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Dates refer to when review was written
The Sack Race (11/04)
Reality game show with hidden cameras has two actors start new jobs at the same time at different companies and vie to see who can get fired first. They can be obnoxious (but not swear), but it's mostly a matter of watching their clueless bosses see how much abuse they will take from these utter incompetents.
Sam's Game (1/02)
Lame ITV sitcom (are there any other kind?) with Devina McCall as a single girl with the usual wacky friends and messed up love life. Debra Stephenson (Bad Girls) appears as her roommate's girlfriend.
Roy Marsden stars in this late 70s spy show that layered on the cynicism and focused more on the behind-the-scenes diplomatic manuevering rather than cloak-and-dagger work in the field. Grim and relentless, the best review I ever saw for this said Marsden should win some sort of award for never smiling.
A pilot for a possible ITV sitcom stars Griff Rhys Jones as a crewman aboard a submarine. He plays a schemer who tries to get the best of his clueless crewmates. Probably funnier when it was called McHale's Navy.
The Saturday Night Armistice (1/96)
A topical BBC-2 comedy review show hosted by the improbably named Armando Iannucci. Running jokes include a plush-toy version of Tony Blair (head of the Opposition Labour Party) as a permanent "guest," a look at what hidden surveillance cameras across Britain reveal about the rich and famous (for example: Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley at the height of their troubles are revealed to live in a squalid flat), and cleverly edited "news segments" taking out-of-context speeches and putting them together humorously. (The 1996 series moved to another night and was retitled, appropriately, The Friday Night Armistice)
The Savages (1/02)
Lame BBC domestic comedy about a young married couple who are always arguing, their two wild children, and hapless father-in-law (Geoffrey Palmer, giving it his world-weary best). This series wouldn't have gotten on the air if it hadn't been written by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) who sadly needs another hit one of these days.
Steve Coogan as former roadie and car enthusiast who knows his best days are behind him as he settles down with a family and works as an exterminator. Like most of Coogan's BBC productions, done in a severe deadpan style, with no laughtrack.
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 Scarlet Pimpernel (9/99)
Expensive BBC/A&E co-production (though curiously, the BBC ran all three movies weekly, A&E chose to separate them by several months) with Richard E. Grant gleefully chewing the scenery and making with the daring-do as an 18th Century Batman battling the wicked French (most notably Martin Shaw, the former Professional). Perhaps the most amusing thing about the production were the trailers running on the BBC which were backed by a dance mix version of the James Bond theme!
School of Comedy (10/10)
In the futuristic society shown in the movie "Logan's Run," everyone over 30 was killed (in the book it was 21), and the world is run by youths. It probably would look a lot like School of Comedy where the gimmick is all the parts in the risque sketches are played by teenagers doing adult roles. A little bit goes a long way and the annoying laugh track made me think I was watching one of those kid sketch shows from Nickelodeon in the 1980s or some of the sitcoms on the Disney Channel, just with more swearing and inappropriate behavior. Some of the young actors are fairly good, I particularly liked the Welsh girl who played a bitter blind woman who is always berating her husband. But overall, I couldn't quite see the point of this series.
School's Out (4/08)
Quiz show featuring C-list celebrities answering questions about geography, history, and math that would be familiar to most school children. Tested on their French, they must hold a conversation with an actual French speaker who then rates their proficiency.
The Sci-Fi Files (9/98)
Channel 4 (and The Learning Channel) documentary series about how science fiction has had an impact on society and vice-versa. A liberal use of clips from films and television are used to illustrate points, but interviews with serious authors also serve to illuminate the narrative.
The Scold's Bridle (9/98)
Two-part BBC mystery drama starring Bob Peck, Miranda Richardson and Sian Phillips. It begins with the death of an elderly family matriarch who is found wearing the "scold's bridle," a Victorian "training" device worn on the head that gags the tongue. Peck is the married police inspector who is attracted to a local doctor (Richardson) who becomes a prime suspect when she is the only person named in the will. He also discovers the corrupting nature of the dead woman's family, which extends from her aggressive daughter, to her disruptive granddaughter. But whodunit? Was it the daughter's philandering artist husband? The daughter? Richardson? And how much do the nosy neighbors know? All is revealed in the end, but one is left wondering if all the past wounds can ever be healed.
Sue Johnston (The Royle Family) stars in this two-part BBC drama about a northern town's amateur soccer team who win a huge lottery jackpot in a pool and then decide to invest the money in the team. Needless to say, this goes over like a lead balloon to their women who lead a protest.
Scott & Bailey (6/11)
Sally Wainwright (At Home With the Braithwaites) wrote this ITV1 police drama about two female police detectives in Manchester. Suranne Jones plays DC Rachel Bailey who in the very first scene gets dumped by her boyfriend Nick (Rupert Graves). But Rachel isn't the sort of person to take rejection lying down and begins behavior that can only be called stalking. Meanwhile, her level-headed married partner DC Janet Scott (Leslie Sharp) tries to talk sense to Rachel as they investigate a suspicious suicide in the first episode. With confirmation that Nick is married with a family and Rachel is most definitely a woman scorned. Although these are the protagonists of the show, you can't help but getting a "Fatal Attraction" vibe from Rachel. Especially as a police officer you would think with great power comes great responsibility. But if everyone acted reasonably and with common sense on TV there wouldn't be any drama. The cases each week usually have some sort of dramatic connection to our heroines, and although the identity of a serial killer might be pretty obvious right from the start, audiences responded to Scott & Bailey very enthusiastically.
Scott of the Arms Antics (11/96)
A comedy documentary timed with the release of the Scott Report, an inquiry that looked into illegal arms sales to Iraq and how the British government was involved. Recreations of testimony, as well as send-ups of the various politicians involved, serve to show how the government, particularly the civil service, lied, or otherwise prevaricated when caught with its hand in the cookie jar. Naturally, nothing much came of the whole scandal, except for some token resignations.
Robert Llewellyn hosts (with his Kryten-like American accent) this competition where two teams are given a day to build something out of materials found in a junkyard. The episode I saw challenged the teams to build devices capable of hurling fruit, and 12 hours later a working catapult and trebuchet had been erected out of the most bizarre collection of spare parts imaginable - and they worked! Llewellyn (decked out like an extra from The Road Warrior) also instructs the audience (ah, it's educational!) in the principles behind each of the devices the teams are building, as well as giving friendly advice when it's needed. A fun show, demonstrating a lot of ingenuity.
The Sculptress (11/96)
Four part BBC drama about an overweight woman (Pauline Quirke) who has been serving four years for the gruesome slaying of her mother and sister. But a writer (Caroline Goodall) wants to tell her story, and in doing so uncovers not only the possibility of her innocence, but an entire conspiracy might be behind it. It doesn't pussyfoot around the gore, and the ending is ambiguous enough that there is still reasonable doubt whether Quirke's character did the crime or not. Riveting stuff.
Sean's Show (3/96)
Return of the avant-garde comedy show with the television-aware lead (Sean Hughes) quietly deconstructing various sit-com formats while at the same time being one. A running joke about Bea Arthur in the first episode of course leads to an actual appearance by her.
Sea of Souls (4/07)
Bill Paterson plays a Scottish university professor who (with his graduate students) investigates paranormal phenomenon in this BBC series. There are creepy things afoot although much like the ongoing tease of most of "The X-Files" they never actually get any concrete proof of anything. Paul McGann guest stars in one episode as a possibly immortal magician. Coincidentally, Paterson starred in a 1995 series called The Ghostbusters of East Finchley that had absolutely nothing to do with the occult (they were tax collectors).
Search Out Science (1/91)
Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred reprise their Dr Who roles for this twenty-minute midday education program. It's not unlike the kind of programming run during the day on PBS, and about as interesting. Still, a certain novelty value and a must for die-hard Whovians.
The Second Coming (7/05)
This Christopher Eccleston vehicle was the first time he teamed up with writer Russell T. Davies prior to being cast as his Doctor Who. In this no holds barred ITV mini-series Eccleston plays an ordinary bloke who one day comes to the realization that he is the son of God. Naturally folks are skeptical until he begins performing miracles. Not a chance in hell this will ever be shown in the Bible Belt, but those with open minds who want a fascinating look at the use of religion in the 21st Century will find much to chew over.
Second Generation (5/04)
Parminder Nagra ("Bend It Like Beckham" & "ER") stars in a dual role as both the dead wife and daughter of an Indian immigrant whose children have adopted -- perhaps a bit too well -- to living in Britain. He is haunted by his wife's memory and a dark secret, and allows another daughter to manipulate him into firing his closest friend at his business and eventually has him committed. But can two former lovers keep their hands off each other and seal the breech between two families and two cultures? A very engaging Channel 4 mini-series.
The Secret History Of Our
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.
The Secret Life of Bob Monkhouse (3/11)
The popular comedian and presenter's life is explored in this BBC-4 documentary that used clips from Monkhouse's extensive archive of homemade videotapes going back to the 1960s. I thought I was obsessive about recording British TV but it was almost a mania to Monkhouse (he had over 50,000 VHS tapes when he died and at one time the third-largest film collection in the world). He used them for research, it's as if he wanted to know every joke told on earth in case he ever needed it, and kept jokebook journals that he also illustrated. With many early British programs long-thought wiped, once Monkhouse's archive was properly indexed (after a court case charging piracy he kept its existence quiet during his later years) several "lost" shows (including Lenny Henry's first-ever TV appearance) were found on his tapes.
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.
A Secret Slave (9/96)
More a public service announcement than a drama, this fact-based story highlights the difficulties encountered by foreign domestics brought into the country by their countrymen to work for near slave-wages. Because the law doesn't allow them any rights their only option if mistreated is to become an illegal worker for someone else or return to their native country. A bit heavy-handed, even for the BBC.
Secret Smile (4/07)
David Tennant (Doctor Who) gets to show off his creepy side as the most disturbing ex-boyfriend in history. At first he smothers his girlfriends with attention but he is a control freak and woe befall you if you decide to break up with him first. Tennant has been a successful villain before (Barty Crouch Jr in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") and I wish he would use some of his tools when it comes to his portrayal of the Doctor, where he seems to rely more on raising his voice when he gets angry rather than the genuinely scary look he can give you (perhaps they don't want the kids to get too frightened-- he is the hero, after all).
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.
Three part ITV drama about an upper middle class family whose world is turned upside down when their ugly duckling teenage daughter Hannah is kidnapped and held for ransom by a young couple living on the edge. They grossly overestimate the amount of wealth the family has and demand - and get - a £500,000 ransom! That's just the beginning. Hannah is soon reunited with her family, the couple get away with the money, and literally the fortunes of everyone have changed. Nearly bankrupt from having to raise the cash, the father (David Suchet) has to move the family into a tiny working-class neighborhood apartment, and eventually loses his job. Meanwhile the kidnappers now have money to burn, buy an expensive condo, and begin to live high on the hog. But money doesn't buy happiness for them either, particularly for Jon (played by Neil Stuke from Game On) who begins to grow distant from his admittedly out-of-control girlfriend. We keep flashing back to scenes of Hannah and Jon together during the kidnapping and then a revelation is made that spins everything in even wilder directions. A sometimes intense drama and an interesting look at what happens when the Haves and Have-nots exchange places.
See You Friday (9/97)
Gentle ITV comedy about a couple who meet on vacation abroad then come back to Britain and try to maintain a long-distance relationship - he's a Newcastle copper, she's a London student. Each weekend they try to get together and things seem fine except for Greg's penchant for not telling Lucy everything about his past.
Self Catering (3/95)
Alan Bleasdale produced this Channel 4 allegorical movie about five survivors on a desert island after a plane crash. The two men and three women adopt new names based on movie stars and then begin to act the parts. John Gordon-Sinclair (who calls himself "Henry" -- thinking he's Henry Fonda) sums it up best when he says, "I think we're all in the company of people who in other circumstances we'd arrange our lives to avoid." That doesn't mean that every possible sexual combination isn't first attempted by the group, which culminates in a bizarre, serio-comic non-ending that the British seem to adore in these sorts of films. Looked at it one way, this is the deconstructionist version of Gilligan's Island.
Selling Hitler (8/91)
Five part comedy/drama with Jonathan Pryce, Alexei Sayle, and Tom Baker, dramatizing the Hitler diaries hoax of 1983. The British revel in making all the Germans look like gits (a national pastime), but an entertaining romp nevertheless.
Sensitive Skin (4/07)
Marion and Geoff co-creator Hugo Blick also wrote and directed this series with Joanna Lumley, Denis Lawson and James Lance as a dysfunctional family, and like Marion the jokes aren't always announced in advance.
September Song (5/94)
Just to prove that execution is everything, the Brits take the formula for The Love Boat and make a funny, enjoyable, and dramatic seven part series about middle-aged Brits on a cruise through the Greek Isles. There are old flames, one-night stands, scoundrels, and all the cliches you'd expect in a show like this (including the friendly bartender--though he's gay in this series) but with a style and class that only the British can muster. Russ Abbot stars in this filmed-on-location series.
The third season of this low-key comedy drama continues the trials and tribulations of Ted and Billy, now ensconced in Cromer, Norfolk, trying to keep an old theater alive. It's impossible to describe the appeal of this show: it's mostly about people in their 50s, the plot meanders at its own pace, and the nice guys always finish first. Yet it has a charm that is hard to resist.
Sermon From St. Albion's (5/99)
Harry Enfield takes the satirical column from "Private Eye" magazine (with help from editor Ian Hislop) about the supposed "parish" run by "Vicar" Tony Blair, and turns it into a weekly sermon where Enfield not only impersonates Blair, but the entire cabinet sitting in the pews! Everything is allegory but the targets are clear and often hilarious. While everyone thought the lack of Tories in government would lessen the opportunities for topical humor in comedies, this proves there are laughs possible even in a popular administration like Blair's.
Seriously Funny (7/97)
Five-part documentary series by Howard Jacobson purporting to be "an argument for comedy" but derailed by too many digressions and non-funny bits wholly unrelated to the subject at hand. Jacobson's book, which the series was based on, might have had more of a point, but as a television documentary it seemed unfocused.
Lucy Gannon (Peak Practice) wrote this saucy BBC drama series set in a manor house circa 1850 that chronicles the loves and misadventures of the downstairs staff. Ambitious young George Cosmo scams his way into a job of footman under the tough but fair butler Jarvis (not his real name but that of the Earl's favorite dog) and quickly catches the eye of one of the young maids. The nobility are practically extras, barely glimpsed and only when interacting with the staff. Fans of "Gosford Park" will like this soap opera-like series that definitely aims for younger viewers with a sexy, good looking cast.
Set of Six (11/90)
A mockumentary look at how sixtuplets made out in the world as adults. The first episode chronicled "Martin," perhaps the World's Most Malpracticing Doctor. Allegedly this series was pulled mid-way through and never finished its run.
The 7:39 (2/14)
Two part BBC drama starring David Morrissey as Carl Matthews, a married family man living in the suburbs who commutes to London each day on the same train. There he encounters fitness instructor Sally (Sheridan Smith) who is engaged to the controlling Ryan (Sean Maguire), and slowly, each day, Carl and Sally get to know each other a bit better. You can see where this is heading, right? Olivia Colman plays Carl's wife Maggie, but she barely registers in the first half. But Colman delivers the requisite fireworks right on cue when Maggie finally discovers Carl's affair and throws him out of the house. Sally meanwhile is pregnant (she's pretty sure it's Ryan's) adding to the complications. It's a good, solid drama, with a first-rate cast who keep things grounded.
Sex and Chocolate (1/98)
Dawn French endangers her perfect marriage to Phil Daniels (Sunnyside Farm) by nearly having an affair with an old flame in this BBC TV Movie.
Sex, Chips and Rock 'n Roll (5/00)
The sixties come alive with the story of two sisters, one prim, the other a real partier, who both want to break into the music business and away from their oppressive grandmother in this BBC mini-series. Salvation comes in the form of a band run by a low-life (Phil Daniels), and soon love is in the air though complications, including an unplanned pregnancy, ensue.
Sex `N Death (1/01)
A BBC TV movie that parodies the ever-accelerating depths of bad taste on TV in this Jerry Springer day and age. Martin Clunes is the sadistic host of "Sex `n Death" on a cable channel, delivering live humiliation to guests with boffo ratings. Caroline Goodall is his producer ex-wife who finally decides to leave him for the competition, Martin Jarvis as a You've Been Framed-type host. The rivalry between Clunes and Jarvis escalates with each trying to top each other in "gotcha" type set-ups. Of course in the real world, Clunes is a friendless loner who can't get a girl and has a problem sleeping at night. The trouble with a satire like this is how long is it before stuff like the things shown here become commonplace on television?
Sex, Secrets & Frankie Howerd (10/05)
Howerd is best known for the series Up Pompeii where he played a randy Roman slave in a series that featured many scantily clad women. In real life, he was a homosexual and according to this Channel 4 documentary, couldn't keep his hands off anything with a penis. Homosexuality was still a crime in 1960s Britain, but he was such a big star at the time that showbiz (and the press) took a blind eye to his escapades. Alas, he's not around to defend himself now, so all his dirty laundry gets exposed.
The Shadow Line (6/11)
This seven part BBC2 drama was written and directed by Hugo Blick (Marion and Geoff and Sensitive Skin). Now he has created a sprawling crime drama that starts with a recently paroled drug lord's murder which sets off two parallel investigations, one by his gang and the other by the police. Christopher Eccleston plays Joseph Bede who runs the legitimate business front for the gang. He has his hands full dealing with the dead man's son Jay, (Rafe Spall in an intense performance). Complicating things, Joseph's wife (Lesley Sharpe) has early onset Alzheimers and only six months to live. Meanwhile, the police investigation is headed up by Jonah Gabriel (Chiwetel Ejiofor, best known to fans of "Firefly" as the mysterious Operative in "Serenity"). Jonah is back on duty after he was shot in the head resulting in partial amnesia and a bullet permanently lodged in his head. It's obvious even if you aren't familiar with Blick's earlier work that things are going to get complicated as this vast web of intrigue works itself out over seven weeks. Blick is the king of observational comedy, which works equally well in a drama where what isn't said is often as telling as what is. Though comparisons with HBO's "The Wire" are inevitable, that's not bad company to keep. Based on what happened in the final episode there won't be a second season, as many major characters ran afoul of the lethal Gatehouse, played by Stephen Rea. While some folks jumped off The Shadow Line bandwagon, I felt it had a strong beginning, middle and ending. Ecceleston and Ejiofor were excellent all the way through, although Leslie Sharp was underused as the wife.
Channel 4 drama series by Paul Abbott (Clocking Off) about a family of misfits living on a council estate (public housing) in Manchester. Their dad (David Threlfall) is completely unreliable, so it's up to the kids to fend for themselves, whether its relationships, impending marriages, or sexual orientation. There's a real "power to the common people" ethic (a recurring theme in Abbot's work) but the characters are authentic and despite the grim circumstances, completely compelling. James McAvoy was a regular in the first two seasons before leaving for a career as a big-time movie star.
TV personality Frank Skinner writes and stars in this ITV sitcom as a minicab driving with the usual domestic problems at home. Your appreciation of this series depends a lot on your tolerance for Skinner.
Series about a private detective who has the habit of dragging his young daughter along on cases. He gets involved with Samantha Janus (Game On) though she doesn't make it to the final fade-out of the pilot.
This snuck up on me, premiering as it did on a Saturday at 12:50 in the afternoon on BBC2. But better a slot on terrestrial TV during daytime than on a digital channel at night. Four young slackers work at a supermarket in this low-key character comedy. Each has their little foibles, like Dan who has a "mirror face," he can't resist looking at himself in a mirror, Alyssa is an aspiring model Dan fancies who is smarter than she appears but wants to get on telly, Fitzy has way too much in common with their laid-back manager Roy, and Danni likes goofing off. In the first episode Alyssa needs to go on an audition but her face gets affected by palsy, while Dan's epilepsy is affected by the flickering lights of creepy aisle 5. Meanwhile Roy conducts personality tests better suited for espionage work than impressing the head office. Shelfstackers is shot single-camera film style without a laugh track, and the characters have the potential to go somewhere without being stuck forever in the same loser track that many sitcoms resign their protagonists to.
Is Sherlock a series about the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson or a mystery program? If it's the former, it succeeds. Martin Freeman (The Office) makes a good Watson in that he is intelligent and resourceful and not portrayed as a bumbler. And I predict Benedict Cumberbatch as a young and dashing version of the eponymous detective is going to be a big star. He told the Sun newspaper he turned down being the Eleventh Doctor because he didn't want to be a face on lunchboxes. While Sherlock is unlikely to have the merchandising that now accompanies Doctor Who, it will make him a household name because of his energy, charisma, and let's face it, good looks. But is Sherlock just another police procedural but one done with a Doctor Who-like character at the center? As a mystery the first episode is a bit of a cheat. My wife figured it out, but the villain is introduced out of left field. Steven Moffat clearing enjoys writing characters who are hyper intelligent, although it gave a sort-of sameness to the mannerisms Sherlock used as we've seen on Moffat's Doctor Who. And Mark Gatiss is a bit shameless in both executive producing the series as well as having a recurring role. I won't say who he's playing but my trouble is he always reminds me of someone trying to do a Tim McInnery impersonation. Setting the series in the modern day allows it to have a scope and feeling that would be impossible for the BBC do as period drama, at least not without spending as much as the recent Robert Downey Jr. "Sherlock Holmes" movie did. But do we need a Sherlock Holmes set in 2010? What's so special about London then? Why not just set it in Miami (see here)?
Upon reflection, the modernizing doesn't seem so bad in the face of just how much fun and energetic the series as a whole is. It's best just to allow the coolness that is Sherlock to wash over you and not obsess that it doesn't hone exactly to the original Arthur Conan Doyle works.
Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars (7/08)
Children's BBC production featuring Jonathan Pryce as the great detective, but the focus is on the street urchins he employed, this time a multi-racial and co-ed group, rather unlike Conan-Doyle's originals. But the plot involving an evil Mistress of Disguise kidnapping kids and Holmes framed for murder features enough peril and detective work to keep kids entertained.
Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1/00)
Children's ITV animated series whose title says it all. Wasn't it bad enough when he was fighting Nazis?
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.
Shiny Shiny Bright New Hole In My Heart (4/08)
TV movie about a woman with a shopping compulsion who is never more than a few credit cards away from buying more than she possibly needs and simply storing it away unused. Though an obvious "message" movie it operates at a more realistic level than most similarly-themed melodramatic Lifetime movies.
James Bolam, whose light entertainment career stretches back to the 1960s and The Likely Lads through the various Beiderbecke series, for some reason has shifted his emphasis lately to serial killers. First The Stalker's Apprentice, and now as a small town doctor who euthanizes elderly patients. Nobody wants to believe he could be capable of such things, but a nosy young mortician and a persistent detective squad are eventually able to bust him, mostly on evidence of altered computer medical records that covered up his crimes. Bolam is perfectly cast, his "nice guy" persona presenting a credible front that no one suspects. Based on a true story, the real Dr. Harold Shipman committed suicide in January 2004 while serving a life sentence in prison.
The Shooting Gallery (1/97)
A collection of Channel 4 short subjects: "The Short Cut" A man takes the place of a hitman who accidentally died during a chance encounter. "Sheila" is an ode to a washed up gangster from the one person who loves him - his gun. "Swerve" A shaggy-dog story about a man whose car is stolen and what he does to get it back. "The Tickle" was obviously influenced by Quentin Tarantino as four "bad boys" plan their crime while eating breakfast in a restaurant. "Going Down" creates paranoia in an elevator where a man shares a ride with a possible serial killer. "Attenborough" borrows from "The Ref," wherein a crook crashes in on (literally) a couple whose lovelife needs a bit of stimulation. The title refers to the technique recommended by their therapist where they role-play as if in a nature documentary. "Chinese Whispers" A young Asian man falls in with the wrong crowd. "The Freelancer" about the assassination of a young woman. "a little worm" is what Al Capone calls a young prodigy when the two meet at a party in old Chicago. "Men in Stockings" is a French film about a kidnapping situation in a van going wrong. "A Warning" isn't enough to prevent a couple from disaster when a drug deal goes wrong. "The Observer" is the tale of a Norwegian man watching events in Zanzibar. "Playground Rules" detail a confrontation at a diner that gets way out of hand one night. "Lost For Words" Peter Capaldi, who played the Angel Islington in Neverwhere has to kill a peasant's dog in a foreign country. "Trevor" A young teenager deals with being gay. "A Sort of Homecoming" occurs when a young Irish man returns after serving time. "Depth Solitude" An underwater pool cleaner (in deep-sea diving gear) expresses his love for a woman he sees swimming above him each day. "Bent Out of Shape" A gay student fills in at a video shop and must deal with the discrimination he encounters. "Louder Than Words" The romance of a young deaf man with an Asian girl. The mysterious "page 73" falls into the hands of a gas attendant who has strange visions and bleak torments.
The Shooting Gallery (3/97)
More shorts from Channel 4: "Audacious" A shy woman discovers an internet site advertising do-it-yourself erotic videos and begins to find them a release from her dull existence. "The Slap" A date in the 1950s ends on a bizarre note as a girl demands to be hit before she'll return a kiss. "Listening In" A man comes home early and eavesdrops on his unfaithful wife and her lover via a baby monitor. "The Connivers" Two Irish boys cause chaos in their small village, beginning with their dog being held by an irate fisherman. "Dirty Creature" A wild little girl with a fondness for alligators ends with a scene almost out of a Budweiser commercial. "Life's A Bitch" Kathy Burke, a Harry Enfield regular, plays a woman in scenes from her life and what a mess she makes of it from childhood to old age. "Pin Up" Some Dutch boys suspect their sexy new neighbor moonlights as a pin-up girl. "Shopping With the Enemy" Instead of going out on a date, a teenager is forced to take his terror of a little brother grocery shopping - with disastrous results.
The Shooting Gallery (9/99)
Channel 4's selection of short movies, includes "Flying Saucer Rock `n Roll," a spoof of 50s UFO movies with Ardal O'Hanlon (Father Ted) as a young Irishman rocker who can't convince his mates that aliens have landed.
Shooting The Past (9/99)
If a photograph is worth 1000 words, how much are a collection of 10 million photos worth? That's the question in this engaging, and very thought-provoking, three-part BBC drama, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff (The Tribe). Timothy Spall and Lindsay Duncan play two of a small number of eccentric curators at a photo library at an estate that is suddenly bought by an American firm (run by Liam Cunningham in a peculiar accent) that wants to shut them down and get rid of the collection. Spall, nearly on the verge of suicide, narrates the events as Duncan lamely attempts to find someone to purchase it... or persuade Cunningham not to go through with his plans. There are ingenious sections when a series of historic photos tell an entire person's life, seemingly making it like the whole history of everyone in the 20th Century, no matter how obscure, is somehow recorded in their photos, all of which have been cataloged by Spall. It weaves a powerful spell, supplemented by additional segments that were shot of the supporting characters describing their favorite photos to the camera, which the BBC ran on other nights.
Shooting Stars (1/96)
A celebrity game show hosted by comics Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer with their trademark zany brand of humor. The correct answer is usually at the discretion of the hosts, points are given indeterminately, and the butt of the jokes are usually the guests. Still, a good time is had by all. Team Captain Mark Lamarr has his own celebrity quiz program, Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Read my feature about Reeves and Mortimer.
Shot Through The Heart (9/99)
Gripping and harrowing TV movie set in Sarajevo in 1992 as ethnic tensions rose and tore apart the city. We see childhood friends, one a Serb, one a Croat, slowly begin to choose sides (particularly as one is an expert marksman - a useful talent for the snipers who terrorized the city), and as you might expect, it all ends in tears.
The Showbiz Set (1/04)
Jack Davenport (Coupling) narrates this documentary series about the origins of British TV and the stars it created along the way. Each episode takes on a different decade and it pursues biographies and careers of many TV pioneers.
Signs and Wonders (7/95)
An all-star cast, check it out: James Earl Jones, Donald Pleasence (one of his last appearances), David Warner, Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers), and David Rasche in a four-part drama about religious cults in California. The British connection comes as the daughter of Church of England vicar Warner and his wife Scales is abducted from the Moonie-like cult she belongs to and deprogrammed by James Earl Jones. But that's not the only cult. Warner's other kid is a university academian who is a mole for British intelligence and disciple of a "deconstructionist" with a secret past (Pleasence). Well-scripted and filmed on location in Hollywood (you can spot the "El Capitan" theater in the background of some shots) with some interesting things to say about those who blindly follow anyone.
Maxine Peake (Shameless) stars in this BBC drama created by Peter Moffat as Martha Costello, a first-rate barrister at a small chambers run by a ruthless clerk (Neil Stuke). Rupert Penry-Jones (Spooks) is Clive, a slick fellow barrister who is competing with Martha to attain "silk" (that is, a judicial promotion). Clive represents the rotten side of lawyers who will do anything to win a case or use his smooth charm to bed a pretty girl he fancies, while Martha is held up as an example of the noble morality that true justice can achieve. Two good-looking young interns provide subplots, as well as Martha's unexpected pregnancy (one guess who the father is), but as TV producers have known for 60 years, nothing beats the drama that occurs inside a courtroom and Silk is no exception.
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.
Sin Bin (11/94)
In the Name of the Father's Pete Postlethwaite stars in this BBC TV movie drama about guards at a mental hospital. Pete is poised to replace John Hurt as the man you love to see suffer in the movies. Here he has plenty to worry about what with the mistreatment of patients and an impending strike by the other workers. Pete carries the entire production on his shoulders and he's up to the task, just like the movie: grim and determined.
The Singing Cactus (4/07)
A BBC "Afternoon Play" (i.e. a TV movie) about a fatherless boy who has a cactus for a pet. And that's about his only friend as he tries to navigate a tough social situation at school and at home.
Single Father (10/10)
David Tennant stars in this grim Scottish drama as Dave, a happily married photographer with four kids whose life falls apart when his wife is suddenly killed in a traffic accident. She's actually struck by a police car, ironically, and kudos to the stunt woman who did an amazing, though heart-dropping flip in the air. Now Dave has to pick up the pieces and he's just not equipped to handle raising his kids, one of whom was his wife's from a previous relationship. And Dave is doing himself no favors when he falls for his wife's best friend who is married. What a mess. This is the most subdued I've ever seen Tennant act. Even his Hamlet was more a man of action than Dave, at least Hamlet got to do some comedy relief at times. Doctor Who fans who hated "Midnight" because it showed the Doctor as a victim and out of control of his circumstances will definitely find it difficult to relate to him here. The four episodes promise to be a long hard slog for Dave and the audience but Tennant is right choice for the part, he's completely credible while bringing in enough sympathy from his previous roles to keep the audience with him.
The Sinking of the Laconia (3/11)
This was a two-part BBC mini-series based on the true story about a merchant marine ship, the Laconia, that was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1942 whose Captain then went back and picked up the survivors. Acclaimed TV writer Alan Bleasdale wrote the script that follows the pattern of most disaster movies by introducing all the main characters in the run up to the sinking. The Laconia sailed from the south of Egypt with a number of British citizens as well as 2000 Italian POWs stuck in the hold. We are introduced to the junior Third Officer Mortimer (Andrew Buchan), and the ship's Captain played by Brian Cox. Passengers include a couple traveling with their two children, an older woman (Lindsay Duncan) and her daughter, and Hilda and her baby. But Hilda ("Run Lola Run's" Franka Potente) is hiding a secret, we see her burning her German passport before boarding the ship at the last minute using her British passport. We also meet Captain Hartenstein and his U-Boat crew, hoping to win a competition with other boats to sink the most Allied tonnage. After sailing around the south horn of Africa and up the western coast, the Laconia's low-grade fuel created black smoke that was easily spotted by Hartenstein's patrolling U-Boat. He fires two torpedoes into the Laconia which quickly sinks, killing most of the Italian POWs who weren't allowed to come above deck. Standard operating procedure for the U-boat would be to immediately leave the area but Hartenstein sticks around. He realizes there are women and children in the water and makes the fateful decision to rescue as many survivors as he can find. The even-handedness of this story is amazing, the British aren't known for being terribly sympathetic about portraying Germans during World War II. But there's a barely a swastika in sight, this is the German Navy simply doing its duty, Hartenstein was a 20 year veteran of the service. It's his adherence to the code of the sea that spurs him to conduct the rescue even as he knows High Command is not going to be pleased he's giving aid and comfort to the Allied enemy. The rescued British survivors for their part come across as fairly forgiving of the Germans, appreciating that the Captain is very much sticking his neck out for them. Hartenstein knows he needs to get rid of over 200 extra passengers, so he sends out an open message in English requesting assistance and promising not to attack any ships that come to rescue them. But the British authorities don't want to trust such a message--what if it's a trap?--so instead they tell a secret American base to go looking in that area for the wreckage of their ship without mentioning, "Oh by the way, the survivors might be on a German U-Boat." Gung-ho American flyboys on their first mission find the submarine and despite a prominent red cross now on the deck and hundreds of civilians standing around on top, decide to shoot first and ask questions later. Hartenstein realizes his first duty is to his ship and his crew, so puts the survivors back in their lifeboats with as much water as he can spare. A ship from Vichy France is on its way to pick them up but the U-Boat needs to leave before the Americans come back. This international co-production was first-rate, with great production values--did they really use an old U-Boat or is it all special effects? I couldn't tell. I loved the cast and the writing was miles from a cliched disaster movie, the characters were all interesting and well-played by many familiar TV veterans. The following night after The Sinking of the Laconia, BBC2 ran a half hour special that interviewed actual survivors of the incident who described it in their own words.
The Sins (1/02)
Pete Postlethwaite stars in this seven-part BBC mini-series each highlighting a different deadly sin. The series begins as Pete is released from prison where he was serving time as the getaway driver for some East End gangsters. His wife (Geraldine James) and three daughters (named Faith, Hope, and Charity - the symbolism isn't too subtle here) are anxious for him to return to his life of crime and keep them in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. But he astounds all his mates and family by deciding to go straight and eventually ends up working at his uncle's mortuary business. Each episode has him tempted by yet another sin and he nearly succumbs every time until he learns his lesson.
Sir Bernard's Stately Homes
A series of short comedies on Channel 4 that ostensively is a look at various great houses in Britain but in fact is the travelogue of a couple of nutters, including Matt Lucas from Shooting Stars as the title character, who is looking for the "golden potato," a contest prize. They manage to keep one step ahead of the police until a final confrontation at the estate (supposedly) of Elton John and guest George Michael.
Channel 4's latest comedy drama is about three closely knit paramedics doing the night shift in Leeds. Rhys Thomas plays Stuart, the leader of the gang; Kayvan Novak (Facejacker) is Rachid and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) plays Ashley. After a night where Stuart revives a woman by giving her a unauthorized heart massage, the boys have to receive trauma counseling. Pretty much the rest of the episode follows that line with all three going through the "Up, Horny, Down" (the title of the first episode) phases, although Stuart tries to show his superior control over his body by resisting as long as possible. He ends up spending the day at Maxine Fox's flat, she's a pretty but unconfident police sergeant, and Stuart doesn't help things by explaining he doesn't want to sleep with her. I found Sirens to be quite entertaining and funny, with a great camaraderie among the characters which I hope holds up past the pilot episode. It's a perfect sort of drama for the middle of the summer, not too grim and gritty, with many lighter moments.
The Sitcom Story (3/04)
Dawn French sits on an oversized red sofa and introduces clips from comedy series focusing on different themes in this rather typical compilation series. Give her points though for slagging off Jennifer Saunders and pointing out the less-than-classic status of their unfortunate series Let Them Eat Cake.
Six Pairs of Pants (3/96)
Sketch comedy series featuring six regulars. I suppose the title must sound a bit rude in England where "pants" refers to underwear not "trousers." The best bit is archaeologist "Buckinghamshire Jones" and his attempt to save the girl.
Another BBC TV movie that begins as a typical "disease-of-the-week" story about a man caring for his mentally and physically disabled daughter, but quickly turns into something else: A quest to discover the source of an urban legend among disabled people about the Skallagrigg and a boy being abused in a home during the War. Full of great characters (including a cameo by two-time Dr Who villain Nabil ("Sil") Shaban) and utterly unlike what you'd expect a film with this subject matter to be about. Worth watching if you can handle something this off-beat.
Subtitled "Love, Lies, and Lipstick," this Channel 4 sitcom charts the rocky road to love between Cheryl, a girl working a make-up counter at a department store, and Dan, a bank teller. Things get off to a bad start when they first meet and Cheryl says she is an actress while Dan claims to be a professional soccer player. Dan's gold-digging ex-girlfriend Annabel soon bursts both their bubbles and then wants Dan back when she thinks he is going to inherit a fortune. Meanwhile, Dan's co-worker Simon dabbles in crossdressing where he meets Janine, Cheryl's co-worker at the store. It's a bit confusing, but I think that's part of the point. Will Dan and Cheryl live happily ever after? Will he find out Annabel is lying about being pregnant? Will Simon resolve his gender confusion? It's all a bit broad but harmless comedy.
A comedy/drama about two KGB agents (Nigel Havers, Warren Clarke) sent deep undercover to Britain in 1966 and are all but forgotten 25 years later. Now the agents are more British than the British, and the KGB not to mention the CIA and MI5 want to know what happened to them. Produced by Verity Lambert, watch for an inside joke: When the Russians discover the secret training center underneath the Kremlin used in 1966, the television is playing Adam Adamant Lives, the first series she produced after Dr Who.
Smack The Pony (11/99)
Channel 4 rapid-paced sketch comedy show with a female slant, starring Fiona Allen, Doon Mackichan, and Sally Phillips. If you don't like one gag, there's another one a minute later. Highlights include a fake ad for cats that show they can do just about anything, a small tiff during a surgery that quickly escalates, and an elaborate music video production each episode.
Small Island (8/10)
A young, ambitious Jamaican woman moves to gritty, ration-filled post-war London and finds the "Mother Country" is not quite the land of opportunity she had imagined. Based on the 2004 novel by Andrea Levy, Naomie Harris plays Hortense Roberts, and when we first meet her, she's a bit of a pill. Meanwhile Ruth Wilson plays Queenie who impulsively marries in order to remain in London and off her family's Yorkshire farm. Her husband Bernard, played by soon-to-be Sherlock Holmes Benedict Cumberbatch, is sent abroad during the war leaving his invalid father in Queenie's care. She opens her house to soldiers stationed in London and soon meets Michael Roberts from Jamaica who is now serving in the RAF and begins an affair with him. Because of all the flash forwards and backs, mostly to fill in Hortense's back story, you have to pay attention. Also it's easy to confuse the Michael character--who not only is Queenie's lover but Hortense has been pining for all her life--and Gilbert Joseph whose marriage of convenience to Hortense is so they can both move to England. But good acting from the up-and-coming stars, and the topic about mixed race relations in the 1940s make for good television drama.
Small Potatoes (7/00)
Comic Tommy Tiernan and Sanjeer Bhaskar (Goodness Gracious Me) star as shop assistants along the Leytonstone High Street (my old stomping grounds). Somewhat routine working-place comedy is distinguished by really irritating hand-held camera work (a la NYPD Blue) which may attempt to make us think we're watching a "hip 'n groovy cutting-edge Channel 4 comedy" but is just plain annoying.
A Small Summer Party (3/02)
A BBC one-off that is a prequel to Marion & Geoff, the ongoing saga of sad sack Keith (Rob Brydon) who can't get over his wife's new relationship. At last it is revealed the events leading up to their marriage breaking up, and we get to see the heretofore unseen Marion and Geoff, as well as Keith's children. Still told in a semi-documentary style using camcorders and no laugh track, this deadpan comedy tests the viewer's patience to tolerate no-hope losers who don't see the obvious in front of them (in this case, Marion's flagrant affair with Geoff). Of note is producer Steve Coogan's appearance as Geoff who, judging from appearances, might be worse off now that Marion is with him.
Smashie and Nicie: The End of an Era (7/94)
A parody about the last days of radio disc jockeys, as realized by comic Harry Enfield (Norbert Smith: A Life). Maybe DJs are the same the world over: totally vacuous and without a life outside their job. Of note to fans are the Forrest Gump-like recreations that put Nicie in old episodes of Dr Who and Z Cars as a bit player.
The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer (9/95)
Another series of the BBC-2 double-act comedy, with songs, hijinx, and other non sequiturs. Not every bit works, but the energy of the show is undeniable. The duo returned with the hit game show Shooting Stars. Read my feature about Reeves and Mortimer.
Smith & Jones 98 (1/99)
Comedy team Mel Smith (best known for having directed Bean last year) and Griff Rhys-Jones do their 11th season for the BBC, delivering clever sketches at breakneck speed. Clearly there's no stopping them, and no reason to.
The Smiths (1/96)
Yet another ITV pilot, a domestic sitcom starring Kevin McNally. The working class Smiths, in order to escape their two teenage kids, can only have sex in the back of their clapped-out old car -- if it will keep running long enough. The absence of a laughtrack almost makes this bearable.
The Smoking Room (4/07)
Oddball low-key BBC-3 comedy about the break room at a large company and the goings-on between the employees during lunch. There is a lot happening between the lines and it's a bit claustrophobic, but interesting observational humor.
Snakes and Ladders (1/90)
A futuristic satiric sitcom with John Gordon-Sinclair and Adrian Edmondson in a parable about the haves and have-nots. Sinclair is mistaken for Executive Training at a large conglomerate, while Edmondson must toil away working with the robots. Odd but engaging.
So Graham Norton (11/98)
Channel 4 comedy chat show with the very "camp" Graham Norton (you might have seen him as a particularly irritating priest on a Father Ted episode) is completely brilliant! Norton spends the first half of each show just playing with audience, polling them on various embarrassing subjects and then interviewing selected victims at random. It's all in good fun. Then the guests come out and he always manages to find something really embarrassing for them to do as well. Give this guy a regular slot. Read my feature about Graham Norton.
He's back, the greatest chat show host of the 1990s! The extremely camp Irish comic loves to mess with his studio audience, guests (including a running gag with former Tarzan Miles O'Keefe), and various internet fetish sites he comes across (frequently calling them up to have them speak with his celebrity guests).
So Haunt Me (1/93)
Remember Nearly Departed, that awful Eric Idle series of a few years back? It's the same premise here, with the ghost of an old Jewish woman who materializes to interfere with a typical sitcom family. Read my interview with series writer Paul Mendelson.
Solid Geometry (1/04)
A short movie written and directed by Denis Lawson (The Ambassador) with Ewan McGregor and Peter Capaldi. Ewan inherits diaries containing a scientific theory that alters reality and becomes obsessed with trying to make it work.
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.
Some Interesting Facts About Peter Cook... (7/96)
An Omnibus documentary about the late comedian featuring interviews with people who worked with him and a large dose of classic clips.
Sometime, Never (3/97)
ITV "chickcom" about a single school teacher and her married best friend who lives above her. Ever since the success of Birds of a Feather (which was Americanized briefly as Stand By Your Man) shows featuring women have proliferated on the British screen. Faith in the Future, Life After Birth, and Dressing For Breakfast are just some of the recent examples. It's a nice genre, where the women don't have to be over-the-top harpies like Patsy and Edina in order to have centerstage and where the men are definitely the second bananas.
The Song of Lunch (10/10)
Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman star in this one-off drama that dramatizes Christopher Reid's narrative poem. Rickman plays a book editor who, 15 years after their break-up, meets his former love for a nostalgic lunch at the Soho restaurant they used to frequent. Although there is dialog, we hear Rickman reading the poem as the action unfolds. The problem for me is this goes against my natural dislike of narration in movies. Yes, we hear all sorts of detail and background that can't or isn't shown visually, but when Rickman is telling us what he's thinking it seems a bit of a waste when he's right there acting on camera. Rickman and Thompson are both such good performers that they can accomplish so much with just a look or a gesture that the narration just seems superfluous. It becomes radio with pictures, which is not what good television should be.
Sorry About Last Night (7/96)
Alexei Sayle wrote and stars in this 30 minute special about a Date From Hell. He and his date will go anywhere to find a drink after the pubs close and end up variously at a dry Muslim party, inside a cab driven by children, and a gay bar.
BBC drama series about a close-knit group of postmen and the intersecting dramas of their lives. There's infidelity, male bonding, and love, in this well-written and acted series.
Sound of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies (11/13)
As a huge consumer of movie soundtracks, this BBC-4 documentary series was right up my alley. Presented by Neil Brand, he interviews composers and uses generous clips from films (thanks to blanket BBC licensing agreements) to illustrate the evolution of music in movies from the silent era to today, and how styles have changed over the years.
Soul Survivors (1/96)
Ian McShane (Lovejoy) plays a Liverpool disc jockey who lives for soul music. When a change of format at his station lands him out of work he decides to go to America to reunite his favorite 60s soul group (whose members are played by Isaac Hayes and Taurean Blacque) and bring them to England. This two part comedy/drama is thus set on two shores with many colorful characters on each with a few villains thrown in as well. As you might expect at the end the show does go on and everyone lives happily ever after.
Four part Channel 4 mini-series about a town that is the victim of a shooting spree. Much of the timeline is jumbled up which makes it a bit hard to follow, but eventually the focus falls on David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear), a BBC reporter who grew up in Southcliffe and is forced to reconnect with a difficult past when he returns to cover the story. Other residents were played by Shirley Henderson and Eddie Marsan.
So You Want To Be On TV? (1/02)
The "docu-soap" phenomenon has completely taken over British TV. It started with series about the day-to-day lives of ordinary workers at their jobs, but when (thanks to the tabloid press and clever editing) it turned some of the participants into actual celebrities (some of which have even gone on to singing careers and had their own shows), there was no stopping them. Hotel workers, cruise line employees, opera house managers, traffic wardens, even ski lodge workers have all received the "docu-soap" treatment and made household names of former unknowns. Survivor and shows like that could be seen as an offshoot of this although those participants are carefully selected and deliberately placed in an artificial environment, unlike most of this genre which, albeit dramatically, highlight what are typical jobs by the people who do them. This documentary then takes a look at people made nationally famous overnight, sometimes with irreparable harm to their reputations just for doing their jobs. It poses interesting questions about a program form that is completely unknown in the U.S.
So What Now? (1/02)
Physical comedian Lee Evans ("There's Something About Mary") stars in this vehicle (originally to be titled Lee Evans: The Series) as a loser who is a walking disaster area, his wife has just left him, and he has to rent from a madwoman nearby his only friend. Every scene though is merely a setup for Lee to fall, break something, or get injured in a new way. He's the 21st Century Frank Spencer (the pre-"Phantom of the Opera" Michael Crawford character in Some Mothers Do `Ave `Em).
The Spa (3/13)
Sky 1 comedy starring Rebecca Front as the terrible manager of a posh spa and her somewhat dodgy staff. Written by Derren Litten (Benidorm), The Spa doesn't really provide any new insights into the workplace drama, or having to deal with an utterly incompetent and self-centered boss.
Space Cadets (9/97)
Channel 4 game show with a science fiction theme. The extremely annoying American "comic" Gregg Proops leads Craig Charles and a series of no-name (at least to most of you) comics and SF "stars" such as William Shatner, Claudia Christian, Sylvester McCoy, and Armin Shimerman in a quiz that any fan could answer in two seconds. Sadly, the stars try to yuk it up with "witty" replies but it rarely works. Charles at least exhibits some knowledge of old SF movies but usually you can't wait for an episode to come to a merciful end.
My friend Allen loved this series and proclaimed it the new Father Ted. I wouldn't go that far, in this unusual sitcom about flatmates written and starring Simon Pegg (Faith In The Future) and Jessica Stevenson. He's a comic book artist and Star Wars fan, she's a unsuccessful writer, and they pretend to be in a relationship in order to get an apartment together which they rent from their oddball landlady who has the hots for the avant garde artist living downstairs. The best moments are the odd visual asides which pop up, often hilariously absurd. The series hit its peak in an episode when the gang organizes a raid to rescue their pet dog, filled with Star Wars metaphors. Spaced is skewed enough to be interesting, but not everyone will be taken by it.
James Fleet only has one character: the shy, quiet man who is uncomfortable around women. Whether it's this BBC comedy; Underworld; or Vicar of Dibley, Fleet delivers essentially the same performance each time. Here he is a computer expert who decides to get married to someone - anyone - if only to relieve himself of the sad, boring woman who thinks she has been his girlfriend for five years. His sister-in-law and brother (Alistair McGowan) try in vain to hook him up with suitable candidates but Fleet manages to blow it every time.
At Home With the Braithwaites writer Sally Wainwright uses cast member Sarah Smart to good effect in this BBC mini-series set in rural Yorkshire about a boy and a girl from different backgrounds who are madly in love and yet events conspire to keep them apart. The lengths people will go to in order to survive, or reclaim a lost love are tragically revealed as Smart defiantly holds her own.
Speaking in Tongues (1/95)
Brief drama about a housewife who does phone-sex calls for a living, and her husband's inability to cope with it. Things don't improve when she invites over the lonely young man who has been calling her looking for friendship. A lot of talk (obviously -- considering the subject matter), but a shocking conclusion climaxes this story.
This Australian/Polish children's SF series boasts good production values and action. An Australian teenage boy suddenly finds himself in a parallel world that doesn't know technology except that wielded by the oppressive Spellbinders. By filming the "alternative Earth" scenes in Poland, it really does seem like it's another world, particularly because everyone there speaks with an accent. The series moves at a pretty good pace, the only blemish being dull scenes back home as his friends try to piece together what has happened. A sequel is in the works.
Spies of Warsaw (3/13)
David Tennant stars as a French spy in this BBC drama set in Poland just before WWII. Despite the title maybe leading you to think there is a whole team of spies, Tennant is very much the leading man here, in nearly every scene, and getting to do plenty of running around, saving pretty French girls, and killing the occasional Nazi. He even pulls off wearing his rather boxy 1930 French officer's uniform without looking completely ridiculous, though most of the time he's dressed like a typical Pole, the better for snooping around.
Spirit of Man (3/90)
A set of three one-act plays, each with a different cast and all centered about the idea of spirituality during the Middle Ages. Not as dull as I've described it, in fact very witty and well done. Alan Rickman appears in the final segment and steals the show. I once asked him in person about this production and he said, "Oh you're the one who saw it."
Spitting Image (1/91)
Especially good this season were the three weeks surrounding Margaret Thatcher's resignation and subsequent assumption of office by John Major. In late November 1990 Britain was hit with a huge snowstorm and that became the topic for one episode. Their John Major puppet comes equipped with a dish antennae which was surgically implated by Thatcher just before she resigned so she could control him remotely. There's also a running serial called "Some of Our Puppets Are Missing" featuring Mr. Spock, David Steel, and an aardvark out in the real world.
The Gulf War features puppets of Schwartzkof, George Bush, and Saddam Hussein. Also: how the Royal Family turns to crime after discovering they are broke. Plus, John Major's entire life story (including the birth: "Congratulations, Mrs. Major, it's an accountant!") serialized each week.
The latex puppets do their usual assault against celebrities, politicians, and anyone else who deserves a little satire. (I did note however that any reference to recently deceased Labor leader John Smith was conveniently edited out after his death.) Some experimenting with animation results in a Beavis and Butt-head parody (yes, The Evil Ones have invaded England as well) with John Major and Kenneth Clark as "Butt-head and Butt-head" but with the same moronic laugh. For some reason, perhaps due to a lack of pomposity on his part, Anthony Hopkins is spared any real derision, which is heaped by the bucketful on Emma Thompson and Kenneth Brannagh. Those British--they sure hate gloaters.
Split Second (5/00)
TV movie about a suburban father whose live spirals into disaster after he is involved in a hit-and-run road rage accident with a bicyclist. Grim drama, the moral of which seems to be "road rage is bad."
Spoof Trek (9/96)
Impressionist Alistair McGowan hosts this 15-minute look at "Star Trek" parodies over the years. Included a clip from my Star Trek: The Pepsi Generation.
Retitled "MI-5" for American consumption on A&E, at its heart it melds together the soap opera genre with the usual spy antics, only in this case the protagonists are professional liars. What gave me pause was the Villain Of The Week, usually over-the-top Nationalists or radical right wingers (like the female American anti-abortionist). Yee haw, nothing subtle here about the bad guys. Frankly, Sandbaggers did this kind of stuff better two decades ago, although of course nobody on that series was as good looking.
This Sky1 comedy is like two different sitcom genres that have been bolted together like a horrific Frankenstein's monster. The good part is Darren Boyd as Tim, an unlikely candidate for MI5 training school, led by the insane Robert Lindsay in a distinguished beard and three-piece suit. The bad part is Tim's attempt to gain custody of his snobbish son who despises him and wants to live with his mum and her clingy boyfriend. The son is utterly without a redeeming feature and played in a way that just screams "child actor." There is nearly no connection between these two concepts, or even much explanation how a loser like Tim could get accepted in MI5 in the first place, Lindsay's unerring faith in him, or why his therapist is fixated on him beyond all reasonable control. Lindsay as always is worth watching but the show is a mess.
Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly) stars and directs this movie about a man hijacked on his stag night and deposited naked on a remote Scottish island. His journey back to make his wedding, the people he meets along the way (including a gothic but beautiful doctor, and Griff Rhys-Jones as a S&M purveyor), and the conspiracy that becomes apparent to keep him from marrying the girl of his dreams form most of the plot. Interestingly, Clunes appeared in a 1993 production of Rik Mayall Presents ("Dancing Queen") with the exact same premise. And in both stories the man ends up in love with a different girl than he started with.
Stalag Luft (11/93)
An ITV TV Movie with Stephen Fry and Nicholas Lyndhurst parodying various POW escape movies. The first half is terrible: a slow, and frankly unbelievable comic version of The Great Escape, with dumb Englishmen and even dumber Germans (lead by Geoffrey Palmer). Through a series of actions I don't want to get into here, the Germans escape from their own camp, leaving the English to fend for themselves. The Brits are then forced to assume the roles of the Germans guarding them in order to fool the SS officers who inspect the camps. This is when it becomes brilliant. The second half, with Fry becoming the "German" commander and the English guards turning the tables on their former comrades, just builds on the comic moments. Things get so desperate that Lyndhurst decides to escape from his own commander, while Fry wins a citation from the Fuhrer for running such a model camp! Worth sitting through the boring first half because it really livens up once Geoffrey Palmer departs the scene.
Stalin -- Inside The Terror (3/04)
BBC documentary about the life of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin including recreations with Russian actors (subtitled), newsreel footage, and interviews with survivors of both his family and purges (sometimes both). Anyone was fair game for the years he was in power, with most political allies eventually falling foul of his paranoia.
The Stalker's Apprentice (9/98)
Marcus Walwyn, a privileged young man working at a publishing house, becomes fixated on a waitress he sees on the tube and finds the key to getting her when a manuscript appears in his office detailing a serial killing. Obviously Marcus is a few screws short to begin with, and he dispassionately kills the girl's best friend and then boyfriend, hoping to win her over. The police move into the case (led by former Doctor Who Peter Davison), who is smarter than he looks, and a good match for the over-confident Marcus. Introduced into all this is the writer of the manuscript, played by kindly, old James Bolam (The Beiderbecke Affair) cast against type as a Hannibal Lector-like serial killer out on parole who knows exactly what he is doing helping Marcus (and the police) along in this effective ITV TV movie.
Stand Up With Alan Davies (11/01)
Comic Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek) takes us behind the scenes of his tour several years ago (when he was still dating an American woman) as well as interviewing all the requisite Big Name stand up performers in Britain about what it's like. It's good if you like Davies.
Stanley Baxter Is Back! (7/96)
Compilation of sketch comedian Baxter (both vintage shows and new material) who has a predilection for drag, and the ability (via sophisticated editing and split screen work) to appear as multiple characters during sketches and musical numbers.
Stanley's Dragon (11/94)
A four-part ITV childrens serial about a young American in England who finds a prehistoric egg which hatches a dinosaur. Surprisingly good production values, though obviously this is aimed at kids.
Stan The Man (1/04)
John Thomson (Cold Feet) stars in this ITV vehicle as another dodgy guy who gets in trouble.
Comedian Ben Elton's ecologically-based novel is turned into a mini-series with himself playing the only normal character in a bizarre set of circumstances. Pollution is overwhelming the Earth. The world's richest people (lead by John Neville) decide to surreptitiously build rockets and leave the Earth from a launch site in the outback of Australia. Elton gets involved with nutty eco-terrorists who think something untoward is happening out in the desert but have no idea how grand and world-encompassing a scheme it really is. Funny, but with a message, Elton weaves a good yarn with memorable characters including a celibate Australian girl he is attracted to. Worth watching.
Sky1 rips a page out of the BBC playbook with a charming and gentle family series for Sunday nights featuring the extended friends and family of the Starlings (Brendon Coyle and Lesley Sharp). Their children include feckless son Gravy (John Dagleish), and newly single mum Bell. The best double act of the show comes from writers Matt King and Steve Edge who also play half-brothers who constantly get into strange scrapes together. The familiar TV cast and good feelings make it all go down very smoothly.
Star Stories (10/08)
Channel 4's clever over-the-top satires about famous people features hilarious impersonators dramatizing the life stories of such personages as Tom Cruise, Britney Spears and Robbie Williams. I love this style of cod-biography film where every character lamely announces who they are to the audience, and personality quirks are emphasized for maximum comic effect.
Station Jim (1/03)
BBC TV movie set in a period railway station about a dog adopted by a porter who helps prevent the assassination of Queen Victoria in this harmless children's film starring George Cole (Dad). Among the subplots are an orphanage trying to remain open while its greedy capitalistic owners attempt to renovate the property.
Stay Lucky (7/93)
Comedy/drama with Dennis Waterman (Minder) as a Londoner trying to make his way in Yorkshire after serving a prison sentence. Like many British series (Minder, Lovejoy, Frank Stubbs Promotes) this series tend to glorify the shady dealings and black market which seem to be so much a part of the British identity. The closest American equivalent would be Remington Steele. Let's face it, American TV is obsessed with showing "good role models." Dodgy dealers and loser Third Technicians aboard space ships need not apply. Some of James Garner's characters probably fit the mold, but how long has it been since he had a successful series? Anyway, Stay Lucky is a pleasant diversion, delivering the required amount of character and wit to stay interesting.
The Staying In Show (3/00)
Celebrity quiz shows take their next logical step, with this sex-based entry testing the guest's knowledge and experience. A bit low-brown, but hardly the End Of Civilization As We Know It.
Steam Trek: The Moving Picture (11/94)
The group in England with whom I made a Star Trek movie in 1993 has done another one. It's called Steam Trek: The Moving Picture and it is done in the style of a silent movie circa 1910, only with a Star Trek-like sensibility. It is wonderfully daft. It was shot on black-and-white 8mm film and then transferred to the PAL format. An energetic piano score (with all the Star Trek themes!) drives the movie, along with vintage title cards. Along with my Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of Star Trek V, it won an award at Cult TV convention last month in England for filmic excellence. They did a great job and I look forward to their next endeavor.
Ruth Jones (Gavin & Stacey) created and stars in this Sky1 comedy drama series about a single mum with three kids in a small Welsh village. As with Gavin, all the characters are essentially nice people who only intend to do good things, so the dramas that revolve around them don’t get too heavy handed. Jones fills her world (or the village) with fully-realized, believable characters, who underneath it all are all best mates. You get invested in their lives and yet don’t feel like you are being put through an emotional ringer like in most soaps. I like Jones a lot, I like that she helps promote lovely Welsh values and scenery, and she can continue to make charming programs such as Stella.
Stella Street (3/98)
A series of shorts on BBC-2 directed by Peter Richardson (Comic Strip Presents) features John Sessions and another impressionist doing various celebrities who supposedly live on the same street in a London suburb. Thus we get treated to Jack Nicholson chatting with Michael Caine, while Joe Pesci goes Postal on Jimmy Hill, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards run the local shop. A little of this goes a long way, especially shot, as it appears, on amateur video.
Stephen Fry: Gadget Man (3/13)
In this fluffy Channel 4 series, Fry shows off his joy at gadgets old and new, and how they might revolutionize daily life. Many are of the "Gee, I'd love to own that variety," while others aren't quite ready for our modern world.
Stephen Fry's Key to the City (11/13)
Stephen Fry takes advantage of his honorary "freedom of the City of London" to explore parts of the Square Mile of the capital not often seen by either residents or tourists in this breezy one-off ITV documentary. I'm not sure how much access is due to Fry's "freedom" or just having a film crew and the National Treasure status he has attained that allows him to interview all sorts of people around the city, but it's a great travelogue.
Stig of the Dump (1/03)
BBC children's serial based on a novel about a young boy who discovers a missing link living successfully in a garbage dump. Nice make-up on the Neanderthal-like "Stig," with low-grade villainy perpetrated by a group of dim-witted boys. Geoffrey Palmer (A Fine Romance) plays the boy's (naturally) disbelieving father.
Still Game (3/05)
BBC Scottish sitcom about two old duffers and their misadventures, starring much younger actors (Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill) in makeup.
Samantha Janus and Ian Richardson star in this BBC pilot for a horror/fantasy series about a defrocked priest (Richard Coyle, Coupling) who hunts demons in this "X-Files"-like series. Janus plays a former physicist now working as a nurse who encounters Coyle and his team of psychic investigators and comes to suspect her son may be hosting an unholy threat. Richardson is Coyle's nemesis, a church elder who opposes his actions and there are hints of diabolical association.
The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle (10/05)
A clever Holmes pastiche that has Doyle suffering professional and social problems when he kills off his famous creation at Reichenbach Falls. His publisher, in an attempt to get Doyle to produce anything remotely marketable, talks him into doing his autobiography with a ghostwriter (Tim McInnery) who begins his own investigation into Doyle's life. Holmes fans will be pleased, although there are echoes of the earlier BBC series Murder Rooms that also put a lot of emphasis on Doyle's apprenticeship with his brilliant Edinburgh professor who was the inspiration for Holmes.
The Strangerers (2/06)
Rob Grant (Red Dwarf) wrote this oddball science fiction comedy for satellite channel Sky One. An all-star cast including Sarah Alexander (Coupling), Mark Heap (Spaced), David Walliams (Little Britain), Jack Doherty and Mark Williams (The Fast Show) with the latter two playing dopey aliens sent to Earth who have no clue how to behave among humans. Their fractured way of talking (somewhat reminiscent of George W. Bush) is addictive and the whole thing seems to take place in a world that is an amalgam of the 1950s and present day. It's so low-key at times it almost might play better as an audio show on Radio Four. Blake's 7 veterans Gareth Thomas and Paul Darrow pop up in incidental parts, Darrow as a slimy innkeeper teamed up with an accident-prone Walliams.
The Street (4/08)
A series of one-off dramas all based on the same street which focuses on a different house each week where we see actors like Jim Broadbent, Jane Horrocks and Timothy Spall starring one week, and then making cameo appearances in other episodes to lend verisimilitude to the whole endeavor. Jimmy McGovern (The Lakes) wrote most of the episodes.
Stressed Eric (5/98)
Half hour animated series on BBC concerning a corporate drone and father, Eric Feeble, who leads an impossible existence. And to prove the point, at the end of every episode a throbbing vein in his forehead leaps out and throttles him. But that's about the extent of the jokes. Okay, some of it is funny, but Duckman (animated by the same studio in America) did the same thing and better. Better luck next time BBC, trying to clone the success of The Simpsons.
Strike Force (3/96)
The British version of Top Gun although this time a special elite UN combat flying team has to contend with the ultimate horror...a "gurl" in the ranks! Rack one up for equal rights. This was a TV movie pilot for a proposed series with plenty of footage of jets taking off, landing, refueling, etc.
The Strip Show (7/96)
A program of animated shorts, none longer than two minutes each. Most are pretty funny, and none overstay their welcome before cutting to the next segment. My favorites: a parody of The Fly about a scientist who takes every precaution Jeff Goldblum didn't but still screws up; Squid bank robbers who get tripped up with the command, "Stick `em up!"; and an amusing tale about penguins flying.
I thought this was going to be another grim, grim, grim TV movie about How Awful It Is On The Street, but instead this turned into a rather interesting cautionary tale about fame, when two street people spontaneously begin creating music together and their improvised song reaches critical mass. But the forces of the evil record company want to make over the female part of the duo for easier consumption by the masses. It gets a bit "Rocky"-like near the end, but the film's heart is certainly in the right place.
Stuart - A Life Backwards (1/09)
A writer's encounter and attempt to understand a homeless man is the topic in this BBC TV movie drama, which like the title suggests, is slowly revealed in reverse.
The Student Prince (1/98)
Robson Green (Ain't Misbehaving) stars as a detective bodyguard to a fictional member of the Windsors as he matriculates to Cambridge in this BBC TV movie. The Prince is a real ninny, whether it's his studies or women, so it falls to the streetwise, working class Green to show him the way. The movie goes into heavy "Cyrano" territory as Green advises the Prince on winning the heart of an American woman on a Rhodes scholarship, but all's well that ends well, with some amusing postscripts to the events. Allegedly based on Edward's experiences at university, the names have been changes to protect the guilty.
Stuff The Week (5/99)
Four young comics review the week's headlines in this satirical topical news show. Along with making fun of tabloid headlines (which require little effort to skewer) they also perform sketches based on whatever news stories catch their fancy. Not elegant, but for a late night show once a week, it's harmless way to spend half an hour.
Style Trial (11/90)
The nadir of game shows on this planet. Imagine Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous where you have to guess who the person profiled is based on their material possessions and lifestyle. It's even worse than that. The episode I saw had Craig Charles and Richard O'Brien as celebrity contestants. This is really bad.
Sugar Rush (4/08)
Channel 4 series about a young lesbian coming out and her infatuation with Sugar (Lenora Crichlow), a "bad girl" in her school. Sugar isn't interested, but Kim, our heroine, continues to maneuver to be near her as much as possible, while Kim's own potty parents try to experiment sexually themselves. Shot in a visual style that includes a lot of fast zooms and hand-held camerawork.
I have to admit I was unintentionally laughing at this new BBC drama set in a town best known for producing rock. What I didn't know was that Rock is a hard stick-shaped boiled sugar confectionery commonly sold in seaside resorts...not literally rocks. The joke was on me. Tom Ellis (the love interest in Miranda) here displays his sinister side (as seen on Merlin) as one of two brothers who were left the rock factory by their father and has just returned to the rundown resort town in order to open a casino, much to the horror of the residents. He also wants to close down the factory, to the dismay of his brother and the brother's new fiancee. So the sides are drawn up: the forces of modern vices and urbanization versus tradition, in a seaside town once as well known as a dance capital as for candy. Can the locals, with a little help from a former dancer and her ditzy accident-prone daughter, stand up to the coming tide? In the case of a mini-series like this, it's not the outcome but the journey one has to appreciate.
The Suicidal Dog (3/02)
Paul Merton directed this live-action short about a depressed dog that has just been neutered and the rather pathetic couple who own him visiting a fairground. The dog is seen attempting to kill itself several times before exacting his own revenge on an uncaring master.
Sunday Night Clive (5/94)
Australian Clive James hosts a chat show promising, "The latest on-ramp to the information superhighway." Via satellite and in-person, he interviews celebs from around the world, and isn't afraid to make a few look extremely foolish. Some guests include LaToya Jackson, Tom Hanks, Dave Berry, Billy Connolly, and Super Dave Osborne. Clive loves showing up television from other parts of the world (including an Indian soap opera with the world's worst sub-titling) but clearly saves his affection for American television. He gleefully demonstrates its shallowness by running everything from the advertisement for the Pro Shiat-su massager to clips of a Beverly Hills public access celebrity interviewer.
Sunnyside Farm (9/97)
Channel 4 sitcom about the world's worst farmer, Ray Sunnyside (Phil Daniels), who drinks too much, is greedy, and lusts after his next door neighbor, a beautiful housewife from the city. Other cast members include Frank, Ray's thick brother; the rich landed gentleman who makes Ray's life a living hell; and Matt Lucas (Shooting Star's George Dawes) who makes a cameo each episode as a very peculiar farmer. Ray is pretty funny in his bizarre Northern way, a bit given to his vices but managing to survive everything thrown at him.
Rob Brydon stars in this Australian-produced sitcom with some of the best production values (and special effects) ever seen on a comedy. He plays a fish-out-of-water Welsh astronomer who ends up at an observatory in the middle of the Outback and gets into all sorts of wacky adventures with his oddball co-workers.
The Supersizers Go... (7/09)
Food critic Giles Coren and comedienne Sue Perkins team up each week to recreate different eras of British history by wearing the clothes, living the lifestyle and most of all, eating the food of the period. We get extensive looks at the menus for each meal (most of which are of course disgusting to modern tastes) and laugh as they must force them down. Nutritionists are consulted before and after each episode to inform them about what might have been missing from their diets, or how much weight they gained from eating them (people apparently did much more exercise in the past to burn off those calories). Even the period of the 1970s seems just as dated as an Elizabethan meal, and the hosts almost always seem to be relieved as each episode is over and they can return to the relative comfort (and familiarity) of the 21st Century.
Supply and Demand (1/99)
Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect) created this series about an elite undercover squad (this month's favorite format) in an ITV series of two-part stories. There's a huge cast and it's to La Plante's credit that she makes everyone seem distinct and interesting (particularly Miriam Margolyes as their older lesbian director), nor is she afraid to randomly kill off one of the best characters halfway through the series. The direction is a bit over-the-top at times, but the whole thing is slickly executed.
Surgical Spirit (3/93)
Medical sitcom starring the unappealing (at least to me) Nicola McAuliffe. It's certainly no Doctor In the House, but then what is?
Surviving Disaster (4/07)
Recreation documentary series about survivors of disasters such as the Munich Air Crash and the sinking of the Estonia ferry. Interviews with the actual participants is interwoven with elaborate dramatizations with actors.
Bleak 1970s BBC drama by Terry Nation kills off 98% of the world's population in the first episode with a virus. Those who are left must attempt to rebuild their society, and the show concentrates on the day-to-day tasks of survival. Probably the most remarkable thing about the series was during the entire three years the protagonists never discover how the plague came about - viewers only see it during a montage during the opening credits. The series was later remade in the 21st Century but it only lasted two seasons.
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (6/11)
Paddy Considine plays the title character, a police inspector in 1860 who is sent to Wilshire to investigate the death of a young boy in this ITV1 TV movie. Obstructionism is the name of the game in the village, from the very unhelpful local police superintendent to the family (including the father, played by Peter Capaldi) which is filled with secrets. Based on a true story, we see that 19th Century detective work was a long way from CSI, even on a notorious case that shocked the nation. Whicher finally finds a suspect but everyone seems to stand in the way of making a successful prosecution that in those days was mostly the testimony of the detective inspector on the case. Five years must pass before the truth comes out, vindication for Whicher although he had left the Metropolitan police by that time. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a nicely mounted period piece, with the men with their mutton chops and top hats, and steam trains efficiently taking people between London and Wilshire. Title cards at the end reveal the fate of the main characters, one of whom surprisingly lived to 1944, aged 100.
An ITV mini-series that is as much a by-the-book "message movie" as any Lifetime TV movie. An evil pharmaceutical company tries to suppress damaging information about a drug it produces to treat depression and is taken on by the plucky single mum who falls victim to it, abetted by the company's reformed public relations expert. Even more dire and predictable than my description of it here.
The Sweeney (7/99)
Two-fisted copper action from the 1970s featuring a very young (and sideburned) John Thaw (Inspector Morse) and Dennis Waterman. Though very much dated now, it defines the 70s with its look, cars, and instantly recognizable theme song. Read my feature article about The Sweeney.
Sweeney Todd (4/07)
A non-musical version of the fictional barber with Ray Winstone in the title role and David Warner as a detective (ironically, Warner played serial killer Jack The Ripper in 1979's "Time After Time"). Todd, as the legend goes, profited from killing the clients to his barber shop and eventually teamed up with the local pie shop to recycle the corpses. Those wacky Londoners, eh?
Sweet Revenge (3/02)
Paul McGann stars in this two part BBC drama as a history professor with a hidden past who has set up an organization that helps people realize revenges on those that have wronged them. Things of course escalate out of control and soon dead bodies and accusations begin to turn up. The fascinating subtext here is the city of London itself, somewhat of an obsession of McGann's who lectures about men who killed themselves in the 17th Century trying to map every street. However, he also discovers that what goes around comes around, much to his regret.
Swiss Toni (3/04)
Charlie Higson spins off his Fast Show character (catchphrase: everything "is like making love to a beautiful woman...") into his own sitcom (relegated to BBC Three) about a classically clueless auto dealer who is emotionally arrested and doesn't know how to drive. In one episode, he hires a 70s exploitation director (Tom Baker) to shoot a TV commercial with predictably disastrous results.
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.
Sword of Honour (1/02)
Ambitious big-budget Channel 4 mini-series based on the Evelyn Waugh novel about a group of soldiers during WWII trying to make their mark (or in some cases, avoid it altogether). The man seeking glory the most keeps being sent to desolate locations, while a friend of his becomes an accidental hero. There's a nice subplot when our hero tries to save a trainload of Jews who were recently liberated and get them safely to Italy before they can be deported or turned into slaves again. Even that victory comes at a price.
The Syndicate (6/12)
How the lives of five employees at a supermarket about to be shut down are affected when they suddenly win millions from a lottery ticket they collectively purchased in this BBC drama series. For brothers Jamie and Stuart, it's a chance to start over, assuming they can cover up the robbery they staged that nearly killed their boss (Timothy Spall). Meanwhile a single mum (Joanna Page, Gavin and Stacey) wants to stay out of the limelight, while ugly duckling Denise undergoes a complete transformation. Money of course doesn't automatically buy happiness but it sure adds a lot of drama to what were ordinary lives.
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