Category Archives: Documentary

‘Our Gay Wedding: The Musical’ (Channel 4) Review

Saturday 29th March 2014 was an historic day. At midnight, same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales. It was the result of a long, hard battle, with many right-wingers and homophobes attempting to stand in the way of equality.

It was on that day, too, that Benjamin Till and Nathan Taylor were finally married in a somewhat unconventional ceremony. Staying true to their jobs as a composer (Benjamin) and West End performer (Nathan), they turned their day into a musical.

Naturally, this courted controversy from the gay community. A lot felt that it simply reinforced stereotypes and implied that all gay men find musical ‘simply fabulous, dahling’. I must confess that I was firmly in this camp (pun very much intended). After seeing the newlyweds on ITV’s This Morning on the day of the TV broadcast, however, I changed my mind as they pointed out that they work in and love musicals and merely wanted their nuptials to reflect this. In their own words, ‘We’re not saying that all gay men love musicals – that’s ridiculous. We’re just saying that these two do.’

Having only been commissioned by Channel 4 in early February, Benjamin and Nathan had a mere seven weeks to write the lyrics and arrange the music for their ceremony but the time restraints didn’t show and was impeccably executed. It may have been peppered with celebrity appearances (including video messages from Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg – but strangely no David Cameron) but the whole thing really acted as a celebration of not only the couple’s time together and love for each other but also the gay community’s road to equality. Stephen Fry, who narrated the programme in the inimitable style of his, for which he is so treasured, fittingly emphasised the paramount importance of the 29th March in his opening monologue, describing the day as ‘extraordinary and historic’ and paving the way for a series of poignant reminders about the many highs and, unfortunately, many lows that LGBT people have faced through the years. During a brilliant performance of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’, the audience was taken through the imprisonment of gay men for so-called “homosexual acts” in 1954, the decriminalisation of homosexuality for over 21s in 1967, the AIDs epidemic, Section 28’s introduction and removal, the arrival of civil partnerships, and finally 2013; the year in which the same-sex marriage bill was passed and, against the will of some but to the jubilation of many, gays were permitted to marry.

One of the most beautiful moments of the ceremony for me, however, (yes, even more beautiful than the vows and subsequent kiss) was the song sung by Nathan and Benjamin’s mams, based on notes they gave them about how they felt when their sons came out. For a long time, I – needlessly, I’m sure – felt hugely guilty after I came out to my parents. I felt like I’d broken my mam’s heart in particular, turned her life upside-down. Nathan’s mam sang, ‘It took time to get to know the man who used to be my precious little boy’,’ and I know that that is how my own mam felt. I’d like to think, and am pretty certain, that, eighteen months after telling her that I’m gay, my mam has become used to it and realised that it doesn’t change anything. I can still have children. I can still express love and have it reciprocated. God, I can even get married now! Most importantly, though, I can still be happy. The only difference is, it’ll be with a man; not the woman she envisaged. I know that Noëlle and Celia’s song would have helped my mam if she had heard it when I came out, and I am certain that it will help many gay people and their parents realise that their worries, anger and guilt are not uncommon and will be overcome in time.

Our Gay Wedding: The Musical was camp as Christmas but at the heart of it was love; deep love between two men that was recognised in the eyes of the law and by millions of viewers. Finally! Benjamin and Nathan should be tremendously proud of their achievement and, like everyone else sane and capable of love around the world, I wish them every happiness.

Just as long as they don’t subject us to bloody Jon Snow singing the news again!

Image thanks to Channel 4 and Richard Ansett 

Our Gay Wedding: The Musical is still available on 4OD

What did you think of Our Gay Wedding: The Musical? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Stephen Fry: Out There’ (BBC2) Review

Almost three years in the making and much-anticipated, Stephen Fry: Out There – the actor and presenter’s documentary about sexuality and homophobia across the world – aired in two parts this week, with the final instalment broadcast last night.

As someone who is gay and has an interest in LGBT rights across the world, I was looking forward to these films hugely. I hoped that they would shine a light on the narrow-minded individuals who are somehow given a platform far too often on which to spout their detestable, absolutely sickening anti-gay propaganda, and show them for the fools that they really are.

And that is exactly what it did.

 

Across the two programmes, Stephen met people who have either been an advocate and victim of the, sadly many, homophobic laws and traditions which still exist in this world. Before I get into the advocates (about which I have a lot to say, I can assure you), let me first focus on those inspirations who have been ostracised, had their lives threatened and rights removed simply because of their sexuality.

One such person was Farshad: a man who is seeking refuge in the UK, having had to flee his home country of Iran, because he was ‘outed’ and accused of raping his boyfriend, when all he had in fact done was partaken in consensual sex. He said that he would seriously consider suicide if he was made to return to his home country – an outcome which unfortunately seems quite likely as the UKStephen with Stosh, a Ugandan lesbian who was the victim of 'corrective rape' when she was just 14 years old authorities are reluctant to believe that he is gay.

There were many other people and groups that Stephen met during his travels: Stosh (pictured), a victim of the so-called ‘corrective rape’ in Uganda; Ice Breakers, an African LGBT support group; Renata Peron, a Brazilian drag queen who, despite having been severely attacked, continues to go out and be proud of who she is; and Coming Out, a Russian support service for gay teens. They are just some of those who Stephen visited, and whose determination and defiance was nothing short of inspirational and deserving of unending admiration. But then there was the other side. The homophobes.

There was Pastor Male in Uganda, who claimed that homosexuality is a self-inflicted ‘addiction’ and, as Stephen quite rightly pointed out, had a very strange obsession with anuses, penises and vaginas. In the documentary, he seemed more obsessed with gay sex than even gays are. In fact, he spoke almost as if he were a member of the, to quote Sir Gerald Howarth, ‘aggressive homosexual community’ himself.

Also in Uganda, Stephen met a vile…creature (although I can think of another rather apt C-word with which to describe him…) named Simon Lokodo, who – in not so many words – claimed that child rape is more acceptable than sodomy, because at least it is the ‘natural way of desiring sex’. Now I’m sure that even the most active member of the, to alter Sir Gerald Howarth’s quote slightly, ‘aggressive homophobic community’ would take umbrage with Lokodo’s opinion that paedophilia is not only better than gay sex but ‘natural’ too. His far-right views came so far from left field that they were quite difficult to comprehend. Is this man so idiotic, the possessor of such a clouded mind, that he actually, truly believes the tripe that he espouses? If so, I am sorry but I cannot feel angerStephen meeting Bob Corff, who trains actors to tone down their campness towards him: only pity. Huge pity. And the same goes for Rio congressman, Jair Bolsonaro and Russian politician, Vitaly Milinov, both of whom also waxed lyrical about how discussion of homosexuality – and sexuality in general – leads to primary school children being sucked into a life of buggery and immorality. All I could think when I watched these people speaking to a rather stunned Stephen Fry was, What an injustice. What an injustice it is that narrow-minded idiots like Bolsonaro, Milinov and the thousands like them will likely never have felt the isolation, the confusion and the sheer terror that grips a young person’s body when they realise, at whatever age, that they are gay. How sad that they may never have felt the anguish, the pain and the dread that often mars someone’s teenage years, simply because they have realised that they love people of the same gender or they were born the wrong sex. Then again, thank God that they will never feel the elation, happiness and overwhelming love that engulfs someone when they come out and are finally honest and frank. Thank God too that they will never experience the self-satisfaction that comes with accepting and loving others.

 

Of course, two hours of primetime television could not have been given to these bigots, most of whom are of the opinion that homosexuals should be executed, without there being a counter-argument, someone defending what is good and what is moral in the world today – and I cannot think of anyone better to do this than Stephen Fry. He made the perfect host and managed to produce a documentary which was not only better than his Key to the City programme for ITV (although that wasn’t exactly a tough feat) but really emphasised how lucky LGBT people in Britain are, as we live in a (largely) accepting society, where we can be who we want to be, and many don’t even bat an eyelid, while others in other countries like Uganda and Russia are having to fight authorities – the people who have ironically been put in power to protect them – and stand up for themselves, trying to prove that they can’t change the way that they were born.

For that is how they were born.

These films would not have been anywhere near as entertaining and informative if the presenter had not been Stephen Fry: a man so articulate, frank and utterly compelling. At no point did he shy  away from pointing out to pastors and ministers that what they were claiming was not right, was not moral, and should not be accepted by anyone. Although, to be honest, how anyone of sound mind can just take these people’s views as read in the first place is nothing short of baffling.

 

So, I hope that Out There fulfilled its mission to inform and educate people. To be honest, if you didn’t take at least something away from this – whether it be increased awareness of the importance of gay rights or simply empowerment about your own sexuality – I don’t think you were watching properly. I also hope that it showed that us gays aren’t all mincing personifications of camp, and that Pride isn’t just a ‘big gay party’ (as I’ve heard people call it in the past). The history of it is so much deeper and more serious than that, and it’s hopefully something which, in a few year’s time, will be celebrated across the world – sticking two fingers up to the homophobes and reminding them that they will not eradicate homosexuality.

No matter how hard they try.

Stephen with the Hijras, a transgender community in India

Image credits: Thanks to BBC and Maverick, ©Maverick

Stephen Fry: Out There is still available for a limited time on BBC iPlayer, via this link

What did you think of Stephen Fry: Out There? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see what’s coming up on TV in the coming week on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

‘The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese’ (BBC1) Review

In March 2010, Sarah Colwill, from Plymouth, was rushed to hospital after suffering a severe migraine. When she woke up, she found that she had lost her Devon accent and now sounded Chinese.

This incident has plagued her life ever since. Even major experts cannot determine what exactly happened to Sarah on that day in 2010, or whether the migraine even has any relevance to her losing her Plymouth lilt. She has, however, been diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome, something which only around 150 people in the world have.

This documentary told Sarah’s story, and saw her set out to discover why her accent changed, and if there is any way that she can get it back.

I was intrigued by The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese (I mean it’s a very compelling title, isn’t it?), so I was eager to watch the programme and find out how Sarah (pictured) had come to wake up with this accent, and how she dealt with it. Both of my queries were answered within minutes: that of how it happened I have already detailed, but her reaction to her accent really surprised me. Perhaps I’m naive for not expecting her to have had her life ruined by her new accent but I’d never expected it to be that way. However, the gravity of the situation and huge adverse effect that it has had on Sarah’s life were clear from the start, when she was seen in tears in her living room, saying, ‘It’s just been such [a] horrible thing to go through.’

What has made the ordeal particularly ‘horrible’ for Sarah is the fact that people don’t understand it. Indeed, as I said, even top experts in the field cannot fathom what happened to her brain to bring about this change. It’s not just the lack of understanding regarding the science of the change which frustrates Sarah, though: it is the ignorance of others. When she dines at Chinese restaurants, staff apparently think she is mocking them, as she is Caucasian but her accent would suggest otherwise. She claims that she is also spoken to by people in shops and in the street as if she is a tourist, despite having lived in the UK throughout her life.

It seems that there is a gross lack of understanding and ignorance on social media, too. When the documentary aired, I searched ‘Woman Who Woke Up Chinese’ on Twitter and at first was pleasantly surprised to see that there were some sympathetic and supportive tweets, commenting on how tragic Sarah’s story was. But then the majority of the rest were the antithesis of these: people were apparently ‘dying laughing’ at Sarah’s plight and someone even suggested that she just stop speaking Chinese, and her problem would be ‘sorted’. God help them.

The fact is that Sarah didn’t just have a headache, go to sleep, wake up and start speaking in a Chinese accent. She has had to struggle, as have her family, to come to terms with this drastic change. The experience was heartbreaking for her. As anyone who watched the programme properly will have realised, she desperately wanted to rediscover her old life. She even contacted an insurance company to enquire about being sent some recordings of phone conversations she’d had with them, so that she could hear her old voice. When she received the recordings, they were palpably difficult for her husband in particular to listen to, showing that is not just her who was affected by this: her whole family were too. She met doctors, partook in tests, underwent brain scans – all while still suffering from her crippling migraines, which she has around ten times a month – and only managed to learn the English pronunciations of a few words, like ‘chips’ and ‘grandfather’. These seem like very tiny, insignificant achievements to you and me, but to Sarah they were huge leaps forward, and offered a glimmer of hope that she might have her voice returned to how it was before, or at least partly so. This was a major event in her life and people’s blasé attitude, while not unexpected, was terrible.

Of course, I’m not denying that The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese is an odd title, and I even had a bit of a laugh about it when I first read it in the TV listings, but the point is that when I actually sat down and watched it, I could immediately tell that it wasn’t going to be a light-hearted look at a comical occurrence: it was actually quite sad, but overall uplifting as it ended with Sarah being given that aforementioned glimmer of hope. And I wish her all the best. Prior to watching this, I had never heard of Foreign Accent Syndrome, as I’m sure neither had many other people, but following Sarah’s story made me aware of its existence, and how it can ruin a person’s life.

Images thanks to BBC and Abigail Priddle, ©Victory Television

The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese is available on BBC iPlayer until Tuesday 10th September

What did you think of The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see what’s coming up on TV in the coming week on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

‘My Cyberstalking Hell: Liz McClarnon’ (Channel 5) Review

Not long after joining Twitter a few years ago, TV personality Liz McClarnon – who shot to fame alongside Natasha Hamilton and Kerry Katona in girl group Atomic Kitten – was subjected to a seemingly never-ending stream of threats and abuse. The man responsible recently pleaded guilty to stalking Liz and four other women, and has been given 3 years’ probation, 100 hours community service and is prevented from ever contacting his victims again, with a 3 year-long ban on him posting on social networking sites.

It was hearing about others’ experiences of stalking – both on- and offline – that made Liz wanted to take part in this documentary, as part of the My Secret Past series, and raise awareness for a crime which is all too often brushed under the carpet.

APTLY TIMED’

Following the recent tragedy of Hannah Smith, who was found hanged aged 14 after receiving a torrent of abuse on social media, and the discussions about online safety and so-called ‘cyber trolls’, My Cyberstalking Hell could not have been more aptly timed. The responsibility of social networking sites and dangers of using them are hot topics at the moment, and Liz’s ordeal added another dimension to this.

A lot of focus is put on the critical, confidence-diminishing comments which are aimed at people on such sites – those which Hannah Smith received, for example, sickeningly mocked her appearance and destroyed her confidence to the point that she took her own life. What is less widely reported is the kind of abuse that Liz was subjected to. Up until just last year, she was receiving sexually explicit messages which I cannot bring myself to repeat here, but have stuck in my mind since the documentary aired. There were even messages which threatened rape.

I had no idea that Liz had been stalked at all, but she really has been through the mill and I admire her, and the people who she spoke to, tremendously for having the courage to tell their stories and not let their tormentors win.

JUST IGNORE IT’?

My Cyberstalking Hell revealed the shocking statistic that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will experience stalking at some point in their lives. So why isn’t that taken more seriously? As a psychologist and cyberstalking expert pointed out in the programme, many people stupidly think that someone like Liz should be flattered that someone should think so much of them. A lot of people are under the illusion that it must somehow be a sign of affection to taunt someone – be they famous or not – by tweeting what you have just done while looking at a picture of them or threatening to chain them up and rape them. How idiotic. I honestly hope that some of the people who subscribed to this way of thinking watched Liz’s programme and really paid attention to what her and the other participants said, and how their lives were blighted by their stalkers. And I can only hope that their views were changed drastically as a result.

The thing is, it’s so easy for people to say, ‘Well just ignore it,’ or, ‘Just block them or delete your account.’ Liz tried that! She blocked the man in question numerous times, but he simply created a different account and stalked her again. Plus, ignoring, blocking or deleting don’t wipe away from your memory your tormentor’s words and the graphic images that seep into your brain as a result. Once they’re there, they’re not going to vanish simply by pressing that little X in the top corner of the screen. If anyone proved that, it was Elle, who was stalked for five years and received around 20 to 30 death threats a day. Each comment chipped away at her self-esteem until she began to believe what they were saying: that she was ugly, talentless and did not deserve to live. It even put an end to her dream of becoming a musician. Liz, however, managed to reignite Elle’s passion for music by booking her into a recording studio and singing a duet with her. And thank God she did, because not only did it inject some of that long-lost confidence back into Elle, it also showed that she really is beautiful and talented – contrary to what those jealous, heartless bastards made her believe.

 

It was clearly difficult for Liz to make this programme, and at times she really struggled, revisiting the messages she was sent and hearing about how her abuse affected others, such as Atomic Kitten superfan, Lauren, who was taunted by exactly the same man as Liz, but I bet she’s glad she went ahead with it. I’ll say it again: I admire her for, despite what her head was telling her, sticking two fingers up to her bully and helping others, rather than staying silent and giving him some sort of satisfaction. She admitted to Elle that she knew there was light at the end of the tunnel, but was still very deep inside it, and I’m sure that, by making this programme, she has helped others take a step closer to that light.

My Cyberstalking Hell: Liz McClarnon is still available to watch via Demand 5

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

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

‘Stephen Fry’s Key to the City’ (ITV) Review

He may be QI‘s resident brainbox but when Stephen Fry was awarded Freedom of the City, he had to admit that he wasn’t sure what it meant. However, in one-off documentary, Key to the City, Stephen made full use of the privilege to explore London and uncover its hidden treasures.

Despite living just a few miles away from the City of London, Stephen claimed that it felt like an alien place to him. Over the course of the programme, though, the actor gained access to the places that most of the City’s 8,000 residents could only dream of visiting – from the heart of the Bank of England to the depths of the Old Bailey.

 

Like many people, I adore and am in awe of Stephen Fry – so was very much looking forward to Key to the City. And I did quite enjoy it. It was informative, it was quirky…well it was a bit like QI in a  way. It was clear that Stephen felt incredibly fortunate and humbled to have been given this ‘access-all-areas’ pass to the City of London, and he introduced us to some breathtaking sights – none more so than the vault which he visited at the Bank of England. In this vault, he wandered and spoke lengthily – but exquisitely, naturally – while drinking in his surroundings: those being around £20billion in cash. It certainly wasn’t an everyday sight, so for not only Stephen to have experienced it but for us at home to have, too, was brilliant.

Aside from the excellent, rare locations which we saw, however, I did have a problem with Key to the City: it felt very clunky. There was no smooth transition between each person or place that Stephen visited – we were just moved very swiftly on to the next stop on his tour, without much conclusion to the previous. I mean, in the fourth part of the programme, Stephen was one minute having a conversation with a beekeeper atop the Lord Mayor’s residence, the next he was speaking with former Lord Mayor, Lord Levene about finance! There appeared to be a complete lack of cohesion between the visits, we just lurched into the next as suddenly as one had finished. It did spoil the programme more than a little.

 

So, I liked Stephen Fry’s Key to the City – I just would have done so more if we’d spent longer on certain parts of the presenter’s trip (his visit to lovely octogenarian and fellow Freedom of the City holder, Doris, for example) and there’d been an easier transition from one to another. Overall, however, it was a quite interesting documentary which not only increased my love of Stephen but also proved that even a ‘mega-mind’ like himself doesn’t know everything.

What did you think of Stephen Fry’s Key to the City? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

‘Shoplife’ (BBC3) Review

Fly-on-the-wall series Shoplife follows young people working at Gateshead’s Metrocentre – the UK’s largest shopping mall.

It shows them not only at work but at home and also out on the ‘toon’ enjoying themselves. It could have been an entertaining portrayal of hard-working teens who go against the media’s wholly unfair representation of their age group. On the whole, however, it simply reinforced the stereotypes.

‘SOME GOOD EGGS’

Sure, there were some good eggs among those featured in this episode: Van Mildert worker AbbieKrispy Kreme worker, Jon Clarke had aspirations to become a supervisor, Helen wanted to follow her dream and become a model, and Krispy Kreme’s Jon (pictured, top right) wanted more work hours. Fantastic! Contrary to popular belief, that is how most young people feel: they want jobs, they want to work lots of hours, they want wages – but they simply either cannot find work to fit around their education commitments or don’t get a response from their application.

But then we have the infuriating ones. The embarrassments. The people who were embodied by Joey (pictured, bottom right): an employee at the Red Mall’s Skate Shack. Now, Joey simply showed himself up! He had no regard for his job or respect for his manager, boasting that he Skate Shack employee, Joeyjust does whatever he wants when his boss is working from home. I can only assume that the fact that he was being filmed for television slipped his mind.

It’s infuriating that people like Joey have jobs. It really is. I’m sixteen and have had two interviews in the past fortnight alone. Now, I know that I’m really fortunate to have got those interviews – some of my friends don’t even get to that stage – but I have been unsuccessful in both. Yet someone like Joey (and no doubt others who we shall see in this series, for I don’t want to blame him alone) is perpetually late and messes around at work, but still manages to hold down a job with little more than a few warnings. That is annoying. And embarrassing.

POOR REPRESENTATION

Shoplife represented the north east poorly, too. It portrayed the participating workers – although I use the term loosely – at the Metrocentre to be materialistic, greedy and foul-mouthed – to name just a few qualities. Now, I’m not saying that these people are these things, I’m sure they’re very nice people, but that is how they were portrayed. Who knows, even Joey might be decent and strive to succeed at work – although I doubt it.

I mean take Joey’s mam, Justine. On hearing that her written warning-magnet son had been reprimanded once again, she had this to say about the CCTV cameras in place at Skate Shack:

“It’s like f*ckin’ Durham jail! And ya’ve got the governor watching ya on camera twenty-four seven, they pick the phone up at the slightest little thing ya dee wrong. Graffiti on your cell wall and the governor’s at ya f*ckin’ door like a shot, that’s what it’s like: Durham jail, Big Brutha watching ya.”

It was like Stephen Fry was in the room.

 

So, there we go: in a nutshell, that was Shoplife – but it definitely wasn’t a fair representation of north east life. I promise we’re not all like that. When Jill Halfpenny claimed, ‘This is what it’s like being young, having fun and trying to get up for work the next morning,’ I was hoping for something to make me proud, not just as someone from the region but also a teenager looking for work. What we ended up with was Geordie Shore with job prospects – but not many of them.

Images courtesy of BBC and Dan Prince. © BBC

Shoplife is on Thursdays at 9:00pm on BBC3

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

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

‘Alex Brooker: My Perfect Body’ (Channel 4) Review

Alex Brooker: My Perfect Body saw the Last Leg co-host begin a long-awaited mission to lose weight, and discover how modern men feel about their own bodies.

Alex was self-conscious about his weight, and he’s not alone: men nowadays feel a tremendous amount of pressure to conform to the images they see of celebrities, in magazines like Men’s Fitness and porn. Dr Phillippa Diedrichs spoke in the programme about the research which her and her team conducted, which showed that 70% of men aged 18-87 are unhappy with their bodies, while around half of teenagers would like to be more muscular. I’ll write more about how teenage boys see their bodies in a little while, but those results are quite shocking and were the basis for the documentary, along with Alex’s personal weight battle, which saw him go from 14 stone (obese) to just over 12 stone (overweight/obese border).

A VERY INTERESTING INSIGHT’

Alex is brilliant on The Last Leg but My Perfect Body wasn’t all about jokes or the ‘selfies’ in his pants. It was actually a very interesting insight into the growing obsession with male body image.

A lot of Alex’s findings were surprising – but not in a good way. Dr Diedrich’s research was only the tip of the iceberg as the presenter’s hairdresser, Tom, revealed that he began considering plastic surgery when he was just 12. That’s sad, to me. Of course, My Perfect Body showed both sides of weight loss – the positives and negatives – but it was mainly the negatives which resonated. The  images of surgery being performed repulsed me, and hopefully many others to. The darker side of the search for the ideal physique was shown best when Alex found images of teenage boys with eating disorders on so-called ‘Thinsperation’ websites. Images of their rib cages poking through their skin and messages like ‘Lose weight!’ and ‘fat fat fat fat fat fat fat’ were accompanied by a little table of what would happen ‘if I lose weight’ and ‘If I don’t lose weight’. The contents of this was disturbing – ‘be light as a feather, beautiful’ was a positive of becoming skinny while having ‘no bones to show off’ was apparently a negative of staying ‘fat’. Surely that’s the other way around? Being light as a feather isn’t beautiful! Well, it might be to some people but to most it isn’t, is it? And as for having ‘no bones to show off’, I don’t want to see someone’s skin exposing their skeletal frame! Not being stick thin? That is beautiful. It’s just so sad that those people don’t realise it, or are convincing themselves otherwise.

TEEN BODIES

One of the most intriguing aspects of My Perfect Body for me was the brief look at how teenage boys view their bodies. Alex spoke to his sixteen-year-old brother, Elliot, and his friends, to find out why they regularly go to the gym together and are in search of the perfect body. The responses ranged from doing it to ‘look good’ and ‘be healthy’ to simply trying to impress girls. And I can sympathise with that. Not the impressing girls bit – that ship sailed a long time ago – but trying to  look and be healthy.

I know I shouldn’t be but I am quite self-conscious about my weight. I mean I’m not so obsessive that I’d allow myself to develop an eating disorder or go under the knife but I like to keep an eye on it. Actually, I don’t even think I’m fat, to be honest – I just can’t shake the notion that I could be slimmer. I’m not even interested in being muscular. The problem is, however – and I think this may have been Alex’s problem, too – I don’t really try. I always do that thing of, ‘Oh I’ll start on Monday’ – but I seldom do. I make plans to not snack, drink so many bottles of water a day, and so on, but I often go off track. The other week, for example, I read that Jimmy Carr lost weight simply by not eating after six o’clock at night. Easy!, I thought. That lasted for a week. And I didn’t even lose anything! I was soon back to having a couple of Jaffa Cakes here, the odd Penguin biscuit there. I have little will power.

I’ll start again on Monday.

Alex Brooker: My Perfect Body was a brilliant documentary. I knew men were becoming more conscious about their bodies but it really opened my eyes to what extent that’s so. Not that that’s a bad thing, though: I believe it’s great that men are paying more attention to their appearance and health, and it doesn’t lessen their masculinity at all in my opinion. Just as long as they’re sensible. Alex may have tried the very extreme maple syrup diet – made famous by Mrs Carter herself – but ultimately he shed the pounds by simply exercising and cutting down on booze and fatty foods. It showed everyone – regardless of gender – that it is possible to lose weight in quite a short space of time without going to drastic measures.

Images courtesy of Channel 4. © Mentorn Media

Alex can be seen on The Last Leg, alongside Adam Hills and Josh Widdicombe, on Wednesdays at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Alex Brooker: My Perfect Body? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

‘The Greatest Shows on Earth’ (Channel 4) Review

Bringing to Brits’ attention some of the most mesmerizingly shocking and controversial examples of foreign television is writer and actress Daisy Donovan, in her new four-part documentary series, The Greatest Shows on Earth.

Daisy considers television to be ‘the window into the soul of a nation’. So, with this in mind, she has set off on a trip across the globe, with the aim of discovering what makes a nation tick, by watching some of their biggest TV programmes.

FANTASTIC’

I found The Greatest Shows on Earth fantastic. True, it featured neither the breathtaking camera shots nor the deep analysis of its findings which typically comprise an astounding documentary,  but  what this show did was explore the must-see TV in Brazil in a non-judgemental way: it simply allowed viewers to form their own opinions, based on how our telly tastes differ to those of our South American counterparts.

The success of The Greatest Shows on Earth was owing, in no small part, to its host. Daisy was Daisy Donovan: 'Perfect'perfect for this programme as she embodied typical British attitudes, and therefore acted as a voice for most of her audience. She immersed herself in Brazilian culture but never shied away from objecting to what she saw, even when in the presence of those involved (as with the stars of the somewhat disturbing Pânico Na Band and Na Mira – more on both of which later). Daisy just had a way of being clear with her unalterable opinions while also respecting the Brazilians’ justification of their television output and allowing them to have their say.

HARMLESS FUN’?

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Greatest Shows was the exposure of Brazil’s treatment of women – which we would consider to be unacceptable and nothing short of objectification, yet Brazilians regard as simply harmless fun and a celebration of the female form.

The first show investigated by Daisy was Miss Bumbum, a ‘talent’ contest which makes Miss World look like Dancing on Ice. As the title suggests, a bunch of young women are invited to parade their backsides on a catwalk in the hope of surviving many heats to be crowned…you guessed it: Miss Bumbum. This is a show, one man told Daisy, that he and his wife would have no qualms about watching together and is top viewing in his country. Now it would be quite easy to make assumptions about the Miss Bumbum competitors and suggest that they are self-obsessedDaisy with 'Miss Bumbum' hopeful, Laura Keller wannabes. However, if the contestant whom Daisy spoke to is representative of the others, that presumption may carry truth. Laura Keller (pictured) typifies the common perception of models: she was unbelievably rude to Daisy, commenting on her weight and angrily saying, ‘British people don’t  know anything about the bum’. Of course, this was only when she did not know that she was being filmed. When the cameras were rolling she was as lovely as could be, making heart signs to the viewer and conversing calmly with Daisy. After all, she wouldn’t want something as silly as a bad attitude to get in the way of her bottom making her famous, would she?

In a similar vein we had Pânico Na Band, a comedy sketch series which Daisy described perfectly as ‘a degrading show that verges on sado masochistic.’ In Pânico (which regularly attracts 10 million viewers in its primetime Sunday night slot), bikini-clad women (dubbed ‘Pânicats) are expected to compete in a series of challenges for the amusement of its presenters and viewers – most of whom are inevitably men. At the end of the show, a ‘comedy forfeit’ is involved for the losers. The forfeit sees the women kneeling, still in their bikinis, and having what appears to be a pair of tights pulled over their head, stretching and manipulating their features to make them look not dissimilar to a pig. It’s truly testing TV.

When Daisy spoke to Aryane Steinkopf, a former Pânicat, I was actually saddened by her story of the humiliation which is inflicted upon the Pânico contestants, but how the guaranteed fame and wealth acts as a distraction and more than compensates for it. Of course, ‘Pânicats’ are not forced to partake in this spectacle but it’s tragic that they think they have to do so for exactly the same reason as the Miss Bumbum wannabes: notoriety.

Even in shows where women are not objectified as much as in others, the incredibly poor treatment of the fairer sex is still evident. On Domingo Legal (Brazil’s leading variety show), the audience is comprised exclusively of girls, as men are ‘trouble’. Then, when they are escorted into the studio for the recording, they are sorted into groups and sit accordingly: beauties at the front, uglies at the back.

And to think that we were up in arms about Arlene being kicked off Strictly!

Daisy attending the 'Miss Bumbum' Final in Brazil

Na Mira, which could be best described as the Brazilian version of Crimewatch, also featured in Greatest Shows and truly pushed the boundaries of not only television but common decency itself.

With the aim of cutting crime in Salvador, which sees at least forty murders a week, Na Mira broadcasts images of bloodied corpses on street corners – a sight which people in the area are sadly accustomed to. Perhaps even more shocking is that Na Mira is televised at lunchtime – immediately after children’s programmes. Imagine Crimewatch following In the Night Garden.

I’d read about Na Mira beforehand, so was ready for the gore and revelation about its scheduling, but I was not prepared for the host’s (Analice Salles) justification of it. She claims that Na Mira informs viewers of the insecure, criminal society in which they live. She went on to say that the disturbing images are shown in order to stop crime and violence in the city. Now I don’t know what you think about that argument, but I had to listen to it no fewer than four times to understand it. Actually, to be honest, I still don’t understand it and think it is nothing more than a poor vindication for producing sensationalist television. In this country, the aforementioned Crimewatch can often include distressing information and reconstructions – it has to in order to emphasise the seriousness of its cases – but knows its boundaries and does not need to broadcast images even half as revolting and inappropriate as those on Na Mira. And guess what: it still helps solve crime.

I know that it is very easy to form a largely inaccurate view on Brazilian television purely from the programmes which Daisy saw in Greatest Shows. I am well aware that not all of the country’s output humiliates women in the way that Pânico does and that not all of it so blatantly violates (surely the most basic of) broadcasting guidelines in the same way as Na Mira. In fact I wonder what the Brazilians would think if their own Daisy Donovan travelled to the UK and scrutinised our most popular programmes…

EastEnders and The Jeremy Kyle Show?

We like a bit of a row…

Big Brother and The X Factor?

We all want a bit of fame – at whatever cost.

Geordie Shore and The Valleys?

The education system needs to be re-evaluated.

And that wouldn’t be a fair representation of us at all, would it?

Would it?

The Greatest Shows on Earth is on Mondays at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of The Greatest Shows on Earth? 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 this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

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

‘Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery’

Partly inspired by Amy Winehouse’s death and described as “a sympathetic look at alcoholism and addiction”, Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery got its first airing on BBC1 last night.

‘CLUELESS’

I was quite keen to watch this program. Firstly, I didn’t see its original broadcast on BBC3 and, secondly, although I know a little bit about Russell’s former addiction from watching his appearance on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, I was pretty much clueless about his past. In fact, I wouldn’t even particularly call myself a fan of Russell’s, but I don’t mind him. I was endeared to him on his aforementioned appearance on Life Stories and still have both of his Booky Wooks on my shelf to read. Perhaps if I’d read them already, I would have been more clued up on the comedian’s addiction and maybe would have known what to expect.

ADDICTING VIEWING?

I have to say, From Addiction to Recovery didn’t exactly live up to my expectations – probably because I was quite deceived by the title. I predicted that it would have been about Russell’s own, personal story about leaving his life of drugs behind, as opposed to what it turned out to be: the host visiting lots of current and former drug addicts, doctors and experts and the rehabilitation centre where he got the help he needed.

I’m not saying that what the show transpired to be wasn’t interesting, nor informative, but I think that the opportunity to hear directly from Russell about his journey alone would have been better. It would have been the only chance we’ve had to hear from him on-camera (i.e. not in print), and without the story coming as a result of probing questioning (i.e. not on Life Stories).

‘VILE AND SICKENING’

Nevertheless, I did enjoy watching the documentary – there were many excellent aspects to it, one of which being Russell’s articulate, well thought-through and, most importantly, intriguing arguments. He didn’t back down, no matter what he was debating, and delivered his valid opinions – as he spoke as an ex-addict – with conviction, which meant that he invariably triumphed in getting his point across, leaving his opponents stumped.

Another good thing – perhaps the best – about From Addiction to Recovery was the fact that it didn’t beat around the bush: it got straight to the point, was hard-hitting (just like Russell’s arguments) and therefore made for better, more memorable viewing. For example, I couldn’t look at the pictures of heroin addicts injecting themselves – they were vile and sickening. However, the important thing is that they made an impact on me. The main people who watch BBC3, are fans of Russell Brand and – let’s face it – are curious about drugs are teenagers and those in their early twenties. I’m sixteen, watched this program and was disgusted. Thus, by including these shocking and revolting images, the documentary will probably be helping to deter people from drugs. I didn’t want to even touch drugs before I watched this, but having seen the reality of the effects of them on camera, I definitely don’t want to go near them! If it’s affected me, it must have affected other people – particularly those around my age – and I applaud everyone involved for that. A potentially controversial, but ultimately beneficial decision!

To reiterate, as someone who isn’t a ‘die hard’ Brand fan, and someone who has never been tempted by, nor associated with, drugs, I have to say that I didn’t find the documentary as gripping as I thought I would when I sat down to watch it. I do, however, think it has importance and it should be considered for use in schools, perhaps during lessons such as PSHRE or Religious Education. Perhaps not wholly entertaining, but undoubtedly vital.