Sunday, July 19, 2009

Week Thirty: Pirate Poseurs, Poetic Perverts and Poor Parents

Good day to you, dear blog reader. Today's Top Telly Tips are brought to you by Keith Telly Topping: 'He's loud, he's omni-present, he dislikes carrots and he cannot write for toffee.' I think that about sums it all up.

Friday 24 July
Ashes to Diamonds - 7:35 Channel 4 - appears to be a rather well-observed and quirky little slice of one aspect of British life. For the Channel 4's excellent First Cut strand, film-maker David Brindley dissects the strange world of cremations and the things that some people do with the ashes of their recently departed loved ones. Thankfully there are no crass jokes about people using the urn as an ash-tray and then commenting that the deceased are 'putting on weight' in this one. David finds some touching stories of the bereaved trying hard to turn ashes into a symbol, not of death but, rather, of life. Helen, for example, keeps her husband's remains in a plastic Chinese-takeaway container marked 'Steve'. However, she has plans to have some of them compressed and crystallised into a man-made diamond (a slightly amber-coloured one as it turns out). The rest, she hopes to have loaded into shotgun cartridges for a twenty eight-gun salute. Jill, on the other hand, has her husband's ashes painted into a landscape scene of a place they both loved, while Charley has her brother's remains made into a glass pendant: 'I don't think I'll ever take it off,' she says, rather sweetly. Almost as interesting as these poignant vignettes are the facts of the cremation process itself, including a machine that grinds burnt bones into ash. 'It takes ninety minutes at one thousand degrees to turn you into seven pounds of ash,' explains the oven operator, taking clear pride in his job. 'You weigh roughly the same when you depart this life as you did when you came in.' How very profound. And what a lovely example of eccentricities of British TV that something like this will, hopefully, find an audience. Highly recommended - for oddity value if nothing else.

Saturday 25 July
Channel 4 begin the terrestrial broadcast of the fifteenth, and final, series of ER at 7:35 with two episodes of this classy American medical drama set in the emergency room of Chicago's General Hospital. In its time ER won twenty two Emmy Awards and received one hundred and twenty three nominations, the most of any television show in history. It also made stars about of numerous members of its ever-changing cast including George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Alex Kingston and Maura Tierney. By the end of its three hundred and thirty one episode run it had possibly long since passed its sell-by date. But, nevertheless, on a good day even in its final years, it still had the ability to entertain its audience. In tonight's two episodes, Gates goes out looking for a homeless war hero, Neela's med student gets the entire surgical department into a lawsuit. A couple comes into the ER after an attempt was made at burning down their home. Neela must testify in court to defend her actions regarding a patient who died in her care. Sarah and Alex defy Sam and sneak off to a party, with dire consequences, while a snowstorm strands Banfield and Morris at a Nebraska medical conference.

Sunday 26 July
Whatever It Takes - 9:00 ITV - is a widely-trailed drama starring former EastEnder Shane Richie. A young female police officer, Daisy (Amy Beth Hayes) finds her career in ruins and her relationship with her family shattered into tiny pieces after a night out with a famous footballer leads to a tabloid scandal. As she searches for a way to rebuild her life, Daisy meets ruthless publicist JJ Merrick, who catapults her into the world of glamour modelling and instant fame. For a while Daisy is caught up in a whirl of money, romance and excitement, but it isn't long before her star begins to fade and she must go to desperate lengths to stay in the spotlight. It looks really rather good from the trailers, which'll make a change for Shane since he hasn't been at all well-served by decent formats since he left Albert Square.

Or, there's always good old reliable Top Gear - 8:00 BBC2. Jeremy, Richard and James immerse themselves in the world of classic cars to find out if they really are more fun than modern machinery. Armed with a budget of three grand, they each attempt to buy a pre-1982 car at auction. The trio are then sent to Majorca to take part in a classic car rally. Nice job for some, innit?! Also, rock god Brian Johnson is this episode's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. I always preferred Geordie to AC/DC, personally, just thought I'd mention that. 'Wor Geordie's Lost His Liggy Doon The Netty.' Masterpiece.

Monday 27 July
You'll need to have watched virtually no television on the BBC for the last fortnight to have missed the numerous 'countdown' trailers for Bang Goes the Theory - 7:30 BBC1 - a series aiming to put science to the test in a kind of mixture of Tomorrow's World's gravitas and Brainiac's off-yer-face stupidity. The team demo cutting-edge developments in technology and explain scientific principles that govern the world around us. In this episode, Jem Stansfield builds a vortex cannon to pick up where the big bad wolf failed to blow over the piggies house of brick; Dallas Campbell takes on the Big Brother technology that will track every one of us simply by the way we walk. And, Liz Bonnin talks to the US scientist who is working to create the first generation of artificial life.

Actor Rupert Everett embarks on a journey in the footsteps of one of his heroes (and, one of mine as it happens) in The Scandalous Adventures of Lord Byron - 9:00 Channel 4. Two hundred years since the Romantic poet's legendary travels around Europe and the Mediterranean with the Shelleys, Rupert examines how these travels contributed to Byron's rise and fall, offering him both the freedom of sexual liberation and influencing him in the writing of his most autobiographical works, Childe Harold and She Walks In Beauty. My kind of bloke, was George Byron. A social reformer, anarchist and someone who was very interested in perverse sexual practices. What a chap! Like Lady Caroline Lamb said, 'mad, bad and dangerous to know.'

In Britain's Most Embarrassing Parents - 9:00 BBC3 - Kirsten O'Brien takes what we are promised is 'a warmhearted and irreverent tour' of Britain's Most Embarrassing Parents. We get a peek into the lives of ten families across the UK and hear first-hand from the mortified kids who've been brought up by some of the country's most unconventional parents. If you don't fancy that, there's always Sue and Giles finally getting to Ancient Rome in Supersizers on BBC2 at the same time.

Tuesday 28 July
Having been over the France last week - lucky so-and-so's - the Coast team continue their never-ending journey at 8:00 on BBC2. This time, they're covering the stretch from Cornwall to South Wales. Scottish Neil Oliver (and his lovely hair) casts his own bronze age sword and discovers how demand for tin three and a half millennia ago put Cornwall at the centre of an international arms trade. Neil also explores the site of the 'Welsh Great Escape'. Renee Godfrey swims with seals and searches out rare corals on the island paradise of Lundy. On Exmoor's treacherous sea cliffs, Nick Crane is challenged to an epic sideways climb. Hermione Cockburn discovers how American media mogul William Randolph Hearst transformed a run-down castle on the Welsh coast into a fabulous fun palace for the rich and famous. And Mark Horton visits Bristol to uncover the story of Samuel Plimsoll. No Alice this week? Ah well, we can allow the Goddess of punk archaeology a holiday every now and then, I suppose.

Big, Bigger, Biggest - 8:00 Five - is a new series of the programme which examines the history behind huge feats of engineering. This instalment reveals how six technological breakthroughs have enabled the construction of the Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps.

The Chaser's War on Everything - 10:00 BBC4 - is a hugely controversial Australian series featuring satirical sketches and comedic publicity stunts. A kind of down-under mix of Mock the Week, The Daily Show and a bit of Beadle's About if you like. It achieved a lot of worldwide coverage earlier this year when, after they'd done a (not particularly funny, it should be noted) sketch which lampooned over-sentimental TV shows about sick children, everybody and their dog from the Aussie Prime Minister downwards gave them a right kicking for being thoughtless glakes. The show was taken off-air for a couple of weeks and the lads had to stand in the naughty corner and look contrite. BBC4 have been quietly showing the series for a few weeks now. I have to say, I think its reputation for being The Sex Pistols of satirical comedy is a wee-bit undeserved, I don't think it's as good as Mock the Week, for instance. But they do come up with an occasional comedy gem and it's worth watching a couple of episode just to see what all the fuss is about. Tonight, a golden retriever is granted a degree from an Internet university, the Citizens' Infringement Officer fines parents whose babies have stupid names and what date do most Americans think the 11 September attacks occurred on? Pretty obvious targets though, lads!

Wednesday 29 July
In this week's Who Do You Think You Are? - 9:00 BBC1 - Springwatch presenter Katie Humble knows little about her family history. What she does know is that her paternal grandfather was a test pilot and she believes her maternal grandfather ended up in Colditz. Kate visits the RAF Museum and is astonished to see Bill Humble's daredevil flying for herself in archive film held there. At the National Archives she discovers her maternal grandfather Stanley Carter's POW liberation report, which reveals he was not at Colditz but at Stalag Luft III, immortalised in the Hollywood blockbuster The Great Escape. Usually fascinating and often touching. One of the best show on TV, this. Worth an hour of anyone's week.

Sadly, it's got very strong opposition this week. Breaking the Mould: The Story of Penicillin - 9:00 BBC4 - is part of the BBC's Biology season. The history books tell us that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but that's not the whole story. This drama uncovers the forgotten team involved in the development and manufacture of the drug that transformed medicine. Set against the background of the early years of the Second World War, this factually-based drama (written by Kate Brooke) shows how it was Australian Professor Howard Florey and his team who persevered against incredible odds to make penicillin an applicable medicine, whilst refusing to patent it for commercial gain. A revealing, poignant and witty character-driven account of a miraculous scientific breakthrough, Breaking The Mould tells the little-known story of Florey and his young team of unsung heroes from the Dunn School of Pathology at Oxford University. A stellar cast includes Dominic West as Florey, Denis Lawson and Robin Hood's Joe Armstrong. I might even give Katie Humble's grandad a miss for this!

Knowitalls - 6:30 BBC2 - is another of those irritatingly addictive early evening BBC2 quiz shows, like Eggheads, this one presented by Gyles Brandreth. Who has similar irritatingly addicitive qualities himself. Contestants have their breadth of knowledge tested to the limit as they battle it out to impress the show's experts. Two teams are given their topics and then have just one hour to pool their knowledge before facing the Knowitall experts, including Springwatch presenter Chris Packham. The winners progress, one step closer to the prize of fifteen grand.

Thursday 30 July
How the Other Half Live - 9:00 Channel 4 - looks into the harsh reality of poverty in Twenty First Century Britain, in a fly-on-the-wall documentary series from the team behind The Secret Millionaire. Each episode, a wealthy family assists one living below the poverty line. A family residing in one of the most affluent areas of the country comes to the aid of a mother-of-two who lives on a council estate. So ... Hideously patronising? Genuinely concerned? Feel-good telly, like Secret Millionaire? Feel-wretched telly like that show the BBC did on the homeless recently? Could be some, all or none of these, frankly - I could go either way on this one. The idea sounds like the kind of thing some well-meaning but clueless production aqssistant living in Camden dreamed up whilst driving past Centre Point one day. But, I'm certainly intrigued enough to give the first episode the benefit of the doubt.

Blackbeard's Last Stand - 8:00 - is another of Five's usually fascinating Revealed series. Edward Teeth was the most notorious pirate of the Eighteenth Century. At the height of his power he commanded his own navy, with four ships and a three hundred-strong crew of black-hearted, murderous rapscallions who'd come to yer town, steal yer gold, have it away with yer woman and drink yer booze so much as look at you. Arrrgh! Archaeologists now believe they have uncovered the wreck of Blackbeard's flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge. Could their discovery shed new light on this elusive character and the scurvy dogs he called a crew?

The Rat Pack - 8:30 BBC1 - is, as the title suggests, a documentary series following the work of pest controllers. Ricky and Jimmy Clark face the challenge of hundreds of rats in west London, as a street is infested with them. Their secret weapon is Charlie, a highly skilled Jack Russell terrier. He's trained to hunt and kill rats, but he may have met his match in Olympia, better known to the pest control boys as 'Rat City.' Elsewhere, Ricky tackles squirrels with industrial traps, and Jimmy faces his two biggest fears - pigeons and learning to drive. What a pigeons who can drive? Surely that's a real nightmare scenario?

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