Monday, June 01, 2009

Week Twenty Three: You're All Barbarians (Especially If You Buy Your Chicken From Tesco)

Newsnight presenter and general all-round grumpy sod Jezza Paxman has described the British public as 'barbarians' who are too busy watching television to find time to appreciate art. He lamented what he regards as Britain's obsession with TV during a talk on Victorian art given at the Hay Festival of Literature in Wales. Paxman said: 'Watching TV is the most popular leisure activity in Britain. I find that very depressing.' How nice it is to see somebody who's made what I presume to be an extremely good living over thirty years from television who feels it's such an effing waste of everyone's time. No obvious rank and quite disgraceful hypocrisy there then. If you feel that strongly about it, Jez, I trust University Challenge will be getting a new presenter shortly? See, this is the kind of superior middle-class intellectual bollocks that I loathe when it comes to television as both an entity and a concept. The idea that it is, in some way, a lower art form - not worthy of serious consideration as film, literature or sculpture are. Snotty, hyperbolic, twattish nonsense. And, coming from someone whom I thought I rather respected, it's particularly annoying snotty, hyperbolic, twattish nonsense at that. I trust that the next politician being grilled by Paxman about what a shoddy job they're doing will, quite forcefully, remind him of these comments and ask what the hell right he has to ask anything of anybody since he himself, seemingly, holds his job and the industry which is it a part of with such contempt. Back in your box, Jezza, and stick to what you're good at?

And, speaking of sticking to what one is good at ...

Friday 5 June
Keep on Running: Fifty Years of Island Records - 9:00 BBC4 - is a celebration of the independent record label which unfolds like a personal history of rock and reggae. All fans will get their reward with countless well-chosen musical highlights and anecdotal gems. The feature-length film is built around a rare interview with gentlemanly Jamaican, Chris Blackwell, whose family fortune based on the sugar industry and Appleton's rum meant he could introduce the brave, exciting new sounds of ska and bluebeat to Britain in the early 1960s. Within a decade he had built a roster of innovative white acts, ranging from rockers Free to folk-stylist Nick Drake. What's clear is that Blackwell trusted his artists enough to give them their heads. None more so than Bob Marley and The Wailers who, almost single-handedly, made Island its first fortune in the 1970s. Other label stars - including Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, Bono and The Sugababes - tell the viewers why Island was the perfect home for them and their music. Viewers can also enjoy more performances, including a particularly brilliant one by Roxy Music, in Island at the BBC, which follows immediately afterwards. After the gorgeous Motown Night last week it's so nice to see that BBC4 is continuing these theme evenings with such obvious thought and care. Top marks to all concerned - we need television like this, as previously noted, whether we want, or even deserve, it or not.

Saturday 6 June
Totally Saturday - 7:30 BBC1 - is a live light entertainment show, hosted by Graham Norton, where - according to the publicity blurb - 'viewers prize possessions become the stars of the show and could end up anywhere with anyone and lead to anything.' I'm not entirely sure what the hell that actually means but, still, let's give it a chance and watch to find out. Apparently, each show will see two families battling head-to-head to win a holiday of a lifetime (so, that's the format of Family Fortunes, essentially) and 'one lucky viewer has a shot at winning big in The Hamster Run.' Which, no doubt, will somehow involve Richard Hammond. Because, if it doesn't then it's just about the only show on the BBC in which he's not currently omni-present. John Barrowman must, for the first time in some while, be feeling threatened. In this first show there's music from Lionel Richie (oh, God help us...) and the boys from Boyzone help Graham to spring some unexpected surprises. To be honest, this looks not unlike a sort-of watered down version of Noel's House Party and, as Saturday early-evening entertainment goes, that's genuinely not a bad starting point. And Graham's usually cheeky and quite likable so, yeah, this one might work given the limitations of the form that it's a part of.

The Sanjeev Bhaskar sitcom Mumbai Calling - 9:30 ITV - is set in a call centre in India. And, like real call centres in India, it forces itself on unwilling consumers like a nasty rash that you can't get rid of. In tonight's 'hilarious' episode, Kenny is launching a new service for drivers in the UK, but when things fail to go smoothly he is forced to take inspiration from an unusual source. Meanwhile, Dev offers Terri accommodation at his house, but he is ridiculed by his family when they find out that she is his boss. When Sanjeev, Meera and their mates first did the cross-cultural observational comedy thing in Goodness Gracious Me a decade ago, it was innovative, sometimes uncomfortable viewing but always clever and often very funny. And, then they milked the idea bone dry with The Kumars at No. 42. These days, they're parodying themselves and that's never a good thing.

Sunday 7 June
Hope Springs - 8:00 BBC1 - is the, hopefully prophetic, title of a new drama series starring Alex Kingston, Annette Crosbie and Ronni Ancona. It has been described as 'Widows meets Hamish MacBeth' which, if that's an accurate assessment, might just be intriguing enough to be a hit. The story follows four female ex-cons Ellie, Hannah, Josie and Shoo as they embark on the final stage of their long-held plan to live out their lives on a Barbados beach. The four women await their friend Mandy, who is due to fly in from Manchester to bring them their false passports in a small Scottish village. Hope Springs is said to be 'a sparklingly modern fish-out-of-water comedy drama set against the stunning backdrop of gorgeous Scottish scenery.' It's made by Shed Productions who seem to specialise in predominantly female-led drama and whose output ranges from the very good (Waterloo Road), through the average (Bad Girls) to the completely bloody dreadful (Footballers' Wives). Hope Springs 'is about losing millions and finding them again, falling in love in unlikely places, making a home and chasing your dreams.' So, Local Hero with girlie bank robbers then? Yeah, I actually quite like the sound of that. And, it's got a very good cast, led by River Song herself.

Kingdom - 9:00 ITV - the Stephen Fry drama vehicle about a solicitor in a small Norfolk seaside town is back for a third series. It's a rather sweet and charming little show, a kind of mix between Twin Peaks and The Archers if you like. It's gentle and wryly amusing in places, has - like Hope Springs - lots of very good actors in it and, in an unassuming way, draws the audience into it with a mixture of quirky eccentric characters and village life. I've very much enjoyed it over the last two years. In this opening episode, Peter has the tricky task of helping an injured Iraq War veteran come to terms with his future and Lyle takes the reins when an attractive young woman is discriminated against by the army. Meanwhile Gloria has a very demanding father to cope with and Beatrice (the totally brilliant Hermoine Norris) is adjusting to motherhood in her own special way. On opposite the final of The Apprentice so it's likely to get hammered in the ratings but, stick with Kingdom, it can be very rewarding.

Monday 8 June
In Coronation Street - 7:30 ITV - the realisation dawns for Gary that he could be charged with murder. Last time that happened in the Street, Old Big Eyed Tony went on a grief-stricken rampage after he had Liam bumped off so, let's hope something along similar lines is on the horizon to brighten up Weatherfield this week. Meanwhile, Peter has a confession for the Barlows and it's handbags at dawn for Betty and Poppy. As Harry Hill might say, 'there's only one way to sort this out ... a nice cup of tea. Put the kettle on, Rita...'

Fifth Gear - the motoring magazine show presented by Tiff Needell, Jason Plato and some other people you've never heard of - returns to Five at 8:00. Never in the history of television has a show been more damaged by its genre opposition than here. Since Top Gear (which, remember, Fifth Gear once actually was) became a national obsession for fortysomething chaps (without driving licences) like myself, Tiff and co. have had to try and compete on a wholly different level - something to which they're really unsuited. You can see the green tinge of mad-jealousy in their eyes every time they get stuck behind the wheel of another Astra diesel to do a 'sensible' road test, begging the producer 'Can't we have a go in a Lamborghini this week? Even James May gets to drive them on the other side!' In the last couple of years they're tried to follow the Top Gear way and along with, what they suggest is 'the all-essential consumer advice', tonight we get a death-defying loop-the-loop stunt, a race against David Coulthard and 'a test to see if buying an old banger can beat the credit crunch.' The first two just don't sit well together with the third item, do they? A classic example of Fifth Gear's identity crisis since its little brother started getting all uppity and, with it, eight million viewers.

Risible ex-EastEnders 'hard man' Ross Kemp makes award-winning, but I've always felt curiously hollow, documentaries about gangs and military subjects for Sky. You might have noticed, if you've got the channel since they're sodding constantly repeated. Some of them are decent enough - certainly they're beautifully filmed - but Ross, himself, is a huge drawback to them since he seems to want to be centre-of-the-action at all times. This almost led to him getting his face shot off in Afghanistan recently. Anyway, Ross Kemp: In Search of Pirates - 9:00 Sky1 - clearly proves that Ross was born in the wrong century. You should've been here two hundred years ago, mate, there were loads of them sailing the seven seas. Johnny Depp, for once. Now there was a pirate. In this film, Ross and his team investigate modern day piracy in the seas of south-east Asia. Ross joins the crew of the HMS Northumberland based off Somalia. The frigate is the first British anti-piracy deployment since 1816. See, a man out of a time is our Ross. It's to be hoped that he doesn't say 'avast ye land lubbers' at any point. But, I wouldn't bank on it, frankly.

Tuesday 9 June
Secrets of Egypt: The Screaming Man - 8:00 Five - is an impressive historical documentary series probing the secrets of Ancient Egypt. Scientists attempt to unravel the mystery of a three thousand-year-old 'screaming' mummy. The man was discovered in a tomb with his features locked into what appears to be a screaming expression, devoid of the usual elegant trappings of Egyptian burial. Who was this man and what does his fate reveal about the ancient Egyptian attitude to the afterlife?

What looks to be another winner from the BBC's natural history department, Living With Monkeys: Tales From the Treetops, kicks off at 9:00 on BBC1. Adventurer Guy Grieve and primatologist Julie Anderson spend six weeks in the Central African rainforest, trying to save one of the world's rarest monkeys, the red-capped mangabey. Guy and Julie's home is an amazing treehouse, high in the canopy, that allows them unique access to the monkeys world and keeps them safe from dangerous forest elephants. Because, there's nowt worse for a naturalist than an enraged heffelump is there? From her precarious perch, Julie aims to study the rare red-capped mangabey breed whilst Guy's task is to keep house by utilising all of his survival experience – from digging the latrines to fishing for food and constructing a rainwater harvesting device. With regard to the lavvies, why don't they just crap out of the window? That's what I'd do if I lived in a treehouse. As it is, I live in a first floor flat and I still sometimes do that. You know, for a laugh. Anyway, moving on quickly, wildlife cameraman Gavin Thurston, a veteran of numerous David Attenborough series, is also on hand to capture the incredible variety of animal action and observe Julie and Guy as they adjust to their new habitat in the air. Concludes tomorrow. Looks highly watchable.

As her wedding day arrives, Faye (Patsy Kensit) decides she is going to make a clean breast of everything in Holby City at 8:00 on BBC1. No jokes about breasts, please. The day does not go even remotely according to plan, however, when Faye's parents show up unexpectedly whilst her husband-to-be, Jospeh, is having a bit of a day to forget himself. Has there ever been a single TV wedding that has gone entirely to plan? Just once, it might be nice. Meanwhile, poor old Jac is left to cover a hectic AAU; struggling with the fact that Joseph is getting married, she takes it out on the new junior doctors, including the recently arrived brother and sister duo of Penny and Oliver Valentine. Always entertainingly bonkers is Holby and, in recent weeks, it has been aided by the welcome return to the show of one of my favourite actors; the excellent Peter Wingfield who, of course, took time-out to go to the US and get the crud beaten out of him by Jack Bauer in 24. Nice to have you back in the more sedate atmosphere of Holby General, Peter.

Wednesday 10 June
So, it's the World Cup Qualifier: England v Andorra - 7:45 ITV - as those plucky and brave, but ill-prepared part-timers attempt to do battle ... with Andorra. A country where, you might be interested to know, they have the highest life expectancy in the world. And, one of the highest per-capita incomes. Sounds like my kind of principality, actually. I'm off ... But, before I go here's three alternatives to the fitba.

In Celebrity MasterChef - 8:00 BBC1 - the dryly witty duo of John Torode and Gregg Wallace begin the search for the country's top celebrity chef. This show features two heats. In the first, Rosie Boycott, Joel Ross and Michael Obiora cook for paying restaurant customers at the Cinnamon Kitchen. In the second, Jan Leeming, Jayne Middlemiss and Joe Swift cook at the Pearl. Only two of these contestants will get through to the quarter-final stage. I must admit MasterChef became something of a guilty pleasure for me last year - it shouldn't really work on any level at all but, somehow, it does and it's easily the best cooking show on TV.

Kizzy: Sex, Prams and Exams - 9:00 BBC3 - is a documentary which follows young mother Kizzy Neal's journey to independence as she turns sixteen. Juggling motherhood and school, Kizzy is now faced with the decision of whether to leave home and gain independence or remain living with the parents who have been so supportive to her though recent years. Kizzy has her own video diary which she updates before and after transmission.

Lastly, we've got River Cottage - 8:00 C4. That lank-haired pretentious gobshite (though he's still nowhere near as annoying as his mate Jamie Oliver) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall presents a new series of the food magazine, celebrating the best food that spring and summer have to offer. Chips. What more do you need? In this episode, Hugh introduces a 'leftovers night' at the canteen. Careful with how you cook that stuff, Hugh, you might end up with salmonella if you don't heat the leftovers properly. And die. And that would be, like, a total tragedy wouldn't it? Imagine the hole it would leave in Channel 4's schedules. Hugh also tries his hand at fishing for mullet (there's a joke about hair in their somewhere but, trust me, I'm not going there I've got enough material to work with on this show without stating the bleeding obvious) and investigates a scheme run by chemistry students that turns cooking oil into car fuel. Yeah, Top Gear did that story five years ago. Next week, no doubt, we'll see Hugh driving a Bugatti Veyron across Europe in search of some chickens to suggest that Tesco's massively overcharge their customers for just so the chicken has a better life before it's killed and eaten. It's a winner, I'm telling you ...

Thursday 11 June
May Contain Nuts - 9:00 ITV - repeats last year's two-part comedy drama. Made by Tiger Aspect (who also produce The Catherine Tate Show) this is based on the best-selling novel by John O'Farrell. Alice Chaplin and her family move to a gated community in London and find themselves in a world of high expectations, middle-class pretensions and competitive parenting. When Alice fears that her daughter Molly will fail the entrance exam for the prestigious Chelsea College for Girls, she decides to take drastic measures to make sure the family can keep up with the Joneses. Sadly, you can't say you weren't warned by the title that this rather limp averice-comedy farce may trigger an adverse reaction in many viewers. If you get all sweaty, short of breath and hot under the collar, try something on the other side.

Like EastEnders, for instance. Tonight the Masoods host a match-making dinner with disastrous results, while RIKKKY struggles to tell BYANKA about Whitney's shocking decision. Meanwhile, an encounter with a man leaves Chelsea with a terrible dilemma.

Two Foot Tall Teen - 9:00 C4 - is a rather sad-looking documentary about the life and future of sixteen-year-old Jyoti Amge, an Indian teenager who is only one foot eleven inches tall. Weighing in at just over three pounds at birth, she will not grow any taller because of the state of her brittle bones. Jyoti's family see her extraordinary survival as a miracle that deepened their devout Hindi faith, but are looking for medical, and spiritual, assistance in helping her live the fullest life possible. Again, a question that's worth asking about many of these 'extraordinary people living their lives solely for your entertainment'-type documentaries: important awareness-raising TV or exploitative freak-show titilation for the masses? Ultimately you, dear blog reader, and indeed I, must decide.

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