Monday, May 11, 2009

on the tube late spring 09

This is way overdue, but I hope it will be suitably brief.

Comic Relief 2009 was the first time I’d ever seen Comic Relief live. I’m really glad I was able to tune in real time as I got to see David Tennant don a tight white suit and shove his butt toward the camera. If that wasn’t enough, he made me quite proud when he got all his questions correct on a special version of Celebrity MasterMind, proving himself a complete Doctor Who fan boy. Oh, and of course, Davina McCall offered him £50 to kiss her. He said he would have done it for free, but proceeded to give her a generous snog and basically wrestle her to the ground. Many women would have paid a lot more than £50 to be in Davina’s position. The rest of the sketches were a bit underwhelming. Catherine Tate’s character met one of David Walliams’ in a somewhat unfunny sketch, and French and Saunders’ Mamma Mia!-inspired sketch was a bit disappointing. Philip Glenister was definitely a highlight of it, though, as was Saunders spiffily lampooning Meryl Streep. Also there was the very short, highly silly but occasionally amusing Sarah Jane Adventures meets the Ronnie (not the RANI). I don’t feel guilty, either, since I did send them some money.

I kept missing The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which really pissed me off. I managed to catch the one-off special broadcast last year that obviously I wasn’t around for. To be honest, the three episodes of the series that I saw were much better than the special. I’m not quite sure why—perhaps the books are better suited to the episodic nature of a series. N1LDA is wonderfully funny and Mma Ramotswe is an empowered, clever, compassionate heroine. Definitely a great role model and the kind of lady you’d gladly share a cup of roiibos tea with. I also quickly fell in love with the other series regulars. Despite the warm atmosphere, the mysteries are also entertaining and unexpected. While Botswana clearly has its share of crime and misdemeanors, it shows a glimpse of Africa most of us will never see. It makes for wonderfully different viewing, and I hope someday to see the half of the season that I missed.

Crap, I wish I’d taken some notes on The Story of the Costume Drama part one. As an overview of the genre from its earliest days—1960s Robin Hood—I found many dramas that were well-beloved by me, but also some things I really must look up. The Forsyte Saga (the original) is well-remembered by my aunts and mom because it was the beginning of Masterpiece Theatre in the US. Upstairs, Downstairs is also regarded as a classic (though I never saw it). The same with Brideshead Revisited. Unfortunately I can’t remember any of the revelatory stories that I decided I must watch. :-/

Heston’s Tudor Feast/Roman Feast made for some unorthodox viewing. I don’t usually go for foofie gourmet restaurants, mostly because I’m too poor, but generally because I’d rather eat something solid (the exception being tea parties). Therefore I would probably never eat at Heston Blumenthal’s duck restaurant, never mind what the Lush Company’s higher ups would say. It’s hard to justify a programme of such superficiality while knowing all the sorrow and tragedy waiting in the world and knowing how many people have nothing to eat, let alone fantastical historical creations. Nevertheless, I found the production and fantasy element of this series difficult to ignore. The Tudor Feast included Elizabethan butter beer, which sounded quite delicious. On the other hand, the main course was a bizarre taxidermied creation of a griffin with meat inside. Dessert was a lovely traditionally Tudor pudding, however Heston decided to shape it like bangers and mash. The result was an unorthodox taste treat. What I remember from the Roman Feast was an attempt to recreate an ancient Roman ejaculating cake (no kidding). Heston worked hard to get the explosion just right, including making a real exploding cake that left frosting all over the test area. It looked nice, yet I myself would feel really naughty indulging in such a cake. Naughty Romans.

I made sure to watch at least one episode of Ladies of Letters because it had Anne Reid in it and was a brainchild of Victoria Wood. To be honest I found it quite different than what I expected, and while vaguely funny, not really my cup of tea. Perhaps because I approached it halfway in the series.

As you know, I am game for almost anything historical going on BBC4, so I made sure to watch one episode of the exploration of Baroque; ‘twas From St Peter’s to St Paul’s. This was a fairly lively look at Baroque (which I always pronounce BAH-roke but everyone here pronounces Barack) and after all, if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it. It was alleged in the programme that while Italy’s architectural revolution was in full swing in the 16th century, it took much longer for such architecture to travel to England. The presenter was a huge fan of Charles I because he was an unabashed patron of the arts, the like of which did not exist in any other person of the era (because, whatever other traits he may have possessed, he did have good taste). Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones were also lauded for their contributions, but so too was the mysterious architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. The presenter was particularly brutal in deriding Alan Moore’s use of Hawksmoor in From Hell: some believe that Hawksmoor's churches are actually part of Satanic or at least occult ritual. The presenter was at least willing to admit that some of Hawksmoor’s churches do have a weird look about them (this, I believe, as I am pretty certain Christ’s Church, Spitalfields is the church I walked by several times in late December and I remember it being eerie).

Just as I was starting to watch Red Dwarf whenever it was on Dave, I managed to miss the latter half of the first Red Dwarf to be shown in ten years. :-(

I have really been trying to watch Primeval. My verdict is the same as ever it was: I just can’t handle it, it’s too silly, too lacking in interesting, compelling drama. I watched James Moran’s episode on ITV Player and found it better than average—he handled the flirtation between Blonde Pixie Punk and Mitt Hat Man pretty well, and the opening was truly suspenseful. I saw most of an episode when a woman was giving birth in a hospital where baby dinosaurs were appearing—they were cute! I did see a bit of the episode where a medieval knight followed a dragon through an “anomaly” into the future, but I just kept thinking Les Visiteurs!

Robin Hood. See the reviews written as I see the episodes.

Doctor Who Easter Special. See the review.

City of Vice is probably the best show I have watched in 2009, and because of being too busy and in France I’ve probably missed the rest of the series, but I absolutely LOVE it. While The Devil’s Whore has influenced me a lot in the way I’m thinking of my Milton script, City of Vice has both influenced the Milton project and another one which I dare not name. As far as I’m concerned, it ticks every box for me. It must have been kept to 5 episodes because of the expense in recreating 18th century London, but they’ve done a fantastic job. My historical expertise is most profound in the 19th century, also I’m getting a fair way into the 17th, but my knowledge of the 18th isn’t bad either, so I am pleased to see it’s shown as the sordid, cheerful, random era it was (it was, after all, the era of Casanova and Lascivious Bodies). The idea has just enough of the genres it straddles to appeal both to mystery fans who like watching modern day detectives such as Robson Green pursuing murders, and the historically-mad, who just like looking into the past. It follows the real life Bow Street Runners, the only oasis of crime-fighting in the dark and dangerous London of the 18th century (see The London Monster: Terror on the Streets in 1790 for more information on them) famously banded by novelist Henry Fielding and his blind brother, John.

I remember watching the two episodes I saw and thinking how I loved every scene, every line of dialogue. Ian McDiarmid is a perfect Henry Fielding. I had not known of his marriage to a woman of much lower class in order to preserve her honor, though he could have just left her to the gutter, though anyone familiar with Tom Jones will recognize much of Fielding’s life and experience in that novel. Everything we know and don’t know of the 18th century is there: sexual perversion, extreme poverty, prostitution, coffeehouses, broadsheets and newspapers, London as a maze, and the Fieldings have to apply some kind of logic and procedure to an era that seethes with the ephemeral. To that end, the mysteries are not particularly labyrinthe, because the city does that enough on its own.

I love the inclusion of Henry’s wife Mary, who holds her own and yet acts very much the housewife of the period. I love the inclusion of strong men on the Bow Street Runners’ team as well as Daniel Cairne (who we assume is from Jamaica originally) who comes to prominence in the second episode. The first episode concerns mutilation and rape at a bagnio (all three subjects which are addressed in The London Monster: Terror on the Streets in 1790!) while the second episode is a fascinating window into London molls. There is extreme sexual perversion at play when the Runners visit Miss Suki’s Molly House, though by the end of the episode I was reduced to tears.

There is a huge dose of the kind of overt sexiness that has made dramas like HBO’s Rome and The Tudors a success but in the case of City of Vice I feel it’s earned, whereas those programmes may on occasion have to stretch at it. The audience’s way into the story is achieved by Henry’s narration and clever, almost interactive maps that chart the progress of the story through London—indeed, the city is made palpably its own character. I must also make a special mention of Iain Glen, who plays John Fielding, the brother blind since youth. He makes a corking good character, and I have to confess he is exactly how I would imagine Old Milton.

And now for something completely different. I would never miss an opportunity to see John Barrowman on TV (nor would he miss an opportunity to BE on TV), so I started watching the outrageously cheesy Tonight’s the Night (hey, the opening episode featured John performing the Pointer Sisters’ song, which I always associate with Daleks). Awww, it’s all in good fun and I admit I cringed as John and his team elaborately engineered situations to surprise contestants in their daily life and get them to appear on the show. The premise is that people (generally those who have a tougher-than-average time in daily life) get the chance to perform somehow on primetime TV—ie, a woman who loves Mamma Mia! got to sing “Dancing Queen” in costume with the cast of the musical on TV. Rather more relevantly, the latest episode introduced a search to find the next Doctor Who alien for a walk on role in one of the specials (I assume?). The rigorous judging process brought 30 contestants down to 10. What I want to know is where was this contest? I could have competed! Oh, and John was originally a musical performer, so any chance you get to hear him sing is worthwhile.

I missed Life on Mars by and large, so I wasn’t really sure what to make of Ashes to Ashes (and the second series no less) but Staggering Stories had seemed to recommend it. I found, despite myself, that it was pretty entertaining. I will say more once I have finished the series.

I saw an episode from 1995 of The Bill which Jamie kindly showed me off of YouTube, because David Tennant was playing A MANIAC! Indeed, he was more disturbing than salacious, though the character reminded me a bit of the villain in Above Suspicion. I’m afraid it’s the first episode of The Bill I’d ever seen, so I haven’t quite figured out what makes Jamie such a fan. But I’m willing to learn!

To prove a bit more that anything John Barrowman is worth my attention, I was talking to one of my colleagues at work who is also a fan. She told me about a certain episode of My Family in which John had featured as an Indiana Jones-like adventurer. I like My Family well enough, perhaps the older series a bit more and am kind of surprised it’s still running, so I looked it up on iPlayer and was very amused.

Bring Back . . . Star Trek was my first real exposure to Justin Lee Collins. His immaturity astounds, nevertheless I was interested to see how he was going to bring the cast of the original Star Trek together. He managed to get everyone but the Shat. He seduced George Takei by means of delicious cakes (who proved a lovely man to interview), tricked Nichelle Nichols into kissing him, found a very willing participant in the jogging Walter Koenig, and had a truly hilarious fight with the actor who played the original Gorn.

That’s enough! Soon I’ll be able to write my 2008-9 Year’s Best!

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