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Dates refer to when review was written
Aaagh! It's The Mr. Hell Show (3/02)
Bob Monkhouse is the voice of the satanic Mr. Hell in this BBC animated series that takes potshots at everyone in clever sketches but also gives us a glimpse each week into the life of Mr. Hell (for example, trying to his boy Damien into a good private school). Probably at its best when skewing politically correct sensibilities, and taking full advantage of the leeway given animated cartoons when it comes to good taste.
The Abbey (7/08)
Morwenna Banks starred in this comedy pilot as a Courtney Love-like rocker who opens a dodgy celebrity detox center (not to be confused with The Priory). With Russell Brand, Omid Djalili, and Reece Shearsmith.
About Face (8/91)
Anthology comedy series with Maureen Lipmann, similar in style to Carol Burnett's series, with Lipmann in a different role each episode.
Absolutely Fabulous (5/94)
Jennifer Saunder's caustic (and allegedly based on real people) comedy returns for a second season (now on mainstream BBC-1, which hijacked the series from "artsy" BBC-2 last year) about two women in the fashion and PR world of London. For those of you who think of Joanna Lumley as a stylish ex-Avengers girl, or the cool Sapphire, you're in for a shock: she plays perhaps the sluttiest, most substance-abusing person on television, and it's hysterical. Saunders is alternatingly dependent and dismissive of her totally straight daughter who she's trying to raise (or is the other way around?). Good news, AbFab fans: Comedy Central has picked up the series. Be warned of cuts though (episodes originally ran 30 minutes each). Worth catching though--it's all true! (allegedly). Read my feature article about the series.
The outrageous sitcom antics of Patsy and Edwina returns to BBC television (and presumably Comedy Central soon thereafter). By the way, I heard that Carrie Fisher would be starring in the American version of "AbFab." A good thing or not? Discuss amongst yourselves. Anyway, things on AbFab Prime are typical: Pats and Eddie take a day-trip to New York to find a doorknob, Saffron has to show Patsy how to do a breast examination, and New Years Eve ends in disaster when Patsy's sister (Kate "The Rani" O'Mara) shows up. You either love this show or hate it. It took me a while to warm to it but now it makes me laugh a lot. Will the American version stand up? Is this the worst idea since an American Red Dwarf? We shall see...
In The Last Shout Patsy and Edina are at it again, this time trying to make sure daughter Saffron makes it to the church on time for her wedding to a dull rich boy. But first the daffy duo take a skiing trip with near fatal results for Edina, who gets to meet God (Marianne Faithful - who also sings the theme song in a way that, as my friend Nancy put it, "I didn't think was possible to make sound worse.") Patsy even does Saffron a favor, but of course for completely the wrong reasons. Nearly everyone who has ever appeared on the series (except for Bubbles, Edina's wacky secretary) makes an appearance for what we are assured is the "positively, last, final episode ever." Ha! I bet there'll be a BBC Christmas special by '99.
I was right! A new series (co-produced with American cable network Oxygen) appeared at the end of 2003.
Absolute Power (7/04)
Stephen Fry and John Bird star in this wicked BBC satire comedy series as partners in London's most ruthless public relations firm. Each week, in multiple storylines, they take on the most demanding assignments with Bird typically ending up with egg on his face, and Fry smelling like a rose. There is nothing they won't do to help a client, including a candidate for archbishop of Canterbury, a female MP looking to advance her career, and best of all, Geoffrey Palmer as leader of a rural political party with a rather large skeleton in his closet.
Accidental Farmer (3/11)
Ashley Jensen stars as Jen in this BBC pilot as a London advertising executive who accidentally buys a farm on her boyfriend's credit card and then decides to move there and run it. At no time is there any explanation whatsoever why she suddenly goes all Green Acres. Why would anyone give up a glamorous job, nice car, and city life for the backbreaking work of a rundown cattle farm in Yorkshire? It beggars belief.
According To Bex (4/07)
Jessica Stevenson (Spaced) plays the title character, a twentysomething singleton with a disruptive father (Clive Russell) and crazy boss in this BBC comedy. Stevenson addresses the camera directly in Big Brother-like confessionals, the rest is conventional sitcom material with the highly charming Stevenson (who for some reason has just changed her last name to Hynes).
The Accused (12/10)
Jimmy McGovern's (The Lakes) new anthology series is about ordinary Britons on trial. But it's no law-and-order type series, virtually none of it takes place in the courtroom except for the verdict. Instead, using flashbacks that lead up to the case, The Accused comes across more like "Lost" than "Perry Mason." In the first story, Christopher Eccleston plays Willy Houlihan, a freelance plumber who plans to leave his wife and family and go off with his girlfriend. But things get complicated. Really complicated. As he's about to announce the bombshell to his wife, his daughter suddenly announces her engagement. Willy offers to pay for the entire wedding but then discovers a £22,000 payment for a job has bounced and he's broke. Willy is all mouth and refuses to consider letting his future rich in-laws pick up the tab. He's between a rock and a hard place and adding to his indignity, his truck breaks down next to a church. He goes in looking for a miracle and the very perceptive priest tells him he'll have to leave his mistress. And would you believe it, Willy's luck changes when he finds £20,000 in the back of a mini-cab. His problems are solved, right? He even manages to double it in a bet so he can return the original amount before gangsters get involved. Willy can pay for the wedding, still dump his wife and leave town with his lover. But, oh, it turns out the money was forged, and the police come calling for Willy on the day of his daughter's wedding. Is this God's vengeance for Willy breaking his promise or justice? The audience is left to decide for themselves. As usual, Eccleston is note perfect, a part he was born to play, the angry working class bloke overwhelmed by the drama in his life. Jimmy McGovern delivers his trademark show, short concise stories that introduce us to the characters and then put them through the emotion wringer. Other stars who showed up in later stories include Mackenzie Crook, Marc Warren, Andy Serkis, Juliet Stephenson and Peter Capaldi.
The Adam and Joe Show (5/97)
At first it appears to be a public access show made by two guys in their bedroom, but this late night Channel 4 program is a witty look at pulp culture featuring puppet versions of famous movies (including "Star Wars" and "seven"), "Vinyl Justice" where they burst in on a celebrity and go through their record collection exposing all sorts of lapses in taste (now a series on the American VH1 channel), and give advice about which movies show the best airplane crashes or serial killers.
Adam & Joe Go Tokyo (3/04)
The popular Channel 4 duo make the move to the BBC (albeit BBC Three) and spend six weeks in Japan's capital trying to make sense of Japanese culture. Sure, they are two goofballs and can't help making fun of just about everything (some of the popular foodstuffs available do defy belief) and attempt to make themselves famous over the course of the series to the celebrity-mad Japanese. It's all in good fun and Japan seems to have survived the experience.
Ade in Adland (11/13)
Adrian Edmondson presents this ITV documentary series that not only highlights famous adverts but puts them into context with how cultural changes over the decades affected Britain and the products it wanted to purchase, particularly food.
Adrian Mole - The Cappuccino Years (1/02)
Writer Sue Townsend continues the diary of middle England loser Adrian Mole, now 30 and with a life heading nowhere as usual in this BBC comedy series. Adrian has managed to end up as a single father, still living at home, and wanting to be an intellectual and successful writer even though he has zero talent. Meanwhile, the love of his life, Pandora Braithwaite (the delectable Helen Baxendale with long blonde hair), is now a doctor and becomes the town's Labour MP with ambitions of her own that don't include Adrian. Adrian soon discovers he has yet another son, his parents and Pandora's engage in some wifeswapping, and Adrian has 15 minutes of fame on a satellite channel cooking show called "Offally Good." Despite the insanity around him, he manages to have a good heart and his Good Samaritan tendencies eventually provide him a modest gain in life.
Ads Infinitum (3/99)
Critic Victor Lewis-Smith turns his jaundiced eye towards television adverts in this series of 10 minute compilations, all accompanied by Lewis-Smith’s incessant narration (much as he did for his previous series, TV Offal). Sometimes I think he belabors his point, but the clips he does did up are funny in their kitschy awfulness.
The Adventures of Captain Pugwash (1/99)
Remake of a beloved children's series from the 1960s that was alleged to have characters with double-entendre names (it wasn't true). Simplistically animated, with stories to match, obviously it is aimed squarely at younger viewers and nostalgia fans who recall the original about a dim sea captain and his crew battling equally dim pirates.
The Afternoon Play (4/08)
The BBC presents a series of one-off TV movies. In "Johnny Shakespeare" an illiterate young man discovers acting with the help of a teacher (Greta Scacchi); "Death Becomes Him" about a terminally ill man's family whose plans come unraveled when an experimental treatment miraculously brings him back to life; "Come Fly With Me" is set in a wedding registry where Kate oversees successful relationships except for hers; "Pieces of a Silver Lining" about a humble priest who is tempted by a lost treasure left by an ex-con; and "The Real Deal" about a female divorce lawyer who falls for the soon-to-be-ex husband of her current client.
After the Break (1/97)
This and Tarrant on TV ran during the same month, both compilation shows of commercials and other odds bits from the world of television. Interestingly, in the same week both featured the same ad from France about a suggestive bottle. Perhaps they're dipping deeply into too shallow a pool here.
After They Were Famous (3/04)
Well-researched documentaries about various popular shows (including "Star Trek," The Brothers and the movie "Grease"), their rise to fame and of course what happened to the stars afterwards. And in the case of The Brothers (the series that launched future Doctor Who Colin Baker to fame), the producers even arrange a reunion dinner for the cast. Plenty of clips both from the source series and other appearances, as well as interviews tell the complete story for fans.
After You've Gone (4/08)
Nicholas Lyndhurst sitcom about an absentee dad who suddenly is responsible for his kids when his ex-wife goes to Africa on a relief mission. But his authority is undermined by his mother-in-law played by Celia Imrie, and it's the battle between the two of them that drives the comedy, such as it is.
Agent Z and the Penguin From Mars (9/96)
Children's comedy series about three boys who plan a hoax on an annoying neighbor with a UFO sighting in his own backyard. Clever for its "Walter Mitty"-like fantasy sequences of the ringleader, as well as his knowing glances to the camera at times.
Agony Again (1/96)
The 80s ITV sitcom with Maureen Lipmann as a besieged advice columnist turns up as a 90s BBC sitcom with Lipmann's character now a TV chat show host. She still has problems including dealing with her son just coming out of the closet, a budding relationship with a black town councillor, and her dotty mother.
Ain't Misbehavin' (7/94)
Peter Davison's new sitcom plays like a 50s bedroom farce except for the fact that everyone is using mobile phones constantly to keep in touch. Davison finds out from a frantic hairdresser that his wife is having an affair with her husband. All sorts of wackiness and mixups occur because of this, but in the end this is very tired material and not very funny. Davison should avoid domestic sit-coms in the future.
Ain't Misbehavin' (9/97)
Not to be confused with the dire Peter Davison comedy of a few years back, this three part ITV comedy/drama set in WWII stars former musical double-act Robson and Jerome. An RAF airman is discharged due to brief catatonic fits only to find himself arriving in London just as the Battle Of Britain begins. He gets wrapped up with gangsters, black marketeers, a second-rate band, and a beautiful young society girl (Julia Sawalha). A charming look at that era, with Warren Mitchell as a band leader and Jim Carter as a gangster whose turf is threatened by menacing Scotsmen.
A Is For Acid (1/04)
In this ITV TV movie Martin Clunes plays real-life 1940s serial killer John Haigh who came up with the unique notion that if he dissolved his victims in acid there would be no "corpus delecti" and he could get away with murdering people for profit. Clunes plays him as a real smoothie who ingratiates himself with his victims before killing them, although the movie's attempt to "humanize" him by making him nice to dogs seems unnecessary.
Alan Carr: Chatty Man (3/10)
Ever since Graham Norton defected to the BBC, Channel 4 has been on the lookout for a replacement. They finally tapped the co-host of The Friday Night Project and now Carr has a weekly series that is not far removed from Norton's original series from over a decade ago. Celebrities come into Carr's fake apartment stage set, get offered a drink, there's some chat, a clip from whatever they are promoting, and a musical act. Carr pushes the camp envelope about as far as one can take it in the 2010s, but he is genuinely funny and a good standup comedian.
Alan Davies' Teenage Revolution (10/10)
The stand-up comic and QI panelist presents this three part look at growing up in suburbia in 1980s Britain. Davies trots out numerous home movies and even interviews his dad while taking us through the haunts of his youth. He isn't afraid to tackle issues like the casual racism that existed back then, particularly with Asians moving into the neighborhood, and his run-ins with the local skinhead community. Fortunately, seen through 30 years later as Davies tracks down people he might have wronged or misjudged, all seems forgiven. It's a bit shocking to realize that Davies, who is five years younger than me, is going gray already but unlike some of us, he seems ready and capable to face up his past.
Alan Davies - Urban Trauma (3/99)
Comic Davies (best known for Jonathan Creek) returns to his stand-up roots for an hour special were he makes wry observations on everything from flying to Tina Turner.
Alan Partridge: Welcome To The
Places Of My Life (10/12)
Steve Coogan has revived his most popular creation, unctuous chat show host and radio personality Alan Partridge. First up he did a web series called Mid-Morning Matters with Alan doing his radio show for North Norfolk Digital, an internet station; and there is talk of an Alan Partridge movie being made soon. In between Coogan starred in this parody of fawning biographical movies for Sky Atlantic which was credited as being written, directed and produced by Alan. Like all of Coogan's creations, despite the conceit that Alan had complete creative control of the documentary, we see him revealed as the little, frustrated man he is.
Alan Whicker's Journey of a Lifetime (3/10)
Alan Whicker was an ubiquitous television presenter in the 1960s and 70s (a memorable Monty Python sketch was set on "Whicker Island" where all the lads dressed and talked like him). Nowadays he narrates documentaries like The Comedy Map of Britain, but in Journey, clips from his original groundbreaking documentaries seen on Whicker's World (he was first person to show a Spanish bullfight on British TV) are mixed in with present-day commentary by Whicker. The result is a great look at television history as well as a celebration of one its best-known personalities.
Alas Smith and Jones (3/89)
Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones sketch comedy show. Their 1988 Christmas special featured "The First Temptation of Christ," a parody of the Scorsese movie.
Albert's Memorial (10/10)
David Jason and David Warner star in this ITV comedy drama TV movie about two World War II veterans who have been charged by a recently deceased buddy to take his body for burial in Germany. However, his widow wants him cremated instead, so our heroes must steal his corpse, get it across the channel via ferry and then drive Jason's black cab with the body to its final destination. The result is a amiable road movie with Jason and Warner bickering and reminiscing about a dark chapter from their past that is related to the war. They also pick up a cute German hitchhiker who helps them out of a few scrapes but has an air of mystery about her. Though at times it seems the whole enterprise might descend to Last of the Summer Wine slapstick territory or even "Weekend at Bernie's," the two leads keep things on an even keel. It's great to see David Warner on television again, he's always a great presence, I've loved him ever since "Time After Time" in 1979. The denouement is a bit predictable given glimpses of the trauma the men endured during the war, as well as the temptation to add an unnecessary supernatural element to things, but Albert's Memorial is a charmer time passer.
Alexei Sayle's Merry Go Round (9/98)
A new series of sketch comedy from Sayle, although I think he has gone to the same well once too often. He insists on trotting out his "Bobby Chariot, top warm-up man" character, even though he wore out his welcome two series ago (The All-New Alexei Sayle Show), and many sketches seem to be post-ironic, merely pointing out to the audience that they don't really have a point. There are brief spurts of humor: "The Ayatollah of Dibley," and invading aliens who were influenced by Tony Hancock, but much of the material suggests Sayle just had time to fill but nothing really inspiring to fill it with. A bit of a disappointment this time.
Alexei Sayle's Stuff (3/89)
The British comedian (the one who looks like Mussolini in The Young Ones) has his own comedy show which features many excellent sketches. Up until now I never liked his approach to humor but either his style has changed for this show or my tastes have. (Follow-up series: The All-New Alexei Sayle Show)
Alice Through The Looking Glass (9/99)
Channel 4's complement to the recent NBC adaption of Alice In Wonderland, this star-filled effects extravaganza does justice to the sequel story. Ian Richardson, Steve Coogan, and Geoffrey Palmer are among the celebrities who turn up, as Alice wanders through one strange domain after another. Very nicely done.
Alistair McGowan's Big Impression (5/00)
The famed impressionist (who once introduced my "Star Trek: The Pepsi Generation" on a BBC-2 documentary) has his own showcase for his various characters. Hightlights include a dead-on parody of Alan Davies in Jonathan Creek, and "The Student Grants" with Hugh Grant, Richard E. Grant and Cary Grant as students sharing a dorm.
Alistair McGowan's Football Backchat (1/99)
Impressionist McGowan takes soccer footage and dubs in new voices for sometimes hilarious results (depending if you are familiar with the personalities he's doing) in this Channel 4 special.
Alive and Kicking (9/96)
1991 drama with many of the same themes as "Trainspotting," with the story about heroin addicts on rehabilitation. Lenny Henry stars as a pusher whose girlfriend takes their baby and tries to get straight. Henry only wants the baby back but comes up against the tough-as-nails Scot (Robbie Coltrane) who runs the rehab center. Coltrane eventually wears Henry down and inspires him to begin a football club with other former addicts as its team (hence the pun of the title). Based on real events, and never maudlin. Comedian Henry holds his own with Coltrane.
All About Me (3/03)
Jasper Carrot and Meera Syal (Goodness Gracious Me) star in this ill-conceived BBC sitcom about a blended family. Perhaps the creators thought it was "cutting edge" to not only combine a mixed-race family, but also humor and drama in the form of the disabled wheelchair-bound son who narrates the show but can't speak in real life. It so doesn't work, and Carrott is far too broad for this material but frankly I can't imagine it succeeding with anyone else either.
All Along The Watchtower (9/99)
BBC comedy about a remote RAF base in Scotland and the three nut cases who run the joint. There are plenty of jokes about village life in Scotland, but the whole thing is a bit of a misfire and was quickly relegated to an afternoon timeslot.
All at Sea (3/95)
Short subject about the world's most superstitious woman who lives on a bed floating in the ocean and her philosophy in life.
All-New Alexei Sayle Show, The (4/94)
Sayle seems to have moved away from his "fat bastard" persona to someone who has a real axe to grind about the 70s. From the opening credits which resemble some long-forgotten BBC sitcom from that era (complete with the sappily-sung theme tune), to the Australian soap opera mercilessly pilloried each episode, he expertly spoofs the styles and attitudes from that time. Other running jokes include the world's worst warm-up man who has to fill-in in front of the audience when the VT breaks down, to each episode ending with some British celebrity in bed waking up from a dream and asking, "What did that mean?" Not for all tastes, but I like it.
A new season of "fat bastard" comedian Alexei Sayle (The Young Ones) parodies foreign TV shows (such as an Iranian version of Golden Girls and "international" versions of Sayle's own program -- complete with "the world's worst warm-up man.") But the best part is an ongoing parody of that Irwin Allen classic, The Time Tunnel! In "Drunk In Time" the credits, cod historical recreations, the tunnel complex (complete with Whit Bissel and Lee Meriweather impersonators), and the effects are all lovingly recreated (Britons, unlike most folks here in the US, are more familiar with the series due to recent screenings on Channel Four). Sayle's on a real roll here with many inspired sketches.
The All New Harry Hill Show (3/04)
Harry, now with ITV, basically does a big budget version of his old Channel 4 comedy complete with various celebrities now showing off arcane hobbies, disgraced political couple the Hamiltons in silly challenges, a serial about Robbie Williams performed by ventriloquist dummies, and a proper studio orchestra of Harry look-a-likes. Otherwise, if you liked Harry before, you'll like him now. And if you didn't before...
All Night Long (11/94)
Sit-com set in an all-night bakery in London starring Keith Barron. Not bad, and if successful I wouldn't be surprised to see an American version attempted over here.
All Or Nothing At All (2/94)
Hugh Laurie takes a dramatic turn in this drama about a married man living beyond his means who everyone thinks is a financial wizard. Everyone gives him huge sums of money to invest, not realizing he is merely blowing it at the track - and running up a huge debt. Rivetting stuff watching him be a one-man self-destruction unit.
The All-Star Comedy Show (10/05)
Steve Coogan produced this ITV sketch comedy series that indeed lives up to its name with some of the biggest comedy names in Britain: Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, Matt Lucas, Angus Deayton, Ronnie Corbett, Richard Wilson and many many more. You'd think with all that talent it would be a laugh-a-minute but alas the curse of ITV comedy strikes, and you are left with sketches that are more like those odd "Saturday Night Live" ones where you scratch your head and try to figure out what the writers were thinking in the first place. This show is a lot like that in many ways.
All The Kings Men (1/01)
David Jason (Only Fools And Horses) plays the man in charge of Sandringham, George V's official residence, who volunteers with a bunch of the locals to form a unit to fight in World War I in this BBC TV movie based on a true story. Big mistake of course, the last the regiment was seen was disappearing in a fog bank in Turkey. A mystery developed about what really happened and why a cover-up ensued so the Royals (and their subjects) would never know about the atrocities of war that were occurring.
All The Small Things (3/10)
Sentimental BBC drama about a church choral group that is torn apart when Michael the director (Neil Pearson) walks out on his family to take up with Layla, a sexy newcomer (Sarah Alexander with the crazy eyes). Esther his wife starts a new group that is more inclusive, their children choose sides, and there are various subplots involving the administration of the parish including Annette Badland as the snobby middle-class queen bee, and a new younger priest who has a past with Layla and a growing interest in Esther. Goodness and niceness always win out in the end, and there are some fun musical numbers along the way.
All Things Bright and Beautiful (5/94)
BBC TV movie about a small Irish town where an altar boy claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. A bit heavy-going. Perhaps you have to be Catholic to really appreciate this material.
Al Murray's Multiple Personality Disorder (3/10)
Until now I've been lukewarm about Al Murray, whose blustery "publican" character is a bit one-note to me. But in this ITV sketch comedy series, Murray gets to expand his repertoire with some fine and funny characterizations including conman Barrington Blowtorch, Ray Winstone attempting to assay several parts, and a very camp aide to Hitler. For the most part it works and I look forward to seeing more from Murray in the future.
The Alternative Christmas Message (7/97)
The Queen's annual Christmas message to the nation is subverted by Rory Bremner who impersonates Princess Diana and presents her side of things for a change.
The Ambassador (3/98)
Pauline Collins stars as the British ambassador to Ireland who, along with her pet intelligence spook (Denis Lawson), manages to escape diplomatic traps set each week in this BBC drama series. Much of the focus is on Collins' family, particularly her rebellious teenage son (is there any other kind?). But the conundrums she faces are intriguing although Lawson comes perilously close to being a deus ex machina in every episode.
Mark Williams (The Fast Show) stars in this hilarious comedy pilot (shown on Channel 4's Comedy Lab) as a clueless suburban dad. The amount of humiliation he endures with no sense of self-awareness just adds to the humor.
Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain (10/08)
BBC newsman Marr presents this intensive look at post-war Britain, a great recap for folks like me who didn't experience it, or never had it taught in school.
The Android Prophecy (3/02)
Channel 4 documentary narrated by Tom Baker about Hollywood's predictions about robotics, broadcast to coincide with the release of Steven Spielberg's "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" in Britain. According the Radio Times, this was the most popular program on TV the week it aired (albeit in late August).
Anglian Lives (3/04)
Frequent Armando Iannucci collaborator Peter Baynham hosts this mock interview show that kicks off with Norwich's biggest "star," self-important DJ Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan). Alan is pretty much as you would expect, shamelessly trying to plug his autobiography, and Peter's use of a unintelligible voice-synthesized computer to ask some of the questions just adds to the surrealism.
Anna and Katy (6/13)
Anna Crilly and Katy Wix who have had supporting roles in a number of comedies (Lead Balloon and Not Going Out respectively) get to star in this Channel 4 sketch comedy series where they are able to show off a number of different characters. Their famous friends turn up as well including Lee Mack, Martin Kemp, and Ruby Wax. Although some sketches get repetitious ("Congratulations," a morning chat show where they just give out greetings), others such as fake-German language shows offer the opportunity to work in plenty of naughty words into the dialog.
Annie's Bar (7/96)
The name of the official bar of the House of Parliament, this serial takes us behind the scenes of fictitious MPs and their various scandals and schemes. Apparently someone realized there was material to be mined after House of Cards proved an ongoing success.
The Annual BARFTA Awards (9/03)
Jeffrey Tambor hosts this parody of awards shows, in this case to real live people who deserve "recognition" for one sort of gaff or another. Amazingly, a number of them turn up to accept!
Ant & Dec Unzipped (7/97)
Refugees from the BBC, this young double act lands on Channel 4, featuring sketches and show-within-a-show segments. The best bits are "Geordie Gordon Space Blerk" (pronounced "bloke"), a Flash Gordon parody featuring Northerners; "Dad Gags," where young members of the audience are humiliated when their dads come on stage to do some dumb act; and appearances by various minor British celebrities including Claire Grogan, Alistair McGowan, and Rich & Stew from Fist of Fun. The boys are infectious with their comedy, clearly having a good time, and so is most of their target audience.
The Antiques Rogue Show (11/09)
TV movie docudrama based on the real-life fraud perpetrated by an elderly middle-England couple (Peter Vaughn & Liz Smith) who used their autistic son's amazing ability to create faithful recreations of paintings and sculptures. The movie pokes holes at how provenance, the ability to trace (and therefore) authenticate a piece of art, can be manipulated by those who know the system. When the British Museum finally discovered the fraud, the son took the fall for the crime and served several years in prison, while his completely calculating parents got off scot free.
Any Human Heart (12/10)
This sprawling four part mini-series for Channel 4 is based on the book by William Boyd who also wrote the script. Jim Broadbent ostensibly is the star, he plays Logan Mountstuaart, a man near the end of the his life who looks back at his career and loves throughout the 20th Century. Three other actors play Logan at different stages of his life, as a boy, a young man in his 20s and then middle aged. His name may sound posh but Logan comes from humble stock, his dad was in the meat business and his mother was from Uruguay. Dad wants Logan to join the family business after university but Logan has different ideas, especially once he manages to lose his virginity. He meets Land, a politically active young woman who tells him to grow up and write something that will make people think and change the world. He does write a successful novel and soon finds himself hobnobbing with Hemingway and Fleming in the years between the wars. He even manages to marry into the aristocracy but then begins an affair with a beautiful BBC journalist. I really like Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Logan in middle age. He looks a bit like Brendan Frasier but with a British accent. In the present day, we see Broadbent as a lonely figure, remembering past glories and putting mementos from each different relationship into separate piles. William Boyd, the writer, also wrote the screenplay for "Chaplin" and knows his way around biopic that takes us through the life of a person and their encounters with celebrities. Here, Boyd uses the device of the fictional life of Mountstuaart to comment on life and Britons, particularly the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Tom Hollander and a nearly unrecognizable Gillian Anderson), that is, Edward and Mrs. Simpson. Though Logan's life is filled with tragic moments, he is a flawed hero whose personal choices (particularly when it comes to women) are what undo him.
Appropriate Adult (11/11)
Based on a true story about Janet Leach, an advocate who is brought in to advise suspected serial killer Fred West (Dominic West) when the police interrogated him in this ITV1 mini-series. Fred and his wife Rose were eventually convicted for killing 11 women in the 1970s although the case wasn't brought against them until 1994. Leach's role was to make sure West's rights were observed because he was considered to have diminished capacity, so she had a front-row seat to his incarceration (and eventually became an obsession of West's before he hanged himself in 1995).
Children's BBC series about two young boys who discover a small craft in a Roman ruins that can apparently travel anywhere and has more gadgets than the starship Enterprise. Each week they discover a new ability of "Aquila" while they invisibly fly around their neighborhood accompanied by loud rock music.
A 15 minute shaggy dog short for Channel Four. In a video arcade-like future, a trigger-happy young man must play the most cunning game of all. Very clever.
Archer's Goon (9/93)
This clever adaption of a children's drama plays almost like "Twin Peaks Jr." Six siblings with strange powers control a British town and it all has something to do with a boy's father whose "3000 words" he has to type every three months in lieu of taxes have some control over these beings. A real oddball fantasy, the kind of thing you might expect David Lynch to do if he made kids shows.
Three-part BBC drama about Lorimer Black, an insurance investigator with a mysterious past whose latest job for his eccentric boss (Stephen Rea from "The Crying Game") propels him into a multi-million pound conspiracy. Black pretends to be college educated and posh, but when he visits his immigrant family they call him Milo. He collects expensive historical treasures but his insomnia requires him to sleep at a research center. He also becomes obsessed with an actress he first spies in a passing taxi cab. Adapted from a novel, it's an interesting character study though he tries a bit too hard to tie up all the loose ends at the finish.
The Armando Iannucci Shows (3/02)
Iannucci is best know as producer of satirical programs like The Day Today and Steve Coogan's I'm Alan Partridge series, but now makes his way to the forefront in this Channel 4 sketch comedy series that aims a bit higher by having each show focus on a different theme (for example, getting older) and referencing back to it with each sketch. In a way, this reminds me of early Woody Allen material (and Iannucci, certainly nobody's idea of a sex symbol, makes himself the butt of much humor) that while it makes you laugh, contains a real kernel of truth. Clearly a lot of thought went into this series, and the mixture of absurdity and relevance certainly make it unique.
Armstrong and Miller (1/98)
After a successful pilot last summer, this Channel 4 sketch comedy series features two comedians who aren't afraid to use the leeway allowed on Four. In one sketch, "Naked Vets," the props are carefully arranged (ala Austin Powers) to prevent anything "naughty" being seen, only to end with one of the characters facing the camera with all his naked glory in view. Other running sketches include the cop show "Parsons & Lampkin...and Lampkin's mate Steve," about duo of detectives saddled with a civilian they can't get rid of; two men tied together in a basement driving each other crazy; and a look at the Euro `96 football team that bears more than a passing resemblance to the history of the Beatles.
Ben Miller writes, "Just read your review of our show... go on, give us a bit more of a plug. Say it's brilliant. Then maybe someone will watch it. By the way, we've got a new series coming out next year on C4."
The Armstrongs (4/07)
It's one of the fly-on-the-wall documentaries about a couple who run a double-glazing firm but are the most clueless owners alive. Bill Nighy narrates the goings-on accompanied by an over-the-top musical score. You think, these can't possibly be real people, it has to be a set-up, yet the credits offer no clues whether it's an elaborate fake or people so stupid they would let the BBC film how they operate.
Ashes to Ashes (10/08)
This sequel to Life on Mars can be justified only because it brings back one of great, original characters on TV in the 21st Century: DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). Unfortunately, it repeats the same premise as Mars, namely a modern-day copper who is thrust back to the past and forced to be a fashion victim. This time it's the 1980s, and the wrinkle is this time the protagonist is a woman and a mother. And she knew about Sam Tyler and his was-it-all-a-dream adventures in the 1970s. However, by episode six of the first season, a very plausible explanation is laid out just why she knows Gene Hunt, and the identity of the creepy clown that haunts her as she tries to prevent the murder of her parents back in the past is revealed. While I would have prefered a stand-alone series of just the mis-adventures of Gene Hunt, unreconstructed copper, without all the time travel nonsense, there seems to be enough life left in the format for one more season.
As If (1/02)
A remake is coming soon to UPN of this Channel 4 teenage-oriented drama that uses slick editing and camera tricks to disguise the fact it's just an Afterschool Special with more sex and drinking. All the characters are middle-class, talk incessantly on their mobile phones, never actually spend any time in school, and exist in a world where there are never any parental authorities around (except for the one-shot episode where we learn one of the characters has an abusive father). All the archetypes are here: the "cool" one whose really a virginal nerd, the sexy interracial couple who keep breaking up and getting back together, the gay guy, the slutty girl, and the cynical girl covered in tattoos and piercings who has the hots for one of the guys. It might be flashy enough to impress the MTV generation but it's just a lot of gimmicks dressing up a routine - and somewhat predictable - drama series aimed directly at younger viewers.
Ask Rhod Gilbert (10/10)
BBC Panel show where celebrities answer questions posed by the public. Meanwhile a real journalist sits next to Rhod looking up the real answers on the internet (hopefully not Wikipedia). One of the "celebrities" is Rhod's flatmate and he tends to hog a lot of the attention, leaving genuinely funny people like Jo Brand with little to say. Most of the format would lend itself better to radio, there's nothing to be added seeing the visuals.
At Home With The Braithwaites (3/01)
Amanda Redman stars as Alison, a middle class mom to three daughters and married to a spineless loser (Peter Davison, who else?) who is having an affair with his secretary. But one day Alison wins 38 million pounds in the lottery -- and doesn't tell her family, in this oddball comedy/drama from ITV. Instead, knowing it would just increase her family's irresponsibility, she decides to set up a foundation and donate money to worthy causes. This proves to be more complicated than she first thought but eventually has an entire enterprise going, with herself as the anonymous administrator. But back at home things are rapidly falling apart, with little dramas involving each daughter, and Davison is slowly coming unglued at the seams as well. When everyone finds out about the money in the final episode of the first season, Davison lets go with a level of dramatic intensity I've rarely seen from him. This is definitely his best part in over a decade (and sure beats those dog food ads he was doing!). A second season has already been shown in the UK with the family now living off the fruits of their mother's luck, but none the happier.
The latest fantasy series from BBC Wales following in the footsteps of Merlin and aimed at the Saturday evening family audience. A modern day young man named Jason searching for his missing father suddenly finds himself washed ashore on the fabled island in what appear to be ancient times. Quickly he is introduced to an oracle (Juliet Stevenson), King Minos (Alexander Siddig), a nerdy young Pythagoras, and Hercules (played here by Mark Addy as an overweight lazy coward) all of whom speak what sounds to us like contemporary English. Jason has some connection to Atlantis which the oracle frustratingly refuses to divulge, and like his namesake is pretty good in the hero department and slaying minotaurs. So far it's not as compelling to me as Sky1's similar Sinbad series last year.
Atletico Partick AFC (1/97)
In August, the BBC seemingly goes on holiday and turns the keys for the network over to the Scottish and allow them to put on whatever they fancy. This Scottish sitcom about a soccer club is written by Ian Pattison (Bad Boys, Rab C. Nesbitt) but is only of interest to die-hard sports enthusiasts.
As Seen On TV (3/10)
BBC celebrity quiz show based on television trivia which features clips and questions on TV history. My favorite part is where they run a montage of clips and not only do you have answer questions based on it but guess the year they are from. It's shows like this that somehow justify tvaholics like me and all the arcane knowledge we've picked up over the years.
Ten part BBC drama series by the creators of cult hit This Life about the life cycle of a start-up dot.com. Set before the crash in 2000, CeeThru begins in the garage of a trendy young couple, quickly moves to an office building, adds employees, venture capital money and treads the rocky road to respectability and profit for its impatient investors. Will they sell out? The staff's mini-dramas provide much of the subplots in this involving and timely series that came accompanied by its own online website to follow the action.
Attention Scum (1/02)
The League Against Tedium (just one guy, actually), after winning a Perrier comedy award at the Edinburgh Festival, get their (or his) own TV series, a bizarre sketch comedy series of deadpan gags (each ending with a drumroll) as he tours the country addressing the natives at sunset in each town using his signature device: a sword with a tiny camera in it. It's very much the sort of experimental humor BBC-2 is famous for, and while not everything works, it's offbeat enough to elicit the odd chuckle. Fist of Fun alumni Stewart Lee directed the series, and Kevin Eldon turns up in many of the sketches.
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1/99)
Classic 1980s comedy/drama that launched the careers of Kevin Whately, Timothy Spall, Tim Healy, and Jimmy Nail as a group of somewhat knuckle-headed Northern building laborers who move to Germany to get work when the economy dried up back home (thanks to Margaret Thatcher's policies). Amazingly, the series is very even-handed in its treatment of the Germans, and it's usually Our Boys who learn a lesson about being in a foreign country far from home. Very much a product of its time, but wildly successful and worth catching on a Classics channel.
One of the defining dramas of the 1980s is updated with the original cast and writers reuniting (except for Gary Holton who died in 1985). This time, the gang is recruited by Oz (Jimmy Nail) of all people who has formed a partnership with a crooked former politician (Bill Nighy) to disassemble a landmark ferry bridge and sell it for a huge profit. But as usual there are labor troubles, money troubles, and personal troubles, not to mention Nighy stabbing them in the back whenever he can. Eventually the action (and the bridge) are relocated to the American Southwest (shot on location) as they attempt to help an Indian tribe cross a river to their casino. Originally an ITV series, the new season was made by the BBC.
The newest season of the 1980s revival has the boys from Newscastle end up in Cuba working for the British government remodeling the ambassador's residence. Of course nothing is easy, particularly as Neville (Kevin Whately) is recruited as a spy by British intelligence (his friends think he's having an affair), Barry (Timothy Spall) is thrown in prison for a traffic accident, and Oz (Jimmy Nail) romances a Cuban ballerina -- much to the consternation of both her brother and the government.
Auntie: The Inside Story of the BBC (1/98)
Four part documentary about the BBC (produced by the BBC) is a fairly hard look at the corporation from its early days as "The House That Reith Built" through the turbulent Thatcher years. The documentary doesn't soft-pedal the more embarrassing moments such as bowing to political pressure, but there are also plenty of clips from popular programs (The Two Ronnies, Only Fools and Horses, Dr. Who) to remind viewers just what their annual TV license fees go to.
Auntie's All-Time Greats (3/97)
The BBC celebrated its 60th Anniversary by throwing an awards ceremony and allowing viewers to vote on their favorite series, actors, and comedies. Guess which won overall Best Series? EastEnders? I, Claudius? Nope, it was Dr. Who. On hand to accept were Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy. Lots of celebrities in the audience, as well as classic clips.
An Awfully Big Adventure (7/98)
Six-part BBC documentary series subtitled "The Making of Modern Children's Literature" with a look at the creators of famous and well-loved books. E. Nesbit (The Railway Children), Kenneth Grahame (The Wind In The Willows), Arthur Ransome (Swallows and Amazons), J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl are each profiled and their respective biographies all seem to point to their using children's fiction as a response to personal tragedies. Some fascinating tidbits include Tolkien's love for languages (he appears to have written Lord of the Rings merely to showcase his invented Elvish), and Theodore Geisel's (Dr Seuss) disenchantment with Hollywood after working on The Five Thousand Fingers of Dr T (which I've always been a fan of).
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