Archive | November, 2013

TV Advert…Black Friday in the UK ??? Say it isn’t so Asda

27 Nov

If you have ever been to America around this time of the year you are guaranteed two things, lots and lots of Turkey and Black Friday. Yes, it is the Thanksgiving weekend in America, when our cousins across the ocean celebrate the arrival of the pilgrim fathers in the new world.

Traditionally the celebration falls on the fourth Thursday of November and across the USA millions of Turkeys are grilled, roasted and fried in celebration. In recent years the holiday weekend has taken a more commercial significance. Specifically the Friday after Thanksgiving has become the biggest shopping day in the American retail calendar. The local news there is regularly full of frenzied shoppers massing to snap up heavily discounted bargains.

All well and good for good people of America, but what does it have to do with us? And that’s a question for you ASDA! Most people know ASDA is a subsidiary of the American retail giant Walmart, but that’s no excuse for bringing this obscure, and I would argue unwanted tradition, from across the Atlantic.

 

 

This week they have been running a series of adverts promoting their Black Friday deals, adding further to the Americanisation of the UK and bringing forward the start of the peak of wallet-sapping Christmas shopping season to mid-November.

That’s a no from me.

BBC2….QI XL Kit and Kaboodle

24 Nov

As we all go through life we generally collect more than we let go, relationships, assets, debts, regrets, memories, kids and also lots and lots of sometimes useful, sometimes useless facts as well as things we think are facts but actually aren’t.

The last two things we collect for almost no reason other than we can’t stop collecting them, we find interesting, and maybe even that we live in hope that we might just one day we could catch an edition of the QI and smugly say to friends or family as Stephen Fry reels out some incredibly obscure snippet of information “yes, I knew that, you guys might be surprised but I knew that all along that there are 15 Marsupials for every Australian alive.”

If you are a fan of the all things factual you would no doubt know that BBC2′s QI (Quite Interesting) is back for its eleventh series, the K Series.

I find the show, for want of a better descriptive phrase, quite interesting but only when the panel is a good mix of comedic talent and purveyors of esoteric nuggets of information. Masters of this fine balance are folks like David Mitchell, Sandi Toksvig and Bill Bailey
.

Sometimes like this episode there is too much “comedic” talent at the expense of amusing but informative anecdotes or contributions from the panel. The “over-comedic” panel was the Australian comic Colin Lane, Ross Noble and Noel Fielding, alongside Stephen Fry and his regular sidekick Alan Davies.

One interesting nugget at the beginning of the show was the connection between Colin Lane, Alan Davies, Stephen Fry and Noel Fielding. Colin Lane was the winner of the prestigious Perrier Comedy award at the Edinburgh festival in 1994, and who was the runner up? None other than Alan Davies. Alan Davies recounted how on a trip to Australia he stayed at Colin’s house in Melbourne and woke up one morning to find the Perrier award on his beside, a bit of one-upmanship from Colin.

To add to the panel’s award related navel grazing Stephen reminded how he had won the inaugural Perrier award, and that Noel Fielding had won the best newcomer in 1998. With the panel’s ego suitable massaged the programme proper began.

The edition was amusing in parts, but was largely dominated by Ross Noble’s scatter gun comedy, you could sense almost at times some exasperation on Stephen Fry’s part as he wanted to push on with the programme but had to wait as Ross unleashed another bout of Zany-ness. Noel Fielding was also a culprit in the zany-ness, the difference was Ross was occasionally funny, Noel just wasn’t.

Alan was Alan, happy and comfortable in his role being a counterfoil to Stephen. Colin was quite quiet and probably just overwhelmed by all the Zany-ness flying about. He did tell a good joke on how you would know you are being followed by a Gay Shark.

Some of the facts we learnt.

  • Cat litter (or kitty litter to fit in with the “K” theme) was used by American tobacco manufacturers to bulk up to cigars as it was cheap, odourless, burnt and was tax free.
  • Churchill put a needle in his cigars so the ash never fell away and created  increasingly long finger of ash at the end of the cigar often mesmerising his audience.
  • Mint cake was not, as many people would assume, the thing that made Kendal famous, rather it has had the longest running snuff manufacturing in the world starting back in in 1750
  • The 18th century courtesan Kitty Fisher was reputed to be the first celebrity in modern British history on account of her having gone “commando” in St James Park, London.
  • The follies of the British K Class submarine were discussed. A submarine which relied on a steam engine submarine and thus needed funnels, a clear disadvantage in a submarine’s design especially when diving.
  • Flat-pack furniture was invented in 1956. One of the first Ikea employees, Gillis Lundgren, came up with the idea of flat-pack furniture when he took the legs off a table to transport it in a car.
  • Although the word salary is derived from salt, Roman soldiers were never paid in salt.

BBC4 …Borgen is back for Season 3.

24 Nov

Some men change their party for the sake of their principles… others their principles for the sake of their party.

The much lauded Danish political thriller Borgen is back on BBC4 for a third season. When we left the denizens of Christiansborg last season Birgitte Nyborg (“Sidse Babett Knudsen“) was a woman on the verge of a complete breakdown. Her personal life was in tatters, her was daughter fighting depression and her political career was in turmoil. The season ended with Birgitte giving a Churchillian speech as she leads her troops into a general election.

In Season 3 we rejoin Borgen two and a half years on. Birgitte has lost power, she has left the political arena and is now a well-paid speaker in business circles sitting on several boards, and is no longer leader of the party.

The other characters in Borgen have all gone through Major life changes. Kasper Juul (“Pilou Asbæk“) and Katrine Fønsmark (“Birgitte Hjort Sørensen“) moved in together, had baby and have now split up. Lars Hesselboe (“Søren Spanning“), leader of the Liberal Party is now the Prime Minister in coalition with the Moderates.

Birgitte may have left politics but Politics hasn’t left her. Her mentor and close political associates Bent Sejrø (“Lars Knutzon“) worries about the direction the Moderate Party is drifting away from its centrist political ideology as it supports the right wing Liberal party in government.

Birgitte is eventually convinced to stage a comeback and fight for the leadership of the Moderate Party, she does and loses, and is now left with only one choice if she wishes to remain relevant in politics, form her own Political Party.

This sets the tone for the Season 3, the emergence of her new Party the New Democrats. A party made entirely in her image and further step in the evolution of Birgitte from a woman who wanted to change politics to a woman who is changing politics to suit her personal ambition.

BBC2…Up In The Air (Movie)

17 Nov

Up In The Air is a bitter-sweet tale of modern life. George Clooney is superb in the film as Ryan Bingham, a “Corporate Downsizer” a man whose job is to fire people when the companies they work for don’t have the balls to do the job themselves.

He lives a nomadic existence travelling the length and breadth of the United States like some kind of corporate Anti-Santa Claus leaving shattered dreams and despair in his wake. Not content with this, he also has a career as a public speaker and his theme? Shedding you relationships and travel through life with no “personal baggage”. His one true pleasure in life is pursuing the acquisition of as many air miles as possible.

On the surface you would expect the character to be a grey, grizzled and unfulfilled middle age coporate drone, but that would not be a role for George Clooney. What Clooney brings to the role is a large dose of humanity and allows us to understand that what you do for a living is not always a definition of what you are.

His company pairs him up with Natalie Keener (Anna Kendric), a fresh faced new executive with a big idea to move the company away from face-t0-face firing, to firing people over video conference. Ryan is unconvinced by this idea and agrees to take Natalie on the road to experience the reality of the job they do and unintentionally also giving her an insight into the life he leads.

Firing someone face to face it goes without saying is much harder than you can imagine, and was much harder that anything Natalie was ready for. The whole experience left her distraught especially when one woman she fired  calmly telling Natalie she was going to kill herself.

As they journey across the country Natalie struggles to understand Ryan’s approach to life questioning his relationship-free existence. Along the way they also meet Alex (Vera Farmiga) a fellow traveller with whom Ryan is having a casual relationship.

While all three are getting to know each other Natalie receives a text message from her boyfriend dumping here, an irony given the new system she is championing. As Alex and Ryan try to comfort her the conversation turns to questions of what they are seeking from from life and Alex answers are suggestive of Ryan being the sort of man she would be content with.

Natalie eventually returns to the head office to implement her new system. Ryan on the other hand persuades Alex to accompany him to his sister’s wedding. In a pivotal scene in the movie, his brother-in-law to be is developing cold feet and Ryan contrary to all his has preached and the live he has lived persuades him to go ahead, with a speech emphasising how “everyone needs a co-pilot” and how the “most important moments in life are shared”.

This leaves Ryan thinking of his own life and about Alex, and days later purely on impulse he decides to fly to Chicago to surprise Alex. He arrives at her home and knocks, she opens the door to a background of noisy kids and a less than welcoming look on her face. No words need to be said by either Alex or Ryan. As he turns around to leave, in the background we hear her husband call out “Who was that?” and her answer “Just someone who was lost” and that sums up what Ryan’s life has become and how he has has only just come to realise it.

Natalie learns the woman who threatened suicide actually did, devastated she left the company and her programme was canned. Ryan is last seen receiving an air miles reward and returning to the road.

How would I describe Up In the Air? A dark powerful, character driven and evocative romantic comedy, a reminder of how the convenience of modern life can seduce us away from the things that make us truly happy often until it is too late.

BBC4…Storyville..Hotel Folly (Folie à Deux)

12 Nov

Helen is a middle aged single mum with seven children, a successful business, a comfortable lifestyle and crucially a new relationship.

The new man in her life was John, also middle aged, and a  successful architect and property owner. In her own words they were kindred spirits, and the  meeting of these like minds was to set in motion a series of events with very significant consequences for John, Helen and their families.

It was the Summer of 2007,  the former Chancellor Gordon Brown had promised the country we apparently had seen the end of economic boom and bust, we were also made to believe that centuries of economic orthodoxy had been blown away. Jobs were aplenty and house prices were demonstrating that gravity was for wimps.

It was into this supposed era of eternal sunshine that Helen and John sold practically all they had to buy a run down 72-room historic mansion in York. The plan was to turn the mansion into a luxury hotel. It was at this point that BBC’s Storyville started a documentary detailing the couple’s plans. In the early optimistic days we see discussions with interior decor consultants, builders and project managers, where fees of £50,000 for room decorations are bandied about and borrowings of upto £2 million discussed.

Then came the Credit Crunch, the sense of eternal optimism was blown away. For John and Helen very harsh realities swept in in its place. Suddenly all bank funding dried up and they found themselves stuck with a massive carbuncle that they could not afford to  renovate, and with the housing market pretty much dead, neither could they sell it.

Added to that they also found themselves enmeshed in that most middle-England of problems, neighbourhood boundary disputes. Unfortunately for them the neighbour in this case was the very powerful and very wealthy National Trust.

The film depicted Helen’s acrimonious and often surreal battles with tenants’ of the National Trust’s building intertwined with her and John’s increasingly desperate attempts to keep their hotel project going, and left you with the feeling of crawling gradually towards a precipice.

This slowly evolving documentary was filmed over five years and it documented the travails of woman with a unstoppable will to succeed what ever the cost. We learn at the end that she managed to save the hotel and settle her dispute with the National trust, but she paid a heavy price as John passed away during the filming of the programme. In a sad twist of fate his life insurance helped secure the future of what is now the luxurious hotel Grays Court, York

BBC3…The Revolution Will Be Televised

10 Nov

This is the most hilarious thing I have seen on TV in a very long time. A topical satirical sketch show in the  the best traditions of Dennis Pennis, Chris Morris’s Brass Eye or the early days of Ali G .

The audacity of the some of the sketches was incredible.

How they got away with the Network Rail sketch, where they walked into the companies headquarters and closed three doors for “engineering works”, or even the Nike Store sketch plastering slogans enjoining customers to “Work Hard, Work Hard” a play on the “Work Hard, Play Hard” slogan, but twisted to reflect the working condition of many workers in the South East Asian textile industry.

The “BBC in need” sketch was also genius.

What was particularly funny was often how in the face of what seems like an official request people will agree to even the most outlandish requests as typified by this clip from a earlier episode.

 

 

If you like your comedy topical and laced with social commentary, this BBC 3 comedy (Sunday nights at 10.25) is definitely for you.

ITV…Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway to go on nationwide tour

10 Nov

Ant and Dec together with ITV are taking the successful primetime Saturday night entertainment show “Saturday Night Takeaway“on tour around the country for their next series. The tour starts in Cardiff on the 6th of August and runs through to the 12th of September when it ends at London’s Wembley Arena.

If you fancy being part of the show tickets are now available for the following dates and venues.

Cardiff - Motorpoint Arena (Wednesday 6th August)

Birmingham - LG Arena (Saturday & Sunday 9-10th August)

Leeds - First Direct Arena (Tuesday 12th August)

Manchester - Phones 4U Arena (Friday & Saturday, 15-16th August)

Nottingham - Capital FM Arena (Tuesday 19th August)

Belfast - Odyssey Arena (Friday 22nd August)

Glasgow - The SSE Hydro(Tuesday 26th August)

London - The 02 (Friday and Saturday 29-30th August)

Sheffield - Motorpoint Arena (Tuesday 2nd September)

Newcastle - Metro Radio Arena (Friday – Saturday 5-6th September)

Liverpool - Echo Arena (Tuesday 9th September)

London - Wembley Arena (Friday 12th September)

 

Tickets for the shows go on sale on 8 November at 9am. Visit itv.com for details

Channel4…Introducing the couples watching TV on GoggleBox

10 Nov

I have written a bit about the cult hit that is GoggleBox, and as it rolls through its second season its success doesn’t show any sign of diminishing.  Not only is is show itself proving popular, but the veneer of fame is also spreading to the families who feature on the show.

In a recent article in the London Metro we were taken behind the scenes to meet three of the couples Steph and Dom, Chris and Stephen and Jeff and Tracey.

Steph and Dom


The posh couple who’s night of TV watching is rarely complete with out a tipple from their seemingly endless bar of plenty. Watching them in various states of inebriation only adds to the surrealness of their comments on some of the TV we watch them watching. In the Metro article Steph admits her fondness for Bloody Marys and her dislike for posh faux-reality show Made in Chelsea.

 

Jeff and Tracey are from the other end of the spectrum, permanently ensconced in bed while watching TV, the couple have been unflattering compared to Harry Enfield’s character’s Wayne and Waynetta (from the Harry Enfield and Chums series).  In their defence they claim they have been relegated to the bedroom because their kids have taken control of the TV downstairs. They couple don’t seem to have a problem with the Channel 4 sharing their bedroom TV habits with the rest of the world,  and that’s exactly what we get.

 Stephen and Chris

Friends Stephen and Chris reveal they’re are not under pressure from the programme producers to watch any particular programme, if they find it boring they simply turn it off. Their fame has spread to the outside world, Stephen admits they do get recognised and asked for pictures, but he is still waiting for any real perks from being a minor celebrity.

TV Adverts…Shots fired in the battle of the Christmas TV ads.

9 Nov

As the legendary Glam Rocker Noddy Holder would say “So here it is merry Christmas everybody’s having fun”, especially it seems are the advertising agencies of the big retailers. The last few days have seen them roll out their TV ads in preparation for their busiest time of the year.

The adverts are getting bigger and more expensive each year, and have almost become a Christmas event in their own right.

John Lewis has gone all Disney-esque with a full featured animation (“The Bear and the Hare”) with a sound track from Lily Allen (“Somewhere Only We Know“)

 

 

Morrisons have plumped for popular culture with adorable duo and the nation’s housewife’s favourite, Ant and Dec, fronting the company’s campaign (“Go on…It’s Christmas”). Morrisons also give a nod to Disney with the sound track “Be Our Guest” taken from Disney’s The Beauty and the Beast.

 

 

Meanwhile at M&S homage was being paid to Alice in Wonderland with a Christmas Fairytale themed advert (“Magic and Sparkle”). Featuring Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, David Gandy and Helena Bonham Carter.

 

 

Boots have decided to go all urban with an advert featuring a gift giving geezer. If it weren’t for the snow it could easily be mistaken for a short film on Channel 4′s urban youth season. The advert featured a sound track from Bronski Beat – “Smalltown Boy“.

 

 

For Debenhams their Christmas offering is a traditional “coming home” for Christmas featuring Billie Piper.

 

Even cost-conscious mega discount store Lidl has got in on the act. In their video they bring together the unlikely pairing of a Harry Enfield voice over with a cover of a One Direction track (“Little Things“ notice the subtle pun there). The track, sung by Swedish band  The Majority Says, and the video combine to produce a simple but very effective advert.

 

BBC1…Should I be worried? I think I like Citizen Khan

8 Nov

When Citizen Khan first came on air I thought “Here we go another misguided attempt at multi-culturally diverse programming on BBC1″. Don’t get me wrong there have been great successes like the “The Real McCoy”, “Goodness Gracious Me” and “The Kumars At Number 42“, but there have also been abysmal flops like “The Crouches“.

Which way was Citizen Khan going to go? The first few episodes were not encouraging. With its heavy reliance on stereotypes the programme plunged depths that would have embarrassed even the late Bernard Manning. It was like someone had unearthed a scripts from “Till Death Do Us Part” swapped Alf Garnett and his family with a Pakistani family and voila! we got citizen Khan.

Despite my reservations I think the programme has improved, largely because it has moved away from relying too heavily on stereotypes and racially-tinged jokes (largely with Indians as the butt of the jokes). The humour has become broadly based, drawing on experiences that even if you are not of Pakistani origin you could still find amusing.

Is it great comedy? No I would not say so, but it does still raises the odd chuckle as I watch it. It is also a brave attempt to portray Muslims and Islamic life in a way I can’t recall being done on British TV before.