Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Salt For Sore Eyes

There you have it, dear blog reader. A header which fondly recalls 'Kill Yer Television' by Ned's Atomic Dustbin (1990 on the Chapter 22 label - check it out). Let us, therefore, quickly get on with yet another batch of Keith Telly Topping's Top TV Tips.

Wednesday 10 December:
It’s been quite a while since we’ve previewed an episode of The Bill – 8:00, ITV – on the Keith Telly Topping and His Top TV Tips slot. Not because there's anything wrong with it, particularly, just because … well, it’s kind-of "there", you know? It's seldom as groundbreaking and unmissable as it was back in its 1980s and 90s heyday but it's still usually well-made, well-acted and decently written. Not, perhaps, the most challenging of TV shows these days but fundamentally, it remains a series of tales-well-told. Tonight is a particularly noteworthy episode, however, as it focuses on a teenage girl whom, one of the officers suspects, is being groomed as a prostitute. A very important social issue which will, hopefully, be handled with the tact and care it deserves.

On a similar note, another important social problem is explored in Jack: A Solider’s Story on BBC1 at 9:00. Lance Corporal Jack Mizon was honoured for his outstanding bravery during fierce fighting in Afghanistan but Jack has struggled to readjust to civilian life back in the UK. Ben Anderson tells the story as Jack ponders what the future might hold for him.

Or, you might prefer to watch, instead, The Cheryl Cole Factor on Five instead. Although her sometimes turbulent marriage to the football Ashley Cole – who, it is alleged, cheats as much on her as he does when trying to con referees in getting opponents sent off - has brought her much sympathy from the general public (apparently), is it Cheryl's new role as pop svengali on The X-Factor which has really won the North East born singer the nation's affections? Or, not? So, there's an interesting choice of viewing for us. On the one hand the story of a - genuine - hero, trying their best to cope with a harsh realities of the world and who is neither shallow nor vain and deserves to have their story told to the widest possible audience. And, on the other hand, some documentary about a solider. Pass the popcorn, please.

Thursday 11 December:
So, kids it's 11th December and, already, we've got the first use of "That Word" this year. In The Hairy Bikers Christmas Special – 8:00 BBC2 – Wor Davey and Wor Si travel around the country cooking up a variety of their favourite festive recipies as they plan an early party for families who - for one reason or another - won’t be spending the season together this year. So, get ready for an overdose of mince pies, chocolate yule log and turkey for brecky, dinner, tea and supper. Just like the real Christmas, in fact. Only, marginally less fighting over what to watch on the telly.

Thomas Beattie grew up as a girl, Tracy, in Hawaii and underwent gender reassignment surgery and hormone treatment. He subsequently married but, when he discovered that his wife was infertile, he stopped his treatment and become pregnant himself by donor insemination. Cutting Edge: The Pregnant Man (Channel 4, 9:00) looks at his remarkable story and the hatred and abuse he has faced as a consequence.

Lastly, it's the final episode of Little Dorrit – 8:00, BBC1 – tonight which has been a ... moderate success for the BBC. I think they were quite clever in scheduling it to start before I'm a Celebrity and, thus, get an audience in and interested before ITV's big hitter of the month got started.

Saturday 13 December:
Tonight sees the season finale of Merlin – 7:10 BBC1 on Saturday – which has been getting decent (if hardly spectacular) ratings and some rather good critical feedback. I know our own Jonny Miles is a big fan, for instance. I must admit, I've found it a bit heavy going at times – very well-acted (Tony Head is particularly watchable in it even if he does appear to be swiftly mutating into his "Elvis from The 1968 Comeback Special" period) but … I dunno, it just hasn’t struck the chord with me that, for instance, Robin Hood – which is its most obvious stablemate – does (for all the latter’s many fault). Merlin just seems to take itself a bit too seriously for my liking. But, from the BBC’s point of view it can certainly be considered a success and we'll have a new series next year. Hopefully, they might lighten-up a bit between seasons. It is nice to know, though, that in a week where we’ve seen that thrilling [Spooks] finale, we can still do the odd rip-roaring roller-coaster of a drama in this country.

Tonight BB2 devotes nearly three hours to the second greatest sitcom Britain has ever produced, Dad’s Army. (Come on, you seriously think I'd cast a vote against Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?) Sir Terry Wogan introduces a – somewhat lightweight - profile of old Cap'n Mainwaring himself, Arthur Lowe in A Life on the Box, there’s a much more in-depth Comedy Connections documentary and, also, an updated repeat of BBC4's excellent Missing, Presumed Wiped feature which details the BBC’s very misguided decision in the 1970s to junk many taped comedy and drama episodes that they thought they’d never need to show again. The highlight of the night, however, is one such recovered Dad’s Army gem, ‘Room at the Bottom’, an episode that hasn’t been shown on TV in colour for almost forty years. It’s introduced by that Stupid Boy Ian Lavender. What’s it all about, then? Don’t tell 'em, Pike!

Saturday also sees The X-Factor Final at 7:10. So, it’s down to a straight fight between Alexandra – who is being described as "this year’s Leona Lewis", the boys in JLS – this year’s Our Kid? and the very odd-looking Eoghan – this year’s Lena Zavarona, obviously, whose endless parade of queer facial expressions has kept Harry Hill in truly thigh-slapping material for some weeks. So, who’s going to win? Who, honestly, gives a blithering stuff? Whoever it is, they'll likely be working in Tesco's this time next year. Unless it's Lena, of course, he'll probably be taking his O Levels.

Sunday 14 December
Thank God it’s been an Olympic year as, for once, The Sports Personality of the Year Award – BBC1 7:00 on Sunday – is likely to be won by someone who is not an overpaid, frequently under-performing prima-donna of a footballer with a bad haircut and a weak metatarsal (even if The Scum did win the European Cup this year, there's no obvious candidates on the shortlist). If there were even a sliver of natural justice in the world then the great Chris Hoy would win the award by about a street and a half – the sort of distances that he was beating his rivals by at the Velodrome in August when he became the first Briton to win three gold medals at a single Olympics in a century. (Harry Taylor, the swimmer from Oldham, was the last person to achieve that and, tragically, they didn't have the Sports Personality of the Year Award in them days.) Or, just maybe, the divine Rebecca Romero who has now won Olympic medals (a gold and a silver) in two completely different sports and is, apparently, seriously considering going for a third for next time around in London might get the vote. I suspect, however, that it will be won by Lewis Hamilton. Which, to be fair, would be okay too. The youngest ever World Champion in a sport that combines skill with real danger. It's a damn hard job driving an F1 car, just ask David Coulthard, for example. He never managed it successfully. Sue Barker, Gary Lineker and Jake Humphreys present. And, after that, you’ll have plenty of time to switch over for the bizarre-comedy highlight of the weekend – Tom Jones as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on Top Gear. Skill.

Monday 15 December:
Christmas is a-coming, the geese are getting fat.
So please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, then a ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny … join the sodding club, mate. There's a recession on, haven't you noticed?

If ever a show has been – conceptually - damanged by the current financial crunch then it’s The Gadget Show – 8:00 Five. Tonight, however, with Christmas fast approaching Suzy and Jason go all Top Gear on us and attempt a world-record jump involving a radio controlled car. Plus, Anthea Turner puts some new washing machines through their paces and there’s a look at the world on inkjet printers. Too slow. I use a laser, personally.

I know that Nigella Lawson has her knockers. But Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen – 8:30 BBC2 – always seems very popular when packing in the punters and it’s back for three (nightly) festive episodes, starting tonight. First up, Nigella empties her freezer box before knocking up a mouth-watering feast of pumpkin and sweet potato soup, roast chicken breast with plenty of dumplings, her infamous gridle-buster pie and a nice plate of wobbly jelly. I don't know about you, dear reader, but I feel well-stuffed already. Pass the Rennies®.

The 60s Revisited – 9:00 Five – comes to an end tonight with a bunch of topics that include the age of promiscuity, violence and unrest (remember these interviews were carried out by Bernard Braden in 1968 when there were riots taking place on the streets of Paris, Chicago, Detroit and London’s Grosvenor Square) and the ugly spectre of racial tension. In one of the most poignant highlights, there’s some astonishing archive footage of the late Sammy Davis junior commenting on the subject of race relations in an interview which he gave just days after Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech which did so much to heighten racial tension in the UK for about the next decade. This has been a great series – what a real shame it took forty years for many of these interviews to see light.

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
“Seminal”; containing the possibility of future development. Frequently used in relations to work, etc., which are highly original and influential; important, central to the development or understanding of a subject.
As in "don't you think that Simon Cowell is a seminal example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain?"

Tuesday 16 December:
It’s been a while since we talked about one of Alfie’s favourites The Paul O’Grady Show – 5:00 on Channel 4. Tonight, another of Alfie’s favourites, them Girls Aloud, strut their very funky stuff on the sofa. Or, rather, beside the sofa one would imagine. And then, presumably, they all sit down.

We all need a good night’s sleep according to science (and common snese) but spare a thought for those people affected by a variety of somnambulistic disorders, the subject of Sleepwalkers: The Secrets of the Night – 9:00 ITV. Infra-red cameras record the nocturnal habits of four sufferers including Lee who creates works of art in his sleep, Xanthe who eats 150 meals a year whilst unconscious and Tim who, quite obliviously, tries to have sex with his wife while he is asleep. At least, that’s his story and he’s sticking to it. Now, there you go I’ve just made a cheep joke about the subject and I really hope the show doesn’t try any of that because it’s a serious condition and deserves some understanding.

There’s a cracking good line-up on tonight’s The Culture Show – 10:00 BBC2 – with Arty Andrew, Big Quiffed Marky and Wor Luscious Lovely Lauren looking back on some of the highlights of 2008. Music from the likes of Elbow and Richard Hawley, the last TV interview with the late film director Anthony Minghella plus chat from Johnny Depp and Ricky Gervais. Is that bloody Gervais bloke NEVER off the telly?

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Words of the Day:
“Nebulous”; cloudy; misty; foggy; dank.
As in EastEnders – nebulous television for those dark winter nights.

Wednesday 17 December:
Remember the days when The Royal Variety Performance always used to go out on a Sunday night, feature The Beatles and get a viewing audience of twenty million? No, me neither, I’m only 45 … what I can remember are those endless years with Max Bygraves boring the poor old Queen - or the Queen Mum - senseless with the same act. Toothbrushes, indeed. Anyway, Charles and Camilla have seemingly drawn the short-straw this year. (“Oh mother, do I have to go to the bloody Royal Variety Performance this year? Can’t I be King for the day instead?”) The line-up this year includes Cliff and the Shads (aw, yeah! Hope they do ‘In the Country’ - a particular favourite of mine, that one), Take That, Pussycat Dolls, this year's Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson, Leona Lewis, Duffy and Rihanna (not, presumably, all on stage at the same time), Peter Kay (doing his cross-dressing Geraldine-thing), and further comedy from Michael McIntyre and Armstrong and Miller. Plus, of course, a royal occasion these days simply wouldn’t be complete without Queen’s big-haired Brian May rocking out (it says here) with Wicked star Kerry Ellis. Can’t wait.

Or, you may prefer Willie’s Perfect Chocolate Christmas – 9:00 on Channel 4. Eccentric Devon chocolatier Willie Harcourt-Cooze prepares sweet and savoury seasonal recipes for us including chocolate mince pies, tarts and chestnut, pancetta and chocolate stuffing. Greatest! TV show! EVER! Meanwhile, his wife, Tania, shows viewers how to transform their homes into a winter wonderland with hand-crafted decorations. Never mind any of that nonsense, we want MORE CHOCOLATE.

It’s the last episode of the season of the Patricia Arquette vehicle Medium – 10:45 BBC1. On it’s day it can be one of the most scary shows on TV but it can also be very weak and needlessly sentimental to the point of mawkishness at times. Hopefully, tonight’s finale will be an example of the former although the plot - Alison helps a couple who are convinced that their house is haunted by the ghost of a drowned baby - suggests it might be one a three-boxes-of-hankies job.

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
“Flibbertigibbet”; A chattering or gossiping person; a flighty or frivolous woman.
As in “I watched Hollyoaks this week, that’s the most flibbertigibbets I’ve seen in once place at one time since the local fishmongers closed down.”

Thursday 18 December:
It’s been some time since ITV came up with a ludicrously over-the-top title for one of it’s numerous "concerned citizen" shows so, hopefully, there’ll be a big pay rise on the way to whomsoever thought up Fat Teens in Love at 9:00. Three teenagers whose obesity has left them low on self-esteem spend eight weeks in the Lake District at a weight loss camp. Kaytee, Max and Leah endure gruelling physical tasts for seven hours a day and follow a strict low-fat diet. Will any of this borderline child abuse help them to find romance? Are they - and their parents for that matter - happy that they are being paraded before the rest of the country in the cause of “entertainment”? Programmes like this make me sick. As Roger Waters once noted, Hey! Leave them kids alone.

It’s the last episode of Apparitions – 9:00 BBC1 – which has been very good, nowhere near as controversial as many suspected (and the Daily Mail predicted) before it even began but, also, not quite the hit the BBC thought it was going to be. A shame, really, although it’s probably just about done enough for another series. Tonight, Cherie Lunghi, having persumably got lost of the way to the Strictly studios, turns up. And, weakened by his crisis of faith Father Jacob (Martin Shaw, who is ever so good in this) realises that he needs to be exorcised himself. Maybe he should get himself along to Fat Camp with the kids on ITV, there's plenty of exercising going on there, apparently.

There’s an intriguing-looking local show on to finish the night off. The Great Shipwreck Mystery – 11:35 ITV - follows the ultimately successful salvage of a wreck which sank off Northumberland's coast during WWII and whose metal cargo investigators believe will rewrite the history of the war. Looks good - I like this kind of thing.

Today’s Top Telly Tips TV Word of the Day:
“Quidnuncism”; the love of gossip and idle chatter.
As in “Have you noticed how Loose Women’s become a haven for lovers of quidnuncism?”