Thursday, January 01, 2009

First Foot Top Telly Tips for 2009: No Rest For Charlie Brooker

Good morning, dearest blog reader. Have we all got a bad head?

Terrific, then I'll begin...

Thursday 1 January
Hey ho, here we go with another year of Top Telly Tips.

Television's apparent obsession with rediscovering formats from the 1960s and 70s which still work in 2009 - see, for example, Doctor Who, Survivors, Superstars, Strictly Come Dancing etc. - reaches a new level of rank desperation tonight with the return to ITV after fourteen years of The Krypton Factor (at 7:30). Remember that one? Ben Shephard steps into Gordon Burns's sensible shoes as host of the game show that features various city thirtysomethings who are "big in banking" (or something similar) doing army assault courses and logic puzzles. And, with TV being "the medium that east itself" I can see this one going one of two ways - either, "this year's Doctor Who" or "this year's Gladiators."

Highlights of the last two New Year's Days have been the tremendously entertaining Griff Rhys Jones, Dara O'Brien, Rory McGrath "three men in a boat" shows. Well, the trio make it a trilogy tonight with the first part of Three Men in More Than One Boat - 8:00 BBC2 - in which they sail along the beautiful Cornish coastline to the Scilly Isles taking in, along the way, the isolated studio where Oasis recorded Definitely Maybe and Padstow - which is now known as "Rick Stein's Padstow", apparently. But, with Rory in charge of both vessel and food procurement, things don't get off to the smoothest of starts. You know what you're getting here, it's "Top Gear in boats," essentially. And, because of the participation of Dara and Rory (if not, necessarily grumpy old Griff), it's really jolly wonderful stuff. The second episode is on next Monday.

If the Krypton Factor's return to TV is long overdue then what can we say about the first new Jonathan Creek in five years on 9:00 at BBC1? David Renwick's stories of the scruffy illusion designer turned amateur sleuth who lives in a windmill turned Alan Davies from a relatively minor cult item on the stand-up comedy circuit into a genuine international TV star and completely revitalised the tired old Crime Drama genre during the late 1990s. Well, he's back - with a new sidekick (Sheridan Smith replacing Julia Sawalha. Who replaced Caroline Quentin) in a story of a creaky old country manor with a sinister attic that has claimed the life of everyone who's tried to spend the night there. Just how great is it to have this back? Any chance of a new series, please? I know Alan's pretty busy these days being Stephen Fry's straight-man on Qi and fighting tramps in the street, but, one can dream at the very least? Dreaming, as Blondie once said, is free.

Friday 2 January
Two years on from "Shetty-gate", Celebrity Big Brother returns with Davina looking all pouty and dangerous in a live launch episode tonight at 9:00 on Channel 4. Which is a good cos the last time she was on TV she was getting her brains eaten by zombies in E4's Dead Set. Glad you survived all the brain-eating, Davina. Those desperate d-listers willing to take part will be happy to know that "the smoking area has been moved for protection against the elements." Well, that's all right, then. So long as they can have a fag in relative comfort. Cos, like, I was really worried about that...

Immediately before CBB is the return of another of Channel 4's favourite shows, A Place in the Sun. This time around, Amanda Lamb heads down under to offer advice on buying property in Australia. She starts by helping Alex and Kate and their two sons swap their lives in Wrexham for Melbourne. Makes you think, doesn't it.

So, what's been happening - generally - in TV land over the last year? Well, if you've been listening to Top Telly Tips on the radio and/or reading this blog then you'll know full well and you'll be far more informed on the subject than all of your friends, who don't. But, if you haven't (and, I don't really blame you) then you can simply check out the work of a much better TV previewer than I, that sour-faced malcontent and British national treasure Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe - Review of the Year at 11:45 on BBC2.

Saturday 3 January
Introduced by Scottish Neil Oliver with his lovely (Scottish) hair, The History of Scotland (8:00) comes to BBC2 tonight having already been shown on BBC Scotland some months ago. At the dawn of the first millennia, there was no Scotland - or England for that matter. In the first episode of this landmark series, Neil reveals the mystery of how the Gaelic Scottish Kingdom - Alba - was born, and why its role in one of the greatest battles ever fought on British soil defined the shape of Britain into the modern era. I could, frankly, watch Neil Oliver read the telephone directory and, like as not, he'd manage to make it sound interesting. It's not hard to see why all the ladies fancy him something rotten. It's the hair, clearly.

Sunday 4 January
Blog readers - with long memories for trivia - may remember that at the beginning of last year Top Telly Tips covered a - quite brilliant - Channel 4 documentary called The Artful Codgers, the outrageous story of an Octeganarian Lancashire couple and their Scallywag son who conned the art world with a series of forged paintings, sculptures and ancient artefacts knocked up in their garden shed in Bolton. Well, the tale has now become the basis for a compelling and high profile docu-drama. The Antique Rogue Show (9:00 BBC2), stars Jeremy Swift along with two of the finest actors television of the, shall we say, veteran generation who are still working and still, very much, in demand - the wonderful Peter Vaughan and the great Liz Smith. The story, as mentioned, is about one of the world's most prolific and diverse art forgers. Aided by his parents, unemployed Shaun Greenhalgh created fake paintings, antiques and sculptures that would dupe the art world out of hundreds of thousands of pounds, including a fake statue which they sold to a museum for nearly half a million pounds. The family could not resist attempting to pass off a fake Assyrian relief to the British Museum, a mistake that ultimately led the police to their door.

Or, you may prefer Above Suspicion (9:00 ITV), the first episode of a two-part drama featuring Kelly Reilly, Ciaran Hinds, Jason Durr and Shaun Dingwall and written by Prime Suspect author Lynda La Plante. Rookie DC Anna Travis is determined to earn respect and prove her mettle in the tough male world of coppering when she is assigned to her first murder case, under the unorthodox guidance of DCI James Langton. Investigating a series of brutal and ritualistic murders of young women, Anna uncovers a vital piece of information which seems to link one man to all the women - but her suspect, Alan Daniels, is a handsome actor on the brink of international stardom.

It's a good telly weekend, generally, this with the second series of the popular Lark Rise to Candleford, the debut of the much-anticipated ITV drama Demons (watch, now it'll turn out to be Bonekickers' younger, more bratty and unlikeable cousin) and the return of one of my favourite shows, Tony, Phil, Mick and co. in Time Team. I'll cover at least two of those in far more detail in next week's Top Telly Tips. Meanwhile, happy hangover and may all of your resolutions be broken within the first two days of 2009.