British TV Show Reviews "B"

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Dates refer to when review was written

Babes In the Wood (1/99)
The "babes" here are Samantha Janus (Game On) and presenter Denise Van Outen who live in St. John's Wood, London in a flat next to randy bachelor Karl Howman (Mulberry). Most of the appeal of this ITV comedy is its obvious sex appeal, though the girls (and guys) are all stereotypes of one sort or another. Harmless but forgettable.

Babylon (6/14)
Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting") directed this Channel 4 pilot about an American consultant brought in to help a dysfunctional police station that is being filmed by a reality show. Written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (Peep Show), this satire features Paterson Joseph, Daniel Kaluuya, Nicola Walker and James Nesbitt.

Back to School, Mr Bean (3/95)
Chris Ryan also appears when Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) takes in an open day at an adult education center and as usual causes near-disaster with comic results wherever he goes. But the ultimate indignity is suffered by his poor yellow car in the end.

Bad Boys (11/96)
BBC Scottish comedy/drama by the writer of Rab C. Nesbitt. Two ex-cons, one a Glasgow nightclub owner, the other a Cockney helping him out, get into misadventures each week, usually pitted against their bitter rival, yet another ex-con. These macho idiots try to outwit each other but the police aren't much better, plodding along ineptly. There are some great one-liners, as well as comedic set pieces.

Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned (11/01)
Two comics (David Baddiel - once half of the Newman and Baddiel team - and Frank Skinner) sit on a couch in front of audience without a script or anything prepared and just field questions and try to be funny.  They seem to know it's a risk (the theme song during the credits is "It'll never work")  but manage to pull it off (a "secretary" is recruited from each audience to keep track of the subjects on a board so they never repeat a topic). These guys are overpaid and know the show is a bit of a wheeze, but so should anyone tuning in.

Bad Education (11/13)
Jack Whitehead co-wrote and stars in this BBC-3 comedy as Alfie, the cool, hip, but mostly incompetent teacher to a classroom of misfits at a second-rate school. The head of his department (Mathew Horne) is bonkers, while the Headmistress (Michelle Gomez) loves to torment Alfie. After she fakes her death in the second season (with Alfie's help), her replacement (Samantha Spiro) starts graphically getting it on with Alfie's dad (Harry Enfield), much to his horror. ABC is about to do an American remake that will star Whitehead as a transplanted Brit in San Diego. I'm not sure if it's the Britishness that makes Bad Education work as a format (as opposed to a "fish out of water" concept) but it's worth a try.

Badger (1/00)
BBC drama series created by Kieran Prendiville (Ballykissangel) about a police officer (Jerome Flynn, Robson Green's old partner) who is often assigned animal-related cases in the country. A low-key family-oriented drama, no real surprises but competently made.

Bad Girls (1/00)
ITV drama series set in a women's prison featuring...well, the title pretty much says it all. Although the biggest villain is the male head guard who manipulates everyone for his own devices, lying through his teeth, and even covering up a suicide. Surprisingly, the emphasis is on the characters with an absence of any shower scenes.

The Bad Mother's Handbook (7/08)
Catherine Tate stars in this ITV movie as a woman who never got to college because she got pregnant, trying to prevent her daughter from suffering the same fate. She also has issues with her own mother and Tate delivers the goods as a dramatic actress.

Bad Sugar (10/12)
Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) wrote this one-off parody of family dramas for Channel 4 with Peter Serafinowicz, Julia Davis, Olivia Colman and Sharon Horgan. There's plenty of back stabbing, plot twists, and great comedic performances, including fake "Previous" and "Next week on" scenes.  Unlike the misfire that A Touch Of Cloth was (both went out during the same week), THIS is how you do satire.

Badults (11/13)
Ben Clark, Matthew Crosby and Tom Parry play three young men with the same first names who are housemates with a serious case of arrested development in this BBC-3 comedy. Their misadventures bring to mind the zaniness of The Young Ones with frequent cutaways or fantasy sequences right in the middle of a scene. Jack Docherty turns up as well as Ben and his sister's boss, and he's just as nutty. Aimed squarely at the twentysomething demographic of BBC-3, the energy and comic creativity of the series make it a success.

Baker Boys (3/11)
This new drama was only available on BBC Wales on Sunday nights.  It's set in a small town and centers around the employees of a factory-sized bakery.  We meet man-child Owen whose younger sister is about to get married to his best friend.  Owen's ex-wife Sarah is played by Torchwood's Eve Myles and they have a 15-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy.  But the economic downturn hits the town as the international conglomerate that owns the bakery goes into bankruptcy and everyone is suddenly laid off.  Some of the workers are former coal miners who've seen this all before how a community dependent on one business can be devastated when it closes.  Mortgages still need to be paid and children supported, and how will they be able to do it on £65 a week of unemployment benefit?  The employees eventually hit upon the scheme of forming a co-op (based on a true story) where they would own the business themselves, but raising the money to buy it and risk everything tests many of the characters.  Baker Boys is co-written by Helen Raynor, formerly the script editor on Doctor Who, and Russell T Davies is credited as a consultant on the series. 

Balderdash & Piffle (10/08)
Only the BBC would dedicate an entire series to the selection of new words for the Oxford English Dictionary.  Presented by fresh-scrubbed Victoria Coren, she challenges viewers to seek out the earliest possible uses of commonly-used words for citations that will ultimately appear (if they pass muster) in the OED.  Entertaining and educational.

The Baldy Man (9/95)
Scottish actor Gregor Fisher stars in this Mr. Bean-like series about a balding loser who gets into trouble. Like "Bean," this show isn't big on intelligible dialog, relying instead on physical humor to get the laughs. Either this sort of material works for you or it doesn't.

Ballbreakers On The Box (1/02)
Channel 4 documentary that looks at the images of strong women both on TV and in the movies.  Beginning with the image of the matron nurse from the "Carry On" films, to the women in Dynasty, this fascinating look at how a male-dominated medium often categorizes or makes cliches out of woman who are neither the love interest or maternal is quite enlightening.

Ballykissangel (11/96)
The BBC's answer to Northern Exposure comes in the form of this comedy/drama series set in a tiny Irish village whose new Catholic priest is a young, naive Englishman. "Where am I, the Twilight Zone?" he asks soon after he arrives, particularly when the rich businessman who runs the town arranges to have a high-tech confessional installed in the Church - complete with working FAX machine. Of note is the presence of Dervla Kirwan, essentially playing the same part she does in Goodnight Sweetheart - the owner of pub - only here she gets to wear contemporary clothes. This was a big hit in England and it's easy to see why, full of humor, interesting characters, and a generous dose of sentimentality.

(7/98)
The third season finds changes afoot with the imminent departure of the two principle actors (Dervla Kirwan and Stephen Tompkinson, now lovers in real life). It was probably for the best as things were coming to a head between Catholic priest Father Clifford (Tompkinson) and the beautiful pubtender Assumpta Fitzgerald (Kirwan), and any real relationship between the two would have set off howls of protests. But that just means the rest of the cast get to take up the slack, though throw in a moose and some snow and you'd swear you were in Alaska watching Northern Exposure.

Bang Bang, It's Reeves and Mortimer (9/99)
Comedy double act Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer (Shooting Stars) essentially revive their sketch comedy show last seen as The Smell Of Reeves and Mortimer. An awful lot of their humor consists of them hitting each other on the head with an assortment of rubberized weapons, but once in a while they hit the mark exactly with a sketch or far-out characterization, and there's no denying the huge amount of energy they bring to the screen together. Their family-oriented game show Families At War over on BBC-1 will bring them even larger audiences, as will their remake of Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased currently being filmed. Read my feature about Reeves and Mortimer.

Bang Goes The Theory (3/10)
BBC magazine program about science features perky telegenic presenters showing off the latest discoveries or performing bizarre experiments such as climbing a building using household vacuum cleaners or creating a sound cannon.  It's fast and colorful, part of the Open University, and the BBC's remit to "inform."

The Bare Necessities (9/96)
ITV pilot for a series about male strippers. When the local mine closes, five men turn to stripping to earn a living. You have to wonder how far television has to go until one day we have a show simply titled: "Let's watch naked people."

Barking (11/98)
Late-night comedy sketch show is a very much hit-or-miss affair, with a chorus of writers and presenters doing a mixed bag of material.

BBC Promos (5/94)
The BBC is currently running (to death) a new short promo featuring Julie Walters wandering all over the BBC looking for the complaints department. It has cameos from just about every BBC star (including a bemused looking Ian Richardson in full Francis Urquhart mode). Very clever and not a little bit self-congratulating.

Beachy Head (9/95)
Short film about an attempted suicide and the young man who tries to stop him from leaping off a cliff. Rather funny in a way, and not without a few twists. It's amazing what you learn about the characters in just 10 minutes.

Beast (1/01)
BBC sitcom written by Simon Nye, and very reminiscent of his other office comedy, Is It Legal? (which struggled for three years - and two networks - before finally being taken off), starring Alexander Armstrong (half of the Armstrong and Miller double act) as a veterinarian who doesn't really like animals (or people, except young women). Doon MacKichan (Smack The Pony) plays his matter-of-fact office manager, and there is the usual assortment of office loonies and characters. There's been two seasons so far, no doubt the BBC is hoping for another success like Nye's Men Behaving Badly but this show has a long way to go before reaching the comic heights of that classic series.

Beautiful People (8/10)
Based on a true story, this BBC comedy uses a modern day framing device to tell the story growing up as a gay 13-year-old in Reading in 1998.  His family (including mum--Olivia Colman in a blonde wig, and Meera Syal as his blind "aunt") are a hoot, as well as the payoff to each episode that has intriguing titles such as "How I Got My Turner" which usually turn out not quite what you expected.  And despite only being a decade ago, there is a surprising amount of humor to be mined from mocking 1998.

Beaver Falls (11/11)
I was prepared to dismiss this E4 series about three randy English university graduates who have blarged their way into jobs at a summer camp in California. It's certainly not aimed at anyone in my generation, and if I had teenage boys I would hope they weren't anything like Flynn, Barry and A-Rab. But, I don't have kids, and I grew to like the characters in Beaver Falls.  Though there have been comparisons to The Inbetweeners, that series operates on a much more farcical level which serves to heap as much humiliation as possible on the boys, mostly of their own doing.  Beaver Falls is slightly more dramatic, which isn't to say their main goal doesn't consist of wanting to get high, drink and shag, and see their summer in America as a chance to indulge in all three.  Flynn (Samuel Robertson, a veteran of Coronation Street) is way too good looking and knows it. Computer science major Barry is played by John Dagleish (best known as Alf from Lark Rise To Candleford) with his hooded eyes and curly floppy hair reminding me of  a young Peter Serafinowicz. Arsher Ali plays an ethnic character who insists that people call him A-Rab, whose girlfriend left him after he proposed to her at their graduation party back in England.  They get stuck as camp counselors to the lowest caste of camp attendees, which kicks off the underdogs versus the jocks cliches you've seen a million times before in movies like this.  What saves Beaver Falls are the performances, the character moments and the chance to relish pasty Brits kicking the arses of the obnoxious American bullies.  If the days of summer camp are decades behind you, then Beaver Falls is probably not for you, but I thought it was well-made for what it was trying to do.

Bedlam (10/12)
The spooky Sky horror series set in a former mental hospital turned into residential flats (which of course never goes wrong) returns for a second season with a new "ghost whisperer," Ellie (Lacey Turner) arriving at the estate and getting involved with all the paranormal activity.  While Warren the manager tries to keep any mysterious goings on from the tenants (aided by his unctuous deputy Dan who has a secret past of his own), Ellie is recruited by her flatmate to help uncover the reason why the undead keep returning to kill people and what her connection to Bedlam's past is. 

Bedtime (3/02)
Six half hours in the lives of three neighboring couples as they prepare for bed each night.  Among the stories are Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel) as a new dad whose wife suspects he is having an affair, and Meera Syal (Goodness Gracious Me) as a tabloid reporter who wants a naive New Zealander to squeal on her lover, a famous TV chef.  But things, and people, are not as they seem as each half hour unfolds.

(7/04)
Andy Hamilton's low-keyed serial drama set in successive evenings in adjacent houses returns as a three part Christmas special that includes an older couple (Sheila Hancock and Timothy West) visiting their new grandchild for the first time, and a Muslim shopkeeper (The Kumar's at No. 42's Vincent Ebrahim) who survives a violent encounter that might be connected with his uptight businessman neighbor (Neil Stuke).

The Beggar Bride (11/97)
Two-part BBC drama about a working class mother who decides the only way out of poverty is to impersonate an upper class woman, marry a widowed Lord and take him for all he's got. Her plan works but her real husband increasingly becomes uncomfortable with the arrangement, particularly when she has to pass off their new son as belonging to the Lord. Further complications from the Lord's family lead to kidnapping, blackmail and a mystery involving the Lord's previous wife.

The Beiderbecke Affair (5/93)
Along with The Beiderbecke Tapes, these two comedy/mysteries by Alan Plater from 1980s were repeated in 1993. The first is a six-part story about a jazz-loving school teacher (James Bolam) and his girlfriend (Barbara Flynn - "Dr. Rose" from A Very Peculiar Practice) who get involved in a bizarre conspiracy when he tries to buy some Bix Beiderbecke records from a door-to-door saleslady. This show SCREAMS that uniquely British style of wit and pacing, with clever and odd characterizations from everyone. Great fun. Followed by its sequel set two years later, this time two 90-minute episodes. A third story was made as well.

Being April (9/03)
Pauline Quirk stars as the free spirit mother of at least three children all with different fathers (including a gay one) where together they are all one big happy family (sort of) in this BBC comedy/drama series.  Of course this is completely unacceptable to the conservative parents of her son's girlfriend, but April's "All you need is love" philosophy keeps her going (although oddly, her day job is as a receptionist for a large corporation -- she's no hippie).  I suppose the message is that it takes all kind in this world and tolerance is a great thing but I can't see this becoming a big fav among "family values" right wing Republicans.

Being Eileen (3/13)
This gentle BBC comedy series by Michael Wynne is a spin-off of Lapland, centering on newly widowed Eileen (Sue Johnston), her grown children (Dean Andrews, Elizabeth Berrington), their spouses and the grandkids. Eileen doesn't really know what do with herself now she is on her own, but peace and quiet are never close at hand when the family descends on her, as they do in every episode.  It's very sweet, dramatizing how the people who drive you the most crazy are the ones you love the most.

Being Human (8/10)
I watched the first episode when BBC America showed it in 2009 but it didn't grab me enough to come back for more.  But when the buzz on it started to grow, particularly with the second season, I decided to give it another chance.  This is one of those series that the premise is so high-concept: a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost sharing a flat, that it lives or dies on whether you are interested and care about the characters.  And the more I watched, the more I did care, although in the first season, George the werewolf (Russell Tovey) was probably my least favorite character.  He whined...a lot.  And Tovey's Hugh Grant-like stammer and awkwardness seemed like a poor substitute for actual characterization.  But the second season sees the show running on all cylinders and not afraid to have three separate story threads running during each episode, all three compelling.  Even the baddies get quite a bit of screentime and back story that you can understand why they see things as they do.  George in particular makes a real effort to take control of his life, actually all the characters do, but it's a nice contrast to his fecklessness in the first season.  I look forward to see what develops in season 3.

Belfry Witches (7/00)
BBC children's series about two apprentice witches who get thrown off Witch Island and take up residence in a small English village's church, much to the chagrin of the young vicar.  The young witches are completely irresponsible, which makes for a refreshing program in which kids are allowed to get away with things, more or less without consequences.  Not bad flying effects, but the whole thing (not too surprisingly, considering the target audience) is a bit juvenile.

Believe Nothing (1/04)
The New Statesman team of writers Marks and Gran collaborate again with Rik Mayall in this ITV sitcom.  Mayall plays "quadruple professor" Adonis Cnut (can't wait to see what my spell check does with that one!), apparently the smartest man in Britain, but still can't get in the trousers of neurotic colleague Hannah Awkward.  Cnut is also part of the secret cabal that actually runs the world, and this allows the series to tie together such diverse elements such as global warming, Watergate, and digital watches with hilarious precision.  Cnut is also advisor to Tony Blair and George W. Bush (though he merely tries to trick the later into invading Cuba), and rival to a Richard Branson-like billionaire.  Unlike most other British sitcom heroes, Cnut isn't a loser, and with the exception of conquering Prof. Awkward, pretty much succeeds with every plan he puts into action.

Bella and the Boys (3/05)
Future Doctor Who companion Billie Piper stars in this BBC TV movie about a reunion at a foster home by the now-adult children who grew up there.  And it wouldn't be dramatic if there weren't secrets to be revealed and other shoes to be dropped where love is concerned, would it?

Belonging (2/06)
Kevin Whately and Brenda Blethyn star in this TV movie by Alan Plater about a couple taking care of elderly parents whose relationship implodes suddenly one day.  He's been having an affair and just leaves Blethyn one day to be with her, sticking her with all the caregiving duties.  However, the grass may not always be greener as kids and other responsibilities are not far behind either.  Meanwhile Blethyn copes as best she can (one of Britain's great sufferers), trying to put her life together again.

The Ben Elton Show (9/98)
Writer (Black Adder) and performer Elton goes back to stand-up with a half hour series of his monologues in front of an audience about whatever is bothering him. What is unique about this series is the weekly appearance of Ronnie Corbett (The Two Ronnies) who does a two minute piece from an easy chair as if this were some Christmas special from the 1970s. The contrast between their two styles and approaches to comedy says volumes, but Elton continues to bring him on every week as a revered comic veteran. And you either like Elton's stand-up bits or you don't. Always amusing are the parodies of the BBC's new hot air balloon logo that lead into each show, and the way he turns "BBC ONE" to read "BEN ELTON".

Benidorm (7/08)
Dry ITV comedy shot on location at an "all inclusive" Spanish resort favored by British holiday makers, represented by various types including pub quizzer Johnny Vegas with his mum, Steve Pemberton and his white trash working class family, a kinky older couple, and a middle-class couple having marriage problems.

Bert and Dickie (10/12)
BBC biographical movie about 1948 Olympians Bert Bushell (Matt Smith) and Richard Burnell (Sam Hoare) who competed for Great Britain in the double sculls rowing event. Obviously this inspirational true-life story was meant to encourage Britons in the run-up to the 2012 London games, which in 1948 were held in slightly more humble circumstances in post-war austerity Britain.  Bert and Dickie famously were paired up only weeks before the Olympics and were from very different backgrounds (Bert had to get permission from his unsympathetic employers to even compete), yet in that great British tradition (like mounting an Olympics on virtually no money for a cash-strapped post-war government) they worked together to achieve the impossible.

Best of Both Worlds (1/02)
Three part BBC drama series about an airline stewardess who has a restauranteur husband in London, and somehow manages to acquire a second husband, a businessman in Italy.  Her schedule allows her to spend part of each week with the two men in her life who are blissfully unaware of the other's existence.  But she has no exit strategy, and the businessman begins to get suspicious.  What surprised me the most was the ambiguous ending, wherein our heroine doesn't take the fall we are all expecting, although she forfeits a certain amount of control in her life.

The Best of Men (10/12)
Another Olympic-inspired true-life drama for the BBC, about the German doctor, Ludwig Guttmann (Eddie Marsan), who is put in charge of soldiers with spinal fractures in a military hospital after WWII, and eventually created the Paralympics featuring disabled people from all across Britain.  Needless to say, it was an uphill battle, first being accepted as a German by the soldiers (he was Jewish escapee from the Nazis), and then the medical establishment who saw the patients as "broken" and kept them sedated and waited for them to die.  Comedian Rob Brydon turns in a solid performance as a gruff Welsh corporal who initially resists Guttmann's efforts but eventually rediscovers his place in the world even if he is in a wheelchair.

The Best Show In The World...Probably (3/98)
Game show hosted by Tony Hawks (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) based on advertising with many classic examples presented which must be cogitated by the celebrity guests, including team captain Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek). The clips are fun to watch though the series is no Have I Got News For You. At least not yet.

Beyond Fear (7/97)
Channel 5 debuted in England with this true-story about a woman who is abducted, held prisoner, and raped, and the subsequent events after she is released. Hounded by both the media and the police, she slowly attempts to put her life back together as she recalls the events. Sylvester McCoy plays her assailant, who is never clearly seen until in the dock, charged with another murder. Imagine that! Kindly old Doctor Who as a serial killer! What a world.

Beyond Narnia (4/07)
Anton Rodgers (May to December) stars as C.S. Lewis in this dramatic movie about how his despair in later life was eventually broken when he fell in love with American writer Joy Gresham and agreed to raise her two boys. 

Big Bad World (1/00)
ITV drama series starring Ardal O'Hanlon (Father Ted) as a single writer who hangs around with a married couple who try to either get him matched up with someone or at least quit hanging around all the time. The contrast between single and married life is tightly drawn, and while the series in no great shakes (and a bit of a knock-off of Cold Feet), it goes down harmlessly enough.

Big Bad World (11/13)
Blake Harrison (Way To Go) stars in this UK Comedy Central series who is desperate to get back with his ex-girlfriend (Scarlett Johnson, Pramface) but must first move back in with his reluctant parents (James Fleet, Caroline Quentin).  Harrison has perfected this sort of twentysomething bumbling idiot who can never cut his losses and see what's right in front of him. 

Big Cat (1/99)
BBC TV Movie about a shy woman who thinks she has met the man of her dreams, but flashbacks reveal he is greatly disturbed and she is slow to realize what a nutter he is until after they are married.

The Big One (9/93)
Sandi Toksvig (the short blonde one on Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and Micheal [sic] McShane (the large American guy) team up for this "Odd Couple"-like comedy. Not a great series but I like it in parts.

Big School (11/13)
David Walliams co-wrote and stars in this BBC comedy at a dysfunctional comprehensive school as Mr Church, an anally retentive chemistry teacher (with a creepy assistant played silently by Julie T Wallace) who is smitten by Miss Postern (Catherine Tate), the new French teacher. They are sort of into each other but Church's pathological need for one-upmanship causes a lot of friction in their relationship. Other staff include Philip Glenister as the crude mouth-breathing PE teacher who also has his eye (and another body part) on Postern; a large Welsh teacher who is bullied by the students; and Frances de La Tour as a chain-smoking Headmistress who greatly dislikes shenanigans. Harmless but not in a league with Jack Whitehead's similar Bad Education.

Big Top (8/10)
Amanda Holden, Tony Robinson and John Thomson star in this second-rate BBC comedy about a third-rate circus.  The scripts seem like relics from the 1970s, right down to Tony Robinson's cynical zingers at the end of every scene which you can predict every single time.  Alas, here in 2010, this sort of comedy is well past its sell-by date. 

Big Train (5/99)
Writers Graham Lineham and Arthur Mathews (Father Ted) make the jump to BBC-2 with this fast-paced sketch comedy series with regulars including Kevin Eldon (Fist of Fun) and Simon Pegg (Faith In The Future). Not every sketch they do is a winner (but neither did Monty Python), but their batting average is over .500 and the more bizarre sketches (such a look at the home life of Ming The Merciless, which is utterly middle class and banal) usually score. The only running joke in every episode is an animated staring contest that is narrated as if it were the most important sporting event in the world.

Big Women (11/98)
The history of the women's liberation movement in Britain, as chronicled by Fay Weldon (based on her novel "Big Girls Don't Cry") in this Channel 4 mini-series. Beginning in 1970, we meet the feminists who begin Medusa Press to advance the cause of the women's movement, much to the dismay of most of the men around them (and society in general). Each episode advances the story through the 80s and 90s, with one of the original character's daughters reaping the rewards of the previous generation's work. Directed by former Dennis Potter collaborator Renny Rye, with a great eye to the period details, and fine performances from the cast.

Bike Squad (1/09)
Mark Addy stars this ITV TV movie about misfit policemen who are forced to begin a bike unit that his superiors hope will fail.  Will the misfits triumph?  Have you ever seen a "Police Academy" movie?

Bill Bryson's Notes From A Small Island (9/99)
Bryson, an American who lived for many years in England, wrote a book about his perspective on British life, and now turns it into a roving commentary as he travels across the country in this ITV series. Obviously I agree nearly 100% with all his observations, although he dwells more on the architecture than I would.

Bill’s New Frock (7/99)
Andrew Davies (Game On, To Play The King) wrote this children’s special about a young teen who wakes up one day in a world where everyone thinks he’s a girl. Why does this remind me of a John Hughes story that appeared in “National Lampoon” in the late 70s called “My Vagina”? Needless to say, this new version isn’t quite as rude, but a clever turning-the-tables fantasy.

Birdsong (2/12)
Based on a popular novel about WWI, the story crosscuts between an officer serving in the trenches and flashbacks to his relationship with a married French woman six years previously. He also develops a bond with a “tunnel rat,” one of the soldiers who digs endless tunnels under no-man’s land in order to blow up the German lines from below.  Just when the grimness of the trenches gets too much, the story switches back to a more peaceful, sunny time although no less lacking in emotion.  Elaborately mounted by the BBC & Masterpiece, one of many productions centered on that era lately (Downton Abbey and “War Horse” focused a lot on the war in the trenches as well) but no less involving.  Although I sometimes find flashback stories a bit gimmicky (would the story have worked just as well if told in a linear fashion?), it works here as it connects dramatic tissue separated by many years but just as important to the characters.

Births, Marriages & Deaths (9/99)
Writer Tony Grounds treads a much darker path in this BBC mini-series about three childhood friends, now adults and married, whose secrets and lies are about to unravel their entire lives. Ray Winstone has the part Warren Clarke usually plays in Grounds' series (Gone To The Dogs), as the blow-hard who is a self-made man, although his private life is a mess.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie (3/89)
In the long-established tradition pioneered by The Two Ronnies, Alas Smith & Jones, French and Saunders, etc., the two Black Adder alumni do their sketches with plenty of gusto. Starring Stephen "Lord Melchett" Fry and Hugh "Prince George" Laurie. They hold their own here, and prove their worth as more than supporting characters. Read my feature about Hugh Laurie.

The Biz (3/95)
Short subject combining animation and live action about a pretentious filmmaker attending a party of movie industry types after the screening of his movie.

Blackadder: Back and Forth (11/00)
This 45-minute special was made for the Millennium Dome in London and recently shown on Sky TV. Set in contemporary times, Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson, of course) persuades his dinner companions (Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Miranda Richardson) that he has built a time machine and he and Baldrick will go back and retrieve various historic items they specify. It's all a Blackadderian scam of course though the irony is Baldrick's machine actually works and whisks them to various epochs. They encounter Wellington, Elizabeth the First, and Robin Hood (Rik Mayall) before returning to the present where certain changes have occurred... A fitting send-off for the series, written as usual by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, with some great production values.

Black Adder's Christmas Carol (3/89)
This 45-minute Christmas treat sets the tale in a Dickens-Victorian era but flashes back to Adders II & III. A must for fans.

Black Books (11/01)
Father Ted co-writer Graham Lineham teams up with Dylan Moran (How Do You Want Me?) for this Channel 4 sitcom about the world's worst bookseller (Moran) and his crazy world.  Bill Bailey is also on hand as a burned-out accountant who helps around the shop, while Moran perfects his Irish don't-give-a-damn loser persona.  Not quite up to the standards set by Ted but amusing enough in its own right.

Black Cab (9/03)
Ten minute shorts featuring fictional cab drivers and usually a very interesting customer and the impact their brief ride has on both of them.  Probably not even as strange as some of the things that really do go on.

Black Easter (11/95)
BBC TV Movie that is a twist on all those Cold War escaping-the-iron-curtain movies. Set in the early 21st Century, the European Union has closed its borders against illegal Russian immigration. A policeman (Trevor Eve) working in Germany investigates a murder and discovers a deadly underground railroad operating from the East. The border is now monitored by high-tech devices that scan all vehicles, but nonetheless Eve inadvertently smuggles a woman into the West who has some of the clues he needs. His attempt to get her back across the border undetected and subsequent journey back home with refugees along the smuggler's route are filled with suspense. Ultimately, a ghastly conspiracy is uncovered, with parallels to today's situation regarding Eastern Europe. Filmed on location in the Czech Republic with a literal cast of thousands.

Black Mirror (2/12)
Charlie Brooker produced this series of three one-off dramas for Channel 4 that took a look at the impact of how technology might impact society in the future.  In “The National Anthem,” a popular royal princess is kidnapped and the ransom demand is for the British prime minister to appear on live television and have sex with a pig.  Lindsay Duncan plays the PM’s ruthless advisor, and the suspense builds about whether he’ll go through it or not before the princess can be rescued.  It’s cynicism at its finest with a surprisingly happy ending although not without consequences.  The second drama, “Fifteen Million Merits” starred up-and-coming actor Daniel Kaluuya (The Fades) as Bing, a drone in a dystopian future where you literally bicycle all day to generate credits which are needed for everything from toothpaste to turning off annoying spam advertisements that fill your sleeping cubicle surround video screens. The ads are so all-pervasive that closing your eyes triggers an alarm until you open them up again and continue watching.  Despite all the high-tech shininess, it’s a lot like being in hell.  Bing notices Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey), a cute fellow bicycle jockey and discovers she has a good singing voice.  He offers to front her the 15 million merits he inherited from his brother--a fortune--as her entry fee into a popular but vicious reality competition show where a Simon Cowell-like judge is played by Rupert Everett.  Abi’s performance wows the audience but the ruthless judges decide she’d be better suited for one of the hard-core porn channels. Bing, now broke and forced to see Abi’s sex channel advertised on TVs all around him, goes back to work to earn another 15 million merits so he can get on the reality show and get his revenge.  Let’s just say, there’s a certain irony to the ending.  The final drama, “The Entire History of You” posits a world where a memory chip behind your ear allows you record every single moment of your life, play it back, and even share it with your friends.  And if you are a jealous husband who thinks his wife is having an affair, you can imagine how the arguments go when you have video backup of every single statement and comment ever spoken on the record and available for review.  Sometimes, honesty is not the best policy.

Blackout (10/12)
Three part BBC mini-series starring Christopher Eccelston as Daniel Demoys, a corrupt alcoholic town chancellor in Manchester who may have killed someone during a drunken blackout after visiting his mistress.  Nearly disgraced, he accidentally becomes a hero when he jumps in front of an assassin's bullet, and admitting his alcoholism to the world, challenges the people to elect him mayor.  And they do!  With a nurse as his sobriety partner, he tries to reform the city but the powers that be aren't pleased.  A subplot concerns his mistress's husband (Andrew Scott, Sherlock's Moriarty) as an unpopular police detective trying to find out who is his wife's lover while having to deal with corruption in his own department.

Blackout (11/13)
Chilling Channel 4 TV movie that has an extended power outage in Britain begin to break down society when it appears no end is in sight after several days.  A number of characters are followed including a family head by a survivalist equipped with a generator and food who finds out the hard way when the veneer of civilization is stripped away from his neighbors.  The gimmick of the movie is it's done in the style of "found footage" shot either with camcorders or mobile phones that document the entire story piece by piece all the way to its tragic conclusion.

Blackpool (2/06)
BBC mini-series very reminiscent of Dennis Potter's dramas with the characters breaking into popular songs and performing musical numbers.  It all centers around an greedy arcade owner (David Morrissey) whose plans to develop a casino are endangered when a dead body turns up in his business.  Investigating the crime is David Tennant (Doctor Who) as one of the strangest detective inspectors ever, who falls in love with the owner's wife even as he tries to nail him with the crime.  It's a high-wire act all the way, but there is enough panache here to make it work, and Tennant demonstrates his ability to be a leading man.

Blandings (3/13)
Over-the-top BBC adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's stories about inbred gentry getting into scrapes only Wodehouse could imagine. Timothy Spall stars as the pig-obsesssed patriarch, so dim he gives Berty Wooster a run for this money. His sister (Jennifer Saunders) is forever on his case, or trying to prevent his son or a niece from marrying "the wrong sort." Mark Williams plays the usual unflappable butler to the Blandings.  The 30 minute time is the perfect length for these light-weight tales to run their course without overstaying their welcome.

The Bleak Old House of Stuff (2/12)
A BBC comedy that is a parody of all things Dickens, with the misadventures of Jedrington Secret-Past (Robert Webb), his devoted wife Conceptiva (Katherine Parkinson) and a series of villains (Stephen Fry in the Christmas special, Tim McInnerny in the subsequent series) who try to make their lives miserable. It’s goofy stuff all right, but certainly unique (not a lot of comedies set in the 19th Century since they stopped making Blackadder) which lend it a particular charm.

The Bletchley Circle (10/12)
ITV mystery drama about four women who served as code-breakers during WWII (at Bletchley) but now it's 1953 and their hush-hush life thwarting the Nazis is behind them.  But a serial killer is stalking women around London and only Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) sees the patterns and realizes that she can find the killer. But she needs her old comrades and recruits them back together including Millie (Rachael Stirling), Jean (Julie Graham) and Lucy (Sophie Rundle).  Their husbands don't approve of their activities and it's still a secret for them to tell anyone about what they did during the war.  Nevertheless, this make-shift Scooby Gang begin to find clues and compile evidence although the killer remains one step ahead of them.  A nice variation on the police procedural, with women in the forefront and set in a era that isn't often depicted.

The Blind Date (3/01)
Ben Miller (Armstrong and Miller) has a serious role in this ITV drama about an undercover policewoman whose latest "sting" beats the murder rap while maintaining his innocence.  He commits suicide and everyone thinks that's the end of it, but when a stranger attacks her she begins to suspect the freelance crime photographer (Miller) might be involved.

Blind Men (1/98)
ITV Comedy series about rival window blind salesmen (who also live on the same street) features Jesse Birdsall (Bugs). Both men go to extreme lengths to show up the other, much to the annoyance (and expense) of their significant others. (There exists a pilot for an American remake starring Wallace Shawn which by all accounts was quite amusing.)

Bliss (11/95)
BBC TV movie about a geeky thirtysomething who doesn't know how to behave around women. Leslie Bliss dreams of winning Mastermind (Britain's answer to Jeopardy) but insists on dating women that are way out of his league. A few, including a sophisticated writer who deigns to give him mercy dates, only encourage him further to make a wally out of himself. It's a bit hard to spend 90 minutes watching a sad git on television who refuses to buy a clue when you can see it happening all around you in real life anywhere fans gather (no offense to fans, but we all know someone like that, right?).

Bliss (3/96)
No relation to the above movie with the same title. This "Bliss" stars Simon Shephard as Dr. Sam Bliss who discovers a medical conspiracy concerning possible research into a longevity drug. It's my understanding that the Bliss character will be back in other medically-based thrillers in the future.

The Blonde Bombshell (1/00)
ITV biopic about the life of Diana Dors, the British Marilyn Monroe, based on her memoirs. Pretty much all the standard scenes are here for this kind of movie, including all the bad relationships, career ups and downs, and lots of clothes and locations. Two actresses play Dors, Keeley Hawes starting as a teenager in 1947 to 1960, and then Amanda Redman for 1965 until her death from cancer in 1984. In some ways, this movie seems a throwback to the kind of era lovingly recreated in the movie, a bit anachronistic and viewed through rose-colored glasses, but they don't really make `em like this any more either.

Blue Peter Night (3/99)
Blue Peter is a live children’s magazine series that has gone out afternoons on the BBC for 40 years. Nearly every child in Britain has grown up on the series, and its presenters (and the ubiquitous Blue Peter dog) have achieved iconic status for each generation. In this special night devoted to the series, a number of documentaries and compilations were presented, including all the spoofs that have occurred over the years, and a complete (and unvarnished) history of the series. Despite one of its young presenters recently having been sacked for using cocaine, the series is going strong into the next century.

Bluestone 42 (6/13)
This BBC3 comedy features a British bomb disposal unit stationed in Afghanistan, the first time I can ever recall a TV show (either dramatic or comedic) was set during a war where combat operations were still occurring in real life. The unit is tight-knit but filled with the usual misfits who get into misadventures when they aren't disarming road side bombs (the location shooting in South Africa makes for a convincing Afghanistan).  BBC3 shows are aimed (and feature exclusively) twenty-something characters, which give it leeway to be less reverent about serious topics like war and death.

Bob and Margaret (5/99)
Animated comedy series (co-produced by Comedy Central in the U.S.) about a quintessentially Middle England professional couple. Their problems are as mundane as trying to have a romantic evening in, or a rival dentist opening up shop across the street from Bob's practice. No great shakes, although there are some good jokes about their dogs.

Bob & Rose (3/02)
Russell T. Davies (Queer As Folk) wrote this ITV series with (no relation) Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek) as Bob, a gay schoolteacher who is strangely drawn to Leslie Sharp (Playing The Field) as Rose, much to the consternation of his co-worker Jessica Stevenson (Spaced).  If it were anybody else writing this I think it would have been a bit unbelievable premise (Bob and Rose even get it on in the second episode) but clearly he must know what he is doing in this unusual relationship drama.

Bob Martin (1/02)
Michael Barrymore stars in ITV's answer to The Larry Sanders Show about the showbiz behind-the-scenes of a prima dona quiz show host (Barrymore) and his enabling staff (including Keith Allen and Denis Lawson).  Real celebrities are recruited each episode to help sell the verisimilitude and although the series gets no points for originality, the humor and pathos (particularly the latter) are genuine.

Bob Servant Independent (3/13)
This BBC Scottish comedy is about a former food van owner (Brian Cox) who decides to run for parliament as an independent during a by-election.  Aided only by his best friend as manager, Bob wasn't necessarily popular with residents before this (his tasteless remodel of his house being a major sore point) and he manages to put his foot in this mouth every single time. There is something tragically fascinating about watching a no-hoper try to achieve his dream, even when he is own worst enemy, with a stunning lack of self-awareness.

Bodily Harm (1/04)
Tony Grounds (Gone To Seed) wrote this Channel 4 mini-series about a dislocated son (Timothy Spall, a role he has perfected) who interferes with his parents plans for dual suicide and has to live with the consequences.  Relentless without relief drama.

Bomber (1/01)
ITV mini-series that is certainly different that it begins with flashbacks showing the training of a young bomb disposal expert just before going to defuse a device, then blows him to smithereens just 15 minutes after we've gotten to know him and his friends. The rest of the drama focuses on the survivors coming to grips with his death and the pursuit of the usual mad bomber.

Bonekickers (7/09)
Julie Graham and Adrian Lester star in this adventure series devised by the folks who did Life on Mars with the focus this time on a team of university archeologists who each week come across the sort of incredible discoveries usually only found in a Dan Brown novel.  You have to suspend your disbelief extremely well to swallow what you are seeing, but is it really any more nuts than believing a modern policeman was sent back to the 1970s?  Slick and enjoyable, as long as you let your brain cruise on idle.

Bonjour La Classe (3/93)
Nigel Planer (The Young Ones) is a dim French teacher at a goofy private school, the kind one only finds on a BBC sitcom. Harmless but not earthbreaking stuff.

Bonkers (7/08)
Sally Wainwright (At Home With the Braithwaites) wrote this ITV farce about Helen (Liza Tarbuck), a happily married middle-class schoolteacher who discovers on their 20th anniversary that her husband has been cheating on her and kicks him out. Her neighbors, brothers and even son are all up to sexual escapades as well, but the kicker is Helen's house becomes inhabited by Felix, the sexy movie star of her dreams who has fallen into a coma while on location in New Zealand and now only she can see him! Is it a dream come true or, as she suspects, she has finally gone bonkers?

The Book Group (3/03)
A very diverse collection of individuals in Glasgow get together each week, ostensibly to discuss a novel, but instead we learn a lot more about them in this interesting Channel 4 series.  In the opener, we meet Claire, an American who is so lonely and desperate for a shag she starts the book group, then manages to alienate nearly everyone with her brusque American manner and cluelessness about British etiquette.  The others include a paraplegic, an intellectual druggie, and three foreign soccer wives.  Everyone is messed up in one degree or another, and not surprisingly, they hardly find the time to actually discuss whatever book is on that week.  Ben Miller (Armstrong and Miller) pops up halfway through the series as a very insecure British writer of American action thrillers who desperately needs their validation of his work.

Boom Boom! (11/95)
A short about the Nightclub From Hell. Any movie that begins with a loaded gun foreshadows violence, and that's just what happens when an audience gets out of control during a revue. The only question is who is going to get shot.

The Booze Cruise (5/04)
Martin Clunes and Neil Pearson star in this ITV comedy movie about a group of neighbors who head to France to pick up cheap booze.  Things go wrong of course and all the character's lives are going to change forever due to events that transpire both on the road and back home where Clune's daughter is due to be married.

Born & Bred (9/03)
Period 1950s BBC family drama about a rural doctor (James Bolam) who lures his wayward son (former EastEnder Michael French) away from the city to practice medicine with him.  Full of wholesome goodness, which might be the point, but for all its earnestness, also completely lacking in subtlety or humor.

Born Equal (4/08)
Colin Firth stars as a banker who one day sees a homeless man and tries to do the right thing, only to have it ultimately blow up in his face in this grim BBC TV movie. Robert Carlyle also stars as a  homeless advocate recently released from prison.

Born To Be Wild (1/99)
John Cleese does the BBC Nature documentary but in his own inimitable style. No David Attenborough, Cleese constantly complains about the conditions and how out of shape he is as he treks deep into Madagascar in search of lemurs that have been reintroduced into the wild. But he is sincere in his interest in the lemurs even as he curses into the jungle, "You bastards!" after a particularly frustrating no-show by them for the cameras. Co-produced by WNET, this should turn up on PBS eventually, and is well worth catching.

Born To Run (9/97)
Used car salesman Byron has a problem with women: his lover Judith wants him to leave his dull wife Bron, his mother Lily (Billie Whitelaw) becomes a sexual dynamo after his father goes into a coma, and his two sisters are the worst sort of harpies. This BBC drama series has marathon running as a subtext, with Judith unwittingly training both Lily and Bron to race, while worrying herself when she discovers she's pregnant with Byron's baby. Whitelaw steals the show as a New Age Free Love woman who takes up with one of Byron's mechanics half her age, and won't let her scheming family get the best of her.

The Borrowers (2/12)
Another adaptation of the Mary Norton novels about little people who live under the floorboards of houses and help themselves to whatever they can scrounge.  This BBC TV family movie is chock full of stars including Christopher Eccleston as Pod, the father of the Clock borrower family who live in the house of a granny (Victoria Wood).  Pod’s daughter Arrietty has never been allowed up into the house and being a rebelliously teenage girl, one night takes it upon herself to equip up and see what it’s all about.  She immediately is spotted and caught by one of the Beans (what borrowers call normal folks like us).  Fortunately it’s the young grandson James who immediately bonds with Arrietty.  Meanwhile a blustery professor (Stephen Fry) has theorized for years about the existence of borrowers and when Granny spots Arrietty he gets into the act to get the proof he needs.  The Clocks go on the run and Pod enlists the help of Spiller (Robert Sheehan, late of Misfits).  Sheehan plays the same kind of lovable rogue he did on that series, although without the swearing.  When the professor captures Arrietty’s parents, she and Spiller must rescue them before they are revealed to the world.  Fry, as the nominal villain of the piece, doesn’t quite go into Christmas panto territory but it would not be unjust to call his performance in The Borrowers as broad.  Very broad.  Eccleston does what he does best, playing a tightly wound character--you would be too with an impulsive daughter like Arrietty he is desperate to protect--but he gets to do a lot of climbing and adventuring that aren’t normally part of the dramas he’s typically cast in.  And it goes without saying that 2011 production values give “The Borrowers” nearly seamless interaction between the little people and Beans, and the oversized world they inhabit.

Bo' Selecta! (1/04)
Very odd channel 4 comedy starring Avid Merrion as a series of famous characters mostly achieved through very over-the-top makeup appliances.  Sort of the flip side of Dead Ringers with Avid merely satirizing celebrities without really trying to look or even sound like them.

Bosom Pals (11/04)
Stylized animated series about bawdy women who hang around in a bar trash talking men, other women, or themselves.  Dawn French does one of the voices, and the whole thing is very earthy.

The Boss
US title for Jim Broadbent's 1995 series The Peter Principle.

Bostock's Cup (1/00)
An interesting conceit for a "mockumentary" with a movie within a movie here. Nick Hancock (host of the sports quiz They Think It's All Over) plays a newscaster often passed over for promotion who organizes a reunion of participants in a cinema verite documentary made 25 years about a soccer team. We get to see the documentary, with washed out 70s colors, and horrific hairstyles on everyone including the Des Lynam-like presenter Neil Pearson, and manager Tim Healy. But in the present day, Hancock has a surprise for everyone with recently discovered outtakes that cast a whole new light on the "miracle season" in the movie.

Bottom (7/95)
Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson star in this sitcom where no joke is too low. In a way, this could be seen as The Young Ones ten years later, although the level of physical humor has been greatly accelerated. It's almost a live-action cartoon with the amount of destruction each of them endure (and cause) each week. Definitely not high-brow material. After touring with these characters for years, they produced a theatrical movie, "Guest House Paradiso."

Boy Meets Girl (3/10)
ITV fantasy/drama series about a lazy box store employee and conspiracy theorist (Martin Freeman) who swaps bodies with a sexy newspaper columnist (Rachel Sterling).  Now he has to pretend to be a lady (and not freak out her fiancee played by Paterson Joseph) while looking for a his missing body.  Goofy as it is, this is an old plot but a good supporting cast (including Angela Griffin, Marshall Lancaster and James Lance) help the time pass by fairly painlessly.

The Brain Drain (7/93)
From the same producers as Have I Got News For You, host Jimmy Mulville (Chelmsford 123) does his best Angus Deayton impression in order to have his celebrity panel make fun of current affairs. A nice attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice but it didn't catch on.

Brass Eye (7/97)
Controversial Channel 4 series that was originally held back for transmission. Written and presented by Christopher Morris (The Day Today), this send-up of TV news magazines very often used unwitting celebrities as part of its fake coverage. At one point (which is what got the series in hot water), members of Parliament were convinced there was a dangerous new drug sweeping the streets of London called "cake," which led to calls to "ban cake." Other TV celebrities are duped into endorsing all sorts of improbable causes, while Morris (in many guises) reports on the "issue" using state-of-the-art (and over-the-top) computer graphics as much as possible. If you're in on the joke, Brass Eye is a brilliant satire, but not everyone was amused.

Brazen Hussies (3/97)
Part of the BBC's "Wicked Women" season, Julie Walters and Robert Lindsay (GBH) star in this TV movie about the wife of a publican who decides to get even for his "stripper nights" by doing a show for the ladies featuring young male strippers. Lindsay ends up helping her out, although his own infidelities come home to haunt him. The women get their own back in the end of course (hence the season) but not before a LOT of male flesh is exposed first.

Breathless (2/14)
It's "Mad Men" with British gynecologists instead of New York ad men in this ITV/Masterpiece series set in the 1950s.  Alas, it's lacking the sophistication and layers that makes "Mad Men" so memorable. Jack Davenport (Coupling) has the Don Draper part, the suave ladies man and top dog in a London hospital, but a man with dark secrets, even as he seduces the ladies and performs secret, illegal abortions on the side. Despite a great cast including Iain Glen as a creepy detective, Sarah Parish as a nightclub owner, and Joanna Page as a wife married to an insecure anesthesiologist (Shaun Dingwall), Breathless, despite good intentions, never rises above the level of being a period soap opera.

Breed of Heroes (1/95)
BBC TV movie about the British army's initial occupation of Belfast in the early 70s. Perhaps no organization in the world has more rigid customs than the British army (see Monty Python's Meaning of Life for more examples). But they are way out of their depth facing a guerrilla war in a major British city sometimes against women and children. Some of the officers crack, others learn to kill without remorse. A sobering piece, without many answers.

Bremner, Bird & Fortune (7/00)
Essentially a retitling of Channel 4's Rory Bremner - Who Else? giving credit to two of his co-stars, with Bremner continuing his wicked impersonations of the great and powerful, with much political satire provided by everyone.

Brides In the Bath (7/04)
Continuing ITV's tradition of TV movies based on the great British serial killers (including A Is For Acid and Shipman), this time with Martin Kemp (EastEnders) as George Smith,  a serial bigamist and murderer who killed for profit in the years before World War I.  His modus operandi was to kill his newlywed wives in the bathtub, drowning them so it appeared as an accident.  Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter's uncle) is his defense attorney at his trial but Smith's obvious guilt was too difficult to hide and he was executed in 1915.

The Brief (10/05)
Alan Davies stars in this ITV drama about lawyers that owes a lot to "Perry Mason" in uncovering whodunnits.  His character has been saddled with back-stabbing co-workers at his chambers, his adulterous girlfriend married to an MP, and an estranged son living in Australia.

Bright Hair (1/98)
Two-part BBC mystery drama about a malicious schoolgirl who may or may not have committed murder. Is she a cunning seductress or just an innocent victim?

Brilliant! (7/98)
What BBC America has renamed The Fast Show for no particularly good reason.

Britain's Got The Pop Factor ... And Probably A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice (7/09)
As you might guess, this a parody of "Idol"-like talent competitions, done in style by Peter Kay in this Channel 4 special.  He does it properly with all the trimmings including the jaw-droppingly awful auditions of the finalists, insane judges, perky presenter, and freak show contestants.  We see their back stories, complete with melodramatic videos where everybody cries, as well as the big production numbers on stage.  The two finalists end up being Geraldine, a post-op Irish transsexual (Kay), and a singing act featuring two wheelchair-bound sisters called "Two Up, Two Down" (their husbands push them around on stage).  Kay is very clever, and you never catch anyone telling an actual joke, you are just meant to laugh at the insanity of it all, like some weird parallel universe where these sort of people could actually succeed.  Yet, is it really that much different than the real thing?  I suspect the real viewers of the shows Kay is targeting probably weren't watching this, or at least getting the joke.

Britain's Real Monarch (11/04)
Tony Robinson, thanks to Time Team, has become the go-to guy for British historical documentaries, particularly ones that attempt to uncover some heretofore unearthed truth.  In a fascinating two-piece work starting with an episode of Fact or Fiction, he begins by looking at the life of Richard III to determine whether Shakespeare got it right, or whether it was all a big smear campaign by the Tudors after the fact.  In doing so, Robinson comes across nearly conclusive proof that Richard's brother King Edward was in fact illegitimate (their father was in France at the time of conception and Edward, unlike Richard, looked nothing like him).  Thus, Richard's moves to get rid of his nephews after Edward's death (not wanting an illegitimate line assuming the throne when he himself had an authentic claim) seem better motivated.  When the Tudors took over post-Richard III, it was all based on false legitimacy, according to Robinson.  So who is the real king?  In a follow-up program, Britain's Real Monarch,  Robinson does all the genealogical research following Richard's various heirs and descendants throughout history and eventually locates a very middle class republican now living in Australia!  They even visit his home (he says he doesn't need the throne now, thank you very much).  Meanwhile, what of the Windors, the current inhabitants of Buckingham Palace?  Some parallel Earth security footage from a supermarket at the end shows a familiar looking woman with a German accent doing some light shopping for the weekend...

The Brittas Empire (5/94)
The sitcom that Chris ("Rimmer") Barrie does when he isn't working on Red Dwarf. As leisure center manager Gordon Brittas, Barrie plays a character so anal that Craig Charles said of it, "Playing Rimmer is a step up the social ladder." Uncharacteristically, the BBC produced eight episodes for the fourth season, all of them chronicling the misadventures at the craziest leisure center in the world. There is a cliffhanger of sorts in episode seven: in order to protect his wife from shoplifting charges, Gordon finally resigns as manager. But the story isn't over quite yet. This series improves with each year--you keep wondering what can go wrong next, and something always manage to--in spades.

(5/95)
Supposedly the final season of this Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf) sit-com about the World's Worst Manager at a Leisure Center. Plenty of loose ends are tied up (once the building is rebuilt from last season's explosion), plus there is a special Christmas episode to show what happens to all the characters 20 years from now.

(11/96)
It's back for a sixth season, all the more remarkable considering Gordon Brittas was killed at the end of the last season. But with a few months in a Swiss clinic and "bionic" rebuilding he's back, as annoying as ever, watching destruction reign at the Leisure Center he manages.

Broadchurch (6/13)
This ITV mini-series written by Chris Chibnall (Torchwood) about a murder in a small coastal village was a huge ratings hit both for its whodunit mystery (viewers were left guessing right up until the final episode) and as a serious drama about the police investigation headed up by David Tennant and Olivia Colman. Tennant is the outsider brought in to help, much to the consternation of Colman's character who has lived in the village her whole life. But he is haunted by past mistakes on a similar case and slowly begins to unravel, and it becomes a question of whether he can hold it together long enough to solve the case. There are tons of suspects and red herrings including the grieving father (Andrew Buchan), the newsdealer with a past (David Bradley), and a suspicious priest (Arthur Darvill). Chibnall really makes the entire village come alive, so much so, there will be another season featuring the characters, even though the central mystery has been resolved.

The Broker's Man (9/97)
Kevin Whately stars in a series of two-part mysteries as an insurance investigator whose home life is a shambles. Though you wouldn't know it by looking at him, Kevin is quite the ladies man, one of the reasons his wife has divorced him - she caught him with his young boss once. But as a detective he always doggedly finds the scam or the goods, much like a latter-day Banacek.

Brotherly Love (7/00)
Gregor Fisher (Rab C Nesbitt) stars in this BBC Scottish comedy pilot about two brothers, one the prodigal son who returns home and suddenly inherits the local pub, much to the chagrin of his doctor sibling.

Brothers In Trouble (9/97)
BBC-2 TV movie about illegal Pakistani immigrants living together in a large house during the 1970s. One of them ends up with a white, pregnant girlfriend who eventually becomes the "mum" to the men keeping the house in order. But the threat of immigration authorities is never far away, nor the cultural differences between the men and the woman.

Bruiser (11/01)
Lively sketch comedy series with recurring gags (such as the nutter who keeps making highly suspicious inquiries at shops) and other bits of non-sequitor silliness.  A pretty good hit-to-miss ratio makes for humorous viewing.

The Bubble (8/10)
David Mitchell hosts this panel show where three celebrities spend a week isolated in a house with no access to outside information and then are quizzed on the week's news.  The series was crippled by BBC News' refusal to participate creating the fake news stories used to bluff the contestants, and the series' lower production values might have played better on radio.  There are better current events news quizzes on television (Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week) and the funniest bits of The Bubble were the scenes showing the people trying to keep busy in the house (and we've seen that show before, it's called Big Brother). 

Bugs (9/95)
Glossy high-tech adventure series from the BBC. A contradiction in terms? Maybe. In this Brian Clemens-developed series (he also did The Avengers), three twentysomethings team up together and use their skills to defeat the forces of evil. One is an expert pilot and daredevil, the other an ex-spy, and their boss is a young black woman who is a genius computer hacker. The plotting is almost out of a comic book: the bad guys are all rotten shots and our heroes always have the right gadget at the right time which works flawlessly (unless an extra moment of suspense is required). The BBC must have spent a fortune on this 9-episode series: there are helicopter chase scenes, wild stunts, beautiful cinematography on film, and plenty of explosions. The whole thing reminds me of those escapist ITV adventure shows from the 60s like The Champions and Secret Agent. I suspect like them, the BBC is counting on foreign sales to commercial stations to help break even: each episode of Bugs already contains two fade-outs for commercial breaks.

(11/96)
The BBC's glossy adventure series returns for a second series, this time with a running plotline involving a criminal mastermind working from his prison cell quietly manipulating everything our unsuspecting heroes do. Bwah-ha-HA!

Burnt Bits (5/99)
British TV is overrun with cooking shows (or "cookery programs," as they refer to them), so it's natural that a few things might have gone wrong during the shooting. That's right, this is a blooper program about cooking, and I suppose assuming how much can go wrong with food, it's probably amazing there aren't more on-air disasters.

Burn Up (7/09)
Canadian/British co-production (which explains the presence of actors such as Neve Campbell and Bradley Whitford alongside Marc Warren (Hustle) and Rupert Perry-Jones (Spooks)) in this BBC mini-series drama set at a global warming summit.  There is a lot of running around, chases (and acting, to be fair) but about as subtle a tract as Fields of Gold was about genetically modified foods a few years ago.

Burn Your Phone (7/97)
Alan Cumming (Bernard and the Genie, The High Life) stars in and directed this short about a phone operator who keeps getting increasingly sinister and threatening calls he can't trace.

Burton and Taylor (11/13)
BBC TV movie docu-drama about the reunion of Elizabeth Taylor (Helena Bonham-Carter) and Richard Burton (Dominic West) in a 1980s revival of Noel Coward's "Private Lives" on Broadway.  Having famously had an affair on the set of "Cleopatra" decades earlier, as well as several notorious marriages (and divorces), the press can't get enough of this, and audiences flock to the theater to see what will happen each evening. Taylor is a huge prima donna of course, but Burton thinks he knows how to tame her, but then discovers she has the wrong end of the stick when it comes to their relationship.  Much of this has to be speculation, as many scenes occur with just the two of them alone in a room where there were no witnesses, but that doesn't mean it's not fun to wonder just what went on.

Butter (5/96)
A short movie written and directed by Alan Cumming (Bernard and the Genie, The High Life) about a successful executive (Hillary Lyon) and her addiction to fatty foods. With cameos by Richard Wilson, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Richard E. Grant.

By Any Means (11/13)
Tony Jordon co-created this overly slick BBC police drama about an elite "impossible missions" force of cops who get assignments from Gina McKee to go after baddies the regular police can't touch.  The influence of Hustle is very strong here, as our gang plan an elaborate ruse to trap their victim, it appears to all go wrong near the end, but SURPRISE, thanks to scenes we weren't shown earlier, they planned ahead for the disastrous contingency and win the day.  And this happens every single week without fail. I suppose on one hand it's no different than paying to see a magician perform where there's a tacit agreement between him and the audience that even though we know he is fooling us, we allow ourselves to be entertained by the spectacle and not knowing how it's done. But as a TV drama, I remain unconvinced.

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (rkj@eskimo.com).
June 1, 2014