Even before it started Channel 4’s new comedy Back has a whole list of things going for it. It’s exciting to see David Mitchell and Robert Webb back together again working with writer Simon Blackwell who penned Veep, The Thick Of It and, most importantly, a few episodes of the iconic Peep Show. Back is a six part sitcom that gets the Peep Show boys together again and is directed by Ben Palmer, the man behind The Inbetweeners. So far so brilliant; what an excellent comedy pedigree!
And yet, a pause. Let’s not get carried away people, because real comedy fans know sitcoms need time and patience to develop and grow. This is even more important in this hyper-connected, hyper-critical era where everyone has an opinion and expresses it loudly on social media. Not all great comedy is instantly great straight out of the blocks. Those of us of a certain age whisper “Remember Blackadder!” Series 1 of Blackadder is no one’s favourite and the one no one talks about. Given time, fresh focus and another chance it became a comedy classic. It’s so sad that those days are over, and it’s sink or swim based solely on the first episode.
In an era of 90s reboots could there be a more perfect presenter than Scarlett Moffatt to take over from Davina McCall on Streetmate duties? The original dating series ran on Channel 4 from 1998-2001 and had a whopping 45 episodes across 4 series. Before she was Ms Big Brother Davina was mainly running down streets searching for eligible singletons like Anneka Rice chasing a helicopter (a 90’s reference that won’t help millennials understand what I mean). Likely couples were set up in the street and then sent off together on a date.
A simple dating show like this is even more relevant these days, as people grow sick of using dating apps that encourage fakery and catfishing. Isn’t it exciting to meet people in real life with none of the technical gubbins getting in the way. Streetmate was always rawer and more authentic than any other dating show on tv, then and now. Having the presenter make the play reduces the very real awkwardness and takes the embarrassment out of what could be a hugely embarrassing situation.
Series 4 of 999 What’s Your Emergency started this week following emergency call handlers, police and the ambulance service in Wiltshire. This is a quality Channel 4 documentary full of revealing interviews and profound fly on the wall moments. The people on camera are witty and funny, sometimes fairly unintentionally. While yelling at someone dishing out racist abuse one restaurant owner shouts “You’ve got more chance of getting a kebab off the Queen than me!” Guys, never be rude to someone in charge of you food.
Channel 4 have earned something of a name for themselves with stylishdocumentaries that really get to the heart of the action and put a human face on the righteous, the pathetic and the despicable. We meet extremely memorable characters, even if they only have a few minutes screen time.
A call to the police (I hope it wasn’t to 999 because it’s hardly an emergency) sees PC Dan Lane dispatched to follow up on a report of man masturbating in his back garden. This is a crime apparently, which I had not realised, so apologies to the people who live at numbers 28 and 30 in my street. I can’t believe the voice-over guy kept a straight face when saying PC Lane was off “to look more closely at the matter in hand”. Turns out there had been zero al fresco wanking going on, but there was serious tension between one house in the street and their new foreign neighbours.
This formulaic drama would have passed me by, but some interesting casting turned my head and I decided to check out episode one. Female copper Helen Weeks (MyAnna Buring) is haunted by childhood tragedy so returns to the sleepy Derbyshire town of Polesford which must be twinned with Happy Valley – the odd array of accents certainly place it much further into the vague north than Derbyshire. She’s back just in time to help support her childhood friend (wife of the lead suspect in the disappearance of two girls) and rub up the local police force the wrong way as they hunt for a murderer.
First, the plus points. There’s an excellent supporting cast. I love to watch comedy actors stretch themselves in drama. Helen’s friend Linda Bates is played by Emma Fryer who is so perfectly funny in Channel 4’s Phoneshop and BBC’s Ideal. Her character is proud, angry and defiant. Her man Stephen could never be the murderer – by sheer force of will she’d keep him on the straight and narrow. It’s a great performance but I’m expecting her to roll her eyes or stick her tongue out at any second. And another great spot from Ideal was Sinead Matthews seemingly playing another nice but dim character.
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?
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).
Even in a market saturated with cop shows, it’s a most welcome return for DI Viv Deering and the Friday Street team, here to make your viewing schedule that bit grittier and more northern, with so many zingers it’s a struggle to keep up. Paul Abbot’s sharp script throws down the gauntlet to lesser tv writers everywhere.
Our hero is back to work after the horrific death of her husband at the end of Series 1. Viv, played by supremely talented Joanna Scanlan is glorious, and totally unfazed. She’s at a funeral when what could have been a lethal a bomb goes off but takes it all in her stride, as you’d expect. She jumps in the shower back at the police station and stand there in front of her colleagues proudly naked with big thighs and cellulite. This makes me want to whip off my dressing gown and cheer. Viv is sexy and powerful and totally unashamed.It’s Botticelli’s Birth of Venus only with a bright yellow towel instead of long ginger locks.
The body packed with explosives fortunately wasn’t in the coffin, so the funeral goers survived. The big bang reveals a dodgy crematorium, burying the bodies instead of popping them in the oven. Someone’s not been paying the gas bill. Miller (Paul Ritter) who sweetly describes himself as a bi-polar bear, ends up dealing with the “Hieronymus Bosch job” (say it out loud) ; elbows deep in the grizzly body parts violently displaced by the bomb. He’s in his element.