Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Week Six: Britain As A Third-World Country. Discuss!

Friday 6 February
Last week saw the return of the Lee Mack flat-share sitcom, Not Going Out at 9:30 on BBC1. This one is a bit of a curate's egg to be honest. It has good days and bad days and, on a bad days it's, essentially, Game On: The Next Generation. But, when it's having a good day, the series can be really funny. Mack and his co-writers - who include former NME staffer and current media darling Andrew Collins - sometimes miss the mark quite horribly and get into areas of overt crudeness seemingly for the sheer hell of it. But, more often than not, as modern sitcoms go, Not Going Out is really quite fun. Tonight, Lee is being insufferably smug (so, what else is new?) when he wins a thousand quid in a writing competition with an essay entitled Disability in the Workplace. Lucy, almost despite herself, is very proud of him but Tim, perhaps inevitably, smells a rat. A quality cast helps.

Saturday 7 February
Casualty - 8:50 BBC1 – is one show that we haven't mentioned in a while so, this is just to highlight for anyone who may have missed the fact that it IS still going. And - I'll use that phrase again - on a good day that it's still yer actual proper classy cutting-edge medical drama. In tonight's episode Adam (Tristan Gemmill), devastated over his brother’s overdose in the last episode, searches for someone to blame. And he has his sights set firmly on the slimy Jordan (Michael French, in fine nostril-flaring form and seemingly having finally come to terms with the dreadful damage that Crime Traveller did to his ongoing career). Meanwhile, Zoe prepares for Sharice's homecoming, and a nasty accident reveals the pressures of caring for a brain-damaged relative.

Just a few weeks after the last series ended, and a bunch of repeats to tide us over the Christmas period, Harry Hill's TV Burp returns at 7:20 on ITV with Harry and his team of researchers scouring the box for more hidden comedy gems and presenting them in various surreal and yet, in many ways blindly obvious, ways. For the purposes of merriment and japery. Plus, you know, FIGHT! The great thing about this show is that once you become a target of Hazza, it's become virtually an industry byword for having made it into The Big League. "I see you had the Mickey taken out of you on Harry Hill last week." "Yeah, good, wasn’t it? The ratings went up by a million after that!" There was a really good interview with Harry recently where he was talking about how nowadays all of the soaps, for instance, will allow TV Burp to film exteriors at their locations (where once, EastEnders, in particular, wouldn't let them anywhere near the Albert Square set). A testament, perhaps, to just how much a part of the TV furniture the show has now become.

Sunday 8 February
The British Academy Film Awards - 8:00 BBC2 – is actually split over two hours and two different channels (it switches to BBC1 at 9 o'clock - what's all that about?). Jonathan Ross hosts - which is sure to put the audience up by a couple of million at least as every disgraceful scum tabloid journalist wretch in the land tunes-in eagerly to listen to Jonathan's every word in the hope of being provided with enough rope to hang him with. Come on, Wossy, say something outrageous tonight, I dare ya. I double dare ya. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon and The Reader are all up for lots of awards. Will Wor Katey win this time? Will she blub like a girl if she does? Will she forget somebody's name this time? Will it be her own? Perhaps we’ll never care.

Monday 9 February
Dispatches launches an investigation into the subject of ageism which is alleged to be rife among employers and recruitment agencies in Too Old to Work at 8:00 on Channel 4. Looking at the challenges that older job seekers face, the documentary carries out an very interesting experiment by pitching two accountants from different generations - a 57-year-old father with thirty five years experience and his recently qualified 25-year-old daughter - into a contest to see which of them can secure the most offers of work. Clever. I do like Dispatches – far more than Panorama which, these days, seems to have turned into a Grumpy Old Men-style excuse for a bunch of malicious malcontents to grumble to the masses about the manifest unfairness of, you know, stuff. Dispatches at least does, genuinely, seem to be interested in solutions just as much as it is in the problems.

Botswana's elephants are doing very well, apparently. Good, you're probably saying. It's nice to know that in this day and age of numerous endangered species, something is getting on okay. Ah, but there's a sting - they may be doing too well, it seems. People (I'm not sure who these people are exactly but, I daresay, if we watch the show we might find out) are worried that too many elephants will damage their fragile desert home and have suggested that up to 60,000 should be culled. Harshsly. With hammers. No, not really, I just made that last bit up because I was a big fan of The Day Today and it was the kind of thing Chris Morris used to say. Anyway, in Natural World: Elephants Without Borders - 7:00 at BBC2 (and repeated from last Friday) - researcher Mike Chase studies ancient elephant migration routes - tracked across vast deserts, desolate salt-pans and Angolan minefields - and asks is such a cull really necessary or is it just an example of ludicrous over-reaction by bloodthirsty maniacs who like killing heffelumps. With hammers. They should get them two mad chefs off Could You Eat An Elephant? a few weeks back to come up with an elegant braised-elephant-style solution (involving them being served in a light drizzled sauce on a bed of rice, perhaps). What is it about elephants? They’re never off the bleedin' TV at the moment. Have we all got sick of polar bears and big cats all of a sudden?

Last week, I highlighted two excellent new crime dramas on opposite sides at the same time and suggested it was a case of watch one and record the other. Well, actually, I managed to record both, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. I watched ITV’s Whitechapel first which was, as I expected, very dark and nasty, rather nefarious and beautifully made (albeit a little hammy in places ... and not especially well-acted by some of the cast. Including such reliable old hands as Steve Pemberton and Claire Rushbrooke). It reminded me, somewhat, of a few of those edge-of-the-memory 1980s dramas like Dead Head and Brond which dealt with the curious juxtaposition between the very top of society and scum floating at the bottom. Good stuff, though, with a nice sense of impending dread all the way through it. Moses Jones on BBC2 was just as dark, just as well-made and, if anything, even more labyrinthine in its dense, foggy plot and multi-character story-arc. And, actually, better acted too. If you missed them both and want to pick up one then Whitechapel will probably be the easier of the two to jump on board at a late stage. If you watched one to the exclusion of the other then my advice is, stick with the one you're with and then try and catch the other one on repeat. Because they’re both worthwhile and are both superior examples of the classier end of British crime drama at its best.

Tuesday 10 February
Tonight sees the welcome return, at 10:00 on BBC4, of Mad Men the US drama that takes an unflinching look at the superficially-glossy-yet-really-rather-sordid world of the men and women who worked on Madison Avenue in New York’s advertising industry during its early sixties heyday. It's 1961 and the young, glamorous John Kennedy is in the White House. On Valentine's Day, the staff of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency is hustling and checking out the latest thing in office equipment - a photocopier. Don (the splendid, if rather enigmatic, Jon Hamm) and Duck clash over an account and Don discovers that his two-packs-a-day lifestyle is going to catch up with him sooner rather than later. Meanwhile Don's wife, the pill-popping Betty (January Jones) runs into an old friend. Will Christina Hendricks' pouty vision of minxy bad-naughtiness, Joan, actually get all of her kit off this year rather than just bits and pieces of it as in various episodes in the first season? I don't know but I'm sure gonna be watching to find out.

Horizon: Why Do We Dream? - 9:00 BBC2 – is an investigation into the science behind something all of us enter five or six times a night, the dream state, with the findings based upon anecdotal evidence and a series of cutting-edge experiments. Why we all dream and what meanings we should attach to these very personal visions (if any) are two of the enduring mysteries of life to which the latest scientific research is attempting to suggest some answers. The programme reveals that much of what was held to be established fact in relation to the twilight zone of the human psyche no longer stands up to any sort of scrutiny and that dreams are now regarded as a significant element in maintaining our mental health. As for nightmares, could they be the key to our success as a species? Might explain a lot, actually.

It's Time to Go Nationwide - 11:20 BBC2 – is a documentary looking at Nationwide, Britain's first truly regional TV programme, which ran on BBC in the early evenings from 1969 to 1983. If you don't remember it, it was a sort of amateurish forerunner of The ONE Show, essentially (only, you know, without the crass examples of pre-war bigotry from a former Prime Minister's daughter) and was mercilessly - albeit, very funnily - parodied in its day. And, indeed, well beyond - anyone remember the Not the 9 O'Clock News sketch with Pam Stephenson doing a quite brilliant Sue Lawley impression talking about a coming interview with "a man who sits in trees and shits on passers-by"? Anyway, this documentary features contributions from many of those involved, including the lovely Sue herself, Michael Barratt, Richard Stilgoe, Bob Wellings, Hugh Scully, Frank Bough, Esther Rantzen and John Stapleton. Previously shown on BBC4.

Wednesday 11 February
It's England versus Spain tonight, live from Seville and taking up most of ITV’s schedules for the rest of the evening. As usual, I'll be providing three - hopefully decent - alternatives although, to be honest, I'll probably be watching the footie myself! What can I say, blog readers? I'm a chap and I have my needs.

Nature's Great Events - 9:00 BBC1 – is the first in a new series about the most dramatic wildlife spectacles on our planet. This one is called The Great Melt. The summer melting of Arctic ice, opening up nearly three million square miles of ocean and land, provides opportunities for millions of animals, including beluga whales, families of Arctic foxes, vast colonies of seabirds, and the fabled Arctic unicorn, the narwhal. But for polar bears it is the toughest time of year. How will they survive? Narrated, as usual, by the lovely David Attenborough. Who, seemingly, hasn’t been shot yet by an outraged zealotty Jesus Freak after his perfectly harmless little Darwin documentary got them out in force the other week. That's good to know. Love thine enemy as thy self, sayeth the Lord. Unless you don't agree with him in which case, you can shoot him or bomb his abortion clinic. I must have missed that bit in Sunday school.

Kirstie, Kirstie Allsopp and Phil, Phil Spencer go down down to the west west in Relocation, Relocation - 8:00 C4 – in their bid to help people change their accommodation (and their lives) in today's turbulent property market. Bristol-based couple Louise Buckles and Peter Melrose want a home in London whilst keeping a little place in the Wiltshire countryside. The greedy sods. Most of us can't afford one home, yet this pair of jokers want two. It's people like them, right, who are symptomatic of the reasons why this country is in the mess it is. It's like living in the bloody third world in Britain at the minute. We have a couple of inches of snow and the whole country grinds to a halt. All the xenophobic Little Englander Communist part-time workers in the refineries are having a walk-out because they fancy a couple of days in bed and they don't like them there foreigners and meanwhile … sorry, it's just been one of them weeks. Where were we? Oh yes, Peter and Louise Two Homes. I’ll just bet they're "interior designers." Or, you know, "financial consultants." One of those "that's not a REAL job"-type jobs, anyway. Where the hell do Channel 4 find these people? Is there an agency out there that provides them on demand? "I'd like a waste-of-space middle-class couple who have loads of money and would like to flaunt it on national television for the plebs, please." "Certainly sir, will you be requiring that they knit their own yoghurt and run their toaster off solar power too?" "Perfect. And if you can make sure they have nothing but total respect for Annie Lennox. That's a deal-breaker I'm afraid..."

In The World's Biggest Family and Me - 10:00 C4 - Mark Dolan sets off on a global quest to learn the truth about families with ten or more children. What governs the need to breed? Mark learns how these parents survive what appears to many to be a logistical and financial nightmare. They probably do what that woman who's just given birth to Octuplets is doing in the US, obviously. Sell their story to the tabloids for wads of moolah. I mean, owt to avoid doing anything remotely close to an honest day's work, that's fairly obvious. It's all wrong, blog readers. Wrong. The whole world's got its priorities up the Khyber. Still … Ashes to Ashes is back in a couple of weeks. I mean, there's priorities and then there's yer actual priorities.

Thursday 12 February
It's been a very good week for documentaries (in fact, it's been a very good year for documentaries so far) and that is something which is set to continue tonight with what looks to be a fascinating glimpse into a very misunderstood hobby. A Very British Storm Junkie - 9:00 C4 – follows Stuart Robinson's secret life. By day, Stuart is an IT consultant from Leicester who lives with his wife, Alison, in comfortable domesticity. But, in his spare time he's a thrill-seeker of quite obscene proportions, travelling the globe as a "storm chaser", witnessing the awesome power of nature at first hand. Last year, with his American buddy, Roger, Stuart set himself the ultimate goal of experiencing the eye of a monster hurricane. Cutting Edge follow him to see if he survived! It's a rather amiable little travelogue that takes in visits to Taiwan, Tornado Alley in Kansas and Louisiana just as Hurricane Gustav, the so -called "storm of the century" was hitting. A fascination with all the nature can throw at you is one thing, but driving straight into an oncoming hurricane just for the buzz of it is something else another. I think, perosnally, I’ll stay at home with a plate of chips butties and a cup of tea and watch Stuart. For entertainment, of course. Go on, Stu, get in there mate and tame that wind.

Media Revolution - 7:30 BBC2 – is the second of a three-part series from The Money Programme that looks at the revolution in newspapers, TV and book publishing. Like all other areas of the media, the book business is in a process of extraordinary change (and, as a author myself, I'm as acutely aware of this fact as most). The UK currently buys and reads more books than ever before. Libby Potter investigates how technology, market forces and trends in reading have changed the way that books are written, published and indeed sold. With contributions from some of the most influential people in the British publishing industry, the film asks what will happen as the medium continues to evolve with the digital age. And, with today's best-seller lists dominated by celebrity titles and biographies of (mostly) non-entities, what exactly is the future for the novel?

It's the last episode of the current series of Hustle tonight - 9:00 BBC1. Which has been really rather good, of late - one duff episode but, mostly, highly watchable. This year we've been introduced to a couple of new regulars (Kelley Adams, in particular, is quietly impressive) whilst still maintaining the wit and interplay between Robert Vaughn, Robert Glennister and Adrian Lester that made it such a hit in the first place. The team hope to con upper-class berk Alfie Baron (Tom Goodman-Hill who seems to be on TV more often than The News at the moment, a situation not entirely unconnected with his performance as Felicity Kendal's ginger-bastard-love-wasp in Doctor Who last year), but - as ever in Hustle - all is not as it seems. Alfie has been planted by an aggrieved former mark, Carlton Wood, who is determined to get his own back on Mickey and the boys. Seeing a straightforward con, Ash convinces Mickey that Sean (Matt Di Angelo) is ready to play the inside and the team set about gathering all their savings as they plan to take Alfie for his - non-existent - millions. As Sean lays down a one million pound convincer, could this be the end for the team? I'm betting probably not as a sixth series is, I understand, in the process of being commissioned and that a film adaptation is also in the - distant - pipeline.