Thursday, April 12

Watch The Birdie

Helen Parton is mesmerized by fores, fairways and five irons

Viewing the human race from outer space, golf must seem a pretty peculiar activity to any alien life forms and watching it on TV must count as even stranger. So many strokes per hole predetermined by it’s never clear who and whoever has the most under par, assuming the cut of your plus fours is right, and dividing the number you first thought of – wins.
But the expanse of calming greenery and lack of anything too taxing on the brain (ignoring aforementioned logic-less scoring) is perfect for Sunday night TV, which is why I was tuned into the US Masters (BBC2, Far Too Long). Given that the most televisual excitement you’re likely to encounter TV-wise on this day of the week is an elderly Yorkshire gentleman falling off a dry stone wall or someone stealing a pig, again in Yorkshire, and making off in an Austin 7 soundtracked by the Hollies, it’s perfect scheduling. And so in Augusta, there was nothing much doing: Tiger Woods got a bit angry and managed to snap one of his clubs in two, one shot went in the crowd narrowly missing some dullard golf fanatic and at home we all involuntarily went ‘Uhhhhhhhhhhooooohhh’ as another ball nearly went in, in a response nearly as Pavlovian as grabbing the top of one’s head at a penalty miss. Oh for the days of John Daly, who caused uproar in golfing circles years ago by only having one technique, namely ‘twat the ball as far as you can’ or tres silly Frenchman Jean Van der Val, who squandered the British Open a while back by playing a ball even though it was partly submerged in a pond and sacrificing numerous swinging splashes at it in strokes. No such characters this time around, it was all bland blokes with flat bottoms squeezed into bad slacks. Our own wacky Ian Poulter could only muster a Doherty-like trilby, but in a distinctly un-Babyshambles like shade of baby pink and with no staircases on the course to do a comedy roll down clutching aforementioned headgear, the similarities ended there.
The only real joke of the tournament being Gary Lineker’s airfare over there to do, well it appears, very little, aside from topping up his tan and chatting to some old pros. Even then the old crisp muncher wimped out and got a sore throat. I’d like to think this was from shouting ‘Uhhhhhhhhhhooooohhh’ to women with names like Dixie Lee and Krystal in Hot Legs 11, Georgia’s finest lap dancing emporium, on a racy night out with Peter Alliss and Sam Torrance. But a Quaver probably just went down the wrong way instead.
With Manish Bhasin having bagged the cushy Cricket World Cup presenting slot in the West Indies, the ever dependable Ray Stubbs and Adrian Chiles must be wondering what they did wrong to be stuck with some sweaty blokes in XXXL acrylic at the darts, or discussing United Biscuits’ share price on Working Lunch respectively.
The golf was won by some God fearing American, our boys having patriotically choked in the last round, in case you were wondering. Never mind the aliens, what on Earth was I thinking putting in so many hours to find out?

Wednesday, April 4

Phats Entertainment

Helen Parton finds TV’s blonde females rule

Those expecting a further installment of Vanessa Feltz meltdown on this celebrity edition of Wife Swap (Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm) will have been disappointed, but otherwise this was TV gold. In what is now rather a tired format, Feltz agreed to trade places with Debbie McGee, and spend a week in the home of magician Paul Daniels. I suspect after his dismal performances here – failing to get a candle to ‘jump’ he may as well have got his coat. Or should that be magic cloak. Meanwhile McGee was finding a week as Vanessa was exhausting as she not only hosts a morning radio show but trails her boyfriend Ben Ofoedu, ten years her junior, to endless PAs in provincial nightclubs by night. He only seemed to have one song though, a Phats and Small number (was he Phats or was he Small, we never did find out) which he would belt out at any opportunity: ‘Hey what’s with you/you’re looking kind of down to me/And things ain’t getting ovvvvvvverrr/Listen to what I say. Got to turn arooooooound’.
Vanessa was finding the solitude in whichever godforsaken bit of the Home Counties Daniels now calls home a trifle trying and after the swap dragged him to the pub where she proceeded to invite locals to slam tequila with her. The next night, the odd couple headed to a West End club where his magic failed yet again to cut the entertainment mustard, not when la Feltz was on the dance floor, a sea of sequins and d├ęcolletage, at least. Under the McGee regime, Ofoedu was banned from ‘celebrity’ dinners with the likes of Shane Lynch from Boyzone and had to spend more time at home learning more than one song. Which he didn’t seem that keen on. McGee and Daniels just seem downright strange and introverted, whereas I’d happily do a shot with Feltz any time. I do worry though that a remarkably lucid woman has such a fatal flaw in not spotting a toyboy layabout when she sees one. Maybe I’ll call her radio show and tell her.
Speaking of blonde bombshell female DJs (oooooh, the seamlessness) I went to a recording of the Culture Show (Friday, 7:30, BBC2) this week, presented by Lauren Laverne who is to my mind hovering dangerously close to Jimmy Carr-like ubiquity. And unlike Nick Yates’ review of the Al Murray programme, I had quite a good time, apart from the having to pretend the guests weren’t there and we just happened to find ourselves sipping soft drinks in a dimly lit bar on an unremarkable Tuesday thing. “Gentle chatter” the director would call as we all tried not to gawp at gorgeous, leggy, urbane Laverne. Guests included John Simm (shorter than you’d think, bit boring) Mark Kermode (huge man, rock solid quiff) Frank Skinner (can’t tune a banjo to save his life, just about the right side of the funny/irritating divide). Music was courtesy of several boys from Sunderland with amazing cheekbones and even more amazing guitar effects’ pedals. It was a supergroup consisting of members of Field Music, Maximo Park (currently on heavy rotation on webmaster Lewis’s MP3 player) and the Futureheads. But those lads have a way to go before they steal Phats and Small’s crown of best ever album title. Its name? Now, Phats What I Call Music. Genius.

Sunday, March 18

The show must go on

It's alright if it takes the scenic route. But Lost doesn't even know what town it's in, says David Davies

I was a massive fan of The X-Files. I had a schoolboy crush on Gillian Anderson and tuned in every week to see if David Duchovny would trip over his bottom lip. It was a thrilling show; grown-up science fiction minus the tongue-in-cheek, treating subject matter such as alien abduction and liver-eating stretchy men with the seriousness they deserved. Of particular interest to a schoolboy with nothing to do in the winter months except attempt to surf the net on a 56k modem was what is now referred to as the "mythology" of the series. This was a narrative thread that encompassed the entire run of the show. The principal idea evolved around a government conspiracy to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials. Sounds juicy - and for a few glorious seasons it was magical television, tidbits of information revealed by key characters uncovering yet more of this all-encompassing plot to bring about the end of civilisation as we know it.

To paraphrase Edmund Blackadder, there was, unfortunately, one fatal flaw in their plan. It was bollocks. By the end of the ninth and final season, the show's creator Chris Carter was ringing fans up to figure out just what the hell was going on. Turns out the fans had about as much idea as a straight man in Habitat. The series ended on a farcical kangaroo court two-parter, where David Duchovny spent a steady ninety minutes outlining exactly what it was that didn't make sense. Left behind in the rubble was the hope of keeping the reputation of the series intact, and one damaged young man who vowed never again to indulge the ramblings of madmen.

So it was with a heavy heart that I avoided Lost. Like the plague. During the first couple of seasons, LCD exposure of more than ten minutes at a time was unacceptable. One time I got through half an hour, feeling myself sucked in by the strangely magnetic presence of the Jack Osbourne lookalike and the bald man who, quite clearly, had lost it a long time ago and wasn't getting it back any time soon. There also appeared to be a very large black man with a big staff who definitely, at some point, was about to kick serious ass. I felt like Homer watching the little white-suited karate man: 'But, Marge, that little guy hasn't done anything yet. Look at him. He's going to do something and you know it's going to be good.' By casting my mind back to those horrible final seasons of The X-Files, I was able to tear myself away. Now, with the show enduring Battleships-style potshots from critics and fans alike, it seems like the wise choice. Even my brother, an avid Lost fan, has let the current series float away on the airwaves. One of the biggest shows on TV is succumbing to The Show Must Go On syndrome.

The incubation period of the syndrome is long, perhaps terminally so. Programmes can go through three, sometimes even four seasons before they begin to display initial symptoms. The first is viewer dissatisfaction. In the creation of a mythology, a fine balance must be struck between questions and answers. Too many answers, and it begins to lose its mystique. Too few, and the viewer begins to lose interest and feel cheated. This is what's happening to Lost. Although J J Abrams and co. claim to have some kind of eight-season plan in hand whereby everything will be revealed, there comes a point when fanboys register how unwieldy the myriad story threads have become. I can already predict a similar outcome for new show on the block Heroes. Creating a mythology, especially in the geeky science fiction genre, is an excellent way to forge viewer loyalty, but only if you give the viewer what they want.

It's beginning to sound like too fine a line. Yet some shows have succeeded. Babylon 5, for instance, was widely considered to be an incredibly well executed story arc. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine also settled into a beautifully conceived mythology in its final few seasons. The difference is, these were niche shows. Originally aiming for broad appeal, they eventually whittled their audience down to the die hard few. They worked because they wrote for a fanbase. With a show like Lost, the phenomenon has outweighed the original premise. It has entered popular culture in a way that the initial remit never really catered for. Mythologies simply don't work across a wide demographic. To fulfil their promise, they must filter down their audience into those who understand, and are willing, to follow the show to its conclusion.

More than this, there has to be a conclusion, and the audience must feel aware that this is so. Where Lost has gone wrong is in its insistence on creating this massive, incomprehensible world of flashbacks and randomness. There is never that sense of resolution of parts, which are in turn vital components of the still unknown whole. If you want your viewers to invest in your programme, you have to pay out the occasional dividend.

There will never be a ratings smash based on a thought through, put together mythology. By establishing a long running, insular world of references and unsolved puzzles, creators of great television would acknowledge that they need to go after an audience who will be receptive to the mythology they have created. If you go the Lost route, you will end up floundering and your show will crash and burn like a broken airplane. There's still time for Abrams to turn it around. All he needs to do is identify the viewers who are still asking the questions, and tailor his answers to them and them only. Maybe then he won't have to ring the fans to find out what's going on.

Thursday, March 1

Slightly More Than Two Pints of Lager..

Helen Parton raises a glass to BBC2’s midweek schedule.

Watching Never Mind the Buzzcocks(10pm, BBC2) with one’s beer goggles on is probably like watching Gardeners World while donning wellies, or I dunno, wearing a policeman’s uniform when watching The Bill (y’see how you can really ruin a good opening line by running out of analogies to back it up).

In contrast to this blog’s previous review, I love this show. And I love it even more when I am as pissed as some of the their recent contestants have been – Amy Winehouse slurring all over the place and Donny Tourette going awol have been some of the best TV moments of the year, racialist (sic) outbursts on Celebrity Big Brother notwithstanding.

Last night, Simon Amstell presided over guests including Nick (the slightly mardy, duckfaced one, not the ruddy cheeked one) from Kaiser Chiefs, Dom Joly and Sinitta, the latter of whom seems to achieved such a marvellous anti-ageing job that Celebrity Beauty Editor Nadine Baggott and Andie ‘is it raining, I hadn’t noticed’ MacDowell must be seething. And, partial as I am to duck-faced drummers, it was Jonas Armstrong a.k.a. Robin Hood a.k.a. Joe Cole who brought some serious eye candy to the proceedings – so much so, looking done at my wobbly scrawl in red biro I appear to have written ‘Tottytastic’ . Clearly, I have missed my calling on more! magazine. Armstrong bore the brunt of most of the gags: ‘It’s Robin of Hollyoaks’ ‘C’mon guys, we’ve all had some mead’ and did it with the good grace that Preston Ordinary Boy (never has a band name surname seemed more apt) would do well to learn from.

My favourite part of the show, the identity parade, did not disappoint and I found myself thinking as Rik Waller stepped forward that he did have lovely flowing locks and quite a nice face after all – Christ how many had I had? Too many to prevent myself from falling off the sofa at one point, that’s for sure.

I’ve missed quite a few episodes of Party Animals (9pm, BBC2), now, which is a real shame – as far as I can tell just about everyone is shagging each other now and I can’t keep my eyes off of both ferrety faced Danny Foster and his brother Scott. However, more interestingly, this is what I found out about the woman who plays the slutty journalist, Clemency Burton Hill (what kind of a name is that for chrissakes!): ‘Clemency got a First in English at Cambridge. She's been a model and a journalist and has appeared in a number of shows including Hustle and Midsomer Murders’

A cure for cancer and achieving world peace is surely on the cards for her next career move presumably? Still, bet she couldn’t drink Winehouse or me under the table.

Tuesday, February 20

Not so happy and too many hours

Nick Yates gets an insider look at the weekend's latest late night TV

Like some kind of fame parasite, the Al Murray look-alike sat on the back row of the auditorium wearing the sort of contorted grin that suggested he’d just done a particularly satisfying poo.

His presence in the audience at the filming of an episode of Al Murray’s Happy Hour (Friday and Saturday nights, ITV1) raised several questions. Was this middle-aged baldie, dressed in an outfit carefully put together in homage to the comedian’s right-wing pub landlord persona, a regular in audiences for Al Murray’s shows? If so, what was in it for him?

Because sitting through nearly four hours of Happy Hour being filmed – as I did last Tuesday at ITV’s headquarters in Southwark, London – was certainly not an experience most sane people would want to repeat in a hurry.

I thought I’d give the whole live audience member thing a pop after being offered a freebie for the event. I was underwhelmed. The evening involved 20-minutes of stand up by Murray. This was presumably a kind of payment to the audience for turning up because it didn’t seem to be getting filmed. A good deal up to this point.

However, what happened for the rest of the evening was another comedian acted in the role of a porn film’s fluffer, keeping the audience entertained and up to the job between periods of filming. Sadly, all this comprised was a series of gay jokes. His wearying sign-off line was, as I remember, ‘bums in; chests out; girls, throw them over your shoulder; boys, tuck them into your socks’.

In a slick operation, the audience was herded into seating, urged to laugh like goons and clap uproariously even if the comedy wasn’t comic. The guests they had lined up were chat show icon Jerry Springer, page three beauty Linda Lusardi… and Len Goodman. Worst of all, we were forced to make like an appreciative concert audience to a miming Lemarr and backing band. There have been, and surely will be, better rosters of stars during this series of Happy Hour.

The episode was filmed in sections determined by where the ad-breaks will fall. The links, the quips that Murray as presenter uses to introduce the show and each guest, were repeated over and over until perfected – each time with us reminded ‘bums in, chests out’, you know the rest.

While I like Murray’s racist and misogynistic pub schtick as much as the next man, his interaction with the guests was constrained by a rigid script. The bits that were obviously improvisation hinted at the real reasons why he has won the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award.

But, hell, why I am telling you about it? Judge for yourself when Happy Hour is broadcast (Saturday, ITV, 9:50 pm and Friday, ITV, 11pm).

We were assured by the fluffer that footage of the audience would make up ‘80 per cent of the episode’. Look out for my forced laughs about 10 rows below a fat man dressed in a red blazer, white shirt and tie

Monday, February 19

A Fish Needs a Bicycle

Helen Parton looks over Sunday night’s TV with more than a little bile against the unfairer sex

By rights, I should hate Top Gear (8pm, BBC2). It’s presented by men for a start, and I’m none too keen on them at the moment (I’ve not turned lesbian or anything, I’ve just come over a bit ‘I-got-to-thinking-were-all-men-schmucks’ Carrie Bradshaw stylee). And not just any men, but bawdy, sexist, middle class Tory voting men. Well, that’s Clarkson neatly summed up – Richard Hammond’s clearly a nice guy and James May as docile as an elderly spaniel, which is handy ‘cos that’s what he looks like too.

I kind of like all the torque talk, carburetor chat and turning a Robin Reliant into a spaceship, don’t ask me why. I was mainly watching this episode though for special guest star in a reasonably priced car Simon Pegg (my erstwhile TV crush before Noel Fielding appeared on our screens and I started stalking him around Camden). Success seems to have turned Pegg into a bit of a smug idiot sadly. And Clarkson’s assertion that 4x4s were now uncool because, ‘socialist women hate them and they’re better in the bedroom than Tory women’ plus ‘there’s very little room in the back of this Porsche 911 but you’ll have thin children anyway, because driving this means you’ll have a thin wife’ did stick in my craw, so I speedily turned over to Leewiiiiiiiiiiiiiis (ITV 1, 9pm). I defy anyone to read the title of this post-Morse comeback for the Oxford constabulary in any other fashion than John Thaw’s exasperation at his sidekick’s inability to appreciate the finer things in life like classical music, stout etc.

The Geordie philistine needn’t fear in this new series, because now he has his own mini Morse in the form of Sergeant Hathaway (played by current Billie Piper knobber Laurence Fox) who has a neat line in Nietzsche, classic mythology and, er, phoning up sex lines in order to catch the woman responsible for the demise of a group of self-satisfied middle aged blokes who’d murdered her friend during their drug addled youth so they could remove her adrenal gland and get high on the contents (and you thought the infamous Morse ‘rave’ episode was a substance too far).

Strong stuff for a Sunday night - as was Meerkat Manor (6pm, BBC2). And you thought it was all fluffy-wuffy creatures living happily ever after? Not so – the alpha female Flower has not only banished her one daughter Tosca from the entire group for challenging her authority, but she made another one, Daisy, leave her pups to die when the group moved burrows. Whether mendacious meerkat or murderous cleaner just remember, boys, hell hath no fury….

Sunday, February 18

Never Mind the cocks

The latest series of Buzzcocks marks its progression from the tedious to the merely banal, says Television Review's latest columnist Daniel Stour

TV Highlight if the Week, as Harry Hill might say: well, hardly a screen-shattering experience but we have to take what we can get, don't we? Never Mind The Buzzcocks, the pop panel show equivalent of an elderly dog begging to be put down,was almost worth watching for once as rent-a-celeb singer Samuel Preston, having achieved the notable feat of being more tedious than the show he was appearing on, threw a cartoon strop and walked out after being teased about his wife's literary prowess. New presenter Simon (ex-Popworld) Amstell has at least injected some hostility into the show's dying format, which otherwise continues to rely upon a succession of dull rounds and insipid guests.

Team captain Phil Jupitus is still with us, sadly, whileBill Bailey sits bemused and possibly drugged, like someone's dad held hostage by a gang of jabbering kids. Having been tipped off about this week's incident I made an effort to watch the whole sordid thing. Preston's self-awareness-bypass was soon apparent; after some early jibes he pointed his origami face towards Amstell and declared himself upset. And when, to everyone's amusement, the host began reading aloud quotes from his wife Chantelle's searingly banal autobiography, the Ordinary Boy looked about as happy as a freshly pissed-on lamppost.

'Haven't you read it? I don't want to spoil the ending for you,' quipped Amstell; but as he embarked upon a second excerpt Preston got up and stomped off, presumably to demand another outlet less offensive to his artistic vision, such as a last-minute spot on All-Star Supermarket Sweep, maybe. A replacement team member was recruited from theaudience, a reluctant young borehole driller called Ed who instantly overtook the rest of the Buzzcocks panel by virtue of a) having a real-life skill; and b) not spraying the studio with human beatbox saliva. One ofthe more successful half-hours of trash TV, then.

Tuesday, February 13

The review what said a programme were good

The titles are as stupid as the plot of Eastenders, but Five has proved with last night's film about a deformed Ugandan boy, that it can make documentaries as well as anyone, says Mark Lewis.

Had George Orwell called it ‘the bloke what got tortured with a big rat in a scary room,’ then ‘1984’ might not have been the transformative novel it was destined to become. No doubt it would have seen print, but it would have been the print of a third rate publisher – a Channel 5 of the book world, if you will.

Yet the words would have been no different. And so it was in the latest of Five’s Extraordinary People series. The title might be more infantile than a shitty nappy, but The Boy With A New Head (Monday, Five, 9pm) could almost have been on BBC1.

It would come as no surprise, in fact, if the scriptwriters for the BBC’s flagship soap opera turned out to be moonlighting as the Channel 5 documentary-naming department.

For while The Boy With A New Head told the story of a 13-year-old Ugandan boy whose life-threatening birth deformation is corrected by a series of American operations, Eastenders (Monday, BBC1, 8pm) had just been telling the story of a doctor who encourages her husband to continue an affair with his mistress in order to gain custody of her unborn child.

The pictures of the gruesome operation on the Five documentary, during which Petero’s face was rolled up and down his skull like a rubber grip rolled off a cricket bat handle, would almost certainly have been scaled down on the BBC. But this was otherwise an uplifting tale of a near-impossible life transformed by medical science, compared with the utterly improbable stupid plots served up by bad actors on Eastenders.

There was, for sure, more than a touch of the colonials about it, as scientific curiosity replaced the religious zeal which Orwell would have recognised from the missionaries which ventured to Burma when he was a policeman there in the 1940s. And there was a transparent comparison at work as the bullied boy whose eyes petruded from his face like red-glazed snowballs and whose head pointed up in the shape of a cone, came to Texas and discovered ‘the machine which cooks food,’ and ‘the machine we keep food in.’

It was, nevertheless, difficult not to sympathise with his desire by the end to leave the country where a Witch Doctor said his life would be saved by the blood of two sacrificed chickens, in favour of the country which saved his life and furnished him with a new face. ‘The most amazing thing were the doors which open by themselves,’ he told the, now friendly, Ugandan children on his return. At 13, he’s on the brink of discovering that in his life doors are more likely to remain shut.

Thursday, February 8

The Truth About last night's TV

The only good reason to have watched Liza Tarbuck on BBC2 was to avoid her on ITV1, says Mark Lewis

It’s rich to be told what we should be eating by The Truth About Food (9pm, BBC2) when the first thing the programme tries to make us swallow is the fact that Liza Tarbuck (pictured) is in good shape. ‘I like to look after myself,’ she says. Which is about as convincing as Ian Brady saying he likes to look after kids.

She ambles through an hour of joyless pseudo science, swatting away signs of interest with her bingo wings while a non-threatening voiceover man addresses the audience as if we’re stupider than an average ITV1 viewer.

The soft midlands accent slowly delivers scientific platitudes with exaggerated EMPHASIS on every COUPLE of WORDS making the programme seem like its narrated by Simon Schama with a lobotomy after a coaching session from Jeremy Clarkson.

But even a lobotomised Clarkson would turn his nose up at narrating a programme, which spun-out an hour to tell us that tomatoes and spinach are good for you, detoxes don’t work and boozing on an empty stomach gets you jolly smashed. Not to mention having to introduce such luminaries in the field of nutrition as an alcohol scientist and a doctor of berry research.

In fact, the only reason to have watched The Truth About Food is to have avoided watching ITV1 at the same time, where Tarbuck - looking unsettlingly like her dad, Jimmy - was scheduled against herself in hour-long comedy-drama, Bonkers (9pm, ITV1). The scheduling prevented me from actually watching it. But just calling a programme Bonkers is the televisual equivalent of a comedy tie.

Thursday, February 1

Party Like It's 2007

Helen Parton's a lady not for turning when it comes to praise of this new political drama

Politics always reminds me of great times being a smug student, sitting in a grotty pizza parlour in Hull watching Tony Blair storming into power while my then best friend, a Tory, sulked. But I won't go on about how good things were then in 1997, before myspace, microscooters and the Arctic fucking Monkeys (yes I'd rather hear about the Arctic Circle too, Gordon, you got that one right).

Because ten years on the makers of This Life have given us Party Animals (9pm, BBC2) a new drama about the personal and professional lives of a select bunch residing in the palaces of Westminster. Mostly being smug. And despite all my initial misgivings, it's good.

You wouldn't have thought there was room for it in the BBC schedules either, given the sublime Thick of It's return not so long ago and the fact that the This Life reunion was such a fuck up.

It begins with the likeable but undeniably ferrety faced Danny, a Labour researcher, leaving a key speech in some pub toilets the night before his Blair Babe boss was due to deliver it. Another equally ferrety faced Tory researcher (clearly you have to look like a northerner would want to shove you down their trousers to get on in parliament these days) steals it, thus giving his boss the chance to get one over in the House. Cue a huge bollocking from the (obligatorily Scottish) chief whip.

For a first episode, it's a bit try-hard and the cultural reference points are a bit in-yer-face - look they are PLAYING THE SCISSOR SISTERS in the pub, then the two lobbyists are TAKING COCAINE and people are DRINKING CONTINENTAL LAGER and SHAGGING. But you do begin to care what happens to these characters fairly quickly - whether that's sympathising with the hapless yet passionate Danny or wanting the Tory MP to get his comeuppance for shagging his researcher. And the hollowness and self-serving attitudes of all who walk the corridors of powers are beautifully nuanced from the sharp suits, even sharper dialogue through to the endless series of portraits of Tony and (call me) Dave bearing down from the walls. And as for the journalist who is portrayed as a posh, slightly slutty shameless networker - well that's not exactly inaccurate either.

The action all comes to a head when the party hard lobbyist gets killed, not something I could have seen coming - and neither could the taxi driver who ran him over, ho ho! That’s not to say there’s not things I’d like to change – the Blair Babe MP, played by ‘er what was in the first series of Teachers’, looks a bit too mumsy to be that bitchy and frankly the lobbyist guy that didn’t get killed should spend more time with his shirt off, but apart from that (ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE PUN ALERT!) it gets my vote.

Tuesday, January 30

Big Brother's Block Buster

In the first of a series of reviews lamenting the end of Celebrity Big Brother, Lucien Mettommo casts the movie

So Celebrity Big Brother has ended. And as we all suspected, us English just don’t cut it when it comes to being generally sound. We all know it: The top three finishers in the latest series all hailed from foreign climes.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s because the majority of English people in this series would be unwelcome at a Millwall game. Escorted, they would be, from the ground by Robert Kilroy Silk for being too bigoted and overly tanned to be acceptable in the circles of racist society. For Heaven’s sake, Teddy ‘I like Dentist chairs’ Sheringham even dumped Miss UK, Daniele Lloyd over her antics.

Anyway, let’s not linger on the reality of the situation. Isn’t it better that we indulge in a little CBB fantasy and wonder instead which real Celebrities would play the main characters in this year’s show if the spectacle was turned into a Movie?

Let us begin with the winner:

Shilpa: The darling of the show who united the general population and a quarter of the World’s peoples against the spectre of racism and xenophobia. For her truly gracious and diplomatic speech at her victory, she should be played by Sylvester Stallone (or Poppadom or Boubadoop, whatever). Not only is he the darling of Hollywood after he courageously defied the considerable number of sceptics to make a half decent boxing movie at the age of 137, but he also single handedly ended the cold war in rocky 4 with his (barely comprehensible) words.

Jermaine: His unflappably calm demeanour and otherwise Buddha-like qualities, mean that Jermaine would be an obvious fit for Morgan Freeman… and, you know, they are both black. In fact, the film could be entirely narrated by Freeman, in his own God-like style. He could say things like ‘They didn’t expect Leo Sayer to last a night in Shawshank (oh I mean the BB house), but the curly haired entertainer defied them all…”

Dirk: Well surely the Face-man could only be played by one man: Dirk Benedict. The coolest American ever to grace these shores, he was a true legend. He was ‘Face’ and for that reason alone he deserves to play his own character.

Ian: Good old H. I think everyone thought the guy was a bit of a loser before the show started, but he really turned out to be a pretty nice chap. He was also brave to come out as, you know, a bit gay before he entered the House – rather like a dodecahedron coming out as slightly edgy. His wacky antics, if not amusing, were at least a distraction, and, for this reason, his character should be played by Murdoch, or ‘Mad’ Murdoch McLeod as he is known on the A-Team. I’m not trying to reunite the A-Team (although I wish could if only one of ‘em wasn’t dead). I just think Dirk is so cool, he needs a sidekick. Even if he is a crazy fool.

Danielle: Miss UK could only be a vacuous Hollywood bimbo. Fortunately, these are ten a penny in LaLa Land. In the end, it’s a toss up between Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton. But Lohan wins out, just because I want Paris to play Jade’s mother’s dead arm.

Jade: I think we should all realise that Jade is no racist. She just doesn’t have the intelligence to develop normal moral responses to intense situations. And for this reason, she should be played by George W. Ouch… political satire.

Cleo: Kenny Everett’s dance partner? What the hell does Kenny Everett’s dance partner mean? And who the fuck is Kenny Everett? The slightly ageing ‘celebrity’ still clinging desperately to her lost youth, whilst never saying anything of substance, should be played by Madonna.

Jo: Or ‘pram face’ as she is known to friends. Her features have been haggard by endless chain smoking. Her charm is unmistakeably absent. There is really only one woman who could play this character, and this is Pam St Clement or ‘Pat from Eastenders’. They could basically be twins.

I don’t care enough about, or indeed remember, the rest. Although I would like Todd Carty or ‘Mark from Eastenders’ to be in it as he looks like he needs a break.

Monday, January 29

He’s so alive

The return of Richard Hammond from near death and Louis Theroux from self-imposed obscurity meant that Sunday night saw the very welcome return of two BBC documentary stalwarts, says Mark Lewis.

Clarkson shouted, James May quietly contemplated whether Clarkson was a bigger twat than wine ponce, Oz Clark, and Richard Hammond didn’t die. The first two we could have indifferently contemplated. The final one we have to be pleased about if only in the hope that it will arrest Hammond’s transformation into Clarkson’s Mini-Me.

On the evidence of the new series of Top Gear (Sunday BBC2, 8pm) ‘Hamster’ was a little thinner; perhaps a bit more fragile, but otherwise pretty much the same. Alas that probably means he will restart his transformation into a fat, curly-haired middle-aged man, despised by anyone who’s ever seen a copy of The Guardian. It also means the welcome return of Top Gear, and the scoop footage of the accident in which Hammond nearly died.

Inevitably the commentary he shot before his crash took on resonance not usually associated with the fripperies of the show. He. still. had. that. Clarkson-esque… staccato delivery, which is always more entertaining than apposite. But phrases like ‘this could be the biggest accident you’ve ever seen in your life,’ and ‘I’m so alive, I’m so alive,’ made him more right… than a 1930s Munich Bier Keller.

He could have been so wrong.

Not so wrong, however, that he could have featured in one of Louis Theroux’s weird weekends.

In The Weird World of Louis Theroux (Sunday, BBC2, 9pm), the unassuming assassin looked back over ten years of exploring unusual characters and persuasions.

It was rather like a long-running sitcom running out of ideas and rolling out a past clips show. (The show reminds us perhaps of the sit-com’s past glories but usually presages a decline in the quality, ending up with Fonzie jumping over a shark in a speedboat).

We hope that it will not be the same for Louis, whose never-let-it-go interviewing style has facades stripped quicker than paint in a Ronseal advert. A rapper, we are told in Theroux’s dad-at-a-disco-style, is ‘also a full time gangster and pimp.’

‘I been doing this since I was 11 years old,’ replies the rapper, pushing a gun into the waistband of his trousers. ‘This is who I am. You un’stand what I mean? For real.’

‘But you could shoot your testicles off.’

This is cringe comedy, which predates The Office and Extras, but because it is delivered in a conceptual documentary also managed to catch the zeitgeist of programmes like Wife Swap. Like the Channel 4 stalwart, the programme caught the imagination, not because of the freaks, but because of the humanity.

The fearless questioning and commentary sets people up for the TV freak show and invites us - mostly rather cruelly - to laugh at them. But Theroux’s genius is allowing for snippets of his victims’ humanity to shine through, layering his programmes with undercurrents of melancholy.

We hope it will survive into next week’s new series.

Monday, January 15

A lot better than working

Big Brian Yates takes a break from a lousy week of work and discovers BBC4

How good is BBC4? In the middle of a week of shit at work, I took some time off to watch Hotel California, from Byrds to Eagles: what a treat! Chris Wilson’s documentary film, tracing the flowering of rock music in LA in the sixties and seventies, featured no one going ‘on a journey of discovery’ (with shots of aircraft taking off and landing to prove it), no simplistic, over-dramatic statements repeated every two minutes, no ego-driven presenter shouting at the camera; this was like reading a grown-up’s book, but with moving pictures . . . and fabulous music.

Then, on Friday, after the shit had hit the fan at work, I needed to watch something, anything, in the half-time interval of Sky Sport’s rugby coverage. A quick channel surf offered me In Concert With . . . (BBC 4, 8.30pm), which turned out to be half an hour of classic BBC footage from 1970 of mighty rock legend Neil Young playing some new songs. The audience sat politely in their amusing seventies fancy-dress as Young sat hunched over his guitar or piano, face screwed into a racing-cyclist’s mask of pain and concentration, pouring out the emotion. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as he slashed at his acoustic guitar and launched into another unknown number. It was Heart of Gold, one of the 50 greatest songs ever. The director pulled one or two fancy seventies tricks, shifting the camera angle and focus to place the giant head of a resting guitar alongside the musician, or overlaying a psychedelic purple Neil Young over the cowboy-brown one and subtly merging them together, but he mostly kept it simple. Thank you BBC4 for bringing a tortured genius into my living room on a Friday night!

(Apparently the second half of the rugby was a thriller!)

Thursday, January 11

Too few twats; too many arms

David Cook can't hide his disappointment at the number of limbs in the Celebrity BB House

The most disappointing thing about Celebrity Big Brother so far isn't that none of the celebrities are of any interest at all - although they're not. It's the discovery that famed one-armed lesbian Jackie (and we're going to spell that CORRECTLY, not with that superfluous 'y') has, in fact, got two arms. OK, one of them doesn't work, but there's definitely two of them. We counted. Twice.

Now, in last year's 'normal' BB, the delicate 'keep the interesting people in, no matter how repellent' balance was destroyed by the loathsome Sezer. Jackiey, incredibly, is even worse: she looks, sounds and probably smells like the human embodiment of a local tip. "I'm not arguing!" she argued at Shilpa. "I'm not shouting!" she shouted. "I don't want to fight!" she yelled, ready to fight. "I'm listening to you!" she sniffed, not letting Shilpa get a word in edgeways. Brr. The woman makes Jade look like a saint.

Still, maybe we should keep her in. BB needs a certain level of twatness in the house, and that's sorely lacking since Donny left. ("Maybe he's hiding under the table," scoused Danielle. HE JUST WENT OVER THE ROOF, you utter, utter MORON. How could he POSSIBLY be hiding under the table? Gnngh... Incidentally, today Donny 'edited' the 3am Girls' page in the Mirror. "I'd love to meet Britney - but not until she's got rid of that cellulite on her bum!" Seriously. Rock and fucking roll.)

The rest of them, well... Cleo's mental, but the others are blander than dry Ryvita, especially Jade's boyfriend Jack who's so quiet it's quite possible he doesn't exist. It is quite fun playing the 'Does she have a tooth missing or not?' game with Jo, though, and Jermaine's perma-bemused expression is almost worth the entrance fee alone. But not quite, even though there isn't an entrance fee at all.

And that's it. Real BB can't come round soon enough. TV off.

Friday, January 5

It flew at the right time

Green Wing could have run and run but it bowed out at the top, which is more than can be said for Parky, says Mark Lewis

When you can’t decide which character you like the most in a sitcom you’ve got yourself a terrific ensemble cast. It is the genius of Friends and Scrubs and it’s the reason Green Wing could have run for as long.

But where Green Wing is the superior comedy is that it knew when to stop. Four series in, and the Scrubs characters are beginning to metamorphose like the cast of Eastenders. When storyline supercedes character, it is time to give up the plot. Scrubs remains one of the best reasons to turn on the telly but I fear one more series and Turk is going to be caught sleeping with Sharon in the Arches and be beaten up by his brother Grant.

We will miss Green Wing (Thursday, 10pm Ch4). It was a comedy to which you would gladly dedicate an hour because it wound slapstick, satire, surrealism and straight up comedy like a TV chef juggling endorsement contacts. At close to two hours, last night’s one off finale was a commitment for sure, and having been pushed down the schedule by the introduction of this year’s interminable Celebrity Big Brother it ended at close to midnight.

Feature length is not normally a phrase to raise joy in the hearts of TV viewers, but the thin spreading of melancholy over the script in this final episode was more than enough to sustain tired eyes to the end. It was set in the last few weeks of Mac’s life, but like Friends and the Office before it, the writers knew that we all ultimately wanted a happy ending.

Which is more than can be said for the latest incarnation of Michael Parkinson.

He doesn’t ignore his guests like Frank Skinner, and he doesn’t pull faces at them like Davina. But really, how hard can it be? Michael Parkinson has all the skill of a man who can ask movie stars how they make their portrayals so lifelike and laugh at the jokes of Scottish comedians.

There is no doubt that he manages those arts skilfully, I just wonder whether mastering sycophantic smalltalk means you deserve to have a nationally recognised pseudonym.

Parky, however, has sown his own demise by taking the ITV shilling. Judging by last night’s Michael Parkinson’ Greatest Entertainers (Thursday, ITV, 9pm) he will have suffered the Trevor MacDonald disease within weeks and will be topping and tailing someone else’s report on the unwatched Tonight programme.

This was textbook ITV: pay big money for a star an then flog the career right our them in ill-fitting vehicles. Michael Parkinson’s Greatest Entertainers was the chat show equivalent of Ross Kemp’s Ultimate Force.

It was the last death throes of a fading TV aristocrat whose consummate professionalism and good fortune landed him some of the most sought after guests on the planet. Now he was reduced to telling us over two hours that Fred Astaire was a jolly good dancer; Frank Sinatra could sing a bit, and Billy Connolly had been on his show a lot.

So farewell then, Parky. You’ll be missed by people’s mums. Probably even more so than Green Wing.

Wednesday, January 3

This Life, But Not As We Know It

Helen Parton finds the ten-year reunion of one of her favourite shows a little hard to swallow.

It was billed as event TV, equalling the denouement of who shot JR but unfortunately This Life + 10 (9pm, BBC2) was more like the first episode of Eldorado: a hell of a letdown. Maybe it’s because this time the characterisation was so clunky as we see our favourite 90s quintet return at the funeral of motorcycle courier (turned dental hygienist!) Ferdy. Anna the successful barrister was believable enough and Miles the ex-pat hotellier sort of fit while Warren had clearly been driven to becoming a life coach after spending so many years as Bergerac’s sidekick on Midsomer Murders.

But Milly the stay at home Mum and Egg the successful novelist? Apparently the scene when Egg is speaking about his book at a press conference was series creator Amy Jenkins’ starting point for this ten-year reunion special. But clearly Jenkins had forgot Egg only wanted to write for a living for about two episodes in the original series, and then found that cooking was far more his forte. As it was, the closest we got to that was Egg being compared to Jamie Oliver for having his life filmed by twentysomething documentary maker Claire. Ah yes, here was a plot device crowbarred in so we could have some more talking head scenes, seeing as nobody was seeing a therapist anymore.

Though God knows they needed to now more than a decade ago – Miles still in love with Anna, Anna having biological clock issues, Warren popping a series of Holby City’s worth of pills. The fact was there was too much ground to cover in eighty minutes and everyone unbelievably dusted themselves off as each mini disaster unfolded – Milly falling off a horse – oh it’s OK, she’s fine and cackling maniacally, Warren overdosing– duh, he only took the one sleeping tablet. Even Miles’s country pile being repossessed wasn’t that bad – at least we didn’t have to see his ghastly cream damask sofa anymore for one thing.

He managed to keep his Portishead and Massive Attack CDs from 1997 I hear and that brings me to another thing – This Life’s music was always spot on and that bit of nostalgic trip hop aside, it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong. We have Egg listening to old Killers and Strokes, when clearly he’d have either gone Q-reading muso with Arctic Monkeys, Dylan, Snow Patrol and Jamie T on repeat, lurched into James Blunt dirge or refused to believe a good record had been made post-Britpop. And don’t even get me started on this particular cringe-inducing exchange. Egg: “Her last boyfriend was one of the Kaiser Chiefs!” Miles: “The what cheeses?”. The TV script equivalent of “Is it raining, I hadn’t noticed.” I’m sure you’ll agree.

I know all the actors schedules are jam-packed these days- Jack Davenport is now playing a swashbuckling Miles in Pirates of the Caribbean in Hollywood having done a turn as a comedy Miles in the truly dreadful Coupling and Andrew Lincoln and Daniella Nardini keep popping up as variations of Egg and Anna in ITV specials, but surely even they knew that forcing the viewer to wolf down a big helping of a one-off instead of say a sensibly sized two parter, would give all concerned televisual heartburn, not to mention a little heartache for what had been top notch, must see telly and was now as dodgy as Miles’ new haircut.