Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Homeland; series two episode one, review

Posted 08 Oct 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

Don’t think I blogged about Homeland at all during it’s previous run, which is a shame in retrospect as it might have given me an opportunity to segue into the following, which is a largely enthusiastic take on the first episode of the new series. Not having anything to refer to, I have to think back to the various things I liked and disliked about the initial show. But that’s not hard, as series 2 seems, at a first glance, to pick up exactly where it left off – one of the more persuasive, nuanced televisual takes on the fall out from the War on Terror, yet filled with flaws and inconsistencies which, thankfully, are for the most part forgiveable when lined up against what the show does very well.

Quickly; some of the problems – it remains essentially unbelievable that Carrie was ever tolerated at the CIA, just as it seems utterly incredible that Brody, so soon returned from imprisonment in Iraq, should be seriously considered ready for high office. The scenes in the Middle East seem, thus far, less convincing than those at home, and the scenes of high tension draw rather heavily on tropes from too-familiar scenarios (that said, I’m glad the show isn’t much bothered with whizzy technology; in some respects it seems to owe more to Le Carre than CNN).

But what it does best, first and foremost, is create characters you care about. I still don’t know quite where I stand on Brody, who I’m dimly aware is working, reluctantly, towards an event of mass terror but who, mostly courtesy of his powerful back-story and conscience (in this series personified by Morgan Saylor, who plays his 16 year old daughter) remains a fascinating and attractive enigma. He is there, the programme tells us, because circumstance has driven him there, not because he wants to be.

The opposite of true of Carrie, who wants with every fibre of her being to be in the field or high in an ivory tower, doing whatever she can to protect her sources, her agents, the public and her country. But circumstance has led her astray, too, so that she begins this series not at the CIA but teaching English and, tending her garden, trying to manage her bipolar disorder. Fresh from literally shocking medical treatment, she’s commended for her success in reinventing herself – and only her father, who shares her condition, recognises the distance she has left to travel.

It’s perhaps a shame, given this fascinating starting point, that the makers of the second series of Homeland could not have waited a little longer to re-introduce Carrie to the action, but it’s a credit to them that the way they do provides a brief valedictory moment which makes up for their impatience; a smile in the backstreets of Beirut is all it takes to reassure us that Carrie’s treatment has not purged her of her self.

I hope this principle, of returning our protagonists immediately to action, does not cause problems; of course it’s great to see Carrie, Brody, Saul and Dana plunged back into the grip of drama, but what sets Homeland so far apart from its contemporaries is the way it rejects the immediacy of 24. It knows that crises unfold more often over weeks and months than over days, and takes the risk of delaying gratification. I hope that the explosive start of series 2 is misleading, and we settle back into a dance of diplomacy, tension and mistrust.

And I wait keenly, while I’m at it, for the return of the jazz – rarely has a show been as well scored as Homeland. Hoping this new run keeps the standard up, and even raises it by a bar or two. In 5/4 time, perhaps.

Parade’s End, BBC; review

Posted 27 Sep 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews

Just finished watching the uneven, enjoyable and often rather brilliant Parade’s End, the latest big-budget costume drama from the BBC, which is adapted from a series of Ford Madox Ford books which no-one has read. It was a nice big, sumptuous production with two of Britain’s most celebrated mouth-actors (Rebecca Hall’s curled lip and Benedict Cumberbatch’s downturned grimace), focusing on that period where a buckling society, faced with the violence of the first world war, finally became Modern.

Cumberbatch, as Christopher Tietjens – a noble, repressed Tory – is the last in the Parade; the last man to whom High Toryism means loyalty, fidelity and permanence, and Hall is his flighty, rather magnificent wife, whose machinations debase his reputation and chip away at his resolve. He stands resolute, absorbing her disgrace, and even resisting love, which arrives in the form of Valentine Wannop, a (disappointingly wet) Suffragette. In the end it’s neither his wife nor his love which dismantles his attachment to the past, but the War – which is of course the great, monstrous wave which sweeps everything away and heralds the arrival of the real 20th Century.

I loved this five-parter, but it was an odd affair. Part society satire, part love story, part treatise on tradition and modernity, and most powerfully a violent war-time farce, it is a drama where the tone ricochets from scene to scene, setting to setting, episode to episode. It has little of the elegance or method of Victorian drama, but showing as it does a period of enormous upheaval, that’s perhaps appropriate.

And the whole thing is carried beautifully by the cast right up until the final episode, which somehow just fails in its final third to voice the transformation effected upon Christopher, or rather to pinpoint with sufficient specificity just what frees him to evolve his principles. I wanted more on the destructive but transformative power of the war, of the levelling and the loosening of society which it provoked. In the end Parade’s End ended as a love story might – movingly, with some success; but shy of the revelation which Tom Stoppard’s script seemed to be building towards.

Still, really enjoyed it. A joyful reminder of how great the BBC is.

Not taken with Sherlock

Posted 21 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

Finally, a few weeks after everyone else, I watched the first episode of the new series of Sherlock last night. At first, I was very impressed – the casting is good and the programme is visually amazing, featuring inventive shots, snappy cutaways and neat directional tricks. Given all this and the fact that the premise of Stephen Moffat’s Sherlock remake is smart (the protagonist as a kind of Aspergers suffering techie), it would be understandable should the programme sometimes seems a bit too pleased with itself – but my god it’s only occasionally that humble.

The whole show – 90 minutes of smug, self-regarding tosh – seemed to me to be entirely comprised of set pieces triggered to deliver a 10 second clip for the accompanying advert; a short burst of violence here, a naked arse there, a never ending series of arch one-liners. And no-one in it remotely likeable.

I’m kind of surprised that so many people have been so very complimentary about it, but to me it seemed like event TV where the atmosphere and the gleaming surface was clearly prioritised over not only the plot but the characters too. Sherlock didn’t feel much in it to me, despite the fact that it supposedly dealt with his first stab of emotional attachment towards a woman. He brooded and snapped, and darted his eyes from left to right, right to left. But I got little from it.

There was still stuff to like – Sherlock and Watson’s relationship, the enigmatic Mycroft, the sour police sergeant torn between respect and disdain for a genius whose help he very much needs. But elsewhere – I thought it was very poor.

If you think differently, do put me straight in the comments – I’d be interested to know what you thought.

University Challenge

Posted 06 Apr 2010 — by Jonathan
Category General

There’s a very nice little article up on the Guardian website about the source of reliable joy that is University Challenge, the current series of which has culminated, predictably, with an emphatic win for Emmanuel College, who are led by their fearless and fearsomely intelligent young captain Alex Guttenplan. The article, by James Waterson – whose team were defeated by Emmanuel in an earlier round – provides a nice little insight into the show.

The plot for our show went as follows: Paxman would start a question with an oblique reference to naming elements in the English language, before connecting it to religious institutions of the seventh century. I would try to get my brain in gear, connecting the words I was hearing with odd pages read on Wikipedia, while trying not to imagine half of Twitter making derogatory comments about my haircut. Snap back to reality, with Paxman still wittering on. Out of nowhere an answer would pop into my head, I’d reach for the buzzer and . . . “Emmanuel Guttenplan”.

“It’s Ethel.”

Damn. He got there first.

And so it continued. The new series of University Challenge starts – happily – soon.

darren hayman on spanish tv

Posted 20 Jan 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music

This is charming, although at times really hard to watch – Darren Hayman is asked a set of challenging questions live on Spanish television. It’s funny to watch how a Spanish critic struggles with Darren’s very English self-deprecation. There’s clearly an expectation that music should be a flamboyant, romantic art, and an supposition that Darren will be able to talk fluently about it in that light. He does his best, but his face is a treat when he is asked “would you say that you had been unfaithful to music, or has music made a cuckold of you?”.

Great stuff.

jonathan ross and mark kermode

Posted 08 Jan 2010 — by Jonathan
Category General

Do I care that Jonathan Ross is leaving the BBC? Well, of course not, given that I hardly ever watched or listened to his programmes, but I mind a little in the sense that the baying, myopic tabloids which made such a prolonged and nauseous protest against him have been handed their victory.

I actually think that Ross is a very talented and likable presenter – although by no means flawless – and he has been treated very shabbily by the BBC over the last couple of years. He should have walked when they made him pre-record his radio show.

Either way, his parting does create one point of interest – and that is whether the BBC will appoint the one obvious, deeply intelligent, stand-out candidate to replace him on Film 2010 or, well, or someone that isn’t Mark Kermode. He would be a fabulous appointment – he’s already responsible for one of the best podcasts, if not the the best, that the BBC make, and would, I suspect, immediately transform BBC1′s flagship film programme from something I never watch, to one of the best programmes on TV. I hope they do it.

my nineties

Posted 30 Dec 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Technology

Was I alive in the early 1990s? I’m sure I was, but I’m watching one of those TV shows about the decade, and a bit mystified at how out of step I apparently was. The show is ‘Electric Dreams’, where a family are stripped of their modern technology and then given the appropriate tools for each decade, getting the technology of a new year for each new day.

So far, we’re up to something like 1994, and my record so far is pretty poor. We’ve been introudced to:

Sonic The Hedgehog (I’ve never played Sonic The Hedgehog)
Super Mario (I’ve never played Super Mario)
Nintendo Gameboys (I never had a Nintendo Gameboy)
Satellite TV (I never had satellite TV)
Pagers (I never had a pager)
Mortal Combat (I’ve never played Mortal Combat)

My nineties were very different indeed – can’t see this program getting much more accurate for my experience. I didn’t use the internet until 1996, or have a mobile until 1999. Oh dear.

out of proportion

Posted 26 Oct 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Wonderful first episode of the new series of The Thick Of It this weekend; just watched it on iPlayer – super stuff. Still not sure what the best line was, though. Omnishambles, perhaps. Actually no, I think it’s the following exchange:

Nicola Murray: “You set this up didn’t you?”
Malcolm Tucker: “What?”
Nicola Murray: “To put me in my place, or get back at me for ignoring your advice, or some other weird perceived slight that doesn’t in any way merit this massive fucking out of proportion Israeli-style response?

design for life

Posted 02 Oct 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Daft

Anyone else falling rapidly in love with French designer and all-round-genius Philippe Starck, courtesy of the BBC’s ‘Design for Life’ programme? I am – it’s great value TV (essentially The Apprentice for designers) and I think Starck is the most charming man in the world. He is a force of nature; imitating a klaxon when he enters a room, milking his heavy French accent for all it is worth, and coming up with adorably eccentric soubriquets left right and centre (describing evolution, he declares that “to start weez, we wazz bacteria! Zen feesh. After, we become frog! It ees not exactly ze real story. But eet’s close!”).

Best of all is the way he fires people. No agressive finger jabbing, no scorn. Instead he merely saunters over, shrugs apologetically, and gently delivers two warm, deadly kisses, one to each cheek. Mwa Mwa. You’re fired.

You can catch up on iPlayer.

snow mistake

Posted 09 Jun 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Daft, Observations

I love it when newsreaders make mistakes on air; for some reason it’s particularly amusing when people invested – generally speaking – with such dignity and poise slip up, either through a rare and temporary lack of composure on their part or a technical glitch which visits a moment of humiliation upon them. Just now Jon Snow – just about the most unflappable of news presenters – became absolutely and comprehensively flustered at the top of the 7 o’clock news. He just stood, for a moment, like a rabbit in the headlights. ‘Um’, he said.

A minute later his calm was restored. “I apologise”, he said, “for the technical difficulties”.

An apology was far from necessary. In my flat, wonderfully distracted from hanging out my washing, I was cackling happily.

book people

Posted 29 Apr 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Observations

Some amazing quotes in tonight’s episode of the Apprentice. The young bucks are stood in a Charing Cross Road book shop while a pair of studious booksellers carefully examine some literature they’ve been given to sell. Quietly, diligently, they set about making a valuation. They take their time, because they are methodical people. The Apprentices are outraged at this abuse of their time.

“We can’t take any more shit from them” Ben cries.

His colleague agrees. “You know what they’re like, though”, she replies. “They’re book people, they want to waste your time”.

He nods, crossly. “I’m fed up with these book people talking shit to me for too long”.

Moment of realisation. That’s me, isn’t it?

stewart lee on bbc2

Posted 17 Mar 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

Just watched the first episode of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, which aired on BBC2 last night. It’s a sign of how poor a lot of television comedy is that, although I knew already that Lee was my favourite stand-up, I was genuinely taken aback by the gulf of glass between him and pretty much everyone else I’ve seen telling jokes on TV in the last five or six years. One thirty minute episode devoted to books, which took in wonderful linguistic jokes, high-brow cultural references, a sustained, pitiless attack on Chris Moyles and an energy and curiosity absent in most of his peers. Best of all was a long, rambling skit on “rap singers” which was, I think, the most satisfyingly slow-paced and uncompromising joke I’ve seen on the BBC; not because it was awfully funny (it wasn’t), but because Lee insisted on telling it his way and not dumbing down for television. The whole show was a masterclass in intelligence.

So happy there are five more episodes to come. Bringing Stewart Lee back to terrestrial television is probably the best decision that the comedy folk at the BBC have made in recent history. Make sure you catch up with it on iPlayer.

red riding good

Posted 05 Mar 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Books

Bit early for a post-mortem on Red Riding, but… wow – massively intense and frightening, and it seemed both seriously artistic and bitingly realistic simultaneously, which is surely a hard thing to achieve. Some of the camera work was sublime, especially the framing and use of focus – but most significant was the depth of Peace’s plotting and the brilliance of the adaptation. Acting not far behind.

Going to bed seems like a mad thing to do now. I need to find something soothing on Radio 4 before I can contemplate sleep.

on carol thatcher

Posted 06 Feb 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

I am disgusted with the fashion in which the Queen has capitulated to the Golly-hating Nazis at the BBC. I used to admire the Queen till she started pushing the diversity agenda of the lefties, signed the Lisbon Treaty which gave over the country to EU control. The Queen took a coronation oath to serve her country but it seems now she serves herself and the Marxist Government! I urge everyone to complain to the BBC and Buck Palace. Carol Thatcher should not be fired over a private comment about a well-loved toy!
- Pat, Dublin, Ireland, 5/2/2009 22:48

If I write about Carol Thatcher and the fact that the Daily Mail are orchestrating yet another public campaign to influence the perception of, and activities of, the BBC, I know that I am just falling into a helpless trap; giving yet more oxygen to a spurious subject and allowing myself to become enraged by myopic prejudices which are, despite the amount of coverage they generate, largely on the wane.

So its ok for that Jo Brand to make jokes about women and their times of periods and the BBC consider it comedy to be broadcast, also Ross and his twisted idea of filth, but to use the word Golliwog is a sacking offence. I hope the tories when they get in purge the BBC of all the freaks who staff it-
Stephen H Print, Thailand, 5/2/2009 6:35

Yet at the same time it’s incredibly hard not to be exercised – and incredibly frustrated – by the whole kerfuffle. The facts as they stand are reasonably straightforward. Carol Thatcher, in conversation with a number of colleagues in The Green Room after a recent appearance on BBC’s One show, made a comparison between a black tennis player and a ‘gollywog’. Several amongst the number present were upset at this remark, which they interpreted as racist, and the BBC, after failing to extract anything but a very half-hearted apology from Thatcher, decided to terminate her contract with the show.

So all those Enid Blyton books I grew up with will have to be edited now, since golliwog is soooooo offensive?
- nell, sydney, australia, 5/2/2009 5:16

Now, as the comments above demonstrate – which are taken from the Daily Mail website – the right-wing media are swinging behind Thatcher (and most importantly, against the hated BBC) by declaring this a victory for political correctness and a defeat for common sense. So far, so very predictable. Just as the Mail occupied a position of moral authority when it decided that Jonathan Ross (the personification of the vulgar, liberal Briton they deride) had gone too far in his merciless teasing of Andrew Sachs, now they decide that Thatcher has been a victim of the same, ultra-liberal forces. Never mind that Thatcher’s comments were arguably much more offensive. In the minds of the Mail, there is no connection between Ross’s offensive language and Thatcher’s. Far more important is that they hate him, and are like her.

If political correctness means anything, it is that those that practice it believe it important to take care, when using language, not to gratuitously cause offence to others. Ross was scapegoated by the Mail because they considered his words gratuitous and offensive (as indeed they were). Yet nowhere in their coverage was any mention given to the fact that what they were in essence asking him to do was think about what he said and not say things likely to upset others; a classic argument for political correctness. Although their intentions were undoubtedly malicious, and borne out of a hatred of both Ross and the BBC, one couldn’t help wondering if the Mail was at last becoming alive to the importance of not abusing, denigrating, offending others.

The Thatcher debacle proves they have learned nothing. Their argument is not for sensitivity, care, thoughtfulness and good manners, but rather for the promotion of their own, highly traditional, values, and the disavowel of any beliefs which contradict them. One can say whatever one likes, and offend whomever one likes, so long as one doesn’t depart from little-England prejudices. That Thatcher’s colleagues were offended by her words is deemed irrelevant. Much is made of the fact that the racist term was used ‘in private conversation’, but in fact it took place in the workplace, where no conversation can be considered truly private.

So – I admit that getting worked up about all the above is largely pointless. The Mail will continue to pursue it’s agenda, and I will continue to either avoid it, or read it in a fury. What I think is relevant, however, and worthy of conversation, is the increasingly importance being afforded to public complaints and online petitions, and the way that media is able to manipulate stories by encouraging reader participation, and along the way turn minor stories which fit their agenda from trivia into headline news.

If I were asked to name one positive thing about the Daily Mail, I’d say that it’s always been a good campaigning paper. It has the ability to flag up bellweather issues and make headway with them, and it’s certainly the case that over the years it has been a powerful – if not always positive – lobbying tool. I admired it for its coverage of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and its decision to give away energy-saving lightbulbs to readers.

Nevetheless, its influence in the last six months has been deeply pernicious; by encouraging outrage and fermenting dissatisfaction with the BBC, it’s whipping up a frenzy which actually puts the reputation and future of the corporation in some doubt. It’s a deeply cynical move driven not purely by this simmering, inconsistent moral outrage, but by the fact that the paper’s owners have a vested interest in the demise of its most significant media rival.

More broadly, I’m starting to worry that the Mail, with a reach which far outstretches most of its rivals, is using this sequence of media stories to try to encourage some kind of moral revival, akin almost to religious fundamentalism in the US. Its aims are not journalistic, or even strategic, but rather political – it’s putting together a coalition of deeply conservative, disaffected readers (not limited to these shores) who are feeling bold enough to decry not just political correctness but the very notion of anti-racism.

I don’t mean to say that the Mail is starting a political party, or stoking the fires of revolution, but just as the arrival of Tony Blair and the revitalised Labour Party turned the nation gently leftwards in the mid-90s, there seems a risk that the right is attempting a similar trick. Unless the Mail’s petty concerns and prejudices are combated, there’s a risk that this mini-moral revival will drag the country to the right – and that would be a disaster.

I am sick of forever walking on egg shells in case some wimp gets offended by something I inadvertently say or do that they chose to misinterpret so they can play the victim card. I cannot believe all the fuss over an innocent toy and it is a repeat of the Sootygate episode! Golliwogs are not illegal and are found in many homes and I for one still have my old Golliwog from childhood. What next? Will this petty. toy-obsessed Government appoint Golliwog inspectors to break down doors and confiscate all the Golliwogs and Sooties?
- Elaine Worthington, East Sussex, UK, 5/2/2009 21:24

take it back

Posted 13 Oct 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Books

This is rather marvellous; Marcel Reich-Ranicki, a German literary critic – who has been made the recipient of a lifetime achievement award in the country’s annual TV backslapping ceremony – has reacted in the customarily curmudgeonly way which we have come to expect from eminent literary types; he’s handed it back and had a jolly good moan, too – wonderful.

From The Guardian:

“I don’t belong here among all this rubbish,” the 88-year-old critic and author said from the stage of the annual German Television Awards gala in Cologne. “I have been given many literature prizes in my life, but I don’t belong in this line-up. If the prize was linked with money, I would have given the cash back too.”

But not just declined to attend, obviously.

house of saddam

Posted 31 Jul 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

House of Saddam, a four part mini-series dramatising the several-decade long tyranny of the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, started on BBC2 last night. A collaboration with the American company HBO, and scheduled rather unfortunately in the holiday season, it was a handsome and effective drama which used the family-saga concept of the American gangster film genre to summon up the terror of Hussein’s rule.

Saddam was – rightly – terrifying. There were, as in Kevin McDonald’s awesome portrait of Idi Amin, The Last King of Scotland, efforts to portray both sides of the fearsome protagonist. But not many. Within minutes, Saddam (played by Gordon Brown) was purging his enemies and murdering his friends, killing his closest ally so that his enemies would fear him all the more. One moment he was talking his son Uday (at this point presumably still a latent psycopath) through the noble history of Iraq, and the next he was declaring war on Iran.

Because the drama was rooted somewhere between Shakespeare and the Sopranos, the war soon faded into the background, so that the family squabbles could resume. This was perhaps a shame, as the war was one of history’s most tragic, with over a million Iranian lives lost. But perhaps there is more of this to come in later episodes, as the US and Chemical Ali – whose cameo provided a brief moment of levity – become more involved.

The programme was at its most inventive and engaging when dealing with Saddam’s inner circle. Dead centre was his mother, a vicious crone who urged him forward in his unspeakable violence. When she died he shed no tears, telling her “you gave me nothing”, despite her offering him the first bit of useful advice of her life. “I’m glad you never knew your father”, she tells him, “he had mad blood”. Saddam’s response is ruthlessly rational. He takes his father’s family to his heart forthwith.

Aside from the strong portrayal of Saddamm and Chemical Ali’s comic turn, most interesting was the dictator’s young half-brother (played by David Milliband) who is first seized close and then betrayed. The episode ends with him in a white fury, considering Saddam’s cruelty. As future episodes will doubtless show, he got off, in comparison, deliriously lightly.

into the dragons’ den.

Posted 21 Jul 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

BBC2′s Dragons’ Den returns tonight, which is good news, although it’s hard not to feel that the brand has been devalued by endless repeats over the last year. The Apprentice, which is only shown once, always appears relatively fresh, but – a slightly snazzier credit sequence and a flash hairdo aside – this might as well be a repeat, which I fear might put paid to the idea that Dragons Den is about to make a crossover from BBC2 curio to hit show. Nevertheless, I’ve liked previous series, so I’m interested enough to tune in, wondering whether this time around James Caan, Deborah Meadon and Theo Paphitis will emerge as genuine stars and equal partners, or whether it’ll continue to be all about Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne.

My first impression is how odd it is to see Evan Davis back doing his TV presenting stuff, having got so used to hearing him on Radio 4. When you’re listening to him on the Today programme each morning – even if he is lighter in tone than most of his colleagues – it’s very easy to forget that the man has a mohawk.

The first idiots, sorry, entrepeuners into the den are a bunch of student types, but, do you know what, they’ve thought of a genuine twist to the process. Either that or they’ve got lost wondering around looking for the X Factor studio. For they are, in fact, not a business as such but rather a rock band, and a not altogether terrible one either, although they do seem to be called Hamfatter. They play a two minute track which is kind of muso-end indie rock with soul horns. I would not buy it, but someone might.

Anyway, they want 75 grand to record an album and market it. They say they’ll be needing ten thousand pounds to record it. What’s wrong with these people – why don’t they just get 80 quid for a copy of Garageband?

But I discover that I like the young men a lot – they’re well spoken, keen and they know their maths. This is vaguely reassuring – it’d be utterly daft for a load of rock and rollers to ask Theo Paphitis for cash, but these lads are as corporate as you like (no insult intended). But things soon start working against them when Peter Jones wants to hear another tune. It turns out they’ve only rehearsed that song. Well, fair enough, but they won’t have a go at another number at all, even one that sounds a bit rough around the edges. A band that can’t play their songs live? Eh?

But believe it or not the offers start rolling in. Bannatyne goes for a varied equity deal, where he wants 50% ’til he gets his money back. The newly-coiffured Meadon and Paphitis team up to make a rival bid. And Jones is in, too – it’s extraordinary how they’re all happy to make an investment on the basis of hearing a two minute clip of one song. They all claim to have loads of contacts in the music industry, too. Really? How is this so? Meaden boasts that she runs a music download site, and the band look impressed. I’m not sure this is warranted, unless she’s talking about iTunes. But I doubt she is.

I lose track of which deal they go for. It doesn’t matter – you’ll never hear from them again.

Next up we’re back on more familiar Dragons’ Den grounds; someone’s invented a cushion, a new kind of cushion. The dragons begin a lip-curling exercise which I anticipate will last much of the rest of the series. We don’t need more cushions.

Next up we have a Brighton connection, hurrah. Air Oasis LTD have designed a machine that turns air into water. Just like that. At first I mis-hear and think the effect works the other way around – water into air. But that’s just a kettle, isn’t it? Anyway, they want 125k for 10% equity. Looks good, but they make the schoolboy error of using the phrase ‘educating the public’ – words like educating make the Dragons very very angry. It’s not as bad as saying ‘charity’, but still.

The contraption actually looks quite good for hot, water starved countries, and the inventors have taken out patents for a few Middle Eastern territories, so it looks good for a while. I like Barry, the salesperson, although I note he’s talking so fast that he’s turning air into water himself, too – direct off his shiny pate.

After a few minutes Bannatyne offers an opinion. And he’s annoyed about the use of the word ‘educating’. Hurrah, I knew it. I notice that Bannatyne gets harder to understand with each series – like Alan Hanson, he is working at eliminating vowels from his vocabulary altogether.

Barry is still banging on, and Deborah complains that his pyramid selling scheme amounts to bullying. All the Dragons nod dissaprovingly, a moment no less hilarious that when Alan Sugar gets angry about the same thing. Pot, black, kettle etc.

Actually, I change my mind – Barry is not a bully, but he is a self-satisfied prat; shut up now. You’re losing them, I think, and Evan Davis’s voiceover gets a bit silly, talking up the Dragons’ mild criticism, describing them as ‘furious Deborah’ and ‘enraged Peter’ – of course they’re not enraged at all. They decide to taste the water. And now things really do go belly up. It tastes terrible. Totally unpalatable, apparently, and now Theo really does get cross. No deal. Barry makes a few excuses, but he’s blown it. Oh dear.

Next up are a couple from Kenilworth, and we’re back in pantomime territory; they emerge under a big white sheet – they’ve come as a ghost!! Indulgent smiles from the Dragons, who are making a show of really quite getting on with each other. That won’t last And now the couple are acting out some sort of hammy take on amateur dramatics. They’ve invented, it turns out, the lay-line sheet. It’s a white sheet with a nobbly line down the middle, apparently. The line, dead-centre, will solve arguments about which partner is encroaching onto the other side of the bed. I

It’s a novelty bedsheet. It’s a bloody terrible idea. But couples argue over this all the time, the inventor – a man with one of those weird groomed goatees, like Morgan Spurlock’s – tells us. It’s a pretty dispiriting view of relationships, all things considered.

The Dragons don’t buy it either. Bannatyne complains that his wife doesn’t cross to his side enough, and – capitalising on the silly mood – Theo and Peter jump in the bed and roll around a bit. “Shall we avert our eyes?”, one of the inventors asks. Have you shown it to anyone, Jones asks Spurlock. He’s shown it to his friends, he says, but that’s it.

Well, now you’ve shown it to the nation. I don’t suppose he’ll find many orders waiting for him when he turns on his computer tomorrow morning.

The last contestants up are a couple of game girls, who share a ‘passion for entertainment’, and who have created a bespoke party-giving company which is pretty good stuff, really, even if it’s just living sculptures – human trees, human tables, and chandalier ladies. Their past clients include celebrity childrens’ parties and Asda. In the end the Dragons all make offers, stick out their chests, and begin to snipe at each-other; it’s the first part of the show since the rock band which is vaguely gripping, and this is the problem with the format; the best bits are personal, but unlike the glossy docu-drama format of The Apprentice, which provokes conflict and alliances, the show is dependent on a chemistry in the panel which rarely sparks to life. In similar circumstances, Alan Sugar and his advisors invariably share smiles, raised eyebrows and rueful asides – but because the Dragons are facing out front and in competition with each other, there’s nothing except the odd manufactured argument or bout of stage-managed horseplay to break up the only occasionally diverting inventions.

Talking of which, the girls, meanwhile, go off to confer and make a decision. They opt to go with the least boastful Dragon, which is actually rather heartening – if unlikely to prompt a change of tactics from the fevered egos out front. They go for James Caan, who is, I reflect, the only Dragon I’d trust to mind my wallet for ten minutes.

The Dragons Den needs a shake up, I think – or just a raise in temperature; at the moment they’re belching out smoke, not fire.

mary benson

Posted 07 Jul 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Another ace episode of Mary Queen of Shops tonight, which you’ll doubtless be able to watch with your iPlayer whatsit in hours and days to come. This time Mary visited an amazing, fusty old boutique in York and utterly transformed into it without sacrificing it’s wayward sense of style. Best of all was the discovery of a wonderfully eccentric fashion designer – Mary Benson – whose dresses were absolutely fantastic and who casually described her clientele as “crazy cool girls” who “all have nice hair”. Oh, and she was only 17. If you’re ever in the distant North, she’s selling stuff in Blue Rinse in Leeds and Selkie in York, as well as via her own website. Here’s a brief BBC profile of her, and click the image below to access her myspace:

[Update: lots of hits on this page, so here's a bit more info I found. From Image Magazine].

She is only in her second year of her fashion course at Leeds College of Art and Design but her metallic dresses are already stocked in the boutique Blue Rinse and she will soon be seen on the TV programme Mary Queen of Shops.

Mary said: “I had to pitch my ideas to Mary Portas from Mary Queen of Shops. The competition was whittled down from 30 to three and I was one of them. She said that I was well established and that I was doing really well for my age.”

Mary creates womenswear and accessories inspired by the 1950s and 1960s, including pinafore dresses with a splash of eccentricity. She began designing in the summer after she finished high school when she made skirts and sold them at the Corn Exchange.

She then applied to Leeds College of Art and Design and has been unstoppable. Her collections are varied from monochrome to metallics and, most importantly, are wearable.

Mary said: “I’ve been asked to create a collection for Vidal Sassoon. I have also been working on costumes for a music video as well as attending vintage fashion fairs where I sell accessories.”

With meetings set with boutiques in Nottingham and a trip to London planned, Mary Benson is definitely one we will hear about in the future.”

mr harvey lights a candle

Posted 18 May 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

I just watched a rather charming BBC telly movie in my hotel room, entitled ‘Mr Harvey Lights A Candle’ – anyone seen it? I think it was produced for Easter a few years ago, and features a wonderful controlled Timothy Spall as a pent-up teacher, for whom a school trip to Salisbury Cathedral proves a catalyst to a reawakening of sorts. Also on outstanding form was the brilliant Natalie Press, whose troubled teenager indirectly leads him to his revelation. A really nice film, which touches on closed secrets, reserve, religion and release; all ever so gently evoked, and nothing Oscar-worthy, but nevertheless moving. The sheer quality of the BBC’s back-catalogue is exactly the kind of thing the BBC should be opening up on their iPlayer, and I hope this gets a deserved repeat one forthcoming Easter.

kicked to death by hoodies

Posted 30 Apr 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Daft

Ah, just caught the second half of The Apprentice tonight, having been to the pub with Dave earlier, but I think I got the gist of it. They’re all still useless. It’s hard not to think, however, that it’s about time that someone started holding Alan Sugar to account. He’s very happy to pour scorn on every idea, but does he have any of his own? Tonight he laughed down the suggestion of eco-friendly cards, making it clear there was plenty the team could have done instead. For example, “I would have applauded you if you’d have designed a card which when you opened it said ‘sorry to hear that your 11 year old son got kicked to death by a hoodie’, because that’s the sort of issue that people face”.

My god. Does he really think people would buy that card????