Sunday, May 17, 2009

Week Twenty One: The End Of Many Eras

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping is a somewhat sad and disconsolate chap this very Sunday morning, dear blog reader. For yesterday saw what was, in all probability (and certainly for the foreseeable future), his last match at The Cathedral of Dreams, St James' Park.
Just over forty years after he first went to the gaff as an over-excited five year old. Thirty two years since he first got a season ticket (ironically, the stupid bastards went down that season as well). He always used to mutter, darkly, at mere transient players, managers and even chairmen when they were making disgraceful public pontifications about this, that or the other. 'I'll be here long after you're gone'.
So, one supposes, congratulations - of a back-handed sort - are in order to That Mister Mike Ashley because he's done something which Lord Westwood, Stan Seymour, Gordon McKeag, Sir John Hall and Fat Freddie Shepherd could not - he has outlasted this blogger's tolerence of incompetence. Next season Keith Telly Topping's seat in the Gallowgate End will be someone else's problem. There was, perhaps inevitably, a bittersweet moment as yer actual Keith Telly Topping left the ground, disillusioned and bewildered by the latest peformance of knackerless ineptitude by eleven disgraceful, over-paid gutless cowards, two minutes before full-time.
A previously bright and sunny day suffered a sudden, violent cloudburst and this blogger got completely drenched on his way to the taxi rank in Strawberry Place. A geologically metaphoric moment which sort of summed up Keith Telly Topping's entire time watching this strange and baffling football club. Lots of promise but, ultimately, you always end up disappointed (and, usually, soaked through to your vest).
Forty years ... This blogger would have got less for murder, frankly.

So anyway, dear blog reader, the fifth season of Lost (currently the best TV show in the world that doesn't features the words 'Doctor' and 'Who' in the title) ended this week with a double-length episode that featured at least three revelations which will, I guarantee, leave regular viewers with their mouths hanging limply open and saying 'but... but... but... hang on' at their TV screens. It also included, quite simply, the best end-of-season cliff-hanger that possibly any TV show had ever done. I mean it was huge. A nuclear solution, no less. There were massive chunks of back-story concerning the mysterious Jacob and his interaction with just about every single character on the show somewhere in their past; a beautiful sequence giving two much-loved minor characters their (possibly final) moment in the spotlight and a conclusion that doesn't have any obvious 'where next' signposts attached to it. Not bad for a day's work, frankly. And now, we've got eight months to wait for the next, and final, season. That's going to be difficult.

Bones will be back sooner than Lost (late September, seemingly) but may be equally changed after a challenging and unusual season finale which managed to stay just the right side of the '... And then he woke up and it was all a dream. Or was it?' cliché of dramatic writing that long-running TV series will often have a go at in the desire to 'do something different.' It was a close run thing, mind, but the final line of dialogue was probably what made the crucial difference between the episode working to a limited degree and not working at all. Anyway, Bones has been a revelation this year - it's always been a surprisingly good little show, far outstripping many critics unfair predictions when it started that it would be, essentially, CSI-lite. My own included. But this year, it's gone from being a surprisingly good little show to being a surprisingly great little show - a minor, but a necessary difference, I feel.

And, after one of the season's most prolonged back-and-forths over the fees paid by the network to the studio, FOX have decided to renew Bones - for both a fifth and a sixth season. Executive producer Hart Hanson announced the pick-up on Saturday, via Twitter. (Which is a computer thing that all the 'with-kid' are into. Apparently.) Bones will most likely be paired on Thursday nights with the reality show So You Think You Can Dance. Negotiations went on for a long time between FOX and its sister studio 20th TV - the show's producer - despite Bones's consistently solid performance not just this year but, indeed, over the last four years. Several older shows which would have seemed certainties for renewal in the past have met with resistance from a variety of networks this time around as broadcasters search, increasingly desperately, for ways to cut costs in these harsh economic times.

Speaking of CSI, this has also been a year of considerable change for them, with the replacement of their lead actor mid-season. The last couple of episodes somewhat failed to full satisfy after a very good run prior to that but, on its day CSI remains the king of all US procedural cop shows. Despite that, audiences are down somewhat and some critics have chosen to attempt to paint this as, in some ways, a comment by viewers on Larry Fishburne's abilities as an actor. I know, ludicrous isn't it? There are, however, consistent rumours of at least one cast change next year.

Meanwhile, in a stunningly unexpected move, The Hollywood Reporter suggests that FOX have renewed Joss Whedon's Dollhouse for next fall. The official announcement will not be made until Monday at the network's upfront presentation, but sources confirm a deal has been struck for another thirteen episodes. FOX, it is said, plans to continue the show in its current Friday slot. Which is totally brilliant, obviously, but ... 'unexpected' doesn't even begin to cover how much this has caught the industry (and, indeed, the show's fans) by surprise. This appears to be the first occasion ever that FOX (or, indeed, any major network come to that) has renewed a show seemingly based entirely on how it has performed on the Internet, via TiVO figures and in the hope that the forthcoming DVD release will create a new fanbase. Because, let's be honest, there is no way on earth that a show as expensive as Dollhouse could have got renewed based on its TV ratings alone. Remember, the last episode was watched by 2.8 million viewers. Just to put that in perspective that's approximately a third of the numbers that Whedon's Firefly was getting when it got cancelled, just as it was getting really interesting, a few years ago. In fact, Dollhouse might well be the lowest-rated in-season scripted drama to ever get a renewal on a major broadcast network. I understand that FOX have demanded, and received, some serious budget concessions from 20th TV and Whedon to continue making the show, with 20th now shouldering a far greater portion of the cost. Something that they will hope to largely recover from DVD sales, one would imagine.

Dollhouse joins Lie to Me, Fringe, Bones and 24 as FOX's officially announced returning dramas for the 2009-10 TV season. Expect House to join them when the full list is announced tomorrow. The renewal also means that FOX is bringing back all three of its freshman dramas for a second season - Fringe, Lie to Me and Dollhouse - which is certainly a boast for programme-makers in what has been a very challenging year for broadcasters generally.

Now, if you fancy a reet good laugh (and let us face it, dear blog reader, we could all probably do with one of those at the moment - Dollhouse's renewal notwithstanding) then I suggest you watch this - the great Big Quiffed Marky Kermode explaining, with precise scientific magnificence the crucial difference between The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Let us move swiftly, I think, to some Top Telly Tips.

Friday 22 May
In EastEnders - 8:00 BBC1 - it seemed that Billy Mitchell was taking the lyrics of Paper Lace's big 1970s hit (not 'The Night Chicago Died', the other one) quite literally when he hid in the lavvy whilst a gang of vicious thugs beat Jay's dad to a bloodied dead pulp. Since then, the guilt of lying to Jay and Dawn about those fatal events has made Billy in an even more morose and monosyllabic character than usual. Which, let's face it, should really be possible. But, there it is. Of course, since Nasty Nick discovered the truth and started to blackmail him, Billy's had damned good reason to act and look a man who's just sat down as he remembers that he's left his rectal thermometer in. Finally, though, the worm may be about to turn - but can Billy muster his courage? And will he be brave enough to confess his lie to Jay?

Saturday 23 May
It's a bit of a toss-up on Saturday - there's Robin Hood which is quite good fun (especially since Toby Stephens climbed on board) but nobody's watching it, Primeval which just continues to get better and better but hardly anybody's watching that either and Britain's Got Talent which is banal nonsense as usual but everybody's watching it. On Britain's Got Talent - 8:20 ITV - with the auditions finally over, the judges - nasty Simon Cowell, even nastier Piers Morgan and weepy Amanda Holden - prepare to reveal which forty acts have made it through to the live semi-finals. Or, rather, which thirty nine acts plus Susan Boyle have made it through to the live semi-finals. There also looks to be quite a decent episode of Casualty on BBC1 and 9:05 so that's probably the pick of a jolly rum bunch.

Sunday 24 May
Heartbeat - 7:30 ITV - is just about the only TV drama show that has lasted longer than the decade in which it's set. Worried that Nursie Carol is in danger, Joe leaves their Australian investigation to look for her. Back in town, another woman has disappeared in the area of the town, and a prime suspect appears to have gone too. And Rachel, Joe and Carol finally find what they are looking for - but their search ends in tragedy. And, of course, it's the final Match Of The Day of a thoroughly wretched and depressing season for everybody in my region. On the opening day, I confidently told Alfie Joey that I expected the black and whites to finish in the top ten and the red and whites to finish about twelfth. I think I'll stick to top telly picking from now on, I've obviously got no future as a football pundit. Mind you, my strikes-rate's about the same as That There Mark Lawrenson and he still gets paid for it...

Monday 25 May
Having finally got shot of that odiously offensive little hippy Communist Bill Oddie, Simon King, Kate Humble and Chris Packham are left on their own to follow the daily fortunes of a brand-new cast of unforgettable wildlife characters in the lovely Springwatch - 8:00 BBC2 (continuing for about the next three weeks). Kate and Chris will report from their base in the wilds of wildest Norfolk. Simon will be on a mission in Welsh Wales, home of polecats, goshawks, red kites and ... Welshmen, probably. Makes a change from him being stuck half-way up a cliff on the Farne Islands protected only by a flimsy BBC kagoul like he usually is, I think new-boy Chris has got that gig this year. Always nice to see a bit of hazing going down in the BBC natural history department. And Gordon Buchanan will be getting close to a large family of badgers in suburban Essex. I wonder if, one year, we'll finally get Katie Humble's Badger Watch? Some of us have, frankly, been waiting a very long time for that. A man can dream, surely?

In the week that one of this country's all-time greatest certified nutters, Sir Ranulph Twiselton-Wykeham-Ffiennes became the oldest Briton ever to climb the world's highest mountain (I mean, good on you, Ran, it's an impressive achievement but ... are you insane??) summit season is about to start at Everest Basecamp. And, the doctors working at the highest hospital in the world gear up to deal with a constant stream of life-threatening emergencies in Everest ER - 7:30 BBC1. With hundreds of climbers about to enter the death zone, it is only a matter of time before Everest claims its first casualties. I'm not surprised. Have you seen the size of that thing? It's effing MILES. I couldn't walk that far on the flat let alone on a one-in-two gradient. And I'm twenty years younger than Ranulph.

Who's Watching You? - 9:00 BBC2 - is a series that looks at why the UK has become one of the most watched places in the world. Er... because it's a nation that appears to be full to overflowing with scummy thieves, drug dealers and knife crime, possibly? Or is that too simple an explanation? Richard Bilton explores the hidden world of surveillance. He goes inside the CCTV nerve centre, sees how all of our journeys can be monitored and meets undercover agents, those who are watched and those who have fallen foul of modern surveillance. How anybody can 'fall foul' of modern surveillance unless they were doing something wrong in the first place, I'm not too sure. Nor, indeed, the conundrum of how someone who seemingly objects to having their privacy invaded squares that belief with the act of going on a TV show and, therefore, into millions of people's homes, to tell them their story. So, I'll certainly be watching this documentary to see if I can find out.

Tuesday 26 May
In Corrie - 8:00 ITV - can Blanche and Deirdre reconcile their differences? Well ... do we want them to? Surely the constant sour bitching a'tween those two is just about the only reason for watching Coronation Street these days? Bit of tension, always a winner in soap operas.

Abdication: A Very British Coup - 8:00 BBC4 - seeks to shed new light on the greatest crisis to rock the British monarchy in three centuries - the abdication of King Edward VIII. Usually, it has been presented as the only solution to his dilemma of having to choose between the throne and the woman he loved. Using secret documents and contemporary diaries and letters, this film shows a popular monarch whose modern ideas, in a sort of 1930s Prince Charles-type way, so unsettled the establishment that his love for Wallis Simpson became the perfect excuse to bounce him off the throne. That, and the fact that they were a pair of closet Nazis who counted Hitler and Oswald Mosley among their close personal friends, of course.

The Lost WWI Bunker: A Time Team Special - 9:00 C4 - sees Tony Robinson and lovely old Phil Harding join an unprecedented archaeological expedition in search of a perfectly preserved first World War bunker called the Vampir. Beneath the paralysed western front in the Belgian mud of Ypres and Passchendaele, elite tunnelling companies of sappers created a deep and complex maze of tunnels and dugouts, which was the only safe place to hide when the shelling and the gas attacks made the surface above a literal hell on earth. I love this sort of stuff - bringing history to life with a flick of the spade. No news yet on whether Time Time's been recommissioned for next year but, Channel 4, it should be a no-brainer even in tough times. We need television like this whether we want, or even deserve, it or not.

Wednesday 27 May
Tonight sees the UEFA Champions League Final: Barcelona v Manchester United - 7:00 ITV. Steve Rider presents live coverage from the Olympic Stadium in Rome, as the holders The Vile Scum of Mankind take on 2006 winners Barcelona. The Catalan club, with its feared strike force of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o, have scored over one hundred and fifty goals this season, but Sir Alex Ferguson's men will aim to become the first club to successfully defend the Champions League trophy. With studio analysis by Andy Townsend, commentary by Clive Tyldesley and the wretched, clueless David Bleat. Having him pass comments on major international football matches is like watching somebody from the local Am-dram society presenting the Oscars. There'll also be pitchside reports from Gabriel Clarke.

Alternatives to the footie are, for once, few and far between but the adventurous might like to consider Armando Iannucci in Milton's Heaven and Hell - 9:00 BBC2. John Milton's poetry is often considered too difficult and obscure for many of today's readers, but to comedy guru Armando Paradise Lost is a thrilling work of creative genius that we ignore at our peril. In this film, Iannucci journeys through Milton's life and his great poem, taking in everything from Satan and the birth of spin to farting angels and questioning God, offering his own passionate and illuminating response to Paradise Lost. Along the way, he talks to schoolchildren, politicians and former prisoners to build up a picture of what Milton was like and why his art may have turned out the way it did. Sounds great. I'll still be watching the football but I might record this for later viewing.

The same goes for How the Celts Saved Britain - 8:00 BBC4 - in which Dan Snow (fast becoming the Beeb's new go-to guy when it comes to 'extreme history' type shows) blows the lid on the traditional Anglo-centric view of history and reveals how the Irish saved Britain from cultural oblivion during the Dark Ages of 400-800AD. While in Britain Germanic barbarism replaced Roman civilisation. Or, at least that's it says here ... I've always thought that was a very simplistic view of a highly complex and interesting historical period. But then, Dan's getting paid to make the show and I'm not. Christianity transformed Ireland into the cultural powerhouse of early medieval Europe. Snow follows in the footsteps of Ireland's earliest missionaries as they bring Christianity, literacy and technological progress to the future nations of Scotland and England.

Thursday 28 May
Tourettes: I Swear I Can't Help It - 9:00 BBC1 - checks in on John Davidson, who first featured in a BBC film about the effects of Tourettes Syndrome in 1988. And, on fifteen-year-old Greg Storey, who the cameras met when they revisited John in 2002. Greg is now the same age as John was when he took part in the first documentary. How does Greg's experience of being a teenager with Tourettes compare to John's and how does John's life continue to change?

The Building Inspector Is Coming - 9:00 Channel 4 - follows the work of Birmingham City Council's building control unit, the biggest in the UK with eighty staff. The programme joins the inspectors as they investigate anonymous tip-offs, uncover dangerous building practices and enforce the law against reluctant homeowners and dodgy builders. We also meet the pregnant mother whose roof can't be saved and the transsexual who has spent fifteen years turning his terraced house into a palace 'fit for a princess.'

I mentioned The Mentalist - 9:00 Five - a few weeks ago when it started and it's turning out to be one of Five's big import hits. This show follows the work of an investigator who uses his razor-sharp skills of observation to solve crimes. Patrick Jane convinces Lisbon to take on a case as a favour to an old associate who stands accused of murder. The consultant initially thinks that animal activists are to blame for the crime, but begins to doubt his instincts when a complex web of deceit unravels. Rather good it is too and it's quickly built up a decent-sized audience. On a related note, Lie To Me - 10:00 Sky1 - is another very watchable US drama series about a scientist who uses his ability to read facial expressions and body language - in a sort-of Derren Brown style - to tell if people are lying and, thus, solve crimes. It stars the excellent Tim Roth (still probably best known for Pulp Fiction). I've recently caught up with the first half-dozen episodes from the US and it's very good indeed. Tim and his female co-star, Kelli Williams (who you may know for a long running US legal show called The Practice), have a lot of on-screen chemistry between them and the stories are quite clever. Tonight, when the gifted daughter of a judge is murdered, Cal must find out whether one of her classmates or her own mother is the culprit. Check this one out - if you like stuff like Medium, you'll probably enjoy it a great deal.

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