Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: April 2015

Of course there's only one story in town.  The TV controllers have been rubbing their hands with glee yet again as what has felt like an interminable election campaign has meant all politics all the time. OK admittedly I've watched a couple of the debates (including the ITV debate, pictured above), but you really have to draw a line somewhere.  More than ever, this election campaign seems to have been more about childish bickering and point-scoring rather than policies, but then again I guess that probably fits in with the general dumbing-down of everything else in our lives these days...

Travel shows.  There used to be lots of them on TV, from 'Holiday' to 'Wish You Were Here'.  I've never seen Richard Ayoade before but my research tells me that he's been in loads of stuff on the telly, including something called "Gadget Man" so someone had an idea to send him off to various European cities, (accompanied by a different travelling companion every week) and call it "TRAVEL MAN" (Channel 4).  This is being favourably compared to the unforgettable "An Idiot Abroad" and that's a pretty good comparison.  Mr Ayoade is that rarity on TV these days - an intelligent and funny presenter - and is a refreshing change from all the so-called 'celebs' cluttering up our screens. This one, I think, can run and run: please take a note, Channel 4 - give us more of this and less of the sensationalist gutter-level so-called 'documentaries'.

Which brings me to...well, there is an intelligent, thought-provoking documentary to be made about the travelling community, but while we wait for that, "MY BIG FAT GYPSY GRAND NATIONAL" (Channel 4) combined the topicality of Grand National week with, appropriately, flogging yet another dead horse in this franchise which is now well past its sell-by date. 

Back to travel, and another travel-themed series which caught my eye in March and April was "ELAINE C SMITH'S BURDZ EYE VIEW" (STV) which followed the popular Scottish comedienne/actress on tour in various locations including Oban, Rothesay and North Berwick, whilst getting a flavour of the various Scottish locations which she visited.  My main problem with the series was that the episodes were just too short (in the Monday night 8pm 'This Is Scotland' slot on STV) and a longer programme could maybe have done the locations more justice.  

"CORONATION STREET" (ITV) - perma-scowl Faye's 'unexpected' pregnancy leading to Owen's departure; Sarah (-Lou) Platt's return from Italy with her bitchy doppelganger daughter Bethany; David and comedy gangster Callum's feud.....it's less like Corrie and more like Hollyoaks these days as there seems to be too much emphasis on the younger characters.  However it looks as if Roy might finally be getting a new story, which is good, as he continues to act everyone off the screen.  Corrie continues its downward slide on a very slippery slope, and news of yet another fire/explosion at the centre of the traditional 'Britain's Got Talent week' just makes my heart sink.

The dumbing-down of TV documentaries depresses me.  However even these days there are still some documentaries with the power to shock,  But who'd have thought we'd get such a thing from BBC3?  "REGGIE YATES' EXTREME RUSSIA" explored aspects of life in Putin's Russia.  It was certainly a brave choice sending a black guy to meet nasty Nazi nationalists with a bizarre washing machine approach to multiculturalism - on learning of Yates' own mixed race ancestry, the response was "you can't wash white clothes with colours" and going on to describe mixed race people as "freaks".  It was certainly one of the most awkward moments and I genuinely felt worried for Reggie's safety.  "(Russia)....isn't used to people who look like me".  I don't know who had this idea, but it was brave, crazy and ballsy.  The nationalists were chilling, and 'knife fighting club' was shocking. The second documentary in the series looked at the oppression of gay people in Russia and was equally shocking.  Finally, the third episode focused on a more frivolous topic - modelling - but it too had a dark side.  

A fascinating, thought-provoking but also upsetting documentary on BBC2 - "KILL THE CHRISTIANS" was about the threat to Christians living in the Middle East, as ISIS runs riot in that part of the world.

You would need to have lived on Mars to have escaped all those horrible documentaries about immigrants/benefits/gypsies/all or some of the above.  But free movement is a two way street, no matter what Farage and his cronies might say.  And what if the 'immigrants' are British, and the locals are raising the same kind of issues cropping up in our own immigration 'debate'?  "COSTA DEL SOL: LAST BRITS STANDING" (BBC1) profiled a group of various expats who went over to the Costa del Sol to make a new life....and then the recession hit.  In the end, the bars closed, leaving the youngsters to come home and seek work, whilst the older residents searched for new ways to make a quick Euro - whether it was fish and chips or jive dance classes - with varying degrees of success.

"30 DEGREES IN FEBRUARY" (Sky Arts) came to the end of its first series and I was genuinely sad to see it end.  I didn't think I'd enjoy a series about the trials and tribulations of Swedes in Thailand, but it became must-see viewing.  This was an incredibly engaging series which made me care about the characters, culminating in a very moving final couple of episodes.  I did a bit of research and found out that a second series is finally in production.  Fingers crossed it eventually makes it over here so that we get to find out what happened next to the characters who made series 1 so special, including Oh and Glenn (pictured above).

Subtitled drama fans have a new series to enjoy: "1992" (Sky Arts) is a Sky Italia original production, about the battle against political corruption in that particular calendar year.  There are several different storylines and it took me a few weeks to work out who everyone was, but I'm getting into it now.  It may lack the magic of some of my subtitled favourites but I'm going to stick with it anyway.

Finally, something more lightweight: we're hooked on the repeats of the Bradley Walsh era of "WHEEL OF FORTUNE" (Challenge) - believe it or not, from 1997! - and if you haven't had your fill by the greatness of Bradley then, the double bill is then followed by the original (pre-Sinnerman) series of "THE CHASE" which is filling the gap nicely as our teatime favourite is currently on a break and "THE PAUL O'GRADY SHOW" is back on ITV for a while.  At the end of the day though, despite O'Grady's best efforts, it's a chat show and it therefore follows that it's a plug-fest.  If guests have a new TV show, or book, or film etc you can be sure they'll be on this show to plug it!

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