Thursday, 31 March 2011

HBO cancel 'In Treatment', sort of


HBO have cancelled In Treatment, after three seasons, in light of the psychotherapy drama's continually low ratings. The third season premiere only attracted 279,000 viewers. However, the phrasing from a HBO spokesperson is peculiar:

"It's true that we have no plans to continue with In Treatment as previously formatted. However, we are in continued conversations with the executive producers to find another way to continue telling these rich stories."
What does that mean? Will the show return, but with a more accessible format? Will Gabriel Byrne's character Dr Paul Westen be given a different show? We'll have to wait and see.

I'm very disappointed by this news. I've only seen In Treatment's first season on DVD, but it's one of my favourites purely from watching that box-set religiously every day for a month. In Treatment's second season is coming to Sky Atlantic very soon, with the DVD set for an October release. I assume the final season won't air in the UK until mid-2012.

Oh well. Its cancellation is understandable. In Treatment just didn't find a big audience, despite its critical acclaim and awards success (Dianne Wiest won the Best Supporting Actress Emmy in 2008, while Byrne himself got two Best Actor nominations.) It's just a pity the show's kudos and good reviews never equated to viewers. Maybe the show's unique format (a five episodes per week format, each half-hour focusing on a different, returning client) meant it was too hard for casual viewers to be drawn in once it had started.

Talking Point: do you know anyone with a ratings box?


A tiny percentage of the population are given TV ratings boxes to chronicle their daily viewing. There are 16,000 so-called Nielsen families in America, and 5,100 British households given BARB boxes. The results of this minority's viewing are then multiplied to predict what the whole TV-watching nation were tuning into. For example: one BARB household equals 5,000 actual homes. Yes, it sounds ridiculous and antiquated, but it's the only viable system we have.

But have you ever been part of these families? Or do you know anyone who has? After decades of this system, you'd think we'd all know someone who had a ratings box -- but that doesn't seem to be the case. They do exist, right? And what are your thoughts on the way ratings are collected? How can the system be improved? Will there come a time when everyone has a ratings box, transmitting real-time information? Would that be open to widespread abuse? Is it too Orwellian?

Over to you!

BBC4 announce more 'Dirk Gently'


Following a well-received pilot last year, BBC4 have commissioned more episodes of Dirk Gently, the surreal detective series based on the character created by author Douglas Adams. Three hour-long episodes will be written by Howard Overman (Merlin, Misfits), reuniting actors Stephen Mangan, Darren Boyd and Helen Baxendale. The three specials are expected to be broadcast in 2012.

What do you make of this news? It's a shame we'll only be getting three episodes (a la Sherlock), probably because of BBC4's lower budget and the availability of Stephen Mangan and Howard Overman, but I'm just glad there's more to come. You?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

'Doctor Who': Series 6 Full Trailer


The BBC have debuted the official, full-length trailer for series 6 of Doctor Who online. This one-minute tease will make its television debut tonight at 8pm on BBC1. Behold! Doesn't it look awesome? I'm so pleased the quality of production design and special effects keeps improving. I always thought the Russell T. Davies era looked like a glorified kid's show, but Steven Moffat's ensuring it's more rich and stylish these days.

Scary clown! Pirates! Dolls! River Song!

"Fear me: I've killed hundreds of Time Lords"
"Fear me: I've killed all of them."
Excited now? Doctor Who returns on 23 April.

Mainlining TV: 'The Kennedys', 'Game Of Thrones', 'Mildred Pierce', etc.


Just a few words to say that I'm in the middle of a strange period of activity, where there are less regular shows to review suddenly (Chuck's on hiatus till 11 April, Fringe isn't back till 15 April, No Ordinary Family finishes next week), but my time's being taken up mainlining lots of shows for Obsessed With Film.

I recently watched the first 90-minutes of The Kennedys miniseries (primed for a review Friday) and Bored To Death's first season, while Game Of Thrones and Mildred Piece screeners are on the way. Plus, I had to compile the 20 TV Pilots We Want To See Feature.

So while it's been uncharacteristically quiet around here in March... I'm just as busy, if not more so! On the positive side, this means there will be a small explosion of fresh reviews over the next few weeks, starting with Starz's Camelot from this Friday. I've also been catching up with a few other things -- like my Caprica viewings (two episodes left!) and my infamously delayed Firefly review (860 words done!)

Anyway, that's how things stand right now. I thought you may like to know.

TV Ratings: 'Bored To Death', Sky Atlantic


HBO's comedy-drama Bored To Death premiered on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 10.15pm, but could only manage a staggeringly awful 50,600 viewers. I mean, that's just abysmal. It doesn't help that Bored To Death is now two years old (plenty of time for its natural audience to seek it out elsewhere), and it wasn't marketed very strongly, but it goes to show what kind of causal audience SkyA attracts after 10pm. I don't dare to imagine what future ratings will be like, considering Bored To Death's pilot is its worst episode and has probably ensured most of that 50k don't come back.

Is Sky Atlantic having problems because it's not the kind of channel viewers will drift to, in the hope of finding something to watch? Its schedule doesn't contain much "bubblegum TV" you can idly chew on, as the emphasis is on dramas that require your full attention, patience and commitment. Maybe SkyA is always going to struggle because of its position in the marketplace, beyond the seriously expensive HBO shows Sky will throw some marketing muscle behind (like Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and Game Of Thrones.)

While I'm here, Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena remained a strong performer for Sky1, with 409,900 viewers tuning in for episode 2. That's a slight drop from the 482k who watched the premiere, but nothing to get concerned about.

Coming Soon: 'Campus', Channel 4


Do you remember Campus? The comedy pilot produced for Channel 4's Comedy Showcase season way back in November 2009? If so, you may also recall that it was selected to be given a full series, and now it's finally about to broadcast! I reviewed the original pilot here, and quite enjoyed it, despite some reservations about its semi-improvised style (inspired by Green Wing, which shares many of the same writers) and its abrasive, bonkers tone.

If you're unaware, Campus focuses on the everyday events at the struggling Kirke University, with its staff of eccentric teachers -- such as the tyrannical Vice Chancellor Jonty de Wolfe (Andy Nyman) and womanizing English literature professor Matt Beer (Joseph Millson.) You can watch a three-minute clip below:

Campus begins its six-part run on Channel 4, 5 April @10pm. Will you be tuning in?

Sponsored post.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

AMC's 'Mad Men' returning in 2012


AMC have confirmed that Mad Men will return for a fifth season in early-2012. It's believed the delay in production this year has stemmed from AMC's intention to make the series more profitable by:

  • Including product placement in episodes.
  • Shaving 2-minutes off each episode, for extra advertising.
  • Axing two regular characters, to save money.
It's believed that creator Matthew Weiner has been in a standoff with AMC over these proposed changes. It's not yet know if he's been successful in opposing them, or a compromise has been reached with the network. Whatever's happened, Mad Men will return next year -- hopefully with Weiner still attached, despite the fact his contract expired after season 4, so AMC could replace him. But they'd be very foolish to continue making the show without Weiner, as he's written/co-written the vast majority of episodes. Mad Men is entirely Weiner's vision, so I doubt a Weiner-less version would sustain the quality. Kind of like when Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing.

AMC, on plans for the fifth season:

"AMC has officially authorised production of season five of Mad Men, triggering our option with Lionsgate. While we are getting a later start than in years past due to ongoing, key non-cast negotiations, Mad Men will be back for a fifth season in early 2012."
Personally, I don't think AMC's demands are too unreasonable. Mad Men may be a critical darling that wins prestigious awards, but it's never been a ratings winner on either side of the Atlantic. Would fans really care if episode were a few shorter, and some characters (like Harry Crane?) became semi-regular? Probably not. The intention to involve product placement just confuses me, because I thought Mad Men already contained product placement in the ad campaigns its characters tackled...

What do you make of this news? Would you watch Mad Men if Matthew Weiner wasn't the showrunner? If so, do you think it could work? And do you think AMC's demands are justified, or do you agree that Weiner should fight to keep the status quo?

'The Fades' taking shape for BBC3

Iain De Caestecker & Daniel Kaluuya

A BBC press release confirms that BBC3's new supernatural drama The Fades (previously known as Touch) has started filming. The six-part series, written by Jack Thorne (Skins, This Is England '86), concerns a young man called Paul (River City's Iain De Caestecker) who's haunted by apocalyptic dreams and starts seeing spirits (or "fades") in his everyday life; phenomena his best friend and therapist Mac (Psychoville's Daniel Kaluuya) struggles to help him cope with.

Jack Thorne, on show's origin:

"The Fades was born from a trip into executive producer, Sue Hogg's office -- she asked me what drama of the last ten years I wished I'd written -- I said the American cable show Freaks & Geeks -- I was wearing a Ghostbusters t-shirt, she said 'what about Freaks & Geeks meets Ghostbusters'. And I smiled and nodded enthusiastically. But the further we've gone along, and it's been five years since that meeting, the more seriously we've taken the fantasy and the mythology and so the comedy is subtler and a newer, fresher, hopefully more exciting show has emerged. I feel so lucky to be part of the team that's bringing it to the screen -- everyone from our location manager to our FX supervisor are so committed and we have such an amazing cast -- I'm quite literally in dreamland right now."
Kate Harwood, BBC Controller of Drama Series & Serials:

"The minute I read Jack Thorne's script I realised we were in exciting new territory. This is a vision of great imagination and I am thrilled that we have such a talented cast and that we have director Farren Blackburn and a brilliant team who can bring this vision to life... or half life!"
The Fades will co-star Miranda's Tom Ellis (a teacher suspected of killing his missing wife), This Is England '86's Johnny Harris (a mentor when it comes to tackling the forces of darkness), This Life's Daniel Nardini (a woman with an extraordinary ability), Skins' Lily Loveless (Paul's twin sister Anna), Ashes To Ashes' Claire Rushbrook (Paul and Anna's mum), Theo Barklem-Biggs (a policeman), Day Of The Triffids' Jenn Murray and Kick-Ass's Sophie Wu.

The Fades will arrive on BBC3 later this year, as a co-production with BBC America.

'Primeval' series 5 to debut 24 May


The action-adventure sci-fi series Primeval is returning for a fifth series on 24 May. As part of ITV's co-financing deal with BBC America, ProSieben and UKTV, the digital channel Watch will get the world premiere, with ITV1 repeating series 5 as a terrestrial premiere in early-2012. Watch will also be showing series 4 from 3 April @7pm, just prior to premiering brand new episodes.

It's a rather unique situation, isn't it! Doctor Who will also be splitting its series in half this year (the first seven episode airing from 23 April, followed by the remaining 6 in the autumn), but viewers will always find it on BBC1. In Primeval's case, I wonder how many ITV1 fans will be unaware new episode of Primeval are being broadcast on Watch this summer. I guess it depends on how much marketing Watch give the show's return, but I assume they'll be pushing this quite strongly. It's almost definitely going to be a ratings winner for them.

There's no word on BBC America's schedule. Primeval premiered on the same day in America earlier this year, before slipping to being a few weeks behind the UK, so will they have a similar arrangement with Watch? Or, worst case scenario, will BBCA viewers stay tethered to ITV1's broadcast, and consequently have to wait until next year?

'BORED TO DEATH' SEASON 1; mildly noirish, not very moreish


Tail someone over to Obsessed With Film, where I've reviewed BORED TO DEATH's first season, which made its very belated UK debut on Sky Atlantic last night.

My expectations were perhaps too high for Bored To Death; based on its eclectic cast, an appealing premise, and the reputation of HBO. So my heart sank when the pilot, "Stockholm Syndrome" was shown to be such an uninteresting, humorless, lethargic chore that utterly failed to amuse... Continue reading...

'GOOD DOG' 1.1 - "Pilot"


Move into Obsessed With Film, where I've reviewed (at the request of Moretears) the Canadian comedy-drama GOOD DOG, starring Ken Finkleman as a crabby TV executive with a girlfriend half his age.

"In its opening scene, Canadian comedy-drama Good Dog directly references Curb Your Enthusiasm. Its lead character, neurotic TV producer George (Ken Finkleman), is planning an unnecessary trip to Los Angeles to get Larry David's blessing to use the title "Embrace Your Enthusiasm" for a planned fly-on-the-wall series about his life. It feels like a move intended to undercut criticism that Good Dog's a Canadian version of that HBO series, but one that doesn't really work. If anything, it just draws attention to the fact this is a poor man's version of the Emmy-winning Curb, and possible the worst comedy pilot I've seen in years." Continue reading...

Poll: who's your favourite fictional captain?


This week's poll is very simple: who's your favourite fictional captain? Naturally, this covers books, cartoons, television and film. I've listed many of the popular choices below, but you can peruse a more thorough list here.



The poll closes on Saturday 2 April @5PM GMT. The result will be revealed shortly after. If you want to, please disseminate this poll via Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Howard Overman plans 'Misfits' changes


Spoilers for series 2 of Misfits ahead. You have been warned! The Christmas special of E4's teen superhero drama Misfits ended with a scene that appeared to promise new super-powers for the five young characters. In a recent interview with creator Howard Overman by SFX, this was confirmed...

Howard Overman:

"American shows like Lost are prepared to end their series' on huge, game-changing cliffhangers, which make the audience desperate for the new series. Too often on British TV we tie things up in a neat package, because quite often you don't know whether you're getting another series before you finish filming, but we were lucky that Channel Four had already commissioned the third series while I was writing the second."
On giving the characters brand new abilities:

"They're all going to have brand new powers. Nobody will have the same powers as in the second series. It's quite daunting because they've had their powers for two series, and you've got to come up with a whole new set of powers. We're very much constrained with the type of powers we can do because you have to think about what works in terms of the character and story, as well as what's achievable on our budget. We set up the idea that the powers are always linked to personality, so even now the characters' choices are influenced and reflect the characters' personalities, or else it just feels a bit arbitrary."
On the likelihood of the characters returning to community service:

That's the look of the show. They're on community service and their jumpsuits are their de facto superhero costumes, so I will be finding a way to get them back in the jumpsuits fairly quickly."
On series 3's basic structure:

"There's one slightly bigger storyline towards the end of series three. I think there are two big stories in all because we've got eight episodes this year. One is a sort of mid-season break. It won't become like other shows where they're saving the world, although in one episode they kind of do save the world."
Overman also confirmed that he won't be writing every single episode of series 3. Misfits hasn't been scheduled yet, but considering the previous two series have aired around October/November, that's a safe bet. Can anyone predict what the gang's new powers will be, considering they still have to be an extension of their personalities? It seems more than likely Simon will be given time-travel, if he's destined to become Superhoodie -- right?

'FRINGE' 3.18 - "Bloodline"


I wonder if the idea of an accelerated pregnancy was pursued because the writers weren't sure they'd get a fourth season, so decided they should draw as much of the current narrative together as possible in the remaining time. "Bloodline" was one of those episodes that offered things we've seen before (inscrutable doctors kidnapping someone to perform a bizarre medical procedure, as Fringe Division tried to locate the victim), but it was a notable episode for how much it enlightened the alternate characters, and pushed Fauxlivia (Anna Torv) into a brand storytelling direction.

In case you'd forgotten (as it's been weeks since we were last in the alt-universe), Fauxlivia is pregnant with Walternate's (John Noble) grandchild, after sleeping with his son Peter in the other universe. "Bloodline" set up the possibility that Fauxlivia's inherited viral propagated eclampsia (VPE), a lethal virus that killed her sister during childbirth, before she's kidnapped by mysterious doctors and taken to a secret location to have her pregnancy accelerated. Meanwhile, Fauxlivia's colleagues at Fringe Division did their utmost to find her, with Lincoln (Seth Gabel) and Charlie (Kirk Acevedo) coming to suspect kindly cab driver Henry (Andre Royo) is the abduction. When it became clear that's not the case, Lincoln and Charlie were nevertheless perturbed by Henry's story of having helped Fauxlivia escape, and his belief she's suffered recent memory loss. It's enough to plan the seed of a theory that, as Charlie once absentmindedly speculated, their Olivia was once replaced by the Olivia from the other dimension...

As I said, Bloodline wasn't offering us much that felt original, as I recall Olivia being kidnapped by scientists and having to escape back in season 1, and this storyline felt similar to how things played out there. But it was still an entertaining ride, brilliantly performed by Torv -- particularly because the stakes for Fauxlivia were so high because she could die if forced to give birth. It was also fascinating to speculate on who wanted to expedite her pregnancy, and the twist that it was a secret operation sanctioned by Walternate, worked well. Perhaps it should have been obvious in retrospect, given the very limited options, but I guess I was too distracted by Fauxlivia's plight to give it too much thought.

It was also a nice touch having Walternate earn our admiration earlier in the episode, by restating his policy never to experiment on children, only to show he's not above risking the life of his own grandchild's mother. But you have to now wonder why Walternate's was in such a rush: simple impatience? A desire from the writers to get the story moving quicker without nine months of waiting? Or is Fauxlivia's love child going to be capable of operating the Doomsday Machine, if Peter becomes a dead-end?

One lasting effect of "Bloodline" was moving many of the alt-universe characters to a position of mistrust. Charlie and Lincoln are now very suspicious of Walternate, knowing he sanctioned the exchange of Olivia's without telling them, and they'll perhaps come to realize the situation with the alt-universe isn't as black-and-white and the Secretary has made it seem. Will they collaborate with our side one day? Olivia should also be worried people are after her baby, even if we know the danger has actually passed.

Overall, Bloodline had much to recommend it, particularly in Torv's tough performance, but also because it deepened the emotional stakes of the season. Lincoln admitted he loves Fauxlivia (which complicates the whole love story element of the series, now he's been added to the Olivia-Pete-Fauxlivia triangle), the birth of a child undoubtedly means big changes to the makeup of the show (especially when Peter learns he has a son), and Walternate's grip on the propaganda he's been feeding everyone is undoubtedly going to slip now he's exposed as a liar to key Fringe agents.

The great thing about Fringe this season is how it's found a way to make the characters and their tangled relationships rise above the simpler pleasure of sci-fi craziness. It was missing this level of emotional complexity and humanity in its earlier seasons, but I'm so glad it's found a more compelling voice now. And respect to Fox for giving Fringe a fourth season, allowing this confident voice to continue, despite the fact its Friday night ratings have fallen to lows of around 3.5 million.

Aside

  • More alternate universe fun: Francis Ford Coppola directed Taxi Driver, not Martin Scorsese; The West Wing's about to begin its twelfth season; and Henry reads "Opus The Penguin" comic-strips, not "Opus".
written by Alison Schapker & Monica Owusu-Breen / directed by Dennis Smith / 25 March 2011 / Fox

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.19 – "No Ordinary Future"


Just prior to its first season finale, Heroes did an episode that leaped into the future to show viewers exactly why its characters must stop a city-wide explosion in New York. It was a clever idea, although its existence signaled the characters would triumph in the end, as the writers just wanted an hour to speculate on the road untraveled. No Ordinary Family attempted something similar with "No Ordinary Future", but because its own season arc is small-scale and hazy (a mysterious company are trying to develop super-powers is all we have) it was forced to attach things to a standalone story.

This inability to deliver something ambitious and relevant to Dr King and Mrs X's (Lucy Lawless) roles as villains on the show was, unfortunately, the big failing of an episode that might otherwise have been excellent. Still, this penultimate hour was brisk, entertaining, and comfortably the most appealing hour No Ordinary Family's given us all season. What a pity the show's started to deliver its most enjoyable episodes now it's almost certainly cancelled.

Continuing from episode 18's cliffhanger, Stephanie (Julie Benz) found herself disintegrating mid-run and appearing a few days into the future, where she witnessed a SWAT team closing on her house. Inside, Jim (Michael Chiklis) was attempting to smuggle JJ (Jimmy Bennett) and Daphne (Kay Panabaker) out of harm's way as the armed men moved in to arrest them, with Stephanie unable to help because she's invisible (conveniently and illogically), before being catapulted back to the present-day after a few minutes. The concept behind the episode was duly established: Stephanie played temporal detective by jumping into the future (at risk to her health) for a few minutes at a time, to deduce why, how, and when her family's secret is exposed to the world.

In the present, Jim was involved with trying to catch dirty cops responsible for gunning down his colleague in cold blood, with the help of George (Romany Malco); Daphne became more uncomfortable over boyfriend Chris's (Luke Kleintank) demands that she use her mind-control for immoral purposes; and Mrs X resurrected shape-shifter Victoria (Rebecca Mader) in order to have her pose as a doctor to get information on Katie's ((Autumn Reeser) super-baby pregnancy.

To be honest, none of the subplots were especially engaging when viewed separately, as the situation with Katie was simply laying groundwork for the finale's events (plus involved the cheat of bringing Victoria back to life), and the situation with Katie's pregnancy has arrived annoyingly late in the year. Elsewhere, Daphne's frustrating situation with Chris has been covered a few times already, so this was just the final go-around before a lasting solution -- which was admittedly rather touching, with Daphne agreeing to erase Chris's memory of her super-power, only to realize she's accidentally expunged their entire relationship. The look on Daphne's face when she saw Chris's affection for her drained from his face, knowing she's sacrificed a relationship and confidant in order to protect her family, was nicely done by Panabaker.

But it's the central time-travel story that demanded the most attention, of course. I really liked how it dovetailed with Jim's investigation into a dirty cop at the precinct, and the way current events merged with Stephanie's glimpsed futures. Sure, it made no sense that Stephanie was invisible whenever she visited the future, and it was awfully convenient that a "Future Stephanie" was always absent (thus avoiding paradoxes – like wouldn't Future Stephanie know about Past Stephanie's existence?), but I don't know anyone who watches No Ordinary Family for water-tight plotting. It's all about the warm family dynamic and playfulness with the superhero genre. So the basic idea of Stephanie trying to solve a mystery backwards did what was intended, and in the process we got to see a special effects highlight of the season: Jim flipping a van into the air, having it somersault a few times, before crashing on the other side of a street. Impressive.

It wasn't the best penultimate episode you could hope for, in terms of how it pushed the pre-existing storylines along, but it managed to deliver a few nuggets of information we'll need for the finale: JJ's duplicitous teacher Mr Litchfield (Jason Antoon) has gone missing from school, and Mrs X has decided to let Victoria steal Katie's unborn super-baby and raise it as her own. I continue to enjoy how the show deals with issues of family (kids, babies, marriage, sibling rivalry) to anchor everything on relatable issues. We all have families, after all.

It's a shame ABC originally gave No Ordinary Family a full season commitment, then trimmed the order down to 20. The show would have been more successful with a 13-episode order, giving the writers a focus, before potentially being given a back-nine. That's how Chuck has often staved off narrative tedium, by essentially have two mini-seasons every year. Instead, No Ordinary Family went down the familiar path of having too much mid-season slack (which didn't help people encouraged to give it a second chance, who tuned in to see filler), thus prompting ABC to reduce their total order. Then, ironically, with less episodes has come tighter focus on a nearer endgame, and a run of great episodes that aren't being seen by many people.

Asides

  • If you're not already aware, the finale will air on 5 April.
  • When did "zooping" become the verb to describe Stephanie's high-speed movement?
written by Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer / directed by Milan Cheylov / 26 March 2011 / ABC

TV Picks: 28 March – 3 April 2011 ('32 Brinkburn Street', 'Bored To Death', 'The Cube', 'Lewis', 'Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience', 'Louis Theroux', 'The Runaway', 'Spiral', etc.)

'Bored To Death' - Monday, Sky Atlantic @ 10.15PM

MONDAY 28th
32 Brinkburn Street (BBC1, 2.15pm) New series following two groups of characters; from 1931 and 2011. Stars Raffey Cassidy, Rebecca Callard, Maggie Steed, Jack Deam & Joe Dixon. Continues daily until Friday. (1/5)
Fern (Channel 4, 5pm) Brand new weekday chat show hosted by Fern Britten. (1/20)
Chilean Miners: What Happened Next? (BBC2, 7pm) Documentary about three of the miners rescued from the Chilean mine disaster, who now deal with global fame and recurring nightmares.
The Dales (ITV1, 8pm) Series where Adrian Edmondson travels around the Yorkshire Dales, visiting picturesque areas and meeting the local people. (1/12)
Neil Morrissey: Care Home Kid (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary where actor Neil Morrissey reminisces on his childhood, where he was parted from his older brother at the age of ten after they were caught stealing. (1/2)
Thailand: Toursim & The Truth – Stacey Dooley Investigates (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on the Thai island of Phuket, which on the surface looks glamorous but hides a dark side of sex-trafficking and sweatshops.
Bored To Death (Sky Atlantic, 10.15pm) US comedy-drama about an underachieving writer who decides to become a private eye. Stars Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, Zach Galifianakis & Olivia Thirlby. (1/8)
Bizarre ER (BBC3, 10.30pm) Series about strange medical treatments and unusual emergencies, such as a man who survived being attacked by 2,000 bees. (1/10)
The Brain: A Secret History (BBC2, 11.20pm) Science series where Michael Mosley investigates the human brain. (1/3)

TUESDAY 29th
Supersize vs Superskinny (Channel 4, 8pm) Series 4 of the programme about people struggling with various eating disorders. (1/8)
Sex & The Sitcom (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary about sex in sitcoms and the British love of sexual innuendo. Featuring Leslie Phillips, David Nobbs, Wendy Craig, Simon Nye & Jonathan Harvey.
See You In Court (BBC1, 10.35pm) Documentary about the emotional and financial toll of libel actions, including an insight into cases involving celebrities. (1/6)

WEDNESDAY 30th
Vacation, Vacation, Vacation (Channel 4, 8pm) Holiday tips from Kirstie Allsopp & Phil Spencer. (1/7)
Superscrimpers: Waste Not Want Not (Channel 4, 8.30pm) Financial advice series hosted by Mrs Moneypenny & Merryn Somerset Webb. (1/6)
Kerry Katona: The Next Chapter (ITV2, 9pm) Fly-on-the-wall series following the former-singer and reality TV star's life.
Kidult - Cuban Punch-Up: The Boys Who Fought For Castro (BBC4, 10pm) Documentary on three boys who underwent eight months of training for Cuba's National Boxing Championship for the under-21s.

THURSDAY 31st
Three In A Bed (Channel 4, 8pm) Series where guest houses compete for the title of best B&B. (1/7)
Martina Cole's The Runaway (Sky1, 9pm) Drama about a young boy and his sweetheart who are separated and both wander down unsavoury paths. Stars Joanna Vanderham, Jack O'Connell, Kierston Warein, Mark Womack, Alan Cumming & Keith Allen. (1/6)
Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience (BBC2, 10pm) Series 2 of the show where the Welsh comedian learns a new trade, beginning with farming. (1/4)

FRIDAY 1st
Fifth Gear (Channel 5, 7.30pm) Series 19 of the motoring magazine series. Hosted by Tiff Needell, Jason Plato & Vicki Butler-Henderson. (1/20)
A Place In The Sun: Home Or Away (Channel 4, 8pm) Return of the holiday property show. (1/10)

SATURDAY 2nd
Live Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Mother's Day Special (ITV1, 8.25pm) Special episode of the quiz show featuring David Walliams, Patsy Palmer, Ollys Murs and their respective mothers. Airing live. Hosted by Chris Tarrant.
Spiral (BBC4, 9pm) Series 3 of the French crime drama. (1/12)

SUNDAY 3rd
The Cube (ITV1, 7pm) Series 3 of the physical challenge game show. Hosted by Philip Schofield. (1/9)
Lewis (ITV1, 8pm) Series 5 of the detective drama. Stars Kevin Whately & Laurence Fox. (1/4)
Police Academy UK (BBC3, 9pm) Series where African police officers arrive in Britain to see how law enforcement works in the UK.
Louis Theroux & America's Most Hated Family In Crisis (BBC2, 9pm) Follow-up documentary, with Louis revisiting the Phelps family he met in 2007; a clan who have become controversial for their anti-gay picketing across the US.
Autism: The Musical (Sky Atlantic, 11.10pm) Emmy-winning documentary about the techniques to help autistic children express themselves.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Webcrawler: A Brief History Of Title Design


I adore great opening titles, particularly in television. Embedded above is a fantastic compilation of notable opening titles from movies, charting their evolution in that medium through the decades, and culminating with a few of modern TV's own sequences. It was created to air before SXSW's "Title Design Finalists Screening" event in Austin, Texas. Enjoy!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

20 TV Pilots We Want To See [Obsessed With Film]


I have a special weekend feature published at Obsessed With Film, called 20 TV PILOTS WE WANT TO SEE. The concept is very simple: I've chosen 20 US television pilots currently in-development that, for whatever reason, I'm very keen to see. Many have exciting concepts and great writers/actors attached to them; a few just look like disasters-in-waiting. But I genuinely want to see them all.

As usual, if you have time, please leave a comment at OWF, or here if it's easier. What do you think of my picks? Did I forget to include any pilots you're looking forward to?

Friday, 25 March 2011

'COMMUNITY' 2.19 – "Critical Film Studies"


I don't review Community, but it's been a particularly slow week so I thought I'd alleviate the tedium with a quick, impromptu review of this week's episode "Critical Film Studies", which was a very clever and well-written half-hour.

The premise was very simple, as Jeff (Joel McHale) conspired to get Abed (Danny Pudi) to a surprise Quentin Tarantino-themed birthday party that Britta (Gillian Jacobs) had organized at the diner she works at, only to discover Abed's a changed man who no longer bases his life on pop-culture. Instead, after being given the opportunity to be an extra in the Cougar Town, Abed's attempt at method-acting channeled a fully-developed personality he calls "Chad" that made him realize he's been wasting his own life. But the emergence of "Chad" (giving Pudi the chance to play a debonair character) put the success of the costumed Tarantino shindig in the air, as Jeff tried in vain to make Abed realize that it's okay to be obsessed with pop-culture references.

Community is a comedy that often has dialogue with its fanbase (partly because creator Dan Harmon is so prevalent on Twitter), and understands the pro's and con's of being a committed fan. "Critical Film Studies" posited some interesting questions about how fans interact and communicate these days, where social common ground has started to shift away from sport and more towards film and TV. Abed's the ultimate example of a person who's become utterly consumed by the media, to the extent that it's the prism through which he communicates to the wider world. The character appears to have some degree of autism, which further exacerbates the problem. But I'm sure many people reading this blog are somewhere on Abed's spectrum: a person who quotes movies most days, or understands certain aspects of the "real world" via how a TV show explains it to them. Hopefully people keep a healthy balance between reality and fiction, but it's true that the media's become so ingrained in our lives it's started to become our lives. (So writes the man running a TV blog.)

Some of the best stuff in "Critical Film Studies" was the two-hander between Jeff and Abed in the posh restaurant, with Jeff trying to make Abed realize that human communication is all about lying and how talking via references is a perfectly understandable way to filter the world and your thoughts. The only complaint with this episode is that, if we're honest, it wasn't especially funny. There was comedy value in seeing the cast dress up as their favourite Pulp Fiction characters, of course -- Chang (Ken Jeong) as a boxer Butch, Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) as mustachioed hitman Jules, Britta as Mia (with some great dance moves), Troy (Donald Glover) as the loud-shirted Pumpkin, Annie (Alison Brie) as Honeybunny, and Pierce (Chevy Chase) as The Gimp ("... I'm hot and my balls are touching a zipper") -- but it was otherwise pretty light on the big laughs and aimed for something more soulful.

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts I felt like sharing. There was also some great direction from The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade, who once co-starred with McHale in the US version of that sitcom, and who appears to be embracing his film-making future after the recently-released movie Submarine. More power to him, as he appears to have unexpected skill in delivering slick visuals and a deep mood. The opening with Jeff wandering into the restaurant to find Abed, leaning on voice-over, was really evocative; setting the tone for an unusual episode about how the media has a hand creating who we are, how we behave, why we let it influence us so much, and if we're okay with that.

written by Sona Panos / directed by Richard Ayoade / 24 March 2011 / NBC

Trailer: 'Angry Boys'


I really enjoyed Chris Lilly's Summer Heights High from a few years ago, so his latest work Angry Boys is high on my must-see list. The ABC/HBO 12-part mockumentary will again find Lilly playing an assortment of characters, including a reprisal of Ja'mie King.

Angry Boys will get its world premiere on Australia's ABC network, before being shown on HBO in America and the BBC in the UK. The official trailer can be seen above. Are you a fan of Lilly's work? Is this comedy something you're keen to see?

Fox renew 'Fringe' for a fourth season


Fox have renewed the sci-fi drama Fringe for a fourth season of 22 episodes, despite its inconsistent performance since moving to Friday nights since mid-season. The news was broken by writer-producer J.H Wyman via Twitter. A recent episode actually delivered the show's lowest ever rating (3.64m), but Fox clearly have faith in this show and believe it's profitable.

Talking Point: would you care if the BBC cutback on late-night and daytime programmes?


The BBC's latest idea to save money is to axe overnight programming, saving £150m per year. This could mean nothing but repeats airing on BBC1 and BBC2 between 10.30pm and 6.00am every day.

This would put a few art programmes and The Graham Norton Show in the direct firing line, although I suspect the BBC would simply reschedule Graham Norton for slightly earlier in the evening.

There are also plans to cutback on BBC2's daytime schedule, with the channel generally being used to show repeats of BBC1's content during that time.

It's all partly driven by the fact the TV license fee has been frozen at £145.50 per household until late-2016, so the BBC have to make do with their current income for five years.

But what do you make of these proposals? Will you care if the output from the BBC is lessened during non-peak hours? I guess it will only affect you if you watch TV during daytime/nighttime (i.e you're a stay-at-home parent, unemployed, a student, or work shifts, etc.)

Personally, it wouldn't affect me, so I'd be happy for the BBC to make cutbacks in these areas of the schedule. I'd rather this than the BBC cutback on existing primetime shows. But how about you? Do you value the quieter hours of the schedule more than most people? Maybe you work unsociable hours? But if so, would repeats really be so bad? Who actually expect original premieres after midnight, anyway!

Over to you!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Jump the Blast #12 - 'Chuck'


How's this for something different? We've had our fill of people avoiding explosions, so now we've moved onto porcine action heroes! In CHUCK's recent episode "Chuck Versus The Muuurder", a piggy nicknamed 'Kevin Bacon' avoided becoming roasted when a fireball ripped through the air vent he was trotting down. The swine.

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".

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.18 - "No Ordinary Animal"


Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz are signing onto other pilots, ABC have announced this show's last clutch of episodes are going to bounce around the schedule, so I think it's safe to say No Ordinary Family has its neck on the chopping block. That's a shame, as it's a harmless and likeable superhero show the whole family can sit down to enjoy, which is actually doing very well in the UK (where it's shown on digital channel Watch, and grabbing solid ratings every week.) If only the same were true of its American performance, but clearly its native audience would prefer something edgier that takes risks. I can understand that, as I often wish No Ordinary Family was slightly less cutesy, too, but it's just nowhere near as disappointing as the ratings would have you believe.

"No Ordinary Animal" was another standard episode in terms of storytelling and construction, but it contained a handful of genuinely exciting and, for this series, fairly radical changes. Cumulatively, this was probably the best episode the show's done. Jim (Chiklis) and George (Romany Malco) were trying to catch a killer who appears to be targeting "supers" and has some kind of animal traits himself, as the police are convinced the murders are vicious dog attacks. Turns out Dr King's (Stephen Collins) recently injected Death Row patient Lucas Winnick (Eric Balfour) has joined his boss Mrs X (Lucy Lawless) in a mission to clean up the city of its itinerant supers, and is playing assassin. Matters are complicated when Lucas discovers the Powell family have powers (as they're not on Mrs X's list of supers), meaning Jim and Stephanie (Benz) must protect their kids from harm.

Meanwhile, there were some functional subplots with JJ (Jimmy Bennett) being pressured by his teacher Mr Litchfield (Jason Antoon) to complete difficult equations, unaware Litchfield is being passed this data by Dr King; while Daphne (Kay Panabaker) was encouraged by her boyfriend Chris (Luke Kleintank) to use her mind-control so they can skip school and go see an outdoor concert. Neither were particularly interesting on their own, but both knitted with the more important stories that are being told -- with JJ's equation revealed to be the secret to ensuring super-power permanency, and Daphne's life being put in danger from Lucas. The latter also prompted a series highlight in terms of special effects, with a Jim vs Lucas super-fight that was surprisingly enjoyable and actually better than most fights Heroes ever gave us.

But while this episode wasn't really anything special, it involved a handful of developments that made it standout from the crowd. Katie (Autumn Reeser) suddenly demonstrated telekinesis, coming to the later conclusion that she's inherited some of ex-boyfriend Joshua's powers because she's pregnant (a surprise that, frankly, was so predictably it was irritating they didn't reveal it until the end), and the show actually endangered the Powells in a credible way. In fact, the moment when Lucas managed to punch his claws into Stephanie's stomach and leave her dying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood made for a a genuinely tense situation. One that enabled Chiklis to shine as his character contemplated losing his wife, and cemented Balfour's villain as someone who's an unmistakable threat instead of a trivial villain-of-the-week.

After receiving some super-serum "miracle cure", Stephanie recovered, but in the final shot it appeared the serum has boosted her ability to an unprecedented level as she literally disintegrated during a late-night run. I assume she's travelled so fast she's jumped forward in time, so hopefully episode 19 will give us an entertaining look at the Powell family's possible future together. Katie as a mother with a super-baby? JJ and Daphne as twentysomethings? There's lots of potential.

Overall, "No Ordinary Animal" was one of the better episodes of this likeable show, if only because it gave the mythology a noticeable shove towards the finish. It's still a very soft show that feels like it should be airing in the afternoons, but it's efficiently done and plays to the strengths of its talented cast. I like this family, I enjoy their mini-adventures, I like how it's refused to become a tangled mess by keeping things fairly grounded. Was a better show possible with this premise and cast? Oh, definitely. But I'm sure a second season would have ironed out some flaws and reassessed a few things.

Asides

  • A reminder: in a change to the schedule, the penultimate episode will air on 25 March at 10pm. The finale will actually air on 5 April.
  • Unintentional hilarity: check out the crowd watching that outdoors concert, as they each appear to be dancing to a completely different song.
  • Katie keeps comparing Joshua to Wolverine, and Lucas is definitely based on Sabretooth. I think the stage is set for those two to fight, don't you think?
  • It seems that Chris is becoming a bad influence on Daphne, by encouraging her to abuse her abilities so much. It'll be interesting to see if their relationship fizzles out over this, or if Chris is understandable just excited to have a super-girlfriend.
written by Zack Estrin & Jon Harmon Feldman / directed by Greg Beeman / 22 March 2011 / ABC

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

'CHUCK' 4.19 - "Chuck Versus The Muuurder"


We're approaching the season finale, but Chuck's spinning its wheels a little, and after this episode it appears recent events with Director Bentley (Robin Givens) were just mini-arc that's not going to play a major part of the brewing Vivian Volkoff situation. "Chuck Versus The Muuurder" was yet another "bottle episode" (taking place entirely on the standing sets, to save cash), which seem to appear with increasing regularity these days. The basic concept of "Chuck-does-Cluedo" wasn't too bad, but I found myself largely bored until the story started to tighten towards the end and gave us a strong finish that rescued the entire episode.

This week, General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) allied Director Bentley with Chuck (Zachary Levi), Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and Casey (Adam Baldwin), in order to continue her project to find new Intersect agents. Four candidates were duly interviewed and tested at Castle, under Chuck's management: gifted hacker Lewis (James Francis Ginty), who has developed an English accent after a semester in the UK; genius Josie (Karissa Vacker), a woman with excellent intuition; swarthy Damian (Mousa Kraish), an agent who resembles a stereotypical Arab terrorist because of years spent undercover in the Middle East; and Brody (Stephen Pollack), a young man with many physical and psychological similarities to Chuck already.

At the Buy More, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) had to deal with the kidnapping of Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence) by rivals Large Mart, in retaliation for Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) stealing their store's piglet mascot, Kevin Bacon. Elsewhere, Devon (Ryan McPartlin) found himself conflicted over Ellie's (Sarah Lancaster) interest in her father's super-laptop and neural research, as it's proving to be a joyous distraction for his wife, but one that might contain a dangerous surprise.

Forgiving the fact that being an Intersect is supposed to send you insane (something Chuck's protected against because he has a unique "governor" his father made him), which calls into question the concept of turning agents into Intersects, it was a fairly amusing idea to have Chuck try to find a likeminded comrade. It's just a shame the four candidates were underwritten and caricatured (another terrible English accent, an almost offensive racial scaremonger), and I'm confused about how the CIA are going to create more Intersects anyway. Isn't that technology beyond them? Bentley only managed it last week because Orion's all-purpose laptop was apparently capable of embedding an Intersect, but they're not in possession of that device now. So what was the plan here, exactly? It seems that Chuck's losing the grasp on its own lore these days, in the pursuit of plots that haven't been told yet.

Second of Strahotness: cool in a crisis

The bulk of "... Versus The Muuurder" was an Agatha Christie-esque murder-mystery scenario, with various candidates turning up dead, with the eye of suspicion passing over the remaining few. There were only five viable suspects from eight, but Alex Katsnelson and Kristin Newman's script did a surprisingly good job keeping you guessing about the culprit's identity. This was a necessity of any murder-mystery tale, and I was relieved to see this episode managed a few twists and surprises that worked and, more importantly, made sense. In some ways, this was probably the best plotted episode of Chuck in a long time, as the show isn't really known for its intricacy. I'm not saying "... Versus The Muuurder" was a mystery worthy of Hercule Poirot, but in the context of Chuck it was put together with some skill.

Sadly, the subplots were a yawn. The Buy More story about a rivalry over kidnapped mascots was so tonally at odds with the murderous events in Castle that it just felt annoying. The episode should have had the courage to focus on the murder storyline, rather than provide light relief with a cute pig. The guest stars could have done with the extra time to build their characters, and the sense of claustrophobia would have been helped.

And the situation with Ellie just doesn't make much sense to me still. I can suspend my disbelief over many things, but quite how she's somehow able to access and understand her father's research into neural programming is beyond me? Is she a brain neurologist? No. Has she ever shown herself to be particularly computer literate? No. In this subplot she discovers that her father was working on a way to have knowledge implanted straight into a human brain. Well, what's new? It's evident he succeeded because that's exactly what the Intersect is -- all the government's top secrets burned onto a human mind. I'm not sure what they're getting at here, although the concluding scene with the laptop scanning Ellie as she slept, identifying her as "Agent X", got my attention. Are we about to see Ellie become even more powerful than her brother? But if so, there's not much threat there. I still suspect Vivian Volkoff is destined to become an Intersect, seeing as how she's been setup as the "twin" of Chuck whose own father is leading her down a very different path.

Overall, this wasn't a terrible episode, just underwhelming for the most part, although the reveal of the Castle killer was handled so well it glossed over some weaknesses. It was also fun seeing Chuck step up to become a leader in his team's eyes, and eventually win the respect and approval of Bentley (who, it turns out, was a pretty redundant character this season.) But a disappointing bunch of wannabe-Chuck's and a tedious Buy More subplot drained a lot of goodwill. I just hope the remainder of this season starts getting a move on with the Vivian Volkoff storyline, now Chuck's aware she's stepped up to become his nemesis.

written by Alex Katsnelson & Kristin Newman / directed by Allan Kroeker / 21 March 2011 / NBC

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

TV Ratings: 'Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena', Sky1


The six-part prequel to Spartacus: Blood & Sand made its UK debut last night (Sky1, 10pm), attracting a healthy average of 482,000 viewers. Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena was expected to air on Bravo (where Blood & Sand's premiere drew 365,000 viewers last summer), but following Sky's buyout and closure of Bravo Spartacus was inherited by Sky1 (along with Hawaii Five-0.)

On a related note, I've heard a rumour that Sky are close to agreeing to let Virgin Media carry Sky Atlantic, which would bring the UK's new "home of HBO" to an additional 3 million homes. There's been no official word on this, but hopefully it's true.

Talking Point: which current TV show deserves a movie adaptation?


The movie industry are always remaking old TV shows (The A-Team arrived last summer, The Smurfs are due soon), but which current/recent TV show most deserves a cinematic interpretation? Doctor Who and perhaps Torchwood feel like no-brainers, and a 24 movie is apparently aiming for a 2012 release, but are most TV shows impossible to translate because they work better as a serialized story?

I can't really see Dexter working in movie form; well, the concept could easily have been a film, but coming up with a worthy film-length story five years into its run? Not happening. Likewise, True Blood. Well, okay, perhaps True Blood could condense a whole book into a two-hour format. But are enough non-fans at least aware of the show to entice them into the cinema? Look at what happened when Serenity released into a world where only a minority knew it was based on an axed TV series called Firefly. It was hardly a runaway success. You need a genuine TV phenomenon to achieve that, but so many shows that fit that description are impossible to replicate on the silver screen -- like Lost.

But actually, we're overlooking a perfect candidate to make an easy leap to the big screen: Glee. An easy concept to explain, with an established fan-base large enough to create a High School Musical-esque hit around the world. I can already imagine a Sing-A-Long version being released to DVD, too. And 3D, of course. Sorry, "3-Glee".

What else? Primeval? Easily done! Flight Of The Conchords? An instant cult hit, surely. Chuck? Uh, very unlikely. Breaking Bad or Mad Men? It's just not happening.

Ideally, you need a show with a simple format that tends to tell episodic stories on the smallscreen, so the leap to the big-screen feels like an opportunity to paint on a bigger canvas. There are fewer candidates around nowadays, given how the TV trend is to embrace things most movies can't easily do -- like tell serialized stories over many years.

But do you have any suggestions?

State of the Blog: record-breaking


There was a great response to my post about a campaign to get BBC2's Whites back on TV, but that paled into insignificance compared to the deluge of hits my interview with writer Ben Richards (Outcasts) had last week. The comments are still trickling in, approaching the 200 mark!

I think that breaks records for DMD, which is great, for a few reasons:

  • It all helps promote DMD online in various forums.
  • I genuinely believe more UK TV talent should engage with their audience in this manner (ideally before their show airs, too.)
  • It draws a large number of newbies to DMD, so hopefully a percentage will stick around. It's always great to shake things up and get some new opinions and perspectives here.
From reading the interview's many comments, people clearly appreciated Ben Richards answering a few early questions himself, and it was certainly a surprise to see that the vast majority of commenters loved (nay, adored) the show.

Cutbacks!

You may have noticed I've stopped reviewing some shows in recent months. Being Human USA was an understandable case, as it was recycling so much of the original for my taste (although I did a catch-up review); The Event has been on the precipice for ages, but its limp relaunch pushed it into an abyss; but Glee was a bigger surprise because it's in the throes of a second season. Usually, if I've stuck with a show for a whole year, I'll continue until its dying breath (just ask ABC's V.) But things are a-changing, folks, and I'll be ditching shows quicker from now on.

This is partly because (a) I'm growing tired of a few established shows in their middle-age, (b) I need to make room for new shows that are premiering this year, and (c) I get the feeling people appreciate the extra news or feature-based content I don't often have time to do with so many reviews. For example: many of the recent Talking Point posts have received 40+ comments, my pieces on Whites and Outcasts practically went viral, my recent "10 Ways To Improve 10 O'Clock Live" post received a notable amount of page-hits, and a few videos about greenscreens were surprisingly popular. There's clearly an appetite for variety here, so I'll keep that in mind.

However, DMD's a TV review blog at heart. That won't ever change. It's the driving force behind what I've always wanted to do here. Diversifying more will just help keep me fresh, so the surviving reviews are better.

Lack of content

We're at that funny time of the year where many shows have reached (or are about to reach) their end, but new shows for spring/summer aren't seamlessly taking over. If you look at my "On The Box" widget in the sidebar, I'm down to 3 shows being reviewed weekly. It was closer to a dozen in February!

To compensate, I may start reviewing a few shows I wouldn't ordinarily write about. Or do some special one-off reviews. I may also return to a few shows I've dropped, just to fill gaps occasionally. But more likely, I'll use the free time to post things that aren't so expected; like more Talking Points (which have gone down a treat in 2011), a weekly Poll, continue the Jump The Blast meme, and maybe a few other unique features. As always, your suggestions are welcome for ways to take up the slack, before new shows like Doctor Who and Camelot start up in April.

Ideas for features, thoughts on the blog, opinions on recent output, suggestions for future reviews, off-topic questions? The floor is yours...

(P.S - I'm unable to comment here during working hours again, as Disqus have done something to their coding that prevents older browsers from working properly. As always, I DO read every comment, but any response from myself will be delayed.)

Monday, 21 March 2011

'FRINGE' 3.17 - "Stowaway"


This episode did little to dissuade me that Fringe hasn't hit a rough patch since mid-season, but the freak-of-the-week was an interesting source of empathy: a woman called Dana Gray (Caprica's Paula Malcomson) who, after surviving a family tragedy, realized she can't die. As if to compensate for a somewhat forgettable story attached to an intriguing concept, the episode was reinforced by the continuation of last week's crazy William Bell twist and a familiar face joining Fringe Division...

I liked how the title alluded to the two situations unfolding here. Dana was a suicide hotline telephonist who, after surviving two lightning strikes, developed super-magnetized atoms that prevent her body decaying or suffering enough damage to bring about death. Her desire to be reunited with her dead family led her believe the only way was for her soul to "stowaway" with that of other people's at the moment of death, by encouraging depressed people to go through with suicide bids. This idea of a soul hitching a ride bled through to the B-story, with William Bell's consciousness having now possessed Olivia (Anna Torv) while he tries to find a suitable, permanent host body (ideally a severely brain-damaged patient with no hope of recovery.)

This is unquestionably an inventive way to bring William Bell back onto the show, seeing as Leonard Nimoy's character seemingly died at the end of season 2, but I'm still having a tough time swallowing it. I know it may seem crazy that I can accept so much of Fringe's pseudo-science every week, but draw the line at this latest twist, but it's somehow true. It just seems like a jarring way to bring Bell back without having to worry about Nimoy's availability or health issues. Still, Anna Torv's croaky performance (while still unintentionally hilarious at times), wasn't quite as bad as it threatened to be from last week's cliffhanger. Torv's proven her acting chops this season (playing two very different characters) and, while I doubt her Nimoy impression marks a career highlight, she's making the best of a ludicrous development. But it's still damned unsettling to see Torv flirt with Jasika Nicole like a lecherous old man, with Walter (John Bishop) giggling like a schoolboy beside him, so I'll be glad when Bell's consciousness is hosted by someone else -- preferably male. What's Zachary Quinto up to?

Of side interest was the "our side" debut of Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel), a character we've only previously met in the alternate-universe as a key member of the Fringe team. In our world, Lincoln's a skeptical Federal Agent who gets embroiled in the Dana Gray investigation, going from bewildered Scully to a fascinated Mulder -- primed to become a semi-regular consultant. As one of the many people that prefer the alt-Fringe team, I'm glad Lincoln's set to become a bigger part of the series in both universes. The series doesn't really warrant more than three investigators (even Astrid's been cooped up in the lab this season, after playing a more active role in the field last season), but Lincoln will hopefully be used sparingly and cleverly. It's fun to try and predict if he's been brought in because something's about to happen to Peter's character and Fringe will need a temporary partner for Olivia? Or will Lincoln suffer some kind of mental trauma that means Bell's consciousness will be placed inside him?

The core storyline, trying to find and stop Dana from helping more people to die, eventually resulting in a bomb threat aboard a train packed will 300 people/souls, wasn't one of Fringe's best. The mystery itself was spoon-fed well and Malcolmson was fantastic as the conflicted Dana. However, I was a tad confused Dana didn't perceive her inability to die as a gift from God, who may want her to do good in the world using her "super power", particularly as she's evidently inclined to believe in New Age mumbo-jumbo.

Overall, "Stowaway" was mostly average with enjoyable wrinkles and moments, but the A-story didn't hold my attention all that rigidly, and I was disappointed the return of William Bell didn't kick the mythology into top gear. We've been led to believe that Bell/Bishop are an unbeatable scientific duo, but this episode didn't get me excited about their reunion. Maybe it's because there's too much distraction with Torv playing the role. If Nimoy were in these scenes, I'd have been happier seeing him make gauche jokes about placing his consciousness into Gene the cow and letting Astrid milk him. How about you?

Asides

  • First there was Olivia. Then there was Fauxlivia. So do we now have Bellivia?
  • The flaw in William Bell's plan to survive death: if he hears a bell, his consciousness starts to slip. Thank God there wasn't a fire drill at Harvard.
written by Danielle Dispaltro (story by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner & J.H Wyman) / directed by Charles Beeson / 18 March 2011 / Fox

BBC extend 'Merlin' series 4


Great news for fans of BBC1's Merlin; the fantasy saga's fourth series will be extended from the previously announced ten episodes to its standard thirteen.

Producer Johnny Capps, speaking to SFX Magazine:

"There was talk there would be 10 [episodes] but there will be 13. We were very lucky with series three [because] it was hugely successful and we built our audience throughout, so I think the BBC now sees [Merlin] as one of their most important Autumn dramas, especially for a Saturday night."
Capps, on the emergence of the Knights of the Round Table:

"The knights are important characters throughout the series. They are around a lot. In series four, Camelot has changed to a certain degree. Uther is a broken man, so Arthur has to take a little bit more control. People are surprised that [Arthur] has given these people that aren't of noble birth the title of knight, so there's an interesting tension around him and his posse of knights."
It was also confirmed that series 4 will premiere with a two-part episode, and that Howard Overman (Misfits) will be writing episode 3.

I'm sure fans are happy they'll be getting another two episodes when series 4 rolls round, and it's good to see the BBC showing such faith in Merlin. Surprisingly, it proved to be excellent counter-programming against ITV1's X Factor last year.

I just hope, as always, that the writers stop beating about the bush and keep moving towards some real goals -- although, now Merlin's being held in such high esteem by the BBC, I daresay they'll be trying to ensure it can run for years and years. Are the actors up for that commitment?

'BECOMING HUMAN'; for whom the school bell tolls


Head over to Obsessed With Film, where I've reviewed BBC3's BECOMING HUMAN, the 50-minute compilation of Being Human's online spin-off, starring Craig Roberts, Leila Mimmack & Josh Brown.

After the success of webseries Becoming Human (which attracted 1.5 million hits online), BBC3 were encouraged to stitch the eight episodes together into one 50-minute special that aired last night -- premiering the story's conclusion in the process. But I'm sure this was the Beeb's intention from the start, considering the production standards of the webisodes, and its clear intention to become a full-blooded TV spin-off to Being Human. Continue reading...

Poll Result: who's your favourite Irish TV character?


Last week, to celebrate St Patrick's Day, I asked you to vote for your favourite Irish TV character. I forgot to include Nathan from Misfits, and there was some debate about the Irishness of Merlin's Morgana, but I think we overcame those issues. Plenty of people voted for Nathan as their own "other vote", and Morgana means "queen" in Old Irish – so isn't that proof the character's from the Emerald Isle? There were 84 votes, with the results below:

NO VOTES
Burn Notice's Fiona Glenanne, CSI Miami's Horatio Caine, 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy, Boardwalk Empire's Margaret Schroeder, Mrs Brown from Mrs Brown's Boys, Mrs Doyle from Father Ted, Lights Out's Patrick O'Leary, In Treatment's Paul Weston, Mad Men's Peggy Olson & Scrubs' Perry Cox.

7. Elizabeth Bishop, Morgana, Tommy Gavin, Bernard Black – 2.38%
Only a few votes for Fringe's sympathetic grieving mother Elizabeth (Orla Brady), which is still pretty good, considering she's only appeared in a few episodes; a disappointing response for the jewel-eyed Morgana (Katie McGrath) from Merlin; a few people seemed to like an Irish-American in a fireman's uniform, voting for Rescue Me's Tommy Gavin; and there was mild love for irascible bookseller Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) from Black Books.

6. Father Jack, Jimmy McNulty, Miles O'Brien – 4.76%
What a cross-section of Irishmen! The swearing, disgusting sexist Father Jack (Frank Kelly) from Father Ted; the dependable Baltmore cop Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) from The Wire; and Star Trek's tetchy engineer Chief Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney.)

5. Angel/Liam – 7.14%
I didn't think there would be a big response for Angel (David Boreanaz), as I've never been struck by the Irishness of the character. Maybe the Joss Whedonites grabbed the poll?

4. John Mitchell – 9.52%
A timely vote for Irish vampire Mitchell (Aidan Turner), who I'm sure causes plenty of swooning around the land whenever Being Human's on. The fact he's a vampire will only add to his teenage appeal.

3. Father Dougal & Nathan Young – 11.9%
Another Father Ted alum in the childlike Father Dougal (Ardal O'Hanlon), joined by the motormouthed teen delinquent Nathan (Robert Sheehan) from Misfits. The fact Nathan wasn't actually part of my list of possibilities makes his third-place ranking even more impressive.

2. Roy Trenneman – 16.67%
He's the lazy IT technician from The IT Crowd, and many of you really believe Roy (Chris O'Dowd) represents all that's great about Ireland. I won't argue.

1. Father Ted – 19.05%
A deserved win for Father Ted Crilly (the late Dermot Morgan), who provided us with many laughs in the '90s over three series of popular Anglo-Irish sitcom Father Ted. The real winner of this poll is writer Graham Linehan, who wrote for four characters in the top 6.