Hidelly Ho Readerinos, and welcome to another edition of TTWTWB! Sorry it’s been so long since the last one, it feels like forever since I published an article. Last week I had my article written twice, and each time before I published…flash crashed and I LOST EVERYTHING! The first time I was frustrated, but willing to write again. The second time…well, let’s just say it’s only down to some great willpower on my behalf that all my windows and my laptop are still in tact!
Anyhow, as such we’ve got a great deal to discuss, so we’ll get into that straight away, but first we have a great song for our theme this week! It’s from Paul O’Grady live (which I will discuss in a little bit) and it’s the brilliant Plan B with a fantastic performance of his single ‘The Recluse’.
Our first piece of business is a follow up on my rather scathing preview of The Cube a few weeks ago. Regular readers will know that in that preview I expressed my dislike for the show, and suggested it may even be as bad as the infamous Shafted featuring Kilroy. Of course, here at MultiMediaMouth we’re fortunate enough to have a resident game show expert in the form of Game Show Garbage and US vs. UK’s Rob Seidelman, and as such I referred the issue of The Cube to his superior insight. Here is what he had to say;
“There really isn’t much innovation in formats now in the world of game shows. You take recent shows like Pointless, which is basically a backwards Family Fortunes. Then you got one of my favorites, The Chase, which is a mix of Win Beadle’s Money & University Challenge. Lastly you got the horrible and somehow still on the air, Divided, which is an even worse mix of Shafted and the Prisoner’s Dilemma ending that has been going on for years and years in game shows. Then you have this week’s point of discussion, The Cube. And oddly enough, it is somewhat innovative.
The innovation is all in the way of the presentation of the show. The CGI Effects of the Cube is very impressive and very slick looking. It gives the impression to the home audience that the Cube actually transforms itself to have a new game. The graphics used for the show itself are very slick looking and very intuitive. Honestly, the way it’s presented is one of the best in the current pack of Primetime shows. You take away all of the graphics, bullet-time, and various other great camera shots and effects used in post production, then you see that it’s just a very generic stunt show.
But even then it isn’t really a stunt show. It’s a mix of both parlor games and physical challenges from Double Dare aka Going Live! The show is as follows: A person enters a huge plexiglass cube and plays a deceptively simple game in order to win huge amounts of money. It’s a show that employs the Keep It Simple Stupid or KISS philosophy of gameplay. The games range from everything to counting as many squares are lit up on the ground and giving the amount to the host, to walking in between 2 lines blindfolded, to throwing out a ton of balls out of 1 container, to trying to stop a light in a certain spot and so on and so forth. I like the variety of games the show has, and although you will get repeated games as the series progresses, they are usually few and far between.
Then you get to the hosting of Philip Schofield. I think they wanted to get someone completely likeable and amiable to host this show. And out of the 5 people that seem to host every single game show in primetime, he fits the bill the most. I mean, if Vernon Kay wound up with this show, I’d probably see one episode and then proceed to blow my own brains out because of his utter smugness and his inane ability to piss me off to no end. And Unlike Vernon Kay, Ant & Dec, and on the rare occasion Chris Tarrant, Schofield actually has a vested interest in the game and not read from a pathetic teleprompter, like what Vernon Kay has done for about 10 years. Sorry, I’m rambling. Anyways, Phillip Schofield is very likeable here and does a very good job.
However, Philip’s hosting and great eye-candy aside, the show isn’t anything that hasn’t been done years ago. To that note, it’s probably been done better on shows like Fun House, Going Live & other kids shows that slip my mind. Most people will watch for the people to fail on stupidly simple games and oddly enough for a game show that actually isn’t pathetic. *cough*DIVIDED*cough* It’s an average show that’s gaining a cult following, and that’s not bad for it. It’s a start for shows that are actually decent and maybe shows like this can be put ahead of shows that absolutely suck, like whatever crap Ant & Dec will be helming in a few months.
So there you have it. I may have been a bit harsh on it, although that being said, regular readers of the column will know my extreme dislike of shows that are all style and no substance. Rob does raise a very good point about the production values though, one which was echoed by the host himself, Phillip Schofield in his interview with Chris Moyles on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Chris had brought up on a number of occasions the false drama of it, complete with a hilarious parody of the voiceover explaining the games (which as with all parodies, was very close to the real thing). Phillip’s main selling point for the show was “but the special effects are incredible!”, which combined with what Rob has said seems to confirm the thought that The Cube is fine if you want an unchallenging, action movie type experience, but offers very little more than that.
Regular readers will also have noticed how I have reduced the amount I’ve written about Soap Operas in recent times, which might seem strange timing given the number of big events that have taken place in those shows over the last few weeks. The reason for this has been twofold really. Firstly I do try and keep the column fresh and as such don’t like to repeat myself, so I’ve avoided beating you all over the head with my same complaints about Bryan Kirkwood and Eastenders, and secondly, I’ve felt as though I was perhaps the only one who hates the current state of the show, due to the fact I hadn’t seen an awful lot negative written about it. However, all that changed this past week when I picked up my copy of the Radio Times.
Gareth McLean, who writes the Soap column in the Radio Times usually stays away from full blown criticism of any of the shows he writes on, in an effort, presumably to keep the column fun and a light read. In a sense, although he obviously has no knowledge of me or the existence of this column (why would he?), his column is a bit of an antidote to my perhaps overly cynical view. All of this meant that when I saw his article in the current edition of the magazine, I was surprised to see not only the first vocal criticisms of Bryan Kirkwood’s production style from within the industry, but also that of McLean himself.
The general assertion of the article is that despite all the hoopla and build up to the Queen Vic fire in Eastenders, the actual event was a real let down due to the lack of consequence or emotional involvement created for the viewer by the show’s writing and production. The following comments were highlighted as comments on the recent big events;
“[Eastenders is now] fake high-stakes mush”
Diederick Santer- Former Eastenders Executive Producer
“Eastenders is very good at mythologizing itself, but it was just a pub on fire. Most people I spoke to were disappointed because their expectations were raised so high”
Paul Marquess- Hollyoaks Producer
Bryan Kirkwood himself argued that the fire storyline was a success because the viewers have an inbuilt emotional attachment to Peggy and Phil Mitchell and the Queen Vic, but this totally avoids mentioning the fact that since he took over, his style has turned every character in Eastenders into a gibbering one-dimensional clown through the constant melodrama and histrionic, high octane approach. Soap Opera in itself, while there has to be some suspension of disbelief from the viewer, is at it’s root, Kitchen Sink Drama, and as such the characters need to be realistically rounded so people can relate to them and develop that emotional attachment.
There are two principles I always look for in TV drama, which are constantly missing from Eastenders at the moment, and the lack of these prevent the attachment being formed to new characters and breaks the link to long standing characters.
The first of these principles is what I call the ‘slap in the face’ rule. What I mean by that is that if you walk up to someone you speak to every day and one day they slapped you across the face, you’d be shocked. If it happened the next day, you’d probably still be surprised. If it happened every time you saw them for a long period, you would stop being shocked at the event and indeed learn to expect it, completely negating the impact of it. A big, highly dramatic event in a Soap Opera is like a slap in the face, it should illicit a surprised reaction. If everything in the show is presented as high drama, it’s like being slapped in the face every time, and a big, dramatic event will have no impact. The cause of that is people stop reacting and payoffs to storylines lose their appeal, so the show will have to go the way of Brookside, constantly pushing into unrealistic territory and when that happens, a big change is needed or the show isn’t long for the world.
Brookside suffered for all it's constant outlandish stunts
The second of these principles is what I call ‘Newton’s TV Law’, and that is based on the idea that every action should have an equal and opposite reaction. Simply; actions have consequences. The Queen Vic fire has had very few of these. Peggy left while an arson investigation was ongoing so no consequence was felt there and life has very much gone on as normal, just the Vic hasn’t been the centre for attention. No long lasting trauma, no major fallout. It just happened with no lasting effect. On top of that, Phil had (very quickly) descended into a crippling crack addiction. This past week he was back at work, looking quite presentable with no continuing effect or withdrawal. As well as breaking the consequences rule, it trivialises the effect of addiction to an extremely dangerous drug. Contrast that with Holly’s addiction to cocaine in Emmerdale, which has been a slow burning descent for the character with long lasting repercussions. Indeed, that storyline started before Phil’s addiction was even hinted at, and is still ongoing and involves the viewer much more as a result.
I’m not alone in feeling this way it now seems. Emmerdale Series Producer Gavin Blyth, who this week had a huge event in his own Soap, with a car/train accident said the following;
“Any stunt or event has to be the start of a story and this one last eight months and is probably one of the toughest Emmerdale has ever told. The event is fantastic, but that’s not what it’s about- it always has to be about story and character”
A number of people I’ve spoken to who are long term devotees of Eastenders have begun to really dislike the style too. One writer I spoke to described the Bryan Kirkwood style, very unflatteringly as “self-indulgent wank, that just gives images of producers slapping each other on the back and congratulating themselves on a shiny visual all the while missing the point of what they’re actually meant to be doing”. Paul Marquess echoed the feelings of Gavin Blyth in his comments, while talking about Hollyoaks’ own upcoming inferno. Hollyoaks, lest we forget, a show that Kirkwood formerly produced himself, and is renowned for an approach that lacks substance itself, seems to be offering up something Eastenders couldn’t;
“We have four central characters at crucial points in their lives heading towards jeopardy. It’s not just about who dies, it’s about how fate and happenstance play a part in life no matter how you try and plant things. We could just do something showy but, as I say, all the explosions have the be emotional”
McLean himself summed up his article by suggesting other Soaps, clearly pointing the finger at Eastenders would do well to “heed that maxim”. However, as much as I hope I’m proved wrong, the frankly insultingly stupid way Kat and Alfie have been reintroduced to Albert Square suggests it won’t be.
As I mentioned in the opening, I wanted to speak about Paul O’Grady Live and for once to praise ITV. The time slot might be daft, but they’ve been refreshingly hands off with the format, as it has remained largely the same as the shows that were so popular in the tea time slot. Three points I wanted to mention here. 1) How does Olga sit SO still on the desk and remain so undistracted? Kudos to Paul for having such a well trained (and gorgeous) pooch. 2) How buff is Jason Gardiner?! The Dancing on Ice judge was in the bizarre variety ensemble that closed out the October 1st show, and while the performance as a whole was a confused, disjointed mess, Gardiner’s little turn was impressive and hopefully will go a little way to answering the obnoxious critics of his credentials as a judge on Dancing on Ice. And like I say…BUFF! 3) And this is the most important one, Russell Brand giving a humble, open and satisfying apology and subsequent description of the events surrounding the Andrew Sachs scandal. Michael Parkinson took him to task, while at the same time expressing his opinion that Brand was let down by the Producer of the show, and Bran eloquently explained the events that led up to the infamous phone calls which made a lot more sense than the way it was reported. Brand did a lot to repair his reputation here I believe.
And finally before we get into our previews I just want to mention that time is running out to vote for people to go on the shortlists for the National TV Awards. In particular, in Best Newcomer I recommend everybody vote for Steven Miller who plays Lenny Lyons in Casualty. He’s had to portray a full range of emotions and has done so with great aplomb, putting together the complex and layered character extremely well. Kudos too, goes to the writers for the way in which they’ve fleshed out Lenny at the right times and explained why he acts the way he does.
So then, now we move into the next week of television and we’ve got a number of things to preview.
Our big return of the week is the fantastically funny Harry Hill’s TV Burp. It’s irreverent, crazy and anarchic madness, and it shouldn’t really work if you break down it’s composite parts, but damn it’s one of the funniest shows around and consistently so. As always with TV Burp, I’ll leave it in the hands of the man himself to show you what it’s all about.
But now, I like the irreverence, I like the craziness and I like the anarchy, but which is best? There is only one way to find out…
Up next we have a new drama in the shape of Thorne. David Morrissey stars as DI Tom Thorne is what looks to be a quite dark police drama. Sky’s new drama has been outstanding in the last couple of years and with the talent available and the source material (Mark Billingham’s novel) this looks like another impressive addition.
Now we have a returning show under a new banner as Film 2010 with Claudia Winkleman debuts. When Jonathan Ross announced he was leaving the show I did a dance for joy as I was never a fan of his reviews, and immediately hoped that Mark Kermode or his Culture Show co-host Lauren Laverne would be the one to replace him. Because of that, the announcement of the lovely Claudia Winkleman as host came out of left field for me and was a bit of a surprise, but when I considered it from all angles I realised what an inspired pick it was. Her work on the red carpet for Sky has gone under the radar somewhat but is usually very good. Her presenting is great and doesn’t steal focus from the shows she has fronted, and she has a very effective personable interviewing style which should be very effective for Film 2010. I’m glad I’ll be able to watch it again after a long, Ross induced hiatus for me.
Our final highlight for the week is the somewhat rapid return (not that that’s a bad thing) of The Mentalist. The second series really picked up the pace and drama in the last few episodes and reintroduced Red John in a seriously dark way. Simon Baker is just great in the lead role of Patrick Jane and the supporting cast are all very good, understated performers which makes for good viewing. I do prefer the darker Red John themed episodes, but the lighter episodes in between work very well to stop the main storyline from tiring out and are very entertaining in their own right. Glad to see it back, especially as it only finished it’s last run only a matter of 2 months ago.
Our lowlights begin with a deeply vile addition to the schedules, and one all self respecting people from Essex should be fuming about. The Only Way is Essex is essentially Jersey Shore. In Essex. It’ll focus on the very worst stereotypes and parodies of people who need a counsellor more than they need a TV show and will end up being pure derivative, offensive rubbish.
I mentioned earlier that I try not to repeat myself in this column, and to honour that I’m not going to trot out the same long list of things that are wrong with Dickinson’s Real Deal. Let’s just say asinine, lazy and about ten years too late.
Our final lowlight is the rather vulgar looking Lip Service. It’s on BBC 3 and it’s based around “a group of twenty something lesbians in London”. Nothing good will come of this show. It will be, as mentioned, vulgar, crude, offensive to both homosexual and heterosexual and gratuitous in it’s “LOOK IT’S LESBIANS!!” appeal to viewers, beating people over the head with the smuttiness. Just horrible telly and poor use of a slot that could be much better used to exhibit much more talented young writers.
Well that’s me for the week, and can I say how nice it is to be back! Keep your eyes pealed for all our great new content and check out the plethora of film reviews from both London and New York in this festival season. I’m on Twitter now, so follow me @ChrisNelsonMMM as well as following the site in general @MultiMediaMouth (see the link at the top of the page). Send any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments below and remember to always stay safe.