Thursday, 31 January 2008

How To Watch TV

(This article is mainly about hit TV show The Simpsons. Bare with me.)

I watch television in a very simple way. I find a show that looks vaguely interesting, sit down, watch it, and then keep watching until the show has finished it's airtime. I believe that's how the majority of people like to watch televisions.

The thing is, I have a blog about television. This means, sometimes, I will watch a show with a critical eye. This is also how others watch television is they are a TV critic or if they too blog about television. This is also an acceptable varient.

What I don't understand are the people who mass together on the internet to scutinise every second of the show's continuity. The most-talked about show is Doctor Who. I like watching Doctor Who; it's reasonably entertaining. What I'm not going to do is complain that a recent boxset of the show involving the Pertwee adventure Doctor Who and the Silurians uses the correct title of Doctor Who and the Silurians. Many people complained when Christopher Ecclestone was credited as Doctor Who because "the character's actual name is The Doctor". David Tennant was one of these people. Shame on you, David Tennant.

That's one end of the scale. The other end of the scale are fans of The Simpsons. Earlier this week, FOX aired a brilliant episode titled That 90's Show. It was a flashback to before Bart was born about how Homer and Marge had troubles in their relationship before they got married. I found it hilarous because I grew up in the 90's, and identified the stabs at culture of that era. However, a lot of people are complaining that this episode was even allowed to air. Why? Because it 'deleted 20-years worth of continuity'.


The fact that the characters don't age doesn't delete continuity? The fact that it's a cartoon? The fact that they're all yellow?

I realised that The Simpsons wasn't a drama series to be taken seriously when I was quite young. Probably after the first episode I ever watched. But it really conerns me to see a lot of people trash this episode because it completely ignores the fact that Homer and Marge met in the early 70's. These type of people don't seem to realise that this would make them in their late 50's, and that Bart should be 30 by now. It's not even the young people on the internet that think this, TV Critic Robert Canning thinks so too. Grow up, Robert.

I think ignoring this type of person is for the best. Enjoy watching TV, everyone!

Wednesday, 30 January 2008


The news today that The Gladiators is to return to our screens (albeit on Sky One), made my inner-child positively jump around like back when I was 7 years old and my mother had given me too much Um Bongo. If any show has been calling for a revival back to it's Saturday Night slot, it's the cheesefest that is The Gladiators. Thankfully NBC thought the exact same thing I did, although it may have to do with them scraping together any old crap they can make quickly; seeing as how all their actual television shows have ground to a halt due to the writers' strike. But one man's loss or another man's gain, and whilst some poor sap is mourning the loss of a season of 24, I'm experiencing the delight that is American Gladiators.

See, American Gladiators is quite possibly the the craziest show to be put on TV in a long while. It's exactly what you'd expect The Gladiators to be if it were: American, made in 2007, and targeted at teenage boys. Yet somehow it manages to give you so many "WTF!?" moments that make you laugh out loud, even if that wasn't the intention.

So let's compare the old-school 90's Gladiators from the era when ITV on a Saturday night was brilliant, with the new American Gladiators from an era when the kids that are watching can't stay still for more than 3 seconds. It's still the same format, play games, win points, gain seconds, do Eliminator. It's still the visual feast it's always been, only the new version whacks it up about 10 notches. Even in just the intro you have the logo spinning round, exploding, coming back, spinning some more, jumping from side to side, breaking apart, coming back together, staying still for about half a second, then exploding into your face once more. As this time we get to hear the first delights from the commentator who takes it all seriously, like he's bet his house and his family on one of the contestants to win.

Then there's the differences, instead of John Fashanu and Gladiator shag-piece Ulrika, it's hosted by Hulk Hogan. Yes, they thought it'd be a good idea to give an aging old man hosting duties. And yes, he still does that hand to the ear thing and says the word brother in every 3rd sentence. There's the wealth of new Gladiators, all angry, glistening and full of attitude, at one point in a game, a contestant is hanging on for dear life, so the Gladiator does the only plausible thing - kicks her in the face so she falls off. Of course.

The oddest difference to the British version of old is that, for some unexplained reason, most of the events take place above a huge pool of water. Get hit off in The Duel, down in the water you go. Get pulled off The Wall, better hope you can swim, cause it's nothing but pool for you. I was hoping for some kind of morbid twist to mixed in with the whole water gimmick, perhaps the contestants have heavy weights tied to their ankles, so they know that if they fail that there'll be a fight for survival. Or perhaps a shark... and a crocodile... and a bear with snorkeling gear, so they get ripped to shreds when they lose a game. Unfortunately, the only morbid twist is during The Eliminator round, for some reason, again not entirely explained, the pool is set aflame, so the contestants not only have to swim through the water, but they also have to make sure they don't catch fire.... whilst underwater... I'm not sure the makers of this show thought that deadly obstacle through...

The best water related piece in the whole show is the round called Assault. Now this isn't in the British version so let me explain it. The contestant runs from weapon to weapon, each getting more powerful than the one before, in the hope that they can use these weapons to fire Nerf balls at a big circle. But up top is a Gladiator, who also has a big Nerf gun, who is trying to shoot the contestant below with his Nerf balls. Yes, this round is actually sponsored by Nerf. So far so Gladiators, but what's odd is when the big circle target is hit, and the Gladiator i one final inexplicable moment, gets fire from the stage to the other side of the arena, and they end up in the pool. Just because you're as far away from the pool as you could possibly be, doesn't mean you're safe from a soaking. Seeing a 6 ft, 200lb bodybuilder scream whilst airborne and then get dunked in water is the funniest sight you'll see in a long time.

This is the kind of show that's so bad it's good, which gives me high hopes for the Sky One version that is imminent. If it keeps the cheesy nature and the incredible music of the original whilst borrowing a little of the exploding typography and general anarchy from the American version, this could send Sky subscriptions through the roof.

But if they don't bring John Anderson as the referee, there's gonna be hell to pay. I know where you live, Sky One.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Duel or No Duel

Oh, ITV1. We've given you nothing but praise over the past few weeks, and how do you repay us? By scheduling another hour-long quiz show that is quite tedious to watch.

Today was the premiere of greatly-advertised Duel, a game show which despite getting a lot of publicity all week didn't tell us anything about the game itself. Presented by Nick Hancock, a man with as little charisma as a toe, it breaks the mold of question-and-answer game shows by having the option for the contestants to reply 'all answers' to each of the questions. Let me explain further.

"Welcome to the Duel Arena" exclaims Hancock, "where over the next few weeks and months, we will be making dreams come true". It's sweet to think that the show will be lasting months. Nick introduces us to the first two contestants, Matt and Karen. I'd have given them hilarious nicknames if they weren't so horribly dull. An attempted explanation about how the game works is provided by Hancock; "We'll give you one question between you and four possible answers. You are then given ten chips, and you must place a chip on your answer. If you're not sure about an answer, you can put your chips down on more than one answer. You then can lock down, or accelerate the gameplay. Each chip that is on a wrong answer is then eliminated, but the prize fund is then increased by £1,000". See. If only Deal or No Deal was that simple.

The first question is asked. "In a game of cricket, how many balls are bowled in an over?". Matt puts down his answer, 'B. 6'. Karen puts down her answer. 'A. 5, B. 6, C. 8 and D. 10'. Karen thinks she's playing Battleship.

The game plods along. Because Karen used four of her chips for her answer, she uses three of them. This game begins to make a lot of sense. Obviously, whoever runs out of chips first loses, making the other person the automatic winner. Not so. You have to win four games in a row in order to win the jackpot.

Four games in a row? Statistically, this game could go on forever. I'm glad Nick mentioned that it'd go on for months, otherwise I'd go crazy. If I was a game show fan, that is. Which I'm not.

So, Matt wins the first round. He can now choose his next opponent. Unsurprisingly, he goes for the young attractive woman. She is Sherise, a flight attendant. The game is over quite quickly, with an odd moment where Sherise seems pretty happy to think that having a knowledge of the Sugababes is more worthwhile than knowing what 7 x 6 is. Then again, she is a flight attendant.

Luckily, after Matt wins two games in a row, he's given two options: keep playing for the grand total jackpot prize, or walk away with £10,000. At this point, orchestral music is used for dramatic effect... quick camera shots of Matt's face and the cash prize are juxtaposed. Anticlimactically, Matt takes his prize and walks off apathetically, leaving Nick Hancock to quickly announce the winner of the first episode.

I left it at that point. When I noticed that what was happening was the same thing over and over again, my brain switched off. I also realised that for a high-stakes fast-paced quiz show, only eight questions were asked. Why can't TV quiz shows be about questions anymore? I miss Wipeout.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Studio Simpsons on the South Park Missed

Channel 4 are brilliant. They buy the rights to air South Park and don't. They buy the rights to air Studio 60 and stick it on an obscure digital channel that people avoid because it's aguely intellectual. They buy the rights to air The Sopranos and stick the new episodes on at 1.30am.

The latest way that they're screwing up the schedules is buying the rights to The Simpsons, airing a series of new episodes only to suddenly cease showing the new series half way through, sticking on an entire season that's ten years old, and then start showing the second half of the new series. ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON.

Well, I say "new series". The "new" episodes are five years old by now.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Thank God It's Here

If you hadn't noticed, ITV1 have recently started making a decent name for itself. They've revamped the schedules for the weekends to make them more entertaining. Gone are the dreary game shows and occasional "Celebrity" reality shows, and here are the shows purely made for entertainment value. Saturday nights are finally as entertaining as they were fifteen years ago.

Tonight was the first night of the revamption. Yes, I'm allowed to make up words as I go along. Firstly, Harry Hill's TV Burp returns. It's as excellent as ever. Then I sit through a lovely hour to come up with the conclusion that Primeval is as rubbish as it ever was. Oh well. Can't get them all right.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire churns out the 430th 'Celebrity' episode. I'm a bit disheartened at this, as ITV1 promised they would stop 'Celebrity' versions of game shows. And the fact that this was followed by another 'Celebrity' game show doesn't give me great hope for the future of ITV1.

But sometimes, I can be wrong.

What I forgot was that the channel were finally airing the UK Version of Thank God You're Here. The show, if you haven't seen it, is a brilliant hour of improvisation where four celebrities enter a room in costume and haven't the foggiest about what is going on. Living with a housemate who downloads all the latest American shows, I had already seen the US version of it. Across the pond, our Stateside friends cancelled it after only thirteen episodes. This is a shame, because the show has such great potential. (The previous two sentences can also be used for many other great US shows, mainly Studio 60 and Clone High.)

What I must congratulate ITV on is their brilliant timing to schedule this show. A few months ago, Freeview veiwers were introduced to Dave. And with Dave came endless repeats of Top Gear, but more importantly, repeats of Whose Line is it Anyway. These repeats have made the nation remember how good television was in the early 1990's, and how brilliant improvisation shows are. Not only that, but when the only competition is BBC1's The One and Only, it's definately one of Saturday Night's gems.

Congratulations, ITV1. And, when you finally start airing Pushing Daisies in the next few weeks, you may be one of my favourite channels. Just don't start airing another series of Vernon Kay's Celebrity Family Fortunes, okay? Thank you.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

To Catch a Phrase

Today, I watched Little Miss Jocelyn. I would have reviewed it in a blog post, but it would have consisted of "A cavalcade of sketches featuring loud characters in similar situations without the decency to come up with a decent, memorable catchphrase". Instead of reviewing that, I will talk about the humble catchphrase.

Many people slander catchphrases in sketch shows. I do too. When a sketch show character has one, every story told about said character turns into a set-up to get aforementioned character to utter their catch phrase. This was where Little Britain had their major downfall. The episodes never differed: seeing Andy agree to something and then disagreeing to the decision moments later was funny the first time, but the average audience of that show only stays around to listen to "yeah, I know" or "want that one". It's so they can justify saying the phrases themselves in public places, like restaraunts, my local bar, the bus I go on and anywhere within three feet of me.

However, not all catch phrases are bad. Last Friday, Channel 4 (in a very Channel 4-esque thing to do) decided to count down the top fifty. Surprisingly, barely any of the catchphrases were from sketch shows. Hell, the top-rated one wasn't even from a scripted comedy- it was Bruce Forsyth's "Nice To See You To See You". It was an enjoyable countdown show to watch, mainly because it consisted of clips of classic comedy shows such as Fawlty Towers and And Now For Something Completely Different.

What I did find interesting to see was how many of the catchphrases listed never actually happened. Somewhere in the list was "Ooh, Betty" and "Super Smashin' Great", two phrases that had apparently, never been uttered in the shows they were famous for being uttered in. I find it amazing how people can attribute a popular and memorable catchphrase to a show where it has never been uttered.

It's a shame Little Miss Jocelyn doesn't have that power.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Wait, so there's something on ITV worth watching?

So I sat down for my first part of TV watching in 2008 this Friday; the whole madness of Christmas TV dying down and making way for all the little shows they've had stored for months but wouldn't dare put on during the rating battle that is the month of December. So on an extremely bare Friday night that had shows like Extreme Pilgrim and Greatest Comedy Catchphrases, one of which seemingly is a religious version of Fear Factor whilst the other is a load of clips from Little Britain and Catherine Tate saying the same things over and over for 3 series (guess which title matches with which description). It was then I found an interesting little ditty called Bike Squad, a show that had recieved absolutely no press attention apart from a 3 inch wide "Inside Story" in a bumper version of the Radio Times that consists of 270 pages. With this in mind it was a shock to realise it wasn't just a piece of quickly mushed together piece of... mush, but was actually a piece of decent TV. Which was a first for Friday the 4th of January 2008.

Describing Bike Squad is pretty much the same as listing it's faults. The first thing you have to mention is it's called Bike Squad. An absolutely terrible name which sounds more at home on CBBC than primetime ITV. Then you have to note it's on ITV. That doesn't exactly bolster it's potential to be any good, in fact it throws any possibility of it being decent and smashes it with a large hammer. Then you finish with the fact that it's a feature length "dramedy" and it's at this point I'd throw in the towel and go watch something else. This article right here pretty much sums up why I hate comedy dramas that last longer than some movies. But it's either this or a repeat of New Tricks, so I keep going. The thought that it'll give me another reason to hate ITV by the end of it keeps me from turning off my TV.

Featuring a mildly stellar cast, the main star that bald, fat guy from the Full Monty who went to Hollywood to star as Fred Flinstone before being promptly booted back to ol' Blighty. It also has that decent actress from Shameless and Dinnerladies who once played that serial killer and a rather pointless character who is portrayed by that guy who was the male one in Smack the Pony and I'm slightly sure was in Saxondale. For a bit. It also stars a load of people I've never seen before who are all ok at what they do I suppose but won't be winning a BAFTA any time soon.

Going back to problems with one-off comedy dramas that last an hour and a half, this had the same problems as every other one of them. The story was too weak for something movie-length, it would've worked better if it was re-written as a 3 part comedy, you don't care about the characters enough to care that their lives are better at the end of it all, the jokes were too poor and again, the story was too weak.

But despite this, it was one of the better one-off shows there's been recently. It was at least watchable - and compared to the terrible and befuddling Learners it was great. They all had their predictable problems that they all overcame at just the right moment, the main character got his family back in a nice, if a little snoresome scene and it all wrapped up nicely in a big bundle of happy. It shows just how well some likeable characters can carry a show that has a weak plot, just a shame characters like this were wasted on a one-off and won't ever be seen again. At least I can thank the show for making me realise not everything on ITV is turd. Maybe next week I'll watch ITV again!

Oh wait, Dancing on Ice starts again, doesn't it? I'll stick to Dave then.