Tuesday, December 25, 2007

First turkey of Xmas

Christmas at the Riviera (ITV1, Christmas Eve primetime), by Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni, fell a long way short. When is TV going to ask itself, when was the last successful two-hour comedy movie?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Oliver Twist - a pre-Xmas treat

Another BBC1 Dickens dramatisation hardly stirs the blood. Nonetheless, Sarah Phelps's five-part take on Oliver Twist was an unexpected triumph. For the first time we saw a convincing early Victorian rookery in all its tawdry, gaudy glory. The cast were, without exception, magnificent. Gregor Fisher and Sarah Lancashire made a fabulous comic double act as Bumble and Mrs Corney, matched by Tom Holland's genuinely alarming Bill Sykes and Sophie Okonedo's Nancy, spiralling towards an inevitable early death. Meanwhile the upper class included the splendidly psychopathic Julian Rhind-Tutt, very different from how we usually see him, and the stunning Morven Christie. Timothy Spall was Fagin, again very different from the Alec Guinness stereotype, but not perhaps the most successful experiment. However, the most radical element, and very successful, was the edgy, cranky, unashamedly modern music. Of course, thanks to the usual trailer at the end, I haven't been able to decipher the composer's name.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Series 1 finale, Heroes

What can you do? You build in every twist and turn you can think of but, ultimately, you have to bring them together. This Heroes attempted to do and, inevitably, there was a level of disappointment. Someone had to save the world. They could have done it with a tad more spectacle. Even so, this series has been the saving grace of the autumn schedules and we look forward (WGA strike permitting) to series 2. Now, an extended trailer for series 2 bolted on to the end of series 1 was a masterstroke.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Overview of various

Heroes finishes this week. Hoping for a great ending twist and am confident we will get one. The plotting throughout has been exemplary. A major success. In a totally different genre Cranford has proved to be a homegrown winner for the Beeb, heavily adapted from unfashionable material. Janet Street-Porter was moaning the other day about our distinguished older actresses having to make do with material like this, but I totally disagree. Where else would you get so many of them in one format and give them the chance to be genuinely funny? I for one never suspected Eileen Atkins could be so wickedly comic.

Armstrong and Miller are back after a very long absence. After shitty adverts for Armstrong and various acting gigs for Miller it is good to be reminded how funny and dangerous they were when they started out ten years back. Happily they are still very dangerous and unbelievably funny - the black and white RAF pilots who speak street and the dentist with his appalling anecdotes are just two examples. A massive hit, again on the BBC.

Dominic Brigstocke, however, is stretched dangerously thin. This week comedy buffs like me were treated to the same material on The Late Edition Live (BBC 3), The Now Show (BBC R4) and the truly godawful Saturday Night Live Again (ITV). What a duff idea was the latter. Lee Mack (agh!), Jimmy Carr (compulsory) and Ben Elton, reminding us why he swapped stand-up for writing. Appalling.

Otherwise, FX are showing the complete series to date of The Wire on Monday nights and C4 are doing The Sopranos from the beginning five nights a week. Both are welcome relief from reality shows, soaps and (dear God!) a 'new' series of The Green Green Grass, which continues to rival L for Lester as the worst sitcom ever made.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Shaps hails new era in ITV drama

Shaps hails new era in ITV drama

ITV is making big claims for its forthcoming drama slate. We must wait and see. The bad news is, they're keeping The Royal.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fame and Fortune Radio 4

Robert Hanks in The Independent thought:

"Radio 4's Saturday Play this week, and for the next five weeks, was Fame and Fortune, Frederic Raphael's sequel to The Glittering Prizes. When I was an impressionable teenager, I thought the TV dramatisation of The Glittering Prizes was the last word in sophistication; the sequel, by contrast, strikes me as a parade of nasty-minded bores, spouting dialogue that consists entirely of underheated witticisms.

"It takes place in 1979, and is larded with historical detail, so maybe the brittle chatter is authentic to the period. Or maybe Raphael's writing was always like this, and I've grown out of it. In any case, while everyone is courting our hero, Adam Morris (Tom Conti), with offers of sex or money, I can't work out why anybody would even talk to him - or, more to the point, why anyone would listen."

I disagree with Hanks on one small point only - I thought Glittering Prizes was a parade of nasty-minded bores. I agree wholeheartedly with a colleague who dubbed Fame and Fortune "fat-arse drama". Why on earth the BBC would waste licence money and, more importantly, weeks and weeks of premier airtime, on this indulgent, pompous, hideously old-fashioned trivia is beyond me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fanny Hill, the good news and the bad

Fanny Hill became BBC 4's top-rated programme last night with 1.1 million viewers. It was good enough fun but had more impact when watched with the drama doc about Cleland himself. Can't help thinking there was art to be made by writing something new combining the two. Instead, what we got was a by-the-numbers superficial dramatisation.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Viva Blackpool goes stateside - and bombs

In Britain we embrace the best of US TV. The reverse clearly does not apply. This is Alessandra Stanley, writing in today's New York Times.

“Viva Laughlin” on CBS may well be the worst new show of the season, but is it the worst show in the history of television?

It certainly comes close in a category that includes “Beverly Hills Buntz” in 1987 (Dennis Franz in a short-lived spinoff of “Hill Street Blues”), the self-explanatory “Manimal” in 1983 or last year’s one-episode wonder, “Emily’s Reasons Why Not.” “Viva Laughlin” is not even in the same league as “Cop Rock,” a 1990 experimental series created by Steven Bochco that leavened a gritty police drama with Broadway musical moments: cops and criminals breaking into song and dance. “Viva Laughlin” also features musical outbursts and is far worse.

“Cop Rock,” which featured original music, was ridiculed at the time but deserved credit for daring and originality, even though it was inspired by British series like “Pennies From Heaven” and “The Singing Detective.”

“Viva Laughlin” is far more derivative, a blander American adaptation of a hit British series. The BBC’s “Viva Blackpool” found sardonic humor in its setting — Las Vegas-style casino gambling in a seedy British seaside resort town — almost the kind of cultural disconnect that enlivened “Breaking Away,” a 1979 movie about teenagers in Bloomington, Ind., who become obsessed with Italian bicycle racing. “Viva Laughlin” moves the gambling back to sun-baked Laughlin, Nev., and deflates the joke. The writing is too flat to allow the characters to take form.

Today's news that Murdoch's Fox is thinking of Americanising Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em may be a similar mistake. Why not risk showing the originals? After all, we don't buy up the rights to US shows like Californication and reallocate the action to Doncaster.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday nights are funny

Ok, the "Thursday nights are funny" strand has been running for two weeks now, but last night was the first time I have caught the full package. Vivienne Vyle is funny and clever and topical. Peter Serafinowicz is extraordinarily talented but last night's second show was nowhere near as hilarious as last week's opener. I do hope they haven't crammed all the good stuff into the opening night. Graham Norton was just Graham Norton, a half-baked reprise of the groundbreaking C4 original. I'm sorry, but when your musical guest is Katie Melua your cutting edge credibility is holed below the waterline.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Guilty Pleasure: "What about the were?"

"The Breath of Life movement - or the Breathers, as most people referred to them - were a grass-roots pressure group campaigning for changes in the law governing the risen dead. Ghosts and zombies, they said, were still people: they had rights that needed to be recognised and defined in law. Some of them felt the same way about the more colourful groups among the undead, but there was a certain amount of controversy there. What rights did the possessed have, for example, and who got to enjoy them? Host body or invading spirit? And what about the were? It had all turned into a bit of a circus: the government - New Labour, but with a bit of the shine gone - had made some cautious statements about legally recognising the dead, causing the Tories to point dramatically quivering fingers at the law of inheritance. How could it be expected to work if it turned out that you could take it with you after all? What about criminal trials? Could a dead man give evidence against his murderer, or stand trial for murder himself? And if he was found guilty, how in hell were you supposed to punish him?"
Mike Carey, The Devil You Know, Orbit, London, April 2006, pg 121

Sunday, September 30, 2007

How to succeed in business without running the slightest risk

“...you would be forgiven for thinking that Virgin 1 is Sir Richard [Branson]’s baby. But it isn’t. He has a 13 per cent stake in Virgin Media and receives a licence payment from the company for its use of the Virgin brand. He is contractually obliged to do promotional work but that is where the relationship ends despite attempts to portray Sir Richard as the company’s figurehead.”

Andrew Murray- Watson & Joy Lo Dico, “To boldly go where many others have gone before: Virgin 1 shoots for victory”, Independent On Sunday, 30.9.07

Thursday, September 27, 2007

John Irving - "Until I Find You"

Been reading the most recent Irving. Frankly, it is not up to standard and you have to wonder if the great man's powers are waning. In this case he has opted, big time, for length over depth, and produced a grossly superficial epic. Where Irving's best work has bordered on magic realism (Owen Meany and The Fourth Hand, for example) this is on one level a self-indulgent take on Hollywood (like his hero, JI won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay), on the other a prurient sex story very unlike the work of his prime. At half the length and twice the consideration, the material could have made a major novel. As it is, the only para I read twice, and this for self-indulgent reasons of my own, was this, from page 627. Our hero Jack is up for the best adapted screenplay Oscar (which, of course, our hero Irving won) and has taken his third grade teacher to Miramax's eve-of-ceremony party:

"Miss Wurtz mistook Anthony Minghella for Peter Lorre. ("I thought Peter Lorre was dead," Caroline would tell Jack the next day. "He hasn't made a movie in years." To which Jack could only think to himself, True!)

This ... from the author of the sublime Cider House Rules.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wise words from Wyndham

"...there is no such thing as the 'balance of nature'. It does not exist, and never did. It is a myth. An offshoot of the desire for stability - of the attempt to reduce the world to a tidy, static, and therefore comprehensible and predictable place. It is part of the conception of a divinely appointed order in which everything had its place and purpose - and every man had his place and task. The idea of natural balances goes right back to the origins of magic - left balanced by right, white by black, good by evil, the heavenly host by the legions of Satan. It was an article of faith set out in the Zohar that 'unbalanced forces perish in the void'. The attempt to reduce an apparently chaotic world to order, of a kind, by the conception of balanced forces has gone on since earliest history - and it still goes on. Our minds look for reasons because reason, and balance, give us the illusion of stability - and in the thought of underlying stability there is comfort. The search for stability is the most constant - and the most fruitless, quest of all."

John Wyndham, Web (1979) Penguin ed. pp. 63-64

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Casualty - who would have thought?

I accidentally switched on Casualty last night and was startled to see they had spent money on the new series - proper camerawork, serious issues and what looks very much like a focus reset to where it began, on the department. I saw on teletext somebody complaining - but not this kid! Casualty began as an issue-based drama, only to be soaped-up under the aegis of Mal "I worked on Brookside" Young. I'm hoping for no more improbable love stories, no more docs murdered on the job storylines. If they can do that, the BBC has recovered a viewer lost circa 2004. Who knows, if they can do something similar with the next series of Holby City I might even start watching that again, too. In the meantime, new Casualty, nice one Beeb!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No second season for Cape Wrath

C4 confirmed today that there will be no second season for Cape Wrath. Audiences slumped from 1.6m to 845K, apparently. OK, so I saw this coming. Even so, the loss of another homegrown drama is never good news (except when it's The Chase). The problem here was, high-concept, poor storytelling and abysmal direction. Plus the ridiculous timeslot - necessary to work round Big Brother but failing to recognise that viewers of a certain age (over 20) simply delete C4 from our consideration for the 3 months that it becomes the Big Brother channel.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


It's probably me - certainly me, if the professional critics are anything to go by - but I think this Andy Hamilton/Guy Jenkin sitcom is hideous. Yes, it's clever that the kids aren't scripted but workshopped by the writers, but at the end of the day it's just another smug middleclass suburban family sitcom that's not as well done as My Family.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bye Bye Studio 60

Gave up on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip last night (episode 3). Switched over after they spent Act One rehearsing a tasteless religious sketch which woefully lacked the saving grace of jokes. This is Sorkin's dilemma: he bases his show on Saturday Night Live which does not travel and has a cumulative reputation which far outstrips the success of any individual episode, let alone any single sketch. The show would be far more interesting, because it would be about something most people consider more important, if he had chosen a long-running news show - but then it really would have been a shameless rip-off of Network.

Cape Wrath's audience shrank again this week, apparently. Fortunately for C4 it's only six parts.

Tokyo Year Zero

Another new novel from David Peace (above) who is clearly knocking them out at the rate of one a year. This, it is said, is the first of a new trilogy. The review I read didn't like it, but then every review I read of GB84 thought it was great and I thought it was dreary ill-informed rubbish. I really rated The Damned United, though, and will certainly be on the lookout for Tokyo Year Zero when it comes out in paperback.

Horse and Rider

Last month we blogged Gerard ter Borch's portrait of a young man. If the date of 1633 is right, ter Borch was himself only 16 when he painted this wonderfully enigmatic rear view. Where is the rider going? Where has he been? Great stuff.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Re: Cape Wrath and Jekyll

Cape Wrath only got 845K (4.9%) last night, which is clearly nowhere near enough. I fancy a switch to More4 is imminent. The failure of this series leads to mixed emotions. It was rubbish but at least it was imaginative rubbish. I hope C4 don't get discouraged with future drama series.

Jekyll on the other hand was a triumph start to finish, easily the best drama series of the year so far. This is how to do imaginative - all the twists flagged up throughout, absolutely logical (obvious, really, with hindsight) but absolutely breathtaking in the execution. Magnificent.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

It's all very well being ironic and referential, but this really is Network only nothing important is at stake because it's about an ageing sketch show, not news. You have to be really clever to get away with metadrama and this just doesn't make it. It's perfectly amiable and might have worked as an ensemble piece. Unfortunately it's a buddy premise - the dream team of Perry and Whitford, Chandler and Josh - and Perry just acts Whitford off the screen. Admittedly, not an outcome anyone would have predicted, but the fatal flaw nonetheless.

On the positive side: it ended with Under Pressure. That alone warrants a second chance.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

As some series bow out...

...others make their bow. For BBC2, after months of trailers, it’s Heroes, not so much a premiere (it’s already run its course on the Sci Fi channel) more a mainstream debut. Rather than a feature-length opener (the kiss of death for Cape Wrath) we began by sandwiching two episodes together. It’s an ensemble piece, featuring a team of mutants who are a long way off becoming a team, and there is as yet no identifiable enemy of the same or greater power (the governmental agency that is trying to track down the mutants is just a rip-off of X-Men the movie rather than X-Men the comic book) so there is a way to go before Heroes can become compulsive. On the plus side, the effects were way above average, no punches were pulled over the brain-stealing super serial killer, and the makers are content to leave mysteries unresolved. Twenty-two episodes to go and a major hope for summer entertainment.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

End of season

Several series are winding up this week. Rome finished on a high, the second series far superior to the first, mainly thanks to a narrower focus on fewer strong characters. Time of Your Life lost pace towards the end and would have been comfortable with four rather than six eps. As it was it chundered out with a trite solution to the unnecessary who-killed-Brian subplot. Turned out it was Kate's dad. That made sense (not). Even so, the last ep got 18% (4 million). I can't imagine that outside friends and family of those involved Cape Wrath is still getting double figures. Brothers and Sisters, likewise, seems to attract less than anticipated attention - personally, I haven't heard or seen it mentioned since week one, and then not favourably.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Dutch Portraits at the National Gallery

Visited this exhibition the other day and was greatly enthused. Concentrating on the 17th century this tells the story, in approximately sixty images, of painting's move from the emblematic to the personal, the symbolic to the individual. A century before, these people would never have been painted, being neither royal nor noble. But the Dutch genius, particularly the vivacity of Hals, was such that we can instantly identify the sitters. They are us, four hundred years ago. Take this chap:

It's almost like Hals, through the sitter, is welcoming you in. This bold young buck, on the other hand...

Oh, how he must have regretted it in later years!

[Portrait of a young man by Gerard ter Borch]

Friday, July 13, 2007

St Joan at the National - a cautionary tale

Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard liked Anne-Marie Duff's Joan ("Her outbursts of fury and fear look painfully real.") but was not inspired by Marianne Elliott's production. His comments are reproduced here as a reminder to those of us who can sometimes get up ourselves.

"The production ... in Elliott's ponderous, mainly modern dress and silver coffee pots rendition, irritatingly harks back to Sixties experimental theatre. The first burst of Jocelyn Pook's music, in international bursts of World Chill - from Gregorian chant to Gaelic lament - introduces us to stylised, slow-motion actors. These performers hand each other chairs to arrange around Rae Smith's square, mobile, elevated stage. They remain a distracting presence with their fussy chair arrangements, never more so than in Elliott's bathetic interpolation of an immolation scene. Joan is strapped at the top of a pile of chairs, there to burn, to soulful musical lament."

["Heart-rending Joan stokes up a real blaze of theatricality", Evening Standard, July 12 2007, page 9.]

Alastair Campbell's diaries (TV version)

The Beeb thought this would get more audience than it has - only 1.2 million for episode 1 (of 3). The source material is good, although we can't avoid speculating that it's all a bit sanitised. But first off the Beeb thinks everybody in the wide watching world gets as excited about media manipulation as the media does (and they don't). Secondly, it is really clunkily done with endless fake shots of Alistair writing what looks suspiciously like the same diary entry over and over. Yes, this is the sort of material the national broadcaster should be seeking to broadcast but there are surely better ways. If Thompson really means it about developing webcasts, here is perfect subject - slabs of text or audio track with links to archive news video. Spend as much time on the site as you like or can spare, pursue the threads that interest you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

BBC makes a couple of kind cuts

It's been announced that The Chase (BBC 1 Sunday night) is being dumped. What will Gaynor Faye do now, given that she only ever gets work in shows written by Mummy Mellor? New Street Law is also getting the order of the boot. Neither show ever really engaged an adequate audience. There may be something of a clear-out underway with Dalziel & Pascoe and Inspector Lynley also said to be in the firing line. Both of these, of course, have had good runs but are getting tired.

The good news is, Thompson assured the Parliamentary committee the other day that drama remains a priority, so at least he's cleared space for something new.

Cape Wrath

It's a neat idea - Twin Peaks on Wisteria Lane with the neighbours from hell. But it did nothing for me. I try to be upbeat and blame this on what is becoming the customary "feature-length" opener. Face it, commissioning eds, if British scriptwriters could write feature-length drama British movies would rule the world.
Another problem for me is David Morrissey giving us his patented grumpy Everyman again. The critic in the Independent says that he uses Morrissey's involvment as an indicator of quality (but not in the case of Cape Wrath); for me, it's always been the other way round. I have to brace myself to watch grumpy pants huffing and puffing again and am often pleasantly surprised (ie. Viva Blackpool). Not this time. But he is a veritable cornucopia of emotion and limitless range of expression compared to the woman playing his wife (Lucy Cohu) with all the vivacity of Travelodge wallpaper. Jesus!
As always, the crux of the matter is sparky idea, lame execution, no tension, no mystery we give two hoots about. Worth another watch because it's only an hour from now on and because the rest of the cast are top performers (Melanie Hill, Ralph Brown, Emma Davies etc).

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

For no other reason than it is beautifully done...

Anthony Powell, Casnova's Chinese Restaurant (1960), pb p 97

"A future marriage, or a past one, may be investigated and explained in terms of writing by one of its parties, but it is doubtful whether an existing marriage can ever be described directly in the first person and convey a sense of reality. Even those writers who suggest some of the substance of married life best, stylise heavily, losing the subtlety of the relationship at the price of a few accurately recorded, but isolated, aspects. To think at all objectively about one's own marriage is impossible, while a balanced view of other people's marriage is almost equally hard to achieve with so much information available, so little to be believed. Objectivity is not, of course, everything in writing; but, even after one has cast objectivity aside, the difficulties of presenting marriage are inordinate. Its forms are at once so varied, yet so constant, providing a kaliedoscope, the colours of which are always changing, always the same. The moods of a love affair, the contradictions of friendship, the jealousy of business partners, the fellow feeling of oppressed commanders in total war, these are all in their way to be charted. Marriage, partaking of such - and a thousand more - dual antagonisms and participations, finally defies definition."

There's no need to do this. It is in no way necessary to either plot or theme. He does it because he can. He does it because this is the high art of fiction.

Friday, June 29, 2007

True Dare Kiss BBC1

This was more like it. Dark, cutting, character-led comedy drama from Debbie Horsefield, family-centred like Brothers and Sisters but fuelled with secrets we actually want to uncover.

Horsefield began with an attention-grabber - "Something's happened" - then flashed back to 12 hours previously when the ambitious sister tries to scare an old bloke out of his property, ostensibly so she can buy and develop it for profit. The bloke drops dead. The twist is, he's her father, the younger bloke with the eyeshadow her brother, the house the house where she and her sisters were brought up. Who wouldn't want to know more?

James Jackson summed it up best in The Times: "It was a gritty British antidote to Calista Flockhart's polished angst in Brothers and Sisters."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Brothers and Sisters - I don't think so

I was looking forward to the launch of Brothers and Sisters on C4 last week, given that it is said to be a big hit in the US. The first episode was OK but I started to doze during the second and turned over fifteen minutes into the third. Trouble is, it's Falcon Crest without the histrionics, Six Feet Under utterly stripped of humour. Its strength, such as it is, is that everything you need to know is in the title - it really is only about brothers and sisters. The fatal weakness is that there are just too many of them to care about. Maybe it's one to return to. Or maybe it just doesn't make the grade.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Picasso ceramics - the Attenborough Collection

Went to see the exhibition at Leicester's New Walk gallery today. Simply stunning, capturing the mind of a man nocking 70, the most famous artist on Earth for almost half-a-century, who suddenly discovers a new medium. The exhibits leave us in no doubt that ceramics helped maintain Picasso's extraordinary creativity all the way into his late 80s. This bequest to the city is in memory of the Attenboroughs' daughter and granddaughter, lost in the tsunami, December 2004, and thus a truly beautiful gift in every sense.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Time of Your Life

And now ITV 1 is getting in on the act with a definitely decent peaktime drama serial. The title's a little corny but the concept couldn't get much higher - 36 year-old woman wakes up after 18 years in a coma. Rather than dwell on the medical aspects, writer/producer Charlie Martin served us up a slightly unconvincing instant and complete recovery, but this was because he wanted to focus on the idea of a stroppy teenager stuck in the body of a mature but still highly attractive woman. There is also a menacing undercurrent concerning Brian who died the same night as our heroine fell into the coma. This may or may not prove a distraction over the course of the series. We will certainly see.

Many others will also stay the course. Last night's opener got 6.7m (29.3%), a hit by any measure.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Jekyll a ratings winner

According to Broadcast, Jekyll got 23.5% of the audience or 5.1m viewers. Mega result for BBC1 on a Saturday night and should grow given the positive word of mouth, albeit the spottier end of critics weren't sure if they were supposed to like it or hate it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


At last something to write home about in TV drama. All right, there's Doctor Who in its best series yet, but other than that we've endured weeks of programming desolation, nurtured only by the amiable froth that was Gavin and Stacey on BBC 3.

Now, like a lifebelt to a drowning man, there's Jekyll. In other times we might wonder why it received so little pre-publicity, but this is the era of Mark Thompson at the Beeb, the least successful DG in BBC history, so any and all quality product happens by accident.

Anyway, here it was, sneaked into the Saturday night schedule like a guilty secret. I for one had no great expectations: I don't leap with excitement at the thought of another James Nesbitt vehicle and I've always rather resented writer Stephen Moffatt's protected species status on account of his mother-in-law. True, Coupling was feeble stuff and would never have been recommissioned by the Beeb, let alone flogged to America, without the involvement of said m-i-l, Beryl Vertue. But in fairness to Moffatt, working on Doctor Who seems to have freed up his imagination. As it happens, he wrote last week's Doctor, the ingenious Blink. But Jekyll was in another league.

One thing in its favour was that it had only the vaguest (albeit cunning) link with Stevenson's novella (he might be related to the 'real' Dr Jekyll), but in all other respects it's a contemporary sci-fi/conspiracy thriller hybrid. Hyde is genuinely demonic (and Nesbitt downright brilliant). No facial hair or plastic fangs, just a slightly enhanced hairline and top-notch acting. He is more than human, and for me a highpoint was when he made his escape by sprinting nimbly up the side of a building. Is he Dr Jackman's dark side or something else altogether? Tag line: "How often do we mistake a miracle for a monster?" Now there's a premise for a series.

And lurking in the wings is a creepy organisation that might just be responsible for Jackman's little problem. Future developments keenly awaited.

There were plenty of good performances - Paterson Joseph, who seems to get inexplicably younger and younger (nothing to do with the series, but a fact nonetheless) and dear old Al Hunter Ashton in what I guess must be his last appearance. I particularly liked the actress playing the prostitute past her prime, who had the briefest of parts but nevertheless managed to sum up in her expression the menu of a night with Hyde. But chiefly, this is a writing tour de force, Moffatt doing his thing with such confidence that he dared to leave the exposition, minimal though it was, until four-fifths of the way through.

This could be the TV drama highlight of the year. If not quite genius then very close to it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Line of Beauty

It's about gay men, AIDS, and Thatcherite Tories, none of which are my usual preferred reading matter, but Alan Hollinghurst's writing - the actual use of words on the page - is so beguiling that this was without doubt the most engrossing novel I have read in the last 12 months. Hotly recommended.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tone says he's going...

...I'll believe it when I see it.

Jessie Wallace as Marie Lloyd

Now here was something of note. The drama itself wasn't helped by the alienating style (the Common Man linking character, the faux theatre of some of the sets) but Wallace herself was a revelation. I never took to her as Kat - my minimal viewings of EastEnders indicated nothing special. But here she had a chance to do something that is never allowed in any soap - to emote in silent moments. And she did it wondrous well.

Clearly, Jessie has done well to resist the usual Corrie/Bill/Emmerdale route. Her year or so out of the limelight gives her a chance to present herself in a new light. Impressive.

Holby Blue

Some critics ridiculed it, others just plain hated it. For me, personally, the problem was there's no character to empathise with. Not up to standard.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Haunted Hospital", Saturday Play BBC R4 5.5.07

The title misled, but this turned out to be an effective and provoking drama about unlooked-for pregnancy, contrasting Victorian values (i.e. the workhouse) and the present day. Trevor Hoyle expertly managed the twin timelines, which is always tricky in sound-only drama, exploiting ghost hunts and hypnagogic transitions. Liz Leonard, the producer, handled it so well that I for one didn't realise the same actors were playing both the Victorian and Second Elizabethan leads. High quality, radiogenic drama.

Produced in Manchester.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Tenth anniversary elections

It wasn't a bloodbath. The Tories didn't make the big breakthrough, which is good news for fans of freedom, but on the down side it wasn't bad enough for Labour to force Tony out of Downing Street long enough for us to change the locks.

The tenth anniversary coverage on Tuesday reminded us of the great things achieved in the first term. Has any government ever done better? Which throws the deranged ramblings post 2004 (I don't count Iraq because wars are always a mistake, albeit sometimes a mistake that has to be made) into ghastly relief.

Worst of all, in my view, has been the long goodbye - another political first for Tony. Nine months without leadership. Nine months in which Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn are seduced into thinking they have a future. Nine months in which Dr John ("The Night Tripper") Reid and Minister for Dividing Communities Ruth Kelly spout initiatives that will never come to pass for they will soon be spending much more time with their families.

On the subject of the long goodbye, Matthew Norman was brilliantly funny in today's Independent:

"With such lightning pace has he propelled himself towards the exit door marked "$150,000 per hour US lecture circuit" that even now, with Mr Tony Blair scheduled to reveal his departure timetable next week, there has been barely a moment to consider a future bereft of his leadership.

"Myself, I think his going has been handled with indecent haste, for it seems like only yesterday that he broke the bad news. I remember the day so clearly. The Independent had yet to exist, of course, but there was a lovely picture feature in the News Chronicle about an actress, Thora Hird, winning the long jump (18-21 age group) at the Equity Games at Alexandra Palace."

The rest of the article is even funnier. Check it out at---

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Doctor Who - Gridlock, April 14 2007

Yes - as hoped - a resounding return to form with a Russell T Davies script. Ambitious, quirky, referential - saving the planet in forty-five minutes and still with room for developing the serial elements. Unbeatable.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Love's Labours trounced - Doctor Who 7/4/07

I may be alone in this but I am not warming to series 3, having been passionate about series 1 and 2. I think the problem might be the new assistant, Martha. The character is great, the actress really good, but she somehow unbalances the show. Perhaps it is because she has skills and demonstrable brains whereas Rose Tyler relied on pluck. But equally Tennant has become lazy and the quality of the writing has gone down a notch. For example, the Valerie Barlow monster in episode 1 and the demon pizza delivery henchpersons.

Episode 2 was Shakespeare, and I just cringe when they do these. Fair enough, the casting of Dean Lennox Kelly as the bard was inspired - but the crappy recurring joke ("To be or not to be...? I might use that.") and the feeble attempts at research, a sort of London through the ages, many of them anachronistic... And we knew before it started it was going to be the witches. What we didn't expect and didn't want was the least frightening witches since The Wizard of Oz and the worst rubber-mask make-up since the early series of Star Trek.

Hoping for much better next week. In fact, hoping for a genuine Russell T Davies script.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Shrink Rap

Buried in the depths of More 4 at the midnight hour, Pamela Connolly, now a clinical psychologist, gives celebs therapy.

The first was Sharon Osbourne, who has certainly had a traumatic time. She was interesting - self-indulgent, of course, but that's what this sort of pseudo-science is about. Yes you behave appallingly but that's understandable because life has dumped on you from a great height.

The weird thing, though, is Dr Pam who has clearly had her former televisual appeal surgically removed. She's twenty years older, of course, but that's not the problem as she remains a very striking woman. It's the immobile countenance, which might be Botox or a professional requirement, and it's the downright hostile body language, sitting as far back in her chair as possible, almost recoiling from the poor loon opposite.

Battle of the DGs - no contest!

Last night a brace of ancient interviews with Lord Reith, followed by Greg Dyke's take on the Great Man.

I don't begrudge Citizen Greg the fee, but the concept encapsulated the difference between the two DGs. Greg's revelations on the seamy side were entertaining enough but reminded of us of why he was always unfit to run a state broadcasting service.

The clincher is this: Reith took on the government of his day and won every time. One of Reith's successors, William Haley, found himself having to deal with allegations of corporate sleaze and political bias against a Labour Government at licence-renewal time, and he too won. In fact Greg Dyke is the first DG to lose.

Fair does, though. Greg's successor not only lost the argument on the licence fee, he also lost his charismatic Chairman. Why Thompson is still in work strikes some of us as unfathomable.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Victorian Internet

Essential reading - if only for the knockout title - is Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998), the story of the revolution that was telegraphy. Dull as dishwater, you might think, but Standage has a witty style and an unerring eye for the oddball. Hotly recommended.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Go now, Tone - please!

The quality press has done such an effective job of demonising Tony Blair as he thrashes about in his unedifying political death throes that when I saw the headline in today's Independent on Sunday - "50,000 child slaves in Britain" - I naturally assumed it was another legacy initiative.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


A major innovation from ITV1 - quality drama at Saturday peaktime.

OK, it's Time Tunnel meets Jurassic Park and it's not as witty as Doctor Who or as imaginative as Torchwood, but it has a quality cast, a continuing storyline (the Prof's wife, lost in time), and simply the best monster effects yet seen on the small screen. The gorgonopsid in Ep 1 - how do they do that? There were absolutely no visible joins.

The use of a monster from the permian period was a masterstroke in itself. A big boy by any stretch of the imagination, it wasn't so big that hiding in the Forest of Dean was totally out of the question. And in the contemporary context where the T-Rex has become routine, it was sufficiently alien to generate real unease.

Apparently next week we go pre-permian. Monster bugs!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This is what happens when the BBC...

This is what happens when the BBC doesn't get the licence fee it believes is its due...

The Verdict, with Jeffrey Archer. Next week The Autopsy with Jack the Ripper.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

From Matisse to Freud - A Critic's Choice

Caught the above touring exhibition the other day (whilst visiting the Rolf Harris 80th birthday portrait of HMQ). I remember Alexander Walker as the reactionary film critic of the Evening Standard, his occasional TV appearances notable for the fact that his teeth seemed to be cemented together. But he built this magical collection of the very best in modern art and bequeathed it to the nation on his death. My personal favourite was the Chuck Close portrait of a young Philip Glass. There was also a pair of Joan Miro prints that really locked into my visual memory.

The Rolf was exactly like it looked on the telly, which is hardly surprising, really, but smaller than expected and in a truly hideous frame.

Party Animals, BBC2 Wednesday January 31 2007

Fatally flawed in two aspects. Firstly, the script was awful, hinged on coincidence (protagonist leaves policy papers in loo; next to visit the pissoir just happens to be his opposite number) and so predictable that somebody somewhere must be selling this plot in kit form (protagonist's drunken housemate steps into road and gets fatally creamed by passing/speeding car - has nobody at the Beeb seen the title sequence of My Name is Earl?). Second flaw probably not predictable when bright young bunnies pitched the idea over a year ago. Back then policy advisers were still cool, dynamic, interesting. Now they are what someone in the Commons yesterday called "dysfunctional policy wonks". There were nice performances from some interesting new faces but all in all this ground has been taken by the far superior Thick of It.

Meanwhile the Beeb has really undermined the excellent Five Days, which didn't run over five days after all but did three consecutive nights last week and Tuesday and Thursday this. Why? What priceless piece of television magic took the 9.00 slot on Friday? Don't know, but whatever it was didn't keep me from American Idol on ITV2.

And finally, just a passing comment on Skins (Thursday E4). It's everything the critics said it was - juvenile, over-posh, in many ways predictable - but it's also something the dysfunctional wonks who write broadsheet TV reviews would not be familiar with. It's fun.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Five Days BBC 1 January 23 2007

Hearty welcome for this HBO/BBC co-production striped over the self-evident five nights.

First off, it is brilliantly written by Gwyneth Hughes, who wisely opted for a slow-burn set-up rather than the crash-bang-wallop what-the-fu teaser favoured by creatives raised in advertising. Thus we met the characters in their normal lives, the normality smashed asunder about 20 minutes in when blonde yummy mummy was mysteriously snatched whilst buying flowers from one of those blokes with a van in a layby (who I have always instinctively distrusted). Then her two kids, little more than toddlers, ran into creepy Rory Kinnear.

The casting was astonishingly good. Great to see Edward Woodward again and Janet McTeer as the snappy, driven Dectective Sergeant. She had a partner in snide whose name I didn't catch in the titles but who was equally compulsive. And David Oyelowo as the husband and father caught in the eye of the storm - truly magnificent.

Of course there were downsides. In casting, Sarah Smart needs to take care; she's fast becoming the new Christine Tremarco in terms of ubiquity (and CT, it goes without saying, was the yummy mummy). Who can blame these actresses for taking everything that's offered while they can? The problem is, dashing from part to part they come to rely on acting tricks and all too soon we learn their tricks and fail to be impressed. Hugh Bonneville, a fine actor with a great comedic touch when let loose, was called upon as the CIO to impersonate a slab of beef ... again.

The director did OK, prepared to let the story take its course. On the production side, the let-down was BBC staffer photography for which the word lumpen was invented.

Five Days is billed as a thriller, which of course it isn't. Our protagonist is Matt (Oyelowo) and he is never in personal jeaopardy. It is a consequence of crime story, a mystery, and - first and foremost - suspense in the Hitchcockian sense. Note the expertly planted bombs, primed to go off in future episodes (e.g. Matt driving off to destroy his mobile phone). Note the red herrings (creepy Kinnear, for instance). And the marvellous twist with which Episode 1 ended. Sarah Smart finds terrified boy and dog hiding in the communal bin shed. But it's only the one kid. Where's your sister? Where's your sister? Fabulous.

A great start for BBC drama in 2007. Can't wait for tonight's instalment.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Joe Eszterhas on scriptwriting - 50 day plan


Stick to this schedule no matter what. You'll have a finished first draft in roughly twenty days. Then go back and edit what you've written. Spend no more than five days on this edit.

Then rewrite your script from page one - with your edits. Spend no more than one week on this rewrite - that means putting out 20 pages a day.

Put the script away for a week; don't even look at it. Then edit it again. Spend no more than four days on the edit this time. Then rewrite it again from scratch with your edits - taking another week. This will be your third draft. Now begin the process of trying to sell it - this, your official first draft.

The Devil's Guide To Hollywood by Joe Eszterhas (Duckworth 2007)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Newly discovered OTR site

The Independent pointed me towards www.botar.us. Nice site with daily podcasts and plentiful archives, not all of which are the usual suspects - Mysterious Traveller, for instance. Recommended!