Wednesday, 30 June 2010

'REV' 1.1 - "On Your Knees Forget The Fees"

Three loudmouth builders evoke The Vicar Of Dibley towards the end of Rev's first episode, as it's unavoidably clear this new BBC2 comedy's premise is the inverse of Richard Curtis's beloved '90s sitcom; with a country reverend having been transferred to a city parish. But beyond that, Rev is stylistically and tonally a completely different beast.

Rev concerns Reverend Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander), essentially reprising his MP character from In The Loop (with a dog collar), and his daily grind as Anglican vicar of rundown inner-city church St. Saviour's, working alongside Nigel McCall (Miles Jupp) for the approval of Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney), with the support of his therapist wife Alex (Olivia Colman). Adam faces various challenges his country life didn't offer, not least the more cynical attitude to religion from a community of vagrants and middle-class parents, who in this opening episode boost sermon attendance as a way to get their kids accepted into the local church-affiliated school.

It's a situation that partly benefits Adam because the Archdeacon's been asking tough questions about attendance figures, although his moral compass is severely tested when a parent called Patrick Yam (Alexander Armstrong) offers to have St. Saviour's broken stained glass window repaired in exchange for preferential treatment regarding his son's enrolment at school.

Rev is nicely filmed by director Peter Cattaneo, who made The Full Monty, and everything has a suitably grubby and urban feel that felt authentic and pervasive. Hollander's also a good dramatic actor with some comic merit, surrounded by an interesting mix of familiar and fresh faces. Peep Show's Olivia Colman was a little wasted here, but will hopefully prove a valuable part of the ensemble, and I especially approve of little-known comedian Miles Jupp as Adam's clerical "sidekick" Nigel. Jupp's standup routine is of a genial, upper-middle-class snob, and he appears to have transplanted some of that feel to this role. Tellingly, the best scene was undoubtedly a brief two-hander between Adam and Nigel as they rehearsed a Bible quiz.

Unfortunately, despite a winning cast and some style that marked Rev out as more comedy-drama than Dibley-esque sitcom, the laughs were few and far between. And even the more obviously successful jokes will only inspire wry smiles or a polite giggle. Still, it can take awhile for comedies to find a groove, and there's potential in the concept. It'll be interesting to see how it progresses, as religion in comedy has typically been treated with a silly attitude (Life Of Brian, Vicar Of Dibley, Father Ted), but Rev has a more down-to-earth feel. A moment when Adam argued against atheism by pondering the mathematical precision of the unnecessary spiral to a snail's shell, verged on the profound. It might actually be interesting to see how they elicit comedy if Rev's not going to broadly poke fun at religious iconography, themes and Bible stories.

But whichever way you cut it, a comedy flies or dies based on how often it makes you laugh, and "On Your Knees Forget The Fees" didn't hit any high-notes. I'm expecting quality with the talent involved, but this just didn't tickle my funnybone.

  • Rev (working titled "The City Vicar" and "Handle With Prayer") was co-created by star Tom Hollander and James Wood, who previously worked together on 2008's Freezing.
  • You may recognize Lucy Liemann (playing headmistress Ellie Pattman) from last year's Reggie Perrin remake. Simon McBurney is also the voice of Kreacher in the Harry Potter films, and there's a physical resemblance there.
WRITER: James Wood
DIRECTOR: Peter Cattaneo
CAST: Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman, Steve Evets, Miles Jupp, Lucy Liemann, Simon McBurney, Ellen Thomas, Alexander Armstrong, Hermione Gulliford, Lu Corfield, Ben Willbond, Matthew Fenton, Ravin J. Ganatra & Ricky Champ

'PERSONS UNKNOWN' 1.4 - "Exit One"

[SPOILERS] There are times when I start to feel involved with Persons Unknown, because a character moment works or there's a decent twist in the tale, but it's weighed down by a few basic problems: the unpopulated town is a tedious backdrop, and there's no obvious villain. I keep comparing this show to The Prisoner (the similarities are too stark not to), and that show kept its location populated and there was the lurking presence of "Number Two" to contend with. Persons Unknown feels very limp, and the characters just aren't compelling, individually or as part of a group. Still, "Exit One" threw up a few welcome developments...

This week, a taxi driven by an Arab (Marshall Manesh) pulled into town and offered Janet (Daisy Betts) a ride with one companion. Joe (Jason Wiles) accepted the risk to accompany her, and they were both driven out of town, before the taxi blew a tire and the driver was killed while changing it after a truck smashed into his cab. This left Joe and Janet alone in the countryside, trying to find help on foot, taking refuge in a log cabin by nightfall and discovering it contained a bee's nest the next morning; a particular problem because Joe's fatally allergic to their stings.

In town, odious Bill (Sean O'Bryan) started to irritate Charlie (Alan Ruck) by insisting he bankroll a "private parks" idea if they ever escape, or risk him telling everyone he smothered his wife to death. Meanwhile, Tori (Kate Lang Johnson) started using her sexuality to escape, by dressing sexily and making a play for the Night Manager (Andy Greenfield), as additional flashbacks revealed her Ambassador father used his own daughter as a prostitute to grease his political career, and likely killed her mother.

Out of town, reporter Mark (Gerald Kyd) continued his investigation, confirming to his editor that he's Janet's ex-husband and thus more invested in his "missing mom" story than he's been letting on.

What worked this week? Well, it was nice to leave the boring town behind during Joe and Janet's road trip, even if the sequence with the bees had been bluntly signposted earlier in the episode. Whenever a character casually reveals he's allergic to bees, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess what's going to be happening within the hour. I also appreciated the Bill/Charlie conflict, because they're the only characters with some personality to them right now.

Socialite Tori got some semblance of character development, but seeing her get released from captivity in a taxi felt strange. What did she do to deserve that? Just say sorry to her father via camera? Does that prove her dad's the mastermind behind all this? I hope there's more to her departure than meets the eye. Perhaps Tori has actually failed "the test" this town represents, and leaving the town actually equals failure? I wouldn't be surprised if Tori turns up dead at some point. But if she has genuinely escaped, I'm at a loss to see why she deserved to go -- beyond their captor feeling sympathetic.

It was quite a middling episode, again, but the final scene threw up a nice twist -- albeit one that wasn't entirely unexpected in a show of this nature. It turns out Joe's in cahoots with whomever's running the town, as he gained access to a secret room in the Chinese restaurant's storeroom to discuss "the process" with the waiter (Reggie Lee), who actually speaks perfect English. It seems there's definitely a good reason these people have been brought here, and it's part of an operation Joe agrees with but is having second thoughts about. A kind of harsh group therapy? Is Joe falling in love with Janet, or was he just upset he had to go through that bee scenario (if he is indeed allergic)?

Overall, "Exit One" wasn't too bad, but I still feel Persons Unknown is dragged down by some weak creative choices and a few plot-lines that just aren't working (the awful reporter in San Francisco, primarily). I'm still waiting for firmer clues, to make this show more fun to discuss and think about afterwards on a mystery level, if nothing else. My thoughts and theories haven't really changed over four weeks, so there's either going to be a series of awesome twists and reveals for mid-season, or Persons Unknown is going to eventually conclude roughly how you expected it to from the start.

  • This episode was written by Michael R. Perry, who used to work on Millennium and wrote one of my favourite episodes, "The Mikado". An episode of '90s TV ahead of its time, about a serial-killer (attire based on The Zodiac Killer) who slaughtered people live on the internet if his website's hit-counter reached a certain number. A great hour of TV, worth checking out if you ever notice it being repeated somewhere.
  • Of course that waiter was more than meets the eye, because I would have been a tragic waste of Reggie Lee otherwise.
WRITER: Michael R. Perry
DIRECTOR: Leon Ichaso
GUEST CAST: Marshall Manesh, Reggie Lee, Andy Greenfield & Gerald Kyd
TRANSMISSION: 28 JUNE 2010 - NBC, 8|9c

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Primeval series 4 wraps filming

Filming on Primeval's fourth series has finished, ready for broadcast on ITV1 in early-2011 after post-production's completed. The cast/crew have moved on to film the fifth series, which will premiere on digital channel Watch in late-2011. The split is part of the show's unique co-financing deal with ITV, UKTV, BBC America and Germany's ProSieben.

Tim Haines, executive-producer:

"The cast and crew have been brilliant and they have put in a huge effort over the past four months to deliver some amazing work. We have also been very lucky in that Dublin has afforded us some fantastic new locations and the fact that we've filmed in HD for the first time means that the production values are higher than ever. The rough cuts I've seen are very exciting and I think we are going to deliver a show that will really please and delight the fans."
The confirmed cast for series 4 are: Hannah Spearritt, Andrew Lee-Potts, Ben Miller, Jason Flemyng, Lucy Brown, and Ben Mansfield. Newcomers include Alexander Siddig, Ciarán McMenamin, Ruth Bradley, Jonathan Byrne, Anton Lesser and Ruth Kearney. Laila Rouass did not return for filming, and it's unknown how the show will handle her character's absence.

Bravo win UK rights to Hawaii Five-O remake

The CBS remake of cop show Hawaii Five-O hasn't even aired in the US yet, but Bravo are confident enough to have outbid Five for the UK rights already. I'm not sure Five-O will be a good fit for Bravo (which tends to go for macho TV like Spartacus: Blood & Sand), but it should lure a few eyeballs their way, and it's a sign Bravo are getting serious about their move away from reality TV into drama. Bravo may even launch a HD service soon, so hopefully that arrives in time to show off Grace Park's bikini bod in high-def.

Somewhere in London, a marketing exec is mightily upset they can't use the obvious "Hawaii Five-O on Five" campaign. But how about about "Hawaii Brav-O"? I'm in the wrong job.


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Doctor Who: rumours, gossip and assorted piffle

Take everything below with a fistful of salt, but rumours have started to circle about Doctor Who's Christmas special and sixth series. Who knows, some of this might even be true, or a lucky guess...

The 2010 festive episode is written by Steven Moffat (confirmed), the cast will apparently include one famous Hollywood actor with a familiar face from EastEnders, and "The Silence" threat will be mentioned and its voice heard again. No facts are known about what the special concerns, although some people believe series 5's coda (mentioning an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space) was a sly tease. But that doesn't feel very "Christmassy" to me, and Matt Smith has already said the special is incredibly festive. Another rumour had the action taking place in the 1500s on Christmas Day, which sounds more likely.

There's also a bizarre rumour that the Christmas special's plot will be a loose remake of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with three incarnations of The Doctor representing the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and David Tennant are names being bandied about to guest-star, but I can't see it happening. It's too early for Tennant to reprise his role, and I'm sure he's too busy this year.

Series 6 gossip includes Rory being given a larger role, perhaps meaning The Doctor will have two companions aboard the TARDIS all year, which I'd be happy with. The Doctor's attire will be amended, primarily to make it warmer for Matt Smith while filming in the colder months. Amy will also reveal a big secret, apparently, and the next time we meet River Song it will be the first time SHE has met The Doctor in her timeline. If true, he'll be wearing a suit (as she mentioned in "The Silence In The Library"), right? His wedding day suit from the series 5 finale, perhaps?

Guest writers supposedly lined up for next year are Neil Gaiman (confirmed, most likely episode 3), Paul Cornell (although he's denied this on Twitter), Tom MacRae ("Rise Of The Cybermen"), Phil Ford (doing the year's mid-series two-parter), and Rob Shearman ("Dalek"). I personally think all of that's just fan speculation, but it would be nice to see Cornell and Shearman back.

Merlin co-creator on series 3

Merlin's co-creator Johnny Capps was recently interviewed by SFX Magazine and spilled some beans about the currently-filming third series.

On the idea that Arthur might some day discover Merlin's secret, he had this to say:

"I think that part of the format of the show is that Merlin keeps his magic a secret, just as Superman keeps his identity secret -- and I think Arthur not knowing about it is the heart of the show. Presumably at some point Arthur would find out, but I think that would be very late on."
On what the third series will cover in general, with the action picking up a year after series 2's finale:

"Within the first five minutes you catch up as to where our characters have been. Camelot has been very focused on the search for Morgana, and Uther has been very concerned about where his ward is. But when she comes back it's very intriguing as to where her allegiances lie and what’s happened to her. She's been on quite a journey."
Capps also confirmed that Emilia Fox will be reprising her role as Morgause (the magical half-sister of Morgana), Excalibur and the Lady In The Lake will feature, Sir Gawain will be joining the action, a Crystal Cave will be discovered, Mark Williams (Harry Potter, The Fast Show) will be playing a "mischievous goblin", and the Great Dragon will have a different role to play.

'TRUE BLOOD' 3.3 - "It Hurts Me Too"

[SPOILERS] What's the story this year? I have no idea. Something about werewolves, something about vampire king Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), something about nothing. In previous years it was immediately obvious what the storylines were (a murder mystery, search for a missing vampire, etc), but season 3 is keeping its cards close to its chest. I'm sure there's a masterplan, but it would be nice if the writers started letting us in on it. There's only so many hours of jumbled events I can take without starting to feel distanced from the story.

To recap the goings-on: Bill (Stephen Moyer) considered Edgington's offer to join his kingdom; Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) gave Sookie (Anna Paquin) protection in the form of werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello), who took her to a rough "wereclub" to investigate Bill's disappearance; Tara (Rutina Wesley) slept with vampire Franklin (James Frain), who later revealed himself to Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) as the person who disposed of her dead trucker; Hoyt (Jim Parrack) discovered the headless corpse of said trucker in a ditch, prompting Sheriff Dearborne (William Sanderson) to quit over the high murder rate in Bon Temps; Sam's (Sam Trammell) parents arrived in town; Jason (Ryan Kwanten) resolved to become a cop, but worried about his poor academic skills; Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) was given a sports car by Eric, as reward for his V-dealing; Arlene (Carrie Preston) learned that the timing of her pregnancy means the father can't be Terry (Todd Lowe); and flashbacks to 1892 shed light on the time Bill revisited his human wife three years after "dying", to bury their young son Thomas, who had died of a contagious illness.

Another packed hour of content, but half of it felt like filler and the other half is following storylines I'm just not attached to. A continuing problem is Sookie's quest to find Bill, because we know he's perfectly safe, so the whole exercise feels pointless from the audience perspective. If Bill gets hold of a phone the whole problem goes away. But this kind of plot is the only way to utilize a character like Sookie -- the perky plaything of various hunky, supernatural protectors, using her mindreading to trace someone. Last year it was Godric, remember?

Of course, much of the past three episodes are laying seeds that will bare fruit later in the season, but it's a pity the primary storylines are so intentionally slippery to get a grip on. I think the mystery is supposed to be its own attraction, but only Franklin Mott's working in that regard; mainly because Frain's vampire P.I is a suitably bat-like creep who commands the screen whenever he's around, keeping you guessing about his motives. The fact Franklin's dipping into a few different storylines now is great, particularly because one of them is Tara and that character desperately needs some guidance.

Right now, I couldn't care less about Edgington and the werewolves that are spooking Sookie. As for the distractions with Jason wanting to become a cop, Arlene's pregnancy (the father must be someone from a Maryann orgy last year, right?), and Sam's irritating family of dropouts? I'm struggling to feel interested, although making Jason a likely deputy to Andy (Chris Bauer) feels like a wise move, albeit a development that's going to feel very implausible unless it happens between seasons. Truthfully, True Blood's ensemble has become so large that a good 70% of the cast, and thus 70% of every episode's content right now, is stuck doing soap storylines. Who's the father of Arlene's baby? It's the question nobody's going to be asking this summer.

The best subplot was easily the flashback to 1892, because it at least stirred big emotions, as we saw the moment Bill tried to reconnect with his human life, against his vampire maker Lorena's (Mariana Klaveno) advice. And, naturally, after praising his return as a miracle, Bill's wife quickly became horrified by her husband's "demonic" new form, and broke his heart by reacting very badly to this frigid, fanged echo of the man she loved. The scene was nicely played by Moyer, too, who always does a good job portraying Bill's inner struggle between his vampire nature and vestigial human feelings.

Finally, that scene. You know the one I'm talking about. Thoughts about "It Hurts Me Too" will undoubtedly be dominated by a spectacularly sadistic sex scene between Bill and Lorena, after her taunts caused him to snap and angrily act on their simmering sexual tension. What followed was a blackly amusing sequence of rough sex on a bed, Bill on top, which resulted in him literally twisting Lorena's head around back-to-front so he didn't have to look into her eyes and feel guilty. An ugly physical contortion Lorena actually seemed to enjoy in a sordid way, which made the whole scene even more uncomfortable to watch. It's as if Death Becomes Her filmed a rape scene.

Overall, "It Hurts Me Too" was another narrative soup of fun, tedious, annoying, mysterious, boring, exciting and horrifying moments. As a southern gothic smorgasbord of weirdness and gore, season 3's delivering. As a supernatural adult drama with juicy storylines you can't wait to see continue, I'm still waiting for the show to find focus and make me care.

  • The Bill/Lorena head-twisting sex scene will dominate people's minds, but spare a thought for the earlier Tara/Franklin bedroom scene. Rarely have eyelids fluttered so much during fake intercourse. That must have been a very embarrassing scene to film.
  • Eric sent a werewolf to protect Sookie from werewolves? Have I missed something here? So, some werewolves are affiliated with vampires like Eric, as appears to be the case with Edgington? Only the ones with "Operation Werewolf" tattoo's are actual enemies? Is there some kind of treaty going on?

WRITER: Alexander Woo
DIRECTOR: Michael Lehmann
GUEST CAST: Joe Manganiello, Marshall Allman, William Sanderson, Todd Lowe, Natasha Alam, Bryan Becker, James Frain, Cooper Huckabee, Andy Mackenzie, Lil Mirkk, Don Swayze & Tanya Wright
TRANSMISSION: 27 June 2010 - HBO, 9PM

Monday, 28 June 2010

Matt Smith w/Orbital, at Glastonbury, playing Doctor Who

You've probably seen this already today, but I'm posting it late because I found a better version. It's Doctor Who's Matt Smith at last weekend's Glastonbury festival, joining Orbital on-stage to play a six-minute electro version of Who's iconic theme tune. He plays keyboard now. Keyboards are cool.

US Being Human's been cast?

The American remake of Being Human has apparently been cast. Sam Witwer (Smallville) will be playing vampire Aidan, Meaghan Rath (The Assistants) is ghost Molly, and Sam Huntington (Superman Returns) has been cast as werewolf Josh. What do you think? Do they fit the roles, visually at least?

Talking Point: How do online reviews compare with offline reviews?

By "offline reviews", I mean traditional press (i.e newspapers, magazines). By "online reviews", I mean internet-only content (i.e blogs, websites). There are businesses that straddle both camps, but we'll ignore those. The typical distinction is that people writing for published media tend to be professionals, whereas online writers are mostly amateur enthusiasts. There are those who straddle both camps, like newspaper columnists/critics who run a blog for their own personal reasons... but, for the purposes of this post, I'm going to make a clear distinction and compare the two.

Ultimately, which is best: offline or online reviews? Is it as simple as that? Are pro's inherently better than amateurs? "Pro" only means it's a fulltime job you're paid for, after all. It's not strictly indicative of quality and skill.

Do magazine reviews get to the nub of the matter like blogs? Will blogs always be seen as a place for hobbyists/amateurs?

I think every blogger would love to have their writing published in a magazine or newspaper with good circulation. At least I assume so. The beauty with magazines is you're always communicating with people who care enough to have spent money to read the content you help create. Online, you can certainly attract a "core audience" revisit your site/blog, and it's also more likely people with no awareness of you will find your writing and be persuaded to stay by the strength of content. Does that happen with magazines?

Some online reviews aren't subject to editorial process, either. It can be someone's undiluted (un-spellchecked!) work. There's no enforced proof-read, no word-count requirement, and no office politics. I'm not saying this happens, but you do sometimes have to wonder if certain film magazines ensure a sympathetic reviewer's assigned to cover, say, Transformers 2, if that film's advertising revenue is to the magazine's benefit.

So what do you think? Do you read more online reviews than offline? Is that because sites/blogs are easier to access and free? Is there genuinely more value with online reviews? Or does the professional sheen of a published review automatically carry more weight?

TV Picks: 28 June – 4 July 2010 (Bloody Foreigners, The Closer, Law & Order, Rev, Southland, Steven Seagal: Lawman, and more...)

The Untold Battle Of Trafalgar (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary reconstruction drama about the several hundred black soldiers who fought in the Battle of Trafalgar alongside Admiral Nelson. Part of the "Bloody Foreigners" season.
Rev (BBC2, 10pm) Six-part sitcom about a London vicar. Stars Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman, Alexander Armstrong & Lucy Liemann
Storyville (BBC4, 10pm) Documentary about a Canadian heavy metal band who enjoyed brief success in the '80s.
Law & Order (Sky1, 10pm) US drama series.
Steven Seagal: Lawman (Five USA, 10pm) Fly-on-the-wall documentary following Hollywood action star Steven Seagal, who has been moonlighting as a Deputy Sheriff in Louisiana.

The Untold Battle Of Britain (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary reconstruction drama about exiled Polish airmen who helped defend the UK from Nazi's during the Battle of Britain. Part of the "Bloody Foreigners" season.
Time Shift: Disappearing Dad (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary about dads in literature, from Mr Bennet in "Pride & Prejudice" to Mr Brown in "Just William."
True Stories: Love The Beast (More4, 10pm) Documentary following Hollywood actor Eric Bana, who raced his 1975 Ford GT Falcon in the five-day Targa Tasmania Rally. Featuring Jay Leno, Jeremy Clarkson & Dr Phil.

The Untold Great Fire Of London (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary reconstruction drama about how French and Dutch residents were the target of retribution following the infamous city-wide fire of 1666. Part of the "Bloody Foreigners" season.
Paris Hilton's My New BFF (ITV2, 8pm) Reality show about the rich socialite's quest to find a new best friend.
Men About The House (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary about fathers in sitcoms.

Oil Disaster: The Rig That Blew Up (Five, 8pm) Documentary about the BP oil rig explosion that caused the world's greatest ecological disaster in the Gulf Of Mexico.
Homes From Hell (ITV1, 9pm) Four-part documentary about hellish properties, starting with a look at British victims of the Dubai property crash.
The Untold Invasion Of Britain (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary reconstruction drama about how a Libyan fought to unify Britain under Roman rule. Part of the "Bloody Foreigners" season.
Big Meets Bigger (BBC3, 9pm) Four-part series about overweight people.
The Closer (More4, 9pm) US drama series.
Southland (More4, 10pm) US cop drama.




Sunday, 27 June 2010

Doctor Who's Steven Moffat interviewed by his son, post-finale

Steven Moffat's interviewed by his son Joshua in the video above, minutes after watching Doctor Who's "The Big Bang" finale with his family. The great thing about kids is that they can ask disarming questions, often by accident, so there are a few interesting nuggets here worth hearing. You can check out Joshua's previous videos by visiting his "armyteddy" YouTube channel.

'DOCTOR WHO' 5.13 - "The Big Bang"

[SPOILERS] A startling triumph, "The Big Bang" completed the fifth series with the relentless excitement and assured grip we've come to expect from Steven Moffat. The episode was undoubtedly loose and illogical plenty of times, but the core time-travel back-flips felt convincing and Moffat's writing generally makes you forgive its sillier extremes. "The Big Bang" actually made the contentious "mistake" of hitting a symbolic reset button to solve the crisis, which is a tactic fans never liked Russell T. Davies employing during his era. But it worked better here, because Steven Moffat doesn’t use a narrative ejector seat to get him out of storytelling dead-ends (as his predecessor did), but instead has enormous fun taking you on a journey that solves the seemingly unsolvable...

To explain the episode is a Herculean task in itself, but to briefly recap: with The Doctor (Matt Smith) imprisoned inside the Pandorica by a coalition of his greatest foes, River Song (Alex Kingston) trapped in the exploding TARDIS, and Amy (Karen Gillan) shot dead by her doppelganger fiancé Rory (Arthur Darvill), "The Big Bang" worked to resolve the situation. This naturally meant an hour of Moffat indulging his fondness for temporal acrobatics, with The Doctor engineering his own escape by getting young Amelia (Caitlin Blackwood) to release him from the Pandorica in 1996, before using River's Time Vortex Manipulator to change history so that "dead" Amy could be stored in the Pandorica in his place, with robot Rory keeping guard over her for millennia (how romantic), to be revived by her younger self in the Natural History Museum 2,000 years hence...

If you have a headache reading that paragraph, I sympathize. This episode is nigh impossible to recount without risking a brain aneurism, but suffice to say "The Big Bang" did an extraordinarily good job of reversing last week's cliffhanger. In effect, The Doctor had to rescue his friends, escape captivity, and revive the collapsing universe with a second Big Bang using the Pandorica in a head-on collision with the "Sun" (which in the alternate timeline he found himself in, is actually just his TARDIS exploding while caught in a continuous emergency time-loop). Got all that?

As expected, and correctly predicted by many fans over the weeks, Amy's nonsensical childhood had a big role to play, too. The so-called "Girl Who Waited" became the only person who could bring the sacrificial Doctor back into existence by simply remembering him on her wedding day, with a little nudge from River Song and her empty blue journal. Effectively, she imagining her imaginary friend "the Raggedy Doctor" back into existence, whose heroic act and advice had restored her missing parents -- who had assumedly bled out of existence when the crack first appeared in her bedroom wall? The whole series has hinged around a nighttime adventure and bedtime story for Amelia, which feels like the perfect way to treat this show as a whole.

This was a mad, emotional, satisfying and beautiful episode. The direction from Toby Haynes was superb, particularly in the Night At The Museum-esque action sequences involving a resurrected fossilized Dalek. The show has improved its visual style this year, offering plenty of cinematic moments that often put far more expensive US dramas to shame. But while there were some fantastic sequences and special effects, but the story never relied on the excessive CGI we've come to expect from cluttered nu-Who finales. It was instead all about the story and the characters; a confluence that swept you along with a big grin on your face.

Steven Moffat been saying his intention is to turn Doctor Who into a fairy tale, and this was by far the best example of that desire. So much so that even the stupid things we were asked to swallow (plastic Rory waiting 2,000 years to be united with Amy) felt natural and no less implausible than giant beanstalks that lead to cloud-dwelling giants. It's been a wise move on Moffat's part, because nerdy nitpicks and a sneering attitude to Who's pseudo-science can be deflected easier now. As long as it has heart and works within its own internal logic, I'm more than happy to go along for the ride.

It almost goes without saying that Matt Smith ends his freshman year with a rousing crescendo. He was marvellous throughout this episode, and has been steadily improving all series. Seeing The Doctor take charge and get himself out of his dilemma like a temporal escapologist was joyous from start to finish, while also being very funny in that bonkers, restless style Moffat's writing has. I especially loved The Doctor's newfound appreciation for Fez hats

What more is there to say? I could wax lyrical about the finer points of "The Big Bang" until I'm out of breath, there was so much to digest and rave about. A wonderfully confident episode chock-full of brilliant moments and sparkling dialogue. There's a real sense of self-belief in Moffat's writing -- and you get the sense he's just as aware of the nitpicks as the most anal fans, so takes time to answer a few of the more pertinent gripes along the way. I'm sure plenty of people were wondering how our Sun was still in existence if all the stars had been erased from the universe, for example, but an answer for that was just around the corner. In essence, there's always just enough cleverness for you to relax about the silliness.

Also interesting was the realization that a few of this year's mysteries have been kept alive for further exploration. The sinister voice proclaiming that "silence will fall", and why the TARDIS was exploding, weren't explained as part of this finale, so it feels like Doctor Who's going to be tackling an inter-series arc. I guess Steven Moffat and the new producers can afford to think long-term because they know the show's unlikely to be cancelled, and they're at the start of a probable five-year commitment. "The Silence" could easily be this era's Time War. I also wonder if the slightly vague ending to "The Lodger" (with an alien building its own TARDIS) is in some way related to this overarching mystery?

River Song is undoubtedly a major piece of Moffat's non-linear jigsaw, and I was very intrigued by her inference to The Doctor that the next time they meet their relationship's going to change... for the worse. In that case, "The Big Bang" probably marks the end of the honeymoon between River and The Doctor, but my love for nu-Who just hit a glorious fifth year anniversary.

  • How great was the scene with River Song facing down a Stone Dalek and making it squeal for mercy? Very.
  • It was perhaps unfortunate the Pandorica became a deus ex machina of Russell T. Davies proportions (it's not only an impermeable prison cube, but can resurrect the dead and reset the universe), but Moffat's writing did a better job of making you accept the contrivance. In a RTD script, the Pandorica's multiple abilities would have been revealed in the final few minutes, but here it was fed to us over the hour. And made enough loose sense that it didn't irritate me.
  • "I wear Fezzes now. Fezzes are cool." But I'm with Amy and River in hoping The Doctor drops that fad.
  • So the lack of ducks in the village duck pond meant nothing. Oh.
  • As predicted many weeks ago, that odd scene from "Flesh & Stone" was indeed tied to the finale, when The Doctor went spinning back through his own timeline. This confirmed there were actually two versions of The Doctor in that earlier episode (one with a tweed jacket, one without). It was a shame the series as a whole didn't glue together in a tighter way, but considering the headaches involved in plotting one episode, let alone masterminding thirteen, I'm not going to grumble. It's amazing Moffat's able to plan this series as well as he does, really.
  • "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue..." Pure genius. It's that kind of clever snap Moffat brings to the table that I really respond to.
  • I really loved the effects throughout, but it was the little touches that impressed me most – like that "snap" of electricity and curl of smoke after the teleporting Doctor left Roman Rory in the field. A lovely touch. Or the wide shot of Amelia standing before the Pandorica as it opened, sending that crack of light out into the dark museum. Goosebumps.
WRITER: Steven Moffat
DIRECTOR: Toby Haynes
GUEST CAST: Alex Kingston, Arthur Darvill, Caitlin Blackwood, Susan Vidley, Frances Ashman, Barnaby Edwards, William Pretsell, Helco Johnson & Karen Westwood

'THE IT CROWD' 4.1 – "Jen The Fredo"

[SPOILERS] I'm not down with the outpouring of love for The IT Crowd. It's definitely the third best sitcom the UK's producing right now (behind Peep Show and The Inbetweeners), but I struggle to even think of a fourth now Extras has finished. What keeps me watching boils down to two things: the fact it uses geek culture as a basis (which is a culture I'm not ashamed to admit I'm part of), and my continuing loyalty to creator Graham Linehan.

"Jen The Fredo" wasn't an especially strong start, but it was amusing at times. The premise had Jen (Katherine Parkinson) attracted to the idea of becoming Reynholm Industries' new "entertainments officer", eventually convincing sexist boss Douglas (Matt Berry) to give her the additional responsibility. To Jen's surprise it turned out her main duties involved acting as a "pimp" for three chauvinist executives who expect to be entertained by city strip clubs. The best she could come up with was a theatre trip to see the misleading "Vagina Monologues". Later, the businessmen wound up sat in the IT basement with Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy (Chris O'Dowd), introduced to role-playing games and finding themselves oddly charmed by the pleasure of 20-sided dice and simple imagination.

A mildly amusing idea that resulted in a few giggles. The businessmen were the kind of broad caricatures that used to appear in episodes of Father Ted, without the clerical robes, and were fun horrors to watch. The highlight was probably when Moss role-played the part of a girl Roy had recently split up with during their gaming session, helping mend Roy's broken heart and give him closure via the ludicrous situation. And there were a few funny sight gags, like Roy having erased his ex from various photos, meaning he now had a stack of pictures that looked like he's been dating an invisible man.

But it all felt quite contained and lacked the ludicrous heights The IT Crowd can sometimes reach. For me, the show works best when the script is being clever in its plotting (with last-minute pay-offs), or when it manages to manufacture a truly surreal event or moment. I still can't shake the feeling that Graham Linehan (as good as he is) is doomed to be operating at 50% capacity without ex-writing partner Arthur Matthews' involvement. There's just something about The IT Crowd that feels like it's never quite managed to achieve its full potential -- either because whatever ingredient Matthews added to Linehan's writing is absent, or because the characters just aren't as great as people think.

Roy, Moss and Jen don't make me smile to myself just by thinking about them, or imagining what they might get up to in certain situations. They don't "live" in my mind, as all of the sitcom greats do -- from Basil Fawlty to Blackadder, Del Boy to David Brent. The characters in IT Crowd just don't have that spark to them; they're barely above cliché. But even their simplicity isn't as endearing as I expect it to be. Mrs Doyle was hardly a three-dimensional construct in Father Ted, but I smile when I imagine her falling out of that window or insisting on pouring visitors tea. When I think of Moss, I think... weird hair.

Overall, I'm certainly not saying this show is terrible. I've watched every episode and will continue to watch them all. I still like Linehan's writing style, adore the fact he insists on filming with a live studio audience, and there's usually at least two episodes every series that make me reconsider my feelings about The IT Crowd in general. "Jen The Fredo" just wasn't one of them.

WRITER & DIRECTOR: Graham Linehan
GUEST CAST: Charlie Baker & Dolly Wells
TRANSMISSION: 25 June 2010 – Channel 4/HD, 10PM

Saturday, 26 June 2010

'FUTURAMA' 6.1 & 6.2 - "Rebirth" & "In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela"

Geeks know the history: ignominiously cancelled by Fox in '04, revived for a quartet of DVD adventures (repurposed as a fifth season by Comedy Central) in '07, Futurama's now been fully reprised by the aforementioned network. It's been a turbulent decade for Matt Groening's follow-up to The Simpsons (which is frustrating because Futurama eclipsed its jaundiced sibling immediately upon arrival). As The Simpsons behemoth plods into its third decade, Futurama still has a youthful spring in its step -- probably because infinite Time and Space is naturally a more diverse sandpit to play in.

"Rebirth" continues from the climactic ending of fourth DVD adventure "Into The Wild Green Yonder" (which I'd totally forgotten about, such was its awfulness), with the Planet Express crew dying after being spat out of a wormhole to crash-land on Earth. Fortunately, Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) survived in a protective sphere, allowing him to resurrect his dead employees using stem-cells and a vat of pink goo. However, cycloptic babe Leela's (Katey Sagal) resurrection isn't possible, and her death prompts a grieving Fry (West again) to build a robotic version of his inamorata, only to wind up with two rivals for his affections when the real Leela wakes up during her own funeral.

It was classic Futurama silliness of doppelgangers and knockabout larks, delivered with enthusiasm but nothing we haven't seen before, done better. In contrast to The Simpsons, Futurama's ideas are its most successful ingredient, as I only have fleeting love for the characters. Absent-minded Professor Farnsworth makes me giggle and Fry's a likeable everyman, but I don't find dissolute robot Bender (John Di Maggio) particularly amusing, Leela's actually quite dull, and the supporting characters are just... well, there. I don't dislike the Planet Express crew, but I certainly don't settle down to watch Futurama with anticipation about what Fry, Leela and Bender will say or do each week... just what sci-fi tropes the writers are going to fool around with, in-between spotting trivia and sight gags.

In fact, a problem Futurama has is how it's so thick with detail and throwaway lines that I barely remember anything substantial about episodes afterwards. It's a problem shared by many "wacky" US comedies, even the live-action ones. When Del Boy fell through the bar in that Only Fools & Horses episode, a classic British TV moment was born. The cast of Scrubs pratfall every two-minutes, eliciting a half-smile and instant erasure from your mind.

If "Rebirth" was a fine but forgettable season opener, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela" was a genuine misstep; a Zapp Brannigan (West again) adventure where he partnered Leela in trying to defeat a "Death Star"-like fusion of two old satellites now calling itself "V-GINY" (a riff on Star Trek The Motion Picture) that's intent on censoring planets of nudity and foul language. Sounds like great fun, right? Sadly, what could have been a witty and insightful commentary on puritanical censorship was abandoned in favour of scenes with Leela and Zapp as a modern-day Adam & Eve after failing their mission and crashing on a primitive planet, giving Zapp the opportunity to impress an injured Leela with his gentlemanly kindness.

The show can afford to push the envelope on Comedy Central in ways it never could on Fox (the channel is the home of South Park, lest we forget), so why did an episode about censorship feel so limp and gutless? Certainly they have to keep in mind the younger fans, so I'm not expecting full-frontal cartoon nakedness, but it was still disappointingly conservative. In addition, the love-hate relationship between Leela and Zapp has totally run out of steam, and there wasn't much else going on worth remembering. The biggest laugh for me was a blink-and-miss-it sight gag that a planet called "Urectum" has been discovered orbiting the Sun. Those astronomers never learn.

Of overall note, the quality of animation appears to have dipped now Futurama's on a network with less financial clout. There appears to be online disagreement about how the budget's been reduced (some say the use of a live orchestra has been ditched for the music, others say the entire process now cuts corners to pay for the expensive voice actors), but I noticed a lack of fluidity with the animation in these two episodes -- particularly bodily movements, which could appear quite jerky, as if the animation was missing some key-frames. It gave movements a staccato "flick-book" feel whenever they tried to do something more ambitious than arm gestures. Thankfully, Futurama's general aesthetic and CG-enhancements were exactly as I remember them.

It's a shame there's been cutbacks, because Fox-era Futurama was the most visually appealing animation I've ever seen on TV. Naturally, it's the story, dialogue and characters that truly matter, not the visual splendor (or lack thereof), but these episodes weren't Futurama operating at full capacity... feeling more like reheated leftovers. There was enough pace and panache to keep you watching, but when the dust settles you'll probably feel disappointed. Regardless, it still makes current Simpsons episodes look like the irrelevant pop-culture carnival it's become.

WRITERS: David X. Cohen (story by David X. Cohen & Matt Groening) (6.1) & Carolyn Premish (story by Carolyn Premish & Matt Groening) (6.2)
DIRECTORS: Frank Marino (6.1) & Dwayne Carey-Hill (6.2)


These kind of shows are impervious to criticism, because by their very nature the topics, jokes and comedians will change every week. The best you can do is look at the format, but Standup For The Week barely has one; it's just a televised comedy club. The BBC have Live At The Apollo and Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow (with its near-identical format of a big theatre setting), so this is Channel 4's slightly more "alternative" version. The venue is the Koko club in Camden, London, which makes it all feel intimate and authentic, while the choice of comedians was spikier.

Patrick Kielty is our emcee, on some kind of career comeback just recently. The Irishman was barely off our screens five years ago, until things went slack around the time of Celebrity Love Island, but now he's back to his stand-up roots. I always hear word of Kielty being revered in his native land, but he rarely seems to justify the hyperbole to me. He looks pretty slick and is definitely confident on-stage, but there's something slightly mechanical about his performances.

The five comedians all gave decent turns: Jack Whitehall seems to be improving the more I see of him, and kudos for publicly acknowledging he was caught taking drugs by a tabloid last weekend; Glaswegian comedian Kevin Bridges was fine, tackling the World Cup; Andi Osho didn't quite work for me, and it didn't help that she was given trivial "web news" as a topic; Rich Hall was a definite highlight because he tackled the BP oil spill and made some salient points while making everyone laugh; and award-winning Australian comic Brendan Burns ended the show with the funniest material.

Slightly more interesting to me was the inclusion of a feature called The Chair, where a celebrity must endure two-minutes of jokes at their expense, before being allowed 30-seconds to plug their wares. Former-MP Lembit Öpik was the first one to suffer Kielty's acid tongue, squirming before the laughing crowd at gags about his wonky face and relationship with a Cheeky Girl. Is this a new trend we're seeing now: the comedy roast? Recently, Channel 4 aired three comedy specials based on the American tradition of publicly humiliating a celebrity in "good humour", and The Chair felt like a drive-thru version of that idea. Is the thinking that audiences are tired of comedians "unfairly" poking fun at people who aren't in the room, so it's refreshing to have targets of ridicule take the tongue-lashings in person? I found it all rather cringe-making, partly because it wasn't done in a harsh but affectionate way.

Overall, Standup For The Week is tough to fault because it's just pure standup comedyand the turnaround of guests and news will undoubtedly keep it fresh. It doesn't offer much in the way of unique elements (unless you count the fact there's a video-screen behind the comedians, which they can use to show things visually), and I suppose breakout success will only come if it manages to find a comedian, or two, who somehow capture the zeitgeist.

26 JUNE 2010 - CHANNEL 4/HD, 11.05PM

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Apprentice: prize change for 2011

Interesting news of a shake-up with The Apprentice's format for 2011, couresy of this BBC press release. Essentially, the winner will no longer become Lord Alan Sugar's literal apprentice in his existing business empire (i.e. tucked away working on a relatively trivial Amstrad product or initiative). Instead, the winner will become Lord Sugar's 50/50 partner in a business venture of their choosing, using £250,000 of initial investment. This change won't effect the sixth series, scheduled for this autumn, but will come into effect for the seventh series. If you want to apply, click here.

What do you make of this news? I think it's a great idea, because the current prize for the winner has always felt quite a letdown, as the job they were given rarely seemed to take advantage of their individual skills. But now the winner will get the chance to build a tailor-made business, with Lord Sugar's support and financial backing. And considering the fact it's £250k of his own money they'll be using, and he gets to keep 50% of any profits, I get the feeling Lord Sugar's going to be more discerning about the winner.

Jonny Lee Miller joins Dexter

British actor Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Eli Stone) has been cast in Dexter's fifth season, as "a mysterious man who ends up tangled in a storyline with Julia Stiles." Details are still sketchy about the new season, but surely either Miller or Stiles will be the year's "big bad", right?


Already a long-running hit in its native New Zealand, to British eyes Outrageous Fortune plays like Shameless-meets-Arrested Development, with elements of '80s sitcom Bread stirred into the mix. The series charts the misadventures of the West's, a close-knit family of troublemakers and ne'er-do-wells (dealing in "TV friendly" crimes like burglary, not murder and drugs), in a style that can't quite shake the aroma of an Antipodean soap opera. Kiwi accents and paradisiacal weather aren't ideal for gritty crime drama, so it's little wonder that Outrageous Fortune ploughs a more lighthearted furrow with its anti-social Brady Bunch...

The 2005 pilot "Slings And Arrows" (like the show's title, episodes are named after Shakespearian quotes), does a proficient and entertaining job of introducing its rabble of characters, on the fateful day patriarch Wolfgang "Wolf" West (Grant Bowler) is jailed for four years. There's his wife Cheryl (Robyn Malcolm), the archetypal "mother hen" who keeps their brood in order; beautiful daughter Pascalle (Siobhan Marshall), an airhead who aspires to be a glamour model; her intellectual sister Loretta (Antonia Prebble), who has blackmailed a teacher into letting her skip school; son Jethro (Antony Starr), an anomalously law-abiding lawyer; his identical twin brother Van (Starr again), a dopey opportunist; and Alzheimer's-afflicted Ted (Frank Whitten), a tracksuit-wearing grandad who burned down his own house to move in with his family.

As the show borrows so many elements from TV families, Outrageous Fortune is incredibly easy to slip into. On some level we've already seen these characters before (the acid-tongued mother, the brainy daughter, the teenage bimbo, the golden boy, the idiot brother, the space-cadet grandad), and at the expense of originality comes recognition and familiarity. Which is just what you need in a comedy-drama relying entirely on a positive audience reaction to the focal family. And they're a lovable bunch of delinquents, even if I'd have preferred a tangier level of criminality in their behaviour and social attitudes. I'm not expecting The Sopranos, but evidence of the West's being a genuinely troublesome clan isn't really in evidence. The worse it gets is seeing Van steal a family heirloom from someone's home, but the moment's played entirely for laughs and ends with Van being dealt a black-eye by an elderly Chinese lady who knows martial arts.

It lacks teeth but succeeds as fun, breezy entertainment. I especially liked the performance of Malcolm as the indomitable matriarch, Prebble as the underachieving schoolgirl with filmmaking aspirations, and Starr playing antithetical twins (a binary role I admit passed me by while watching, to the actor's credit). Less interesting was Holly Valance-alike Marshall as the clichéd ditzy blonde who wants to improve her modeling portfolio, but I'll excuse a pilot leaning on stereotypes in a few areas that's introducing a large ensemble. Fact is, "Slings And Arrows" burned through its first episode and setup the premise and relationships with economy and snap, managing to tell a slim but diverting story about a stolen ornament and parental absence. The intriguing thing is how the concept feels easily replicable (perhaps even better-suited to a country with a grittier underbelly?) so little wonder there have been three attempts to remake the show overseas...

The first international version was the UK's Honest from '08, starring Amanda Redman and Sean Pertwee, which was cancelled after one series due to low ratings. The second remake, developed by Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) was Good Behavior in '09, which never made it beyond a pilot that starred Catherine O'Hara, Gary Cole, Jeffrey Tambor and Mae Whitman. And the third is Scoundrels, which has at least managed to get picked-up by ABC, as the West's literally go west...

Scoundrels' pilot, "And Jill Came Tumbling After", is almost a scene-by-scene retread of Outrageous Fortune's premiere, imbued with a smidgen more style behind the camera (the opening scene's police raid being far more cinematic), but there's also an irritating amount of incidental music and a general lack of focus. It lacks the heart and quirky reality of the NZ original, somehow unable to strike a balance between comedy and drama. The few dramatic moments slip by listlessly, while most of the funny moments just aren't sold very well.

Familiarly, Wolfgang "Wolf" West (David James Elliott) is unexpectedly jailed for five years, leaving wife Cheryl (Virginia Madsen) alone to bring up their tearaway family: sexy daughter Heather (Leven Rambin), her brainy sister Hope (Vanessa Marano), lawyer son Logan (Patrick John Flueger), his identical twin Cal (Flueger with a goatee), and senile Grandpa (John Lawlor).

You can't help but directly compare the two shows, and Scoundrels plainly comes off worse, despite having more familiar and experienced actors to call on. Madsen is the main attraction, but she unfortunately proves unconvincing as the matriarch and lacks the necessary comedic touch. I also found Flueger a big disappointment, given how his two characters are such an enticing prospect for any actor to sink their teeth into. Logan hardly even registers, while Cal plays like a bad sitcom character from early-'90s Roseanne. Elliot is a hunkier version of Wolf, who does satisfactory but unremarkable work, while Lawlor's grandpa was barely utilized.

The only true successes were the West sisters. Marano found a good vibe as the filmmaker-wannabe not above blackmailing her teacher, even if none of her scenes were designed as smartly as Fortune's. But it's Rambin's character who felt like an improvement over the original (based solely on the content of the two pilots), as she brought a fresher, less victimized feel to the role. Her version of the aspiring model isn't such a bimbo, and certainly no naïve pushover. It helps that Heather was given most of the pilot's fresh content, as her sleazy photographer tried to drug and rape her, but Heather cannily switched his spiked champagne and got revenge by tying him naked to his bed when he gained consciousness. Okay, so there's no iota of originality in the scenario, but at least Heather was being used well and came across as a fun character with some vim. Traits in short supply everywhere else.

Overall, it fascinates me when two different cultures tackle the same script and premise, producing such qualitatively different episodes. Most of Scoundrels' changes to Outrageous Fortunes' pilot are minor, but the cast are so noticeably weaker that they drag the light-touch material down like anchors. I had a tough time believing either version's family were locally famous criminals, but the West's in an American context look particularly small fry. It's Only Fools & Horses-style hijinks transplanted to sun-kissed Palm Springs, California, and that feels very tepid.

Of the two pilots, I prefer the livelier original, primarily because the actors fit their roles a lot better, the tone throughout was more assured, and the story flowed smoother. Of course, it's possible Scoundrels will find its feet when original scripts take advantage of the actors, in much the same way NBC's The Office only really took flight when it stopped adapting the original BBC scripts and found its own niche. The best moments of Scoundrels were diversions from Outrageous Fortune's storyline, promisingly. I just can't see Scoundrels lasting long enough to grow into itself this summer, having failed to hit the ground running.

  • Why didn't ABC go with the 2009 pilot from Rob Thomas? Good Behavior's cast (Catherine O'Hara, Gary Cole, Jeffrey Tambor) are far more appealing than Scoundrels' actors, and would themselves have kept me on the hook for while.
  • Wolf was originally played by Neal McDonough (Minority Report, Desperate Housewives), but he was replaced after three days for refusing to do sex scenes because of religious beliefs. Said scenes were part of the script when he agreed to join the show.
  • You may recognize Leven Rambin from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, where she played Riley; and Carlos Bernard (24's Tony Almeida) appears as the West's "nemesis" Sgt Mack.

"Outrageous Fortune": 'Slings And Arrows'

WRITER: James Griffin
DIRECTOR: Vanessa Alexander
CAST: Robyn Malcolm, Antony Starr, Siobhan Marshall, Antonia Prebble, Frank Whitten, Kirk Torrance & Grant Bowler
TRANSMISSION: 12 July 2005 - TV3

"Scoundrels": 'And Jill Came Tumbling After'

WRITERS: Lyn Greene & Richard Levine
DIRECTOR: Julie Anne Robinson
CAST: Virginia Madsen, David James Elliott, Patrick Flueger, Leven Rambin, Vanessa Marano, John Lawlor & Carlos Bernard
TRANSMISSION: 20 June 2010 - ABC, 9|8c

'DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES' 6.21 – "A Little Night Music"

Guest reviewer Chris Howard continues his weekly reviews of Desperate Housewives' sixth season on Channel 4...

[SPOILERS] Subsequent to this episode there are only two remaining in this uneven season of Desperate Housewives. Overall I have really enjoyed watching the multitude of over-the-top dramas unfold between the quirky and enigmatic residences of Fairview, but while some plot arcs have been dragged along for great chunks of the season, other mysteries have been solved almost instantly, before we've scarcely had a chance to comprehend what's going on. After last week's flashback necessity, I was expecting the pace to really pick up in this episode as the divergent plot strands draw ever closer to their grand conclusions. Unfortunately, "A Little Night Music" seemed to crawl along, offering little surprises in its three sinister storylines and relying on trivial domestic japery for any excitement. Progress, then, but hardly befitting an episode so close to the finish line.

After three weeks of "novel writing", Patrick Logan (John Barrowman) finally made his first move in his two-decade long game of chess with former lover and murder accomplice Angie Bolen (Drea De Matteo). Hospitalising Angie's "husband", undercover officer Nick (Jeffrey Nordling), by running him down with his car, Patrick then demanded to spend the night on Wisteria Lane... with Angie. This psychological warfare wasn't quite the violent showdown I was expecting from Patrick Logan, but John Barrowman delivered his subtly depraved demands with wicked charisma. I look forward to seeing how this pans out...

Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) discovered the downside to inviting the victim of a broken home into her life this week, as Eddie Orlofsky (Josh Zuckerman) failed to keep his temper in order whenever a member of the outspoken Scavo clan dared raise their voice at his saviour. A murderer with morals -- who would have thought?! Lynette decides the best cure for Eddie is counselling, but after one session, Dr. McCarthy (Matt Riedy) is certain that progress can only be made if the root of Eddie's issues -- his mother -- is present. Lynette promises to persuade Barbara, although we all know how unlikely that is, what with her being stuffed in the back of her car with no pulse...

Having borrowed $50,000 dollars from Carlos Solis (Ricardo Chavira) to pay off his business debts without involving his wife, stubbornly principled Mike Delfino (James Denton) this week found his secret was out when Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria Parker) did a little digging into her husband's accounts. Which is obviously what any wife would do when her husband -- the breadwinner -- shoots down her suggestion to buy a holiday chalet. When Gaby reveals this goodwill loan to an uninformed Susan (Teri Hatcher), the two housewives plot to wind-up their guarded other halves for freezing them out. How mature...

While I found this farcical exercise to be quite humorous, with Mike and Carlos getting more and more frustrated by the elaborately fabricated scenario their wives were creating, I felt it was far too frivolous this close to the end of the season. I can appreciate what writer Matt Berry was aiming for: a lightweight comedy strand amongst the darkness of the episode's other plotlines, but it felt out of place to me, and would have been more successful in an earlier and less murky episode.

Having wormed his way into Bree Hodge's (Marcia Cross) affections and business, snide Sam Allen (Sam Page) was perturbed this week when he spotted his mother -- whom he had told the Hodge's was dead -- stacking shelves at a convenience store. Bree investigated by having coffee with the woman, Lillian Allen (Linda Purl), who revealed that her son blamed her for not allowing him to live with his father (and Bree's deceased former husband, Rex) when he was younger. Lillian admits that Sam disowned her, believing her "selfish" decision hampered his chance to live a life of luxury. When Bree confronts Sam about his dishonesty, he snaps and turns violent, leading Bree to turn to Orson (Kyle MacLachlan) and Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom) and hatch a plan to cut this insidious intruder out of their lives...

Since his introduction some weeks ago, Sam Allen has obviously been hiding something. The show's writers have not even attempted to hide his questionable intentions, meaning none of his exposed deceptions have been at all shocking, regardless of how well he covered up his trickery. Watching this predictable plot play out, I have been slowly waiting for the penny to drop for Bree, as it did for Andrew and Orson some time ago, but I cannot shake the feeling that it is the weakest of the three "big plots" heading for conclusion in a fortnight's time.

WRITER: Matt Berry
DIRECTOR: David Warren
GUEST CAST: John Barrowman, Sam Page, Josh Zuckerman, Shawn Pyfrom, Linda Purl, David Berman, Matt Riedy & Susan Grace

Merlin's Colin Morgan reveals celebrity guest-stars for series 3

Merlin star Colin Morgan was interviewed by USA Weekend and revealed that Warwick Davis (Willow, Harry Potter) will be appearing in the third series, along with Miriam Margolyes (in episode 6). Santiago Cabrera (Heroes) will also reprise his role as Lancelot. Filming of the fantasy drama started in March (with production moving to France on 8 April), aiming for a probable autumn premiere. This will also be the first year Merlin's been shot in HD, in line with the BBC's policy of moving the majority of its drama into high-definition ahead of BBC1 HD's autumn launch.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

FilmFour HD launches 8 July

Film Four's HD channel will launch exclusively with Virgin Media on 8 July, located on channel 429, at no additional cost.

Incidentally, there's still no word on when Virgin customers can expect Sky 1 HD, Sky Arts HD, Sky News HD, Sky Sports HD and Sky Movies HD to arrive on the platform, but there are murmurings that "XL" subscribers will also receive those channels at no extra cost.

BBC1 HD is expected to arrive in the autumn, while rumours persist that Five, ESPN America, History, Food Network, Bio and Bravo will all launch HD channels on Virgin Media before the year's out.


The idea of an "adult puppet show" appeals because grownups get a kick from seeing emblems of their childhood likewise losing their innocence; swearing, cracking rude jokes, making sexual references, and engaging in violence. Is that adult behaviour? Perhaps BBC3's Mongrels should instead be termed "kidult"; that phase of your life when school's over, the real world beckons, but you still own a few teddy bears.

Mongrels is the brainchild of Adam Miller (who also directs) and tells the debauched tales of five anthropomorphic animals living behind a London pub: Nelson (Rufus Jones), a posh metrosexual fox; preening Afghan hound Destiny (Lucy Montgomery); idiot cat Marion (Dan Tetsell); dissolute fox Vince (Paul Kaye); and a resentful pigeon called Kali (Katy Brand).

Five years in the making, there's definitely a feeling that time and effort has been spent on this production, which was good to see. The puppets were all excellent builds (there's something endearing about Muppet-style critters with wire poles attached to their wrists), and the various storylines felt like they had purpose and direction: Nelson used a laptop for online-dating and found himself matched with a chicken who shared his love of Il Divo; Destiny grappled with the brain-washing effects of a dog obedience class; and Marion operated a scam to fleece elderly owners.

Quite a few of the jokes made me smile, or at the very least appreciate some thought had been exerted, even if too many went for obvious punchlines. The main worry was how the riskier material (like poking fun at Harold Shipman), delivered in Family Guy-style asides, felt a little desperate and outdated. Truth is, if Mongrels' intention is to be subversive, shocking, and become a cult phenomenon, it'll have to be more topical and intelligent with its targeting. Spitting Image churned out weekly satirical half-hours, it would be great if Mongrels could perhaps insert some up-to-the-minute gags.

This opener wasn't anywhere near as filthy and perverse as Peter Jackson's cult 1989 hit Meet The Feebles, feeling more like a standard BBC3 sitcom performed by puppets, that enjoyed the freedoms its art form can provide in terms of story and character. Jokes about cats losing their testicles, fox's peeing into the air, dogs dragging their bums on the floor, a knee's up song about chickens, pigeons flying into closed windows, a celebrity cameo from Toby Anstis (who worked with puppets on kid's TV in the '90s), etc. Good fun, fairly entertaining, and possibly even a grower, but episode 1 was more toothless and crude than I was expecting.

WRITERS: Daniel Peak & Jon Brown
DIRECTOR: Adam Miller
CAST/VOICES: Dan Tetsell (voice), Rufus Jones (voice), Lucy Montgomery (voice), Katy Brand (voice), Paul Kaye (voice) Ruth Bratt (voice), Tony Way, Rita Davies, James Doherty, Joan Linder, Harry Morrison, Jonathan Ryland & Toby Anstis

'SPARTACUS: BLOOD & SAND' 1.5 - "Shadow Games"

[SPOILERS] I've been led to believe Spartacus improves from hereon in, and "Shadow Games" was strong evidence that might be the case. Undoubtedly the most entertaining installment so far, it felt like the characters have started to dictate the direction of the story, rather than be used as dolls in a bloodthirsty Gladiator-meets-300 rumpus...

This week, Batiatus (John Hannah) uncovered who sent slaves to murder him, and exacted a surprisingly violent revenge on the nobleman responsible, before learning his long-standing rival Solonius (Craig Walsh Wrightson) was ultimately behind the deed; Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) visited a priestess to cure her infertility, at the behest of her friend Ilithyia (Viva Bianca); and Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) were ordered to work together as a two-man team against a legendary, undefeated gladiator Theokoles "The Shadow Of Death" (Reuben de Jong).

A triptych of simple stories, but "Shadow Games" worked because of the small moments at play within them. It was a shock to see the reasonable Batiatus engage in mass murder (even a little boy may have been a victim, although it was left ambiguous) and savagely beating a man for information. It was a welcome reminder that even the most civilized characters on the show have dark hearts, and this ancient world isn't the place for mercy and softness. It also effectively increased the Batiatus and Solonius rivalry, now we know both men aren't above committing murder to get what they want.

By far the most rewarding storyline was watching Crixus and Spartacus try to put their differences aside to fight a common enemy in the arena, which was easier said than done. If there's one thing the series has done well it's make the hatred between these two men palpable, yet deep down you know they'd be great friends in a different context. Having learned that Doctore (Peter Mensah) is the only man to have survived a fight with Theokoles, leaving him with terrible chest scarring, the two gladiators eventually came to realize they must fight as one, or die as two. I also liked the notion that Crixus has essentially forgotten his life before becoming a gladiator, or found a way to compartmentalize, so it's likely his appreciation for gladiatorial history and the need for "glory" is perhaps just a coping mechanism. And it feels like Spartacus is beginning to remind Crixus of the thing that's truly worth fighting for: love.

Indeed, Crixus probably has the most engaging storyline within the ludus walls, such as his unrequited love for slave girl Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt), which would likely be reciprocated were it not for the fact Naevia's mistress Lucretia uses Crixus for sex. It's actually a juicy love-triangle, and I've been surprised by Bennet's performance in this role. He's not going to be winning an Emmy anytime soon, but he has a command of the screen and his character's developing nicely -- the beginning of respect for Spartacus, and how it's now difficult Lucretia to arouse him because of his truer feelings for the ever-present Naevia.

Most episodes of Spartacus: Blood & Sand build up to a big fight scene, and "Shadow Games" was no exception. The mighty Theokoles was given nearly an hour's worth of hyperbole, making his arrival in the arena all the more exciting and dramatic. This blonde, battle-scarred giant was mildly comical in appearance, but once he got down to business and started swatting Crixus and Spartacus away like flies, he earned his notorious reputation. Anyone nicknamed The Shadow whose entrance causes clouds to blot the sun deserves some respect, right?

I also got a kick from Theokoles' easy "defeat" after a brief melee, only for him to rise up as Crixus and Spartacus celebrated their premature "win". The "second round" resulted in Crixus suffering near-fatal injuries (intestines poking out of his ripped stomach), but saved from death by a distraction from Spartacus, who went on to defeat "The Shadow" with a twin-sword decapitation -- a moment that heralded a downpour of rain across the arid land. Surely a moment of divine praise that will turn Spartacus into an even bigger legend than Theokoles.

Overall, this was a strong episode that balanced gruesome fights with decent character moments. For what's ultimately a weekly slice of violent thrills and homoerotic posturing, Spartacus is beginning to show some relative depth. It's easy to predict where this series is headed in general terms (Spartacus and Crixus leading a mutiny, Lucretia pregnant with Crixus' child?), but perhaps the writers have some tricks up their sleeves to keep us on our toes.

WRITER: Miranda Kwok
DIRECTOR: Michael Hurst
GUEST CAST: Viva Bianca, Peter Mensah, Manu Bennett, Jai Courtney, Antonio Te Maioho, Craig Walsh Wrightson, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Eka Darville, Matthew Chamberlain, John Bach, Janine Burchett, Matt Gillanders, Catherine Boniface, Lliam Powell, Reuben de Jong, Siaosi Fonua, Dylan Hopkins, David Austin & Tim Cronin

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Robson Green's Being Human; Todd Margaret reshoots

A few days ago Toby Whithouse mentioned that several big-name actors chased guest-roles in the third series of Being Human, and today it's been revealed that Robson Green (Wire In The Blood) is one of those celebs. He'll be playing a werewolf.

Also interesting to hear that Being Human's Russell Tovey won't be reprising his role in The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret series, having appeared in the pilot as part of the Comedy Showcase season last year. Co-creator/star David Cross has confirmed that Tovey's character Dave has been recast because of Tovey's unavailability, meaning they've had to refilm many scenes. Todd Margaret is expected to arrive on our screens later this year.

The Write Way: UK vs US

Shelly asked a question about the differences between how British TV shows are written compared to American shows, primarily in terms of the production system that goes on behind-the-scenes. This is a common question I have occasionally half-answered in comments here, although I'm not really best placed to give true "insider knowledge". But, broadly speaking, here are the differences as I've come to perceive them:

In the US, most people understand that "showrunners" (sometimes one, often a duo, sometimes a trio or more) are paid to literally run the show. They hire writers to come "on staff" to help write the show they've created, usually 8-13 people. Generally, the entire show's storylines are discussed and individual episodes "broken" (brainstormed, plotted, debated, structured, etc) in the famous "Writer's Room", before writers are assigned to write specific episodes into workable drafts. Those drafts then go through a process of rewrites, often as a result of "notes" that the showrunners or network bosses give as feedback. Eventually, a script is locked and filmed. have a great article interviewing various American writers about the process, which is well worth checking out.

It's a very regimented, productive, creative way of making TV as part of a "team". It needs to be, because US TV has to produce many hours of scripted entertainment a year. A standard network show churns out 20-25 episodes of TV over a 12-month period -- although there does appear to be a shift towards doing less episodes these days, for a variety of reasons. One reason cited is that American viewers are starting to dislike having their viewing broken for hiatus (particularly mid-season in winter), and would prefer shows just run through with little interruption. This is perhaps because DVD box-sets have become very popular.

The UK system is less regimented and turnaround is slower, although there is still a professional process of course. The notion of a "showrunner" is less prevalent in the British industry (having only become popularized thanks to Russell T. Davies role as chief writer of Doctor Who), but there are obviously still executive producers who are in control of TV drama.

Still, there isn't really one established system for getting TV shows written in the UK. Many sitcoms are the work of 1-4 people, and the process is often like an author being asked by a publisher to deliver a novel. There are deadlines involved, sure, but it's still something of a "cottage industry". This author-like approach to sitcoms is generally why British comedies are more idiosyncratic than US counterparts (or feel purer creatively), because every script's the work of fewer people, whereas US sitcoms go through the aforementioned Writers' Room process like a sausage factory. Each system has its pro's and con's, so you could argue a preference all day. In my opinion, a good British sitcom burns bright but fast, while a good American sitcom has more longevity but tend to lose their spark and dwindle after 3 or 4 years. Generally.

With regard to soaps (a very popular drama format in the UK), there are people employed just to storyline continuously, and writers are like hired guns brought in to fashion a script around what's already been decided needs to happen. I'm sure they have input and certain freedoms, but given the fact UK soaps each air around 2-hours of TV per week, the system just demands that a core group decide on the plots and writers come in and make that plan a written reality. Some writers are permanent employees who are used to this system, others may only drop in for a few episodes, perhaps with the intention of regular work.

For drama, the system's similar to what US TV does (and increasingly so), but there are still big differences. The key thing is that UK TV can't afford to pay annual salaries for "staff writers" to be employed year-round and perhaps only write a few scripts themselves. The fact UK drama tend to only air 8-13 episodes a year means they can't justify the "machine" mentality of the US Writers' Room. And it doesn't really need it, to be honest. If UK production companies could afford to make 24 episodes a year, that would obviously have to change how they do things, but they don't so they won't.

What tends to happen is that the producers/showrunners write their show's premiere and finale, then perhaps a few episodes in-between, and effectively call on other writers to fill the gap under their stewardship. It's a bit like the soap system, but I liken it to journalism: an editor of a magazine needs help with a massive publication, so hires in some freelance scribes to help write some articles.

I don't know this for a fact, but it seems to me that big BBC shows like Merlin, Ashes To Ashes and Doctor Who follow that model. The "showrunner" is the "author" of the entire year's story, deciding the arcs of plot and character, while often thinking up every episode's core idea or thematic intention. But they can't write every episode themselves, so other writers are hired in. Just recently on Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss was told by Steven Moffat to write a story that involved (a) Winston Churchill, (b) World War II and (c) Daleks. The result was "Victory Of The Daleks", which I'm sure Moffat also polished and amended slightly (if only to add the series motif of the "glowing crack-in-time" at the very end), but it was basically Gatiss' script he created based on a brief by the showrunner. Moffat's predecessor, Russell T. Davies, would apparently rewrite all the scripts delivered to him quite extensively (with the exception of Moffat's, tellingly), but I'm not sure if that's something Moffat does, too. But if he does, then Doctor Who is still very much one man's vision, filtered through some trusted accomplices.

This UK system seems to work pretty well for drama, all things considered. But there are flaws from an audience perspective. The biggest problem is that there's less "meeting of minds" because there's no Writers' Room to focus imaginations and deliberate storylines. That means every series of UK TV drama is tangibly the work of one of two people and not a "think tank" of talent. Of course, while some people will say that "two minds is better than one, so imagine what could be done if TEN minds worked on a drama", you could also argue that "too many cooks spoil the broth" and the UK's lucky there's less interference with how drama's written.

Also, having a single showrunner pulling together their masterplan can be great, but if you personally don't like what they're doing you can be in for years of heartache because their style isn't something you respond to, and there's no hope of effecting change. The best example of that is Russell T. Davies' tenure on Doctor Who, which split opinion because some adored his style... while others hated it from the start, or grew bored by it. And now we may get years of Steven Moffat, although he seems to be more popular because most people agree he's a better writer with a more fertile imagination, but there are still those who dislike some of his creative choices (the multi-coloured, hunchbacked Daleks) and approach to character.

If there was a US-style Writers' Room working on Doctor Who, chances are Moffat may have been dissuaded from altering the Daleks -- who knows. But I think we can agree that the output of the UK process is more "concentrated", as there's no committee where a showrunner could have his/her opinion changed. Of course, I'm not suggesting that Moffat can literally do whatever he damn well pleases, because there are executive producers with clout who can overrule him, but as the chief writer he's certainly entrusted with the creative direction to a large extent. Hey, if the guy who's been a fan of Doctor Who all his life thinks Daleks need to resemble giant crayons now, he knows what he's talking about, right? I bet that's the thinking behind closed doors.

Anyway, Doctor Who's unique because it's by far the biggest ongoing project on British TV, and one that demands fulltime commitment from its production crew and the regular actors. That's why David Tennant needed a year's break, because the show is back-breaking work from a British perspective. It may only air 13 episodes and a Christmas special every 12-months, but that's the work of a much smaller production crew working on a tiny budget compared to their US counterparts. It's quite astonishing Doctor Who looks as good as it does, really. Chuck probably has twice the budget of a typical Who episode, and I know which ones looks cheaper to me.

The reason a few showrunners like Toby Whithouse (above, Being Human) and Howard Overman (Misfits) can find time to write for Doctor Who and Merlin, respectively, is that -- simply put -- the shows they run aren't such a massive undertaking. Being Human only lasts 8 episodes and Misifts was only 6 episodes long. Overman also seemed to be quite hands-off with Misfits once the scripts were delivered, if the DVD extra features are any indication (i.e. he was nowhere to be seen!) It feels like those guys are more creators/lead writers and not true "showrunners" in the Doctor Who sense.

I have no idea if Whithouse was always on-set for Being Human, but I don't think either show really demands their creators are. That's actually pretty normal, as even US dramas don't always need the showrunners involved in the filming process. On Lost, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were always in L.A writing and coordinating the creative backbone of the show, and were rarely onset in Hawaii. Obviously there were logistical issues on that show, but it goes to show that showrunners don't have to be standing behind a director's shoulder and rewriting scripts on location. They're involved with the editing, though.

So, given the easier shows they run, Whithouse and Overman can fill their spare time by writing for other shows. Hey, you want a vampire episode of Who set in Venice, Mr. Moffat. No problem! I have some time to kill before I need to sit down to write Being Human again.

To answer a few other questions Shelly had:

Q: What roles if any do UK showrunners play other than writing? Do they produce? Direct? Anything else?

A: By definition, showrunners produce and manage. It's possible they would direct episodes if they were qualified to, but that's very rare. Joe Ahearne (Ultraviolet, Apparitions) is the only person I can think of who wrote and directed the shows he created. Quite the auteur! But, generally speaking, showrunners tend to be producers/writers. I've heard stories of British creators/writers of a TV show being taken off set when they tried to change something, because they weren't considered important enough to stick their nose in! This is why a lot of British writers/creators also want to make sure they're a producer on their show these days... so they can't be frog-marched off sets! I think this is what happened with Peep Show's Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong.

Q: Are the writers under contract once employed with a particular show and how much freedom do they have to work on something else?

A: I'm not sure. I would assume a showrunner is contracted for a certain period of time to work on a show, but I doubt that means they're not allowed to do other things when the show's not in production. There isn't the cash available to pay for a showrunner to sit around for four months of the year waiting to get started, much as they'd love that to be the case!

Q: Is scriptwriting taught in the UK film schools? Or how do they get their start?

A: Yes, there are no major differences between how the UK and US develop new writers, that I can see. There are screenwriting courses, film schools, people are self taught, the usual rigmarole of trying to get an agent, etc. If anything, the UK is more open to "unsolicited" spec scripts than the US system, though. You can send something to the BBC's Writers Room and it has to be read because the BBC's a service for license payers of the UK. Many independent production companies do likewise.

But it's still rare that a total novice will get a spec script made -- such is the volume of material submitted every year. And, unlike the US, the UK system just isn't large enough to accommodate the thousands of aspiring writers out there. Even the US has its limits. But, y'know, that's not to say there's no point trying, because obviously the system does have success stories. James Moran springs to mind: he was just a humble Sci-Fi Channel competition winner in the late-'90s, managed to get a movie script made (Severance) in the mid-'00s, and that led to him writing for Doctor Who, Torchwood and Spooks recently. Not a bad decade for him, right?