Tuesday, 6 January 2009

What we watched over Christmas

Some might say the festive season just ended didn't throw up much in the way of televisual treats, but we beg to differ. There were plenty of programmes to please the eye, and to prove it, here's a selection of some of our favourites...

The Peter Serafinowicz Christmas Show
Sketch shows like these tend to divide public opinion in that oft-mentioned way that Marmite does, but we're big fans of Serra and his first series for the BBC in 2007 was on the whole excellent. This festive edition carried on where that series left off with one or two returning characters like Brian 'Bon-bon-bon-bonbon' Butterfield and some new but nonetheless brilliantly executed recurring themes like the ads for 'iToilet' and the 'Mactini'. Like all the best sketch shows, not everything hits the spot outright, but Serafinowicz has a pretty good average and is highly deserving of another series. Can't be long now, can it BBC?

Blackadder Rides Again
At long last, Rowan Atkinson finally agreed to be interviewed about the classic comedy programme he really made his own, and this documentary was all the better for it. UKTV Gold recently did a similar thing for the 25th anniversary of BlackAdder's first appearance on British telly, but this had an edge of credibility to it. Atkinson featured heavily (as well he should) along with the likes of John Lloyd, Ben Elton, Richard Curtis and all the cast, and the feeling you were left with was one of great effort they all put in to maximise the comedy in the show. Locations were visited, costumes were hauled out of the archives and behind the scenes footage was shown to complete a worthy celebration of one of Britain's best loved comedy series. Will it come back? Probably not, and nor should it. As was proved with Only Fools And Horses, some things are best ended while people still have respect for them.

Top Gear Vietnam Special
Messrs. Clarkson, May and Hammond gave us the latest in their international set-pieces, and though the programme had a strange atmosphere to it (largely due to their Asian surroundings), it didn't disappoint. Clarkson trying to ride a motorbike for the first time on severely pot-holed roads, May wearing a wok and a colander on his head as a makeshift crash helmet and Hammond phut-phut-phutting around with a large scale model of a Spanish galleon strapped to the back of his bike were just some of the things that amused throughout. It's just a shame the programme may be affected by budget restraints next year, thereby limiting the amount of times we might see this kind of thing. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, though.

Stanley Baxter: Now & Then
Once upon a time, Stanley Baxter was always on our screens, particularly around Christmas. His lavish shows would parody the great Hollywood movies in the most part and his impersonations of anyone from Greta Garbo to Jimmy Durante were every bit as good anything you'd see from Rory Bremner or Alistair McGowan today. It's somewhat ironic, then, that the expense of creating shows with such high production values proved to be his undoing in the end, but this programme rightly gave us all a chance to look again at those wonderful shows and to hear from the great man himself. Coming out of retirement for this one-off occasion, Baxter gave us an interesting insight into the way his LWT programmes were made and he even recorded some fresh material in the persona of Her Majesty The Queen. Quite impressive he was too, especially for a man aged 82. At a time of the year when everyone's thoughts turn to Morecambe and Wise, ITV should be proud of reminding us that Christmas was also once the terrain of people like Stanley Baxter who were equally as adept at making us laugh.

Shooting Stars: The Inside Story
Another retrospective took Vic and Bob's wonderfully silly panel game as its subject, and it too was celebrating an anniversary - 15 years since it was first broadcast. This documentary didn't take itself quite as seriously as those others we've mentioned, but it did at least give the likes of Paul Whitehouse, Lenny Henry and Johnny Vegas the chance to convey how much they enjoyed taking part in the programme. Not only that, but we also had ample opportunity to look once again at many of the best bits from the show's past including The Dove From Above, George Dawes on drums and Vic Reeves' jokes that always sent the tumbleweed rolling. Good fun and a great laugh throughout.

The Krypton Factor
Yes, the return of what's been billed as 'an old favourite' although we take issue with that a little bit. Though it undeniably had big audiences on ITV once upon a time, we don't remember this being a programme that people would watch avidly and talk about down the pub the next night. They probably watched it in large numbers because the alternative on the BBC was too poor to contemplate. Anyway, back on our screens it most certainly is and injected with 21st Century pizzazz too, but to our mind, that's part of its problem. For a start, the backdrop of the studio is now a ceiling-to-floor video wall displaying a psychedelic array of patterns and imagery that distract throughout, plus there's a new assault course which seems to be twice as complicated as the old one (like it needed to be...) New host Ben Shephard, it can be said, is distinctly lacking in sufficient personality to carry off the 'Gordon Burns' role, there's no sight of the studio audience like there used to be which gives the show a cold feel, and all in all this new Krypton Factor's seems a bit soulless, really. We could be wrong, but we don't think this will run much beyond a second series - or even this series perhaps.

Morecambe & Wise: The Show What Paul Merton Did
Finally, a fine tribute to the aforementioned Eric and Ern. There have been countless previous attempts to show the best bits of their work, to discuss the pros and cons of their routines and private lives, but this found just the right balance while bringing something new to the table. Hosted by Paul Merton, various guests were brought on to have a brief chat about 'Britain's Best Loved Comedy Duo' in-between various pieces of archive footage, but this is where the show excelled. Remarkably, someone had bothered to try and find some rarely seen material which made such a refreshing change as to set it apart from all previous efforts at this kind of programme. With Merton being an obvious fan too, it was a great way to reflect on the joy that Morecambe and Wise brought to many of our lives, and deserves almost as many re-runs as the original shows had themselves.


lemondrizzle 6 January 2009 at 13:56  

I adored the 'Shooting Stars' doc (although not so much the actual new one-off episode), mainly because of the characters Vic and Bob created to present it: the head of comedy at the BBC with a NY accent, the cockney camera men, the make up people etc. They went the extra mile with some new gags when they could just have stuck with the usual talking heads. Brilliant.

Chris O 6 January 2009 at 14:31  

Yes indeed, quite agreed. I particularly enjoyed the cockney cameraman!!

Duffman 6 January 2009 at 16:47  

Regarding the Blackadder doc, I was fascinated to learn how they'd stuffed up the final scene in 'Goes Fourth'. It took the editor, Chris Wadsworth, plus an uncredited sound guy at the Beeb to completely transform it into one of the most memorable moments in TV Comedy.

Chris O 6 January 2009 at 19:19  

Quite so, Duffman. I think the UKTV documentary talked about this too - the way the final scene had to be slowed right down and merged into the still of a poppy field. It could have looked really tacky, but it worked brilliantly - especially with the soundtrack they used.

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