Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: May-June 2017

Top pick this past month?  A German-language drama series on Netflix - "THE SAME SKY".  If you liked "Deutschland 83" last year on Channel 4 - I loved it - then this is well worth watching.  Set a decade earlier, in the summer of 1974, this ZDF series written by no less than esteemed British TV writer Paula Milne, and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel of "Downfall" fame) focuses on a little-known aspect of the Cold War: the East German "Romeo spies" who were sent over the border to seduce women and persuade them into giving away state secrets.  But this is just one part of the story.

There are several other fascinating sub-plots running too, including the talented young swimmer caught up in the doping programme, and the gay teacher desperate to reunite with his true love in the west - but needs to dig a tunnel to get there.  It's an excellent series and if you have Netflix I highly recommend you watch it.  Nordic Noir fans will be interested to see Sofia Helin (third from left, above)  in the role of Lauren, the first secret service employee targeted by "Romeo" Lars.  As is the rule in most modern TV dramas, the numerous loose ends were not tied up by the end of this excellent first series.  It can't end here!  There are so many more stories to be told, so please don't keep us waiting too long for that second series ZDF/Netflix!

After a 5 month break, I decided to return to "CORONATION STREET" (ITV) on its annual "big week" which as usual coincided with the week of "Britain's Got Talent" live shows.  This time round the big stories were the Bethany Platt grooming storyline (Bethany and her abuser Nathan pictured above), the lead-up to the decision of Nick Tilsley to leave Weatherfield, after a ridiculous episode in which he was trapped in quicksand and saved by enemies Peter Barlow and Steve McDonald, and the conclusion of the "Who Pushed Ken?" storyline (which I had missed over those months I didn't watch the show).  It will be fascinating to see where they take the character of Ken's son Daniel, who has the potential to become one of the show's most complex characters; a nice change from many of the one-dimentional characters polluting the show.  Now we have a couple of promising new storylines - Phelan's discovery that he has a daughter, Nicola; and Eva's discovery of Aidan's affair with Maria. A delicious revenge storyline in prospect, then!

The Bethany storyline attracted a lot of media attention lately.  But the fact remains that it can only go so far, due to the show's pre-watershed slot.  For a more brutal take on the horrific impact of grooming, there was the BBC1 drama series "THREE GIRLS" based on the true story of the three vulnerable teenagers who were the victims of long-running abuse by grooming gangs in Rochdale. This story highlighted that the police and other services did not cover themselves in glory.  It took the efforts and hard work of a brave and fearless youth worker, Sara Rowbotham, to finally achieve justice for these young women.

"TANNADICE '87" was an entertaining documentary on BBC Alba which commemorated the 30th anniversary of Dundee United's UEFA Cup run of that year.  Although I'm not a United fan, I distinctly remember being caught up in the hysteria around that time and cheered them on to the final. Those were very different times of course, when a team exclusively composed of Scottish players, managed by one of Scottish football's toughest taskmasters of that time (Jim McLean), could make it all the way to a European final.  Sadly the fairytale had an unhappy ending as although they made it as far as the final, they lost out in the end to their opponents IFK Gothenburg.

Not only are we halfway through the year already, but in the real-time reruns of "TOP OF THE POPS" (BBC4) we have now arrived at 1984.  Each new TOTP year brings a must-see documentary going behind the scenes of the year's music scene.  In the real world it was a very turbulent year - the miners' strike and the growing threat of the Cold War - meanwhile TOTP was at the height of its studio party days, with clowns, balloons, attention seeking dancers, and pop in its prime.  "THE STORY OF 1984" had everything from Frankie Goes to Hollywood (above) to Hi-NRG, one man electro bands, new jazz to Nena to music with a message and ending the year with Band Aid.

Talking of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, I probably lost count of the amount of times I played the 12" version of "Two Tribes" over and over again that's still one of my favourite songs of all time.

I am probably too old to accept streaming as any kind of substitute for owning physical/downloaded copies of music, and I have a nostalgic yearning for times when music seemed to matter more than it does these days. "ALL THINGS MUST PASS: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOWER RECORDS" was a fascinating documentary which you would usually expect to turn up on BBC4 but it was actually broadcast over on Sky Arts which also has built up an impressive musical catalogue.  This chain, which evolved from humble beginnings in Sacramento, California, eventually became a US giant and even expanded to the UK in the '90s, including a shop in Argyle Street in Glasgow.  For those of us of a certain age, this documentary was a warm piece of nostalgia; for those of a younger, different generation thay may not understand the importance of what record shops meant to us, it was probably a strange history lesson. Essential viewing.


On to some older stuff now: I've been stockpiling several films and series and am finally getting round to watching them.

Let's go back to just before Christmas 2016 and the long-awaited second series of "HUMANS" (Channel 4).  After that excellent first series, this one took a while to get going; once it did, however, it was gripping viewing.  Fans of "Nashville" might be interested to know that Sam Palladio (Gunnar) had a role in this series as a cafe owner who had a relationship with Mia.

It is a credit to all the actors involved in "Humans" that those playing the Synths are so authentic that you often forget they are only acting.  A third series is on the way next year.

"PRIDE" (BBC2) was screened around Christmas 2016 and has been on my Tivo box since that time.  It is a lovely, warm feelgood film and even more remarkable is that it is a true story - "Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners" was a real organisation set up by a group of activists during the 1984-85 miners' strike.

Unfortunately there were other things happening in the mid-80s - the rise of AIDS for example. Mark Ashton, one of the leaders of the support group in the film, lost his life to AIDS, aged only 26.

I guess that my way of watching TV has changed now: for series on terrestrial/satellite TV, I'd rather record the full series and then watch it at my leisure, whether one or two episodes at a time.  The idea of "binge-watching" is still a bit too much for me, as my attention span isn't that great; however it's nice to know that I can watch a couple of episodes one day and then another couple the next day, without having to wait till the following week for the next episode.

I finally caught up with the third and final series of "BROADCHURCH" (ITV) which was broadcast between February and April of this year.  After that disappointing second series, this was definitely a return to form.  David Tennant and Olivia Colman were back in their leading roles as Hardy and Miller.  Apart from the original characters including the Latimer family, series 3 introduced a new whodunnit storyline, focusing on the rape of Trish Winterman (played by Julie Hesmondhalgh, always remembered as Corrie's iconic Hayley Cropper).  Series 3 captured all the aspects which made that first series so special.  Wisely, the series' creator Chris Chibnall decided that only three series were ever going to be made, so there will be no more Broadchurch.  That's the secret of good TV - leave them wanting more.

Back to the present day now.  The first anniversary of the EU referendum was commemorated by several TV shows.  One of these proved that one of the original reality TV formats still has legs.  "WIFE SWAP - BREXIT SPECIAL" (Channel 4) in which the wife of a remainer family swapped with the wife of a leave family, and each tried to persuade the other family of their point of view.

There were some priceless moments, not least when the remainer wife decided to use a Daily Express featuring a picture of Nigel Farage, for the family dog to, um, do its business on.  The minute the dog finally poo'd on Nigel was priceless.  Talking of that supreme irritant, the wife of the leave family proudly displayed his picture over the fireplace and left it as a gift for the remainer family.  In the end, the picture ended up in the fire...!  In the end they concluded that Brexit may have been a 'class thing', although as a working-class remainer, I still don't get that.

Over on BBC2, there was a slightly offbeat documentary, "BREXIT MEANS BREXIT" where documentary maker Patrick Forbes presented the events of the past year as top-class political farce. Which, depending on your point of view, could be argued that it was.

It's summer of course, which means that BBC1 and ITV have their summertime talent contests keeping the seat warm for yet another autumn and winter of Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor. ITV has "The Voice Kids" which seems to be doing very well with the critics and viewers alike, whilst BBC1 has gone for a show based on the popular movie franchise "Pitch Perfect" where acapella singing groups "riff-off" against each other.  "PITCH BATTLE" is presented by Mel Giedroyc, and the jury members include choir guru Gareth Malone and, inexplicably, Kelis, along with a guest judge every week.  I watched the first couple of instalments but my main criticism is that the show is far too long and drawn-out.  An hour would be enough.  You can't deny the musical talent of all the singing groups who have put so much work into their performances, it's just a shame that they have to compete against each other.

(picture courtesy of

Finally, a tribute to one of Scotland's most popular and enduring duos.  "THE PROCLAIMERS: THIS IS THE STORY" (BBC2 Scotland)  a warm-hearted documentary in which Craig and Charlie were interviewed by superfan David Tennant, commemorated the fact that it was 30 years since the Reid twins' debut album.  Since that time they have enjoyed varying degrees of success, whilst always remaining true to themselves and never needing to compromise their distinctive Scottish accents. Needless to say their music is synonymous with being Scottish: "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" is our unofficial national anthem and no social event is complete without it.  

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