British TV Show Reviews "L"

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Dates refer to when review was written

Lab Rats (7/09)
Despite a peppy animated title sequence, this hoary BBC sitcom based in a university science lab plays like one of ITV's lesser efforts.  Everyone is a cliche and you can see the jokes coming a mile away.  Most shockingly, it's produced by Armando Iannucci (The Thick of ItAlan Partridge) who usually makes much more subtle (and funny) shows.  Maybe he lost a bet that he could produce a "conventional" three-camera sitcom, who knows?

The Lady Vanishes (6/13)
Stylish BBC/Masterpiece co-produced movie version of the train-set mystery where a woman (Tuppence Middleton) can't get anyone to believe her that a fellow passenger was murdered en route. Although Iris is the protagonist and we're meant to be sympathetic to her plight, it's her 1930s sense of English entitlement while traveling abroad that somewhat undercuts her credibility at times.

The Lakes (11/97)
Four-part BBC drama about life in a small Lake District village as it suffers a crisis. The point of view character is a young Scouser (John Simm) who impregnates and weds a naive student (Emma Cunniffe) from the village and then follows her back home when his gambling habits become too much. Soon, he is implicated in a tragic accident and we witness the secrets and passions that threaten an entire community.

(9/99)
Frankly I was surprised when this mini-series from last year returned for a second season, but clearly the British public (and the BBC) wanted to see more of the soap-like shenanigans in a small village in the Lake District. There must be something in the water because everyone is shagging someone (usually someone they shouldn't), and the most mature character this year is Danny (John Simm), who spent most of the last season in trouble for one thing or another. But now everyone else gets a chance, but there's nothing a bit of saltpeter wouldn't cure!

Land Girls (3/11)
This afternoon series on BBC1 centered around city girls who worked on rural farms during WWII.  I watched the 2nd season opener and while I was very intrigued by the setting, the actual execution was spoiled by several elements. The first is the evil postmistress. Was I supposed to take her seriously as a character? When she snuck in to poison the pig I thought I was watching a children's program or maybe a Christmas pantomime (the music seemed to suggest it). And Raquel Cassidy's character of Diana Granville was none too subtle. Plus the rather dodgy American accents everywhere. The entire series was more melodrama than drama and not to my tastes. I have no problem with rural period dramas like Lark Rise To Candleford but Land Girls missed the mark for me. 

A Landing on the Sun (11/94)
Despite the title, not an SF movie, but an interesting story gimmick unites the twin stories of a government clerk researching whether two employees were up to no good, as well as showing their story as it happens. He finds correspondence tapes they dictated in the their loft office in a ministerial building and he imagines them in the room acting out what he hears. A fascinating love affair begins and the juxtaposition with the present time is cleverly done. The title in this BBC TV Movie refers to the spot on the roof the employees discover to engage in some extracurricular activity.

Lapland (2/12)
A BBC TV Movie, it could be called “Benidorm Goes North” with an extended British family going on a trip to Lapland around Christmas. Sue Johnston plays the matriarch of the family whose husband has just passed away.  Her two adult children have both married and each have two kids of their own. Julie Graham plays one of the wives, a bit of a smart mouth who’d rather be home for Christmas sitting on the sofa than stuck in a winter wonderland. The kids are anxious to see Santa but numerous coach trips narrated by the irritating Jingle Jill (Zawe Ashton, last seen as a rebellious housemate in Channel Four’s Fresh Meat) to Lapland’s tourist highlights never quite reach him.  Of course there are fights and manufactured drama like any family in a drama like this, but differences are resolved by the time the Northern Lights are finally spotted.  I doubt this will convince anyone that Lapland should be their holiday vacation destination next year. Followed by a series, Being Eileen.

Lark Rise To Candleford (3/10)
A Sunday evening family-oriented serialized BBC costume drama based on the books by Flora Thompson about two towns: the tiny pre-industrial village of Lark Rise, filled with poor but honest working class folk, and nearby Candleford, a market town with a burgeoning middle class.  Connecting them is our narrator, Laura from Lark Rise who is given a job in Candleford's post office by her cousin Dorcas (Julia Sawalha).  The slow pace and uplifting morality may not suit all tastes but for fans of this genre, it's a well-mounted, well-acted series.

Last Christmas (1/01)
A boy's late father (Ray Winstone) comes back as an angel to help him, but really it's the father who needs to get a life, so to speak, in this BBC holiday-themed TV movie.

The Last Detective (3/04)
Peter Davison stars in this series based on the books by Leslie Thomas about an unpopular divorced police detective who falls into offbeat cases.  Davison as usual is typecast as the schlubby loser whether it's this, A Very Peculiar Practice, At Home With The Braithwaites or Doctor Who (the only exception I can think of in his career was the brief Campion).  What's incredible is the man has barely aged in 20 years (though he's a bit thinner on top).  Although in interviews he realizes he'll always be identified as The Doctor, he certainly has had a variety of parts since then, and  holds the record for starring in the most TV series for a former Doctor.

The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick & "Eyes Wide Shut" (5/00)
Channel 4 documentary that coincided with the release in Britain of Kubrick's final movie, interviewing his friends and family about the reclusive director's life and times.

The Last Musketeer (3/01)
Heartthrob Robson Green (Touching Evil) stars in this ITV TV movie as an ex-con fencer who misses out making the British Olympic team and instead accepts a short-term teaching job at an out-of-way girls school in Scotland in order to avoid some angry gangsters when a job goes wrong.  The embattled headmistress of the school natural falls for Green, as does his best student, but he manages to inspire everyone to succeed before vanishing from their lives forever like the Lone Ranger.

The Last Salute (7/98)
This BBC comedy series set in the early 1960s demonstrates the long-standing rivalry between the two automobile clubs in Britain, the Automobile Association and the Royal Auto Club. Like our AAA, each provides repair service for members when their cars break down. Unlike the AAA however, their British equivalents wore official military-style uniforms and cruised the highways and country lanes (freeways were just beginning to be introduced then) in gleaming bright motorcycles equipped with sidecars, yellow for the AA, blue for the RAC. The title of the series refers to the precise salute these men were required to give passing motorists, which on more than one occasion resulted in the loss of control of one's motorcycle. The military aspect is particularly emphasized in the series by the supervisor of one AA district who overplans everything (with disaster usually resulting) and who insists Esperanto will be the language of the future. Co-written by Simon Nye (My Wonderful Life, Men Behaving Badly), this slice-of-life show is a gentle look at a bygone era.

Last Tango In Halifax (12/12)
Sally Wainwright (At Home With The Braithwaites) wrote this charming BBC drama series about a widower and widow (Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid) who rediscover each other via Facebook 60 years after a misunderstanding prevented them from spending their lives together.  Given a second chance they decide to get married, much to the surprise of their adult daughters (Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker) and grandchildren.  Wainwright is an expert at these big cast ensembles, particularly keeping the point of view on the women, none of whom are perfect, but just trying to muddle through with daily life in Yorkshire.

The Last Train (1/00)
Six part ITV mini-series that is Survivors 1999. A group of middle class commuters outside Sheffield are in a train crash when a mysterious gas is released. When they crawl out they discover they were in suspended animation and the entire world has been destroyed by a meteor strike! A young scientist (Nicola Walker, from Chalk) seems to have all the answers, as well as a plan to reach a sanctuary that will have survived the apocalypse, but can she convince her fellow passengers to follow her and risk their lives in a hostile environment? Though incredible, it's nicely mounted and acted, though it gets a bit grim near the end.

Laughter & Loathing (1/96)
A documentary by Ian Hislop (Have I Got News For You) about Roman satirist Juvenal. In order to dramatize his most famous sayings and dramas, Hislop has actor Stephen Fry portray Juvenal walking around contemporary London wearing a toga doing monologues. Despite being a terrible misogynist and racist, Juvenal was responsible for many observations that live on today including, "Who is to guard the guards themselves?" and his most famous, "A sound mind in a sound body."

Laughing For Ages (7/99)
Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel) hosts this six-part compilation of BBC comedy sketches each featuring a different historical age (e.g. Romans, Middle Ages, the War). Programs like this cost hardly anything, but a lot of vintage black-and-white clips that normally wouldn’t be seen were included at least.

Laughter In The House: The Story of British Sitcom (11/99)
Julie Walters narrates this BBC documentary look at the sitcom, from its beginning with Hancock's Half Hour, to such groundbreaking series like Steptoe and Son (remade as Sanford and Son in the US) and Til Death Us Do Part (which became All In The Family). Actors and writers are interviewed to give their perspective on things, especially how trends were developed, exploited, and then waned, and how the political and social situations were reflected by the comedies of the time.

Laura and Disorder (5/89)
Wendy Craig stars in this sitcom as a harried woman. Co-stars Stephen Greif ("Travis" from Blake's 7). Fairly amusing.

Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie (7/99)
Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply) stars as a single mother with a large brood living in the country, as told by her 8-year-old son (Lee actually narrates the story, based on his memoirs). There’s a rather ringing indictment of country life, with the occasional murder and rape just considered part of the post World War I landscape. At least that’s how I saw it. One particular incident concerns a visiting stranger from New Zealand who goes into the pub one night and tells everyone how successful and rich he has become after being sent away from the village to live abroad as a young boy. Afterwards the villagers beat him to death but nobody really seems to notice. Yeesh.

Lavender Castle (9/99)
Gerry Anderson's (Thunderbirds, Space: 1999) latest series, aimed at children, combining stop-motion and computer-generated effects in a series of 10 minute episodes on ITV. A odd collection of anthropomorphic characters form a crew of a space ship searching for the legendary Lavender Castle, while battling the evil Dr. Agon (get the pun of the name?) and having adventures, which are neatly told in the short time slot.

Lawless (11/13)
A pilot on Sky Living starring Suranne Jones as a newly minted judge (technically a recorder) dealing with the issues in the court and in her personal life.  Her former mentor who opened a lot of career opportunities for her has grabby hands and is not above exploiting his knowledge of her when appearing in her court. A number of subplots are also introduced, presumably to be taken up should this advance to a series.

The Law Lord (12/92)
A political intrigue drama about an idealistic young lawyer who is elevated to Lord Protectorate of England and then manipulated by those around him (including a scheming civil servant played by Tom Baker).

Lazarus and Dingwall (8/91)
The BBC's answer to "Police Squad" stars Stephen Frost (best known as the overly enthusiastic head of the firing squad in the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "Corporal Punishment") as one of two cops in this laughtrack-less Professionals parody.

Lead Balloon (1/09)
Jack Dee stars as a former TV star stand-up comic who relies on corporate gigs in this BBC comedy/drama.  It's more than a bit like Extras with a look at behind-the-scenes of fame, but also about a misanthropic protagonist whose short-sightedness and greed always end up humiliating and biting him on the ass every time.  When will he learn?

The League of Gentlemen (9/99)
The easiest way I can describe this BBC comedy series is it's like if Monty Python did a remake of Twin Peaks. Based on a BBC radio series, this odd combination of sketches and continuing characters set in a bizarre Northern village, is entirely performed by the same four actors (playing both male and female parts). Of note to fans of Dr Who is the presence of Mark Gatiss, who has written a number of Dr Who novels. It's all very odd and not for all tastes, but certainly something to be sampled just for its uniqueness. Read my feature article about The League of Gentlemen.

Learners (1/09)
Jessica Hynes (who also wrote it) stars in this BBC TV movie as a working class mother whose desire to get a driver's license seems permanently sabotaged by her husband (Shaun Dingwall).  She decides to seek professional lessons and this leads her to Chris (David Tennant), a Christian and the World's Most Patient Driving Instructor.  In no time she is driving like an expert and begins to examine her own life and wondering if perhaps she's made the best choices.

Leaving (10/12)
Helen McCrory stars in this three-part ITV drama as Julie, an expert wedding planner at a posh country hotel. She believes so much in marriage that she mouths the words at every ceremony as she watches another young couple do their vows.  Into her world comes Michael (Sean Gallagher) who watches his brother marry his ex-girlfriend at one of Julie's ceremonies.  She's nice to him and he eventually gets a job in the catering department to be near her, even though she is 20 years older and married with children of her own. But she likes the attention Michael gives her and eventually gives in to her desires.  Scripted by Tony Marchant, each of the characters are fleshed out including Julie's hot-headed husband, her kids, and Michael's disapproving parents.  It's a good meaty party for McCrory who aside from playing baddies on Doctor Who or in the Harry Potter films, was seen recently as Karen Gillan's nemesis in We'll Take Manhattan.  

Legacy (2/14)
BBC TV movie set during the "Winter of Discontent" in 1974, as the British security services try to track down Soviet moles who are planning on sabotaging a power plant. The cast includes Andrew Scott, Romola Garai, Geraldine James and features Charlie Fox as a man driven by the need to prove his father hadn't betrayed the country. Part of the BBC's Cold War Season.

The Legacy of Reginald Perrin (1/97)
The BBC, never one to let a past success go, even if the lead actor has been dead for years, resurrects this 1970s comedy, fully acknowledging that the brilliant Leonard Rossiter is no longer alive, and it is now 20 years later. Marking the occasion of Reggie's death, the entire cast of the original series reunite to discover Reggie had one little surprise left: a million pounds left to each of them if they can prove to a cool solicitor (Patricia Hodge) that they have done something truly absurd. Their plan: to mount a revolution of oldies - with dim-bulb brother Jimmy (Geoffrey Palmer) as their leader.

The Legend of the Tamworth Two (10/05)
"Babe"-like treatment of a real-life story about two pigs that became nationally famous when they escaped from the slaughterhouse and went on the run.  Kevin Whately (Inspector Morse) reveals his inner Klingon (both in makeup and acting style) as an over-the-top hunter determined to bring the pigs in.  Perhaps to make it more interesting to today's audiences, the pigs can talk and in fact narrate the story, in this light-hearted adventure.

Lenny Goes To Town (1/99)
Lenny Henry, now 40 but having been in the British eye since his debut at 16 in a competition, takes his act on the road, visiting different British cities each week in front of a live audience and tailoring his material to each venue. Clearly aimed at family audiences, Henry takes great pains not to offend anyone, and fortunately his huge charismatic presence overcomes any charges of blandness. If nothing else, he (and the BBC) deserve some credit for keeping the variety show genre alive, something not seen on American TV in many years.

The Lenny Henry Show (9/95)
The versatile comedian (best known to fans as the Black Doctor during a 1985 parody) returns in a new variety series. Henry is a funny guy although he seems somewhat pre-packaged and carefully sanitized for our protection in this BBC production. As part of the BBC Mafia of comedians (including his wife Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, her husband Adrian Edmondson, Fry and Laurie, and Peter Richardson) you get the feeling that once you get the "BBC Stamp of Approval" then there's no getting you off the air. And one begins to see the same comedians over and over again (at least on BBC-1 -- all the "cutting edge" comics are stuck over on BBC-2).

Le Show (1/00)
Frenchman Antoine de Caunes takes his Eurotrash act, and attempts to present French "culture" and humor to British audiences, in this fast paced studio show with celebrity guests, music, and sketches. How much you can take of someone with a thick accent making fun of the British is up to the individual, but as the producer (and owner of the production company), I suppose de Caunes is free to do what he wants.

Let Them Eat Cake (5/00)
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders star in (but didn't write) this rather routine BBC sitcom set just before the French Revolution with Saunders as a clueless aristocrat and French as her servant. The results aren't terribly funny, which makes one wonder what prompted the ladies to participate.

Liberty: The American Way of Independence (1/99)
Something you wouldn't expect to see on British TV, but co-produced by Minnesota Public Television (and sure to arrive on PBS here soon) this nicely mounted Channel 4 production takes us through the Revolutionary War with recreations and actors reading actual letters and speeches made by the participants at the time. It's educational, but also fascinating stuff if you have any interest in how something as odd (and unique in its time) as the United States came into being.

Life After Birth (11/96)
Channel 4 sitcom about a young unwed mother (Emma Cuniffe) living in a London council flat with her best friend, a slightly dim girl who works at a betting shop. Motherhood doesn't come easily, and busybody neighbors and her interfering mum just add to the confusion. Responsibility seems to be the recurring theme here, but the series is honest and offers some good laughs as well.

The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby (12/12)
Five part BBC modern adaptation of the Dickens' classic about a young man (Andrew Simpson) who tries to support his family after his debt-ridden father dies.  Nick's uncle (Adrian Dunbar) wants nothing to do with them when they come to London for help but in an effort to get Nick's sister in bed with a Russian businessman, sends him to work at the retirement home he owns.  There, Nick meets Mrs Smike (Linda Bassett) and, shocked at the horrible conditions there, they run away together. I haven't read the original novel, but I'm amazed at how writer Joy Wilkinson manages to make modern conveniences like cell phones, cars, and even a video file integral to the plot. As in most of Dickens' work, the bad guys are really bad and beyond redemption, and one must allow for their almost cartoon villainy here.

The Life and Crimes of William Palmer (7/98)
True-life two-part ITV drama about a notorious 19th Century poisoner, a doctor with a gambling problem who finds a convenient death here and there keeps him ahead of the debt collector. The trouble is he soon starts in on his children (four "mysteriously" die in their cribs), friends, his wife, but finally goes too far when he kills a business associate with powerful parents. Protesting his innocence to the very end, nevertheless he was hanged, and the town he was a resident in all his life actually changed its name in shame. Beautifully mounted and costumed, it resembles a Merchant/Ivory production, with a great performance by Keith Allen as the title character.

The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle (1/09)
Jennifer Saunders stars in this BBC sitcom as a daytime presenter who parades Jerry Springer-like guests and then proceeds to chew them out.  We also see behind-the-scenes of her show, with her neurotic producer (Miranda Richardson) and the psychiatrist who is hired to counsel guests afterwards.  Saunders can't resist poking fun at showbiz phonies, and her comic monster here is no exception.

Life As We Know It (3/02)
Richard Wilson (One Foot In The Grave) and Stephanie Cole (Waiting For God) star in this BBC domestic comedy that reverses the roles in "One Foot": here, Wilson is a weekly columnist for the paper who must deal with his long-suffering wife who has just been laid off from being the local school headmistress.  They also have some annoying grown children and a clever dog, but mostly it's tired material by actors we've seen this from before and better.

Life Begins (3/05)
Caroline Quentin (Men Behaving Badly) stars in this ITV comedy/drama series about a housewife whose husband (Alexander Armstrong) suddenly walks out of their marriage and she must cope with their kids and earning a living.  She ends up working at a travel agency (after first tricking them into hiring her in the first place) and slowly begins to make new friends and find her place in the world as an independent person.

A Life In Pieces (8/91)
Peter Cook sends up "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in this twelve part series of five-minute shorts shown over a two week period during Christmas 1990.

Life of Crime (6/13)
Hayley Atwell stars in this three-part ITV mini-series as a policewoman stalking a serial killer over a period of several decades.  During the 1980s, new on the job, she falsifies evidence in order to convict the killer.  But 12 years later, new evidence sets him free and her world of deception begins to unravel as the case leaps to the present day. Her relentless pursuit endangers both her personal relationships and her career, but she stubbornly pushes ahead in search for the truth.

Life On Mars (4/07)
If you've only seen Life on Mars on BBC America, then you've only seen 75% of it: they cut 14 minutes out each hour-long episode!  And the running time is the best thing about this BBC drama about Sam Tyler (John Simm), a 21st Century copper who wakes up in the 1970s in what appears to be a remake of The Sweeney.  As the credits ask us, is Sam back in time, in a coma, or just mad?  This Philip K. Dick-like questioning of reality keeps it interesting, but the real star is not Sam but his boss, Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) as the incredibly violent, un-PC detective superintendent, and one of the funniest (if foul) characters ever seen in a police drama.  Having a full 60 minutes (unless you're BBC America--shame on you!) to tell your stories results in great character moments and complicated plots that you think will be over quickly, but go off in interesting directions.  With its run of 16 episodes over two seasons over (and the mystery solved), Hunt's character is being spun off into his own series set in the 1980s.

Life's Too Short (11/11)
Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant team up yet again in this BBC-2/HBO comedy with Warwick Davis standing in as Gervais as the bumbling idiot who gets himself into embarrassing situations mostly due to extreme acts of wanting attention.  Davis plays a thinly disguised version of himself, one-time star of "Willow" and "The Return of the Jedi," having fallen on hard times and supporting himself as an agent for fellow little people.  He's funny but that's because he is essentially doing Ricky's schtick, the way he talks and reacts to things.  Big-time stars like Liam Neeson and Johnny Depp make cameo appearances as themselves and not surprisingly steal the show every time (there's a reason why they're stars and Davis, and to a lesser extent Gervais, are not). Neeson absolutely kills in his scene as he tries to do improv comedy  with Gervais without really understanding how it works.

Lightfields (6/13)
A sequel of sorts to Marchlands with the similar format of a ghost story that takes place in the same house over the course of decades with three concurrent stories with a common thread running through them. During the war, the teenage daughter of a grim farmer is killed in a fire. Years later in the 1970s her best friend's little sister returns to the house with her own teenage daughter. Meanwhile, in the present day, the grandson of the dead girl's brother (now an old man) is starting to see dead people. Much of the suspense occurs because critical information is only slowly dribbled out to the audience, but the format has obviously proven a success.

Linda Green (11/02) 
A different writer each week tackles the singleton adventures of part-time lounge singer Linda (Liza Tarbuck) and her so-called love life in this BBC series.   The contrast between the episodes means you never know quite what it will deliver, and some of Linda's situations are those "only on television" kind of premises: dating twins (guest star Christopher Eccleston), trying a lesbian bar, but overall the results are successful even if the music that Linda sings is a bit too "right on" sometimes.

The Line of Beauty (4/08)
Andrew Davies adapts Alan Hollinghurst's novel set in the 1980s about a young gay man who rises from nothing to working in the highest offices in the land thanks to the sponsorship of a Conservative family that takes him in.  In the background is a look at the go-go "greed is good" Margaret Thatcher era, and how it ate up and spit people like him out once it was done with them. 

Line of Duty (10/12)
Jed Mercurio wrote and produced this deeply cynical BBC mini-series about corruption in the Metropolitan Police.  DS Steve Arnott is reassigned to internal affairs after a botched raid and his new supervisor (Adrian Dunbar) is keen to bust Tony Gates (Lennie James) a highly decorated detective chief inspector who runs his own unit.  Gates' real "crime," at least in the beginning, is the way he cherry picks cases which have the most potential of being solved quickly and then loading a lot of charges on it to pad his arrest record. But he's also having an affair with a femme fatal (Gina McKee) who turns out to be laundering money for Russian mobsters which he eventually gets implicated in.  Arnott tries to sort the good guys from the bad guys, and we see how paperwork and procedure hamstring the average cops on the beat who get oh-so-close to breaking the case wide open but never take the final step that will connect all the dots.  And in the end, all this running around, deep undercover work and betrayal leads to nothing as we discover the crime bosses have already gamed the system to their advantage to remain above the fray and out of jail permanently.

Lipstick on Your Collar (3/93)
Six-part Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) drama set in the 50s during the Suez crisis, and features Potter's trademarks of sex and bizarre musical numbers erupting out of nowhere. Apparently Potter is running for familiar ground, as his last series, Blackeyes, was viciously pilloried for its sexism and content. Even if you don't like the plot in Lipstick, it's great to hear the old 50s musical numbers played. Lots of nudity, I'd be surprised to see it run in the US.

Little Britain (7/04)
Matt Lucas (Shooting Stars) and David Walliams (Cruise of the Gods) have been a comedy team for several years now (Rock Profiles) and now get their own BBC comedy series that is very reminiscent of The League of Gentlemen.  Flawlessly narrated by Tom Baker, Lucas and Walliams play most of the characters, male, female, or indeterminate.  Guest star Anthony Stewart Head appears as a Prime Minister who doesn't realize just how devoted his aide is.

Little Crackers (3/11)
Sky1 series of 12 minute shorts all written by popular comedians showed that the short film genre is not dead.  Mostly based on events that happened to them as children, using revolving around Christmas, we got to see pint sized versions of Chris O'Dowd, Victoria Wood, Catherine Tate and Stephen Fry, among others dealing with what seemed at the time an unfair world when they didn't have any power.  It was particularly amusing to see the actors appearing as some authority figure, and not often in a flattering way such as Stephen Fry's cruel headmaster and Kathy Burke as a grimfaced nun.  The child performers themselves were excellent, one has to imagine how many auditions they would have gone through to find a young Catherine Tate or a Clash-obsessed teenaged Kathy Burke.  Stephen Fry lucked out with Daniel Roche of Outnumbered being cast as Young Master Fry at a particularly unpleasant boarding school.  I was also impressed by how much story it's possible to compress into a 12 minute running time.  Whole movies have been made with less plot than some of these gems. 

A Little Loving (11/96)
Short comedy film about a young woman whose boyfriend won't commit until she gains the aid of the Greek Gods, who now live undercover in London. They try to help her out but Eros' arrows nearly cause disaster in the attempt. Amusing.

Little Miss Jocelyn (1/09)
Jocelyn Jee Esien is a black comedienne who writes and appears in every sketch in a myriad of guises (some of the makeups are incredible).  Though a lot of the humor is ethnic stereotypes, Esien is a fearless comic and establishes many strong characters.  She also lets some of her creations out in the street where they interact with unsuspecting members of the public using hidden cameras. 

Little Napoleans (11/94)
Two immigrant London lawyers are persuaded to run for town council and get a taste of what politics is really about. Great characters and a ton of back-stabbing occur in this four-part mini-series from Channel 4.

Little White Lies (11/98)
A two-part BBC drama starring Tara Fitzgerald, Cherie Lunghi, and Peter Bowles) about a disintegrating marriage is shot on video and none-too-subtle. Cat-lovers are advised not to watch.

The Liver Birds (11/96)
Originally a 1970s BBC sitcom about two young women (Nerys Hughes and Polly James), this update has them now dealing with middle age. The trouble is the series, despite being set in 1996, still feels like it was produced in 1970. Hughes and James (both guest stars on Doctor Who during the Peter Davison era) are clearly 20 years older than the characters they play, and in light of modern shows about women like Dressing For Breakfast or Life After Birth, The Liver Birds seems badly out of synch with the times both in attitude and comedic style. Strictly for nostalgia buffs.

Liverpool 1 (1/99)
Samantha Janus (Game On) stars as the newcomer to a Liverpool undercover squad where she is partnered up with live wire who appears to be related to just about everyone else in Liverpool, including the local villains! There's romantic tension of course, but Janus acquits herself well in this gritty ITV drama series.

Lock Up Your Daughters (3/04)
Subtitled, "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll," this documentary looks at 40 years of scandals involving the popular music scene.  Of course what was shocking in the early 1960s is now completely taken for granted, and even the 1970s revelation that David Bowie was bisexual seems quaint nowadays.  But it's interesting how every generation found a way to unnerve the establishment and raise the bar higher and higher.

The Locksmith (11/97)
Warren Clarke (Dalziel and Pascoe) stars in this BBC drama series about a divorced locksmith who takes on a worthless assistant at the same time his ex-wife is nearly killed by compulsive junkie thief. Their estranged daughter is no help, and the stress begins to break Clarke down as he searches for the assailant and plans his revenge.

Lock, Stock and... (11/01)
A series of TV movies on Channel 4 derived from the Vinnie Jones hit "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" (each movie in the series has some variation of this theme: "...and a Good Slopping Out," "...and One Big Bollock," etc.) based around an East End pub in London where a young, fairly photogenic group of gangsters try to get rich quick but mostly end up surrounded by corpses.  Lots of senseless violence but then that's rather the point.

Longford (10/08)
Jim Broadbent stars in this true-life BBC TV movie as Lord Longford, a member of the establishment and devoted Christian, who went to bat for the notorious child killer Myra Hindley (Samantha Morton).  She and her lover Ian Brady (Andy Serkis) were both psychopaths, but Myra convinced Longford that she was under Brady's spell and he took up her cause and nearly destroyed his reputation in the process.  A fascinating case and interesting character study.

The Long Firm (11/04)
You wouldn't think a series about a gay gangster in the 1960s would work but Mark Strong makes the most as a tough mobster who has big ambitions.  He manages to recruit a closeted Lord (Derek Jacobi) as the front man for his criminal enterprises and never fails to take advantage of anyone in his scramble for the top.

Looking After Jo Jo (3/98)
Hot actor Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) stars in this BBC mini-series as a young man in Edinburgh running with the wrong elements. The thick Scottish accents could use subtitles (and a slang dictionary), and of course every scene is grim, grim, grim. But Carlyle has star power, no doubt about it.

Lord of Misrule (11/96)
BBC TV movie with Richard Wilson as a retired Lord Protectorate who decides to sell all the dirt he has accumulated about the government to the highest bidder in order to pay for the upkeep on his house. Quickly the Prime Minister dispatches a cabinet minister (Prunella Scales) who was once an old flame of his to make a deal, while his granddaughter's journalist boyfriend negotiates on behalf of the press to get its hands on the incriminating documents. Unfortunately everyone arrives during a village festival where the town simpleton is crowned Lord of Misrule and allowed to run amok for a day. Added to the mix some gangsters intent on recovering a load of cannabis accidentally uncovered by a local fisherman try to get their property back. Naturally, Wilson watches with detached bemusement as all these chaotic elements collide.

Los Dos Bros (3/02)
Channel 4's attempt at "Dumb and Dumber" about two half brothers idiots getting into trouble and then discussing it afterward with an unseen therapist in this low-brow comedy series.  Notable for co-starring Darren Boyd, who appeared in the short-lived American series "Watching Ellie" with Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Lost Christmas (2/12)
A young boy loses his parents on Christmas Eve to be brought up with his diminished capacity grandmother and becoming a sneak thief for a family friend who is a fence for stolen property.  Into this sad world the following Christmas is the sudden appearance of Anthony, a very odd fellow who comes out of nowhere.  Anthony is played by a nearly bald Eddie Izzard in a performance that is not unlike that of the Doctor immediately after a regeneration.  One might think Izzard was auditioning for the part, and in his thrown-together clothes, someone could make up a clever mash-up video with him as the next Doctor.  Anthony has the power to relive people’s pasts when he touches them, and this allows him to begin fixing what’s wrong in everyone’s lives.  Is he an angel? An alien? A Timelord? I won’t spoil things but I will say that some time travel is involved, and being a BBC Christmas-time special with the word Christmas in the title, you can expect a good dash of sentimentality and an upbeat ending.

Lost For Words (9/99)
TV movie with Pete Postlethwaite ("In The Name Of The Father") recalling the life of his mother (Thora Hird), even after she suffers a debilitating heart attack. A nice touch is the newly remarried Postlethwaite's character is given a blind wife. Sentimental, but what do you expect?

Lost In France (9/98)
A serialized late night comedy series, set during the 1998 World Cup was shot on location as events were occurring with topical references sprinkled in (obviously, in an ideal world, the characters would have followed the exploits of the England team all the way to the Final, although their elimination in the second round to Argentina altered their plans slightly). But the main focus is on a soccer-mad Northern family, cruising all over France in search of tickets and various venues. Each segment was short enough not to become boring, and the sweet relationship between the characters worked well, whatever your opinion of soccer might be.

Lost In Space (9/98)
A series of 15-minute shorts on the BBC each highlighting different fandoms surrounding cult science fictions series. Doctor Who, The Prisoner, Gerry Anderson fans, Blake's 7, and Star Trek are all profiled, with interviews with their most loyal fans. Surprisingly, they manage to stay away from the most sad anorak-y types (although I suppose just by definition, anyone who is a fan of television can fit that category. Heck, I even get mail from time to time saying I watch too much telly!), with "serious" fans who are at least knowledgeable and dedicated about their devotion to a particular series.

The Lost Sketches of Pete & Dud (10/10)
Jonathan Ross presents an odd project, redoing old comedy sketches by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore that were erased from their 1960s BBC series.  Playing the various characters are Adrian Edmondson, Angus Deayton, Alistair McGowan, Hugh Dennis, Nick Mohammad and Simon Day.  I can appreciate the nostalgic appeal of lost-lost material, but recreating comedy material, particularly from a well-known double-act just seems doomed to failure. 

The Lost World of Friese-Greene (4/08)
Dan Cruickshank presents a travelogue featuring color movies shot in the 1920s (!) and contrasting it with how the same locations appear today.  He even manages to locate people who appeared (or knew them) in the original footage.  Claude Friese-Greene was a film experimenter who developed his own color process and then decided the best way to show it off was to shoot a driving tour of Britain called "The Open Road."  Cruickshank follows in his footsteps in this amazing mix of archival footage and a look at how Britain has changed over the years.

Love Again (3/04)
BBC biography of poet Philip Larkin, perhaps one of the most cynical men of the 20th Century.  Expertly portrayed by Hugh Bonneville, it opens with his arrival at lowly Hull University.  His long-term inability to commit drives his girlfriend (Tara Fitzgerald) nuts, and it doesn't help that Larkin begins courting a co-working in the university library (Amanda Root).  But he was the right poet at the right time and eventually he had to turn down the laureate, preferring to write something rude about the Queen.  Incredibly, Larkin managed to avoid matrimony his entire life, as did the women in his life who all died single.

Love and Marriage (11/13)
ITV comedy series about Pauline Paradise (Alison Steadman) whose three children have all grown and she realizes one day she's married to a bore and walks out on him. She moves in with her sister (Celia Imrie) a former model who lives life to the fullest. The Paradise children are keen to get their parents back together, but they all have family problems of their own. A familiar TV cast along with Steadman's always impeccable performance (Pauline pathologically carries a shopping bag with her at all times) gloss over some of the cliches that are encountered.

Love and Reason (9/93)
A huge disappointment. A three-part drama about how a feminist from a mining community becomes a Member of Parliament, all the while carrying on affairs and oblivious to the political machinations around her. Told mostly in flashbacks, as a promised satire it failed to deliver.

Loved By You (7/97)
The ITV remake of Mad About You with John Gordon-Sinclair in the Paul Reiser role. As far as I can tell they've taken the actual scripts and just modified them to fit London instead of New York. The rest is whether you are a fan of the original or not, which sadly I'm in the latter category.

Love In The 21st Century (3/00)
Channel 4 anthology series that is a cynical look at love, with frequent unexpected denouements. A different writer did each story, including a tale by Doctor Who novelist Paul Cornell with Ioan Gruffudd (Hornblower) as a husband who gets caught wanking by his wife. Other stories involve a doctor with two girlfriends, a woman who wants to get sperm donors, and a teacher who has an affair with a student. Adult material, to be sure, but tastefully done.

Love Life (6/12)
Three part ITV mini-series about Joe (Rob James-Collier, the nasty footman from Downton Abbey) an itinerant world traveler who comes back home to discover his former girlfriend is having a baby after an affair with her boss (Alexander Armstrong).  She refuses to commit to Joe to help her and baby because of his rambling ways. A nice little love story with pleasant characters from Lark Rise To Candleford creator Bill Gallagher.

Love on a Branch Line (11/94)
Quiet and understated Masterpiece Theatre-like comedy about a young government clerk sent to a manor house full of eccentrics ostensibly to shut down an obscure ministerial program. But he is seduced by the beauty of the surroundings and the Lord of the manor's three beautiful daughters. Will he find love or obey his superiors and order the program shut down? A sweet period-piece although there is lots of sex and naked bodies too.

Love or Money (3/02)
ITV TV movie about a recently jilted young man (Steven Duffy) who goes on TV, gets an "instant bride" (Emma Cunniffe), and they both can win a million pounds if they can stay happily married for six months.  Needless to say, complication ensue and the big question is whether they are both doing it for love or money like the title suggests.

Love Soup (7/09)
David Renwick (Jonathan CreekOne Foot In the Grave) wrote this low-key single-camera style comedy starring Tasmin Greig (Black Books) as a cosmetic counter worker who is incredibly unlucky in love.  Renwick's forte is creating situations where some tiny bit of information or business at the beginning of an episode pays off in comedy gold near the end.  Greig is the perfect person to be at the center of it all, she wears her pain on her face like a younger, female Woody Allen, yet she never gives up. 

Loving (3/97)
BBC TV Movie about life in an Irish mansion during World War II. An upper class British family has retreated to Ireland for the duration along with their staff whose complicated lives form the basis for this drama. A bit ponderous but well acted.

Loving Miss Hatto (3/13)
Alfred Molina stars as William Barrington-Coupe, a somewhat dodgy entrepreneur who stumbles upon shy piano prodigy Joyce Hatto in the 1950s, and becomes her promoter and husband in this BBC TV movie based on a true story. Joyce peaks early in her career and only makes a few recordings.  Years later, now retired, William discovers that Joyce's music has been rediscovered and there is a huge demand for new recordings. Alas, her talent has passed, but he (as alleged in this movie) uses digital technology to pass off other performances as those of his wife's.  Sales are great until a snoopy reporter from "The New Yorker" uncovers the deception, which Barrington-Coupe denies to this day (Hatto died in 2006).  

Lucan (2/14)
Lord Lucan is to British pop culture what Jimmy Hoffa is in the United States: a famous person who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared in the 1970s, and a synonym for something that can't be found. In this two-part ITV dramatization, Lucan (Rory Kinnear) is a member of the upper class, frequently found in the gambling parlor of John Aspinall (Christopher Eccleston, using a posh accent). He and Aspinall really believe they are better than ordinary folks, and when Lucan is on the verge of losing his children in a custody battle with his wife, plots to kill her. But oops, he kills the nanny by mistake and then flees the country (at least according to this version) before justice can be served.  Was Aspinall responsible? Based on the book "The Gamblers" by John Pearson (played here by Paul Freeman), a journalist who attempts to put together the answers after the fact about what ultimately happened to Lucan.

Lucky Jim (3/04)
ITV TV movie adaptation of the Kingsley Amis novel set in the 1950s about a shy college professor (Stephen Tomkinson at his stammering best) stuck in a dead-end relationship who sees a more likely paramour (Keeley Hawes) currently with a pretentious beat poet.  A nice cast which also includes Robert Hardy, Denis Lawson, and Stephen Mangan.

Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married (9/00)
ITV mini-series based on a novel that has enough episodes that I think they adapted every word of the novel about a woman's quest for love.  What's amazing is they were able to break it up into self-contained episodes, and each had a different writer, rather than one person adapting the entire story.  With former EastEnder Letitia Dean, Sara Stockbridge, and Michael Troughton in supporting roles.

Lunch Monkeys (3/11)
There's a definitely stratification when it comes to which channel a BBC comedy lands on.  BBC1 shows are expected to be star driven and appeal to wide audiences.  BBC2 are more quirky and allowed to tackle topics that aren't mainstream.  And then there's BBC3 which have developed Gavin & Stacey and The Mighty Boosh, but also as a place for really oddball shows.  I have to wonder if The Office were first to have appeared in 2011 whether it would have had to start out on BBC3.  In any case, Lunch Monkeys is a typical BBC3 kind of show that is set in a workplace but doesn't really have jokes per se.  It's is more of an observational comedy that focuses on the characters.  We get to know the administrators, clerks, and folks working in the mail room at a law office rather than the lawyers running the show.  Your enjoyment of the show depends directly on whether you can relate to any of these characters and want to see where their story goes.  Yes, there is comedy but it's usually obvious things like the guy so desperate for a coworker who loathes him to become his flatmate that he ends up subsidizes her rent.  Or a nefarious lawyer taking advantage of an idiot clerk. My favorite character is probably Tania the office manager played by Jessica Hall. She desperately wants to impress her boss played by Nigel Havers, but she gets no respect from her co-workers and her lovelife is a mess.  With the caveat that Lunch Monkeys is a BBC3 comedy, and is not designed to be a mainstream hit, it's a harmless enough workplace show.

Luther (12/10)
John Luther (Idris Elba), a London police detective, is first seen in pursuit of a pedophile whom he allows to fall from a platform and end up in a coma.  Luther suffers a mental breakdown for several months but then resumes work back at the Met.  On the job, he is a combination of Cracker and Columbo and his first case back pits him against Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), a woman who may have killed her parents in cold blood.  Alice, a seductive redhead, plays mindgames with Luther because she knows he can't prove her guilt.  But Luther is no superman, his personal life is marred by his estrangement with his wife who has a new lover (Paul McGann).  Though I'm getting tired of the "maverick-who-goes-it-alone" style police procedural, it's the interplay between Luther and Alice that makes this series stand out. 

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (rkj@eskimo.com).
February 11, 2014