atomickarma's blog

I'm Christian Cawley, a massive fan of UK fantasy television (particularly Doctor Who) and British Comedy.

"Quintessentially British" is my look at those two very British flavours of sci-fi/fantasy and comedy.

Jonas Armstrong’s departure from Robin Hood has been public knowledge for several months and while the BBC have refused to comment on the shows future, three contenders have come forward to replace the actor as the focus of the show.

While Robin is likely to die at the end of the third series, it’s possible the BBC will continue the show with a new lead actor in much the way the classic 1980s ITV series Robin of Sherwood overcame the death of commoner Robin (Michael Praed) with the introduction of gentry Robin (Jason Connery).

So who are the contenders?

1.    Most obvious by far is Robin and Gisbourne’s shared half brother Archer, played by Clive Standen. Initially a mercenary loner, he was impressed enough with Tuck, John and Kate’s show of defiance against Sherrif Lady Gisbourne in episode 12 to swap sides and join the struggle against Prince John toadying and tyranny in Nottingham.

Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisbourne

2.    Guy of Gisbourne. While it would fly in the face of every Robin Hood legend, Gisbourne and Robin’s history has already been rewritten, with them now distantly related by way of Archer. Gisbourne has already shown he is willing to act for the group as a whole, but whether or not he will want to continue life as an outlaw or even be trusted by the band of men is another matter entirely.

3.    Baby Robin. In Locksley village, a baby was born earlier in series 3 to a young couple who were saved by the outlaw Robin. They named their baby after him – and wouldn’t a 20 year gap be a perfect setting for a reboot as the English throne is once more threatened from within, tyranny reigns across the lands and a brave young man steps forward to overturn the horrific rule of those that defeated the original Hood.

It’s a fascinating set of contenders, but one thing is for sure – we’ll be closer to the answer by 7.30pm on Saturday night.

What can you say about a seriously freaky show that features the most grotesque characters, odd locations and distractions such as midgets, clowns, mystery, gore and serial murdering – other than “Has it got anything to do with The League of Gentlemen?”

Psychoville is the successor to the miscreant populace of Royston Vasey, brought to our screens by the talented pens of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, two thirds of the old League of Gentlemen team (Mark Gatiss has opted not to rejoin his former colleagues).

Joined by guest star Dawn French as a disturbed midwife and later in the series appearances from Christopher Biggins as himself, Psychoville centres around a group of apparently disparate and unwitting odd balls who are all the recipients of an old-fashioned, wax sealed letter with the words written in quill “I know what you did.”

This thin linking device takes us on a trip around the British Isles as we meet a dwarf with pyro-kinetic powers appearing in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in Bournemouth, a midwife with an unhealthy obsession with her demonstration baby and a blind millionaire with a secret stash of cuddly toys in his dark and dusty mansion.

Most memorable among all characters however was Mr Jelly, the obnoxious hook handed clown who lives a life of bitterness directed as children, their parents and his nemesis Mr Jolly in whose place he is often mistakenly booked. Mr Jelly blames Mr Jolly for his hook hand, and he just can’t get over it.

The children’s party is possibly as light as things get – but then they’re always torrid affairs – while the darkest point is certainly the terrible, early end to a murder mystery weekend.
Psychoville is not The League of Gentlemen. There’s no Mark Gatiss for starters, but Pemberton and Shearsmith have been shrewd in bringing in Dawn French as a third member of the cast.

Despite a quiet start, there’s enough in Psychoville to give us at least one very good series.

Robin Hood - the end?

The adventures of the legendary outlaw have gone largely unnoticed in the press this year, but it has been a solid third run that has seen a lot of changing loyalties, new friendships and new characters.

With the series finale due this week, the future is looking bleak for Robin (Jonas Armstrong) and his friends, his half brother Archer (Clive Standen) and even Guy of Gisbourne (Richard Armitage) who like Robin has been forced to examine his motivations and loyalty.

Trapped at the dramatic cliffhanger to episode behind the city walls of Nottingham as former Sheriff Vasey (Keith Allen) approached with a fearsome army boasting new weapons from the orient, it looks as if this could be the end of Robin and his battle to keep King Richard on the throne and England free from tyranny.

Whether the question of where the true Sheriff got his weapons from, where he’s been hiding and what he wants to do with the Lady Isabella Gisbourne (Lara Pulver) – current sheriff – will be answered or not, it looks like a thrilling conclusion to the third series of Robin Hood.

Several months have passed since Jonas Armstrong revealed he was hanging up his bow and moving on, but the BBC have continued to refuse to make a commitment on either a cancellation or a continuation of the series.

With Allan a’ Dale murdered by the Sheriff’s men and supported only by a rag tag force of his own men, Archer, Gisbourne and some nearby villagers, it looks as though the end could be in sight for Robin Hood.

Desperate to make inroads in their comedy output which in recent years has come under constant criticism for its lack of originality and quality, SKY have made a strategic move in poaching BBC comedy chief Lucy Lumsden from the public service network.

With Sky’s previous failures including the much ignored Harry Enfield series and the Al Murray and Phil Daniels-starring Pub Landlord series, both around 2000, it seems a very wise move.

It’s a key area that Sky are keen to develop, and one which could see them emerge as the UK’s biggest provider of comedy unless the BBC can find a dynamic replacement for Lumsden.
Four years since taking the role of Controller of Comedy Commissioning at the BBC – from where she was promoted from within as a successful comedy producer – Lucy Lumsden’s track record is largely impressive, with titles such as BBC One’s Ben Miller comedy The Worst Week of My Life, BBC Two’s The Catherine Tate Show, and BBC Three’s Monkey Dust and Nighty Night on her CV.

Sky are certainly considered to be taking the development of quality comedy programming seriously, having already attempted to poach the inexplicably popular Gavin & Stacey from the BBC, while there are rumours that Harry Hill’s TV Burp – or a very similar format – could be moving to the satellite broadcaster.

It’s not known yet who the BBC have in mind to replace Lumsden, but they will be presented with a tough job, one that could start off with the cancelling of one or both of the stations long running sitcoms, Last of the Summer Wine and My Family.

Despite a patchy season that saw a decline in audience figures (despite retaining audience share – it was aired later in the year than usual) it came as a huge surprise to find that ITV had axed Primeval.

Primeval AXED

Probably the most individual and unique item in the networks generally bland and repetitive repertoire of soaps, reality talent shows and star du jour drama “vehicles”, Primeval’s continued existence was thought to be evidence that ITV had not lost the plot completely despite being massively in debt.

It turned out not to be however. Leaked by star Ben Miller (ARC chief Lester) via Twitter, the news was soon all around the web and didn’t take long for ITV to finally issue confirmation.

This came just weeks after the Sun reported that Primeval series 3 would be the last, something that ITV moved swiftly to deny.

With other developments suggesting that ITV still have enough money to make Primeval (star salaries, poaching BBC staff, etc) and with a popular toy line generating income for the network, there simply doesn’t seem to be any real reason for the decision.

Most concerning however is the future of ITV’s Saturday night line up.  Rumours of Harry Hill’s departure to Sky 1 continue to persist, and the network simply doesn’t have any viable alternative to Primeval, a show that developed a hokey premise into some good “monster of the week” fun that proved that ITV could do action adventure.

With Connor and Abi trapped up a prehistoric tree and Danny trapped even further in the past, it looks as though Primeval will need a new network to resolve what now seems to have been a grim ending to a great series.

Following the preview screening of the first episode (“Day One”) of Torchwood: Children of Earth at the National Film Theatre on June 12th, various rumours and information has come to light concerning the storylines of the 5 part serial set for broadcast in July.

John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Gareth David Lloyd in Torchwood Children of Earth

There are rumours of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) having a secret family, while it seems the mysterious aliens attacking Earth have paid a visit previously.

Among the guest characters are:

Alice – she may be Jack’s daughter, and has a young son that Jack is prevented from meeting. Thanks to Captain Jack being well-paid by Torchwood, Alice and her son – who is presumably caught up in the “We Are Coming” worldwide standing still of children – are handsomely looked after.

Peter Copley (Coronation Street, Life on Mars) plays Clem, likely a survivor of the previous visit by the alien race apparently known as the 456.

It also seems that the success of the five-part serial will determine the long term future of Torchwood as an ongoing element of BBC One’s drama department.

In a question and answer session following the screening, Russell T Davies reported that a fourth series was currently in development; however the production won’t be commissioned until the success or otherwise of Children of Earth is assessed.

Given the positive reaction to the first part however and the BBC’s confidence in apparently screening it on the same 5 days as BBC America, Torchwood Children of Earth seems likely to the first in a long stay on BBC One for the Doctor Who spin-off.

David Mitchell and Robert Webb – who returned to BBC Two recently with the latest run of their comedy sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look – have remarkably axed their own sitcom before it was even seen on TV.

The erudite comedy duo – also well-known for their starring roles in Channel 4’s groundbreaking comedy Peep Show – had been working on the sitcom called Playing Shop for some time, and the pilot had even been recorded before a live audience and approved by BBC comedy bosses to be developed into a full series.

However Mitchell and Webb decided the put the project on hold while they reworked the idea.
It seems that the main stumbling block was the characters. In Playing Shop they play Eric and Jamie, two men made redundant who brush themselves down and decide to set up business run from the potting shed.

It’s in the shed that most of the dialogue takes place, with Eric and Jamie working to keep themselves in lager and snacks in what is certainly a realistic look at the steps so many people are taking these days to escape from the day to day grind of 9 to 5 working.

Playing Shop is expected to see the light of day eventually however, with Mitchell and Webb redeveloping the characters away from the “scuzzy and low-rent losers” in the original version which were reminiscent of Mark and Jeremy from Channel 4’s Peep Show.

Once revisions have been written, rehearsed and a new pilot recorded, Playing Shop is expected to hit screens in 2010.

In a UK first, Channel 4 is to put their entire back catalogue of programming online, giving viewers the chance to catch some of the broadcasters classic shows such as Father Ted, Brass Eye and Queer as Folk.

Set to be made available for free via the networks 4oD (on demand) catch up service, there will also be a selection of key episodes from the networks soap Brookside which ended in 2003 as well as comedies Vic Reeves Big Night Out, Ali G and Teachers.

Channel 4 has of course been the breeding ground for many other groundbreaking comedy series, such as The Comic Strip Presents… series starring Ade Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French among others, while other hoped for comedies include Chelmsford 123, Drop the Dead Donkey, That Peter Kay Thing, Smack the Pony, Whose Line is it Anyway and The Harry Hill Show.

A huge amount of comedy output has originated with Channel 4 over the years, while they’ve also brought a considerable amount of US comedy to British screens. The online repository accessible via 4oD isn’t expected to make every single show available in one go however.
4oD utilises the same peer to peer system as BBC iPlayer, and it is thanks to the BBC’s pioneering work in the realm of on-demand television that Channel 4 are able to offer their back catalogue for viewing.

It’s not known yet when the BBC plan to offer more of its classic television via iPlayer; meanwhile commercial broadcaster ITV continues to lag behind both networks with only a few recent shows available in an episodic format.

Sandwiched somewhere between Bonekickers and Jurassic Park, Primeval took a lot of changes into its stride in Series3, from a change in the principal cast to the end of a long running (and near tedious) story arc.

Primeval Series 3

In the end however, it only just scraped through thanks to a brave end of season cliffhanger and some great episodes midway through the series.

Maintaining a story arc over three series was always going to be tough, and when lead actor Douglas Henshall announced that he was leaving Primeval the writing was on the wall for the Helen Cutter arc. Nick Cutter’s death however didn’t end the arc – we had to see Helen Cutter tidied up nicely by a Raptor dinosaur to see that, 5 episodes later.

Henshall’s replacement was Jason Flemyng as Danny Quinn; he has a more gung-ho approach to the anomaly hunting game, and while a more energetic presence lacks some of Henshall’s wisely understated performances.

It was Flemyng who shared the screen with the barmy Helen Cutter (the delicious Juliet Aubrey) in the final episode as the team worked hard to thwart her jaw-droppingly silly plan of destroying the first hominids in order for life on Earth to develop away from mankind.

The reason it was silly? She was sent round the bend by witnessing mankind’s ultimate demise via an anomaly that links to a post apocalyptic future. So she saw the future, traced its beginnings and decided to stop it all happening.

With main characters Abi and Connor stranded up a prehistoric tree and Quinn trapped even further in the past, Primeval series 3 improved in quality across the board, but sadly the finale was a considerable let down, restricted by the barmy final machinations of its long-time villain.

Let’s hope they can pull away and improve things further for the fourth run.

Robert Webb and David Mitchell returned with a third series of That Mitchell and Webb Look this week with a new set characters and some great new sketches.

Among the highlights of the return of this much-loved duo was a bizarre game show from a post-apocalyptic future, a spoof of The Apprentice that managed to cover new ground in its mirroring of Sir Alan Sugar as a bit vague and two wonderful new ways of doing things.

The first was Robert Webb’s sketch alter-ego inventing a replacement for the doorbell, and running it by David Mitchell’s sketch alter-ego (as per sketch show convention, these characters are called Robert and David but are caricatures that play on their worst traits; they’re quite like the characters from Peep Show.) Mitchell sensibly judges that tying a note to a dog and catapulting it through someone’s window isn’t a suitable replacement for the doorbell, and Webb’s reaction is superb.

Also of quality was the Austrian (Webb) who patents both the habit of tapping your hands on your thighs while looking for something on a shelf, and the making scissor movements with your fingers when looking for scissors.

My own personal favourite however was Robert Webb at a party as an obnoxious brain surgeon who is more than happy to announce that what he does is more important and demanding than say an accountant or a charity worker.  The sketch which was beautifully rounded up – with the punchline delivered a good 30 seconds after it was clearly signposted, but performed with such perfect timing from David Mitchell – watch it below.

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