Category: Student Living


What with one thing and another – finishing my MA, job hunting and numerous family events – it’s been rather a long time since I blogged.  September was a pretty good month for me telly-wise though, with the BBC kindly broadcasting the Strictly Come Dancing launch show on my 23rd Birthday and Series Two of Downton Abbey starting a week later.  Who Do You Think You Are? returned as my staple 9pm Wednesday night fare in August and I made a couple of new discoveries that completed a very satisfactory weekly TV menu, keeping me entertained as the evenings drew in this month. So, without further metaphors (I really should stop with the food analogies!) here’s a breakdown of my Top Five summer-into-autumn shows…

My Own Route 66 Adventure: Pops

5.     Billy Connolly’s Route 66 

I was drawn to this four-part ITV series for two reasons.  Firstly; it was made by Maverick, where I was lucky enough to have a placement earlier this year.  Secondly; I travelled halfway across America in May, including a short stint on Route 66, so I was fascinated to see what else this iconic road has to offer.  Although Connolly didn’t visit Pops, the only landmark on Route 66 that I went to, the series did provide an insight into both the physical and cultural breadth of the USA.  It’s hard to imagine somebody doing a better job presenting this sort of travelogue than Connolly, hitting the highways on his trike and telling stories about people and places with honesty and humour.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and am now following the programme that’s taken over its Thursday evening slot: Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey.

4.     Who Do You Think  You Are?  

This is one that divides my housemates, some of whom claim  that who your great-great-grandparents were really has no bearing on you.  Whilst there is a degree of logic in this, I  have always seen WDYTYA as a fascinating avenue into history first, a genealogy programme second.  You never know what  era of history might be encountered as the celebrities trace their ancestors.  Larry Lamb’s episode was one of my favourites in this latest series: his mother’s family were travelling showmen, famous for their menagerie of exotic animals, and he actually tracked  down a previously unknown relative in America.   J.K. Rowling’s journey took her to France and Germany, giving an insight into the impact of the Franco-Prussian war on ordinary families.  No two episodes of WDYTYA are ever the same, historically or in the reactions of the celebrity participants.  It may be a little bit of sentimentality that draws me in as well as the history, but regardless of my friends’ opinions I’ll  certainly watch the next series when it reaches our screens. 

The Formidable Grandmother: Maggie Smith

3.     Downton Abbey

It’s all happening at Downton Abbey and the twists and turns this series have seldom brought happy news for the Crawley family.  It’s hardly surprising, given that the Great  War has been dominating the bulk of the storylines, but it would be nice to have some small glimmer of hope for Lady Mary and Matthew or for Mr Bates and Anna in previews of the next week’s episode.  Intriguing as all the relationships are at Downton, whether they’re platonic,  amorous, or crossing class boundaries, the heightened drama seems to be prohibiting even one match between two characters being satisfactorily cemented.  The costumes and setting are exquisite and Maggie Smith is still delivering superb lines as the Dowager Countess, but I’m hoping for more resolutions and less mini cliff-hangers over the coming weeks.

2.     Fresh Meat

Fresh Meat is a  new Channel 4 comedy that follows the escapades of six university students  forced to share a house after missing out on their places in Halls.  The characters and situations are often exaggerated for effect, but nevertheless strike a surprisingly realistic chord about the  ups and downs of moving to a new city and living with strangers.  Its appeal lies in the subtle but astute observations about how Freshers deal with the strains of University life,  creating new identities (who can forget the Pussy Man?) and desperately trying to please and impress new acquaintances, even if it does lead to one night stands with housemates.  The main characters represent a bunch of stereotypes who aren’t actually as stereotypical as they initially seem; from posh lad JP to alternative, don’t- care Vod.   We’ve all got mates who remind us of at least one person in Fresh Meat, or can personally identify with some of the scenarios – even if we wouldn’t admit it!  Each episode leaves me chuckling and it’s no surprise that a second  series has already been commissioned.

Russell and Flavia's Foxtrot, Week 3

 1.      Strictly Come Dancing

Admittedly something of a guilty pleasure, but I’m an avid Strictly fan, including tuning in for It Takes Two most week nights.  Sometimes I think it would be worth becoming famous just for the slight chance that I could be asked to take part in Strictly.  Not for the hair and make-up, but just for the opportunity to learn to dance with a professional like James (hint hint!) or Vincent, who’s certainly the best match for me height-wise…Dreaming aside though, I love watching Strictly because it’s solid entertainment: a visual spectacle, that ‘journey’ element, and plenty of amusing moments.  Yes, it’s sad when somebody leaves undeservedly, like Rory Bremner last weekend, and occasionally the judges go a little OTT, but nobody’s livelihoods are at stake in this competition; it’s really a very positive process.  Indeed, the ballroom bug seems to infect all who take part.  Russell Grant may not be the best dancer to grace the floor, but is truly a joy to behold as he learns each new routine.  I’m slightly apprehensive about seeing what Nancy Dell’Olio and Anton present this Saturday in the Halloween Special, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  Besides, it wouldn’t be so fun to watch if I couldn’t voice my own criticisms about dresses and routines.  My favourite to win? It’s early days yet, so perhaps I’ll save that for my next blog…

The End of an Era for E4

Just over an hour ago I sat in front of the TV and watched Friends for the very last time on E4.  It’s the end of an era, as Channel 4 has held the broadcasting rights to the sitcom ever since it first aired to the British public in the mid 1990s.  Although it’s common knowledge that Rachel got off the plane and Monica and Chandler had twins, it’s still strange to think that Friends won’t automatically be that easy tea-time viewing choice any more.

Part of me wonders why I’m bothered; after all, I do own the DVD box set.  Maybe it’s because from now on I’ll probably only watch it on my own, instead of three or four of us congregating round the telly and pre-empting the one-liners. At the end of second year, my ex-housemate and I decided that we would watch, in order, all 236 episodes of Friends.  By the end of our degrees we’d made it to the end of Season 5, but then he went to China to coach tennis, thus Season 6 remains the only box in my set that’s still in its protective cellophane.  I’ve dipped in and out of episodes on E4 and gradually made my way through the later seasons on DVD, but I’ve yet to watch Season 6 in its entirety.  It would seem a shame not to complete the Friends quest, albeit alone, so perhaps in a month or two I’ll unwrap that last box.

You see, familiar as the jokes are, I’ll miss chuckling at Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey on a regular basis.  Friends has had a huge impact on popular culture, birthing catchphrases, coffee shops and even haircuts, but ultimately it’s great, light-hearted entertainment
with six memorable characters.   Why say goodbye to that?

To my mind, how you watch television is not just about the physical act of positioning yourself in front of a screen.  It’s also to do with how you consume the content as it plays out before you.  Last September I finally began a media-related course after seventeen years in education.  I have no regrets that I didn’t take this path sooner, but it began influencing the way I think about television and film surprisingly quickly.

Paul Merton investigates the early years of Hollywood

Take the module on Documentary Film Making in the autumn term.  After the very first seminar I found myself questioning whether objectivity can ever truly be achieved, as we debated whether reconstructions should be used in the documentary genre.  The basic argument against reconstruction is that it plants an image in the viewers’ minds which may not resemble the situation it purports to document.  Fair point, but I believe reconstructions can actually be used to positive effect in many documentaries.  Let’s return to Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood: not only were situations in dining rooms and hotels recreated, but Merton himself then appeared as part of the scene to guide his audience through what was happening.  I particularly liked the fact that these scenes were shot in black and white, complete with monotone Merton.  Not something I’d seen in a documentary before, but very engaging.

The main reason it’s taken so long to write this blog is that I’ve been filming, digitising and editing footage for my own documentary – and moving house, but that’s another story. The three-part series on the Birth of Hollywood was well-timed, as it also made me consider the practical aspects of making television and films. How interviews are framed; the cut away shots that interviews are interspersed with; transitions between different narrative sections; the soundtrack…it’s surprisingly hard to decide on these things when producing your own work.  So tempting to go for overkill on the effects and forego the content, but Birth of Hollywood proved that keeping things simple with a few innovative touches is definitely the way to go.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s become impossible for me to watch anything without dissecting how it’s been put together and thinking about how I might do something similar in my little Marmite film and my Robin Hood documentary.  It’s not a bad thing, even if I do wonder just how many identical beige suits Paul Merton owns and whether they’re now dispersed across America.  Ideas can come from anywhere and I actually enjoy television all the more for having an insight, albeit a tiny one, into the many decisions that determine each scene.

Part 2 Coming Soon!

The exciting sequel to my last blog (or rather, the part where I’ll describe how academia has made me incapable of watching anything without dissecting it!) is coming soon.  Interviewing people about Robin Hood and Marmite has put things on hold this past week but shall be getting back to blogging as soon as possible. Now, time to make breakfast and pack up some DVDs before the great house move…

BBC iPlayer: Lifeline to TV!

At a recent interview I was asked “how do you watch television?”  It’s a question that’s hovered in my mind ever since, particularly since these past few years both the ways I watch and think about TV have changed considerably.  For starters, the television we had in second and third year of Uni would only tune fuzzily to BBC1, meaning 4oD and iPlayer were essential tools for keeping up with Glee and Strictly: It Takes Two (my somewhat predictable TV guilty pleasures).  Being slow to grasp technology, it was only at the end of my degree that I realised you could stream some programmes live, but by then it didn’t matter, because I was moving into my current house with, finally, a fully functioning TV.

However, as I’ve mentioned before and as anyone who has lived in a shared house will know, merely owning a working television is no guarantee of controlling what goes on it.  In any case, I occasionally forget something’s on, so I’m still a faithful user of iPlayer and 4oD, often over my breakfast toast.  When the box is free though, it’s always satisfying if you find something great to watch by fluke.  On Friday evening I caught episode two of Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood, and enjoyed it so much that I iPlayered the first episode this morning.  Has the word iPlayer been legitimately converted to a verb yet?  If not then maybe it should be.  So many of us watch programmes on demand that it seems sensible to just say “I iPlayered it” instead of “I watched it on iPlayer”.  Grammatical wonderings aside, my point is that it’s brilliant being able to catch up on things you missed, forgot about, or heard about from someone else, as and when you feel like it.  (Internet connection permitting, of course).

4oD: Home of Glee

Some people might argue that it’s antisocial to coop yourself up in front of a laptop instead of congregating around the box in the living room, but I disagree.  Generally I catch up on TV at breakfast time, when let’s face it, I’m not in the mood for scintillating conversation.  Plus, not everybody likes the same shows, so I’m really doing my housemates a favour by not subjecting them to Glee every Monday evening.  My final point is that I often watch TV on demand with somebody else anyway.  The boyfriend isn’t a football fanatic so he and I regularly escape the curses and chants of his housemates to stream How I Met Your Mother.

All in all, it’s been a pretty good deal this year, what with having a working TV in the house and getting to grips with iPlayer Desktop.  In a few weeks though, all is set to change: I’m moving in to a house that already has a Virgin Multimedia subscription which, from what I can gather, involves catch up services for pretty much everything.  Are my days of watching 4oD numbered or, given that three of my housemates-to-be are those same football-loving boys, are they just beginning?