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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.