It's strange how history - even TV history - remembers some names and not others. Take Mike Leigh. You'll almost certainly have heard of Mike Leigh, in part because of his film work, but largely because of his work on the BBC's Play For Today, with the likes of Abigail's Party and Nuts In May still famous to this day. In particular, Leigh is known for the improvisational nature of his plays, working with the actors to create the scripts from which the final product is created.
Mike Leigh went to Salford Grammar School where he studied acting. He later moved to Birmingham and worked at the Midlands Art Centre, where he started to develop that famous style of his. He then enrolled on a course at the London Film School. In 1971, he worked on a feature film, Bleak Moments, and was recruited in 1973 by the famed Tony Garnett to make dramas for Play for Today.
The strange thing is that if you replace "Mike Leigh" with "Les Blair" in that previous paragraph, it's still a completely true statement. Blair acted with Leigh in Salford, they shared a flat together in Birmingham, went to the Film School together, and Blair edited and produced Bleak Moments, which Leigh directed.
The big difference between Leigh and Blair, however, is that while Leigh began to edge more into comedy, albeit with a satirical edge, and film, Blair stayed firmly in the realm of TV drama, eventually going on to direct the socio-realistic likes of Law and Order and The Nation's Health with his future long-time collaborator GF Newman. As a result, while Leigh is practically a household name, Les Blair is almost unknown except to TV historians.
Blair's first effort for Play For Today came just three months after Leigh's Hard Labour. Blooming Youth was an improvised drama about a group of polytechnic students sharing a house together, including a world weary cynic, a nervous studious virgin, and a couple in a relationship. Not a lot happens in it, but what marks it out is its realistic depiction of student life at the time, with dingy rooms, epic boredom and other aspects of study that would have been familiar to anyone who'd been to either university or polytechnic.
It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.
The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there'sLocate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.
Last one of these for a fortnight, as I’m on holiday next Monday. But somehow, following last week’s purge and with a bit of efficiency, I’m bang up to speed with practically everything and I’ve watched some new shows:
The Odd Couple (US: CBS)
Somehow, some strange sort of comedy lifeboat has been erected at NBC and floated off a big bunch of its more talented comedy actors to this CBS show based on the classic Neil Simon play/movie/TV series of the late 60s/early 70s about two divorced men, one a slob, one a tad OCD, who end up living together. Here, Matthew Perry (late of Go On) takes on the Jack Klugman role, once again playing a DJ; Thomas Lennon (Sean Saves The World) takes the Tony Randall role; Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) is Perry's PA; Wendell Pierce (The Michael J Fox Show) is one of Lennon and Perry’s mutual friends.
But despite the source material, the cast and the likes of Joe Keenan behind the scenes, it’s not that good. There are times when it comes close to funny and there’s more intelligence than you might have expected of a CBS comedy, with Perry’s romance with Leslie Bibb in the first episode not going quite how you’d expect; Lennon is as good as always, as is Perry, even if Perry is a more natural fit to Lennon’s role. It’s also better at characterisation than you’d expect and never hits the miserable bitterness of We Are Men, But it’s never laugh out loud funny. Or even funny. Needed to be a lot better, basically, given its pedigree.
X Company (Canada: CBC)
Second World War spy action drama, based on Canada’s real-life spy training base Camp X. In this first episode, a bunch of non-descript young people overact a lot as they’re sent undercover into a French village, while a bunch of better characterised people are systematically killed off. This being a Canadian show, lots of the Nazis are quite nice, as are the Canadians, while the Brits, whether working for or against Camp X, are bastards. For reasons unknown, everyone German (some of them actually played by Germans) speaks German, while despite Canada’s bilingualism, everyone else speaks English.
The first 15 minutes is quite horrendous and I almost stopped watching after that, but after that initial attempt to woo the viewer with action, everything settles down and becomes a lot more interesting. It’s still not great, but one of the better efforts from Canada of late. Incidentally, as I predicted not so long ago, 2015 is indeed turning out to be the Year of Synthesia
Living With Models (UK: Comedy Central)
Ordinary schlub looking for a flat finds one… occupied by models. Close your eyes. Imagine the series. Whatever you just imagined is better than the series itself.
Hostages (UK: BBC4; Israeli: Channel 10 – aired in 2013)
This Israeli show that sees a surgeon’s family taken hostage to force her to kill one of her patients – the Prime Minister – has already been adapted by the US as Hostages. However, despite having seen that show, I quite enjoyed this version, as it’s considerably better – more low key in the exact same way as Prisoners of War was. Although many of the beats are the same, the structure’s different, more time is taken and it does actually feel like a thriller at times. There’s plenty of genre clichés, such as the “illegal gun dealer who demands more money from the man he’s just sold the guns to” and “the bad ass cop who faces down a hostage-taker single-handled”, but largely, it’s not bad, and it does everything better than the US remake does – a step down from Engrenages, naturally, but a step up from Salamander. Good to see BBC4 branching out into Sky Arts’ usual territory, too.
After the jump, the regulars: 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, The Blacklist, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Flash, Fortitude, Gallipoli, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter,State of Affairs and Suits. Oh, Vikings and Bosch are back, too.
Four new shows, two returning ones, including the much fabled second season of The Returned. No word yet on airdates, or when/if they'll be emerging in the UK.
Intrigued? Then let me tell you more. Spotless is a black comedy set in London, in which the quiet life of John is turned upside down by the arrival of his criminal brother Martin. Why Spotless? Well, John runs a company that specialises in cleaning crime scenes…
Canal+ has a separate teaser trailer for this one.
Meanwhile, Versailles, as the name suggests is all about the 28-year-old Louis XIV – the Sun King himself – and the construction of the palace of Versailles, his having dealing with uppity nobles, etc. Panthers is a co-prod with Sky Atlantic starring Samantha Morton, John Hurt and Tahar Rahim that's all about some missing diamonds. You can guess what channel that will end up on.
Lastly, Le Bureau Des Légendes is all about a department of the DGSE (France's MI6/CIA) dedicated to undercover agents, with our hero (Mathieu Kassovitz) returning after six years undercover in Syria – but making the slight mistake of not abandoning his undercover life and 'legend'…
And for those who want a Les Revenants teaser, here you go. Not much happens, mind.
After a few weeks of relative calm, it’s been action stations this week, as DC has deployed the big guns: as well as the usual Injustice: Gods Among Us – Year Three (aka ‘International Superpunching Weekly’) and Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #25 (aka ‘Let’s see if we can get by on Tumblr agitprop, rather than good writing’), we’ve had a brief cameo appearance in Futures End #42, we’ve seen Diana take on virtually the entire Justice League single-handed in (you guessed it) Justice League, an old enemy has come to break up the happy couple and make the Amazons look not quite as bad in Superman/Wonder Woman and over in Wonder Woman, Diana’s been having the same problems balancing her responsibilities as before – but thankfully, we have the return of a very important old friend to help her.
Phew. No wonder I’m late this week. I might have to take a holiday next week after all this…
Remember MacGyver? If not, this should refresh your memory (or at least tell you who he was).
It may be too late to create a new series of the original MacGyver with Richard Dean Anderson, but that’s not stopping Lee Zlotoff, creator of the original show, from trying to resurrect it. Admirably, though, he’s trying to create a show about a female MacGyver (his daughter, maybe?). And he needs your help. You could even win some cash.
Hollywood and top engineers are crowdsourcing ideas for a TV series with a female MacGyver, the brainy 1980s small-screen secret agent who used little more than a paper clip to solve tricky problems.
The University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering is launching the competition for series ideas with Washington's National Academy of Engineering and the MacGyver Foundation, officials said on Thursday.
“We want to be surprised. We want to be amazed,” Lee Zlotoff, the creator of the original "MacGyver" series, told a news conference.
Organizers are hoping that a show featuring a dashing female engineer will do for the field what the "CSI" series has done for forensic sciences.
They also want to get more girls and young women interested in engineering. Less than 20 percent of engineering bachelors degrees go to women, and trends point to even fewer in the future.
"Who among us wants to live in a world designed primarily by males?” said Ruth David, former deputy director of science and technology for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Zlotoff urged people to send in ideas for the new TV show by April 17. Five winners will receive $5,000 and be paired with producers to create a script, which will then be pitched to a network.
About the blog
A UK media blog focusing on the best scripted TV from around the world, with daily news, views, exclusive reviews and good conversation. There's a bit of a bias towards the latest and greatest US TV, but we also cover Scandinavian, Canadian, European and Antipodean TV, as well as UK TV ranging from new Doctor Who to old Z Cars, and BBC4 to S4C.
Add in film, theatre, art, books, events, competitions and even weekly reviews of Wonder Woman comics, and you've (hopefully) got officially the fourth best blog on the web for media lovers. Oh yes, and there's The Barrometer, the ultimate guide to quality TV.
Praise for the blog Cision: fourth most important UK TV blog Blogging Edge: Blogger running Britain 2013
"For most of us watching the telly of an evening is a way to wind down and relax, but for Rob Buckley it’s his blogging bread and butter. With reviews of cult classics and up and coming US and Brit television shows, The Medium is Not Enough is fast becoming essential reading for TV buffs, with over 50,000 hits a month."
"The Medium Is Not Enough is a light-hearted look at TV, often from the US, but also from the UK. With varied, well-written content, the blog features healthy engagement and features well in search engines."
"Billing itself as 'officially the fourth most popular UK TV blog', there are several whimsical regulars here that could help it climb as high as number three…"
I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.