Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: April-May 2014

In between the lead-up to Eurovision and my holiday in Copenhagen, and caring for my mum during her recent illness, I did actually manage to watch some telly, believe it or not.

I don't usually watch "ESCAPE TO THE CONTINENT" (BBC2) - when you've seen one British-couple-buying-house-abroad-show you've seen them all, but faithful travelling companion alerted me to an episode set in Paphos, so I made an exception.  (Of course our holiday to Paphos in March had to be cancelled, so watching this I guess was all a bit 'here's what you could have won').

It's hard to believe there was once a time when the nation's media got itself worked up about breakfast TV, but I remember it well.  "THE BATTLE FOR BRITAIN'S BREAKFAST" (BBC2) went back in time to 1983 when TV-am's "Famous Five" battled the likes of Frank Bough for ratings and jumper-wearing supremacy.  Inevitably it wasn't long before the serious news agenda was dumped in favour of Roland Rat etc.  31 years and three houses ago, I couldn't have cared less and never watched either of them.  My only breakfast TV experiences were Chris Evans' glory years on "The Big Breakfast" and later on I was probably the only person in Britain admitting to watching the early days of the ill-fated "RI:SE" on Channel 4.  That probably had everything to do with my 2002 crush on Mark Durden-Smith. 

A long-lost old favourite returned to our screens: "FIFTEEN TO ONE" (Channel 4) with a new host, Sandi Toksvig.  I forgot just how brain-challenging this quiz is, which I guess is a refreshing change from the increasingly dumbed-down range of quizzes/game shows on our screens, most of which I avoid due to their reliance on so-called 'celebrities'.  At least this is one of those rare shows which still features members of the public rather than the dreaded 'celebrities'.

"THE CHASE" (ITV) went on a little break and in its place came the return of "THE PAUL O'GRADY SHOW".  There is no doubt that Mr O'Grady is a TV rarity these days: he seems to have genuine empathy with the viewing public, however he also has another role to fill, that of chat show host.  Unfortunately the chat show is only a plugging vehicle so he inevitably has to take a back seat to the guests who are never just there for a chat/pure entertainment value, but instead conveniently have the ulterior motive of something to plug. 

I wasn't so keen on a new game show on Challenge, "TIMELINE" where the basic idea is to place a number of events in order of when they occurred.  To paraphrase Brucie, "that's all there is to it".  But not enough to keep me watching beyond one episode.

Whilst we're on the subject of Sir Bruce of Forsyth, he's finally taken the hint and quit hosting the "Strictly Come Dancing" live shows, returning only for Christmas and charity specials.  So for a mercifully brief period, we had the speculation about who will replace him.  No surprise really that his occasional stand-in Claudia Winkleman got the gig, although I'm in what appears to be a minority of people who can't understand her appeal; oh, and I can only imagine Anton du Beke sticking pins into a Winkleman voodoo doll at this point :)

Haven't watched many films for a while so for a change I checked out "STAND UP GUYS" (Sky Movies).  With Al Pacino and Christopher Walken in the two lead roles, then that was a guarantee of quality.  It was mainly a two-hander, with these two actors on screen for most of the film, so that needs good actors to carry this format.  However, I can't understand why the film was billed as a 'comedy'; it did have its funny (and occasionally gross-out) moments but was actually more poignant in places.  It wasn't great, but it was ok.

I had a lot going on around Easter weekend so didn't get the chance to watch the UK TV premiere of "THE STONE ROSES - MADE OF STONE" (Channel 4) until very recently.  This was a very personal film by Shane Meadows, esteemed British TV and film director, who is obviously a massive fan of the band.  He managed to get up close and personal with the band members in a way that many other interviewers failed to do - the Roses were notoriously difficult to interview back in the day - but not quite enough to smash the band's mystique, which remains intact.  Aside from the recent rehearsal clips and the Heaton Park footage, the film also focused on the fans whose love for the band has never died.  It may not be the definitive film about the Stone Roses' history past and present - but it will do till that comes along. 

If someone made a law that you should only make one film and never make any sequels, then one particular film should be Exhibit A.  I love, love, love "The Hangover" but they should really have left it there.  The second movie in the franchise was best forgotten and so it was inevitable that I should check out "THE HANGOVER PART III" (Sky Movies) to see if it had any redeeming features.  Well, what I will say is that it wasn't quite as bad as the second movie, but still a long way from the greatness of the first in the series - and your views on this movie will depend on whether you find Mr Chow either (a) side-splittingly funny or (b) intensely irritating.  In the first movie he was (a) but for much of this one he was (b).  It was a lazy and tiresome plot, and I should have had my suspicions when they decapitated a giraffe for laughs. 

"BUSINESS BOOMERS" (BBC2) has done what it says on the tin and examined some successful companies over recent years.  Quite an interesting series too.  I watched the shows about the rise of coffee shops in the UK and also the dominance of Amazon over recent years.

Time for a flashback now.  I wanted to mention something which we watched earlier in the year, which I forgot to mention in a previous edition of Square-Eyed.  "THE STREET" (BBC1 Scotland) was a fly-on-the-wall short documentary series about selected people and businesses in and around Glasgow's famous Sauchiehall Street.  And the Scottish media went ballistic.  Why?  Because this documentary dared to show famed busker 'Melo' being racially abused by drunken low-lifes; late-night drunkenness; sexist comments by a bar manager; and a sandwich shop boss's foul-mouthed tirades towards his staff.  We should all know by now that there is nothing 'real' about 'reality' TV, but at the same time it would be wrong to sweep all this type of behaviour under the carpet.  The fact is that such behaviour does go on, probably in any city in the UK, but perhaps it is harder for the media to deal with, being so close to home.  The racism outrage was a particular hot topic in the local tabloids at the time.  Perhaps that illustrates a stronger sense of fairness and decency in this part of the country, and if so, then that's something positive which can be taken forward from this series.

In just a few weeks, the Commonwealth Games will be staged in Glasgow.  But how does such a massive event impact on the lives of ordinary residents of the Dalmarnock area of Glasgow?  That's the premise behind the latest BBC Scotland documentary series: the honest and very topical "COMMONWEALTH CITY".  For such a major sporting event, a price has to be paid, and this very good series has told the other side of the story - the people evicted from their homes, and the businesses bulldozed to make way for Games venues and the Athletes' Village.  As with the London 2012 Olympics, there is much talk about 'legacy' but it would be fair to say that the long-term benefits of the Games for the 'local' residents remain questionable to say the least. 

Saturday night - check.  Subtitled drama - check.  But wait!  It's not BBC4 but BBC2 which was the go-to place for an excellent European drama recently.  "GENERATION WAR - OUR MOTHERS, OUR FATHERS" was a superb German-language mini-series.  It's also been very controversial as it looked at WWII from a purely German perspective, something which hasn't been on our screens before.  The story focused on five friends - brothers and soldiers Wilhelm and Friedhelm, singer Greta, nurse Charly, and their Jewish friend Viktor who ended up joining the Polish partisans.  I won't spoil the ending as some countries have yet to see the show; all I'll say is that some characters survived and others didn't.  This inevitably is a series which has drawn much critical comment about the role of ordinary Germans in World War II.  We can't say how much of it is true - we weren't there after all.  But regardless of your views about this series, it needs to exist to convey the horror of war and the futility of hatred on racial and religious grounds.  As the recent European elections have shown, with the rise of far-right/racist/anti-immigrant parties, history has a habit of repeating itself, and now it is our generation which is being catapulted into a time of hate.  It would appear that no lessons have been learned from the horrors of World War II.

Anyway onto something a bit more mundane now: "CORONATION STREET" (ITV) which is into yet another BIG PLOT!, this time involving the murder of perma-tanned big-earringed barmaid Tina McIntyre.  It's May of course, which has meant that they need to tie a BIG PLOT! into the rescheduled Corrie shows which in turn have to tie in with Britain's Got Talent week.  (Almost makes ya think that Simon Cowell owns ITV!).  Anyway Corrie's sensationalism knows no bounds, and despite their recent wins at the British Soap Awards for the (very sensitively handled/well acted) Hayley death storyline, I continue to despair at the rush towards sensationalist storylines, affairs and murders.  When in fact a local 'street' can be a very mundane place, where the most exciting thing to happen is actually (a) an Amazon order being delivered or (b) a fence being painted.  Life, eh!!!

A quick mention for the recently-finished second series of "OFF THEIR ROCKERS" (ITV) which is Trigger Happy TV reimagined for the 'noughties' with a neat soundtrack and older people playing pranks on the young 'uns.  We really like this programme here at EuropeCrazy HQ: it's funny, it's not mean-spirited, and there is a rare warmth about it which seems missing from a lot of modern day TV.

"THE FOLLOWING" (Sky Atlantic) was the last place you'd expect to find any warmth.  Far from it.  This series may not get anywhere near the same publicity as the likes of "Game of Thrones"/"Breaking Bad" (both of which I have never seen, so can't comment on) but I thought the second season was gripping from start to finish, and dare I say it - better than the first season, completely outstripping it in twists, turns, and of course excessive violence/body count.  Oh yes, Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy fans, there will be a season 3, although I have to really ask myself where it will all go from here. 

With holidays, caring commitments, telly backlogs and Eurovision, inevitably some TV remained and remains unwatched - hello Grey's Anatomy/Mammon/Wallander - but with the best intentions I'm hoping to catch these over the coming months. 

As I'm going to take a little blogging break after posting those long-overdue Eurovision reviews and my Copenhagen diaries (coming soon, peeps, I promise!!) Square-Eyed will be back at the end of July to review the traditional wasteland of 'summer telly'.  Beyond the World Cup and Le Tour though, the challenge is to find something worth watching, although having said that, there probably won't be enough hours in the day to watch anything new! I'll also be taking stock of the first couple of months of STV Glasgow, our 'local' TV channel which is due to begin broadcasting this coming Monday, 2nd June. 

No comments: