TV blog: Poldark and other TV highlights

Benjie Goodhart / 12 March 2015

TV blogger Benjie Goodhart takes a look at Poldark, Nurse, Bluestone 42 and The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop.

Review: Poldark, Sunday, March 8, 9pm, BBC One

Kernowphile. That’s my word of the day. It means a fan of Cornwall. (This blog is nothing if not educational. Which, seeing as it’s not educational, must mean it’s nothing…)

Anyway, there is much in the new adaptation of Poldark to keep Kernowphiles happy. It’s all glittering seas, windswept moors and jagged cliffs. Though, judging by the newspapers, the scenery is not the most significant aesthetic to have captured the public imagination.

Aidan Turner, who plays the eponymous hero, is indeed a gloweringly handsome, dark, brooding chap, and 50.8 per cent of the population seem to be more than a little aflutter. Indeed, what with the remarkably attractive collection of convicts populating Australia in the current series of Banished, it seems like the late 18th Century represented the apogee of human attractiveness (and dentistry) in all of history.

Anyway, Poldark is coming back from fighting in the American War of Independence. Except things are not as he left them. His father’s dead, his inheritance has gone, his land is worthless, and worst of all, his beloved is affianced to his drippy cousin. Awks, as I believe the young people say.

So what does our hero do? He gets drunk, sleeps around a bit, gets in a few fights, and eventually dies of syphilis in the gutter. Does he heck! Not Ross Poldark! He sets about restoring his estate, helping out his impoverished tenants, working the land, and generally looking rugged and handsome. Meanwhile, we meet an old school chum of his, sitting in a posh drawing room whilst – sound the villain klaxon – counting money.

Poldark goes to his cousin’s wedding, which they celebrate with a cock fight in the living room (dear God, think of the soft furnishings!) Then he’s off to market, where he prevents a dog fight (are all animals made to fight to the death in 18th Century Cornwall? If they want a really long bout, do they organise a sheep fight?) The dog’s owner is a boy, who turns out – sound the romantic interest klaxon – to be a girl. Called – sound the emotional cruelty klaxon – Demelza.

Poldark hires Demelza as his kitchen maid, prompting her angry bully of a father to attack with a large mob, who hilariously parade along the road roaring and snarling like only mobs in dramas ever do. In real life, they wander along breaking windows and lobbing empty tinnies at cars.

This was all jolly good fun, in a slightly silly way. It’s not like you don’t know pretty much exactly what’s going to happen, but it’s beautifully done and entertaining enough. And next week, we’re promised Poldark swimming. I sense a Mr Darcy moment. Only it’s 2015 now, so he’ll probably be in the nuddy. Enjoy, Aidanphiles.

Review: Nurse, Tuesday, March 10, 10pm, BBC Two

In 2005, Paul Whitehouse made a show called Help, which featured a psychotherapist who was treating a series of patients who were trying to come to terms with various conditions. Paul Whitehouse played each one of these patients, in a dazzling display of thespian artistry.

In 2015, Paul Whitehouse has made a show called Nurse, which features a community mental health nurse treating a series of patients as they try to come to terms with various conditions. Paul Whitehouse plays each one of these patients, in a dazzling display both of thespian artistry and of idea-recycling. I mean, did he not think anyone would notice?

Not that I’m objecting, particularly. As far as I’m concerned, he can go ahead and remake the series every decade until one of us dies, such is his prowess and ability to inhabit such a diverse range of characters. Not for nothing did Johnny Depp call him the best actor in the world.

In Nurse, he plays a Jewish OAP who always outstays his welcome, a morbidly obese young man in a co-dependent relationship with his mother, an ex-con country music fan stuck in a tower block, a 70s pop star with verbal incontinence, a long-suffering son looking after a mother with dementia, a posh, lovelorn schizophrenic, and a top show jumping pony called Butterfly. (Okay, I made up the last one).

It would be easy for a show like this to lapse into crude stereotypes and crass, ill-judged humour, but it doesn’t. The result is a gently lugubrious and quietly moving show full of existentialist angst and melancholia, and shot through with a strain of wicked humour.

Esther Coles plays the nurse, Elizabeth, with an understated kindness that allows Whitehouse to do his thing. She is an excellent, warm-hearted foil to his more outlandish characters, keeping the show grounded and real where it could embark on surreal flights of fancy. Being the straight woman can be a thankless task, but here, she makes it an art form.

And Whitehouse is, as ever, magnificent – so much so that after a while, you forget you’re watching him (the make-up is superb as well). Who cares if we’ve seen it all before?

Continue to page 2 for previews of Bluestone 42 and The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop

Preview: Bluestone 42, Sunday, March 15, 10:05pm, BBC Two

The Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard (me neither) said “You are never so stupid as when you are 17. Never. When you are eight you’re not stupid… But at 17 you are.” I tend to agree - I myself was a cast-iron nincompoop at 17. Which is why I try to avoid anything on a ‘yoof’ oriented channel like BBC Three. It’s bound to be dross, right?

Well, not necessarily. Not if Bluestone 42 is anything to go by. The sitcom, which returned on BBC Three this week, and gets an airing on BBC Two on Sunday 15th March, is into its third series. I’d heard mutterings of approval about it from people in the industry, but dismissed them as the insane ramblings of those who watch too much telly.

I finally decided to watch it this week, after a friend recommended it to me, and it’s not half bad. Nor is it entirely bad. In fact, it’s more than half good. It’s very mostly a lot good. (If that sentence doesn’t win me a Pulitzer, nothing will.)

The comedy follows a bomb-disposal unit in Afghanistan – mining (no pun intended) a rich seam of war-based comedy including M*A*S*H and Blackadder Goes Forth. The episode began with the group stuck in a big armoured van thingy after driving over a big explosive whatnot (my military background is coming into play here).

Cue panic and mayhem, with Simon (Stephen Wright) in particular convinced he’s about to meet his maker. Instead, he should have met with make-up – the injury on his face seemed to change position, shape and severity with every changing scene.

The perilous situation deteriorates when group leader Nick (Oliver Chris) becomes concussed. “Don’t operate any heavy machinery, and avoid stressful situations,” instructs his medic, as a gunfight wages all around them.

Bird (Katie Lyons) assumes command of the unit, despite an utterly doolally Nick insistent that he’s fine. But Bird has to tackle not just the Taleban, but her unrequited feelings for Nick. She asks for advice. The army being the army, one of the options on the table is to kick Nick where men definitively do not like to be kicked. “Naah,” cautions a squaddie. “Violence never solves anything.” And with that, he lets off another couple of rounds.

I enjoyed Bluestone 42 a great deal. Brilliant. 12 years after its launch, I’ve discovered BBC Three, just as it’s about to close down. But be warned, if you are of sensitive disposition, there is some strong language – but that’s what army life is like. I should know. I’ve seen the whole of Saving Private Ryan. Twice.

Preview: The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop, Wednesday, March 18, 9pm, BBC One

A couple of weeks ago, Channel 4 showed a doc called The Billion Pound Hotel, about a gold-plated, preposterously opulent suite-only hotel in Dubai that offers the last word in vulgarity. So initially I expected The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop to be about the world’s most glamorous chicken restaurant, a sort of Nandos for oligarchs where the chickens are served on a bed of saffron and platinum, and the plates are actually supermodels’ faces.

Turns out it was about KFC. Hmm. Either they’ve had a pretty surprising diamond-encrusted upgrade, or the billion dollars refers to turnover. Disappointingly, it’s the latter. This three-part documentary series looks at the company from the boardroom to the kitchens. Like a KFC meal, the documentary is easily consumed, acceptable enough, but in no way memorable. And best served with coleslaw. No, wait, that doesn’t work...

There are some good moments in the programme. Dom, the ambitious manager of the Havant KFC organises a special Valentine’s evening with a musician (seemingly a seven-year-old with a guitar) and heart-shaped balloons. You probably get a free divorce lawyer thrown in with your bargain bucket. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Beth, who works in another branch, is perhaps injudiciously honest to the camera: “Give KFC a swerve on Valentine’s Day. Why would you go to KFC? Even Nandos would be better.” The N-word. Presumably a sackable offence.

We also see inside one of the farms where the chickens come from. Apparently KFC dishes up over 90 million chickens every year. Although, puzzlingly, later it says that it serves 30 million customers, which means everyone going into a KFC has three whole chickens per visit. No wonder we have an obesity problem. Anyway, the farm itself looks pretty grim, although doubtless we’re meant to be impressed by the place’s cleanliness. “They have a short life, but a good life. I wouldn’t mind being a chicken in here,” says the farmer. Crammed in with tens of thousands of other chickens, before being gassed to death at 40 days old and mechanically chopped into nine pieces. Yep, that’s living the dream, all right.

It’s not all grease and fat and chicken innards, though. Once a year, the restaurant managers get to go to their awards dinner and ball. “It’s very much like the Oscars,” says Dom, who I’m guessing has never been to the Oscars.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.