Friday, 31 December 2010

Benidorm: Christmassy and bawdy yes, but moving? Really?

ITV1's comedy drama Benidorm, set in the eponymous Spanish tourist town, has developed a reputation among the general viewing public that's best summed up in one word: bawdy.

As in, 'Oh yes, Benidorm - that's that bawdy sitcom in the Spanish tourist town on ITV, I won't watch that.'

But bawdy at Christmas? Do those two words even go?

Returning to the screens for a one off festive special, the British-made but Spanish-set programme not only had to be bawdy and Christmassy - but also had to accommodate the death of one of its leading characters, Mel, following the real-life death of actor Geoffrey Hutchings.

But in plot terms, Mel's absence became the core of the episode, leading to the climatic discovery of his death after he failed to return home for Christmas dinner, with wife Madge told the news by her son-in-law Mick as they watched Roy Wood perform I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday on the stage of the club owned by Mel.

It made for a striking - and uniquely Benidorm - moment of telly, that was almost a bit sort of, um, moving too.

And the jokes about nudist colonies, the distracting subplot involving a lost Su Pollard (playing herself) and the getting-to-be-tiresome antics of 'swingers' Donald and Jacqueline - all standard fare for a Benidorm episode - could be forgiven.

So although Benidorm might not everyone's cup of tea - I nearly wrote 'cup of sangria', good Lord! - my straw sun hat is off for a neat and amusing episode, complete with fake snow poured from the roof at the end, which is what you have at Christmas on telly, right?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Upstairs Downstairs: When 'downstairs' pretend they're 'up'

The revival of Upstairs Downstairs has got everyone wishing they were oh so terribly, terribly posh.

Who wouldn't like to act like a lord or a lady, taking tea served in fine china and whatnot while others take care of the toil.

But wishing is as far as it goes, I'd wager. If we were indeed living in 1936 - when this BBC One three part 're-imaging' of the original 1970's produced ITV series is set - then the reality is that most of us would be below stairs.

The curious world of privilege, where nothing more than a haughty attitude, being born into the 'right' family, and an in-bred sense of entitlement, enables one to get one's own way because you simply just expect it, appears to not be too far removed from some of the attitudes we've seen on TV in 2010, and miles away from any period costume drama.

We call it 'reality TV'. Just look at the BBC Three brat-fest horror-child-correctional process programme The World's Strictest Parents, or some of the self-awareness-free types on The Jeremy Kyle Show, and other programmes of its ilk.

Not that I'm saying Upstairs Downstairs is like The Jeremy Kyle Show set in a Belgravia town house - of course not.

It's just maybe some of us aren't too far removed from that 'Upstairs' attitude, even if we're distinctly 'downstairs' in our - let's say - 'breeding'.

Anyone can, in theory, possess the superiority that comes with being a lady of the house in upper middle class London in 1936, like Lady Agnes Holland.

Or, even worse, her spoilt younger sister Lady Persephone Towyn - complete with a fondness for fascism and for Harry, the house's driver and a below stairs bit of rough and a 'cockernee' love interest for the programme.

Both Agnes and Persie are, to different degrees, unlikeable, but their utter conviction and self-belief that they are 'better' than the people they require to serve them shows just a lack of self-awareness or humility as some of the types on Jeremy Kyle.

But the difference is that today they probably wouldn't get very far. The cleaner would quit, the cook would tell her to 'f**k off', the servant would be on day release.

And then, before you'd know it, the whole lot would be taking part in a reality TV to address their 'attitude problem': "She made me clean the scullery with a tooth-brush, miss".

But no matter, period costume drama on TV is back in fashion, and that, I guess, is the main thing.

And without mentioning Downton Abbey, or Downton Abbey and the made-up rivalry between it and Upstairs Downstairs, it is clearly a good time for actors to be getting dressed up 'in period' costume and speaking in clipped accents and looking agog as they react to something terribly terribly - but actually really rather mildly - awful (known as 'the plot').

Even so, Upstairs Downstairs was great telly. Who didn't furtively dab their moistening eyes as that ne'er do well Johnny the servant popped the star on the Christmas tree at the end of part three.

The whole family - both uppers and downers - gathered in the hall of 165 Eaton Place, complete with the little Jewish orphan girl, and the given-up-at-birth disabled sister, all reunited as one - but strictly divided by status and class mind you, er - family.

Love it.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Kerry Katona's new life on the telly. Uh oh ;)

Uh oh. I have a bad feeling. Watching the fragile and not overly self-aware Kerry Katona bumble through her "new life down south" in her ITV2 reality programme The Next Chapter is not always a comfortable experience.

Our Kezza - let's call her that shall we - has been a staple of the tabloids for many years, and has had well publicised and plentiful personal problems throughout her life, many of which make her successes in show business, and as a mum, seem all the more remarkable.

The public took her to its heart after her endearingly simple - if often amusingly gobby - outlook on life led her to winning I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here several years ago.

Needless to say, it all unravelled and now two divorces and four kids later, Kerry has moved to Surrey from "her beloved north" to try and kick start her show business career.

And that is the point of the programme, Kerry's new life.

"Resting brand"

She has been signed up by a new management company who live just down the road, we're told, and she is now "looked after" by the same "team" as other ITV2 reality whore Peter Andre.

You can image the management team pitching the idea to ITV2 producers almost without even talking to Kerry about it first.

Which kind of makes the whole thing feel a little awkward - like her new managers spotted Kerry as a "resting brand", ripe for revival and waiting to be wheeled out and made money from, hoping to tap into any remaining public affection for the Kerry that won Celebrity.

For those viewers familiar with the ITV2 reality "genre", Kerry Katona's programme follows the same formula as previous The Next Chapter series about Katie Price and Peter Andre.

So - Kerry takes the kids to school, to the zoo, attends a photo shoot, moans about photographers, has meetings with managers, and gets ready in a hotel before going to some dodgy celebrity bash or another.

"Confusing quasi-reality realism continuum thing"

The moments invented for the sake of the cameras help in turn to feed the hopeful re-establishing of her "career in show business", like some confusing quasi-reality realism continuum thing with the cracks papered over by pages of Heat showing Victoria Beckham walking into a building in a short black skirt and a headline about her boobs or weight.

But just like Victoria Beckham's boobs (probably), you fear it's all going to explode at any second.

The house, which her management are renting for Kerry, is "nice but not me", and soon she is missing her friends back up north, especially as she's met a guy she likes there, who later freaks out when cameras start following him.

But she gets her OK! column back, which thrills her to bits.

As she drives herself somewhere in her loaned people carrier she says of Claire from her management team, "It's the first time I've just had someone looking out for me who's like a friend and who just cares about me."

A nation holds its breath, and tips its head to the right in sympathy. And that's why we're all watching again next week.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Corrie's 'spectacular' 50th: Look out it's a bloody great tram

Well. You can take the producer out of Doctor Who but you can't take the Doctor Who out of the producer.

Coronation Street, ITV1's flagship soap, celebrates its 50th year this week, and, as the whole wide world  (ie, the programme's audience and people with "an interest" in such things) probably knows by now, there's going to be a great big almighty hoo-haa happening in the street with death and fire and drama and that.

Specifically, said hoo-haa involves a derailment of a tram onto the street, and its aftermath - including a special live (live!) episode on the Thursday - as the programme quite rightly celebrates its birthday in true attention-seeking style.

The show's executive producer is Phil Collinson, the former producer of, and partly responsible for, the successful rebirth of Doctor Who in 2005.

'Spectacular'

As the tram crash scenes were shot back in September, he told BBC News: "They will be the biggest, most spectacular episodes ever filmed.

"[Special effects company] The Mill are very used to creating memorable, spectacular, effects-driven television."
 
"The special effects work we'll do isn't just about crashing the tram. We're going to see Coronation Street in the context of the wider world.

"So we're going to have great big wide shots that show you the rest of Weatherfield. Life has begun and ended at the top and bottom of the street, but for the first time we're going to see the wider world."

So, to clarify: to mark the birthday in spectacular fashion, the spectacle will be realised in a spectacular fashion, spectacularly.

So that's not just a tram crashing off the viaduct, we also get to see "the rest of Weatherfield".

Now I know it's not Doctor Who, but with such clear Doctor Who connections - Phil himself, The Mill, and this week's Corrie director Graeme Harper - I'm secretly hoping for a ginormous alien space ship to abduct little Chesney or robotise that lady called Fizz, or or or maybe ex-EastEnder Jack Ryder can be beamed down and get talking to his ex-wife Kym Marsh and they reunite in some bizarre parallel world where soap fiction meets reality and where it never rains and then Kym will sing her hit song 'Cry' perhaps, with effects that turn the sky red, say.

Or it probably won't.

But Coronation Street - happy, happy birthday chuck.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Steve Coogan in The Trip: Not 'a c**t'

"Is it true what I read about you?"

"What's that?"

"That you're a bit of a c**t?"

Episode four of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's semi-improvised restaurant-reviewing comedy series The Trip  (BBC Two) is continuing to gently but sharply spoof aspects of the two lead's public personas.

Steve Coogan, sent on a writing assignment for the Observer magazine, invites Brydon on the week-long trip around the restaurants of some of the tourist spots of rural northern England, as he's got no-one else to ask.

So Coogan is an ego-led smart-arse full of quips, information, acting tips and insecurity, while Brydon does a lot of impersonations of Ronnie Corbett and Michael Caine.

But the cutting and apparently off-the-cuff banter between the two, perhaps mirroring that of the friendships of some of the thirty- or forty-something blokes watching -  and carried out while driving, walking or, er having dinner together in a nice restaurant (I said 'perhaps' mirroring) - is what carries the programme, but, oddly for a comedy, it isn't always funny in the way that a serious drama isn't always funny.

But when The Trip is funny, like when the pair mimick an army general ordering his troops as if in a period costume drama ("Gentlemen to bed!"), is brilliant.

The restaurant-reviewing premise might not sound like the most thrilling idea for a six-part 30 minute sitcom (although 'sitcom' doesn't actually feel like the right word), and it's true that some people have failed to get, or find, the joke, or levelled criticisms of self-indulgence at it.

But the combination of nice greeny scenery, close ups of each restaurant's best dishes (probably), that aforementioned banter and the odd moments of - prepare for an A-level English moment please - erm, 'pathos', creates something that isn't always funny and even a bit awkward - but still I want to watch.

But the bit where the bloke asks Coogan if he's a bit of c**t is definitely the best.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Only Way Is Essex: Reality/drama hybrid wins heart, confuses mind

My hopes for ITV2's new reality-stroke-drama-stroke-sort of UK version of The Hills, The Only Way Is Essex, were, it's fair to say, very very low.

But the simple tale of ten or so variously good looking and apparently quite wealthy twentysomethings, untroubled by things like proper jobs or bills or running out of milk, has won my heart.

The 'cast' appear to be caught unaware, as if quite by chance, by nothing less than a whole camera crew and production team, as we watch the 'characters' play out what appear to be semi-improvised scenes of low incident and minor drama revolving around messy romances and wanting to run bars and whether Sam should get something called a 'vajazzle' or not.

Tanned of limb and uncomplicated of thought, we've got wannabe topless model Amy ('What's 'closure' mean'?), or grinning goon but jack-the-lad hit-with-the-ladeeez Mark ('Thanks for doing my ironing Nanny Pat, I'm so stressed'), and Kirk ('I won't apologise for being jealous, it shows I care') to name but three of the flash Essex lot.

So many, many questions

But with the line between fiction and reality so blurred - blurred, I say! - and the audience being told at the start of the programme that 'the people are real but some of the situations have been created for your entertainment', it's hard to know exactly how much is real. How real is real?

I'm not normally bothered by such issues, but the programme's new take on an old format (in this country at least) has got me thinking more than I should. Are these people really real? Do the relationships we watch exist as we see them? And what happens when the cameras aren't there?

Does Mark still bark at his best mate Arg when he lets in a goal at five-a-side? And is the bloke who wants to manage Mark's sister's band Lola (keep up) really that toe-curlingly awful?

Perhaps we can never truly know. Actually, I know the answer to that last one: yeah he is.

I'm sure I will return to The Only Way is Essex in due course as I search for answers on the streets of Chelmsford or, more accurately, on the internet.

But if you haven't watched it yet, have a look. It's, y'know, fun.