Category Archives: Television

The End Of The World… As We Know It

I think it’s about time for another rant. And such rants start best in the situation that I currently find myself: thoroughly drunk and in a state of mental exhaustion. And what better thing to rant about in such a complete mess that I exhibit at the moment than the end of modern humanity? Oh I wouldn’t worry, it’s not me that is dragging down society, at least not yet. However, let me point you in the direction of Tool Academy (E4, Mondays), a show that genuinely makes me weep for civilization, yet at the same time delivers me from the brink of self-induced torturous oblivion. You see, this is a programme that shows us how awful we all could be, if we put our minds to it.

It would probably make sense now to outline the programme for you all. It’s what most critics would have done halfway through the first paragraph, but forgive me for taking a slightly different stance, I’ve little concept of blog construction at the moment. Tool Academy starts off life as Britain’s Ultimate Lad, where 12 guys are entered into a competition to show who is the most self-important, preening, dopey prick of the bunch. They flex, drink and flirt with all and sundry to assure themselves of the ultimate title: the guy that every other man in Britain wishes he could get away with being.  One ‘lad’, Liam even takes a prospective mate into the mens bathroom on a night out to a strip club to have his way with, protesting his girlfriend isn’t worth that much to him. However, what they do not suspect is that it is their significant others who have entered them into this competition, to show them up as complete idiots, commitment phobes, show-offs,  drinkers, gamblers and any other adjective that would describe these lads-turned-tools. These men must earn a renewed respect from their significant others and be the best HAB (doesn’t sound as culturally significant the other way round, does it?) that they can be to win the grand £25,000 prize. Some of the contestants don’t take this too well, such as Jake, who instantly flies off the handle at all production crew available. Which, to be honest, I’m surprised not to see from many other of the prospective morons.

What makes this programme truly interesting/disgusting is the pattern of relationships that you see within the show. Where Big Brother started as a ‘social experiment’ of putting freaks in a house and watching the sparks fly, Tool Academy furthers by applying the same rules to a set of two morons who happen to be mating. Watching this programme adds a further dimension that BB never could: it not only makes you feel good about yourself, it allows you to look at the people you surround yourself with, and think, “well, at least they’re not complete arses either.’

The real challenge with these programmes is trying to decide which sex comes off worse. You get an extreme close up at the line-up which is designed to repulse you: the guys who drink and get stoned too much, the man who lets his girlfriend do all the work around the house, helpfully signposted with such monikers as, “Stoner Tool” and “Tipsy Tool”, you know, just so you can disassociate these people with actual problems and addictions. Liam becomes “Randy Tool”, in case people might forget that hey, that’s the prick who cheated on his girlfriend. It all kind of reminds me of 1984’s ‘newspeak’.  But before you get to truly judge these men, you get to meet their WAGs, which levels the playing field somewhat. For instance, one woman enrolls her boyfriend because he doesn’t drink, yet he dances, and has a decent relationship with his mother. According to her, it makes him, ‘a bit gay’. Another trusts her fella ‘110 percent’ yet checks his texts for any sign of infidelity. The women on this programme seem to be able to find any single slight problem with their men, and are able to  change them in a way they’d only previously bragged to girlfriends that they could.

While this juxtaposition is still sinking in, you get to see ‘Temper Tool’ Jake once again in full revolution mode, kicking in the door to the girls dorm to demand his girlfriend pack for a trip home. Which never comes. At the end of the first week, two get sent packing. One is too vain and arrogant, the other too obsessed with his football career. However, it only takes a 10 second apology and declaration of love to turn the significant others legs to jelly.

One thing that slightly makes me uncomfortable with this is the fact that we could never flip such a concept on its head, and have a Bitch Academy, where some of the relationship difficulties included; not being up for sex enough, not doing enough housework and putting a career before relationship (all issues raised in Tool Academy). It just all seems a bit too depraved, and however addictive a programme it may seem, we surely can’t be seen to give these people any more self-importance, can we? I mean, I’ll stop watching…after the next episode. I mean, they’ll be doing a lie detector test, and I miss Randy Tool sweating while trying to explain himself to Naive Bitch.


Beyond The Fourth 2010 Awards- Best Actor

Happy New Year!

This next award is one I’ve had brewing for several days, but I decided to take some time off over the new years celebrations. Not only that, but this is an award that I’d found very difficult to decide. I had a clear idea in my head of who I was going to nominate, but what to say about their performances has had me stumped. So here goes, my nominations for Best Actor 2010…

Matt Smith- The Doctor (Doctor Who)

I think it is safe to say that Matt Smith faced the most daunting challenge of any British actor in reent years. Not only stepping into the shoes of a straight-up British institution, nor the fact that he was set to play the youngest Doctor in the series history. But the task that he had of following David Tennant, who was highly commended as the best Doctor since Tom Baker, is almost worthy of a special Biggest Testicles award of its own.

So, how did he do? Surprisingly well, and the secret to his success only becomes more clear when compared to the previous Doctor. Tennant played the role with vibrancy, full of life and energy. Things happened at a hundred miles an hour, most problems had a quick yet complicated solution, and The Doctor was always in control.

The question on every Doctor Who fans lips was therefore, “How can Matt Smith match that?”. The answer was simple: he really couldn’t. Nor was he required to. He played the role a lot gentler than his predecessor, keeping the quirky side (“It’s a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.”) In essence, he was the strong silent type to Tennant’s charging madman. And coupled with Moffats excellent dialogue, it worked tremendously.

Benedict Cumberbatch- Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock)

If there’s one actor I’ve been dying to see more of in the past couple of years, it is this man. Not purely for the reason that he has the best name in the business, but his portrayal of Stephen Hawking a few years back had a real impact on me. So I was delighted to see the first trailer of him playing a modern day Sherlock Holmes. Even more so after watching the first episode to see that he had nailed the essence of Sherlock. What people rarely knew about the character was his slightly unpleasant nature, his will to solve puzzles and cases without caring of who the people were. Cumberbatch’s depiction was slightly autistic, a pure logical mind at work, but with enough bravado and linguistic wit to turn it into an emotionally flawed genius. He seems to have a good future ahead of him, with a second series of Sherlock later this year and a part in the new Spielberg movie War Horse, so I can’t wait to see more of him. He was easily the best thing about Sherlock…

WINNER: Andrew Scott- Jim Moriarty (Sherlock)

…until this guy shows up. Despite only having 5 minutes of screen time in a series that was 3 hours long, he managed to steal the pivotal, most memorable moment of the series. In complete contrast to Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, Scott overacted the part of Moriarty to the extreme, as evidenced in this clip of their showdown at the end of the series.

I really don’t have much else to say about this nominee. I kind of hoped the clip would say it all. Amazing.

Iwan Rheon- Simon (Misfits)

As a group, the Misfits cast are called upon more than others to say and do the weirdest things. What most young actors would baulk at, Robert Sheehan and Lauren Socha in particular seem to take in their stride. In fact, it is hard to recall a scene where Nathan (Sheehan) is not spouting an extremely offensive monologue while simulating various sexual acts. But when required to be emotional and serious, they do a very good job of it. And no-one more so than Iwan Rheon, who plays invisibility prone loser Simon. The second series allowed him to branch out in terms of personality from someone who played a very quiet and minor role, into what some people would say to be the spearhead of the group. Although as a character Nathan is much more watchable, louder, brasher and funnier, the performance by Rheon keeps the whole thing ticking and makes each episode, in terms of a plot, thoroughly worth returning to.

So, those are my nominations for Best Actor, and while I’m sure there were excellent actors in period dramas such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, it is the performances you remember that are always the special ones.

Beyond The Fourth 2010 Awards- Best TV Drama

So, thats Christmas over for another year, though the turkey will keep you going for another week. Did you get anything good this year? Really? Wow, thats quite a cool present. Well, even though it has passed Boxing Day, many of you are probably still prostrate on the sofa, and this was the last link you clicked on before you lost all semblance of energy. A goood time then, to award the second of my 2010 Awards. This time, its Best TV Drama. The nominations are:

WINNER: Misfits (E4)

This was initially a programme I was late to, flocking to it along with most others when the rave reviews started. And I am so glad I did. What initially comes across as another excuse to feed taboo hungry teenagers with their fill of swearwords, gratuitous sex and violence, also captures the attention with clever plotlines, decent acting and excellent dialogue.

A fantastic example of all of these comes in a recently aired episode from Season 2, where Le Grande Fromage (played by up-and-comer Jordan Metcalfe, doing some of the finest acting of the series), a supervillain whose ability is total kinesis of dairy products. This inspires one of the immortal lines of the series: “You feel that? Thats the mozzarella you had earlier, wrapping itself around your cerebral cortex.” That is an example of dialogue that has been sorely lacking from high end dramas in recent years, and I commend Misfits for such bravery in allowing it into top quality British drama.

Sherlock (BBC1)

Sherlock came on to our screens with very little attention for most people. It was just a quick three-parter reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes story. And modern adaptations are rarely as good as they sound. This is often because writers cant wait to fill any script with up to date pop culture references and slang. Sherlock saves itself by reworking the story faithfully. Writers Moffat and Gatiss kept true to the original, with updated technology the only real differences. But most credit has to go to the acting performances of Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Andrew Scott in his one scene as Moriarty. The dialogue is crisp and the storylines are superb. Most importantly, we realised how much we missed Martin Freeman’s blank look of helplessness as a complete arse patronises him. A second series has been announced for 2011, and I couldn’t be happier.

The Trip (BBC2)

This was a very slow burning comedy that was misunderstood by many. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have been friends and collaberators for many years, and their on screen chemistry really holds the programme together. In fact, it is the only thing in the programme at all. The show is all about Steve and Rob trying to out-do each other, be it with impressions, intellect or integrity. However, it really works, and as probably the most minimalist and divisive drama of the year, it really captured my attention, and held it well.

The Great Outdoors (BBC4)

The real hidden gem of the nominations and the subject of my first blog, way back in August. This was a quirky little comedy about rambling, with a fantastic cast (Mark Heap, Ruth Jones, Katherine Parkinson) that really gels together to lift the script onto a whole new level. I don’t know how much I can say about this that isn’t already covered in the earlier review, but I dearly hope it earns a second series this year.

So, those are my favourites. If you have anything to say that may sway my decision one way or the other, please post a comment. Results will come soonish.

No Sh*t, Sherlock

Both episodes have pulled in around 7m viewers

In June, national treasure and know-it-all Stephen Fry came out with damning criticism of the BBC for its lack of adult, high brow programming. He described Doctor Who and Merlin as “wonderfully written children’s programmes”, for adults they were akin to “chicken nuggets…Every now and again we all like it”. He went on to say, “If you are an adult you want something surprising, savoury, sharp, unusual, cosmopolitan, alien, challenging, complex, ambiguous, possibly even slightly disturbing and wrong.”

Well, the Beeb have come out with their latest attempt to keep Mr Fry happy. It has received universal praise from critics, and pulled in well over 6.5 million viewers for both episodes so far. It is, of course, Sherlock (BBC1, 9pm). This is an updated version of the famous Arthur Conan Doyle characters, by a duo that have had a lot of input into the revamped Doctor Who. Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss have obviously done their homework to keep the details accurate. Doctor Watson arrives back from service in Afghanistan (as opposed to the Anglo-Afghan war in the books), Sherlock still has an addictive personality (nicotine patches, as the BBC probably didn’t fancy keeping him hooked on cocaine and morphine), and Moriarty is still lurking in the darkness somewhere, doing evil and stuff.

So, can we allow ourselves a gourmet meal tonight, or is it KFC straight from the bucket? Well, on the basis of the first two episodes (I can’t cheat like the other critics and watch the release tapes), I actually haven’t got a clue. I mean, I like the show, but then again I also like chicken nuggets. The show is difficult to place, in that it looks high brow (I mean, its Sherlock Holmes, for Christs sake), but it is still a programme for the family. Which means that we all get to solve the puzzles along with Holmes and Watson, via the point of view of Sherlock. This would be absolutely fine, except that there is the addition of a mental HUD to spell every little detail out for you. Therefore, you are bound to have a friend/family member in the room who considers themselves quite the lateral thinker, and will proceed to answer every question about two seconds before Holmes does. However, if you can shut them up, you get to watch the chemistry between the two main characters. I’ve kept my eye out for Benedict Cumberbatch (yes, that’s his REAL name, not some drunken deed poll change) ever since his excellent performance in Hawking, and should be a shoo in for a Best Actor BAFTA. Martin Freeman as Doctor Watson is comic foil as usual, but at least this role gives him a chance to play with a modicum of intelligence rather than a blank stare.

So, returning to our original question: is Sherlock a programme for adults or kids? Well, its a Chicken Goujon. Something that adults and kids like to eat, but not something that’ll make you feel childish if you mention to people thats what you had for dinner last night.

Leaving The House, So You Don’t Have To.

Mark Heap and Ruth Jones are superb in The Great Outdoors

Hello. Hello, hello hello. HELLO. This is a blog I have decided to start, because I think I am amazing. Surely that’s the point of all blogs, articles and columns? The person writing them must think that what they have to say is worth reading. So, I watch a lot of TV, and I think I know what is worth watching and what isn’t. For the love of God, VALIDATE ME.

Gavin and Stacey, The Thick of It, Lead Balloon. All started life on the proving grounds of the BBC’s digital channels, before critical success manoeuvred them into the big bucks terrestrial seats. So, may I please put forward another candidate? The Great Outdoors (9pm, Wednesday, BBC4), stars Mark Heap and Ruth Jones as polar opposites of a rambling group in The Chilterns. Sounds incredibly dull so far. But give it a chance and you will enjoy an excellent, cleverly written comedy with some superb performances.

Mark Heap is, in my opinion, one of the finest comedy actors of his generation. From Big Train to Green Wing via Spaced, he has been in some wonderful programmes and I am saddened at the lack of major roles that have come his way. In The Great Outdoors he plays Bob, a man clearly out of control in everyday life, whose weekly rambling meet gives him a chance to take charge and lead a group. That is, until Christine comes along. Played by Gavin and Stacey’s Ruth Jones, Christine arrives with a backpack full of gadgets and supplies, and an attitude completely out of sync with that of walk leader Bob.  The supporting cast aint bad either, with Katherine Parkinson (her off of The IT Crowd) getting an understated role as disenchanted wife of a freeloader, looking to let off steam in more ways than one.

The laughs come fairly thick and fast, and while there are a couple of misses, its bound to be one of the better comedies commissioned this year.

Listen, its only a 3-parter (2 already out of the way), and all the other reviews have been fairly bland. But give it a chance and see if you like it, while it’s still available. Because this deserves a bigger following, and it’d be a shame if this lost out to something as monumentally dire as Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show in the race to terrestrial TV.

Sadly, part one has already expired on the iPlayer. So I’ll cheat by putting up links to the Youtube clips:

And here’s the second episode in full on the iPlayer: