‘Bandersnatch’ – Netflix

Are you the kind of person who always remembers to say thank you to Alexa? Are you careful in how you describe the great and benevolent Google when you’re within earshot of a Home Hub? Have you had a good long look at your Facebook privacy settings and do you actually understand what all that nonsense means? In which case you’re already familiar with the themes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, a huge worldwide Netflix success (as far as we can tell with a company notoriously cagey about releasing their viewing figures) poached with extreme prejudice (and bucket-loads of cash) from Channel 4 back in 2015. Technology is a crutch for the human race, a wedge that drives us apart and the idealism of “do no evil” is an absurd fairy story. We’re being corrupted and driven to the point of madness by our own beloved, addictive creation.

Bandersnatch doesn’t make my life easy. This review is particularly hard to write. Usually I’d give brief outline of the story and then get into the nitty gritty. But everyone’s story here is slightly different, especially the multiple possible endings. So let’s cover the very basics and see where we go from there.

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Eurovision 2018 – Grand Final Preview

Is it really that time of year already? Tonight I’ll take my seat with about 200 million viewers worldwide and watch the Eurovision Song Contest, taking place in Lisbon, Portugal. The £18 million show will see 26 countries go head-to-head with a diverse set of songs, and the vote will split between the public phone vote and their regional juries of pop-music experts. It’s three and a half hours of joyful silliness, amazing sets, outlandish costumes and dark mutterings about politics and the future of Europe. It’s a like a lavish wedding with all your strange and estranged relatives turning up in their most fabulous clothes, ready to get drunk, have a dance and air all those techy grievances. This powder keg is going to explode into a massive argument. There’s nothing you can do about it, so just enjoy the party.

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Christmas Telly Round-Up 2017

To be quite honest with you, the bumper Christmas Radio Times (opened gleefully way ahead of time in our house) did not fill me with joy this year. The week in which about 90% of Britain downs tools, puts on their pyjamas and watch tv all-day every-day while eating Quality Streets and drinking prosecco (a healthy balanced breakfast) usually has an abundance of great telly. Was it just me thinking it was all a bit harder to find this year? Anyway, this is my little list of tv that caught my attention over the Christmas holidays.

Click through below for seven telly offerings, some which were more coal in the stocking than a sable under the tree…

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Where is the bear?

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Channel 4)

Michael Rosen’s picture book has very little in the way of peril. While being no expert on children’s books, I have read this recently to friends’ kids. The family bereavement subplot seemed to have been slotted in to pad out an extremely short story into 30 minutes of television, and to give that little bit of Christmas pathos that we seem to expect from everything in December, especially adverts. Who would have thought that after being totally traumatised last year (at the age of 33) by Cormac McCarthy’s Stick Man (turns out his nom de plume for kid’s books is Julia Donaldson), that I’d be wistful for a seasonal cartoon with a real adventure in it.

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Stephanie and Christina from Gogglesprogs

Gogglesprogs (Channel 4)

Cult telly, now mega-hit format Gogglebox (viewers talking about telly, on the telly, to you the viewers) is by turns charming and irritating, depending largely on whether you like the particular family passing comment and whether they agree with you. However, the mini-people version Gogglesprogs is always a treat and it was lovely to check in with these favourite nieces and nephews this year. My, how they’ve grown. Mr H and I had bets on who was going to cry (always Christina, always Molly). We did not expect it to be serious and sensible Ashton, crying at the complicated emotions and longing for lost childhood thrown up by Toy Story 3. He’s no older than 11 and already he’s so grown up. Old before his time and very wise. What a guy.

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Long to reign over us

The Windsors (Channel 4)

People either loved or hated the first series of this exceptionally silly royal satire, which was on Channel 4 in April 2016. I’m guessing there’s a big intersection in the Venn diagram labeled “extremely silly” and “Daily Mail reader”. Surprised there’s not an e-petition for them to be charged with treason and locked in the Tower. But then Netflix had to go and make The Crown, which is almost exactly the same – writers making up behind-the-scenes stories and motivations for our most recognisable and unknowable dysfunctional family. Ok, so in The Windsors Kate is a proud tyre-selling gypsy, Camilla is a scheming bitch desperate to be Queen and brash Fergie and her awful sloany daughters have to stay in the stables at Christmas because Charles won’t let them in the house. None of these are plots on The Crown, yet. Yes it’s vicious Spitting Image style satire, but it’s funny because it’s all quite likely in our collective imagination.

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Big bad sad wolf

Revolting Rhymes (BBC1)

It’s unusual to have a cartoon version of Roald Dahl’s characters without much of a nod to Quentin Blake. This two-part special had was soft and warm where Blake’s illustrations are scratchy and angular. But style and content couldn’t have been more dissimilar. This mixed-up series of fairy tales is rather slow and ponderous to start with but the end of the first episode really ramps up the revolting elements. It’s almost too unsettling for children and certainly freaked me out. Who walks around in a coat made from the skin of her enemies? Little Red Riding Hood, of course. Strange as someone who is still nervous around wolves, thanks to their terrifying presence in all the best children’s books, this made me feel quite a lot of sympathy for the Big Bad Wolf. Dominic West’s vocal talents made him angry, vicious and vulnerable. Probably felt quite at home among these sadistic killers.

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Saiful Islam is this year’s RI presenter

Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (BBC4)

It’s a good thing that the lectures are only an annual event. Sadly they’re never as interesting as you remember and always quite a chore to watch. What with it being an actual televised scientific lecture from the Royal Institute in London there are too many moving parts and moving experiments on and off stage interrupt the flow. Usually at least you get to see kids taking part in exciting experiments but episode 1 was all about generating alternative sources of electricity so all Saiful Islam could really do was send a series of children around the building to read numbers off of various screens. And it was all a bit depressing really as the target remained firmly out of reach. It made renewable energy seem difficult and a bit pointless; hardly their intention. I think most people watch the lectures halfway through a chocolate orange and a game of Monopoly, hoping for some science knowledge to be stirred by osmosis. This is a shame as BBC science tv can do so much better.

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Cunk asks the hard questions about Christmas

Cunk on Christmas (BBC2)

Diane Morgan’s brilliant comedy creation makes a welcome return after the amazing Cunk on Shakespeare shown in May. Her investigations are always nonsense, always with an element of truth. It’s deft comedy dressed up as daft documentary. I’d worried now that she’s a big hit she might not have much of a shelf life, like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G but she continues to baffle historians and other boffins who surely know she’s a comedian playing the interviews for hugely awkward laughs. Cunk’s musings are so ridiculous and the documentary style is so beautifully done that you can’t see the joins. She’s an absolute wonder and might even have more staying power than Charlie Brooker’s Wipe series, who elicited more sympathy than laughs in his annual review of the news. Who’d be a political satirist in 2016?

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Sue Perkins’ new chums, and not a cake in sight

Insert Name Here (BBC2)

Sue Perkins has a new job guys! We don’t need to worry that she’ll struggle to make ends meet in 2017 without cakes. This comedy panel show actually had its first full series in 2016 but was a bit hidden away in the schedules. There’s nothing revolutionary or even very exciting about the format (questions on famous people who all share a first name). Honestly, despite being a big fan of Sue Perkins, I didn’t have high hopes but it seemed to find its niche rather well. The host and team captains – Richard Osman (the clever one) and Josh Widdicombe (the naughty one) – seemed to gel after the first couple of episodes. I also liked how BBC historians including Kate Williams and Ruth Goodman got to appear very knowledgable and let their hair down a bit. Hopefully this Christmas outing means some more viewers for the second series due this month.

All the shows above are available either on BBC iPlayer or All4 for you to catch up while you finish up the chocolate and cheese and pretend you don’t have to go back to work/ school this week.

‘Witness for the Prosecution’

After last year’s Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None, hopes were set high for short story turned into two-part drama special Witness for the Prosecution, but this was quite a different beast. No mansions, no dinner guests being offed one-by-one, no detective twirling his enviable moustaches and not a normal Christie ending. Much interfering had been done, and there wasn’t much in the way of original Christie to be seen.

We’re transported to the roaring twenties and Kim Cattrall is Ms French, a wealthy widow living it up and having a fine time with her fancy man Leonard Vole much to the disgust of her loudly disapproving maid Janet. These days Emily French would be mocked as a cougar, a woman of a certain age who is attracted to younger men and has the nerve to go after them. These prejudices are certainly represented and Emily knows her actions make her unpopular and looked-down on in high society, but she doesn’t really care. Money is a pretty good insulator against what people think of you. Cattrall, famous for a strikingly similar character in Sex and the City, is essentially playing Samantha 70 years earlier.

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‘All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride’

Looking for a stocking filler for a telly fan. How about an Arctic Circle sleigh ride from the comfort and warmth of your own home? Yes please! Straight away you know this is going to be a proper seasonal treat.

All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride is the happy union of Slow TV and hygge. You may have seen the word hygge in bookshops (there’s at least a dozen books out about it this year alone) and on department stores shelves selling blankets, slippers and candles. It’s a new UK obsession with the old Danish term, meaning to live comfortably in a warm cosy atmosphere.

This calm cosiness incorporates the Slow TV craze from Norway. These are long programmes where, really, nothing much happens. Examples include the four hour National Knitting Evening, the six hour National Firewood Night and the Train Ride: Bergen to Oslo. British tv got in on the act with All Aboard! The Canal Trip and All Aboard! The Country Bus. The Daily Beast calls Slow TV “the mesmerising antidote to the madness of 2016”.

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Dead Pixel Test Live! – Walter Presents

I was excited to see that the purity of the Birmingham Literary Festival has been infiltrated this year by the lowly gogglebox. In amongst the bearded academics and the beat-boxing poets we find Walter Iuzzolino, the driving force behind the staggeringly successful world drama mission on Channel 4 and their streaming service All4. In just 9 months they’ve taken a chance on 24 series from around the globe and been rewarded with 15 million streams. That’s a lot of viewers.

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‘Horizon: Jimmy Carr and the Science of Laughter’ – On the Box

As part of BBC sitcom season, last weekend the BBC’s flagship science show Horizon covered the topic of laughter and comedy with familiar telly star and hard-working stand-up comic Jimmy Carr in the host’s chair.

It began as an awkward panel show with documentary sections and a little stand-up twirl on a tiny mini-stage that Jimmy seems to favour on tv. It was a consciously crappy set littered with generic science props, like they’d rifled through the dumpster from 1990’s-era Room 101. Jimmy should have been good at working in a strange hybrid situation (8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is usually spot on) but this wasn’t good, despite his best attempts… so more like 10 o’Clock Live then.The studio audience were nervous, and nervously laughed at how nervous they were.

Once the science started it was pretty interesting, if no less awkward. Sticking three Professors on a little sofa is not going to make the evening any less ungainly. Fortunately Jimmy asked incisive questions of the academics and showed his own comedy intelligence. No surprise here as he has co-written quite a scholarly work on the subject of comedy with Lucy Greeves called The Naked Jape – I got a second-hand copy off the internet last year and was thoroughly entertained and learned a lot. If you can get hold of a copy I heartily recommend it, whether you’re a stand-up comedian or just a lover of comedy.

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