Monday, January 18, 2010

Week Four: Tiny Steps

Yer Keith Telly Topping must start off this week's bloggerisation with a quick, excited shout of congratulations to his old mate Alfie Joey - and, of course, his Katie - on the birth of their first at some Godforsaken hour of this morning. Well done, guys. Now get ready for eighteen months of sleep deprivation.

This was the week when most of the major American series returned after their Christmas break in the US. Leverage was back, with Jeri Ryan continuing to fill in for the - mostly - absent Gina Bellman. House features a daft - and genuinely amusing - little subplot about Greg pretending that he and Wilson are a gay couple in a - very convoluted - attempt to get into a pretty neighbour's knickers. There was a good CSI and an even better Bones - an X-Files parody/homage full of clever genre jokes and with a really touching bit of characterisation for Jack Hodgins. And, best of all, a week before it ends for good, Joss Whedon conspired to produce an episode of Dollhouse that, pretty much, tied up every loose ends in the series, featured a spectacular cat-fight between Eliza Dushku and Amy Acker that had to be seen to be believed and then ended with a cliffhanger that whets the appetite for next Friday's finale. What a tragedy it has been that this show - one of the most imaginative and striking that US TV has produced in years - has gone the journey through the lack of an audience. Blink, and you'd hardly notice it had even been there. Meanwhile, CSI: Miami thrives. No justice. What with that, the return of 24 tonight and an appearance by Ringo Starr on The Daily Show, it's been quite a week Stateside.

Let us hurry, hence, to the Top Telly Tips:

Friday 22 January
Ambreen Sadiq, aged just fifteen, is the first Muslim female boxer in Great Britain. In June 2009 she became the Amateur Boxing Authority's Female National Champion for her age and weight. Ambreen: The Girl Boxer - 7:30 Channel 4 - is a really well made documentary which follows Ambreen's preparations for the rematch of her championship bout against her main rival, Bobbi Clarke, as she is supported by her singularly dedicated coach and a close, vibrant family.

And, inevitably, since it's Friday it's also Qi night - 8:30 BBC1. Tonight, Stephen gathers up a gallimaufrey of gingambobs (try saying that after a couple of sherries), with the help of Phill Jupitus, Hugh Dennis, Andy Hamilton and Alan Davies.

Saturday 23 January
It seems almost impossible to believe since it's been a part of our TV landscape for much of our lives, but Newsnight is thirty years old today. In Newsnight at 30 - 8:00 BBC2 - fearsome Jezza Paxman presents a special programme to mark this anniversary. What have been the big shifts in British politics and society over the last thirty years? Studio guests from the worlds of politics and culture debate this subject. As well as a look behind the scenes at Newsnight, there are contributions from Kirsty Wark, Peter Snow and Martha Kearney, and a reminder of some of the classic moments from the show's three decades. Oh, please, show Michael Howard refusing to answer Jeremy's question twelve times in row, that's always such a good laugh. And, the show will end with the best reason for watching of all; the reformed Specials playing 'Too Much Too Young', the song that was at number one the week Newsnight began in 1980. 'Keep the generation gap.'

In Kevin McCloud: Slumming It - 8:00 Channel 4 - Kevin experiences first hand life in one of the most densely-populated places on Earth, the Indian slum of Dharavi. Kevin's journey continues as he explores the area's recycling industry, which sees eighty per cent of all plastic waste reused, and meets some of the locals who have made it big. He also catches up with Mukesh Mehta, the man who controversially plans to redevelop the slum.

Sunday 24 January
Rock and Chips - 9:00 BBC1 - is, of course, the heavily publicised prequel to the classic sitcom Only Fools and Horses, set in 1960. In Peckham, the Trotters family are all living under one roof: Grandad, Joan, her husband, Reg, and their teenage son, Derek. Things suddenly change, however, when ex-con Freddie Robdal (Nicholas Lyndhurst) appears in their lives. Joining this comedy drama are teenage versions of Only Fools and Horses favourites like Boycie, Trigger and Denzil. Okay, sounds good so far but I have real concerns that this is going to be something that makes The Green Green Grass look like a comedy masterpiece by comparison. The scheduling is simply bizarre, hidden away on a Sunday night in January when most of the Beeb confidently expected that it would be part of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend line-up, along with Doctor Who and Jonathan Creek. There's something funny going on here. Or, perhaps more worryingly, not funny in the slightest.

It's the final part of the excellent Dear Diary - 7:00 BBC4 - which yer Keith Telly Topping highlighted a few weeks ago. Rory Bremner brings this impressive series to an end, and manages to last just ten seconds before launching into his - not particularly good - Tony Benn impression. Bremner's survey of political diarists begins with Seventeenth-century gossip Samuel Pepys, whom Edwina Currie praises to the skies before revealing the reasons behind her own salacious diary revelations. Next, we visit Keith Telly Topping's favourite Tory, Alan Clark's long-suffering widow, Jane and finally Victoria Wood, who says that she prefers more run-of-the-mill reading material: The Mass Observation project, which inspired her BAFTA-winning drama Housewife, 49.

Monday 25 January
It's a big night on Coronation Street - 7:30 ITV. Will Rosie's secret put pressure on Kevin and Sally? Will Gail be happy with Joe's latest money-raising scheme? And, Steve shows off his new motorbike. Well, okay, the last one's a bit of a let down, I admit ...

Britain's Big Freeze - 8:00 Channel 4 - is a documentary which, not unexpectedly, looks at recent events in the field of weather. The start of 2010 has been one of the coldest winters in Britain for decades - you might have noticed, dear blog reader. Taiters, so it was. A man could easily lose his bearings in ice and snow like that. And, many did. Probably. Anyway, in this programme the viewers meet a variety of meteorological experts who compare the horrendous freezes of 1947, 1963 and February 2009 to, X Factor style, award the title of 'Britain's Worst Winter'. The winner will then be take out and given a holiday in the Caribbean and told not to come back.

Delia Through the Decades - 8:30 BBC2 - is, of course, a series which celebrates the Goddess of simple homebased cookery that is Delia Smith's career and the ways she has shaped what many people eat and how they cook it. In tonight's episode, Delia revisits her favourite recipes and recreates some with a contemporary twist. The 1980s was the decade that Delia truly became a household name on television. Amidst the food scares, Delia eagerly tackled teaching the nation how to cook in the comfort of their own homes. The television series, Delia's Cookery Course, was a hit and the accompanying book went straight to the top of the bestsellers list.

Tuesday 26 January
We've got yet another episodes of the downright peculiar Amanda Holden's Fantasy Lives - 9:00 ITV tonight. In this series, as previously noted, Amanda -seen right with something hot and throbbing between her thighs - tries out some of what are described as 'her dream jobs'. In this episode, she works to become a Parisian showgirl, performing at the glitzy Lido on the Champs-Elysees, the home of the famous Bluebell Girls. Amanda goes behind-the-scenes and discovers that these seemingly very French shows are in fact largely staged and performed by Brits. That does not make her job any easier, though - her big ambition is to take centre stage as lead dancer in a grand finale, and she only has a few days to learn the gruelling dance routines. Can she pull it off? Does anyone actually care? Like the damned curious midwife episode before Christmas, if she does, then does that mean she's going to give up Britain's Got Talent and take this up full time. Of course, there is one other, very important, aspect to consider in all this. If this show is a hit then ITV will probably want Amanda to make more and, what with Britain's Got Talent, that'll mean she's got no time to make any more Big Top. So, please, everybody, I urge you to watch this. You'll be doing yourselves a big favour in the long-run.

In I Believe in UFOs - 9:00 BBC3 - the actor Danny Dyer goes on a quest to spot a UFO, spurred on by a meeting with his boyhood hero, Sir Patrick Moore. Danny examines various reported UFO landing sites and the sinister 'evidence' - and I do use that word with some ironic content - that aliens may have been conducting scientific experiments here in Britain. He meets witnesses who claim to have seen UFOs and one man who says he can prove he's been abducted by aliens. Danny's search for his own close encounter takes him all the way to the UFO Research Centre in Portland, Oregon. Tin foil hats are a useful way of blocking the harmful transmission, I'm led to believe. So, hopefully, Radio Times will be giving one away to all readers, then you can avoid this nonsense.

Survivors - 9:00 BBC1 - continues apace. With the clock ticking on how long can the group remain in the dangerous city? With Abby still missing and Greg slowly recovering from his gunshot injuries, the Family are left scavenging for survival in a harsh, strange and hostile environment. Sounds like London on an average Saturday night to me, but anyway. Good old murdering maniac Tom has a plan to lead a desperate attempt to find Abby. While Naj leaves graffiti messages for Abby, Tom steals supplies from other survivors. As Tom leads Al, Anya and Sarah off on Abby's trail, Greg and Naj find themselves confronted by the group Tom stole from. Consequences, see. Always a bitch.

Wednesday 27 January
The wildlife documentary Natural World - 8:00 BBC2 - asks how does a chimpanzee see the world? A research project at Edinburgh Zoo is designed to answer just that question in an innovative new way - by training chimps to use video touch screens and giving them a special chimp-proof camera. How will they react to tools which in evolutionary terms are a few million years ahead of them? As chimp specialist Betsy Herrelko finds out, trying to communicate with chimps using video technology has its trials and tribulations.

In the popular US comedy drama Desperate Housewives - 10:00 Channel 4 - we have yet more tales from a troubled suburban neighbourhood which, beneath the veneer of respectability, is home to several women leading unfulfilling lives. Milton Keynes, in other words. In tonight's episode, Mike gets married, but will it be to Katherine or Susan? Meanwhile, Lynette deals with the realities of being pregnant again, Bree works to break free from Orson, Gaby's patience is tested by Carlos's niece, and a new family with dark secrets moves to Wisteria Lane.

A naughty burglar known as 'The Creeper' terrorises Midsomer as Barnaby and Jones investigate the murder of a dinner party guest at upper-crust Chettham Park House in Midsomer Murders - 8:00 ITV. The detectives discover a group of high society friends with links both to gangsters and the Chief Constable dating back to the 1960s. But do the friends also have secrets worth killing for in a small Somerset village with a murder rate that dwarf's Baltimore? And, what happens when the locals see John Nettles casually strolling down the bridal paths and twisting country lanes of little Midsomer. The bloke might as well be dressed as Death, complete with scythe. Preposterous, it might be - and it's mostly got an audience of Octogenarians - but, it's also addictive telly.

Thursday 28 January
In Extreme Fishing with Robson Green - 9:00 Five - Wor Madly Enthusiastic Robson heads to the east coast of Kenya, where the Indian Ocean offers some of the best game fishing in the world. After going head to head with the elusive deadly killer dorado and the fearsome wahoo, he joins some locals for a spot of traditional dhow fishing. The trip ends with a battle with a huge black marlin. During which Robson will probably say 'Whey, y'bugger!' and 'Eeee, it's a whopper!' a lot and, generally, have a fantastic time. Nice work if you can get it!

Modern Family - 8:00 Sky1 - is something of a cult US comedy series about the lives of three dysfunctional families, as seen by a crew of documentary makers. it's got a great cast and has some surprisingly clever things to say about the horrors of family life in the Twenty First Century. In this episode, Mitchell and Cameron hire a Hispanic gardener who speaks no English. When he is found in tears Cameron struggles to find out the problem, as he speaks no Spanish either.

My Dream Farm - 8:00 Channel 4 - mixes two modern television obsessions which producers seem to believe we're all utterly fascinated by. Lifestyle change shows and programmes about gardening. In this, experienced horticulturist Monty Don off Gardener's World assists six families as they attempt to realise their dream of quitting the rat race for a new, pastoral life in the country. Disillusioned couple Rob and Sue Wood have swapped the London suburbs for a windswept corner of Cornwall. What they're disillusioned about, we are not told so we'll probably have to watch to find out. I mean, it could be what a rotten year West ham are having, to be fair. Anyway, in their headlong pursuit of a self-sufficient lifestyle they soon begin to haemorrhage money. Ah, less of My Dream Farm and more My Nightmare Farm. Now they just need some mutant sheep, or a mad axeman in the tractor shed and they've got a ready made budget horror movie ready to rock.

And finally, in EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1 - it's Archie's funeral, and Marsden is watching the suspects like a hawk. Will the murderer slip up? Meanwhile, a surprise guest turns up at the wake.

Adrian Chiles is reportedly in the running to take over Jonathan Ross's Friday night chat show slot. Since Ross announced earlier this month that he has decided to leave the BBC, various presenters - including Graham Norton, Michael McIntyre and Harry Hill - have been linked to his job. The People reports that Chris Evans is now the favourite to take over from Ross. However, Chiles is allegedly one of the main contenders. 'Adrian would be a great chat show host,' a source said. 'He is good with all types of people and can get them talking about themselves. There is a wish to get back to a chat show that is about the guests rather than the host. With Parkinson, interviews led to publishers getting in touch with the guests to offer a book on their lives. That never happens with shows which have a succession of stunts. No-one really listens to the guests.'

As if that isn't shocking enough news for fans of The ONE Show, hold on to your knickers cos it gets worse. Christine Bleakley is reportedly ready to leave the series after receiving a number of 'other offers.' The thirty-year-old has helmed the BBC's nightly magazine programme with Chiles since 2007. Long-standing rumours of a relationship between the pair have been repeatedly denied by both presenters, with Bleakley now romantically linked to Moscow Chelski FC footballer Frank Lampard. Bleakley has reportedly told her colleagues that she believes it is time to move on, according to the Sunday Mirror. A source said that Bleakley has been in contact with X Factor boss Simon Cowell, who is keen to work with her, adding: 'She feels there are lots of opportunities coming her way.' Well, it's either that, or Cowell just wants to meet the wives or girlfriends of everybody in the Chelsea squad. Bleakley, however, has said publicly that she has no immediate plans to leave the show, while a spokeswoman for the corporation said she was unable to comment on talent contracts. So, bit of a nothing story or the first fissure in a chain of events that will smash the world of showbusiness? You decide, dear blog reader.

Billie Piper reportedly insists that a body double is used for any scenes that focus on her feet. The Secret Diary Of A Call Girl star said that looking at her toes makes her want to cry. 'They're vulgar and my least favourite thing in the world,' the twenty seven-year-old said. Piper, who gave birth to her son, Winston, fifteen months ago, added that it has been fun to return to her role as Belle de Jour on the ITV2 series. According to the Sunday Mirror, she said: 'The series is naughty and suggestive and I loved it! We combine food with sex. It is shocking at times, but it was fun to film.'

The creator of Only Fools And Horses has claimed that modern British sitcoms are 'lazy.' Hang on ... the man who wrote The Green Green Grass dares to criticise the work of anyone else? Oh, the irony. John Sullivan explained that comedy relies too much on swearing now. 'I think swearing is a lazy way of getting laughs,' he told the Daily Telegraph. Well, indeed. I mean using a euphemism like 'plonker' is so much more intelligent, isn't it? 'Writers who suddenly use a swear word are just saying, "I can't think of anything else, so I'll just put an f-word or something in here."' Or something. Like 'plonker', perhaps? 'You should be professional enough and clever enough not to use swear words. We got through all four series of The Green Green Grass without a single 'bloody' or anything.' Yes, John. And it was bloody awful. Not a single laugh worthy of the name anywhere within a hundred miles of the thing. Still, why let a little irrelevance like that matter? 'I liked Peep Show but the language got so ripe that I got a bit fed up with it.' Sullivan continued: 'The standard of British comedy has gone down. Writers make hardly any attempt to tell a story these days. Stuff we had in the past, like One Foot In The Grave and other classic comedies, were far better than anything that's around now. The quality of writing has just gone downhill.' Sullivan added that he thinks American sitcoms are better, explaining that he enjoys Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond. Meanwhile, Only Fools And Horses star Nicholas Lyndhurst agreed with Sullivan's comments and said that television bosses aren't making enough programmes for older people. 'A great many people in this country are over fifty five,' he remarked. 'I just think [television commissioners] are missing a point. There's plenty of room for a middle ground. When I think back years ago, there would be a sitcom on BBC1 or ITV every night of the week. I don't know where it's all gone but there's been a definite shift and I don't know if that's the right way to go or not.' Please do remember all this, dear blog reader, if Rock & Chips turns out to be as thoroughly wretched as it's rumoured to be. And then throw things at anyone that comes up with these tired old 'it weren't like that in maaaaa day' sentiments.

Coronation Street producers have reportedly ordered Michelle Keegan to tone down her tan. The People claims that Keegan, who plays Tina McIntyre in the soap, was told that her look didn't fit in with the rest of the cast. 'Michelle has always been a fan of tanning and loves the way it makes her look,' a source said. 'But over the past few months she has obviously been overdoing it a bit. The producers asked her to tone it down. She was quite embarrassed but was able to see the funny side. She laughed about it with Ryan Thomas and the other members of the cast.' The insider continued: 'The producers were worried that Michelle's character Tina was beginning to look more like a WAG than a girl from Weatherfield. Tina is supposed to be sexy and glamourous, but she has also got to fit in with the cast around her. The heavily bronzed, sun-kissed look is more Footballer's Wives than Coronation Street and that's why the show bosses decided to step in. Luckily Michelle took it really well and agreed to tone down the tanning in future.'

Paul McCartney has admitted that his performance on The X Factor divided his friends. The singer added that he decided to appear on the show's final after learning that Beyoncé had done so. According to Contactmusic, he said: 'Actually, when the offer came through it polarised a lot of people. Lots of my friends told me not to do it. It's a pop show. But what turned me around - apart from the huge audience - was the fact that it's a family show, and so many kids are obsessed by it. Also, Beyoncé was on it, and if it's good enough for her then it should be good enough for me. Plus, it threw up Leona Lewis and she's no slouch.' McCartney added that he is proud of his performance on the show, which saw him and his band play 'Drive My Car' and 'Live And Let Die' back-to-back. 'It was a big deal for us playing two songs like that,' he explained. 'It's a live show and we decided to play it live, rather than to a backing track. Which means you have to act like an Aston Martin and go from nought to sixty in three seconds. As a band, we were really energised that night, which we had to be to make it work. Weirdly, the show felt quite intimate, as the studio is a lot smaller than it looks on TV. But we put everything into that show.'

A teenager who was allegedly involved in burglaries of celebrities' homes has reportedly been given her own television show. The New York Post reports that Alexis Neiers was arrested and charged with breaking into Orlando Bloom's home last year. She has also been linked to a burglary at the home of Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green and is awaiting trial after being found with items belonging to Lindsay Lohan and Rachel Bilson. Neiers has now reportedly landed a reality television show on E! It's the American dream, isn't it?

And finally, courtesy of the excellent and their Airbrushed For Change series, comes this little masterpiece specifically for election year. Don't vote for them, dear blog reader, it only encourages them.