Monday, 16 January 2012

Borgen: Episode 3 and 4 - The dramatic unexpectedness of Greenland. Greenland!

Well. I don't think anyone was expecting a brief overview of the long-standing tensions between Danish and Greenland in the latest episodes of Borgen - it's not a familiar source of drama for a Saturday night.

Especially when that's contrasted with a sub-plot about a couple having to 'schedule in' appointments for sex among the many stylish accessories in their equally stylish home.

But the BBC Four Danish-language political thriller is continuing to surprise.

In taking a slight diversion from the everyday plotting and conspiracies of domestic government-based intrigue and scenes set in corridors, the new Danish prime minster Birgitte Nyborg, now 100 days into her premiership, visits the Denmark-'owned' Greenland, and wears a beige jumper and a misty-eyed expression as she meets its leader and hears about its social problems while gazing at its cinematic landscape.

She was there as a result of the US using one of its own Greenland-based airbases as a stop-off for potentially illegally-detained prisoners.

Photos of them were leaked to the Danish media - which in this case means plucky tv journalist Katrine and her crack team of colleagues, some of whom wear 'meedja' spectacles, but all of whom shop in the Danish equivalent of Gap (which probably is also Gap).

Birgitte managed to smother the scandal, when, in an interview with Katrine, she claimed the US landed its planeful of suspects due to a one-off 'emergency' - which in turn led to the scenes in Greenland with Birgitte promising to involve it more in Danish politics.

She was, technically, lying about it being a one-off, so that could be another of the many plot strands to add to an ever growing pile.

But, although it may have much more resonance for Danish viewers, the unexpectedness of Greenland - Greenland! - as a source of drama cancels out any thoughts (for now) that Borgen might end up becoming a 'problem of the week'-style programme, like a politics-based Casualty.

And as much as tv-ooh wants to pun about putting the 'bore' into 'Borgen', we'd much rather have a nicely developed and increasingly absorbing two hours of Danish drama a week, which so far is what we're getting.

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Let's all start wishing for series three of Sherlock now shall we?

For the brief, mayfly-like duration of a series of Sherlock, the show has the largely-unchallenged mantle of being one of - if not the - best programmes on tv.

And yes that includes both Come Dine With Me and Deal or No Deal.

Why is it so good? Possibly because:

It's clever: the moments of Sherlock deducing information from the apparently unremarkable people and objects in front of him tell us how much of genius he is right there.

But of course we already know that because...

He has a nice coat (which has its own fan site!): Sometimes the result of this coat (nice though it is) means Sherlock becomes a bit reminiscent of Doctor Who, but must all tall, striding and slightly odd male characters on tv be compared to the Doctor? Yes, it would seem so.

He has an endearing and slightly less-clever than he is side-kick: Martin Freeman's Dr John Watson has mastered the 'turn head to the right/turn head to the left' style of acting. Watch it and see - he delivers a line, then turns his head, like an advanced 'double-take'. Sometimes it's to portray surprise, sometimes annoyance, sometimes embarrassment. Once you've noticed it you can't un-notice it. But we like it all the same.

It's funny and witty: See above; see also Una Stubbs' Mrs Hudson. And the Daily Mail-upsetting 'nudity' in episode one.

It's thrilling: The scenes in the secret military centre in the Baskerville episode, where Watson thinks he's being stalked by a 'hound' - when actually it's all a set-up engineered by Sherlock to get to the root of the mystery and is nearly at the expense of Watson's sanity - was one of the best moments of the series.

There may be other reasons, but we all get the idea.

With all this amazingness, it might be seen as a shame that there are only three episodes in a series of Sherlock.

Our collective instinct is to want more - oh, so many, many more, as if more is somehow better - but actually it's probably for the best we just have this annual set of three films, and no more.

One of the show's writers and producers, Steven Moffat, has said as much: "We think of them as films because they are ninety minutes long and once we knew we weren't doing hour long episodes they needed to be on that sort of scale. They have to have the size and weight of a movie."

And, what with him having to write Doctor Who as well, he probably can't type any faster anyway.

But will there be a series three? Yes - in fact, series three was commissioned at the same time as series two, as revealed on Twitter by Moffat - who had previously said he was keen to do a series three anyway - shortly after the conclusion of series two.

Clearly, we have all been a little bit had, but if production is anything like series two, shooting will begin in the summer and the new series will be on this time next year.

We're already looking forward to seeing Watson's reaction to Sherlock not being dead, and Mrs Hudson's going to have AN ABSOLUTE FIT.

We can't wait.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Let's see if this clip from The Simpsons can't cheer us all up for a few seconds eh?

(This, by the way, is from a Simpsons episode called To Surveil with Love and won't be broadcast on free-to-air tv in Britain until, ooh, 2017 (probably). It's not especially funny or hilarious in any way but is, how you say, 'mildly diverting', and given that it's January, given that it's a while from payday, and given that tv-ooh has just had a tussle with a cat in the garden over its intention to do a poo on tv-ooh's lawn, and given that the clip above is a reminder that, actually, The Simpsons is still rather entertaining, even if it's somewhat buried away on Channel 4 at 6pm these days, 'mildly diverting' is actually, on this occasion, enough. And there is, somehow, some sort of quick, if instantly forgettable, pleasure in seeing the cast of The Simpsons performing the song Tik Tok, which, by the way, was the first time that the traditional Simpsons title theme was not used on the opening of an episode.

Can someone pass the Rescue Remedy please. It's been a long old week.

Have a good weekend fellow ooh-ers.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Hotel: A comedy documentary about a man who likes ketchup and gravy at the same time

It's been described as a modern day Fawlty Towers, and you can image The Hotel's pesky tv producers probably had just that comparison in mind when moving their fixed-camera documentary programme to the Devon town of Torquay.

The Grosvenor Hotel is what one would politely call an 'independent' hotel and is run by 'former millionaire' Mark, a divorcee who lives in room 46 of the hotel and says he hasn't cooked a proper meal for 15 weeks, and even then that might have just been a quick spag bol, which he enjoys with both ketchup and gravy.

What's more, his 'quirky' nature has meant he's decided for himself that the hotel is a 'three star' because he doesn't want to pay for the official classification.

Mark is supported - or, as he would have it, hindered - by a team of staff including attitude-heavy Reservations Manager Alison, who likes a bicker and a neckerchief, and Deputy Manager Christian, who likes a spray tan.

Christian also likes to drag up (badly) to be a 'dolly bird' for a disastrous in-house game of Play Your Cards Right - which, just like the hotel's decor, is straight from the 1970s.

There's a lot of scenes of staff moaning about each other while sitting around a plastic garden table smoking fags.

One of them used to be Phillip, who wisely left at the end of the first episode, and can be heard and seen talking about the experience of making the programme in the box below.

He seems quite chipper about it all doesn't he?

But although the hotel in The Hotel, which we're told is fighting for its survival, looks doomed from the outset, it's also in possession of those peculiarly British sitcom characteristics which means the show might be a success even if the hotel isn't.

Its mix of strong personalities who are perpetually stuck-in-a-rut, along with a steady stream of fresh guests with a story to tell, is what make the show spring in to life.

Mark signed up to the show because he basically fancies himself as an entertainer. He tells his son he's still to achieve the third of his three big life objectives - the first two were to drive a Bentley and to have a flat overlooking the local bay - but we can all see that taking part in The Hotel is probably not going to bring him any closer to his third: performing at The Royal Albert Hall.

A panto in Paignton might be the closest he'll get because, in the nicest possible way, Mark is essentially doomed - and tv loves a doomed comedy character.

So in one sense he should be pleased - he might have a failing hotel, but he might also have the beginnings of a minor tv career.

It won't last very long mind you, but let's not go into that now, eh?

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A commercial interlude with some ladies dancing a bit; then some kids; then some men

Sometimes, nothing but a carefully synchronised dance routine performed around a capital city to a dance/pop hit from the 1990s while wearing reasonably striking outfits will do.

And somehow, the people who made the recent tv advert for high street fashion emporium (oh why can't I just say 'shop'?) Next seemed to agree.

Although generally of course, tv-ooh is seldom troubled by advertising because tv-ooh doesn't care much for commercial television, with the exception of ITV1, ITV2, Channel 4, Channel 5 (if it's raining out), E4, More4 and other channels like that.

No, it's all about non-commercial channels.

However, occasionally a tv advertisement will - how you say - catch one's eye, just like this:

Except - except! - there's now also this:

...which is basically the same but with young girls doing the dancing instead.

A good idea is a good idea is a good idea.

So now we need the male equivalent version. Except - except! - there's also this too:

Did you stop watching it after 23 seconds too?

But you got the idea though yes?

You see what point tv-ooh is getting at?

That's right - people like to dress similarly and dance in formation in busy public places, and tv-ooh likes to watch said dancing no matter what the gender or city (although the soundtrack should preferably be Haddaway's What is Love at all times).

It can ONLY be a matter of time before this thing becomes some sort of new tv game show format, possibly presented by Ant and Dec, possibly not. Check back here in October yeah?

PS Can the half-arsed Internet campaign to bring back Haddaway and his arthritic posse of confused-looking backing dancers, as demonstrated below, start now please?

Cheers everyone.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Is it me or is the prospect of a new series of Shameless just a little bit 'meh'?

So Shameless is back. Series nine, two runs of 11 episodes, with the first set starting on Monday 9 January.

The signs are mixed - reports describe the show as ''rebooted", but that's what you do to a computer when it stops working properly.

Tv-ooh wants to be excited, but, do you know, Shameless doesn't feel so special anymore.

Perhaps this an undiagnosed bout of SAD talking here, or perhaps this is just tv life: a show becomes successful, more people want to watch it, filming it on the real life estate becomes troublesome, the production crew move to a purpose built exterior set that costs hundreds and hundreds of pounds to create, and then the people that pay for that need to recoup their money ya-di-ya-di-ya.

It's the age old story.

So in order to cover the cost and to meet the apparent public demand for more for the show, they turn it into a soapy-style drama with more episodes than ever before and the whole thing becomes some kind of tv juggernaut, hurtling away with an ever-growing cast, complete with shouty swearing and drug taking and all the rest of it, becuse people think that's what Shameless is all about.

So it becomes yer general knock-about comedy drama series, and its return loses that 'sense of occasion'.

It stops feeling like the must-see, event-based television that it once was. If you miss one, don't worry, there's 21 other new ones kickin' about.

However, when Shameless is good, it is fantastic - but only for several episodes a year.

And the problem is that you don't know when the fantastic episodes will be shown, so you have to watch them all in the hope of the proverbial 'rabbit from the hat' moment.

Its best stories - all about families and feelings and relationships and ne'er-do-wells down on their luck and living in grinding poverty but making do on benefits and illegal drugs and violence but always done with a smile and a bawdy quip - are basically those with real characters at its heart.

And we're sorry to say it (a bit), but original ne'er-do-well in chief Frank Gallagher - played by actor, executive producer and occasional director of the show David Threlfall - should take a step back, or, preferably, down, and leave the show altogether (but given his multiple roles on the show, that's unlikely).

Of course, tv-ooh will loyally watch the new episodes anyway - recorded, mind you: it's past tv-ooh's bedtime - and probably decide to love it all over again, the swine.

Tv-ooh might even swig from a can of special brew while it's on as well, maybe while wearing some scruffy trackie bottoms or Reebok trainers, and perhaps while claiming a benefit or two, just to get into the Chatsworth spirit of things.

Although to be honest, tv-ooh does all those things anyway *opens can of Asda Smart Price hi-strength lager*.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Borgen: Good news for fans of passive Danish language-learning who like a multi-layered plot

Good news for fans of passive Danish language-learning for two hours on a Saturday night with a bit of multi-layered plot thrown in for good measure - new BBC Four political drama Borgen looks like it might be quite good.

It's not, of course, The Killing - there's no police, no murder and fewer scenes in the dark - but the similar origins of both (they're from the same Danish production company and are in the same BBC Four slot) makes comparisons inevitable.

And either the pool of good Danish actors is very small or the producers hoped for a bit of Forbrydelsen magic with their casting - as both of Sarah Lund's main sidekicks are here in Borgen.

The Killing's series one Jan Meyer (Søren Malling) plays a tv politics editor, Torben, complete with a pair of black-rimmed 'meedja' spectacles, while second series sidekick turned bad guy Ulrik Strange (Mikael Birkkjær) plays the be-cardiganed Phillip, also with spectacles.

How much attention we should pay to the spectacles is not yet clear. Are they a disguise? Do producers think we won't recognise the actors? Or is it a short-hand that says 'character'? Or is just eye-sight in forty-something Danish men really bad?

Phillip is main character and prime minister hopeful Birgitte's impossibly supportive husband, and he is never too far from a laptop and a playful quip or two, as he peers over those spectacles or offers his wife a glass of red after a long day.

And the stable domestic background of Birgitte makes a nice change - there's not much of the drama cliche of 'high flying career woman worrying over the work/life juggle' plot lines here, although Birgitte is worrying about fitting into her suits, and so bans biscuits in work meetings - and never under-estimate the challenge of convincing 'biscuit acting'. No-one wants crumbs.

Political tv journalist Katrine not on the phone to the police
But two episodes in and key plot questions are forming.

Why, for example, did the switched-on and very capable political journalist Katrine simply not call the police when she realised her secret lover Ole - the married PR adviser to the original PM and who had just decided he would leave his wife to be with Katrine - had died suddenly in his bed, while she was pottering about in his bathroom?

Yes, she panicked, and yes, she wasn't meant to be there, and yes she was probably thinking about her career, but it seems a bit incredible.

Especially as her presence there is bound to come out soon enough.

Instead, she called her ex, Kasper, the morally ambiguous and ambitious PR assistant to Birgitte.

He sent Katrine away and made it look like Ole died alone.

So the answer, of course, is simple - when removing evidence of Katrine from the scene, and thereby protecting the dead man's reputation, it gave Kasper an opportunity to find the receipt that Ole had taken from the PM which proved he used a state-funded credit card to buy his sick wife a handbag after she'd got upset in a shop. The card's use was an emergency but, politically, it could cause trouble.

And so begins a key plot device, as later, it does indeed cause trouble - but it works to the advantage of Birgitte, while the PM and his wife go on tv to explain the situation.

Episode two ends amid lots of characters striding and talking and later both striding and talking at the same time - often in corridors, sometimes on steps - with Birgitte now able to form a coalition government and becoming the first female prime minister of Denmark.

But with a tv politics editor dismissed because someone leaked the fact she's an alcoholic, the failure of the Labour leader Michael Laugesen to become involved in the new government, and a now sacked and increasingly creepy Kasper sniffing about (and armed with the knowledge that Ole didn't die alone), there's more than enough story to keep us all watching.

So maybe it's just as well Katrine didn't call the police - not only would we not have so much plot to fret about, but even just the prospect of an appearance by Sarah Lund might have proved too distracting.

It looks like Borgen's got enough going on to not even need her.

Even if she came in the jumper.

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