A haven for couch potatoes everywhere

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

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Heir Hunters

Heir Hunters
Series 4, Episode 20
BBC One, 12/02/10, 9.15am

King Edward admires the sleuthing skills of those who make a living from tracking down relatives of people who have died intestate.

I have only recently discovered this hidden gem of a daytime programme, which features a blend of social history documentary and fly-on-the-wall footage.

It opens in the same way each time: a fast-edited montage of files, coins, old photos, and London landmarks flashes before me. A voiceover explains that each year "thousands" of people (and I overlook the imprecise nature of this statistic; I am aware of my failings as I grow older, and pedantry is sadly one of them) die each year without leaving a will, and that "keeping this money in the family is a job for the heir hunters." There follows some further, slightly vague detail about these inheritances going "to the goverment" (illustrated by some jauntily-angled shots of the Houses of Parliament).

The first time I saw
Heir Hunters, I wasn't sure I'd like it. Documentary-lite is not my usual bag. But, I assure you: it's a grower. I look forward to each episode now, and often take my morning coffee in front of the widescreen, feet up on a pouffe, wondering what stories will be told that day.

It's like a detective drama without the unsettling inclusion of a violent and bloody death; though death is of course mentioned in this show, it is not the central focus. Nor, slightly suprisingly, is money. The most interesting tales are often those which involve relatively small inheritances, but which take us on a fascinating trip through the life and family history of an ordinary person. Being regal myself, this fascinates me more than most, and I must confess that some rainy afternoons I re-enact the lives I have seen on
Heir Hunters, using cut-out figures in my father's antique Bavarian shadow-puppet theatre (which, of course, I myself inherited when he passed on; a nice nod to the gist of the show, I think. Though nobody had to hunt for me when he went. I was just downstairs at the time, taking tea with a friend).

The stories in this particular episode of
Heir Hunters were noteworthy, particularly the one about Tadeusz Gaweda, a Polish soldier who died in 1991. The stories are told in a simple chronological manner, with a mixture of recount from the heir hunters, and exposition via voiceover, over photographs and some simple graphics (usually family trees).

Gaweda's story covered his journey to the UK via Germany and Russia, and showed his son (who had been discovered living in Spain) visiting the camp where Gaweda lived when he came here. The background music and script play on the drama and emotion of the tale, but perhaps rightly so; after all, it is a dramatic and emotional story, made even more so by the fact that it is true.
Heir Hunters does this well, without overdoing it, and though this particular case had a pan-European flavour, the other, perhaps simpler cases shown in this and other episodes are no less involving for the viewer.

On this show, subjects are portrayed in an affectionate (or at worst neutral) tone;
Heir Hunters passes no judgement on those whose lives it documents. Beneficiaries are allowed to express pleasure at unexpected inheritances, again with no judgement, and their stories are further personalised by some discussion of what the money will be used for, and how this will impact on the life story of the heirs.

Meanwhile, viewers are allowed glimpses into the methods used by the heir hunters, perhaps enabling them to pick up tips for tracing their own lineage; I must confess this passes me by somewhat, given that my own family records are housed in an oak-panelled room, and staffed by a full-time archivist. He's in the middle of transferring everything to computer just now; well, to his iPhone, to be exact. We're all rather excited about that.

The commission-based nature of the heir hunters' work is not dwelt upon, which I think is a good decision by the producers. The programme manages to create a charming, nostalgic tone from material which, in other hands, could be edited in a manner which would incite the use of the word "grasping."

A bit like a junior school history project about someone's grandad,
Heir Hunters is genuinely interesting, largely unchallenging, and uses a full range of visual illustrative techniques. It's enjoyable.

Over and out,

King Edward