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Dates refer to when review was written
The Vanishing Man (9/97)
Neil Morrissey (Men Behaving Badly) stars in this ITV pilot that updates The Invisible Man to the 1990s. Wrongly convicted of smuggling plutonium, Morrissey becomes the guinea pig of an unscrupulous scientist (Barbara Flynn) with the end result he becomes invisible when wet. The effects are state-of-the-art, including a souped up invisible motorcycle he acquires while trying to clear his name and defeat the baddies. A series is coming.
Velvet Soup (3/02)
Mid-summer BBC Scottish sketch comedy featuring a four person comedy troupe (three men, one woman natch) that is fairly diverting with some good gags.
Courtroom drama series that lays out the arguments of a case and then has the jury decide. The episode I saw had Peter Davison as a mild-mannered school administrator accused of date rape. The story was compelling but as a piece of television drama it was pure radio.
A Very Open Prison (9/96)
BBC TV-movie comedy by the writers of Drop the Dead Donkey set in the near future where the prisons have been privatized by cost-conscious corporations. Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty) plays a visiting Home Secretary with Downing Street ambitions who sets off a chain of events that culminates in escaped prisoners (including Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel) as a believable psycho) holding a home for orphans hostage. Expert comic timing and well-paced for 90 minutes (my favorite gag: Wilkinson asking a police constable why he can't "confiscate the identity cards" of some journalists. "Their what?" the PC replies. "Oops, thinking ahead of myself," the Home Secretary mutters). A sequel continues the tale of Wilkinson's ambitious minister in Crossing The Floor.
A Very Peculiar Practice (3/91)
Andrew Davies (Game On, House of Cards) weird 1986-7 series about the doctors serving at Lowlands University. Peter Davison plays the recently divorced Stephen Dakar, who tries to cope with his dysfunctional co-workers (including David Troughton, Graham Crowden, and Barbara Flynn) while having a lovelife. There are some brilliant moments throughout, with the first season centered mainly on Dakar's battles with the vice chancellor Ernest Hemingway ("the poisoned dwarf," Crowden's character describes him). The second season had the university taken over by Americans (led by "Jack Daniels") who have ulterior motives.
This BBC comedy/drama stars Lucy Punch and Toby Stephens as police detective inspectors who have just become partners. As I watched it kept reminding me of something I'd seen before. I finally realized it was "Moonlighting." Jack Armstrong (Toby Stephens) has that same arrested development 13-year-old boy in a man's body that Bruce Willis captured so well as David Addison back in the late 1980s. It's hard to believe anyone that immature could ever rise to the level of a detective inspector, much less focus long enough to actually solve a crime. But this is TV so here he is. His serious partner, Kate Bishop (Lucy Punch), has just relocated along with her husband and before the credits have rolled, Jack has convinced her to rent a flat where a dead body is still bleeding on the carpet. He also shows her his favorite watering hole, a wine bar and restaurant run by a former policeman who often serves you a meal before you've even ordered. And much like "Moonlighting" the villain is revealed with fewer clues than in an episode of Scooby-Doo. But the heart of the series is the chalk-and-cheese relationship between Jack and Kate, although as the show begins, they are on different trajectories, with Kate being married and Jack attempting to woo a woman using marketing information he's secretly harvested during an investigation. I'm not quite sure what the title is meant to refer to. Who is being vexed here? Kate? Jack? The audience? At least the series wasn't called something as obvious as "Armstrong and Bishop," although most likely because it might have sounded too much like a sketch comedy double act.
The Vicar of Dibley (5/95)
Somewhat based on fact, this Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Blackadder) co-written sitcom stars Dawn French as a female Vicar assigned to a small country village. Of course the town is full of amusing eccentrics, but "Vicar Geraldine" always manages to come out ahead in the end.
I have given ITV a lot of stick over the years (and rightfully so) for their inability to produce a decent sitcom. But they've finally struck gold in this farce starring Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen as an elderly gay couple whose love/hate relationship is hilarious. Written by Gary Janetti, each week we get the misadventures of Stuart and Freddie, along with their best friend Violet (Frances de la Tour) and their upstairs neighbor Ash (Iwan Rheon, Misfits, "Game of Thrones"). Jacobi and McKellen hurl insults at each other with deadly precision while taking care of their motionless dog. Freddie is a former actor (being on Doctor Who once is his big claim to fame, although he manages to get a bit part on Downton Abbey in one episode), whereas Stuart has never come out to his mother, she just thinks Freddie is his roommate and inquires unseen over the phone when he'll be moving out to get married. It's not the best material ever written, but these two pros give it all they've got. When is the last time two knights starred in a sitcom?
Vicious Circle (9/99)
Writer Kieran Prendiville (Ballykissangel) takes a much harsher look at Irish life in this BBC TV movie about an ambitious but violent thief (Ken Stott) and the enemies he makes while scoring huge hauls with his gang. While claiming not to "be political," that's impossible in Dublin, and eventually the IRA want their cut which he refuses. He is eventually undone by heisting a priceless art collection although he never sees it coming.
ITV & PBS's answer to Downton Abbey is this lush production about the life of Queen Victoria. Jenna Coleman is more than up for the role (I expect BAFTA and Emmy nominations next year), beginning with the day she becomes Queen at the age of 18. Her mother and her creepy advisor want to form a regency so they can rule, but Victoria is willful enough to avoid their machinations. Instead, she relies on the Prime Minister, the widower Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell, still dreamy after all these years), but he is too duty-bound to entertain getting into a relationship with her. Based on the pacing of the first few episodes, I expect the producers hope this series will run a long, long time and will take their time aging Coleman over Victoria's 82 year reign over several seasons.
Victoria's Empire (10/08)
Victoria Woods travels the globe to places named after the 19th Century monarch (and her namesake) and looks at how the empire was formed and what impacts it had across the globe to those it ruled over.
Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea (6/13)
Two-part BBC documentary, exquisitely shot all over the globe, with the charming comedienne presenting a history of how tea shaped the British empire and world politics, particularly in the 19th Century.
Victoria Wood's Sketch Show Story (11/02)
Two part documentary look by the famous (though Wood is utterly unknown in America) comedienne at the origins of classic sketch comedy with interviews by the comics who made them famous. The best is at the last when she and her usual suspects (including Julie Walters) resurrect one of Wood's best-loved sketches, "Acorn Acres," a hilarious parody of the crappy old soap Crossroads.
Victoria Wood: Sold Out (1/96)
Victoria Wood is one of the many extremely talented Brits (like Lenny Henry and Angus Deayton) who is utterly unknown in this country. And that's too bad, as Wood is an accomplished stand-up comedian, actress, writer, and singer. She does it all in this performance taped in a Plymouth theater. Someone to keep your eyes peeled for if her material ever makes it over the pond here.
The Village (6/13)
Ambitious BBC drama series by Peter Moffat (Silk) where Bert Middleton, the oldest man in Britain, tells the story of his life in flashback growing up in a small village. The first season is set during the 1910s, when Bert was a young boy living in terror of John, his hard-drinking unsuccessful farmer father (John Simm). Bert's older brother Joe is the apple of his mother's (Maxine Peake) eye, but he and dad don't see eye-to-eye. Joe has forsaken the farm to work in the house of the local gentry where he has caught the eye of their daughter. But WWI breaks out and Joe is off to war. Meanwhile John discovers religion under the tutelage of the reverend's daughter and gives up drinking to proselytize. And Joe's girlfriend? She ends up pregnant, is forced to give up the baby, nearly goes insane, and is put in the hands of a creepy all-controlling doctor. Joe returns from leave, but suffering from shell shock, tries to desert and is hauled away. The plan is to advance the story throughout the century with each season, seeing a tiny part of England through Bert's eyes.
The Visit (7/09)
Dry, observational BBC comedy shot single-camera style that each week focuses on visiting hour at a prison. Each prisoner has his own subplot going on, plus interaction with the guards. And nobody here is going to be Brain of Britain, if you know what I mean.
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