It’s New Years Day and I’m feeling charitable so this blog is brought to you in a whisper, with a cold flannel (for your forehead) and a bacon sandwich (for your mouth… if you need instructions on how to eat a sandwich, maybe don’t get out of bed yet). Read my round-up of the best Christmas telly and figure out what you want to watch on catch-up to keep the festive feelings flowing, and I’ll pop to the shops for paracetamol. Alright?
A classic tale of mismatched neighbours Andrew (Stephen Merchant, playing exactly the sort of person he always does) and Dev (Asim Chaudhry) from Bedford on a 9 hour mission to save Christmas and buy the must-have toy (Sparklehoof the Unicorn Princess) for Andrew’s daughter. Dev is the lonely chubby one, separated from his family at Christmas, and Andrew is the awkward angry intellectual, successful but bad tempered with a family who loves him for some unseen qualities. Dev teaches Andrew to be a happier man and a better father, and despite themselves they’ll be best buddies for life. Basically it’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Jingle All The Way for the small screen. It looks lovely with cosy camera angles suited to our suburban action heros. There’s great pacing throughout with real tension and subversive moments of mischief. Neither lead performance is all that over-the-top and their situation, while silly, seems entirely probable. An unexpected gem.
“I’m a traveller” says Jodie Whittaker’s newly regenerated Doctor. You and me both, love. I missed the fanfare for the new series last night as I was stuck on a train somewhere outside Bristol Parkway. Yes I know it’s 2018 and I could have watched it on my phone but the wifi was horrendous and there were no ancient alien adventurer ready to help me in my time of need as far as I could see.
But who knows what they look like theses days? Other than awesome coats in common they could look like anyone. This regenerating alien character who assumes human form is no longer the privilege of men. As the adverts cleverly said, it’s about time. So we’ll have no more creepy paternal romances with a subordinate companion figure, thank you very much. But she retains the benevolent feelings towards humanity in general and her mission is still helping people in distress – the universal fourth emergency service. And this time with the Tardis being MIA it won’t feel quite so odd if the stories end up being relentlessly earthbound, although we can but hope she and her big blue box are reunited soon.
There was much to love in this first 60 minute episode. Jodie’s character seems to strike all the right notes; the wonder, the restlessness, the silliness and the dependability that are cornerstones of the show. I loved her costume when she finally chose it, and that it came from a charity shop junk pile. It was great watching her bodge together her own DIY sonic screwdriver. The cinematography was gorgeous and the way that Sheffield didn’t have to pretend to be London was very welcome indeed (poor Cardiff, you were cheated – South Wales deserved more than a being stand-in). And it’ll be interesting to see how her Scooby gang, their characters and their relationships will develop over time. I predict Tosin Cole as Ryan will be a much more confident and capable young man in no time at all. I was very disappointed that easily the brightest person we met, and the one most enthusiastic about adventures with the Doctor was killed off, but tragedy is a effective if rather blunt tool to cohere the team around.
Bradley Walsh seemed much more at home with the serious parts of the script than the attempts at humour, as if he’d left his cheeky chappie persona on the set of The Chase and resumed work as a dour policeman on Law & Order UK. This is fine, and a good reminder of the proper acting he’s capable of, but I had high hopes for him carrying the comedy here. The humour in general seemed badly timed and a bit off throughout.
Tonally it all felt a bit flat and to my mind the pacing of the whole episode wasn’t great. There’s got to be a balance between madly, breathlessly running around a spaceship occasionally pausing to yell “There’s no time to lose!” and this amble through Sheffield at night that the first episode presented us with. It’ll be good to see Jodie on an intergalactic battlefield trying to talk both sides down from the brink of war – we’ve yet to see her stretch herself or make any really inspiring dramatic speeches. The writer Chris Chibnall and director Jamie Childs seemed to have that extended episode time at the forefront of their mind, and even with a murderous alien on the rampage picking off innocent humans there was no massive sense of urgency in any of the action. I’m extremely hopeful about this series and quite willing to watch another episode, but I hope someone rigs up a car battery quickly and gives it that electric shock it needs.
Stuck somewhere in need of entertainment? Got a better wifi connection than the average Cross Country train? Then watch the first episode of the new run now on iPlayer and let me know in the comments or on Facebook what you thought.
Comedy roast are not all that common in the UK, despite this being the home of the Archbishop of Banterbury, Bantom of the Opera and the Bantersaurus Rex (lads! lads! lads!). While we’re very much at home with taking the piss out of each other in the pub, the playground and all-office emails, this kind of vicious verbal sparring in front of an audience is a format that we’re just not used to in merry old England. We leave that to the Americans, and a proud history they have of it too. Instantly this new Comedy Central show is a bit out of step for the British audience looking for funnies, with a post-apocalyptic set, macho gunshot sound track, and the studio audience expected to shout and point as well as drink and laugh. It’s all a bit too much to believe we can multitask like this.
I love stand-up comedy, on tv and especially live (shout out to the excellent Fat Penguin club nights in Birmingham – if you’re in the Midlands check them out), but I turned this on and watched it through my fingers. I didn’t was this format to fail, but it was bound to be a disaster, right? As The Guardian said “Roast battles and insult comedy? No thanks, we’re British”. But despite the silly gunshot noises and the heavy reliance on Paper Planes by MIA, the battles themselves were not as aggressive as I’d thought. If anything the style is collaborative; usually solo comics acting as a team, building on each other’s jokes, laughing at themselves and visibly enjoying the experience. I was all set to hate it but the four comedians in the first episode did such a good job they quickly won me over.
This week, with the UK under deep snowdrifts we bid goodbye to the always summery Detectorists. As the watchful magpie reminds us, our heroes should be looking up not down. Their metal detectors are pretty useless in this case, and it’s in the branches of the lovely old tree, beneath which we’ve seen them shelter for so many years, where the trickster magpies have hidden their ancient hoard.
The tiny heartbreaks of this series have done their job and we are rewarded with stronger happier relationships. Lance with his daughter Kate and his girlfriend Toni, who are not at odds with each other for his affection, and who seem like they could be excellent friends. TV writers take note; women can be friends, not just bitchy rivals. It was a shock to see Lance’s horrible ex-wife Maggie return (played with relish and skill by Lucy Benjamin). She had a useful but very short storyline. Her evil plans were scuppered easily. Maybe she was a little underused?
I’m Dying Up Here was on my to-watch list for a long time before I took the plunge. I’m sorry I hesitated, because it’s exceptional television. It’s American comedy-drama television series created by David Flebotte and set firmly in 1970s Hollywood. It was made for Showtime in the US and picked up in the UK on Sky Atlantic (exactly where you’d expect quality imports to pitch up). It has comedy pedigree in its backbone as it’s based on a book by William Knoedelseder detailing the excesses of soon-to-be household names such as Jay Leno, Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman on Sunset Strip in the 70s. It’s also executive produced by Jim Carrey, and at the time of writing, the less said about him the better.
While based in reality, this is a fictionalised account of the premier Los Angeles comedy club, and the denizens who inhabit it, honing their craft to make it to the big time. That way real-life anecdotes can be revised, tweaked and magnified, much like the way a stand-up takes real life and makes it funny, constantly revising their act.
The comedy club is Goldie’s, owned and run by businesswoman and matriarch Goldie Herschlag (played by Melissa Leo, and loosely based on Mitzi Shore the founder of The Comedy Store). She has very little tenderness in her heart and is all about business. She cares for her comics in a way, but is very strict with them, and this tactic has proved extremely successful. What she says goes (even insisting one comic change his name after daring to play in another LA club). Goldie’s is only place where the talent scouts come from Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight Show’, the big coast-to-coast American talk show. That slim chance at stardom is what keeps her comics loyal.
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).
Take a little trip through four perilous zones with guest blogger Mr Jontosaurus…
“Start the fans, please!!!!”
Strap yourselves in, boys and girls, because its time for a nostalgia trip. Let me take you back to a time when health and safety was a fallacy, when a person could go on a gameshow and run the risk of potentially breaking every bone in their body. To a time when all of this risk was just seen as good old fashioned fun. If you shattered your skull, it didn’t matter, because look, you’ve won a microwave and your head was kind of a weird shape to begin with, anyway. I talk, of course, about The Crystal Maze.