Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year's TV Picks: 31 December 2012 – 6 January 2013 (Africa, Alan Carr's New Year's Specstacular, Celebrity Big Brother, Charlie Brooker's 2012 Wipe Out, Glee, Mr Selfridge, Room 101, etc.)

Below are my picks of the week's most notable TV shows, debuting or returning to British airwaves. As usual, the New Year heralds lots of new programming to get 2013 off to a good start...

Sunday, 30 December 2012


The trailer for the third and final season of Spartacus was released over the weekend, and it's full of exactly what you'd expect: violence, geysers of blood, granite jaws, nudity, big speeches, violence, huge armies, swords, Julius Caesar, more violence, spurts of blood, the usual thing. I'm still an admirer of this show on a technical level and have always found it supremely entertaining, so I hope they can finish the story on a high note. There will always be a part of me that misses the late Andy Whitfield in the title role, but I'm more concerned they've now killed off every popular character except for Spartacus, Crixus and Gannicus. Hopefully the influx of new third season characters will capture our hearts quickly, otherwise it could be a strange season if we're just awaiting the inevitable (I doubt the show will diverge too much from historical fact, so the fates of the lead gladiators appear sealed). What are your hopes for this show in its final year?

SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED premieres 25 January 2013 on Starz. A Sky1 premiere in the UK hasn't been announced yet, but it's usually not far behind.

Saturday, 29 December 2012


The decision to trisect an adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit (likely clocking in around nine-hours in total) appears to be misguided and foolish, but I actually didn't have a problem with how Peter Jackson stretched the first epic instalment's plot (which only covers six chapters of the classic book). It gave everything a grander feel and the whole ambition felt closer to The Lord of the Rings trilogy's, which this also works as a prequel to. What I'm saying is that, yes, they could easily have split The Hobbit into two films (as originally planned), but I don't see the issue with spending longer in Middle-earth if there's enough material to sustain an elongated adventure. And by expanding on Tolkien's appendices and aiming to have The Hobbit explain some of the mythology and background of Rings along the way, I can well imagine the nine-hour opus being justified in retrospect.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Dan's TV Awards 2012 (including a Top 10)

It's December, which means most entertainment blogs and websites will be indulging their readers with extensive Top 10 lists. I've done exactly that myself for most of the seven years Dan's Media Digest has been online. But this year I thought I'd offer something different: an awards ceremony! Of sorts. You can call it the "Danos", or something. It's basically a run-down of television shows that I thought pulled off something particularly good or bad this year. And if you still prefer a more traditional Top 10, I've included one at the very end.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

DOCTOR WHO – 'The Snowmen'

written by Steven Moffat / directed by Saul Metzstein

The Christmas specials of Doctor Who have a unique potential to make fans of those who don't give the show a moment's thought during the year, as most British households containing Whovians will force their entire families to watch this seasonal episode. The eighth such festive special since Who's revival, "The Snowmen" was easily its best. There are various reasons for this, but it probably helped that the Christmas schmaltz was kept to a minimum (it was more of a winter-themed episode than anything trying to get us drunk on holiday spirit), and writer Steven Moffat tends to be at his best when an episode has a clear goal and intention. Here it was the introduction of a brand new companion in sassy barmaid/governess Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), whose first encounter with The Doctor (Matt Smith) echoed that of any newcomers to the series...

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 3.7 & 3.8 – 'Revelations' & 'Lover's Walk'

Giles: I won't remind you that the fate of the world often lies with the Slayer. What would be the point? Nor shall I remind you that you've jeopardized the lives of all that you hold dear by harbouring a known murderer. But, sadly, I must remind you that Angel tortured me... for hours... for pleasure. You should have told me he was alive. You didn't. You have no respect for me or the job I perform.

Naturally, given the title, there was no surprise that "REVELATIONS" gave us some big disclosures. The biggest was Xander (Nicholas Brendon) discovering that Angel's (David Boreanaz) alive and well, doing Tai Chi with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar). This has been threatened all season, and I'm relieved it's finally out in the open. At the moment Angel feels like a vestigial piece of season 2's jigsaw, so I just hope the character is allowed to re-enter Buffy's clique without wasting more time. I'm also not entirely convinced by everyone's reaction to Angel being alive—except for Giles (Anthony Head), whose girlfriend he murdered. Everyone understands that Angel only started behaving in an intolerable manner because his soul was removed, so it feels like there should be more compassion from a group of friends who deal with supernatural oddities every week.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

MERLIN, 5.13 – 'The Diamond of the Day: Part 2'

written by Julian Jones / directed by Justin Molotnikov

After five years, Merlin finally closes the book on its formative take on the Arthurian legend. The good news is this was a conclusion that didn't entirely disappoint, although there were undoubtedly a handful of moments that flopped when they should have soared. However, a lot could be forgiven because the core relationship between Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Arthur (Bradley James) took centre stage for the majority of the hour, and both actors elevated the iffy material—which has been their recurring skill on this show. Make no mistake about it, without Morgan and James in these key roles, the finale and the entire show would have been much poorer.

Monday, 24 December 2012

FRINGE, 5.10 – 'Anomaly XB-6783746'

written by David Fury / directed by Jeffrey Hunt

I don't have much time to write a full review of the latest Fringe, so a few brief thoughts will have to suffice. I really enjoyed this episode, despite its unusual pace and a feeling of frustration that the Observer child Michael took up an entire episode as the gang struggled to communicate with him. Why didn't the boy's guardians tell them it's impossible before they took him away? "Anomaly XB-6783746" was therefore another episode where Walter (John Noble), Peter (Joshua Jackson), Olivia (Anna Torv) and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) had to find something to aide their mission—this time a headset "ecog" that can translate an Observer's complex thought patterns—but I didn't have too much of a problem with that. Why? Simple: because the story gave a great deal of screen time to excellent villain Windmark (Michael Kopsa), and had a clear focus on the even better Nina (Blair Brown).

TV Review: BBC1's MR STINK

This hour-long adaptation of David Walliams' best-selling novel was a pleasant surprise; taking many inspirations and weaving them into something that stood on its own two feet. It told the story of 12-year-old Chloe Crumb (Nell Tiger Free), who strikes up an unlikely friendship with local tramp Mr Stink (Hugh Bonneville) after taking pity on him and inviting him to live in her family's garden shed. They're both victims of bullying (Chloe by her school friends, Stink by society) who find strength together, and naturally this leads to life-changing events for them both.

Christmas TV Picks: 24-30 December 2012 (Call the Midwife, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, The Girl, Restless, Room on the Broom, Ripper Street, The Snowman & the Snowdog, Superstars, etc.)

It's the second Christmas TV week, with the UK schedules bursting with specials and festive treats. Other countries don't have this tradition of putting so many new shows on, to entertain a captive home audience in late-December, so enjoy it! My picks of the most notable Christmas TV is below...

Sunday, 23 December 2012

MERLIN, 5.12 – 'The Diamond of the Day: Part 1'

written by Jake Michie / directed by Justin Molotnikov

I'm surprised Merlin hasn't done a story where the eponymous hero loses his magic before now, but it was a good idea to explore in the show's penultimate episode. However, it was something of an eye-roller that Merlin (Colin Morgan) could easily regain his abilities by believing, very hard, that he still has his magic. Even an appearance by the brilliant Eric Cantona John Lynch as Merlin's ghostly father didn't quite work for me; perhaps because we've had no sense that Merlin misses his father since he died. So in essence, Merlin's attempt at a Superman II-style storyline didn't quite work for me. There should have been more instances when Merlin's loss of magic was felt by the people around him; like having a knight die because Merlin was unable to protect him as usual. Such as it was, Merlin simply got a bit grouchy because he can't move cups using telekinesis, and wandered off to a Crystal Cave to be given a spiritual pep talk by his luminescent dad.

Friday, 21 December 2012

THE WALKING DEAD gets fourth season, but loses showrunner Glen Mazzara

AMC have officially renewed their zombie drama The Walking Dead for a fourth season, but showrunner Glen Mazzara won't be involved. It seems creative differences are to blame, as AMC apparently have opposing ideas about where the show needs to go.

AMC have released a statement saying that "... both parties acknowledge that there is a difference of opinion about where the show should go moving forward, and conclude that it is best to part ways. This decision is amicable and Glen [Mazzara] will remain on for post-production on season 3B as showrunner and executive producer."

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sky1 to simulcast FRINGE finale

In a move that's sure to delight British fans of Fox's sci-fi drama Fringe, Sky1 today confirmed they're broadcasting the series finale simultaneously with its US East Coast premiere. This is the second simulcast Sky has done with a popular US drama; the other being ABC's Lost finale back in summer 2010.

British fans will have to stay up late, though. Fringe's two-hour finale (which also marks its 100th episode) starts @1:10am in the UK on 19 January 2013, which means you'll have to stay awake until approximately 3.10am. On the plus side, this is a Saturday morning, so it won't clash with school or work for most people.

Sarah Wright, Controller of Acquisitions for Sky Entertainment Channels, commented that "Fringe has a great, dedicated fan base amongst our customers and we are thrilled to be able to show them the much anticipated series finale at the same time as the US broadcast."

If you can't stay up for Fringe's last ever episode, "An Enemy of Fate" will still be shown in its usual Sky1 timeslot on Wednesday 23 January @10pm.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 3.5 & 3.6 – 'Homecoming' & 'Band Candy'

Giles: I suspect the finger food contains actual fingers.

I found the busyness of "HOMECOMING" mostly appealing, although some of its ideas felt too compressed as a result. I'm already aware Mayor Richard Wilkins (Harry Groener) is season 3's Big Bad (thanks internet), having been referred to in recent episodes, and his low-key debut here was fairly intriguing. He's a germaphobe apparently aware of the town's supernatural population and unafraid of vampires like Mr Trick (K. Todd Freeman), but that's all we learn for now. Is he just brave, or deceptively powerful? The writers have an uphill struggle trying to beat last season's immoral triptych of Angel, Spike and Drusilla, and I certainly don't envy them this challenge.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

HOMELAND, 2.12 - 'The Choice'

written by Alex Gansa & Meredith Stiehm / directed by Michael Cuesta

Against expectations, Homeland managed to pull off a good finale to cap an inconsistent sophomore season. It often felt like everything leading up to Brody's (Damien Lewis) interrogation in "Q&A" was a worthwhile postscript to the brilliant first season, and then the writers didn't really know what to do and started leaning on increasing silliness. I haven't disliked season 2 as much as some people have, but it was clearly inferior to the award-winning first and often tested your faith. However, "The Choice" was a pleasant surprise, aided by the fact many people thought it couldn't pull itself out of a hole.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

DEXTER, 7.12 – 'Surprise, Motherfucker!'

written by Scott Buck & Tim Schlattmann / directed by Steve Shill

There have been stumbles along the way, but season 7 of Dexter managed to reorient the show after a calamitous sixth season. It didn't take a genius to realise the show needed to pull itself out of a rut, but thankfully the writers took action when it became obvious more wheel-spinning would lose them more critical respect. Rather annoyingly, ratings for Dexter keep improving despite its struggles post-season 4 (this finale was Showtime's highest-rated show ever with 3.4m viewers), so the producers could arguably have ignored the critical backlash. But I think everyone's relieved they didn't—including fans who somehow enjoyed season 6. "Surprise, Motherfucker!" was primed to become a mould-breaking hour, but didn't quite have the courage to go through with it. There are understandably limits on what producers and executives will allow to happen, so turning Dexter into a dark version of The Fugitive just wasn't viable.

Monday, 17 December 2012


Why can't I get excited about Star Trek Into Darkness? It's all looks gorgeous and I can't wait to see this universe back on our screens, with this brilliant cast involved, and Benedict Cumberbatch as a sci-fi villain is an amazing choice. And yet... I just don't feel it yet. This theatrical trailer is much better than the "announcement trailer" that was released earlier, but we still don't have a proper sense of the storyline, or even WHO the villain is. It was recently revealed that Cumberbatch is playing a terrorist called John Harrison (so NOT Khan) and Alice Eve's playing Dr Carol Marcus (a character seen in Wrath of Khan, who was the mother of Kirk's son). I wish the trailers were a little more forthcoming about all of this, really. But yeah, it looks expensive and there are some nice shots, together with Cumberbatch's impression of an evil Jean-Luc Picard in the voice-over. What do you think?

MISFITS, 4.8 - episode eight

written by Howard Overman / directed by Dušan Lazarevic

This was an okay end to what's been a frustrating fourth series. Misfits had a lot to overcome this year, with the loss of three original characters and a fourth halfway through its run, and it didn't entirely succeed. I don't dislike Finn (Nathan McMullen) and Jess (Karla Crome), but they're less interesting than their predecessors Simon and Alisha. The storylines this year have also felt slapdash, and there was such a lack of super-powers that you could be forgiven for thinking this was a scuzzier version of Skins. The finale was mostly nonsense, but it helped that Rudy (Joe Gilgun) and Nadine's (Gillian Staker) romance somehow made a connection despite them having such little screen time. Why didn't they introduce Nadine at the beginning of series 4, to get us more invested in the whole idea of Rudy finding true love? The pacing of this series, with the exception of Alex's (Matt Stokoe) search for his penis, has been all over the place.

Christmas TV Picks: 17-23 December 2012 (The Cube, Dragons' Den Christmas Special, Jonathan Ross Show, Mr Stink, Paddy's 2012 Show & Telly, etc.)

Below are my TV picks of the most notable television shows debuting in the UK between 17-23 December, which primarily consists of season treats and specials in the run-up to Christmas...

Sunday, 16 December 2012

MERLIN, 5.11 – 'The Drawing of the Dark'

written by Julian Jones / directed by Declan O'Dwyer

This was more like it. Merlin is unfortunately a poor show when it comes to developing ideas over a series, but when it's backed into a corner it often comes up with the goods. Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) was re-introduced as a significant character for this final series in the premiere, but beyond a few cursory moments to remind us of his presence, he's done nothing much of interest until now. It's all coming very late in the game, but "The Drawing of the Dark" managed to progress things significantly as set-up to the two-part finale.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

FRINGE, 5.9 – 'Black Blotter'

written by Kristin Cantrell / directed by Tommy Gormley

The majority of episodes this season have been adventures where Walter (John Noble), Olivia (Anna Torv), Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) try and collect an item, with the intention of using them in a masterplan to defeat The Observers. "Black Blotter" was just another version of that formula, but it was elevated by two things: a creative decision to have Walter spend the entire adventure tripping on LSD, and the notion of Walter having to confront the possibility that his old self is returning (i.e. the brilliant but irresponsible scientist who pushed his family away and almost destroyed two universes). As the final season's "nineteenth episode" (an hour where the writers traditionally attempt something radical and risky), it was great fun.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

British Comedy Awards 2012: the results

I have a deep attachment to the British Comedy Awards (hereafter the BCAs), mainly because they're the only awards ceremony I've seen every edition of, and I like its mix of anarchy and self-mockery. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and host Jonathan Ross's opening monologues used to be amongst the funniest things you'll hear all year. These days, that's less the case, but only because the marketplace is so crowded with other awards ceremonies and comedy interludes—on television, radio and online.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 3.3 & 3.4 – 'Faith, Hope & Trick' & 'Beauty & the Beasts'

Mr Trick: Sunnydale. Town's got quaint, and the people: he called me "sir", don't you just miss that? I mean, admittedly, it's not a haven for the brothers. You know, strictly the Caucasian persuasion here in the 'dale. But you know you just gotta stand up and salute that death rate. I ran a statistical analysis and... hello, darkness. Makes D.C. look like Mayberry. And ain't nobody sayin' boo about it. We could fit right in here. Have us some fun.

There was more forward momentum with "FAITH, HOPE & TRICK", during a story that felt it like existed partly because the writers realised last season's Kendra storyline deserved to be done properly (i.e. the idea of a second Slayer is fantastic, but let's avoid the Jamaican/Irish accent and stoical demeanour next time). Enter feisty Faith (pre-Dollhouse Eliza Dushku), who's another polar opposite of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in terms of personality and fashion sense, but also an egomaniac who casts a spell over Buffy's pals with her naked slaying tales involving alligators. I'm a tiny bit disappointed Buffy the Vampire Slayer has gone back to this well, although it makes logical sense (a new Slayer is chosen whenever one dies) and Faith is a far more engaging character than Kendra. Unlike her predecessor, who was a regimented and emotionless version of Buffy, Faith's more relaxed and in touch with her feelings. I'm interested to see where they take it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

HOMELAND, 2.11 – 'In Memoriam'

written by Chip Johannessen / directed by Jeremy Podeswa

Gathering feedback on last week's episode was more entertaining than the episode itself, because some people are seriously outraged Homeland's revealed so many chinks in its armour this season. It's fallen from grace to an extent, kept alive by some excellent performances and just enough intrigue to keep you on the hook—not to mention the desire to see this story resolve itself. If Homeland starts a new story, it'll be interesting to see how many people use that as the ideal stopping place. Just how much of the show's success is down to season 1's concept (which has been bent all out of shape this year) and the performances of Claire Danes and Damien Lewis? If any of that gets messed with, does the whole show collapse like a house of cards?

Trailer: MAN OF STEEL (2013)

While Marvel are having uproarious fun with their multi-character, cross-pollinating franchises, you have to remember rivals DC still own unarguably the two greatest comic-book characters ever: Batman and Superman. There's still talk of them doing a Justice League ensemble movie in direct response to The Avengers' $1bn global box-office, but I personally think that's a huge mistake. They should be taking a different approach and offering audience's an alternative to Marvel's bright eye-candy. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy is a great example of an alternate approach (although the ball was set in motion three years before Iron Man, so it's Marvel who are responding to Batman's realism), and now DC's looking to "Nolanize" the granddaddy of superheroes: Superman.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

MISFITS, 4.7 – episode seven

written by Jon Brown (story by Jon Brown & Howard Overman)
directed by Dušan Lazarevic

Not as ostentatious or as significant as some episodes from earlier this series, but I found myself enjoying episode 7 more than expected. Maybe it's because Finn (Nathan McMullen) and Jess (Karla Crome) have settled in and newcomer Abby (Natasha O'Keeffe) is such an instant hit; but it’s also because I enjoyed the various storylines this week, even if most were undeveloped and the hour lacked a focus.

DEXTER, 7.11 – 'Do You See What I See?'

written by Manny Coto & Wendy West / directed by John Dahl

The penultimate episode of this comeback seventh season was just kind of buzzing along fairly innocuously, not doing a whole lot of interest, before tying Dexter (Michael C. Hall) into some of the tightest knots we've seen him in. "Do You See What I See?" left my gasping for next week's finale, and completely dumbfounded by how the writers hope to continue the show next season. Or will they play an even riskier game than letting Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) in on her brother's secret, by completely altering the established format and formulas Dexter's relied on this far?

Monday, 10 December 2012

TV Picks: 10-16 December 2012 (British Comedy Awards, Jack Irish, Little Crackers, Poison Tree, Sports Personality of the Year, etc.)

Below are my picks of the most notable new TV shows, all premiering this week in the UK until the 16 December. A few festive specials as the holidays approach, too...

Sunday, 9 December 2012

MERLIN, 5.10 - 'The Kindness of Strangers'

written by Richard McBrien / directed by Declan O'Dwyer

Not for the first time, I struggled to remember key facts behind a returning character—noble sorcerer Alatar (Gary Lewis)—so felt slightly disadvantaged for a portion of this episode. It's like Merlin's writers assume everyone has an encyclopedic knowledge of their show, but that's not really the case. I had to dig around a little afterwards to refresh my memory of Alator's role in series 4 (he was the erstwhile villain who tortured Gaius), but thankfully it didn't impinge on my enjoyment of this episode.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

THE WALKING DEAD's third season: mid-year report

"Seed" (***), "Sick" (**½), "Walk with Me" (**½), "Killer Within" (***½), "Say the Word" (**½), "Hounded" (**½), "When the Dead Come Knocking" (***) & "Made to Suffer" (***½)

Long-term readers will know I ragged on The Walking Dead during its first season, when everyone else was going nuts over it. I then enjoyed the first batch of season 2 episodes, so cut it some slack, before that season became a horrendous bore until the last few course-correcting hours. I tend to veer between love and hate with this show, but season 3's now halfway through a 16-episode run, on winter hiatus until February, and a few people have been asking for my opinion... so, I'll oblige...

FRINGE, 5.8 – 'The Human Kind'

written by Alison Schapker / directed by Dennis Smith

"I know that our hearts are broken and that it hurts, but that's what makes us human." – Olivia

After a frustrating two-week hiatus, Fringe's final season returns strongly with "The Human Kind", which effectively concludes the story arc about Peter (Joshua Jackson) out to avenge Etta's death by installing Observer-made brain technology that gives him the gift of precognition at the cost of emotion and, essentially, the humanity he's fighting for. I thought this was a really great way to bring the story to a close, distilling Fringe's key theme of "technology versus humanity" down to its very essence.

Friday, 7 December 2012


Over on MSN TV today: I've reviewed the premiere of Sky Arts' four-part medical drama A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK, based on the short stories of Russian playwright Mikhail Bulgakov, starring Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe and Mad Men's Jon Hamm, playing the same doctor at two different points in his life.
I wasn't enthusiastic about the prospect of a four-part adaptation of a Russian playwright's work, airing on a niche channel like Sky Arts, but the best surprise of A Young Doctor's Notebook is how engaging, comical and unpretentious it is. Much of that's down to the performance of Daniel Radcliffe as the naïve young physician sent to a remote village on the eve of the Russian Revolution in 1917, who acquits himself remarkably well. The Harry Potter star isn't best known for comedy, but he has a natural sense of rhythm and awkwardness that perfectly suits this innocent character—who's stepped into the shoes of distinguished surgeon Leopold Leopoldovich; an older gent with a shaggy beard, whose standing in the community simply can't be surpassed.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

Thursday, 6 December 2012


The long-awaited teaser trailer for JJ Abrams' new Star Trek Into Darkness movie has finally been released, and I'm disappointed by it. The marketing of this rebooted franchise really frustrates me, because they're still so reticent to trumpet the STAR TREK-ness of the whole endeavour! And why is that, considering mass audiences responded so positively to the first movie? I found 2009's Star Trek invigorating, lively and great fun. It serviced the Trekkies, while drawing in a fresh audience thanks to its more aggressive Star Wars-y visuals and scale. I don't think there's any reason to be concerned about marketing this sequel as a Star Trek movie now, so why is the Into Darkness trailer wary about showing us the franchise's iconic imagery and sounds?

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 3.1 & 3.2 – 'Anne' & 'Dead Man's Party'

Buffy: This'll probably go faster if we split up.
Lily: Can I come with you?
Buffy: Okay, where did I lose you on the whole splitting up thing?

There's a confidence that coats a television show in its third season, now the writers are certain they have an established audience of sufficient numbers to keep a network happy. You can't ever rest on your laurels in this biz, but it's only natural that a show will start taking risks in a third year... you just hope they pay off. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's season 3 premiere "ANNE" felt like a brave change of direction, with a heartbroken Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) now living under an assumed name in a bad Los Angeles neighbourhood, employed as a diner waitress pestered by morons, although Joss Whedon knew he couldn't keep this going forever. In 1998, genre TV was less experimental than it is today, because the notion of Buffy separated from her friends would have formed a four or five episode arc in 2012!