Tag Archives: BBC

What A Load of Thru’penny Bits!

So there seems to be much weeping and gnashing of teeth about photos that feature yet another hapless royal. Much talk is being made of suits and counter-suits. ‘Angry’ from Manchester is outraged, appalled – and clicking his way through each salacious crumb that can be found on the Internet. Good luck to him/her. I personally don’t care.

Until it costs jobs, that is. Reports are coming in that the Irish Daily Star, a popular tabloid in these here parts, is under threat of closure because one of its investors is outraged, appalled…you get the picture.

In almost ever ‘red top’ newspaper, you will find topless snapshots of the great, good and who=gives-a-fuck. Look, people, if it’s not your mum, your sister, or your aunt, why do you care? Let the unwary fight their own battles. Just leave the little guy out of it, okay?

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 98. On Series Finales.

Harry Pearce and the spies of MI5: Spooks.

We put down our favourite book, one that has travelled with us for nearly ten years, and we can’t help feeling sad. The writer says there will be no more new stories involving characters we have come to love and care for. It is time to move on. There is of course a closure of sorts; but we know in our hearts that their stories go on. Only no one will write about them anymore.

So it is with our favourite television shows. There will be no more Spooks after last night. I am sad. But life must go on.


100 Words, 100 Days: Day 64. On Spy Stories.

With the release of the movie version of John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the return of Spooks to the BBC (its 10th and final season), there is, for me, a renaissance of the spy thriller. The Bourne trilogy of movies resulted in a more pared-down, gadget-free James Bond, focusing more on the people involved in the business of spying than outrageous plotting.

You see, spying is a sleazy industry: keeping secrets from some, extracting them from others, without letting your emotions get in the way. It can come at a price, though.

You may lose your humanity.


The Name of The Rose, and Other Stories.

The Name of The Rose, starring Sean Connery

I was looking through the weekend’s TV listings before heading into work last Saturday, just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on any nuggets. My DVR was preprogrammed to record my current favourites: Merlin on the BBC, Downton Abbey on ITV. Usually a movie appears from out of left field, showing at some ungodly hour of the night or morning.

I whooped with joy when I saw that RTE Two had Sean Connery’s movie, The Name of the Rose, showing at ten after midnight Sunday night, Monday morning. It’s been a long time since I’d this little-seen gem: a medieval murder mystery, based on the novel by Umberto Eco.

Connery and Slater as William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk

Now, I’ve tried reading Eco’s philosophical detective novel. I picked it up after first seeing the movie. I put it down after only getting through fifty or so pages of it. Last year I picked up a different copy and I got further. A bookmark nestles at page 102. I’ll finish it some day. I promise.

But it’s a classic Connery movie. To most, he is James Bond. To me, he is 007 and much, much more. An Oscar winner for The Untouchables, Connery brings his distinctive voice to all types of characters, usually without diluting his Scottish accent. He’s played Spanish, Irish, Russian and English – all in Scottish. That’s why we love him.

Anyway, back to The Name of the Rose. I preset my DVR and away to work I went. I mentioned to some customers that it was on later and I was really looking forward to seeing it again.

Needless to say, when I came back home, I found that my DVR failed to pick it up. It was on the TV all right, but it didn’t record. Damn you, UPC! Everything else recorded except the one thing that wasn’t going to be repeated later on in the week. I don’t pay my bill on time for service like this.

Sir Alec Guinness as George Smiley in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy".

I made it my Monday mission to hunt down a copy – but to no avail. HMV didn’t stock it, Tower Records never heard of it, and my local Xtravision proved equally fruitless. There was nothing else to do but go online. Hello Amazon.co.uk! I ordered a copy, along with two other gems from TV times gone by.

The BBC adapted two of John Le Carre’s novels in the late 70s and early 80s: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People, with the late Sir Alec Guinness as spymaster George Smiley. I remember being gripped by their complexity when I was a wee nipper. Unlike Eco, I read both novels after viewing the TV adaptations. Le Carre is a better writer of spy thrillers that Ian Fleming, but that’s my opinion.

So why did I rush out and order a copy of a movie my machine couldn’t record? The answer is, like me, simple. I have no patience. It will be a long time before TNOTR comes on TV again. I want to see it – and I want to see it now.

But I have to wait two weeks.

Sherlock: The Great Game…and The Cliffhanger from Hell.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as Watson and Holmes.

All good things must come to an end. I think it was my mother who said that when I decided it was time to move out of the family home. I was 33. The less said about that the better.

Last Sunday night was when the final episode of the BBC’s first (but not last) mini-series of Sherlock aired. To say it’s been a critical and rating success is an understatement. In just three episodes, Sherlock’s creators (I don’t mean to dismiss Arthur Conan Doyle – without him we wouldn’t have this brilliant programme) have managed to do what was seemingly impossible: make good, intelligent, well-cast Sunday night television. For crying out loud, even my sister was able to watch it without channel-hopping…and that’s a feat in itself.

So what did the finale have to offer? Well, in the last ten minutes it introduced Sherlock’s nemesis: Jim (not Professor James – just Jim) Moriarty. He was the mastermind behind the previous 80 minutes of the episode. Sherlock underwent three tests of his considerable intellect, tests set by Moriarty himself (though Sherlock wasn’t to know this until the end). Each of these “mini” cases could easily take up an entire episode of any of the C.S.I.s and their clones. Sure, there’s a lot of running around and rapid-fire dialogue, but it’s done in such a masterful fashion that I couldn’t but help get caught up in its slipstream. These little sections, all part of one great whole, were appetisers before the main course.

Moriarty’s appearance surprised me, yet it was entirely logical. He had managed to pull the rug out from underneath Sherlock – and the viewers, too. That is what Moriarty does. He’s a consulting criminal, matched toe-for-toe against the only consulting detective in England.

But, as what always happens with these things, there’s a twist, a cliffhanger that will not be resolved until next year. At 10:30pm last Sunday, I screamed at my TV. NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! How can I wait until 2011? I need to know how Sherlock and John get out of an apparently unwinnable predicament. I need to know NOW!

Anyone got a time machine?

Sherlock: The Blind Banker

image courtesy of denofgeeks.com

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

There is danger in reading reviews of your favourite TV shows before you’ve gotten around to seeing them. The Internet is packed to the gills with websites that will give you their opinions on what you’re planning to see. And it’s not just the online community; newspapers, too, throw in their tuppence worth. It’s the job of the critic to evaluate all forms of media, especially entertainment. It’s the job of the viewer to work out whether or not he or she agrees with the critic.

All week I’ve been looking forward the second episode of the BBC’s re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed the first installment so much, I posted a brief blog about it. (I’m not one for spoiling people’s enjoyment, so I won’t go into too much detail regarding tonight’s storyline.) But my anticipation was marred by reading the TV section in today’s Mail on Sunday. I quote:

“When you think about it, Sherlock Homes’ brilliant deductive powers are perfectly compatible with modern technology, so putting him slap-bang in present-day London was inspired – and anyway, deerstalkers are so last century. However, after last week’s cracking opener, this second episode fails to live up to expectations. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are still terrific as Holmes and Watson, of course, but the far-fetched plot (involving the City and a Chinese circus) is stretched rather too thinly over the 90 minutes – a surprise when you consider that this is the second of only three episodes.”

Already, a sense of doom came over me. It would be the difficult “second episode,” I thought. No way will it be as good as the first. I was waiting to have my hopes dashed. Last week would just be a flash-in-the-pan. So I settled down and quietly expected the worst.

But you what? I don’t give a damn what critics think. Within seconds my doubts flew away. The opening scenes – Holmes fending off an attack on his life; Watson remonstrating uselessly with an automated supermarket check-out – reminded me of why I love this programme. It’s the characters, stupid! Plots come and go. But as long as the characters remain true, you’ll follow them through thick and thin.

Writer Stephen Thompson had a touch job. With the characters introduced from last week,  he had to cover the hour and a half with an engaging  story. Basically he had to hit the ground running. There was a lot to like in this episode: the mystery was complex; the interplay was very much on a par with last week, especially when Holmes gatecrashed Watson’s date with a colleague; the supporting characters weren’t just cogs in a machine, but fleshed out individuals in their own right; and the villain was unmasked in a way that made sense.

For me, there was a lot going on in The Blind Banker. There wasn’t a dull moment. The pace was frenetic but there were some quiet scenes that Thomson provided, scenes that made me sit back and wonder about…well…just wonder. The viewer should wonder about what they’re watching, shouldn’t they? It’s like when you’ve read a particular scene in a book, and then you stop for a moment and think. I don’t like to be spoon fed when I watch TV and read books. I ask writers to give me something to chew on, something to sleep on maybe. And in this episode, I got plenty of that.

Reviewers can only offer their own opinion. It’s up to us, as viewers and readers, to make sure those opinions don’t become our own. They don’t always get it right.

Note: even though the Mail‘s critic was hesitant about tonight’s Sherlock, he still gave it four stars. It was, by far, the best thing on TV tonight.

“Sorry, Must Dash. I Left My Riding Crop At The Mortuary.”

Benedict Cummerbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson.Sunday night isn’t usually the best night of the week to stay in and watch TV, unless that is you like reality shows, programmes devoted to the countryside and finding out how much your granny’s snuffbox is really worth. Since 24 went off air, nothing else has taken its place – well, nothing that was worth troubling my DVR for.

Then Sherlock came along. Not another Holmes, I hear you say. He is so last year. Well, he’s not. He’s not even Victorian anymore. Sherlock Holmes is in the here and now. He is in London in the year 2010.

WTF? I hear the purists among you cry. Sacrilege! Blasphemy! Crikey! Or words to that effect. Calm down, people. Let’s look at this rationally. Let me tell you who’s in charge. It’s Stephen Moffat, the executive producer and show-runner of Doctor Who. By his side is his own Dr. Watson: Mark Gatiss, himself a writer on Doctor Who and co-creator of The League of Gentlemen (the British satirical comedy show, not the classic graphic novel – and certainly not the crass movie based on it). These men have what it takes to come up with the goods. And by the goods I mean intelligent writing, cleverly constructed characters, ingenious set-pieces, and the cojones to play around with conventions and well-loved literary creations.

All the necessary requirements for a Sherlock Holmes story are present and correct. There is a mystery to be solved, one that stumps the police. And they have no choice but to call on a consultant: Sherlock Holmes. He and Dr. Watson engage in a cat-and-mouse chase through the streets of London until finally the criminal is caught. Holmes uses his immeasurable intellect and knowledge of forensic science to work out the clues, flabbergasting both the police and his friend at every turn. He is a wunderkind, a sociopath with little time for trivialities, women or authority. He is exactly as Arthur Conan Doyle portrayed him. He is not the womanising swashbuckler Robert Downey, Jr. played (even though I did enjoy the movie), nor is he the man who is intolerably rude to Dr. Watson a-la Basil Rathbone.

Benedict Cumberbatch (now there’s a name that rolls of the tongue) is a revelation as Holmes. He plays him as a manic genius who doesn’t think twice about running off to follow a hunch without telling a soul. But he displays a quiet respect for Watson, played with masterful understatement by Martin Freeman, knowing all the time that even though he’s not the easiest man to get along with, Holmes needs a foil for this thoughts. Freeman’s Watson is no sidekick; he’s not quite Holmes’ equal, but his intelligence and admiration for his new friend become our eyes and ears into the detective’s world.

Mrs Hudson is here, too, as is Holmes’ place of residence: 221b Baker Street. It’s a nice flat; I’d live there myself if I could. Lestrade is around. So is Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother. And so is the spectre of the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty. We haven’t seen him yet, but he’s there, following Homes’ every move.

Where Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes brought modern policing techniques back in time to the 1970s and ’80s, Sherlock brings a man, very much ahead of his time in the late 19th century, forward in time to the 21st. It shouldn’t work – but it does. See it whenever you get the chance. If there’s any justice in the world you will spend 90 minutes exactly the way I spent mine: grinning like a fool.

If that doesn’t float your boat, there’s always Antiques Roadshow.