Sunday, 28 October 2007

Music To Watch Bad TV Talent Shows By

Until yesterday, I'd not seen The X Factor since the early audition rounds, what seems like many months ago. Last night the first thing I saw after the channel changed was someone who looked like Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer proclaiming himself to be the Phantom Of The Opera. That caught be somewhat off-guard. I guess my point is, to anyone who watches this program, take a step back and try to see it how I do, coming to it for the first time.

For example, when Sharon introduced the following act as "little Emily", we just laughed. Then there was a boyband called "Futureproof", which is a delightful name for a group whose act is already laughably dated before they've released anything. The little recap showed me a girl group called "Hope", which is again a delightful name for an entry in a singing competition who palpably can't sing. There were others who weren't great, but Hope weren't even okay. I thought by this stage in the competition they'd all at least be halfway decent acts. The idea that out of 200,000 auditions there weren't even eleven who could carry a tune is presumably testament to just how deluded and insane you have to be to want to be on the show.

I'd naturally expect out of a random sample of the population that most would be fairly poor singers and almost none would be amazing. A random sample of X Factor contestants, I would expect more who were awful but loud, but also more who could actually sing really well, because I still think that winning The X Factor would be a perfectly good way to launch a lasting career in pop, provided you actually have some discerning talent -- it's just a way to get exposure. (One day, with luck, this theory will be tested.) But if the judges have done their job, there were maybe four credible singers out of 200,000 applicants, and that's a little scary.

Of course, the judges plainly haven't done their job: Hope is made up entirely of people who were deemed unable to hold a tune in the auditions, but were lumped together in the bizarre hope that they could hold a tune and harmonise.

I also enjoyed the judges repeatedly saying how brave the last contestant (who doubtless had a name but it isn't important enough to warrant another trip to Wikipedia) was to do a Celine Dion song in front of Celine Dion. The implicit and all-pervading assumption that Celine Dion is actually that full of herself that she'll rip you apart if you get the slightest thing wrong, especially compared to the clip of her saying "Well done... I don't always hit that note", was amusingly misanthropic. And aside from anything else, Dion didn't write a word of the song anyway. How her singing it is any different from an X Factor contestant singing it is something of a mystery to me.

There may also be a slight problem with one of the acts: Andy. He can't -- I mean literally can't -- launch into a pop career without changing his name. His surname is "Williams". That would be like us calling this website "Google". But he also can't change his name, because his only apparent selling point is the connection with The X Factor, and I think there's a real danger of people not recognising him if the slightest thing were to change. Presumably, he would have realised this before auditioning, and at least called himself "Andrew", thus limiting the problem to an unlikely confusion with an obscure guitarist.

Oh well, too late now, I suppose. It'll all be over soon enough anyway.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Fridays are Funny

That's how the BBC can get out of the horrible 'Thursdays are Funny' campaign: simply change the day and spend more time advertising Have I Got News For You, The Armstrong and Miller Show and QI. There. Problem solved.

Solve for X

The X Factor certainly do like to dish out drama where there is no drama. At the beginning of this year, the entire gimmick was that Louis Walsh was not coming back. Then, lo an behold, he returned. This didn't really come as a shock to the viewers; mainly because all the adverts running at the time had Simon Cowell looking forlorn into the camera, muttering "I think we should bring back Louis", as if that decision was made then and there.

They've decided to pull this routine a second time by having Sharon Osbourne "storm out" of the show. The reason they gave for Sharon's supposed exit was that "she was upset as two of her acts faced the judge's vote". What a rubbish reason. Thing is, we must remember after the whole BBC controversy about the Queen documentary that the phrase "storming out" doesn't usually mean what it implies. Lo and behold, Sharon has agreed to return to the show.

Well, it certainly was a roller-coaster of high tension drama. I'm so glad we all got through it.

So, how is The X Factor this year? Well, we've finally got through the watchable 'audition shows' where we get to laugh at talentless people have their hopes and dreams squashed through a wave of sarcasm, pity and Irishness. Now we appear to be at the stage of 'Live finals'. These 'Live finals' aren't final enough, for we appear to be having one of these shows every Saturday until Christmas.

For once, I watched one of these live shows last Saturday. Are these really the twelve best groups that auditioned? Who was the scary Aryan-race character who sang Meatloaf? His name sounded like some venereal disease... Rhydian! That was it. It turns out that he's alsobeen through his own bit of drama this week. As TheXFactor.com reports in an enthralling piece of news, "Rhydian Quits X Factor and Then Changes His Mind". Astonishing news.

I was also witness to Brother and Sister combination Same Difference, who manage to turn The X Factor into The Steps Factor. It was pure nauseating nonsense. But, it still gets ratings. I'm surprised.

I wish there was a talent show that would only show the rubbish auditions. They are always funny. And, I also suggest to the producers of the show not to cause random bits of drama and suggest that a member of the show is "walking out". Not a single member of the panelists or singers have ever walked out of The X Factor for good. It's as if you're teasing the people who actually do care about the future of pop music in our country. And, it's also a little patronising.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

A Brief History of Time Travel Related Charity Events

Today, I purched the double-DVD boxset of two old Doctor Who stories: Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity. Why? Well, firstly it was only £13 in WH Smith. But secondly, and most importantly, I wanted to watch a lot more of Peter Davison-era stories, especially with the BBC announcing that he is returning for a Multi-Doctor Charity Special.

I'm in two minds about this. I'm quite happy that Steven Moffat is writing the ten-minute episode, but I keep wondering whether or not said episode is canonical. Will it be humourous? Where will it take place? Also, how will they explain that the Fifth Doctor looks twenty years older? The answer to that is simply that if they want to bring back a classic Doctor, Davison is the man to do it. I mean, have you seen Colin Baker recently?

Anyway, I'm trailing off the subject. Whilst you decide on whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that Peter Davison is returning, I shall give you a brief history of the past three Doctor Who Charity specials.

1. Dimensions in Time (1993)

Oh, how unremittingly awful. Doctors Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven are stuck in Albert Square thanks to the Rani. Also, his companions keep popping up through time as well. Not only did this seem to not have a script, it also seemed to not have any cohesion in the slightest. Luckily, both parts are avaliable on YouTube if you fancy having a laugh. If you happen to have a spare pair of 3D glasses lying around, that may also increase your enjoyment of the show. Marginally.

2. The Curse of Fatal Death (1999)

For Comic Relief, a new Doctor was brought to our screens: Rowan Atkinson. A hilarious 23-minute long adventure which is more true to the series than Dimensions in Time could ever dream to be. Although, using farts as a defence mechanism does leave some questioning.

3. Pudsey Cutaway (2005)

A rubbishly-titled first entry for the Tenth Doctor. Also included time-burps and typical Tennant-gurning. Also, the first Charity-episode that is considered canonical.

So, which one of these genres will Time Crash fall under? Will it be a laughably-poor romp through Albert Square? Will it be a humerous adventure with fart jokes? Or, will it be a canonical first meeting of a multitude of the same Timelord since 1986? Sadly, the only way to find out is to watch bloody Children in Need. There's always a downside to everything.

And We Don't Need No Water

Southern California is a little hotter than usual at the moment, seeing as large areas of it are currently on fire. Interesting of note, however, is that most of the big news channels here in the US are only reporting on the areas with Money. San Diego continues to be a hot point, haha, for news reporters, but considering the large-scale evacuation of the city that makes sense. But Malibu, which is home to celebrities such as Ted Danson, Pamela Anderson, and Sting, seems to be getting an inordinate amount of news coverage despite the fact that the fires there are largely under control. We're still receiving updates on Santa Clarita, where you can find some Very Expensive Houses, but the fires there are also fairly contained now.

Of course, no updates on the smaller communities threatened by fires. In fact the last update most news programs seem to have is over two days old. Lovely.

It's not just American media, either - even the good ol' BBC has been tracking the Malibu fire using this handy map:

Meanwhile, we have friends sleeping on our living room floor who were evacuated from their mountain town who have no idea what is happening, or even if they have a home to go back to. It's all bit a stupid, really.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Ones To Watch #1: Pushing Daisies

Autumn coming always leaves me with a large sense of melancholy. It's a stark reminder that I accomplished nothing over a summer break apart from eating excessively and sitting on a sofa in front of endless TV repeats - despite having plans to have "The Best Summer Ever!" and... y'know... step outdoors. It also reminds me that the feeling of happiness that summer instills will rather quickly get progressively crapper, the days will shorten, the wind will become sharper, the rain will become more frequent and Argos & every sofa company out there will start to broadcast Christmas adverts in the middle of October.

One thing that perks me up about the autumn months however is television, namely the Fall TV line-up. Whilst not a big deal over here in Britain possibly due to the fact that we all stay in to watch TV over the summer because going outside involves battling against flood-enducing downpours; in America, the marketing big-wigs realised long ago that as Autumn, or Fall if we're being grammatically American, approaches, people come indoors of an evening and start to watch TV. Hence this is the time that just about every big show on every big network launches, hoping to win the ratings battles in time for sweeps (another explanation for another day). This means that, should you have access to American TV in any sort of way, September brings a a treasure trove of new shows along with new seasons of your old favourites. And 2007 looks to be a good year.

2007's Fall Line-up seems to focus on what I like to call... "lovely dramas". The kind that don't have big, complex plotlines that run through entire seasons ala Desperate Housewives, nor do they have the feature-film pizazz and feature-film budget of Lost or Heroes. Shows like Ally McBeal, Sex and the City, Veronica Mars and even down to shows like Monk and What about Brian all fit this mould. They're light, fluffy, make you laugh and don't particularly tax you in a way The Unit, for example, does.

Whilst I plan to go on about several different shows that have either just started this September or have come back for a new run, there is one show that shines far and beyond any new show this season and so far already rivals the TV elite in terms of quality. And that show is the incredibly hyped (and deservedly so) Pushing Daisies, which broadcasts on ABC.

If you haven't heard of this so far, let me try to explain, although it is one of those shows that sounds terrible in word but brilliant in execution. When Ned was a child, he discovered he had the ability to raise things from the dead. However he soon realised this power had a catch, should he touch that particular thing once more, they will be dead again, and dead forever. He also realised that should he make something alive again for more than a minute, nature balances it out by killing something else of similar value in proximity of him. This is shown in example when he brings his mother back to life when she suddenly dies on the kitchen floor. A minute later, in the house opposite, the father of his childhood sweetheart, Chuck, dies suddenly as a consequence. Then later on that night, when his mother kisses him goodnight, she dies once again, but permanently this time. Thus all this sets up a show that involves him becoming a pie-maker (never fully explained why, but worked so beautifully into the whole show that you won't care), helping a private investigator, and falling in love once again with his childhood sweetheart who he finally sees again after years apart... but who he can never touch since he has brought her back to life.

All this mixes in together to become what is, in both style and story, a modern fairy tale. So sweet you can't help but smile, so beautifully shot with all sorts of bright colours in just about every scene that you can't help but become immersed in their world, and so wonderfully told via a huge amount of original ideas you can't help but smile even more than you already are at each and every one of them. Superbly funny and immensely clever, it proceeds at such a quick, bouncy rate that it never stops to make sure everyone watching understands what's going on, and it just doesn't care when it creates a plot point that has everyone watching saying "WTF!?" in unison. For example, in the second episode, the plot revolves around a company that is making a car fulled by dandelions. Just once is it mentioned that this is not a particularly normal thing to do, and it's this kind of moment that helps you realise that this is a fantasy land where the good guy always wins and people always fall in love. The kind of show that will happily dedicate 2 minutes of it's time to a version of 'Hopelessly Devoted To You' just because it's funny and just absolutely lovely to have in there. It's the kind of show so good you wish that some British TV channel would take the risk and try something like this instead of putting out the safe, stale drivel that is Heartbeat, Casualty, The Bill and all those others. Does British TV really have to stick to dramas that can be described in one short sentence and starts with "Drama set in a..."? But that's another rant for another time.

But back to Pushing Daisies, and one notable mention besides the brilliant and unnamed narrator, has to go to the cast. Built up of relative unknowns, they are superb and are a good chunk of why the show is as good as it is. The only two who are even slightly recognisable are ex-Brookside lesbian turned proper American actress Anna Friel (who plays the slightly eccentric and delightfully cheery Chuck) and Chi McBride (who plays grumpy, dry-witted but ultimately nice Emmerson Cod), who fans of House M.D. will remember appeared in a couple of episodes of season one as the grumpy owner. Everyone, even the dog, plays their part superbly to the point where I'm already starting to think that no-one else could play these roles half as well as they could.

There are bad points however. There are a whole lot of moments when you'll tut and think "well isn't that handy?" when one of them suddenly has something to hand or can miraculously do something that saves the day. Also, for a story full of murder mysteries, so far none of them have been solvable by the audience, a very-very limited "Whodunnit?" situation in each episode, mainly because the killer or the motive is suddenly explained out of the blue by the narrator.

But you know what? I don't care about any of these gripes. This is the perfect show to sit down and just watch for an hour, knowing you'll be thoroughly entertained. And best of all, it's been picked up for British broadcast! Finally, ITV 1 will have something worth watching when Pushing Daisies starts in January. Yes, I know it's pointless me telling you about it now since it's so far away and yes, I shall rant and rave more about this show nearer the time, but I advise you mark your calendars now, this is well worth a watch.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Just For One Day (And Then Again, on BBC Three)

Ah, Heroes. It's a modern classic, in many ways, and it's compulsive viewing on many levels. Thing is, I find myself utterly unable to work out what those ways or levels are. Lost held my interest by being highly unpredictable, feeding me a trickle of answers just more than sufficient to stop me giving up on it, and having a range of exciting mysteries that need answering in the first place. And Heroes doesn't seem to do those things.

It's unpredictable in the limited sense that it's not a parade of clich├ęs like many shows are, so you don't know what specific event will happen next, but you can bet safely that the principal characters will survive. To my recollection (at the pace the show is running on BBC Three), we've had somewhere in the region of two recurring characters killed, and they were unimportant ones -- the closest thing to a main character's death is probably Eden, who may have had incredible persuasive powers but far more probably just asked men to do things and they did them because she was hot. Lost killed the main characters often enough to makes sure that almost anybody could die at almost any moment.

Heroes really only has three mysteries: where the powers came from, why a paper merchant has so much money, and how Nathan Petrelli ever had time to systematically involve himself in everybody's lives from Vegas to New York with a stop in Texas to father a child. That's some impressive canvassing. The problem is that it's hard to create mysteries when you have a character who can fly, turn invisible, read minds, heal himself, move objects with his mind, stop time, and explode a whole city, and another who can hear things 40 miles off, move objects with his mind, liquefy toasters (for some reason), remember everything that ever happens to him in perfect detail, and probably has a whole host of other powers that have never really been explained. There's really no explanation that's going to satisfy, particularly not when they're making such a big show of the whole "evol-yoution" thing -- Sylar calling himself "the watchmaker's son," for example. Evolution doesn't work that way, so we just suspend disbelief, and that's not the same thing as being curious like we are with Lost.

And yet, I still find myself watching it. It's well written and entertaining. It's a damn good show. But I guess my point is that it's not the ground-breaking piece of TV history it often believes itself to be. Not, that is, unless you watch Heroes Unmasked afterwards and listen to what Greg Grunberg has to say.

Grunberg is the thoroughly-oddly-named actor who plays Matt Parkman, the psychic cop who thinks his mind-reading ability is tearing his life apart when in fact his life is falling apart because he's a bit of a twit. And his job, on Heroes Unmasked, is to sit open-legged and excitedly extol the virtues of the preceding show. He'll say things like "I think it's incredible the way the writers gave these powers to just ordinary people", or "this is a really exciting thing to be involved in because I get to play a man who can read minds! Imagine that!" or "my character is having marital difficulties -- nobody's ever done a show about that before".

Grunberg is also entertaining to watch but not the profound creator of TV history he believes himself to be. And again, I can't help but like him for it.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

If you've missed this post, catch it from the start now on Channel Flip + 1

Something that's annoying me recently about the otherwise entirely welcome Channel 4 + 1 service is a tendency for the continuity announcers at the end of hour-long shows to say words to the effect of "if you've missed this programme, don't worry; it's starting now on Channel 4 + 1". This is good and well, except that they don't seem to fully comprehend how the timeshifted service works. They broadcast exactly the same thing an hour later - the same sound, the same pictures, the same thing. This means an hour later, they'll tell all the people watching Channel 4 + 1 that if they've missed the programme that just finished (on Channel 4 + 1) then it doesn't matter, because it's just about to start on Channel 4 + 1, which it manifestly isn't.

You'd think a company capable of broadcasting television signals to an entire country could invent a little button they can press if the announcement they're making won't make sense on the +1 channel, and then the announcement doesn't broadcast on the +1 channel. But apparently not.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Home of Witty Banter

Last night, as far as I'm aware, was the launch night of Dave, a new Freeview channel which proclaims itself as "The Home of Witty Banter". I do love the schedule today. Top Gear, followed by Whose Line is it Anyway, followed by a double bill of Airport. Then the same episode of Top Gear, Whose Line and Airport. Repeat a further two times.

Still, if you overlook all the repeats, it is an enjoyable show to watch. Last night they aired some pretty impressive episodes of QI, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Have I Got News for You. However, for some odd reason, on their launch night the channel decided to air an episode of Coupling. Which one? The Season 4 Finale.

My advice? If you're going to get people to watch a show on a new channel, don't start with the last ever episode of it.

Monday, 15 October 2007

How to Cook the Perfect Roast Chicken in 473 Outlandishly Complicated Steps

Tommorow (Tuesday) night at 8:30 on BBC Two, a new series of Heston Blumenthal: In Search Of Perfection starts. It's the best cookery show ever. And if that sounds like I'm damning it with faint praise, I'm not. It truly is awesome. There's none of that food-can-be-easy, fresh-ingredients-cooked-simply, made-in-five-minutes lifestyle crap here. (I saw the latest Nigella Lawson show earlier today between University Challenge and Dragons' Den. She 'got a call' from a friend having man-troubles, conveniently while the cameras were rolling, so she invited here over for chocolate-chip cookies, which miraculously cured her emotional distress. Lucky these things happen to Nigella, or there'd only have been ten minutes of show. I don't know how they get away with it in these anti-fakery days.)

Heston Blumenthal every week takes one classic dish (tomorrow chicken tikka masala) and spends the whole half-hour striving to make a perfect version of it, using the twin powers of cookery and science. He works only under the two constraints: that what he makes must essentially remain the same dish, and must be able to be made at home. This second constraint is imposed purely for comedy value, because nobody is going to be able to follow these recipes at home. Last series, his black forest gateaux involved getting chocolate, melting it with groundnut oil (I-Spy Heston Blumenthal awards 10 point for spotting groundnut oil - it has no flavour, you know), putting it in an aerosol can, spraying it into a tupperware box with a pinhole put in it, stuffing this in one of those bags you suck all the air out of to compact your luggage, and being attached to a vacuum cleaner until the chocolate aerates. Having made seven other layers similarly, he piles it up and sprays the whole thing with more groundnutty chocolate from a paint gun. This is served up with kirsch (cherry liquer - it's not a proper black forest gateaux without it apparently) in an atomiser which you spray into the air prior to eating (15 points for something in an atomiser).

The fact that none of his recipes are remotely feasible for home use is the genius of the whole enterprise. How-to shows are all very good and useful, but they're rarely especially entertaining. What's always entertaining is watching people do things that we demonstrably can't do - whether it's prefessional sports or Jack Bauer saving the world from terrorists. If this post comes too late for you to rearrange your schedule and you miss it, do what Heston would do - use the power of science and head on over to bbc.co.uk/iplayer where you can download it for free for a week. Hurrah!

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Is it "Good Luck Getting Through"?

In March, after a little less than a year (the service rather tellingly having launched on April Fools' Day), ITV shut down the ITV Play channel, principally because they'd been forced by a sudden and unusual upsurge in national levels of common sense to close all their premium-rate phone lines. This included the ITV Play that comes on at night when ITV have nothing else to show (and, presumably, didn't think anyone up that late would be able to pay enough attention to enjoy a repeat of A Touch Of Frost).

The ‘participation TV’ genre is growing fast and ITV Play will lead the market with higher quality programmes, higher production values and higher and more regular prizes.

So I was rather surprised last night when I switched over after Screenwipe to find a ridiculously cheerful woman soliciting calls from people who knew phrases that start in "good". It looked, as far as I could tell, to be exactly the same as the old-style ITV Play that was so universally condemned, but with one subtle change: every so often, the presenter would remind viewers to set themselves a limit on how many times they were going to play today, and to play within their budgets. She never said you had to be over 18, though.

I didn't watch enough to say for sure if the questions have improved -- though to be honest you could make them as easy as you like and the morons who phoned in and guessed "good likeness" and "good -ie two shoes" still would have been £1.50 of pure profit. Possibly, ITV have put in easy questions so the regulators won't complain and then preyed on viewers who think they've got wise to ITV's game and have started avoiding the obvious answers and guessing "balaclava" to every question instead.

I'm amazed they still get away with this, not least because it has pre-recorded applause and cheers played over it apparently at random, which surely counts as Nasty TV Fakery? Well, apparently, they don't. The show seemed to be taking callers rather less frequently than one might hope -- the presenter managed to go into quite some detail about exactly what she might buy if she won £1,500 on ITV Play that evening. The ideas kept coming -- considering she must have just been ad-libbing for an unspecified time, probably all night, and it was gone 2AM I was actually impressed with her. Except her credibility, obviously, which was in tatters because she was on ITV Play. I usually assume with these things that they charge all the callers and let maybe one in a hundred of them onto the air to have a shot at winning (which they won't, because "good rawlplugs" isn't what you'd call a common phrase), which of course is exactly what they did. But then they "went turbo", which meant they take "more calls than usual". Still nobody got through.

So either they're still running a phone-in competition that's essentially rigged, or else nobody very much phoned in. Which is it? Well, here's ITV's Strategy Update on the subject, published about month ago:

ITV Play’s Call TV programming will be phased out by the end of this year as negative publicity following compliance problems across the sector has seen call volumes drop to uneconomic levels.

So, to sum up, they're running an unpopular feature that's not making them any money. So why are they doing it? Why phase it out? Why not just stop?

Saturday, 13 October 2007

How To Watch "In It To Win It"

The actual quiz show is so dismal on every level it's not worth the bother, but I find it's more fun if you pretend to be the editor of a satirical TV clip show, looking for clips of Dale Winton making embarassing sexual confessions (when in fact he's doing his ridiculous "final answer" routine):
  • 'I accept Jason Bourne.'
  • 'I accept David Blunkett.'
  • 'I accept "cucumber".'
It's very childish, I know, but when In It To Win It is on you just have to make the best of a bad situation.

Gradin' Sladen

I must admit, when they first announced Sarah-Jane Adventures, yet another spin-off of Doctor Who for those who don't know, I can't say I was too thrilled. I enjoy me some Doctor Who; and I know it's supposed to be a family show but there are a lot of times when watching certain episodes that I wouldn't have batted an eye-lid if it was on CBBC. Hell there were times when aliens started farting or used straws to suck blood that I expected to see the CBeebies logo in the top corner and Basil Brush to make a cameo. So when it was said that 'Sarah-Jane' would be a kids-centric spin-off of an already kiddy show, I feared that it would be more Chucklevision than Doctor Who; and that they'd stop the aliens through a series of slapstick mishaps that would end with an anvil dropping on the bad guys head. So it delights me to say that, after watching 4 episodes (5 if you include the New Years pilot), it is so far not absolutely terrible. In fact I'd say it's better than at least half of Doctor Who and about two-thirds of Torchwood.

My main worry before seeing the show was with the enemies. Doctor Who has always been hit-and-miss with it's enemy characters. For every brilliant evil like The Master or the Clockwork droids there's always been sheer crap like the Slitheen. And whilst the Slitheen are back for the first two episodes of 'Sarah-Jane', you can tolerate them more now they're in a kids show. In fact, it seems the Slitheen have been found the perfect place for them to stay. However, it was with the two subsequent episodes in which I was mostly surprised. My initial thoughts of aliens for a CBBC show would be things kids would think were cool. So skateboard-riding ninja aliens who kill people with Playstation and come from the Planet X it is then. So it was a nice surprise to see that the first original alien was based on the Greek Mythology story of the Gorgons, but with a relatively modern twist. WTF!? Where's my Space ninjas damnit!

Even more surprising is the level of drama outside of the main stories. Sure it doesn't have the adult intensity of the bonk-a-thon Torchwood, but considering it's audience, it has a nice range of child appropriate situations. It ranges from the age-old secret crush story, to hating homework, to the social awkwardness of a teenager starting school (admittedly a teenager that has not only been alive for 3 weeks but was genetically engineered, so quite rightly doesn't get the whole social interaction thing. But still, kids can relate to anything nowadays). But it can also get serious (yet still child appropriate) with the on-going divorce storyline between the main kids parents and her struggle being stuck in the middle of it. A surprisingly well-acted scene occurred with the kid complaining to her mum about her not being around for her anymore. It was quite welcome considering I thought the pinnacle of drama for this show would be the kid complaining to her dad about how he doesn't give her enough pocket money for make-up; and when you compare it to everyone falling in love with The Doctor or the Owen "sex-triangle" in Torchwood, it was quite original.

Overall, I'm pretty impressed with what I have seen so far, the use of CGI, the subtle references to both past and present Doctor stories. Even the two Slitheen episodes were pretty decent, touching on the subject of killing as well as, if not better than The Doctor's scary eyes in last year's Christmas Doctor Who as water poured around him. Let's just hope they don't balls it up now although, judging by the next episode preview, they may just do that. It's based around the gang joining in a game of deadly laser-tag to help find a missing child.

Let's just hope their opponents aren't ninjas.

Friday, 12 October 2007

An Open Letter to The BBC News

When you do a story about climate change, it is not strictly necessary to fly a correspondent to the Arctic in order to film 45 seconds of footage which is indistinguishable from the same footage filmed in the river Thames.

Yours,
Andrew

x

Deal of the Century

I like it when Deal or No Deal feature very odd offers from The Banker. Today's episode had the very odd offer of "£8,000 and a dead magpie".

If it was me, I'd have dealt at that offer. It's a win/win situation. If they don't give me the dead animal, I sue them for false advertising. If they do give me the dead animal, I sue them for cruelty to magpies.

Let He Who Is Without Singing Cast the First Stone

As a formulaic process, you can't really argue with it. Holiday Showdown did it, Wife Swap did it, and both always got the same hilarious results. What formula am I on about? Get two groups of people from different backgrounds and get them to live with each other with astonishing consequences as they attempt to get along with clashing beliefs via the handy method of shouting loudly.

BBC3 have a lovely new show which follows this formula accurately. Singing With the Enemy was an interesting watch. It didn't, as I assumed, give people the chance to Sing with The Enemy. Instead, it gave the chance for two bands with different views to live with each other for a week and then write, record and perform a song. This week showed the adventures of punk band Paparazzi Whore (which claimed to be 'ironic', but I found it to be quite fitting what with them jumping at the chance to appear on BBC3) and Christian rock band Dweeb. Now, I understand why the BBC want to film a week of Punks and Christians sharing a house: for filmed tense content and guaranteed arguments. However, what actually occured during the show was far from this.

The first thing the bands need to do is perform for each other. Firstly, Paparazzi Whore play. Dweeb like them. Then, Dweeb play. Paparazzi Whore like them. This clearly is not what the BBC are wanting. When they filmed a goth band and a boy band together, they started ripping the piss out of each other left right and centre.

So, when the expected conflict you wanted in your BBC show isn't occurring what do you do? You could take the typical BBC approach and fake it. But why not try and make it happen!

For no reason whatsoever, they ask the punk band to play again for the Christians to watch. Only this time, they've brought strippers on the stage! Strippers! With breasts! The punk lead female singer then confesses that not only is she married to her husband, but she's also sleeping with the female back-up singing of the band! Such controversy!

I was wondering if they were going to go the whole hog and just start poking the Christian band with sharp sticks. Sadly, this is television and emotional teasing is just so much better than physical teasing. Hilariously, the Christian band don't really raise an eyebrow. Some may say that this was dull television, but I was loving every failed moment that the producers of the show attempted to add controversy into their otherwise sub-par show.

So what do they do? Cause controversy within the punk band itself!

Over the course of the week spent together, the female back-up singer decided to look back on the punk life she had loved for 20-odd years and starts to lead a spiritual quest to find her true meaning on this planet. Obviously the punks are upset, and begin to blame the Christians for warping the back-up singer's mind.

But, despite all the differences, they were able to record a decent song. Well, half decent. The only decent part of it was when Dweeb were singing. Paparazzi Whore's lead singer couldn't hit a damn note.

Not only was this a very odd hour of television, but it contained one of my favourite snippets of dialogue between the two lead singers:

"I don't know why you can't accept that we are followers of Christ"
"Well, that's where you're wrong. I'm not a follower. I'm a leader. In fact, I'm the leader"
"Heh.. I don't think you're The Leader"
"Well I 'ave to be. If I'm not a follower, I'm The Leader."

You can't argue with odd punk ideology.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Scene and Not Heard

I've just finished watching the 24 Season 6 DVD Box Set. I shan't go into details about how rubbish most of the episodes are, but I will talk about one thing I was looking forward to in this collection: the Season Six Alternate Ending.

If you aren't familiar with how season six of 24 ends, it is essentially the following: Jack has a conversation with his old lover who has recently gone insane thanks to some Chinese people kidnapping her, then he goes outside by some cliffs and looks at the horizon of the sea. It then fades to black and counts down from 05:59:57am to 06:00:00am (not surprising, what with this episode taking place between 5am and 6am). However, it isn't the most exciting television you've ever seen, but there we go.

Now, a lot of people won't fork over £35 for the DVD set, mainly because Season Six of 24 was a giant pile of toss. However, for your reading pleasure, I shall tell you the alternate ending of Series Six for absolutely free!

Jack has a conversation with his old lover who has recently gone insane thanks to some Chinese people kidnapping her, then he goes outside by some cliffs and looks at the horizon of the sea. Then he throws his gun into the water.

Then, for some bizarre reason, the on-screen clocks counts from 07:59:57 to 08:00:00. Because in this alternate ending, Jack Bauer finds a portal that sends him two hours into the future.

You think I'm kidding, don't you.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse

I've spent the last 24 hours with a mate of mine, his girlfriend and their two year old kid. This means, through no fault of my own, I've witnessed a lot of Children's Television. The main channel on has been Boomerang, a haven for old-school Hanna-Barbera cartoons. It's only through the past day that I've realised that Jerry the Mouse is a right bastard.

I've seen a total of five Tom and Jerry cartoons today. In all five, Tom the Cat is minding his own business, and Jerry suddenly appears from nowhere just to ruin Tom's day. At one point, the cat is trying to flirt and dance with a lady cat at the local discotheque (it was the 70's after all). In my opinion, he was getting lucky with the lady feline and if he carried on his flirtation skills, he'd go back to hers and have crazy wild cat sex. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jerry the Mouse comes along and steals Tom's potential shagpiece. What is going on? The mouse has no chance of getting lucky with her.

In another episode, Tom's trying to relax in a hammock when Jerry comes along and steals it. What a bastard.

My favourite episode had to be when Jerry teamed up with some canary and actually killed Tom. After the cat's death, the canary and the mouse do an odd little dance. However, when it turns out that Tom was only faking his death (in a rather profound Jack Bauer-esque moment), the throw a pissing bowling ball at his face. What is the point in all this violence? You would assume that in this game of Cat and Mouse, the Cat would be the one provoking the violence. It really isn't. Why do we route for Jerry all the time? Why can't we root for the Underdog?

Or the Undercat in this case.

Also: Scooby Doo has also been playing at my mate's all day. My favourite scene was at the end of an episode where the ghost/mask/villain turned out to be this French guy. As he is arrested, he screams in an hilarious French accent "I would have gottern away wiv dees if it weren't for dose medd-el-ing keedz!". Daphne then responded with the hilarious comeback: "I wonder what 'meddling kids' is in French!".

The entire Scooby Gang pissed themselves with laughter at that line. It was worrying.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Thursdays Are Funny?

I can safely say after watching the online premiere of The Peter Serafinowicz Show that no, they are not.

Monday, 1 October 2007

The Unreal Hustle

A very odd thing happened to me on the way to a lecture this morning. As I got on the bus, I noticed a large film crew sitting on the back seat. It's something you don't miss. I paid for my ticket and sat down. Two stops later, the fat guy from The Real Hustle" wearing a suit. This was odd.

Fat Guy announced that he was from the council and was asked to check everybody's tickets/bus passes, etc... Whilst he was checking them, he kept stealing bags and purses of the bus passengers, only to give them back twenty seconds later.

My stop arrived. In the process of me leaving the bus, one of the BBC cameramen urged me to sit back down as they needed to film some reaction shots.

"And why can't I leave exactly?" I wondered aloud
"Well, if we cut to a different camera and you keep appearing and disappearing from the bus, people are going to think it's faked"
"So, to make it look like it isn't faked.. you're faking it?"

It was truly an odd morning.

FTN RIP

Oh, FTN, how I will miss you. For the uninitiated (and oddly, judging by the lack of advertising for the latter, it seems a lot of you are), today is the day that FTN finally bites the bullet. But lo, like a fat, ugly caterpillar, you have spurted from your cocoon and are now pretending to be one of those proper, grown-up telly channels! You've got a number at the end of your name and everything! Virgin 1? Perfect!

But before I get onto Virgin's brand new, sparkly TV channel, I feel a moment is needed for the awesome crapness that was FTN. Now you have left our lives, gone is the ability to turn on Freeview at 6pm and know that for the next 12 hours you can watch cast-offs from Virgin-owned channels that you've either a) watched a hundred times before or b) don't ever want to watch ever, or even worse, some kind of late-night quiz show. Gone is the chance to watch Gladiators, and realise that no, Saturday Night TV isn't worse nowadays compared to the past, but that it's always been shit. And I'd rather look at Ant's screen-encompassing forehead than Cobra's screen-encompassing trouser bulge, if I'm going to be fully honest.

I remember back in the day, when you first appeared on the scene, you said you were going to have NEW programming! What happened FTN? I was rooting for ya! You were better than the Most Haunted marathons every other day made you out to be. You could've been something!

Anyway, that's enough fake sympathy for that load of crap. We've got Virgin 1 now! It's going to have NEW programming! Hold on a moment...

Quite obviously Virgin's answer to Sky One, Virgin obviously felt that they needed to do something now that Sky have yanked Sky One from them and stuck their tongue out at them. And Virgin did indeed do something. They have pretty much stole Sky One's template, crossed out Sky, drew Virgin in red felt tip pen instead and stuck it on Freeview. As many American imports as they can get, poorly made homegrown efforts and even more American imports.

However, credit where credit's due; they have started well over at Virgin 1. A nice logo, some in your face marketing (as sparse as it's been) about it being 'Proper Telly' and Richard Branson pretending to give a crap about it in a load of press conferences.

However, criticism where criticism's due; it falls at the most important hurdle for a TV channel, TV shows. Tonight, it starts with more of a quiet whimper than a loud bang, starting off with Criminal Minds, yet another American Crime show that from what I've seen (I'll be honest, I've yet to see more than previews for this show), blends perfectly into that Crime show genericness that CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY and Law & Order (again, with added spin-offs) have managed to create and bore with.

Also tonight is Penis Envy, a 'Cockumentary'. How very BBC Three of them. Closely followed by a double of Dog the Bounty Hunter, poker and then more repeats. The only highlight of the night is The Riches, starring the wonderfully delightful Eddie Izzard and the wonderfully round-faced Minnie Driver. I urge everyone to give this a watch at some point. Please.

The shows don't fare much better in the future; Terminator spin-off and bound-to-be-as-bad-as-the-new-Bionic-Woman The Sarah Connor Chronicles appears next year. The so good it was cancelled after 9 episodes Ted Danson show Help Me Help You will show up at some point. More generic drama starring some kind of armed force in The Unit (again, I'll avoid ripping into it too much till I've seen more than one episode). Good shows in the future however include Boston Legal, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and the hopefully awesome Viva Laughlin (based on the actually awesome Viva Blackpool).

And to finish it all off, REPEATS, LOTS AND LOTS OF REPEATS!

And that right there is the problem with virgin 1, their advert can proudly mouth off how they have 'No Soaps, No Makeovers, No Nonsense, Just Proper Telly' but that means nothing when 90% of the shows you plan to put on are 5 year-old repeats. As much as I love Seinfeld, That 70's Show, Star Trek and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it just sounds like FTN all over again but with Will Smith swapping roles with Derek Acorah.

You're supposed to be a 'Proper Telly' channel now, so show some proper telly.

Marketing departments in Need

What the Bloody Hell have the BBC done to Pudsey the Bear?