Rich Holiday, Poor Holiday, Sunday 23rd February, 9pm, Channel 5
Ooookay. In the wrong hands, this could be a crass and morally dubious concept. A well-to-do family and one of more modest means are going to swap holidays, to experience how the other half live. It could be an interesting and valuable socio-economic exercise. But it could very easily just end up being “Look at the poshos being all uncomfortable in a Wetherspoons” or, even worse, “Look at the wide-eyed paupers seeing what they could have won if only life had turned out a little differently.” This needs to be handled with immense care and tact – not necessarily the absolute buzzwords you’d associate with Channel 5. Or, let’s face it, telly. Anyway, what have they called it? Rich Holiday, Poor Holiday. Oh good grief. Set the crass-o-meter to maximum.
Right, we’re off to Caterham, to meet the Peters family, including six cats, five dogs, four children… no, wait, I know this one: Three French hens, two turtledoves? Anyway, not surprisingly, Cecilia is a stay-at-home mum. Husband Alex has a business clearing houses, for which he pays himself £130-a-week.
Right, where are we off to now? Mayfair? Malibu Beach? Monte Carlo? Oh, okay, Bristol. But a well-swanky part. Lovely, large Georgian townhouse, consultant dad (Axel Walther) and entrepreneur mum (Nicola), two kids, both of whom learn musical instruments and do lots of homework. Oh, and the family have invested a lot in property, we are told. We could probably let them know of someone who could clear the houses on the cheap.
It’s time to learn where they’re going on holiday. The Walthers are off to the Isle of Wight. The Peters family are going to an all-inclusive luxury safari lodge in Tanzania. The Walthers are doing this so that their kids understand how fortunate they are. The Peters are doing it because… oh come on, you surely don’t need me to explain why the Peters are doing it. Though going on a safari is presumably a bit of a busman’s holiday for a family with that many animals at home.
The Walthers have arrived at their budget guesthouse on the island. The family are all sharing one room. Axel looks like he might break down in tears at any moment. Meanwhile, Cecilia is actually breaking down in tears, but of the happy variety, as they arrive at their lodge, overlooking the Zambezi river.
Basically, you can probably guess quite a lot of what comes next. The Peters family have an absolute ball, lapping up every experience, loving every minute. The Walthers family… wellllll… less so. Mind you, the producers haven’t exactly gone out on a limb to help them. They appear to have sent them to the Isle of Wight in the depths of winter, and then organised a plethora of exclusively outdoor activities for them, just to ensure the absolute depths of their misery.
And yet, in spite of everything, I found myself really enjoying this programme. It turns out it’s not made by a bunch of embittered cynics intent on making the contributors look like unpleasant social stereotypes. Indeed, everyone seems rather lovely, and even Axel appears to rather cheer up by the end. This being telly-land, everyone learns something profound about themselves and life, but in the case of a few of the contributors, that seems to genuinely be true. I didn’t even snort when the word ‘life-changing’ was used.
Flesh and Blood 1/4, Monday 24th February, 9pm, ITV
Half term is here, and we’re off for a little break. I know that putting something like this online is generally discouraged for security reasons, but as we’re leaving my cousin, Big Vern, and his pack of ravenous Dobermans in the house in our absence, I think we can take the risk.
Anyway, I mention this because I’ve had to finish the blog a little earlier than usual, which meant I was pushed for things to write about, as some stuff is held back until close to transmission. I’ll be honest, I was struggling. I had watched episode two of a new series that began last week, Harry Redknapp’s Sandbanks Summer. But having watched it, and I am still none the wiser as to what it was about. It genuinely just seemed to be a programme following Harry around as he pottered about with his wife/mates/dogs. I bow to no-one in my ability to waffle on at some length about nothing in particular, but there was literally not a thing to say about this show.
Thank goodness, then, that this new drama suddenly became available to watch. Far from being a programme where literally nothing happens, we get right onto the action from the get-go. The opening scene sees the police removing a body (Alive? Dead? We don’t know) from the garden of a rather beautiful beach house in Dorset. At least, I think it’s in Dorset. I may have made that up, or it might be because Harry Redknapp lives in Dorset.
The following day, a kindly neighbour Mary (Imelda Staunton) is filling in the police on the goings on next door. Such a lovely family. Quite unlike any of them to attempt to murder someone. To be fair, that’s unlike most people. The house belongs to Vivien (Francesca Annis), a widow of 18 months. She’s been a widow for 18 months, I mean, she’s not 18 months old. That really would be too young to be living on your own. Anyway, she may not be on her own for much longer. There’s a new man in her life, Mark (Stephen Rea), a former surgeon, and quite the catch.
Her children are a nice bunch. The oldest is Helen (Claudie Blakley), a high-powered career woman running three NHS Hospitals. Next is Jake (Russell Tovey), a loving father and fitness trainer. Finally, there is Natalie (Lydia Leonard) who is forging her own career as PA to the boss of a construction firm.
So there we have it. Everyone’s ticking along quite nicely. Nobody’s got any secrets or complications in their lives. Oh no. None whatsoever. No siree.
Yep, it’s a cornucopia of chaos. These are people with seriously messy lives. I mean, everyone’s lives are a bit messy, sure, but this is the kind of mess you get after you’ve had a party for 500 drunk teenagers in your house. With a mud-wrestling theme. It’s a writhing smorgasbord of sex, infidelity, debt, addiction, grief and jealousy.
Mind you, there’s no drama in cheerful people being nice to each other. All good tales need a bit of angst, a bit of grit to make the pearl. And this does feel like a good drama. Of course, with a potboiler like this, you never really know if it’s truly satisfying until the final episode. Will all the threads come together in a thrillingly-unexpected-yet-plausible fashion, or will the plot have more holes than a teabag?
But this feels like it’s got the chance to be really good. It’s a top-notch cast, the whole thing is set-up very nicely and, as an added bonus, we’re allowed to see a bit of romance and passion for someone over the age of 25! The following three episodes are on over the next three nights, so we’ll know soon enough who the body is, whether they’re dead, who was responsible, and whether this was any good. Oh, and by the way, is it just me, or is there something just a teensy bit off about kindly neighbour Mary?
The best… and the rest:
Saturday 22nd February
Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, 7pm, ITV: The genuinely likeable Geordie duo return for a new series of old-fashioned Saturday evening family telly. This series will feature the biggest giveaway in British TV history.
Sunday 23rd February
Last Tango in Halifax, 9pm, BBC One: Series five of Sally Wainwright’s consistently excellent comedy drama. If you can’t enjoy a series starring Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid, Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker, written by the brilliant Sally Wainwright… well, maybe telly’s not your medium.
Monday 24th February
MasterChef 1/24, 9pm, BBC One: I’ve just had a thought. Do you think Gregg Wallace put the extra ‘g’ in his name because he actually looks like an egg? Anyway, you know the drill – veloutés, quenelles, reductions, deconstructions, and some genuinely brilliant cooking. Hurrah!
Murder 24/7, 9pm, BBC Two: Documentary series following murder investigations by Essex police, from the critical first few days right through to arrest and conviction. Tonight, the team investigates fatal stabbing of 36-year-old Courtney Valentine-Brown in Southend-on-Sea. Continues tomorrow.
Tuesday 25th February
Love Your Garden 1/4, 8pm, ITV: Ah, bless. Here’s Alan and his trusty team, ready to make beautiful gardens for deserving people. A heart-warming antidote to a cynical world.
Back in Time for the Corner Shop 1/5, 8pm, BBC Two: A family of five works in a corner shop to reveal how such businesses have changed over the course of the past 100 years, aided by presenter Sara Cox and social historian Polly Russell. I remember when a bag of crisps was 2p. Oh, happy days.
Um… that’s it. I’m not being lazy, there is literally nothing new on for the rest of the week. A bientot, mes cheries.