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Dates refer to when review was written
The Fades (11/11)
BBC3 continues its horror streak (begun with Being Human) with this six-part drama that sets Angelics (humans with the power to heal as well as see the dead) in an epic battle with ghosts that have not ascended and have discovered a grisly way of regaining human bodies and taking over the earth. A high school student named Paul is the newest Angelic, haunted by post-apocalyptic dreams who must discover his powers before it's too late. Up-and-coming actor Daniel Kaluuya (Psychoville, Harry & Paul) plays Paul's best mate Mac who lays on the nerdy cultural references a bit too thick, but does lighten the dark tone of the proceedings (even scenes shot in bright daylight seem ominous). Well-acted and shot, it seems a shame The Fades was (like Being Human) relegated to a digital channel by the BBC.
Fair Game (11/94)
TV movie about a couple hiking across England in 1970 during the World Cup and Parliamentary elections. The girl meets a rich Italian with an expensive sportscar, and of course there are parallels to how this all relates to soccer and politics. The punchline is she flees to Paris at the end with an old woman who decries the Torys coming to power noting, "They only have a token woman on the cabinet -- someone named Thatcher."
Michael Gambon (The Singing Detective) stars as a MP with a dark secret. His daughter knows and this two-part drama from ITV starts with her blabbing it to a tabloid reporter. Things spin way out of the control of everyone as the drama expands to encompass a pending government trial against an arms dealer, the reporter's custody battle for his daughter, the MP's attempt to keep the story hushed up, and the guilty secret his private secretary has. While all the characters are quite ruthless about what they do and how they go about doing it, the length of this mini-series allows us time to explore them each more carefully and realize that deep-down they all have a sense of honor someplace. Fantastic stuff. You can't take your eyes off it. And once you think you have the story figured out, a new plot twist is thrown in front of you to keep you guessing. Connie Booth (Fawlty Towers) plays the reporter's publisher.
Short film (part of BBC-2's "Fan Night") about an Arsenal football fan (John Sessions) who squats on a rooftop until the team signs a top player. He becomes a celebrity, although he becomes a distraction to the couple on whose roof he's sitting on. The happy ending suggests a bit of wish fulfillment, but I think the point is the purity of being a fan.
Faith in the Future (5/96)
ITV sitcom with Lynda Bellingham (featured in Dr Who's "Trial of a Timelord") as a woman hitting late-middle age whose wayward daughter Hannah (Absolutely Fabulous's Julia Sawalha) comes back home to live with her. Both of these women have sex and men on their minds, but the generation gap drives them both a bit crazy. I have to admit, at first I thought this show was a bit dull, but it slowly grew on me. Sawalha doesn't get to be quite as broad as she was as Saffron on AbFab, but both her and Bellingham are good comediennes milking laughs wherever they can.
In the third season the bickering mother and daughter act (Lynda Bellingham and Julia Sawalha) both find potential loves and continue to drive each other nuts, particularly when Faith reveals a secret from her past that threatens Hannah. Meanwhile, Hannah's friend Jules (Simon Pegg) continues to pine over her but manages to work his frustrations into a successful stand-up comedy act. This series will never make anyone forget Black Adder, but it's harmless and the best thing that can be said for comedy on ITV currently.
The Fall (6/13)
Gillian Anderson stars as Stella Gibson, an English police inspector sent to Belfast to oversee a murder investigation that has stagnated in this BBC series. Meanwhile, we see Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) as a serial killer as he methodically stakes out and murders each of his victims. He actually gets more screen time than Stella, who upsets the apple cart when she realizes a serial killer is at work (her semi-corrupt bosses don't like the paperwork). She sleeps with a married detective who ends up getting assassinated as part of a separate investigation, but Stella is enough of a modern woman (and a good cop) that she doesn't deny it when it comes up. But Paul is pretty clever too, literally nobody suspect him, not his wife and children, or at his boring government job giving bereavement counseling. Like Stella, he's also very good at his job, although it does him no favors when he helps a client escape her violent husband. He even sends a letter of apology to the parents of one of his victims because he didn't know she was pregnant when he killed her. By the final episode, Stella appears to be on Paul's trail and they even have a phone conversation where he taunts her by saying he's finished. And thus, there will be a second season of The Fall.
Falling For A Dancer (1/99)
Period Irish drama about a young girl who becomes pregnant and is forced by her family to marry an older farmer with four daughters and live with him in the boonies. Years pass and things don't get any better between her and her husband, and several of the neighbor men begin to look appealing, but tragedy strikes and passions are awakened in this four-part BBC drama. Ireland, in contrast to Ballykissangel for instance, has never been made to look more unappealing with perpetually gray skies, constant rain, a terrain that is mostly rocks, and the rigid attitudes of the people and society. Still, it's a compelling story, nicely mounted and acted.
Fame, Set & Match (1/04)
Documentary look at the ups and downs of various celebrities (including a bar graph visually depicting their progress). One episode focused on breakfast television (which only came to Britain in the 1980s) and the stars that were created and went on (in some cases) to long careers... and others who didn't.
Families At War (1/99)
Comics Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer take the familiar family-oriented game show and add their own bizarre comedy twist to it. Two families pit their "skills" against each other, be it dancing or brick laying, judged by a panel of, say, cab drivers. Meanwhile, Vic and Bob, as team captains, egg on their side, do their patented goofing around, and issue challenges to the other team. This BBC pilot will result in a series later this year. Read my feature about Reeves and Mortimer.
Comics Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer take over Noel Edmonds' old BBC timeslot in this family-friendly game show that they attempt to liven up with outrageous stunts and enthusiasm. However good they are though, this is like if Robin Williams hosted a game show. Yeah, it's funny but what a waste of talent! I'm hoping Vic `n Bob's next effort (a remake of 60s cult show Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased) will be a more fitting use of their abilities.
The Family Man (4/08)
Trevor Eve stars as a fertility doctor who starts to play god when he develops a new technique that crosses ethical boundaries. How far would you go to have a child? is the question that is dramatized here in this BBC mini-series.
Fast and Loose (3/11)
Hugh Dennis (Outnumbered) hosts this BBC-2 improvisational comedy show that will remind you--a lot--of Mock The Week but without the topical comedy, and the rest like Whose Line Is it Anyway? But it had some original improv scenes as well including How Not To Live Your Life's David Armand miming the lyrics to popular songs which the panelists had to guess just from his movements, and a set which was turned on its side and then shot from above giving the performers a surreal anti-gravity effect. No doubt heavily edited but what works works.
Fast Freddie, the Widow and Me (2/12)
A slick car dealer learns how to be a better human being in this ITV TV Movie. After a run-in with the law he is sentenced to community service with problem teenagers run by a social worker (Sarah Smart). After a rocky start, he bonds with Freddie who unfortunately has a terminal disease. It’s gritty enough to keep the sentimentality at non-lethal levels.
The Fast Show (1/95)
Paul Whitehouse (Harry Enfield's frequent collaborator) gets his own show with this series of sketches and characters. A few laughs but no Monty Python. BBC America has retitled this series as Brilliant! for no good reason.
Paul Whitehouse's comedy series, The Fast Show, returns with many of the same running sketches as last year, including more programs from La Republica, a Latin American dictatorship where everyone speaks a bizarre non-language. It's growing on me.
Fast Show Night (5/00)
Another BBC theme night, this time dedicated to The Fast Show (aka "Brilliant"), the Charlie Higson/Paul Whitehouse sketch comedy series. Included are various "Fast Show Fanatics" including a schoolteacher and Johnny Depp (who admits on camera he'd love to be in the show), the obligatory documentary about the series (including Harry Enfield whose proteges Higson and Whitehouse were), a half hour of unseen sketches (presumably edited out of prior transmissions due to time), and a "That's Amazing" sketch involving an earthquake that could never been shown before the watershed due to all the swearing.
Fat Friends (11/01)
An anthology of stories all based around a weight-loss club fronted by Josie Lawrence, with each episode focusing on a different member and their conflicts and tragedies (including Alison Steadman as a mother whose overweight daughter wants to fit in her wedding dress). This has the interesting effect of making the stars of one week's episode the spear-carriers in the next, but it works well as new members are introduced and we keep up to date with all the stories as they unfold. Obviously weight is a big factor here (no pun intended) but it's merely the dramatic linchpin for the series.
The Fattest Man in Britain (8/10)
Timothy Spall stars in this TV movie as Georgie, a housebound man touted by his best friend and promoter as "The Fattest Man in Britain" (mostly to Japanese tourists who don't know any better, and insist on touching him). But a rival challenges Georgie to a weigh-off to determine who rightly holds the title and he must choose between friends who want him to lose weight for his own health or whatever "glory" he can achieve by being exploited as a freak. Caroline Ahearne (The Royle Family) co-wrote the movie and gives it a nice, poignant touch, particularly Georgie's relationship with a young runaway he takes in.
Fat Women (7/94)
Dawn French presents this South Bank Show documentary about how the media portrays and categorizes larger women such as herself. French makes a good case, particularly how in "glamour" spreads there is unfailingly only one acceptable style when shooting fat women: doing it as a pastiche of a famous work of art.
Father's Day (11/13)
Ray Winstone, Charles Dance and John Simm star in this ITV4 short film which introduces a great deal of characters and situations and makes us guess at how they are all connected. Spoilers: Turns out the theme is prostate cancer.
Father Ted (7/96)
A Channel Four sitcom about three nearly-defrocked Irish Catholic priests who are sent to a remote island for their sins. Father Ted is the most "normal," though prone to temptation through opportunism; Father Jack is a cranky drunk and spends most of his time asleep in a chair; and young Father Dougal brings a new definition to the word "dim." The first episode opens with a visiting Cuban priest who speaks Spanish but is overdubbed like a BBC newscast. It only gets stranger. Ordered by the Bishop to protest a "sacrilegious" movie opening in town results in it only becoming a huge hit (after the priests check out the movie for themselves, of course). Everyone else on the island is just as weird, including a married couple on the verge of mutual homicide who, in the presence of the Fathers, give off the impression of martial bliss. Very funny, but prone to crudeness and certain to offend anyone who takes religion seriously. Read my feature article about the series.
In this hour long Christmas special, Father Ted is awarded a Golden Cleric for helping rescue a group of priests trapped in Ireland's largest lingerie shop, and comes up against a crooked priest who wants the award for himself and nearly manages to burglarize it using a Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible-style harness. Meanwhile Father Dougal continues to miss the point of everything, their housekeeper resists using a tea making machine, and Father Jack yells "Feck!" several times.
Fans were shocked when series star Dermot Morgan died suddenly at the beginning of March 1998, just one week before the third (and already planned final) season of the series was to run. The premiere was delayed for a week out of respect and it is a fitting tribute to him to go out on a high note with many terrific, funny episodes. The trio of odd Irish Catholic priests stuck on Craggy Island get involved in such bizarre hijinks as: Ted is mistaken for a racist by the unusually large Asian population on the island; a prized sheep Ted has bet on is being frightened by a "monster" and only Ted can nurse him back to health; a randy milkman who has it in for Ted rigs up a milktruck in a hilarious parody of Speed; a trip to the mainland ends in disaster as Ted runs afoul of Richard Wilson (One Foot In The Grave) playing himself; a two part episode has Ted losing a bet and having to kick Bishop Brennan up the arse; Mrs. Doyle (Pauline McLynn) is infatuated with a young TV host who proves to be even dumber than Father Dougal (Ardal O'Hanlon); and finally Ted finds a means to get transferred off Craggy Island forever. Unaccompanied by any of the hype that surrounded Seinfeld's final episode, the series (and Morgan) now belong to the ages, one of the great, original comedies of the 1990s.
The Fear (3/13)
Channel 4 mini-series about a Brighton-based businessman (Peter Mullen) who begins to suffer dementia just as he's trying to expand, as well as dealing with ruthless Eastern European gangsters. His explosive temper often picks the worst times to come to the surface, and it's not helped by the fact he often can't remember the episodes afterwards. As his haunted past begins to blend with his grim present, it becomes a battle of survival not helped by the activities of his two sons.
Fear of Fanny (7/08)
BBC TV biographical movie about early TV chef Fanny Cradock, a fixture on the telly in the 50s and 60s but she couldn't adapt with the times. It also didn't help she was a monster in real life and Julia Davis (who has done a few comic monsters in her time, particularly in her Nighty Night) nails this impersonation. Mark Gatiss plays her long-suffering husband whose public persona was the bumbling second banana, but his devotion to Fanny (despite her many failings) was absolute.
Fear Stress & Anger (7/08)
Peter Davison and Pippa Haywood star in this BBC comedy about a married couple (who actually are passionate about each other and often show it) coping with their jobs, their friends, and two teenage daughters. Farcical at times, but amusing.
Feather Boy (2/06)
A TV movie about an outcast boy determined to make a coat of feathers for a dying woman (Sheila Hancock). He seems convinced that this will bring her back to health, but first he must overcome his own fear of birds and the taunting of his peers.
Feel The Force (4/08)
Michelle Gomez co-stars in this BBC comedy series about the two worst policewomen in Scotland. Even in a sub-standard show like this (it has the same feel Canadian sitcoms do: trying very hard to copy their mainstream cousins but falling far short), Gomez is a comic personality to reckon with, as she has proven in The Book Group and Green Wing.
Felix & Murdo (2/12)
Channel 4 pilot for a traditional sitcom by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) starring Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller. Set in 1908 around the time of the first London Olympiad, Felix is a banker who likes to invent “futuristic” gadgets when he's not shagging his fiancee (Katy Wix) but mostly makes his sister Winnie run the business. Murdo is the posh one who fancies Winnie. Together they get up to all sorts of hijinx (Felix wants to go to Paris with Murdo to see a dancing monkey act but he's supposed to get married the same day, Murdo tries out for the Olympics to best an American but falls flat on his face). The jokes per minute are quite high with very amusing moments, this is probably Nye’s best comedy work in several years. I hope Channel 4 commission a series.
Fever Pitch (5/99)
Enjoyable TV movie about a soccer-mad teacher (Colin Firth) and his lovelife with an uptight co-worker. It's not too long before they are sleeping together, but she begins to wonder whether soccer is all that really matters to him. Flashbacks reveal how he became the superfan he is today, and the story is dramatically set during a year when his team scored a classic upset that is still remembered. Based on the Nick Hornby novel and miles better than the awful 2005 Jimmy Fallon remake that changed the setting to the Boston Red Sox.
A few short journeys of the heart (1/95)
Written by Andrew Davies (To Play the King, A Very Peculiar Practice), this comedy/drama stars Michael Troughton (son of Patrick) in multiple roles in this story-within-a-story as a sad writer tries to sell an idea to his publisher. An amusing look at the idea of sex, fame and power. Based on Davies' stories, "Dirty Faxes."
Fiddlers Three (8/91)
Peter Davison's new sitcom has him married again and partners with two other men in a business. Someone shoot him so he can be spared any more episodes of this dire, dreadful, predictable sitcom.
The Field of Blood (6/11)
BBC Scotland has adapted the Denise Mina novel, the first in the series about a young female journalist in 1980s Glasgow named Paddy Meehan. She starts out as a copyboy for the local newspaper when a young boy has been murdered and the chief suspect is her 10-year-old cousin. Jayd Johnson is terrific as Paddy, she looks like a Scottish Alysson Hannigan. Other members of the cast include David Morrissey as the paper's editor, and Jonas Armstrong and Peter Capaldi as fellow journalists. What's odd is everyone keeps telling Paddy she's fat, which is a bit of an exaggeration. But because of that she subsists on a diet of eggs to try and lose weight. Despite being name checked as Nancy Drew at one point, The Field of Blood is not for kids, particularly with all the swearing. But Paddy Meehan is a plucky heroine and this drama is a nice change of pace for British mystery shows.
Fields of Gold (1/04)
Genetically-modified foods, barely a ripple on the cultural radar of most Americans, is a huge concern in Britain, and this three part BBC drama preys on those fears when a large multi-national corporation tests GM crops on a farm. Two reporters are on a story they think is about a doctor killing patients in a rural hospital, but in fact people are dying from an unstoppable staph infection that was introduced as a gene into the crops. Now, Big Business and the government conspire to keep it all quiet, while the crusading reporters try to get to the bottom of it.
15 Storeys High (3/04)
Two flatmates in a high rise tenement have various misadventures including Vince (Sean Lock) who begins drinking dodgy import Blue Rat and begins to think a neighbor is keeping a horse in his flat, and naive Errol who gets a job at a fish market and set up with every practical joke known to man.
55 Degrees North (2/06)
Retitled "Night Detective" by BBC America, this drama series follows a black police detective who moves up to Newcastle with his father and son and gets a chilly reception. His only ally is the crown attorney (Dervla Kirwan) but as the series progresses he slowly begins to win over a few of the uniformed cops.
Filapina Dreamgirls (9/96)
BBC TV Movie written by Andrew Davies (Game On) about five Welsh bachelors who go to the Philippines in order to find brides. The whole operation is run by a shady, fat, drunk Englishman with the barest veneer of legitimacy. Tim (David Thewlis of "The Island of Doctor Moreau") is a brainless construction worker who's never successfully been with a girl. Preston is a Bill Gates-like nerd who applies his strict criteria to three potential mates and then ends up with a former hooker. Gareth is a huge Welshman, forced to shave his whiskers because the Filapina women don't like them, who has his eye on the company's silent housekeeper. Carwyn is an older divorcee whose fiancee has a past. And Lionel, a Truman Capote clone, disappears in Manila for most of the trip. Filmed on location, the script has something to say about relationships whether they are bought and paid for, or happen naturally, with a fairly upbeat ending.
Filth! The Mary Whitehouse Story (7/09)
The infamous little old lady who tried to clean up television is given the biographical treatment by a not entirely sympathetic BBC TV Movie which features Mary (Julie Walters) taking on then BBC Director General Sir Hugh Greene (Hugh Bonneville).
The Final Cut (3/96)
The third and final chapter in the "Francis Urquhart" saga (which began with House of Cards and To Play The King) ran on "Masterpiece Theatre" recently, with the evil Prime Minister (deliciously played as always by Ian Richardson) finally getting his comeuppance. But once again the deviations by screenwriter Andrew Davies (A Very Peculiar Practice) from the novel by Michael Dobbs are large enough to warrant a closer look. As cynical as former MP Dobbs is in writing the books, every time Davies has topped him: in each of the previous novels Dobbs had Urquhart being stopped, while on screen Davies had him get away scot-free! But with Urquhart's demise seemingly written in the stars (apparently it was a condition for actor Richardson's final return to the role), it's still interesting to see how Davies again manages to squeeze yet more irony than even Dobbs could ever imagine. In the book as in the show, Urquhart is being assaulted from all sides: a statue to Margaret Thatcher that threatens his front lawn, a former cabinet member gunning for his job, and a scandal from his past coming back to haunt him. The real threat appears to be Tom Makepeace (played by Paul Freeman), a man whose conscience finally causes him to rebel against Urquhart and stand against him. But even this detail is altered: when Makepeace "crosses the aisle," takes a seat with the opposing bench in the House of Parliament, in the book he is shunned by the Labour MPs and humiliated by having to sit on the floor. In the TV show they simply slide over and make room for him. An important distinction. Also in the book, Makepeace is fatally flawed: not only was he having an affair with Urquhart's new private secretary, but he takes up with a beautiful Cypriot girl who comes to him for help. She is looking for the answers to who murdered her Uncles in Cyprus 40 years earlier (guess who? It was Urquhart - one of the dirty little secrets he's trying to keep hidden) and Makepeace realizes she is the key for him to bring down Urquhart once and for all. But Dobbs' Urquhart is too smart for this. He begins making plans, attempting to ensure that not only will he be the longest serving Prime Minister of the century but the best remembered by history as well. And his plan is truly Machiavellian: he sets up the Cypriot girl's father to assassinate him in full view of Makepeace's supporters, knowing that when the link is made back to Makepeace it will ruin him forever. But in the TV version, Urquhart is assassinated by his own security forces (apparently at the behest of Urquhart's scheming wife!) who immediately surround the triumphant Makepeace and tell him, "We'll take care of you now, sir." What a cheat! The real Francis Urquhart would never have allowed himself to be taken out like that, robbed of victory and vengeance. Andrew Davies, in yet another attempt to outdo Dobbs' intentions, this time goes too far and robs fiction of one of its greatest villains since Darth Vader.
The Finder (3/93)
A nine-part Australian SF serial for children about time travel and parallel universes. Low budget but engaging if you go for this sort of thing.
First Born (3/89)
The novel "Gor's Saga" is dramatized by the BBC in three 45-minute episodes. A SF-based idea with a scientist who creates a half-breed human/ape and then raises it as his son.
The First Men In The Moon (12/10)
Mark Gatiss, a busy fellow these days (Sherlock, Doctor Who) found the time to adapt and star this BBC4 version of HG Well's 1901 novel of the same name. Gatiss uses a framing device with the story starting out on July 20, 1969 as a young British boy visiting a carnival is excited about the impending moon landing. He discovers an old man in a tent with films he has shot who proceeds to tell how he in fact was the first man in the moon. Gatiss plays Professor Cavor, a scientist who had recently discovered the gravity repelling Cavorite. Along with Bedford (Rory Kinnear) they build a spacecraft and travel to the moon. Once they land they discover both an atmosphere and intelligent life. Cavor calls the creatures Selenites and they are achieved with passable but not quite cinema-grade computer animation. Held prisoner by the Selenites and unable to communicate with them, Bedford and Cavor are separated and Bedford is forced to use their spaceship to escape alone before the lunar night freezes everything. After many days he manages to land back on earth and encounters Lee Ingleby playing a helpful passerby with a ridiculous moustache who helps himself to the spaceship and flies off. Penniless and with movies nobody believes are authentic, Bedford receives a radio message from Cavor that explains what ultimately happened to the moon's atmosphere. The framing device of the real moon landing really hit home for me, I was about the same age as the boy in the movie and I recall that day 41 years ago like it was yesterday. Gatiss however would only have been two years old, far too young to remember the Apollo 11 mission first-hand. But it creates a nice old-timey feel that movies used to have starting in a more familiar setting and then taking us back via narration to the incredible events on screen. For the most part, The First Men in the Moon is a two-hander, with Gatiss and Kinnear in nearly every scene opposite each other. Gatiss's Professor Cavor is very much in the mold of stereotypical eccentric British scientists who don't always see the real-world application of the discoveries they make. Wells, like Gatiss, use the rather fantastical plot to make some rather pointed commentary on the human condition right here. It seems a shame after mounting this entire 88 minute production that it was put out on BBC4. In the multi-channel universe, it's easy to overlook a unique project like this.
Fist of Fun (9/95)
Brilliant new alternative comedy from BBC-2 featuring sketches, cool hosts, and subliminal messages that must be viewed a frame at a time using a VCR. Not afraid to be sacrilegious, even Jesus is lampooned in an Easter sketch. They have a great web site too, full of background information and self-denegrating humor. Check it out. An example of the humor to be found: "Also, it's worth videoing all the shows as it will save you £20 when the BBC inevitably bring out rip-off videos of the show which are exactly what was broadcast, but in nice boxes. Why not make your own box, cut a picture of us out of a magazine and write some things about the show on a piece of paper and stick them on a blank cassette box. Sorted. This is strictly illegal, but no-one is going to get you and we don't care. They pay us too much as it is."
Stewart Lee and Richard Herring return for a second season sending up Emu-carrying Rod Hull, more bizarre demonstrations by Hobby King Simon Quinlank, and presentations by Peter, their lifestyle expert and the world's most disgusting human being.
The Fitz (11/01)
An amusing BBC sitcom about a large Irish family that often borders on the surreal. I've about had it with domestic sitcoms over the years but The Fitz manages to reach a level of comic anarchy that others like My Family try for but can't achieve.
Five Minutes of Heaven (3/10)
Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt star in this intense drama about a man (Neeson) who is scheduled to appear on a television program with the brother (Nesbitt) of a boy he killed 33 years earlier in a sectarian incident. Nesbitt is hoping for revenge but he's more feckless than Hamlet about being able to go through with it. Two great Irish actors are allowed the chance to do their thing based on a real incident.
The Fix (11/97)
Comedian Steve Coogan has his first straight role in this TV movie dramatization of an early 1960s soccer scandal where several star players were caught taking payoffs to throw games professional gamblers had bet on. Coogan is the annoying but persistent reporter who at first doesn't give a toss about soccer but eventually uncovers the entire scheme and brought to an end the careers of some household names.
Flat World (3/98)
Half-hour BBC animated short that is this year's answer to "Wallace and Gromit." Director Daniel Greaves creates a universe where all the objects are paper cut-outs with only two dimensions (hence the title) but a freak accident occurs involving water and television causing a doorway to open into a three-dimensional world that changes with the click of a TV remote. Thrown into this are an Everyman, his pet cat, and a scheming fish. All three end up involved in a caper involving an escaping crook as they flip back and forth between worlds. No dialog is used to tell the story, the action is all physical, but it's an interesting concept pulled off with humor and originality.
CGI experts always say that water is the hardest effect of all to do right digitally, but they cracked it in this slick ITV disaster film mini-series with Robert Carlyle as an engineer whose ex-wife is the manager at the Thames flood barrier when the "perfect storm" hits London and floods the entire city. Thousands are killed and landmarks destroyed, but will the plucky couple survive? Ironically, although the water effects are impressive, less so are some digital helicopters added to the action which look right out of a video game. Stick to what you're good at, I suppose.
Tim Vine hosts this Channel 4 game show that constantly reminds us that skill has nothing to do with winning. Indeed, six contestants are whittled down entirely by random until a single "winner" remains. Perhaps the ultimate in pointless questioning but Vine's horrible puns make the whole thing pass quickly.
Focus North (7/00)
A parody of regional programming, in this case Yorkshire, with a magazine show whose segments rarely deliver what they promise. More off-beat late night Channel 4 filler.
The Forgotten Toys (5/96)
An animated series featuring the voices of Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley. Two toys, pitched out after Christmas, are adopted by an old dog on their way to trying to find new children to love them. It's for the kids, and on that level, it's not bad.
Fortean TV X-Mas Files (5/99)
Dr. Robert Lionel Fanthorpe, as well as being the author of literally hundreds of pseudonymously-written, hilariously awful SF novels, hosts this TV version of the bizarre "Fortean Times" magazine, here sniffing out the strange and bizarre. This Christmas special focuses on such phenomena as a Santa convention, aliens cults, and the origin of Christmas pantomimes.
Eddie Izzard stars in this Channel 4 mini-series about a class reunion as the principles all turn 40 and hit middle age with differing degrees of success. Lots of sex, nudity, and bad language, and that's just Izzard's womanizing character, a London high-flier who returns to the old neighborhood (and girlfriends) but brings a lot of his old problems with him as well.
Hugh Laurie stars in (and directed two episodes) of this ITV comedy/drama about Paul, a family man who is desperate to have some sex with his wife. Meanwhile he has to cope with three randy sons (who are dating sisters) and his unctuous medical partner (Peter Capaldi) who also has designs on Paul's wife. A bit cartoony at times, but utterly harmless with an amusing Stephen Fry cameo in the first episode as an indignant fish monger. Based on the novel by Nigel Williams.
Foyle's War (10/05)
1940s wartime detective drama series with Michael Kitchner solving crimes with Honeysuckle Weeks (yes, that's her real name) as his loyal driver Samantha. A fairly successful combination of two popular British genres: the costume drama and police procedural.
The Fragile Heart (3/97)
Three part Channel 4 drama starring Nigel Hawthorne as a world-renowed heart surgeon who keeps having a recurring nightmare of being locked in a train in the Australian outback. His son organizes a conference to China which takes the action there for an episode, where Hawthorne gets involved with a dissident movement when he is asked to operate on a Chinese official. Meanwhile Hawthorne's ambitious daughter plagiarizes a medical paper and threatens to ruin the career of the man she stole it from. And back at home Hawthorne's practice is threatened when an operation goes wrong. Will he find the source of his nightmare?
Trevor Eve and Eve Myles (Torchwood) star in this romantic comedy TV Movie about an uptight curator at a museum who takes charge of the collection of priceless masterpieces when they are secretly placed in storage in Wales during renovations. The locals are unaware of what's going on at first but eventually word leaks out and Eve learns a lesson about locking up art and allowing people to experience it.
Frankenstein's Wedding (6/11)
Sometimes I watch shows just to see something different, and this play, shown live on BBC3 while being performed in front of thousands at the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds was pretty unique. A modern update of the classic story using flashbacks that were pre-recorded and inserted into scenes in the run-up to his wedding we see Dr. Frankenstein create his creature, reject it, and have his younger brother murdered. Now the creature is living homeless in Leeds but demands Frankenstein create a companion for him or he will destroy all that he loves. The wedding preparations are a huge affair being put on by Frankenstein's father, played by comedy veteran Mark Williams (best known as Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter series). The conceit is he is throwing the wedding of the year and invited the entire city to watch and be a part of it. There are musical numbers and as the newly married couple are introduced to the crowd, the whole audience participates in a dance number. It's interactive theater, not to mention a good way of keeping people warm on a cold Saturday night in March. A few more rehearsals might have ironed out the glitches such as cameramen in shots, but as just another element of the spectacle, you can overlook it. I love the sheer audacity of attempting a production that tries to combine so many over-the-top elements, and I always love the excitement of watching live TV.
Eve Myles (Torchwood) stars in this BBC drama series as Frankie Maddox, a leader of a team of district nurses whose rule-bending earns her the ire of her humorless boss (Jemma Redgrave). Written by Lucy Gannon, Frankie is on the verge of being proposed to by her policeman boyfriend Ian (Dean Lennox Kelly) on her birthday. But she is so dedicated to her job she misses the party to be with a patient and Ian ends up sleeping with one of her co-workers. There are other Patients Of The Week who interact with Frankie and her colleagues as they do their rounds throughout the city. But someone is stalking Frankie. Is it the grateful husband who assisted his terminally ill wife? Ian? Or someone else? Myles is fearless in appearing often without any makeup on, listening and dancing to music like a teenager, and interacting with a radio DJ (Ken Bruce) as she drives around in her little red sportscar.
The Frank Skinner Show (1/96)
Skinner, a thirtysomething who wears casual shirts while interviewing people, seems an unlikely BBC presenter. Yet his chat show gets some pretty decent guests including Ivana Trump, Buzz Aldrin, and Bonnie Langford. Skinner doesn't mind gently sending up his guests either, hauling out "Neil Armstrong" -- a Yorkshire farmer -- to greet Aldrin, or showing Bonnie's less-than-mature reactions to a series of Doctor Who monsters from her year on that series. Probably the best episode has a running joke about the creature from "Alien Autopsy" (yes, it was shown last summer in England as well) and what if it had gone into show business. You have to laugh.
Before departing the BBC for a lucrative contract with ITV, Skinner hosted one last season of his celebrity chat show. It produced as least one television footnote that will forever be a part of highlight reels: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, an "It" girl, completely humiliating herself on air. I won't say (the potentially libelous claim) she was smashed out on drugs, but she quickly checked into the Betty Ford clinic not soon after her appearance here aired.
Frank Stubbs Promotes (7/93)
A nice comedy/drama series about a cockney ticket tout (one of those guys who stands outside sold-out musicals hawking tickets to tourists) who tries to move up in the world to legitimate business. Nothing here will set the world on fire with its content, but the writing and acting are so honest you really get into the series. Completely natural in a way most American series are not. Starring Timothy Spall, co-starring Trevor Cooper (Star Cops).
Frank Stubbs (11/94)
Timothy Spall returns in the second season (with an abbreviated title) as a working-class promoter trying to move up in the world. This year he becomes a tenant in a fancy office building owned by Roy Marsden (The Sandbaggers), but Frank is still up to his old tricks trying to launch worthless causes into the big time. Superbly well-written and acted, I would match this against any American series for drama, humor and memorable characters.
The economic crash of 2008 is dramatized in this BBC TV movie that features both high-flying financiers (Aidan Gillan), and a sleazy sub-zero mortgage salesman who shamelessly talks an old working class school friend into buying a house he can't afford. There's really no happy endings here (though I doubt few bank executives ended up the way Gillan's character did), and the family ultimately loses their "dream" house. As for the salesman, we see him going door to door pitching "green" products, still driving his flashy car.
French and Saunders (7/96)
The comedy duo are back with lavish movie and television parodies. In the first episode, Baywatch is their target - fish in a barrel, right? Also, guest Helen Mirren announces she wants to do comedy instead of Lynda LaPlante's latest drama, so F&S team her up with Julia Sawalha (who played Saunder's daughter in Absolutely Fabulous) in a facetious sitcom called "The Generation Gap." Next up: Braveheart meets Rob Roy (both actresses in drag), who defeat the British army with a woeful number of extras.
French & Saunders TV (1/00)
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders reunite for a special which includes parodies of home shopping channels, Olympic skiers, Silent Witness, and Helen Mirren sends herself up in an acting masterclass where Dawn and Jennifer play two hopeless no-talents.
French and Saunders (3/00)
For their 1999 Christmas special, the women do a sensational parody of "The Phantom Menace" with Dawn as Ewan McGreggor and Jennifer as Liam Neeson (complete with Irish accent!). All the major plot points are recreated, with much emphasis on the inanity of Jar Jar Binks and all the techno-babble. The highlight though is the evil Emperor who delivers a suitably evil-modulated speech, then lowers his cowl to reveal it's John Inman who turns to the camera and asks in his own voice, "Was that butch enough?" The galaxy far, far away may never recover.
French & Saunders Actually (7/04)
Their annual Christmas special in 2003 includes parodies of Alan Yentob's Images series (this one about free runners), the ITV lesbian gardening detective series Rosemary and Thyme (which I'd never even seen!), and "Catherine Zeta-Jones" (Dawn) delivering the Queen's annual Christmas message.
French and Saunders (2/06)
For their 2004 sketch comedy series, the ladies go meta with a running plot showing behind the scenes in their BBC offices. In it, they appear too clueless to make their electronic key cards or computers work, never do any writing, treat their staff like crap, and have a semi-celebrity (Liza Tarbuck) as a producer who hates them. Movie parodies include "Troy" and "Cold Mountain."
Frenchman's Creek (5/99)
Tara Fitzgerald and James Fleet star in this adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel set in 1688. A Catholic woman and her two children retreat to Cornwall when James II abandons the throne, where she encounters a dashing pirate working with the French. Good drama, with great costumes and sets, this will appear on Masterpiece Theatre in the US.
Fresh Meat (11/11)
Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners) stars in this Channel 4 series about the residents of university housing and the many, many mistakes and tribulations that people that age have with their roommates. I never had that going-to-college-and-forced-to-live-with-people-I-have-nothing-in-common-with experience, so it's fun to watch it play out on a TV series (I used to love "Felicity" too, sue me). Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (Peep Show) wrote Fresh Meat and although that era was probably years ago for both of them, the situations that are encountered are universal and well-handled here, including an episode that includes the characters going to London to participate in the student protests there that happened in real life.
The Friday Night Armistice (11/96)
Armando Ianucci brings back the formerly titled Saturday Night Armistice satirizing current events, along with his plush Tony Blair doll again.
Friday Night Dinner (3/11)
You would think a comedy with Tasmin Greig, Simon Bird and Mark Heap would be pretty funny but so far I've been disappointed by Friday Night Dinner on Channel 4. It strikes me as a middle-class version of The Royle Family, which some people might view as a compliment but as you'll recall, I was no fan of The Royle Family. Friday Night Dinner is the weekly sitdown of the Goodman clan: mum, dad, and their two sons. Dad is a hard-of-hearing simpleton who is fond of going shirtless around the house. The two twenty-something boys like to prank each other by pouring salt in their water glasses. Mark Heap shows up at their door constantly as a too-friendly neighbor with a dog who clearly wants to be invited to eat with them but the Goodmans are having none of it. A similar series in 2010, Simon Amstell's Grandma's House, was better done with more defined comedy characters who were a lot funnier.
Friends and Crocodiles (4/07)
Stephen Poliakoff (The Lost Prince) wrote and directed this drama with Jodhi May as a young woman and her voyage through the decades, first as a secretary to a trust-fund millionaire with plenty of ideas but a bit too wild for her tastes, and then at an Enron-like corporation that eventually collapses, her with it. Robert Lindsay also co-stars in this clever look at the how the 80s and 90s shaped many people.
From There To Here (8/14)
Philip Glenister reunites with his Life on Mars co-star Liz White in this three-part family drama. He plays Daniel, an adoptee who has a near-death experience when his foster dad (Bernard Hill) and brother (Steven Mackintosh) and he are caught in IRA bombing in Manchester that happened in 1996. Though nobody dies, Daniel impulsively takes another victim (White), home to her working class house, tells her he is single (despite a wife and grown kids at home) and begins a relationship with her. His family business is confectioneries but business is bad for Managing Director Daniel. But his son-in-law has a plan to diversify and grow the business. Meanwhile, his daughter runs for parliament and gets elected in 1997 as one of "Blair's Babes." Daniel manages to keep his two lives separate until he suffers a heart attack at the end of episode two and both his families rush to his bedside together. Awkward! Spanning several years, the story also parallels the changes that occurred in Manchester at the end of the century.
Fry's Planet Word (11/11)
Stephen Fry shows off his love of language around the world, how it evolved, how it's used, how it's misused, in this informative and educational BBC2 series (which probably nobody saw, transmitted against über-popular Downton Abbey and the final series of Spooks). Fry gets to travel all over the globe for the production and chats with various celebrities including Brian Blessed, David Tennant, and Peter Jackson. If you love Stephen Fry, you'll want to watch this, simple enough.
Full English (12/12)
Channel 4 animated series that owes a lot to both "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" about a dysfunctional family (including Richard Ayoade as the voice of the hapless dad) plus mum's dad who has an imaginary friend named Squidge. Celebrities and pop culture are ruthlessly parodied, with language and nudity you wouldn't even see on HBO. Not for the easily offended.
Full Metal Backpack (9/99)
Channel 4 documentary about young British tourists in Vietnam and Cambodia, as they explore the various war museums and exhibits that are a legacy of America's involvement there.
The Full Wax (8/91)
Ruby Wax, an American married to British director Ed Bye (Red Dwarf), gets her own chat show on the BBC where she gets to reinforce every bad misconception the British have about Americans. How do they put up with this?
Chicago-born comedienne Ruby Wax continues to send up American chat shows, or at least I think that's the point of this series. The joke seems to be having some British actor come on the show and have some horrible incident occur to them (for example, Joanna Lumley being revealed as a lush) abetted all the way by Ruby who writes the entire show. It's a chance for actors to play against type and in fact Lumley took her drunk act, teamed up with Jennifer Saunders, and did Absolutely Fabulous, a series about two drunk, drug-abusing fashion designers, that apparently is based on real people (Wax serves as story editor).
Fungus the Bogeyman (2/06)
Martin Clunes stars in this children's series that combines live action and CGI with Shrek-like creatures who live under our world and love filth and their occasion trips to visit our world. Of course they only get discovered by children, one of whom ends up in their world much to the consternation of the bogey nuclear family.
You might have seen a series called Blackpool ("Viva Blackpool" in the USA) about various goings-on in the resort town. Funland is as if David Lynch did a remake (without the singing). Dark, weird and creepy doesn't begin to describe the characters and situations that revolve around a nightclub run by a powerful old woman with secrets. A young bride is drawn into stripping to pay a debt, a young man searches for a mystery surrounding his late mother, an innkeeper spies on his guests, and a seedy nightclub manager must deal with his pregnant wife, music-obsessed son and marriage-obsessed daughter. And who is in the gorilla suit seen plummeting off the Blackpool tower during the opening credits of each episode? Prepare yourself for some disturbing revelations throughout the eleven parts in this really strange but unique BBC-3 drama.
The Funny Side of News (1/09)
Clive Anderson presents this special that includes bloopers, but also a look at history of TV news. It wasn't always like this, and it's fascinating to see its evolution over the years.
Further Abroad (4/94)
A witty travelogue presented by Jonathan Meads that is more than just the leisurely stroll through some distant soil. Meads' dry delivery is priceless and he manages to really get into the nitty-gritty of the places he visits and always finds some really strange, quaint out-of-the-way joints. The episode I have is about Belgium and you learn more about Belgium than you ever wanted to know. Very enjoyable. Followed up by Even Further Abroad in 1997.
Presented as a typical day in 2012 when a net news broadcast is hijacked by video pirates who want to demonstrate how a corporation's medical policies are killing people in this innovative Channel 4 show. This could be a descendant of Max Headroom, with a look not only at the future of broadcasting (with cameras and video sources everywhere), but society itself if certain conditions play out. An interesting experiment.
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