New British TV Show Reviews

December 17, 2012

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Comic Strip: Five Go To Rehab (12/12)
In 1982 The Comic Strip was the very first program broadcast on Channel 4 with "Five Go Mad To Dorset," a Enid Blyton parody. For the 30th anniversary, the cast reassemble and often shooting in the same locations do a sequel, "Five Go To Rehab."  It's great to see Peter Richardson, Adrian Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French back together again, joined by familiar faces as Robbie Coltrane, Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall and recent Comic Strip addition Stephen Mangan. Sure, the actors are all in their 50s now, and some have aged better than others, but it's nice to see Channel 4 remember past glories such as The Comic Strip.

Cuckoo (12/12)
"Saturday Night Live" veteran Adam Samberg stars as Cuckoo, a free spirit American who is brought home as the new husband of a nice English girl whom he met during her gap year in Asia, much to the horror of her parents Ken and Lorna in this BBC3 comedy. Ken (Greg Davies) can't stand Cuckoo and conspires to get rid of him, but Cuckoo is such a mellow guy that he bonds with Ken anyway and eventually begins a potato van business.  Lorna (Helen Baxendale) finds her new son-in-law sweet, and it's not like she and Ken are middle-class squares (they grew up in the 1970s after all). Davies, a giant who towers over the petite Baxendale, often seems he is channeling Rik Mayall, constantly angry about something and allowing himself to be humiliated by his own shortcomings.

Derren Brown: Apocalypse (12/12)
The illusionist really pulls the wool over an unsuspecting slacker in this two-part Channel 4 special by convincing him he's one of the few survivors during a zombie apocalypse.  But it's not to prank him or make him look foolish, but rather inspiring him to develop skills (leadership, bravery, empathy) that will prove useful once the experiment is over.

Derren Brown: Fear & Faith (12/12)
In this two-part Channel 4 documentary, Brown first manages to persuade a huge group of people to overcome their phobias using a placebo and an elaborate fake medical company set up complete with doctors and scientists. Secondly, he finds a deliberately agnostic non-religious woman and in just 15 minutes is able to have her believe she's having a religious experience. He is the master of persuasion and fills the hour with examples of how human being's attempts to find patterns in randomness can lead to some thinking there's a divine hand involved.  Skeptics should find much to rejoice here as usual.

Everyday (12/12)
John Simm and Shirley Henderson star in this Channel 4 movie about a woman coping with the fact her husband has been sent to prison for several years and their day-to-day life.  Shot very much in the style of Dogma95 films (natural lighting, gritty realism) this Michael Winterbottom film was actually made over a period of several years in different locations, with the kids growing up, and Simm's appearance changing depending on what else he was doing at the time.  But it's a gimmick and can't gloss over the fact this is about a woman visiting her husband in prison over and over with the kids, his occasional forays out on day-release, and eventual release when his sentence is over.  And that's it.  We know nothing of their back story, Simm's crime never even gets a mention, what's he in for?  A few times you think the kids are in real trouble but in fact it's nothing worse than typical child behavior, just more dramatic because of the sense that something terrible is going to happen (which it doesn't really).  Watchable only because either Simm or Henderson are in every scene and they are never dull, but it's a chore to sit through.

Full English (12/12)
Channel 4 animated series that owes a lot to both "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" about a dysfunctional family (including Richard Ayoade as the voice of the hapless dad) plus mum's dad who has an imaginary friend named Squidge.  Celebrities and pop culture are ruthlessly parodied, with language and nudity you wouldn't even see on HBO. Not for the easily offended.

Hebburn (12/12)
BBC comedy/drama about a newly married couple who return to Hebburn (sounds like "heaven" when spoken by the locals) near Newcastle, where things don't change much. Jack's new bride from "down south," Sarah (Kimberley Nixon) surprises everyone by being Jewish, and mum and dad (Gina McKee, Jim Moir--aka "Vic Reeves") are disappointed they didn't attend their drunken quickie Vegas wedding.  Jack's old girlfriend is still on the warpath, while his sister is sweet with the local pub crooner. Much of the action occurs in the local pub, or in gran's nursing home. Written by Jason Cook, not surprisingly it was produced by Steve Coogan's Baby Cow Manchester company.

Homefront (12/12)
ITV1 serialized drama about the lives of women whose husbands are deployed to Afghanistan. It begins with Tasha (Antonia Thomas, Misfits) receiving word her husband has died in action leaving her with a baby and a mother-in-law who blames her. Other plots include a woman (Claire Skinner) who is marrying the unit commander but isn't quite ready for the life of being an officer's wife, and a woman who realizes her husband has been cheating on her. When the boys come home on leave is when the drama really happens.

Hunted (12/12)
This BBC/Cinemax co-production is very similar to "Alias," which also starred a kickass female spy trying to uncover a conspiracy.  Here, Sam Hunter (Melissa George) is betrayed during a mission by one of her team, spends a year recovering in secret, then returns to London to the private security company she worked for, each side not trusting the other. Her team's new assignment is to prevent corrupt Jack Turner (Patrick Malahide) from winning the bid to buy a Pakistani dam, but as Sam goes undercover as an American nanny, she discovers that she might not be working for the good guys.  Former "X-Files" producer Frank Spotnitz created the series, so you can imagine the conspiracy theories that develop over the eight episode run.

Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip (12/12)
The Have I Got News For You panelist presents this three-part BBC documentary about the history of British stoicism, how it developed and became fashionable during the Victorian era, helped the country through two world wars, but seemingly has faded away with the advent of showing tears on reality TV, and the reaction to Princess Diana's death.

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 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.

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.

The Paradise (12/12)
Charming BBC/Masterpiece produced family drama by Bill Gallagher (Lark Rise To Candleford) about a Victorian-era department store run by the single-minded Moray (Emun Elliott) who is in an on-again off-again relationship with the daughter of his banker. In to this world steps Denise (Joanna Vanderham) who rather than work for her uncle the dressmaker in his tiny shop across the road, gets a job in the Ladies Department under the stern Miss Audrey (Sarah Lancashire). But Denise is too full of ideas to be a simple shop assistant and Moray begins to take notice of them--and her.  A full cast fills out the other employees of The Paradise who also live on the premises, from the orphan boy who knows no other world, to the mysterious one-armed Jonas who always has his eye on everyone. Arthur Darvill (Rory on Doctor Who) turned up in one episode as an ambitious barber. Based on the 19th Century French novel "The Ladies' Paradise" by Emile Zola.

Room At The Top (12/12)
This long-delayed BBC remake of the famous 1957 John Braine novel stars Matthew McNulty (The ParadiseMisfits) as Joe Lampton, an ambitious young man in post-war Britain. Although he is interested in Susan Brown (Jenna-Louise Coleman), he begins an affair with the older Alice Aisgill (Maxine Peake, Silk).  Joe here is presented as a less self-serving bastard than in the 1959 film version and more sympathetic, but nevertheless he makes some poor life decisions in his quest to achieve his goals.

The Secret of Crickley Hall (12/12)
Three part spooky BBC mini-series adapted by Joe Ahearne (Ultraviolet) about a family that has experienced a tragedy who move into a creepy house they don't know is haunted by a vengeful spirit.  Suranne Jones plays the mum who literally loses her young son (she fell asleep at the playground), but a year later still believes he'll be found alive.  Her husband (Tom Ellis) persuades her to temporarily move, along with their two daughters, to Crickley Hall which was used as an orphanage for refugees during the war.  In flashbacks we see the cruel administrators (Douglas Henshaw and Sarah Smart) and the plucky teacher who tries to help the children but comes to a tragic end.  In the present day, the former groundskeeper (David Warner) tries to warn the family but at night an apparition carrying a whip begins to terrorize them.  Will her son be found? Did a flood kill all the orphans or was it something crueler?  And what does the ghost want?  Creepy and atmospheric, as you would want in a production like this.

Secret State (12/12)
A remake of the classic A Very British Coup about an idealistic politician (Gabriel Byrne) who suddenly becomes Prime Minister but finds forces much bigger than himself moving to make sure his new style of politics don't upset the status quo.  The plot in this Channel 4 mini-series manages to work in 21st Century issues such as the power of oil companies, the all-seeing security services, banks, and the rush to war.

Some Girls (12/12)
The anti-"Girls," instead of the HBO series with twentysomething Manhattan-living girls with money, in this BBC3 comedy we meet Viva, an intelligent London schoolgirl whose mates aren't the brightest kids in school. She, Holli, Amber and Saz are all teammates on the girl's soccer club, run by a despotic Australian who is also Viva's dad's pregnant girlfriend! We see the world through Viva's eyes, who tries to help her friends as best she can but often has to roll her eyes at their antics sometimes.  A sweet, funny series about life as unpopular teenagers who nevertheless survive.

Switch (12/12)
ITV2 drama series about an urban coven of modern young witches living in Camden, London and their misadventures.  All four women need to be together to cast a spell, which often backfires in the end or has unexpected consequences (fortunately, speaking a truth will undo it).  The issues don't get too heavy or supernatural (trouble with men, trouble with work, trouble with rivals) and the charm of the cast (Phoebe Fox, Hannah Tointon, Nine Toussaint-White and Lacey Turner) go a long way.

Wizards vs Aliens (12/12)
Russell T. Davies co-created this children's fantasy series as a replacement for The Sarah Jane Adventures which as the title might suggest, involves an alien race that has come to Earth to drain all the magic from the few who still have the power.  This includes a teenage boy, who teamed up with the class brain, manage to hold off an entire race ruled by large puppet voiced by Brian Blessed in a series of two-part adventures. One has to account for this CBBC series being aimed at kids, but it has enough suspense and a driving score to make it entertaining with reservations.

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (
December 17, 2012