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Dates refer to when review was written
A series of four TV movies by the BBC focusing on this theme, the first, Getting Hurt, written by Andrew Davies based on his novel, features a lawyer who falls for a seedy client's wife with disastrous results. A really great score backs an intense story with B&D overtones, and plenty of sex and nudity. In Stand and Deliver, Phil Daniels (Sunnyside Farm) plays a London stand-up comic who arrives in Glasgow for a gig at a second-rate club, but lets his gambling habit get the best of him. Not quite as tragic as Getting Hurt, and although Daniel's character never learns much, at least love conquers all for some of the people around him. The seemingly nightmarish Guiltrip is a day-in-the-life of a small-town Irish couple with a baby. Nothing is as it seems as flashbacks continually give us information we previously didn't know (which is a bit of a cheat, isn't it?). The husband is an overbearing dictator, treating his wife like she was one of the men under his Army command. He has a long list of rules, which she is forced to keep track of in a book, in order he can run her life. But as events are made clear, we see they both have secrets to hide, although in his case they are the result of an incredibly awful and violent act, not revealed until the very end. Anorak of Fire concludes things on a lighter note, with a look at that peculiar British institution, the trainspotter. These are young men with train fetishes who stand on platforms recording the numbers of passing trains. Known for their unfashionable (at least in Britain) anorak jackets, the word "anorak" itself has become a pejorative for anyone with an obsessive hobby. In Anorak of Fire, loosely based on a one-man stage show I saw in London in 1993, we meet trainspotter Gus, his two (and only) friends, and his family who are all as delightfully daft as he is. His father's only concern is growing leeks, while his mother tries in earnest to obey the proper rituals in order to join a woman's society. Meanwhile, Gus's sister makes a bet with her friend Natalie that she won't sleep with him, but it backfires and they fall in love. Gus seemingly gives up his interest in trains (and symbolically burns his anorak - hence the title) but finds his past catching up with him.
Ocean Odyssey (4/08)
BBC documentary series that chronicles the entire life cycle of a (fictitious) 80-year-old whale. Using computer graphics, this "Forrest Gump" of whales encounters major oceanic events throughout its life, with background information cleverly worked into all the re-creations.
Comedy double-act Norman Hale and Gareth Pace have been poached by the BBC from ITV and given a prime-time spot and the opportunity to do more family-oriented material. In this first effort, they play silent characters Nobby and Ginge, two well-meaning men who get into comic misadventures. By attempting to widen their audience Hale and Pace somewhat dilute their material and appeal but it's a harmless time passer.
The Office (1/97)
Our local video club's favorite madman, Robert Lindsay, stars in this failed ITV pilot about an office executive who gets in deeper and deeper scrapes. On an important evaluation day with his new female boss, Lindsay manages to lose all his clothes in her office, attempts to impersonate a nonexistent Australian brother, and ends up in drag. All in 30 minutes. Lindsay as usual is brilliant at this sort of zaniness but shown during the dog days of summer, this pilot is probably all we'll ever see of this show.
The Office (3/02)
Ricky Gervais co-wrote and directed this parody of fly-on-the-wall documentaries (also known as "docu-soaps" in the UK) about a dysfunctional office headed by the clueless Gervais. He constantly plays to the camera (many ordinary people have been catapulted to stardom in real docu-soaps) but of course he is revealed to us to be a no-talent with the worst managerial skills ever. One has to be really familiar with this genre to appreciate the dead-pan (and laughtrack-less) style being done here, although Gervais clearly is playing a perfect example of the Peter Principle at work.
The acclaimed cult BBC comedy series (and American critical darling) comes to an end with a two-part finale set at Christmas that picks up several years after the events in the original two seasons. David Brent (Ricky Gervais) was of course let go and now works as a freelance salesman and does gigs at night trying to cling on to his small sliver of fame (or infamy), while continuing to "drop in" at his old place of employment. Tim (Martin Freeman) has a new annoying workmate, a pregnant woman, while Gareth is still just as clueless as the new office boss. Meanwhile in Florida, all is not perfect with Dawn's life, and the documentary crew intervene by sending her back to Britain for a fateful reunion with Tim.
Office Gossip (1/02)
After some turgid office comedies in recent years (including Is It Legal?) it's nice when one gets it right. This BBC series stars Pauline Quirk (Birds of a Feather) as the capable secretary to feckless toy executive Robert Daws (Outside Edge), and working alongside young sharpy Neil Stuke (Game On) who's also having an affair with his boss (The Brittas Empire's Pippa Haywood). The situations aren't too broad, and Daws is allowed to be a bit less irritating than he's usually typecast. I found it good for a half hour's worth of laughs each week.
Oh Doctor Beeching!(6/95)
BBC comedy pilot by the team that did You Rang, M'Lord? and Hi-Di-Hi including most of the same actors. A minor branch line station in the 1960s prepares to receive the new Station Master (Jeffrey Holland) just as word arrives that Doctor Beeching is about to nationalize the railways (this historic act closed many branch lines throughout England and eventually led to British Rail as we know it today). I personally like these kind of comedies where most of the jokes come from catch-phrases the characters repeat week after week. Obviously, in a pilot, there was no chance to capitalize on this gag yet.
Now a regular BBC comedy series. A lot of the humor is predictable (or based on a running joke with each character) but I enjoy these historical sitcoms, poised as they are on the brink of well-known social changes (You Rang, M'Lord? was set in an upper class house just at the end of the 1920s). The series theme song, based on a music hall tune at the time, pretty much explains the entire series: "Oh Doctor Beeching, what have you done?/ There once were lots of trains to catch, but soon there will be none/ I'll have to buy a bike because I can't afford a car/ Oh Doctor Beeching, what a naughty man you are!"
Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel) stars in this three-part ITV thriller as a mild-mannered teacher living in Switzerland who becomes the subject of an experimental drug test being conducted by a ruthless multinational pharmaceutical company. His subconscious is now linked with those of a ward full of catatonic Russian soldiers who were also experimented on, and he must run for his life to stay one step ahead of the people chasing him. Written and directed by Stephen Gallagher, based on his novel, Tompkinson eventually turns the tables on his pursuers and metes out their just desserts, in this slick, filmed-on-location production.
Old Flames (8/91)
BBC TV Movie with Stephen Fry as a successful attorney whose life falls to shambles just as everyone else he attended public school with has. Is it a conspiracy, or just blackmail?
The Old Guys (3/10)
Surprisingly funny BBC sitcom (written by some of the same folks behind The Thick of It and Peep Show) starring Clive Swift and Roger Lloyd Pack as two retirees sharing a house, and their misadventures. Jane Asher is their sexy neighbor (Joanna Lumley must not have been available) and Katherine Parkinson plays Lloyd Pack's useless daughter. I thought it all was quite clever, Swift and Lloyd Pack are both comedy veterans who know how to get a laugh from every line.
Old Jack's Boat (3/13)
This children's TV series is similar to the long-running Jackanory, with someone basically telling a story. Here, modern digital effects are combined with "old salt" Bernard Cribbins as the titular character, who lives in a small fishing village, and hangs out on his boat telling his dog children's stories. It's a charming conceit, and it looks like the BBC spent some money on it.
Old New World (1/02)
Lucinda Lambton (One Foot In The Past) brings her unique personality and love for all things historical to this BBC documentary series as she crisscrosses the United States in search of wonderful buildings, institutions, and people that most Americans have probably never heard of. In one episode, she does some genealogy and discovers she is related to Mark Twain!
O Mary, This London (7/94)
Three young people from Ireland crash London in order for one of them to get an abortion (illegal at home). There they find despair, homelessness, and in one case, death. It's tough to be Irish and unskilled in England, and this BBC movie doesn't gloss over that fact.
The Omid Djalili Show (3/10)
The Iranian comic sometimes lays it on a bit too thick in his stand-up act (yes, we get it, you're from an unpopular country) but the sketches are original and funny (how many comedy shows dare to feature regular appearances by Osama Bin Ladin?). One of my favorite sketches in this BBC series was a parody of Lynne Truss ("Eats Shoots & Leaves"), just because it's so arcane.
Once Upon a Time in the North (11/94)
A working-class family in the North of England attempt to scrap by while Dad (Jim Broadbent) hatches scheme after scheme to make them rich. A serial-like quality haunts this comedy series, particularly the on-going adventures of Dad's dim-bulb brother, and the daughter's revolving cast of boyfriends. Amusing stuff, filmed on location and thankfully devoid of a laugh track.
One Foot In the Grave (7/96)
This popular long-running series about a lovable old crank named Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) is notable because it's the basis for a new Bill Cosby series this year on CBS. Although I suspect something will be lost in the translation (they've already changed the name, and "lightened up" his character). This Christmas special, combining slapstick with a dose of seriousness (someone is trying to kill Meldrew's neighbor, played by the long-suffering Angus Deayton), nearly ends with both feet in the grave. But not to worry, there's no keeping a grouch down.
One Foot In The Past (9/98)
Not to be confused with the Richard Wilson comedy, this fascinating documentary series looks at various historic ruins and monuments in Britain, particularly those in need of repair. Among it's weekly features are a celebrity (such as Ian Richardson or Derek Jacobi) touring some place that has a personal history with them. Also, triumphs of British Heritage's restoration efforts are highlighted, with viewers often given "sneak previews" before opening to the general public. Since Britain really is about its history, this series is a great look at how its past impacts the present.
One For the Road (1/96)
Similar in many ways to a 1990 CBS series called Wish You Were Here, this has a time-share salesman sent abroad to stake out new territories for vacationing Britons armed with a video camera, but who gets sidetracked in Israel in the pilot episode. What we see are the scenes recorded on his little camcorder and the reactions of the folks back home. Funny situations, all shot on location. Not bad stuff.
The One Game (3/91)
A four-part ITV mystery about a high-tech computer game company owner forced to play the real-life "One Game" by his mad rival (Patrick Malahide) in order to save his company. There's an annoying pay-off, but a good level of paranoia propels the story most of the way.
The 100 Greatest TV Moments (7/00)
Graham Norton hosts this Channel 4 retrospective based on a viewer poll to determine the all-time best, with clips of all 100 shows. Many are familiar to any retrospective program (the Blue Peter elephant, Emu attacking Parkinson, Daleks on Doctor Who) although some of the surprise top selections included former Tory enforcer Michael Portillo losing his seat in the last election. Norton supplies great commentary in between, as you might expect.
One Night (6/12)
Four-part BBC mini-series shown over consecutive nights about a shooting at a housing estate that is shown from four different perspectives. Taken as a whole we get a mosaic of how little things can add up, and points of view can be altered. One of the most interesting characters is a supermarket cashier and single mother (Jessica Hynes) who moonlights as a stand-up comic. Special note must be made of the young actor playing Alfie (Billy Matthews) who gives a haunted performance.
The One Ronnie (3/11)
80 year old Ronnie Corbett still has it, assuming you used to find his double act with Ronnie Barker or solo shows like Sorry entertaining. There is something deliberately old-fashioned about this variety-comedy special, aimed at nostalgic oldsters but with sketches featuring Catherine Tate, Miranda Hart, David Walliams and Matt Lucas to bring in younger viewers. A lot of my Facebook friends linked to a sketch from the show where Corbett goes into a fruit shop run by Harry Enfield to complain about his Blackberry. It employs the sort of clever wordplay that the famous sketches by David Renwick used to write for The Two Ronnies back in the day.
Only Fools and Horses (5/97)
This very old and long-running series with David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst as the two bumbling Trotter brothers has been revived annually on the BBC as a series of Christmas specials. For 1996 this came in the form of three one-hour specials - the equivalent of a regular six-episode BBC season! "Del Boy" Trotter (Jason), now married, with young son Damien ("Omen" references abound, particularly when Rodney (Lyndhurst) is around), continues his get-rich-quick schemes, and ends up in part one running around in a Batman costume (with Rodney as Robin), rescuing a town councillor. Part Two takes a tragic turn, but everything turns out well in the final part as Del's dreams of riches finally come true - though by no effort on his part whatsoever!
On the Up (11/90)
Dennis Waterman (Minder) sitcom vehicle about a working class man who finally makes it to the top of the heap only to discover things aren't any easier. It's okay if you enjoy this particular genre.
Operation Good Guys (3/98)
A parody of the "fly-on-the-wall" type documentary series, this focusing on some incompetent undercover cops. As a comedy this really misses the mark and an entire series of this is way too much of what essentially is a one-joke idea. Better luck next time, BBC-2.
Johnny Vaughan (The Big Breakfast) was given this comedy vehicle by the BBC about two loser best friends who get in absurd situations. It's a bit slapstick but an attempt at sentimentality near the end reveals that perhaps Vaughan (a co-writer) was going for something just a bit deeper.
Osama & US (3/04)
Two comics "search" for Osama Bin Laden in this irreverent Channel 4 documentary as they do joke interviews with officials both in Britain and the United States. Eventually they end up in Crawford Texas and nearly get themselves arrested at George Bush's ranch. But they don't find Osama.
Our Friends in the North (9/96)
Ambitious BBC drama spanning thirty years in the lives of four friends from Newcastle, Nicky (Christopher Eccleston), Geordie (Daniel Craig), Mary (Gina McKee), and Tosker (Mark Strong). It begins in 1964 when Nicky returns to his native England after spending a summer in the USA participating in the Civil Rights march in the south only to find not much has changed at home. He goes into politics while his former girlfriend Mary gets pregnant, marries his mate Tosker, and moves into one of the newfangled "tower block" flats that began to spring up at the time. Of course it's a dump (I can speak from experience) but they are too poor to move elsewhere. Meanwhile, Geordie goes to London where he gets involved with a Soho pornographer (Malcolm McDowell) just in time for the "swinging sixties" to take full bloom. Each succeeding episode is set in a general election year, advancing the story in the lives of each character, following them through their trials and tribulations. Pretty good stuff.
Our Zoo (12/14)
Lee Ingleby stars this fact-based BBC family drama series as George Mottershead, a London-based family man who in the 1930s impetuously decides to drag his entire family into the zoo business down in Chester. As he tries to set things up, get the proper permits, and collect the exotic animals, each week he is opposed by the citizens of Chester who are concerned about the impact a zoo will have (the original NIMBYs), not to mention George's philosophy, "When I have a zoo, it won't have any bars." Not a comforting thought when tigers and bears are about. George is supported by his wife and family, as well as his neighbor, a recently scandalized member of the gentry played by Sophia Myles.
The BBC's newest science fiction drama took place on the colony planet Carpathia, so named for the ship that rescued the passengers on the Titanic. Refugees from earth have been living there for 10 years in a small outpost when the series began, with a damaged transport ship coming into orbit with possibly the last colonists to get off Earth. Outcasts made a bold choice in how to introduce viewers to this world, and fortunately the twice-a-week scheduling initially by the BBC helped in this. Rather than an information dump or a lot of exposition, we were dropped into a typical day on Carpathia with characters who have had 10 years dealing with each other. The focus was on the characters rather than getting plot going, at least at first. It's a smart move when clearly there was going to be a lot of backstories and plot elements to reveal and discovering who were the good guys and who are the bad guys. Normally I loath it when a series deliberately withholds important information from the audience but it worked for Outcasts because it gave viewers a chance to get to know everyone before things kicked into high gear. My favorite characters to start were Fleur Morgan and Cass Cromwell, two members of the security team that are Forthaven's version of police. Amy Manson plays Fleur, she looks a bit like a young Andie McDowell. (You've seen her in Torchwood playing Alice Guppy, Desperate Romantics as Lizzie, and Daisy in Being Human.) Daniel Mays is Cass, who is introduced with a cloned pig on a leash that he's confiscated. Mays was the charming but sinister Jim Keats on the last season of Ashes To Ashes. He's put to good effect in Outcasts teamed up with Fleur to chase after a rebel played by "Galactica's" Jamie Bamber in the first episode. The location shooting in South Africa was suitably otherworldly. Outcasts was no "Battlestar Galactica" by any means and the BBC moved it to a latenight slot when audience figures eroded.
The Outlaw (11/99)
A series of short satirical animated cartoons appeared on Channel 4 based on a strip by Michael Heath in "The Spectator" about a world where cigarette smoking is ruthlessly condemned. I'm sure anti-smoking is its theme, but it also mocks totalitarian efforts to control human behavior.
BBC-3 black comedy about an idealistic public defender who faces reality in the form of Phil Daniels (Sunnyside Farm) as his cynical mentor. Nobody comes off particularly well here: the lawyers, their clients, the legal system, but Daniels is the sage here, delivering the moral each week, usually a variation on "People are scum."
Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner star in this BBC comedy (mercifully sans a laughtrack) as two overachieving middle class professionals who are undone by their children. One is constantly bullied at school but doesn't want his father to make a big deal about it, another is a congenital liar, while the youngest is a cute girl who asks the most embarrassing questions of mummy and daddy. It's almost painful to watch but the kids are charming, although the series might inadvertently work as birth control.
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.
Out of Sight (3/97)
Children's ITV series written by Richard Carpenter about a young scientist who discovers an invisibility formula. Filmmakers love this gag and milk it for all its worth: plenty of floating objects, buttons pushing themselves, shoeprints appearing in dirt, and people talking to thin air. Harmless but nicely mounted.
Outside Edge (7/94)
A six part comedy/drama based on a play about a man completely obsessed by his cricket team and the way his wife reacts after constant exposure to another couple whose lives aren't quite so cricket-dependent. Josie Lawrence (Whose Line Is It Anyway) and Timothy Spall (Frank Stubbs) are the couple who let it all hang out and practice nooky whenever they can get a chance. Josie's independence and ability to mend cars and fix roofs ultimately forces the other woman to come to grips with what is truly lacking in her life. There's a lot of cricket playing as well.
Another series of the cricket-based comedy with Timothy Spall and Josie Lawrence. Understated material which frequently goes for poignancy rather than laughs, much I assume like the game of cricket itself. Robert Daws is anally-retentive as ever as the team captain Roger Dervish, a comic monster whose schemes for organization don't always play out.
The quiet cricket comedy returns with a special episode about the team's recent trip to Corfu (a Greek island), recounted in a hilarious home movie.
The cricketing comedy, returns for a third season with the Dervish's achieving domestic bliss while Maggie and Kev nearly breakup over a startling revelation.
Over Here (11/96)
Two part BBC comedy/drama about the American forces' first arrival in England during World War II. Martin Clunes plays the British liaison officer who on the first day must deal with a German attack that devastates the American's new base, and then an accident that results in a British spitfire mistakenly attacking the American planes as they arrive. Some of the humor is a bit forced (especially a running joke about an American General's prosthetic arm) and the American accents are all over the board. But overall, the characters on both sides are appealing and it ends awash in sentimentality.
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