Archive | UK TV reviews

Reviews of UK TV programmes


October 27, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Mulaney, Soul Mates, Jane The Virgin, Marry Me, The Affair and Forever

Posted on October 27, 2014 | 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 - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

After last week's epic catch-up, things have been a bit quieter this week, thanks to not that many new shows being launched. I did manage to give you a couple of previews, though:

And I did try to find some other new shows, too. Australia’s Soul Mates (ABC2) looked moderately interesting, since it stars The Bondi Hipsters as a couple of friends who are continually drawn together across the course of human history. However, it’s really just a sketch show with a linked narrative, so slightly outside my scripted comedy remit. Here’s a trailer for you, though, in case you like the look of it.

Somehow, though, a new show that began airing a few weeks ago in the US managed to sneak in under my radar:

Mulaney
In the US: Sundays, 9.30/8.30c, Fox
Probably best described as a Seinfeld for the 2010s, since it stars comedy writer and stand-up John Mulaney (Saturday Night Live) as an aspiring comedy writer and stand-up called… John Mulaney, and details his various adventures with his female best friend Jane (Nasim Pedrad, from Saturday Night Live), slightly odd, big-haired fellow comic ‘Motif’ (Seaton Smith), and occasional nemesis Andre (Zack Pearlman of the US version of The Inbetweeners). Indeed, with each episode opening with a Seineld-esque stand-up routine, the only big differences in the set-up between this and Seinfeld are the fact that the cast is more diverse (notably for Fox, Mulaney is gay) and that Mulaney manages to get a job writing jokes for self-centered comedy legend and game show host Lou Cannon (Martin Short) in the first episode. Oh yes - Elliott Gould plays Mulaney’s ‘flamboyant' next door neighbour.

And actually, bar the spectacularly ill-judged opening stand-up routine, which is all about Mulaney accidentally getting mistaken for a potential rapist, it’s surprisingly funny. I was expecting a multi-camera comedy from Fox* to be a dreck fest but now I’m going to do my best to catch up on the next few episodes, despite the ratings being a bit poor and the episode count being dropped from 16 episodes to 13, just as the 14th was about to be made.

* It was actually first commissioned by NBC, the former home of… Seinfeld

That's it for new new shows, though, but after the jump, I’ll be running through: The Affair, Arrow, black-ish, The Blacklist, Doctor Who, Forever, Gotham, Gracepoint, Homeland, Jane The Virgin, Marry Me, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion and Selfie. Will I be dropping any this week?

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October 22, 2014

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

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

Rome__The_World_s_First_Superpower.jpg

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 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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Preview: Grayson Perry: Who Are You? 1x1 (UK: Channel 4)

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

Grayson Perry: Who Are You?

In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Channel 4. Starts tonight

Grayson Perry is an artist well known for playing with the theme of identity and is going to have an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, entitled 'Who Are You?', that ties into the question of what identity is. Channel 4's Grayson Perry: Who Are You? is effectively both a 'Making of' and a hybrid long-form chat show in which Grayson Perry follows the subjects he's chosen for this exhibition for days and weeks at a time, trying to get to know them and understand them, so that he can create a definitive portrait that captures who they are.

Perry has chosen a disparate group of people for his exhibition, some famous, some not. So in this first of three episodes, we have Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat MP who ended up going to prison in 2012, Rylan Clark from The X-Factor and Celebrity Big Brother, a young white Muslim woman and a black transgender man.

To the show’s credit, Perry does a much better job of finding out about his subjects than the average chat show does - although given he has months to do this, that’s not a huge surprise. But he does ask quite brave, challenging questions to get to the bottom of his subjects, and he’s also insightful - he compares his Muslim subject and her pared down attitude to life with the consumerism at the nearby Ashford shopping mall which he says looks like a 'bedouin tent’. For his Rylan Clark portrait, he also makes the comparison between the phones that we all carry with us for selfies and the miniatures Elizabethans carried around of celebrities.

The subjects are also quite brave. The transgender man goes back to his old school to talk about gender identity and the kids at the school are very perceptive, talking about what is acceptable for boys and what’s acceptable for girls and what those boundaries are. Jazz, the transgender man, in turn points out that things that people do to try to find evidence of his 'true femininity', such as how he cuts bread: “How do you cut bread like a woman?” The Muslim woman’s family thoughtfully argue with her about not just Islam but all religion and its restrictions on freedom. She argues that religion helps to keep a marriage together and her relative asks in return: “Do you watch EastEnders?”

The show is also about Perry and about his concept of his own identity. This often feels more constructed than anyone else’s identity, with Perry claiming to be as a portrait painter “part-psychiatrist, part-detective”, and frequently talking about how chippy and working class he is and how he’s challenging the National Portrait Gallery by including people who aren’t old dead white males in power - even though the gallery invited him to put on the exhibition and has had similarly challenging exhibitions before. Chris Huhne is supposed to represent that tradition, and perhaps because he does (or did) have power, he’s the only one who really challenges Perry’s power as interviewer and points out that while Perry might be chippy and working class, he also has an OBE.

All in all, a good, thought-provoking, insightful documentary that’s very enjoyable. 

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Rome: The World's First Superpower

Silly title, good documentary