Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The day nobody watched Top Gear

It's hard to believe, but sometimes Jeremy Clarkson is more astute than he lets on. I'm a massive Top Gear fan, but there was no way I was going to miss the World Cup final and there was certainly no way I was going to watch it on ITV. As it happens, the ratings bore this out. Turns out some ITV staff, shut ins with tellies stuck on ITV1 and a handful of rodents named Trevor were the only people not watching the football on BBC. At one point 52% the country had the BBC version of the final on.While I found the commentary just a tad overly pro Spanish it was still better than anything over on the other channel. If I'm honest I was disappointed Germany didn't make the final, watching Spain and Holland was like two sides of the same coin. One tried cheating their way to a win via decapitation and the other side opted for diving. I won't say it was dull, both sides had chances to score, both sides created some exciting moments, but in the end it wasn't Total Football, or Pretty Football. The Third place match, pointless as it is, was more enjoyable from the neutrals perspective. It  had end to end stuff and the best team won without too much interference from a pro Spanish biased ref or from the kind of self inflicted tech problems Fifa are famous for. If I had to make only few recommendations for next time, it's this :

1- Don't introduce a new ball the first day of the World Cup, we have two years of qualifying.

2- Bring in goal line technology, more effective than two new officials and less expensive. There is not shame in it, every other big sport has gone that way, why not football.

3- If you sell tickets and some big group decides not to come, open the seats up to fans. The Prawn sandwich brigade have done enough damage to the game.

4- Make sure players behave. Fine and punish retrospectively. If somebody got sent off unfairly, rescind the card and punish the idiot who play acted.

5- Lastly, If a sure goal is stopped by handball, award it , we don't need a pen, it was going in.

Enough World Cup already, I missed out on a month of telly and it shows. several decent efforts and few not so good ones are on episode three. It's going to take me at least a week to catch up on all of these and maybe then I can also get around to the one offs like the private life of chickens on BBC2 on Thursday ( last week it was cows). Surely more interesting than it sounds. My eyes and system are still recovering from a single season of football in less than a month. Spent the last few days kipping and watching stuff like Antiques Master 2010... As John Torode says, It doesn't get any harder than this.

As for Jezza, he  need not have worried about missing his viewers. We have, I'm assured by the reaction of the iPlayer, flocked in droves to watch episode two and three this week. Top Gear is if nothing else predictable in a good sort of way. You know they won't do anything remotely resembling a bog standard road test of a car, it will be entertaining and you will be pleasantly surprised by at least one out of the blue interpretation of what passes for an automotive magazine format. After watching the chauffeur test on the high priced muscle cars, my wife and I are split. I prefer the frankly complicated but seriously cool Maseratti and she leans towards the more practical Astin Martin. Seems no one loves the Porsche, if you haven't seen it yet, it's the most embarrassing thing on four wheels to be tested in a while that didn't cost under £10,000. Top Gear has done well to maintain it's standards and you'll enjoy the Alastair Campbell interview. The man holds his own in the lion's den and as a card carrying lefty, I applaud him. Jeremy Clarkson comes of as bit of a buffoon, which of course he is. He knows he's a bit of wind bag and half his utterings are designed to shock and amuse and in no way to be taken seriously. As for the other two, they have mellowed a bit in their own way. Captain slow has embraced speed and the Hamster has let his hair get long along with his nattering that seems to have taken a decidedly darker tone when driving the hapless groom to his wedding. I firmly believe there will be at least one piano dropped, a few campers and Morris Marina damaged along the way. Nor am I entirely convinced we've seen the last of the tipsy Reliant Robins. Top Gear is back and Sunday is palatable again.

And just when you thought the BBC couldn't ever produce a funny sitcom ever again , along come two contenders for long term survival, Rev and Mongrels. Both take the attitude that taboo subjects are fair game and in the case of Rev manage to get past the initial broad strokes of humour and examine faith, values and conflict between organized pretence and genuine lifestyle choices that will make you a better person. Rev also moves the story from the country where Dawn French dealt with a collection of oddballs and cranks, to the city  where the characters reflect a more realistic representation of the people a Vicar, Imam or Rabbi would have to contend with. From the low Colin who is  a mass of contradictions, a few sandwiches short of a picnic, barking, he means well but never quiet makes it. Rev. Smallbone's wife is nothing like you'd expect, but all things considered, incredibly patient. In episode three ( saw that one first), he invites a Muslim prayer group in and fights a lap dance club that is planned for a nearby school. Unlike Dibley, the resolutions are nothing near as convenient and the outcomes are at times cause for reflection. Several characters could have been two dimensional, but are so well written and acted that you cannot help but sympathize just a bit with them. The higher up from the diocese and the night club owner both could have come off as complete oafs with no redeeming value. Colin and the black drug addict also seem to have been well prepared, easily played as stereotype, they come off as real people.  Make time for Rev from now on, you'll be talking about it for years to come.

Mongrels, a puppet show for adults, asks the question, what are the furry beasts who live among us thinking. Without ever losing the basic instincts for survival or applying human feelings to the characters, the writers have crafted a comedy that goes where Disney never dreamt to go. In the premier episode, racism is examined from an animal's perspective. Of course a fox and a chicken could never seriously consider pairing off. It's just not going to happen. Being a fanciful comedy, the consequences are sufficiently strange to take you by surprise, the song  performed by the fox  garage band finds echoes in current EDL/BNP imagery, but never strays far from the main point of the programme, they are animals, not humans with fur or feathers. They don't think like us nor do they reason like us. It's a nice way to poke holes at our own morality or lack of it.  Mongrels does not however, get preachy, the story is filled with enough grit and irony that you will never mistake the programme for Bambi. My favourite character is Marion the Russian cat, he is filled with fatalism, yearning  and appreciation for every crumb thrown his way. The value he places on friendship and the sacrifice he's prepared to make to keep it is exemplary. I would dare say most of us could not begin to come close to Marion if we tried. We are most of us, too tied to a life of higher expectations and lack of appreciation for those simple things that others do not take for granted. The brutality and finality of some situations comes across as funny if only as a reminder that it's unnatural for us to pretend we are not all part of a greater food chain. We use others as we ourselves are used by yet others. The blend of puppetry and humans is done so well that you suspend disbelief and see the incredibly well constructed puppets as what they are, animals in a world where humans are the major predator. I certainly hope the writing team can maintain the quality over the run of series one. This is one that if played well, could have a longer shelf life than one would expect for something as different as this.

If this is the norm for future non improv or sketch comedies from the BBC, then I look forward to at least a few more gems before the inevitable stinker comes along again. One of my readers thanked me for taking a bullet for the team by watching the appallingly bad Identity on ITV. But for every steaming pile of excrement like Identity or Big Top, you get some genuine surprises like Rev and Mongrels. I have yet to see The Silence, but will have a go tomorrow after Corrie and we send the guests home from my wife's birthday party. Doctor Who top boss Moffat and his mate Mark Gattis also of Who fame are presenting a new Sherlock Holmes to an anxious world. Given the pedigree of both gentlemen, I fully expect it to respect the man who is Holmes and be a ripping yarn as well.  July 25th is the broadcast date for the first of three programmes. As an avid Sherlockian and long time admirer of Steven Moffat, I'm anticipating a masterpiece, anything less will be a disappointment. I will of course write a full review.  Another great one starting this week is the four part Victorian Pharmacy....the usual suspects explore early victorian meds, can't miss telly. 

Next blog will be the long awaited music tip ship complete with links and clips. See you soon and happy watching.

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