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 d├ęcolletage 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.