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Dates refer to when review was written
Take A Girl Like You (1/02)
Andrew Davies (To Play The King) adapted this Kingsley Amis novel set in the early 1960s when a gorgeous young teacher enters the life of Rupert Graves as a randy teacher in this BBC mini-series. He tries all his usual seduction tricks on her but she is determined to preserve her virginity, which of course only eggs him on further. A nice evocation of the era, a time when things were simpler, but in a way not.
Taking the Flak (3/10)
Satire series of BBC foreign correspondents, with a team in a fictional African country covering a civil war and hoping their segments will make the Six O'Clock News. Precious egos must be dealt with, locals negotiated, and affairs consummated, and I wouldn't be surprised if much of the material we see has some basis in fact, perhaps gleaned from late night talk in the bar.
Takin' Over the Asylum (3/95)
Six episode BBC comedy/drama about a hard-drinking Glasgow window salesman who moonlights as a disc jockey at a mental hospital. Needless to say, the people inside the hospital are a lot more sane than some of the ones we meet outside. Good touching stuff, with the 60s rock-and-roll oldies in the background providing a nice soundtrack.
Tales From Pleasure Beach (1/04)
Typically, every summer, the BBC lets some of the regional stations do some programming, hence this anthology drama set on the Welsh seaside. In one story, two women's friendship is torn apart when one falls for a bloke who has a history with the other.
The Tales of Para Handy (1/95)
Folksy comic adventures of a cargo ship in Scotland during the 1930s. Para Handy is the Gaelic name for Peter MacFarland, the Captain (but not owner) of "The Vital Spark," a ship which has seen better days. Misadventures vex the crew in one form or another, but it always ends well for our heroes.
Tales of Sherwood Forest (11/89)
A Cheers-like drama set in a bar called "Rick's Cafe," although inexplicably the sign outside says "Sherwood Forest." David Troughton plays a police inspector.
Tales of Television Centre (6/12)
With the famed BBC production facilities in west London closing down (the building itself is Grade 2 Listed, which means it can't be torn down or have its features dramatically altered), a nice retrospective documentary was commissioned featuring many long-time BBC stars (including Brian Blessed, and several classic Doctor Who cast members) who fondly recall the ingenuity and quirks of Television Centre from the 1960s to the present day. Many of the clips are taken from outtakes of studio tapes showing behind-the-scenes goings on from many famous series shot over the years. Computer graphics also demonstrate the functionality of the layout and design of the building whose features included a leaky fountain, too few toilets, and a class-based cafeteria system. But chances are if you've watched British TV in the past 40 years you've seen something that was made at Television Centre, a bygone era when the BBC, like an old time Hollywood studio, had all the production facilities it needed under one roof.
Tales of the City (11/93)
This Channel Four production was completely set and filmed in San Francisco, and featured an all-American cast including Olympia Dukakis, William Campbell, Donald Moffet, Chloe Webb, and Karen Black. Based on a series of novels by Armistead Maupin ("Is a man I dreamt up" for the anagram-happy) about straights and gays living in San Francisco in the 1970s. Apparently these are more well known in England than in the US, and certainly a production of this sort would NEVER get made by an American company. We got William Campbell - the "Rocketeer" for chrissakes! - in bed kissing and making love to another man. Chloe Webb moves away from her gay best friedn and into a place with her black lesbian lover. This is not your father's mini-series. Superbly acted and written, but something I suspect will only get airplay in the States on obscure "art" channels. [I was wrong: PBS did show it, but many individual stations refused, or ran it late at night. And they wanted no part in funding a continuation of the series.] Excellent and entertaining.
Talking Heads 2 (3/99)
Writer Alan Bennett follows up a series he wrote several years ago consisting of half hour monologues delivered by some of the best actors on television including Patricia Routledge as a naive woman who gets involved with a foot fetishist, Eileen Atkins as a know-it-all antique dealer who gets her comeuppance, and David Haig as a man with an unhealthy interest in children. Just by talking directly to us in 30 minutes we are able to completely believe in them and their stories as real. Pretty good stuff.
Tarrant on TV (1/97)
This and After The Break ran during the same month, both compilation shows of commercials and other odds bits from the world of television. Interestingly, in the same week both featured the same ad from France about a suggestive bottle. Perhaps they're dipping deeply into too shallow a pool here.
Andrew Lincoln (This Life) stars in this very arch comedy/drama series on Channel 4 about a group of less-than-great high school teachers. With a loud soundtrack and each day of the week somehow snuck into shots, Lincoln (looking like a young Chris Barrie) bikes to work, tries to get through the day with the minimal amount of fuss (and actual work), and avoid contact with his arch-nemesis Jenny, the ice maiden (who appears in the series' many fantasy sequences as a dominatrix). But he is now in his 30s and commitment-phobia about his policewoman girlfriend is holding him back. Will he mature, or is he doomed to an arrested development? Real teachers were in an uproar in Britain about the cavalier way their profession was portrayed but the series clearly is not presented as a realistic documentary, but a clever and well-written series about a group of characters who just happen to be teachers.
Ted & Alice (3/03)
Dawn French and Stephen Tomkinson (Ballykissangel) co-star in this BBC mini-series where boy meets girl, they break up because he's different, then finally get back together because Love Conquers All. Oh yeah, Ted's an alien who has come to Earth looking for some human nooky (apparently most people on his planet are hermaphrodites and reproduce asexually). The trouble is, if you take this same story and change "alien" to "Jewish" or "Russian" you realize this is a bog-standard romantic comedy plot. Having aliens doesn't make it inherently interesting. Nor should it have been padded to three hours that try to add complications like bounty hunters chasing the aliens or a horrible New Agey finale.
Ted & Ralph (7/99)
Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson take their Fast Show characters and spin them off into this hour-long filmed comedy/drama. Ralph is landed gentry although inbreeding has taken its toll, as he obsesses about his loyal Irish handyman Ted who quietly goes about his business on Ralph’s estate. The plot, such as it is, concerns Ralph’s need to be married within a month or lose the property to a mad aunt. The trouble is, Ralph’s never been on a date, much less a relationship. Can Ted save the day? Or will an evil developer get his hands on the estate? I suppose credit must be given for taking essentially one-joke characters who appear in five minute sketches and getting this much material out of them, though it’s not for all tastes.
All you parents who have suffered through Barney have a new threat to face. Teletubbies took over screens in Britain last year, originally aimed at preschoolers but quickly becoming a cult for teenagers and others because of (or despite) the surreal imagery. Four alien-like beings in primary-colored suits loll around an artificial exterior environment, each with a TV in their stomachs. A single released at Christmas briefly knocked The Spice Girls off number one at the charts. PBS will be unleashing Teletubbies on an unsuspecting American public in April 1998. You Have Been Warned!
The Temptation Game (11/98)
Angus Deayton (Have I Got News For You) hosts this documentary series which looks (naturally enough) at different aspects of temptation. His tongue is mostly in cheek during most of it, plus the added titillation factor that the topic naturally engenders makes for entertaining viewing.
Teenage Kicks (7/09)
Former Young One Ade Edmondson co-wrote and stars in this ITV sitcom as a middle-aged punk rocker who gets divorced and moves in with his college-aged children. As usual, Edmondson is game for horrific violence inflicted on his person, but the generation gap humor leaves a lot to be desired.
10 O'Clock Live (3/11)
After the success of doing a live comedy version of election night coverage last year, Channel 4 commissioned an entire series of comedians David Mitchell, Jimmy Carr, Lauren Laverne and commentator Charlie Brooker to tackle topical news humor each week. Laverne merely serves as moderator linking bits together, and Brooker isn't really a performer, so it falls to Carr and Mitchell to do most of the comedy heavy lifting. Mitchell struggles a bit to do the live round-table discussion group with experts, a la Newsnight, but his monologues to camera ("Listen To Mitchell") are always quite eloquent and reasoned. Carr does a stand-up for each show summing up the week's headlines, as well as appearing in deliberately naff sketches that hinge on the fact it's all going out live! In the absence of a new series of Bremner, Bird & Fortune, it's good to see someone on British TV making fun of politicians and the week's newsmakers, but 10 O'Clock Live is probably an acquired taste for most viewers.
The 10%ers (7/94)
The new series by Red Dwarf writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor takes place in the offices of talent agents (hence the title) in London. Clive Francis stars as the overly excited head of the firm where wacky things seem to happen every week...or so it claims in the "Radio Times." Overall though, this show isn't very funny, and Grant and Naylor belabor the point by putting their two-cents worth in about what they think of science fiction fans during an episode called "Galaxy Quest 8." Another in a long line of ITV sitcoms that are instantly forgettable. Let's face it, when you think of classic British comedies, invariably they are all made by the BBC: Blackadder, Monty Python, The Good Life, The Young Ones, Red Dwarf, even Are You Being Served. In its entire history ITV has been incapable of producing a decent sitcom and The 10%ers is no exception.
The 1993 sitcom originally created by the Red Dwarf boys Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, returns for a second season a mere three years later (and I suspect from some of the references it was actually held over a year). Joining the cast is Emma Cunniffe, the unwed mother from Life After Birth, but all the regulars are back, including Clive Francis as the manic head of a London talent agency. The best bits are probably the teaser to each episode where he arrives on some set where one of his clients needs some emergency handholding - and the lengths he'll go to to achieve results. Notable guests stars include Craig Charles as an ubiquitous rapper who leaves the agency just as he gets hot, and Nicola Bryant as (what else?) a woman with the most peculiar American accent.
That Mitchell and Webb Look (4/08)
The stars of Peep Show, David Mitchell and Robert Webb, get their own BBC sketch comedy series, featuring running gags as well as one-off pieces, and some meta-comedy as they play themselves actually discussing the sketch they've just performed. I've loved these guys since their appearance in Daydream Believers. That's Numberwang!
That Puppet Game Show (11/13)
It's a BBC celebrity quiz show where all the presenters are puppets made by The Jim Henson Company, except for the two human contestants. Half the show have the players doing various games and competitions egged on by the puppets, but the other half is the backstage of the show with the lives of the puppet characters. It's almost like Executive Producer Brian Henson misses the days of "The Muppet Show" and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, and they've brought it back here. Clearly aimed at a family audience on a weekend, I would have ditched the humans and the game show aspects entirely and focused just on the puppets.
The Thick of It (4/07)
Armando Iannucci directs this extremely dry BBC comedy fly-on-the-wall look at a government ministry. Sort of Yes, Minister for the 21st Century without the laughtrack.
The Thin Blue Line (3/96)
A bit of a disappointment, which is shocking considering the talent involved: the first sit-com Rowan Atkinson has starred in since Blackadder Goes Forth, and written by long-time collaborator Ben Elton. The results are pretty dire in this comedy about a "wacky" police station with Atkinson in charge. Dull supporting characters and a surprising lack of energy from Atkinson serve to make this merely a routine comedy, with little help at all from Elton's lackluster scripts. But it slowly begins to improve as the series goes on.
Thin Ice (1/02)
Nicholas Lyndhurst (Goodnight Sweetheart) stars as a dodgy doctor who, when the police discover he's dispensing medicine without a license, ends up working for a mob family. It's somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with Lyndhurst's dry narration trying to make it sound like none of it is really his fault in the first place. He's a bastard, to be sure, but you can't take your eyes off the road accident which is his life.
Thin Ice (4/07)
BBC midlands comedy about a second-rate ice arena and the quest by various skaters (and their mothers) to get into the British Skating Champions. The arena has fallen into hard times and the owner is tempted to take an offer by a sleazy real-estate developer to sell out. But fate in the form of a Champions competition is booked into the venue and hopes are raised.
The Thing About Vince (11/01)
Lovable Timothy Spall (best known for his parts in most of Mike Leigh's films) gets thrown out of the house by his wife who suspects philandering and ends up staying at his parents, a daft old couple (Sheila Hancock and Peter Vaughan) whose house is filled with model railways. Vince is determined to get back into his wife's good graces but may be in fact his own worst enemy.
A Thing Called Love (2/06)
Paul Nicholls stars in this six-part semi-anthology BBC drama series as Gary, a guy who doesn't quite know what he wants in love, or that it might be right under his nose. Each episode focuses on one of Gary's friends or family and how they deal with romance, as well as Gary's slow realization of where his heart may actually lie.
The Thirteenth Tale (2/14)
BBC TV movie starring Olivia Colman as a writer who interviews Vida Winter (Vanessa Redgrave), a reclusive writer, about her life story. Vida has a secret past and it's revealed in flashbacks as one of two sisters growing up in a large country house. One sister is normal but the other is practically feral and prone to violence. Nicely creepy and at least it resolves the mysteries before it's all over.
This Bloke Walks Into A Bar... (9/99)
Documentary look at the connection between stand-up comedy and drinking, which in Britain are inseparable.
This Could Be The Last Time (1/99)
BBC TV movie with Joan Plowright as a grandmother whose family suspects has Alzheimer's disease and want to put in a home. On the urging of her worldly best friend, she instead takes her savings and goes on an impromptu holiday in Paris which she hasn't seen in decades. But the city has changed much to her dismay, and her Englishness seems to work against her until she meets up with a young runaway boy who has stolen money from gangsters. Unaware of his ill-gotten gains, they team up and explore the city, although the subplot of the pursuing gangsters seems like something added to a bad Disney movie (in fact, part of the movie was shot at EuroDisneyland). But all's well that ends well, with everyone reunited with their respective families and all misunderstandings solved.
This Is David Lander (11/89)
Comedy investigative reporting series with Stephen Fry as crusading reporter. Easily mistaken as the real thing until you pay careful attention to what's being said. The second series replaced Fry with Tony Slattery and was retitled This Is David Harper.
This Is Jinsy (11/11)
Fans of The Mighty Boosh, League of Gentlemen or Psychoville (which shares the same director here, Matt Lipsey) will enjoy This Is Jinsy about the inhabitants of an island nation completely unconnected with our reality. Written and starring Chris Bran and Justin Chubb, it initially began as a pilot for BBC3 but was subsequently picked up by Sky1 along with an all-star guest cast including appearances by David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Harry Hill, Simon Callow, Jane Horrocks, and Jennifer Saunders as the continuity announcer on the island's ubiquitous "tesselators" (interactive TVs that dot the island with sub-public access fare). Bran and Chubb play many of the island's residents who seem to have all the trappings of modern society without really knowing how any of it works (is it an alternative reality? a post-apocalyptic society that forgot its origins? or we're not meant to care?). I found This Is Jinsy amusing just because it was so different than anything else, with its parodies of dodgy low-rent television, odd musical numbers, and the celebrity guest stars.
This Life +10 (4/08)
Reunion movie of the cult BBC-2 series about young lawyers living together and the tensions between them, particularly as the years have gone by with them achieving differing levels of success. Jack Davenport (Coupling) is the linchpin, now living in a grand mansion with a trophy wife, but can he sustain it? Needless to say, there are several reversals before it's all finished.
This Morning With Richard Not Judy (7/98)
Stewart Lee and Richard Herring (Fist of Fun) are let loose on a live Sunday lunchtime show, ostensibly sending up ordinary daytime talk shows (Richard and Judy being the UK equivalent of Regis and Kathy Lee). The boys are keen to get a laugh - sometimes a bit too desperate during live television - but not all their material is up to their usual caliber. Forced to rely on many pre-taped sketches, too many of them fall back on becoming running gags and the joke simply becomes beating it to death each week. As alternative comedians, Rich and Stew are clever guys, but in this vehicle they were stuck with a format and time slot that didn't really allow them to innovate as much as they should have.
Comic double-act Richard Herring and Stewart Lee return in this live Sunday afternoon collection of sketches and studio gags. One of their early plans was derailed by the untimely death of Rod Hull a few days before they were going to have sketches of their fake Rod Hull (Kevin Eldon) suffer a series of accidents. And live TV has its other tribulations, but Rich and Stew give it their all, and were nice enough to get me tickets to the first episode during my trip there last March (read all about it).
This Week Only (3/02)
Joe Cornish (The Adam and Joe Show) hosts this topical comedy panel show on Channel 4. Two or three topics are bandied about for a few minutes each, with a few guests including Uri Geller (talking about his friendship with Michael Jackson, for instance). But I thought it was particularly telling was the episode that went out September 12th made no mention of the terrorist attack in America the previous day (and clearly the show can't be taped that far in advance). I think the producers wisely concluded that no comic value could be mined from such a disaster and chose to just steer clear altogether.
Emma Thompson, England's answer to Tracy Ullman (ever since she defected to American TV), in a bizarre series of sketches, most notable for the lack of laugh track. A friend and I were frequently unable to decide if a particular bit was supposed to be funny or not.
Thorne: Sleepyhead (12/10)
In this three-part Sky1 thriller based on the novels by Mark Billingham, David Morrissey plays (what else?) an intense but haunted police detective chasing a serial killer. Someone is murdering young women but it turns out his real aim is to put them in comas unable to move their bodies. It all has to do with a case Thorne had solved years earlier, although it turns out the killer's convenient suicide hides a secret Thorne wants to keep buried. His only confident is the gay forensics expert played by "The Wire's" Aidan Gillen. David Morrissey is without a doubt one of the most watchable actors working on television today. From Holding On to State of Play, even pretending to be the Next Doctor in a Doctor Who Christmas special, he radiates utter believability when playing characters on the edge of breaking down. That great baritone voice just dominates every scene he's in, you never want to take your eyes off him. And yet, the most compelling character in Sleepyhead is the woman in the coma who can only communicate by blinking. We the audience only can hear her thoughts and because of that, she becomes the most well-rounded and sympathetic person in the drama. If you are picking up a negative vibe it's because I've gotten to the point where I want to just stick every police drama into Room 101 and never see another. Enough, already.
The Thoughts of Chairman Alf (1/99)
Alf Garnet was a character created by Johnny Speight in the 1960s in Till Death Us Do Part, (he became "Archie Bunker" when the format was turned into All In the Family in the US) . Memorably played by Warren Mitchell, he now takes Alf in front of a live audience railing on with what's wrong with Britain and taking questions from the audience. Mitchell is hilarious (and clearly never heard of political correctness), showing there's still a place for a Garnet/Bunker-like character even in the 1990s.
One of the all-time greatest children's shows ever (I grew up on it in Canada in the late 1960s), this Gerry Anderson puppet series has achieved iconic status in Britain with a new generation discovering the series every few years. Read my feature article about Thunderbirds.
Till Death Us Do Part (7/97)
The BBC recently began repeating this landmark series that was the inspiration for All In the Family. In this version (begun in the late 60s), Alf Garnett is a racist working class man whose daughter has married a long-haired undesirable. While considered a classic in England, it's too hard for me as an American to erase memories of the brilliant Carroll O'Connor whose Archie Bunker is an indelible part of US culture.
Time Gentlemen Please (1/03)
Sky One comedy co-written by Richard Herring (This Morning With Richard Not Judy) featuring Al Murray (Harry Hill's "brother") as a pub landlord running a spectacularly unsuccessful business containing a motley collection of regulars, including Phil Daniels (Sunnyside Farm) and Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous) as an Australian barmaid! It's not quite Cheers or even really BBC-2 quality, but I suppose Sky has to run some original shows not imported from the USA.
Time Shift (4/07)
Documentary look at various aspects of TV history, including how writers from the Far Left rose in prominence in the 1960s and 70s with provocative dramas only to crash and burn in Margaret Thatcher's Britain.
Time Team (4/94)
48 Hours meets Archaeology Today. Tony Robinson (Black Adder's "Baldrick") hosts this series where an archaeological team descends on a site (usually someone who has written in asking about what's in their back yard) and has a weekend to excavate it and answer some questions about its historical significance to the area. Fairly fascinating to watch and you learn a ton about English history.
Time Travelers Guide To Victorian England (11/13)
A three-part BBC Open University documentary series presented by Dr Ian Mortimer that has the unusual premise of showing what the 19th Century was like if you were able to go back and visit. Each episode focuses on a different social class: the common people, the rich, and the newly created middle class, and how their lives were so much different than ours.
Time Trumpet (4/08)
Armando Iannucci's newest satire, a "historical" look back to the present day from the future including talking heads of actual comedians of today, but aged.
Tim Roth - Made In Britain (7/00)
BBC documentary about the actor (and now director of "The War Zone") who made his mark playing a scary racist skinhead, and is best known for parts in Quentin Tarantino's movies. Often typecast as a villain ("Rob Roy"), Roth clearly is striving for more, not unlike his buddy Gary Oldman.
Tina Takes A Break (3/02)
Channel 4 TV movie about juvenile delinquents on a grim housing estate caught in a spiral of poverty and abuse. All joy is sucked out of life in this uncompromising and frankly depressing portrayal.
Tipping The Velvet (1/04)
Andrew Davies adapted this super-sexy tale set in Victorian Times about Nan Astley (Rachael Sterling), a young woman from Dunstable who works in her father's oyster house and comes to realize she Isn't Like Other Girls. Attracted to beautiful music hall performer Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes), they declare their love for each other and run off to London where they conquer the West End. A few graphic lesbian sex scenes later, Nan finds her whole world crashing down around her and after working the streets (disguised as a boy), eventually ends up the "kept woman" of an eccentric old woman and her friends. Will Nan find true love again or is life just a series of brutal betrayals? As long as there are plenty of sex scenes, the audience probably doesn't care. French and Saunders did a hilarious parody of the series afterwards on one of their specials.
This Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) written mini-series is an interesting complement to the famous James Cameron movie as Fellowes pushes the class conflict to the front of the drama. Curiously it skips back and forth in time before and after the disaster, maybe nervous that if audiences didn't see an iceberg within the first hour, they'd desert. Notable for an appearance by future Doctor Who companion Jenna-Louise Coleman as a lady's maid.
Titty Bang Bang (1/09)
Bawdy, female-oriented sketch comedy series, much like The Fast Show with recurring characters and catchphrases being most of the humor. As the title might suggest, not for the faint of heart.
Hospital comedy starring Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) as a young intern trying to learn from Dr Noble (Alexander Armstrong). Half the time it's trying to be "Airplane" with oddball sightgags, the other half it's "M*A*S*H." Running jokes include a mad priest (Tim Brooke-Taylor) who thinks he's a doctor, Richard Griffiths as an out-of-touch chief surgeon, and a man in a wheelchair who almost nearly gets cured each week. Only the lack of a laughtrack makes it bearable.
Food writer Nigel Slater wrote a best selling autobiography about growing up, and Lee Hall adapted it for this BBC TV movie. Young Nigel is stuck in the 1950s with a mum who knows nothing about cooking, she refuses to buy fresh vegetables and instead boils tin cans whole for dinner. And when that usually fails, the family ends up eating toast, hence the title. Nigel, whom we suspect pretty early on is gay, spends his nights looking at books under the covers. But they aren't porn, they are cook books and he caresses mouthwatering photos of spaghetti bolognese which his food-phobic parents will never try. Despite mum's complete inability to cook, Nigel is devoted to her, and he is crushed when she dies from a lung disease, leaving him with his middle class boring father played by Ken Stott. Dad then employs a house-cleaner named Mrs Potter played by Helena Bonham-Carter. As she did in Enid earlier this year or in the Harry Potter series, Bonham-Carter has perfected playing characters that are both charming and malevolent. Mrs Potter begins cooking for the family but Nigel fights back by learning to how to cook himself and finds himself in direct competition with her. We're supposed to despise Nigel's dad and Mrs Potter but it feels too much like Nigel the writer is merely getting back at people whom he feels did him wrong when they can't fight back. Did Nigel expect his dad to remain celibate the rest of his life just because he was a widower? And he completely fails to realize that it's not just food that is going to make his dad choose Mrs Potter over him every time. And make no mistake, Mrs Potter is a great cook, it takes Nigel months of spying to figure out her secret recipe for lemon meringue pie and copy it. In her dyed blonde hair, common accent, and a fag between her lips, you can see why Nigel might have been repelled by Mrs Potter, but from the point of view of an adult, she doesn't come off too poorly. But Nigel is the hero of his own story of course and eventually leaves home without forgiving his dad for eventually marrying Mrs Potter. Nigel moves to London and if the movie is to be believed, gets a job in the kitchen of the Savoy Hotel after one quick back alley interview. For those who love Nigel Slater or his book, it's probably all validation but coming to this material new, it seemed a bit like point scoring after the fact.
Toast of London
Channel 4 pilot co-written by Arthur Matthews (Father Ted) about Steven Toast (Matt Berry, The IT Crowd), a pretentious actor who must deal with his incompetent agent and rivals in his social life. One of the running gags is the show Steven is currently appearing in is so scandalous that the name is bleeped every time someone says it (the title of the episode is "The Unspeakable Play") and this extends to a gag at the end when he is forced to race through protesters to get to the stage only to be pixilated as soon as he begins performing. Enough gags and familiar faces (including Robert Bathurst and Tracy-Ann Oberman) are thrown at the screen that I'd like to see this return as a regular series.
Tomorrow La Scala! (1/04)
Jessica Stevenson (Spaced) stars in this BBC TV movie as a slightly pretentious artistic director who takes her opera troupe to a prison to put on a production of "Sweeney Todd" with selected inmates. Needless to say, the relationships of everyone add complications and drama to the entire endeavor (we never get to even see the final production, in fact the final scene as they are about to go on is shown first out of context when we still don't know who anybody is). A very nice small scale story with great character moments.
The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon (7/97)
Steve Coogan's latest creation is a pop singer from Portugal who inexplicably gets his own special on British television. But what becomes clear (like all of Coogan's comic monsters) is what a slimeball Ferrino is, engorged on his own ego, trying to manipulate all those around him. A "documentary" screened a few days later chronicles his entire sordid rise to fame, and expertly parodies "international" stars who attempt to invade foreign territories.
Tony Robinson’s Gods and Monsters (2/12)
The actor, now Channel 4’s resident historical presenter, delves into superstition and beliefs that “really built Britain” rather than straight-forward Christianity. There are interviews with experts, low budget recreations, and a few stunts for Tony to perform in front of the camera. It’s not academic in the way a BBC documentary series would be but aimed more at general audiences who expect a bit more bang and flash on telly.
Too Much Sun (1/01)
Mark Addy ("The Full Monty") and Alex Jennings star in this BBC comedy set in LA as two no-talents from the UK trying to break into the movies. They live in a tiny bungalow owned by a washed up TV actor (Lee Majors!) and sit in their hot tub all day dreaming of success. It's fairly funny, and the boys are surrounded by fellow expatriates and other losers, in this droll look at the craziness that is Hollywood and the British view of it.
Top Gear (5/98)
One of the most popular programs on BBC-2, whose style (and easily-imitated presenter Jeremy Clarkson) have been much parodied for years on various comedy series, is at its heart basically a car show. What makes the reviews of the latest automobiles entertaining is the almost Siskel and Ebert way Clarkson (and others) attack cars that don't quite make the grade. With no advertisers to offend on BBC television, they can be quite vicious with their opinions, or worse, devastating in their humor, which had me laughing out loud at several points. Even if you hate cars (though I'll bet 80% of their audience is male), it's an amusing series.
In this Mid-East Christmas Special, the three "wise men," Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are given a mission to drive from the east to Bethlehem, like the famous kings. Our guys get to use open-top convertibles instead of camels but do find themselves starting out in Northern Iraq wearing flak jackets and helmets. They quickly decide staying in Iraq is a Bad Idea, so head for the border of Iran to circumnavigate their way around Iraq to eventually end up in Israel. Remember, the British are not as unwelcome in Iran as Americans. However, the BBC are. So instead they head for Turkey and realize that the Kurdish parts of Iraq are as safe as driving around England and ditch the flak jackets. Turkey is another story, but the real problems come when they go into Syria. If the Israelis know they went through Syria, they won't let them in the country. And Top Gear is very popular even in the mid-east. Sure enough, even in a small Syrian city they are recognized and it won't be long before the media announce "Top Gear is filming here." So they decide to forsake the roads and drive across the barren desert. This proves particularly punishing for their cars, which have been tricked out to make them more "undercover" and May in particular who gets injured and is taken away to hospital for a head injury. It's moments like that you realize these aren't just three adult boys running around by themselves in the middle of nowhere. There's the cameramen and a whole support crew conveniently out of shot most of the time along as well. How much is staged and how much they make up as they go along is up to the viewer to decide. May gets patched up and rejoins the team, they head through Jordan and eventually reach Israel. As they finally approach Bethlehem, even Clarkson tells viewers, "If you're a car enthusiast you can turn off now, because we've got to finish this journey off." A cgi-enhanced green light leads them to a stable where a woman has given birth, although Top Gear can't resist one final gag.
To Play The King (2/94)
I pity anyone who tries to read Michael Dobbs's novels chronicling the treachery of Francis Urquhart because the continuity between them is appalling. The reason? In each novel Dobbs has Urquhart get his commeuppance in the end - only to have TV writer Andrew Davies let him get away each time! As a series, the novels make no sense whatsoever. But on television (which began with House of Cards) they are brilliant. Davies, once again, shows a level of cynicism that Dobbs merely hints at. Davies' Urquhart is ruthless, yet still haunted by the past (particularly Mattie - who is only fleetingly acknowledged in the novel but plays a major roll in the TV version). As for the ending, well I'm not spoiling anything here by saying that in the novel it was clearly implied that Urquhart was working against a deadline for a general election before a major scandal would break. In the end, the King resigns, but only to run against Urquhart once his plans have come to ruin. Needless to say, Davies and the BBC had something else in mind: like another sequel. So FU gets away with it again, and not even an election looming. What frontiers will he conquer next time? Guess we'll have to wait and see. (Trilogy concludes in The Final Cut)
Captain Jack (John Barrowman) spins off from Doctor Who and lands in Cardiff (where both series are shot) with a group of specialists who investigate otherworldly events that fall through a "rift" in their underground HQ. The first season was a real mixed bag, with Jack apparently having left his sense of humor in the TARDIS, and a few episodes that wouldn't have passed muster even in latter seasons of "The X-Files." In between the two seasons, Jack got back aboard the TARDIS (during the John Simms-as-the-Master trilogy) and regained his love of life and ability to smile and the second season was much better, with a nice selection of episodes that were, in turn, scary, funny, and sad. It finally found its legs, and is a big hit on BBC America as well.
Tottenham 2 (9/99)
Low-budget late night Channel 4 comedy (part of it's "4 Later" package of programs) about two dumb and dumber guys who just hang out at the local Chinese restaurant in North London making ludicrous observations about life. Some of it is funny, but even Beavis and Butt-head (which these two could be the live-action British equivalent) got an honest laugh once in a while.
Touch and Go (3/99)
Martin Clunes stars in this TV movie about a couple that plays with fire when they enter the world of "swingers." At first his wife is dead-set against it (while Clunes’ character - not unlike his Gary on Men Behaving Badly - is keen to get into it), though inevitably the tables are turned and he is the one who wants to put a stop to it when his wife seems to be enjoying it better than him.
A Touch of Cloth
Charlie Brooker (Dead Set) wrote this parody of ITV crime dramas that manages to cast legitimately serious actors (John Hannah, Suranne Jones, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Raquel Cassidy) in a goofy spoof. And while those ITV shows are surely deserving of such treatment (but don't call me Shirley) , this kind of anything-for-a-joke treatment was done first, and better, in the "Naked Gun" series (and "Police Squad," its source).
The Town (3/13)
ITV mini-series ostensibly about the tired mayor of a city (Martin Clunes) but also a multi-arced story featuring many characters who all interact. It beings with a double suicide of a couple which leaves their two children, one a teenager, and her older brother (Andrew Scott) who moved to London years ago and is forced to return home, to take care of each other and their gran. But was it suicide? And how is it connected to the mayor?
Trains with Pete Waterman (2/06)
Waterman, best known in England for Pop Idol (the original "American Idol"), presents this documentary Channel 4 series highlighting his love of trains. Each episode focuses on a different period of their development, including when Waterman himself purchased a line when privatized by the British government. Trainspotters and those who can't get enough of trains will be thoroughly entertained.
BBC Screenplay production about Guy Fawkes and his Gunpower Plot to blow up Parliament. The British have turned this into a holiday, similar to the American Fourth of July, though why they celebrate a terrorist is quite beyond me.
Three separate hours commissioned by ITV and presented under this umbrella theme. The first is "Von Trapped!" with Caroline Quentin as a die-hard "Sound of Music" fan who travels to Austria to find her lost love, a TV presenter. "Beauty" with Martin Clunes as a hideous aristocrat who attracts the attention of a cute plumber. And "King of Fridges" with Richard Wilson as an old-age pensioner who wrecks havoc at an appliance store as a trainee under an autocratic junior supervisor.
Travels With Pevsner (5/99)
Nikolaus Pevsver traveled across England, documenting the land and the architecture. In this series, different people follow in his footsteps years later making their own observations. In one, Jonathan Meades (Further Abroad) does his patented delivery on Worcestershire, where he is from, showing the absurd and the mundane and demonstrating that not very much separates the two.
Treasure Island (2/12)
Eddie Izzard stars as Long John Silver in this mini-series from Sky1. With a bald head, peg leg but sans parrot, he successfully avoids the usual piratey cliches but still makes Silver a compelling and sometimes sympathetic character. Filled with familiar actors (Daniel Mays, Rupert Penry-Jones, Elijah Wood, Philip Glenister) and lavishly produced, it’s everything you want in pirate adventure.
The Trev and Simon Summer Special (1/96)
Trev and Simon (what? you've never heard of them either?) are yet another comedy double-act doing their thing.
Trevor's World of Sport (3/04)
BBC comedy starring Neil Pearson as a sports agent with a conscience, which constantly causes friction at the workplace, particularly with his more amoral partner. Pearson's character is also separated from his wife, tries to impress his son, and maintain the moral high ground at work even though it's a cut-throat business.
Trial & Retribution III (7/00)
Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect) writes this occasional mini-series about police and the court system (not dissimilar to NBC's Law and Order) which in this installment focuses on a missing girl and the prime suspect, the always intense and edgy Richard E. Grant. What distinguishes this series is the split screen work which doubles the amount of information the audience is exposed to (though thankfully they don't overdo it), and the relationships between the police (including an ongoing domestic drama) and the overly chummy lawyers.
The Trial of Enoch Powell (5/98)
Thirty years ago, Tory MP Powell delivered his devastating "Rivers of Blood" speech which (some say) set race relations back years in Britain (he was railing against immigration). In this Channel 4 audience participation special, the late Powell and his comments were put on "trial" to see if he really was a racist or not. Most the "evidence" wouldn't have been admissible in a real court, but this was for TV where only the court of public opinion was important. In the end, he was found not guilty, though I suspect not many in the audience had changed their mind much from before the program.
The Trial of Tony Blair (4/08)
Robert Lindsay plays the former PM in this "what if" set in 2010 and imagines what will happen when the world catches up with Blair in this TV Movie.
The Tribe (9/98)
1996 BBC movie about a cult-like group under the leadership of a woman named Emily (Joely Richardson) living in a rough south London neighborhood. When a young executive of a ruthless real estate developer (Trevor Eve) is sent to their building to try to find a way to evict them, he finds himself drawn into their group. The irony is, they aren't a cult at all, but that's the image they like to project because it keeps the dangerous gangs (and real cultists) at bay. But eventually the house of cards collapses, but not before the executive throws his lot in with the group. An interesting look at how a strong personality molds those around her.
Tribute To The Likely Lads (9/03)
An updated remake of the classic 60s series (with James Bolam and Rodney Bewes -- the latter making a cameo here) with Ant & Dec as two Geordies trying to avoid a football score. I suppose putting the word "tribute" in the title makes it seem less a knock-off, but what really is the point of doing it again?
Trigger Happy TV (1/01)
Normally I disdain "Candid Camera" type shows that serve to humiliate unsuspecting members of the public, but most of the time the butt of the humor on Channel 4's Trigger Happy TV, which executes its jokes in full view of bystanders, is the star himself. Whether it's a sight gag on The League of Gentlemen or Monty Python, there is something inherently funny about a guy walking a stuffed dog in a park, or answering an oversized cell phone standing in an art gallery, the only thing they've added here is there is a live audience witnessing the craziness. The inventiveness of most of the gags is pretty clever too, and if you didn't like the last one, there's another one coming a minute later. Of course part of it does depend on shock value from the hapless witnesses, which are made party to the joke just by their presence, but as visual humor goes, most of it is pretty clever.
The Trip (12/10)
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play exaggerated versions of themselves in this mockumentary directed by the man who also gave us much the same in "Tristam Shandy," Michael Winterbottom. Steve's been commissioned to travel to restaurants across the north and with his fictional girlfriend back in the United States, reluctantly asks Rob to accompany him. Most of the series is a two-hander of the two of them talking, bickering, and eating fine food. A lot of their time is spent arguing which of them does better celebrity impressions. "The Trip" is all-talk and how much you can tolerate cartoon versions of Steve and Rob--in my case, quite a lot, I think they are hilarious. Or just turn off the sound and look at all the delicious food that is being exquisitely prepared. You'll want to go out to a two-star restaurant immediately, unless you happen to be a great chef. The series was re-edited as a feature for international release.
Jane Horrocks, Mark Addy and Jason Watkins star in this new comedy from Sky1. It's fortunately done in the deadpan style of The Office on location at an actual supermarket, or an amazing facsimile, with no audience or laughtrack. Horrocks plays Julie, the uptight interim deputy manager, Watkins her boss Gavin, and Addy as one of two wiseguy butchers. Other characters include a daft trainee senior citizen, the naive stock boy, and a sweet relationship between one of the checkers and a butcher. It's mostly an observational comedy, nobody tells actual jokes in 2011, so whether you are going to bust your sides with laughter probably depends on your taste for these types of programs. But I have to give Sky1 props for attempting original programming, and going for the BBC2 understated route rather than a three-camera show in front of an audience, which shows they are hoping to target the part Britain that appreciates subtle humor rather than some cheap American knockoff.
True Love (11/96)
A city nurse in a dead-end marriage meets the man of her dreams, a good looking farmer who falls for her. At first she lays it on a bit thick about her past, but he accepts her, kids and all. Everyone is happy except her ex-husband who wants her back in this ITV TV Movie. Later became a series, My Wonderful Life.
A series of five quasi-related 30 minute stories of relationships all set in the same seaside town in this BBC anthology series. In the first David Tennant plays a happily married man whose old flame comes back to town. In the second, Ashley Walters has an affair with a con woman that nearly destroys his marriage. The third story has Billie Piper as a school teacher who has a lesbian relationship with one of her students (ironically the story with most happy ending). The fourth is about the friendship a married woman (Jane Horrocks) has with an immigrant (Alexander Siddig) much to the chagrin of her husband (Charlie Creed Miles). The final story has David Morrissey as a single father who meets a Chinese woman online who comes to visit just as one of his daughter's friends develops an unhealthy crush on him.
Two-part ITV mystery drama starring Caroline Goodall as a solicitor whose husband becomes the chief suspect in the death of a woman. But Goodall is no saint either, having an affair with her husband's best friend. Can she fairly defend her husband? As the title implies, who can she trust, and the mystery keeps you guessing right until the end.
ITV star Robson Green (Touching Evil) moves over to the BBC with this legal drama that also features Neil Stuke (Game On) and Ian McShane (Lovejoy). Various subplots permeate each episode as well as plenty of angst from the yuppie staff but at the end of the day, does the world need yet another series about lawyers, no matter how well done?
Truth or Dare (3/97)
BBC TV movie about a responsible young woman (Helen Baxendale) who is reunited with her university chums who still live as wildly as possible. But things turn serious as blackmail, murder and a conspiracy threaten to unravel her world.
The Tunnel (2/14)
Another remake of the Danish/Swedish "The Bridge" (also remade in the US last year) about a murder conspiracy set on the border of two countries. In this Sky Atlantic series, the mayhem is set in the Channel Tunnel at the exact point between Britain and France. It's terrible to say, "If you've seen one you've seen them all," but each iteration of the series, though well executed, is pretty much like the original, tailored for its native audience.
TV Heaven Telly Hell (4/08)
Sean Lock hosts this Channel 4 show with celebrity guests demonstrates their television likes...and dislikes. Essentially it's a clip show, but an amusing recreation of the most notorious scenes at the end are always amusing.
TV Hell (9/93)
While Americans bury such TV disasters such as Supertrain, the British revel in bringing their dirty linen out for inspection. And what's amazing is all the people responsible for such nightmares as Triangle (a shipboard drama set on the seasick-inducing North Sea) all gleefully confessing to the camera their involvement with no reservations. When something bombs in America, everyone involves pretends it never happened or that they had anything to do with it ("Success has many parents, failure is an orphan"). The British evidently don't have such a hangup - much to the delight of bad TV aficionados everywhere.
TV Offal (9/98)
Channel 4 comedy series written and presented by TV critic Victor Lewis-Smith, which pushes offensiveness and libel about as far as legally possible on television. Each week different celebrities and series are ruthlessly mocked, sometimes with overdubbing, others with just obscure outtakes. He especially delights in such features as "Kamikaze Karaoke" of various pop stars and what he "really" thinks they sound like (although he hit the jackpot with an actual recording someone once made isolating Linda McCartney's vocals during a concert once), a fictitious obituary of a still-living celebrity, "Assassination Of The Week" ("Did they live/Or are they worm food?" the cheery theme song asks) using news footage, "The Gay Daleks" featuring Doctor Who's famous foes now dubbed with gay double-entendres, and footage of awful low-budget programs made produced by hospitals for in-house viewers or early appearances by now famous people. I think all of this is fair game until the end of each episode where Lewis-Smith crosses the line by making prank phone calls to celebrities and proceeds to insult them. I'm sure he keeps his lawyers quite busy.
TV To Go (1/02)
Sketch comedy series performed by familiar TV faces including Pauline McLynn (Father Ted), Mina Anwar (The Thin Blue Line), McKenzie Crook (The 11 O'Clock Show) and Hugh Dennis (My Hero). A pretty good joke-per-sketch ratio, with very few overstaying their welcome.
TV's Greatest Hits (3/00)
A BBC summertime clip show but a generous amount of original material including behind-the-scenes looks at series (including Jonathan Creek and Antiques Road Show) plus interesting, but brief, studio appearances by various footnote people in television (including the woman seen dancing during the Tales Of The Unexpected credits, and the worst-ever team to appear on University Challenge). Gaby Roslin is no great journalist, but a pleasant enough host at this act of video navel gazing.
Twelfth Night (7/99)
Trevor Nunn adapted and directs this lavishly filmed new BBC version of the Bard’s comedy about twins shipwrecked in a foreign land, with Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Kingsley and Mel Smith. It doesn’t get much better than this.
2010 Unwrapped With Miranda Hart (3/11)
Somewhere, David Mitchell has to be a bit annoyed with the BBC News department which sandbagged his attempts to use them to do fake news for his panel show The Bubble earlier this year. But the 2010 Unwrapped folks apparently did not have the same restriction and gleefully mashed up news items that purported to have the Pope guest starring on Top Gear--they even CGI him sitting across from Jeremy Clarkson in the Top Gear studio, Steve Jobs on Dragon's Den getting turned down for his new invention, The Apprentice with an idiot Irishman intercut into a real episode as a contestant, vuvuzelas during the Prime Minister's debate, a Vicar getting the Anne Robinson treatment on The Weakest Link, Gordon Brown lost in the woods, and an Amateur Dramatic society's version of Big Brother. Meanwhile, Miranda Hart does links dressed up as a Dickens' character in a Victorian setting, doing what she does best, namely pratfalls and asides to the camera. 2010 Unwrapped was a great combination of computer aided video trickery and satire.
20 Things To Do Before You're 30 (3/04)
A channel 4 ensemble comedy not dissimilar to the BBC's Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps although in this twentysomething series the friends are all workmates and one is gay.
Twenty Twelve (3/11)
This mockumentary focuses on the commission responsible for the London Olympics and we can only hope the real committee isn't as incompetent as their fictional counterparts here. Hugh Bonneville (taking a break from Downton Abbey) plays Ian Fletcher, the bike commuting head of deliverance whose CV doesn't suggest a history of successes. Surrounding him are a traffic engineer who only manages to gridlock London's traffic in a field test, and Jessica Hynes as a public relations guru who keeps on talking and making promises with much more confidence than knowledge. David Tennant narrates the proceedings, which are familiar to anyone who's seen writer-director's John Morton's previous show People Like Us (which David appeared in way back when). The humor doesn't come from jokes or particularly wacky situations (if anything it celebrates the banal) but from the absurd things that come out of so-called expert's mouths. In Morton's world, everyone has successfully reached the Peter Principle and risen to their level of incompetence, and we the audience get to watch them slowly drown and never thinking of reaching for a life ring.
Two Fat Ladies (3/97)
Ostensibly a cooking show, two dotty old ladies travel around England in their sidecar-equipped motorcycle making bizarre commentaries about everything and each other (at one point comparing themselves to Daleks), and eventually settling down to do some cooking. Absolutely bizarre and apparently completely serious.
Two Golden Balls (1/95)
Kim Catrall stars in this light-touch BBC TV Movie as a porn star who takes an ordinary British housewife and opens her eyes to a whole other world. Not to be taken seriously, but as a feminist fantasy, not a bad piece of work.
Two Oranges and a Mango (1/95)
A brother and sister of Indian descent travel back to the mother country in order to attend to their more traditional-minded father's funeral. Needless to say, the culture shock is immense as these two British-born-and-raised people come face to face with the society and customs of their ancestors. Some amusing bits with the son carrying on conversations with his father even though the man is now dead.
Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps
BBC-2 youth sitcom about two twentysomething couples whose main social life revolves around the pub. Of note is Ralf Little (The Royle Family) who is in a permanent relationship with his live-in girlfriend, and his best mate who is trying to get it on with the girlfriend's friend. A lot of it is guy talk and girl talk, and the comedy is derived from how they both need and are repelled by each other.
Two Ronnies Night (5/00)
The BBC dedicated a night to the venerable comedy double-act, and pulled off the rare coup of getting Ronnie Barker out of retirement to participate in a round-table interview (along with Ronnie Corbett, and the various writers (including Jonathan Creek scribe David Renwick) and directors who worked with them throughout the years) plus some new sketches. Clips were generous (with the writer of each one credited) and it was a good nostalgia wallow for all involved.
Two Thousand Acres of Sky (3/02)
Michelle Collins (EastEnders) plays a working class single mother from London who moves her family to a remote island off Scotland that needs more families to keep their local school open in this BBC drama. But the catch is, the islanders (who run the place not unlike the anarcho-syndicate commune in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail") wanted a married couple, so she passes off her best friend (Paul Kaye) as her husband and they run the local B & B together while maintaining the pretense. Kaye is an interesting actor, having first come to prominence as the odious "Dennis Pennis" but now also starring the BBC comedy Perfect World. But he keeps his natural unctuousness to a minimum here, generating a lot of sympathy as a guy who clearly wants the girl but she won't notice him.
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