‘Glow’

Good tv title sequences must grab your attention and sum up a show’s theme, and GLOW is a perfect example. The shiny disco Day-Glo neon titles scream “80s nostalgia here we come!” It’s all there, running throughout the series – the music, the outfits, the big hair. And a central scene in episode 1 takes place in an aerobics class which makes me, and everyone else of a certain age, think of Flashdance. We’ll be seeing a lot more women in leotards before this series is done. GLOW is the new Netflix comedy-drama from Orange Is The New Black executive producer Jenji Kohan, and the theme of strong unconventional women and their struggles is familiar to both.

We start out with aspiring actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) and her fight against sexism in Hollywood. She’s delivering the audition of her life when her misunderstanding is revealed – “You’re reading the man’s part”. The women’s part is a secretary and she gets one line. Ruth is very determined, badgering the casting director (also a tough woman) who eventually offers her a crumb of sympathy – an open casting call for “unconventional women”.

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‘The Crystal Maze 2017’

This is a full review of episode 1 of the new series of The Crystal Maze. If you don’t want to know who gets locked in and whether the whole team make it to the Dome, look away now! If not, then let’s start the fans please!

Now this is the reboot we’ve all been waiting for. It’s The Crystal Maze baby! The gameshow that everyone agreed needed a second chance. Off the success of last October’s Stand Up to Cancer special we have another set of celebrities to introduce the series proper (20 episodes in total with five sets of celebrities and 15 sets of normals) and the much-discussed new presenter Richard Ayoade. The team are familiar as presenters and reality-show fodder; Ore Oduba, Vicky Pattison, Alex Brooker, Lydia Bright and (sigh) Louie Spence. “Society accorded these people celebrity status” intones Richard with much mock seriousness.

Alex Brooker is team captain but easily the most useful team member is Vicky Pattinson Of course she’s got quite the pedigree when it comes to the oddest of odd gameshows, and proven herself to be clever and resourceful. Alex could have done with cloning Vicky.  Louie Spence is best enjoyed during his lock-in i.e. off screen and safely behind a locked door. No one seemed quite sure that they want to spend a hard-fought crystal getting him back. Vicky is bold and takes the initiative in the games and when advising the rest of the team. She has a calming presence and is a clear communicator despite Richard’s teasing about her Geordie accent. “Don’t panic flower” she tells everyone. When I get stressed out I need that on a loop.

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‘Blind Date’

If I said to you, in a lyrical scouse accent “Number one, what’s your name and where do you come from?” would you know what on earth I was on about?

These magic words, filled with excitement and a certain frisson of romance were of course made famous by Cilla Black on the tv staple dating show Blind Date that ran from 1985 all the way up until 2003. At the height of its popularity in the 1980s, 18.2 million tuned in to ITV on a Saturday night to watch the excruciating, the charming, and the unlikely pairings who sometimes rode off into the sunset together.

Fourteen years on, the format has been faithfully resurrected by Channel 5. Paul O’Grady is a damn good fit for the role of presenter. Famously he and Cilla were great friends. The start of the show is a little tribute to Cilla. He jokes Blind Date was left to him in her will. He calls her the woman “who gave me two heart attacks and broke my nose in a Jacuzzi”. It was clearly a spectacular friendship.

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‘Broken’

Broken is the beautiful, heart wrenching new 6-part drama series from award-winning English screenwriter and producer Jimmy McGovern, the champion of working class heroes. We are in familiar territory here – kitchen sink dramas and the seemingly small but overpowering tragedies of everyday life.

The big draw for drama fans is Sean Bean in the central role as Catholic priest Father Michael Kerrigan, a kind man, driven by his vocation to work hard for his community. Immediately we see that he’s haunted by an abusive past, rare in tv land where we frequently see priests as abusers, not victims. Bean played cross-dressing teacher Simon Gaskell in McGovern’s excellent drama, Accused an astounding role that he rightly won an International Emmy for. McGovern said in a Radio Times interview that he never considered anyone else for the lead role in Broken: “I always go back to Sean – I just think he’s world class,” he said. “People know he’s good, but I know he’s great.” Typically, Bean is stoic in the face of tragedy. He’s funny too – a bleak, black humour runs through this episode. On screen he is low-key with no histrionics. Appropriately, he doesn’t lose his head.

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‘Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit’

Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit is a happy little comedy panel show/ game show hybrid which was originally created by comedians Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013, and then transferred to television on Dave at the end of last year. The genial and very recognisable Dara Ó Briain is in the host’s chair, with Steve as Sam acting as team captains, and video game journalist Ellie Gibson as the resident expert. The show invites celebs to join the teams each week to play a series of video games against each other. These days I think the kids just call them ‘games’.

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The presenters’ 8-bit characters

 

I warmed up to this little Bejeweled Blitz gem last year and was happy to see it’s been recommissioned for a second and third series. More proof that with the internet fuelling the mobile revolution and people in all age brackets spending more time in front of screens that gaming is no longer niche.  However Go 8 Bit knows its audience and is fondly retro and a warm nostalgic hug. The panelists are asked to come on and nominate their favourite games to play. They range from the ancient arcade classics to the modern commute time-killers, and from the massive studio franchise to the tiny indie developers. The games are adapted cleverly to make them tv friendly. Studio audience participation is encouraged where the audience bet on which team will win each game and that affects the overall points total.

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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

If you’ve not yet heard anything about the The Handmaid’s Tale, let me give you a hand getting out from under that rock where you’ve been hiding. This is an MGM production being show on Hulu in America. They seem to be a good 7 episodes ahead of us. Sadly, even in 2017, sometimes America is ahead of us in tv land. It’s great to have synchronised start dates, but it’s still not the norm. Avoiding spoilers for this much talked-about show is going to be a killer.

A few weeks after starting in the USA this 10 part drama series has been picked up by Channel 4 in the UK, which, as the young, intelligent, and left-leaning political channel is a really good fit for their brand and a bit of a coup. The series is based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and despite its startlingly relevant content was actually written in 1985. So this dystopian future Atwood envisaged is 30 years closer than we’d have hoped for, and none of her themes are any less relevant or possibilities presented any less realistic. In interviews Atwood says that none of these war crimes in the fictional Republic of Gilead are entirely made up – all have happened somewhere on the globe. This really is extremely dark stuff. Do we as the audience have the stamina to get through it?

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The handmaids distinctive uniforms at a ceremony

 

The series opening is distressing, as our heroine Offred is violently parted from her husband and daughter, but it’s not a tense escape. We know she’ll get caught. The rippling tension comes from her social position at her new posting with the Commander (Joseph Feinnes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).

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‘Hinterland: Series 3’

I have finally relented and let Mr H submit a review for his favorite show. He spent 20 years living in Wales for his sins so consider him our foreign correspondent.

“It’s beautiful, I’m so glad you bought a big new telly” – Sarah Hamstera (1847 – Present)

It’s not often I hear justification for a purchase but there is power in beauty and Hinterland knows that all too well…

Hinterland (Y Gwyll) is an oddity in British television in that it is created and produced primarily for the Welsh audience but filmed once in Welsh and again in English. This means that there are 2 versions available to the tv audience (3 if you include the much rarer and heavily abridged all English version), the all Welsh version (Y Gwyll) appears on BBC owned S4C followed a short while later by the ‘International’ version which is predominantly in English but with key sequences in Welsh with English subtitles. This is the version put out on Saturday nights on BBC4 fitting nicely into their standard Scandi-Noir slot where we get to see just how well we have come to understand and love the genre. In some ways it feels odd that we aren’t watching the Welsh version with intermittent English scenes but, given the core audience, it’s understandable.

For those that haven’t yet sampled the ethereal delights of Hinterland, it is ostensibly a police procedural drama set in the beautiful scenery of the rural Welsh countryside surrounding Aberystwyth. This, for the most part would be enough but there is much darker fayre to be had below the verdant and bucolic surface.

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