Monday, November 24, 2008

The Week in Focus (Top Telly Tips-Wise)

Welcome back, my friends, to the load of old hippy drivel that, literally, never ends. Or something... So, in the words of something with considerably more artistic integrity (and a much better guitar solo) "hey ho, let's go!"

Monday November 24:
This World: American Time Bomb
(BBC2 7:00)
No, this one isn't about the tragic events in Oklahoma City in 1995 as you might expect from the title. Rather, it is a documentary which asks if America is facing an even greater - and more potentially devastating - threat to its economy than either global and/or internal terrorism or the current meltdown of its banking system? David Walker believes that his country is about to drown in a metaphorical ocean of very real debt. He is so concerned about this impending nastiness that he has recently quit his - very well-paid - job as director of the US Government’s Accountability Office (in which he was known as - the excellently named “Comptroller General” - and no, that isn’t a spelling mistake, they’re Americans they do tend to go for grandiose and ludicrously over-the-top job-handles) in an attempt to raise public awareness of the issue. He believes that his message is, quite literally, the financial equivalent of Al Gore's dire warnings about the environment. I must say I don't know whether he’s right or he’s wrong but I did enjoy The Daily Show’s recent observation: The US now owes so much money to China, they noted, that the Chinese government are, quite legally, entitled to keep Americans “as their pets.” Matt Johnson, it would seem, got it wrong twenty odd years ago when he suggested that all the bankers were getting sweaty beneath their white collars "as the pound in our pocket turns into a dollar." It seems we should all be getting used to spending our hard-earned Renminbi Yuan. Mind you, "this is the Fifty First state of the P.R.C." doesn't have quite the same ring to it...

But, it isn't all bad news - Tony Robinson’s new popular science show, Catastrophe (Channel 4 at 9:00) investigates the controversial theory that numerous natural disasters have actually helped to shape human evolution. The first film looks at how Earth's chance collision with another planet led to the formation of the Moon which, in turn, made it possible for life to flourish and which, to this day, still affects things as basic as the motion of the tides. Alternatively, if you prefer something a bit less cerebral and thought-provoking and a bit more invasive and spiteful, there’s always the latest goings on deep in the heart of Ant and Dec's jungle in I’m A Z-List Former-Celebrity Who Is Utterly Desperate To Get My Boat-Race On TV For Long Enough So That You Viewers Remember I'm Not, Actually, Dead Yet. Please, Please, Please For the Love of God Vote For Me To Stay Here For As Long As You Like. Longer If Possible. I'll Even Eat Kangerooo Bollocks If Your Want... on ITV at the same time. Will Mr Kilroy-Silk manage to get through an episode without glowering, menacingly at the camera and grinding his teeth whilst seething and jibbering and bemoaning the manifest unfairness of him being sacked by the BBC whilst Jonathan Ross still has a job to go back to? Will Joe Cole’s girlfriend get through five minutes without bursting into tears again? Will Mr Sulu get to say “defensive shields up, Captain” at any point, particularly in relation to Martina Navratilova? Will busty Nicola manage to keep down the next thing she’s forced to swallow (steady on) and, if so, what will it be? Is the ex-copper going to actually do anything useful, like arrest those responsible for this tripe? Whose bright idea was it to put Timmy Mallett and the bloke out of Dollar in there? All these questions, and more, probably won’t be answered any time soon. Have we really got another two weeks of this nightly - admittedly, extremely addictive - nonsense to go?

In [Spooks] - BBC1, 9:00 - a teenage boy accidentally stumbles upon a massive pan-governmental conspiracy – as teenage boys tend to have a nasty habit of doing in this show - and is instantly absorbed into the murky world of MI5, MI6 ... and all of the various other MI Departments that we don't know about, ending up on the run. Hunky Lucas and the team battle to protect the boy from those who wish to silence him. Meanwhile, spymaster Harry receives a cryptic message from his asset in Russia, which could be the key to finding the high-level Security Service mole. But as ever things are not, always, what they seem to be. And, if you want to know what happens on BB1 next week, tune into the episode on BBC3 at 10:30 to find out.

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day.
Causing vexation, annoyance or boredom; troublesome and tedious. A right bleedin’ pain in the posterior.
As in “Today’s great debate for our society: Jamie Oliver. Irksome or merely flaming irritating? You decide, people of Rotherham.”

Tuesday November 25:
Tonight’s Natural World (8:00, BBC2) is David Attenborough's entertaining romp through the world of “the cheeky monkey.” When humans look at monkeys we can - if we look hard enough - see ourselves. From memory to morality, from 'crying wolf' to political structures, monkeys are our basic behavioural blueprint. Thus, in tonight's show we get a glimpse of pygmy marmosets 'farming' tree sap; bearded capuchins in Brazil developing a form of production line for extracting nuts; other capuchins in Costa Rica tenderly nursing the victims of a battle and, in the Ethiopian highlands, a refugee baboon has got a serious dose of the blues. If he starts singing “woke up this morning,” I’ll be impressed. I think, on reflection, my favourite monkey has to be Peter Tork. Or, the one in the Brooke Bond PG Tips advert who was asked "Dad, d'you know the piano's on my foot?" Hang on ... come to think of it, that was Peter Tork, wasn't it? Certainly looked like him. "You 'um it, son, I'll play it."

An interesting alternative to The Scum vs Villareal in the Champions League – that’s going to be a question of who bursts into tears first - is provided by Five. High Society’s Favourite Gigolo (9:00) tells the remarkble story of the meteoric rise and subsequent fall of one of Britain's first genuine black superstars. Leslie Hutchinson was a singer, cabaret star and obsessive womaniser from Grenada who came to England, via New York and Paris, to seek his fortune. With his devastating good looks and a voice that stole many hearts, Hutch took 1920s and 30s London café society by storm, propelling himself to the very centre of the British establishment. He was a close friend of the Prince of Wales and Wallace Simpson. He was also bisexual, having relationships with, among others, the songwriters Ivor Novello and Cole Porter (who wrote ‘I’m a Gigolo’ for, and about, Hutch) and the movie star Tallulah Bankhead. Evelyn Waugh is alleged to have satirised Hutch as the social-climbing black upstart, Chokey, in his novel of 30s London decadance and the Bright Young Things, Decline And Fall. His many affairs also included members of the royal circle (including, allegedly, Princess Margaret who was thirty years his junior) and, most notably, with Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of Lord Louis. And then it all went wrong and he was socially ostracised after a scandelous court case in which Lady Mountbatten sued the Sunday People for suggesting that she was having an affair with a black man (albeit, the stupid glakes picked the wrong man and implied that she was "at it" with the noted actor and social activist Paul Robeson rather than with Hutch). This fascinating documentary looks at Hutch’s life and sad decline. The establishment, it appears, simply wouldn’t forgive him his trespasses after the case was settled and the Mountbatten's scuttled off to the continent to let the heat die down: Lord Beaverbrook gave orders that Hutch's name was never to be mentioned by any of his papers. During World War II, Hutch was one of the first stars in Britain to volunteer his services to entertain the Forces, but he received no formal recognition for this (unlike just about everyone else who did - certainly everyone white) and his name would never appear in any Honours list. He was reduced to performing at Butlin's holiday camps at Skegness, or in end-of-the-pier shows. When he died, virtually penniless in 1969, only forty mourners attended his funeral.

Darts Players' Wives - 9:00 on Sky Three - is a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of the women who simple cannot get enough of those veritable giants of men - the professional darters. These, self-proclaimed, ‘Tarts for Darts’ each spend tens of thousands of pounds each year following their larger than life heroes - like Phil The Power Taylor and Andy The Viking Fordham - around the world on the circuit to see them perform their darting magic on the oche with the arras. Double top and all that. There’s a joke about “it was in, but it’s come out again” in the middle of all that but, trust me, dear reader, I am NOT going there.

Sculptor Richard Serra discusses his extraordinary life and work with Alan Yentob in Imagine: Man of Steel (BBC1 10:35). A creator of enormous steel sculptures that terrify and mesmerise, Serra believes each viewer creates the sculpture for themselves by being within it. To this end, a Japanese family are reminded of the Temples of Kyoto, a Londoner finds sanctuary in the work near Liverpool Street station, and most movingly, a Holocaust survivor sees one piece as a wall separating the living from the dead. Always nice to see a bit of a debate on, exactly, what constitutes art.

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
Humbug, bunkum, nonsense; a palaver or racket. An event, activity, idea or utterance seen as utterly trivial, misleading or not even worthy of consideration.
As in “What’s all that malarkey masquerading itself as entertainment on The X-Factor, then?”

Wednesday 26 November:
Nick Knowles attempts to give Britain's urban spaces a bit of a makeover in Wild About Your Garden (BBC1 8:30). In tonight's episode, the team meet Mark and Fiona from Bristol, who wish for their unborn child to grow up in an environment surrounded by wildlife. Well, they could always go and live in Kenya, I suppose … bit of a radical suggestion there I know but, that’s me you see, always full of radical suggestions like that. Anyway, the only problem, it would appear, is their neglected garden which hasn’t been touched for twenty years. No, mine neither – do you know anybody who’ll do it on the cheap, Mark and Fiona? Designer Chris Beardshaw and wildlife expert Ellie Harrison are at loggerheads over whether they should try to entice badgers into the space. Personally, I'd start with a strimmer before I let the badgers have a go.

I rather like the sound of Combat Chefs (Five, 8:00), a documentary which profiles the men and women who are responsible for feeding the 120,000 British troops stationed overseas. From battlefield to banquet hall, the chefs are charged with the - often awkward - task of making hearty meals every day, whatever the weather or the military situation. Tonight, soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan are given a rare culinary treat meanwhile the heat is on (heh) for the chefs at a cookery competition on the Rhine.

I’m A Celebrity’s still going strongly (see Monday's rant for the latest goings-on) so, tonight Five use it as the basis for a documentary exploring the success of the popular reality show. I’m A Celebrity … Made Me Rich (10:00) features interviews with various past participants and backroom staff and examines the best tasks, traumas and tantrums that took place in the jungle, revealing how the series became a great opportunity for once faded stars to remake - or totally break - a career.

Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
One who plucks.
As in, “I saw that Sting bloke playing his lute on the telly the other day. What a plucker.”

Thursday 27 November:
Film-maker Jane Preston follows various members of the Jackson Five from their native Los Angeles to search for a new home in the Devon fishing village of Appledore in Cutting Edge: The Jacksons Are Coming (Channel 4 at 9:00). I wonder if they asked her to show them the way to go? Cos then, see, she could have said it was easy. Easy as ABC. And if only, baby, they’d give her one more chance, to show them that she loved them … Remember, Tito and co, if you have to blame it on anyone, don’t blame it on Jane. Blame it on the boogie. Oooo. Ah, do you remember when Little Michael used to be ... normal? When the only bawdy joke you could make about any of the Jacksons was because one of them was called Randy? Those were innocent times.

Angelina Jolie – using the hardest working and most frequently injected lips in showbiz - talks frankly to Big Quiffed Marky Kermode about her film career in a Culture Show Special (BBC2 at 7:00). They discuss her impressive back catalogue - from her breakthrough appearance in Hackers, through her Oscar winning turn in Girl, Interrupted and Golden Globe nominated performance in A Mighty Heart to her current starring role in Clint Eastwood's very well-received Changeling. But is she going to give all that up to have more of Brad’s babies, that’s what everybody REALLY wants to know, isn't it?

The Oceans team explores a corner of the Atlantic - the youngest of the great oceans and critical in influencing our own climate at 8:00 on BBC2. Team leader Paul Rose, environmentalist Philippe Cousteau, maritime archaeologist Lucy Blue and oceanographer Tooni Mahto make a dangerous dive into a deep sea 'black hole' to discover how different our planet's earliest oceans were more than three and a half billion years ago. Someone reckons “it’s a bit rocky down there.” A bit rocky? It’s Rocky 1, 2 and most of the one featuring Mr. T if you ask me.

Today’s Top Telly Tip TV Word of the Day:
Anything designed to follow something else - but which is seldom, if ever, as good as whatever it is that it's supposed to be following in the first place. As in “I don’t watch Match of the Day 2 personally. I don’t like sequels. Except for The Godfather Part II. But, that had Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in it rather than Adrian Chiles and Lee Dixon."

Friday 28 November:
Somebody once asked the US chat-show host Dick Cavett if he thought violence on television was responsible for the violence that is inherent in our society. "There's more comedy on TV than violence," he noted in his deadpan way. "Does that cause jokes in the street?" This is relevant directly in relation to a new sitcom, Parents of the Band – 8:30 BBC1 - starting tonight. It’s been far too long since Wor Big Hard Jimmy Nail brought his exciting (and often very entertaining) brand of country-influenced singing and cheery Northern manic-ultraviolence to our screens. In this show he plays Phill, who - autobiographically - once had a hit record in the 1980s and is now getting interested in his teenage son Jack’s new pop group. Much to Jack's obvious distress. Sounds ... different, at worst. Let us just hope this one is more like Spender or Auf Wiedersehen, Pet than the rank failure that was Crocodile Shoes. Because the latter would be really bad.

If, like me, you are a bit of a sucker for the mythology and jingle-jangle morning sounds of the golden era in Californian culture then Hotel California: LA from the Byrds to the Eagles – 10:15 BBC2 on Saturday – will be right up your Sunset Boulevard. Rock Journo Barney Hoskins (ex-NME) tells the story of how Los Angeles changed from a kooky musical backwater in the early 1960s to become the artistic and industrial hub of the American music industry by the end of the 1970s. And how the socially-conscious folk-rock of the earnest young hippies with their acoustic guitars and their peace, lurv and mushrooms, baby, was transformed into coked-out stadium excess with the lighters held aloft and all that bloated pomp-rock nonsense. Man. Features many of those involved - including, not only Mad Dennis Hopper but, also, all of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Gifted and Black. And the Eagles. Jeez, it's like punk never happened. NEVER TRUST A HIPPY.

Despite all the publicity generated by John Sergeant-Gate and Cheri - "should she stay or should she go-go?" Lunghi - The X-Factor has been pretty well creaming Strictly Come Dancing in the ratings all season. Which is, trust me, no cause for celebration for anyone with any taste. But it does, I guess, say something about something concerning life in the early years of the 21st Century. I suppose, if pushed to put my finger one over-riding a reason, I'd suggest that it's largely down to the soap-like dramas involved – like that lass who was voted off after being pictured making a "gun" sign with her fingers at the loser of a previous episode. Mind you, is winning the thing actually worthwhile these days? Whatever has happened to last year’s winner Neon Leon Jackson? Leona Lewis is still selling records by the oil tanker, it's true, but for every Leona there are several Michelle MacManuses (or is it MacMani?) out there ... breeding in the darkness. What do failed Pop Idol/X-Factor/Fame Acamdey people actually do with their woe-begotten lives once the cheering has stopped and Simon, Louis, Danni and Ashley Cole's bird aren't interested in them anymore? Back to the tills at Morrison's, I guess. Either that, or move to Iceland (... that's the Kerry Katona one, not the Bjork one).

The idea of Kenneth Branagh playing a Swedish detective sounds like the opening line of one of Eddie Izzard’s more bizarre jokes but in Wallender – 9:00 BBC1 Sunday – that’s exactly what occurs in this intriguing looking story of a series of terrifying murders in the beautiful town of Skane. What connects the suicide of a young woman and the lurid death of a government minister? Kurt Wallander's investigation uncovers corruption and dodgy-dealing which extend to the very heart of the Swedish establishment. Surely Bjorn and Benny can't be involved in all this? The first of three TV movies which are based on the – brilliant - novels by Swedish author Henning Mankel. Unfortunaterly, a lot of these kind of intense psychological tales don’t really transfer that well from the page to screen (look at Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, for instance - great novels, not all that hot as a TV series). If the trailers are anything to go by, Wallender looks much like Rebus, actually. Watchable, very well-acted and beautifully shot but, ultimately, rather Waking the Dead-lite. Which isn’t a bad thing to be, but I still prefer the original. Greatly. Verrily, bringest thou to me another series of thy goodly Trevor Eve and Sue Johnston vehicle, forthwith. And thence, letteth Sire Ken get ye back hence to showing thy American wretches whatest thy Brad ist about. Allegedly. Foresooth.

Allow me, also, to highlight once again just how good a sitcom Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s Outnumbered – BBC1 9:20 on Saturday – is. This week The Brockmans attempt to revive 1950s values by banning TV and computers for one whole Sunday. Pfft… Philistines. This frees up lots of quality time for explaining things like the facts of life and for playing traditional family games like hide-and-seek. Ben's headmaster seems strangely keen for him to take some time off school and Grandad comes to stay after something nasty happens to his kitchen. Just when you thought television would never produce anything remotely funny again, along comes something to surprise you. Although given that this is from the writers of Drop the Dead Donkey maybe we shouldn't be all that surprised.

Monday 1 December:
Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll: The 60s Revisited – 9:00 on Five – is a documentary series featuring never-before-seen footage of various iconic figures from the decade. Forty years ago, TV personality Bernard Braden (of Braden's Week fame) conducted interviews with some of the then-biggest names in British popular culture. Some of these people are now given the chance to look back at the interviews and reflect on them and upon their experience of the decade. The first episode features stars of music and fashion including Tom Jones, Cilla Black, Lulu, Simon Dee and Ossie Clark. But it's worth remembering according to lots of experts if you can actually remember the sixties then you weren’t really there. So, expect lets of umming and arring from those who, you know, did inhale.

From a retrospective look at celebrity culture to very much up-to-date averice telly as Filthy Rich and Famous – BBC3, 10:30 - explores the world of "celebrity" through the eyes of their closest relations and asks whether whether the cult of celebrity can turn out to be a poisoned chalice. Simon Cowell's brother Tony, Ryan Giggs's brother Rhodri, Elton John's brother Geoff Dwight and Jessie Wallace's sister Danielle Mason show us a slice of their life and reveal how different their - relatively ordinary - lives are compared to the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by their siblings. They say that money doesn't buy you happiness. That may very well be true but, frankly, I'd like to at least have a go at trying to be miserable and rich.

Both Panorama (BBC1, 8:30) and Power Struggles (ITV, 8:00) tackle the sticky subject of the energy crisis tonight. Well, it's that time of the year, I suppose. The latter asks why gas and electric bills haven’t been cut to match the fall in wholesale energy prices. Good question, and one that I'm particularly interested in hearing an answer to since my monthly electricity direct debit just went up from twenty five quid a month to forty two without any stopover in the seventeen quid in-between. The former, meanwhile, is more interested in the recent announcement that the government is ready to reopen several massive open-cast mines and wonders if "clean coal” can really be the answer to our long-term (or, even short-term) energy needs. Clean coal? That’s a contradiction in terms, surely? It's like alcohol-free lager. What next, pork-free pigs?

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
Pertaining to, or having, well-shaped buttocks.
As in Sophie Rayworth. Or, if you prefer, Sean Bean.

Be advised, dear reader, Top Telly Tips will return in December.
As will Santa Claus. Are these two things connected? Perhaps we'll never care.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Watch More TV!

Today is "World TV Day", apparently dear blog reader. (I mean, no, me neither and I work in the bloody media.)

Therefore, I would like to share with readers of this blog the following thought for the day.
Thank you, sincerely, for allowing me into your homes.

The Facts Were These...

Denial is a truly terrible thing for the TV analyst to suffer from. Particularly when it comes to the vexed subject of the viewing habits of "the general public." Cos, they're a rather curious bunch of people - you might have noticed this yourselves. And they do the daftest things. So ... If we'd been honest with ourselves, we all probably knew this decision was likely to come for some time now - possibly since the opening night of the season. But the announcement, seemingly official, made this morning that ABC have cancelled Pushing Daisies is a cruel body-blow to anyone who appreciates a bit of imaginative, clever, witty, brave, experimental and - most importantly - GOOD television.

It all began so promisingly in the autum of 2007. The first nine episodes were quite the most brilliant thing many of us jaded hacks had seen in, literally, years. Reviewers were - literally - falling over themselves to pluck superlatives from their database to tell the world just how good this show was. How clever, how strange, how extraordinarily different. I, personally, hadn't been as evangelical about a new US show since ... well, The West Wing, probably. Maybe even Buffy. It was THAT good. "A little piece of Tim Burton-like fairytale transplanted into your TV." And, even better, it started with decent - if hardly spectacular - ratings. But, and i think it's fair to say many of us feared this at the time, the show's progress was fatally hampered by the US writer's strike which curtailed its first season. And in the nine months between then and the start of the second batch of episodes being broadcast, many of the show's viewers, seemingly, forgot what it was that they liked about it in the first place.

Funnily enough, if Pushing Daisies had failed to get an audience from day one then I wouldn't have been all that surprised. I said when it started that it might be just that bit too odd for many viewers. But, the fact that it seemed to, initially, find an audience and then subsequently lose it is, perhaps, the most disappointing aspect of all.

And, let's be clear about this, the failure of Pushing Daisies to survive in the harsh television landscape of 2008 should make everyone else as sad and disappointed as it does me. In a world where lowest-common denominator nonsense like CSI: Miami and the numerous reality shows that NBC (once the home of The West Wing, remember) now peddles as their idea of prime-time entertainment can find an (in the case of the former, vast) audience but Pushing Daisies cannot should be a cause of bitter despair for anyone who genuinely cares about the future of TV.

We've already lost Aaron Sorkin to the medium and we're not likely to get him back any time soon after the way Studio 60 was treated by NBC. Joss Whedon's next project - Dollhouse - debuts early in 2009. But any cautious optimism raised by the return to our TV screens of the man who created two of the most memorable and important shows of the last twenty years is instantly tempered by the graveyard Friday night slot that the show has been given by Fox which makes me suspect it will be lucky if it lasts as long as the four episodes that Whedon's former Angel oppo Tim Minear's Drive did last year. If Dollhouse fails then, after the perceived failure of Firefly, which network is likely to put its hand in its pocket for Joss again given the apparent "two strikes and you're out" world of US TV commissioning? Where are the new Lost's? Where's the next Heroes going to coming from? The US version of Life on Mars looks very promising but, again, it's struggling to find an audience (albeit, not quite as dramatically as Pushing Daisies). Even on cable where, once, shows were nutured and given time to develop we've seen The Riches bite the dust this year and both The Shield and Battlestar Galactica are soon to follow it to the great gig in the sky.

But ultimately, the failure of Pushing Daisies to maintain an audience is not so much a reflection on the show itself or, indeed, on the network which commissioned it in the first place but, rather, on the viewers who at first embraced it and then, casually, rejected it. Because it was too different, too left-field. Too much like hard work, frankly. The part of this sorry saga that actually makes me saddest of all is the list of Wednesday night shows on US network TV that viewers rejected Pushing Daisies in favour of. Bones - okay, I can handle that one, it's fun vehicle and a decent enough drama. Criminal Minds? Another inferior CSI-clone without the wit or imagination of most of the others. The New Adventures of Old Christine? A banal formula sitcom. The remake of Knight Rider? Come on. At the end of the day, what finally killed Pushing Daisies wasn't merely the momentum it lost after the writer's strike which curtailed its first season but, rather, the fact that to many viewers seemed to prefer an easier option. What a tragic waste.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Top Telly Tips From Ya Top Telly Tipster

The Gene Genie Sez...

Never go out
in the rain
just wearing your socks.

It's sage advice from The Great Man, as one would expect.

I'd take it if I were you.

Have you ever been really proud to be a part of the human race?

Watch this as a timely reminder that not everyone else in the world is a complete scumbag. There are some saints out there too, like this guy. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, you da man. WELL spoken. I imagine that you will doubtless be crassly and ignorantly attacked for the views you've voiced in this editorial by various homophobic wretches not a million miles for your own backyard. (Indeed, I note from some of the - particularly poorly spelled - comments left on You Tube that you already have been.) Prophets are seldom appreciated and often spat upon in their own land. Nevertheless, I salute you, sir. Bravo.

Of course there are other times when one is not so proud of ones fellow humanity. Speaking to the Associated Press last week the Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia stated: "It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, [President-Elect Barack Obama is] the one who proposed this national security force. I'm just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may — may not, I hope not — have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism." Broun cited a July speech by Obama which has circulated widely on the Internet in which the then-Democratic presidential candidate called for a civilian force to take some of the national security burden off the military. "That's exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did," Broun continued. "When he's proposing to have a national security force that's answering to him, that is as strong as the US military, he's showing me signs of being Marxist. We can't be lulled into complacency. You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I'm not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I'm saying is there is the potential of going down that road."

'A bit crazy and off base'? No, no, no, Congressman. Why in the Wide, Wide, World of Sport would you possibly think that? You've just stated - to a respected international news organisation - that you believe the fascist dictator and mass-murderer Adolf Hitler was 'a Marxist.' That would appear to show what an incredibly fine grasp of both world political history and ideology you have. I'm assuming, of course, that as an astute political operative you will have read both Das Kapital and Mein Kampf and appear to have have - radically - concluded that, despite the polar-opposite politics inherent in them the two works are speaking as if with one mind. You are right, of course. People really have to be careful for whom they vote. After all, the good people of Georgia's Tenth District voted for you it would seem.
    Incidentally, this is all irony, Congressman. If you've never come across that word before, it's what you mom does with your shirts after she's washed them.

Right, enough of that nonsense. It's another week and, as an inevitable consequence of this, it's also time for yet another batch of Keith Telly Topping's Top Telly Tips.

Let's start with today's glorious effort - Episode four hundred and seven.
I should really start giving them all names, shouldn't I?

Episode four hundred andseven: You Have Permission To Die Quietly.
A Drayton/Joey/Topping Production.
In association with Father's Name Was Dad Management.®™
©2008: All rights ... given away to anyone that wants 'em.

Monday 17 Nov:
Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day. Risible. Causing or inducing laughter through sheer and total ridiculousness. As in, “I’ve heard that Ross Kemp has got another bleeding series coming on Sky. Bet you any money you like that will be risible.”

Clone is a new sitcom on BBC3 at 8:30. No, don’t worry, this one is sure to be better than Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please. Honest. Well, at least it’s got Jonathan Pryce and Mark Gatiss in it so it bloomin’ well SHOULD be … He said nervously, remembering that I am, indded, the previewer who said that he "quite liked the look" of Bonekickers. Anyway, Doctor Victor Blenkinsop is a brilliant government scientist who unveils the first human clone. Intended to be a prototype super-soldier in a kind-of X-Files type scenario, the experiment - perhaps inevitably - goes horribly wrong. With hilarious consequences. In an attempt to redeem himself the good doctor escapes with his creation whilst being chased by the authorities who want to destroy the creature. It all sounds darkly humorous in a kind-of League of Gentlemen-meets-Frankenstein-type way.

On Corrie the focus this week is on the fall out from "the Fizz and John affair." He’s obviously going down for some serious bird after being caught kidnapping Rosie Webster. Fizz is naturally upset, particularly as Sally thinks that she was somehow involved in all the nefarious kidnapping shenanigans. At the factory, meanwhile, Old Big Eye’d Tony has got serious some money troubles - he's been using the staff wages to stave off bankruptcy and is rapidly turning into a grand soap villian. With so many of those who work in the factory involved in various other storylines there's suddenly a plethora of nameless extras working on the machines – and, it’s always nice to see some Top Quality extras over-acting, isn’t it? There's also some great interplay between Blanch, Ken and Peter now that the latter is back with his own son Simple Simon the cherubic-faced child actor who can actually walk in a straight line and talk at the same time something which cherub-faced child actors often find notoriously difficult to achieve. Witness most of the cast of Sarah Jane Investigates, for instance. Particularly Liz Sladen. And she's in her fifties. Anyway, also on Corrie, there’s Tyrone and Auntie Pam, still acting like cut-price Steptoe and Son. Oh, it’s all go in Weatherfield.

Roll out the red carpet cos Phil, Phil, Phil and Kirstie, Kirstie are back, back, back for Location, Location, Location special, A Survival Guide, Guide, Guide. On Channel Four, Four, Four at 8:00. With the UK heading towards a recession - heading towards? Most of us are already there, way ahead of you guys - the property market looks more treacherous than ever. Kirstie, Kirstie, Kirste and Phil, Phil, Phil give their expert advice on how to survive the credit crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

With unemployment rising, what are your chances of joining the dole queue by Christmas? In my case it’s all down, apparently, to being nice to the producer and hoping for the best. Are there really 600,000 unfilled job vacancies in the UK, as the government recently claimed? If so, what sort of jobs are they and why are they unfilled? How Safe Is Your Job? - on ITV at 8:00 - seeks to find out. Presumably so that all of those involved in this show have something else to fall back on if ITV’s ratings keep falling the way they have been for the last few months. Which some may regard as a hollow victory but, hey, it's a cuth-throat world out there. God, it’s all happiness are light on TV tonight, isn’t it? And, just when you think it can’t possibly get any worse, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here has returned from t'Dark Place where it resides between series. Are there any cheap flights going? To, like, anywhere? Of those poor individuals so desperate to get their boat-races back on TV that they'll willingly allow themselves to get stuck in the jungle with Ant and Dec we all, I'm sure, feel sorriest for poor old Mr Sulu. I mean, that’s just cruel. The man's a genuine hero - he survived a five year mission to strange new worlds (and six movies) with Bill Shatner and his split-infinitives only to find himself on a reality TV show with Martina Navratilova. And Robert Kilroy-Silk. And Dani Behr. So, not all bad, then. And Simon Webbe too. No worries. (That's a poor joke which everyone over the age of thirty won't get, incidentally...) According to the Sun, "busty Nicola McLean" is "ready for a bunk-up with sexy Carly Zucker to keep spiders away." That's a good excuse. Meanwhile, "former Page Three babe Nicola McLean has revealed she is after LESBIAN love in jungle." Hey, aren’t we all? Except, possibly, Mr Sulu. It gives a whole new meaning to "Captain’s Log", doesn’t it? Beam him up, warp factor seven.

Tuesday 18 Nov:
Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day. Spelunking. The exploration of caves and other underground ephemera; pot-holing. As in, "Channel Four do archaeology, Five do Extreme Fishing isn't about time ITV got off their backsides and started finding some spelunking to televise?"

Alleged topical satire returns to Channel Four as impressionist Rory Bremner - quite possibly the least funny man on the planet, bar none - and his regular collaborators (the genuinely great duo John Bird and John Fortune who are frequently wasted in this rubbish) present a four-part satirical look at the global financial system in Bremner, Bird and Fortune: Silly Money. Oh, how desperately arch, as if people haven't got enough to worry about, you're making fun of it all. So, I'm guessing no Murray Walker impressions on this one, Rory?

The Culture Show – a particular favourite of all of those involved in Keith Telly Topping and His Top TV Tips - is back for a winter run at 10:00 and kicks off with a mixture of classical art and music, a masterpiece of British cinema and an interveiw with a rock diva. Andrew Graham-Dixon looks into a controversial debate concerning the National Gallery of Scotland. Big Quiffed Marky Kermode brings together the cast and crew of Local Hero, one of the most loved of all British movies and Wor Luscious Lovely Lauren meets Grace Jones. Brave lass. The last time Grace was on telly, Russell Harty went down in the fourth following two falls and a submission.

Beginning at the fabulous coral reef of Ningaloo in Western Australia, intrepid marine biologist Mark Meakin attempts to unravel the mysterious wanderings of the biggest fish in the sea in Natural World: Whale Shark on BBC2 at 8:00. These can grow to over twelve metres long but are, generally, rather gentle, filter-feeding giants; even Mark's five-year-old son can swim alongside them. Yet no-one knows where they go once they leave Ningaloo's turquoise lagoons. More classic nature programming from the Beeb who do this sort of thing infinitely better than anyone else.

Wednesday 19 November:
As ever when there’s a big football match on I shall endeavour to give out three interesting alternatives to Germany v England on ITV tonight. Although, to be honest, that’s probably what I’ll be watching. Despite the fact that half the England team have got a sick-note from their mums it would appear.

The Devil’s Whore – perfectly extraordinary title notwithstanding – is a tense and exciting historical drama series set during the English Civil War on Channel 4 at 9:00. An epic story through the eyes of Angelica Fanshawe (played by Angela Risborough who was so good as the young Margaret Thatcher in that biopic BBC4 did a few months back), a spirited aristocratic woman who is drawn to the anti-monarchist cause. Soon will come a time when village fights against village, and brother against brother, as the nation is torn apart. It’s got a great cast led by John Simm – first major thing he’s done since Doctor Who and then Life on Mars before it - doing his best "Vincent Price in Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General impression." It's also got Harry Lloyd from Robin Hood, Peter Capaldi (as Charles I), Dominic West (as Oliver Cromwell) and Tim McInnery in it so we appear to be talking real quality here. One of my favourite eras of history this, and it's one that is rather forgotten these days. Which is tragic, frankly, because most of our laws, civil liberties and indeed pretty much our entire system of government dates from the aftermath of that period. Most people, a recent national survey suggested, can’t even name a major battle from the war. Well, there was Marston Moor. And Naseby … I’m showing off now, aren’t I?

Highland Emergency at 7:30 on Five follows the work – as the title suggests - of the emergency services in the Highlands of Scotland. And of the largely unpaid (and often unappreciated) work that they do in saving some morons who’ve decided to go mountaineering in shorts and a pair of plimsoles in the depth of winter. At least, that’s the way it often seems from news reports of such near brushes with calamity. I'm sure there’ll be others, perhaps more deserving of getting their lives saved. One or two, anyway. Tonight, rescuers struggle in the dark to find a mother and daughter lost on the side of a mountain and an RAF search and rescue team braves turbulent winds to reach a badly injured man. I’m rather looking forward to the interviews with the survivors afterwards. "It was quite nice when we set off, it was only sleeting moderately hard…"

In Channel 4’s The Home Show, architect George Clarke helps homeowners with different budgets fall in love with their houses all over again. This week George creates more light and room in a cramped terrace family home with a novel use of the loft, and architect Angela Brady heads to a stunning Mallorcan home to see one the finest examples of the interior style and shows how to get the look at home.

Lastly tonight, Jonathan Miles stopped me in the corridor last week - I thought he was going to beat me up but, actually, he just wanted to know when Lost is back. And I imagine several listeners and/or readers will be similarly wondering about this. So, the fifth season starts on 21 January 2009 in the US and about three or four days later here on Sky. Seventeen episodes this year and the major theme is said to be, “now that a bunch of them have finally got off the damn island how, exactly, are they going to get back?” So long as we get plenty of Hurley, Sayid, the lovely Dessie and Penny, Ben and - back on the island - Sawyer and that Duplicitous Bitch Juliet and a damned sight less of Boring-Bastard-Jack and Rapidly-Becoming-Just-As-Boring- Kate, I’ll be well-happy.

Thursday 20 November:
Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day. Shellacking. A beating or thrashing; a ‘pasting’; a damned good hiding. As in, isn’t it about time somebody gave Richard and Judy a severe shellacking. On general principle?

We said on Monday that there was a lot going on in Weatherfield this week. In EastEnders Bradley is struggling to accept his role in the Branning family (that of the sole sane – albeit still bloody miserable – individual in a tribe of fruitcakes), Satanic Sean Slater gets some support from an unlikely source after he missed Raunchy Roxy giving birth to their love-sprog and Shirley helps Vinnie in his hour of need. Yeah, there’s quite a bit happening in Walford too by the sound of it.

We talked at some length about The Daily Show – More4 8:30 – a month or so back. Just time, again, to highlight what a very good (and very funny) show it is and that it is available to UK viewers with Freeview on More4 Monday to Friday at 8:30. And also, apparently, on CNN as well. I’ve been watching a lot of it recently either side of the US Election and it’s just been a joy to behold Jon Stewart and his young team of comedians (including our own John Oliver who uses to be on Mock The Week and is now doing very well for himself in the US) revelling in taking the mickey out of Fox News on a nightly basis. The segment the other evening with The Official Voice of The Murdoch Empire, Bill O’Reilly, was one of the best bits of TV I’ve seen in years; two men who really believe in the ideology they’re pushing (one, admittedly, vaguely sane, the other one off his flamin' rocker) absolutely going for it … and both being funny at the same time. God, I wish we had a show like this over here. Have I Got News For You, and, I suppose, Mock The Week, are the closest - and they're both very good in their own different ways - but neither have a format that allows for yer actual proper political debate amid the jokes like The Daily Show does. If you've never seen it, tune it - trust me, it's worth a little of your time. (The companion show, The Colbert Report, can also be seen daily in the UK but, seemingly, only on the Digital Channel F/X.)

Tony Head and Davina McCall are among the guests on this week's episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks (BBC2, 9:00). It’s still missing Bill Bailey very badly, though. And Graham Norton’s guests tonight are Alan Carr and Tom Jones – not the kind of double-act you’d normally see in the same sentence.

Friday November 21:
Channel 4’s sleeper-hit sitcom of last year, The IT Crowd returns for a new series at 10:00. Written by one-half of the Father Ted team, Graham Linehan, it’s a workplace-based comedy about the hapless crushed victims of society who work in an office's IT department. And, it’s often really funny.

Saturday 22 November:
It was forty five years ago today that President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, a tragic and pointless act of violence that would world-shattering repercussions for almost every single person on the planet then alive or still to be born.

By contrast, it was forty five years tomorrow that a new family science-fiction drama called Doctor Who began transmission on the BBC. Those two events are just going to go through history from now till eternity, forever inextricably linked together in the public consciousness.

Until, one day, when we all find out that it was actually the Doctor on the Grassy Knoll with a high-velocity rifle in his hands. Hey, Mr Moffat, I've got an idea for a story...

I’d love to have been in the meeting when somebody pitched Hole In The Wall (BBC 5:50). Dale Winton hosts a series in which teams of celebrities force themselves through various crazy-shaped holes in giant moving walls, while clad head-to-toe in extremely tight silver lycra. Tonight, regular team captains Strictly's Anton du Beke and Darren The Dazzler Gough are joined by a variety of sad Z-Listers who didn't make it into the jungle with Ant and Dec - including Cleo Rocos and Radio 1's Scott Mills - all of whom will be hoping to avoid the murky waters below, win ten grand for a charriddddeee of their choice and remind the viewers that they're still alive. According to various press reports Hole In The Wall may not be long on our screens - due, no doubt, to somebody in a position of authority at the BBC actually watching the damn thing - therefore, take our advice: Catch it tonight (the last episode in the series) while you can and then, at least, you'll be able to tell your grandchildren you were there. Of course, if it does get cancelled, that will be a MAJOR blow to Harry Hill who has spent more time and energy ridiculing it on TV Burp this season than just about everything else on TV put together.

It’s a really major drama weekend for the Beeb. On Saturday on BBC2 at 9:10 there's the one-off period dramabiopic Einstein & Eddington, starring Andy Serkis, David Tennant and Jim Broadbent which was actually made quite a while ago (early summer 2007, I believe) and they've obviously been looking for a decent slot for it ever since. In the spring of 1914, with Europe on the brink of all out war, no one outside of a select few within the scientific community had heard of an obscure German physicist named Albert Einstein. Britain's premier astronomer Arthur Eddington realised that Einstein's theories could unlock whole new ways of thinking about time and space. (And, considering that he was really a Time Lord in disguise, this was of obvious interest to him.) Despite the danger of being labelled traitors by their respective governments, the two men began a unique correspondence and friendship. A post-war eclipse in Africa provided an opportunity to prove Einstein's theories to the world.

In the 1970s, Terry Nation (creators of the Daleks on Doctor Who and, subsequently, Blake's 7) also masterminded the apocalyptic drama Survivors - one of most vividly remembered shows of the era (particularly for its chilling title sequence). It was about a motley group of humans who were the only ones unaffected by a vast global pandemic which wiped out ninety five per cent of the population. Given recent scares about the spread of viruses in the age of AIDS, ebola, MRSA and SARs, it seems ripe for a remake - or a "reimagining" as it's being described in pre-publicity - and that’s exactly what the Beeb are doing starting tonight with a ninety minute special kicking-off a six-part series. They're using the title, the basic premise and a few of the character names from the original (Abby Grant, Greg Preston, Tom Price etc.) but, otherwise, this is very much a Survivors for the post-9/11 and post-"just look what we've done with Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica when we put the fans in charge" era. The cast is a kind of “greatest hits of everything good the Beeb have made recently” - Max Beesley, Paterson Joseph, Freema Agyeman, Shaun Dingwall … and Julie Graham. Last thing I recommended featuring her was Bonekickers. I’m still getting hate-mail because of that. I assume, dear reader and/or listener, this will be better. Let's face it, it can't possibly be worse.

All that, and there’s another race in Top Gear as Jezza, The Hamster and Cap'n Slow are challenged to drive from the heart of Switzerland to the North West coast of England on just one tank of fuel. And as an incentive, the first one to arrive gets to turn on the Blackpool Illuminations. And Bugatti finally let The Stig track-test the Veyron. Hurrah! Plus, season highlight, The Stig chins a tramp. For a laugh.

No, he doesn't really but, you never know, there's just the vaguest of possibilities that some rent-a-quote MP who hasn't managed to get his or her name in the newspapers for all of a fortnight might, just, be reading this blog and think "Ah, something that I can pretend to be morally offended by which will get me mucho publicity if I complain, loudly, about it. For I have a wafer-thin majority and the best way I can think of to keep my seat is to use politics as a weapon against the entertainment of millions."
      Failing that, of course, they could try moving to Georgia. I understand there's likely to be a Congress seat vacant shortly.

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day. Faux-naïf. A person who pretends to be simple or unaffected adopting a childish or naïve manner which can be considered as, at best mean spirited and at worst, somewhat sinister. As in … "A word used to describe anybody who believes that anything which takes place on Most Haunted is for real."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Top Telly Tips - November is Cometh

Ah, Peter Wyngarde, dear blog reader. Peter, Peter, Peter; my father, my son, my brother. My guru, my teacher, my hero. Where the hell are you now, Peter? Where are you now, when your country and all of mankind (not to mention pretty much all of womankind too) needs you and your pithy quips, champagne smile and devastating charm so badly that it hurts? And why, oh why, oh why isn't it still 1972 and Hai-Karate Aftershave is still minging-up the High Street? Answer me that, Peter and stay fashionable. Anyway, dear blog reader... Tragically it's not 1972 any more, it's 2008. Which, when you think about it, is pretty much like 1972. Nobody's got any money, whole families are trying to live on thirty quid a week and there's a load of overproduced teen crap in the charts. Still, at least the telly's good. It's in colour, these days, you know? And, we've got Chinese food over here now. Oh, hang on, we had that in 1972, didn't we?
Friday November 7:
This apologises to all listerners and/or blog readers for the following announcement:

Older listeners and/or blog readers (or, at least, those with a good memory and some quite shocking taste) may know that yer actual Keith Telly Topping has been doing TV previews for BBC Radio Newcastle, off and on, for about twelve years now (1996, actually, was when he first started appearing on The Julia Hankin Show as 'an occasional visitor'). However, the current, daily Monday-to-Friday (and, some additional pieces on Alfie Joey's Saturday Comic Cuts) slot 'Keith Telly Topping and His Top TV Tips'®™ (devised by Wor Scunthorpe Steve Drayton - centre - ©2007) began on Monday 21 May 2007. If Keith Telly Topping's maths are, therefore, correct then today's show is the four hundredth episode since we started. Give this blogger them clanging chimes of joy, lads and lasses and let us par-tae!

As my mother has just returned from her holiday in Spain - hello Mam! – she’s got her favourite TV show to look forward to tonight, Midsomer Murders. When Midsomer Worthy's top baritone (do they have a second-top baritone in Midsomer Worthy, you have to wonder?) is killed just days before a vastly important choral competition (do they have vastly important choral competitions, you have to wonder?), the rest of the choir - which includes Barnaby’s missus - fear that their own lives are in desperate peril from The Local Chorister Maniac-Killer (do they have Local Chorister Maniac-Killers, you have to wonder?) No, it certainly isn't as good a nickname as, say, The Zodiac, The Yorkshire Ripper or The Black Panther but, let’s face it, all of the really cool handles for serial killers have long-since been appropriated by the fuzz and/or the papers. John Nettles investigate a case with an atmosphere of bitter rivalry and tense marital relationships. Then, inevitably, there is another murder. Is there anybody actually left alive in that village but him?

On Saturday there’s The X-Factor. Colour me totally disinterested, I’m afraid. I know that it’s very popular with a lot of people I just find it … mean. Not necessarily always unentertaing but, usually, needlessly caustic and vicious. Not only that, but Mariah Carey turns up for this episode – didn’t she do enough damage with her massacre of ‘Hey Jude’ at Live8? In the middle ages, people used to get hung, drawn, quartered, broken on a wheel, boiled in tar and gibbeted for lesser crimes than that abomination.

BBC2 devotes much of Saturday night to a tribute to the late Geoffrey Perkins, possibly the most important TV comedy producer of the last twenty years who sadly died recently. Following a Comedy Connections documentary – with contributions from many of those who worked with him, including Harry Enfield and Ben Elton - are three outstanding examples of his oeurve, award-winning episodes of The Catherine Tate Show, Father Ted (what a nice bit of bipartisanship on by Channel 4 here to allow the Beeb to show this) and The Fast Show. You’ll be very much missed, Geoffrey.

Sunday, as I noted last week, is now The Big Telly Night of the Week – Stephen Fry is still In America (going down the spine of the US, he reaches Nevada and Vegas, and Arizona and the Grand Canyon), the Top Gear lads manage to wrestle Will Young into their reasonably priced car whilst doing their own Fry-style road-trip across three states of the US.

And Jeremy will, no doubt, say something else that will upset a few worthless rent-a-quote MPs trying to defend tiny majorities and think slagging off a national icon is a genuine vote-winner - it's what we in the business call "The Heather Mills Defence" - pressure groups which seek to protect the civil rights of people who are taking part in a criminal act and both the Daily Mail and the Guardian editorial staff, simultaneously. Which really takes some doing when you think about it).

Sharpe’s Peril comes to an end and Bear Grylls tackles killer lizards, hissing snakes and deadly waterfalls in his quest to find a hotel worthy of him and his camera team staying in during this week’s Born Survivor. And, one I didn’t mention last week, the new Hallow'een Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons is on Sky One. Take my advice, when Sunday comes just don’t leave the house. It's not worth missing stuff.

Monday November 10:
Back by popular demand – today’s Top Telly Tips Word of the Day. Namby-pamby. Weakly sentimental; insipid; without vigor or energy; wishy-washy. As in, “Sunderland’s back four were a bit namby-pamby when they got a right good hiding at Chelsea last weekend.”

With Mad Max Branning hooked up to a life-support machine in Walford General, it’s still anyone’s guess as to who deliberately ran him down in EastEnders. But, someone in the Branning clan seems to feel the urge to confess tonight. Meanwhile, the lighter side of Walford shows itself when Jane explains to Ian that her primary reason for doing stand-up is not money but fun. On the odd occasions that I do a bit of stand-up, I do it for the money, personally. I also have to report that in an episode last week, I saw one of the most singularly sinister things that I’ve ever clapped eyes on – Ian Beale smiling. It gives me the flesh-creeping shivers just to think about it …

A curiously moving addition to remembrance week is Not Forgotten: The Men Who Wouldn’t Fight on Channel 4 at 8:00 in which Ian Hislop tells the emotive story of some of those Conscientious Objectors who declined to bear arms in the First World War - for a variety of reasons (mostly moral or religious). Hislop, who of course made that glorious four-part series last year about those who died in the Great War, wonders whether those who refused to fight should be equally honoured for their bravery in daring to be different and stand up for sincerely-held principles as those who actually did. Because, let's face it, even if we don't agree with the notion of saying "no", it often takes far more courage to be a pacifist than it does to pick up a gun and fire it at some other mother's son. Complex issues and interesting (and provocative) opinions will inevitably surround it - this is Mr Hislop doing what Mr Hislop does best, like this blog I hope in its own small way, asking some of the questions that often no one else dares to. Only, he does it far, far better than I could ever hope to. Good on ya, Ian.

Not Forgotten is followed by another, excellent, Time Team Special, this one on a related theme to the previous show as Channel 4's Lost Generation strand continues to mark the 90th Anniversary of the end of the First World War. When shelling turned the battlefield of The Somme into a hell-on-earth, Britain's best miners, engineers and sappers created a maze of tunnels and dugouts - codenamed Vampire - that would become the setting for a secret war against The Bosch waged underground. One of the last dugouts constructed has been drained of water, enabling the first people to enter it in ninety years. Deep beneath the Flanders fields of Ypres and Passchendaele the skilled work of the elite tunnelling companies is revealed to be in a remarkable state of preservation, allowing Tony Robinson and his trusty gang of the experts to walk into what effectively is a time capsule of the Great War. Truly thrilling stuff. Honestly, I can put up with endless hours of Big Brothers and mind-numbing nonsense like it in the sre knowledge that Channel 4 have a commitment to producing Cutting Edge and Time Team.

Amanda Burton - who was once (and not all that long ago either) never off our screens, it seemed - returns to ITV tonight as The Commandor in the three-part serial over consecutive nights in which the elderly mother of one of her colleagues is found beaten to death and he is the prime suspect. One of my favourite actors, Anthony Valentine (dear old Raffles himself and even longer ago, Edward Woodward's young oppo in Callan), co-stars.

Tuesday November 11:
We ask all the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why does the word monosyllabic consist of five syllables?
And why doesn't the word onomatopoeia sound like what it is?

It’s always nice to see Horizon back on BBC2. Tonight’s episode, the first of a two parter, has a rather provocative title, ‘How Mad Are You?’. A group of ten volunteers, five of whom are “normal” and five who have been officially diagnosed with some form of mental illness, are put through a variety of tests – including paintballing and clearing out a cowshed - to see if the audience can tell who belongs in which category. This seeks to ask the question of where, exactly, the line between sanity and madness lies? Sounds both fascinating and, potentially, rather invasive and far closer to a reality TV show format than a proper scientific experiment. But, having said that, I have a good felling they might just pull this off.

I mentioned My Family at War last week and most of the episodes I’ve caught so far have been genuinely revealing as a kind of mini-Who Do You Think You Are? (particularly the Matthew Kelly/Phil Tufnell one). Tonight, one of my great TV heroes dear old Rolf Harris - whose most famous song ‘Two Little Boys’, of course, was all about the First World War - travels to Belgium and Northern France to learn about the horrors suffered by his uncle, Carl and his father, Cromwell and about the Australian soliders who braved the mud and shells on the Western Front. Poignant and beautiful stuff. I guess, arguably, the only consolation to Rolf and his family is that it could have been (slightly) worse for them if they'd been with the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli.

Natural World returns to BBC2 with an episode about Titus, the Gorilla King. Abandoned as a baby and removed from his natural habitat, Titus is now, at the age of thirty three, one of the most powerful silverbacks in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda despite a life filled with all the drama intrigue and tragedy of a soap opera.

And, lastly, for all sports fans with access to Freeview, don't miss The Thrilla in Manilla on More4 at 10:00, the story of the apocalyptic bout between Muhammad Ali and Smokin' Joe Frazier in the Phillipines in 1975 for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Fourteen rounds of naked, raw, punishing madness. This film, like Leon Gast's celebrated theatrical documentary When We Were Kings (about Ali's other great title fight of the era with George Foreman), mixes in archive footage, brutally honest insight, contextualisation (including an interview with the country's notorious the-first lady, Imelda Marcos), harsh pyschological profiling and a spot-on assessment of the event's pace in the history of black struggle. Like both men in the fight, it pulls few punches. And, unlike the fight, it's a knockout of an ending.

Wednesday November 12:
Today’s Top Telly Tips Word of the Day: Jiggery-pokery. Verbal or physical misrepresentation intended to take advantage of the unwary; underhand or schemingly manipulative behaviour. As in, “there's a right load of jiggery-pokery going on at ITV whenever they try to fit the word ‘celebrity’ into some new TV format.”

I love the look of Oceans – BBC2 at 8:00 tonight. Marine experts Paul Ross (who did that great series on the Voyages of Discovery last year in which Alfie constantly took the mickey out of my attempted pronounciation of the name 'Amigo Vespuchi'), Phillie Costeau (Jacques' son) and Lucy Blue (what a terrifc name for a marine-biologist!) explore some of the planet’s most exhilarating ocean enviorments. They begins beneath the Sea of Cortez off the Californian coast. I’ve sailed in that down to Mexico in a cruise ship. It was pretty rough when I was there, so I hope they have considerably better weather than we did.

Corrie’s been a bit quiet from the last two or three weeks and tonight’s episode, which concentrates on Tony taking drastic measures to save the factory doesn’t look likely to set the heart-a-pumpin’ in too many viewers. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. David would be the first to admit Tina’s temper is not to be messed with so stand well back and light the blue touch paper now that her dad Joe’s dalliance with Gail has been exposed. Criminy.

Amanda Redman, Robert Hardy, Sue Johnstone and Gavin and Stacy’s Ruth Jones are among those who’ve joined in the fun in Little Dorrit (BBC1, 8:00). Innit good? It’s almost enough to get me into Dickens, this. Almost, I said…

Thursday November 13:
We continue to ask the questions no one else dares to.
Today, why don’t you ever see the headline Psychic Wins National Lottery?

Director Zac Beattie’s powerful Cutting Edge film Rich Kid, Poor Kid is on Channel 4 at 9:00. This explores the wealth gap in the UK, one of the biggest in the developed world, as it follows the lives of two teenagers, Alice and Natalaie who live within a mere stone’s throw from each other in West London but whose lives are, quite literally, world’s apart. It’s a genuinely brilliant documentary about preconceptions: In places it’s moving, shocking and ultimately quite uplifting and thought-provoking stuff. Again, when Channel 4 get it right, by hell, they really get it right.

One of the most controversial drama series in years, Apparitions, starts a six-part series on BBC1 tonight. It stars Martin Shaw as a priest who performs exorcism. Wow, dangerous material. It’s already been the subject of a "front of the Daily Mail exposé" so here’s an example of a show which has managed to acquire a reputation for mass controversy even before it’s began. The bits that I've seen are - firstly - terrifically well-acted but ... well, disturbing and horrible. And I use thsoe words in the truest sense of both. So, you know, caution is advised for all potential viewers - it contains strong language, quite stomach-churning violence and some very disquieting imagery. It is not, trust me, one for the faint-hearted. If, however, you - conceptually - can get past all of above baggage, then your bravery is likely to be rewarded with something quite unlike anything else that TV has ever attempted. Or, quite possibly, ever will again given the fuss this one has caused already.

Lead Balloon returns for a third series on BBC2 at 10:00. In this sitcom dry, cynical comic Jack Dee plays dry, cynical comic Rick Spleen in a piece of typecasting that would, frankly, shame Reg Varney. I’m a big fan of Jack Dee, though and he’s very good in this - essentially extending his stage persona into a sitcom format that’s a quite shameless homage to Curb Your Enthusiasm. As previously noted, if you're going to rip off something, rip off the best! The show started to find an audience last year after some disappointments during it’s first season.

If you fancy something a bit more thought-provoking and touching, check out two excellent back-to-back shows on the always-reliable BBC4 concerning Walter Tull. Walter was a pioneer and hero both on the football pitch and on the battlefield, yet until relatively recently many people weren't even aware of his existence. As the first black officer in the British Army, Walter died courageously fighting in France in 1918 and should have received a Military Cross for bravery - he was posthumously recommended for one but, for - possibly nefarious - reasons it was never awarded. He had previously risen from an East London orphanage to join Tottenham Hotspur and become only the second black man to play professional football in England and, subsequently, became a star at Northampton Town (where, to be fair, his feats have always been well-remembered and celebrated). The former EastEnders actor Nick Bailey, something of a Tull obsessive, grapples to unravel the various colour bars and social mores which prevented Walter's elevation to the kind of hero status that he would surely have had today in Walter Tull - A Forgotten Hero. It's agenda-driven TV which can be awful but, in this particular case, works brilliantly and you'll find yourself as angry as Nick is at the casual racism of post-Victorian society. This is followed by a repeat of Kwame Kwei-Armah's excellent dramatic retelling of Tull's story, Walter's War, with a fine performance by O-T Fagbenle in the lead. Both are highly recommended not only to sports fans, military historians and anyone interested in Britain's social history but, indeed, to everyone else besides.

Friday November 14:
Today’s Top Telly Tips Word of the Day. Rhombus. An obliquely-angled parallelogram having four equal sides; a bit like a squashed square. As in "You know that Max Branning? Don’t you think his head is shaped just like a rhombus?"

It’s Children in Need night on BBC1 starting at 8:00 with "lots of fun and fundraising" (it says 'ere) introduced by Sir Terry Wogan, Tess Daly and Fearne Cotton. Don't let that put you off, however as there are a few highlights including Top Gear's Richard Hammond colliding with Gene Hunt and the Ashes to Ashes plod (careful, Hamster, they're armed bastards, you know?), the BBC newsreaders making their own headlines in a Mamma Mia! tribute, murrrrrdahhh and mayhem in a special Taggart sketch and a sneak-preview of the Doctor Who Christmas Special. With Mr Tennant. And Mr Morrisey. And lots of Cybermen. Meanwhile, at 10:00 on BBC2 whilst the news is on there’s the much-anticipated "only Qi episode the BBC are likely to show in 2008 (unless we get the Christmas Special at Christmas ... if they manage to find half-an-hour spare)" as a taster for the forthcoming - sixth - series.

Just to briefly repeat the circumstances behind this; twelve new episodes of Qi were filmed in the summer (you can get details of who's in which episode if you visit Wikipedia) and were ready-to-rock in the show's usual September-to-December slot until somebody high-up at the Beeb suddenly decided that they'd like to hijack the show from BBC2 and stick it on BBC1 instead. Now I, personally, have my doubts about the wisdom of doing that (I suspect some of the show's more outré moments - at least in terms of language - might suffer as a result of "you can't say that on BBC1 ... even at 10:30") although, ultimately, if it means that more people are going to be watching The Best (non-drama) Show on TV then I'm not complaining too much. But, all of this has meant that, because a spare slot had to be found for it on BBC1, we're unlikely to get the series until sometime in early 2009. And, remember, as a very loud Irishman once said, "just give us yer ****ing money NOW."

Outnumbered, the rather decent Claire Skinner/Hugh Dennis vehicle, returns for a new series on BBC1 at 9:05. This semi-improvised sitcom is about a couple and their three children – not, exactly, the most original of comedy bases but, you know what they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. A wedding gives the children the opportunity to dress up, interrogate the bride, test the vicar's faith in God and dip unsuitable things in the chocolate fountain. It usually manages to stay just the right side of … And Mother Makes Five: The Next Generation.

Phillip Schofield and John Cleese introduce a spectacular night of comedy celebrating the Prince of Wales's 60th birthday in aid of the Prince's Trust in We Are Most Amused, ITV 8:35 on Saturday. Featuring comedy names from Britain and abroad, including Robin Williams, who returns to the UK stage for the first time in twenty seven years, Rowan Atkinson, Bill Bailey, Joan Rivers, and Omid Djalili. Chris Tarrant and Fern Britton guest star in specially-written sketches. Plus, a surprise musical number from a visiting comedy great. I think there’s probably just about enough quality there to outweigh the cringe-inducing nature of the event. A bit like Jezza Paxman interviewing "Mr Rascal" on Newsnight last week. Innit?

Sunday nights are so good they really should have their own weekly featuere but, for this week, there's really only one thing to talk about this time around, the final episode of Stephen Fry in America which we’ve stuck with for the last five weeks so, frankly, it'd be a bit pointless to drop it now. Stephen concludes his epic journey touching all fifty states of US with a trip to the beautiful Pacific Northwest beginning in San Francisco's Chinatown, before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to join the Sheriff of Mendocino on a drugs bust. The giant redwood forests of Oregon yield arboreal activists and Bigfoot believers and Kodak Island in Alaska plays host to a Russian Orthodox Easter before Stephen heads for Hawaii having, hopefully, avoided being shot in mistake for a moose by Sarah Palin. Now, I’ve got very some good news for those readers who’ve loved this show over the past few weeks – apparently they shot so much footage that Stephen and BBC4 are putting together an additional five films (more thematic essays, these, rather than the travelogues we've had so far) to be called More Fry in America. Haven’t got a likely transmission date for that yet, but that’s certainly one to keep an eye open for later in the year.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

From Italy/Haiti/Bolivia/London/Russia ... with Kiss-Kiss, Bang-Bang

So, there's a new Bond movie out, Quantum of Solace, you might've heard about it. Popped along to see it this morning and I have to say, Christ, the hot dogs are really expensive at the Empire these days. £3.90 for a "whopper", apparently. I was going to boycott buying one, in protest, but I hadn't had any brecky so ...

Anyway, the movie:- Now, here's the funny thing, the last one, Casino Royale, I thought was terrific but not significantly better than a lot of previous Bond movies. And I say that not as a professional movie critic but as someone who taken to see Diamonds Are Forever as a thrilled eight year old with me dad in 1971 and have - View to a Kill aside - seen every Bond movie since at the cinema long before ITV got round to showing them on telly on Christmas Day about three years later. The interesting thing last time was that a lot of - it's got to be said, rather sniffy - critics who, under normal circumstances, would not have been seen stone-cold-dead praising such "genre trash" as a Bond movie went completely head-over-heals overboard on Casino Royale. It was like they had forty years worth of pent-up feelings that they'd had to suppress since, what, Thunderball as the last Bond film "it was okay for a Serious Movie Critic to like" and, thus, threw everything they had into one big ball of published Happy-Fun-Time-Joy. Plus, most of them fancied Danny Craig. Or Eva Green. On, indeed, both. Thus, the new one - which, again, I thought was a very decent, if hardly earth-shattering movie (it's certainly not Lie and Let Die, let's put it that way. Honky) - has come in for some rather unexpectedly harsh criticism from some of the very people who so loved the last one. "Following Casino Royale was never going to be easy, but the director Marc Forster has brought the brand’s successful relaunch crashing back to earth with a yawn" noted some wanker of little or no importance in The Sunday Times before concluding that "Bond has been stripped of his iconic status. He no longer represents anything particularly British, or even modern. In place of glamour, we get a spurious grit; instead of style, we get product placement; in place of fantasy, we get a redundant and silly realism." Right. Dunno what he (or she) is on, per se but I can't really say I noticed any spurious grit myself. At least, no more than usual. Actually, that's a decent point - the previous Bond movie Quantum of Solace most reminded me of was, interestingly, Licence to Kill. Now THAT had spurious grit. And overdose of it.

Generally speaking, you've got a checklist you go through with sitting down to view a Bond movie and, if most of the following boxes are ticked then, chances are, you've got a winner:-

1. Pre-title Sequence Excitement: Yep, no problem there. The first seven-and-a-half-minutes of this film are amongst the best the series had done in a long time (remember how long, for instance, it took them to GREAT TO THE SODDING POINT in The World is Not Enough?) Particularly as Quantum of Solace's pre-titles include a whopping great dose of number two on Ze List...

2. Cool Cars & Cool Car Chases: Oh yes. An Aston Martin and an Alfa Romeo shunting seven grades of shite out of each other through the backroads (and, erm, quarries) of Northern Italy. That's a check.

3. A Halfway Decent Title Song: Yeah. Again, no worries. I'm not, normally, a huge fan of either Alicia Keys or Jack White but 'Another Way To Die' fits all the right holes, toots all the correct John Barry-style horns and twangs all the reverb-heavy guitar strings one could possibly want. There's a little dah-dah-dah-dahhhhhh moment that will make most cynical Connery fan crack their face into a - brief - smile.

4. A Stunna As The Bond Girl: Or, more accurately, 'some dusky, brown-eyed pouty vixen who is very good at starring wistfully into the mid-distance and saying "Chaymes Bondt" on queue.' A role that Camille Montes fulfills perfectly adequately, if not more.

5. A Snarlingly Effective Bond Villain: Mathieu Amalric (who was so good in Munich) does a really good job in this category. I particularly liked his cool detachment.

6. Good Jokes: "Can I offer an opinion? I really think you people should meet in a better place!"

7. An Iconic Death of A Secondary Characters With A Delightfully Stupid Name: Gemma Arteton's Strawberry Fields draped over the bed looking like a Cormorant after the Amoco Cadiz has gone down in the vacinity in clear homage to Shirley Eaton's demise in Goldfinger sorts that one. It's not, quite, as sensational as Plenty O'Toole taking a dip in Diamonds but it's, genuinely, not far off.

So yeah, overall, a very decent effort that, I thought. Now, next time - if there's a passing Broccoli reading this, keep Danny, keep Judi, keep Felix but can we please get back to the present and have Moneypenny and Q back?

This review will now self-destruct a'fore your very eyes. If any of it remains afterwards, please be so kind as to eat it.