Friday, October 31, 2008

Alexander Armstrong sees sense

Just when we thought he would do absolutely anything for the folding stuff, Alexander Armstrong sniffs the Sanatogen and backpedals furiously away from the poisoned chalice that is Countdown.

The actor would have become the fourth presenter of the 26 year-old show. But after "an incredibly difficult decision", he decided against taking the vacant hot seat when the new series begins filming in 10 weeks, because he feared being stereotyped on daytime television. "I didn't want to be pigeon-holed as a presenter, even though I love doing it," he told The Independent. "I'm very lucky to get to do some presenting but if I'm going to be on telly as a presenter every day, well, I think that makes it less likely that people will give me jobs acting or doing comedy.

"For the next couple of years that's where I want to focus really."

A recent edition of Have I Got News For You, which Armstrong presented, saw team captains Paul Merton and Ian Hislop mock him for his potential involvement with Countdown, a show whose core audience is older than Armstrong's 38 years.

Armstrong turns down Countdown job, 31.10.08

A propos the Brand/Ross affair

In all the hoo-hah over the smutty messages left on Andrew Sach's answer machine by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, I found Ade Edmondson's considered view in The Independent the most illuminating:

I'm not a fan of the word "edgy", especially when it's describing comedy. "Edgy comedy" usually means "not recorded in front of an audience because we were frightened it wouldn't get a laugh". "Dark and edgy" is even worse – it usually means "The Emperor's New Clothes".
[Adrian Edmondson, Is that a joke in bad taste? 31.10.08]

The fact is, both were overrated and over-indulged. Brand can be very funny is a format suited to his very limited comedic range - Ponderland on C4, for example. Ross's laddish ribaldry is way past its sell-by date. At 47 he is either approaching the end of his frontline TV career or he needs to take some considerable time out to rework his public persona. This worked well for Chris Evans.

Lesley Douglas, the Controller of Radio 2 who resigned, had gone too far in allowing carte blanche to anyone who had once been employed by C4. Some, like Mark Lamarr, already had reputations as serious thinkers and were able to seize the opportunity to extend their range in the more freeform world of radio. Others, like Allan Carr, turned out to be rubbish.

At the end of the day, the people who came out of this with most credit were Brand, who resigned only two days into the furore, and Andrew Sachs himself, who has throughout been magnanimous to those who have lost their jobs. Douglas should have gone sooner, Ross has lost £1.4m and the last tatters of yoof cred (he is now squarely in the dirty old man/Benny Hill category). DG Mark Thompson, who was yet again on holiday when the proverbial hit the fan, had no credibility left to lose and is to the future of the BBC what George Bush is to the future of America.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dead Set - a triumph for E4

When all the others channels are retrenching, or at best wheeling out more of the same old stuff, E4 comes up with Big Brother meets Dawn of the Dead, by Screenwipe's Charlie Brooker. With Brooker's CV I expected - and got - clever, sparky and witty, but I didn't expect genuine tension, character insights and empathy. Mostly what I didn't expect was the wholehearted commitment of Davina McCall (above). Striped across five nights and ending on Halloween, Dead Set is by no means a spoof or self-conscious irony. What it is is an extension of filmdom's one and only effective zombie narrative.
According to the Guardian, it's getting audiences of around 2m, which is huge for E4.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New season TV drama

Heroes is back and not terribly good. There are now far too many characters, including those who have previously 'died'. It makes no sense, though that in itself is not a bad thing. The worse failing is that is just plain boring. I fell asleep during episode 4 and am not convinced I can stay awake for 5.

Merlin is occupying the BBC1 Saturday teatime slot. Not as good as Doctor Who, ten times better than the dismal and self-regarding Robin Hood. The effects are great.

ITV is winning the shorter-run drama battle hands-down. The dramatisation of Val McDermid's Place of Execution, produced by Robson Green's company but not featuring the man himself, was just brilliant. With ITV following Lost in Austen with this dark masterpiece, the BBC needs to up its act considerably. Little Dorrit starts very soon. It may be captivating or it may be an Andrew Davies Dickens too far. I absolutely loathed the book.

Non-terrestial has the pick of the new US shows. FX has Breaking Bad, which is flagging slightly after the initial storyline played out but is nevertheless a must-see, and the very slick Burn Notice, which has the flavour of a Sixties spy caper and the additional bonus of Sharon Gless. JJ Abrams' shameless X Files rip-off Fringe is on Sky 1. This is such a rip-off that I'm amazed Chris Carter isn't suing - you might as well launch a sci fi series and call it Doctor Why. And yet - it is high quality entertainment with a top notch cast. The one difference from the X Files, the loony professor, is the most compulsive element.

The new series of Gray's Anatomy on Living is a series too far. I'm sorry but after the furore of T R Knight's sexuality it is not possible to sell him as a Don Juan figure. Similarly, Desperate Housewives over on E4 has lost the plot and become pointless.