British TV Show Reviews "J"

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Dates refer to when review was written

Jack & Jeremy's Police 4 (9/95)
Late night comedian Jack Dee sends up Crimewatch type series with this supposedly "live" special intended to promote the police. As if. Norman Lovett, the original "Holly," makes an appearance, as well as Spacecop 2010, about an oversexed cop in the future.

Jack and Jeremy's Real Lives (11/96)
Jack Dee co-stars and co-writes this series each week chronicling what he and Jeremy Hardy "really" get up to in their spare time. The first episode reveals they are English aristocrats, which absurdly turns every movie cliche about the upper classes on their head in a hilarious series of events. Other episodes reveal their careers as aspiring Serious Writers, restaurateurs, consumer watchdogs, and other less likely occupations. Often brilliant stuff, delivered with a completely straight face.

Jack & The Beanstalk (7/99)
If you’ve ever wanted to know what a traditional English pantomime is like, look no further than this feature-length ITV special. This all-star version of the classic story was filmed in a live theater (with a few too many audience reaction shots, I found them distracting) with songs, men in drag, and the usual bad jokes. Paul Merton is the narrator, Neil Morrissey (Men Behaving Badly) is Jack, Adrian Edmondson his mother, with Griff Rhys-Jones, Denise van Outen, Julie Walters, and Julian Clary. The script was by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly).

Jack Dee's Happy Hour (1/02)
Jack, the cynical "hard man of comedy," is a great dead-pan stand-up and the BBC has made good use of him in this series which he describes as "neither happy, nor an hour."  Instead, each week he gives the audience a bit of topical comedy, some animated segments have Jack dealing with life's little frustrations, he takes (and mocks) dumb questions from different parts of the country, goes on a field trip (an S&M party was one stop), and then brings on a celebrity each week who must endure a three minute roast by Jack in order to earn 30 seconds of BBC-1 prime time in which they can shamelessly promote anything they want.  It's incredible who will turn up just to get on television.  Prior to this season going out, Dee won the Celebrity Big Brother where he spent a week in a wired house for Comic Relief and raised over eight million pounds for charity.

Jack Dee's Saturday Night (5/96)
A variety program hosted by former latenight comic Jack Dee, now slowly reforming himself as a more "mainstream" presenter. Saturday Night is like a hip, young Ed Sullivan with a host who can do stand-up. The acts aren't bad either: Stomp, Robert Palmer, Meat Loaf, Lee Evans, and the Chinese State Circus among others.

Jack Dee's Sunday Service (1/98)
The stand-up comic (and beer spokesman) continues moving more into the mainstream with this collection of stand-up and sketches, with weekly appearances by American comic Rich Hall. One running gag is having little egg representatives of British celebrities and seeing which one blows up first when placed in a microwave.

Jackie Mason: The People's Champion (3/00)
A rather odd debate on ITV, hosted by an odd fellow, Jackie Mason (yes, the American Jewish comic who had a short-lived series on ABC several years ago). In front of a live participation audience, he looks at privacy in journalism by using various famous and infamous members of his audience as examples. I suppose he could be viewed as a "neutral observer" to Britain's tabloid journalism-saturated culture (admittedly, America is just as bad - although on TV instead of in the papers) although I don't know what really qualifies him to run a debate on this topic, other than he too is a celebrity. But some good points are brought up and Mason won't let folks off the hook just because of some moral relativism on their part.

Jack of Hearts (5/00)
Keith Allen (The Life and Crimes of William Palmer) stars in this BBC drama series about a streetwise parole officer who follows his girlfriend and her daughter from London to Wales. On the job, Jack is a first-rate case officer, dealing with co-workers and tough guys, but at home his relationship is often on the rocks, and it doesn't help the girlfriend's father (Andrew Sachs, Fawlty Towers' Manuel) distrusts him and tries to drive a wedge between them.

Jake's Progress (3/96)
The GBH team of writer Alan Bleasdale and star Robert Lindsay are reunited in this five-part mini-series about a dysfunctional family (would Lindsay be in any other kind?) whose son Jake seems to have watched The Shining a few too many times. Though the supernatural is only hinted at, Lindsay does have his fortune told in the first episode: he'll die shortly after having an affair. Not soon afterwards, a pretty young immigrant arrives in his life. The trouble with this series is it moves at a dead-slow pace telling us everything there is to know about every character, even if we aren't interested. At 90 minutes per episode too, it's a bit of a long haul just to make it through each part. I'm afraid this hasn't captured my interest as other earlier Bleasdale/Lindsay efforts have done.

Jam (11/04)
Frequent Lee & Herring collaborators Peter Baynham and Kevin Eldon (World of Pub) co-wrote and star respectively in this clever BBC anarchic sketch comedy series.

Jamaica Inn (6/14)
This three part BBC adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel set in Cornwall in the 18th Century caused a huge stink in Britain when viewers complained in the thousands about not being able to understand the actors due to excessive mumbling. Though the Cornish accents are pretty strong throughout, it is only Sean Harris as Mary's cruel uncle Joss who gives in to muttering some of his lines, but he's no worse than some of the asides Popeye the Sailor used to throw out in his early cartoons. Besides, every TV in the world is now equipped with subtitles, there's no reason for viewers to get so cranky if they can't understand every word spoken, just turn on the captioning! Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) plays the heroine Mary, sent to the desolate inn on the Cornish moors after her parents die, to be looked after by her aunt (Joanna Whalley) and uncle. It's not long before Mary (who thinks smugglers killed her father and has a pathological hatred of them) discovers that smuggling might be going on right under her nose. Matthew McNulty plays her uncle's brother, a horse thief that Mary takes a shine too, despite her best efforts. In the nearby village is a friendly vicar (Ben Daniels) and his assistant (Shirley Henderson) that Mary tries to turn to for assistance, but who is the criminal mastermind in charge of the smuggling ring?

Jane Hall (4/08)
Writer Sally Wainwright (At Home With the Braithwaites) again teams up with actress Sarah Smart in this ITV comedy/drama series about a middle-England girl who becomes a London bus driver.  She has a posh boyfriend and odd flatmates, and manages to get into situations (her bus is hijacked by female escaped convicts in one episode) that only seem to happen on television.  Jane is extremely messed up and can't choose which man she wants, or who she even wants to be.

Jasper Carrott: Back To The Front (9/99)
Carrott returns to his stand-up roots (after years of doing The Detectives with Robert Powell) in this BBC series.

Jeffrey Archer -- The Truth (1/04)
Best-selling novelist Lord Archer almost became mayor of London but ended up instead in prison for perjury, and his rise and fall is archly satirized in this TV movie.  Set in the future, Archer (Damien Lewis) tells his life story to a biographer where he manages to insert himself into key moments of recent British history and of course always ends up the hero.  One might think the "kick `em while they're down" mentality on display here is a bit harsh, even for the British, but Archer was such a smug bastard that his downfall pleased nearly everyone.  And who knows, maybe he will make a comeback!

Jeeves and Wooster (5/90)
Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie star as the famous P.G. Wodehouse characters. Contrary to popular perception, this was produced by ITV not the BBC.

(1/92)
In the new season, an episode concerns Bertie's aunt again trying to get him hitched, and an apparent scam involving a necklace. It was more than worth it to see Bertie completely embarrass his meddling aunt in front of a room full of police inspectors.

Jekyll (4/08)
Steven Moffat (Coupling) wrote this mini-series update of the Jekyll & Hyde legend featuring a stand-out performance by James Nesbitt (Cold Feet) as the two-faced psychopath.  At first the women in the story appear to be afterthoughts but as the mystery of Jekyll's origins is slowly uncovered, some startling revelations are uncovered.  Moffat has already won two Hugo Awards for his writing on Doctor Who.

Jennifer Saunders: Laughing at the 90s (11/11)
Cancer survivor Jennifer Saunders, her blonde hair growing out again, presented this Channel 4 retrospective about the state of British comedy 20 years ago.  She interviews a lot of the big names at the time and there are plenty of clips, alas blown up to fit widescreen, which means they are cropped top and bottom and a bit grainy--my pet peeve of the 21st Century. Captions mistakenly keep crediting a majority of BBC2 shows as having run on BBC1--hey, I remember these shows!  Saunders begins by chatting with her husband Ade Edmondson who talks about doing Bottom with Rik Mayall.  What's scary is with his bald head, dress jacket and plastic rimmed eye glasses, he's a dead ringer for a filmmaker I know here in Seattle. She also reminisces with her former partner Dawn French about their various triumphs both together and separately in Absolutely Fabulous and The Vicar of Dibley.  Also: Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer who brought their surreal brand of humor to television, which continues to this day with their panel show Shooting Stars. David Baddiel was part of a double act that was so famous in its day they sold out Wembley Stadium--for a comedy show. Paul Whitehouse on The Fast Show, and finishes off with Patsy herself, Joanna Lumley, still glamorous as ever.  The program makes some good points about how the politically correct 80s gave way to a more free-form type of comedy that was allowed to be more experimental, as well as having characters, both male and female, doing outrageous things on screen.  All in all, a good decade.

Jerry Springer - The Opera (3/05)
BBC broadcast of the hit West End musical in London that was co-written and directed by Stewart Lee of Lee & Herring fame (Fist of Fun, This Morning With Richard Not Judy).  Despite much controversy before its January 2005 transmission (the Beeb even ran two disclaimers warning viewers), the world did not come to an end afterwards.  Starring former "Starsky & Hutch" actor David Soul as Jerry Springer, the first half of the show comes across as a typical episode of his talk show, albeit all sung.  But Act I ends with Jerry getting shot and then things really jump into hyperdrive with a storyline that has more in common with "Dogma" than merely mocking American white trash TV viewers.  It is really incredible even reduced to being seen on television rather than live on stage.

The Jesus File (9/99)
Tony Robinson (the former "Baldrick" now best known for presenting the archeological series Time Team) is the host of this ITV historical look at Jesus, using the somewhat odd conceit that what if modern computerized "files" had been kept on Jesus by the authorities as he went through his life? But there's plenty of location footage showing the places he would have visited, as well as scholars discussing various aspects of his life.

JK Rowling - A Year In The Life (1/09)
James Runcie gets to follow the world famous "Harry Potter" writer as she finishes (he films her typing the last page!) and launches the last book in the series, and profiles her life and times in this ITV documentary special.

Joanna Lumley in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon (1/98)
Lumley's Grandfather was an ambassador to India and in the 1930s undertook a long journey to Bhutan on a diplomatic mission. Sixty years later, Lumley and a cousin retrace their steps via foot, burro, and occasional car. Modern footage is intercut with black and white film made on the original trip, with most the route, not surprisingly, very unchanged. Lumley, despite her glamorous persona, isn't afraid to rough it (particularly after spending a week alone on a desert island for a documentary four years ago), and maintains a stiff upper lip throughout, regardless of the hardships.

Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey (11/11)
Glossy and informative ITV1 travel documentary about Greece hosted by the always glamorous Lumley, who shuttles us around various landmarks around the nation and its many islands, as well as meeting inhabitants along the way in this four-part series. 

The Job Lot (6/13)
It took three writers to create this listless ITV sitcom (which debuted the same night as the far superior Vicious) starring Russell Tovey as a worker drone in a job centre.  It's filled with annoying characters being annoying, and not in an amusing way.  Bleah!

Jo Brand Goes Back to Bedlam (9/95)
Comediennes Jo Brand (a former nurse), and Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf's Holly) spend a night in the now-deserted famous mental hospital. An installment of the BBC-2 series, States of Mind, there is a message here about mental illness and some of Brand's experience in dealing with it, but most of the program is taken up with touring the enormous dark and abandoned corridors of Bedlam. Brand is willing to make humorous, if informative, quips, but Hayridge looks as if she's rather be anywhere else.

Jo Brand's Great Wall of Comedy (11/13)
UK Gold brings a number of celebrities together to talk about classic TV comedy, with clips, interviews, and even some messing about in the studio in front of a live audience. The perfect show for a nostalgia channel like UK Gold.

Jo Brand's Hot Potatoes (3/03)
Celebrity panel show featuring two teams who are given topics and then humorously debate their merits (for example: the 70s were a worse decade than the 80s).  The audience then votes on which team has made the best case, or typically, the most jokes.

Jobs For The Boys (1/98)
Comedians Hale and Pace defect to the BBC with this three part documentary series as the duo spend six months attempting jobs most people take a lifetime to learn. In the first episode, they train to be on a top league polo team, going from complete novices on horses to within a gnat's whisker of winning a championship game. Next, they are taken on by a major fashion designer and must come up with clothes for his spring collection. Again, they manage to put together designs and clothes which pass muster on the big day in front of the press. Finally, they have to make a toilet paper commercial for a real client. They spent nearly half a million pounds on a spot which ultimately did run on British TV. How much of a "fix" was in is hard to say, but it's nice to see "light entertainers" taken seriously in roles other than just comedians on TV.

Joe Maddison's War (10/10)
The late Alan Plater wrote this nice ITV1 TV movie wartime reminiscence about a boring middle-aged shipbuilder in Liverpool named Joe (Kevin Whately). It's 1940 and Joe has just seen his daughter married and his son off to fight the war when his wife leaves him unexpectedly.  The government is looking to form a Home Guard, to perform defensive functions so that younger soldiers can be used in combat.  (A similar concept, though played for laughs, was the 1970s sitcom Dad's Army.)  Joe convinces his buddy Harry (Robson Green) to join up to the Home Guard which is run by the local chemist (Derek Jacobi).  Both Joe and Harry were veterans of the trenches of WWI, and the ghosts of that war haunt them even as they participate on the home front of the new one.  Joe eventually gets a girlfriend, a widow, and with her help he develops confidence and becomes the unofficial spokesman for the men in his unit.  Newsreel footage takes us through the milestones in the war, as we see Joe face responsibility and build a new life for himself.  HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" also had a character that also had just come back from the trenches in WWI.  Both dramas show the impact that war had on the soldiers who fought, and in Joe Maddison's War, the irony that they had supposedly fought "the war to end all wars" is not lost.  Joe has to watch his son fly over 50 combat missions over Germany when the odds were each time that one plane out of 25 wouldn't come back.  With Britain commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Joe Maddison showed us one aspect of life on the home front.

Johnny and the Bomb (4/07)
Children's drama series based on the Terry Pratchett novel about contemporary council estate kids going back in time to WWII London in order to correct history when an unexploded bomb is scheduled to destroy their street (and Johnny's grandmother). 

The Johnny Miller Show (5/96)
This extended advertisement showed up on latenight TV and is a direct parody of The Late Show With David Letterman. Ostensibly an ad for Miller Beer, all the familiar Letterman gags are here including remotes, stupid pet tricks, even the set. Now keep in mind, except for screenings on satellite television, no one in Britain has ever seen Letterman's show or can appreciate just how clever this is. Yet this was made exclusively for the UK market. Totally bizarre.

Johnny Vaughan Tonight (1/03)
Late-night chat show with former Big Breakfast presenter Vaughan, that first runs on BBC Choice and then repeated a few hours later on BBC-1.  Vaughan tends to talk over his guests, eager to make his points, and not always listening to what they are saying.  Maybe that works early in the morning but traditionally, evening talk shows have been a bit more heavy weight.

John Session's Tall Tales (8/91)
Essentially a series of one-man shows that tell a story. The best is "The Glory and the Dream," about an American couple going to Stratford to discover Shakespeare. Very engaging. In "Don Juan in Cornwall," Sessions gets to trot out his Sean Connery impersonation as well as parody Bergerac.

Jonathan Creek (9/97)
BBC mystery series starring Alan Davies as the title character, a brilliant, eccentric inventor who devises illusions for his magician boss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Anthony Head with an American accent!). Caroline Quentin (Men Behaving Badly) is a novelist who gets involved with solving crimes and finds herself first competing with, but then being attracted to, Creek who manages to work out whodunnit and howtheydunnit every time. A barely recognizable Colin Baker plays the murder victim in the first episode. A clever, funny series with great chemistry from the leads. Read my article about the series.

(1/03)
For Christmas 2001, the BBC made a special two hour movie, unfortunately replacing Caroline Quentin with Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous) as another female foil for the brilliant sleuth Creek.  In "Satan's Chimney," an actress (Mary Tamm, continuing the tradition of all former Doctor Who actors appearing in this series either ending up being the corpse or guilty of murder) dies in an "impossible" crime, which only Creek can solve.  Writer David Renwick (One Foot In The Grave) normally writes brilliant, clever scripts, but poor research on his part reveals an enormous misstatement about "fundamentalist Lutherans."  Say what?  That's a bit like fundamentalist Unitarians, isn't it?  One could almost pick another popular American religion out of a hat and come up with one a bit more right wing than Lutheranism.  I howled when I heard that one.

(6/13)
The first new mystery for the eccentric magician/detective Creek (Alan Davies) in years, has many shocking revelations of what he's been up to since we last saw him. For starters, he's now a successful advertising executive married to Sarah Alexander.  But he can't resist the closed-door mystery involving the death of a satirist he admired, abetted by blogger Joey (Sheridan Smith) and DS Gideon Pryke (Rik Mayall), now bound to a wheelchair but still livening up the situation.  At 90 minutes, the special has a few too many mysteries for its own good, but it's nice to see this popular character return to form again.

Jonathan Meades on France (2/12)
The noted writer takes on the nation across the Channel which opens each part with him announcing that all French cliches will not be part of the BBC series. Instead, he focuses on architecture (his favorite topic), though mostly on how the French got it wrong, and indicts the entire country for its lapses in the post-colonial period and inability to assimilate different cultures. He obviously has affection for France, and isn’t above pointing out where the British have gone wrong either, but it’s an illuminating look at this unique European culture.

Jonathan Meades: The Joy of Essex (3/13)
Essex, a county just east of London is to Britain what the Jersey Shore is to the United States. At least that's its reputation, which commentator Jonathan Meades is happy to dispel, at least when not knocking somewhat questionable architectural decisions which are his bread and butter.  Like all of Meades' films for the BBC, impeccably shot, narrated and informative.

Joe's Palace (1/09)
The super talented writer/director Stephen Poliakoff (Shooting The Past) tells the tale of the friendship between a reclusive billionaire (Michael Gambon) and Joe, the working class young man who is hired to be the doorman on one of his unused properties in this BBC TV movie.  A wily MP (Rupert Penry-Jones, Spooks) uses the place for his liaisons with various mistresses, taking advantage of Joe's good nature.  Gambon has spent his life trying to learn if there are any skeletons in his family's closet and eventually a friend of Joe's is able to supply the necessary (and chilling) truth that connects the father with the Nazis.  As with all of Poliakoff's productions, it's the quiet moments that really make them memorable, he clearly imagines how the entire thing will look and feel before it is ever written or performed. 

Julie Walters Is An Alien...In Miami (1/98)
A continuing British trend is to unleash some celebrity in a job they aren't qualified for (usually abroad) and see how they handle it. In this case, Julie Walters spends a month in Miami being, variously, a beach cop, animal control expert, and real estate agent for mansions. At one point, as she walks into a multi-million dollar house, she exclaims her surprise at the size of the interior by saying, "It's like the TARDIS!"

The Jump (1/99)
The loss of innocence is the theme as a sheltered housewife has her world fall down around her when her businessman husband is sent to prison for 18 years for a brutal gang robbery he claims he didn't commit. With his life threatened in prison by mobsters, she promises to help get him out (a "jump" is a prison break) in this four-part ITV thriller. But the more she discovers about his business interests, the more truth she uncovers about his sordid activities she knew nothing about. Jonathan Cake, last seen in Mosley, is excellent as her slimeball husband, who is more ruthless than anyone could have suspected.

The Jury (11/11)
Peter Morgan ("The Queen") wrote this five-part ITV drama series shown in a single week that takes us through a retrial of a murder suspect mostly from the point of view of the jurors.  We get to meet them as characters and see how their normal lives are suddenly interrupted for this trial.  This creates a number of subplots, all the while driven by the mystery of the suspect's guilt or innocence (though we aren't really given enough information before the verdict to decide ourselves).  The first series went out 2002 starring Gerald Butler; the second was in 2011 with Julie Walters as the defense barrister.

Just a Gigalo (5/93)
Tony Slattery (This Is David Harper, as well as numerous appearances on Whose Line Is It Anyway?) stars as a schoolteacher who through a series of wacky events that never seem to occur in real life, ends up a "gigalo," escorting old ladies, when all he really wants to do is go out with the beautiful Natalie (Rowena King, Full Stretch was her first series last year, about a limousine service). Slattery lives with his hasn't-had-a-date-in-four-years younger brother who invariably gets him involved with a date-from-hell just when he wants to go out with Natalie. It's okay, as long as you accept the silly bits.

Just A Minute (6/12)
The very long running BBC radio panel show (hosted, as always, by Nicholas Parsons) which has made a catchphrase out of its simple rules for talking for one minute on a subject "without repetition, hesitation or deviation," made its way finally to television in 2012 to celebrate its anniversary.  Paul Merton is one of the best performers at this format, with newbies like Russell Tovey slowly coaxed out into giving it their best shot.

Just Good Friends (9/96)
Another 80s relic from the BBC vault, this sitcom chronicles a couple whose flame hasn't quite extinguished after an affair five years earlier.

Just Henry (2/12)
Life in post-war Britain is shown through the eyes of a young man whose father died during the London blitz.  He loves going to the movies and has an interest in photography, but is unmotivated by school until a inspirational teacher (Barbara Flynn) intervenes.  Henry is forced to collaborate on a project with another boy whose father scandalously deserted during the war, marking the family with shame.  At first Henry has nothing but contempt for him but then discovers the life--and death--of his own father is not what it seemed in this BBC TV Movie.  Things get laid on a bit thick near the end, like Henry’s mum going into labor immediately after they are kidnapped, and the rather plodding way the police reacted to real villains in the 1950s.  Dean Andrews (Ashes to Ashes) continues to escape typecasting as a bastard by playing another sympathetic father figure like he did in MarchlandsJust Henry is a nicely mounted period coming-of-age movie with winning performances by the entire cast.

Justice In Wonderland (3/01)
A very clever dramatization of the famous Hamilton versus Al Fayad libel trial where a former member of parliament (played here by Charles Dance) sued the Harrod's owner for claiming Al Fayad had paid him for asking questions in the House.  Al Fayad seems a very dodgy customer, particularly his allegations about Diana's and his son Dodi's death, but the evidence against Hamilton is too damning and he loses big time.  As Oscar Wilde discovered a century ago, you shouldn't sue people for libel when what they are saying is true.

Just William (3/11)
Yes, it's for kids but this new BBC adaptation of Just William has a delightful charm and a great cast.  Daniel Roche is a superb child actor and really knows how to play mischievous school boys, as seen in Outnumbered and Little Crackers.  Rebecca Front plays his mum, while Warren Clarke and Caroline Quentin are a nouveau riche couple with a spoiled daughter named Violet Elizabeth.  William is forced by his mum to have a playdate with Violet--ick, girls--and she knows that by threatening to cry she has him wrapped around her little finger.  But Violet is a good sport too, and on a day out with William and his gang proves able to rough and tumble and get dirty with the best of them, and not rat them out either when they get caught.   Simon Nye wrote the scripts based on the books by Richmal Crompton which spanned decades but Nye settled for a nice 1950s period piece.  The BBC cleverly scheduled Just William for an entire week in the early afternoon during the Christmas school break when it's target audience would be hungry for an entertaining romp.  Who knows, they might even check out the books.

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (rkj@eskimo.com).
June 1, 2014