Category Archives: Drama

‘Cradle to Grave’ (BBC2) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cast of 'Cradle to Grave'

Thanks to BBC and Matt Squire
©ITV Cradle Ltd.

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

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

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ITV Encore’s Drama Poll is Here!

We all know that the nation loves a good drama to get their teeth into. The brilliantly crafted characters, intricate plotlines and twists and turns in the narrative are what keep us captivated by the genre, and while other channels have been known to throw up a classic or two, it’s surely ITV that is the home of truly great British drama.

From crime series such as A Touch of Frost, The Sweeney and Whitechapel to cosier shows like Fat Friends, Wild at Heart and At Home With the Braithwaites, and not forgetting period pieces, including Upstairs, Downstairs, Lost in Austen and Brideshead Revisited, ITV seldom disappoints when it comes to cracking drama. Surprisingly, though, none of the aforementioned shows were nominated in either of the categories in the poll; Best Drama Moment and Favourite Drama Character.

The other nominees, however, more than warranted their places in the poll. So, here they are. First up, we have Best Drama Moment.

Broadchurch – The Murderer is Revealed'Broadchurch' - The Murderer is Revealed

In spring last year, the nation was captivated as Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch had us all guessing who was the murderer of tragic teen, Danny Latimer. My money was always on Mark, Danny’s dad, and in the end it was revealed to be…no, I won’t spoil it. The final episode attracted a staggering 10 million viewers – and that’s excluding audiences for ITV+1 and ITV Player, and with series two due to be filmed imminently, Broadchurch fever looks set to grip Britain once again.

Collision – The Car Crash'Collision' - The Car Crash

Starring Douglas Henshall, this metafictional series ran for five consecutive nights in 2009 and regularly attracted viewers of around 7 million. As the title suggests, the series told the story of a car crash which causes a group of strangers’ lives to become intertwined, leading to the exposition of numerous secrets involving smuggling, government cover-ups and murder. To remind yourself of the spectacular, and very costly, crash, take a look at this report from ITV’s Anglia Tonight.

Doc Martin – Martin and Louisa’s Wedding

One of the most popular ITV shows of recent years is undoubtedly Doc Martin – the story of'Doc Martin' - Martin and Louisa's Wedding a haemophobic doctor who, having quit his job as a surgeon in London, relocates to Cornish village, Portwenn and struggles to tone down his stubbornness and improve his people skills to fit in with the close-knit way of life. Running throughout the six series, which we have enjoyed since 2004, has been the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Martin and local headmistress, Louisa Glasson. It took them three series to even go on a date, Martin called off their wedding in 2009 and then in the last minute of the show’s returning episode in 2011, Louisa revealed that she was pregnant! So, with baby James bringing them closer than ever, Martin and Louisa finally made it down the aisle in the sixth series last year. In true Doc Martin style though, even the wedding was plagued by complications: Louisa was late, the couple had a tiff at the reception and the villagers’ gift of a honeymoon resulted in a shotgun being pointed at the newlyweds by a madman whose life Martin eventually saved when a caravan collapsed onto him. ‘Twas quite an episode!

Downton Abbey – Matthew and Mary’s First Kiss

When Matthew Crawley first arrived at Downton Abbey'Downton Abbey' - Matthew and Mary's First Kiss with his mother, Isobel, sparks flew as he was reluctant to marry one of the Crawley daughters and be the new air of the Abbey. However, when he saw Lady Mary, he instantly fell in love with her – it’s just a shame that she didn’t feel the same, as she displayed open hostility towards the twenty-something solicitor. The Dowager Countess felt quite the same about Isobel – and while the two women continue to be acerbic with one another four years on, Matthew and Mary thankfully got together, with the unlikely kiss that was nominated as Best Drama Moment.

Downton Abbey – The Death of Lady Sybil

Over its four year tenure, Downton Abbey has seen many much-loved characters come and go –'Downton Abbey' - The Death of Lady Sybil sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. An example of the latter occurred in October 2012 when, during the third series of the show, almost twelve million viewers mourned the death of feisty Feminist, Lady Sybil. Having qualified as a nurse and married Irish chauffeur, Tom Branson, in late 1919, Sybil found herself pregnant – but sadly died during childbirth, making that episode one of the most poignant and best-written of the four series.

Foyle’s War – The End of World War II'Foyle's War' - The End of World War II

Having been axed by ITV Director of Programmes, Simon Shaps, in 2008, it was widely believed that this episode of Foyle’s War, entitled ‘All Clear’, would be the last. The series eventually returned in 2010 and continues to run today, but it is this episode from the sixth series that was nominated for Best Drama Moment.

Law & Order: UK – Ronnie Tries to Save Matt Devlin

Its future may be unsure, as Bradley Walsh has recently stated that he is leaving the show, but for  the past five years, Law & Order: UK has regularly'Law & Order: UK' - Ronnie Tries to Save Matt Devlin attracted and intrigued millions of viewers with the cases that down-to-earth cop Ronnie Brooks comes across. The moment that finds Law & Order: UK in the poll is from the final episode of the fifth series, in which Ronnie attempted to save his colleague and surrogate son, Matt Devlin after he was shot twice by a masked gunman. In a gripping and emotional scene, Ronnie ran to the ailing Matt and placed his coat over him in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding, before the screen faded to black. It would be almost five months until British viewers discovered whether Matt lived or died.

Mr Selfridge – Selfridges Opens For the First Time

Based on the book, Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge, the first episode of Andrew Davies’s  critically acclaimed period drama depicted just some of the trials and'Mr Selfridge' - Selfridges Opens For the First Time tribulations that Harry Gordon Selfridge faced when he came to London to create his now famous Oxford Street store. Having had success in Chicago with his transformation of the department store, Marshall Field’s, Selfridge came to England in an attempt to do the same, but unfortunately his business partner pulled out at the last minute. Undeterred, Selfridge soldiered on, recruited the help of Lady Mae Loxley and saw his store built in record time. Of course, many other obstacles would stand in Harry’s way over the coming months and years but this moment, when Selfridges opened for the first time, was a truly great one.

Mrs Biggs

Five-part factual drama, Mrs Biggs aired in 2012 and received instant critical acclaim for its'Mrs Biggs' alternative look at the infamous Great Train Robbery. Told from the perspective of Ronnie Biggs’s wife, Charmian (who helped writer Jeff Pope with some of the scripts), the series saw Daniel Mays nominated for a National Television Award, while Sheridan Smith was recognised by not only the NTAs but also BAFTA and the Royal Television Society. The use of Biggs’s wife to tell the story of the raid was ingenious and offered an insight into her trauma and turmoil that much of the nation had previously not considered. Whereas it could not match the impeccable timing of the BBC’s The Great Train Robbery last year (the first episode of which aired on the same day as Ronnie Biggs’s death), Mrs Biggs was a truly great drama which provided numerous memorable moments.

Poirot – The Death of Hercule Poirot

Last year, after a quarter of a century on our screens,'Poirot' - The Death of Hercule Poirot Belgian detective Hercule Poirot solved his last-ever case. Entitled ‘Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case’, this final instalment saw the immobilised sleuth and his old friend Captain Hastings return to their first case in order to prevent a looming murder. In Styles Court, where the pair first met thirty years ago, Hastings acted as Poirot’s eyes and ears, attempting to uncover, from a long list of possibilities, the killer in their midst. It was a gripping conclusion to the story of Hercule Poirot and more than satisfied the super-sleuth’s fans, even delivering the twist in the tale to which they had become so accustomed. Incidentally, ‘Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case’ will be the first programme shown on ITV Encore at 7:00pm tonight.

Scott & Bailey – Janet Scott is Stabbed'Scott & Bailey' - Janet Scott is Stabbed

Based on an idea by two of the show’s stars, Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay, and written by Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley scribe, Sally Wainwright, Scott & Bailey has been entertaining ITV audiences since 2011. It was in the penultimate episode of the first series that this moment happened; when Janet Scott was stabbed and critically injured after Rachel discovered who killed 46-year-old mother, Lynn Stott. Of course, Janet soon recovered and in the next episode returned to work but she would later interview Geoff Hastings – the man who stabbed her – in series two.

The Widower – Malcolm Webster Drugs His First Wife'The Widower' - Malcolm Webster Drugs His First Wife

The most recent drama on the list, The Widower told the true story of nurse, Malcolm Webster who  is currently imprisoned for the murder of his first wife and attempted murder of his second, and gripped viewers when it aired in March of this year. The scene in which Webster drugged his first wife, Claire, was an amazing piece of television. Reece Shearsmith showed the character’s manipulation, determination and ruthlessness perfectly, making for a fantastic miniseries.

Titanic – RMS Titanic Strikes an Iceberg

Broadcast in 2012 to coincide with the centenary of the maiden voyage of the tragic Titanic,'Titanic' - RMS Titanic Strikes an Iceberg Downton Abbey writer, Julian Fellowes’s four-part miniseries was met with a mixed reception, with critics seeming undecided as to whether or not it was worth the £11m it cost to make and nearly three million viewers fleeing after the opening episode. ITV Encore clearly believed it to be worthy of a place on this list, however, so the iconic moment of the Titanic hitting the iceberg was nominated for Best Drama Moment.

So those are all of the moments, surprisingly spanning only six years of ITV drama. My favourite had to be the reveal of the murderer on Broadchurch – Olivia Colman and David Tennant’s performances in that episode were exceptional, and Chris Chibnall’s writing made it inevitable that the show would have numerous awards heaped upon it. It seems that the 2,000 people polled agreed with me, as Broadchurch was indeed voted the Best Drama Moment, with 25% of the vote! Poirot was in second place, with the wedding of Martin and Louisa in Doc Martin and the death of Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey joint third.

ITV Encore also wanted viewers to vote for their Favourite Character. Those in line for that accolade included:

Broadchurch – Alec Hardy (David Tennant)

Broadchurch – Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman)

Broadchurch – Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker)

Broadchurch – Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan)

Doc Martin – Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes)

Doc Martin – Louisa Ellingham (Caroline Catz)

Downton Abbey – Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery)

Downton Abbey – Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens)

Downton Abbey – The Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)

Downton Abbey – Violet, Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith)

Endeavour – Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans)

Foyle’s War – Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen)

Foyle’s War – Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks)

Law & Order: UK – DS Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh)

Lewis – DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately)

Lewis – DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox)

Marple – Jane Marple (Julia McKenzie)

Midsomer Murders – DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon)

Midsomer Murders – DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles)

Mr Selfridge – Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus)

Favourite Character Nominees

Those were just some of the nominations for Favourite Character – many more were available. Doc Martin (Martin Clunes) and Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) tied in first place for Favourite Male Character, with 25% of the vote each, while DI Alex Hardy (David Tennant, Broadchurch) secured second place and DS Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh, Law & Order: UK) and DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately, Lewis) tied in third position.

As for the female characters, unsurprisingly, Downton Abbey‘s Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) was most popular, with 32% of the vote. Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman, Broadchurch) and Louisa Ellingham (Caroline Catz, Doc Martin) were second, and DCI Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn, Vera) came third.

Don’t forget to tune into ITV Encore from 6:45pm tonight, when the last-ever Poirot will be followed by a double-bill of Broadchurch and the first episode of The Ice Cream Girls on Sky channel 123.

All images included in this article courtesy of ITV

‘Run’ (Channel 4) Review

From fledgling writers Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and Marlon Smith comes Run: a gritty new drama series which over four nights this week will present as many seemingly unrelated stories, cleverly interwoven with each other and featuring a raft of treasured and emerging acting talent.

In tonight’s opening episode we saw Olivia Colman as Carol – a single mother who only just gets by on the money from her dead-end job (and a bit of theft besides) and continually strives to keep her family united and out of trouble. However, those attempts soon prove fruitless when her sons commit an act of random violence against a stranger, leaving her with the tough decision of whether to stand by them or turn them in to the police.

SUPERBLY GRIPPING’

Channel 4 has excelled itself recently with a host of excellent shows encompassing many genres: dramas like Dates, hidden-camera shows such as Eye Spy and documentaries, including How to Find Love Online and Daisy Donovan’s fantastic The Greatest Shows on Earth. Run can now be added to this quartet of brilliance.

Everything about it was superbly gripping, featuring characters which we got to know instantly – whether they were sympathetic like Carol or downright despicable like her ex, Kieran (Neil Maskell). Smith and Fajemisin-Duncan also paced their script very well: it didn’t crawl along and feel laboriously dragged out, nor did it race through. Carol’s story was told at a speed which mirrored her hectic life but also gave the audience a chance to get to know her and the people and places surrounding her. Within minutes we could tell that Carol was a single mother, living on the breadline and desperately trying to keep her family united and safe against the gritty backdrop of a council estate.

The interweaving of each story became apparent even at this early stage as this episode also introduced an intriguing plot involving a destitute Chinese girl, about whom we will find out more in tomorrow night’s episode.

COMPELLING AND TRAGIC’

All of the cast were excellent tonight but the real star of the show was of course Olivia Colman who, since being catapulted into the nation’s hearts after her portrayal of DS Ellie Miller in Broadchurch, can do very little wrong. Her performance as Carol, a working class mum of two, in Run was a huge departure from the roles for which she is best known – not only in Broadchurch but Peep Show and Rev. – and therefore proved what a fantastically talented and versatile actress she is.

Throughout the episode I really felt for Carol and her situation – being stuck in such a harsh, unforgiving environment with her attempts at creating happiness and normality being quashed by those around her. The writers’ writing, Charles Martin’s direction and Olivia Colman’s acting meant that Carol’s journey, from the discovery of her sons’ crime to the final, beautifully shot scene, was compelling and tragic in equal measure.

What with her BAFTA-winning turns in sitcoms (Twenty Twelve) and dramas (Accused), surely it is only a matter of time until Olivia Colman is given National Treasure status?

Run was nothing short of brilliant. Everyone involved contributed to creating an enjoyable, engrossing and sadly all too believable story, of which I am sure we will see a lot more as the series continues.

Run is on all this week at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Run? 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.

‘Dates’ (Channel 4) – Episode 9 Review

Tonight we came full circle as we caught up with the couple with whom Dates began: David and Mia.

Within the first few moments of meeting David (Will Mellor) in the pub, it was clear that Mia (Oona Chaplin) was behaving as moody and manipulatively as ever. She claimed that she did not want to meet David’s kids, forcing him to flounce out and be replaced by Stephen (Ben Chaplin), whom Mia had summoned between sips of red wine  and drags of a fake cigarette.

Stephen was clearly still hurt from when Mia stood him up (in the seventh episode), so the conversation wasn’t exactly flowing to begin with. This was in no way helped by Stephen having brought along his teenage son – who was even moodier than Mia. When will we see a polite, courteous teenager on TV, eh?

When Stephen returned with Mia to her flat, they found a very drunken David sitting outside with a cut hand, which Stephen treated with a sanitary towel. After healing David’s hand, however, Stephen’s realisation that he had been deceived and was wasting his time with Mia led him to tell her that he would not be staying. With a kiss on the cheek, he left the apartment, leaving Mia and David alone to drunkenly squabble. During the tiff – which started over her apparently originally saying that she would like to meet David’s four kids – Mia confessed that she had once been a prostitute, which we already knew (but I had admittedly forgotten about) from the third episode.

As a tearful Mia deliberated over David’s ultimatum of carrying on with their relationship or sending him packing, Stephen called his son and offered a trip to the Science Museum, which the whiny sod refused, owing to its poor layout. It seems that the hurt that Stephen caused as a result of his philandering had finally come back to bite him.

Mia soon decided what she wanted to do about herself and David, but actually didn’t choose either of the options which were originally given to her. She proposed that they don’t enter into a serious relationship, but just have ‘more fun’. And David agreed!

What do you think the writer is trying to say about our attitudes to love?

‘A LITTLE DISAPPOINTING’

When I watched the preview for tonight’s episode and saw that David, Mia and Stephen were all going to be featuring, I was ready for a great finale to the series. I expected a feud, complete with tears and heartache and a relationship or two hanging in the balance. We didn’t get that, though. What we did get was generally a little disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, this episode wasn’t bad, but most of the episodes have been much more than  ‘not bad’ and I feel that we deserved something which was nearer to the standard of the previous episodes. Where was the gripping action? The twist and turns in the plot? I didn’t expect an explosive conclusion but I did want something which flowed well and showed the intricacies of the characters’ relationships – not just an episode with a basic framework of a beginning, a middle and an end, like this!

What has kept me absorbed by Dates is the great chemistry (or lack thereof) between the couples. It was great to either see a good connection crumble or a bad atmosphere blossom into something more hopeful – so where was that in tonight’s episode? I understand that we had already met the three principle characters before (together they had appeared in over half of the episodes in the nine-part series) but surely that would have given more scope for exploration of their relationships! How had David and Mia been getting on since we saw them embrace in Episode Five? Had they been arguing? Had they been going strong? Had it just been a one night stand, or had they formed a more serious bond? Likewise with Stephen’s thoughts towards Mia: how exactly did he feel about her ditching him at the last minute? If he was bothered he didn’t show it, and if he wasn’t, why wasn’t he? Was it because he expected it of her or because he is of a similarly callous nature that he didn’t think much of it?

At the very least I wanted to gauge a reaction from Stephen and David when they found out that they had both been seeing Mia. I’m sure having them confront either each other or Mia would have made for not only a greater viewing experience but a better writing one, too. I bloody love writing arguments and tiffs – it’s so much more interesting than just letting people get on and not think much of others’ revelations.

What I’m trying to say is that this episode could have been so much better. It wasn’t the conclusion that Dates deserved.

 

Despite the odd weak episode (namely Episodes Seven and Nine) Dates has truly been a fantastic series and I’ve loved reviewing it, as usually I could enthuse about it and really try to understand the characters and what made them tick. Clearly others have enjoyed these reviews as much as I have because, within two days of publishing my first review of Dates, the number of visitors to this site had soared from just 50 to 624. So thanks!

Dates may have begun life as part of Channel 4’s Mating Season but I would quite like to see it return. I think there are many more situations and characters to be explored, it would be a shame if Bryan Elsley and his team neglected to do so.

What did you think of Dates? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to 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.

‘Dates’ (Channel 4) – Episode 8 Review

The penultimate episode of Bryan Elsley’s Dates saw Sheridan Smith’s character Jenny, from episode two, on a date with Christian – played by Andrew Scott. I’m not at all jealous.

The pair met at an art gallery and, after an initially uncomfortable atmosphere, seeing a rude sculpture broke the ice and they began to laugh and joke over drinks. Between sips of her drink, Jenny told Christian about how her previous dates had been disastrous (including one potential suitor bringing along his poorly spider, so that he could look after it). Her bitterness over her ex-fiancé leaving her for another women was clearly still present, too, as she made references to her broken heart not only at this point but throughout the episode.

The chat over drinks appeared to go well – so well in fact that, two hours (or ten televised minutes) later they were in bed together – and they weren’t watching telly.

The fact that Jenny was at a low-ebb and wracked with self-doubt was palpable but Christian managed to restore that by assuring her that she truly is special. His compliment soon meant less, however, when he also stated that everyone, including criminals, is special and deserves forgiveness. The couple’s conflicting views on religion and remission soon came to the fore, and it was downhill from there as, while Jenny was searching in Christian’s wardrobes, his wife showed up, demanding to know who she was.

Realising that Christian was still on ‘that site’, his wife, Helen, packed his bags and threw him out, leaving him little option but to beg Jenny to let him stay at her house. Jenny’s kind nature meant that she at first said yes to the grovelling and tearful Christian, but she eventually saw sense and stated that she didn’t need to put up with his ‘bullshit’, before telling him – in no uncertain terms – where to go.

And I silently cheered for her.

BACK ON FORM

After a shaky episode last Wednesday, which was not to the usual standard of Dates, I really hoped that ‘Jenny and Nick’ would have been a return to what we had been used to: highly entertaining and gripping drama. And it was!

As always, Sheridan Smith was simply brilliant and it was worth the three week wait to see her as  the lovely, hard done-by Jenny again. Just like her original appearance, I felt really sorry for Jenny and rooted for her all of the time, desperately hoping (perhaps more than the character was) that, after a catalogue of bad dates, Christian would be the one for her. Sadly, of course, he wasn’t but I was overjoyed when she stood up to him and saw her walk off with a look of satisfaction on her face.

I need to get out more.

Nancy Harris’s superb script followed the Dates trend, which I only actually realised existed tonight. Whenever a date seems to be going badly in this series, it ends well. Similarly, when a date is going well, it more often than not ends badly. I’ve never been the most perceptive of people, hence I only noticed this tonight and it seems to be true for every episode – if a couple have been getting along fine, it’s bound to end in tears. And, sadly, it did for Jenny and Christian.

A DIFFICULT CHARACTER

Jenny was once again a very sympathetic and seemingly vulnerable character but Nancy Harris managed to show her tougher, more no-nonsense side which increased my respect for her.

To reiterate, I must get out more.

Just like Jenny’s first date in the series, the closeted Nick, Christian was quite difficult to get the measure of. His moral preaching and apparent objection to all sin was in stark contrast to the web of lies that he had woven. On the other hand, his strong belief in forgiveness was explained – as a regular, married user of the dating site on which all of the series’ characters met, he obviously needed to be frequently forgiven by his wife!

Despite his theist views contrasting with Jenny’s atheist ones, he seemed ideal for her. It looked like he would finally be able to make her happy and confident in herself again – but he turned out to be a liar and cheat, just like Nick.

Poor Jenny, eh?

 

Thankfully it appears that last Wednesday’s episode was a mere blip and Dates is back to how it was. I loved ‘Jenny and Christian’ and would have liked to have seen more of him in particular: would he manage to worm his way back in with his wife and, if so, would he still continue to use the site? Actually, I would have liked to have seen him even before his date with Jenny: how many times did Helen have to find it in herself to forgive her cheat of a husband, and were there times when he got away with his adultery?

Sadly, tomorrow night will see the last in this series of Dates. It should be a good one, though: it looks like Mia’s lies and mind games are about to catch up with her as she is confronted by both David and Stephen.

Dates concludes tomorrow night at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Dates? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to 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.

‘Dates’ (Channel 4) – Episode 7 Review

‘Stephen and Mia’ was an utterly misleading title for this episode of Dates, as Ben Chaplin returned as the shady Stephen but Oona Chaplin did not appear in person at all – she was merely heard on the phone for no longer than a minute.

The reason we heard Mia’s voice was because she called Stephen to tell him that she had ‘met someone’ and therefore wouldn’t be coming on a second date with him. So, feeling stood-up and humiliated, Stephen decided to mingle with a conference group and take advantage of the free champagne on offer. To do this, he posed as the apparently high-profile Matthew Binney and, after an initial tiff, managed to woo Heidi Greenholm (Sian Breckin), with whom he swiftly moved to a more dimly-lit and discreet part of the bar, complete with a pool.

After talking about themselves, “Matthew” and the married Heidi went from a swim – and I got the impression that trouble was brewing from the moment that they bombed in together.

Sadly, however, I was wrong as, after the pair kissed and cuddled, the episode ended on a whimper, with Heidi finding out that “Matthew” was in fact Stephen, miraculously managing to get dry, despite their appearing to be no towels to hand, and slapped him.

IT THREATENED BOREDOM’

I have reviewed every episode of Dates and, while I have favourites, I have said that they have all been to a brilliant standard and were thoroughly enjoyable to watch. In fact, last night I wrote of the sixth episode, ‘What else could I have been expecting but another brilliant episode of Dates.’ That was of course before I watched tonight’s instalment, which was such a slow-burner that it threatened boredom.

This episode simply didn’t hook and engage me like the others have, which is a shame as I was really looking forward to it, following the conclusion of last Wednesday’s episode (which saw Mia  and her first date, David, be passionately reunited). I was anxious to discover how Mia would break the news to Stephen – or whether she would just carry on dating him while also secretly sleeping with David. We got no drama, though, and we got no huge revelation. What we did get, on the other hand, was a meagre 38 second phone conversation (yes, I timed it) which seemed like an eleventh hour brainwave on the writer’s part to keep Mia out of the picture and introduce a new character.

Surely it would have been better to have had Mia meet Stephen and be totally unapologetic about her returning to David, therefore exposing her callousness (a trait of hers, the extent of which was intriguing to see) and perhaps showing a more vulnerable side to the normally hardheaded Stephen.

Furthermore, I know I would have preferred to have seen Stephen’s identity be revealed by the real Matthew Binney arriving. Granted, that’s a situation which has been written many times and is perhaps more at home in the land of sitcom but it would have been a damn sight better than what we were given.

THE PITFALLS OF WRITING

I don’t like writing critical reviews. That’s why I prefer to call myself ‘a reviewer’, rather than ‘a critic’, as I think the latter has negative connotations, as if the person it describes watches TV and sets out to only find faults, rather than celebrate its achievements. And that’s exactly what I’ve done with Dates so far: celebrate its achievements. I just can’t help expressing my disappointment with this episode, though.

I know that scriptwriting can be hard. I began a script over two weeks ago, have written around 14 minutes of material and am dreading going back to it as I’m not sure if it’s funny enough, dramatic enough, authentic enough, engaging enough… What is often underestimated is the difficulty of writing – you must constantly have the interests of your plots, subplots, characters and – perhaps most importantly – audience on your mind, and are therefore highly likely to churn out the odd dud episode every now and again. It can happen to even the best writers – I can name episodes of Father Ted, The Royle Family, One Foot in the Grave and even Only Fools and Horses which don’t quite meet the standard to which we as viewers have become accustomed. However, I can’t even use this as an excuse for my disappointment as each episode of Dates has had a different writer, so Bryan Elsley has only had to pen two of the seven episodes so far. I just couldn’t believe that he was responsible for this episode, as in Dates he has created an otherwise fantastic series.

I understood the purpose of the other episodes – they had great conclusions, be they cliffhangers or the beginning or end of a relationship. ‘Stephen and Mia’, though? It slightly baffled me and, for the first time, it crossed my mind to switch over to Big Brother.

I’m looking forward to seeing Sheridan Smith return as Jenny next week, though. Hopefully Nancy Harris’s script will get the series back on track.

Dates will be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Dates? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to 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.

‘Dates’ (Channel 4) – Episode 6 Review

Fresh Meat co-stars Gemma Chan and Greg McHugh starred in this episode of Dates, which saw lesbian Erica being forced to go on a date with a very forthright Scotsman named Callum.

Of course, we last saw Erica on a date with Kate – which ended with the cliffhanger of Erica’s brother reacting quite badly to the revelation of her sexuality. In fact, he objected so much that we found out in this episode that he had set up a date for her with Callum, who was quite a complex character (more of which later).

Within five minutes of the date beginning, Erica had told Callum that she was gay and did not see the point of wasting any more of his time. However, Callum persuaded her to stay, eat her food and drink an abundance of alcohol – which they both clearly did as Part Two began with them both plainly inebriated.

A deep discussion about human sexuality began, in which Callum, who defined himself as ‘a one’ on the sexuality continuum (‘if one is as straight as you can be and ten is as gay as you can be’), claimed that Erica is in fact bisexual, and tried to convince her that they could have a relationship. This appeared to be the beginning of the end of the niceties as Erica took exception to Callum’s contradiction and began to point out his faults – including arrogance, a trait which he refused to believe he held, prompting him to shout at Erica and attack the restaurant waiter.

The date was salvaged, however, when Erica’s brother arrived and was told in no uncertain terms where he could stick his concern about his sister’s sexuality, and Erica and Callum strode off to ‘get drunk’ – again.

VERY ENTERTAINING’

What else could I have been expecting but another brilliant episode of Dates. It was difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry tonight but Jamie Brittain’s excellent script made Erica and Callum’s date very entertaining to observe.

The chemistry between Gemma Chan and Greg McHugh was palpable and made the episode that much more enjoyable as it meant they were able to show their characters’ complex relationship – which saw a lot of highs, but sadly just as many lows.

COMPLEX CALLUM

It was great to see Erica finally stand up to her brother tonight and gain the strength to defend her sexuality to him, especially after the climax to last week’s episode, in which we had seen her finally become comfortable with her emotions but then be plunged into doubt and guilt again by her sibling’s objections. Although it would have been nice to see her pop up in a future episode, it  doesn’t look like we will and I don’t think we really need to: her story has been told and she has triumphantly found the courage to stick two fingers up to her brother and his traditional Chinese views. And that was the reason for her being in the series.

Meanwhile, this was the first time that we had met Callum, and I found him very difficult to get the measure of. When I watched the episode, I wrote in my notes about him, ‘Very forthright’ and then immediately after, ‘Quite naive?’ I included the question mark because I wasn’t sure whether he would go on to show his naivety, but I sensed that there was a little lurking within him. Even now, having watched the whole episode and weighed up what I thought of him, I’m still not sure whether naive is the right word. I suppose that, like so many of the characters in Dates, he was desperate to find love and discovering that he had been set up on a date with a lesbian just proved another kick in the teeth (and was especially painful as he had apparently only ever been on a date with one woman before). Callum described himself as a ‘beautiful, flawed, multi-faceted, complex individual’ and he was certainly that – with particularly emphasis on the latter adjective.

Despite his tough, harsh and slightly scary exterior, there was undoubtedly a kindness inside of Callum which crept out at certain moments in the episode. When he confronted Erica’s brother on her behalf, for example, he may not have displayed particular kindness to him but it was all done as an act of compassion for Erica as he knew that it would ultimately benefit her and enable her to move on with her life and stop carrying so much ‘gay shame’ (as I recently read it adequately described).

I’m sure Callum would have been an interesting character to develop and perhaps put in other episodes, with other daters. I personally would have been very interested to see whether his extreme anger and mood swings were a result of his frustration about Erica’s sexuality or if they are just in his nature and, if so, would he have the capability to take them even further?

A ‘complex individual’ he certainly was.

I’m struggling to comprehend that, by next Wednesday, Dates will be over. However, I am determined to savour what remains of the series as one written, acted and directed with more precision, care and focus is difficult to come by.

Dates will be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Dates? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to 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.

‘Dates’ (Channel 4) – Episode 5 Review

We first met David (played by Will Mellor) last week, in the first episode – and he was back tonight and this time on a date with Ellie (Montanna Thompson).

It was immediately clear that Ellie was quite confident, leaping onto David and proceeding to chat endlessly. As it was his birthday, David got to decide the venue – that ending up being American restaurant, Hollywoodland.

The conversation flowed and it appeared that there was a spark between the pair, but then Ellie was recognised by a (seemingly troublesome) friend, who exposed the truth about Ellie’s age – that being that she is not 25, as she told David, but is in fact 19. Understandably, David felt incredibly let  down by Ellie’s omission of this information and did not wish to continue with the date. However, with some persuasion from her, he stayed and they both agreed that their relationship would not progress beyond friendship.

Knowing that there was no romance at risk, David opened up about his failed date with Mia, which is where we first saw him last week. With this in mind, Ellie took the opportunity when David went to the toilet to send an obscene text to Mia, apparently from David. Of course, it appeared that this would have crushed any hopes that David had of trying to form a relationship with Mia. However, the outcome of the night was jaw-droppingly the opposite of this.

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Mia’s date with Stephen (her current boyfriend) next Wednesday.

EXCELLENT’

Again, another excellent episode of Dates. I was overjoyed to see David back as I really warmed to him when we first saw him, so was hopeful that he would finally find love this time. Which he did – sort of.

We definitely discovered more about David and Mia – both as a couple and individually – than we did on their first date. They appear to be more comfortable with themselves now and know what they are looking for, which is fantastic and I’m anxious to see how their pairing develops during the remainder of the series.

While not strictly about David and Mia, this episode did show that they are well suited as a couple. Now that’s something that I didn’t think I would have written about them. In fact, in my first review of Dates, I wrote:

“There was a fragility to David whereas Mia seldom seemed anything other than bitter and dismissive of others’ feelings, giving her an air of unpleasantness.”

My general opinion was that they were total opposites and, despite what Paula Abdul dictates, they were never going to attract. However, tonight I had to reason that they actually are compatible. Sadly, it seems that their compatibility has only come to the fore because David has reduced himself to Mia’s level by appearing callous and cold – whereas I would have preferred them to have proved themselves to be suited by Mia taking a leaf out of David’s book and being a bit more compassionate. Alas, she didn’t and so, although it saddens me to say it, I have lost some respect for David.

Whereas we’d already met David and got to know him a little, this was the first time Ellie had appeared in Dates. At the beginning of the date, as I said, she was very excitable and desperate to impress. By the end of the night, however, she was slightly more grounded, having dropped her pretence and shown a warmer side to herself.

Despite initially deceiving David, I did feel sorry for Ellie. There was a desperation to her as she seemed to want to appear mature beyond her years and break away from her college image. She sadly just didn’t realise that her natural demeanour was far more attractive and likeable than her fake one. At first, I had reservations about Ellie as I believed that she was going to do exactly what Mia did and let David down, making him think that he may never find love, but I ultimately respected her and would love to see more of her as a character.

 

In this episode, writer Laura Hunter created a very bittersweet date but one which, like all those from the series so far, provided us with engaging and slightly complex characters who prove that the search for love can often be more complicated than it first appears.

Dates will be on over the next few weeks at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Dates? 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.

‘Dates’ (Channel 4) – Episode 4 Review

In tonight’s Dates, Gemma Chan starred as Erica, a young woman who, struggling to confront her sexuality, meets up with Kate (Katie McGrath).

After engaging in small talk, Erica briefly mentioned that her ex-partner was a man – a fact that Kate was immediately irritated by. Having had her lifestyle choice rudely rubbished by her date, Erica decided to flit out of the club but was stopped by Kate, who convinced her to stay and get drunk.

A dance and a kiss later, the pair woke up in bed together, where Erica confessed that she is often economical with the truth and only dates and sleeps with men in order to prevent her family from discovering her sexuality. Once again, this angered Kate, who encouraged Erica to simply say ‘I’m gay’ – after all, ‘it’s just words’. Once Erica had said the words that Kate wanted to hear, they both agreed to get something to eat.

‘TOO GOOD’

Seems like a bit of an anti-climax, doesn’t it? Well, I deliberately haven’t included the ending in my overview just in case you happen to be reading this and haven’t seen this episode yet. The ending is so good that I simply wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone.

The truth is that Dates is just too good for Channel 4 to toss around the schedules like this. We had three episodes last week, and just two this week and next. Bryan Elsley and co’s creations deserve a solid spot which will allow viewers to know exactly when Dates is on, and not have to continually check TV guides for the next instalment. Perhaps it’s down to the fact that each episode has been written by someone different but Dates has been consistently brilliant and even with ‘Erica & Kate’ (which wasn’t my favourite episode so far) I can’t help but enthuse.

Philippa Langdale’s direction on this episode was particularly notable as it truly fulfilled the triad of   attributes which Channel 4 have given to Dates, that being, ‘witty, sexy and emotional’. The episode buzzed with excitement, mirroring that of Erica as she embarks on only her third lesbian encounter, and had a particularly sexy feel to it. The style of filming really added to the tone of the story.

OPPOSITES ATTRACT?

As always, the characters were intriguing, too. Just like on many of the preceding episodes of Dates, we were first met with a couple with contrasting personalities and approaches to the date. From the moment Erica tentatively entered the club and was grabbed by Kate, it was clear that we were going to be watching one quite timid and one confident woman get to know each other.

From very early on, there seemed to be something of a power struggle within Erica and Kate’s relationship: Erica tried to be the strongest by attempting to walk out of the club and leave Kate on her own but it was in fact Kate who was ultimately the dominant force as she convinced her date to stay and have a few more drinks and even all but forced her to confront her true feelings.

Just like Mia, from earlier in the series, Kate had something of a jealous nature which gave her an air of self-importance and impatience. To be honest, I struggled to find the words to describe Kate as she seemed such a complex character – being quite forthright with her opinions by telling Erica in no uncertain terms that she disapproved of her flirtations with bisexuality, yet danced with another man in the hope of making her jealous. Just as I was about to concoct some sort of wordy, deep description of Kate, however, Erica provided me with the perfect phrase: ‘an angry lesbian with a dick complex’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

 

To reiterate, ‘Erica & Kate’ wasn’t my favourite episode of Dates so far but I am certain that it had the best climax and, like Nick from Episode Two, I am intrigued to find out whether, on her next date, Erica will confront and be open about her sexuality.

Then again, she’ll be on a date with someone called Callum – so it doesn’t seem likely…

Dates will be on over the next few weeks at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Dates? 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.

‘Dates’ (Channel 4) – Episode 3 Review

First seen in Monday’s opening episode, Oona Chaplin  reprised her role as the feisty Mia in tonight’s Dates, alongside Ben Chaplin – who often resembled Steve Coogan, which was quite distracting at times.

In my review of the first episode, I wrote, ‘we discovered very little about Mia, therefore making her very difficult to warm to as the only evident character traits were her jealousy and arrogance’. I did speculate, however, that this may change in tonight’s episode and we may find out a little more about her. It turns out that I was right, as within five minutes of the programme beginning it was revealed that Mia is an escort – and she certainly had no qualms about discussing her and Stephen’s previous encounter in intricate detail. After having sex in an alleyway (classy) they escaped the posh restaurant scene, went to a pub and then finally arrived at Stephen’s place of work: the hospital. Here, Mia masqueraded as a nurse and, despite reservations from Stephen, administered antibiotics to an elderly patient. Unfortunately, just as Mia deliberated over whether to continue dating Stephen or go back to David, the patient died, despite efforts from doctors to resuscitate her.

Never mind, though, because Mia claims that it was the fault of neither herself nor Stephen and was more interested in finishing off the night with a peck on the cheek.

 

As always, this was a really enjoyable episode of Dates. Now that I know the episodes aren’t going to have the fastest of paces, I just relish both watching the chemistry between the two partners grow and predicting whether their time together will be successful. I haven’t guessed correctly so far.

Actually, having said that, I may have predicted one correct outcome as I thought that tonight’s date would go  well and it did – sort of. We were left with neither the promise of another meeting nor the confirmation that Mia and Stephen would never be seeing each other again. It was odd but certainly the most successful of the dates so far – and considering this one saw accidental homicide, that’s quite an achievement! After all, the biggest event we’ve seen so far in the series is buggery in the gents’.

 

We may have seen Mia before but she was so changed in this episode that it was as if we were watching a completely different person. She just seemed a lot more relaxed with Stephen than she did with David – presumably because she had pretty much complete control of this situation, whereas she did not on Monday. Her control may have contributed to her more candid nature in this episode, as she appeared to be concealing a secret when we first saw her, but tonight that secret was revealed: she’s a prostitute. Oh, sorry, ‘escort’.

Mia’s candid nature did not mean she was any more likeable, though. Her blasé attitude to her aforementioned job and frivolity in the hospital, which includes her willingness to risk a patient’s life by injecting them with drugs, was despicable, just as her treatment of David was on Monday.

Stephen wasn’t much better, though. Initially he seemed quite the talkative, cocky charmer but was soon silenced by Mia recognising him from when he had paid her for sex some time ago. He showed an utter lack of professionalism when he allowed his date to treat a frail patient but got his comeuppance in some way when he failed to revive her (the patient, not Mia…).

In the previous two episodes we’ve only seen couples who were incompatible – one was always nervous and kind while the other was secretive and deceptive. However, Stephen and Mia are well matched: they both have related secrets and a reckless nature which can often hurt others. Oh, and they’re not particularly likeable, which is important. Their past could have made their date somewhat awkward and prevented them from getting to know each other properly but it ended up having the opposite effect as they gelled better and quicker than the couples we’ve seen so far in the series.

I feel I should say that I’m aware that I take Dates a little too seriously and perhaps analyse it so meticulously that it could appear that I think it’s real. For the record, I don’t – I just bloody love it.

Ben Schniffer’s script made for another great episode in what is shaping up to be a great series. I’m disappointed that Mia and Stephen’s story has brought us a third of the way through this series of Dates but am looking forward to watching the other episodes (despite the fact that we have to wait until next Tuesday). In fact, my enjoyment of Dates has encouraged me to watch some more programmes related to Channel 4’s Mating Season, such as Dawn O’Porter’s How to Find Love Online (next Tuesday) and documentary series First Dates (next Thursday). So if I treat these fictional first dates as if they’re real, God knows what I’ll make of genuine ones.

Dates will be on over the next few weeks at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Dates? 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.