Last Night's TV: The Road to Coronation Street/BBC4
Alan Davies' Teenage Revolution/Channel 4
True Blood/Channel 4
Friday 17 September 2010
What's this? Coronation Street on the BBC? Apparently so: starring Jessie Wallace off of EastEnders no less. Is this, one wonders, the producers' latest attempt to beat ITV at its own game? After all, this is the Corporation that broadcast Strictly Come Dancing at the same time as The X Factor, an unmistakably aggressive move made in blatant opposition to the public interest (something which, on a Saturday night, is quite obviously only to be satisfied by the combination, not choice, of spangles and crushed dreams. Obviously!).
But no: there is not a trace of malice in The Road to Coronation Street, a disarmingly moving drama about Britain's longest-running soap opera. If anything, it rather over-romanticised things, to the extent that the Street's against-the-odds origins as the unfashionably banal brainchild of a young, would-be writer appeared less docudrama and more fairy tale.
Not that it matters. In return for the romanticism we got strong, if somewhat theatrical, performances, notably from David Dawson, who was unstintingly engaging as the determined young writer Tony Warren, and the perpetually lovely Celia Imrie. There were some genuine shiver-down-the-spine moments, too. Such as the point at which a Granada TV tea lady paused her work at the sight of Warren's pilot – which, at this stage, was destined straight for the scrapheap – plainly fascinated by the ordinariness of the on-screen world. "So-and-so's got those curtains," she remarked, cheering on Pat Phoenix with a fiery "You tell him, love!" It was this tea lady's intervention that got the programme made, in the end. Someone get her an OBE will they?
"Is it," pondered Alan Davies some 25 years ago, "possible to get off with someone at a women's radical-lesbian feminist peace camp?" The answer to that, I suspect, very much depends. If your name is Alan Davies and the object of your affection is one of the campers, probably not. Still, always worth a try, eh? Or perhaps not: brace yourselves, if you will, for what might just be the greatest university society ever to have existed in the history of the universe: SCUM aka the Society for Cutting Up Men. Could you think of anything more divine?
Anyway, Alan, as we learnt in Teenage Revolution, had plenty of other things to try in the Eighties: squatting, protesting, the Chicken's Liberation Movement. Regular, if not terribly successful, attempts were made to shut down his university by invading the registry office. This, said Alan, happened so frequently that a button had to be installed allowing officials to instigate a state of lockdown. Fortunately for them, the softly spoken students of Kent University usually picked weekends to invade – don't want to cause too much trouble, do you? – the result being, of course, that very little shutting down was needed.
Away from the cosy confines of the lecture halls, bigger changes were afoot. These were the days of the miner's strike, and Kent had its pits to worry about. Fortunately, Davies was on the side of the miners. Unfortunately, he chose to demonstrate this by peeing in the letter box of Thatcher House. He revisited it last night, offering his apologies to a very gracious Norman Tebbit. The meeting was not without friction. Thatcher's former right-hand man continued, doggedly, swinging that old chestnut: that miners didn't want benefits, they wanted strikes. It was weird, watching the two square up. Tebbit is charm personified, and yet there was so much anger between the two once.
True Blood has been the latest smash hit to come out of serial winners HBO. Fans wear the programme's maker as a badge of honour. It's HBO, we say, so it must be good. And, indeed, it is good. Very, very good and very, very addictive – but it's also incredibly trashy, flashy and sexy. This is from the network's Sex and the City/Entourage tradition – categorically not The Sopranos/The Wire school of production.
Last night was the first episode of the second series and – goodness – it couldn't have arrived a moment sooner. In the US, of course, they're way ahead, and Rolling Stone has done its bit to whet our appetite too, with that headline-garnering front cover of the show's stars. Not for them the high-end fashion of Vanity Fair's Mad Men cover. No, they wore precisely nothing. Except blood.
And so to last night, where we picked up exactly where we left off. Sookie and Tara, having recently stumbled upon a dead body in the local police chief's car, discovered that the deceased is, in fact Miss Jeanette, minus her heart. Miss Jeanette, for the uninitiated, was the conwoman exorcist who rid Tara's mother of her alcohol-loving demons last series. Anyway, she's dead now, though no one knows why. Also dead: Sookie's great-uncle Bartlett who was killed, it transpired, by Sookie's vampire boyfriend, Bill. Confused? That's only the start. Bill is babysitting Jessica, a strong-willed newly created vampire. Tara is living with Maryann, a sinister adopter of waifs and strays. Tara's camp, drug-dealing brother, meanwhile, is being held prisoner in an unmarked dungeon, while Sookie's brother is moving ever more into religious fanatasism. In short: it's one giant leap of fantasy (with added sexy bits to boot). Which, after all, is exactly what we wanted.
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