What Have I Enjoyed Watching in 2015?

This year has been a really busy one — hence the paucity of posts from TVClaw Towers. Apologies to anyone who’s missed me.

last kingdom
The Last Kingdom | Episode Two © Carnival Film & Television Ltd Photographer: Joss Barratt Alexander Dreymon (as Uhtred)

What have I enjoyed watching in the rare moments when I haven’t been working? Here’s what. And if you haven’t seen the good stuff yet, then pull up a comfy chair and get ready to watch some really, really excellent TV shows.

In no particular order, here’s what’s grabbed my attention in 2015:

Ripper Street: the perfect ending to the whole H Division saga. The very end even had a cheery little nod to Spooks. *Sob*

Game of Thrones: gory, sad, frightening. Utterly compelling.

Fortitude: clever plot twists and a knock-out cast. Some completely bonkers moments. Can’t wait for Season 2.

Penny Dreadful: utterly bananas, but Timothy Dalton + stunning production design = a must-watch in the first half of the year.

No Offence: Joanna Scanlon is terrific as potty-mouthed DI Vivienne Deering. Rocking the heels-and-leather combo she turned in one of the most memorable performances of the year. Brilliant scripts from the “Shameless” team.

Pointless: best host banter. Ever.

The Last Kingdom:  in the mood for some Anglo-Saxon Chronicles action but fed up with Vikings‘ insanely violent torture porn? Watch this instead. Clever and well-written, with a winning lead in Alexander Dreymon. A breakout role for superb Ripper Street alum David Dawson.

Man Down: still funny, but I found myself pining for Rik throughout.

Les Revenants: t’inquiete pas — it’s still brilliant.

Yonderland: talc my downstairs! The hilarious Season 2 paid homage to Star Wars and Sherlock among other things and was chock full o’ family-friendly nudges, winks and smutty asides.

30 Degrees in January: have to admit, I loved the first half but found the second half heavy-going. Too many annoying, poor decisions.

University Challenge: obviously I have no idea what Paxo’s asking most of the time, but it’s an oldie that remains a goodie. (Cough, looking at you Doctor Who, cough…)

Last Man on Earth: if I was the last man on earth I would so steal all the great art from every museum and poo in the neighbour’s pool. This makes me laugh out loud every episode. Boris Kodjoe steals every scene he’s in.

River: unbeatable combo of Nicola Walker and Stellan Skarsgard aided and abetted by most of the ex-cast from last season’s Game of Thrones and a Sixth Sense-y vibe. Is River totally batshit crazy, or is he the ghost whisperer?

Great British Bake Off: ’nuff said.

 

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BBC Three Has Been Cancelled: TV Channel Will Move To Online-Only

“It’s not the end of BBC Three, it’s the beginning of a new BBC Three.”

Remember this? BBC Three in happier times.
Remember this? BBC Three in happier times.

As widely predicted, it seems that rumours of its demise were not premature: the BBC is axing digital TV channel BBC Three.

BBC Director-General Tony Hall has announced that as part of an extensive cost-cutting exercise BBC Three will become an online service, with all programmes moving to the BBC’s iPlayer.

As part of the move, BBC Three’s budget will be slashed from an estimated £90 million per year to £25m, and some shows will go out on other channels.

BBC One will reap the financial benefit, gaining around £30 million for new drama plus a substantial chunk of BBC Three’s budget to pay for a new BBC One +1 service. Some money will also be diverted to children’s programming via creating an evening extension of CBBC.

Alluding to the mobile, on-demand TV viewing market, “the environment that younger audiences are living in,” Lord Hall hailed the “historic” decision.

“It’s the first time we’ve asked a channel to transform itself to meet the needs of the audiences we’ll have in the future,” he added.

In its heyday, the younger-skewing BBC Three was the Sargasso Sea for ground-breaking, money-making, worldwide hits Torchwood, Little Britain, Being Humanand Gavin & Stacey. It launched The Mighty Boosh and Chris Lilley on an unsupecting public.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a breakdown of just how much money BBC Three shows like these have made for the corporation since the channel’s inception in 2o03? All those lucrative foreign rights, sales and remakes? Not to mention all the licensed Torchwood tie-in merchandise.

BBC Three not only reinvigorated John Barrowman‘s career, it was also a springboard for comedy gold, launching stars such as Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Jack Whitehall, Richard Ayoade, Ruth Jones and James Corden. Most of whom have come out swinging on social media since the news broke. (#SaveBBC3)

BBC Three is currently airing the second series of innovative comedy Bluestone 42 as well as imports like Family Guy and Lilley’s latest, Ja’mie: Private School GirlHowever, in latter years the channel has been heavily criticised for its roster of cheaper, formulaic, reality TV offerings such as Snog, Marry, Avoid? and Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.

With a healthy annual budget it has also attracted the ire of BBC grandees like Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys as well as viewers unhappy with the absence of arts programming.

Hoping for a Radio 6 Music- type reprieve, BBC Three veterans and fans have taken to the internet to protest the closure plans and an online petition to save the channel is up and running.

So why is it a bad thing to have BBC Three online-only? BAFTA-nominated comedy director, Ben Gosling Fuller (Pramface, Bad Education, The IT Crowd) points out that it’s all about the money. An online BBC Three will have considerably less money to spend on the legions of freelancers who work on TV shows.

Self-employed camera operators, editors, writers, directors and actors all have bills to pay. The people who find and nurture new talent have bills to pay. And if BBC Three can’t afford to hire them, they’ll find someone else who can.

What say you? Has BBC Three run its course? Or does it still have a role to play? Tell us in Comments!

Watch Tony Hall’s announcement here.

Chickens And Big Bad World: Time To Bring Back The Live Studio Audience?

Chickens is like the unfunny bastard child of Horrible Histories

In the week when Beyoncé dropped a cool £1,500 in her local Nando’s, Sky kept the poultry theme going with the premiere of Chickens, the “brand new World War I comedy” (yes, you read that right) from Inbetweeners stars Joe Thomas and Simon Bird plus their old Cantabs buddy Jonny Sweet.

Sounds promising, right? Unfortunately Chickens was a clunker. Visually, it was Ripper Street goes to Cranford but without any violence, heaving bosoms or humour

Seriously: why was Sweet dressed as Captain Homer Jackson?

The jokes weren’t funny. The “humorous” graffiti daubed on the trio’s house wasn’t big or clever, and the anachronistic in-on-it nods to the audience — “It’s World War I you idiot” — were simply tedious.

Watch Horrible Histories instead. It’s much, much funnier.

Comedy Central
Comedy Central

The same night TVClaw watched the premiere of fellow Inbetweener Blake Harrison’s new show, Big Bad World.

It’s got a better cast and had a much more promising opener, but still hits some bum notes. (And not just the shock of seeing Caroline Quentin playing the mother of a bona fide grown up. Gary’s off making babies with the hot chick on Doc Martin, but Dorothy’s mother to a 35-year-0ld. Go figure.)

Lots of TV shows — most famously Seinfeld — got off to clunky starts and low ratings, but gradually found their rhythm and voice. It all got us thinking:  would Chickens and Big Bad World have benefited from being filmed in front of live studio audiences?

Lack of pace and poor timing from the actors is often minimised by hearing someone in the audience just getting the joke or groaning at how bad it is. Can you imagine The Young Ones or Black Adder without people cracking up in the background?

More importantly, if you’re performing crap jokes badly, in front of people who aren’t laughing, you know you have a problem to fix before the show airs.

The knowing, to-camera smiles and tics done so brilliantly in The Office don’t work for every show, so let’s stop pretending they do and bring back the audience.

It’s got to be cheaper than unleashing Bird et al. on the Cranford set and hoping for the best.

The Friday Goodies: Puppet Power

(Photo: BBC)
(Photo: BBC)

“Time for bed!”

Forget the last days of disco. As the list of Operation Yewtree celebrity arrests grows ever longer, the 1970s seem more and more like the last days of the Roman Empire.

So, it was with some trepidation that TVClaw revisited the 1970s BBC archive for The Friday Goodies this week.

But it was worth it. This week’s installment, “Puppet Power”, is pure slapstick.

The Goodies head to the Prime Minister’s country retreat, Chequers, to take on a secret puppet cabal headed by the evil geniuses known as Sooty and Sweep.

Yes, the puppets are running the country. And compared to what we now know was lurking behind the wings in the ’70s, they don’t seem as menacing as they did the first time around. (Apart from the giant Zebedee, obviously.)

If you’ve ever had nightmares about being chased by Dougall, or being attacked by a life-sized Andy Pandy, you might want to to look away now.

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw

Spaced Stars: What Happened Next?

SciFiNow.co.uk

It’s that time of year when the TVClaw cavalcade heads to the local cinema to watch the first batch of family-friendly Christmas films.

Some years — The Pirates! — it’s a pleasant surprise, and we all enjoy it. Others — any of the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise — it’s a struggle for the over-10s.

The worst case scenario, of none of us enjoying the film, hasn’t happened yet, but yesterday’s outing to see Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger came close.

My review in brief? Most of the actors in this deserve much, much better.  The mere presence of David Tennant was baffling. He did his best in trying circumstances, but the fact that he was even in this film made me feel unutterably sad.

And if I never see anything else starring Marc “Shirley Ghostman” Wootton, I shall be very happy indeed. Jack Black he is not, and no amount of gurning will change that.

However, in the interests of fairness, I have to point out that most of the six children we’d brought, plus the man in front of us who laughed hysterically throughout, thought Nativity 2 was hilarious.

As I sat fidgeting and trying not to hurl my shoes at the screen in disgust, the only ray of sunlight was one of Tennant’s erstwhile co-stars, the always fantastic Jessica Hynes. She was hi-la-ri-ous as bitchy Welsh singer Angel Matthews.

Later on, after the kids had gone to bed and we’d cracked open some sherbet, Mr L and I decided to finally whittle down the stack of LoveFilm DVDs sitting, unwatched, by the television and watch the top one. It turned out to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Now, without going into one of those interminable discussions of why Sawyer from Lost was so cruelly underused, or precisely why the International Monetary Fund maintains a roster of oh-so buff, highly trained assassins, the thing that caught my eye was Hynes’ Spaced co-star Simon Pegg front and centre throughout.

I’ve always liked Pegg and his brand of easy affability, even back in the days when he played Saffy’s boyfriend on Faith in the FutureHis post-Spaced career trajectory has been pretty meteoric, with pivotal comedic roles in huge films like Star Trek, Ice Age and Tintin, as well as guest spots on cult fave Robot Chicken (a must for all true Star Wars fan-boys).

Together with the Spaced team Pegg’s also created some of the funniest, most engaging surreal comedy of the last 15 years.

First, he, co-star Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright sparked off the zombie revival with the first part of their Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, the sublime Shaun of the Dead. Then Pegg buffed-up (the influence of his bestie’s wife Gwyneth Paltrow, perhaps) and they moved onto cop parody Hot Fuzz

Next up is their final installment, the Armageddon-themed pub crawl epic The World’s End (currently in production; click over to MovieWeb for set photos.) It threatens to be magnificent.

While Pegg and the lads have been conquering Hollywood, Hynes has been steadily racking up an impressive body of work that includes the memorable role of Joan Redfern in one of the best-ever episodes of Doctor Who. She also stole the Twenty Twelve show as clueless, monotonous PR flack Siobhan.

In a recent interview with  The Independent Hynes revealed that her career is not, thank god, stalled at the Nativity 2 level. She chatted about about her upcoming Suffragette comedy, Up With Women, which, she says “hopefully, on a good day, it will be a kind of female Dad’s Army“.

Hynes has also been commissioned to write the pilot episode for a Sky action series, Justine. “I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed,” she says. “It’s an action series based around a female superhero … it’s Buffy meets Kick-Ass.” Amazeballs!

Keen-eyed viewers will also have spotted Spaced‘s performance artist Brian Topp (a.k.a. Mark Heap) stealing every scene in Friday Night Dinner as the hapless Jim. He and his canine sidekick Wilson are pure comedy gold.

Heap’s also been pulling double-duty this autumn alongside Darren Boyd and Robert Lindsay in the second series of Spy.

As Jane Simon put it so eloquently in The Daily Mirror, “Those three little words: ‘And Mark Heap’ at the start of any sitcom are like a British Standards kitemark guaranteeing that there’ll be nuggets of bizarre brilliance tucked away inside.”

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw