New British TV Show Reviews

June 30, 2011

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Back to Homepage

Campus (6/11)
This Channel 4 comedy from the makers of Green Wing clearly wants to tap into that same level of zaniness by way of The Office.  The vice chancellor, Jonty de Wolfe, talks right to the camera even though apparently no documentary is being made.  He's probably insane, nearly everyone else at Kirke University seems to have taken literally the advice that you don't have to be crazy to work here but it helps.  De Wolfe though is no David Brent.  Considering what he has to work with, he's an effective motivator, unlike what you would expect to see in a British comedy.  He's also one of the worst human beings on the planet as well as a terrible racist.  The uni has been blessed with a best-seller author, Imogen Moffat, a mousy math teacher who inexplicable has written a massively popular book called "The Joy of Zero."  De Wolfe decides to implement a "publish or perish" doctrine to the rest of the staff which disrupts the slacker philosophy of English professor Matt Beer.  Beer spends most of the first episode trying to get someone to do the work for him, while the accounts manager who has accidentally overpaid everyone tries to find £600,000 to make up the shortfall.  Campus debuted to low ratings its first week, a sign perhaps that audiences have grown tired of this sort of format.  I'm glad I stuck with it though (more out of morbid curiosity to see what they'd do with de Wolfe) but as the character relations grew I really got into it and the series ends with a great musical number that parodies "Glee."

Candy Cabs (6/11)
This BBC drama series takes place in a coastal city where a group of women are starting up their cab firm with distinctive pink taxis and female drivers, hoping to appeal to women clients.  But as the show begins, Sharon, one of the partners, has suddenly died and the rest must decide whether to carry on without her or pack it in.  Jackie (Jo Joyner, "EastEnders") is the more enthusiastic of the two, while Elaine has secretly taken out a second mortgage to finance the business without telling her husband.  Meanwhile, Sharon's scuzzy ex-husband (Paul Kaye, who else?) returns to the scene and reveals that he has inherited her part of the business and will be sticking around.  I really go for these sorts of shows even though clearly I'm not the target audience. Candy Cabs is nothing extraordinary, don't look for it on the BAFTAs next year, but it's a solidly-written, nicely performed drama the BBC is so good at making, a staple of the kind of programming I expect to see on British TV.

Case Histories (6/11)
Jason Isaacs, usually cast as the villain in movies like "The Patriot" and "Harry Potter," gets to be the good guy for a change in this detective series based on the books by Kate Atkinson and adapted by Ashley Pharaoh (Life on Mars).  Set in a somewhat de-scottified Edinburgh, Isaacs plays Jackson Brodie, divorced, with partial custody of his daughter, a former policeman who is now a private detective.  Often his cases involve cheating wives or missing cats, but in the first story, cases just seem to fall into his lap like the two sisters whose sibling mysteriously vanished three decades earlier, and a businessman (Phil Davis) who wants to find his daughter's murderer.  Isaacs really gets to turn on his charm, most of the women in the series find him hot, and it doesn't hurt that he's often shown jogging around Edinburgh or taking his shirt off.  It's implied in the backstory that Jackson left the police force under a cloud--he's not very popular with them or his ex-wife as he continually takes his daughter along to inappropriate situations during his cases.  We also get glimpses of something that happened to him when he was a boy that no doubt pushes him to want to get to the bottom of things now.  Certainly TV isn't hurting for detective shows at the moment, but with enough humor and charm, Case Histories is a nice time passer although it relies far too much on extraordinary coincidences in resolving its mysteries.

The Field of Blood (6/11)
BBC Scotland has adapted the Denise Mina novel, the first in the series about a young female journalist in 1980s Glasgow named Paddy Meehan. She starts out as a copyboy for the local newspaper when a young boy has been murdered and the chief suspect is her 10-year-old cousin.  Jayd Johnson is terrific as Paddy, she looks like a Scottish Alysson Hannigan.  Other members of the cast include David Morrissey as the paper's editor, and Jonas Armstrong and Peter Capaldi as fellow journalists.  What's odd is everyone keeps telling Paddy she's fat, which is a bit of an exaggeration.  But because of that she subsists on a diet of eggs to try and lose weight.  Despite being name checked as Nancy Drew at one point, The Field of Blood is not for kids, particularly with all the swearing.  But Paddy Meehan is a plucky heroine and this drama is a nice change of pace for British mystery shows.

Frankenstein's Wedding
Sometimes I watch shows just to see something different, and this play, shown live on BBC3 while being performed in front of thousands at the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds was pretty unique.  A modern update of the classic story using flashbacks that were pre-recorded and inserted into scenes in the run-up to his wedding we see Dr. Frankenstein create his creature, reject it, and have his younger brother murdered.  Now the creature is living homeless in Leeds but demands Frankenstein create a companion for him or he will destroy all that he loves.  The wedding preparations are a huge affair being put on by Frankenstein's father, played by comedy veteran Mark Williams (best known as Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter series).  The conceit is he is throwing the wedding of the year and invited the entire city to watch and be a part of it.  There are musical numbers and as the newly married couple are introduced to the crowd, the whole audience participates in a dance number.  It's interactive theater, not to mention a good way of keeping people warm on a cold Saturday night in March.  A few more rehearsals might have ironed out the glitches such as cameramen in shots, but as just another element of the spectacle, you can overlook it.  I love the sheer audacity of attempting a production that tries to combine so many over-the-top elements, and I always love the excitement of watching live TV.

Horrible Histories (6/11)
This BBC children's series won a British Comedy Award in 2011 with an upset win for "Best Sketch Series" beating out several well-known prime time contenders. I was late jumping on the bandwagon of this clever, funny look at history with well-mounted and researched historical sketches that are annotated with on-screen facts when something particularly unbelievable but true is mentioned.  Yes, it's meant to be educational, which it is, albeit in a very entertaining way.  After languishing on CBBC for years, a compilation series hosted by Stephen Fry finally made the leap to BBC1 where latecomers like me could finally discover this great show.

Injustice (6/11)
In this five part ITV mini-series James Purefoy stars as William Travers, a brilliant barrister who moved his family from London to darkest Suffolk because of a breakdown.  Purefoy played Mark Antony in the series Rome and he exudes a darkness here as a man who on the surface apparently has it all together but is haunted by something in his past.  In the first episode we also see a parallel story launched involving an unsentimental detective played by Charlie Creed-Miles ("The Fifth Element") investigating a murder at a remote farm house.  Is there a connection to Travers?  With scripts by Anthony Horowitz who gave us the very entertaining Foyle's War, you can be sure that the various strands will collide before the conclusion.  Creed-Miles defies the audience to like him, he is quite possibly the most obnoxious character on TV in years and yet he's a really good cop.  His wife beating goes a bit far though and he gets his just desserts, ironically just before delivering the case on Travers.  The ending is not what you'd expect.

In With The Flynns (6/11)
Harmless but well-meaning BBC domestic sitcom based on the US sitcom "Grounded For Life."  Complicating the life of dad and mum (Will Mellor and Niky Wardley) are his feckless brother who is always hanging about dispensing bad advice to the kids, and the brother's retired dad played by the always reliable Warren Clarke. It's Clarke in fact that makes this comedy watchable, showing off his decades of comedy timing.  The series might wear out its welcome after a couple of seasons but as summertime filler, it's not bad.

Scott & Bailey (6/11)
Sally Wainwright (At Home With the Braithwaites) wrote this ITV1 police drama about two female police detectives in Manchester.  Suranne Jones plays DC Rachel Bailey who in the very first scene gets dumped by her boyfriend Nick (Rupert Graves).  But Rachel isn't the sort of person to take rejection lying down and begins behavior that can only be called stalking.  Meanwhile, her level-headed married partner DC Janet Scott (Leslie Sharp) tries to talk sense to Rachel as they investigate a suspicious suicide in the first episode.  With confirmation that Nick is married with a family and Rachel is most definitely a woman scorned.  Although these are the protagonists of the show, you can't help but getting a "Fatal Attraction" vibe from Rachel. Especially as a police officer you would think with great power comes great responsibility.  But if everyone acted reasonably and with common sense on TV there wouldn't be any drama.  The cases each week usually have some sort of dramatic connection to our heroines, and although the identity of a serial killer might be pretty obvious right from the start, audiences responded to Scott & Bailey very enthusiastically.  

The Shadow Line (6/11)
This seven part BBC2 drama was written and directed by Hugo Blick (Marion and Geoff and Sensitive Skin).  Now he has created a sprawling crime drama that starts with a recently paroled drug lord's murder which sets off two parallel investigations, one by his gang and the other by the police. Christopher Eccleston plays Joseph Bede who runs the legitimate business front for the gang.  He has his hands full dealing with the dead man's son Jay, (Rafe Spall in an intense performance).  Complicating things, Joseph's wife (Lesley Sharpe) has early onset Alzheimers and only six months to live. Meanwhile, the police investigation is headed up by Jonah Gabriel (Chiwetel Ejiofor, best known to fans of "Firefly" as the mysterious Operative in "Serenity").  Jonah is back on duty after he was shot in the head resulting in partial amnesia and a bullet permanently lodged in his head.  It's obvious even if you aren't familiar with Blick's earlier work that things are going to get complicated as this vast web of intrigue works itself out over seven weeks.  Blick is the king of observational comedy, which works equally well in a drama where what isn't said is often as telling as what is.  Though comparisons with HBO's "The Wire" are inevitable, that's not bad company to keep. Based on what happened in the final episode there won't be a second season, as many major characters ran afoul of the lethal Gatehouse, played by Stephen Rea.  While some folks jumped off The Shadow Line bandwagon, I felt it had a strong beginning, middle and ending.  Ecceleston and Ejiofor were excellent all the way through, although Leslie Sharp was underused as the wife.

Sirens (6/11)
Channel 4's latest comedy drama is about three closely knit paramedics doing the night shift in Leeds. Rhys Thomas plays Stuart, the leader of the gang; Kayvan Novak (Facejacker) is Rachid and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) plays Ashley. After a night where Stuart revives a woman by giving her a unauthorized heart massage, the boys have to receive trauma counseling. Pretty much the rest of the episode follows that line with all three going through the "Up, Horny, Down" (the title of the first episode) phases, although Stuart tries to show his superior control over his body by resisting as long as possible. He ends up spending the day at Maxine Fox's flat, she's a pretty but unconfident police sergeant, and Stuart doesn't help things by explaining he doesn't want to sleep with her.  I found Sirens to be quite entertaining and funny, with a great camaraderie among the characters which I hope holds up past the pilot episode.  It's a perfect sort of drama for the middle of the summer, not too grim and gritty, with many lighter moments.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (6/11)
Paddy Considine plays the title character, a police inspector in 1860 who is sent to Wilshire to investigate the death of a young boy in this ITV1 TV movie.  Obstructionism is the name of the game in the village, from the very unhelpful local police superintendent to the family (including the father, played by Peter Capaldi) which is filled with secrets.  Based on a true story, we see that 19th Century detective work was a long way from CSI, even on a notorious case that shocked the nation.  Whicher finally finds a suspect but everyone seems to stand in the way of making a successful prosecution that in those days was mostly the testimony of the detective inspector on the case.  Five years must pass before the truth comes out, vindication for Whicher although he had left the Metropolitan police by that time.  The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a nicely mounted period piece, with the men with their mutton chops and top hats, and steam trains efficiently taking people between London and Wilshire.  Title cards at the end reveal the fate of the main characters, one of whom surprisingly lived to 1944, aged 100.

United (6/11)
David Tennant starred in this BBC TV movie about Manchester United's 1958 football team that had eight players killed in a plane crash and how the team recovered.  Football in 1958 was a long way from where it is today.  Players earned £15 a week and most of Man U's fans worked in the factories that surrounded Old Trafford park.  A player even advises a teammate not to tell girls in a bar that he plays football because their prospects were considered so limited.  The movie focuses mainly on two people, Jimmy Murphy (Tennant), the coach under legendary manager Matt Busby, and one of the players, Bobby Charlton.  Now I don't know much about football but even I've heard of Bobby Charlton.  He was the David Beckham of his day, but at the beginning of United he's still a young but talented footballer, frustrated by the lack of opportunity to play for the team.  Murphy takes him under his arm and soon enough Charlton is scoring goals and making a name for himself.  But the Football League, personified by Neil Dudgeon as Alan Hardaker, don't approve of Man U's continued forays to Europe to play in international matches. Told they must be back in the country 24 hours before a match after playing in Belgrade, Busby decides to charter a private plane to get the team home in time.  On the third attempt to lift off, the plane crashes on take off, killing 23 people aboard.  Charlton survives but is so traumatized by the death of most of his teammates that he quits the team.  The board of directors want to suspend play but Murphy convinces them otherwise. Despite not having a single second of actual football playing, United is a great sports movie in showing triumph under adversary, as well as a period piece when everyone smoked like the factory chimneys around Old Trafford and footballers played for the love of the game, not as a way of becoming rich and famous.

Wall of Fame (6/11)
This Sky1 celebrity panel show is hosted by David Walliams (get the title?). It's no Have I Got News For You, but I had a smile on my face most of the way through, as each week's celebrity antics are talked about by other slightly less-famous, although funny, celebrities.

 A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Back to Homepage

Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (
June 30, 2011