June, 2011

Television Bits and Pieces

Starting tonight, ITV1 is stripping its latest drama, Injustice, over five nights at 9pm. I still believe that this is a pretty stupid way of scheduling a drama, unless it’s so far superior to everything we usually see that it really is a special event. But that’s never the case, and although I’ve yet to see an episode, I find it hard to believe that it warrants this treatment.
The really daft thing is that it comes up against the second episode of Case Histories that BBC1 is broadcasting on Monday. This in itself is daft. I realise that the six part series is made up of three two-part episodes. But it means that the series will be burnt through in three weeks, leaving much less opportunity for viewers to discover it.
ITV1’s viewers will even have less chance to watch Injustice as it comes and goes from our screens in a single week rather than over five. As well as being up against Case Histories, it also competes with Game of Thrones and All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace on Monday. That means I have no chance to see it. And since ITV Player has yet to do a deal to appear on Sony TVs and BluRay players, I’m unlikely to see it via catch-up either (I can’t watch hour long dramas on a laptop screen).
Running it for five weeks on Tuesdays would have been more sensible. It avoids the watercooler TV that is The Apprentice on Wednesdays, the superb Shadow Line on Thursdays, and the various Friday comedies. Indeed Friday is a terrible day to present the denouement to a drama anyway. Light entertainment is the way to go on Fridays.
So a potentially decent drama series is pointlessly burnt off.
I’ve just been catching up with The Shadow Line, and it really is good. I was left a bit uncertain after the first episode, and just let my PVR capture the next episodes. But I’ve now sat down to get up to speed and it gets better and better. I can’t believe how good a cast they’ve got. Rafe Spall really does come across as a psychopath (I’ve been reading Jon Ronson’s new book), and Christopher Eccleston’s calm mannerisms are very believable. We’ve now come to a lovely turn from Antony Sher, while Stephen Rea’s be-hatted character is as sinister as they come. He’ll be the baddie in a big Hollywood film as a result of this, anyday now. But it’s Chiwetel Ejifor who’s the star, and deservedly so. There are two episodes left, and the questions are mounting up as the carefully constructed story unfolds.
If I have a criticism, it’s that there aren’t enough well developed females characters in the story. Kierston Wareing is terrific as Ejiofor’s tough number two, well able to take care of herself, and Lesley Sharp’s portrayal of Eccleston’s Alzheimer’s suffering wife is very moving. But neither are as central to the story as the male characters. It was great fun seeing Eve Best show up though, since her character, Dr O’Hara, in Nurse Jackie is wonderful.
Doctor Who left us with a mid-series break, and it was a non-stop affair this week as the Doctor and Rory attempted to rescue Amy and her baby. The big reveal was about who River (Alex Kingston) Song was. While I liked the episode, there was just too much packed into 45 minutes. Either the story needed to be pared down, or it needed a longer running time. As it was, we didn’t learn nearly enough about the eye-patch wearing Francis Barber (being a sort of Servalan for the 21st century), and we’ve yet to know what happened in the Utah desert at the start of this series. We now have to wait until September to get some answers. The headless monks will certainly have given a kids a few nightmares. Overall it wasn’t a vintage episode, an accolade that must fall on Neil Gaiman’s “The Doctor’s Wife” a couple of episodes ago. Suranne Jones’ performance in that was enough to make me tune into ITV1’s new Sunday night police drama Scott & Bailey in which she also stars, but it was a crushing disappointment.
I’m still not quite sure how it was that I caught it, but The Convenience Store on NHK World was a lovely little documentary charting four years in the life of a small village grocery store in rural Japan.
That may not sound like the most appealing programme description, but in fact it was a wonderful piece.
There’s a major issue in the Japanese countryside that sees ever more young folk head off to live in the big cities. As a result, the padi fields are overgrowing, and there are more and more dormant households. The rural villages are left with largely a pensioner population, and that means problems if you’re unable to get around and have no family living nearby to help you.
Miwako who ownes the Yabukoshi store is a miracle. She seems to be the de facto social services, as she runs her elderly customers to and from the shop, as well as dropping them off at clinics. Her shop becomes something of a social meeting place, with a number of chairs laid out for visitors for whom she (or another customer) make drinks. She knows that as the population falls, there’s a question mark over how long she can remain, but in the meantime, she’s the heart of the community. A fascinating piece that – with perhaps the replacement of treacly English language voiceover – could happily find a place in something like Storyville.

Senna

Last weekend I watched the Monaco Grand Prix. I wasn’t really planning to, and was going to go out, but I got caught up in it. Although I find the constant rule change over refueling or not refuelling tiresome, and the introduction of DRS seems like using some kind of turbo-boost in a video game, the grand prix was exciting. There was overtaking, and there were incidents, and while forcing everyone to use different types of tyres during the race feels pointless, I can’t deny that it leads to good racing.
But racing is never safe, and there was a heart-in-mouth moment during the qualification period when Sergio Perez had crashed. And the race saw another serious incident when Vitaly Petrov crashed towards the end of the race. F1 might well be much safer than it once was, but it can never be 100% safe, and the drivers know that.
Then, this week came the news that the previously postponed Bahrain Grand Prix was being returned to the F1 calendar with other grand prixs being shaken up to fit everything into an ever extending calendar (no doubt because F1’s growth in revenues is being driven by these new races and the fees they pay to hold them). This in a country which is still seeing significant unrest and laws in place to prevent the public showing dissent in their leadership. F1 has no time for the Arab Spring it seems. It’s more concerned about the oil dollars that ensure that the circus comes to their town.
Both of these things came strongly to mind when I watched Senna. The film is bookended by comments from Ayrton Senna interviews about karting being a purer form of motor sport, with money not really making a difference, and there being no politics.
As we all by now know, whether we care about such things or not, there’s more politics in the average governing body of a sport than you’ll find in the Houses of Parliament. And that’s certainly the case for F1, which this revealing film makes very clear.
Senna is a superb documentary that tracks the motor racing life of Ayrton Senna from an overview of his karting days through to his time as a Formula One driver.
The films uses a really interesting technique of using only contemporary footage. That means not only race footage, but various home movies, interviews and commentary pieces. There are a series of fresh interviews, but these are used over the top of the vintage pictures.
I’ve never been a Formula One fan. I may or may not watch races depending on where I am and what I’m doing. The Prost/Senna period was not really one I spent a great deal of time with, since it coincided with my university and early-post university years. While I was interested in whether Nigel Mansell or Damon Hill did well, they weren’t people I was especially fond of, lacking characters I could in any way empathise with. And that was true for Senna and Prost. In particular he always felt quite cold to me, even though, as this documentary makes clear, he was worshipped as a god in his home country of Brazil. What’s more he did have a good sense of humour and mischievousness, as is made clear by some of the interviews that makers of this film have dug out.
The remarkable thing about F1 as a sport (and I must admit that at times, I’ve considered it more of an engineering challenge than an actual sport), is that it has been covered by so many cameras in such incredible depth. That means that there’s a ridiculous amount of footage that the makers have been able to call upon. When the film reaches its denouement at San Marino, we get to see so many reaction shots and footage from places inside the teams, that a fiction director couldn’t actually have come up with any more angles if wanted them. It’s all there.
Overall, an excellent documentary and well worth seeing on the big screen, if for no other reason than watching a lap at Monte Carlo from the driver’s perspective is an awesome sight.
My only very small grouch is that Globo TV, the Brazilian TV network that provides a significant amount of footage from that country, seems to have insisted that everything its supplied to the makers is digitally watermarked with their logo (indeed the original DOG has often been blurred out and replaced with a new version). Pathetically unnecessary, and not something I want to see in documentaries in the future.