Written for the Time In section of Time Out Magazine
Sat 2, MBC4, 9pm
Rebecca Romain, who plays the titular star, is one of those professional MAWs (Model, Actress, Whatever) that have hung around longer than most, although a quick look through her online resume at imbd.com shows that she’s spent more screen time on chat shows than actually acting in something worth chatting about.
As her acting ability goes, let’s just say she was a great model. Here she plays a TV reporter who’s trying to balance work and her love life and gets into all manner of cute misunderstandings and yes, you’ve seen it all before in a million other shows. In the pilot episode, she has a night of passion with a ‘hot new guy’ named Charlie Babcock (Josh Hopkins). The next morning, she shows up at work to find that said guy is her new boss. Oh, that old chestnut.
It co-stars Brook Burns, herself a former model who got her TV break on Baywatch. Brook and the show’s love interest Hopkins were also (to varying degrees) on Ally McBeal and it’s that McBeal audience that this is squarely aimed at. The best measure of Pepper Dennis is this: if you liked Ally McBeal then you’ll probably enjoy this.
As for Rebecca Romain, she was fine as Mystique in the three X-Men films, but has done little else of note and Pepper Dennis could have been her moment to prove she has what it takes to hold down a series. However, following really poor ratings and a savaging from the US Media it was cancelled after just one season. So these 13 episodes are all that exists. Incidently the WB Channel that first broadcast this series, shuts down on the 17th of this month, so thanks WB for giving us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville and Dawson’s Creek, but few will remember Pepper Dennis. MP
Thu 21, Style UK, 8pm
Just as Anthea Turner’s career was circling the plughole and about to vanish for good, she’s back in a reality/makeover series. Two hopeless housewives visit Anthea for (according to the press release) ‘an intensive housewifery course’ in which they are trained to be a ‘domestic goddess – Anthea style.’
What kind of advice is she going to give? How to steal another woman’s husband and get publicity from it? Tips on selling your wedding photos to a trashy magazine in which you’re pictured eating a newly launched
chocolate bar? Something a British tabloid called ‘the most sickening wedding photo ever’. No, nothing like that, it mostly involves her berating normal people into folding, pressing, ironing, steaming and scrubbing their way back to becoming a 1950s stereotype.
‘Women are just better at some things,’Anthea told a reporter on the subject of housework. On this show she comes over as a cross between a robotic Stepford Wife and the sadistic Deputy Governor from Prisoner Cellblock H, as she dispenses a blend of patronising advice and air of cleanliness-Nazi superiority as she watches them get to work. And ‘unless their homes come straight from the pages of a glossy magazine all their hard work will have been for nothing.’ For nothing I tell you.
Then each week Anthea crowns the person whose house is as neat and antiseptic as she is with the Best Housewife award, leaving the other wallowing in the shame of dirty defeat. Scary stuff, it really is. MP
The West Wing
Sun 23, America Plus, 11pm
This month we see the start of the final series’ of two of the best television dramas to be screened over the last 10 years – The Sopranos and The West Wing. While The Sopranos was blue collar with a bloodstained tyre-jack in the trunk and dirt under its nails, The West Wing was always clean, fast, slick and full of wiseguys of a different kind.
For the first four seasons, the brilliant Aaron Sorkin wrote pretty much every episode, but after his departure the motormouthed and razor-sharp dialogue moved over in favour of stronger plots and a narrative based on the bigger storylines. Not all fans were happy, but the fact remained that it was still 20 times better than almost everything on the TV. The final season concludes the last days of the Barlett administration and ties up most of the loose ends, neatly dealing with the death of actor John Spencer (who plays Leo McGarry) during filming. To quote his character, ‘there are two things in the world you never want people to see how you make them – laws and sausages’, and The West Wing took what could be tedious in the hands of lesser scriptwriters and actors and turned the American political process into the most riveting, entertaining, witty, heartfelt and revealing 60 minutes of any week it happened to be on.
Although hawkish neo-cons refer to the show as The Left Wing you can’t help feeling that it’s pretty close to the money and at times it’s so far above anything else on TV it even has time to take pot shots at the rest of the schedule. President Barlett: ‘I was watching a television programme before, with a kind of roving moderator who spoke to a seated panel of young women who were having some sort of problem with their boyfriends – apparently, because the boyfriends had all slept with the girlfriends’ mothers. And they brought the boyfriends out, and they fought, right there on television. Toby, tell me: these people don’t vote, do they?’
If you’ve never seen The West Wing before then go out and get the box sets of the first four series and the odds are you’ll love it enough to follow the rest of the story, despite the somewhat diminished scripts. If you’ve already followed it to this point then the final series should be the perfect send off to one of the truly great television programmes. MP
John Lydon Goes Ape
Thu 28, Discovery, 7pm
While most (non Steve Irwin) nature programmes involve serious scientific types droning on about the wonders of the natural world, this is pure childlike joy from a man who has surely found his true calling.
In the late 1970s he was the voice of punk and anarchy, which equipped him with the requsite skills you need to be a great entertainment TV presenter. He’s also done a documentary with sharks and superbugs (get the DVD) but this is the pick of the bunch, and whether it’s the ‘happy little hooligans’ of the Ngamba Chimp Sanctuary jumping on him or Johnny sitting utterly in awe (‘words are useless…’) just 10 feet from a giant silverback gorilla this is never less than great television. Johnny could have grown into a pompous, do-gooder, try-hard like Bono or Sting but while some try and save the world, others just were just born to entertain it.
Also on TV this month are shows entitled Dogs Who Teach Bears, Polar Bear Battlefield, Swimming With The Roboshark and My Gym Partner’s A Monkey, but while they sound awesome from the title, in reality, none come close to a wide-eyed Johnny Rotten doing a wildlife documentary. Brilliant stuff. MP