New British TV Show Reviews

June 24, 2013

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Anna and Katy (6/13)
Anna Crilly and Katy Wix who have had supporting roles in a number of comedies (Lead Balloon and Not Going Out respectively) get to star in this Channel 4 sketch comedy series where they are able to show off a number of different characters. Their famous friends turn up as well including Lee Mack, Martin Kemp, and Ruby Wax. Although some sketches get repetitious ("Congratulations," a morning chat show where they just give out greetings), others such as fake-German language shows offer the opportunity to work in plenty of naughty words into the dialog.

Bluestone 42 (6/13)
This BBC3 comedy features a British bomb disposal unit stationed in Afghanistan, the first time I can ever recall a TV show (either dramatic or comedic) was set during a war where combat operations were still occurring in real life. The unit is tight-knit but filled with the usual misfits who get into misadventures when they aren't disarming road side bombs (the location shooting in South Africa makes for a convincing Afghanistan).  BBC3 shows are aimed (and feature exclusively) twenty-something characters, which give it leeway to be less reverent about serious topics like war and death.

Broadchurch (6/13)
This ITV mini-series written by Chris Chibnall (Torchwood) about a murder in a small coastal village was a huge ratings hit both for it's whodunit mystery (viewers were left guessing right up until the final episode) and as a serious drama about the police investigation headed up by David Tennant and Olivia Colman. Tennant is the outsider brought in to help, much to the consternation of Colman's character who has lived in the village her whole life. But he is haunted by past mistakes on a similar case and slowly begins to unravel, and it becomes a question of whether he can hold it together long enough to solve the case. There are tons of suspects and red herrings including the grieving father (Andrew Buchan), the newsdealer with a past (David Bradley), and a suspicious priest (Arthur Darvill). Chibnall really makes the entire village come alive, so much so, there will be another season featuring the characters, even though the central mystery has been resolved.

Comic Relief 2013 (6/13)
Highlights from this year's Red Nose Day include the wedding of Simon Cowell to a mystery bride, a Call the Midwife/Doctor Who crossover, Dame Edna and Jack Whitehall participate in a special MasterChef, Ricky Gervais shows what happened to David Brent 10 years after The Office, Dawn French's Vicar of Dibley needs to do an important church vote, David Tennant snogs John Bishop, and David Walliams having to tell all his exes about his social disease is an excuse for a number of celebrity cameos.

The Crash (6/13)
Two-part BBC3 drama "inspired by real events" about the impact on the lives of a group of teenagers when a car crash on prom night kills two of them.  As you might imagine, there is a lot of guilt and blame to go around for the survivors (including the driver), but the question is, can there be forgiveness and being able to move on.

The Fall (6/13)
Gillian Anderson stars as Stella Gibson, an English police inspector sent to Belfast to oversee a murder investigation that has stagnated in this BBC series. Meanwhile, we see Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) as a serial killer as he methodically stakes out and murders each of his victims. He actually gets more screen time than Stella, who upsets the apple cart when she realizes a serial killer is at work (her semi-corrupt bosses don't like the paperwork).  She sleeps with a married detective who ends up getting assassinated as part of a separate investigation, but Stella is enough of a modern woman (and a good cop) that she doesn't deny it when it comes up. But Paul is pretty clever too, literally nobody suspect him, not his wife and children, or at his boring government job giving bereavement counseling. Like Stella, he's also very good at his job, although it does him no favors when he helps a client escape her violent husband. He even sends a letter of apology to the parents of one of his victims because he didn't know she was pregnant when he killed her.  By the final episode, Stella appears to be on Paul's trail and they even have a phone conversation where he taunts her by saying he's finished.  And thus, there will be a second season of The Fall.

Frankie (6/13)
Eve Myles (Torchwood) stars in this BBC drama series as Frankie Maddox, a leader of a team of district nurses whose rule-bending earns her the ire of her humorless boss (Jemma Redgrave). Written by Lucy Gannon, Frankie is on the verge of being proposed to by her policeman boyfriend Ian (Dean Lennox Kelly) on her birthday. But she is so dedicated to her job she misses the party to be with a patient and Ian ends up sleeping with one of her co-workers.  There are other Patients Of The Week who interact with Frankie and her colleagues as they do their rounds throughout the city.  But someone is stalking Frankie.  Is it the grateful husband who assisted his terminally ill wife? Ian? Or someone else? Myles is fearless in appearing often without any makeup on, listening and dancing to music like a teenager, and interacting with a radio DJ (Ken Bruce) as she drives around in her little red sportscar.

Heading Out (6/13)
Sue Perkins wrote and stars as Sara in this BBC sitcom about a middle-aged veterinarian who still hasn't come out of the closet to her parents (get the title?). Her friends (including Nicola Walker--so nice to see her smiling and laughing rather than the usual dour dramatic performances she is usually cast in) are determined to help her, and to that end hire a wacky life coach (Joanna Scanlan). Shelley Conn (Mistresses) is a potential girlfriend for Sara, but her nervousness and self-doubt make a relationship difficult.

The Ice Cream Girls (6/13)
Three part ITV drama about Serena who returns to her seaside hometown with her husband and daughter to care for her mother but must face up to her terrible past she's kept hidden for decades.  In flashbacks we see her friendship with working class Poppy who we discover has spent years in jail for killing their teacher--something Serena knows more about than she is telling.  Modern-day Poppy (Jodhi May) gets released from prison and discovers Serena is back in town as well. But no one is willing to give the parolee a break.  Serena, meanwhile, is difficult to sympathize with completely, she is so used to lying and covering up. Based on the novel by Dorothy Koomson.

In The Flesh (6/13)
Three part BBC-3 drama series that is set after the zombie apocalypse. In this world, the dead came back to life and began attacking the living, but didn't infect others (despite much public misconception). The government eventually came up with an antidote, rounded up all the undead, "cured" them, and now is sending them back to their communities to live again. Except, as you might imagine, not all the folks back home (particularly in the small village where the series is set), are in a mood to welcome back these former "rotters."  Many survivors were part of a militia called the HVF that kept the village safe when government help was in short supply during the crisis.  Problem number two is the newly cured were all previously dead and buried.  And now here they are again, including teenage Kiernan Walker (get it?) who we find out had committed suicide and must face his parents and HVF-member sister and explain his actions. With so many movies and TV shows portraying the end of the world, it's interesting to have one set afterwards and dealing with the messy results in a real human way.

It's Kevin (6/13)
Kevin Eldon finally gets his own BBC-2 sketch comedy series and he goes for broke. A supporting comedian going back to Fist of FunHyperdrive and World of Pub, here in his own series he does it all from singing the theme tune (which changes from week to week), to showing off all the characters and situations he can play. He also is the host, in a sparse set speaking directly to the camera between bits. Just the right touch of surrealism, satire, and enough of a budget to allow Eldon to exercise his clever comedic imagination.

The Job Lot (6/13)
It took three writers to create this listless ITV sitcom (which debuted the same night as the far superior Vicious) starring Russell Tovey as a worker drone in a job centre.  It's filled with annoying characters being annoying, and not in an amusing way.  Bleah!

Jonathan Creek (6/13)
The first new mystery for the eccentric magician/detective Creek (Alan Davies) in years, has many shocking revelations of what he's been up to since we last saw him. For starters, he's now a successful advertising executive married to Sarah Alexander.  But he can't resist the closed-door mystery involving the death of a satirist he admired, abetted by blogger Joey (Sheridan Smith) and DS Gideon Pryke (Rik Mayall), now bound to a wheelchair but still livening up the situation.  At 90 minutes, the special has a few too many mysteries for its own good, but it's nice to see this popular character return to form again.

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

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

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

Mary and Martha (6/13)
Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn star in this rather heavy-handed "message" movie about malaria co-produced by the BBC and HBO and written by Comic Relief maestro Richard Curtis. I wish they could have skipped the 88 minutes it took to get to the caption at the end, "Deaths from malaria can be ended in our lifetime."

Mayday (6/13)
The BBC series premiered around the same time as ITV's Broadchurch, and both had similar premises: the murder of a child in a small village.  Rather than weekly installments though, Mayday was shown over five days in a single week.  We are lead to believe a number of characters could be the killer, but mostly because critical information is withheld from the audience.  Sophie Okonedo plays a former police detective who has retired to be a full-time mum.  But she can't help herself when a local girl turns up missing and the clues seem to be just laying about that might solve the mystery.  The ending comes as a bit of surprise in that a supernatural element is used to deliver justice.

Murder on the Home Front (6/13)
Two-part ITV mystery series set in 1940 London during the Blitz.  Molly Cooper (Tamzin Merchant), a young woman who wants to be a reporter, ends up employed by a police pathologist (Patrick Kennedy) as his assistant and together they try to solve a series of murders involving a shady nightclub, the Home Office, and German refugees.  Based on the memoirs of Molly Lefebure.

Our Girl (6/13)
BBC TV movie about a young chav (Lacey Turner) who joins the British Army to earn some self-respect and not end up like all her friends.  She doesn't get much support at home for her decision, but eventually realizes her real comrades are her fellow soldiers.  Not a terribly original story, but done well enough.

Plebs (6/13)
ITV2 sitcom set in Rome 27 B.C. about three dopey lads trying to live their mundane lives in the empire. Marcus (Tom Rosenthal) and Stylax (Joel Fry) are employed scribes working at a medium-sized company who live together along with their slave Grumio (Ryan Sampson). They want what all young men have wanted for ages, namely to get laid, particularly Marcus who pines after his beautiful neighbor Cynthia.  Employing some rather impressive sets (leftover from another production perhaps?) and some CGI to fill in the buildings, it looks slick and works about as well as a series focusing on three idiots, regardless of the era, can do. 

The Politician's Husband (6/13)
David Tennant gives a tense performance as Aiden Hoynes, a too-slick-for-his-own-good part of a husband-and-wife MP couple (along with Emily Watson as Freya) who begins this three-part BBC mini-series attempting to challenge the leadership of the party only to have it blow up in his face when he's betrayed by his best friend (Ed Stoppard). Relegated to the back benches, he must watch Freya rise in power to the cabinet and condemn his policies publicly in order to remain in favor. We're meant to sympathize with Aiden because he cares for his autistic son and hangs with his father, but he is a politician through-and-through and it kills him to see his wife get all the accomplishments he felt were owed to him.  A fascinating look at power, jealousy and corruption that ends with a real twist.

Psychobitches (6/13)
A spin-off of Sky Arts' Playhouse Presents series, with Rebecca Front as the therapist to a series of historically famous women all played by big name comics (Julia Davis, Katy Brand, Samantha Spiro and Mark Gatiss among others). It's a format that allows each of the characters to do their crazy little bit of business and then quickly cut to the next. Often it's just a triumph of costuming and makeup, but a few stand out like the Bronte Sisters (portrayed as three children on a couch together who hate each other), and Sigmund Freud's mother. 

Shetland (6/13)
Douglas Henshall (Primeval) stars in this two-part BBC mystery that has its roots going back to the war.  Set on the island off Scotland, as the outsider, Henshall must penetrate the closed community where everybody knows everyone else's business.

Vicious (6/13)
I have given ITV a lot of stick over the years (and rightfully so) for their inability to produce a decent sitcom. But they've finally struck gold in this farce starring Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen as an elderly gay couple whose love/hate relationship is hilarious.  Written by Gary Janetti, each week we get the misadventures of Stuart and Freddie, along with their best friend Violet (Frances de la Tour) and their upstairs neighbor Ash (Iwan Rheon, Misfits, "Game of Thrones"). Jacobi and McKellen hurl insults at each other with deadly precision while taking care of their motionless dog. Freddie is a former actor (being on Doctor Who once is his big claim to fame, although he manages to get a bit part on Downton Abbey in one episode), whereas Stuart has never come out to his mother, she just thinks Freddie is his roommate and inquires unseen over the phone when he'll be moving out to get married.  It's not the best material ever written, but these two pros give it all they've got. When is the last time two knights starred in a sitcom?

Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea (6/13)
Two-part BBC documentary, exquisitely shot all over the globe, with the charming comedienne presenting a history of how tea shaped the British empire and world politics, particularly in the 19th Century.  

The Village (6/13)
Ambitious BBC drama series by Peter Moffat (Silk) where Bert Middleton, the oldest man in Britain, tells the story of his life in flashback growing up in a small village.  The first season is set during the 1910s, when Bert was a young boy living in terror of John, his hard-drinking unsuccessful farmer father (John Simm).  Bert's older brother Joe is the apple of his mother's (Maxine Peake) eye, but he and dad don't see eye-to-eye.  Joe has forsaken the farm to work in the house of the local gentry where he has caught the eye of their daughter.  But WWI breaks out and Joe is off to war. Meanwhile John discovers religion under the tutelage of the reverend's daughter and gives up drinking to proselytize. And Joe's girlfriend? She ends up pregnant, is forced to give up the baby, nearly goes insane, and is put in the hands of a creepy all-controlling doctor. Joe returns from leave, but suffering from shell shock, tries to desert and is hauled away.  The plan is to advance the story throughout the century with each season, seeing a tiny part of England through Bert's eyes.

Wodehouse in Exile (6/13)
Tim Pigott-Smith stars in this BBC-4 TV movie as PG Wodehouse, who spent the war interned by the Germans when France was occupied, and becomes their dupe.  He allows himself to appear on Germany propaganda broadcasts to America and explain how things aren't so bad from his perspective without realizing the impact it's having on the home front.  Needless to say, this put his reputation in disrepute in Britain for many years as a result.  An interesting character study.

WPC 56 (6/13)
Daytime BBC drama series set in the mid-1950s when women were first beginning to join police departments around the country.  We've all seen Life on Mars (and that was set 20 years later) enough to know that it wasn't easy to break into that all-male environment. Our plucky heroine Gina Dawson (Jennie Jacques) frequently is ignored in favor of any other male opinion, but someone has to be in the advance guard of any movement.

The Wright Way (6/13)
David Haig has made a career playing annoying busybody characters, and he gets the spotlight here as Gerald Wright, the head of health and safety for the fictional borough of Baselricky, in this BBC sitcom by Ben Elton.  It's a bit of a throwback to 90s-style series, with a reliance on Gerald being endlessly caught in seemingly compromising situations by the cleaner, coming up with unintentionally rude acronyms for all his schemes, and failure to ever learn from his mistakes. Yet, it's modern enough to give Gerald a gay daughter with a live-in girlfriend, and an estranged wife who has taken up with an annoying Australian, but who isn't all bad. Gerald is of course his own worse enemy, but the character allows Elton to be his mouthpiece for all sorts of First World Problems that must vex him.  It's amusing to see a face put on bureaucracy in a way that's rarely done in the US.

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (
June 24, 2013