Saturday, April 17, 2010

Week Seventeen: American Idols

The Associated Press have reported that Doctor Who has 'set a new record after materialising on the BBC's iPlayer.' The first episode of the new series - starring Matt Smith in the title role - achieved the biggest number of requests in a week to date for the fledgling BBC web-based catch-up service. The show, in which the Doctor meets his new companion, Karen Gillan, registered 1.27 million requests to view in the seven days after it was initially screened by BBC1. An episode of Top Gear was the most watched programme of 2009 with 1.6 million views, although this was available over a much longer period. The Doctor Who episode - The Eleventh Hour - was also seen by 10.09 million people on BBC1 and the BBC HD channel and a further seven hundred and forty thousand viewers saw it when it was screened on BBC3, meaning that it's 'reach' audience was in excess of twelve million.

Kiefer Sutherland was reportedly 'put in a headlock' and thrown out of a London night club on Thursday night, according to the TMZ website. The 24 actor was apparently tossed out of Stringfellows after he took his shirt off. Well, we've all done, let's be fair. Although, I have to say that's not particularly impressive behaviour for an armed-plated killing machine! 'He went bananas, shouting nonsense and dancing before kicking off when asked to leave,' a source told the Sun. The forty three-year-old was allegedly wrestled out of the building, shirtless, by security. He then sat in his car for some time. Presumably plotting ways in which he could kill them all with just his thumbs.

This week's CSI episode - Field Mice - was the current tenth season's main Hodges-and-Wendy vehicle. It was, interestingly, co-written by the actors in question, Wallace Langham and Liz Vassey along with regular CSI scripter Naren Shankar. And, a rather sweet and charming little thing it was too, continuing in the vein of previous conceits like A Space Oddity and You Kill Me. Essentially, it took an unsolved case and places the protagonists in the place of Langston and Catherine, solving the crime to impress a couple of teenage CSI wannabes. Lovely. They're an odd couple, those two, but they really do work well together.

A ten-year-old singer is reported to 'stun' the Britain's Got Talent judges in the first episode of the new series which will be broadcast tonight. Chloe Hickinbottom auditioned in Birmingham, performing her own version of Vera Lynn's 'The White Cliffs Of Dover.' She received a standing ovation and won gushing praise from the judges. 'I definitely wasn't expecting that. You have an old-fashioned big voice,' says Big Top's Amanda Holden. Oily twat Piers Morgan then commented: 'I've never heard anything like that. You could be forty or fifty years old.' A nice thing to tell a ten year old, dear blog reader, I'm sure you'll agree. Music mogul Louis Walsh also applauded Hickinbottom, adding: 'I think you could sell records.' So did Little Jimmy Osmond, Louie, doesn't mean to say he was any good.

And so, by the inevitable process of the passing of time, we come to the moment you've all been waiting for. The next lot of Top Telly Tips, in the area.

Friday 23 April
Ashes to Ashes - 9:00 BBC1 - is usually at its very best when it's having a bit of fun with sociopolitical icons. Nudging us in the ribs as it messes about with those little trigger points on the pop-cultural landscape that we all sort-of half-remember. Take tonight's episode, for instance, as Alex looks on thin-lipped and incandescent as Gene and the lads get involved in a bit of the old rough stuff after they leap over a wall into a garden to nab a suspect. But it's not just any old wall and it's not just any old garden … Viewers of a long running BBC children's show will probably be able to guess the rest. Otherwise, the story-of-the-week is a basic tale of an undercover sting which goes quite horribly wrong when Gene blunders into a supposedly secret operation and places a fellow officer (played by Zoe Telford) at risk. She's trying to get the dirt on a notorious - and spectacularly brutal - London crime family run by a beetle-browed patriarch with a thug of a son who does all of the nasty stuff. Alex takes a bit of a shine to the cop, Louise, seeing her as something of a kindred spirit - a woman out of time; a fellow stranger in a strange land. And, she's keen to recruit her new friend to the gang at Fenchurch East CID. But, these big plans are put at risk when dim-witted Chris decides to be chivalrous. Oh no, Chris, never try any of that Wally Raleigh malarkey. The ladies seldom appreciate it and you just look like a limp-wristed fop t'yer mates.

A particularly popular US import with a lot of the people yer Keith Telly Topping works with is The Mentalist - 9:00 Five. In tonight's episode, someone has killed the clean-living owner of a baseball academy. As you do. It's not the most exciting case Patrick Jane (the excellent Simon Baker) has ever cracked, particularly if you're not immersed in baseball lore - as most people in Britain aren't! If, for example, the vital importance of being able to hurl a quality slider (no, me neither) passes you by then you might struggle at times with this one. But - and, it's a big but - this episode is well worth watching for an entirely different reason. Early on in proceedings, Jane is hit on the head by a stray ball and passes out. Throughout the rest of episode he suffers from flashbacks to his childhood. Like the baseball proteges at the academy, he was a gifted teenager, with a controlling, pushy father who lived just a little too much through his son's spectacular talents. We see scenes from their life at a carnival in 1980s Iowa, where 'Patrick, the Psychic Boy Wonder' would read minds - until one particular confrontation with his unscrupulous dad helped to define them both. Very good stuff, this. If you've never caught it before, ignore the silly title and concentrate, instead, on a drama that revels in good scripting, good acting and assured direction. And, like all good US dramas, it doesn't take itself too seriously.

Meanwhile, speaking of superior US drama, in Lost - 9:00 Sky One - alliances are made and broken as the Locke and Jack camps merge in tonight's episode, The Last Recruit. 'With hilarious consequences,' no doubt. If you've been following the ongoing saga of the survivors of Flight 815 for the last five year then you'll know we're just a few weeks from the end of what has been, comfortably, the most gripping, clever, occasionally infuriating but always fascinating TV drama in years. It's had its flaws (trying to tell a story for three years without a specific end date was one of the bigger ones!) but it's seldom let the viewer down in terms of making them stare, blankly, at the screens and say 'but ... but ... but ... Hang on! Wasn't she dead?' Or some such. It's not yer Keith Telly Topping's favourite TV show of the last decade, quite. But it's bloody close.

Saturday 24 April
In Doctor Who - 6:20 BBC1 - The Doctor is recruited by one Father Octavian to track the last of the terrifying Weeping Angels (you remember them?) through the equally terrifying 'Maze of the Dead.' But, when he gets there, he finds himself caught up in the events that led to the notorious 'Crash of the Byzantium' and meets up a face from his past. And, indeed, from his future. How will the River and the Pond get on? Still waters run deep. Hey, I don't just throw these things together, you know? Yes, it's the first of the two-parter (second part, next Saturday) which will, hopefully, get to the bottom of just who, exactly, River Song (the excellent Alex Kingston) really is. Don't blink, kids, or you might miss it.

Malcolm McLaren: Artful Dodger - 8:15 BBC2 - is, of course, a tribute to the inspirational and controversial manager, artist and media terrorist who revolutionised the music business in the 1970s with the Sex Pistols and punk fashion. McLaren later brought us 'Duck Rock' and managed Bow Wow Wow, but we all make mistakes. With previously unseen interviews from McLaren himself and contributions from members of the Sex Pistols, Adam Ant, Malcolm's son Joe Corre, Jonathan Ross (eh?), The New York Dolls and many others. Hang on, let's go back ... how the hell has Jonathan Ross managed to crowbar himself into this? One of these blokes helped to form a band that were so outrageous, so much of an affront to pretty much everything and everybody that they got themselves thrown out of every record company in the country, McLaren's life consisting for a time, as he noted of 'walking in and out of doors being handed cheques to, basically, go away.' The other one swore at a pensioner on a radio show. As Johnny Rotten himself once said when seeing the cleaned up version of punk that followed in the Pistols' wake, 'I've created a monster, and I don't like it.'

Lie to Me - 8:00 Sky1 - is, as previously noted, a drama series about a scientist who uses his ability to read facial expressions and body language to solve crimes. A bit like The Mentalist, in fact. Sort of, like the Derren Brown of the crime-solving fraternity. Cal (Tim Roth) is pulled into a criminal conspiracy by someone from his past, while the Lightman Group investigate death threats from a high-school student. This is, just in case you were getting momentarily excited, a repeat of an episode from earlier in the season. But, it's a useful for reminder to us that the second half of series two will be starting in the US in June and, hopefully on Sky shortly thereafter. Terrific show and, if you haven't tried it before, there are far worse places to start than this.

Sunday 25 April
Controversial, even before they'd started filming it, Five Daughters - 9:00 BBC1 - is the story of the five young women who were murdered in Ipswich in the winter of 2006, dramatised from the testimony of many of those closest to them. When the drama was first announced the father of one of the girls went to the tabloids claiming that it was tasteless, which came as a considerable surprise to the production as his wife was one of the main advisers on the project. Anyway, this opening episode focuses on Anneli Alderton, her mother and brother, while also introducing the other women and their families in the weeks leading up to their disappearances and deaths. Starts tonight and continues for the next four evenings at 9 o'clock. Strip scheduling drama like this can work very well - Collision and Torchwood being two examples of series that have hugely benefited from it.

On tonight's Time Team - 5:30 Channel 4 - Tony Robinson and his archaeological buddies are invited by two amateur archaeologists to the beautiful Scottish island of Mull, where a mysterious set of earthworks have been found near the town of Tobermory. What's the story in Tobermory you may well be asking, dear blog reader. If you're five that is. Well, it would seem that the locals believe they have uncovered the site of one of the earliest chapels in Scotland, founded by the Irish priest who first brought Christianity to the north of Britain, Saint Columba. You remember him? Every time he delivered a blessing he stopped in the doorway, turned around, took out his cigar and said 'just one more thing, ma'am...' Anyway, what's that you were telling me about, Miss Hoolie? PC Plum tried to tell Phil Harding that he couldn't be doing any digging round here and Phil stuck one on him? And then Geo-Phyzz joined in and stabbed the copper to death with their radar equipment? Gosh, things have got a lot more tense in Tobermory since the Time Team came to town. What?

Monday 26 April
Last year the fearsome Mary Portas took on a seemingly impossible challenge: dragging the forgotten, unloved charity shop of Great Britain into the Twenty First Century. After five long months of toil and tears and now a little resistance, she achieved a remarkable, lasting transformation, overhauling dismal donations and shocking stock and reinventing their dowdy stores. But she's not finished yet, as we discover in Mary Queen of Charity Shops: Revisited - 9:00 BBC2. Six months later, she's returning to add the last piece to the jigsaw, with an idea to overhaul the loyal but ageing workforce and bring in a new breed of volunteer.

Adrian and Christine are back from their holidays on The ONE Show - BBC1 7:00. In the case of the former, though, make the most of him whilst you can because, yer Keith Telly Topping senses, Adrian doesn't seem to be a happy bunny at the moment. And who, in all honesty, can blame him? The ONE Show is one of the BBC's great success stories of the last five years - given an impossible slot, a jaded format and a couple of virtual unknowns to present it and yet, somehow, it has become as comfortable as a pair of slippers; an early-evening ritual throughout the land for forty and fiftysomething women who want to mother Adrian Chiles. Makes you wonder why the BBC would possibly want to mess with the format. Makes you wonder, frankly, if them in charge of things know what they're doing. Recent events would suggest otherwise. Just how did the BBC get it so very wrong by having Chris Hollins and Louise Minchin - a couple with all of the personality of an ashtray - standing in for Adrian and Christine? I mean, Hollins was popular on Strictly Come Dancing but Minchin? The pair has virtually no chemistry and seemed totally out of their depth. Having had such a chastening lesson, however, the BBC are still forging ahead with this barmy idea of pairing Chris Evans with Bleakley on Friday nights in the hope of ... well, what exactly? Recreating TFI Friday? Why? It was a decent enough show in its day but it never had the brad audience that a normal episode of The ONE Show gets.

In Coronation Street - 8:30 ITV - Audrey worries if her gigolo Lewis's feelings for her are genuine or not. Meanwhile, Mary recruits reluctant Norris in her competition scheme and David catches Gary sneaking back home.

Tuesday 27 April
The Masoods are, yet again, the talk of the Square in EastEnders - 7:30 BBC1. And, the question on everybody's lips is can Zainab ever forgive Syed for destroying her family? Probably not. She's not one to forgive easily, is that Zainab. To Whitney's horror, meanwhile, Billie Jackson is determined to attend his army interview. Will she manage to persuade him otherwise?

The Story of Science - 9:00 BBC2 - sees Michael Mosley takes an informative and ambitious journey exploring how the evolution of scientific understanding is intimately interwoven with society's historical path.

In Heston's Gothic Horror Feast - 9:00 Channel 4 - Heston Unpronounceable Last Name reinvents famous period and mythical feasts. Tonight, Heston plays the mad scientist and creates an outlandish banquet based on his favourite Nineteenth-century horror novels, including Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Heston's celebrity diners, include Ulrika Jonsson (Argh! The Horror!), lovely old Nicholas Parsons and that gibbering moron Colin Murray. They tuck into a creepy feast featuring blood risotto, an edible Frankenstein's monster and what's described as 'a graveyard.' yeah, that sounds like one or two meals I've made over the years. Presumably this will be coming live from Castle Dracula and will start with a concerned inn keeper telling Heston 'Don't get many strangers round 'ere!'

Wednesday 28 April
The latest episode of Five's Crimes that Shook the World documentary strand at 8:00 explores the murder of Lucie Blackman by the Japanese serial killer the millionaire Joji Obara. Tokyo police visited Obara's home while investigating the disappearance of Lucie from Sevenoaks in Kent, who went missing in July 2000. Raiding all Obara's properties, police found over two hundred video tapes of his assaults on drugged female victims. They also found grisly diaries dating back thirty years, detailing over forty rapes, as well as drug manuals and a book describing how to cut up a human body.

The latest episode of The Edible Garden - 8:00 BBC2 - is called Juicy Fruits. Lovely. I like a nice juicy pear myself. Anyway, Alys Fowler - she of the seldom seen husband - attempts to avoid shop-bought fruit and vegetables and live off her own, home-grown produce in her urban home in South Birmingham. Alys shows how simple it can be to grow fruit. With most of her garden devoted to growing vegetables, she still manages to squeeze in some juicy fruits alongside her mature apple tree. Which she watches as she sits among her beans and peas. Second time this series for that joke. Thank you, Alys, I'm very grateful. it was a hit in 19313, you know? As well as enjoying her juicy fruits for breakfast, Alys preserves their flavour by making jams, tangy fruit leathers and sweet dried apple rings. Yes, it is a bit Kirsty Allsopp, I'm afraid but still, still, a million times preferable to The Delicious Miss Dahl.

Surperior US drama has been something of a running theme this week. Nowt wrong with that, of course, so let's have another one: Damages - 11:10 BBC1 - is, of course, the acclaimed American legal drama starring Glenn Close. In this episode, Carol Tobin is forced to reveal the truth about Thanksgiving, while Ellen's family life becomes chaotic.

Thursday 29 April
It's the BBC's turn to do the Prime Ministerial Debate thing at 8:30 tonight. Now, if this was a football match I'd be giving you three alternative choices of viewing. As it happens, it isn't, but, I'm still going to give you three alternative choices of viewing because yer Keith Telly Topping is an equal opportunity TV previewer and likes to give the people what they want. Frankly, unfortunately, it's a bloody horrible night because two of those alternatives are football (and, not even particularly good football at that - it's only the bloody Europa League for God's sake) - on Five - and, even more sleep inducing, snooker - on BBC2. Oh, great. If you're looking for something good to watch tonight, you're snookered.

In the latest episode of Greatest Cities of the World with Griff Rhys Jones - 9:00 ITV - Griff visits Sydney, which began life as a penal colony but is now regarded as one of the most desirable places in the world to live. Hey, it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. Griff examines how the metropolis has evolved over the last two hundred years, and discovers that despite its appeal, it is still struggling with the shackles of its colonial past and with being a small outpost in a vast country. Mind you, they have got a very nice bridge. We've got one like that up here. Only ... smaller. Griff also saves a swimmer from a possible shark attack (presumably, the shark took one look at him and said 'Christ, it's Griff Rhys Jones, I'm outta here!'), helps rid the city from a plague of bats, and observes a peculiar local custom that involves jumping into an ice-filled swimming pool. Despite being easy to take the piss out of, I do like this show. Griff's an amiable old duffer and manages, as Joanna Lumley and Michael Portaloo can mange in their travelogues, to convey some of the sense of wonder but also the sense of dislocation that travel can have on the unwary.

The original Swedish TV adaptation of Henning Mankell's Wallander detective series are currently sowing at 10:30 on BBC4. Once you've got your head aroudn the idea that you're watching a Swedish TV show, in English with Swedish subtitles (I mean, that's a bit of a mindwarp for a kick-off), there's a lot of fun to be had with these. They not quite as densely plotted as the BBC/Kenneth Branagh version, but they're very good. A Russian cellist is subject to a bomb attack following a performance in Ystad. It turns out that she is a witness in a murder prosecution against a member of the Russian mafia. The member in question is no less than the son of the big boss Leb Munchin. Wallander and the Ystad police suddenly find themselves in the midst of a war against a powerful international enemy whose methods are ruthless and deadly.

The Great Rift: Africa's Wild Heart - 7:30 BBC4 - is a series investigating the geological forces that have shaped East Africa's Great Rift Valley. The valley provides the stage for an epic battle between trees and grass - its course influenced by volcanic eruptions, landscape and rainfall. On its outcome rests the fate of Africa's great game herds. In the Rift's savannas, grazers and their predators struggle to outwit each other, forcing one group of primates to develop a social system that paved the way for the evolution of mankind.

Meanwhile, in yer Top Telly News: Ruth Wilson has admitted that she didn't understand her new show The Prisoner at first. You're not the only one, love! Wilson, who stars as 313 in the remake of the cult 1960s series, explained that the show goes further than the original by revealing what has happened to the characters. In an interview with the Radio Times, she joked: 'Don't worry. We didn't know what was going on either! In the original Prisoner, there was no ending.' Well, there was. It was just ... weird! 'This time you find out what it all means.' Wilson also revealed that the show reminded her of Twin Peaks and claimed that it examines 'Our surveillance state.' She said: 'If the sixties one put the individual up against the state, this one debates ideals about the self, family and collectivism.'

Ray Mears has claimed that he was typecast by the BBC. In an interview with the Radio Times, Mears explained that he is glad he can explore wildlife in his new ITV series Survival with Ray Mears. 'My passion is watching wildlife, but the BBC has never asked me to do anything like that,' he said. 'You get pigeonholed at the BBC and I've tried to avoid that.' Mears added that he was thrilled when ITV offered him his own wildlife series. 'If you love tracking wildlife and someone asks you to track wolves, bears and leopards, well, of course, who wouldn't?' he said. 'It's a great opportunity and I seized it with both hands.'

And, finally Ricky Gervais has claimed that he doesn't want to be a 'national treasure' and loved by everyone. Well, that's good. 'I assume more people hate The Office and hate me,' he noted. Good assumption, Rick. Next ...