Monthly Archives: March 2013

TV Highlights (30th March – 5th April)

Here I provide a comprehensive list of the best of the coming week’s TV.

Saturday 30th March

The Voice UK

BBC1, 7:00pm

Be it a good or a bad thing, The Voice UK returns to BBC1 tonight – along with the same Coaches (not “Judges”): The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue; The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am; Pontypridd’s very own, Tom Jones’; and Chadwell Heath’s finest, Jessie J.

If last year’s series is anything to go by, the coming few weeks’ Blind Auditions will be the highlight of the series – and then it will be downhill from there. The BBC have at least tried to improve this series (with the extension of the Blind Auditions round and halving of the number of Live Shows from six to just three) but whether this will make any difference remains to be seen.

It probably doesn’t help that the show is going up against Saturday Night Takeaway on ITV…

Also today: Doctor Who returns with guest star Celia Imrie (BBC1, 6:15pm); BBC2 screens a tribute to the late Richard Briers (BBC2, 7:00pm); after a week at the top of the charts, Ant & Dec welcome Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan, Michael Buble and Lewis Hamilton to their aforementioned Saturday Night Takeaway (ITV, 7:00pm); and the much-anticipated Life’s Too Short Special is on BBC2 at 10:00pm.

Easter Sunday (31st March)

The Village

BBC1, 9:00pm

An all-star cast led by Maxine Peake (dinnerladies, Silk) and John Simm (Life on Mars, The Lakes) feature in this six-part period drama set in a Derbyshire village.

Depicting the events of the mid- to late-1910s (but narrated from a present day perspective), The Village shows the austere times in which its central family, the Middletons, lived. Over the six weeks, we witness key events which shaped the lives of not just the inhabitants of the village but people nationwide – whether that be political changes or the alternative ways in which people began to view sex, religion and class.

With its amalgamation of the past and present, The Village seems, to me, quite similar to ITV’s Lightfields, which concluded last Wednesday. Whether it be Call the Midwife, Mr Selfridge or the irrepressible Downton Abbey, period drama is proving to be very successful at the moment – so The Village is already guaranteed to be something of a hit. Add to this the strong cast list which it boasts and we look set for a hugely enjoyable drama, filling the void recently left by the previously mentioned triad of programmes.

Also today: Michael Ball welcomes guests such as Nicole Scherzinger, Denise van Outen and Myleene Klass for Andrew Lloyd Webber: 40 Musical Years (ITV, 6:30pm); and, following on from yesterday’s tribute to Richard Briers, BBC2 repeats a documentary profiling one of the late actor’s biggest sitcom hits – All About The Good Life is on at 7:00pm.

Easter Monday (1st April)

Jonathan Creek

BBC1, 9:00pm

Alan Davies dons the duffle coat once again as he is joined by a host of stars including Sheridan Smith, Joanna Lumley and Rik Mayall for an Easter special of David Renwick’s detective drama.

In this episode, a man’s body mysteriously vanishes from a locked room – much to the upset of his wife, Rosalind (Lumley). Jonathan is initially reluctant to get involved with the case but his intrigue gets the better of him and he is soon rejoined by Joey Ross (Smith) to try and crack the case. However, his old rival, DI Gideon Pryke (Mayall) is also back – having last been seen in the show’s 1998 Christmas special. So, the eponymous sleuth now not only has to try and solve the case of the disappearing body, but he also has to do so before Pryke can beat him to it!

Also today: there’s an extended episode of The Gadget Show (Channel 5, 6:55pm); and Hairy Bikers’ Best of British returns to BBC2 (7:00pm).

Tuesday 2nd April

The Syndicate

BBC1, 9:00pm

Kay Mellor’s brilliant drama, following a group of northern hospital workers who win the lottery, continues.

The focus of tonight’s episode is Rose (Alison Steadman) who decides to use her windfall to get her knees treated privately. However, the pressures of the limelight get to her and she turns to Mandy (Siobhan Finneran) for help – but soon realises that she isn’t the only one with problems.

Also today: Claudia Winkleman hosts the first episode of The Great British Sewing Bee (BBC2, 8:00pm); we find out whether Sara will finally tell her parents she’s gay in the last in the series of Heading Out (BBC2, 10:00pm); and Ruby Wax, Alex Horne and Dave Gorman offer their nominations for unusual prizes in the hit-and-miss The Matt Lucas Awards (BBC1, 10:35pm).

Wednesday 3rd April

Hillsborough: Never Forgotten

BBC2, 9:00pm

In this one-off documentary, survivors and the families of victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster speak about the heartache they endured for over twenty years and how last year’s report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel impacted their lives.

In what is bound to be a poignant, thought-provoking film, The Right Rev James Jones (The Bishop of Liverpool and leader of the Independent Panel) discusses how he and his colleagues gathered evidence for and managed to produce the verdict which quashed the original – that citing ‘Accidental Death’.

Also today: Nick Crane returns with a brand new series of Coast on BBC2 at 8:00pm; and Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp are back as sleuths Rachel and Janet in the third series of Scott & Bailey (ITV, 9:00pm).

Thursday 4th April

Prisoners’ Wives

BBC1, 9:00pm

As much as I adore others listed in this post (The Syndicate, Call the Midwife, Downton, etc.), I struggle to think of any TV drama of recent years which has gripped, intrigued and entertained me quite as much as Julie Gearey’s Prisoners’ Wives.

I find it quite difficult to express my love for this programme. Everything about it is special: the writing, acting and direction are as close to perfection as you can get. Regardless of whether you like or dislike a character, you cannot help but be drawn in by their individual story – whether it’s how a prisoner is coping with life on the inside or how their families are coping with life without them on the outside.

The story of Harriet and her troubled son Gavin is particularly heart-wrenching. Such is the intense concoction of love and distrust in their relationship, I know someone who finds it disturbing to watch. This storyline (which sees Harriet finally find love while worrying about her fragile son being pressurised into converting to Islam) has triumphantly showcased the wonderful talents of Pippa Haywood and Adam Gillen. I now neither think of the former as ‘Helen from The Brittas Empire’, nor the latter ‘Lesley’s son from Benidorm’. I regard them as highly competent performers who, as well as making us cry with laughter, can also make us do so with sadness.

There are a lot of loose ends to be tied up in this final episode of the criminally short second series. Will Francesca clear her name? Will Aisling make it down the aisle? Will Kim and Mick move on from her infidelity and his imprisonment? And, most importantly, will Harriet finally be happy?

Also today: former Dragons’ Den investor Hilary Devey helps a group of teenagers find work in The Intern (Channel 4, 9:00pm); Peter Andre: My Life is back on ITV2 at 9:00pm; and Leo Maguire’s True Stories documentary premieres on Channel 4 (10:00pm) as he investigates the appeal of ‘dogging’ – and there isn’t a canine in sight…

Friday 5th April

Not Going Out

BBC1, 9:30pm

A lot of BBC1’s top comedy output returns tonight but the series which I am most looking forward to is undoubtedly Not Going Out.

Now into its sixth series (despite having been axed after its third), Lee Mack’s fast-paced, gag-packed sitcom is still going strong – and remains head-and-shoulders above its contemporaries. Over its seven-year run, the RTS Award-winning sitcom has seen many characters come and go – from Megan Dodds’s Kate, to Simon Dutton’s Guy and, of course, Miranda Hart’s hilariously lazy Barbara. However, this new series sees its biggest departure yet: Tim Vine (who played Lee’s best mate…Tim) has now left the show to concentrate on other things. Now, exactly what those other things are – except his 2012 teatime ITV gameshow, Don’t Blow the Inheritance – I have no idea, but I wish him luck. It seems, though, that a huge Tim-shaped hole will be present over the next eight weeks – and it remains to be seen whether Mack has decided to fill it with a new face or not (although he did tell the British Comedy Guide that a new character will be introduced at the end of the series).

Nevertheless, some of our favourite characters are still popping up in the show: level-headed landlady Lucy and Tim’s girlfriend Daisy are still there as feeds to Lee’s perfect witticisms. Old favourites who are also back in this series include Lucy’s conservative parents Geoffrey and Wendy, as well as Lee’s liberal dad, Frank (played by the brilliant Bobby Ball).

In this episode, Lucy has run-over a hugely important client’s pet rabbit – so she enlists Lee’s help in order to get her off the hook.

Also today: Stephen Mangan is in the host’s chair for the beginning of the forty-fifth series of Have I Got News For You (BBC1, 9:00pm); The Apprentice’s Karren Brady is grilled by Piers Morgan in the last in the series of Life Stories (ITV, 9:00pm); Channel 4 show that they are milking the Alan Carr brand as much as they can in his Grand National Specstacular (Channel 4, 9:00pm); and The Graham Norton Show demonstrates how to launch a new series with guests including Tom Cruise, Gerard Butler and Olga Kurylenko (BBC1, 10:35pm).

 

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 about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

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‘The Mimic’ Review

Filling the void left by Ricky Gervais’s Derek, new comedy-drama The Mimic launched on Wednesday night on Channel 4 and succeeded both in showcasing the star’s huge talent and introducing a storyline loaded with potential.

AN ORDINARY MAN WITH AN EXTRAORDINARY TALENT’

Written by Russell Brand’s old right-hand man, Matt Morgan, and starring Terry Mynott (from last year’s Very Important People), The Mimic follows Martin Hurdle – an ordinary man with an extraordinary talent, for when he’s not carrying out his humdrum life as a maintenance man, Martin is mimicking celebrities. However, Martin’s dull existence may soon be livened by the arrival of an eighteen-year-old boy called Steven, who may or may not be his son.

A SLOW BURNER’

The Mimic is definitely a slow burner and, if I’m honest, my faith in Mynott’s capabilities made me persevere as, other than a few scenes referring to the protagonist’s possible fatherhood, this debut episode seemed to lack a plot somewhat. It set up the storyline but didn’t feature much of it. However, I will not judge Morgan – I understand the difficulty of the dreaded ‘Episode One’, where the balance between plot progression and character establishment is tricky to strike (see the fourth paragraph of my review of BBC2 sitcom Heading Out to gauge my empathy with sitcom writers embarking on a new series). Plus, to reiterate, I see the storyline as ‘loaded with potential’ so, now that we are familiar with most of the characters and their nuances, we can look forward to the subsequent four episodes revealing to us the either blossoming or tumultuous relationship between Martin and Steven. Hopefully.

Anyway, even if the plot didn’t grip you, you could still marvel at Mynott’s mimicry (perhaps I’ve pushed the alliteration too far?). The extent of his imitations – which see him pinpoint the customary voices of everyone from Terry Wogan to Ronnie Corbett, James Earl Jones to Morgan Freeman (the latter two of which Martin amusingly depicted having a dispute over who is the most fitting to narrate a nature documentary) – is most impressive and makes the axing of Very Important People (in which he starred with the equally talented Morgana Robinson) seem even more ludicrous.

MARTIN & JEAN?

Needless to say, I am looking forward to forthcoming episodes. It will be interesting to witness the development of the relationships within the programme – whether that’s between Martin and Steven or he and his best friend, Jean. In fact, despite it apparently not being part of the main plot, it is the friendship between Martin and Jean which I’m particularly curious about: will they remain platonic or will it develop in to a more romantic bond – à la Ross & Rachel? The pair are undeniably close but there doesn’t seem to be anything there to suggest that they will become…closer. Perhaps it’s just how we’ve been conditioned to view male and female friends in sitcom.

 

So, overall, The Mimic is an enjoyable show – it would be even if it only featured the impersonations. In fact, if you accept that they drive the comedy while the paternity plot provides the drama, you should find that you enjoy it, too. And if you don’t, just stick around for Episode 2 – according to the British Comedy Guide, it sees the pace much improved.

The Mimic is on Wednesdays at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of The Mimic? 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.

Smile-Raising, But Not Wholly Impressive – ‘Bluestone 42’ Review

Set in a bomb disposal unit in Afghanistan, and following the day-to-day lives of British soldiers, BBC3’s Bluestone 42 began on Tuesday night and, while making me smile a little, didn’t impress me quite as much as it did other critics.

BAWDY BIRD

The thinking behind Bluestone 42 (written by James Cary and Richard Hurst – both part of the Miranda team) seems to be, ‘Imagine if our troops included these reckless idiots!’ And that’s one of the few things I like about this program: it isn’t out to mock the war, nor our troops. Instead, it is presenting slightly foolish characters who could be put into almost any situation – it just so happens that they’re fighting in Afghanistan.

So, the characters themselves I do like. Lynda Bird (the bawdy corporal, most commonly known by her surname) extracted titters from me – which perhaps says more about my humour than it does the character herself. I was also intrigued by Oliver Chris as Capatin Nick Medhurst, owing to his strong likeness to Prince William (although it may only be me who noticed the resemblance). Aside from these two and perhaps Major Mary Greenstock, the other characters were good but didn’t shine. Perhaps they will in future weeks.

COMEDY DRAMA’?

The main problem I have with Bluestone 42 is that it has been called a ‘comedy drama’. If the first episode is anything to go by, this is not a ‘comedy drama’. Frustratingly, Bluestone 42 seems to have joined shows such as Being Eileen, Starlings and Walking & Talking in being given this title simply because they know that, if it is described as a ‘comedy’, people will complain that there aren’t enough jokes in it to justify its label. They are therefore seen in the same light as genuine comedy dramas like Stella and Mount Pleasant, both of which beautifully concoct mirthful and moving scenes – unlike its masquerading counterparts, which include very little drama at all. It may be too early to judge (being, as we are, only a sixth of the way into the series) but it seems at the moment that there is little ‘dramatic’ about this show.

It didn’t wow me, it didn’t impress me – in fact it seldom made me laugh – but Bluestone 42 did make me want to find out more about its characters and their relationships with each other. Perhaps I’ll have another look next Tuesday to see how it develops…

Bluestone 42 is on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on BBC3

What did you think of Bluestone 42? 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.

Eye-Opening, Deeply Moving and Unbelievably Rewarding: ‘Mary & Martha’ Review

After watching BBC1’s one-off drama Mary & Martha on Friday night, I was put in mind of a quote from the blurb of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. A writer for The Times said, ‘[Hosseini’s] not afraid to pull every string in your heart to make it sing,’ and the same could be said for Richard Curtis – who added another string to his bow by creating this very drama-heavy masterpiece.

BACKGROUND

The program told the story of American mom Mary (Hilary Swank) and British mum Martha (Brenda Blethyn). Following trouble at school, Mary decides to take her son George out of America for a while, and enlighten him on a trip to Mozambique, where they drink in the local surroundings and culture. Elsewhere, Martha is made to bid a tearful – but pride-filled – goodbye to her beloved son, Ben, who has chosen to help teach children in Africa. However, tragically, both Mary and Martha’s sons are struck down and killed by malaria. The two women have a chance meeting in Mozambique and immediately become friends, which leads to them joining forces to campaign extensively for the awareness and prevention of malaria. The mothers’ reactions are much the same as those of Lenny Henry and writer Richard Curtis, following the latter’s 1985 visit to Ethiopia.

EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

Having huge faith in the renowned talent of Curtis, I watched Mary & Martha with high hopes – something which is dangerous to do, as you tend to end up disappointed. What I saw, however, met my expectations and perhaps even exceeded them. From Geraldine Grainger to Bridget Jones, Curtis is excellent when writing about strong women – and so it was with Mary and Martha. In addition to the wonderful script, impeccable casting made this programme a treat. As expected, Swank and Blethyn were perfect as the eponymous leads and there wasn’t one weak performance across the ninety minutes. I particularly hope that Lux Haney-Jardine has been cemented in casting directors’ minds, after his superb portrayal of George, Mary’s tragic son.

NEITHER CONDESCENDING, NOR OVERPOWERING’

Richard Curtis’s huge passion for the campaign was palpable. He managed to create a drama which was neither condescending, nor overpowering but instead saw him strike the appropriate tone and effectively show the devastating effects of malaria. The brilliant establishment of his characters and use of beautiful surroundings (despite it not being filmed in its setting of Mozambique) helped to convey the writer’s message: by rooting for, connecting and falling in love with Mary and Martha and being sucked in and awe-struck by the wondrous location, I inevitably understood and appreciated Richard Curtis’s mission – that being to raise awareness for and open our eyes to the unbelievable tragedies that occur daily in the Third World, while we carry on with our day-to-day Western lives.

In fact, that’s another thing which Mary & Martha showcased excellently. There was a particular scene, just after Mary returned from Mozambique to her luxurious life in the States, which saw her become angered by her friend’s unhappiness at her husband’s purchase of a Mercedes – which went against her wishes for a Lexus. Inspired by the writer’s feelings after he returned from his aforementioned visit to Ethiopia, this scene introduced a theme which, while it would not be as prevalent, would run throughout the remainder of the programme. It strongly and thought-provokingly contrasted our materialism with African poverty. It may seem unfair that multi-millionaire writer, director and producer Richard Curtis should be pontificating to us ordinary people of Britain about Western greed but it really did accentuate the preventable problems facing Africa.

DIFFICULT TO COMPREHEND’

As well as being a renowned comedy writer, Richard Curtis is also not averse to the occasional smattering of sentiment in his work (lest we forget the final scene in Blackadder Goes Forth – possibly the most devastatingly poignant conclusion to a TV series we have seen). Mary & Martha delivered this in abundance. It was so upsetting to watch George and Ben be struck by and die from malaria, aged 12 and 24, respectively. That’s how affected I was by watching two fictional characters I had only got to know over not much more than thirty minutes. It is horrendous to think and so difficult to comprehend that this happens to 665,000 people every year. In the time it took me to watch Mary & Martha, it will have stolen the lives of over 100 people across the world.

COMIC RELIEF

A third of the way into the program, I was already thinking of how much I would pledge to Comic Relief. Although the surroundings were stunning and made me jealous of those experiencing them, Curtis’s purpose for writing it shone through. The work of Comic Relief is vital. If it affected others in the same way it did me, I am sure that Mary & Martha will do wonders for the cause. Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney summed it up with this tweet, sent twenty minutes after the program ended:

Gemma Cairney tweet - 'Mary and Martha'

TV producer and Holly Willoughby’s other half, Dan Baldwin, also posted this in summary:

Dan Baldwin tweet - 'Mary and Martha'

Hear, hear, Dan!

TV shows seldom move me to tears, but Mary & Martha did. Richard Curtis didn’t need to use crude humour and vulgar language – exquisite, heart-rending drama sufficed.

Mary & Martha was made in support of Comic Relief. Red Nose Day is being celebrated on Friday 15th March, with the big event being broadcast live on BBC1 on that day. Visit the Comic Relief website to find out what’s going on and how to donate.

If you missed it, Mary & Martha is available on BBC iPlayer – just follow this link.*

What did you think of Mary & Martha? 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.

*Available until Friday 8th March 2013