Saturday, May 22, 2010

Week Twenty Two: Little Ships & Big 'Shippers

So, that Ashes to Ashes finale, then? Work of considerable merit, that. A work of depth, of shade, of complexity. All the stuff that's often spat upon in the modern TV landscape where realism in all its forms, we are often told, is what people want. Personally, I want to see stuff that makes me think, that makes me do some of the work. That treats me as an adult not a statistic. But, that was something special. 'Hell' is an office block, 'heaven' is a bar. How quintessentially British that is! There were towering, Olympian performances from all of the regulars but I must have a special word about Daniel Mays' almost bestial decent into eye-rolling evil in the last twenty minutes. And the word is remarkable. What we had there, essentially, was an Angel Heart for the Twenty First Century dear blog reader. 'I'm not leaving him. Not like this.' Magnificent. And, when all that's said and done they still found time amid the deep, dark, troubling, introspective, psychological quagmire that the story managed to avoid sinking into for humour. Lots and lots of humour. 'I'm arresting you for murdering my car, you dyke-digging tosspot!' As Alex says early on 'the truth will set you free' and, in a very real sense, she was absolutely right. Questions answered, loose-ends tied up and, in a round-about way, a happy, dignified ending for most of the characters. Just not the one character that, most of all, probably deserved a happy ending. And then, the beautiful cyclical coda a promise of stories to come and never to be told. I so wish they were carrying on with this, I really do, because I don't want to see a character as monumental, as perfectly formed as Gene Hunt go the way of all flesh. I'd love to see a nineties-based Hullo Spaceboy next year. But, in another way, I'm glad they're ending it where it logically should end, with closure. With finality. For Alex. For Sam and Annie. For Ray, Shaz and Chris. Every so often a bit of television comes along that reminds us why we bother watching the damned thing. Why we put up with endless hours of turgid generic tosh and banal characterless formula shows. Because, every once in a while, something says 'I know television is the business of compromise but, d'you know what, we're better than this.' Last night, Ashes to Ashes reminded me, yet again, that it's sometimes worth searching through a swamp to find a diamond. We shall not see its like again. I'm happy, hope you're happy too.

Anyway, the beat goes on and we, however reluctantly, must go on with it. Which bring us too ...

Friday 28 May
Since we last saw Tony Gordon on Coronation Street - 7:30 ITV - he appears to have turned himself into the Grouty of Strangeways. A priest is seen slipping him a Sim card instead of a communion wafer and cell-mate, Robbie, who is about to be released, is sent outside on a dark errand. What with Tracy manipulating Gail and now that Tony is looking to get revenge, they'll have to create a new category honouring the Best Prison Kingpin at next year's British Soap Awards. Playing the role of Tony's accomplice Robbie is James Fleet, who's obviously the idea choice for a spot of underhand reconnoitering. Nobody in Weatherfield is going to suspect someone who's the spitting image of Hugo from The Vicar of Dibley of being up to no good - not even Roy Cropper, who appears to be the ex-convict's first target. Send for Camp Freddie and tell him to give Charlie Croker a good going-over. Roy's rain-drenched vigils may have played their part in bringing down Tony, but will he have the same good sense when it comes to a newcomer claiming to be a fellow rail enthusiast?

After the Ashes To Ashes finale this week, The End is here for Lost next - 9:00 Sky1. And the one thing we can say is that the Lost writers did it their way. Over the past six series the story of plane crash survivors on a desert island has grown to include metaphysical elements such as death and resurrection, time travel, crime drama staples, alternative realities, sitcom conceits and the eternal battle between good and evil - about the only thing not thrown in is kitchen sink drama. So what do we expect from the two-and-a-half hour finale? Presumably a battle royal between Not-Locke and the remaining candidates (or, is Jack now definitely the New Jacob?), and the completion of Desmond's mission in the flash-sideways Los Angeles. But given that the dead and the living mix with impunity in the Lost universe, there may also be the return of some familiar faces. Will Walt prove to be significant? Whatever happens there will be die-hard fans out there who will find themselves lost without their regular Friday-night fix. And I'll be one of them.

Saturday 29 May
In Doctor Who - 7:00 BBC1 - the Earth faces the dawn of a new age of harmony, or the start of its final war? Neither. It'll just be the Silurians up to their old 'wipe out the humans' malarkey and the Doctor will have to put it right. Which he will. Next ...

There's also live coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest 2010 tonight - 8:00 till late BBC1 - from Oslo. Filled with glitter, glamour, dodgy outfits, wacky gimmicks and singing. Often really really bad singing. The hopes of Great Britain rest on the young shoulders of Josh Dubovie, with Pete Waterman's earache-inducing 'That Sounds Good To Me.' Never in the history of popular music has a song-title rung more hollow and desperate than this. Hoping that it sounds good to the rest of Europe and gets a few more than nul points is Graham Norton, back on commentating duties and bringing his own inimitable style of wit and camp to what the organisers call 'Europe's favourite TV show.' Shite, of course, but moderately entertaining shite, it must be said.

Sunday 30 May
After four decades of reporting from the continent, Jonathan Dimbleby returns to Africa on a seven thousand mile journey to discover how it is changing, as detailed in An African Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby - 9:00 BBC2. In the first of three films he travels across Mali, Ghana and Nigeria. On the River Niger he meets the men who dive for sand, learns the art of mud building in the ancient town of Djenne, and attends a court presided over by the King of the Ashanti, a former Brent council worker. In Lagos, Dimbleby looks at the thriving fashion and music businesses. In contrast to images of a continent afflicted by war, famine, poverty and AIDS, this series offers Africa in a new and refreshing light.

Genius of Britain - 9:00 Channel 4 - is a rather interesting-looking series in which leading scientific figures celebrate the life and works of a variety of British inventors and scientists who helped to create the modern world. In this episode, Stephen Hawking and Jim Al-Khalili explain how Isaac Newton saw mathematics at the root of everything. David Attenborough pays tribute to the architect of modern London, Christopher Wren. Richard Dawkins explores the world of Robert Hooke. James Dyson demonstrates Robert Boyle's air pump (steady) and Kathy Sykes charts Edmond Halley's exploration and mapping of the stars. That sounds a bit more thought-provoking than tonight's episode of Lewis.

Monday 31 May
The big drama for Bank Holiday Monday night is The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister - 9:00 BBC2. A bold and passionate costume drama - something the BBC does so well - telling the story of Anne Lister (1791-1840) a Yorkshirewoman and landowner, industrialist, traveller and diarist. She was also a lesbian who kept her orientation secret from society at large but in private defied convention of the day by living with her female lover. Anne kept an account of her life, loves and emotions in a fascinating and painfully honest four million-word journal. It's recent deciphering provides an astonishing insight into the age and also the life of someone who has been called Britain's first modern woman. Stars Maxine Peake, Anna Madeley, Susan Lynch, Christine Bottomley, Gemma Jones and Alan David.

Coronation Street is strip-scheduled by ITV this week and there's two episodes on tonight - at 7:30 and 9:00, either side of Britain's Got Talent. So, the BBC might as well forget about ratings for this week cos, basically, they've not going to get many. Anyway, Mad Old Big-Eyed Tony is Out. And out for revenge. Meanwhile, devious Tracy has a few surprises for her new cell mate Gail. Sunita discovers she has a visitor when she moves into Maria's.

The Big Personality Test: A Child of Our Time Special - 9:00 BBC1 - is a documentary special celebrating the tenth anniversary of Child of Our Time, in which presenters Robert Winston and Sophie Raworth reveal the results of the BBC's online Big Personality Test. They find out how understanding your personality can help you make important decisions in life and boost your chance of happiness, and visit a top city law firm to discover the link between personality and earnings.

Tuesday 1 June
Springwatch 2010 - 8:00 BBC2 - has Chris Packham and Kate Humble in Norfolk giving viewers live updates from the Springwatch animal stars. These include kestrels, plovers, skylarks, swallows, finches, barn owls and many more - as their real-life family dramas unfold. Chris also meets one of his wildlife heroes, a man who's given his life to studying a jet fighter of an aerial predator world - the sparrowhawk. Meanwhile, Simon King gets to grips with Dorset's rich reptilian population, from venomous adders to green lizards.

In The World Cup's Most Shocking Moments - 8:00 BBC3 - Richard Bacon and guest presenter Peter Crouch look back on the fifty greatest shocks in the history of the World Cup, covering the last six tournaments - so, that's missing out 1966, 1970 and 1974 , i.e. the good ones - and including moments such as Maradona's 'Hand of God', Zinedine's Zidane's headbutt and England's regular penalty pain. The documentary features accounts from people who were there, such as David Seaman talking about getting lobbed by Ronaldinho, John Barnes revealing how Gazza nearly rapped on 'World in Motion' and Graham Poll talking about his three-yellow-card-moment. I must admit, I do quite enjoy these sort of things and I've got about six or seven videotapes full from 2002 and 2006 of previous shows like this. One, in particular, presented by Sean Lock - World Cup Goals Galore - was hilarious. And, if you want to follow Keith Telly Topping's summer of fun watching the beautiful game over the next few weeks, you need to go here every now and then.

Holiday Showdown - 8:30 ITV2 - is a reality series in which two families who have never met spend two weeks together on each other's favourite holidays. That sounds like Jean Paul Satre's definition of Hell to me. The boisterous and wacky Hill family from Liverpool (oh God, this is going to be torture) invite the 'prim-and-proper' Rileys for a good knees-up in the Spanish resort of Benidorm, which involves lots of drinking and the kids staying up late. But when the Hills join the Rileys for a sailing tour of southern England, the strict discipline and claustrophobia lead to mutiny after just two days at sea. ITV2, ladies and gentlemen. Where there's always someone there to do the thinking for you.

Wednesday 2 June
Tonight's vital alternatives to Corrie and Britain's Got Talent include Atlantis: The Evidence - A Timewatch Special - 9:00 BBC2. In this historian - and babe - Bettany Hughes unravels one of the most intriguing mysteries of all time. She presents a series of geological, archaeological and historical clues to show that the legend of the lost city of Atlantis was actually inspired by a real historical event - the greatest natural disaster of the ancient world. A tsunami which hit Crete around five thousand years ago.

In tonight's episode of Junior Apprentice - 9:00 BBC1 - Lord Alan Bullyboy Sugar decides to take the candidates completely out of their comfort zones. He does this, of course, with a task which is 'all about spotting talent.' And not in the slightest about belittling them and making some of them look stupid. Oh no. Not in the least. These poor teenage wannabes are given six artists to visit, and must choose two to represent at a private art sale the following day. At the exhibition, the competition hots up as the teams battle it out to make the most sales and prove to Lord Sugar that they are worthy of the title Junior Apprentice.

The popular NCIS - 9:00 Five - is a US drama following the navy's dedicated federal agency. In this episode, Gibbs teams up with an old foe, the CIA agent Trent Kort, to hunt down an international criminal at the top of NCIS's most wanted list. However, evidence emerges that Kort has an underhand agenda of his own. As rogue CIA agents tend to, I've noticed. from films.

Thursday 3 June
To mark the seventieth anniversary of the 'miracle of Dunkirk', fifty of the surviving 'little ships' which made the original perilous cross-channel voyage to help with the evacuation of thousands of stranded British troops are returning to France in Little Ships - 9:30 BBC2. Dan Snow tells their extraordinary story: their role in the evacuation and the people who struggled to keep them afloat during those fateful days in May and June 1940, when the future of Europe hung in the balance. Of course, whilst he was there he became caught up in a modern day equivalent and his efforts to rescue Britons stranded in France following the air travel disruptions due to the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption was described widely in the media as 're-creating the Spirit of Dunkirk.' Typically, the French police in Calais halted their efforts! I have to declare a bit of personal interest here, yer Keith Telly Topping's dad was at Dunkirk (that, actually, was his war in effect). And it's always been a subject that has fascinated me.

Watchdog - 8:00 BBC1 - is a show in which sour-faced Anne Robinson and her team of cheerless bullies give various small business owners a hard time. Tonight, a report on thousands of Britons who bought property in Spain, and who now face demolition orders. Plus, the drivers whose cars are being ruined by the UK's pothole-riddled roads.

Pulse - 9:00 BBC3 - is a one-off drama, a pilot for a possible series. A year after her mother's death, Hannah resumes her training at one of the country's top teaching hospitals. She is soon terrified by strange visions and the threatening behaviour of her ex-boyfriend and star surgeon Nick and wonders if she has come back too soon. But beneath the hospital's reputation of medical excellence she discovers a secret network of dangerous experiments pushing back the boundaries of science. Now, I also have to declare a vested interest here, this was actually written by an old mate of mine, Paul Cornell - who's also written for Corrie and Doctor Who. But, I must admit from the write-up it sounds like the sort of thing I'd probably be watching anyway - an interesting cross-genre mix of humour and thriller. I'm expecting good things from this one.

Finally, Davina McCall has claimed that Channel 4 is 'probably glad' that it has cancelled Big Brother. McCall, who has hosted the reality show since its inception, admitted that it is time to draw it to a close. She said: 'Channel 4 took some flak for that show. I bet they are really glad to get rid of one of the hottest potatoes they have ever had. It was the right time for them and it was the right time for us. I think Endemol in the light of day, would probably say that it was the right thing to do.' She added: 'I have mourned. And I think Channel 4 have very graciously given us a year to get our heads around it. I did need a good week of feeling really down about it and really sad. I couldn't really talk to anyone about it. But, as time has gone by, I've realised that we've had time to go out with a fantastic celebrity series.'

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