Review: My long day's night from Buck House to the dog track
Monarchy, BBC1; Heroes, BBC2; How London Was Built, The History Channel; Greyhound Racing Live, Sky Sports 3
Sunday 09 December 2007
No new drama series started last week. No soi-disant landmark art history show began; no brooding issues-based contemporary drama haemorrhaged viewers for two hours. In short, this barren soil between the end of prestigious autumn scheduling and the start of the Christmas jollies offered the TV critic nothing at all. So you know what? I might just drop the critical formalities this week, and write English as she is spoke about telly as she is watched. Or rather, half-watched, one-sixteenth watched, talked over or shouted at, because everyone knows it's only TV critics that watch with both eyes.
So, I'm trying to paint my nails while this lifestyle show is going on in the background. Some dude in an apron is giving tips for entertaining. Ice cubes should be perfectly square, he advises. A refreshing cocktail can be made from Dubonnet and gin. Serve the lamb as soon as the President of Ghana starts making his speech. What? Oh sorry, it's not a lifestyle show, it's Monarchy: the Royal Family At Work. I should have twigged when they said the ideal gift for a houseguest was the Order of the Garter.
Now a veteran sheep farmer is being invested with an MBE. He's pretty overawed. He gets to the crucial spot on the red carpet in front of the Queen, and then she starts gently chatting to him about sheep, and as he answers, his eyes fill with tears, and so do mine. Help!
Punching off the Sky Plus I hop over to the live feed: Heroes. You can practically hear the static crackle of fans over the country tuning in for the "series finale". Even with digital fragmentation, there's still a stadium feel about some shows. First, though there's a very short tie-in film by the BBC, in which a woman falls in slow motion and shatters like a china doll. Which isn't very pleasant. Is it designed by the acid casualty who made that BBC digital service trailer of giant flying heads, perchance? It also looks a bit shamingly homemade compared to Heroes' slick, semi-Sim City magnificence.
Apart from the man with the bristly potato head, Heroes even looks good upside down. This I decide as, surprising myself with my cat-like grace, I manage to retrieve my remote control from under the sofa AND keep my eyes on the screen.
Later, fetching the ice pack for my neck, I realise what a lot of cliche they talk on Heroes. "He's gonna destroy the whole city... unless we stop him." If you look away it sounds like cheesy comic book captions passing for dialogue. Which is probably the point. I also hear the English accent and realise the sprouting potato head was Malcolm McDowell. He looked better upside down.
Heroes had some good twists. Some falsely interpreted prophecy, as in Macbeth. The evil Syler thought he had defied destiny when he killed a sword-wielding Japanese man. He didn't realise there was another one waiting for him out on the sidewalk. It was, like, a totally Dunsinane moment. Next that nice Officer Parkman died (presumably he had a movie obligation that clashed with the next series) and as the whole sprawling cat's cradle of stories came together into one carefully choreographed denouement, the chthonic hum of the soundtrack started to bear an uncanny resemblance to my ringtone. "Darling I want to talk to you about Christopher Biggins," said my mother, as the epic series played out its very last, delicate, dramatic coup de theâtre. "It's a bit of a watershed for gay couples, don't you think, having his partner greeting him so happily and unselfconsciously as he won I'm a Celebrity...? I mean, 10 years ago..." The credits rolled on Heroes. I never cared for it much anyway. Its voiceovers were hammy and heartfelt and there was an American imperial feel (it made "New York" linguistically interchangeable with "the entire world"). And the BBC3 Heroes Special failed to make much of a case for it, wheeling out tributes from respected public figures such as, erm, Debbie Chazen from TittyBangBang.
By which time at night I had Fernsehenzeitschmerz, my invented term for the enervated, fretful condition in which you no longer want to be watching TV but find yourself unable to stop. I put on How London Was Built, and learnt that the phrase "at sixes and sevens" derives from a livery company wrangle between the Merchant Taylors and the Skinners, who ranked 6th and 7th every year alternately, a fact I enjoyed and then immediately forgot. Unforgettable, however, was Adam Hart Davis's costume: yellow kaftan top over schoolboy shorts and, no they can't be, rewind; yes they are - odd socks. Only someone as serious as him could get away with dressing like a jester.
This weekend's big boxing match lured me on to Sky Sports. The fight itself took place after this went to press, sadly, but there was a hype-building preview in the form of Hatton V Mayweather 24/7. By 24/7, they mean 24/7. Switch on and Mayweather is perpetually skipping, Hatton eternally waxing lyrical about his tough Mam. "I love her more than anyone in the universe, but she's an animal." Then he goes back to the gym. But even with TV cameras so closely trained on the fight, you still feel the lack of Norman Mailer with a notebook.
I should have gone to bed, but instead I went to the dogs. Which Sky Plus night wanderer can resist Greyhound Racing Live on Sky Sports 3? Plenty of tips ("Hot Dogs") and quaintly prim commentary ("if that happened it would be someone-we-can't-mention's Law"). The stars, of course, were the dogs, poised and panting, tongues blue with exertion. Remind me, did I say that last week there was nothing to watch?
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