TV show review entries

March 12, 2010

The Undercover Princesses

The Undercover Princesses
4 out of 5 stars


The dating world can be a scary place. Bars and clubs are full of people who either want to  fight you or have sex with you. Everyone is incoherent, nobody can dance and the likelihood that a spilt drink will wreck your carefully selected outfit is incredibly high. That person you pull in Smack does not a partner make. Thankfully, I don’t have to suffer the pitfalls of danger-dating any more, but plenty of people march on like lemmings into its unforgiving abyss. 

Joining the plight of Britain’s singles are the Undercover Princesses, coming all the way from Germany, India and Uganda to find themselves the perfect English gent. In Essex. Sexy, classy Essex. I’m not even being sarcastic: at one point in the program Princess Sheillah from Uganda points to a picture of Jodie Marsh and declares that ‘she is sexy!’. Which is kind of a problem when these women are supposed to be princesses. Princesses should be worrying about their comportment and engagement with their subjects in a demure and dignified fashion, not about imitating Jodie Marsh’s style.

Then again, truly demure and dignified princesses would never appear on BBC3 full stop, let alone on a program which follows them on a path of almost certain rejection and humiliation. Something gives me the impression that these women are looking for something other than love. Princess Xenia is the German equivalent of Paris Hilton. Rather, Xenia thinks that she is the German equivalent of Paris Hilton. In her introductory video, they were demonstrating her fame by showing her being photographed by various members of the German public, each one looking more bemused than the last. I get the feeling that perhaps she isn’t as famous as she wants to be and doesn’t want to date an Essex lad, rather to make herself into an uber-star. 

Princess Aaliyah of Balasinor, India has the most rose-tinted view of her trip to beautiful Essex. I can only imagine the meetings that must have taken place between the producers and the Princesses. They probably pulled out some Victorian propagandist paintings of the quaint and sophisticated English countryside, coupled with a showing of Pride and Prejudice and a booklet of typical British bachelors comprising mainly of pictures of Hugh Grant, Robert Pattinson and Prince Harry. Whereas Xenia went into the program with her eyes wide open, Aaliyah is far more shy and is seen to break down on the streets of Essex towards the end of the episode. Knowing how reserved she is, surely the producers were gearing her up for an inevitable and embarrassing downfall?

I suppose that’s a bit of a ‘shame on them’ moment, but I genuinely enjoy seeing people breaking down on TV. It may be a little bit perverse, but some of the best TV moments ever come from seeing people in the flux of a mental breakdown. The intention behind the Undercover Princesses isn’t all that machiavellian, but it is an example of how all realityish television is just exploitative TV. The Undercover Princesses is an aftershock of the successful disintegration of Vanessa Feltz on Celebrity Big Brother, Les Dennis on Celebrity Big Brother, Leo Sayer on Celebrity Big Brother, Shabaz on Big Brother...well, actually, almost every single Big Brother contestant ever. Not that there is anything wrong with exploitative TV. It’s entertaining! The dating world might be a scary place, but sat at home watching The Undercover Princesses, we don’t have to experience it. All we have to do is watch three privileged women set themselves up for disaster. Brilliant. 

February 12, 2010


2 out of 5 stars


Drugs. They’re everywhere, apparently. And they look damn attractive. Skins is back and they’re all doing it. From Anonymous Suicide Girl in episode one, who performed the remarkable feat of parting a drunken crowd with nothing more than the anticipation of a fall, to Thomas, who can afford a modern house on the back of his drug pushing, it is obvious that drugs can grant you both superhuman powers and everlasting wealth. Pass me the syringe. I want me some of this life-changing ofcourseonlyinapositiveway elixir.

   Drugs have a great history on TV. In particular, weed. I cannot remember one bad weed-related incident on TV. Everyone seems to love it. Those crazy Peep Show chaps are always ‘stoked’ and they’re ruddy hilarious. Yes, their drug induced haze only ever seems to result in public embarrassment but at least they’re having fun... Even dour Betty Draper on Mad Men got in on the act recently. Cannabis not only got her in with the other ad-men, it also gave her inspiration to rise head and shoulders above her pesky male counterparts.

   Prescription medication has a slightly worse reputation. Dr. House’s addiction to Vicodin renders him totally and utterly unlovable because he’s always so ruddy grumpy. Nurse Jackie seems to be doing alright on her snort-and-relax pills but her increasingly short temper, forgetfulness and propensity to have nose bleeds can only lead to one thing: a major melt-down. Perhaps one on the same scale as Lynette Scavo from Desperate Housewives way back in season one, where her dependence on anti-depressants almost led to her suicide. Grim stuff. In all honesty, all this teaches me is that addiction to prescription medication is not the way forward: it’s a pathetic drug to be addicted to. It’s unglamorous, is only taken by mardy neurotics and doesn’t even produce a high.

   No. As keen followers of the deranged habits of ‘crazy’ Television characters, we like to stay up to date with all of the latest drugs crazes. Smoke opium with the Desperate Romantics! Snort coke with Skins! Take roofies with Hollyoaks! Of course, I am being silly. In most programs drugs are shown to have negative side-effects. If one takes drugs in Hollyoaks, one will either end up arrested or dead. There is no middle ground. Oh, actually, there is. Rape. You will end up raped, à la Sam-whatshisface from the Hollyoaks Late Night Specials. Everyone seems to die in Desperate Romantics. Granted, it is semi-historical and there were other underlying health issues like a complete lack of antibiotics in the nineteenth century, but drugs play a salient role. It’s only really in Skins that most people seem to come off relatively unscathed most of the time.

   Which leads me to the whole point of this drug-high diatribe. Skins. I used to like it because I was a 15 year-old public school boy. Bristol night life seemed so mysterious. I have now been out in Bristol many times. Life is not like that there. Life is not like Skins anywhere. Skins is about as representative of the youth of today as Jackie Stallone is of the elderly. When people take drugs in other programs, they turn away from being the vapid air-sacs that the writers of Skins dare to call characters. I bet they’re not even snorting cocaine, but indulging in a bit of Dip-Dab. Skins is a pathetic legal high. It is a classless, empty con of a drug. Give me Mad Men’s weed any day, because I’m not buying whatever Skins is trying to sell me.

January 28, 2010

Coming of Age

Coming of Age
2 out of 5 stars


Sometimes, TV can’t be taken too seriously. Yes, it’s great that Mad Men’s back for a third series, that those angsty Skins kids will be snorting and self-harming their way to university and that Paxman’s perennial sneer is forever imprinted upon the hollow soul of the BBC, but sometimes it’s nice to lose yourself in half an hour of complete banality. Yes! From the makers of ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ comes the second series of ‘Coming of Age,’ a yoof sitcom that follows the oh-so-hilarious tribulations of five sixth form students.
However, we are being led to believe that the monster that is Recession-bot 3000 wants the BBC to take television more seriously. The Policy Exchange recently concluded that the BBC should cut the amount that it spends on popular entertainment and shows for 16 to 35 year olds and concentrate on providing a better quality output instead of chasing ratings. It also stated that money spent on reaching 16 to 35 year olds would be better placed on E4 and Channel 4 than it is on the BBC at the moment. Of course, being the cynic that I am, I tend to disagree. The BBC is a multi-faceted organization, with a platform for intellectual programming on BBC4, (‘Alice Sommer Herz at 106: Everything is a Present’ anyone?) popular entertainment on BBC1 and BBC2 and youth programming on BBC3. Heck, they even have BBC Parliament. If the Policy Exchange is concerned with wasted money, they should look no further than BBC Parliament. I don’t know why anyone would want to sit around and watch the televisual equivalent of a bunch of bleating walruses flogging themselves, as if we need any convincing that our parliament is little more than some perverse foreplay. I digress.
I spoke to Tim Dawson, the writer of ‘Coming of Age’, this week. Tim is a man who is, as one short search on Google reveals, widely applauded for achieving success as a scriptwriter at a young age. The first series of ‘Coming of Age’ was commissioned when he was just 19. Now, this makes me a little jealous. I am fast approaching the big two-zero and I have little more to show for myself than a dirty bedroom and a dubious collection of Victorian masks. Of course, I asked him the obvious question: what is the best way to break into the industry? He dutifully replied, “I had dinner last week with a very respectable writer who show ran Cheers in America and we were talking about this. He said no-one’s written a great script that hasn’t been made. So that’s all you have to do – write a great script.” Simples. So young, so wise...
More to the point, I asked whether he thought that programs such as ‘Coming of Age’ are vital to maintaining the diversity of viewers that the BBC should be striving to attract to which he responded, “I think BBC3 is an exceptionally entertaining and adventurous channel which I’m delighted Coming of Age is a part of.  The future of the BBC lies with the younger generations, therefore it’s imperative that we are catered for adequately.”
Which I agree with, in part. I wholeheartedly support BBC3 for employing new, fresh talent like Tim, but I also believe that it shoots itself in the face with a lot of the programming choices that it makes. It is home to the much maligned ‘Dog Borstal’ and programs that we have to look forward to include ‘I Believe in Ghosts: Joe Swash’. This might just be my own personal taste, but the prospect of watching an hour of someone who used to be in Eastenders walk around a house is totally unappealing, not entertaining and unlikely to attract viewers.
But I’ve been wrong before. You may or may not remember my denouncement of ‘Miranda’ a few weeks back, but Tim shocked me when he revealed that, “Miranda was both a critical and ratings success and is returning for a second series on BBC Two.” The further revelation that “My Family regularly draws 6 million viewers and 22 new episodes are currently in production” was even more shocking. I had no idea that it was still on TV, let alone that it was still inordinately popular. Tim refutation that the sitcom is still popular is drawn from “simple logic: if a genre is popular it is by definition relevant.”
‘Miranda’ and ‘My Family’ are both programs which are outmoded and feel stale. I truly believe that they only exist to be derided by joyless beasts such as yours truly, novice television critic. But why shouldn’t they be on TV if people are watching them? Who am I to say that people can’t watch TV that makes them happy?
Whilst I’ll admittedly be snorting along with the Skins kids, imitating Paxman, buying a vintage 60s ad-men suit and avoiding the BBC sitcom at all costs over the coming months, I concede that programs like ‘Coming of Age’ have their place. Tim asserts that “I think there’s plenty of room for us all.”And why not? ‘Coming of Age’ is fun enough, heck, I even laughed with it. It completely lacks pretension and is reassuringly human. If you don’t want to take television too seriously, ‘Coming of Age’ is the perfect show for you.

December 04, 2009

Cast Off Miranda and Big Top please, THANKSVERYMUCH!

Miranda, Big Top
1 out of 5 stars


I feel more confused than an obsessive Gary Glitter fan circa 1997. I thought that my relationship with BBC comedy was strong. The Office was funny. I love Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Outnumbered is laugh-a-minute hilarious and I am a big fan of The Mighty Boosh and The Thick of It. Heck, even Little Britain used to tickle my pickle back in the day. However, it revealed its dark side this past fortnight by bringing out two godawful new shows, Miranda and Big Top, and I don’t know whether I should starve the beast that is spawning such dross or simply carry on in forcibly blissful ignorance, pretending that these atrocities simply don’t exist.
Miranda is a program about a fat woman who owns her own joke shop but all she really needs to make herself happy is the love of a good man. Well, the love of any man will do, and by love I mean a five second grope in the back of a night-bus from a dirty stranger. Yay, feminism. This was a show that should have been released and dropped thirty years ago when the BBC realised that this was just a really very cheap rip-off of Are You Being Served?. Miranda doesn’t even try to veil its smut. It believes that innuendo is telling a joke with a phallus in hand as if the viewer is too stupid to grasp that a joke about sucking could have some sexual connotations. Interestingly, the BBC have also resurrected the cast waving goodbye at the end of the show one by one. I actually quite like that, but not enough to sit through another whole episode of this bilious twaddle.
Admittedly, I only sat through five minutes of Big Top. I maintain that that was five minutes too much. These five minutes consisted of Amanda Holden (the multi-faceted actress well known for her range of facial expressions and total non-ice-queen aura) reading a poster for their circus which had been defaced by a rival circus. I don’t think that Holden knew her lines. I don’t even think that she understood that she has to interact with the other people in scene. Moreover, the entire production was shot with more botox than Holden’s forehead. It was stiff, void of personality and less amusing than the 10‘O’Clock News.
Compare and contrast with Cast Offs on Channel 4. Whilst BBC is happy to gorge on its own rotting corpse, devouring any glimpse of inspiration and regurgitating it so that every single program that it produces is tainted by the stench of its dereliction, Channel 4 is softly mocking its identity as the channel for kooky reality TV shows. Exponentially a show about five disabled adults being told to survive unassisted on an island for six months, Cast Offs is one of the first television programs that I can think of that that presents disabled people not as victims but as actual adults. The characters drink, have sex, are bigoted, swear and, unlike every Channel 5 documentary that you will ever see, function in the real world. Because of this, Cast Offs is not self-conscious. It is littered with really very amusing black humour and led by a cast of characters who the viewer can identify with. It is innovative, necessary and, ultimately, everything that Miranda and Big Top aren’t, so it is truly depressing to see Cast Offs scheduled after 11pm and Miranda and Big Top on prime time. I’m starting to feel like a lone voice against the increase in imbecilic programs on television. Help.

November 25, 2009


TV image
3 out of 5 stars

Those crazy kids at E4 are at it again, making our disaffected TopShop generation their nonchalant muses. At least, that’s how it appeared in the adverts for new teen-dream drama Misfits or, as I wanted to call it, ‘Skins Series 4.’ We were promised a group of rebel scene-agers causing havoc and having sex with everyone but their parole officer, set to a soundtrack of bands that you’re not cool enough to know yet. The scent of E4 cashing in on the popularity of Skins was almost overbearing and I was quick to write it off before I even saw it. Calling itself Misfits was, and is still, crime enough in my book. I can only imagine the production meeting full of balding television executives trying to find a skewiff enough term for the alienated breed of teenager, skirting over ‘offbeats,’ ‘stray cats’ and ‘ne’er do wells’ before finally lumping for ‘misfits.’
Lazy marketing put to one side, and having exhausted all other possibilities on 4OD (including that god-awful and ill thought out 3D season), I sat down with my mug of piping hot white hot chocolate clearing my throat ready to grumble. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Less a rehash of Skins and more a mash-up of Heroes and Dead Set, Misfits opens its series with a promise of thrill. It is, shockingly, not about five kids who take drugs and occasionally look contemplatively into the distance because life sux, innit, but rather about five kids and their parole officer who are all given superpowers after a freak storm hits The City. Aside from the Irish kid, all the superpowers are revealed in the first episode. Chavvy Happy Slapper can read minds, Moody Runner can manipulate time, Actually Not All That Unattractive Moody Psycho Kid turns invisible, Can’t Do Better In Life Than Become a Parole Officer is some sort of zombie monster chav hunter and Pretty Slutty Girl can make herself irresistible to anyone she touches.
Though Misfits is hardly perfect. Whilst I admire the ingenuity behind Pretty Slutty Girl’s power (it is, if nothing else, original), it is a relatively pathetic plot device constructed solely for the introduction of gratuitous sex scenes. It’s got more plot holes than a Dr. Who Special (seriously; snow in 2059? In London? In November?) that cannot even be justified by saying, ‘but it’s magic.’ When the monster Parole Officer was chasing Chavvy Happy Slapper, he could have easily caught her. This is a creature who had no doubt spent the best part of her life living off of White Lightning and Curry and Chips. A girl who would skip PE to conceive her second baby at the age of 15 in an empty classroom if she went to school, or hanging with the tramps in the park if she didn’t because she’s street like that, yeah? In any case, there is no way that she would have been able to outrun a power-charged blood thirsty monster. Equally as unlikely is the kids’ acceptance of the discovery of a dead body in the locker. Thoughts immediately turned to cleaning and disposing of that body and that of the recently murdered Parole Officer. They had spent the day previous doing a pitiful job of cleaning up graffiti and a mutilated body would surely be enough to make someone be sick or faint or react with something other than a quip. If Misfits steers away from being Skins’ little brother and embraces its sci-fi elements as something other than something that can patch up inconsistencies, I might even enjoy watching it. Shocker.

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