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Thursday 23 October 2014

Kitsch Midsomer misses mark

Just when you thought ITV drama had got its act together, we're dragged back to Midsomer, the sleepy English village with a murder rate higher than Baltimore and south-central Los Angeles combined.

It's always been hard to take Midsomer Murders remotely seriously; now even the people who make it seem to have decided it works best as a semi-spoof. The writers of last night's episode had their tongues stuck so far into their cheeks, they were practically poking through the other side.

Midsomer is having its first film festival in honour of its most famous resident, 1960s horror movie scream queen Stella Harris, played by Sinead Cusack. Before you can say "Boo!", the body of a journalist who's been writing an unwelcome book about Stella and her hated sister (also an actress, played by Harriet Walter) turns up with what looks like a vampire bite on her neck.

As more bodies pile up, Inspector Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), who happens to be a horror movie buff, figures out that someone is running around the village murdering people in the manner of gruesome scenes from Stella's old films.

There were moments of fun to be had from noting down the nods to the Vincent Price black comedy-horror classic Theatre of Blood, while the "clips" from the cheesy horror films were so well done they could have been the real thing.

In order to get to these little nuggets, though, you had to trudge through endless, sludgy exposition. It would be better if Midsomer Murders went for broke and played the whole thing for all-out laughs.

Gok Wan has made some excellent telly over the years. How To Look Good Naked was gimmicky yet genuinely empowering for the women involved, while Gok's Teens, in which he acted as shoulder to cry on to youngsters with body image issues, was unexpectedly moving.

But his latest effort, Gok's Style Secrets, is an example of what happens when TV presenters spread themselves too thinly. It's an overlong hodgepodge of fashion, dating and relationship show with Gok advising a variety of date-shy people (including Zoe, a nursery school nurse with a thing for tattoos and fantasy movies) how to dress and flirt in order to make the maximum impression.

"I'm their stylist, their matchmaker and their ultimate wingman," he says, and therein lies the problem. Gok is as likeable as ever but there's a shabby, frayed look about the whole concept. It's as if he's been rifling hurriedly through other genres' wardrobes in a frantic search for bits and bobs he can throw together into a wearable garment. The end result is a baggy fit.

One man I'd be happy to see spreading himself as thinly as possible for as long as possible is David Attenborough. We've had him once this week already on Sky 1 in a new series called Galapagos, which takes the 86-year-old back to the place where his television career really kicked off, more than 60 years ago.

And here he is again, back in the more familiar surroundings of BBC1, for Africa. Frankly, he's spreading himself VERY thinly here. He appears in the flesh at the beginning; otherwise, his presence is confined to a voiceover. But that's okay, because the images are more than worth the trip.

"There's nowhere on earth where wildlife puts on a greater show," he says, and he's right. Crickets that eat birds, instead of the other way around. Giraffes having a fight, using their elongated necks as powerful weapons. Blind catfish gliding through huge lakes hidden beneath ground level.

It's stunning stuff, as much a tribute to the vast leaps in film technology in recent years as to the wonders of nature. One quibble: the music. It's too loud and too insistent, a common flaw in nature programmes these days. What's on screen is breathtaking enough without the need for a booming soundtrack to tell us how we should react.



MIDSOMER MURDERS HHIII GOK's STYLE SECRETS HHIII Africa HHHHI

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