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Dates refer to when review was written
Da Ali G Show (11/01)
Sacha Baron Cohen created "the voice of youth," Ali G, a Tommy Hilfinger-wearing semi-ethnic wannabe, originally for The 11 O'Clock Show and was so successful that Channel Four spun him off on his own comedy series. Ali's big claim to fame (at least until everyone in Britain got wise to it) was to interview members of the Establishment and make them look like fools with his moronic questions. It's amazing how many fell for it (I guess they don't watch late night telly on Four) although Ali has had to take his act on the road to America sometimes in order to find unsuspecting victims for his comic assaults (an assistant director for the FBI plays right into his hands with hilarious results). Studio guests including Mohammed Al-Fayed (owner of Harrods and defender of a notorious libel suit in Britain) turn up as well (presumably in on the joke). To his credit, after appearing in a Madonna video, Baron-Cohen has hung up his Ali G gear rather than beat a one-joke gimmick to death. But who will represent "Britain's youth" now?
Like Keeping Mum, this sitcom is about adult children of parents who drive them mad, in this case Alan (Kevin McNally) whose short fuse is continually lit by the well-meaning but maddening George Cole. Not to mention Alan's teenage son who is already driving him crazy and you wonder how Alan ever managed to make it to middle age in one piece. Not brilliant, but Cole, as always, is impossible to hate.
Dalziel and Pascoe (11/96)
Three separate detective mysteries starring Warren Clarke (Moving Story, Sleepers) as annoying working class detective Dalziel (pronounced DEE-el) who along with his new partner, the Oxford educated Pascoe, get involved in movie-length cases each with its own milieu. The first, "A Clubbable Woman," is based at the Rugby Association Dalziel is a member, and involves murder, a scandal, and secrets. Pascoe is completely out of his depths here. But the shoe is on the other foot in the second story, "An Advancement of Learning," set in Oxford and involving Pascoe's fiance, where a body is discovered under a 20-year-old statue and more skeletons are uncloseted in the process. The final story, "An Autumn Shroud," has Dalziel end up by accident at the stately home of a recent widow where more mysterious activities rapidly turn up. These co-productions with A&E allegedly showed here with extra footage. In any event, they're worth checking out.
Two new feature-length mysteries based on the Reginald Hill books with the double act of working-class Yorkshireman Dalziel (Warren Clarke) and his partner, the Oxford educated Pascoe. In the first, "Under World," the body of a coal miner gone missing for years and thought responsible for a child-killing resurrects hidden secrets, as well as hidden passions for Pascoe's wife Ellie. In "Child's Play," we learn some new things about Detective Wield when a long-lost heir shows up setting off a family's scramble for the estate.
In new feature-lengthed movies, "Bones and Silence" the odd-couple team of midlands detectives get involved in case of adultery and murder, while dour DI Dalziel (Warren Clarke) is drafted to play God for a play by a visionary director (Josette Simon, looking like she just stepped off the set of Blake’s 7 17 years ago!). In "The Wood Beyond" flashbacks to Pascoe's grandfather in WWI are connected to a murder in contemporary times.
Dancing On the Edge (3/13)
Stephen Poliakoff wrote and directed this ambitious BBC mini-series set in 1930s London about the rise and fall of the Louis Lester Band, jazz musicians who eventually play for the Prince of Wales. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Louis, a British born bandleader who comes to the attention of music magazine writer Stanley (Matthew Goode) who promotes the band and eventually gets them an ongoing gig as permanent residents in the posh Imperial Hotel. At first their jazz music is not well-received by the establishment, but patrons (including Anthony Head and Jacqueline Bisset) who are eager to experience the next new thing help them open the right doors, meet the right people, and eventually even get on the staid old BBC. But Poliakoff also examines the racism of the era, though not as bad as America at the time, most of the characters (admittedly upper class) treat Louis and his band as equals, at least when everything is going well. But when the lead singer (Angel Coulby) is discovered dead and Louis suspects the young protege of mysterious American tycoon Masterson (John Goodman), things turn ugly and Louis isn't sure who, if anyone, is still his ally. Louis sometimes is a bit too paranoid for his own good, although based on his experiences, not entirely unjustified.
The Dark Room (1/00)
Dervla Kirwan (Ballykissangel) stars in this two-part BBC drama as an amnesiac accident victim who may have committed a double murder. Her manipulative father (Paul Freeman, the villain in "Raiders of the Lost Ark") tries to pull strings, but the police are hot on the trail and she is the chief suspect. Will her memory return in time to solve the mystery or is someone after her as well?
The Darling Buds of May (3/93)
Most of the urban young people I know in the UK hate this series because it represents the past, a simpler time, and they see it having no bearing on their current situation. Fair enough, but I quite enjoy it. The Larkin family are practically the Waltons incarnate, and it is jolly good to see people act nicely towards each other and have things turn out well. In a way it is almost an anti-soap opera: warm family values instead of characters forever doing dirt to each other as the tragedies pile on. Considering the huge popularity of soap operas in the UK, it is refreshing to see a drama take a much different approach - and be successful. Catherine Zeta-Jones began her career playing David Jason's daughter in this series.
Channel 4 series about a series of first dates that at first go spectacularly wrong but then head off in an unexpected direction. It appears to be an anthology series with a different set of characters each week, but then old ones come back and we realize we're seeing one interconnected universe. The cast included Ben Chaplin, Will Mellor, Andrew Scott, Oona Chaplin, Greg McHugh, Gemma Chan and Sheridan Smith.
The Day Britain Stopped (3/04)
Chilling (and fortunately entirely fictional) documentary about a transportation disaster that begins as a chain reaction on the M25 motorway and ends with a mid-air collision between two jetliners over Heathrow. Done in riveting BBC style with interviews, reenactments, and actual "footage" that recreates the incident after the fact and looks for answers. The gist of the writer's message is Britain's transportation system is an interlocking mess and the conditions still exist for what he showed dramatically could still occur in real life.
Daydream Believers (1/03)
A clever pilot from Channel 4's "Comedy Lab" about a suburban hack sci-fi writer whose interactions with friends and neighbors become elements of the space epic he is working on, dramatized in hilarious low-budget glory using the same actors. Sadly this did not go to series but I'm hoping that creators David Mitchell and Robert Webb are given another shot with something equally amusing.
Day Return To Space (3/00)
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the moon landing (and British TV did a lot more coverage in July 1999 than I saw here in the US), Channel 4 made a fascinating documentary about new rocket concepts that might be used in the next voyage to another world.
Days Like These (9/99)
ITV's remake of That 70s Show fails for so many reasons: for one thing, the experiences of teenagers in a small town in Wisconsin do not translate into Luton, England. Having a car is everything in Wisconsin where the nearest civilization is literally hundreds of miles away. But with London a mere train ride away from Luton, the teenage "car culture" doesn't really need to develop. And Eric Foreman's parents are played all wrong too. As Red in That 70s Show, Kurtwood Smith is the perfect terrorizing father figure, not so much for what he'll do physically but how he can cut you down to size just by calling you a "dumbass." But Trevor Cooper (Star Cops) in the same part can't bring the same moral authority (or call anybody a dumbass), which diminishes his impact. And Eric's mom (rather than Donna's) is played as an airhead. Even though the scripts are based on the American edition, this is like watching a road show version, with a cast that's not quite ready for prime time yet. ITV lost millions on this series and it was quickly pulled.
The Day Today (5/94)
A news parody that makes KYTV (see separate listing) seem sedate. Anything goes here and FOX would do well to imitate this series when their late-night news parody comes on later this year. Tremendous production values and graphics, and delivered completely with a straight face.
DCI Banks (11/11)
Stephen Tomkinson (Ballykissangel), usually cast as a dim-bulb, gets to play a hard man for a change, a Yorkshire police detective inspector solving grisly two-part mysteries in this ITV1 series. Essentially the series is Inspector Morse but set in the North, with a supporting cast of detectives and Banks' interactions with the suspects and his team. Based on the novels by Peter Robertson, the mysteries are nicely adapted by a broadcaster that is well experienced in these sorts of crime dramas.
Sharon Horgan co-wrote and stars in this series as Helen, a woman wrongly accused of murdering her boss and sent to a women's prison run by a wacky warden (Jennifer Saunders) in this BBC-3 comedy. The premise only sustains itself as long as the entire series is populated by dumb, selfish characters. Don't attempt to apply logic or real-world situations to anything that happens on screen. Told in a serialized format, in addition to prison life we see the machinations at Helen's old company as her co-workers scramble for power, her easily intimidated lawyer, and her sister who isn't especially bothered to work on freeing Helen. A number of big name guest stars turn up including Caroline Quentin and Miranda Richardson.
Dead Man Weds (4/07)
Johnny Vegas stars in this ITV sitcom as a lazy journalist at a small town rag who suddenly has to shape up when a new no-nonsense editor takes over. Conveniently a legitimate scandal appears in the making with a large American conglomerate up to no-good in town and our heroes hot on the story. The title of the series comes from Vegas' best-ever headline.
Dead Ringers (3/03)
Celebrity impersonations are the feature of this sketch comedy series that makes a leap from BBC radio. Most noteworthy is Jon Culshaw, a Tom Baker lookalike dressed like Doctor Who in a furniture store making life hell for unsuspecting salesmen (prank phone calls to celebrities as "The Doctor" was his trademark on the radio).
Dead Set (3/10)
TV critic Charlie Brooker devised this brilliant concept: What if zombies attacked the Big Brother house? And we're off! We get a quick glimpse of the behind-the-scenes personnel (including the fire-breathing producer) before all hell breaks loose and we are given a proper zombie movie with tons of gore, death and destruction. Eventually a few survivors hole up inside the Big Brother house (including a plucky production assistant), but the producer's eventual insistence on doing things his way or the highway spells disaster in this novel E4 mini-series.
Death In Paradise (11/11)
A BBC-French TV co-production mystery drama set in Saint Marie, a Caribbean island that conveniently has a locked-door murder each week. Brought in to solve them is Detective Inspector Richard Poole (Ben Miller) from the Met, which sets up a classic fish-out-of-water interplay with the more laid-back members of the Saint Marie police force. Miller seems a bit miscast as a crack detective who has no clue about human relations, similar to his uptight character in Primeval. But it's an opportunity to cast many well-known black actors including Danny John-Jules, and with guest appearances by Patterson Joseph, Lenora Crichlow, and Don Warrington. ITV have been doing this genre for so long that you expect a particular style and when the BBC give it a shot, something just seems a bit off. Maybe it's Miller's casting, or the attempt to combine humor and murder, but for fans of whodunnits who enjoy beautiful scenery, you could do a lot worse.
The Debt (5/04)
Warren Clarke plays a reformed safecracker whose witless son-in-law (The Office's Martin Freeman) involves him with a gangster and "one more job." Of course it all goes south but what it fascinating is the movie mainly told in flashbacks that give incredible background and detail to the main characters, particularly the police detective so intent on busting Clarke for the crime. Ironically, Clarke once played The Locksmith on another BBC drama, so now you could say he's seen both sides of the biz.
Dee Construction: The Simon Dee Story (7/04)
Simon Dee was to British 1960s talk shows what Johnny Carson was in the U.S. Jumping from pirate Radio Caroline to the BBC, he quickly got his own series and was arguably one of the most famous people in Britain by the late 1960s (even appearing in the classic "The Italian Job" opposite Michael Caine). And then, when the BBC refused to give him a raise, he went over to David Frosts' rival London Weekend Television, bombed (particularly after an on air incident involving George Lazenby) and was off the air within a year, a pariah on TV for 33 years and a cautionary tale of those who succeed too quickly. Or was he? In this documentary presented by TV critic Victor Lewis-Smith, Dee's rise and fall is chronicled in the context of its time, as well as letting him participate in a round table discussion with various TV producers (including Rumpole creator John Mortimer). Needless to say, 33 year in exile has left Dee a little bit bitter, shall we say? and maybe a lot more paranoid (Lewis-Smith can't resist playing some of the ranting phone messages left by Dee as the show was being put together). Channel 4, which produced the show, even lets Dee back on air for one night only doing his old chat show, although the speed he goes through guests barely leaves any time for chat.
The Deep (10/10)
Remember the James Cameron movie "The Abyss" from 21 years ago? If you liked that, you'll like The Deep, an underwater BBC drama starring James Nesbitt and Minnie Driver as scientists. Tobias Menzies (Rome's Brutus) plays a mysterious military attache who takes charge to go on a recovery mission near thermal vents deep under the ocean. But Something Weird is going on. There are mysterious deaths, international conspiracies, and two characters are having an affair--something that comes a huge shock to rest of the crew but to nobody who has ever seen a drama before. BBC Wales produced this series which has pretty good special effects, although the inside of the submarine seems far too spacious with oddly nondescript corridors. Unlike the Cameron film the aliens are a no-show, but if you aren't interested in seeing pretty good actors trapped underwater for six episodes, maybe this isn't the series for you.
Degrees of Error (3/96)
First of two medical thrillers that ran this month. A female doctor takes a job in a testing lab and becomes aware of a conspiracy to cover up the possible side-effects of a popular drug. A fascinating, if fictional, look at how far the pharmaceutical industry will go to cover their ass when there is big money involved.
Delta Wave (11/96)
Children's SF adventure series (a kind of "Tomorrow People Lite") about two gifted children with psychic powers and the female University professor who takes care of them. A series of two-part adventures has the trio get into all sorts of trouble while traveling around the country in a mobile home. Juvenile but effective, with many familiar faces as guest stars: Graham Crowden, Nickolas Grace, Una Stubbs and Mac MacDonald to name a few.
Griff Rhys-Jones and Martin Clunes star in this 6-part drama about two comedians struggling after the War (to "demob" is to be demobilized--discharged--from the Army in England). Touching and surprising, you really care about these guys and hope they can manage some kind of success. Dramatic and funny. Worth catching.
Demolition Day (11/04)
First we had Scrapheap Challenge (aka "Junkyard Wars") where teams competed to build stuff, now they have to create various items and then attempt to make them survive their opponent's demolition efforts using heavy machinery. The best part of these shows is the near the end as hydraulic hammers and caterpillar tractors wreak havoc on carefully constructed buildings.
The Demon Headmaster (7/96)
Children's drama about a sinister school administrator who has hypnotized his students into being obedient drones. When a gang of children thwart him, he sets his sights on a larger target: the Prime Minister. The kids get into so many dangerous stunts during each episode that a voice-over during the credits continually advises viewers not to try this at home.
The Demon Headmaster returns to again threaten the world, this time from a genetics research center, with only the kids from SPLAT able to stop him in this BBC Children's series.
Dennis Potter--Terminal Cancer (7/94)
An interview conducted with the late television playwright (The Singing Detective, Pennies From Heaven) only two months before he died of liver and pancreatic cancer on June 7th. Conducted in a TV studio by Melvyn Bragg, Potter is only able to keep going by drinking liquid morphine. He talks about his career and his final two plays which have yet to be produced: Karaoke and Cold Lazarus. Even though optioned to two different channels, he hopes they'll be shown consecutively. According to "Anglophile," a dispute between producer Kenith Trodd and director Renny Rye is holding up production of either. This fascinating look at one of the best writers ever in the medium is supposedly going to be shown here in America.
Ricky Gervais starred in this one-off drama for Channel 4 (done in the usual style of a docudrama where he can play to the camera) as a mentally-challenged worker at an old folks home. Heeding the advice of Robert Downey Jr in "Tropic Thunder," Gervais does not go "full retard" in his portrayal, although I'd like to see him get away from the documentary format he favors on TV.
Derren Brown (11/04)
Derren is sort of the Amazing Kreskin of the 21st Century, doing hypnosis, mind-games, and various bits of deception on various members of the public (and we at home). He obviously has studied human behavior quite a bit, and knows someone pliable to suggestion when he sees them. The result is an entertaining Channel 4 series full of "how did he do that" moments, and tricks that rely on observation and people's habits.
Derren Brown: Apocalypse (12/12)
The illusionist really pulls the wool over an unsuspecting slacker in this two-part Channel 4 special by convincing him he's one of the few survivors during a zombie apocalypse. But it's not to prank him or make him look foolish, but rather inspiring him to develop skills (leadership, bravery, empathy) that will prove useful once the experiment is over.
Derren Brown: Fear & Faith (12/12)
In this two-part Channel 4 documentary, Brown first manages to persuade a huge group of people to overcome their phobias using a placebo and an elaborate fake medical company set up complete with doctors and scientists. Secondly, he finds a deliberately agnostic non-religious woman and in just 15 minutes is able to have her believe she's having a religious experience. He is the master of persuasion and fills the hour with examples of how human being's attempts to find patterns in randomness can lead to some thinking there's a divine hand involved. Skeptics should find much to rejoice here as usual.
Derren Brown: Hero At 30,000 Feet (10/10)
Brown broadcast live from an airplane hanger as he told us we were about to watch Matt, a young man, through a journey from bystander to take-charge hero in 30 days without really knowing he was the subject of the show. The way his introductions were staged, it appeared like events would be happening in real time, although if you thought about it afterwards, you'd realize that the events, including the climax must have been done several days earlier. Matt first is subjected to a fake hold-up at a gas station where actors hold a gun on him and threaten him. Hidden cameras follow his progress as we see his behavior begin to change. He breaks into a policeman's house after finding his wallet, but he also gives a life-changing talk to an actor playing a disgruntled delivery driver. He meets Derren for the first time but thinks he's just being considered for a game show he might be doing and ties Matt up in a straitjacket and leaves him on a railroad with an oncoming train approaching. Finally, fear-of-flying Matt is told he has to fly to Jersey to participate on the program, and in a plane full of actors, an emergency is staged and we find out whether Matt will stand up to help land the airplane. A lot of people like to call BS on all of Derren Brown's stunts, but either you believe what he says he's doing on screen or not. It certainly seems plausible that someone could be nudged ever so slightly to change their core behavior, particularly with the entire resources of a TV production company behind it. I think the suspense in these is really more about whether Brown will fail on nationwide TV rather than about whomever the subject of his program might be.
Desperate Romantics (3/10)
A romp through 19th Century art history and the loosely-adapted story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the angry young men who were shaking up the British art scene in the 1850s including Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aiden Turner from Being Human), William Holman Hunt (Rafe Spall, Timothy's son), and John Everett Millais (Samuel Barnett). Based on the book by Franny Moyle, adapted by Peter Bowker, this is no stuffy BBC costume drama but a high-energy mix of sex, adultery, nudity and dirty language with a little art appreciation thrown in. If you liked Russell T. Davies version of Casanova, this series is very much in that vein.
The Detectives (3/93)
An expanded version of sketches which originally appeared on Jasper Carrott's variety, Carrott Confidential. Along with Robert Powell ("Jesus of Nazareth"), this spoof of cops shows works best when specificially parodying certain name brand series in the UK (including Bergerac with an appearance by John Nettles himself). On their own though, these two just aren't that funny, and the 25 minute episodes seem padded. Directed by Ed Nye who did early seasons of Red Dwarf.
Another series about the Met's worst coppers as played by comedian Jasper Carrott and Robert Powell. It would be much improved if they got rid of the awful laugh track.
Briggs and Louis (Robert Powell & Jasper Carrott) return in another series as bumbling coppers. Guest appearances this season include Michael Troughton as an aristocratic smuggler whom the detectives mistake for a flasher, and Richard O'Brien ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show") as "Dr. Phibes," a bizarre police coroner who assists our heroes on a case.
Returning for a fourth series, the Met's most incompetent coppers, Briggs and Louie, manage to botch their way through another six cases. The highlight for me was while trying to climb some stairs while hiding in a vaulting horse Briggs observes, "This is what buggered the Daleks you know."
The comedy series is wrapped up in this Christmas special that sends the boys (Jasper Carrott & Robert Powell) to Canada in search of their AWOL boss (George Sewell). Filmed on location with guest appearances by John Ratzenberger and Rory McGrath. The finale would seem to suggest this is the end, but with BBC comedies, who knows?
The Devil's Whore (10/10)
A Channel 4 period costume drama (words I'm pretty certain I haven't written together often on this site) dramatizing the English Civil War from the point of a view of a woman (the subtitle is "A true account of the life and times of Angelica Fanshawe"). Angelica is orphaned early on when her father dies and her mother goes into a nunnery. She renounces God and begins to see visions of Satan (or some demon). This leads her to a certain amount of self-reliance somewhat like Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With The Wind." And like Scarlet, Angelica has a number of husbands, each of whom fall afoul of the winds of war. John Simm plays a highwayman and her most loyal follower (and would-be lover), while Dominic West is a very sympathetic Oliver Cromwell, at least until power and a determination that the end justifies the means corrupts him. Peter Capaldi is the doomed Charles II, who never quite comes to the realization that his subject would dare rebel against him.
The Diary of Anne Frank (11/09)
The BBC dramatizes the famous tale in this five episode mini-series that was shot on sets that were exacting recreations of the original building. The series' length allows it to explore story moments that are frequently edited out of most movie versions. It was shown over consecutive nights and allowed the claustrophobia to build up until the tragic conclusion.
Dickens' Secret Lover (7/09)
Charles Dance presents this intriguing look at Charles Dickens and presents some plausible evidence about his affair.
Dick Whittington (1/03)
ITV's annual celebrity Christmas panto this year had Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) adapting the story of a young lad who, along with his cat (Julian Clary), eventually becomes mayor of London. Music, men in drag, bad jokes, and audience participation are all part of the fun which included Paul Merton, Richard Wilson, Mark Williams, James Fleet, and Harry Hill.
Victoria Wood is a household name and institution in Britain, yet is virtually unknown in the US. More's the pity because she is extremely talented, both as a writer and performer (and singer), and you can never get enough of her. In this BBC series, her first sitcom which she also writes and stars in, the focus is on the women who work in a cafeteria of a large Manchester company. Everyone is a "character" but like in all of Wood's work, there is poignancy in the laughs, especially when her mad mother (played by frequent collaborator Julie Walters) occasionally drops in. A nice little workplace comedy, although if it were as easy as it looks, everyone could do it. Read my feature about Victoria Wood.
Director's Commentary (11/04)
It's amazing that in 10 years DVDs have gone from being some futuristic technology my friend Jim used to talk about (before he got rich writing about them), to being so ubiquitous that nearly everyone has heard a director's audio commentary on the DVD soundtrack. So much so that it's now ripe for parodying and Rob Brydon (Marion and Geoff) is the man to do it. Actually getting the rights to old series such as Bonanza and Duchess of Duke Street, Brydon plays an old duffer British director who supposedly worked on the shows and now years later has been commissioned to comment upon the action. At first, you don't realize it's a wind-up but as he goes on about Hoss, Little Joe, and Ben Cartwright, slowly it begins to dawn that he's speaking utter (but hilarious) rubbish. And the fact it is so close to actual commentaries now being foisted on the unsuspecting public by well-meaning but boring speakers, just makes it all that much funnier.
Dirk Gently (3/11)
The popular series of novels by Douglas Adams was adapted as a TV pilot by Howard Overman, the creator and writer of Misfits. Stephen Mangan plays the "holistic detective" who sees the interconnectedness of all things. Or maybe he's just a conman who wants people to support his activities. The novel "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" is rather infamous in Doctor Who fan circles because Adams, who wrote and script edited for the series in the late 1970s before "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" took off, recycled two of his Doctor Who plots for it. It's Adams' flair for comedy that make his work so memorable regardless of the plots, which are convoluted to say the least. But Overman created his own story for this BBC4 pilot which has resulted in a pushback by fans of the novels. He also altered the back story of what presumably would be two supporting characters if this went to series, Richard McDuff (Darren Boyd), and his girlfriend Susan (Helen Baxendale). I like the way Gently and McDuff always try to go through doors at exactly the same time. The only elements from the first book used in the pilot are the search for a missing cat and the use of time travel. Howard Overman is clearly a talented writer. You only have to watch any episode of Misfits to appreciate his use of dialog and engaging plots. Had he done a verbatim adaption of the first novel, it would have been three hours long to start with, and after they did the sequel "The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul" they'd have run out original Adams material as he inconveniently died before finishing the third novel. It wouldn't be much of a TV series. Stephen Mangan is an interesting choice as the protagonist. There's always something annoying about his characters whether it's Adrian Mole or Dr. Guy Secretan in Green Wing. He seems to delight in playing people who at first glance are off-putting in their ways but ultimately charm you over. I had one gripe though and that is an iPhone would never hold its charge for 16 years. Heck, you're lucky they last 16 hours. Sorry, Howard.
Dirty Something (7/94)
Young squatters occupy an old man's flat after he dies and end up nearly becoming respectable members of society. A BBC TV movie, it neatly characterizes the feelings of anti-establishmentism and trying to put a roof over your head in modern London.
Dirty Tricks (11/01)
Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly) stars in this two-part ITV adaption of a novel about a middle-brow English language teacher who tries to move up the ladder of social respectability by romancing the wife of a friend of his boss. Clunes narrates the story in flashback and with tongue-in-cheek tells us the tale of how he ended up on the run from the police and accused of a double-murder. James Bolam turns up in part two as a detective who isn't exactly hot on his trail, while Lindsay Duncan plays a cool blonde he can't quite impress. Much of the subtext has to do with class distinctions, with a dash of the American perspective, but Clunes keeps the whole enterprise from getting too heavy.
Distant Shores (4/07)
Peter Davison as a former surgeon (wasn't this the plot of Doc Martin as well?), with yet another family moving to a remote island (see Two Thousand Acres of Sky) this time Hildesay Island. His kids hate it, but his wife starts to see the charm of a local fisherman she works with. Davison as usual gets to do his slow burn as the ultimate fish-out-of-water in this ITV drama series.
An evil and sadistic late night Channel 4 quiz show, nevertheless it's compulsive viewing. Four hapless contestants are tortured through four rounds (at times having electric shocks, being hit by paint balls, or sitting under pooing pigeons) while being asked fairly easy general knowledge questions. The winner then is given either a new car or 5000 pounds but then must answer five final questions or risk having the car systematically destroyed or the money burned. Hosted by Jimmy Carr who never quits making fun of the contestants, you feel dirty after watching each episode but human nature prevents you from looking away at the same time.
Kris Marshall (My Family) plays Tom Lassiter, a surgeon who's lost his medical license because a patient died. Now he's a paramedic working for a surreal ambulance company in this BBC3 comedy pilot. Karen Taylor plays Julie, his co-worker who also sells marital aids when they aren't out on calls. Meanwhile Tom's Doctor girlfriend Lucy takes his loss of status, and possible impending legal problems, to reconsider their relationship. All in all, things aren't going too well. This certainly isn't the first comedy to try to mine laughs from ambulance drivers, and if Tom's choice in lawyers is any sign, perhaps many of the choices that have lead him to this point are his fault. Julie's ongoing battles with their dispatcher over the radio, and the other ambulance crews absurd down-time activities add to the craziness. British TV commissioners are forever searching for the magic bullet work place comedy that will be as successful as The Office was.
Doc Martin (2/06)
Martin Clunes is a posh London surgeon who for reasons we later learn, moves to a small Cornish town to be the local general physician. Of course in this fish-out-of-water ITV drama he has to get used to the local's unusual ways, and perhaps relax a bit instead of being so uptight. Some of the behavior of the villagers is annoying but Clunes' barely controlled rage is what makes it work without too much schmaltz.
Dr Terrible's House of Horrible (11/02)
Steve Coogan stars in this anthology comedy series parodying classic genres with such titles as "Lesbian Vampire Lovers of Lust" and "Frenzy of Tongs" (a Fu Manchu send-up). You have to buy into Coogan's odd brand of deadpan humor as well as recognizing the source material of what he lampoons but I think the combination works well enough. It's definitely BBC-2 material, but since the demise of the Comic Strip, nobody else is doing extended material like this on a regular basis.
Doctor Who Night (9/00)
BBC-2 Theme Nights are great for fans, although they follow a very prescribed ritual: amusing host segments, the obligatory documentary, a look at the fans, and plenty of clips from the most popular episodes. Whether it's Goodness Gracious Me, Monty Python or Doctor Who, that are being celebrated, the formula never varies. That said, for the 36th anniversary last year, Tom Baker was trotted out to introduce the shows, and they even provided him with an elaborate CGI TARDIS to inhabit. Big-name fan Mark Gatiss (now best known for The League of Gentlemen) was enlisted to produce three sketches especially for the night and they are right on the money and classic: the first takes place in 1963 as a producer attempts to pitch the series to the BBC. Full of hilarious in-jokes including the origin of the theme tune, you almost have to wonder if it really happened this way. The second sketch takes place in a quarry with the Doctor (Gatiss) encountering some of the most crap aliens ever, although he tries to be polite to get rid of them. Finally, the night was capped with a sketch in a fan's bedroom as his best friend has just kidnapped the real Peter Davison and brings him in for inspection. The documentaries included "Adventures In Time and Space" narrated by Peter Jones (of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) just before he passed away. There is a look at the various Doctor Who monsters over the years, and even a scientist discussing how you could realistically build a working TARDIS. Now if only the BBC would actually make some new episodes for television!
Does China Exist? (1/98)
Paul Merton hosts this one-off spoof of "reality" shows showcasing various human "talents" and attempting to unravel terrestrial mysteries (such as posed by the title). Merton is perfect for this sort of thing, with his patented ironic detachment "amazed" at every new discovery.
Does Doug Know? (3/03)
Daisy Donovan hosts this Channel 4 comedy quiz show that features teams of two comics who are then "joined" by a member of the public via prerecorded interviews on the street by Donovan herself (a technique she honed during The 11 O'Clock Show). Some of the quizzes like a word association game with missing words are really tough, or trying to guess a current news events based on amateur interpretation are a definitely novelty.
Doggin' Around (3/95)
BBC TV-movie by jazz-fanatic Alan Plater about an aging American piano man (Elliott Gould) who returns to the mid-lands of England after 10 years and must confront his past of gambling debts, police inquiries, and a paternity suit. Minding him is a no-nonsense former singer (Geraldine James). This is good material that is completely ruined by Elliott Gould's inability to act. In a word, he is terrible. Every line comes out like he's doing a Neil Simon comedy on Broadway. It may well be the worst performance I've ever seen in a BBC drama. Shame on him!
Doing Rude Things (11/96)
Angus Deayton (Have I Got News For You) hosts this documentary look at the history of the British sex film. It explores (and shows) early underground efforts, including "naturist" films that featured nudist colonies, and later soft-core films that were permitted under British censorship laws. Deayton sends up the whole "before they were famous" genre with a factitious clip of himself as "Gus Deayton" supposedly appearing in an early 1970s sex film, I guess proving that no one was particularly ashamed by what was going on at the time.
A series of animated shorts on Channel 4 about a space station that is the last stop for creatures from around the galaxy including a hapless human (voice of Tim McInnerny) who is forced to work in an office he can never escape from with a bunch of aliens (including Hugh Laurie).
Dom Jolly and the Black Island (3/11)
The comedian (Trigger Happy TV) presented this Channel 4 documentary about the popular comic character "Tintin." So well researched were Herge's artwork that Jolly is able to find the actual locations the drawing were based on as he shares his love for the long-running adventure series.
Donovan Quick (3/01)
Hunky Colin Firth (aka "Mr Darcy") stars in this update of Don Quixote as a mysterious stranger who comes to a small Scottish town and does battle with the corporation that runs the local bus service. He encourages the family he boards with to start their own line and manages to outwit the evil corporate stooges for a while before his own tragic past is revealed in this BBC TV movie. Firth, with his baritone voice, is a dominating presence, and apparently this part was a welcome break from the period roles he is often cast in.
Don't Call Us (9/99)
Documentary look back at the era of TV talent shows, for years dominated by Opportunity Knocks, hosted by Canadian Hughie Green. Audience write-in polls would determine who returned the following week, and a number of careers were first launched on this series, many of whom are interviewed here. Usurpers, in the form of New Faces - which introduced judges in person giving their critiques (horribly, right in front of the contestants), and the gimmicky Stars In Their Eyes, eventually killed the golden goose and the whole "amateur hour" variety show concept.
Doors Open (3/13)
Stephen Fry plays an art historian who has curated a vast collection owned by a bank that needs to liquidate. Horrified, he organizes a gang of friends to substitute fakes for the originals before the collection is broken up in this light-hearted ITV TV movie. Many familiar TV faces fill the cast including Douglas Henshall and Lenora Crichlow as former lovers.
Double Exposure (1/97)
A series of one-hour dramas by new writers presents some interesting and varied material. In Out of the Deep Pan, a young couple try to make a go of it in the pizza delivery business. The Golden Collar stars Mark McGann (Paul's brother) as a crooked injury lawyer who meets his match in a young man. A Relative Stranger takes the fascinating premise of what if you went to sleep one night in 1971 as a rebellious young hippie, then woke up and it was suddenly 25 years later and you were a successful, but boring, yuppie - but couldn't remember the intervening years had ever happened? A man discovers he is now married (only not to the girl he was passionately in love with in the past), with two nearly grown children, and a sell-out job he hates. Of course from everyone else's point of view, he's merely amnesic, or crazy, but he tries to find out what caused him to take the paths in life he now finds himself on. Nightlife features Jane Horrocks as a woman who hasn't left her apartment in months, choosing instead to keep surveillance on the park just across the street. When she witnesses a crime she has to do something she hasn't in ages: get involved.
Double Take (3/04)
BBC comedy series that presents mock surveillance footage using celebrity doubles and voice overs with lots of shaky camera work through windows and bushes. More a triumph of style over content, and a segment with "Michael Jackson" visiting a plastic surgeon with his kids just plain creeped me out.
Double Time (1/09)
James Dreyfus plays two parts in this TV movie: a very camp (and not very good) actor, and his lookalike, a ganglord currently serving time in prison. Their paths cross when the actor is hired for a TV re-enactment and the gangster, watching in prison, uses their amazing similarity in order to temporarily swap places so he can stop a book written about him by a sneaky journalist. How much you enjoy this depends on the amount of Dreyfus's swishing around attempting to be "hard" in prison act you can handle, although to be fair, he plays the gangster very convincingly.
Downton Abbey (10/10)
ITV scored huge ratings for this seven part period drama that was written by Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park," which he won an Oscar for). Fans of it or Upstairs Downstairs should love this new series set in an Edwardian manor house which chronicles the lives of both the servants and the members of the peerage who live there. It opens the day after the Titanic sunk in 1912, which immediately impacts the line of succession for the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his family. With no male heirs, the estate and title might be lost if the Earl dies. Meanwhile, a new valet, John Bates (Brendan Coyle, Laura's father from Lark Rise to Candleford) comes to work at Downton Abbey. But Bates has a bad leg, and despite being the Earl's batsman during the Boer War, the other staff undermine Bates at every turn. An ambitious footman, Thomas, wants the job although he'll settle for being the very special close friend (nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more) to a visiting Duke. Elizabeth McGovern plays Lady Grantham, an American heiress the Earl married for her money 24 years ago despite the misgivings of his mother, impeccably played by Maggie Smith. I like seeing an old-fashioned period drama like this turn up on ITV. Back in the 1980s Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in the Crown reigned supreme on the commercial network but they ceded the dramatic high ground to the BBC in recent years except for Agatha Christie mysteries. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised that it wasn't so much competition from the BBC as American co-production money that is the tail wagging the dog here. PBS's "Masterpiece" is a co-producer of Downton Abbey which no doubt eased the worries of ITV executives about such a project.
Down To Earth (11/01)
Warren Clarke (Dalziel and Pascoe) stars as a London flower seller who chucks it all in and moves his family to Devon and start a farm. Needless to say, things don't go quite to plan in this BBC drama series which also stars Pauline Quirk. Despite the title, there is a visual motif that is quite aerial and it seems we are gracefully flying over the characters at times. Clarke is full of fury most of the time, and things usually get pretty grim about 10 minutes before the end of each episode before a happy conclusion is reached.
Downwardly Mobile (1/95)
Sit-com about an 80s Yuppie couple whose 90s lifestyle crashes-and-burns forcing them to move in with relatives. Needless to say, the family doesn't share their attitudes about conspicuous consumption, wherein lies the laughs. Josie Lawrence (Whose Line Is It Anyway) plays the pampered wife forced to face economic reality.
Marc Warren (Hustle) wouldn't be my first choice to play the legendary vampire, but he pulls it off in this BBC adaptation that also features Sophia Myles (ironically appearing in the vampire drama "Moonlight" in America now).
Dressing For Breakfast (5/96)
A plain girl and her best friend try to survive the nineties while trying to maintain relationships. But poor Louise, when her mother isn't driving her nuts, can't find a boyfriend who isn't a complete flake or already married. The second episode ends with a great scene where the women decide, "All men are Daleks. Inside they have this little creature controlling everything they do." You have to love a series like this.
The third season finds the series moving upmarket with a nice, new apartment for Louise and a potential boyfriend in the form of an old friend of Carla's. But it's hardly smooth sailing for anyone, although the self-deprecating jokes by all the characters make this an enjoyable series to watch.
The Driven Man (1/91)
A funny but insightful documentary documentary by Rowan Atkinson about people's love affair with the automobile. While there are weak moments, it does make some excellent points about the car culture of the late 20th century.
Drop Dead Gorgeous (10/08)
Serialized BBC drama about two sisters, one of whom is plucked from obscurity in working class Manchester, and becomes an overnight sensation as a supermodel. Needless to say, the other one is a bit jealous, and their mother sees this as the family's chance to do some social climbing. Remarkable, in the first season at least, the model modestly keeps her head on her shoulders and some perspective about being suddenly famous, even if while all around her the world is moving much too quickly.
Duck Patrol (1/99)
Richard Wilson (One Foot In the Grave) stars in this ITV riverside comedy/drama about a police unit working the Thames. Though the actors try hard, it's neither very funny nor very dramatic.
A one-off comedy set a few years in the future, where the Thatcher household has had to respond to private life. Very funny and right on the money. Apparently this had been filmed and was sitting on the shelf waiting for her to leave office before running.
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