Doctor Who 5.11 – The Lodger

Each season of the new “Doctor Who” has one or two “experimental” episodes – stories that just don’t feel like anything that’s come before. Thus far, most – if not all – of these stories have been successes. “Boom Town,” “Love & Monsters,” “Blink,” “Turn Left,” and “Midnight” have arguably been highlights in each of their seasons. It’s noteworthy that all but one of those was written by Russell T. Davies (and of course the one that wasn’t, “Blink,” was written by Steven Moffat). Davies seemed to be giving himself chances to think outside the [police?] box, and do something radical and different with the series on each occasion. I’m still not sure whether “Amy’s Choice” (which, like this one, was also directed by Catherine Moreshead) should be lumped into this group, but surely “The Lodger” is oddball enough to add to the list. So how does it stack up?

Well, it’s worth pondering why the story was made in the first place. For starters, it was very likely a chance to save some money. Aside from the episode’s climax, most of this tale is just people involved in seemingly everyday situations. But I think maybe there was more to it than just saving cash. Aside from “Boom Town,” the aforementioned stories were all designed to give the lead actors breaks. Given that this was the inaugural season of a new era for the show, it probably would have been a risky move to write the Doctor and Amy out for the bulk of a story, so instead what “The Lodger” does is remove Karen Gillan for most of the episode, while allowing Matt Smith the chance to chill out and just banter with James Corden (“Gavin & Stacey”) for an hour. Oh, and he also gets to play football, but since Smith has a history with the game, that probably wasn’t too taxing for him – the guy looks like he had a blast in that scene. Yes, for those of you who don’t know, Matt Smith once upon a time had dreams of being footballer, but a back injury led to him taking up acting instead.

Unlike Davies however, Moffat handed the oddball story over to Gareth Roberts, who has a long and winding history with “Doctor Who.” He’s one of “those” writers who’s been tied to it in one form or another for seemingly forever. I’m not familiar with the prose work he’s done over the years, so I can only really judge him on the scripts he’s written for the series, most of which haven’t been any great shakes. I quite liked “The Shakespeare Code” back when it was broadcast, but time hasn’t been too kind to my opinion of it. The following year he did “The Unicorn and The Wasp,” which I hated then, and hate only slightly less now. A recent viewing of it on BBC America led me to take it less seriously than I did a couple years ago, and hence, I was able to laugh at it a little more. The ending and the idea behind it is still pants though.

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Gavin and Stacey: Season 1

Many a sitcom has driven viewers mad with the plot device known as “will they or won’t they,” as you might guess from its name, keeps viewers guessing as to whether or not two of the main characters will consummate their relationship. There really isn’t much guessing, however, since the presumption is always that, yes, of course they will. It’s all down to when it’s likely to happen. “Gavin and Stacey,” however, speeds up the process considerably, presenting a series where the titular characters have been conversing on the phone for ages but are only just preparing to embark on their first date when the first episode commences. As a result, it’s a fair bet from the get-go that any such encounter is likely to happen far sooner than later – and it does.

God love Mathew Horne and Joanna Page. The story of two individuals who work for the same company at different locations and fall in long-distance love is one which, on paper, seems to be little more than a comedic device for wacky shenanigans. And so it might be, were it not for the fact that you cannot watch the performances of Horne and Page and not immediately believe that Gavin and Stacey were made for each other. It’s remarkable, really, because when you’re talking about a series that lasts only six episodes and encompasses approximately as many weeks of time unfolding within the show itself, you’d expect that it would feel horribly rushed for the couple to meet, go out, get engaged, and get married. But it doesn’t. From the moment they meet, you know they love each other, and you know they’re destined to end up together forever.

There are shenanigans after a sort, though they’re not so much wacky as realistic. Gavin’s best mate is a robust, rotund gentleman named Smithy (James Corden), Stacey’s gal pal is the equally formidable Nessa (Ruth Jones), and although the series ignores the traditional “will they or won’t they” formula with them as well, having them hook up in the first episode, they’re still great comedic characters. Nessa’s back history is convoluted, but the bits and pieces that emerge – her first husband was one of Gladys Knight’s Pips, her second husband was executed by a firing squad – are hilarious, and although Smithy seems on the surface to be the standard sitcom fat guy who loves to party, his sentimental side emerges before season’s end.

And what fun would rapid-fire wedding plans be without involving the families of the bride and the groom? Gavin’s dad, Mick (Larry Lamb), is as down to earth as his son, and his mum, Pam (Alison Steadman), is well intentioned but with a tendency to approach hysteria when trying to put on the best of all possible fronts in social situations. Stacey’s dad is deceased (though he plays a part in the season finale which may well bring you to tears), but his brother, Bryn (Rob Brydon), more than fulfills the fatherly role in her life, and her mum, Gwen (Melanie Walters), is fiercely protective. Neither, however, is immediately certain that Gavin is the man for Stacey – though, to be fair, that’s because she’d been engaged five times before he entered the picture.

“Gavin and Stacey” succeeds not because it’s funny (though it certainly is), but because it tries to stay as close to reality as possible with the love story between its two characters. The sidebar visits with everyone else add to the comedy, but Horne and Page make this the best TV romance in recent memory.

Special Features: Once again, the BBC does not let us down by offering insufficient bonus material. There are audio commentaries on three of the six episodes from Corden, Jones, and director Christine Gernon, outtakes, a making-of featurette, and footage of the show’s filming in Leicester Square. If you learn nothing else from these various items, then you will come to be assured that, when it comes to Joanna Page’s performance in the series, there’s precious little acting involved. She is Stacey.

Click to buy “Gavin and Stacey: Season 1”

BONUS!

Check out the contribution from the “Gavin and Stacey” cast to the UK’s annual Red Nose Day, with contributions from Robin Gibb and Sir Tom Jones. Brilliant, it is.

  

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2008: The Year in TV – Will Harris

Once the writer’s strike was over, the television industry got back to business with a vengeance, offering up quite a lot of high quality material…so much, in fact, that my TiVo is STILL loaded down with shows I just haven’t had the time to watch. Seriously, I’ve got three episodes of “My Boys” that I’ve been sitting on since July. There just aren’t enough hours in the day…and I’m a full-time TV critic, for God’s sake! But here’s at least some of the stuff that I dug and despised during the course of 2008…and sometime around 2012, maybe I can offer up a complete picture of 2009.

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS

No other sophomore series came roaring out of the gate like this one. Fears that the show had already jumped the shark by getting Leonard and Penny together were dismissing before the end of the second-season premiere, the addition of Sara Gilbert to the cast was an added bonus, and the suggestion that Sheldon is a sex object to physics geeks is almost too funny for words. Mark my words: this is the year that Jim Parsons earns his first Emmy nomination.

2. “30 Rock,” NBC
There’s no truth to the rumor that you can’t be a member of the Television Critics Association if you don’t like “30 Rock,” but, really, what’s not to like? Tina Fey is both gorgeous and hilarious, Alec Baldwin can’t open his mouth without getting a laugh, and, come to think of it, there’s really no-one in this ensemble who isn’t funny. So why do they keep bringing on all of these guest stars? Beats me. But since they incorporate them so well into the episodes, it’s hard to complain.

3. “Life on Mars,” ABC
When I did my 2008 Fall TV Preview, I hadn’t yet seen the pilot for this series, but if I had, it would’ve beaten out “Fringe” for the top spot on my list of new shows I was most excited about. Rising above its “based on a British series” origins, “Life on Mars” has one of the strongest casts on television (Jason O’Mara, Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, and Jonathan Murphy), a great premise (a police detective gets knocked unconscious in 2008 and wakes up in 1973), and – perhaps most impressively – managed to survive its network’s recent purge of quality dramas. For God’s sake, don’t let it go the way of “Pushing Daisies.” If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s not too late.

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