A Year To Fall In Love (Channel 4-2018)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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With sport dominating the early summer TV schedules those of us who are looking for an alternative are being pushed towards the search for love.  Or that is what it feels like in my house where I’m still needing my nightly fix of Love Island and on Tuesday night Channel 4 unleashed “A Year To Fall In Love”.  This documentary show features the video diaries of 20 people over a year as they attempt to find “the one”.  This appealed because I thought it was going to be pacey – 20 people, one year all in the space of an hour.  I thought this might curb Channel 4’s love of the “recap” as there just wouldn’t be time.  In the TV schedules this programme did look like it was going to be a one-off rather than a series.  At the closing credits (when we’d seen less than 20 people) I discovered this was just a taster for the rest of the series which would be tucked away on the All-4 catch up service rather on Channel 4 itself.  Feeling just a little duped a visit to All-4 revealed 6 online episodes.  I’m not too sure why C4 would shunt this over onto the online platform, other than suggesting that it’s not the social-experiment-for-our-times I’d anticipated but something more along the lines of summer-time filler.

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The most fascinating aspects of this programme were the statistics. Nearly 40% of people now meet their partners online which has changed the whole rationale of the way in which people select and relate to a partner.  Online the choice can be overwhelming bringing the user into contact with people that they would never meet in their everyday social and professional life but this selection process does bring about anxiety, inability to make a decision and commit to it and a fear of being “ghosted”- a term I’d never heard before watching this.  The pitfalls of choosing online were clearly brought home in this.  The most important way to make an impression is therefore the profile photo.  Also, apparently the average relationship lasts for three months so for most it’s not too long before the whole process has to begin again.

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On this first episode we met performance artist (?) Freddy who asked out a girl who had known as a friend for some time; husband-hunting Sophie who was on the look-out for a wealthy man who wears a big watch (?!); Nick who was struggling with the etiquette of online dating: Niki, who was keeping her girl/boy options open whose first weeks of recording her quest seemed to show progressively dodgy choices to the point where she was scared to answer her phone and Brighton resident Xander negotiating gay dating apps.  There were considerable ups and downs for all proving once again the road to love is far from smooth.

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Niki has a year to fall in love

However, the format of the programme was such that I found myself not too bothered as to whether their searches would be successful and whereas I might watch further episodes to find out more if it had a weekly time-spot on Channel 4 going onto All-4 for box-set viewing is probably something I will not bother with.  Most of us still have that mind-set that online viewing shows cannot be as good as main channel picks and because this means I am questioning C4’s commitment to this project maybe it’s not for me.  I’ll stick with “Love Island” (and I couldn’t imagine me writing that a couple of months ago!)

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The first episode of “A Year To Fall in Love” was shown at 10pm on Tuesday 19th June and is available like the rest of the series on All-4 catch-up/online service.

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This Is Us (Channel Four- 2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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For the last fifteen weeks tucked away in the shifting transmission time-zone of  Tuesday late evening Channel Four has been this real gem of a series.  “This Is Us” has been feted in its homeland where the American Film Institute has awarded it as a Top Television Programme and has been nominated for Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice and Screen Actor’s Guild Awards whereas here (because of its scheduling?) it has largely slipped under the radar.

“This Is Us” is the story of the Pearson family.  Kate and Kevin are two thirds of triplets and when the third was still-born their parents adopted an African-American baby, Randall, who had been found abandoned at the hospital.  The story is shared between modern day with the siblings in their thirties and at various times in their childhood and in their parents’ lives.

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In the present Randall is a high-achieving businessman with wife, two daughters and a rediscovered birth father, who has terminal cancer.  Jack was a successful TV sitcom actor until he jacked in his lead role as eye-candy male au-pair “The Manny” in an attempt to be seen as a serious stage actor and Kate, his former assistant, is attempting to deal with weight issues and a new romance as well as trying to establish her own identity and position within the family.  Their father is dead and their mother is now with his best friend.  In the flashback sections Dad is very much a central character as the couple cope with the dynamics between the three children and their relationship with one another.

It is very much an ensemble piece with a collection of executive producers (the show was actually created by Dan Fogelman) and writing teams (common enough in US TV) but also with an ensemble cast, not terribly familiar to British viewers who inhabit their roles with great style and intelligence.

Inevitably, awards committees will single out performers from ensembles and so far it has been singer and actress Mandy Moore (who became an international music star back in 2000 with hit single “I Wanna Be With You) who plays the triplet’s mum Rebecca in both time frames, Chrissy Metz (best known her role in “American Horror: Freak Show) who plays Kate and Sterling K Brown (who plays adopted brother Randall) who have received the acting nominations.

The two faces of Mandy Moore in “This Is Us”

Chrissy Metz and Sterling K Brown

Probably the most familiar cast member is Dad Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli in international hit “Heroes”) and there have been some lovely performances from Justin Hartley as the third sibling Ryan; Susan Kelechi Watson as Randall’s wife, Beth and Chris Sullivan as Kate’s boyfriend Toby.  Because of the time lapses in the narrative structure these actors are all pretty much the same age.  The gravitas performance is an excellent turn by Ron Cephas Jones as William, Randall’s biological father who is dealing with his failing health, coming to terms with a whole new family and a male partner.

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Mandy Moore with Milo Ventimiglia

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 Ron Cephas Jones

The whole thing is character led and beautifully written and the flashback sections work just as well as the present day narrative, with the two linking together, often subtly but always convincingly.

In the latest episode shown this week on Channel 4, Valentine’s Day and an impending band tour caused tension between Jack and Rebecca; Ryan’s “serious” play was due its opening night and the strain of work and family were getting to Randall leading to a conclusion which was both heart-warming and eye-misting.  If character led drama with the natural comedy of families interacting with one another appeals this is a prime example.

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This Is Us is currently being shown by Channel 4 in the UK on Tuesdays at  around 10.30pm.  The last few episodes can be found on the All-4 catch up TV service.

 

Derren Brown: Miracle (Channel 4 2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

 

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From his first appearance on TV back in 2000 with the series “Mind Control” I’ve watched almost everything illusionist Derren Brown has done.  This is with the exception of his live Russian Roulette (2003) where the presence of  a loaded gun was too much even for me.  There’s been the odd blip (the lottery prediction was a little odd as was the theft of a painting from an art gallery) but he is not only an extraordinary showman who has provided us with some many jaw-dropping moments of television (the pianist, the chap who flew a plane, the end of the world immediately springing to mind) but he is also a great debunker of those who claim to have special powers.

This 90 minute programme was taken from his sell-out live shows at London Palace Theatre and was, as usual, a fascinating blend of illusion, distraction and hypnotism seamlessly conveyed with me, also as usual, being completely clueless as to how it is all achieved.  Unless, he really does have special powers of course.

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Derren began with a section projected on screens onto the stage on how to be happy. Setting achievable goals is what we have been recommended but in this we lose the “now” so the goals may be attained but all round happiness hasn’t happened.  We’ve focused on the endings forgetting that “maybe life should be like a piece of music and you’re supposed to be dancing”.  All stirring life-coach stuff but this is Brown and not Paul McKenna.  Brown’s not a life-coach because we do not know how to read him.  He tells us to worry only about what we can control and not what we can’t but is this just a lead in to one of his remarkable illusions?

After seeing him so often it does seem like these illusions follow certain patterns.  They remind us of something we’ve seen him do before, but only an echo of a reminder.  They have been tweaked into something new and extraordinary.  We know that early on there is something that he will return to as a huge reveal at the end of the show but we never see that coming.

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After a few extraordinary moments (a predicted game of consequences, getting an audience member to eat a lightbulb) he leads us to the central part of the production.  This is, Brown claims a debunking of evangelical faith healers.  By using their methods and, disturbingly, often their words Brown appears to heal a number of audience members of joint pain and short-sightedness.  In this section the pace is revved up relentlessly and the whole thing makes for outstanding yet disturbing viewing.  Is this atheist performing god-given miracles?  Of course not, but what he is doing and how he is doing it I’m not any the wiser.  I would really love to see one of his stage shows every night to see the variation.  I would say that hypnosis was at work in this section and I imagine that part of the preparation of the audience for this was left out. (I believe it is not legal to show this on British TV, in case we all become mind controlled!) but I did find myself ending up with an odd kind of glow at the end of the programme.  I felt energised.  Was this because I had experienced an hour and a half of thrilling television or was something else at work here?  Maybe I should employ him as a life coach after all!

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Derren Brown: Miracle was shown on Channel 4 on Monday 10th October at 9pm.   It is currently available on Channel 4 catch-up services

Gogglesprogs –A What I’ve Been Watching Review (Channel 4 2016)

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I didn’t watch the initial one-off special at Christmas time.  It seemed a spin-off too far.  We’d only had a couple of editions of a Celebrity Gogglebox for charity and they were okay but didn’t have the natural feel of the original, which has been one of the best shows on TV series after series I’d managed to fast forward all the trailers for this that I’d seen but then a friend told me she’d seen a clip of a little girl observing that Donald Trump “had a black heart” and was ready to change my mind.

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And I’m glad that I did.  Two episodes in and to an extent it seems as if we have entered the Gogglebox time machine, flipped the switch and found younger versions of the adults we’ve grown to love as these junior armchair critics seem to share many of the same characteristics.  That must be down to the genius of the selection process.  I thought we would be watching children showing off, but we are not.

What we are watching is children entranced by television and taking in the stories in a way which their video-clip dominated world might suggest was a thing of the past and from their viewing we can glean perceptions of the way they view the world.  The reason for Britain staying in the EU should be our continued participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, how buying the Queen vouchers for her birthday would be the most appropriate idea and there was something very poignant in watching children’s jaws drop and eyes spontaneously fill with tears at the sight of the Calais refugee camp.

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The show itself is less topical because it has to be filmed over a longer period of time.  The first programme reviewed was an episode of “The Undateables” where the children really rooted for Tom, a young man with Tourettes Syndrome causing a sever twitch.  “How did he get his tattoo done if he has Tourettes?” might not occur to the adult mind but it is an extremely valid question.

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Children watching adult television means that there is the potential for greater misunderstanding which makes for good TV.  Meryl Streep is confused with Britney Spears and Madonna, Sarah Palin becomes a place-name read from the rostrum she’s standing at and Jacob and Connor (who could be the childhood versions of Brighton hairdressers Stephen and Chris) have a discussion when a documentary about Trump states that his father drilled a mantra into his head.  Not knowing what a mantra is Jacob is horrified by such parental physical cruelty.  A few minutes later he is channelling loveably grumpy old man Leon with his “Oh no!” response to teen vampire flick “Twilight”.

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Some things never change.  Enthusiastic responses to films such as “Harry Potter”, “Star Wars” and the enduring appeal of the music of Abba for successive generations through “Mamma Mia”.  Cue Ashton from Wales – “I’ve no idea who wrote that music but whoever you are I will take my dog off for you” (removing a toy dog off his head).  There was the childhood joy of watching a giraffe being born perhaps on a par with discovering “panties” and “penis” amongst the letters in an episode of “Countdown”.

Gogglebox itself was a interesting concept which has become a brilliant programme because of the way in which it has been thought out and because of the choice of individuals involved.  It looks like the junior spin-off will succeed for the same reasons.  If you like the adult version and haven’t yet plucked up the courage to watch this – seek it out.

 

fourstars – and by the time the series ends and we’ve got to know the children this will probably move to five stars.

Gogglesprogs is shown on Channel 4 on Friday at 8.00.  There have been two episodes so far, at least one of which will be available on the All-4 catch-up services

The Jump (Channel 4 2016)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

 

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Who on earth watches Channel 4’s annual injury-fest “The Jump”? Well, guilty confession time – I do and I have watched every episode of all three series and I have no idea why. Do I have some kind of sadistic pleasure watching minor celebrities picking up minor injuries taking part in a range of winter sports that are often over in a flash or just not that exciting anyway with what appears to be from what we are shown a minimum amount of preparation?

It seems madness that the climax of the programme builds up to a ski-jump (or air-jump) a “blink and you miss it performance” that has to be built up and replayed ad nauseam to make it more exciting in perhaps the most drawn out television since ITV’s “Splash!”, the Tom Daley diving show which even with celebrities in swim-wear had viewers deserting in droves. But still I watch it. I’ve seen Sir Steve Redgrave get badly injured in Series 1, experienced the shock of Ola Jordan’s serious back injury before the televised transmissions even began in Series 2 and watched Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington dislocate her shoulder live on TV on Sunday – none of that is enjoyable, is it? At least it’s a great leveller, the last series saw Joey Essex win against a set of some quite serious sporting talent despite not really ever having a clue what was going on. The first series saw last-minute replacement Joe McElderry victorious probably because he was the least battered and bruised by the end of the show. What must be the insurance premiums for this- and why does anyone participate? (I think I know the answer to that one – m***y).

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 Series 2 and Series 1 winners – only the strong survive!

The celebrities tend to fall into three groups – those who have been ski-ing virtually since birth, the “Made In Chelsea” brigade and the Socialites – think Tamara Beckwith and some posh bloke in this series and Lady Victoria Hervey in the past; the sporty ones who are quick learners and possess the right mentality (Linford Christie, Beth Twiddle, Becky Adlington) and our favourites the have-a-go’s whose reality TV options have become limited (James Argent, Sid Owen, Sarah Harding). These tend to have done the rounds of this kind of show and/or come from “The Only Way Is Essex” which at least for them, means they don’t have to spend the winter doing personal appearances around the country in some god awful night-clubs. This year’s surprise contestant is Dean Cain, who at 49 should know better and who once was the most handsome man on TV in the “New Adventures Of Superman”.

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But God bless presenter Davina McCall! She does a valiant job in trying to keep us to think it’s all more exciting than it really is. Risk career-threatening injuries for a Cow-bell! Really?! The whole thing is portrayed as a steamy knees up, with lots of celebrity whooping and nodding, an oompah band to really liven things up and a local mayor having a few minutes of international fame. This is because most of the action has taken place before-hand. Think “Jeux Sans Frontieres” without…………..well, everything really.

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But still I tune in. It was The Skeleton this week, which is we were told “a sport for the mentally composed” with pairs of celebrities battling against one another in timed races in repeatedly crashing themselves against walls of ice and ending up completely disorientated by the ordeal if they were lucky to hold on for long enough. We were promised squashed organs and 5G forces (only 1G less than fighter pilots experience). This was the event where in Series 1 Henry Conway (no I don’t remember either) “smashed his wrist to pieces”. The losers got to perform on the Air Jump (which should have been live but weather conditions, at night, up a mountain, prohibited it). So we watched a recording of Rebecca’s earlier dislocation and agonies on a stretcher. Still she’s an Olympian, so she’ll be back next week surely- but will I? Very probably, yes but with ample use of the fast forward button I’ve worked out there will be time to put the kettle on and get the Hob-Nobs out before “War And Peace” starts.

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An undislocated Becky Adlington

STOP PRESS : Today new injury announced!  Casualty Star Tina Hobley has withdrawn and made her own trip to casualty because of a dislocated elbow which occurred in practice.

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– But still I watch it!

 

The Jump is broadcast on Sundays on Channel 4 at 7.30 pm.  This first episode is available on the All Four catch up service.

Mary Portas Secret Shopper (Channel 4 2016)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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This week the third series of Mary Portas’ latest “rescue” show began. I like Mary. She’s prickly, opinionated and occasionally has ideas which seem like they might plunge shop-owners into further financial chaos, but this is the only one of the plethora of “save business owners from a dire situation” TV programmes that I will watch. In my day job I’m often asked if I watch shows like “The Hotel Inspector” – never in a million years, but there’s something about Mary that gets me tuning in. I’ve watched her transform fashion outlets, set up a knicker factory, revamp charity shops and on this Channel 4 show the focus is on customer service and giving the customers what they really want, rather than what the business owner is adamant that they should have.

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Mary gets a fair bit of criticism in the popular press. Is it the Daily Mail that likes to point out the number of businesses that have gone to the wall in the months/years after she has intervened? But that’s the nature of things for us small business owners. It is a tough world out there. In the vast majority of cases I’m sure she has delayed the inevitable. I’m also grateful to her as one of her shows featured a business that I had considered purchasing and after not pursuing it I encountered a case of the “What ifs”. In the gap between selling my Brighton guest house and finding my current one on the Isle Of Wight I contemplated a grocers in Dorset. The people who eventually bought it struggled and it made for a chilling, if ultimate salutary viewing experience for me as I realised that had we made that purchase we would have been in exactly the same position as the frustrated owners on the show.

In this episode it was two shops in Cranleigh, Surrey, separated by an Indian restaurant and run by the same couple. One was a cluttered dressmakers shop, the other a recently-opened but money-haemorraghing bridal shop. It featured a classic moment of between the fingers-viewing as Mary, whilst looking at a collection of garish dresses the proprietors had purchased in Las Vegas, asked whether there were any drag queens or transsexuals in the village who might buy one, with it eventually dawning on her that she was actually addressing this to one, Graham, the husband of shop-owner Janet. This was also news to two lady shop assistants. In the hands of another presenter this faux-pas could have looked staged but seeing the usually politically correct but mortified Mary hiding out in the changing rooms after realising what she had done was a moment of brilliant television.

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Often the shop-owners chosen to take part in these programmes deserve what they get with an outmoded, obstinate view of their products and a scant regard for customer service but Graham and Janet had just taken on more than they could chew with lots of unsold stock. Mary, on her way to the establishment, views footage from a secret camera. Normally she is enraged by sloppy service but in this case became doubled up with laughter by primitive walkie-talkie communication between the two  shops and Janet’s determination to get her cheese and coleslaw sandwich whilst pinning up a customer’s dress.

There’s a lot of money to be made in bridal wear, apparently, but Janet and Graham just were not making it. The mark-ups for this type of item do seem to be incredibly high. You would not need to be selling that many wedding dresses a year to be nicely in profit and what is important with this kind of high-end selling is the customer experience. Despite being already in debt money seemed to be found to follow Mary’s advice almost to the letter and you couldn’t help but applaud their bravery and will them to succeed. Placing the staff in a different business situation is an aspect of this show that doesn’t always work and can feel a little like time-filling especially as Janet begins behaving badly whilst attempting high-level waiting service but that aside this is a well-structured show (with still a little too much recapping after each ad break for my liking). I also like the ways that the confidence Mary begins to instil in the business owners appears to influence their whole lives. It’s always good to watch people begin to blossom. This opener has set a good standard for what promises to be a very watchable series.

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Mary Portas Secret Shopper is on Channel 4. This episode can be found on the All-4 Catch Up service. The series continues on Wednesdays at 8pm