Saturday, 31 March 2012

COMMUNITY, 3.13 – "Digital Exploration Of Interior Design" (Part 1 of 2)




Did this need to be a two-part episode? I was left confused "Digital Exploration Of Interior Design" didn't wrap things up, partly because it left me thinking I hadn't responded as the writers must have hoped (i.e. anxious for next week's conclusion). I guess we'll see exactly how much continues into "Pillows & Blankets" next Thursday, but my guess is that only the Troy (Donald Glover), Abed (Danny Pudi) and Vice Dean Laybourne (John Goodman) subplot will see any meaningful development.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed a great deal about "Digital Exploration Of Interior Design", but I have to admit the episode started to drag in the last-third. The subplot with egomaniac Jeff (Joel McHale) confronting the fact a student died thinking he was a dick was okay, for awhile, although the twist that dead "Kim" was actually the (male) messenger of said bad news felt too obvious; Troy and Abed made another college-spanning pillow fort, which felt like a reheated joke, but I loved how Laybourne tried to split them up by making Troy feel there's an imbalance in their friendship (so Troy can embrace his true calling as a plumber/repairman); and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) had a very fun romance with a student who's changed his name to "Subway" (Travis Schuldt) to promote the fast-food chain, while trying to assure Pierce (Chevy Chase) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) that she's actually sabotaging the corporate stooge from inside-out. Loved this story's Cold War spy tropes, the general satire of corporate sponsorship deals, and the lovely nod to 1984, too.

By the by, Subway seem to love sponsoring geek-friendly, low-rated NBC comedies, having seemingly jumped onto the Community bandwagon now Chuck's finished. And while Chuck's references to Subway were cute concessions the fans accepted, Community is already offering more invention with a similar sponsorship deal. Making "Subway" into a romantic lead for a leading character? How's that for thinking outside of the box? Brilliant.

As often happens with Community, there was a mix of good and forgettable material here, but nothing outright bad. I just wish the show was making better use of John Goodman; having given him a great introduction when season 3 began, only to seemingly forget he exists! I'd actually forgotten he's on the show, in all seriousness. Hopefully the remainder of this year's episodes will make the Laybourne/Troy situation more central in our minds—if only because Goodman, or rather his rumbling voice, are great to have around.

written by Chris McKenna / directed by Dan Eckman / 29 March 2012 / NBC

Friday, 30 March 2012

Review: JUSTIFIED, 3.1 – "The Gunfighter"




I'm not passionate about Justified, which is perhaps evident by my yearly decision to wait for its UK broadcast on 5USA (which tends to premiere weeks before a season ends on FX in the US). It's a great show with fantastic performances, and season 2 was streets head of its spotty inaugural year (because of tighter serialisation and much stronger recurring characters), but it's never been must-see television in my eyes. My opinion may be about to change, on the evidence of Justified's best ever season premiere, "The Gunfighter"...

We catch up with swaggering U.S Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) less than a month after he was shot in the line of duty, and there are signs that this "cowboy" is starting to show his age. Raylan's gunshot wound may be healing, but it's robbed Raylan of his pin-point accuracy with a firearm (forever?), and girlfriend Winona (Natalie Zea) wryly comments on his advancing years. As a premiere, "The Gunfighter" naturally had to set-up new characters to replace those who didn't survive season 2; most importantly the "urban cowboy" Quarles (Neal McDonough), an enforcer from Detroit with Travis Bickle's forearm-gun from Taxi Driver, who's chasing repayment over a failed investment from Emmitt Arnett (Steven Flynn), associate of the Dixie Mafia.

There's also a Arnett's quiet bodyguard Fletcher "Ice Pick" Nix (Dexter's Desmond Harrington), who's preferred method of execution involves a game of table-top quick-draw. Both men reflect different aspects of Raylan: Ice Pick being his ego and gun skills; Quarles the tranquil intelligence. The episode's best scene is when Ice Pick gets a chance to pit his skills against Raylan (in his mind, his only contender), placing a loaded gun in the middle of a table and offering a 50/50 chance of them reaching for it after a count of ten to kill the other. It ends with Raylan, knowing he'll be unable to shoot quicker because of his injury, beating Ice Pick with lateral thinking: tug on the tablecloth to bring the gun closer his way on zero. Genius.

Indeed, Justified is brimming with moments such as the one above. Snappy, inventive, crowd-pleasing bursts of violence and treachery that make you grin from ear to ear. And as the show evolves, I love how each year it gains layers of back-story and an ever deepening ensemble. Raylan was the indisputable star of the show when it began (and that still holds mostly true), but he's not always the most interesting character these days. We still have season 1 baddie Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) on the scene, Raylan's childhood best-friend, who has such natural chemistry with Raylan that I'd enjoy an hour listening to those two men talk in an empty room. By the end of this premiere, it seems we'll be spending time with Boyd in the Harlan County jail alongside hobbling Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies), the key henchman and son of weed-dealing matriarch Mags Bennett from last season, which is a tantalising turn of events. I thought the breaks would be cleaner between seasons, but instead showrunner Graham Yost is choosing to enhance this universe by keeping key players around Harlan County. It's almost becoming a sort of edgy, violent, complex, Southern soap.

Anyway, just a few thoughts on the premiere, because I know a few people sometimes wonder what I think of Justified. Obviously people watching at UK-pace are susceptible to massive spoilers from all Americans/Canadians reading, so please don't ruin things if you leave a comment. Try and be vague in your positive/negative remarks, if you've seen ahead of this episode, or your comment will be deleted and you may be blacklisted.

written by Graham Yost & Fred Golan / directed by Michael Dinner / 28 March 2012 / 5USA

Thursday, 29 March 2012

ITV2 commission supernatural drama SWITCH

left-to-right: Lacey Turner, Hannah Tointon, Nina Toussaint-White & Phoebe Fox

Touchpaper Television, the production company who make Being Human for the BBC, are stretching their wings with a brand new supernatural drama for ITV2. Switch will star Lacey Turner (EastEnders) and Hannah Tointon (Hollyoaks) as witches living in London's Camden Town, together with Nina Toussaint-White (Doctor Who) and Phoebe Fox (Black Mirror).

This coven of modern-day witches—fashionable career girl Stella (Turner), spontaneous Hannah (Tointon), insatiable Jude (Toussaint-White), and traditionalist Grace (Fox)—try to balance their complicated city lives with their interest in witchcraft, while competing with enemy coven "The Witches of Kensington" (Alexa, India, Romola and Remy).

The six-part supernatural drama has been written by Chloe Moss (Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, Prisoners' Wives) and Tim Price (EastEnders).

Rob Pursey, executive-producer:

"Switch is an upbeat, funny drama about four young witches trying to make their way in the big city. They want to live a modern life, not one based on their mothers' old-fashioned rituals. But modern life presents serious problems, and our girls can't help casting the occasional spell to try to sort things out..."
Laura Mackie, ITV Drama:

"Switch is a contemporary series about friendship with a spell-binding twist. Chloe [Moss] and Tim [Price] have created four fun-loving, free-spirited characters."
What do you make of this news? ITV are probably after Secret Diary-meets-Being Human, but will they get it? Witches have had a rough time on television just lately, too: The Witches Of Eastwick television show was swiftly cancelled, the witchcraft element of True Blood's fourth season was of mixed success, and The Secret Circle hasn't been the runaway hit The CW expected it to be.

Can British TV find a way to make witches interesting and sexy, to appeal to young audiences?

Switch enters its eleven-week production in April 2012; filming in London, Cardiff and Bristol. I assume the show will broadcast on ITV2 either later this year or, perhaps more likely, early-2013.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

TV Ratings: MAD MEN, season 5 premiere (Sky Atlantic/AMC)

I've been itching to see how Mad Men performed on Sky Atlantic, ever since the show was poached from BBC4 as one of SkyA's big-name acquisitions. Unsurprisingly, last night's double-bill fifth season premiere only attracted an average of 72,000 viewers.

Most damningly, there was actually a 50% drop in viewership between episodes, going from 98,000 to 45,000. Does this suggest that half the audience were newcomers, who switched off? If so, will SkyA be looking at 50,000 regular viewers in the weeks to come? I know the channel doesn't exist strictly for ratings, more the prestige to attract discerning subscribers who love world-class drama, but that can't really be good news.

As comparison, BBC4's fourth season premiere of Mad Men pulled in 360,000 viewers (and the show was considered low-rated even with those numbers).

It's also interesting to predict that around 300,000 fans of Mad Men just weren't able to see the show's return on SkyA (i.e. they don't have a Sky subscription, which Atlantic's still exclusive to). Will this encourage more piracy online? Or will DVD/Blu-ray sales instead receive a healthy boost from UK stores later this year?

AMC would undoubtedly prefer the latter if Sky are willing to pay them £500,000 per episode of a show that attracts less than 95,000 of their subscribers, ontop of a cut from lucrative disc sales (where a Mad Men box-set can cost British consumers £25-35).

Across the pond, Mad Men lured 3.5m viewers on AMC (a 21% increase on season 4's premiere), making it the show's highest-rated episode ever.

Review: MAD MEN, 5.1 & 5.2 - "A Little Kiss"




It's been 18-months since Mad Men was last on our screens, following a contract dispute between AMC and creator Matthew Weiner, but the critically-acclaimed show is finally back for an overdue fifth season. Time has likewise moved forward for the advertising execs of Madison Avenue, at half the pace, taking us into the summer of 1966 nine months later...

It's noticeable in this two-part premiere "A Little Kiss" that the 1960s are now in full swing, in contrast to the more sedate early seasons where Mad Men's attitude and aesthetic hadn't quite shaken the post-war '50s. The colours are much brighter, the fashions more appealing, the music undoubtedly sexier, and it feels that the winds of change are about to blow most of the characters over (particularly the older ones).

It's no coincidence that the first episode revolves around the Adonis-like Don Draper (Jon Hamm) hitting his 40th birthday; now officially "middle-aged", grasping for his receding youth by having married his twentysomething secretary Megan (Jessica Paré). In many ways he's simply following best-friend Roger's (John Slattery) lead. Don's kids have also reached an age where they're speculating on their father's age in years to come, which basically means everyone's sense of mortality is being pricked.

So where is everyone at this moment in time? The aforementioned Don's apparently happy with his new wife, who seems to get on with his three children, but there are occasional signs of discontent and weirdness. In one memorable sequence, Don's surprise birthday party is spoiled by Roger (John Slattery)—which is just as well because a man like Don hates surprises. But his fun-loving half-French wife loves them, so ultimately still manages a surprise by publically serenading her husband with a sexy rendition of "Zou Bisou Bisou" (made famous by Sophia Loren). A moment that provokes a tangle of reactions: erotic, playful, fun, embarrassing, inappropriate, surprising, risqué, and bizarre. You're left feeling that half-French Megan is either culturally and generationally out of step with her husband and his friends (she later exclaims "you're all so cynical; you don't smile, you smirk"), or else she has psychological issues (perhaps hinted at by a scene where Megan cleans house in her underwear, driving an initially puzzled Don into a youthful lust after he arrived home from the office?)


Anyway, Don seemed to take his wife's "birthday treat" on the chin, but it was amusing to see the repercussions of Megan's performance in everyone who saw it. Poor Harry (Rich Sommer) completely embarrassed himself at work soon after, caught by Megan fantasising about her to Stan (Jay R. Ferguson); and to me it felt like stiff Lane (Jared Harris) received a sudden desire to escape his drab existence, via a flirtatious morning phone call with a stranger (the wife of a man whose wallet he found in the back of a taxi).

As someone who's already shown form when it comes to chasing younger women (remember the Playboy bunny?), I wonder if he'll join Roger and Don in choosing a wife who'll cause some raised eyebrows. Or maybe we're headed for mass divorces, as the young women realise they don't need to be on the arms of these increasingly outmoded men? As a side discussion, I'm still grappling with why Lane didn't hand the wallet back to the driver. My first reaction was a degree of institutionalised racism, but then I remember that the aforementioned Playboy bunny he was attracted to was black, and I vaguely recall him having clearly non-racist views at the time. So it's probably more likely he just saw the attractive woman's photo inside and an opportunity to charm her into a meeting.

It was also great to see Joan (Christina Hendricks) as a proud mother, as Mad Men neatly avoided having to watch her character go through a nine-month pregnancy. (I doubt Hendricks would fit onto the screen if her breasts enlarged during pregnancy!) Being maternal is something she's struggling to find within herself, though. Her own mother, the acerbic Gail (Christina Estabrook), has arrived to lend a much-needed hand with the daily duties, and she's clearly itching to get back to work. In fact, Joan made a pointed visit to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP) to show off her newborn child, while instead trying to ascertain if she's been utterly replaced. In actual fact, Lane in particular was adamant the business has been floundering without her guiding hand and years of administrative experience.

"A Little Kiss" also spent some time on the era's growing issue of racism, opening with an African-American crowd calling for equal opportunities employment. A terrible scene, as it happens, albeit inspired by real life when employees of Y&R dropped water-bombs on the protesters below their window. But given its prominence I suspect it's going to be an important area this season. Indeed, the premiere ends with SCDP having to interview black people for secretarial positions, over a misunderstanding with a fake "help wanted" advert they ran. Could the company actually benefit enormously from accidentally becoming equal ops compliant, blessed with a strong and efficient black workforce?

Overall, "A Little Kiss" was a typical, classy instalment of Mad Men: stately pace, enriching characters, clever plot movements, unexpectedly funny, engrossing tone, and always offering something for you to chew on. I often wonder why I watch this show, because there's no obvious end-game to anything that I'm dying to see, but it's because the characterisation is so deep and the writers never waste a second of screen-time. Everything that happens means something to an episode's theme or the character's lives, and it's great fun trying to put it all together and predict the direction of things. Is Don headed for a second divorce? Will the changing times spell the end for SCDP and/or the over-40s who work there? Will the likes of Peggy and Pete spiritually inherit the imminent '70s?

What did you make of Mad Men's double-episode return?

Asides

  • Loved the antagonism between Pete (Vincent Karthesier) and Roger in this episode; first over the fact Roger's found a way to gatecrash Pete's meetings before he even arrives, then over the size of Pete's office. Regarding the latter: why did Pete, a junior partner, have a smaller office than someone like Harry?
  • Interesting to note that Pete's not too happy with his sexy wife Trudy (Alison Brie) playing the stay-at-home mother role. She looked dowdier than we've seen her, and it probably hasn't helped that Pete has Megan's "Zou Bisou Bisou" dance running through his head, making him miss the days when they were the hot young couple with no ties.
  • Incidentally, as a fan of Community, I now see Alison Brie in an entirely different light as an actress. She's a talented woman, because Trudy is completely different to Brie's character Annie on that NBC comedy.
written by Matthew Weiner / directed by Jennifer Getzinger / 27 March 2012 / Sky Atlantic

Competition Result: TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL - signed Jason Mewes cartoon


Last week I held a competition to win a signed Jason Mewes cartoon from Syfy UK's Todd & The Book Of Pure Evil. The question posed was:

What is the name of the high school where Todd & The Book Of Pure Evil takes place?

a. Crowley High
b. Crowton High
c. Crowhill High
The correct answer was (a) Crowley High. Of the correct answers received, the winner (chosen using random.org) was Pam Reynolds. Congratulations, Pam! I will be in touch with you later today to arrange delivery of your prize. Thanks to everyone else who entered this contest. Better luck next time!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Neil Cross signs deal with Universal; LUTHER movie to follow TV series

Novelist/screenwriter Neil Cross (Spooks, Luther) has agreed a two-year deal with Universal Television to develop new TV series projects in the US.

Bela Bajaria, Universal TV Executive Vice-President:

"Neil Cross is a visionary and we are huge fans of his stellar work on Luther. We look forward to working with him to create a big, broadcast network hit."
Cross has already agreed to write a Day Of The Triffids remake for Sam Raimi (Spider-Man), having just finished Mama for Guillermo Del Toro (about a couple raising their nieces who were left alone in a forest for years), polished the script of Del Toro's monster movie Pacific Rim, and penning Midnight Delivery (about a father who accepts work as a "drug mule" to save his son's life).

In addition to all this, Cross recently told BBC Radio 5's Front Row that "we'll wrap up Luther as a TV show [after series 3] but I think we'll then probably make the leap to the big screen. The final scene of the final episode is great and we wouldn't want to continue. We'll go out big and leave it at that. I really do want to make Luther into a film. I think that's where the ultimate Luther story will unfold—the big silver screen."

What do you make of this news? Personally, I think it's great to that Luther will be moving to the big screen, as the series is already very cinematic. It's also great to see a British writer doing well in the US, but America's gain is Britain's loss. A part of me feels sad Cross won't be making more gritty UK shows in the foreseeable future.

BEING HUMAN, 4.8 – "The War Child"




Series 4 concluded on a note of pleasurable camp, although best not scrutinise things too much. To wit, I still don't understand how vampires could successfully take over the world—because, unlike Syfy's US remake, Being Human's vampires don't even have super-strength. They're just bloodthirsty people with fangs and unfortunate weaknesses (unable to enter residences uninvited, are susceptible to explosions and wooden stakes). It's hard to see how Being Human's bloodsuckers could ever enslave humanity, so I've all along found it hard to care about such a silly, illogical element of the show this year.

The vampiric "Old Ones" featured heavily in this finale; or, more accurately, their ashen leader Mr Snow (Mark Gatiss) received a sizable amount of screentime. Gatiss's chilly performance was fun to watch, even if the character was a clunking stereotype, and he clearly relished wrapping his tongue around the script's melodramatic lines and literary quotes ("by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes"). Snow was such a pantomime villain I'm surprised there were no sing-songs between his scenes—some of which felt amalgamated from movies like Schindler's List and Inglourious Basterds (motivation for the scene a red-coated Zoe fled from Snow, her father's killer?), or simply delighted in its thudding obviousness (Snow and the Old Ones gathered in an evil tableau of Da Vinci's iconic "The Last Supper"). Still, for every eye-rolling moment, there was some first-class material with Snow—particularly his dialogue to erstwhile companion Hal (Damien Molony) about his half-century of abstinence from blood: "I was just giving you the afternoon off." A funny way to remind us that Snow's millennia old, so has a very difference perception of time.

The biggest disappointment with "The War Child" was how Cutler's (Andrew Gower) Machiavellian plot to earn the adoration of his vampire masters, by ushering in an age where werewolf-fearing humans seek out vampire protection (to their great cost), simply crumbled into irrelevance. It made his character look naïve and silly, and the series-long build-up with Cutler's scheme feels misguided in hindsight. The only highlight for Cutler was the impressive make-up/gore when he audaciously entered Honolulu Heights without Annie (Lenora Crichlow) granting him permission.

The conclusion of the prophecy wasn't too bad, although I daren't pick it apart too much. The twist that baby Eve's survival is what ensures the vampires are victorious was fun, mainly because the story consequently showed real courage by having Annie kill herself and Eve by detonating Tom's (Michael Socha) explosives—thus also incinerating the Old Ones and ensuring the future dystopia never comes to pass. Plus this moment finally saw Annie make her literal exit through a flaming door to the afterlife, which has been long-overdue for Being Human's most problematic and wearisome character. The suggestion that feisty Scottish lassie Alex (Kate Bracken) will be Annie's replacement fills me with delight, although the writers still have to contend with the same issues of making an ethereal character interesting.

Hal and Tom kind of got lost in the episode, because there wasn't really much for them to do, but their final moment together gave series 4 a sense of completion; with Tom helping the relapsed Hal because "you're me best mate". A large part of series 4 have been about getting "odd couple" Hal and Tom together as best-friends, like their predecessors Mitchell and George, so it appears to be mission accomplished in preparation for next year.

So, looking ahead, series 5 will seemingly involve mysterious civil servant "Mr Rook" (Steven Robertson), who appears to be a Man In Black-style fixer who ensures the general public never learn about supernatural creatures. Plus there's the aforementioned likelihood Alex will replacing Annie, and I certainly hope geeky Allison returns as Tom's werewolf girlfriend. Considering how this series had to deal with the loss of so many original characters, ending its own run with an entirely new lineup, I can't deny Toby Whithouse did an impressive job under difficult circumstances. I've just been less enthusiastic about the ongoing mythology this year, which felt too half-baked to me, and never came together brilliantly enough to make me reconsider that opinion.

Asides

  • I'm sorry, but why did Alex giggle over "she took me into her corridor"? That's not even a good euphemism and perhaps so inappropriate it just felt strange to include it.
  • It's about time ghosts realised they're unstoppable, really, during the scene where Annie and Alex assaulted the Old Ones' hideout and batted away vampires like flies. Shame Annie didn't realise this in the premiere, where it would have been helpful if she'd rescued baby Eve without sitting back and letting George march off to his doom with Tom.
  • As a very early teaser, the BBC also released this image that suggests the awakening or return of a villain. Predictions?
written by Toby Whithouse / directed by Philip John / 25 March 2012 / BBC Three

Monday, 26 March 2012

TRAILER: Doctor Who, series 7 teaser


Today is not only my 33rd birthday, but it's the seven-year anniversary of the day Doctor Who returned to our screens with "Rose". How times flies! As a birthday present to me (um, right?), the BBC have released a teaser for the show's seventh series (embedded above).


I'm sure you've seen this already today, but what do you think? The teaser is almost exclusively created using footage from the Wild West episode the BBC have shot in Spain, but it's a nice way to wet out appetites. Isn't it slightly too early to be trailing Doctor Who, though? The show probably won't return until late-autumn, so we have many months to wait. Oh well, I guess it keeps the show in the public consciousness, which the BBC has always been the masters at.

Any thoughts on the trailer?

TV Picks: 26 March - 1 April (Dexter, Justified, Mad Men, Once Upon A Time, One Night, Silent Witness, The Syndicate, Twenty Twelve, etc.)


MONDAY 26th
Secrets And Words (BBC1, 2.15am) Daily dramas with the theme of adult literacy. Continues nightly until Friday. (1/5)
My Murder (BBC3, 9pm) Drama inspired by real events, about a teenage boy killed by his girlfriend.
Ad Men (Sky Atlantic, 9pm) Documentary on the British advertising world from the '60s to now.
PICK OF THE DAY One Night (BBC1, 10.35pm) Drama where disparate events bring four strangers together. Starring Douglas Hodge, Neil Stuke, Saskia Reeves, Kellie Bright, Jessica Hynes & Don Gilet. Continues nightly until Thursday. (1/4)

TUESDAY 27th
The Syndicate (BBC1, 9pm) Drama about a lottery syndicate who win the jackpot. Starring Timothy Spall & Joanna Page. (1/5)
Reggie Yates: Teen Gangs (BBC3, 9pm) The DJ/presenter investigates dangerous teenage gangs.
Horizon: Global Weirding (BBC2, 9pm) Science special about forecasting the weather.
PICK OF THE DAY Mad Men (Sky Atlantic, 9pm) Season 5 of the US drama about advertising execs in the 1960s. Starring Jon Hamm, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery & Vincent Karthesier. Double-bill. (1 & 2/13)
Facejacker (Channel 4, 10pm) Series 2 of the prank show. Stars Kayvan Novak as a variety of comic characters.


WEDNESDAY 28th
Cash Britain (BBC1, 7.30pm) Documentary series about a family of pawnbrokers living through the recession. (1/6)
Emergency Abroad (Sky1, 8pm) Fly-on-the-wall documentary about the emergency services of Mallorca.
PICK OF THE DAY Justified (5USA, 9pm) Season 3 of the US drama about a US Marshall. Starring Timothy Olyphant. (1/13)
I Never Said Yes (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary about rape, which is committed once every 10 minutes in the UK. Presented by Pips Taylor.


THURSDAY 29th
PICK OF THE DAY Panorama: The Honeymoon Murder (BBC1, 9pm) Documentary special on the harrowing case where Anni Dewani was killed while on honeymoon in South Africa.

FRIDAY 30th
Titanic With Len Goodman (BBC1, 8.30pm) Documentary on the sinking of the Titanic and its effects on the maritime industry. Presented by Len Goodman. (1/3)
Twenty Twelve (BBC2, 10pm) Series 2 of the mockumentary about the London Olympics planning committee. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes & Olivia Colman. (1/4)
PICK OF THE DAY Dexter (FX, 10pm) Season 6 of the US drama about a forensic analyst who moonlights as a serial killer. Starring Michael C Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Edward James Olmos & Colin Hanks. (1/13)


SATURDAY 31st
Nothing.

SUNDAY 1st
The Falklands Legacy with Max Hastings (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on the legacy of the Falkland Islands since 1982's conflict with Argentina.
Silent Witness (BBC1, 9pm) Series 15 of the crime drama. Starring Tom Ward, Emilia Fox, William Gaminara, Jaye Griffiths & Vincent Regan. (1/6)
PICK OF THE DAY Once Upon A Time (Channel 5, 9pm) Season 1 of the US drama about fairy tale characters existing in the real world. Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Carlyle & Jennifer Morrison. (1/22)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Review: THE VOICE vs BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT; the battle for Saturday night begins!


A tyrannical television battle played out on British televisions last night, as the BBC unveiled their long-awaited version of global smash The Voice, and ITV began yet another series of Britain's Got Talent.

Both had reason to draw a huge amount of interest. The Voice was developed off the back of the success the US version had last summer (where ratings bested what X Factor USA achieved in the autumn), and has freshness on its side because it's a brand new show. There are judges (nay coaches) we haven't met yet, too, in the impressive line-up of Will.i.am, Jessie J (the Elvira of pop), Tom Jones (or was that his whitened ghost?) and Danny O'Donoghue from The Script. But, more importantly, it has a signature gimmick that does away with the X Factor's nastier side...

Auditions are done with the coaches blind to who's performing, as their chairs are turned away from the stage. So "it's all about the voice", as the slogan says. This means there should be fewer people getting through on physical attractiveness alone. It also means there's practically no chance of X Factor-style "novelties" like Jedward or Wagner getting beyond a first appearance, especially as the BBC are against allowing "crazies" onto the show, because they've chosen to avoid auditioning the kind of person you'd avoid eye contact with on public transport.

I applaud The Voice for its noble intentions; which is get the TV talent show back to basics, because almost a decade of X Factor has eroded the genre into a freakshow/karaoke hybrid. Naturally, X Factor is still able to find major world stars (this is the week where third-place One Direction had a No1 album in the US), but overall the X Factor has become a place for viewers to point and laugh at deranged people. Or, failing that, the place where most of its own publicity is fuelled by real/manufactured arguments amongst the judges. There was a time last year where the UK was more interested in Kelly Rowland and Tulisa's off-screen tiff than any of the actual contestants on the show; while the antics of Frankie Cocozza off-stage (snorting drugs, bedding girls) overshadowed whatever song he was attempting to sing every week.

The Voice doesn't seem to have any patience for that kind of tabloid-courting nonsense. There was a more pleasing, upbeat vibe to it. The coaches get along and had good-natured banter, rather than petty squabbles. Only occasionally did their ego's overshadow the contestants; most notably when Tom Jones couldn't resist a suspicious Elvis anecdote (he didn't have a guitar in the house?) and Will.i.am tried to trump it with a Michael Jackson story. It also helps that the coaches on The Voice are talented performers themselves. They even sang together as a "super-group" to kick-off the show, although it's debatable if this unlikely collaboration worked. Still, individually, you can't argue with their credentials and success. Compare them to X Factor's judges; where Louie Walsh is a laughing stock clutching to his '90s heyday managing Boyzone; Kelly Rowland's career crumbled the moment former-bandmate Beyonce went solo; and N-Dubz's Tulisa was largely unknown to the public, and has only just started a solo career amidst a sex tape scandal.

Only, here's the thing: as much as I admire The Voice and all it stands for, it didn't equal an enthralling hour of TV. I came to the sudden realisation that, truthfully, I just don't care about the TV magic of discovering a singer. Or, to put it another way, of helping to sire a multi-millionaire popstar by phone-voting and perhaps buying their music in the summer. I really don't. I found myself hoping for an odd person to audition for a giggle, as much as it pains me to admit that. Maybe The Voice has arrived too late on British shores, because our early-'00s desire to "watch an everyday person become a popstar" has given way to "laughing at hopeless nobodies with dreams bigger than their ability". I don't like myself for this, but I just didn't feel compelled to watch more of The Voice... especially as its chair-spinning difference to X Factor will vanish after a month on-air, with the show becoming more of a traditional watching-singers-sing-every-weekend show.

THE VOICE, BBC1, Saturdays, 7PM.


Overlapping The Voice by 20-minutes (don't you love petty TV schedulers?) was Britain's Got Talent. This show's been running for five years on ITV, and the tried-and-trusted format remains the same. It's basically a condensed version of X Factor, with a variety of people demonstrating a wider range of skills, and buzzers replacing the silly mentoring concept. The big news for 2012 is that Simon Cowell's back to judge, in an attempt to reverse the show's ratings decline last year (while he was prepping X Factor's US debut), and there are two new judges joining him and Amanda Holden on the panel. These are David Walliams (filling the "comedian slot" vacated by Michael McIntyre) and Alesha Dixon (controversially poached from X Factor rival Strictly Come Dancing to replace David Hasselhoff). Neither made much of an impression in this premiere, however. Walliams made some of his obligatory, predictable, sexually-ambiguous jokes in Cowell's direction, while the beautiful Alesha sat around perfecting muted "wow" and "WTF" expressions.

But the key thing is that BGT was more entertaining than The Voice. Its cold open alone, featuring presenters Ant n' Dec with a flashmob dancing around London, was funnier than the entire 80-minutes of The Voice—which seemed to take itself much too seriously for a Saturday night show. Naturally, the variety of people/skills on BGT was much higher, as the format allows you to both laugh at idiots, marvel at oddly-entertaining folk (like two gay ballroom dancers), and celebrate unexpected sources of genuine talent (like the stout young man with self-esteem issues who sang like Pavarotti).

In comparison, The Voice offered a monotonous stream of competent singers, and it was sometimes difficult to understand what was making the coaches decide to turn around in the first place. Sometimes it even felt like peer pressure! I mean, those they didn't turn for weren't bad singers, per se, and those they did turn for were hardly the nascent superstars the overly-optimistic coaches claimed they were. Also, with each successful performer getting to choose which of the coaches to ally themselves with, I'm still unsure why anyone would choose Tom Jones or Danny O'Donoghue over Will.i.am and Jessie J!

Which show pleased you the most? Was The Voice a refreshing return to the traditions and values of talent shows pre-Cowell, or a tedious bore with honorable intentions? Did Britain's Got Talent weave its magic once again, boosted by the return of Cowell himself, or is the magic fading? Or did neither take your fancy, because you were doing other things?

BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT, ITV1, Saturdays, 8PM.

My Random Tweets:

Jessie J. I have a lot of respect for a woman who chooses to wear funky ironing board covers. #TheVoiceUK

Audience members: spoil everything by bringing mirrors to the studio recordings. #TheVoiceUK

Can't wait for #XFactor's response to #TheVoiceUK's super-group moment. Cowell on guitar? Louis on bongo drums?

So, basically, #TheVoiceUK is the perfect RADIO concept.

So far, coaches turn around if (a) you sing a song of theirs, or (b) a coach thinks you sound like THEM. #TheVoiceUK

The last time a chair spun round like this on British TV it contained Patrick McGoohan in a monkey mask. #TheVoiceUK #Prisoner

Forget the chairs, this show needs trapdoors. #TheVoiceUK

I thought Tom Jones had fallen asleep in his chair for a second. Guy's old. #TheVoiceUK

Why are Holly and Reggie even here? Less screen presence than Steve Jones on #XFactorUSA! Oh dear #TheVoiceUK.

I think I took #TheVoiceUK's concept too seriously. I spent most of the show sat on my sofa, facing the other direction.

Unless there's a hairy man running in slow motion, or a stripper, what is Carmen Electra doing on #BGT?

Simon Cowell makes most of his decisions with his dick. How else do you explain BAYWATCH's Carmen Electra as a guest-judge of talent?! #BGT

The look on Alesha Dixon's face, knowing she had to judge some ballroom dancing without first sneaking a glance at Len Goodman's notes! #BGT

Still boggles my mind that Amanda Holden's on #BGT, judging talent. She must have been Cowell's '90s crush. Sinitta, 80s; Cheryl Cole 00s.
Follow me on Twitter @danowen79.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

FRINGE, 4.15 – "A Short Story About Love"




Most definitely a turning point episode for season 4, as "A Short Story About Love" confirmed that Peter (Joshua Jackson) is living in an altered timeline, not a new timeline. This means the characters we've been following this year haven't been alternate versions (which would've meant season 4's been a weird tangent), but still the characters we know-and-love (albeit with changed or suppressed memories about Peter's existence). I'm so relieved Fringe has finally made this distinction explicit, because it was starting to really bug me. It's just a shame the reason given is so wishy-washy, with The Observer (Michael Cerveris) claiming "love" is the variable that managed to draw Peter back from erasure. Pass the sick bag.

Love was, unsurprisingly, the primarily focus of this hour. It would have made a great Valentine's Day episode! Olivia (Anna Torv) realized she's fallen in love with Peter; Walter's (John Noble) love for his son ran deeper after learning Peter was heeding his advice to leave Olivia alone (proving he's the bigger man); and Nina (Blair Brown) had to deal with Olivia's decision to embrace her memories of Peter, even if it likely means she'll lose the memories integral to her relationship with Nina in the process. I need to mention the fantastic scene between Torv and Brown at a restaurant talking this through, with its parallels to people facing a future with Alzheimer's. Beautifully done by both actresses. I prefer season 4's Nina, too.

The episode's freak-of-the-week was also linked to love, with a burn victim (Michael Massee) trying to create the perfect love potion using pheromones extracted from the bodies of men he kills, in order to woo their grieving widows. It wasn't the best standalone story the show's done (not even this year) but the strong thematic link was appreciated and Massee's performance transcended his character's rote writing—although there was a great scene of him listening to "The Friends Of Mr Cairo" by Jon & Vangelis that single-handedly deepened his character. Plus it was a refreshing change to have a villain arrested and sent to jail, rather than be killed or commit suicide.

There was also a very unexpected callback to "The Arrival", Fringe's fourth ever episode, which also served as the debut for The Observer and that popular branch of the show's mythology. The mysterious, burrowing capsule from that old episode (which was never explained) made a very belatedly return here, after Peter tracked one down using an address The Observer left on his eye, shortly before being dragged away and imprisoned by his own kind. It turns out these capsules are "beacons" (that Observers use to triangulate entry points in Space-Time?), meaning "September" could return after Peter successfully activated one.

Overall, I really enjoyed "A Short Story About Love" and particularly what it means for the rest of the season, now that Peter's had confirmation he's truly home and he's won Olivia's heart again. I wonder if Agent Lee (Seth Gabel) is going to let his jealousy get the better of him and sabotage things between them; or is that too out-of-character for him? It should also be interesting to see what The Observers do about September, now the genie's been released from his lamp and is back to full health. Are we headed towards some kind of Observer mutiny, with September leading the revolt with help from the Bishops?

A strong episode, I thought. Do you agree?

Aside

  • Always worth mentioning when Michael Massee makes an appearance in anything. You may recognise him from 24 (as season 1 villain Ira Gaines), Lucius Belyajovin in Carnivale, Dyson Frost in FlashForward, and many others.
written by J.H Wyman & Graham Roland / directed by J.H Wyman / 23 March 2012 / Fox

Friday, 23 March 2012

COMMUNITY, 3.12 – "Contemporary Impressionists"




After last week's relative normality, the show's "mad house" feel returned for "Contemporary Impressionists"—an episode clearly intended to air after the mid-season break, what with the study group cheerfully reconvening in the opening scene. There was a nice theme to this half-hour, of the group seeing what they love/hate about each other (partly told through the prism of a story about celebrity lookalikes), but I found it something of a struggle to sit through. Maybe it was because a great deal of this week's references went over my head (too American?)—besides the clear Incredible Hulk homage with egomaniac Jeff (Joel McHale), although that idea felt too grand and insane.

Much better were the little moments: Abed (Danny Pudi) re-enacting a scene from The Fugitive with a Tommy Lee Jones impersonator, Pierce (Chevy Chase) gaining entry by ditching his pitiable Burt Reynolds disguise and going as "fat Brando" (aka himself); the fake-Robin Williams in a Patch Adams red nose; the return of "evil Abed" in the Dreamatorium's dénouement; Britta's (Gillian Jacobs) scarily accurate Michael Jackson appearance; a fun guest-star role for 3rd Rock From The Sun's French Stewart (doesn't he look old now!); and the Dean (Jim Rash) collapsing into an emotional heap after seeing Jeff wearing aviators.

Good moments, but they don't equal a good episode. There was definitely something here worth exploring (season 3 seems obsessed with stories about the group discovering things they love/hate about one another), but it got lost beneath a superficially wacky idea and gags. Community actually scored a season-best rating last week (4.75m), but I wonder how many new and returning viewers felt overwhelmed and excluded by the silliness? I dearly love this show, but even I find myself wishing it would ease off sometimes. There can be so much craziness overload that you forget exactly what you're watching and why. Hours after, I can't quite remember why there was a lookalike competition at Greendale...

Some brief thoughts there, but what did you think of "Contemporary Impressionists"?

written by Alex Cooley / directed by Kyle Newacheck / 22 March 2012 / NBC

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Competition: TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL – win a signed Jason Mewes cartoon!

I have a prize that should interest fans of Syfy UK's horror-comedy Todd & The Book Of Pure Evil, which I recently reviewed.

It's a copy of the cartoon on the left, but signed by the show's recurring guest-star Jason Mewes (Clerks, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back). There are only THREE that exist in the whole world, so this is a collector's item for fans of Todd and/or Mewes.

To have a chance of winning this rare piece of merchandise, simply answer the following question:

What is the name of the high school where Todd & The Book Of Pure Evil takes place?

a. Crowley High
b. Crowton High
c. Crowhill High
Email your answer to me, with "Todd Competition" in the subject header. I will choose a random winner from all the correct entries received. This competition is subject to the usual Terms & Conditions. The closing date for entries is 26 March @5PM (GMT).

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Jenna-Louise Coleman is DOCTOR WHO's newest companion; series 7 teased...


The BBC have announced that 25-year-old Jenna-Louise Coleman has joined Doctor Who as the next companion. She will replace Karen Gillan halfway through the seventh series, who's leaving to pursue other projects, together with screen husband Arthur Darvill. The details of Coleman's character, including her name, have yet to be revealed by showrunner Steven Moffat, but we do know she'll make her debut as a key part of the 2012 Christmas special.

Blackpool-born Coleman played Emmerdale's teenage lesbian Jasmine Thomas back in 2005 (which I vaguely remember her from), and went on to play a schoolgirl in the BBC drama Waterloo Road. She recently had a small role in Captain America: The First Avenger, and can soon be seen in ITV's four-part drama Titanic as cabin steward Annie Desmond.

Coleman's appointment means Doctor Who isn't going to rock the boat over its choice of leading companions, which have been human and female since the show returned in 2005--although there's always scope to have a man tag along, which happened with Rose's boyfriend Mickey, time-traveller Jack Harkness, Donna's grandad Wilfred, and Amy's fiance/husband Rory (to a far greater extent).

Jenna-Louise Coleman:

"I first went in before Christmas for a meeting with casting director Andy Pryor and then got called back for another meeting with Matt [Smith]. I just had an enormous amount of fun in the room, played around with loads of different ideas, got loads of things thrown at me--it was great. Matt was in the audition with me and he made me feel like we were both in it together, which was lovely. And I just left the room on a massive high, with a feeling of, 'This would be great to do day-in, day-out, on set, together with Matt'.

It just felt very spontaneous and fun, and you didn't know where it was going to go next, and we were both playing around. [Then] I went back in for another meeting after and I was excited to get back into the audition--I've never been so excited to go to an audition before!

"[The script] was called 'Men On Waves' and I knew Karen Gillan said hers was an anagram [of companion] 'Panic Moon' so I spent ages trying to figure it out, and I found out this morning that the anagram was 'Woman Seven'."
Steven Moffat, executive-producer:

"We did see a lot of brilliant actresses, because Andy Pryor is a brilliant casting director. There was a moment I remember, I think it was the second time she came in. She and Matt were together and they both looked frightened, doing a Doctor Who scene, it was brilliant.

"And then the fact that - which we're going to play a lot with - I think she's possibly the only person I've ever heard go faster than Matt. It was the first time we were going, 'My God, Matt's trying to keep up!'--it came to life as a partnership. We were so excited."
Danny Cohen, Controller of BBC1:

"As we approach Doctor Who's 50th anniversary it's great to welcome a new companion to the TARDIS. I feel confident the Doctor will look after her in his own very unique style."
And here's a video of Coleman being interviewed about the role:


What are your thoughts on Jenna-Louise Coleman joining the series? She's another sexy girl in her twenties, but has that become a tedious predictability for nu-Who? (Only Catherine Tate bucked the trend in series 4.) Will the fact Coleman's from the north of England differentiate her from the southern/Scottish choices of late? Are you disappointed we aren't getting a male and/or alien companion in the TARDIS? Or perhaps just someone over-30?

You can get a taste of Coleman's screen presence when she appears in Titanic this Sunday on ITV1. How's that for PR timing? Can ITV now expect a "Whovian bump" in ratings for its big-budget premiere?

In related news from this morning's BBC press conference, Moffat revealed that series 7 will be bisected by the Christmas Special (Coleman's debut, which will be a "a very, very different way for the Doctor to meet his new friend" according to Moffat); with a total of six episodes airing in late-2012 and eight in early-2013.

Moffat also suggested that "more episodes" (i.e series 8) will premiere later in 2013, so perhaps this year's autumn-to-spring schedule will become the norm? We already know that Moffat prefers the show to air when the evenings are darker, as do I.

Steven Moffat, speaking at the Royal Television Society, on the structure of series 7:

"This time we're moving closer to stand-alone stories. At this point, we're not planning any two-parters. So, every week is going to be like a different mad movie. We went quite 'arc' last time and we're going stand-alone this time around. But that doesn't mean that there aren't those things creeping in. You've got to find a way to make the last episode special, and by God that worked ratings-wise last year. We don't want to abandon that idea. Watch out for the title of episode two. I think that's a belter. It's one of my favourite titles ever."

I'm sure there will be some huge surprises to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary next year, too. I still have my fingers crossed for a multiple-Doctor story with Paul McGann (who recently confirmed he'd like to return) and David Tennant joining Matt Smith in the TARDIS. (Christopher Eccleston's presence would also be great, but unfortunately doesn't look very likely.)

It was also revealed that Amy and Rory will depart in episode 5, which features The Weeping Angels (back for thirds after "Blink" and the "Time Of The Angels" two-parter.) So will Amy and/or Rory die at the hands of the terrifying statues, or is there a twist in store because that's far too predictable? Given Gillan's comments about the finality of Amy's exit, I'm oddly excited to see a companion outright die on-screen, rather than simply decide to end their adventure. In a good way, because of the huge drama that death can provide, especially given the show's status as "family-friendly" and people's attachment to Amy/Rory.

Phew! That's a huge amount for Doctor Who fans to chew on and digest today, so please let your thoughts and feelings known in the comments below.

DIRK GENTLY, 1.3 – episode three




The last episode of Dirk Gently returned to the show's default style, compared to last week's sci-fi/fantasy indulgence, and I have to admit that disappointed me. I don't mind this show being a crazy detective drama with oddball ideas up its sleeve, but it needs more inventive weirdness to keep me totally engaged, or it just feels rather half-baked. This episode had a lukewarm-Sherlock feel throughout, although I adored the scene where Macduff (Darren Boyd) let Dirk (Stephen Mangan) know exactly what the state of their relationship is with a brilliantly-delivered speech in their office. It was perhaps the first time Macduff came across as a three-dimensional character in his own right, and in general Tom Mathieson's script did very good things with the central duo's interactions. I also really liked Gilks (Jason Watkins), the local detective who can't stand Dirk, and could hardly believe this wasn't  Gilks' first appearance on the show.

This week's story sounded more compelling than it actually was on-screen, with Dirk the prime suspect after his ex-clients started to turn up dead. It was the work of an assassin trying to frame the holistic detective, but who and why? Along the way there was also a gun-toting Polish cleaner, another brief romance for Dirk with client Melina Fulstone (Lisa Dillon), and a handful of funny moments and amusing lines. And yet, none of it inspired more than sixty-minutes of half-interesting entertainment and hi-jinks. I wasn't gripped, excited, nor particularly bothered about Dirk solving the case. (Not for the first time, either.)

So it's been a curious three weeks for BBC4's Dirk Gently. I'm glad it exists because the ingredients are there for something special (in Douglas Adams' core idea and Howard Overman's Sherlock-y adaptation), and Mangan/Boyd are great assets to have around, but it's lacking that indefinable spark. I'd say the budget is a slight issue, although that didn't affect last week's adventure, so ultimately I think the writers just haven't quite gotten the mix right. It just needs to be funnier, quicker, sharper, with more emphasis on Dirk and Macduff's friendship/antagonism. The stories also need to be tightened, although the hour-long timeslot is a hindrance I keep mentioning. Why not make these into half-hour shows, sort of like a British Monk? Or split each case into two parts to extent the show's run from three to six weeks?

Last week's episode and, to a lesser extent, the original pilot from 2010, were both good enough to convince me Dirk Gently just needs some time to find itself. Hopefully the BBC will commission more and Overman will take a good hard look at what's working, and what's not. For me, I just want this show to get more creative and make me really care about the people and the week's investigation, which episode 2 proved is certainly possible.

What did you think of this finale, and Dirk Gently in general? Is it already giving you a lot of silly pleasure, or do you agree it has problems that aren't beyond fixing?

written by Tom Mathieson / directed by Tom Shankland / 19 March 2012 / BBC Four

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

THE WALKING DEAD, 2.9-13 – "Triggerfinger", "18 Miles Out", "Judge, Jury, Executioner", "Better Angels" & "Beside the Dying Fire"


I decided to stop reviewing The Walking Dead five weeks ago, but also said it was likely I'd offer thoughts after season 2's finale. Well, that time is now! Considering recent episodes were made after showrunner Frank Darabont resigned as showrunner, I was surprised they were mostly stronger and brimming with incidents. Maybe this was Darabont's plan all along (meaning the season just had a limp middle), or maybe his successor Glen Mazzara decided to bring a sense of urgency to the season's back-end. Whatever the reasoning, with two major characters deaths occurring, it was a tangible shot in the arm for this highly-rated but creatively shambolic series.

Now, killing people is an easy way to provoke strong reactions in an audience, so I'm not saying The Walking Dead has completely turned a corner yet. But now that a few characters are pushing up daisies (one bringing a long-running feud to an overdue conclusion), I hope the writers will plug these holes in interesting ways. I'm certainly excited by the news Britain's own David Morrissey (State Of Play) has been cast in season 3 as The Governor (a very popular villain from the comic), and the finale's tease of an impressive fortress the characters will likely take refuge in.

About those elephant-in-the-room deaths: I didn't expect Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) to die, but the manner in which he was dispatched was pretty good. After an episode dealing with the apocalyptic chestnut of how to deal with a prisoner you can't free, yet also can't afford to keep incarcerated, Dale's voice of reason was silenced by an unfortunate zombie attack in a field. A zombie that was only in the area because young Carl (Chandler Riggs), emboldened by his new-found Stetson, had allowed the "walker" to escape from a muddy creek. It was also a particularly nasty death scene, with the zombie clawing Dale's guts open, leaving him in such agony that Daryl (Norman Reedus) had to end his torment with a shot to the head. As I said, this was a big surprise to me, and that's something you don't always get with scripted TV these days. Considering DeMunn's career-long association with the departed Darabont, did he request this on-screen exit, knowing he wasn't really needed for the episodes to come?

The second death felt more planned, with Shane (Jon Bernthal) finally meeting his maker. Bernthal's character improved immeasurably this season, as Shane embraced his latent dark side and tried to usurp best-friend Rick (Andrew Lincoln) as leader of the group. It's just a pity that (a) Shane never really had much chemistry with would-be lover Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), whom he slept with behind Rick's back; and (b) I never really believed in the friendship between Shane and Rick. It was unfortunate for the show that most of their relationship, from the audience's perspective, was so quickly spoiled by knowledge that Shane's a bad egg. It would have worked much better if Shane's view of things was more persuasive. Still, the writers did what they could in this season, and it was indeed enjoyable watching Shane sink ever deeper into a psychological mire, culminating in the Miller's Crossing-esque episode "Judge, Jury & Executioner". The way he arranged to be along with Rick in a field, illuminated by a Full Moon, to shoot his friend/rival and effectively inherit Rick's wife and kids, made for a tense and gripping conclusion.

Beyond those two moments, The Walking Dead still has problems handling its ensemble cast. T-Dog (Irone Singleton) has been ignored to such an extent that it's become embarrassing and insulting to the actor; especially as T-Dog's the sole black character demoted to scenes where he sits around listening to the "white people" make plans without asking for his input, or carry Lori's luggage into a farmhouse.

Andrea (Laurie Holden) has also fallen back into irrelevance after a promising run of episodes earlier this season, and without Shane as her mentor/comrade I hope there's a strong plan for her next season. The relationship between Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) started well, but the writers didn't seem to know what to do now they've had sex and Glenn earned her father's blessing. And lord knows what's going on between Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl, because it's mainly just something on the periphery to fill screen-time. And don't get me started on the peripheral characters on Hershel's farm, who have hung around all season, barely interact with Rick's group, and nobody really knows their names.

The finale, "Beside The Dying Fire", was the most crowd-pleasing episode since the feature-length pilot, featuring a "herd" of zombies breaking into Hershel's farm and laying siege to the barn and farmhouse. There was plenty of action and pace, although you never really feared for anyone's life because the show would be foolish to trim its regular cast any more. (Indeed, only two nondescript members of Hershel's family were eaten by zombies, to practically no reaction and repercussion.) But while it was a very entertaining hour, it felt more like a palate cleanser; clearing the decks for a darker third season with a larger canvas. Rick's tarnished his reputation for decency in everyone's eyes by killing Shane, his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) can barely stand to look at him (but wasn't she trying to talk Rick into getting rid of Shane not along ago? I give up!), and Rick revealed the secret he's kept since season 1's finale: the group are already infected by the zombie-virus, thus primed to become "walkers" the moment they die, regardless of being bitten. (That's right: Dr Jenner's infamous whisper wasn't in regard to Lori's pregnancy. To be honest, I barely remembered that  mystery still needed answering.)

Anyway, I'd be lying if I said The Walking Dead didn't get better after I decided to stop reviewing it. The final four episodes were stronger than the opening four, so the writers evidently need to try and ensure their flabby middles are tighter (and give every character meaningful things to go). Maybe now that Darabont's a memory, the show will start to find a faster pace and introduce more diverse drama. Recent episodes benefited from the added zombies and boiling resentments between the characters. It definitely beat the endless chit-chat that dragged the show down before it went on hiatus.

And yes, who isn't insanely curious about the hooded, sword-wielding bad-ass leading two armless zombies through a forest on dog leads? Oh right, the comic-book's readers.

I'll be back for more, goddammit.

Monday, 19 March 2012

BEING HUMAN, 4.7 - "Making History"




This may sound overly grumpy, but while this episode had exciting and tense moments, I never found myself truly involved in what was happening. I think this has a lot to do with my tepid response to Hal (Damien Molony) and Tom (Michael Socha) this series, as neither has really captured my imagination. Both actors have their strengths, which came through best in the more comedic "Puppy Love" last week, but when an episode's emphasis is on pure drama their performances don't grip me.

Socha, in particular, is almost being dragged through the show by the might of whoever he's sharing a scene with—and what's with the implausible, ridiculous way they've written his geeky girlfriend Allison out of the show? Just one example of how the more "authorial" UK dramas often fail at developing things in a satisfying way as a collective effort; another being the writers' blind hope that we care about Alex (Kate Bracken) dying—a character introduced only last week. You'll forgive me if I didn't shed a tear for her abrupt demise. Wouldn't it have been wiser to introduce Alex much earlier, perhaps instead of the "goth poet" whose relevance was even briefer? Maybe the plan is for Alex to replace Annie for series 5, in which case we'll have another vampire-ghost romance on the cards?

The most interesting thing about "Making History" was learning that Hal and Cutler (Andrew Gower) have a shared past, and there's bad blood between them. Hal was the vampire who sired Cutler, back in the 1950s when he was still part of the infamous "Old Ones" gang, and it was fun to note how their positions have changed in the intervening half-century. Hal's turned over a new leaf and has abstained from blood for decades (successfully), while lowly Cutler's risen to a degree of prominence in vampiredom and retains a grudge over Hal cruelly killing his human wife (Natalie Burt) to make a point. As you would.

It was a great way to deepen both characters, although I wasn't too impressed with Molony's performance once Hal drank human blood for the first time in decades. Whereas Mitchell went on a crazy rampage back in series 2, Hal's response was a glassy-eyed creepiness. This was fine in principal, but Molony's a curiously unthreatening onscreen presence. His scene at the bar with infatuated girlfriend Alex, unable to take his eyes off her or prevent himself from vocalizing his desire to shag/drink her, just felt rather laughable to me.

Annie (Lenora Crichlow) was there to receive a mountain of exposition from Future Eve (Gina Bramhill), who whisked her to the future and explained everything in simple terms. It was just unfortunate that most of Eve's explanation wasn't anything we didn't guess or assume from very early on this year, and BBC3 obviously don't have the budget to fully portray the dystopia (beyond an abandoned dockyard, a hall emblazoned with Nazi-style artwork, and dingy corridors).

However, one scene worked surprisingly well, by almost turning "Making History" into a radio play—as subtle sound-effects gave Eve's description of the nightmarish future an evocative chill. But most of the Future sequences failed to get under my skin enough, and the show equating vampires to Nazi's felt very lazy and antiquated. The return of concentration camps designed for werewolves and humans are one thing (their skin tattooed "W" or "H" respectively) is one thing, but a revival of 1930s fascist poster art? Silly.

Admittedly, this penultimate episode burst to life when Hal was trying to stop Cutler's dastardly plan to slaughter a group of young revellers by tricking Tom into crashing their party on a Full Moon—the naive lad believing he'll be exterminaing the newly-arrived Old Ones who want to kill baby Eve. The denouement with the actual Old Ones finally stepping foot in the UK was suitably eerie, although we'll have to see genre stalwart Mark Gatiss (League Of Gentlemen, Doctor Who) brings to the role of their pallid leader, Mr Snow. I like Gatiss as a comic actor, but he always brings such a flavour of camp playfulness that I don't think I'll be cowering behind my sofa next Sunday.

Asides

  • I guess it was a fun detail that Eve's her own killer, due to the fact she has the prophecized burn on her arm. I didn't see that coming.
  • Russell Tovey and Sinead Keenan's genes can produce Gina Bramhill? Only in TV Land.
written by Toby Whithouse / directed by Daniel O'Hara / 18 March 2012 / BBC Three

TV Picks: 19-25 March 2012 (Apprentice, Britain's Got Talent, Four Rooms, Hit the Road Jack, John Bishop's Week of Hell, Million Pound Drop, Sport Relief 2012, Titanic, Touch, The Voice, etc.)


MONDAY 19th
The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking With Rachel Khoo (BBC2, 8.30pm) Culinary series focusing on Parisian cuisine. (1/6)
PICK OF THE DAY The Anti-Social Network (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary about cyber-bullying. Presented by Richard Bacon.

TUESDAY 20th
PICK OF THE DAY Touch (Sky1, 8pm) Season 1 of the US drama about an autistic boy with the uncanny ability to predict the future. Starring Kiefer Sutherland. (1/13)
Horizon: The Truth About Fat (BBC2, 9pm) Science documentary about obesity.
Return For The Falklands (ITV1, 9pm) Documentary where three ex-soldiers who fought in the Falklands conflict return to the islands 30 years later.
Stand Up For Sport Relief (BBC3, 9pm) Charity special where five comedians coach five sportsmen in stand-up. Hosted by Claudia Winkleman. Featuring Michael Vaughan, Ben Cohen & Gabby Logan.
Talk At The BBC (BBC4, 9pm) Humorous interviews from the 1950s to 1970.
Hit The Road Jack (Channel 4, 10pm) Stand-up comedy series where Jack Whitehall goes on the road, joined by guests. Featuring Ruth Jones & Lethal Bizzle. (1/6)
My Daughter, Deafness & Me (BBC1, 10.35pm) Documentary about a family coping with deafness. Presented by Rita Simons.

WEDNESDAY 21st
Four Rooms (Channel 4, 8pm) Series 2 of the antiques gameshow where four dealers bid in secret on unusual items. (1/8)
PICK OF THE DAY The Apprentice (BBC1, 9pm) Series 8 of the business reality show. Featuring Lord Alan Sugar, Nick Hewer & Karren Brady. (1/12)
Wikileaks: The Secret Life Of A Super Power (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on the notorious Wikileaks site, that exposed many intelligence cables from the US government.
The Apprentice: You're Fired! (BBC2, 10pm) Sister show to The Apprentice, with retrospection and interviews. Hosted by Dara O'Briain. (1/12)

THURSDAY 22nd
Get Your House In Order (Channel 4, 8pm) Series where consumers with debt problems but valuable possessions are helped by antiques dealers and interior designers. (1/6)
PICK OF THE DAY John Bishop's Sport Relief Week Of Hell (BBC1, 9pm) Charity special showing how comedian John Bishop raised money by cycling, rowing and running from Paris to London in a week.
Death Row (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary from Werner Herzog about crime and the death penalty. (1/3)

FRIDAY 23rd
PICK OF THE DAY Sport Relief 2012 (BBC1, 7pm) Live charity telethon.

SATURDAY 24th
PICK OF THE DAY The Voice (BBC1, 7pm) Brand new vocal talent show. Coaches are Tom Jones, Jessie J. Will.i.am & Danny O'Donoghue. Hosted by Holly Willoughby & Reggie Yates. (1/12)
Britain's Got Talent 2012 (ITV1, 8pm) Series 6 of the national talent search. Judges are Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, David Walliams & Alesha Dixon. Presented by Ant n' Dec.
How God Made The English (BBC2, 8pm) Documentary on what it means to be English. Presented by Diarmaid McCulloch.
JLS Sing For Sport Relief (BBC3, 8.50pm) Charity music concert from the boy-band, with guests Olly Murs & Rizzle Kicks.
The Million Pound Drop (Channel 4, 9.50pm) Series 8 of the big money gameshow. Hosted by Davina McCall. (1/10)

SUNDAY 25th
Orbit: How Satellites Rule Our World (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on the power of the man-made satellites circling the Earth.
PICK OF THE DAY Titanic (ITV1, 9pm) Dramatization of the infamous night the mighty HMS Titanic sank in 1910 after hitting an iceberg, during its maiden voyage. Written by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes. Starring Linus Roache, Geraldine Somerville, Perdita Weeks, Noah Reid, Steven Waddington, Lee Ross, Lyndsey Marshal, Toby Jones, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Celia Imrie, Miles Richardson, James Wilby, Sophie Winkleman, David Calder, Timothy West & Stephen Campbell Moore. (1/4)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Review: MISSING, 1.1 – "Pilot"




Liam Neeson Ashley Judd plays a retired CIA agent whose teenage daughter son is abducted while on a backpacking holiday summer internship in Paris Rome. Yes, it's patently obvious that ABC's mid-season spy drama Missing owes a huge debt to 2008's sleeper hit Taken, with the similarities being so stark I'm wondering if a lawsuit's being prepared. This show will probably only escape court action because, well, Taken itself wasn't the first movie to put a former spook's family in jeopardy.

Choosing to ignore the rip-off that's taken place, whether creator Gregory Poirier will ever admit to it or not, Missing's pilot is one of those fast-paced and competent experiences that doesn't totally dazzle or get your blood pumping. It goes through the motions well enough, and Judd makes for an effective ass-kicker in the Jason Bourne mould (she even uses domestic weapons, like a coat hanger, to disarm baddies). Indeed, when it's not copying Taken this show's other inspiration is the estimable Bourne movies—as there's also a crack team of CIA agents trying to stop Rebecca Winstone (Judd) from continuing her one-woman search/rampage across Europe, led by quietly sympathetic Deputy Chief Dax Miller (Cliff Curtis). The reason she doesn't seek their help finding Michael (Nick Eversman) is that Rebecca's husband Paul (Sean Bean) was killed in a car-bombing 10 years ago, and since then she's learned to "trust no one".

This pilot certainly has a sense of urgency and is competently directed by Stephen Shill (Dexter), Judd feels like a good female action lead. (It's about time she left the dying embers of her film career to cool and move into TV, too.) The production also doesn't cheat viewers through bluescreen, with genuine location work taking place in both Rome and Paris. The mystery about why Rebecca's 18-year-old son has been taken, a decade after her husband was murdered, is also fairly intriguing... but is it captivating enough to sustain viewers over a whole season, and perhaps even longer? We'll have to see how things develop, although it doesn't help that Michael gets kidnapped before you've formed any connection with his character.

While I have doubts over Missing's longevity, an initial half-season commitment feels very wise on ABC's part. I personally hope the story is concluded this series and, if the show has proven to be a hit, returns with a different ten-part abduction case next year.

written by Gregory Poirier / directed by Stephen Shill / 15 March 2012 / ABC

TRAILER: Prometheus (2012)


There's very little I can say without reducing myself to fanboy jibbering, but obviously this is the official trailer for this summer's biggest sci-fi ticket: Prometheus. It's from director Ridley Scott, back playing in the Alien universe he created in 1979 (this being a prequel without the famous xenomorphs, we've been led to believe), and it looks absolutely stunning.

Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron all star in this. Not excited about their presences? Just look at that phenomenal Giger-y production design, hear the pulse-quickening music, imagine how this story might knit itself into the mysteries of Alien that have gone unexplained for over 30 years (like the identity of that elephant-like "Space Jockey", or the origin of the horseshoe-shaped spaceship the Nostromo crew investigated).

If you're into sci-fi and still not excited, check your pulse.

PROMETHEUS premieres 1 June (UK), 7 June (AUS) & 8 June (US)

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Channel 4 not taking Ricky Gervais sitcom DEREK to series

Ricky Gervais' latest sitcom Derek, his first for Channel 4, hasn't been picked up for a full series by the broadcaster. Instead, the already-filmed pilot (which stars Gervais as an "outsider" called Derek Noakes who works in a retirement home) will be shown as a "one-off comedy drama" by BAFTA on 27 March. Tickets cost £7.50 and the screening will be followed by a Q&A with Gervais himself.

The decision not to turn Derek into a fully-fledged sitcom doesn't surprise me. I was astonished even a pilot was filmed, because the character of Derek (who appeared in one of Gervais' sketches in his pre-Office days) felt like a lazy and uncomfortable imitation of mentally/physically-handicapped people. Apparently the character was softened for the purposes of this pilot, but Channel 4 perhaps didn't want to deal with the likely controversy and claims of bad taste—particularly so soon after Gervais' self-made PR nightmare over his inappropriate use of the word "mong" on Twitter.

It hasn't been a good year for Gervais so far, beyond his hosting of the Golden Globes (and even that was a paler shadow of the previous year.) There are currently strong rumours the BBC are about to axe his sitcom Life's Too Short, following similarly bad reviews from US critics during its run on HBO.

Maybe Derek will be shown as part of Channel 4's Comedy Showcase season later this year, then we can judge for ourselves...

Update: Channel have announced they'll show Derek in April, and perhaps rethink their decision based on audience/critical response.

TRAILER: Dark Shadows (2012)


The first trailer for Tim Burton's Dark Shadows has been released, and it looks wonderful. I've been a fan of Burton's since Beetlejuice, but his recent output has been too mainstream and oafish for me (with the exception of Sweeney Todd), so I'm glad he's back on that familiar, dark, gothic turf. Even better, this is an all-out supernatural screwball comedy! When was the last time we had a Burton comedy? Planet Of The Apes? Low blow, sorry. It must be 1996's Mars Attacks!, of course.

Dark Shadows is based on a cult TV soap (1966-71) that aired in the UK on The Sci-Fi Channel in the early-'90s. I didn't see it, so have no clear idea how faithful this adaptation is. But the answer appears to be "not very" according to various grumbles from Dark Shadows fans. Maybe Burton's simply taking inspiration from the spooky soap's ideas and concept, but doing his own thing. I don't care either way; I just know that this looks like a huge amount of fun to me.

And look at its amazing cast. Johnny Depp, Jonny Lee Miller, the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer (reunited with Burton after Batman Returns), Helena Bonham Carter (no surprise), Jackie Earle Haley (awe-some), Christopher Lee (horror legend), Eva Green (perfect) and Chloe Grace Moretz (only a matter of time before she worked with Burton). Those actors alone deserve my ticket money at the box office.

I also like the timeslip idea here, with Barnabus (Depp) transformed into a vampire by a witch (Green) and buried alive, only to awaken in 1972. (From our 2012 perspective, this remains a period piece.) It's like someone merged The Addams Family with the '90s Brady Bunch parody movies, then threw in vampires and monsters. I hope the movie's as entertaining as this trailer.

DARK SHADOWS premieres 11 May 2012 (US/UK)