Thursday, September 28

Artistic Impressions

Davina Garrido de Miguel, the artist whose work at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, was the subject of a recent BBC documentary, has turned her brilliant artistic hand to television reviews.

Brett's dead baby Brett's dead

I loved Bodyshock: Kill Me to Cure Me. (Monday, Channel 49pm). The glee with which the doctors talked about how they ressurrected their dead patients was fascinating, and Dr Robert Spetzler had these large expressive hands that came out at you like Nosferatu. Of course this was supposed to be quite a serious programme about medical breakthroughs but the Hammer Horror element intrigued me and what exactly happens to your soul when it is clinically dead. The Nowegian woman who had been dead for six hours seemed pissed off with the whole ordeal and looked like she'd entered Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' . Poor American Brett Kehrer definitely deserved an encounter with 'the white light' but didn't get one . I have depicted him in my sketch as dead and also with his soul in the hands of Dr Spetzer. He sees a cartoon angel that beckons him to the light but it's just an operating lamp.

Hey Sama any chance of another 9/11 I gotta democratizationalise THE WORLD!

I was watching Film 2006 with Jonathon Ross (Monday, BBC2, 8pm). His review of Oliver Stones latest 'action' movie, World Trade Center, with Nicholas Cage seemed pretty tame considering the trailer for the film starts with 'this is a simple story of two men's struggle for survival'

THE HORROR. I won't be seeing this film and unless you are brain dead I don't imagine you will either. Why does the media think we need constant reminding about 9/11. It's indelibly etched on everyone's brain. HOW CAN WE FORGET? I am not interested in the path to 9/11 or the minute details of what happened on stairwell B, and think the media should be scrutinising what's been happening since 9/11 and why such an horrific event has been the breeding ground for even more atrocities and the death of many more thousands of people in the intervening years. It serves the cretinous Bush and his allies well to keep 9/11 fresh in our minds because he can therefore carry on using it as an excuse to 'democratisationalize' the world for ever more and get a little oil on the way. AMEN

Breakdowns, Drugs and Courtney Love

Rock’s bad girl is a mess, but not so much that she can’t project an image says Television Review’s own metaller, Miss Ego Odman

She’s known as Kurt Cobain’s widow, as singer of defunct girl-band Hole, and as a perpetual mess. In The Return of Courtney Love (More 4, 9pm) follows a Love who is fresh from rehab as she records new album ‘How Dirty Girls Get Clean.’ The programme’s real aim is not to showcase her music, but to separate the woman from the myth. The viewer never sees the presenter in full, which allows the specially selected clips of Love to do the talking.

Before any tracks can be laid down in the studio, the singer must go through her morning rituals, which involve yoga and Buddhist chanting – pretty standard for Hollywood. In a more candid touch we learn that she chants daily for Cobain, Lindsay Lohan (!) and even more bizarrely, all the horses, dogs and cats of the world (not least her own cat, Fluffy).

Such benevolence is rarely expected from one of the most hated women in rock, but such craziness comes as standard. Besides the fact Love lost her fortune, much is made of her recent mental breakdown, which culminated in her taking heroin for the first time in nine years. She hoped to die, but was treated in hospital and referred back to court for her third drugs possession trial. She is regretful but unapologetic, laughing “if I wasn’t a bit mad I’d be a worthless rock star!”

The documentary makers portray her as a woman who’s firmly back on the wagon, but who could slip off at any moment. She admits to being tempted by coke at a friend’s house, is told off by 13-year-old daughter Frances Bean for smoking during their shopping trip, and slumps on the floor during a late recording session after receiving an unpleasant email. Her behaviour in this last episode is unconvincing. Love is acutely aware that the crew is filming, having already asked them to stay, and she appears to deliberately adopt the pose of someone still on drugs.

Other moments also seem designed to attract attention. In one scene, Courtney takes the crew into her garage and reveals rails and rails of her and Kurt’s old clothes. She picks up a fleece-lined cord jacket, and explains matter-of-factly that Kurt was wearing it when he killed himself. She says that she’s never told anyone before in case people try to steal it, and goes on to describe it as ‘creepy’. So why tell a film crew now? Why sensationalise his death further? She never offers an answer.

The only clues to the real Love lie in her body language, which would be difficult to sustain artificially. In nearly all of the footage she has a cigarette dangling limply from her mouth and rocks backwards and forwards on the spot.

Despite her shortcomings, all stars featured in the documentary have great affection and respect for the original bitch of grunge. Musician and ex-lover Billy Corgan seems resigned to Love’s flighty ways, and tells of a gig in Philadelphia when he spotted his girlfriend out of the corner of his eye – showing her knickers to another man. Meanwhile actress Carrie Fisher acts as a mentor and confidante, advising Love on property and relationships.

The music takes second place to personal revelations in this documentary, and clips are only used to give weight to her confessions. However, the snippets from the recording sessions are compelling. At one point, Love sings onstage with a guitar, her face mimicking Kurt’s in the famous MTV ‘Unplugged’ session. Moreover, her vocals have a Kurt-esque rasp to them, along with a touch of country and her trademark bitch-power.

Producer Linda Perry (Pink, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera) says Love is ‘very talented’, and worries about living up to her professional responsibilities, while Corgan calls her a 'vastly underrated song writer'. Whether the album will be a success is hard to determine, but what is obvious is that the documentary makers – and the public – see Love first and foremost as a creator of personality, rather than of music.

Tuesday, September 26

Richard Hammond can rest easy

Watching the new series of Fifth Gear makes Gareth Crew want to freeze his blood and drill holes in his head

Al Gore! They’ve got Al Gore. Almost exciting: And that is not a phrase you usually hear about Channel Five-made programs. I almost couldn’t wait.

Earlier this year, I became the voice of the nation by stating that Five's Fifth Gear was far superior to that CeBeebies show on BBC2 on a Sunday night, so I was entrusted, in a non-biased way to review the new series (Monday, Five, 8pm)

Roll VT. Or something. Firstly, they’ve moved from their rather poor offices to the Ace CafĂ©. I’m not liking this. Next, it was Vikki-Posh Totty with some bloke called Tim Lovejoy (pictured)presenting.

There’s something mildly amusing about a bloke called Lovejoy presenting a programme about cars – I almost thought that he was going to add a mullet to his leather jacket and sell a dodgy motor. Which needn't be a bad thing, unless he then professes to know nothing about cars and thinks he’s Simon Amstell.

They even Top Gear tested some cars with Tiff ‘I want to be the Stig’ Nedell. And the only good thing about the race with a plane was that it was at Lydden Hill in Dover. I’ve been there. Excellent bacon butties.

But there was still the highlight: an interview with Al Gore no less. Okay so he was never actually US President but he's made rather a natty film about the environment and, admit it, he's still a big shot. And yet somehow Five managed to make the interview more disappointing than satsumas for Christmas.

When you have someone talking about the environment and wanting to do away with the internal combustion engine, you’d think there would be a good debate and some answers. There was nothing of any substance and Lovejoy did a post interview chat with Posh Totty that was right out of the quasi-rubbish PopWorld Mickey take. Come on! The chap was talking about the environment!

A few more races of insignificance and irrelevant features and, without any trace of hyperbole, it was definitely the most disappointing first episode of anything. Ever. Worse than The Phantom Menace.

Fifth Gear used to be a refreshing, technical change to Top Gear. Now it’s a poor copy without the wit. And that’s saying something.

Next up, on Channel 4 (9pm) was Bodyshock: Kill Me To Cure Me, focusing on the tragic situation that befell 27-year old Brett Kelver. Brett started to suffer from headaches. Thinking nothing of it, he went to the doctors. After an MRI scan he was diagnosed with an aneurysm that was so severe he could die at any time.

There appeared to be no way for him to survive, until, ironically a surgeon wanted to flatline him to work on his head – kill him for an hour by freezing him then deal with the aneurysm then wake him up. This was his story and the story of this technique.

After the obvious tearful farewells (they were all religious people – but never once did this film explore the moral dilemma of practically poking god in the eye and running away) the program started going on about how this technique started. It was not really that shocking and padding for the main part of the program - not least the testimony of a former surgery survivor/nutter who banged on for a while about an out of body experience.

Even so, this was mostly first class documentary story telling of a first class documentary story. The surgeon, with a hint of Robert Lindsay about, him ran through the risks to Brett and his family. Hilariously, he mentioned that one of the risks of the procedure would be death (notwithstanding the bit where he actually kills him for a while). We see the technique; a massive barbiturates session followed by a macabre replacing of standard 37 degree blood with an ice-chilled replacement. (Think getting off your head in Glasgow, and then getting beaten up). Then they killed him and worked on his head. “It’s not death,” said the surgeon, “As the state is reversible.”

And it was. After being dead for 17mins, he woke up. He made a full recovery. Incredible. Science is cool, and no one does a documentary better than Channel 4 (well, perhaps BBC2).

Thursday, September 21

Selling out?

Myths busted, dreams shattered, expectations undermined: just a normal night on Richey Nash's sofa.

Do you believe you can survive for days after being buried alive? How about that commonly held conviction that you can fool a breathalyser test by putting an AA battery under your tongue? Or that it’s impossible to explode a cannon made of a tree trunk? Did you say ‘Yes’ to all three? Well in that case you’d have found your world rocked to its mantle by two American geeks with glasses and ginger goatees in Mythbusters (BBC2, 7.30pm). They proved them all wrong. Shocking!

Now, lets get to an obvious flaw: the only people who have any faith in these so-called common beliefs are idiots. If you think you can survive for three days after being buried alive, then you deserve to be buried alive for three days. Most people would rather mash up their own knees.

The other two premises were equally ludicrous, almost like they were chosen as the pretence of doing stuff that teenage boys love: men doing stupid things, exploding stuff, and getting drunk. And once you accept that, it’s actually good brain-dead fun. Hooray! There was also a lightly spread layer of science, and a decent soundtrack featuring snippets of The Hives, Kings of Leon, and The White Stripes.

Then onto the serious pantomime of Dragons’ Den (BBC2, 8pm), the final episode in the series, featuring deluded wannabe entrepreneurs pushing wacky product ideas like garish pullable suitcases that children can sit on, and small advertising zeppelins. It’s great watching the five Dragons pick holes in these big business pretensions, smash dreams on the cold wooden floor.

But equally good is that at the end there’s always someone who wins the Dragons over or, in this case, two people, the inventors of a wireless machine that can monitor how much people are spending on casino machines, how long they spend there, and other interesting features. Truth be told, it made me yawn a little, but the Dragons saw pound signs and all wanted a piece of the action.

The entrepreneurial pair wanted £200,000 for 15% of their fledgling company. Duncan Bannatyne offered £200,000 for 50% but got rebuffed, before Theo Paphitis came in with a bid of £200,000 for 25%. There’s no way to make this interesting – well, unless you put it on TV – but stick with it. Theo Paphitis’ deal drove Bannatyne, Peter Jones and Richard Farley out of the bidding. But in a final twist, Deborah Meaden offered to split the deal with Paphitis. Everyone agreed and the inventors went away satisfied. What a happy ending.

Or rather it wasn’t the end, for next week they bring back idiots who got kicked out of the Den before, to see if they made a success of their ludicrous ideas. But I’m more interested in where the Den is and what it’s usually used for. Guy Ritchie films? Reservoir Dogs ear scene recreationists? Or by Sir Alan Sugar’s heavies to, err, ‘soften up’ Syed for leading his apprentice astray?

But these questions fell by the wayside as I caught the ‘difficult’ second episode in the ‘difficult’ second series of Ricky Gervais comedy Extras (BBC2, 9pm). After starting with a scene from Andy Millman’s appalling sitcom When The Whistle Blows, it seems Gervais is trying to mould himself as the British Larry David. An awkward moment where he has to give £20 to a homeless guy is second-rate Curb Your Enthusiasm, as is the time he gets friend Maggie to ask for his autograph to impress another woman. It looks to be gearing up to something good.

And then it falls flat as Gervais tries to do too much: mocking fame-obsessed members of the public, lampooning desperate celebrities who crave everyone’s love, and so on. In musical terms it’s like the directionless second album of the artist who tries to show everyone how tough it is being a star, while forgetting what it is that made them a star in the first place. Funny moments are what made Gervais famous, but now he’s famous he doesn’t want to play that game any more. Which means Extras is now a comedy without many funny moments.

Some of it reads like rehashed stand-up jokes like, when talking about Celebrity Love Island, Millman/Gervais says, “Why would I want to be on a programme that, when I watched it, I prayed for a tsunami?” It’s a quite funny stand-up one-liner, but out of place in the sitcom.

And then David Bowie comes on the scene, and makes up a song about Andy Millman being fat, talentless, and why he should commit suicide. It’s not funny, just uncomfortable.

The show seems to be saying Gervais doesn’t want to make lowest common denominator comedy that appeals to everyone. That’s fine, admirable even: there are ways to make people laugh other than resorting to dick jokes and tired catchphrases. This isn’t Little Britain.

But Extras doesn’t offer an alternative to the lowest common denominator comedy Gervais is railing against. The show doesn’t have jokes. Maybe that’s Gervais’ intention, but there’s no shame in writing a comedy that makes people laugh. And just because you make people laugh, that doesn't always mean you've sold out or compromised your principles. Even so, Extras is still an interesting watch. Not laugh-a-minute, but certainly compelling.

Tuesday, September 19

The next big hit?

Big Bri Yates scans the schedules for America's latest Sopranos-style hit but finds Entourage is just following the real TV stars

Most of what passes for drama on our television screens is either puerile drivel, pretentious twaddle or costumed period prattle for people who ‘don’t have the time’ to read classic fiction.

But every so often a drama series comes along that leaves the movies for dead when it comes to psychological depth, complex plotting and character development.

In the eighties and early nineties these gems were made in Britain. The Jewel in the Crown; Tutti Frutti (now revived as a stage play... in Aberdeen); Our Friends in the North: these could claim to be the great literature of their time, redefining the possibilities of screen drama.

More recently we have looked to America for our seriously good viewing. Those of us who believe that popular entertainment can also be art spend our lives waiting for the next big thing, hoping to be in from the start, helping to spread the gospel or simply wallowing in our own exquisite taste and judgement – but these shows have a tendency to slip in through the back door on obscure satellite channels and can too easily pass us by.

I have smugly followed the peerless Sopranos from episode one but I’ve only just caught up with the opening weeks of Six Feet Under on DVD and I fear that the much-lauded West Wing passed me by.

Thus I have forced myself to stay up late, drop everything and tune in to HBO’s latest, Entourage (ITV2, Sunday, 10.00) Will this be tomorrow’s classic, or is it simply an opportunity for a range of trendy young men to drive around in a range of expensive vehicles with a range of beautiful and scantily-clad young women, spouting witty dialogue, most of it centred on the word ‘fuck?’

Last week’s two opening episodes introduced smash-hit actor Vince, his fawning entourage and their glittering decadent lifestyle. It left me wondering whether I’m supposed to like any of the characters, but I’ve spent eight years pondering the same question with Tony Soprano’s crew, so I guess this might be sophisticated characterisation.

Having just hugely enjoyed the shiny Bacardi advert that was Miami Vice (the movie) I tried not to feel guilty at being gripped by the glossy rush of Entourage, telling myself that this is obviously satire! Episode three started brightly, with shots of the boys neatly patched into footage of a boxing title fight.

Later the boys misbehaved at a swanky golf club, Eric – the sensible one – had break-up sex with his ex girlfriend, the boys... misbehaved on a TV talk show, and that was about it. I didn’t much care what happened to any of the characters and the ‘satire’ hinges on the stunning revelation that world of Hollywood is a trifle on the shallow side! Entourage is an easy way to spend 40 minutes when you come in from the pub, but I don’t think we’ll be buying the box set.

Sunday, September 17

Back of the Net

Thursday nights see a comedy diamond mine for adolescent quoters as BBC2 starts to repair some of the damage it did with Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, says Lucien Mettomo

Rejoice! The hour between 9 and 10 has been occupied with comedy gold. It’s good to see that Thursday night has been wrestled back from those individuals who over the last few years have forced us to take a good look in the mirror in an effort to release us from our ignorant bliss. Gone are the accessible TV scientists and historians of this world who say things like ‘in conclusion’ and tell us that babies are actually really clever and that modern mankind descends from some weird algae which has been growing for a thousand billion years off the coast of Vuanatu.

To the ignorant masses Thursday night has been returned to its rightful place as a comedic solitude from the crushing modern world. It harks back to a time when schoolyards were places where incessant quotes from Papa Lazaru and Alan Partridge occupied most, if not all, conversation between adolescent boys. Well may I just say ‘Jurassic Park’ because its time has returned.

The Thursday night power hour kicked off with the new series of Extras (BBC2, 9pm). Ricky Gervais’s Andy begins filming for his new sitcom. He is fighting against the tide of formalism and inane scripts which his BBC bosses have put upon him. Oh how very post-modern of BBC2 to take the piss out of its own former sitcoms. Well it isn’t enough BBC2. Two pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps has occupied far too much of the schedule for me to forgive you that easily.
Anyway, whilst Andy is busy making his sitcom, Maggy is spurning the advances of a narcissistic Orlando Bloom. It was comedy, which only Ricky Gervais can do: understated Genius. And on top of this it guest starred the dream comic duo of a bigoted Keith Chegwin and Barry from Eastenders.

After that I had the pleasure of sitting through the first episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look (BBC2, p.30pm). Or as they are more well known, Those Two from Peepshow. I started as a sceptical spectator. I couldn’t shake the image of the hapless duo of Mark and Jeremy, struggling through the rigours of every day life, while endlessly failing to shake their crippling neuroses. Too many nights spent watching DVDs of Peepshow for hours on end has meant that the comedy sketch show was too much a leap of imagination. But they won me over with their outrageous sketches – my favourite being ‘Number Wang’, the impossibly complicated mathematics gameshow which can only be explained as a parody of all those gameshows which look easy but are in fact incredibly hard to understand, like Deal or No Deal.

In conclusion, take that Simon Schama!

Wednesday, September 13

Ian Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Is Ian Wright on TV again? Mark Lewis investigates what's going on

In Ian Wright’s Unfit Kids (Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm) Ian Wright continues the genre of mystery in which the footballer-cum-tv presenter has so far excelled. The subtlety of mystery is not what you would immediately associate with ‘Wrighty’ but the conundrum of why he keeps on getting work is one for Miss Marple…

Okay, so I wrote that paragraph before I had even watched the programme but Marple would not be disappointed. Exhibit 1: boundless enthusiasm for stating the fucking obvious. (‘Kids these days is really fat man’).

Exhibit 2: A messianic complex, which makes Michael Jackson look like Rab C Nesbit. ‘I don’t know anything now what is more important than what I’m doing,’ says Wrighty, conveniently forgetting about brain surgeons, diplomats and people what work in launderettes. (Oh yeah and whatever it is Jamie Oliver does these days, upon whose programmes this derivative dirge seeks to trade.)

Cue Wrighty looking seriously concerned Jamie-style about these kids who are probably going to die of being fat, lazy, and their parents’ children long before this three part fart of a TV programme sees its blubbery conclusion. Captain Wrighty's got only three weeks to save these children's lives with exercise and stuff or something I think.

Channel 4 isn’t even trying, which you can no longer say about Channel 5. Its hour of comedy starts with Swingers (10pm) then Respectable (10.30pm) and ends up being a near complete waste of sixty minutes. But at least Five has started making its own programmes for primetime, and while Swingers is just a bog standard sketch show, Respectable’s attempt at a sweet sitcom set in a brothel is at least original. Unfortunately its shit. And you wouldn’t need Marple to work that out.

Tuesday, September 12

And another thing...

Richey Nash sees the irony in Anne Widdecombe's diatribe against vanity

Tuesdays are the new Wednesdays. On the plus side it means you reach the midpoint of the working week a day earlier, but on the minus side it means Tuesdays now have no good programmes. Even watching Supernanny Jo Frost discipline the feral spawn of idiot parents has lost its thrill.

So it’s official, Tuesdays are now crap. Don’t believe me? Well, a 45-minute rant by Anne Widdecombe about society’s preoccupation with image in Don’t Get Me Started! (Channel 5, 7.15pm) was ranked among the top tips in TV guides. If that’s not a sign that something’s wrong, I don’t know what is. Even the irony of watching Widders rail against vanity while sporting a blonde dye job – a reflection of her own vanity – stopped being amusing pretty quickly.

The problem was that like its subject matter the show was style over substance, but without much style. It definitely wasn't exciting or controversial enough to warrant an exclamation mark in the title. And it didn’t say much that was particularly interesting, so viewers came away no clearer on issues like whether women’s magazines reflect a female preoccupation with diets or the mags create it.

Then the show said make-up is becoming more popular among men because there are more magazines peddling images of Adonis metrosexuals to males. Why? Because male make-up is a growing market and companies want to tap into it by using their advertising money to fund magazines that push images of ‘perfect’ males. The effect? Men become more obsessed with make-up. Pretty simple stuff.

It would’ve been more interesting to hear Widders go into greater detail about the MPs she knows who use make-up at the dispatch box. As it is we’ll have to speculate. Blair? Obviously. Cameron? Oh yes. Prescott? Well I thought he had a red face cos he’s a bit porky, but it might be covered in rouge.

Then Widders went to a gym and talked to some meathead who says all men are striving for the perfect body. Sad to tell you this Mr No-Neck, but I’m not. I adore my pasty 12-year-old torso and limp girly arms. An Adonis complex is too much effort. Having said that I did go to the gym a few times to get a six-pack. I did too many back exercises and got a backpack. Fnar.

Then it went to a break that included an ad for the programme after, a new series called, err, Diet Doctors: Top To Toe (Channel 5, 8pm) that promised to tell people how to, err, lose weight. Who says Channel 5 doesn’t do irony?

Widders came back after the break to reveal that the preoccupation with vanity is in some way related to society’s lack of religious belief. And that people would rather go to a spa than go church. But even if Widders wanted to say spas are bad, her point was undermined because she interviewed the spa owner while getting a hand massage. And she did it while wearing a dressing gown with a disturbing crack so you could look right up her left thigh. Nasty. Luckily, it was before teatime so I hadn’t eaten.

Then the show veered onto another subject: plastic surgery, including an ‘admission’ by beauty journalist Bonnie Estridge that she’s had botox. Really dear? As if your stretched clingfilm face didn’t give it away. Actually I can’t criticise because I’ve had surgery: I had my whole body amputated so now I technically weigh nothing. Fnar.

People made arguments both for and against surgery without reaching conclusions, and then there were vox pops that asked members of the public what they’d have done. Personally I’m holding out for a penis transplant, because there’s only so excited a woman can get about being penetrated by my cocktail sausage. I say cocktail sausage, I mean cocktail stick. But at least a toothpick penis means I can play a role in a woman’s dental regime when I’m getting a blowjob. Fnar. Oh.

“You can even get a designer vagina,” says Widders. Yes Anne, but there are limits. You shouldn’t, for example, have one in the middle of your face.

In the end they did a bit where she stood on a London street looking disapproving, while wearing a black coat. Scowl-faced with brow furrowed, the programme drifted off and you sense that Widders is still there looking pissed off. With little of interest to say the programme really didn’t warrant 45 minutes: the content could have fitted easily into ten minutes while the style made it seem nearer two hours.

And then? Well I tried watching a family of idiots investing £1.29m in a hotel, despite having no hotel experience, in Risking It All (Channel 4, 8pm) but it was all very predictable: they started badly, got in some guru to give them advice, and ended up good. End of story.

And finally I put on unwieldily titled Zoe Lucker and Sarah Barrand’s Date with The Dalai (ITV2, 9pm), which featured the two actresses – the latter I’ve never heard of – travelling around India trying to have religious experiences. They did so with various degrees of success, and never even met the Dalai Lama. Well, maybe next week.

But I quickly lost interest. You see, I was too busy preening myself and flexing (both of) my muscles at myself in the mirror. Widders would be sooo disappointed.

Friday, September 8

Da best thing on TV

Gangsters are just too cool for The Sopranos not to be good, says Nick Yates

What, you say? Tony Soprano frickin’ shot and fighting for his life as the credits roll? What’s with Vito’s dramatic weight loss, and will the muscle side of the family still be the Stuggots after Gene’s dramatic suicide? The first episode of the sixth and - so we’re told - final series of The Sopranos last week remained as daring and delightful as ever. Could the cliffhanger-following second episode maintain the pace (Thursday, E4, 10pm)?

Well, in short, no. This one had a dreamy quality as Tony drifted in and out of consciousness in an expensive hospital bed. Nevertheless, the sense of emotion is powerful, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s by far and away the best thing on TV.

The papers have been full since this time last week of comment pieces on the demise of British drama, relative to the powerhouse US network HBO. It’s hard to believe we once came out with Our Friends in the North and Cracker.

This is made even more embarrassing by what our fat friends across the Atlantic Ocean have been churning out - not only The Sopranos, but 24, The Shield, Six Feet Under, House, Deadwood, the list goes on.

Even Ricky Gervais has come out and hinted he will defect after the soon-to-hit-our-airwaves second series of Extras and make a dark and weighty drama for HBO.

The newspaper columnists guessed at lots of reasons for this parlous state of affairs. Where as in America, TV is dominated by directors like The Sopranos’ David Chase and Six Feet’s Alan Ball, here the penny counting producers are in charge. Or maybe there simply isn’t the creative talent behind our goggle box output that there was 5, 10 or 15 years ago.

However, they all seem to be missing one stark fact that makes The Sopranos so great. Gangsters are cool. It’s simple in this humble reviewer’s opinion. Give the camera to someone capable of operating it, the typewriter to someone willing to cover provocative subject matter and deep characters, and don’t use actors from Hollyoaks, The Bill or Casualty. Throw in a smattering of music that hasn’t stopped to tell the charts the time of day in the past 15 years, multiply all that by “gangster”, and you can’t fail.

One aspect of TV produced within our shores that provides a shaft of sunshine is comedy. Time Trumpet (BBC2, 10pm) is one such show fighting the good fight. This direct descendent from The Day Today drew my attention in the ad breaks between E4’s finest.

This week, the subject of the spoof talking heads documentary on futuristic current affairs is racism. Laught at the BNP. So wrong, yet so right. Brilliant.

Wednesday, September 6

Trial by TV

Richey Nash gets wound up as two programmes show him two more ways in which he's deficient

I hate my TV: it keeps bringing judgemental know-it-all into my house. Antipodean android Nikki Hambleton-Jones on Ten Years Younger telling me I need surgery or I’ll end up looking like Michael Winner’s ballbag. Stuck up IT girl wannabes Trinny and Susannah on What Not To Wear telling me I should ditch my paisley pattern blouse because it’s unflattering. And Jo Frost on Supernanny telling me it’s child abuse to beat my kids around with a saucepan full of boiling water.

TV keeps bringing people into my living room who tell me I’m ugly, I’m unfashionable, I’m stupid: I wouldn’t mind, but they’ve never even met me. And last night saw the return of two such shows, How Clean Is Your House? and You Are What You Eat.

How Clean Is Your House? (Channel 4, 8pm) included melodramatic intro music and pantomime camp. The Northern voiceover jockey tried his best to over-egg the ‘action’ while Napoleon-sized Aggie MacKenzie did the science. But the show’s star is big-armed panto dame Kim Woodburn.

“I’m shocked,” she proclaimed when she discovered the house was dirty, as if nobody had explained the premise of the show. Let’s hope she finds out it’s a cleaning programme by the end of the eleven-episode series: if not she’ll probably keel over.

But even if Rugburn understood the premise of the show, she shouldn’t be surprised that the house was dirty. The owners – a couple – left the big smoke ten years ago to start a farm in their back garden and now own over 300 chickens. It was like The Good Life, if Tom and Barbara were replaced with Barbour-wearing tramps. One of them had a straggly beard, but the beard was too long for me to work out which.

“They’re dirty but they’re happy with it. There’s a moral there,” said Rugburn, but the show moved on before trying to justify that ludicrous statement with some non-existent moral. At least she gave me one good tip though: use water and washing powder for washing. Genius!

In the end I don’t care if this couple's home is clean or dirty, which means the programme is a waste of time. People may watch it, but it’s still absolute arse.

At least it makes an effort to have fun, though, unlike You Are What You Eat (Channel, 8.30pm) starring pint-sized rodent-faced dictator Gillian McKeith. She collared a mother – Lisa Saunders – in the playground, berated her for the contents of her sons’ lunchboxes, and went back to their house to bark orders at the family.

The two sons weren’t impressed.

“She’s not even taller than me, and I’m twelve,” says the older boy.

“When she came in I thought she was evil,” adds his eight-year-old brother.

He’s got a point because McKeith clearly is evil. First she sent Lisa out to do a weekly shop. Then she threw away all their ‘nasty’ sugary food in front of the two boys and their portly father. And when Lisa struggled through the front door with the weekly shop, McKeith chucked most of that out too. Doesn’t she know there are people in Africa who want muffins? Unbelievable.

Then she whinged at them for all being too fat because they ate doughnuts and crisps instead of fruit and veg.

And after that the finally humiliation: McKeith made the family poo in Tupperware containers. How filthy! Let them do it in the toilet like everyone else. But they pooed in Tupperware containers so McKeith could analyse it. And after the cameras went off she probably took it home as a tasty snack, the rat-faced scatmuncher. Or maybe she dumped it in her garden to make a big poo sculpture of Adolf Hitler. Possibly.

Anyway, she made the family exercise and eat better, and in the end they were thinner and healthier. Ta dah! And that's it. It's rubbish. The fact that this is fast food TV is an irony that’s presumably lost on the programme makers.

But at the end there was an ad for people to take part in the next series. Oh, give me strength! It’s the same show every week. I hate uninspired series like these. I hate my TV for showing me them. But most of all I hate myself for watching them.

Ps. On an unreleated point, R.I.P. Steve Irwin.

Monday, September 4

Fortunate to be annoying

Mark Lewis watches fate teach a peculiar lesson about the wisdom of whining

Last night Channel 4 taught us how a small group of people used up the combined luck of their families, their friends and every would-be lottery winner in New York when one woman’s whinging saved 14 lives.

"I was going to say: ‘God, if you get me out of here then I will never ask for anything ever again.’ But I thought no." Luckily Josephine Harris is not the sort of woman to ever give up the right to whinge, complain and ask God for anything she wanted.

In just the same way, Channel 4 will never give up the right to name its documentaries in the style of Catch Phrase, where Roy Walker sits a commissioning editor in front of a film and invites him to ‘say what you see.’

In this case it was 9/11: The Miracle of Stairway B (Channel 4, 9pm), where we learned the story of how Josephine’s endless complaining slowed the progress of 13 fire fighters as they fled the collapsing north tower on that day five years ago. She managed to get all the way down to the 4th floor before deciding she just couldn’t go any further.

Mostly this was pretty worn stuff. We saw the planes. We saw the jumpers. We saw the ordinary, brave, terrified firemen. We saw the gratuitous shots of burning towers and heard cod-portentious music. But this, at times was a touching story of how 14 people found the only place in the north tower which would protect them from the collapse of the 106 floors above.

The young people in Britain who attend the country's top universities might not be quite so lucky. But never has the educational gulf and snobbery of Britain’s higher education establishment been so cruelly exposed as it was on University Challenge last night (BBC2, 8.30pm). In the royal blue corner was fine old surgeon’s incubator, Imperial College of Medicine. In the dowdy, battered, brown corner was ex polytechnic and magnet for mature ne’er-do-wells, Brighton.

The bucks of Imperial whose youthful good looks smacked of many an hour spent in hilarious high jinks almost certainly involving traffic cones, would all grow up one day to become doctors. And , (oh cruelty of cruelties) two of the wizened old pub-quiz veterans of Brighton were studying to become nurses.

Chief wizened veteran was Thompson whose reluctant answers were eventually abutted by the classic Paxman refrain: ‘You always sound so miserable when you answer.’

Bright and knowledgeable, the Brighton team eventually won. You just hope they did not use up all their luck for te series.