Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: January-February 2013

A new year, so lots of exciting TV to look forward to?  Umm...wrong! Saturday night is now a TV wasteland, so thank goodness for Eurovision national finals season.  And Borgen.  We'll get to that later.

But let's rewind to the beginning of 2013, which started with an excellent documentary on BBC1 Scotland. The Glasgow Pavilion is my favourite theatre: it's a theatre for the people rather than just for the 'elite'. "PAVILION OF DREAMS" went behind the scenes of the 2012 annual panto, The Wizard of Never Woz, which I didn't go to see, purely due to my aversion to the Wizard of Oz (!).  The 'Pav' as we at EuropeCrazy HQ like to call it, was also the original home of the 'Mrs Brown' comedies which is now a massive TV hit. 

Another documentary which we enjoyed was "SUMMER IN BLACKPOOL" (BBC1) which took a frank look at how various Blackpool businesses coped during our wettest summer ever. 

The world of competitive eating is now a nightly event on our TV screens thanks to the likes of "Man vs Food".  It's an American phenomenon, but the Brits are now getting in on the act and an ITV documentary "ALL YOU CAN EAT" followed them to various eating challenges, including a chilli eating championship.  Hot stuff....

Haven’t really watched too many movies in the last couple of months but "THE MUPPETS" (Sky Movies) was on TV over Christmas so I decided to check it out.  Being a fan of the original Muppet Show from back in the 70s, I was expecting disappointment.  But we were very happy to be proved very wrong.  A cracking soundtrack from Bret McKenzie (including the Oscar-winning 'Man or Muppet') combined with a very witty script instantly brought the much-loved gang back to life.  A feelgood treat.  And of course, a sequel is on the way.

In the past I have criticised my local commercial TV channel, STV, for its lack of imagination in local programming, but I’ll hold off on the criticism for a moment to welcome back "SCOTTISH PASSPORT" which is probably the only travel show on mainstream TV at the moment. There is always a good mix of destinations on the programme....but it’s funny how the ‘celebs’ get to go to the glamorous foreign destinations whilst the ‘viewers’ don’t seem to get further than the UK!

At a time when xenophobia is on the increase, "MARRIED IN BRITAIN" (BBC2) was a refreshingly positive look at immigrant life in the UK and as the title suggests, focusing on the wedding plans of those who originated from Brazil, Poland and Romania. Can we have some more documentaries like this, looking at British life from a more positive angle? I’d like to see a series following the lives of the "new" immigrants.

Even if we now live in a fame-obsessed society where everyone wants their 15 minutes, it's about time we had some more documentaries focusing on 'real' people rather than 'celebs'.  Of course, one thing leads to another - remember the docusoaps of the 1990s which made stars of the likes of Jeremy Spake, Jane McDonald and Maureen Rees?  It could be time for the docusoap revival...

and if that's the case, then "THE HOTEL" (Channel 4) is already the daddy!  The most recent series, just ended, made for compelling viewing as a real-life drama unfolded before our eyes.  The naive, shambolic (and yet likeable) real-life Basil Fawlty - manager/owner Mark Jenkins - devised more bizarre scenarios by the week (sausage apartheid/Indian night) to try to tempt customers into his hotel, but it was all in vain as he headed for financial ruin.  Happily, The Grosvenor found a buyer and it lives to fight another day.  That story is now over and I wonder if Channel 4 will bring back the series with another hotel?  This one could run and run. 

A decent ITV drama with not a detective in sight: who'd have thought it? "GREAT NIGHT OUT" was the kind of refreshingly old-fashioned drama series which you used to see on TV in the 80s and 90s. With a very simple premise, that anything that can go wrong will go wrong for the group of thirtysomething lads and their long-suffering girlfriends.  Ricky Tomlinson is also in it as the local pub landlord and he's brilliant.  All in all it's a comedy drama with many genuine laugh-out-loud moments.  A great night in, in other words.  Hope we haven't seen the last of Beggsy, Glyn, Hodge and Daz.  Please please please ITV, give us another series!!

One of those ITV dramas which I used to love all those years ago was "Coasting" (anyone remember it?) Which is a nice way to lead into the next show - the latest US drama to catch my eye - "THE FOLLOWING" (Sky Atlantic).  For one of the lead actors in that series from 23 years ago was none other than James Purefoy, whom we had a major crush on at EuropeCrazy HQ.  He's still holding up well, this time as the serial killer who inspires his "following" to kill, and Kevin Bacon as the FBI agent with some unfinished business.  It's pretty cliched, gruesome stuff and not to everyone's taste, but for some reason I'm sticking with it. 

We all love our guilty pleasures, don't we?  But as Barbra Streisand once memorably put it, we've got nothing to be guilty of.  If you were hooked on Steps Reunion, then multiply it by six and you've got ITV2's "THE BIG REUNION" in which a number of pop acts from the late 90s and beyond - 5ive, 911, B*Witched, The Honeyz, Liberty X and the original Atomic Kitten line-up - get back together.  There's drama. Bitching. Tears. Diva strops. I love it.  And there are so many unanswered questions, such as: will 5ive minus one equal 4our?  And what the hell has Natasha Hamilton done to her face? 

And finally, keeping the best for last.  The long-awaited series 2 of "BORGEN" came to BBC Four in January.  And now it's shameful confession time: I haven't finished it yet.  I'm currently halfway through the series, having been sidetracked by recent weeks of holiday planning and a massive TV backlog.  I will get it finished, promise! 

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