Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: July 2013

The success of "The Killing", "Borgen" and "Wallander" clearly proved that there is an appetite for quality, thoughtful subtitled drama from Europe.  Channel 4 got in on the act, and stepped into the Nordic Noir void, turning to France for the Canal + drama "THE RETURNED" (Les Revenants), which has been a ratings hit. It was initially billed as a 'zombies coming back' drama but that does it a disservice.  What it actually is, is a completely original, complex, gripping drama which, like the best of those other foreign imports holds your attention and taxes your brain at the same time.  A number of people who have died, return to their small Twin Peaks-style mountain village as if nothing ever happened.  It's gripping, creepy and unmissable and the constant sense of brooding menace is perfectly accompanied by Scottish band Mogwai's equally dark and brooding minimalist soundtrack.  Like all the best TV, "The Returned" has been an event, and it ends tonight.  I'm guessing though that we will be none the wiser at the end of it, and will have more questions than answers.  The good news is that there will be a second series which will be, ahem, 'returning' to Channel 4, but we'll have to wait a long while for it.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: TV execs sitting in a room, trying to dream up a new Saturday night entertainment format.  "Hey guys, let's have singing.  Let's have people dressing up as other singers and singing their songs.  Oh s*** it's ITV so we can't use 'ordinary' people - we need to keep them for the Zzzzz Factor, so it has to be 'celebrities'....ta-dah! We have a format!  Now let's give it the most stupid programme name imaginable..."  And so, "YOUR FACE SOUNDS FAMILIAR" (ITV) was born.  The only thing is, we've already had celebs impersonating singers.  That was called "Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes", back in the day.  "Your Face...." is a train-wreck, but bizarrely watchable, from behind your hands of course.  And on the plus side, it's free from the evil clutches of Cowell, so all is not lost.  Every time I see that Cheryl Fergison (pictured above as Dusty Springfield), I just think of Harry Hill's TV Burp.  Maybe the 'Randomiser' (cue uncontrollable excitement from Paddy McGuinness, the latest in a long line of 'let's dream up a show for him to present' TV hosts) could select Harry Hill and she could do a medley of his greatest musical TV Burp moments.  #wishfulthinking

ITV4 delivered its usual impeccable coverage of the "TOUR DE FRANCE" with the usual daily live broadcasts and the excellent 7pm highlights shows.  You know what to expect by now - top class commentary and witty and informative features, with Ned Boulting usually on the receiving end of Chris Boardman's scientific experiments :) By the way I'm reading Ned's book "How I Won The Yellow Jumper" at the moment and it is very good indeed.

A very timely documentary on Nat Geo - a channel which was once quite highbrow but is now on an ever-sensationalist road, by the way - coincided with the end of Le Tour.  "CYCLING'S GREATEST FRAUD" examined Lance Armstrong's fall from grace and the people he destroyed on his way to his chemically enhanced 7 TdF wins.  

Channel 4 has been commemorating the month of Ramadan and in "A VERY BRITISH RAMADAN", Rashid Khan took us on a journey through the day-to-day practicalities and aspects of the month of fasting. It was a fascinating insight and I would like to see more programmes like this, which help us to understand different cultures. 

Rashid was of course the big beardy bloke off  "Make Bradford British", Channel 4's culture-clash experiment from last year.  They're at it again with the life-swapping culture-clashing in "WHY DON'T YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?".  A sensationalist programme title - now that's so very 21st century.  In this programme, a group of non-English speaking immigrants from various countries are placed with English people who attempt to teach them the language.  Of course this type of show always gets away from its original premise, turning into a journey of self-discovery for the British hosts, and throw in some staged arguments about immigration along the way.  There is a great programme waiting to be made about the experiences of new immigrants in the UK, but this is not it.

Over on Sky Atlantic, "SMASH" is back for season 2, which has turned out to be the last as the show has now been cancelled in the USA.  The idea of the show was, admittedly, time-limited and you couldn't really see it going on for years.  There is a tendency at the beginning of a second season to completely revamp a show, making it unrecognisable from the first season (hello, Harry's Law and Fairly Legal) so it was quite refreshing to see that "Smash" hadn't really changed that much, apart from ditching a couple of deadwood characters (the irritating Ellis and Dev).  New characters have been introduced - the aspiring musical writers Kyle and Jimmy, discovered by Karen, and I'm guessing that will be a dominant story arc this season. I find "Smash" entertaining and highly irritating at the same time: that's one thing that hasn't changed.

Harry Hill has actually done the impossible and got me watching "YOU'VE BEEN FRAMED" (ITV) which I hadn't actually watched for years, but my friend at work - also a Harry obsessive - alerted me to his hilariously funny voiceovers to the predictable, staged clips of people falling over.

Right, now it's quiz time!  Who the hell thought up "TAKE ON THE TWISTERS" (ITV)?  And more importantly, what were they on at the time?  This is the 5.00-6.00pm summer replacement for "The Chase".  Last year of course we got "Tipping Point" which we initially hated but grew to love it, however I can't see that happening here.  Mum and I had the "is it just me?" moment as we struggled to understand the complex format, and what the hell was the point of the "twisters", a multi-coloured bunch of giant egg timers or something.  And then I went on the internet and realised that there are probably millions out there who are as confused as we are.  Why did they not bring back "Don't Blow The Inheritance" with Tim Vine?  In fact, why don't they fill the hour-long slot with Tim doing 'pen behind the ear'?  Anything would be better than the tedious twisters.

We may not have bothered with "DARK SHADOWS" (Sky Movies) but two words changed our mind: Johnny Depp.  Johnny Depp in a Tim Burton film - you can't have one without the other, can you?  And needless to say, Helena Bonham-Carter was in it as well.  This vampire-returns-to-family-mansion romp wasn't usually the kind of thing we go for, and I wouldn't say it was a 'great' movie which I'd watch again, but Johnny always elevates every film he appears in and makes it better than it actually is.

That's it for the reviews, so now a quick preview.  The comedy genius that is Karl Pilkington will be back on our screens later this year in "The Moaning of Life" on Sky 1.  He'll be off on his travels of his own accord as there's no Ricky and Steve pulling the strings this time round, but I'm sure the laughs will still be guaranteed. The second series of  "Moone Boy" will also be on Sky 1 later this year and I'm sure it will brighten up those dark autumn nights.

Square-Eyed will be back at the end of August.  

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