Tag Archive | Gavin and Stacey

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Preview: Rome: The World's First Superpower 1x1 (UK: Channel 5)

Posted on October 22, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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In the UK: Fridays, 8pm, Channel 5. Starts Friday 24th October

Channel Five’s best kept secrets are its documentaries - although the channel as a whole as a reputation for low quality programming, beyond a couple of decent imports and one original drama (Suspects), its documentaries are actually really good.

So let's get the worst part of this out the way: the title. Rome wasn’t the world’s first superpower, since the Persian empire was not only a third bigger, it also had 44% of the world's population under its control at its height. And if you don't like that, there was also the Macedonian Empire under Alexander The Great.

Hyperbolic title aside, though, it's all actually very good. You might not think Larry Lamb from Gavin & Stacey and EastEnders would be the best person to present a documentary covering the history of Rome, from the city's foundation through its attainment of empire through to its collapse. Certainly, if you think back to Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey on ITV, you can see all the potential traps writ large of having an actor hosting what is potentially a lavish, content-free and even misleading travelogue. But not only is Lamb engaging and passionate, he’s an amateur historian - he goes to Rome every year, he speaks Italian, and he's been studying Rome almost all his adult life. More so, as an actor he can re-enact readings from the works of Livy, for example, rather than merely having an actor blankly read the same in voiceover.

The show goes to pertinent locations in both Rome and Pompeii (and in later episodes to Tunisia, Sicily and France), to explore Roman history and archaeology. We get to see the sewer system under Rome, which dates back 2,500 years. Indeed, it’s the first time the oldest part has ever been shown on TV, making that a good enough reason for a classics-lover to watch the show. Along the way, Lamb interviews historians and archaeologists, including Richard Miles, who’s presented documentaries for BBC2 and BBC4. Lamb’s an intelligent interviewer and asks some decent questions of the experts. He also puts his working class roots to the fore, focusing on areas that other shows don’t, such as the relationship between the plebeians and nobles, giving us choice lines such as "The Romans' noble ambitions were just that: the ambitions of nobles." He’s also happy to throw out a little Latin as needs be, such as Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR).

The show itself also looks good and there’s some knowing Spartacus qualities in the CGI and recreations of scenes, although that's mostly done with statues rather than actors, which is novel. Channel 5 may do good documentaries - but it doesn't quite have the budget of the BBC.

About the only thing that drew me up was when Lamb says that he's realising that the rape of the Sabine women was the 'kind of thing you have to do if you want to become a superpower - which I can’t imagine Mary Beard or Bethany Hughes letting through on one of their shows. Otherwise, entirely recommended for anyone with an interest in history, particularly Roman history.

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News: Power comes to UK digital, Faking It renewed, Eric Roberts wears a Suit + more

Posted on June 10, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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What have you been watching? Including Y Gwyll, Ground Floor, Thor 2, Gravity and Homeland

Posted on November 18, 2013 | comments | Bookmark and Share

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's Locate TV.

Sorry for the long delay in posting this but holiday and the resulting workload meant I didn’t have time to do it properly. Obviously, it might be a bit tricky for y’all to remember what you’ve been watching in the past three weeks, but if you let everyone know, I’m sure they’ll be grateful.

Elsewhere, you can find my review of the first episode of Ground Floor (more on that in a bit), my fourth-episode verdict on The Tunnel/Tunnel and my mini-review of the first episode of Dracula. The latter proved so bad that I couldn’t even countenance the idea of watching any more episodes, although I hear it might have picked up with episode four on Friday - although, given it’s only six episodes long, that might be leaving it a tad late. Also abandoned on the general grounds of life being too short is Atlantis - and the more I read recaps of the episodes as they air, the happier I am I’ve done that.

Still in the viewing queue are last night's Serangoon Road, Almost Human and Homeland, as well as last week’s increasingly tedious Agents of SHIELD - let’s hope this week’s Thor 2 crossover is going to give it a boost.

Shows I'm watching but not necessarily recommending
Agents of Shield (ABC/Channel 4)
FitzSimmons get some characterisation, another call back to The Avengers and Coulson gets trauma counselling. And I just don’t care. Much. When will the TV curse of Jeph Loeb be lifted?

The Blacklist (NBC/Sky Living)
We’ve now had ‘evil Wilson’ (House’s Robert Sean Leonard) doing evil doctor things, thus proving my theory about the casting decisions going on. Last week’s episode, however, excitingly dumped a big bunch of story on us, revealing (just about conclusively) that James Spader is indeed (spoiler alert) Megan Boone’s real father and her hubbie probably is more than he seems. Quite impressive for a show that’s not even cracked 10 episodes yet. Throwaway above-average fun so worth watching if you have an idle hour.

Ground Floor (TBS)
Episode two was marginally better than the first. Some additional maintenance workers showed up; Skylar Astin mysteriously turned into JD from Scrubs; there have clearly been some wardrobe decisions with respect to Briga Heelan, who’s getting some more practical outfits appropriate for a support worker; and it’s also making some good points re: class. However, it does feel a lot like an Ayn Rand diatribe at times, with the blue collar guys essentially ‘where they belong’ because they’re slackers who don’t work all day and are a bit dumb, whereas the guys on the top floor are hard-working bastards who get up before 5am every morning and leave work at midnight. Rather than, say, the blue collar workers having to hold down two jobs to make ends meet and the rich guys essentially having got lucky and blowing their ‘because it’s Monday’ bonus on cocaine, champagne and lap dancers when they’re ‘working’ with clients.

The Tomorrow People (The CW/E4)
About a gadzillion times more interesting and better than the original, but really starting to feel like a never ending series of episodes where people run around and get chased down corridors a lot, with baddies introduced then killed a couple of weeks later. Still, they’re up the diversity count, they’ve finally given some back story and character to the Asian guy, and there has been some plot advancement so at least they’re heading in the right general direction, albeit slowly.

Recommended shows
Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
Some terrible acting and borderline racism in the ‘black hoodlums’ episode, but the Black Canary storyline has seen the show firing on all cylinders, there’s been some fun stuff between Felicity and Oliver, and the fight scenes have been as good as always. You can see how they’re starting to set up the arrival of The Flash in the background of the stories, too, and seeing Amanda Waller from ARGUS turn up (albeit the nu52, slimmed down version) was a fun shout out to DC fans. Strange how little screen time Laurel’s getting though. I wonder what’s up there?

Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
Two references to The Adventure of the Silver Blaze in two weeks, including one story outright based on the original was interesting, as was a guest appearance by Olivia D’Abo from The Wonder Years, who turns out to be English-American. Well I never. The show’s also finding its feet with respect to the characters, although the Gerard backstory episode was a little perfunctory on that score. Some fun Englishisms coming in (‘bell end’ and ‘gits’, I’ve noticed) and of course we’ve had the joy of Mycroft showing up to create a New York Diogenes (club). The end of last week’s episode made me wonder if (spoiler alert)Mycroft is working for the British government, as per the books, and we might still learn that he’s as good at deduction as Sherlock, but has been hiding it.

Homeland (Showtime/Channel 4)
Has been treading a dangerously thin line these past few weeks, retreading first season storylines that made me wonder why I’m bothering watching the show. But it’s gradually metamorphosed in the past two weeks into a musing on the nature of modern day spying: is there a point to it, is human intelligence really still better than machine-gathered intelligence, does spying do more harm than good? Indeed, Carrie and her bipolar problems are starting to look like relics from another series, as Saul and F Murray Abraham give us a better series altogether back at Langley. Also, Carrie and her pregnancy: is that really the fate of every woman in these stories if they dare to have sex - accidental pregnancy? It’s punishment for pointless drama. Nice Romeo and Juliet reference, a couple of weeks ago, mind.

Serangoon Road (ABC1/HBO Asia)
Developments aplenty here, with MI6 being trotted out as the evil spiders in the web, and the chief Chinese baddie getting some nuances. Last week’s ending showing us that love may be one thing, but follow your heart and things tend to go pear-shaped, was a nicely cynical spin on the piece.

The Tunnel (Sky Atlantic/Canal+)
It’s surprising how much I’d forgotten of the original series, now I watch this. The US adaptation, I now belatedly realise, didn’t even touch the surface of the mental illness politics of the ‘Truth Terrorist’, whereas The Tunnel has resurrected it. Highlight of last week’s episode: Caroline Proust from Engrenages/Spiral turning up in an odd wig. I wonder if she’ll get to speak English this week?

Y Gwyll/Hinterland (S4C)
Now being shown on S4C in Welsh with English subtitles. After the pretty good first story, the second was something of a stonker that landed the show straight on the recommended list, despite being a seemingly dull story about farming boundary disputes. Some excellent direction made one chase scene particularly tense. Dave the Coach from Gavin and Stacey did a good turn as a solicitor, too. Last week’s was less impressive, being far less of a crime investigation than the second story, and more a case of Mathias getting all emotional and harassing a guy who lives in the woods. This week’s is the last story, I think, so catch it while you can before it airs in English on the BBC.

And in movies:

Thor 2
The Dark Elves (particularly Christopher Eccleston, clearly in it for the money) want to end the universe so give Asgard a kicking after they find out Natalie Portman has a secret weapon up her sleeves, so Thor has to release Loki and get him to help stop the Elves. But can Loki be trusted?
Directed by Alan Taylor, who’s directed six episodes of Game of Thrones, this was a far more matter of fact sequel than the original, which saw everyone more iconically: Thor gets to wander around in a cape and hang around in retro Norse taverns with Heimdal; Sif gets a nice furry dress suit; and more. Just about all the characters from the original get good service; mothers and women, particularly Frigga, are given far more significance than the father-obsessed first movie; and there’s a surprising amount of comedy even in the final fight scene. We also got to see more of Odin’s ravens, which was nice. Traumatically for me, the University of Greenwich gets a severe kicking at the end - even the Painted Room - which had me far more upset than the ending of The Avengers which levelled New York. And as I’m sure just about everyone from London said when they watched, it’s not three stops from Charing Cross to Greenwich on the Underground - you either need to get a train from Charing Cross overground, or get the jubilee line to North Greenwich and then get a bus or go to Canary Wharf and then get the DLR. Hope that helps, Thor.

Gravity
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts fixing the Hubble Telescope when fragments of a satellite destroy their spaceship, forcing them to find some other way to get back to Earth. Slightly perfunctory characterisation and a plot more suited to a theme park ride, but that’s not what this movie is: it’s the 2001: A Space Odyssey or Superman of its age, a visual treat that finally gives us a 3D movie that's not only more than just a series of ViewMaster slides and things being thrown out the screen at us but which is genuine 3D and absolutely pointless to watch in anything except 3D. Absolutely staggering in IMAX 3D, a brilliant soundtrack and although you can quibble with the science, it’s based enough in fact that the terror comes from knowing just how difficult and dangerous everything is in space.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Brother and sister Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteton - yes, there's over a decade's age difference between them) grow up and make it their mission in life to kill witches, including chief witch Famke Janssen. A film that makes no sense and is colossally stupid, but knows it, given Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are the producers. However, that knowing comedy just isn't enough to make this a decent film, although it's still about 1,000 times better than the similar Van Helsing.

"What did you watch last week?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid - and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I've watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you've seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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Featured Articles

Rome: The World's First Superpower

Silly title, good documentary