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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 12:04 GMT
Small screen hits and misses

By Rosie Boycott
Journalist, broadcaster and Newsnight Review regular

Cast of Bleak House
Sales of Dickens' Bleak House were boosted by the popularity of the BBC's star-studded adaptation
This year's TV output has ranged from the excellent (Bleak House) to the diabolic (Rome), the witty (Weeds) and the downright mean (More 4's opening shot at David Blunkett's messy love life).

Thanks to my Sky Plus; I've watched every episode of Bleak House and it is as good as it could be. I hadn't read the book, but from the moment the opening credits rolled, I was hooked on the drama.

Charles Dance's Tulkinghorn embodies both evil and something even more frightening - the law itself. Gillian Anderson gives a brilliant performance as the damaged and desperate Lady Dedlock.

Even Esther, whose goodness one could easily learn to despise, walks the tightrope and stays with the angels. The lesser characters all work to perfection, captured in short, pithy scenes where every element pulls magically together to convey so much more than the individual parts.


Tales from the Green Valley was a wonderful way to realise social history with such clear explanations
Mavis Greenhalgh
I agree Bleak House was excellent - apart from the last episode which ruined it for me. With its "happy ever after" ending and hackneyed chocolate box images it was sickly sweet and seemed to be written and directed by someone from another planet to the team who made the brilliantly dark and intriguing preceding episodes. Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn was superb and Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock a revelation but once she was dead the whole thing seemed to unravel. Shame.
Jonathan Langley

Surely the best thing that the BBC put out in 2005 was the hugely popular and hugely acclaimed Doctor Who?
Richard Barnes, Wellington, New Zealand

To Andrew Walker: No, you're not the only one to think Little Britain isn't funny. I'm ashamed to belong to the same race as those who voted Little Britain as Best Comedy. It is juvenile, unoriginal, and repetitive. However, I'm also one who thinks Rome is great fun, a lot closer to Hollywood history than reality, but its great escapism.
Dennis Fisher, Scotland

I loved Tales from the Green Valley, the series about the 16th Century farm. It was a wonderful way to realise social history with such clear explanations and to see how it could have been to live then. It was superb entertainment as well as being informative.
Mavis Greenhalgh, Newbury

I know everyone else seems to have gone mad for Bleak House, but as the weeks went by, I found it increasingly disappointing
Ian Brown
As an avid fan of anything involving swords and sandals, I was positively foaming at the mouth with anticipation when I heard about the imminent arrival of Rome to our screens. Unfortunately, it turned out to be utter drivel. I can contend with the blatant historical accuracies, the dodgy acting and the rubbish battle scenes but what really turned me off was how slow and boring it was.
Andrew Beadnell, London

I love both Rome and Bleak House. And even if Rosie didn't like it, the fact that most of the money was put up by HBO has nothing to do with it. HBO Showtime has produced some great drama in recent years. And no mention of Lost? Or the superb Doctor Who? Typical highbrow view from a Newsnight Review contributor I'm afraid.
Daniel Platt, Bracknell

I know everyone else seems to have gone mad for Bleak House, but as the weeks went by, I found it increasingly disappointing. It was both interminable and curiously empty and repetitive - the plot that drives the novel seemed to have been whittled away to nothing. With the decision taken to stuff it with well-known actors, it was inevitable that a number would be badly miscast. And, as always with Andrew Davies, there were the usual anachronisms and reductions to make you suck your teeth in dismay.
Ian Brown, Birmingham,

I am shocked that the new HBO/BBC series Rome can be labelled diabolic! It took a few episodes to get going but it is another fantastic collaboration of HBO and BBC (as was Band of Brothers). The actors, costumes and storylines are very entertaining. It is not in the same league as the Sopranos but is excellent drama none the less.
Steve Taylor, Thatcham

Sir, No Sir took us on their journey of understanding... it was brave of young Americans to refuse the draft, but even braver to go there and then rebel
Rosie Boycott on Storyville's Sir, No Sir
Watching it has reminded me of being glued to the box for Charles Sturridge's adaptation of Brideshead Revisited and, even further back, the Forsythe Saga in the 1960s. Every week this autumn I have looked forward to watching the next episode, something that, sadly, is a rare event.


I set my Sky Plus to catch the first episode of Rome and settled down to watch. The hype had been enormous, far bigger than for Bleak House and I expected to find the same brilliance again.

Ciaran Hinds in Rome
Irish actor Ciaran Hinds played Julius Caesar in the series
It was hard to believe that this rubbish had come from the same stable. The plot was chaotic, the sex ludicrous, the costumes hammy and the violence both crude and insistent.

Robert Harris, author of Pompeii, condemned the series as being as historically accurate as depicting Clemmie Churchill having sex with Ribbentrop and poisoning Chamberlain before the Second World War.

It seems to me that it is no excuse to blame some of Rome's excesses on the fact that it was a £60 million co-production with HBO, to which the BBC contributed a mere 9 million.

Something went horribly wrong and the fact that the BBC only contributed one sixth of the overall costs is no excuse for broadcasting such a disaster. I don't know what the overall budget was for Bleak House, but £9 million must have been a very decent chunk of it.

I hope someone is losing a little sleep about squandering the public dosh so badly.


The lead character Nancy Botwin is played by Mary-Louise Parker
Weeds dissects the dark side of suburban American life
Weeds, screened on Sky One this autumn was a terrific follow on to the gap left in my viewing life by the end of the first series of Desperate Housewives.

Like Housewives, Weeds concerned a white middle class community with problems.

The heroine of Weeds has suddenly been widowed and her late husband's insurance policies don't cover the costs of running her home and her children. To make ends meet she starts dealing grass to her friends in the neighbourhood and there the fun starts.

The characters in Weeds make the inhabitants of Wisteria Lane look tame and some of the conversations made me gasp. (Mother to daughter: "Perhaps I should have had an abortion, you're such a pain). But it was slick and fast, with racy dialogue and genuinely risqué moments.

One of the best documentaries I saw this year was Storyville's Sir, No Sir. I had had no idea just how extensive and powerful the anti-Vietnam war movement had been among the GIs themselves.

Sir, No Sir took us on their journey of understanding as first tens, then thousands, saw that they were fighting an unjust war. It was brave of young Americans to refuse the draft, but even braver I think to go there and then rebel.

There was brilliant footage from the war and from Stateside protests as well as clips from Jane Fonda's concerts that she put on for pacifist troops.

All these references to Sky look like product placement particularly from someone who claims never to have read Bleak House. I enjoy Rome. It is very thrilling. It shows you what Bodies or The Thick of It would be like if people were less civilised, but there is a certain resonance in the way inconvenient people get despatched. I look forward to Rome every week. Congratulations to the people who produced it.
James Williams, Nottingham

I think Rome is doing OK overall as season two has already been commissioned. Shakespeare it is not, but Up Pompeii style antics it is. Great fun.
Neil Higgins, Birmingham

TV highlight of the year? The Rotters' Club. Yes, it occasionally allowed itself to wallow in a nostalgia-fest, but the young cast were a delight, the script was sharp and funny, and the depiction of 1970's Britain was terrific. Now for an adaptation of The Closed Circle.
Ken Kimber, Swindon

Bleak House has been great, although I've missed a couple on Fridays, because, like the excellent The West Wing, early Friday is bad for my memory. Rome has been what I expected it to be, a 21st Century Borgias entertaining & amusing at the same time.

Am I the only one to think that Little Britain series 3, isn't funny? Worst Week of My Life gets better & could run & run. My children enjoyed Shoe Box Zoo & watch Strictly Come Dancing. My 8-year-old daughter also loves Third Rock From The Sun on ITV 3, which shows the incredible John Lithgow at his best.

I have caught the odd Larry Saunders repeat which is still brilliant, Peep Show, darkly disturbing & have watched all the Brideshead repeats. Overall, the new programmes on terrestrial have been better than the last few years. However, I like the Freeview channels, because they seem to show the best old stuff - including The Sopranos.

Can Paul Abbott do another political thriller in 2006?
Andrew Walker, Altrincham

I agree with Roy from Portsmouth both programmes have been entertaining and to some degree enlightening. A real breath of fresh air on the box. By the way what's all this advertising SKY PLUS?
Barry Tebbs, Leeds

I am not surprised Rosie would not like Rome as it is most definitely a male orientated action series whereupon Bleak House (which I also like) is a female orientated series. They are both a breath of fresh air instead of the usual fodder or soaps et al.
Roy Cole, Portsmouth

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Newsnight Review is broadcast on BBC Two at 2300 GMT on Friday's - immediately after Newsnight.

The final programme of the year will be shown on Friday, 16 December, 2005.



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