Tuesday, 30 November 2010

'THE TRIP' 1.5 – "The Yorke Arms"

I'll admit, The Trip's beginning to outstay its welcome with me. It's starting to repeat itself too much, really. Rob Brydon's Al Pacino impression has gone from amusing to extremely irritating, while episode 5 once again ended with a scene of Steve Coogan trying to replicate his friend's "small man in a box"-voice in front of a mirror. In some ways it feels like every episode is a retake of the same storyline, in some ways, and there weren't enough new elements to hold me rapt this week.

Still, there were some fun moments in "The Yorke Arms": I enjoyed seeing Coogan split from Brydon while out hiking, only to stumble upon the world's most boring amateur geologist; some of the impressions (Woody Allen doing Les Dawson jokes) hit the spot; the debate over the lyrics of Abba's "The Winner Takes It All" was interesting; and the anecdotes of missed opportunities (Coogan losing out to Geoffrey Rush in the Peter Sellers biopic, Brydon cut from the same movie as Dustin Hoffman) was also a fun moment.

But seeing Coogan call his teenage son and lonely girlfriend didn't really deliver anything worthwhile, and it was a shame some of last week's story didn't feed into episode 5 (Steve's temptation with cocaine, married Rob making a failed pass at Steve's agent). This was largely self-contained and, while still wryly amusing throughout, I didn't laugh as much. It feels like the joke's wearing thin now, and I'm unsure if next week's finale is going to reveal any deep purpose behind the show. There's a chance viewers are trying to find more substance and subtext than here actually it; finding form and purpose in a simple repetition of theme.

For me, The Trip's about two middle-aged comedians, moving in different directions career-wise, forced to spend time together over six expensive meals, and while largely communicating via bravado and one-upmanship, will come to realize they're best friends who needed a break from their lives to rediscover each other and come to value the simpler pleasures in life. Hopefully the last episode will tie everything together in a bow, rather than just deliver another near-identical three-part installment (daytime sightseeing, the afternoon meal, retiring to bed).

What are your hopes for the finale next Monday?

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
TRANSMISSION: 29 November 2010, BBC2/HD, 10PM

'DEXTER' 5.10 - "In The Beginning"

"In The Beginning" was aptly titled, as this episode delivered back-story to Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller), revealed the origin of his childhood gang, and ended on the "consummation" of Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and Lumen (Julia Stiles) partnership -- Adam and Eve figures in their unique Garden Of Eden, killing the various snakes slithering through its grass. I guess Liddy's (Peter Weller) surveillance tapes might be considered the Tree of Knowledge that threatens to cast them out into the wilderness as fugitives...

"... with Lumen I'm someone different. In her eyes, I'm not a monster at all."
There were seismic developments in this tenth episode, as we sprint to the finish. I have issues with some of them, but it was a mostly satisfying leap forward for season 5's story. Following last week's episode, Jordan has revealed he knows Lumen's alive and busy killing his associates with the help of Dexter, so everything became a game of chess with the two sides considering their next move. Needless to say, Dex favoured going on the offensive. The "barrel girls" case was re-opened, with Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) searching prime suspect Cole's house and discovering thirteen DVDs chronicling the torture of various women. As Lumen is the girl videotaped on the final disc, Dex was forced to switch the DVD for a sabotaged blank before his colleagues watched it and forced him to explain the fact Cole's final victim and his mysterious blonde "tenant" are the same person.

The investigation into Emily Birch, the woman whose blood Jordan keeps in a vial around his neck, reaped plenty of reward for Lumen. Emily was the gang's first victim 20 years ago, a summer camp counselor raped at the encouragement of Jordan (or chubby Eugene Greer as he was then), before being forced to take their photo for posterity. Emily wasn't killed like the current crop of lookalikes Jordan's cronies subject to the same ordeal, but is the source of Jordan's business ethos ("if you want something, take it!") and, in a strange reveal, revealed to still be in contact with Jordan because they share a "bond". I'm guessing Emily has a case of Stockholm Syndrome, or is simply too traumatized or brainwashed to have ever gone to the police, while Jordan exhibited signs of severe intimacy issues with women (gently removing her hand when she laid it on his). This explains why he never gets his hands dirty with any crimes; instead preferring to take a backseat and enjoy the vicarious thrill of being a spectator to his brainwashed friend's depravities. To be honest, Emily's back-story came across as very awkward and implausible, but we'll have to suspend our disbelief. There's a chance the remaining two episodes will smooth the cracks over, I guess.

One thing I appreciated about this episode was the discovery of video evidence that gave us a visceral insight into Lumen's torment and mental state. You can always sympathize with someone who's traumatized and has physical wounds to make you recoil, but it's something entirely different to see snapshots of the actual abuse and hear it unfold. The sequences where various characters suffered through watching Cole's DVDs were a genuinely haunting reminder of the show's grittier early years, allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks. Recently I complained about the lack of flashbacks to sell the villainy of Jordan's gang (especially as season 5's villains have done very little on-screen to make you hate them), and this episode found a good way of doing that without the need for a narrative back flip.

It was also fun to see Dexter and Lumen go after banker Alex Tilden (Scott Grimes), the last remaining member of Jordan's group, particularly because Jordan was clever enough to have manipulated them towards Alex so he could raise the alarm when Dexter arrived at Alex's house to kill him. Inevitably, it was Debra and Quinn who answered the call, setting in motion another of the show's tense sequences where it feels like Dexter's seconds away from being caught. The show does this a lot, but I allow it to work despite my higher brain knowing they'll never allow Debra to discover her brother's secret simply by walking in on him. Writer Scott Reynolds essentially pulled the Silence Of The Lambs trick, by having us mistakenly believe Dexter's kill-room was inside his victim's house, when he'd actually taken him off the premises. Was that a little contrived? Doesn't Dexter usually kill his victims wherever he catches them, without much transportation? Maybe he's been extra careful because he knows Jordan's a threat?

Anyway, perhaps the biggest moment of "In The Beginning" was the catharsis that was delivered to Lumen. She's now every inch Dexter's protégé, the Robin to his Batman, even getting to wear a female version of Dex's "costume" (complete with signature black gloves Dex bought for her especially), and going through her life-changing first kill by stabbing Alex. "Aim for the heart" advised Dexter. Lumen certainly did, in both senses of the word, as they returned home and, in the afterglow of having killed one of her torturers together, undressed and made love. You could see the warm contentment in Dexter's face in their post-coital cuddle; here's a woman who knows everything about him, all his darkest secrets, but actually understands his motivations, accepts him for who he is, and even participates in his vigilantism. For him, she's the dream woman and perfect life partner.

Liddy's investigation is still rather amateurish in some ways (because simply following Dexter around would deliver the goods), but he realized how big a fish Dexter is by the episode's end. Having acquired some high-tech surveillance, Liddy was able to snoop on Dexter and Lumen with a camera planted in their house, meaning he has physical evidence of them conspiring to kill. It'll be interesting to see what his next move is, as any sane person would go straight to the cops, but I'm guessing Liddy wants to get unambiguous evidence that Dexter's a killer – perhaps by finding a way to get one of his kills on tape. It still feels inevitable that Liddy will be discovered and killed, most likely by the Code-less Lumen, but the uncertainties here are very enjoyable. Dexter has absolutely no idea about Liddy, which means he's totally defenseless and distracted.

Overall, "In The Beginning" hit my pleasure spots more regularly than usual, and is perhaps my favourite episode since the premiere, simply in terms of the big developments and shakeups. The writers were adamant that Lumen wasn't going to replace Rita, so they either changed their mind or were trying to put audiences off the obvious scent, but I'm okay with that. It's just a shame every season of Dexter has told a self-contained story, so I have very strong doubts Lumen's going to become a permanent character on the show. Dexter doesn't hit a reset-button every year, but it certainly tends to clear the deck of everyone who was introduced in the latest season. Season 5's been different enough to have me doubt myself, but I still can't help thinking ahead and predicting who's destined to die or disappear, simply because Dexter usually begins every season with a clean slate.

  • How long will Dexter's happiness last? Is Lumen going to be killed by Jordan? Is she going to have second thoughts and leave town? Will the writers bring her back next year, as the undoubted replacement for Rita? If so, Dexter's going to look very bad in front of Astor and Debra for lying about his feelings for Lumen and assuring them she's no rebound! Is she a rebound?
  • It's a common issue not exclusive to this episode, but does anyone else find Dexter's voice-overs patronizing sometimes? The writers use them to have Dex remind the audience of previous plot-points, which I can understand, but these odd ways of recapping events often feels contrived and unnecessary. Is there anybody watching Dexter who just dips in for the odd episode and genuinely needs these mental asides?
  • Is it going to be explained why there's a 20-year gap between Emily's victimization and the barrel victims? Are there other murders in-between these two eras that Dexter and Lumen aren't aware of? Did Jordan and his gang only recently start committing crimes, maybe as a twisted midlife crisis, re-enacting their youth? Or is this just a failure of storytelling logic we have to swallow?
  • Irish nanny Sonya's proving to be relatively pointless this season (beyond filling time and giving us a plausible way to allow Dexter freedom away from his infant son), unless they pull something out of the hat very soon.
  • Are you happy that the entire Santa Muerte storyline is now utterly redundant, and only really existed to cause later friction between Angel, LaGuerta and Debra?
  • I enjoyed the scene where Jordan volunteered to get a mouth swab to clear himself of any wrongdoing, getting to spend a few moments in Dexter's company. Seasons tend to arrive at points where the anti-hero and villain share some screen time like this, both unable to alert the authorities for fear of blowing their own cover. It's reliably juicy.
WRITER: Scott Reynolds
DIRECTOR: Keith Gordon
TRANSMISSION: 28 November 2010, Showtime, 9/8c

TRAILER: 'Game Of Thrones', HBO

I'm at a disadvantage when it comes to HBO's Game Of Thrones adaptation, because I haven't read the books by George R.R Martin. In fact, I didn't even know there were books. Medieval fantasy fiction isn't something I've ever been attracted to, really. Consequently, there's nothing in this minute-long teaser for Game Of Thrones that gets me excited. Maybe if you're aware of the characters and can contextualize these brief scenes, it'll all mean more to you.

But, for me, this looks like any number of expensive medieval miniseries, with nothing to get my adrenaline pumping and no obvious fantasy elements. I still have no idea what the actual story or premise is. Hopefully HBO will remedy that with a clearer trailer for mass consumption before its release next spring, because the passion Game Of Thrones stirs online is the only reason I'm curious. Well, that and the cast; which includes Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Peter Dinklage, Iain Glen, Lena Headey and Harry Lloyd.

Any fans care to sell this to me?

Monday, 29 November 2010

RIP Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

Shirley you can't be serious!
This news genuinely saddens me, as Leslie Nielsen was one of my favourite comedy actors. Like many people, he first came to my attention as the deadpan doctor in the fantastic Airplane!, before starring in the wonderful Naked Gun trilogy of spoofs (based on the flop TV show Police Squad!), although his early career was surprisingly serious (The Poseidon Adventure, Ransom!, Forbidden Planet). The Canadian actor appeared in over 100 movies and an incredible 1,500 televisions shows (The Golden Girls, Fantasy Island, Hawaii Five-0, M*A*S*H, Gunsmoke, etc) in a career spanning 60 years.

It was a shame Leslie Nielsen got typecast by his later spoof work, as his filmography over the past 20 years is full of weak parodies that flopped at the box office: Spy Hard, Dracula: Dead & Loving It, Wrongfully Accused, Superhero Movie, Scary Movie 3, and many others. Nielsen was basically there to give those movies a tincture of credibility, in the vague hope that fans of his classic work would be persuaded to watch them. That never really worked, although he was often the best thing about those later movies.

For me, Nielsen was like a cool, funny granddad you were always glad to see. He was one of those comedians whose very presence made you smile, and could make you giggle with the slightest expression. Many of my favourite comedy moments in film involve Leslie Nielsen, so here are a few choice clips of him as The Naked Gun's bumbling Lt. Frank Drebin:

Leslie Nielsen died from complications relating to pneumonia in a Fort Lauderdale hospital in Florida. He was 84. Rest In Peace.

TV Picks: 29 November - 5 December 2010 ('Al Murray's German Adventure', 'A Question Of Sport', 'Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights', 'The Morgana Show', etc.)

Ian Hislop's The Age Of The Do-Gooders (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary suggesting that 19th-century "do-gooders" helped fix Britain's problems, so we should be more tolerance of them today. Presented by Ian Hislop.
A Question Of Sport (BBC1, 10.35pm) Return of the long-running sports quiz show.

Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights (Channel 4, 10pm) Black comedy series featuring anarchic, warped sketches. Hosted by controversial Scottish stand-up comedian Frankie Boyle.
The Morgana Show (Channel 4, 10.35pm) Five-part sketch show from comedienne Morgana Robinson.

Julia Bradbury's German Wanderlust (BBC4, 8.30pm) Travel series where Julia Bradbury hikes across Germany.
Al Murray's German Adventure (BBC4, 9pm) Two-part documentary investigating the stereotypes and banter that exists between England and Germany. Presented by comedian Al Murray.
The Beckham's Crazy 2010 (Living, 9pm) Documentary following David and Victoria Beckham over a year-long period.

Rick Stein's Cornish Christmas (BBC2, 8pm) Festive special of the culinary series.
At Home With The Georgians (BBC2, 9pm) Three-part history series charting the British obsession with home decorating, that began in the Georgian era 300 years ago.
My Boyfriend The War Hero (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary about a young couple called Vicky Swales and soldier Craig Wood, whose marriage was tested when Mark lost his legs and an arm while on tour in Afghanistan.

Michael McIntyre: Hello Wembley (BBC1, 9pm) Live standup comedy.
John Sergant On The Tracks Of The Empire (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary looking at India's 3,000-mile long railway, a lasting legacy of British rule.

This Is Michael Buble (ITV1, 10.25pm) The Canadian singer travels the UK, meeting various celebrities and investigating the British culture and countryside.

The Nation's Favourite Abba Song (ITV1, 9pm) Special where celebrities discuss their favourite Abba tracks, as band members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad talk about their careers.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

TV Ratings: 'Peep Show', series 7

Peep Show returned for its seventh series on Friday night, but only attracted 885,000 for Channel 4 at 10pm, with an additional 151,000 watching Channel 4+1 at 11pm. This is the show's lowest rated premiere ever, which is particularly cruel because series 6's premiere attracted a series high of 1.8m. However, don't be too disheartened! Peep Show is notoriously low-rated, despite its huge critical success and strong DVD sales, but it's been profitable enough for Channel 4 to keep it on-air for years. But also, more importantly, this year's premiere was made available a week early via the 4OD online service. It's likely all the diehard fans saw episode 1 earlier in the week, so episode 2's ratings should give a better indication of how popular Peep Show is this year.

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.8 – "No Ordinary Accident"

After the preceding highpoint, it was inevitable "No Ordinary Accident" wouldn't be able to compete, but I was glad it didn't ignore the issue with Katie (Autumn Reeser) now dating the show's roaming villain "Will" (Josh Stewart). The rest of the episode was the customary assortment of gentle subplots for the Powells: Jim (Michael Chiklis) was chasing violent carjackers, while struggling with "outages" that rendered him occasionally powerless; Stephanie (Julie Benz) investigated her husband's strange problem at the lab; Daphne (Kay Panabaker) again used her mind-reading to try and impress Bret (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) at a Japanese restaurant; and JJ (Jimmy Bennett) was caught hacking the school computer system by Mr Litchfield (Jason Antoon), who was later hospitalized in a car accident JJ blamed himself for.

The thing I'm enjoying more than I expected to about No Ordinary Family is that every week's problem impacts the family. I was worried the show wouldn't be able to sustain this, but so far it's doing a great job. Having JJ realize only his super-fast mother could perform life-saving surgery on Mr Litchfield was a great example, as they both saved someone's life that actually meant something to the characters and was something the audience could buy into. There may come a time when the show starts struggling to find things for the Powells to do every week, or uses up all the friends/family they can save, but that's a problem for another day. Plus, we have Jim going after the more traditional villains, so the show still has access to bigger stories that affect the whole city, and maybe one day the entire country.

It was also fun to see how much Jim's super-strength means to him now, and how much he'll miss his abilities if they're taken away. The story revealed a chemical found in lip gloss that acts as temporary "kryptonite" on Jim, which was a predictable but welcome wrinkle. JJ's storyline with Mr Litchfield was the strongest component of this week's episode, ignoring the unlikelihood that his teacher would be hit by the carjackers his dad's after, and the silly moment when JJ's super-genius was somehow able to see into Litchfield's chest to survey the damage. How does that work? Daphne's storyline was also just a variation on the art gallery ruse from before, which was a shame.

Overall, "No Ordinary Accident" was averagely entertaining; not particularly good or bad, just run-of-the-mill with a few good moments. I enjoyed seeing Jim defeat those carjackers at the junkyard (especially with his tyre toss), while JJ and Stephanie's two-man surgery made for a tense little scene. It's also great to see Katie more involved, now that she's dating the villain who's actually providing reconnaissance on Stephanie for her creepy boss, but I hope George's (Romany Malco) relationship with his work colleague Amanda (Amy Acker) becomes more interesting than it is currently. Acker's a good actress, so it would be a shame to waste her in a trivial girlfriend role.

Hardly a remarkable episode; just innocuous family viewing that passed the hour quite nicely.

WRITERS: Leigh Dana Jackson & Sonny Postiglione
DIRECTOR: Tom Verica
TRANSMISSION: 23 November 2010, ABC, 8/7

'MERLIN' 3.12 - "The Coming Of Arthur" (Part One)

More fool me. I was really looking forward to the first half of this finale, as Merlin usually does a good job with episodes requiring straightforward action and development of its core mythology, but "The Coming Of Arthur – Part One" disappointed me in too many ways. It was reasonably entertaining and ended on a provocative note (spoiled by promotional material, nevertheless -- see above), but it was largely another example of how repetitive Merlin is.

This week, all of Camelot's knights were ambushed and killed by Cenred's (Tom Ellis) forces, although the mortally wounded Sir Leon (Rupert Young) was revived after being taken to a cave by a group of kindly Druids and given water from the Holy Grail Cup Of Life; a mythical goblet that can cure the sick, but also be used to turn people immortal. After King Uther (Anthony Head) heard of the Cup's presence in Cenred's territory, he dispatched Arthur (Bradley James) to retrieve it, lest it fall into enemy hands and be used to turn Cenred's troops into an undefeatable force. Unfortunately, Morgana (Katie McGrath) passed all of this information to sister Morgause (Emilia Fox), beginning a race to find the Cup Of Life between the forces of Good and Evil. During their secret quest, Arthur and Merlin (Colin Morgan) were captured by Jarl (Ralph Ineson), a slave trader loyal to Cenred, and found themselves once again reunited with Gwaine (Eoin Macken) to plan an escape...

It seems the crackerjack two-part premiere spent half the budget this year, as many action sequences occurred off-screen here; from the opening murder of Uther's knights, to the invasion of Camelot by a torch-wielding militia. While I can understand neither was necessary to see, strictly speaking, I couldn't help feeling shortchanged considering this is the finale. But there were other, bigger annoyances to contend with -- like the baffling emptiness of Camelot after its storming, the ridiculousness that Gaius (Richard Wilson) survived the ordeal by hiding in a pantry, and proof that Cenred's character has been a colossal waste of time when he was offhandedly killed. Uther and Cenred (sworn enemies we were constantly told) didn't even get to share a scene together.

The chronic frustration of "The Coming Of Arthur", like many other episodes, is that it didn't give us anything we haven't seen before (slave traders, the Cup Of Life, CGI hordes marching on Camelot, the fortunate arrival of Gwaine), until the long overdue reveal to Uther that Morgana knows she's his daughter and is usurping his sovereignty. That final scene was the clear highlight for impatient fans like myself, although only McGrath seemed to relish the magnitude of the moment (her coronation demanded a signature smirk, for sure), while Head's understated reaction felt deflating, given the weeks of build-up. I trust he'll deliver a better response to Morgana's treachery in Part Two, and at least this is a turning point Merlin can't reverse or dance around, which is most welcome. If there's one thing Merlin should have realized long ago, it's that pussyfooting around the Arthurian legend and failing to take decisive steps forward with the characters is damaging the goodwill fans gave the show.

So where does this leave us going into next week's conclusion? Arthur, Merlin, Gwaine and Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun) will most likely rescue the imprisoned Uther, Merlin will summon the Great Dragon to help, I'm guessing there'll be a fun role reversal with servant Gwen (Angel Coulby) as the "mole" in Morgana's new regime, Merlin's vial of water from Avalon will probably defeat Morgause, and Part Two's trailer (see below) confirms the return of Excalibur (to defeat the immortal army?), together with the introduction of the Round Table. Sounds fun, but hopefully everything won't unfold as predictably as I'm fearing it will. Or is that too much to ask with Merlin?

  • Can you imagine the look on actor Rupert Young's face when he opened his script and read that his character, Sir Leon, is dead on the first page? I hope he read on without immediately calling the producers to complain that his longstanding supporting role came to such an abrupt end!
  • If Star Trek has "redshirts" (nameless members of the crew that usually die on away missions), does Merlin have "redcapes"?
  • Did anyone else notice how chubby the stuntman playing Merlin was, in that shot where Merlin and Arthur are riding horses on their quest? They tried to obscure Colin Morgan's double with trees, but you could tell. Are there no stuntmen thin enough?
  • I keep intending to post a Merlin Drinking Game every year, but maybe it's too late for that now -- again. But, for what it's worth, take a drink whenever Morgause says "sister" and you'll be pie-eyed after her first scene of every episode.
  • If you're sniggering at the episode title, are you too old to be watching Merlin? Let's be honest here.
  • I can't help feeling series 3's finale lacks the human touch of series 2's, with Merlin meeting his father. There's nothing comparable to that here.
  • Tom Ellis looks so uncomfortable in that black leather. Seeing him reminds me of a time I saw my history teacher wearing motorbike leathers. It's just not right.

Next time...

WRITER: Jake Michie
DIRECTOR: Jeremy Webb
TRANSMISSION: 27 November 2010, BBC1/HD, 7.45PM

Saturday, 27 November 2010

'PEEP SHOW' 7.1 - "Mark The Dad"

Unusually, this premiere continued directly from series 6's finale; no doubt because the prospect of seeing father-to-be Mark (David Mitchell) and best-friend Jez (Robert Webb) in a hospital, supporting Sophie (Olivia Colman) through her labour, was comedy ground too fertile to pass up.

The arc of the storyline was somewhat predictable: Sophie was dilating in agony, making "birth partner" Mark extremely uncomfortable (as they're no longer a couple, he's unsure how to support her); Jez was distracted by a beautiful woman called Zahra (Camilla Beeput), pretending to be supportive of the fact her boyfriend's in a coma (reading him extracts from FHM), while secretly hoping he dies; Mark was distracted by a water boiler problem at home, sending Super Hans (Mark King) to fix it (hoping for "minimal water damage"), before growing so impatient with Sophie's eight-hour labour that he headed to a local KFC and video-game arcade.

As always with Peep Show, its genius stems from being allowed to eavesdrop on the thought processes of its two leads, mainly because the dark recesses of their psyches aren't too dissimilar to our own. Mark and Jez are exaggerated creations to an extent -- but the core of what they say, do, and think has a realism to it. All great comedy reflects its audience, and Peep Show's found the perfect format for making the audience complicit in its character's actions and behaviour. We're literally in the head of Mark and Jez for the majority of every episode, and it's both a frightening, depressing, and hilarious place to be. Mark's anxiety over his imminent fatherhood was brilliantly portrayed, in a way it wouldn't have been without hearing his internal voice.

Overall, this premiere wasn't anywhere near Peep Show's best efforts (the "paedophobe" mix-up with "paedophile" was beneath this show, while some of the comedy scenarios felt a little forced), but it definitely marked a clear turning point for the series. Mark's now a father, with responsibilities he can't shirk, and no doubt that's going to play into the remaining five episodes quite extensively.

  • Was it impossible for Sophie's parents to get to the hospital? Or Mark's?
  • Mark's thought after glimpsing Sophie's cesarean: "I thought it would be all Chip and Pin, not London Dungeon!"
  • Out of interest: I've always thought a female spin-off to Peep Show could be worth pursuing, although perhaps it would require female writers to give it the realism Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain bring to their male creations. Anyone agree?
  • I know chasing girls with a tissue of lies and eventually tying himself into knots is what Jez tends to do every series, but has that arc run its course now? I can't help thinking it's time Jez was given a different storyline, so I hope his dealing with Zahra was just a one-off subplot for this episode.
WRITERS: Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain
DIRECTOR: Becky Martin
TRANSMISSION: 26 November 2010, Channel 4/HD, 10PM

'THE WALKING DEAD' 1.4 - "Vatos"

Possibly the best episode yet, despite a saggy middle, but I still find this show annoyingly flat overall. I just don't care about anyone, and the situations the characters find themselves in are just Walking Dead's version of countless other moments from apocalyptic/zombie fiction. I actually get quite bored halfway through.

It also continues to be very stupid: everyone treats Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) lost bag of guns as if they're the last firearms on the planet, when the whole city of Atlanta must be full of empty gun shops just waiting to be looted (this is America, right?), and there was a climactic zombie attack on base-camp that everyone deserved, as they'd apparently taken no precautions against zombies invading at night. Heck, a perimeter of fishing wire suspending empty baked bean cans would have been something to alert them, right? What exactly are their defenses when old codger Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) isn't standing on his RV's roof with binoculars during the day? Everyone's told to keep their fingers and say a prayer before bedtime?

Still, there were moments I enjoyed. Watching Rick, T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) track Merle through the department store, following the footsteps of a desperate man who sawed his hand off and cauterized the wound, was more tense than anything involving the zombies. Although, in another example of character stupidity, why didn't Merle just saw his thumb off to escape those handcuffs?

There was also a nice opening scene between Andrea (Laurie Holden) and her sister Amy (Emma Bell), fishing alone in the quarry's lake, reminiscing about their presumed-dead parents. It only existed to create belated emotional attachment to Amy, before she was viciously attacked and killed in the climactic zombie attack, but that's acceptable. Holden's wailing performance over the body of her sister did more to sell the closeness of their relationship than any writing could deliver. Still, it's a shame Amy was a character I barely knew existed before this episode, and four episodes isn't enough time to grow attached to someone who only had perhaps 5 minutes of notable screen time.

The primary storyline, with Glenn (Steven Yeun) captured by a street gang, had a twist that worked well (the mob were actually compassionate folk, protecting a retirement home's elderly residents), and the backbone of that idea reminded me of something Survivors would have done. It was just a shame it came across as rather preachy here, mainly because of gang leader Guillermo's stupid dialogue.

Overall, "Vatos" (written by the comic's creator Robert Kirkman) was entertaining and contained two good sequences, but I'm still not craving this show. It just is what it is. But I'm intrigued by the addition of Jim (Andrew Rothenburg), a survivor who freaked everyone out by tirelessly digging graves all day. At first, it appeared to be a symptom of sunstroke and guilt (his family were slaughtered by zombies, allowing him to escape), but it became clearer it might have been a premonition, as the day ended with a camp full of corpses now requiring those graves he dug. We're possibly embarking on a story where Jim comes to believe he's in communion with God, right? A cliché, but one that could be fun.

As usual, I suppose everyone else thought this was the bee's knees?

WRITER: Robert Kirkman
DIRECTOR: Johan Renck
TRANSMISSION: 26 November 2010, FX/HD, 10PM

Friday, 26 November 2010

TRAILER: 'V' - Season 2

ABC have released a trailer for V's second season, which begins 4 January 2011. I have nothing much to add, beyond the fact the trailer looks fairly action-packed, the reveal of Jane Badler (who played the original show's villain Diana) is fun, and there are a few moments to make you raise an eyebrow (although I doubt that character is as dead as the trailer suggests). I hope the show can find its groove next year, as I'm in the mood for a sci-fi series that's less ponderous than The Event and just out to entertain.

V's biggest problem, beyond having a cast who appear to be half asleep (with the notable exception of Morena Baccarin) is that it's generic stuff we haven't seen before. I hope it can surprise us by taking things in a more creative, surprising, and gripping direction next year. What do you think? Does this trailer get you interested again, or do you see through it?

'HUMAN TARGET' 2.2 - "The Wife's Tale"

I don't have time to do an extended review of Human Target this week, and "The Wife's Tale" wasn't an episode that stretched the show anywhere very interesting. Chance (Mark Valley) was tasked with protecting the widow (Molly Parker) of a man he killed seven years ago, without her being aware of his past, to try and absolve himself of some guilt. The show again demonstrated its renowned skill with action sequences (the parkour multi-storey car park pursuit was phenomenal, a bruising poolside fist-fight had you wincing), and we got our first look at how the show's new five-sided dynamic is going to work. I wasn't that convinced.

Thief Ames (Janet Montgomery) is being written as the spunky protégé of laid-back Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), trying to prove her worth to her idol; while Ilsa (Indira Varma) appears to be the show's moral compass, questioning Winston (Chi McBride) and the operation back at their HQ. Or, rather, testing everyone's patience with her interjections. Obviously, it's still early days. The new setup is bound to develop as we go along, with Ilsa becomes more accepting of the business she's bankrolling, and Ames getting on better with Guerrero. But still, there were times when it was noticeable how straightforward the storyline was, and how it therefore didn't really justify five people's input.

Creatively, I'm beginning to dislike Tim Hunter's plinky-plonk music score (which is a hair's breadth away from mimicking his work on Chuck), but at least it's often swallowed by pop songs. I also remain in two-minds about the casting of Mark Valley on this show, as you could probably put an Easter Island statue in a suit and get a comparable performance most weeks. Valley's good when you need stern reassurance and a plausible action-man, but there doesn't seem to be many strings to his bow. He plays a few notes well, but you'll never get a symphony from him.

Are you watching Human Target now it's back on-air? What did you think of "The Wife's Tale"? Is it too early to tell if showrunner Matt Miller's changes are for the best, or do you likewise suspect that four characters is overkill for such a simple show's requirements. Maybe they should alternate the involvement of Ames, Isla and Guerrero on cases?

WRITERS: Andrea Newman & Zev Borow
DIRECTOR: Mimi Leder
TRANSMISSION: 24 November 2010, Fox, 9/8c


Love is in the air for episode 3, which continued the quality of last week's sensation, despite a few shaky moments. The big surprise was seeing the mystery of the Superhoodie answered so early, until you realize we're almost halfway through series 2. The advantage of British TV having such short runs is that storylines develop so rapidly it's impossible to get bored; the disadvantage is that you lose the slow-burn that raises anticipation to fever pitch. Could we have done with a few more weeks of teasing? Whatever your opinion, the Superhoodie's reveal definitely spun Misfits in a less predictable trajectory...

This week, Kelly (Lauren Socha) was accompanied by Nathan (Robert Sheehan) and Simon (Iwan Rheon) to a tattoo parlour to get her faded "tramp stamp" touched up, only for bigmouth Nathan to insult her tattooist Vince (Nathan Constance) by questioning his sexuality. Vince exacted revenge by turning Nathan gay and hopelessly besotted with Simon, using a super-power he's acquired that enable his tattoos to influence the people who wear them. This was the week's comic relief storyline, with randy Nathan becoming obsessed with the bewildered Simon (who was unsure how to take renowned joker Nathan's advances), with Vince as the episode's freak-of-the-week villain to defeat. It was an unusual super-power, which gave the story a certain freshness and creativity. Vince was like a twisted version of Cupid, shooting his tattoo-arrows into people to alter their behaviour, while his comeuppance was absurdly amusing, with Simon realizing Vince's "kryptonite" was a nut allergy ("remove the tattoos or I open the nuts!")

Meanwhile, Alisha (Antonia Thomas) was determined to unmask the Superhoodie and, after noticing he appears whenever the gang's in trouble, she intentionally provoked a fight with a passer-by to lure the Superhoodie out into the open. Her plan worked, but she took tumble and banged her head, waking up inside the Superhoodie's lair to realize the masked man is none other than... Simon!? But this wasn't the shy and withdrawn Simon she knows from community service; rather a "Future Simon" full of confidence, smouldering intensity, and ashen muscles. It wasn't long before they had passionate sex together, partly because her incommodious super-power (that the libido of those who touch her goes into overdrive) doesn't appear to work on Future Simon, so it was a relief to have physical contact of someone in control of their actions.

The Simon/Alisha storyline was the core of episode 3 and its most appealing element. I love how Misfits steals from previous superhero stories, but makes them work in its own universe, with enough twists to keep it feeling fresh. Alisha waking up in Future Simon's hideout was reminiscent of Vicky Vale being taken to the Batcave in Tim Burton's Batman; the lair itself resembled the temporary Batcave from The Dark Knight; Future Simon revealing his identity to Alisha reminded me of Superman II (when Lois Lane discovered shy Clark Kent's secret and was taken to his Fortress Of Solitude); and Future Simon's intention to protect the timeline and ensure certain key events happen echoed a situation in season 1 of Heroes with time-traveller Hiro and his future counterpart.

Some people might consider it a letdown that Simon was revealed as the Superhoodie, but it worked well for me. I assumed the 'hoodie would be a regular character from the start, and the only reason I doubted myself was that it felt too obvious. But despite some predictability, it was never a foregone conclusion and Future Simon's reveal in the shower was still an edge-of-your-seat moment leading into an ad break. Iwan Rheon also did well playing two different characters, and I thought it was a wise decision not to make Future Simon the vastly different to the Simon we know. While he was noticeably more self-assured and charming, he was still reserved and sensitive.

In a minor subplot laying groundwork for a future story, Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) apologized to Nikki (Ruth Negga), the girl whose flat his friends vandalized because they thought she was the Superhoodie. She's evidently not be the parkour-loving superhero, but she is the girl Nathan saw in his own future (as a costumed superhero), and someone he believes he'll become close to over time. Interestingly, we learned that Nikki has a heart condition that makes her dependent on an oxygen tank, and she's waiting for a transplant with a suitable donor. It looks like Curtis and Nikki are going to become closer over this series, but it's uncertain if she'll be the one inspiring him to become a fully-fledged superhero, and how her heart problem will factor into this storyline.

Overall, this was another very strong outing for E4's superhero comedy-drama, skillfully taking the story to a whole new level. The great thing is that everything comes from a place of character, and Misfits allows the actors to perform in a way you don't often see in this genre. When you compare this show to how the younger characters in Heroes were treated, it makes that show look rather laughable and naïve. I'm slightly concerned about how series 2 is going to develop, as it's now embracing a bigger scope that feels like a risk. The show has largely succeeded because its concerns are small-scale and relatable, but Future Simon represents a more epic mythos. That said, I suspect the hints of a game-changing future for the gang will be undone, as timeline are always in flux, and I doubt writer Howard Overman is in any rush to have Simon become this tranquil porcelain-skinned hero. Is a big reset button waiting to be pressed?

  • Future Simon informed us that the present-day Simon loses his virginity soon, but not to Alisha. Who's going to be the lucky girl?
  • Where exactly is the Superhoodie's lair? How did Future Simon come to be in the past? Does Curtis develop the ability to send other people back in time? And why is he immune to Alisha's power now?
  • A prediction: Future Simon isn't our Simon. While we believe the reveal of the Superhoodie has been done early, the big disclosure will be discovering the Superhoodie's a villainous shape-shifter?
  • In one scene, Simon told Alisha that it's inevitable that one day their secret will be exposed and then everything will change. Alisha herself saw a news report in Future Simon's lair that had her being interviewed as one of the "ASBO 5", hinting that they become famous. My nitpick is that the misfits aren't unique, as most weeks there's a new super-person in the mix, but the characters continue to act like they're the only ones affected by that freak storm.
  • I think I mentioned this last year, but I hate the lack of episode titles. It just feels so clumsy referring to "episode 3". Would it hurt to give us titles, Mr Overman? I like titles.
  • I loved how Future Simon and Alisha's moment of passion was a scorching hot sex scene, in contrast to self-appointed ladies man Nathan's attempt to shag Kelly – which was an embarrassing fumble that ended on a "finger-puppet" joke to break the awkward mood.
  • Was it me, or did the musical score take on a Dark Knight vibe this week?
WRITER: Howard Overman
TRANSMISSION: 25 November 2010, E4/HD, 10PM

Syfy burn 'Caprica' this January

This new is days old now, but I thought it was worth mentioning here. Maybe a few people have yet to hear. Syfy have confirmed plans to "burn off" the remaining 5 episodes of axed sci-fi drama Caprica, with a back-to-back marathon on Tuesday 4 January 2011 @6/5c.

Good news for fans who don't intend to buy the DVD to see the ending, and for those who want to record Syfy's five-hour marathon and watch them at their leisure. I'll most likely be amongst the latter, perhaps writing capsule reviews of the remaining hours for a final wrap-up post. I hope the writers give us resolution, or at least don't let it end on a cliffhanger that'll never be answered. That said, there's a chance in-development prequel Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome will be able to fill the gaps in Caprica's story.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

State of the Blog: review updates, New Year shows, revamp

We're speeding towards "winter hiatus" in mid-December, when UK shows are joined by festive offerings, and US shows... well, go off-air for awhile. I'm still mystified by that cultural quirk of US TV. Feels totally illogical to me. Anyway, it's a time when I start to reorganize things here: eyeing up new shows to review in the New Year, while deciding which ones to drop.

The Event is on shaky ground. I've already decided to stop reviewing at US pace, so I'll be tuning into Channel 4 every Friday now instead. The UK's a few weeks behind NBC, so I'm effectively taking a fortnight's break. Considering the lack of comments about it here, there's a chance I won't continue reviewing The Event next year -- unless its February "relaunch" is a marvel.

My apologies for dropping behind with Mad Men. A combination of ill health and "real world" concerns forced me to put it on the backburner. I hope to have a double-bill ("Chinese Wall" / "Blowing Smoke") up at the weekend. At the very least, "Chinese Wall" will be posted.

I intend to keep reviewing The Walking Dead on FX, as there are only a few episodes left of its six-part season. Likewise The Trip, which ends in a few weeks. I was going to review Todd Margaret, but episode 2 was so underwhelming I'd hate myself for even bothering. I also decided to drop Eastbound & Down from the rotation at the last-minute, without reviewing a single episode, mainly because of time issues. And as it wasn't very popular last year, I doubt there's an audience this year. I'll still be watching it every week, though.

In fact, there are quite a few shows I'm watching but not reviewing right now, which is unusual. I've been enjoying The Pillars Of The Earth miniseries (only have the finale left to watch), although the setbacks regarding the building of the cathedral have me gnashing my teeth every week; Community has become a welcome fixture on Viva; I'm still watching Boardwalk Empire (although I'm still 2-3 episodes behind HBO); and I sampled FX comedy Louie last night. The pilot was like a twisted hybrid of Seinfeld and a Buster Keaton (near)-silent comedy

As an update on some long-awaited reviews: Firefly will likely be a Christmas project for me, hopefully posted in January; the Alien Anthology review is 85% done, but I may have to limit myself to just reviewing the films, not the extras, because I simply don't have time; and, ironically, time is the main reason I haven't watched my Back To The Future trilogy Blu-ray yet. On the positive side, a DVD review of Dexter Season 4 is due at the weekend.

I've also been sidetracked with my intention to revamp DMD soon -- either for its 5th anniversary in March, or as a Christmas treat. It's been tricky finding a good design, that takes advantage of social networking, as I'm relying on someone who's kindly helping me (for free). I'll be looking for Beta Testers to help me decide if the template's up to snuff at some point. My guess is there will be concerns about the changes (especially how posts are displayed on the main page), and if that proves true... I'll need to merge the new design with the current one.

So what are the new shows I'm likely to start reviewing next year? V's return will certainly get looked at, series 3 of Being Human is a must (together with its US remake, which could air in tandem!), series 4 of Primeval will probably be reviewed, and US/UK comedy Episodes has my casual interest.

Over the Christmas period, I'm aiming to cover Dirk Gently (16 Dec) and Doctor Who (25 Dec) specifically, but I'm not going to guarantee a next-day posting for the latter -- as it's holiday time and I'm due a rest. Then again, you know me, I'll probably manage to do exactly what I'm warning you I can't. Hey ho.

Finally, I've heard a rumour that Sky Atlantic's going to launch on 24 January 2011, but take that with a pinch of salt. It's from the mouth of a Sky rep, via a follower of mine on Twitter. And while I trust my second-hand source, it's uncorroborated hearsay really. But does 24 Jan feel likely? That's sooner than I expected, although we know a few Sky Atlantic shows are scheduled to premiere in February, so I guess it's possible. Hopefully an official announcement from Sky is on the way.

Any reaction to the above plans? This is also the place to air your random, OT views.

'GLEE' 2.8 - "Furt"

This was a painful episode, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it involved a slew of bad ideas -- poorly handled or annoyingly rushed. Glee loves to theme episodes (even when there's no need to), and "Furt" tried desperately to create a unifying matrimonial feel that didn't work, spun from the news that Burt Hummel (Mike O'Malley) and Carole Hudson (Romy Rosemont) are getting married, meaning Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Finn (Cory Monteith) are going to be step-brothers.

It's tempting to just rip through what didn't work this week. In fact, it's so tempting I'm going to do just that. Firstly, Glee is far too enamoured with Kurt and Burt. Yes, O'Malley and Colfer are good actors who work well together on-screen, but their characters don't do much beyond repeat themselves. Seeing masculine blue-collar Burt cope with having an effeminate gay son was sweet, charming, and relatively interesting back in season 1, but now it's tedious and predictable.

But the major problem with the Hummel storyline here was that Burt and Carole haven't positioned themselves as a couple anybody beyond the characters want to see get hitched. I have a tough time remembering Carole's name, she's just so irrelevant, and there's only been one episode that showed Burt/Carole together for a decent period of time. And even then the emphasis is always been placed on how their relationship impacts their sons.

In "Furt", the actual wedding ceremony was practically hijacked by making it more about how Finn/Kurt are now related as a consequence. Finn even sang "Just The Way You Are" to Kurt at the reception, which felt like a misplaced sentiment. I understand Kurt was going through a tough time, and had singlehandedly planned the wedding, but it just didn't feel plausible. Ryan Murphy doesn't really write heterosexual men very well, and Finn's behaviour didn't strike me as accurate.

Incidentally, only in the world of Glee does someone propose and get married within days, and I fail to understand what the rush was for. It would have been better to have kept the Hummel-Hudson nuptials on the backburner until later in the season, to try and build some excitement as the big day grows closer. Make us care for Burt and Carole, so there's a chance we'll shed a tear when they say their vows, y'know?

When the gleesters were dancing up the aisle singing "Marry You" (the episode's only good musical number), it actually confused me for a second, as I thought we'd perhaps jumped forward in time by six months.

Still, the problems I had believing in the wedding storyline paled into insignificance when compared to this episode's atrocious subplots. To pointlessly stick to a "wedding theme", Sam (Chord Overstreet) proposed to Quinn (Diana Agron), despite only knowing her six weeks and failing to move their relationship beyond kissing. Look, I know they make a cute screen couple and it gives them both something to do on the show now, but... really? Does anybody have any semblance of emotion for Quinn/Sam as a couple yet? There's no foundation to their relationship, so why do the writers think everyone watching's going to be overjoyed to hear they're getting wed? You could have missed a few episodes this year and not even know Sam and Quinn are an item! It strikes me as an utterly lazy shortcut to take these characters down this path, so soon.

Finally, Sue Sylvester's (Jane Lynch) storyline this week was a total abomination. After discovering that her ex-lover is getting married, a jealous Sue decided it was about time she got hitched herself... to herself. Yes, internet dating indicated that the only person capable of loving Sue was Sue, so she took the unlikely route of organizing a self-marriage.

Simultaneously, Sue's mother Doris (Carol Burnett) arrived in town, and Glee was forced to honour a throwaway joke from season 1 that the Sylvester's are famous Nazi hunters. But what made for a funny line last year becomes something very different when Doris was talking about surreptitiously murdering old Germans who fled to America from Germany after the war. There was nothing funny or interesting about Doris as a character (a wasted opportunity), her "Ohio" duet with Sue was plain horrible, and the whole idea of Sue marrying herself didn't work. It wasn't quirky, it was stupid, and the Sue I know would have thought as much, too. Honestly, it felt like a storyline concocted purely to get the visual of Sue in a blue tracksuit bridal gown.

Overall, "Furt" was a dreadful episode (maybe Glee's worst ever), only made mildly watchable because it continued the story of Kurt being bullied, and eventually deciding to leave McKinley High to join the exclusive Dalton Academy (meaning he's also a rival at next week's Sectionals). But even in this story, I'm disappointed the show hasn't done more with the reveal Kurt's bully is a closeted homosexual, or at least sexually confused. That seemed like a good idea to explore, but the show's done nothing with it.

Am I being too harsh? Do you agree that "Furt" was, perhaps, the worst ever wedding episode in recent TV history? Even the title makes my teeth itch.

WRITER: Ryan Murphy
DIRECTOR: Carol Banker
TRANSMISSION: 23 November 2010, Fox, 8/7c

'Merlin' - Series 3 Finale Trailer

The BBC have released a trailer for the two-part finale of Merlin's third series, which begins this Saturday on BBC1/HD @7.45PM. It looks fantastic. In fact, it explains why most of series 3's middle has felt visually flat and unimaginative, as the budget appears to have been spent on the two-part bookends this year. I hope they don't follow that model next year, or accept their standalone episodes are uninspiring and give us a heavily serialized six-part run. It's an idea that might keep the show more focused and save the BBC some money. Anyway, I assume everyone agrees the trailer is exactly what they want this show to be most weeks?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

'Primeval' - Series 4 Trailer

Primeval returns in January for a fourth series, having survived the axe in summer 2009 thanks to a unique co-financing deal struck between ITV, Watch, Pro7 and BBC Worldwide. The official trailer has just been released, featuring an introduction from star Andrew-Lee Potts, which you can see embedded above. My reaction? Same old, same old. An impressive special effects showrell, and not much sense of anything else. But 80% of Primeval's enjoyment is gawping at the dinosaur/monster action sequences, so that's no big surprise. What do you make of it?

'FRINGE' 3.7 - "The Abducted"

We're back "over there" this week, for a surprisingly simple storyline that left room for a bigger subplot with self-aware Olivia (Anna Torv), as she renewed her efforts to get back to her own dimension without arousing suspicion. It was a perfectly reasonable and entertaining hour, with uncommonly good use of Broyles (Lance Reddick), if largely disposable because of the freak-of-the-week bedrock.

A serial kidnapper known as The Candyman has resurfaced, abducting a boy called Max (Michael Strusievici) from his bedroom, in a particularly unnerving sequence that played on the childhood fear of a "monster in the closet". Is it coincidence that this episode's director, Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser), once helmed A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, which starred another boogieman who targets kids in Freddy Krueger? Perhaps so, but it was nevertheless a fun echo in subject matter, although The Candyman wasn't developed enough to make him a truly iconic once-off villain for the series. Fringe could do with its own Eugene Victor Tooms cult, don't you think?

What made this story interesting was discovering that one of The Candyman's original victims was Broyles's son Christopher (Curtis Harris), who, like all the other children, was returned alive but suffering from ill health with bizarre puncture marks on the back of his neck. Christopher isn't expected to live to his eighteenth birthday as a result of The Candyman's experimentation, which only makes Broyles more determined to catch the felon and prevent another family going through the same heartache. Olivia offers a fresh perspective on the case, after noting a discrepancy in Christopher's statement that there were two kidnappers, which forms the basis of a theory that The Candyman is extracting "youth" from his young victims via their pituitary glands, and using it to rejuvenate his aged appearance. There weren't two kidnappers, but The Candyman's changed physique would have made it appear that way.

It remains a pleasure to watch the alt-Earth dynamic of Fringe Division, which seems to benefit Olivia's character in particular. Torv just looks a lot happier in the central role, playing a more upbeat and plucky version of Olivia. I find myself hoping her inserted memories of Fauxlivia's life and personality will stick, as it would be a real shame to go back to how Olivia was in season 1 and 2. I know many people found Olivia just as compelling in the previous seasons, just in a more reserved way, but I think we can all agree Torv looks more engaged with the material because of season 3's creative quirk's given her better material.

"The Abducted" was likely a simple story because the important moments were the garnishing setup for the future. Broyles (who knows Olivia isn't his Olivia) nevertheless trusted her when she requested to re-interview his fragile son, and became the first person to realize she's aware of her true identity again. Even better, as a courtesy because of her help in capturing The Candyman, he's willing to turn a blind eye to that fact. How long for is anyone's guess, but we seem to be moving towards a point when both dimensions realize their "enemy" is nothing of the sort. There's a chance for inter-dimensional harmony, perhaps even solutions to each universe's problems, if they can get over their prejudices and meet on the common ground.

The subplot had Olivia eliciting the help of caring cabbie Henry (Andre Royo), to help get her close to the State of Liberty on a boat he borrows from his cousin, enabling her to sneak into the Department of Defense on Liberty Island and restage Walternate's (John Noble) experiment that triggered a crossing to her native dimension. She succeeded, but the trip was once again very brief, and upon her return she was captured by Walternate.

The truly stimulating development came late, in the final scene, with Peter (Joshua Jackson) receiving a late-night phone call from a woman Olivia managed to get a message to before she vanished -- succinctly making it clear that he's currently sleeping with the "wrong" Olivia. I didn't really expect Fringe to reveal this so soon, and while it was disappointing Peter didn't come to the conclusion himself, without having the information dropped in his lap, I'm intrigued to see what he does next. I predict Peter will tell Broyles and together they'll keep tabs on Fauxlivia's movements, to see what she does. But surely he'll need Walter's help in mounting a rescue mission to the other side, effectively returning the favour from last season?

Overall, "The Abducted" was a solid episode with opportunities for Broyles to shine, although the A-story didn't really capitalize on its creepy beginnings. To compensate, we got unexpected development on the Olivia and Peter fronts, and that will hopefully push Fringe into a new phase come episode 8. I just hope the story continues to stretch into fascinating areas, and this change is well-timed to prevent season 3's gimmicks turning stale.

  • Anyone else think it stretched credibility to have Olivia invade the DoD single-handed, then somehow know how to exactly replicate the experiment Walternate performed on her? The security is a joke on the other side.
WRITERS: David Wilcox & Graham Roland
DIRECTOR: Chuck Russell
TRANSMISSION: 23 November 2010, Sky1/HD, 10PM

'CHUCK' 4.9 - "Chuck Versus Phase Three"

The conclusion of last week's storyline offered plenty of violence built on a foundation of strong emotion, and a welcome exploration of Chuck's (Zachary Levi) anxieties regarding his relationship with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), but it was sorely lacking in big laughs. Still, there was enough bruising action and focus on character to make "Chuck Versus Phase Three" worthwhile.

Chuck has been kidnapped by The Belgian (Richard Chamberlain) and transported to Thailand (for no discernible reason), where he's subjected to invasive psychological techniques designed to retrieve the intel contained in his dormant Intersect. These are visualized as a variety of anxiety dreams, where Chuck's lack of Intersect is equated to sexual impotence. "I want you to ffflash" purrs Sarah in bed, lingering on the "f" long enough to have you cupping the ears of any children in the room.

Meanwhile, the real Sarah became obsessed with finding her captured lover, growing exasperated that the might of the CIA isn't getting results. Rather implausibly, it's Morgan (Joshua Gomez) who finds the only strong lead, prompting the illegal capture of a henchman from the Thai embassy downtown. Sarah tortured the Belgian's associate for information, before resolving to go rogue in Thailand to rescue Chuck without backup from Casey (Adam Baldwin), becoming notorious as "The Giant Blonde She-Male" to the local populace.

Elsewhere, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) discovered her late father's high-tech laptop in the back of his Ford Mustang, leaving Devon (Ryan McPartlin) at home to get past its stringent security. A task that Devon didn't have much success with, forcing him to request a Nerd Herd home visit from Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay)...

This was an episode with a few smart ideas and some of the best fight sequences Chuck's delivered. If you enjoy seeing Sarah Walker kick ass, "... Versus Phase Three" is the new benchmark, as she became a hybrid of Jack Bauer (intense, ends-justify-the-means mentality) and Kill Bill's Uma Thurman (ruthless, unwavering) for the entire hour. Sarah's Rambo III-inspired clash with a muscled Thai warrior (dressed in black shorts and foot bandages), featured the best fight choreography in the show's history.

Second of Strahotness: bedroom blues

I also greatly enjoyed the drug-induced nightmares Chuck was presented with, particularly the one where his escape from captivity was revealed to be a dream. A very old trick, but damn it worked again. The Belgian's titular "phase three" procedure -- to erase Chuck's memories as a last-ditch effort to get at the remaining Intersect -- was also brilliantly visualized on-screen. Owing a debt to Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, it was genuinely haunting when Chuck found himself in the Buy More, as the store's lights gradually turned off, seeing the faces of his friends and family stuck behind television screens.

Even the CGI for the slow-motion explosion of a window, showering Chuck with shards of glass, delivered the right mix of wonderment and prickly tension. The only thing I wasn't convinced by is seeing Chuck get rescued at the last second, but still retaining all of his memories. That's kind of like deleting the contents of a computer hard-drive, hitting cancel when the process hits 99%, and still having access to everything. That just doesn't happen. I was expecting Chuck to be rescued, but for him to have forgotten who Sarah was. But hey, I'm not writing this show.

The episode's big concern -- that Sarah's actions conclusively prove the depth of her love, and that she doesn't care if Chuck's a regular guy or a walking supercomputer -- was also covered well. I was also surprised to see the Intersect still hasn't been restored by the episode's conclusion. It looks like we're in for a longer arc with Chuck as an ordinary spy, proving himself on a level equal to everyone else, which could be good. At the very least, the moment Chuck's Intersect inevitably returns will, no doubt, prove invigorating after a long absence. This is essentially Chuck doing Clark Kent's arc in Superman II.

Overall, "Chuck Versus Phase Three" worked because everything flowed from a place of emotion and character, and for action fans we got to see Yvonne Strahovski smashing people's heads into bars and kicking tattooed men in the face. It was a shame there wasn't more laughs to be had (even in the comic relief subplot with Devon), but I'm interested to see where they go from here.

  • Any predictions about what's on Stephen Bartowski's mysterious laptop? I was expecting something Intersect related, but Ellie's reaction to whatever's on the screen didn't seem to fit.
  • I had to question the decision of Devon to let Jeff and Lester try to gain access to a former-spy's laptop. He's lucky there was a password as the opening prompt, or he'd have some explaining to do!
  • It looks like we're headed for a mid-season proposal and a season finale wedding for Chuck/Sarah, doesn't it. I'm guessing the writers are trying to keep their options open, because if NBC pickup the show for a fifth season it might be best to leave the "wedding arc" for next year. But if NBC decide to drop the show (unlikely, I feel) they can quickly get the wedding story done before next summer.
WRITER: Kristin Newman
DIRECTOR: Anton Cropper
TRANSMISSION: 22 November 2010, NBC, 8/7c

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

'Doctor Who': "A Christmas Carol" Promotional Photo

The BBC have released the first official promotional image for this year's Doctor Who Christmas special, "A Christmas Carol" (see above). A trailer already premiered during the Children In Need telethon last Friday. The official synopsis of the special is below:

"Amy and Rory are trapped on a crashing space liner, and the only way The Doctor can rescue them is to save the soul of a lonely old miser, in a festive edition of the time-travelling adventure, written by Steven Moffat. But is Kazran Sardick, the richest man in Sardicktown, beyond redemption? And what is lurking in the fogs of Christmas Eve?"
One surprising aspect of this special is that, apparently, it doesn't take place on Earth. So is Sardicktown an alien planet based on the works of Charles Dickens? Is there some virtual reality or hallucination at work here? All will be revealed when "A Christmas Carol" premieres on Christmas Day.

FX UK: Coming In 2011

FX's press people have announced a rough schedule of their plans for next year, and it makes for interesting reading. So, you know, after I desperately try to make this blurb last long enough to word-wrap the image on the left better, read on:

True Blood – Season 3 (UK premiere)
The Cleveland Show – Season 1 (FX debut)
American Dad - Season 6 (UK premiere)
Breaking Bad – Season 1 (FX repeat)

NCIS – Season 8
The Walking Dead – Season 1 (repeat)
Arrested Development (FX debut, repeats)

The Wire – Season 1-5 (repeats)
The Listener – Season 2 (UK premiere)
The Booth – web-series starring Xander Berkley (24, Nikita), described as "In Treatment meets The Twilight Zone"

The Defenders – Season 1 (UK premiere)

Dexter – Season 5 (UK premiere)
Now, the news worth shouting from the rooftop is that Breaking Bad's getting another repeat on FX. It actually debuted in the UK on that digital channel, but I think it's fair to say more people have access to FX these days -- so, hopefully Breaking Bad will have a better chance to shine. I'm hoping the buzz from existing British fans is strong enough to get more people tuning in. It's a national TV disgrace that Breaking Bad's not more widely known in the UK.

'THE TRIP' 1.4 - "Hipping Hall"

This is a strange show to review, as there are times when the repetition goes far beyond a joke (just how many Michael Caine impressions do we need to hear?), and it's only in the opening/closing five minutes that the story touches on something deeper. That said, The Trip still has a peculiar grip on my attention, as there are instances when the comedy and drama knit very well.

"Hipping Hall" shook up the format slightly, as Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon were joined for a meal by Steve's agent Emma (Claire Keelan) and Spanish photographer Yolanda (Marta Barrio) from The Observer. This meant Coogan and Brydon had an audience in two attractive women, so their competitiveness took on the feel of cheeky boys trying to impress girls in the school canteen. Having spent three episodes watching a "duel" between two comedians, it was refreshing to see a more layered discussion and interjections from other people. Amusingly, Rob's renowned impression of Ronnie Corbett failed to be recognized by either of the new dinner guests.

I was surprised by the darker turn the episode took, when photographer Yolanda was revealed to be a crack addict and Steve was tempted into a relapse -- which he only narrowly avoided. While having his photo taken on the windswept hills, Steve received the offer of a co-starring role in a US TV pilot, only to have second thoughts when he heard he'd be contracted for seven years if it's a hit. Already concerned about his middle age, you could see the panic in his eyes that so much of his forties would be swallowed up -- and for what? Fame and fortune as the next Hugh Laurie is great, but you get the feeling Steve's beginning to consider the home comforts he's taken for granted.

But maybe the real bombshell was seeing Rob make a clumsy move on Emma back at the hotel, moving in for a kiss while singing as Tom Jones and misjudging her "signals" entirely. It surprised me because Rob's been written as the sensible one who wouldn't risk his marriage, as many episodes have ended with him having an affectionate bedtime chat with his wife on the phone. Is hanging around Steve beginning to rub off on him? Or was this just a silly mistake brought on by loneliness?

Overall, I'm still enjoying The Trip, but it never stays consistently brilliant for me to consider a whole episode totally successful. There are fantastic scenes, good lines, occasionally intriguing character moments, but also a lot of repetitiveness and indulgent twaddle. I think a two hour-long specials would have been a better format for this, to take the sting out.

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
TRANSMISSION: 22 November 2010, BBC2/HD, 10PM

'DEXTER' 5.9 - "Teenage Wasteland"

I question the decision to give us a predominantly self-contained character-based story, focusing on Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and step-daughter Astor (Christina Robinson), so close to the end of this season. In previous years, the last four hours have been a juggernaut of tension, surprises and shocks, but "Teenage Wasteland" felt like something that could have been dealt with mid-season. So while there were great moments that I enjoyed, and it was an episode I could appreciate on many levels, it wasn't something I could totally get behind.

This week, Dexter's became the gym buddy of Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller), who wants to help him deal with his bereavement through exercise and his best-selling philosophies (which he admits he plagiarized Plato.) Dexter has a different motivation: to prove Jordan's guilt as ringleader of Lumen's (Julia Stiles) rapists. After noticing Jordan wears a pendant containing a vial of blood, Dexter resolves to get a sample and match it to a missing person on the police database, thus confirming it's a "trophy" of Jordan's crime.

However, Dex becomes sidetracked from his mission by the surprise return of a drunken Astor, who's run away from her grandparents with best-friend Olivia, and is surprised to find Lumen in her late-mother's house. Believing Dexter's already got himself a new girlfriend (seemingly confirmed when baby Harrison calls Lumen "mama"), Astor became angry with her step-dad's behaviour, forcing Dexter into more uncomfortable situation he's ill-equipped to deal with. And matters are complicated when Lumen discovers that Astor's friend Olivia is the victim of an abusive father, prompting Dex to take action...

As the primary focus, your reaction to this plot will colour your opinion of "Teenage Wasteland" as a whole. Christina Robinson was better in this scenario (a tearaway teen, trying to reconnect with the stepdad she's chosen to blame for her mother's loss), than I felt she was dealing with the immediate aftermath of Rita's demise. It was especially good to see Astor react to Lumen's presence; who, despite being introduced as a new tenant (even to Debra), was commonly perceived as an inappropriate rebound for widower Dexter. And while that's not the case, it certainly feels like Dexter could have a more fruitful relationship with Lumen; a woman who knows his ugly secret and still accepts him.

The way this storyline segued into Dexter going after Olivia's violent father, beating him with clinical precision in an alleyway, was certainly an enjoyable moment, but still something that felt extraneous to the season's concerns. The return of ghost Harry (James Remar) to congratulate Dexter for using his inner monster for a chivalrous reason, not merely to feed a homicidal mania, was a nice touch -- although I'm not convinced this is the first occasion Dexter's hurt/killed someone for another person's direct benefit. Hasn't the show explored this before?

Anyway, the fact Dexter's actions resulted in him receiving the gratitude of Olivia's family, the praise of Harry (together with an apology that he never saw this altruism in Dexter before), and helped repair his relationship with Astor, felt designed to be a turning point for Dexter's rehabilitation. I doubt the show is headed in the direction of Dex becoming a normal blood-spatter analyst who's kicked his passion for killing criminals, but there are occasional episodes when he takes a step closer to normality and is duly rewarded.

At the Miami Metro, Debra's (Jennifer Carpenter) banishment to the archives reaped an unexpected reward, when she realized DNA found on the dead "barrel women" came from multiple people, meaning culprit Boyd Fowler was likely part of a gang. She brought this to the attention of Angel (David Zayas), but both had trouble convincing LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) to re-open the case, because doing so would reflect badly on her performance as lieutenant.

I'm not sure I believe nobody would have realized DNA found on the dead bodies came from different people, either before or after they were tricked into believing Boyd Fowler was the only perpetrator, but at least now the Miami Metro are close behind Dexter's investigation. Most seasons take this approach, but it's always quite fun to see what happens when the two worlds collide in the final episodes. Also intriguing to see the writers continue to turn LaGuerta into the biggest bitch on the planet, even if she did renege on her decision by the end. She's either going to be redeemed in the next few episodes, or die to give the audience some relief.

Finally, Quinn (Desmond Harrington) can’t seem to stop Stan Liddy's (Peter Weller) investigation into his girlfriend's brother. Liddy has become convinced that Dexter's involved in a serious scandal (having witnessed him dumping ominous black bags into the ocean with Lumen), and wants nothing more than to expose whatever's going on a way to get his job back.

I wish the writers were doing a better job with Liddy's investigation and role on this show, as he's such a remarkably abrasive and horrid character (in a good way). Peter Weller is riveting in the role and his character deserved a better arc, as someone who's effectively a replacement for Sgt Doakes. It's especially fun to see him antagonize Quinn, who treats Liddy as an awful mistake he can't seen to undo. But why isn't Quinn more interested in the photos of Dex and Lumen dumping bags in the sea late a night? Hopefully Liddy will come into his own now, as he's resolute in getting to the bottom of Dexter's activities.

An uneven episode, but the good moments gradually stacked up in its favour. I was particularly pleased with the final scene, where Jordan Chase (aware Dex tampered with his pendant) called his house and had Lumen take a message for Dexter ("tick, tick, that's the sound of your life running out...") before adding "take care Lumen." A really unsettling moment, nicely played by Miller, whose power was neatly visualized by him staring out across the city from a high-rise window, God-like.

It certainly feels like the gloves are off between Jordan/Lumen/Dexter, as there's no secrets between them and nobody has the upper hand. We've been here before (did anyone else think Dex sharing gym time with Jordan echoed his closeness with Arthur Mitchell last season, too?), but it'll be interesting to see how the writers draw things to a close. The pieces may be familiar, but it's how they’re played that counts now. I just hope this season's off kilter pacing doesn't kill the momentum again.

  • I recall that Jonny Lee Miller's ex-wife Angelina Jolie used to wear the blood of her lovers in a vial around her neck, so was that detail here a bizarre in-joke?
  • I'm glad Quinn's revealed to Debra that he suspected her brother was Kyle Butler, associate of the Trinity Killer. Hopefully that's another seed planted in her mind that, added to her discovery the Ice Truck Killer was Dex's brother, will make her delve deeper into her sibling's history.
  • Is the absent Irish nanny officially a trivial element of season 5 with no major significance? For awhile, I kept expecting some crazy reveal that she's related to someone Dexter knows.
  • Who taught Harrison the word "mama", huh?
  • Any theories on the woman whose blood Chase keeps in his vial? It's someone who's alive, so is it a relative? Wife? Girlfriend? Is it an innocent display of love? Surely not.
  • Has Jordan noticed Cole, his head of security, has vanished since his latest seminar?
  • "Teenage Wasteland" is the erroneous name of a song by The Who, correctly titled "Baba O'Riley". The song has the lyric "teenage wasteland" repeated so often it became widely mistaken as the title. Confusingly, "Teenage Wasteland" then became a different song by The Who's Pete Townshend.
WRITER: Lauren Gussis
DIRECTOR: Ernest Dickerson
TRANSMISSION: 21 November 2010, Showtime, 9/8c