reviews

On this page:

100 Greatest Albums, Channel 4
End Day, BBC3
Welcome To Fatland, ITV1
20000 Streets Under The Sky, BBC4
20th Century Roadshow, BBC1

Greatest 80s TV Moments, Five
I’ll Do Anything To Get On TV, Channel 4
Malice Aforethought, ITV1
Playing It Straight, Channel 4
Dickens In America, BBC4
Going to Extremes: The Silk Routes, Channel 4
Ask the Family, BBC2

Please contribute: send your views, observations etc to theeditor@thecustard.tv

Contributors: David Richards, Paul David, Billy The TV Addict, Norah B, Paul Stephens, Simon Young

 

The 100 Greatest Albums, Channel 4, Sunday
What to say of you liked it
A cogent catalogue of the most marvellously mind-blowing music ever made.
What to say of you didn’t like it
A conceited cesspit of aural effluence which delights in its wilful obscurity and esoteric references to isolate the vast majority of Britain’s music lovers.

What was good about it?
• During the Human League interview, when one of them talked the other two would look on with an expression of bemused horror as though their band mate was admitting to an unsolved murder.
• Shaun Ryder calling Robbie Williams “the new Tom Jones”. And Williams’ former song writing partner Guy Chambers appearing on the verge of weeping when he disclosed how they are “not talking”.
• How the seemingly throwaway pop practised by Blondie and Madness hasn’t dated at all.
• Ex-Crossroads legend Gabrielle Drake’s touching memories of her late brother Nick, who only achieved widespread fame 20 years after his death.
• Quite often an album from recent times would be profiled with a simple medley of singles which saved regurgitating information everyone already knows and
left more time to explore the more obscure records on the list such as Nick Drake and Billie Holiday.
• Some new angles were found for the most cloyingly exposed of albums such as Moby’s Play. Here the focus was on how Moby sampled the collection of Alan Lomax, who collated blues and African American folk songs, and how the descendants of the original singers had hugely benefited from Play’s royalties.
• Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express and the Look Around You-esque news report on the German band which revealed how their next aim was to incorporate their instruments into their suits.
• REM’s Michael Stipe revealing the lyrics of Man On The Moon were inspired by a desire to put more “yeah”s in a song than close friend Kurt Cobain had growled in tracks like Lithium.
• Jeff Buckley’s distraught mother disclosing how she refused to believe her son had drowned and sped to the site of his demise with a bathing suit because she imagined the rescuers were “looking in the wrong place”.
• Former Factory Records boss Tony Wilson paying for the Happy Mondays to record their abortive third album in Barbados after they assured him it was free of heroin.
It was free of heroin because it was the world’s capital for crack cocaine, and the Mondays’ narcotic antics helped send Factory to the wall.
• Lauren Laverne’s amusing attempt to succinctly appraise the influence of Pixies. “Pixies started that grunge movement that led to Nirvana and, er… loads of other bands getting massive.”
• Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States.
• Two moments of rare sagacity from Noel Gallagher where he firstly remarked: “If Never Mind The Bollocks didn’t exist, the state of British music would be quite scary.” And: “Roll With It is appalling.”
• Michael Jackson looking and sounding human on Off The Wall.
• Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back still sounds fresh and original.
• The appearance of Sergeant Pepper at only number seven shows that hardcore Beatles fans are dying out faster than Amazonian frogs.
• The countdown played out to the mournful Exit Music (For A Film) from the chart-topping OK Computer, and faded out just as Thom Yorke reached the “We hope that you choke” refrain.

What was bad about it?
• The Eagles – a band so dull Mr Sandman has hijacked Hotel California as the world of sleep’s national anthem.
• Debbie Harry’s once elastic face which has since been reduced to a barren, lethargic desert with only the animation occurring in the stark oases of her eyes and mouth.
• Joy Division’s Closer wasn’t number one (it was 34).
• Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell which indicates voting was open to air guitar-obsessed lunatics who twirl around their padded cells sweating chip pan fat.
• Simon Bates presenting Disco Dancing in the late 70s in which people who would otherwise be liquidated from the human race pranced around for their lives in a pitiful bid to demonstrate they had something to give to the world (watch Strictly Dance Fever for similar wretchedness).
• The inclusion of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magick which showed voting was open to people incapable of feeling emotion.
• The matchstick beard of an American record executive which looked like a badger’s corpse hung upside down over a portcullis.
• The disturbing proportion of records in the list made by people who died early – Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Ian Curtis, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley.
• The way in which Everybody Hurts has become a universal theme for REM’s Automatic For The People and as such diminishes the impact of tracks like Sweetness
Follows, Drive and Try Not To Breathe.
• Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction which indicates people who sit in their urine drenched leather trousers, smoke marijuana who spend their spare time skinning human hides were able to vote.
• Dido’s No Angel which implies short-term coma victims and people trapped in a spiral of never-ending dinner parties were allowed to vote.
• Prince’s Sign Of The Times being one of the prime antecedents of the asphyxiating plague of txtspk.
• The Libertines’ eponymous second album at number 50 which means somebody had hired an amoral people smuggler to secrete that record at a position way higher than it merited.
• Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms at number 47 showing that corpulent marketing executives who each morning wipe their dirty shoes on the bare torso of the office
junior weren’t barred from casting a vote.
• The exhumation of the Blur v Oasis “battle”, which brought as much shame on the nation as England’s defeat to the US in the 1950 World Cup.
• Duran Duran’s Rio at 30 proving voting was open to those still trying to find their way out of a labyrinthine silken suit they first put on in 1981 voted.
• The Verve’s Urban Hymns which has rotted more rapidly than a half-eaten apple.
• Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in the rundown exhibiting those who fly into a rage in order to attract attention to their puerile plight could vote.

End Day, BBC3
What to say of you liked it
A chilling succession of scenarios of how the world might be cast into devastating destruction, or even utter annihilation.
What to say of you didn’t like it
A scaremongering checklist of ways to wilfully terrify the public with ludicrously lame catastrophes. Tony Blair was no doubt an avid viewer, and next week will be pontificating on the Tories’ poor record on comets and the Lib Dems’ willingness to let asylum flu bugs into the country to wreak havoc.

What was good about it?
• The repetitious Groundhog Day-esque scenario of Dr Howell’s journey from his London flat to take a flight to New York to conduct a controversial, and potentially earth shattering, experiment called the TBM. Each time his quest was diverted by a different disaster such as a tsunami, a supervolcano, a superbug or a comet so that it comically resembled Wile E Coyote being thwarted in his importuning efforts to snare Roadrunner.
• Some of the special effects, such as the La Palma tsunami wave swamping New York office buildings, were very effective.
• Many of the tall stories were at least accompanied by genuine scientific evidence on how the disaster may unfold, or how it transpired on occasions when it has occurred before.
• The viewers’ credulity wasn’t stretched to the elastic limit of awarding veracity to the visions of Nostradamus or that Irish priest who has apparently predicted the pope after next will be Satan – obviously errant tripe unless George W Bush converts to Catholicism. Or the bizarre rumour we once heard about a wine press in Moldova being able to destroy the universe (admittedly we may have been drunk).

What was bad about it?
• Some of the imagery was a little melodramatic such as the huge cruise ship swept two miles inland by the tsunami while the population looked on from the rooftops and some unscrupulous salesmen staked out the site as a tourist attraction (maybe).
• We’re sure we’ve mentioned this recently, but while all these cataclysms are possible, they have also been possible for any period of time in the existence of
humanity and to start worrying about them now (as the programme definitely encouraged) is a little pointless. It all seems to be rooted in the media’s cold turkey caused by the end of the Cold War. Before 1989, it was easy to luxuriate in heroin highs of the very real threat of nuclear Armageddon, but since then there has only been the dull, cheap methadone substitute of imagined calamities like these dredged up from the past and extrapolated to the near future.
• The way in which each catastrophe was played out partly through the microcosmic eyes of a normal person was akin to those dreadful TV movies about a potential
plane crash (Terror At 40000 Feet etc) where you are introduced to the cipher passengers with a hint of their character which will define them for the rest of the movie (“Hi, I’m Bill and this is my new wife Kim. She’s nine months pregnant but we’re returning to New York as I want him to be the president one day”).
• To properly terrify the viewer, they must first care about the people in the story like in When the North Wind Blows. When the world was sucked into the black hole caused by the abortive TBM experiment, the obliteration came as a blessed relief.
• At the conclusion of each section, the scientists would chant Tony Blair’s favourite mantra of “It’s not if, but when”, which had the effect of immediately neutering their views.
• The way the scientists sought to revise history to make their apparent fantasies about future disasters even more doom-laden such as the boffin who claimed that the previous estimates of the post-World War One flu bug of 20 million deaths were “too low” and was nearer “50 million”.
• All the tragedies happened in the Western world – the comet hit Berlin, the supervolcano was in Wyoming, the superbug afflicted London, while the tsunami and the TBM experiment destroyed New York – all of which trivialised the recent tsunami in South East Asia as if to say the deaths of 200,000 people wasn’t big enough to be included in this catalogue of calamity.
• It’s only a month since Supervolcano and we’ve yet another docu-drama about the Yellowstone Park behemoth. This supervolcano is such a publicity whore expect it to turn up in Hell’s Kitchen and watch as Gary Rhodes and Jean-Christophe Novelli serve meals on time to prevent it blowing its top. Now that would be a real Hell’s Kitchen.
• And even more incredible were the BBC News reports, which littered the drama like dead tramps, reporting that the majority of visitors to the Yellowstone Park were unaware of the supervolcano.
• The possibility the world will end because television viewers would be numbed to a state of permanent inertia through abysmal scaremongering dramas was omitted.

Welcome To Fatland, ITV1, Tuesday
What to say if you liked it
Amazingly, or miraculously considering the subject matter, ITV1 produces a documentary of interest and sympathy that is devoid of sensationalism or the kind of 'celebrities' that you have to Google to find out who they are, as five overweight people visit Freedom Paradise, a holiday destination in Mexico for overweight people to relax in without feeling self-conscious.

What to say if you didn't like it
ITV1 gropes around in its big grimy wheelie bin of 'people that are easily exploited for cheap entertainment to make the masses feel better', dredges up the leftovers of Celebrity Fit Club and Holiday Showdown and serves it up with a big dollop righteousness borrowed from Tonight With Trevor McDonald. And then has the gall to follow it all with a programme about food and cooking.

What was good about it
• It was a revelation. The documentary showed compassion and understanding without being patronising to the five holidaying Britons (although the title let it down a bit). There was no sarcastic commentary or cheap quips. The five people all seemed genuinely nice, down-to-earth people who happened to be overweight and troubled by that fact. We're still astounded that ITV1 allowed such a thing as five strangers to live together abroad without chucking someone who hates fat people or some guy with a fuse shorter than a Paris Hilton mini skirt into the mix so that viewers can all gawp at the 'conflict' scenes.
• Steven Smith, an obese young man from Scotland, was engagingly honest about his feelings and his struggles in life. The simple fact that to go out of his own home is difficult because he feels people are looking at him constantly or his comment that it would take him 'until the end of the week' to gather the confidence just to go swimming at the resort should have been easily enough to elicit compassion and empathy from even the most one-eyed viewer.
• The group was to be led by Marilyn Wan, an American motivational speaker who encourages fat people to be comfortable with themselves and their weight by shouting about it a lot and destroying the self-consciousness obesity can yield. The group's reaction to her Fat Is Great speak (T-shirt logo: Fat!So?) was a series of superbly understated blank looks worthy of The Office, particularly when she got out her 'Yay Scales' that didn't measure weight - just how great you were (all were 'fabulous and sexy' or 'wonderful and sexy' when stepping on them. But what if you'd prefer to lose a few pounds to be wonderful rather than fabulous? Surely the cycle starts again?)
• Helen, who seemed almost completely unaware that she was an attractive woman with a killer sense of humour, summed up her first impressions of Marilyn beautifully: "She just talks bollocks."
• The news that the huge Wayne Kennedy used to be a male model. You could still see it in his face, in fact.
• The fact that even if Marilyn's gung-ho I-don't-give-a-crap style wasn't roundly appreciated, some of her ideas and general enthusiasm really did help the group relax and enjoy what looked like a great holiday. Her central point that it's better to enjoy your body than become consumed with self-loathing was certainly a valid one that particularly Mel took on board.
 
What was bad about it
•   The narration by Julie Graham's suggestion that only obese people in Britain aren’t happy, which seemed an odd thing to say.
•     Mel did little to garner support of viewers with her early comment: “I’d eat and sleep all day if I could.” It’s difficult to feel sympathy or show understanding to someone who is so openly lazy (although this character trait seemed to ebb away as the show progressed and she grew in confidence).
•        The narrator’s comment that our five stars had “had their whole lives ruined (by their obesity)” which clearly wasn’t true as Wayne, just to give one example, had enjoyed his life for many years before putting on a lot of weight. It was an injection of hyperbole that simply wasn’t needed.
•       The moment that let the whole show down and should so clearly have been edited out. Steven opened up to the camera about how he finds it difficult to get close to friends because of the chance of being hurt from it, and therefore found it even more difficult to establish a sexual relationship with a woman. It was brave of him to be so open about his loneliness, but was promptly stamped on and ruined by someone off camera saying: “So you’re still a virgin then?” Steven said yes, but this was crass, stupid and offensive. It was so clearly what Steven had already said, yet someone decided it needed to be spelt out for the ‘thick’ ITV audience and was somehow important to the show as a whole while at the same time hinting that it was something to be ashamed of in some way.

20000 Streets Under The Sky, BBC4, Tuesday
What to say of you liked it
A stark, sombre adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s novel which excruciatingly observes the impossibility of love between the three protagonists.
What to say of you didn’t like it
Get out your greyest raincoats, there’s a tempest of utter gloom on the way! But be prepared also to be chilled by the fractured, forced dialogue that seems to have spilled from an overflow drain of sentimentality.

What was good about it?
• The performances from the three lead actors Bryan Dick as waiter Bob, Zoë Tapper as prostitute Jenny and Sally Hawkins as barmaid Ella. Hawkins in particular was excellent in the opening sequence in which, without a word of dialogue, she conveyed her repressed affection for Bob with a few warm glances towards him.
• And when Ella talks to Bob she does so in such a manner that it’s evident she just wants to hear his voice such as when she brings up his reading of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – a book she is utterly ignorant of.
• The indelible menace of the odious Ernest Eccles was manifested by the superb Phil Davis as he afflicted the meek Ella like a disease until she acceded to his requests to accompany him on a date.
• The direction that quickly established the flow of affection between the three protagonists as behind the bar Ella looks forlornly on at Bob, while he in turn
ogles Jenny and she casts her flirtatious eyes about looking for custom.
• Bob’s futile belief that he can rescue Jenny from her plight as a prostitute through his savings that she rapidly eats away at, and his reluctance to have sex with her as though he has more noble intentions.
• The incredibly gloomy sets that are reflections of the subdued ambitions of the characters.
• The Pinteresque quality of the dialogue where virtually all that is said is merely trite sentiments between acquaintances, yet the subtlety with which it is spoken suggests a great deal more psychological depth than is ostensibly apparent.

What was bad about it?
• The repetitive nature of Bob’s tale in which he is constantly charmed by Jenny’s hard-luck stories and pays her out of his own pocket accordingly hoping he can buy her soul in the same way as clients can buy her body. But each time they arrange to meet, she never turns up for one reason or another (although the reason always necessitates Bob shelling out).
• Bob turning to drink when Jenny thwarts his romantic intentions like a lame EastEnders script to avoid detailing the inner turmoil of the character through dialogue with others, which is incidentally done with great skill elsewhere in the drama such as Ella’s simmering jealousy of Jenny being exposed when she calls her a “creature”.

20th Century Roadshow, BBC1, Thursday
What to say of you liked it
A verdant, luscious ripe update of the old oaken stalwart of the Antiques Roadshow, in which curios and exhibits the viewers can actually recognise and relate to are appraised and valued.
What to say of you didn’t like it
A sickening, complacent wormhole enabling viewers to slip back to their infancy in a futile effort to rediscover that wonder that has been crushed out of them by contemporary adult life.

What was good about it?
• Some of the articles brought in were genuine treasures (eg the Chopper bicycle, various editions of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and a Space Invaders arcade machine) and the tales behind them were engagingly elucidated by the myriad experts.
* The quaint chat with the inventor and narrator of classic 1970s series Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and the Clangers. And when the narrator quipped about how he had to get rid of his 14-year-old stepdaughter’s cuddly toy Bagpuss after he learnt that when she cuddled Bagpuss, the toy would say in his voice: “Oh, I do like a cuddle in bed.”
• The shaggy haired expert who looks like Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode.

What was bad about it?
• Too many of the items brought in for viewing were boys’ toys from the 1970s and the now fully-grown owners seemed like schoolboys seeing who could bring the “coolest” thing into class.
• Just like in the Antiques Roadshow, the only palpable tension is felt during the valuation; and this generation of experts have learned well from their forbears how to string this out for as long as possible to either deliver delight or despondency. The cruellest instance came when a man who had proudly saved women’s magazines from the 1930s was told: “It may only be £50-60 worth of magazines, but it’s a rich historical treasure.” The old man’s face fell as though pushed off a cliff.
• The awful Star Wars poster in which Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia looked like Andy MacDonald and Toyah Battersby after being roughed up by Stormtroopers.
• While some of the items were fascinating, others were simply dull, such as the woman with the largest collection of phone cards in the world, or ostentatious like the bloke who paid £20,000 for Legolas’s bow from the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which, if we’re going to be pedants, is 21st century memorabilia).
• Expert Eric Knowles breathlessly introducing the Nat West pigs as though they are artefacts which define Western civilisation.

 

Greatest 80s TV Moments, Five, Monday
What to say of you liked it
A benign Pandora’s Box of delights that ignited the beacons of nostalgia that surround the soul.
What to say if you didn’t like it
If our memories of these events were manifested on an Artic ice floe, we could quite happily watch them be callously culled with cudgels by amoral nostalgia hunters.

What was good about it?
* Magenta Devine emerging from her coffin to comment on the 1980s, thus leaving a spare grave in the overcrowded cemeteries of England.
* Paul Morley bemoaning the panicky infotainment about condoms, in which Mike Smith presented a demonstration of how to slip a sheath on as Aids terrorised the nation. “It might have worked in that it put you off sex,” Morley drolly remarked. “As you’d have Mike Smith in your head.”
* Ken Livingstone’s vigorous work out with Mad Lizzie on TV-am as she and the Green Goddess, the two witches of aerobic instruction, battled for ratings supremacy by propagating some of the worst outfits and dancing ever seen on British television.
* Cilla Black on an early Blind Date with her hair coloured and styled so she looked like a prowling lioness.
* The adorable infant Brookside with its abrasively original storylines and the warring Grants which alas metamorphosed into a problem teenager full of lame attention-grabbing tantrums and petulant violence.
* The hilarious sequence from Knight Rider when Michael fondly recalls the times he spent with his intelligent car KITT after the vehicle is drowned like a Dark Age witch in a slurry pit.
* The producer of The Tube revealing he had to shell out for Madonna’s transport up to Manchester to appear at the Hacienda because her record company viewed her as a “no priority act”.
* The greasing scene from The Singing Detective. “Think of something boring – a speech by Ted Heath, wage rates in Peru, the dog in Blue Peter.”
* Willo-the-Wisp with its bizarre cast of characters and Kenneth Williams’ gloriously distinct range of voices.
* The Diana Gould v Margaret Thatcher exchange over the sinking of the General Belgrano during the Falklands War. (Even if it was on Channel 4 on Sunday, too)

What was bad about it?
* The highly variable quality of the talking heads where the worst verbal guttersnipes were John McCririck, Sue Mott and Caryn Franklin.
* Joan Collins’s decrepit narration that seems to be dragged from her mouth like a faulty receipt strip is unevenly yanked out of the cash till by a grumbling repairman.
* The illusory omniscience of the talking heads who have obviously just been shown clips and so simply lie. eg John Ainsworth, who remarked: “I think everyone remembers when Dempsey and Makepeace sort of acknowledged their feelings for one another.” Not us. We were probably out playing football somewhere.
* Rob Deering is guilty of such observations, too. Also, is he exclusively tethered to
Five languishing in its dungeons and exchanging his nostalgic platitudes for a sustaining bowl of indigestible gruel?
* Janet Ellis: “We all need Bros to happen every 10 years.” In the same way as 17th century England needed outbreaks of the Black Death to prevent supposed overpopulation.
* “Can I have a ‘P’ please, Bob” is funny only to those who like drowning their own children or cutting off their hands and feet to perfect an impression of a scarecrow.
* When Vivienne Westwood’s collection was rightly ridiculed on Wogan, Caryn Franklin blamed the audience for not being “fashion literate” rather than the fashion industry being exposed for the cultural charlatan it is.
* Simon O’Brien’s mystifying assertion that Twickenham streaker Erica Roe represented “every man’s fantasy”.
* Every obscure 1980s series such as the Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider has its own superfan doggedly clinging on to the past like Dr Fox and his dignity.
* Sue Mott’s delusions about Britain’s track and field athletes at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where Daley Thompson, Seb Coe and Tessa Sanderson won gold: “That was the last time Britain really dominated athletics.” Wrong because: 1. Three golds does not denote “dominance” 2. The Eastern Bloc boycotted the Games. 3. Britain won as many athletics golds in 2004 as in 1984.
* Dire Straits' Money For Nothing video; we don’t care how “groundbreaking” the video was or how much it “summed up” the 1980s, that atrocity had the same life stealing influence on music as Joseph McCarthy had on Hollywood in the 50s.
* Fame! – the leg warmers, Leroy’s ever-so-tight leotard and Doris singing and bopping as though being slowly electrocuted.
* While Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney was an icon of the 1980s, the humour has dated even more than his mono-philosophy.
* Angry Anderson’s Suddenly – the theme for Scott and Charlene’s wedding in Neighbours – reminding us how if a religious cult had set up its beliefs and ethos based entirely on characters in that wretched soap they would have brainwashed the nation’s teenagers within two weeks.
* BA’s fear of flying in The A-Team was not the second best TV moment of the 80s, it was a trite comic device in one of the worst shows ever made.

I’ll Do Anything To Get On TV, Channel 4, Sunday
What to say of you liked it
A contemporary Heart of Darkness where the teeming tributaries of Reality TV were traced back to their source with perspicacity worthy of Dostoyevsky.
What to say of you didn’t like it
An architectural folly to place even the Millennium Dome in the shade as a hollow edifice the size and volume of the Atlantic Ocean is constructed to hold the weightless vacuum of the sum talent and character of anyone ever to appear on Reality TV.

What was good about it?
* Geri Halliwell’s Look At Me was appropriately used as the main theme tune as nowhere in the history of television has such a mound of mediocrity achieved such an undeserved and worthless level of celebrity.
* The closing theme of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s Kill Your Television.
* The satisfying conclusion you draw that Reality TV is like punk in that there are a few startling originals while the rest lubricate their velocity in the of their forbears’ trail of mucus.
* The very earliest Reality TV, such as Man Alive, seemed to possess a freshness and wonder that has callously been stripped away by subsequent incarnations of the genre.
* The goals of people desiring to get on television initially seemed quite noble as the medium was forbidden to all those who didn’t attend Oxbridge.
* The clips of That’s Life made it appear a buoyant flagship consumer show before its
inevitable sinking to the bottom of the BBC1 ocean where it was picked clean by executive scavengers appropriating the moribund ideas to fuel their own tepid shows.
* Matt Bianco and Five Star being insulted on Saturday Superstore.
* John Humphrys looking about 60 years old in 1981.
* Video Nation – a series of little snippets of unusual lives around Britain such as the fisherman working in the remote waters around Scotland.
* The best “stars” of Reality TV are always those who don’t seek fame and are quite content to stay within their own little departments of interest like Fred Dibnah and Sister Wendy.
* Mark Frith’s back-handed insult to “Nasty” Nick Bateman: “For two or three weeks, he was the most famous person in Britain.”
* Margaret Thatcher being humiliated on a TV show where her amoral destruction of the General Belgrano was exposed by the endearing persistence of Diana Gould.

What was bad about it?
* The inescapable notion that the whole two hours was heralding of the vast human crop of awfulness that has been fostered on television over the past 40 years as something more vital than the mass graves of anonymity they truly are.
* While innovative, Man Alive was not averse to exploiting oddballs for its own commercial ends such as the woman who had a fear of birds and donned a cat mask to scare away pigeons.
* The hive mother of all modern Reality TV was The Family – a docusoap which followed the Wilkins family – and from which all subsequent shows have flown like queen bees before being fertilised by the droning sterility of TV executives.
* While Esther and the That’s Life team could not be wholly blamed for the pestilent epidemic of Vox Pops, they did start the torturous trend and hopefully feel the same guilt as Russian inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov.
* Danny Baker and the Daz Doorstep Challenge.
* The way in which anyone not of the cultural or political aristocracy was regarded with utter derision exemplified by Sir Robin Day on Question Time: “Dorothy Clark,” Sir Robin pauses for a haughty snort, “a housewife.”
* The Janet Street-Porter brainchild Network 7 being exposed as the root of many of the more mindless Reality TV shows such as the Castaways segment, that was a precursor of Survivor, and The Bunker, which was a gloomy 80s antecedent of Big Brother.
* Lauren (formerly James) Harries and her delusions of her own talent, even claiming that her appearances on Wogan helped along Terry’s career.
* The Hopefuls on The Word were never shocking but – rather like pornographic films and traffic lights – they were so unremittingly dull.
* Ross Lee from Couch Potatoes, who managed to swindle his way on to discussion shows in a variety of disguises (“I was like a gremlin in the works”), seems to have been in possession of as little talent as those he sought to mock.
* Those Reality shows we’d almost burned from our memories were exhumed and will once more give us nightmares such as The Living Soap.
* The commentator who pompously scorned Airport for running three concurrent narrative strands in one episode with ostensibly equal import of budgies being captured and repacked, a policewoman’s sore feet and the plight of an Albanian family being deported back to Kosovo. His opinions dismissed the viewers’ ability to discern for themselves that the obvious tragedy of the Albanians was more significant than the others.
* Many of the commentators who savaged Reality TV seemed to do so because they were jealous they didn’t come up with the ideas first.
* The illusory perceived pecking order of the disgorged contents from the stomachs of Reality TV such as when Jane McDonald assumed herself as more worthy than Big Brother contestants.
* “Nasty” Nick Bateman talking about Big Brother contestants as “they”, as if forgetting his pitiful efforts to become a celebrity (remember Channel 4 game show Trust Me?). * And for adopting a specious morality when he was front page news while the sailors trapped in the Kursk submarine were on page 25; if he really felt so contrite over his underserved fame he should have refused to give his valueless views on this show.
Jade Goody – a woman who has become an icon among idiots in the same way Hitler is idolised by fascists.
* The commentator who remarked that Big Brother marked a “cultural shift” in “the land of the stiff upper lip” as though the sum of all his knowledge about Britain was compiled from the upper classes and had only just stumbled upon the working classes like a botanist happening upon a new medicinal orchid in the deepest Amazon.
* After about one and half hours of this cheerleading of the terminally abysmal, each new show that was profiled failed to cause pain. Even Lizzie Bardsley was tolerable in this maelstrom of mediocrity.

Malice Aforethought, ITV1, Sunday, Monday
What to say if you liked it
A triumphant traditional drama. We love flashy, modern shows, but a bit of old-fashioned fun provides a nice antidote from time to time. Even if there's some fellatio thrown in.
What to say if you disliked it
Mapp and Lucia without the laughs.

What was good about it?
* This adaptation of Francis Iles’s 1931 book was faithful to the original and brought alive how claustrophobic and snobby English villages were/are.
* Ben Miller as Dr Edmund Bickleigh. We especially loved his Basil Fawlty-like exchanges with his domineering, older wife Julia ("Thank you, dear!") and those randy groans he made whenever a pretty lady shoved her hand inside his trousers.
* Barbara Flynn as Julia. We have always loved her, especially in manipulative, vindictive roles, and this one was perfect for her – a hatchet-faced hen pecker who has her (younger) husband on a tight leash. She humiliated him when he showed off his "doodles", banned him from seeing the exotic new arrival in the villlage and sent him scurrying into the bushes during a tea party to retrieve a tennis ball (which he angrily crushed in one hand when he found it).
* Dr Bickleigh's ingenious ways of disposing of his wife (turning her into a junkie) and the nosey gardener (making him use the heavy roller even though he had a dodgy ticker).
* The poisoned meat paste sandwiches scene, served up with real tension.
* The courtroom scene where the women of the village oohed and aahed in shock and admiration as the dashing doctor's roguishness was revealed.

What was bad about it?
* The clichéd old bags who described Dr Bickleigh as a "beastly man" as soon as he was out of earshot. And the vicar was a bit of a stereotyoe, too.
* The rather incongruous, historically inaccurate frilly French knickers-Wonderbra combo worn by the vampy Miss Cranmere.
* Why do all detectives these days have to be sarcastic Scots?
* Dr Bickleigh's "Hell's bells" catchphrase

 

Playing It Straight, Channel 4, Friday
What to say of you liked it
An intriguing twist on the tired old dating game show in which beautiful Zoë must discern whom among her flock of fluttering peacocks are the Prince Charmings come to sweep her off her dainty little feet, some of whom are undercover gays seeking only to fleece her of the £100,000 prize.
What to say of you didn’t like it
Avaricious little bint with no conception of humanity outside the pages of Heat seeks hunky STRAIGHT man with no mind of his own, muscles sculpted like the Carpathian Mountains and who bathes daily copious vat of his own vanity for fake six-week relationship, a cheap shot at TV fame and a share in £100,000.

What was good about it?
• The primary intrigue is working out whom among Zoë’s suitors are gay and who is straight like guessing the killer in a Hercule Poirot mystery but here the cast of suspects are bronzed toned hunks with a skill for posing, self-cleansing and using hair straighteners rather than embittered little old ladies with a skill for slipping arsenic into the vicar’s tea. But that’s enough about Cilla for now.
• Alan Cumming’s smooth, sardonic narration.
• As Zoë isn’t bright enough to spot the gays among the straights, it’s a task you have to do for yourself. Just as Raphael was branded as gay because of his mannerisms, so builder Ben was branded as straight because he is so macho he could have been raised by a pack of sheet metallers and taxi drivers in an East Ham working men’s club, and because of this he is probably gay.
• Also we believe that Jonny is out to swindle the whole £100k, as he says “gays” with such unconvincing homophobic venom and generally tries too hard to act like how he thinks a straight man should behave (“The tell tale signs are the fashion and if they’re effeminate”). While Danny B remarked: “I’m reasonably comfortable approaching, erm, girls.”
• Neurotic ad director Alex looks like a handsome version of Ruud van Nistelrooy and bitchy Peter resembles sprinter Maurice Greene.
• The cocky blonde boy is hot.

What was bad about it?
• The twee musical interludes in which a pub singer dresses up in hackneyed Mexican attire, replete with sombrero, to play a little flamenco guitar ditty to sum up the goings on in El Rancho Macho.
• It’s little more than a mundane updating of Blind Date but here the sexuality is concealed rather than the appearance.
• Zoë’s futile efforts to prove how profound she is. “I’ve only been in love once. But I don’t think it was real love; it was young love.” Such self-delusion is akin to a swimmer thinking they are a deep sea diver after graduating from a plunge to the bottom of a rainy puddle to the shallow fathoms of a garden pond.
• And her futile efforts to prove she is intelligent. “Some of the men will grow on me like a fine wine.” The last time we checked wine had not transformed into some ecological phenomenon that had evolved the capacity to “grow” in its inert liquid state.
• The way in which Zoë fell into the lame trap of evicting the two campest suitors, who were of course both straight. Raphael, the Versace sales assistant with more shoes than Imelda Marcos, an effete voice, and a tub of Vaseline, was obviously such a stereotype of homosexuality he had to be straight. And second evictee Pritesh proudly used hair straighteners.
• The signs that flash up on screen when the suitors are talking to camera: “Warning some of these men may be lying.” An extraneous additive as firstly, each viewer will be fully aware of the nature of the show; and secondly, especially as we’re in the run-up to a General Election, the novelty of people lying on TV has worn rather thin.
• While we usually like June Sarpong, in her brief appearances she materialises like the Cheshire Cat, seemingly inflating outwards from her big smile, and then proceeds to act like a flirtatious brothel madam teasing 10 schoolboys about to lose their virginity to one of her “girls”.
• As with many dating shows Playing It Straight proffers to offer the ideal environment in which Zoë can “find true love” or her “perfect partner”. Such assertions are as illusionary as dramatic filmic special effects; people often find their “perfect” partner in the same way as they get measured for a coffin – a snug, functional fit with little discomfort and an eternity of awkward silence to look forward to.
• We didn’t find out who initiated the game of water volleyball; if we did we would immediately label that lad as straight as volleyball, like rounders, hockey and Frisbee throwing, is only ever played by men to impress and involve young ladies. Largely because they’re very dull.
• Keane’s Everybody’s Changing was played in the background.
• The sections in which Zoë relates her feelings to the camera are utterly tedious largely because she comes across as genetic throwback to that dead branch of humanity which became extinct because of their sheer stupidity after they tore out their own lungs to provide balloon animals for their children.

 

Secret World of Magic, Sky One, Wednesday
What to say if you liked it
The charming Ali Cook and Pete Firman travel the world showing off their tricks and meeting their magician idols, resulting in a show filled with amiable humour and super slices of stunning sleight of hand.
What to say if you didn’t like it
Magic is for nerds and Dads, while Ali and Pete’s schtick is little more than an Adam and Joe rip-off with a few tiresome card tricks thrown in.
 
What was good about it?
• The fact that Sky have actually made some original and entertaining output and, even more surprisingly, backed it by giving it a reasonable time slot.
•  The clips we saw of magician Mac King’s show were very entertaining, and his goldfish-eating routine was funny and incredibly impressive.
•  Mac King answering ‘women’ when Pete and Ali asked him why he got into magic. A very honest answer indeed – surely sex is the only reason anyone ever takes up magic.
•  Pete and Ali’s presentation was relaxed, comfortable and amusing. We particularly liked the fact that Pete is a composite, looks-wise, of Steve Coogan, David Schneider and Vernon Kay. Their tricks were good too.
•  To mark the fact that this week the boys were in Las Vegas, the soundtrack was taken almost entirely from that of the excellent comedy, Swingers.
• Pete’s nifty narration when talking about the Showgirls of Magic, who do magic while exposing their breasts a lot: “Two shows a night, six days a week has taken their toll on these ladies and their costumes have worn away to virtually nothing.”
•  The astonishing pickpocketing tricks perpetuated by magician Apollo. This caused at least six separate gasps of sheer awe from even our cynical mouths as his routine using just a silver coin and some excellent magicians’ patter stunned his victims.
• The incongruity of two very English blokes performing so effortlessly to small Vegas crowds. Pete’s Mr Ball routine was simple and a little silly but his charm and likeability meant the watching audience loved what they saw.
 
What was bad about it?

•  The opening few seconds featured the narration going into Austin Powers mode when saying “100 million dollars”. Austin Powers quotes and rip-offs should be avoided at all costs, unless you’re a TV show for people under 10.
•  We liked the way tricks were fitted into their schedule (next to the pool while they drank cocktails they hated, for example). And doing a trick with dental floss in the bathroom was fine. But we did not need to see a very close shot of Pete’s pubic hair as he relieved himself just prior to the trick. The Showgirls of Magic nipples were later blotted out, yet they were surely far more attractive than Pete’s hairy groin.
• While the examples of Mac King and Apollo’s tricks were funny and enjoyable, there wasn’t enough information about Jeff McBride for us to appreciate his skills. It just looked like his whole act was taking lots of masks off. We also weren’t impressed with the Showgirls’ rather lame illusion show, but maybe it wasn’t the magic that people had paid their money to see.

Dickens In America, BBC4, Tuesday
What to say of you liked it
Miriam Margoyles sets off for an intriguing voyage across America in the footsteps of the nation’s greatest novelist and discovers as many fascinating facts about contemporary politics and morals as she does about those cherished in 1842.
What to say if you didn’t like it
Miriam Margoyles hosts a condescending eulogy that claws at the dead ground of one of Britain’s most unreadable writers, exhuming the corpse of his arrogance made flesh in his observations in American Notes and then dragging it around the Eastern Seaboard in a hangman’s noose.

What was good about it?
•  Miriam’s breathless passion for Dickens carries her journey through the dullest moments and when she wept, as she always does, when reading the end of Little Dorrit it was genuinely touching.
•  The way in which Miriam’s voyage across the Atlantic is punctuated with apposite excerpts from Dickens’ novels such as the acerbic paragraph from Martin Chuzzlewit where the narrator muses how best to capture the American character in a portrait of the American eagle. (“I should paint it as a peacock for its vanity.”)
•  The great sympathy we felt for Dickens’ wife, who during their 17 years of marriage was apparently only not pregnant during her husband’s American sojourn. (Although we do find this hard to believe.)
•  The shooting fish in a barrel sequence of Dickens’ solemn prediction about America (“I do believe the heaviest blow to the world will be dealt by this nation”) which was played over footage of George W Bush’s re-election.
•  Miriam’s astonishment at the vast volume of the QM2. “It’s like a village,” she exclaimed.

What was bad about it?
•  Miriam rather cheekily followed Dickens’ crossing of the Atlantic in the most luxurious cruise liner of the early-Victorian era – the Britannia – in the most ludicrously ostentatious cruise liner of the modern age – the QM2 – which is so lavish many dead people are choosing to spend eternity there rather than in the paradise of heaven.
•  The clinking glasses, the clash of knife and fork on regal porcelain and the banal chatter – where can you possibly be? Of course, it’s a dinner party, and even Miriam’s jovial presence at a jamboree of Dickens enthusiasts in London cannot shatter the belief the primary, and perhaps only, benefit of living under a military junta would be the abolition of these gatherings of nauseous conceit.
•  Miriam’s scorn for the statues aboard the QM2. “They’re fibreglass. They look bronze, but they’re actually fibreglass. Which is disappointing.” Wrong.
•  The most disappointing aspect is why an intelligent woman like Miriam echoes the mindless platitudes of “celebrity” commentators who vilify some for wearing fake diamond necklaces while lauding those who spend thousands on what are essentially trivial ornaments adorning the necks of fleeting non-entities.
•  Miriam’s crossing on the QM2 was padded out with too many atmospheric shots of sunsets, boats meeting the vessel as it sailed into dock and passengers either pointing at some undetermined landmark on the horizon or shambling about the decks like zombies.

Going to Extremes: The Silk Routes, Channel 4, Monday
What to say if you liked it
Nick Middleton goes honey-stealing on cliffs in Nepal – a fascinating enterprise that was further enhanced by the incredible photography and the genuine drama provided by Nick’s debilitating vertigo.
What to say if you didn’t like it
Some writer/lecturer you’ve never heard of gets to go on a largely pointless jolly to try to gather honey from cliffs in Nepal at Channel 4’s expense while endlessly whinging about his fear of heights.

What was good about it?
•   Our host and narrator Nick Middleton pointed out very early on that everything about him was ‘middling’, and that was spot on. It was so refreshing to have a programme like this where the main focus wasn’t some superhuman, fearless, modern day Sir Edmund Hillary. He communicated his vertigo so well that by the end of the programme, when he had actually failed in his task of stealing honey from large bees off giant cliffs in Nepal, it left us with respect and sympathy for his efforts while secretly, smugly, suspecting we could have done better ourselves.
• The information that the Swiss had set up a cheese factory in some Nepal mountains that still produces 7000 kilos of yak’s cheese per year. It’s a four day walk with enormous packs to actually begin the process of selling the stuff, too.
•   Middleton did some training to help ease his vertigo by traversing a glacier. His guide, Ngongu, had an answer to every question he posed: “Not a problem.” The more he said it the more incredulous Nick became and the more we laughed.
•  The dramatic moment when vertigo-stricken Nick was in a contraption that could only very loosely be termed a ‘cable car’, when he noticed the cable was not running properly and was instead fraying against a sharp piece of metal.
•  The superb photography of Nepal’s stunning and diverse scenery.
• Nick dancing like a puppet on a string with Gurung villagers who had come out to welcome the foreigner who had pledged to become a honey-stealer.
•  The giant swing the Gurung people had built that looked to be at least 15 metres high and incredible fun.
• The clusters of bees on the cliffs looked like giant brown patches and occasionally a wave would ripple through them as if they were being blown by the wind. In fact, we learnt, this was a defence mechanism against birds or other predators. The bees would all flip their abdomens in unison to create the impression that they are one huge organism (which, in effect, they are in some ways) and ward off potential attackers.
•  The Gurung honey-stealers standing nonchalantly on the edge of a sheer 150ft drop as if it was a perfectly natural thing to do.
•  The Gurungs sacrificing a sheep before they started the process of taking the honey. Fortunately, the liver was clean and a nice shape, so that meant it would be a successful operation.
•  Two excellent exchanges between Nick and his Gurung guide, Hitman. First was Hitman saying: “You don’t like heights?... Oh.” This was a gallant effort to mask his thoughts, which seemed to be, “So why are you here, exactly? If I were you I’d stick to areas without big mountains.” And later, as they climbed the cliff and Nick was forced to rest through terror, Hitman asked: “Are we ready?” “No,” Nick replied, with complete blankness, as he stared into the abyss of his life.
 
What was bad about it?
•  At times we felt that Nick was over-playing the expectations of the villagers – were they really that bothered whether he would succeed in his quest to collect honey? Or merely excited at the novelty of Nick and his film crew?
•  Nick remembered he’d never been stung by a bee before. He commented that one in 100 people have an allergy to bee stings that means they could die if stung. He decided to check that he did not have this allergy the day before the event, so someone from the village took a bee from a local hive and stung him with it. What was Nick going to do if he was allergic? He was stuck in the middle of nowhere with apparently no medics present. Wasn’t this a bit late to check? Wasn’t that something Nick should have thought of before he even left the country? What if he had been allergic? What a waste of a journey. Fortunately, he just ended up with a sore arm and the documentary was saved.

Ask the Family, BBC2, Monday
Comparing and contrasting the old version hosted by Robert Robinson and the revival with Dom and Dick
Presenters
Old – Robert Robinson was like a benevolent headmaster, getting mildly cross when faced with stupidity. He's the sort who'd hang out in a Soho pub, drinking real ale and discussing literature at length. He sits rigid at his desk, well away from the weird contestants.
New – Dom and Dick are like the misbehaving boys at the back of the classroom. The sort who'd hang out at McDonald's, drinking too much coke and smashing up the toys they got with their Happy Meal. They dance around the studio and clamber all over the contestants.
Old – Robert Robinson was the king of the comb-over
New – Dom and Dick look like they've never seen a comb

Title sequence
Old – Happy Families playing cards/teapots
New – Dick and Dom's school reports and pictures of them looking daft

The set
Old – Sober green walls, formal desks. Occasional invasions by tumbleweed.
New – Garish colours, sofas. Occasional invasions by glam girls.

Contestants
Old – Really odd-looking freaks with bizarre hairstyles, facial tics and awful fashion sense. Parents were always referred to Mr and Mrs Dull. Kids were prone to shy giggles. The show ended with the losing family's father looking forward to administering the cane on his offspring for failing to identify an Arctic tern.
New – Not quite chavs but almost. Kids are prone to shy giggles but not too shy to give cheek back. The show ended with the families having to shove cream cakes down their throats.

Questions
Old – Subjects included plurals, Bugsy Malone, dog breeds, art, pound notes, history, dictionary definitions, geography, Greek gods and the Royal Family.
New – Questions on hip-hop, The Jungle Book and celebrities.
Old – Lots of mental arithmetic, word games and equations
New – None of the above. There was a round in which celebrities had to be arranged in height order which almost bordered on a maths problem.
Old – Lots of questions about classical music, accompanied by lingering shots of the Radio 3-loving families enjoying every note
New – Lots of questions about stupid sound effects
Old – The hippest question required the link between the song Sherry Baby and composer Vivaldi.
New – The least hip question was about Condoleezza Rice. (Unscramble Bonza Coodle Needle)
Old – The round demanding the identification of everyday objects from close-up pictures featured a garlic press and casserole dish – things the Dom and Dick generation never need because all food comes in boxes and goes straight into a microwave
New – The round demanding the identification everyday objects from close-up pictures featured a feather duster and a close-up of an elbow that looked like a bum

Special effects
Old – Rubbish, despite the efforts of Eric
New – Even more rubbish

Humiliation
Old – Robert could sometimes be a little disdainful (but nowhere near as disdainful as Jeremy Paxman manages on University Challenge)
New – Wrong answers lead to a silly ass mask being placed on the head.

Humour
Old – You must be joking.
New – Lots of infantile gags/mucking-about delivered in slapdash style. May have amused preteen kids.

Highlights
Old – Robert saying pretentious things such as: "Two more families pit themselves at the vaulting horses of abstraction, stripped to the intellectual buff." We also loved his catchphrase: "So with the scores on 180-130 we come to the last question."
New – The picture round that's like that thing you get near the back of the Independent magazine on Saturdays. Answers were Bar Bra Wind Saw and Billy Bob Thorn Ton. We also liked the round featuring questions from the old show.

 

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