TV COLUMN: Roots, British Academy Film Awards, The Jump

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television...

The remake of Roots (BBC4) is into its second week of four. The BBC’s decision to hide it away on its forth, poor relation, digital channel says a lot about how far, or not, we’ve come in relation to the dramatisation of the commercial slavery of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Has the Beeb decided that it’s now a passé subject for which we’ve lost interest? Perhaps the schedulers came to the conclusion that detached from its original 1970’s, post-civil rights, zeitgeist, that socially and culturally, new Roots was a little lost in time.

Maybe it was just a fit of pique and jealously at not coming up with the idea to remake the seminal drama themselves, having been beaten to the punch, and the whip, by the History Channel who had the vision to do so.

Whatever, the reasons, the decision to put Roots on BBC4 on a Wednesday evening has to go down as one of the most curious scheduling decisions in recent years. And that includes the killing off of the last Doctor Who series by putting it on past most kids’ bedtime.

Performance, especially those of Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte and Forest Whitaker as Fiddler, has driven the series thus far. This incarnation of Roots remains as powerful as the original, though the ratcheting up of visceral violence and cruelty is a departure from the milder times of forty years ago. Putting it on after the 9pm watershed is the only correct decision the BBC have made.

Even hidden away, Roots has drawn an audience of a million – BBC4’s largest audience for a drama in three years – but it could possibly have gained ten times that figure had it been placed in the Sunday evening slot.

The BBC has a growing obsession that in an age of digital distribution, online and on demand viewing that scheduling doesn’t matter. The BBC is wrong.

In the slot where Roots should have been was the British Academy Film Awards (BBC1), otherwise known as the ‘wannabe-Oscars’. Hosted by Stephen Fry, the annual film-fest was a pretty limp affair, reflecting a year where the films were at best interesting, rather than great.

You can tell a bad film year when the winner is a musical and this year the awards went to La La Land. Just as in 2002 when Chicago won the Oscar for best film, you can’t help but wonder if we’ll all look back at 2017 and think, La La Land? Really?

Where this year’s BAFTAs will be memorable will be for the acceptance speeches. In an age when celebrities appear to have become the political official opposition, there should be an award for the most overtly politicised acceptance speech. “And the winner is…”. Who cares!

As a television concept, The Jump (Channel 4) is almost a work of genius, or insanity. Getting celebrities to risk, if not quite life, certainly limb by doing a ski-jump on live TV borrows all the sophistication of the Russian roulette sequence from The Deer Hunter.

This week it was Sir Bradley Wiggins who limped off the show with his leg broken. This follows model, Vogue Williams, whose knee injury in training meant she didn’t even make it to episode one.

Last year, seven contestants had to withdraw from The Jump due to injury, including gymnast, Beth Tweddle, who required surgery have fractured two vertebra in her neck. Still, it’s a laugh, isn’t it? That’s entertainment!