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Dates refer to when review was written
A very thinly disguised satire of the News Of The World phone hacking scandal, with Claire Foy as the editor of a tabloid paper run by a ruthless Australian (Michael Kitchen). You know the story, so the fun is matching these “fictional” characters with their real-life counterparts and laughing at their ridiculousness. Of course writer-director Guy Jenkin gets the last laugh with how one imagines he would have wanted things to turn out for everyone.
Hale and Pace (5/89)
Yet another comedy double act, with Gareth Hale and Norman Pace. They blew up a cat in a microwave in the opening episode, winning them a role in a cat-oriented episode of Dr Who ("Survival") later in the year.
H&P @ BBC (1/00)
Hale and Pace take their act to the BBC with this audience participation show that I must admit was more palatable than Reeves and Mortimer's Families At War. Members of the audience compete for a "screen test" (edited into a classic film clip) or try to identify music while underwater, while celebrities are quizzed on general knowledge or get to impersonate someone famous (a la Stars In Their Eyes). On the road, the boys try to get "something for nothing," brazenly going into shops around the country and just asking for things for free. Amazingly, they accumulate quite a bit of booty!
Paul Whitehouse (The Fast Show) stars as Danny in this BBC comedy/drama about a middle-aged semi-celebrity (Danny is the voice of a popular cartoon bear) who is recently widowed and trying to make sense of it all. His friends are mostly a pack of losers, including Johnny Vegas as an alcoholic, Danny's ex-girlfriend now married to a boring librarian (Mark Heap from Spaced) and expecting their first baby, and Danny's over-aged manager who rides a motorcycle and tries to hang on to the illusion of youth with a succession of much younger girlfriends. After a series of disasters Danny finally gets a posh girlfriend but his insecurity is certain to blow that relationship too. The series is a nice change of pace for Whitehouse who has slowly been expanding his repertoire from impersonations and comic characters to an actual flesh-and-blood three-dimensional person. He also co-wrote it and sings the title song.
Hamilton Mattress (1/03)
Animated BBC children's special about an aardvark who wants to become a drummer but is told he's too ugly to be in a band. He finds someone to "front" for him and uses the unlikely pseudonym of Hamilton Mattress. But will he be found out or will there be a happy ending? Guess.
Hamish Macbeth (11/96)
Second season of this drama about a young policeman (Robert Carlyle) in a remote Scottish town. Much like Ballykissangel, everyone in town is a character, and much of the action revolves around the local pub. But things get serious in the fourth episode when tragedy strikes the life of young Hamish. Three seasons in total were produced.
Alexander Siddig ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") has the title role in this documentary chronicling the life of the legendary general from Carthage who nearly brought Rome to its knees. Amazing recreations feature a cast of thousand (digital) extras, elephants, and location filming.
Harbour Lights (9/99)
Nick Berry, the British George Clooney, stars in this light-handed BBC drama series as a former Royal Navy officer who is now Harbormaster in a small port town. Each week he solves everyone's problems with a deft touch, while various subplots swirl around him. There's nothing wrong with this series, but everyone turns out to be okay, and the result is a wee bit bland and predictable.
Writer Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) tried to hit gold again with this ITV workplace comedy starring Martin Freeman (The Office). It's a bit like the macho bonding that Tim Allen captured in "Home Improvement" particularly the "secret code" that seems to exist between contractors and hardware staff that the general public just can't grasp. I much preferred Nye's last comedy, the wacky Wild West, rather than this routine sitcom.
Harry and Paul's Story of the Twos (6/14)
For the 50th anniversary of BBC Two, Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse recreate famous scenes and proceed to parody the history of the channel with various impersonations. They mock the fact that nearly the same documentary about WWI can be done 50 years apart, and over the years all viewers really want is "Bruce Forsyth, Doctor Who, and Coronation Street." This culminates in the ultimate celebrity panel show with impressions of Angus Deayton, Paul Merton, Boris Johnson, Ian Hislop, David Mitchell, Sarah Millican, "Uncomfortable Journalist," and Stephen Fry. The more you know about the history of British TV and the personalities, the funnier this is to watch.
Harry Enfield and Chums (7/95)
Sketch comedy series with recurring characters each week. Other favorite bits include "Benny Elton" featuring the actual alternative comic taking on the characteristics of another notorious British comedian; a parody of Four Weddings and a Funeral; some more training films from Mister Cholmondley-Warner; and the Merchant/Ivory production of Terminator 3 with Martin Clunes. Read my feature about Harry Enfield.
Harry Enfield's Brand Spanking New Show (1/04)
Harry made the big bucks leap to Sky TV and tried to invent new characters but nothing really catches on and the absence of former collaborators Paul Whitehouse and Kathy Burke is sorely missed. Enfield is currently doing voice overs as a gnome in the Travelocity ads in the U.S.
Harry Enfield's Guide To Opera (3/93)
A noble experiment, an attempt to bring and explain "culture" to the masses (or whoever bothers to catch this 6-part series of Channel Four). There are attempts at comedy, particularly to take the piss out of stuffy opera buffs, and plenty of long clips from famous productions. From an educational point of view, not bad.
Harry Enfield's TV Show (1/91)
Enfield, the man behind last year's Norbert Smith does a collection of characters. He's talented but the writing could have been sharper here.
Harry Hill (9/97)
The jury was out on Harry Hill for a long time. I first became aware of him from his oddball but endearing shorts, Harry Hill's Fruit Fancies. And his appearances on Saturday Live last year were the only rays of quality. My friend Allen in England would ring me after each episode of this new sketch comedy to rave about how hilarious it was. And perhaps on a Friday night after coming from the pub it is pretty funny. But I felt a little went a long way. Every week, Harry and his cadre of co-stars would do the same gags and sketches every single show. It got to the point where I knew what was going to happen moment to moment. I suppose the payoff was the final episode where the expected rhythm was mercifully broken up, but by then I had to wonder, "What's the point?" Still, it could be funny at times and David Letterman loves this guy. But literally, if you've seen one, you've seen `em all.
The second season on Channel 4 of David Letterman's favorite British comic is a sight better than last year, which at times seems like they used the same script for six weeks. This year (under the auspices of Script Editor Stewart Lee), there are attempts at genuinely funny sketches that stand up on their own, building jokes on earlier gags, and some truly surreal moments (the head of Channel 4 is portrayed as a demented puppet who just wants to get on TV). While Hill's stand-up act still leaves me cold, the rest of his show has, at least, gone from being dreadful to at least watchable.
Harry Hill's Fruit Fancies (1/95)
A short subject about an attempted suicide who keeps offing a succession of family dogs by accident. Needless to say, it's played for laughs.
Harry Hill's Shark Infested Custard (4/08)
Junior edition of Hill's wacky hijinks, involving kids and their grans. The only thing that justifies this series in my mind is the idea that hooking people while they're young on Harry's peculiar, yet amusing, brand of humor, guarantees a lifelong career (one hopes).
Harry Hill's TV Burp (1/03)
Fringe comedian Hill comes the closest to mainstream audiences with this somewhat tired format of commenting on the current week's TV shows. Of course he gets to cut loose with his odd brand of humor, such as trying to give a horse to the characters of Coronation Street or interviewing a dog from EastEnders.
Lovely Ruth Jones from Gavin & Stacy starred in this BBC4 biopic about the private life of comedienne Hattie Jacques. Hattie was best known in Britain for appearing in many of the "Carry On" films, usually as the Matron, and in the long running comedy program Sykes along with Ernie Sykes. She was married to actor John Le Mesurier, best known for being in Dad's Army. He's played by Robert Bathurst, seen these days in Downton Abbey. It's the early 1960s and Hattie spends her days working on "Carry On Cabbie" and then coming home to her often unemployed husband and two sons and cooks them dinner. They have a border who lives in the attic and babysits the boys. She then meets John Schofield, a young used car salesman played by clean-shaven Aidan Turner (Being Human). Schofield sweeps Hattie off her feet and they begin having an affair. Soon, Schofield is the new border living in the attic right underneath Le Mesurier's nose. Hattie and Schofield continue their affair even after they're discovered one night by Le Mesurier. But Hattie still loves her husband and can't bear to have to choose one man over the other. So an arrangement is made. Le Mesurier discretely moves into the attic while Schofield gets the bedroom with Hattie. All this is to prevent scandal which would ruin Hattie's career. Schofield gets it right when he says he doesn't understand posh folks. Hattie eventually arranged for her husband to date and marry her best friend and he even agrees to fall on his sword and let himself be accused of adultery so Hattie can get a divorce without it seeming her fault. These extraordinary events were chronicled in Hattie's authorized biography which the public didn't discover until years later. This TV Movie dramatized this unusual situation in a straight-forward manner, with excellent performances from each of the actors.
Have I Got News For You (5/93)
Current affairs are turned into a humorous game show with host Angus Deayton, and panelists Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye) and Paul Merton joined by two celebrities who must recall the current week's news stories based on pictures, headlines, or other bits of information. Lots of ad-lib guessing is encouraged (with the word "allegedly" used often to avoid potential libel suits) and the point scoring is about as accurately kept as Whose Line Is It Anyway?. In other words, having fun is much more important than getting the correct answer. A fun way to end each week during its 8-week seasons twice a year, with plenty of "naughty" words too.
The latest series of this current affairs game show that cleverly gets around libel suits for disparaging remarks made about famous people by adding the word "allegedly" after every sentence. As usual, the attempt by the four panelists is to come up with a humorous quip rather than answer a question seriously. In the final episode, the guest panelist is Salman Rushdie!--picked out of a crowd with his bodyguards at random--allegedly!
BBC dramatization of Stephen Hawking's life from 1963-65 while he was still at University writing his thesis. You get to see a lot of very smart people argue about the origin of the universe (at the time, the "steady state" theory was generally accepted, while Hawking fought an uphill battle to prove the Big Bang theory instead). Meanwhile, he is diagnosed with his terminal illness and begins to use crutches to walk and meets the woman who will become his first wife. Flashforwards to two Americans winning the Nobel Prize in 1978 are used to foreshadow Hawking's eventual breakthrough.
BBC-2 sketch comedy show that channel surfs in the year 2020 between all the bizarre choices available. I think they overestimated by several years, and many of these are either here now (ever watch Public Access?) or just around the corner: Innuendo TV (cooking shows filled with double entendres), Quiz News, Looney TV, the Conspiracy Channel, Mob TV, and the Awards Channel.
CGI replaces puppets in this celebrity topical satire that tries to match the outrageousness of Spitting Image. The best running joke is Prince Philip's repeated attempts to get rid of Harry's latest girlfriend in a segment called "Stop Kate Middleton Now" which bears more than a resemblance to an old Hanna-Barbara cartoon about a pigeon-obsessed villain and his snickering dog sidekick.
Heading Out (6/13)
Sue Perkins wrote and stars as Sara in this BBC sitcom about a middle-aged veterinarian who still hasn't come out of the closet to her parents (get the title?). Her friends (including Nicola Walker--so nice to see her smiling and laughing rather than the usual dour dramatic performances she is usually cast in) are determined to help her, and to that end hire a wacky life coach (Joanna Scanlan). Shelley Conn (Mistresses) is a potential girlfriend for Sara, but her nervousness and self-doubt make a relationship difficult.
Healer, The (5/95)
In this two-part BBC drama, an Irish doctor recently hired by a hospital has the ability to heal (ie, in ways that were never taught in medical school). He clashes with the medical administration when he begins to "heal" other doctor's patients, and then a media circus erupts around him when he brings a young boy back from near-death.
Heartburn Hotel (11/98)
Tim Healy (The Grand) stars in this comedy series as a grumpy hotelier in Birmingham whose dreams of glory went up in smoke along with Birmingham's 1992 Olympic bid hopes. Now the Social Services use it as a dump for society's misfits, although Healy still dreams of better days. Co-written by John Sullivan (Only Fools and Horses).
The Heart Surgeon (9/97)
Nigel Havers stars in this two part BBC drama as a cool doctor whose ethics are called into question when a patient of his dies in mysterious circumstances - and it's discovered he was his lover's husband. Havers is no saint but sympathy is with him as his world begins to crumble around him.
Hearts & Bones (3/02)
Dervla Kirwan (Ballykissangel) and Amanda Holden (The Grimleys) star in this six-part BBC drama about three couples and their lives and loves. Hold on, isn't that Cold Feet over on ITV? Well, why mess with success, and the series hews to the formula with plenty of angst and suspense over who will end up with whom.
Heaven On Earth (7/98)
Neil Pearson (See You Friday) stars in this two-part BBC drama about a burned out yuppie who has no where else to turn after going bankrupt except to follow his wife and daughter to an Amish-like religious commune, where his grandfather-in-law is patriarch and has been suffering terrible visions of doom. Once there though, Pearson takes to the community like it was second nature, quickly converts, and learns how to fashion the wood furniture that is so prized by "outsiders." Soon, he is angling to succeed the old patriarch, while his wife becomes more and more horrified at the extremes he goes to in order to remain in control. An interesting look at what would happen if a complete monster were to assume power in a society where absolute faith in "God's will" does not allow for dissension in the ranks.
BBC comedy/drama about a newly married couple who return to Hebburn (sounds like "heaven" when spoken by the locals) near Newcastle, where things don't change much. Jack's new bride from "down south," Sarah (Kimberley Nixon) surprises everyone by being Jewish, and mum and dad (Gina McKee, Jim Moir--aka "Vic Reeves") are disappointed they didn't attend their drunken quickie Vegas wedding. Jack's old girlfriend is still on the warpath, while his sister is sweet with the local pub crooner. Much of the action occurs in the local pub, or in gran's nursing home. Written by Jason Cook, not surprisingly it was produced by Steve Coogan's Baby Cow Manchester company.
The Hello Girls (1/97)
BBC comedy/drama set in the early 1960s featuring a plain girl who gets a job as an operator with the G.P.O., at the time the phone company in Britain. Like all British hierarchies, the women are expected to conform to the organization's exact, and time-honored standards, even though our heroine's boyfriend is a Marxist. The BBC lovingly recreates the era complete with busses, cars, location shots, clothes, hairstyles, and it's a fascinating slice-of-life of another bygone era.
Hello, I'm Jack Berry (1/03)
BBC sketch sitcom that is notable for linking every one of its sketches somehow. This must have been a bitch to write and shoot because each segment relies on the previous one to set it up. One running gag involves "The Pissed Detective."
Help Your Self (4/07)
Angus Deayton mocks American self-help videos with generous clips (mainly from the 80s and 90s), which out of context do appear to be incredibly stupid or highly obvious with their advice.
A BBC TV movie about a young Protestant girl who wins a music talent contest and travels to Belfast in order to play her instrument...an accordion. Needless to say, she finds Catholic Belfast with its armed militia and barbed wire fences quite a change, not to mention having to cope with people accepting her unusual choice of instrument. It all ends very strangely: she flies off aboard a concrete bunker being transported by helicopter by the British Army over the city. Away she goes...
Henry VIII (5/04)
ITV/"Masterpiece Theatre" co-production with an all-star cast including Ray Winstone as Henry, and Helena Bonham-Carter as Anne Bolin in this big-budget dramatization. Henry, as played here, is very sympathetic, dealing with a divided kingdom and driven by his obsession for a male heir. That, and a poor choice of advisors, are what lead him to go through his many, many wives (easy way to remember their fates: "Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.") Great pains are made to show Henry's suffering, particularly anguish over Anne's fate, and perhaps was custom at the time, the ones for the chop all gave Henry a glowing testimonial just before they lost their heads.
Here's Johnny (7/97)
Latenight Channel 4 chat show with Johnny Vaughn. His interviews (and guests) are crap, though mercifully brief. Instead, the strengths of the series are the running jokes: a different ethnic house band each week ("to try them out"), a "Lurker of the Week" contest featuring the person who does their best to appear on camera during Channel 4's racing coverage, and "probes" into things like pub shoes. At 24 minutes (minus commercials), Vaughn doesn't overstay his welcome, particularly as the series only ran 7 weeks.
Heroes and Villains (7/95)
Three episode BBC biographical series featuring famous comedians in epic dramatizations of some notoriously colorful people in British history. The first and funniest is Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) as Lady Hester Stanhope who went from being the niece of Prime Minister William Pitt to a Queen in Syria in the early 19th century. Secondly, Rowan Atkinson gets behind the wheel again as ace driver Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin, who drove for Bentley in the 30s but also blew the family fortune trying to perfect a race car of his own. Finally Jim Broadbent is Colonel A.D. Wintle, a veteran of both World Wars who went on to be a famous litigant in a contested estate case. The title of the series is derived from the fact that as spectacular as each of these people's lives were, they each paid a price, personally, emotionally, and financially. Excellent dramas with genuine wit and great historical recreations.
Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (7/96)
Patricia Routledge (Keeping Up Appearances) stars in what seems at first like a Murder, She Wrote rip-off about a senior citizen solving crimes on her own, but the drama and characters take precedent over the whodunit elements and elevate the series to something watchable.
Tough guy Philip Glenister (Life on Mars) gets to do his thing as Harry Venn, a dodgy solicitor who takes on a case that has ripples that connect right up to a scandal involving the prime minister. Hired by Gina, a beautiful French barrister, both her past and Harry's are somehow connected with a scheme by powerful interests to bring down the government, and only Harry can solve the mystery. David Suchet appears as Gina's father who wants to protect his daughter but turns out to be more involved with the conspiracy than he knows. Hidden is a good, exciting romp, similar in style to Glenister's earlier turn in State of Play.
The High Life (5/95)
Suppose Pee-Wee Herman were Scottish? Suppose he were cloned? Then you'd have something very similar to this sit-com about two thick flight attendants starring Alan Cumming (Bernard and the Genie). Yes, two Scottish Pee-Wee impersonators do their thing in the air and on the ground. And if you enjoy this sort of thing, it's all yours.... The pilot was originally shown on Comic Asides.
High Stakes (1/02)
Richard Wilson (One Foot In The Grave) stars in this fairly lame ITV workplace comedy set in the world of high finance. He gamely tries his best but the scripts lack ambition and go in predictable directions.
Him & Her (10/10)
This Russell Tovey vehicle was more like a one-act play than a situation comedy. Shot like a film but in a very claustrophobic apartment, Tovey plays Steve who mostly wants to have sex with his girlfriend Becky. But interruptions in the form of creepy neighbor Dan and Becky's sister Laura keep getting in the way. Steve is the kind of feckless guy who is afraid of spiders and goes mental when he discovers that Becky hasn't flushed the toilet. He also can't keep a secret. I felt I was watching an episode of Pete Versus Life waiting for the commentators to bet on when Steve would tell Laura her boyfriend had cheated on her. Which he does. I'm not sure I'm in the mood right now for another "slice of life" series like The Royle Family where nothing much happens, we just witness rather shallow, lazy characters living their lives.
Immediately following his series Spaced, Simon Pegg moved to over to BBC to star in Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan's (Father Ted) new series set in the 1960s. I've become very fond of Pegg ever since he played Julia Sawalha's unloved boyfriend in Faith In The Future, and subsequent appearances in Matthews & Linehan's sketch series Big Train increased his range. But is a series mocking lazy hippies really necessary? Everyone concerned has done much better work elsewhere, although it's not without a few chuckles.
A History Of Alternative Comedy (9/99)
Once upon a time, British comedy was safe, especially on television, but in the 1970s a revolution of sorts occurred, with the first comedy clubs opening in Britain (though nobody knew what to make of Alexei Sayle, Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, or French and Saunders the first time they saw them on stage), and their eventual success on TV, all chronicled in this BBC documentary series presented by Angus Deayton.
The History of Light Entertainment (4/08)
Stephen Fry narrates this comprehensive documentary series looking at Light Entertainment, everything from comedians, to impressionists, and disc jockeys, with interviews, photos, and film going back to vaudeville days to the modern era.
The History of Mr Polly (10/08)
Lee Evans stars in this rarely filmed HG Wells story about a young man trying to find his place in the world in this ITV TV movie. He inherits some money and opens a shop, but chooses poorly in marriage. A convenient fire gives him the excuse to get out of the trap he's made for himself and he hits the road to find his destiny. Eventually he tries to help out an innkeeper in distress (Julie Graham) but he'll need to summon up some courage first.
The History of Youth TV (1/99)
Surprisingly, "Yoof TV" (as it's called in the UK) is a fairly recent invention on British TV (famously parodied by Ben Elton with "Nosin' Around" during the first episode of The Young Ones). It was mostly shepherded into existence by Janet Street-Porter with Network 7, a MTV-like blast of graphics, sound, and images aimed at the teen market by Channel 4 in the late 80s. This was followed by The Word and Rough Guide travel series among others. But like all trends, it burned itself out with an ever-increasing number of shows which all had the same styles, and the realization that more teens were still watching One Foot In The Grave than any of the programs supposedly aimed directly at them. Which isn't to say there aren't still some good efforts being made, including The Adam and Joe Show (who were interviewed as part of this documentary), and Lee and Herring's material.
Hit & Miss (6/12)
A very unusual drama on Sky Atlantic from Paul Abbott (Shameless) about a transsexual woman (Chloë Sevigny, "Big Love") who unexpectedly becomes foster mother to a family of orphans that belonged to an ex-lover. Oh yeah, she's also a remorseless hitwoman for a mob boss on the side. These two competing genres seem like they should not work together, but in the post-"Sopranos" world, anything is possible. Sevigny gives it her all (with plenty of nude shots showing her with a cock) but the power balance seems odd. Faced with a nasty neighbor who owns the property her new family lives on, he seems outclassed when we know she's killed dozens of people without a second thought. Abbott certainly is no stranger is presenting protagonists that on nearly any other series would be the villains, and we're meant to sympathize and ultimately root for their small victories. If nothing else, I will give Hit & Miss props for being utterly different than any other series currently on TV.
Holding On (11/97)
This ambitious BBC multi-part drama does for London what Our Friends In The North did for that particular region. Written by Tony Marchant, characters are added and interconnected in a rich texture that requires attentive viewing but pays off handsomely with first-class drama. It's almost like a huge soap opera except much better written and with a point. Stylishly filmed with long steadicam shots right on location in the streets and buildings of London. This contrasts with scenes of Phil Daniels (Sunnyside Farm) as a misanthropic food critic who is shot with a distorted fish-eye lens and addresses the camera directly. Death strikes frequently (and unexpectedly), but there is also love, betrayal, and people who are driven to the brink of breaking by life and the pressures of the big city and manage (though not in all cases) to keep on going.
TV Movie about a foursome who has golfed together every weekend for 10 years. But all the old rivalries and secrets come to a head one day with fatal results. Tony Robinson is one of the group, a hypochondriac who rides his bike to the course (one of the others arrives in his personal helicopter). His partner is a young man whose late father was the course champion and bitter rival of the fourth man. Compelling, even if you don't find golf very interesting.
The best Shakespeare you'll ever see. OK, the best set of productions following the Henry cycle (Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V) the BBC has ever mounted featuring a stellar cast and cinema-quality production values. Richard II kicks things off with Ben Whishaw (The Hour) as King Richard who eventually loses his throne to Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear) in a cast that includes Patrick Stewart, David Morrissey, David Suchet and Lindsay Duncan. Henry IV stars Tom Hiddleston (Loki from "The Avengers") as Prince Hal who cavorts night and day with Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale), and a cast that includes Alun Armstrong, Julie Walters, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Irons and Maxine Peake (in a tiny part, in any other other series she'd be the lead!). When Hal takes over as Henry V we see his famous triumph over the French at the Battle of Agincourt. These aren't actors shouting at each other on a stage, when scenes take place in a castle, they're in a castle, when they're on a beach, it's a beach, and when a battle takes places, we see hundreds of costumed extras on location and plenty of blood and gore. A co-production with WNET Thirteen, I would expect this will turn up on PBS eventually and I cannot urge you enough to catch these first-class productions in every way, you won't regret it.
Hollywood's Master Of Myth: Joseph Campbell, The Force Behind Star
BBC documentary that attempts to delve beyond the hype of "The Phantom Menace" (it was screened the month the movie opened in Britain) by focusing on the writer who was often credited as a huge influence on George Lucas, and most "heroic" literature.
Hollywood Science (3/04)
Robert Llewellyn (Scrapheap Challenge) co-hosts this BBC Open University series that explores whether improbably things seen in movies are actually scientifically plausible. Backyard experiments are performed to reproduce some of the dodgy onscreen science, with a competition to see which movie does the worst.
Holy Flying Circus (11/11)
This BBC-4 TV Movie recounts the events in 1979 when the Monty Python troupe were under siege in Britain for their "blasphemous" movie, "The Life of Brian." The climax was a bit of legendary TV when John Cleese and Michael Palin were confronted by cultural critics Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark, on Friday Night Saturday Morning. This dramatization tries far too hard to be "Pythonesque" with surreal bits like Palin's wife being played by the actor also playing Terry Jones, cutaways of God (Stephen Fry) watching the action, and Cleese (Darren Boyd) behaving more like Basil Fawlty than a real person despite a disclaimer. We're continually reminded that Palin is "the nicest man in Britain," which is supposed to contrast with his increasing lack of patience that occurred during the broadcast. To be fair, Holy Flying Circus, is almost exactly the kind of movie I would have made when I was 18 when these events are set. I was a die-hard Python fan at the time, like all my friends in high school were, and I would have found such onscreen shenanigans hilarious and inventive. Alas, I'm not 18 any longer and I can tell when someone is trying just a bit too hard to replicate their comedy masters and not succeeding.
Home Again (4/08)
When I was interviewed on Radio Four last year, the presenter argued that lately American sitcoms were perceived to be superior to British ones. Perhaps it's because he was thinking of comedies such as this one, about a young married couple who are forced through circumstances to stay with the wife's parents. If this were the extent of British comedy in the 21st Century, I would have to agree. Fortunately, they aren't. (I also suspect they never see America's more dire comedies such as "Two and Half Men" and "The King of Queens." Superior, indeed!)
ITV1 serialized drama about the lives of women whose husbands are deployed to Afghanistan. It begins with Tasha (Antonia Thomas, Misfits) receiving word her husband has died in action leaving her with a baby and a mother-in-law who blames her. Other plots include a woman (Claire Skinner) who is marrying the unit commander but isn't quite ready for the life of being an officer's wife, and a woman who realizes her husband has been cheating on her. When the boys come home on leave is when the drama really happens.
Home Time (8/10)
This comedy from Steven Coogan's Baby Cow company immediately clues you in for what you will get: a deadpan character comedy about losers just looking for a bit of dignity. In this case it's Gaynor (Emma Fryer), who returns to Coventry after 12 years to move back in with her parents after having been burned out living in London away from her mates. They haven't changed a bit and after forgiving her for "running out" on them (apparently you are expected to live within 10 miles of where you grew up forever around there), she falls back into the same routines that probably drove her out in the first place. Everyone from her Irish mother to her rather doctrinaire friends are characters and though low-key, you do care about them.
The Honourable Woman (8/14)
Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in this complex BBC eight-part political thriller by Hugo Blick (The Shadow Line) as Nessa Stein, an Israeli-Briton whose family business in the middle-east puts her in the heart of the Israel/Palestinian conflict. It opens with Nessa as a young girl who along with her brother Ephra (Andrew Buchan) witnesses her father assassinated in a London restaurant because he armed Israelis against the Palestinians. Years later, the siblings have turned their father's arms business into a peacemaking foundation that tries to deal with both sides evenhandedly. But not everybody wants peace and a kidnapping reveals Nessa's tortured (literally) past, and the compromises that have been made on her behalf. The Americans and British secret service also get involved, with Stephen Rea as a MI5 spook about to be put out to pasture trying to get to the bottom of the secrets and lies behind all the conspiracies.
Hope & Glory (1/00)
Lenny Henry (Chef) stars in this BBC drama series as a successful school headmaster who turns down a lucrative ministerial job to help turn around a failing inner-city grammar school. Peter Davison appears in the first episode as the outgoing head and he delivers the performance of a lifetime when he completely loses it during a farewell party and ends up screaming at all the jeering students and telling them exactly how worthless each of them are. Clive Russell (Heartburn Hotel) and Amanda Redman are staff teachers who have to be convinced that Henry's often rash decisions will work, while he tries to stave off an inevitable heart attack.
Hope Springs (3/10)
Alex Kingston leads the cast of four women who recently get out of prison, rip off Alex's criminal husband, and end up in a small one-pub village in Scotland when their attempt to escape to Barbados goes awry. Instead, they purchase the run-down hotel/pub from its current owner (Annette Crosbie) with their ill-gotten gains in order to buy time until they can get new passports and out of the country. But they get involved in the affairs in the small village, including the sleazy banker who secretly has already committed two murders and impregnated the local policeman's fiancee, and wants the hotel for himself. And Alex's husband isn't far behind either in this BBC drama series.
First in a series of ITV movies based on the classic novels. Newcomer Ioan Gruffudd plays Horatio Hornblower, a junior officer whose first ship is under the control of a sadistic midshipman. Things look up when he is transferred to a ship commanded by Robert Lindsay, and from there it’s high adventure on the seas in this exquisite, handsomely mounted production. More movies are coming, and eventually they will turn up on A&E.
Horne & Corden (3/10)
The two male stars of Gavin and Stacey teamed up for this BBC3 sketch comedy series...with mixed results. Mathew Horne has already played a number of characters in comedies including The Catherine Tate Show and Roman's Empire, but James Corden tends to go for the Chris Farley type of character, and there's only so much of that you can take. But they are both nice young men and they'll do better next time.
Horrible Histories (6/11)
This BBC children's series won a British Comedy Award in 2011 with an upset win for "Best Sketch Series" beating out several well-known prime time contenders. I was late jumping on the bandwagon of this clever, funny look at history with well-mounted and researched historical sketches that are annotated with on-screen facts when something particularly unbelievable but true is mentioned. Yes, it's meant to be educational, which it is, albeit in a very entertaining way. After languishing on CBBC for years, a compilation series hosted by Stephen Fry finally made the leap to BBC1 where latecomers like me could finally discover this great show.
Horse Opera (5/94)
An opera specially commissioned for television and scored by The Police's Stewart Copeland (in much the same vein as his score for the pilot of Babylon 5). The plot concerns a middle class Brit cowboy enthusiast who finds himself in a real western. Rik Mayall also appears. Strange and quite wonderful. How come nobody in this country makes things like this?
Channel 5 TV comedy movie that borrows heavily from the Airplane school of comedy with sight-gags-a-minute. An all star cast led by Bob Peck features cameos by Martin Clunes, Julian Clary, Alexei Sayle, Nicholas Parsons, and Philip Pope. Hey wait a minute, didn't Garry Marshall do this idea first in 1982 with "Young Doctors In Love"? Hmmm...
Hotel Babylon (4/07)
Glossy BBC drama series set a posh London hotel which allows for different guest stars each week (Joan Collins!) as well as the misadventures and mini-dramas between the staff. It's interesting, I suppose, if you've ever been curious how a large, modern hotel operates behind the scenes (assuming it's been researched at all), but the glamorous settings and good-looking cast make it all go down easy.
Hot Metal (3/91)
Robert Hardy (All Creatures Great and Small) plays dual roles as a Robert Maxwell-like media lord, and also as the publisher of a tabloid, "The Daily Crucible" in this 1985-6 ITV sitcom. Much to the horror of editor Geoffrey Palmer as a serious journalist, things go from bad to worse at the paper, and he takes the heat for each public relations fiasco. Meanwhile, an enterprising reporter (John Gordon-Sinclair) finds himself on a real story. The second season continued without Palmer or Sinclair, with Richard Wilson (One Foot In the Grave) taking over, although Palmer returned in a special 15-minute 1989 Comic Relief episode.
Hot Money (1/03)
Caroline Quentin (Jonathan Creek) stars in this based-on-a-true story ITV movie about a group of women employees of the Bank of England who stole thousands of pounds over several months right underneath the bank's nose. Of course class differences come into the equation, as conspicuous consumption by the working class members of the gang nearly get them caught. Remarkably, there was never enough evidence to prosecute the women, although eventually they lost a civil case brought against them by the bank.
The Hour (11/11)
This BBC drama series is set in the world of TV news during the 1950s. Romola Garai is Bel Rowley, an ambitious producer who gets promoted out of the ghetto of the BBC news department. At the time the BBC presented the news simply with a stodgy newsreader narrating a newsreel, akin to how history was presented in Ricky Gervais' "The History of Lying." Bel is to be the producer for the foreign desk of a new, more dynamic magazine style show to be called "The Hour." The presenter is Hector Madden (Dominic West), who isn't alone in thinking women should know their place. Bel knows how to handle his type. She wants her colleague Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) to get a job with "The Hour" as well, but he is too independent and willful for the conservative producers at the BBC. Meanwhile, Burn Gorman (late of Torchwood), is running around London mysteriously murdering people as part of some conspiracy that Freddie begins to investigate. I have to admit, I was spending more time fascinated by the set dressings than the actors in front of them, particularly the signage around the BBC that had all the charm of a tube station. But maybe that's just me because I like those sorts of period touches. I'm not saying The Hour is bad, like any British drama, I'm willing to give it a lot of patience to see where it is going, and how it all pays off. I saw complaints in The Guardian from someone who worked in that era who said the details were completely wrong and anachronistic, but it could just be sour grapes and 60 years of memory cheating too. There were obvious comparisons of The Hour to "Mad Men" although it's more like "All the President's Men," itself a period movie now. However, much is not resolved by the end of the first season, although fortunately the BBC has commissioned another one.
House of Cards (1/91)
This year's A Very British Coup. Absolutely top-notch entertainment from beginning to end with Ian Richardson pulling everyone's strings in order to become Prime Minister. Very highly recommended. Followed by two sequels: To Play The King and The Final Cut. Screenplay adaption by Andrew Davies (Game On, A Very Peculiar Practice).
House of Fools (2/14)
Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer create their first sitcom, which they also star in as mismatched flatmates. Characters are introduced with quick musical ditties, including their friend Beef (Matt Berry), oversexed neighbor (Morgana Robinson) and other residents. A lot of jokes revolve Bob losing his toupee, and often the action will switch to Grade-Z quality animation to illustrate some action. But nobody tuning into a Vic and Bob series can be surprised to discover the contents are anarchic, silly, and funny. Not for all tastes, but they do sure know their audience.
House of Windsor (7/94)
A sitcom directed by Graeme Harper (Star Cops and "Caves of Androzani") about the behind-the-scenes goings-on at the palace. This runs very late at night on ITV after Spitting Image and isn't afraid to make the tasteless joke or show what happens when a Corgi encounters an oversized carpet cleaner. The Royals themselves are never seen, just the staff, but there are plenty of references to them and their escapades. They must eat this stuff up in Republican-heading Australia.
The House That Jack Built (1/04)
The late Adam Faith plays an overbearing rich father in this comedy. Jack has three kids, two spoiled rotten, and the oldest who is married and followed in the family business but can't avoid Jack meddling in every little aspect of his life. Jack means well but he is the father-in-law from hell trying to be in control of everything around him.
Housewife, 49 (4/08)
Victoria Wood wrote and stars in this ITV drama about an ordinary woman who keeps a diary during WWII as part of a government initiative to document home life. At first she is a minor player in the local Women's Auxiliary, but eventually finds the inner strength to take control and help raise money for the war effort as well as stand-up for herself at home.
How Do You Want Me? (7/98)
Writer Simon Nye's (Men Behaving Badly) comedy about an Irish Londoner who marries a woman from a small country village then lives to regret moving home with her. He is completely out of his depths in a town where everybody knows one another and he immediately makes the worst impression possible, especially on his new in-laws who practically control the place. To fit in, he buys the local photography studio but doesn't know the first thing about cameras, and at one point his father-in-law offers him £20,000 to get divorced and just leave town once and for all. He doesn't of course, because the couple is truly in love, but that never stops the comedic tension. Like Nye's other new generation of comedies (My Wonderful Life, The Last Salute), this series is shot on film without a laugh track, with episode titles generated by lines in the script.
How Not To Live Your Life (3/10)
Dan Clark wrote and stars in this BBC comedy as Don the ultimate slacker who manages to inherit his grandmother's house but then discovers (to his horror) that he can't spend the rest of his life just sitting around watching television. There are amusing fantasy sequences, headed by captions such as "5 Things Not To Say In A Job Interview" and we get to see all five before Don manages to choose the least-incorrect response to a situation.
How to Be a Little Sod (6/96)
A series of animated shorts featuring the voice of Rik Mayall as the Baby From Hell giving instructions on how to drive parents completely crazy. Believe it or not, this ran on staid BBC-1.
How To Get Ahead... (6/14)
In this BBC Four documentary series by Stephen Smith, he presents the step-by-step tips to success in various historical periods including Medieval Court, Renaissance Court, French Court, etc by behaving the correct way, knowing the right people, and other tricks of the trade. He also interviews folks like David Tennant who was then playing Richard II for his take on staying on top.
How To Make It Big In Bollywood (1/00)
American media rules the world, except in India which has a huge homegrown film industry (known as "Bollywood") that cranks out hundreds of films every year. And what movies: each is epic-lengthed with elaborate musical numbers that would put Busby Berkeley to shame. In this series of Channel 4 shorts, different members of the crew talk about how they create the world of Indian cinema.
Human Remains (1/02)
Rob Brydon (Marion & Geoff) stars in this anthology series that looks at the saddest married couples in Britain. Fans of the Marion & Geoff style will appreciate the deadpan humor and lack of laughtrack, but spending extended periods of time with these people merely becomes painful after a while.
Julia Davis wrote and stars in this parody of gothic romances on Sky Atlantic. Helene (Alexandra Roach) washes up on the beach after a shipwreck and promptly marries the local parson much to the consternation of his housemaid Dorothy (Davis). Helene has a secret past but Dorothy behaves much as Davis did in her earlier series Nighty Night as a woman with no shame who will literally do anything to get what she wants. Whether you want to see this done in the backdrop of a costume drama is up to you.
The Hunt (1/02)
Amanda Holden (The Grimleys) and Philip Glenister (Clocking Off) star in this ITV two-part drama as a successful young couple who move out to the countryside and join the gentry. The subplot is the foxhunting debate, but mainly the local smoothie who has a history of seducing ladies and sets his eye on Amanda.
This BBC/Cinemax co-production is very similar to "Alias," which also starred a kickass female spy trying to uncover a conspiracy. Here, Sam Hunter (Melissa George) is betrayed during a mission by one of her team, spends a year recovering in secret, then returns to London to the private security company she worked for, each side not trusting the other. Her team's new assignment is to prevent corrupt Jack Turner (Patrick Malahide) from winning the bid to buy a Pakistani dam, but as Sam goes undercover as an American nanny, she discovers that she might not be working for the good guys. Former "X-Files" producer Frank Spotnitz created the series, so you can imagine the conspiracy theories that develop over the eight episode run.
Hunting Venus (11/99)
Martin Clunes stars and directed this ITV TV movie comedy about a one-hit wonder rock band from 1982 he is forced to reform by fanatical members of his former fan club. Of course the band has spread to the four winds, including Clunes' Men Behaving Badly co-star Neil Morrissey as the lead singer who's had a sex change operation in the intervening years. Essentially it's a road movie, but Clunes has a pretty good directorial touch, the characters are ingratiating, and of course there's a happy ending.
Robert Vaughn co-stars in this glossy BBC light drama/action series about a team of slick con men (and one woman). Each week, "Mission: Impossible"-style, they single out some obvious villain and proceed to clean his shorts out (apparently this is okay because the audience knows the mark is a real creep). Usually there is at least one con pulled on the audience (oh no, they've killed him! Oh, just kidding!) and digital effects allow them to actually stop the action, explain directly to the audience what is going on, or even have an impromptu musical number (during a movie scam). Entertaining fluff.
Nick Frost ("Hot Fuzz") stars this science fiction comedy as the incompetent captain of a third-rate British starship that has misadventures. Kevin Eldon, whom I normally like a lot, is miscast as the over-the-top paranoid First Officer (he just seems to be someone impersonating such a character, not actually playing a real person). Though there are a few chuckles throughout, you can't help be reminded at every corner how much better and funnier Red Dwarf was at this same genre. Hey, why don't they bring that back?
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