Film and Television Features

Slack-Jawed and Square-Eyed #7

It's that time of year again, when we all think that the post-Christmas gloom isn't depressing enough and so set ourselves all manner of resolutions that, realistically, aren't going to last past the second week of January, and it seems that Britain's TV networks are no exception.

In the BBC's case they've resolved to make up for a spectacularly uninspiring Christmas season by kicking off the new year in earnest, launching arguably the most anticipated series of 2012 on its very first day. After 18 months of waiting the second series of Sherlock finally arrived and was (pretty much) worth the wait. The problem with such fevered anticipation is that it feels like the show has already been discussed to death elsewhere and I'm not really sure what else I can say about it, other than the obvious: it was very pacey and flashy and like Steven Moffat's work on Doctor Who the plot seemed exceptionally sharp and clever but probably would fall apart completely if you stopped to think about it (in particular I was a bit troubled by some far too convenient timing, and while I'm picking holes, the deus ex machina at the start of the episode was a disappointing way of untangling the cliffhanger from the end of the first series). So there's that, and the fact that after making us wait a year and a half for it, only doing another three episodes seems a bit harsh.

One of the most glaring absences in the Christmas schedule had been that of much in the way of comedy, which the BBC then managed to answer on the same day with, surprisingly, the second in (another oddly short) series of Absolutely Fabulous specials. I say “surprisingly” as, while the show was pretty much untouchable in its early 90s heyday, each of the subsequent attempts to revive it had come off as being incredibly misguided, but perhaps Jennifer Saunders was feeling reinvigorated following her battle with breast cancer as there was much to enjoy in the New Year's Day episode, particularly Lindsay Duncan channeling Deneuve and Moreau as French New Wave star Jeanne Durand. It could be said (and indeed has) that, by showing such blind, uncaring consumption in this period of recession, Ab Fab is actually the perfect satire for our times. Although, sadly, the importance the plot placed on the opinion of the critics for the success of Durand's music career felt a bit out of touch (and it involved Mark Kermode providing the set-up for a joke that was so hackneyed, he'd have been down on it like a ton of bricks had he be reviewing the show himself).

While this was going on Channel 4 was also attempting a revival from a master of 90s TV satire with Drop the Dead Donkey's Guy Jenkin returning to the newsroom to spoof the phone hacking scandal in Hacks. He'd even managed to rope in a rather good cast (including the unexpected return of 80s comedy star Russ Abbot). It's a shame that almost all of them were completely wasted though, with only Phone/Facejacker Kayvan Novack's impressions managing to raise a smile, as Jenkin's script and direction were completely inept. There's no doubt a great story to be told from the details of the scandal, but Jenkin's attempt wasn't it. Instead of the sharp up-to-the-minute humour of Donkey, he turned in show that felt like it was both pulling its punches, and, more crucially, just wasn't funny; if it wasn't the blunt witlessness of its fudging of the real people's identities (naming the ubiquitous Alexander Armstrong's David Cameron-alike Prime Minister David Bullingdon was particularly uninspired) it was the taking itself too seriously, in the snippets of panicked phone conversations that we heard, and the the dramatic proclamations of guilt and regret by the Rebekah Brooks character.

Somehow this wasn't the worst thing that Channel 4 saw to inflict on the nation this week, by a long way. Instead that honour goes to the obnoxiously omnipresent 'Revolution' strand; an attempt to make resolutions seem even more pressured and unattainable. Right at the heart of it being The Fat Fighters; part 'inspirational' weight loss series, part advertisement for a London-based brand of gyms that shall remain nameless here. While it contained all the ingredients for a good bit of reality TV trash (a dowdy woman with a tragic background story; harsh discipline; vast amounts of scantily clad, toned flesh; fat people crying), something about it just didn't quite work. Perhaps it was the bizarre range of exercises the instructors subjected their clients to, ranging from kayaking to s&m inspired aerobics classes, making the idea of keeping fit seem a lot more difficult and ridiculous than it actually is (honest!), or maybe it was that, despite a garish dancercise class thrown in at the last minute, it was far too straight for the central London gym setting to be believable.

Presumably the commissioners at Channel 4 expected The Fat Fighters to fail so that their food programmes that launched the next day would take off. If there was a moral to be taken away from The Fabulous Baker Brothers it was that you can eat all manner of fatty foods and still look good, albeit a bit rough around the edges (or, as the brothers themselves would prefer to say “rustic”). The amount of baguette-based action would have no doubt got Freud a bit hot under the collar, and I question the decision to shoot a trip to a cooking oil wholesalers as an action sequence, but it was amiable enough I suppose.

Whatever you've decided to do, I wish you luck with your resolutions for 2012 (I'm thinking that mine should have been to get these columns up a bit closer to the programmes' air dates), and that we all have an, if not productive, at least amusing time discussing TV in the year ahead.

So, see you back here next week then?