Just for Play-Play: the Best of Catch-Up TV

Join me for a catch up on the best of catch-up…

Can Science Make Me Perfect? iPlayer until 16 July

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Alice and James Cameron’s Avatar Alice

The annual talk of an ideal summer beach body never really takes the argument to a logical conclusion:

Thankfully Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, is here to build the perfect female form – part science, part sci-fi and all nightmares. With doctors, sculptors and SFX experts she rebuilds her own body from scratch, and fixes the flaws that natural selection has embedded in our collective DNA. Her intentions are the best; making giving birth safer, solving the problems of our bad backs and giving us excellent sight and hearing. She unveils the life-size model in London’s Science Museum to gasps of amazement, but certainly not delight. Part elf, part bird and part kangaroo I think I’ll stick to human 1.0. Thanks all the same Alice.

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Bigger, better, brutal – it’s ‘Battlebots’!

 

Jontosaurus laments the loss of Robot Wars on the BBC, again, and finds his mechanical carnage a little bit further away from home…

‘Murica. Anything we can do, they can do better. And, in fairness, when it comes to any and all types of warfare, that statement is truer than most. It is sort of a stereotype attached to our friends across the pond that they like to do things bigger, better and brasher than we do. We laugh about it, but it is perhaps why they have gone on to become the superpowers they are. It is also undoubtedly the reason that a loudmouthed caricature such as Donald Trump can be legitimately voted into the highest political job in the United States. We could delve into the psychology of such things, or we could just take some time out to acknowledge that sometimes, bigger and bolder is undoubtedly better. Battlebots makes this statement true.

With the BBC harshly axing their rushed reboot of Robot Wars– sadly, understandably after its modest viewing figures- there is once again that gap in the UK television market for robotic carnage. And whilst Battlebots is a long way away from being prime time terrestrial viewing, it can hopefully fill that gap for some of us until the BBC inevitably reboot Robot Wars in a decade’s time and them promptly axe it again.

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Mechadon proving that everything really is bigger in America

Battlebots itself is a reboot of the old American television program that aired at around the same time as the UK’S Robot Wars did. Whilst America also has Robotica, a sort of Robotics Olympics, and also its own version of Robot Wars (presented by WWE’s Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley, God rest his soul), it was always Battlebots that epitomised everything the US combat robot scene had come to represent. Big, hulking, super-heavyweight robots fought each other in the arena, but instead of the house robots, the arena is instead filled with various hazards including a hammer that would make Thor’s Mjolnir blush at its own inadequacy, and some huge buzz saws that are sharper than a catty drag queen’s comebacks. Bouts are three minutes long and if you thought the UK’s efforts caused severe destruction, this is nothing in comparison to what the American competitors can manage.

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‘Somebody Feed Phil’ – Netflix

Phil is friendly. Phil is kind. Phil is funny. But those qualities count for very little over at foodie magazine Eater where Somebody Feed Phil, the Netflix travel documentary eating its way around the globe was cruelly slated as “too cute”, “annoying” and having “no discernible point of view”. Conde Nast Traveler is much kinder, praising the positivity and optimism wrapped up in each delicious bite. So, which one is it? Sweet or sour?

This new to Netflix series is fronted by a gangly beaming Phil Rosenthal, a television writer and producer, best known as the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. He had a similar show called I’ll Have What Phil’s Having on PBS in America, but this is the first time an international audience has seen his culinary adventures.

And what a road trip he’s on. In six hour-long episodes he covers Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, New Orleans and Mexico City. I’m immediately jealous of his experiences and his air miles. He begins in the exotic east, but this isn’t just an American on a gap year, as he’s keen to promote food closer to home too, understanding that not everyone can afford international travel. Each episode also runs the full gamut of food available for the budget conscious backpackers and the money-is-no-object crowd. We seem him try street food out in the road on plastic chairs, befriend old ladies in shopping mall cafes, try all sorts of strange things in cafeterias off the beaten track and other hole-in-the-wall cafes where you’d need a local guide just to find the place.

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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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‘Z: The Beginning of Everything’

Another sumptuous drama here on a subscriber service. It’s almost like this is where the big bucks reside in these digital days. Z: The Beginning of Everything is the story of Zelda Fitzgerald, Mrs F Scott Fitzgerald to you dear. It’s based on Therese Anne Fowler’s book which Christina Ricci read and wanted to audition for. It turns out no one was making it, so she decided to do it herself. Ricci says that Zelda had suffered bad press over the years, with the focus firmly set on her genius husband. Ricci was sick of her being overlooked and sets out to flip that script.

Ricci with her soulful doe eyes and her fierce blonde bob is Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, a brilliant, beautiful and talented Southern belle, the original flapper and an icon of the Jazz Age in the flamboyant 1920s. Zelda is young and bored to death in her little quaint country town of Montgomery, Alabama. Having never been to the American south it looks lovely to me – all wide tree-lined avenues, sugary iced tea and cotillion balls at the country club.

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‘Bull’

Bull is a stylish American legal drama series that started this month in the UK on Fox.

The bull of the title is Dr Jason Bull, a charming and sparky expert psychologist, played by Michael Weatherly, a familiar face to NCIS fans (of which, inexplicably there seems to be legion). Taking on a new case every week, we follow Dr Bull and his team of fellow ‘trial science’ experts as they use a combination of data, technology and good old-fashioned human intuition to produce a terrifyingly accurate assumption of a jury’s verdict. Apparently “he knows a jury better than they know themselves”. Dr Bull isn’t an entirely fictional creation – the show has been developed by American chat-show host Dr Phil (credited as an executive producer) and inspired by his early career.

So we’re neatly and quickly set up for skillful experts bamboozling the bad guys with their cleverness and helping the little people. I’m not quite sure how the little people will find the money to work with them, but never mind. Don’t let reality get in the way of a good story!

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‘The Young Pope’

This extremely strange new drama from Sky Atlantic, created and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, is the story of little Lenny Belardo who grew up to be Pope Pius XIII. He’s young, handsome and sure to be a rock star pope. His adoring crowds and awkward clergy and lay staff are totally lapping it up. Lenny is one part politician, one part dictator and one part gangster. Quite often he’ll offer up to the camera a cheeky grin – Jude Law is having a whale of a time.

In the opening few minutes Lenny spectacularly undermines the whole Catholic church in a nutty dream sequence of his first address – “We have forgotten… to masturbate!” It’s clear this guy is going to shake things up. The whole show looks like a dream; a totally surreal ‘real’ Vatican city populated by odd figures in even odder uniforms, who all know the drill and work to unseen schedules. Around the next corner could be a group of nuns playing amazing athletic football or elderly Cardinals gossiping in ornate robes with large sun hats. Anything is possible.

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