Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: Christmas/New Year Special

We've been doing it for years, now lots of other people are doing it.  I refer to timeshifting telly, not watching programmes live, but making up your own TV schedule.  That perhaps explains the decline in the TV ratings.  There once was a time when Christmas TV shows pulled massive ratings - the famous Den divorcing Angie episode of Eastenders, or the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special.  But these are different times, with different distractions, multi-channels, Netflix blah blah blah - or maybe the reason for the declining ratings is because the programmes on offer are just not good enough?

This year's TV ratings battle was The Queen versus the "Queen of Dublin Town".  Yes, "MRS BROWN'S BOYS" (BBC1) was the most-watched programme on Christmas Day and seems to have taken over the Christmas comedy crown from "Only Fools and Horses".   The show of course features an Irish cast but is recorded in Glasgow, so it is particularly popular here.  MBB is the Marmite of TV.  People either love or hate it.  I can take or leave it; it has its funny moments but I don't find it hysterically funny the way that many other people do, and it's already showing signs of fatigue.

As are most of the other programmes on offer on Christmas Day: "STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) gave us its annual Christmas special with previous returning contestants paired with professionals who were eliminated earlier in the 2014 series.  The Christmas special was won by Louis Smith.  Bruce Forsyth returned for one night only to present the show, but every year I can't help feeling that the SCD Strictly special seems like more of a side dish than a main course. 

"CORONATION STREET" (ITV) failed to bring any Christmas cheer, with Kylie Platt's drugs/leaving storyline taking centre stage, and as if that wasn't bleak enough we also had Steve McDonald's depression.  Corrie producers obviously didn't get the memo that 'tis the season to be jolly'.

Let it goooooooo, let it goooooooo....believe it or not I hadn't heard that very famous song from that very successful film until about 6 weeks ago.  The perks of living in my child-free world eh.  Anyway Channel 4 cashed in on the phenomenon with a documentary called "FROZEN AT CHRISTMAS"  telling the story of the highest-grossing animated film ever.  It was an education for me as I've managed to escape Frozen-mania (apart from the pre-Christmas whingeing from everyone about not being able to buy their little darlings all the merchandise they'd asked Santa for).

The Christmas special of "DOWNTON ABBEY" (ITV) was predictably dull and overlong, shoehorning in potential romances and conveniently exonerating certain people accused of serious crimes.  I am quite sad to see Tom Branson go though, as he brought a bit of a spark to the show, although I still doubt whether a bunch of toffs would ever have accepted someone like him, with his background.  But you suspend your disbelief when watching Downton of course.

End of year retrospectives-a-plenty: "FIFTY FUNNIEST MOMENTS 2014" (Channel 4) excelled itself as a talking-head show as I genuinely didn't recognise many of the 'celebs'/'comedians' commenting on video clips from social media etc.  Some of it was funny, some of it was completely gross, but overall it was just cheap telly to fill 2 hours in the schedule.

Over on Channel 5, home of programmes with titles like "Benefits: Too Fat To Work" (a two for the price of one combination of benefit-shaming and fat-shaming - shame on this channel!) they gave us "MOST SHOCKING CELEBRITY MOMENTS 2014" which was neither shocking, and the definition of 'celebrity' was pretty sketchy.  It was the TV version of junk food.  But then again sometimes you need junk food, even if it makes you feel sick afterwards.

As usual, Charlie Brooker was responsible for the best year-end retrospective.  "CHARLIE BROOKER'S 2014 WIPE" (BBC2).  It wasn't easy to make fun of a bleak year for the world, but Charlie did his best.  This programme also had its darker moments but Charlie saw 2014 off in the company of none other than the Blockheads, with his take on "Reasons to be Cheerful" retitled "Reasons to be Fearful 2014". 

"STILL GAME: THE STORY SO FAR" (BBC1 Scotland) was a very enjoyable documentary on BBC1 Scotland on Hogmanay about the show's popularity and recent revival as a stage show. 

Ahh, Hogmanay - or New Year's Eve, if you prefer - just what would the TV programme makers come up with to excite us this time?  Apart from the "Still Game" documentary, viewers in Scotland were treated to the annual "ONLY AN EXCUSE" (BBC1 Scotland) which started off life many years ago as a hilarious laugh-a-second sketch show parody of Scottish football.  But just like Scottish football, this programme has become a shadow of its former self, lacking in entertaining characters, and has broadened its scope to include other areas of Scottish life, including politicians (Jonathan Watson as Johann Lamont, pictured above). 

And then of course there was the annual bore-fest that is "JOOLS' ANNUAL HOOTENANNY" (BBC2) featuring the usual tedious parade of Paloma Faith and acoustic bores and the 'whatever happened to?' category this year featured Boz Scaggs. 

Over on BBC1 Scotland, they were bringing the new year in as usual with Jackie Bird hosting "HOGMANAY LIVE".  Yes it was groundhog day as usual: where would a BBC new year celebration be without Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham?? (to non-Scottish viewers, they're a couple of folk musicians who've been on this Hogmanay show since what feels like the dawn of time!)

Viewers in the rest of the UK were meanwhile being treated to a concert by Queen and Adam Lambert on BBC1, interrupted by some fabulous midnight fireworks.  Thanks to our good old Sky box, we caught up with it a bit later.  Of course I was very familiar with Adam's work as a solo artist but mum hadn't seen him before this concert and she was very impressed :)  Of course no-one will ever replace Freddie Mercury, no-one would want to, but Adam does a magnificent job as a guest vocalist and I couldn't imagine anyone doing a better job. 

Just when you thought it was safe to return to Torquay, yes "THE HOTEL" (Channel 4) is back!  Presumably to the annoyance of tourism bosses, and to the entertainment of everyone else, former hotel owner Mark Jenkins is back this time as entertainment manager at another hotel.  Presumably, fun and frolics will ensue, although the more I watch this programme the more I suspect there's a very strong "constructed reality" element to the show.

Of course it goes without saying that the real highlight of my festive season was watching the second and third night of "FESTIVALI I KËNGËS 53" (TVSH) - I missed the first night because I was watching the Belarus final of course.  And even after all these years blogging and tweeting I still get massively starstruck - FiK finalist Lindita Halimi retweeted one of my messages and I thought that was terrific!

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