The Guardian 16 November, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun Nov 20 — Sat Nov 26

Production of The Office, the spoof fly-on-the-wall documentary that became what BBC publicists call "a global phenomenon", ended three years ago. It seems, however, that the show’s writer-directors, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, felt there were still laughs to be mined from the antics of the staff of Wernham Hogg, the most famous paper merchants in Slough.

They may be right; certainly the BBC thought it worth while to make some new one-offs, under the over-all title of The Office Specials (ABC 9.30pm Monday).

This special episode spends most of its time catching up on what the past and present staff have been doing since the company amalgamations and redundancies that ended the original series.

The appalling David Brent, for example is revealed to have blown his redundancy settlement on releasing a single, and now makes his living selling cleaning products door-to-door and making z-list celebrity appearances.

As before, the episode is filmed as though it were an observational documentary about some very sad yet painfully true to life characters. And for this "special" the BBC has flown Dawn and her fiancé Lee in from Florida, "specially for the end-of-year office party".

The new series, Growing Up Gotti (ABC 8.00pm Tuesdays), takes the ABC’s infatuation with American cable programs to a new low. Originally made for the woefully misnamed "Arts and Entertainment" channel, the program is another fly-on-the-wall documentary (although this one’s for real) about Victoria Gottii, "bestselling author, nationally syndicated magazine columnist and a-list personality".

Victoria Gotti, as befits the daughter of a dead Mafia crime boss, lives in a mansion and works hard at being a celebrity. This week’s episode shows her pitching a "magazine story" to Star Magazine: she offers to be the guinea pig for a celebrity matchmaker article (deep this program is not).

Ever alert for the main chance that will keep her name before the public, Victoria takes the opportunity through this series to "allow viewers unprecedented access to her unique work and social life". Isn’t that nice?

This is trash television.

Seven Wonders of the Industrial World (ABC 9.30pm Tuesdays) on the other hand, is quality documentary making in the modern dramatised style. This repeat series takes us through the trials and tribulations of some of the greatest engineering achievement in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The series begins with The Great Ship, the story of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s masterpiece, The Great Eastern, the largest ship of its time, envisaged to unite the ends of the British Empire.

At the very cutting edge of engineering skill at the time, Brunard’s ship was unfortunately ahead of its time as far as commerce was concerned: the great migrant influx to the USA did not begin until after the ship had been scrapped for lack of patronage!

There is a theory that line dancing was invented by people who thought barn dancing was too complicated and square dancing too racy. However it originated, it is certainly one dull pastime.

I would have said that the concept of competitive line dancing was an oxymoron (what do they judge? Least imaginative foot work?) but Ben Smart — the central character in Boys Don’t Dance (ABC 9.25pm Thursday) has been a competitive line dancer since he was eight years old.

Ben won his first "major international title" (truly, the mind boggles) at the age of ten.

But there is another aspect to Nicky McGowan’s Perth-made documentary: Ben was so severely bullied when he returned to school as a prize-winning dancer that he had to be taken out of school and taught at home.

It seems that, at least in that part of WA, Boys Don’t Dance.

I have not seen the new suspense thriller Frances Tuesday (ABC 8.30pm Friday) but you have to be suspicious of a program that describes its heroine as "a high profile accountant with a glamorous and exciting London lifestyle".

Of more serious moment would be the lack of credibility in the basic plot: when the police expose Frances’ boyfriend as a charming murderer with underworld links, she shops him. Fair enough, and he’s convicted.

But then she has to go into the witness protection program. Incredibly, "the police have no option" but to ban her from ever seeing her baby daughter again! She also undergoes "facial reconstruction".

All of this contrived plotting is to give Frances the motivation and (with her altered appearance) the opportunity to enter her ex-­boyfriend’s inner circle in an attempt to get her child away from him (did I mention that he had been released from prison?).

This farrago stars Tamzin Outhwaite from Redcap.

Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by ocean. Despite the large number of documentaries about the "explorations" of folk with flippers, mask and air-tank, except for underwater wrecks, we know very little about the sea, especially the deep sea.

David Attenborough’s series The Blue Planet made a serious attempt to change that situation. For the present, it remains the definitive exploration of the marine world, covering coastline populations; sea mammals; tidal and climatic influences; and the complete biological system that relies on and revolves around the world’s oceans.

The good news is that The Blue Planet is being repeated beginning this week (ABC 6.00pm Saturdays).

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