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Sunday Age

CRITIC'S CHOICE

Author: Brian Courtis
Date: 19/03/2006
Words: 1466
Source: SAG
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Preview
Page: 39
CRITIC'S CHOICE REVIEWS: AHEAD OF THE CLASS ****; HOME AND AWAY ***; THE BLITZ: LONDON'S FIRESTORM ***1/2; DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: COLOUR AND LIGHT ***1/2; PRISON BREAK: THE OLD HEAD ***1/2; ANCIENT OLYMPICS: LET THE GAMES BEGIN **1/2; THE HAIRY BIKERS COOKBOOK ***; GARDENING AUSTRALIA ***1/2

TOP PICK

AHEAD OF THE CLASS ****

Sunday 8.30pm, ABC

The admirable Julie Walters teaches us all a few lessons in Ahead of the Class, this week's positive, heartwarming telly paean to beleaguered teachers. She also makes you weep again for the chances being missed by the dearth of thoughtful Australian TV drama. Walters stars as Marie Stubbs, a retired Scottish principal who took on the task of rescuing a notorious London school from closure after the five years of decline and student anarchy that followed the murder of its headmaster, Philip Lawrence, five years earlier. This one could almost be a 21st-century take on Goodbye Mr Chips, except that here we're in grim, gritty St Georges, a Catholic comprehensive in Maida Vale, rather than the classic English private school of the last century. Walters plays Lady Stubbs superbly, showing her idealistic determination, expounding the commonsense values of discipline, hard work and respect. And, though it verges dangerously close to schmaltziness with some of the speedy resolutions, it is somehow real. Bad boys see the error of their ways, bullies are controlled, shy refugee girls are given space to flower, uniforms replace the baseball caps, hoods and chewing gum, art takes over from graffiti, and disillusioned teachers, trapped with pupils at a school where more than 50 languages are more familiar than English, suddenly discover teamwork and find inspiration. Walters as the earthy, religious but not preachy principal, does not get riled by the madness, the nerve-jangling anger of fire alarms, and her efforts to save the failing school from villainous property developers and government closure become credible. Elephant stamps all round . . .

WORTH A LOOK

HOME AND AWAY ***

Monday 7pm, Channel 7

Set to distract us from other fun and games on television this week is the latest Home And Away wedding. It's that of Tasha and Robbie, if you hadn't heard. Soap operas now being essentially a crowded stage of weddings in search of storylines, it's quite possible, I'm told, that you had not even heard they were back together. It was never like this, of course, when Jason and Kylie got hitched for Neighbours. The world stopped for a Ramsey Street wedding. Used to be that weddings were kept for a cliff-hanging end-of-season thriller, allowing everyone time to get over their oohs and ahs before divorce, a move to Brisbane, and a confetti of flashbacks in the new series. Not now. Weddings are two a penny. Still, blonde princess Tasha (Isabel Lucas) and nerdy charmer Robbie (Jason Smith) do offer some surprises and, once the matey repartee has been set aside for the bridal waltz, the honeymoon and those inevitable DNA tests will surely follow.

THE BLITZ: LONDON'S FIRESTORM ***1/2

Sunday 7.30pm, ABC

You know the territory. You know the story. As TV tackles it again, Churchill's exhortations to the firefighters of London now seem historic formalities. And yet, in taking us back to World War II and the city's memories of the Blitz in this two-part Channel 4 documentary, producer-director Louise Osmond has revived the very raw drama of the attack. She uses computer-generated images, cleaned-up and rarely seen archival footage, memories of those who endured and survived, and dramatic re-enactments to recall it all. On the night of December 29, 1940, just four days after Christmas, the Luftwaffe dropped tens of thousands of incendiary bombs on London to show British civilians just how vulnerable they were. The focus was on St Paul's Cathedral which, as the Stukas moved in with their bombs, became more than a patriotic symbol. There were 1500 fires after the raid. Film taken of that night was later used to help persuade the US to enter the war.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: COLOUR AND LIGHT ***1/2

Monday 8.40pm, Channel 7

The real action in Wisteria Lane has always been behind closed doors. They love their domestic secrets. It's no different this week as Gabrielle tries to hide her pregnancy from old friends, Susan surprises everyone with her Zen-like attitude to the break-up with Mike Delfino, and Bree discovers she may not have completely recovered from the loss of Rex. But it's in a rare weekend outdoors excursion that writer Marc Cherry has fun in this episode, allowing Lynette Scavo to discover through her new neighbours, the Harpers, that she is not alone and eternally isolated because of her terrible twins. The boys have had an influence on the neighbourhood as we see in flashbacks: teaching a boy he could fly, urging a friend to cycle blindfolded, and getting another to play the game "toss a brick". The Harpers, it seems, have twins equally mischievous. As neighbours, they seem more forgiving than most. Trouble is, their friendship will come at a cost.

PRISON BREAK: THE OLD HEAD ***1/2

Wednesday 8.30pm, Channel 7

Locked up again, and still loving the sheer nonsense of it all. Logic has no part at all in this truly escapist adventure. I mean, how does Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) get to read those back pages of his tattooed blueprint of the prison? Why has he been allowed to share the same prison yard as his condemned brother? Why did the vice-president go to so much trouble when assassination seems easy? And now, how did they clean up the prison so quickly after last week's riot and all the mayhem? Michael's brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), is on Death Row and yet does enjoy a few liberties about the place. This week Westmoreland (Muse Watson), the cat-loving old hand who may or may not be infamous skyjacker D.B. Cooper, is unwittingly drawn into the action. While the forces of darkness pursue his supporters outside the prison walls, Michael battles to keep a storeroom pivotal to the escape bid free from the guards.

ANCIENT OLYMPICS: LET THE GAMES BEGIN **1/2

Thursday 8.30pm, ABC

Odd last-minute ABC programming inclusion, presumably intended to get us further enthused about the Commonwealth Games, Beijing, or, who knows, the start of the football season? It's one of those curious Canadian classroom documentaries, with architectural models, archaeological finds and re-enactments. Lots of actors prancing around naked pretending to be wrestlers from Sparta and other parts of ancient Greece. The Games, we're told, were coloured by drugging and cheating as well as more commendable sporting endeavours. So perhaps less has changed than we think? They were first held at Olympia in 776 BC, sponsored by religious organisations for Zeus, king of the Greek gods. Half the crowd initially came along for the religious ceremony, half the sport that followed. Training went on for months and competitors were ultimately assessed on physical strength and character by a 10-member panel.

THE HAIRY BIKERS COOKBOOK ***

Friday 8.05pm, SBS

Well, they do make a change from the ubiquitous Jamie Oliver, anyway. The North of England "Hairy Bikers", Dave Myers and Si King, may not be cordon bleu but they do have an appetite for both exotic food and travel. Their TV show, which undoubtedly covers the cost of their motorcycles and a meal or two, takes them this week to the northern part of Namibia, intending to inflict their humour and curious appetites on the nomadic Himba tribe. It is, of course, more of a travel spectacular than a gourmet reality, though undoubtedly some of the treats will appeal. In this second appearance, they enjoy a gigantic fried egg for breakfast following their meeting with an ostrich, later cook "magic lamb", and, after indulging in the local sport of long-distance spitting with springbok droppings, taste a traditional African dish of bobotie and pap. It's proving an amusing trip through some of the more spectacular landscapes of the world. The menu? Only if you're very hungry.

GARDENING AUSTRALIA ***1/2

Saturday 6.30pm, ABC

No shortage of enthusiasm from Peter Cundall this week though, having promoted the "glorious" St Kilda Botanic Gardens, he spends little time showing us its horticultural treasures. Gardening Australia, conventional in so many ways, does try to pack so much into such a short program. We gain, of course, with the variety. This week's specials include a visit to Geoff Cochrane's Yarra Valley property to check out some of the 200 or so varieties of lotuses and the 150 varieties of water lilies. The place looks more like Far North Queensland or Northern Territory than Victoria in John Patrick's segment. It's not the only exotica in the popular gardening show. Jerry Coleby-Williams surprises at least one viewer by revealing that smooth loofahs, or luffas, those wonderful sponges, are not from deep below the sea but distant members of the cucumber family. They can also find a place in stir-fries as well as the bathroom. You digs and you learns.

 
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