Thursday, 21 February 2008

Prances With Wolves

The Writer's Strike, which as you should know crippled American TV to a point where NBC decided bringing back Gladiators was a good idea; had many effects on me. Most importantly it made me go cold turkey which made me quickly realise that I seem to depend more on new episodes of How I Met Your Mother than I do oxygen. It also made me actually watch some British television, watching Hollyoaks, Holby City and reality shows on BBC Three about whether fat amputee chavs can fight on bears with sticks and tutting, all the while criticising modern society when they fail to do so.

It was soon after I realised that TV in Britain is generally crap and so decided to give some classic shows a watch. Dusting off my old Seinfeld and Cheers DVDs and then stumbling upon a delightful old sitcom called Three's Company. A remake of an old British sitcom, Three's Company has the wacky premise of a MAN moving in with two WOMEN! Oh the potential for hijinks and hilarity! It's rife with sexism jokes, homophobic jokes and when they manage to fit it in, a cheeky one-liner about sex. It's classic 70's humour, the kind when the male chef talks to his female room-mate and says "The bun's are ready! Oh, I see you already have two of your own" followed by a minute of whooping from a studio audience filled with sugar.

Amidst a week-long marathon of bad puns and flared jeans, I found out that the new BBC Three (now with 75% more pink!) were to air a pilot about a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost living in a flat. It was with a 50/50 mix of excitement and dread that I thought of the prospect of it being done in the cheesy sitcom style, full of one-liners like "Oooh, no need to get so hairy, it's not a full moon y'know" or "What's for dinner? STEAK!". Even if it was actually supposed to be taken seriously, a straight up drama with this premise it just much too silly to be bother with.

So how in the hell, in the form of Being Human (click here to watch on the fantastic iPlayer), did they manage to make one of the most engaging hours of television I've seen on either side of the Atlantic for a long while?

It's style was perfect, no OTT levels of mass fast-paced cuts, needless angles and scenes that last less than 5 sentences. It's storyline was perfect for a pilot - setting up characters, who are played to perfection, and their relationships perfectly. The main, probably-season-long plot is introduced slowly at a point when you actually give a monkey about these characters, and more importantly it's a compelling cliffhanger that makes you want to carry on and see how it progresses. But most importantly, it somehow manages to take a ridiculous idea and make it seem so believable. They do seem like people that could be sitting in the same pub as you, even though they may be a supernatural being. The fact that it sounds incredibly silly typing that a show about a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf living together is realistic proves my point. And it's about time we have such a fictional show be so rooted in reality, with Heroes, Torchwood et al presenting such a stylised portrayal of the world.

I urge the BBC to pick this up for a full series; this episode fails as a one-off hour drama, but succeeds so well as the start of a compelling series. This is the new BBC Three, get rid of every documentary you make that has a swear word in it, and use that budget to commission this. And while you're at it, stop bringing back Two Pints of Lager. Thanks.

No Skin Off My Nose

I'm a student. Being a student, I often find myself hanging around with other students. It's something I cannot avoid. Try avoiding it, and you become an outcast. Try it if you want.

However, being a student with all my student mates often means I go to student parties. The last party I went to was a two-day bender of which an onion ended up in the toilet, and we watched Elf on TV. This is typical student life. However, it'd never make an episode of Skins (E4, Mondays 10pm)

Skins has recently entered its second series on E4. It's become so successful because of it's ability to 'handle the true side of teenage life'. I watched all of the first series because I wanted an opinion of it so when discussing it with aforementioned student friends, I could express a view instead of agreeing with everyone. My opinion turned out to be a negative one, and I was a bit disheartened when the series finished that I had spent many hours of my life watching a half-arsed drama. Kidnappings had occured, eating disorders were dealt with in a patronising way and the final dramatic scene involving a car accident also involved a song and dance number. I'm not kidding. Watch the last episode on 4od.

If you've never seen it, let me give you a run down of the characters.

Tony - a student who looks a bit like Adric from Doctor Who, but contains as much charisma as a pot of paint. Sleeps with anything he sees and likes to live his life like a retarded Casanova. Got in a car accident at the end of series one and is not a twat anymore. He's now a twat with no motor skills.

Michelle - Tony's on/off/on/off/on girlfriend. Loves Tony, despite him treating her like dirt. Will try anything pill-based. Since Tony's accident, she appears to be a slut. But is still in love with Tony, because that is her one character trait.

Sid - Tony's best mate. The most likeable of the lot. Obsessed with Michelle, sex and sex with Michelle. Does anything Tony says. Started having feelings for Cassie. Michelle once tried to have sex with him, but decided her feelings for Tony were too strong. Because she loves Tony. Because that is her one character trait.

Cassie - a girl with OCD and an eating disorder. She's kooky. That's literally it. For the second series, she's moved to Scotland where she's learnt the highland fling. THAT'S LITERALLY IT.

Maxxie - has two x's in his name. 'Nuff said. He's also gay. Tony made out with him once, much to the annoyance of Michelle. But she forgave him because she loves him because that is her one character trait.

Anwar - The "hilarious vigin" out of the gang. Maxxie's best mate. He's yet to have his own episode. I don't think the writer's have thought of a decent back story for him. Most likely to be the first one killed off.

And that was it. It was hard seeing these 2D characters move forward as a plot device, so I gave up. There truly was no reason to give the second series a watch. I had given my opinion that Skins went in my 'Apathy' pile, but I'm glad I did give this new series a chance. This Monday's episode was one of the best examples of TV drama I had seen in a good while. It was humourous, dramatic and even had Shane Ritchie as a perverted drama student. It also introduced us to Sketch, a never-before-seen character, and her obsession with Maxxie.

So, congratulations to Skins in being able to convince me to carry on watching it. Nothing like this has happened since the premiere of Torchwood's second series. Although, that's getting more rubbish by the week.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

But the Film is a Saddening Bore/’Cause I Wrote it Ten Times Before

I really don't know what to think about Ashes To Ashes. Not least this is because I managed to miss the second episode. I'm sure my opinion is slightly coloured by the fact that Life On Mars is one of my all-time favourite songs and I never really rated Ashes To Ashes anything like as much.

The first thing that struck me about the opening episode was the singing. I still don't understand why the gunman was singing "I'm happy, hope you're happy" before she was shot, except that that's the message the action man is supposed to give. One can only assume that she has a tumor as well and she was out of it long before she woke up in 1981. That, or the gunman had watched Life On Mars and wanted to fuck with her head.

I was also slightly annoyed by the ending. Okay, you've set up the series. But after all the "how do you know my parents" routine, it's now impossible for that plotline to be resolved until the series ends, presumably either a month and a half or a year from now.

But all of the above notwithstanding, there is one thing about the show I absolutely loved:

Look, all right. Just relax. OK, 'Chris'? I know how this goes. Hunt's the bullish one, Ray's the misogynistic one, and you're the nervous one, blah blah blah. I don't care. I am going to stop Arthur Layton because that could be the mental trigger to get me out of here. OK?

It's just so pleasingly self-aware. Like in Voyager, when Tom Paris points out that every time they find what appears to be a way back to Earth, something goes unexpectedly wrong. Or in Trumpton when Captain Flack gets all excited when he thinks there's finally a real fire. The characters in TV shows should notice when similar things keep happening. Otherwise it just starts to look ridiculous.

The test of this show, I think, will be in how well it keeps Drake interested without getting her thinking that her 1981 world is real. If she thinks it's real, it'll just be Life On Mars again. If she doesn't care what happens to the imaginary people in her head then the whole show will descend into farce.

Actually, that would be much better. I hope she masters the art of lucid dreaming and learns to create any object she likes. It'd be like a gritty version of Penny Crayon, except with marginally more sensible clothes.