Thursday, 28 June 2012

This Week In TV

The myth in TV world was that anything good was saved for the winter schedule and anything the schedulers were uncertain of were shunted away in the summer months, where poor viewing figures could be blamed on days out, BBQ's and socialising rather than those shows being crap. However, both Sky Atlantic and BBC2 bucked that trend this week and it's been a rather cracking week for television, thanks to the comedies Alan Partridge: Welcome To The Places Of My Life, Veep and Walking and Talking (all on one night one after the other at Sky Atlantic) and new drama Line Of Duty on BBC2.

The return of Alan Partridge was something I was positively salivating over since last year's specials on the Fosters Lager website and the release of Partridge's 'biography' the hilariously titled (and indeed hilariously read) I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan. I'm a huge admirer of Steve Coogan and feel his best work is always done here in the UK rather than in Hollywood, gaining paltry cameos in showbiz friend Ben Stiller's movies. That said though, I was a little nervous that new Partridge on Sky (after a ten year break) may not be up to the standards of the old BBC series, but I need not have worried; it was superb and genuinely laugh out loud funny, with Coogan adding new layers and textures to his most durable creation. The series continues next week with another special, a spoof literary discussion show looking at his biography, and then I believe they'll show the Fosters specials.

Of course when Partridge first arrived in the 90s,  his co creator and Coogan's co writer was Armando Iannucci. Iannucci left Partridge to create his most perfect work, the excellent political sitcom The Thick Of It which spawned a film, In The Loop and has now spawned a US based sitcom entitled Veep, which like the previous film is set in the same universe as The Thick Of It with the same cinema verite style, bawdy language and acerbic humour, albeit States style. Starring Julia Louis Dreyfus (formerly of Seinfeld) as a useless Vice President, it has an impressive cast that includes Anna Chlumsky (My Girl and In The Loop) and Tony Hale (Arrested Development) However, the US actors are literally playing characters cast from the same mould as their British counterparts and so it doesn't seem all that original, it's The Thick Of It but with more immaculate teeth. It isn't bad, far far from it, but Iannucci's former partner just beat him on the new show stakes.

Finally that evening was Walking and Talking from the pen of comic actress Kathy Burke. It's a nothing really happens series of vignettes based on Kathy's experiences as a teenage girl in the Islington of 1979 (BB - Before Blair as a caption points out in the first shot) Young Kathy was a schoolgirl punk/new wave fan with an ambition to be an actress or a music journalist and from the off she was immensely likeable as the mature Kathy Burke we know of from film and TV. She's also played by star in the making Ami Metcalf (Upstairs Downstairs) and Kathy herself pops up as a bushy browed, rude Irish nun. The whole thing is very light but lovingly shot through with a nostalgic glow for the time and I loved it. I do feel though that Sky let it down by broadcasting immediately after two big enough guns that evening.

BBC2 brought out its own big gun the following night in the shape of Jed Mercurio's police corruption drama Line Of Duty. Mercurio is an amazing TV writer with two of the best dramas ever to appear on screen, the gritty medical shows Cardiac Arrest and Bodies, as well as - surprisingly- 70s set sitcom The Grimleys under his belt. Line Of Duty clearly sets out to expose the modern day police force in the same way the former doctor Mercurio exposed the medical world; so we've an unwieldy institution that is crippled by health and safety guidelines, paperwork, staff shortages and back stabbing - a place where a man, DCI Gates (Lennie James) is voted 'policeman of the year' but finds himself being investigated both overtly and covertly because he's 'too perfect'. It promises to be a belter. It has an impeccable cast (James, Vicky McClure, Gina McKee and many more, virtually every character was a familiar face!) and though the storyline is, at first, nothing new (Between The Lines tackled police corruption superbly in the 90s) there's more than enough there to immerse yourself in and with a definite vibe of The Wire and its internal politics (and a stolen line of dialogue from there too, but I'll let it slip!) It's unmistakeably Mercurio though, with the little touches he clearly revels in and relishes; when Gates is caught out for not claiming the free breakfast from a grateful cafe owner as a gratuity, it is in exactly the same ballpark as  the free pint of milk/cup of coffee that management claimed was theft to scupper both Claire Maitland and Tony Whitman in Cardiac Arrest and Bodies respectively.

With these new shows, the ongoing new series of the best documentary for some time on 4, 24 Hours In A+E (cruelly ignored at Bafta) and Russell Brand's new show, Brand X joining the Sky Atlantic Monday night comedy line up, along with Seinfeld repeats, I am spoilt for choice and it's a ray of hope in a schedule soon to be saturated by the Olympics!

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