British TV Show Reviews "U"

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Dates refer to when review was written

Ultraviolet (1/99)
A policeman gets embroiled into a battle between two forces for whom the end justifies the means. He is involuntarily recruited into a secret government-sanctioned outfit whose mission is to hunt down and destroy creatures of the night who feed on blood and want to enslave humanity (the word "vampire" is never uttered). But both sides are using the latest technology in their fight, including carbon-firing machine guns (equipped with sensors), in-vitro fertilization, and ultraviolet light (hence the title) used to detect those "infected" and under the influence of the "Code 5's" (as they are known). But the ruthless efficiency of the organization leaves some unanswered questions, and everything may not be as it seems in this clever Channel 4 series starring Jack Davenport (formerly of the cult series This Life).

Undercover Heart (3/99)
Continuing on from last month’s trend of cop shows, is this BBC mini-series about undercover detectives who get too involved in their work (and each other). A prostitute is murdered and the prime suspect is a cop who was playing her pimp. Meanwhile, his best mate and his wife (who all work together on the same squad) begin having an affair with each other while the investigation goes on. David Troughton plays the head of the squad in charge of all this monkey business.

Under the Hammer (4/94)
Starring Richard Wilson, who is universally known in England as Victor Meldrew on One Foot in the Grave. In this comedy/drama series by John Mortimer, he is an art historian employed by a large auction house in London. Usually the plots revolve some painting showing up and the need to authenticate it before it goes to auction. But there is lots of character development and plot twists along the way. I really enjoyed this series--it's everything that American television can't do.

Under the Moon (1/96)
BBC comedy pilot by the writer of May to December. Francesca, an aggressive advertising executive, is going the "Murphy Brown" route and having a baby without a Significant Other around. She thinks the father was an Oxford Don she met in a pub. Imagine her surprise when it turns out to be an unemployed man named Don from Oxford -- who arrives in London to be the father to his child.

Underground (5/00)
Emma Cunniffe (The Lakes) stars in this BBC TV movie as a road protester whose group takes on a new member and is persuaded to build a tunnel to better thwart the authorities. The inevitable police raid occurs and the two of them go underground to wait them out and draw interest in their rather lost cause.

Underworld (1/98)
Six part Channel 4 drama about a middle-class brother and sister who get sucked into a seamy gangster rivalry between a more reformed-minded criminal and a complete psychopath (Kevin McNally). James Fleet, playing virtually the same hapless character concurrently in Spark (as well as in Richard Curtis's Vicar of Dibley and Four Weddings and a Funeral), shows no backbone when dealing with the women in his life, whether it's his two-timing young wife, or his grim, humorless sister. All the supporting characters (including a murderous cabbie) add a level of black humor to the proceedings where family connections ultimately mean everything.

Unfinished Business (7/98)
Rather routine, and therefore disappointing, domestic sitcom from Marks and Gran (Goodnight Sweetheart, The New Statesman) about a middle-aged woman coming to terms with her ex-husband who suddenly reenters her life after running off with a young French girl years earlier. Her problems are compounded by the fact her daughter is about to marry her former boyfriend (Art Malik) but there's nothing special to recommend here.

The Uninvited (11/97)
(With apologies to Captain Scarlet): This... is... the... voice... of... the... Mysterons.... We... know... you... can... hear... us.... We... have... replaced... the... inhabitants... of... an... entire... village... with... indestructible... replicants.... They... will... infiltrate... your... society... and... take... over... the... world... in... this... four-part... ITV... drama. Crikey, we just gave away the entire game! Forget... you... heard... that... bit.... Uh,... we're... going... to... France... this... week.... Nothing... unusual... is... happening.... That... is... all. Honestly, Stan, how "mysterious" can we be if we keep telling the earth people what our plan is going to be every week? Wait, is this thing still on? Oh, bugger!

United (6/11)
David Tennant starred in this BBC TV movie about Manchester United's 1958 football team that had eight players killed in a plane crash and how the team recovered.  Football in 1958 was a long way from where it is today.  Players earned £15 a week and most of Man U's fans worked in the factories that surrounded Old Trafford park.  A player even advises a teammate not to tell girls in a bar that he plays football because their prospects were considered so limited.  The movie focuses mainly on two people, Jimmy Murphy (Tennant), the coach under legendary manager Matt Busby, and one of the players, Bobby Charlton.  Now I don't know much about football but even I've heard of Bobby Charlton.  He was the David Beckham of his day, but at the beginning of United he's still a young but talented footballer, frustrated by the lack of opportunity to play for the team.  Murphy takes him under his arm and soon enough Charlton is scoring goals and making a name for himself.  But the Football League, personified by Neil Dudgeon as Alan Hardaker, don't approve of Man U's continued forays to Europe to play in international matches. Told they must be back in the country 24 hours before a match after playing in Belgrade, Busby decides to charter a private plane to get the team home in time.  On the third attempt to lift off, the plane crashes on take off, killing 23 people aboard.  Charlton survives but is so traumatized by the death of most of his teammates that he quits the team.  The board of directors want to suspend play but Murphy convinces them otherwise. Despite not having a single second of actual football playing, United is a great sports movie in showing triumph under adversary, as well as a period piece when everyone smoked like the factory chimneys around Old Trafford and footballers played for the love of the game, not as a way of becoming rich and famous.

An Unsuitable Job For A Woman (1/98)
Helen Baxendale stars in this P.D. James adaptation about a young woman who inherits her boss's detective agency and immediately is plunged into her first case, a suicide. Coming to PBS in April. SPOILER WARNING: Of course all she needed to do to solve the case was watch Return of the Jedi - one of the suspects is the Emperor himself (Ian McDiarmid)!

Unzipped (1/00)
Over-the-top comic Graham Norton hosts this series of Channel 4 documentaries on such hot topics as fashion and Hollywood. Only someone like Norton could get away with ultra catty comments he dishes out, though the subjects themselves are so outrageous that often they speak for themselves.

Up In Town (3/03)
Joanna Lumley performs monologues directly to the camera in 10 minute vignettes in this series by the creators of the similar Marion and Geoff.  Lumley plays a sad middle-aged divorcee occupying a small flat who reveals reams of evidence about her clueless existence.  No real jokes per se (unless you count the appearance of a rat after an episode where she has seemingly imagined them) but the somewhat discomforting humor comes from realizing how people lack self-awareness. 

Upstairs Downstairs (3/11)
There are similarities between this continuation of the famous 1970s ITV series (now on the BBC) and ITV1's popular Downton Abbey that aired a few months earlier.  The biggest differences are the sense of scale: Downton Abbey had a much larger cast to start with as well as seven whole episodes to unfold its story.  Upstairs Downstairs is much more intimate and will only run three episodes to start with.  Sherlock had this same problem; three episodes is too short to launch a series.  BBC cutbacks are beginning to show. But Upstairs Downstairs has one thing Downton didn't and that is the nostalgia factor: not only is the setting at 165 Eaton Place, which is where the original took place, but series co-creator Jean Marsh is on hand to recreate her role as Rose Buck, now much older of course.  By setting the story in 1936, Rose has been running an agency for domestic staff and ends the first episode as the new housekeeper.  The way the house is shot when we first see it is surely meant to evoke memories from viewers of the original series and hopefully hook them into this new version.  This setting, including the abdication of Edward VIII and the coming war, also figures heavily in "The Kings Speech" and the recent Any Human Heart. The weakness of the new Upstairs Downstairs is the dull couple at the center of it, Sir Hallan Holland and his wife Lady Agnes played by Ed Stoppard and Keeley Hawes.  But the staff all have interesting quirks and Hallan's irrepressible mother, Lady Holland, played by Eileen Atkins, injects a lot of life into the show.  She moves in on her son to write her memoirs, accompanied by her Indian manservant (Art Malick) and a pet monkey.  Dame Eileen, incidentally was one of the original co-creators of Upstairs Downstairs.  She was to have appeared in the series but Pauline Collins ended up doing her part.  The new version does at least one callback to Mr Hudson, the famous butler played by Gordon Jackson who died in 1990.  Again, it's a nod for nostalgia fans. And there's humor in the first episode, you get to find out how to get rid of an unwanted Nazi who turns up at a dinner party.  Darn those 1930s problems.  The coming of fascism in England eventually becomes a major subplot.  Doctor Who fans will find many familiar names working behind the scenes in this BBC Wales production including director Euros Lyn.  I think the world is big enough for two dramas set in an aristocratic household.  You aren't likely to mistake one for the other, they are set decades apart, and both are being co-financed by WGBH's "Masterpiece."  I found the politics and the servant's stories to be the most interesting parts of Upstairs Downstairs so far but there's more to come in the second series due in 2012. 

Upstart Crow (9/16)
Ben Elton goes back to multi-camera sitcom writing in this BBC comedy about William Shakespeare (David Mitchell) who is vexed by all manner of family, friends, and theatrical hangers-on. Knowledge of Shakespeare is helpful but not essential to get the jokes, even the Bard himself was not above a certainly low-grade comedy to assume the masses, and neither is Elton.

Up The Women (11/13)
Jessica Hynes (Spaced) wrote and co-stars in this brief BBC Four comedy set 100 years ago in a small village. Women's suffrage has yet to come to England, and progressive Margaret (Hynes) must convince the more reluctant members of the Banbury Intricate Craft Circle to support the cause, including Queen Bee Helen (Rebecca Front).  The entire series is set in the village hall the Circle meet in, and there are occasional male characters introduced as well.  Low-key but charming.

Utopia (3/13)
This violent but thought-provoking Channel 4 mini-series has a number of odd characters chasing after the missing manuscript to a graphic novel that could cause the end of the world. On one side you have a group of fans who just want to see what happens in the sequel, but stumble upon a conspiracy involving vaccines, mad scientists, assassins, and a mysterious woman who stays off the grid.  On the other, is a civil servant who is blackmailed by forces unknown to approve a cure for a fake Russian flu virus, a corporation that seems part of the government, and a plot that could alter the future of humanity.  Stylishly shot (by two directors), Utopia gives new meaning to "paranoia."

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (
September 6, 2016