John Byrne reviews a right mixed bag this week, ranging from the return of soapy drama Scandal, to Channel 4's new and interactive talent show The Singer Takes it All
Reviewed: The Singer Takes it All (Friday, Channel 4); Sharknado 2: the Second One (SyFy, Saturday); Hannibal (Tuesday, Sky Living); Under the Dome (Thursday, RTÉ Two); Scandal (Thursday, Sky Living)
Live TV is always going to be a bit of a gamble, but live TV that is hugely reliant on social media is just asking for trouble. And that's exactly what the people behind The Singer Takes it All (Friday, Channel 4) got in bucket-loads as this new 'talent' show landed on our laps, phones and laptops.
As yet another karaoke talent show, this new one had to do something different to stand out from the herd. Alan Carr is a staple of the channel and wouldn't raise too many temperatures, so they went for broke by introducing an app whereby the general public can view singers in advance and vote for them live on the night, with the winner having the opportunity to go home with a five-figure sum in the bag.
Being a mug – I mean, in the interests of science – I downloaded the app and watched in mild amusement as the show fell apart around Alan Carr. (Yep, genuine Carr-crash TV.)
And it started so well - well loud that is. A very excited Carr ran on stage, the crowd were almost as up-for-it as the host, singer Pixie Lott and comedian Rob Beckett joined in as unnecessary guests, and amid a sea of flashing lights and an ocean of enthusiasm we were introduced to the first act, a student called Will.
He wasn't very good, but was in better shape than the voting app which, a relatively sombre Carr explained afterwards, wasn't working. As back-up, though, they'd 100 voters hidden somewhere in the bowels of Channel 4 to take over in such an emergency.
The app was absent again for the second singer, who could at least hold a tune and sing in key (which is akin to Pavarotti levels of ability on such shows). So once more, the votes were cast by the hundred behind the curtain. Oh dear.
Things improved with the app as the show dragged on, but the talent declined, and one guy was so bad I thought I'd fallen asleep and woken up to the new season of Britain's Got Talent. The Singer Takes it All may improve on this awful opening night, but I won't be wasting my time finding out.
A far more successful social network link-up occurred over on satellite channel SyFy, which had a near-global experience on offer with Sharknado 2: the Second One, the sequel to the camp and ironic B-movie they produced last year.
You don't need to be a genius – a twitter account will suffice – to figure out that owning a smartphone or iPad is an open invitation to a global schoolyard where bullying, mocking and instant judging are almost obligatory. Sharknado, being intentionally crap, was a huge hit on twitter.
So, it was a no-brainer to produce a follow-up and Sharknado 2 was released almost simultaneously across the globe last week. Like the original, it's all about tornadoes that carry sharks that consume humans, and once again stars Tara Reid and Ian Ziering as intrepid shark-killers April Wexler and Fin (hilarious!) Shepard.
It was rubbish. But that's the point. Well, one billion twitter impressions on the back of a semi-globalised TV event is the point. That's another 90 minutes I'll #nevergetback.
Far better was the knife-wielding season two finale of Hannibal (Tuesday, Sky Living). It was one of the most stunning wrap-ups I've ever seen.
Hannibal is an oddball of great beauty, but there were times during its second run when you wondered if main man Bryan Fuller was over-egging it with the symphonic, slo-mo slaughter. Well, this episode shut me up and knocked me down with its dazzling, gut-wrenching and quite decadent dance of death. Hannibal makes sociopathy so seductive it's a telling metaphor for the times in which we live, where humanity and empathy are often considered weaknesses rather than virtues, and self-aggrandising inspires awe.
Warning: this clip has scenes of violence
Hannibal is all about power and pleasure, and – I won't give away any spoilers in case you want to get into the show and haven't yet – the bloody tableau that closed season two sets fans up for what could be a very different kind of show next time around.
I felt ill afterwards which, under the circumstances, is a good thing. Mads Mikkelsen is both chilling and provocative as the evil Dr Hannibal Lecter, making it a classic 'Please make it stop'/'I can't look away' kind of show. How I Ate Your Mother, you might say.
Watching Under the Dome (Thursday, RTÉ Two) is definitely more fun these days and is charmingly innocent when compared to the blood-soaked psycho-porn of Hannibal. Season one just rambled around without really going anywhere but this second run is taking daft to new levels and is all the better for it.
This week, the local genocidal schoolteacher Rebecca was foiled in her attempt at reducing the local population by spreading a toxic virus, teenager Melanie discovered that she died in 1988, while Julia ends up with Sam, Big Jim's brother-in-law who looks more than a little spooky.
It's not Lost - well, not yet - but Under the Dome is bonkers and fun, two traits that always work well in tandem.
Finally, there was dancing and whoops of merriment in our house as Scandal, the rapidly-paced Shonda Rhimes drama starring Kerry Washington, returned with a new home on Thursday nights on Sky Living. Following on from the second season finale, when Olivia Pope was outed as POTUS Grant's mistress, her PR firm faces the huge task of trying to regain the confidence of her dwindling band of clients.
As well as discovering that Fitz was the squealer, Olivia's team leak a video that implies White House aide Jeannine Locke is Fitz’s mistress. But it's the ton of personal bitching, roaring, screaming, intrigue piled upon intrigue and scenes that fly around like paper plates and cups at an unruly kids' party that make this show a major buzz. I just love the way everyone shouts at each other at aneurysm-inducing levels.
Scandal is shrill-a-minute TV and should be enjoyed in single-episode bursts to avoid potential nosebleeds among viewers. Still, it's great to have it back. The headaches I could do without, though.