Friday, 30 December 2011


In Berlin, a team of con artists helps a group of pensioners to get their money back and targets a ruthless mob boss.

In november, French private channel TF1 aired Con Me If You Can! (international title of Ni vu, ni connu). A terrible 90-minute comedy blatantly "inspired" by Hustle and Leverage. But three years ago, German private Channel RTL ordered a 45-minute pilot called Die Trickser, about a team of top notch grifters fighting for justice with sophisticated plans and tricks of the art. Produced by Endemol, it was written by Timo Berndt (Wilde Engel, Der Clown) and directed by Oliver Schmitz (Doctor's Diary). Die Trickser starred world class German actor Reiner Schöne (his impressive resume includes Knots Landing and Babylon 5) as Alouis, the team leader. It also starred Anja Nejarri, Mirko Lang (Post Mortem) and Gregor Törzs.

RTL didn't greenlight a series but commissioned a 90-minute second pilot, produced by Wiedemann & Berg Television, the joint venture between Endemol and producers Quirin Berg and Max Wiedemann. Written by Ulf Tschauder (GSG9) and Christoph Darnstädt (Das Experiment), and directed by Dennis Satin, Die Trixxer - note the two Xs - aired yesterday night on RTL. Reiner Schöne is back as Alouis with the other original cast members. Anja Nejarri is his daughter Maya (a former cop), Gregor Törz is Sebastian - owner of a café in Berlin which is the team's HQ, and Mirko Lang is ambitious newcomer Len. Markus Boysen, as arms dealer Brahms , and Anna Julia Kapfelsperger, as his scatterbrain daughter Buschi, are amongst the guest stars.

90 minutes is 45 too many for the uninspired result. Two Xs in the title don't save Die Trixxer from its lack of charm, rythm and characterization, in spite of the always valuable presence of Reiner Schöne. And the situations are inevitably deprived of originality. The redeeming quality of this second pilot is that it doesn't use excessively the visual and music codes of its illustrious predecessors, unlike Con Me If you Can! Though we're not spared a Mission: Impossible peel off. Holger Handtke is excellent as Brahms's henchman Melström, and Susanne Szell (Verliebt in Berlin) plays a LKA officer.

Ratings were not satisfying enough for RTL to order a series. F
rom what we know Mickey Stone sleeps well. He even returns very soon on BBC One for the highly awaited final series of Hustle.

In German:

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


It's the end of the year and Brit telly gave us some magnicent things for this Christmas holiday, like The Gruffalo's Child and The Borrowers (definitely our favourite of the winter season). But also some good ones, like the Downton Abbey special, and unfortunately some terrible: The Royal Bodyguard and the pathetic new Absolutely Fabulous.

The jury is still out on Great Expectations and now you know our opinion about The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe.

2011 was a complicated year for this little blog and your humble servant, and this december fares no better. But you're always there with your constant interest, your enduring fidelity, your support and your trust. Allow me to thank you and to wish you in advance all the best for 2012.

P.S. Yes, it's me and one of my review subjects. Why?

Monday, 26 December 2011


Doctor Who - The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. Yesterday BBC One aired a delightful and funny piece of mystery and suspense taking place in a snowy forest. The Gruffalo's Child was magnificent, a superb appetizer before the eagerly expected television event of this 2011 Christmas holiday: the Downton Abbey special on ITV1. In-between the Beeb aired Doctor Who.

Doctor Who is all angst for its loyal fans these days: changes in the production team, interrogation about the schedule of Series 7 and its number of episodes, what looks like communication mishaps around rumours of a movie project, etc. This after the totally unsatisfactory sixth series, with its budget arbitration and blatant writing issues. As the celebration of our favourite time lord's 50th birthday comes closer, Doctor Who Confidential has been axed, Torchwood will be remembered as a global laughing stock, and we miss the wonderful Elisabeth Sladen.

In The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, the Doctor (Matt Smith) escapes from a spaceship before its destruction, falls into space and must catch a space suit before reaching the Earth. He "gets dressed in a hurry" and crashes in 1938's England, where he's rescued by Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner). Three years later, during World War II, Madge's husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) is presumed killed while flying his bomber home. She won't tell the news to her children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole), until after Christmas, which they must all spend at their uncle Digby's house. The house has a new caretaker, the Doctor, who always pays his debts.

Sold as the "most Christmassy Christmas special ever", 2010's A Christmas Carol was in reality just plain bad: Dickens goes Top of the Pops, with Michael Gambon as Scrooge, Katherine Jenkins as herself, and Bruce from Jaws. This time, Who supremo Steven Moffat goes into C.S. Lewis's territory with a nod to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And past the shaky and gratuitous pre-credit sequence, and the irritating scenes with Matt Smith as Willy Wonka in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, viewers can embark on a story surprisingly more faithful to the spirit of Christmas than last year's mess.

Of course most of the light of this episode seems provided by candles - like in many BBC contemporary dramas - and some sfx range from clumsy to near embarassing, but
The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe succeeds in delivering an average hour of family entertainment. Which is even more than what you can say of the majority of Series 6, especially after the disastrous The Wedding of River Song. Besides, unlike the previous series, the special does a proper use of its guest talents - particularly the great Bill Bailey. The Harvest Rangers of Androzani Major (hello, reference alert!) are a pure comedic treat.

Innocuous, this 2011 Christmas "special" brings nothing to the mythology but at least doesn't scorn it. A solace in these uncertain times. Oh, could have done without the Ponds.

Directed by Farren Blackburn.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Launched in september 2010, ITV1's ratings juggernaut Downton Abbey arrived yesterday night in France on TMC, the DTT channel which aired the recent Agatha Christie's Poirot TV movies.

Series one of Downton Abbey, the lavish period drama penned by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), started yesterday in France on digital terrestrial channel TMC - owned by private channel TF1. One month after the second series finished its run on ITV1 with more than 10 million viewers (1). When the news that TF1 acquired Downton went public it actually raised a certain amount of perplexity, as the big budget and multi-awarded costume drama from Carnival Films (which is owned by NBC Universal) doesn't fit the channel's drama line-up. But TF1 owns DTT channels TMC and NT1, and TMC aired the latest Agatha Christie's Poirot in prime time this autumn.

French viewers love British detective stories and the Belgian detective sleuth gets more than decent ratings, even in repeats. Last summer TMC re-ran Poirot on afternoons with an average of 400.000 to 500.000 viewers... while pubcaster France 2 re-aired different episodes simultaneously with the same numbers! DTT saturday nights are usually ruled by The Simpsons, whose reruns are regularly followed by more than a million viewers. Last september TMC aired The Clocks, a 2009 Poirot, on a saturday night and won a #4 with 1.295.000 viewers (6.2%). Last week, Murder on the Orient Express caught 1.035.000 viewers (4.2%). The episode was immediately followed by a promo for Downton Abbey.

Both Agatha Christie's Poirot and Downton are period dramas, both are Brit and Carnival Films even produced Poirot for a while. TMC announced the arrival of Downton last september and waited the pre-Christmas holiday season to air it as a television event, but with a twist: the first four episodes yesterday night (from 8.45 pm to past midnight) (2) and the remaining three next week. In France, there's only one programme per prime time and dramas are frequently aired with two or three episodes a week - the third one being generally a rerun. Poirot is feature-length and a repeat is aired back-to-back with brand new episodes. Whereas the first series of Downton Abbey has a 1 x 65-minute premiere and 6 episodes around 48 minutes each, less advert time, but four episodes the same night is no less than force-feeding.

At least TMC wisely made it available in "multilingual" mode (French + original dialogues), which was deeply appreciated for some good reasons. 878.000 viewers (3.7%) watched Downton's first episode - Poirot's Hallowe'en Party captured 950.000 viewers (4.1%) on november 26 - while the three others were followed by 700.000 (4.9%).

(2) They were repeated this afternoon.

All ratings from except (In French)

Monday, 5 December 2011


This is a very good news for fans of the long-running German crime drama Wolffs Revier: Berlin cop Hauptkommissar Andreas Wolff will be back next month in a TV movie.

Wolffs Revier ran from 1992 to 2005 on German private channel Sat.1 and concluded with a 90-minute special, Wolffs Revier: Angst, in May 2006. Created by the great scriptwriter Karl Heinz Willschrei (Tatort, Der Alte, Ein Fall für Zweï), it starred Jürgen Heinrich as Wolff. Klaus Pönitz was his partner Günther Sawatzki, later replaced by Steven Merting as Tom Borkmann. And Nadine Seiffert was Wolff's daughter Verena. The theme intro was composed by the legendary film and television composer Klaus Doldinger.

Left dead in Angst six years ago, Hauptkommisar Wolff comes back in Wolff - Kampf im Revier, which will be aired by Sat.1 on January 17, 2012. He was only heavily injured but struggles to cope with his everyday life and his job, and is addicted to drugs. Stephan Luca is Kommissar Marck and Nadeshda Brennicke is Marck's partner Vicki. Nadine Seiffert is back as Verena Wolff. (In German) (In German)

Saturday, 3 December 2011


In spite of the spectacular flop of its last attempt three years ago, French private channel TF1 still wants its feuilleton quotidien. But for now only pubcaster France 3 knows how to turn lead into gold with Plus belle la vie, launched in 2004.

Laurent Storch, chairman of TF1 Production - also in charge of TF1 Films Production, as well as drama and youth programmes for TF1, has announced the filming of two pilots for a possible feuilleton français quotidien (a daily French serial). This one should be "comedic and societal" and aired in what is called in France "access prime time" (1). The genre is generally synonym of daily soap but while soap operas are culturally despised in France, le "feuilleton quotidien" remains one of the French television's wildest dreams. Why? Because of Plus belle la vie (dubbed PBLV), the local equivalent of Corrie or EastEnders.

Launched in 2004 by France 3 at the most strategic 8.20pm slot, right versus these institutions that are the 8pm news sessions of TF1 and France 2, PBLV began with lacklustre ratings. Nevertheless, France 3 believed in its investment and after hard retooling the feuilleton became one of the most watched programmes of the country, and raised appetites. Then TF1 bought Sat.1’s Verliebt in Berlin (2005-2007), the German adaptation of Columbian global phenom format Yo soy Betty la fea. And France made a triumph to the romance between Lisa Plenske and David Seidel, which became the N°1 guilty pleasure of 2007.

Public channel France 2 and TF1’s rival M6 tried to launch their own daily soaps in 2008. But Cinq soeurs and Pas de secrets entre nous, from the same production company (Marathon, producer of St Tropez), failed to attract viewers. TF1 answered with one of the most ambitious gambles of the history of French television, Seconde chance: 2700 m2 of sets at the Bry sur Marne studio facilities with 450 professionals rotating on this one site (150 alternating on the sets), 15 writers working there for a 22 minute format shot in HD, a title song performed by a former candidate of the Gallic Fame Academy, a viral marketing campaign, catchy promos and a 28 million euro budget.

TF1 cautiously tested 10 episodes with panels before ordering 180 episodes to Alma Productions, their subsidiary then behind crime drama RIS (adapted from an Italian format) and the French Law & Order Criminal Intent but also L’Hôpital, so bad it won a Gérard (the French Razzies). Seconde chance started in september 2008 and six months later ratings still didn't meet the expectations raised by costs and logistics. Axed in april 2009, it rejoined campy gems like Riviera (1991, a costly USA-France venture), Foreign Affairs (1992, a co-production between The Netherlands, Canada and... Argentina!), Secrets (1992) or Eldorado (1992-1993). However, one month before Seconde chance's demise, M6 boldly came back in the game with Paris 16ème, produced by CALT Production (Caméra Café).

CALT's effort had an estimated budget of 17 million euros, 9 sets created by a team of 70 crew members, 26 writers, 7 directors and 180 shooting days for an initial deal of 80 episodes filmed simultaneously by two production units. But Paris 16ème didn't last beyond the 80th episode, like Seconde Chance it was filled with clichés and terrible lines, and both aped American hits like Ugly Betty or Gossip Girl.

(1) From around 6pm to 8pm. (In French)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


You know that time of the year when you catch something which leaves with you the impression that you bumped into a Routemaster right in the middle of the road? Today I do.

Will return to the case of the French Doc Martin ASAP. Those who follow your humble servant on Twitter (!/thierryattard) already know my opinion about yesterday's episodes. Let's say that the ratings were absolutely not a surprise (1) .

Tomorrow, Torchwood: Miracle Day starts on French DTT channel NRJ12. Surely a new primetime comedy slot or something. How fortunate we are.

Now, back to this morning's bleh mode. Thank you for your patience, your fidelity, your interest and your trust.

(1) (In French)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


Doc Martin, the French adaptation of ITV1's ratings juggernaut, is back. Private channel TF1 aired yesterday the first two episodes of the 6 x 52-minute second series with Thierry Lhermitte (The Dinner Game) as Dr Martin Le Foll, the curmudgeonly GP of Port-Garrec.

Adapted initially by scriptwriter Eric Kristy from ITV's dramedy Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes, the Gallic transposition is the third foreign version of the format sold by DRG (distributor of the original). Doktor Martin, starring Axel Milberg as Dr Martin Helling, ran in 2007 and 2009 on German pubcaster ZDF. In Spain, Gonzalo de Castro starred as Dr Mateo Sancristóbal in Doctor Mateo from 2009 to 2011 on Antena 3. French channel TF1 aired the first series of its Doc Martin, produced by Ego Productions, in January 2011 (with an average of 7m viewers). And since this month there's also a Greek version called Kliniki periptosi, aired on Mega.

While series one of TF1's Doc Martin succeeded in delivering an enjoyable French transplant, the second series's first couple of episodes take a number of liberties with their Brit equivalent. They swap events from an episode to another (and vice versa), alter an essential new character and try to rebalance the whole thing with "fresh" elements and transitions. They also rely very heavily on the cop character, played by comedian David Strajmayster - aka Doudi (revealed by the shortcom Samantha Oups! ) - to provide most of the comic relief.

The result is definitely uneven: the gallicization stays fun within the limits of the situations and dialogues of the original, but loses its appeal when the episodes play Meccano with the structure of the source material or walk away from it. Movie and stage actor Thierry Lhermitte remains an excellent Doc and the fictional Breton village of Port-Garrec (actually Clohars-Carnoët and the Port of Doëlan) is as magnificent as ever.

Episode one and two caught respectively 6.2m and 5.3m viewers below the first series's launch (8.9m and 8.2m). (In French) (In French) (Trailer of the Greek version)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


As we did last year, we note the cancellations of the US network season as they arrive but we don't do sitcoms. Net dramas can be a laughing stock in their own right.

Most of the new shows announced last May seemed excellent candidates for our "countdown".

- The Playboy Club (NBC)

- Charlie's Angels (ABC)

- Prime Suspect (NBC) - You mean they made their own version of an acclaimed Brit crime drama which starred a revered actress who marked the History of UK television. And it didn't work?

« Who loves ya, baby? » (Lieutenant Theo Kojak)

The original Prime Suspect, created by Lynda La Plante (Widows), ran from 1991 to 2006 on ITV and starred Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. Tennison was a no-nonsense uncompromising cop working on the hardest cases in a male-dominated professional environment. The totally unnecessary stateside adaptation, with Maria Bello as Detective Jane Timoney, will shut down production after 13 episodes.

Prime Suspect is not officially cancelled yet, as it is reported that NBC execs are still "considering their options". According to Deadline's Nellie Andreeva people on the show were told that it has been cancelled. Do the Peacock's options include using a time machine and NOT doing it?

Sunday, 13 November 2011


This is a drama you'd rather expect on ITV1 but French pubcaster France 2 aired on Friday the premiere of Deux flics sur les docks, adapted from the Faraday books by English crime fiction writer Graham Hurley.

France 2's detectives sound Brit this fall. In October the French public channel aired a new episode of Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie, adapted from Christie's books but set in 1930s France with a French sleuth. Now Graham Hurley's Portsmouth DI Joe Faraday goes Gallic in Deux flics sur les docks (Blood on the Docks). The 2 X 90-minute drama is astutely set in Le Havre, and stars actor/director Jean-Marc Barr (The Big Blue, Europa) as Capitaine Richard Faraday and Bruno Solo (Caméra Café) as Capitaine Paul Winckler. Mata Gabin plays their boss Lucie Dardenne.

In Les Anges brisés (adapted from the book Angels Passing), Richard Faraday investigates the death of a teenage girl. His former partner, maverick cop Paul Winckler, leads him on the trail of a young black boy caught by CCTV. The victim was best friend with the daughter of Bazza Swaty (Emmanuel Salinger), local entrepreneur, mobster, and a pal of Winckler. Meanwhile, Paul must team up with newbie Lieutenant Julie Fabian (Liza Manili) and Richard tries to hide his relationship with journalist Mary Devlin (Agathe Dronne) to his deaf-mute son Lulu (Jean-Marie Hallégot).

Les Anges brisés is adapted by Bernard Marié (Central Nuit/Night Squad) and directed by Edwin Baily, director of Petits Meurtres en Famille - the 2006 miniseries which spun off Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie. The choice of Jean-Marc Barr and Bruno Solo is rather original as they don't belong to the shortlist of the 5 or 6 actors usually cast in the genre on French TV. Let's hope though that Barr will bring more consistency to his empathic French Faraday (half American, like the actor) in next week's Lignes Blanches, adapted from Cut to Black. The impressive Bruno Solo, in an unusual non-comic role, steals the premiere as Winckler.

Deux flics sur les docks is produced by Gétévé (Zodiak France) and France Télévisions, with the support of Région Haute-Normandie, and is distributed by Zodiak Rights (Being Human) (1). Jacques Salles and Christian Charret are the producers and Muriel Paradis exec produce. Stéphane Moucha (Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie) is the composer. Overall a valuable effort, Les Anges brisés looks definitely like the kind of drama ITV, Sky or the Beeb could commission. France Télévisions also co-produces BBC One's Death in Paradise.

(1) (In French) (In French)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


US networks spend fortunes in development, ordering myriad of drama pilots to get one or two regular shows but French television, of course, cannot do that. When you're not pubcaster group France Télévisions (with the licence fee money) or pay TV Canal Plus (home of Spiral) and want to limit risks, then it leaves you two options: buy a foreign format or seek inspiration elsewhere.

TF1 does both. It aired the French official version of Law & Order: CI and has "The French CSI", RIS Police scientifique, which is actually the official remake of an Italian format. The private channel also airs an adaptation of ITV1's juggernaut Doc Martin. But sometimes they find their inspiration abroad without necessarily buying the format: the laughable L'Hôpital was a copycat of Grey's Anatomy, the costly soap Seconde chance was the French Ugly Betty, and the short-lived La Loi selon Bartoli was basically France's answer to The Mentalist and House.

Yesterday night TF1 ventured into another familiar territory with Con Me If You Can! (international title of Ni vu, ni connu), a 90-minute TV movie aired in their primetime Monday night comedy slot. Lino Vars (Thierry Neuvic) is a good husband and father. His wife Karen (Laure Marsac), a frustrated painter, thinks he works as an airline pilot and ignores that Lino is actually a top notch con artist. With his friend Oscar (François Mercantal) and Eléonore (Lizzie Brocheré), a young actress, they form a team of grifters targeting the rich and the powerful. Commissioner Chambort (Francis Perrin) dreams to catch Vars, although his idiotic assistant Camus (Raphaël Lenglet) is of no help.

The team's latest con, selling the Eiffel Tower to a Russian mob boss, backfires when the man wants revenge. Lino Vars finds in the situation an opportunity to con a famous painter who made a fortune with an idea of Karen. Written by Stéphane Kaminka and Brigitte Laude, and directed by Christophe Douchand, Ni vu, ni connu is an assumed nod to the movie Catch Me If You Can (2002). It also borrows visual and music codes to a genre popularized on TV by Hustle, the BBC/Kudos hit, whose notoriety is here far from equivalent to what it is in the UK.

Of course Hustle itself is not the epitome of originality (see Ocean's Eleven and a 2003 movie called Confidence) but it makes the difference with its style and its great cast, starting with its lead Adrian Lester. Past the similarities with Hustle or Leverage, Con Me If You Can! is a standard monday night TF1 comedy. Amusingly, the talented Francis Perrin - who plays the cop - was a con artist in a wonderful French comedy series of the 80s called Le Mythomane.

Ni vu, ni connu, a Franco-Belgian co-production by GMT Productions (Julie, Police Commissioner/Julie Lescaut), with Stromboli Pictures, RTBF and TF1, attracted 5.109.000 viewers (19,5%). Castle won the night with 6.111.000 viewers for France 2 (21,8%). From what we know, Mickey Stone sleeps well. (In French)

Monday, 7 November 2011


North & South, the four-part 2004 BBC drama serial adapted from the classic by Elizabeth Gaskell, arrived last week in France thanks to the wonderful folks from Koba Films. And with a French-speaking dubbing specially done for the occasion.

Review in French here:

Thursday, 27 October 2011


Death in Paradise - Episode One. The Brit chief of the police force on the Caribbean island of Saint Marie is found dead in mysterious circumstances. Detective Inspector Richard Poole arrives from London to investigate.

He's the best for the job except he hates sun, sea, sand and can't stand heat. And the airline has lost his luggage

« French, great. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse. »

Created by Red Planet Prize finalist Robert Thorogood, Death in Paradise is the writer's first television screen credit and stars Ben Miller (The Armstrong and Miller Show, Primeval). This new procedural is set in a fictional Caribbean island and actually filmed in Guadeloupe. It is a co-production between Red Planet Pictures and Atlantique Productions (a Lagardère Entertainment company) in association with Kudos Film and Television, for the BBC and French pubcaster group France Télévisions. BBC One aired on tuesday the premiere of this 8 X 60-minute series.

Written by Robert Thorogood and directed by Charles Palmer (Doctor Who), the first episode of Death in Paradise introduces Miller's character, Metropolitan Police DI Richard Poole. London assigns him the case of DI Charlie Hulme (Hugo Speer), the beloved chief of the Saint Marie police, found dead in the locked panic room of a mansion belonging to the wealthy James Lavender (Rupert Graves). As brilliant as Poole is, the island is the last place on Earth where he wants to be: literally "unsuited" to the Caribbean way of life, he hates the sun, sea and beaches, and his methods are incompatible with the local style of policing.

« This is not going to go well. »

The cops of the resourceless Honoré Police station are laid-back and clueless beyond cliché, with the exception of Sergeant Lily Thomson (Lenora Crichlow with her best Rihanna accent) and Commissioner Selwyn Patterson (Don Warrington). Dwayne Myers (Danny John-Jules, the legendary Cat from Red Dwarf) fraternizes with suspects and Fidel Best (Gary Carr) shows his expertise in goats - the animal ends in a cell. Think Cascara, the island in the 1985 comedy Water, but without the singing rebel. Not the ideal workplace when you rely heavily on computer equipment, forensics and a laser tape measure for your investigation.

Ben Miller plays a Doc Martin version of Primeval's James Lester, CGI lizard included. With his homeland bins problem Poole could even easily fit in Armstrong & Miller. The "quintessential English" detective needs urgently to evolve outside of the patronizing idiot abroad he looks like. Also he can't stretch his aversion to "paradise" eternally, now that he must stay and team up with French undercover cop Camille Bordey (French actress Sara Martins). And to avoid flirting with embarassment Saint Marie should be more Portwenn or Jersey and less Cascara or San Pietro. Remains a light-hearted old school crime mystery; people like classic whodunnits with seemingly annoying sleuths - this episode attracted nearly 6m viewers.

Death in Paradise (Meurtre au Paradis in French) is certainly not original but neither was Murder, She Wrote. It sails in the Midsomer Murders comfort zone minus the gruesome, and tourists will helpfully contribute to the body count while citizens of Saint-Marie kill each other. Please spare the goat and the lizard.

Next week: Give him a cup of tea, for God's sake!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Doctor Who - The Wedding of River Song (Series Six, Episode Thirteen). Written by Steven Moffat and directed by Jeremy Webb.

On the 13th of September 1999 the Moon didn't leave Earth's orbit - or someone would surely have noticed. And on the 22nd of April 2011 nothing happened either.

« If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him
In all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question? »
(Joan Osborne - One Of Us)

One day... No one dies. And London goes nuts. The sky looks like a Ford Mondeo advert, parks go Primeval, Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) is asked about his Christmas special on BBC Breakfast, and Bert Large - or is it Winston Churchill? (Ian McNeice) - is the Holy Roman Emperor. It's always two minutes past five in the afternoon and Silurian doctor Malokeh (Richard Hope), Caesar's personal medic, sees nothing wrong with that. Something has happened to time and the Doctor (Matt Smith) does the "It's" man from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Why can't he just be a good boy and die on this 22nd of April? Because of a woman, says our favourite time lord although we can suspect there's far more behind this mess than "hell in high heels".

« This is absurd. Other worlds, carnivorous skulls. Talking heads. I don't know why I'm listening to you. » (Emperor Bert Large)

The Doctor "marries" River Song (Alex Kingston), the daughter of Amy Pond agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Karen Gillan), and cheats death by pulling a Meet Dave in the finale of Doctor Who's sixth series. There's a Dalek... Oops, sorry! There was. There's also a viking who dies in an 80s Italian horror movie, Dorium Maldovar (Simon Fisher-Becker) as Alfredo Garcia, trains, pyramids, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) as ARC's Captain Becker. And poor Frances Barber covering for Joan Collins as the queen of panto villains Madame Kovarian - whose only goal in life just to p**s off everyone. Oh, almost forgot Meredith Vieira (Hello, lovely American viewers!) and Roger from American Dad plus some pals all dressed to kill for the occasion.

« Oh... that man. He's always one step ahead of everyone. Always a plan. »

Another series of Steven Moffat's big Timey-Wimey scheme is finished and aspirins will not be included in the DVD boxset. Series six was uneven, often talkative, looking overinvested in terms of production values at some points and the contrary at some others. « Budget cuts are tough: I don't like them, but they force you to be creative, » said the Great Moff in 2010. And budget arbitration forces you to manage. Who cares anyway? Most fans love Moffat's Doctor Who and the work of his fellow writers is unreservedly hailed as genius. Rating panels love it too and so does the American market (Matt Smith was again a guest on Craig Ferguson's show this monday). And BBC Worldwide adores it (the brand is commercially at the top globally).

« Those reports of the sun spots and the solar flares. They're wrong. They're aren't any. It's not the sun. It's you. The sky is full of a million million voices, saying, "Yes of course. We'll help." » And yeah, yeah, God is great. Yeah, yeah, God is good, says the song. In an aborted timeline, in a world that never was, nothing happened. The Brigadier is gone; Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith; Torchwood has become a global laughing stock. « On the Fields of Trensimore, on the Fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never ever be answered. »

Doctor What?

Friday, 14 October 2011


It's October and the US Network 2011 Fall season has now another major casualty. As we did last year, we'll note the cancellations as they arrive but we don't do sitcoms. Net dramas can be a laughing stock in their own right.

Most of the new shows announced last May seemed excellent candidates for our "countdown".

- The Playboy Club (NBC)

- Charlie's Angels (ABC) - The unnecessary remake/reboot (or whatever you call it) of the 1970s hit series was doomed right from the "ABC orders a new Charlie's Angels" bit. Cancelled after 8 episodes (pilot included).

See also:

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


The advert for yogurt brand Müller's Wünderful Stuff, their new advertising UK campaign, is the coolest animation-related thing since Peter Kay's Animated All Star Band.

The new 90-second ad, aired for the first time last saturday during The X Factor on ITV1, is from the TBWA\London advertising agency. It stars KITT from the 80s Knight Rider series, Yogi Bear, some Mr Men characters, Muttley - the dog from Hanna-Barbera's Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines, a robot, unicorns, and some severe employees who look like they work for the banking or finance sector. Oh, there's a ant too.

This amazing commercial, central to a £20m integrated advertising campaign, is directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet. It mixes live-action, traditional hand-drawn 2D and digital 3D animation. Partizan Lab is the production company and The Mill (Doctor Who) is behind the post-production. The superb epic piece of music is composed by Guy Farley.


See also:

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Hidden started last thursday. This four-part conspiracy thriller brings back Philip Glenister to BBC One after Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars, where he played of course Gene Hunt.

"Original British Drama", the BBC tagline, is hackneyed these days. Even the laughable Torchwood: Miracle Day was introduced as such in a promo. Directed by Niall MacCormick, Hidden is written by Northern Irish novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett (Public Enemies, Face) and was created by Bennett with veteran American screenwriter Walter Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, The Money Trap, Fail Safe). Strictly on paper it appears like another thriller about a jurist, journo or politician with a shadowy past who unveils a conspiracy. But the premiere has enough qualities to make viewers spend a good hour of television and wish for more.

Harry Venn (Glenister), a small-time solicitor, is approached by the mysterious Gina Hawkes (Thekla Reuten). She claims to be a lawyer and wants his help finding an alibi witness for one of her clients. As London - actually Belfast! - is torn by riots and a crisis in Westminster, the job forces Harry to delve into his murky past. The writers succeed in creating an atmosphere of film noir and Philip Glenister finds the right tone as a chandleresque anti-hero. A flawed but likeable character, sleepwalking into his chaotic personal life and career, womanizing and coke-snorting until he meets the quintessential femme fatale.

Less convincing in this first episode is the political subplot, mainly seen through news bulletins (Adam Boulton, Nina Hossain and Kirsty Wark appear as themselves). Too many elements are squeezed into 58 minutes of a four-episode drama which looks like it would have needed two more hours. And the Beeb is making the conspiracy thriller genre commonplace, chasing the glorious memory of State of Play. Amusingly Glenister played a cop facing John Simm in the six-part 2003 serial written by Paul Abbott.

Anna Chancellor, Richard Dormer, Peter Guinness, Matthew Marsh and Thomas Craig are among the cast. Hidden is produced by Origin Pictures (The Crimson Petal and the White) for BBC Northern Ireland. Christopher Hall produces, David M. Thompson and Ed Rubin exec produce, and Stephen Wright is executive producer for the BBC. Jan Jonaeus (Identity) is the director of photography and Rob Lane is the composer.

For now Harry Venn and his troubled world are more interesting than the baguette and the predictable explosion. But Hidden seems rather compelling and in the next episode the great David Suchet arrives as Sir Nigel Fountain (!) There's undoubtedly far more than a Gene Genie in Philip Glenister, and Thekla Reuten is excellent.

Friday, 7 October 2011


HBO's sister pay-cable channel Cinemax has picked up a 10-episode new season of the action series Strike Back to air next year.

Based originally on the best-selling book by former SAS man Chris Ryan, Strike Back first starred Richard Armitage (Spooks) as ex-British Special Forces soldier John Porter. In May 2010, Brit satcaster Sky aired the 6 X 60-minute drama, produced by Left Bank Pictures for Sky1 HD and Sky1, and distributed by BBC Worldwide. In January 2011, German channel RTL II aired it in a 3 X 90-minute version, and Canal Plus will air this version in France.

Following the success of this initial series, a second season was commissioned by Sky jointly with the Americans of HBO/Cinemax. Retooled for Cinemax's original programming, this new 10-part series (known as Strike Back: Project Dawn in the United Kingdom) has American scriptwriter Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) among its writers. It stars Sullivan Stappleton as Damien Scott, a former U.S. Special Forces operative who joins Section 20 - a secret branch of MI6. He works with Section 20 agent Michael Stonebridge, played by Philip Winchester (Camelot, Crusoe).

Cinemax announced yesterday that it has renewed Strike Back for another 10-part series. Past the fact that the first series seems disregarded in America as shown only in an alternate universe (Project Dawn is introduced as "Season One"), the result of this U.S. co-production is actually very good. The revamped Strike Back is a cross between a Tom Clancy under acid and a comic book, an ultra cool action/adventure old school show. Cinemax, Sky and Left Bank have clearly succeeded where Starz and the BBC have failed with Torchwood: Miracle Day, done on the same programming model.

The excellent title song of the current series, Short Change Hero, is performed by The Heavy. And the absolutely superb title sequence is designed by the very talented folks of Momoco (Luther, Zen, Silk, Injustice, etc.)

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


It's October and the US Network 2011 Fall season has its first casualty. As we did last year, we'll note the cancellations as they arrive.

Most of the new shows announced last May seemed excellent candidates for our "countdown".

- The Playboy Club (NBC) - Gets the honour of being the first cancelled show of the season after only three episodes. Produced by Brian Grazer's Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox Television, it was set in 1963 in Chicago around the first Playboy Club.

Preceded by an aura of fantasies attributed to the Playboy name, the cast's nudity contract clause, and a climate of so-called controversy, this drama focused on Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), a high-profile attorney with ties to the mob and a Playboy Club Keyholder.

The Peacock network wanted its Mad Men and a net can't match cable drama production. Also, as we wrote in May, you had to buy the idea of Eddie Cibrian as Mr Lucky's brother.

Monday, 26 September 2011


Doctor Who - Closing Time (Series Six, Episode Twelve). In which the Doctor meets an old friend, takes a job, and faces old foes.

« Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake.
And I'll be 2 steps on the water. » (Kate Bush, Hounds Of Love)

Doctor Who is more popular than ever with Matt Smith and under Steven Moffat's tenure. Its ratings stay healthy in an environment where TV consumption has evolved beyond overnights. Its brand is commercially at the top worldwide and the programme managed to conquer the US market. Moffat's narrative approach is supported by a majority of Whovians, seduced by his multi-series high concept soap story arc conundrum. And the work of his fellow writers is unreservedly hailed as genius. Never mind if some old fans, unmesmerized by the big timey-wimey scheme, may choose to leave.

As the sixth series's second half is about to conclude, Closing Time writer Gareth Roberts brings back Craig Owens from The Lodger - the episode he wrote for the previous series. Comedian and TV personality James Corden is a better actor than funnyman, even if his contribution to the 2011 edition of Red Nose Day was undoubtedly the best thing of the charity evening. He succeeds in portraying Craig as an engaging chap in full paternity angst mode when the Doctor returns in his life. His friend Sophie (Daisy Haggard) has left the young man with their baby, Alfie, for the weekend.

Kudos to Gareth Roberts for launching an instant internet sensation when we learn from the Doctor, who pretends he can speak baby, that young Alfie prefers to be called "Stormaggedon, Dark Lord of All". Good dialogues between Matt Smith and James Corden serve quite well a genuine chemistry between the two. But despite nice comedic moments the story is just a pretext for their reunion: the Doctor takes a job in a department store to investigate on strange power fluctuations and the disappearance of a clerk.

« You're here for a reason, aren't you? You've noticed something and you're investigating. And because it's you it's going to be dangerous and alien. » A "silver rat" and an out of order lift lead the pair to troubles in the form of a Cybermen crashed spaceship beneath the shop. Maybe it's time to give the Cybermen "a rest" since they are reduced to nothing but a walking trivia under Steven Moffat's reign. And who really thought Craig could become Cybersmithy in the clumsy conversion sequence? He can still buy a Cyberman to Stormageddon for Christmas, our children will preserve us from the next invasion.

A department store, really... What's next? A movie/TV studio like in the days of Monty Berman? And of course the penultimate episode of the current series ends with the Manchurian Candidate and the return of the queen of panto villains, Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber). Too bad they couldn't get Joan Collins for the role of this eye-patched Ellie Shaw. Closing Time, what an aptly chosen title for this episode directed by Steve Hughes.

Next Time: The Astronaut's Husband.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Series two of TF1's Danse avec les Stars, the French Strictly come Dancing/Dancing with the Stars, starts on Saturday, 8 October.

Called Strictly come Dancing in the UK and Dancing with the Stars in the US, the BBC Worldwide format features celebrities with professional dance partners competing in Ballroom and Latin dances in front of three judges. Danse avec les Stars arrived in France on TF1 in February 2011, six years after the private channel tried a similar concept called Celebrity Dancing.

The contestants of DALS's second series are singer, actor and media personality Francis Lalanne, former figure skater and olympic champion Philippe Candeloro, singer Nâdiya, singer Shy'm, former Miss France Valérie Bègue, model Baptiste Giabiconi, actress Véronique Jannot, French variétés singer legend Sheila, and former tennis pro Cédric Pioline.

They will team up with dance pros Fauve Hautot, Katrina Patchett, Grégoire Lyonnet, Julien Brugel, Silvia Notargiacomo, Candice Pascal, Maxime Dereymez, Christophe Licata and Grégory Guichard (who's new in the programme).

Danse avec les Stars is still hosted by Sandrine Quétier and Vincent Cerutti. Chris Marques, Alessandra Martines, and Jean-Marc Généreux remain the Gaullic counterparts of judges Craig Revel Horwood, Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Alesha Dixon (In French) (In French)!/DanseStars_TF1 (In French)

Monday, 19 September 2011


It was supposed to be a "battle": the return of ITV1's lavish period drama Downton Abbey against the tenth and final series of BBC One's spy drama Spooks. But who seriously thought MI-5 could resist to Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham?

The second series of Downton started with 9 million viewers yesterday night (34,6%), vs 4.62 million (17%) for Spooks (1).

« It's my lucky charm. I've had it always. So you must promise to bring it back, without a scratch. »

1916, the world is in war. The Crawley family and their servants at Downton Abbey, their Edwardian country house, must "keep up standards". Because, to quote Mr Carson (Jim Carter), it's « the only way to show the Germans that they will not beat us in the end ». Some men are away in the trenches, like heir apparent Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens). Robert (Hugh Bonneville) would like to fight but the Earl of Grantham is given other responsibilities. John Bates (Brendan Coyle) sees his efforts to build a future with Anna (Joanne Froggatt) threatened by the arrival of his wife Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy).

Written by its creator Julian Fellowes and produced by Carnival Films, ITV1's rating hit Downton Abbey is back in all its magnificence. Love, war, honour, intrigue, drama and even humour are there within a classy supersoap in costume. Some chats in the trenches may recall Blackadder Goes Forth but this premiere, directed by Ashley Pearce, remains at the top of its game. E.g. the superb scene when Mary (Michelle Dockery) sees Matthew and his new love, Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle), while the orchestra is playing. And God bless Maggie Smith as Violet.

« Buzzards are circling. »

In Spooks, it's another war which comes to haunt back Sir Harry (Peter Firth). One of his contacts of the past is executed after he tried to warn the boss of MI-5's Section D that a British "asset" - code name: Tourmeline - is in danger. Elena Gavrik (Alice Krige) is the wife of Ilya Gavrik (Jonathan Hyde), a senior Russian cabinet minister, and someone is "running" her using Harry Pearce's codes. Ilya is a former adversary of Harry and he's the target of an assassination plot intended to damage the beginning of a new Anglo-Russian "special relationship".

The hit spy drama from Kudos Film and Television exploded its expiry date some time ago and the ninth series was simply laughable. The premiere of this six-episode final run could well be the first step to an exit with all the dignity Spooks should deserve given its past sophisticated quality. A dignified exit Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) and Harry deserve too, as the possibility they retire in the countryside is thin. The rest of the team deserve nothing, they look like they were refused at a CTU job interview (hello, booby-trapped laptop!) One could even easily pull a Nina Myers.

The Ferrero advert reception seems escaped from a Mission:Impossible movie and Harry has unsurprisingly an heir working for the FSB. But overall this old-school spy thriller is almost reassuring with its Russians, the CIA, etc. In the end of Harry's game, they all become white and grey.