Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Wiltshire, 1860. A toddler is found brutally murdered near the elegant house of the respectable Kent family. The case becomes the subject of a frantic national interest and the Home Secretary requires the newly formed Scotland Yard Detective Branch to send its best sleuth. The commissioner chooses Inspector Jonathan "Jack" Whisher.

« Master Saville has been taken. »

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a two-hour one off crime drama adapted from the best-seller written by Kate Summerscale about the Road Hill House murder (the book won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction). Paddy Considine (Red Riding, The Bourne Ultimatum, Hot Fuzz) stars as real-life character Jonathan Whicher, Britain's top investigator of his time and inspirator of many Victorian literary detectives.

The humble looking working-class inspector takes his toughest case yet, with the murder of the three-year old Saville Kent. Investigating the darkest secrets hidden behind the apparent respectability of the Kent family, Whicher is confronted to the scrutiny of newspapers, prejudices, and the hostility of the local police (« Of course this is not London, this in an English village. A world apart ».) Not only his reputation is at stake but the one of the Detective Branch too. His hierarchy, the judicial system and public opinion want a culprit as quickly as possible.

ITV revisited with absolute brilliance its Brideshead days with Downton Abbey. Now The Suspicions of Mr Whicher follows the glorious footsteps of the great Thames Television or Granada period detectives, with the modern resonance of a solid story served by a fine cast alongside the excellent Paddy Considine: Peter Capaldi, Alexandra Roach, Charlie Hiett, Emma Fielding, William Beck, Tom Georgeson, Tim Pigott-Smith, etc.

The production values are superb, the music of Rob Lane is beautiful and of the level of Barrington Pheloung's work on Morse and Lewis. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is adapted by Neil McKay (Mo, See No Evil: The Moors Murders) and directed by James Hawes (DCI Banks: Aftermath, Doctor Who). It is exec produced by Mark Redhead, produced by Nigel Marchant, and made by Hat Trick Productions Ltd for ITV. BBC Worldwide is the international distributor.

Nearly 6 million viewers (1) welcomed Mr Whicher. Well, it's time for him to be more suspicious.

(1) http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/news/a316425/mr-whicher-drama-enchants-nearly-6m.html


Monday, 25 April 2011


Doctor Who - The Impossible Astronaut (Series Six, Episode One). Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) are right in the middle of the Utah desert, summoned by the Doctor (Matt Smith) and joined by archeologist Dr. River Song (Alex Kingston).

Something comes out of the water with a tragic consequence. An old man, the president of the United States, and some events in 1969 could be part of the explanation - if not of the solution - to what happened.

When Doctor Who supremo Steven Moffat promised us "the scariest opener to any Doctor Who series yet" during the promotion of the upcoming sixth series (1), he surely didn't mean to include what would occur BEFORE the airing of the premiere. Not only BBC One programmed The Impossible Astronaut at 6pm versus a bunch of CGI dinosaurs and Stephen Fry on ITV1, but the return of the Doctor was preceded by the terribly awful game Don't scare the Hare and followed by the struggling So You Think You Can Dance.

« I'd like to meet you in a timeless, placeless place
Somewhere out of context and beyond all consequences. »
Suzanne Vega, Language

The episode is written by Moffat himself and directed by Toby Haynes. It opens with the Doctor trying to be "deliberately ridiculous" (as Amy points out to her husband) and, in some respects, succeeding. Then River Song escapes again from Stalag 13, going to "some planet called America" as explains a thinner version of Sergeant Schultz. Because The Impossible Astronaut is the first half of the two-part event series opener marking the first time Doctor Who is filmed stateside, thanks to BBC America (2).

Past the superb cinematic arrival of "Mr and Mrs Pond" in a yellow school bus, the pre-credits sequence goes on with a string of nods to the TCM Hollywood delivered with the joy of Prince Akeem of Zamunda arriving in Queens. "Stetsons are cool" and River does her Calamity Jane or something. The BBC logo appears under the title, our friends are having a picnic, something (someone?) wicked this way comes and the Kenny of the week dies. With Steven Moffat following the tradition launched by RTD of reducing one of the most important elements of the Doctor Who myth to a plot device.

« You were my second choice for this, Mr. Delaware.
That's okay. You were my second choice for president. Mr. Nixon. »

But you can't kill Kenny, can't you? "Time isn't a straight line, it's all bumpy wumpy." The time is 1969 and President Richard M. Nixon needs the help of FBI outsider Canton Everett Delaware III. Nixon is played, with the heavy assistance of prosthetics, by Stuart Milligan, and - in a nice casting choice - Canton III is played by both Mark Sheppard (Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, etc...) and Sheppard's father, the legendary William Morgan Sheppard. Sheppard Jnr is simply brilliant (« If he doesn't I'll shoot him myself. ») but Milligan's expressions look frozen by his Tricky Dicky mask. Michael Sheen will arrive later in the series, he can't impersonate them all.

The Prez and the ex G-Man are interrupted by the Doctor, undeliberately and clouseauesquely ridiculous, and Amy is escorted to the rest room by Don Draper's older brother. There she meets the big baddie, Roger from American Dad in a Men In Black suit (« Is that a Star Trek mask? ») There's a actually whole family of not so jolly Rogers and Mrs Pond does a really bad bad thing. Or does she? Avoid the Next Time trailer if you can... Oops, too late!

« And we walked off to look for America » (Simon and Garfunkel, America)

The Impossible Astronaut is impaired by the two-parter format and has too much exposition. Steven Moffat writes classic lines («These are my top operatives: the legs, the nose and Mrs Robinson. ») and great scenes (the standoff with the White House security service) but tends to recycle his tricks of the trade when it comes to fear.

The editing of some TARDIS scenes with certain US sequences looks like they artificially fit with each other (see the introduction of younger Canton III and the slapstick Doctor in the Oval Office). Like if a too rich material was "squeezed" into 45 minutes. Also what a pity they didn't use the clever White House internet "prequel" for the pre-credits sequence (« There are no monsters in the Oval Office. ») And we'll see to what extent the "creative" split of this year's episodes in two blocks will affect the narrative.

The episode was dedicated to Elisabeth Sladen, who recently died. The beloved Elisabeth Sladen was of course Sarah Jane Smith, popular companion of two Doctors in the classic Doctor Who. She appeared in the David Tennant episode School reunion of the 2005 version, and two years later she got her own series with The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Sooner in the year, the Doctor Who family lost Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart). Both him and Elisabeth Sladen are missed.

P.S. CGI dinosaurs and Stephen Fry: 1.18m viewers (7.9%). Doctor Who: 6.52m (36.7%). Nuff said. See: http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/s7/doctor-who/news/a316157/new-doctor-who-kicks-off-with-65m.html

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2011/apr/05/doctor-who-new-series
(2) http://blogs.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2010/10/10/its-official-doctor-who-to-film-in-the-us-for-the-first-time/






Sunday, 17 April 2011


Britain's Got Talent returned yesterday night on ITV1. Simon Cowell's talent show, now in its fifth series, came back with the same old, same old wacky, pathetic or brilliant material, hosts Ant & Dec, but a two-third renewed judging panel.

Gone is Piers Morgan, due to US commitments, and BGT supremo Cowell will judge the live shows only. Enter comedian Michael McIntyre and former America's Got Talent Judge David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff comes to old Europe (where he's revered as a living legend) for another jury duty. Amanda Holden is back but a contestant may have involuntarily given Simon Cowell an idea when she mistook Holden for... Joanna Lumley.

The Hoff himself got his share of confusion with the number of a woman named Christine Fraser (« I'm from America and I don't get it ») and a man proved that not every citizen from Liverpool can sing The Beatles. In Birmingham Michael McIntyre met one of his future colleagues, 9-year old stand-up comedian David Knight. A guy named Gold didn't shine (sorry, couldn't help) and there was of course the usual amount of dance groups and also some animals, real or not: two dogs lead by Donelda Guy, 66, impressed the judges and a financial analyst named Blair Christie doing a dolphin inspired McIntyre one of his best lines of the evening (« We can now see why this country is in financial ruin. »)

The mandatory Susan Boyle moment, available in every local edition of both Simon Cowell's juggernaut franchises, Got Talent and The X Factor, was provided by Michael Collings, 19, and his cover of Tracy Chapman's Fast car. The young man looks talented, let's hope he'll deliver as good if better when he'll come back. Same old, same old... The good, the (very) bad, the ugly and a cute moment too, with husband and wife duo Gay & Alan Cooper performing My heart will go on with handbells.

Yesterday night's show had everything, Michael McIntyre was perfect, David Hasselhoff stayed faithful to his myth and viewers didn't miss Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell at all. Cowell will apparently quit the British X Factor for the upcoming US version (1) but ITV should not worry though. 10.4m viewers watched this series premiere (2).

(1) http://www.deadline.com/2011/04/report-cowell-quits-uk-%E2%80%98x-factor%E2%80%99/
(2) http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/s107/britains-got-talent/news/a314992/revamped-britains-got-talent-dazzles-104m.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t41vkwIOxIw (Michael Collings)

Monday, 11 April 2011


Little Howard’s Big Question is a BBC educational and entertaining programme aimed at children (but enjoyable to adults), where an animated six-year old boy and his human housemate answer questions about the world around them.

The character of Little Howard was initially created by British comedian and animator Howard Read for his stage show The Big Howard and Little Howard Show (2003), in which Read teamed up with a six-year old animated sidekick thanks to a laptop or a projection screen. Little Howard interacted with Big Howard, the audience, or with other animated characters.

The most recent Howard Read and Little Howard show, Little Howard And The Magic Pencil Of Life And Death, starts its final tour this month. Little Howard's Big Question began in 2009 on BBC One/CBBC and the third series will start on May 18 on BBC One. Meanwhile, it seems that Little Howard plans to get the upcoming Royal Wedding cancelled so Kate Middleton can go out with him instead (!)

To convince her, he sings Wait, Kate! It's Not Too Late! in a single whose video was officially launched today on ITV1's This Morning.


See also:



Launched mid-March in France on France 3, Inspector George Gently was axed last week by the pubcaster and replaced yesterday by a rerun of... Midsomer Murders.

« ... a person from France 3 who looks at your show, your show reel, and go: [French accent] Oh no, we do not like zis. It is... too brutal. Do you do the Midsomer Murders? » (Robson Green about selling Wire in the Blood internationally)

France 3 started to air the BBC hit series Inspector George Gently on March 13, versus a triple crossover of the CSI franchise on TF1, and Michael Bay's Rock on pubcaster France 2. The result was a sour rating sunday evening for the detective drama starring Martin Shaw, fourth with 2.462.000 viewers (9.1%). And 1.992.000 viewers and a 7,4% share on April 3 sealed the fate of Gently, with the public broadcaster calling to the rescue its British detective sunday star: DCI Tom Barnaby of Midsomer Murders.

No matter the first Inspecteur Barnaby retired on France 3 in February, and no matter the echo given in France to the "race row" initiated by the controversial words of producer Brian True-May (1), the channel's acquisition of Inspector George Gently was actually part of a wider deal with its distributor All3Media. In January the French broadcaster not only acquired Gently but also series 14 of Midsomer, from All3 too, and re-licensed more than 50 hours of earlier series of the global hit drama starring John Nettles and now Neil Dudgeon (2).

Interestingly, A touch of Frost was no more lucky than Inspector George Gently for France 3's sunday evenings in 2010 and the broadcaster's tentative return of Taggart in 2003, after years of absence in France, couldn't match Tom Barnaby's popularity here. Yesterday's Midsomer Murders rerun caught 2.558.000 viewers (9.9%).

(1) http://fr.tv.yahoo.com/blog/series/article/3053/du-rififi-chez-barnaby.html (In French)
(2) http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/news/international/europe/all3-sells-drama-to-french-and-iranian-broadcasters/5022286.article

Rating details:

http://www.ozap.com/actu/audiences-experts-top-france-3-faible-cross-over/404080 (In French)
http://www.ozap.com/actu/audiences-3-2011-experts-faubourg-36-gently-capital/408946 (In French)
http://www.ozap.com/actu/audiences-experts-jacques-mecque-zone-interdite-barnaby/410700 (In French)