New British TV Show Reviews

October 3, 2012

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Alan Partridge: Welcome To The Places Of My Life (10/12)
Steve Coogan has revived his most popular creation, unctuous chat show host and radio personality Alan Partridge. First up he did a web series called "Mid-Morning Matters" with Alan doing his radio show for North Norfolk Digital, an internet station; and there is talk of an Alan Partridge movie being made soon.  In between Coogan starred in this parody of fawning biographical movies for Sky Atlantic which was credited as being written, directed and produced by Alan. Like all of Coogan's creations, despite the conceit that Alan had complete creative control of the documentary, we see him revealed as the little, frustrated man he is.

Bad Sugar (10/12)
Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) wrote this one-off parody of family dramas for Channel 4 with Peter Serafinowicz, Julia Davis, Olivia Coleman and Sharon Horgan. There's plenty of back stabbing, plot twists, and great comedic performances, including fake "Previous" and "Next week on" scenes.  Unlike the misfire that A Touch Of Cloth was (both went out during the same week), THIS is how you do satire.

Bedlam (10/12)
The spooky Sky horror series set in a former mental hospital turned into residential flats (which of course never goes wrong) returns for a second season with a new "ghost whisperer," Ellie (Lacey Turner) arriving at the estate and getting involved with all the paranormal activity.  While Warren the manager tries to keep any mysterious goings on from the tenants (aided by his unctuous deputy Dan who has a secret past of his own), Ellie is recruited by her flatmate to help uncover the reason why the undead keep returning to kill people and what her connection to Bedlam's past is. 

Bert and Dickie (10/12)
BBC biographical movie about 1948 Olympians Bert Bushell (Matt Smith) and Richard Burnell (Sam Hoare) who competed for Great Britain in the double sculls rowing event. Obviously this inspirational true-life story was meant to encourage Britons in the run-up to the 2012 London games, which in 1948 were held in slightly more humble circumstances in post-war austerity Britain.  Bert and Dickie famously were paired up only weeks before the Olympics and were from very different backgrounds (Bert had to get permission from his unsympathetic employers to even compete), yet in that great British tradition (like mounting an Olympics on virtually no money for a cash-strapped post-war government) they worked together to achieve the impossible.

The Best of Men (10/12)
Another Olympic-inspired true-life drama for the BBC, about the German doctor, Ludwig Guttmann (Eddie Marsan), who is put in charge of soldiers with spinal fractures in a military hospital after WWII, and eventually created the Paralympics featuring disabled people from all across Britain.  Needless to say, it was an uphill battle, first being accepted as a German by the soldiers (he was Jewish escapee from the Nazis), and then the medical establishment who saw the patients as "broken" and kept them sedated and waited for them to die.  Comedian Rob Brydon turns in a solid performance as a gruff Welsh corporal who initially resists Guttmann's efforts but eventually rediscovers his place in the world even if he is in a wheelchair.

Blackout (10/12)
Three part BBC mini-series starring Christopher Eccelston as Daniel Demoys, a corrupt alcoholic town chancellor in Manchester who may have killed someone during a drunken blackout after visiting his mistress.  Nearly disgraced, he accidentally becomes a hero when he jumps in front of an assassin's bullet, and admitting his alcoholism to the world, challenges the people to elect him mayor.  And they do!  With a nurse as his sobriety partner, he tries to reform the city but the powers that be aren't pleased.  A subplot concerns his mistress's husband (Andrew Scott, Sherlock's Moriarty) as an unpopular police detective trying to find out who is his wife's lover while having to deal with corruption in his own department.

The Bletchley Circle (10/12)
ITV mystery drama about four women who served as code-breakers during WWII (at Bletchley) but now it's 1953 and their hush-hush life thwarting the Nazis is behind them.  But a serial killer is stalking women around London and only Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) sees the patterns and realizes that she can find the killer. But she needs her old comrades and recruits them back together including Millie (Rachael Stirling), Jean (Julie Graham) and Lucy (Sophie Rundle).  Their husbands don't approve of their activities and it's still a secret for them to tell anyone about what they did during the war.  Nevertheless, this make-shift Scooby Gang begin to find clues and compile evidence although the killer remains one step ahead of them.  A nice variation on the police procedural, with women in the forefront and set in a era that isn't often depicted.

Citizen Kahn (10/12)
Adril Ray wrote and stars in this humorous BBC comedy about an aspiring Pakistani family living in Birmingham.  Ray plays the title character, a typical sitcom dad whose cheapness and get-ahead-quick attitude constantly bite him in the ass.  He is married and has two daughters, the first isn't very clever but is engaged to a young man who is even dimmer, the second appears to be a devout Muslim but it's just an act she does in front of her dad; in reality she's a typical British teenager who is always texting on her phone.  A lot of the action takes place at Kahn's mosque which, much to his horror, has hired Dave, a red-haired Englishman convert (Kris Marshall, My Family) as the manager.  As Homer Simpson has proven over 20 years, you can never get too tired of watching stupid fathers screwing up on TV, and Citizen Kahn, though no "Simpsons," is funny by its ability to make Kahn the butt of the joke every single time.

Dead Boss (10/12)
Sharon Horgan co-wrote and stars in this series as Helen, a woman wrongly accused of murdering her boss and sent to a women's prison run by a wacky warden (Jennifer Saunders) in this BBC-3 comedy.  The premise only sustains itself as long as the entire series is populated by dumb, selfish characters. Don't attempt to apply logic or real-world situations to anything that happens on screen.  Told in a serialized format, in addition to prison life we see the machinations at Helen's old company as her co-workers scramble for power, her easily intimidated lawyer, and her sister who isn't especially bothered to work on freeing Helen. A number of big name guest stars turn up including Caroline Quentin and Miranda Richardson.

Gates (10/12)
Sky1 comedy about the lives of various parents who wait outside the school gates each day for the kids to be let out.  Tom Ellis (Miranda) and Joanna Page (Gavin & Stacey) are the main focus as otherwise normal parents who go slightly mad trying to keep up with the other crazy parents.

Hollow Crown (10/12)
The best Shakespeare you'll ever see.  OK, the best set of productions following the Henry cycle (Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V) the BBC has ever mounted featuring a stellar cast and cinema-quality production values.  Richard II kicks things off with Ben Whishaw (The Hour) as King Richard who eventually loses his throne to Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear) in a cast that includes Patrick Stewart, David Morrissey, David Suchet and Lindsay Duncan. Henry IV stars Tom Hiddleston (Loki from "The Avengers") as Prince Hal who cavorts night and day with Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale), and a cast that includes Alun Armstrong, Julie Walters, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Irons and Maxine Peake (in a tiny part, in any other other series she'd be the lead!). When Hal takes over as Henry V we see his famous triumph over the French at the Battle of Agincourt. These aren't actors shouting at each other on a stage, when scenes take place in a castle, they're in a castle, when they're on a beach, it's a beach, and when a battle takes places, we see hundreds of costumed extras on location and plenty of blood and gore.  A co-production with WNET Thirteen, I would expect this will turn up on PBS eventually and I cannot urge you enough to catch these first-class productions in every way, you won't regret it.

Hunderby (10/12)
Julia Davis wrote and stars in this parody of gothic romances on Sky Atlantic.  Helene (Alexandra Roach) washes up on the beach after a shipwreck and promptly marries the local parson much to the consternation of his housemaid Dorothy (Davis).  Helene has a secret past but Dorothy behaves much as Davis did in her earlier series Nighty Night as a woman with no shame who will literally do anything to get what she wants. Whether you want to see this done in the backdrop of a costume drama is up to you.

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

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.

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."

A Mother's Son (10/12)
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.

Mrs. Biggs (10/12)
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.

Parade's End (10/12)
This HBO/BBC mini-series was adapted by Tom Stoppard based on the books by Ford Madox Ford and stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as Christopher Tietjens, a gentleman in pre-WWI British society.  Despite that pedigree, the whole series left me cold.  I couldn't relate or care about any of the characters even though it takes place at the same time period as Downton Abbey including the trenches of WWI.  We're to believe that Tietjens is so unappealing to women that he ends up marrying Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) a woman he meets on a train who runs off with another man, has a son with him, and then he takes her back despite the scandal.  Everyone around him including his wife, brother, and most of the friends and colleagues believe the worst lies and gossip spread about him (mostly from Sylvia's jilted lover) even though they know Tietjens is the most straight-laced Englishman who ever lived. Even a chaste relationship with a fresh-scrubbed suffragette named Valentine (Adelaide Clemens) can't make him interesting (he's far too proper to ever have an affair with her even though everyone else already thinks he has).  And serving in the war doesn't do much either, as he manages to alienate nearly everyone in the British army and get sent to the front. I'm not sure this is going to appeal to the average HBO subscriber either, despite the presence of Stephen Graham ("Boardwalk Empire's" Al Capone) as Tietjens' best friend Macmaster who courts the wife of a mad reverend (Rufus Sewell).

Parents (10/12)
Silly domestic sitcom about Jenny (Sally Phillips) who after losing her high-paying London job for fighting with a co-worker, has to move her family back to Kettering to live with her parents (Tom Conti and Susie Blake). Jenny is just too much a dope and a no-talent to get work doing anything else and the audience must suffer along with her attempts to move on with her life.

The Revolution Will Be Televised (10/12)
BBC-3 subversive comedy series by Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein that attempts to deliver political messages among the sketches and pranks they perform. I'm not sure how many people's opinions would really be changed by watching such antics, or whether they are just playing to an audience who already believes what they do.

The Scapegoat (10/12)
Matthew Rhys plays two very different men who nevertheless look identical in this ITV thriller TV Movie set around the time of the coronation.  John, a school teacher who decides to travel the world, discovers his counterpart one night in a pub, Johnny.  They get drunk together and when John wakes up, his clothes and Johnny are gone and everyone thinks he is Johnny.  Taken to a fine manor house he suddenly finds himself with an instant family, although things aren't what they seem. Johnny was a bit of a scoundrel, so John's new attitude and behavior begin to bewilder his new family.   John tries to help his brother (Daniel Mays) to save the family business and the many jobs it supports while fending off the affections of his sister-in-law (Sheridan Smith).  But just as seems that everything is going well, Johnny returns and means to resume his life. There is an interesting subtext about the coronation, that most of the action takes place while England technically did not have a monarch and was waiting for this untried princess to become Queen and take over ruling the realm. 

The Secret History Of Our Streets (10/12)
Fascinating BBC-2 documentary series that showcases how specific streets in London have evolved from Victorian Times (abetted by pioneering maps by Charles Booth who documented the streets by income level) to the modern day.  Each episode focuses on a different street and it's quite a journey to see how one street can completely change over the span of a century or more.  Interviews with residents as well as archival footage and photographs help illustrate places that no longer exist.

Sinbad (10/12)
From the producers of Primeval, this Sky1 action series begins in medieval Basra with young Sinbad (Elliot Knight) and his brother as street scammers who run afoul of Lord Akbari (Naveen Andrews, "Lost") when Sinbad accidentally kills his son in a fight.  Akbari kills Sinbad's brother in revenge and Sinbad is cursed by his grandmother (he can't spend more than 24 hours on land or he'll be strangled by a magic amulet) and forced to flee on a ship.  After a storm at sea, he and the survivors become a ethnically mixed crew on board and have adventures with plenty of magic and monsters thrown in.  Akbari joins forces with a sorceress (Orla Brady) to bring Sinbad back to him so he can seek his revenge.  It's refreshing to see a series without a typical Western actor in the lead parts, in fact one has to assume that most of the characters are Muslims, something you don't see everyday on TV.  Aimed at the family audience, it delivers the action with slick production values while delivering enough drama to keep the adults interested as well.

Toast of London (10/12)
Channel 4 pilot co-written by Arthur Matthews (Father Ted) about Steven Toast (Matt Berry, The IT Crowd), a pretentious actor who must deal with his incompetent agent and rivals in his social life.  One of the running gags is the show Steven is currently appearing in is so scandalous that the name is bleeped every time someone says it (the title of the episode is "The Unspeakable Play") and this extends to a gag at the end when he is forced to race through protesters to get to the stage only to be pixilated as soon as he begins performing.  Enough gags and familiar faces (including Robert Bathurst and Tracy-Ann Oberman) are thrown at the screen that I'd like to see this return as a regular series.

A Touch of Cloth (10/12)
Charlie Brooker (Dead Set) wrote this parody of ITV crime dramas that manages to cast legitimately serious actors (John Hannah, Suranne Jones, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Raquel Cassidy) in a goofy spoof.  And while those ITV shows are surely deserving of such treatment (but don't call me Shirley) , this kind of anything-for-a-joke treatment was done first, and better, in the "Naked Gun" series (and "Police Squad," its source). 

True Love (10/12)
A series of five quasi-related 30 minute stories of relationships all set in the same seaside town in this BBC anthology series. In the first David Tennant plays a happily married man whose old flame comes back to town. In the second, Ashley Walters has an affair with a con woman that nearly destroys his marriage.  The third story has Billie Piper as a school teacher who has a lesbian relationship with one of her students (ironically the story with most happy ending). The fourth is about the friendship a married woman (Jane Horrocks) has with an immigrant (Alexander Siddig) much to the chagrin of her husband (Charlie Creed Miles). The final story has David Morrissey as a single father who meets a Chinese woman online who comes to visit just as one of his daughter's friends develops an unhealthy crush on him.

Walking & Talking (10/12)
Based on the Little Crackers short a few years ago, this autobiographical comedy series on Sky is written by and based on the real life exploits of Kathy Burke when she was a music fanatic teenager growing up in Islington (she describes herself as, "a punk, new wave, suedehead, skinhead sort of thing.")  The title comes from the fact a lot of the action takes place as Kath and her best mate walk home from school discussing their lives.  It also cuts to the seemingly unconnected lives of two nuns (Kathy Burke and Sean Gallagher) on fag breaks at their parochial school.  The look of the series is great, it appears to have been shot in 1979 with faded colors like a film print from that era.

Whatever Happened To Harry Hill? (10/12)
A great spoof documentary (written by the actor and presenter) about his great 1990s Channel 4 Harry Hill Show that purports to reveal the scandals and secrets behind that classic series. Of course it's just an excuse to reunite the cast and show a lot of great clips, Hill evidently not wanting to toot his own horn without simultaneously sending it up.

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (
October 3, 2012