Archive | December, 2013

Mrs Brown’s Boys is TV Christmas No 1.

26 Dec

To me Mrs Brown’s Boys is not a programme I have really got.  It comes across to me a mix of 1970′s northern variety act and a Carry On film, however the rest of the great British nation clearly disagree. Mrs Brown’s Boys was the most watched programme on Christmas Day beating all comers including perennial chart toppers like EastEnders and Dr Who.

Top Ten programmes this Christmas (2013) (Average number of viewers [percentage of viewers])

  1.  9.30pm: Mrs Brown’s Boys – BBC One – 9.4m  [35.5%]
  2.  7.30pm: Doctor Who – BBC One – 8.3m  [30.7%]
  3.  7.30pm: Coronation Street – ITV1 – 7.9m [29.3%]
  4.  8.30pm: EastEnders – BBC One – 7.8m [29%]
  5.  5.00pm: Strictly Come Dancing – BBC One – 7.3m [35.4%]
  6.  6.15pm: Call The Midwife – BBC One – 7.1m [30.1%]
  7.  8.30 pm: Downton Abbey – ITV1 – 6.6m [25.4%]
  8.  3.20pm: Toy Story 3 – BBC One – 6.3m [38.9%]
  9.  3.00pm: The Queen’s Speech – BBC One – 5.7m [36.2%]  /  7.15pm: ITV1 News – ITV1 – 5.7m [23.5%]
  10.  3.10pm: BBC One News – BBC One – 5.6m [37.4%]

 

 

 

 

 

 

ITV…Utopia. Mandela may be dead but Apartheid is still alive…In Australia.

24 Dec

Nieghbours, Bondi beach, Sydney Opera House, the lucky country,an easy going straight talking people. This is the image most of the world has of Australia.  Behind this sunny facade lies a very dark secret, a secret that most Australians profess to be unaware of.

The secret is the shocking treatment of Australia’s indigenous population. John Pilger, an Australian born-journalist, who has lived for many years in the United Kingdom returned to the country of his birth to film this documentary on the treatment of Australia’s first peoples.

It was a hard hitting documentary, and an unusual but welcome scheduling on ITV1 where documentaries are increasingly a very rare sight.

The title of the programme intentionally serves to highlight the glaring inequalities that exists in Australia. Taking it’s name from the town of Utopia, a poor desolate township inhabited by indigenous Australians, bereft of almost any of the facilities we take for granted in the rest of the developed world. The name is like a never ending cruel joke reinforced by the fact that the government appointed white district commissioner despite living in a smallish bungalow enjoys a staggering 18 air-conditioners while the residents of Utopia have no electricity.

In the documentary Pilger interviewed a range of Government officials on the situation with the indigenous peoples, officials who had a direct responsibility for enacting change that had been promised for decades but not delivered, the responses he got were a master class in willful negligence.

In one particular interview a prison official was questioned about what changes she planned to enact after an indigenous Australian was arrested and left in the police van in the middle of the scorching desert sunshine. The coroners verdict was that he slowly roasted to death. No one was arrested and the prison official proudly told Pilger how she has to sent her officers “cultural awareness training” in the aftermath.

We were taken to the Island of Rottnest, today home to a multi million tourist resort and spa. This has been built on the site of one of Australia’s largest indigenous Australian penal colonies, a colony that saw hundreds of prisoners perish due to the brutal conditions. Building a hotel, effectively cementing over the island’s brutal past, is equivalent in terms of sensitivity to say turning Auschwitz or Belsen into a tourist resort.

We are told how the how the the life expectancy of the average indigenous Australian is far less that his white compatriot with a third not living beyond 45.

We are told how in the Northern Territories prisons are being built to solely incarcerate indigenous Australians.

We are told how the Northern Territory imprisons indigenous Australian at a rate  six times greater than that of black people during the  days of apartheid in South Africa.

We see evidence of how the Australian government and press conspired to paint a picture of widespread child abuse having occurred in some communities, suspended civil rights and proceed to arrest many adults and remove their children, a scandal which was ultimately exposed as a cover for a land grab.

We find out that the UN high commissioner on Human Rights has repeatedly censored Australia on the “entrenched racism” in its treatment of indigenous Australians

In all a picture was painted of at best a very dysfunctional relationship between a government and a people it should serve in the way it serves others, and at worst a brutal systematic purposeful campaign that may lead to the extinction of an ancient people.

If there was a problem with the documentary, it was too long, and there was a lot of sermonizing, the facts of the situation on their own were screaming out the message that needed to be told.

If you missed it you can catchup on ITV Player.

 

 

 

Channel 4…Brody is dead. Where does Homeland go from here?

23 Dec

Yesterday we witnessed the shocking finale to the Homeland season 3.

We witnessed the demise of Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), hero, anti-hero, Al Qaeda terrorist, CIA double agent and family man, the man around whom the entire three seasons of Homeland had been written. From the “was he, wasn’t he a terrorist” in season 1, to the Congressman turned double agent in season 2, and it all came to a head in season 3.

In the final episode his fate is sealed when  incoming CIA Director Senator Lockhart (Tracy Letts)  intervenes and overrides the rescue operation put together by Saul (Mandy Pantinkin), Lockhart did this ostensibly to save the newly recruited “asset” Iranian intelligence office Javadi (Shaun Toub), but also Brody returning to the US would give rise to too questions better left unasked.

So far away in Iran at the crack of dawn on the outskirts of Tehran,  Brody is taken out before a mob of braying Iranians and hung to death, dangling from a rope tied to a construction crane. With his death the main storyline that has links all three series ends.

We know there is a  season 4 coming in 2014, but what can it offer. There is almost certainly  no Brody, although the internet is awash with rumours suggesting that he may have somehow survived his hanging, and will be back. Personally I doubt that, I think Season 3 which featured many episodes without Brodie, purposely moved us away from the dying embers of the original stroyline to a new focus of what is becoming a CIA procedural drama.

If Brodie’s gone it is likely so will his daughter, Dana (Morgan Saylor), his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin), his son (Jackson Pace) and Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) his Marine Buddy and any other characters only close to the Brody storyline.

Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) went a while a go so we are left with no more prime time baddies from the three seasons, and we never got to find out who was the CIA mole.

We still have Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) and Saul and all indications is that the new season will be built around them.

Essentially the whole programme is set up for what is typically referred to in the US as a re-boot. An opportunity to reshape the whole focus and dynamics of the programme.  The danger is if it just becomes another procedural drama without a compelling story it could be the beginning of a gradual ratings slump.

Links
Relive the drama with the Homeland – Season 1-2 on DVD and Homeland – Season 3 on DVD from Amazon.co.uk

 

BBC1…Fern Britton meets Christine Ohuruogu

22 Dec

Christine Ohuruogu is arguably the most successful female athlete the United Kingdom has ever produced, more successful than Jessica Ennis, Mary Peters, Sally Gunnell, Denise Lewis or even Kelly Holmes, but a casual observer of athletics would never know that.

To say she has a very low key profile would be an over statement, why is that?  This is a lady who has won two consecutive Olympic medals, a gold in Beijing 2008 and a silver in London 2012, she has won five World Championship medals stretching from 2005 to this year across the 400 m individual and 400m relay events, and also numerous other medals in Indoor, European and Commonwealth Championships.

In BBC1′s series Fern Britton Meets, Fern set out to find what was the story behind Christine Ohuruogu.

One of the reasons that has long been given as the reason for the public and media’s reluctance to embrace Christine as a British sporting icon was the her ban in 2006 for missing three drug tests.

That headline alone meant she got tagged alongside athletes who were known to intentionally and repeatedly cheat, but in doing so it did her a massive disservice and harm to her reputation.

Most people would have never read the detail of the report that followed the investigation into her missed drug tests. If they had they would have read this

On the occasion of the third missed test, she failed to notify testers of a switch of training venue to Crystal Palace when she discovered her usual base at Mile End Stadium was hosting a school sports day.

But just nine days earlier, at the European Championship trials in Manchester, Ohuruogu had been asked to give a sample to testers after finishing fifth in the 200m. It came back negative.

Then, three days after the missed test, she was tested again, this time at the British Grand Prix at Crystal Palace, where she had finished last. Again, the results were negative.

and this

“In fairness, the committee should make clear its view as to the limited degree of fault attributed to her. This was a minor unintentional infraction of the regime due only to forgetfulness.

There is no suggestion, nor any grounds for suspicion, that the offence may have been deliberate in order to prevent testing. The omissions are too haphazard for any such suspicion to arise.

“The athlete was tested negative on several occasions during this period and has always co-operated with doping control officers. She did notify changes to her schedule on many occasions but failed in these three instances. Those failures are understandable given all the circumstances.

“Accordingly, if the committee had… a discretion to order a fair penalty, we would have imposed a sanction of three months, consistent with the [World Anti Doping Agency] code. But… the committee is obliged under IAAF rules to impose a fixed penalty of one year’s ineligibility.”

However in the frenzy of the sound bite driven media world we live in detail is often the first victim.

Fern sought out explore this and other issues with Christine. What we got was a calm, humble and articulate athlete. A woman who does not need the oxygen of media publicity to thrive, and arguably seeks to avoid it. Her bedrock was built on three things, a tight-knit family, a strong religious faith, and a bond with her community.

Her faith in her innocence saw her through the dark days of her ban from her athletics, and the belief of the people who surrounded her helped propel her back into the upper echelons of the sport she loves.

She may never become the face of athletics in the UK, but you got a sense from the interview that her heart does not  lie in that direction. She was seemingly more comfortable going round the schools of Newham her local borough, which she does often, spreading inspirational messages to the next generation of British sportsmen and women.

It may have all been a puff-piece to rehabilitate her image, but I personally came a way with a sense that what we saw was the real Christine Ohuruogu.

Film4… Can Will Ferrell do subtle. “Everything Must Go” says yes!

22 Dec

Will Ferrell has a new movie out, Anchorman 2, so no surprise that Film4 is screening a mini Will Ferrell film festival  to warm us up with a double header. Tonight the first of the two for one Will Ferrell film fiesta was the 2010 film Everything Must Go.

When you see Will Ferrell name on the credits of the film you are pretty much guaranteed no-hold barred, in your face, over the top, frat boy humour. Well you would in most of his films but not Everything Must Go.

I would say this is probably the best Will Ferrell film I have ever watched. It was a subtle portrayal of a man whose life had suddenly and catastrophically fallen to pieces all around him. He lost his job, his wife and his house all on the same day. Forced to leave in the front yard of his old home with old his possessions, he learns to let go of his past both in a literal and metaphorical sense. A drama rather than a comedy it is a studied portrayal of suburban dysfunction.

 

 

Will Ferrell’s performance as a drunken middle aged man whose life should be a suburban dream but is a suburban nightmare is engaging, thoughtful and emotive. Kudos also to Christopher Jordan Wallace (son of the late Rapper Notorious B.I.G) who put in a superb performance as Kenny, a local nieghbourhood kid, who befriends Ferrell and helps him come to terms with his changed life.

BBC3…Chaos and Craic at the Nev’s Call Centre.

18 Dec

The workplace that looks so improbable that you know it can’t be fiction is back.  Nev Wilshire and his boys and girls of the Swansea call centre were back tonight for a one-off Christmas edition.

The Swansea based call centre is chaotic enough during normal times of the year, and with Christmas it doesn’t seem to have brought a break in the constant undercurrent of barely contained disorder that pervades the place. Sadly though once you have got over the initial shock of “are these people really running  a business in this place”, it becomes pretty mundane and to be honest a bit boring.

You still had most of the ingrdients that made it a cult hit when it first hit our screens all those months ago, but the WTF factor has well and truely disappeared.

There were glimpses of what it was like back then,  when we saw grizzly call centre veteran Griff amble in off the street into CEO Nev Wilshire’s old office asking for his old job back, and a loan of eight hundred quid as well. Did Nev bat an eyelid? Nope he gave him both his job back and the money.

Griff had left the call centre to pursue a job as a stand up comedian, but that didn’t work out for him. They do say a lot of comedians are manic depressives in real life, if that were true then I expect Griff to have sell out shows at the London Apollo soon, because a more miserable man I have rarely seen.

He spent most of the episode railing against Christmas and being really surly around the office. In one scene he was called into a manager’s office and reprimanded about his behaviour. His defence was that he was the Christian Ronaldo of the call centre, and his creativity was being constrained. “Would you ask Ronaldo to cut down on the step-overs?” ne asked, no came the reply but we would ask him to cut back on the diving.

There were other elements that had made the Call Centre must-watch TV like the office romance between  Johnny and Jodie, who had hoped to keep it secret but were rumbled when the the gossip column of the staff newspaper dropping hints about it and soon it was all over the call centre. Like all things Call Centre related it was transient and before the end of the programme they had both gone their separate ways. Again the whole thing lacked the oomph of the earlier episodes.

Lastly we got one of the old reliables perma-tanned Hayley the tea-lady who  usually seems to spend half her time at work organising social events, so no suprise that the planned Christmas party falls within her remit. That was pretty much all we got from her, none of the hyperactivity, none of pranks. She was, dare I say it, just normal.

Fans of the show might have enjoyed it, but only because it was familiar. If you were watching for the first time, you would be forgiven for wondering what the hype was about.

 

BBC4…It is ‘Hej Hej’ from Borgen

16 Dec

All good things come to an end and so it was with Borgen.  The latest in the Scandi-dramas that has enthralled audiences of BBC4 has said hej hej and “tak for the memories”.  Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and all the other characters that made staying in on a Saturday evening and watching BBC4, or at least catching up on BBC iPlayer  the next day, a worth while event.

I look back over the three series and pick out my highlights of the show.

Villain of the show

There were three main contenders; smarmy yuppie hipster and TV executive Alex Hjort (Christian Tafdrup), irascible old school right winger Svend Åge Saltum (Ole Thestrup), and slimy politician turned tabloid newspaper editor Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind). Saltum arguably is not a villain in the truest sense of the word, as despite his odious reactionary beliefs he ultimately represents a not insubstantial section of the electorate that share that belief. That leaves Laugesen and Hjort, and it is no contest. As shallow, ratings obsessed and cowardly Alex Hjort was in comparison with Laugesen he was a rank amateur. From hounding a former rival into suicide, to sending his lackeys to stalk Birgitte’s daughter at the hospital she was being treated, Laugusen’s dark shadow spanned the series and the fear of his newspaper Ekspres was often the beginning of wisdom in Borgen.

Episode of the show

There were two stand out episodes for me. The first was the episode in which Laugesen set up former Labour party rival Troels Höxenhaven (Lars Brygmann) with a male prostitute. An event which ultimately led to Höxenhaven’s suicide. It was a dark episode. The other contender for me was when Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) shared the deepest darkest secrets of his life with his on-off girlfriend Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen). He couldn’t bring himself to talk about the abuse he received as a child but the scene where he left the few things he kept from his childhood for Katrine, and these detailed his abuse, as she read through them the emotions that evoked were very powerful. Two strongly emotive episodes that epitomised how good Borgen is. Of the two the Kasper Juul story for me was a good as Borgen would ever get.

Miss of the show

Borgen is great, but when you film 30 episodes you are bound to get something that is not right, at least not by the high standards the show had set. There is only one winner here, when Borgen did an expected segway into what could only be described as an opening scene of a 1970′s Scandinavian adult movie. Birgitte’s marriage had fallen apart, problems at home were overwhelming her, and to cap it all her sink was leaking. In desperation she calls on her official chauffeur to help out. As he fixes the sink, Birgitte’s seduces and ultimately gets to have her wicked ways with him. Just wasn’t right. The other close contender for the miss of the season was when Borgen tried to go all “West Wing” on us with the episodes around the fictional country of Kharun. Borgen does not really work well outside the confines of Christiansborg.

Wimp of the show

Two men stand out, Troels Höxenhaven, the politician, a man who felt he had a right to power but struggled to seize the moment as opportunities came and went. Torben Friis (Søren Malling), the TV editor, bullied and victimised by his management and almost losing his family and career in the process. Both men were inherently weak, but Torben did find some sort of redemption when he eventually stood his ground against his boss Alex Hjort. Höxenhaven never found the opportunity to redeem himself.

Hero of the show

The obvious choice would be Birgitte Nyborg on the back to her improbable rise to power, almost performing the same trick twice, despite never winning an outright majority. Her fairy tale political life however would almost certainly have come to nought without the presence of her right hand man Bent Sejrø (Lars Knutzon). Serjo was clearly not a man you would call a slave to fashion, with his scruffy beard, partially knotted ties and all round scruffy demeanor, but what he was was Birgitte’s moral compass and mentor. Whatever trials and tribulations she faced she knew there was always someone she could count on and that was Bent.

Re-live the best moments from Borgen with with Season 1, 2 and 3 on DVD from Amazon.

Channel 4…The Eloquence Of Chris Hadfield on Sunday Bunch

15 Dec

Although the TV channels never come out and say so, chat shows are almost primarily there to help promote new movies, albums or TV Shows. So you regularly get your famous Hollywood Movie stars coming into London to spend a few days warming the sofas across various studios, and being asked the same questions by the likes Graham Norton, Alan Carr, Jonathan Ross and all the other chat shows on TV and radio.

Some handle it quite professionally and you forget they are simply trying to sell you something, others don’t try that hard and can come across as a bit phlegmatic, like some of the infamous Bruce Willis interviews.

 

 

So it is really refreshing when you have someone on the sofa who is super-enthusiastic about what they do, and you would struggle to find someone more enthusiastic, more charismatic or more engaging than Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

You may remember him from this video, singing the David Bowie hit Space Oddity aboard the International Space Station.

 

 

If that video was not enough to convince you that this was a man who is really passionate in a fun way about what he does, then his appearance on Channel 4′s Sunday Brunch programme this morning served to further confirm this.

He had the hosts Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer, and fellow guests Little Mix, Dan Snow and Kim Wilde entranced as he explained the wonders of weightlessness in space, how you have to relearn to lift your tongue when speaking after you come back to Earth from space, and how re-entry and landing aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft was like being in a car accident.

If you missed it it is worth catching up on 4oD just for the Chris Hadfield segment.

ITV…Is The X-Factor in danger of becoming The Ex-Factor?

14 Dec

When The X Factor first hit our screens way back in 2004 the world was a different place,  “twerking” and “selfies” were unknown to the masses,  Facebook had just been invented and pretty much no one outside her family and friends had heard of Nicole Scherzinger.

With its ability to create instant success and celebrity, its unashamed and relentless use of the “sob story” to try to create emotional connections with the contestants, and the unleashing of Simon Cowell’s pantomime Mr Nasty persona, the basis for a Saturday night blockbuster were laid.

The first few series achieved good, but not sensational ratings , it still needed something extra, a winner that could step out of the shadow of the show to become a credible artist in their own right. In 2006 the show hit jackpot when it discovered London receptionist, Leona Lewis, who went on to wow the X-Factor audience, the nation and the world. The X-Factor had produced the global star it desperately wanted.

This also proved to be the fillip needed to create a breakout in ratings for the show as it went from strength to strength trashing all comers in the TV ratings battle. So dominant was the show between 2007 and 2011, that for many Saturday night became simply The X-factor night.

The peak of the show in audience figures terms, but not necessarily in quality, was the  Matt Cardle’s triumph in 2010 where the final show saw a TV audience of 19.4 million, a staggering 30% of the UK’s entire population, tuning in.

Those were the glory days, since then by its own very high targets the show has waned, changes to the show’s format, and tinkering with the judges and contestant selection has failed to stop the drift. While it still pulls in an average of 9.57 million people each week, a figure that would make any other show on UK TV envious, it is failing to fulfill its reason for existence, to dominate prime time Saturday night TV.

This year’s final featuring prison office and favourite to win, Sam Bailey , dreadlocked west country singer Luke Friend and the petite Nicholas McDonald are a trio that would probably be loved by grand-mums and grand-dads across the nation, but being one of the plainest set of finalist ever they are unlikely to reverse the declining trend.

ITV’s contract allows for three more series but it remains to be seen whether the show has enough steam to last that long.

X-Factor’s Average Audience Ratings (2004 – 2012)

Series 1 (2004) – 7.4 million
Series 2 (2005) – 8.73 million
Series 3 (2006) – 8.27 million
Series 4 (2007) – 8.57 million
Series 5 (2008) – 10.51 million
Series 6 (2009) – 13 million
Series 7 (2010) – 14.13 million
Series 8 (2011) – 12.36 million
Series 9 (2012) – 9.63 million

ITV…Best of Enemies – Roy Keane vs Patrick Viera

12 Dec

There was a time when the English Premier League was dominated by two teams, Manchester United and its London rival, Arsenal FC. For close to a decade, between 1995 and 2003, the Premier League title was swapped back and forth between these two teams.

Many great players featured in those title-winning teams, Theirry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Eric Cantona, David Seaman, David Beckham, Paul Scholes amongst others. At the beating hearts of the two teams stood two men, Roy Keane and Patrick Viera. They were both midfielders, both captains and both very, very very tough tackling, dominant and abrasive footballers.

Whenever the football fixtures brought Manchester United and Arsenal together during those years, the match was guaranteed to be explosive and not just in the football sense. In these matches Viera and Keane were Centurions leading out their legions into battle and both men led from the front not shying away from confrontation both on and off the pitch. Their most famous confrontation was on October 2004, when a ruckus in the tunnel at the end of the game involved lots of shoving and barging and slices of pizza being used as weapons, and invariably dubbed Pizza-gate, with Keane and Viera very much in the mix of things.

Ten years later both men are back face to face, much older, a few pounds heavier and a lot more mellower than their younger selves. The setting was a disused warehouse somewhere, both men squared up to themselves, smiled.. and then began an hour long reminiscence of thier days in top flight football, this was ITV4′s documentary Best Of Enemies.

It was clear that there was much mutual respect between the two, and both saw their exploits over the years as a necessary means to an end, rather than an end in itself. They talked about their relationship with their respective Managers, the best players they played with and the battles between Arsenal and Manchester United.

If you are football fan this is an entertaining documentary and worth a watch. IF you missed it is still on ITV Player.