‘The ABC Murders’ – BBC1

Spoiler warning: details about the murderer lie below!

Mustache-twirling Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is a beloved character in literature, in cinema and on TV. Recently he’s been re-imagined as a Hollywood action hero by Kenneth Branagh in a slightly strange but ultimately well-received version of Murder on the Orient Express. So now to the BBC’s Christmas drama schedules, a big part of which has been Agatha Christie adaptations by Sarah Phelps. Over the past few years she’s brought us Ordeal by Innocence, And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Ginger and restrained adaptations are not Phelp’s style. How do you rip up the rule book but stay true to the source material?

It turns out all you need to do is wait. The passage of time makes characters different people, more fragile and sympathetic, more human. John Malkovich portrays the great detective as a weary yesterday’s man – the ying to David Suchet’s dapper and self-important yang. He’s dismissed as just another nosy parker by the young and very serious Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint). The world has moved on since Poirot’s celebrity heyday. This is all done in an extremely heavy-handed fashion as Poirot’s retired police pal Japp literally drops dead in front of him. Alright, alright, we get it – everyone is mortal. Poor old Poirot is lonely; in desperate need of a Scooby gang – despite first appearances he’s no good at coping with life alone and forgotten.

Enter the murderer who remembers Poirot at the height of his powers and wants to play a game. By letter he tells him he’s off to kill a series of people throughout the UK whose names start with each letter of the alphabet in turn and it’s up to Poirot to figure out the connection between the seemingly random victims stop him. What an effort from the murderous mastermind to troll Poirot pre-Twitter. Think of the expense in stamps alone!

Read more…

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‘The Circle’ – Channel 4

The Circle is a new social media reality show, launched in the week that Channel 5 has finally confirmed what viewers have known for years. Big Brother, once the undisputed king of reality shows, is dead as a dodo. It’s strange times indeed in telly land. The Circle was trailed heavily on Channel 4 for weeks, with each advert being a full instruction manual for the show, not really helping the initial audience reaction that it was overly complicated. Then before and after every ad break the presenters Alice Levine (My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast, coming to HBO in 2019) and Maya Jama (dunno, off some youth radio show at a guess) took the opportunity to again explain the rules in painful detail. We get it  – you’re expecting the audience to be on the thicker end of the education spectrum.

So this is the start of three weeks of Alice and Maya talking about a bunch of people talking to themselves in their pokey little flats, sorry apartments, with an all-knowing Alexa console for company unless they’ve had the foresight to bring their own baby or  turtle for company. The twist on the classic Big Brother format is that they don’t ever meet face-to-face. All contact is conducted via a specially-designed social media platform – the eponymous Circle. The total number of contestants vying for the £50,000 prize is eight which is surely more than enough. But apparently people who get evicted get replaced! Dear God –  is this Black Mirror? Is three weeks actually eternity? Will it ever end?

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Alice and Maya explain the rules again, and again, and again – we’re none the wiser

So down to the fundamentals – how do you get people to like you? Are you true to yourself, as every Insta bio assure us is the way, the truth and the light, or are you more controlling of the image you portray to the world. Do you edit out your bad bits and concentrate on your good bits, both in your personality and your physicality or is it slightly repulsive to be so obviously manipulative? Is all this false advertising even ethical? Some of these contestants have said fuck ethics and they’re halfway to scamming retirees out of their pension as a sketchy African prince.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 3

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 3. Catch up with episode 1  and episode 2. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule!

Episode 3 was a classic where not very much happens. Characters willfully impede the investigation and every plot point feels like a dead end, until a frantic final three minutes which leaves you shaking your head and softly repeating the word “What?” to yourself over and over.

Our heros

“I’m not well” says Saga in typical matter-of-fact style. If only it was always so easy to acknowledge your own mental health problems and ask for help. She then lists a devastating catalogue of personal disasters. “We’ve got a bit to work with” says the unflappable therapist, surely in the running for Understatement of the Year 2018.  We hope with help Saga will turn the corner and apply her logical, analytical brain to her own situation, but Mummy is messing with her delicate mental state from beyond the grave – having her lawyer send childhood mementos to Saga’s workplace. Don’t open the box Saga! It’ll be about as much fun as Brad Pitt’s surprise gift in Seven.

The Danish sister from episode two,  christened by the internet Öliver and Dødger, were such a perfect fit for a hole we’re desperate to be filled. Like a Choir of (Young) Believers the internet sang out in one voice “They could be Henrik’s daughters!” And he gets them home a lot faster than I’d have ever imagined, but now in context of their old bedroom he would recognise them, right? He seems to be the only person not swept up in the idea that they’re his long lost children. But one night at Henrik’s Hotel turns into two as these resourceful Tracy Beakers refuse to be sent off to any dumping ground.

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‘Trust Me’

Oh the BBC is so very proud of being able to bang on about Jodie Whittaker in the role of a doctor. Haha! Ho Ho! What japes! But not that Doctor, not yet. Hold your horses folks. First we see her in Trust Me, a new 4 part drama as a “doctor” – quotation marks very much intended.

As the first curtains swished open and the first bed sheets were turned down, I realised this is the first hospital drama I’ve watched since leaving hospital (10 days in May, nice people, nice room, but extremely painful procedure and that will let them down on the overall TripAdvisor score) and I’m actually watching it ill, so it’s all very relevant. The nurses who looked after me were absolutely fantastic, but literally did get the shit jobs, and the piss jobs, and the puke jobs and so on. It’s no wonder people aspire to more.

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‘Rich House, Poor House’

There’s no getting around it – Channel 5 has a reputation. It’s a scuzzy low-class broadcaster renowned for poverty porn. Let’s all point and laugh at the disadvantaged people in society. It’s their fault they’re poor, unemployed, stupid, ill, struggling with debt – delete as required. There are very few reasons to watch the channel at all. But the tone of the adverts for Rich House, Poor House was quite different. This programme was billed as an experiment in happiness. Would it be repellant Victorian slum tourism, or something more worthy?

In episode one we meet the Caddy and Williams families, both big families by the UK standard. The premise is that they swap homes, budgets and lives for a typical week. Each family is selected from the richest and poorest 10% of the UK.

The Williams are at the poor end of the spectrum. Mum Kayleigh and Dad Antony have 6 kids, a product of a blended family. They rent a house in a council estate in Weston Super Mare and proudly they announce they are not on benefits. They survive on just £110 per week after rent and bills. Only 22 miles away from them in frighfully middle-class Clifton live James and Claire Caddy with their 5 kids. The family is older than the Williams with some children at university. Their spending money is a frankly staggering £1700 per week, mainly I think thanks to young and hip looking Dad James with floppy Brian Cox hair who is semi-retired after selling his software company.

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Christmas Telly Round-Up 2017

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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Where is the bear?

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Channel 4)

Michael Rosen’s picture book has very little in the way of peril. While being no expert on children’s books, I have read this recently to friends’ kids. The family bereavement subplot seemed to have been slotted in to pad out an extremely short story into 30 minutes of television, and to give that little bit of Christmas pathos that we seem to expect from everything in December, especially adverts. Who would have thought that after being totally traumatised last year (at the age of 33) by Cormac McCarthy’s Stick Man (turns out his nom de plume for kid’s books is Julia Donaldson), that I’d be wistful for a seasonal cartoon with a real adventure in it.

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Stephanie and Christina from Gogglesprogs

Gogglesprogs (Channel 4)

Cult telly, now mega-hit format Gogglebox (viewers talking about telly, on the telly, to you the viewers) is by turns charming and irritating, depending largely on whether you like the particular family passing comment and whether they agree with you. However, the mini-people version Gogglesprogs is always a treat and it was lovely to check in with these favourite nieces and nephews this year. My, how they’ve grown. Mr H and I had bets on who was going to cry (always Christina, always Molly). We did not expect it to be serious and sensible Ashton, crying at the complicated emotions and longing for lost childhood thrown up by Toy Story 3. He’s no older than 11 and already he’s so grown up. Old before his time and very wise. What a guy.

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Long to reign over us

The Windsors (Channel 4)

People either loved or hated the first series of this exceptionally silly royal satire, which was on Channel 4 in April 2016. I’m guessing there’s a big intersection in the Venn diagram labeled “extremely silly” and “Daily Mail reader”. Surprised there’s not an e-petition for them to be charged with treason and locked in the Tower. But then Netflix had to go and make The Crown, which is almost exactly the same – writers making up behind-the-scenes stories and motivations for our most recognisable and unknowable dysfunctional family. Ok, so in The Windsors Kate is a proud tyre-selling gypsy, Camilla is a scheming bitch desperate to be Queen and brash Fergie and her awful sloany daughters have to stay in the stables at Christmas because Charles won’t let them in the house. None of these are plots on The Crown, yet. Yes it’s vicious Spitting Image style satire, but it’s funny because it’s all quite likely in our collective imagination.

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Big bad sad wolf

Revolting Rhymes (BBC1)

It’s unusual to have a cartoon version of Roald Dahl’s characters without much of a nod to Quentin Blake. This two-part special had was soft and warm where Blake’s illustrations are scratchy and angular. But style and content couldn’t have been more dissimilar. This mixed-up series of fairy tales is rather slow and ponderous to start with but the end of the first episode really ramps up the revolting elements. It’s almost too unsettling for children and certainly freaked me out. Who walks around in a coat made from the skin of her enemies? Little Red Riding Hood, of course. Strange as someone who is still nervous around wolves, thanks to their terrifying presence in all the best children’s books, this made me feel quite a lot of sympathy for the Big Bad Wolf. Dominic West’s vocal talents made him angry, vicious and vulnerable. Probably felt quite at home among these sadistic killers.

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Saiful Islam is this year’s RI presenter

Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (BBC4)

It’s a good thing that the lectures are only an annual event. Sadly they’re never as interesting as you remember and always quite a chore to watch. What with it being an actual televised scientific lecture from the Royal Institute in London there are too many moving parts and moving experiments on and off stage interrupt the flow. Usually at least you get to see kids taking part in exciting experiments but episode 1 was all about generating alternative sources of electricity so all Saiful Islam could really do was send a series of children around the building to read numbers off of various screens. And it was all a bit depressing really as the target remained firmly out of reach. It made renewable energy seem difficult and a bit pointless; hardly their intention. I think most people watch the lectures halfway through a chocolate orange and a game of Monopoly, hoping for some science knowledge to be stirred by osmosis. This is a shame as BBC science tv can do so much better.

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Cunk asks the hard questions about Christmas

Cunk on Christmas (BBC2)

Diane Morgan’s brilliant comedy creation makes a welcome return after the amazing Cunk on Shakespeare shown in May. Her investigations are always nonsense, always with an element of truth. It’s deft comedy dressed up as daft documentary. I’d worried now that she’s a big hit she might not have much of a shelf life, like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G but she continues to baffle historians and other boffins who surely know she’s a comedian playing the interviews for hugely awkward laughs. Cunk’s musings are so ridiculous and the documentary style is so beautifully done that you can’t see the joins. She’s an absolute wonder and might even have more staying power than Charlie Brooker’s Wipe series, who elicited more sympathy than laughs in his annual review of the news. Who’d be a political satirist in 2016?

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Sue Perkins’ new chums, and not a cake in sight

Insert Name Here (BBC2)

Sue Perkins has a new job guys! We don’t need to worry that she’ll struggle to make ends meet in 2017 without cakes. This comedy panel show actually had its first full series in 2016 but was a bit hidden away in the schedules. There’s nothing revolutionary or even very exciting about the format (questions on famous people who all share a first name). Honestly, despite being a big fan of Sue Perkins, I didn’t have high hopes but it seemed to find its niche rather well. The host and team captains – Richard Osman (the clever one) and Josh Widdicombe (the naughty one) – seemed to gel after the first couple of episodes. I also liked how BBC historians including Kate Williams and Ruth Goodman got to appear very knowledgable and let their hair down a bit. Hopefully this Christmas outing means some more viewers for the second series due this month.

All the shows above are available either on BBC iPlayer or All4 for you to catch up while you finish up the chocolate and cheese and pretend you don’t have to go back to work/ school this week.

“Mr vs Mrs: Call the Mediator” – On the Box

When your friends fall in love, and they invariably, do it’s ALL they can talk about. In a very real and present danger of you being bored death, but you’re a good friend so you sit and smile and try not to puke when they get on to the topic of nicknames *shudder*. Well shnookums, if friends are getting divorced, however supportive you are by nature, I recommend running screaming for the hills.

This new insight is based on BBC 2 documentary Mr vs Mrs: Call the Mediator which I sat and watched, despite the silly name. It’s a view into the rather secretive work of the National Family Mediation service which has 500 locations across England and Wales and plenty of warring couples to offer up to the tv cameras.

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