Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: August 2013

So let's kick off with "THE RETURNED" (Channel 4) which ended on the evening of my last 'Square-Eyed' blog post and as predicted, did not deliver all the loose ends tied up with a great big bow. But did we really expect it to?  The answer again being a very definite 'non'.  But it was one hell of a creepy, involving story and as with all our favourite subtitled dramas, we count the days till it appears on our screens once again.

Oh, and I did, finally, finish rewatching series 1 of "THE BRIDGE" (BBC4) which did deliver a more satisfactory conclusion and that too has me eagerly awaiting season 2.

Something finally coming to an end: "DEXTER" (Fox) is hurtling towards the end of season 8 and I'm still none the wiser how it will end.  Hoping for some kind of satisfactory conclusion to tie all the loose ends up and all that, but television being what it is today, I probably doubt it.  I have about 4 different permutations running through my mind at the moment about how it will end.  It maybe hasn't been a vintage season so far, but it's hard to sustain the exceptional standard which this show has set over the years.  (Season 3 and 4 remain my favourites so far).

Apart from its brilliant cycling coverage, ITV4 sometimes has other things worth watching. "AMAZING ARGENTINA" was another of that channel’s occasional clip shows celebrating the glory days of my favourite South American football team. My favourite of them all was the 1978 squad who thrilled on home ground in that year’s World Cup, and Mario Kempes was my all-time favourite, for footballing and shallow reasons :)

The "WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS" was recently televised on BBC1 and BBC2. Never were expectations so high after London 2012, but for every minute of live sporting action, there were 10 minutes of chat from the expert pundits. I recorded one day’s coverage and it was about an hour before they actually showed anything. Thank goodness for the fast-forward button, where I made the unnecessary chatter move on faster than Usain Bolt in the 100m.

One of those talking heads, Denise Lewis, also turned up in "YOUR FACE SOUNDS FAMILIAR" a.k.a. Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes, yet another useless attempt by ITV to fill its Saturday night schedule when they don't have X Factor/Britain's Got Talent/anything with Ant and Dec in it.  It should have been renamed "Pointless Celebrities" however there is already a show of that name, coincidentally featuring one of the "Your Face..." contestants, the ubiquitous Alexander Armstrong.

Back to the Olympics. "INSPIRE: THE OLYMPIC JOURNEY" (BBC1) will be an occasional series looking at that overused word - the "legacy" of London 2012.  My own view is that there probably won't be one, apart from a misty-eyed nostalgia watching old clips and saying, "remember that?"  I think it was Matthew Pinsent who said that the real legacy will be in the Games encouraging the public to participate in sport.

Which is a difficult one to call, given this country's current obesity crisis and accordingly, TV's obsession with making programmes about it.  Jacques Peretti previously made a series called "The Men Who Made Us Fat" and followed it up with, appropriately, "THE MEN WHO MADE US THIN" (BBC2).  This looked at the growth of the diet and fitness industry over the years and concluded that all of us who go on diets etc are buying into a myth and so diets don't work.  Having been there and done that of course, several times, I'd say that's pretty true.  But did he really need several weeks of an overlong series to tell us that?

Closer to home, "SCOTLAND THE FAT" (BBC1 Scotland) only needed one hour to tell us that we're the second fattest country behind the USA in the obesity league table, and we rely too much on takeaways and ready meals.  Yep, it didn't tell us anything new either, but as these things go it was a pretty good documentary. 

I had missed "TELSTAR - THE JOE MEEK STORY" (BBC2) the first time it was screened on TV so was eager to see it at last.  The words 'British film' usually have me running in the opposite direction but this was actually a goodie - a high-speed biopic of the eccentric 60s music producer Joe Meek whose life ended in tragedy.  This film was never dull and had a cracking over-the-top performance by Con O'Neill and some interesting cameo appearances too.  Oh and finally, I even managed to watch something with James Corden in it, without reaching for the off switch.

I decided to watch "LARS AND THE REAL GIRL" (MGM) which with that title I mistakenly thought was a Scandinavian film..  It turned out to be an oddly appealing film set in one of those little Scandi-enclave towns in the USA.  The storyline - shy guy buys a lifesize doll - suggests a Judd Apatow-style sleazy comedy, but it turned out to be a very gentle, if rather bizarre, film about love and acceptance, with a hopeful ending.  Ryan Gosling is one of those actors who is very popular at the moment, although I hadn't actually seen him in any films until this one.  He certainly gave a very good performance here.

Film of the month for me had to be "KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND" (BBC Four) an incredibly powerful, distressing and moving film, set in the early 20th century.  What makes it even more powerful is that it is based on a true story, about a reform school for delinquent boys, set on a bleak island, Bastøy (the film's Norwegian title is Kongen av Bastøy), where they endure every manner of abuse, and are known by numbers rather than names. The catalyst for change and revolt is Erling (C19) - who plans an escape and inspires the other youngsters to finally rise up against the brutality.  Erling's friendship with fellow inmate Olav is also a crucial part of the story. It's not an easy film to watch by any means, but it is an outstanding one thanks to the performances of the always-reliable Stellan Skarsgård and the impressive young cast. 
I watch very little in ‘real time‘ on TV as I usually record it and make up my own TV schedules - have been doing this for years, so I have a little chuckle when people go on about ‘TV on demand’. It is a lot easier these days to record all the TV shows you want to, thanks to all the +1 channels. Anyway all this recording and fast forwarding means that you can skip the adverts. However, on one occasion when I was actually watching something live, I heard something to make me sit up and take notice during an ad break. The Persil Bio ad was soundtracked by none other than M83’s "Outro" which made me jump up and exclaim - "It’s the MGP opening theme music!" You know you’ve been watching too many national finals when.....!

Still on the commercial breaks, there’s another one on at the moment - for Citroen cars if I’m not mistaken - and soundtracked by "C’est Beau La Bourgeoisie" which I first became aware of during a holiday in France and am now happy that it’s turned up on an ad on "our" telly.

"MAKE ME A GERMAN" (BBC2) sounded like a very interesting idea - send a British family to Germany to live and work there and compare their lifestyle with the British way of life. It was nice to see a programme which actually gave a fair view of Germany for a change and gave some insight into the differences between ‘them’ and ‘us’ although did unfortunately fall back on stereotypes at times. The problem with this documentary was that it was only an hour long when it would have probably made a great series. We need more programmes on British TV about how Europeans live, if only to enlighten the ‘Eurosceptics’ in this country.

As you know, I went on a cruise back in May and totally loved it. Unfortunately, "THE CRUISE - A LIFE AT SEA" (BBC2) would not convince anyone to take this type of holiday. The series featured a round the world cruise on a Fred Olsen ship, which even had its own vicar. The whole thing, from the ‘considerably richer than you’ passengers to the hideous activities was depressingly dull, and a million miles removed from the (thankfully) more inclusive, all-ages, 21st century face of cruising.

As usual there's been lots of festival coverage on telly over the summer.  But why all the same acts all the time?  Just how many more times do we need to watch Jake Bugg or Chase and Status?  If the BBC is going to broadcast a festival, they should put about 20 other acts on the red button at the same time, so that we can watch what we want rather than what they think we want. 

After all this time (I'm always late to the party) I finally discovered "DYNAMO: MAGICIAN IMPOSSIBLE" (Watch) and am glad I did. I'm usually sceptical about this sort of street magic stuff, and yes of course, it's all just an illusion. But Dynamo (real name Steven Frayne) is so sweet, likeable and down-to-earth that you just want to believe. 'The wow factor' is an over-used phrase in TV these days, but it's worth using when it comes to Dynamo, who is always watchable and entertaining.

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