The Circle is a new social media reality show, launched in the week that Channel 5 has finally confirmed what viewers have known for years. Big Brother, once the undisputed king of reality shows, is dead as a dodo. It’s strange times indeed in telly land. The Circle was trailed heavily on Channel 4 for weeks, with each advert being a full instruction manual for the show, not really helping the initial audience reaction that it was overly complicated. Then before and after every ad break the presenters Alice Levine (My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast, coming to HBO in 2019) and Maya Jama (dunno, off some youth radio show at a guess) took the opportunity to again explain the rules in painful detail. We get it – you’re expecting the audience to be on the thicker end of the education spectrum.
So this is the start of three weeks of Alice and Maya talking about a bunch of people talking to themselves in their pokey little flats, sorry apartments, with an all-knowing Alexa console for company unless they’ve had the foresight to bring their own baby or turtle for company. The twist on the classic Big Brother format is that they don’t ever meet face-to-face. All contact is conducted via a specially-designed social media platform – the eponymous Circle. The total number of contestants vying for the £50,000 prize is eight which is surely more than enough. But apparently people who get evicted get replaced! Dear God – is this Black Mirror? Is three weeks actually eternity? Will it ever end?
So down to the fundamentals – how do you get people to like you? Are you true to yourself, as every Insta bio assure us is the way, the truth and the light, or are you more controlling of the image you portray to the world. Do you edit out your bad bits and concentrate on your good bits, both in your personality and your physicality or is it slightly repulsive to be so obviously manipulative? Is all this false advertising even ethical? Some of these contestants have said fuck ethics and they’re halfway to scamming retirees out of their pension as a sketchy African prince.
With this new series of The Great British Bake Off Channel 4 is spoiling us. Can you remember way back to last year when we watched the first series after Love Productions split from the BBC through our fingers as the nation waited to be able to say “I told you it would be rubbish!”. Can you remember our collective confusion, bewilderment and joy because it was still good, maybe even better than before? It was very much the London 2012 Olympics of food-based competitive TV shows. What a glorious time to be alive (and able to properly digest gluten)!
And with Sandi, Noel, Prue and Paul making a glorious return to the tent on Tuesday nights there’s a new generous helping of sister show An Extra Slice on Fridays. Fortunately Jo Brand, the consummate professional that she is, was fine with the move from the Beeb to Channel 4 and nothing much changed at all. But now the show is settled the programme makers can confidently make some long-overdue changes. Extra Slice suffered because it always felt very rushed in the half hour format that Channel 4 inherited from Auntie Beeb, and of course the adverts we were all loath to accept ate into that time, so it was 23 minutes of telly at best. Speaking of adverts in Bake Off, who would have ever guessed we’d miss Dr Oetker and his choir of irritating singing cakes. Amazon spent £5 million on the prestigious slot to advertise the Echo and all they can come up with is forgettable line drawings? “Alexa show me an advert worthy of 6.1 million viewers”.
In its quivering excitement last week’s Radio Times didn’t seem quite sure if it was advertising the American remake of this comedy (picked up by Funny Or Die and set to star Will Ferrell) or the Australian original. Happily for UK viewers the accents gave us a clue. No Activity sees three pairs of colleges all trapped in classic sitcom situations, cleverly linked to create something much funnier than the sum of its parts. And those parts are pretty funny to begin with. There’s a clever use of the classic cop show opening credits – it looks like it’s going to be dark, tense and packed with bad-ass action. But from the title we know that’s not going to be the case.
On a stakeout outside a suspected drugs warehouse is Detective Hendy, a young and ambitious chap and his senior Detective Stokes, who seems a bit of a bumbling dreamer. They’ve spent far too much time together and will discuss just about anything that pops into their mind. The chief concern in episode one is the plaster dolphin statue in the back seat that just might stand out to any watching crims, but Stokes couldn’t bear to leave it sitting there on the street for the binmen. Their later chat about how Stokes has a vasectomy face made me laugh out loud.
Jed Mercurio’s new six-part drama has been teased by pretty much all of the journalists and bloggers who were lucky enough to catch previews this week. He’s riding high with the continued success of Line of Duty, the next series of which was delayed Bodyguard – a timely story about trust, fear and terrorism. As promised, the first 20 minutes were edge-of-your-seat action hero stuff, but is there enough here to maintain interest for five more episodes?
Richard Madden is David Budd (looking about 600% more macho than the late lamented Robb Stark he played on Game of Thrones), a traumatised soldier back from Afghanistan. His brave and selfless actions foil a terrorist plot to blow up a train filled with passengers, including his own children. Both terrorists are also unharmed, again thanks to him. Desperate brainwashed Nadia (we find out her name a long way into her and David’s conversation – I thought textbook negotiation tactics are to get people’s names as a priority) is talked down from pressing the button on her suicide belt by stony-faced Dave. He then embraces her to keep the army from shooting her dead. Interestingly, everyone on the train ready to pull the trigger and make a mess is female. He’s in the nurturing role, caring for his children, for poor confused Nadia and trying to keep the peace. Everyone escapes, traumatised but alive. Well of course – not even Mercurio is going to blow up his main character in the first episode. Or at least, not this time.
SPOILER warning: this post deals with the final episode of Unforgotten Series 3. Do not read on unless you are up to date with both series 2 and 3. Catch up with all the box sets on ITV Hub now.
Unforgotten bowed out after a tremendous third series at the weekend. No one disagreed that it was an acting masterclass from start to finish, led by stalwarts Nicola Walker as DCI Cassie Stewart and Sanjeeve Bhaskar as DI Sunny Khan. Since inception this show has attracted top quality British actors. This series was dominated by awesome performances particularly from Alex Jennings, James Fleet and Neil Morrissey (getting better and better in each drama part,although here he certainly need more screen time). But I wasn’t expecting such a split opinion on the ending, especially as this has become a truly beloved British drama. I wasn’t immediately on board back at their humble beginnings, and I admit I snarked at the first episode back in 2015. I was very happy to be proven wrong; the atmosphere wasn’t lacking in comparison to Scandi drama – it was just different.
Online, people seemed annoyed that there was no twist in the tale and that the final episode ran out of steam. Although, thinking about it, do any of the series so far provide a neat and satisfying ending? In series 2 because of the nature of the crime, the number of perpetrators and the time passed the police decide there was no value in pursing and prosecuting anyone. Was this what the audience wanted? Do we demand everything tied up neatly in a bow? Or do we realise if you strive for realism on TV in style and storyline that endings will inevitably be messy, just like in real life?
Forgive me for not knowing until now who the Chicken Connoisseur is. I am in my 30s and I still haven’t got my head around the many millions of creative ways people use YouTube and how they have an immediate connection with their audience that the old dinosaurs of terrestrial TV can only dream of. Superstars are born, made fantastically wealthy, and crash and burn overnight. This much I know is true. I also know I’m playing catch-up. I swear I was standing in a Blockbuster choosing which video to watch just last week, but of course that was at least a decade ago.
So kudos to Channel 4 for giving Elijah Quashie his own TV series. This is a guy from Tottenham who made his name in 2016 reviewing chicken shops in The Pengest Munch. Important work, steering the nation away from disappointing fast food. He’s a critic who knows what he likes and he’s happy to give his opinion delivered in his own authentic style. There’s a lot of working class black slang going on here, but it all makes sense. Although again, I did have to look up peng which means handsome or fit as in “This is the pengest penguin in the world” which I’d pay good money to hear David Attenborough say on Blue Planet.
In Search of Science iPlayer (first episode available until 27 August)
This Brian Cox fronted series was first shown but unfortunately missed back in 2013. Yes it’s all about scientific wonders, but as it deals with the history of British science pioneers there are fewer gorgeous desert sunsets and less opportunity for attractive lens flare than in most of his TV shows. The fascinating stories highlighted here show how science and public perception have often been at odds with each other. It was just Darwin and his monkeys offending public sensibility. The lesson here for all is the importance of proper public engagement – sharing knowledge and showing the benefits of new scientific breakthroughs to assuage any misgivings about strange and startling discoveries. Science needs good PR, and that’s just as true now with the outcry over GM crops as it was with Professor Giovanni Aldini whose research on corpses inspired Frankenstein.