Ah, TV. My old, often annoying friend. Sometimes you act like a complete fool, putting on shows that make me want to throw a brick at you. But this week you’ve changed. At least you have done in some capacity, actually managing to muster together a few decent shows into your drivel-cluttered schedule. Thanks for making time for me old chap.
So, what exactly have you presented me with? I have to admit I was scrabbling around in the dirt for a while looking for anything decent other than Dexter and Grandma’s House but now you’ve given me This Is England ’86 (C4), an almost sick-makingly brilliant follow-up to Shane Meadows’ cult Brit flick about growing up as a skinhead during the Falklands war.
The story is set three years after the events of the film, with the same cast reunited for the four-part drama. Although on the basis of the first episode, “drama” could be a bit harsh as there were more laughs in the opening fifteen minutes than in an entire series of something like Roger and Val or, shudder, My Family. Woody and Lol are getting married, Shaun is leaving school (but is still being bullied by the leader of a motorcycle gang who dresses in shellsuits and sounds like a psycho) and the rest of the gang are up to their old antics as disaster occurs at the registry office. Things take a darker turn in the second half of the show but often the mood is light-hearted. This being Shane Meadows, I wouldn’t expect the jovial mood to last all four episodes. But that doesn’t matter. On the strength of this first episode alone I could rate this as one of the shows of the year. Not that it has an awful lot of competition.
It does, however, have some competition from these lot:
Yes, Mad Men (BBC4) is baaaaaack. Thank god for that: you don’t realise how much you miss it until you wait a few months for the next series to arrive. And then it’s over in a flash. Damn, why can’t it be a soap instead of a series I tell you? It’s just not fair! Anyway, Don is now divorced and living in a dingy apartment where he’s receiving regular visits from a prostitute while Betty is happily remarried but still putting the fear of god into her poor children. Peggy is still struggling against Don’s misogyny although she is looking curiously more stylish in 1964. Not much has changed for any of the other Mad Men, although there is a new location for the remodelled agency, Stirling Cooper Draper Pryce (long winded, but surely four names equals quality). Oh, except Pete seems a little nicer but that might just be because he had less screen time this week than usual: his sole duties in this first episode were to help Peggy put together a covert campaign for a ham company (which Peggy was scolded for malevolently by Don at the end of the episode), break up a fight between two hired hands and help calm an ugly situation between a “respectable” bikini and bra company when Don tells them they’ll fail if don’t stop being prudish and start being more racy.
So, er, Don is the bad guy. But then again, he’s never been nice, just well-groomed and a bit of a charmer when he needed to be. Although he’s still not as despicable as Betty. It’s all as stylish and well-acted as ever. It’s like you’re back in 1964, working on Madison Avenue all over again…. Sigh.
So now on to the slightly more ridiculous end of the scale. My Family’s Crazy Gap Year (C4) was billed as “ordinary” families with “ordinary” jobs doing extraordinary things while taking a year off to explore various parts of the world. Er, well, I guess by ordinary they mean that they have a job, live in a brick house and take their kids to school in comparison to what some of the people they meet on their travels might do. Because let’s face it, you’ve got to be pretty rich to take a whole year off and tour the world. This week’s family travelled to Asia where they were given an audience with the Dalai Lama (how?), decided not to have vaccinations to protect them from tropical diseases (why?) and crashed their car (when? Why, when they were crossing the Himalayas of course!). Actually I’m being a bit unfair here. Even though they got to do some things that might have been out of reach for the local people it was interesting to seem them integrating very well with the natives in a Papuan rainforest and herding sheep in Tibet.
The problem with this show is that it tries too hard to squeeze a whole year into 40 minutes. Consequently, a lot of the trip seems rushed or is entirely skipped over, only leaving some morsels of the trip to spy on. The grisly details of tribe life are also skipped over and the family don’t inquire too much about culture. They just absorb and we have to scrabble around for whatever scraps of info we can get as an audience. Bruce Parry’s Tribe this ain’t. No matter though: this Monday a different family are sailing round the globe with two young children who won’t stop fighting with each other. I’m giving bets of 3/1 that they get tropical fish poisoning and 5/1 that they’ll toss the kids overboard at the 6 month mark.
Well that’s about it. Just enough space to mention that a new series of Only Connect (BBC4) started on Monday with a whole new set of teams willing to put their lateral thinking skills to the test. It’s actually easier to do than University Challenge and it’s less stuffy too. Plus, in response to complaints that using Greek letters as a way of choosing questions was posh and, presumably, too intellectual, the Only Connect team have replaced them…. with Egyptian Hieroglyphs. That’ll show all those people that they were talking a load of rubbish. I’ll raise a horned snake to that.