Thursday, 13 January 2011

BBC's Episodes and Michel Roux's Service hit our screens this week

This week  the BBC unleashed two programmes guaranteed to please or appal depending on who you are. Let's start with the one that pleased and appalled in equal measure.

Episodes, BBC2's comedy about a pair of happy award winning writers who find themselves in the nightmare scenario at least some of us aspire to.  The Americans like our show and would like a version of it for themselves. On the one hand there is the money and the holiday away from all the rain, on the other hand there are the Americans who will kill your baby with kindness and leave you wondering what the hell just happened and why the thing on the screen in no way resembles what you got awards for.  Episodes is not the first programme to explore this theme, nor will it be the last. But the first episode which opens on presumably the tail end of the 7th or 8th ep, certainly smells like a blow by blow account of the slow rape and subsequent destruction of a good idea, as seen from the perspective of the writer.  If you are not a writer , then you will or should find this funny, because it is. It's incredibly funny even, Steve Mangan most recently of Dirk Gently, and Tamsin Greig who plays his wife, face the barrage of the plastic dream factory that is LA. You have to see to believe the sequence when the actor playing the lead role in the UK version has to audition for the first time in years, for his own part, let alone any part.  And before you say they'd never do that, David ( you know Doctor Who)  Tenant had to audition in the US recently, as if there was any question he'd be somehow wrong for a part.  My wife and I watched with a mixture of dread, horror and amusement, as every story we had ever been told in private unfurled on screen.  As writers we knew this sort of thing happens, but to see it pretty much raw and uncensored, was educating, amusing and yet set off nervous ticks that caused one of us to throw something in the general direction of the telly at least once. If you ever wondered how The Office, Coupling, Life on Mars,  Man about the House or now Shameless translate poorly or well in the USA, watch the inside story as it unfolds in Episodes. 

Stand out performances by John Pankow as the horrid Merc who wants to "Have sex with your show", in an understated sort of way starts the slide into hell at the audition. Brilliantly taking the shine off Richard Griffiths's hilarious portrayal of a head master, by saying ..... but is he too British?  Even the the highly annoying Myra Light got under my skin so much I hated her before she uttered a word. These characters are real, I've some of them and I've had to listen over to phone to yet others as I was told what we were doing was too foreign and too insensitive to potential offence that might be caused to small fury creatures from Alpha Centauri. In addition to this, there is a long laundry list of what characters cannot do any more on American telly, smoking and drinking high on the list if you are making a cartoon aimed at people who might have children in the next room. For sheer comic deadpan... Lou Hirsch, long ago of  My Hero, plays the "by the book" gate keeper destined to be the star of many one liners best of lists. 

Episodes has the ring of truth that Yes Minister and Thick of it have, and still has the capacity to make me laugh when I'm not cringing at the sight of certain people. 

Speaking of cringing.... Michel Roux fronts Service on BBC Two, where he hopes to take up the do gooder torch of  Jamie Oliver and offer a group of 8 unfortunate youths the chance to get a real job and move up in the world. Much like the crowd at 15 so many years ago, these young people in some cases barely speak English, haven't had wine out of a bottle, don't recognize food that hasn't been microwaved and  have the manners of baboons in some cases. I kept expecting Col. Pickering to show up any minute to see how things were going. While I may have watched Master Chef Pro to learn the techniques and recipes and even to drink in some of the atmosphere you get from real food and the professionals who prepare it, this thing has all the appeal of Ladettes to Ladies. If this is the best they could find from thousands of applicants for the programme, it's little wonder that Britain has a marked deficit in home grown front of house staff. This lot seem to be allergic to work and logical thinking. Team work may come eventually , but would you let them loose in your restaurant for even a half hour? 

By week 8 Michel Roux hopes to inflict these yobs on his dinners as some sort of final exam. From what we saw in episode one, this car crash belongs on BBC3 not BBC2 before Edwardian Farm. The only contestants with any appeal were the Gay black guy, two of the lads and..... and...  ermmm..   no not him ,  not her or her ... Put succinctly, I'm tired of ill educated charvs being paraded  on the screen like some victims of an African famine in need of our help. Most of them have the appeal of piles and sound like a bunch of drills screeching when they talk. Surely there must have been more deserving job seekers or waiters/waitresses who have just started out, that could have competed in this. As it is, Ifelt no sympathy for any of them and by the half hour wanted to shoot the lot of them. 

Lines worth remembering and that highlight just how unsuited these losers are for the job.. "Would you  like a glass of  prosciutto" ,may as well ask if the client wanted a bottle of kielbasa or chorizo. Yet another low point was when a girl was offered some anchovies, she screeched about how hairy they were and wouldn't try them. At least one of them  bravely tried foie gras , but wasn't able to swallow any as he was grossed out by the texture... What a group of whinging wastes of space. Not one of these people had ever eaten anything on the menu or seemed able to pronounce most of the words. The one saving grace was that they seemed too poor to afford fake tan. If Gordon Ramsay had been running this service boot camp, he'd have had to tuck into his reserve of swear words early.

I won't be giving this abomination another chance, the only reason to watch this is if you miss Big Brother. Steer well clear of this train wreck 

So what can I watch  instead of that I hear you ask???? I won't leave you without an alternative.  Tuesdays on BBC4 is brain night,  The Brain : A secret history, Michael Mosley  takes us on a disturbing voyage through the brain and the atrocities committed in the name of science. There will be other associated programmes to fill out an evening of deep thinky stuff, but Mosley is the star of the night. In fact stick with BBC4  and watch secret life of the Motorway,  or even Human Planet which is on now even as I type. There is no reason you need to punish yourself watching dreck  when there are so many wonderful choices out there.  Alternatively ITV  has the three part Kidnap and Ransom that I'll be reviewing soon as I get back in from a nice walk outside . 

Laters all. remember , if you can't watch good telly, then don't watch any at all.  Personally, there is a Sushi place near the house I haven't visited in a while and intend to correct that. 

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