Catch up TV reviews: Hang Ups, Peng Life, The Foreign Doctors Are Coming, Saving Poundstretcher
Ivan Radford | On 12, Aug 2018
Hang Ups (All 4)
Quite why anyone would remake the excellent and underseen Lisa Kudrow series Web Therapy for a UK audience, rather than just broadcast the original, is a question that goes unanswered by Hang Ups, Channel 4’s new comedy about Richard, a therapist who turns to Skype to revive his failed business. What the series does do is answer a number of other questions.
Is Stephen Mangan a national treasure? Yes, he is, capable of jumping between angst-ridden and angry and scared and sad within seconds, at once bullishly bullying other people and constantly craving their approval, support and respect. Does improvising a comedy work? Definitely, as long as you get the right people to improvise, and Hang Ups does a fantastic job of picking pitch-perfect guest stars, including Charles Dance as Ricard’s dismissive dad, Richard E Grant as Richard’s own haughty therapist and others ranging from Celia Imrie to Katherine Parkinson (as his suffering wife, Karen) and Karl Theobald (an excellent veteran of W1A) as his rubbish web support guy, Pete. Each one does just enough to push into surprising or unexpected territory, without breaking the realistic confines of their immediate surroundings, which are all caught on device cameras.
Does Hang Ups get carried away with its format? It does in the opening five minutes, which tries to jump between mobile phones and Richard’s laptop, but muddles the idea by cutting to static third-person cameras as well. Fortunately, the whole thing settles down later, and turns into a low-key showcase for each cast member. The focus, though, remains on Richard and his own problems and insecurities, something that’s essential for both his character’s ego and the show’s opening episode, in which we need to build his personality quickly, but will hopefully pave the way for more generous screen-time given to the starry supporting cast and their varying problems or eccentricities.
The most important question of all, though is whether it’s funny. And the answer is a resounding yes, delivery laugh-out-loud dialogue in highly entertaining 30-minute bursts of humour shot through with highly strung fragility. Don’t tune out: this is one call worth making. Say hello to your new favourite weekly comedy.
Peng Life (All 4)
Hot on the heels of The Big Narstie Show comes Channel 4’s latest attempt to bring some spark to Friday night television, and it’s taken another bold choice in its star: Elijah Quashie, aka. The Chicken Connoisseur. The young Londoner became a veritable YouTube sensation a while ago, thanks to his highly serious reviews of chicken shops around the capital, each greasy morsel juxtaposed with stylish visuals and accompanied by his straight-faced, blunt assessments, all delivered while wearing a shirt and tie. And so The Pengest Munch was gobbled up by Channel 4 spying a new presenting opportunity, widening out his horizons to present Peng Life. The idea of the Chicken Connoisseur reviewing things that aren’t chicken is enough to make any fan of his original videos wary, but the series is a perfect fit, with the whole thing (comparing expensive and cheap versions of the same thing) built around Elijah’s personality and retaining the low-fi YouTube presentation. Joined by his mates Nelson and Wilson, with whom he shares genuine chemistry and a sincere, affectionate respect, the trio are an entertaining bunch to watch, as they try a fancy hair salon with a local barbers, don an apron for the world’s priciest kebab, try lobster for the first time and race a Lamborghini with Jodie Kidd. Brilliantly, Elijah takes some chicken in the car with him for a quick munch – a surefire sign that he’s at home on traditional TV as much as he is on YouTube. An impressive career may well await.
The Foreign Doctors Are Coming (All 4)
If you think it’s hard to become a doctor, wait until you see what’s it like for a foreigner in Britain trying to get a job in the NHS. This eye-opening documentary follows a group of doctors from across the world who all head to the UK in the hope of being able to practice medicine. You’d think we welcome new professionals to save our lives and keep our families healthy, but there’s the matter of a strict test to get through first, checking not only their biological knowledge by their communication skills and ability to show empathy to patients. At a time when we need more medical professionals than ever, this is a reminder of how much work goes into staffing out NHS. You’ll never take your GP for granted again, wherever they’re from.
Saving Poundstretcher (All 4)
As times get tougher, high street shops are struggling to keep customers coming through the doors, let alone keeping the doors open in the first place. The latest to face the threat of closure is Poundstretcher, which sees Chris Edwards (founded of Poundworld) snap up the struggling chain and attempt to revive it. He brings a hefty amount of common sense, as he listens to the manager of Bolton’s store to determine what problems they’re encountering and recommends rearranging the shelves not to be full of empty plastic boxes. But he also brings sincere heart and a genuine determination to turn things around – to the point where he clashes with owner Aziz about their decisions to buy niche stock that won’t appeal to wide audiences, despite being affordable. There’s an interesting insight into retail, business and psychology here, but with jobs notably on the line, this documentary also serves as a compelling portrait of the state of our nation’s high streets in almost real time.