Friday, December 29

Beefcakes Browns and Baldies

Nick Yates picks at the TV not tasty enough for Christmas but too Turky for the New Year.

And so Christmas melts away like the snow used to before global warming. The memory fades of an old, fat, bearded man unloading his sack in children’s bedrooms on the 25th, and family stress reaches the heat of an excessively boiled sprout at this time of year,

The antidote during this period of limbo between Christmas Day and New Year? Well, those clever bods who come up with the programmes threw a whole host of peak time TV at us on Wednesday night in the hope of lifting festive spirits.

In our living room, some slightly past-their-best chestnuts roasted on an open fire and a stereotypical cast of characters gathered around the idiot box. Present and correct was my dad – who regular readers of this site will know as TV Review contributor ‘Big’ Brian Yates, my mum, my brother and my brother’s girlfriend. As ever, they were full of opinions and more than willing to separate the Bad Santas from the Santa Claus: The Movies.

First up was BBC2’s stab at a macho Christmas – Beefcake: A Very British Sex Symbol (Wednesday, BBC2, 9:00). Presenter Tony Livesey (‘who?’) talked bollocks over an hour of looped clips from The Sweeney. He posited the theory that there was a golden age of British TV shows and films in which men were men and birds were birds. The era featured ‘men who could break down doors but never cooked’. But, wait, these guys are now making a comeback with the newly rough Bond and derivative John Simm cop show Life on Mars.

Beefcake had rounded up a host of talking heads, including Germaine Greer, Nick Moran, Britt Eckland, and the co-founder of Loaded (Was James Brown busy?). [He means the James Brown who founded Loaded, not James BrownBread - ed]

The family’s verdict
“Did they put the show together based purely on the has-beens hanging around the pub one particular evening?” wondered my little bro. There indeed seemed to be some very tenuous links made in the narration. The Sweeney’s coppers, we were told, were the original ‘men behaving badly’ as Beefcake segued into an interview with Neil Morrisey tamely agreeing with whatever question was fired at him. Britt Eckland had cameos in two macho films, Get Carter and Bond. ‘She must have needed cash for her latest face lift.” My mum suggested. My dad thought her face was already lifted enough – sitting, as it was, above her actual head.

There was time after this to catch half an hour of The Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2006 (Wednesday, Channel 4, 9:00). In their mission to have host Jimmy Carr on the television 24/7, this was a lengthy special edition of the panel game show.

The celebs occupying the hot seats were Noel Fielding, Russell Brand, Cat Deeley, Jonathan Ross, David Walliams and Rob Bryden. It came with a health warning: Woss and Brand in the same room together can cause epileptic fits.

The family’s verdict
Rob Bryden definitely won the battle of the funnymen, it was agreed. The highlight was the cameo appearance by that bloke who mistakenly wound up as a live spokesperson on the news having turned up for a job interview. More of him in 2007 please. My brother’s girlfriend likes Brand’s and Fielding’s hair.

Imagine (Wednesday, BBC1, 10:30) rounded off the night’s viewing. The Beeb’s arts programme took a look at the Las Vegas show Love, a high tech melting pot between The Beatles’ back catalogue and Cirque du Soleil. Time was when you could just listen to Revolver and be done with it. Now, if it’s not re-mixed by an aged George Martin and set to hundreds of acrobats leaping around a stage in octopus costumes, then the Four just aren’t Fab enough.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Star did the hard sell to presenter Alan Yentob.

The family’s verdict
Watching this makes you realise just how good The Beatles are. If it aint broke, don’t fix it, seemed to be the verdict. My mum liked Alan Yentob’s lack of hair.

Tuesday, December 19

Public sees past Ray of Shite

Never mind the X Factor, more importantly, will Leona have the X-Rated Factor needed to survive pop's maelstrom?

Though the X Factor result is now known – hey it was Leona everyone, hurrah! – some serious questions still lay unanswered.

One, why did Ray Quinn bother to turn up, when the result was so obviously a shoo in?

Because the sadistic little twat wanted us to suffer his sub Robbie Williams crooning (and self satisfied nodding) one last time? Because he had some David Koresh-style plot to make his grey haired cult of fans spontaneously top themselves? It surely couldn’t be because he thought his rendition of the now-sure-to-be-number-one-hit ‘A Moment Like This’ was better than Leona’s could it?

She hit the Mariah top notes and did the Whitney lip wobble and everything to give her credit. But the song’s about as memorable as Shayne Ward’s ‘That’s My Goal’ . Remember him? ‘Exactly’, (as one of Ray’s fellow countrymen said when asked who Accrington Stanley were in that famous milk advert). So has Leona having won the X Factor, really got the X Factor? There’s no doubting she can sing, though I resent the way she seems to have unwittingly convinced everyone that ‘Without You’ is a Mariah Carey song. Over here in pedants corner, can I just point out it is a Mariah Carey cover version of a rather splendid song made famous by Harry Nilsson and written by some old rockers who never made it. Her rendition of Chiquitita was blinding on Abba week and she was note perfect on I Will Always Love You (another cover version by the way, this time of a Dolly Parton song).

But, like Shayne before her, is she not just a bit, whisper it, boring? Not that I’d ever stick up for Chico, but he did have a certain lunatic appeal and creating one’s very own timezone is quite a feat. The Cheeky Girls were appealingly mental and they’ve done alright for themselves – well one of them has now toppled weathergirl Sian Lloyd as the eye candy of Lembit Opik. I was going to write ‘weird Liberal MP Lembit Opik’ but in a party consisting of coffin dodgers, alcoholics and chaps with a penchant for scat-munching rent boys, he doesn’t seem so strange after all. Anyway, you certainly wouldn’t catch Leona going out with him and in my tabloid addled book, that’s a shame.

I want more Cheryl Tweedy punching toilet attendants and Britney going knickerless and a bit less boring Jamelia in my pop stars. We’ll have to wait and see if Leona’s up to the job.

A couple more X Factor questions for you to conclude – is Simon Cowell’s head getting squarer and what is it with Kate Thornton’s nipple? [Actually there was nothing going on with the old hag’s décolletage this week, I just wanted to get the number of hits to the site up again].

Friday, December 8

A massive blunder

E4s cynical attempt to cash in on the catchphrase panflash has failed dreadfully, says Mark Lewis

If I was trying to be a bit clever, I would say Blunder (Thursday, E4, 10pm) is a poor imitation of post-modern comedy four or five years after the onset of post-post-modernism. But that would be shit.

It’s not unlike Blunder (Thursday, E4, 10pm), which is a poor imitation of post-modern comedy four or five years after the onset of post-post-modernism. And shit.

And so it goes on until finally you have a half hour sketch show - or a three hundred word review - so witty it could have been written by Fern Cotton [massive Vernon Kay wink].

Even the show title, is desperately try-hard post-modern: It is either the achingly self-referential brainchild of whoever commissioned this turd, or oh so cleverly poking fun at those of us who somehow don't get the comedy. To point out that the whole exercise is the biggest blunder since Clive Sinclair went, 'fuck reverse gear,' would be to take the deliberately obvious joke.

But at least it is a joke. If this catchphrase comedy appeals beyond the T4 demographic then I’m a half hour of Friends followed by a Hollyoaks omnibus.

The shame is that David Mitchell (who is still funny despite being on the box more regularly than Huw Edwards) has done yet more lousy television. You may remember Mitchell from such comedies as That Mitchell and Webb Thing and Peep Show. Peep Show you will recall was probably the best programme in the world ever. But Mitchell should never have done That Mitchell and Webb thing. And he darn tootin’ shouldn’t have done this.

Sure, he probably didn’t get the same warnings we did from E4s continuity presenter who not only described Blunder as ‘probably the best programme in the world ever’ (Vernon Kay; Fern Cotton, circa 2004), but also told us to get ready for ‘a whole lot of catchphrases to learn and love.’

There was the bloke who says ‘Shuddup’. And that other bloke who says ‘are there any tits in it?’

Then there is the woman so post modern she’s playing one of those funny girls who aren’t funny, unfunnily. Dire dire dire.

Wednesday, December 6

Sing-a-long TV

The Choir is surprisngly charming, if unoriginal, primetime programming says Ego Odman

Channel 4’s Rock School was programming genius. It capitalised on the success of feel-good flick School of Rock by getting Kiss man Gene Simmons to coach a bunch of Lowestoft school kids for a support slot with Judas Priest. Awesome. In contrast, the concept for BBC2’s Choir (Monday, BBC1, 9pm) sounds like a patronising act of plagiarism that’s come months too late.

The three programmes follow choirmaster Gareth Malone, who wants to turn a group of underprivileged school children into a choir good enough for the Choir Olympics in China. So far, so Sister Act. The problem is, 30-year-old Malone looks about 12 and sounds like he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It’s hard to believe he’ll pull it off.

Malone drives to Northolt for the first time. As the completely normal-looking sixties comprehensive drops into view, he mutters, ‘oh, it’s one of those…’ Malone was educated at Bournemouth Grammer and is astounded to hear the children have no formal musical background. ‘They won’t even understand what mezzo forte means!’ he exclaims.

But what the kids lack in knowledge they make up in enthusiasm, and hundreds queue for X-Factor style auditions. The initial impulse is to laugh at their performances, but empathy wins out as Lisa Joseph, 12, sings a Christina Aguilera song because she empathises with the lyrics, and Enock Chege, 12, kindly offers his ‘best voice and best concentration’. The singing is impressive too.

Malone can only select 25 students, and hits problems when the head teacher bans Chelsea Campbell from singing, because she’s moving schools due to bad behaviour. It feels like the wrong decision, but Malone capitulates. Similarly, the head teacher warns that Chloe Sullivan’s attendance is poor, but Malone takes a chance on this one.

With the choir assembled, Malone books a recording studio so the band can make their competition entry. But the session is just a month away. Malone’s teaching skills are surprisingly good, but confidence is low, Sullivan’s attendance is patchy and Raul Lacman, 13, is out of tune. The camera follows some of the children to their homes, where parents reveal their family problems, but the BBC tone feels invasive and slightly exploitative.

Malone drops his classical ideal in favour of secondary school favourite Can You Feel The Love Tonight from The Lion King, and hopes a field trip to the Barbican centre will help inspire confidence. Sure enough, Malone comes over all Sister Mary Clarence, helping Sullivan to overcome her shyness by performing a solo and bonding the group together.

When the big day arrives the group get a clean take - but Raul is still out of tune. Malone asks him not to sing on the recording, and while the sadness in his eyes is patently obvious, he takes it well. The group are relieved, but there’s two months until they’ll know if they’re going to China. The question is, does anybody care? Surprisingly, yes. By this point, the programme has created a genuine sense of suspense and inspired genuine affection for the kids. It’s just a shame they let Chelsea Campbell fall by the wayside. That’d never have happened in Sister Act.

Sunday, December 3

This Wonderful Life

Helen Parton looks back fondly at the drama that defined a decade and hopes its reprise will live up to the original

Forget the Spice Girls or Madonna, in the mid-90s EVERYONE wanted to either be Anna from This Life. Or sleep with her. Or both – hey this was the mid 90s, it was kinda hard to distinguish whether you were into boys or girls – Brett Anderson of Suede looked the same as Justine Frischmann of Elastica after all, and Blur said as much about this gender confusion in the song Boys and Girls.

Great to look at, fascinating, infuriating, addictive – all the qualities that made Anna so great could equally be applied to the whole show. Ten years on, BBC2 are sensibly repeating the whole two series in big double-bill sized helpings. And unlike Trainspotting, which gets more irresponsible and poorly acted the more times you see it, This Life has stood the test of time. Even its sweeping about camera style, which the show was mocked for originally, is now so commonplace in TV I hardly noticed it this time around. The only thing that has dated really is the absence of mobile phones - but then Anna’s doomed romance with Miles would be a bit harder to write if they just texted to say they were late for that vital rendez-vous or apologised for acting like a twat the previous night.

Sorry, I seem to be a bit ahead of myself here for the uninitiated, but writing about This Life is a bit like being given a box of chocolates to oneself. I’m metaphorically tucking into the strawberry and orange creams now, people, bear with me.

OK, let me start from the beginning - This Life tells the story of a house-share of twentysomething lawyers. Milly and Egg are the couple, Anna and Miles the should-be couple, Warren a Welsh gay chap, Ferdy a bisexual who in real life is Tanita Tikaram’s brother. And then in Miles and Anna’s firm there’s Joe who goes out with Keira, who works in Milly’s firm as does Rachel. Egg and Warren used to work there too but both left due to having a career epiphany and ending up working in a caff and getting caught cottaging on Hampstead Heath respectively. Actually it sounds far too PC for its own good written down like that. Except it’s not. The characterization is brilliant – Milly slowly being drawn into an affair with her boss, O’Donnell, the middle aged chap with a Morse-like absence of a first name, and her increasingly hatred for Rachel are particularly vivid. Then there’s the music – chosen by Ricky Gervais, a fact sure to crop up in trendy pub quizzes soon – which makes the whole programme even more evocative of the times. If I’m allowed to be a bit melodramatic here – think of it as halfway through that metaphorical chocolate box now, say a noisette whirl, – it also kind of reminds me of my own mortality. I was a student when I first watched it. I’m thirty now. I’ve lived through my own This Life years in a not entirely dissimilar fashion and I don’t really want to leave them. Who wants Fay Ripley and Hermione wotsit in thirtysomething drama Cold Feet when they can be eternally Daniella Nardini as Anna?

But of course, we are going to get to see what the This Life lot are like as thirtysomethings in the ten-year reunion show (Date To Be Bloody Confirmed by the BBC), which I’m anticipating with much trepidation. I’m just hoping they’re not as fucking boring, mortgage obsessed and musically out of touch as all my thirtysomething mates. Or maybe I should just grow up and put the empty chocolate box in the bin.

Tuesday, November 28

The Cook report

David Cook casts his eye over last week’s TV, and finds it more unpalatable than a geriatric on X-Factor

If there was ever an advert for shooting yourself the day before your 60th birthday, it was Young@Heart (Wednesday, 9pm, Channel 4). It was meant to be uplifting, but this feature-length (i.e. far too long) documentary about a choir of US pensioners covering contemporary artists – James Brown, Rolling Stones, Coldplay – managed instead to simply bore the viewer into an early grave, with half the choir probably following on behind. Really, while the idea of a crowd of rock’n’roll pensioners might sound sweet, and yes, you’d probably go and see them for a laugh while half-cut on cider and LSD at Glastonbury, actually listening to a couple of dozen octogenarians covering Sonic Youth – Sonic Youth! – makes Jive Bunny sound positively palatable. Chorus leader Bob – looking like a cross between Jesus and Bob Geldof (unlike Bob Geldof, who thinks he is Jesus) tried to inspire the crowd by going ‘Yeah! Great!’ every five minutes, but there’s only so much fun you can have watching an old man massacre the first line of I Feel Good time and time again.

Speaking of music being massacred, Simon Cowell, we beg you, please beat Ray to death before he opens his mouth again. (X-Factor, Saturday, 6.25pm, ITV). Forget the MacDonald Bros, they’re merely rubbish - Ray is actually quite frightening. Really. Look at his slicked back hair, those cold, dead eyes, that stuck-on perma-grin. He is the walking, talking, singing Damian. He is Satan, or if not Satan, then his obnoxious little brother. Please, somebody call Gregory Peck and bring the torture to an end

Monday, November 27

Top class Sunday night entertainment: don’t bet on it

The BBC took a gamble putting it flagship current affairs programme back on its flagship channel. But like a weak poker player, playing an unsure hand, it backed it only half-heartedly, says Mark Lewis.

Appropriately enough, this week’s new-look Panorama (Sunday, BBC1, 10.15pm) was about online gambling. Because the BBC has taken quite a punt.

Gone, for the moment at least, are the serious discussions on serious topics at serious length. The BBC is betting its 10.15pm time slot instead on only being able to attract sufficient viewers if it appeals to the Tonight or Dispatches demographic

Just in case that’s too high-brow for the BBC1-ers, it ran to just 35 minutes. If that wasn’t stupid enough it also featured an interminable wild-west metaphor which went on for at least half the programme. And there was no shortage of stupid people in the programme either.

Apart from the journalist, Declan, who agreed to try to double $2,000 of his own money (which he would in no way claim back from the BBC later), there was also a cascade of simpletons who blamed internet betting for their inability to stop spending money on gambling.

I have a confession: I am a fan of online gambling, and was just polishing off a game of poker when Panorama started. I am also capable of betting moderately - even winning a little perhaps - without endangering my mortgage, or dipping into the savings for that penis extension operation they keep emailing me the details for.

But if I did mess up, I would take responsibility myself and go back to using the Swedish penis pump. Not so the interviewees in this programme.

One woman, a secretary who pilfered £460,000 from her company, blamed her kleptomania on William Hill. (Which was rather like someone with a nut allergy who just can’t resist cashews blaming KP for his head blowing up.) The young mother escaped prison, presumably on the grounds that any company which leaves £460,000 hanging around the staff smoking room probably deserves to have it embezzled. And the woman was told to go to treatment where she was, no doubt, taught to replace her gambling with a less harmful addiction. Like cashew nuts.

I am prepared to give Panorama another chance because I remember occasions when it produced some of the most thoughtful, imaginative programmes on TV. The BBC would do well to remember that it is not obliged to chase ratings.

Otherwise it might as well show things like Heartbeat.

It’s difficult to know what to say about the new series of Heartbeat (Sunday, ITV1, 8pm). Under normal circumstances, I’m as likely to watch primetime ITV1 as Tony Martin is to drink tea and chat about law and order with a chap who’s just offered to tarmac his driveway.

But it’s either:

1. Charming, must-watch Sunday night TV, which breaks the day up perfectly between The Antiques Roadshow and bed time. And it’s got that lovely boy in it who used to be in Eastenders.


2. Unimaginative drivel, that - you have to keep reminding your nan - hasn’t had that bloke from Eastenders in it for about 10 years.

Its gentle drama for sure which, while set in 1950s Britain, features some of the most biting social commentary on TV. This week, a gun-happy former army officer shot a burglar dead in his home, just seven years after Tony Mental Martin did likewise.

There may or may not be more cutting edge social commentary next week, but if I was a betting man, I’d probably avoid it.

Tuesday, November 21

Pitch me a winner

With so many TV channels existing on a pittance of creative input, it's time to throw in some true, quality, original thinking to enhance our lives. David Davies can pitch with the best of them.

Show: The Ox-Factor
Channel: BBC4
Time: Saturdays, 7.30pm
Pitch: Oxbridge graduates enter a talent competition to see who can spout the most erudite bullshit from a chosen historical document within a set time limit. Those deemed most lucid or layman by the panel are voted off, until the winner is allowed to sit down in a big leather Chesterfield and smoke a pipe for an hour in front of a live audience. The panel includes the only man to ever really bore someone to death, David Starkey, celebrity social cripple Tom Paulin, gay-but-don't-you-just-know-it? Simon Schama and that bloke who went Around the World in 80 Treasures (working title: How I Screwed the Beeb Out of a Few Grand for the Ultimate Sabbatical Jolly).

Show: You C***
Channel: Discovery Home & Health
Time: Weekdays, 10.30am
Pitch: Celebrity wankers and famous bints lay the ego smackdown on your ass. Tune in to see Anne Robinson telling you that you're a worthless, pathetic, inept excuse for a human being. Reel from Jeremy Paxman's accusations of pedantry and ethical ambivalence. Gasp as Jeremy Kyle squats on stage and tells you he could s*** out a nicer looking face than your one you snivelling little c*** you.

Show: Richard Madeley's Happy Hour
Channel: C4
Time: Fridays, 7pm
Pitch: Old dicky gets his own Friday night show in the TFI mould. Freed from the burden of the vibrating wife, Richard can now get down with the kids. Hip guests include Shakin' Stevens, Status Quo, and young up and comers Shed Seven.

Show: I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead With... a Necrophiliac
Channel: Bravo
Time: Weeknights, 9pm
Pitch: Reality TV Show set in a morgue. Stars include Bazza The Toe-Tag Man, Linda The Ashen Receptionist, and Roger The Delivery Man (Read that last one again).

Show: The Impression I Get
Channel: ITV
Time: Saturdays, 8pm
Pitch: Mimics find yet another excuse to appear on TV, this time as dead celebrities hosting axed shows. Double up with laughter as Alistair McGowan presents Top Of The Pops disguised as Tommy Cooper, guffaw as Jon Culshaw does Tomorrow's World as Leslie Crowther, and cackle at the insane genius of Rory Bremner hosting This Is Your Life as Bob Mills. I know he's still alive, but it's okay to dream. When will these people realise they're better on the radio?

Show: The Top 100 Top 100s
Channel: C4
Time: One-off special, Sunday, 9pm-5am
Pitch: Jimmy "Jammy Dodger Face" Carr presents a countdown of Channel 4's Top 100 Top 100s. Who can forget the fantastic Top 100 Boy Band Haircuts, Top 100 Reasons To Despise Russell Brand, or the infamous Top 100 Reasons Why Rolf Harris Must Have a Dirty Little Secret? As always, the show will be rife with less than minor celebrities pontificating about the cultural significance of totally insignificant events whilst reminding us all what a bunch of freeloading, useless waste of space tossers they all are. Wayne Hemmingway, Moby's stylish older brother, will find time to poke his nose in there, even though he's the first and only man to ever design a radio with a neck and should therefore be prevented from doing anything ever again.

Show: Ginger Spice's Through The Keyhole
Channel: C5
Time: Thursdays, 11pm
Pitch: Geri Halliwell - she's not dead yet - presents a fascinating weekly look into keyhole surgery. Follow the camera into Mr. Barnet's lower intestine, where doctors find a human skull and the whole thing kicks off in the craziest way possible. No, but really, this show is educational and informative, and includes lots of clever punchlines from the killer nugget and a look at Mrs. Croydon's bunghole.

It's a veritable goldmine of ideas. If any of you TV execs out there are reading this, you know what to do. That's right, rip me off and sell the idea as your own. Damn you all to hell.

Sunday, November 19

Top TV detectives podcast

Download TV Review's second podcast - it's free!

In the second TV Review Podcast, Mark Lewis hosts a panel discussion show which puts to bed forever the debate about who tops Britain's top ten TV detectives. Joining him are Ben Watkins, Richey Nash and Nick Yates. Download and enjoy.

Format: MP3

click here to listen now or right click to download and savour later

Thursday, November 16

No Laughing Matter

Richey Nash says there's a gaping hole in the schedules where innovative Brit sitcom should be

British sitcom is stuck in a rut and it’s going to take more than the latest offerings from Jack Dee and Ricky Gervais to save it. Okay, so Lead Balloon and the second series of Extras are both groundbreaking in terms of what this country’s produced before. Both Dee and Gervais are playing fictional characters that are, essentially, worse versions of who they are in ‘real life’: surly struggling stand-up Rick Spleen and struggling sitcom scribbler Andy Millman respectively. But we’ve seen both done before and done better.

Jack Dee is only just starting to bring to the sitcom what Larry David has been doing for over five years with Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Larry David did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Jack Dee, but his show doesn’t quite ring true. Is his best friend in real life really an annoying pearly-toothed American? I doubt it. And in any case, there’s always the knowledge that Dee isn’t being Dee, just a ripped-off reconstituted version of himself.

In CYE, on the other hand, you believe that Cheryl is Larry’s wife and you believed Jeff is his manager. And because Larry David is playing Larry David, you believe more in the main character too. If you are going to have people getting into awkward situations, then the more believable they are, the better.

And the second series of Extras harks even further back, to Larry David’s other masterpiece: Seinfeld. This year Gervais has written a show about a guy writing a really bad sitcom, but Seinfeld was doing it better in 1992.

Gervais is using the sitcom in Extras to take the piss out of bad sitcoms. But when Seinfeld and George Costanza go to NBC in the third episode of the fourth series and pitch a ‘show about nothing’, it is clear they are also taking the piss out of the show they are already on.

If it were a competition to find the funnier idea, Seinfeld would win easily. First, audiences warm to self-deprecation. And second, laughing at Seinfeld makes the audience feel clever while laughing at Extras makes the audience feel stupid. On the rare occasions I felt like laughing at the second series of Extras, I had an ominous feeling that Gervais would push his finger through the TV and castigate me for doing so.

Ultimately Lead Balloon and Extras have shown that sitcom has gone too far towards the ‘sit’ and away from the ‘com’. While the jokes were as important as the situations in The Office and I’m Alan Partridge, now the jokes have been sidelined as we try to watch people try to squirm out of awkward situations. But watching the squirming is not always funny so ideally there should be something more.

But trying to imitate what Larry David has done shows up a far bigger problem for British TV comedy: there aren’t any mavericks. Chris Morris used to be held up as one, but is unlikely to ever come back with anything as good as The Day Today or Brass Eye.

So who is out there doing something completely fresh? The League Of Gentlemen have started making crap films, the Father Ted guys have lowered themselves to The IT Crowd, and though Peep Show is good, at heart it’s really quite conventional. And while The Thick Of It was good, will it ever return? Nobody knows. But one thing is clear: in a world where Little Britain can sell out stadia, where you can’t get through a night of TV without being confronted by Jimmy Carr’s evil insidious presence, then something is dreadfully wrong.

Wednesday, November 15

New Horizons

David Davies laments the lack of science on the BBC’s flagship science programme

Horizon was always great because it was never afraid to throw you in at the deep end before teaching you how to swim. There was a kind of inconsiderate edge to it, a challenge to the viewer. Its slogan was 'Pure science, sheer drama'. With this new series, the difficulties have gone. Much like almost any other show on TV, I could let my brain idle along without having to worry about what I had just seen, explained concepts or abstract terminology.

Take the show from two weeks ago which was all about cars that could drive themselves across 130 miles of rough desert terrain. How many producers are wishing right now that they'd pitched that as a programme synopsis?

Bill Nighy gave the kind of voiceover Ian McShane dreams about, his pronunciation of 'DARPA' a particular highlight. It was like listening to a camp version of the Emperor from Star Wars. The usual variety of geeks included a righteous Napoleon Dynamite character who reckoned his self-righting motorbike was, like, the coolest thing ever. My favourite was Sebastian Thrun, who look as if he was germinated in some weird scandinavian greenhouse. Shortly after winning the race with the classy 'Stanley' off-roader, he declared that 'everyone's a winner', something I doubt he would be saying had he lost.

Speaking of losers, his nemesis William 'Red' Whittaker was nothing if not thorough, pitching two robots into the battle, 'Highlander' and 'Sandstorm'. Doesn't bode well for the family tree. Apart from committing the ultimate nerd faux pas of quoting the A-Team ('I love it when a plan comes together') this ex-marine seemed like the kind of ballbreaker that really gets the job done. Which made it all the sweeter when he lost to Moby lookalike of the year 2006, Sebastian.

There were numerous highlights, most of them provided by the robot motorbike 'Ghostrider'. It really was so much fun watching the sheer desperation on Napoleon Dynamite's face as the bike careered, collided, skidded and slid its way through a variety of increasingly hostile situations. The best moment was a replay of the previous year's challenge, when the very same guy had forgotten to turn on the bike's stabiliser. Five feet from the starting line it wobbled, before crashing and burning in a quite spectacular fashion considering it was doing around 3mph. The show was so entertaining it left barely enough room for the science.

In fact, the closest it got to hard science involved some elaborate CGI overlays of what the car was 'seeing'.

It's disappointing. It's not a one off either. The week before, it referred to some 'singularity', a kind of uber-bollocks delineation of an all-powerful computer mind. Never heard that one before. Danny I'm-beating-Dave-Gorman-at-his-own-game Wallace, the first on-screen presenter in Horizon's 40-year history, was entertaining but again lacking in substance.

I think the new look of the show is superbly executed, the accompanying website is informative a wide-reaching, and the more recognisable voices and personalities are welcome. I just wish it had a bit more of the geek still left in it. Talking heads are the ace in Horizon's pack, the points at which hard science can be explained by real people with comprehensible analogies. In this series, all we've learnt is that Danny Wallace was struggling with ethics and some guy was disappointed that his robot bike fell over. Why did it fall over? What was it that made the self-righting mechanism fail? Was it to do with the tunnel? Did the sensors break? What were the ultimate advantages held by Thrun's team over Whittaker's? None of these questions was satisfactorily answered, and they would have been in past editions. Instead we got empty reaction shots like 'everyone's a winner' and Napoleon Dynamite's 'I hope they don't do it for a third year because I don't want to go through all this again'.

I'm not advocating a return to the old-fashioned style of previous editions. What I want is a return to the old-style content delivery. There were moments in the last series when I was left scratching my head, wondering what to make of it all, where to go to understand more. So far, with this series, I haven't had a single question left unanswered. Surely this is the audience Horizon should be aiming for, the pro-active viewer who goes out and learns more about what are undoubtedly fascinating subjects. Without Horizon I wouldn't have been introduced to the brilliance of Michio Kaku, weird multiple universes, the awe-inspiring concepts of supervolcanoes, or the ultimate paradox of time travel. Horizon is called Horizon because it's a programme in which the layman can understand the cutting edge of science, given access into the scientific world minus the dullness of algebra, explained in an interesting and often dramatic way. You can take away the science and still make it entertaining, but do we really want the flagship science show on television to go all Scrapheap Challenge on us? It might be fun for now, but it will soon tire.

Sunday, November 12

Sunday's must watch TV

David Attenborough's Planet Earth is a fine way to round off the weekend, says Emma Mitchell

This is a good programme to have on Sunday evenings. David Attenborough makes science interesting whilst as understandable as possible. Last time we explored the Arctic and the Antarctic, discovering what life could survive the extreme temperatures.

We met the penguins, and they are funny little creatures. I'm seriously considering one for a pet. They waddle about and then when they're feeling tired, they just slide around on their bellies - fantastic! The way they all huddle together for warmth was impressive, then when the females return with bellies full of food, the racket the males make is hilarious. It's actually like they are cheering.

Then we went to the Arctic to see some polar bears, which i thought would be nice, until they showed one male bear swim for four days because the icy land he hunts on had melted away to such a degree that he had nowhere left to stand that'd support his weight. After four days of swimming, he chances upon a herd of walruses (is that the collective term for them? Maybe it's gaggle? A gaggle of walruses…..anyway I digress), but unsurprisingly he was pretty damn tired. We watched as he tried in vain to get just one meal, and let's be honest, I was cheering him on because the walruses could spare one or two anyway, only to be met with an impenetrable mountain of blubber. Not a pretty sight.

We watched the poor bear limp away and then just curl up on the rocks, from sheer exhaustion and starvation, and pass away. Not what I wanted to see, and I'm not ashamed to say it even brought a little tear to my eye, as it's probably our fault this sort of thing is happening. Thanks BBC for reminding us.

I was suitably cheered up by seeing a female bear emerge from her cave with her two little cubs and slide down the hill, she looked liked she didn't have a care in the world. My uplifted mood wasn't to last though. We went back to the penguins only to see a group of little fluffy penguin nippers, who were lost in the snow, get completely wiped out. This was turning into a blood bath.

Having left the room for about five minutes to recover, I watched the Planet Earth Diaries, which is always interesting. They spent a year in the Antarctic, bet their husbands and wives were pleased:

'Hi Darling, just got a new research job come through today.'
'That's wonderful, where is it and how long will you be gone for?'
'It's the Antarctic, for a year, and we're leaving tomorrow.'
'Oh right, ok then!' Or something like that.

Anyway, they had this hut in the middle of literally nowhere and this polar bear that took a great interest in the hut, even firing off flares wasn't scaring him away. At one point, he even had his cheeky big black nose pressed up against the window - imagine that greeting you first thing in the morning when you pull the curtains back! Well they couldn't get rid of the bear and then the programme ended; I honestly believe they may well have had to destroy the bear, but graciously didn't show this on TV. Guess that's life. Well roll on next week's one!

Thursday, November 9

When Will I See Freeview Again?

Helen Parton is now all by herself with terrestrial after a brief dalliance with a set top box

As flings go, it’s had its moments in the past ten days I have to admit, but really, dear reader, it hasn’t left me satisfied, and I now feel slightly…unclean.

I speak not, regrettably, of a passionate affair with the hunky friend of my flatmate of his temporary tenure here, but of my relationship with his Freeview box, which came to stay too.

Oh for the novelty value of the early days of hour after happy hour of old CSI or endlessly repeated Razorlight videos on The Hits. But familiarity does indeed breed contempt and soon enough I was lampooning E4 for always having Hollyoaks on and cruelly dubbing ITV3 ‘The Poirot Channel’. Don’t think we didn’t have our moments…that afternoon spent on the sofa under a duvet with a Lemsip and a low-brow highpoint (lowpoint?) of the OC followed by Jeremy Kyle and dating tips from Sky Three was pure square-eyed nirvana.

It was when I found myself rolling around the floor last night, a remote in each hand caterwauling “why isn’t it working” when I had indiscriminately pressed the mute button then the install button, that I knew that our relationship had hit the rocks. Now I realise how Su Ellen or Carrie Bradshaw felt when JR and Mr Big had been respective bastards. Fortunately a friend whisked me out to dinner and when I returned, we made up. Well, by that I mean I found a good film on Film Four that I hadn’t actually seen. But the honeymoon period was over and I couldn’t even concentrate on proper telly for more than five minutes without thinking there might be something better on, oooh I don’t know, the History Channel or something.

Perfect Day: The Funeral (9pm, Five) looked good in a Four Weddings/Cold Feet hybrid kind of a way but my concentration span was spent. I knew there was goodness, well so bad it’s goodness to be had with Goldplated (Channel 4, 9pm, and also E4 for about three hours after it seems) but again I could only get through a couple of scenes of Cheshire melodrama.

There was only one thing for it: gorge myself on as many mad channels as I could while I had the chance – QVC and its enticing-after-as-much-red-wine-as-I’d-had ‘Illuminated Music Box’ for just £14.77. A pair of middle-aged women somewhere were offering Ladies Fly Flot Leather One Touch Clogs for £24.99 (not sure I quite scribbled that down correctly in case you want to order them). Or there was always Master of Chavs (I suspect Master of Charades, but I can’t read my writing here either) (Five US, Christ Only Knows What Time) where a woman was performing a move she’d never done before with burning candles. And finally, whatever the opposite of a plethora is, of TV quiz channels – a lime-shirted buffoon on The Hits, a kind of pikey, Brookside-handsome man on ITV Play, a low rent Nikki from Big Brother on Quiz Call asking people to call in to answer the other half to the phrase ‘Water____ ‘(one wonders how many dirty old pervs were restrained from getting through and answering ‘Sports' before requesting a live performance). Now, dear reader, it’s over. I know terrestrial won’t let me down – at least not while there’s double bills of This Life on BBC2 every night.

Wednesday, November 8

Hopeless Iraq

Rachel Calton despairs as a telling documentary asks the right questions

There was not much to lighten the tone of this hour-long documentary into the new generation of Iraqi youth, many of whom have lost members of their parents’ generation to Saddam Hussein’s sadistic regime, and who are now having their dreams of freedom thwarted by an occupation that is failing to fulfil its promises of freedom and democracy.

In The Death Squads (Tuesday Channel 4, 11.05pm) a reporting crew and local journalist, who refuse to be named for the film, go outside of the green zone into the lawless Iraq that has come into being, risking the kidnapping and killing frequently carried out by criminal gangs, to document the lives of young people for whom this is their reality.

The fall of Suddam has given way to civil war, in which teenagers are too busy dodging car bombs, fearing military occupation and grieving relatives lost to the violence, to see anything but a future of trauma, and revenge.

Many, already too politicised to care about school are taking up arms, joining the Sunni insurgent cells and Shia militia. Seventy per cent of children no longer go to school; many have taken a different path since the occupation.

Of the young professionals, 40 per cent at least have fled, and those who continue to provide services do so in the constant face of danger. One doctor takes the journalist with him on a daily routine in accident and emergency, he knows of colleagues who have been called out on home visits which have turned into kidnappings. Medical supplies are almost out, and with each critical case comes a barrage of death threats ‘if you let them die I will kill you’. His fifteen minute journey home now takes two hours due to military road blocks. Many patients he treats for trauma, something he is untrained to do. So far, he continues to struggle through each day.

Teenager Kamal is trying to continue running his mobile phone business, after 13 car bombs have exploded outside of his stall. He gets nervous whenever a crowd forms, and his customers don’t hang around to browse for long. His business faces another set-back when his mobile top-up card suppliers are kidnapped for their goods.

However resilient these people are the conditions seem futile.

And as one of them points out, money and buildings can always be replaced, the brains of a country can’t.

With not even basic services available to many families, let alone education or jobs, and most living in fear in the anarchy of the militia and criminal gangs that have flourished, nobody on this documentary is thanking the military occupation they live under, however well meant it may be.

One family; husband and boys, return to a mother and wife they left to fend for herself for a year when they were all put into Abu Ghraib prison, after being accused of being an insurgent cell. Under command, they fly a white flag outside their home, but continue to live in fear of the American base they live in sight of.

The only upside to this whole documentary is the fact that while the rest of the media focuses its attentions on whether Saddam will face the noose or a bullet, following his death sentence relating to a small batch of crimes against humanity carried out 24 years ago, that pale against the huge catalogue he earned, and he refuses to remorse over, this programme at least has its attention in the right place.

Whatever happens to our hate-figure is irrelevant.

His brutal regime has been toppled, what will arise in its place is what should be occupying us now.

The collective opinion of those documented is, their lives are worse. Out of this is arising a fresh new generation of anti-western feeling.

Executing Saddam Hussein isn’t going to make a hero of anyone, and I guess that is what we should be worrying about.

Tuesday, November 7

Proud of Britain

But not its TV, says Mark Lewis

The only reason to watch Trinny and Suzannah Undress (ITV, 8pm) is because Trinny sounds like tranny. And there is the hope that one day her boobs will shrink so small she’ll actually turn into a man. No luck, she’s definitely female. Only she’s not necessarily human. With her blown up lips and botoxed forehead she looks rather extra-trinnestrial.

But no less so than Britain’s favourite sudoku saleswoman, Carol Vorderman, who regrets not trying a bit harder when she was first on television back in 1984. Twenty-two years later, despite all the detox books and makeup, it all seems a bit late.

But somehow she keeps on getting work. Her latest is a plum presenting job on The Pride of Britain Awards (ITV, 9pm), or The Mirror Pride of Britain Awards as they’re properly known. All the papers do it: support a cause or event in tune with the thoughts and aspirations of their readership. The Daily Mail sponsors the Ideal Home Show because it knows its readers are the types who are jolly tired of having their wellies cluttering up their front porches. The audience in the Mirror Pride of Britain Awards look rather like Gary Linekar, Kelly Brook, Tony Blair, and Girls Aloud had infiltrated the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Truth is, many Mirror readers would be happy enough to appear on Jeremy Kyle for having slept with their sister’s husband. But The Mirror knows they would really rather appear for having rescued him from drowning first. And, as cynical as I try to be, and despite the rubbish reconstructions, it is difficult not to be moved by some of the stories.

Apart from the children who face illness with bravery, and the women who clean up sink estates with personality and massive balls, there was the man who rescued a mother and her three year old son from a burning car seconds before it exploded.

Presented with the trophy by the family he saved, he became emotional on stage. Reminded about how she showed a plump middle aged woman how to have more of an hourglass figure through clothes, Trinny was becoming emotional herself. We know this because there were tears running down her face. But since her face was otherwise static, she may have just got some botox in her eye.

Monday, November 6

Just The Music Please

He's an oily sycophant, but Jools Holland's Later is still the best late night programme on TV, says Dennis Flower

Someone suggested I write the review for Later with Jools Holland (Friday,BBC2, 11.35) immediately after it finished while still under the influence. Good job I didn’t as I’d staggered in and heard a few bars of the final song, sitting down as the credits rolled up the screen. So this review would have consisted of swearing and a list of everyone involved in the production of the show.

Luckily for me ­ but unfortunate for anyone having to read this drivel ­ I’d taped it. So as soon as the throbbing in my head reduced to a dull ache the next day, it was on. Having read the other reviews on this site, I’d made my mind up to follow the tell-like-it-is style. The problem is that it’s one of my favourite programmes, and the first of the new series has again endorsed my addiction.

Yes, I realise Jools Holland comes across like an oily sycophant when he sucks up to his various guests, but these consist of brief segments in between the music. They’re a bit like Christmas, hair loss and the England football team losing on penalties in their latest competition: you know it’s coming so get over it!

The show itself has been established on a very basic premise: Five bands taking it in turn to play live ­ yes, live! ­ in the studio. There’s usually a guest that Holland pretends gamely to interview and he also chats briefly to some of the performers. And While the majority of people on the show are there to promote their latest release, the show is still far more enjoyable than having to listen to actors/writers/composers etc blather on about their latest stuff on vacuous chat shows.

I’ve no doubt there’s all manner of back-stage politics ­ (the band will only appear if you get their CD in front of the camera, and don’t mention them in the same sentence as those other tossers). But Holland manages to present the show with the air of an avuncular ring master. Muse was the star band this week and set the tone by opening the show with a rendition of Starlight that would probably have proved fatal if I hadn’t let the hangover subside first.

Of course, if you have the same level of interest in contemporary music as Charles Kennedy has in soft drinks, Later is a complete non starter. But the chances are that most people will find something of interest in the line up. Muse, described in The Times’ TV guide as ‘purveyors of a grandiose,space-inspired rock’ ­ so a rock band, basically ­ blasted their way through three tracks at the start, middle and end of the show. Great stuff. I’d have watched it just for them.

None of Amy Winehouse, the Raconteurs, John Legend, Duke Special and the Gypsy Kings would be on my wish list but all proved enjoyable at various levels. But with a complete absence of exposed nipple-induced titillation this show is not run-of-the-mill late night viewing. There’s an almost complete absence of gyrating, scantily-clad dancers ­ although they would prove a welcome diversion occasionally ­ with the main focus always kept on the music. It remains one of the very few shows that I’ll watch for the full, one hour duration, even when it’s pre-recorded.

The mix of music is always diverse, and even performers that I’ve come to detest are brought down to the same level as everyone else as they’re forced to concentrate on their performance rather than posturing. I hope Jools Holland continues with this show for many years to come. Oh, and by the way, I rather enjoyed it, in case you hadn't guessed.

Sunday, October 29

Kate Thornton’s Nipple

Mark Lewis seeks cheap hits with a fleshy reminder of Kate Thornton, Ladette to Lady’s Louise Porter and Judy Finnegan.

Under normal circumstances, the only time the words ‘Kate Thornton’ and ‘nipple’ would appear together on this site would be to describe her as the hairy, stretched nipple on the vinegar tit of Saturday evening TV.
Yeahbut that was before a perky nipple apparently poked through the dress Thornton was wearing one Saturday evening a few weeks ago while hosting insipid talent-show The X-Factor. Curious browsers single-handedly, but no doubt innocently, tapped the words into Google.

The hits on Television Review went wild. Thornton, you see, had appeared in a review back in May, in which I had fantasised about using her severed head as a club to batter Match of the Day’s Mark Lawrenson. And since, on the very same page, Helen Parton had referenced the second most famous tit in the Jackson family (yes, the one hosting Janet’s nipple) disappointed X-Factor fans ended up here.

A couple of weeks later, Alastair O’Dell wrote a review of Ladette to Lady in which he innocently told readers that chief ladette, Louise Porter, had appeared in Nuts Magazine and Television Review’s hits went wild again.

Since every time I write the words, ‘Kate Thornton’s nipple’, or ‘Louise Porter and Nuts Magazine’ I improve the chances of getting some more of those lovely soft porn hits, it seems a little churlish not to give the people what they want. Especially since most of the original ‘Kate Thornton’s nipple’ and ‘Louise Porter in Nuts Magazine’ Googlers stayed around only as long as it took to hit the back button on their browsers.

So, in the spirit of cheap hits, we’ve published the frankly disappointing Kate Thorton pics, as well as one of the full set of Louise Porter shots. And just in case anybody’s wondering just what any of this has to do with television, we’ve published a picture of that most famous of TV nipple-slips: Judy Finnegan at the National Television Awards.

Do you think we might get a few hits if I mention Paris Hilton’s twat?

Saturday, October 28

Dexter Special

Television Review is not just global, but reputable too. Just ask Nick Yates.

It’s official, Television Review is written by “reputable influencers”. Such high praise came from Brandon, a nice press officer at American production company Showtime, who was so keen for us to take a sneak peek at upcoming crime drama Dexter that he posted a DVD of the first episode of the series - sorry, ‘season’ - all the way from the USA. The US of god damn A!

Dexter is all about the life and adventures of the eponymous police forensics expert - a police forensics expert who also happens to be a serial killer himself, Brandon told me. Airing for the first time on October 1 in the States, it will be hitting our shores sometime soon.

As promised, the preview DVD arrived through my letter box this morning, complete with shiny cardboard sleeve and press bumph, hyping up its credentials.

Turns out Dexter is rather good. Not in the class of many other US imports, but certainly better than Corrie or The Bill.

It stars the gay Fisher brother from Six Feet Under, Michael C Hall. He carries an otherwise slightly flaky cast with the same class that earned him an Emmy nomination in that last part. Playing Dexter is a case of role reversal for Hall after Six Feet Under. While he displays the same chasm-like depths of insecurity and sexual hang-ups - this time straight ones - as David Fisher, he is a brutal, murderous, cool and two-faced killer. One particularly fine episode of Six Feet Under saw David abducted and tortured. This time, he is the one holding the torturer’s tools.

The show is a version of CSI for people who can stand plot and character development. It takes place in Miami, the site of gruesome murders committed in ingenious, novel ways. The opening episode goes so far as to almost directly reference the ridiculous set ups in CSI: Miami. Everything under the bright lights of this crazy city is bizarre, so why shouldn’t its crime be bizarre, preposterous and far-fetched, the narrator asks within the first few minutes.

The premise is skilfully set up in the necessarily expositive first episode. Series’ first instalments so often do this at the expense of being any good, but Dexter had me gripped from the off. The eponymous hero, through his novel double station in life, is a hot-shot at detecting the crimes and a hot-shot at committing them without being caught. You know what they say about the police: they know how to bend the law.

See, Dexter, as we’re told in flashbacks, was brought up by his respected detective foster father, who honed him to be an ace in the ways of the law. He also spotted in him his disturbing pre-disposition for homicide and channelled this into his son becoming a vigilante. If he’s going to kill, the victims may as well be the scumbags who his incompetent police departments superiors let off the hook. He is a genuinely fascinating, multi-faceted character.

Dexter does have its faults. The heavy use of voiceover betrays the fact that it seems to have been ripped rather hastily from the source material, the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. It is flashy, and from the evidence of the first episode, it won’t be long before you’ve seen enough set ups of people appearing to be committing bloody acts in soft focus but actually just squeezing a grapefruit, flossing, shaving… the list goes on. And it is certainly nothing new. We have seen the dark, amoral comedy of a murderer with two lives screened in a similar way with the far classier adaptation of American Psycho.

Nevertheless, the preview DVD warranted the air miles. And if it’s good enough to post to humble English “reputable influencers” all the way from America, its good enough for me.

Tuesday, October 24

Learning Nothing Zone

Richey Nash learns very little about the future, bad science and how to watch wildlife on another night in front of the idiot box

All I wanted was a glass of wine and good TV, but a quick look in the cupboards showed I was out of luck. There was no wine: just a can of lukewarm Coca Cola and cheap vodka left from a June party at a squat in Hackney. And a look in the TV guide revealed there was no good TV either.

Kicking off the night Bill Oddie’s How To Watch Wildlife (8pm, BBC2) taught me nothing about how to watch wildlife, other than ueing my own common sense. All I learned was (1) have eyes (2) find a badger/squirrel/other boring animal and (3) not crash around like a one-man band while shouting obscenities like Gordon Ramsey with less charm and more Tourette’s Syndrome. Telling the UK to be quiet while watching wildlife is the most useless celebrity-trying-to-teach show since Ian Wright’s Oi! Your Kids Are Fat and Ann Widdecombe’s Beginners’ Guide To Feltching.

But at least Oddie has a knack of making these things faintly interesting. In fact, he’s turning into the doddery eccentric TV has been missing since Patrick Moore. And at least he’s encouraging old guys in glasses to watch furry animals. Well, it’s better than having them ogle primary schools.

After Oddie failed to enthuse me about wildlife I watched The Indestructibles (8.30pm, BBC3), which tried to enthuse me about science. It did this using pointless experiments (a la Mythbusters), the first of which involved twins drinking. Scintillating.

The first twin drunk coffee while the other second drunk mineral water, to see which made them want to piss more. In the end – after five litres of liquid in two hours – it concluded that drinking five litres of coffee in two hours would make you urinate down your leg. That’s science! But it’s pointless. Even drinking five litres of bleach in two hours would make you want to go to the toilet. If you weren’t hunched triple from the excruciating internal burning.

The second experiment featured a bald guy climbing an 80’ wall in a big fridge. He wanted to see if it was easier to do it while (1) wearing warm clothes or (2) while completely naked. During the challenge the show swooshed in words like ‘nippy’ and ‘parky’ over the ‘action’, like a crap Powerpoint presentation. Eventually the guy decided it’s easier to climb a fake mountain and avoid hypothermia while wearing clothes. Genius! So don’t climb a mountain if you’re only wearing your pants. Idiot.

The idiocy got too much after nine minutes so I watched an episode of Seinfeld on DVD before tuning in to – heaven help me – The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (9pm, BBC1). An Andrew Marr cameo couldn’t make this anything more than unrealistic fluff. It’s meant to make ordinary people believe they can affect the political process, even though most can’t. I guess it’s feelgood, but showing a leading political party where the front bench is predominantly female is also ludicrous in our still penis-centric political boys’ club. Hey don’t hate me… hate the system.

So I switched to Horizon (9pm, BBC2), which tried to scare me senseless about a world in 2029 where computers will be as intelligent as human beings. They will control our thoughts. They will control our actions. Or so the show wanted to preach. This time will be ‘The Singularity’, a name that only conjures up the image of a bad Doctor Who episode.

Maybe it was the cheap vodka numbing my capacity for fear, but I didn’t find it terrifying. Partly that was because it was soundtracked by music from Harry Potter and Edward Scissorhands. And partly it was because these prediction shows rarely prove to be true. If TV in the 1970s was to be believed I’d be driving a hover car, wearing a white spacesuit, and having sex completely without emotion. And I’m only doing one of them.

But the programme did show that putting electrodes into an animal’s brain means you can control where it goes. And it also showed a monkey playing a computer game with its mind. But the show’s main aim is to scare not educate, so it’s worth treating this one with a big dollop of scepticism.

By the time hour-long Celebrity Sex Tapes Unwound (10pm, Channel 4) wheeled around, I wanted to relax. Even sex tapes of US ice skater Tonya Harding, former Hear’say bint Suzanne Shaw, and actor Rob Lowe couldn’t tempt me to keep the TV on. So I switched on the Seinfeld and tried to get comfortable with my Coke and my lukewarm vodka. Well, there's nothing wrong with turning to DVDs when TV spectacularly fails you. Again.

Monday, October 23

Look Who's gone darker

David Davies finds that Torchwood hasn't spun-off quite as far as it should have

With the new Doctor Who taking off like a greyhound with a bum full of dynamite, and with the free thinking Beeb not resting on its laurels, they decided to continue the sci-fi revolution by... making a spin-off.

Torchwood follows the adventures of Captain Jack Harkness. John Barrowman (pictured), the bastard lovechild of John Travolta and Tom Cruise, is leading a crack team (does anyone actually know what that expression means?) of specialists in a fight against the alien scum of the universe. Think Men In Black. Except set in Wales. Yes, to increase what must undoubtedly be a drastically reduced FX budget (this is going out on BBC3 and BBC2 remember) the entire show is set in my homeland. This is where the problems begin.

As with Doctor Who, the show follows the classic trope of stranger in a strange land. Eve Myles plays Gwen Cooper, a police constable who ends up becoming part of the Torchwood team by seeing something she shouldn't have and - you get the idea. As with most stories that follow this thread, it's mainly for exposition purposes, and it all feels a bit tired.

There are problems with tone too. That sounds horribly Sunday Times, so let me justify myself. The show is aiming for a darker tone. People swear on a regular basis, the second episode had a full-on sex scene between two teenagers, a lesbian kiss and murder by orgasm, and there's some sexy tension between Gwen and Captain Jack. This would be great if it didn't feel like you were still watching Doctor Who. The comedy remains, the visuals are all crisp, clean and daytime, and the aliens still aren't scary enough. In a show where men are being bonked to death, these need to be pared down to a minimum. It needs to be dark and edgy, and it needs to take more advantage of its post-watershed slot when it comes to characterisation. Everyone is still Saturday night fluffy. I can't help feeling that John Barrowman is about to break into song at any moment. Eve Myles keeps the hysterics to a well-judged minimum, then gets lost in the blandness of her own character. The supporting cast are primarily there for comic relief. It's a shame because this show has great potential to really spin-off into something different and exciting.

There are moments of excellence. A three-way showdown ends with the revelation that Jack cannot be killed, a cool Captain Scarlet scenario. Barrowman does well hiding an undercurrent of melancholy beneath Captain Jack's magoo exterior, and really grabs the screen when he's given the chance during these moments, before reverting back to that Doctor Who pantomime Prince Charming that dominates the opening episodes. There's also an interesting moment in the second episode where Jack has some strange obsession with a severed hand. This is weird, freaky stuff, and it's the direction the show needs to go in. Unlike most spin-offs, there is promise here. They need to be a bit braver and row a little farther from the shore, cut loose of Doctor Who's family stylings and make something for the older teenager or even the sci-fi loving adult. It's clearly what they're shooting for, with the swearing and the blood and the sex, so why don't they go all the way, make this a real X-Files experience and satisfy those of us who wished for a little more darkness in our Doctor? Hopefully Russell T Davies will take this show where it needs to go once he knows he has our attention.

Sunday, October 22

Always Believe in Your Soul

Televisionreview’s very own Cheshire correspondent, Helen Parton, reports from the northwest’s televisual front line

Billing itself as Channel 4's answer to Footballers' Wives, Goldplated (Wednesday, 10pm) is hardly in the premiership of comedy dramas about the rich and useless but is rather trashily good fun all the same.

The opening scene features sweeping shots of a young girl (who we later learn is the appallingly named golddigger character Cassidy) driving up to a mock Tudor mansion in a red sports car accompanied by the opening refrain to Suede's 'Beautiful Ones'.

This is just the start of the show's literal use of song titles as some kind of plot advancement device - 'cos, like, Cassidy is a beautiful one, geddit? - which continues until the end of the episode when that cheery Flaming Lips song with the line, "Do you realise, that one day everyone you know will die' accompanies one man's untimely demise.

The other point of musical irritation is that the nightclub everyone, young or old, frequents, only seems to play Goldfrapp, much in the same way that the bar in Ally McBeal only ever played Vonda Sheppard. Still the smooth glam rock electro kind of suits the show, so we'll let it pass. For now.

They’ve got the nouveau-riche ness of this part of Cheshire spot on – every woman’s hair has been golden Labrador-ed to within an inch of its life and their bodies sprayed orange and then dipped in a tub of designer labels. Even the woman who played the frizzy permed Mum of Joe from Eastenders (you know the one that went mad and covered his room in tinfoil) has succumbed. The supporting cast is like a Stepford Wife army of Colleen McLoughlins, only not as classy. The blokes meanwhile are all shiny suits, penis extension cars and sleazy demeanors. I can’t think why I stopped living there as soon as I could.

The show does rather labour its location though, “I AM from Didsbury!” says Cassidy at one point indignantly and several other geographical reference go over even my head though one did make me chuckle. “It’s like Saudi Arabia round ‘ere’” says one older woman about half way through. I’m not sure, but the last time I checked, that particularly part of the Middle East hadn’t taken crop tops, push up bras and Bet Lynch earrings to its sartorial heart just yet.

Goldplated doesn’t yet have a superbitch character in the way Footballers’ Wives had Zoe Lucker, but Ray Winstone’s daughter Jamie - with a highly convincing Manc accent Bez’d be proud of - displays promise, what with the hot pant wearing, cocaine snorting and old man shagging. And there’s plenty of cliffhangers crowbarred into this first offering too – who is the girl in the institution visited by the shouty bloke who’s been booming, “Right lads, let’s get to work and make sooooooooome moneeeeeeeeey! like Gordon Gekko crossed with Geoffrey Boycott in all the trailers? Will we find out Cassidy is not from Didsbury at all? Will she stay with that shouty bloke when she finds out he’s about to go bankrupt? And more to the point will anyone change that bloody Goldfrapp CD?

Saturday, October 21

Birth night died

In her latest picture review, the outrageously talented Davina Garrido de Miguel wondered how Channel Five could cheapen something as profound as childbirth with its sordid Child Night Live

Wednesday, October 18

By George!

Rachel Calton finds the class of an 80s icon transcends the rubbish he's forced to deal with

So the mystery behind Boy George's weird, fake burglary call basically comes down to drugs and confusion. By his own confession, in The Madness of Boy George (Tuesday, 9pm Channel 4) he was busy chatting to a photograph, which was chatting back to him, shortly before he became so paranoid that his house was being invaded and burgled, that he called up the police to get them to arrest the imaginary intruders.

All they discovered however, was the bag of coke in his bedroom (whether you believe it was one bag or 17 depends really on whether you buy George's story or the New York cops' but I'm going with the fact, that if you had stacks of the goodstuff sitting around your pad, it would take more than a delusional moment or two to personally call up the cops and invite them over for a quick rummage, paranoid or not.)

But, the bigger question here is: what was George doing at home all alone with a bag of coke in New York city in the first place? Surely we are more accustomed to him exhibiting his outlandish head gear at gigs up and down the worldwide DJing circuit, and if not that, at least at home tracking down hot young male escorts for company on the net.

This is George on a downer. A big fuckoff downer, after his west-end, semi- autobiographical hit Taboo crumbled and failed on Broadway, leaving him washed up in New York city, a crestfallen, 'has-been', too ashamed to return to England with his tail between his legs, yet with no friends in New York to help him pick up the pieces.

A gay boy without his pride.

But this is where the irony of this tragi-comedy kicks in, why did the show fall so flat on its face? Apparently because Rossie O'Donnel 'sanitised' the show to suit the American audience. Sanitise?! It's supposed to be breaking taboos. The clue Is In the name.

Boy George was the first boy to get on TV dressed up like a girl and win the hearts of a nation. Why he ever felt the need to give himself up to the Americans like that God knows, but he's pretty pissed off about it now.

The vengeance the Americans seemed to place on him, attempting to put him down for 20 years for possession of drugs, and, failing that (due to inconsistencies in evidence), parading him round the streets of Manhattan on five days community service for 'wasting police time' certainly seemed like kicking a drag when he was down.

That's apparently after nine hours being yelled at in a cell by the cops with vulgar insults. No wonder he got more-than-a-bit of a hump on when push came to shovel, and the press showed off all their most unattractive colours, and irrepressible appetite for crap gags.

Being hounded by a press you despise, who you are certain just don't 'get' you, in a city you would rather see the back of can not be a particularly charming prospect, and this documentary, that filmed George in the four weeks leading up to the sentence, showed the anxiety growing up around it.

Of course, in the end, events turned out to be worse than even BG could have anticipated, instead of the secluded park he was hoping for, he got parked right in the middle of the sanitation area to clean on one occasion, like a caged animal, while the paparazzi were served up just what they were after.

Like an animal might, surrounded by gannets, George did turn aggressive on a couple of occasions, but could only keep up the hostilities for long.

By the last day, not only was his parole officer singing his praises but so was the media circus who had spent the last week on his tail. He got into it so much, everyone ended up shaking his hand, including the reporter he earlier threatened to decapitate with his shovel.

These days the public only herald celebrities who start out from the street, and only relish the stars when they are being dragged through the gutter. But in the end, it is because Boy George is not a throw away celebrity, but a character with real wit and real gall, that he will survive the whole ordeal.

Letting anyone compromise that was what landed him in all that rubbish in the first place.

Monday, October 16

Royally Absurd

David Cook will scream and scream until he’s sick if he has to watch Princess Nikki again

Myra Hindley. Eileen Wuornos. Rose West. Not the greatest women spat out by history, but they all have one redeeming feature – they’re not Princess Nikki (C4, 10pm Saturday).

Nikki – oh, you remember, she was on that thing in a house that Channel 4 spend all summer broadcasting – is quite clearly the worst female – no, sod it, worst person – that’s ever existed. You might think that sounds a bit extreme, but if there’s a worse characteristic than screaming until you get your own way, I’d like to hear about it. So having endured weeks of Nikki screaming and wailing over summer, C4 decided to give her a series in which to do exactly the same thing. In this the final tortuous week, Nikki played women’s rugby and then became an industrial cleaner.

There’s a dichotomy going on here. The point of Princess Nikki is to torture the granny-faced brat and, effectively, break her. This is good. But this means we have to watch her for a full half-hour. This is bad. Also, though Nikki may be as dim as midnight in a cave, she’s just about bright enough to realise that the point of her show is for her to wail and weep for 30 minutes, and boy, does she ever deliver on that score. This is bad. But we get to see her get the crap beaten out of her on a rugby pitch and then covered in human excrement cleaning the kind of house that would knock Kim and Aggie dead (if only). This is good. It’s so confusing.

What to do for the best? Don’t watch the show, then there won’t be another series – but ensure Nikki gets the degradation she deserves by going out and throwing her into a slurry pit. The police will understand.

Friday, October 13

He stoops to conquer

With a heavy social conscience and an overactive libido, Alastair O’Dell develops a penchant for an uncouth scouser

With the ‘liberal’ west at loggerheads with a cruel, conservative Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one could hope to seek some comfort in our shared decadent beliefs by settling down to a night in front of that bastion of immorality and moron-ity ITV.

Yes, the sight of Jodie Marsh’s puppies are unappealing, and yes, Jade Goodie being a multimillionaire is soul destroying. But, God dam it, it’s the price we pay for living in a free, non-judgemental, ‘happy’ society. I can happily wallow in such depravity for the greater good.

In need of comfort, and my dinner working its way south, I switched over the goggle box to Ladette to Lady (ITV 9pm), a program advertised as helping a group of underprivileged girls get on in life. A nice, uplifting, story of social mobility in the modern age. Perfect.

Or it would be, had it not been a program solely designed to put back feminism, not to mention social equality, the proverbial 100 years. The premise of this retro-thusiast show is taking some oiks and giving them a jolly good thrashing at a finishing school in the Home Counties, in the hope that, one day they are acceptable to Victorian society.

For the task, the mean Rosemary, and League of Gentleman-esque Gill Harbord have been drawn out of retirement to bully, harass and generally put them in their place. Copious amounts of Vino-collapse-o are supplied just in case they decide to take the path less righteous and more riotous.

This week they competed for a chance to serve their social superiors at a toffee-nosed ski resort. They were of course told to keep their filthy mitts off the guests (much to the disappointment of the filthy old pervs on what they thought was an all-inclusive holiday).

The ‘inappropriate’ but nonetheless rather charming Louise Porter (Who also appears in Nuts magazine this week, lads) tragically did not make the cut to Verbier, with three portly wenches having to suffice. These girls were treated to an equally humiliating, but altogether different type of skiing experience than they are (probably) used to behind the local Dog and Duck.

All good fun, but really, why should these girls, and similar ones watching, be made to feel like scum? One cannot but sense a retro chill from Stateside here, in the post-Sex in the City, with the liberated girls-about-town ideal making way for the traditional, conservative morality of Desperate Housewives. Conservatism is on the march in this sceptre isle. Perhaps I should not be so surprised as even the most legendary heroes of all Britannia, Winston Churchill, had an American mother. Now, all that is left of Western civilisation is Channel Five.

Wednesday, October 11

What Not To Advise

Helen Parton watches helplessly as Trinny and Susannah foist fashion on couples as if it was a marital panacea

Like much midweek viewing fodder, tonight's shows focussed on making people feel bad about themselves and then perking them up with some advice from so called 'experts' - it's enough to you want to make you never leave the house and comfort feed yourself silly, except then you'd probably have Gillian 'rapidly turning into the witch from Rentaghost' McKeith rapping at your window armed with a bag of miso slurry.

First up, Trinny and Susannah Undress (8pm, ITV), their own figures rapidly turning into a parody of themselves - Trinny's tits so nonexistent they're practically concave and Susannah rocking a Mrs Miggins (the slutty innkeeper from Blackadder) look with her prominently displayed DDs. In this series, the terrible twosome go far beyond their usual fashion tips and into much deeper territory, which they're plainly not qualified to do. Muffin tops and potbellies are one thing, dealing with breast cancer and a failing relationship is quite another and not something to be solved by a quick flit round River Island and Marks and Sparks.

"So you're marriage wasn't in great shape then?" "How has having a hysterectomy affected your sex life?" they ask poor Froso and Brian over a family get together before getting them into some new clothes that weren't that dissimilar to their old ones.

"So nice to see you in some colour!" they chorus patronisingly to Froso for wearing a top the exact same shade of green as one in which we see at the start of the show. It felt slightly unpleasant watching all this tawdry voyeurism dressed up as entertainment and so I flicked over to Cooking It (Channel 4, 8pm) with chef Jun Tanaka, a slightly mumsier version of Gok from How to Look Good Naked. This is basically Faking It for cooks so why they didn't call it Fooking It I don't know. Channel 4 you've missed a trick.

Supernanny (Channel 4, 9pm) though highly repetitive - parents have rowdy kids they can't control, Supernanny comes in sorts them out, Supernanny leaves, it all goes tits up, Supernanny returns, it's all OK again - is still a solid performer in the heartstring pulling stakes. I've noticed though that Jo Frost's not as perfect as she seems - she can't say certain words, certain words she uses quite often, correctly - unazzzeptable for unacceptable, ezzzackleee for exactly. I tell you, if she says pacific instead of specific, she's not coming near any children I know.

And neither is Jonathan King, subject of Life on the Outside (Channel 4, 10pm) or his portly Uncle-Monty-gone-bad type character of a friend, who tried to justify King’s activity with underage boys by pointing out that the homosexual age of consent had gone down from 21 to 16 during the past thirty years.

I had to turn over to the grisly goings on in a repeat of CSI New York (Five, 10pm) to feel civilized again, though I wish Five wouldn’t show episodes over again with such regularity. Maybe though they could get the wardrobe person responsible for Stella Bonasera’s stylish suits, with just the right amount of cleavage, to have a word with the infernal Trinny and Susannah. And maybe ask them some personal questions such as how much Botox have they stuck in their emotionless faces, and see how they like it.

Tuesday, October 10

Bush Whacked

Dubya's TV death has generated controversy, but that didn't make it interesting says Richey Nash

You’ve probably already heard about Death of a President (More4, 9pm). It’s the ‘controversial’ film-length drama documentary about a fictional assassination of George Walter Bush on 19 October 2007.

Dubya has just made a speech at the Chicago Sheraton hotel. He managed to do so without (a) saying something stupid (b) starting a war or (c) choking on a pastry product. But George W. Bush is upset: in his world that makes him unproductive. Still, he’s already got wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to worry about, not to mention the new Cold War with Iran and a moose-based assault by pensioners from Canada.

Before the speech angry protestors were outside causing a ruckus: waving banners, spitting at police, and generally looking like they’d come from the first night of the Rage Against The Machine reunion tour. One of these, a young shaven headed guy called Frank Molini, broke away from the crowd and managed to get to the top of a nearby building. He had a sniper rifle so guess what happened next, kids.

Bush was outside shaking hands with the crowd and then – bang bang – he keeled over and later died in hospital. It should all feel very controversial, very dramatic, yet somehow didn't.

You see, a good drama documentary should be based on something like global warming, a believable issue that will affect everyone on the planet. That’s how to ratchet up the scaremongering. The only person who needs to be afraid about the death of George W. Bush is George W. Bush. Well, him and Republican cumjug Fox News.

So it lacked drama, and the general premise was flimsy. Okay, so someone may get onto a roof with a sniper rifle and may shoot at the President and may kill him, but it seems a little unlikely. Not impossible of course, but not probable and certainly not inevitable. And it's not scary: if anything, not having a rich Texan moron in charge of the world would be a good thing. At least until the inevitable rise of Jed Bush.

Yet this premise could have worked in an hour-long show. Death of a President, however, was a patience-stretching two hours. With long documentaries you need a Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock to push drive them on. You don’t get the same energy from random bits of ‘genuine footage’ and ‘genuine testimonies’. In fact, I had to start writing this review or I’d have fallen asleep.

The programme touched on interesting topics. The ‘assassin’ Frank Molini opened a debate about whether George W. Bush deserved to be assassinated. According to Molini, Bush has been responsible for over 100,000 deaths, is a war criminal and deserves the death penalty. It’s a debate that was quickly set down as the programme moved on to the irrelevant clues found at the fictional crime scene. Guess what programme-makers: nobody cares about the minutiae of a crime scene where a crime never happened.

It also touched on issues of Bush stealing civil liberties, then dropped it. A black guy is arrested under suspicion of being the assassin because, it seems, he is black but a dialogue about whether the US police are institutionally racist is lost. This black guy turned out to be an ex-soldier, but the argument about whether the armed forces were made to look foolish by Bush was forgotten. And when they found a guy they thought was the assassin but wasn’t, the jury sent him down because he was Syrian. Again and again, interesting points were picked up for 30 seconds then dropped.

But some bits were good. The supposed real life footage of Bush was surprisingly realistic. And the programme showed how fear whipped up by the media and government can lead to miscarriages of justice: an innocent Syrian was sent down for the assassination for looking a bit too al-Qa'eda.

Yet ultimately it was a frustrating watch. It didn’t warrant almost two hours, went into tiny pointless details too much and missed the big interesting points. It needed a firm hand to guide it but instead just ambled on to an inconsequential ending. Kind of like George W. Bush's approach to foreign policy, only with less meaningless bloodshed.

So what was the point? Frankly it’s hard to know, other than amusing people who want to see George W. Bush get shot. Sure it stimulated some controversy, just didn’t do much to stimulate brain cells.

Reach For The Sky... Remote

Emma Mitchell on her love/hate relationship with Sky.

As I sit down on Sunday evening, with a glass of wine (ok, it’s actually squash) and a choice of over 400 channels, I can’t help thinking what better way to unwind before a week of work. That’s right, I am one of the privileged millions to have Sky TV.

Just how did we manage with only 5 channels, and not so long before that it was only 4 channels? I don’t think I could go back to just 5. Maybe that’s what Sky’s next advertising campaign could be about – ‘Once You Have It, You Never Go Back’. Hmm... maybe not.

Every evening, I am given so much choice I can find something to watch regardless of my mood. If I fancy a little escapism, I can watch a plethora of soaps; though I only watch EastEnders and Hollyoaks (if the other half isn’t back from work yet). I find the rest of the soaps plague the other channels. If I fancy some comedy, there are relentless repeats of Have I Got News For You and Open All Hours to keep me amused. Then if I fancy increasing my brain capacity, I can watch QI (although how anyone is supposed to know the answers is beyond me), re-runs of Who Wants Be A Millionaire, or Never Mind The Full Stops. Like any of these actually do increase my brain capacity.

Sometimes I find that there is so much choice that I cannot possibly make that choice, much to the annoyance of the other half. I’ll flick onto the TV Guide and go through so many pages of channels that I often end up just staring at a blank screen, wondering what I can eat next (another great past time of mine). Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the scary church music they insist on playing on the TV Guide screen on those rare occasions I have the TV to myself in the evenings. Why do they do it to me? It's just creepy.

In fact, there seem to be a lot of arguments and tension in the air over choosing what to watch next. I would quite happily watch a load of mindless soaps until about 7.30-8.00pm, then settle down to watch two films on a Sky Movies channel, as opposed to watching a football match and a rugby match, followed by Match of the Bloody Day.

So the more choice we have, the more we cannot decide what it is we want to watch. At least when there were only 5 channels to choose from, you had a higher chance of agreeing on the same thing. Now the odds are something like 400:1 on agreeing on a programme to watch. It’s no wonder we are an angry nation. I reckon Sky has a lot to answer for.

Monday, October 9

Didn't They Do Badly

Gareth Crew avoids being stabbed and braves the TV underworld: Saturday night terrestrial TV.

Saturdays, I would presume, are the same for the majority of people in this country. If you’re not unemployed/undesirable/collecting your pension (or, if you’re Michael Douglas – all three of those things) you go about your business and leisure. You could shop, and avoid being stabbed by youths outside of Matalan, or you could be playing football in the park, and avoid being stabbed by youths. You know, you go about your business.

Then, after the ultimate disappointment of the failure for yet another week to not win the Lottery, followed by a discussion with your family/girlfriend/boyfriend/dog/cat about what you would do if you did win the Lottery (at this point, the problem of not actually buying a ticket is insignificant) you’re faced with the choice: go out, buy that 60-year, £1,987 per month mortgage for your studio flat, making anything more than tap water unobtainable, and then the ultimate decision: DVD or TV. I opt for DVD every time, and looking through the Daily Express TV guide, here’s why:

Strictly Come Dancing on BBC1. Didn’t it used to be on Sunday nights, and used to be the chance for teenage boys to stare at the slightly revealing costumes? Now, re-imagined in a Planet of the Apes Tim Burton way, you have 'celebrities' dancing. Hosted by Tess Daley and Bruce '98 years young' Forsyth, the concept is simple: lets put a load of people who are loosely associated with the Beeb in some way and make them dance like some twisted marionettes with their professionally-tanned dance partners. This one was the first in a new series, and had such competitors (notice how I don’t use the word celebrities) as Jimmy Tarbuck, dancing with a lady sporting pneumatic breasts, and Nicholas Owen (a bloke who reports the news) with another brass-coloured babe. I didn’t watch it. Apparently this is the BBC’s premier, primetime Saturday night show. Did anyone say license fee?

Over on BBC 2, you had The Culture Show. Good, but pretentious. This was followed by QI and TOTP2, then a Monty Python docu-repeat. I would write more, but no-one watches BBC 2 on a weekend, do they?

Going head to head with BBC 1’s flagship are ITV 1's these heavy-hitters. PJ and Duncan, as they were originally called, are now more important to ITV than putting right-wing messages into their evening news bulletins. A variety show of some sorts, Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway involves all the usual elements: 'comedy', competitions and guest stars. How much are they missing Paul O’Grady?

After that, X Factor. Sponsored by Nokia, I see. I don’t really understand this music-factory business; so, let’s leave it at that. What I have noticed is Simon Cowell needs to put some product into his rather dull and lifeless bog-brush type hair, and Sharon Osborne has too much. All I know is that we’ll get another rubbish Christmas No. 1, which is probably a ballad that would be sung much better by the person who wrote it.

Finally, there was A Knight’s Tale on Channel 4. I’ve got this on DVD, but didn’t fancy watching it.

So, what DVD did I pick? Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a classic, and apparently R2-D2 and C-3P0 are in one of the scenes.