A haven for couch potatoes everywhere

Monday, 5 April 2010

Fish Custard

Desiree discusses Matt Smith's debut as the eleventh Doctor Who

Rooster doesn't like Doctor Who. He says it irks him wildly, all that chasing and shouting and inexplicable noise. I said to him, I said Rooster, it's sci-fi, it's meant to baffle you! But I was only saying that to shut him up. I don't really believe that for a moment.

Science fiction should make sense. Within the imagined world in which it is set, within the parameters established by good writing and carefully constructed narrative, it should all make some kind of glorious, heart-stopping sense. Russell T. Davies's relaunch of Doctor Who, starting in 2005 with Rose (the episode in which the ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, and his new assistant, played by Billie Piper meet for the first time) was magnificent, and did for sci-fi what Any Dream Will Do did for musical theatre: shifted the boundaries, attracted massive audiences, and upset some die-hard fans.

I'm a big fan of the 'new' Doctor Who (and Davies's 'Year Zero' approach was echoed by new lead writer and exec producer Steven Moffat in Saturday's episode: the computer virus...?), and I like the ways in which it has brought family drama, romance, and real emotion to the sci-fi genre. The first two series (Eccleston and the first series featuring David Tennant) are often descibed (by me, after a bottle of Mateus Rose) as "the perfect love story."

I loved the Doctor and Rose so much that I couldn't watch Series 3 the first time round; it would have been like seeing an ex-boyfriend with a new woman. Though it turns out I didn't miss much in that series, apart from some superb writing by Steven Moffat in Blink. David Tennant settled into his role as the tenth Doctor very well, though with a little too much emo action on occasion. He was popular, and very good, and as such the devoted DW audience awaited Saturday's debut by Matt Smith with some anticipation.

I had eventually watched Series 3, and loved Series 4, so I shared this anticipation. I prepared myself well for the show; I was home alone, and settled down two minutes before the show was to begin, with a glass of wine, a bottle of wine for top-ups (this was a 65-minute series opener after all), and a small bowl of organic cashew nuts. Reader: those cashew nuts went untouched. I was that riveted, I didn't even think about my snack. I took leave of my senses, clearly... but reasonably so, for the episode was a televisual triumph.

The opening scene seemed standard fare: the new Doctor hurtling towards Earth, mid-regeneration, clinging onto the TARDIS, which itself was undergoing some kind of transformation (later revealed to be the construction of a Heath Robinson-esque new interior, complete with retro typewriter). The context into which he crash-landed, though, was different to anything which had gone before. Moffat (with a history of award-winning DW episodes behind him: the aforementioned Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Empty Child...) centred the action around a small village (a refreshing change; we've seen so much of London), and a small girl (who later grew up into a feisty young woman). Country lanes and a cottage hospital were the backdrop for this truly scary tale, where danger came in the shape of a crack in the wall (echoed later in the TARDIS's new display screen, interestingly; let speculation about the series arc begin...).

Moffat put his own stamp on the series from the outset with a script featuring spare, witty, and moving dialogue, the quality of which was matched by a great performance by Matt Smith. Now, I don't thrive on change, me. And I've invested a lot of emotion in the Doctor over the last few years. I must admit I was a little apprehensive about Smith making his debut. I expected the worst: a middling approximation of Tennant, with floppier hair. I was proven wrong within the first few minutes. Smith's manner and timing were perfect; indeed, his whole performance was outstanding right from the outset.

From his demands for a range of increasingly bizarre foods ("You're Scottish, fry something"), to his aside as the adult Amy searched the house for Prisoner Zero ("Do I have a face nobody listens to? Again..."), to his interaction with the village inhabitants ("I'm the Doctor, I'm worse than everybody's Aunt") there was one constant: this Doctor works. This Doctor is a masterful combination of writing and casting which is a genuine joy to watch. I had read that Moffat had in mind a middle-aged Doctor for the eleventh incarnation, but that Smith had impressed him so much in auditions that he changed his mind; I think we've only just started to see what Smith can do...

Though largely warm, and often jovial, throughout (part of what I have seen referred to as Moffat's "fun agenda" for this series), the Doctor's words and manner changed when he took to the roof of the hospital towards the end of the episode, in what must have been a deliberate mirroring of the end of The Christmas Invasion, Tennant's first episode. Against a backdrop of flashbacks of previous Doctors and aliens, Smith's calm-casual delivery of "I've put a lot of work into it [the Earth]," hinted at the Doctor's devotion to the human race, which had too often been loudly exposited by Davies and Tennant. The crowd-pleasing line, though, was uttered shortly afterwards:

"Hello, I'm the Doctor. Basically: run."


And that, reader, once I'd recovered from my swoon, was me hooked. I kicked my legs out, threw my head back, and cheered. This Doctor is under my skin already, and, as I'm sure you know, a potato skin is thick and gnarly. I like to think I take some persuading, but perhaps not, under the right circumstances; I evidently cope with change much better than I think.

Like Rose back in 2005, this episode introduced a new Doctor (and his companion) in a way which allowed the audience to immediately identify with the characters, and root for them. Perhaps it's easier when both the key players are new (though Rose's reaction to the Eccleston-Tennant regeneration offered some nice continuity and emotional depth), though risky of course, as it's potentially difficult for an all-new cast to win over devoted fans of the tenth Doctor. But the writing was good, the performances were good, and.... it made sense. The storyline was simple, genuinely frightening, emotionally involving without being sentimental, and ...it made sense.

As the credits rolled, I toasted all involved, refilled my glass, and immediately logged on to Facebook, where I publicly declared my pleasure at the episode I had just seen. Rooster arrived home some hours later to find me re-watching it on iPlayer, glass in hand, re-toasting the Doctor at every opportunity. Rooster, I said, come here and watch this, you'll love it; it makes sense.

To quote RTD, via Christopher Eccleston in The Parting of the Ways: "You were fantastic." Sometimes delight is found in unexpected places; I had hoped Matt Smith would be pretty good, and actually he was wonderful. I should have had as much faith in Moffat's writing and casting as the Doctor himself had in his final snack combination: fish fingers and custard. He loved it; we all loved it. Roll on next week.

Over and out,

P.S. Karen Gillan was excellent as Amy Pond too... We'll be reviewing her next week.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Jumping for Glee

Ultimate Movie Toons, ITV1
Eastenders, BBC1
Piers Morgan's Life Stories, ITV1
Glee, Channel 4

Question: What sight could be more confusing than Duncan from Blue and a pregnant Denise van Outen performing a samba version of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious on national television?

Answer: The sight of a boy in a wheelchair singing Jump in a mattress store on international television.

More about mattress boy later, for now, back to Denise and Duncan...Yes, as part of its committment to produce ever more bizarre takes on generic formats, on Sunday ITV1 decided to treat us to Ultimate Movie Toons, a of top ten countdown of songs from animated films voted for, of course, by the public. As with all such ventures, there were highlights (Michael Ball growling his way through The Bare Necessities was particularly gratifying) and lowlights (Beverly Knight murdering Beauty and the Beast; who knew it was possible to find oneself pining for Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson?) Danni Minogue presided over events, evidently thrilled with her ever-rising star and smiling as much as her plastic surgeon would allow. I for one am as thrilled as she is; I remember my horror when she attempted to resurrect her music career with her tour of Jumpin' Jaks up and down the country on the early noughties.

Another glorious highlight from Ultimate Movie Toons

Less enjoyable was this week's Eastenders two-hander between Stacey and Max which culminated in a Hitchcockian moment where the camera slowly panned out from the Square to a bird's eye view of London. Unfortunately the cinematic ending was in no way a reflection of what preceded it. Lacey Turner did her best with the rambling and incoherent script - perhaps the writers had been hit by a bout of swine flu - but even she couldn't make a silk purse out of that sow's ear. Max was required to cry which was almost as funny as his failed attempt to make himself sick on the live episode. The Melodramatic Props Department (TM) was once again called on to add dramatic impetus; this time in the form of a dried out floral tribute to Bradley which magically brought about a reconciliation between the pair. Eastenders appears to be on general downward spiral of late; earlier in the week, we were treated to to some "yoof" dialogue from Billy and his dodgy mates; something to do with hoodies and guns and respec' innit? Dreadful.

One person you would never find in a hoodie is Joan Collins, although woe betide you if you disrespect her; something Piers Morgan was careful not to do in his Life Stories on Saturday night, a kind of updated version of This Is Your Life without the pesky "friends and family" bit. As befits the format, Piers was slightly simpering throughout but it was nonetheless a rather entertaining interview - Joan has, after all, had quite a colourful life; she is currently on husband number five. Be that as it may, other than the fact that she is a (self-professed) wizz in the kitchen we didn't really learn anything new about our Joanie and the whole thing seemed like a missed opportunity for her to finally ditch the gloopy mascara, badly applied red lipstick and hairpiece and show us the woman that "her Percy" sees over the breakfast table every morning.
Celebrities Sans Slap; would that work as a concept? I'd better contact ITV immediately.

So back to that boy in the wheelchair, who came to us courtesy of U.S. series Glee which appears to be the televisual lovechild of High School Musical and Ugly Betty. Is that a good thing? I can't decide. Judge for yourself...

Thursday, 25 March 2010

All Change!

Coronation Street, ITV1
Vintage Neighbours, BBC1
Vintage Home and Away, ITV1

As we all know, Coronation Street celebrates its 50th aniversary this year. Rumour is rife about the possible return of some familiar and well-loved faces from the soap's past. Julie Goodyear (Bet Lynch), Sherrie Hewson (Maureen Naylor) and even Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden) have all been mentioned but none have so far been confirmed.

Rita, before "Lake Me"

Perhaps to sate our appetite in the meantime, we have been treated to another (slightly less spectacular) return in the form of Rita, who has rejoined the cast after a brief hiatus. As you may recall, Rita unexpectedly sold up the Kabin a few months ago and headed off  into the sunset after decalring it was time "to swim in Lake Me." It seems that while she was on her travels, she may have taken a dip in the fountain of eternal youth (or at the very least, the fountain of eternal Botox). Yes, not only has Barbara Knox's wig had a trim and tint but her mini-break seems to have given her whole face a...lift, shall we say?

Whatever rejeuvenating procedure she may have undergone, it has done nothing to cool her temper; her charity shop ding-dongs with Emily are testament to that. But Rita's return got me thinking...she might be looking a little fresher these days but her transformation is nothing compared to some of the baffling metamorphoses the soaps have treated us to over the years. Let's take some time to have a look at a few favourites from years gone by...

Lucy Robinson - Neighbours

The original and still the best. Lucy, as we all know, came in three formats: the sprightly gamine, prone to falling down drains in rain storms; the dungaree wearing pubescent lesbian with a penchant for Alice bands and finally, the fallen Madonna with the big boobies. None of the individual actresses looked like they hailed from the same continental land mass, never mind the same gene pool; a fact which never seemed to bother Helen, Jim and the rest of the Ramsey Street crew who never so much as batted an eyelid at the evolutionary leaps going on before their very eyes.

Tracey Barlow - Coronation Street

Most of us - me included until I googled her - had forgotten that Tracey has been played by not two but three actors, the first young upstart's efforts having been totally eclipsed by the frankly spellbinding performance of the tracksuit-loving teenager most famous for traipsing upstairs muttering "I'm just goin' tuh pleehr me teehpes". When Tracey burst back onto our screens in 2002 she had been - literally - revamped. It became immediately clear that the writers had something more exciting in mind than a storyline revolving around a chip-pan fire or a back yard clinch with that lad off Jossy's Giants. Most excitingly, Kate Ford (who doesn't appear to have been inundated with offers for work in the intrim) is soon set to rejoin the 
cast and is apparently set to make Gail's life a living Hell (good luck to her).


Cody Willis - Neighbours

Ah, the Willis family, headed up by Jason Donovan's real life dad and that woman who never seemed to run a comb through her hair. The original Cody looked like a reject from an Addams Family audition but when she returned from an extended student exchange in the U.S. she had matured (read mutated) into a poor man's Cheryl Crow. More disturbing than the physical transofmation was the voice! Judging by the husky tones of her second incarnation, she had been smoking more than Pine Lights whilst Stateside. Of course, Cody II was not to last, being  killed by a ricocheting bullet during the infamous Ramsey Street shoot-out. Naturally, she would later reappear - in true Aussie soap style - as a ghost; luckily still played by the same actress.

Pippa Fletcher - Home and Away

Lovely Pippa, with a mantlepiece so laden with photos of her erstwhile charges it must have been stronger than the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Initially played by a sprightly, curly-haired elf of a woman, Pippa was replaced, literally overnight, by what a very good friend of mine described as "a six-foot Geordie". He wasn't far off the mark; not only had Pippa grown about a foot taller, she had broadened across the shoulders and wouldn't have looked out of place lugging girders around a Newcastle shipyard. Remarkably, the producers of Home and Away decided not to let the change pass unremarked: "oh, Pippa", quipped Simon, "you've had your hair done; it looks nice!"

Six Foot Geordie and Elf (inset)

Cheryl Stark  - Neighbours

Oh, Neighbours, you've done it again...but with a twist! What differentiates this "transformation" from the others is that it was actually done quite well, with the previously unheard of intention of ensuring continuity. This can probably be put down to the fact that the first actor to play Cheryl dropped out of the series due to illness, with every intention of returning when she got better, which she duly did. So it was that Cheryl's dreadful fashion faux pas and huge hair (style-wise, she was a prototype Trish Valentine) along with her vocal tics were transferred from one actress to the next...and back again.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Avenging Angels and Dancing Demons

Lizzie and Sarah, BBC 2
Pineapple Dance Studios, Sky 1

Amid the frankly frightful - and frightening - spectrum of televisual tat on offer at the moment (Life of Riley -license payers, claim your rebate now; Push the Button - what, the "off" button? Gladly; Married, Single, Other - don't even get me started) came a ray of hope on Saturday night in the form of Lizzie and Sarah. Confined to the BBC2 graveyard slot of 11.45 and sadly not yet comissioned for a full series, it appears that the Beeb aren't quite so sure. Let's hope the response to last night's taster is enough to ensure we get a full series. Whatever happens, the pilot alone looks set to be a cult classic.

Penned by the respectively quirky and twisted minds of Jessica Hynes (Spaced) and Julia Davis (Nighty Night), Lizzie and Sarah centres on two middle-aged housewives trapped in loveless and emotionally abusive marriages who, after a joint epiphany decide to throw caution to the wind and have girl's day out. A shopping spree turns into a drinking binge and before long the pair are bumping and grinding in a club with some shifty-looking strangers. Sobering up, the ladies realise that their dancing partners have mugged them and, filled with years of pent-up resentment and frustration, give chase. What follows is a shocking and hilarious sequence of events that see the pair righting wrongs and settling scores with a gusto and determination not seen since The Lives and Loves of the She Devil. Hynes and Davis are both on top form, giving genuinely complelling performances and shifting effortlessly from moving to side-splitting throughout.

Speculation is already rife in the media that the long shadow cast by the Russell Brand/Jonathon Ross debacle may have finally called time on the BBC's long-running love affair with dark and daring humour. Certainly, recent offerings seem to indicate a move towards the traditional in terms of both format and content. BBC3's surprise hit Gavin and Stacey may well have had the odd raunchy joke, but it was essentially a classic "boy meets girl" scenario and the closest the BBC had come in years to making a show that the whole family could and would watch together; My Family having slumped immeasurably after Kris Marshall's departure. There's nothing wrong with Gavin and Stacey of course (well there is actually, but we'll leave that for another post); it just seems a shame that the envelope-pushing agenda that brought us The Day Today, Absolutely Fabulous, The League of Gentlemen, Alan  Partridge and Human Reamains might be ditched in favour of a more coy approach which could leave us watching post-noughties revamps of The Brittas Empire, Goodnight Sweetheart and As Tine Goes By.

Debbie Moore of Pineapple Dance Studios - "Time goes by...so quickly"

Perhaps such knee-jerk reactions are inevitable, talking of which, Pineapple Dance Studios continues to scissor kick and shimmy its way across the schedules, gaining an ever-bigger fanbase. Harry Hill and his TV Burp can probably take as much credit for this as the show itself, which lends itself brilliantly to Hill's gently mocking format. Of course, we'll all be sick of Louis Spence before long, by which point he'll no doubt have guaranteed himself near continuous rotation on every reality TV show going and we'll be stuck with him forever. Frankenstein was an amateur compared to modern-day TV producers, who seem to have a knack of churning out monsters on a daily basis. Perhaps Dancing on Ice is merely a celebrity training camp for the inevitable day when we will chase our C-list stars across the North Pole, aghast at what we have created. As the saying goes "our idols and demons will pursue us, until we learn to let them go."* As far as those demons go, the BBC would do well to take note.

* Ten points to anyone who can source the origins of that quote, btw.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Coronation Street
Whilst Eastenders has been riding bareback and side saddle on a bucking stallion across the windy moors of soapland, Coronation Street has been bobbing along like Joe McIntyre's corpse on Lake Windemere of late, seemingly without any meaningful direction.

Of course, Gail has been required to use all three of her "acting faces" (none of which are bonny, all of which are infuriating).

Face 1

Face 2

Face 3

Why the writers at Granada Studios thought we would enjoy another long, drawn out palaver showcasing her utter stupidity is anyone's guess. As if the Hillman saga wasn't enough! I was always rather a fan of that Richard, myself; he had character.

And what is going on with the two Asian aunties by the way? Someone write them some decent dialogue immediately. I'll admit they're a hammy old pair, with about as much acting ability as Madonna and Patsy Kensit between them but just just have a gander at their expressive faces.

I think they should hold a seance and channel Blanche. Obviously that might be a bit difficult given that she isn't officially dead yet. I do wonder how Corrie will handle that, actually. I fancy a poison pen letter from Portugal, myself, or something suitably feisty to giver her character the send off she deserves.

In the meantime we have the return of Tyrone's mum, ably played by Margie Clarke, Audrey's hi-jinx with a gigolo and Tina singing lullabies to her dead father to amuse us. Perhaps things are looking up after all.


Monday, 22 February 2010

In these shoes?

Monday 22/02/10, 8pm, BBC One

Desiree mulls over Max's polishing fixation... and wonders why he didn't do his own head while he was at it.

Clunking symbolism strikes again. Having let Bradley down frequently while he was alive (not least by knocking off Brad's young bride), his father Max has seemingly spent the 72 hours since EastEnders' live episode last Friday polishing these shoes. You know, rather than letting people (Bradley's mum for one) know about the death. It is, the writers heavy-handedly hint, as if Max wanted to do something for Bradley, something nice, but now it's too late.

"You're a five and a half, aren't you son?"

It took a visit to the 'Viewing Room' for Max to realise that Bradley didn't need any shoes where he was going. It's all barefoot beachy paradise in heaven, apparently.

In these shoes? I don't think so.

"Wrong size, sis."
"Oh Max, you oaf!"
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Pictures of EastEnd Womanhood

Monday 22/02/10, 8pm, BBC One

Desiree ponders whether, in Albert Square at least, a picture really does tell a thousand words.

Dotty and Dot:
The cigarette, the worried look, the peeping round the newel post. There's trouble afoot in the Branning/Cotton household.

Meanwhile, Janine and Pat seem to be having an all-out brass-off.
My money's on Pat, given the way she's staring at that Paris goblet as if it's a potential weapon.
Could more blood yet be spilled on the Vic's parquet?

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My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
Thursday 18 February, 9 p.m., Channel 4

Yes, now, good evening. Maris Piper here, Princess Regent to King Edward and fellow correspondent on all things documental.

Now, I must confess that rather than putting me off, the rather tasteless Channel 4 trailer for this programme, showcasing ever more enormous and outlandish wedding dresses, backed with carnival music and a slightly sinister, almost menacing voiceover made me all the more determined to watch. And watch I did today, from the Throne Room; better late than never as they say.

The trailer itself was a little misleading, however. On the whole this was a genuinely fascinating look at the traditions of a community that we "country people" know very little about (I'm not sure I agree with that moniker, mind; I've always seen myself as a city slicker; Princess Grace of Monaco told me as much when we used to summer together in Nice, bless her soul). Some of these traditions - engagement at 14 and marriage at 16 - seem relatively alien to many of us now but the production team did well to enlist the help of Thelma Madine, a worldly-wise Scouse dressmaker to accompany us through the world of gypsy and traveller weddings. She talked us through the traditions and customs, confessing her own initial surprise and confusion on dealing with this community. One topic she would not be drawn on was that of money, which she put down to respect for her customers and the taboo nature of that subject within the travelling community. I have just stumbled on this, though, which makes me have my doubts about her true motives where cash is concerned.

Certainly, the Cutting Edge team made sure we got our cheap laughs (25 stone wedding dresses, a cake surrounded by Barbie dolls, a bride taking out her chewing gum at the altar) but much of the programme centered on exploring the traditional nature of the travelling community and their attitudes to marriage which were both traditional (sex outside marriage is definitely not on the menu) and remarkably down-to-earth (marriage is hard work, not a fairy tale - something I and a thousand other princesses can vouchsafe).

Still, seeing all those outfits did get me rather nostalgic about my own wedding dress, which caused quite a stir back in its day. After some rather frantic rifling through my closet, I managed to find it and tried to squeeze back into it although I'm rather a fuller in figure than I was back then. Nevertheless, I think I still think I cut rather a dash, don't you?


Saturday, 20 February 2010

Shout It From The Rooftops

Eastenders 25th Anniversary LIVE episode 19/02/10, 8pm, BBC One

Desiree and Rooster enjoyed a night in front of the box, watching this historic televisual event. Long-term lovers of soap, they offer their reactions to this exciting episode.

Rooster: So tell me, Desiree, as we sit in the wake of last night’s live episode of Eastenders, how are you feeling?

Desiree: I'm still reeling from the excitement, me; I was semi-hysterical last night, and found myself lying awake mulling it all over. Why, why, WHY? Why did they feel the need to shoehorn in a story about incestuous rape? Wasn't Archie's rejection/ manipulation of Danielle, ultimately leading to her death, ENOUGH of a motive for Ronnie to have killed him? Oh no, they had to go all Take-a-Break-chic with their issue-based narrative. It jarred on me that, really it did. It was a good old-fashioned murder mystery before that was mentioned: a riotous party, enigmatic shared looks, a femme fatale stalking the streets clutching a set of ill-functioning keys, a young couple click-clacking through the shadows in brogues and heels... There were televisual thrills aplenty, all being played out with booming aplomb.

Rooster: Yes, I was a little surprised – I actually gasped – at Ronnie’s revelation. Perhaps one of the scriptwriters had been reading one of those dodgy books from WHSmith’s “Damaged Lives” section. I'm not really sure where they'll go with that now. Perhaps it will be like Ivy's ghost in Coronation Street, i.e. dropped very quickly and never mentioned again, which I daresay is for the best. After all, this is not Home and Away. Overall though,I was really rather thrilled with last night's episode: there was a genuine sense of excitement about the storyline and the fact that the episode was going out live merely added to the sense of expectation. My mind fairly boggled at the logistical nightmare that must have been going on behind the scenes. Just think, an impromptu power cut could have knocked the whole thing bandy!

Desiree: Quite right.

Rooster: So tell me, Desiree, what were your highlights from last night's episode?

Desiree: Well, it would really be hard to pick just a few things; it was really the whole feel of the show – over-rehearsed hysteria– which did it for me.

Rooster: Did any particular character make an impact last night?

Desiree: Janine. She's amazing and I adore her, especially the way her voice goes husky when she's emoting. She undertook a complex key-based investigation of her own, having sworn –uninvited– to DCI Marsden that she'd find out who had stolen her own keys and framed her. This investigation seemed to involve a lot of close ups of her hands trying keys in doors – I'd now recognise her finely-shaped thumbnail anywhere– and culminated in a showdown with Peggy in the cellar of the Vic.

Rooster: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. Peggy and Janine fighting in the cellar of the Vic to the distant strains of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" was a definite highlight for me. I can only assume Babs must have been humming along in her head to that one as she fluffed a couple of her lines shortly after. And I thought that Good old Lacey Turner put in a sterling performance as Stacey, as usual. Indeed her hoarse voice, which had the producers panicking wildly just days before, lent itself rather well to her addled state, I thought. Note to self: if required to act in a dramatic fashion, contract bronchitis.

Desiree: The time-capsule/ videotape scene with Ian and Dot was another gem. The hotch-potch of short clips, expertly edited to look like something from ITV's The Chart Show 'Video Vault' was an interesting nod to EastEnders' anniversary, and rewarded long-term fans with brief glimpses of Arthur, Michelle, and of course the young Ian.

Rooster: Oh I enjoyed that too, though I always find it rather amusing when any show tries to mock up previous TV quality footage as home movies. I doubt even Ian Beale had a studio quality camera back in the 80s.

Desiree: No doubt, although his line about selling on the video camera for a profit was again a trip down memory lane for the devoted viewer, harking back to the ever-presence of his entrepreneurial nature. I'm sure at one point Phil referred to Lucy as "your skank of a daughter", and Ian said nothing in her defence. She is slightly skanky –they're trying to Hollyoaks her up a bit, with about as much success as the cringeworthy E20 online spin-off–, but Ian's eternal fear of/ deference to Phil is simultaneously annoying and boring. I'm sure I wasn't the only long-term viewer to wish we had Michelle, Lofty and Sharon back, instead of being lumbered with Ian and his humourless, tedious ways. But I digress: the scene between Ian and Dot was great last night, largely due to June Brown's slightly hysterical over-enunciation.

Rooster: Did you see June Brown on “Eastenders Live - The Aftermath” on BBC Three? There she was being interviewed, knocking back a glass of sherry. It’s a miracle she managed to enunciate at all; she looked and sounded genuinely crazed. Perhaps her over-enunciation was due to the fact that, as she herself admitted, she had been gloriously ropey in rehearsals. Good old BBC Three, assessing, reassessing and repeating clips of an episode we had finished watching minutes earlier. The wonders of modern television! How things have changed since Eastenders was born!

Desiree: Exactly. I mean just think of Ian holding aloft of that mangled videotape. A symbol, perhaps, not only of the massive technological revolution which has happened over the last 25 years, but of the fact that "old" EastEnders is gone, and its style and structure continue to evolve. There has been much innovation in the EastEnders camp of late, with very mixed results.

Rooster: Indeed. And what about the finale? Thoughts?

Desiree: The rooftop chase, of course! Now, I'm no expert on policing policy, but would the PC have simply scrambled across the slates after Bradley? Are there no rules on this kind of thing? Oughtn't they to have stayed well back and unfurled an impromtu safety net, possibly one of June Brown's wig-guards? I liked the way it was reminiscent of the old BBC1 indents with the people free-running across the London landscape to get home in time for EastEnders; somebody worked really hard on getting all these references into the episode, and, on the whole, they worked. Also, I'm interested in learning when the live footage stops and the other –presumably pre-recorded for reasons of safety– footage begins... perhaps I'll re-watch and try to spot the join.

Rooster: Darling, don’t waste your time. I can answer this for you. Alongside the many clips from previous episodes and from last night’s extravaganza on “EastEnders Live - The Aftermath”, they actually manged to squeeze in some genuine insights into the process behind the live episode. I can confirm that EVERYTHING you saw was live, including the fall from the rooftop – why would Bradley try to run away along the roof of the Vic, by the way? He was a sensible chap and there was only one way that was going to end – anyway, I digress, yes there were two sets: one of some mocked up roofs with Bradley running along them and the normal set, with a stuntman dressed as Bradley on the roof of the Vic. The two were intercut, of course, but it was all done live.

Desiree: Goodness! Technically, the episode was very well-managed, though of course there were far fewer in-scene edits than usual, which I found rather a blessing; my astigmatism doesn't refocus quickly enough nowadays. I suppose the over-rehearsed delivery was a necessary by-product of getting everything running like clockwork. Imagine! Coronation Street did this on a daily basis in the early days! Though, granted, without such sensational acrobatics and gloriously sticky fake blood.

Rooster: Too true! So overall a success, then.Well done EastEnders! That said, there were also a few lowlights, not least of which was the greatest missed opportunity in the history of television when Pat asked Peggy to join her on the dance floor and Peggy turned her down. Clearly, the risk of a simultaneous broken hip/slipped disc fiasco on live television had led to any such dance-off being shelved. A disappointment.

Desiree: Of course, and can we please just make an honourable mention for Max Branning's emoting at the end. Priceless.

Rooster: Fully agree! His crazed wailing brought the whole thing dangerously close to mild farce; luckily Stacey was there to save the day, coughing up a husky confession to close the episode.

Desiree: So that’s that then. Assessment complete.

Rooster: Damn right. I say, Desiree, we’re rather good at this lark. Perhaps one of us should place a call to whoever it is who runs BBC Three and offer our services.

Desiree: I was thinking the same thing but being a potato, I find it rather difficult to dial. Tell you what, lock me in a darkened room for a week and I’ll see if I get any sprouts, that should make me a bit more dextrous.

Rooster: Deal.



Please note that I will be unavailable for further correspondence until Saturday 27th February

Friday, 19 February 2010

Eastenders...the drama before the storm...

BBC One, 17/02/09, 7.30 p.m.

Evening all, Rooster here!

As fellow TV blogger King Edward is constantly reminding me, it is strictly forbidden for members of the Royal Family to be assembled together in the same place at the same time lest a terrible accident befall them and the entire lineage be discontinued in one fell swoop. Why he insists on reacquainting me with this fact every time we meet, I do not compute. As I have repeatedly taken pains to remind him, I have seen King Ralph; I am au fait with Royal protocol.

The creative team responsible for Eastenders would do well to take note. At its dramatic climax, last night's extended episode saw at least 95% of the Square assembled in the Vic. This strikes me as very lax: had the mock ceiling collapsed or the set been hit by a mudslide, the producers would have found themselves knocking on Sophie Lawrence's door, begging her to emote in the ruins. Needles to say, she is undoubtedly capable of the task but is nonetheless unlikely to accept given her considerable success in the music business.

The episode itself, based around two weddings (Bianca & Ricky and Bradley & Stacey), made a very slow, almost plodding start but picked up once the nuptials got under way. Bianca's wedding was an all bells and whistles kind of affair, somewhat reminiscent of last night's equally brilliant My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and was punctuated (but not punctured) by the arrival of her mum, Carol. Stacey and Bradley were wed in surprisingly staid circumstances at the local Town Hall, ably assisted by Stacey's crazy mum
and Bradley's dad and Stacey's one time lover , Max.

Of course, the ghost of Archie loomed large over the Vic once the two wedding parties had ill-advisedly assembled there. Possibly in a crazed reaction to recent events, Roxie and Peggy seemed to be having some sort of fascinator-off. Peggy gave a good fight but Roxie emerged victorious, looking like a 40s sex siren to Peggy's whorehouse madam. Meanwhile, her crazed sister, Ronnie (played by the ever-hammier Samantha Janus) bitch slapped Janine into a three-tier wedding cake. Of course, Ronnie ended up with (fake) blood on her hands after hurling some recently-discarded red paint onto the poster of her father grinning menacingly down from above the car lot.

This penchant for mock-theatricals has long been a feature of Eastenders. Of course, motifs such as Archie's snowglobe and Pauline's infamous doorstop are more high camp than high class and no doubt the production team take great pleasure in indulging their penchant for melodramatic prop use. All power to them! In any case, all that theatrical flair should come in handy for tonight's live episode, which this extended episode was clearly designed to whet our appetite for. The episode closed with Bradley poised to do a runner and everyone looking increasingly like a suspect.

To its credit, Eastenders has managed to build up a genuine sense of excitement about the "Who killed Archie?" storyline. Perhaps they learned their lesson from the dreadful, drawn out disaster that was the "Who Shot Phil?" debacle which, although only running for a matter of months, seemed to drag on for years and culminated in a whimper, rather than a bang. It always seemed to me rather like a post-dinner party game of Cluedo that had somehow dragged on into the wee small hours: no-one actually cared who had done it any longer and they just wanted it to end. Perhaps it was Eastenders' recent foray into online entertainment (the frankly dreadful E20 - please abort mission asap) that has reveled to them the fickle nature of the modern viewer. We are looking for instant gratification, thrills, spills and excitement, not some long drawn-out saga with an unsatisfactory conclusion. After all, those seeking such an experience can shop at Asda. I myself will be whisking through the Waitrose express self-check out this evening before settling down to watch what I hope will be a similarly slick televisual triumph.

Rooster x