Sunday, August 16, 2009

Week Thirty Four: Hallelujah! Henry Tudor!

Keith Telly Topping wishes you, dear blog reader, a very pleasant weekend as he cracks on with the next batch of Tasty Top Telly Tips for your entertainment.

Friday 21 August
From its flashy - yet curiously period-authentic - Dynasty-style title sequence, The Tudors - 9:00 BBC2 - remains what it always has been for the last two years: High-end glorious kitsch with more cheese than all of Cheshire put together and twice as much shoulder padding as you'll find in the San Francisco 49ers dressing room. The show is packed with vampy young vixens and strapping chaps with the kind of codpiece that one could have someones eye out with. All of them, of course, revolving around that haughty sexpot, he's Henery the Eighth, he is, he is (the scenery-chewing Jonathan Rhys Meyers, whom I'd never rated much before last season - pretty boy, can't-act - but whose appealing qualities I'm now starting to see the attraction of). It's ridiculously louche and entertaining nonsense, of course. A veritable feast of sumptuous costumes, eye-poppingly lovely jewellery and handsomely decorated sets. There's also the odd touch of crap acting in there but, to be fair, the latter only adds to the overall pleasure of the thing as an entity. As we reach the start of the third series, which opens with this feature-length episode, Henry has moved on from the recently beheaded Anne Bolyen to take a third wife, Jane Seymour, by all accounts a woman of some considerable independence. Oh dear, that's not gonna end well, is it? As played here, by the beautiful Annabelle Wallis, Jane comes across as a kind of nervous Sloane Ranger who's constantly searching for her lost mobile phone. Possibly mercifully, we don't see much of her early on, as Henry has more pressing matters on his mind. Them revolting Northerners, for one. Infuriated at the sacking of their monasteries and the wholesale trashing of their Catholic religion, they are in open rebellion, led by the lawyer Robert Aske, played by the terrific Irish actor Gerard McSorley, valiantly failing to maintain a creditable Yorkshire accent. And, he's not alone. The Tudors is actually an Irish-Canadian co-production with mainly American money in it, so it's chock full of - mostly rather good - Irish and Canadian actors trying desperately to sound English. Their origins, inevitably, keep leaking out whenever they open their mouths. However, it's worth remembering that as Keith Telly Topping mentioned last year, for all its historical inaccuracies, ludicrous geographical conceits and silly aspects, last season the production managed to get lots of Americans watching what was, in effect, a thirteen-part drama series about The Reformation. I reckon that's pretty laudable, personally. Later in this year, we're to be treated to what promises to be the astonishing sight of pretentious soul singer Joss Stone as Anne of Cleaves. I've a feeling that's not going to end well either.

The Kevin Bishop Show - 10:00 Channel 4 - has been controversial since it started last year. To be honest, some of the complaints have been idiotic and thin-skinned, but others aren't entirely without some foundation. Kevin appeared on Soccer AM a few weeks ago and revealed himself to be a rather personable chap (albeit, a Man United fan). He noted that the number of complaints for the first series was, he felt, understandable. But, he stated that he never sets out to deliberately offend anyone and that his dark sense of humour is often to blame. Which was a reasonable defence, I thought. Still, I have to say I've never really been a fan of impressionist shows anyway. And, a highlight for me of the main conceptual problems which such shows often have at their core came in a recent episode of Bishop's show in which Kevin parodied (and I use the word very loosely) House. He did this by playing a generic scene from the US medical drama - his co-star, forthcoming Doctor Who assistant Karen Gillan taking the role of Cameron and/or Thirteen - whilst Bishop played House, but using Hugh Laurie's Black Adder voice and mannerisms. Yeah, that's it. That's the joke. Bring back Mike Yarwood! Actually, that's rather unfair as there are odd little moments here and there which suggest that Bishop does have some real talent as a comedy actor and writer. But, sadly, they're seen all to infrequently in a vehicle which depends rather too much of juvenile humour (the Baywatch sketch, for instance) or just being controversial for the sake of it (the notorious Sophie's Choice: The Musical piece).

Saturday 22 August
Dear blog readers of a certain age will perhaps have fond memories of Animal Magic, one of the highlights of which was Johnny Morris doing comedy voice-overs of zoo animals. I always thought it was a bit silly, personally, but then I was a very morose and hard-to-please child. Walk on the Wild Side - 6:10 BBC1 - appears to be an attempt to mine a seam of nostalgia for this, and similar conceits. This teatime series follows basically the same principle, but with the likes of Jason Manford, Steve Edge and Gavin Webster putting their own funny voices on footage of animals in the wild (liberally pinched from the BBC's own Natural History Department and, thus, making the show cheap as chimps to produce). Stephen Fry, for instance, plays a lugubrious panda reflecting on the double-edged sword that is fame as he chews on his bamboo shoot. And, then leaves, presumably. There are also dancing badgers, puffins singing Chas & Dave songs, a farting gorilla and ITV's new format Penguin's Got Talent. Actually, you know, this is sounding more promising by the moment! We've also got are ants trying to mug a passing beetle, a seal waking from a very bad dream, and a crime-fighting hawk chasing down bad-guy lizards ('No-one is above the claw'). Some of it is, admittedly, very silly and some pieces are rather lame and obvious. But, shockingly, parts of the show are oddly quite brilliant. And is isn't, necessarily, the ideas which looked side-splittingly amusing on paper that work the best: A Marmot repeatedly shouting 'Alan!' is bemusingly hilarious, as is an insect hopelessly trying to climb up a sand dune. Like Animal Magic, Walk on the Wild Side is, at heart, simple, innocent daft fun that grown-ups and kids can laugh at together. Anyway, in tonight's show Meerkat Sir Alan looks for an apprentice (oh, another TV parody - didn't see that coming!), some lizard punks spend the Bank Holiday reliving their youth and a Tyneside-voiced anteater guides us through the complex world of ant cuisine. And, they're joined by tonight's special guest (and national treasure) dear old Rolf Harris, voicing - inevitably - a koala.

Britain's biggest talent show, The X Factor returns at 7:00 on ITV for a brand new series. Judges nasty Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Dannii Minogue and Louis Walsh sift through a record-breaking number of applicants, who this year must audition in front of a studio audience and the panel. The heats start in London, before moving on to Manchester and Glasgow. Watch out for Simon and Louis falling out over the talents of a pair of Irish twins. Plus, find out who gives what Simon describes as 'the best first audition I have ever heard'? Dermot O'Leary hosts.

Sunday 23 August
Lastly for the weekend, what looks to be a cracker on Sunday. Gunrush - 9:00 ITV - is a gripping drama starring the great Tim Spall. An argument in a shop queue leads to the shooting of a young girl by a teenage gang member. When she later dies in hospital, the strain on her parents' marriage becomes so severe that her father (Spall's character) takes the law into his own hands in the hunt for the killer. He goes under cover on the local estates talking to the residents, and pleads with them for someone to come forward. But as he gets more deeply involved with their gang culture, it becomes apparent that his own life is in danger. A proper, relevant, socially-aware issue handled through the medium of drama. Just what TV was made for.

Monday 24 August
Saving Britain's Past 7:30 BBC2 - is a series charting the development of the conservation movement in Britain since the Second World War. Architectural critic Tom Dyckhoff describes how Bath, widely regarded as Britain's most beautiful city (something that Keith Telly Topping himself agrees with - it's a place I'm very fond of), was almost destroyed by Hitler's bombs, before narrowly escaping further damage from developers in the immediate post-war years. Plus, a look at the birth of the listed buildings system. Yeah, sounds good this - something a little bit different.

Can You Bank on Me? - 9:00 BBC1 - is a documentary following two ex-bankers who, until recently, enjoyed earning huge salaries, with all the trappings of a high-flying lifestyle. Now, they're down in the gutter along with many of their former customers. Ha! Now you know how it feels, guys ... Anyway, the pair spend a week working with a struggling business that has been on the receiving end of the credit crunch. The bankers, one who was made redundant and another who resigned, now experience the recession from a very different perspective, and see first-hand the human cost of economic meltdown. Role-reversal TV can work (we think of things like Secret Millionaire, for instance) but sometimes it can look a smug and patronising exercise. I could got either way on this one although the fact that it's on the BBC rather than ITV makes me learn, marginally, towards it being a pleasant surprise. Time will tell.

Time has certainly told regarding On Tour with the Queen - 9:00 Channel 4, recommended a fortnight ago and turning out to be not only as good as Keith Telly Topping hoped but, indeed, far better. In this, if you haven't caught it so far, the very personable and likable writer and actor Kwame Kwei-Armah retraces the Queen's 1953 journey around the Colonies in this charming and genuinely uplifting travelogue. In this episode, Kwame visits Fiji, Sri Lanka and Uganda. The former is particularly interesting; Fiji, which once showed unconditional devotion to the Queen, has now dispensed with her as head of state and, after numerous military coups, was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2006. In Uganda, meanwhile, Kwame will be looking at how the country has rebuilt itself since the fall of Idi Amin. One of 2009's most unexpected TV triumphs, this. Give this Kwame his own, Michael Palin-style, travel show - the guy's a natural.

Tuesday 25 August
At sixty seven, the multi-millionaire business buccaneer and Auto Trader founder John Madejski is to be knighted for a lifetime of giving generously to the arts and education. And, especially, to his home town of Reading. Not to mention their football team - albeit, his millions didn't do them much good last Saturday when my beloved - though seemingly unsellable - Magpies gave them a damned good runaround. I'm allowed to gloat once, surely, after the summer we've had?! Anyway, as the recession bites Madjeski is not a happy man as revealed in Rich Man, Poor Man: A Knight's Tale - 9:00 BBC4. The powerlessness that Madjeski feels at least means he can dedicate some thought to the Inner Man. All his life he has been troubled by the need to find out more about his origins, about the man who fathered him, and to discover the secrets and lies about his illegitimate birth in Stoke in 1941. Sounds rather like an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and, I'm not entirely sure why it hasn't been made under that banner.

You Have Been Watching - 10:00 Channel 4 - is, as previously discussed on this blog (and, at some length on this blog for that matter) a - rather decent - comedy panel show looking back at the week's TV. It's hosted by the doyen of TV critics King Charlie Brooker. Who, to be honest, I'd rather watch half an hour of on his own than sharing his TV time with some guests. But, that's not the format of the show so, in the end, you take what you're given and lump it. King Charlie's guests tonight include Phill Jupitus, Jack Whitehall and that divine vision of pouting minxy loveliness that is Only Connect's Victoria Coren.

Someone called Rachel Cooke (no, me neither) in the New Statesman wrote about the opening episode of Desperate Romantics - 9:00 BBC2 - thus: 'I remember reading a review of Desperate Romantics in which the writer noted, with some bewilderment, that [Franny] Moyle claimed in her book that she wanted to bring the already exceedingly popular Pre-Raphaelites 'to life for a new public.' Eh? I thought. But now, all is clear. The public in question is obviously really thick.' My italics. So, there you have it ladies and gentlemen scum of the council estates - if you've really rather enjoyed the cascade of bums, boobies and mad sideburns that's been Desperate Romantics staple so far but previously had a less-than-intimate knowledge of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and all their works before viewing Peter Bowker's adaptation of Ms Moyle's biography then, according to this woman, you are 'thick.' It's odd, isn't it? Once upon a time, one had to have at least a smidgen of genuine breeding to be casually rude and crassly offensive in print. Now, any old hack can get away with it. In tonight's final episode of the six-part show, Rossetti and Lizzie return from their honeymoon, but it doesn't take long for old Dante's eye to wander and he begins a torrid affair with William Morris's wife. When the buxom Annie Miller (the excellent Jennie Jacques) refuses Hunt's latest offer of marriage, Fred tries to grab his own chance of happiness, but is rejected. Humiliated, he vows only to tell the truth in future, but his brutal honesty has devastating consequences for the fragile Lizzie.

Wednesday 26 August
Hoots, toots, och-aye, tonight it's the UEFA Champions League - 7:30 ITV. Live coverage from the Emirates stadium as Arsenal and Celtic go head-to-head in the second leg of the Champions League play-off. Or 'the qualifying round' as they used to call it. The winners will go through to the glitz, glamour and, most importantly, money of Europe's premier club competition, while the losers miss out and will have to settle for a place in the Europa League. That's what used to be called the UEFA Cup in case you were thinking the Intertoto had got a new name. Presented by Matt Smith and Andy Townsend, with commentary by Clive Tyldesley and Jim Beglin. No David Bleat? See! There is a God.

If you want some alternatives to this recreation of the Battle of Bannockburn, then you might want to try Megastructures: Built from Disaster - 8:00 Five: A new series of the show which attempts to make construction poetic, exploring how disasters throughout the world have influenced the evolution of modern structural engineering. The first instalment examines how a series of tragic events at sports stadia forced architects to incorporate a number of safety features into their designs for the arenas of the future.

The hit comedy panel show Shooting Stars makes a welcome return to BBC2 at 10:00. Presented by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, with team captains Jack Dee and Urika Jonsson and George Dawes, the biggest baby on television, keeping the scores, guests on this first episode are The ONE Show's Christine Bleakley, comic Paddy McGuinness and pop star DJ Ironik. As well as a brand new face on television, burger van owner Angelos Epithemiou. Vic tries to chat up Christine with a very special presentation and Bob finds out more about Ulrika's new boobs. Errranuuuu.

The Edinburgh Festival Show - 7:00 BBC2 - is presented by Wor Luscious Lovely Lauren Laverne from the Pleasance Courtyard and covers the pick of the shows and events in Edinburgh. Joining Lauren will be choreographer Michael Clark, who is returning to the International Festival for the first time in twenty years. Clark's work is distinctively 'radical and revolutionary' - in 1988 his production I Am Curious Oranj, featuring live music from The Fall, was a huge cross-cultural hit. (And one which Keith Telly Topping actually saw in London during its original run whilst he was cabbing it up, sideways.) This year Clark's inspirtation is the late seventies when rock's 'holy trinity' - David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed - were at the height of their creative powers. He attempts to visualise their work through the medium of modern dance. Nice.

Thursday 27 August
In The Frankincense Trail - 8:00 BBC2 - Katie Humble, no longer vastly upset by every single thing that her ancestors were involved in, it would seem, follows the ancient frankincense trade route of Arabia across the modern world of the Middle East. Kate begins her journey high in the hills of southern Oman, where she walks with the Al Mahri tribe - the descendants of the ancient traders - along the original trail through the scorching Empty Quarter Desert. Crossing into Yemen, Kate arrives at the world's first skyscraper city, where her frankincense is used at the ritual blessing of a newborn baby.

We've got contrasting soap storylines tonight. In EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1 - will Garry and Dawn find their happily ever after? No. Of course they bloody won't, what kind of a daft question is that? This is EastEnders, pal, nobody ever does. Meanwhile, Zainab rocks Masood with an announcement and Bradley's Gumbo plan tragically backfires. Over in Weatherfield, Norris is outraged when he hears about Ramsay's plans in Coronation Street - 8:30 ITV. Ashley feels guilty keeping a secret from Claire. Jason receives some good news from the police. I have to say, the moment a couple of weeks back when Corrie used The Smiths' 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want' as a soundtrack to Joe's painkiller addiction just before he smashed up the medical centre was one of the show's finest moments in a decade at least. I'll bet it made Morrissey's day as well - he's spent an entire career trying to get himself on Corrie!

And, speaking of soap operas we end this latest batch of Top Telly Tips with what is, currently, the biggest soap on Britain. What Katie Did Next - 9:00 ITV2. This new series follows Jordan in the months since her return to the UK and her split from her husband, Peter Andre. The cameras are with Katie as she copes with the aftermath of the split and prepares for single life with her children Harvey, Junior and Princess Tiaamii. In this episode she proves that she is more in the spotlight than ever as she parties in Ibiza, where she is shooting a new calendar. Plus she throws a birthday party for the kids. Sometimes, there just aren't enough sick bags in the world.

And lastly, a couple of bits of Top Telly News: Ex-EastEnders star Leslie Grantham, who played Dirty Den Watts, has escaped from a fire in a Swansea apartment. The actor, appearing in a play at the city's Grand Theatre, was trapped but managed to flee the burning ground floor flat before fire crews arrived. The sixty two-year-old was given first aid for a cut to his hand and smoke inhalation by firefighters, who had been called at 12:37 on Thursday. Grantham said despite his experience, he is 'pleased to be in Swansea.' An investigating showed a fault in an electrical appliance caused the blaze.

Emmerdale actress Sally Oliver has made a surprise exit from the soap after two years in the show. Viewers saw the star's character, Lexi King, leave after a tense showdown on a hospital roof with screen husband Carl. Although filming finished five weeks ago, Oliver's departure was kept a secret so that the outcome of the story would not be spoiled. Oliver said: 'I have loved every minute of playing Lexi but just felt the time was right for her to move on.'