Watched 02
I didn’t really enjoy Sherlock (BBC1 Sunday, 8.30pm) it’s plot mostly pertaining to John and Mary’s marriage. This was a story that meant a great deal to the characters (and probably the writers) but not to me. I don’t feel sufficiently invested in any of them to care as much as I needed to. That’s okay, though, I’m not saying either I or the show  committed a crime. Although I do wish more scenes would just end gracefully, rather than flouncing off the screen yelling, “BYEEEE!” with a look-at-me wipe.

There isn’t a lot that’s pretty in The Bridge (BBC4 Saturday, 9pm), one reason why this most preposterous of Scandinavian imports also works out as the most satisfying. With everything tinged in slate grey or, at best, a mossy green, there’s a kind of industrial estate lack-of-allure that works very well contrasted with a plot wherein “someone’s trying to cause an outbreak of pneumonic plague,” and the baddies leave a calling card. This house style, unlike Sherlock‘s, contains the excesses of the story. But that’s not to say it has to mollify the writing. The opening double-bill superbly portrayed Martin’s continuing grief following the death of his son. He’s a man who’s been calcified by the trauma, almost physically: he’s gone shockingly white.

It also helps that in Kim Bodnia the show has a true acting great who has created an unusual character for TV – someone who radiates both actual ordinariness and kindness. So many of his lines are delivered through laughs as he responds to the antics of the birdlike, almost sociopathic Saga (Sofia Helin, who’s also terrific, once you realise where she’s going). Meanwhile, it looks like this year’s story will play out as some kind of weird parable about shopping local, or, as someone says, “pathos-driven eco-terrorism” and I think that will be the least interesting aspect in all of this. But Martin and Saga and the lovely audacious turns in the tale will keep me happy.

Two of the shows I watched this week sported the P-within-a-P symbol, meaning I’ve been subjected to covert selling, although of what I’m still not quite sure. Dancing on Ice (ITV Sunday, 6.15pm) was one, but it was more plagued by another small on-screen graphic, namely that revolving inverted-comma that’s waving-in the commercial break. It felt like the whole programme was under the yoke of this angry punctuation point, Christine Bleakley forever telling us what’s “coming up” before it brought down the curtain. In fact, the production was so geared towards selling the future it began with a routine put to The Best is Yet to Come.

Despite that, there was also a lot of looking back. Plenty of noise was made about this being the last ever series – although why that should be was never explained – with old contestants returning and their various histories elucidated. I like all that sort of stuff, programmes getting into their own mythology. The result being, I felt more engaged by the potential last dances of Bonnie Langford and Joe Pasquale than Mr and Mrs Watson’s first waltz back on BBC1.

Another constant joy of Dancing on Ice – Christopher Dean’s continual drive to sound excitable. He deployed the phrase “tearing it up” twice over the evening. Much racier was Simon Reed in the commentary booth describing the moment Andrei Lipanov elevated Bonnie by means of a hand on her gusset as “something we’re calling ‘Too Hot To Mention’.”

Second sighting of that PP was The Taste (Channel 4 Tuesday, 9pm). Every food competition on TV, for me, is tested against MasterChef, as I run all the decisions the production team have made on a notional MC logic diagram. A kind of ‘what would John and Gregg do?’ One year, they opened their contest with an ‘auditions’ round, as if it was a requirement to show their working. Few people seemed to like it. The Taste‘s debut felt a bit like that, as if – again – the best was yet to come. I still quite enjoyed it though and in particular the tension between judges Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre which – in as much as these things aren’t real – felt real, specifically the bits of grumbling that crept in after the obvious edit points. I’ll watch again next week, but I do reckon this is programme that’s been polluted by the aphorisms of other similar endeavours: the bit where the camera whips around then slows up as our trio are introduced, contestants pledging their “heart and soul”, a Dragons’ Den-style montage of those contributors who weren’t interesting enough to merit their own three minutes, plus talk of ‘mentors’, ‘auditions’ and ‘locking in’ decisions. This fidelity to those cliches meant the coining of the phrase “final 12” to describe next week’s participants. The rules actually state it must only be the final five or four who are celebrated. Because of the alliteration.

The same rules dictate any review should now exit on some kind of wordplay about the sort of flavour this show left us with. Can’t think of something, so instead here’s Richard Osman’s terrific pun from Pointless Celebrities (BBC1 Saturday, 7pm) about the “sequels” to erbium (erbium on a Saturday night!): Erbium Rides Again and Erbium Goes Bananas.



Watched 01

Here is something to hopefully keep OTT fuelled throughout 2014. A folly, maybe, but every Friday, I intend to publish a review of some of the TV I’ve been watching over the last seven days.

Sadly, the immediate effect of a project like this is I become self-conscious about my choice of viewing. I’ll grow out of that, but in the meantime I thought I should try The Thirteenth Tale (BBC2, Monday 9.30pm). Adapted by Christopher Hampton from the novel by Diane Setterfield, it’s not something I would normally pick. Weirdly, the apparent worthiness of a drama – its gleam of quality, its very artfulness – makes me feel as though I can’t get started. I’m not excited by something that demands reverence. But having my new remit gave me reason enough to push on, and in fact I found this ghost story rather satisfying.

Directed by James Kent, although it deploys some of the more gauche cliches of the genre (creepy twins, children’s laughter on the air – later Ring a Ring o’ Roses) the production is all about formality. The dialogue is measured – “Shall I leave you to rest awhile?” – and the camerawork stately. We slowly approach empty scenes and retreat at moments of resolution. Olivia Coleman and Vanessa Redgrave are deliberate in their playing, to equal effect. Their faces are often impassive, but that just makes things all the more fearful.

I wonder, though, how the drama would work if it was staged with more looseness in both direction and dialogue? Perhaps the ghostliness would escape through the gaps.

I also watched Sherlock (BBC1, Wednesday 9pm) – but I’m not sure the internet needs more words on that. The first episode contrasted with The Thirteenth Tale in that it was happy to unfasten more than a few buttons. I, for one, enjoyed and bought the cheeky manner in which the ‘how did Sherlock live?’ mystery was dispensed. Albeit I do demand real resolution before the series’ end.

As you’ll discover if you’ve the gumption to stick with these weekly reviews, I have a huge affection for a lot of plain, undistinguished programming. Perhaps the hardest-working of these is Pointless. The fame-flavoured, archly-named Saturday night version Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, Saturday 6pm) is pretty much everything that’s great about this show in microcosm. Again, in part that comes down to a certain bagginess. Sometimes it takes the form of slightly faltering one-liners (“This guy’s a batch,” ventures Richard Osman, referring to someone and something that now escapes me) and the pleasing pauses when Alexander Armstrong is working out how to get the thing back on the rails. Other times it’s good old fashioned messing around; here that results in the duo adopting  Jeff Lynne-esque wigs and rolling up their sleeves, plus the title music getting an amusing Depeche Mode-style remix – all in celebration of the episode’s 1980s theme.

At the heart is a brilliantly simple quiz premise that nonetheless offers up a lot of cunning complexities. Like the round on coded Beatles titles: 1,4,2,4,4,4 1. And I love the fact that for regular viewers, the programme has become a soap opera of trivia. One of the places the Queen visited in her jubilee year? Tuvalu! Hooray!

I’m not going to try and draw a line between Pointless and Blankety Blank (Challenge, Sunday 8.30pm) but they’re not a million miles apart. Thanks to this year’s Challenge Christmas initiative, it was one of a handful of first-ever episodes we got to enjoy over the festive fortnight. Despite Terry Wogan’s early labouring upon the phrase “our new quiz game”, everything was very much up to speed. From the off, he was acting the slightly besieged host, flashing his stick mic away from its resting place on the nape of his chin, and, in admonishment of his celebrity guests (BACK ROW, L-R: George Baker, Wendy Craig, Bill Tidy;  FRONT ROW, L-R: Judy Cornwell, Lennie Bennet, Lorraine Chase) booming: “You’ve already met our creatures from the Black Lagoon… back, lest you feel the sting of cold steel!” He always had a nice, baroque turn of phrase did Tel. “Part, the second! Round two!” And, to greet the rotating contestants’ pod: “As if on wings of song, around it comes again”. It’s ripe stuff, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place in The Thirteenth Tale

“I rhymed ‘above’ with ‘love’, yes.” It’s one of the few real admissions made by the Kinks frontman in Ray Davies Talks Music (Sky Arts 1, Monday 9pm). He’s referring to the first song he ever wrote, when he was just 10 – Rocky Skies Above. Davies (it feels better to refer to him by his surname) has always been an evasive interviewee, and so is the case for most of this encounter with TV music producer Malcolm Gerrie. He’s an effusive and amiable host, but too many of his questions take the form, instead, of prompts. “You said you used to try your songs out on your dad.” Or: “You said you wrote [You Really Got Me] as a blues song.” Davies, to use his own phrase, finds it easy to “slip around the grid”. A Q&A section at the end with the studio audience does prompt a nice anecdote about The Kinks, The Who, The Rolling Stones et al regularly meeting up at the Blue Boar cafe – now Watford Gap services – to compare notes on recent bookings.

When I sat back at the end of an episode of Come Dine With Me feeling quite pleased all of the participants had actually had a thoroughly pleasant week, I realised that I was no longer watching for the right reasons. So I never came back. But I do still like the similarly-themed Dinner Date (repeats showing ITV, weekdays, 11.35am), in which the raison d’etre is actually to see people getting on. My favourite thing about it is it forces these ‘ordinary’ folk to carry the narrative weight, and thus we have Nicki in one episode – presumably at the prompting of an off-camera researcher – desperately trying to extemporise as she opens a can in her kitchen. “A nice, lovely tin of tomatoes,” she says meaninglessly, but leaving no gaps for any ghosts to get in.


  1. I Want to Hold Your Hand