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Dates refer to when review was written
Galton & Simpsons... (9/96)
A series of half hour comedies originally written by this duo for Tony Hancock, now updated for the 1990s and Paul Merton's unique personality. These include The Ham Radio, about a bored radio operator who finally gets the distress call he's always waited for, but can't act on it; Sealed With a Loving Kiss, co-starring Josie Lawrence, as two pen pals whose inflated claims of each other nearly derail their first face-to-face meeting; The Missing Page, about a mystery novel whose missing finale drives a couple nuts; Don't Dilly Dally On The Way where a couple's effort to move house hits a snag when the wife doesn't want to leave her old house - just as the new tenants show up; The Lift, the usual strangers-stuck-in-an-elevator story, this time set in a television station; Twelve Angry Men, a parody of the classic play about a jury held up by one lone dissenter; The Bedsitter, a monologue by Paul demonstrating how boring his life is; and Impasse about two cars meeting on a one-lane country road, neither of which will give way.
Game On (7/95)
Andrew Davies (A Very Peculiar Practice, To Play the King) co-wrote this sitcom about three Generation-Xers who share a flat together in London. Martin (Matthew Cottle) is a clumsy, shy guy, the sort of part Peter Davison would have played 15 years ago. Mandy (Samantha Janus) is a blonde knock-out who suffers through endless One Night Stands and dead-end jobs even though she is quite intelligent. Finally there is Matthew (Ben Chaplin), who imagines himself to be either a surfer or Robert DeNiro and who hasn't left the apartment in six months. While Martin and Mandy go off to work each day, Matthew stays behind watching television, dressing up, or trying to persuade women to come to the apartment. He terrorizes his flatmates but panics at any hint that they might leave him. The title of the series comes from an expression Matthew and Martin have whenever they think they have a chance with a woman. Despite all three characters being losers, they are irresistibly interesting and probably closer to "real life" than most sitcom protagonists. There is a fan-run web site you can check out to learn more.
There is a new actor playing Matthew this season, Neil Studke (Ben Chaplin having struck out for Hollywood and appearing in The Truth About Cats and Dogs for starters). This year, Martin gets a girlfriend and then drives everyone crazy with his obsession about shagging. Mandy meanwhile tries to give up sex, while Matthew Mark II gets a new friend he doesn't realize is gay - and in love with him.
The third season has Mandy find love with a posh young man she thinks is too good for her, while Martin discovers some unsettling news about his former girlfriend, nurse Claire. Great laughs as usual from all three characters, each rather pathetic in their own way but worthless without the others.
Gangsta Granny (2/14)
David Walliams wrote and co-stars in this BBC special about Ben, a young boy who is constantly pawned off on his "boring" granny (Julie McKenzie) by his dance-obsessed spray-tanned parents (Walliams and Miranda Hart). But one night Ben discovers gran is secretly a jewel thief and this leads to an adventure that eventually has them crossing paths with the Queen (Joanna Lumley). Sweet and sentimental in good proportion, aimed more at kids, but harmless.
Garth Marenghi's Dark Place (11/04)
Nobody loves crappy TV (and parodies of crappy TV) more than me, and this Channel Four satire is positively inspired. The conceit is in the 1980s Stephen King wannabe Garth Marenghi wrote, directed, produced and starred in "Dark Place," a thriller series set in a hospital that was so "controversial" that it never aired. But now Marenghi is back and able to introduce his magnum opus to the world (complete with the original Channel 4 logo -- no touch is missed here). Eighties TV cliches have never been sent up so perfectly, as well as ultra-low budget incompetence (it's like if Ed Wood had done television) and the bad acting (and sexism) has to be seen to be believed. Of course, this aired in the UK before the real Stephen King's remake of "Kingdom Hospital" but the parallels are eerie.
Garrow's Law (3/11)
Alun Armstrong and Andrew Buchan star in this BBC period courtroom drama set in squalid 18th Century London using real cases that were tried at the Old Bailey. Trials were the best and cheapest entertainment in town and the stands were filled with members of the public booing and cheering like they were at a Christmas panto (and thanks to QI for pointing out that judges in English courts have never used gavels in courtrooms, it's purely a fiction created by writers who've watched too many American legal shows). Buchan is a good leading man as he fights for truth, justice and the, er, British way, in a system that wasn't always fair and balanced.
Armando Iannucci (The Friday Night Armistice) hosts this late night current events show that (not surprisingly) is a satirical look at the news. Airing at the height of the war in Iraq, there was no shortage of high value targets, as well as the usual domestic escapades to talk about.
Sky1 comedy about the lives of various parents who wait outside the school gates each day for the kids to be let out. Tom Ellis (Miranda) and Joanna Page (Gavin & Stacey) are the main focus as otherwise normal parents who go slightly mad trying to keep up with the other crazy parents.
Gavin & Stacey (10/08)
Charming low-key BBC comedy (from Steve Coogan's Baby Cow Productions) that fairly straight forward presents the relationship of the two eponymous lovers (Mathew Horne and Joanna Page) who met over the phone through work (one in Sussex, the other in Wales), meet up, and decide to get married as quickly as possible. They are sweet as pie, but the real humor comes from their friends and family, particularly Gavin's pal Smithy (James Corden) who begins his own love/hate relationship with Stacey's best mate, the imposing Nessa (Ruth Jones). Rob Brydon is on hand as Stacey's eccentric uncle, and Alison Steadman is Gavin's neurotic mum.
Gayle's World (9/97)
The first time I saw "page three girl Gayle Tuesday" I thought she was a one-joke character who would quickly wear out her welcome. But this sketch series has star Brenda Gilhooly doing a host of characters in addition to the very dim Gayle. Society girls, mini-cab firms, and various celebrities are all fodder for her, including a three part "adventure" where Gayle discovers a sinister plot by Vicki Mitchell ('Allo `Allo) to take over the world along with a bevy of leather-clad weathergirls and models. Some clever stuff and Gilhooly is someone to watch out for in the future.
The initials stand for either Grievous Bodily Harm, or Great British Holiday, both of which occur during this offbeat but compelling 7-part Channel Four drama starring Michael Palin and Robert Lindsay. Though Palin in the main focus of the series as a school Headmaster prone to sleepwalking in the nude, it is the rise and fall of his adversary (Lindsay), the head of the town council of an unnamed Northern city who takes center stage. Lindsay has his problems too, and we know from the onset that he has some major trauma from his childhood which continues to haunt him. Each man defies the other by drawing a line then daring the other to cross it. But when they aren't confronting each other, both men are blithering wrecks. It's almost a race to see who self-destructs first. At the same time there is a government conspiracy big enough to keep Oliver Stone busy, and manipulations by many, many unseen hands. First-rate all the way, with humor, drama, and well-realized characters and twists. It quite rightly is the highest-rated program ever to appear on Channel Four, and made a considerable impact. Episode Four is my favorite, as Lindsay is trapped in a hotel, his nervous twitches (including a Strangelovian-like arm) going awry, surrounded by a Doctor Who convention which seemingly has descended on the hotel. Verity Lambert is the producer, so it only appropriate.
Genghis Cohn (5/94)
A brilliant BBC TV movie with Robert Lindsay (GBH) and Diana Rigg. Lindsay is a former German SS officer responsible for the death of many Jews during the war. One comes back to haunt him years later: a stand up comic known as Genghis Cohn. Weird, funny, but with a point. And nobody wigs-out better on screen than Lindsay. First-rate.
Dave Gorman hosts this BBC competition where celebrities like Frank Skinner and Catherine Tate come on and vote on inventions submitted by the general public who must explain their wacky ideas in person. Of course most of them are absurd, but a few are intriguing and perhaps worthy of the show's title.
Gentlemen's Relish (3/01)
Light-hearted BBC TV movie with Billy Connolly as a painter who switches to photography in 1910 but inadvertently ends up in the early days of porn. His assistant takes bits and pieces of Connolly's elaborate historical recreations (complete with artistic nudes) and repackages them under the banner of "Gentlemen's Relish" which eventually draws the ire of an ambitious politician.
George Gently (7/08)
Martin Shaw stars in this police drama set during the 1960s as a recently widowed Met detective who goes into the country to solve a case involving his old nemesis and meets an ambitious young policeman who wants to learn from the legendarily incorruptable Gently. Mysteries are solved and male bonding occurs, set in an era when the Met still had a serious corruption problem.
Get A Grip (7/08)
Ben Elton and Alexa Chung debate serious issues like bullying and conspiracy theories with humorous banter accented with amusing sketches in this ITV series. A lot of the joke is the substantial age (and cultural) difference between the two presenters (though most of it is written by Elton) as they discuss various opinions, but Elton almost always makes the best point (though Alexa keeps him from being too pompous).
Get Real (1/99)
This ITV comedy co-created by Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek) about four thirtysomethings owes a lot to American sitcom conventions (Friends and Seinfeld particularly) but offers some gentle laughs about life in the 90s.
Getting On (8/10)
Low-key comedy set in a hospital geriatric ward with former real-life nurse Jo Brand on call along with Joanna Scanlan. The only way to describe this series is it's The Thick of It (which Scanlan also appeared in) done in a hospital. It's shot in exactly the same style (Peter Capaldi, Thick's Malcolm Tucker, directed this series), and with the same deadpan reactions and attitudes about bureaucracy. Unfortunately it's lacking the Malcolm Tucker type character who is singularly hilarious on his own, as he explodes at the situations around him, shooting expletives like knives at all around him.
The Ghostbusters of East Finchley (7/96)
Quite possibly my favorite series of the year. There are no ghosts, in fact nothing supernatural happens in this series at all. Instead, the title refers to a odd trio of Inland Revenue taxbusters who search the land for those "ghosts" who avoid paying their fair share. The emphasis is on a young couple who live in the same council block, whose bedrooms are right above one another. Their families carry on like a poor-trash version of the Montagues and Capulets, and as lovers these two leave a lot to be desired. The guy only wants to bust the rich creep who owns a nearby block of flats employing his mom to do an increasingly bizarre series of domestic chores. When the girl who fancies him suggests he can do so from the "legitimate" cover of Inland Revenue where she already works for an overly enthusiastic Scottish boss (Bill Paterson), he jumps at the chance. But before he gets his man in this 6-part mini-series, they first embark on a number of undercover busts of other tax dodgers. Full of odd characters and comedy, with the conceit of having tax collectors being the good guys, this is a unique and entertaining series.
Gideon's Daughter (4/07)
Bill Nighy plays a political "fixer" in the mid 1990s who gets involved with a couple whose child was lost in a street accident which parallels his own concern when his college-age daughter wants to spend a year in Africa. Written by Stephen Poliakoff (Friends & Crocodiles), the effect of Princess Diana's death is one of the subplots, and Poliakoff seems to have a lot of disdain for New Labour's Millennium Dome, openly mocking its shallowness of purpose. Emily Blunt, Miranda Richardson, and Robert Lindsay co-star.
Giles and Sue Live The Good Life (12/10)
Giles Coren and Sue Perkins have teamed up previously for The Supersizers wherein they would recreate a period in history for an entire week by living the lives and eating the food, however disgusting, from the time. They're back in this new series that attempts to recreate the self-sufficiency movement of the 1970s that was epitomized by the sitcom The Good Life. I thought they would just make an off-hand reference to the old series and move on, but no, this show is filled with clips--badly cropped for widescreen--and Giles and Sue dress up as characters in the show, even the haughty neighbors. Of course it also shows the practical reality of turning a suburban backyard into a self-sustaining farm including building a chicken coop, getting some goats and even a pig.
Gimme Gimme Gimme (7/99)
Brash but not unamusing BBC comedy about two sad flatmates: a man-hungry middle-aged woman (Kathy Burke in a red fright wig), and an extremely gay young man (James Dreyfus, last seen in The Thin Blue Line). I suppose what is clever is they both are trying to pull the same kind of men, although both are complete no-hopers who barely manage not to come to blows during an episode.
Ginger Nation (1/04)
A part of Channel 4's ALT TV series, where ordinary folks make documentaries on topics that interest them. In this one, the case for ginger hair is made. In Britain, having red (ginger) hair is apparently a big deal and often makes one a target for discrimination and jokes. Having a red headed wife myself (whose entire family are also red heads), I don't quite understand what the Briton's hang-up about this is, but it exists nevertheless.
The Ginge, The Geordie and the Geek (11/13)
Hilarious sketch comedy from Scotland (where all is made clear with the subtitles turned on). Some bits are less than 30 seconds, getting to the joke and moving on, others such as Scottish warriors riding brooms instead of horses, last several minutes as they ride off to battle. The hits-to-miss ratio is pretty darn high, making this an entertaining series.
Giving Tongue (5/97)
BBC TV movie. A woman is elected to the House of Commons and allowed to submit a private member's bill to ban all hunting. Of course this creates a huge furore, and in effect allows us to see the give-and-take that exist between the House of Commons and House of Lords. Meanwhile, the MP fears blackmail from a female hunt supporter she once had a relationship with. But who is using whom?
The Glam Metal Detectives (5/95)
Certifiably the strangest thing to come down the pike this month. Imagine Buckaroo Banzai crossed with SCTV. That about sums up this action/comedy series that continually switches programs originating from what appears to be a very shoddy satellite network. Like Buckaroo, the Glams are a rock-and-roll group who travel the world but are actually government agents working for the President. Amongst the characters they come across are a crazed psychopath (Mac MacDonald -- the Captain from Red Dwarf) who wants to brainwash the world with "Splat" soda; an Abominable Snowman who wants to take up the drums; a Mary Poppins impersonator; and a trio of mad witches. Peter Richardson of Comic Strip Presents... fame created and directed this series of bizarre programs that in addition to the "Glams" feature on each episode: Betty's Mad Dash, a parody of Roaring 20s Perils of Pauline-type serials; Bloodsports, an all-sports channel devoted to the worst of human nature; The Big Me about an egotistical talk show host who is unceremoniously replaced by her sidekick halfway through the series; clips from B-Movie TV which pretty much sounds like it looks; and Colin Corleone about a sad git living in a tower block who thinks he's Marlon Brando in The Godfather. The problem with this series is the first time you see it it seems fresh and full of ideas. By the third episode however you realize you've seen it all before. The Glam Metal Detectives is all formula--the same thing happens in every single episode. Maybe that's the joke. But to me, a little went a long way.
The Glass (3/02)
John Thaw's (Inspector Morse) final TV series before succumbing to cancer in 2002, this six part ITV drama details Thaw's losing control of his glass company (and his girl) to his evil, scheming nephew, and his attempts to win them back.
E4 teen serial drama about a group of friends, their relationships with each other, love, death, blah blah blah, you've seen this before (As If, Skins, etc) and if you are target audience it's probably great. Alas, I am not.
Satirical BBC TV movie about a suspected infection among turkeys and the attempts by the civil servant in charge (Kevin Whately) to deal with the crisis. Co-written by Ian Hislop (Have I Got News For You) and originally planned to go out over Christmas, it was held back when a similar crisis occurred in real life at the same time. Here however, the emphasis is on the press and the government and how the public is completely manipulated to an end with no regards to safety or the truth.
God on Trial (7/09)
Holocaust drama set at a camp where the Jewish inmates decide to try God because of what he has allowed to happen to them. Much of it is very stagy (set in one barracks) but a framing sequence set in the modern day sets the right tone. Obviously very grim and serious, but well written and acted. Co-produced by the BBC and WGBH in Boston.
The Godsend (4/94)
A short film by Lenny Henry about a young black man nanny/housekeeper who is great at his job, but a little too unsettling to the upscale white couple that employs him. Part of a series called "Funky Black Shorts."
Clay animated shorts from the makers of Crapston Villas, though thankfully with a shade better taste, concerning a family of cave people. While there are still buckets of mucus about, you have to laugh at their attempts to hunt karate-fighting dinosaurs, or build a swing set. Worth watching carefully to catch all the bits of business by the background animals and bugs. Not quite the family entertainment "Wallace and Gromit" provide, but not everything should, right?
The clay-animated cavemen return in this BBC half hour Christmas special where they journey to a far land (following a star - geddit?) and encounter other tribes for the first time.
Gone To The Dogs (5/99)
1991 ITV mini-series starring Jim Broadbent, Alison Steadman, Warren Clarke, Harry Enfield and Martin Clunes. Written by Tony Grounds, this comedy drama centered around dog racing has both Broadbent (as an ex-con whose get-rich-quick schemes always fail) and Clarke (as a successful video shop entrepreneur) trying to end up with Steadman, while Harry Enfield (in an early, and somewhat unsuccessful, dramatic role) must choose which side to be on. The three leads would re-unite in Gone To Seed.
Gone To Seed (5/99)
1992 ITV mini-series reuniting the cast of Tony Grounds' Gone To The Dogs with Jim Broadbent, Alison Steadman, and Warren Clarke this time playing triplets trying to save their dotty mother's property from evil developers (Rufus Sewell and Peter Cook). There are plot twists a-mighty as the various characters stab each other in the back, but the overall effect is quite enjoyable, with some supernatural overtones.
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (3/10)
Johnny Depp (who played Thompson in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") narrates this comprehensive BBC documentary featuring readings of Thompson's work, as well as interviews with such figures as George McGovern and Jimmy Carter (Thompson's political writings in the 1970s had a big impact on those elections, or so this documentary would have you believe). Full of historical footage, recreations, and real-life interviews with Thompson (the inspiration for the character Duke in "Doonesbury"), his friends and family also comment about his life and then suicide in 2005.
Goodbye My Love (7/97)
Robert Lindsay stars in this docu-drama about Derek Humphry, an Englishman who finds fame and fortune in America by founding the Hemlock Society, writing "Final Exit," and spearheading right-to-die initiatives in a number of states. This warts-and-all look at his life isn't particularly flattering, particularly when it comes to Humphry's treatment of his second wife when she becomes disillusioned with their movement. Lindsay is the perfect choice for this role, with his always on-the-edge manner that (even though never shown) always makes you afraid he's suddenly going to crack. The real-life Humphry is still living in Oregon, and presumably trying to ignore this ITV production.
The Good Citizen (2/06)
An "Afternoon Play" presentation about a man who declares his small parcel of land as an independent country. Needless to say, the government is keen for him not to set a precedent and thus the showdown begins with one man versus the system. Why he is rebelling and what he left behind soon become tabloid fodder, but a few people rally to support his cause including a female journalist who befriends him.
Goodness Gracious Me (3/98)
Sketch comedy with a Pakistani/Indian bent with spectacular results. Comic conventions are turned on their heads as we see a group in Delhi eating in a "foreign" English restaurant (using every cliche the British use while in Indian restaurants); The Six Million Rupee Man who isn't necessarily better, stronger, or faster than he was before; and The Rough Guide To the UK, a primer for Indian tourists. Written and performed by an Indian cast, this is too good for late night BBC-2 television.
Goodness Gracious Me Night (3/00)
The BBC at last celebrates one of its best home-grown comedies (originally on BBC Radio), the clever sketch series Goodness Gracious Me which goes far beyond its "Asian comedy" tag to be a truly amusing series now entertaining audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. In this special BBC-2 theme night, there is a behind-the-scene special with bloopers, a search for the G.G.M. Superfan, a history of Asians (which in the UK means people from India and Pakistan) on TV, and a look at the touring road show.
Goodnight Mister Tom (3/99)
ITV TV Movie with a hirsute John Thaw (Inspector Morse) as a grumpy old man in a small village in 1939 who gets saddled with a young evacuee from London when war breaks out. Of course this is just the thing to bring him out of his shell, but not before discovering the amount of abuse the boy has suffered at the hands of his disturbed mother. A nice recreation of wartime life, both in London and the provinces, and the reliable Thaw keeps things from becoming unbearably sentimental and saccharine.
Goodnight Sweetheart (2/94)
A bizarre time-travel fantasy sitcom with Nicholas Lyndhurst which seems to endorse adultery. Lyndhurst is married TV repairman Gary Sparrow in 1993 who discovers he can travel at will to the Blitz-torn East End of London during the War. There he meets a lovely barmaid (Dervla Kirwan) whose husband is serving in the Army. They are drawn to each other, despire Lyndhurst's frequent anachronistic outbursts. Each time he goes back to the 90s and his wife, he must come up with some excuse for where he's been. Luckily he's able to survive any scrutiny during the War by simply claiming "National Security." But knowledge of the future keeps tripping him up, plus the guilt he feels for having affections for someone who isn't his wife. The charm of this series is how matter-of-fact all the characters deal with the situation, instead of just relying on the gimmick of time travel. Morally though, it's on some pretty shaky ground. Read my feature on Nicholas Lyndhurst.
The second season of this time-travelling sitcom continues the romantic adventures of Gary (Nicholas Lyndhurst) who can travel between war-torn London of 1941 and 1995. Gary has a girl in each port so to speak. At home in 1995 he is married to a shrewish woman, and in the past he is carrying on with a beautiful pub owner whose husband is missing in action. We are supposed to laugh and sympathize with Gary's plight to keep both women happy, but at the end of the day isn't this just promoting adultery? Like all of Lyndhurst's past characters (Rodney the plonker in Only Fools and Horses, Butterflies, and The Piglet Files) Gary is an bumbling slacker. No wonder his wife gives him a hard time. The only reason he impresses Phoebe back in 1941 is because he knows the songs and lyrics to music nobody has heard of (he begins a career as a concert performer doing old Beatles songs), plus he can lay his hands on materiel that was strictly rationed during the war (he can carry these between each era). His attempts to make a profit from this power (investing in stock, selling "antiques") fails to make much headway because, being Gary, he manages to screw up somehow. Meanwhile he is left making feeble excuses to both women for his absences while visiting the other. I know this is only a comedy but the message this show seems to endorse is "If you can get away with it, do it."
And it's not unique to this series. During the year I lived in England, everyone seemed to have some sort of "scam" they were running, whether it was cheating the unemployment office or getting an undeserved discount somewhere. And the English are all proud of this! They would boast to all their mates about how they "beat the system" and everyone would agree how wonderful this was. What does this say about English society? That rules only count if you can't get away with breaking them? I'm not saying that Americans have the corner on pious adherence to authority, but the way the British have institutionalized the concept, even to the point where it is condoned by BBC sitcoms, does seem to bring into question where they place morality. Goodnight Sweetheart is a harmless fantasy not the end of civilization as we know it, but it does reflect the values of the society it was intended for. It's something not to forget if you ever happen to watch it.
Returning for a third season, bumbling time traveller/adulterer Gary Sparrow (Nicholas Lyndhurst) segues into 1942 war-torn London while starting up a nostalgia shop here in 1996. While not without its charms, this sitcom continues to disturb me with the seeming lack of remorse the lead character has over cheating on his wife.
The fifth season finally gets away from the rather well-worn formula of past seasons to really play with the possibilities inherent in its premise. For a brief time, Gary's timegate to the past, which has heretofore only worked for him, suddenly works for others which further complicates his efforts to keep his two "lives" separate. A vast improvement over the past few years with the some real life finally injected into the series.
The Good Samaritan (10/08)
Shane Richie (EastEnders) stars as Brian who after a bad day gets a wrong number and tells a man who thinks he's called The Samaritans to kill himself. He doesn't but Brian thinks he has and wanting to compensate his widow sets off a chain reaction in this farcical ITV TV movie.
Big-budget fantasy from the BBC based on the novels by Mervyn Peake about a family that has ruled a mighty castle for generations but is now wracked with dissension from both without and within. An all-star cast and superior production values do much of the heavy lifting but that's what you expect for a Masterpiece Theatre co-production. Read my extensive feature article about the series.
The Governor (11/96)
This Lynda LaPlante (Prime Suspect) written drama starts its second season about a female warden (Janet McTeer) at a large penitentiary. Of note is one of the convicts this season is played by none other than Craig Charles (ironic really, considering his legal difficulties last year). Charles holds his own here, although he is nearly unrecognizable in a buzz cut and nerdy plastic National Health Service-issue glasses. The rest of the drama is riveting as well, with the tough-but-fair McNeer trying to keep the peace within her prison without stepping on everyone's toes.
Robson Green (Touching Evil) and Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel) play brothers from Newcastle who manage to get a lucrative job in London to remodel a yuppie couple’s dream house even though Tompkinson knows next-to-nothing about building. There’s plenty of sibling rivalry, as well as clashes with their employer (Game On’s Neil Stuke) and his sympathetic wife. Harmless comedy/drama from ITV about working class slobs make good, with the considerable charm of the leads making it work.
The Grand (7/97)
It's Manchester 1920, and The Grand hotel has just reopened after a major remodeling as the country tries to recover from The Great War. It's a family business but things are already in trouble right from the start when a major debt is unexpectedly called in, threatening the entire enterprise. Julia St. John (The Brittas Empire's Linda) stands by her husband as he tries to deal with this, but her slimy brother-in-law (Mark McGann - Paul's brother) wants her for himself and deals himself into the picture with a sudden loan. This ITV drama crosses the entire strata of class, from the working class maids to the upper class matron with a dark past. Read my feature article about The Grand.
Grandma's House (10/10)
Simon Amstell does a variation on a family sitcom as a TV personality named Simon whose oddball family is shocked when he announces he's leaving the popular quiz show he hosts. Of course in real life, Simon was the host of Never Mind The Buzzcocks until he quit, and Grandma's House comes with a disclaimer at the end saying, "it's storyline and all associated characters are entirely fictional. So let's not make a whole business." There was also a nice dedication to the late Geoffrey Hutchings in the first episode. Rebecca Front plays Simon's fussy mother who is getting engaged to a boring guy named Terry that Simon can't stand. There's also his clueless aunt and a very strange cousin, in addition to of course his grandmother and grandfather. I like Amstell, his matter-of-fact deliveries whether kidding people on Buzzcocks or throwing out one-liners in Grandma's House are like guided missiles. Like many BBC comedies these days (with the notable exception of My Family) this is shot single-camera film style without a laughtrack.
The James Runcie novels about a jazz-loving mystery-solving priest in a small village in the 1950s are dramatized in this Masterpiece/ITV1 series starring James Norton as Rev. Sidney Chambers, and his best mate Geordie Keating (always reliable Robson Green), the local detective inspector. Sidney also has been having a relationship with a posh girl (Morven Christie) but allows her to get engaged to someone she doesn't love because...uh, he's an idiot? But Sidney's a great detective, and manages to find himself part of a murder investigation each week, even as he is haunted by memories stemming from his experiences as a soldier during the war.
Simon Day (The Fast Show) stars in this BBC comedy about a smart aleck Londoner who sees a gangland murder and is put in the witness protection program by the police and relocated to deep in rural England. But all is not smooth sailing as his constant patter drives his police guards crazy, as well as his inability to keep his cover story straight when talking with the locals. Meanwhile, a mismatched pair of hitmen are only a few steps behind and determined to shut him up before the trial. Day is famous for playing annoying characters and it's certainly a challenge to make one front and center in a series and make him sympathetic.
Great British Journeys (10/08)
Writer Nicholas Crane, ubiquitous in his red rain jacket and umbrella, crosses Britain, either by foot or bicycle, in this BBC documentary series where he retraces the routes taken by famous British travel writers going back as far as the 16th Century who were the first to discover and write about parts of their own country. Crane is tireless (Wikipedia claims he once walked 10,000 kilometers from Finisterre to Istanbul), but also an informed presenter who marvels at how the countryside has both changed and remained the same over hundreds of years.
The Great Detectives (1/00)
Series of BBC documentaries about fictional detectives and the often more interesting real-life people who created them. In the first episode, Nigel Williams takes on Sherlock Holmes with a compelling biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who spent most of his life trying to escape from the shadow of Holmes without much luck. Particularly intriguing is actual archive footage of an interview Doyle gave in the 1930s, when he was mostly involved with spiritualism.
Great Expectations (1/00)
Tony Marchant (Holding On) adapted this lavish BBC dramatization of Charles Dickens' classic about a young boy tapped for greatness by a mysterious benefactor. Ioan Gruffud (Hornblower) plays the adult Pip, but it's nearly an hour into this before he appears on screen, with an amazing lookalike boy playing the younger Pip. Charlotte Rampling plays the nutty Miss Havisham who appears to know who is behind Pip's good fortune, and the Evil Emperor himself, Ian McDiarmid, is the lawyer handling Pip's education to become a gentleman. Costume epics don't get much better than this, it looks like someone got into their TARDIS and went back and filmed it on location.
Great Expectations (2/12)
Gillian Anderson steals the show as the mad Miss Havisham in this BBC/Masterpiece co-production of the oft-told Dickens classic. The escaped convict who sets the entire drama in motion is played by big name actor Ray Winstone, and his part is expanded so greatly that the shocking denouement about his involvement with Pip is revealed at the end of Part 2 rather than the end. At three hours the drama is given more time to breath than most movie adaptations and it’s interesting to compare it with earlier versions like the 1999 one with Ioan Gruffud.
The Great Fire (12/14)
This four-part ITV1 mini-series has an all-star cast (Andrew Buchan, Jack Huston, Charles Dance, Daniel Mays) dramatizing the 1666 blaze that started in a baker's (Buchan) shop in Pudding Lane, burned for days, and nearly threatened the palace of recently restored monarch Charles II (Huston). Dance plays Charles' head of security and he is ruthless in trying to track down a Catholic plot he thinks is behind the fire, while Samuel Pepys (Mays) tries to advise the king even while Charles' brother attempts a coup. I have no idea whether any of this actually occurred during the fire, but it helps pad out what is basically a disaster movie story that has nice special effects.
The Great Outdoors (8/10)
It's like a Mike Leigh film in that you have this batch of slightly demented characters all trapped together and there's no plot in this BBC comedy series. They are just walking after all, but only 30 minutes in, you know way more about each of their dysfunctions than you'd care to hear. Mark Heap (Spaced, Lark Rise to Candleford) plays Bob, the anally-retentive head of the local ramblers club who needs to add new members or else it will fall apart. But he meets his match in Christine, played by Ruth Jones (Gavin & Stacey) using her English accent, an obnoxious newcomer who challenges his authority. Bob's life is joyless except for rambling and he knows that without order and rules, the result is anarchy. But he's become a bit too in love of being in charge and setting the rules, and Christine with her "new ways" upsets his natural order of things. Other characters include an unhappy young married couple, Bob's daughter, and a rather dim bulb who has no sense of appropriate behavior. Even though there are no jokes, per se, I instantly fell in love with the characters and wanted to see what happens to them next. The Great Outdoors is never going to be a world-beater, particularly languishing after midnight in August on BBC4, but it's worth checking out as a great example of the British character comedy.
Great Rail Journeys (4/94)
Michael Palin sets off on yet another globe-trotting adventure, this time via locomotive. The first episode I got was about a trip through Ireland, ostensibly to seek out the roots of his family tree, but with side-trips which allow him to explore the history of Ireland, particularly the troubles in Northern Ireland. More than just an exercise in train-spotting, Palin seems to have evolved into an Everyman whose knowlege knows no bounds. Hard to believe he was singing about being a lumberjack 20 years ago...
This season's trips include "From Crewe to Crewe" by Victoria Wood; and Alexei Sayle traveling the middle-east via countries most Americans can't get to. The best footage contains an actual derailment that occurred just as they pulled into a station in Syria. But being the BBC, no one gets too upset, and the show just keeps on going.
The Greatest F**king Show on TV (5/94)
The actual title of a Without Walls documentary which makes the case for hearing swearing on television. During the course of the show, the host uses just about every four-letter word imaginable (it ran after the so-called "watershed" on independent Channel Four) as well as every clip of someone swearing on TV that could be found in the archives. Pretty funny, and it makes a good point. However, I don't think you'll see this running in America any time soon.
The Green Man (1/91)
The BBC's answer to It stars Albert Finney in a three-part horror story. He plays a drunken innkeeper who is always cheating on his wife. Meanwhile, some malevolent force in the woods begins to spread terror... I never did find out whether A&E (who co-produced this) had to cut out some of the "naughty bits" when running it.
Green Wing (2/06)
Channel 4 long-form comedy series, with 60 minute laughtrackless episodes which have a minimal plot but many sightgags and character interplay set in a hospital. The great cast includes Sarah Alexander (Coupling), Mark Heap (Spaced), Tamsin Grieg (Black Books), Pippa Haywood (The Brittas Empire) and many more, and the show's house style is to speed up and slow down shots accompanied by haunting music. More energy and production resources have been plowed into this than any comedy in recent memory, and happily with humorous results.
The Grimleys (9/97)
ITV pilot movie set in 1975 about a boy coming of age in a depressing apartment block and an even more depressing family. His dad (Nigel Planer) never leaves his easy chair in front of the TV, his sister is a slut, and the P.E. teacher at school (comic Jack Dee) is a leering sadist. The only joy in his life is Samantha Janus, the cousin of his best friend who arrives back in town to teach at his school. Entertaining for the most part, I hope they make more.
ITV comedy series based on the 1997 pilot movie about an intelligent schoolboy in the 1970s stuck with an ignorant family, a sadistic P.E. teacher, and his fixation on his beautiful English teacher neighbor. Samantha Janus and Jack Dee from the movie have been replaced for the series, but the same level of fun and pathos continues, and this proves the perfect antidote to the awful Days Like These which unsuccessfully tried to mine material from the same era.
Grown Ups (7/97)
This thirtysomething UK version of Friends is about five friends from college now mostly married with jobs but still not quite coping with things. On the surface it's a completely by-the-book sitcom, but it does feature nice little fantasy sequences with each of the characters, often time dramatizing some crisis in their life. More of these would have helped the series stand out more. As it is, I still felt it was just another domestic comedy.
Grumpy Old Men (7/04)
Documentary series with various UK celebrities (Bob Geldof, Will Self, Tony Hawks, etc) getting a chance to moan on in a very un-politically correct way about various topics. Narrated by their patron saint (at least in sitcoms) Geoffrey Palmer.
A police detective in charge of a child molestation case finds things hitting a bit too close to home in this Channel Four movie. Solid drama is let down by the oh-so-solemn string quartet sawing away every moment in the background telling us this is Serious Drama we're watching here.
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (3/04)
Very much in the flavor of Room 101 with celebrities chatting with a host (in this case, Anne Robinson) about who they would like to invite to a dinner party, if it could be anyone in history. This sets up various clips which may or may not have anything to do with the choices, and then shabby animation showing each of the guests around a table at the end. The kind of show that probably plays better on radio where two people sitting around talking isn't TV death.
The Guilty (11/13)
Three-part ITV mini-series in the mold of Broadchurch about a small town where a young boy has been missing for five years. Suddenly his body is found and it reopens the investigation (and old wounds) for the family, neighbors, and the police. Now in charge is a police inspector played by Tamsin Greig who finds the case makes her worry about her own son. The father (Darren Boyd) remains a possible suspect, and there are plenty of red herrings to uncover before the the truth finally comes out.
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