Last Night's TV - Coronation Street, ITV1; The 5 O'Clock Show with Peter Andre, Channel 4; Horrible Histories, CBBC
Street dreams are made of this
Wednesday 02 June 2010
It won't be long now, I guess, before we get the first
Coronation Street broadcast in 3D. Heavens knows what kind of mare's-nest of betrayal, threat and looming objects the scriptwriters will cook up to mark that occasion but I'm guessing it's going to be a biggie, since they'll surely feel obliged to top what they're doing this week to mark the soap's first high-definition transmissions. You and I might feel that a cliffhanger courtroom climax – the final verdict in Gail's murder trial – would be sufficient riches for such an occasion, but then that may be why we aren't Coronation Street scriptwriters. They understand that in these things more is more. To that end, they've been plotting a jailbreak to spring Tony Gordon (Villain of the Year at the 2009 British Soap Awards) for Siege Week – six programmes spread over five nights and culminating in the sort of special-effects extravaganza that might justify the price of an HD tuner.
I don't think they're going to be very happy about the new opening titles at the Manchester tourist office, since what the technology allows you to see with unprecedented clarity is puddles on the pavements and rain drops dangling limpidly from a post box. As for what follows, it's hard to feel that fine-grained visual spectacle has ever really been what Coronation Street is about. In the early days, after all, the nation was utterly gripped by transmissions so murky and indeterminate that they looked as if they'd been filmed at the bottom of the Manchester Ship Canal. What the drama has always done brilliantly well is what you might call low-def narrative – the lines so heavily incised that you can see them from the other side of a football pitch. Nuance is only an occasional visitor to Coronation Street, which doesn't mean that it can't be a lot of fun when it's got a gala event on.
Connoisseurs of the Villainous Face Wipe will certainly be enjoying themselves. If you're not familiar with this important soap trope it goes like this: bad lot adopts mask of cheery trustworthiness while lulling victim into a false sense of security; victim turns away blithely unaware of the danger; mask of cheery trustworthiness falls from villain's face like a plate of trifle sliding down a wall. Since Tony has sent his psychotic pal Robbie ahead of him as an advance party ("Two things fascinate me... Trains and guns"), James Fleet has already had several opportunities to deploy this trusty soap device. The week has also been a bit of a treat so far for lovers of those lines of dialogue that wink broadly at the viewer's knowledge of what's coming. On Monday evening, Sunita showed the way with: "Whatever happens today it can never be as disastrous as when we moved into Kevin and Sally's," uttered just before Tony Gordon inveigles his way into the house. Last night, Robbie took the trophy, turning at the last moment before he exited Dev's shop to ask: "Do you sell gaffer tape?" Gaffer tape! We know where that's going don't we, and sure enough before the episode is out Carla has been parcelled up and Robbie is off to collect Hayley for wrapping. And thanks to HD you can even see the texture on Carla's gag.
The 5 O'Clock Show with Peter Andre – which Channel 4 feels so good about it's actually broadcasting it twice a day – is startlingly bland. I know that daytime isn't the place for the gritty or the suggestive (though Paul O'Grady sometimes managed to pull it off, if you know what I mean). But even so this is as triumphantly textureless as sieved porridge. Andre is perfectly competent. He reads the autocue well and gets the right bounce into his voice when he introduces the Dagenham Girls Dance Troupe. But competence is all there is. His interview with Louis Walsh yesterday morning (the guest list brings to mind that vertiginous recursion you get when you stand between two mirrors) consisted of little more than reading names off a list. Simon Cowell? – "I love Simon, I love working with him". Cheryl Cole?– "She's great... she looks fantastic". Jedward? "They're the nicest kids in the world". There was a weirdly desultory feature on barbecuing, in which Peter showed you some food but not how to cook it and a feeble Generation Game section in which they played a messy party game, and not one moment at which anything surprised you. It's sponsored by Anglian Home Improvements, the most obvious one being to switch over and watch something else.
Like Horrible Histories, for example, a CBBC adaptation of the hugely successful Terry Deary books. These trade in what every schoolchild doesn't know but will do by the end of break the following day, since they're packed with the kind of historical fact that you want to pass on to others. For example, I hadn't known – and really felt I should have done – that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus expired after treating himself for dropsy by applying a full-body poultice of cow dung. As a grown-up you might quibble with the fact that they don't always distinguish between things that genuinely are true and the things that people would like to be (sadly, there's no hard evidence that Aeschylus was brained by a tortoise dropped by an overflying eagle). But grown-ups and children should enjoy the gleefully anachronistic way in which information is conveyed, such as the spoof advert for Evil Spirit Prevention Door Frame Tar. "It does exactly what what it says on the jar," promised the Geordie Athenian.
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