New British TV Show Reviews

June 1, 2014

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Babylon (6/14)
Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting") directed this Channel 4 pilot about an American consultant brought in to help a dysfunctional police station that is being filmed by a reality show. Written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (Peep Show), this satire features Paterson Joseph, Daniel Kaluuya, Nicola Walker and James Nesbitt.

Comedy Playhouse: Over To Bill (6/14)
In this BBC pilot Hugh Dennis (Outnumbered) stars as Bill, a recently unemployed TV weatherman who goes to humiliating lengths to get back on telly.  His best friend Jez (Neil Morrissey) is about to get married, but also knows an influential producer. Bill's misadventures at Jez's wedding demonstrate just how desperate Bill is and what he has to do afterwards to save face and maintain his friendship. Written by Doug Naylor (Red Dwarf).

The Crimson Field (6/14)
BBC drama series set in a British army field hospital in 1915 France and focusing on the nurses and female volunteers. Kitty Trevelyan (Oona Chaplin from "Game of Thrones") is a headstrong young volunteer who nearly gets sent home for disobeying orders from the strict Matron (Hermione Norris). Suranne Jones plays Sister Joan (nurses were all ranked as Sisters) who has come to France aboard a motorcycle but with a hidden secret. There are casualties of the week along with the ongoing stories of the women and the soldiers they work with.  Written by Sarah Phelps.

Edge of Heaven (6/14)
A B&B in Margate is the setting for this ITV family comedy/drama starring Blake Harrison, Camille Coduri, and Adrian Scarborough.  In the first episode, Alfie (Harrison) is one day from getting married when things go very wrong in his life.

Harry and Paul's Story of the Twos (6/14)
For the 50th anniversary of BBC Two, Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse recreate famous scenes and proceed to parody the history of the channel with various impersonations. They mock the fact that nearly the same documentary about WWI can be done 50 years apart, and over the years all viewers really want is "Bruce Forsyth, Doctor Who, and Coronation Street." This culminates in the ultimate celebrity panel show with impressions of Angus Deayton, Paul Merton, Boris Johnson, Ian Hislop, David Mitchell, Sarah Millican, "Uncomfortable Journalist," and Stephen Fry. The more you know about the history of British TV and the personalities, the funnier this is to watch.

How To Get Ahead... (6/14)
In this BBC Four documentary series by Stephen Smith, he presents the step-by-step tips to success in various historical periods including Medieval Court,  Renaissance Court, French Court, etc by behaving the correct way, knowing the right people, and other tricks of the trade. He also interviews folks like David Tennant who was then playing Richard II for his take on staying on top.

Ian Hislop's Olden Days (6/14)
Hislop's latest three-part documentary for the BBC explores British nostalgia and how much of it was invented.  Walter Scott for example single-handedly created many traditions of Scotland with his novel "Waverly" (originally written to suppress ideas of Scottish rebellion), and then chivalry with "Ivanhoe." This doesn't mean this mythology is any less valid, but it's fascinating to see its sources and how quickly it was adopted by societies at the time to advance their goals.

Inside No. 9 (6/14)
An anthology comedy/horror series on BBC2 by Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith where each episode is set in a different locale (e.g. a house, apartment, building, dressing room) but it's always at number 9. More in tone with their Psychoville than The League of Gentlemen, the humor is always dark-edged and unexpected, with a neat twist at the end. The best episode is completely silent about two burglars (Pemberton and Shearsmith) trying to steal a painting from a rich collector (Denis Lawson). A number of big name guest stars appear in stories including Anne Reid, Katherine Parkinson, Timothy West, Oona Chaplin, Tamsin Greig, Helen McCrory, and Julia Davis.

Jamaica Inn
This three part BBC adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel set in Cornwall in the 18th Century caused a huge stink in Britain when viewers complained in the thousands about not being able to understand the actors due to excessive mumbling. Though the Cornish accents are pretty strong throughout, it is only Sean Harris as Mary's cruel uncle Joss who gives in to muttering some of his lines, but he's no worse than some of the asides Popeye the Sailor used to throw out in his early cartoons. Besides, every TV in the world is now equipped with subtitles, there's no reason for viewers to get so cranky if they can't understand every word spoken, just turn on the captioning! Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) plays the heroine Mary, sent to the desolate inn on the Cornish moors after her parents die, to be looked after by her aunt (Joanna Whalley) and uncle. It's not long before Mary (who thinks smugglers killed her father and has a pathological hatred of them) discovers that smuggling might be going on right under her nose. Matthew McNulty plays her uncle's brother, a horse thief that Mary takes a shine too, despite her best efforts. In the nearby village is a friendly vicar (Ben Daniels) and his assistant (Shirley Henderson) that Mary tries to turn to for assistance, but who is the criminal mastermind in charge of the smuggling ring?

Prey (6/14)
Three-part ITV drama about a police detective (John Simm) who is framed for the murder of his wife and son, and goes on the run to prove his innocence. Along the way he will have to turn enemies into allies and a few friends will turn into enemies (it's a bit like watching a British version of "24" except without the torture scenes). And like Jack Bauer, Simm is the clock that keeps on ticking no matter how many times he is shot, beat up, or hit by a car.

37 Days (6/14)
Despite what the history books tell you, Archduke Ferdinand wasn't assassinated in Sarajevo and the next day WWI broke out. In fact there were 37 days before the war actually started, and this three-part BBC drama attempts to break down the diplomatic efforts of Sir Edward Grey (Ian McDiarmid), the British Foreign Secretary, to try to prevent the war from happening during that time. He might have been successful if it hadn't been for some elements in Germany who were so gung-ho for a war that they sabotaged Grey's every move. But Grey isn't helped by his instinctive sense of British superiority and overconfidence that his subtle hand on the levers of power will be all it takes to solve the crisis. Eventually things spin out of the control by the various powers and their allies who jump into the fray, and Austria and Russia (who were the original instigators of the trouble), end up being the last countries to actually declare war on each other once the fighting begins.

Tommy Cooper, Not Like That, Like This
Simon Nye wrote this ITV biopic of legendary British comedian Tommy Cooper (here played by David Threlfall) whose gimmick was wearing a fez and appearing to be a terrible magician. He originally toured extensively with his wife Dove (Amanda Redman) but when she decided to stay home to raise their children, Tommy took Mary Kay (Helen McCrory) as an assistant. They began a decades-long affair, kept secret by Cooper's long-suffering agent. Everyone wants Tommy to settle down and just do his highly popular television series from London, but Tommy lives to tour and perform live in front of audiences, and he can't do it without Mary.  Dove eventually finds out about Mary and throws Tommy out but eventually they reconcile and Mary's presence is tolerated because it keeps Tommy going.  Finally on April 15, 1984, Tommy agreed to perform on a live TV special, Live From Her Majesty's. Despite not feeling well, he goes out on stage, does his act to a tremendous response, and then collapses on stage and dies of a heart attack. Viewers at home, used to Tommy's tricks failing, assumed his slumping was part of  a gag and didn't realize at first that anything was amiss.

The Trip To Italy (6/14)
Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan hit the road, as they did in The Trip, only this time as the title tells you, across Italy. They eat in fine restaurants and drive around in a fancy convertible playing Alanis Morissette songs on CD.  Of course the real reason to watch is their banter and hilarious attempts to one-up each other's impressions. Michael Caine gets another ribbing, but so is an imagined conversation between Christian Bale and Tom Hardy on the set of "The Dark Knight Rises" where nobody can understand what they are saying, and Roger Moore as Tony Blair confronting Saddam Hussein as Frank Spencer.

W1A (6/14)
A sequel series to Twenty Twelve with Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), after successfully "delivering" the Olympics, now in a new post at the BBC as "Head of Values." The same satirical eye is turned towards the BBC with its no-office open plan "hot seat" desks, bureaucracy, cock-ups, and middle-management yes men (and women). The title refers to the postal code in central London where the BBC now has its headquarters after abandoning Television Centre. Also along for the ride is Jessica Hynes returning as dimwitted brand manager Siobhan. Fletcher is ritually humiliated by the press (and we get a resolution to his romance with his former assistant played by Olivia Colman) but by the end he gets the upper hand as he finally figures out how to beat the system and get what he wants.

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (
June 1, 2014