Category: Entertainment

Strictly in the Spotlight

For the last six or seven years, Strictly Come Dancing has been the highlight of my television calendar. From September to December I religiously watch every live show, every results show, and most episodes of its sister programme It Takes Two. With Series 10 reaching its grand conclusion last night, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share some of my thoughts on the 2012 competition and explain why I’m such a Strictly addict.

Let’s start with something positive: why do I love Strictly? In short, because it’s fun and nobody’s livelihoods are at stake, unlike in some reality/entertainment shows I could mention (cough X Factor cough). There are no real sob stories, everyone genuinely seems to get on well every year, and it makes me smile. Dani and Vincent Viennese Waltz

Series 10 has been no exception to these generalities. An excellent celeb line up, the addition of Darcey Bussell to the judging panel, and a great new pro dancer have all contributed to making twelve fantastic weeks of television. Oh and the dancing’s been rather wonderful too!

If I had to pick a favourite dance of this series it would probably be Dani and Vincent’s Venetian-themed Viennese Waltz; it was so beautifully choreographed and performed. I had been routing for this couple, nicknamed Team Smurf, when the final kicked off last night, and I do believe that with a different show dance they might have won. It was such a shame that nerves took hold and that perhaps their show dance was a tad too ambitious.

I always feel a bit of loyalty towards some of the professional dancers who have been on the show a long time, so much so that I admit it actually affects my voting to a degree. I never do vote until the last two weeks of the competition, but right from the start I wanted Vincent, James or Flavia to be in with a chance of finally lifting the Glitter Ball trophy. Of course I would never vote for the pro alone, which is why I was delighted to see that all three had celebrity partners who not only seemed to be nice people, but who steadily developed as talented dancers.

JamesDeniseCharlestonHowever, it seems I have been in a minority when it came to supporting James and his partner Denise van Outen. It actually saddens me a little to write something negative about Strictly, but it has been truly disappointing to read how vindictive and unpleasant some fans have been about Denise and her performance background on various forums/social media channels this year. So what if she’s been on stage and danced in Chicago? Kimberley is from a musical background and appeared in Shrek, and several past contestants have also attended stage school and had some dance training. Was there ever a backlash like this against them? I don’t believe so. It’s a shame that, for whatever reason, people were so vocally negative about a contestant who actually trained around 100 hours more than anyone else in this year’s competition and who didn’t have prior experience in the Ballroom and Latin disciplines. The mistakes she made  – and there were a few – should have been proof that she was learning too.

Right, I’ve got that off my chest and promise to rant no more in this post. On to the final!

After Dani left I still had my hopes for Denise (what a spectacular show dance!), but had an Louis-FlaviaSCDChampionsinkling that it would be Louis or Kimberley taking the crown after the second round of voting. Kimberley was absolutely fantastic over the second half of the competition, whilst Louis had found his inner performer and proved his popularity by never being in the bottom two. Any of the four finalists would have been deserving champions, so I wasn’t disappointed when Louis and Flavia were declared the Strictly Come Dancing 2012 winners. With the judges’ scores only putting one point between all of the top three couples, it was always going to come down to a slight popularity vote and that gymnastic physique may well have swung it in the Olympian’s favour!

I could go on for many more paragraphs, discussing dresses, more dances, the wonderful Lisa Riley, Halloween night, the judges, and the bewilderment I feel whenever Claudia Winkleman appears on screen, but I’ve probably babbled long enough. Suffice to say there will now be a Strictly-shaped hole in my weekends and I have absolutely loved this series. Bring on the Christmas Special and I look forward to more FAB-U-LOUS dancing in autumn 2013!

If somebody offered me £12,000 for a wedding, I would be delighted. If the condition of this was that my fiancé had to arrange the whole event alone and that our special day would be filmed as part of a TV series, namely Don’t Tell The Bride, I might be less inclined to accept the offer. If £25 grand was on the cards but this was in return for sharing my wedding with an unknown couple and having to compromise on several aspects, right down to the dress, I would tell whoever suggested it they were mad.

It seems not everyone would take my stance, however, as this is the premise in Battle of the Brides, a new reality series currently airing on Sky Living. Two brides-to-be who have never met are offered £25,000 towards a shared wedding day, provided they can agree on whose dress they will both wear, whose transport they will both use, and whose theme and entertainment will shape the reception. Cue tears, tantrums and tension.

Call me old-fashioned, but surely the most important thing about a wedding is that it’s the day you commit to spending the rest of your life with the person you love? Yes, it would be fantastic if you could also afford to put on a gourmet banquet, arrive in style and wear the dress of your dreams, but these aspects often seem to overshadow the marriage itself in series such as Battle of the Brides. Now I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to have such wonderful things, I just wouldn’t want to broadcast my day to a percentage of the TV-watching public in order to get them.

In the event of ever getting married (not even remotely on the cards, by the way!), I’d really prefer that my husband-to-be and I planned the day together and took as much time as we needed, even if it did mean saving every penny for a few years. Perhaps I’m naïve about the financial realities of a wedding, but I also feel that in a time of economic difficulty for Britain, some of these programmes are causing engaged couples more stress than is necessary due to their desperation to tie the knot. If you love each other that much then why not wait – then you won’t have to share what you hoped would be a full on biker-themed wedding with someone who prefers a classy Caribbean twist.

As for Don’t Tell The Bride…well, I freely admit that I do tune in to watch it now and then. For some reason it doesn’t infuriate me as much as Battle of the Brides did, possibly because there’s not an underlying determination to eradicate someone else’s desired wedding theme. Nevertheless, it would take a lot of pre-briefing and nerves of steel before I ever let my hypothetical fiancé take the reins alone for planning our wedding…

Matt Lowe, on location in Brum

April has been an incredibly busy month for me. In addition to my day-to-day work at a library, a production company and a theatre (yes, I currently have three jobs and rarely know if I’m coming or going!) I’ve also been involved with a storyline for Season 5 of PERSONA, the world’s first ongoing soap opera for smartphones.

PERSONA is free to download on both iTunes and the Android market, with a three-minute ‘appisode’ coming direct to your smartphone every day. As well as being an innovative concept that provides a great nugget of free daily entertainment, PERSONA offers aspiring writers and directors a chance to try their hand at creating some of the storylines in each season. My friend Matt applied to do this and a few short weeks later, Adam and Sarah’s Story was born.

Matt and I met at University several years ago and both studied the same Film and TV Masters course after completing our undergraduate degrees in History. When he asked me if I wanted to be involved in PERSONA, I immediately said yes. My main role has been to promote Adam and Sarah’s Story through social media and I was also a Production Assistant on the first day of the shoot last weekend. It’s been a brilliant experience, not only to work with Matt and other friends from the MA again, but also to work with a lovely cast and to delve briefly into the world of drama. Post-production is now underway and I can’t wait to see the ten completed scenes.

The purpose of today’s post is, I’ll admit, to ask you nicely to check out the Adam and Sarah’s Story blog I set up to chart our progress with the project. There’s information about the cast and crew, plenty of photos and even some hints of what’s in store for Adam and Sarah when their story hits smartphone screens later this year. If you’re looking for something new to fill a few minutes of your day, at no cost, PERSONA could be the answer.

Four Rooms

Meet the Dealers Behind the Doors

Four Rooms first aired on Channel 4 last summer and has returned for a second series this week. The format is vaguely reminiscent of Dragon’s Den, except objects rather than inventions are brought under the scrutiny of a quartet of dealers.  From Elvis’s golf buggy to a hangman’s noose, no item is too obscure to be showcased in the hope of making big money for its owner.  The inevitable catch? Each dealer makes an offer on the item in question, but this is only valid for as long as the owner of the artefact is in that dealer’s room.  If they exit without accepting the money, they cannot return and there is no way of knowing whether a more profitable offer will be made.

It’s an interesting study in tactical game play, on the part of the owners as much as the dealers.  Some people enter a dealer’s room with no obvious strategy and appear clueless of worth, whilst others gain an edge because they’ve done some research. Of course, there are also those who appear not to respect the dealers’ specialist knowledge and then lose out because greed gets the better of them.

Take the man in Series One who was offered over £1000 for a piece of tattooed human skin preserved in a jar. He hadn’t paid a penny for it, yet refused to accept this offer from dealer Emma Hawkins, despite the fact that her specialism is all things macabre. Each to their own, but a grand certainly sounds more appealing to me than a somewhat grim mantelpiece ornament…

Emma is not appearing in Series Two but has been replaced by another female dealer, Celia Sawyer. She joins Jeff, Gordon and Andrew from Series One and has already purchased a piece of artwork by Marlon Brando for £5000. Wednesday’s episode also featured a chair that J.K. Rowling sat on whilst writing her first Harry Potter novels, Francis Bacon’s paintbrushes, the original music score for Psycho, and an antique dildo. The chair failed to sell despite offers in excess of £50,000 whilst the stainless steel dildo was bought by Jeff for £1100.11 and a kiss, no tongues. All in day’s work!

Come Dine With Me

After my It Takes Two fix earlier, I somehow ended up watching four straight episodes of Come Dine With Me.  I often take an idle interest in the dinner party dramas, but this is the first time I’ve actively chosen to see how a whole week plays out.  Perhaps it’s laziness, the button box (sorry, remote control) was left on the other sofa, after all.  But despite the repetitive format, my only moments of boredom came in the ‘coming up next’ and ‘last time’ sections, where the same clip was sometimes shown three or four times.  It also helped that the contestants were reasonable human beings who didn’t deliberately antagonise each other, as previous disputes have been a factor in my channel changing after one or two episodes.

If I could watch Come Dine With Me without adverts though, I might tune in more frequently: there are always interesting recipe ideas and it’s intriguing to observe how different people host and behave at dinner parties.  Am I judging them for their actions at the table?  Yes, to an extent, but doesn’t everybody who watches reality TV form opinions about the contestants?  In turn I’m being judged by the boyfriend, for spending two hours watching what he considers rubbish.  It is a guilty pleasure, I’ll readily admit, but for the sake of £1000 I think I’d try my hand at entertaining strangers, even if it did mean being subjected to the sardonic narration of Dave Lamb.