Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: March 2015

It's been all about extremes this month.  Let's start with "THE BILLION POUND HOTEL" (Channel 4) a documentary about the now 15 year old Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai - which we all know better as "the one that looks like a big sail".  Never mind big sail, this one's all about the big bucks with the 'Royal Suite' which will cost you no less than £10,000 per night.  As with Richard E Grant's hotel series over on Sky Atlantic, it's interesting to get a glimpse of how the other half live but ultimately you feel rather dirty at the end of it all, when you are living in a country where food banks are now the rule rather than the exception.

One very sad aspect of economic doom and recession is a 21st century fixture on every high street, the ubiquitous pawn shop/money shop. "CASHING IN" (BBC Scotland) focused on two branches of Cash Converters.  Media reaction was pretty mixed, as is the case these days with any of these programmes about the grittier side of life in Scotland ("The Scheme" and "The Street" being previous examples) which the media often struggles to confront.  The nature of this business can leave a bad taste in the mouth, and in the hands of certain other channels I would have expected something in the style of those sensationalist "Romanian Immigrant Mother of Six on Benefits and Proud" documentaries cluttering the schedules of certain TV channels at the moment; these kinds of shows just have me reaching for the off button.  However this one stayed on the right side of humanity and explored some of the human stories behind those who rely on the pawn shops to scrape by.

Our local TV channel STV Glasgow has recently had a slight revamp of its schedule.  The most significant change is that the flagship magazine show "THE RIVERSIDE SHOW" has been cut to an hour every weeknight.  I think that's been a positive move: it's leaner, less bloated and although it's still a bit low-budget, two-couches-on-the-Clyde chat show fare (hosts David and Jennifer pictured above) but the filmed segments now seem to have more populist, topical appeal.  I was initially very critical of this show when it began last summer as much of the show just consisted of posh students trying to outdo each other's posh Kelvinside accents.  It's better now.  (No offence to posh Kelvinside students).  I haven't seen anything on STV Edinburgh yet, the latest 'local TV' channel however I'm guessing it'll be like STV Glasgow with different accents :)

I really enjoyed "TOM FELTON MEETS THE SUPERFANS" (BBC Three).  A very timely screening of a documentary about, yes, superfans, in the week when the One Direction dream began to unravel with Zayn Malik's departure, breaking millions of teenage hearts in the process.  In this documentary the former Harry Potter star explored the world of super fandom, with some initial puzzlement, and he also tried to understand the motivation for one of his own superfans, Tina.  It would have been very easy to take a cynical approach, but happily this turned out to be a warm and quite touching exploration of fandom, with a large dose of empathy sadly lacking in much of today's attempts at documentary making.

What's my favourite programme at the moment?  "30 DEGREES IN FEBRUARY" (Sky Arts) which is the latest Nordic import - an SVT drama from 2012 which sneaked on to the TV schedule without any fanfare.  The mean streets of a Swedish crime thriller are swapped for sunnier climes, Thailand to be precise, and there are three story strands about people looking for a new life in paradise, only for the dream to turn into a nightmare.  I don't know what kind of viewing figures this show is getting, but I'm totally hooked and it has engaged me from the start.

Unlike that much-hyped big bucks made-for-Sky drama "FORTITUDE" (Sky Atlantic).  I couldn't get into this show at all and didn't last beyond the first episode.

Fancy a decent biopic?  Look no further than "GOOD VIBRATIONS" (BBC2), which was a very interesting film based on the life of Terri Hooley, who was a key figure in the Belfast punk scene with his record shop and label which gave the movie its title.  They may not have had much commercial impact but their importance went beyond the charts and tried to unite both sides of the divide through music.  A very good film with an excellent performance by Richard Dormer in the lead role of the punk pioneer.

Finally, I couldn't go without mentioning series 2 of "THE MUSKETEERS" (BBC1) which has now ended.  Me being me, I have only just started watching the second series (bad fan!) but you won't be surprised to learn that I'm still hooked: swashbuckling fun - check! Luke Pasqualino and Santiago Cabrera - check!  Ohhh yesss.....welcome back Musketeers :)

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