‘Porridge’ (BBC1) Review

With Are You Being Served? having heralded the beginning of the BBC’s string of classic sitcom revamps at 9pm, Porridge was up next, starring Kevin Bishop as Fletcher – the grandson of Ronnie Barker’s Norman Stanley – who has been imprisoned for cyber crimes.

On paper, Porridge sounded promising. Unlike Are You Being Served?, it was coming from the pens of its original writers and creators, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and the lead role of Fletch had been put in the capable hands of comedian Kevin Bishop. One can only imagine the pressure that Mark Bonnar as Officer Meekie alongside Kevin Bishop as Fletch Bishop felt; as recently as last year, Porridge was voted the fifth best-loved British sitcom by the public, proving that our affection for not only the series but the character of Norman Stanley Fletcher, too, was as strong as ever. So, even if he wasn’t playing the same role as Ronnie Barker, as the protagonist in Porridge Bishop had huge shoes to fill and high expectations to meet. I doubt anyone truly expected it to surpass or even meet the standards of the original series, but I found this episode to be poor even on its own merits.

Where was the originality? Where was the charm that made the series so popular in the 70s, and continually so to this day? It all just seemed to be badly pitched and not thought-through well enough at all. One got the impression on watching it that Clement and La Frenais focused too much on rehashing old jokes – from the ‘I won’t let you catch me’ conversation with Mackay/Meekie to  the cheeky ‘two fingers’ to the prison officers, via a pineapple chunks motif – that they omitted anything genuinely funny from their script.

Another focus of the writers’ that seemed to have been given undue time and attention was the  impression upon the audience that this episode of Porridge is set in the 21st century – unlike the old episodes of Porridge, which were made and set in the Dave Hill and Bishop as cellmates Lotterby and Fletch70s. For example, while Barker’s Fletch was banged-up for attempting to steal a lorry, Bishop’s incarnation has committed a string of cyber crimes – because it’s the 21st century, so obviously his imprisonment’s something to do with computers. Then, within the first few post-titles scenes, there are references to gluten-free food, Sepp Blatter and Wikipedia, because those things weren’t around in the 70s but they are now, in 2016, and of course everyone’s dropping them into casual conversation. There was even a young character calling Fletch ‘bro’ – because that’s what all the youth say nowadays, you see, and Clement and La Frenais are so ‘down’ with that. Oh, and they then have a character tell Fletch that he ‘smoked some lethal crow last night’ and ‘was well-blunted’ – you know, just in case you were in any doubt as to whether this was still set in the 70s. ‘Bro’.

Calling this show Porridge was always going to be an albatross around its neck, and so it’s transpired to be. Kevin Bishop may have put in a commendable performance as Fletcher 3.0, but when working with a below-par script that I could scarcely believe was the work of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais themselves, even he wasn’t enough to save it. Then again, I had a similar reaction to the pilot of Still Open All Hours, yet that was commissioned for a full series and has since gone from strength to strength, so perhaps Porridge will follow suit. However, I expect the quality of the scripts would have to improve somewhat, as this seemed to be nothing more than a pale imitation of the original.

The cast of 'Porridge'All images thanks to Scott Kershaw and ©BBC

Porridge is available on BBC iPlayer until 27th September 2016.

The Landmark Sitcom Season continues throughout August and September across the BBC. Full details can be found on the British Comedy Guide.

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‘Are You Being Served?’ (BBC1) Review

Following on from a very vague press release in September 2015, earlier this year the BBC announced full details of its Landmark Sitcom Season, launched to celebrate 60 years since Hancock’s Half Hour began on television. Some noted at the time that it would perhaps have made more sense for the BBC to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its first-ever, and arguably the world’s first-ever, TV sitcom, Pinwright’s Progress in 2016, rather than the sexagenary of Hancock – but those small voices were quickly silenced by other, louder ones, who focused on the news that, in addition to documentaries and panel shows and new pilots for BBC2, a host of classics would be resurrected as part of the celebrations. The announcement of new episodes of Porridge, Are You Being Served? and Goodnight Sweetheart, alongside a Keeping Up Appearances prequel, saw some comedy fans rejoicing. Many more, however, adopted the same attitude that is exhibited towards most comedy remakes, and were understandably wary.

Kicking off the Landmark Sitcom Season last night wasSherrie Hewson as Mrs Slocombe alongside Niky Wardley as Miss Brahms Are You Being Served?, which came from the pen of Benidorm creator Derren Litten, following David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s deaths in 2011 and ‘14, respectively. So, with the creators and writers having passed away, and only one original cast member surviving, many were sceptical as to whether the new Are You Being Served? could match its predecessor. Of course, deep down everyone knew that it never would – but I doubt I’m alone in being surprised that Litten came closer than anyone imagined.

A heavy plot was neither needed nor provided, with broad innuendoes and cosy nostalgia being the order of the day. From the first trill of the cash register and sweeping shot of the set, a se nse of familiarity was immediately instilled, and this continued throughout the next thirty minutes. Despite  Sherrie Hewson’s Mrs Slocombe (pictured, above) appearing to be little more than a watered-down Joyce Temple-Savage – her formidable manageress character in Benidorm – the cast and script were as near perfection as it was reasonable to expect. Litten proved quite quickly that his intention was not to create entirely predictable innuendo or simply rely on the show’s age-old catchphrases, as once Mr Humphries had declared ‘I’m free!’ and Mrs Slocombe’s pussy had Jason Watkins as Mr Humphrieshad its moment in the spotlight, what the audience were left with was a pleasing script with moments of genuine brilliance, delivered by a cast of sitcom regulars who pitched their performances just right; distinguishable from their predecessors while also instantly familiar. Jason Watkins’s Mr Humphries (pictured, left) was a particular delight, providing proof – if proof were needed – that he is an actor of supreme talent. Few spring to mind who could portray Christopher Jefferies, the former teacher who was falsely accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates in 2010, with such sensitivity and authenticity, then slip into the kitten heels of the limp-wristed Mr Humphries – yet seem entirely suited to both.

The episode may have seemed cut-short, being wrapped up just as a plot was begin to take form, but this was an otherwise perfectly-pitched remake of an audience classic. One would have struggled to think of a writer better qualified to bring back Are You Being Served?, and I would be incredibly surprised if it didn’t follow in the footsteps of Still Open All Hours and were not at least considered for a more permanent return.

The cast of 'Are You Being Served?'All images ©BBC 

Are You Being Served? is available on BBC iPlayer until 27th September 2016.

The Landmark Sitcom Season continues throughout August and September across the BBC. Full details can be found on the British Comedy Guide.

What did you think of Are You Being Served? Do you agree or disagree with this review? Please comment below or tweet @UKTVReviewer.

‘Josh’ (BBC3) Review

From one of the stars of Channel 4’s The Last Leg comes eponymous new sitcom, Josh, focusing on, alongside Josh himself, his flatmates, Owen and Kate (Beattie Edmondson), and their rather odd landlord, Geoff. A premise of three unlucky-in-love friends who often have to deal with with their interfering landlord is typical sitcom fodder, and the script transpired to be, too – leading to what I found to be a rather dire thirty minutes.

One look at the credits would have told you that this had the makings of a good sitcom; as well as Josh Widdicombe himself, the cast was also comprised of Radio 4 regular, Elis James (Owen), and the ever-reliable Jack Dee (Geoff). The series has been directed by David Schneider – whose face you’ve almost certainly seen if you’ve watched any sitcom since the 90s – and can boast that its Owen (Elis James) and Josh Widdicombe (Josh)Executive Producer is Stephen McCrum, the man who was responsible for bringing Mrs Brown’s Boys to the BBC (whether or not you think that that is something to ‘boast’ about is, of course, down to you). So, Josh has numerous established, successful comedy names working both on- and off-screen. That begs the question, therefore, why on earth did it fall so flat? The answer appears to be quite simple: the script wasn’t of the quality that it should have been. This was the implication within the twenty seconds of this episode, when a vignette clearly designed to establish Josh and Owen’s statuses as ‘unlucky with the ladies’ ended with a predictable whimper, and set the tone for the subsequent twenty eight minutes.

It wasn’t just the jokes – or apparent lack thereof – that resulted in the show failing to meet many fans’ expectations, however; I found that ‘Fictional Josh’s’ remarkable similarity to ‘Real Josh’ was an irritating distraction from the beginning. In the BBC’s press release, ‘Fictional Josh’ is described Josh Widdicombe (Josh) as a ‘baby-faced Victor Meldrew,’ which is annoying for two reasons: firstly, David Renwick’s scripts were funny; and secondly, a ‘baby-faced Victor Meldrew’ is an incredibly apt description of Josh Widdicombe himself. There seems not to have been any distinction made between the character and the comedian, which gives the episode an air of being merely a stand-up routine about chlorine allergies, the annoyances of ‘reply all’ emails and the inability to swim, brought to life. Of course, it would be ridiculous for the two Joshes to be poles apart – but they shouldn’t be carbon copies of each other like this, either. Hence, they just need to be similar – it’s what’s necessary for the sitcom to feel like a sitcom. For instance, we all know that Miranda Hart is probably capable of walking down the street without falling over or making innuendo with a complete stranger, unlike ‘Fictional Miranda’, so we can set the two versions of her apart. Likewise, all fans of Not Going Out know perfectly well that Lee Mack isn’t a feckless layabout – despite what we see of ‘Fictional Lee’. Josh Widdicombe taking his awkward, pedantic, quietly irritated stage persona and creating an awkward, pedantic, quietly irritated character called Josh, however, just didn’t seem to work.

Having not seen last year’s iPlayer short that acted as a springboard for this series, I was really looking forward to Josh, but have been left disappointed by the opening episode. Josh himself is genuinely a great comedian – as both a writer and performer – and it is likely that this reputation led to high expectations, and the show not hitting the mark. He had the potential to make the stand-up-to-sitcom transition as smoothly as Lee Mack, Nick Helm or even Josh star, Jack Dee himself – but, if we’re to judge the series based on this opening episode, it appears that he has not managed it.

  Image credit: Thanks to Des Willie, ©BBC

Josh is on Wednesdays at 10:30pm on BBC3

What did you think of Josh? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Cradle to Grave’ (BBC2) Review

Thursdays nights are quickly becoming the night for TV comedy, with most channels appearing to choose them as the testing ground for new ideas. Take most of ITV2’s panel shows, for example, or Sky Arts’ new ‘Silent Comedy Season’, due to begin this week (10th September). Even Have I Got News For You abandoned its usual Friday night slot a few years ago to test the pre-weekend waters. Thursday is also the night that BBC2 have chosen to launch their new comedy double-bill. Preceding Boy Meets Girl was Cradle to Grave; a sitcom based on the autobiography of Danny Baker, and co-written by both him and Jeff Pope, the man behind some of the most successful television biopics of  recent years – Cilla, Mrs Biggs and Lucan, to name just a few.

The series focuses on a 15-year-old Danny (LaurieLaurie Kynaston as Danny in 'Cradle to Grave'

Courtesy of BBC and Matt Squire
© ITV Studios Kynaston, pictured right) and his struggles to navigate his way through  adolescence during the early- to mid-70s while also living at home with his rather eccentric family – and they don’t come much more eccentric than his dad, Fred. Known to all as Spud, Danny’s dad is a loud and proud docker, with a penchant for a scheme or two but overarching love of his family.

On the surface, Cradle to Grave has all the makings of a hit series. As well as borrowing some of the gravitas that its writers bring, it stars Peter Kay (pictured, below left), fresh from his own record-breaking sitcom, Car Share, and promises huge amounts of positive 70s nostalgia (which one feels the BBC is in dire need of at the moment). Despite these undoubtedly bankable qualities, however, this opening episode of Cradle to Grave appeared to miss the mark somewhat. It certainly wasn’t owing to any failure on the part of nostalgia; Danny Baker’s narration at the beginning of the episode gave it its undeniable autobiographical feel and cemented it firmly in 1974, a time that was subsequently Peter Kay as Spud in 'Cradle to Grave'

Thanks to BBC and Matt Squire
©ITV Cradle Ltd. portrayed as one of reckless youth for Baker and strong domestic unity for the nation as a whole. Rather, the problem seemed to arise from characterisation – or lack thereof. Other than Danny himself, the only character that the audience was given time to become familiar with was Spud, his father. By the end of the episode, we understood that he was something of a Del Boy character; boisterous and crafty but with a strong love and appreciation of his family. If I were being particularly harsh, however, I would suggest that Spud only stood out among the rather more ‘beige’ characters because he was both played by Peter Kay and easily comparable to that familiar ‘Del Boy model’. Portrayed by a less well-known actor and distanced from any kind of stock characteristics, I expected he’d fade into the background like everyone else.

Another issue that was particularly noticeable throughout most of the episode but did seem to be resolved within the final ten minutes was that of Baker and Pope’s transference of anecdotes from the page to screen. Naturally, as this series is based on Baker’s Going to Sea in a Sieve memoirs, there will be many stories to fit into the eight episodes. Arguably, the best method of dealing with this would have been for the writers to select the best anecdotes, and the ones on which they could focus and elaborate most easily, and include just one or two in each episode. This way, there could have been more than one plot in each episode but the rather clunky series of disconnected vignettes that we saw during a lot of this first instalment could have been avoided. I’m sure that all of the little anecdotes in this episode were hilarious in print, as a reader is given the opportunity to play them out in his or her own mind – a bit like when everyone tells you, ‘the book’s always better than the film’ – but on screen they simply seem less remarkable. In fact, I’m afraid I found myself wishing that they would end soon, so that I could find out what the real plot of the episode was. Slightly like having to sit through the trailers in the cinema.

Cradle to Grave was in no way a bad sitcom – it was just slightly hazy in places. I’m hoping, though, that as the weeks pass and we spend more time with the Bakers, the laughs will increase as either we become more familiar with the characters or the writers hit their stride. Or both.

The cast of 'Cradle to Grave'

Thanks to BBC and Matt Squire
©ITV Cradle Ltd.

Cradle to Grave is on Thursdays at 9:00pm on BBC2

What did you think of Cradle to Grave? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Mountain Goats’ (BBC1) Review

Back in 2012, Sir David Jason opined, ‘I think [sitcom writers] haven’t been catering enough for families in general. And I think the BBC have taken that on board and are trying to redress the balance.’ This was perhaps the most notable of a long line of cries for a return to so-called ‘family-friendly’ comedy. Inoffensive comedy. Comedy that doesn’t push boundaries. And the BBC have indeed been producing that a lot since Sir David’s call for it. We’ve seen the arrival of Big School,'Mountain Goats' star, Jimmy Chisholm Still Open All Hours and Count Arthur Strong, all of which have been received warmly by viewers, if not always by critics, and proven that there is indeed still a market for ‘family-friendly’ comedy, if it’s  funny. However, there have also been the less successful programmes; the ones that have died a slow, painful death in the make-or-break 10:35pm slot. I’m thinking of The Wright Way, Father Figure and all three of the 2014 Comedy Playhouse pilots – one of which, unsurprisingly, was Mountain Goats.

Originating as Miller’s Mountain during last year’s rather anticlimactic revival of the BBC’s legendary Comedy Playhouse strand, this series follows a team of mountain rescue volunteers in the Scottish Highlands who, when they’re not going to the aid of other people, are drinking copious amounts of alcohol in the local pub, trying to find a home for themselves or desperately escaping their overbearing mother’s advances. Hilarity ensues. One would find it difficult to believe that this is a million miles away from what Sir David had in mind when talking about the BBC ‘catering for families’.

The sad thing is, I simply don’t find Mountain Goats funny – and please don’t think that I’m being disingenuous when I say that that’s ‘sad’. I genuinely 'Mountain Goats' star, Sharon Rooneywant to like sitcoms such as this. The trouble is, nowadays people are all too ready to turn their noses up at such traditional, studio-based  comedy – they dismiss it without giving it a fair go – so, not wanting to jump on that bandwagon, I was desperate to unearth the funny in Mountain Goats but I failed to find it simply because it failed to deliver it. In fact, not even appearances from Doon Mackichan and My Mad Fat Diary’s Sharon Rooney (pictured, left) brought it salvation.

Usually in a sitcom, there’s a sign of promise – perhaps a gag or trait of one of the characters that represents a glimmer of hope for the show – but in Mountain Goats I genuinely struggled to find one. To be frank, I think the problem is that it’s just too bland; there’s nothing in it to suggest that it warranted being commissioned. The larger-than-life characters and subtle-as-a-brick gags may have looked good on paper but in actuality were unoriginal, uninteresting and, ultimately, unfunny.

While a quick look at Twitter will tell you that some people did in fact like Mountain Goats, it will also tell you that I’m in the majority by having not enjoyed it. For the half-an-hour that I spent watching it, I just couldn’t stop thinking about two things: firstly, why writer Donald McLeary hadn’t learned from the numerous mistakes he made in the pilot last year and see this, quite unbelievable, shot at a series as an opportunity to rectify them; and secondly, why at a time when great shows such as The Walshes, Hebburn and Getting On are being axed, things like this are being made.

'Mountain Goats' cast (L-R), David Ireland, Kathryn Howden, Jimmy Chisholm, Sharon Rooney and Kevin Mains All images thanks to BBC Pictures and Alan Peebles, ©BBC

Mountain Goats is on Fridays at 10:35pm on BBC1

What did you think of Mountain Goats? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Ballot Monkeys’ (Channel 4) Review

From the trusted pens of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin. and featuring a strong cast of comedy stars, Channel 4’s new Election-centred sitcom, Ballot Monkeys launched last night, focusing on the backstage goings-on aboard the Labour, Conservative, Lib-Dem and UKIP ‘battle buses’. Generally, it seemed to immediately impress viewers and critics alike – but left me slightly uncertain.

Hamilton and Jenkin are renowned for their rather unorthodox approach to making comedy; their last hit series before Ballot Monkeys, Outnumbered, was of course semi-improvised, and Drop the Dead Donkey, their 90s sitcom set in a television newsroom, often would not complete recording until a few hours before transmission, meaning that the tapes would have to be rushed to Channel 4 in time for their 10pm airing. Ballot Monkeys is filmed in a similar way, with much of the script not actually written until the last minute, allowing for as many topical gags as possible.

And in that respect, Ballot Monkeys worked very well – the stand-out moments from the episode were indeed those that referenced events of the past week. So, a fictional UKIP candidate calling the migrants who recently drowned off the coast of Libya ‘Labour’s new floating voters’, and two Liberals watching with horror Paddy Ashdown’s expletive-laden BBC News interview provided what were, for me, two of the most memorable and enjoyable scenes of the episode – but neither of which could have been achieved if the script had been written weeks in advance.

However, as is the obvious flaw in making TV in this way, it allowed the show to have a slight air of being tossed together at the last moment, and consequently not seem as consistent in quality as it arguably should have been. The hit-rate of gags was lower than I expected of the writers and assembled cast (which included Ben Miller, Sarah Hadland and Hugh Dennis) – and, while the episode was peppered with gems such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph, and smart one-liners from Sarah Hadland’s disastrous UKIP logistics advisor, I even thought that the satire on which Ballot Monkeys apparently prides itself was lacking true bite. The Herald’s Julie McDowall claimed that Ballot Monkeys ‘packed a far stronger satirical punch than ITV’s Newzoids’ but I would even have to disagree with that; for me, Newzoids’ portrayals of the political parties and their leaders were far more effective than those of Ballot Monkeys. And let’s face it: when someone thinks that your satire is inferior to that of a group of impressionists who use puppets and comedy songs as their main weapons, something has to be lacking.

So, perhaps it was just a quiet week for politics but this opening episode of Ballot Monkeys certainly didn’t get my vote in the way that it did other critics. What I believe it did do right, however, was hint at the rather shambolic decisions and ludicrous discussions that are made and had on the main parties’ ‘battle buses’ – so much so that it struck me as the right decision for Channel 4 to have scheduled it the day after the deadline for voting registration, because, if the characters in the show are at all representative of the campaign teams themselves, who’d let anyone like that run the country?The cast of 'Ballot Monkeys': Trevor Cooper, Sarah Hadland, Ben Miller and Hattie Morahan (left-right)Image credit: Thanks to Channel 4, Nicky Johnson and Hat Trick Productions 

Ballot Monkeys is on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Ballot Monkeys? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

This Christmas in TV – 1st – 5th December

It seems not long ago that I sat down to write about what festive treats the TV networks were serving up for us in 2013, yet here we are again: entering the final month of this year, which means it’s time for the Christmas specials to come creeping out once more. Unless, of course, you’ve been watching Channel 5 over the past few weeks; they’ve wasted no time at all in rolling out the festive films!

Monday 1st December

Phillip Schofield’s Text Santa Marathon

ITV, 10:30amPhillip Schofield's Text Santa Marathon - ITV3 from 11:00am

Since its launch in 2011, ITV’s Text Santa appeal has raised a huge £15 million for various charities across the UK. However, it still doesn’t seem to be having a huge impact on the nation. Maybe it’s too soon after Children in Need. Maybe it’s simply too close to Christmas. Whatever the reason, ITV’s third favourite presenter (after Messrs McPartlin and Donnelly, of course), Phillip Schofield, is hoping to raise more awareness for the cause and, hopefully, more money for the six charities involved – more information on which is available on the Text Santa website – by hosting a 24-hour telethon with the aid of some celebrity pals.

Dropping by to help Phil get through his time on air will be the stars of Coronation Street and  Emmerdale, Pixie Lott, The Vamps, Ben Hanlin, some former I’m a Celebrity campmates and even Ant & Dec themselves, on a live link from Australia.

The intrepid Silver Fox will also be getting involved in a few activities as his time on ITV3 – along with the occasional stint on ITV and ITV2 – will see him compete in a national pub quiz, host a live auction for top celebrity memorabilia, become an honorary Loose Woman for the day (ITV, 12:30pm) and be presented with what the network are calling ‘the challenge of a lifetime’…

If you want to make Phillip’s efforts worthwhile, you can donate to Text Santa via his Just Giving page. All proceeds to Text Santa are divided equally between the six chosen charities: Teenage Cancer Trust, WellChild, Together for Short Lives, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Guide Dogs and the Alzheimer’s Society.

Also today: Digital channel Gold kicks off its 25 Days of Christmas; BBC1 answers the question Could I Get Ebola? (7:30pm); Lauren Laverne presents coverage of the announcement of the winner of the Turner Prize (Channel 4, 7:30pm); Wild Weather With Richard Hammond begins by looking at wind (BBC1, 9:00pm); and Channel 5 counts down the Most Shocking TV Moments (10:00pm).

Tuesday 2nd December

17 Kids and Counting 

Channel 4, 9:00pm

Luckily for Schofe, following his 24-hour telethon, he might just be asleep when this documentary'17 Kids and Counting' - Channel 4, 9:00pm airs.

Since we last saw the Radford family as part of the series 16 Kids and Counting last year, a few things have changed. Some of the older children are now looking to leave home, which one may think would give parents Sue and Noel a chance to enjoy a – slightly – quieter home but ‘one’ would be wrong as they are now looking forward to becoming grandparents again.

This one-off documentary follows the Radfords as they prepare for their new arrival and deal with the general trials and tribulations of being Britain’s largest family.

Also today: The semi-final of UK’s Strongest Man (Channel 5, 7:00pm); a repeat of last year’s documentary, Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights (Channel 5, 8:00pm); Autopsy looks at The Last Hours of Elvis Presley (Channel 5, 9:00pm); and there’s another chance to see the 2013 Christmas special of The Sarah Millican Television Programme (BBC2, 10:00pm) – which funnily enough features Phillip Schofield.

Wednesday 3rd December

The Apprentice 

BBC1, 9:00pm

After firing James last week – or Derek, as I believe he is now affectionately known – Lord Sugar sets the remaining eight candidates a task entitled ‘Ten Years of Discount Buying’.

Having been told the task by Lord Sugar personally at the'The Apprentice' - BBC1, 9:00pm house, Teams Summit and Tenacity set out across London in the hope of finding a range of items featured in the previous nine series of the show – but in the hope of spending the least amount of money, not the most. A bit like Supermarket Sweep in reverse.

Surprisingly, despite 20 candidates starting out, this series of The Apprentice has allowed many characters to shine through: Steven, Daniel, Felipe and, of course, the aforementioned James. My favourite candidate, however, and the person I’m rooting for throughout the ‘process’ (the very use of that word make me despise myself) is Katie (pictured, right). Ok, she may be a fellow Mackem but she is also a very good businesswoman, it seems; she’s forceful, brimming with determination and very clever. Unlike many candidates, though, she manages to be all of this without also coming across as vindictive and ruthless. I like to think of her as a slightly watered-down Luisa Zissman.

Of course, Dara Ó Briain follows the main show with the brilliant The Apprentice: You’re Fired! on BBC2. This week, he’s joined by entrepreneur, Mike Soutar and comedian, Romesh Ranganathan.

Also today: Chris Terrill presents documentary series Living on the Edge (Channel 5, 7:00pm); and I’m sure little description is needed for Asbo & Proud (Channel 5, 10:00pm).

Thursday 4th December

The Railway: First Great Western 

Channel 5, 8:00pm

This documentary series taking a look inside one of the UK’s largest rail companies returns for a  second series.'The Railway: First Great Western' - Channel 5, 8:00pm

Last year, we met many of the ticket inspectors, drivers and technical folk who help to keep First Great Western going day-to-day. We saw the daily struggles that they go through, coping with customer complaints, negative press and issues with the rail network, and tonight’s opening episode is no different as we find out how the staff managed to get through the bad weather of last winter.

Also today: Kirsty Young presents the final Crimewatch round up of the year (BBC1, 9:00pm).

Friday 5th December

The Graham Norton Show 

BBC1, 10:35pm

It’s quite widely noted that Graham Norton has a consistently high calibre of guests for his show –'The Graham Norton Show' - BBC1, 10:35pm arguably higher than that of Alan Carr and Jonathan Ross. Many use this argument as a case for  Graham’s show being in some way better than his contemporaries’ but I disagree: calibre doesn’t always equal entertainment in my opinion, and I often prefer to see British performers on such shows rather than big Hollywood types, who are no doubt sick of the seemingly endless queue of interviewers wanting to find out about their latest role.

The big names undoubtedly draw in huge audiences, though, and I can’t imagine a booking more guaranteed to do this than One Direction, who are chatting and performing on Graham’s show this week. They’re not alone on the sofa, though, as Michael Keaton and Jamie Oliver also drop by for a chat, and there will of course be more stories in the infamous Red Chair.

Fingers crossed Harry Styles can find some personality to prevent the interview from dragging along.

Also today: Jack Dee hosts Have I Got News For You (BBC1, 9:00pm); Ross Noble, Kathy Lette and Sue Perkins are quizzed on all things gender-related on QI (BBC2, 10:00pm); and Alan Carr welcomes George Ezra and Lee Evans, who will hopefully find the balance between absurdity and sincerity – unlike on The Jonathan Ross Show last week (Channel 4, 10:00pm).

The next This Week in TV (for 6th – 12th December) will be published at midnight on Monday (1st December).

Are you particularly looking forward to any of these shows or is there something else from the world of TV which you want to have your say about? Feel free to comment below or tweet me –@UKTVReviewer.

Image credits: Phillip Schofield’s Text Santa Marathon – ©ITV PLC; 17 Kids and Counting – Thanks to Channel 4 and Lion TV; The Apprentice – Thanks to BBC, ©Boundless/Jim Marks Photography; The Railway: First Great Western – Thanks to Channel 5; The Graham Norton Show – Thanks to BBC and Christopher Baines, ©So TV.

‘Tumble’ (BBC1) Review

Question: What happens when you toss Strictly and Splash! together and, with some fanfare, stick the end result on primetime BBC1?

The answer is Tumble: a new talent show which requires celebrities to learn gymnastics, of both the floor and aerial varieties. They’re coached by a gymnast, partnered by a gymnast, commentated on by a gymnast, and then judged by a panel of gymnasts; it’s very much a gymnastics-orientated  vehicle. This week, all of the celebrities performed for the  first time and were guaranteed a place in next week’s show – but at the end of the second episode, the two contestants w ho receive the fewest votes will have to take on the Vault, and whoever is deemed to be the poorest will be eliminated. Sad times.

Other than the gymnastics element, there is nothing to set Tumble apart from any other celebrity talent show: the forced drama, mixed bag of routines and tedious judges have all been seen on shows previously. Even the celebrities aren’t new to 'Tumble' contestantsreality TV fans: Andrea McLean competed on the first series of Dancing on Ice; Ian ‘H’ Watkins (the ‘H’ is very important nowadays) has been a Celebrity Big Brother housemate; Emma Samms, as well as being one of the less recognisable faces from Dynasty, was a contestant on Celebrity Scissorhands; and Peter Duncan has been on The Games and Let’s Dance for Sport Relief – as has Carl Froch. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the celebrities – they seem a perfectly amiable bunch – but they’re largely typical reality TV fodder, and are therefore often as disengaging as the training videos in which they feature and routines they perform.

In fact, even the judging panel is quite unappealing, comprising of Louis Smith and three others who, I think it’s safe to say, most viewers of this programme have never heard of, nor have any interest in.'Tumble' judges - (L-R) Sebastien Stella, Louis Smith, Nadia Comăneci and Craig Heap They’re all gymnasts and all are disengaging. I mean, say what you like about Jo Brand’s right to be on the Splash! panel but at least she cracks a few gags and brightens up the mood after her fellow judges have commented on a ten-second belly flop with far more scrutiny than is necessary, or even appropriate, for a Saturday night celebrity competition. Tumble doesn’t even have a Jo Brand figure, though, meaning that the only person who rises above the tedium of his peers is Craig Heap, whose desperate emulation of Strictly’s Craig Revel Horwood is painfully obvious and threatened only by mild conceit.

My main qualm with Tumble, however, was that it didn’t live up to its title – we saw very few 'Tumble' host, Alex Jonestumbles. There’s a reason why the public love shows like You’ve Been Framed and It’ll Be Alright on the Night, and in the past have voted week after week for Todd Carty and Joe Pasquale to stay in Dancing on Ice, and Ann Widdecombe and John Sergeant to endure on Strictly: rightly or wrongly, we love to see failure and accidents on TV. It entertains us as a nation! So, when a show like this comes along, which doesn’t involve something that viewers have at least a smidgen of knowledge and can pass judgement on, like singing or dancing, we long for the accidents – the eponymous ‘tumbles’ – and when they fail to come, it makes for quite a boring show, as Tumble proved to me to be.

I appreciate that the celebrities have put a lot of time and effort into their routines, and Alex Jones did a quite admirable job as host, but the result was something bordering on car crash TV. I imagine that during these summer months, it will prove popular with families, and a few years ago could even  have been lumped into the ‘Bearably Bad’ category – but now that that is occupied by shows like Splash! and Your Face Sounds Familiar, Tumble just seems like a bit of a damp squib.

I’m just preparing myself to pity the BBC when it goes up against The X Factor in a few weeks’ time…


Tumble is on Saturdays at 6:30pm on BBC1

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‘Siblings’ (BBC3) Review

From the – no doubt currently jubilant – production company behind The Inbetweeners comes this new sitcom about ‘the world’s worst brother and sister’: Hannah (Charlotte Ritchie, Fresh Meat) and Dan (Tom Stourton, Common Ground).

Over the course of the six episodes that make up this first series, we will see Hannah and Dan expose, often unwillingly, their selfishness, idiocy and general ineptitude as they muddle through life with seldom much effort at all. The first instalment served up pretty predictable sitcom fodder, with   Hannah trying to impress her new boss (but, unlike in most sitcoms, actually managing it pretty well for a while) and involving her brother, who agrees to pretend to be disabled in order to portray his sister as a caring person with a difficult home life.

As I said, this is typical sitcom fodder – and even the seemingly novel plot of a character posing as someone in a wheelchair, leading to a very awkward social situation or two, will be familiar to fans of shows like Not Going Out, The IT Crowd and Seinfeld. This barely matters, however, as what writers Keith Akushie and Daran Johnson lacked in originality, they made up for in gags. Admittedly, Siblings only really hit its stride, joke-wise, about half way through the first episode, but once it did it was quite a joy, and Dan and Hannah were instantly likeable; he’s incompetent, and she’s only mildly competent, with an abundance of incompetence always threatening to burst out – and sometimes doing so. Their incompetence, laziness and slight depravity make them nothing particularly new on the sitcom scene but they do are potentially hilarious characters, and although this potential was only partially realised in tonight’s opening episode, I have no doubt that the more time we spend with Hannah and Dan, the more we’ll love them and the funnier we’ll find them.

So, Siblings may not have thrown up anything excitingly original but it did provide a good thirty minutes of the sort of enjoyable, cringe-worthy and often bawdy comedy that leaves the audience in no doubt that it’s the work of Bwark Productions. I’d say it’s been a pretty good week for them, wouldn’t you?

Image thanks to: BBC; Bwark; and Ed Miller – ©Bwark

Siblings is on Thursdays at 10:30pm on BBC3

What did you think of Siblings? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘The Inbetweeners 2’ Review

After a three year hiatus, much anticipation and more publicity than Channel 4 could shake Will’s soiled exam pants at, today The Inbetweeners 2 was released nationwide in cinemas – and if the reactions of everyone who joined me in one of the first, packed screenings is anything to go by, has done what was hitherto deemed undoable, and surpassed its 2011 predecessor.

Beyond the worlds of soaps and Mrs Brown’s Boys, you would be hard-pushed to find a TV show with a legion of fans as die-hard and expectant as that of The Inbetweeners. With every new episode on TV and film in cinemas, audiences demand more and more in every sense – but, as we know, for many writers, this is seldom easy to deliver, resulting in very few sequels exceeding, or even meeting, expectations. One can only imagine, therefore, the pressure that The Inbetweeners scribes, Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, were under to create ninety minutes of film that would fulfil every little wish of their loyal fans. We wanted original, ingenious jokes, with the odd nod to old favourites thrown in; we wanted some character development, but no so much that Will, Simon, Jay and Neil had ceased having the traits and nuances for which we love them so much; and, most importantly as this is reportedly the last-ever outing for the lads, we wanted a fitting send-off. Thank God, then, that Morris and Beesley delivered exactly that in abundance.

As would be expected, the lads are no different to how they were when we last left them in 2011: Jay (James Buckley) and Neil (Blake Harrison) are still ‘calling “shotgun”’ and branding others ‘wankers’ (‘briefcase-‘, ‘bus-‘ or otherwise), and Simon’s (Joe Thomas) love life is as beautifully complicated as Will himself (Simon Bird). It’s very difficult to give the film a full review and convey how funny it is while also resisting the urge to reveal some of its best gags – verbal, visual and situational. However, the writers, to reiterate, absolutely deliver the goods by throwing up, as always, a surprise or two – whether that’s the unexpected return of characters, stinging one-liners or a bit of deus ex machina (look it up). Unlike in the original E4 series and first film, however, I felt that the pathos in The Inbetweeners 2 worked only intermittently, being perhaps laid on quite heavy in the latter half of the film. It did, though, show us the gentler side to the characters – particularly Jay – that we seldom get to see. In fact, we learn a lot about Jay in this film – most of all, that his crudeness, brashness and general social ineptitude may be genetic.

I’m sure I need not say it but any fan of The Inbetweeners will not be disappointed by this sequel; while perhaps all but one of the scenes stand-out as much as Neil’s dancing or the loss of Will’s glasses, Morris and Beesley have succeeded in writing ninety minutes of the expletive-laden, sex-fuelled, typically immature, but no less finely crafted, comedy that fans of the show crave and deserve. The companies behind a lot of films pack the best bits into the trailer – but all that you see in that for The Inbetweeners 2 is just the tip of the smutty iceberg.

The Inbetweeners 2 is in cinemas nationwide from today

What did you think of The Inbetweeners 2? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer