THAT WAS THE BOX – January 2016 (Week Two) | TV Reviews
‘WAR AND PEACE‘ (BBC1 – BBC IPLAYER)
This really is a glorified soap opera isn’t it? A sort of Russian Dynasty for the twenty first century, based on a book written and set in the nineteenth century. I always thought ‘War and Peace‘ was some big, serious book, but judging by this adaptation it’s just a load of fighting and bonking. Poor old hapless Pierre is now married to Helene, who clearly doesn’t fancy him as much as he fancies her, and it was pretty obvious when he invited the reckless and sexy Dolohtov into his home, even though wifey claimed to despise him, soon they would be having it away on the dining table.
Thankfully the table was stronger than the door that Lily James (Natasha) slammed shut in one of the scenes. Not since the days of ‘Crossroads‘ have I seen a door wobble so much. For a production that obviously spared no expense in location and sets, they could have at least invested in some MDF as opposed to polystyrene. Apart from that, the filmography is quite breathtaking, evoking how one imagines Imperialist Russia. The battle scenes were pretty brutal, but I was rather disappointed to see Napoleon portrayed as a serious figure. I always like to imagine him like the one in ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure‘.
The acting is patchy, it has to be said, but one stand-out moment was when Bolonksy learnt of his son Andrei’s possible death on the battlefield. After ordering simpering but sensible Marya out of the room, his face went through a hundred different emotions before he crumpled into a weeping heap. And talking of Marya, good on her for turning down the sliming Anatole. He shares the same sexual morals as his sister Helene (and indeed the same bed on occasion) and he merely wanted her for her money. She might be plain and religious but she showed great strength of character by choosing to stay with her father.
I also enjoy watching Ade Edmondson playing the patriarch of the Rostova family. It only seems like yesterday he was playing anarchic student, Vivian in ‘The Young Ones‘, and here he is playing a sort of version of Mr Bennett from ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
I have to say the whole thing is pretty superficial and I bet when the end of the year comes and I look back to do my review of the year, ‘War and Peace‘ will be one I have no recollection of. One thing I do think would be cool though, would be, like that advert where there is the mock-up of Sherlock, Luther and Stella Gibson all solving a case, they should do a CGI mock-up where Lord Flash-heart played by Rik Mayall comes crashing into the room, snogs Helene, punches Anatoli and does a cheeky wink at the camera.
‘TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW‘ (BBC1 – BBC IPLAYER)
I’m guessing a lot of viewers under the age of forty won’t have a clue who Tracey Ullman is. Of course, us oldies remember her from her heyday when she was the toast of British comedy. Kooky, funny and talented, she was a bit of a heroine to girls of my age. She seemed younger than French and Saunders and cooler than Victoria Wood and seemed to be a bit of a voice of our generation. Then she went to America, discovered ‘The Simpsons‘ and got very rich.
Now she’s back and I did find it weird that the BBC put the show on in a graveyard slot on a Monday night, but on watching it, I can see why. The show was pretty awful. The sketch about the woman released from a South East Asian prison after 28 years wore thin after the second round of her mother telling her that the things she remembers from her youth (Woolworths, Rumbelows and Bejam) were gone. The sketch about the masseuse who set fire to the curtains was somehow self-indulgent and showing the world how rich Ullman was that she knew what it was like to attend masseuses who valued their client’s relaxation above everything else.
The sketches involving Judi Dench (uncanny impression) doing naughty things like shoplifting and destroying Rupert Grint’s iPad was mildly funny, but I could see it becoming tiresome by episode three, and the bit with Maggie Smith auditioning for Sci-Fi films was quite baffling, given she sounded nothing like Maggie Smith.
For me the funniest sketches were the ones where Angela Merkel was behaving like a normal woman, convinced senior male politicians fancied her and sending rude voice messages to Nicola Sturgeon for copying her style. These raised a titter in me, but there was no one belly laugh for the whole half an hour.
The final sketch was a musical number set in a public library, lamenting the closure of libraries by Cameron’s government. It felt shoe-horned in, and given that Ullman has spent the past 30 years in the States, to me it was rather like Victoria Wood doing a song and dance number about Obamacare.
We’ve seen Victoria Wood and French and Saunders grow into middle-aged women, so when they do comedy about the toils of getting old, it seems funny because we’ve watched them slowly age, but with Ullman leaving in her prime and coming back now, she feels a bit like the woman, Karen, in her sketch about the drug smuggler. She’s come back to a world where she has no real place and doesn’t seem particularly relevant.
‘CRASHING‘ (CHANNEL 4 – ALL4)
Here we have yet another sitcom about a group of twenty-somethings, all living together. How about a sitcom about forty-somethings still living at home because they can’t afford to rent anywhere within the M25! The people living as guardians of this disused hospital all sound as though they have parents plenty wealthy enough to provide them with the deposit on a nice little place in Dalston. Casting of a few more working class actors would have been refreshing. The characters all felt like ones we’ve seen a hundred times before. There was Sam, the good-looking, rather damaged, sex mad pillock who worked as an estate agent. The scary, snappy French woman who chain smoked; the uptight, anal woman who wants to organise everything. Said woman is also engaged to a sexy Irish chef who happens to be paid a visit by his childhood friend, Lulu (him Irish, she’s Home Counties – go figure) and lo and behold there is sexual chemistry between them! It was like a lot of clichés rolled into one and for me (I suppose because I’m older) the only interesting one was Colin, played by the excellent Adrian Scarborough. How a middle-aged divorced man will cope living with these young airheads could prove quite comic.
A lot of the humour was typical British awkwardness, people getting the wrong idea, cringeworthy silences etc. One high point for me though, was seeing Susan Wokoma. last seen as Tracey’s pious sister in ‘Chewing Gum‘, playing party girl Jessica.
The concept of ‘Crashing‘ is okay. We do live in a society where young people are forced to either stay at home or live in overcrowded flatshares while they save to be able to afford the mortgage on a studio flat in Croydon or something. But I feel the characters could have been more diverse and groundbreaking. But I’ll give it another try. Lots of good comedies have teething problems and this might just improve with time.