurovision Song Contest - 8:00 (till late) BBC1 - and for Britain with Jade Ewen heading to Russia to perform Andrew Lloyd Webber's song 'It's My Time' in the vast Olympiyski Stadium in Moscow. Graham Norton takes on commentating duties for the first time from the previously omnipresent (but now, seemingly, bored with britain always coming last these days) Terry Wogan. Graham, of course, will be bringing his own inimitable style to what promises to be a musical and visual extravaganza. After all of the twenty five finalists have performed, the phone lines will open for the public vote, and for the first time ever this phone vote will be combined with the votes of a national jury. I wonder which country's phone network is going to be making a great deal of money from *that* little exercise? Ah, an example to all the former communists of capitalism in action at its finest - is there anything that Eurovision can't achieve?

Sunday 17 May:
In The Unloved - 9:00 C4 - Oscar-nominated actress Samantha Morton draws on her own difficult (and much-publicised) teenage years to first-time direct this impressive looking drama about life in a Nottinghamshire children's home from the perspective of two young children. It stars Robert Carlyse and Molly Windsor. Eleven-year-old Lucy is placed into Crop Row children's home after being beaten by her father. Made to share a room with sixteen-year-old Lauren, the older girl is initially hostile towards Lucy, but a friendship begins to grow and Lucy's situation improves, until a Christmas party at the home goes horribly wrong. Tough stuff but, from what I've seen in the trailers, beautifully acted.

Monday 18 May:
1066: The Battle for Middle Earth - 9:00 C4 - is a rather fine-looking documentary drama in which Justin Hardy reimagines the story of 1066 (and all that...), examining the events around the great battles of Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings, from the perspectives of - and their subsequent effect on - the ordinary people involved. In the first of two parts, newlywed Saxon farmer Tofi and his friend Leofric are wrenched from tilling the land in their Sussex village by the warrior warlord Ordgar, a supporter of the newly crowned king, Harold. He is recruiting forces to defend the southern English coast from invasion by the Norman hordes. Careful waving that thing about, sonna, you could have somebody's eye out with that.

Another two-parter starting tonight is The Trouble with Working Women - 9:00 BBC2. Sophie Raworth and Justin Rowlatt investigate what we really think of women at work. Why do men still hold the top jobs? Can career-women have it all - a successful job and a family? Or, has gender equality gone too far as some of the more oinking end of mankind suggest? Sophie and Justin track down a businesswoman who actually refuses to employ females of child-bearing age in any sort of position of responsibility. They go head-to-head on a testosterone-fuelled trading floor, check out the Met's shooting range with a woman firearms officer and quiz a professor who is overseeing the world's largest study into the effects of childcare. Nearly forty years on from The Equal Pay Act, why is it that men still dominate the top jobs and why do men, on average, earn £369,000 more than a woman across their career? Now, personally, I'm all for equal opportunities, although I do draw the line at the story which appeared recently about a bunch of feminists who had formed a girls football team and wanted to get into the Premier League. The stupid bastards, they've already got Chelsea, what more do they want? In a competitive mood, Sophie and Justin conduct a series of tests, experiments and brain scans and meet people such as Harriet Harman, Labour's Deputy Leader and multi-millionaire lingerie magnate Michelle Moan. No jokes, please.

Meanwhile, in Coronation Street - 7:30 ITV - relations are strained between Ken and Deirdre. So, what else is new? Also highly strained are the muscles in Deirdrie's neck. One day soon I'm sure they're going to burst and her head will fly off and land on Blanche's plate.

And lastly, Pay Drop Britain: Tonight - 8:00 ITV - asks the question 'would you take a pay drop to save your job?' Fiona Foster reports on the companies cutting wages or hours to stave off redundancies. And what are your rights if you find yourself in this position? If I remember my Employment Law from my time working in the Civil Service ones rights in such a situation are, essentially, 'put up, or shut up and, if you don't like it, you know where the door is.' Or, to put it another way 'I'm your employer and what we're going to do is compromise: I tell you exactly what you are going to do and you, in turn, do it.' Why do you think I got out of working for The Man and went self-employed all those years ago? So that I could tell myself just that whenever I was getting all uppity and threatening to bring the unions in. It's a flawless plan.

Tuesday 19 May:
A Place in the Wild - 8:00 ITV - is the second of a two-part documentary following the gruelling journey of two young Englishmen - Batian and Richard - battling to conserve and save wild animals on Ol Pejeta, one of Kenya's newest wildlife reserves. In tonight's installment, the pair are forced to learn the ropes the hard way as they attempt to catch and move a herd of notoriously aggressive adult rhinos. They must also tackle rogue elephants on the rampage. I'll leave you to it, lads. Best of luck. Narrated by Wild at Heart's Stephen Tompkinson. I wonder if, as with Wild At Heart, the leads will get out-acted by some giraffes?

Blood, Sweat and Takeaways - 9:00 BBC3 - takes six young British food consumers and invites them to live and work alongside the millions of people in South East Asia's food production industries. Well, when I say 'invites', that implies that they've actually got some choice in the matter. I think, when they answered the advert and signed up it was more a case of 'you're going otherwise we haven't got a programme, will this cheque be enough to persuade you to spend a few weeks in the Far East?' Anway, they start off by looking at Indonesia's tuna industry in Bitung on the island of Sulawesi. In the UK, we consume over a billion tins of tuna a year (although, to be fair, that's nowhere near the amount that the average dolphin eats in a lifetime) and Bitung's canneries supply to many supermarkets and sandwich chains. The young Britons live with the tuna workers in basic communities, endure the heat in the canneries and struggle with the harsh realities of life on a traditional tuna boat. And, to what end? To put them off eating tuna for life and, thus, deprive the locals of their entire livelihood? I mean, yeah, we get it every aspect of our over comfortable and priviledged western lifestyle is usually dependent on somebody in another part of the world doing often back-breaking and soul-destroying work for ludicrously small wages. But, what can I do, I'm just one man?

By contrast, Make 'em Laugh - 11:30 BBC4 - is a six-part series chronicling over one hundred years of American comedy. Whilst America has always championed the idea of inclusiveness, the outsider has been a source of constant amusement as epitomised today by characters in crass and virtually laughless Judd Apatow comedies. This edition also looks back at the bespectacled wannabe (Harold Lloyd) and the vain coward (Bob Hope) as the outsiders of their day, as well as zany characters like Andy Kaufman, the pot-head counter-culture favourites Cheech and Chong and superstar nerds like Woody Allen. Sounds rather good, this - you can laugh not only with Americans but, also, at them. Double bonus.

Wednesday 20 May:
If you don't fancy the, frankly delicious, concept of the divine Goddess that is Suzi Quatro as the murder victim in this week's Midsomer Murders (8:00 ITV) then Keith Telly Topping considers there's something seriously wrong with you. In which case you may prefer Grand Designs - 9:00 C4. This, of course, is a show which follows various extremely annoying middle-class householders on their seemingly never-ending mission to re-design their homes, often to the exclusion of anything even approaching common sense. In order to downsize from their Edwardian manor house, Peter and Christine Benjamin have decided to build a small retirement home within their walled garden. See what I mean? Why bother? Why not just sell your house and buy a flat in Eastbourne, you silly people? Jesus, if ever there's an easy way and a hard way, trust the pretentious to pick the hard way. Anyway, their new house straddles the wall and, on one side, looks like a traditional potting shed (because, let's face it, everybody wants to live in a house that looks like a shed, don't they?) while on the other it is a twenty first-century floating glass pavilion. Then, the doomy-voiced host Kevin McCloud arrives and it all starts to go horribly wrong. How terrifically satisfying.

It's probably time I reminded you all that The Wire - 11:25 BBC2 - is still going strong. We're into season two of the acclaimed police drama from Baltimore now. In tonight's episode Bodie and crew fight for their corner, with terrible consequences. McNulty goes undercover at a brothel and is outnumbered. Stringer asks for Brianna's help in persuading Avon to work with Proposition Joe. The detail ask the FBI for help, who in turn make a breakthrough on the docks.

Alternatively, if you prefer exploitative and wretched lowest-common-denominator TV over the one of the best drama series produced in years, then you could go for Wife Swap USA - 11:05 Channel 4 - an edition of the hit American version of Wife Swap. In this exciting edition, a vain mother from Florida who spends many hours each day on her appearance trades places with a mum from dustbowl Arizona whose family are fascinated by morbidity. So, that's Legally Blonde meets The Addams Family by the sound of it. Oh, I'm definitely watching this. For novelty value, if nothing else.

Thursday 21 May:
She plays a school teacher in Waterloo Road but, in Playing the Part - 8:00 BBC1 - Denise Welch returns to her home town of Consett in Coonty Durham to spend a week teaching in a real school. Denise takes over from the Head of English at Consett Community Sports College (her old school as it happens) and home to eight hundred students. How will she deal with the day-to-day life of a teacher as she plans lessons, marks exercise books, and deals with disruptive children and inspections? In the case of the latter, personally I'd give them a damned good hiding with a harsh chastisement implement and then stick them in the book cupboard until the little bastards agree to conform to acceptable behaviour. That's for The Inspectors, of course, I wouldn't suggest she do that with the kids. Oh no, very hot water. Anyway, over the week, she learns how far an actor's life really is removed from the genuine article. Nice idea, this and I like Denise so I'm recommending this one.

We've got another series of The Home Show - 8:00 Channel 4. George Clarke helps homeowners with different budgets fall back in love with their own houses. Tonight, George comes to the rescue of a family who have neglected their house for thirteen years. All their savings provide George with a huge budget, but even that becomes stretched when he discovers the extent of the structural damage lurking beneath the roof. And, some burly builders provide their insider tips to getting the job done properly.

And finally, in My Weapon Is a Dog - 9:00 BBC3 - Rickie Haywood-Williams meets some young men who take dangerous dogs onto the streets - seemingly for the sole purpose of showing how pure dead hard they are - and asks whether dogs have become the new weapon of choice. Well ... let's put it this way, some skinhead walking along the High Street dragging a chained Rottweiler with him is hardly likely to have a small sticker on his back with 'my other dog's a Yorkshire Terrier' written on it, is he? He's making a statement. And that statement is 'I'M GOING TO EAT YOUR CHILDREN ... AND THE DOG'S HUNGRY AS WELL.' Rickie discovers that some owners deliberately train and abuse their animals to make them vicious attack dogs and learns that the most iconic and feared dog of all, the pit bull, is back on our streets. Reminds me of a time a few years ago when I was walking to Byker library and happened to pass a house with large pit bull sitting on the door step. I hardly gave the animal a glance but still, as if it had been specifically trained to snarl viciously at all passing humanity by having an elastic band wound, tightly, round its willy it came bouncing down the garden path and threw itself against the metal gates. I'm not ashamed to say, dear blog reader, that I momentarily shat in my own pants. As all this was going on, the dog's owner dragged himself into view. A big fat hairy individual he was (the owner this is, not the dog), wearing a vest and track suit bottoms and with a can of lager in his hands (well, it was ten o'clock in the morning it was probably his breakfast). 'Oi!' he bellowed. 'Satan! Cut it out!' Satan?! I ask you, what chance did the poor dog have in life? Mind you, I imagine it would have been considerably worse if it'd been called Tarquin. Then we'd've got not only aggression but pent-up embarrassment as well.


rob said...


Have you seen any of Beyond a Joke which is currently running on ITV3?

Well worth a look if not.

Keith Telly Topping said...

I haven't yet, no, but I'll check it out - I can always use odd little shows on obscure freeview channels just to confuse the Beeb! Thanks Rob, that's a good'un.