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Dates refer to when review was written
I Am Not An Animal (10/05)
Former Fist of Fun alumnus Peter Baynham wrote and directed this surreal animated series about a group of intelligence-augmented animals who escape from their lab and set out in the world, unaware that they aren't humans. The cut-out photo realistic style is a bit disturbing to get used to, but the characters are so well defined that the fun is seeing them react to a world they never made. Produced by Steve Coogan who also provides one of the voices (a very urbane horse that wears pants).
Ian Hislop's Scouting For Boys (7/09)
Satirist (and former scout) Hislop takes a serious look at Robert Baden-Powell and how he invented scouting from whole cloth in a book which became a movement that swept the world in this BBC documentary.
Ian Hislop's Olden Days (6/14)
Hislop's latest three-part documentary for the BBC explores British nostalgia and how much of it was invented. Walter Scott for example single-handedly created many traditions of Scotland with his novel "Waverly" (originally written to suppress ideas of Scottish rebellion), and then chivalry with "Ivanhoe." This doesn't mean this mythology is any less valid, but it's fascinating to see its sources and how quickly it was adopted by societies at the time to advance their goals.
Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip (12/12)
The Have I Got News For You panelist presents this three-part BBC documentary about the history of British stoicism, how it developed and became fashionable during the Victorian era, helped the country through two world wars, but seemingly has faded away with the advent of showing tears on reality TV, and the reaction to Princess Diana's death.
The Ice Cream Girls (6/13)
Three part ITV drama about Serena who returns to her seaside hometown with her husband and daughter to care for her mother but must face up to her terrible past she's kept hidden for decades. In flashbacks we see her friendship with working class Poppy who we discover has spent years in jail for killing their teacher--something Serena knows more about than she is telling. Modern-day Poppy (Jodhi May) gets released from prison and discovers Serena is back in town as well. But no one is willing to give the parolee a break. Serena, meanwhile, is difficult to sympathize with completely, she is so used to lying and covering up. Based on the novel by Dorothy Koomson.
The Ice House (7/97)
Two-part mystery by the BBC (co-produced with WGBH) that kicks off with a body being discovered nearby an estate where three women have been living together. Is it the murdered husband of one of them who went missing 10 years earlier? As the police investigate it turns out nearly everyone has a secret they are hiding, including the cops. Many skeletons come out closets before all is revealed in this well-acted suspenseful drama.
BBC TV movie about a young Met detective who goes undercover to investigate soccer hooliganism at a "hard" football club but takes his new role and friends too seriously. A shocking look at the violent culture behind soccer fandom in Europe, with opposing fans kept caged and apart in stadiums with security that would make a prison blush.
Johnny Vegas stars in this BBC-3 comedy that is set entirely in his flat where the strangest people drop in. That's because he plays a minor dope dealer but must also deal with lodgers, girlfriends (and ex-girlfriends), gangsters, and religious fundamentalists who are renovating his bathroom. There is no laugh track, it's shot single-camera style, and you either buy into this strange world and the people who populate it, or you don't.
If I Ruled The World (7/98)
Latest in a line of Have I Got News For You clones, with Clive Anderson hosting a celebrity quiz show mocking politicians. Team captains Graeme Garden (The Goodies) and Jeremy Hardy along with one guest each, represent two different nameless political parties who must answer Anderson's calls to disagree with statements no matter how absurd ("The Queen Mum is a nice person"), reply to a question without using the words yes or no, or guess how the studio audience would have responded to a poll. In fact it is the audience who ultimately scores the winner, voting via handsets for whichever team they think should form the next "government." Obviously intended to demonstrate that politicians can say anything at anytime without really saying anything, a little satire goes a long way in what must be assumed was hoped to be a long-running series.
If You See God, Tell Him (2/94)
"God" here is Godfrey, the mentally incompetent father of a long-suffering dentist (Adrian Edmondson). It seems Godfrey has suffered too many knocks to the noggin and as a result only has an attention span of 30 seconds: just enough to absorb and believe everything he sees on television commercials. As a satire of the domestic unit, this series falters. But as a parody of commercials and the contrast between their upbeat consumerism and harsh reality, it's brilliant. The ad parodies aren't bad either - slickly produced and just enough over-the-top. In the end, Godfrey retreats into a world of his own where everything is solved with a happy jingle and a convenient product. What we're left with isn't so much sad as true.
I, Lovett (5/93)
Series based on the Comic Asides pilot. This fantasical comedy series stars Norman Lovett, THE "Holly" from Red Dwarf, as a bizarre inventor who is surrounded by anthropomorphic animals and objects. At the time I saw the pilot, I hated it, wishing Lovett had remained aboard the starship. As a weekly series, curiously with an extremely adult persuasion - this is not a kids show, it doesn't seem so bad. I liked getting together with Norm and his odd little world each week. Whatever the merits of the writing, Lovett's delivery is always priceless and worth seeing.
The Illustrated Mum (7/04)
Michelle Collins stars as a single mother of two girls who is manic depressive and prone to wearing a lot of tattoos. Her older teenage daughter is savvy enough to stand up for herself and make friends and be popular in school, but the younger grade school sister is picked on constantly for having such an unusual mother. Collins obsesses about reuniting with Mikey, the older sister's father, and actually manages to find him, but he's more interested in raising his daughter than dealing with the flaky mother. Plus this leaves the younger one to cope on her own. Fortunately, Channel 4 didn't want to depress everyone too much, so a promise of a better ending is given these three (and the audience) for having survived the sometimes grim drama.
I Love The 70s (11/01)
Each year of the 1970s are lovingly brought back to life in this 10-part series, each hosted by a relevant celebrity (Lynda Carter, Bo Derek, even Kermit the Frog) describing the sights, sounds and phenomenons of each year. Absolute heaven for nostalgia buffs. Followed soon after by I Love The 80s then 90s...well, you get the idea.
I'm Alan Partridge (1/98)
Steve Coogan (Coogan's Run) resurrects unctuous TV presenter Alan Partridge, last seen with his career in ruins after a disastrous Christmas Special (Knowing Me, Knowing Yule). Now an early morning DJ on Norfolk radio, Alan lives out of a motel and desperately tries to get another TV series but his toxic personality thwarts him at every opportunity. Not everyone cares for Coogan's "lovable losers" but I find them fascinating - very real people who exist in a peculiar, but believable universe.
Imagine: Monty Python (8/14)
In the run-up to their reunion shows at the O2 Arena during the summer of 2014, this Alan Yentob documentary followed the boys as they prepared to make (or recreate) history. We see a lot of behind-the-scenes activity, including director Eric Idle (the guys let him get on with it since he had proven to be rather good at theatrical shows by this point) sifting through a storage unit in California to retrieve an important prop.
Imogen's Face (11/98)
Three part ITV drama with Samantha Janus (Game On) as one of two rival sisters whose sibling has always been jealous of her good looks and perfect life. But things aren't like they appear, with the "perfect" husband proving to be a heel (he gets the sister pregnant), and old family skeletons are revealed, but eventually everything is resolved. A good, involving story.
The Impressionable Jon Culshaw (3/05)
ITV nicks BBC's Dead Ringers best weapon: uber-impressionist Jon Culshaw who does devastating versions of Tony Blair, Russell Crowe, and Tom Baker among others. Britain has always loved impressionists, especially those that can do political figures, from Mike Yarwood in the 1970s, to Rory Bremner in the 90s (still going strong) to Culshaw today.
In A Land Of Plenty (1/02)
Ambitious 10-part BBC drama about an upper-middle class family and their rise and fall over the decades as told from the present day. Beginning the 1950s, a young, sensitive woman marries an up-and-coming industrialist who buys her a mansion and promises to make love to her in every room. Needless to say, there are a number of children underfoot within a few years, as well as a permanent staff. But all is not well and, as the sixties unfold, she wants to be a poet, while her husband is only interested in money and his business. Tragedy strikes and then we follow the threads of the lives of each of the children through the 70s, 80s and to their eventual destinies today. The actors age well (and most of the kids are played by at least four people), the clothes and props are right on as you would expect, and the continuing soap-like drama makes for compelling viewing once you make the commitment to watch this.
The Inbetweeners (3/10)
The comic misadventures of four sixteen year old boys at a comprehensive school are narrated by Will (Simon Bird), an unpopular nerd in this Channel 4 series. Will is the kind of person who will eventually grow up to be a comic, perhaps the next David Mitchell, but now he has to survive the thousand cruelties of school. His only friends are Simon, a fairly intelligent and good looking boy, but with poor choice in girls and with parents who dispense terrible advice; Jay, a compulsive liar and exaggerator; and Neil, who is thick beyond words. Funny, but at the same time, painful to watch, we've all been there, humiliated in front of our peers with no escape in sight.
An Independent Man (11/96)
George Cole stars in this ITV drama about a successful London hair salon owner who gets into local politics but refuses to play petty party rivalries. Naturally the entrenched forces, both Labour and Conservative, see him as a loose cannon and try to derail him at every turn. But the street smart Cole outwits them each time - Power to the people! (Wait? Wasn't that Citizen Smith?).
The Indian Doctor (12/10)
Sandjeev Bhaskar (Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars At No. 42) stars this this mini-series as an immigrant doctor in a small Welsh village in 1963 that was serialized over five days one week in the afternoon on BBC1. I still don't quite understand the BBC's logic in hiding under a rock quality dramas like The Indian Doctor (and Moving On in previous weeks) when most viewers are still at work. Perhaps iPlayer has so changed the TV environment that it doesn't really matter when a series goes out figuring most people can catch it On Demand afterwards. In any event, I enjoyed The Indian Doctor whose premise might sound a bit like "Northern Exposure": a big city doctor stuck in a town of eccentrics in the middle of nowhere. But Prem Sharma, the eponymous character played by Bhaskar, is married to Kamini, an intelligent but ambitious woman who doesn't take too well to their posting to south Wales. But Prem takes to his new job and more or less makes a good impression on the villagers of Trefelin (not to mock the Welsh but it sounds a bit like a Doctor Who monster). Some of the dramas include Prem's cute receptionist and her budding romance with a local boy who wants to be a singer, and the English couple who run the colliery who think they run the village and have a secret they hope Doctor Sharma won't uncover. Kamini, played by Ayesha Dharker, is the most interesting character. Used to a life of luxury back in India (they had 10 servants and hobnobbed with the Mountbattens), wants the best for her husband and herself, which to her means living in London. But at the same time, she is a perceptive woman who forms a bond with a local truant boy and tries to teach him to read. Aside from the Asian immigrant angle, The Indian Doctor will remind you of other similar period dramas like Heartbeat and Born and Bred but the good cast, beautiful Welsh countryside and gentle humor make it an entertaining series despite its crummy timeslot.
In this five part ITV mini-series James Purefoy stars as William Travers, a brilliant barrister who moved his family from London to darkest Suffolk because of a breakdown. Purefoy played Mark Antony in the series Rome and he exudes a darkness here as a man who on the surface apparently has it all together but is haunted by something in his past. In the first episode we also see a parallel story launched involving an unsentimental detective played by Charlie Creed-Miles ("The Fifth Element") investigating a murder at a remote farm house. Is there a connection to Travers? With scripts by Anthony Horowitz who gave us the very entertaining Foyle's War, you can be sure that the various strands will collide before the conclusion. Creed-Miles defies the audience to like him, he is quite possibly the most obnoxious character on TV in years and yet he's a really good cop. His wife beating goes a bit far though and he gets his just desserts, ironically just before delivering the case on Travers. The ending is not what you'd expect.
The Ink Thief (1/95)
Another elaborate fantasy series aimed at kids about a creature (Rocky Horror Picture Show's Richard O'Brien) who wants to take over the world. Aiding him is a young boy whom he seduces by promising to "fix" the world with his help. But the boy's sister teams up with a plethora of fantasy creatures in order to save the day. Plenty of music and imaginative sets keeps the pace going over the seven episodes.
The Inspector Pitt Mysteries (1/99)
The title presumes there will be more than one, but the pilot, "The Cater Street Hangman," (already run on A&E) gets off to a good start introducing us to the young, but brilliant Pitt who teams up with a liberated young lady to solve a series of grisly killings in Victorian London. Much is made of the different attitudes of class distinctions (which Pitt refused to recognize, having come from humble beginnings) which is unsurprising being an ITV production, based on the Anne Perry novels. Nicely mounted, I look forward to future stories.
Inside Victor Lewis-Smith (11/93)
A clever comedy series devised by the television reviewer of the London Evening Standard (conflict of interest?). The paper never runs a clear photograph of him and viewers hoping to get a better look at him in his own series will be disappointed: It begins with him in a motorcycle accident and then he is rushed to the BBC Hospital For TV Personalities (run by Nickolas Grace), wrapped up like a mummy, and put on life support. All the sketches occur in his mind, which the doctors are monitoring (creating a bit of mini-drama right there). Funny stuff, especially considering you never see the titled presenter!
In the Best Possible Taste: A Tribute to Kenny Everett (11/95)
In the 1970s while Benny Hill was working away over at ITV (to be endlessly recycled here in America ad nauseam), the BBC had Kenny Everett. In this compilation from his various variety series from then, one quickly realizes that good taste was not always on the forefront of Everett's mind. But he was funny and his many characters are fondly remembered by those who worked with him. Die-hard Anglophiles with long memories may recall some of these shows from runs on PBS in the 1970s.
In the Cold Light of Day (11/94)
Rural electrification in the 1930s is the theme in this BBC TV Movie when electric lights were still a novelty in most homes. Flashing back from a present-day hospital, the story tells about a young boy who is fascinated with the new technology and befriends a German man. But the boy's sister is more interested in sex with the local boys, and his mother is hideously anal about looking respectable in front of the neighbors at any cost. How this plays out and its impact on current circumstances years later is the main plot. Slow, but interesting.
In The Flesh (6/13)
Three part BBC-3 drama series that is set after the zombie apocalypse. In this world, the dead came back to life and began attacking the living, but didn't infect others (despite much public misconception). The government eventually came up with an antidote, rounded up all the undead, "cured" them, and now is sending them back to their communities to live again. Except, as you might imagine, not all the folks back home (particularly in the small village where the series is set), are in a mood to welcome back these former "rotters." Many survivors were part of a militia called the HVF that kept the village safe when government help was in short supply during the crisis. Problem number two is the newly cured were all previously dead and buried. And now here they are again, including teenage Kiernan Walker (get it?) who we find out had committed suicide and must face his parents and HVF-member sister and explain his actions. With so many movies and TV shows portraying the end of the world, it's interesting to have one set afterwards and dealing with the messy results in a real human way.
In The Name of Love (5/00)
Two-part ITV thriller with Tara Fitzgerald (The Student Prince) who runs into an old boyfriend and picks up where they left off years earlier despite her being in a current relationship. When she spurns him he takes to stalking her (aren't there restraining orders in Britain?), even moving into an apartment across the way and bugging her apartment. The stakes keep rising with fatal consequences.
Invasion: Earth (9/98)
Big-budget BBC science fiction thriller in six parts about (what else?) an alien invasion of Earth (naturally beginning in Britain, traditional home to invasions since Quatermas and Doctor Who). An RAF pilot shoots down an alien craft, although what emerges is a soldier from World War II who has been the guest of friendly aliens (the "Ecos") with a warning that nasty aliens are about to conquer the Earth. Indeed, several humans are kidnapped by the "NDs" (so called, because they exist in an extra "Nth" dimension) where horrible experiments are performed on them before being returned. Much of the story takes place with the military and its experts trying to assess the threat and come up with a solution, which reminded me a bit of the old 70s series Doomwatch, about an elite group trying to prevent the End Of The World each week. Fred Ward is the token American, a NATO general who knows he's out of his depths, but nevertheless tries to come up with a way to prevent a complete invasion. Read my feature article about the Invasion: Earth.
The Investigator (9/97)
Channel 4 docu-drama about witchhunts for lesbians in the British Army. The lead woman in charge, we discover, is a lesbian herself, making the whole proceedings rather ironic. When she's finally caught, flashbacks reveal the entire story. In the end the real woman whose story this was delivers a post-script to the audience, confirming our worst fears about homophobia still in existence.
The Invisibles (11/09)
BBC comedy drama about a daring 60s jewel heist gang now retired (more or less) although their skills come in handy each week when trouble lurks. Anthony Stewart Head and the great Warren Clarke play the original members of the gang, and Dean Lennox Kelly teams up as the son of a former partner. Often goofy (much of the humor is the back and forth arguing of Head and Clarke, they are like an old married couple) but it's slick and enjoyable.
In Your Dreams (3/98)
Oliver Milburn (Neverwhere) stars in the anatomy of a rape, showing the events that lead up to it (and allowing us to hear the participant's thoughts) but then cuts to the court case and forces us to make up our minds about what actually happened based on the "Rashomon"-like descriptions of the event by the participants. An intense BBC TV Movie in their bitterly ironic "Love Bites" season.
Is It Bill Bailey? (7/98)
Stand-up comedian Bailey (last seen in the sci-fi quiz show Space Cadets) does his own series of one-man shows on the BBC. There are two sides to the series, one is pretty mediocre, the other brilliant. The first bit is his stand-up in front of an audience, interspersed with brief sketches. It's amusing seeing him wearing different outfits but there's nothing to distinguish this material. However, the other part, where Bailey shows off his musical abilities, is fantastic. Each week he uses a different instrument and builds an entire routine around it. Armed with a synthesizer he creates a passable version of the Doctor Who theme then proceeds to send it up by demonstrating how it would be played today. Some of his pastiches are near genius. Edited together, the musical highlights would be well worth watching, but the show as a whole is a very mixed bag.
Is It Legal? (1/96)
This ITV sitcom stars Imelda Staunton and Jeremy Clyde as partners in a disorganized law firm. The married middle-aged office manager has a crush on a young delivery girl who barely knows he exists, the secretary doesn't have two brain cells to rub together, and the junior partner is clueless. Fairly standard stuff.
One of the great mysteries of our time is how such a brilliant writer like Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) has continued to churn out this pedestrian and frankly not-terribly-funny comedy for three seasons now. Not even suitable by ITV’s low standards, Channel 4 has picked up the series but it’s still the same lame office comedy set in a "wacky" legal firm.
Island At War (2/06)
Historical drama ITV mini-series about the German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. Mostly populated by British citizens, audiences could see what living under the Nazis might resemble. A friend of mine who lives on Jersey said this: "It was not filmed on the island to everyone's dismay. I think it was filmed on the Isle of Man; a place as different to Jersey as the Amazon jungle is to Greenland." He noted that while things weren't too bad for the British, the Russian slave laborers brought over to build fortifications suffered nearly a 1000 casualties in the work camps on one of the islands. Most of the focus of the series is the interpersonal (and often romantic) relationships between the Germans and British, with the smooth but sinister Philip Glenister playing the Baron commandant.
The IT Crowd (4/07)
Channel 4 workplace comedy by Graham Lineham (Father Ted) about the two sad losers in the information technology department deep in the basement of a large corporation whose sanctum is invaded when a non-technophile woman is placed in charge of them. The company's loony CEO is played by Christopher Morris who used to be quite scandalous on his own (The Day Today) but I guess even he needs a regular job. Richard Ayoade (Garth Marenghi's Dark Place) is particularly hilarious as the clueless technology nerd who even uses e-mail to alert emergency services when a fire breaks out.
It'll Be Alright On the Night (1/91)
The title is a reference to the theatrical term used when a screwup occurs during rehersals. Essentially a blooper show, but the quiet mature host is a great relief from Dick Clark, Bob Saget, etc.
It Shouldn't Happen To A Children's Presenter (3/01)
Amusing ITV documentary about the perils of being a children's TV host, still an active vocation in Britain both the on the BBC and ITV. Interspersed with classic clips and interviews with old hosts is a "Real World"-like documentary search for the newest host to be cast, following a number of auditioners through to the final announcement.
It's Kevin (6/13)
Kevin Eldon finally gets his own BBC-2 sketch comedy series and he goes for broke. A supporting comedian going back to Fist of Fun, Hyperdrive and World of Pub, here in his own series he does it all from singing the theme tune (which changes from week to week), to showing off all the characters and situations he can play. He also is the host, in a sparse set speaking directly to the camera between bits. Just the right touch of surrealism, satire, and enough of a budget to allow Eldon to exercise his clever comedic imagination.
It's Only TV But I Like It (1/00)
The BBC has basically recycled the TV trivia quiz game Telly Addicts with celebrities this time, hosted by Jonathan Ross. Team captains (and a stranger pairing you'd be hard-pressed to find) campy Julian Clary and "hard man of comedy" Jack Dee lead two sets of minor celebrities in a collection of clips, questions, and history about television. Perhaps the strangest (and hardest) section is where senior citizens talk rather vaguely about a particular series and the panelists have to guess which show they are talking about.
It's Paul Burling (3/11)
Burling is an impressionist who was first discovered on Britain's Got Talent and although he didn't win, ITV rewarded him with his own TV special to showcase his talents. Armed with particularly good Harry Hill and Simon Cowell impersonations, the sketches took good-natured aims at television and managed to do material not previously mined to death by either Kevin Bishop or Jon Culshaw in similar programs.
It's Ulrika (11/97)
Former Swedish weathergirl Ulrika Jonsson, now a foil for Vic and Bob on Shooting Stars, gets her own special (written by her mentors) that doesn't tax her talents too much in various comedy sketches.
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