Watched #25
Edge of Darkness (BBC4 Monday, 10pm) doesn’t need any help from me. And it didn’t need any help from the continuity announcer either, who casually sauntered over the drama’s first big shock (so prepare to look away, because I’m going to quote what she said) before fading up the show: “When a policeman’s daughter is shot dead in front of him, he vows to find her killer. Politics, conspiracy and some violent scenes now on BBC4, in classic BBC drama from the 1980s, The Edge of Darkness.” Yes, with an erroneous ‘The’ tagged onto the title too. Edge of Darkness didn’t need that either. It is, already,  definitive.

But it’s been a while since I watched it. First time around was, I think, a repeat showing some time in the early 1990s wherein it was as thrilling and as bleak and clever as I’d heard it was. Then again on video, on DVD… until I got rid of all my videos and DVDs figuring everything comes around again. And I’m so glad to see it. Shot in beautiful shades of blue on ageless film stock, we’re far enough away from the 1980s  for its world to feel, less like the past, but a whole other reality. It’s a beautifully drawn place where an impassioned Michael Meacher stands at the fulcrum of a group of dynamic and politically motivated students and the CND logo has a fearfully weighty relevance. It’s also a place where our leading man – Ronnie Craven – owns an AGA, but remains one of the proletariat, eating ratatouille from a can.

It’s all so good, in fact, it now nearly feels like cliche. Take the character of Pendleton played by Charles Kay. He’s the epitome of what so many political dramas try for, a charming but oblique civil servant who portends danger. We’ve seen his type so many times since. Meanwhile, Martin Kennedy directs with a real swash; roaming cameras and tons of crane shots. From thereon in, that’s how everyone’s tried to do it. And the music by Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen sounds so hungry for the drama, today it borders on parody. When the urgent piano riff kicks in at the end, and a container train leaves London, it still works like an endorphin rush. You almost bodily know you’ve seen something brilliant.

But there’s one element that hasn’t ever been replicated – Bob Peck’s performance. He brings a stillness and a real certainty to Craven. And it’s unfancy, Peck forging on straight ahead through every scene. His hawkish face and the slight whistle on his ‘s’ sounds makes him seem almost predatory.

Let’s leave it there before I embarrass all of us with this florid praise. And, good grief, we’re still yet to properly meet Darius Jedburgh.

I’ll make small potatoes out of the fact that, earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to go along to the Monty Python thing at the O2. But it does give context to what follows. And that’s Imagine… (BBC1 Sunday, 10.35pm) in which Alan Yentob – because it was he – met up with the performers as they readied for their 10-night farewell comeback (if that makes any sense). Perhaps minded the BBC hadn’t won the rights to televise the Python’s last stand (Gold Sunday 20th, everyone), this documentary seemed adamant to dull the appetite for the revival, opening with 1999 clips of the Pythons variously talking about how embarrassing it would be if these old farts tried to get it together again. Cut from that to Eric idle and John Cleese napping on a sofa. Cut to a PR counseling them in the green room of Loose Women that they’re really excited to be back together. “I’m not entirely sure they can pull this off,” fretted Yentob in voiceover, never getting around to actually putting his worries to any of the participants.

Actually, that was probably because Yentob was too busy going in search of himself. Trying to leaven more Alan into the documentary, as if this was a subject that could only hold interest when refracted through his prism of Alan-ness. He might say he’d authored this piece. But it was more like a protracted bout of photobombing.

And then there was another type of artillery, John Cleese – who has has become quite the worst spokesperson for the group – bazook-ing any goodwill by banging on about his alimony, the press (“Treacherous British newspapers”, as if he’s owed some kind of loyalty) and even bad-mouthing the canon. “Oh sketches that I’m excited about doing? Hmm. None.”

Ignore that. Against all reasonable expectation, at least as far as I’m concerned, the Monty Python stage show is triumphant. I even felt emotional. Alan and John, say no more.

Last month I moaned that The Complainers on Channel 4 was based on a spurious pretext. One might be tempted to level the same accusation at 1964 (PBS America Wednesday, 9pm), a feature-length documentary by Stephen Ives, predicated on the fact it’s, well, 50 years since 1964. But that’s undue flippancy on my part. As Ives effectively lays out, this was a coming of age year for American politics, pivoting on Lyndon B Johnson bulldozing the Civil Rights Act into existence. Compiling a piece like this, of course you’re only going to pull upon elements that feed into the central narrative, but it was still an utterly compelling thesis. This was the year the Beatles met Cassius Clay (“Who were those sissies?” he asked when they left), The Feminine Mystique became a best-seller, there were riots in Harlem, the KKK killed three Freedom Summer campaigners and Sam Cooke sung A Change is Gonna Come. Ives calmly talks us through each, a reasoned voice in a storm of activity.

It’s a sad story too. LBJ, the most progressive and liberal president the country had seen, signs a memo to commit American troops to Vietnam, and commits himself to ignominy in history. But that’s more the story of 1968. I’ll happily be there for that come the anniversary.

The Secret Life of Students (Channel 4 Thursday, 10pm) follows freshers at Leicester University, cleverly mapping their social media interactions into the story. It’s very neat, texts, tweets and Facebook updates bobbing up into the picture, following the slant of a kerb, meshing with the environment. “I went home crying xxx” says one, appearing like a passing street sign. That’s the good bit. What I wasn’t so sure of was the way the programme baits you into sitting in judgement on the participants. I don’t want to do that. Not the ones who give their drinking game “a Nazi twist”. Not, Aiden who “loves his banter” and tells us he “loves pushing the boundaries on Facebook and Twitter” as if there’s some worth in that. I don’t want to feel a subsequent secret prickly pleasure when he’s diagnosed with an STD. He texts his pals, trying to turn the situation into capital for his boundary-pushing persona: “Got chlamydia banter”. Tempting, but no.

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Watched #24
There was once a time when telly tried to standardise how everything appeared. I don’t mean by giving everyone the same hairstyle. I’m talking about something far more boring. I’m talking about how it treated footage that came from disparate sources, squidging it and colouring it so it all looked the same. On the occasions a documentary was forced to utilise something that had been caught on home video, it would apologetically hang a caption over it.

But some time recently that stopped being an issue, and now you’ll find shows made up of back-to-back 144p resolution YouTube video. In some cases, the variance in stock has become positively fetishised. That was certainly the case with Storyville‘s screening of the 2013 feature-length documentary, The Battle of the Sexes (BBC4 Sunday, 9pm), with cine film trims rattling away between clips, conferring a sense of authenticity upon them. The unwholesome greenness of the NTSC footage had a similar effect. Here we were, way back when.

In 1973, in fact, when Billie Jean King consented to play Bobby Riggs, the man who, in 1939, bet on himself to win the triple at Wimbledon and then did. By the 1970s he’d become a kind of John McCririck figure, referring to himself in the third person and chuckling as he took potshots against women’s rights. At no point did he ever seem to possess any conviction in being a chauvinist, it was more he found it a gloriously funny way of appearing contrary and – more importantly – courting attention.

But this was in a time when Billie Jean King was only considered to be pursuing her tennis career because “as yet [Larry has] not put his foot down about [his wife’s] future”. An age when she (and eight other players) were excommunicated from the United States Tennis Association for setting up the first ever professional women’s tennis tour. And when Billie Jean or Margaret Court would have to smile nicely while being asked, “What’s it like to be a spinster on the tennis court?”

Riggs’ huckstering had to stop.

The match between him  and King – a 55-year-old man vs a 29-year-old woman -became the most watched tennis encounter of all time. I’d never heard of it before, but as the lime-hued, 525-lined footage revealed, even John Wayne was there. Alas, on this stage the mix and match approach to film-making finally got under my skin. You didn’t need Hawk-Eye to spot the bits of newly shot fare dropped in between the perfectly serviceable original video of the game. Suddenly there was Billie Jean’s racket in crisp close-up, or the back of Bobby’s head. Coughs of unreality, interrupting the flow. For no real reason.

But there’s me criticising a terrific documentary on the tiniest of details. Like moaning about the ball boy’s posture during a Centre Court final. So let’s cut to the good new which is – SPOILER! – King proved victorious. However, with tennis still being the only sport wherein both genders are now paid equally, I imagine she would say she still hasn’t really won.

Film and video nestled nicely together in a repeat of The New Statesman (ITV Sunday, 10.30pm) as tribute to Rik Mayall. How glorious to begin a sitcom with a grainy film-stocky sweep across the Yorkshire countryside. As Alan B’stard, Mayall feels apiece with the Cameron government; the big hair and the good, gesturing, fist-clenched left arm, punching home the rhetoric. Other bits were pure 1987, including Alan Hawkshaw’s obviously synthesised music and this comment from our antihero: “A whole Jeffrey?” says B’stard. “That’s £2000!” Applause.  But what a treat to recall Mayall at his most majestic. And the time he shared comedy scenes with Peter Sallis.

When I started up this website again – such a day! – and before I hit upon the not-so-high concept of just reviewing some TV shows each week, I lurched it into first gear with a something about Changing Rooms. A programme as influential on others in its genre as any Buffy or Broadchurch. The concept of eeking out jeopardy from the undertaking of home improvements has been a prevalent one on TV ever since. And now one of the big beasts returns to the plain; Linda Barker who hosts the undynamically titled Brand New House for 5K (Channel 5 Wednesday, 8pm).  It’s the same old, but none the worse for that… Actually, that’s not fair. There is a slight tweak. In a knowing conceit, a lot of weight is assigned to the fact  the £5k budget has genuinely been supplied by the homeowners, and nothing is blagged for free in that usual telly way.

And so off we go, with the scurrying and hurrying. Linda a little shrill, a little nervy (that loud laugh) but basically likeable. Often she’s her own disciple, as this week’s couple – Mervyn and Sam – lose  faith in her crazy-tiling plan for the kitchen. It worked out fine in the end though.

If there was one thing I particularly liked about the show, it was Linda’s rough relationship with her builder, the inexplicably nick-named ‘Pooch’. “I need him to be more resourceful,” she confided to camera while he moaned about the project’s lack of funding. In the end she went £33.95 over budget and everyone was basically happy. Except, in my imaginings, Graham Wynne who – I fantasise – was watching along at home, wondering why all the fuss, why it wasn’t him and then making for the door with an “Oh you!” roll of his eyes.

“This isn’t about the drones!” Of course it’s not. 24: Live Another Day (Sky1 Wednesday, 9pm) is now two-thirds done, and there are rules that have to be adhered to. In addition to every episode having some talk about going “dark” and what “play” is available, this is also the point in every series where the current threat gets nicely wrapped up and a new B-story terror emerges. So Jack throws Margot out of a window in Dalston and then finally gets credit from all the governmental types who’ve been doubting him. “I’m safely in my office and I have you to thank,” says the president. Copy that! Now get on your phone again, Jack, and start running…

Watched #23
“Oh Boris!” wails Jeremy Paxman, desperately looking for some grumpy bluster. “This is death!” Here he is, on his last edition of Newsnight (BBC2 Wednesday, 10.30pm) and he’s sharing a tandem with the Mayor of London in the hope comedy will ensue. It’s the kind of escapade put together – as Paxman says – by “some idiot” and founded on the notion both men are in their own ways treasurable.

It’s a wobbly way to wind yourself to the end. Although there’s humorous music underpinning the sequence, further cries of, “Oh Christ!” and, “This is a nightmare!” just reinforce the impression Jeremy’s long since become the workplace grump who, feeling he should be commanding a better gig, rolls his eyes at every initiative forced upon him. Sigh. To make matters worse, Boris Johnson is outpacing him. Challenged about the merits of the Shard, he says he sees it as a “cocktail stick emerging from a super-colossal pickled onion,” which gives his interviewer nothing. “[Jeremy] has kept the nation entertained,” says Johnson, now all-but doing links to camera, “if not always awake for many, many years.” Damn. Another good line.

A little earlier in the programme, and it was indeed Paxman himself unleashing the killers. Tussling with another former sparring partner, Peter Mandelson, he reminded us why – despite the lachrymosity and loftiness – he has been such a trailblazer in the discussion of politics on TV. There was no filler, every question, instead, a skewer. “Do you think Ed Miliband is the best leader you could have?” he asked. And that was the opener.

The show ended with a pile-up of gags. “Michael Howard – did you?”, a final post-credit Paxo-trample on the notion we might find a weather forecast somehow useful, and the profoundly odd spectacle of Jeremy keeping lonely vigil as The New Seekers sang I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing over the end credits. Most people, I think, have responded well to the man’s increasing contrariness over the years. But I’ve seen him more as someone in need of a new lease of life. In my imagination, the lights then came back up and Paxman made straight for the car park. On the way, he endeavored not to catch anyone’s eye and binned the farewell cards in the lobby. Goodnight and goodbye.

I’m deeply prejudiced against improvisation as a form of entertainment. If you’re taking up people’s time, it seems courteous to put some work in to ensure you’ll be doing so in a rewarding fashion. It’s lucky, then, I hadn’t grasped the (lack of) big idea behind Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled (Dave weekdays, 10pm) beforehand. The premise is Davies sits and chats with four guests. He has nothing particularly prepped in the way of questions, this is to be a free-roaming conversation in a pub-like setting1At the end, there’s a tiny bit of admin to deal with, coming up with a ‘name’ for the show. That’s it.

But against all my possible objections, I found it very enjoyable. The lack of preparation, of format points that need to be ‘hit’, brings about a nice tempo of its own. There’s no desperate one-upping of anecdotes as the participants clamber to be at the top of the heap. On Monday night, Davies was joined by Noel Fielding, Jon Ronson, Andrew Maxwell and Kerry Godliman. Jon told a story about being in a restaurant and realising a girl was mimicking the way he ate soup. It didn’t really have a proper ending. There was a bit where Noel was talking about being on the road with the Mighty Boosh. “We saw you on that tour!” interjected the host excitedly as someone might do in real life. No explanation as to who “we” were. At another point Kerry attempted a riff on the kind of comedy haircuts one might ask for: “Yeah, you could go Myra. What else?” and it finished up like that.

Who knew there was pleasure in people talking in such a fashion? Saying funny things, sometimes saying half-funny things, but not having to be productive in their chat. The laughs that then transpire feel all the more honest. And the dynamics… We see Alan’s eyes and nose scrunch up and his head bob when he feels there’s something humorous to be truffled out. There’s Noel, normally always so on it, advancing cautiously: “I don’t know I can even talk about this on television.” And Jon, about to get to the best bit in a tale, covertly communicating the fact that no-one should chip in for a moment by teeing it up with: “This was my favourite part of the whole day.” It’s wall to wall charm. Back at the beginning, Alan even stumbled over his scripted intro.

Pizzicato is TV’s way of signalling we’re in curious territory. The plink-plink of pizzicato strings always accompanies documentaries ‘lifting the lid’ (these things, it seems, come boxed) on eccentric sub-cultures. Thus the plinking plinked throughout The Auction House (Channel 4 Tuesday, 9pm). Maybe it plinked too much as it didn’t strike me there was anything especially challenging about Lots Road auctioneers in Chelsea, despite the fact overlord Robert Ross was happy to collaborate with the programme makers by describing himself as “the boss, and I always get my way.” Yes, there was some tension between him and his staff, but no real lip-quivering. Not even at a three-foot vagina set in bronze. I liked general manager Martin best, who professed his dislike for every item they currently stocked. For him it all came in varying hues of tedium. “Sometimes,” he began, and then a loud bang. “Sometimes things get broken.”

The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins (BBC4 Tuesday, 9pm) detailed a NASA-funded, Caribbean-set project in the mid 1960s, in which a two-storey house was flooded and a girl – Margaret Howe – set up home on the second floor with a dolphin – Peter – in the hope of teaching him to speak English. The couple’s relationship became intimate when Margaret decided it was too much bother to winch him downstairs to be attended to by the females. The experience wasn’t sexual on her part, albeit  “maybe sensual”. Admirably there was no hint of pizzicato. Instead those behind the camera kept their distance. The story documented was incredible enough. A tale of an undoubtedly good-hearted but massively wrong-headed endeavour, of course it came off the rails, with presiding scientist John Lilly deciding to dope up his creatures on LSD. Just to see.

It’s not the thing in a review to say something as straight ahead as “you should watch this show”. But you really should. It’s available here until the 24th.

  1. Because this is Dave, the chirpily-named channel that is yet to cancel its Loaded subscription

Watched #22
“Some of them are just delusional!” Ah yes, this is my World Cup. Just a couple of weeks after Ping lifted the trophy, we’re now into the exhibition match that is Celebrity MasterChef (BBC1 Tuesday and Thursday). Don’t worry, laboured football puns will stop here – in the main because I had to tweet just for someone to confirm that “exhibition match” is indeed the term I was searching for. But really, this is as close to TV sport as I get, and I love the conspired jeopardy that is MasterChef. Sophie Thompson’s monkfish dish has to be “served to perfection”. Meanwhile, “on the meat section, Susannah [Constantine] has to make sure her venison saddle is cooked to the right temperature”.

It’s not quite the same as regular or professional MasterChef, that’s true. There’s a slight strained air of everyone flapping around and exasperating their own uselessness, but that is soon dispensed with.  What remains remarkably clever about the flame-flavoured version of the franchise is the way the competition sneaks up on everyone – contestants and viewers alike. At the beginning, when Jodie Kidd, Russell Grant, Todd Carty and Sophie and Susannah are rounding the corner into MasterChef HQ, no one – in all honesty – can expected to be that committed. But as the rounds go by, and someone does a tidy julienne (accompanied by a dip in the music) while someone else burns their hand and someone else moves Gregg into a little greedy chuckle, we’ve undergone a process of indoctrination. Before I know it, I’m giving a massive flying fig about whether or not Sophie’s mousse would set in time. That’s despite the fact she always seems to know where the camera is.

At the end of the first episode, Todd was off and I approved. It wasn’t just that he’d used my personal bête noire twice – joshing “no pressure” to indicate the opposite – but that he’d employed shop-bought meringue too.

“No, no, no. I’m speaking. I’m speaking. No, I’m speak… No, I’m speaking. Yeah, no, yeah, no, I’m speaking.” The words, there, of “super-complainer” Ian Walker. Ian lives in Birkenhead and he’s unemployed – something that’s constantly restated over this week’s episode (the third) of The Complainers (Channel 4 Tuesday, 9pm). Ian is on the phone to a utility company he has a quarrel with, and makes a noise about involving his “legal team”. But he doesn’t have a legal team. Ian, remember, is unemployed. Nonetheless, one wonders if his imaginary lawyers are now drafting a stiff letter to the programme makers whose depiction of their not-actual-client, and all featured therein, feels a little contemptuous1. Although Ian, one of three complainants featured this week, is speaking, after the event he’s thoroughly filleted. We first meet him as he’s moving house, loading his “complaints cabinet” onto a shopping trolley. The director assiduously chooses to include every moment the thing crunches at a doorway or a kerb. “Fucking hell!” rumbles Ian, unaware we’re about to cut to a shot showing his boxers creeping out of his trousers.

And so it continues: “Ian is currently unemployed after being fired from nine different call centres. Now he spends his time complaining.” Then: “With time on his hands, unemployed Ian has started complaints with 15 different utility companies.” More? “Ian is still without a job, so girlfriend Holly has applied for a payday loan.”

The big idea of the programme is that “every second in the UK, someone somewhere is complaining”, which is as focussed a notion as saying every second in the UK, someone somewhere is reclining. But that show’s title alone is a gem, and of course we want to observe the likes of Ian and also Chris from Rawtenstall and Gaby from Stamford Hill getting annoyed at people down the phone. However for me, the real interest lay at the other end of the conversation and those call centres. Here there are white boards with buzzwords like “courage” and “openness” written on them. And there are resolution managers and motivational posters – E.ON has one that declares: “We’re making our customers feel good about energy”. So much effort devoted to placation and reassurance. I think that is the more intriguing mindset. But back to Ian. “Recently he’s fallen out with his GP, been banned from his local supermarket and made a complaint against a brand of crisps.”

Was ever a programme as perfunctorily named as Traffic Cops (BBC1 Monday, 10.35pm)? It drops in and out of the schedules, the BBC firing up the blues and twos seemingly on a whim. This episode was called – because they all have titles – ‘We’ve Got Runners’. But I like the show, I like the (bad pun) pedestrianism of it all, from Jamie Theakston’s unfancy commentary (baddies referred to as “the lad”) to the matter-of-fact exchanges between police and public. “Oh, have I taken something tonight?” paraphrases one young woman absentmindedly. “Heroin”. Another guy has hidden drugs up his backside, which are recovered courtesy of a policeman’s gloved index finger. Afterwards it’s: “What drink do you want?”/”Cup of tea, please”.

And then there’s The Mindy Project (E4 Tuesday, 9.30pm), which takes place in a whole other world, one I don’t understand but which Entertainment Weekly leads me to believe is somehow vital. What is the situation underpinning this comedy? I don’t know, but it’s super-perky and actually, there are a couple of great lines – Mindy responding to a wedding proposal with, “I want to Vine this,” and a middle-aged women (I’m sorry, I’m not great with names) venturing: “What’s the big deal? I masturbate all the time. I did during this discussion”.  I’ve series-linked.

  1. To the point of it using this piece of music, also often heard on The Hotel Inspector to similarly connote less than complimentary things about the week’s subjects

22 episodes of Pointless
I’ve got 22 episodes of Pointless sat on my digi-box. I’ve been chiseling away at them as much as possible. I’m defined by the fact I’ve never missed a single one. There was a week where that stack towered above 30, all of them a ‘do’ on a to-do list. A couple of nights purposefully Pointless-ing back-to-back helped.

TV-watching can be stressful. But I believe that can be made worse by Twitter. At times, I feel like it’s trying to micro-manage my viewing. I was watching a show the other week and when it came to the first break, I looked online. Scrolling back, it turned out that a minute earlier someone had posted a screen-grab of a scene from the programme, with a line to the effect that here was where the episode pivoted. Scrolling further, the same person had preceded that with a remark teeing up the fact we were about to get a scene where, yes, the episode pivoted.

It made me think about the mechanics of this. A  journalist with access to a preview copy, who’s watched it, enjoyed it, grabbed an image to deploy – just so – upon transmission. It took some forethought and organisation, certainly. Some imagination. One could argue they were using Twitter with panache. But in addition to trying to steer (or maybe even trump) discussion about the programme, it was also a tacit way of communicating their privileged access to it.

That’s a fussy detail I’ve spent two paragraphs outlining. But it was the thing that set me thinking about writing this post. The last two or three years have seen the rise of the ‘non-spoilery’ preview followed by the instant ‘spoilery’ review upon transmission of hot-button TV shows. I have to confess, I find it a bit wearing. The sheer acquisitiveness. As if websites are trying to plant their flag in these programmes. As if we can’t be afforded the space to make up our own minds first. As if we need another bit of admin to  take care of after watching something. The counter-argument to my gripes, of course, is that I’m under no obligation to read either the ‘non-spoilery’ or ‘spoilery’ variants. Which is true, but I’m still being nagged to do so by My timeline. Unfollow, then? Even though I feel that’s actually the passive response, it’s still not considered to be very friendly.

But while I wag my finger, I should confess I’m a sinner too. Look at this…

What exactly did that tell the world? Only that, yes, I’d managed to get along to the preview screening and – nnerr! – I’d seen Capaldi’s debut before you. I was simply boasting. Planting my flag. A  friend rightfully stopped following me for that. By coincidence, I spotted that and managed to persuade him back. I’ve checked; he’s still with me and he’s a useful presence out there, sat in my notional audience. In my mind, he will sometimes shake his head ‘no’ before I hit the button.

Today’s blog post has been prepared in advance, like that screen-grab tweet, because I’m currently taking a fortnight off. But I still wanted to provide something to read on OTT on a Friday when I would normally be punting up my review of four shows from the week. Those reviews go online with a good deal of space – hours, mostly days – between the end credits and my opinionating. Maybe that space means I’m sacrificing vitality, and that I’m not taking advantage of the online form. But I’d still rather you had time to gather your thoughts first before I pushed mine at you.

  • Graham Kibble-White is on holiday. Normal service will resume next Friday.

Re) Watched
Buried on this server is the old version of OTT, the one that ran from 1999 to 2010, and was written by many hands. I counted, and there are in the region of 670 TV reviews sat in the archive.

This is the first week of my fortnight off writing about the last seven days of telly, but I wanted to maintain some reason for folk to visit the site of a Friday. And so, I’ve taken a brisk trawl through that 670-or-so pieces to pick out 10 of my favourites. This isn’t a definitive list, please don’t get grumpy. I’ve been working backwards from 2010, and only got to 2005, so there’s still plenty more to do.

Until then, why not have a look at…

Richard and Judy (Watch, 2009) – Ian Jones demolishes the duo’s last ever episode after their unsuccessful move to the higher numbers on the EPG. I particularly like the way he employs quite a lofty metaphor: “There is a Sispyhean air to proceedings.”

Grange Hill (BBC1, 2008) – And here’s Ian again marking another, equally unloved and now forgotten, ending as the once seminal school saga flounced off our screens forever.

Noel’s HQ (Sky 1, 2008) – Jack Kibble-White gets to the nub of what’s wrong here: “Right from the outset… it presumes the viewers share the programme’s central thesis – that red tape (and by extension political correctness), is suffocating this great country.”

The IT Crowd (Channel 4, 2007) – TJ Worthington communicates real joy and excitement at the comedy’s second series. “The IT Crowd has gone beyond the novelty value of being a breath of comedic fresh air, and is establishing itself – or in fact probably already has – as a great series in its own right.”

Tycoon (ITV1, 2007) – Okay, I wrote this one, which is bad form. But I link to it more because the world deserves to be reminded of Peter Jones’ ill-fated South Bank-based assault on Alan Sugar’s empire. That and Frukka.

It Started With Swap Shop (BBC2, 2006) – Steve Williams captures a more pleasing side to Noel, and manages to quantify the sheer excitement of Saturday morning telly.

Prime Suspect (ITV1, 2006) – It’s another last-ever episode. It must be Ian Jones, then, and this time he’s impressed: “This was television drama of the highest and noblest of orders.”

The Outsiders (ITV1, 2006) – Remember this one? Rob Buckley is, it has to be said, terribly kind to something that was a monstrous misfire.

The Apprentice (BBC2, 2006) – Series two, in case you need some orientation, and Chris Hughes responds to, and writes brilliantly about, the show. And that’s how you build to a neat closing line. [NB. Also see Chris’ take on The Apprentice USA]

Cheers (Channel 4, 2004) – Cameron Borland always wrote the most scathing, acerbic reviews. But also the most joyous.

  • Next Friday: I write a grumpy post about a thing. And it starts like this…

22 episodes of Pointless

Watched #21
In a hedging my bets kind of way, two weeks ago I inferred the second series of In The Flesh (BBC3 Sunday, 10pm) might not be quite so good as the first. I recant. The show is different, but it’s still terrific. My fear was that opening up the story was bringing in too many other elements – specifically a quasi-religious cult and a nascent political party. In a small way, my worries were exactly the kind of thing this series parodies. I didn’t want the drama’s fictional town of Roarton to change.

Granted, some of those parodies aren’t very subtle. Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferers made to work unpaid for the community in a ‘Give Back’ scheme? Distrust being sown about those who depend upon the welfare state? An MP from a single issue party making capital with popular fears? You don’t have to scratch too hard to see the real-world parables. But there’s no reason why satire shouldn’t be overt. What makes In The Flesh particularly effective is the way so much else is brilliantly understated.

It’s an undead drama set in an aggregate-rendered world. Where PDS sufferers have to wear high-visibility jackets with ‘I’m PDS and I’m giving back’ written in the jolly Casual font on the back, or where undead Freddie camps out at his ex-wife’s “next door in the guest bedroom with [her new husband’s] vinyl collection”. This approach – a domestication of horror – is best summed up by B&B owner Sandra. “Last thing we need is a Second Rising,” she sniffs. “We had enough trouble with the first”.

The other thing that strikes me about the show is very few of the characters feel like the kind of archetypes who would be useful in a zombie drama. Okay, Simon Monroe1, one of the 12 disciples of the Undead Prophet, is probably the most geared up, talking in a fairly declamatory fashion and specifically on a mission to freak people out. Then there’s Amy who, with her one-liners and Violet Elizabeth Bott dresses, feels like the writer and wardrobe department are a little too taken with her. However, look at Kieren’s parents, particularly his dad Steve. They’re  forever, and somewhat powerlessly, trying to put a sunny spin on things (Steve, passing the local paper over, reads out the headline: “‘The Give Back scheme – a winner’!”). In a similar vein there’s Philip, always destined to be someone else’s lieutenant, and cursed with enough self-awareness to know he’s lacking the kind of charisma he needs to fulfil his ambitions. And of course, Kieren himself. Our leading man is mostly on the back foot, allowing himself to be buffeted by events. By the end of this week’s episode he is finally taking the initiative, but he’s been a slow starter.

So I’m going to stop worrying about changes in Roarton, because in fact all of the new arrivals have been good for the show. In The Flesh has just won a Bafta, but BBC3 as we currently know it, will soon be gone. I’m sure at least one of them will rise again.

If A Poet in New York (BBC1 Sunday, 9pm) is an accurate reflection, Dylan Thomas – played here by Tom Hollander – died from over-indulgence. He over-indulged in booze, while those around him saw his genius as reason to be over-indulgent of his excesses. This film, which cannily composited our man on 21st century Welsh balconies into 1950s uptown New York, tested my patience. In fact, it made me bilious. I didn’t like a single character in the production and as the self-pitying, self-important Thomas poured another drink and intoned another weighty truth about life, I got the sweats.

It’s probably an indication of how shallow I am that I found far more to enjoy in the pronouncements of the fictional Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) in Penny Dreadful (Sky Atlantic Tuesday, 9pm). Some of his lines were peaches: “Do not be amazed at anything you see.” And: “To save her, I would murder the world.” The latter was in reference to his missing daughter, Mina. And with that piece in place, you can take a stab (which happens a lot in this) at the game the show is playing. Like Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s comic-book series The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, it’s a pea souper of a tale mixing together out of copyright characters from Victorian fiction. I enjoyed it a lot. Although, in reality, a lot of chasing and fighting, it was earnestly done. Some subverted religious iconography, eloquent dialogue and a turn from Simon Russell Beale flattered our intellect. That and the fact everything was in burgundy, the short-hand colour for quality and richness. I’m buying.

Which leads us rather too neatly into Four Rooms (Channel 4 Sunday, 7pm), back for a fourth series. Its stock of dealers has changed over the years, beginning with four, 12 last time around and now settling upon eight. We meet half of their number this week: Gordon Watson, Celia Sawyer, Alex Proud and David Sonnenthal. The game continues, that little drum roll upon every cash offer and the pun-filled narration (“Will the colour of Alex’s money match John’s palette?”). Fastidious Gordon is my favourite, and I like the bit where he asks a man flogging a Joshua Reynolds’, “Would £30,000 make you less crazy?” David, meanwhile, is painted as more of a bruiser. “Don’t really know much about baroque angel wings,” he says, possibly speaking for us all, “but I like ’em and I want ’em.”

  • I’m taking a fortnight off reviewing TV shows, but I’ve concocted a couple of ’emergency’ features which – if I know how to work this thing properly – will appear on the site over the next two Fridays. Here’s a peep at next week’s…

Re) Watched

  1. Who reminds me a lot of Brookside‘s own cult leader, the similarly named Simon Howe. Coincidence?

Watched #20
“Oh well.” The last words uttered in Alan Bennett at 80: Bennett Meets Hytner (BBC4 Saturday, 9pm). Even if you didn’t see it, you can be certain which of that duo said them. Who sighed them. The Eeyore-ish response was prompted by director and Bennett’s sometime colleague Nicholas Hytner rallying for a suitable end to their TV hour together. He’d said, after Alan had talked uncomfortably of future works, “Well, I’m looking forward to as much more as you care to write!”

“Oh well”.

I came to this interview – two people in a studio with cameras self-consciously in shot or reverentially plaining around them as per the BBC4 house-style – not as a particular Bennett devotee. That isn’t a judgement, more I’ve never properly made the time. I’ve certainly enjoyed his work in theatre and on TV. And I’m aware of its critical worth. But I’ve never specifically sought it out. Perhaps I might make a start. His conversation with Hytner was unusually weighted, the interviewer, perhaps by virtue of also being a collaborator, talking rather a lot. Lucky he’s so clever. “What kind of literature do you find fellowship in?” he asks, not a question I would ever have thought to pose. But the real sparkle, of course, comes from Bennett. Bennett with his hair ruffled at the back, and arm, at times, slung around the back of the chair. He talks with a delicate wisdom that seems matter-of-fact. “The things that you remember,” he says, “are the things you didn’t do”. This leads into a clip from Talking Heads: Waiting for the Telegram (one of perhaps too many excerpts which break into the conversation) and a wonderful performance from Thora Hird, talking with bitter regret about the day she didn’t jump her fiancé‘s bones. Cut back to Bennett, who is gently shaking his head, as if trying to cast off that emotion.

Referring to that series, he says now: “They came like poems… but it’s not there anymore.” Then he reads a bit from his memoir, The Lady in the Van, his feet pulsing gently. Hytner talks about how they’re both trying to flog this project as a movie and that there’s “lots to come”. But Bennett, who can sometimes be a nostalgic, is no romantic. “I find it harder and harder to write,” he says. “All writing is writer’s block”. We’re back at the end, and another impeccably crafted phrase before Hytner makes that flourish. Bennett says his work isn’t like upholstery, you can’t lean back on it. “It’s not a comfort you’ve done all this stuff, it’s a rebuke you can’t do it now”.

The colon is  enjoying a purple patch right now. So many shows employing it to connect up their increasingly disclosive  titles, named almost with an eye on search engine optimisation1. Here, then, is The Comedy Vaults: BBC2’s Hidden Treasure (BBC2 Sunday, 9pm). I’ve written a lot about old telly over the years, and have come to bristle at phrases such as ‘rare’ and ‘archive’ in TV journalism when talking about the provenance of some obscure footage. They’re prissy, dead words. Nonetheless, it’s still kind of exciting when they pop up within the remit for a clip show. “We’re not going to be serving up the familiar classics,” says Tamsin Greig in the voiceover booth. And, let’s not get too nit-picky, it pretty much didn’t. The star turn, of course, was the horrendous Elton-Curtis-penned pilot for Madness, which from the small excerpt we got (and any more than that would have set the nation bilious) was lumpenly staged, performed and written, relying far too heavily on that 1980s stand-by of breaking through the fourth wall. I could have done with more, however, of Kevin Turvey: The Man Behind the Green Door, while the bit from Clinton: His Struggle With Dirt was exactly the right bit for me. I remember howling at the “she was actually carrying on the affair under him during this televised denial” back in the day, despite having no other memory of the show per se.

“Audi lying about safety standards, Sports Direct with discounts you shouldn’t believe, Sky Broadband punishing you for not having their products, plus the B&Q paint that left this woman allergic to her own sitting room.” Stay with me. “Yes, we’re back”. Here it comes. “It’s Watchdog, the programme you cannot afford to miss.” Let me just restate that in bold and italics with a bracketed bit for the sake of my format: Watchdog (BBC1 Wednesday, 8pm). I thought MasterChef was going to be on at 8pm, you see. Here’s the consumer series mustering for another eight-part run, airing live and hosted by Anne Robinson. I’ve been nasty about the show before (blimey, nearly 10 years ago), but I confess it’s still a fascination. In part, because it conspires to create a world where people refer to Anne Robinson as ‘Annie’. We learn much about her life over the hour, that she drives an Audi, that it would be an affront to infer she might buy her lunch from a supermarket (Riz Lateef: “I’m not suggesting you do, Annie…”), that she doesn’t like high street sales, and that she owns a coat that costs a lot more than £88.

Desperate to loosen Annie’s grip is Matt Allwright, who works his Rogue Traders concession  vigorously, hawking hard for our attention. His report about a seemingly dishonest airport car parking firm ends up in a good place, Allwright challenging the MD’s assertion he’s not “obliged” to answer any questions by pointing out: “When you say ‘obliged’ it kind of goes with the territory of taking money off people that you don’t lie to them.” But along the way he throws in a million added-value gags, that just makes the whole enterprise seem nervy. Comedy riffs with Tony Hadley, because the company in question is called Gold Parking Ltd. And jaunty, please-do-not-change-channels banter like, “We need answers to this airport parky malarkey”.

When the end credits roll, he’s joshing away with fellow wagster Chris Hollins. Annie, meanwhile, presumably having the Audi brought round.

The Big Allotment Challenge (BBC2 Thursday, 8pm) is now over, with a perfect cob of sweetcorn – “Yes, you’ve got a nice lot of sheath on it,” confirms judge Jim Buttress – and a perfect melon. Followed by dahlias and a hanging design. “Shall we put borage in there?” And lastly a hamper, including a chilli vodka that nearly finishes dear Thane Prince. This is a corner of England, forever green, And like that image, it feels like something comforting from the past (specifically last autumn’s Great British Bake Off final). I’ve said beforewe’ve all said before – there’s nothing new in this. But I like it. I hope they turn the soil and do it all again next year.

  1. Big digression, but wither the pun show name? I remember when it was announced Alexander Armstrong was going to be playing Sir Clive Sinclair in a drama about his Spectrum years, the title, at that stage, was the excellent Syntax Era. When it came to screen? Micro Men. Sigh.

Watched #19
A long, long time ago, I used to watch TJ Hooker. Despite the fact it was the 1980s and, apparently, we were all less sophisticated, my brother and I still noticed how everything that went right in the show had to be credited to Hooker. There was one episode where, at the end, William Shatner was busy elsewhere so Heather Locklear threw her nightstick at an escaping perp. Thwwp! It spun through the air, then roundhoused into the guy’s legs, bringing him down. Adrian Zmed was understandably impressed by the move. “Hooker taught me,” she said.

24: Live Another Day (Sky1, Monday and Wednesday) brought this memory thudding back. As it ever was, Jack Bauer’s sheer righteousness must prevail. In the opening episode (first one back after four years, now in London, but you know all this) his character was set up as legend. The man himself didn’t even need to speak for half an hour. Instead, Yvonne Strahovski’s Kate Morgan was presented as his analogue – a CIA agent at odds with the organisation, whose last-minute hunches are destined to be both correct and unheeded by the suits. Although the story places her at odds with Bauer, mark my words, there will come a point where she will defect to his side. And another point where she’ll pull off a nifty manoeuvre of a ‘Hooker taught me’ ilk.

That all sounds like criticism, and it is. But it’s not major criticism. I should make it clear, I thoroughly enjoyed the first two episodes of this new series, much as I’ve enjoyed (nearly1) every preceding instalment. The real-time element and split-screen stuff be damned, there’s nothing particularly fancy about 24. It’s just super-solid, value-for-money entertainment, each edition straining to offer up as many thrills and twists as possible. As a result, Jack himself speaks almost nothing but plot – “Take me to her now,” is his first line – meaning those few moments when he offers something of his character are usually quite affecting. So it was towards the end of the first hour, Kiefer Sutherland blinking, head drooping: “I don’t have any friends”. I could have wept.

I don’t care either way about this series’ themes exploring the morality of “free information” or America’s use of military drones. They’re a completely ancillary element – as if someone were to comment on the font this review is written in. What I care about is the reliability of 24. That’s what will keep me here for the duration. There was a great bit where we were given a glimpse on a computer screen of Jack’s record, or more specifically his list of kills over the years. Someone on the Fox staff has lovingly compiled this; that or there’s a website. Ah, those names! Andre Drazen, Victor Drazen. At number 18, Nina Myers! More to follow…

TV is good, at the moment, for taciturn, bloody-minded men. Look at all the hunks in the picture I’ve bodged together above. Prey (ITV Monday, 9pm) aired its second episode this week. I came to the show late, deciding only to watch the first on Sunday. It was enough to secure my return the next day. Kind of like 24, there’s nothing fundamentally high-concept about this drama, following John Simm’s wrongly-accused DS Marcus Farrow as he attempts to find the person who murdered his wife and son. But, unlike 24, there’s a mass of added-value in the details. The fact that show is – and I don’t mean this unkindly – unglamorous and middle-aged. Rosie Cavaliero is given a brilliantly real character in Susan Reinhart, someone who, unlike CIA: London’s Kate Morgan, isn’t gifted with super intuition. Or masses of wit. Or anything other then a bit of determination to do her job properly. The additional layer revealing she’s obsessed with her ex, Tony, and does silly, slightly intense things like show up at his house with pastries or mess with his Facebook, really fill her out.

There are also little feints in the plotting that confound our expectations. The aggressive mob on the bus never deliver on the threat their presence promises, and Marcus doesn’t work out what the password is on Sean’s computer. There’s real verisimilitude in that and the dialogue which, rarely for a thriller, sounds like the kind of things people actually say: “He brought one down from, the attic but it didn’t have a USB or anything.” It means that when the show does shift gears, like the twist at the end of this second episode, it’s quite thrilling. Marcus is betrayed and into the soundtrack drifts Radiohead’s Karma Police: “This is what you get when you mess with us”.

Here’s Bear: “Twenty-first century man has come a long way from our hunter-gather origins…” Cut to beardy bloke: “Can I have a latte?” Bear again: “I wanna find out what happens if you strip man of all the luxuries and conveniences of modern living and then force him to fight for his very existence”. This is the pretext for The Island With Bear Grylls (Channel 4 Monday, 9pm), a five-part series in which 13 ‘ordinary’ men are dropped off on an island and left to get on with it. Bear’s role in all of this is simply to squat down in places on the mainland and deliver the odd bit of commentary. Otherwise, it’s all about the fellas, who aren’t nearly so gung ho as we might have feared. Tony, 71, missed his mum, Agnes, 91. Plus there was a lot of fretting about wee. “I’m not pissing on my own face,” declared Sam, after being stung on the cheek by a jellyfish. “My piss was the colour of Guinness,” shared Rupert, later. We got to see it in a pail. Why he was going in a pail, I’m not sure.

This show, it’s… it’s okay, but Bear’s Bond villain ambitions don’t really lend it sufficient impetus. It feels like Survivor without the game play, leaving us with aimless men trying to make fire and piss in and on things.

The second series of In The Flesh (BBC3 Sunday, 10pm) already seems like a less contained piece than the first. Silly comment, perhaps. This run is going to be six episodes, twice as long as before. But the small-town element is what has worked best about the show and that feeling the whole thing could have been based on a Barry Hines novel. I’m not so sure about the inclusion of a quasi-religious cult, a further element of heightened reality that could potentially capsize this well-judged zombie drama. But we’ll see.

If I hadn’t come to the show with those kind of worries, expectations preloaded by its brilliant debut, then I would have been more obviously impressed – because this is still a terrific programme. Its greatest quality is found in leading man Kieren (Luke Newberry) who doesn’t actually conform to this week’s theme of goal-orientated alpha males. Instead he’s a gentle portrait of a young guy who isn’t the hero of any kind of story, and nor does he want to be. He’s shambling through life. But, not like a zombie shambles.

  1. Obviously, the year with Jack’s letters-missing-brother Graem and non-Donald Sutherland dad, Phillip, was dreadful

Good Morning Britain
It’s not yet “MONDAY! 28th APRIL! 2014!”

It’s the Friday before, and on Daybreak Aled Jones is stoic. He’s shown us a man painting an Artexed ceiling in new Good Morning Britain colours, and now, with the dying of the light, he says this: “It’s been a fantastic time and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it”. A montage follows of Daybreak‘s best bits during the Aled and Lorraine era. It’s been drawn from such a narrow time-frame, there isn’t even the fun of seeing hairstyles change. Aled’s got a Saturday morning chat show to get to, so that’s good. As for the new programme, “I’ll be watching, definitely!”

Also watching, me. And – after some coercion – Ian Jones, the author of the definitive history of breakfast television (I’ve mentioned it before) Morning Glory.

Ian’s remarks will look like this.

06.00 – Monday arrives with a clarion call. Horns usher in a new breakfast show, and Susanna Reid will tell us what to do. “Good morning, Britain,” she says. “Children as young as two could soon be starting school – but is it too much too soon?” The titles, the music, it’s all quite impressive. As many have since pointed out, much of this owes a debt to NBC’s Today Show, but who cares? What ITV needed to establish at breakfast was something that’s always implicit in the BBC’s news coverage, a little bit of grandeur and authority. There’s a rare confidence here in the power of ‘ITV’ as a brand, which runs contrary to the current, unassuming network logo, all in cursive. We’re told “Live from ITV studios in London” as if that’s the be-all, and so it should be. The channel hasn’t been so swaggering since it was LWT at the weekends. And, fittingly, it’s all coming at us from what was once known at the London Weekend Television building. Inside, there are even ITV decals on the glass doors, like this is CTU.

06.01 – At the desk, Susanna plus Ben Shephard, Sean Fletcher and Charlotte Hawkins. Almost immediately there’s mention of Facebook and Twitter, the accompanying, always moving on-screen graphics constantly update like an RSS feed. The Good Morning Britain logo itself is unprepossessing. There’s presumably a consultancy firm out there who’ve been paid a lot to rationalise why the name seems to have been situated inside a plectrum, and this slightly unhappy shape informs a lot of the imagery. That said, it’s all neat and unobtrusive, if not mostly irrelevant.

06.02 – “Andi Peters is in Leeds for us…” He patrols Kirkgate Market, forcing locals to say “good morning” to loved ones on camera. They’re really going to be coining the “good morning” stuff today.

06:04 – A house fire in Sheffield, and Susanna listens, head cocked, to a report over the phone from their man en route, Gamal Fahnbulleh. The visual grammar of the show is beginning to make sense. Concentric circles and a whoosh take us into ‘Breaking News’ or ‘Developing Story’, the phrase then sitting above the ticker like an open tab on your web browser. It means you can jump into the show whenever – which is how most viewers will take it – and orientate yourself quickly.

Oh dear: the Sheffield fire is a genuine big story, and all they’ve got is someone on the end of a phone. There isn’t even a file photo of the reporter! They might as well not have bothered.

06:05 – I’ve counted four textbook breakfast TV blunders in the first five minutes. 1: Desks; they’ve never worked at breakfast time, and given most of us spend our working day surrounded by them, they’re the last thing you want to see first thing in the morning. 2: No explanation of what’s on when; I’ve no idea when to expect the weather, sport, local news or even the headlines. 3: Too many people; they’re already talking over each other, competing for my attention, and it’s really irritating. 4: Too much of the wrong kind of information; the screen is overloaded with stuff more befitting a rolling news channel, not a magazine show.

06:08 – Their lead feature on children going to school from the age of two was first being reported as a news story weeks ago. It’s a very contrary choice for such a key slot.

0610

06:10 – Susanna is in a different part of the studio to talk to a guest from Citizen’s Advice. It’s a kind of a little breakaway room, that makes you wonder at which point did she have to sneak out from behind the desk.

I’m afraid I’m laughing out loud at the man who announces: “I’m living out of the pocket of my widowed mother.” It must be awfully cramped in there.

06:11 – Like ITN days of yore, a little inset photo of the story being discussed hovers to the side of the presenter. The camera operator’s gentle nudges right just manage to keep the plectrum-shaped image out of the way of Ben’s head which continually threatens to disappear behind it.

06:12 – “It’s been a very deadly night and morning in America.” Ah, so the rest of the world does exist. This is the first time we’ve heard about anything from anywhere not in Britain. A shame it’s not actually “morning in America” just yet, as we can see from the picture behind Cordelia.

06:14 – Charlotte tells us we can expect our local news and weather just before half-past.

0617
06:17
– Susanna breaks out the first element of her ITV persona, exclaiming “Yay!” at the mention of the upcoming One Direction feature. There’s then a slight autocue fail, Susanna listing the countries in which the band has notched up number… number what? She plumps, hopefully, for “one”, but is slightly derailed by the hiccup. Ben jumps in, they pull it together: “That’s chemistry!” says Susanna. Ben wants mums to send in videos of their daughters responding to this upcoming item, be they “screamer or fainter”.

06:18 – The show has been front-loaded with One Direction, though I doubt any of the “million fans” will be up yet. Susanna’s appeal for people to “send in your photos and reaction to that video” sounds half-hearted. She says the words “Instagram” and “Vine” as if she’s encountering them for the first time.

06:19 – A newspaper review, the dailies appearing on an App Store-like carousel.

06:20 – A recap of the headlines, scored by that nicely pompous theme music. The four presenter set-up feels less unwieldy than we might have feared. In truth, the quartet are rarely in one shot together, instead they feature in single close-ups, each hosting their own strands of the programme.

06:22 – Laura Tobin with the “weather you’re waking up to this morning”.

06:26 – Following an interview in the break-out area with Nadine Dorries, MP (on video) and director of the Prison Reform Trust Juliet Lyon about compensation paid out to a convict when his belongings were mislaid, the blinking inverted-comma appears signalling the first commercial-break.

06:27 – There’s been no logic to the format of this first half-hour whatsoever. There was no mention we’d be getting a newspaper review, but one has turned up anyway. We’ve had no sport news at all. I’m still not clear what are the big stories of the day. What’s more important: the house fire, George Clooney’s engagement, tornadoes in America or the One Direction video?

“…Another TV legend, Andi Peters, will be joining us live from Leeds”

06:28 – And then into the local news, with an obviously pre-recorded link-cum-hostage video from Ben for viewers in the London area. This will be continually played out over the morning.

06:33 – After another news round-up, Ben hands over to Sean for sport. As is the way of things, there is a little impromptu chat to form a kind of segue. It’s textbook, even starting with the old “I dunno” staple of Nationwide vintage. Ben: “I dunno if, like, in our house you were gripped by the sport yesterday…” At the end of this section, after a mention of Tom Daley having to consult a sports psychologist, Ben makes another off the cuff remark about trying out diving himself. Time for Susanna to jump on this: “I’m haunted by the thought of you diving.” Sean one-ups her: “I’m haunted by the thought of you [Ben] in Speedos”.

06:38 – Andi Peters is struggling with a brass-coloured sheet in Leeds. He’s attempting a flourish, the unveiling of his Wheel of Cash. Then: “£50,000 could be yours and here’s how”. Oh dear. No matter what ambitions GMB might be nurturing to become some kind of national hub, the ITV mainstay of pleading for premium-rate telephone and text revenue remains a core element.

I’d forgotten you have this sort of thing on commercial breakfast television. Andi Peters’ Wheel of Cash feels like an idea Chris Evans would have rejected for TFI Friday, but not the early, good, TFI Friday – the show it became at the end, when it was shit. There must be more dignified ways of earning a living at this time of day. And that goes for both you, Peters, and you, Mr ITV.

06:40 – Oh heaven’s above, it’s Ross King “live” from the USA.

As ever it was, Ross has a giant Hollywood sign growing out of his back, as if there’s still something intrinsically thrilling about man’s technology to put another man on the west coast of America and then chat to him.

We’re now back in 1983 and Bob Friend doing links for Breakfast Time in front of a cut-out of the Empire State Building. I’m also sick of this “all the women will be disappointed – and you too Ben!” spiel about George Clooney getting engaged.

“Good morning, Ben, Good morning Susanna, Good Morning Britain!” says Ross. Kerching! Phrase coinage! “Well, I file this one under sort of hashtag-wee-bit-of-a-suprise, hashtag-girls-dry-your-eyes”. #Clunky. Ross then cuts to… Ross, in a Malibu restaurant where Clooney once ate a meal. Summing up the actor’s alleged fiancée – a lawyer – our man concludes: “Brains and beauty! Perhaps it’s George who’s the lucky one.” From Ross, back to Ross. And Susanna asks him about quizzing Clooney on his love life. Ross tells us, hope draining a little from his eyes, “He’s great to banter with on the red carpet”, teeing up a clip… that doesn’t arrive.

It amuses me that the link-up with Ross goes wrong. How come the technology worked in 1983 and not 2014?

06:42 – An expert! “Talk us through some top tips about how to avoid counterfeit goods online.” “Yeah, absolutely.” This bit seems to have dropped in from a late-1980s Channel 4 consumer programme, complete with gaudy scatter cushions.

06:45 – “Perhaps you’re already in the kitchen making breakfast for the family”. The programme throws to a reporter who’s in Morecambe, Lancashire, visiting the Radford family – “16 children and counting” as they say on their website (media enquires [sic] here)

06:47 – A headline round-up, over a bed of the GMB music.

06:54 – Maybe it’s nerves, but Susanna still seems uneasy reciting all the social media stuff. She commits the textbook error of telling us, “I know it sounds rather confusing…” thereby losing even more of our respect. Richard Arnold has two sentences to say, and even then he cocks them up.

Like the phone competition, Richard is part of the root and branch of ITV breakfasts. So much so, he’s spuriously wheeled on here, just so we know he’s still alive. As is his wont, he adopts a faintly derisory tone, hands clasped, smirk fixed. “Thanks boys,” he says throwing into a One Direction VT, which he has had no part in. And afterwards in a jaundiced tone: “And that’s not just any old pier! That’s Clevedon Pier – the pier of the year!”

07:00 – The show has completed one full rotation and we’re back at the top. Once more, the fanfare, “Live from ITV Studios…”, the shot of the tower, the headlines. As we’ve seen a lot of it before, we’ll (mercifully) go lighter on the details from hereon in.

I don’t get why the ITV Studios are given so much lip service in the voiceover and the title sequence. No one cares nowadays where ITV comes from, mainly because ITV itself hasn’t cared for about 20 years. I now think the set most closely resembles one of those posh estate agents where all the pictures of houses are behind intimidating glass panels rather than on noticeboards. Or maybe a “meeting room” in an open-plan office where all the walls are glass so everyone can see colleagues getting bollocked.

07:02 – Gamal Fahnbulleh still isn’t in Sheffield.

It’s been an hour. The faceless reporter is still on the phone. They could at least have dug out an old photo of John Stapleton.

0704
07:04 – Dammit! The camera operator’s too slow and Ben’s head finally darts behind the plectrum-shaped inset.

07:07Someone has sent in an email, and it’s read out with great fanfare, like it’s the first communication from a Mars planetary rover. And now the repeats kick in. Here’s the man living in the pocket of his mother.

07:12Where are the big guests? So far we’ve had Nadine Dorries and Esther McVey: two politicians usually to be found turning viewers against them (and each other) on Question Time or Newsnight, not over coffee and cornflakes. We’re promised Paul O’Grady, but not until after 8am, as if we’re at school and we’ll get a treat but only if we’re good.

07:13 – “What better way to begin… start… begin… someone’s put some extra words in my head.” – Susanna

07:27 – Andi Peters in Leeds grabs the same girl from earlier for another chat. “What’s your name?” Then he accosts Mick the butcher, delighted that he was actually in the market before the trader. “But I couldn’t get in, the bottom door wasn’t open,” says Mick. Andi is contrite: “Sorry about that”. Mick, spins the wheel…

It can’t be helped that the first person to win anything gets only £50. What can be helped is the cringeworthy banter between Ben and Andi. “Andi is not the only prize on offer!” coos Ben as he hands over. “Oh, you know what… let’s not go there!” giggles Andi, meaninglessly.

Once Andi’s plugged the phone-in competition again, we see our final shot of Mick, now holding up a laminated card that reads: “£50”.

07:33“Breaking news, overnight.” An oxymoron from Susanna. I don’t remember her being this slapdash on the BBC.

07:36 – The presenters are working hard to keep bringing it back home. Sean’s had a text from his daughter which he reads aloud: “‘Dad, why didn’t you tell me about the One Direction exclusive?’ I’m just texting back, ‘Life is full of surprises.'”

07:39 – Ben has apparently been chanting “Crystal Palace” during Sean’s segment. I didn’t hear anything. “What’s it like doing a sports bulletin and being heckled at the same time?” asks Susanna.

This is perhaps the lowest point so far. Yes, that includes Soapy Dick.

07:46 – Still more about the presenters’ lives as we share breakfast with “Britain’s biggest family”. Ben: “I’ve got two boys at home…” Susanna: “I have a problem remembering the names of my children and there’s only three of them.”

07:49CLANG! “Find out more about what April showers are on my blog on the Daybreak website.”

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07:54 – Ben makes a comedy reference about his devotion to Five Star. “We’ll park that for a moment, what an image!”says Richard Arnold, leaning on two well-worn humorous phrases (the parking and the image).

All morning we’ve been promised that One Direction will “talk about their love lives like never before.” Well, this is the last of the clips, and they don’t. It’s also the last of Richard, whose sole contribution has been to sit on a sofa and twice screw up a joke about One Direction’s entourage being bigger than that of Barack Obama.

08:00 – And here we go again, “Live from ITV Studios…”

Peak-time, the key slot, time for the biggest story of the morning. And it’s George Clooney, followed by Britain’s largest family. I’m utterly flummoxed: what kind of audience are they trying to attract? Who are they talking to? Not Paul O’Grady, who is shown looking dejected and half-asleep all alone in an enormous green room.

08:03 – Finally, someone makes it to Sheffield, but it’s not Gamal Fahnbulleh, it’s Adam Fowler. But Gamal? What’s become of him?

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08:10 – Ross King is at it again. “Hashtag-girls-dry-your-eyes-and-Ben-stop-blubbing-away-in-the-corner”. This time, the red carpet clip of Ross accosting George Clooney makes it to air. Ross sounds a little desperate in talking up his fleeting acquaintance: “Great fun, great banter. He always gets back at me as well!”

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08:18There’s an awful lot of presumption here. We should be flattered, the programme is saying, that there are no fewer than four people hosting proceedings, and that we’ve got a 90-second clip of One Direction, and that the only outside broadcasts we’ve done are with Nadine Dorries in a field, Andi Peters in a market, and in the kitchen of Britain’s largest family. Still, at least Lorraine’s coming up, and she’s got… oh. BBC newsreader Kate Silverton. “Do you like my new home?” she trills, in front of a row of saucepans.

08:19 – Cut to Paul O’Grady in the green room: “I’m nodding off, here!” Susanna roars with laughter.

08:23 – A last spin of Andi’s wheel, and Joe – one of many media students hanging around the market this morning – nabs £500. Andi hands back to the studio by plugging his daytime quiz show, Ejector Seat.

08:25 – It’s Paul O’Grady in a “rare TV interview” (according to Ben). Susanna asks after his dogs and explains what ‘twerking’ is. And that’s it, we’re nearly out.

Paul O’Grady gets just four minutes. Susanna seems more at ease here – a shame she’s left it until the programme’s dying breath. “George Clooney – he looked like a dog in Switzerland!” shouts Paul. He’s still at it as the closing music swells.

Susanna plugs their interview tomorrow with Zac Efron who’s starring in Bad Neighbours. “Who wouldn’t want to live next door to Zac Efron?”

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Only Susanna and Ben get the chance to say goodbye. The other two have vanished. Good Morning Britain isn’t a show; it’s a piece of flat-pack furniture that’s been incorrectly and implausibly assembled from instructions dating back 40 years.

As history shows, ITV’s breakfast programmes will always draw reviews that, in the years to come, prove ironic. Praise for the original TV-am gang of five, brickbats for GMTV. As it happens, we’re providing both options here. Because unlike Ian, I see promise in Good Morning Britain. The structural elements seem right; the capable presenting line-up (although the reliance on a few jaded supporting players feels retrogressive), the self-important music and graphics and an implied promise of somehow being a definitive, all-encompassing service. Granted, the content isn’t there yet, and by that, I don’t mean the show necessarily needs more. If you analyze BBC Breakfast, or Daybreak or any other forerunner, you’ll see that essentially they’re only ever loaded up with 15 minutes worth of material. But there’s a relevance gap when it comes to the Radfords, two-year-olds at school or Richard Arnold coming on to talk about a One Direction piece he’s had no input into.

Shall I make a prediction? Yes, let’s seal Good Morning Britain‘s fate. Despite the papers reporting the programme has “shed viewers” I think this will – after a fashion – work well enough for ITV.

Who’s on tomorrow? “Patrick Kielty.” *Click*