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Channel 4…Benefits Street. Are kids fair game?

20 Jan

Is Benefits Street using Child Poverty for entertainment?

Benefits Street has been one of the most talked about programmes on TV this year.  Largely in part because of its relentless focus on the some of the least attractive recipients of the welfare system. The sort of people guaranteed to drive middle England apoplectic with rage and have the readers of the Daily Mail spluttering into their cups of tea in fury.

I presume most of the participants in the programme have consented to appearing in the programme, the resultant programme may not be what they expected but it is ultimately with their consent (although I am a bit unsure how they got consent from resident drunk Fungi , who in addition to his love for the amber liquid was revealed to be illiterate).

That though only applies to the adults, todays episode focused on the children of the residents of James Turner street. In doing so it took on a more worrying dimension. The kids are in homes that are portrayed as ranging from mildly dysfunction to a point where you are wondering where the hell are social services.

Ultimately the question is even with the assumed consent of their parents it is right to put these kid’s situation at home on the Network TV for the public’s entertainment? It is no surprise the programme has been dubbed by the rest of the media as benefit porn.

 

Channel 4 …Is “Hostages” the new “Homeland”?

18 Jan

“Homeland” was a ratings winner can “Hostages” replace it?

Channel 4 got a ratings winner with the first season of Homeland, the second and third seasons also did relatively well and the lesson for the schedulers at Channel 4 was that a strong US drama has the potential to be winner in the prime time 9 pm weekend slot.

Step forward Hostages, the new Saturday night US drama on Channel 4. The series debuted last Saturday starring Toni Collette as Surgeon Dr Ellen Saunders, who was to undertake a surgery on the President of the United States. In a bit of politicking the President had decided to have his surgery done in a normal public hospital where Dr Saunders worked, rather than using the ultra secure facilities available to the most powerful man in the world.

We are also introduced to FBI Agent Duncan Carlisle (“Dylan McDermott“). Now his role is pivotal to Hostages and he is initially shown to us as all action good guy, foiling a bank robbery. Soon after the drama turns dark as Dr Ellen Saunders suffers a home invasion and as her family are held hostage, she is told she needs to kill the President by botching the Surgery scheduled for the next day otherwise her family will be killed. The leader of the home invaders being none other than FBI Agent Duncan Carlisle.

Has he gone renegade? Why doesn’t Dr Saunders contact the Secret Service? How will the plot keep us engaged for all full series? We shall no doubt find out.

Channel 4…Benefits Street. Was the law being broken?

8 Jan

Benefits Street… Benefit Voyeurism gone wrong.

When I watch programmes like Benefit Street I feel it is has a clear demographic in mind. The demographic is one of people who are convinced that being on benefits is simply a pathway to criminality, dysfunctional behaviour and a disdain for all civilised social norms.

The Channel 4 documentary which visited James Turner Street, Winlsow Green, Birmingham would have done little if anything to dispel that impression, and plenty to re-enforce it.

So rampant were the suggestions of criminal activity being undertaken, that you would be forgiven for thinking this was just one long re-enactment on CrimeWatch. From  scenes which depicted what seemed like the illegal cultivation of marijuana, through to scenes purporting to show the proceeds of shop lifting, the breaching of  Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) and obtaining money under false pretences, the show wallowed in the criminal aura given off by people it followed in the documentary.

Setting aside the wider question of why the programme failed to show a balanced view of what living on benefits might be like, a more immediate question that came to mind was if the actions they were filming were actual criminal activities, or evidence that criminal activities had taken place, aren’t the producers or film crew legally bound to inform the police as to what they had witnessed and filmed, and did they?

 

 

 

 

Channel 4…The Taste. If The Voice were a cooking programme, it would be this!

7 Jan

The Taste. ‘The Voice’ meets ‘Masterchef’.

  • Three judges…Check!
  • Can’t see the contestants at the beginning…Check!
  • Have to trust their senses alone…Check!
  • Judges compete to select the best and become mentors…Check!
  • Contestants decide when more than one judge wants them…Check!

Sounds like The Voice, looks like The Voice, feels like The Voice, but certainly does not taste like The Voice. The Taste, Channel 4′s much heralded gastronomic reality show hit our screen today and for me it gets a big thumbs up.

I love the judges. Nigella Lawson was imperious despite her recent problems. Anthony Bourdain of Kitchen Confidential fame was suave and urbane, a culinary equivalent of George Clooney. Ludo Lefebvre was a Gallic tour de force. I loved the interaction between the judges, it was competitive without being bitchy. You would expect that though, as all three judges are very accomplished in their own right and really have nothing to prove by grandstanding.

The food, yes it comes out it single bites sizes on a spoon, but some of those dishes looked absolutely mouth watering.  I love the format of the show, judging by taste is what it should be about, not the ‘journey” the contestants have been on – I am talking about you MasterChef!

I think my Tuesday nights are sorted.

Channel 4 …Is Street Magic losing its Mystique?

2 Jan

Magic was once a staple of British TV and  in the seventies and eighties no Saturday night light entertainment schedule was complete without the likes of the late Tommy Cooper, Paul Daniels, Matthew Corbett and other TV magicians. By the nineties as popular taste changed, and the musical hall culture that had driven had driven some much of entertainment in the previous decades waned, so did our taste for these magic shows.

Watching a performer going through his repertoire on a distant stage while we are stuck firmly at a safe distance away in the audience responding to cues from the floor manager was losing its charm. As far as magic acts went we wanted something more immediate, more compelling, more “real”, and with Street Magic we got it.

Street magic as the name implies literally took it performance onto the street. Magicians wondered the streets of New York,  London or any other big city, accosting small groups of people with a selection of magic tricks and it is this close interaction that has given street magic its cachet.

It is not so much the magic that entrances us because we have probably seen similar tricks over the years, it is the reaction of the audience, amazed at what they are seeing at close quarters, the initial confusion as they try to work out what just happened and then the explosion of disbelief as it registers that something “magic” has just happened.

 

 

David Blaine may not have been the first street magician out there, but he is arguably the best known and on New Year’s Day he was back on Channel 4 with a new show “David Blaine: Real or Magic”. Not content with wow-ing mere mortals, he stepped up his game by taking his street magic to a celebrity audience including the likes of Harrison Ford, Will Smith, Kanye West, Kathy Perry and former US President George W. Bush, who got his watch stolen as well.

All well and good and probably a sop to the celebrity obsessed times we live in, but celebrities so use to creating controlled personas for public consumption simply do not give that raw visceral reaction that makes street magic what it is.

If this is the direction street magic takes it will lose the very thing that made it great, being from the street.

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

 

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.

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.

Channel 4…Is Homeland Season 3 finally taking off

3 Nov

Homeland Season 3 has struggled. The main bogey-man from the first two seasons, Abu Nazir, is gone and Brody is faraway in Caracas, Venezuela. It has been left to Carrie and Saul to provide the suspense and drama that season 3 desperately needs.

Carrie it seemed was being hung out dry by the CIA over her relationship with Brody. Saul had apparently washed his hands of her, and was determined to have her permanently detained in a mental institution as her trademark erratic behaviour appeared to worsen.

Just when we start to think where was this all going, the story took a dramatic turn. Carrie, it became clear had all along been undercover with Saul’s approval. The plan to make her made a pariah was an elaborate hoax to get people representing Iranian interests to contact her on the basis that she was now vulnerable and isolated, and she had information they needed.

It worked, contact was made. It seemed however it may have worked a bit too well as the Iranians seem somewhat eager to speak to Carrie. So much so in last night’s episode they kidnapped her at night from the flat. Once more Carrie is “out in the wild” and in real danger.

Saul meanwhile was fighting his own battles, battles of a more political nature. After the Langley bombing in Season 2 he had ended being the most likely man to head the CIA going forward, but was outmaneuvered as the President handed the position to a man who sees less of a benefit in human intelligence and more reliance on technology, a view Saul thinks is madness. The appointment clearly put Saul’s career in jeopardy.

Now that we are done with the seemingly pointless distraction of Dana Brody running away with her boyfriend, all the main pieces of season 3 are falling into place. The Iranians are in town and mean business, Carrie is out in the wild with only her skill to rely on, Saul is one again at odds with the powers that be but still needs to protect his people. Folks, Homeland Season 3 has finally got its groove back.

Channel 4 : GoggleBox going from strength to strength…

24 Oct

Sometimes  the most ludicrous ideas have a way of defying their critics and going on to become things of beauty.  Thirteen years ago someone once thought “why don’t we plant a big Ferris Wheel in the middle of London to mark the new  millennium”, people around the country sniggered and probably thought how a fool and his money are soon parted.

Today the London Eye, as it is now known, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.

Is GoggleBox going the same way,  can a TV program about people watching TV really capture the nation’s heart? Well, Harry Hill’s TV Burp was a big ratings winner, so who’s to say GoggleBox is incapable of achieving the same, and last night it showed why it has become an unsung hit.

In showing the nation’s reaction to TV programmes that ranged from the plain ridiculous to the endearingly tender, it held a mirror on ourselves.

We all would collectively watch opened-mouth that there is a TV programme about collecting sperm from a Walrus (in all its gory detail!),  we all would collectively acknowledge that Cilla Black is no longer even close to the singer she once was, and we would all collectively understand the fears that a partner feels when they realise that their time on earth with their loved ones is about to come to an end.

As we watch the GoggleBox’s household’s reactions to BBC2′s Natural : Two Tonne Tusker, ITV’s The One and Only Cilla Black and on Coronation Street, Hayley revealing to Roy she has terminal cancer. The reactions we saw were the reactions we felt.