Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: January-February 2012

Never thought I'd say this, but it's actually been a pretty good start to the year so far in TV land. And the best thing of all, for everyone suffering from Forbrydelsen withdrawal symptoms is that the new year brought us a new Danish TV show to love.

Firstly, though, to "FORBRYDELSEN II" (BBC4) which actually finished before Christmas but I recorded all the episodes on my digibox and watched them over the space of one week back in January whilst trying to recover from that horrible gastric-cold-virus thing.

Initially I didn't think I'd like it as much as the first series. How wrong could I be. It may have been half as long as the first series, but was every bit as gripping with its twists and turns. And no, I didn't guess the killer's identity before it was revealed either.

There were no murder mysteries in BBC4's latest Danish import "BORGEN" (BBC4) but it was equally as gripping as its cult predecessor. Normally I'd run a mile at the mention of 'political drama' but let's face it, the Danes do it much better! A fascinating glimpse into the nature of coalition politics with cross and double cross and political skullduggery, and the basic moral of how power can corrupt even the most idealistic, in this case the prime minister Birgitte Nyborg, the latest brilliant, iconic Danish female TV character. The real fun was spotting the stars of "Forbrydelsen" - both of Sarah Lund's cop partners from series I and II, and even Theis from series I. Oh and there was a Troels, but not that one though. Although that one is in "Those Who Kill" which has now started on ITV3. Haven't got round to watching that yet so I'll write about it in March's round-up.

BBC4 remains my most-watched channel of the moment. "THE STORY OF MUSICALS" - was a very watchable three part series telling the story of the rise, occasional fall, and rise again of the British musical, up until the present day. If you missed it on BBC4 it's getting a quick and well-earned repeat on BBC2.

Another fascinating documentary, this time on BBC2 - if you're one of "BRITAIN'S CHINESE TIGER MUMS", then under-achiever just doesn''t figure in your vocabulary. The programme explored the lives of the mums who timetable every aspect of their child's lives till they reached absolute perfection. One thing seemed to be missing from their lives though - good old childhood fun.

"THE HOTEL" (Channel 4) is back, but this time it has swapped the Damson Dene for The Grosvenor in Torquay. This series may have felt a little too 'staged', with Alan Partridge-type manager Mark and his sidekicks Christian and Alison maybe a bit too aware of the cameras, but despite that it's still a fine old Sunday night guilty pleasure. It all ends tonight, and it will definitely leave a void at 8pm on Sundays.

I'm way too old for the BBC3 demographic but occasionally tune in to some of their documentaries. "BRITAIN'S GAY FOOTBALLERS" was presented by Amal Fashanu, niece of the late Justin Fashanu, the only footballer in this country to come out as openly gay. By the end of the show she still hadn't found anyone willing to admit to being gay in this macho, intolerant, bigoted sport which is still stuck in the dark ages. So what did she do? Well she went to Sweden of course, and found the lovely Anton Hysen whose coming out doesn't seem to have affected his career. Even more fascinating was Amal's exploration of the Fashanu family dynamics, eventually confronting her own father, John Fashanu, over his attitude to his brother's sexuality.

As for Saturday nights, we've welcomed back "WHO DARES WINS" (BBC1) one of our favourite game shows. The format hasn't changed, but that suits us just fine.

It has something in common with our daily teatime treat "THE CHASE" (ITV) - it's a basic quiz show, with no stupid stuff tagged on in the way that most of these modern gameshows seem to go in for. Here at EuropeCrazy HQ we've got a little conspiracy theory going though, that the format of the show makes it practically impossible to beat the "Chasers".

"THE TALENT SHOW STORY" (ITV) focused on the history of talent shows old and new, but being ITV it would always come back to X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, and was really just a subliminal off-season plug for these shows.

I really, desperately wanted to love "NEW GIRL" (Channel 4), the well-publicised new U.S. comedy show. It was OK I guess, but didn't give me enough reasons to stick with it beyond a couple of episodes. The days of a mega-comedy like Friends or Frasier seem to be long gone and the new shows just don't grab the public's imagination anymore. I don't know what the answer is - the new British comedies aren't doing it for me. Before I start coming across like a humourless bore, can I just mention Fawlty Towers, Phoenix Nights, Father Ted, Allo Allo, Flight of the Conchords: the only comedy box sets you'll ever need.

"COPPERS" (Channel 4) has become must-see viewing for a Monday night. It's a fly on the wall series about the day to day work of the police in Nottinghamshire. The coppers themselves have a very healthy and refreshing sense of humour laced with cynicism. Which is ok by me.

However, the Monday night 9pm documentary slot recently threw in a new challenger for our viewing time: "PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN" (BBC2) was another fly on the wall series, this time set in Bristol and following social work staff in Children's Services. It's a hard-working profession which is often an easy target for the media, but this series will hopefully redress the balance and show the reasons why difficult decisions need to be made by hard working staff in the best interests of the children with whom they work.

One particularly excellent series well worth a mention was "PUTIN, RUSSIA AND THE WEST" (BBC2) which explores the political life and times of the Russian leader, since he came to power. It's gripping viewing, made by the same team which made "The Death of Yugoslavia" (which coincidentally right now I'm reading the book of) and wheeled out some major political bigwigs for their comments on everything from Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine to political dissidents and spying incidents. It's a very high quality programme which only the BBC could make. Now they really need to make a programme about what Mr Putin is doing in his own country.

One great documentary series well worth a mention: "SICILY UNPACKED" (BBC2) which teamed up an art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon and a chef, Giorgio Locatelli who both share one common obsession - the island of Sicily, with its significant colonial architectural heritage, its no-nonsense food and its darker side. The two guys, despite coming from different fields of interest, were a good match and I think it would be a good idea to reunite them again, maybe to explore the rest of Italy? Or team them up with the "Two Greedy Italians"?

Haven't watched so many movies lately, but one worth mentioning was "LETTERS TO JULIET" (Sky Movies) which was a gentle, old-fashioned undemanding film with lots of very picturesque Italian scenery. Initially I only watched it because I saw Gael Garcia Bernal's name on the cast list but it actually turned out to be quite enjoyable. It was the kind of film which I needed when I wasn't feeling very well.

"I'M IN A BOY BAND" (BBC2) covered some old and very familiar territory about boy bands past and present, but let's face it people, there is no limit to the amount of times we can laugh ourselves senseless at that Boyzone Late Late Show clip.

Oh my beloved "HARRY'S LAW" (Universal) what have they done to you? Series two is all big and glam and it's lost the homely, gritty feeling that made season 1 so special. It didn't explain the office relocation or the reason for the extra staff, the whole Jenna/Malcolm and Adam/Rachel stories were buried, Adam's relegated to a side role and in comes ex-Boston Legal star Mark Valley and a very unlikeable DA character named Roseanna. At least Tommy Jefferson's still around for comic relief, otherwise this show is pretty dead in the water. Which is pretty sad really.

Our Killjoys of the month award goes to RTE for not letting viewers outside Ireland watch its biggest new TV show "THE VOICE OF IRELAND" on the RTE Player. Thus denying us the chance to take part in the latest weekly obsession of the Irish female population - drooling at Bressie ;) and of course enjoying the contestants' musical talents.

"PARENTHOOD" is back on 5* and season 2 carries on in the same vein with its almost improvisational script, and the fast-talking style reminiscent of Gilmore Girls. Both share the excellent Lauren Graham, and despite being a little on the annoying side at times, you still find yourself being drawn in and caring about the characters. I'll be sticking with this one to see how the Braverman family's sub-plots develop.


Raquelita said...

I forgot about Those Who Kill- I'm hoping it's on ITV player or whatever they have because it's on far too late for me to watch live!

Didn't think I'd like Sicily Unpacked because of the art angle but it was really good.Travel series are never on for long enough these days though.

They filmed some of the first series of Coppers at Gillingham Police Station near where I used to live.I've never been so angry watching a programme! There's plenty of scumbags in Medway but some of the police on there were an absolute embarassment.

Kippers said...

Completely agree RE Forbrydelsen 2. Real edge of the seat stuff! I've recorded Borgen but not yet watched it. I'm loving the fact that subtitled overseas productions are enjoying such a resurgence - on some of the more erudite channels at least!