Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: March-April 2017

Television, like other branches of the media, has the power to change lives.  Yet in times of fake news and fake reality, it's hard to find a programme which can have such a genuine impact if you are experiencing what those on screen are experiencing, and if it spurs you on to do something about it. "MIND OVER MARATHON" (BBC1)  is a very different kind of reality show, in which a diverse group of people who experience a range of mental health concerns are brought together to train for the 2017 London Marathon.  The first episode this week was an absolute emotional rollercoaster and I was in floods of tears by the end of it.  These people have experienced so much pain in their lives as it is, without the stresses and strains of taking on this massive challenge, so they all absolutely deserve our support.  Although I'm no royalist by any means, I'm very impressed by the way that Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have focused on the importance of mental health issues.  Hopefully this will raise the profile of an issue which for so long has been something that previously was something you just didn't talk about.  And how did this show affect me?  Well, I don't quite have the fitness to run a marathon but it inspired me to exercise again after a long period where I have struggled with my own mental health.  Regardless of how they all do in the London Marathon, everyone in this series is a hero in my eyes :)

The premise of "HARRY HILL'S ALIEN FUN CAPSULE" (ITV) was pretty flimsy: it's like a Room 101 for nonsense, trying to prevent an alien invasion!  Harry has spent the past couple of years trying (and failing IMHO) to recreate the magic and madness of the irreplaceable TV Burp - most recently the misfiring "Tea Time" on Sky 1.  So I was a bit nervous about this new show (which has just come to the end of its first series) particularly as it resembled the dreaded comedy panel game show format which turns up everywhere these days.  However, there was a significant difference here as Harry was very much in charge and the changing weekly celeb panel often provided the fuel for his surreal wit.

I know this series wasn't to everyone's taste, but I thought this was the closest he has come to emulating the successful Burp formula.  "Local news roundup" could have come straight out of Burp, whilst going even further back in Harry's TV career, Stouffer the Cat even made a recent appearance. It was a long time coming, but finally, shout it from the rooftops, Harry Hill is back on form.  Give us more series ITV!!

"THIS IS US" (Channel 4) is a shamelessly sentimental American family drama series which in its first season has gathered lots of critical acclaim and award nominations in the USA, and did well enough in the ratings to be recommissioned for two further series.  Channel 4 had bought a successful show, so it should have been put in a prime-time slot, shouldn't it?  But then that would interfere with that particular channel's house-improvement/shock-doc/One Born Every Minute/Gogglebox schedule.  So instead it was stuck in a 10.30pm/11.00pm ratings graveyard.  Which is a shame really, even if this show was often as irritating as it was heartwarming, moving and emotional.

This show reminded me in a lot of ways of that other successful American TV family drama of the late 80s: Thirtysomething.  So I guess I wasn't too surprised to see Ken Olin's name among the "This Is Us" production credits - as a 'twentysomething' I had a major crush on Ken who played Michael Steadman in that show.

It's rare these days to see simple family dramas on TV, where the schedules are packed with complex cop shows, fantasy sagas or superheroes.  Perhaps UK TV channels struggle with this drama format - Channel 5 only screened the first two series of the now-ended wonderful US drama "Parenthood", which would make you laugh, make you cry, irritate you and inspire you all in the space of one episode.

But back to the time-hopping "This Is Us".  I had assumed that by the end of the first series we would find out the reason why Jack was no longer with us in the present day; wrong!  I guess that's for the two series which lie the meantime, the final episode, almost exclusively focused on Jack and Rebecca, suggested that they may have not always been the "perfect couple".  There are more stories to be told about the Pearson family: I only hope that we get to see the next series here in the UK and the same fate does not befall "This Is Us" as what happened to "Parenthood".

I have always been a fan of Peter Kay's work: I consider him to be the natural successor to Billy Connolly, such is the high standard of observational comedy which he delivers, and I still consider "Phoenix Nights" to be the finest TV comedy show of the 21st century, although I felt that at certain times over recent years he's become a bit too big for his boots  So when "PETER KAY'S CAR SHARE" (BBC1) initially appeared on our screens 2 years ago, I was rather disappointed and didn't last beyond the first episode.  When I found out that a second series was due to be screened, I decided to give the first series another chance.  I was very wrong 2 years ago - because this is actually one of the funniest TV series of recent years.  Series 2 continues in the same hilarious vein, with the 'will they-won't they' aspect of the car sharing pair, John and Kayleigh, (a brilliant and believable partnership played by Peter Kay and Sian Gibson) and I guarantee that you will not see a funnier half hour on TV this year than the episode which in Friends-speak would be known as "the one with the monkey"....

"MANIC STREET PREACHERS: ESCAPE FROM HISTORY" (Sky Arts) was a great documentary which covered the period from Richey's disappearance, through the writing and recording of the album which brought them to mainstream success.  That of course was the brilliant "Everything Must Go" which remains one of my favourite albums of the 90s, and one of the most significant of that glorious and most underrated decade.  This documentary was made with the full co-operation of the band (above) and the other key players involved.

I always enjoy these occasional Timeshift documentaries on BBC4 which explore aspects of recent history.  "DIAL B FOR BRITAIN: THE STORY OF THE LANDLINE" took a look back through the history of the telephone in this country.  Now there are many people out there who could not imagine that a time existed before the mobile phone.

For those of us who remember our own phone-related stories, this certainly jogged a few memories from the 70s onwards.  At that time, it was only the better-off people who had a phone, before the changing technology allowed more of us to have a phone in our homes.  This documentary also mentioned party lines - we didn't have one, but I know a few people who did. We didn't get a phone until the late 70s, and when we finally got one, it looked like the one pictured above.  Talking of phones, my uncle (mum's brother) worked as a telephone engineer. I remember nicknaming him "Buzby" after the cartoon bird who appeared in the TV ad from the 70s, also featured in this documentary, who encouraged everyone to "make someone happy with a phone call".  Something which wasn't mentioned in this documentary, but which became an essential aspect of phone ownership in the late 70s/early 80s (and the bane of my mum's life when it came to the phone bill!) was Dial-A-Disc, where you phoned up a number to listen to the latest chart hits.  The Spotify of its day, you might say!

I haven't watched much TV lately - haven't really been in the mood - so yet again the backlog is growing :( The highly acclaimed series 3 of "Broadchurch" has now ended and I haven't seen any of it, whilst I also need to catch up with the long-awaited new series of "Prison Break" which was a massive fave of mine back in the early days of this blog.

As the next few weeks are going to be very busy, with the combination of the run-up to Eurovision and preparations for our forthcoming holiday, there won't be a Square-Eyed edition in May, but I'm planning a special catch-up edition over the summer.  

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