Sunday, September 27, 2009

Week Forty: The Revolution WILL Be Televised ... Probably On Sky

Keith Telly Topping would like to congratulate to his beloved (though still seemingly unsellable) Magpies for taking part in a thoroughly fitting tribute to Sir Bobby Robson at Ipswich yesterday. And, not least, for winning 4-0. I would, particularly, like to congratulate aal the lads and lasses there, aal with smilin' faces for singing the proper words to 'My Way' when that lovely lass was belting it out at half time rather than the Sid Vicious version. As Keith Telly Topping himself would probably have done if he'd been there. Probably wouldn't have gone down too well pre-watershed on Beeb2, that. So, yeah, big big shout-out to Kevin Nolan for the hat-trick. And wasn't it just beyond brilliant seeing both sets of fans joining in a few choruses of 'Walking in a Robson Wonderland'? Fair restores your faith in humanity, so it does.

Now, dear blog reader, according to the great funk poet Gil Scott-Heron 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.' Unless, that is, Channel 4 get really desperate to find something to replace two hundred hours of Big Brother with in 2011. Actually, dangerous rumours that Simon Cowell has tried to create a format for televising the revolution just won't go away. The peasants will be revolting, Simon, mark my words.

Let's have a look at the next batch of Top Telly Tips:

Friday 2 October
Autumnwatch returns tonight at 9:00 on BBC2. And, perhaps inevitably, it's a case of new season, new format. Instead of eight episodes over the course of a fortnight, as previously, this time around the team will present eight weekly editions over the next two months, along with a very handy weekly repeat for families on Saturday afternoons. It will be interesting to see how the whole of autumn affects the UK's wildlife from October right through to the cold snaps that usher in the start of winter in December. And, of course, how the new format will go down with the viewers. Chris Packham established an easy-going, chatty rapport with co-host Katie Humble in Springwatch earlier in the year. As Radio Times notes this week 'threatening to turn Springwatch into Smithswatch with his uncanny ability to shoehorn song titles into every programme.' Charming man. A rush and a push and the land is ... his. So much nicer than the grotty little beardy Communist he replaced. For this series, the pair will be stationed at the Natural History Unit in Bristol, reporting on seven days' worth of field trips each week, beginning with a cider orchard where the harvest is already in full swing. Meanwhile, Simon King's back on the 'halfway-up-a-cliff-in-the-middle-of-a-hurricane' gig he knew so well for many years with a return to the Isle of Rum to catch up on the red deer rut. Gordon Buchanan - who got to do Simon's old job last season - will be chasing down topical stories, while producer-turned-presenter Martin Hughes-Games aims to inspire us all to get up close and personal with Britain's wildlife. Suddenly, the prospect of the evenings drawing in doesn't seem anywhere near so bleak.

As an alternative, Benidorm Derren Litten's Costa-del-Hell comedy returns for a third series also at 9:00 on ITV. It's the same gallery of grotesques who gather once again by the pool of the all-inclusive (including the salmonella) Hotel Solana: There's the fractious, dysfunctional Garvey family, corpulent swingers Donald and Jacqueline and that total plank Martin, who has mislaid his wife and arrives instead with a big brassy blonde called Brandy (guest-star Jonathan Creek's Sheridan Smith) in tow. By now we're used to Benidorm's broad comedy of the absurd. The characters don't just argue, they hurl lumps of abuse at each other. If someone has an out-of-date mobile phone, it's not just a few years old but a big 1980s brick. When a character gets comically sunburned, it's because he or she has been wearing a tin-foil suit. Nothing, in Benidorm, ever happens in small doses. But although the timing is sometimes laboured, many of the jokes obvious and some of the performances contain more ham than a Morrison's meat counter, the re-creation of sheer misery of many Spanish holidays can be uncannily accurate. For example, the scene in the opening episode where The Oracle (the wonderful-as-always Johnny Vegas) is driven literally to the point of despair by his mother's trivia-quiz ignorance is inspired. And Geoffrey Hutchings' inane scooter mogul, Mel, is a brilliant creation, like something out of Abigail's Party. ITV's decision to turn the show from a half-hour sitcom into a hour-long comedy drama has also given as much as it's taken away and when it gets its targets right, Benidorm can still make the viewer squirm and laugh in equal doses.

Saturday 3 October
To commemorate the 'Ruby Jubilee' (that's a fortieth anniversary for those of you who've never been married) of Monty Python this week, Monty Python: Almost The Truth (The BBC Lawyers Cut) - 9:15 BBC2 - takes us on a journey telling the story of the Pythons from start to finish. Beginning with the very humble origins of how the legendary British comedy troupe emerged ('humble' that is, if you consider two of the best universities in the land to be so instead of, I dunno, a North Shields backstreet with an outside netty) we learn how the cast met. Who their early influences were. How the American one ended up in there. And how they went on to create ground-breaking television and their transition into movies that would change the face of comedy forever blah, blah, blah. Yeah, whatever. What a really great shame it is that only two of them are actually remotely funny these days. And they're both called Terry. That's what forty years of angry joke-writing, suffocatingly bland niceness and hanging around with rock stars in LA can do to you. John, Michael and Eric, therefore, are advised to watch this and, hopefully, they might remember where they left their talent.

Sunday 4 October
In the latest episode of Last Chance to See - 8:00 BBC2 - Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine head to lovely New Zealand in search of animals on the edge of extinction. The travellers make their way through one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world (come on, you've seen The Lord of the Rings, surely?) on a journey to find the some of the last remaining kakapo - a fat, flightless parrot which, when threatened with attack, adopts a strategy of standing very still indeed. Yeah, Keith Telly Topping can see at least one potential reason as to why the kakapo is in trouble. And it isn't the poor bird's silly name either.

A show that we've never really talked about previously on From The North is Deal or No Deal - 4:45 Channel 4. For one, pretty obvious, reason. The horrorshow that is Noel Edmonds. However, Keith Telly Topping's radio producer - The Godlike Scunthorpe Steve - reckons that it's something worth taking about in the next lot of Top Telly Tips, describing it as 'brilliantly done.' And, as game shows go, I kind of know what he means. It's a much more friendly and inclusive beast than other, similar formats (the soon-to-be-cancelled Goldenballs, for one). And, all of the contestants genuinely seem to be having a good time on it. If only it was presented by someone other than the vile and wretched Beard of Despair, it would probably be quite watchable. But, it isn't so ... it isn't.

Emma - 9:00 BBC1 - is the first in a four-part adaptation of the Jane Austen classic novel by BAFTA award-winning writer Sandy Welch. Rich, independent and kind-spirited, Emma Woodhouse delights in matchmaking those around her. Once she has married off her close companions, she alights upon the pretty Harriet Smith to fashion into her new playmate and ally. Against the warnings of family friend Mr Knightley, Emma persuades Harriet that she is too good for her suitor, the farmer Robert Martin, and encourages her to set her sights higher. Romola Garai (Atonement) stars as the 'handsome, clever and rich' titular character whilst the impressive cast also includes Michael Gambon as Emma's affectionate, if somewhat neurotic, father, Trainspotting's Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley Jodhi May as Miss Taylor, Emma's former governess who marries the good-humoured Mr Weston (played by Robert Bathurst) and Tamsin Greig as the incessantly chatty Miss Bates whose poverty draws the pity and goodwill of all of Highbury. Emma was first published in 1815. Set in Regency England, it was the last Jane Austen novel to be published before the author's death in 1817, and is one of her most popular and best-loved books. The BBC's reputation for producing bodice-bursting costume drama like this is, of course, unsurpassed. Expect pretty much everybody in the country to be watching this by about week two. If you don't want to feel left out, get there from the start.

Monday 5 October
Stephen Fry once described the job of professional TV critic as 'the most pointless occupation on the planet.' Keith Telly Topping fully agrees with this assessment. Welcome, therefore, to three more minutes of utter and inherent pointlessness.

The BBC's most-acclaimed drama hit of last year was Peter Moffat's Criminal Justice - 9:00 BBC1 - aided by a superb (very topical) plot, some wonderful performances and the really clever idea of strip-scheduling across an entire week. The latter, as Occupation and Torchwood have subsequently discover, is such an ideal story-telling format because it compresses the viewer's patience threshold to find out 'what happens next' into just five days. As the TV reviewer in the Sunday Times wrote at the time, Criminal Justice '[took] the worn-out formula of the cop show and demonstrates there is something new to be said.' Anyway, the drama returns for a second look at the various cul-de-sacs and inadequacies of the UK legal system. Juliet Miller's life is turned upside down after an incident that leaves her family fighting for life, love and survival. From the outside, Joe and Juliet seem to have perfect lives: designer house, Joe's dazzling career as a top barrister, Juliet's enviable job as stay-at-home mum to thirteen-year-old Ella - but all is not what it seems. A shocking incident occurs and Juliet is plunged into the black and unforgiving heart of the criminal justice system. Maxine Peake, Matthew Macfadyen and Denis Lawson star.

E-mail has revolutionised our lives, quite literally. It's made communication with the other-side of the world unbelievably cheap and virtually instantaneous. But, can you have too much of a good thing? Two million e-mails are sent every second and now companies are hiring consultants to teach their staff how to cope with the daily avalanche in their in-boxes. And what about spam? Things have, apparently, got so bad that some companies have now introduced e-mail-free days. In E-Mail is Ruining My Life - 9:30 BBC4 - Libby Potter investigates whether e-mail helps or hinders workplace performance and shows how to control it rather than letting it control us. Keith Telly Topping will certainly be watching for tips. On whether those business opportunities in Nigeria really are as good as they sound, for one.

In The Graham Norton Show - 10:35 BBC1 - the award-winning camp host brings his anarchic talk show to BBC1. Have the BBC finally found a format to can properly harness Graham's unique (and very watchable) talents this time around, after a series of high-profile flops? Hopefully, because I genuinely think Graham is worth the effort. In this instalment, Graham gets into a bit of trouble and strife with monosyllabic showbiz couple Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne and discovers the truth about lying from alleged comedian Ricky Gervais. Graham also finally meets one of his heroines - the legendary Aussie diva Olivia Newton-John. Hopelessly devoted to her, is our Graham.

Tuesday 6 October
Mention the word 'blitz' to many people in Britain and they will immediately think of the bombing of London during World War II. However, the capitol was merely one of the cities targeted by Hitler's bombers. Plymouth, Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle, Hull and Southampton were amongst dozens of other British population centres that suffered the nightly terror of air raid sirens and blackouts. Infamously, on 14 November 1940, the Luftwaffe launched the most devastating bombing raid so far on Britain. In a twelve hour blitz, thousands of tons of bombs were dropped on the midlands city of Coventry, devastating three-quarters of the city centre and destroying the city's centuries-old cathedral. Blitz: The Bombing of Coventry - 9:00 BBC2 - tells the story of how initial panic and hysteria gave way to a renewed sense of purpose and soon local factories were turning out engine parts which were used to avenge the attack, on Köln, Hamburg, Berlin and, devastatingly, Dresden. The RAF, meanwhile, studied the Nazi bombing techniques and used their carpet-bombing tactics against them. it's a horrible story but one in which, quite magnificently, humanity emerges more-or-less unscathed. It is important we know our history because, as Misty once noted, 'without knowledge of your history you cannot determine your destiny.'

In It's Only a Theory - 10:00 BBC4 - two very funny (though very different) comedians, Andy Hamilton and Reginald D Hunter, host a series in which qualified professionals and experts submit their theories about life, the universe and everything. These will be examination by a panel of Hamilton, Hunter and a guest celebrity, who then make a final decision on whether the theory is worth keeping. So, it's kind of Qi meets What's My Line? Sounds rather good, actually and, certainly, worth a punt initially just to see how the show's humour is structured. In this episode, the guest celebrity is popular sports presenter Clare Balding and the experts are Dr Aubrey de Grey and Lucy Beresford.

Now comes, possibly a bit of controversy. In Kids for Sale: Stacey Dooley Investigates - 8:00 BBC3 - Stacey Dooley (one of the stars of last year's Blood, Sweat And T-Shirts), returns with a new series exploring the issue of child labour in Nepal after being exposed to it when working in an Indian fashion industry. Every year thousands of young children are forced to leave their families to work in factories or within a form of domestic slavery. Stacey's mission is to try and find out how and why this can happen and whether she can make a difference. In Kathmandu, she befriends a boy who is beaten by his factory manager and helps him escape to the safety of a children's hostel. Okay, worthwhile subject to tackle. But ... it's such a big and complex one that I have my doubts as to whether this show is going to help, hinder or merely muddy the waters. From the clips I've seen, Stacey appears to be be a bright and reasonably articulate young woman who is genuinely horrified by the idea of any child working in a sweatshop. Yep - with her all the way on that one. But, the big question is what are you going to actually do about it? Get the factory owner to stop employing children? Threaten to stop buying products from that factory if he doesn't? Sounds good in theory. But how, exactly, does that help the children, bearing in mind that most children in Nepal, India, China etc. work because their families are depending on the pittance wages the children earn as being the difference between potential starvation and living? It's a huge subject - there are believed to be over one hundred thousand children under the age of fourteen working in India, for example. Most of them do so because their families are so poor that, without their income they would, quite literally, starve to death. Can anyone wave a magic wand and inject enough capital into the Indian economy to make this situation disappear? Doubtful. So, if that's the case, highlighting one or two examples is a bit like trying to put a sticking plaster on an amputated leg. I wish Stacey well with her show. But, as to whether she's going to actually help anyone, I have my doubts.

Wednesday 7 October
There's something of an American feel to Top Telly Tips night tonight.

House - 9:00 Sky1 - is, of course, a medical drama about a maverick, anti-social New Jersey doctor starring our very own Hughie Laurie. Now into a sixth season, the show is a cunning mixture of high-end human drama with some very, and satisfyingly, low-end comedy. It is also, often, one of the five or so best TV dramas in the world. In this opening episode of the new series (shown in the UK just a couple of weeks after its American debut) Greg House embarks on a detox programme to rid himself of his long-running addiction to the painkiller Vicodin. Inevitably, perhaps, he comes up against a determined psychiatrist who refuses to reinstate his medical licence until further treatment is arranged. When House attempts to bend the rules, devastating events ensue. As noted - when I reviewed the episode last week - essentially, it's a variant on One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest full of witty one-liners and fine performances.

One of the most talked-about US imports of the last year is True Blood - 10:00 Channel 4. This is a fantasy adventure series set in a society where humans and vampires co-exist. It's obviously been hugely influenced by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Twilight movies. But it's also, on its own terms, a very fine, well-written and beautifully-acted piece - loosely based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris. It's gained a cult audience already and, again, it's probably worth noting that my producer is a big fan of this one. Hence, Keith Telly Topping is thoroughly happy to recommend it! Clairvoyant waitress Sookie Stackhouse (the brilliant Anna Paquin) may have found the perfect boyfriend - vampire Bill Compton. At least she can't hear what he's thinking, which makes a pleasant change.

Immediately after that, at 11:20 is Channel 4's other high-profile import, Generation Kill - a drama miniseries from The Wire's creator, David Simon. It concerns a Rolling Stone columnist who is embedded with a squad of marines who are preparing to invade Iraq at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It's raw, harsh, visceral and features a huge cast of characters. Like the war itself, it's short, bloody and often disorganised and chaotic. It's also brilliant. On very late and, clearly, not to all tastes - particularly if you're a bit squeamish. But a work of considerable merit and one that deserves consideration as much for the questions it raises as for the actual drama itself, good as it is.

Thursday 8 October
Last night was all America show and we've two more to talk about tonight. Mercifully, they're two of the very best. Bones - 9:00 Sky1 - started five years ago as what seemed at the time to be little more than a basic CSI rip-off and who's only distinguishing feature was that it starred Angel's David Boreanaz, a good-looking lad but whom many thought was a rather limited actor. How very wrong we were. Over the best part of one hundred episodes this show, about a forensic anthropologist, her FBI partner and the team of scientists they work with at the Jeffersonian Institute, has matured into one of the most enjoyable, clever and often amusing dramas on US TV. Or British TV for that matter. It's sharp, has a great ensemble cast and has revealed Boreanaz to be a superb actor (and one with a very well judged ability to dry comedy too) with a great rapport with his co-star, Emily Deschanel. In tonight's opening episode of the new season, nerdy psychologist Sweets finally passes Booth as mentally fit for a return to duty after the agent recovers from the brain surgery he was about to get at the end of last year. Meanwehile, Angela's psychic friend reads Brennan's tarot cards and announces that several bodies are buried under a nearby fountain. Booth and Brennan are sceptical but are surprised by what the investigation reveals. And, if you've never seen Bones before, I think you might be a bit surprised by what a very good little show it is.

Another particular favourite of Keith Telly Topping is Lie to Me which also returns to Sky tonight, at 10:00. This drama series is about a scientist who uses his ability to read facial expressions and body language to solve crimes. A kind of Derren Brown of the investigation world. It stars British actor Tim Roth, who is absolutely fantastic in the part. Again though, it's one of the great traits of American telly, the ensemble cast, which helps to turn Lie To Me from a decent show into a great one. Tonight, Cal and co. are back in action with typically twisty investigation. And again, a necessary congratulations to Sky for managing to get both of these fine shows on air in the UK within just a couple of weeks of their first American broadcast (in the case of Lie To Me, within days).

Just to prove that the American's haven't taken over the world a TV drama entirely and that, when we put our minds to it, we can still produce some good stuff too, Micro Men - 9:00 BBC4 - is an affectionately comic drama about the British home computer boom of the early 1980s. In a climate of exciting innovation, madcap inventor Clive Sinclair battles it out with ex-employee Chris Curry, founder of Acorn Computers, for dominance in the fledgling market. The rivalry comes to a head when the BBC announce their Computer Literacy Project, with the stated aim of putting a computer in every school in Britain. When Acorn wins the contract, Sinclair is furious, and determines to outsell the BBC Micro with his ZX Spectrum computer. Stars Alexander Armstrong and Martin Freeman and looks terrific.

Before Keith Telly Topping goes for a nice lie down today, dear blog reader, here's a few bits and pieces of stray Top Telly News:

X Factor hopeful Curtis Moore has apologised for turning to robbery following the death of his brother. Simon Cowell was accused last week by several tabloids of glorifying knife crime by allowing the sixteen-year-old to participate on the ITV talent show. Moore revealed his criminal history after a series of images which show him wielding a knife leaked online. He told the Sun: 'I was an idiot. I'm sorry. I was so stupid, I was thirteen and trying to be cool. The older kids carried knives so I just wanted to be like them. But I never carried a knife daily. I knew you could get five years. And I know people who have been stabbed.' The contestant, who now lives with foster parents in Walsall, added that he 'lashed out' in the wake of the death of his brother Aaron, who died in a car crash aged twenty.

Lucy Speed has claimed that she does not want to return to EastEnders. The thirty three-year-old big-chested actress, who played Natalie Evans in the soap, explained that she likes working on different projects. 'I don't think I'd like to reprise Natalie,' she told Inside Soap. 'I've been acting for twenty seven years so I'm really just used to moving on. I do speak to Charlie Brooks a lot and she's having a great time being back. And Danniella Westbrook looks like she's enjoying her return too.' Speed added that she is enjoying working on The Bill, where she plays DS Stevie Moss.

V will take an extended break after its first four episodes have aired, ABC has confirmed. The sci-fi remake, which stars Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell and Firefly's divine Morena Baccarin, will premiere in America on 3 November, then air a further three episodes before going on hiatus. The remaining parts of the initial thirteen-episode order will be broadcast from Spring 2010. Production on the series was temporarily shut down last month for 'creative' reasons. Oh dear, that doesn't sound too promising, does it? In recent days, rumours have widely circulated suggesting that V was, effectively, 'dead' and that the episodes produced to date would instead air as a confined miniseries.

Simon Baker has spoken about the moment that he knew he had made it as an actor. The Mentalist star appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman to promote the CBS drama's second season, which started in the US earlier this week. He said: 'When you're working you're so busy that you're sort of living in a hermetically-sealed environment. During my summer break I shot a little film in Oklahoma. We were shooting out in a little tiny town called Cordell. Literally the whole town emptied out into this square and waited 'til 3am for us to come out of the building that we were shooting in. [All because of] the show.' Asked if the series had changed his life, Baker replied: 'Yep. It's big.'

Craig Revel Horwood has claimed that he will slap fellow Strictly Come Dancing judges Alesha Dixon and Bruno Tonioli if they don't stop talking over him. Well, that'd certainly be one way to get the public back on Alesha's side. Take it from one who knows, Craig, nobody likes a woman-slapper. Unless it's behind closed doors and between consenting adults. Speaking to the Mirror, Horwood complained that the pair are rude for talking while he is trying to judge the contestants. 'I would like to slap them both,' he said. 'That's my intention come this weekend. If they start rabbiting on I'm going to put a stop to that. They both try and out-talk me despite the fact I am only given ten seconds to speak. I think it's rude to talk over other people and I can't understand why they do. Are their comments better than mine? They are like little children.' Horwood also admitted that he had been wary about sitting next to Len Goodman during the show. 'I was quite concerned when the producers said to me that I was going to be sitting next to Len,' he said. 'I thought, "Oh no, now he can actually hit me." I think it will be okay. I am trying not to argue with him this year. I don't think we will ever see eye-to-eye but he has every right to say what he says. And I have every right too.'

Richard Dunwoody became the second contestant to be eliminated from Strictly last night. The jockey and his professional dance partner, Lilia Kopylova, found themselves in the bottom two with Craig Kelly and Flavia Cacace. After the dance-off the panel opted to save Craig and Flavia, leaving Richard and Lilia as the second couple to be eliminated. 'It's been an unbelievable experience,' Richard said. 'Lilia's done a tremendous job over the last four weeks.' Lilia praised Richard for his hard work and joked: 'The best thing is he's going to teach me how to ride horses!' At least, we think that's what she said.

Kristin Chenoweth has joked that she is hoping to be offered parts in her favourite television shows. The actress recently won an Emmy for her role in Pushing Daises, but the show was cancelled last year. During her acceptance speech, Chenoweth said: 'I'm unemployed now, so I'd like to be on Mad Men. I also like The Office, 24... Hello [30 Rock star] Alec [Baldwin]... Thank you so much to the Academy for recognising a show that's no longer on the air.' However, OK reports that her appeal for work has been unsuccessful. 'Our show was cancelled so I thought, "Well, better take this time and say what shows you want to be on!"' the former West Wing star said. 'But no, no [I haven't heard from anyone].'

The second season of Dollhouse premiered in the US on Friday with the show's lowest ever audience. The season opener, which guest-starred Jamie Bamber and Alexis Denisof, pulled in just over two and a half million viewers for FOX in the 9pm hour. Pity, it was a good one as well.

Alesha Dixon has said that she would like to host her own chatshow. Speaking to the Mirror, the Strictly judge explained that she has been inspired by Oprah Winfrey. One-step-at-a-time eh, love?!