Thursday, 31 December 2009

BrokenTV’s Top Ten Songs Of 2009

A quick update before we dash out to watch Avatar 3D.

image 10. Burning Hearts – Aoba Sleeping

One of the nicest surprises of the year, so fresh it’s yet to crop up on iTunes, and the band have yet to merit a Wikipedia entry (which rather messes up our research). A blissful number from the Scandinavian purveyors of dream pop.

image 9. The Sound Of Arrows – M.A.G.i.C.

Another band without a Wikipedia entry. Do they want us to write about them or not? What do they expect us to do, research? Anyway, this is ace, and the album is possibly this year’s ‘Sonny J – Disastro’.

image 8. Pati Yang – Timebomb

Former vocalist of underrated Polish alternative act FlyKKiller, 2009 saw Pati Yang transmogrify into  Wroclaw’s answer to Annie (who narrowly missed out on our rundown herself – we’re sure she’ll cope with the loss).

image 7. West End Girls – A Little Black Dress

The Pet Shop Boys cover act, taking on an unreleased PSB demo, adapted specially for them by Mr Tennant and Mr Lowe. And it’s utterly brilliant, too.

image 6. Metric – Help I’m Alive (Acoustic Version)

Metric’s Fantasies has been one of the playlist mainstays on the BrokenTV iPod Touch throughout the year, and sneaking in front of the entirety of that waxing is this version of the lead track. Given away as a free MP3 on the band website to promote the album, the fragile beauty of Help I’m Alive, stripped away to Emily Haine’s vocal and a piano, the songs inner beauty becomes all the more obvious.

image 5. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended at Ace Hardware In Libertyville, IL

The tale of a bank robber, quite moving (or, if you must, miserablist), and longest, most ungainly song title of the year, we suspect.

image 4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero

Hard to pick out a standout track from this year’s YYY album, but this one pips it. Karen O’s voice has never done such funny things to the special part of our insides.

image 3. Royksopp – The Girl and The Robot (feat. Robyn)

Robyn – as seen on The Daily Show – puts in a brilliant performance on the standout track from ‘Junior’.

image 2. Dragonette – Fixin; To Thrill

Our find of the year, mainly thanks to excellent people playing their songs on Fixing To Thrill hits you like a bowling ball to the solar plexus, but in a brilliant way.

image 1, The Big Pink – Velvet

Their track “Dominos” has been all over the place this year, not least on Xbox Live adverts all over the telly this festive season, but it’s this that takes the big prize, by far the best thing on their album “A Brief History Of Love”. Almost mesmerisingly powerful.


Wednesday, 30 December 2009

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s*: Number 26

(*Using the phrase “Top Television Shows Of The 00s Part [x]” each time really messed up the look of our RSS feed, you know.)

Welcome back to the rundown. From this point on, we’ll be posting updates to the list one by one. This means you won’t have to wait so long for each update, what with our uncannily inability to use 1,200 words where a couple of dozen would do, and that you won’t have so much dross to read through each time we do post an update to the list. Plus, it should also mean we can squeeze out a couple of updates per day, with any luck. And so, as Oskar Schindler once said, let’s have a look at the next bit of this list, then.

image Malcolm in the Middle was pretty much a tale of how hard it is being the second youngest child in a large working-class dual-income family, with the titular Malcolm being the middle child of three sons still living at home. So, it’s a family sitcom with three child actors in the lead roles. Look, there’s no point in running away now, it was actually marvellously plotted, cleverly scripted and impeccably acted landmark television comedy YES REALLY.

Hard as it might seem coming from heartless bastards who don’t even like Outnumbered (you heard us, send us to comedy prison, we don’t care), but Malcolm In The Middle was far, far better than it really ought to have been. After all, the notoriously riskophobic US networks rarely allowed ‘clever’ comedy shows – even latecomers to the network party Fox, and even when they did, it almost had to be done by proxy. The Simpsons only made it to air after proving the most popular part of The Tracey Ullman show, and had to grow from a relatively sedate sapling into the magnificent beast of season three onwards, Married With Children had to evolve from similarly watered-down beginnings, and the nod was only given to Family Guy and Futurama once The Simpsons had grown large enough to merit a 51st star on the US flag.

From the get-go, ‘Malcolm…’ started off as slightly smarter than the rest of the pack, what with the main character being indentified as a reluctant child genius, introducing non-schmaltzy disabled character Stevie, and being soundtracked by kings of geek rock They Might Be Giants. By episode eight, the programme had really got going, with a large scale episode featuring over a hundred extras, based at a school picnic, with sub-plots spiralling off in all directions. As the series progressed, it was able to take more and more risks, such as the marvellous (and dual Emmy-winning) Sliding Doors-style episode where the boys spend an evening at a local bowling alley – one reality in the company of control-freak mom Lois, one reality in the company of easy-going pop Hal.

With each new season, the boys took new steps on the road to maturity, providing fresh scope for more involved plots, often taking in the family as a whole. One episode saw the family cancel vacation plans at the last moment, leading to their discovery that the entire neighbourhood happened to hold a “Hoorah, That Lot Have Buggered Off For A Fortnight” festival each time they went away. Another, late-period episode saw the family end up at the Burning Man festival, and Malcolm end up in bed with fortysomething shaman Anita (played by Rosanna Arquette) largely because he’d preferred The Go-Gos to the B-52s. The programme wasn’t afraid to take subtly disturbing turns, too. Once youngest brother Dewey starts to show signs of his own genius, Malcolm earnestly advises him to flunk an IQ test, as him being placed in a class for gifted children had led to him feeling socially outcast. Dewey subsequently takes Malcolm’s advice, only for his low IQ test score leading to him spending the remainder of the entire series placed in a remedial class, thereby becoming even more of a social pariah.

As might be expected, the writing was of the highest quality, with witty lines delivered frequently from the mouths of the marvellously rounded characters, even from lesser-spotted residents of the neighbourhood, and plots would interweave with sub-plots before crashing into each other explosively at the end of the third act. Even the sub-plots could be controversial (given the timeslot), such as Francis trying to get close to a girl at his theatre group by pretending to be gay, only for her to be revealed as a fundamentalist Christian determined to help him “pray out the gay”, or wonderfully daft – Hal wins a sizable sum on an instant lottery ticket, only for him to secretly spend his windfall on hiring a steamroller, and buying several deliciously squashable consumer goods. There was also a metric ton of cracking turns from experienced comedy actors, such as Jason “George Isn’t At Home… Where Could I Be?” Alexander, Bea “Lazy Transsexual Reference” Arthur, Susan “Tim Robbins’ Mom” Sarandon, Patrick “Brock” Warburton, Heidi “4% Of Our My Documents Folder” Klum, Julie “A hospital? What is it?” Hagerty, and some brilliant performances from Cloris Leachman as the boys’ hard-bitten Slavic grandmother.

Even aside from Malcolm In The Middle’s ranking on a notional humour scale (which, for the record, we’d rank at Milligan Force Eight), it’s a pretty damn interesting programme in its own right. For starters, as far as we can remember (and we fully expect to be corrected here), it was the first network US sitcom to use the single-camera, no-studio-audience format in at least fifteen years. At the time, a number of more adult-themed cable sitcoms like Dream On and The Larry Sanders Show had taken the same approach, and while other network shows like M*A*S*H, Sledge Hammer! or The Wonder Years did use a single-camera setup, the producers felt the US home audience needed the reassuring sound of audience laughter (even if, of course,  M*A*S*H and Sledge Hammer! originally arrived in the UK without the sound of an audience). The only example of this previous to MITM was 1982’s Police Squad!, and that was cancelled by ABC after four episodes.

Since then, the single-camera no-audience approach has been used by pretty much every single US network sitcom of note – such as Everybody Hates Chris, Samantha Who?, Scrubs, The (US) Office, Parks and Recreation, The Knights Of Prosperity or The Job (Denis Leary? As a corrupt cop? Lasted one season between 2001 and 2002 on ABC? Cropped up on BBC Three over here? Just us? It was good, you know), alongside many several others.

Not only that, but show creator Linwood Boomer took the intriguing and wonderful decision never to reveal the name of the town where the MITM live (going one further than The Simpsons, which famously has never revealed the state in which the show takes place), or to even have the family’s surname ever fully revealed, ever, throughout the entire seven-season run. The only clue to the family name was when eldest brother Francis was seen wearing a name tag “Wilkerson” on this school uniform on the pilot episode – though, brilliantly, in the final episode of the entire series Francis is seen to drop his workplace name tag, on which the name “Francis Nolastname” is printed. Aside from those two references, the family surname is never mentioned at any time, throughout the entire run – the one time someone tried to mention it, again in the final episode, it was drowned out by microphone feedback. You’ve got to admire a programme willing to do something like that for no real reason. In fact, there’s a similar policy here at BrokenTV HQ, where we’ve always carefully avoided letting the readers know that our favourite Monkee is Peter Tork.

Eh? Oh.

It doesn’t stop there – the programme saw a welcome return for the theatrical tradition of the lead actor breaking the forth wall to speak to the audience directly (it’s tricky to do this without seemly smugly self-referential, but luckily for all concerned, it worked perfectly), plus the programme was directly responsible for They Might Be Giants returning to the UK Top 30 singles chart after an eleven year break. Really, it’s almost as if Malcolm In The Middle is some kind of magical television elixir, formulated specifically to impress us. Bit of a shame BBC Two decided to clumsily trim lots of not-even-remotely-contentious moments from the show over here, really.

Next update: The programme that is at number 25 on our list.


Friday, 25 December 2009

BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s: Part 10


Merry Festivus, one and all! In a special present to you all, here’s the next part of our big countdown. Admittedly, it’s not a brilliant present. More a three-pack of handkerchiefs than a full instrument set of Beatles Rock Band , if you will. But, hey, there’s a recession on. We’ve kept the receipt in case you don’t like it.


We love TV programmes about advertising, us. Well, unless they’re ITV1’s ‘Ads Of The Decade’ (ITV1, 2009), and it means we’ll have to put up with Paul Ross telling us why the Honda ‘Cog’ commercial is good, and how he likes it when the meerkat says “simples”. Luckily, the programme at number 32 in our rundown is so far removed from ITV1’s ‘Ads Of The Decade’, you’ll actually find yourself wondering if Paul Ross and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner are even members of the same species. Additionally, had the creatives at Weiner’s fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency been consulted for said ITV1 programme, we’re quite sure the bloody price-comparison meerkat wouldn’t have been voted into a higher position than “Cog”.

Mad Men, then. Those shagtastic residents of Madison Avenue in the 1960s. Why, if they’re not playfully slapping the butt of some cutie from the typing pool with a cigarette hanging assuredly from the corner of their gob, they’re whipping up a slogan that’ll somehow convince Middle America to buy a breakfast cereal called Trotsky-O’s. If Gene Hunt had been to Harvard, he’d be them. And where Life On Mars had Annie, Mad Men has Peggy, played wonderfully by Elisabeth Moss. On her expositional introduction to the firm in episode one, she appeared to be the very personification of innocence, but she soon displayed just how sharp a tack she really is. Then, stuff happens with and to her. We’re not saying quite what, in case you’ve not seen the programme. So go watch it. We think if you download a torrent of it on our say so, you can’t be prosecuted, so go do that. Now.

In essence, and this isn’t just us making the best of a bad analogy, Mad Men is pretty much Life On Mars, only with advertising. “Life On Mars Bar Brand Awareness Campaigns”, we’d say here, if we didn’t suspect you’d stab us in the eye for doing so. In main protagonist Don Draper, you’ve got your Sam Tyler figure – the smartest guy in the room, with his own dark reasons for never letting in on his past. A huge difference between Life On Mars and Mad Men is that while the former tended to dangle its self-satisfied coolness in your face just a little too often (“see how we jump over this desk in slow-motion, like we’re in a Roni Size video!”), Mad Men managed to ooze below room-temperature cool quite effortlessly, right from the hypnotically gorgeous title sequence, soundtracked by RJD2.

In short: Mad Men: It’s Toasted. (Reader’s voice: “That doesn’t make any sense.”) Shush, you.


A tricky one to place, this. Back when the show started in 2001 (or 2002 in the UK), it was quite simply the most thrilling import from US television since, ooh, The A-Team. Indeed, it went down so well when it was shown each Sunday night on BBC Two, the official reason given for Chris Morris not collecting his 2003 BAFTA for best short film (for My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117) in person was that he was at home awaiting the opening episode of season two (admittedly, it was all part of keeping in with the Chris Morris ’brand’, but still). Not only that, but we’re pretty sure 24 was the very first television programme shown in the UK to utilise the scheduling tactics of “pop over to our flailing digital outpost NOW to see the next episode a week early” and the lesser-spotted “late-night monthly-omnibus of the previous four episodes in case you missed them”. And not only that, but for the second series, each (week-early-‘preview’) episode on BBC Choice was followed by a half-hour studio discussion show, where assembled D-listers could gabble on about how great it all was (and by extension how with it they are for liking 24). Now, apart from Big Brother, we don’t think any other television show has ever attracted that level of coverage – even Doctor Who Uncovered is merely a repackaged ‘making of’.

Sadly, as is so often the way, once the second season was out of the way (to a relatively modest audience, but “the right type of modest audience” if you’re a BBC suit) on BBC Two/Choice, the UK rights to the third season were nabbed by Sky One. Not helped by the action being interrupted by mood-shattering ‘wacky’ sponsor bumpers by Nivea For Men every twelve minutes, it didn’t really settle on the channel – the premiere episode of season three (12 Feb 2004) attracted a reasonable 1.05 million viewers, but after that the show struggled to sneak past the likes of Stargate SG-1, Dream Team and repeats of The Simpsons into the weekly top ten ratings for the channel. It took until 4th March 2004 until the show sneaked back into Sky One’s weekly top ten, with 710,000 viewers. After that, 24 really struggled, it being bossed by the less-heralded Angel and Road Wars until it reappeared back in the weekly top tens a few more times (on around 500,000 viewers) in June, July and August. Compare that to the show’s performance on BBC Two, with the finale of season one attracting 3.17 million viewers on the 18th of August 2002, making it the most watched BBC Two broadcast of that week (and for the record, the season two finale bagged 2.78 million). The finale of season three was watched by just 620,000 hardy souls on Sky One, even though the standard of the show was (at that point) as high as ever.

Oh, and yes, we are well aware that us going on about ratings and scheduling in such disgusting detail is really rather boring, but then everyone already knows what 24 is about, and how it became pretty rubbish after season five.

(Source for all our ratings based tedia:


Created by Dylan “How Do You Want Me?” Moran and Graham “Ted” Linehan, with episodes written by (over the course of the series) Moran, Linehan, Arthur “Also-Ted” Matthews, Kevin “Armando Iannucci Shows” Cecil and Andy “Also-Iannucci Shows” Riley, you’d expect it to be more than merely a bit good, especially with it starring Moran alongside Bill “Is It Bill” Bailey and Tamsin “Love Soup” Greig. And happy, it was more than merely a bit good. But then, you’d probably guessed that. We’re into the top thirty, we can’t really expect to be surprising anyone by saying “and it did turn out to be a good show” at this stage.

Black Books – a programme centred on a moody inebriated Celt with floppy hair, who snaps at any people wandering into the room expecting him to perform the duty for which he is paid. Now aside from the fact that Hat Trick probably owe us image rights… ("Reader’s voice: “you’ve done that gag already”) …oh. Anyway, in the subset of Linehan (co- or solo-) scripted sitcoms from the 00s, we’d rank Black Books well above The IT Crowd mainly due to the brilliant character of Bernard Black. One of the deftest tricks to pull off in the world of sitcom is that of the Fawlty-esque lovable bastard. Bernard Black was a great example of that – for all the moments where he gives Manny, Fran or his customers woozy drunken hell, the parts where he ventures out into the ‘real’ world and turns into a naive man-child, totally win you over. Moments like the scene where he visits a betting shop for the first time, filling in a betting slip with the words “please may I have a bet on a horse at the Lingfield race at 3:30 this afternoon? I will bet ten pounds that this horse wins. Here is my ten pounds. Thank you. I hope it wins. Yours faithfully, Bernard Black”.

Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig also put in great performances as Manny, who is effectively Bernard’s non-sexual wife, and Fran, Bernard’s oldest (and only) friend. The situations experienced by the trio range from the Seinfeldesque (Fran goes to absurd lengths to gain revenge for being ‘blanked’ by an acquaintance) to something approaching Milligan’s Q (Bernard and Fran hide under a restaurant table during an uncomfortable meal with Manny’s parents, only to find a tiny pub under there). It’s that, combined with more excellent little gags that you could shake an Eric Morecambe at, plus the traditional Rising-Damp-ish studio-audience based set (which is always best*) that make Black Books such a winning compound of all-over splendidness.

(* One thing we really wish is that British sitcoms wouldn’t ape the US one-camera set up so often. Done properly, it can work magnificently. Done badly, which most Channel Four Comedy Showcase pilots or BBC Two sitcoms will tell prove, it fails utterly, a case which is all the more frequent, and it just looks cold, dreary and rubbish. It has been said that traditionally, US television would try to be cinema, but UK television would try to be theatre. That really ought to be the case more often.)


No Family Guy on the list, what with it starting in 1999 and all, but Seth MacFarlane’s second animated sitcom for Fox is well worthy of a place here. Indeed, in a lot of ways American Dad is preferable to its more popular sibling. Each episode of Am Dad has a sturdy, well-crafted plot, rather than the bedraggled tissue with which to throw the unrelated cutaway non-sequiturs and pop culture references that comprises your average Fam Guy plot. Plus, a clear majority of Am Dad jokes are on-topic, rather than about Huey Lewis or Melissa Joan Hart or Airwolf or something. Even when the writers want to work in a joke about furries, it’s relevant to the plot.

“Steve, look at those kids. They’re athletes – when was the last time you ran anywhere? And I mean with your actual legs, not by pressing ‘X’.”

If often remarked that the central characters in Family Guy are far more entertaining than in Am Dad, but really, aside from the marvellous Brian and Stewie, are they really? Really? Peter Griffin is basically a brain-damaged Homer Simpson (yeah, searingly groundbreaking insight from us there, eh?), and the remainder of the family rarely get to even do  anything interesting. At least the central characters in American Dad are all of at least Europa League standard (UEFA Cup, if you’re reading in black and white). Anyway, if it’s a group of bland animated characters you’re after, there’s always The Cleveland Show. Commendably, Am Dad is always willing to introduce interesting new characters to the mix, such as Dale, the fey Southern dandy once forced into marriage with a brainwashed Hayley – who are likely to appear in just one episode, and never be seen again, even though they could be used for a quick and easy joke at several points.

“You look like a two-dollar whore. And keep in mind the dollar is weak right now.”

Of course, and this where we go all “Jeremy Clarkson after he’s just spent the first eight minutes of the review slagging off a new supercar”, we do admit that Family Guy is the funnier show. After all, chuckles obtained via shock references to abortion count just the same as giggles gleaned from cleverly worded political gags. So, despite the Fam Guy writing team spending too much time pointedly copying jokes from cult comedy films without even adding a twist of their own (from Office Space, Back To The Future, etc, etc) – cynically targeted for those extra self-congratulatory “ha ha! I get that reference!” yuks – it is the slightly more enjoyable show. However, American Dad follows it very closely indeed, and that is why it is utterly deserving of 29th place on our big list.


See? BBC Four didn't have the monopoly on dramatising the troubled lives of great British comedians after all.  This one-off drama was largely based on Harry Thompson's biography of Peter Cook, so while this was supposedly a docudrama looking at the lives of both Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, the action was mainly centred on the former. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course - people who generally tended to fuck things up are always more entertaining topics for drama. In fact, it's the philosophy central to our very existence. Film rights still available, Hollywood!

Admittedly, the programme didn't fit everything in from the life of Peter Cook - Private Eye was barely mentioned, his solo ITV show Peter Cook & Co, his roles in US sitcom The Two Of Us and Hollywood flop Supergirl were passed over completely - but then, that's probably the fault of the late Peter Cook for having done so many things, the awkward fucker. Mind you, it might have been interesting to see who would have been cast as Chris Morris if they'd included Why Bother? The non-Cook career of Dudley Moore was barely even mentioned, but it could reasonably be argued that his own filmography is a little more widely known anyway.

Back to Cook, Not Only, But Always did fit in important moments like him having to play the ‘Hank Kingsley’ chat show sidekick role next to Joan Rivers on her 1986 BBC yapathon ‘Can We Talk?’, resulting in the frankly horrid sight of Cook being talked down to by Bernard fucking Manning, and later touching on his (happier) appearance on Clive Anderson Talks Back, along with his calls (as Sven the Norwegian fisherman) to LBC Radio. All well worthy of inclusion here.

Now, while we can't claim to be experts on the lives of Cook and Moore, we'd guess there are a number of inaccuracies. For one, we don't think Dud was ever mortified that the Derek & Clive recordings were given a release, or that Pete felt utterly lost without the presence of Dud. But hey, in situations like that, we suppose we ought to go with Tony Wilson's ethos of "go with the myth every time" . Also worth mentioning is that Rhys Ifans puts in a brilliant performance (maybe even career-best – yeah, take that, fans of Rancid Aluminium) as Cook. Meanwhile, Aidan McArdle manages a good portrayal of Dud, though some real-life moments (such as where Dud corpsed winningly during the “Greta bloody Garbo” Pete and Dud sketch) aren’t portrayed as well as we’d have liked.

Triv corner: according to the director’s commentary on the DVD, most of the cast – aside from those playing the Fringe-Beyonders and Elanor Bron – were from New Zealand, where the entire thing was filmed.  Yep, the blog men done a research.

See also: Peter Cook: At A Slight Angle To The Universe (BBC Two, 2002). A proper documentary looking at the work of Peter Cook in much more detail, including his time working on The Two Of Us, his booze-fuelled departure from same, the quite honestly unsettling footage of a simpering Cook playing third fiddle to both Joan Rivers and Bernard Manning on ‘Can We Talk?’, and his live shows with Mel Smith. A perfect companion piece to Not Only, But Also in many ways, and a shame that the differing source networks prevent the pair from ever being broadcast together.

Also see also: Peter Cook: A Posthumorous Tribute (BBC Two, 2002). Filmed on the 29th of September 2002 (more research, there) and broadcast immediately following ‘At A Slight Angle To…’, this theatre performance included turns from Sir David Frost, Terry Jones & Michael Palin, Griff Rhys “Have Your Apocalypse Now” Jones, Josie Lawrence and Clive Anderson, alongside then-new gagsmiths like Jimmy Carr and Jon Culshaw, who just did their own material in order to further their careers, so less said the better, there. And even less really ought to be said of Dom Joly and Angus Deayton’s mauling of ‘One Leg Too Few’. In fact, strike the previous sentence from your brains.

The best bit of the performance, as far as we’re concerned, was when Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson popped up as Eddie and Richie, trying to make the best of their misunderstanding of the evening. “This parrot is dead, you cunt!”, indeed.


A programme from the early days of BBC Three (it having recently regenerated from the twitching corpse of BBC Choice) with several episodes also repeated on BBC One, Adam And Joe Go Tokyo was the most recent (and to date, last) joint TV project for messrs Buxton and Cornish. The programme saw A&J relocate to a studio in Tokyo for eight weeks, reporting on the most fascinating and bewildering aspects of Japanese life. Sort of like Lost In Translation, but centred more on things like squid flavour ice-cream, alongside interviews with interesting local figures and glances at Japanese television.

As might be expected from the minds behind Song Wars, ‘…Go Tokyo’ included a marvellous regular feature called Big In Japan, where Ad and Joe would try to become major celebrities in the land of the rising etc. Perhaps the closest they came to genuine popularity was when they formed “Gaijin Invasion”, a pop band performing  a song (partly in Japanese) about how overwhelming Japanese pop culture can seem to unsuspecting western visitors. After initial performances in a local park, the ‘band’ were spotted by producers of a Japanese pop music programme, leading to them performing the song live on the very same networked Japanese pop show. Another memorable episode saw the chaps attending the Japanese premiere of The Matrix Reloaded in eye-catching outfits – Adam with several cardboard clones of “Agent Buxton” attached to his back, Joe in a Kenny Everett inspired backless “agent” suit.

Another enjoyable aspect of A&J Go T was the selection of brilliant Japanese bands who would play out each programme. Amongst others, there were live performances from Polysics and Guitar Wolf - thrilling for us, as we were already fans of those acts (yeah, look at us, we used to be cool). Best of all, the final episode closed with a great turn from the marvellous Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, performing ‘Early Riser’, a song then being used to advertise Powerade in the UK (in a strange Japanese-avant-garde-alterno-pop-energy-drink advert face-off with Cornelius, whose “Count Five Or Six” was being used to advertise Lucozade at around the same time). And here is that Plus-Tech Squeeze Box performance.


Hopefully, what with the pair being easily the most popular show on 6 Music (figures printed in the Guardian last February put their show on 69,000 listeners, some 29,000 ahead of the next most popular show on the digital station), and their podcast being one of the most popular from the entire BBC, they might well get another bite at the TV cherry in the near future.

[Merry Decemberween, y’all. Back in a few days with the next thrilling instalment.]


Monday, 21 December 2009

BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s: Part 9

imageLook, we’re really sorry for the delay. We’d written a massive update last week, really we had, but then our dog went and ate our computer. Or something. Anyway, here are three thousand words about eight television programmes.

Oh, and also, we’re aware all this is getting a bit disjointed if you want to read the entire rundown in one go. We’re working on compiling them into a more manageable format. Stay tuned for that.

imageCraig Cash and Phil Mealey took the concept integral to the success of The Royle Family – dipping into the life of a working class family in north-west England for unexpurgated half-hourly spells – and relocated the action (such as it is) to small Manchester boozer The Grapes. Each week saw, well, not very much actually happen. One character might get a little more self-confidence with regards to asking out the woman he fancies, another character might move another half-inch closer to getting back together with his wife, but in general, nothing really happens. Only the finale of each series hinted at any real excitement – and even then, as with the trip to (and return from) the races at the end of series one, any action taking place outside of the pub simply wasn’t shown.

And yet – as you might have guessed, what with it being on this list – it all worked really rather well, despite the non-involvement of Caroline Aherne, as had originally been planned. Shifting the action from a single family to a public house allowed for a greater range of characters, able to dip in and out of episodes wherever necessary. John “The Cops” Henshaw put in a marvellous performance as landlord Ken, aided to varying degrees by his step-daughter Melanie, barmaid Tanya and his scheming mum Jean, with miserable old sod Tommy, dim but relentlessly cheery couple Eddie and Joan, Joe and Duffy, two blokes stumbling blissfully unaware towards middle age (played by writers Cash and Mealey), and flirty single mum Janice generally to be found on the other side of the pumps. Throw in weekly visits from crooked coppers Phil and Nige, alongside acerbic cleaner Winnie and Melanie’s current beau (played by James McAvoy in the first series), and you’ll realise how much can be done without anything really happening.

Early Doors bags a place at the deep end of our list mainly due to the magnificence of the first series. While the second series was still very enjoyable, it did tend to slip into autopilot a little too often – indeed Craig Cash seemed to have forgotten to give his own character anything to do, generally only being there to mutter “bluddy ‘ell” as a footnote to someone’s else's comments. Nitpicky misgivings aside, Early Doors was a brilliant little show, and hopefully one still ripe for a comeback.

See also: Sunshine (BBC One, 2008). Also written by Craig Cash and Phil Mealey, this miniseries saw Steve Coogan’s character – Manchester binman Bob “Bing” Crosby – struggle to cope with his gambling addiction, with quite entertaining consequences.

image“And now on BBC Two, it’s time to… Look Around You.” A glorious tribute to television of yesteryear, no matter which of the two series you’re looking at. The first series of shorts, a parody of 1970s/1980s ITV Programmes For Schools And Colleges (replete with white-on-blue-background countdown clock and musak), was absolutely packed with funny little blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em asides, like the bottle labelled “music”, the band names scribbled on the pencil case containing Garry Gum, or the answer to a puzzler being “an eighthpence”. The second series took a different direction, parodying early 1980s Tomorrow’s World style primetime science programming. Perhaps understandably, what with the extended thirty-minute timeslot, the latter series wasn’t quite as packed with gags, but there was still plenty to enjoy for the keen-eyed viewer, such as the rundown of programmes for St. Frankenstein’s Day, or “HRH Sir Prince Charles”.

Because we’re objectionable TV spods, we can’t help but point out the fact almost all of the presentation was spot-on as well, with authentically lo-fi captions, the old “==2==” BBC-2 ident before each episode, and the programme was even broadcast in the 4:3 aspect ratio. No mean feat in the age of (gngh) “BBC End Credit Guidelines” and the like.


A horror-drama that quite frankly deserved better than to be chucked out on consecutive nights on E4. Remember E4? The channel that was meant to be “Britain’s HBO” when originally planned? And which now contains little more than repeats of Scrubs, Hollyoaks, Friends and anything else Channel Four have got cluttering up their US imports cupboard? It’s still going, apparently.

Anyway, Dead Set. Big Brother meets Shaun Of The Dead, if you must. Writer Charlie Brooker restricted all of his stock “you stupid titted idiot!” sarcasm to the one character, shitbag producer Patrick, allowing everyone else to concentrate on running around, getting killed, fighting back, or standing around being completely oblivious, depending on where they were during the initial outbreak. Yes, yes, Davina McCall was better than you might have expected in it, but we were more pleased to see Kevin Eldon’s character make it all the way to the final episode, given we were sure he’d be killed of after doing something stupid in episode two.


In Peep Show, Mr Mitchell and Mr Webb regularly delighted the million or so viewers who tuned in every week. But, for some reason, rarely many more than a million, even when Mitchell and Webb appeared on Soccer AM to plug the third series (during which Tim Lovejoy claimed he loved the show, but hadn’t seen the then-current series as he was Sky-Plussing them all to watch in one go later on, which is special TV presenter speak for “I have never seen your programme”). When it was announced Mitchell and Webb would be taking on a BBC Two sketch show , Peep Show fans were – we’re assuming without an ounce of proof – a little apprehensive. After all, Peep Show saw the duo play characters not a billion miles away from their own individual personas – could they slide into a variety of wacky characters convincingly? And there was to be a pool of writers for the show – would it lose the coherence that Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain brought to Peep Show?

(Reader’s voice: “Stop saying “Peep Show”. You’re not writing about Peep Show yet.”)

Well, as people sexy and brilliant enough to have watched The Mitchell and Webb Situation on Play UK and to have listened to That Mitchell and Webb Sound on Radio Four could have told them, “yes they could” and “no it wouldn’t”, in that order. Well, maybe a tiny bit with the latter, but not enough to really matter. When it comes to BBC Two sketch-based comedy, our quality benchmark is generally A Bit Of Fry Ampersand Laurie. After enjoying “…Sound” hugely, the first series of the television translation went reasonably well. Maybe we’re still a bit grumpy that when radio sketches were re-used, they tended to choose the slightly less good ones. Even so, the enjoyable but slightly uneven first series(really, was there a need to shove out Numberwang every blimmin’ week?) wasn’t too far behind the similarly not-quite-there-yet first series of ‘A Bit Of…’ (really, did they have to end that many sketches by breaking the fourth wall?).

2008 saw a second series, which we’d say dipped below the standards of the first (where, as every schoolboy knows, Fry & Laurie really stepped up a gear for their second set of shows – don’t make us put all this in a chart), but with the third series of That Mitchell & Webb Look, we saw a real improvement. Indeed, by series three, the translations of some brilliant radio sketches were practically being tossed away on The Red Button extras (aka “Tough Luck If You’re Recording The Series And You’ve Got Sky Plus, As You Can’t Record The Red Button” extras). Maybe we do need to put all this in a chart.

imageThere. So, we’re scoring series two of Fry & Laurie at 0.83, with series three of Mitchell & Webb very nearly matching it. A remarkable result. As everyone knows, series four of F&L saw a dip in quality (though it was still very good) – can Mitchell and Webb avoid doing the same? Time will tell.

Wish we’d thought of doing charts about thirty entries ago. It would have saved us loads of time. And as far Mitchell and Webb, it would have been fantastic if they’d had the gall to do a television version of the radio sketch (Series 2, episode 2) where the party planners basically slag off Greg Dyke for four minutes.


Used as one of the flagship shows for the then-new Virgin1 channel in the UK, The Riches followed the exploits of the Malloy family, a group of travelling con artists who, taking on the identities of the recently deceased Rich family, try to fake their way through life in Edenfalls, an exclusive gated community. Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver put in impressive performances as husband and disillusioned drifter Wayne (or “Doug”), and recently paroled recovering meth addict wife Dahlia (or “Cherien”), alongside kids Cael (played by Dirk Kuyt lookalike Noel Fisher), Di Di (Shannon Marie Woodward) and Sam (Aidan Mitchell).

The initial premise – family of travellers try to get by in an uptight community without being detected while Wayne struggles to hold down a job as a legal counsel at a large real estate firm – could easily have been enough to see out a good few seasons, but thrown into the mix are the remainder of the Malloy clan – most notably the sociopathic Dale, cousin and intended husband of Dahlia, who is determined to take revenge on Wayne by any means necessary. Meanwhile, the three Malloy children struggle to fit in at the uber-snobbish Rosemere Academy, and everyone is wary that people from the past lives of the real Riches could turn up at any moment.

The sight of Izzard playing an American – and thankfully, he does a much better job here than he did in Mystery Men – takes a little getting used to, but it’s something you soon get used to, especially once Wayne/Doug turns on the charm in his new job. Minnie Driver slides into the role of Dahlia/Cherien brilliantly, with the character struggling to fit into her new pretend persona whilst still having trouble juggling the numerous problems Dahlia has been hiding from her family. The characters of Cael, Di Di and Sam are anything but an afterthought too, with the actors playing them making the most out of their individual situations. Shannon Marie Woodward is especially good in her role of Di Di.

Throw in the well-rounded personalities of neighbours Jim and Nina (Bruce French and Margo Martindale) – both growing weary of living a lie of their own, and the various characters at Panco Real Estate, and you’ve got a drama series that really deserved to survive for much longer than a mere one-and-a-half seasons. Due to the 2007-8 WGA strike, season two lasted for just seven episodes, leaving the action in what would have been mid-season. Sadly, lacklustre viewing figures led to FX cancelling the show, leaving the plot hanging in the middle of what we believe is called a “game-changer”. Hopefully, plans for a one-off movie to tie up all the loose ends will come to fruition, and we won’t have seen the last of the Malloys.


We’ve gone on about Craig Ferguson a few times before now, which is handy because we can just re-use bits of our earlier posts on The Late Late Show.

After early stand-up performances as Bing Hitler, occasional guest appearances in shows like Red Dwarf, Chelmsford 123 and One Foot In The Algarve, and a one-off Sunday night pilot for ITV, Ferguson landed his first full series on BBC2 in 1993, called The Ferguson Theory. Despite imdb claiming two series existed, we’re fairly sure it only lasted for one, and that we only managed to catch the last episode of it. Providing it is the show we’re thinking of, it ended with a musical montage of clips, followed by the exchange “That’s your party tape?” “Aye. The party’s crap.” We may be wrong, there.

In 1994, Ferguson moved to the USA, taking in a few small parts in sitcoms before landing a key role in what we’ll forever refer to as The Criminally Underrated Drew Carey Show. Despite putting on what he gleefully admits to being a terrible English accent throughout much of the shows eight seasons, he was a hit, and was soon a minor darling of the talk show circuit, occasionally standing in as guest host (for Craig Kilborn) on post-Letterman jabberfest The Late Late Show.

In December 2004, Ferguson became the full-time host of The Late Late Show, replacing a Hollywood bound Kilborn. And do you know what? He’s bloody good at it. Thanks to YouTube we can check out how Craig Ferguson will happily open shows by miming to They Might Be Giants records, by calling non-voters morons, or (and this is an important bit) by performing one of the greatest opening monologues ever:

The YouTube video we’ve linked to right there is the reason we’ve got a huge amount of time for Craig Ferguson. That and the fact he still avoids pronouncing his first name as “Creg” to try and fit in with the US audience (seriously, we’d have expected it to be one of the conditions of his US citizenship). Annoyingly, Craig Ferguson’s chat show is the only one of the “big four” never really given an outing in the UK. Whereas weekly compilations of both ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘Late Night’ pop up on CNBC at weekends, and Letterman has been tried out about half a dozen digital channels to diminishing audience figures, we think the only time The Late Late Show with Britain’s own Craig Ferguson has been seen at all over here is when a specially recorded monologue clip made up part of the Family Guy episode “We Love You, Conrad”.

And do you know what? It’s a shame the size of three buses. Given how most of each show is just Craig Ferguson being relentlessly and wonderfully silly, it should go down a storm to the fifty thousand viewers or so likely to give it a go (hey, it’s hardly going to be a ratings smash, and this is a nation where a show with 2000 viewers can make the weekly top ten for some digital channels). Come on, someone. Give it a go.


Life on Mars managed to be something which has been all too rare on British television – a high concept crime drama that remains captivating and popular over a prolonged period. Anyone for a box set of Crime Traveller? Space Cops? Paradox? Thought not. When it came to the escapades of DI Sam Tyler, the audience was largely hooked from start to finish, even when the plot of each episode started to get a little formulaic (oh, it turns out the only character we’ve been introduced to this episode, but who hasn’t had much to do yet, did it? Gosh).

Instead, the most compelling aspect of the show wasn’t really the crime of the week, but rather the situations it would put Sam, Gene Hunt, Annie, Ray and Chris into. Each episode’s “next week” trailer would allow us to roll the thought of marvellous situations – like Sam and Annie going undercover at a wife-swapping party only for Gene Hunt to gatecrash with a floozy in tow – around in our heads for a week until we could see how it all pans out. Precisely how they’d arrive at these situations didn’t seem to matter too much – the crime could have been reported to the station by a cartoon duck as far as we were concerned, as long as it’d give Gene Hunt an excuse to dish out bollockings and one-liners.

It certainly helped that the both lead actors John Simm and Philip Glenister, with Liz White not too far behind, put in brilliant performances each week. This is highlighted by the glossy-but-underwhelming US remake, which aside from having a better money shot in the first episode (US Sam realises he is back in 1973 when he notices the still-standing World Trade Center looming over him, UK Sam merely gets a slightly unrealistic billboard announcing a new motorway), is inferior in pretty much every regard. Compare Philip Glenister’s authentic tough guy portrayal of Gene Hunt with Harvel Keitel’s ‘angry short bloke with Napoleon Complex looking to start a pub  fight’ remix of the character, then throw in Jason O’Mara – Sam Tyler as former high school jock. Wrong. And that’s before you look at the respective endings each each version – one involving (SPOILERS) the suicide of the lead character, one involving an actual manned trip to Mars. You can probably guess which is which.

See Also: Ashes To Ashes. The inevitably disappointing follow-up to Life On Mars, but once this had found its feet, it blossomed into a very, very good programme it its own right. Admittedly, Gene Hunt had become a little more sitcom-cop than he had been previously, but the second series was almost up there with the first series of Life On Mars. If you’re one of the many to have given up on Ashes after the first few episodes, give the second series a go before the third and final series kicks off.


What was that we’d said about high-concept crime drama? Awkward, geeky, floppy-haired, writer’s-block-stymied drifter, who finds comfort in reading Raymond Chandler novels decides to bluff his way through being a modern day Philip Marlowe on the streets of Brooklyn, if only so he'll meet people in his cold, emotionless city that he can really talk to. Ignoring the fact HBO might well owe us compensation for image rights, this is a brilliant premise for a show, and happily, the execution is as good as the idea.

Jason “Oh, Sorry, I Thought You Were Demetri Martin” Schwartzman stars as Jonathan Ames, with stand-up Zach “Copy-Pasted Surname” Galifianakis as his best friend Ray, and Ted Danson putting in a great turn as George, Jonathan’s neurotic and eternally bored multi-millionaire editor . Schwartzman is perfect in the role of The Stoned Detective, bumbling from one case to another, trying to seem as rugged as he can in front of female clients whilst ordering a glass of white wine at the bar (“I avoid the wagon by drinking white wine. It actually has a very low alcohol content”), or fretting over whether the dame he’d just bedded had an orgasm. Ray helps out where possible, providing his girlfriend lets him borrow her SUV, while George is always likely to distract Ames at the most inconvenient of moments, demanding his company on the flimsiest of pretences.

The entire programme fits together wonderfully well, with entire episodes able to pass by without the central premise even being touched on (as early as the third episode, too – a brave move for a new show), without it becoming any less entertaining. Hopefully, this is one that can run and run. Given its impressive ratings for HBO, reportedly adding new viewers with every episode, this will be the case. Fingers crossed for it being picked up by BBC Four soon.



More soon!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s: Part 8


imageAbsolute proof that ITV (or more specifically, Granada) still has the power to create something utterly brilliant when it wants to. The plot of Pierrepoint is pretty much explained away by its international title, ‘The Last Hangman’. In this true story, Timothy Spall puts in what just might be a career best performance as Albert Pierrepoint, Britain's last ever executioner.

This made for television film proved to be such a powerful work, it was deemed worthy of a theatrical and DVD release before actually being broadcast on ITV1, three years after it was completed, in 2008.



Admittedly, we could as easily have picked Palin travelogues Sahara or Himalaya as his representatives on our big list, as they're all reliably enjoyable. Indeed, Himalaya was very nearly our choice, including as it did brilliant moments like where Michael Palin amused a class of schoolchildren by doing a bit of slapstick with a shoe, and a thrilling moment where Palin met the Dalai Lama, only to be told by the Lama that he was a big fan of Palin's output. Sadly, that only meant his travel documentaries, not Life Of Brian or Flying Circus. Aw.

New Europe wins it for us, mainly due to it providing true insight into the former Eastern Bloc states, improving upon what is generally known amongst people in the UK (including us) - namely that they're all countries we’ll see drawn against a home nation in a World Cup qualifying draw, causing us to foolishly think "ooh, three easy points there".  Palin took in the varied delights of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Transnistria, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and former East Germany, and there was barely any depressing grey anonymous architecture, or local residents plotting how best to sneak their families aboard the BBC truck in order to gorge themselves on our luxurious benefits system. Ouch, our expectations!

In a word: fabulous. We'll hold back from using the term 'life-affirming', as it'd make us sound like gushing idiots, but even that very nearly applies here. It's programmes like this, where you get to see that the vast proportion of Them Foreigners are actually perfectly friendly, personable, generous and splendid people, and that maybe your own personal outlook that people, of all creeds, colours and nationalities, are fundamentally decent human beings. A bit rubbish we might need that outlook confirmed occasionally, of course, but that's what happens when you're daft enough to read newspapers.

imageSpeaking of newspapers. The bouncing Czech. The Aldi Rupert Murdoch. Captain Bob. The former MP for Buckingham. Call Robert Maxwell what you like, it won’t change the fact that David Suchet put in an impressive performance as the crooked newspaper proprietor. Not sure why you’d be looking to change that fact by trotting out misremembered insults from the pages of Private Eye, but there you go. Sadly, there wasn't a scene where Eye owner Peter Cook, with Ian Hislop in tow, phoned a furious Maxwell in New York, from Maxwell's own office in the Mirror Builiding after having sneaked in.

Now, the above event is something we were a bit worried we'd imagined - a Google "I'm Feeling Lucky" search for '"Peter Cook" "Robert Maxwell" office' results in... er, this blog. Luckily, a bit further down the search results is this Parkinson interview with Ian Hislop, where the full, majestic story is told. Really, it’s possibly the greatest Peter Cook anecdote of all time.


image Several years ago, on a trip from north Wales at Essex to help a friend collect a sofa (long tedious story), we came up with an idea for a film. It would be a road trip across Europe featuring two people, with the USP that the first half of the film was told solely from the perspective of one person, the second half from the other, with all manner of twists and revelations being sneaking out of the second viewpoint. Now, clearly, what with us having shag-all actual talent, or even the willpower to follow up ideas, the thought pretty much left our heads about as soon as we’d stepped out of the van. With that in mind, we can't really think about pursuing any legal action against Peter Kosminsky, writer and director of two-part Channel Four serial Britz.

Told over two nights, Britz looked at two British Muslim siblings, Sohail and Nasima. The first film followed Sohail, who unbeknownst to his family had joined MI5 in the hope of preventing future terrorist attacks on British soil. The second film followed Sohail's story, who grows increasingly militant after heavy-handed anti-terror laws lead to the persecution and eventual suicide of her best friend.

The two parts were told completely in isolation, with the only real crossover being the conclusion of each story. While the message put out by the whole serial isn't one "the establishment" would enjoy, that anti-terror laws are needlessly harsh, the programme proved to be truly captivating and eye-opening.

One supplemental point – Channel Four promoted the show by using billboards of the two main characters above the strapline “Whose side are you on?”, as if they were assuming a healthy proportion of those viewing to ponder “hmm, think I’ll side with the axis of evil on this one…”.


The person Paste Magazine dubbed the funniest man of the decade, Dave Chapelle is one of those performers you automatically warm to. Maybe it's the way Chapelle often seems to barely suppress a smirk during his performances, or maybe it's just the excellent material, even (maybe especially) when dealing with edgy subjects. Maybe the best-known example of this was the spoof Frontline report from the very first episode, dealing with Clayton Bigsby, a bland Klan member who had spent his entire life unaware that he was black. This was shown on BBC One during the clip compilation rounding off Red Nose Day 2005, as far as we know the only time a Chapelle sketch has been shown on ‘proper’ telly in the UK.  A clear majority of his sketches land on the 'hit' side of the coin, too, with skits like ‘Pretty White Girl Sings Dave's Thoughts’ (as his thoughts are too controversial for America to hear coming from a young black man), ‘Life Like a Video Game’ (the folly of trying to carry out actions from GTA in real-life) or ‘The Niggar Family’ (a take on retrospectively insensitive 1950s sitcoms).

The second (and, to date, final proper) season of the show ended with the rather prescient "Black Bush" sketch. This dated from early 2004, still an age where the US media were fearful of criticising George W Bush, who up to that point had been protected by the theories that "he's still new, give him time!", "having a pop at the President would be letting the terrorists win!", "hey, we're at war, Saddam-lover!". The sketch - also featuring Jamie Foxx as "Black Tony Blair" and Mos Def as head of the CIA - made the point that had the President been black, there's no way he would have been given the benefit of the doubt in the lead up to the Iraq War, and would surely have been called to account for trying to deflect attention by banging on about gay marriage when the war wasn't going to plan.

Now, here's a picture of Glenn Beck, from March 2009. About six weeks after President Obama took office.


More tomorrow!

Friday, 11 December 2009

BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s: Part 7


Into the TOP FIFTY we roar on our special critical moped, with us briefly pausing to remind patrons that only TV shows which began in the years 2000-2009 are getting included here, so don’t expect to see The Sopranos or The Daily Show or Countryfile.

imageYes, you read that correctly. Popular children's television programme Doctor Who is only at number fifty.  Not only that, but we've decided it falls within the remit of our listing, as we've decided that Doctor Who began in 2005. Now, admittedly, we've partly done that because it'll irritate the sort of people who get way too precious about such matters, but mainly because it was a proper reboot of the franchise, and is therefore eligible. On a similar tip, we could have included the rebooted updates of Crossroads, the Ving Rhames version of Kojak and the Al Bundy version of Dragnet, only we haven't, because they were all rubbish.

Anyway, to nick a phrase from brilliant early 1980s Dicky Howlett one-off Marvel UK comic book Channel 33⅓, Doctor Whom. It has been a tricky programme to place in the rundown, mainly because the quality of the show since it returned has been massively variable. Had the standard remained anywhere near as high as the five best episodes (which, putting our spod hats on, we'd say are "The Unquiet Dead", "The Empty Child", "The Doctor Dances", "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "Blink"), it'd be sitting quite comfortably in the top three. Sadly, far too many episodes have been packed with annoying plot resolutions where the Doctor points his sodding sonic screwdriver at the problem he wants to go away, or says "hang on, if I can just reverse the polarity on this [otherwise harmless object]...", so number fifty it is.

As any geek worth their black T-shirt with an ironic in-joke printed on the front will tell you, 80% of our five best episodes come from the head of soon-to-be head writer Steven Moffat, so it's likely the programme will become much, much better from the new year onwards. Heck, even if Moffat panics and simply re-uses a load of plots from Press Gang, it'll still be brilliant. If nothing else, he'll avoid having the entire globe attacked by Daleks and/or Cybermen at the end of each series, only for everyone on the planet to forget all about it the next time it happens.


Written by Simon Day and Andrew Collings Off Of Podcasts, this was surely one of the least BBC Three-friendly BBC Three sitcoms to ever be given a full series. Grass involved over-friendly Londoner Billy Bleach (Simon Day reprising his character from The Fast Show) inadvertantly witnessing a gangland slaying, and subsequently relocating to a sleepy rural village on the witness protection programme, finding himself placed in the care of dozy village bobby PC Harriet (Robert Wilfort, who we'd noticed not long afterwards in a Channel Four comedy pilot doing a sarcastic but enjoyable impersonation of Ross Noble, and who we haven't seen much since. Possibly Ross Noble has had him killed).

There's a lot more to the plot than that, involving the couple of CID officers sent from the big smoke to keen an eye on things, the attractive lady vet Billy repeatedly tries to woo, the slightly eerie child prodigy, the enigmatic poacher, fellow Fast Showee Mark Williams as the pretentious city boy trying to win the locals round to his gastropub idea, and his philosophical head chef, which go some way to explaining just how involved it all was. In fact, the show could have been hugely enjoyable even if the central character Billy hadn't been there at all, seeing as the supporting characters had such thoroughly well rounded personalities. Sounds like a trite things to say, but all too often we’ve had to put up with sitcoms where Character A is ‘this’ type of person, Char B is ‘that’ type of person, and so on, and so on. In Grass for example, the CID officers didn't just slot into the good cop/bad cop-shaped holes - one was a modern Blairite detective always ready to consider the bigger picture and use the training from all the courses he’d been on, while the other was a middle-aged detective who'd seen more of the world, was something of a traditionalist, but was also coming to terms with having recently come out of the closet, and getting used to his gay relationship with the first CID officer.

So, with all that that going on, one might expect the central character plucked straight from The Fast Show to be a little jarring, with him spouting a catchphrase every couple of minutes. Not a bit of it, the setting allowed the character of Billy Bleach to flourish, allowing for some nice interplay between him and PC Harriet, first when the pair are muddling through sharing a cottage together, and later when the CID officers arrive and duly treat the duo like a pair naughty kids, sending them to their bunkbeds early.

It really was a brilliant little show, quite unfairly treated by BBC Three - fellow Fast Show spin-off 'Swiss Toni' seemed to have much more attention lavished on it by the digital channel, despite that not being anywhere near as good. Grass probably would have been more at home on BBC Four, but hopefully it'll one day turn up on Dave, allowing more people to see just how good it really was.


Yeah, she figuratively died on her arse when she did that highly-priced live show in London, and indeed fared about as badly when she guested on both …Buzzcocks and 8 Out Of 10 Cats (as seems to be the case for every US stand-up who comes over here to promote something, only to discover where ‘they’ have a 'chat show circuit' we have a 'panel show circuit', where they're expected to understand jokes about X-Factor and Atomic Kitten). But here's the thing: The Sarah Silverman Program was brilliant.

To the casual viewer, it might well have come over as another half-baked attempt to shock (albeit within the framework of Comedy Central's language and decency guidelines, so the writers couldn't just have someone saying 'fuck' every three minutes). It was actually quite a lot cleverer than that, with almost all of the offensive lines coming from the relentlessly optimistic and whimsically naïve character of Sarah. One episode sees Sarah debating with a black waiter at her local coffee shop about who has the hardest time in American society - black people or Jewish people. To try and see things from his perspective, Sarah innocently aims to get first-hand experience of what it's like to be black in 21st century America - by spending a day wearing blackface. The appalled and disgusted reactions she receives from everyone leads her to assume that everyone else is racist. Think of it as like Mike Leigh's "Happy Go Lucky", but with jokes about fanny farts. It's possibly quite telling that three of the main players (Silverman, Brian Posehn and Jay Johnson) were involved in the majestic Mr Show, to which The Sarah Silverman Program exhibits a very similar feel.

Bonus fact for fans of the show at number 50: One episode sees Brian Posehn's character become obsessed with a campy British sci-fi DVD boxset, in which the lead role is played by a certain Christopher Eccleston.


It might just be the people we went to school with, but as far as we were aware, out of Newman and Baddiel, it was Rob Newman that everyone liked the best. However, possibly due to the fact Newman had never shared a flat with Frank Skinner, when “Robert Newman's A History Of Oil“ appeared on More4 in 2006, it was the first time we'd seen him do something new on TV for aaaages. About thirteen years, by our watches, which for some reason have a “how long was it since Robert Newman last did something new on telly” setting.

A History Of Oil helped prove just what a shame that was, what with Newman having spent the time since '...In Pieces' becoming a sort of funny Mark Thomas, if you can imagine such a thing. This programme looked at the history of... oh, you've guessed. Very illuminating it was too, making a number of very interesting points, such as how oil in Iraq was one of the primary reasons behind the First World War. But - and here's where Newman took a very different approach to Mark Thomas - it was also very funny, as opposed to just being very self-satisfied about the bits where receptionists got bullied.

The entire shebang can be seen on YouTube, starting from here.

See also: The History Of The World Backwards (BBC Four 2007). This being Newman’s ‘proper’ TV comeback, this had a lot of really nice ideas – not least of all the central premise of “what would history be like if time ran backwards?” – but did lack a certain something special. Still an interesting programme, but not quite ‘there’. Pity.


Sealab 2020 was an early 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon show about an underwater research base. Pretty much in the Captain Planet vein, it aimed to teach the kids about the need to respect marine life, and the sea, and whatnot. It didn't really succeed in those aims, and was cancelled after just sixteen episodes had been made, only thirteen of which were actually broadcast.

Arriving almost thirty years later, Sealab 2021 visited the crew a year later. By this time, the crew have become more than a little sceptical about their mission, if not entirely stir crazy. They tend to spend the majority of their time arsing about, having extended conversations about what they'd be like if they were robots, killing each other, or trying to take over the world. Coming from the brains of Adam Reed and Matt Thompson (previously mentioned in our list for their later work Frisky Dingo), .you've got to admire the concept of a show lampooning a kids cartoon from three decades previous,  that practically no-one remembered anyway.  It'd be like someone in this country putting together a sitcom where DJ Kat went on to become a shambling alcoholic.

We might be excused of giving our descriptive powers the day off when we say this, but all you really need to know is that Sealab 2021 is absolutely fanfuckingtastically brilliant. For one thing - in a manner similar to World Of Pub (see earlier in the list) - most episodes end with the Sealab facility being destroyed and everyone getting killed. For another thing, it has played host to some of the most majestically demented episodes ever seen of any television programme since the BBC stopped letting Spike Milligan make any. Case in point, the episode quite innocently titled "Vacation" - it needs to be seen in full to get the full impact, and luckily you can do just that here.

Go on, watch it. It’ll give you something to do until the next episode of BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s: Part 6

imageAs we steam toward the halfway point of our rundown, here are numbers 54 to 51. We’ll try not to ramble on as much as we did yesterday.


One thing that often irks us is when infuriating broadsheet columnists – such as Damian Thompson of the Torygraph – have a bit of a pop at Twitter’s Stephen Fry. “He’s not as clever as he thinks he is!”, they’ll occasionally whinny, deftly stopping themselves just before they type “after all, I’m cleverer than him! Look, my parents sent me to this really expensive school, and I’ve got my own newspaper column, so why doesn’t everyone love me instead? Waaah”.

One of the reasons Fry is so disarming is that when it comes to programmes like ‘Stephen Fry In America’, you can’t help but feel that despite him being a really quite clever chap, he’s there to learn from all the new experiences and the new people just as much as he’s there to make a TV series and write a best-selling book. Now, we might be wrong in that assumption (it wouldn’t be the first time. After all, we’re idiots), but it’s his willingness to Get Involved that makes him likeable, while lots of other people would merely arrive at a set of assumptions that happen to keep in with their blinkered world view, despite there being plenty of evidence to the contrary if they moved from behind a desk. You know, like your Jan Moirs, Richard Littlejohns and Damian Thompsons of the world. Or us, as that’s what we’re doing in this very paragraph. But, as we’ve said, we cheerily admit we’re idiots.

Oh, and given Fry visited all fifty states for the making of the programme, why on earth was it only six episodes long? Come on, the BBC. It should at least have been a thirteen parter, though we’ll cut you some slack for not censoring a bit where the word “fuck” could clearly be seen in graffiti on an establishing shot in one episode’s 7pm BBC Two same-week repeat.


Completing a brace of affable factmongers, here’s Andrew Marr, and his History Of Modern Britain. Taking what could be called (by us, here, now) a surprisingly accessible look at Britain’s post-war history, the series saw Marr visiting not just the more obvious landmarks that shaped 21st Century Britain – the stock exchanges, or the dockyards – but also the unexpected – the spot on Harrowdown Hill where the body of Dr David Kelly was found, or revisiting that tiny London flat which sold for a fortune in the 1980s. It was this comprehensive approach which made the series so very compelling.

Quite splendidly, the entire series can be viewed in full on Google Video:
episode one | episode two | episode three | episode four | episode five


Now, no-one really likes to admit it. but is there anything finer in life than seeing someone who deserves it getting a great big bollocking? You might counter with “well, raising a child is a little bit more enjoyable than that, you cynical git”, but you’d be lying.  Seeing someone else getting an industrial strength ticking-off is always fun, only in reality you have to be all “Oh, I should probably leave the room” and avoid-eye-contact-y.

Well, thanks to Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, you can see people getting loudly rebuked in the comfort of your own home. You can even rewind the best, loudest, bollockingest bits over and over again on your Sky+ box, imagining that you’re Gordon Ramsay, and that the luckless head chef represents everyone you’ve ever worked with, and yeah, who was it who mixed up the fax machine and the shredder for a year’s worth of invoices now, eh fucko? Eh? ANSWER ME! But then, that’d be taking things a little bit too far, and you should probably start seeing Dr Mayhew again.

Actually, of course, the main enjoyment from the show actually comes from seeing struggling restaurateurs manage to turn their businesses around, thanks to the helpful if sweary advice from Ramsay. It’s really quite uplifting seeing a small restaurant keep on the same staff, not need any additional investment, and still manage to make a silk purse from the mouldy old pigs ears at the back of the freezer, all because Ramsay reinvigorated a disenfranchised kitchen staff and added (or removed) a few dishes to the menu. Though admittedly, we only started watching it to see people getting shouted at.

imageYou’d never guess just how hard it is to be so wonderfully stupid. This Canadian sitcom centred on the antics of Ron (played by Jeff Kassel) and Pete (played by Steve Markle taking on the human form of Tommy Scott from Space). What with both being dumb and shiftless, they make ends meet by becoming human guinea pigs for product testing facility Testico. Yep, ‘Testico’. That’s about the level – we’re talking Bottom meets Jackass basically, and that’s a good thing.

Each episode would centre on a single product being tested on the pair, and the subsequent consequences. So, one episode sees the pair take an experimental drug that temporarily removes their ability to feel pain. Ignoring all warnings from the doctors, as soon as they’re let out on the street, the pair decide to neck enough of the pills to keep them pain-free for a solid week. Ron instantly decides to become a low-rent daredevil, while Pete starts dating an attractive dominatrix who just loves guys with dangerously sturdy piercings ‘down there’. The rest of the episode basically writes itself, and unless you’ve a heart of solid stone, you’ll have cried laughing at least three times by the end of it.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the programme is the lengths the lead actors have to go to. For example, in one episode the luckless Pete messes up a prank involving an experimental solvent, and spends almost the entire episode with his face glued to Ron’s bare arse. And Ron certainly isn’t going to stop having regular sex with his new girlfriend after a minor setback like that. We think you’ll find that is proper “I-had-to-watch-it-through-my-fingers” comedy, folks.

Sadly, the show didn’t make it past the end of the first season (can’t imagine why), but we implore you to track down at least one episode of the show. While it’s very much the televisual equivalent of a greasy chicken kebab after a hard night’s drinking, it’s one of the best kept comedy secrets of the last decade.


And so, into the Top 50 we go. Join us again tomorrow (probably) for the next part of our increasingly fractured rundown.


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BrokenTV’s Top 100 Television Shows Of The 00s: Part 5

image image

As a few entries in this list have suggested, one of the things ITV can still do to impress us is to look back over its own history. What with 2005 being the 50th anniversary of the network, ITV Plc saw fit to treat us to an entire half-century’s worth of lookbackery.

Oh, lookbackery is so a word.

The flagship programme from amongst these celebrations was the Bragg-helmed “The Story of ITV: The People’s Channel”, a multi-part documentary series looking at the successes of the channel on a genre-by-genre basis. There was even a tie-in book for the series (by Simon Cherry, published by Reynolds & Hearn, ISBN 1-903111 98-6 – we’ve a copy of it to hand, you see). All in all, the series made a pretty good case of reminding everyone just why ITV used to be the nation’s most popular channel. Tellingly, when it came to the most recent years of ITV’s life thus far, it was mainly about the various pop talent shows and ‘…Millionaire’. In the case of the episode on comedy, the example used to highlight the network’s continued commitment to mirth was… Frank Skinner’s ‘Shane’ – the same Frank Skinner’s ‘Shane’ that flopped so badly, the pre-emptively produced second series was made yet never broadcast. Even worse, we don’t think TV Burp even got a mention.

See also: ITV50, the regional shows (ITV1, 2005). In many ways, these were an even better way of showcasing the history of ITV, with each region putting out a retrospective of their own output. This gave viewers a brilliant chance to take in the histories of all the regional outposts they’d likely only ever seen on occasional holidaying  visits to other parts of the UK – a rare treat for those of us who’d read the references in TV Cream to such figures as Harry Gration and Gus Honeybun. Entertainingly, the only ITV region to have actually been on air for the entire fifty years was London, meaning all of the other big regional celebrations had to kick off with lines like “of course, ITV have only been serving the Border region for forty-four years” which is the kind of thing we like seeing happen, because we’re odd. We’re assuming that the thinking behind that was, if ITV Plc have their way, by the time most regions actually do reach their 50th anniversaries, there won’t be any regional ITV channels left to celebrate.

However – and any description of a large-scale ITV project in the 21st century just has to contain a ‘however’ – any goodwill was piddled up the fence by all of the regional celebratory shows being sneaked out quietly on a Sunday afternoon, and they didn’t even make the most of all that effort by putting any of them out nationally on ITV3, meaning TV spods like us had to patiently wait for someone to put them all on UK Nova. Oh, ITV. An hour a day for a fortnight, at 1am on ITV3? Not even that?

Also see also: MTV: 15 Years In Europe (MTV, 2002). Another look back, this time from the perspective of a network with a somewhat less than rich history. That didn’t mean that MTV didn’t make an effort, putting together fresh interviews with big names from the golden age of MTV Europe, along with some brilliant clippage, such as the slightly misguided live Christmas (or maybe New Years Eve, we don’t have our tape of it to hand) special with guest presenters Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, from the tail end of the 1980s. Free from the grip of the BBC, Rik and Ade put on explosive and expletive-strewn performance (such as Mayall introducing a song with the words “Now, he’s not just a fuckcunt, but he’s also a cuntfuck!”), ending with the duo demolishing the very-much-not-designed-to-be-demolished set.

As with the ITV retrospectives, once the documentary reached a certain point, things took a much duller turn. While the first two-thirds of the programme had been marvelling in how lively, fresh and exciting MTV Europe had been in the early days (Ray Cokes! Front 242 on daytime rotation! Half of the adverts being in German!), once it made the split to MTV UK & Ireland, MTV France, MTV Germany et al, there wasn’t much left to say, other than “well, we couldn’t really afford original programming for each nation, so we bunged on a bunch of American MTV shows and hoped for the best. Ooh, but we do still have the MTV Europe Awards! Which, er, is usually hosted by an American, and all the nominations are usually American”. A shame, both for the sake of the documentary, and for the channel itself.


You know when you’re really, really looking forward to a new programme? And there’s a new sitcom coming, and it’s based in the world of IT, and it’s actually performed in front of a studio audience, and it’s being written by Graham “Black Books Father Ted The All-New Alexei Sayle Show Dr Crawshaft’s World Of Pop” Linehan, and Chris Morris is in it? It’s pretty much destined to seem a little disappointing, isn’t it?

Indeed, it did take us a while to warm to The IT Crowd, but by the time the second series got into full swing (after the “Moss and the German” ep, if you’re counting), we were won over. Admittedly, it can suffer from Duff Episode Syndrome occasionally (we didn’t find ourselves enjoying the haunting-Adam-Buxton or introducing-Matt-Berry episodes nearly as much as other people seemed to), but as the series goes on, the laughs are falling from our mouths increasingly quickly, as if, oh, we don’t know, someone had installed a faster Laughter Card running Direct X 11 in our brains. Or. Some. Thing.


One thing that relentlessly bugs us about US sitcoms – even ones that we really like – is that the characters in the vast majority of them are, at the very least, comfortably off. Yes, we know such shows are there for the purposes of escapism, and if a cafe waitress happens to look like Jennifer Aniston and can easily afford a huge New York apartment (“ah, but Rachel shared that apartment!” – A reader missing the point) it’s okay because it’s NOT REAL, But really – what are the most popular sitcoms of all time in the UK? Steptoe & Son, Fools & Horses, Porridge, Open All Hours – all about people basically struggling to get by, making the most of a bad lot. Even accounting for Dad’s Army or Fawlty Towers, they look at people stuck in a situation they’d rather not be in (either living in wartime Britain, or running a not-successful-enough hotel).

Now, look at most US (live-action) sitcoms. While there are pesky examples like MASH or Cheers to undermine this, for the most part they centre on really quite successful people who merely don’t have everything going their way. Soap, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show, 30 Rock or Frasier are all brilliant shows, but you never really get the feeling any of the characters are ever really trapped in their surroundings. Sure, the main characters may feel ego-bound to do whatever they do to cause mayhem in 22-minute syndicated bursts, but they could just as easily sell up for an easier life in Idaho. The marvellous Everybody Hates Chris takes a more British approach to comedy, looking at the fortunes of a hard-working but financially struggling black family in 1980s Brooklyn, with the action centred on eldest child Chris – who, of course, will grow up to be millionaire comedian and actor Chris Rock, but ignore that for now.

A sadly underrated show over here – not helped by being buried on Five and Five US, and often having its more hard-hitting lines censored to boot (including the pivotal use of the word ‘nigger’ by the school bully towards Chris in the first episode, which pretty much sets up the dynamic between the pair from that point on) – it’s another great example of the kind of tightly plotted, cleverly scripted, brilliantly casted US sitcom that we’re really going to need to think up some more decorative prose for by the end of this rundown.

The central character of Chris (played winningly by Tyler James Williams) is handled magnificently, being a fundamentally good, well mannered and honest kid who ends up in all manner of scrapes through little fault of his own. It’s the well-rounded characters making up the rest of his family – indeed, the regular characters from the neighbourhood – that help this show stand out from the crowd. Rochelle, the sassy, intimidating and fiercely protective mother. Julius, industrious, easygoing but frugal father. Drew, younger and  to the almost-imperceptible annoyance of Chris, bigger and more popular of the two brothers. And finally, Tonya, youngest of the three children, perpetual antagonist for her two brothers and a relentless attention-addict, always likely to win her parents over in the event of any argument. All brilliantly written characters, and all played wonderfully by the cast.

On a superficial level, the streets of Brooklyn, New York don’t have much in common with small villages on the outskirts of Wrexham, north Wales, which is where we happened to grow up. However, with us being of a similar age to Chris Rock, we can see a lot of the families we grew up amongst in the Rock family and their neighbours. People struggling to get by, people preferring to rip people off friends and neighbours instead of struggling, hard kids in school looking to distract themselves from the problems in their own home lives by taking it out on anyone unlucky enough to be deemed different, it’s all really quite uncanny. If we had an ounce of talent, we might even consider writing our own “Married For Life”-style spin-off for ITV.

(Oh, and please don’t leave a comment along the lines of “Well, [American Sitcom X] is just like that too! Why haven’t you mentioned [American Sitcom X]? Eh?”. We’re only at number 58, and we probably will mention it. Assuming by “[American Sitcom X]” you don’t mean a whimsical spin-off of the Ed Norton race-hate drama.)


The first programme from south of the equator on our list, and one of the few to actually make it to a mainstream channel over here – several ‘best of’ shows (stripped of the more Aussie- centric content) were broadcast on BBC Four earlier on this year.

Coming from Australian satire troupe ‘The Chaser’ (think ‘The Onion’ or ‘National Lampoon’), ‘War…’ was the follow-up to their ABC-broadcast news spoof CNNNN (Chaser NoN-stop News Network), and took a (slightly) more traditional, studio-audience led approach **LAZY GENERALISATION ALERT**, think a sort of “Saturday Night Armistice meets Fantasy Football League, meets Trigger Happy TV”.

Much of what BBC Four viewers would see of the show centred on the “ha ha, aren’t members of the public/drones who work in retail/public figures of authority” aspects of the show, making it seem – at its worst – little better than Balls Of fucking Steel (case in point, the skit where a Chaserbloke walked into shops wearing a balaclava and a hidden camera, causing blameless staff to panic, fearing they were being robbed). This was a bit of a shame, really, as much of the original show centred on Australian current affairs, with often-entertaining consequences. For example, in 2006 a story had broken in the Australian press about a student who had hugged then-PM John Howard whilst holding a screwdriver. The Chaser team decided to check the level of security surrounding the PM, by sending Chaserbloke Craig Reucassel out to hug Howard during one of his morning constitutionals. Whilst holding a large (if plastic) battleaxe. Reucassel managed to succeed in his task, and subsequently tried to up the ante by trying again on another morning, but this time with a running chainsaw, albeit to a less successful outcome.

Similar stunts were a large part of the show (along with sketches that carried a lesser risk of imprisonment, such as where Andrew Hansen would write angry letters – under a false name - to the ABC, complaining about sketches in the show, and broadcasting the subsequent replies), especially so in election-themed spin-off The Chaser Decides. At the time of the 2007 Australian elections, the actions of the Chaser team were deemed interesting enough to merit a special report on BBC News 24 in the UK (we noticed the report on a Sunday morning, in a cafe that had its television’s sound turned down, so we’ve no idea what was being said. Still, that’s first person research from us, right there).

Possibly the team’s most high-profile stunt (discounting the pointless tabloid-filling bluster over the hugely rubbish anyway “Make A Realistic Wish” sketch) saw the crew visit the 2007 APEC Leaders Summit  in Sydney, under the guise of a fake Canadian delegation. Using rented limousines adorned with the Canadian flag, and waving faked ID passes at security, the Chasers were able to breach the APEC restricted zone, and stop outside the hotel where US President George W Bush (remember him?) was staying. It was only when a Chaserbloke dressed as Osama bin Laden emerged from the back of the rented limo that this particular “jig” was very much “up”. The two Chaserblokes fronting the stunt, along with nine crew members, were detained, questioned and charged by New South Wales Police, under an act which carried a maximum six month prison sentence. Now, while the charges were finally dropped (helped, we’re quite sure, by the overwhelming public approval for the team’s actions, and the fact lax security was largely to blame for them getting as far at they did), we’re quite sure Alex Zane, Olivia Lee, Mark Dolan, Neg Dupree, Toju Okoradudu, Dawn Porter et al would literally shit themselves before trying to pull a similar stunt. “Balls Of Steel”? Balls of marzipan, more like.


We first looked at Land Girls back in September, in a very rare “actual update about an actual television programme being broadcast at the moment” update. And we can see why – to our cost, this rundown has reminded us just how long it bloody takes to ‘form opinions’ and ‘write sentences’ about TV programmes. Someone really ought to have warned us. The sooner we can go back to just posting a YouTube clip of Ceefax On View and saying something sarcastic about Michael McIntye every four days, the better. Anyway, Land Girls. This is what we’d said at the time:

“The trailer managed to confuse us on Sunday night, with what seemed to be a relatively expensive WWII period drama being shown at the surely-it-must-be-a-Bank-Holiday time of 5.15pm, but no, that’s the timeslot for it. And in our defence, we’d spent around 80% of Sunday in bed drowning in a sea of the most devilishly feverish visions – the concept of cricket or toast would probably have had us similarly floundered by the time we finally made it to the sofa. It’s on every weekday this, er, week at that time, suggesting it’s geared towards elder children.


Not a bit of it. Episode two alone featured 1940s teenage pregnancy and subsequent attempted abortion, a nine-year-old boy selling bootleg whiskey, arguments aplenty, a bar brawl, thwarted equestricide, and three cast members from the magnificent Early Doors to boot. All in the traditional Blue Peter slot.

Despite us just making it sound like First Of The Summer Skins, or BBC Three’s Fuck Off I’m A Civilian Landworker, it’s all handled as sensibly as if it had been filtered through the typewriter ribbons of Michael O’Neill and Jeremy Seabrook. All the characters you’d expect to find in a classic BBC children’s drama are there:

The plucky teenage girl who’d lied about her age in order to help with the war effort, spunky and idealistic, and who’d think nothing of marching into the American soldiers’ mess to demand they improve the lot of their black compatriots.

Her steadying influence of an older sister (Christine Bottomley, below left), ready to pluckily corner any American GIs who’d try to take advantage of her young sis, and prod their chests so hard their medals will leave indentations in their ribcage.


A plucky pre-teen scallywag happy to aid the scam-hungry farmer (Mark Benton) with some wizard carrot-related wheezes.

A nosey parker Sergeant willing to spend as much time peeking into the business of his own men as carrying out his duties. If this were being made in 1983, he’d be played by Stephen Lewis.

The Lord Of The Manor – a well-meaning war hero who is always on hand with a word of cheery encouragement or some first-aid tips gleaned from his time in the Somme

The deceitful Lady Of The Manor, on hand to pass on the valuable lesson to children that at least 50% of posh people throughout history were evil (legal note: may not be true).

The perpetually cheery (and plucky) midlands girl who refuses to dwell on the hand life has dealt her, lest it cause her to waver from her land-tending duties.

The superficially plucky land girl who is probably Up To No Good, We’ll Wager.

And at least half a dozen more characters more interesting and well-rounded that you’d find in a great deal of post-watershed dramas. We’re happy to make that judgement call after seeing just one-and-a-half episodes, and recommend everyone visit the Land Girls iPlayer page to dip into it. Go on, do it now.”

Now, admittedly, that iPlayer link won’t work any more (unless the BBC repeat the show over the Christmas break, which they should, because it was brilliant), but us posting all that does save us the effort of coming up with something new to say. Phew for that! Oh, and we were being a little disingenuous with the “on in the Children’s BBC slot” angle, but no-one really picked up on it anyway. So: phew for that, too.


A programme that could incorrectly be labelled as “landfill documentary” by anyone not bothering to actually watch the programmes themselves. Now, that grouping could quite conceivably include the BBC bean counters who’d seen the proposed outline for the show, and who’d said “Really? Is that what you’re doing? A series of historical documentaries focusing on individual 24-hour periods? Here’s some money from the back of our couch to make it with. And we expect change”. You see, despite the programmes in question – taking in subjects such as “The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand”, “The Birth of Israel”, “The Resignation of Nixon” or “Hiroshima” – having rather grandiose remits, especially as most one-hour episodes took in two such subjects, there clearly wasn’t that much of a budget to play with.

For example, while the flagship BBC One docudrama on the bombing of Hiroshima (from 2005, winner of a BAFTA and an International Emmy) was narrated by John Hurt, used a huge cast of actors and interviewees, employed impressive CGI and went out in a prime-time Sunday night slot, the episode of Days That Shook The World covering the same topic (series one, episode four) doesn’t even warrant its own IMDB page.

That kinds of messes up our comparison of the relative cast sizes, but we will categorically state that despite costing a fraction of the amount to make, and despite containing only a handful of players taking on the pivotal roles in the reconstructions of the events of that day (in both cases, taking in the human cost on both sides of the blast,), Days That Shook The World was able to tell the same story every bit as well. Indeed, the concentration on stating the facts so comprehensively – from both sides wherever possible, of course, belying Johnny Rotten’s assertion that “history is just the winners saying what a bad bunch the losers were” – was to the credit of the people behind the strand, in most cases tasked with boiling down a hugely pivotal 24 hours in global history to a half-hour slot, from which can a few minutes be easily edited out? After all, we want to cram these onto Discovery as well, so we need the space for commercials. Thanks, loves.



Cripes, we’ve managed to drone on for ages, there. Why didn’t we just make this a top twenty, eh? Then we could just have spent the remainder of the month posting YouTube videos or links to other, much better, websites and relaxing. Not to mention how angry everyone is going to be when they realise they’ve sat through ninety-nine entries just to discover we’ve put The Sunday Night Project at number one… Bah! Anyway, check back tomorrow, when we’ll update anew, with an as yet undetermined quantity of entries on our list…


Blog Archive

Popular Posts


Blog Archive