Category Archives: TV Reviews

The Campus: Series 1 Review

THE CAMPUS SERIES 1: Aired Tuesday 5 April 2011 – Tuesday 10 May 2011

The crazy antics on a university campus usually revolve around inebriated ‘intellectuals’, with more knowledge regarding the layout of the local off license, than the subject of their degree. However, Channel 4’s The Campus, written by the brains behind Green Wing, focuses on the bizarre, quirky and often supernatural ventures of a group of university staff in the fictional Kirke University.

Series 1 follows Vice Chancellor Jonty de Wolfe (Andy Nyman) as he strives to forge excellence out of the mediocrity that is Kirke University. Senior mathematics lecturer Imogen Moffat (Lisa Jackson), propelled into the academic limelight by her bestselling book “The Story of 0 (Zero)”, is the Vice Chancellor’s key to pushing Kirke up the university rankings.

Constantly being badgered by Jonty for a second book, Imogen hits a writing wall. Enter English professor, Matt Beer (Joseph Millson). Hedonistic, lazy and exploitative, he offers to ‘help’ Miss Moffat to write her sequel so he can get VC Jonty off his back in order to continue being the indulgent womaniser he is. However, Beer’s task gets more complicated as he must contemplate the idea that he might actually be in love with Imogen, all the while his sidekick, Flatpack (Jonathan Bailey) is chasing the same Maths genius. Throw in perpetually enraged Mechanical Engineering lecturer Lydia Tennant (Dolly Wells), and quick fire confrontations are a regular sight.

The university faces closure as seductive but calculating George Bryan (Katherine Ryan) puts it under the microscope and Jonty faces the task of placing Kirke on the map (too literally at times, by suggesting to paint the university so it can be seen from outer space).

The beauty of this show is certainly its style of humour, gliding from awkward, to uncomfortable to racist although at times its offensiveness looks for a cheap laugh. Nonetheless, it is precisely those moments where either cringing, laughing or screwing your face up into an indescribable reaction seems appropriate. Spearheading the hilarity is Jonty de Wolfe, and here Nyman shows a brilliant exhibition of deadpan acting, making you believe that his threat to shrink Jason Armitage (Will Adamsdale) is a possibility. Strutting around with the hardiness of a seven foot person, Nyman demonstrates the snappy wit of his five foot character, showing little regard for the sensitivity of the situation, telling one colleague to, “turn that frown upside down, and fuck off!” as a way of firing them.

The array of characters and their individual personalities inevitably collide in some punchy comedic moments, from the bitter exchanges between Moffat and Tennant, to the sexual tension between Moffat and Beer. The dynamic between the Maths and English professors conflicts the frigidity of Moffat against the quick-witted but abrasive seduction of Beer.

The smaller subplots and characters are as important in keeping the series moving. Awkward flirting between accountant Jason Armitage and Nicole Huggins (Sara Pascoe) provide some truly embarrassing moments with the latter falsely saying she is a lesbian to take away any scent of her attraction towards Jason. This move is a catalyst for many compromising moments of the series including a cheeky boob grab from Armitage.

The Campus offers a fantastic combination of surreal moments and quick-witted comedy in a wonderfully vivid picture of Kirke University. Just like a BA, BSc or any other BS that is studied in university, The Campus takes time to develop and find its true potential, but in the end, succeeds to finish with a first class degree in hilarious.

March of the Dinosaurs Review

MARCH OF THE DINOSAURS: Aired Saturday 23rd April 2011, ITV, 5pm

From its name, March of the Dinosaurs sounds epic, with an air of grandeur and majestic stride, which is very true of this programme. The computer animated drama focuses on the prehistoric creatures as they embark on a 1000 mile trek from the hostile, sub-zero temperatures of the North Pole, in search of food and warmth down south.

March of the Dinosaurs follows two young dinosaurs – Scar, a newly hatched herbivorous Edmontosaurus, and Patch, a carnivorous but incompetent Troodon. As winter approaches and darkness encroaches upon the North Pole, the terrain becomes dangerous forcing Scar, along with the rest of his herd, to undertake an arduous journey in order to leave behind the threatening presence of the Gorgosaurus, a 30ft long, two tonne monster that hunts in the dark with night vision eyes.

Patch however remains in the harsh north but is faced with a battle where only the fittest prosper.  The two must quickly learn how to survive in their environments, experiencing life lessons in both painful and inspiring ways.

The success of March of the Dinosaurs has much to do with the impressive CGI. Brawls between dinosaurs are vivid with bite marks, gashes and blood clearly on display. The magnificence of the odyssey is captured through fantastic landscapes from barren wastelands through to tantalising sunsets. Not only does the CGI highlight the large scale of the expedition, but also does well to highlight the delicate relationships between these rough beings. One of the most heart-rending moments of this story comes from such an instance where Scar looks back on his helpless Pachyrhinosaurus companion with a regretful expression. Even the voices of the dinosaurs encompass their emotion, from the angry roar of an Albertosaurus, to the helplessness of the Ankylosaur.

The actions of these prehistoric animals truly highlight a quite extraordinary resemblance to humans. One only has to look at poor Patch, essentially a dinosaur on the pull who doesn’t get the girl because he lacks a stable home. His attempts at seducing the female are futile as he participates in the mating ritual which involves a rather awkward and uncomfortable looking dance off with another Troodon. How many times have you looked like a prat to impress someone of the opposite sex?

March of the Dinosaurs is a beautiful blend between graceful storytelling and the latest in arctic palaeontology. It is a treat that certainly caters for children and adults creating a truly family drama that takes you back 70 million years, to a remarkable event and gives you a lesson in the harsh realities of growing up.

Help My House Is Infested Review

HELP! MY HOUSE IS INFESTED: Aired Monday 18th April 2011, C4, 8pm

“We’re cornered, we’re absolutely cornered” says one rat infestation victim. Help! My House Is Infested shows the devastating effects of bedbug, rat, moth and fox infestations. The pests spread quickly and they achieve lethal results causing damage to houses and families that often leave a hole in one’s pocket.

However, presenter Sarah Beeny shows that there are solutions. She calls in different “pest busters” to deal with the problems. From heating the house up to 50°C with industrial heaters, to finding ingenious ways to fill an inaccessible pipe, the professionals effectively remove the pests.

Help! plays off the battle between pest and people well, highlighting the grotesque nature of an infestation through vivid images of bedbug bites and dead rats caught in traps. Focusing on specific families certainly helped underline the deep-rooted impact that an infestation can have. The battle is intense as creative detective work from the infestation controllers, using thin tube cameras to look down drains, and placing UV powder to track rats, fought back against the pests.

Yet these moments of gripping action are infrequent. Much of the documentary is quite unexciting with quite obvious questioning from Beeny beginning, “if you were giving someone advice who was in this situation…”, hence the documentary was not provocative enough. While excrement was an important clue for the infestation control people, there appeared to be an unhealthy affixation with it as Beeny seemed to respond to any black speck on the floor with, “errr, is that [insert appropriate pest here] poo?”

Help! also gave the impression that it was dealing with too much. The interjection of the fox pest scenario in the community was thrown in with no attempt at a conclusion and evidently just broke the already staggering flow of the documentary.

With any moments of interesting viewing undermined by unnecessary and predictable structure, Help! My House is Infested is indeed a pest to evening viewing.

(Originally published at onthebox.com)

Smugglers Review: Border Battle

SMUGGLERS: Aired Tuesday 7th April, ITV1, 9pm

When you think of smuggling, maybe the image of a wooden legged, eye-patched pirate comes to mind, or maybe just Johnny Depp. However, ITV’s Smugglers is a proactive and stimulating exhibition of the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) fight against criminal smuggling of drugs and tobacco, which is masterminded by organised international crime groups.

ITV’s new series tracks the different sections of the UKBA from key smuggling ports such as Dover and Harwich, to the sea where UKBA boats are in hot pursuit of ships containing illicit substances. The action is tense and along with the soundtrack that sounds like it should accompany Gladiator, this documentary is truly gripping and revelatory.

Smugglers goes deeper than to just look at how the UKBA operates, it also explores the psychology of some of the criminals, citing financial difficulties and an ignorance to the reality of their actions as motives for their crooked ways. Often presented as a gamble, smuggling is a game of high risk, but an even higher reward.

Not only is smuggling exposed at the level of sophisticated and organised crime, but the trafficking of tobacco is shown to be carried out by holiday makers who take part in the game of ‘low risk, high gain’. This ‘close to home’ feel gives Smugglers its aura of tension knowing that someone next to you on the way back from Tenerife, may be tobacco-running.

As if that wasn’t enough, the documentary drives home the point that illegal smuggling affects everyone, as it highlights just how the trade impacts the economy by taking away revenue from tax, thus pushing other levies up. Entertaining and eye opening, Smugglers is definitely one to watch.

(Originally published at onthebox.com)