UK TV

Review: The F-Word 2×1

Gordon Ramsay's F-Word

The F Word is back on our screens. I’ve struggled manfully on several occasions to get into the audience, but failed totally, mainly because I was too lazy to fill in the questionnaire. I’m kind of glad I failed now.

I mused a while back when the return of the second series was first mooted about what tweaks they were going to make to the format. I couldn’t work out what they were going to do to invigorate it. Turns out, they couldn’t either and didn’t do any better than I did. You see the tweaks seem to be

  • Get rid of Giles Coren – not a totally awful idea but he served a useful “consumer reporting” purpose
  • Get rid of everyone whose surname isn’t Ramsay or who doesn’t work in Gordon’s restaurants
  • Give Gordon a chance to insult some other chefs, which he does at every possible opportunity anyway
  • Add a bit more Hell’s Kitchen

Not really much original thought there, huh?

In particular, the removal of the first series’ competition in favour of the Hell’s Kitchen elements has definitely been a move for the worse. The reason I wanted to get into the audience of the first series was that they got to eat food prepared by chefs from his kitchens, as well as by a few enterprising junior chefs from other kitchens who wanted a job working for Gordon Ramsay. Each week, he’d decide who would go on to the next round and in the final episode, the winner got the job after a bake off. Nice idea, really.

This time round, Gordon just gets to shout at non-chefs while they find out what life in a kitchen is like. What’s the point of that? They don’t really gain anything apart from “an experience” and a good slagging off at the end of it. And as for the second series’ audience, all they get is to suffer poor service and bad food, get insulted by Gordon occasionally and then decide whether the food was edible enough to pay for. You can see why I’m not so keen on the idea of joining them any more, can’t you?

The rest of the show is still pretty much the same, just variations on the previous series’ themes at most. Gordon going round blokes’ houses to teach them how to cook, instead of going round women’s houses. No more turkeys being reared for slaughter; hello pigs being reared for slaughter (the animal lover in me is both pleased and appalled). Similar but different. Different but similar.

And while some of the better elements of the show have been replaced with worse ideas, some of the poorer elements are still in there. Whatever you think of Gordon as a chef, one thing he’s not is a celebrity interviewer – he makes Davina look like Parkie. When faced with Cliff “easy listening” Richard, all Gordon could was try to goad him into swearing. Nice.

Of the returning elements, the wine-tasting was a corker, though, and seeing Janet Street-Porter beat Gordon at the cook-off again was more than worth the hour I invested in the show.

All in all, a few more recipes, a bit more variety and a bit more fun would have been far better ways to improve the show than simply giving Gordon more chances to insult people.

Still, overnight ratings for the show are pretty good, according to the Media Guardian (registration required), with the show getting the highest ratings of its time slot. Combined with Big Brother and Property Ladder, The F Word gave Channel 4 its second-highest rated night of the year so far. So what do I know?

PS The theme, by the way, is The F-Word by Babybird, as regular blog readers already know.

PPS Paul Jackson, the ITV exec who was trying to poach Ramsay from Channel 4, has described the new series of the show as “a pile of poo”.

“I am not alone in thinking that he has injected a lot of Hell’s Kitchen into the middle of the show.”

For once, an ITV exec has said something sensible. Amazing.

PPPS Can’t believe I missed the return of Property Ladder! Repeat after me aspiring property developers: “Listen to the Beeny”. She knows what she’s doing: you don’t!

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US TV

Review: Kyle XY 1×1

Kylexyopener

Normally, there’s nothing quite like the word ‘family’ (as in ‘a family show’) to inspire fear in the heart of any seasoned TV watcher. In general, ‘family’ equates to inoffensive, moralising, bland and unchallenging. When you have a whole network with ‘family’ in the title – as in ABC Family – you can pretty much write off its entire output as the visual equivalent of Saga magazine. Once in a while though, a programme comes along to buck the trend. Not much, but a little.

Continue reading “Review: Kyle XY 1×1”

UK TV

I want my State of Play 2 and I want it now

State of Play

Paul Abbott is a talented guy. He’s written episodes of Cracker, created Touching Evil and Shameless and has more awards than ITV has viewers (give or take). Russell T Davies thinks he’s a God.

Legions of journalists have huge respect for Abbott for creating State of Play, the outstanding 2003 serial that introduced the world to the now much-admired Life on Mars pairing of John Simm and Philip Glenister. Although it portrayed journalists as a lying, shifty bunch, willing to obstruct the course of justice for a good story, we forgave it that slight flaw because we were the heroes who saved the day.

Its depiction of life at a newspaper was actually pretty authentic, except for the bit where Simm is allowed to lay out the page and compose his own headline at the end of the final episode, which would never happen – although he did mess it up, thus demonstrating why reporters don’t get to touch Quark, normally. The bit about who owned the copyright on the story because Simm was on a freelance contract actually makes those of us who are self-employed all giddy with delight (seriously. There was an article in the NUJ newsletter The Journalist about it by one of my old tutors, Humphrey Evans).

If you haven’t seen State of Play, pick up a copy of it on Amazon Amazon. You’ll be impressed to see Amelia Bullmore in a straight role and Marc Warren (from Hustle and Doctor Who‘s Love and Monsters) having a crap time of it as the slippery Dominic Foy.

Despite all the plaudits, a sequel has yet to materialise. Hollywood is all set to adapt the original. Last year’s South Bank Show profile of Abbott said filming on the sequel was to begin last June. But three years on, still nothing. The last we heard was in an interview with John Simm in the Daily Telegraph in January:

…and there is talk of a second series of the excellent State of Play. “The last time I saw Paul [Abbott], he was so caught up in writing Shameless that he’d only managed one or two episodes of the next State of Play. God, it would be great to work with him again.”

I hate to say this, but I don’t care about another series of Shameless. How much more is there to say on the subject? I want more State of Play!

What with Stephen Fry backing out of writing a Doctor Who episode, I have to say: “Writers: get your priorities straight. Give us what we want!”

US TV

Saved: just all gloom and doom?

Saved

TNT isn’t a natural home to new drama. The network, once a home to pro-wrestling matches, managed to cancel just about every original drama series it commissioned before they’d even got to the end of the first season (cf Babylon 5: Crusade), with the slight exception of Witchblade.

All that’s a thing of the past. It now has shows like The Closer, which are chugging along nicely, a new minimalist catchphrase, “We know drama”, and another original series called Saved.

On the one hand, TNT should be applauded for its bravery. Saved verges on HBO-territory here, dealing with a paramedic, Wyatt Cole (Tom Everett Scott), who has a gambling addiction and a crappy existence. There’s no comedy, no moment of revelation when the hero realises he has to change his life for the better. He just lurches from one crisis to another, unwilling to do anything that would get him out of the gutter he knows.

Neither are there any other likeable characters. The paramedics he works with aren’t especially nice either. His ex- is moving in with another man – but is perfectly happy to cheat on him with Cole. His former High School friend who’s now a moneylender is still willing to have him beaten for failing to pay his debts.

On the other hand, on the strength of the pilot, all this doom is more or less the sum of the programme. Just as some shows are shallow for only dwelling on happy things and never letting the dark hand of reality sneak in and tarnish them, so it’s possible for others to be shallow for only dwelling on the misery. Aside from the occasional vein of black and teasing humour, the mood of the show is only ever misery or blank neutrality, designed to fill the gaps until the next bit of depression. It leaves you feeling a bit uninvolved as a result.

It’s a promising show though, with more than enough to keep the interest if they manage to flesh out the secondary and main characters some more. Directorially, it manages to avoid most of the clichés of ‘dark’ tales, avoiding the constant Se7en midnight and rain that so beset other shows that think they’re deep. When it’s not inspecting the disaster area that is Cole’s existence, it’s inspecting the disasters that he has to attend to in his job. With each victim he comes across, we get a potted photo romain of all the events in their lives that led up to this point – Casualty in an eye-blink if you will. The technique starts to become a little tired by the end of the show, but if the producers impose some self-discipline, it could become an effective visual trademark that’s actually reasonably disturbing.

All in all, one to keep an eye out for in future if the wind catches their sails just right,.