Monday, 29 September 2008

Kaff isn't 'avin a laff

There's only one thing this year's Strictly is missing.

And it's not the gurgling Alesha. Or the wonderful Jill Halfpenny. Or even Ramps and his swivly hips.

No, it's Kate Garraway. Without her - well, they're all a bit good, aren't they? At least, the girls are.

We felt really sorry for Jessie Wallace, being bottom of the pile. It wasn't so much her ability as that terrible dress that did for her.

But, as we predicted, it was Kaff who went, she and Jodie-the-giraffe lacking the fan-base to propel them out of the bottom two. Still, at least she got to look all stunning in flowing primrose - far more glam than she has in 20 years of Easties.

As for Brendan-watch... well, we knew the nice-guy act wouldn't last. True to form, he's already had his first stomp-off.

Next week, the boys are back. Thank the Lord. Kate Garraway may no longer be with us... but there's always Gary Rhodes!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Strictly - didn't they do well?

... as a certain chinny presenter might say?
Sure the two Easties gals let the side down a bit, bless 'em. Jessie Wallace didn't really suit the tinseled sack look, while poor Kaff (Gillian) forgot to arch her back.
Anyway, as predicted, ladies' week was much more fun than watching all those blokes clodhop around the floor last week. Bruceh was on-form too. "I don't make up this rubbish, do I?" he claimed, at one point. Although we reckon he makes up at least half of it.
Still, a few questions:
Why does Brendan Cole cram more pelvic thrusts per minute into his routines than any other dancer?
How long until Dancing With the Stars finishes and "Transatlantic Len" stops being Mr Grumpy?
Who taught Bruno the word "goofy"? And can he please stop using it?
And does anyone have a date for when he's due to be sectioned?

The "You're my favourite" Strictly award of the week:
So far, too many to choose from. We loved the effortlessly elegent Christine and Cherie (how nice to see an older lady foxtrotting the competition off the floor for once!) and want to learn how to walk just like that. Also love Heather's throaty gurgle and Jodie Kidd for being a "gorgeous surprise" (to quote the eerily pleasant Arlene). Don't know about you, but we also liked Don in the group dance.

Who's going to go? Our money's on Kaff (Gillian). Only the Easties vote can save her and we reckon Wallace is going to suction off most of it.

Until tomorrow, Strictly fans!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Lost In Austen - Bonnets and Bennets get the Life On Mars treatment

THE promise of a happy ending is one of the infectious delights of most costume dramas (except, of course, Tess of the Dreary-villes on BBC 1 where I'd cover your eyes now, if I were you).

But in the mischievous Lost In Austen (ITV1, Wednesday) we were kept guessing to the end whether we'd get our normal quota of lords and ladies dancing – simply because it had lost the plot, in the nicest possible way.

The great idea behind Lost in Austen was that it was Pride and Prejudice revisited. Sure, there were the usual share of Bennets and bonnets.

But from the start the plot had flung an unexpected spanner into the works – in the shape of 21st century Pride and Prejudice obsessive Amanda Price (played by the pouting but perfectly endearing Jemima Rooper). Amanda felt so disillusioned with her modern-girl life and boyfriend, she spent her days longing to enter the plot of her favourite novel – and, one day, had her chance when Lizzie Bennet showed up in her bathroom with a plan to swap places and times.

Alas, no matter how hard Amanda tried to hold things together, the usual smooth-running Austen plot fell apart. The first two episodes were frantic high comedy, culminating in Amanda choosing, for her solo performance at the Netherfield ball, an acapella version of Petula Clark's Downtown.

But then, things got more serious – well, in costume drama terms. Without Lizzie there to snub Collins, he ended up married to Jane. Bingley became an alcoholic and ran off with Lydia. Lizzie, meanwhile, was trapped as a text-message sending childminder in 21st century Hammersmith. Until 10 minutes from the end, we weren't sure we'd get our happy ending at all.

But, you'll be relieved to hear, all came good – particularly for Amanda, who ended up in Darcy's arms. And, if their final union lacked some emotional logic and Lady Catherine acted bizarrely out of character, at least we got to see Darcy in a wet shirt again. Phew! The script for Lost In Austen survived the curse of most ITV Drama Premiers by being largely brilliant and most of the actors appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Now – if anyone's planning on doing any more fictional time-travelling, would they mind attending to Thomas Hardy, please? I've a feeling poor old Tess is going to be in need of some help.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Oops - ITV1 has done it again!

Oonagh Robinson on the new ITV drama Place of Execution...

Oh dear. We’ve gone and done it again.
Just when we promised ourselves we would try not to fall for the three-part ITV Drama Premiere Scam - we accidentally caught the first episode of Place of Execution (ITV1, Mon).
And it was really rather good. And now we need to find out what happens next. And it’s bound to have a really rubbish ending (like The Children).
There really is no hope for us, is there?
This thriller about the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl in 1963 and the present-day investigation of the case by TV journalist Catherine Heathcoate (a fabulous Juliet Stevenson) had a more than usually authentic feel.
Okay, the girl in question actually looked at least 33 in the photo and film footage of her.
And there were cliches galore. The slimy upper class step father; the suspicious villagers; the oh-so-unnecessary “two day deadline” for Catherine to complete her documentary.
But there was something about Lee Ingleby, playing the nerdy young hot shot detective leading the highly realistic looking 1963 investigation, we found strangely mesmerising.
Maybe it was just the over-sized glasses and dodgy mac.
But he made a welcome change to the tiresome disheveled, maverick yet dishy detectives who usually populate these stories.
Plus he turned into the marvellous Philip Jackson (he’s from Retford you know) when we moved forward to the present day. Brilliant.
But maybe you better ask us again in a fortnight, when we’ve seen how it all ends.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

It's a kind of magic...

Oonagh Robinson on the Beeb's new adventure series Merlin:

The main protagonists in Monty Python and the Holy Grail dismissed Camelot as a "silly place."
But watching the BBC's new family adventure series Merlin, it all looked rather fabulous.
Lovely big (CGI) turrets, lots of secret staircases, a big underground (CGI) cave with a scary (CGI) dragon inside - and yards and yards of sumptuous fabrics everywhere. It was just a pity about the people who lived there really. They were indeed a bit silly.
All the familiar names from the classic legend of Arthur turned up, but they weren't quite how they should have been.
Guinevere was a lowly handmaiden who liked to call herself "Gwen."
Uther Pendragon wasn't so much ruthless and fearsome as rather grumpy and tired.
Arthur was a bit of a "prat" - as Merlin himself observed.
Ah, yes. Merlin.
In this version, the famous wizard walked around dressed like a youth on a gap year holiday - complete with casual top, trousers and backpack.
He even started his first encounter with Arthur with a very modern sounding "Hi."
And while lots of references were made to his immense potential as a sorcerer, the magical powers he exhibited in this opening episode seemed to be restricted largely to "moving things around a bit." The bed that Victor Meldrew fell from a great height onto; the stuff that Arthur tripped over while they were fighting; the great big chandelier that dropped on the evil old woman's head.
Maybe in future weeks we'll get to see other aspects to Merlin. At the moment... well, he's quite nice to look at. So we don't particularly mind.
And that's the point really.
The whole show was lovely to look at, with a suitably epic feel - mostly special effects, but hey they were pretty impressive.
With the dusk falling outside and Strictly Come Dancing just finished beforehand, Merlin was a proper old-fashioned TV treat.
A bit lacking in humour, maybe. But my 11-year-old was transfixed throughout.
And anything that can put a smile on her face these days has got to be doing something right.

Read our review of "Merlin" tonight...

Don't forget to read our review of the BBC's new flagship family drama Merlin directly after the show is broadcast tonight.
And why not let us know what you think, too, by adding your own comments?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

We are family!

Oonagh Robinson reviews the first episode of Channel Four's The Family

I always like to know that my family isn’t the absolute worst in the world - whatever everyone else tries to tell me.
Hence, I was very keen last night to tune into The Family - Channel Four’s ambitious new fly on the wall documentary following the everyday bickerings of The Hughes clan from Canterbury.
What a thoroughly stupid lot they turned out to be - with the possible exception of the clumsy young lad who kept knocking glasses over.
He was brilliant.
Most of the action in the first episode centred on terrible teen Emily - a kind of surly cross between the pop star Pink and Stacey Slater off EastEnders.
Mum Jane was about to celebrate her 40th birthday (and yes, it was a bit of a shock to find out she was already a granny) so she was already in a bad mood most of the time.
But Emily didn’t help matters.
She was out partying until all hours in the morning, kept skiving off work and was generally a miserable little cow for most of the episode.
The one time she was nice, she ended up singing Kate Nash songs with her mum. Which shows you how bad things were.
I would have had a bit of sympathy for Jane and her pillock of a husband Simon if Emily had been, say, a girl of 13 or 14 years - who was out of control and driving them crazy.
But Emily wasn’t a young schoolgirl.
She was 19, with a job in (we think) some sort of High Street shop and her own money and her own life.
She would have been old enough to go away to university, for example, where she would no doubt have been up to all sorts without the benefit of her mum and dad’s words of “wisdom.”
The solution to Jane and Simon’s predicament seems completely obvious to me.
Start charging Emily for her board and lodging.
Then she wouldn't have as much money to go out partying from 11pm and causing them so much grief.
It ain’t rocket science.
So will I be tuning in next week to see if the penny drops? Course I will.
Best bit of mindless telly that’s been on for ages this.
I only wish they were doing it Big Brother style and we could catch up with all the shenanigans every night.
So - what did YOU reckon?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Farewell Tucker, hello Tess

Oonagh Robinson reviews the last ever GRANGE HILL and the first episode of TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES

The thought of watching the final episode of Grange Hill (BBC1, Mon) brought a tiny tear to my eye this week.
The show started back in 1978 - which has a special relevance for me because that’s when I started secondary school too.
Me and Tucker Jenkins and Tricia Yates and co - we had a bond, man.
We shared the same experiences, went through the same crises at the same time.
No-one I went to school with would dream of missing an episode.
What a shame, then, that this final outing was so... awful.
It all centred on the school prom (not disco, like it would have been in my day) and a bunch of rather dislikable kids being trapped underneath the building with an unexploded bomb of some sort.
Dead realistic then.
Elsewhere, Tucker himself turned up to talk sense into his nephew, who wanted to leave the sixth form.
“This place has certainly changed,” he commented, as he arrived on his trustee motorbike.
Hmm, you could say that. It’s changed from a school in London to a school in Liverpool for one thing. Funny he didn’t notice.
In the end, even Tucker couldn’t rescue the situation.
The bomb never did blow up, but the end was inevitable for this now mediocre attempt at entertainment.
I watched it with my 11-year-old daughter who herself has just started secondary school.
She was so entranced, she went off to read a book instead.
Would never have happened if Tricia Yates had still been in it...

Does the nation really need another version of Tess of the D’Urbervilles (BBC1, Sun)?
It barely seems a minute since the ITV1 drama department did their lavish production (although, I can’t remember who was in it or what it was like to be honest).
Then there’s the iconic Roman Polanksi film version from 1979, with gorgeous Nastassia Kinski. If you did Tess at A-Level like me, you probably had to watch her and her famously huge lips speaking all the lines in a weird foreign accent too.
This, however, is the first time the BBC has had a crack at the Thomas Hardy classic.
And we all know that when it comes to costume dramas of any description, Beeb is Best.
Gemma Arterton in the title role certainly looked perfect as the resilient country girl who is sent away by her parents to claim kinship with a wealthy (and weird) family.
But the thing about this production is that it’s being shown over FOUR PARTS.
And yes, you’re right. That’s about two more than is strictly necessary for such comparatively flimsy material.
Not that it isn’t lovely to look at - with all the right elements for a wonderful Sunday evening in.
Fair maidens dancing on a hillside in crisp white frocks, lots of ooh-ar, ooh-ar, ooh-ar accents. And gosh, but Tess’ rustic room at her new posh relatives’ pad was fabulous. Bit of whitewash and a quick sweep of the floor and it looked heavenly.
But it was all rather slow.
And maybe that’s because I was waiting to see how they would handle the infamous “pivotal” moment in Tess’ life.
Would the dastardly Alec (played by a not particularly dastardly Hans Matheson) be shown “raping” or “seducing” the innocent young girl?
Interpretations have varied over the years, after all.
In the end, the Beeb seemed to go for “rape.”
But they way they did it, in blurred slow motion with only the sound of Tess’ muffled protests was just, well... naff.
Either show what happened properly. We can take it, we’re grown-ups. Or do a cut-away to another scene - and leave the whole thing mysterious and ambiguous.
But don’t fanny about with blurred slow-mo “did he/didn’t he” nonsense.
Makes you look silly.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Big is beautiful!

Oonagh Robinson and Jennifer Scott look back at the week's tv...

SINCE Big Brother finished, we’ve found ourselves watching an awful lot of random documentaries.
The other night, for instance, we caught two very intellectual efforts straight after each other.
It helped that we’d consumed quite a few large glasses of Chardonnay along the way, but afterwards we felt really good about ourselves.
And frankly, we didn’t say that very often after watching Rex, Darnell and Co.
First up was The Sculpture Diaries (C4, Sun) with the spiffing Waldemar Januszczak travelling all over the world on our behalf to look at some very big statues.
This episode was all about how sculptors over the years have conveyed the notion of “leadership and power”.
Basically, it seems “power” in terms of art means “massive”.
So we had a good old look at Mount Rushmore, the statue of David, those weird heads on Easter Island and the big Soviet figures depicting Stalin and Lenin.
The latter proved particularly interesting, as it turns out some wealthy Lithuanian businessman has bought all those old statues and put them in a big theme park complete with barbed wire fencing to look just like a Soviet concentration camp.
He was even going to ship visitors in by rail using big cattle carts, until someone pointed out that this might be a little on the offensive side.
Throughout this enthralling doc, Januszczak proved a completely marvellous host who obviously knew his stuff but talked like he’d only just found out all the information himself.
He also reminded us a bit of Dr Fox from Pop Idol. Which was weird.

After this, we switched over to Earth: The Climate Wars (BBC2, Sun) where Dr Iain Stewart was presenting a guide to “the history of global warming”.
Dr Stewart was trying desperately hard to be likable and jovial – we even saw him playing with his kids on the beach just to make sure we understood he was a “completely normal family guy.” He wasn’t half as engaging as Januszczak, though.
This first episode covered how the theory of global warming developed from the 1970s.
In those early days, everyone reckoned Earth was about to go into another Ice Age.
So Dr Stewart was shown smirking at old TV footage of Magnus Magnusson spouting off facts about the imminent freeze to come.
Funnily enough, the theory was soon laid to rest with the arrival of 1976 – when we had the hottest summer since records began. Doh.
It was all interesting enough, but we can’t help thinking that next week – when Dr Iain will look at how “the sceptics” developed their views – will be a lot more explosive.

WHO Really Killed Jesus? (C5, Tue) was the question being asked in yet another documentary this week.
With this being on Channel Five, we hoped it would be something wacky like “aliens” or “Leonardo Da Vinci.”
Turns out it was simply: “Pontius Pilate.” What a disappointment.
The real topic was whether Pilate was the “hand-washing” bystander he’s always made out to be in the gospels. Some posh academics reckoned there was lots of evidence the Roman leader was a nasty piece of work who crucified thousands of people daily.
Fascinating enough – all rather spoiled by some very dodgy dramatic reconstruction.
Still, nice hair, Jesus.

IT was a wee bit hit-and-miss but, when it worked, Harry and Paul (BBC1, Friday) was bang on. The Dragons’ Den spoof, with Theo Profiterole, John Lewis, Duncan Guillotine and The Grumpy Woman, was hilarious. “I hate you – and for that reason, I’m out!” Brilliant!

Friday, 5 September 2008

The kids are all right... not

THERE’S nothing quite like an ITV Drama Premiere, is there? Except, of course, for another ITV Drama Premiere.
And this week’s ITV Drama Premiere (you can’t, apparently, say it too many times) The Children (ITV1, Mon) ticked all the boxes previously ticked by other ITV Drama Premieres.
First requirement is it has to lull you into a false sense of security.
So it’s normally sponsored by a cosy household name (in this case Sainsbury’s, telling us how we can make “crushed potatoes with crumbled Stilton... mmm”). It will also star a cosy household name... in this case, Cuddly Kevin Whately. The opening scene even showed Cuddly Kev driving a Volvo and listening to Classic FM. What could be cosier? We just knew something awful was around the corner.
Sure enough, the next scene showed a woman stammering to the camera: “She’s j-just lying there!” There was the sound of sirens, a brief glimpse of a body bag and the sound of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending in the background (Kev had thoughtfully kept Classic FM on to give us an Ironic Juxtaposition, another predictable feature of Drama Premieres).
We then flashed back to “three months earlier”. Cuddly Kev had, it turned out, left his wife (Lesley Sharp, being Magnificent But Flawed, as she’s required to be in all Drama Premieres) to set up home with Geraldine Somerville. Lots of sex ensued which we could have done without.
Cuddly Kev had a miserable teenage son. Gerry had an adorable little daughter Emily with glossy brown hair who liked barbie dolls. We were only two minutes in and, already, we suspected, we’d stumbled across our body bag occupant. Poor mite. Emily’s real daddy had just had a baby daughter with some tetchy bint. By the end of episode one, Emily had gone wandering off with the baby because she was being ignored by her useless daddy. We suspect the body-bag finale may be a revenge attack.
Throughout, the adults kept behaving like children (irony, again, put there especially for anyone playing ITV Drama Premiere bingo), squabbling and being generally unbearable, all the while saying stuff like: “The children mustn’t suffer”. And, of course, we know they do.
We kept getting blue flash-forwards of everyone looking devastated. Geraldine was going: “Nooo! Nooo!”
Yeah, we get it, already. In three months’ time, something terrible will happen. The Children will suffer.
We’ve still got another two weeks to find out how, precisely.
Unfortunately, one of the other Very Predictable Features of ITV Drama Premieres is the Ludicrous Ending That Makes You Wish You Hadn’t Bothered.
Of course, The Children may be the exception. We do hope so.

ON to other matters and we cannot let this week go by without a passing mention for Big Brother 9 (C4, daily).
OK, maybe everyone else in Britain has given up on the format, but we’ve stuck with this year’s show through thick and thin, through the good times and the bad (mostly bad) and you know what?
We still love it. And we’re still excited about who wins tonight’s finale.
And we still won’t be the slightest bit interested in any of the inhabitants once tonight is over and they all come back into the real world.
You see, Big Brother works. But it only works while the show is actually on. We don’t want to see interviews with Kat on GMTV or a follow up show with Rex and “My Girlfriend.” We don’t want to read the £6m Hello! magazine deal scored by Mario and Lisa. We don’t want to hear about Mikey’s take on living with blindness.
So thanks chaps for an entertaining summer, but we’ll bid you goodbye and good luck now.
Anyway, when does Strictly Come Dancing start?

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

FRANKLY, if we’d been in "Scury Brian’s" shoes, we’d have run a mile at the first sighting of Margi Clarke’s strawberry coiff.
Like her or loathe her, "Scury Margi’s" CORRIE comeback went down like a flaming lamborgini in Benidorm and, at least, had the effect of making us take to Auntie Pam more during her staunch defence of Molly and "Ty-rrrrohne".
Thus far, Auntie Pam has been a bit of an enigma, clanking around with her homemade pickles and her packets of "quality" ham. She’s one of those Corrie characters who starts on the Street with a gimmick (the Battersbys with their ghetto-blaster, Becky with her thievery) which you hope they’ll forget all about in a few weeks.
We’re also starting to like Julie – particularly if she keeps doing her random musical numbers. It was On The Street Where You Live this week – sung at a bemused Fiz about her teen-chasing boyfriend. In these moments, Julie seems almost like a young Rita Sullivan – and, believe us, there is no higher compliment.
Elsewhere, all men everywhere in the world have been turned into spluttering, dribbling idiots in the presence of Nina, Corrie’s former "Bollywood star".
"She has this effect on all men," proclaimed her boring husband. Really? "It’s the allure of the star." Star? That dumpy wench? We Corrie viewers can believe many things but the suggestion that woman is a legendary film siren? Not really.

Over on EASTENDERS, it was a week of tragedy and utter silliness.
Excuse us if we’ve got this wrong and everything.
But until just a few short weeks ago, Dawn and Jase were happy enough living in a cramped bedroom with about 500 other members of their extended family (and Genghis the dog) in that dirty old hovel also known as "Keef Miller’s house." Right?
But now, Dawn has "had a taste of the good life."Or, to you and me, she’s moved into Shirl’s poxy old bedsit and put a few nice pictures on the wall.
So this obviously means that her aspirations have been raised really, really high. OK?
And she insists on a dream wedding and living in a WAGs pad in Essex? Despite neither she nor Jase having any discernable income to speak of?
So this means Jase has to try and out-manoeuvre master criminal Terry (who’ll always be Hazel to us). And thus get involved in a terrible kidnap plot with rather hideous consequences.
All in a matter of about two weeks?
God, EastEnders is pants sometimes, isn’t it?