Saturday, April 10, 2010

Week Sixteen: Another Guilt Trip

What a great episode of Ashes To Ashes that was last night. Especially the opening video parody sequence. I swear yer Keith Telly Topping will never hear 'Uptown Girl' in quite the same way again. And what was that little bit with Shaz when Gene told her she'd be in CID by Christmas and she suddenly had a - literal - 'Life on Mars' moment? Whoa. I love this show - despite all the doubters and the rumbling of 'oh it's not as good as the last one', it keeps me utterly fascinated by the sheer depth of its imagination and cleverness. But, ultimately, we come back to Gene as Billy Joel. Yer Keith Telly Topping laughed, dear blog reader. He laughed and laughed and he laughed until he stopped. And then he laughed some more. And speaking of laughter, it was a very good Have I Got News For You, this week also. I particularly enjoyed the discussion about Tickle Cock Bridge. If you missed it on Thursday, catch the repeat whenever it turns up, you won't regret it. Plus, you know, Victoria Coren. I mean, what's not to love?
Over the pond, we had a CSI that brought Ray Langston uncomfortably close to his nemesis, the so-called Doctor Jekyll, in an episode about fate and causality. One, which was so intricate and interwoven you felt that at any moment it could come crashing down around the production team's ears, like a collapsing house of cards. And yet, miraculously, it didn't. Which was quite an achievement, I thought. Meanwhile, FlashForward pulled out its biggest 'I never saw that coming a mile away' plot twist yet at the end of a complex and highly watchable episode full of smart chess metaphors. Tragically, as with Dollhouse earlier in the year, hardly anyone's watching the damn thing so its days would seem to be numbered. End game in sight. Hopefully, they'll explain everything before they get checkmated.

Right, on with the next batch of Top Telly Tips:

Friday 16 April
Comedian Frank Skinner hosts a new topical comedy series, Frank Skinner's Opinionated - 10:00 BBC2. Each week Frank will be joined by two fellow comedians and a studio audience to unpick the week's most talked-about news stories. Okay. So, this is different from Have I Got New For You and The Bubble, how, exactly? Not that yer Keith Telly Topping is complaining, he likes those two and likes Frank and, if the guests are good, this should be very watchable. Just not fantastically original, that's all. The show tours the country stopping off in Belfast, Norwich, Manchester, Glasgow and London. This edition comes from London with guests the brilliant Miranda Hart and the sometimes far too clever for his own audience Al Murray as Frank's guests. Yeah, sounds promising.

In Dickinson's Real Deal - 8:00 ITV - David Dickinson (and, yes, if you're wondering, he clearly has been tango'd) and his team are in Peterborough, where dealers James Layte, Alison Chapman, David Tupman and Cheryl Hakeney are all on the hunt for 'the real deal.' True love? The secret to life, the universe, and everything? The key to Fermat's Lost Theorem? No, they're merely looking for some shitty antiques to buy. But will the local people be happy to sell their old junk, or will they prefer the gamble of going to auction in the hope of making even more cash? Greed and avarice, the two most important words in TV today, ladies and gentlemen. Even if they do mean the same thing. Today's best deal is, apparently, a George III tea caddy which David Tupman buys for twelve hundred smackers and makes a tidy profit whilst grinning all over his face like a cat that's got the cream. I do like this show, I just thought I'd mention that before I evaporate in a cloud of moral outrage.

Saturday 17 April
I suppose there's nowhere else to start on Saturday other than with Doctor Who - 6:30 BBC1 - and an episode called Victory of the Daleks. So ... I wonder what that's going to be about, then? Well, it would seem that it's 1940 and The Doctor has been summoned to a London which is being savaged to buggery by the Luftwaffe's bombs. Don't worry, they say unless the bomb's got your name on it, you're safe. Mind you, if you happen to be Mr and Mrs Doodlebug of 43 Bomb Target Lane, then you're probably in deep plop. Anyway, it appears that The Doctor has been called there by none other than Churchill himself. Oh, yes. (Incidentally, Winston is played by the great Ian McNiece who was so good in Jonathan Creek the other week.) Inevitably, the Daleks are also waiting for him! Good on yerself, Matt - three episode in and you've already got the pepperpots under yer belt. Now, you can call yourself The Doctor!

Britain's most popular - if frequently tasteless - talent show, Britain's Got Talent returns for a brand new series at 8:00 on ITV. Judges, the nasty Simon Cowell, the slimy Piers Morgan and Big Top's Amanda Holden (and I can think of no greater insult than that, dear blog reader) begin their latest search to find an act good enough to perform at this year's Royal Variety Performance. Any act of any age and with any talent - or lack of same - can attempt to impress the judges and beat the dreaded buzzers. Hosts Ant and Dec are on hand to commiserate with the losers. But, enough about the dramatic ratings failure of their own Push The Button, what are they going to say to the losing contestants here?

The Prisoner - 9:30 ITV - is a 'reimagining' (in the style of other recent successes in this area) of Patrick McGoohan's cult 1960s drama series about individuality and freedom. A New Yorker (the excellent James Caviezel) finds himself in a mysterious desert community called The Village, with no memory of how he got there or of his past life. His attempts to get home are thwarted by the residents, who deny the existence of anywhere outside the Village. The Villagers have numbers instead of names, and it is not long before our mysterious, nameless hero is given the identity of Number Six. As Six tries to resist his assimilation into the world of the Village, he comes into conflict with its powerful leader, Number Two (played wonderfully by a dryly sinister Ian McKellan). All Six has to help him are tiny clues which lie in the memory of a night with a mysterious woman called Lucy. Yer Keith Telly Topping watched this when it was broadcast in the US at the back end of last year and, generally, loved it. It's brave, wilfully high-concept and it couldn't be more different from the populist, down-to-earth reality show that it's following on ITV. I hope I'm wrong, but I expect it to get an audience of four. Mind you, like those who followed the original series, I imagine those who do stick with it, will love it.

Sunday 18 April
My Super Sweet 16 - 2:00 Viva (that freeview channel twenty one if you've never come across it before) is an English take on an American MTV format. Basically, the idea is to follow around a bunch of spoiled teenagers from wealthy families as they throw tantrums whilst their ostentatious sixteenth birthday parties are organised. The Daily Mail said of it 'In an age of celebrity, where anyone desperate and rich enough can get their fifteen minutes of fame, the series is a depressing indictment of our next generation's goals and aspirations' displaying 'the crippling excesses of fame and capitalism that have come to symbolise our society.' One, I find it quite horrific that I actually agree with anything the Daily Mail has to say. About anything. But, two, did I read that correctly? The Daily Mail has just had a pop at the concept of capitalism? Has the world gone quite mad? Meanwhile, the satirist and broadcaster Charlie Brooker presented a far more strongly-worded disparaging critique of the show on BBC4's Screenwipe last year, calling it a 'stonehearted exposé of everything that's wrong with our faltering, so-called civilization' and describing the protagonists as 'unbelievably spoiled rich and tiny sods' who throw 'despicably opulent coming-of-age parties for themselves and their squealing shitcake friends.' Yeah, that sounds like Our Charlie all right. Yer Keith Telly Topping merely notes that if this is an example of where the next generation of movers and shakers in our country are supposed to be coming from then we might as well all give up now and revert to the middle ages. At least then you had a plague to come along every few years and wipe the slate clean.

Today also sees the long awaited return of Time Team - 5:30 Channel 4. Tony Robinson presents the long-running and much-loved archaeological series. The latest batch of episodes kick-off with a trip to one of Britain's greatest historical landmarks; Westminster Abbey. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of Parliament Square, the team - including the lovely Mick Aston and good ol' cider drinker Phil Harding - have but three days to pin down the location of a lost sacristy, a stronghold that was built by Henry III almost eight hundred years ago and is said to have housed the biggest collection of treasure this side of the Alps.

Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession - 9:00 BBC4 - sees professor Jerry Brotton presenting a documentary about how maps can be snapshots of defining historical moments and tools of political power and persuasion. Fascinating idea. Visiting the world's first known map, etched into the rocks of an alpine hillside three thousand years ago, Jerry explores how each culture develops its own way of mapping. He looks at how the French Cassini dynasty pioneered the quest to map the world with greater scientific accuracy, and the devastation caused when the British carved Iraq out of the Middle East.

Monday 19 April
To commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Blitz, Blitz Street - 9:00 Channel 4 - gives viewers the chance to experience life in wartime Britain through re-enactments of the air raids that so devastated London, Coventry, Plymouth, Hull and many other British towns and cities. Okay, that's a bit of a scary prospect, frankly. But let's go with it, I'm sure they know what they're doing. A specially built row of terraced houses on a remote military base is subjected to wave after wave of high explosive bombs and incendiary devices, similar to those dropped by the Luftwaffe, to illustrate the devastating impact of the bombing campaigns and how close they came to breaking Britain completely. The first programme focuses on the outbreak of the Blitz in September 1940 with future programmes dealing with the firestorms that threatened to burn Britain to submission.

Joanna Lumley's Nile continues at 9:00 on ITV. The patron saint of Gurkhas explores the longest river in the world, the Nile, from the sea to its source. Tonight, Joanna follows the Nile into the remote deserts of Northern Sudan, meeting a survivor of a crocodile attack and going in search of an example of the legendary reptile herself. In Karima, Joanna is introduced to the treasures of Nubia, an ancient African kingdom ruled by the little-known black Pharaohs. Making her way to Khartoum, she stops en route to meet a family of Bedouin nomads who eke out a harsh existence in the remote sub-Saharan environment. Terrific stuff. As mentioned last week, Joanna seems an absolute natural at this kind of thing. She has that wonderful British combination of pioneering spirit, colonial superiority (in the nicest possible way) and exceptionally good manners than just seem to make people of all nations want to talk to her. Good stuff, this. More please.

Less impressively, in The World's Most Identical Twins and Me - 10:00 Channel 4 - Mark Dolan immerses himself in the remarkable worlds of some incredible people in a series exploring what it means to be anything but average. Mark's quest to find the world's most identical twins takes him to Los Angeles, Thailand and Idaho.

Tuesday 20 April
Chris Tarrant invites some - allegedly - 'top celebrities' to try to win Big Money for their chosen charities in a special edition of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? - 8:00 ITV. Well, in this particular case it's a couple of actresses who were in a vaguely popular sitcom about fifteen years ago. I'd hardly call those 'top celebrities' personally. Faded-old-hasbeens, perhaps. Lesley Joseph and Linda Robson - remember then? - compete for Age UK and Children with Leukaemia respectively. So, it's for good causes, at least. Subsequently, radio presenter Emma Forbes (again, hardly A-list celebrity material) attempts to raise some cash for Wellbeing of Women, and TV presenter Andi Peters (see what I mean?) answers questions in support of The Prostate Cancer Charity. Again, all very worthy things to support so let's hope they win lots of cash. But, next time, at least be honest with the public and call it What Wants To Be A B-List Millionaire, Chris. You (and the contestants) will get a lot more respect from the viewers if you're honest.

Traffic Cops - 9:00 BBC1 - is a documentary series which follows the traffic police as they enforce the law on some of Britain's busiest and most dangerous roads. And, particularly, the coppers who reckon they've missed their natural vocation as a quick-talking TV personality. Watch, as they make sure the camera's got their 'good side' as they pull over some hapless boy racer for doing thirty in a twenty five zone. In this episode, when a man driving a large four-by-four is spotted using his mobile phone by the traffic cops, he refuses to pull over and instead leads them on a hair-raising pursuit through the backstreets of Swansea. It is a case of road rage unlike any other, during which the pursuing patrol car is crushed and its driver lucky to escape with his life.

In Blood, Sweat and Luxuries - 9:00 BBC3 - six young British consumers swap their affluent Western lifestyle to work alongside the people who mine, manufacture, process and recycle luxury goods in Africa and Asia. In Britain today, what were once luxuries are fast becoming everyday items. James, Alexandria and Lucy head to Ilakaka in Madagascar to discover where the gems and jewellery sold on the British high street come from. They join workers in chain gangs digging for sapphires in vast open-pit mines. The extreme working conditions, hand-to-mouth existence of the locals and low value of the rough stones compared to jewellery for sale in Western shops shocks the Brits. Oh no, something else for viewers to feel guilty about. I'm sorry but I've just about had enough of these kind of shows. Yes, most of the things we in the West have - and take for granted - are life and death matters to some poor bugger somewhere in the world. Most of the things that rich people have are produced by the exploitation, somewhere, of someone. That's always been the way of things and it probably always will be. So, what does one do? I dunno about anybody else but I've only got so much guilt to go around. Do we, for instance, stop buying the sapphires from the industry that this programme highlights? What, exactly, does that achieve? It's not going to help the workers who will, then, be deprived of their livelihood. This is, sadly, the problem when you start to to try and impose worthy liberal values on an, essentially, unfair world. People somewhere suffer. And, it's seldom us.

And, just in case any of our dear blog readers are among the four people still watching The Delicious Miss Dahl - 8:30 BBC2 - why?! Why for the love of God, why??? Read a book. Go out and have some fun. Contemplate the nature of existence as you stare at the wall for half an hour. Anything, in fact, other than watching this smug and self-satisfied exercise in lifestyle fluff.

Wednesday 21 April
Three in a Bed - 8:00 Channel 4 - is a series in which bed-and-breakfast owners compete to have their establishments crowned the best in all the land - with guests paying only what they think their stay was worth. Sort of The B&B Factor, if you like. This first programme features Roger and Victoria Garlick and their historic hotel, Smugglers Cottage. Also, Claire and Mark Smith, who run the five-star Number One in Blackpool and Joyce and Ray Barham, who run the super-efficient The Kildare in Skegness. Which is the best? Does anybody other than the people who are going to be staying in them actually care? Seriously. I'm sure all three are very nice but I'm never likely to have the need to spend a night in any of them so what does it matter to me if one has a slightly better shower unit than the others? I've heard of desperation in TV formats but this takes barrel-scraping to a whole new level.

After a year of city living, marine biologist and professional diver Monty Halls returns to live the good life in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in Monty Halls' Great Hebridean Escape - 9:00 BBC2. This time, Monty and his canine companion, Reuben, are sharing a restored crofter's cottage on the Hebridean island of North Uist. And this time, Monty has a job to do, as well as filling in his dialy blog - as a volunteer wildlife ranger. As his adventure begins, Monty throws himself into island life - Highland Games, fishing for salmon and trout, and exploring the wildlife and remote reaches of his new domain.

Can You Train Your Brain? A Bang Goes the Theory Special - 9:00 BBC1 - is, as the title suggests, a special edition of the science series in which the team give the results of the world's biggest-ever brain training experiment. And, excitingly, they reveal how viewers can make themselves smarter. Err ... by educating themselves, reading lots, and expanding themselves with the discovery that knoweldge is power? Or, is that too simple? There is an experiment to determine whether brain training computer games actually work or not, extreme engineer Jem taps into his brain to drive a car with the power of his thought alone (three years after James May did the same thing on Top Gear!) and sexy biologist Liz joins an experiment to try to improve the structure of her brain. It's pink and it's squishy, Liz. Leave the brain alone, will ya.

Thursday 22 April
Six couples strive to create bold and beautiful gardens with the help of expert landscape gardener Matthew Wilson in The Landscape Man - 8:00 Channel 4. As if we haven't got enough garden shows on TV already. The first episode follows plant-lovers Keith and Ros Wiley as they work to create an extraordinary garden in their four-acre field, featuring canyons, a Mexican-style courtyard and a new lake. Why they want to do this, we are never told. The Wileys battle time, money and nature to create one of the most ambitious and stunning new gardens in Britain.

Griff Rhys Jones returns with a new series in which he explores some of the world's most exciting metropolises in Greatest Cities of the World with Griff Rhys Jones - 9:00 ITV. His journey starts in Rome, the eternal city. Ah yes, yer Keith Telly Topping has been there several times and loved it. The Forum. The Trivi Fountain. The Appian Way. Magnificio. Apart from the proliferation of beggers in the Metro, that is. And the couple of licenced bandits who took yer Keith Telly Topping for twenty Euros with the old 'take a peeekture of you, Meeezda, with your own camera, now how much do you want eeet back?' routine outside the Colosseum. Mug job. Anyway, over two thousand years old, the city is home to two and a half million people, and Griff discovers what life is like for the citizens who are living in what is effectively the world's largest museum. He also learns how to direct traffic at Europe's busiest road intersection, meets a silent order of nuns, and talks to the city's mayor about the smooth running of a population centre that is a miraculous blend of ancient and modern. And finally, he witnesses the passage of the Madonna icon down the Tiber to be received by the enthusiastic hordes in Rome's city centre. I rather enjoyed the first series of this show last year when Griff visited the likes of Paris. Dear old Griff, he's a bit mental these days but he undeniably presents these type of shows with an almost Tony Robinsonesque enthusiasm. It's a useful lesson to all young TV comics. Get yourself a nice hobby that you can turn into a career in presentation once you stop being funny. As you inevtiably will. See also Oddie, Bill.

I've been really quite enjoying Museum of Life - 8:00 BBC2 - so far. In tonight's episode Jimmy Doherty and the team go behind the scenes at the wonderful Natural History Museum in London to see how science taking place today will impact on all of us in the future. Beetles inspire new technologies, apparently. The latest scanner allows scientists to take a trip inside a shark, and ancient specimens are called into the battle to help prevent an extinction. Terrific stuff, this. Proper imaginative 'you might just learn something from it' telly.

And finally, in Coronation Street - 8:30 ITV - will Molly be rescued and can Tyrone ever forgive Kevin? Probably and probably not, in that order. Meanwhile, a jealous Teresa finds out about Lloyd and Cheryl. And, Sunita gives Sophie some advice about love. Eh? That's a bit like Ian Beale in EastEnders giving advice to Dot Cotton on looking cheerful.

Not much Top Telly News kicking around this weekend. Donna Air has apparently claimed that she trained for Marco's Kitchen Burnout with her old friends Ant and Dec. Air will compete against former tabloid editor scum Kelvin Mackenzie and Coronation Street star Tupele Dorgu in the first heat of the new Marco Pierre White cooking reality show next week. The TV presenter admitted that she had invited her former Byker Grove co-stars round for dinner to help her win the show. 'I was only nine when I started on Byker Grove with Ant and Dec. I spoke to them the other day and said, "Right you've got to come over for dinner. I'm doing this show with Marco and I've got to practice,"' she said. 'They haven't given me any tips, but they are coming over. So hopefully I won't kill them.' Yeah. Hopefully. 'They're so great. We haven't planned it yet, so I don't know what I'm going to cook.' The thirty-year-old also confessed that appearing on the show had inspired her to start cooking more for her six-year-old daughter. 'Freya found it very funny when she got home from school last week. Instead of me saying, "This isn't a hotel, you know?" she's actually getting a choice of meals each day,' she said. 'I hand her a copy of Mummy's Menu, and say, "I need your opinion on this dish" and "what do you think of that one?" She is taking her role very seriously. But she did say, "Mummy, I don't think you should make porridge."'

Jonathan Ross has described the 'Sachsgate' affair as 'hilarious' and claimed that the BBC bosses who failed to stand by him were pandering to politicians and the media. And, in other news, bears do shit in the woods it would seem. The presenter expressed no remorse over the obscene telephone calls which he and Russell Brand made to Andrew Sachs, the Fawlty Towers actor, during a notorious Radio 2 broadcast. 'Can I be quite honest with you? In a way, the whole experience was fun,' Ross said in his first interview about the scandal, which led to the resignation of the station's controller and plunged the BBC into crisis from which it has never, fully, recovered. 'Life can sometimes potter along in the same direction, and then something comes along over whch you have no control ... It became almost like I was watching it happen to somebody else. And it was quite entertaining. It was weird watching people get themselves into a lather over something so intrinsically unimportant as that. It was just silly. Silly people writing silly things.' Ross said he planned to disclose all the detail of the affair at a later date. He added: 'It wasn't pleasant having people camp outside my house, and it wasn't pleasant people using me as a whipping boy. But you know what? It wasn't a big deal. So what if a handful of idiots who write for a right wing newspaper don't like me? Who cares? I don't.' In a parting shot aimed squarely at Mark Thompson, Ross said: 'I can't begin to tell you the relief I feel. I don't want to speak ill of people at the BBC because I've loved working there, and I still love working with them. But at the same time, oh man, I can't wait to get out. The whole place has changed quite dramatically.' And that had nothing whatsoever to do with you making your stupid mouth go, did it Jonny? Arsehole. 'I think it's a shame that the people running it are always trying to second-guess what the newspapers will say about them - and whatever the next government will say about them. The experience of being there isn't quite the place it was. And it's a terrible, terrible shame.'

And we wrap up with Jamie Oliver, who has seemingly launched 'an attack' on binge drinkers, claiming they should be fined for clogging up the NHS. Personally, I'd rather like to fine - heavily - any moronic TV executive who thinks that anybody in their right mind wants to see a single second of Jamie Oliver on their television. Swings and roundabouts, innit?