Spoilt for choice this week, and probably for the rest of the month. I love September and the new season of tv shows.
Hunted(10 September – Channel 4, 9pm) looks like it could be brilliant. 14 ordinary people go on the run from a team of expert ‘hunters’ led by an ex-Head of Counter Terrorism for City of London Police. I guess they’ll have to go totally off the grid as it’s so much easier these days to track an individual using mobile phones and the internet. Slightly worried though as Channel 4 has a history of putting ordinary people into extra-ordinary situations, and sometimes that situation is Big Brother. If it’s good I predict viewers getting properly over-excited and yelling at the screen like we’re all suddenly espionage experts. And I will almost definitely be one of them.
Also looking forward to a one-off drama The Gamechangers (15 September – BBC2, 9pm). All I know is that it’s Daniel Radcliffe as the video game designer behind Grand Theft Auto. Looks like it could be pretty good. And many congratulations to Danny Radz on the fabulous facial hair. Hagrid would be proud.
I find Danny Baker (radio DJ, talking head and Twitter dick) and Peter Kay (kitchen sink nostalgia-peddling comic) pretty annoying. They both seem to have peaked years ago and now they’re trading on past success. So Cradle to Grave featuring both was something to be avoided. Mr H was a big fan of Peter Kay’s last tv outing Peter Kay’s Car Share and the classic Phoenix Nights (Chorley FM – coming in your ears!) so we watched it anyway and it was surprisingly enjoyable.
I love Harry and Paul and often find myself singing their Ruskie theme tune in the shower with gusto. They’ve got some excellent comic creations with accompanying catch phrases and they don’t shy away from uncomfortable subjects (racism, poverty, loneliness, stupidity). But this review celebrating 25 years in comedy fell short of their own mark. I could see what they were trying to do – when I told Mr H the title of the show he asked “Is that on ITV? – but it didn’t work. They impersonated celebrities and undermined the luvvie culture of these awful ‘An Evening With’ shows, and used the questions to spoof, mock and criticise their own work. I don’t think it was racist or sexist as other reviews have suggested, but it did make me feel uncomfortable, mainly because it just wasn’t very funny.
Sadly it seems BT has picked up the entire AMC channel in the UK and are running it exclusively for their customers. I get Sky, Netflix, normal telly and that’s it. Tantalisingly the first episode is available as a freebie on Sky but I’m annoyed to be missing out on a new series I wanted to watch. I’m toying with the idea of watching the first episode anyway, but if it’s good I’ll be annoyed the rest are unavailable. Although if it’s terrible I’ll have been saved from an underwhelming spin-off!
Repeat warning: Haven’t we seen this somewhere very recently? Yes, yes we have. It was Dara and Ed’s Great Big Adventure (BBC2) in which Dara O Briain and Ed Byrne drove the length of Central America in the footsteps of pioneering journalists who braved the then wild Pan American Highway. And sadly for Stephen Fry, the Irish comics did it better – they had more fun and seemingly a better connection with the people they met. Fry straddled a gulf between sincere and aloof. He was at a massive protest march in Mexico City marking the disappearance and probable massacre of 43 students and he found it very moving. He was genuinely upset, but this was undermined by a lack of explanation, or follow up with the protestors or anyone involved. All we got were his thoughts and observations as an outsider. It wasn’t enough. Two minutes later and we were back on the road again and Mexico City was forgotten. It was a real shame as you can’t fault Fry for a lack of curiosity.
I’m looking forward to watching Sue Perkins on Kolkata. She was a revelation on the Mekong River – a travel guide who wanted to give you an insight longer than a few scribbles on the back of a postcard. She had conflicting feelings towards the countries she travelled through and the aspirations of the people she met, and wasn’t afraid to make that clear on camera. There was a depth and breadth to her travels that maybe 60 minutes without adverts on the BBC could offer but ITV couldn’t.
Repeat warning: Haven’t we seen this somewhere very recently? Yes, yes we have. It was 24 Hours in the Past (BBC2) in which celebrities and assorted household names get to grips with various levels of society in Victorian Britain. Basically an excuse to watch people doing necessary but unpleasant jobs with horse manure and saltpeter. I sighed at another repeated format and watched Time Crashers anyway. I did enjoy it more, perhaps only because Ann Widdecombe wasn’t in it, pretending to be a socialist revolutionary while dressed as Widow Twankey. I like a pantomime as much as the next Brit, but come on, we’re not falling for that from a Conservative MP.
I understand people are naturally squeamish to things that we’ve been conditioned to see as revolting or dangerous (uncooked meat, waste products, Conservative MPs) but if one more woman accepts a job in a precise historical reenactment of an Elizabethan kitchen and cries at having to skin an ickle animal I will hurl my Deluxe Meat Feast pizza at the tv. I’m not saying that I could do it; I’d be anxious about my very poor knife skills and making a right mess of the food and possibly my hand, but if I thought I might freak out I wouldn’t agree to be on the show in the first place! Fortunately the cameras didn’t make much of the blubbing and moved away from celeb heartache and on to show the strangeness of the rituals associated with the lavish dinner and how much hard work the servants at every level had to put in to make the occasion a success. Next week it’s off to squire for knights at a joust in 1468. I will be watching.
I never used to get sci-fi. Our relationship didn’t start out well. I was one of those kids who have never seen Star Wars (this was rectified at the age of 21) and the guff that my brother used to watch on the BBC (in what became The Simpsons time-slot) was just awful. He loved Stargate (this is a fact, but he tells me that wasn’t on tv when we were kids – I mean Farscape. This is proof of how much attention I paid). I thought it was toss. He’d watch re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation until the galactic space-cows came home, I was sick to death of it. Every week it was the same old crud – distress call! aliens! they’re so strange and mysterious! they’re evil! or are they?! are they in fact… JUST LIKE US?!!1!! The moral message was always writ large in heavy-handed caps lock because this was MEANINGFUL and IMPORTANT and despite trudging through tired old tropes every week, watching the programme made you a BETTER PERSON. (You may be wondering why I suffered through this week after week – why didn’t I just watch something else? Readers, we were a one tv household until well after I left for university, and the internet didn’t exist. What was I supposed to do – go outside and get some healthful exercise?!)
Maybe the problem was that I came to sci-fi in the ’90s when the shiny chrome spaceships had tarnished. There wasn’t even the Doctor to save the world – my fondness for Ace’s leather jacket and Sylvester McCoy’s umbrella wasn’t enough to hold my attention or even keep the show on the air. The genre was ripe for satire and that’s where I got my fix. I adored Red Dwarf in all its glory – rude, gritty, sentimental, ridiculous, hilarious – and really enjoyed Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinctwith its friendly bug-eyed alien police officers and flying cop cars.
So with these prejudices still shadowing me all these years later I saw the trailer for Humans on Channel 4 earlier this summer and yawned. Androids. Sentient androids. Making a heavy-handed and laboured point about our essential humanity. Bound to be a cheesy American import. YAWN. But I saw the cast had some great actors in it, and it was a British show. I was intrigued. I put the first episode on and quickly powered through the whole series. It was proper sci-fi, and it was great!
It was a series about what makes us human, but the message was subtle, intelligent and never dumbed down. It was a dark drama about love and fear and family. The plots were slow, but that made the action, when it came, all the more shocking. The characters had depth and were terrifically well cast, especially Katherine Parkinson as the struggling Mum and Emily Berrington and Gemma Chan as two very different androids from the same family. It was as if it could all happen tomorrow; a freakishly strange and yet entirely possible future for our tech-obsessed humanity. If I’d known that Channel 4 had pulled an ad stunt for the show with actors in London playing ‘real’ androids ready and available for you to purchase from a fake shopfront for Persona Synthetics backed up with a goose-pimple inducing advert I wouldn’t have been so negative about it initially. I like it when things get a little weird.
This year I made a conscious decision to branch out and find sci-fi worth reading (A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness) because it turns out, it isn’t all the same. There’s freshness and variety out there if you know where to look. I still prefer swords to laser blasters and castles to spaceships but after having my preconceptions crushed by Humans I’m happy to timidly peek at what else is on offer on Netflix or SyFy. I’m not sure that I’ll ever boldly go.