I’m going to take the unusual step of doing a second post today, because part of it concerns programmes on television tonight and tomorrow.
The Boys and I have a lot of DVDs because there is almost nothing on the television that is either worth watching or that I consider suitable for the chaps. Also, I never sit down before 9pm (later in the holidays) so there’s quite a narrow window of opportunity for the TV companies to entertain me. And when I say “TV companies”, effectively I mean the BBC, because, other than ‘Heartbeat’ on ITV (which is like mainlining Ovaltine – in a good way), no other channel is producing anything on a regular basis that is remotely interesting or valuable.
So now we come to the positive bit. Recently there have been some shining, glittering examples of good television, all incidentally on BBC, that have raised my spirits no end. Two of them are recent, adult programmes and two are on CBBC (the children’s channel) and have been around for a while.
Last Sunday, ‘Sherlock’ launched itself onto the screen at 8.30pm on BBC1. I’m not a big Sherlock Holmes fan in general and I have rarely read the books, although I rather liked Rupert Everett’s version in ‘The Case of the Silk Stocking’ – intuitive casting. I must admit that it was the presence of Martin Freeman in the cast list which caused me to watch it, as he never turns in a duff performance and seems to choose his roles with discrimination.
This new version is set in the present. Watson (Martin Freeman) has just returned, injured, from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and bumps into an old friend in the park who suggests that he should visit Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) with regard to a flat share. They meet and we are immediately launched into the potential of their relationship. Freeman is psychologically damaged by his military experiences and Holmes is the type of bonkers that only the upper classes can get away with. Both are clever and both are functioning outside the experiential realm of ‘normal’ society. There is a wonderful line in the first episode where a copper calls Holmes a psychopath. “High functioning sociopath!” he snaps back. “Do your research”.
From the very start we are drawn into a thrilling, sizzling chase around London as Holmes and Watson try to solve a seemingly unconnected series of suicides. Watson is excited and bewildered by the ethernet speed of Holmes’ thought processes (which are frequently displayed on the screen as text) but he is his own man. There is a brief and moving few seconds when, after Watson has encountered Holmes’ arch enemy in a car park, he is left standing alone, his posture and disposition every inch the soldier.
I have been reliably informed by The Father of My Children, who is a big Sherlock Holmes fan, that the premise for this version is very close to the original books. There will only be two more episodes, the second being tonight at 8.30pm on BBC1. On no account must you miss them.
The second shining light is ‘Rev’ co-created and starring Tom Hollander. I am so sorry that I haven’t told you about it before as Monday night (10pm BBC2) is the last episode, but you may be able to catch a couple on iPlayer.
The hero of this humorous and moving series is Rev. Adam Smallbone, the vicar of an urban parish who has to contend with a dilapidated church and a virtually non-existent congregation. Smallbone is a man who really wants to make a difference, but who is racked with doubt as to whether he’s up to the job. The supporting cast of characters includes his lawyer wife who keeps his feet firmly on the ground, Nigel the smug and sanctimonious lay reader who clearly wants his job and the vulpine Arch Deacon who is too busy attending celebrity interviews to take Adam’s needs seriously. And then there’s Colin, the down and out who treats Adam’s home as a drop in centre.
This is a comedy that is miles away from ‘Father Ted’ or ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ because it feels real. Adam Smallbone may be a vicar but he is still a man, with all the failings and insecurities of other men. He smokes and drinks and slobs about the house in his pants when no-one’s looking. His relentless attempts to do the right thing and be the person that the public perceives a vicar ought to be, result in some funny and excruciating moments. Hollander has a beauty and depth about him which turns any character he plays into someone we have no choice but to care about. The characters are understated and there is no canned laughter and the series is all the better, and more intelligently funny for it.
If anyone from the BBC is reading this, please, please re-commission this series. No really, please.
The other two programmes are on CBBC in the afternoons. I am a complete fascist about what my children watch, even though many would not agree with my criteria, ergo, our large collection of DVDs. They are not allowed to watch ‘Tracy Beaker’ under any circumstances, for example, because I think it’s completely inappropriate to show the constant bad behaviour and negative messages which are portrayed when there is no positive pay-off and no redemption for the characters. But that’s just me.
However, there are two programmes on at the moment, from 5.15 on Tuesdays, which even I don’t want to miss.
The first is the TV programme of ‘Horrible Histories’. Terry Deary has had years of success with his ‘Horrible Histories’ books, in which he conveys serious historical facts in a child-friendly and clever format. This has now been translated to the television to great effect. It is never patronising, it’s unerringly funny and some of the songs have us crying with laughter.
The programme that follows it at 5.45 is a sketch show called ‘Sorry, I’ve Got No Head’. It has many familiar comedy faces, although the only one I can name is Marcus Brigstock. It is just as funny as many adult sketch shows, but with age appropriate content. The sketches which make us fall about are the two posh old ladies who insist that everything costs “At least a thousand pounds! A thousand pounds? Oh I’d say at least a thousand pounds, dear”, The Museum of the Imaginaaaaaaaation in which there are no exhibits and the French exchange student who has lived with his English family for nearly 20 years and simply won’t go home.
It’s so lovely to be able to enjoy these programmes as a family, without at any point thinking “Oh my God, how am I going to explain that one?” Well done BBC.