Category Archives: TV reviews

Detectorists: The Last of The Action?

On Wednesday probably the last ever episode was broadcast of the excellent sitcom Detectorists.  A lot of loose ends remained: the gold lay tantalisingly out of reach in the magpies’ nest, visible only to viewers; Andy and Becky had yet to bid for their dream house and Lance and Toni had yet to move in together.  Plus, the date when their field would be built on was fast approaching, and in a last desperate bid to find what underlies the grass, the Danebury Metal Detecting Club join forces with the Dirt Sharks (Simon and Garfunkel) and hold a rally to see what they can find.  In the midst of this, Andy and Becky have to go to the auction where their house goes for far more than they can afford; however at the last minute Becky bids and wins it, revealing afterwards that her Mum had lent her the money.  Triumphant, they return to the rally which is just about to break up, having found very little.  Still, the tree is saved, since Phil (Garfunkel) has put a preservation order on it.  Andy and Lance are just packing up to go when the miraculous happens: the magpies start moving, dislodging the gold and showering it onto the ground.  The scene dissolves with the two of them picking it up in total wonder.

I don’t know if they can make another series.  I guess there’s always a way back, but so many loose ends were tied up here that I don’t know where they could go with it.  Still it’s been an engaging and very different sitcom: unusual in its subject matter and the fact that it takes place outdoors.  It’s also extremely well-observed and the friendship between the two guys is touching whilst downplayed.  But there are many other aspects to the narrative: they both have relationships – Andy has a steady girlfriend while Lance is plagued by his ex-wife before he finally takes up with Toni; then his long-lost daughter appears.  Andy and Becky move to Botswana for a year or two between series two and three, where he works on a dig.  They have a child together.  Interspersed with this are scenes of the DMDC and spats with the Dirt Sharks.  But the point of the programme I guess, is the passion they have for their hobby.  They really care about detecting; they care about archaeology; and in a world that cares only about money, this is a great thing to see.  Mackenzie Crook said when he wrote it that he had The Good Life in mind and that he wanted it to be uncynical.

It’s a great series; sitcom at its finest.  If you haven’t watched it yet, all three seasons are on iplayer.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09j0qcs/detectorists-series-3-episode-6

Kirk out

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It’s All In The -rist

I have made mention of this little gem of a sitcom in the past:

https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/8343

and as all the world surely knows by now, a metal detector is the piece of kit but the person operating it is called a detectorist.

Detectorists is now back for a third series and though it’s still consigned to the relative backwaters of BBC 4, the Beeb is finally promoting it.  I wasn’t quite sure about this series at first: Andy and Becky are back from Botswana where Andy was working on a dig; they have no money and are living with her mother whilst saving for a house.  Andy ends up quitting his job on a local dig because his boss doesn’t give a toss about Roman floors; meanwhile the field where they have been detecting for years, is under threat of development.

But from a rather slow start the series has built to last week’s stonking episode.  I won’t give it all away since it may still be languishing on your ‘downloads’ list or you may yet have to catch up on the series as a whole: suffice it to say that everything comes together and rather than the gentle comedy which usually prevails, this episode is a firecracker.  There’s one brilliant joke after another; the best one being when the pals decide to save a tree by putting a bat box in it.  For more information they phone the Bat Action Line which turns out to be staffed by none other than their arch-rivals, the Dirt-Sharks (aka Simon and Garfunkel) who happen to be in a nearby field.  The dialogue goes like this:

Phil:  could you turn off your phone please?  It’s interfering with my detector.

Paul:  I’ve had a call.

Phil:  So?  Just turn it off

Paul:  But it’s on the bat-phone!

Sheer genius.  Much more than this is afoot and I can’t wait to see how everything unfolds next week.  In the meantime, here’s the episode in question:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09hgdx2/detectorists-series-3-episode-5

Kirk out

 

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The Selfish Genius

I’m becoming obsessed by this theme right now.  I wake in the early dawn and try to figure it out: what is the best way to live if you have an all-consuming talent?  I am not content with the traditional models of ‘selfish genius’ which dictate that in order to follow your inner voice you have to ignore everything – and more crucially everyone – else.  This is what male writers have traditionally done; and recently women are going there too: there’s a whole plethora of articles exhorting women writers to be selfish, to put themselves first, to ignore the children and carve out writing time.

Now, this needs a little deconstruction in the context of households where women have traditionally put themselves last.  We were conditioned to ignore our own needs, or at best put them on the back burner.  When everyone else’s needs have been satisfied, then it’s your turn.  Trouble is, that turn never arrives; you catch your breath for a moment  before realising, like poor old Barbara in The Royle Family, that having cooked, served and eaten Christmas dinner you are now faced with a kitchen full of washing-up.  I have to admit when I watched this episode I had an overwhelming urge to kick Jim out of his chair and into some good quality rubber gloves (sorry a bit of Withnail got in there by mistake)  (oh no, another bit!)

Deep breath.  So, in that context yes, it is entirely in order that Barbara should boot Jim into the kitchen to do his bit while she goes upstairs to write something sensational.  However it’s not only in the carving out of time that the selfish genius rears its head.  Write what you know is the advice – and it’s good advice – the trouble is that you also end up writing who you know.  Literary history is littered with friends of the writer who have recognised themselves in print and decided that since the passages can’t be deleted, they’ll delete the friendship instead.  This is not to mention the wives, ex-wives, lovers and partners of authors who can find themselves writ large in two hundred sizzling pages.  Not unnaturally, these people feel betrayed.

And of course the third thing that writers always do is steal.

So here’s the thing: how does one become a great writer without being a total sh*t?

That’s not a rhetorical question.  I actually want to know.

Kirk out

PS: what do you think of the title?  It came to me in the night and I thought it was pure ge…

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Life on the i-player

Here’s a round-up of the week’s TV.

The first contribution wasn’t strictly on the iplayer but Netflix, having first been broadcast (I think) on ITV.  I had seen it last year, but was reminded of it by a Quaker on Facebook because it has a Quaker character in it.  Indira Varma stars as a highly competent but emotionally all-over-the-place (hmm!) police officer, supported by Robert Glenister (Philip’s better-behaved younger brother.)  It’s a compelling series centring on a pharmaceutical corruption with murders and corrupt psychiatrists thrown in.  The Quaker character, though a little too serene and smiley, is nonetheless interesting, and Indira Varma is great.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5839454/?ref_=nv_sr_1

I also caught, in a radio programme I can’t now find, Peter Hitchens fulminating about the King James Version of the Bible.  Basically Hitchens, who seems to be a died-in-the-war* reactionary, wants to keep the KJV.  Well, I wasn’t aware that it was being abolished: you don’t have to look too hard to find churches who use it as I’ve been to at least one in Leicester and one in Wales.  There is, I think, a point to be made about the language: as a poet I regret that the poetry and grandeur which infuses the KJV has not permeated the newer translations.  But surely the main point is that KJV, along with Wycliffe and other contemporary versions, was written in order to be accessible to the (then) largely illiterate congregation.  It was written so that the people could read and understand the Bible for themselves without being dependent on priests: as such, it is no longer fit for purpose.

It might be objected that we don’t attempt to update Shakespeare.  Well, actually we do: and this week I also caught up with a BBC modernisation of Much Ado About Nothing called Shakespeare Retold:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468034/

but in any case, Shakespeare is not Holy Writ.

I also, sadly, encountered the soggy reheated breakfast that is Porridge.  This was not only a lame rehash where nothing has moved on (unlike, say, Still Open All Hours where the customers are different and gender roles have changed) – it is, you might say, almost a betrayal of Clement and La Frenais’ former work, since Porridge was originally so compelling and revealing.  But now both society and the prison network have changed so much that to do it in the same way appears risible:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05dsx5r/porridge-series-1-6-the-rift

And finally…

You Don’t Need a Sausage Roll When You’ve Got Jesus

 

Greggs' 'sausage roll saviour' has caught the attention of the world's press

…a selection of news items about the baby Jesus (love the headline bottom right) which according to  the Today programme’s Thought For The Day is a non-story.  Nobody is really bothered by the Greggs window display; not the Catholics, not the Anglicans, not even the Evangelical Alliance – and when the EA aren’t bovvered, that’s it.  A non-story.

*see what I did there?

Kirk out

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There’s More to This Than Meets the I-player

W1A, the sort-of sequel to 2012, is a mockumentary about the BBC; specifically, its staff who work behind the scenes in Broadcasting House.  It has been going for two or three years, and at first I found it subtly enjoyable but short on real laughs.  But it has grown on me.  As I pointed out a few days ago:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/10/24/work-is-a-seven-letter-word/

it’s a sort of cross between The Office and Dilbert with bits of Reggie Perrin thrown in (there’s a pair who say ‘brilliant’ and ‘cool’ which is surely the modern version of ‘great’ and ‘super’:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ajEW9kjufM)

Most of the characters work in jobs no-one understands, least of all themselves: and top of the incomprehensible heap is Ian Fletcher, formerly Head of Olympic Deliverance, now appointed as the BBC’s Head of Values (or Captain Values, as his colleague Simon likes to call him.)  We first see him arriving on his Brompton; it’s not long before Simon gets a better one, thus beginning a running gag about Brompton bikes.

In series two Anna Rampton, previously moderately competent, is promoted to Director of Better, a job neither she nor anyone else understands:

‘The fact is this is about identifying what we do best and finding more ways of doing less of it better.’  This is pure Dilbert; but as the series went on I found myself irresistibly reminded of Theresa May, another woman promoted beyond her capabilities and reduced to repeating meaningless soundbites.

Simon’s Machiavellian  antics, previously confined to bikes and buck-passing, reach new heights in this third series when a new post is created and no-one tells Ian Fletcher.  When challenged, Simon tells Ian the post was considered beneath his grade.

‘Well, can I sit on the interview panel then?’

‘Sorry, that’s just for the big-wigs.’

‘Great.  So I’m too important to apply for the job but not important enough to sit on the interview panel.’

‘It’s a unique position Ian.’

Brilliant stuff.

Meanwhile Lucy, the only competent person in the BBC apart from Ian Fletcher, is spending every spare moment being pursued by the intolerable David who keeps bending her ear about his problems and then passing off his ideas as her own.

But in spite of the Dilbert connection I suspect this wouldn’t work in the US because none of the comedy would arise if it wasn’t for everyone being just too damned polite.  Siobhan Sharpe of the BBC’s PR company is everyone’s worst nightmare and impervious to – well, anything at all really – but no-one has the gall to tell her so: Simon is a shit-stirrer extraordinaire who dodges every bullet by saying ‘well, I don’t know how these things work and you’ll know how you want to deal with this’ whereas David’s tactic is to go uber-camp: ‘I know!  Tell me about it!  It’s a nightmare!’ when everyone knows it was his incompetence that caused the problem in the first place.  But they’re all too polite to say so – all except Neil, the old-fashioned tell-it-like-it-is head of news who says things like ‘bollocks’ and ‘we’re f***d.’  But alas, his tropes are no more effective than anyone else’s.  The last series ends with Lucy and Ian almost getting together… but I’m sure some nightmare co-worker will turn up and put a stop to it, and they’ll be too polite to tell them to **** off.

I urge you to watch this if you can.  Series 3 is on i-player and if you have Netflix you can watch series 2 there as well.  You can watch it on your syncopatitablet…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b05s9g2q?suggid=b05s9g2q

Kirk out

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By the Word Divided

Yesterday I listened to the prequel to the prequel – or rather, the accompaniment to the whole, which was Phillip Pullman talking about his art in Book of the Week.  Now, I confess that although I love the work, I had conceived a prejudice about the man – due to believing that JK Rowling’s Professor Lockhart, the inept and narcissistic character in Book Two of Harry Potter, was based on Pullman (because of Sally Lockhart, a character in his series of potboilers.)  So I conceived an idea of Pullman as a narcissistic academic, long blond-grey hair swept back, striding around Oxford in a billowing gown.

Well, from the sound of these programmes, my conception was dead wrong.  Pullman started out as a schoolteacher; and his tone as he talks about what informs his writing is solid and down-to-earth.  He is particularly good at debunking Richard Dawkins’ ridiculously Gradgrindian theory that reading children fairy tales is likely to discourage them from accepting scientific ideas.  Plus, like me, he is a huge fan of William Blake.  What’s not to like?  I have to wait until this afternoon for the last installment, but here’s the link to the rest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09b19y8

Anyway, the thing I was going to talk about today was the BBC mini-series (I have to hyphenate that word because otherwise it looks too much like miseries) about the Gunpowder Plot.  This is a story that never fails to capture the imagination, as it contains not only thrills and spills but the very real danger of the overthrow of government.  The idea of Guy Fawkes as a popular hero is ill-informed as he and his co-conspirators were no friends to democracy: however this production gives us something of the background of oppression which gave rise to the Plot.  Catholics were tortured and killed in the most brutal ways: while at the same time Protestants were being burned at the stake in Catholic Spain.

The production does get a bit Game-of-Throne-ish in the last episode: there’s rather a lot of swashbuckling and male back-slapping.  But there’s enough of a counterbalance by way of serious drama and a Horrible Histories-style detail in the telling: the Tower of London is shown in grisly and depressing detail as the Lubyanka of its day; we see details such as the storing of the gunpowder in an underground store and their concern about keeping it dry.  King James is down-to-earth and very non-regal and the true villain of the piece is the Richard III-like Cecil, whose web of spies intercept letters and people and interrogate both with an equal detachment.  So on the whole I think serious drama won over the GOT – but it was a close thing.

It’s interesting though, that we can still be gripped by a drama whose outcome we already know.  I wonder if Richard Dawkins would understand that?  He certainly wouldn’t understand Catholics and Protestants killing each other – but then neither do I…

Anyway, here’s the series:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05j1cg8/gunpowder-series-1-episode-1

Kirk out

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That Guy Gandhi

It’s funny how a weekend comes together.  You do things seemingly at random and together they make perfect sense.  First, I’ve been watching Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.  It takes a whole weekend as it weighs in at around 3 1/2 hours, and I could spend a week’s blog posts just talking about the scope of it: a film as vast as India itself (I only gained an inkling when I went, travelling for hours on a train and then seeing the scintilla of map that I’d covered).  But instead of reviewing the film I want to think about the man and how much he achieved.  As a boy Gandhi was shy, but he overcame his shyness to achieve in one lifetime more than most of us could achieve in a dozen.  Though the ideas of satyagraha – ‘truth power’ – were embedded in Hindu tradition, Gandhi brought them into the modern age and taught an entire nation to practise non-violent struggle.

No sooner had I finished Gandhi than I was plunged into a nuclear-free session, ‘Can Nuclear Weapons Make us Safer?’  On the whole it was a rhetorical question with the answer ‘no’ – but to be fair, politicians on the other side of the debate had been invited and had declined (or been unable) to come.  But the ideas of Gandhi were key to our discussion.  It is hard to imagine a more violent weapon than nuclear missiles and in my view it is our duty to oppose them in any way we can: the idea that because our ‘opponents’ (whoever they may be) have them then we must have them is no different from the American saying that because the bad guys have guns, so must the good guys.  We all know where that ends up.  This is a discussion for another blog topic, but the reason North Korea has nuclear weapons (in my view) is because they fear the Americans.  We need to deconstruct fear, not escalate armaments.

Onwards.

So, to complete the day, enter the latest BBC costume drama.  Lately this type of drama has come in for a lot of criticism for being dewy-eyed and romanticising royalty and aristocracy.  Not a scintilla of that here.  This was a very clear-eyed view of the times, beginning with a rough and tyrannical search by the King’s men of a Catholic house which has just been celebrating Mass.  Like many such houses it features a priest hole: however the Kings’ men know this trick and compare measurements outside and inside.  At this point a young acolyte, about to set off for Europe, is discovered hiding in a chest.  Though still very young, he is subjected to little more than a show-trial before being hanged, drawn and quartered, this being shown in enough detail to register its barbarity.  Before this we see the lady of the house put to death by the peine forte et dure, her ribs gradually broken by heavy weights while all the while her tormentor tries to get information from her.

The courage of people to undergo torture and death has never failed to impress me, particularly as I doubt very much whether I’d have similar courage.

Mark Gatiss (that man has an impressive talent) is excellent as William Cecil, the spider at the heart of the anti-Catholic web, sending out spies and poisoning King James’s mind with reports of Catholic conspiracies.  He’s the McCarthy of his age: played with the superior detachment of a Mycroft with the monstrousness of a Richard III (Shakespeare’s, not history’s).  The episode largely sets up the involvement of Catesby in the gunpowder plot, and Guy Fawkes is introduced to us right at the end.  This is costume drama so good that you just think of it as drama.

And how are the two guys celebrated?  One is burnt in effigy every year while the other continues to be venerated and his ideas practised the world over.

Great guy, that Gandhi.

Anyway, here’s the BBC drama – you can watch Gandhi on Netflix or DVD:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05j1cg8/gunpowder-series-1-episode-1

Kirk out

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