Saturday, February 10, 2007

This week in television

I haven't done this in a while, so... here's some stuff kicking off this week:-

- Primeval (ITV1, Saturday, 7.45pm). ITV's attempt at a Saturday-night sci-fi show to rival Doctor Who, wisely launched when the opposition is off air. It's something about dinosaurs in the Forest of Dean, from what I can gather. And that's handy for ITV, since presumably it means they get to reuse all those dinosaur special effects from Prehistoric Park (a pseudo-documentary about vets in a time-travel safari park, which was every bit as bizarre as I'm making it sound - and it, in turn, was made by the same production team who did Walking With Dinosaurs for the BBC, clearly wringing every penny out of their investment).

ITV hasn't attempted a homegrown sci-fi or fantasy show in primetime since... er... wow, it's got to be at least a decade. The BBC is clearly taking this one seriously, since they're scheduling Shrek against it as a spoiler. Mind you, I never get too worked up about anything on ITV - their track record over the last few years has been pretty poor.

- Saturday Night Live (ITV4, Sunday, 1.40am). Saturday Night Live has never been aired regularly in the UK, despite its track record for churning out film stars. There are good reasons for that; it's just too American, in terms of the frame of reference it assumes. And by all accounts, it's usually not very good. But mainly, it's the frame of reference - jokes about TV shows nobody's seen, and politicians nobody's heard of, simply don't work on UK television. Nobody watched the David Letterman show when ITV tried running it on their satellite channels either. (Oddly, The Daily Show does alright on More4, perhaps because it's good enough to overcome the barriers.)

There's something a little surreal about the idea of bothering to buy this in at all, and then dumping it in an overnight slot on ITV4, a channel that most people barely even know exists. They appear to be running it on a week's delay, too. Weird.

- The Verdict (BBC2, Sunday, 9pm). Questionable BBC2 reality show in which a celebrity jury debate their verdict in a fictitious rape trial. Somehow or other, this is supposed to shed light on the mysterious world of the jury room - notoriously difficult to investigate in the UK, because of our insanely restrictive laws on the subject. But quite why you need Jeffrey Archer and a member of Blur to explore the topic is a mystery. (The best argument is that they're established personalities, and so we have a better frame of reference with them, but it's a flimsy argument at best.)

This might actually be okay if everyone takes it seriously - and to be fair, the trailers suggest that they do. But it teeters on the edge of rape-u-tainment. The very concept makes me a little uncomfortable.

- Living With Two People You Like Individually - But Not As A Couple (BBC3, Monday, 9.30pm). Surely a strong contender for the worst title of all time, this is a sitcom pilot. BBC3's homegrown comedy has always been a little hit and miss, to put it politely, and here we seem to have a show written by a man who can't tell the difference between a pitch and a title. Sounds terrible.

- Life on Mars (BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm). Back for a second season, as DI Sam Tyler remains either comatose, or stranded in 1973, or both. The central mystery can't be dragged out indefinitely, so they're quite rightly promising that this will be the final series. (Although there's talk of a 1980s spin-off.) It's a sci-fi/fantasy show of sorts, it's a throwback to The Sweeney, and it's got some decent points to make about how much the country has changed in thirty years without us really noticing. Some of the best touches are when it quietly reminds you of 1970s features that you'd completely forgotten about - for example, the fact that the ambulance drivers in those days were just that, guys who drove the van.

This show walks a dangerous tightrope by openly teasing the "It was all a dream" ending, and hopefully they've got something better than that in mind, because it'd be a terribly lame finish. (And "It was all a dream... or was it?" wouldn't be much of an improvement.) But they must have thought of that, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. Good show.

- The Dresden Files (Sky One, Wednesday, 9pm). Another US import from the Sci-Fi Channel (Sky also picked up Eureka). Adapted from a series of books, this sounds amazingly contrived - it's a series about a professional wizard who investigates crime in Chicago. So, er, a police procedural with magic. I've seen this sort of thing work occasionally, but the way it's being pitched, it has the ring of "If you like cheese, and you like peas, then you'll like..." Anyone know if it's remotely worthwhile?