Posts Tagged ‘Channel 4’


Over the past few years The Big Fat Quiz has become customary holiday fare round my place, mainly because I force my loved ones to watch it with me. In fact, it’s very much like a family gathering if your relatives include an angry uncle who habitually rants about the state of the world and a constantly snacking, eccentric brother who wears flamboyant capes to Christmas dinner.

Certain aspects of this broadcast have become traditions in and of themselves.  For example, what could be cozier than Charles Dance seated next to a blazing fire reading from a reality star’s tell-all biography? Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow is always a festive addition when he delivers song lyrics as a news story and then dances like no one is watching…but we all are. And it isn’t The Big Fat Quiz until those adorable Mitchell Brook Primary School Players reenact an event of note from the year gone by.

This, of course, is coordinated by a man with all the dominance of an overwhelmed substitute teacher with a really implausible laugh.


But in the end it’s the the celebrity competitors who determine how entertaining a given quiz will turn out to be. Let’s look at how well our trio of teams performed.

The Tinsel Sisters (David Mitchell and Roisin Conaty)


Famed curmudgeon David Mitchell is the winning-est panelist in the history of the BFQ. He has made twelve appearances and won eight times (whereas chat show host Jonathan Ross needed sixteen tries to achieve the same number of victories). This year David was paired with a newcomer to the year-end quiz, creator and star of the very excellent sitcom GameFace, Roisin Conaty. In terms of an end result, this team worked well seeing as (SPOILERS!) they won the trophy with a total of 35 points. However, it was Mr. Mitchell who stood out in the comedy department with his diatribe about the substandard quality of a sign that was displayed behind Prime Minister Theresa May , a lesson about the specific vitamin deficiencies responsible for rickets and scurvy and finally, his insistence upon the importance of proper chronology and punctuation. It’s not that Ms. Conaty isn’t funny; their interactions just weren’t very dynamic.

Team Pain (Big Narstie and Katherine Ryan)

Now this was a more interesting pairing. If you aren’t familiar with either of these entertainers, Ms. Ryan is a Canadian comedian based in the UK and Mr. Narstie is an English grime MC? Yeah, I’m not sure what that is, but he turned out to be quite impish and entertaining. He had a problem with names, identifying most of the panelists by their CVs. Mitchell was continually referred to as Peep Show guy, Richard Ayoade as IT guy and rather insulting to Noel Fielding was that Narstie clocked him as Nigel Planer who played Neil the hippie from The Young Ones. Just a clarification to Mr. Fielding, Nigel’s age is 64, not 90 as you asserted. To Jimmy Carr’s chagrin, Mr. Narstie repeatedly made a heart shape with his hands and insisted on calling it the “Mo Farah sign” after the gesture made by the British distance runner to celebrate a win. The thing that worked well with this team was that Katherine acted as something of a cultural interpreter without being condescending. She was also very familiar with viral trends and other pop culture references which significantly contributed to their more than respectable second place finish of 33 points.

Cakes in the Maze (Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding)

This twosome are the most experienced of the BFQ teams on the program.  With twenty-four appearances between them, they have won twice as a team and three more quiz titles separately. Admittedly their win/loss ratio isn’t as impressive as David Mitchell’s,  but it’s not as if they aren’t as smart or culturally aware. David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade were students at Cambridge University together; Noel Fielding has a background in art, a wildly creative mind and a mildly concerning obsession with satsumas. These two are obviously invited to this gig to be, as Jimmy Carr has described them, toddlers at a wedding. Don’t let their contrasting sense of fashion – Gandalf and the Professor – fool you. These two are in cahoots to undermine authority and infuse the proceedings with a bit of whimsy. Whether it’s Noel luring us into a surreal world of sharks with no knees or Richard making an appeal for their responses based on sub-text , several facts are clear. Jimmy Carr loses control of the quiz from time to time and this duo are major instigators of all that lovely chaos. It matters not a jot that Cakes in the Maze came in third place with 19 points. The Big Fat Quiz is at it’s best when Ayoade and Fielding are on the same team.





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Think the only path to getting a TV show produced is by slaving over scripts and suffering through countless re-writes and rejections? Perhaps all you need is a really clever Twitter feed. Such was the case for tech magazine editor Rob Temple. Back around Christmastime 2012, he started a Twitter account by the handle @SoVeryBritish. He basically crafted humorous observations (in 140 characters or less) about the British population’s constant state of embarrassment and social awkwardness. This is one of his more recent gems.


Within six months, Temple had a lot of followers (the feed currently has 1.27 million) and a book deal. I received my copy of Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time as a Christmas gift two years ago.



Besides the obvious compilation of archived tweets organized into chapters such as “Rules of the Road” and “Public Speaking”, there are also longer sections. Historical and future British problems are included as well as a test you can take to see if you in fact “suffer from severe undiagnosed Britishness”. I took the online quiz and this was my result!

Well done! You are very British!

You should feel proud and then immediately feel ashamed of that pride. While you are not at ‘National Treasure’ levels yet, like Mary Berry or Sue Pollard, you will get there eventually unless some ungodly scandal is unearthed. But you do need to be careful. Keep those non-British characteristics under control. Whatever you do, don’t spend your time at a music festival having fun and listening to music, but instead frown at the poor queueing abilities of the people around you.


So after the success of a novelty book and an on-line clothing store where is there to go but turning it into a Channel 4 TV program?

You may be wondering how a book of tweets could be adapted for television. It’s rather clever actually. The always entertaining Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley to the Harry Potter generation) is our guide/narrator through the many twists and turns of VBP’s (as she calls them). In that now familiar talking head style, a host of British comedians and other celebrities including James Cordon, Ruth Jones and Stephen Mangan share examples of how they have grappled with the peculiar mannerisms of their homeland. For example:

Being genetically incapable of saying what we mean


Very British Problems is comprised of three episodes which touch on the following areas. The almost impossible task of talking or interacting with other people. Difficulties encountered when Brits find themselves out and about (at work, shopping or on holiday). And finally how our friends across the pond deal with all those uncomfortable feelings and emotions. The third installment is probably the one that rung most true for me especially when they started expounding on the agony of singing or dancing in public; a very real issue for me. Just that whole concept of joining in rubs me, and apparently the British as well, the wrong way. And don’t get me started on being instructed by friendly but insincere store clerks to “have a nice day.”


Viewers in the US can soon watch this amusing sociological study on Acorn TV. All three episodes begin streaming on Monday, March 28.   Whether it makes you shake your head in disbelief or nod in agreement and recognition, it’s an entertaining piece of self-deprecating British humor that had it’s beginnings in a social media phenomenon.

The only question I have is if Brits, as a nation, are all such rule followers, who are they tutting at, eh?

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Humans  image credit Kudos, Channel 4 and AMC

image credit Kudos, Channel 4 and AMC

My pick for the best thing I watched this week is a sci-fi series that is less about “robots” and more about the dilemmas and ethics concerning modern technology. You don’t have to be familiar with lots of science-y jargon to appreciate Humans, you just have to be one.

Based on a Swedish drama series, Humans is a British/American hybrid production though the American influence is virtually invisible. The story takes place exclusively in an alternative present-day London and the only American cast member is William Hurt. Also the lag time between broadcast in the UK on Channel 4  and the US on AMC was only two weeks which, fortunately for us impatient Yanks, is becoming a bit more commonplace.

Let me give you a very simplistic synopsis of the Humans plot. Technology has reached a level such that synths (short for synthetics) are routinely found in homes and businesses. They are considered time-saving devices and do all the menial tasks people don’t want to do any more. But synths are more than mere robots. They are made to look human and interact with people in human ways. On the other hand, they don’t eat or drink, they feel no pain and they have no emotions.

As you might imagine, some people get quite attached to their synths and treat them like family members or even the object of their desires. Others feel threatened by them and are alarmed at the intrusion they’ve become in their daily life. Smart phones, anyone? And finally there’s the government/police who are trying to track down a special group of four on-the-run synths and their human leader Leo (Colin Morgan).

The heart of the story is set around the Hawkins family. Husband and father of three, Joe Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill) needs help around the house while his wife, Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is away on business which is a quite frequent occurrence these days. He knows his Laura won’t be pleased, but he’s at this wit’s end.


Once home the new synth is christened Anita (Gemma Chan). Even though Laura strongly objects to their new live-in helper and the Hawkins’ teenage daughter Mattie (Lucy Carless) is suspicious, the rest of the family is over the moon to have Anita there.

Over time it becomes obvious Anita is more than your normal factory settings synth. This understanding leads to seismic attitude shifts particularly for Laura and Mattie as they take up the cause of Leo, Anita (whose real name is Mia)and the rest of their “family” – militant Niska (Emily Berrington), serious Fred (Sope Dirisu) and sweet Max (Ivanno Jeremiah).

Other characters of importance include Dr. George Millican (William Hurt), a retired artificial intelligence researcher who is in poor health and is having problems with his glitch ridden old synth, Odi (Will Tudor); DI Karen Voss (Ruth Bradley) who is a Special Technologies Task Force officer with a secret past; and Professor Hobb (Danny Webb), another AI researcher who is working with the government to find the mutant synths.


There’s a lot of detail I’m leaving out because the biggest strength of this show is its revelations. At the beginning we meet characters and witness events that aren’t clearly explained. But be patient because like a well-constructed mystery, as the series progresses we are provided with  puzzle pieces that when assembled spell out the bigger picture.

Also the performances, particularly those of the synths, are quite impressive. From posture and movements to steady and emotionless speech patterns, the actors must have had to undergo a sort of synth boot camp. Add the bright green contact lenses and you can readily believe these beings  are not fully human.

I’ve yet to see the final episode, but a second series has already been announced for next year. That tells me that besides tying up some loose ends, more questions than ever will be introduced. I, for one, will be right there whether there’s a robot uprising or if the synths have to go underground for their survival once more.


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Skins Controversy

Recently I mentioned that a number of British series had been Americanized and were premiering on US television in January.  One of those shows was Skins, a Channel 4 program given a makeover by MTV.  Well, if you haven’t heard, the Parent’s Television Council has stirred up quite a hornet’s nest by requesting a federal investigation calling Skins nothing less than child pornography.  This accusation has prompted advertising sponsor Taco Bell to withdraw it’s commercials from the show. But MTV is refusing to tone it down and can only be relishing the boost in ratings that comes with such attention.   If you search online, you will be bombarded with opinions from all sides of this matter.

Back in May, I wrote about teenagers and Skins was the inspiration behind that post.  https://britishtelly.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/kids-today/ It wasn’t my favorite show, but I gave it a chance and found merit in many of the characters and grew to care about them.  I hadn’t intended on watching the American version at all, especially since my viewing time is limited anyway.  But since this whole kerfuffle  has taken place, I took it upon myself to watch the MTV pilot episode online so that I could compare and knowledgeably comment.

The first episodes of both versions are quite identical in storyline, characters (the British gay character is traded out for an American lesbian) and sensibility.  But the British version is edgier – more profanity, more nudity, and more intense partying.  Maybe the American version would have hit me harder if I’d seen it first but it just seemed a little watered down to me.  Even the characters are less vibrant.  Tony (the leader of the pack, if you like) is far more charismatic and cruel in the UK version.  Cassie, the anorexic, free spirit in the original, has been reincarnated into a more subdued, less insightful Cadie.  To allow the show it’s full impact, it would probably be better suited to a channel like Showtime, not basic cable where swear words are beeped out.

These comparisons still aren’t fair because I haven’t watched any more of the MTV series to see how these characters will develop – and I probably won’t because I have other viewing priorities.  To be honest, I’m going to favor the British version anyway because it is British.  But I do think the parent’s group has overreacted.  I watched the show with the understanding that it’s an entertainment program portraying a heightened version of some teens’ experiences (most who happen to have very immature and dysfunctional parents by the way).  I’m not here to get into an argument about censorship or responsible parenting.  I searched for public reactions of a similar degree when the UK version premiered in 2007, but found very little – just objections to a promotional poster with the stars of the show posing on a bed half-dressed or less.

As I’ve observed before, it seems to come down to differences in opinions about sexuality and morality.  Most parents, no matter what country they’re from, want to see their teens behaving like they do on Skins.  But while denying that our children will grow up and do “grown-up” things may be comforting for awhile, it’s got to be unhealthy in the long run.

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