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Dates refer to when review was written
BBC comedy pilot about a super-nationalistic Scotsman. Not really that far away from that character Mike Myers used to do on Saturday Night Live whose catchphrase was, "If it's nae Scottish, it's crap!" Mac tries to get a job at a store specializing in Scottish merchandise, but his heavy-handed patriotism keeps getting the best of him.
Macbeth on the Estate (9/97)
An abridged version of the Shakespeare tragedy is set on a council estate where a young punk and his wife conspire to take the "kingdom." Much like Ian McKellen's recent Richard III, all the dialog is authentic from the text, but the classic story has been successfully grafted into circumstances Shakespeare could never have imagined.
Madam Cyn's Home Movie (4/08)
Channel 4 broadcasts the visual memoirs of Cynthia Payne, a former madam who lived in a respectable neighborhood, yet was doing unrespectable things inside with male clients and bored housewives who worked for her.
Mad Dogs (3/11)
Sky1 made a major leap into original drama when it commissioned this four-part drama about four Englishmen whose trip to visit a mate in Spain goes terribly awry. But even the combined star power of John Simm, Philip Glenister, Marc Warren, Max Beesley and Ben Chaplin aren't enough to sustain interest over the entire four parts. The project was initiated by the actors who wanted to work together and had an idea, commissioned a writer and then shopped it around to all the broadcasters. Although nicely shot (it's nearly impossible to make Spain look anything but gorgeous) much of the drama is done in a manner that would seem stilted even on stage, with the characters often stuck in a room or sitting around a table discussing their respective back stories. Perhaps the old-fashioned way of creating serials is best, with a writer having an idea, selling it to a broadcaster, and then casting around for suitable actors to fit the drama rather than the other way around.
The Magician's House (1/01)
Ian Richardson (House of Cards) stars as a middle ages sorcerer who visits the 20th Century to help out some modern children in this BBC fantasy drama. Richardson plays it almost exactly like the William Hartnell Doctor Who, a bit befuddled and ill-tempered but all-powerful when the chips are down.
Maid Marion and Her Merry Men (5/94)
Tony Robinson's revisionist Robin Hood parody goes out with a bang in this final season. The first episode is a devastating parody of a game show in England called The Crystal Maze hosted by Richard O'Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Even if you didn't care for previous seasons of this blend of humor, music, and anachronisms, the show really delivers the laughs this time --it's too good to be aimed just at kids.
Maisie Raine (1/99)
Pauline Quirke (Birds of A Feather) plays the detective inspector of a plainclothes police unit, though the cliches fly fast and furious in this BBC drama series. Maisie is of course tough-as-nails on the outside, and able to solve every crime (and everyone else's problems) in 45 minutes, but whose own personal life is out of control. And her humorless female boss forces a weekly confrontation, ("Just give me 24 more hours, guv!") while her racially-mixed squad back Maisie completely. It's okay material, but smacks a bit of a vanity piece for Quirke.
Making News (3/90)
Drama about the behind-the-scenes in a news room. Starring Paul Darrow (Blake's 7 Avon).
The Making of a Lady (3/13)
ITV TV movie about a middle class working girl in the 19th Century who gets a chance to join the gentry when she marries an older military officer despite the objections of his aunt (Joanna Lumley). Taken to his country manor, he is then posted abroad, leaving her to deal with the family servants as well as a some friends of her husband's with sinister intentions towards her. Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
The Man (1/00)
Lenny Henry stars in this BBC drama as a travel agent who would rather be in a band. His long-suffering partner puts up with his refusal to grow up and face his responsibilities, and allows him to run off to Spain when he b.s.es a hotelier (John Sessions) to let his band play a resort. A harmless look at a man with a dream, while trying to live in the real world.
Anthony Stewart Head ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Nigel Havers co-star in this clever BBC satire about four successful gentlemen in their 50s and their inability to act their age. Each goes for the latest trendy thing to look young and attract girls half their age. Havers addresses the camera directly, with highly ironic narration that reveals what a clueless git both he and his friends are in their fruitless bid to avoid the realization that their best years are now behind them.
The Man from AUNTIE (7/94)
Is Ben Elton (longtime writer of The Young Ones, and Blackadder among other things). He does his standup act interspersed with comic parodies of Oprah Winfrey (yes, Oprah plays in England) and other cultural oddities. Probably nobody over 35 gets his humor.
Man Stroke Woman (4/07)
BBC Sketch comedy series with Nick Frost ("Hot Fuzz") as one of the cast that looks at male/female relationships.
Man To Man With Dean Learner (4/08)
Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd) revives this character last seen in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace as a late night chat show host (think a sleazy Hugh Hefner) in this spoof who humiliates and abuses his guests (each week played by Matthew Holness), revealing a true sadistic streak in Learner.
The Man Who Crossed Hitler (11/11)
In this BBC dramatization about a real life incident that occurred in 1931 Berlin, the Nazis are on the rise in an economically ravaged Germany. The Communists are their main enemy and after a violent brownshirt raid at a communist gathering, a private prosecutor named Hans Litten is persuaded to put Herr Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party, on the stand. Ed Stoppard (Upstairs Downstairs) portrays Litten, a Jew from a wealthy family whose parents had baptized to protect him from persecution. Ian Hart, best known for playing Professor Quirrel in the first Harry Potter film, is Adolf Hitler, a rising figure in German politics in 1930 but still considered stoppable by Litten and his allies. Their cunning plan is to show Hitler perjured himself in a trial in Leipzig six months earlier when he swore on oath that his party had renounced violence. It's a calculated risk, and at first the judge, played by Bill Patterson, lets Litten cross-examine Hitler and make him sweat. But you don't become one of the greatest mass murderers in history by collapsing on the stand in a minor trial just as you're getting started. Hitler eventually gets the upper hand when it becomes clear he won't be stopped and he promises that although he will use legal means, he will forever change the German state and the way it conducts the law. After the trial, Litten refuses to leave Germany and a post-script tells us how he was picked up in the first purge as soon as Hitler was granted unlimited power. Hitler continues to be a fascinating subject for the British. Not only because he got so close to conquering their island, but the way the Germans fell under his spell, and their own history with fascist parties who were sympathetic to the Nazis.
The Man Who Lost His Head (11/09)
Martin Clunes stars in this romantic comedy TV movie that is predictable from almost the beginning but harmless enough. A curator from the British Museum (Clunes) is sent to a New Zealand tribe who wants their village relic returned but he's under orders to find them unsuitable to properly care for it. Will he go native? Is there a cute local girl for him to fall in love with? Have you guessed the ending yet?
A Many Splintered Thing (7/99)
Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek) stars in this BBC comedy pilot as a married ad jingle writer who wakes up after a party with a strange girl in his bed. He quickly gets rid of her but the experience (and the girl) continue to haunt him. Interestingly, we are barely introduced to his wife, but from all appearances he should stick with the new girl. Presumably a series is coming that will continue the tale.
The five part ITV1 mini-series is set in the same house in three different decades. The first is 1968 where a young couple living with his parents cope with the recent death of their daughter, the second is in 1987 where Alex Kingston and Dean Andrews are a married couple whose daughter has an imaginary friend, and the third is in 2010 where a man returns to the village along with his pregnant wife. Linking these are the imagery all associated with the dead girl who may be haunting the place. Interestingly, Marchlands is based on an American series called "The Oaks" that Fox commissioned but never broadcast. The writer, Stephen Greenhorn, a Doctor Who veteran, has done a good job of taking David Schulner's original concept and making it thoroughly English and not just filed the serial numbers off and had the characters all drinking tea. The format lends itself to what is hopefully a satisfying mini-series experience but I can't see how this was expected to run and run if it ever got to American television. There are a number of reasons to watch Marchlands: you like a good spooky ghost story, the appeal of the stars, or maybe you're just an anachronism spotter who enjoys catching flubs on period dramas. Whatever works for you.
March In Windy City (7/98)
David Jason (Only Fools and Horses) stars in this ITV TV movie pilot for a series about a retired spy who is asked (of course) for "one more job." He is to go to Chicago and assassinate a member of the Russian mafia (David McCallum) running for the U.S. Senate. Years earlier, flashbacks reveal, McCallum's character had been responsible for killing March's girlfriend during a mission. Okay, ignoring the improbability of such a scenario, this is a good dramatic vehicle, with Jason and McCallum nicely sparring off each other. Slickly filmed on location with no-name American actors (playing characters who of course can't find their own fingers without help from a foreigner), March is an enduring character with his obsession with toys, fear of heights and wallpaper, and strange connection with dwarves (one keeps popping up throughout the city wherever he goes).
Margaret Thatcher: Where Am I Now? (1/00)
A series of short Channel 4 animated comedies by comic artist Steve Bell, chronicling the Iron Lady's life and years in power, as narrated by herself. With a daffy visual style, and clever wit, the satirical swords are out, much as you might expect, considering the subject.
Margery & Gladys (5/04)
Light-hearted ITV TV movie with perennial upper-middle class overachiever Penelope Keith (The Good Life/Neighbors) as Margery, a recent widow whose life of order suddenly is thrown out of kilter when she accidentally kills an intruder, and she and her cleaning lady Gladys run for it. Soon they are breaking every law in the country and much to Margery's horror discovers that she and Gladys had a lot more in common than she ever suspected. Martin Freeman (The Office) plays a goofy over-the-top policeman sporting the gayest moustache ever.
Marion & Geoff (1/01)
Ten minute shorts chronicling the story of a minicab driver (Rob Brydon) inside his car recounting the breakup of his marriage to Marion (who remarried Geoff), which for some deluded reason he thinks there is still hope for. Sad clueless gits have always been a mainstay of British comedy, and your tolerance for this will depend on how much masochism you can see a character inflict on himself in this one-man show. A prequel movie in 2001, A Small Summer Party, finally reveals the details of their breakup.
Mark Lamarr Leaving The 20th Century (3/00)
Slick-haired comic and host Lamarr (Nevermind The Buzzcocks) presents various rants about life today, which usually links somehow to guests such as Barbara Windsor (EastEnders) or Boy George. Lamarr is effective, as he's one of the few people on TV not afraid to get angry on the air or call bullshit on someone shoveling it out - Larry King, he's not.
The Mark Thomas Comedy Product (11/96)
Michael Moore's TV Nation is such a hit in England that the BBC have financed another series of it for next year. It has also spawned imitations, one being this series about a stand-up comic who films "stunts" designed to annoy, harass, or otherwise embarrass various corporations or politicians. I find this kind of video terrorism tiring but obviously it has its audience.
Married For Life (11/96)
British TV is not always a bed of roses. Witness this: A UK adaptation of Married With Children. Al is now "Ted" (played by Russ Abbot) but the plots and setting will be familiar to anyone who has seen the original FOX series. Unfortunately, in adjusting it to English sensibilities something subtle was lost in the translation and Married For Life comes across as just another annoying ITV sitcom. Kill me now!
Massive Moments of the 20th Century (1/01)
Two actors recreate famous events of the last 100 years (the abdication of Edward VIII, the moon landing, the Clinton scandal) by playing all the participants themselves, in this great send-up of both the personalities and stories. The action keeps moving in each episode, as the actors seem almost to be winging it like some live stage show gone mad.
Material Girl (8/10)
Lenora Crichlow stars this BBC drama as an aspiring London fashion designer who breaks out on her own with the help of friends but finds out it's a cutthroat business, personified by her old boss (played in high camp style by Dervla Kirwan--Joan Collins couldn't have been meaner). Chrichlow is an up-and-coming star (Being Human, Sugar Rush) and she creates yet another sympathetic character in what is essentially an uplifting melodrama.
Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere (2/06)
Peter Kay spins this off his successful Phoenix Nights show with two losers who hit the road in an RV and have misadventures which eventually lead to some prison time, a jail break, and an attempt by Max to reunite with the son he never knew he had with his former midget girlfriend who married his best friend.
Alistair McGowan in this BBC light-hearted dysfunctional detective drama. Part Sherlock Holmes on the job, but hopeless at home with his daughter, a wife who has gone missing, and an old flame as his partner. He and his team travel around to crime scenes in a large trailer which I swear is bigger on the inside than the outside. As a cop show however, "Monk" does this better and funnier.
May To December (11/90)
An older solicitor (Anton Rogers) begins to romance a young athletic teacher (Eve Matheson) half his age. First season of the long-running BBC series. Read my interview with series writer Paul Mendelson.
In a 50-minute Christmas special to kick off the new season, with Leslie Dunlop taking over the Eve Matheson part. Frankly, I preferred Matheson. Some cute black-and-white Perry Mason spoofs though.
Alex and Zoe are now happily married and have a baby daughter. If you ask me, all the charm left the series when they replaced Eve Matheson, and it has settled down to a predictable domestic sitcom.
McCoist & MacAulay (7/00)
Two comics roam Britain, setting up their chat show in a different city each time, doing a few location-specific sketches, and interviewing celebrities.
Meades Eats (3/04)
Cultural observer Jonathan Meades returns with a food-based look at British mores, ironically after a tremendous weight loss on his part. But his wit and use of visual sight gags is just as sharp, and you'll definitely look at your dinner plate differently after hearing what he has to say.
Me and Mrs Jones (12/12)
BBC1 situation comedy starring Sarah Alexander as Gemma, a divorced mum with three kids, one of whom returns from his gap year with new mate Billy (Robert Sheehan, Misfits), whom she is attracted to despite his age. Meanwhile, her ex (Neil Morrissey) is dating the fierce Inca, while Nathaniel Parker plays a possible suitor for Gemma. Alexander allows herself to be put in silly situations, a bit like a blonde Lucille Ball, but Gemma's inability to commit or act like an adult much of the time makes it hard to completely relate to her.
BBC TV Movie about the relationship between a juvenile offender and a young prostitute on the mean streets of London. Nobody lays on the pain and misery like the British, and you can bet your last pound that there is no happy endings for anyone. Nevertheless, this material is imbued with an honesty and craft that is not easily dismissed no matter how off-putting the subject matter.
Medical drama starring Tom Baker as yet another doctor, this time the normal Earth variety. ITV's answer to Casualty, a phenomenal hit on the BBC for several years.
Complex Channel 4 mystery about a group of close friends who are slowly being killed off one by one. Caught in the middle of this is a man who meets the enigmatic Melissa on a cruise, marries her on a whim, and then is accused of her murder a short while later. Melissa had a lot of secrets but then so do all her friends.... Based on a novel, most of the first two episodes were created by the screenwriter (Melissa is already dead when the book begins) with the blessing of the original author, who adds a satisfying backstory to the events as they unfold.
Men Behaving Badly (9/96)
Prior to NBC's "adaption" of this British sitcom, it had gone through a number of incarnations itself. Originally an unsuccessful ITV comedy with Martin Clunes (the guy with the big ears) and Harry Enfield, it subsequently moved over to the BBC where Enfield was replaced by Neil Morrissey in the 1992 series and the show never looked back, winning a BAFTA award for Best Comedy the next year. I haven't watched NBC's version yet, so I can't compare them, but Gary and Tony are such Neanderthals, trying to impress women while paying no attention to domestic chores, that you have to laugh. Dumbed down to an American format doesn't sound very appealing however.
The last-ever bang for flatmates Gary and Tony in this epic-length three-parter of 50 minute episodes which pretty neatly wrap up all the loose ends. Gary’s office closing coincides with Dorothy’s pregnancy, while Tony finally gets a proper job but then becomes a bore to Deborah. This was the highest-rated program over Christmas 1998 although it was later criticized by the Broadcasting Standards Commission for being too raunchy. Read my feature about Men Behaving Badly.
Men of the Month (11/94)
A BBC TV Movie about the men working outside renovating an office and their interaction with the up-market people who work inside. Lots of Guy Stuff goes on, but not the sort of things other guys really want to watch though. Well mounted though.
Men of the World (1/96)
Sitcom with David Threlfell as one of two men sharing a flat, the other of whom is dating a female police constable. Interesting if only for insight into the life and times of young men (and their women) in modern Britain.
Men Only (3/02)
Two part Channel 4 drama about five friends who meet up for weekly soccer games and begin to take it to the limit. Not a flattering portrait of the male gender, as they get more and more out of control and less responsible for the consequences of their acts (including a gang rape).
In the 1960s, British TV shows like The Avengers and The Prisoner were staples of American TV networks. Alas, those days passed as anything "foreign" was relegated to the ghetto of public television or later, niche cable channels. But in 2009 NBC picked up Merlin for prime time (albeit in the summer) and presumably ponied up some production money as well. Produced by BBC Wales (the Doctor Who folks), this slick look at the Arthurian legend features a young, naive Merlin (Colin Morgan) discovering (and hiding) his powers while trying to help an equally young Arthur on the right path. Familiar BBC stars such as Anthony Head ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Richard Wilson (One Foot In the Grave) provide support, as well as John Hurt as a convenient exposition-delivering CGI dragon whom Merlin often consults. The same crowd that likes the updated Robin Hood would enjoy this series, though obviously it's aimed at a young audience.
Rikki Beadle-Blair stars, wrote, and directed this electric comedy/drama series for Channel 4 where the camera never stops and often you need a program to keep all the characters straight but it's well worth the effort. It starts with Blair who plays a middle-aged Rastafarian homosexual who has a straight teenage son who thinks his dad isn't cool. It's all about Blair's love life, his son's lovelife, the son's friends, Blair's boyfriend's friends, eventually expanding out to a huge network of friends and plots. But incredibly he keeps all the pies in the air, with fun memorable characters who always do the right thing in the end.
A&E's American title for Spooks.
The first series I've given up trying to watch. A future Masterpiece Theatre presentation, this adapatation of a costume drama (by Andrew Davies of To Play the King fame) was just too hard to sit through. In my defense, my friend Micky DuPree told me, "Well, you probably wouldn't know this, but the source author, George Eliot, is legendary for her soporific effect on high-school students as well." It's exactly the kind of lifeless production most non-Anglophiles envision when they think of Masterpiece Theatre and British dramas in general. You might like it but don't recommend it to friends.
Mind the Baby, Mr Bean (7/94)
The hapless character played by Rowan Atkinson finds himself stuck with an infant in a buggy while he spends a day at an amusement park. Need I say more?
Midnight Movie (7/95)
Brian Dennehy stars in this Dennis Potter-written movie about an American film producer living in England whose British wife is haunted by the memory of her dead mother. It features Potter's usual trademarks: dirty old men lusting after blondes, murder, and the chronology played with. But in the end it doesn't make any sense at all. Was the whole movie a fantasy or did someone just show the reels in the wrong order? A rare misfire for the late, great Dennis Potter.
The Mighty Boosh (2/06)
Goofy BBC Three comedy transfer from radio about two zookeepers who get into surreal adventures. Talking animals, the afterlife, fighting kangaroos... nothing is too weird, and there's usually a nice musical number as well. Written and performed by Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, it's a cult show that's too good to just be a cult.
What I assumed was the pilot movie for a possible dramatic series starring comedian Mel Smith as a solicitor who asks too many questions about his sleazy clients. Are we ready for Attorney/Investigator?
Mine All Mine (4/07)
Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who) wrote this Welsh-set series about an eccentric cab company operator (Griff Rhys-Jones) and his wacky family whom he claims are the rightful owners of Swansea due to an old deed. His luck changes when the deed is suddenly proven legitimate and Rhys-Jones is indeed put in charge of the entire city--that is if his senile father doesn't give it all away first. Farcical but amusing.
Miranda Hart wrote and stars in this cute but funny BBC sitcom about a large and awkward woman-child who owns a joke shop but doesn't really seem to have any designs on living an adult lifestyle. Her mother (Patricia Hodge) despairs of Miranda ever getting married, and even though she has a crush on the chef at the local restaurant, nothing ever comes of it. Hart's ability at physical comedy (as a stand-up comedienne and actor in Not Going Out and Hyperdrive she has much experience) is used to great effect, she will do nearly anything for a laugh.
Jennifer Saunders assembles her Absolutely Fabulous gang for this satire of show business types (and had such a good time with everyone that they've decided to do another season of AbFab). Saunders and Julia Sawalha plays actress roommates with different ambitions (and talent) trying to scratch a living, while Joanna Lumley is the washed up torch singer trying to avoid her manager/husband. Interestingly, Jane Horrocks plays a Bjork-like waitress from Iceland whose character will now appear in AbFab. Saunders finally triumphs in an audition (after Bonnie Langford is told she isn't right for the part) and gets the lead in the musical version of "Angela's Ashes" but breaks her leg afterwards in a drunken celebration. Can she keep it a secret from the director until it's too late to recast? There was only one episode of this BBC pilot, but at least it shows Saunders is in good form, and hopefully will avoid being in other people's stinkers like Let Them Eat Cake.
This E4 superhero series has become a cult show in Britain (and to fans in-the-know in the USA). It is a very gritty, urban series with challenging characters...in other words, about 180 degrees from anything that would get made in the United States. The premise sounds a bit like "Heroes": a group of ordinary people who suddenly discover they have superpowers and how they cope with them. (Old TV addicts such as myself might also recall a Courtney Cox series called "Misfits of Science" about another set of teens with extraordinary abilities.) None of them are like Misfits. At first look, it appears like it was shot on a housing estate with a budget of about £10. It is neither glossy nor slick, in fact it takes place in an environment I'm sure we'd all prefer not to live in. The five main characters are all young offenders, that is, criminals who've been sentenced to doing community service in hideous orange jumpsuits. A strange storm strikes one day out of the blue and suddenly they realize they've all each gained a new ability (mind reading, invisibility, time turning). Except for Nathan (Robert Sheehan, who is hilarious) who during most of the first season doesn't seem to have any powers, but eventually discovers he's immortal. But they aren't the only ones with powers and each episode they encounter someone who also does, not usually for the better. For the most part, despite their lack of opportunities, the misfits gang are fairly smart. In one episode a shape shifter wreaks havoc by impersonating each of them and they are clever enough to realize what is going on fairly quickly. However, a bit later they're in pursuit of the shapeshifter when the lazy scriptwriter's friend "Split up!" crops up, which means another whole round of not trusting one another. If only they'd stuck together. That aside, Misfits is a compelling show if you are prepared for something a bit different.
The Missing Postman (7/97)
James Bolam (The Beiderbecke Affair) stars as a bicycling postman who, on the day he is to be made redundant, picks up the mail from a pillar box and impulsively decides to deliver it all - by hand. He begins to ride across the British countryside delivering letters, eventually drawing the attention of the police (as he's stolen Royal Mail), and the media, who see him as some kind of symbol. He manages to keep one step ahead of all of them, and finds himself taken in and assisted by people as his fame spreads. Meanwhile back home, his wife (Alison Steadman) fills her time by taking interior decorating to a new degree. An utterly charming two-part BBC production.
Mr Bean (1/03)
Rowan Atkinson's cartoony character is now actually an animated series and presumably aimed more at kids. He still provides the voice, mostly grunts and non-verbal annoyance at the ordinary things that continually vex Bean and only Bean.
Mr Charity (11/02)
Stephen Tomkinson (Ballykissangel) stars in this mildly entertaining BBC comedy about an opportunistic and amoral organizer of a second-rate charity. Wasn't Chris Barrie available, or has he finally tired of these type of roles? Tomkinson tries hard but Mr Comedy he's not.
Mr Selfridge (3/13)
Jeremy Piven co-produced this lavish ITV/Masterpiece series that he also stars in as American department store entrepreneur Harry Selfridge in London of the 1920s. Andrew Davies developed the series, which follows the exploits of Harry, his family, and the staff at the store on Oxford Street (it's still there), through various familiar soap tropes. Piven plays Selfridge, like many of his other characters, as driven to succeed, even as he indulges in mistresses, gambling, and trying to make the British upper class comfortable with his style of accomplishing things. ITV was hoping for another Downton Abbey-like success, and although the ratings were respectable, it was handily beaten by the BBC's Call The Midwife.
Sarah Parish (Cutting It) stars in this BBC drama along with three lifelong friends who get together and gossip about their love lives and work. All four are in slightly dodgy relationships: Katie (Parish) is a doctor who was sleeping with a terminal patient whose son now has a crush on her; Jessica, who'll sleep with anyone, tries out a lesbian client about to get married; Siobhan and her husband are trying to have a baby but an affair at work has major consequences; and Trudi, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, tries to have her first relationship in years only to find out her husband had a big secret.
Monarch of the Glen (3/02)
Glossy BBC family drama series about an English family who take up residence in an old ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands and their attempts to keep the estate going. Utterly harmless entertainment and hugely popular, but lacking any kind of edge.
Monkey Dust (2/06)
Animated series with sketches and running jokes, often in questionable taste. Everything is fair game and some of the bits (like the boyfriend who continually forgets to compliment his girlfriend's new hair cut because some world shattering event distracts him) are pretty good.
There's good news and bad news about this new medical drama starring James Nesbitt as a brilliant neurosurgeon. The good news is that it's no knockoff of "House." "House" is, at its core, a mystery show: Sherlock Holmes as a doctor. There is a medical mystery each week that Gregory House has to solve and the audience learns about some bit of arcane medicine. There are no mysteries on Monroe. A patient comes in, they do an MRI, Gabriel Monroe (Nesbitt) knows what to do and then on to the surgery. Monroe also has a much better bedside manner with his patients than House does. He's like a role-model for the NHS for how a doctor should interact with their patients. The bad news when it comes to Monroe however is it is cut from the same drama cloth as too many programs: the super-competent professional whose personal life is a shambles. Poor Monroe has his wife leave him after 22 years of marriage (apparently she'd been thinking about it for six years ever since he had an affair). And we know that his rivalry with an uptight colleague played by Sarah Parish will culminate in their hooking up within a few episodes. Do they think we've never seen television before? So I accuse Monroe of being guilty of being too similar to other, better shows, it's an okay medical drama but I could name another half a dozen that were just as good.
Moone Boy (10/12)
Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd) co-wrote and stars this Sky1 funny, clever autobiographical series (though not as himself) about growing up in 1980s Ireland as a misfit boy named Martin Moone (David Rawle) with an imaginary adult friend named Sean Murphy (O'Dowd). Martin gets into all sorts of mishaps, and we also get to see the misadventures of his hapless dad, two older sisters and mum. The second episode focuses on the first election of Mary Robinson as President of Ireland and his mum's attempt to raise funds from a local sleezebag (Steve Coogan, who else?). Standing in front of his doors but dreading knocking, his mum tells her friend, "Our granddaughters will thank us," to which her friend replies, "I had a hysterectomy in 1984."
Channel 4 presented the four-part dramatization of the life of Sir Oswald Mosley, who in the 30s created Britain's Fascist movement. Written by comedy writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Birds of a Feather, The New Statesman), this intriguing production meticulously chronicles the rise to power of the ambitious Mosley after World War I until his internment in 1940 when his links to Hitler's Germany were politically untenable. Mosley was also a notorious adulterer and the series does not shy away from showing him in action (lots of nudity) or the impact on his first wife (played by Jemma Redgrave). No expense was spared on the historical recreations, including Mosley's Nuremberg-like "blackshirt" rallies. A frightening moment in British history, but Marks and Gran (both Jewish) successfully (and seriously) bring it to life and provide insight into the man and his era.
A Mother's Son
Hermione Norris (Spooks) plays Rosie whose new marriage to Ben (Martin Clunes) gets shaky when she suspects her son from her first husband (Paul McGann) might have committed a ghastly murder of a young girl. She obviously wants to believe her son's protestations of innocence but the evidence continues to mount up in this two-part ITV drama thriller.
Christmas-themed BBC TV movie with Gina McKee (Our Friends In The North) as a divorced mother of four who comes home drunk one night in a state that would make Patsy on AbFab blush. Her kids, led by her teenage daughter, decide rather than her ruining Christmas completely, to lock her in the downstairs sauna until she sobers up. It works so well they decide to keep her there, and manage to convince everyone, including their estranged father, that everything is okay for weeks on end. What's really great about this is how it slowly turns the table on the audience, having us first believe McKee is a complete monster, while the children's father (Anthony Andrews) is some kind of dream dad. But things are not what they seem and by the end everyone gets their just desserts.
Griff Rhys-Jones stars in this BBC documentary series where he attempts to scale Britain's most formidable mountain peaks. Why? Because they're there. It is amazing to see a slight middle-aged man attempt to do what is usually attempted by younger and more skilled climbers, but Griff (and to an extent his extremely brave camera crew) is game.
Moving On (12/10)
The BBC has been experimenting with original programming in the middle of weekday afternoons--anything to get "Diagnosis Murder" repeats off the air. Moving On, Jimmy McGovern's (The Lakes) latest anthology series, had 10 episodes total shown over a two week period. Each one had a separate cast and story and takes us into the world of ordinary British people who are usually at a crossroads in their life--hence the title of the series. In one, a woman (Susannah Harker) takes care of her mother (Anna Massey) with Alzheimers while her son is off backpacking across South America. She'd like to have a normal life, go on dates, be able to leave the house, but she's trapped by her mother though she's loath to put her in a home. In another episode, John Simm plays Moose, whose just gotten out of prison after serving eight years for armed robbery. He wants to get back together with his wife and the daughter he hasn't seen since she was a baby, but his wife has a new partner whom the daughter considers as her dad. Simm is a clever bit of casting because we keep expecting him to explode or otherwise act out. It would be simple for everyone if he just went back to prison for a parole violation, but Moving On isn't about easy answers. Each episode puts its protagonists--and the audience--through emotional wringers but nearly always with an upbeat resolution at the end, a reward of sorts for all the suffering. I love these kind of shows because they are nice, compact first-rate dramas with familiar TV actors. But I can see how they can be a hard sell to casual audiences more used to the familiarity an ongoing series with recurring characters TV typically provides.
Moving Story (7/94)
Warren Clarke (Sleepers) strikes again in this comedy/drama series about employees at a moving company. Yes, each week we follow their exciting adventures as they hit the road...and help someone move! While it may sound like a one-off Saturday Night Live sketch, in reality there is plenty of drama and odd characters along the way (including Clarke--wearing a goofy mustache and glasses playing a working-class man who wants to win at Mastermind by memorizing all the answers in Trivial Pursuit). I love it. You really get into these people's lives who only want to get home at night after a hard day's work--but what days they have.
Moving Wallpaper (1/09)
Ben Miller stars as an egotistical producer of the soap opera Echo Beach in this fictional behind-the-scenes ITV comedy centered on a real show that ran immediately afterwards (in reality both produced by Tony Jordan of Life on Mars). It must have been a bit confusing to viewers watching Echo Beach wondering if it was all an elaborate send-up or a serious dramatic soap (the latter apparently, although it failed in the ratings while Moving Wallpaper will return for a second series). A bizarre experiment in meta-television.
Sheridan Smith (Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) gets to take center stage in this ITV mini-series about the famous Great Train Robbery of 1963. Smith plays Charmian, a proper English girl with a stern father, who meets and eventually marries Ronald Biggs (Daniel Mays), a petty criminal. Her father disowns her but she and Ronald are truly in love, even when he gets sent to prison. He promises to go straight after he gets out and manages to provide for her and start a family. But he gets involved with a gang, and unbeknownst to Charmian, helps pull off the train robbery and get away with nearly 18 million pounds. She's furious when she finds out, and the police eventually track him down and convict him. But the story doesn't end there. Charmian helps break him out of prison and they change their identities and move abroad with their two children. Biggs is a notorious character in British culture, notably for always being one step ahead of the law, but it is the clever conceit of this series to focus on his wife and how it all affected her and what she did to keep her family together. Smith, a well-respected musical and stage actress, is very good and believable as the title character here, playing her over a period of many years.
The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1/99)
BBC pilot movie for a series beginning later with Diana Rigg gloriously returning to television in this amusing and well-acted 1920s period piece mystery. The divorced Mrs. Bradley buries her ex-husband before the credits even roll, and then it's off to a manor house where murder and skeletons in the closet materialize at a frightful rate. Rigg's asides to the camera, commenting on the action, are priceless, and her relationship with her not-as-dumb-as-he-looks chauffeur George is intriguing. Co-produced by WGBH, this should turn up on Mystery later in 1999.
Mrs Hartley and the Growth Centre (11/95)
BBC TV movie with Pam Ferris (star of the family drama The Darling Buds of May) as a woman who leaves her philandering executive husband and takes up with a younger man. They move into the young man's aunt's house in the country and open up a New Age center for the sexually repressed. Ferris is perfect as a Born Again Earth Mother whose attempts to get rid of the aunt fail repeatedly. Eventually of course the locals begin to protest the goings-on, especially a politician whom Ferris inadvertently kept tied up in a bed and forgot about.
Mrs. Merton and Malcolm (9/99)
There's something about Caroline Aherne (The Fast Show, The Royle Family) that clearly I'm not getting. She seems to focus on sad characters in domestic situations whose lives are clearly going nowhere. In this BBC series, she revives her little-old-lady character (last seen as a cheeky chat show host) who takes care of her adult son Malcolm. Despite being in his thirties, Malcolm's relationship with his mother is more like a 7-year-old's. Shot on film, and devoid of a laughtrack, it seems to me the joke wore thin after 10 minutes.
Mr. White Goes To Westminster (3/98)
Thinly disguised dramatization of former BBC correspondent Martin Bell's election to Parliament over a corrupt Tory minister. Bill Paterson stars in this TV movie as the squeaky clean idealist, only to have Fleet Street (in the shape of Dervla Kirwan (Ballykissangel)) attempt to smear him because of a bill on press regulation he proposes. How much is satire and how much is reality is left to the viewer but it's an interesting romp.
A Mug's Game (9/96)
BBC drama set in a coastal Scottish village where everyone works for a fish-processing plant that has recently been acquired by a larger company. The story revolves around a widow, Kathy (Michelle Fairly), who lives with her dysfunctional family including her forever-complaining mother, an adult brother who never stops watching videos, and a diabetic daughter. At the fish plant, the other women pass the day on the line gutting fish with earthy talk about sex and men, while Kathy attracts the eye of the newly arrived owner, McCaffrey (Taking Over the Asylum's Ken Stott). McCaffrey has his own problems including being a widower himself and saddled with his headstrong Irish nephew, Con, who has a penchant for shoplifting and picking up women. At the end of the first episode, Con and Kathy have connected after Kathy's daughter needs an emergency trip to the hospital (Con conveniently had stolen a car and was able to take them) and they discover their mutual background in music (Kathy, as her mother continually reminds her, was "third runner up in the 1979 Irish Youth music festival" for playing the flute). Which man will she end up with?
The first season of this odd series began with a strange young man who goes to work for an old woman, all the while conspiring with his mysterious father. Is he a thief? Who is his father? Finally in the last episode it was revealed his father is Death and his job is to take the old lady when her time comes! This is a BBC comedy! The second series continues with this unusual premise, all the time promising us that at some point the old lady is going to die. Again, only the British would attempt something like this, and despite a sentimental bent, it works.
Mumbai Calling (3/10)
Perhaps the best sitcom ITV has mounted in 10 years, too bad they had it sitting on the shelf for over a year. Sanjeev Bhaskar (Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars at Number 42) plays Kenny Gupta, a middle manager of a British company who, because he's of Indian descent, is sent to a call center in Mumbai to straighten things out. There he encounters Dev Raja, the current boss who's a bit of a dodgy guy but gets things done. Another London-based college, Terry Johnson, also arrives at the call center and she takes a while to adapt to the Indian way of doing things. Some of the plot resolutions are right out of 1970s sitcoms--a little too convenient, but there are some definite laughs from the material, plus a chance to see a different culture on TV for a change. Shot on location, it won't make anyone forget Blackadder but like Benidorm, it's single-camera film style without a laugh track, and wouldn't seem out of place on BBC2--high praise for an ITV comedy.
A young man is suddenly murdered near where he lives at the beginning of this tense BBC drama and his family, friends and neighbors must make sense of it as the mystery of who is responsible and why is investigated. Each episode focuses on another member the community (the local shopkeeper, the female detective, a journalist) and how it impacts their lives, as we see Julie Walters as the victim's devastated mother trying to cope with all. A very interesting counterpoint to television's typical non-reaction to high deathcounts.
Murder in Mind (3/95)
BBC erotic thriller starring Charlotte Rampling and Trevor Eve about suicides at a mental therapy center run by Rampling. Eve is the flawed police inspector investigating the case but he too falls under Rampling's spell as she seeks to play God with people's lives.
Murder Most Horrid (7/94)
Dawn French stars in this anthology series of comic tales about murder. Each is particularly clever and usually has some kind of twist ending, and French gets to show off her talents by playing a different character every week. Not as dark as say, Tales from the Crypt, this maintains that wicked sense of British morbid humor without overdoing it.
Six new tales starring Dawn French where murder is dispatched with comedic results and big-name guest stars including Nigel Havers, Hugh Laurie, and Stratford Johns.
Dawn French returns in a new season of black comedies including "Confessions of a Murderer" about a pathological liar who wastes police time by confessing to everything; "Frozen," set during the post-war austerity years with two sisters who have a deep freeze and a secret; "Going Solo," a two-girl attempt to sail around the world that ends in jealousy; "Whoopi Stone," going undercover to catch a gangster and then being framed by ambitious policemen; and "Elvis, Jesus and Zack" where a slow day at the obituary office is bad news for a washed up rock star (Sean Hughes). Don't worry, Dawn always survives each episode and always gets her own back, the great thing is waiting for the comic twist at the end.
Murder on the Orient Express (3/11)
Confession time: I've never watch David Suchet at Hercule Poirot before, and my only exposure to "Murder on the Orient Express" was the "Mad" magazine parody of the old Peter Ustinov version. But a friend of mine in Britain e-mailed me and said I really had to check it out this new version, so I did. It was quite excellent, starting with Suchet's amazing portrayal of Poirot as a tightly wound Catholic whose sense of justice overrides all other considerations. But on the night train from Istanbul, a murder of an obnoxious American (played by Toby Jones, the Dream Lord from Doctor Who's "Amy's Choice) must be solved by Poirot before the snowbound train can be dug out. Train spotters should love this, the train is very nearly a star of the production and it's presence in the giant snowbank creates stark images. Plus it's fun to relive what it must have been like to be riding First Class in the 1930s, this is how the rich and famous got from place to place. The cast of suspects includes Barbara Hershey, David Morrissey and Hugh Bonneville, some attempting American accents with mixed results. Suchet is the real deal though and even if you know the solution to the mystery, he's fascinating to watch.
Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock
Ian Richardson (House of Cards) stars as Professor Bell, mentor to Arthur Conan Doyle when he was still a M.D., and apparently the template for Sherlock Holmes. Bell, like the great detective, is always spotting the clues everyone else misses and making brilliant deductions at the drop of a fine Victorian hat, the era which this series lovingly recreates even as bodies and vexing mysteries accumulate at a high rate. Plenty of in-jokes for Holmsians (a quickly glimpsed billboard for the Giant Rat of Sumatra, a character sporting a deerstalker), although the series casts an surprising number of comedians for its supporting roles.
Murphy's Law (3/04)
James Nesbitt (Cold Feet) stars as an undercover Met detective who brings his peculiar Irish sensibility to what are ostensibly serious assignments. One week he might be put in jail to get a suspected serial killer to confess, the next week he'll be bodyguarding a famous snooker player, the next infiltrating a gang. The trouble is he ends up in the papers nearly every week which you would think would limit his effectiveness as a deep-cover officer. Claudia Harrison (Attachments) stars as his boss, so there's plenty of sexual tension between her and Murphy.
The Museum (10/08)
BBC documentary series about the inner working of the venerable British Museum in London. Each episode focuses on a different aspect as we get to know the anonymous people who keep the museum an interactive, educational experience.
The Mushroom Picker (3/93)
A bizarre three-part drama starring Nigel Terry as a Russian gourmand who seduces and marries a naive Englishwoman so he can one day emigrate to the UK and have an affair with the woman's married friend. Set in the early 80s, the scenes in Moscow as the couple share a flat while trying to eke out a miserable existence are the most dramatic. When the action shifts back to England it settles down to a tale about sex and food. Andrew Sachs (Fawlty Towers) has a small part.
Mutual Friends (7/09)
Marc Warren (Hustle) and Alexander Armstrong star in this BBC comedy drama where the intersecting lives and loves of a group of friends is thoroughly dissected. Warren's wife (played by Ashes To Ashes star Keeley Hawes) wants another baby but things aren't going well for his law practice, while lazy lay about Armstrong is losing his company (and former girlfriend--played by Sarah Alexander) to his business partner. It's very glossy and middle-class, but the charm of the many familiar actors keeps you interested in their stories.
My Dad's The Prime Minister (3/04)
Ian Hislop (Have I Got News For You) co-wrote this BBC children's series about... well, the title pretty much sums it up. A shy boy must suffer his clueless PM father (Cold Feet's Robert Bathurst) as well as cruel schoolmates but despite all the adults being morons, things usually work out well by the end.
My Family (1/01)
Robert Lindsay (Hornblower) plays a domesticated father and dentist in this BBC sitcom that is novel because it was written in the "round table" format used by American comedies, rather than a team of just one or two writers as is usual in Britain. Despite being a BBC series, it's like too many ITV comedies; it misses the mark just a bit, particularly in such a well-mined genre like this. The best moments are the simple blackout jokes before and after each episode which have nothing to do with the plot. As for the rest, everyone is trying just a tad too hard.
My Good Friend (9/95)
Gentle ITV comedy about two retired gentlemen who really have nobody but each other. Peter (George Cole, Minder's Arthur) lives with his fussy daughter and son-in-law, while Harry boards with an attractive young single mother (Minnie Driver). Together they try and cope in a world that really doesn't need them any longer. A lack of laugh-track and honest characters make this pleasant to watch.
The Minnie Driver role has been recast (she's making movies here now) and for the worse in my opinion. George Cole is the whole series though, playing a lovable crank who is always plotting how to wind someone up.
My Government And I (1/02)
Impressionist Rory Bremner stars in this hour-long satirical drama about Tony Blair's government. Blair is shown as completely feckless and at the mercy of his advisors, and at one point even seeks advice from an otherworldly Princess Diana (which evoked much outrage in Britain). But it truly goes out of this world literally when good pal Bill Clinton (also played by Bremner) drops by during the last days of his presidency and tells Blair that life has been discovered on one of Jupiter's moons. Desperate at the end, they commandeer a space shuttle and head out there, looking for new constituents to impress!
My Hero (3/01)
Irish comic Ardal O'Hanlon (best known as the dim priest Father Dougal in Father Ted) stars in this BBC sitcom as Thermoman, the world's favorite superhero. But he spends most of his time in his civilian secret identity as George, an Irishman who doesn't quite understand all (or any, really) Earth customs. He falls in love with a nurse and they move in together. Yes, it's "Mork and Mindy" for the 21st Century, which is zero points for originality, but the jokes are good and O'Hanlon excels at playing charming comic dimwits. Read my interview with series writer Paul Mendelson.
My Life In Films (4/07)
Kris Marshall (My Family) stars in this BBC comedy as an aspiring but untalented screenwriter whose misadventures with his flatmates each week resemble a famous movie, be it "Shallow Grave" or "Top Gun." It's a clever conceit, particularly if you have to work out which movie they are parodying that episode.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2/12)
The unfinished story by Charles Dickens is a tempting treat for many writers to try their hand, and this BBC/Masterpiece adaptation is a clever possible solution to the whodunnit. Has John Jasper gone and killed his nephew in a fit of rage? Or are the mysterious brother and sister from India involved? Like “Clue,” there is no right answer.
My Wonderful Life (9/97)
Ironically titled ITV sitcom created by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) that first appeared as a TV Movie, True Love continuing the adventures of Donna, a single mother of two stuck in a dead-end nursing job. But she muddles through despite a confused lovelife, broken appliances, and rebellious daughters. Tony Robinson is hilarious in a supporting role as Donna's next door neighbor, a soft-spoken family man who is so politically correct it's clear there's not a self-help book he didn't like.
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