Monday, 31 January 2011

'FRINGE' 3.11 - "Reciprocity"


There were some elements of "Reciprocity" I really enjoyed, and it was fantastic to get forward momentum on the "doomsday device" that Massive Dynamic have managed to piece together, minus the supposed power source that Fauxlivia stole. It's a little ridiculous this machine (apparently built, dismantled and hidden by the "First People" hundreds of millions of years ago), is still in working order and was so easily reconstructed by another civilization so easily, but I can go with it.

Unfortunately, while this all delighted me, this week's storyline was ultimately rather dull and designed to make Peter (Joshua Jackson) feel more integral to the show. It's a pity, but Peter has always been the weak link on Fringe: a character almost entirely built on what he means to other people (the son Walter stole and raised as his own; the man both Olivia's fell in love with; the vital cog for Walternate's doomsday device.) The series introduced Peter as a mysterious prodigy who's been around the world and has connections in the underworld, but you rarely get a flavour of that. Occasionally, Fringe will remember what Peter was originally supposed to be and, if it helps the story, have him take Olivia (Anna Torv) to see one of his off-the-record contacts (like that eccentric bookkeeper) who may be able to deliver enough exposition to aide the plot.

"Reciprocity" again pushed the idea that Peter has some weird communion with the First People's technology, as his very presence seemed to awaken the machine and gave him an instant nosebleed. It's all quite fascinating. Is the machine reacting to Peter in particular? It would appear so, otherwise Walternate could just use someone else to power it and destroy the prime universe. Or is Peter "special" because he's spent so much time in a dimension he wasn't born in? But again, Peter's really just being used as a plot-device: a human battery. This episode was primarily about trying to stop someone who's killing various shape-shifters trying to destroy the data contained in Fauxlivia's journal that she left behind, with the twist being that the serial-killer was Peter, who claims he'd fed up being reactive to situations, making Walter (John Noble) hypothesize the doomsday device has someone "weaponized" him. If true, it's again unfortunate that Peter only exhibits interesting qualities when he's under the influence of strange technology and not because of natural, explicable changes in his persona.

It was also rather laughable how Josh Singer's script tackled an early situation with a "mole" in Fringe Division, as the episode had spent such a conspicuously long time on a scientist character Walter took an instant dislike to that the mystery was spoiled before it even had a chance to be nurtured. There was one moment where the guilty scientist was framed in the shot seconds after the declaration of a mole was made, which was almost comical. They might as well have stuck an Austin Power-style mole on the actor's cheek and referred to him as "Dr. Mol" throughout the whole episode.

Overall, "Reciprocity" was an episode of good moments hanging from the backbone of a weak storyline. It appreciated Olivia realizing Peter is embarrassed about having fallen for Fauxlivia's wiles, and deciding to give their relationship another chance, too. It risked becoming torturous to keep having Olivia chastise Peter for being unable to tell her apart from her doppelganger, so I'm glad the writers have ended that. Having Olivia realize that Fauxlivia genuinely loved Peter, from what she's written about him in her journal, was also a good move. Now it's clearer to us that Fauxlivia wasn't faking everything while on her mission and the sci-fi love-triangle has some integrity to it.

What did you think? This wasn't a bad episode, but I thought it was a largely underwhelming way to deliver some information.

Asides

  • I loved the moment when Walter himself referred to the alternate Olivia as "Fauxlivia". Fringe's writers apparently use "Bolivia" in scripts, but obviously realized that the wittier term "Fauxlivia", coined by fans, was a better option. I'm glad. It's also just fun to see a form of interaction going on between the show and its audience.
  • Walter's now re-growing the brain cells William Bell extracted from his head, in order to improve his IQ. But didn't Bell just take away chunks of Walter's brain containing specific memories?
WRITER: Josh Singer
DIRECTOR: Jeannot Szwarc
TRANSMISSION: 28 January 2011, Fox, 9/8c

'BEING HUMAN' 3.2 - "Adam's Family"


As a comedy-drama, I prefer it when Being Human's tackling serious subjects and significant situations with humour as a pressure release valve, as it did last week. "Adam's Family" was ostensibly an example of the show doing exactly that, but I thought its black comedy suffocated the sincerity and, frankly, Brian Dooley's script wasn't funny or dramatic enough for me to care. In some instances, it was also too self-consciously silly for my taste.

Adam (Craig Roberts) is a 46-year-old vampire trapped in the body of a teenage boy, since at least 1985, when his sympathetic mum and dad started to quench his rapacious thirst by offering him their own blood. It was an arrangement that has led to his parent's premature deaths, and Adam being mollycoddled into arrested development. Having spent the past few decades literally suckling his parents "milk", Adam's suddenly forced to cope with the realities of his vampire independence, after he's taken under the wing of George (Russell Tovey) and Nina (Sinead Keenan), to the dismay of Mitchell (Aidan Turner), who doesn't want a voracious young vampire as a lodger now he's resumed his blood abstinence.

Meanwhile, Annie (Lenora Crichlow) was so grateful to have been liberated from Purgatory by the selfless Mitchell that she decided to become his "guardian angel" and help him get a job at a local hospital. And later, Mitchell was approached by a representative of the vampire "Old Ones", affable Richard Hargreaves (Mark Lewis Jones), who want him to leave for South America to escape the police investigation into the "Box Tunnel 20" train massacre.

There was undoubtedly a strong idea beating at the heart of this episode, concerning parental responsibilities. The four regular characters offer us different perspectives on life with a supernatural condition, but Adam's arrival offered something relatively fresh; a smart aleck adolescent unafraid to make lewd or disparaging remarks. Unfortunately, while it was a fun idea to see everyone cope with morose Adam and his petulant quips, he lost his edge when he was palmed off to Mr Hargreaves and his wife Emma (Melanie Walters), who were soon revealed to be bourgeoisie vampires who siphon blood from a willing "gimp" (Morgan James) they keep locked in their basement, and host depraved parties with their fanged friends. Adam quickly shrunk into the background once the oddball Hargreaves's stole the plot, in a storyline that wound up feeling like a feeble League Of Gentlemen sketch.

My issues with Annie reared their head again, as I find Lenora Crichlow's lively performance often becomes irritating, particularly when she ruined Mitchell's job interview with hospital administrator Nita Mawulawde (Anita Reynolds) by accidentally making him appear to be insane. A scene ripped straight out of the Ghost Comedy Writing handbook that fell flat because it wasn't inventive with the clichéd "man talking to a ghost looks crazy to normal people" idea. Crichlow's far better when she's given serious moments to bite into (like her lovely scene with Mitchell on the pier), as broad comedy just feels forced with her.

On the plus side, partnering Annie with Mitchell and teasing us with the potential of a romance might help keep Annie more interesting than usual, as ghosts are so difficult to write (even with the irritating fact Annie can touch people and objects, which surely makes her more Invisible Woman than spirit.) The downside is that we'll maybe see less of Mitchell and George as buddies, and their close friendship is a big part of the reason Being Human works. In bringing Nina into their social circle, she seems to have become glued to George's hip and, while Tovey and Keenan are funny together (remember last week's prison break?), a part of me pines for the classic trio with Nina as a semi-regular. Obviously, TV shows evolve and we should be glad Being Human isn't lazily resetting things every year (as the Syfy remake is more liable to), so I'll reserve final judgement on the wisdom of splitting the characters into Mitchell/Annie and George/Nina double-acts, for now.

Craig Roberts (Young Dracula) left a good impression as Adam, despite being lumbered with awkward sexual dialogue even The Office's Gareth Keenan would be too embarrassed to say aloud, but it was a shame his character was overwhelmed by the Hargreaves's when the story shifted focus. The whole situation with George and Nina leaving Adam in the care of the Hargreaves' wasn't believable, either, which the script essentially admitted and tried to turn into a joke when they had seconds thoughts about their decision immediately after returning home.

Overall, I predict I'll be in the minority over this episode, if the Twitter reaction is anything to go by, but "Adam's Family" just didn't work for me. It was two half-decent ideas welded together, each one sucking the life from the other. I'd have preferred to see more focus on Adam as a problem child for the characters to contend with, which was working well until the Hargreaves and their hackneyed sex party took over.

Asides

  • Knowing that Aidan Turner's joined Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, there's a distinct possibility he'll be written out of Being Human soon. Three years is a fairly long time for an actor to remain in a role that, frankly, doesn't seem to be offering much new for him. We're being teased that Mitchell's destined to die from a "wolf-shaped bullet" this year, so who else thinks Mitchell's a goner?
  • You may not have known this, but "Adam's Family" also works as setup to the online webseries Becoming Human, which follows Adam's life.
  • Week two and there's still no sign of the resurrected Herrick. Or the "McNairwolves", which was more of a shame. I've copyrighted the term "McNairwolves", by the way.
WRITER: Brian Dooley
DIRECTOR: Colin Teague
TRANSMISSION: 30 January 2011, BBC3/HD, 9PM

Poll: Will you be watching Sky Atlantic?


Sky Atlantic premieres on 1 February, with its lineup of US drama that includes the majority of HBO's programming. Shows on the way include Boardwalk Empire, Blue Bloods, Treme, Weeds, Entourage, The Sopranos, Game Of Thrones, Mad Men, etc.

SkyA is initially free to all Sky subscribers for six-months, before becoming exclusive to subscribers of Sky's "Variety" pack. There are currently no plans to make SkyA available to non-Sky customers, such as Virgin Media or BT Vision viewers.

So, with the channel less than 24-hours from its long-awaited launch, will you be watching Sky Atlantic? And if not, do you intend to? Or will you download its programming from the internet, or wait to buy DVD box-sets?

Vote in my poll below, and leave a comment:



The poll will close on 4 February @5pm (GMT). The result will be revealed at the weekend.

TV Picks: 31 January – 6 February 2011 ('Apprentice USA', 'Boardwalk Empire', 'Harry Hill's TV Burp', 'Hawaii Five-0', 'Louis Theroux', 'Marchlands', 'The Promise', 'Secret Diary Of A Call Girl', etc.)


Every Monday I browse the UK television schedules for the coming week, selecting each day's best new shows. Below you'll find the result of that work...

MONDAY 31st
The Battle for Bomb Alley: Panorama (BBC1, 8.30pm) Documentary investigating the differences between the coalition forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Storyville: Meet The Climate Skeptics (BBC4, 10pm) Documentary on the skepticism about global warming that has started to influence the public's perception of the environmental issue.

TUESDAY 1st
The Apprentice USA (BBC1, 12.20am) Season 6 of the US version of the business reality gameshow. Stars Donald Trump.
Extraordinary Dogs (Channel 5, 7.30pm) Documentary on rescue dogs from around the world.
A Farmer's Life For Me (BBC2, 8pm) Eight-part series where nine couples get the chance to trial a rural lifestyle. Hosted by Jimmy Doherty.
The Betty Driver Story (ITV, 8pm) Documentary on the career of soap actress Betty Driver, who plays Betty in Coronation Street.
Let The Stories Begin (Sky1, 8pm) Preview of Sky Atlantic's TV offerings, featuring interviews with Jon Hamm, Sean Bean & Kelly Macdonald. Presented by Mariella Frostrup.
The Vampire Diaries (ITV2, 9pm) Season 2 of the US teen vampire drama continues.
Boardwalk Empire (Sky Atlantic, 9pm) Season 1 of the US gangster drama set during 1920s Prohibition. Stars Steve Buscemi & Kelly Macdonald. This feature-length pilot is directed by Martin Scorsese.
Do We Really Need The Moon? (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on the moon and its influence on the Earth. Presented by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock.
Secret Diary Of A Call Girl (ITV2, 10pm) Series 4 of the risque drama about a high-class prostitute. Stars Billie Piper.
Jersey Shore (MTV, 10pm) Season 3 of the US reality drama.
Blue Bloods (Sky Atlantic, 10.30pm) Season 1 of US cop drama. Stars Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg & Bridget Moynahan.

WEDNESDAY 2nd
Beauty & The Beast: Ugly Face Of Prejudice (Channel 4, 8pm) Six-part series about people and their struggle with their physical appearance.
Gossip Girl (ITV2, 8pm) Season 2 of the US drama continues. Stars Blake Lively & Leighton Meester.
Midsomer Murders (ITV1, 8pm) Final episode of the mystery drama to star John Nettles as Detective Barnaby.
Who Gets The Best Jobs? (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on social equality in the UK. Presented by Richard Bilton.

THURSDAY 3rd
Livingstone: Serious Explorers (BBC1, 4.30pm) Seven children follow in the footsteps of legendary explorer Dr Livingtone.
Louis Theroux: The Ultra Zionists (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary where quirky journalist Louis Theroux spends time with a subculture of Jewish settlers on the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Marchlands (ITV1, 9pm) Five-part supernatural drama about three families living in the same house, across three separate eras ('60s, '80s and '10s), all linked by the tragic death of a girl in 1967. Stars Jodie Whittaker, Denis Lawson, Tessa Peake-Jones, Dean Andrews, Alex Kingston, Elliot Cowan, Jamie Thomas King & Sydney Wade.
Abraham Lincoln: Saint Or Sinner (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on the famous US President's enduring legacy and political reputation.
Lunch Monkeys (BBC3, 10.30pm) Series 2 of the sitcom.

FRIDAY 4th
Law & Order (Channel 5, 10pm) Season 17 of the US crime drama.
Welcome To Romford (Channel 4, 7.30pm) Documentary on a minicab firm in Romford.

SATURDAY 5th
The Lock Up (BBC3, 12.15am) Eight-part documentary following police officers in Hull.
Harry Hill's TV Burp (ITV1, 7pm) Series 11 of the show where madcap comedian Harry Hill takes a comical look at the week's television.
Faulks On Fiction (BBC2, 9pm) Four-part series where Sebastian Faulks examines the British novel.

SUNDAY 6th
Masterchef New Zealand (Watch, 7pm) Kiwi version of the popular culinary challenge show.
The People's Supermarket (Channel 4, 8pm) New series where restauranteur Arthur Potts Dawson tries to create a new type of supermarket.
The Promise (Channel 4, 9pm) Four-part drama following parallel stories of a teenage Londoner visiting her grandfather in Israel, and a British soldier in 1940s Palestine. Stars Claire Foy, Christian Cooke, Itay Tiran, Katharina Schuttler & Perdita Weeks.
Hawaii Five-0 (Sky1, 9pm) Remake of the action cop drama. Stars Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim & Grace Park.
Freddie Flintoff Versus The World (ITV1, 10.45pm) Eight-part series following the laddish ex-cricketer around the world, competing against other sportsmen. In this opener, Flintoff is joined by fellow cricketer Darren Gough in Mexico.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

'SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA' - "Missio"


I'm relieved to see Gods Of The Arena quickly reaching the highs it took Blood & Sand half a season to achieve. The writers clearly understand their show now and, despite feeling that a few ideas are being recycled with different characters, "Missio" delivered more of the deviousness and sharp emotion that became so compelling last year. In the wake of Batiatus (John Hannah) being beaten in the street by flaxen Tullius (Stephen Lovatt) and pressured to remove his gladiators from competition, this week the battered lanista unleashed a plan to go over the head of Tullius by endearing his fighters to the game's visiting organizer Varrus, with a little help from his wife's friend Gaia (Jaime Murray).

A key feature of Spartacus is how the institutionalized slaves come to realize they're just meat-sacks, to be controlled on the whim of their master, often at the expense of their self-respect, principles, sexual orientation, moral code, and physical or emotional wellbeing. Batiatus isn't as callous as he was in Blood & Sand, and his marriage is certainly much stronger with Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) because she hasn't yet started her affair with Crixus (Manu Bennett), so it was interesting to see him look a little disgusted with himself when entertaining Varrus took unexpected turns: such as allowing champion Gannicus (Dustin Clare) to have sex with slave girl Melitta (Marisa Ramirez), the beautiful wife of his most trusted gladiator Oenomaus, just to satisfy their guest's taste for voyeurism. It was a surprisingly difficult scene to watch for viewers, too -- knowing the irony that Gannicus boasted to Melitta that he can fuck his way out of most situations, and the show's done a solid job selling the devotion Melitta has for her faithful husband Oenomaus, which was being despoiled behind his back.

"We do what we must in this house" Melitta told her husband after her humiliating experience, just as Oenomaus himself had been given a similarly abrasive wake-up call when Doctore (Temuera Morrison), angry at news he's to be replaced by Oenomaus, challenged his successor to a no-holds barred fight that led to his unfortunate death. And with Doctore's demise leading to Oenomaus's succession, thus comes the end of the gladiator's dream of returning to the arena and reclaiming the glory that's since been taken by Gannicus, the man who's also now betrayed him with his wife. The writers are once again doing a great job building relationship drama by twisting characters and their situations into tough shapes. These are soap-like stories, but the added zest of its ancient setting gives everything a strong punch.

Also fun to see Crixus rising from his lowly position as a mere slave, desperate to achieve the mark of the Brotherhood and prove himself a worthy gladiator, even growing close to besting Gannicus in a fight overseen by Varrus. It seems that Crixus has the Spartacus role this year, while Gaia (who clearly fancies the Gaul) is being written as an early version of evil Ilithyia from Blood & Sand -- although, as of right now, she seems very genuine. Perhaps she'll end up getting close to Crixus, only for a jealous Lucretia to steal him away from her, which will result in an acrimonious breakup to their friendship. Part of the fun with prequels is trying to guess how certain events come to pass, and we know that Gaia won't be around.

Overall, this was an impressive second episode and I was pleased to see so much happening (aided by the extended 52-minute runtime of Starz dramas), but more importantly it's great that new characters like Gaia and Gannicus already feel like part of the furniture. This is a great sign for Blood & Sand's second season, which returns later this year with Liam McIntyre replacing Andy Whitfield in the title role.

What do you make of Gods Of The Arena so far? If it avoiding the pitfalls most prequels face, or are you slightly bored because you know certain characters won't die. In "Missio", there was a moment of high drama when Crixus's life was put in the hands of Gaia, who could have ordered his death, but we know from Blood & Sand that Crixus is safe and will eventually become the Champion of Capua. Does this damage the show Gods Of The Arena too much, or should we just focus our attention more on the characters whose fates are a mystery to us, and treat the rest as enjoyable back-story brought to vibrant, blood-spattered life?

WRITERS: Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon
DIRECTOR: Rick Jacobson
TRANSMISSION: 28 January 2011, Starz, 9/8c

'PRIMEVAL' 4.6


After last week's relative triumph, it was back down to earth with a bump for the penultimate episode of what's been a disjointed, frustrating comeback year for Primeval. The only indisputable success has been the enhanced quality of the CG (by virtue of the show's upgrade to HD), even if the creatures still rarely look like they exist in their environments or interact believably with the actors.

This week, an anomaly was detected at a stately home, so Matt (Ciarán McMenamin), Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and Abby (Hannah Spearritt) were sent to investigate, with time-traveller Emily (Ruth Bradley) tagging along under Matt's supervision. Arriving at the site, the team realized a group of Hyaenodon's (prehistoric hyenas) have been let loose in the building, which is currently the venue for a lavish wedding. And, coincidentally, the bride-to-be was none other than former ARC member Jenny Lewis (Lucy Brown), who it's revealed has kept her dino-fighting past a secret from milquetoast fiancé Michael. Meanwhile, Becker (Ben Mansfield) was tasked with hunting down errant Victorian desperado Ethan (Jonathan Byrne), eventually discovering his warehouse hideout, but finding himself in a precarious situation when he blundered inside and tripped one of Ethan's booby-traps. Fortunately, Jess (Ruth Kearney) was available to help him defuse Ethan's bomb, having accompanied her beloved Becker on his stakeout.

Unsurprisingly, this was another Primeval formula of "unusual setting" + "primitive beasts". The location and Hyaenodon's didn't offer anything terribly compelling, however, and to be honest the episode struggled to make this situation work. Why would Jenny want her big day to go ahead, if she's been made aware by her former colleagues that there's a pack of ravenous Hyaenodon's on the premises, who could easily attack and kill one of her guests? Why were the ARC team willing to go along with Jenny's idea of quietly continuing their mission without interrupting proceedings, knowing the clear risk to human life? And why did Abby and Emily seem to forget themselves and join Jenny for an impromptu girl's night in, before slipping on some slinky dresses and becoming part of the wedding ceremony the next morning? It also stuck out as being very rude of Jenny not to have invited Abby, Connor and Lester (Ben Miller) to her wedding to begin with, and the episode suffered from its chronic budget issues of being unable to populate any location with characters beyond the regulars. The sense of peril was therefore drastically reduced, as the wedding guests seemed to vanish into thin air until they were required for a few brief scenes.

This isn't croquet, this is "Extreme Croquet"
Putting aside the myriad nitpicks of this episode, it was mildly enjoyable to see the lovely Lucy Brown make a guest-starring return, despite the fact her drippy character was never very interesting and did nothing here to dissuade me otherwise. Jenny's relationship with Michael could have been the emotional backbone to the episode (a storyline about a woman keeping secrets from her betrothed), but it wasn't written to a standard that made this anything but a stock situation. Superficially, I guess it was nice to see Emily and Abby looking rather fetching in figure-hugging dresses, getting to work together as a mace-wielding duo during a Hyaenodon attack.

The subplot with Ethan continued to shuffle along, even though this is the penultimate episode and I was hoping for some clarity. The mystery of his character has been spoonfed ineptly, as I'm just puzzled by his behaviour and motivation. The clues each episode gives us about Emily/Ethan are so ambiguous, it's as if each writer doesn't know what's going on either but have been told to include certain things. I just hope next week's finale explains why someone so disturbed was travelling through time with Emily, and what his backstory is -- but to have reached this stage in the series without knowing Ethan's goal is just bad writing. It's impossible to care about him because we have no idea who he is, what he's doing, what he wants, or what he's planning. We're just told by Emily he's a threat and have to make sense of his actions (trying to kill Emily, setting booby-traps at a warehouse lair, visiting what appears to be his family home and getting recognized by an elderly neighbour, etc.) It seems likely that Matt and Gideon (Anton Lesser), who was unsurprisingly revealed to be his father, are time-travellers from the future, on a mission to stop Ethan instigating an apocalypse using the anomalies, but the show's target audience of 10-year-olds must be totally confused. Doctor Who does a far better job of gently unspooling its year's mytharc.

What did you think? I know Primeval splits opinion; some people lap up the cheesiness and creature capers, others gnash their teeth at the illogical plots and weak characterization. It rarely hits a happy medium for me, and series 4 has been especially hamstrung with its mishandling of characters and unclear mytharc.

WRITER: Matthew Parkhill
DIRECTOR: Robert Quinn
TRANSMISSION: 29 January 2011, ITV1/HD, 7.20PM

Saturday, 29 January 2011

'BEING HUMAN' (USA) 1.2 – "There Goes The Neighborhood: Part 2"


I'm in a quandary with this series. As a remake it hasn't offended my love for the UK original, which started its own third series last weekend, and that's great. It's just a hard show to review at this unripe stage, because it's largely following the BBC version's storylines. Frankly, I can't really get excited about anything happening because I know where it's all going, or can hazard a very educated guess. Maybe when Being Human USA is standing on its own two feet, it'll be more entertaining to review every week, similarly to how NBC's The Office was a tedious affair for awhile because it was content to walk in the BBC's footsteps.

So for now, I'll just say this: "There Goes The Neighborhood: Part 2" was of equal quality to "Part 1", but I was surprised they explained the backstory to how Aidan (Sam Witwer) and Josh (Sam Huntington) lost their humanity in the brief prologue, considering the potential for a whole episode explaining their origins, and the fact the BBC made the wiser decision to wait before delving into all that background. It sometimes feels like the US version's too eager to get to the next opportunity for a special effect, rather than make us get under the skin of the three characters. Witwer's not terrible, but he's a little bland and wooden; Huntington's a likeable presence, but there isn't much of the thwarted passion Russell Tovey brings to the character; and Meaghan Rath is sweet and competent, although her character's more depressing than her bubblier UK counterpart. There are no major problems with Being Human USA so far, just a feeling that the show's a soft sitcom version of the original's grittier drama.

It's impossible to watch this show with a totally clear head if you've seen the UK version, really. I can't help comparing the performances to the British cast and noticing how the tone of the remake's softer and less realistic in some ways. Or as real as a show about a vampire, werewolf and ghost housemates can be. Being Human USA feels like a television show about a supernatural trio, whereas Being Human feels like a drama about three people afflicted with inhuman conditions. For me, this remake has good fidelity to the original's premise, storylines and characters, but not to its "kitchen sink" realism in terms of tone and performances.

Overall, I'm not sure I'll be writing full reviews of Being Human USA from hereon in, at least not until the majority of its storylines have clearly diverged from the BBC version (as Josh's appears to be, slowly.) That may take awhile, but I'll perhaps chip in with brief thoughts every week, until the show starts to feel less like "a copycat American twin" and more like "a sharp, witty British cousin who emigrated to the United States and developed an accent".

WRITERS: Jeremy Carver & Anna Fricke
DIRECTOR: Adam Kane
TRANSMISSION: 24 January 2011, Syfy, 9/8c

Friday, 28 January 2011

'The Office': Michael Scott meets David Brent


Since he disappeared from our screens in 2003, fans of The Office have been desperate to see more of Slough's nightmare boss David Brent, and they were finally rewarded this week. Ricky Gervais rescurrected his notorious character for an episode of the US remake, as a favour to the outgoing Steve Carell, who has played his American counterpart Michael Scott for six years. The one-minute scene can be seen above.

It's certainly a nice moment that fans should enjoy, although I found it a little underwhelming. There must have been tremendous pressure to make this worthwhile, so it was never going to live up to expectations. It felt slightly awkward to me, but I'm just glad they didn't dedicate a whole episode to David Brent, as it's best to leave him as an untarnished memory of the early-'00s. Still, it was a fun cameo to be taken lightly.

What do think? Did this tickle your funnybone, or leave you cold?

'COME FLY WITH ME'


Matt Lucas and David Walliams aren't to everyone's taste, but an astonishing amount of people find them hilarious. You just have to remember the phenomenon that was Little Britain; a sketch show that combined the cheekiness and cross-dressing of '70s Dick Emery, with the catchphrase proliferation of The Fast Show, then added a squeeze of League Of Gentlemen's dark milieu, to become a colossal worldwide hit. It was a comedy that sold merchandise like talking Vicky Pollard dolls, spawned a sell-out UK live show that also toured Australia, inspired a video-game, and was given its own American-centric spin-off on HBO. You can't be expected to top that success, really.

Come Fly With Me is essentially Little Britain with boundaries. Or rules born of its mockumentary format, which helps keep it focused and agile. Where Lucas and Walliams could once dream up characters from a melting pot of an entire country, they're now stuck in an airport. Where they once tested the boundaries of taste and decency (vomiting/incontinent old ladies), they've now cleaned up their act. Well, mostly. The airport restriction really isn't so bad, as it means they can have foreign characters arriving in the UK, and most walks of life pass through airport check-ins at some time or another.

And while only the airport's staff can make weekly appearances, things are kept fresh by involving one-off passengers (such as two obsessive Japanese superfans of Martin Clunes). This helps prevent Come Fly With Me stagnating, as Little Britain certainly did. The only downside is that the regulars, filmed at work for a documentary, are limited by their working roles. You have to wonder what Lucas and Walliams could possibly do with two competitive baggage check-in girls come series 2 or 3, for example. And while there are plentiful airport and travel-related gags that spring to mind from this premise, there's surely a finite amount of jokes you can have with bigoted customs officials, gay flight attendants, inept baggage handlers, married pilots, and workshy coffee shop owners. The characters will have to grow as people, ideally via ongoing storylines, but Come Fly With Me has only made modest inroads.

It feels slightly outdated, taking its inspiration from the fly-on-the-wall docs Airport and Airline, which peaked in the early-'00s and died away soon after. Curiously, while each episode has a few strands of storyline weaving through each half-hour, there's little connection between episodes. This is likely intentional, so it's more accessible to people who miss the odd episode, but it might have been more interesting for Lucas and Walliams to tackle a proper ongoing narrative in their work. As it stands, Come Fly With Me isn't really stretching them as writers or performers. It's Little Britain, trapped in an airport, with all the pro's and con's you'd imagine.

Thursdays, BBC1/HD, 9PM

Jump the Blast #6 - 'Human Target'

'HUMAN TARGET' - "Communication Breakdown"


Here's a shot from a recent episode of Fox's action-adventure drama Human Target, showing bodyguard Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) and his partner Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma) escaping the wreckage of their private jet, moments after it crashed in the South American jungle after getting hit by a RPG. The classic "hero-and-girl run away from a downed plane sequence", just as its leaking fuel is ignited. Only, those are clearly two stunt doubles. Huh.

Have you noticed a shot in a film, trailer, advert, or TV show that features someone jumping/walking away from an explosion of some kind? If so, why not email me a screengrab and you can be credited in the next installment of "Jump the Blast".

Thursday, 27 January 2011

National Television Awards 2011: Winners


I didn't watch the National Television Awards live this year, but feel like I dodged a bullet. As everything's chosen by the public, it's too mainstream to be a barometer of quality in UK TV, just popularity. For instance, nothing for This Is England '86 or Misfits? No, the NTA's focus is the primetime hits of BBC, ITV and Channel 4, with an emphasis on light enterainment and soaps. It's an awards ceremony that thinks Peter Andre's fly-on-the-wall series is one of the best things on digital TV, so treat it with the contempt that fact deserves. But here are the results and my brief thoughts on the winners:

Best Talent Show

  • Dancing On Ice (ITV)
  • Britain's Got Talent (ITV)
  • Strictly Come Dancing (BBC)
  • The X Factor (ITV) WINNER
My thoughts: Inevitable, but deserved. Love it or loathe it, The X Factor's the only reality show that seems to appeal to a huge number of people, fuels the majority of tabloid stories for four months, and becomes a talking point across the nation's playgrounds and offices by Monday morning. Gamu, Wagner, malaria, Cher Lloyd, Matt Cardle, they all became 2010 buzzwords because of Simon Cowell's brainchild.

Best Comedy Programme

  • Benidorm (ITV) WINNER
  • Harry Hill's TV Burp (ITV)
  • Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow (BBC)
  • Outnumbered (BBC)
My thoughts: That must be a joke. I have no idea what dark spell was cast to make Benidorm win, especially as most of its fans will admit the show's past its best.

Best Drama

  • Doctor Who (BBC)
  • Shameless (Channel 4)
  • Sherlock (BBC)
  • Waterloo Road (BBC) WINNER
My thoughts: The most ludicrous win of the whole shebang. It's admittedly a shame Doctor Who has a strangehold on this category every year, but Sherlock deserved to triumph as the new kid on the block that wowed the nation. Waterloo Road? I mean, that's simply ludicrous. Absolutely insane.

Best Drama Performance

  • Philip Glenister (Ashes To Ashes)
  • David Jason (A Touch Of Frost) WINNER
  • Matt Smith (Doctor Who)
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock)
My thoughts: Good lord. I guess having "national treasure" status still has its advantages, particularly if you're retiring a beloved character from a long-running TV show. Cumberbatch was robbed, Smith perhaps deserved recognition of the difficult job he had replacing David Tennant in the nation's heart, and Glenister had an outside chance because of his fine work in the Ashes To Ashes finale. David Jason? Holy mackeral.

Best Digital Choice

  • Glee (E4)
  • Peter Andre: The Next Chapter (ITV)
  • The Inbetweeners (E4) WINNER
My thoughts: Yeah, I'm fine with that. If Peter Andre had won, I'd have punched someone.

Best Factual Programme

  • Celebrity MasterChef (BBC)
  • Junior Apprentice (BBC)
  • Top Gear (BBC) WINNER
  • Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC)
My thoughts: Yawn. Junior Apprentice was the surprise success, if you ask me. That show could have been a total disaster, but managed to give the regular adult version a run for its money.

Best Serial Drama

  • Coronation Street (ITV)
  • EastEnders (BBC) WINNER
  • Emmerdale (ITV)
  • Hollyoaks (Channel 4)
My thoughts: In Coronation Street's 50th year, coming off the back of its week-long tram disaster live episodes, rival EastEnders wins? A soap that recently caused uproat over a cot death/baby swap storyline and made everyone laugh at the sight of Phil Mitchell on crack. That's just an insult.

Best Serial Drama Performance

  • Katherine Kelly (Coronation Street)
  • Steve McFadden (EastEnders)
  • Lacey Turner (EastEnders) WINNER
  • Danny Miller (Emmerdale)
My thoughts: I don't watch enough soaps these days, but I wouldn't be surprised if Lacey Turner's win was partly influenced by the fact she's just left EastEnders, a la David Jason's win for A Touch Of Frost. Still, of those nominees, I daresay she still delivered the best performance. Anyone watch enough 'Enders to confirm this?

Best Topical Magazine Programme

  • BBC Breakfast (BBC)
  • Loose Women (ITV)
  • This Morning (ITV) WINNER
My thoughts: Yeah, fine. What a dispiriting trio of nominees, though.

Best Newcomer

  • Paula Lane (Coronation Street)
  • Ricky Norwood (EastEnders) WINNER
  • Marc Silcock (Emmerdale)
  • Olga Fedori (Holby City)
My thoughts: Who they?

Best Entertainment Programme

  • Big Brother (Channel 4)
  • I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! (ITV) WINNER
  • Mock The Week (BBC)
  • QI (BBC)
My thoughts: Do me a favour! Big Brother delivered a good swansong in 2010 and it would have been nice to recognize its impact over the decade. I guess I'm A Celeb has more reach, being on ITV and perceived as a reality series it's "okay" to enjoy.

Best Entertainment Presenter

  • Ant & Dec WINNER
  • Davina McCall
  • Dermot O'Leary
  • Paul O'Grady
My thoughts: For the tenth year in a row, no less! "The Ant & Decade" That's an incredible feat, although I think McCall and O'Leary have a much tougher job on their respetive shows.

Special Recognition Award
Bruce Forysth

State of the Blog: 'Firefly', Disqus, replies, rankings


Short break

First, a quick heads-up that I'm away for a few days until Saturday, so updates will be a little erratic until I get back. Luckily, V and No Ordinary Family are on a break, so I probably won't miss too much.

Fireflying high

You may remember I promised to tackle my long-awaited Firefly review over Christmas, for a January post. Did I manage that? Yes! Did I manage to complete the review? Um, no. I think I'm going to stop giving updates on reviews that are tough to fit into my schedule. Doing so used to encourage me to get a move on, but I've becoming immune to that tactic now. And I'm sure you're bored of me updating you on my slothful pace in a few areas. Also, whenever I get some fee days, I don't feel like filling them with more writing. I need those breaks! But still, rest assured that my Firefly (and Alien Anthology) reviews ARE ongoing and WILL surface here one day. Hopefully they'll be worth the wait!

Disqus demystified

To clarify a few concerns about Disqus: Firstly, Disqus is the name of the third-party software that handles DMD's commenting system. A few people didn't know this and were confused reading my last SOTB entry! Sorry about that; I thought it was common knowledge. Secondly, I have been made aware of a weird bug where the commenting box doesn't expand if you type more than a box-full of text. It should adjust automatically, but there have been occasions when the box remains fixed in size and anything you type gets "hidden" if you type more than five lines or so. Sorry if this happens to you! It's not MY fault, but an issue with Disqus itself. I'm enquiring about this error with them, so hopefully they'll have a fix soon.

Also, a few people were wondering how to create avatars, after I suggested more people use them -- especially if they've become, or want to become, regulars visitors. Apparently the process isn't very intuitive, but a few people did manage it. Maybe someone can write a quick how-to guide in the comments. I would assume you just need to visit www.disqus.com and signup for an account. It may ask you some weird questions, but you're not signing up to create a blog/site, just registering your profile. You can also link the created profile to Facebook or Twitter, so if your avatar changes there Disqus will grab the latest version. I know a few commenters here are linked to Twitter in such a way, including myself. It's very handy.

Incidentally, that issue with the commenting space not automatically enlarging as you type is being looked into. It's a fault Disqus are aware of, so just be patient and it'll hopefully be fixed soon.

Silly Face of the Week

CHUCK - "Chuck Versus The Gobbler"

Leave a comment, I'll get back to you...

Finally, in case you'd forgotten, it's impossible for me to reply to comments between 9-5pm (GMT) now, owing to a recent Disqus upgrade that doesn't work with Internet Explorer 6. If you're kind enough to leave a comment anywhere, I'm still able to read them online, but I can't respond until I get home. I'm not being rude if it takes 8-hours to answer any questions you may ask in a comment, etc. Anyway, maybe this will encourage commenters to discuss things amongst yourselves more? That's always good to see.

That's so... rank!

A few readers have asked how I'd rank all the currently-airing TV shows I'm watching, so... ask no more:

1. Fringe
2. Human Target
3. Being Human
4. Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena
5. Chuck
6. The Good Wife
7. Caprica (catchups)
8. No Ordinary Family
9. Glee
10. V
11. Being Human (USA)
12. Primeval
13. Episodes
14. The Cape
Naturally, that list fluctuates every few weeks.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

'CHUCK' 4.12 - "Chuck Versus The Gobbler"


You just have to roll with Chuck sometimes; swallowing whatever ridiculous development it's currently running with. For the second year running, the cautious producers mapped out a 13-episode story arc this year, lest the show got cancelled, before NBC gave Chuck an extended order of 24 episodes -- meaning "Chuck Versus The Gobbler" eskewed natural development with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) undercover at Volkhoff Industries. As this episode begins, it's assumedly been weeks since she accepted the CIA mission to "go rogue" and ingratiate herself within big bad Alexei Volkhoff's (Timothy Dalton) criminal empire. In that time, she's naturally decided to signpost her turn to the dark side by slipping into a shiny PVC catsuit and dyeing her flaxen hair deep black. In any other show, my eyes would be rolling, but because Chuck's essentially a live-action cartoon set in the world of spies, it just about manages to get away with such silliness.

This week, Sarah's aforementioned defection meant she had to prove her loyalty to Volkhoff by rescuing his henchman Yuri the Gobbler (Matthew Willig) from a maximum-security prison; Yuri being the only man able to access Volkhoff's secret "HYDRA" database. As Sarah's still in furtive contact with Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Casey (Adam Baldwin), she enlisted their help to smuggle The Gobbler out of jail -- meaning Chuck was sent to jail posing as a macho convict, while Casey and Morgan (Joshua Gomez) distracted the idiot guards. A situation that, while fun, made absolutely no sense. Why did Chuck have to beat-up The Gobbler using his "Chuck Fu", if simply telling him he's part of a rescue team would result in immediate cooperation? How did Sarah and Chuck actually get The Gobbler out of the building without arousing suspicion? Why did all the hardened prisoners back away at the sight of Sarah in her PVC catsuit, or fail to raise the alarm when they assumedly watched the unconscious Gobbler get dragged to freedom?

"... Versus The Gobbler" was an episode that occasionally approached being rather good, but instead settled into being quite average. Still, I appreciated seeing the show do something different, particularly with its sojourn to a prison (although more could have been done with that idea), and seeing Sarah in leather-clad bad-girl mode had an obvious appeal. Despite how dumb Volkhoff became to accommodate the development with Sarah, I can suspend incredulity because Chuck's always been a show that explores certain story ideas simply because they seem fun, even if they're clearly hard to swallow. And it usually gets away with it; partly because you know story arcs this stupid rarely last long and are easily forgotten once they're over.

Second of Strahotness: goin' hell for leather

The supporting plots this week were rather thin, particularly in the case of mom-to-be Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) deciding to name her unborn daughter "Grunka", which prompted horrified father Devon (Ryan McPartlin) to try and subtly change his wife's mind using the influential negativity of Lester (Vik Sahay), who has a ex-girlfriend called Grunka, Big Mike (Christopher Lawrence Marks), who knows of an Armenian serial-killer called Grunka, and Jeff (Scott Krinsky), who... forgot his lines. It was a prime example of a feeble subplot only existing to give viewers a breather from the week's A-story, but it wasn't actively irritating and ultimately delivered news that Chuck's niece will be called Clara.

The other "subplot" was more a gentle reminder Morgan's sleeping with Casey's hot daughter Alex (Mekenna Melvin) and, given the fact the hirsute nerd didn't care she's flouncing around in his precious Back To The Future T-shirt, it was also a sign he's maturing like Chuck. Incidentally, while Chuck is clearly run by geeky middle-aged men who put their adolescent fantasies up on-screen, is anyone else a little disappointed the show didn't try something different with Morgan's love life? Rather than give him a brunette babe to mirror Chuck's involvement with out-of-his-league Sarah, it would have been nice if Morgan had found someone more plausible as a soul mate. No?

Overall, there was a rushed feeling to this episode which spoiled things (not helped by the fact we're seeing events from Chuck's perspective, so we know Sarah isn't a traitor), but "... Versus The Gobbler" was still a decent amount of fun. Timothy Dalton was on good form (painting dogs in his stereotypical villain's office, gouging an eyeball out of a dead man's socket), and the prison break sequence was enjoyable if improbable. It's just a shame there's rarely a sense Chuck's going to deliver a shocking surprise that will actually stick and not get undone, so it was impossible to care when Casey wound up hospitalized after Sarah pushed him out of a skyscraper window just to keep her cover.

I think the core problem with "... Versus The Gobbler" is how it fits into the show as a whole: it's rarely fun when the writers devise ways to keep Sarah and Chuck apart, Sarah as the world's most unlikely turncoat makes Volkhoff look like a gullible fool (no matter how hard they tried to sell it here), and if Sarah succeeds in destroying Volkhoff's operation anytime soon that makes Mama Bartowski (Linda Hamilton, still crap) look horribly inept because, in over two decades deep undercover, she's come nowhere close to succeeding in that same aim!

The more I think about, the less I like this episode. What say you?

Aside

  • Despite the double entendre title, there was a curious lack of oral sex in this episode. I don't expect the writers to check their British colloquialisms when deciding on episode titles, but surely that one rang someone's alarm bell?
WRITER: Craig DiGregorio
DIRECTOR: Milan Cheylov
TRANSMISSION: 24 January 2011, NBC, 8/7c

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

'EPISODES' 1.3 - "Episode Three"


This was the least funny episode so far, but it did a much better job with the characters. Sean (Stephen Mangan) developed a man-crush on Matt LeBlanc, thanks to his sports car, a spontaneous trip to Las Vegas by private jet, and learning of his abnormally large penis; whereas Beverly (Tamsin Greig) started to detest LeBlanc because he's blanking her during rehearsals of their Americanized sitcom Pucks.

Episodes is developing a rather intriguing "love triangle" between the trio, and I'm growing more attached to the Lincoln's as they try to navigate the disingenuous world of Hollywood. In this episode we also learned that hotshot producer Merc (John Pankow) already doesn't have faith in the Pucks project being a hit, so is eyeing up new ventures for LeBlanc to headline, even if he's still glad-handing the Lincoln's and feeding their ego's with praise.

There's still nothing radical about Episodes' satire of the Hollywood TV system (slimy execs harvest ideas, eulogize the talent, dilute distinctiveness, produce something widely accessible, and have already moved onto the next project when the current one dies with audiences), and I'm a little disappointed by Matt LeBlanc's comic twist on his own persona. Oh, LeBlanc; so you have a massive penis, how hilariously self-deprecating of you!

Still, in treating Episodes less like a sitcom and more like a comedy-drama that has the good grace to end after 30 minutes, it's become a reasonably entertaining but underwhelming series. There are elements of the show I'm enjoying, and I'm surprisingly interested to see what the outcome of the show is. Will Pucks be a terrible sitcom that does astonishingly well with the American audience, turning the Lincoln's into millionaire sell-outs? Or will it flop so badly the Lincoln's are booted back to the UK and LeBlanc loses whatever semblance of credibility he has left post-Friends? Or will we see the Lincoln's rise up against tyrannical Merc, with LeBlanc's support, and produce a show they're all happy to put their names to -- no matter what the reaction to it is?

WRITERS: David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik
DIRECTOR: James Griffiths
TRANSMISSION: 24 January 2011, BBC2/HD, 10/10.30PM

'Bedlam' & 'Spartacus' UK releases


Bedlam, Sky Living's new psychological drama about a haunted apartment block, has been given a release date of 7 February @10pm. Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena, the six-part prequel to Spartacus: Blood & Sand, will be broadcast on Sky1 in the third week of March. The latter delay is annoying, as the Starz miniseries was scheduled for 7 February (four weeks behind the US), whereas now it'll be over by the time Sky1 start airing it. Still, to keep positive, at least it's not a Sky Atlantic exclusive.

Poll Result: What did you think of 'Being Human' USA?


Last week, following the debut of Syfy's Being Human remake, I asked you what you thought of the Americanized version. The results weren't very surprising, but here they are nonetheless:

35.7% - I had mixed feelings
28.5% - It was very good
17.8% - I thought it was quite poor
10.7% - It was absolutely terrible!
7.14% - It was excellent!

So, a mixed to good response. A vote for extreme love or hatred were the least popular, so Being Human USA has essentially intrigued people and wasn't a total failure from the start. Let's see how it matures.

Monday, 24 January 2011

'FRINGE' 3.10 - "The Firefly"


Back from hiatus, Fringe finds itself in a precarious position, shunted to Fox's Friday night "death slot" with an episode wryly entitled "The Firefly", possibly in salute to Joss Whedon's sci-fi drama that died in the same timeslot in 2002. The good news is this comeback hour managed to slightly improve on its previous episode's rating, so if Fringe manages to maintain that audience its future isn't so bleak.

"The Firefly" was a strong episode marking Fringe's return, taking the form of a puzzle for Walter (John Noble) to solve, set by the ubiquitous inter-dimensional Observer (Michael Cerveris). The brainteaser was set in motion when the bald Observer transported a young man from 1985 to 2010, in order to speak to his aged father Rosco (Christopher Lloyd), an ex-rocker now in a nursing home and grieving the tragic death of his son. However, this miraculous reunion for Rosco is spoiled by the fact he can't remember details of his encounter with his dead son, so he's taken into FBI care to allow Walter (a passionate aficionado of Rosco's band) the opportunity to try and restore his memory.

The curious thing about this episode is that its storyline was, ultimately, a rather tenuous test for Walter Bishop, but that didn't seem to matter. There's an argument to be had that "The Firefly" was a thin excuse to have fun with The Observer, and potentially hook any Friday newcomers by promoting the character's freakishness and super-powers (snatching bullets in mid-air during a bank robbery, starting cars with a simple touch), and I wouldn't argue against that too strongly. In many ways this was a simple lark, well told, but it also did a great job making us realize the extent of the damage Walter's caused when he crossed to the other dimension in 1985 to kidnap the alternate-Peter.

The existence of another Peter in this reality has caused ripples of change that have altered the course of established future events, exemplified with The Observer's story that Peter existed to catch a firefly in a jar, denying someone else from catching the same insect, and in a butterfly effect something so minor ultimately caused Rosco's son to be killed by a careless driver. And, of course, Walter's not entirely to blame, because The Observer himself interfered in the timeline by saving Walter and Peter from drowning when their car fell into an icy lake. Walter and The Observer are both culprits of this whole sorry mess, which it seems The Observer is trying to put right by preparing Walter for the loss of Peter a second time.

My opinion is split on the guest-star appearance of Christopher Lloyd, which obviously meant this episode had Dr Emmett Brown interacting with Dr Walter Bishop, which probably caused a few fanboys to jizz their pants. Lloyd was good throughout, turning marvelous in a key scene where he recounted the tragedy of his son's death 25 years ago, and we realized he lost a son so Walter could have his. I think Lloyd did a great job with such a thin character. To create some added fun, they made Rosco the former keyboard player of a band Walter used to adore, but beyond a few moments of hero worship and bonding over strawberry ice cream, the idea didn't really take flight.

Overall, "The Firefly" was a great episode of limited ambition, helping to crystallize some of Fringe's issues regarding Walter and The Observer's disruption to this dimension and its timeline. Any newcomers will probably have been baffled by most of the events, but they'll hopefully come back for more because of how enjoyable wacky this hour was. It opened with Walter, trousers round his ankles, listening to "Phenomenon" at 2 o'clock in the morning, about to inject himself with a lime green serum. That's the best introduction to this show you could hope for. There was even a brilliant in-joke for Twin Peaks fans, when Walter referenced his friend Dr Jacoby from Washington State, before wearing a pair of Jacoby's red-and-blue-lens spectacles. If the presence of Back To The Future's "Doc" didn't tickle your inner geek, the idea Fringe takes place in the same universe as David Lynch's surreal classic surely will. I'm now hoping Agent Cooper gets assigned to a case with Olivia (Anna Torv).

Another damn fine episode of Fringe in what's shaping up to be a remarkable season of high quality sci-fi, now the show's started to ensure every story impacts the lead character's emotions while testing their mettle. What did you think?

WRITERS: J.H Wyman & Jeff Pinkner
DIRECTOR: Brad Anderson
TRANSMISSION: 21 January 2011, Fox, 9/8c

'BEING HUMAN' 3.1 - "Lia"


Enter Purgatory and open the door marked Obsessed With Film, where I've reviewed the series 3 premiere of BBC3's supernatural drama BEING HUMAN, brought to you by the makers of werewolf-fighting cages:

Series 3 of Being Human has a tough job on its hands. Can its high-concept premise of a cohabiting vampire, werewolf and ghost continue to hold audience's attention, now the novelty's worn off and there's a US version snapping at its heels? If the first series was skewed towards black comedy, and the second took things into more dramatic territory, will series 3 find a happy medium? On the evidence of "Lia", I certainly got the impression creator Toby Whithouse aims to blend the successes of previous years, as there was plenty of domestic/relationship humour, off-set with some mythology-building. Continue reading...

TV Picks: 24-30 January 2011 ('How TV Ruined My Life', 'JLC: Turning Japanese', 'Million Pound Drop Live', 'The National TV Awards 2011', 'Skins', etc.)


MONDAY 24th
Laura Hall: My Battle With Booze (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary following Laura Hall, a 21-year-old who became the first person in the UK banned from drinking.
Justice: A Citizen's Guide To The 21st Century (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on the philosophy of justice.

TUESDAY 25th
How TV Ruined My Life (BBC2, 10pm) Brand new comedy series where Charlie Brooker demonstrates how television differs from real life.
The Science Of Pain & Pleasure with Michael Mosely (BBC1, 10.35pm) Documentary on the biological reasons for feeling pleasure and pain. Presented by Michael Mosely.

WEDNESDAY 26th
The National TV Awards 2011 (ITV1, 7.30pm) Annual awards ceremony celebrating UK TV. Hosted by Dermot O'Leary. The after-show party continues on ITV2 at 10pm.
Posh & Posher: Why Public Schoolboys Run Britain (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary investigating why the UK's Prime Ministers have become public school educated since Tony Blair came to power, despite the fact state school educated PM's held office from 1964-1997.

THURSDAY 27th
Britain's Secret Schindler Revealed (Five, 8pm) Documentary about Nicholas Winton, who rescued hundreds of Jewish kids from Czechoslovakia before WWII broke out.
JLC: Turning Japanese (Five, 9pm) Documentary series where Justin Lee Collins samples the extraordinary and fascinating Japanese culture.
Cannabis: What's The Harm? (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on the controversial drug. Presented by actor James Alexandrou.
The Highest Court In The Land (BBC4, 9pm) Four judges reveal details of their work and decision-making.
Skins (E4, 10pm) Series 5 of the teenage drama, debuting the third generation of characters.

FRIDAY 28th
Embarrassing Bodies (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary series about awkward health problems
The Million Pound Drop Live (Channel 4, 10pm) Return of the high stake gameshow. Hosted by Davina McCall.

SATURDAY 29th
From Haiti's Ashes (BBC2, 8pm) Documentary on the aftermath of the earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010.

SUNDAY 30th
Nothing.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The British Comedy Awards 2011: Winners


The British Comedy Awards have always been my favourite awards ceremony, for a number of reasons:

  • They're the only awards bash I've seen every year, since they started in 1990.
  • I tend to have seen most things nominated, which means I have a more rounded opinion on everything.
  • It's usually the funniest awards bash of the year, as you'd probably expect.
  • There's a sense of danger to it (especially when it's broadcast live), and its moments of anarchy have gone down in British comedy legend.
So was 2011 a vintage year for the BCA's last night? Well, no. It didn't help that there's been so much hype from Channel 4, who poached the awards from ITV. They ran a huge number of promos for it, ensured most of the nominees appeared on shows like Chatty Man, then commissioned a week-long series with Bill Bailey interviewing comedians about their favourite comedies. You couldn't escape knowing the BCA's were live on Channel 4 last night, which was great, but this feverish hype was too much for the show to live up to. A similar thing appeared to happen with the blanket hype given to 10 O'Clock Live earlier this week, too. Hopefully Channel 4's marketing department will learn something from this.

It's also become a struggle for the BCA's to meet expectations, as many people tuning in are waiting for a memorable moment of anarchy (like Julian Clary's joke about a sex act that got him banned from TV for years, Michael Barrymore unplugging the autocue, Spike Milligan calling Prince Charles a "grovelling bastard", etc.) There was nothing to rival those gems this year, which for some people will be a big disappointment in itself. Still, there were some amusing moments; such as Goldie Hawn's misjudged praise of the comedians in the room, seconds after admitting she hasn't seen anything nominated for awards (which Ross branded a "churlish" statement to her face). I also loved the acceptance speeches of writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, who managed to get a swipe in at the ludicrous lack of nominations for sitcom Whites ("... nothing for Whites? The show, not the racial group"), and Russell Brand's pre-recorded speech was surprisingly funny. It was a shame Brand couldn't be there in person, reunited with Ross on TV for the first time since their "Sachsgate" phone scandal.

I was unsure what to make of writer Roy Clarke accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award; it was thoroughly deserved (he wrote all 295 episodes of the world's longest-running sitcom, Last Of The Summer Wine), but there was an odd atmosphere because most of Clarke's sitcoms are a style of show that's long since fallen out of favour. And his handful of hits were arguably most memorable for the performances than the writing (e.g it's Ronnie Barker and Patricia Routledge people remember about Open All Hours and Keeping Up Appearances, not really the jokes or storylines.) That said, Clarke was definitely someone who could craft a great comic character on the page, which good actors breathed extra life into.

Below is a full list of the winners, with a reminder of who I predicted would win each category, and some brief thoughts on each result:

Best Comedy Panel Show

  • Have I Got News For You
  • Shooting Stars
  • Would I Lie To You? WINNER PREDICTED
My thoughts: A deserved winner, especially when the best clip they could muster of Shooting Stars was Vic n' Bob bouncing around the studio like 12-year-old boys. You can argue that HIGNFY is still the more relevant show, which is true, but WILTY has become the funniest.

Best Comedy Entertainment Programme

  • Harry Hill's TV Burp PREDICTED
  • The Graham Norton Show
  • Newswipe WINNER
My thoughts: I wanted Newswipe to win, I just didn't think it would and couldn't be sure of its quality in 2010 because most episodes slipped my by. But I'm very glad to see something meaningful and intelligent take the award from the easy choice of celebrating the family-friendly comedy of Harry Hill.

Best Comedy Entertainment Personality

  • Ant & Dec
  • Charlie Brooker
  • Harry Hill WINNER PREDICTED
My thoughts: Maybe Harry's win here is to soften the blow of losing to Brooker for Best Entertainment Programme? Still, it was a worthy win; you don't have to even like TV Burp to realize Harry has a naturally funny personality.

Best Male Comic

  • David Mitchell
  • Harry Hill
  • Michael McIntyre WINNER PREDICTED
My thoughts: This was a weird triptych of nominees, as Mitchell isn't what I'd call a comic, so McIntyre was destined to win. He's in the odd position of being so incredibly popular there's already a backlash in the industry towards him, which is actually very unfair. You sensed a bit of that when he accepted his award over a live-feed to Liverpool, where he's currently filming Britain's Got Talent, which probably irritated a few comedians who believe he's an overrated sell-out.

Best Female Comic

  • Jo Brand WINNER
  • Sarah Millican PREDICTED
  • Shappi Khorsandi
My thoughts: Oh dear. I just don't see why anyone would think Jo Brand is funny. Did she include a joke about overeating during her awards speech? Yes, of course she did, that's all she's ever done since the '80s. I was very disappointed the BCA's didn't reward Sarah Millican, whose relatively newborn career would be aided by a win.

Best New British TV Comedy

  • Grandma's House
  • Miranda WINNER PREDICTED
  • The Trip
My thoughts: I was poised for a big upset here, but the popular vote managed to win. Miranda is primed for a horrible backlash, though, once the novelty of having an old-fashioned sitcom back on TV wears off. You know I'm right.

Best Male Comedy Breakthrough Artist

  • Jack Whitehall
  • John Bishop WINNER PREDICTED
  • Kayvan Novak
My thoughts: This was the natural choice, because Bishop's made more serious inroads to mainstream popularity in 2010 with the BBC, whereas Novak is still just a minor cult for E4, really.

Best Female Comedy Breakthrough Artist

  • Isy Suttie
  • Samantha Spiro WINNER
  • Sarah Millican PREDICTED
My thoughts: I admitted that Spiro was a blindspot for me, so I didn't see her win coming, although I do now realize she appeared in Grandma's House. I'm not convinced she made more of a breakthrough than Millican, seeing as most people I know have never even heard of her.

Best Sketch Show

  • Harry & Paul
  • Horrible Histories WINNER
  • The Armstrong & Miller Show PREDICTED
My thoughts: The big shock of the night, because Horrible Histories is a children's sketch show that most people haven't even seen (unless they're under-10 or have kids.) There was something rather marvellous about this show beating the adults at their own game, even if I haven't seen it so can't vouch for its quality. But people tell tell me it's very good.

Best Sitcom

  • Miranda
  • The Inbetweeners WINNER PREDICTED
  • The Thick Of It
My thoughts: A well-deserved win for the teen-comedy, which has become something of a phenomenon in three short years. I bet there are some E4 executives desperate to find a way to keep The Inbetweeners on the TV, despite the fact the four stars are now in their mid-'20s. Hey, US teen shows are commonly full of people aged 27, so it might work...

Best Comedy Actor

  • James Buckley (The Inbetweeners)
  • Peter Capaldi (The Thick Of It) WINNER
  • Rob Brydon (The Trip)
  • Tom Hollander (Rev) PREDICTED
My thoughts: I was torn between Hollander and Capaldi, but somehow didn't expect Capaldi to win because Rev's a newer show that needs some support. But still, very deserved.

Best Comedy Actress

  • Jo Brand
  • Katherine Parkinson
  • Miranda Hart WINNER PREDICTED
My thoughts: Of course! A great night for Hart.

Best British Comedy Performance In Film

  • Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass)
  • Kayvan Novak (Four Lions) WINNER PREDICTED
  • Nigel Lindsay (Four Lions)
My thoughts: As expected. Well, it wasn't going to be Johnson, was it!

Writers' Guild Of Great Britain Award
Sam Bain & Jesse Armstrong

British Comedy Academy Lifetime Achievement Award
Roy Clarke OBE

Outstanding Contribution To Comedy Award
Russell Brand

'PRIMEVAL' 4.5


After a hopeless run of wretched episodes, Primeval delivered a competently-told story with an agreeable mix of imagination, silliness, decent action, tongue-in-cheek homage's, and clarity with most of its storytelling. The script was co-written by creator Adrian Hodges and John Fay (Torchwood); two writers evidently more talented than the scribes who churned out the previous four hours, although there were still elements beyond their abilities to repair -- like the abortive subplot with the Victorian time-travellers.

Opening with a clunky pastiche of The Blair Witch Project (the first of many pop-culture references this week), we were swiftly presented with another of Primeval's standard setups: an anomaly giving off a fluctuating signal was detected by the ARC, so Lester (Ben Miller) sent Matt (Ciaran McMenamin), Connor (Andrew Lee-Potts) and Abby (Hannah Spearritt) to investigate the source at a small coastal town. Arriving to scout the location, Connor and Abby discovered a local legend about a man-eating "worm", which may in fact be a prehistoric Labyrithodont that's been visiting the area for centuries, and was responsible for the recent murder of a backpacker (shades of An American Werewolf In London, not least in the presence of an oppressive, murky pub.)

Primeval's a show that usually cuts to the chase quickly, and literally in this week's case. It was a monster hunt set around iconic British locations (seaside town, idyllic riverside, caravan site), but the story progressed smoother than usual this series. Hodges and Fay's script stuck to what's expected from the show, but proved that it's how you tell a story that matters. There was nothing particularly original going on here, but there was a feeling of comfort because the plot was delivered in a less choppy, more satisfying way. Simply ensuring the week's creature didn't appear on-screen for 25-minutes helped buuld some tension and mystery. The episode also tipped its hat to movies such as Deliverance, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, for the amusement of its older audience.

I also liked the clarity with Philip (Alexander Siddig) and Lester's relationship is representing, with brainiac Philip stressing his interest lies with the science of the anomalies, whereas Lester's focused on protecting people from the creatures that tend to wander through them. The story was primarily focused on Abby and Connor trying to locate the errant Labyrithodont around the eerie town, with a little help from Matt, who was eventually drawn away to rescue Emily (Ruth Bradley), who has been kidnapped by time-hopping oddball Ethan (Jonathan Byrne) and taken to a nearby cemetery.

The Emily/Ethan storyline has been series 4's biggest frustration, as I sense it's a decent idea that's been poorly handled. It's too unclear who Emily and Ethan are, what they both represent, and thus impossible to care about Ethan's mania over the death of their sick friend Charlotte -- who was a character that died minutes after her on-screen debut. While I understand a few vagaries are intentional, designed to provoke a sense of mystery, the writers haven't given us enough information to engage with these characters or this storyline.

I'm still utterly bewildered about Ethan, in particular. Who was Charlotte to him? Why is he the villain? If he's so unhinged, why were Emily and Charlotte hanging around with him? What is his plan, now he's in the 21st-century? And before you say the remaining episodes might explain all of this -- that's beside the point. You shouldn't be introducing characters in a situation that are impossible to engage with because of so much confusion, but expect audiences to put aside their complaints and wait for answers that aren't even guaranteed. Right now, it feels like Ethan's a variation of Helen Cutter, the time-travelling supervillain of series 1-3, who was likewise written awkwardly and illogically, before being killed off without giving us many satisfying answers. That I can remember, anyway. Feel free to elucidate me, Primevalites.

Overall, episode 5 was another step in the right direction and has me mildly optimistic the worst is behind us. Nothing here excuses the weak introduction of Matt (who's failed to leave his mark as the show's new lead), and the time-travelling vagabonds have been totally mismanaged by the writers, but the action-adventure at the heart of this week's episode was far more palatable. It even restored some semblance of intelligence to the series, when Connor realized the unstable anomaly was actually jump-started by an acidic pool of water in a seaside cave. This was a good episode of Primeval, particularly because it rediscovered its sense of humour and thus felt more likeable than it has done in awhile -- best demonstrated in a brief scene with Lester struggling with some tracking software on a laptop with Jess (Ruth Kearney). It's the little things, but they add up and can make a show appealing.

Asides

  • Watch are currently airing repeats of Primeval in the UK. I never thought the sight of Douglas Henshall grumbling as he traipses up an office stairway, armed with a leaf blower, would feel like the good ol' days. Well, the better ol' days.
  • I'm sorry if you're a Ben Mansfield fan, but this episode was noticeably better without Becker's character charging around with a stoical expression, clutching his gun.
  • A minor observation, but it was nice to see Jess wearing something less pointedly kooky.
WRITERS: John Fay & Adrian Hodges
DIRECTOR: Robert Quinn
TRANSMISSION: 22 January 2011, ITV1/HD, 7PM