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Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous Musings’ Category

 

It’s almost unimaginable to me that seven years, nearly to the day, have passed since I started this blog. What began as writing practice morphed into a passion (some would say, an obsession) for British TV and pop culture. The unexpected bonus of interacting with fellow bloggers, telly addicts and Anglophiles has made this exercise an even more rewarding pleasure.

For those who have been around for awhile, you may have noticed that the blog has been quiet recently. For over three months to be exact! There are several reasons for this extended absence.

One is that I’ve been dedicating more time and energy to my freelancing for PBS affiliate WETA’s Telly Visions blog. Gotta pay those bills. I’m sure you understand. This is in addition to my part-time reference duties at a local library.

I also made choices during this period to allocate more of my attention to family commitments. The holidays, obviously, but my children are also in different places in their lives than when I started this endeavor. And so I’ve been making time to help plan a wedding and arrange visits with one who has flown rather far from the nest.

But the main explanation for my truancy has been a change in mission, I suppose. When I began this blog, my main purpose was to share things I had learned about the UK by watching their TV programs. I considered myself a cultural explorer; seeking out traditions, vocabulary, and regional attitudes of the British public based almost solely on how they portrayed themselves in the television medium.

The more I watched, the more I learned. But inevitably, unfamiliar experiences – be they slang words, public institutions or historical references – became fewer and farther between. Indeed, sometimes a tweets-worth of information was all I had to share about an episode of any given show.

At this point I struggled with how to proceed. I had never wanted this to be a conventional review site. There are plenty of places where you can go to read recaps or opinions about the popular series of the day. And there are loads of people who do it better anyway.

Rest assured, I never stopped watching British telly. I was just struggling with a new direction that would be unique for readers and would make me want to write again. As many of you out there can attest, there is nothing worse than feeling the pressure to turn something out while simultaneously lacking any enthusiasm for the process.

With that in mind, I have been mulling over this idea for some time now and it seems 2017 may be the time to implement it. I’m inviting my son Ross to join me in an experiment. We will watch an agreed upon TV series or film and then compare our impressions. Just a 50-something woman and a 20-something man who share some DNA, employment in the library field and a few character traits, but live in different states and have widely varied tastes otherwise.

me-and-ross

 

Our first joint venture will be a discussion of the 2004 costume drama North & South which stars Richard Armitage, Daniela Denby-Ashe and Brendan Coyle. Watch this space as we anticipate our inaugural post will be ready soon.

Thank you for your readership in the past and I hope you’ll join us as we undertake this new approach!

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Forget the Queen’s birthday. It’s National Tea Day, an occasion to celebrate a hot beverage that inspires very strong feelings across the United Kingdom!

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Twitter UK logo

Twitter UK logo

It’s been five years and a few months since I started my Twitter account.   A slow and frustrating process, I’ve learned by trial and error what and how to tweet. I like to think I’ve got a handle on this social media medium by now despite the fact I’ve only amassed 328 followers thus far. It’s definitely a two steps forward one step back sort of proposition.  I don’t know if being on Twitter has driven previously unreachable readers to my blogs, but I have found it to be rewarding as means of communication with all sorts of people.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to published authors about their books. I found @LissaKEvans to be particularly gracious and approachable.

I was sent movie stills for a library screening of Tell Them of Us (@ww1Film) though Twitter contact.

I have voted to rescue talented young people from being eliminated from TV singing competitions. (#VoiceSaveOwen)

Mostly I can discuss British telly and culture in instantaneous and verbally economical exchanges with a subset of people who know who and what I’m talking about. They’re my witty, supportive virtual friends and they include bloggers such as @FrivolousMonsta and @LukeCustardtv.

But if the fan girl in me is honest, I have to admit the possibility of celebrity contact is what brings me back to check my feed time and again. I follow mostly British comedians and other creative types because, above all, I want my Twitter life to be more sparkling and clever than my real one. While one can never be certain, it’s painfully obvious in some cases that the feed isn’t maintained by the actual celebrity. Some like the tweets of Noel Fielding (@noelfielding11) are obviously being generated by the man himself. Besides all the photos he’s sharing from his North American tour, who else would say something like this?

In a way, Twitter has become, for me, a sort of metaphysical autograph book if you will. What follows are examples of some of my close encounters with luminaries across the sea.

Chris O’Dowd aka @BigBoyler – Mr. O’Dowd follows me on Twitter which, in my universe anyhow, is a huge deal. I’m not sure how it happened, but my best explanation is that I was reading a tweet by Chris followed by the resulting replies when I came upon a spoiler for a movie O’Dowd was featured in called Calvary. I called the guy out for ruining the ending before people in the US had seen it and next thing I know, I get notified that Chris is following me! I like to think he liked my chutzpah, but he probably was trying to make up for the rogue tweeter’s faux pas. No matter, since then I’ve had no interactions with the lanky Irishman whatsoever, but at least he’s stayed around silently in the shadows, reading my tweets and smiling.

Chris O'Dowd twitter

 

Brenda Blethyn aka @BrendaBlethyn – More exciting than having this amazing actress follow me on Twitter (which she does) is the fact that I got to conduct a phone interview with her last year. When I tweeted about my experience, she kindly acknowledged our meeting. A classy lady and a judging by her tweets, an avid theater and arts supporter to boot.

Brenda Blethyn twitter

Count Arthur Strong aka @Arthur_Strong – I’ve had the great fortune to have several exchanges with Arthur (or the actor who created him, Steve Delaney). His tweets make and his sitcom make me laugh like nothing else. We’ve discussed trouser fires, show rankings and his  aversion to Game of Thrones. But my favorite was the very Arthurian answer he came up with below.

Count Arthur Strong twitter

Miranda Hart aka @mermhart- I never could have imagined I’d ever achieve Twitter communion with one of my British comedy idols, but it finally happened about a year ago. And just so you know, I kept my promise and went to see Spy in the theater. No lie, Miranda was in it quite a lot.

Miranda Hart twitter

 

Chetna Makan aka @chetnamakan- I have had likes and brief replies from several GBBO contestants including Richard Burr, Iain Watters and Luis Troyano. But I’ve found Chetna to be the most responsive of the former TV baking show contestants. She responds promptly and her appreciation of your interest and support feels so genuine.

Chetna Twitter

Reece Shearsmith aka @ReeceShearsmith- Now with Mr. Shearsmith I had to work a bit harder. I’d been tweeting complimentary remarks about his work in hopes of getting him to acknowledge my presence. Finally I pestered him for info about the upcoming series of Inside No. 9…and he took the bait!

Reece Shearsmith twitter

Others have retweeted and liked some of my input, most recently the two fine gentlemen you see pictured below. Each notification brings with it a little thrill that someone whose work I value has taken a moment to affirm my wish to connect with them.                                                        

Eddie Marsan @eddiemarsan

Eddie Marsan @eddiemarsan

     

Greg McHugh @gregjmchugh

 

In fact my very first celebrity “favorite” (now designated as “likes”) came from Russell Tovey aka @russelltovey. At that time I thanked him for his small but meaningful gesture which he then proceeded to “like” as well.

Russell Tovey twitter

 

I still have others in my sights including the aforementioned Noel Fielding, Richard Ayoade, David Mitchell and Sarah Millican to name a few. Just to clarify, I will not resort to the out and out plea for them to follow me because it’s my birthday or something. It’s annoying and requires no real thought. I will earn my tweets the hard way – with ingenuity, perseverance and maybe just a bit of old fashioned flattery. I can only imagine those hard earned tweets will be the sweetest of them all.

I’d really enjoy hearing who is in your Twitter “autograph book” or about your experiences in general. If you don’t follow me currently and would like to, you can remedy that by clicking the Follow button to your right under Telly Quotes and Other Tweetables!

 

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Vicar of Dibley's Geraldine and Jim  image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

Vicar of Dibley’s Geraldine and Jim
image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

The Christmas season which has been looming at the back of our consciousness for months is now suddenly and insistently in full swing. Christmas songs and adverts are in constant rotation, parties are underway and, while most of my halls are decked (thanks to my husband), we still have yet to finish trimming our tree.

For me the jarring effect of all things jolly and bright has somehow caught me off guard as it always seems to do each year. Therefore, I have concluded that the best way to join in with the spirit of the season is to immerse myself in the hilarious and often heartfelt genre of telly Christmas specials. As always my intention is to share as many as possible with you over the course of the next few weeks.

Let’s begin with an old favorite from 1986, Vicar of Dibley’s ‘The Christmas Lunch Incident.’

As the trailer explains, St. Barnabas’ beloved vicar Geraldine Granger (Dawn French) has been invited to share Christmas lunch at the homes of three different parishioners in very quick succession. After happily accepting the initial invitation from Frank (John Bluthal) and Jim (Trevor Peacock), Geraldine attempts to gently decline the others. However, soothing fragile egos and averting Alice’s threat of suicide end in the vicar agreeing to be the guest of honor at a trio of Christmas repasts.

Some highlights of this episode include:

After suffering a bit of writer’s block, it turns out that an off-the-wall gift of a Spice Girls biography, Zig-a-zig-ah, was the inspiration for Geraldine’s last ditch effort at her Christmas sermon. In her oration, she compared the girl group to Mary – virgins thrust into the public eye at a young age. And as Hugo noted, “Just like the Spice Girls, Jesus wants us to tell Him what we want!”

 

An already stuffed vicar engages in a sprout eating challenge with David (Gary Waldhorn). She does this in order to help Hugo (James Fleet) win this first ever bet against his overly competitive father.

sprouts

Settling a long standing Horton family sprout wager image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

 

Alice (Emma Chambers) dressed for Christmas dinner in a ballerina ensemble complete with fairy wings.

Christmas Fairy Alice image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

Christmas Fairy Alice
image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

 

Two guest appearances stand out; that of Peter Capaldi as Songs of Praise producer Tristan Campbell who shows up at the vicar’s door on Christmas evening with an unexpected proposal. Earlier in the episode, Jim tells a predictable Doctor Who knock- knock joke. Coincidence? I think no, no, no. not.

A possibly less obvious cameo was Mel Giedroyc (of GBBO fame) in one of her earliest TV appearances as Alice’s even battier sister, Mary Tinker. Both sisters have an obvious penchant for festive attire but Mary has apparently confused Christmas with Easter seeing as she chose to wear a bunny jumper to Christmas dinner.

The episode concludes with poor Rev. Granger gastrically uncomfortable and alone until all her village friends arrive at her doorstep to cheer and thank her for how her presence has improved Dibley for the good. Alas she must receive their compliments and thanks from the loo where she plans to be until the New Year.

My only disappointment? The episode didn’t end with Geraldine telling Alice a joke to which the dim verger never gets the punch line. I guess for this special the running Christmas cracker joke, “What do you do when you see a spaceman?” Answer: “Park your car, man” will have to do. I much prefer “How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizzas?” “Deep pan. crisp and even.” Bah-dum-bum-ching!

Next time we’ll explore the joy and stresses of Christmas with the Shipmans and the Wests of Gavin & Stacey. 

 

 

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Last Tango in Halifax cast series 3 image credit Red Production Co., BBC

Last Tango in Halifax cast series 3
image credit Red Production Co/BBC Photographer – Ben Blackall

Don’t let the happy family photo above fool you. Last Tango in Halifax: Series Three was laden with tragedy, family clashes and secrets kept hidden away for years.

As you may or may not know, I wrote recaps for all the episodes from the most recent series for a PBS affiliate. According to comments we received on social media and the website for the channel, series three was notably polarizing. Some viewers felt it was the best series yet specifically praising the performance of Sarah Lancashire who plays Caroline.

However, complaints were many and varied. Therefore, I wanted to look at why this latest series rubbed folks the wrong way. In a nutshell, some of the main criticisms and pet peeves people expressed were as follows…

Editing of the British version by (or for) PBS: Some who have seen both the UK and US broadcasts were not pleased about what the American edits left out. Sexually suggestive scenes and shots of texts and notes that might have contained profanity were the most common things cut from episodes. Was PBS trying to be more family friendly (Last Tango did air in the 8 pm ET time slot) or were episodes just being trimmed for time? I don’t have the answer to that question, but some felt the network should be more forthcoming about the fact the installments were edited for US television and why.

 

Caroline (SARAH LANCASHIRE), Kate (NINA SOSANYA) image credit Red Productions, BBC

Caroline (SARAH LANCASHIRE), Kate (NINA SOSANYA)
image credit Red Productions, BBC

Kate’s death – The mother-to-be’s demise eliminated two of the few diverse elements of the show. Kate was the only person of color who was a cast regular. It also ended the only same sex relationship of the series.

 

 

Celia Buttershaw (ANNE REID image credit Red Productions, Photographer: Rachel Joseph

Celia Buttershaw (ANNE REID)   image credit Red Productions, Photographer: Rachel Joseph

Celia emerging unscathed after her bad behavior: Whether she was making snide remarks about her daughter’s sexual orientation and life partner or behaving like a spoiled child when she found out her new husband had had a one night stand decades before he married her, the first half of the series was punctuated with Celia’s brooding and self-pity. After the sudden loss of Kate, Celia’s unkindness is forgiven which is understandable in the circumstances perhaps, but we don’t really see her grow from the experience. She continues to assert she is broadminded, an example to her family and “the bigger person” but we know that’s never going to be the case.

 

Alan (DEREK JACOBI), Gary (RUPERT GRAVES) image credit Red Production Co., BBC

Alan (DEREK JACOBI), Gary (RUPERT GRAVES)
image credit Red Production Co., BBC

Gary’s paranoia and insecurity got on a lot of people’s nerves: Alan’s new-found son Gary seems perfect at first – handsome, wealthy, successful. But the family is soon concerned with his fixation on them. Gary throws his money and influence around to impress and win them over and sulks when they politely reject his excessive overtures. He’s easily agitated when things don’t go his way and has the bad habit of pestering his new family until they surrender to his will. How else do you think he got so far in business?

 

 

GILLIAN (Nicola Walker) and JOHN (Tony Gardner) image credit Red Production Co., BBC

GILLIAN (Nicola Walker) and JOHN (Tony Gardner)
image credit Red Production Co., BBC

Gillian’s slutty ways: In the course of this series, Gillian slept with three men that I can recall and she was only engaged to one of them at the time. An abusive marriage has made her cautious but economic factors have made a new union a virtual life-line. Gillian’s  constant attempts to sabotage her own happiness as punishment for what she did to her first husband, however, were getting a bit stale by the end of the series.

 

Tipping over the edge from drama into melodrama: This sentiment was repeated again and again. Last Tango in Halifax used to be a good quality drama/romance about an adorable old couple who found one another after fifty years and now it’s become a soap opera.

As I wrote up my recaps for this series, I too felt some of the same frustrations.  My biggest complaint concerned what I felt was excessive repetition. Must we hear the same bit of news or gossip passed on from one character to another three or four times per episode? This is the way we pass information among our friends and family in real life, but it makes for boring television.

I think the problem many fans had with series three was actually the degree to which the characters’ behaved in realistic ways. People say petty, thoughtless things to one another. They can have racist or other prejudicial attitudes. They don’t think they are deserving of happiness so they do things to prove their unworthiness. In the middle of chaos and grief, people forgive their loved ones when in normal conditions they might hold a grudge much longer.

Show creator Sally Wainwright has given viewers a world that is simultaneously authentic in its human interactions, but rather extreme in the number of  tumultuous situations in which the characters find themselves. I surmise that the people who really enjoyed this past series prefer their characters flawed and their lives full of uncertainty. Those who don’t, probably gave up on the show already or will not tune in when it returns for series four next year. I’m still not sure which camp I’m in at the moment, but I know I wish these characters well no matter whether I decide to return to Halifax or not.

 

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Any Gary and Miranda kiss is heartwarming. image credit BBC

image credit BBC

The internet tells me it’s National Kissing Day. This senselessly manufactured day of swapping spit prompted me to devise a list of cheer worthy TV smooches. You know, the kind that take forever to actually happen and warm your heart when you finally witness them. For example, any kiss that ever transpired between the constantly on again off again Miranda and Gary.

 

So without further ado, here are a few more telly kisses you might remember fondly…

Caroline and Mac proposal kiss – Green Wing

 

 

2.  Mark and Sophie first kiss at a wake – Peep Show

 

 

3. Tim and Dawn Christmas party soulmate kiss – The Office

 

 

4. The Doctor and River Song first and last kiss – Doctor Who

 

Which kiss will you try out on your loved one today?

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Tonight Britain’s TV  industry will honor its own at the House of Fraser BAFTA Television Awards. Seeing as telly is my bag, I’ve decided to offer my picks on the categories – at least the ones where I’ve been able to watch the programs and have an opinion. My choices are based on my personal taste and not on who should or probably will win so don’t place any bets based on this post please!

So without further ado, the envelopes please!

Mini-Series

Cilla

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries

Our World War

Prey

I only had the opportunity to watch Cilla and Prey. I tried to find a way to see the Christopher Jeffries biopic, but to no avail so. I enjoyed learning about Cilla Black and if Aneurin Barnard had been nominated for supporting actor I probably would have given him the nod.

However, Prey stood out as a Fugitive-esque thriller about a policeman framed for the murder of this family and on the run while trying to prove his innocence. The twists were well-placed and the betrayal was surprising but not from out of nowhere. John Simm delivers as usual especially when playing the maligned man with a wrong to make right.

John Simm in Prey image credit Red Production Company, ITV

John Simm in Prey
image credit Red Production Company, ITV

 

Drama

Happy Valley

Line of Duty

The Missing

Peaky Blinders

I saw all four of these nominees and enjoyed each one except Peaky Blinders. They all deal with crime and they all had great writing. Happy Valley and The Missing had the most masterful performances. In the end, I chose The Missing because of its plot twists, back and forth storytelling and James Nesbitt’s portrayal of a guilt and grief-stricken father.

James Nesbitt in The Missing image credit New Pictures, Two Brothers Pictures, BBC

James Nesbitt in The Missing
image credit New Pictures, Two Brothers Pictures, BBC

 

Scripted Comedy

Detectorists

Harry and Paul’s Story of the Twos

Moone Boy

The Wrong Mans

I’m not even sure what H & P’s Story of Twos is, but I have seen the other three contenders. Being such a huge fan of Chris O’Dowd (I traveled to NYC to see him on Broadway last summer if you’ll recall) you might expect me to choose Moone Boy. But I had to follow my heart and go with the gentle, quirky comedy about two friends who happen to be metal detecting hobbyists. It’s hard to explain, but the characters and stories stuck with me long after the jokes faded.

Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones image credit Channel X and BBC

Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones
image credit Channel X and BBC

 

Female Performance in a Comedy

Olivia Colman -Rev.

Tamsin Greig – Episodes

Jessica Hynes – W1A

Catherine Tate – Catherine Tate’s Nan

All these ladies are talented comediennes, but I’m going to cast my vote for Olivia Colman every time, even if she was just doing a advert voiceover.

Olivia Colman in Rev. image credit Big Talk Productions, Ingenious, BBC

Olivia Colman in Rev.
image credit Big Talk Productions, Ingenious, BBC

 

Leading Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock

Toby Jones – Marvellous

James Nesbitt- The Missing

Jason Watkins – The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries

I respect and enjoy watching every one of these actors in whatever roles they undertake. It might be wishful thinking to believe Nesbitt could beat the red hot Cumberbatch, but Sherlock is no longer the new buzz worthy show so I’d like to think the luck of the Irish could be with him tonight.

James Nesbitt in The Missing  image credit New Pictures Ltd.

James Nesbitt in The Missing
image credit New Pictures Ltd.

 

Leading Actress

Georgina Campbell –Murdered by My Boyfriend

Keeley Hawes – Line of Duty

Sarah Lancashire – Happy Valley

Sheridan Smith – Cilla

Sarah wins this one hands down in my book. Lancashire’s Catherine Cawood was the heart and soul of Happy Valley and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to in the next series. There is going to a next series, right?

 

Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley image credit Red Production Co. and BBC

Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley
image credit Red Production Co. and BBC

 

Male  Performance in a Comedy

Matt Berry – Toast of London

Hugh Bonneville – W1A

Tom Hollander – Rev.

Brendan O’Carroll – Mrs. Brown’s Boys – Christmas Special

This one was a toss up between Bonneville and Hollander since I actively dislike Mrs. Brown’s Boys. And while Matt Berry makes me laugh, I prefer him as a supporting character. I leaned in favor of Bonneville because his Ian Fletcher who works at the BBC is even better than Ian Fletcher who worked on the Olympic Deliverance committee in Twenty Twelve.

Hugh Bonneville from W1A image credit BBC

Hugh Bonneville from W1A
image credit BBC

 

Supporting Actor 

Adeel Akhtar – Utopia

James Norton – Happy Valley

Stephen Rea – The Honourable Woman

Ken Stott –The Missing

Another tough category filled with some very convincing baddies, but Stephen Rea’s complex portrayal of a soon-to-retire MI-6 agent had nuance and sensitivity that the others lacked.

Stephen Rea from The Honourable Woman credit image Drama Republic

Stephen Rea from The Honourable Woman
credit image Drama Republic

 

Supporting Actress

Gemma Jones – Marvellous

 Vicky McClure -Line of Duty

Amanda Redman – Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This

Charlotte Spencer –Glue

On this one I wavered between Gemma Jones as a dying mother trying to ready her son to care for himself and Vicky McClure’s undercover cop on the corruption squad. In the end I went for McClure since Line of Duty is an ongoing series and Marvellous was limited to the length of a TV movie.

Vicky McClure from Line of Duty image credit BBC Drama and World Productions

Vicky McClure from Line of Duty
image credit BBC Drama and World Productions

 

Fellowship 

Just wanted the opportunity to say – “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

News presenter Jon Snow image credit Channel 4

News presenter Jon Snow
image credit Channel 4

 

Special Award 

Thanks to writer Jeff Pope for teaching me about serial murderers, train robbers, pop singers and just about any other British person of note through his compelling biopics. You make my British Celebrities I Still Don’t Know list much shorter.

Screenwriter Jeff Pope Image credit The Guardian

Screenwriter Jeff Pope
Image credit The Guardian

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