Saturday, 31 May 2008

PEEP SHOW 5.5 – "Jeremy's Manager"

Writers: Sam Bain & Jesse Armstrong
Director: Becky Martin

Cast: David Mitchell (Mark), Robert Webb (Jez), Matt King (Super Hans), Niky Wardley (Cally), Eve Webster (Christian Girl) & Phil Gilbert (Ronnie)

Jez and Super Hans get themselves a sexy manager, who books them a gig at a Christian Rock festival...

It's the penultimate episode and, as a side-note, why is practically every episode's title revolving around Jez? We've had Jeremy's Broke, Jeremy's Mummy, and now Jeremy's Manager. While obviously a very minor issue (the titles aren't even shown on-screen), it's become a bugbear with me now...

Anyway, after last week's disappointment, Peep Show fires on all cylinders here. Jez (Robert Webb) and Super Hans (Matt King) try to get themselves represented by Universal, but instead find themselves taken under the wing of Universal employee Cally (Niky Wardley), who is cultivating her own talent. Why Cally believes Jez and Super Hans are worth managing (as their musical ineptitude is regularly made clear) requires suspension of disbelief, though...

Cally plans for them to play at the Wolverhampton Festivus, and has a drunken fumble with Jez before rudely putting an end to their bedroom antics just as he gets started. A spurned, humiliated Jez takes solace in the fact his career at least seems to be benefiting from Cally's arrival, if not his sex life. Then, the Festivus gig falls through, so Cally arranges for them to play at a Christian Rock festival. She also becomes impressed by Mark's (David Mitchell) business acumen, so cosies up to him as Mark offers to be Jez and Super Hans' roadie, purely so he can continue his pursuit of Cally.

At the Christian Rock festival, Mark's relationship with Cally requires him to abandon common-sense and agree with her that a tent's crystal skulls are indeed divine, health-giving creations from Atlantis. He also decides he rather likes her domineering, condescending attitude in bed – which is worth his male emasculation as she talks him through every step of the sex act.

Cally eventually comes between Mark and Jez, when she decides Super Hans is more marketable as a solo act ("he's fuckable; it's an industry term -- it means someone might want to fuck him.) Cowardly Cally thinks it would be better if Mark broke the news to Jez that he's no longer in the band, and the news enrages Jez into vandalizing Cally's trailer. This later causes a problem for Jez, when Super Hans' drug habit incapacitates him from performing, so Cally is forced to rehire Jez – who has to blame Mark for the state of her trailer...

While the storyline once again focused on well-trodden themes (another gig for Jez and Super Hans, Mark's belief he's found "the one" in a clearly unsuitable person), it was great to see the show outdoors at a real location. Too much of season 5 has been circling the flat and Mark's office, so I was relieved to see an episode with more scope to it – particularly as a Christian Rock festival is ripe for comedy....

Jez got baptized in a child's inflatable pool (because there's a 1% chance Christians are right about the afterlife), Cally revealed a bizarre belief in crystal skull mumbo-jumbo (how timely with Indiana Jones 4, eh?), and Super Hans and Jez had to improvise hedonism – by chugging down litres of supermarket-brand cola and giving themselves "head rushes"! Brilliant.

Cally, played by the lovely Niky Wardley (supporting player on The Catherine Tate Show), was just another of Peep Show's crackpot women, really – but she made for a very memorable control freak. I loved how she impolitely stopped having sex with Jez – mainly because it has long confused me how Jez manages to sleep with so many hot women on the show! You can kind of understand Mark getting lucky (as he's sympathetic, unthreatening, and usually lands girls in his league), but Jez's atrraction has long been a mystery. So it was fun to see him get turned down. The amusing way Mark had to lower himself sexually, and pretend he believed in New Age mysticism just to please Cally, was also neatly written.

As usual, writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong's script was crammed with witty and amusing dialogue. Together with the humorous setting and delightfully weird Cally character, this episode really clicked and provided a swift 30-minutes of embarrassing and intriguing comedy. It's the last episode next week, and while season 5 has generally been much weaker than season 4 (thanks to the lack of a decent recurring idea, like last year's impending marriage), it's still head and shoulders above any other sitcom on TV right now.

30 May 2008
Channel 4, 10.35 pm

Friday, 30 May 2008

Did you see the Live Honda Advert?

Well, did you? 2.2 million people did, during an ad break for Channel 4's Come Dine With Me last night. Honda's latest commercial – totally live. Oooh. 168,000 people tuned in just to see it. The 3-minute ad involved a skydiving team over Spain, who spelt out the word "HONDA" during free-fall. The stunt cost Honda, famed for their imaginative and creative commercials, a cool £500,000.

I love the idea of live adverts, but Honda's stunt wasn't that brilliant -- was it? I mean, a mass skydive with people forming the word "HONDA" is impressive, but did the fact it was live add anything? It was more an exercise in broadcasting synchronization than anything else, to me. And it lasted the whole ad break, too. I'd have been more impressed if they were under a tight 30-second deadline to perform the stunt. Still, it made 168,000 people actually seek out an advert on TV, and got people talking about it. Including me, right here and now. So it did its job. I applaud it.

Will this start a trend, though? It proves people still find live TV alluring, even if we regularly time-shift live TV shows with Sky+ these days. Remember those live episodes of The Bill and Coronation Street? Live television still has that danger and immediate connection to viewers. I'd hate to see live ads become passé, but wouldn't it be cool to see a live Guinness advert -- like that domino-effect one? Any other suggestions?

Box Office Charts: w/e 30 May 2008

Inevitably, Indiana Jones reigns supreme on both sides of the Atlantic, with a whopping $126 million in the US and a huge $12 million in the UK. With Indy's big release, there was very little competition, so the charts are relatively unchanged. However, the success of What Happens In Vegas is still staggering to me (it even edged Iron Man down to #3 from #1 in the UK). The viability of a rom-com as an alternative to Iron Man and Indy certainly bodes well for the national releases of Sex & The City in the UK and US...


(-) 1. Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull $126m
(1) 2. The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian $28.6m
(2) 3. Iron Man $25.6m
(3) 4. What Happens In Vegas $11.2m
(4) 5. Speed Racer $5.21m
(6) 6. Baby Mama $4.21m
(5) 7. Made Of Honor $4.2m
(7) 8. Forgetting Sarah Marshall $2.2m
(8) 9. Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay $1.2m
(10) 10. The Visitor $917k


(-) 1. Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull £12.2m
(2) 2. What Happens In Vegas £921k
(1) 3. Iron Man £834k
(3) 4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall £323k
(4) 5. Nim's Island £294k
(5) 6. Speed Racer £162k
(6) 7. Made Of Honor £120k
(7) 8. Doomsday £79k
(9) 9. Sukkar banat £70k
(10) 10. In Bruges £60k


A shy, stuttering professor brings infamous occultist Aleister Crowley back to life. Thriller starring Simon Callow, Kal Weber, Lucy Cudden & Jud Charlton. Co-written by Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson!

Big screen continuation of the hit TV series about four female friends living in New York City. Comedy drama starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon & Chris Noth.

TV settings, leads, sound and Freesat

You can have too much choice sometimes. Remember the days when "contrast", "brightness" and "volume" were the only adjustments available when messing with a telly's settings? My new set has all kinds of options to play with. If you've ever wanted to add "tint", or increase the level of cyan in your picture, I recommend you get this 37" Toshiba.

I've had my new HD TV for a week, and I'm still playing with it. I actually duplicated the calibration settings from a website review, but wasn't happy with them. Maybe the reviewer got a great picture with those settings, but he probably wasn't watching with a Virgin Media digibox. I seem to have it cracked now, but the bad thing about having a HD TV is that you realize how pixellated the least popular channels are. And even stations you'd think would be high-quality (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, etc.) can be a bit cruddy and fragmented.

I've reached a compromise on my settings now, though. Most of the channels look good, and the DVD picture is very good – making me realize how grey my old telly's blacks were. I decided to buy some component video leads and RCA audio cable to connect my DVD, but was gob-smacked to be told by Bearded Bloke at the Sony Centre that each will set me back £20. £40 to connect a DVD player?! You can buy a DVD player for less than that! Spectacled Bloke at Panasonic had the audio lead for £20 and the component for £15 (but not in stock). A quick browse online found both leads at half those prices, so I bought some there. Then found an even cheaper set on another website the next day. Sod's Law, huh?

I'm still annoyed I have no surround sound, as DVDs just aren't the same in stereo. But I did manage to get a bit of vitality into the aural experience, by setting my DVD player's sound output to "3D Sound" -- which really did help. Ensuring your DVD player is outputting PCM (not Bitstream) is also a good tip for non-surround sound viewers. But I can't wait to pay off this telly, so I can start thinking about a sub-£200 speaker system. I noticed a good Samsung one that can decode DD5.1/DTS and connects via HDMI. My brother picked up a second hand Panasonic speaker system (no HDMI connection, but it had an inbuilt PVR) for £115 on Ebay, so it's worth keeping an eye out there.

And yes, having a HD TV with nothing HD to watch is more annoying. A Playstation 3* will be on my Christmas list, I reckon. I also read about Freesat from BBC/ITV – a subscription-less satellite service with some HD channels. You just pay for the box (approx. £150) and installation (£80). It seems you get pretty much the same choice as Freeview, but the bonus of a few HD channels. No ITV-HD yet, though. And I doubt they'll ever get Sky onboard -- meaning zero chance of watching Lost, 24, Prison Break or Battlestar Galactica in high-def.

All things considered, I think it's best to leave Freesat and check its progress in a year's time. But I'm really glad BBC/ITV are making the effort to get free-to-air HD content available nationwide. There must be hundreds of thousands of HD TVs in the UK now -- broadcasting nothing but standard-def. That's like a colour TV receiving black-and-white transmissions.

And finally, one thing I'm very pleased about is my telly's PC Input. I've never had one before, so now any downloaded TV shows are getting the LCD 37" widescreen treatment. It's amazing how much better a downloaded episode looks on an LCD TV, as pixilation was far more noticeable on my 17" monitor – especially for shows not recorded from a HD source. It's just a pity my laptop's sound via my TV is (at the moment) worse than my PC speakers. I adjusted some bass and treble settings, so it's not too bad now. But still.

* But I'm annoyed the PS3 isn't multi-region, so my Region 1 DVDs can't be played through it. Are there multi-region Blu-Ray players
available yet? If not, it looks like my DVD player will remain hooked up just to play US discs. They call that progress?

Sex & The City: Please go away

I have never, ever seen an episode of Sex & The City. This is because I have a penis. And I'm not gay. But my media habits seem to have put me in the wrong marketing bracket, because hasn't SATC had more publicity than Indiana Jones and Iron Man put together? One of its quartet of stars is on every chat show going: Paul O'Grady, Graham Norton, etc. There are interviews with them on radio every day. They even held the world premiere in London. I'm pretty sure there are subliminal flashes of Kim Cattrall in-between adverts, too. There's just no escaping it. They're targeting me. Maybe they think I'll crack and watch it, then become obsessed and buy the TV box-set? But I can tell you now: that will never, ever happen...

I know it's wrong to slate a TV show you've never actually seen. So maybe it's as brilliant and cutting edge as the actresses seem to think. They can't be biased, can they? From what little I've seen (a few minutes here and there, some trailers, lots of TV ads) it seemed to be another tiresomely vacuous and materialistic show – where woman value objects over everything except handsome men, spend their days buying shoes, and discuss sex with quirky frankness. But I just find it a bit sad to see women in their forties and fifties pretending they're in their thirties, and often dressing like they're in their twenties.

I liked Kim Cattrall in her pre-SATC movie days, and she's a fun interviewee, but her character's voice irritates me and the man-eating potty-mouthed type isn't one I go for. Sarah Jessica Parker gets cruelly picked on for having a horse-shaped face and body of a transvestite skeleton, but I actually quite like her. At least she has flaws, and she's married to Ferris Bueller. But like Cattrall, SATC may have given her huge fame, success and money, but she was more intriguing in the 90s as a rising star. The other two? I have no opinion. If Cattrall and SJP are the Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria of SATC, the other two are twin Nicolette Sheridans to me.

But, no. I haven't really watched it enough to give an informed opinion – this is just gut reactions to what little I've been exposed to. I actually remember when SATC first started airing on UK TV and most reviews were very negative. But it found an audience. It's a big success. Hey, it has a movie coming out years after it "finished" on TV, so it must have something going for it. People must like those characters.

It just worries me how they're treated as role models, as I don't know a single bloke who likes any of the SATC women. So please don't be like them, girls. Be like Gabrielle in Desperate Housewives, or something. Even if I was offered the chance to sleep with Kim Cattrall, I'd agree but spend the night squinting and thinking of that scene in Porkies. Or Big Trouble In Little China. Not the bit when that guy explodes. That'll be me, later.

Come on, this had to end on a sex joke.

Hitman (2007)

Director: Xavier Gens
Writer: Skip Woods

Cast: Timothy Olyphant (Agent 47), Dougray Scott (Mike Whittier), Olga Kurylenco (Nika), Robert Knepper (Yuri Marklov), Henry Ian Cusick (Udre Belicoff), Ulrich Thomsen (Belicoff), Michael Offei (Jenkins) & Christian Erickson (General Kormarov)

A super-assassin becomes embroiled in a political cover-up, while being chased across Europe by Interpol...

The history of film adaptations of video-games is strewn with rotting carcasses; Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil, Doom, et al. Even the adaptations that are okay (i.e, not awful) receive mixed reviews, like Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill. But maybe things are due to change, now that video-game designers are creating gaming experiences with the narrative complexity a movie demands. Upcoming adaptations of Halo, Bioshock and Half-Life are all armed with premises of more substance than "diminutive sibling plumbers rescue princess"...

Hitman sits somewhere in-between the old and new game-to-film mentalities. The game's premise, of a cloned super-assassin assigned a number instead of a name, is something a Hollywood screenwriter was bound to dream up one day, so the film essentially becomes an anti-Bond film using the game's bald-headed, bar-coded killer as its anti-hero. Hey, it can even lay claim to discovering future Bond Girl Olga Kurylenco.

Timothy Olyphant (Die Hard 4.0) stars as the eponymous hitman Agent 47, although the film unexpectedly opts to ignore the whole cloned assassin aspect of the game. 47's sci-fi back-story is inferred in opening flashbacks and the appearance of his bald "brothers" a little later, but it's all of little consequence. Strange actually, as the trailer implies the shadowy birth of Agent 47 by "The Organisation" will be the driving force of the narrative.

The actual storyline is a bit rambling and occasionally bewildering. It involves Agent 47 assassinating Belicoff, the Russian Prime Minister, only for him to miraculously survive the sniper shot. In actuality, Belicoff has been replaced by a double, who takes over as the country's leader. Simultaneously, 47 is being pursued across Europe by obsessive Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott), and later hooks up with grungy sex-kitten Nika (Kurylenco) – who isn't averse to walking through frame stark naked. It's safe to say you'll see more of Ms Kurylenco's curves here than Commander Bond will later in Quantum Of Solace.

After a surprisingly solid start, Hitman unfortunately starts to crawl along -- enlivened only by a few distracting action beats and eye-opening Olga. It's a shame, as Olyphant does a decent job with an underwritten cipher (forgiving a few unintentionally silly moments), and the film never feels like another dismal video-game adaptation. Indeed, if you're unaware of its pixel origins, you'll just consider it a sporadically exciting time-waster; a restrained xXx with failed dreams of Bourne Identity-like greatness. Interesting to note that xXx star Vin Diesel was supposed to headline, but dropped out at the last minute.

As the plot becomes something of a chore to follow, it's easier to just focus on the cat-and-mouse game between Whittier and 47, soak up the location shooting, ogle Olga, and enjoy the flashes of excitement as Agent 47 goes about his business with a ruthless, calm, violent efficiency. It's a shame the film avoids the quiet, stealthy approach the game asks its players to employ – which could have given it a more unique foundation. Ironically, that was the edict of the original game in a marketplace crowded with First Person Shooters. There are moments of the video-game's surreptitious vibe, but Agent 47 is pretty much a bald Jason Bourne-style hired gun, tailored by Tarantino.

With expectations sufficiently lowered, Hitman isn't too bad. It's just incredibly pale when compared to Bond, Bourne, Bauer – and doesn't run with its few unique qualities, like its character's anti-hero status and sci-fi genesis. Director Xavier Gens apparently submitted a very violent edit that the studio turned down – prompting them to hire Nicolas de Toth to re-shoot scenes while Gens was out of the country. Maybe that had an adverse effect on the finished film, who knows. Whatever the behind-the-scenes problems, thanks to a flaccid and dreary plot, Hitman becomes a mediocre also-ran of its genre -- although part of me believes a sequel, with a more visionary director and a less formulaic screenplay, might be worth a hit.

20th Century Fox
Budget: $17.5 million
94 minutes

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Garbage casting for Terminator, Mad Men back on the Beeb & ITV's missing Daisy

Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson has been cast in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as technology company CEO Catherine Weaver. The British singer joins fellow Brit Lena Headey, who plays the eponymous heroine.

In other news, BBC Four have confirmed they intend to broadcast the second season of hit drama Mad Men, which returns in the US this July.

BBC Four controller Janice Hadlow commented:

"We're very proud to have shown the first series of Mad Men on BBC Four, and are delighted to be able to bring the second series of this stylish and captivating series to its many British fans too."

And finally, ITV have revealed they plan to broadcast the second episode of Pushing Daisies, after controversially skipping it because the 9-episode season wouldn't fit into their 8-week Saturday night schedule. Unfortunately, it will only be broadcast via the ITV website.

An ITV spokesman commented:

"[this decision] was in response to fans wanting to see this episode. [Pushing Daisies has] done particularly well with younger audiences, and showing it online seemed to make sense."

SIX DEGREES 1.1 – "Pilot"

Writers: Raven Metzner & Stu Zicherman
Director: Rodrigo Garcia

Cast: Hope Davis (Laura), Erika Christensen (Mae Anderson), Dorian Missick (Damian), Campbell Scott (Steven Casemen), Jay Hernandez (Carlos), Bridget Moynahan (Whitney), Jonathan Cake (Roy), Miles Chandler (Max Caseman), Nick Sandow (Louie), Robert John Burke (David), Dennis Boutsikaris (Leonard Ralston), Michael Kenneth Williams (Michael), Ronald Guttman (Charles), Neal Huff (Harry), Robert Clohessy (Scott Faubel) & Ruby Jerins (Eliza)

Exec-produced by Lost co-creator J.J Abrams, this short-lived US drama essentially takes one aspect of that island-based show (the coincidences of supporting characters bumping into each other in flashbacks) and combines that idea with the theory that everyone on the planet is "six degrees of separation" away from anyone else. The show essentially tells 6 stories about 6 New Yorkers, whose lives sometimes intersect and have repercussions on each others...

It's a six-piece ensemble, but we're first introduced to defence attorney Carlos Green (Hostel's Jay Hernandez), whose bookend narration seems to indicate he's the audience's route into the drama. We meet him on a subway train, considering how total strangers might one day become your best friend, or the person sitting next to you right now could be your true love.

The other five are: Laura Morgan (Hope Davis), a grieving single mother whose husband was killed in a mortar attack in Iraq. In one emotive scene, we watch her reporter husband's last broadcast on TV before his video-link was lost – a recording she now cherishes; Damian Henry (Dorian Missick), a limo driver with gambling debts who's trying to escape being sucked into the criminal underworld of his big brother; Mae Anderson (Erika Christensen), a young woman with a dangerous past she's trying to hide from; Max Caseman (Campbell Scott), a cynical photographer who's lost passion for his work; and Whitney Crane (Bridget Moynahan), a successful PR businesswoman who suspects her boyfriend is cheating on her.

While very much a scene-setting episode, the script does a great job of guiding us through six separate plots. I was expecting the 6 characters to remain separate for most of the time, and then slowly interconnect as the show rolls on, but there were already several moments when coincidences presented themselves: Max finds a muse in the publicly grieving Laura, who in turn meets Whitney during a pedicure; while Carlos develops a crush on Mae, who meets Laura; and then Carlos becomes friends with Damian after helping him escape some thugs.

There's a lot going on, but it doesn't become bogged down and remains sprightly and engaging. Some of this is down to the cast, who are all likeable and instantly memorable. Bridget Moynahan, Erika Christensen and Hope Davies are familiar movie actresses, but lesser-known actors like Jay Hernandez and Dorian Missick also give satisfying performances. And Campbell Scott (superb in Roger Dodger) deserves wider recognition in a big TV drama, even if Six Degrees wasn't it.

Yes, you guessed it, Six Degrees was cancelled after 13 episodes. Incredibly, this first episode is almost 2 years old now, so it's been off-air for a long time in the States. Fortunately, these short-lived US shows work well to fill the UK summer schedules, and I was surprised to find myself more engaged by the characters than I thought I would be after one episode. The gimmick of the premise didn't overwhelm events, the acting was solid, the plots moved at a decent lick, and writers Raven Metzner and Stu Zicherman deserve kudos for introducing 6 characters and plots with such ease.

While there was nothing truly compelling here, I was sufficiently intrigued and enjoyed the show – which is half the battle of an effective Pilot. I'll certainly be tuning in for episode 2, which will be more indicative of the week-to-week lure of these characters and their various back-stories. And foreknowledge of its demise shouldn't be a barrier, just as long as the last episode doesn't leave too much hanging.

28 May 2008
ITV1, 10.45 pm


Writer: Michael Taylor
Director: Rod Hardy

Cast: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Mark Sheppard (Romo Lampkin), Grace Park (Sharon), Tricia Helfer (Caprica Six), Richard Hatch (Zarek), Donnelly Rhodes (Doc Cottle), Rekha Sharma (Tory), Leah Cairns (Racetrack), Colin Lawrence (Skulls), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Kate Vernon (Ellen Tigh) & Alexandra Thomas (Hera)

The disappearance of President Roslin triggers a power struggle amongst the Quorum of Twelve, as Adama considers the fleet's next move...

UK viewers get the jump on their US counterparts, owing to the fact the Sci-Fi Channel didn't air this episode last Friday in the States, because of Memorial Day weekend. Whether us Brits will stay an episode ahead till mid-season is anyone's guess, but enjoy it for now. It's like season 1 all over again...

After last week's big thrills and jaw-dropping cliffhanger, a sense of deflation descends when it becomes clear the fate of Roslin and Baltar aboard the Basestar won't be explained. Instead, this episode focuses on the fallout from the colonial fleet left behind. In particular, the Quorum of Twelve are eager for someone to replace Roslin as acting President, so Vice-President Zarek (Richard Hatch) assumes the position. It's a fair, legal decision, but Lee (Jamie Bamber) knows his father won't accept Zarek's leadership and it's in everyone's interest to install someone else.

To help him decide who that person should be, Lee reacquaints himself with lawyer Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard); the shades-wearing, cat-loving legal eagle who represented Gaius Baltar at his infamous trial. Romo, who we discover lives in squalid conditions with a single porthole (payment for representing Baltar), agrees to help Lee find the perfect temporary replacement.

Meanwhile, Adama (Edward James Olmos) faces a tough time over the losses in personnel and Raptors, but is most concerned about Roslin – who won't survive long without treatment for her cancer, according to Doc Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes). In an effort to find the missing Basestar, he has Tigh (Michael Hogan) interrogate the imprisoned Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer), as he's aware his XO has been seeing the prisoner regularly. Caprica Six reveals that the Basestar has likely jumped to the Resurrection Hub, but only the onboard Hybrids know where each Hub is located, so she's unable to help them.

During their discussion, Tigh again finds himself imagining Caprica Six is his dead wife Ellen (Kate Vernon) and it becomes clear the pair have formed a close bond during their discussions. Indeed, Doc Cottle later informs Adama that Caprica Six is pregnant, and Adama is furious that Tigh has abused his position of authority that way – leading to a fight with his best-friend over sleeping with the enemy.

Romo eventually deduces that the best replacement for Roslin is Lee himself, congratulating Lee with the good news -- but revealing a nihilistic side to his personality when he threatens to shoot him dead, as he believes mankind are a doomed race who deserve to go extinct, and shouldn't be given glimmers of hope like Lee. It's also revealed that Romo's omnipresent cat was just a figment of his imagination, as his real pet was killed. Lee manages to talk Romo around, allowing him to be sworn in as acting President.

Indeed, it's a Ying-Yang scenario for the Adama family, as Admiral Adama comes to realize that his decision-making is being influenced too much by his desire to rescue Roslin. Believing he can't continue to allow his personal feelings to cloud his judgement, he decides to give up his command and relinquish control of the military fleet to Tigh. The episode ends with Adama taking a Raptor and leaving the fleet behind as they jump, meaning he can concentrate his efforts on finding Roslin without endangering anyone else's lives. Or, y'know, just waiting around in the vague hope she'll return. But if she doesn't, can he jump back to the fleet? Hmm.

Sine Qua Non was a very troubling episode for me, primarily because I wasn't convinced by most of its key events. In particular, the sudden rush to replace Roslin after she disappearance struck me as extremely premature and silly. What's to say she won't return in a few hours, or days? All that fuss over replacing her, when they have a perfectly capable elected Vice President? I just didn't buy it. And Lee's reason for finding someone instead of Zarek (that Adama wouldn't get on with Zarek) was similarly annoying. While it may be true that Adama and Zarek would clash, doesn’t it make a mockery of the political system if everything's thrown up in the air over personal issues?

Of course, it's all a means to get Lee installed as acting President, by way of a welcome return for Romo Lampkin. But that also bothered me. Lee was a military man with no political experience until recently, so I was never convinced by his move into politics anyway – and now he's the acting President? And he got that position by deciding on it himself with the help of a controversial lawyer? Sorry, but none of that made sense to me. I'm assuming the fact this is the last season meant the writers couldn't make this manoeuvre more plausible, by spreading it out over 5 episodes, so it was instead rushed along in one 43-minute episode. Shame.

And what's with Adama deciding to give up his command and wait for Roslin alone? I loved the rise and fall of father and son by the episode's end, but was anyone else a bit confused by his decision? I wasn't satisfied with the reasoning for him to go off alone like that. Surely he'd have lots of support in finding the errant Basestar from the fleet? Again, it seems like five episode's worth of subtlety has been swept aside just to conjure a surprising climax here. Maybe the next few episode's will justify this odd development for the character. Hopefully.

There were a few things I did like, though: Sharon (Grace Park) was reprimanded for shooting Natalie (Helfer), who didn't survive the gunshot. The idea that Caprica Six is pregnant is very interesting – as this will be the first fully Cylon baby, seeing as Tigh is one of the secret Final Five. Again, the revelation that Tigh and Caprica Six were actually having sex in her cell didn't really sit right with me, but the result of their union is at least intriguing. And there's a certain amusement in the fact Cylon Tigh is now in charge of the entire military.

Overall, this episode ended with developments that made you sit up and take notice, but a lot of it came at the expense of realism. Maybe others will disagree, but I just wasn't convinced by any of the big changes to Lee and Adama's situation, while Romo Lampkin (a real highlight of season 3) came across as deranged instead of weirdly brilliant here – despite Mark Sheppard's valiant efforts. Olmos and Hogan also managed to act well above the script's quality, but Sine Qua Non still wound up being unpersuasive about its extensive changes. Let's hope Roslin doesn't just return next week and wonder why the hell Lee's sat in her chair, or why Adama's floating around in space with her book.

27 May 2008
Sky One, 9.00 pm

It's all coming to an end...

With the arrival of summer, television takes a noticeable dip. Which is how it should be. We all need a break as viewers, and the cast and crew of your favourite shows could do with some time off, too.

The next few weeks marks The End for lots of shows airing in the UK: the last Pushing Daisies on Saturday, the two-part finale of Lost this Sunday, the last ever Moonlight next Tuesday, Dirt's done in a fortnight, Mad Men finished last Sunday, Peep Show wraps up a week on Friday, BSG has only a few episodes till 2009, and The Apprentice is hired in a few weeks. Only Doctor Who has a sizeable batch of episodes left, with half of season 4 left to air.

The lack of TV shows is going to leave a massive gap in my viewing habits and, consequently, blog posts. So how do I fill it? Should I fill it? Some US shows will be back in September (like Heroes and probably Dexter – yes!), but many others will be gone till early-09.

I suppose there's always Big Brother 9? Is anyone interested in that? Or is this the year when it dies in the ratings? Surely people are totally sick of it now. Even Dermot O'Leary's jumped ship! I can never manage to blog more than a few episodes anyway.

Oh, I know! Mad Men's second season starts in the summer in the US! I could review that, yes But I really enjoyed watching it at UK pace on BBC Four every Sunday, and I'd like a break from it now. So probably not. Best to keep it as a treat for next year.

Do you have any suggestions for how to fill the summer TV gap? Retro reviews of old favourites? An emphasis on film reviews for awhile? Are there summer repeats of brilliant shows I never gave a chance, but are worth seeing – like Dirty Sexy Money? How about reviewing shows we know were cancelled in the US this year – like immortal cop drama New Amsterdam? Is it worth giving Journeyman a whirl?

Recommendations, thoughts, ideas? All welcome.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Is Neil Gaiman writing for Doctor Who?

There's a strong rumour circulating that renowned writer Neil Gaiman has been approached about writing an episode of Doctor Who in 2010. The rumour was let slip by Comic Book Resources, who apparently asked Gaiman outright if it was true, and he coyly replied: "You may very well think that, but I could not possibly comment."

So, that's a likely yes. Of course, it doesn't mean Gaiman's accepted the offer, but can any genre-loving British writer turn it down? It's also not clear if the current incumbents of Who's production approached Gaiman, or if future exec-producer Steven Moffatt is already laying the groundwork for the fifth season he'll be running.

I'd like to believe the latter, if only because excitement levels about Moffatt's appointment are already very high, so the idea he's gathering writers of Gaiman's calibre just makes my heart sing. And I like feeling jazzed about Doctor Who, as it has so much unexplored potential. We only get glimpses in occasional episodes -- from Moffat, Paul Cornell, and a few others.

Anyway, a Neil Gaiman penned Who script would be marvellous. For the uninitiated, Gaiman's a prolific author whose credits include the books Good Omens and Neverwhere, the highly-regarded Sandman graphic novels, co-writer of the recent Beowulf, and author of the book Stardust, which was adapted into a film last year.

MOONLIGHT 1.15 – "What's Left Behind"

Writer: Jill Blotevogel
Director: Chris Fisher

Cast: Alex O'Loughlin (Mick), Jason Dohring (Josef), Sophia Myles (Beth), Mercedes Conner (Lilah Fordham), Justice Leak (Ray Fordham), Anthony Starke (Ken Verdolino), Todd Giebenhain (Leo), Bonnie Burroughs (Julie Fordham), Erika Ringor (Detective Theresa Novak), Robin Thomas (Robert Fordham), Eric Winter (ADA Benjamin Talbot) & Daniel Goldman (Jacob)

When Mick learns that the grandson of a friend he knew in WWII has been kidnapped, he immediately offers his assistance...

Quite a contrasting episode this week, as the storyline is another Moonlight script that barely rises above lukewarm temperature, but you can take solace in some intriguing back-story for Mick (Alex O'Loughlin) and present day family heartache. It's just a shame the series lacks the bite to do a story about child abduction justice...

The kidnapped child in question, Jacob (Daniel Goldman), is plucked from his bed after hearing strange noises come from his bedroom walls, before a pair of hands descend from the ceiling and steal him away. Mick becomes interested in the case after hearing about it on the news, supposedly because he grew up in the same neighbourhood before he was a vampire, but actually because he knew Jacob's grandfather Ray (Justice Leak), as they both fought in WWII.

Of course, the Fordham family Mick knew have long since died. But Mick vows to help Jacob's distraught parents Robert (Robin Thomas) and Julie (Bonnie Burroughs), even if they’re unaware of the underlying motivation. Matters are complicated when Mick gradually begins to realize (aided by some clunking sepia-tinted flashbacks every few sentences) that he might actually have fathered Robert, meaning the missing Jacob is his grandson. It turns out Mick returned from service in Europe after Ray was killed and ended up falling in love with his best-friend's widow Lilah (Mercedes Conner). But is he Robert's father, or did Ray get his wife Lilah pregnant before leaving for war-torn Italy?

It puts a nice spin on the mystery of Jacob's abductor, and making things personal for Mick certainly squeezes more drama from a generally routine plot. Meanwhile, Beth (Sophia Myles) no longer works for BuzzWire and handsome Talbot (Eric Winter) is still circling her, eventually suggesting she become a civilian investigator under his guidance. I'm not convinced about this development, as giving Beth the same occupation as Mick seems like a waste of time. Why can't she just become a journalist for a traditional newspaper? Or, if the investigative aspect if something she wants to pursue, how about joining forces with lover Mick? It all seems a bit contrived to develop some Talbot/Beth chemistry.

The knock-on effects of Mick realizing he might have living relatives is the episode's strong points. The show hasn't tackled the idea of what a vampire has to leave behind when they're "turned", so this was a welcome aspect to the storyline. The only disappointment is that, after a DNA test is rushed through at a lab, the episode ends with Mick knowing Robert isn't his son – his best-friend Ray really did father a son back in the '40s. So the status quo is maintained, sadly. It might have been nice for Mick to have a family to watch over secretly, but the opportunity was passed over.

The mechanics of Jacob's abduction storyline wasn't all that interesting, although once Mick deduces that a workman called Ken Verdolino (Anthony Starke), who helped renovate the Fordham residence, planned and executed Jacob's kidnapping, it at least built to a satisfying conclusion in an underground chamber. Of course, being a romantic supernatural drama at heart, the motivations of the kidnapper and experience Jacob suffered is kept pretty vague. While I never expected anything with the grit of CSI in a vampire detective show, it's sometimes a shame Moonlight can't be edgier.

Overall, What's Left Behind does what it set out to do. A few of the flashbacks to Mick's life in WWII are a bit awkward and sometimes unnecessary (scared to let the imagination of the viewer fill in the blanks during a monologue at one points), the general sweep of the idea worked nicely. I was never gripped by the missing boy storyline, but the ramifications of a vampire's pre-bitten life was interesting to consider – even if this episode ultimately opted to brush everything under the carpet by the end. Still, the closing scene – where Robert realizes his son was rescued by a man (ghost?) who was in his father's army photo – was worth whatever issues I had.

27 May 2008
LivingTV, 10.00 pm

DIRT 2.5 – "What Is This Thing Called..."

Writers: Mimi Friedman & Jeanette Collins
Director: David Arquette

Cast: Alex Breckenridge (Willa), Courteney Cox (Lucy), Josh Stewart (Holt), Ian Hart (Don), Ryan Eggold (Farber), Ashley Johnson (Sharlee), Aimee Garcia (Debbie Ann), Vicki Lewis (Cosmetician), Callum Blue (Graham Duncan), Derek Magyar (Roy Toy) & Danny Comden (Ted Rothman)

Don's friendship with a pop icon reaches new levels, Willa and Farber explore the love lives of celebs and reveal juicy secrets, and Lucy makes a serious decisions about Holt...

Holt: I'm just trying to live my life, man.
Don: I'm just trying to take pictures of it.

A slightly smarter episode than usual this week, although I'm still missing the sensational streak that permeated season 1. Dirt just isn't as deliciously perverse as it once was, so I'm having a tough time adjusting to what's clearly a dull attempt to re-imagine the show, at the expense of the stuff most people tuned in for...

In What Is This Thing Called... Don (Ian Hart) finds himself torn three ways between business, friendship and family. His teen popstar friend Sharlee Cate (Ashley Johnson) is going through an acrimonious split with her rapper husband Roy Toy (Derek Magyar), in the glare of the paparazzi after he tipped them off. Don is ideally placed to get the inside scoop for Lucy (Courteney Cox), but finds himself debating whether or not to abuse his friendship for a cover photo and exclusive insight.

Willa (Alex Breckenridge) is also working the same story, and eventually discovers that Roy Toy has been having an affair with ex-wife, and only married Sharlee for the money and career boost. Yes, the real-life antics of pop princess Britney Spears and duff rapper Kevin Federline inform this episode's plot – although, once again, it's all far tamer than reality.

Lucy herself is once again kept on the sidelines, although last week's ham-fisted beginnings of a romance between her and studio exec Ted Rothman (Danny Comden) continue here. But it's clear that Lucy only has feelings for spurned lover Holt (Josh Stewart), as she has Don hounding him on company time just to keep tabs on his love-life. Fortunately, Holt remains infatuated with Lucy, and the episode ends with them deciding to give their love a second chance, now that Holt's girlfriend Julia is out of the picture? Speaking of which; any news on her hit-and-run by Lucy's brother? No, of course not. It seems the writers still have amnesia.

There's also a new character in the suave shape of British hotshot photographer Graham Duncan (Callum Blue), whose cover photo for rival magazine Icon catches Lucy's eye, leading to him being recruited for DirtNow. Blue makes a good first impression here (nice to see a proper English accent on a US show, too), and it'll be interesting to see how Don reacts to having a rival of equal (maybe even better) talent.

Don's hospitalized brother Jason makes a quick recovery after his car accident, although I'm still irritated by his weak introduction last week. There's mild improvement this week, but he's essentially just there to provide Don with another harsh decision – as he turns away the chance to spend quality time with his brother at his ramshackle home, instead putting his DirtNow work ahead of family matters. But, as a clash between personal and private lives happen nearly every episode to Don and Lucy, it's becoming a pretty hollow plot-point.

Farber (Ryan Eggold) also gets a small, undercooked subplot about trying to prove a Hollywood hot couple, kooky Zack Bauer and sex siren Genevieve (ahem, Kate Hudson), are genuinely in love and not faking it to raise their profiles.

As a character-driven piece, it has some merit. As usual, Ian Hart is the most magnetic presence as Don, and his twitchiness over exploiting a friend to earn a living is the episode's most memorable element. The scene where he shamelessly takes photos of Sharlee cutting her hair in turmoil over Roy Toy's affair (Britney, remember?) is handled nicely, and at least the Lucy/Holt story took a proper step forward. I just wish I was excited about seeing human valium Holt snuggle up to Lucy once again.

Of mild interest is the fact this episode was directed by Courteney Cox's husband David Arquette, which probably accounts for the totally unnecessary (but slightly risqué) scene of Lucy getting a bikini wax. Arquette's direction was fine, if a bit choppily edited at times, but there wasn't much going on visually for him to struggle with. This was a mediocre episode with a few nice moments, but nothing to really grab your interest – and certainly nothing to indicate Dirt's second season has anywhere interesting to go in its last 2 episodes.

26 May 2008
Fiver, 9.00 pm


"Lucinda is nitpicking the most minor details.
It's like a woodpecker on your head."
-- Lee

We're entering the final stretch. The teams are called to a breaker's yard, where Sir Alan provides them with a choice of supercars to rent out. Michael becomes team leader for Renaissance, with Helene and Claire. Lee takes charge of Alpha, with Lucinda and Alex. Ladies and gentlemen: start your engines!

Each team can only choose 2 cars to rent (with fixed rates), and Lee decides on a high-risk strategy by opting for the expensive Zonda ("that's wharrum talkin' abaaht!") and an Aston Martin. Michael, who admits he's exhausted after so many tasks and boardroom confrontations, decides on a mid-range selection – which includes a Ferrari.

Both Michael and Lucinda have zero knowledge and interest in cars, so both spend the task floundering. Michael decides to separate himself from team-mates Helene and Claire (probably so he can catch 40 winks in peace), and makes the bizarre decision to try and rent his Ferrari on a street in Notting Hill and next to a fruit n' veg stall at a market! True, they were situated in well-heeled areas of London, but clearly nobody passing by had the big bucks to spare on a few hours in a sports car.

Lucinda was practically ostracized by team-mates Lee and Alex, who parked their Zonda outside a focal point for City high-fliers, catching plenty of rich young men on their lunch break. Still, the Zonda cost £2,750 a day to hire out, so it took an incredibly long time for anyone to bite. Lee decided he needed the two best salesmen on the Zonda (as a single sale could potentially win them the task), meaning Lucinda was left to try and sell the Aston Martin alone – which wasn't a good idea, as she kept referring to it as a Zonda to passers-by!

Claire and Helene were doing well as a pair, although all of the sales were coming from Claire. For a well-priced £67 an hour, they were racking up dozens of rentals, but would it be enough to beat Renaissance – who finally found a fat cat willing to rent the Zonda for nearly 3 grand? They've got their work cut out...

Michael's having a bad day; unable to find anyone willing to rent his red Ferrari, despite honing in on one potential customer and, in pure Sophocles style, badgering him incessantly about "regretting it" if he doesn't grab this opportunity. But he just came across as desperate and aggressive with his hard-sell technique – honed by a job in faceless telesales.

Eventually, both teams had to leave their chosen selling locations and converge outside Canary Wharf that evening. The selling continues apace, but Lucinda just wants to shadow Lee to pick up tips on how to sell cars – and having a beret-wearing shadow clearly irritated Lee. Lucinda soon takes the hint and falls back on her own technique – managing to sell an hour in the Aston Martin for £65. Too little, too late.

The task is over. In the boardroom, Sir Alan reveals the winners and losers. Despite some harsh comments to Lucinda, who does herself no favours by twittering on about how unfair the task was on her, her team comfortably won with an amazing £11,815 in fees. It seems that, like Raef's gamble on expensive wedding dresses awhile back, Lee's likeminded gamble paid off here, too. They're sent off for a wine-tasting evening as a reward.

Michael, Helene and Claire are brought back into the boardroom to face judgement. Once again, Michael does his little-boy-lost routine, while absorbing all of Sir Alan's comments and then firing them back at him. Claire is obviously safe, as she was the big seller for the team, so it comes down to Michael (a boardroom regular) and Helene. The latter comes in for particular scorn, as Sir Alan can't understand what Helene's brought to proceedings these past 10 tasks. He's also not sure her corporate background is a good foundation for working in his company, but she protests that she gave up her cushy job to participate in the show and desperately wants to be the next apprentice.

Maybe Sir Alan was genuinely conflicted between Helene and Michael, or maybe the show was running short because the challenge this week wasn't as developed, but Sir Alan ummm'd and aaaah'd for a very, very, veeeery long time. He even sent the candidates outside, discussed the situation with Nick and Margaret, before calling them back in again. But, eventually, despite having nothing positive to say about Helene, he decided to fire Michael. While I'm no fan of Michael (who deserved to go last week instead of Raef), I have to agree he had more potential and spark than Helene – who, along with Alex, has spent half the show lurking in the shadows.

So, with Michael finally gone, how are the remaining candidates shaping up?

Alex: He did well in this task, but a Zonda sort of sells itself if you have the available cash and desire to take it for a spin, doesn't it? I'll admit he's performed better in recent weeks, but I still say he's a pretty bland and mediocre salesman at heart.

Claire: Very impressive in this task. It was just a shame she didn't have a Zonda to sell. You can't fault her ability to sell things. I can never really warm to her, as she's a bit arrogant and irritating in her confidence and tendency to motormouth, but I wouldn't argue about her being in the final.

Helene: I really can't work out why she wasn't fired. She clung to Claire's coat-tails here and didn't sell a thing herself! Hopefully she'll be made team leader next week and get fired. Nothing about her sticks out in your mind.

Lee: Still full of brashness and barrow-boy bravado (his "that's what I'm talking about!" catchphrase even returned), and he did an okay job at selling. But, even though Lucinda was a bit irritating, his treatment of her and rationale for making her work alone wasn't very good. I suspect he'll be booted out soon, but we'll see.

Lucinda: After a spurt of greatness a few weeks back, she's been frustratingly wet about everything recently. I think she's a good leader to work for, but struggles on her own – especially if she's out of her comfort zone. It's lucky her team won, as otherwise she would have definitely been fired this week.

27 May 2008
BBC1, 9.00 pm

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Directors: Colin Strause & Greg Strause
Writer: Shane Salerno

Cast: Reiko Aylesworth (Kelly O'Brien), Ariel Gade (Molly O'Brien), Kristen Hager (Jesse), Robert Joy (Colonel Stevens), Johnny Lewis (Ricky Howard), John Ortiz (Sheriff Eddie Morales), David Paetkau (Dale Collins), Steven Pasquale (Dallas Howard), Sam Trammell (Tim O'Brien), Ian Whyte (Predator) & Tom Woodruff Jr (Aliens)

Citizens of a small town have to defend themselves from an outbreak of Aliens, as a lone Predator arrives on the planet to cover-up the incident...

The law of diminishing returns is proven true by this tiresome attempt to keep the Alien and Predator franchises going, an incredible 20 years past their prime. There was a certain novelty in seeing two iconic movie monsters wrestle each other in Paul W.S Anderson's Alien Vs. Predator (2004), but this retarded sequel surely hammers the final nail in the coffin...

The signs were never good to begin with: it's directed by two brothers armed only with a background in FX, a laughable premise that puts the two intergalactic creatures in a modern-day town, and a red-band trailer that tried to distract you from its awfulness with in-your-face blood and guts. Speaking of the trailer – if you've seen it, you've effectively seen the whole film in fast-forward. I'm not exaggerating.

For what it's worth, the "plot" continues where AVP left off: a Predator-Alien hybrid chestburster inexplicably grows to adult size aboard the departing Predator spaceship, causing it to crash just outside a small American town. On the Predator homeworld, a lone Predator (Ian Whyte) hears of the disaster and travels to Earth to cover-up the incident by destroying the downed ship, but has to contend with a town full of multiplying Aliens – as the local populace, inevitably, become a breeding ground.

The only good thing about AVP2 is that it makes you reassess AVP. To be honest, as far as cynical cash-ins go, I thought Paul W.S Anderson's crossover was decent enough if you lowered your expectations. He at least secured the services of Aliens star Lance Henriksen, came up with a back-story that made a modicum of sense, and the buried pyramid location enabled the film to mine additional scares from the environment. But this sequel is woeful in comparison: it's a bunch of Aliens versus a single Predator in a town, populated by sketchily-written "characters". Oh, and the fan-boy pleasing element of a "Predalien" creature just means one of the Aliens has dreadlocks, mandibles and can orally impregnate victims with multiple chestbursters. It's a storyline apparently jotted down by browsing internet forums.

But hey, that must mean this is what the fans want, right? No. A few teens may already be salivating at the notion of multiple chestbursters, but even they will come to realize how effective Alien, Aliens and even Predator were as entertainment – and how it had little to do with simply putting creatures on-screen for us to gawp at. Alien and Predator kept their monster in the shadows until the climax, while Aliens spent time character-building, and all the films managed to carve some memorable characters to serve the story well.

You wanted Sigourney Weaver to blow that Alien out the airlock, or club the Alien Queen around the head with her high-tech loader. And who wasn't grinning as Arnold Schwarzenegger's old-school booby-traps beat the Predator's futuristic weapons? The "heroes" in AVP2 are wafer-thin and entirely forgettable. Heck, they're not even memorable enough to be forgotten! Or do anything heroic. They're utterly disposable fodder, which is a route cause of AVP2s total failure to entertain. And what persuaded Reiko Aylesworth (a popular heroine on 24) to sign up for this crap? I hoped she'd somehow rise above the clunky material, but it was clearly an insurmountable task.

With no characters to care about and a rudderless plot, everything else just falls apart. Colin and Greg Strause (a.k.a The Brothers Strause; pretentious, non?) have absolutely no business directing movies. Everything they shot is badly edited and drowned in darkness, meaning it's impossible to tell what's going on – particularly during the handful of Alien versus Predator punch-ups. But no matter, as the choreography for said fights are ham-fisted and totally uninteresting, anyway.

The only plus points are that, given the Strause's fanboy credentials and FX background, the Predator is thankfully more lithe than the chubby hockey-masked goons from AVP, while the sound FX and score takes cues from Aliens and Predator's soundtracks. An emphasis is also placed on old-fashioned creature-feature techniques, resulting in less of the distracting CGI that dogged Alien: Resurrection and AVP.

But these are superficial plus points. While it's nice to hear the Aliens screech and a reprise of the ominous jungle drums from Predator's OST, it's a shame similar attention wasn't spent on the aspects of filmmaking that really matter: characterisation, plot, cinematography, acting, choreography, and... oh, everything else.

There's not really much else to add. Suffice to say, this is an awful movie and a terrible blight on the respective film sagas it crowbars together. The fact this nonsense cost twice as much as the original Predator (even allowing for inflation), beggars belief that they didn't just make a third Predator film. From a financial perspective, the Alien series has always been expensive and not that viable after Resurrection tanked and Sigourney Weaver's salary would take a big slice of the profits, but the Predator franchise stood a chance of standalone revival. It certainly couldn't be any worse than this, could it?

Overall, despite the odd creative decision to please fanboys and a return of the blood sadly missing in AVP, everything else about this enterprise is a catastrophic waste of everyone's time and energy. It's frequently incomprehensible, unoriginal (the climax is a steal from Aliens), unimaginative (the Predalien is wasted, the Predator's weaponry a bore), there are no characters to identify with, the story jumps from scene to scene, and even at a primal level of watching two monsters fight it's dreary and soulless. The only thing that scared me was the painfully clumsy cliffhanger for another sequel.

I only hope the fairly unanimous negative reviews will be enough to kill the AVP saga off for good, but it ended up taking $128 million worldwide. That's an unjustified $88 million profit. You do the maths.

20th Century Fox
Budget: $40 million
94 minutes (theatrical cut)
101 minutes (unrated edition)

CHUCK 1.8 – "Chuck Versus The Truth"

Writer: Allison Adler
Director: Robert Duncan McNeill

Cast: Zachary Levi (Chuck), Sarah Lancaster (Ellie), Yvonne Strahovski (Sarah), Adam Baldwin (Casey), Joshua Gomez (Morgan), Mark Christopher Lawrence (Big Mike), Ryan McPartlin (Captain Awesome), Vik Sahay (Lester), Scott Krinsky (Jeff), Bonita Friedericy (General Beckman), C.S. Lee (Harry Tang), Kevin Weisman (Reardon Payne), Emy Coligado (Poppy Tang), Sanjay Chandani (Mason Whitney), Chris Dotson (Scooter), Rachel Bilson (Lou Palone) & Monika Ramnath (Lauren)

Chuck meets a charming woman called Lou, which complicates his fake love life with Sarah. Meanwhile, someone is using a truth serum to retrieve codes for nuclear facilities...

"You know, if I had a blog, this would be a really big day for me."
-- Chuck (Zachary Levi)

Credit where it's due, this is the second consecutive episode that managed to balance the comedy, drama, character relationships, and sexy elements of the show. What's more, this episode focused almost entirely on the main story, making it fill every minute without having to rely too heavily on a Buy More-related subplot. I'm pleased to see the show raising its game, and sincerely hope the quality level can be maintained till the finale, and beyond...

It was very much a character-driven episode, which the show is most comfortable with. The ensemble cast have managed to pull viewers through some convoluted plots, but now they're being rewarded with writing that does them justice. Here, Chuck (Zachary Levi) faces a dilemma in the delectable shape of local deli owner Lou Palone (The OCs Rachel Bilson); a woman who clearly finds him attractive, but making a move on her would sabotage Chuck's cover with faux girlfriend Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski).

Speaking of which, Sarah decides it's time to take her fake relationship with Chuck to the next level – by sleeping with him – as Chuck's sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) are beginning to comment about their celibacy. That night, Sarah arrives to spend the night in Chuck's bed, driving him crazy by opting to wear semi-transparent purple lingerie. God bless the Chuck writing staff; they never fail to satisfy the red-blooded male demographic.

As Chuck grapples with his real feelings for (fake girlfriend) Sarah and (potential girlfriend) Lou, the spy-related plot bubbles up around him. This week, it's a much simpler storyline – as a man called Reardon Payne (Alias' Kevin Weisman) is using a truth serum called Pentathol to extract nuclear secrets from people. For the first time, Chuck's real and secret lives clash when events conspire to make Payne place a bug on Ellie's neck and drug her with his serum. After freaking out and deliriously telling some home truths about her boyfriend and brother, Ellie is admitted to hospital – where it becomes clear they need Payne's serum antidote to save her life.

Eventually, Chuck, Sarah and Casey (Adam Baldwin) are also infected by the serum after grappling with Payne at the hospital, meaning all their lives are in danger unless they find the antidote. But the situation does have the added bonus of allowing Chuck to get a straight answer from Sarah about the chances of real love developing between them – and she breaks his heart by saying it's not likely.

While the outcome to everything was inevitable, the episode did end with a few genuine surprises, as Chuck decides to embrace his chance for real love by officially "dumping" Sarah at the Wienerlicious and hot-footing it to the deli to start romancing Lou. And, as she watches Chuck drinking coffee with Lou through a window, it's revealed that Sarah has been trained to fight the effected of the truth serum, meaning she probably does have feelings for Chuck – but chose not to voice them.

Chuck Versus The Truth is a highlight of the season so far, as the writers seem to have realized it's worth playing to the characters more directly, as that's where the real joy is coming from. Levi and Strahovski are wonderful together, nicely supported by Baldwin, while Lancaster and McPartlin manage to make potentially limp supporting characters fly. Joshua Gomez was pushed into the background this week as Morgan, but even he brings something to the party.

The Buy More subplot this week was the episode's one major failing (a bland bit of nonsense with Tang's stereotyped wife), although I was nicely surprised when Harry Tang (C.S Lewis) stumbled onto Chuck's big secret – seeing him in the home theatre room with Casey and Sarah, getting a mission debrief. Unfortunately, the juicy prospect of someone like Tang knowing Chuck's secret is squandered, as Casey immediately dispatches Tang to Hawaii – under the pretence of being recruited as a spy for a secret mission. This apparently ends Lewis' tenure on the show, which is a real shame. He was one of the only Buy More characters with any personality. I hope he returns for a guest starring role in season 2, though.

Overall, despite a weak subplot and a simplistic storyline, Allison Adler's script was an effective way to push the Chuck/Sarah relationship into new, exciting territory. Rachel Bilson, while very much a walking plot device as Lou, will doubtless cause enjoyable tremors – even if it's inevitable that Chuck and Sarah will reunite at some point. But the fun's in the chase.

And, am I just being paranoid, or will Lou turn out to be an enemy agent who's targeted Chuck for nefarious reasons? It was always a stretch that someone as hot as Yvonne Strahovski would be Chuck's girlfriend (hence the comedy), so is it likely Rachel Bilson would genuinely swoon over Chuck just because he fixed her phone? She even named a sandwich after him. So it must be love, right? Hmmm.

26 May 2008
Virgin1, 10.00 pm

Monday, 26 May 2008

LOST 4.12 – "There's No Place Like Home" (Part 1 of 3)

Writers: Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Director: Stephen Williams

Cast: Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Harold Perrineau Jr. (Michael), Michael Emerson (Ben), Terry O'Quinn (Locke), Naveen Andrews (Sayid), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Jeremy Davies (Faraday), Matthew Fox (Jack), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Rebecca Mader (Charlotte), Yunjin Kim (Sun), Daniel Dae Kim (Jin), Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Ken Leung (Miles), Kevin Durand (Keamy), Anthony Azizi (Omar), Nestor Carbonell (Richard Alpert), L. Scott Caldwell (Rose), Jeff Fahey (Frank), Andrea Gabriel (Nadia), Noah Craft (Hendricks), Susan Duerden (Carole Littleton), Michelle Forbes (Karen Decker), Veronica Hamel (Margo Shephard), Cheech Marin (David Reyes), Lillian Hurst (Carmen Reyes), June Kyoko Lu (Mrs. Paik) & Byron Chung (Mr. Paik)

Ben, Hurley and Sawyer head to the Orchid, Jack and Kate head off in pursuit of the helicopter, Sayid arrives to evacuate the beach-dwellers, and flashforwards reveal the Oceanic Six's cover story...

"John, how many times do I have to tell you? I always have a plan."
-- Ben (Michael Emerson)

It's part 1 of a three-part finale, as the Oceanic Six's extraordinary story is revealed and the island becomes a hive of activity as competing forces converge on the infamous Orchid station...

We start in flashforward as an carrying the Oceanic Six – Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Sayid (Naveen Andrews), Hurley (Jorge Garcia), Sun (Yunjin Kim) and baby Aaron – are being transported to a press conference by their Oceanic Airlines rep Karen Decker (Michelle Forbes). Jack reminds the group that they have to all stick to their agreed story, and if there are any difficult questions don't answer them.

At the airport, the Six are met by Oceanic officials, the press and their families. Many of the Oceanic Six are reunited with their loved ones, although nobody is there for Sayid and Kate, who holds Aaron alone.

In the present day, the beach-dwellers decide to use the sat-phone dropped from the helicopter to call whoever's on the other end. Faraday (Jeremy Davies) makes the adjustments and they listen in on conversation from the chopper, where Keamy (Kevin Durand) mentions going to the Orchid. Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) has no idea what the Orchid is, so Jack decides to investigate with Kate – despite Juliet's warning that his stitches need to heal from his recent appendectomy. Faraday secretly mentions to Charlotte (Rebecca Mader) that if Keamy's heading to the Orchid, it means they're using the secondary protocol – which means they have to get off the island, immediately.

Jack and Kate head off into the jungle and stumble upon Sawyer (Josh Holloway) with Aaron and Miles (Ken Leung). He explains how Claire walked off alone into the jungle and Sawyer reveals that Keamy's team attached them, just as Locke said they would. Jack, guilty over putting Sayid and Desmond on the freighter, wants them both to return to the beach and let him go alone. However, Sawyer decides to go with Jack and passes Aaron to Kate to look after.

At the Oceanic Six press conference, Karen reads a statement about what happened to the survivors: Flight 815 crashed in the Sunda Trench, but the survivors were carried by ocean currents to an uninhabited island in the Lesser Sunda Islands called Membata. Kate's baby was born there. On day 103, a typhoon washed up pieces of an old fishing boat, which the survivors used to travel to Sumba, coming ashore near a village called Manukangga. They were then flown by US authorities to Honolulu.

The press begin asking questions, which reveals that Sun is pretending that Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) never made it off the plane when it crashed. Another reported works out that Kate must have been 6 months pregnant when she was arrested by the Marshall, but Karen interjects to prevent Kate having to answer that tricky question. After the conference, Sayid is taken outside to meet someone who's not on the list of family members, and he's overjoyed to discover it's his long-lost love Nadia (Andrea Gabriel).

In the present, Sayid arrives by his powered-dinghy on the beach, telling everyone they have to leave immediately because the men on the helicopter are intent on killing them all. Faraday agrees to organize continuous trips to the freighter. Sayid is upset to learn Jack and Kate are headed to the helicopter, as they're in grave danger.

Elsewhere on the island, Hurley, Ben (Michael Emerson) and Locke (Terry O'Quinn) are headed to the Orchid station to "move the island" as Jacob told Locke to do. Ben explains that moving the island is dangerous and unpredictable, that's why he didn't do it before the freighter arrived. Ben stops to uncover a wooden chest under some rocks and takes out some old crackers, binoculars and a mirror. He uses the mirror to signal someone high up on a ridge, with glints of sunlight – but he's unwilling to tell Locke what he communicated.

On the beach, Sayid wants to catch up with Jack and Kate to warn them about Keamy's intentions. At that moment, Kate arrives back with Miles and Aaron. She explains what Sawyer and Jack are doing, then agrees to go back with Sayid to help them both, leaving Aaron with Sun.

A flashforward takes us to Sun, who arrives to see her father Mr Paik (Byron Chung) at his office. Her father asks about the baby, but Sun doesn't want to hear him pretend to be interested. She knows he always hated Jin, and reveals that Oceanic Airlines have awarded her a large settlement over the Flight 815 disaster. She blames him for everything that happened and reveals she's just bought half his company, effectively making her his new business partner.

Also in flashforward, Hurley returns home to find his house strangely empty. In one room, he hears the same ominous whispers that occurred on the island, but the tension is broken when it's revealed everyone is hiding as part of a surprise birthday party – with guests that include Sayid and Nadia. Later, his dad (Cheech Marin) takes him to the garage, where he shows him a red Camara that he fixed as a memorial to him. Hurley gets inside excitedly, but it freaked out when he sees the odometer reading: 48151.6 and 234.2. The numbers. Hurley runs off, much to father's confusion.

On the freighter in the present, Sun and Jin are amongst the first group to arrive aboard. They notice Michael (Harold Perrineau) is part of the freighter crew, which comes as quite a surprise. Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) hears about some RF interference, meaning they won't be able to steer the ship near to the reefs now that Michael has fixed the engines. Investigating, he discovers a huge bomb of C4 explosives, which could destroy the whole ship.

In flashforward, Jack arrives at his father's overdue memorial. He gives a touching speech about his dead father Christian, before meeting a woman called Carole Littleton (Susan Duerden), who tells him his father was in Sydney before he died to see his daughter. Jack is astonished to discover his dad had a secret daughter, but is truly rocked when Carole reveals that, by an extraordinary coincidence, his half-sister was actually aboard Flight 815 when it crashed: Claire. Jack is left in a daze, as Carole leaves.

In the jungle, Jack and Sawyer find the landed helicopter with Frank (Jeff Fahey) handcuffed inside. He tells them Keamy's team have gone to the greenhouse to grab Ben, and that Hurley is with Ben. Jack can't allow Hurley to come to harm, so their first thought to just leave on the helicopter has to be forgotten.

Elsewhere, Kate and Sayid are following Jack and Sawyer's trail, until Kate stops in confusion. The tracks are different now and doubling back behind them. Sayid pulls his gun and demands their followers show themselves. Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) steps out of the foliage, revealing that they're surrounded by more of the Others. Alpert takes their guns.

Ben stops Hurley and Locke as they approach the Orchid. Ben spots Keamy's team with his binoculars. He gives Locke instructions on how to get down to the Orchid station beneath the greenhouse and then leaves. Ben approaches the greenhouse with his hands up, as Keamy's team notice his presence. Keamy steps out in front of his men, as Ben turns himself in, before knocking Ben out with a blow to the head.

Knowing how this fourth season was intended to run for 16 episodes, but lost 3 episodes because of the writer's strike, then gained another due to the producer's work ethic, I think it's safe to assume that the finale was never intended to be three episodes long. Consequently, this first part is very much a chess piece moving exercise on the island, with characters bumping it each other and realigning, before everything builds to a focus in the last 10 minutes.

Fortunately, the off-island flashforwards are some of the strongest, in terms of answering questions. We're finally given a plausible cover-story for how the Oceanic Six survived, and it would appear that even Oceanic Airlines truly believe Flight 815 is in that underwater trench. It just remains to be seen why Jack and the other survivors have chosen to lie to the world and their families about what happened on the island.

The only chink in the armour is the chronology of Kate giving birth to Aaron, which at least the writers acknowledged with a reporter's question. But surely a look at the CCTV cameras at Sydney airport would show Kate wasn't 6-months pregnant when she boarded Flight 815? And I'm pretty sure worldwide news would have been poring through video-tapes of such a compelling mystery, too. But, for now, I can suspend my disbelief.

So, Keamy knows Ben's only hope is to get to the Orchid station. I'm guessing that the second protocol (probably written by Charles Widmore) explains that the last resort will be to "move the island", so Keamy's there to prevent Ben from doing that. Well, that's how it sounds to me. But if Widmore knows that moving the island is Ben's only viable solution to (part of) the problem, surely he'd know the Orchid is underneath the greenhouse exterior? I guess we'll have to wait and see exactly what the second protocol is, and what Keamy's next move will be now he has Ben captive.

Speaking of captives, the Others made a belated return to the show after apparently skulking about in the jungle. It was great to see Richard Alpert once again, after his flashback appearances last week, and I'm glad the show hasn't lost actor Nestor Carbonell to the (now defunct) TV show he left to star in. It really does seem like he's an important link to the history of the island, decades before DHARMA perhaps, as one of the island natives? I think he'll help Sayid and Kate, at least until the threat to the island has been eliminated. I'm also looking forward to Alpert meeting adult John Locke – who we know he visited to see as a young boy. Will Locke recognize Alpert? Probably not. But it'll be interesting to see how Alpert reacts to meeting Locke, and perhaps realizing that he was "special" after all.

In flashforwards, Hurley's storyline once again hinted that the dreaded Numbers are a harbinger of doom. Perhaps a way the island subliminally guides people its way? The whispers also returned off-island which, together with Christian's ghost (in later flashforwards we've seen) can be taken to mean the island's not finished with them yet. It all seems to be pushing us towards the "we have to go back!" mission statement from bearded Jack to Kate in the season 3 finale.

Perhaps the biggest moment in terms of gap-plugging in the mythology was seeing Jack finally learn that Claire was/is his half-sister. I suspect she's dead during these flashforwards, which would account for Jack's grief over getting this news so late, and the absence of her with baby Aaron. But, I suppose there's a chance she was somehow left behind on the island when the Oceanic Six escaped. Maybe that's another little reason why Jack wants to go back – because he left his half-sister behind, and decides Aaron needs his real mother? Questions for season 5, I suspect...

Overall, while structurally a bit ragged with the on-island activities, the flashforwards were wonderful and a few revelations were made along the way. The congregation on the Orchid from four angles worked very well, and wanting to know how the island will move (to another place, or through time?) should keep you gripped until part 3. The Orchid insignia was on Ben's DHARMA parka in The Shape Of Things To Come, remember – so I think that's where he time-travelled from, and perhaps expected a cold climate as the process is "unpredictable", as he mentioned in this episode.

I'm also wondering if the writers might surprise everyone and actually have the Oceanic Six escape the island in the last episode, meaning season 5 will abandon "flashforwards" and simply run two parallel stories (on the island, and off the island). Then, perhaps season 6 will see the Oceanic Six return to the island to rescue those they left behind, or just decide to stay there forever? But all that's a few years away yet. For now, this was a piece-moving episode with some wonderful moments for mythology-lovers, and an effective tease for the remaining two episodes.

Burning Questions

-- What is Ben's plan to "move the island"?

-- Who did Ben communicate with using the mirror?

-- Why were the Others wearing their native disguises?

-- Why does Faraday know what the secondary protocol is?

-- What does the Orchid station do? And why did Jacob suggest using it, if he hates technology?

-- Why are there explosives on the freighter? Who planted them there? What is causing the RF interference aboard the ship?

-- Why are the Oceanic Six lying about what happened to them? Who are the other 2 people who survived the crash, but died on the island, according to their cover-story?

-- What is Sun going to do now she co-owns her father's company? And who's the other person she blames for Jin's death, apart from her father?

-- Why did the press conference say Flight 815 crashed in the Indian Ocean, whereas during Kate's trial it was the South Pacific ocean? Writing error?

25 May 2008
Sky One, 9.00 pm

MAD MEN 1.13 – "The Wheel"

Writers: Matthew Weiner & Robin Veith
Director: Matthew Weiner

Cast: Jon Hamm (Don Draper), January Jones (Betty), Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson), Christina Hendricks (Joan), Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell), Aaron Staton (Ken), Michael J. X Gladis (Paul), Rich Sommer (Harry), Bryan Batt (Salvatore), Alison Brie (Trudy Campbell), Robert Morse (Bertram Cooper), Anne Dudek (Francine Hanson), Andy Umberger (Dr. Arnold Wayne), Mark Moses (Herman "Duck" Phillips), Joe O'Connor (Tom Vogel), Sheila Shaw (Jeannie Vogel), Katherine Boecher (Annie), Gregory Wagrowski (Dr. Oliver) & James Keane (Night Manager)

As Thanksgiving approaches, Don's work responsibilities interfere with his home life, Peggy is given a new opportunity, and Betty makes a startling discovery...

Here it is; the finale. While not every question is answered, The Wheel does a fantastic job of bringing a few storylines to an emotional high, leaving plenty of room for them to continue into season 2...

We start with Pete (Vincent Karthesier) sitting with his father-in-law, Tom (Joe O'Connor), who knows Pete was passed over for a promotion, and thinks it's more important for his son-in-law to focus on giving him a grandchild.

At the Draper household, Betty (January Jones) is preparing to visit her family for Thanksgiving, disappointed that Don (Jon Hamm) is making excuses so he doesn't have to mix with her family.

At Sterling Cooper that night, it's made clear that Harry (Rich Sommer) has been kicked out of his home, as he sits in his office, pleading with his wife on the phone to let him come home – to no avail.

The next morning, a distraught Francine (Anne Dudek) visits Betty a home -- with evidence her husband Carlton has been having an affair. She's checked the phone records and found numerous calls to a Manhattan number, and when she rang a female voice answered. Betty does her best to alleviate her friend's fears, but with Carlton also sleeping over at the Waldorf hotel two nights a week, it doesn't look good. Francine eventually goes home, leaving Betty to consider her own husband's unopened phone bill – which she tucks into her pocket.

Duck Philips (Mark Moses) chairs his first meeting with the ad men, and makes it clear he's disappointed with their clientèle. They should be after automobile, airline and pharmaceutical companies. He hands out a list of potential clients and mentions how Kodak have a new slide-projector on the market.

Don arrives home and hears about Francine's affair from Betty. His wife is upset about how a man could do that to the person they love, especially when they have kids together. Don, who is secretly doing the exact same thing as Francine's husband, encourages her not to worry.

At the office the next day, Duck places the Kodak slide-projector on Don's desk and explains that the new gadget doesn't jam its slide like older models – because of the wheel mechanism on top, where you store the slides. Don is tasked with coming up with a campaign to sell this hot new item.

Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is continuing her advertising work for the Relax-a-Cizor she tried out for Don a few episodes back. It's at the stage now where they're auditioning woman to be the voice of the ad, so Peggy is in a soundproof booth with Ken (Aaron Staton), listening to three women's vocals. Peggy decides to let Annie be the product's voice, but after a long time trying to get her to sound more confident and beautiful, she gives up. Annie is dismissed in tears.

In his office, Don is going through his secret younger brother's shoe-box, containing a slide-box labelled "Cape May". He finds himself staring at a photo of him and Adam riding horses, stirring a few good memories from the life he gave up. He decides to call the Brighton Hotel where Adam was staying, and speaks to the night manager. Don is stunned to discover that Adam Whitman committed suicide awhile back, and all the money he left behind was taken by the city. Don hangs up, regretting how his attitude may have caused Adam to take his own life.

That night, Betty is lying alone in bed and decides to open Don's phone bill. She notices some calls to Manhattan and dials the number. A man's voice picks up. Surprised, she asks who this is, surprised to hear it's Dr. Arnold Wayne (Andy Umberger), her private psychiatrist. Ashamed, she hangs up.

The following day, Betty drives to the local bank and notices her neighbour's son Glen in the passenger seat of a Volkswagen. She approaches him and he winds down the window. Shy, Glen tells Betty his mother says he's not allowed to talk to her. Betty says she doesn't care, even if Glen's mother sees them together. Emotional about the discovery her husband's been snooping on her private sessions, she asks Glen to tell her everything will be okay. Glen holds her hand, unsure what to say. All the boy can do is tell her he wishes he was older.

In the afternoon, Pete arrives in Don's office with surprising news that he's brought in a pharmaceutical account as Duck suggested. It's his father-in-law's company, Vick's Chemical, for a new product called Clearasil. Pete's work has earned him a bonus from Cooper, but he makes a point of asking for Don's praise. Don admits he's impressed, and Pete leaves.

Betty goes to Dr. Wayne's for another session and talks about how nervous she is about getting her family together for Thanksgiving. She also makes it clear that she knows Don is being unfaithful, primarily because he makes love to her in a way that somebody else would want.

At the office, the Kodak representatives have gathered for Don's presentation. He turns on their projector and begins to show some slides of his own happy family. He pushes the idea of nostalgia over technology, comparing the Kodak system to a time-machine that can takes people backwards and forwards through their cherished memories. "It’s not called The Wheel, it's called The Carousel." He concludes with an image of him kissing Betty on New Year's Eve. The presentation has been a huge success, even reducing Harry to tears. The Kodak clients sit in silent amazement, later cancelling their meetings with other ad companies.

The ad men celebrate Don's success in his office, giving Don the chance to suggest to Pete that he utilize Peggy for his new Clearasil account – as she's a woman, and young girls would use the product to prevent blemishes. Pete isn't very happy about that, protesting that she's a secretary not a copywriter. Don calls Peggy into the office and officially makes her a junior copywriter with Clearasil as her first task. Pete leaves, angry.

Joan (Christina Hendricks) shows Peggy to her new office alongside Victor Manny, giving her the advice to never forget where she came from. At that moment, Peggy grimaces with abdominal pain.

At the hospital, Peggy is examined and a Dr. Oliver (Gregory Wagrowski) reveals she's heavily pregnant! Peggy is astonished about the news. How could she not know something like that? She's sent to maternity as her contractions are just 2 minutes apart. Later that night, a nurse brings Peggy's newborn baby to her, but she's uninterested. The baby is taken away, leaving Peggy alone in bed.

Don arrives home to see Betty and the kids packing for their Thanksgiving trip. He makes Betty's day by surprising her with news he's decided to come along. But the happy scene is just being imagined. When Don really does arrive home – the house is empty and his family have long since gone without him. He sits alone on the stairs, holding his heads in his hands over the missed opportunity...

What a fantastic episode! I really enjoyed last week's revelations about Don's past – but, because I'd already predicted the answer almost from the start, they didn't surprise me. But this episode certainly shocked me when Peggy gave birth to (assumedly) Pete's baby! The strange thing is, I actually mentioned how Elisabeth Moss was looking chubbier in my review of Indian Summer a few episodes back, so clearly this was all planned and neatly layered into the storyline by the writers -- and make-up artists. Of course, being a mother will put a significant strain on Peggy's career ambitions now, just at the moment she made a breakthrough in becoming a junior copywriter. An unwanted, unknown pregnancy is certainly a very "feminine" way for Peggy to potentially lose everything she's worked for in the male-dominated world of Sterling Cooper.

But will she lose everything? I'm going to assume she'll keep the child and not give it up for adoption. Peggy's just in shock at the moment, and she'll come round to loving the child. But, being a single parent carried more of a stigma in the 60s than it does today. I also doubt she'll be telling Pete it's his baby just yet, so it will also be fatherless, which doesn't help matters. It may have been quite a soap-like twist in the tail, but it all made sense and certainly suggests the Peggy/Pete situation will get very interested in season 2.

Elsewhere, I was pleased to see the return of Glen – the slightly creepy boy who took a lock of Betty's hair earlier in the season. Their relationship was explained a bit better here; as Glen just has an adolescent crush on Betty, and Betty (quite tragically) believes he's the only person she can really speak to about her marital upset. Not that she really discusses anything with him, but he's the only person who would just listen and not make judgements. That role is supposed to belong to Dr. Wayne, but now she knows Don is being briefed about her sessions behind her back. Also interesting to discover that Betty knows Don is regularly unfaithful, but just hasn't got any actual proof yet. And maybe lacks the confidence to split her family apart by ever confronting him about it, anyway.

And I must say, the "Kodak moment" with Don's presentation was absolutely wonderful. I've enjoyed these little presentations and insights into how advertisers dream up campaigns, and this was one of the best Mad Men has come up with. It was particularly brilliant in how it stirred up family memories for Don, leading him to head home with the intention of being with his family at Thanksgiving – but, of course, it was too late.

Indeed, being too late was the theme for Don in the finale. Memories were also stirred by Adam's shoebox of mementoes, leading him to make contact a good few weeks after his kid brother had hung himself. Despite the fact Don has brought everything on himself, and now has Adam's blood on his hands (for all intents and purposes), it's a testament to Jon Hamm's acting that Don's always sympathetic.

Indeed, you kind of feel sorry for most of the characters on Mad Men – except perhaps Pete, who once again traded on his family connections to win Cooper's bonus by getting the Clearasil contract from his father-in-law. I've see-sawed on my thoughts on Pete this season (which is how it should be), but the finale definitely painted him as a slimy, corporate worm -- and I was surprised to see him condemn Peggy's obvious, proven talent.

Overall, this was a superb end to a compelling and intriguing season of quality drama. In retrospect, you perhaps could have told the whole story in half the time, but its laidback attitude was part of the charm. Things moved at a different pace in the '60s, compared to today – even if the underlying social problems are much the same. I was slightly disappointed the Helen Bishop storyline kind of petered out mid-season (despite the finale's appearance of her son Glen), and Betty's numb hands were apparently dropped as an idea. Maybe it was all just psychosomatic?

Apart from that, all the big questions were either answered, or took a noteworthy step forward in preparation for season 2. I hear the next season will jump ahead in time, which sounds like a good idea...

25 May 2008
BBC Four, 10.00 pm