Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: July-August 2008

Not too much to review this month, which is mainly a combination of turbulent personal circumstances and..well, just rotten telly.

I have never known TV to be so bad as it is now. And I’m not just being nostalgic, but the fact remains that the quality of television, no matter what channel, is going downhill faster than Usain Bolt on skis. I wonder if this is an irreversible trend?
Above: Boys from the Blackstuff - photo courtesy of

One television show which brought that home to me was the first in BBC-4’s short "Liverpool On The Box" season to celebrate Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture. This programme took a frank and enjoyable look at how the city has been portrayed by television over the years. One of the most significant TV dramas of my lifetime was set in Liverpool. People of a certain age will remember the BBC’s "Boys From The Blackstuff", Alan Bleasdale’s extraordinary well-written and well-acted series about how unemployment affected a group of men’s lives in the early 1980s. "Blackstuff" did not pull any punches and still looks as powerful today as it was then. Seeing clips on this programme made me realise just how far British drama has fallen and failed over recent years, now taking the easy option of making dull police/forensic/medical/action series often built around a (questionably) bankable leading star. In the words of the character memorably portrayed by Julie Walters in "Blackstuff" - British TV drama needs to "fight back!"

Even "Brookside" in its heyday, before it too lost its way, tackled tough issues which other soaps were too scared to even consider. Now soaps are sensationalist for the sake of it, but ultimately empty and heartless, even though I watch them. They are going through the motions and, maybe, so am I.

(Above: House of Saddam - photo courtesy of

One decent drama just ended was "House of Saddam" (BBC-2, Wednesdays) which began with the rise of the Iraqi leader and ended with his execution in 2006. Very watchable, although some hilariously dodgy dialogue along the way: did evil son Uday really say "Hasta la vista, baby" whilst pointing a gun at someone???

I am very sad that this week will see the last episode of the rather wonderful "Six Degrees" (ITV, Wednesdays), one of those American series which, and I really can’t understand why, only got one series to prove itself. As it went on the series spun a very intriguing web, weaving all the characters together until each began working in different ways for the same big-boss-man. Just hope there’s a happy ending!

If you’ve got Sky TV, you’ll probably page-up and page-down through the EPG to find something to watch and bypass many of those strange little channels along the way, never pausing to watch what’s actually on them. I was intrigued to see "Mike Read’s Pop Quiz" on a channel called Red, which I’d never seen before. I thought this might be re-runs of his 1980s Saturday night show when various bands battled it out to show off their pop knowledge. Nope - it’s new, and it’s....dare I say it, ahem, ‘low budget’, in the extreme. With no big prizes on offer! (Come to think of it, no prizes at all). Teams of ordinary people being asked rather difficult pop quiz questions is ok by me though. It's due to finish soon - I wonder if there will be another series as this could become cult viewing!!!
On paper, "Diet on the Dancefloor" (Living, Tuesdays) must have sounded like a good idea, blending the glamour of "Strictly Come Dancing" with the ruthless competition of "The Biggest Loser" but sadly I found the end result rather cheap, low-budget and tacky. It didn’t help throwing in the now-too-familiar reality sob-stories and crying scenes either. Sorry but my well of sympathy has run dry...! I don’t know why previous Strictly winners Matthew Cutler and Karen Hardy got involved in this, and probably if they watched it back they’d be wondering too.

Goodbye to The Hits, hello to 4 Music. This new music channel has had plenty publicity, but if I see a music channel I actually want music videos, not "Shipwrecked" which if I’m right is some reality rubbish with beautiful people in bikinis and trunks, or "Big Brother" which is just some reality rubbish with...ugh. Anyway I will miss The Hits because along with The Box and Bubble Hits, it was the only channel actually showing new-ish pop stuff, rather than the hideous wall to wall identikit r’n’b infecting every other channel in the Sky music channel line-up. I can only hope that there’ll be something good in-between the non-music shows on 4 Music, at least they’re planning to show Channel 4 stuff like "Transmission" and "The Album Chart Show" which are never on at a suitable time for me to watch.

There are lots of cookery shows on TV, some I watch, some I don’t. I’ve got a lot of time for Dave and Si, the Hairy Bikers, as they are quite funny and take a lighthearted approach to cookery. Their shows are also good travelogues as well as a cookery lesson. Now they’re back - as "The Hairy Bakers" (BBC-2, Mondays) in their quest to get Britain baking. The result is a very entertaining way to pass half an hour and I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.


Rachel said...

I haven't got round to watching 4Music yet,but don't think I'll bother if it's going down the MTV (Big lack of) Music Television route.I was quite against it since I realised they'd got rid of The Hits for it- most things music related I've seen on Channel 4 lately have been far too generic indie for my liking.

Have you been watching Last Choir Standing?I thought I'd absolutely hate it,but I've been getting quite into it in the last few weeks.Don't like the judges much though :)

EuropeCrazy said...

I saw a bit of Last Choir Standing one Saturday night a few weeks ago, but I couldn't really get into it. I wish they'd have followed the Swedish format with the whole hometown-celebrity Team Brolle/Team Linda thing. Or better still, import some Swedish celebrities to front the choirs!

Rachel said...

Ooh yes,Måns on Saturday night TV...That would be worth watching!