Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: July-August 2009

How bad is TV at the moment? I know it's summer and it's supposed to be the silly season, but where has all the good telly gone? This would explain why all sorts of retro-box-sets are appearing at EuropeCrazy HQ these days as we dive into the vaults for something reliable and good to watch.

In these days of poor quality telly we should be all the more grateful for absolute gems like "Man On Wire" which received its premiere on BBC-2 last week. It was the story of the man whose biggest challenge was to walk between New York’s Twin Towers on a high wire. When asked why, he responded "there is no why". This documentary was humorous, moving, profound and inspirational, and Mr Petit’s urge to follow your dream and seize life was infectious. In his own words: "life should be lived on the edge of life".

Good old BBC-4 is still showing a series of the original Swedish-language version of "Wallander" which I find compulsive viewing. I’m not a fan of cop shows but I love the way the little complexities of the plot are unravelled, with the back-story of the relationship between the lead character and his daughter.

One thing I recently got into and now can’t get enough of is "Flight of the Conchords". If you haven’t seen it before, it’s a deliciously dry comedy about a New Zealand folk-parody duo in New York. Their manager Murray is total comedy gold - imagine a hilarious version of (unfunniest man alive, IMHO) Ricky Gervais’ David Brent. After seeing a couple of episodes of season two on BBC-4, I rushed out to buy the season one box set, which I’m working through at the moment. The series is of course now over and it would appear they won't be making any more of it - that should guarantee the show classic comedy status by leaving us all wanting more.

Good comedy on British TV is very very hard to find, but "The Kevin Bishop Show" (Channel 4) is an exception. Its quickfire sketch format pokes fun at the celebrity world which he and his chums already did brilliantly on "Star Stories" and if you get the jokes you’ll find it very funny indeed.

I don’t know why, but season two of "Private Practice" (Living), isn’t really doing it for me and it’s missing something. It doesn’t press the emotional-buttons that "Grey’s Anatomy" does, but sometimes you don’t want that either, yet there’s little character development beyond who’s sleeping with who.

I love "Come Dine With Me" (currently off-air). Watch that format go.....for dinner party read wedding, and voila - you have "Four Weddings" (Living) where four brides attend each other’s weddings and mark them, "Come Dine"-style. On paper, it sounded good but based on the shows I’ve seen so far, it missed the mark. And it doesn’t have the hilarious Dave Lamb doing the voiceovers either.

A couple of programmes about hotels: "The Hotel Inspector" (Five), used to be one of my favourites but is now past it’s sell-by date. I’m not too keen on that new woman Alex either - preferred the old one. The show was previously quite interesting but has now turned into a bit of a "Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares"-meets-makeover format and the end result leaves me cold.

You can have cash coming out of your ears but it doesn’t always mean you’ll get things done: "Rock N’Roll Hotel" (BBC-1) is quite an interesting documentary series about Mark the nightclub owner’s hotel project - and if anyone’s thinking of opening a hotel then you might want to think twice after watching this.

After watching "Hollyoaks" (E-4) for two years, I recently decided to give up watching the show purely for the reason that it’s in terminal decline. The final nail in the coffin was Newt, Lauren and Theresa’s camping trip, a week of my life which I’ll never get back.

"Coronation Street" - recently, controversially wrenched from it’s 7.30 Wednesday night slot on ITV and moved to Thursday nights at 8.30 - isn’t much better these days. When the major storylines revolve around the Platts, you know there may be trouble ahead. Add to that Rosie Webster - possibly the worst non-Platt character in British soap today, and the tiresome Fiz/John Stape/Chesney and you have one very unwatchable half hour.

Just a brief mention about "Strictly Come Dancing" (BBC-1) - there’s controversy already before the first quick-step has been taken, thanks to Arlene Phillips’ dismissal from the show and replacement by former winner Alesha Dixon. Now much as I like Alesha, she is no expert choreographer and it looks as if she’s been brought in purely to provide some Cheryl Cole-style judging panel eye candy. With the show already reeling from accusations of ageism, then came the news that former winner (and one of my favourite professionals) Karen Hardy would not be among the professional dancers in the new series. Ms Hardy is 39 years old. Imagine the drop in viewing figures if the BBC banned everyone over 39 from watching the show? Pity they can’t apply their recruitment criteria to, say, Bruce Forsyth or "Uncle" Len Goodman, who in TV terms are a long way over that hill. How about replacing them with some younger eye candy....? (Talking of which...not that we need an excuse for another picture of Mark Ramprakash, pictured above with Karen Hardy in that unforgettable series 4 win in 2006). Note to BBC: if you really want to make "Strictly" better, then scrap the tedious dance-off and stupid Sunday night results show...

Finally it was good to see Louis Theroux (pictured above) back on BBC-2 tonight, with his latest documentary "The City Addicted to Crystal Meth" focusing on the drug epidemic and its effect on the citizens of Fresno. The best thing about Louis is his refreshing lack of sensationalism, as he easily persuades the interviewees to tell their own story, rather than punctuate the show with drama and "previously on..." recaps. One very sad aspect of British TV in this disposable decade is the decline in quality documentary making, so there's all the more reason to treasure Theroux’s deceptively simple and effective style.

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