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.

Ends

  1. I Want to Hold Your Hand
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