Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: September 2012

It's not back properly till this coming weekend of course, but "STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) popped it head round the door earlier this month to say hello, to introduce this year's contestants and match them up with their professional partners.

On paper it appears to be between the Olympians and the pop stars.  In the Olympic corner we have gymnast Louis Smith and cyclist Victoria 'abs-to-die-for' Pendleton, whilst in the pop corner we have Nicky Byrne, from the recently-demised Westlife, and Kimberley Walsh from the soon-to-be-revived Girls Aloud. I wonder who'll be the pre-ordained judges' favourite this year?

Above: Louis & Flavia.  (Picture courtesy of

I haven't really picked my own favourite yet, however a win for the wonderful Flavia Cacace is long overdue so I will probably be cheering her and Louis on.

Strictly being Strictly of course, don't write off the 'national treasures' or the 'underdog' getting in the way of the 'proper dancers'.  It is an entertainment show after all, rather than a professional dance contest.  And I wonder who this year's John Sergeant or Anne Widdicombe will be?

There is also a new face on the judging panel this year (no jokes about Craig Revel Horwood, folks!!) and that is the retired ballerina Darcey Bussell.  As for the professional dancers there's one change to the line-up: out goes Katya Virshilas, axed by new producers for seemingly no reason other than being too low profile.  In comes Venezuelan-born Karen Hauer who should bring some sizzling Latin style to the show.

In my part of the world the biggest telly story of the month was the 10th anniversary of "RIVER CITY" (BBC1) which I wrote about in a separate post last weekend.  After the recent massive gritty storylines which were more 'Taggart' than a cosy soap, it will be interesting to see where the show goes next.  According to this Daily Record article more humour is on the way.

Above: Steven Van Zandt!  Knitwear!  (Picture courtesy of  

It's not quite Nordic Noir, but I'm really enjoying the latest Nordic import, "LILYHAMMER" (BBC4).  It's a very original idea - New York mobster relocated in a witness protection programme to Lilyhammer in Norway, purely because he enjoyed watching the 1994 Winter Olympics there.  Reinvented as Giovanni Henriksen, he proceeds to integrate into the local community encountering all the cultural differences along the way.  The jobcentre guy reminded me a little of Georg from Næturvaktin and the eccentric local life recalls Northern Exposure.  Oh, and there is some serious knitwear going on too.  One more thing: did any of you MGP fans notice a guest spot by Cocktail Slippers performing during episode 2?

Good comedy is hard to find, so its a very warm welcome to "MOONE BOY" (Sky 1) which is an absolute treat.  Chris O'Dowd, whom we remember from his role in the hit comedy film "Bridesmaids" stars here as the imaginary friend of little Martin Moone, his semi-autobiographical younger self.  Set in 1989 in a small town in Ireland, it's packed with warmth and laughter and has the same slightly absurd appeal which made Father Ted so great.

Talking of hit comedy films, "THE HANGOVER PART II" was recently screened on Sky Premiere.  Having absolutely loved the first one, I was bemused to read so many negative reviews of the sequel.  Ignoring the critical backlash, I watched the film with an open mind.  Only to discover very quickly that a) the critics were right; b) it's not the least bit funny and c) sequels should be avoided.

There continues to be a massive amount of food/cooking/baking-themed shows on TV, but I wanted to particularly mention a great show for lovers of Turkey and in particular, Turkish food.  "TURKISH DELIGHTS WITH ALLEGRA McEVEDY" (Good Food) took us on a tour of the vast country and its excellent food.  I love Turkish food of course so needless to say I've been hooked on this show.

Looking ahead to next month, I'm mega-excited about season 2 of Homeland which will be back on Channel 4 next Sunday.  I'll be reviewing it in next month's Square Eyed along with the Downton Abbey backlog and a Strictly update!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Moneybrother's new album - could it be the last?

This past week, Swedish singer-songwriter Anders Wendin a.k.a. Moneybrother, released his latest album "This Is Where Life Is" which (by the sound of the iTunes clips I've just been listening to) sounds like another goodie, with his usual mix of passionate urgency and swagger, brassy pop, Clash-style rock and reggae rhythms.   But could it be his farewell album?  Possibly, if this Aftonbladet interview/article is anything to go by:

This new album was a massive challenge, as it was recorded in no less than seven different cities across the world. According to the article Anders says " I do not know how to ever be able to top this...I would not be surprised if this was my last album".  Over the past few years Anders - for me, Sweden's answer to Bruce Springsteen - has carried on doing his own thing, swimming against the tide of bland, modern, dreary pop and making the music he wants on his own terms: I'm sure that whatever musical path Anders chooses to follow from here on will bring us more creativity and great music.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Star Academy is coming back!

I've been thinking about Star Academy quite a lot recently.  Maybe it's because being in Nice in September 2003, 2005 and 2008 always meant switching on TF1 just after 6pm for the nightly update shows.  The format was done properly in France of course, and indeed in Spain (Operacion Triunfo) and translated very badly over here (Fame Academy) but for at least its first four years the French edition was the best reality-talent format ever, and even in subsequent years it gave us some excellent performers with genuine vocal talent. But all good things must come to an end, and by 2008, the show had finally reached its use-by date: they had moved from the chateau at Dammarie-les-Lys to a more modest hotel in Paris, ratings were plummeting and the winner Mickels Rea did not go on to achieve any commercial success, far less replicate the success of series 1 and 2 winners Jenifer and Nolwenn Leroy.

The world of the TV talent show has moved on of course. We are bombarded from all sides by Idol and X Factor and The Voice and ...Got Talent, with all the sob stories and overacting by judges and contestants alike. TF1 cancelled Star Academy and like many other countries it had moved on to The Voice, having already broadcast one series with Jenifer, Garou, Louis Bertignac and Florent Pagny as coaches. So it appeared that Star Academy would be consigned to reality-TV-talent history.

But hold that thought.....

...because Star Academy is on the way back to France's TV screens. Only this time it won't be broadcast by TF1, but rather a more minor channel, NRJ12. There will be daily update shows and a weekly 'Prime' as before, but I'd guess it's most unlikely that any of the old 'profs' will be there nor will Nikos Aliagas - he may have had his critics back in the day but you really couldn't imagine anyone else presenting the show. You'll have guessed that I have mixed feelings about it all.  Being broadcast by a digital/cable channel with a very small audience share and a lower budget is not the way for such an iconic show to make a comeback.  Nevertheless I'm looking forward to see how it will go.  There is no scheduled broadcast date as yet, but contestants are currently being sought:

If like me you were a massive fan of the original Star Academy, 2001-2008, I'd like to hear your views about the show coming back.  Is the time right for a comeback?  Or is it doomed to failure? Your comments are welcome!

Happy 10th birthday River City!

10 years may not be a long time in TV soap when you consider that Coronation Street's been on the air for 50 years and Emmerdale is getting ready to celebrate its 40th birthday. 

But when we're talking about a small-scale soap produced and screened only in Scotland, with a cult audience on BBC iPlayer across the UK, then that is a major milestone. 

Above: the original cast of River City, 2002.  Only Malcolm, Eileen, Gina and Raymond are still in the cast 10 years on. (picture courtesy of the Daily Record)

Yes, River City is 10 years old this week.  The first episode was broadcast on 24th September 2002 and the show is still going strong despite rumours over the years that it was going to be axed.  River City was previously shown in two half hour segments per week, but over the last few years it became an hour long show, broadcast at 8.00pm on Tuesdays on BBC1 and repeated on Sundays.

For the uninitiated, River City is set in Shieldinch, a fictional area of Glasgow.  Like all other soaps, the pub - in this case The Tall Ship - is the focal point for a lot of the action.  The show has mainly centred around the Hamilton/Rossi/Henderson family since the beginning, however the show really got going with the introduction of the Adams family (yes!). 

Above: Stevie, Scarlett, Bob and Kelly-Marie Adams, 2003. Scarlett looking more glam than usual!  (Picture courtesy of the BBC) 

But to stop local life becoming too mundane, bring on the gangsters!  Lenny Murdoch is the gangster we love to love.  Such is his on-screen presence that the show suffers when he's not in it.  (By the way, a couple of years ago I saw the actor who plays Lenny standing outside WH Smith in Argyle Street, but I was far too starstruck.  Oh and I saw the actor who plays Raymond Henderson on a train once.)

Above: Lenny Murdoch, the 'Godfather' of Shieldinch.  (Picture courtesy of the BBC)

As well as Lenny, River City has had its share of iconic characters over the years.  Especially Scarlett Adams (now Mullen) and her son 'Shellsuit' Bob - although we cringe every time Scarlett shouts "ma wee Bubba!".  Of course in soap style it turned out that Scarlett wasn't really Bob's mum after all, but several episodes later all was forgiven.  We all miss Roisin too, who was an absolute legend!

Some familiar faces have also passed through River City. Lorraine McIntosh from Deacon Blue played Deek's mum Alice.  Remember Stefan Dennis from Neighbours? He was in River City for a while, and was also in Dream Team too. In another spooky coincidence, the actors who played Liam Mackay and Tommy Valentine in that much-missed Sky 1 soap were also in River City, the latter as Lenny's son Ewan Murdoch.  Then there was the bloke from the "Call On Me" video who played Jo's 'brother' who in soap style of course turned out not to be her brother after all!

For all the good characters there have been some absolute stinkers past and present: Daniel McKee, Marianne McKee, Fraser Crozier, Jennifer Bowie, Tatiana 'Tattie' O'Hara, Leyla Brodie, Lee ? (Amber's 'half-brother'). The problem with River City though is that they tend to axe characters on a more frequent basis than most other soaps for whatever reason (costs?) leaving little time to develop new characters sufficiently over a period of time.  This is a good thing if you don't particularly like a character though. 

I read somewhere that River City currently attracts ratings of around half a million.  That may not sound much but when you consider that the population of Scotland is just over five million people, then that's pretty good.  The ratings have recovered well from a previous slump, a few years back, when the show was facing the axe. 

By the way, for some strange inexplicable reason I always seem to have a backlog of River City episodes going back 3 or 4 weeks; so I must get up to date with them!  I do know what's been happening though....

Above: R.I.P. to the guy he used to be.  Farewell Deek Henderson.  (Picture courtesy of Digital Spy)

So happy 10th birthday River City, and may there be many more of them!!  

Above: the cast of River City, 2012.  Christina, Tatiana, Kelly-Marie, Lenny, Jimmy, Robbie, DI Donald, Zinnie, Will, Gabe, Murray, Dr Stubbs, Leyla, Stevie, Big Bob, Molly, Stella, Iona, Scarlett, Eileen, Raymond, Gina, Bob, Deek, Malcolm, Liz, Nicole, Adeeb and Conor.  (Picture courtesy of the Daily Record).

Film Review: To Rome With Love

You may or may not be surprised to know that I've never seen a Woody Allen film.  Until today, that is.  Faithful travelling companion (who has seen at least one of Mr Allen's films) and I headed off to the cinema to see "To Rome With Love", which has had mixed critical reviews to say the least.  But as someone who has never seen a Woody Allen film, I'm only judging this one on its own merits rather than comparing it with any of his past glories. it worth watching?  Well I would say yes.  I would particularly highlight the beautiful scenery which is as much a star of the film as any of the cast.  It could be an advert for the Rome tourist board.  And yes, the soundtrack is preaching to the converted with the likes of "Volare" and "Arrivederci Roma" however my fave was the Parmigiano-tastic "Amada Mia, Amore Mio"

There is no main plot, rather it's a mix of four different stories with a mixture of fun and farce well-written and well-acted by an all-star cast including Woody Allen himself. 

The story begins: American girl meets Italian boy in Rome, fall in love and get engaged.  When her parents come over they discover that their prospective son-in-law's dad is a potential opera star - however there is one slight problem, as he can only sing in the shower.  The joke may drag on a wee bit too long, but it does have its laugh-out-loud moments. 

Meanwhile, Jesse Eisenberg's character is torn between his girlfriend and her best friend and seeks advice from Alec Baldwin's character who is almost like an imaginary voice in his head. 

Elsewhere, a newly married couple arrive in the city, the wife gets lost, a hot hooker played by Penelope Cruz ends up being mistaken for the man's wife and ends up meeting most of her clients at an outdoor gathering.  The wife, meanwhile, ends up in a classic bedroom farce.

Finally, Roberto Benigni's character opens the door one day and he is an instant celebrity, pursued by the paparazzi and press.  Then they move on to another guy.  I guess this is Mr Allen's comment on the instant and fickle nature of modern-day fame?
It's not deep, or particularly meaningful or thought-provoking, but sometimes you just need a lightweight, fun and frivolous film which is entertaining, easy-going and a visual delight, and "To Rome With Love" fitted the bill on this Saturday afternoon.  It may not be on the 'classic' scale of Mr Allen's past films, but as I've already said, I've never seen a Woody Allen film.  I guess that's another thing to add to my to-do list. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The EuropeCrazy Holiday Hit List: Nice, September 2012

This is always one of my favourite posts to write, although it always leaves me with mixed feelings as it means my holiday is over :(

Anyway, here is my playlist from our holiday in Nice last week, and which I've continued to listen to...and as always there's a few "holiday" songs, complete with sun-soaked videos of course.

Wati House - Sexion D'Assaut (the "Mi Amore" song!)

Ma Vie Au Soleil - Keen'V

Sur Le Fil - Jenifer

Quelque Part - Kenza Farah

Des Mots Invincibles - Leslie 
Starlite - Christophe Willem

Party Shaker - RIO

Bara Bara Bere Bere - Alex Ferrari   Je Veux Le Monde -  Nathalia (1789, Les Amants de la Bastille)   Sur Un Fil - Circus   Over the weekend I'll do a separate French music-related post.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: August 2012

The first two weeks of August were all about one thing and one thing only: London 2012.  The BBC's Olympics coverage was outstanding, purely because you could watch any sport you wanted anytime thanks to their satellite stream - 24 channels on Sky TV no less.  A fantastic Games of course, but this just made it even better. 

Whilst The Chase (ITV1) was on a break from its daily teatime slot (celeb-charity Sunday night specials excepted), various shows were keeping the seat warm at teatime, with varying results. After the frankly rubbish Tipping Point, we then had Dinner Date whose alternate title could have been "Come Date With Me". How many variations on cooking and dating can you get? Why not combine the two? It actually wasn’t too bad, although as with "CDWM" I’ve yet to find a menu which I’d actually want to eat anything off it.

After a brief run, it was then replaced by Don’t Blow The Inheritance, a family quiz show which promises to give away a lot of money but there’s a catch in the big finale: answer the questions wrongly and the money starts counting down. Bits of it remind me of my favourite quiz "Who Dares Wins" so that’s a good thing, and the best thing about it is the return of one of Britain’s funniest comedians, Tim Vine, to prime time quizmaster-ing. Back in the early days of Channel 5, he presented "Whittle" and it’s great to see him back on our screens again.

As you will all know by now, I like documentaries and travel programmes so combine the two and I’m very happy indeed. Urban Secrets (Sky Atlantic) was the kind of thing you’d expect to see on BBC Four: a travelogue exploring the hidden cultural life of various cities. Unfortunately Alan Cumming, who’s always a bit too affected at the best of times, was even more excitable here and dare I say it, on the wrong side of annoying. However I still like the idea of the programme, and well done to Sky for trying something different anyway.

It’s a good job we like the Hairy Bikers, as they’ve been all over our screens lately.  However we've actually seen a lot less of them,  as they lost 3st each in "The Hairy Dieters" (BBC2) and got back on the bikes in the US of A in search of food and music in "The Hairy Bikers Mississippi Adventure" (Good Food). As it happens, we enjoy their good-natured banter, Si and Dave always come across as a couple of likeable down-to-earth blokes and seem like genuinely nice people, and you can’t say that for too many TV presenters these days.

It's been a long, long time since I sat down and watched a really good film.  But if we're talking really good films, then I've got to mention "The Help" which was recently shown on Sky Movies.  Based on the very successful novel, it could be described as what used to be called a "women's picture" but that's probably more to do with the fact that all the main characters are female.  Set in Mississippi in the time of segregation, it's about a young white woman named Skeeter, rebellious amongst her peers, who in her quest to become a writer decides to interview a number of black maids regarding their experiences.  It's funny, sad, empowering and well-acted.   Highly recommended. 

Last year’s Seven Dwarves proved to be a very enjoyable series, despite pre-series worries in the media that it could potentially be exploitative. It ended up a very warm-hearted, feelgood experience and we cheered when Max and Karen fell in love. What happened next? Their wedding, of course! Cue "Seven Dwarves: The Wedding" (Channel 4), in which these two refreshingly frank and honest people opened up their lives again to the cameras and the warts-and-all preparation for their nuptials. We wish the newlyweds a very happy married life together!

Old stuff...

On to some old stuff now - a couple of shows which were on some time ago but didn’t get round to watching until earlier in the month in the early days of my digital detox.

"High School" was a BBC Scotland fly-on-the-wall series from earlier this year, about a year in the life of Holyrood Secondary School in Glasgow.  Very good it was too.  They should do more of this kind of thing.

Dominic Sandbrook’s social history series "The 70s" (BBC2) had me feeling a bit sceptical to start with. After all, Mr Sandbrook (above) was too young to remember the events of the decade that he was born in. (And being born in the 1960s I feel qualified to say that!) However it was pretty well researched, thorough and comprehensive. I’ll give him that.

Deleted post.

I removed this post following the events of 14.02.2013.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

A day out in Dumfries.

The summer of 2012 hasn't been one of our better ones, has it?  A total wash-out, with rain almost every day from the beginning of June until the end of August.  Not just rain, but often torrential rain, the kind of water-up-to-your-knees rain which makes you wonder if you should invest in a canoe as a mode of transport.

So a dry day was the exception rather than the rule.  On what felt like that one dry day in August, we headed down to Dumfries, not just for a day trip, but for an emotional journey back in time.   (For my international readers, Dumfries is a town in south-west Scotland in case you don't know)

As a child, I remember spending summers at my aunt and uncle's home in Dumfries.  In that typical nostalgic way, the weather was always good, the sun was shining and the simple pleasures were the best.  Like taking a walk down by the River Nith, looking at the waterfall, crossing the Devorgilla Bridge back and forth, heading down Friars Vennel to my favourite toy shop Newall's and ending up in Fusco's for ice cream. 

As I got older, we continued to take regular holidays in Dumfries.  It was our only opportunity to catch up with our much loved relatives as they were getting old and weren't fit enough to travel up here.  At one point I even considered moving to Dumfries for good, however that never materialised.  As the years passed, my uncle passed away and my aunt became too frail to host the family holidaymakers.  Eventually she also passed away and our link with Dumfries was broken. 

Over recent years I resolved to visit the town again one day, and that finally came last month.   The first thing you see, getting off the bus at the Whitesands, is the lovely River Nith, which isn't so lovely when it bursts its banks: quite often in our rather wet climate, as you would imagine.  My waterfall is still there.  (As if it would have gone anywhere else!?!)

But things change, and you wouldn't expect Dumfries to stay the same after all these years.  Friars Vennel (below) is not how I remember it: the toy shop and Fusco's are long gone, and in this economic climate you can expect to find an empty shop or three.  However it still has a unique feeling and is worth a visit, even if it's only as a thoroughfare on your way up to the High Street.  They also have an inventive way of covering up empty shops with painted murals! 

Dumfries' most famous inhabitant was also Scotland's most famous poet, Robert (known as Rabbie) Burns.  He spent the last years of his life living in Dumfries and the Burns House is one of the town's tourist attractions.  Of course I remember visiting it on one of my childhood holidays.  In the town centre he is also commemorated with a statue in the main square.  He's not the only famous inhabitant of Dumfries of course - a certain Calvin Harris also originates from the town.  Maybe he'll get a statue one day too, you never know :)

Dumfries town centre has a fine selection of shops, including its very own shopping mall, the Loreburne Shopping Centre, and all the usual high street favourites.  And Costas of course for a much-needed coffee after all that exploring :)
But it is back at the Nith that you really feel the unique magic of Dumfries.  And that was where the memories came flooding back.  Crossing the river and finding the bus stop where we used to get the bus to my aunt and uncle's home, and seeing some other landmarks which haven't changed so much since the 1970s and 1980s, brought out a number of emotions, being in a town which I associate so much with loved ones who are no longer with us.  But they will always be remembered with happiness and love, so that's why Dumfries will always be special. Faithful travelling companion had also previously visited Dumfries, but our trip was a good opportunity to introduce him to "my" Dumfries.  There was just one more ritual to do before heading home. 

The Hole I' The Wa' Inn (above) is one of the most famous pubs in Dumfries, and I was curious to see how it had changed since my last visit.  Happily, it hasn't :)  There was a flat-screen TV on the wall showing Olympics football, which was yet another spooky coincidence as on my last visit it was the European Football championships on the TV screen, back in the day! 

All in all, a very enjoyable trip and a nice journey through the south of Scotland too.  It wasn't just a journey back down memory lane, but it was a chance to make new memories too.  Hopefully we won't leave it so long till we return to Dumfries again.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Nice to see you (again) see you, Nice!

September is here, and the great digital detox experiment is over.

The past month taught me that you can't totally live without the internet - it is such an important part of our daily lives now and we still need it, whether to plan travel journeys/timetables, or online shopping, or checking the weather forecast or listening to a radio station or watching a TV show from another country.  All of which I did over the past month.

However it also taught me that I could live without the time-consuming temptations of blogging, Twitter, showbiz news sites and messageboards....but out of all that, the only thing I really missed was my online friends.

For the first two weeks of the month I was glued to the Olympics - what an amazing time that was!  I also managed to get a number of outstanding jobs done at home, most of which I probably could never have achieved if I'd continued my online obsession.

One very important piece of news since my previous posting, and an explanation for this blog post title.  Not only is it a well-known Bruce Forsyth catchphrase of course, but it's also a very bad pun to introduce my big announcement:

We're off on holiday again in the next couple of weeks!  It's all very last-minute, as up till very, very recently it was looking like a September 'staycation' but we're now returning to a very familiar old haunt, and one of our most favourite places: the wonderful city of Nice, on the French Riviera.

Over the next few days there will be some posts about some stuff from August, but I'll also be very busy preparing for the holiday so I can't promise when they will appear (but hopefully soon!).