Monthly Archives: February 2013

‘Heading Out’ – Episode 1.1 Review

Heading Out, Sue Perkins’s sitcom about a quadragenarian vet, got off to a comfortable start last night but just fell short of living up to the hype surrounding it.

LAUGHING, THINKING AND UNDERSTANDING

Perkins, as well as having written the series, also stars in it as Sara – a successful career woman who, as we join her on the day of her fortieth birthday, has still not told her parents that she is gay. On Wednesday’s This Morning, Perkins told of how she wanted to write Heading Out in order to, “make people laugh, make people think and make people feel and understand that everyone’s the same”. I think we can safely say that, in that respect, she has succeeded. Sara is not your stereotypical lesbian: she’s neither big, burly nor butch. In actual fact, she’s just a person and that’s refreshing to see. The misconception seems to be that, to play a gay man in comedy, you have to portray some mincing queen, running around screaming their tits off about their sexuality. Think Rory in Mrs Brown’s Boys or Gimme Gimme Gimme’s Tom – both of which are shows and characters I love and do represent a section of society, just not the majority. It’s harder to generalise about how straight actresses play lesbians, however, as we seldom see them. Of course, a lot of people have that embarrassingly incorrect assumption that all lesbians are shaven-headed and immensely masculine but that’s simply not true. And that is precisely what Sue Perkins proves – not only as herself but when she is playing Sara: a successful, likeable woman who just so happens to be gay.

EDGING OUT

So, now that I’ve jumped off of my soapbox and finished my lecture about generalisations, I’ll get back to the matter in hand: reviewing Heading Out. The cast list reads as a Who’s Who of British comedy. In the first episode, we saw not only Sue but Dominic Coleman (Trollied), Joanna Scanlan (Getting On), Mark Heap (Friday Night Dinner) and Jeff Rawle (Doc Martin). That’s not where it ends, though: we still have appearances from (I think it’s safe to say) national treasure, Dawn French; Benidorm star and 25% of the League of Gentlemen, Steve Pemberton; Jack Dee’s long-suffering on-screen wife, Raquel Cassidy; and Sue’s Bake Off mate, Mel Giedroyc. That is an impressive cast list, and it is perhaps a sign of the good things to come that such big names agreed to appear.

Actually, that’s the point: ‘good things to come’. My overall opinion on Heading Out was that it shows great promise. The first episode felt slightly clunky and was clearly an attempt to familiarise the viewers with the characters. Then again, that’s the aim of every sitcom’s opening episode – but it’s bloody difficult to do. As sketch shows tend to involve over-the-top caricatures, it’s often quite easy to encapsulate a character within a few minutes.  However, even fourth-wall-breaking sitcoms, such as Miranda or Mrs Brown’s Boys, can’t have every character walk into shot, turn to the camera and state their name, age and where they come from – Blind Date-style. No, that would seem too formulaic, be lacking a plot and have the viewer switching to News at Ten in an instant. Instead, it is far more customary to have a showcase of each character’s personality woven into the plot, so that the audience understand and possibly connect with that person, without having them rammed down their throats…if you get my drift. At the moment, I’m simultaneously itching to begin and desperately putting off writing a new script. I know the characters inside-out but I also know that I have to seamlessly convey that in my script with apparent ease, so that whoever is reading it will soon get to know them as well as I do. BUT IT’S DIFFICULT! Once again, I have gone off on a tangent (I really must learn how to structure my writing) but what I’m trying to say is that I can empathise with Sue Perkins and understand how, although present, jokes were put on the back burner somewhat in this episode as characterisation and the establishment of plot took priority.

 

So, with a good plot and characters with potential, Heading Out will no doubt become a staple of my Tuesday nights. I have a feeling that, just as with Victoria Wood in dinnerladies, as the writer of the show, Perkins will pretend that her character is the protagonist, but her presence will merely be to allow the brilliance of the characters orbiting around her to come to the fore – something which has begun already with Joanna Scanlan’s brilliantly boisterous therapist.

Heading Out is on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on BBC2 and BBC HD

What did you think of Heading Out? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.

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‘The Spa’ – Episode 1.1 Review

Written by and starring Benidorm creator Derren Litten, alongside Rebecca Front and Tim Healy, Sky Living’s new sitcom The Spa has begun, following the day-to-day, and hectic, lives of people working in…a spa.

ODD’

It’s hard for me to be too enthusiastic about this show because it didn’t blow me away in quite the same way as Benidorm did when I first watched it (and I’m sure as when many others did, too). Having said that though, there’s nothing there which I can hugely criticise. It’s as odd as the characters within.

“’EY UP, PET”

Once you get over Tim Healy (renowned for his strong Geordie accent) playing a Lancastrian odd-job man, you can enjoy the jokes which, while quite a few minutes apart and more obvious than a bowling ball in a bag of diamonds, are very good.

IRRITATED’

While watching this first episode, I felt slightly irritated by the lack of storyline. Actually, ‘lack of’ should read ‘pretty much absence of’. Litten seems to have penned this episode as a showcase for his characters – so that we can become acquainted with them and their ways. For example, Alison (the manageress, played beautifully by Rebecca Front) is a tactless busybody; Eric (Tim Healy) is an odd-job man who cannot see the harm in wearing shorts, despite his (ridiculously) huge penis falling out at inappropriate moments; Marcus (Litten) is a disgruntled fitness instructor now seeking compensation, having been rendered disabled after an accident at the spa; Niky Wardley plays dizzy receptionist Sally; and Cheryl Fergison (‘Heather off Eastenders’) is an overweight spa guest, comically named Bergita (pronounced ‘Big Eater’).

Despite providing a few laughs along the way, these people don’t seem to be much more than stock characters which is a shame as the characters in Benidorm could potentially have been this, but instead were given depth to them – so we know Derren Litten can do it.

 

I’m not saying The Spa wasn’t enjoyable – it was – but just don’t watch it expecting laugh-a-minute stuff. Laugh-every-four-minutes would be more accurate.

The Spa is on Thursdays at 9:00pm on Sky Living

What did you think of The Spa? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.

‘Being Eileen’ – Episode 1.1 Review

Being Eileen, the BBC’s new comedy-drama, spun-off from 2011 Christmas special Lapland, began on Monday night.

It would be fair to say that Lapland wasn’t greatly received. Many people said that it was an overly dramatic depiction of a feuding family, considering it aired on Christmas Eve. Less kissing under the mistletoe, more storming off because someone ate the last purple Quality Street. Recently, I read some of the reviews of Lapland and thought that some, particularly Tom Sutcliffe’s for The Independent, were more critical than perhaps necessary – I certainly don’t remember the show being that bad, although I do recall it not exactly filling me with festive cheer.

Giving its almost mainly negative press, therefore, I was surprised to read in October last year that the Lewis family were to be brought back for a full series. The full series in question has turned out to be Being Eileen – which I had hoped would show that its Olivier Award-winning writer Michael Wynne has found his feet with his characters. Alas, however, it has not.

COME ON, EILEEN!

Sorry – I couldn’t resist

Being Eileen’s opening episode involved the eponymous widow (played by Sue Johnston) disappearing on a spur-of-the-moment trip to the local planetarium, despite already agreeing to look after her grandsons Jack and Liam. Cue an exasperated family desperately trying to find her, but always failing to by either Eileen not picking up her phone or by them failing to spot her, and vice versa, outside of the aforementioned planetarium. This went on for around twenty- to twenty five-minutes. Now, it may have been quite funny if it had been confined to five minutes but Wynne seemed to dismiss this possibility, and instead laboriously stretched it to at least four times that! Hence, Being Eileen, as a whole, seemed to drag.

‘JUST A PROGRAMME’

Don’t get me wrong: this show has a star-studded cast of Sue Johnston (The Royle Family), Dean Andrews (Life on Mars), Elizabeth Berrington (Stella), William Ash (Great Night Out) and Julie Graham (At Home With the Braithwaites) but even they couldn’t save it. Just like its festive predecessor, Being Eileen seemed neither to succeed with being a comedy, nor a drama – it was just a programme. I tittered once throughout the whole thirty-minutes and then only briefly at Eileen’s mobile phone ringing during a cinematic screening of a documentary at the planetarium – loudly sounding her ‘Gangnam Style’ ringtone to her disgruntled fellow physicists. That, sadly, was as far as Being Eileen entertained me.

WANTED: CHARACTERISATION

The main flaw in this comedy seems to be the characters. William Ash is a good actor but has been given such a tedious, one-dimensional character in Ray that I dread seeing him onscreen. In fact, the only actor who has been given a rounded character is Elizabeth Berrington (Paula) – the others make the most of their roles but there is little in the script for them to utilise. You’d think that Michael Wynne would at least have put some effort into the characterisation of his lead, Eileen.

 

Perhaps I’m in the minority and perhaps I expected too much – I’ve just read reviews from The Telegraph and even The Independent where Tom Sutcliffe has given it a slightly more positive review than he did back in December 2011. I may tune in again next week to see if I enjoy it any more but until then, I’ll keep my fingers crossed yet again that the show will finally have found its feet.

Being Eileen is on Mondays at 10:35pm on BBC1

What did you think of Being Eileen? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.

‘Derek’ – Episode 1.1 Review

Following a moderately successful pilot episode last year, Ricky Gervais’s care home comedy-drama Derek has begun its first full run on Channel 4. The show has split opinion (much like Gervais does himself) – some love it, some absolutely despise it. Thankfully, I fall into the former camp.

ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE?

I think people’s main problem with Derek is that when you see Ricky Gervais, you immediately think of David Brent or Andy Millman, so to see him play Derek – someone so different to those characters – doesn’t seem right in a way.

I must admit that, love it as I do, I do sometimes see scenes in Derek as a little self-indulgent on Gervais’s part. Also, there are stark similarities to what is arguably his biggest success: The Office. With the shaky camera, talking heads and naturalistic dialogue, you can see why many may see Derek as Gervais’s attempt to take some of the magic from Wernham Hogg and sprinkle it over Broad Hill retirement home – only without his long-term collaborator Stephen Merchant in tow. I mean, come on: Derek even does the clueless and slightly ironic looks to camera which have for so long been synonymous with Slough’s most self-deprecating sales rep, Tim.

Then again, are those really criticisms of Derek? Brilliant as those characters are, would we want to see Ricky Gervais spend the rest of his career being type-casted as socially awkward, deluded protagonists? Can we really blame him for creating a character which is in such contrast to those previously mentioned, just so that he can lessen his chances of venturing outside, plagued by incessant screeches of ‘Is he ‘aving a laugh?’? No!

Plus, is there truly anything wrong with Derek bearing resemblance to the double Golden Globe-winning, Emmy-nominated The Office? The advice for writers is invariably ‘stick to what you know’. Renowned formats are what Gervais knows, and are what Gervais is clearly sticking to.

CRITICISM

People are always going to criticise, no matter what. I once heard a story of a teacher saving a naturally grateful pupil from choking by performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre, but in the process cracking the boy’s ribs. On having this story recounted to him, one of my friends said, ‘My God! You cracked his ribs? I wouldn’t have thanked you!’. People, as I said, will always criticise – and so it is with Derek, Ricky Gervais and comedy in general. However, I fail to understand how anyone can deny the absolute sublime brilliance of this piece. It’s sweet, it’s warm, it’s sad. Okay, it doesn’t provide the laughs of The Office or even Extras but Gervais himself has never chosen to categorise it as a comedy, as such. In an interview with the British Comedy Guide he said on the subject of it being a comedy or a drama, ‘The answer doesn’t matter really. What matters if you enjoy it…for whatever reason.’ Well I certainly did enjoy it – and so did 1.4 million others…presumably.

Derek is never intended to have audiences rolling around laughing: it has been crafted in order to have people reaching for the tissues crying. I seldom get tearful over TV shows – and I didn’t with Derek – but it’s easy to see why people do. If you eradicate the whole argument of whether Gervais’s performance portrays the character to be mentally disabled, you will see that he presents for us a very sympathetic, likeable man who is the perfect vehicle for him to convey the underlying message about those who are being portrayed within it and how we, as a society, regard them.

A MESSAGE TO CONVEY

Coupled with his genuine love for the character, it is palpable that Gervais has created Derek in order to get across his statement about society’s attitudes. When the pilot of this show aired in Spring 2012, a lot of people (critics and newspaper columnists in particular) speculated that the character is Autistic – something which Gervais has denied in the press previously (stating in an interview with The Sun in March last year, ‘I’ve never thought of him as disabled’) and which he brazenly referenced towards the end of the first episode of this series. When a Council representative visiting the retirement home insensitively questioned Derek as to whether he had ever been tested for Autism, Derek offered a stream of questions about what would happen, should he be Autistic, such as, ‘Would I die?’, ‘Would I have to go into a hospital?’ and ‘Would it change me in any way as a person?’. Having received a ‘no’ to all of these queries, our eponymous hero simply said ‘Don’t worry about it then’. In this small dialogue, which lasted no more than a minute, Gervais perfectly summed up his feelings: so what if Derek is Autistic? Can’t we just enjoy him for the unassuming, kind-natured person he so clearly is without questioning whether he has a disorder or not? For Gervais to reply to his critics so concisely through the mouth of Derek was perfect and ingenious.

In addition, the home’s manager, Hannah (expertly played by Kerry Godliman), delivered a brilliant monologue about caring for the elderly and how much they deserve that care. Had that speech not originated from the pen of Gervais, to be brought to life by the talent of Godliman, it may have seemed sickeningly sentimental but it wasn’t: it managed to convey its message fully without trying too hard.

 

When I’ve been previewing the week’s TV in my YouTube videos, I’ve championed Derek pretty much throughout and although I love it and have given it a very complimentary review here, I completely understand that it won’t be for everyone. For some, Ricky Gervais himself is unpalatable, so the thought of watching him portray a character who has been (and possibly still is) regarded as politically incorrect is unbearable. However, I implore you to simply give Derek a chance. Whereas I adore The Office and Extras, I’m not a fan of Gervais’s stand-up routines – therefore I’m not a devout fan of his. Nevertheless, I have found a place in my heart for Derek and I’m sure that, given the chance and provided that they don’t start watching with the expectation of laugh-a-minute material, many other people will too.

Derek is on Wednesdays at 10pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Derek? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.

‘Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe’ – Episode 1.1 Review

There’s something strangely endearing about the professionally angry Charlie Brooker’s confrontational, half-arsed approach to making TV – something which was solidified with the opening episode of his new show in the Wipe franchise, Weekly Wipe.

A SYNOPSIS

Yes! We’ve had Gameswipe, Newswipe and Screenwipe but in Weekly Wipe, we now have an amalgamation of the latter two. If you’ve somehow managed to escape the increasing prominence of Charlton Brooker in our lives then let me explain the premise of this show (which you can then apply to almost every TV show he has ever fronted): Brooker sits on a sofa in what appears to be an untidy flat, criticising anyone or anything which dares appear on the TV screen in front of him. He has regular contributions from comedians you may recognise from Mock the Week or 8 Out of 10 Cats but the gems in the show come from the mouth of the man himself as he pontificates his acerbic opinions to the nation. I, and many others, absolutely love it.

INTANGIBLE CHARM’

As always, he pulled no punches in the first of his Weekly Wipes – especially with shamed cyclist Lance Armstrong.

In fact, only Charlie Brooker could get away with demeaning renowned diver Tom Daley’s Olympic efforts by dubbing his sport, ‘Falling into water without flapping your arms around and screaming “SHIT!”’. The fact that he was able to say this and not seem overly malicious demonstrates my point: he has an intangible charm which many commentators could only dream of possessing and which requires reviewers such as myself to point out: as Brooker never will.

JUST ONE THING…

My only criticism of Wipe would be that we see a little too much of American comedian Doug Stanhope – well, we did in this episode at least. I’m not a huge fan of American comedy anyway. I know I’m alone here but I don’t find Friends, Big Bang Theory or, in particular, Rich Hall very funny. I tune in to see and hear Charlie Brooker, not Doug Stanhope. The other contributors are quite entertaining and offer bizarre takes on often serious stories but Stanhope? I just don’t get it…

It’s going to take a lot more than Doug Stanhope to ruin my enjoyment of Weekly Wipe, though. Then again, I don’t think anything could stop me enjoying this.

Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe is on Thursdays at 10pm on BBC2 and BBC HD

What did you think of Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.