Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Why would you lie about what TV you watch?

Minions rock
For many people, Monday was the first back at work after Christmas – and therefore the first time to have those water cooler discussions about the festive TV.

To be honest, I’m not a big telly watcher. Only a couple of days ago, a story caught my eye, as a survey revealed that people lie about what television they watch.

In particular, it emerged, people have lied about watching Breaking Bad – presumably because they considered they had to claim to have watched it because it was so ‘in’.

Well, I didn’t watch it and am not going to pretend I did, any more than I have watched Game of Thrones or The Wire or assorted other series with equally glowing reputations.

I haven’t been addicted to any TV drama since The West Wing and, before that, Babylon 5.

Away from the dramatic, Masterchef: The Professionals has been the limit of any must-watch mentality.

Anthony Hopkins does Hitch
And while I can entirely understand people falling for a particular programme, I can neither understand telling porkies just to look as though you’ve seen one (and how would you be able to comment on it anyway?) nor the seasonal syndrome of whinging that there’s ‘nothing on’ over Christmas.

Given how many channels most people have these days, it’s difficult to believe that there’s nowt on that you’d watch at all, while it’s straightforwardly inaccurate to assert that there’s ‘nothing’ on.

I did actually slump in front of the goggle box over the holiday, usually while doing cuddle duty to a small black cat who curled up in my arms, snoozing away and occasionally dreaming – presumably of chasing butterflies.

And so here, for what it’s worth, are my highlights – with no efforts at coolness or trendiness whatsoever.

'What do you mean we have to do another convention?'
The first thing that I actually bothered to sit down and pay attention to was on a disc – the 2012 film Hitchcock, with Anthony Hopkins as the eponymous thriller director and Helen Mirren as his wife and longtime collaborator, Alma Reville.

Set against the background of the making of Psycho, Sacha Gervasi’s film explores the relationship between the two, the creative impulse, the impact on the psyche of working with particularly dark material, and the nature of voyeurism.

It’s intelligent, witty, bitchy and poignant: grown-up entertainment with a universally super cast. The leads are, of course, absolutely fabulous, but so too are Scarlett Johannsson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and Michael Wincott as Ed Gein in particular.

Wonderful stuff.

It was about as serious as my film viewing got. Galaxy Quest, the 1999 spoof of Star Trek and sci-fi fandom in general – and first seen by The Other Half and I in an Art Deco cinema in Amsterdam – is always a delight, with a great cast headed by Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman.

After that, it was a quick channel hop to 2010’s Despicable Me, which I had not seen before and, having ‘discovered’ the Minions, felt the need to view.

Joyous cast overload
While certainly not in the very top echelon of current animation, it was thoroughly enjoyable and happily avoided mawkishness, even though featuring three orphans. Oh, and the Minions are wonderful.

For really top-quality animation, there were screenings of Ratatouille (2007), which I love, and Up (2009) – both from Disney/Pixar.

When computer animation first appeared, I watched shorts and loved them, but did wonder whether the medium would detract from content in a more extended form. Both these films show that it hasn’t.

The film watching concluded with a chance to catch up with another 2012 effort: this time, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet.

Ready to save the world. Again
A comedy drama, based on Ronald Harwood’s play of the same name, it’s set in a retirement establishment for musicians, who mark Verdi’s birthday each year with a fundraising gala that helps keep their home going.

Retired opera singers Reg, Wilf and Cissy have worked together in the past, particularly on a noted recording of Verdi’s Rigoletto, which includes a famous quartet for soprano, mezzo, tenor and baritone.

And when Reg’s former wife, Jean – the fourth member of that quartet – turns up as a new resident, she unwillingly inspires an idea about how to boost the success of the gala.

It’s a thin plot, but does have underlying themes of age and ageing, which rarely get seen on the big screen these days. But it’s the cast that makes it such a joy.

It's a what I call a comedy
Maggie Smith, Tom Courtney, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins make up the quartet of singers, and are joined by Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith, Andrew Sachs, Trevor Peacock, Michael Byrne and David Ryall (who sadly died on Christmas Day).

An unmitigated delight.

Away from films, Christmas Day offered up a seasonal Doctor Who, complete with a Santa unlike any other – and I am enjoying Peter Capaldi’s characterisation – and the first half of a two-part final episode of Miranda, which appears to be the epitome of everything that is uncool if you care about these things.

It makes me laugh, so who cares? As may be clear, I don’t watch television just to feel ‘in’.

Miranda Richardson as the wonderfully dreadful Mapp
Oddly, my mother later declared that she and my father had watched the second half of this two-parter, having never watched any Miranda before – and then felt cheated when they didn’t ‘get it’.

Mind, she also sent my jaw into freefall at Christmas by asking if I watched Mrs Brown’s Boys, saying that, although it had “a lot of the ‘f’ word” in it, you “couldn’t help but laugh”.

Meanwhile, the film version of Victoria Wood’s That Day We Sang was a gentle delight, with Imelda Stanton and Michael Ball in fine fettle, while a repeat of the 2009 festive special, Victoria Wood’s Mid Life Christmas, with its vast guest cast, was appreciated a great deal more than at the time – not least as I caught the sense of the overarching theme that had eluded me originally.

And then there was Mapp and Lucia, the BBC’s three-night dive into EF Benson’s novels of upper-middle-class one-upmanship and snobbery in the 1920s and ’30s.

I remember the Channel 4 adaptation from the 1980s, with Prunella Scales, Geraldine McEwan and Nigel Hawthorne: indeed, I caught the first episode again recently, but it only served to remind me of why I hadn’t really got into it the first time around and why I’d never felt the desire to read the novels.

Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball do Fred & Ginger
This new adaptation by Steve Pemberton – who also played Georgie – made me want to do precisely that.

Starring Anna Chancellor as Lucia and Miranda Richardson as Mapp, with a wonderful supporting cast, it managed to be, all at once, subtle, sharp as a box of unused Sabatiers – and outrageously camp.

Richardson in particular was just magnificent – oh, to be able to gurn like that!

So even for a non TV addict like me, there was plenty to amuse. And given catch-up television, there’s plenty of chance to catch up with any of these if you missed them and feel vaguely inspired to do so now.

They will not, however, make you ‘TV cool’.

And even if none of this was particularly up your own street, just don’t claim that there was ‘nothing on’!

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