Monday, 30 November 2009

British exports rake in nearly £1 billion!

Can you believe it? Britain now exports £980 million worth of TV formats every year. In the old days it used to be steel and tin we'd give the world, but now it's talent shows and celebs eating kangaroo genitals! Okay, that's not really fair -- there's a fair amount of drama that international broadcasters are keen to buy, too -- such as Spooks, Torchwood and Doctor Who (which is sold to 93 countries.)

I find it amusing that Poirot, Miss Marple and Midsomer Murders are apparently very popular around the world -- but never underestimate how much those cozy shows reaffirm foreigner perceptions of quaint Olde England. 120 countries buy the trifling Inspector Morse spin-off Lewis alone! More understandable is the appetite for Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Masterchef (which has proven particularly popular in Australia).

America remains the prime importer of British formats, buying 36% of our TV exports -- such as American Idol, Supernanny, Hell's Kitchen, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Top Gear, Life On Mars, Primeval, I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here, and Dancing With The Stars. But, Australia and New Zealand are growing in stature, fuelled by the fact they purchased a lot of UK television to fill schedule gaps created by the US writers' strike. Rounding out the global picture: Asia (up 57%), eastern-Europe (up 43%), Canada (up 43%) and France (up 29%).

I know we have a fairly broad international readership here, so what's the feeling about the British TV format "invasion"? Do you even notice/care that a format came from the UK? Do most of our formats only work with the key British talent involved (i.e. would Hell's Kitchen and American Idol have been as big without Ramsay and Cowell?) And what about the success rate of translating UK formats? Dancing With The Stars is a worthy remake of Strictly Come Dancing (and superior in a few areas), but the I'm A Celebrity remake was savaged by US critics (are Ant n' Dec that integral to its success?), and Top Gear has been successfully remade but the original is the undoubted top dog (currently seen by a mindspinning 350 million people every week.)

Callum Keith Rennie's feeling Shattered

Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica) will take the lead in the Canadian continuing drama Shattered, playing a homicide detective with multiple personality disorder. His co-stars include Molly Parker, Camille Sullivan, Karen LeBlanc, Cle Bennett and Martin Cummins. The crime series will air on Canada's Showcase channel, and is currently being shopped to international broadcasters.

I've enjoyed Rennie's performances in everything I've seen him in since he came to my attention on BSG, playing a creepy Cylon. He definitely favours taciturn crazies, as he's played such in The X Files: I Want To Believe, Harper's Island and FlashForward just recently. I'm not sure if that's because he's been typecast and takes whatever work is offered him, or if his range is actually somewhat limited*. Shattered will see him playing a character with psychosis again, but at least he'll be the hero of the piece, and will assumedly get to show a mix of personalities that are very different to the brooding villain he's known for. Anyway, I look forward to seeing him stretch himself in a leading role.

Shattered itself sounds like another implausible gimmick-based detective show (why would anyone employ a cop with MPD?!), but it's admittedly an attention-grabbing idea that will attract the curious. Are you one of them?

* See comments below: Rennie's clearly not a limited actor, but my knowledge of him is. ;-)

TV Picks: 30 November - 6 December 2009

Pick of the Week: "Live At The Apollo" – BBC1, Fri @9.30pm

Young Hairdresser Of The Year (BBC3, 10.30pm) Five young hairdressers compete to become the nation's best.

Delia's Classic Christmas (BBC2, 9pm) The popular chef returns for a festive culinary series, for the first time since 1990.
We Need Answers (BBC4, 10pm) Comedy quiz hosted by Mark Watson with Tim Key and Alex Horne. In this opener, Radio 4's Jenni Murray competes against rugby player Martin Offiah.

Big Top (BBC1, 7.30pm) Sitcom about a travelling circus. Stars Amanda Holden, John Thomson, Tony Robinson, Ruth Madoc & Bruce Mackinnon.
The Man Behind The Masquerade (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary looking at artist Kit Williams, who sent Britons on a nationwide treasure hunt in 1979 when he buried an expensive golden hare in the ground and presented a riddle to its whereabouts in his book Masquerade.

Bang Goes The Theory – The Human Power Station (BBC1, 8pm) A special episode where the team illustrate how much power the average family waste by secretly wiring a home's entire electricity supply to 80 human cyclists.
Natural World (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary looking at the wildlife of the Scottish Highlands.

Live At The Apollo (BBC1, 9.30pm) Fifth series of the stand-up series from the Hammersmith Apollo. In this opener, Jason Manford hosts and Michael McIntyre is the guest performer.
Walking The Baby Mammoth (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary about the discovery of a preserved baby mammoth found in a Siberian river, that died 37,000 years ago.

Being Alan Bennett (BBC2, 9.30pm) Renowned writer Alan Bennett celebrates his 75th year by offering this look into his daily life.


Sunday, 29 November 2009

Box-Eyed: I ♥ Miranda

This week, my Box-Eyed column at takes a quick look at BBC2's silly-yet-endearing old-school sitcom Miranda, based on comedian Miranda Hart's Radio 4 comedy series Miranda Hart's Joke Shop.

"Miranda Hart plays a comic version of herself; a posh-accented owner of a small joke shop who delegates the everyday running to her friend Stevie (Sarah Hadland), while essentially trying to get her thirtysomething singleton life on-track. Think a girly Black Books with penis-shaped pasta instead of books, and no alcoholism." Continue reading...

MERLIN 2.10 - "Sweet Dreams"

[SPOILERS] I'm glad this tenth episode spent some time looking at the Arthur (Bradley James) and Gwen (Angel Coulby) relationship, if only to reaffirm it. That certainly helped this otherwise forgettable episode pass by smoothly. I certainly wasn't bored by anything in "Sweet Dreams" (it worked quite well as a knockabout love farce), but the story felt like a combination of ideas we've seen tackled before, and better...

In Camelot, peace talks are being held between rival kingdoms. King Alined (David Schofield) arrives with his dogsbody jester Trickler (Kevin Eldon), determined to undermine the possibility of a treaty that will be detrimental to his war-orientated finances. To do this, they plan to enchant Prince Arthur with a love potion and make him infatuated with Lady Vivian (Georgia Moffett), the beautiful daughter of overprotective King Olaf (Mark Lewis Jones), to create a diplomatic faux pas. Complicating matters further, with Arthur enchanted and plotting to sweep Vivian off her feet, Merlin (Colin Morgan) mistakenly believes his master's interest lies with Gwen (Angel Coulby), whom he passes a love-note to, and when King Alined realizes Vivian doesn't fancy hunky Arthur... well, he's forced to bewitch her, too...

"Sweet Dreams" was an entertaining wrong-end-of-the-stick comedy, nursed along by the usual mix of engaging guest performances, although I've personally grown tired of Kevin Eldon trotting out his unctuous underling schtick (didn't he play essentially the same character on Robin Hood earlier this year?) Georgia Moffett was a pleasant diversion, particularly when she was put under a love spell and allowed to sashay around the castle talking like a squeaky-voiced, besotted twelve-year-old. David Schofield was sadly underused as the warmonger King Alined, though, but I guess it made a change to have the villain essentially get away with their plot for once.

For me, the major failing of "Sweet Dreams" was how it felt like nothing we haven't seen before – particularly as it shared obvious similarities to the "Beauty And The Beast" two-parter: Merlin sought counsel from the digital-Dragon (John Hurt) and was given a similar solution to the problem (to break the spell the afflicted must have their true feelings made known to them), Trickler was the clichéd henchman we see every other week, and it all climaxed with another of those overplayed duels-to-the-death Arthur seems to accept with tedious regularity. So, while there was some good stuff cooking away on the sidelines (although even the Gwen/Arthur stuff didn't massively develop what we knew from "The Once And Future Queen"), most of this episode felt over familiar and humdrum.

Overall, "Sweet Dreams" was a big improvement over last week's debacle, but it was still below the high-standard this series was achieving until very recently. Still, it was watchable and innocuous fun for the majority of the time, and I'm sure a great many will have enjoyed it. I just feel like my time's wasted when episodes are retreading old ground so incontrovertibly, particularly as there are so many new and exciting directions this show could be taking instead. Hopefully the remaining three episodes will shift this series back into gear, pushing the mytharc and characters down fresh and exciting avenues.

28 November 2009
BBC1, 6.05pm

written by: Lucy Watkins directed by: Alice Troughton starring: Colin Morgan (Merlin), David Schofield (King Alined), Georgia Moffett (Lady Vivian), Kevin Eldon (Trickler), Bradley James (Arthur), Anthony Head (King Uther), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Mark Lewis Jones (King Olaf), John Hurt (Dragon, voice), Angel Coulby (Gwen) & Katie McGrath (Morgana)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

COMEDY SHOWCASE: The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret

[SPOILERS] More than anything else, the pedigree of this comedy pilot is by far the most interesting thing about it. Very much an Anglo-American venture, it finds Anglophiles co-writing and directing a one-off pilot that didn't feel at all deserving of a full series...

David Cross (Arrested Development) plays the eponymous Todd Margaret, an American office drone mistaken for a go-getting salesman by his obnoxious boss (Will Arnett), and sent to London to front the company's UK arm with a Korean energy drink called 'Thunder Muscle'. Lured by the six-figure salary, Todd goes along with the folly and arrives in Britain, only for his life to spiral out of control through a combination of culture shock, bad luck, and plain incompetence. His luggage is mistaken for a bomb and blown up, he discovers his sales team consists of one unhelpful Brit called Dave (Russell Tovey), and he has less than a week to shift dozens of drinks crates before his uselessness is exposed.

Less a comedy pilot, more the first act of a low-budget British indie made by calling in favours with American talent, The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret just wasn't particularly funny or encouraging to go to a full series. The half-hour was packed with famous faces -- Sharon Horgan (Pulling) as Alice the café waitress, Matt King (Peep Show) as a taxi driver, Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker) as a bomb disposal expert, even Kristen Schaal (Flight Of The Conchords) had a blink-and-miss cameo – but the strength of material just wasn't there to justify this star-power.

Cross was actually very good as the bewildered, schlubby Todd Margaret, and his exasperation well captured as he stumbled from one mishap to the next. He was certainly a likeable and sympathetic lead, but there was nothing about this episode that I felt demanded we see more of his British misadventures. The title should perhaps have been "The Increasingly Silly Decisions Of Todd Margaret" as the script, co-written by Cross with Brit Shaun Pye (Monkey Dust), slowly disintegrated into pieces once Todd was ranting to old folk in a café after gulping down too much energy drink. It was also frustrating in how it ended too abruptly with an exhausted Todd pissing his trousers while lying on the floor of a filthy B&B – and I have no idea why his huge salary resulted in him staying there, anyway!

Overall, this felt like a project where Anglophiles just relished the chance to come to the UK, have some fun with a flawed script, work with actors from their favourite British shows, and then jet back home. However, given the fact the teaser featured Todd in court being charged with various crimes (conspirary to cause explosions, funding terrorists, treason, blackmail, possession of biological weapons), and the entire episode was a flashback to "14 Days Earlier", are we to believe the writers are confident a full series will be greenlit? I mean, why else structure your pilot in such a way? Perhaps Channel 4 will give us more of this cringe-comedy, if only to milk its associations with Arrested Development, but I'm not sure it really deserves it.

Sadly, I didn't really laugh or feel compelled by any of the situations being presented; I just played spot-the-celebrity for awhile.

27 November 2009
Channel 4, 10pm

written by: David Cross & Shaun Pye directed by: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo starring: David Cross (Todd Margaret), Sharon Horgan (Alice), Will Arnett (Todd's Boss), Russell Tovey (Dave), Kayvan Novak (Policeman) & Matt King (Taxi Driver)

Friday, 27 November 2009

Box Office Charts: w/e 27 November 2009

The Twilight Saga: New Moolah

In the US
: The big news is the absolute decimation of the box-office by the so-called "Twi-hards", who sent THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON rocketing to #1 with an astonishing $143m. It had the best opening day ever ($72.7m), and the third best weekend opening (behind Spider-Man 3 and The Dark Knight)... sports movie THE BLIND SIDE didn't have a bad opening, either, ratcheting up $34m to take #2... and the CGI animation PLANET 51 was essentially released to die against New Moon, in at #4 with just $12m...


(-) 1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon $143m
(-) 2. The Blind Side $34.1m
(1) 3. 2012 $26.4m
(-) 4. Planet 51 $12.3m
(2) 5. A Christmas Carol $12.3m
(3) 6. Precious: Based On The Novel By Sapphire $10.9m
(4) 7. The Men Who Stare At Goats $2.83m
(7) 8. Couples Retreat $1.94m
(6) 9. The Fourth Kind $1.75m
(5) 10. This Is It $1.62m

In the UK: British "Twi-hards" also sent THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON to the top of the chart with an fantastic £11.6m... the Coen Brothers' latest movie, A SERIOUS MAN, opened to £321,000 and #8... and Steven Soderbergh's THE INFORMANT! debuted at #10 with a meagre £179,000...


(-) 1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon £11.6m
(1) 2. 2012 £3.4m
(2) 3. A Christmas Carol £2.2m
(3) 4. Harry Brown £724k
(4) 5. Up £642k
(6) 6. Fantastic Mr. Fox £454k
(5) 7. The Men Who Stare At Goats £430k
(-) 8. A Serious Man £321k
(8) 9. The Fourth Kind £181k
(-) 10. The Informant! £179k



Comedy. A young shut-in takes an imaginary road trip inside his apartment, based on mementos and memories of a European trek from years before.
Director: Paul King Starring: Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby, Richard Ayoade, Julian Barratt, Noel Fielding & Rich Fulcher.


Crime thriller. A frustrated man decides to take justice into his own hands after a plea bargain sets one of his family's killers free. He targets not only the killer but also the district attorney and others involved in the deal.
Director: F. Gary Gray Starring: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Regina Hall & Bruce McGill.
Tomatometer: 25% (Rotten; based on 127 reviews) "Unnecessarily violent and unflinchingly absurd, Law Abiding Citizen is plagued by subpar acting and a story that defies reason."


Horror thriller. After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.
Director: Oren Peli Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Ashley Palmer & Amber Armstrong
Tomatometer: 84% (Fresh; based on 153 reviews) "Using its low-budget effects and mockumentary method to great result, Paranormal Activity turns a simple haunted house story into 90 minutes of relentless suspense."

Talking Point: Who are you people?

I thought it might be nice to get to know the regulars here a bit better. So many of you use "handles" and lurk behind cartoon-y avatars. And, beyond your general taste in TV/film, I don't know much about anyone personally -- especially some of the newer commenters. I don't want a full biography (and I realize some of you value anonymity, which is fine), but it would be nice just to know ages and locations at the very least. I was surprised to realize 4LeafClover is from Romania today, for instance! And what does everyone do for a living, or are there more students reading than I realize? If so, shouldn't you be studying?

Anyway, it's up to you if you want to share a bit about yourself. I'll let this run over the weekend. Age, sex, location -- that's not too much to ask, is it? You'd be surprised how wrong my impressions are of you all, so please help set me straight.


[SPOILERS] The least compelling episode so far, but still not without ribald charm and absorbing moments. Ostensibly focused on Alisha (Antonia Thomas), but finding time to give gobby Kelly (Lauren Socha) and timid Simon (Iwan Rheon) something to do, episode 3 found the gang struggling to move the dead bodies they buried under the motorway flyover, before the council discover them while building an "environmental monitoring centre"...

The interesting thing here was seeing the angle writer Howard Overman takes with Alisha's contentious super-power (turning men into sex-crazed loons if they touch her.) It's initially shown to be a mischievous power trip for Alisha, as she drifts through nightclubs firing her own brand of Cupid's arrow into everyone around her. Alisha's the good time girl who can now get sex on a whim with no fuss, but it's actually proven to be something of a curse, because Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) reveals he has genuine feelings for her but is reduced to a lusting bag of testosterone whenever he gets close.

It was also a clever idea to write Alisha as the sexual predator (didn't she essentially rape Curtis when she touched him on purpose, "forcing" him to have sex with her in a toilet cubicle?), but there's still the danger that she'll touch men she can't dominate and accidentally condemn herself to rape. There's definitely some fascinating ramifications of Alisha's power and how she must deal with it (what happens when she touches family relatives?!), and this episode ends with Curtis and Alisha deciding to give romance a go without tactile contact. It's the Pushing Daisies dilemma with the specter of sexual molestation hanging over it.

Lauren is asked by probation worker Sally (Alex Reid) to make amends with a girl called Jodie she's bullied, but even Lauren's ability to hear her enemy's thoughts doesn't iron the situation out. Later, Lauren is shocked to discover all her hair falls out while showering, forcing her to wear a wig and baseball cap that Nathan (Robert Sheehan) soon whips off to expose her baldness. What's going on? Well, turns out Jodie was likewise caught up in the storm and can now infect those she disliked with the Alopecia she suffers from. It's a ridiculous super-power, no doubt, but another good example of the angle Misfits is taking on the superhero mythos -- where the abilities all compliment the owner's traits and fears.

We also got some unexpected movement on Simon's mysterious internet chat-buddy "shygirl18", who turns out to be probation worker Sally. Apparently the missing Tony was her boyfriend, and she suspects the young offenders know what happened to him. So, she's been trying to unnerve them with "I Know What You Did" flyers and dig for the truth by befriending Simon online. Fortunately, Simon has hidden their tracks well by using Tony's credit car to book an airline flight, making it look like he simply fled overseas. But surely Sally just has to ask the airline if Tony boarded the flight he booked?

Simon himself spent the episode trying to endear himself to the others by recounting a few of his clever ideas, but just faced more acerbic backbiting for his efforts. There was also a nice attribute revealed to Simon's power of invisibility, in that he's so painfully shy he can't turn invisible in front of people who are watching. This essentially means even Simon's super-skill is something he can't share or impress anyone with, as he simply fades into obscurity when alone and sits around waiting for the effects to wear off. Aren't we all invisible when nobody's there to see us? Ooh, philosophical.

Overall, episode 3 was pretty decent and included some worthwhile developments. The gang have dug up their dead bodies and are intending to replant them just before the council pour concrete into the foundations being built for the monitoring centre, and through this there were signs the teenagers are starting to learn how to work together as a team. Curtis and Alisha are now an item, Kelly isn't as icy towards Simon (who himself is quite keen to make friends with everyone), so it's only really loudmouth Nathan keeping everything tense and edgy -- and all that's just habituated, immature bluster. So, we're already half-way through the series and Misfits has proven to be a refreshingly honest, witty and interesting twist on the overplayed superhero genre, and next week's episode looks fantastic.

26 November 2009
E4, 10pm

written by: Howard Overman directed by: Tom Harper starring: Antonia Thomas (Alisha), Lauren Socha (Kelly), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Curtis), Iwan Rheon (Simon), Robert Sheehan (Nathan) & Alex Reid (Sally)

Virgin TiVo

Virgin Media have announced plans to partner with TiVo, the PVR market leader in the US. TiVo actually launched in the UK back in 2000 (partnering Thomson Multimedia and Sky), but their boxes never really took off with the British public. It was left to Sky to push the idea of PVR's into British homes alone, via Sky+ in 2001, which people were far more willing to upgrade to. Virgin Media followed Sky's lead a few years later with V+ (formerly TVDrive). But now Virgin are teaming up with TiVo, as outlined by this press release:

It's exciting news for VM subscribers in the UK, mainly because TiVo have better PVR technology and capabilities. However, VM are obliged to keep using their current TV Navigator EPG until at least 2011 on all existing receivers. It's likely that the first true Virgin/TiVo PVR will be a new model you'll have to buy, so don't expect a free upgrade. Having just bought a V+ PVR this summer, I'm not sure I'll be willing to shellout another few hundred quid so soon.

While I'm not enough of a technophile to be able to compare TiVo to Sky+ or V+ in any detail (let alone BT Vision's broadband-based system), my layman understanding is that TiVo has a lot more options in terms of searching, recording, storing and series-linking. Basically, remember when you first heard about PVRs and people would say you can do things like set your box to record everything starring your favourite actor? That never came about in the end, but it should become reality if TiVo put their technology inside Virgin-branded PVRs. Setting your recordings via the internet, searching for TV shows by keyword, and having the PVR record recommendations based on what it knows you like? That all might happen, too. Basically, everything you imagined Sky+ and V+ would be in the first place!

Is anyone in the UK excited by this news? Any Sky subscribers thinking TiVo is enough to make them defect to Virgin? Are there any US TiVo owners willing to sing its praises, or is TiVo perhaps overrated? Has anyone ever used all three PVRs? If so, how do they compare? And how will Sky counter this VM/TiVo partnership? I'm guessing they'll invest in improving their own Sky+ box by copying some of TiVo's features, so could they get the jump on Virgin by launching an improved PVR before 2011?

Thursday, 26 November 2009


[SPOILERS] I've gone space-crazy. My consciousness drifts in and out of Defying Gravity now; a glazed expression descending every time Donner (Ron Livingston) gives us another of his easygoing, patronizing voice-overs. It's all very didactic and stilted. Anyway, it's Halloween (prematurely scheduled in the US, belatedly so in the UK), and "Fear" revolved around the Antares crew having to act in a live, televised commercial for a confectioners who have pumped $10 billion into the mission. I guess selling chocolate is big business in 2052; maybe everyone who isn't affiliated with NASA are fat, chocoholic couch potatoes glued to the mission on TV?

"Fear" was dull, sadly. Worse, while it featured an abundance of the hallucinations that have kept my interest during all the boring episodes before now, they were cumulatively just as tedious. It's all dusty helmets, Martian storms, crying babies and trapped girls, which has just become monotonous. The only vision that piques my interest is of the Russian astronaut seeing what looks like herself in a fake beard -- is her tragic back-story that she used to be a man?

Defying Gravity keeps reminding us that mysterious cargo "Beta" is having an adverse mental effect on everyone, and it's now belabouring the point. The only upside here is that events spiraled so out of control (with the live advert ditched when they all freeze in various states of reverie before a space-walk), that they all had to admit what's been going on. Maybe now the show will progress and start giving us some firm answers about what "Beta" is. But I'm not sure I really care now, and I've never trusted the show to give us a good answer anyway. If one does materialize -- thank God for small mercies. If one doesn't -- I'm going to throw a brick at the screen. Why weren't the crew just told about "Beta" and its affects, anyway? Ted (Malik Yoba) was later briefed and he didn't react angrily to the news, so why not just tell them what's going on?

I've been told the show suddenly becomes very watchable from hereon in, as the mission approaches its end, but we'll see...

21 November 2009
BBC2/BBC HD, 10.40pm

written by: Chris Provenzano directed by: Jeff Woolnough starring: Ron Livingston (Maddux Donner), Malik Yoba (Ted Shaw), Andrew Airlie (Mike Goss), Paula Garcés (Paula Morales), Florentine Lahme (Nadia Schilling), Karen LeBlanc (Eve Weller-Shaw), Ty Olsson (Rollie Crane), Eyal Podell (Dr. Evram Mintz), Maxim Roy (Claire Dereux), Dylan Taylor (Steve Wassenfelder), Christina Cox (Jen Crane), Laura Harris (Zoe Barnes), Ari Cohen (David Sellner), Barclay Hope (Candy Exec), William C. Vaughan (Arnel Poe), Dante Lee Arias (Roy Shaw), Michael St. John Smith (Board Member), Lara Gilchrist (Sharon), Bruce Dawson (Vapor Trails), Nicole Muñoz (Palestinian Girl) & Bob Paris (Beta Tech)

V, 1.4 - "It's Only The Beginning"

[SPOILERS] Here it is, the final episode of V before its four-month hiatus. Perhaps if they'd known earlier this opening quartet could have been crafted as a purer mini-series (echoing the genesis of the '80s series), but it instead feels like a handbrake has been pulled too soon. The appropriately-named "It's Only The Beginning" ends with two surprises intended to get us excited about the show's return, but they're not enough to keep you on tenterhooks until March.

Things begin in media res with a car park shootout involving V resistance members Georgie (David Richmond-Peck), Ryan (Morris Chestnut) and Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell); an affective narrative trick if used properly, but more often a rather lazy way to re-use an upcoming dramatic scene twice. They only really work if the scene is genuinely shocking, or takes on a different meaning when we see it again in context (see: Mission Impossible III), but it was used pretty badly here. The big dramatic moment in question arrived after a mere 15 minutes, and was inconsequential anyway.

The crux of the episode involved the newly-formed resistance cell getting together to land their first blow against the aliens. Anna (Morena Baccarin) has announced that her people will begin distributing a drug that can enhance the human immune system, effectively preventing the onset of many diseases and infections. If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. Ryan realizes that the V's have started manufacturing a dangerous drug called "R6" and are going to spread it amongst the world's population.

Having later discovered a warehouse where the V's are storing the R6, the resistance realize the V's actually have a bait-and-switch plan -- as the R6 is intended for the humble 'flu vaccination and their immune-boosting drug is safe. Even better, the entire supply of R6 is contained in this tiny warehouse, guarded by one man, so it's incredibly easy to blow up the warehouse and, I guess, claim a small victory. Of course, beyond the fact it feels ridiculous that the V's would put all their eggs in one basket, it's surely not beyond them to simply manufacture some more? Indeed, the resistance feel like a flea fighting an elephant so far, and while I'm prepared to support an underdog, it just doesn't feel plausible they could ever win. Maybe if we got a sense that the V's resources are finite because they can't just hop back to their homeworld and restock supplies, equipment and personnel it would work better?

There's an interesting enough moment when Georgie suggests they capture and "skin" a V to prove to everyone the aliens are... well, liars at the very least, if only because Ryan reacts angrily that Georgie raised the idea. I myself have been wondering why Ryan doesn't offer to reveal his true reptilian form to the word, actually, and while we don't get a definitive answer to that question... I'm going to assume the process of getting yourself "skinned" to look human is irreversible and would result in death. That's the only explanation I can come up with for why members of The Fifth Column don't just whip off their masks on live TV.

On the New York mothership, Anna is told that Dale was murdered by someone, so she tries to wheedle out the culprit by threatening to kill a random member of the medical team, but the guilty Joshua's (Mark Hildreth) cover is maintained when a brave colleague steps forward to take the blame and is skinned/killed for his treachery. It was nice to see the show is at least keeping the reptilian form of the aliens a secret for now. I expect we'll only get to see one properly in the season finale next summer, and hopefully they won't resemble the Sleestaks from Land Of The Lost.

The subplots were either tedious or predictable, really. Tyler (Logan Huffman) was taken by Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) to meet her mother, surprised to find her parent is spokeswoman Anna herself. Erica's himbo son is obviously being groomed to have a significant role in the V's plans, but it's not clear what that entails just yet. A part of me suspects the V's want to create human/V hybrids, so need Tyler to be the figurehead for interspecies relations -- and who better than a clean-cut boyfriend of Anna's daughter?

However, in another subplot, it's revealed that Ryan's girlfriend Valerie (Lourdes Benedicto) is pregnant with his child, so isn't a hybrid already on the way? But maybe hybrid babies are impossible to bring to term? After all, why aren't there more hybrid kids around if members of The Fifth Column (and the V's own undercover spies) have been living amongst humans for decades already? Are they all told not to procreate? Maybe there are hybrids around who we've yet to meet? In which case, I have no idea why Anna and Lisa need Tyler.

Reporter Chad (Scott Wolf) is also diagnosed with an aneurism by the V's medics, and Marcus (Christopher Shyer) insists they can operate in order to prevent the blood clot from ever developing. As the problem is something that can't be detected by human science until it's too late, Chad is basically being forced into a position where he either trusts the V's (and is likely given medical treatment in return for media favours he's uncomfortable with), or refuses to believe them and risks his own life.

And remember the mention of "Bliss" last week? I theorized that it's basically a drug that all V's cherish, perhaps manufactured from humans (hence why they don't just eradicate us.) Well, we're given a little insight into it here, as Anna strips naked and bathes alone in a column of light, apparently transferring orgasmic feelings to her fellow V's. Maybe she was merely the telepathic conductor of the "drug" she was bathing in, so my theory still stands a chance of coming true.

"It's Only The Beginning" ended on two notes designed to keep the audience loyal until next spring: having returned to his church after successfully helping blow up the stocks of R6, Father Jack (Joel Gretsch) was stabbed by a V who followed him home. While it seems likely he'll live, I guess it's interesting the V's now know the identity of one of the resistance. And, finally, there's an extensive zoom-out from Anna's ship across the galaxy, eventually settling on a gigantic armada of V ships. Are they waiting there as reinforcements? Are they an all-out attack force if Anna's diplomatic methods fail? Whatever they are, it now feels even more unlikely that Erica and three men can defeat a planet full of organized, highly-advanced aliens.

Overall, V is off to a rocky start, but there are signs of improvement and a lot of potential in the idea. Whether or not the writers can tap into that, in interesting and fresh ways, is up for debate. There's really been nothing here we haven't seen before, and not just because V's a remake. The concept is an old chestnut that you can vaguely predict every step of the way, so V will need to up its game if it's going to surprise an audience who have grown up with alien invasion TV shows and films. I'd also like to see them ditch the distracting use of greenscreen in the V mothership, which I'm sure helps cut costs, but it makes everyone look like they're acting in a late-'90s video-game cut-scene. It's all very false and the architecture is bland, blurred grey-whites. A few real sets, perhaps extended using greenscreen, would be preferable.

When the show returns next year, Scott Rosenbaum (The Shield, Chuck) is in charge and he's promising a lot more action, pace(!), mythology-building, and at least one big surprise in every episode. Big talk, but can he walk the walk? Tune in next March to find out.

24 November 2009
ABC, 9/8c

written by: Cameron Litvack & Angela Russo-Otstot directed by: Yves Simoneau starring: Elizabeth Mitchell (Erica Evans), Morris Chestnut (Ryan Nichols), Joel Gretsch (Father Jack Landry), Lourdes Benedicto (Valerie Holt), Logan Huffman (Tyler Evans), Laura Vandervoort (Lisa), Morena Baccarin (Anna), Scott Wolf (Chad Decker), David Richmond-Peck (Georgie), Christopher Shyer (Marcus), Craig Fraser (Peter Combs), Mark Hildreth (Joshua), Ryan Kennedy (David), Giles Panton (V Med-Tech) & Jesse Wheeler (Brandon)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

24: set your clocks for season 8

Fox have announced that 24's eighth (and possibly last?) season will debut with a two-hour special on Sunday 17 January 2010, then move to its regular Monday night slot from 25 January. Must... resist... "the clock is ticking"... closing remark...


[SPOILERS] A kind of precognitive Casualty, sci-fi thriller Paradox got off to a solid if unexceptional start. It's another BBC genre show that doesn't offer too much outright originality, but is just content to put a humdrum fantastical twist on a police procedural. This can sometimes lead to great things (Ultraviolet, Life On Mars), but it can also lead to Crime Traveller. There's evidence that Paradox has the potential to blossom into something fun, though, and this first episode was punctuated by a laudably bleak ending and built itself a compelling tailwind...

Dr. Christian King (Emun Elliot) is another unlikely TV science geek who'd look more at home in a Gillette commercial, currently monitoring solar flare activity in a den of computers. While at work, his company's satellite "Prometheus II" apparently steals the fire of future-knowledge from the Gods, by downloading a stream of random images to King's video-wall. The inappropriately-named atheist believes that these fuzzy pictures predict the future when he notices one snap features a mobile phone displaying a time 18 hours hence. A faulty, damaged phone -- yes? No, it's a photo from the future, okay?

A little peculiarly, King asks for a police officer with "imagination" to come and take a look at his bizarre find. So, stern DI Rebecca Flint (Tamzin Outhwaite) finds herself in his lab and, after hearing his theory, suspects the quirky scientist is a sociopath playing a game. Flint's colleagues, irascible Scot DS Ben Holt (Mark Bonnar) and fresh-faced DC Callum Gada (Chike Okonkwo), are called in to assist her, and both likewise believe Dr. King has just faked the photos (that appear to show glimpses of a railway bridge catastrophe) and is taking perverse pleasure in seeing them try and make sense of clues to the whereabouts of a bomb he'll detonate. Of course, when Flint starts to investigate the photographic evidence and treat his theory seriously, she slowly comes to realize the images do indeed seem to predict a confluence of disastrous events.

The minor subplots follow the predestined victims/culprit of the unfolding tragedy, going about their lives blissfully unaware they're chess pieces being pushed into position by the hand of Fate. For the audience, we take dark glee in noticing how possessions featured in King's photos (a driver's license, a backpack and Frisbee, a Blackberry phone, etc.) turn up in these stories, and watch as Flint and her team try to comprehend the images, extrapolate events to come, and try to alter their outcome to save the day.

Paradox's concept works fine. It should do because it's just a tweaked version of Minority Report, and the possibilities are clear and obvious for plentiful stories. This episode did a solid job of setting everything up, and it actually became quite gripping in the second half when the team were racing around trying to second-guess events without arousing suspicion or coming across as insane -- although I have to wonder why they didn't just ask the businessman on the doomed train to pull the emergency stop button before the carriages reached the bridge.

The performances were okay, but nothing special. Outhwaite only has one character in her -- the sexy, authoritative, working class cop (see: Red Cap, The Fixer) -- but she copes well in that comfort zone. Elliot was more interesting than I was expecting as King, mainly because his character was written to behave suspiciously throughout, and while that tactic to elicit uncertainty didn't work (as there was never any doubt he was telling the truth), it nevertheless offered something a bit different in how the cops dealt with King. Of course, all that insecurity will disappear now King's photo album's been proven right, so I hope future episodes have something else up their sleeves or else he'll quickly become redundant. After all, he's just the guy with access to the satellite link, so it'll be interesting to see how they utilize him hereon in. Will he just sit back and watch Flint's team run around like headless chickens, offering the occasional insight into a cryptic photo, or will he be needed out in the field sometimes?

The guest cast all had less complexity than the average patient wheeled into Holby City, but this was perhaps because episode 1 had less time or need to dedicate to them. Now the exposition's been dealt with, the guest stars will hopefully get more dimensions than "sleep-deprived gas tanker driver" and "stressed executive", as otherwise they're just hapless stooges in a grizzly game of determinism. A Crimewatch reconstruction told in reverse, you might say.

Overall, Paradox offers nothing very new -- a more unique example of characters fighting the future is FlashForward, which admittedly has its own flaws to deal with -- but there's certainly promise in he show if it manages to unlock its 24-meets-Minority Report potential. Or it could just become a reverse-engineered series of crimes that a bunch of underwritten characters try to piece together. But on the evidence of this first part, it's worth sticking with for now.

24 November 2009
BBC1/BBC HD, 9pm

written by: Lizzie Mickery directed by: Simon Cellan Jones starring: Tamzin Outhwaite (DI Rebecca Flint), Emun Elliott (Dr Christian King), Mark Bonnar (DS Ben Holt), Chike Okonkwo (DC Callum Gada), Pooky Quesnel (DCI Sarah Bower), Lorcan Cranitch (Simon Manning), Abigail Davies (Amelia James), Neil Fitzmaurice (Lister Wells), Clare Kerrigan (Kirsty Harmsley), Kevin Doyle (Harry Phelps), Fiona Dolman (Lauren Phelps), Peter Wells (Patterson James) & Kate Miles (Clare)

HEROES 4.11 - "Thanksgiving"

[SPOILERS] Hot on the heels of Dexter's "Hungry Man", Heroes does its own Thanksgiving episode, but it's of a decidedly softer nature (i.e. no family meal ends with the c-bomb and strangulation... just arm and forehead slicing.) Is there some deep-seated issue with the American psyche regarding this holiday?

In "Thanksgiving", three of the show's most prominent families are brought together for anxious meals: the estranged Bennet's, the dysfunctional Petrelli's and the assorted oddballs of the carnival clique. It's a decent way to give an episode some shape and tackle things from a character perspective, but each subplot had its highs and lows. Mr. Bennet (Jack Coleman) is cooking for daughter Claire (Hayden Panettiere), his ex-wife Sandra (Ashley Crow) and her new beau Doug. Is this a likely scenario, given the fact the Bennet's have only just divorced? Do we really believe Sandra would look twice at someone as drippy as Doug? Well, I didn't buy a lot of it, but it was mildly amusing at times.

And, as predicted from the moment the show ret-conned her into existence a few episodes ago, Lauren (Elisabeth Röhm) walks back into Bennet's life and will no doubt become his hot, younger girlfriend. As someone who worked alongside Bennet in The Company, she'll be of more use to the show than Sandra ever was, but I still miss Bennet having that bedrock of a seemingly normal family. It was a fairly dull storyline in some ways, but it at least ended with the prospect of Claire, now reunited with Gretchen (Madeline Zima), using Samuel's spinning compass to go out and get some answers.

The Petrelli get-together was where the big development came, as Angela (Cristine Rose) decided to treat her sons Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) and Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) to the most underwhelming Thanksgiving dinner ever, despite her fortune. Would you really decide to eat around a tiny table in Peter's empty apartment? Regardless, the fun here was in seeing Angela squirm at the questions her sons ask her regarding Adrian's true nature, before she's forced to admit he's Sylar shape-shifted body with Adrian's mind stuck inside.

Needless to say, Ventimiglia's reaction to all of this was on par with dog's expression when told to get off the furniture. Still, there was fun to be had when Sylar (Zachary Quinto) finally managed to reassert his personality and, after an electrical lightshow, reunited his body and mind. But perhaps not his "soul"... as while attempting to kill Angela it appears that Nathan is still capable of regaining control of Sylar's body and does so. I guess this gives Nathan a Jekyll-&-Hyde personality now, which could be interesting to see play out. I just wish Heroes' producers hadn't already confirmed Pasdar's departure from the series, as it feels like we're just waiting for the inevitable. To counter that feeling, I have mild hope they've fed us misinformation so that when Sylar loses this battle we'll feel surprised.

Finally, Samuel (Robert Knepper) watched Chandra Suresh's film reel and now understands his dangerous potential. So, if he didn't know this before now, he's been gathering "specials" together for genuinely altruistic reasons? That seems like a slipup to me. Anyway, Hiro (Masi Oka) is upset that Samuel's still not telling him the whereabouts of girlfriend Charlie, and continues to have a hold over him as a result. He's once again too stupid to just go back in time and prevent Samuel from kidnapping her in the first place, too, but we'll cut the writers some slack there. Time-travel's always a bitch to write logically. Here, Hiro gets an ally in Lydia (Dawn Olivieri), who is confused that Samuel hasn't used Hiro's ability to save his brother from death, so orders him to take her back in time to witness the ambiguous death of Joseph first-hand. And, as we suspected from the very start, it was Samuel who killed him (by flinging a rock into his windpipe in a fit of pique) after he refused to tell him what his ability was.

Back in the present, Edgar (Ray Park) learned that Samuel murdered his own brother and covered it up, but when Samuel tries to pin the murder of Joseph on Edgar to conceal his own guilt, Hiro facilitates Edgar's escape by freezing time. But, Samuel's wise to what Hiro did, so appears to try and erase Hiro's power as punishment using the "mystic" henchman, but it doesn't appear to go according to plan and a youthful-sounding Hiro teleports away in the middle of the procedure. I'm hoping this doesn't signal a return to "kid Hiro" once again, as Oka's performances when he cranks Hiro up to eleven can get very grating, but the procedure did unfortunately feel similar to the one performed by Arthur Petrelli last season...

Overall, there was enough going on in "Thanksgiving" to make the episode worthwhile and entertaining, even if there were only really a few developments worth making note of. The Sylar/Adrian battle felt a bit flat considering its potential and extensive buildup, but hopefully there'll be better opportunities to deal with this situation now it's boiled down to a case of "split-personality". It's also interesting that the carnival isn't the pit of villainy we were led to believe it was, as everyone actually seems quite reasonable and likeable -- it's just Samuel who's becoming a megalomaniac. As usual, a mish-mash of good and bad notes, but certainly nothing to wholly dislike.

23 November 2009
NBC, 8/7c

written by: Adam Armus & Kay Foster directed by: Seith Mann starring: Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Zachary Quinto (Sylar), Cristine Rose (Angela), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Ashley Crow (Sandra), Robert Knepper (Samuel), Dawn Olivieri (Lydia), Ray Park (Edgar), Harry Perry (Damien), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Elisabeth Röhm (Lauren Gilmore), Dusty Sorg (Caleb), Madeline Zima (Gretchen)

Re-introducing: the video spotlight

I just thought I'd draw everyone's attention to the return of the Spotlight feature in the sidebar of this blog. It's just a place where I embed videos of things that take my fancy (usually film trailers and TV spots), rather than create a blog post for them all the time. Right now I have all three of NBC's promo's for Chuck's third season (Yvonne Strahovski in a white bikini! Yvonne Strahovski in a white bikini!*)

The only reason I'm mentioning the Spotlight here is because it's difficult to quantify how many readers actually visit the blog (i.e would notice the Spotlight without me mentioning it), and how many of you only read via RSS feeds (in which case, you'd never know it's there.) But, it is there, so now everyone knows about its existence. Anyway, I hope you'll all stop by the actual blog itself from time to time -- if you're not already. I make fancy banner headers that I think are worth a look, too. Okay, self-promotion over. But if you feel like sharing how you digest "the Digest", then that would be interesting to hear.

* And for the girls... Zachary Levi with a weird new haircut. It'll just take some getting used to, don't worry.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

FlashForward blacks out for six days

According to Michael Ausiello, the ABC sci-fi series FlashForward has temporarily shut down production. The series has been picked up for a full season already by the network, but they've suffered the departure of showrunner Marc Guggenheim, the critical response has been largely negative, and last week's episode marked an all-time low in the Nielsen ratings.

A spokesman for ABC has claimed that this shutdown was always part of the agreed schedule (as FlashForward started production earlier than other shows), and the break will only last six days. So, maybe it's nothing to worry about, but any disruption is ripe for discussion. I somehow doubt the writers will be taking days off to hit the beach -- rather, they'll be discussing how to revitalize the show as interest wanes.

FLASHFORWARD 1.9 - "Believe"

[SPOILERS] See, just give us a few decent characters and a human story to follow, and you naturally draw us into your world. Now, when those people are threatened or forced into tough situations, we might actually give a damn about them. It's just a shame Flashforward applied this fix to a secondary character, and not one of the misfiring leads...

"Believe" focused on hospital intern Bryce (Zachary Knighton) and revealed his back-story four weeks before the blackout. It turns out he was diagnosed with terminal cancer but decided to keep his illness a secret from friends and family, fearing he'd just be a burden to them. Of course, on the day of the blackout, Bryce had gone to a pier to commit suicide with a handgun (see "Pilot"), but his flashforward made him change his mind because he saw himself meeting a beautiful Japanese woman in a restaurant. So, now Bryce has something worth living for, and has started to learn Japanese with the help of co-worker Nicole (Peyton List).

This romantic tryst is many months away, but "Believe" was all about seeing how both parties are slowly inching towards their shared destiny. In Japan, we met the girl from Bryce's vision, an ambitious woman called Keiko Arahida (Yûko Takeuchi), who makes her family very proud by getting a job at the country's foremost robotics firm and fulfils a childhood dream in the process. Trouble is, as the only female employed by the department, Keiko's disillusioned to find her duties barely stretch beyond serving businessmen tea during their meetings.

A little disappointingly given the strength of Bryce/Keiko's narrative, the other storylines weren't that great. Aaron (Brian F. O'Byrne) realized his daughter has "inherited" his alcoholism after years on the run from Jericho assassins, and Benford (Joseph Fiennes) alienated his friends Aaron and Wedeck (Courtney B. Vance) when he questioned them about the text sent to his wife (Sonya Walger), that alerted her to the fact he was drunk in his vision. Of course, as neither of them told anyone his secret, what does that tell you? Was someone capable of snooping on Benford's vision? Or was he just overheard discussing it with Aaron or Wedeck? Either way, I felt sorry for Benford having to deal with his friend's totally out-of-order reactions (Aaron smashing up chairs, Wedeck quietly boiling with fury), as none of that felt called for. It always bugs me when characters on TV shows show no ability to get some perspective and empathize with anyone else's situation, so they just act like dicks for the sake of a bit of quick drama.

Demetri (John Cho) also got a lead on the mysterious woman who called him to say she knows he'll die on 15 March, via the somewhat unlikely fact that the CIA recorded his suspicious call. The FBI techies clear up the audio and deduce from the unique background music that the caller was standing near Hong Kong harbour. And later, despite the fact Wedeck denies them the opportunity to go abroad to solve the case, Benford decides to go behind his boss' back and accompany Dem to Asia.

Indeed, Asia is a hot ticket this week, as Bryce also decides to embrace his fate by travelling to Japan in search of the girl from his vision. Keiko's likewise become charmed by the idea of a handsome American entering her life, but her family believe such a thing would only be a distraction to her career, so when Bryce eventually tracks down where Keiko lives her mother sends him packing. The course of true love never did run smooth. But, not to worry, because just as Bryce touches down in LAX with his tail between his legs, Keiko has decided to throw away her dream job in pursuit of the man from her vision, and was on the same flight to L.A.

Overall, I can understand why some people will take umbrage with this episode, because it dedicated the majority of its time to one character we've never met before and another who's barely featured in the series. But, y'know what, Bryce proved himself a far more relatable person than many of the more prominent characters, and Takeuchi was marvelous in how she managed to make Keiko so instantly sweet and compelling -- a modern and intelligent woman hamstrung by Japanese custom and prejudice, unable to live out her dreams, but willing to go to extraordinary lengths to meet a man with imagination, no matter what her family think. A guy who hopefully digs Jimi Hendrix, too. My only concern is that it's difficult to see where their story could go once they meet, but perhaps the fact Keiko's a whiz at robotics will come into play somehow?

"Believe" wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. It was commendable to focus on simple human drama for once, even if doing so gives FlashForward a slightly schizophrenic feel. One week it's all high-octane action and big ideas, the next it's all slow-burn naval-gazing. I wish it all hung together better, and the pacing of how the subplots develop was brisker. I mean, Bryce was introduced as a main character in the "Pilot", but it's taken nearly half the season just to get around to him? On a similar note, will we get any movement on Nicole's vision of being drowned by someone soon? She doesn't feel particularly concerned about that horrific vision, and is instead spending her time teaching Bryce how to speak Japanese!

23 November 2009
Five, 9pm

written by: Nicole Yorkin & Dawn Prestwich directed by: Michael Nankin starring: Joseph Fiennes (Agent Mark Benford), John Cho (Agent Demetri Noh), Brian F. O'Byrne (Aaron Stark), Zachary Knighton (Bryce), Courtney B. Vance (Agent Stanford Wedeck), Sonya Walger (Dr. Olivia Benford), Yûko Takeuchi (Keiko Arahida), Genevieve Cortese (Tracy Stark), Barry Shabaka Henley (Agent Vreede), Peyton List (Nicole), Hira Ambrosino (Yuuka Arahida), Rizwan Manji (Maneesh Sandhar), Cory Blevins (Neil Parofsky), Noah Greenwood (Kakkoii), Gina Hiraizumi (Riko) & Selena Johnson (FBI Agent)

DEXTER 4.9 - "Hungry Man"

[SPOILERS] I'm not entirely sure about this episode. It certainly gave us some big developments and two surprises (although I'd guessed one last week), but it just didn't feel like a natural continuation of last week's episode. It almost felt like I'd missed an episode, as Arthur's (John Lithgow) attempted suicide felt completely brushed under the carpet, were it not for one brief scene where Dexter (Michael C. Hall) discovered his bespoke coffin...

It's Thanksgiving. Dexter is obviously expected to spend the day eating turkey with Rita (Julie Benz), the kids and Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), but he's pulled into having dinner with the Mitchell's when eldest son Jonah (Brando Eaton) invites him along, if only to ensure that Arthur will be on his best behaviour. See, it turns out that the Trinity Killer's veil as the "perfect family man" is moth-eaten upon closer inspection, and Jonah seems genuinely fearful of what the day might bring without Dexter there to divert his father's attention. So, posing again as Kyle Butler at a loose end, Dex joins the Mitchell's for an eye-opening family get-together...

Dex quickly realizes, through unmistakable body language and an atmosphere you can cut with a knife, that the Mitchell family are essentially besieged by their patriarch. Arthur keeps his teenage daughter Rebecca (Vanessa Marano) locked in a bedroom decorated for a seven-year-old, punishes Jonah for damaging his car by ruthlessly breaking his finger like a twig when nobody's around, and his wife Sally (Julia Campbell) is actually a nervous wreck who treads on eggshells when her husband's around. For Dexter, this is all a huge surprise, as he'd been led to believe Arthur was an expert in living a double-life, and has been treating him as an involuntary serial killer guru. So is Dex the proven expert in this relationship, or is Arthur's twisted family an omen of how dysfunctional his own family will inevitable become with him around?

The main subplot saw Rita hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for her family, with Debra and single father Elliot in attendance, all waiting for Dex to return home from a crime scene. Even Masuka (C.S Lee) gets to join the shindig after being invited as Debra's "wingman" -- a little peculiarly, as I don't really see why Debra would need a partner in an environment she must be comfortable in. But hey, it gets creepy pervert Masuka something different to do on the show, and there are a few amusing scenes as he tries to fit into a family environment.

Predictably, the redundant subplot concerned Angel (David Zayas) and Laguerta (Lauren Vélez), who are again growing closer despite trying to keep themselves apart. At this stage, I'm guessing one of the pair's not going to make it to season 5, as their sudden infatuation feels like a fairly calculated way to try and make us feel a bigger emotion when one of them dies, but I could be wrong. Maybe it really is intended to be a flash of brightness in a show that otherwise OD's on tension and dark chills. Here, Angel gets some closure on an old case involving the murder of a man's wife, but when he goes to break the good news he discovers the husband's been in a vegetative state for the past seven years. So, having realized how your life can be irrevocably altered on a whim, this inspires Angel to admit he loves Laguerta. Yawn. I think the guy in a vegetative state echoed how the audience feel about this storyline, but at least they didn't drag out the cliché of the good news reviving him.

While the Mitchell family storyline was deliciously subtle and tense at times, I'd have liked more reference to Arthur's suicide attempt last week. It makes sense that his family would perhaps not want to broach the subject in front of him, but why didn't Dexter raise the issue? He was the hero of the hour, after all. And what had Arthur proffered as a reason for his actions? It also confused me that Arthur was suddenly incapable of keeping his family man persona intact around friend/saviour "Kyle", at a time when it would have been doubly important to do so. I can understand Dex picking up bad vibes from his wife and kids, but Arthur came across as quite reckless at times -- before totally losing his grip at the dinner table, calling his wife a c*nt in front of Dex, then strangling Jonah when the boy cracked and started ranting about Arthur's behaviour.

Still, around this time the episode punched to life, with Dex's anger boiling over at the mistreatment he's been witnessing and surprising Arthur by throttling him with a belt and dragging him into the kitchen to threaten him with a knife. The astonishment and fear in Arthur's eyes (and Sally's come to mention it) was fantastic, and as Dex beat a hasty retreat he knows he's essentially blown his cover as acquiescent Kyle, and Arthur may start to realize where his interest in him truly lay. And it's always fun when Dexter's prey are aware they're a target.

Of course, I haven't even mentioned reporter Christine (Courtney Ford), who is revealed to be the shooter who killed Lundy and injured Debra. I think the suggestion last week that someone of Masuka's height fired the gun was too much of a giveaway, as in the comments of last week's review I speculated that Christine must be the culprit -- as she has a motive (to create her own news stories) and is the only character of comparable height to Masuka. So, the reveal didn't quite land the big punch it was intended to, sadly. And anyway, as we learned from Lila in season 2, any woman who regularly bares her boobs in Dexter is a villain. Start to worry if Rita gets a topless scene.

However, as a second punch, in the dying seconds of the episode we see Christine answer her front door to... a very stern-faced Arthur Mitchell, to greet him with a curt "hi, dad." I'm predicting this final twist will split the audience, with some believing it's an outright ridiculous development, while others just like having their imaginations stoked some more. I'm willing to see what happens next week before condemning this surprise, as it could work very nicely, or it could prove a step too far.

So, did Christine escape her crazy family home but find herself still under daddy's thumb, tasked to be his "cleaner" when things go wrong? I assume she knows he's a killer (Jonah seems to, as well), so he must be angry that his daughter's the one keeping the hotel bludgeoning in the news. Is Christine just as sick as her dad, but in a different way (letting her own misdemeanors fuel her career)? Do the other Mitchells know about Christine, or is she an estranged member of the family Arthur's kept secret? Will Arthur now use Christine to trace this "Kyle Butler", and will she deduce that he's actually the blood-spatter expert she regularly bumps into down the Miami Metro?

Overall, "Hungry Man" was interesting and provocative stuff, slightly let down by the fact it didn't feel all that plausible at times (even allowing for the tenuous grasp of reality Dexter often has, let's be honest.) There were some sizeable developments, though; even Masuka saw Elliot make a move on Rita, so are the Morgan's headed for separation by the finale? I guess the surprises with Christine and Arthur won't sit right with everyone, and the fact his family are a browbeaten mess did seem to just come out of nowhere (or were there clever signs earlier in the season we missed?), but you can't deny this episode worked very well in terms of shaking the season up for the last three episodes.

22 November 2009
Showtime, 9/8c

written by: Wendy West directed by: John Dahl starring: Michael C. Hall (Dexter Morgan), Julie Benz (Rita Bennett), Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan), Desmond Harrington (Det. Joey Quinn), Lauren Vélez (Lt. Maria Laguerta), David Zayas (Sgt. Angel Batista), James Remar (Det. Harry Morgan), Christina Robinson (Astor Bennett), Preston Bailey (Cody Bennett), Julia Campbell (Sally Simmons), Brando Eaton (Jonah Mitchell), Courtney Ford (Christine Hill), John Lithgow (Arthur Mitchell), Vanessa Marano (Rebecca Simmons) & Clayton Mattingly (Neighbour Kid)

Terminator Salvation Competition: The Result

Last Thursday I gave British and Irish readers the chance to win a copy of Terminator Salvation on DVD or Blu-Ray (the latter of which included a life-size T600 skull). To have a chance of winning you just had to answer this question in 84 words, or less: "If a cyborg from the future came back in time to kill you, how would you terminate it?" A big thanks to everyone who took the time to think of an answer, but the winner is:

Matt Murrell, who replied:

"I'd sit it down and show it films like Terminator 2, WALL-E, Short Circuit, Robocop, Aliens and Silent Running. I'd encourage it to grow beyond its initial, hostile programming. I'd make it see that it's not just an unfeeling tool, but rather an individual being with free will, capable of deciding its own path in life. I'd show it the many glorious possibilities that emerge from a world of human-cyborg co-operation. Then I'd hit it in the face with a hammer."

Congratulations, Matt! I will be in touch later by e-mail, to get the ball rolling so you can receive your prize... just in time for Christmas, hopefully. Bonus!

Monday, 23 November 2009

I hang up Hung, Defying Gravity defies my axe, but my iris closes on Stargate Universe

There never seemed to be much appetite for Hung reviews around here (seriously, am I the only one watching?), so I've decided to retire the show from weekly review. I'll still tune in every Thursday on More4, but it's not really worth my time putting a review together that nobody appears interested to read. I still quite like the show, but it's perhaps not that conducive to episodic review. Anyway, the time will be used to instead review BBC1's new five-part sci-fi thriller Paradox, which starts tomorrow at 9pm.

"On the bubble" for me is Defying Gravity, which I'm primarily watching because a few commenters insist it gets really good around episode 8. Its timeslot has now moved from 9pm Wednesdays to 11pm Saturdays, which isn't a good sign, but at least the BBC are unlikely to just pull it off-air. Anyway, thanks to the wonders of Virgin+, I tend to watch it on Tuesday.

Not that I ever reviewed it, but I've also stopped watching Stargate Universe now. Six episodes is more than enough time to know if a show's worth sticking with, and SGU just isn't. My patience snapped during the scene where Eli (in someone else's body, using a "communication stone") went back home to see his mother. It just suddenly dawned on me that I have no interest in Eli, his mother, his predicament, or anything else going on aboard Destiny.

It'll be interesting to see if it gets a second season, though. It's received a critical mauling and the venerable fans don't seem impressed. For a show that was supposed to draw in new audiences, it appears to have bored newbies to tears very quickly and simultaneously alienated the existing fan-base. Good move, guys! It is a shame, though, as I could change four things about the show that would make it immeasurably better overnight (1, get rid of those "stones"; 2, take the autopilot off the ship; 3, write some decent female characters; 4, involve more 'gating and aliens.)

FRINGE 2.8 - "August"

[SPOILERS] It's difficult to dislike episodes of Fringe that tackle its mythology, particularly the enigmatic Observer (Michael Cerveris), who has become the show's very own "Where's Wally?" character... but "August" was decidedly average in storytelling terms. This eighth episode focused on that peculiar race of bald-headed Observers (yes, we learn there's more than one) and while it proves to be a fun hour of entertainment, it was devoid of much originality or genuine surprise...

Fringe Division are called in to find a teenage girl called Christine (Jennifer Missoni), who was kidnapped by a black-suited man matching the description of the so-called "Observer". It's strange because The Observer has never chosen to interfere with events before, merely monitor them as his nickname suggests. Olivia (Anna Torv), Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Walter (John Noble) are given an insight into The Observer's history via a scientist at Massive Dynamic, who has amassed evidence in ancient sketches and paintings that The Observer has been watching events in human history for many centuries. But why has one Observer, a new character referred to as "August" (Peter Woodward) by his clique, decided to breach their code of conduct and kidnap someone?

The answer was obvious for anyone with an ounce of sci-fi knowledge, as The Observers turn out to be rather similar to Doctor Who's Time Lords (spliced with "men in black" folklore), and the aforementioned August has effectively gone rogue and kidnapped Christine to prevent her dying in a plane crash. He's therefore broken a cardinal rule of The Observers, who thus contact an apparently human assassin called Donald Long (Paul Rae) to kill Christine and restore the timeline inexactly, meaning August's forced to try and find a way to make Christine "important" so her death won't be in the best interests of his colleagues.

The concept behind "August" was unfortunately quite thin and predictable, but it helped that these Observer characters are a naturally fascinating and curious bunch. A scene with four of them discussing events around a table in a restaurant (while soaking their food in Tabasco sauce, naturally) was soaked in that off-kilter charm Fringe does so well. And as they're a key component of the mythology, it was good fun getting an insight into how they operate while discovering more of their quirks (they can stop bullets with their palms, start car ignitions with their fingers, etc.). There was generally enough diversions and enjoyable moments to disguise the lack of a surprisingly storyline. It was a just too obvious that August had fallen in love with Christine -- having observed her all her life and become spellbound by her tenacity in the face of family hardships -- but the emotion of the story still worked thanks to Woodward's poignant performance and a climax requiring his sacrifice to keep his inamorata safe from harm.

The episode also reminded us that The Observer has similarly cheated his race's regulations, by agreeing to give Walter a version of his dead son from the alternate-Earth, so they're clearly not above bending the rules. It'll be interesting to see where they stand in the context of the looming inter-dimensional war, though. Is the sudden regularity of their appearances just because they know a great tumult is due and worth watching? Or will they pick a side to fight for if their existence is threatened? Are The Observers able to traverse dimensions, or do they also have a parallel bunch keeping track of events in the other dimension? And will Fringe ever get to show this war on-screen? Even The X Files always kept its predicted alien colonization away in the not-too-distant-future, to perhaps only be answered with the necessary budget a movie would afford... but Fringe hasn't captured the zeitgeist or public imagination in quite the same way, so I doubt we'll ever get to see the inter-dimensional war played out inside multiplexes.

Overall, I enjoyed "August" and it was certainly an episode worth watching for the occasional nugget of mytharc information, but the plot was too anemic to get very excited about and it ultimately felt a little inconsequential.

22 November 2009
Sky1, 10pm

written by: J.H. Wyman & Jeff Pinkner directed by: Brad Anderson starring: Anna Torv (Olivia), Joshua Jackson (Peter), John Noble (Walter), Lance Reddick (Broyles), Ali Liebert (Danielle), Michael Cerveris (The Observer), Jennifer Missoni (Christine Hollis), Sunita Prasad (Waitress), Paul Rae (Donald Long) & Peter Woodward (August)

TV Picks: 23-29 November 2009

Pick of the Week: "Paradox" -- BBC1, Tue @9pm

Mouth To Mouth (BBC3, 9pm) Comedy-drama about six teenagers entering their twenties.
Gracie! (BBC4, 9pm) Drama chronicling the life of Gracie Fields. Stars Jane Horrocks, Tom Hollander & Tony Haygarth.

Paradox (BBC1, 9pm) Five-part sci-fi drama about a police officer and a scientist who have to prevent a disaster predicted by images from space. Stars Tamzin Outhwaite.
Cast Off's (Channel 4, 11.05pm) Dark comedy drama about a group of disabled people living on a remote island for a reality TV show.


Gavin & Stacey (BBC1, 9pm) Series 3 of the BAFTA-winning sitcom. Stars Matthew Horne, Joanna Page, James Corden, Rob Brydon & Ruth Jones.
Cutting Edge: Jess – Britain's Youngest Sleepwalker (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary about three-year-old Jess, who leads a bizarre double-life as a result of her sleepwalking.
QI (BBC1, 9.30pm) Return of the comedy quiz, focusing on the letter "G". Hosted by Stephen Fry.

We Are Family (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary following a strange family over a bizarre weekend.



Sunday, 22 November 2009

Virgin Media save Generation Kill from my DVR death sentence

I've been recording Generation Kill every week since it started on Channel 4 HD, waiting for the ideal time to delve into its seven episodes. But, to be honest, too many shows have my attention already, so finding the time to set aside was proving... well, impossible. Added to that, those unwatched HD recordings were devouring my digibox's storage space, so I was seriously contemplating just erasing them and renting a box-set one day....

However, Virgin Media have come to my rescue! They've announced that Generation Kill will be added to their excellent on-demand service (in both standard-def and high-def) from 3 December. So, I can finally relax, delete my idle recordings, and perhaps start to watch the miniseries in the new year. It's like it was meant to be, no?

Incidentally, Virgin have some other new additions to their extensive on-demand library: season 1 and 2 of Gossip Girl (from 20 Dec), season 3 of The Wire, season 2 of The Big Bang Theory, season 4 of Six Feet Under, and season five of Two & A Half Men.

MERLIN 2.9 – "The Lady Of The Lake"

[SPOILERS] "The writers of old called it... a Bastard." That's what Gaius (Richard Wilson) said... wasn't it? That unintentional bit of hilarity apart, "The Lady Of The Lake" was unfortunately the worst episode of this otherwise excellent second season; two decent performances cast adrift amongst leaden jokes and a sorely predictable plot...

This week, Merlin (Colin Morgan) became infatuated with a young girl called Freya (Laura Donnelly), the withdrawn prisoner of bounty hunter Halig (Richard Ridings), a man who apparently stalks the kingdom capturing practitioners of magic for King Uther (Anthony Head) to burn. Admittedly, those specifics were kept vague for family-viewing reasons, but I doubt life imprisonment was in order for the girl. Anyway, Merlin takes pity on kindred soul Freya and helps her escape to some secet tunnels beneath the castle. Naturally, he falls in love with a beatiful girl he doesn't have to lie to about his magical abilities, and is soon smuggling food to her stolen from Arthur's (Bradley James) plate.

But, heaven's above, what's this? There's a strange beast stalking the grounds of the castle and killing innocent peasants, which Uther's convinced must be of magical origin given the strange wounds found on the dead bodies. I wonder if this ferocious beastie and sweet Freya are connected somehow... well, actually, no I don't wonder. They are. Indeed, a huge source of irritation was how the episode felt utterly unsurprising, humdrum and tedious. The whole audience could guess Freya had been cursed to shape-change into a "winged panther" at the stroke of midnight, compelled to kill anyone who crosses her path. Yes, even the seven-year-olds watching called it.

For anyone with half a brain, this episode constantly presented us with obvious developments full of plot-holes that became impossible to ignore. Why didn't the bounty hunter know Freya turns into a monster, if that's her sole magical ability? If he did, why didn't he tell anyone to prevent Uther and Gaius running around in a panic? Why didn't Freya tell Merlin the truth, so he could perhaps chain her up to prevent people dying? She made no effort to stop her killing spree at any stage, and instead spent her time moping around and being vague about her condition. Why didn't she escape the castle grounds when she was prowling the courtyard in creature form every night -- I mean, she has wings!

What made it worse was that Morgan and guest-star Donnelly were visibly trying very hard with the weak material, and both achieved some success in their scenes together. They made for a quite a believable, touching couple, and I liked the idea of Merlin getting a girlfriend he can relax around. This fact actually led to a few amusing scenes of an upbeat Merlin whistling merry tunes, raising eyebrows in his quest to steal food from Arthur, and even being accused of crossdressing when caught pinching one of Morgana's dresses for Freya to wear. Considering the fanbase's affectionate teasing over Merlin's sexuality because of his "homoerotic" relationship with Arthur, this was arguably an episode of some significance -- clearly defining Merlin as a heterosexual boy (well, maybe bisexual?) and portraying Arthur as a jokey "big brother" type (he even does that headlock, knuckle-rubbing thing on Merlin's scalp at one point.) But, a few good moments were ultimately wasted thanks to a very unconvincing script from writer/co-creator Julian Jones...

I have no idea how Freya (in giant flying-cat form) could flee back down tunnels even gaunt Merlin had to squeeze down. I don't know how Merlin eventually managed to smuggle her out of Camelot the next morning, to die from her injuries (as surely everyone would have been scouring the castle looking for this girl now?) But hey, it was all handled off-screen, so just forget about it -- m'kay? We just had to get to the denouement where Merlin took Freya to a lake similar to the one she told him about, to die and be given a Norseman's funeral in a rowing boat full of foliage. It could have been a very touching moment, too... were it not for the fact I was transfixed by a droplet of snot(?) dangling from the end of Merlin's nose during his heartfelt speech.

Overall, "The Lady In The Lake" was a hugely disappointing and worringly incompetent episode -- wasting the idea of giving Merlin a love-interest, and offering no storytelling support for Morgan and Donnelly's valiant efforts. The title cynically alluded to a prominent aspect of Arthurian legend, but this didn't feel relevant to the myth. I assume the idea is that Freya will somehow be "resurrected" as a water spirit to repay Merlin's kindness toward her some day soon, and possibly retrieve Excalibur from the depths of the lake her body was cremated in... but, oh how I wish we'd been given a stronger emotional connection to her. As it was, this was just a ridiculous, illogical, dull mess.

21 November 2009
BBC1, 6.05pm

written by: Julian Jones directed by: Metin Hüseyin starring: Colin Morgan (Merlin), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Anthony Head (King Uther), Bradley James (Arthur), John Hurt (Dragon, voice), Laura Donnelly (Freya), Richard Ridings (Halig) & Angel Coulby (Gwen)