Sunday, 30 November 2008

TV Week 27: Survivors & 24: Redemption

I've already reviewed these shows in greater details earlier in the week, but my twenty-seventh column for takes a quick look at BBC sci-fi remake Survivors and Sky1's 24: Redemption. It's new material, so you may still appreciate it.

MERLIN 1.11 – "The Labyrinth Of Gedref"

Infuriatingly, Merlin has started to slip back into old ways after a run of strong mid-season episodes. "The Labyrinth Of Gedref" is a mildly diverting time-waster that doesn't significantly develop the characters, or push the mythology any further along. Even the title is misleading, as the eponymous maze provides a backdrop for only a few moments near the end...

We open with Prince Arthur (Bradley James) hunting in the forest with two knights and his manservant Merlin (Colin Morgan), where he ruthlessly kills a rare, mythical unicorn. After presenting the creature's signature horn to his impressed father King Uther (Anthony Head), Camelot faces the penance for this slaughter: the kingdom-wide failure of vital crops and a drought. As the people face starvation, an enigmatic sorcerer called Anhora (Frank Finlay) appears to Arthur, revealing that the curse can only be lifted if the prince atones for his sin by passing a series of tests...

The problem with this episode is that, not for the first time, the audience are several steps ahead of the characters. It's blatantly obvious what's going on to anyone with a passing knowledge of fantasy programming, so it takes a good fifteen minutes before we're all on the same page. Then, save for a few moments, the story unspools exactly as you'd expect. Arthur's morals are tested in various ways (allowing a peasant to steal grain to feed his starving family, therefore demonstrating his merciful side, etc), until the final test inside a labyrinth involving two goblets -- one which one must be drunk by either Arthur or Merlin, who know that one is poisoned.

It chugs along at a slow pace, again sidelining a number of characters. Recently, Uther and Gaius have melted into background just as badly as Gwen and Morgana have tended to all season. The focus is on Arthur and Merlin, but the story doesn't really push their friendship into new areas. Morgan and James have an agreeable chemistry together, but even they struggle to overcome this plodding, predictable storyline.

A few token comedy moments (one involving Merlin serving Arthur rat meat during the famine) are dragged out too long, and the episode doesn't even make full use of Frank Finlay as Anhora. Finlay's mystical character is just the kind of elder wizard Merlin needs to appeal to the kids (can we switch him for the stupid, cyrptic dragon?), and he looks superb in his white robes, but that's as exciting as he's allowed to get.

There really isn't much more to say. It's always nice to venture beyond the castle grounds, the forest scenery was suitable lush and enchanting, the unicorn was a strong visual, and the climax on the shores of a rocky beach was a memorable setting. But this is all cosmetic niceties; the fact remains that the story was a bland fable, and didn't offer anything new or invigorating. It's the penultimate episode next week, so I hope Merlin can pull itself out of the doldrums. It did well to overcome a tepid start, and I thought the series had started to turn things around by episode 6, but the standalone episodes usually have no significance to the bigger picture and are crippled by unimaginative plots, cliches, and workmanlike execution.

Writer: Howard Overman
Director: Stuart Orme

Cast: Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (Prince Arthur), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Anthony Head (King Uther), Angel Coulby (Gwen), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Frank Finlay (Anhora) & Richard Riddell (Evan)

Introducing: Nintendo DSi

I rarely cover gadgets, video-games and consoles at DMD. Truth is, I only use my PS3 to watch Blu-rays, and haven't touched my Nintendo DS since Super Mario Brothers and Brain Training eventually bored me. The Wii captured my imagination before its launch, but the console only really works in a party context, I find. If the Wii ever drops to around the £100 mark, I may get one to play Mario Kart, but that's it.

Anyway, I still thought it was worth mentioning the Nintendo DSi -- the next version of the DS Lite that's just been released in Japan. It has bigger screens, a SD card slot (losing the GBA slot), can play music files (not MP3), has two built-in cameras, etc. Click the video above to watch a good instructional guide from IGN. The DSi's European release is scheduled for next spring. Historically, that probably means "sometime in 2009; maybe nearer Christmas, if we're being honest."

Saturday, 29 November 2008

LIVE AT THE APOLLO 4.1 – Michael McIntyre, Rich Hall & Rhod Gilbert

Return of the stand-up comedy series, once again guest-hosted after Jack Dee bowed out for series 3. MICHAEL MCINTYRE compered for this opening episode, proving once again that he's easily one of the best comedians on the circuit today. Joyously enthusiastic, he skips around the stage, merrily dispensing his gags with an endearing child-like glee. It's very easy to relax whenever he's on-stage and he has some excellent material – from the awfulness of shopping at Argos ("it's like bingo, but you win what you've already paid for"), Geordie linguistics (all vowels sound like "euh"), the cleanliness of a Geneva toilet, the joy of being the lottery's "voice of the balls" in real life (at a petrol station: "pump number seven -- that’s the fourteenth time I've used pump number seven this year!"), the search for a pen when taking someone's number on the phone, etc. Superb.

The first guest was American stand-up RICH HALL, who lives in London and is an award-winning regular at the Edinburgh Festival. For me, and many other people, he's more familiar as a regular panellist on Have I Got News For You? and QI. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Rich, as he's never really tickled my funnybone on TV before, but he was actually a pleasant surprise. His deadpan delivery and insight into British attitudes as a foreigner were very enjoyable ("when a Brit snaps, you don't even know they've snapped"), while I always like comedians who tell stories -- and Rich had an amusing tale about being "commanded" to Buckingham Palace for an event. He also interacted with the audience quite well, and you could tell his set had been polished over time. It's something of a cliché for an American stand-up to poke fun at the War On Terror, but Rich had some funny lines and ideas – likening Osama Bin Laden to Lex Luthor or Colonel Sanders in the minds of Americans.

Finally, Welsh comedian RHOD GILBERT took to the stage, and his incongruent delivery was difficult to adjust to after the endearing McIntyre and the nonchalant Hall. Gilbert's gargling Welsh accent and sledgehammer style was often too grating. Mind you, he did have some fun ideas: the ridiculousness of a torch with the power of a million candles, the difficulty in buying a duvet because of unfamiliarity with the Tog-rating system, and his real-life experience of flying into Kabul for a gig and being unable to use his phone because the Taliban might hack his contact list and call his mum. Unfortunately, Rhod had a tendency to bludgeon his good ideas to death, so they sometimes went past the point of comedy and into irritation.

28 November 2008
BBC1, 10.35pm

THE IT CROWD 3.2 – "Are We Not Men?"

A far, far better episode than last week's premiere, "Are We Not Men?" throws geeks Roy (Chris O'Dowd) and Mos (Richard Ayoade) into the "real world" again -- an alien environment for them socially, but also for the show at times. Like Father Ted's Craggy Island before it, Graham Linehan's surreal comedy world tends to work better when it exists in a bubble. However, this storyline gets around that problem by having the comedy derive from the sitcom-y characters interacting with nominally realistic people outside...

Mos has perfected a cockney accent, which he uses to converse with the building's working-class postman Harry (John Willie Hopkins) about "manly" topics like football. Fascinated, Roy also joins a website to learn some stock-phrases about the sport, which they use to ingratiate themselves to a gang of football-loving jack-the-lads down the pub, led by Dan (Pulling's Cavan Clerkin). It's not long before the situation gets out of hand, however, and the two geeks find themselves accepted into Dan's group -- forced to talk about laddish topics, binge drink and attend football matches. Things turn slightly sinister, when it's revealed the gang are actually armed robbers, and Roy unwittingly becomes their trusted getaway driver.

In a minor subplot, Jen (Katherine Parkinson) goes on a date with Michael (Paul Bazely), a man whom she can't take seriously once Roy mentions the fact he looks and acts exactly like a magician. The IT Crowd sometimes struggles to give all its character enough to do, and while Jen's "story" only stretched to a few scenes, the idea is funny and has a neat pay-off. It helps that actor Paul Bazely really does look like a magician, too – angular head, slightly tanned complexion, goatee beard, etc.

Seeing Roy and Mos in over their heads with "real" men is funnier than I expected it to be, perhaps because The IT Crowd works best when it's tackling uncomfortable social embarrassment. I'm sure there are lots of people who identify with their plight; trying to fit into a different social stratum, particularly if it's one society thinks all men should belong to. The darker twist into armed robbery worked very well, giving Chris O'Dowd a delightful moment when Roy notices a robbery while waiting in a car (not realizing the balaclava-clad gang are his friends) and sat in twitchy horror as they raced back to him, got inside his car, and demanded he drive away! Another highlight was an excellent visual gag, with Mos planting a kiss on Roy's up against a wall, as a means to hide from a comically-extended procession of police cars.

Overall, "Are We Not Men?" was definitely one of the better IT Crowd's in a long time. The character all had something to do, it wasn't so focused on the IT side of things (which I don't think the series has ever really managed to make funny, for fear of excluding the non-IT literate audience), and the escalation of the plot kept you watching to see the outcome. Throw in a few memorable gags -- one of which even referenced the "goof" of a lorry's back doors closing by themselves, during the end credits -- and you have a fast, funny, half-hour.

28 November 2008
Channel 4, 10pm

Writer & Director: Graham Linehan
Cast: Chris O'Dowd (Roy), Richard Ayoade (Moss), Katherine Parkinson (Jen), Paul Bazely (Michael), Cavan Clerkin (Dan), Derek Ezenagu (Luke), Jon Foster (Barry) & John Willie Hopkins (Harry The Postman)

Friday, 28 November 2008

Box Office Charts: w/e 28 November 2008

In the US: The teenage girls who love the best-selling novel propel teen-vampire movie TWILIGHT to box-office glory, with an amazing haul just shy of $70 million, knocking Bond down to #1 after only a week... CGI animation BOLT, about a super-dog working on a TV show who has to cope with the real world, debuts at #3 with a decent but unremarkable $26m... and WWII holocaust drama THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS doesn't have the marketing muscle to appeal to anyone but cinephiles, in at #8 with a meagre $1.6m.


(-) 1. Twilight $69m
(1) 2. Quantum Of Solace $26.7m
(-) 3. Bolt $26.2m
(2) 4. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa $15.7m
(3) 5. Role Models $7.32m
(5) 6. Changeling $2.7m
(4) 7. High School Musical 3: Senior Year $2.05m
(-) 8. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas $1.65m
(6) 9. Zack And Miri Make A Porno $1.61m
(8) 10. The Secret Life Of Bees $1.26m

In the UK: Bond stays at #1, having now taken an incredible £45 million at the British box office alone... Ridley Scott's BODY OF LIES can't dislodge it, or break the £1m barrier, debuting at #2... rom-com MY BEST FRIEND'S GIRL is just behind at #3... and bad news for horror QUARANTINE, which fails to reflect its US success, debuting at a lowly #8. Maybe everyone here had seen the original, [REC]? Or maybe not.


(1) 1. Quantum Of Solace £2.8m
(-) 2. Body Of Lies £991k
(-) 3. My Best Friend's Girl £911k
(3) 4. High School Musical 3: Senior Year £608k
(4) 5. Zack And Miri Make A Porno £447k
(2) 6. Max Payne £434k
(5) 7. Ghost Town £392k
(-) 8. Quarantine £387k
(9) 9. Igor £178.7k
(6) 10. Dostana £178.6k



Crime drama. A mother's kidnapped son is returned to her, but she's adamant the child is not hers and embarks on her own investigation into the subterfuge. Based on a true story.
Director: Clint Eastwood Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich & Colm Feore
US Box Office: $32 million
Tomatometer: 59% (Fresh; based on 169) "Beautifully shot and well-acted, Changeling is a compelling story that unfortunately gives in to convention too often."

Four Christmases

Comedy. A couple visit all four of their divorced parents on Christmas Day.
Director: Seth Gordon Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau & Mary Steenburgen
Tomatometer: 25% (Rotten; based on 106 reviews) "Despite a strong cast, this sour holiday comedy suffers from a hackneyed script."


Crime drama. A janitor convinces an American executive to help him steal diamonds from his employer.
Director: Michael Radford Starring: Michael Caine, Demi Moore, Lambert Wilson & Nathaniel Parker.
US Box Office: $1.2 million
Tomatometer: 56% (Fresh; based on 79 reviews) "Michael Caine's excellent performance makes Flawless something more than an average heist movie."

What Just Happened?

Comedy drama. Two weeks in the life of a fading Hollywood producer who's having a tough time trying to get his latest picture made.
Director: Barry Levinson Starring: Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro & Kristen Stewart
US Box Office: $1 million
Tomatometer: 53% (Fresh; based on 107 reviews) "What Just Happened has some inspired comic moments, but this inside-baseball take on Hollywood lacks satirical bite."

FRINGE 1.8 - "The Equation"

"After some of the things I've seen in the last three months,
Walter strikes me as being one of the sanest people I know."
-- Peter (Joshua Jackson)

On the one hand, "The Equation" was different enough from the established Fringe story-template to hold your attention. One the other hand, this is still a show with great ideas, delivered in a faltering way. As usual, it begins with a puzzling teaser; where a father (Adam Grupper) driving home with his son Ben (Charlie Tahan) stops to help a woman whose car has broken down. After popping the hood, he's put into a trance by strange green and red flashing lights nestled in the engine, awakening minutes later to discover his son has been kidnapped...

Inevitably, Walter (John Noble) immediately realizes the flashings lights induces a hypnagogic state in Mr. Stockton, while a home video of Ben playing the piano reveals he's a musical prodigy, whose compositions mathematically correspond with an unsolved equation Walter's friend Dashiell "Dasher" Kim (The Matrix Reloaded's Randall Duk Kim) also obsessed over. In fact, Walter remembers Dasher telling him about his own kidnapping experience, so Olivia (Anna Torv) and Peter (Joshua Jackson) ask Walter to gleam more information from Dasher that could help find the boy. Trouble is, Dasher's still a resident of the mental asylum Walter was released from...

"The Equation" is helped immensely by the focus on Walter, who grudgingly returns to the asylum to meet with Dasher, where an outburst of violence over his old friend's unhelpfulness forces Dr. Sumner (William Sadler) to lock Walter up again, until Olivia can get a court order to re-release him. This all gives Noble the chance to shine as the caged genius, unable to indulge his passion for fringe science in this quiet, depressing place. A touching moment when Walter realizes how difficult it must be for Peter to speak to him, after having similar problems conversing with crazy Dasher, ranks as one of the better character moments on Fringe, too.

Hate to be saying it, but this episode moves better without Olivia's heavy involvement, as she's pushed into the background, and only really becomes noticeable when the story requires her to unholster her gun and capture the week's villain -- as she does every episode, to varying degrees of success. Yes, still not a fan of Anna Torv, who has failed to spark. It will be interesting to see if the writers plan to tackle the "Torv Issue" -- by just giving the actress an ultimatum to get better, decreasing her role, killing her off as a big surprise, or casting a more focal member of the "fringe team" to share the burden and distract us from her. Okay, she's not terrible, but she's so vapid I wish Walter would electrocute some zest into her!

The mystery behind why Ben has been kidnapped by Joanne Ostler (Gillian Jacobs), and the meaning behind the complex equation Ben and Dasher both found by coincidence, is drip-fed very nicely. It doesn't really make a lot of sense, and the reveal about how the equation can be applied wasn't that exciting or convincing, but it was good to see a different formula applied to a storyline. It wasn't as easy to predict what was going on, why, and how it would be resolved. There were a few coincidences and awkward ways to keep the investigation ticking along, but most people aren't watching Fringe for a slick, realistic FBI procedural. Even though it would help if it were one.

Overall, I still can't get excited about Fringe, but this episode's subtle performance from John Noble, a lack of Olivia, another inference that Peter has a surprising history (it had better live up to the hype), the return of "mole" Agent Loeb (Chance Kelly), and a fairly original way to tackle the story, all helped sustain my interest. It was just a shame "The Equation" ultimately didn't add up to much.

23 November 2008
Sky1, 9pm

Writers: David H. Goodman & J.R Orci
Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton

Cast: Anna Torv (Olivia), Joshua Jackson (Peter), John Noble (Walter), Lance Reddick (Broyles), Kirk Acevedo (Charlie Francis), Jasika Nicole (Astrid), William Sadler (Dr. Sumner), Randall Duk Kim (Dashiell Kim), Gillian Jacobs (Joanne Ostler), Charlie Tahan (Ben Stockton), Adam Grupper (Mr. Stockton), Chance Kelly (Mitchell Loeb), Kate Hodge (Amy Stockton), Nance Williamson (Maureen Stockton), Kevin Carolan (Frank The Orderly), Christopher Sapienza (Tow Truck Driver), Constance Boardman (Woman At Door), Jabari Gray (ND Agent #1), Darby Totten (ND Agent #2) & Avis Boone (ND Agent #3)


The first story beyond the originally commissioned two-parter, Apparitions' opts to continue the storyline of homeless Michael (Rick Warden) after his recent possession, in a main subplot. But, more pressing events have the attention of exorcist Father Jacob (Martin Shaw), as he investigates an imprisoned rapist at the behest of Governor Lassiter (Neil Pearson)...

Serial rapist Cory Wardell (Stephen Wight) is the afflicted man, prone to sweating blood and talking with in a little girl's voice. Interestingly, he also performs a miracle by healing a throat wound he inflicts on a fellow con who later tries to rape him, prompting Jacob to consider a very unusual possibility: is Wardell possessed by Maria Goretti, the patron saint of rape victims?

It's an intriguing twist on our standard view of possession, once again well-researched by writer Joe Ahearne -- even if the premise and plot developments tend to always take their cue from Biblical stories and real-life historical precedents. That gives everything a kind of patchwork feel at times, as Ahearne's research guides the story and its developments too strongly at times.

After a compelling start, episode 3 starts to lose its thread, too. The mystery over who, or what, is possessing Wardell seems promising, but begins to drag and quickly becomes convoluted. The revelations and developments become difficult to keep track of, or care about. A case of too much plot crammed into the hour, not helped by the decision to donate a lot of time to Michael -- who is now suffering from amnesia and trying to make sense of his life...

This carryover from the previous two episodes was easier to follow than episode 3's plot, and it was interesting to see the after-effects of demonic possession on a victim. Michael clearly retains a strange connection to the supernatural, and the demons don't seem to be finished with him just yet. Still, the time taken up might have been better spent giving the Wardell situation room to breathe.

H.M.P Sandfield's chaplain, Father Daniel (David Gyasi), was a bland partner for Jacob throughout; but he had an interesting moment in Wardell's prison cell, where he spends the night with Jacob, trying to make contact with the entity targeting the rapist. Retiring to his bottom bunk, celibate Daniel showed his anxiety over the presence of magazine cut-outs of naked woman, finally experiencing a vision of a "succubus" straddling him.

Indeed, Apparitions' jolts of horror and gore are particularly unnerving: Wardell's forehead sweating blood, a particularly nasty throat slash in the climactic scenes, etc. Martin Shaw is also very good, but it's a performance that could become stuck in a groove if he's not careful. Sister Ruth (Siobhan Finneran) has a interesting role as Jacob's secretary with a nice line in caustic remarks. An employee of the sceptical Cardinal Bukovak (John Shrapnel), she's only really there to keep tabs on Jacob and compile evidence for his excommunication. The fact Jacob realizes she's a cynic working against him should provide a lot of drama. How long before she becomes a believer and sides with Jacob over the Cardinal?

Overall, while the story came together well, there was a troubling tendency to overload the audience with information and the developments didn't progress very smoothly. The po-faced seriousness and oppressive atmosphere might also become a drag. I don't expect a light and breezy viewing experience with an exorcist-themed drama, but I think Apparitions needs to balance light with dark a bit more.

It's relentless cold, clinical, vicious and rather depressing. That style suits its intended two-episode gut-punch, but now that Apparitions is a fully-fledged series, it's asking quite a lot for the audience to embrace that every week. It might help if there was a cathartic feeling of Good triumphing over Evil every week -- but instead, I just feel that Satan's minions have the initiative here. Even when they're "defeated", it's only the battle that's been won, not the war.

27 November 2008
BBC1, 9pm

Writer: Joe Ahearne
Director: John Strickland

Cast: Martin Shaw (Father Jacob), John Shrapnel (Cardinal Bukovak), Siobhan Finneran (Sister Ruth), Rick Warden (Michael), David Gyasi (Father Daniel), Stephen Wight (Cory Wardell), Elizabeth Berrington (Kim Portman), Neil Pearson (Governor Lassiter), Jane Holmes (Mrs Wardell Linda), Mia Fernandez (Fiona), Conrad Nelson (Inmate), Michelle Bonnard (Sandra Tellor), Jenna Southworth (Mary Portman) & Federico Natoli (Alessandro Serenelli)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Day Of The Triffids: Coming 2009

The BBC are on a post-apocalyptic kick at the moment. We've just been given Survivors (a remake of the '70s series about a 'flu pandemic that kills 90% of the world's population), and now The Day Of The Triffids is being remade. Yes, again. A new two-part 90-minute drama, based on John Wyndham's classic 1951 novel, is moving ahead for transmission in 2009. This will be the sixth BBC adaptation of the sci-fi tale, after four radio plays and the classic 1981 TV series. It was also adapted into a popular 1962 film.

The Day Of The Triffids '09 is being written by Patrick Harbinson (ER, Law & Order), and will again involve man-eating plants that start to takeover the world when most of the human population are blinded by a meteor shower.

Julie Gardner, Head Of Drama, BBC Wales:

"The Day Of The Triffids is a classic title. I'm excited that its powerful story is being remade for television. We're hoping to attract a legion of fans as well as give nightmares to a new generation of viewers."

Justin Bodle, Executive Producer:

"This is an enormously exciting project for us. Armed with a fantastic contemporary and highly topical script, based on Wyndham's cult classic, we look forward to delivering a major drama event for a 21st century audience."

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES 2.10 - "Strange Things Happen At The One Two Point"

Spoilers. How frustrating. As Chronicles enjoys a creative upswing, its viewing figures plummet to new depths. "Strange Things Happen At The One Two Point", indeed. This is another intriguing episode for the sci-fi series, that finally has Sarah (Lena Headey) edge closer in temperament to her cinematic predecessor...

We're back on the trail of Skynet's origins again, as Sarah and Cameron (Summer Glau) investigate Dakara Systems -- because their company logo matches the three-dot triangle smudged in blood on their basement wall by the now-dead future soldier. Sarah has started to obsess over its meaning, and comes to believe that Dakara's interest in an advanced microchip has relevance. Posing as wealthy investors, eager to finance the purchase of the Japanese-owned chip for the company (and destroy it), Sarah and Cameron try to earn the trust of CEO Alex Akagi (Eric Steinberg) and his genius son Xander. They do this by dressing as pencil-skirted secretaries from the 1920s.

For once, Sarah's story is actually quite involving, mainly because her obsession over the triangular dots and fierce determination to prevent the super-chip evolving into Skynet is a welcome burst of the craziness Linda Hamilton channelled in Terminator 2. The TV Sarah has been softened too much, but Headey finally gets to show real grit, mania and violence here. It's just more enjoyable to see Sarah as the edgy member of the quartet, with Derek (Brian Austin Green) as the more level-headed one keeping her sane. I understand you can't keep Sarah super-intense all the time, but hopefully she'll let off some steam more often now.

Derek himself discovers his girlfriend Jesse's (Stephanie Jacobsen) big secret, which surprisingly ties in with John's (Thomas Dekker) girlfriend Riley (Leven Rambin). It appears that Jesse does have a mission, after all -- to ruin John's relationship with Terminator protector Cameron, which has apparently started to cause problems in the future. It's inferred that Future John's attachment/love for Cameron is clouding his judgement, so Jesse has travelled back with Riley to nip it in the bud. Yes, Riley is nothing more than a preemptive honey trap.

While the surprise works, I'm not sure I believe in Riley as a soldier from the future. After accepting John's lack of explanation for the violent events in Mexico (yeah...), we see Riley meltdown in front of her adopted family -- exasperated by the mundanity of their lives in sharp contrast to the atrocities and hardship she's experienced. She even paraphrases Sarah's asylum rant from T2 at one point. Rambin doesn't quite carry this breakdown off, sadly, and I'm not sure why this mission required Jesse to take surveillance photos of the Connors either.

The ongoing mystery of Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson) is also returned to after a lull. Here, psychiatrist Dr. Sherman (Dorian Harewood), whom she employed to help her A.I system become more "human", is killed after an accident at work -- where a power-cut resulted in the A.I diverting power to its servers, at the expense of Sherman's safety. The doctor died of heatstroke, locked in a room with no ventilation. Ellison (Richard T. Jones), who has earned Catherine's trust by delivering the body of Cromartie to her, agrees to help work out what happened. After interrogating the system (which Catherine has named "John Henry"), Ellison comes to the simple conclusion that the A.I has no sense of ethics or morality. It simple didn't value Sherman's life. Or, rather, understand the difference between life and death.

These scenes are appealing, and even the continuing uncertainty about Catherine and her "Babylon" project isn't testing my patience. I have faith it will all be explained, so that's enough for me right now. It's certainly a puzzler, though -- based on the fact Catherine wants John Henry to become moral, is it possible she actually has good intentions? Considering she's an advanced machine herself, why is it so difficult to back-engineer A.I, and why does she need Cromartie's body? That last question is possibly answered in the amusing final scene, where we discover Cromartie's been connected to the A.I -- becoming its "human" face. Great to see that Garret Dillahunt hasn't left the series after all; he's simply been given a new, childlike character to play! Good news.

Overall, thanks to the enjoyable John Henry development, an improved performance from Lena Headey, a stimulating twist for the Jesse/Riley characters, and not forgetting Summer Glau in a little black dress, "Strange Things Happen At The One Two Point" was an entertaining instalment.

24 November 2008
Fox, 9/8c

Writers: Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stents
Director: Scott Peters

Cast: Lena Headey (Sarah), Thomas Dekker (John), Summer Glau (Cameron), Richard T. Jones (Ellison), Brian Austin Green (Derek), Garret Dillahunt (Cromartie), Leven Rambin (Riley), Shirley Manson (Catherine Weaver), Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen (Jesse), T.J. Kayama (Minamoto), Savannah Jayde (Gina), Greg Perrie (Aaron), Karen-Eileen Gordon (Kay), Dylan Cash (Byron), Shane Edelman (Matt Murch), Eric Steinberg (Alex Akagi) & Dorian Harewood (Dr. Boyd Sherman)

HEROES 3.10 - "The Eclipse: Part 1"

Spoilers. Tolerance; failing... illogic; insurmountable.... motivations; inconsistent... plots; insipid... developments; tedious. The first of a two-part episode (which is a laughable idea, given the fact Heroes is a serialized drama!) sees the heroes and villains dealing with the onset of a solar eclipse (that can somehow be seen in Kansas and Haiti at the same time), which takes away their powers (and thus a good 85% of the reason most people are still watching this show).

Sylar & Elle: In a subplot riddled with problems, Elle (Kristen Bell) and Sylar (Zachary Quinto) team-up to help Arthur (Robert Forster) retrieve the "catalyst" for Kaito's formula: Claire (Hayden Panettiere). Why can't Arthur do this himself, given the fact he can teleport and is far more powerful? Just ignore that. Why was Elle chained up inside a cell last week, but is now allowed out with Sylar? Just ignore that. Why does Elle suddenly take delight in pushing Sylar back into evil ways, given the fact we know she hated herself for turning him into a monster? Just ignore that. Why would Elle go after Claire, the girl who helped her in her hour of need and she bonded with as they travelled to Pinehearst? Just ignore that. How has her malfunctioning power been restored? Just ignore that.

Arthur & Mohinder: I had high expectations of Arthur to be a viable, exciting lead villain. Sadly, Forster seems unable to raise his voice to a higher or lower octave, making him look tranquillized half the time. Here, he draws the future ("catalyst" Claire shot and dying in her father's arms.) Isn't it strange how precogs are also artistic? I'd love to see someone draw stick men after their eyes turn white. Elsewhere, Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is cured of his slow disfigurement thanks to the eclipse, although Arthur wants him to restore their powers. What's the rush, Art? You still don't know if powers will be restored after the eclipse is over! And are you seriously telling me nobody's ever experienced a power-sapping solar eclipse in the 400-odd years we know "specials" have been around? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Claire & Mr. Bennet: It used to be a delight seeing these two characters together, but now it's just schmaltzy tripe. Mr. Bennet (Jack Coleman; wasted since season 1) is stuck in one of those "let's train Claire" subplots. So, he stands around teaching his daughter how to hit people with planks of wood. That is, until Elle and Sylar turn up (minus their powers), and Claire is shot during a struggle, but unable to heal herself.

Peter, Nathan & The Haitian: The Petrelli brothers go in search of The Haitian (Jimmy Jean Louis) to stop Arthur. Doesn't anyone have his phone number? If you wait long enough he tends to turn up, anyway. Regardless, Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) hitches a ride with fly-boy Nathan (Adrian Pasdar), before the eclipse causes him to take a tumble into the Haitian jungle. I appreciated the change in location, but otherwise this was tedious stuff. The sudden antagonism between the brothers seemed to come out of nowhere, and Ventimiglia's bad acting remains a stumbling block. Oh, and The Haitian is the latest character to get a super-powered relative.

Hiro, Ando, Matt & Daphne: Hiro (Masi Oka) now has the mind of a 10-year-old (yeah, I can't tell the difference either), and teleports Matt (Greg Grunberg) and Ando (James Kyson Lee) to Kansas, to find Daphne (Brea Grant) at her family home. Characters on Heroes tend to run away and inspire whole plots about just finding them, see. The big reveal here is that Daphne (now minus her powers), is crippled by polio. Of course, I have no idea why super-speed cures her condition. Just ignore that. Greg Grunberg must rank as the show's most irritating presence now; a sharp fall from his everyman role in season 1. There's just no direction or sense of purpose about this whole Matt/Daphne "love story".

Hiro and Ando realize this, as they quickly leave the story and head to a local comic-book store -- to pick up a new issue of the predictive 9th Wonder and see what happens next. Again, I have no idea why people don't read this comic cover-to-cover -- they just go about their day and then, when something important happens, point to a corresponding panel and gasp. Turn the page, dummies! This tiresome subplot also introduces two new characters: geeks Frack (Breckin Meyer) and Sam (Seth Green), both recognisable film/TV actors with a degree of geek-cred. Which has now been dented by agreeing to appear in Heroes, you might argue.

"The Eclipse: Part 1" was rudderless, joyless, and festooned with plot-holes. Inconsistent, illogical, boring, senseless tripe that actually became a chore to sit through. If the writers can't even be bothered to make characters act consistently across a few episodes (Elle), then it's difficult to care about them. The whole story is adrift in a malaise of its own creation: I sometimes struggle to even remember what the ultimate goal of Arthur is, or how the heroes are trying to stop him. Then I remember why I've chosen to forget: it just makes no sense. Heroes has become a huge, untenable, juggling act for the writers to stress over and vomit out the best scripts they can to keep something happening on-screen, and give their highly-paid actors something (anything) to do.

We need a hero to sort this mess out. Calling Bryan Fuller...

26 November 2008
BBC Three, 10pm

Writers: Joe Pokaski & Aron Eli Coleite
Director: Greg Beeman

Cast: Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet), Zachary Quinto (Sylar), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Masi Oka (Hiro), James Kyson Lee (Ando), Ali Larter (Tracy), Greg Grunberg (Matt), Brea Grant (Daphne), Robert Forster (Arthur), Jimmy Jean-Louis (The Haitian), Kristen Bell (Elle), Breckin Meyer (Frack) & Seth Green (Sam)


As expected, episode 2 wasn't as enjoyable as the feature-length opening, but despite some wobbles and the odd misfiring idea, there was enough here to keep me invested in the survivors' plight. But, one question stuck in my mind throughout: it's the end of the world and money is no object, so why in God's name would you decide to loot from Netto?

Snobbery aside, this episode finds the characters tackling the essential business of simply living and eating. They draw up a rota to forage for food in supermarkets and houses, particularly items in danger of going past their sell-by date. But it's not long before they're involved in a territorial clash with a gun-toting goon called Dexter (Anthony Flanagan) who has staked his claim on the local supermarket where the survivors go to replenish supplies.

This idea of sitting on valuable goods carries over into the main subplot, where a portly middle-aged man called Bob (Daniel Ryan) has found a food-storage depot containing enough provisions to last a lifetime. He's partnered by Sarah Boyer (Robyn Addison), a useless twentysomething, incapable of surviving on her own, with a pipe dream of becoming a wealthy businesswoman now that she "owns" the depot. Give me strength. To help her, she keeps besotted Bob around for company and the heavy-lifting, in return for sex.

Unfortunately, Bob breaks his leg in a forklift truck accident one night, so Sarah finds help when Greg (Paterson Joseph) arrives looking for food -- quickly identifying him as a significant improvement over chubby Bob, if she can only persuade him to stay with her. Time to lose some clothing.

Elsewhere, Al (Phillip Rhys) and Najid (Chahak Patel) get into a tangle when a shopkeeper tries to stop Najid looting his sweet shop, resulting in Al accidentally killing the elderly man in the ensuing struggle. Later, Al grows closer to Anya (Zoe Tapper), who politely turns him down, but his actions haven't gone unnoticed by Tom (Max Beesley), who also a soft spot for the cute doctor and threatens Al into keeping his distance.

Abby's (Julie Graham) search for her son also continues, when she notices one of Dexter's gang is in a recent photo taken with her son. It's a huge stretch to accept this coincidence, and her investigation doesn't really get very far, anyway, but it does result in a few tense scenes when Abby gambles her safety to approach Dexter, despite the fact he's threatened to kill trespassers.

There's some good stuff here, but it's coated in a thick blanket of awkward plotting and dry spots. I'm still struggling with the idea that 90% of the UK's population have died, as that still leaves 6 million people. Indeed, global numbers must still be comparable to that of the 16th-century -- so, mathematically, it's not really the near-extinction we're supposed to believe in.

I liked the idea of an idiot latching onto a naïve survivor in the Sarah/Bob story, and it was a surprise to see such a dumb character join the gang by the end. If Sarah strips to her underwear some more, I'll be happy to ignore her negative IQ. Similarly, the villainous Dexter resembled an oily trainspotter who's achieved power in the aftermath of the pandemic, by simply grabbing a gun and surrounding himself with loyal dopes. I wouldn't be surprised if the dead body his gang strung up in the supermarket as a warning to looters was just a random 'flu victim they used to their advantage, too.

Of course, a real killer is an accepted part of the gang, in the shape of Tom. Max Beesley is again the best reason to keep watching, as the character's gameplan is hard to pin down. He seems reasonable and likeable around Abby and Greg, takes the time to flirt with Anya, and has only showed his darker side to Al. He's not a raving psychopath, but I hope the writers don't make him too sympathetic and smooth his edges. Not yet, anyway. He's undoubtedly the most mysterious and engaging presence so far -- although I'm enjoying Joseph and Rhys' subtle work, too. Zoe Tapper has yet to make much of an impression.

Julie Graham's charms are lost on me, too. My mildly positive reaction to her only extends to: well, at least she's not as annoyingly officious as her Bonekickers character. Abby's optimistic streak and dreary search for her son (who I couldn't care less about) could begin to grate after awhile. Young Chahak Patel is fine, but I'm not convinced a little boy would be this resilient -- I would have gone to pieces if my entire family had died when I was 11 years old, let alone then be taken in by strangers and have to deal with the end of civilisation!

A better child actor may have been given more heartfelt material to tackle; or maybe writer Adrian Hodges just doesn't want Survivors to get too bogged down by realism? Whatever the reason, I don't think Najid should be chasing chickens and playing football on day 2.

Overall; Survivors is off to a half-decent start, but could quickly nosedive if it's not to careful. Right now, events are fresh and the characters mostly unexplored, so it still has something to offer. But I'm not convinced this series has real legs beyond one season, if it's the intention of the BBC to make this a recurring drama and not a glorified mini-series.

A lot of my interest could be determined by the government scientist subplot, which reappears in the last five minutes again. Here it's made clear they they're not immune to the virus and will only venture outside in haz-mat suits and gas-masks -- which means there must be other survivors who are safely quarantined, too. We're still not sure if they orchestrated the whole event as part of a typically diabolic scheme to purge the world and repopulate it, or suchlike, but I doubt they're benign...

25 November 2008

BBC1, 9pm

Writer: Adrian Hodges
Director: Andrew Gunn

Cast: Julie Graham (Abby Grant), Phillip Rhys (Al Sadiq), Zoe Tapper (Dr. Anya Raczynski), Paterson Joseph (Greg Preston), Chahak Patel (Najid), Max Beesley (Tom Price), Bryony Afferson (Patricia), Robyn Addison (Sarah Boyer), Daniel Ryan (Bob) & Anthony Flanagan (Dexter)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


And now the end is near, and John Sergeant faced his final curtain. Yes, the uncoordinated baby elephant of dance decided to bow-out last week, and performed a final waltz with Kristina Rihanoff to call it a day. Note how the judges didn't join in with the standing ovation.

LISA SNOWDON & Brendan Cole
There she was in a long wine-red dress with "floaty arm bits" (seriously, what are they called?), looking as beautiful as usual, even in this more "prudish" dancing attire. I bet there are plenty of girls who would kill for her complexion.

Sexiest dress of the night (a red-black little number with raggedy skirt), again giving Christine the excuse to show off those gorgeous legs, in high heels, with lots of cheeky grins. The dance was a bit too deliberate for me, but the visual was a total knockout.

JODIE KIDD & Ian Waite
A sexy little jive in silver dress showing lots of leg, open-back, hair-up, pert bum, cheesy smiles and a sense of fun -- despite a slightly stilted technique.

Nice purple dress for a fun tango, cut in the skirt to afford quick glimpses of leg, with hair-up and the usual poise and grace Camilla brings to the occasion.

RACHEL STEVENS & Vincent Simone
Is the trophy in the bag for Rachel? I don't think she can be beaten for pure, angelic beauty. She fits those dresses like a dream; stunning features, petite and stylish. Scrumptious and good enough to eat.

ERIN BOAG & Austin Healey
The upbeat dance of the night, with Erin looking fabulous in a small white-black skirt that covered her front and waist. Long hair, open-back, cheeky, sexy legs (great thighs) – just brilliant stuff.

This week, the dance-off was between Lisa & Brendan and Jodie & Ian. A toughie, but it wasn't a big surprise to see the judges decide to boot-off Jodie. She had improved, but Lisa has always been a few steps ahead in quality. At the moment, I think Rachel or Tom will win, but there's a lot of competition from Austin.

22 November 2008 – BBC1, 6.20pm
23 November 2008 – BBC1, 8.15pm

TRUE BLOOD 1.12 - "You'll Be The Death Of Me"

Spoilers. It's the season finale of Alan Ball's allegorical vampire tale, and the fact I was genuinely excited shows how well True Blood found its feet after a shaky start. It's been a weekly delight since around episode 4, and "You'll Be The Death Of Me" is a decent climax, that only avoided greatness because it spent far too long setting up season 2...

Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is sitting in jail, having confessed he's Bon Temps' serial-killer, although his sister Sookie (Anna Paquin) doubts he's the culprit suffering amnesia. I mean, why would he kill their gran? Sadly, the faxed mugshot of Dean Marshall from Bunkie has been mislaid, so the real perpetrator -- Jason's friend Renee (Michael Raymond-James) -- has yet to be revealed. With Jason about to willingly take the rap for Renee's killings, it leaves Sookie open to assault back home, where her vampire lover Bill (Stephen Moyer) can't protect her in broad daylight...

The frustrating thing about this finale was how the majority of its events were unnecessary appetisers for next year. Tara (Rutina Wesley) is given shelter by the mysterious Maryann (Michelle Forbes), who positions herself as a kind, nurturing, good Samaritan type. Half-brainwashed by Maryann's wealth and hospitality, Tara meets an easygoing guitarist called "Eggs", who convinces her of Maryann's good intentions.

Events build towards a thrilling sequence at the Stackhouse residence, when Renee's controlled thoughts finally betray his guilt to the mind-reading Sookie, just as Arlene's kids find their stepfather-to-be's vampire porn (plus, a Cajun dialect coaching tape!), and Sam (Sam Trammell) notices Renee's jacket matches the scent from a murder scene. Sookie manages to escape Renee's clutches and run for help, which duly arrives in the form of Sam (transformed into a dog) and the unexpected arrival of Bill, who braves certain death by marching through sunlight to save his beloved...

Undoubtedly, this pivotal chase sequence is big, bold and exciting enough to justify their whole episode, particularly thanks to the extraordinary sight of Bill roasting into a cinder (great make-up and effects). It's actually rather disappointing to see Bill's role reduced so much, particularly as True Blood always seemed so focused on the Sookie/Bill romance up until just recently. But, beyond his doomed attempt to save Sookie (which I had to giggle about afterwards, given its futility and failure), Bill is either absent or pushed into the background. I don't think limiting Bill's role was a wise decision, but luckily there's enough going on to distract you from this lapse.

After Renee is killed, Jason is released, Bill is healed and peace is restored to Bon Temps, "You'll Be The Death Of Me" leaps forward in time by two weeks, to give us a glimpse of how season 2 will pan out. Merlotte's bar is brighter and more airy (nice touch by the lighting designers to give a subtle visual cue that things are better), vampire-human marriage has been legalized, Tara is a disciple of Maryann (a woman who knows Sam, and appears to be a practising shape-shifter), Sam is so unsettled by Maryann's arrival that he's filled a bag of cash (what does she know about his past that has him so worried?), Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) has been secretly killed by Bill to restore his health (when that's revealed, people won't be happy!), Jason has embraced religion by joining the "Fellowship Of The Sun" (who preach anti-vamprie doctrine), Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) arrives to dump teen vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) back on Bill, and a dead body is discovered in Andy Bellefleur's (Chris Bauer) car...

So, plenty to consider for next year. Indeed, after watching this finale, I wasn't really contented to see various storylines end, more bemused by how it seemed more focused on season 2 at times. I'm not particularly excited about Jason or Tara's direction (both being hoodwinked, it seems), and ending the season on another murder tests credibility. It may have been better if we'd seen the body -- it must be either Lafayette (doesn't he paint his toenails?) or perhaps Tara's mother?

But I am intrigued about Maryann's history with Sam, her own abilities, and motive for helping Tara. Giving Bill a rebellious teenager to deal should also be good fun, although I hope they tone Jessica down a touch -- she was enjoyably reckless and immoral when she was introduced, but she may have tipped over into extremely irritating now. I shared Bill's pain at her presence, instead of delighting in his torment.

Overall, "You'll Be The Death Of Me" was a perfectly decent season finale, but it didn't quite live up to increasing expectations. The last three episodes have been written with season 2 in mind, which is commendable pre-planning, but it came at the expense of a truly involving climax to the current stories. Still, I didn't guess the identity of the killer (although, in retrospect, it was perhaps obvious it would be one of the underwritten Merlotte bar flies), and there was enough excitement and tension to keep you glued. Roll on season 2!

23 November 2008
HBO, 9pm

Writer: Raelle Tucker
Director: Alan Ball

Cast: Anna Paquin (Sookie), Stephen Moyer (Bill), Michael Raymond-James (Rene Lenier), Carrie Preston (Arlene Fowler), Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette), Rutina Wesley (Tara), Ryan Kwanten (Jason), Sam Trammell (Sam), Alexander Skarsgard (Eric Northman), Chris Bauer (Andy Bellefleur), Jim Parrack (Hoyt Fortenberry), Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica), Kristin Bauer (Pam) & Michelle Forbes (Maryann)

Gladiators: Series 2

I haven't seen much of Sky1's Gladiators, although I made a point to catch the first episode when the revamp of the '90s series premiered in the summer. I had some issues with it aesthetically, but it was certainly a decent comeback of a classic I adored as a kid. Now that Sky1 is back on my TV subscription, I'll definitely be catching up with all the silliness. Gladiators is returning for a second series, you'll be glad to hear -- but there are some big changes in store:
  • Kirsty Gallacher (the perfect host for Gladiators, in my mind) has stepped down, and has been replaced by Caroline Flack -- who's also pretty hot, so I can live with it (see below)

  • Six new Gladiators are joining the team: Amazon, Cyclone, Doom, Goliath, Siren and Warrior. The full line-up are in the photo above.

  • Wolf (a.k.a Michael Van Wijk) is returning to the series after competing in the Gladiators: The Legend special. He will become the Gladiators' manager; a role that's totally redundant, but will give him plenty of opportunities to storm around shouting and stirring up the crowd. Hopefully he'll grow his hair long again, too.

  • The sexy Ice and Destroyer will not be returning.

  • The new series will run for 12 episodes, down from 16. Sky will also be filming two episodes per day, hence the increase in Gladiators to take the strain. Four specials will be made.

  • Iconic referee John Anderson, whose catchphrases made him a household name back in the '90s, has decided to leave. He will be replaced by former Boxing referee John Coyle.

  • Some new events are planned, together with a revamped Eliminator final.

So there you have it. I'm sad to see referee John Anderson go; his Scottish cry of "Gladiator, ready! Contender, ready!" still brings back memories of watching the ITV original in the early-'90s. Didn't Anderson like the new series? Did the producers just feel like a change? Likewise, Kirsty Gallacher will be missed.

I remember hearing that the new series takes an extraordinarily long time to film (something like 5 hours), owing to the smaller set and heavy use of water tanks, platforms and fire, so maybe Gallacher and Anderson just found it all too boring? The '90s series had the benefit of the massive Birmingham NEC, so a lot of the events were built and waiting in the wings, or already in position but out of shot.

Still, great to hear The Wolfman will be back. If they can talk Jet into accepting a managerial position, that would be even better. Maybe next time. Oh, and I still regress into a hormonal 13-year-old whenever I see a woman in her Gladiator get-up. Isn't Tempest the sexiest?

Presenters: Ian Wright returns, with newcomer Caroline Flack and the legendary Wolf

The new Gladiators: Warrior, Cyclone, Doom, Siren, Goliath and Amazon!

New referee: John Coyle

PRISON BREAK 4.12 - "Selfless"

Spoilers. A rip-roaring climax to the various plot-strands of Prison Break's fourth year; featuring long-awaited confrontations and a plot that keeps the audience in the dark for as long as possible. This series is a smorgasbord of stupidity, silliness, machismo, fun, cliché and discordant twists, but it's always made for a deliriously entertaining weekly fix...

Having broken into The Company's secret underground chamber to lay their hands on Scylla, Michael (Wentworth Miller) has tripped the alarms and caused the arrival of The General (Leon Russom) and his two bodyguards. Fortunately, even this apparent misstep was part of Michael's plan, as The General and his men are quickly disarmed by Linc (Dominic Purcell), Mahone (William Fichtner) and Sucre (Amaury Nolasco). The General then watches incredulously as Michael takes his Scylla card and manages to activate the host unit with the other copies -- revealing a small device inside: Scylla.

"Selfless" is enjoyable because it appears, not for the first time, that the writers have written themselves into a tight corner. The gang's escape from the locked-down Company HQ, even with The General as a prize hostage, isn't going to be easy, and it's difficult to see how they're going to do it. We're just as confused as The General about where this is all heading, until Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) comes into play and holds Lisa (Stacy Haiduk) at gunpoint in a restaurant across town. Okay, so the sudden reveal that Lisa's The General's daughter was probably added to provide Michael with leverage, but it's a twist that actually makes sense -- as The General's rapport with Lisa always seemed deeper than any other Company head.

Elsewhere, T-Bag (Robert Knepper) and Gretchen (Jodi Lynn O'Keefe) are waiting patiently in GATE for Michael to return with Scylla, but face their own problems when it finally dawns on gullible CEO Mr. White (Michael Bryan French) that "Cole Pfeiffer" has ulterior motives -- but even then it takes seeing a huge gun under Cole's desk for him to finally twig that the one-handed slimeball isn't a high-flying salesman after all. Their cover blown, Gretchen and T-Bag have no choice but to break out their weapons and hold the GATE employees hostage -- crowding them into Mr. White's office.

Meanwhile, Agent Self (Michael Rapaport) and Trishanne (Shannon Lucio) have been caught by Mr. Feng, who had agreed to help Gretchen take the Homeland Security agents out of the equation. Fortunately, they both manage to escape, with Don rushing back to his office to hear word about the Scylla operation, as Trishanne arrives back at GATE and attempts to help her co-workers escape. Oddly, nobody thinks to call the police using one of the office phones, as T-Bag and Gretchen discuss matters in a separate area. Inevitably, the situation descends into chaos when Mr. White tries to flee and Trishanne (cute as a button, but the world's most implausible Fed) starts shooting...

For fans, "Selfless" gives us the first shared scene between Michael and The General -- which didn't deliver the expected chills, but was nevertheless good fun. Russom was particularly strong, finally given an interesting situation to play, intead of just sit behind a desk looking authoritative and make threatening phone calls. Seeing his confidence slowly crumble, ultimately leading to his total defeat and inability to think up a countermove, was very satisfying. Indeed, the whole escape from Company HQ and avoidance of Company agents at an airport, was tense, fun, unpredictable and plausible.

The overriding feeling throughout this episode was anxiety, as we awaited the unavoidable twist to keep the series going, as events drew closer and closer to an impossibly neat, tidy ending. There's always been a degree of schadenfreude to savour in Prison Break's characters, and the rug-pulling climax managed to surprise -- when, after succeeding in their mission, it becomes clear that Agent Self has never had any intention of using Scylla to takedown The Company, and welches on his promise to free Michael's team as their reward. The rotter.

Now, whether or not it's always been the writers' intention to unmask Don as a traitor is up for debate (it wouldn't be the first time they've changed a character's loyalty for an easy surprise), but it worked well. In hindsight, I suppose Michael's team did place too much faith that Don was on the level.

So, does this mean Don has a Mr. Feng-style buyer lined up for Scylla and intends to pocket the $125 million? Michael and the gang will apparently have to go rogue to get Scylla back from Don, while avoiding The Company's attempts to steal it back from them. Is there enough material there for Act II of this season? How will T-Bag factor into things, now he's been caught by Don? It's hard to see why Don wouldn't just kill him to tie-up a loose-end. Incidentally, is T-Bag's character on the precipice of reform? He seemed genuinely upset to see his cushy GATE job come to an end, and obviously saw his alter-ego Cole Pfeiffer as a legitimate new start in life.

Overall, there were still some rough patches and a few unintentionally funny/stupid moments sprinkled throughout this episode, but "Selfless" was undeniably entertaining and gripping a good 90% of the time.

25 November 2008
Sky1, 10pm

Writer: Kalinda Vazquez
Director: Michael Switzer

Cast: Wentworth Miller (Michael), Sarah Wayne Callies (Sara), Michael Rapaport (Don), William Fichtner (Mahone), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (Gretchen), Ron Yuan (Feng), Michael Bryan French (Gregory White), Stacy Haiduk (Lisa Tabak), Shannon Lucio (Trishanne), Leon Russom (General Krantz), Kevin Sizemore (Harlan), Graham McTavish (Ferguson), Kevin O'Neill (Herb Stanton) & Jamison Haase (Damani)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

DEXTER 3.9 - "About Last Night"

Okay, I totally misjudged last week's final scene between Miguel (Jimmy Smits) and attorney Ellen Wolf (Anne Ramsay). Its explanation was much simpler, but no less devastating for Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) sense of morality, in the finest episode of a season that's found late focus...

Trouble descends when Dex learns from Miguel's wife Sylvia that her husband was out all night. She suspects he's having an affair, Miguel claims he just went to relax after making his first kill, but Dex begins to suspect his protégé has been using his newly-acquired skills to break Harry's Code and kill his professional nemesis, attorney Ellen Wolf. It's a suspicion he later confirms by detecting blood on Ellen's floor after hearing about her disappearance, and realizing Miguel must have disposed of the body in the only way he knew how: burying it in an open grave, just like Dex did to Freebo.

"About Last Night" spends the majority of its time with Dexter, which is always far more preferable to the abundance of distracting, bland subplots that have been clogging up season 3. The Dex/Miguel relationship has been the backbone of this year, and it's here that the writing and wonderful performance from Hall and Smits reaches its turning point. Dex is horrified at the idea he's created a monster who doesn't believe in his ethics, so decides to teach a tough lesson for breaking his father's code. However, Dex soon learns that Miguel is far wilier than he first thought...

Usually, the accompanying subplots are a mixed bunch, but we're thankfully spared the dead weight this week, as the attention shifts onto The Skinner investigation. Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) believes her boyfriend Anton (David Ramsey) has been kidnapped by the serial-killer, and it's revealed that prime suspect Mr. King is indeed the skin-slicing maniac they've been chasing. However, with Anton safely locked up in a remote building, missing a few strips of skin already, Deb and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) interrogate Mr. King but are unable to break him. And time's running out for Anton...

The other recurring storylines this season are either ignored, or reduced to a few scenes; with Angel (David Zayas) shocked to learn from Masuka (C.S Lee) that his new girlfriend, vice cop Barbara (Kristin Dattilo), has an unexpectedly filthy mind. Elsewhere, Rita (Julie Benz) confronts Miguel over his alleged affair on behalf of Sylvia, which is a scene only designed to set-up a eureka-moment for Dex regarding Miguel's duplicity much later.

Ultimately, this episode keeps focus on the two most compelling storylines this year, to its great credit. It's been a pleasure to see the Dex/Miguel friendship develop, and even though it's seemed untenable from the start, the writers have done a good job of making it surprise and delight. For Dex, having a friend to share his dark secret to has lifted a burden he didn't realize he had, so being faced with the prospect that Miguel's role as an accomplice is built on a foundation of lies and deception is quite a tragic discovery. I particularly enjoyed a fake-out scene, where Dexter's uncharacteristic rage boils over into (imagined) office violence.

Incidentally, has anyone else noticed the similarities between season 3 of Dexter and the recent Kevin Costner movie Mr. Brooks? Both involve a serial-killer with a public façade training someone with the capacity to kill, the Mr. Brooks character spoke to an imaginary cohort (which is similar to Harry's new role as an ethereal commenter), and Mr. Brooks featured the disposal of a dead body inside an open grave. I wouldn't be surprised if Dexter's writers saw Mr. Brooks and decided to borrow some of its elements. Mind you, I also wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Brooks' writers were themselves inspired by the success of Dexter. The circle of life.

Anyway, the sign of a great episode is sometimes a short review. It would become a bore to pour too much praise on this episode, but it was a fantastic instalment that twisted the Dex/Miguel partnership into a new shape, and nearly concluded The Skinner case. The big, exciting thing now is imagining where the season goes from here. There are still three episodes left and "About Last Night" resembled a penultimate episode, so what can possible fill the time?

Obviously The Skinner still needs to be caught (will Miguel decide to target him?), and Dexter's marriage to Rita will obviously provide a backdrop to the finale. It also seems inevitable that Miguel's deception will be punished by death (he fits Dexter's Code after killing Ellen), but will Dex admit to Miguel that he killed his brother Oscar? After all, that would make him a hypocrite, considering Oscar was innocent, too. Or was he? I still think Miguel may have been playing puppetmaster to Oscar's secret vigilantism...

Overall, "About Last Night" was superb stuff, with only a few nitpicks hardly worth mentioning. Great performances, exciting stories, some fun twists, big developments, and no sign of the flabby subplots that have been causing earlier episodes to drag so badly. Focused, tense, gripping and revelatory. The series tradition of brilliant four-episode finishes is intact, so far.

23 November 2008
Showtime, 9/8c

Writer: Melissa Rosenberg (story by Scott Reynolds)
Director: Tim Hunter

Cast: Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Julie Benz (Rita), Jennifer Carpenter (Debra), Jimmy Smits (Miguel), Lauren Velez (Laguerta), David Zayas (Angel), Desmond Harrington (Quinn), Kristin Dattilo (Barbara Gianna), David Ramsey (Anton Briggs), Ellen Wolf (Anne Ramsay), Jeff Chase (Billy Fleeter) & Jerry Zatarain (Mario)