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Spooks looking a bit spooked

Just back from a little pre-Christmas jaunt to sunnier climes and have been catching up on some missed television. Two episodes of the always-sublime The Thick of It (the Richard Bacon episode was about as joyous as it gets), an episode of Miranda (heartening to see deservedly healthy ratings), and an assault on the stack of In Treatment I need to catch up with.

And of course, there was an episode of Spooks, something that for eight seasons I have always relished. Until now.

I’ve had an uncomfortable feeling about this new series. It started off well, the opening couple of episodes being fairly tight and tense. And hurrah! The return of Nicola Walker as the divine Ruth Evershed, long missed from this perennial of dramas.

And then it all went a bit wrong. Episode 3 started it off - it was fairly mundane, slack stuff by Spooks standards. And no amount of bad writing can be covered by the death of yet another Spooks regular, especially so soon after the shock death of Ben at the hands of Connie last series. Now that was genuinely unexpected and brilliantly played, but Jo’s death was a waste of a long serving character’s exit. Killing off regulars in Spooks has officially become hackneyed.

Why We Love Miranda

The simple answer is because it’s good. Yes, every now and then it does happen and somebody comes up with a decent, honest to goodness, line and length studio-based sitcom. And with Miranda, writer and series lead Miranda Hart has done just that.

The show is essentially a TV version of Hart’s Radio 2 comedy, Miranda Hart’s Joke Shop, and is semi-autobiographical. Miranda owns a joke shop downstairs from her flat, which she runs with uptight best friend Penny (Sarah Hadland). Next door is Conky’s Grill, a bistro in which Gary (Tom Ellis) is the chef. And of course, Miranda has had the hots for him for years, but it never quite happens thanks to her endearingly inept attempts at seduction. And what sitcom would be complete without an overbearing mother? Patricia Hodge is at her very best as Miranda’s mother, Penny, who is desperate to get her worrisome daughter married off.

So far, so average.

Say it Ain't So!

Apologies for the relative quietness from the direction of TV Today this week, it’s been one of those hectic ones. But we couldn’t not at least draw attention to Channel 4’s decision to cancel two of its most popular, long-running formats.

Yes, How Clean is Your House? and Wife Swap have both been given the push, despite the claim that both shows are still highly profitable. Head of Channel 4, Julian Bellamy, has said that this has been a:

“creative decision on our part to make space for new ideas”

And one can’t help but be buoyed by this on a certain level - both are good shows, but this is perhaps a sign that Channel 4 really is moving in the right direction, creatively speaking.

Tomorrow we’ll have a full Square Eyes weekender update for you. Don’t forget, Doctor Who on Sunday!

Title Sequence of the Day

Sometimes on a dark and dreary day that makes you realise that autumn is really here and that Christmas is only nine weeks away, only a trawl through YouTube for a title sequence will lift your spirits.

And today I was in the mood for some childhood nostalgia that recalls dozing on a 1970s settee, fish fingers for lunch, and a colourful, bright, enchanting adventure for ten minutes.

And the one show that fits that bill nicely is the wonderful, ageless Mr Benn. The simplicity of author David McKee’s drawings, the wish-fulfilment of the stories, the jaunty theme tune that is endlessly hummable and the soothing tones of Ray Brooks’s narration.

In essence it’s the perfect children’s television programme. And as if by magic (ahem), here it is. Enjoy!

In Praise for In Treatment

We spend an awful lot of time here at TV Today bemoaning the state of television, how messed up it always seems to be and how audience apathy is eroding away at the experience of watching the Idiot’s Lantern.

We don’t spend enough time talking about the shows we watch and enthusing and thrilling about something we’ve found genuinely exceptional nestling within the schedules.

So how lucky that I have found something fitting that very criteria over the last fortnight. In Treatment, a HBO show currently airing on Sky Arts that I’ve bigged up in Square Eyes, is one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen on television. Stripped across five nights a week, it stars a magnificent Gabriel Byrne as therapist Paul Weston. For four 30-minute episodes he has a regular session booked in with a different patient each night, and then on Friday he sees his own therapist, Gina (an equally stunning Dianne Wiest). And then the cycle begins all over again on each Monday.

Oh, Bruce...

I had planned on doing a very detailed blog on the storm surrounding Strictly Come Dancing and Anton Du Beke’s ill-judged comment to his dance partner, Laila Rouass, as widely reported in the press. But it does seem that the moment has passed, with statements by the BBC doing their utmost to put the matter to rest.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think for a second that Anton Du Beke is a racist, but I do think that his comment, used as it was in the workplace - they were rehearsing for Strictly, whether in a BBC building or not - is a fairly dodgy and offensive term. Of course, we don’t know the boundaries of De Beke’s relationship with Rouass and whether those boundaries granted permission for the dancer to refer to his partner in such a way. As it is, the BBC’s statement indicates that apologies have been made and accepted, so further conjecture seems useless at this point.

Title Sequence of the Day

It’s been a hectic week so far here at TV Today towers, but to give you something to enjoy until normal service is resumed tomorrow, I thought I’d share something that has to be seen to be believed…

This is the title sequence to the mythical, but very real, Mrs Columbo, a supposed spin-off from Columbo starring future starship captain Kate Mulgrew in the title role as the cigar-puffing detective’s oft-mentioned, but never seen better half.

There are few words that describe the elegant majesty of this concept, so just watch the title sequence and marvel at the audacity of the studio exec who thought this was a good idea…

Primeval Saved from Extinction

It was a drama that seemed dead in the water, leaving its cast stranded up a tree in prehistory with no chance of getting home. Fans gnashed their teeth at the injustice of it all, but all ITV could do was pat its pockets for money, shrug and say sorry.

But yesterday was a happy day for fans of Primeval (aka Dinosaur Chasey-Chase) as the news broke that the adventure drama will return in 2011 for 13 new episodes, split over two series, after a ground-breaking deal was brokered with cable channel Watch to come onboard as a co-producer of the series.

ITV will premiere a block of new episodes of the series early in 2011, with Watch getting second dibs on this run. Later in the year, Watch will first run the remaining new episodes, which ITV will then broadcast at a later date.

Question of the Day

What is the point of Bang Goes the Theory? I would just really like to know having given this some thought and realising I can’t find one.

Answers on a postcard, please.

Tomorrow: What is the point of Live From Studio Five?

Keep Dancing...

Seriously, just keep dancing. We’ve only had one weekend of Strictly, and the media has gone crazy with the news stories. Alesha’s rubbish, bring back Arlene! How dare the BBC put Strictly up against The X Factor! They’ve broken television!!!!!

Really, is this all we have to worry about in the world? Jordan’s latest exploits, whether Simon Cowell would have hired The Beatles, and Strictly Come Dancing versus The X Factor? That’s what it seems like to me…

First off, the brouhaha over Alesha Dixon. Okay, she didn’t have the best start - her comments were on the whole limp and a bit inane in places - “He’s wearing pink!”. But please, let’s cut the girl some slack and see how she pans out. She was nervous, as were the dancers, it was first week out after all. She’s got the opener under her belt and will be able to build on that. Hopefully.

Something's wrong...

…there’s a new Masterchef series on, and I’m not watching it. Yes, I know! Regular TV Today readers will know we are very firmly a pro-Masterchef blog, but for some reason, the lure of Gregg Wallace and Michel Roux Jr on Masterchef: the Professionals just isn’t enough for me this time round.

But I can’t quite put my finger on why. It could be to do with the bizarrely hap-hazard scheduling, where we have two-thirds of a heat on a Monday night in a half hour show, with the final third bolted onto to an hour-long edition on Tuesday night. Then last night we had 90 minutes of Masterchef action, with a single 45 minutes to round off the week’s heats tonight.

Eh? Talk about an uneven viewing experience, and therein lies the problem. One of the virtues of the retooled Masterchef in the early days was the bite size nature of it. A half hour show every night was a very palatable way of doing it, and easy to fit into a busy schedule with the use of that magic Series Link button. But the scheduling of Professionals feels like an unlimited number of monkeys with an unlimited number of calendars were running the scheduling department that week.

Back to Whitechapel

I was very pleased to hear the news that ITV1 has recommissioned crime drama Whitechapel for a second run of three episodes, which will commence pre-production later in the autumn. The first run, starring ex-Spooks actor Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davies and Steve Pemberton in a Jack the Ripper inspired tale, was well received and lots fun (despite the subject matter). Most crucially for ITV, it was a big ratings success on transmission in February, so for a commercial broadcaster it seems like a no-brainer to go for another run.

But it does seem to have taken a bizarrely long time to greenlight another series. Of course, we’re not party to the processes behind the scenes in what decisions needed to be made - cast availability, budget and the rest, but six months does seem rather a long time to issue a confirmation.

Is this perhaps an indication of the caution that prevails behind closed doors at ITV in these days of financial uncertainty, when a ratings hit isn’t an automatic shoo-in for a recommission? Has advertising revenue fallen off so steeply that a show that pulled in 7.6 Million for its final episode can’t be guaranteed of securing top dollar ads?

The Duf Dufs Get a Spring Clean

For the first time since 1999 when the Millennium Dome was added into the familiar landscape, the EastEnders title sequence has had something of a refurbishment for the HD age. And for anybody with memories of Simon May’s jazzed-up version of his own iconic theme in 1994, you can rest safe in the knowledge that they haven’t really monkeyed around with the music this time.

Of course, change is something that we routinely greet with suspicion - or if you’re on a fan forum, there’s often a great deal of outrage and cries of “How dare they!”. As an audience, we feel a kind of misguided ownership of certain properties, and if it isn’t something that clicks with us, we’ll say so.

The Axeman is Coming to Get You!

Big Brother is dead, long live Big Brother! Or should I be jumping up and down, trilling: “Ding-Dong, the witch is dead!”? I can’t quite make my mind up about this…

Yes, as you will no doubt have already heard, Channel 4 has today announced that the legendary, genre-defining reality show Big Brother will end after the next series in 2010. This isn’t really a surprise. With Channel 4’s contract with producers Endemol up after that series, and in the face of diminishing returns, you can’t blame the broadcaster for not wanting to commit more money to an expensive deal for a couple more years.

I haven’t watched Big Brother for years, if truth be told. The first year of TV Today saw me actively avoiding the show - in fact, my very posting to this blog was on that very subject. It stopped being innovative television and had descended, possibly quite naturally, into an exercise in voyeurism and cruelty.

Review: The Tudors Season Three, Episodes 1 and 2

The third season of The Tudors began its UK premier last Friday on BBC2, with 2.3 million tuning in. It was as pretty, ludicrous, dramatic and deliciously arch as ever. 90 minutes of intrigue, sex, nice frocks, and a collection of accents that battle all the way from Nova Scotia, to Dublin, on to the Pennines and back again.

There’s a new title sequence taking into account the wholesale departure of the entire Boleyn family, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers preening a little too much at the top as Henry. Gone are the intense looks into camera, now he’s standing like the very welcoming doorman of a fetish club. Who is the chap with the eye patch, he looks fun? And blimey, we’ve gone from Peter O’Toole to Max von Sydow in the space of a season - impressive!

With Anne’s head saying a rapid farewell to her shoulders at the close of season two, Henry is on to wife number three in the form of Jane Seymour. Annabelle Wallis gives her Jane a nicely winsome air, more Sloane ranger where Anne was smouldering sexkitten.

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