Friday, 30 November 2012

Teasers: A&E's BATES MOTEL

A&E's TV prequel to Alfred Hitchcock's seminal Psycho has really sneaked up on me. I was aware Bates Motel was being made, but it had gone so quiet that I'd totally forgotten about it. If you don't already know, this show will tell the story of a younger Norman Bates (Charlie & The Chocolate Factory's Freddie Highmore) and his mother (Up in the Air's Vera Farmiga), in the days before the former famously knifed Janet Leigh to death in a shower.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

ABC remaking BBC's VEXED

Despite being a terrible show on so many levels, ABC are looking to remake BBC2's comedy-drama cop show Vexed—the story of a mismatched male and female detective. In the UK, the show starred Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) and Lucy Punch (Bad Teacher) as the leads in 2010, although the latter was replaced by Miranda Raison (Spooks) for the second series in 2012.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 2.21 & 2.22 – 'Becoming: Part 1 & 2'

Angel: Acathla turned to stone, as demons sometimes do, and was buried where neither man nor demon would want to look. Unless of course they're putting up low-rent housing.

The first part of season 2's finale embroidered a simple story with fan-pleasing moments: another solemn voice-over by Angel (David Boreanaz), flashbacks curtly explaining the origin of key characters, and even the return of auxiliary Slayer Kendra (Bianca Lawson). Okay, so the last one's unlikely to please anyone, unless you like playing "guess the funny accent". Other than that, "BECOMING: PART 1" was good fun, although it felt too much like mid-season's "Surprise"/"Innocence" two-parter—only with the opposite aim of restoring Angel's soul. I'm sure that was the point to a large extent, which is fine, but it's harder to get excited by a story where vampires were again plotting to destroy the world with the help of an exhumed demon.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Trailer: BBC Christmas 2012 - 'It's Showtime!'

The BBC have released their Christmas trailer for this year, highlighting some of the season's televisual treats. Being cynical, it's mostly exactly what we get the rest of the year only with added baubles, tinsel and garish jumpers. But there is the Doctor Who Christmas Special to look forward to, of course--plus Restless with Rufus Sewell and Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery. Does anything else here take your fancy?

HOMELAND, 2.9 – 'Two Hats'

written by Alexander Cary / directed by Dan Attias

I've been increasingly disappointed with Homeland since "Q&A", but this episode went some way towards helping restore my faith. There were a number of surprises and more of a feeling we're moving towards something exciting in terms of Abu Nazi's attack on the US homeland—which is kind of essential given the title of the show. It was also interesting that "Two Hats" gave the writers the ideal opportunity to switch Brody's (Damien Lewis) allegiance back to Nazir, seeing as he was incommunicado for 12-hours, but appears to have avoided that. I guess this means we can finally relax and start to invest in Brody being a double-agent who isn't pulling the wool over everyone's eyes in a very clever way. Or can we? God, this show make me so paranoid!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

MISFITS, 4.5 – episode five

written by Howard Overman / directed by Jonathan Van Tulleken

There's been a curious lack of super-powers this series. That isn't a reason to dislike Misfits, but there's an argument it starts to lose a unique ingredient without them. I sometimes have to stop and think about what Finn (Nathan McMullen) and Jess's (Karla Crome) powers are, and had completely forgotten what Curtis's ability was until last week's reminder. This fifth episode did feature some uses of power, but it was still an episode that didn't particularly require them. Thankfully, taken as a straightforward drama about life, death, fathers, family and secrets... it was one of the better examples.

SHERLOCK series 3 delayed

The third trio of Sherlock episodes were due to start filming in January 2013, for a potential release in late-summer. This has now been pushed back to March 2013, accommodating Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman's hectic work schedules, meaning a late-autumn or Christmas release is more likely. That's practically a year away, so the gap between series 2 and 3 will be almost two years!

Let's hope the explanation for Sherlock Holmes cheating death is still something audiences care about, or feel was worth such a very long wait...

DEXTER, 7.9 – 'Helter Skelter'

written by Tim Schlattman / directed by Steve Shill

Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) voice-overs tend to announce each episode's themes rather bluntly, so we quickly knew that "Helter Skelter" was about love and fear. But it was also about partnerships and trust, too. Tim Schlattman wrote this episode (he writes one every season, and they're often highlights), and as he's one of the few remaining writers to have worked on Dexter from the beginning you could sense a crisper, cleaner voice at work.

Monday, 26 November 2012

MSN TV: Channel 4's PEEP SHOW (series 8)

Over on MSN TV: I review the belated return of Channel 4's PEEP SHOW for its eighth series, starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb as perennial losers Mark and Jeremy.
US sitcoms The Big Bang Theory, New Girl and Community are all the rage right now. However, Channel 4's homegrown Peep Show remains one of the most experimental for its unique "first person perspective" format and razor-sharp insight into the male condition. We could feasibly follow Mark and Jez into middle-age and beyond. Now in its ninth year, it's overtaken Drop the Dead Donkey as Channel 4's longest-running sitcom, and still doesn't show enough alarming signs of fatigue. While its creative peak was probably reached somewhere between series three and five, it has never dropped to an extent where you secretly hope creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong bring it to an end.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

MERLIN: the magic fades away

The BBC today announced the surprise decision to bring their Saturday night fantasy drama Merlin to an end, after an impressive five years. The youthful take on the Arthurian legend will end at Christmas with a two-part finale, although the creators still have plans to continue the story with a trilogy of movies.

Speaking about the decision to end the show, star Colin Morgan commented "I think the show has run its natural course. It has grown and grown each year and now we've arrived at its strongest point and we've achieved what we set out to do." Co-star Richard Wilson added "I'm extremely sad Merlin has come to an end. Speaking as Gaius, I feel I have mentored the young wizard as far as I can. [Merlin] is much smarter and greater than me now and I am simply exhausted."

TV Picks: 26 November – 2 December 2012 (An Idiot Abroad, John Bishop's Big Year, Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience, Steppin' Out with Katherine Jenkins, etc.)

Below are my picks of the best TV premiering in the UK between 26 November and 2 December 2012...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

MERLIN, 5.8 – 'The Hollow Queen'

written by Julian Jones / directed by Alice Troughton

After a brief run of relative flops, series 5 gets back on-track with "The Hollow Queen"; a very enjoyable episode that made the most of a story that perhaps wasn't quite so impressive in retrospect. But that didn't really matter, because there were some worthwhile revelations and an interesting use of Merlin (Colin Morgan) that made the hour feel rewarding enough.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

RIP Larry Hagman (1931-2012)

TV legend Larry Hagman, 81, has died following complications from throat cancer. He was most famous for playing Texan oilman J.R Ewing in classic '80s soap Dallas, which was revived with Hagman's involvement earlier this year. Others may remember him as astronaut Tony in 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, as well as for memorable appearances in the movies JFK, Nixon and Primary Colors.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 2.19 & 2.20 – 'I Only Have Eyes For You' & 'Go Fish'

Drusilla: Then I'll sleep naked. Like the animals do.
Angelus: You know, I'm suddenly liking this plan.

I feel bad for saying this, because I can see the merits and laudable intentions of "I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU", but I was quite bored most of the time. I think the reason is how little I cared about the ghosts—James (Christopher Gorham), a student from 1955 who killed his teacher Grace (Meredith Salenger) after she called off their illicit affair. Their story just didn't feel like it was given enough attention, and got lost in the various spooky sequences that was blamed on James's haunting: a monstrous hand grabbing Xander (Nicholas Brendon) from his locker, or Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) being bitten in a snake-infested cafeteria. It was better when the janitor (John Hawkes) was possessed and re-enacting James's final moments with a passing teacher, but for some reason writer Marti Noxon couldn't help throwing in weirdness like Willow (Alyson Hannigan) being sucked into the floor.

BBC Four to broadcast PARKS & RECREATION next year

Days after the UK's FX channel announced they'll be broadcasting FX's Louie in the new year, BBC Four have now revealed they've bought NBC's Parks & Recreation and will air the first two seasons from spring 2013. One assumes they'll buy the third, fourth and fifth if ratings are strong. (Yes, we're that far behind.)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Chevy Chase departs COMMUNITY

Chevy Chase has left NBC's cult comedy Community with immediate effect, having filmed the majority of its 13-episode fourth season. It's not yet known if his character, bigoted Pierce Hawthorne, has been written out as part of an agreed exit strategy, or if the actor's simply called it quits and the writers will have to explain his absence in a creative way. (Most likely involving meta-humour from Abed about situations where actors leave a sitcom under a cloud.)

HOMELAND, 2.8 – 'I'll Fly Away'

written by Chip Johannessen (story by Howard Gordon & Chip Johannessen) / directed by Michael Cuesta

This season of Homeland has divided its audience slightly, but I think we can all agree the show's not as good as it was last year. If the earlier episodes hadn't taken some astonishing shortcuts with the expected narrative, I think that would have been more obvious much sooner. But now the second season's in its groove with the new order of things, you can't help thinking something's missing. I guess it's simply that having Brody (Damien Lewis) as a double agent isn't as enthralling as him being a probable terrorist, and obviously there's very little the writers can do about that. They've wisely chosen to move the story on and evolve the relationships, but Homeland has moved away from what people loved about it.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

MISFITS, 4.4 – episode four

written by Howard Overman / directed by Jonathan Van Tulleken

Everything about this episode screamed that I should be loving it, but I just didn't. Big things happened, but they felt more inevitable than truly surprising. It was a good episode that was never anything less than entertaining, but the emotional wallop missed me. Maybe it's because Curtis (Nathan Jarrett-Stewart) is my least favourite character of the original line-up, or that his exit from the show felt long overdue. It was certainly a surprise to see it happen halfway through the series, but this being Misfits perhaps not something unthinkable. At least he was given a feisty send-off, unlike Nathan (webisode yarn) or Kelly (off-screen excuse), although the storyline here would have worked better if Lola (Lucy Gaskell) had been given time to settle in as a character on the show. As usual for UK shows, while shorter runs guarantee better pace they don't really help character development or audience attachment.

DEXTER, 7.8 – 'Argentina'

written by Arika Lisanne Mittman / directed by Romeo Tirone

A quieter character-based episode, perhaps the calm before the storm as season 7 begins a sprint to the finish (Dexter tends to have a final four episodes that go like a locomotive). I wasn't enamoured with the storyline this episode, which only just crept along for the most part, but there were a handful of excellent scenes that are solely responsible for an extra half-star rating. It was fantastic to see Dexter (Michael C. Hall) confide in Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) about his current problems, almost making feel like the idealised version of late wife Rita; the best scene was a later one where Dexter tried to make Isaak (Ray Stevenson) give up his vendetta, which proved my earlier theory that Isaak's gay and Vincent was his lover; and a decent moment where Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) found out that Dex has fallen in love with Hannah, the serial killer she wants dead by his hand, which managed to lead into her admitting she fancies him, too. The latter is perhaps the most problematic area for the show, seeing as it embraces an errant plot-strand from season 6 I wish had been left alone...

Monday, 19 November 2012

MSN TV: BBC3's HIM & HER (series 3)

Over on MSN TV today: I've reviewed the third series premiere of BBC Three's cult flat-share sitcom HIM & HER, starring Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani as lazy lovers with oddball friends and family...
I enjoyed Him & Her when it started, despite its tendency to take things to such an extreme it becomes icky. The second series widened things by involving Steve and Becky's extended families more: Becky's cruel sister Laura, her thick fiancé Paul (Ricky Champ), ditzy middle-aged hanger-on Shelly (Camille Coduri) and weirdo neighbour Dan (Joe Wilkinson). While clearly not to everyone's taste—given the ribald nature of the jokes and situations, together with the strict decision to keep everything contained inside a three-room flat—Him & Her is an entertaining and innovative comedy that's avoided running out of ideas.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

TV Picks: 19-25 November 2012 (Kookyville, Last Tango In Halifax, Peep Show, Stephen Fry: Gadget Man, When Robbie Met James, etc.)

Below are my picks of the week's best new shows premiering on UK television, between the 19th and 25th of November...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

MERLIN, 5.7 – 'A Lesson In Vengeance'

written by Jake Michie / directed by Alice Troughton

Following last week's "The Dark Tower", I still don't accept the transformation of Queen Gwen (Angel Coulby) into Morgana's (Katie McGrath) henchman after barely a week of "brainwashing". If it was more clearly the result of an enchantment, it would sit better with me; but if we're to believe Gwen's genuinely decided that Arthur (James Bradley) is a despicable man who doesn't deserve to sit on Camelot's throne then... well, that doesn't work on any level. Morgana's written to be clever, but nothing she did in "The Dark Tower" would have changed Gwen's attitude about her own husband and king. There was no alternative view of Arthur's rule for Morgana to impress on Gwen, making her doubt what he stands for, or anything. It's all nonsense.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

FRINGE, 5.7 – 'Five-Twenty-Ten'

written by Graham Roland / directed by Eagle Egilsson

A part of me still misses the sense of randomness Fringe used to have, as each episode of the fifth season is just a different chapter of the same story, but it's doing a good job keeping things interesting. "Five-Twenty-Ten" was another story hinging on the search for another object to help get rid of The Observers (two of those mysterious burrowing cylinders first seen in season 1's "The Arrival"), and this again required the use of some fringe-y science (Observer technology to turn solid objects into gas, so they could access Kelvin Industries laboratory). In that regard, this episode was entertaining but just another variation on the type of story this year's been doing very regularly: the little missions collecting things required to put an all-encompassing plan into action.


Unsurprisingly, ABC's brand new dramas 666 Park Avenue (the supernatural soap about a haunted hotel) and Last Resort (the action-thriller about a mutinous submarine crew) have been cancelled. ABC have decided not to order more episodes, in the wake of low ratings. Last Resort's dropped from 9.31m viewers to 5.68 after seven episodes; 666 Park Avenue started with 6.90m but its seventh episode could only manage 3.90m.

Friday, 16 November 2012

DOCTOR WHO: Children In Need 'minisode' & Christmas Special trailer

The BBC's Children In Need telethon has become the place to tease the Christmas Special of Doctor Who, and that tradition returns for 2012. Above is a four-minute "minisode" called "The Great Detective" (narrated by Mark Gatiss), which establishes what's become of The Doctor following the departure of Amy and Rory. It also harks back to some intergalactic Victorian heroes we've seen on the show before.

This sketch is introduced by Matt Smith and his new co-star Jenna-Louise Coleman, which is arguably of more interest to fans. The actors appear to have a fun and warmhearted chemistry onscreen, and I have a suspicion Jenna-Louise is going to be more fun than Karen Gillan proved to be. (Not that it was entirely her fault, more a lack of good writing for her as a companion.)

Below is the second treat for fans: the official trailer for the Christmas Special "The Snowmen":

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 2.17 & 2.18 – 'Passion' & 'Killed By Death'

Angelus: Passion is the source of our finest moments; the joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief.

This season's seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer mature in many ways, but "PASSION" is probably the moment it truly came of age. Angel (David Boreanaz) may have stolen the thunder of Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) since he lost his soul and went Evil, but it's easy to see why the writers prefer using him as the arch-rival. His attachment to Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her friends gives Angel's despicable activities the edge over Spike's humdrum desire to kill The Slayer, and "Passion" gave us a wonderfully tense hour as Angel upped the ante. Sneaking into Buffy's bedroom to sketch her while she sleeps was the epitome of creepiness, and also worked on the level of an obsessed ex refusing to let a relationship die—from the perspective of Buffy's concerned mother (Kristine Sutherland).

Thursday, 15 November 2012

LOUIE coming to the UK's FX channel

Louis CK's low-budget and experimental comedy Louie is finally coming to the UK, three years after it started winning awards in the US. The UK's FX network will begin showing the Emmy-winning hit in January 2013, around the same time it changes it re-brands itself as Fox. Louie will join their other new acquisitions Men at Work, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (which started life on Channel 4), and The Rikki Lake Show. Dexter, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and True Blood will remain with the channel for its UK premieres.

MSN TV: BBC2's THE HOUR (series 2)

Over at MSN TV today: I've reviewed the series 2 premiere of BBC Two's 1950s newsroom drama THE HOUR, starring The Wire's Dominic West, Skyfall's Ben Whishaw & Emma's Romola Garai.
I wasn't a big fan of The Hour's first series because it felt like half a promising show needlessly complicated by a silly espionage subplot (much like BBC2's cancelled US import, Pan Am). Maybe Abi Morgan wanted to differentiate it from Mad Men that way, but it didn't work; critics were still compelled to compare it to the US Emmy-winner, even if it more accurately resembled the 1976 movie Network. Considering this episode had to reacquaint viewers to all the characters, explain the changes in their lives, while introducing newcomers and outlining fresh storylines, it did a very capable job.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

HOMELAND, 2.6 & 2.7 – 'A Gettysburg Address' & 'The Clearing'

written by Chip Johannessen / directed by Meredith Stiehm

It's funny: when you watch a lot of television you start to notice underlying structures more and more. The first half of Homeland was focused on Brody's (Damien Lewis) treachery and how it relates to the mentally unstable Carrie (Claire Danes), but now the second half it ready to take over following the excellent "Q&Q"—which re-purposed the show to an extent we'll have a better perspective on in a few weeks time. However, it's noticeable how Homeland's started to feel more like 24 just recently—which is no doubt because so many of the writers-producers worked on that Fox drama. It's still a more intelligent and plausible version of 24, but "A Gettysburg Address" certainly had more than its fair share of similarities.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

FRINGE, 5.6 – 'Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There'

written by David Fury / directed by Jon Cassar

I liked this episode, although in retrospect it was a little thin and didn't really present us with any huge forward momentum. This fifth season has been a year of incremental nudges in terms of narrative, but "Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There" was at least entertaining and suitably intriguing for long stretches. I just wish the end result felt more worthwhile, without instead leaving us with so many unanswered questions. For that reason, I can't really say this episode left me rapt, but there was some interesting stuff to consider.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

MISFITS, 4.3 – episode three

written by Howard Overman / directed by Nirpal Bhogal

I haven't been very impressed with series 4 so far, but episode 3 was a definite improvement. Power games, masculinity and sexual politics were the big themes this week, for three character-focused stories with two great performances from Joe Gilgun and Karla Crome. The reveal that Rudy (Gilgun) has three split personalities was strange (why has it never been mentioned?), but it made a loose kind of sense if we're to believe Rudy's a mixture of his "good" and "evil" twins. Whatever the reason for this decision, Gilgun benefited from getting to showcase his quietly psychotic side—and did a more convincing job differentiating "Rudy Three" from the other two (who still feel largely interchangeable to me, but I know others disagree).

DEXTER, 7.7 – 'Chemistry'

written by Manny Coto & Karen Campbell / directed by Holly Dale

This season's all about love. Or that's the driving emotion behind most of the character's motivations, I feel. There's Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) trying to keep their family together in the wake of Dexter's dark secret being revealed; Dexter and comely poisoner Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) are now an item that's causing problems for people around them; true crime author Sal Price (Santiago Cabrera) has made a beeline for Debra's affections as he gathers evidence to imprison Hannah; I still think Isaak (Ray Stevenson) is motivated to destroy Dexter because he killed Victor, his lover (although this theory isn't shared by some); and even peripheral characters are letting their love for people guide them—Quinn (Desmond Harrington) going back to his dirty cop ways to help his stripper girlfriend, and LaGuerta's (Lauren Velez) feelings for Sgt Doakes being the key reason she's poised to reopen the Bay Harbor Butcher case.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The forgotten laptop

I've done a very silly thing and left my laptop three hours away from where I live, after visiting family over the weekend. This is causing me lots of problems because I had important documents saved on that laptop. I guess I should count my blessings and be grateful it wasn't stolen or any data lost! But this does mean I won't get my hands on my laptop/documents for a few weeks (when my brother will fortunately be on a visit and can bring it with him). I will persevere until then, using my old laptop—which is horribly slow and very annoying to use. But at least it means I can write and keep DMD up and running for a few weeks. The idea of blogging on an iPad was unthinkable.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

MERLIN, 5.6 - 'The Dark Tower'

written by Julian Jones / directed by Ashley Way

We're now halfway through series 5 and "The Dark Tower" lost points for leaning so heavily on a storyline the fantasy genre (but more importantly this show) has tackled many times before. It's true that variations on slaying beasts, rescuing damsels, and going on quests for magical antiquities can't really be avoided in shows of this nature, but I always hope for fresh twists on old ideas. Instead, you tend to find that Merlin embraces all the obvious clichés and hopes doing them well is enough for audiences to forgive the lack of core creativity.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 2.15 & 2.16 – 'Phases' & 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered'

Cain: First they tell me I can't hunt an elephant for its ivory. Now I've gotta deal with People for the Ethical Treatment of Werewolves.

I must confess I knew Oz (Seth Green) was a werewolf from the start, which robbed me of the chance to be astonished by the big reveal in "PHASES"—although I don't seriously believe viewers in '98 didn't make that deduction before Oz woke up naked after a night terrifying Sunnydale's population. Nevertheless, the classic werewolf icon makes an overdue appearance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer here, and does so with aplomb. There are moments of camp silliness, but it's balanced by interesting themes and ideas that aren't typical of the werewolf genre—which is mostly used to symbolise puberty.