Archive for the Americans watching British TV Category

April 2020

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Behind-The-Scenes, BiogTV, British Shows on American TV, hiatus, Internet TV, Reality TV, Reviews, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History, TV News, TV Sports, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2020 by Tom Steward

New Blog 10.1

Before I started watching Ozark, I didn’t know what it was about. I still don’t know.

The best part of Netflix’s Virgin River is the TV movies on Tim Matheson’s IMDB.

The Real Housewives of New York City is all crescendo and no build.

My son B chose a 90s Spiderman animated TV series over Frozen on Disney + so we can skip the DNA test.

Deciding what to watch first of the abundance of TV you have access to is a skillset not that dissimilar to playing the stock market.

Was Ozark an Arrested Development rewrite that got out of hand?

There is no international crisis that 90 Day Fiance won’t exploit for the sake of good television.

So, was the twist of Star Trek: Picard that Seven of Nine is actually Buzz Lightyear?

Inside No. 9 is proof of what is possible when you do genre fiction by the numbers.

The Good Fight is ashamed of its roots in network television and make artistic blunders because of it.

Was Ozark the product of playing Breaking Bad backwards?

The line separating corporate commercials from PSAs has evaporated in recent months.

New Blog 10.2

Last month I made an offhand remark about Armando Iannucci’s television being “accidentally prophetic.” Since then, the BBC has used scenes from The Thick of It to advocate for coronavirus lockdown and Bill Withers is no longer “with us.”

In 2016, I read an interview with Michael Sheen where he announced he was quitting acting to become an anti-fascist activist. The last I heard he was impersonating Chris Tarrant in a British TV docudrama about the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Scandal. It’s been quite the four years for liberals.

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing is everything I love about British TV and everything I love about Britain.

I’ve taken to watching Netflix series in instalments which span the last five minutes of an episode and everything but the last five minutes of the following one.

Was Ozark pitched as Northern Exposure if Fleischmann was in the Cartel?

When you see all of CBS’s shows together in one place on All Access, they look like parodies of network shows. And not very imaginative ones.

Thank you, Joel McHale, for not pretending that this public access Hollywood Squares aesthetic is normal for television.

Can’t we just let Andy Cohen spend time with his child and show Rockford Files re-runs until this all blows over?

Take a break from cat videos on the internet and watch Red Dwarf: The Promised Land on Dailymotion.

Outlander chose to experiment stylistically at the worst possible moment and diminished its own power.

TV networks are lining up to make quarantine versions of shows that won’t ever count in the long run.

Maybe Ozark is a Curb Your Enthusiasm story outline that never saw the light of day?

New Blog 10.3

We’re all acting as if our haircuts aren’t going to look like Joe Exotic’s when we come out of quarantine.

ABC Mouse TV is the mad cow disease of early learning websites.

“Dinotrux? What happened to Ambient Mode?” Actual dialogue from my home.

I appreciate all the sidewalk chalk illustrations but it doesn’t make me feel like we’re living in The Walking Dead any less.

Whomever in The Good Fight’s Writer’s Room is pushing science-fiction storylines need to stop.

The Esurance “That’s not how any of this works” woman just turned up in Ozark.

A Fear The Walking Dead DP compared images from the Columbus Stay-At-Home Order protests to zombie horror. Isn’t this about the time they started nuking cities on the show?

Breaking News: The Rolling Stones retire from touring after learning they can perform from their homes and not be the same room as each other.

At Home editions of ongoing TV shows are a useful reminder of how much content is actually being offered. Currently only Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is passing muster.

No f—s or butts on Disney +

I always thought I could play Young Sipowicz in an NYPD Blue prequel. I’ve just learnt that there is only a ten-year gap between my age and Dennis Franz’s when the show premiered. Fox, the ball is in your court.

I never understood the animosity towards Breaking Bad’s Skyler White but whatever the shortcomings of her characterization, Better Call Saul’s Kim Wexler has absolved the original’s sins.

The drawings in each of the quadrants of the circle logo that change with every episode of Ozark remind me of educational children’s television.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 2020

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Behind-The-Scenes, BiogTV, British Shows on American TV, hiatus, Internet TV, Reality TV, Reviews, Touring TV, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Criticism, TV Culture, TV Dreams, TV History, Uncategorized, Watching TV on April 2, 2020 by Tom Steward

New Blog 9.1

I’m escaping quarantine by watching lovers separated by walls, animals in cages, people trapped on a cruise liner, and the after-effects of a deadly global virus.

Maybe U-Verse should re-consider using the word “cowering” when talking about the characters in Day of The Dead given the current state of things.

McMillions raises the question of how weather ever makes the news.

The quarantine edition of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was effectively a crossover episode with Black Mirror.

Avenue 5 confirms that Armando Iannucci only makes accidentally prophetic television.

If I’ve learned anything new about Trump from his televised Coronavirus press conferences, it’s that he says “contagion” like Kevin James’ Doug in The King of Queens.

Curb Your Enthusiasm may be the handiest guide to social distancing in the whole of media.

With an ABC sitcom, Disney cartoon and Bravo reality show on the way, this is Indian-Americans’ TV year. Let’s hope networks don’t pull it away from them as fast as they did with Mexicans and South-East Asians.

Homeland is trying to break 24’s record of Presidential turnover before it ends.

Netflix doesn’t need to add a button to remind you that you’re alone.

My Samsung TV is recommending movies for me to watch while I’m working at home. Either it knows I’m a critic or thinks we’re a nation of liars.

Inside No. 9 just El Camino’d Psychoville. If you don’t get those references now, you will after months of quarantine.

New Blog 9.2

Isn’t now a good time to reboot those CNN election coverage holograms? I don’t think I can take another home news report on an iphone.

We’re all now basically the BBC News interviewee whose children burst into the office during broadcast.

Whomever was responsible for closed captioning of Top Chef Allstars LA did well to add a question mark to Padma Lakshmi’s opening assertion that Los Angeles was “one of the best food cities in the world?”

Vanderpump Rules needs to omit the skits and cartoons. Anyone watching already knows the show is cheap, nasty and artless and doesn’t mind a bit.

Breaking News: The Walking Dead reboots as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

With its stolen memoir and culinary school plots, the finale of Fresh Off The Boat was an apology letter to its estranged subject.

If you want to know what TV is going to look like for the next few months, check out a 90-Day Fiance Tell-All.

There’s been a staggering number of new series about people facing global crises in the past few months. It seems that Coronavirus was in our art before it found its way into our lungs.

HBO missed a golden opportunity to re-launch its 1970s science-fiction remake as Westworld in The City.

There’s never a good time to do an entire episode about penicillin, but if there was Outlander nailed it.

Korean animators must be working 24/7 to get those Disney Channel and Nick Jr. Coronavirus PSAS out.

One wonders if Game of Thrones could have salvaged its reputation by crossing over into the Westworld universe before it ended.

New Blog 9.3

Picard is like a version of Star Trek where your parents and schoolteachers make out in front of you.

G literally prayed for a Netflix show like Tiger King to come along. Be careful what you wish for.

Jeff Goldblum’s commercials for Apartments.com are bringing out the lighter side of illegal data mining.

I’m starting to think I should have paid more attention to those episodes of The Sopranos where Uncle Junior was under House Arrest.

TV networks are giving away more content for free than a theatre major with an iphone.

I’m sure the female guests on Talking Dead feel safer now that they don’t have to share a room with Chris Hardwick.

The Real Housewives of New Jersey filled a time capsule entirely with items that future archeologists would need to know their 2019 activities in order to understand.

I generally prefer that documentary directors be fly-on-the-wall observers but I wouldn’t have been averse to Eric Goode or Rebecca Chaiklin opening the cages at any point during the filming of Tiger King.

The person who accidentally broadcast a MyPillow.com infomercial during a televised White House Coronavirus briefing must be in serious trouble.

Love is Blind is proof of what dating shows can achieve when they don’t have to remind viewers of the concept every twenty seconds.

Better Call Saul is The Sopranos of legal dramas.

Mickey Mouse’s guide to the Internet is no Mickey Mouse operation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January and February 2020

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Behind-The-Scenes, BiogTV, British Shows on American TV, Internet TV, Reality TV, Reviews, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels, TV History, TV News, TV Sports, Uncategorized, Unsung Heroes, Watching TV on March 2, 2020 by Tom Steward

New Blog 8.1

I seriously doubt there’s anything in No Time to Die that can compete with Graham’s laser shoe from Spyfall.

Seen through the prism of a constantly buffering HBO Go app, the final season of Silicon Valley was an unintentionally interactive viewing experience for me.

qubo specializes in cartoons from yesteryear that look like they’re being watched from another room.

Have the rights to Ted Bundy recently gone into the public domain?

The Magic Motor Inn episode of Fresh Off the Boat proves that G’s back-door spinoff-dar is military grade.

Netflix’s Cheer is not to be confused with the first screen outing of Ted Danson’s Sam Malone.

Time jump finales in HBO Original Series are now contractually binding.

The advertising for the BBC’s Seven Worlds, One Planet makes it seems like Earth is a TV show leaving a streaming service in 2020.

I don’t know if I’m more amazed that a musical act on The Bachelor once dated a contestant or that a contestant had prior knowledge of a musical act on The Bachelor.

American quality television is having its own papal war.

HBO’s McMillions recalls Ben Affleck’s comment on Argo that “even the feeblest execution” of such a compelling real-life story would still make for great entertainment.

G was expecting Shrill to be like a live-action Nature Cat, demonstrating that as parents of a toddler we are no longer able to distinguish between adult and children’s television.

New Blog 8.2

The MSNBC reporter’s racist outburst in reporting of the death of Kobe Bryant and the subsequent resurrection of Mr. Peanut in his honor suggests that TV’s priorities on grief may need re-evaluating.

The best media satire I see on network television is in Geico and Progressive Commercials.

Larry David may be Bernie Sanders’ best impersonator but, judging by this season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, he could also be Trump’s most effective speechwriter.

Avenue 5 is a worthy addition to the British science-fiction sub-genre of Shoddy Space.

When Adam Driver hosts Saturday Night Live, it feels like improvised jazz rather than a hit-and-miss sketch show.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez made me wonder why there isn’t a rolling news channel devoted to this story.

I urge you to watch reality shows with closed captioning as they put inverted commas around words that don’t exist and they come thick and “fastly.”

The Oscars 2020 really made the case for the continuing importance of commercial cinema with an opening musical number recreating an iconic moment of public television.

U-Verse On-Demand needs to accept that I am not going to rent A Simple Favor.

Season Three is the new Season Two. We need to be talking about Junior Slumps.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is the best argument for only reporting the news when it’s not happening.

If parents are confused as to which version of The Adventures of Paddington Bear is the newest one, just remember it’s not the Canadian one with a bloated expositional theme tune that even The Simpsons couldn’t credibly parody.

New Blog 8.3

Unexpected bonus of AMC’s uncensored airing of The Godfather films Part 1 – 8am boobs.

Unexpected bonus of AMC’s uncensored airing of The Godfather films Part 2 – The Godfather Part II now gives two fucks.

Unexpected bonus of AMC’s uncensored airing of The Godfather films Part 3 – Doesn’t apply to The Godfather Part III so you have an excuse to skip it.

What is anyone on Married at First Sight talking about? They all sound like malfunctioning self-help robots.

The world television premiere of El Camino was somewhat undermined by the fact that millions of viewers had already seen the movie on television.

Haven’t we done enough damage to Pizza Hut crusts without making them their own appetizer?

Bad News Breaking – Breaking Bad Now The Sequel To Better Call Saul.

In terms of romanticizing of the Taliban, the final season of Homeland picks up where Rambo III and The Living Daylights left off.

The commercial for the “Battle for the 2020 White House” commemorative chess set is the best piece of television to play parody chicken with.

I bet the voice actors on Superwings: Mission Teams increasingly regret having ticked the Accents and Dialects box on their online submission for the casting call.

Made my national television commercial debut and now worried about being typecast as “Man in Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirt that doesn’t fit him ignoring Phil Mickelson.”

Apparently, Saturday Night Live having a host and musical guest I’m equally excited to see only happens every four years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garry Under Wood

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Reality TV, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV History, Uncategorized, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , on April 22, 2016 by Tom Steward

2016 has been the Year of Death…or so clickbaiters will have you believe. I’m sure at any given moment there is a steady stream of celebrities dying but what’s so remarkable about the glut of passings we’ve witnessed since the beginning of this year is that it’s concentrated around the great innovators of pop culture. Comedy and music have been hit the hardest and key artists have been dying with such frequency that two of the most significant names in television comedy on either side of the Atlantic, namely Garry Shandling and Victoria Wood, died within weeks of each other.

It occurred to me while taking in that Garry Shandling and Victoria Wood are both gone from the world that the pair were almost counterparts in their understanding and reinvention of television in America and Britain. Though both took fairly traditional career routes into the TV of their native lands – with Shandling a sitcom writer and Wood a variety star – they mastered the medium by keenly observing its conventions and then satirically reproducing them. The self-reflexive sitcom It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and talk-show set The Larry Sanders Show both featured note-perfect facsimiles of longstanding TV formats with a knowing (distinctively buck-toothed) smile at their absurdities. Wood’s As Seen on TV featured a myriad of TV flow pastiches including commercials and soap operas, the latter of which was Acorn Antiques, a devastating summation of the budget-constrained, storm-in-a-teacup melodrama that had been commonplace in regional daytime dramas in Britain since the seventies.

Wood and Shandling were also too overflowing with brilliance and creativity to accept their place in the TV hierarchy. Wood began her TV career as winner of the talent show New Faces performing her own comic songs on the piano, earning her a place as a novelty act on the consumer affairs and erotically shaped vegetable discussion programme That’s Life. Rather than continue to plug the remaining – and increasingly unlikely – spaces for traditional vaudeville performance in a changing TV ecology, she diversified into playwriting, sketch comedy, character stand-up and pop culture parody. Her focus on the latter meant that Wood was ahead of a curve of self-referential television comedy that is typically seen as coming into existence when it became male. As Seen on TV first aired in 1985 which significantly pre-dates the supposed watershed moment of televisual self-awareness with Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris’s The Day Today in 1994.

Shandling’s career could have gone two ways. Instead it went a third that was almost the same as the first two. After writing for sitcoms such as Sanford & Son as well as a successful stint guest-hosting for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Shandling seem destined to graduate either to an eponymous sitcom or late-night talk vehicle. He did both and neither. Shandling sold It’s Garry Shandling’s Show to cable station Showtime after networks balked at the idea of a show that actively drew attention to the mechanics and artifice of the studio audience sitcom. It was a revolution in TV form. As Shandling once explained to Ricky Gervais: ‘Either I did a talk show or a sitcom about a talk show.’ Of course he did the latter. The result was The Larry Sanders Show, set behind the scenes of a continually fledging late-night talk show, while commenting wittily upon it.

Their commitment to raising the bar of television comedy was so wide-ranging that neither stopped at satire. Both Shandling and Wood embraced comedy that was as real as it could be, and that eschewed the synthetic qualities of much comic material on TV. In Shandling’s The Larry Sanders Show, the naturalism of both visual style and performance was staggering and well beyond what audiences were used to seeing. Needless to say, The Office and its mock-doc ilk would never have existed without this breakthrough. Wood’s comic characters were drawn with such observational realism their dialogue could have been telegraphed from an encounter on public transport and she frequently emulated the fly-on-the-wall documentary but as a route to pathos rather than irony or sneer, something Shandling also achieved with The Larry Sanders Show. In particular, the ‘Swim the Channel’ segment of an As Seen on TV episode has rarely been bettered.

Of course, there are massive differences. Wood is far less cruel to and awkward with her characters, and Shandling much more provocative in his humour. But it’s hard to imagine we’d be watching half (and that’s being generous) of the comedies we currently do without either of these two colossuses.

No Olds Barred

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, British Shows on American TV, TV History, TV News, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on February 6, 2016 by Tom Steward

In a week when voters decided they didn’t have a problem with a man in his late seventies running the country, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s still a place in television for the old. While host of The Late Show Stephen Colbert managed a ten-minute skit based around The Twilight Zone – a show that first aired in 1959 – nineties science-fiction procedural The X-Files continued its revival on Fox. An anthology series about the murder trial of O.J. Simpson began and the miniseries Shades of Blue showcasing the anachronistic acting talents of Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta plodded along (and that is exactly the right word!). British television seems no less geriatric these days. Friends’ Matt Le Blanc was this week announced as the new co-host of motoring journal Top Gear, alongside – I might add – star of nineties light entertainment Chris Evans, who in turn has recently relaunched the pub-based variety talk show TFI Friday which had ceased broadcasting in 2000. How is it possible that so many programs and people from television’s past are now to be found dominating the airwaves? Well, there’s really not that much effort required to revive something that has never been away.

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In Rod we trust.

Syndication and the proliferation of TV channels and services mean that TV of decades past is never far from our screens. It’s a short road from endlessly recycling a show to providing some extra material to pad it out. That might explain the programs but what about the people? Well, in each case, we’re talking about personalities who have managed to stick around long enough to become institutions, or have just come off their own revival. While the idea of J-Lo as an actor is now strange enough to make her performance in Shades of Blue seem jarring, her judging for American Idol and appearances on just about every music awards show on the air makes it a much smoother transition for regular viewers. Matt Le Blanc had endeared himself to the transatlantic public once again with Episodes and Top Gear is merely the crowning of that – although I suspect the BBC will be happy with anyone who falls short of creating an international incident! As to Chris Evans, Channel 4 had yet to replace TFI Friday with anything as exciting in that slot – and believe me it wasn’t very exciting – so broadcasters’ lack of ambition is also a factor.

 

What’s harder to explain is why we’re suddenly so interested in material from the past. No-one who talks about Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story fails to mention that it has been twenty years since the events surrounding the arrest and trial of O.J. Simpson took place. TV may be a medium that prides itself on currency, but looking back over the decades has become another badge of honour. That’s what made Colbert’s Twilight Zone parody so bizarre. Weeknight talk shows are compelled to restrict their discussion to what’s been happening in that day’s news, and yet this trip down memory was motivated by nothing but fandom and ridicule-ripeness. I don’t know what to think about an X-Files revival (has anyone ever?!) but it’s an interesting case of throwing good money after bad in the wake of Fox’s breakout original programming like Empire. The youngest major network – if we’re still thinking in those terms – Fox has a particular problem letting go of the past. The Simpsons and Family Guy are now decades old, the network is home to a number of movie reboots, and this year primetime Fox vehicles provided a platform for the comebacks of Rob Lowe and John Stamos.

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Surely it’s a Z-File by now!

The number of revivals, period television, and veteran stars on primetime television is staggering. For example, ABC airs two sitcoms set in the eighties and nineties respectively, a drama set in the forties, an anthology series set in the eighties, a revival of a seventies TV franchise, a movie about Bernie Madoff, while featuring among its big names Don Johnson, Ed O’Neill, Tim Allen and Geena Davis. With the increasing competition and likelihood of cancellation, it may seem that TV ruthlessly cuts away that which is ageing, but in fact it seems more accurate to say that a job on TV is a job for life. One thing is certain; there is absolutely no property out there in TV land that is exempt from returning to our screens. I did mean the landscape of television not the recurring nightmare-oriented nostalgia network back there but actually both work just as well!

UK with Me: Part 2

Posted in Americans watching British TV, British Shows on American TV, Local TV, TV channels, TV History, Uncategorized, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2016 by Tom Steward

Where I continue my rundown of the TV I watched during my time in the UK, as a result of visiting at a time of year conducive to indoor sports that require no physical prowess or ability. Since we didn’t have a darts board, the television would have to do. Much of the British television I had written off as dated and defunct had returned and, though many were old wine in old bottles, there were several programs being broadcast made by familiar names that added something new and interesting to a pre-existing legacy. There were also genuinely innovative moments:

 

Car Share – BBC One

 

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Hands up who likes Peter Kay again

 

After emerging in the late nineties as a successor to the observationally rich character comedy pioneered in the North of England by writer-performers such as Alan Bennett, Victoria Wood and Steve Coogan with That Peter Kay Thing, Peter Kay stagnated creatively in the naughties and the teens, content with cosying up to light entertainment until it swallowed his authenticity. The two-hander sitcom Car Share which follows two colleagues carpooling on their commute to and from work was exactly the stripped-down concept that Kay needed to reboot his realism. Punctuated by conversational silences drowned out in the perfectly pastiched audio garbage of satellite radio commercials, the wiretapped feel of the dialogue and understated sincerity of the couple’s interaction reminds us why Kay was once such a treasured comic voice in British culture. Even the more indulgent sequences, such as the fantasy music videos, have an almost Dennis Potter-like quality in the context of the storyline.

 

Toast of London – Channel 4

 

Toast of London

His career is toast

 

Arthur Mathews once co-wrote and created Father Ted, the sitcom of its day and one which – like much British comedy of the time – refuses to date and instead grows in stature the more we find out about the world (or in this case the Catholic Church). Nothing that Mathews has done since has been able to surpass Father Ted, although surreal juxtaposition sketch show Big Train came tantalisingly close. But seeing Toast of London, which Mathews devised with Matt Berry, a comedian, actor and writer who is a darling of cult comedy and possesses a sleazy retro quality that consumes everything he does, you feel as if he might come close. As with Father Ted, the sitcom is set in another sphere of absurd mediocrity; that of the jobbing actor. As heavily stylised as its ecumenical predecessor – which often resembled a live-action version of The Simpsons – it nonetheless discovers inherent truths about the profession that a documentary treatment couldn’t, though you suspect many of the situations encountered are anecdotally motivated.

 

All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride – BBC Four

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No really…this is it

 

If the successes of Gogglebox and Car Share have demonstrated anything, it’s that extremely basic formats still hold tremendous appeal for British TV audiences. But All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride has taken this to avant-garde extremes. A camera is rigged to a traditional reindeer sleigh and taken on a two-hour journey across the Artic wilderness of Norway. There’s no music or editing or semblance of a narrative, simply the spectacular footage the camera collects as it moves. Of course, TV audiences adore gazing lingeringly at landscapes given the ratings-winning genre of nature programming, but the development here is about time, and how much of it we’ll give without the reward of storytelling and entertainment. Perhaps the structureless viral video has immunised us to the boredom of simple watching, or maybe this is gentle and familiar enough a subject to bring experimental video art into our homes by the back door.

 

Downton Abbey – ITV

 

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Downton finale criticized for anachronisms

 

I’ll remain as anachronistic as Downton itself by pretending that anyone in America who wants to see the finale hasn’t already used their internet connection to steal it, and not offer any spoilers. Not that there’s a lot to spoil, the finale ramming home how little storylines or character development have to do with the appeal of this piece of virtual tourism versus the other quality television drama of our time. Creator and writer of all episodes Julian Fellowes certainly knows what his audience wants, and is not shy about giving it to them in as tidiest boxes as he can pack. I preferred the series in high melodrama mode and so it was somewhat of a disappointment to me that the electric hair-dryer that everyone kept pointing out was merely historical window-dressing and not foreshadowing some Emmerdale-like fiery disaster to wipe out the cast. Indeed, any hint of tragedy seems to have been smoked red herring.

UK with Me: Part 1

Posted in Americans watching British TV, British Shows on American TV, Local TV, TV channels, TV History, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2016 by Tom Steward

I spent Christmas in England, which meant that for the majority of my trip I was under or adjacent to water. This – coupled with apples not falling far from family trees – left me watching a lot of television. After going cold turkey with British television in my first couple of years living in America – literally in the case of the daily cooking shows I opted out of when I left – returning this time I felt as if I had been missing out, not just because of what British TV makes but also what it shows. Here’s my travel watch list:

 

The Bridge –BBC Four

 

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Sex is Sex

 

It might seem perverse that the first program I watched upon returning to the UK was Scandinavian but that’s testament to the BBC’s policy of screening the best in European television crime drama, which is currently the best in the world. The third season of the police detective show about crimes that cross the Danish and Swedish border remained as flawlessly acted, written and photographed as the first two, even following the departure of star Kim Bodnia in the run-up to filming. As in previous seasons, a repertory of outstanding Scandinavian character actors were there to play supporting roles but were given more screen time and development, particularly Nicolas Bro formerly of The Killing who guarantees at least one laugh-out-loud moment per episode. Sofia Helin’s new co-star Thure Lindhardt (or Saga’s new partner Henrik) is still the perfect counterpoint to TV’s twitchiest detective, but his sardonic cynicism is also much-needed relief from Martin’s increasingly grating emotional naivety. Creator Hans Rosenfeldt has talked about the rule of three in Scandinavian TV drama in relation to The Killing and Borgen but with both Saga and Henrik having story arcs in progress, he can afford to break with tradition.

 

Tim Peake – BBC News

 

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Ground Control to Major Tim

 

I woke on the first full day of my trip to catch TV news coverage of the launch of the rocket that took British astronaut Tim Peake to the International Space Station, the first Briton to do so. Never mind how visually unstimulating and uneventful the launch was as television or how difficult it was to extract a milestone from the seventh British person to enter space, but it says something about how little there is to be proud about in Britain in years that don’t have major international sporting events that Peake’s journey into space was such big news in the national media. A live transmission from the space station with the inevitable satellite delay was some of the most tedious television you’re ever likely to witness.

 

Peep Show – Channel 4

 

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No more kicking off

 

I didn’t even know the final season of Channel 4’s longest-running and possibly finest sitcom was on the air, and was even less aware that the episode I started watching mid-way through was the finale. It says something about my ignorance but even more about how good the writing on the series is. No need for self-aggrandising, Peep Show left us with as unassumingly brilliant an episode as it had ever produced, with a nod to the perpetuation of a gloomy cycle of immature repetition that dooms Mark and Jeremy to a life of wanking and watercolours. Nine seasons – especially in British terms – of a sitcom is impossible without a foolproof concept and filtering the action through Mark and Jeremy’s first-person perspective – some early camera tomfoolery aside – was innovation that lasted. Even so, the key to sustaining the show was gradually escalating the abhorrence of the character’s life choices from jilting spouses to attempting murder, and happily the finale continues to raise the stakes.

 

Gogglebox – Channel 4

 

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Talking Heads

 

A reality show about people watching TV was always the sleeping lion of television pitches, but it needed exactly the right execution to succeed, and that’s exactly what Gogglebox did in 2013 when it blended fly-on-the-wall and sitcom formats to a perfect consistency. Since I last saw the show, however, it has bloomed into Channel 4’s flagship Friday night program and even spawned (quite literally) a spin-off in the shape of Gogglesprogs, which marries Gogglebox to another immaculate format; children obliviously saying funny things on TV. One particular sprog who looked like an Alan Bennett doll appeared to have already figured out how David Cameron rose to power through pre-existing privilege and public apathy and was the mouthpiece of abolitionists young and old throughout Britain when remarking on Queen Elizabeth’s record-breaking reign as British monarch: ‘Doing what? She just walks and waves.’ From the mouths of babes…

 

 

 

 

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