‘Gunpowder’ – BBC1

This hotly anticipated three-part drama series about the most explosive event in British politics stars Kit Harington, whose star is in the ascendant as he’s that Jon Snow off of Game of Thrones. Even if you’re a stick-in-the-mud hold-out refusing to ride that fantasy dragon I’m sure you could pick his curly locks out of a line-up. Not only is Kit in the starring role as chief gunpowder plotter Robert Catesby but he’s credited as co-executive producer, and he helped get this unlikely vanity project off the ground. Turns out that Kit has family ties on his mother’s side to the rebellious Catesby family of persecuted Catholics who are central to the drama and to this famous nugget of British history.

We meet the Catesby’s and co back in 1603. Queen Elizabeth I is dead and James I is in charge. Things are not improving for England’s oppressed Catholics. The well-to-do Catesby family are seventeenth century preppers because in this instance the government really is out to get them.

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‘House of Games’ – BBC2

First things first, a disclaimer. I love Richard Osman. Tall, speccy, a little bit awkward, loves telly, trivia and making people laugh. Those features can easily describe us both. Insert dull-sounding tv show here; Nope, I’m not going to watch it. Oh, Richard Osman’s on it? Well I guess I’ll take a look. He is of course the quizzing genius behind the daytime TV phenomenon that is Pointless. A producer and director Pointless was in fact his first foray into jobs in front of the camera.

His new quiz show House of Games is in an early evening slot. I’ve seen it described as Only Connect for everyone, but the one loyal set of celebrities appearing for fives shows over a week reminds me of Dave’s supberb Taskmaster.  In week one comedians Nish Kumar and Al Murray are joined by TV presenter Anneka Rice, and Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo. The celebs are well chosen and well mixed, bound to be a bit reliant on stand-up comics for quick wit and general show-off skills. As Taskmaster proves, this is no bad thing.

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‘Streetmate’

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.

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Christmas Telly Round-Up

To be quite honest with you, the bumper Christmas Radio Times (opened gleefully way ahead of time in our house) did not fill me with joy this year. The week in which about 90% of Britain downs tools, puts on their pyjamas and watch tv all-day every-day while eating Quality Streets and drinking prosecco (a healthy balanced breakfast) usually has an abundance of great telly. Was it just me thinking it was all a bit harder to find this year? Anyway, this is my little list of tv that caught my attention over the Christmas holidays.

Click through below for seven telly offerings, some which were more coal in the stocking than a sable under the tree…

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‘The Crown’

Missing your Downton Abbey Sunday evening fix? Fancy a posh period drama. They don’t come any posher than this. Dramatist Peter Morgan (who wrote the film The Queen from 2006) offers us a new biographical series about Queen Elizabeth II and her family, disappointingly not called Keeping Up With The Windsors. It’s one of the most lavish and expensive period dramas ever made, and everyone who watches this sort of telly was startled to find out it wasn’t going to be broadcast on the BBC, the go-to broadcaster for Grandma-friendly programming. New commissioning behemoth Netflix apparently paid £100 million for the first 20 episodes, so you can see why the Beeb might have said no, in a year where they couldn’t find enough change down the sofa to keep Mel, Sue and Mary in their big tent.

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“The Crystal Maze for SU2C” – On the Box

Dah dah dah daaaah, dada! Dah dah dah daaaah dah dah dah dah daaaaah! Name that tune! Even written in that shoddy fashion I bet you can guess. Has there ever been a more exciting quiz show theme? I don’t think so.

It’s a welcome return to The Crystal Maze last seen in 1995. This was one-off celebrity special of the much-loved 1990s game show with the aim of getting you to part with your cash for the Stand Up to Cancer charity. Special programmes are on Channel 4 all week, which culminates in a Comic Relief-style live show on Friday night.

David Tennant was mentioned in contention for the host duties, but quickly after that story leaked Stephen Merchant was confirmed. He looked fabulous in his Richard O’Brien outfit, holding hands and running around with the contestants, but just looked plain silly with a shaved head. (However, if he raised extra dosh for SU2C with a sponsored head shave then good on him.) Happily the orignal (and best) host Richard O’Brien popped up on screen at the start to give them a riddle to unlock the maze.

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‘Versailles’ – On the Box

BBC 2’s newest lavish period drama is a British-Franco-Canadian collaboration about the building of the fabulous Palace of Versailles. A second season was already ordered ahead of the premiere. I guess that’s the thing with history – there’s a whole lot of story to tell.  It’s part produced by Canal+ but in English with no phony French accents, which is great. There’s nothing more jarring in a drama than hearing accented English that sounds like Vicki Michelle in Allo ‘Allo.

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