Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Desperate Scousewives: There's something beneath all the fake tan (but it's likely to be just more fake tan)

There's a lesson, probably, somewhere underneath all the rollers and fake tan in new so-called structured reality soap Desperate Scousewives, about not judging people by appearances.

The characters are all so impossibly glamorous they may only ever be minutes from death due to extensive self-coverage of either fake tan or make up; tv-ooh can only trust that there are parts of their bodies that remain untouched, therefore allowing them to continue breathing unaided.

And if that isn't the case, let's hope there's a team of medics on standby.

Kicking off

It's likely those medics will be needed anyway, if not to perk up some of the performances, then because of the inevitable conflicts and rows that generally characterise this form of soapy telly.

Anyone who has seen Lauren G in Essex let rip knows how vocal and hate-filled they can be, and here in Liverpool, by the looks of it, things might end up kicking off regularly too.

So we see 'professional journalist' Elissa kicking off at her ex, Joe (described as 'a player'); Layla (a shop assistant/model) kicks off at Joe too because she feels he's using her (he is) (because he's a player); while Jaiden, already marked by tv-ooh as being truly awful and almost unwatchable and therefore competely and utterly watchable (and described as a 'bitchy blogger' - sample: 'you're shit!' - gosh!), is confronted by Amanda (described as 'a local celeb') about bad things he's written about her.
Joe from Desperate Scousewives: He's described as 'a player', but not because he plays football.

So in many ways, it's reality soap as usual. In fact, many of the elements that make tv-ooh favourites Essex and Chelsea are here in Desperate Scousewives - the bad boys, the glamour girls, the extensive soundtrack of well-known music tracks as short-hand for mood indication, plus contrived party-type events in the last quarter of each episode designed to bring the cast together and create tension and aggro resulting from their complicated relationships with each other - producers call it 'drama'.

'Off-screen producer'

But there's differences too - the characters sometimes look like they're speaking to an off-screen producer who's goading them into annoyance ('tell me how angry you are!').

We see them reacting to conversations they've just had - a documentary technique, which so sort of breaks the soapy/drama feel and emphasises the 'reality' of it.

Maybe it's also a technique to simplify the story telling process (given that about 70 per cent of the main characters are near identical-looking young blonde women) or to minimise the need for other scenes to be set up for 'plot recap' purposes, or even because the cast aren't quite up to scratch with their 'acting' yet.

Jodie from Desperate Scousewives: She'd 'wake the dead'!
That might also explain the narration from fog-horn-voiced beauty-therapist (and chief comedy element) Jodie, whose return to 'the 'Pool' from London and her search for a job, begins this modern day urban story.

'Volume control'

"I want to like her, that's the thing," says salon owner Mark to his husband and fellow owner Chris, after they've interviewed Jodie for a job, "but there's something missing."

Chris knows what it is: "Volume control."

"She'd wake the dead."

"She probably does."

But let's give Desperate Scousewives a chance, eh. Let's try and get past the WAG'd up appearances, the oblique reference to something mysterious called 'anal bleaching' that tv-ooh really doesn't want to know about, and the fact that Elissa has a wall-mounted Economy 7 heater in her flat, because, let's remember, tv-wise, the city's got pedigree.

Brookside, The Liver Birds, Bread, and the inexplicable thrill of wondering when the next loon might appear to make rude signs through Richard and Judy's This Morning dockside window are all great examples of Liverpool's contribution to good tv. Well, ok, maybe not Bread...

And Liverpool is probably due another bite of the popular culture cherry - although right now tv-ooh is just not sure if Desperate Scousewives is it.

But really, an Economy 7 wall-mounted heater!

You wouldn't get that in Chelsea.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Ooh it's Saturday night! Hands up who fancies a bit of densely-plotted Danish crime drama with subtitles?

Everyone say welcome back to The Killing shall we, now called The Killing II, because a) it's the second series and b) it's a lot easier to say than it's original Danish name, Forbrydelsen.

Since the four-episode-a-week repeat of the first series over July and August on BBC Four - and oh what a cheery summer that was - it seems the world and his wife have all picked up on the fact that The Killing's main character, the quite mysterious and very focused indeed detective Sarah Lund, likes to wear a particularly type of sweater.

And so everything you've ever read about the programme, including here, and, erm, here, on tv-ooh, have been blethering on about it until the cows come home. But then, who doesn't like a bandwagon?

Well, guess what. Those cows? They've come home. Because series two is here, AND YES SHE'S IN THE JUMPER ONLY IT'S RED NOW ALRIGHT, but in episode four it turns into a black and white one similar to the one in series one. It's like the same but reversed? White patterns on a black knit rather than the other way around you see.

So if we can all just get over the sweater - or jumper, if you prefer - and remember that actually The Killing II is one of the best things on tv at the moment, despite the apparent un-attraction of watching two hours of subtitled and densely plotted crime drama on a Saturday night (because, as everyone knows, Saturday night is about entertainment and showbiz and The X Factor).

But that just shows how good it is.

Ulrik Strange (Mikael Birkkjaer) and Sarah Lund (Sofie Grabol) in The Killing episode 4,
not talking about her jumper
So, The Killing II is much like The Killing I except:

1. There are only ten episodes this time, rather than twenty. BBC Four are showing two a week so we'll be done for Christmas. Merry Christmas.

2. There are multiple murders this time. And some of them (well, all of them, so far) are horrific and not very pleasant, if murder is ever pleasant come to that, which of course it isn't - tv-ooh ain't some sort of sicko you know.

3. There's a military theme - a soldier escapes from an institution after his former colleagues are mysteriously killed, and all of them are connected in some way to something that happened while they were on duty in Afghanistan. The soldier's wife has a father who is also a soldier, so you see: military theme.

4. Sarah's mum is in it again. She's engaged to a man who has a nut allergy. She rings Sarah just as Sarah's thrown up after seeing the horrific charred remains of a murder victim, incinerated in his wheel chair. On this call, Sarah's mum tells her not to be late for coffee and asks her to bring cake, and to make sure there's no nuts in them. A quick, funny moment and, among all the nerve-jangling gloom, something tv-ooh is seizing upon to cheer tv-ooh up a bit. Oh that's not actually a difference is it.

Some similarities with The Killing and The Killing II

1. The characters still aren't bothering with umbrellas. As anyone who has ever watched The Killing will know, it rains in Copenhagen. It's Denmark, it's wet. But there are no umbrellas. What to do?

2. There's some politically-charged sub-plot or other which frequently oscillates (ooh! oscillates!) between fascinating and occasionally a bit 'can we get back to Sarah now please?', and makes tv-ooh think that if you take your eyes off the subtitles for one second or start thinking about what you're going to have for dinner tomorrow you face certain doom, or, at least, get a bit confused about what's going on.

3. In other words you have to concentrate a bit.

Update (contains spoilers for episode 10): The last episode? Some of the best tv this year without a doubt: but seeing the 'end of case' beers with 20 minutes still to go, tv-ooh knew something big was about to happen.

What an amazing climax. And what an amazingly effective bullet-proof vest.
Related stories:
What next?

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Slap episode 5 review - Rosie: confusing sympathies in the toughest episode yet

More lurching emotions and characters contemplating their dramatic-navels while having a thoughtful bath - that was basically episode five of The Slap.

It was all about Rosie, as played by Melissa George, and it's fair to say that Rosie's divided both the characters and the audience. She's certainly divided tv-ooh.

Rosie's been fiercely protective of her four-year-old son Hugo - who was of course slapped by Harry in episode one at Hector's 40th birthday barbecue - and her determination to see her idea of justice brought about has caused all sorts of shouty scenes and characters slamming doors a lot.

But episode five almost managed to make Rosie sympathetic as we took a closer look into her life.

She's devoted to her son of course - in fact she still breastfeeds him; but her discipline is non-existent (she tries once but then apologies), and her house is scruffy with the bath in an outhouse, and is no match for the houses her friends have.

Most significantly, her partner Gary's a bit of a beardy deadbeat with no ambition (and an alcoholic), who doesn't think she should still be breastfeeding, and didn't think the case should have gone to court.

After Harry was found guilty but not punished, Gary disappears to the pub and Rosie unravels a bit, causing her to seek comfort in her friend Shamira, a Muslim convert, and her husband Bilal.

But he tells her to stay away from his family - her chaotic life and skewed but well-meaning values are things he doesn't want influencing his wife.

Looking at the hard time she got in the dock, on one hand Rosie got the comeuppance she deserved,  but on the other - it's hard not to feel sympathy for her too.

She doesn't have very much, but is kind to Anouk's sick mother, and loves her son, but her determination to not listen to her closest friends' or partner's advice came at a cost to herself.

The result, as usual with The Slap, was tense and involving - but this was the bleakest and gloomiest of episodes so far. Even Hector in his speedos, seen emerging from a dip at the local pool, didn't really cheer things up.

Three episodes to go.

Where next?

Related stories:
The Slap episode seven review - Aisha: Another part of the jigsaw
The Slap episode six review - Manolis: It's all still quite bleak...
The Slap episode five review - Rosie: confusing sympathies in the toughest episode yet
The Slap episode four review: Connie - this week it's a coming of age drama, with scenes in a vets
The Slap episode three review - Harry: TV drama as washing machine (in a good way)
The Slap episode two review - Anouk: It was good; we liked it
The Slap episode one review: Where logic and emotion collide, sort of, at a barbecue

Thursday, 24 November 2011

James Landale on BBC News: That thing on your top lip better be for charity sunshine :)

This is James Landale. He's the respected Deputy Politics Editor from BBC News.

You will have often seen him standing outside the Houses of Parliament at various times of the day, but often at the times of the main BBC News bulletins.

He's very knowledgeable about the political news of the day, especially when the Politics Editor Nick Robinson isn't on shift.

All in all, tv-ooh admires his work greatly.

But look closer. Listen, closely.

Huw Edwards is in the studio asking a question like this:

But! To the disappointment of everyone watching the BBC News at Ten, Huw Edwards failed to ask the question on everybody's lips.

Never mind the top political news of the day - it couldn't have been that big anyway, it was 20 minutes in - what we all wanted to hear was:

"So James, what IS that above your top lip?"

So let's pretend Huw did ask that question. James would smile, and maybe give a small laugh, because he's on air don't forget, and do something with his hands and face like this:

As he begins his answer, we can only imagine he'd stick to the facts and only the facts, because he's a journalist don't forget, but he'd also lightly pepper it with his 'personality', because some journalists on the tv like to do that, too.

"Well Huw, it's a moustache," he'll say, "and I've grown it here underneath my nose and above my top lip, as that's often regarded as the best place for them to grow but that's in no way set in stone."

"Right," says Huw, "And what do we know of the wider implications of this decision as it stands?"

James might then put his moustache into some sort of wider political context; he might not.

He might tell us what Theresa May thinks of it; he might not.

He may even venture to make a connection with the Euro in some way; he might not.

We just don't know.

But what's important here, in this imaginary live report on the BBC News at Ten, is that the question on the minds of everyone watching James Landale at this time has been answered, if not addressed.

All we need now is a close up, like this:

It is a truly, if slightly distracting, thing of wonder.

(In truth, James Landale has grown his moustache in support of 'Movember', a charity event where, during November, men grow a moustache to raise funds and awareness of cancers that affect men, such as prostate cancer.

James himself beat cancer (non-Hodgkin lymphomas) back in 2009 so that's probably partly why he's doing it too.

That, and the fact he looks almost sort of dashing with it - which is quite a feat in itself.)

Tv-ooh feels all confused.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Made in Chelsea: Series two episode ten - Champagne, fireworks and, like, FIREWORKS

In the achingly glamorous world of Made in Chelsea, season two has come to a dramatic close - and we know it was dramatic because there were FIREWORKS. IN THE SKY.

All the cast, and some extras too but we don't care about them, all gathered outside the inevitable country house in which they were partying and drinking Champagne.

They were all thrilling at the fireworks, as the fall-out from the other fireworks - dramatic ones - continued to explode. Or do what dramatic fireworks do.
Millie from Made in Chelsea, waiting to drink some Champagne at a party.
 Note bottles of Champagne in foreground awaiting said drinkage (Pic: Ch4/Jules Heath)

So we had Millie - which tv-ooh maintains is primarily a name you'd give to a dog - sobbing into the arms of her best pal, the equally amusingly-named Caggie, who has a pout that looks like she's always moments away from bubble-blowing, even during times of emotional stress.

Mils was upset because she'd just found out from Cags that Millie's ex, Hugo, had had it away with Millie's friend Rosie during a trip to Monaco earlier in the series.

It was Monaco because that's a reminder of how jolly well jet-set and well-to-do everyone is. If this was The Only Way is Essex it would have happened in Magaluf. Or Weymouth.

But what makes this infidelity particularly bad is that Rosie had denied it to Millie recently, and also the fact that Millie and Hugo were on course to be reunited after other infidelity, because infidelity seems to be all the rage in Chelsea.

So Millie, in the middle of this 1920s-inspired, Great Gatsby-themed fancy dress party, took to the microphone and publicly 'thanked' Rosie for betraying her with Hugo, before swishing out of the room, all hurt and emotionally forlorn, like some proper soap actress in some proper climatic soap scene, only with better costumes.

So where are we at? Let us examine the facts!

Ra ra ra! Jamie from Made in Chelsea opening a bottle of Champagne
and enjoying the process enormously (Pic: Ch4/Jules Heath)
Season three and a 90 minute Christmas 'spesh' has been 'commished'

Argh, tv-ooh has that irritating habit of abbreviating words to sound all cool and 'moderns'. Shoot tv-ooh now.

But if that Christmas special doesn't have super-toff Mark Francis wearing a bright red sweater and organising some amazing party or other while drinking Champagne, tv-ooh will demand a notional refund.

And the commission for a series three shows that it isn't just tv-ooh watching the thing either, which is a relief.

It's all totes-amaze!

Yar, it like so is? But what's best about Chels is the regularity and amazingness of the parties they have, pretty much in EVERY EPISODE now. The parties are the results of schemes usually hatched by Amber and super-toff Mark Francis, who in fairness don't have very much else to do in the show now that their 'entreprenuerial business projects' storyline failed to be of any interest whatsoever.

So what we've come to expect is that in part one of the episode, they have the idea, possibly while drinking Champagne, and then in part four, barely 20 minutes later, it's all been amazingly organised, with staff, fancy dress and every last cast member free to attend, and the whole thing goes without a hitch.

If the pair of them are that good at organising stuff they should pop down to number 10 Downing Street, see if they can't sort out this here economic gloom - Mark Francis would insist on Champagne but Cameron would have some Cava in the fridge upstairs so it's fine.

But having said that, in Made in Chelsea there is no economic gloom so there'd be no problem to solve in the first place. Result!

Louise and Spencer not drinking Champagne but some sort of cocktail -
a mojito perhaps - during a roulette game. The drama! (Pic: Ch4/Jules Heath)

Big parties as gigantic ruse

But in reality those events and parties are probably just the result of the producers realising what their plot function is: they are in fact a gigantic ruse to bring the cast together in the same scenes to create fireworks - dramatic ones, remember (see above) - so the characters can have some awkward interplay and look at each other blankly for a while.

And so it came to pass. At this party, Cheska confronted the barking-mad Gabriella, Jamie cleared the air with the barking-mad Gabriella about their 'drunken fun' (tv-ooh feels queasy), while the will they/won't they storyline between Spencer and Caggie limped onwards since its mid-series resurrection. FOR GOD'S SAKE CAN SOMEONE KNOCK THEIR HEADS TOGETHER PLEASE CHEERS.

Chelsea vs Essex

If tv-ooh had to choose, tv-ooh would go for Made in Chelsea over The Only Way is Essex.

Chelsea's deliberate colour palette of whites, creams and beige dominate the screen - there's no bright Essex reds or neon blues here - so the whole thing often looks and feels a bit more filmic - a bizarre statement perhaps but you can't argue with those seductive shots of London landmarks. Try it - they'd just look back at you blankly as London landmarks can't speak.

Made in Chelsea looks great on-screen, although scenes of Mils and Cags having their toenails done are admittedly not quite as thrilling (insert joke about watching paint dry here, ho ho).

Also, the character interplay and (ahem) 'storylining' is perhaps stronger in Chels, and the comedy has been beefed up this series: deliberately with Mark Francis, Ollie and Francis, and by accident with the arrival of Jamie, the amazingly named Gabalicious (not to be confused with the barking-mad Gabriella) and Binks and Cheska, now that they've made up again.

Of course, none of that stops it being total nonsense - but tv-ooh's a bit partial to some nonsense now and again.

Perhaps you've noticed.


Related stories:

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Who, exactly, cares who the presenters of Daybreak are...

...apart from the presenters of Daybreak themselves?

You see, tv-ooh only asks because tv-ooh has been reading all the gleeful newspaper reports about the apparent sacking of Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley.

In case you're not up to speed, the pair, who, you may remember, were 'poached' from BBC One's 7pm 'random reports and guests' soup The One Show for millions of pounds last year to join ITV1's GMTV replacement, but then were constantly criticised - by those newspapers again! - for how few viewers they were apparently winning.

'A million less than the BBC,' said one.

You'd think that people were actually interested.

But everyone's missing a trick: if the pair of them are so bad at their job, then isn't this good news all around - not least for Chiles and Bleakley.

We won't have to watch them, and they'll both get to have a lie-in now. Who doesn't like a lie-in?

'Actually pretty good at the lighter stuff'

What with their ITV contracts still being legally binding and all, probably, it looks like Bleakley's off to do Dancing on Ice and Chiles gets to keep his other programme about football and that one he does on a Sunday night that tv-ooh has never seen.

And actually, although Bleakley did often look uncomfortable when doing serious news-based interviews with her empty eyes but quite frankly amazing hair, she's pretty good at the lighter stuff - give her an axed X Factor contestant or The Wanted and she's as happy as can be.

You only have to see how some of the Daybreak news reporters struggle when they stand-in for her to see how easy she makes it look.

Everyone's favourite curmudgeon

While Chiles, well, he's everyone's favourite curmudgeon but with an acutely trained journalistic instinct, like a sort of news sniper or some other vaguely-military comparison like that, despite being unable to sit in a way that never looks like he's entirely comfortable. Think of your coccyx man!

In many ways the pair were doomed from the start with their big money transfers and becoming the public face of a brand new programme, but actually tv-ooh never really objected to them at all, and found them both rather watchable, all told - certainly more so than when they were both on The One Show.

And let's also remember that Daybreak is a hundred times better than what it replaced, despite the genuinely dreadful money-making minor-celebrity-endorsed phone-in competitions every ten minutes.

Despite its knockers, Daybreak is a reasonably convincing alternative to the sometimes dry and serious Breakfast: the BBC One choice is good with the straight news but there's often too many random 'lives' from gurning reporters in schools in Durham or on beaches in Devon in the dark where we hear about 'real concern' or, tv-ooh's favourite, 'growing concern' - used as an excuse to turn a vague story idea into something topical to create a reason to do the piece.

But what does tv-ooh know anyway? The editor from Breakfast's on his way to Daybreak in January so who knows what's going to happen next - it's said there's a statement due at the start of December.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Slap episode four review: Connie - this week it's a coming of age drama, with scenes in a, er, vets

Right now the only thing jarring in The Slap is the 'and starring' billing for Melissa George in the opening credits.

It jars slightly because The Slap is an ensemble piece, and each week a different character takes a turn to lead.

And so episode four belongs to Connie, played by Sophie Lowe.

Connie's a 17 year old veterinary assistant and has a huge and potentially dangerous crush on Hector, the 40-year-old husband of her boss.

Connie's also got a thing for moping about his house and going through his old photo albums, while she babysits his kids.

She checks out old black and white snaps of Hector in his shorts being all young and handsome, and as she does so she moons about with her big doe eyes and long blonde hair not really knowing what she's doing.

And, as is the custom in The Slap now, there's lot of eerie, plinky plonky musical keys striking a sympathetic yet also a disconcerting note as she does so: there's trouble ahead, the music tells us, and the characters are having Deep Thoughts.

Quick fumble

But then when Hector gives her a lift home, she knows exactly what she's doing - enticing him in for a quick fumble in his car. He should know better of course, but doesn't. And she's in the driving seat (not literally; figuratively).

And so, as is also the custom with The Slap, the episode is a total gripper from start to finish.

The troubled, clever, orphaned, sexual, confused, manipulative and kind Connie is there in all her contradictions, and her eventual guilt about her brief tangle with Hector, and his eventual rejection, which makes her briefly say Hector raped her, lead her to a friend's party, and discovering a more wild side to teenage life, before ending up with a younger-Hector lookalike.

Seventeen year old girls feature in tv drama all the time, and Connie's part in the 'slap' didn't seem that significant to begin with - but her 'journey' (if you will) - a sort of coming of age story but with scenes set in a vets - made for the kind of engrossing and character-led episode we've all come to expect from this series.

And as for that star billing for Melissa George? Okay, she's done some films in the US, but here in the UK we still know her mainly for her role as Angel in Home and Away and it seems odd she'd trump, say, Oscar nominee Sophie Okendo in the billing stakes.

But no matter - when the only thing you've got to criticise is the billing of the cast you know you've got a good show.

Perhaps Melissa George just has a good agent.

We'll soon see - it's her episode next.

Related stories:
The Slap episode seven review - Aisha: Another part of the jigsaw
The Slap episode six review - Manolis: It's all still quite bleak...
The Slap episode five review - Rosie: confusing sympathies in the toughest episode yet
The Slap episode four review: Connie - this week it's a coming of age drama, with scenes in a vets
The Slap episode three review - Harry: TV drama as washing machine (in a good way)
The Slap episode two review - Anouk: It was good; we liked it
The Slap episode one review: Where logic and emotion collide, sort of, at a barbecue

What next?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Pan Am: Enough going on to really take off. DO YOU GET IT?

Well. That was a load of camp old nonsense wasn't it? Not that a US drama show about four air stewardesses with neat hats, retro-flavoured flight bags and complicated personal lives was ever going to be gritty and demanding.

But Pan Am's nod to a real life event - in episode one we see the heroic crew rescuing the Bay of Pigs prisoners from Cuba at Christmas time in 1962 - was surprising as it was amusing, like you’d just sat on the remote and your television found the History Channel by mistake. The scene was all wind machines and soldiers with guns and an inappropriately-timed marriage proposal while the plane waits to depart under the cover of darkness.

What was probably a well-intentioned historical reference to show Pan Am’s role in important international events and that, ended up just looking a bit silly and got lost among all of the jet-setting and glamour.

The four female leads, Kate, Kate’s sister Laura, Collette (she’s French) and purser Maggie (played by Christina Ricci) may well make you think of Sex and the City, what with their modern 1960s New York lifestyles.

But the painstaking period detail reminds you of Mad Men, and the whole thing’s mixed up with a bit of Judith Chalmers travelling all over the planet and self-consciously taking part in the Local Culture.

So inevitably the women find themselves drinking pints in London town (it's raining and there's red buses); taking coffee with mysterious strangers in bistros in Rome, or scenes set in hotel rooms with the Eiffel Tower seen through the window.

Added to that, the whole thing’s peppered with flashbacks to an abandoned wedding in, erm, Connecticut.

Those flashbacks, although a bit irritating (the tv equivalent of someone yelling the word ‘BACKSTORY’ in your ear, with a megaphone), tell us how Laura came to be a flight attendant but actually aren’t that interesting, while scenes set on board the plane during flights – think banter with the captain, unwanted advances from a drunken passenger or awkward encounters with your married lover and his wife – are all bit ‘Women faced struggle but were strong even in the sixties everyone!’

But the biggest story surprise is also the oddest: former Pan Am purser of choice, Bridget – a hoity-toity English bird – has disappeared, and via scenes set across the entire planet (or at least cities on the list of Pan Am destinations), it turns out she's actually working undercover for MI6. Fancy!

She’s not that good a spy mind you, as her cover gets blown and she is ‘compromised’, so she has to disappear – having to assume a new alias and go live in Missouri – but, during a scene set in a Parisian church (where else? It’s very international, this), it’s revealed she nominated her former air hostess colleague Kate to be recruited in her place.

Who would have guessed Pam Am would also be twenty per cent Spooks?

So it’s a bit of a soap, and a bit of a soup, so as a result it has a bit of an identity crisis, but it all looks great, it's very slick, and the green screen's doing overtime – and the fact that there’s an actual full-size plane decked out in Pan Am livery shows that the producers are taking sixties authenticity seriously, even though all those scenes in metropolitan European cities were filmed in a back lot in New York.

How the rest of the series plays out is another thing, but, for now it looks like there’s enough going on for Pam Am to really take off. DO YOU GET IT?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Only Way is Essex - series three review: where is we at?

With the conclusion of the third series of The Only Way is Essex, let's take stock of where we are, shall we  - because don't forget tv-ooh takes all this stuff extremely and very seriously indeed STERN FACE.

This here new tv format - oh how we've grappled with terms such as "structured reality", "reality soap" and "soap done on the cheap" in our search for a meaningful and useful description - has now become established and understood by the masses (that's us, reader, us).

Look at Essex's BAFTA, Essex's various imitators, and now, the commission for four further 10-episode series of Essex to run throughout 2012.

The programme has well and truly arrived - even if its ITV2 audience is still relatively small - and it's arrived just as Mark Wright has left, sobbing like a great big girl.

But what will Mark's departure mean for the show? Will anyone else follow in his footsteps? And how much do we really even care?

Sam Faiers: Possibly leaving, possibly not.
So what about those threats to leave the show then?   

Harry, Arg, Lauren G and Sam are all said to be considering their future on the show. SO WHAT. BIG DEAL. BLOODY WELL LEAVE THEN.

Harry doesn't have much to do now Amy has left, although his dates with Kurt have been amusing; Sam and Arg are both fun but won't have much to do now Mark's left (now that Lydia and Arg have settled down a bit); and, frankly, Lauren G needs some counselling to deal with her unresolved anger about everything. Did you see her kick off at Mark and Sam the other week? And then she had the nerve - the nerve! - to tell Lauren P that she "doesn't have problem with Sam".

If they've got better offers to go and do other stuff, take them. If not, stay where you are and make hay. History tells us the chance of a long and successful tv career are probably quite small, at best.

Essex as 'soap on the cheap'?

What became more noticeable during series three is how much more "set up" the show felt. Of course, it's been this way since episode one, and it's always said as much at the start of every show, but watching Mark's drawn out farewell - long lingering shots at some contrived event or other designed to bring the cast all together in the last third of the episode, him looking sombre on a staircase, and moist eyes all over - it had the production values and appearance of a full-on soap episode, only with a cast who aren't professional actors and who aren't paid very much.

Which I guess is a compliment to the producers, the editors and the cast, if nothing else.

Actual real life ignored in preference to 'constructed' real life?

As discussed here on tv-ooh, with the story about Maria in The Sun and her alleged former life, the real reason Mark left the show is to become a full time celebrity, taking up an offer to appear on ITV1 career-revive-athon I'm A Celebrity.

That's all fine, but in the show he left "to get away from it all" rather than to "pursue a career on the telly". If the show's meant to be about real people in real life, why isn't it informed by what's going on in their real lives, which are now influenced by the fact they're on the telly and have become celebrities (sort of).

Are we meant to conclude that we're seeing "representations" of these people, rather than them "as themselves".

The answer, of course, is yes.

Nanny Pat: Good at ironing
Nanny Pat

Where are her peers? Should she not be at the bingo? Is her role as Wright family matriarch now limited following Mark's absence? Who will do his ironing? Sister Jess is still around, but she's never been as prominent as Mark - although a snog with Joey Essex in the last episode could be an interesting storyline to develop.They could both wear Joey's tiny shorts and go around saying 'reem' a lot.

Other stuff

Gemma's wise and worldly (and tactless) observations - like telling Mario and Lucy to grow up - have won her new fans, and Chloe and her endless pursuit of a fuller pair of buttocks (and describing German food as "filth") should ensure her a place in the show. Sensible and secure Lauren P is often the voice of reason, and Maria and Joey and Kirk are all good to watch.  So that's nice eh.

The point - and there is one - is that most of these were bought in after the first series began, so if those original characters do decide to leave, they'll just be replaced. Mark and his tears, and his curious use of the word "cuddle" over the word "hug", may well be missed on Essex - but he'll likely be all over the telly anyway.

And the show will carry on.


Roll on Essex Christmas special.

Previous related stories:
The Only Way is Essex: Maria's "worst week"; reality redefined (again); and a flppin' colonic for Arg. Give me strength
An inexplicably serious and thoughtful review of The Only Way is Essex series 3 episode 1
Only Way Is Essex: Series two - a verdict: the winners, the losers
Only Way Is Essex - the dumbed down, dumbed down
Only Way Is Essex: Reality/drama hybrid wins heart, confuses mind

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Slap episode three review - Harry: TV drama as washing machine (in a good way)

Episode three of The Slap, Harry, seemed to remember that it's part of a full series with an over-arching plot - namely, the consequences of that eponymous slap.

It was Harry who carried out the slap at the 40th birthday barbecue of his cousin Hector, and with this being Harry's episode, it picked that up and ran with it, and managed to mix in all sorts of other bits and bobs that other tv critics might describe as "powerful" and "dynamic" and "absorbing".

In truth, cos that's how we roll here on tv-ooh - truthfully, The Slap episode three was all those things, just like episode one and two, but unlike episode two and its perhaps slightly-off-the-point character study of the confident but fragile Anouk, Harry's episode - charged and angry as it was - took us right back into the centre of the story.

(Although The Slap looks like Clever Television which may mean the events seen in Anouk's episode may yet come back to affect us all.)

So we see Harry working out his reaction to that slap - he's a successful businessman with a swish house and model-like wife and seems to have it all, but he's also got staff who have stolen from him, and a wife who won't have full sex with him due to an apparent fear of pregnancy, and all the while he's roving around moments away from exploding with rage.

He visits a mistress, he visits a lawyer, and he visits Anouk to try and get her to talk to the police about what she saw at the barbecue (she agrees that the kid he slapped, Hugo, was swinging a cricket bat, but she won't speak up through loyalty to Hugo's mother Rosie), and then Harry's son witnesses violence from Harry against his wife.

Eventually, Harry's persuaded to visit Rosie and her partner to apologise for the slap - but the venom he's met with from Rosie - who also clocks the fact that Harry's got a violent temper and that his wife probably lives in fear - is surprising as it is shocking. She's in no mood to forgive.

It's this that helps give The Slap its impact - characters you think you're getting to know suddenly shock you, viewer sympathies switch, and nothing is black and white.

Harry's casual racism and violence are tempered - but not excused - by his love for his son and a struggle to find his place in his family; whereas Rosie, still breast-feeding her brat son at the age of four, seems intent on vengeance at the expense of keeping the peace amongst the group, while her deadbeat partner Gary has approached a tv news programme (A Current Affair on Nine, detail fans - think Panorama) in what looks like needless stirring. It's hard to know where you are.

It's all a bit of a washing machine really.

In a good way.

Related stories:

The Slap episode seven review - Aisha: Another part of the jigsaw
The Slap episode six review - Manolis: It's all still quite bleak...
The Slap episode five review - Rosie: confusing sympathies in the toughest episode yet
The Slap episode four review: Connie - this week it's a coming of age drama, with scenes in a vets
The Slap episode two review - Anouk: It was good; we liked it
The Slap episode one review: Where logic and emotion collide, sort of, at a barbecue

What next?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Doctor Who movie: an appeal for calm at this confusing time

Calm down everyone. Yes, you with your model K-9. You with your Trial of a Time Lord TARDIS tin. Oh and you too with the burgundy final season Tom Baker scarf.

Despite reports of a new Doctor Who film being in development, those same reports are also emphasising how the film is highly unlikely to emerge for a good three years or so - not least because the budgets required to shoot in deep space are considered much too big for these cash strapped times.

Organising the catering alone is a total nightmare.

But flippant half-gags aside, talk of a Doctor Who film (or 'movie' if you're stateside) is really nothing new.

There have been attempts before, where random actors like David Hasslehoff and other random actors like that, have been linked to the part.

And then it all blows over.

So while these reports seem more credible than any before - originating from the US website Variety - and what with the involvement of Harry Potter director David Yates and BBC Worldwide big-cheese Jane Tranter, let's not get all carried away eh?

We know, don't we, that many fans everywhere will begin to worry about the so-called 'Americanisation' of the 'essentially British' Doctor, others may fret about continuity, while some might revel in the speculation about who could actually play the Doctor, the companion, the Daleks, the Master etc etc etc until until until until SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION WITH LOUD EXPLOSION NOISE DUBBED ON AFTERWARDS.

To that tv-ooh says this: let's all take a deep breath and BREATHE.

All we know at this stage is that any movie would be a "radical transformation" and there are no scripts, no cast, no crew, no nothing.

And actually, more pertinently - given that this is tv-ooh and not film-ooh or, I don't know, flipping blinkin' movie-ooh - the question should be: how would a new movie affect the British TV series?

Could there be a successful Hollywood franchise running alongside an effectively unrelated 13 part series made by BBC Wales?

By that time, the BBC Wales series might be due a rest, so the answer, basically, could be a no - which would really give us fans something to worry about.

Don't forget, it's very early days, and this sort of speculation - the exact same fan-led speculation tv-ooh is gently and affectionately mocking - is unhelpful but, equally and understandably, irresistible.

So then, if nothing else, remember this - the world, as indeed our favourite Time Lord, moves in mysterious ways.

And think on this: if a Doctor Who movie franchsise does take off - imagine the new merchandise opportunities!

That life-size Vervoid costume could now only be years away.

Related stories:
So did the Doctor Who Confidential film crew capture the meeting in which it was decided to cancel Doctor Who Confidential
Doctor Who - The God Complex review: Nice touch with the Nimon as it all gets good again
Doctor Who: Let's Kill Hitler review - the only River in the, er, River, is a River?
Doctor Who: Episodes 8 - 11 trailer: 8 fatuous observations
Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War review: 'Epic', ' Blimey', 'quips'
Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane: Andy Pandy outfits in space
Doctor Who trailer: this is quite exciting and momentarily diverting
Christopher And His Kind: Glad it wasn't Tom Baker
National Television Awards: Dermot/Doctor great, everything else ho-hum

Monday, 7 November 2011

EastEnders' Yusef: the stare, the suits, the walk, the man. TERRIFYING

Yusef Khan, EastEnders' scary GP with quite a nice line in fancy grey suits, has become an expert at gazing into the middle distance with revenge on his mind and a look of sheer evil on his face.

Tv-ooh calls it his death stare, or, alternatively, his stare of death.

As Albert Square villains go, Yusef is up there with Nick Cotton or Dirty Den or even that strange old bird who tried to split up Martin and Sonia (she was called Sarah Barnes and she was a bit mental - true).

But unlike Nick or Den, Yusef appears to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, although his job as a doctor means he could do you a nice line in prescription meds if it all got too much. Nick would have to steal them; Den would have to ring Fat Harry.

Of course, Yusef's not without his charms - which in this case don't qualify for redeeming qualities, as he'd still kill you - but he knows how to turn on that charm at the drop of a hat, and won't think twice about coming armed with a big bunch of white roses and a pitiful expression.

But how anyone can fall for it now - given his track-record of lying, manipulating, and drugging - is beyond even the comprehension of tv-ooh.

Yusef and Amira

It's looking like Zainab won't fall for it now either - yeah, all that abuse and controlling would've done it. You'd hope so anyway.

But the ace up but Yusef's sleeve is that he's colluding with Amira who is the recently-returned estranged wife of Zainab's gay son Syed and possibly the only person desperate enough to need him.

Amira wants Syed, and Yusef wants Zainab - the two can help each other, and will possibly go to any lengths to get it.

This means there will be more of Yusef's stare of death - chilling it is, it is a thing to behold - and for that, tv-ooh admires Yusef, although we wouldn't like him as our GP nor would we look at him directly.

'Surgery floorboards'

Tv-ooh also likes him for the way he walks into rooms: slowly, carefully, menacingly, and as if he's avoiding land-mines underneath the floor.

Which, when you consider the fact that Doctor Legg could have had all sorts underneath those surgery floorboards in his day, is perfectly plausible.

Best of all, scary Yusef also triggered one of the best lines of soap responses ever, shortly after his first appearance in Zainab's kitchen, back in November 2010, and much to her surprise:

"You set me on fire!"

Here are his scenes from his very first episode so you can see for yourself: the stare, the suits, the walk, the man:

Fortunately for everyone though, the bloke who plays Yusef is called Ace Bhatti and he's actually quite nice in real life as shown in the interview below from This Morning.

Phew, that's alright then.

Although Ace Bhatti say he has "a lot of sympathy" for his character.


Tv-ooh can't help but think Yusef's days on the Square may be numbered.

Related stories:
EastEnders: "I want pizza and I want Hazell Dean!"
EastEnders: Zoe Lucker's Vanessa and her white trouser suit loses plot; shoe; shouts a lot 
Oh, Pam St Clement (Pat in EastEnders): What are your post-soap options?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Chronic X Factor Fatique Syndrome is here, but less so on the Sunday

If tabloid reports about falling X Factor ratings are true, the reasons behind it seem pretty clear.

We're all a bit tired. Whether those reports about spats between the judges, or about Frankie's hair getting ever more wild, are true or false, it doesn't really matter.

Added to that, the contestants just aren't that memorable, and the ones that are memorable, aren't that good at the singing bit.

The natural conclusion of this is that we can only be a year or two away from actually not having any singing on The X Factor at all; instead the thing becomes only about indeterminate qualities like "charisma", "charm" and, possibly, amazing hair or very tight trousers.

Which is a new take on the expression "the whole package".

In other words, although the new judges are pretty good, "viral infections" aside Kelly, the contestants, on the most part, just aren't up to it. That's not to say there isn't some strong singing talent there, because there is.

It's just that the audience don't really seem that bothered anymore, no matter how many times the contestants "give 110% per cent".

And if those same tabloid reports about falling X Factor ratings are true, then it's also true that the Sunday night programme fares better in the ratings than the Saturday show - and the reasons behind that seem pretty clear too.

It's because we like to see who's going to leave the competition, and the drawn-out results process is the only moment of semi-genuine tension in the whole darn-tooting shebang.

And, perhaps more significantly, the Sunday night show is the only regular opportunity a mainstream family audience get to see big-name pop acts, and Nicole Scherzinger, perform live on a major tv channel.

These days that's a genuine tv treat.

So essentially, what tv-ooh is saying is, bring back Top of the Pops.

Bit surprised about The Risk going home though, and the judges were always going to keep cry-baby Kitty over man-child eunuch Jonny because Kitty's basically good tabloid fodder and people find her annoying what with her sub-Lady Gaga schtick and that, which would marginally ensure a slightly less-limited music career afterwards. And actually, Jonny's got panto written all over him. THANK GOD FOR THAT.


Oh well.

Related stories: X Factor: Can we send the judges home, let the thing run itself?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Only on Sky News: St Paul's demonstrators compared to Nazi occupation of France

Interesting piece of video footage going around the web at the mo, in which Sky News journalist Adam Boulton "interviews" one of the anti-capitalist demonstrators, Phil McKeenan, outside St. Paul's Cathedral.

Tv-ooh has no strong views about the people demonstrating, but would argue for their right to do so. Isn't protesting against capitalism essentially just arguing against shopping? Or is that an over-simplification?

But what tv-ooh does have strong views about is Proper Journalism - in the sense that an interview should be factual, balanced, fair and useful - but this interview basically becomes three minutes and 40 seconds of Boulton barracking McKeenan about the latter not sleeping in his tent on the site of the protest every night.

Boulton and his co-presenter are arguably right to highlight it of course - even if Boulton does labour the point and then also appears to misunderstand the whole idea of democracy - but then he draws a comparison to the occupation of St Paul's to the Nazi occupation of France in World War II.

Oh dear.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Slap episode two review - Anouk: It was good; we liked it

Episode two of The Slap took the new eight-part Australian drama in a surprising direction and didn't, as apparently mis-reported everywhere, tell the same story leading up to the slap but from the perspective of a different character.

Instead it continued the story, but from the perspective of a different character.

So where episode one focused on Hector's 40th birthday barbecue, which lead to his cousin Harry slapping the four-year-old son of Hector's wife's friend Rosie (keep up!), episode two picked up the story of another guest, Anouk, at that same barbecue.

The character of Anouk (Essie Davis) isn't anyone we've not met before in TV drama - she's the successful but child-free careerist: in this case a very late-thirties over-worked script producer on an Aussie soap with a tyrant boss (cast as Scottish!), complete with a stylish house she's sharing with her lover, the much younger and frisky Rhys, who is an actor on the soap she works on.

Anouk also has a mother with cancer that she should probably pay more attention to, and we now know Rosie and Aisha (Hector's wife) have been her closest friends since childhood, and that Anouk wants to write a novel and be A Writer.

The Slap's format is a bit like Shameless creator Paul Abbott's factory drama Clocking Off - an ensemble cast you see regularly but a different character is foregrounded each week where we hear their own story, but they also play their part in an overall story arc too.

But here in The Slap this format feels original and new again, which could be due more to The Slap's novel origins, or perhaps because we don't see much Serious Drama from Australia (and the fact that Anouk works on a Neighbours-type soap is officially a Nice Touch. Oh tv-ooh is starting to give things Title Caps for no reason.)

The other reason could be that it's absorbing acting and an engaging story fantastically told.

Considering tv-ooh nearly didn't bother to come back for episode two - it was Southland on More4 you see - tv-ooh is very glad tv-ooh did.

One to watch, definitely.

Related stories:

The Slap episode seven review - Aisha: Another part of the jigsaw
The Slap episode six review - Manolis: It's all still quite bleak...
The Slap episode 5 review - Rosie: confusing sympathies in the toughest episode yet
The Slap episode four review: Connie - this week it's a coming of age drama, with scenes in a vets
The Slap episode three review - Harry: TV drama as washing machine (in a good way)
The Slap episode two review - Anouk: It was good; we liked it
The Slap episode one review: Where logic and emotion collide, sort of, at a barbecue

What next?

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Slap: Where logic and emotion collide, sort of, at a barbecue

When a tv show is called The Slap, our old friend logic tells us - in probably quite an uppity way, and with folded arms and maybe even a slight sneer - that a slap will be involved somewhere along the line.

And logic is right, as logic tends to be.

But where logic lets itself down is in its failing to work well with emotion, because when watching The Slap an emotional response is likely.

Because logically we'd probably agree hitting someone else's badly behaved four-year-old child is wrong.

But, emotionally, you can also understand the heat-of-the-moment impulse, in the middle of a hectic family barbecue, that might have led to it.

And so it certainly looks like eight-part Australian drama The Slap, currently showing on BBC Four here in the UK but based on a novel by Australian/Greek writer Christos Tsiolkas, knows what it's doing.

The slap itself - carried out by Harry (left in the picture above) - is the pivotal event of the series, and each of its eight parts will see the consequences of that same event unfold from the perspective of a different character each week - a technique that could be seen as a novelty, but maybe more likely as an effort to make each episode different enough from the previous, and to get the audience thinking about its own viewpoint.

But because you know this slap is coming, the initial laid-back leisurely pace and the almost fly-on-the-wall style of camerawork is deceiving - and unsettling.

It's set in a real, suburban, middle class house in Melbourne, where preparations for a 40th birthday barbecue are under-way - a scenario familiar in Australian tv for us in the UK thanks to the one-time popularity of Neighbours (a comparison Australian's might hate, but hey).

But that's where any similarities end because this is far less cosy - we're following Hector and his wife's preparations for his barbecue; but he's considering an affair with her assistant; he's disappointed with his lazy son; he then sniffs a line of cocaine to help him through the party.

And as we get to know this sometimes selfish and unsympathetic character, the sense of worry about this approaching slap we know is going to happen continues to grow.

It's cleverly done - and you know it's all going to kick off, and it does.

One to watch.

The Slap, Thursdays, BBC Four or on BBC iPlayer

Related stories:

The Slap episode seven review - Aisha: Another part of the jigsaw
The Slap episode six review - Manolis: It's all still quite bleak...
The Slap episode five review - Rosie: Confusing sympathies in the toughest episode yet
The Slap episode four review: Connie - this week it's a coming of age drama, with scenes in a vets
The Slap episode three review - Harry: TV drama as washing machine (in a good way)
The Slap episode two review - Anouk: It was good; we liked it
The Slap episode one review: Where logic and emotion collide, sort of, at a barbecue