TV

Supersize vs Superskinny, Tuesday 8pm, Channel 4

Posted by Tom Murphy

Christian Jessen in Supersize vs Superskinny (c) Channel 4
One well-known comedy writer tweeted last week that after seeing the trailer for Supersize vs Superskinny he had “sent off for a form to resign from the human race”. And that indicates how badly Channel 4 have promoted what was actually a fairly useful and engaging documentary.

If you believed the notorious ad, the series would consist of nothing but a gang of alarmingly overweight and underweight people lurching around in dismal flesh-coloured undies. However, the “freak show” aspect that C4 chose for the trailer had – mercifully – disappeared within a few minutes.

Instead the, ahem, bulk of the programme was taken up with one “supersizer” – 25-stone Helen – pairing up with a “superskinny” – six-stone Elaine – to swap their dysfunctional diets for a couple of days and realise how extreme their eating habits are.

Continue reading "Supersize vs Superskinny, Tuesday 8pm, Channel 4" »


Empire, Monday 9pm, BBC One

Posted by Jane Murphy

Jeremy Paxman in Empire/BBC
Right - settle down, everyone. It's time for a history lesson. Jeremy Paxman's been very busy making this new five-part series, in which he travels the world tracing the story of the British Empire while uplifting, patriotic music plays in the background. But, as you'd probably expect, Empire is far from a back-slapping, flag-waving celebration of our nation's all-round greatness: it's a tale of greed, prejudice and plunder, as well as heroism and adventure.

Tonight's first episode focused on how exactly the British once gained power over a quarter of the world's population. And it turns out we didn't just bowl people over with our unparalleled tea-making skills and never-ending small talk about the weather.

Paxman travelled to India, where 19th-century maharajahs were somehow coaxed into paying the British for the "privilege" of being allowed to continue living in their own palaces, while thousands of Indian troops signed up to fight for the invaders' army. In 1877, the spectacular Delhi Durbar saw Queen Victoria proclaimed Empress of India as the Brits attempted to dazzle the country into submission. It largely seemed to have the desired effect - for a while.

"Even the caretaker isn't much interested nowadays," commented Paxman as he wandered around Coronation Park, the site of the 1877 showcase. In fact, this turned out to be rather an understatement: on further interrogation, it became clear that the caretaker really couldn't give a monkey's. He didn't know what had once taken place in the area he was guarding. "And I don't much care to find out," he shrugged. That's the spirit!

I have to admit I did relive some of the history lessons of my schooldays by getting a bit fidgety and glazing over at times during the programme. As Paxman popped up in various far-off places, interviewing an apparent mishmash of people, the story seemed to be going off at all angles without hanging on to a strong narrative thread.

But towards the end of the episode, things really picked up when our host arrived in Jerusalem. Here, he met Sarah Agassi, a former member of Zionist paramilitary group Irgun, who now admits playing a major role in the anti-British bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946. This terrorist act resulted in the deaths of around 90 people. Agassi shows no remorse: she "did what she had to do" because it was a "war".

It was incredibly disconcerting - but hugely fascinating - to see this sweet-looking old woman express such unwavering, belligerent views. For some reason, Paxman seemed to allow her a much easier time than he'd given the poor Indian caretaker or an elderly man in Egypt who was having trouble identifying any positives about the British occupation. I suppose he's just learnt when to sit back and let people and their amazing stories speak for themselves...

Were you captivated by Empire? Tell us what you think.

Picture: BBC

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Benidorm, Friday 9pm, ITV1

Posted by Tom Murphy

Sherrie Hewson as Joyce Temple Savage in Benidorm (c) ITV

It's been through some changes down the years, but ITV's hit comedy Benidorm is back for a fifth series of sun-drenched shenanigans at the Solana resort. However, tonight's disappointing series opener suggests the holiday romance might be over.

Since the last time I watched it, the show has lost cast members like Sheridan Smith, Johnny Vegas, Crissy Rock and Nicholas Burns, and – sadly – it doesn't seem to have replaced them with performers of the same calibre.

The big new addition for this year is Loose Woman Sherrie Hewson (above), who turns up as the Solana's new no-nonsense manageress Joyce Temple Savage.

Joyce is determined to raise standards at the resort and earn it a four-star rating, but it looks like she's going to be foiled at every turn by bolshy holidaymakers and lazy staff.

Continue reading "Benidorm, Friday 9pm, ITV1" »


Strictly Baby Disco, Thursday 10pm, Channel 4

Posted by Jane Murphy

Billie in Strictly Baby Disco/Channel 4
I'm really not sure how the ultra-competitive world of children's freestyle disco has somehow managed to elude populist documentary-makers until now. After all, it's got pretty much every ingredient you need to ensure animated water-cooler conversations the following day: pushy parents, eye-popping dance routines, nine-year-olds having spray tans, ridiculously OTT outfits...

Anyway, thanks to Channel 4's one-off Strictly Baby Disco, we can now gain an insight into this growing dance phenomenon. The rules? There aren't any really: rather than learn set moves, the kids make it all up and do their best to stand out from the crowd in every way possible. This is disco-dancing - but not as we know it. (To be honest, it looked more like gymnastics to me. But what would I know?)

Tonight's programme followed three nine-year-old girls - Clemmie, Orlaigh and Billie - in the build-up to the all-important Disco Kid competition in Blackpool. Their mission? To knock reigning champion Karah off her perch.

As is usually the case with this kind of show, however, we learned far more about their mothers than we did about the girls themselves. Billie and her mum Tracy recently relocated from Yorkshire to Scotland so they could be near the best dance teacher. It meant Billie had to leave her friends behind and settle into a new school, but Tracy sees this as a small price to pay on the road to success.

In the run-up to Disco Kid, Billie was having fake tan problems: the product was sticking to the eczema patches on her arms and aggravating the condition. "Why not go without tan?" asked the unseen narrator, not unreasonably. "If everyone went without it, it wouldn't be a problem," Tracy admitted. "But all the kids wear it - so she has to as well."

But Billie wasn't the only one suffering for her art. Orlaigh's mum Pauline makes her wear a huge wig to ensure she gets noticed - but the clips dig into her head. More worryingly, she regularly suffers from health worries a couple of weeks before a competition. "Doctors have said it's stress-related," Pauline explained.

The day before Disco Kid, Orlaigh was on antibiotics for a kidney infection. "But I've told her she doesn't dance with her kidneys," laughed Pauline. "She dances with her feet."

And so Orlaigh joined the other girls at the big event and danced all the way to the last heat before getting knocked out. "She should have been in the final," insisted her mum. "When this airs on TV, the public will be asking questions." You're right, Pauline. We are asking questions. But probably not the ones you expected.

Were you shocked by Strictly Baby Disco? Tell us here.

Picture: Channel 4

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Big Body Squad, Wednesday 8pm, Channel 5

Posted by Tom Murphy

Keith Martin in Big Body Squad (c) Channel 5
This would-be weighty documentary informed us (not totally accurately) that “Britain is getting bigger.” However, the statistics made its point a little more clearly: one in four adults in the UK is currently obese, and within eight years that'll have increased to one in three.

As a result, healthcare professionals and the emergency services are having to be equipped and trained to deal with patients who put their resources under more strain than ever.

This mishmash of a programme followed various ambulance staff, carers and fire-fighters as they encountered patients like Keith (above), a 53-stone bloke who hadn't left his house in 10 years before being hospitalised by a fall.

Continue reading "Big Body Squad, Wednesday 8pm, Channel 5" »


The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, Monday 8.30pm, BBC Two

Posted by Jane Murphy

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff
When The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff's hour-long Christmas special hit our screens in December, it received something of a mixed reception from critics. While some applauded the Dickensian spoof for its sharp script and stellar casting, others felt it didn't really deliver. The Guardian, for example, dismissed it as "bland and unfunny" - which is pretty damning stuff from a newspaper that's celebrated for its ability to deliver non-stop chuckles. (Er... I have got that right, haven't I?)

Anyway, fast-forward a couple of months and the small-screen schedules seem to be depressingly light on must-see comedy shows. So the scene was well and truly set for The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff to make its triumphant return and prove its comic credentials with the first of three follow-up half-hour episodes.

The premise? Jedrington Secret-Past (Robert Webb) is a fine, upstanding family man who runs a successful store selling "miscellaneous odd things" in Victorian London. A sample product? A "mechanical French-hater", which consists of a Jack-in-the-box-style toy that flicks a two-fingered salute at passing Frenchmen. Jedrington is joined behind the counter by his loving wife Conceptiva (Katherine Parkinson).

However, tonight's episode saw the shopkeeper team up with a sweet-talking business partner Harmswell Grimstone (Tim McInerney), whose ridiculously complicated money-making strategy turned the Secret-Past family super-rich in super-quick time. But did all that sudden wealth make them happy? Did it hell! And by the end of the episode, Conceptiva was heading for End-it-All Dock.

As you may have surmised from the above, an episode summary can't really do justice to this very silly but also quite intelligent comedy. It's written by Mark Evans, the man behind Radio 4's Dickensian spoof Bleak Expectations - and reminds me a lot of Blackadder in content and tone (and not just because of the presence of Blackadder veteran McInerney).

The satire and in-jokes are spot-on. Indeed, I laughed out loud quite a a few times. And I can asure you it takes a lot to make me crack a smile on a cold Monday evening in February.

Did The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff get you giggling? Tell us here.

Picture: BBC

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Homeland, Sunday 9.30pm, Channel 4

Posted by Tim Carson

Homeland
Channel 4 enters the battle for Sunday night ratings with the Golden Globe winning US drama Homeland. But this is no comfy costume drama, this is a 24-style gripping thriller full of twists, turns and compelling characters. This is what Sunday nights have been crying out for, TV so riveting a week is just too long to wait for the next episode.

Homeland is loosely based on Gideon Raff's Israeli television series Prisoners of War and centres on the miraculous return of a US marine Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) eight years after he was taken prisoner in Iraq. The problem is that Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a driven CIA officer, who served in Iraq was told by a source that a US prisoner of war had been “turned” and she now suspects this is Brody.

As in all good thrillers Carrie’s bosses don’t believe her and are convinced Brody is just a US marine glad to be home. She’s then forced to go it alone to try and prove her case, calling in favours from her few friends in and outside the agency. Meanwhile Brody is struggling to adjust to life with a wife and two kids he hasn’t seen in eight years and they are finding it hard to have him home.

It’s a perfect set up and the first episode cleverly casts enough doubt on the credibility of both Carrie and Brody to have you wondering who to be believed. Strong performances from both leads help with the uncertainty. Damien Lewis is excellent as the returning hero, controlled and distant but likeable - you wonder is he in on a mission from Al-Qaeda or is he just having trouble re-adjusting to life?

Danes too brings her considerable acting talent to her character Carrie capturing the fragility of a woman on the edge trying to maintain control but also determined to go to any lengths to do her job. There’s an excellent supporting cast too including Mandy Patinkin, Morena Baccarin and David Harewood.

The show’s producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa won Emmys for their work on 24 so they know how to pace a TV programme, drip-feeding just enough information to keep you hooked and constantly on alert for the next twist or unexpected turn.

Homeland is going to be an addictive pleasure. But will you be watching this modern-day thriller or tuning into the period fun of Upstairs Downstairs?

Picture: BBC

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Upstairs Downstairs, Sunday 9.30pm, BBC One

Posted by Jane Murphy

Upstairs Downstairs/BBC
We waited 35 years for Upstairs Downstairs to make its small-screen return after the original series ended in 1975. So the 14-month gap between its three-episode run in December 2010 and the start of this full six-parter is a mere tea-break in comparison. But even so, it feels like it's been a long time coming - with rumours of on-set fall-outs and walkouts occasionally hitting the press in the meantime.

So was it worth the wait? On the strength of tonight's opener alone, I can't help feeling that the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. Yes, the cast list is impressive and the late '30s period setting spot-on. But I didn't feel gripped by one particular storyline or emotionally involved with any of the characters until well towards the end of the hour.

It may be a very welcome addition to the Sunday-night schedules, but - whisper it - it's not yet a worthy match for ITV1's fellow masters-and-servants saga Downton Abbey. Mind you, ast least it wasn't interrupted by constant ad breaks.

Part of the problem, of course, was that much of this episode was taken up with reintroducing old characters, introducing new ones and explaining away several notable absences. The programme's original creators - Jean Marsh and Dame Eileen Atkins - were both key to the 2010 show, but didn't feature tonight.

Marsh is currently recovering from a stroke, so her role as housekeeper Rose has been given far less prominence - although we're promised she will pop up later in the series. And despite stealing the show as the eccentric Lady Holland in 2012, Dame Eileen decided not to return to the series. As a result, Lady H has been killed off - and in her place comes Alex Kingston as her equally eccentric half-sister Dr Blanche Mottershead.

I was briefly overjoyed to see that Lady H's pet monkey, Solomon, had avoided the chop. But less than half an hour in, they'd only gone and killed him off - despite the valiant attempts of butler Mr Pritchard (Adrian Scarborough) to revive him at the kitchen table.

But it wasn't all new faces and monkey business. Upstairs, Sir Hallam (Ed Stoppard) was becoming increasingly embroiled with his job as a foreign diplomat and trying his best to convince the government that Hitler couldn't be contained. (Nice try, Sir H - but we all know how that one's going to turn out.) Oh, and then he snogged his sister-in-law, Lady Persie (Claire Foy), which was far more entertaining.

Meanwhile, Lady Agnes - who'd just given birth to the couple's second child - had her work cut out wrestling her husband's gun from the overwrought Mr Amanjit (Art Malik). But even that wasn't really as exciting as it sounds. Still, at the end of this little scene, the best line of the programme fell to Blanche: "The spectacle has concluded. And since we are in England, I suggest you make some tea." Good idea, Blanche - I'm right on it.

So is Upstairs Downstairs really in the same class as Downton Abbey? Tell us what you think.

Picture: BBC

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Let's Dance For Sport Relief, Saturday 7pm, BBC One

Posted by Jane Murphy

Steve Jones and Alex Jones on Let's Dance For Sport Relief/BBC

Yes, it's that time again. Let's Dance For Sport Relief returned tonight with a whole new bunch of celebrity acts putting on their dance shoes to make twits of themselves for a very good cause. And once again, the programme was hosted by The One Show's Alex Jones, alongside Steve 'no relation' Jones, who's now back among his own people after his less-than-spectacular stint on The X Factor USA. (Stick with us from now on, Steve. You're always better off in Blighty.)

Tonight's tongue-in-cheek judging panel featured Graham Norton, Greg Davies (aka "Him off The Inbetweeners") and Keith Lemon. Well, who else would you get to judge a dance contest? (Arlene Phillips? Don't be silly!)

And the celebrity acts? EastEnders stars Laurie Brett and Tameka Empson opened the show with an energetic routine to 'Telephone' by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. "I haven't seen the original video, but it can't have been better than that," gushed Greg. Next came comedian Terry Alderton, who dragged up as Tina Turner and danced to 'Proud Mary'. "It was physical poetry," insisted Graham.

Terry was followed by ex-cricketer and former Strictly Come Dancing winner Darren Gough, who wore a silly wig and strutted his stuff to the gym Mambo from West Side Story. Graham's verdict? "It's only a small criticism, but the hair was slightly stiff and under-rehearsed."

Next, veteran DJs Tony Blackburn and 'Diddy' David Hamilton performed to 'Push It' by Salt-n-Pepa. At one point, Tony leapfrogged over Diddy in what was very possibly the greatest TV moment of the decade. This is why we pay our licence fees! "It was some of the rawest urban dance I've ever seen,' said Greg.

And finally, Shooting Stars regulars Angelos Epithemiou and Ulrika Jonsson danced the tango to 'Roxanne' by The Police. (And why not, eh?) "It had a real savage nobility to it," Graham commented.

Anyway, following the viewers' vote, Laurie and Tameka went straight through to the final - while the judges were forced to choose between the next two most popular acts, Terry and Tony-n-Diddy, and eventually opted for the former. Still, there are three more heats to come before we see them again in the big dance-off. Next week we're promised Amy Childs and Eddie the Eagle on the same bill. What more could you ask for?

One of the great things about Let's Dance For Sport Relief - aside from the charity fund-raising aspect, obviously - is that nobody takes it too seriously and everyone's out for a laugh. This is what we want from our Saturday night TV - not sob stories, ballads and name-calling. (Simon Cowell, please take note.)

So which dancers impressed you the most tonight? Did the right act win? Tell us here.

Discover more ways to support Sport Relief here.

Picture: BBC

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Your shout: who do you think will kill Frank Foster?

Posted by Julie Richardson

Frank Foster
If there's one person on Coronation Street who deserves his just deserts, it's evil villain Frank Foster – and boy is he going to get it…

Since he arrived on the Street he's terrorised the residents; raping Carla Connor, attacking Maria Connor and he's threatening to turn off the charm to new girlfriend Sally Webster. But while he's made more enemies on the cobbles than we've had hot dinners, the news that someone is set to murder the not-so-charming-charmer came as quite a surprise.

What's more shocking, however, is the number of people who'll be named as suspects in this Corrie 'whodunit'. Six Coronation Street residents will find themselves in the frame, all with viable motives - but who do you think will actually carry out the deed?

Will it be rape victim Carla? Or Carla's pal Michelle Connor? Maybe it’ll be Carla's lover Peter Barlow? Frank's mum Anne Foster? Frank's lover Sally Webster? Or perhaps it’ll be Sally's hubby Kevin Webster?

Our money's on Frank's mum, she's always seemed a little unhinged to us - but what's your verdict?

Picture: ITV

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