Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 1

As part of the BBC Drama drive, Apple Tree Yard comes to our screens. The Louise Doughty novel it’s adapted from is described as an erotically charged thriller, can Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin bring that spark to the screen?

Watson portrays Dr Yvonne Carmichael, a clever geneticist that starts the episode giving a speech to a bunch of politicians in the House of Commons. When it ends, she gets chatting to Chaplin’s Mark Costley (Dickens-esq naming of characters?), rather than exit, he shows her to a secret area used for functions (even weddings).

In a broom cupboard, they have a good old fashioned quickie. To add a sense of spontaneity, Mark gets the job done with his foot in a mop bucket.

To be fair, at this point it feels charged enough. Had it lived up to the adverts, it would have been a good platform. But then the thriller of the novel becomes a soap opera. We see Yvonne unhappy at home, her husband is probably having an affair, so naturally she goes hunting Costley.

He likes danger sex in public, she just likes him. That’s what turns her on – him. She actually explains this to Mark. By the time he’s throwing another one up in Apple Tree Yard, you really don’t care if her marriage fails, who Mark Costley really is (she thinks he’s a “Spook” for MI6).

We know the story is told retrospectively as we saw the present-day Yvonne handcuffed at the start, so there had to be more to the story than an average looking middle aged woman having indecent sex in public.

Then comes a work’s party, her husband away, and a colleague named George that knows she’s having an affair and uses it as leverage to make a move on her. She rejects and a violent rape scene occurs. Being the BBC, we have to assume they would never use such a delicate subject purely for shock value but it’s misguided allowing it to take place in such a pedestrian and poorly conceived drama.

It gives Yvonne motive for revenge now but it’s distasteful that the BBC would use rape as a cliff-hanger for what’s to come next.

Hopefully the first chapter was an awkward world setting requirement and improvements are inbound.

4/10

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ITV WOS Wrestling – Review

New Year’s Eve saw ITV revive a nostalgic brand: World of Sport Wrestling. Those of a certain age will remember Saturday evenings watching Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks – and my personal favourite, who can probably take some credit for how I’ve spent my professional career hidden behind a mask – Kendo Nagasaki. It’s just dawned on me, my years chasing fame in Japan could be down to my first exposure to professional wrestling. The original WOS Wrestling was pulled in the mid-eighties, followed by Wrestling with Kent Walton. The question is: does the TV schedule have room for it today?

There was room for it back in 1988 when wrestling left our screens. Hindsight is 20/20 but producers must look back on that decision and kick themselves. A year later the WWE (then known as WWF) started its UK invasion. It grew so fast in popularity here, SummerSlam was held at Wembley stadium in 1992. Over 80,000 fans witnessed The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith take the Intercontinental Championship from Bret “The Hitman” Hart.

Had a channel retained UK wrestling, maybe the WWE would have had a genuine transatlantic rival. We’ll never know, but by passing up on wrestling, the UK television networks gave up all creative control. Vince McMahon designed the blueprint, defeated his only challenger WCW (ironically, they aired on ITV in the nineties), and every wrestling organisation since has fallen into line.

ITV clearly has been watching WWE. From the opening minutes of WOS Wrestling it becomes obvious. The set has good production values, without the scale of WWE. It’s a mix of their take on Gladiators and a clinical TNA set. The game changer is having Jim Ross on commentary. The voice synonymous with a whole generation of WWE.

ITV may have watched WWE but what follows is veiled flattery. Vince’s outfit has gone from the cartoony version of wrestling it brought to the world when WOS Wrestling ended in the eighties, through the adult-rated Attitude Era, to the PG and Reality Era. That current landscape means a pre-watershed wrestling show can survive on telly. During this evolution the term: sports entertainment was coined.

The problem with WOS Wrestling is how it tries to pay homage to the old stars like Big Daddy with constant reminders, evoking nostalgia, but accidentally makes one nostalgic for an antiquated version of pro-wrestling in the form of old school WWF.

Nowadays a wrestling show is all about the storylines and mic work. ITV went for the owner angle, a Mr Beesley that ran things. Okay, so we get a British Jack Tunney. Beesley’s “office” was propped with posters indicating it was just a spare room at MediaCityUK.

The first match saw Grado get screwed out of the WOS Championship by bad guy Dave Mastiff. This, in itself, was great. Mastiff was the clear heel, he had two henchmen in tow and he and Grado told a classic tale of favoured underdog holding his own.

Nowadays clear heels and faces are rare in professional wrestling, this throwback was fine and a necessity with a less savvy audience. What wasn’t great was the way Beesley said he couldn’t let a screwjob stand for the title and declared Mastiff would defend it at the end of the show against the winner of a Battle Royal.

Okay, anyone that was watched wrestling long enough knows that if a title (in this case, the only title) kicks-off a show, we’re not getting a clean finish. So the surprise was gone from the off. The idea all dodgy finishes will be challenged is flawed. The acting with Beesley was from a bygone era.

And that is WOS Wrestling’s major problem. It doesn’t know if it’s a programme that should be like its eighties counterpart, or one that can be compared to modern day WWE.

They edged toward the latter with a ladder match. Kenny Williams took the result, he looked better than the rest based on ability and aesthetics. But the other three, CJ Banks, Sam Bailey (not The X Factor singer) and Delicious Danny, all deserve a round of applause for pulling off a dangerous match with tea-time restrictions.

The other main standout – no, not El Ligero, although he was good – was Alexis Rose. She looked the part and moved around the ring well. WWE’s current British female wrestler is in the bad books. Rose would be worth a shot in their performance centre.

alexis-rose

The Battle Royal had a secret entrant (that joined late for no good reason). It was The new British Bulldog, the son of Davey Boy, now using his name with Jnr added. He didn’t progress to the title bout. Presumably, ITV aren’t confident they could tie him down should the show go fulltime so can’t afford to have a champion MIA.

Of course, Grado won the Battle Royal and then the title match. Classic babyface overcoming the odds in the end. Cheating never pays, kids.

ITV must have an eye on a permanent return, why bring back the title otherwise? Based on this, there is plenty of potential that deserves exploring but they need a creative team more akin to the modern era of wrestling. Without this, WOS Wrestling would grow stale fast.

Promising but work to be done.

6/10

(Follow @MrCliveBalls on Twitter. He points out, he is available to do creative work for Sports Entertainment outfits.)

The Apprentice 2016 – Review

It’s that time of year the BBC find Lord Alan Sugar the nation’s best “entrepreneurs.” Or for the purposes of good TV, a selection of dimwits that promise to be mildly entertaining with the odd potential gem thrown in. The contestants are treated like schoolchildren (“Good morning, Lord Sugar.”) and he has his favourite headmistress and head boy to help.

Of course, they are Baroness Karren Brady, The First Lady of Football. That dour face trying to make us forget she spent years hanging about the Birmingham City team bus and footballer Paul Peschisolido out of her.

We also have Claude Littner, better known for the interview stage. Now he does that and the weekly observing. Mr Littner likes to play Good Cop, Bad Cop playing both roles himself. It keeps the contestants on their toes – volatile people in the mix tend to breed that response.

One thing that was clear during this twelfth series was the tasks have become worn out. 18 contestants were squashed into the process, giving the guarantee that some weeks would see multiple heads fall. Sadly, the mundane early running meant we didn’t care.

Sometimes they had to sell stuff, sometimes buy stuff. Sometimes run around, buy stuff, sell stuff, maybe design stuff, look for stuff. Talk over one another. Some stuff. All the time wondering if any of them know their stuff and realise they are becoming parodies of young upstarts.

Too many concepts presented the same challenge. The “Boat Show” episode, in essence, was no bigger stretch than any of the selling tasks (and most of them are). Even ones like designing jeans or “Corporate Candy” require the good old fashioned sell. And as they should, I suppose. Lord Sugar wants to make money and sees those that can shift stock and make profit as key to that business plan.

It’s also important to think outside the box. Not like the extremely hot Jessica Cunningham attempted on a few occasions. She liked to sprinkle in a few lies to shift product. But in her defence, she was the best seller, most engaging, and could think outside the box because her head is out of it. And it’s a bit cheeky of Lord Sugar to preach no lying then have the production team skirt over her history in the final five round-up.

 

jessica-cunningham
The Zany and amazing Jessica Cunningham

 

Yes, I’m talking about Jessica’s lap-dancing past. A top business woman who wasn’t scared to take on hard jobs on the way to the climax of the process.

There were notable characters this year, many for the wrong reasons. First to go wasn’t, it was Michelle; next up, Natalie Hughes – you wouldn’t hire her to answer phones; third, wet fart Oliver. Week four is better remembered for Aleksandra King walking away from the process. At that point, I could see why, I was close myself.

Highlighting the point was marketing guru Rebecca Jeffery in week six. The Mancunian proving Northerners aren’t made for the real city, especially when they have the personality of a wet flannel.

But finally, the show had some life come week seven and it was the boat show that saw two fall foul of the axe. It was a shame to see Karthik Nagesan lose his place, he was a true bit of energy. Sadly for him, and his team, he could run a team about as well as Samuel Boateng could follow instruction from the project manager. He joined him in a taxi the same week for this very reason.

Fiery Paul was axed the following week. He liked to kick-off to be fair. In case this was in any doubt (it wasn’t), he even got a bit aggy with Alan in the boardroom. And goodbye. You can’t bully the Sugar. You need to sit in the chair and laugh at his Christmas cracker one-liners.

Dillon St. Paul made it easy the following week for Al (totally dropped his peerage now). He compared his struggle as a gay man to that of women in the workplace. You could see Al’s face change. He hates an excuse. Suggs pointed out there were single parents in the room, Sofiane who had taught himself English and made a business from scratch, and Alana, who was just learning how to construct full and complete sentences in the boardroom despite the ability to be a catty bitch during assignments.

It was this week the eventual finalist, Courtney Wood, went from constant winner in the shadows to a standout performer. The challenge was designing a virtual reality game and even with his team against his input (apart from the giddy Jessica), he managed to design a concept that smashed the opposition.

Not long after we got the final five and it’s here the format of business partner as opposed to apprentice calls the show into question. Al must know what business he fancies beforehand and what he can’t stand. Why else would the always dominant Grainne McCoy fail to make the final two. Her idea was solid for the industry and no more far-flung than previous winner Leah Totten.

Thankfully this means Frances Bishop was also axed with her really original idea of making a TK Maxx for kids off the back of a few failed attempts she tried to bury beneath two relative successes. Maybe the idea was decent? She was just a walking migraine and hopefully the WAG (not a proper Premier League one, like at the best club ever Arsenal) will never be seen again.

So, Courtney looked favourite based on the principle. He was a novelty gift (tatt) designer, something Sugar knows inside out. But the Lord went for Alana and her cakes. Her big margins for profit must have tempted him. If years from now you’re eating an Alana cake in Costa, spare a thought for Courtney, who will still be designing a novelty personality for his currently bland character.

7/10

Game of Thrones – Season 2 – Review

The beginning of season two takes a few minutes for you to settle in. We are expected to just understand who the new faces in Westeros are. The displaced Robert Baratheon sees his true heir Stannis bang heads with brother Renly. It takes a while to accept Stannis as a main player due to the absence of screen time in season one but he meddles enough to grab your attention.

He’s aligned with the Red Lady aka Melisandre. The actress that plays her Carice van Houten replaces Denise van Outen as my favourite sexy woman with a Dutch sounding name. It’s amazing what dropping an H and spicing up a first name can do. In the show, what she can do is also magical but it’s dark. The sort that gay brother Renly falls foul of.

With Stannis on the march, he is a clear threat to the Lannisters’ hold on the throne. They are too busy playing games with themselves at King’s Landing. Cersei is trying her best to ignore Joffrey’s cruelty and control the Imp, Tyrion. His Achilles Heel is former prostitute Shae. He’s given some rest bite when Cersei targets the wrong hooker but the tension on this subject threatens to be there for some time.

As added protection, Tyrion as the King’s Hand promotes Bronn (lesser known member of Robson and Jerome) to commander of the watch, or in plain English: nails bodyguard that kills for cash. He’s a likable figure in a city of misfits. IE, The Hound prevents Sansa from getting raped and killed but comes across as a guy you wouldn’t wanna share a meal with.

The Lannisters’ main threat comes in the form of Robb Stark – King of the North. He is winning battles and moving toward King’s Landing, looking to avenge the death of his father. On the way, he breaks the promise to marry a daughter of Walder when his head is turned by Talisa Maegyr, the Florence Nightingale of Westeros.

His problems mount when Catelyn Stark releases The King Slayer Jaime Lannister (with Brienne The Warrior Woman as an escort) in exchange for her daughters. They are in a bad way. Sansa prays Joffery’s eye will turn elsewhere (it kinda does but she’s still a toy) and Arya is now independent and surviving on her wits alone. Her son, Bran, is doing the same.

Starks with power but divided in more ways than one.

Jon Snow, the bastard Stark, finds himself on a covert Night’s Watch mission. It goes wrong (had to, didn’t it) and he ends up siding (for real or not?) with the Wildlings. There, his former red-headed female prisoner happily informs him he knows nothing. And so begins a love affair, of sorts.

While Robb is advancing well on the Lannisters, he should have kept one eye on home. Exiled Theon Greyjoy returns to capture Winterfell. He was only trying to impress his biological father, whom was none too impressed.

Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen continues her journey with growing dragons and actual numbers on the ground. She spends the season in Qarth. I won’t ruin surprises but needless to say, not everyone has the best of intentions for the Mother of Dragons. Hers is one of the most engaging plots and we begin to see her ruthless side and her true power.

The season highlight is episode nine’s Blackwater (10/10). It contains the battle of the same name. The finale Valar Morghulis (9/10) sees Arya make an ally that could prove beneficial and she can thank for her freedom, and a final shot that makes you want more.

The addiction has taken hold…

8/10