Sunday, January 10, 2010

Week Three: Instant Mockery

Friday 15 January
In Popstar to Operastar - 9:00 ITV - the decidedly odd pairing of the thinking Octogenarian's crumpet, Alan Titchmarsh and Myleene 'Look, I Can Read An Autoque, Me' Klass (is that awful woman on my television again?) present a new series in which eight 'chart-topping singers' (i.e. some people who were 'chart-topping singers' a few, several or many years ago) attempt to perform well-known opera arias accompanied by a full live orchestra. Over the next six weeks, the viewing public gets to decide who stays in the competition. The contestants will have the benefit of tuition from mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins and tenor Rolando Villazon and include Alex James (better known to most of you, dear blog readers, as 'that utter wanker out of Blur'), Bernie Nolan, Danny Jones, Darius Campbell, Little Jimmy Osmond (I'm not making this up, honest), Kym Marsh, Vanessa White and Marcella Detroit. Well, that's a must-see list of cutting-edge z-list pop royalty, isn't it? The basic idea is not a bad one, actually, although to be honest Keith Telly Topping would prefer to have seen the process reversed - opera singers having a lot to learn from pop performers. But, perhaps that would be asking too much of the imaginations of ITV's executives. Plus, the presence of that awful Klass woman is the biggest potential turn-off. And, when one considers that her co-presenter is The Titchmarsh, that really is saying something,

Meanwhile, in tonight's Qi - 8:30 BBC1 - Stephen Fry gladly gravitates towards Germany, joined by guests Jo Brand, Rob Brydon, Sean Lock and Alan Davies. Jo Brand on a pre-watershed show? They said it would never happen. And, after tonight, it may never happen again.

Saturday 16 January
It's a bit of a rubbish Saturday on TV this week. Casualty - 8:50 BBC1 - is probably the highlight. In this episode an unconscious Jessica (Gillian Kearney) relives the moments that made her the person she is today, but will they be enough to bring her back to Adam?

Sunday 17 January
Yer Keith Telly Topping, briefly, mentioned Lark Rise to Candleford - 8:00 BBC1 - last week. Very warm and inclusive drama, this. Not to all tastes, perhaps, but if you're in the mood for a bit of costume drama, it's the perfect Sunday night viewing in many ways. In this episode, when a Lark Rise tree starts to 'bleed', the little hamlet becomes rife with talk of witchcraft and various naughty shenanigans. Thomas is horrified - this could ruin the visit of the Bishop who is coming to consecrate the church font. The witch tree seems to cast a spell over the whole community - everyone is behaving strangely. Even Dorcas (Julia Sawalha) loses her traditional composure and makes a blunder with terrible consequences for Pearl and Ruby. Laura (the wonderful Olivia Hallinan), too, is thrown off balance when Daniel returns to try and win back her affections.

Finally for the weekend, there's the cult hit Being Human - 9:00 BBC3. If you haven't caught it before, this is really rather fine comedy-drama-Telefantasy-sitcom-horror gestalt about three twenty-something housemates trying to live normal lives, despite struggling with some very unusual afflictions - one of them is a werewolf, one is a vampire and the other is a ghost. It's a clever idea, devised by Toby Whitehouse and quite brilliant played by the three leads Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow and Aidan Turner who are rapidly turning into three of the hottest properties on British TV. Well, not so much Lenora after Material Girl turned out to be as bad as we feared, but certianly the other two. Tonight, Annie thinks she has met the man of her dreams in Saul, but something terrible in Saul's past is about to begin haunting him. Mitchell is visited by an old friend in trouble, while George and Nina's relationship is under increasing strain.

Monday 18 January
A History of the World: Culture Show Special - 7:00 BBC2 - is a special edition of the BBC's popular magazine show marking the start of a landmark project in which the BBC and the British Museum are hoping to focus attention on the staggering span of human history through one hundred selected objects held at the museum and the stories behind them. Presented by Mishal Husain from the British Museum, this programme examines in detail some of the objects featured. Sir David Attenborough takes a close looks the oldest object on the list, a stone hand-axe which is believed to be almost two million years old while Mishal finds out more about the famous statue of Ramessess II. Excellent stuff - visually stunning and you might just learn something from it. It's what telly was invented for.

Good old Five. They'll broadcast any old rubbish, won't they? Not content with giving us Keith Chegwin's Naked Jungle and Touch The Truck, they've now come up with a programme that may well be a front-runner for the worst TV show of 2010. And we're only in Week Three. Celebrity Quitters - 7:30 - follows various 'celebrities' (and I use the word quite loosely on this particular occassion) as they struggle to give up smoking. Why anyone would think this is entertaining, I couldn't possibly comment. But, if I tell you some of the alleged celebrities involve, that might give you dear blog reader and idea of just how desperate and bottom of the barrel-scraping this format is: Linda Robson, John Burton Race, Chloe Madeley, Paul Danan (wasn't he on Celebrity Love Island?) and Derek Acorah are amongst those who embark on a variety of challenges and methods to help them give up the killer weed. In the opening episode, the alleged celebrities meet each other and the support team who reveal the results of their medical tests. Then it is time for the alleged celebrities to smoke their last cigarette before their first smoke-free evening. How mindlessly enthralling. I may pass out with excitement.

The Hustle gang are back in business - 9:00 BBC1 - ready to take each and every cheat, liar or criminal for all they've got. Unlike Robin Hood, of course, these thieves don't rob from the rich and give to the poor. Rather, they rob from the rich and keep it. Which is a reasonable second choice I'd've said. Tonight, desperate for cash the team convince wannabe playboy Luke Baincross to loan a life-sized gold tiger to a major museum, with the intention of stealing it, having Luke fake an insurance claim and taking a cut of the payout for themselves. But then the Hustlers are faced with the challenge of removing the tiger from the museum's impenetrable vault. Like all good heist movies, this one is completely bonkers at its core but you just can't avoid getting carried along by the sheer energy of the thing.

Tuesday 19 January
In How Earth Made Us - 9:00 BBC2 - geology professor Iain Stewart tells the epic story of how the planet has shaped our history. With spectacular images, surprising stories and a compelling narrative, the series discovers the central role played in human history by four different planetary forces. In this episode Iain explores the relationship between the deep Earth and the development of human civilisation. He visits an extraordinary crystal cave in Mexico, drops down a hole in the Iranian desert and crawls through seven thousand year old tunnels in Israel. Stewart, of course, made his name fronting previous BBC natural history shows like Earth: The Power of the Planet and Ten Things You Didn't Know About... He's a genial and very watchable presenter and his programmes tend to get quite impressive audience figures. This one looks no different.

We've been having some shocking weather in the UK recently, you might have noticed. Therefore, a new series of Ice Road Truckers - 8:00 Five - is about as welcome as a chocolate fireguard. Couldn't you have saved it for the summer, guys? This is, of course, a documentary series examining the mad-dangerous job of driving trucks on Alaska's Dalton Highway and of them men who do this for a living. With its soap-opera-like running storylines, it's gained something of a cult audience for Five over the last couple of years. In this opening episode of series three, Alex and Hugh get their first glimpse of the ice road. Lisa asks to haul the biggest load of her career to date. Rookie Tim finds himself lost in a blizzard on one of the road's most treacherous slopes. And Jack helps a driver stuck in the snow.

Now, it has to be said we really enjoy programmes with utterly ludicrous titles on Top Telly Tips. And, they don't come much more ridiculous than I Believe in Ghosts - 9:00 BBC3. I believe in the existence of prawns, personally, would BBc3 like to make a show about that? Anyway, in this, former EastEnders actor and jungle winner Joe Swash turns ghostbuster and sets out in search of tangible proof that ghosts exist. Good luck with that, matey, that subject has defeated some of the greatest minds of several generations. Still, I'm sure that a former soap actor and reality TV regular stands more of a chance than, say, Harry Houdini or Derren Brown of getting it sorted. Swash meets Britain's youngest professional psychic, who claims he has a hotline to the spirit world, sleeps in a haunted bedroom to lure an amorous spirit and stakes out a terrace house in Hartlepool where the family say they're sharing their home with at least four ghostly inhabitants. But it's a night alone in the Edinburgh vaults that makes Joe convinced he really believes in ghosts. Which, Keith Telly Topping is sure will come in really handy for Joe when he's researching his next panto role.

Wednesday 20 January
In Relocation, Relocation - 8:00 Channel 4 - property experts Big Nasty Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer try to help a bunch of picky, annoying middle class young professionals from the home counties who knit their own yogurt and have nothing but total respect for Annie Lennox change their accommodation and their lives (but, seldom, their ridiculous aspirations) in today's turbulent property market. In this episode, Kirstie and Phil meet Glasgow couple Inyang and Gregor Ross, who are risking everything to complete their dream move to Cornwall and have just three weeks to find a new home.

ITV's main offering of the night is The National Television Awards - 7:30 till late. The glittering ceremony reaches its fifteenth birthday this year, which means an even bigger show than before - unless the money's run out, of course, in which case they'll be handing out plastic trophies in the ITN car park. New host Dermot O'Dreary will reveal the award-winners from the O2 Arena (or, the ITN car park), whilst a star-studded line-up of guests joins the celebrations. Take your seat for an evening of tension, triumph, and possibly even a few tears as the British public cast their votes for their favourite shows and stars. Plus there are world-exclusive live performances from two of pop music's most exciting new names.

Now, yer Keith Telly Topping is always something of a sucker for a fine episode of Natural World - 8:00 BBC2. And, tonight's looks to be an absolute cracker. Lovely Jonathan Scott - whom you'll probably know as one of the regular presenters of the excellent Big Cat Diaries - narrates the extraordinary story of the leopard, the one big cat that still survives across half the world. Whilst the tigers, cheetahs and lions are all struggling, the leopards appear to be flourishing even in the harsh realities of the modern world. By following the lives of leopard mothers and their cubs in East Africa the film investigates what it is about the natural history of these remarkable cats that makes them born survivors. Perhaps the most extraordinary revelation is that leopards are living undercover on farms and even in cities across much of Africa and Asia.

Thursday 21 January
There's a new series of one of Five's real cult hits of the last year, Extreme Fishing with Robson Green - 9:00. Having, presumably, recovered from hypothermia when he was swimming the North Sea recently, Robson's latest journey begins in southern Africa, where he seeks some rod-action with the legendary vundu catfish at Lake Kariba. In Zimbabwe, he visits Lake Mteri for an encounter with a wide-mouth bass, before heading to Victoria Falls to fish in a deep pool known as the 'boiling pot.' Now, we had a lot of fun with the show's title last year but, as yer Keith Telly Topping quickly discovered, this is a really excellent little show. Robson's enthusiasm for his subject is, genuinely, infectious and helps to keep even confirmed non-anglers entertained.

Elsewhere, Thursday nights in winter mean that it's BBC2's big comedy night. Starting with the very welcome return of Mock the Week at 9:00. Of course, this series is the first without the glowering, massive presence of Mad Frankie Boyle who's left for his own series soon to arrive on Channel 4. But, we've still got one of the funniest hosts on TV, Dara Ó Briain and regulars Hugh Dennis, Russell Howard and Andy Parsons all returning for a new series. The guests on the opening episode are the terrific Milton Jones who was such a hit on the show last year, Paddy Kielty (whom Keith Telly Topping quite likes in small doses) and Mark Watson (who usually comes across as an annoying pain in a dong, frankly). When it's at it best, and that's been a lot over the last two years, Mock The Week is as good a comedy show as anything on TV. This is a big year for it, however. Much of the show's reputation has been built on Frankie Boyle's controversial couldn't-give-a-stuff rants. Without those, it's going to have to develop, quickly, into something else. The talent is certainly there, let's hope the audience's patience is also.

That's followed by Rab C Nesbitt at 9:30, the long-running comedy featuring Scotland's string-vested, beer-guzzling sage, played superbly by Gregor Fisher. Rab and Mary welcome their son Gash back to the family home and become reacquainted with their grand-daughter Peaches. Meanwhile, Jamesie shows just how far he'll push it to get a woman into bed.

And finally, there's Bellamy's People at 10:00. Award-winning radio phone-in host Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas) has been let out of the studio and given his own TV series in which he travels the length and breadth of Britain to meet the British people, in this delightfully daft spoof documentary written by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson. In this first episode Gary meets some of the regular callers to his award-winning radio show, like twenty eight stone Graham Downes, Jamaican entrepreneur Early D, reformed criminal Tony Beckton and small-minded builder Martin Hole. The radio show that this is spun-off from (Down The Line) was genuinely funny and this - a parody of those celebrity travelogues in which full of their own importance TV personalities meet 'the ordinary people' looks to be hitting all the right notes.

And so to some Top Telly News: Former Doctor Who actor David Tennant (you notice, dear blog reader, how quickly he's become 'former' ...? Now you know how the other nine blokes before you feel, David!), has backed Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. 'I would still rather have Gordon Brown than David Cameron,' Tennant told the latest edition of Doctor Who Magazine. Paraphrasing a line from The West Wing David noted that he 'would rather have a prime minister who is the cleverest person in the room, than a prime minister who looks good in a suit. I think David Cameron is a terrifying prospect,' added the thirty eight-year-old actor who has long been an active member of the Labour party and appeared in a party political broadcast for them in 2005. He likened the Conservative leader to 'a regional newsreader who will jump on whatever bandwagon flies past. I get quite panicked at the notion that people are buying his rhetoric, because it seems very manipulative to me. Clearly, the Labour Party is not without some issues right now and I do get frustrated. They need to sort some stuff out, but they are still a better bet than the Tories.' Nice sentiments, David, and most of them not too far away from being accurate. But, frankly it's all about three years too late for all that business. Don't get me wrong, I don't trust the oily Eton Rifle - seen left, probably threatening to strangle the puppy unless everybody votes fror him - either and I think that the BBC, in particular, are going to have real serious trouble from him and from his mate Jeremy Hunt almost from the day that the Tories get elected. But, there's no point in whinging about it because they are going to be elected. And the main reason for that isn't that they're so drop dead brilliant themselves - I sense no great sweeping tide of enthusiasm for them in the country. Rather, it's because Gordon and his cabinet of absolute non-entities have stumbled, blindly, from one crisis to another making matters worse by a combination of seeming arrogance in the face of criticism, some bloody silly policies and, the worst sin of all in politics, fighting among themselves. I've been a Labour voter since in was eighteen and I'll probably vote for them next time. But they're still going to get beat at the forthcoming election. Not just defeated, but hammered. Too many people in the party seem to have forgetten just what opposition is like. It's great, so it is - you can have all the most cool, rite-on policies in the world because you've got absolutely no danger of having to put any them into practice. The war hasn't helped (and I supported that when it kicked-off, so no one is innocent, here) but it's deeper than just that. They're tried. They've lost their way. And, despite the fact that the alternative is, genuinely, terrifying, they've seemingly lost the ability to frighten people with the concept of change - something that even the most incompetent of governments can usually manage. David is, of course, a big fan of The West Wing, a drama which suggested that the politics of idealism and the jaded politics of compromise are not, necessarily, mutually incompatable. And that a good man, with a good heart, and good people around him can make a difference to the world. Real life experience suggests that doesn't often happen although, ironically, in America at the moment, they seem to be at least having a go at making the Bartlet/Santos model into reality. Us, we get the choice between the devil you know who's lost all your money and the devil you don't know who's going to screw the BBC and tax the poor into starvation. David, you're off to America shortly, you lucky bugger. Take us all with you, for God's sake!

And, speaking of matters political over the water, the White House has pledged not to disrupt the season premiere of Lost with President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. The night Lost is scheduled to return to ABC 2 february - was reportedly one of the dates that the White House was considering for the president's televised speech. On Friday, however, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the annual speech has not been officially scheduled, but will not air on that date according to the Associated Press. 'I don't foresee a scenario in which the millions of people that hope to finally get some conclusion in Lost are pre-empted by the president,' Gibbs said at a press briefing. Y'see, Gordon, if you'd had Mandelson making a few statements like that then you might not be in the deep, deep clarts you're in right about now.

Harry Hill has reportedly topped a survey to find the 'people's choice' of who should eventually take over from Jonathan Ross. The TV Burp host beat off competition from Chris Evans, Michael McIntyre and Graham Norton to take top spot in the - completely pointless - poll of more than four thousand Yahoo! users. Ross announced this week that he will be leaving his prized position at the BBC after thirteen years.

Melinda Clarke has reportedly signed up to appear in The Vampire Diaries. Entertainment Weekly says that the actress has agreed to play Kelly Donovan, Matt's absentee mother. Clarke, who had a cult following when she played Julie Cooper in The OC, will reportedly appear in at least three episodes in March.

Myleene Klass - remember her? If not, why not, she's everywhere - has reportedly been warned by the police after she claimed to have scared trespassers away by waving a knife at them. The omnipresent - and vastly annoying - television presenter, who lives in Hertfordshire, was alone in her kitchen when she claims to have spotted the intruders trying to break into her garden shed and looking through her windows, the Sun reports. She allegedly waved a kitchen knife and shouted 'I'm going to call the police,' causing the teenagers to run away. However, Klass was later advised that waving the knife could have been an offence, in and of itself. Absolutely. Twenty years minimum, judge. Banged up with all the murderers, and the rapists and the people who nick stuff from Asda. No mercy.

And, finally, Natalie Portman has claimed that her days of stripping off her kit in movies are now finished. What a tragedy.