Sunday, 12 April 2009

We waited ten years for this; we'd have happily waited a couple more months while you finished it.

This weekend, Dave showed three new episodes of Red Dwarf (for which this post obviously contains spoilers). I say 'new'; it actually felt a bit like a pastiche of Red Dwarf. I know the show has always had running gags and returning monsters and so forth, but the plot was just Better Than Life and Queeg pasted into Back To Reality, and even several of the characters' lines were almost completely recycled. I spotted lines paraphrased only slightly from Psirens and Out Of Time and jokes (excluding running gags) lifted wholesale from Marooned, Rimmerworld, Back To Reality, Future Echoes and Demons and Angels. It was almost like watching the US pilot of The Office, or a piece of fan-fiction. (Before you ask, yes, I did think Polymorph II: Emohawk was a bit naff.) It's pandering to fans, which is always a mistake.

I have no idea what to think about this. The first episode I didn't think was very good at all, but the second I actually rather liked (despite plot misgivings) and the third was pretty good also. My biggest criticism is that, because of the way the plot was constructed and because I went in with (I think sensibly) low expectations, by the time I realised I was watching something that was actually quite good, it was practically over. Had this special been done maybe after series six then I'd have gone in with high expectations and been thinking 'how are they going to explain this?' rather than 'oh, God, what?' (although then I'd have been slightly disappointed). The tension is diminished when I don't really expect it to resolve sensibly.

Overall, I thought it was a basically pretty good show. Not really 'Red Dwarf' as I understand it, but it can't be that without Rob Grant. That said, there are a number of things in the script that grated with me, including continuity errors, nonsense, plot holes, and worst of all, one major break with character. On top of that, the whole thing just wasn't as funny as Red Dwarf should be, and some sequences were utterly dreadful. It would have really benefited from a couple more drafts, preferably including a fresh pair of eyes to rein in some of Naylor's worst excesses, and it would have been far better off presented as one long feature — not least because I'm told ratings plunged from more than 2m to less than 1m literally overnight after part one. For the sake of a couple of writers for a couple of months, this show was crippled and came across as unfinished. Artistically, that's tragic, and I'm not sure it was even wise commercially: the ratings drop after part one must have hurt Dave, and I'm sure they'd have saved money in excised SFX follies anyway.

Hopefully if this is the lead-in to a new series then these mistakes will be learned from. If not, then it's a better swansong than Only The Good.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

I don't like The Wire

There. I said it. I know everyone loves it. I know I have friends who evangelise it constantly. I know people who I respect and admire love it. But no, I don't like it at all. And not only that, but loads of people told me it was great and I should watch it, and when I did, it turned out to be a soap! What's wrong with people? How do they not get that I don't like soaps? If they'd just said 'it's a soap about police and drug dealers' then I wouldn't have had to spend about eight hours figuring it out for myself.

That's not to say it's bad. Far from it — clearly the production values are very high and I have reason to believe it's terribly realistic and generally a better portrayal of drugs gangs than viewers are used to. I get all that. But there is a reason why documentaries don't last sixty hours, and that reason is that it's mind-numbingly tedious. And I get that one of the show's aims is to display the volume of bureaucracy that the police face if they want to actually get anything done, but bureaucracy isn't quite as entertaining as The Wire seems to think it is. That's why Catch-22 is not simply a detailed account of all the various rules and regulations relating to combat pilots. That book exists, presumably: I expect it's given to combat pilots for reference purposes. It's so far failed to capture the public's imagination like Catch-22, and I put it to you that's the same reason that The Wire was never big news.

The bottom line, to me, is that The Wire is not entertaining. It's terribly worthy and gritty and all of that stuff, but it's also very, very dull. Nothing at all ever happens in it. I watched the entire first series, 13 hours of television, and I think I could safely summarise every major plot development inside one minute. Compare that to Dexter, 24, The West Wing or Murder One — loads of stuff happens in those shows and they're shorter. After 45 minutes of Dexter I find myself itching to see the next episode. After 45 minutes of The Wire I find myself struggling to pay attention to the last 15.

And part of me feels that I ought to watch it anyway. Sure, it's not entertaining, but maybe I'd like to think I'm the kind of person who can appreciate its other qualities rather than just looking for instant gratification from sitcoms. But actually, no. I'm not that guy and if being that guy means watching The Wire then I'm glad I'm not, because he's a pretentious snob. Okay, so I could watch the remaining four seasons of The Wire, or, I could watch 47 hours of documentaries and learn more things on more subjects and be entertained. There's no reasonable goal I can think of that can be best achieved by watching The Wire.

The Wire belongs in some kind of a gallery where I can feel happy that it exists while otherwise entirely ignoring it. It doesn't belong on TV. It's too boring for TV. Too relentlessly, utterly boring.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

You Know, We Haven't Heard from John Barrowman in a While...

...It's because he's hosting Animals at Work (CBBC). It seems to be a show about what animals do for a living. He begins the show stating "around the world, there are millions of animals that have jobs"; well, yes, but they usually have to wait until there's one going that you're not currently doing. Coming Up, there's Einstein- "an African grey parrot with a beak-load of personality". It can also imitate 200 sounds, is able to repeat the same script six times a week and works for peanuts. A bit like Barrowman. Also coming up on the show is a dog that's searching for things and a boy smelling some socks. The latter, I have no idea why it's involved in a show about Animals at Work, but this is CBBC, and I'll just let them carry on with it.

When I was a kid, I wasn't so keen on all the wildlife documentary shows that were around on CBBC at the time. The main one was "The Really Wild Show" which never really got my attention. I wasn't the biggest animal lover; mainly because I ate quite a fair share when I was younger. Then, the kid-centric animal documentary died out- much like the animals that they were studying at the time. Hey look, I'm doing satire. It's only recently that the trend has come back... Bill Oddie hosted a variation of "Springwatch" spin-offs that aired early Saturday mornings which seemed to fair pretty well in the ratings. So, it's a logical step to go back to the old "lets look at animals in a fun way!" style of wildlife documentary. I'm just a bit uneasy when John Barrowman is holding tiny fluffy creatures and making very odd facial expressions.

Each to their own.

Monday, 16 February 2009

There Is Nothing Good About This

Well, alright, there are a couple of good things, but they are drowned out somewhat.

The Simpsons is going HD, and that means that the opening sequence, which is two decades old and beginning to show its age as the animation in the main show evolves, needs remaking from the ground up. What it doesn't mean is that FOX had any excuse to do something like this: 

The big, flat, cardboard-cutout-looking town is dismal. You're celebrating going HD, you morons -- draw something worth broadcasting in HD. The bird on the title card is pointless and detracts from the image. (And since when were there three-eyed birds in The Simpsons? Has Burns been dumping waste in the sky now?) Why are Kearney and Jimbo sawing the statue's head off when Bart already did it? Adding a belch to your theme music is rarely wise. The baby with one eyebrow thing is just change for its own sake, and the Texan oil baron doesn't need to be in the title sequence. He's only in a handful of episodes and then only for a few seconds each. See also the crazy cat lady. And why is Hans Moleman in the sewer? The whole thing makes no sense. The old sequence was a massively exaggerated version of the show, as if it was designed to introduce the programme or something. The new one is like a grotesque parody of it. Homer getting hit by the car and smashed through a door is indicative of everything that is wrong with the show these days. And how many times is a TV falling off a bracket going to be funny? It's passably funny now that at the same time the show goes HD the family get a widescreen (but still purple) TV and that it isn't secured properly, but unless you're planning on changing it again next year that's going to get old. Really old. The 'zaniness' of the new episodes is one of the worst things about them, and this is predictable zaniness. That's the worst kind. (Speaking of which, if that sign advertising Krusty's funeral service is the same every week then I'm massively unimpressed by that too.) The couch gag is dismal too, but at least that's presubably a one-off. As for the chalkboard lines... well, they're just ironic.

Of course, none of the above matters a damn because The Simpsons is shit anyway these days and even if you are dumb enough to watch it they're never going to actually show this sequence because that would take precious seconds away from the endless, tedious, repetitive scenes of Homer getting repeatedly hit with things. They actually stopped employing the cast in series 18. Since then they've made all episodes by repeating a stock reel they made of Homer getting hit by things and one of Nancy Cartwright's Scientologist robo-calls.

This is, of course, everything I expect from FOX, but presumably at one point everyone involved liked the show as it was? That said, I don't think it's possible to write more than a week of solid quality screenplay on any topic, 24 being the obvious example. And that's how much of this show there is now.

There exist six hours of Fawlty Towers. There exist eight hours of The Office. There is a day and a half of Red Dwarf (and no more). There is a full week of The Simpsons. Why? I mean, the only thing comparable to that is Star Trek, and that's not just twenty years of the same thing (or even ten years of the same thing and ten years of shit pretending to be the same thing).

Just stop it. Let it be. Make your money some other way. And everyone else, stop watching programmes that aren't any good. Learn to judge a show by its content and not by how familiar its title is.

Bah. People.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

You can tell it's a hard hitting political show because it has Kieth Chegwin in it.

Apparently, a local council rejected a planning application for a bungalow. This hit the news because the applicant was a soldier who'd lost his legs. The council have said they're willing to negotiate on it so until it's over there's really no point discussing it any further.

Unless you're a moron, anyway, in which case you should assume that the councillors who rejected the application knew the applicant was such a sympathetic character from the start and then twist their words and actions to fit whatever dystopian view of local government you happen to be harbouring. One such moron is Noel Edmonds.

Now I don't want to dismiss someone I've never met as a moron lightly, so here is a full list of things I know about Noel Edmonds:
  1. He presents a show based purely on luck and pads it out to 45 crushingly tedious minutes by the repeated application of logical fallacies.
  2. He believes that he is haunted by two invisible glowing melons which he naturally assumes are his dead parents.

    "Conventional photography can’t pick them up, but digital cameras can. My belief is that these are something to do with some form of spiritual energy. And possibly, because I miss my parents like mad, I like to think they are them.  I’ve got loads of photos of me at home with the two orbs that visit me. The two I have are about the size of melons."
    Noel, 59, says he doesn't care if people think he’s a fruitcake.

  3. He believes that the universe is like a giant karmic Argos, and you can just order any fate you want and it will be delivered within two working days.
  4. His taste in shirts.
  5. This story.
I'm sorry, but I'm at a loss to find anything on the list which paints him as even remotely sane.

So, back to the story at hand. Edmonds has formed what could politely be called an opinion, and he has a show to shout it on. I have cleverly avoided watching it, so here is Charlie Brooker's description:

Noel's HQ - Noel's Party Headquarters, if you like - is the strangest programme on TV. A live Saturday night "shiny floor" show with conspicuous altruism at its core, it's essentially a cross between That's Life, Surprise Surprise, and some unmade episode of I'm Alan Partridge in which Alan snaps and runs into traffic with his shirt off, smashing windscreens with a cricket bat.

Ironically, Edmonds is one of very few male TV presenters who would generally look better if he did take his shirt off. Brooker went on to describe this story:

[The council were] Good. But not good enough for Noel, who wanted them there in the studio. Worse still, the council's press officer, Jim Van den Bos, told a researcher that Wealden District Council wouldn't talk to "an entertainment show".

This was the cue for an astonishing three-minute down-the-lens rant during which Noel yelled that Jim Van den Bos, and people like him, were "at the heart of everything that's wrong with this country", while the audience cheered and yelled. He went on to suggest, via the medium of bellowing, that the people of Wealden should "have their say" at the next local election - and that hopefully they'd be "advertising for a new press officer soon". All of which slightly overshadowed the bit where he read a statement from Gordon Brown supporting the construction of the bungalow. Council policy aside, what really irked Noel, it seemed, was being dismissed as an "entertainment show", even though: a) It's listed on the Sky EPG under "entertainment", b) The studio audience wear big foam gloves with "Noel's HQ" printed on them, and c) It opens with a theme tune that sounds like a pinball machine malfunctioning on a bouncy castle.

And at first I assumed that he'd counterpointed Noel's annoyance at being called an 'entertainment' show with a description of the audience's gloves because it was funny or made Edmonds look foolish or both (the latter being more likely since the section of the Venn diagram that represents 'things which make Noel Edmonds look foolish but aren't funny' basically consists of Noel Edmonds and Noel Edmonds' shirts), but then I saw the clip on YouTube...

...and it turned out that that's what the show cut to at that moment. It's like watching a less than subtle parody of a real show.

I was shocked to discover that Noel doesn't get paid. This is a man who has been paid to be on TV, and has been paid to not be on TV, and now has been not paid to be on TV. He has even not been paid to not be on TV before, and I don't see why they didn't keep doing that. But mostly the idea that he does it 'pro-bono' makes the show about fifty times scarier. It gives it a thin but terrifying veneer of legitimacy and it pretty well proves that he believes every single word he says, even if Sky don't believe them enough to include them in the repeat.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Lithium Carbonate On Standby, Sir.

(How impressed was I when I Googled to find the name of the compound and discovered it was a genuine mood stabilising drug?)

This post contains the odd spoiler for the new Red Dwarf, except that it doesn't because it's going to be dreadful and therefore cannot be 'spoilt'.

Now, you may remember a while back I expressed my joy that the BBC had opted not to pour any more of my money into the comedy black hole that is Red Dwarf. For those of you who hate hyperlinks, I am a big fan of Red Dwarf, but I am a proper fan which means I thought series 6 was good but not great, series seven was alright, and series eight was unmitigated shite. (Alright, fine, mitigated shite. But basically still shite.) My point here is this: I have yet to see any evidence at all that Doug Naylor is capable of writing Red Dwarf well on his own. Now, he's had ten years to write a single hour of television, so one would hope that this time he's come up with something good, but all that would prove is that one hadn't seen this trailer:

I've not actually seen this trailer on TV, so it's entirely possible it's the work of an insane fan with too much time on his hands. Certainly it's not made by the producers of the new Red Dwarf episodes, but the person who alerted me to it plays Kryten, so my first instinct is to trust it. In any case, if it is official or the work of a knowledgeable fan, then we can infer the following:
  1. Neither Norman Lovett or Hattie Hayridge is in the new Red Dwarf. As in series six, Holly does not feature.
  2. Kochanski has been written out, or at least isn't in it any more.
  3. The new episodes are not set on Red Dwarf. Or Starbug. Or in space. That the crew make it back to Earth in the new episodes is known. In fact, to be honest, we seem to be looking at Steptoe And Son In Space On Earth, which I'm pretty sure has been done.
Once again, I have to say, this is not Red Dwarf. I hate to bleat on about this, but Red Dwarf is about a group of people trapped on a spaceship dodging mildly silly sci-fi phenomena and nasty aliens. It is not a prison show. It is not Only Fools And Robots. If you want to make those things then you do that, but don't try to sell it to me as Red Dwarf, because that will just anger me.

Being realistic, I am going to watch the new episodes. Watching TV is very easy since we got the DVR. It's not something I'd stay home to see. But I'll watch it. And here is what I want to see, bearing in mind that filming has started so it's far too late for anyone to actually listen to me:
  1. Clever humour. It is my experience that the best comedy combines a silly and surreal streak with a backbone of gritty realism. A program that's just nonsense all the way through is unlikely to hold my attention for long. (It can be done, but even Monty Python can't be called 'nonsense' all the way through.) I suspect from reading their solo writings that Rob Grant was in charge of the Clever and Naylor was in charge of the Silly. Both elements are needed for greatness (although Clever can work on its own). The Simpsons was very good at that for a long time. Now it just metes out Silly at random and hasn't done Clever in years. Red Dwarf is in the same boat.
  2. Clever sci-fi. I always thought the sci-fi in Red Dwarf was excellent. It avoided the Star-Trek nonsense of having loads of humanoid and interbreedable alien races and stuck strictly to Earth-borne life-forms, and it treated ideas like Backwards Earth and White Holes with a sensible look, again with a little silliness thrown in for good measure. The last series didn't. In eight episodes it managed exactly one good sci-fi plot. That won't do.
  3. A 'reboot' of the show starting at the end of series six. This doesn't, strictly, make any sense, but it's the best thing to do for reasons I will explain in the next list in my list filled post (which in retrospect may have been a mistake given the awful way our blog skin renders lists):
  1. Holly and Kochanski weren't in the end of series six. Starting there is therefore the best way to elegantly exclude them both.
  2. The time paradox bit at the start of series seven could easily be invoked again to explain the excision of the last two series from the continuity.
  3. Series eight (and, to a lesser extent, series seven) made no sense at all. The act of admitting they were mistakes by removing them from the canon in this way would be an encouraging symbolic gesture and would allow me to approach the show as I approached Obama's victory speech rather than as I'd approach a news report about a murderer living in the next flat.
  4. The cliffhanger at the end of series eight cannot be resolved. I cannot stress this enough: the established mechanics of the 'mirror universe' totally preclude any means of escape. One such escape was devised: it was included as an extra in the series eight DVD. Suffice to say that it to doesn't make any sense, although it does have one very good line in. And honestly, I don't want it to be resolved, because if we're only getting two new episodes I don't want the first one to consist entirely of Doug Naylor attempting to write his way out of a corner.
Bottom line: when I heard there was more Red Dwarf on the way, I was not excited. I have so far not been given any reason to get excited. I'll let you know when clips are released if my pessimism abates at all, and I've no doubt I'll blog about the episodes too. But don't expect me to be nice. As of right now, I'm very, very doubtful that I'll enjoy the new episodes.

Update: Dave's website has a photo of the cast. Rimmer has a big 'H' on his face, so they've obviously decided to go right back to basics with the classic setup (albeit minus Holly). In a sense that's encouraging: it could be a good sign that the show is returning to its roots (or at least, one of its better branches). Hell, maybe they have gone back to the end of Out Of Time. On the other hand, the attraction of Red Dwarf wasn't that Rimmer was a hologram or that Kochanski wasn't in it. If this is a continuation of the story as it was at the end of Red Dwarf VIII, then I worry that Doug Naylor has again massively missed the point of his own show.

I'm Happy, I'm Happy, Punch

As sitcoms go, the BBC haven't been that successful in recent years. My Family is just the same plot every episode, The Life of Riley shouldn't even be mentioned and all the good sitcoms are usually put on BBC2 on a Thursday where no viewer ever ventures. But, sometimes they get their finger out and pull off something good. The Old Guys (BBC1, Saturdays) had it's first airing last night, and it was able to hold my interest for the full half hour. It wasn't full of belly laughs, but there were some interesting lines and situations. It was also written by Bain and Armstrong, the people behind the glorious Peep Show. And you could tell.

Last nights episode (simply titled Sally's Party) seemed to be a family-aimed episode of Peep Show. One of the numerous plots in last night's episode included Tom and Roy having a contest to see who can go without peeing the longest. Nearing the end of the episode, there happens to be a stray can of beer that the host of the party finds. Cue a scene where Tom and Roy try and force the beer onto one another. Fun, but almost a word-for-word copy of the scene in Peep Show where Mark and Jez try to make one another eat the leg of a barbecued dog. It's more an embarrassing situation than a full out grossfest.

Another similarity between the two include shared lines of dialogue. "Be neutral like Switzerland, not avasive like slutty Holland" occured last night (which I swear has been said by Mark at one point) and I'm pretty sure "Anyone can use words to mean things" as a comeback in an arguement has been uttered by Jez.

Comparisons aside, watching it was great. Tom and Roy played great characters, but were in full Trigger/Richard Bucket mode. I'll come to the assumption that this is a good thing, as it gave the show an air of familiarity.

All in all, The Old Guys was pretty enjoyable. The conclusion of events being wrapped up in the final scene was very reminiscant of Chalk and Lab Rats, two very overlooked sitcoms. I'm glad the BBC have put this on at a reasonable time as well. It'll be interesting to see if it continues doing watered down versions of Peep Show plots- but I'll certainly be keeping at least one eye open.

Saturday, 31 January 2009


Christmas TV of 2008 seemed to be all about nostalgia. Shows returning included The Krypton Factor, Blackadder, Shooting Stars, Jonathan Creek... all that was missing was a 10-year special of Goodnight Sweetheart. That's not a bad idea actually. Picking up in the year 1955/2009. Are you listening, BBC?

Well, obviously you are not. Mainly because instead of doing genius ideas like mine (you know what else.. bring back Crime Traveller. It was brilliant), they're doing rubbish ideas. Another nostalgia trip is upcoming... with the return of Noel's House Party.

Oh blob.

I thought it was generally agreed that Noel's House Party took a nosedive, ended up being utterly awful and then Noel disappeared for a bit, only to return in awful shirts and telling people to open some boxes. I also don't understand why the 30-year olds nowadays who say that Saturday Night TV isn't as good as it used to be, but will happily sit and reminisce the time where celebrities were gunged, and a purple/yellow creature blobbed about the set.

Instead of, you know.. Hole in the Wall, where celebrities are pushed back into a pool of water. Granted, there's no purple/yellow blobby creatures, but I'm sure a quick costume change for Vanessa Feltz would solve that.

So you're saying that if a crazy man tells me he can see the future using eggs I should maybe ignore him? Oh, this is too complicated for me.

I'm watching The Real Hustle: High Stakes. They are doing a con called "The Psychic". In it, one of the hustlers has set himself up as a fortune teller, done a bit of trickery, and told a woman she needs to put a load of money somewhere safe so that he can nick it later.

Now that's all well and good, but really? This is a woman who thinks he's got psychic abilities and that an egg was genuinely full of blood. You could get more cash out of her by not getting her to put loads of it in a box for you to steal. I doubt if there's any upper limit on how much money I could get out of her if I was an unscrupulous conman, at least before I came up against the wall of her total earnings over her lifetime. This is not exactly a Derren Brownian level of sophistication being discussed here. When your con relies on the mark being the single most gullible person in all of London, it really doesn't matter what you do: nobody watching a show about Here Are Some Cons So You Can't Get Fooled By Them was ever in any danger of falling for that one.

I guess really that the idea that there exist psychics who aren't conning their customers is what's annoying me here.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Twenty Bored

There are terrorists planning to assassinate a presidential candidate. My wife and daughter have been kidnapped, and some of the people that I work with may be involved in both. Oh, and David Palmer's son may have killed somebody, but he probably didn't.

There's a nuclear bomb about to go off in Los Angeles. An American business looks like it's behind it. But, you know, Jack Bauer's daughter is going to be running for a bit. And getting caught in bear traps.

There's a weaponised virus strain loose in LA. Jack Bauer has a heroin addiction. They need to break a druglord out of prison. Oh, but somebody may say some naughty things about the President. And something involving a guy called Alan Milliken. Who I don't care about.

In case you haven't worked it out, I'm going on about a common theme in American drama 24, which has beautifully returned to our screens on Sky One. It seems they can never complete a series without introducing a very boring plotline that has nothing to do with anything. I call the phenomenon "getting Twenty Bored". But it happens all the time, so it can't be that big a phenomenon. 24's been away for 18 months now due to writers striking and Kiefers drinking. The writers have promised that it will "go back to it's roots" and be "rebooted". This scared me, as the last time it "rebooted" was around the time of Series 4, where something awful happened. They decided to dumb down the "one plot that takes 24 hours to complete" regime, and added a new "plotline is resolved within four hours, new plotline takes over" tactic. It might as well have been four series' of a show called 6. Which sounds good on paper, but really isn't.

And then a grizzly bear started gnawing on her remains. She got a silent clock for that scene

As the seasons went on, so did the plots. We had a nuclear power station melt down, which is heartfelt on it's own... but we had to be given the emotional backstory that Edgar Stiles' grandmother was stuck on the island the power station was melting down on. Emotional overload! The writers decided that this strand of plot wasn't emotional enough, and decided to let Edgar's grandmother commit suicide. And then a grizzly bear started gnawing on her remains. She got a silent clock for that scene.

This "reboot" was not going to plan. It got worse as the long days continued, until we reached the final abomination that was Series Six. We had a nice idea about suitcase nukes and the potential death of Jack Bauer... until about episode 10 where the writers decided to involve Bauer's entire extended family. There was also the kidnap of a blonde haired effeminate Bauer relative, and a final scene set near some docks, where the bad guy died. And one of the characters announced she was surprisingly pregnant. This was not longer a reboot... it was a rehash.

The fans were very vocal about this series. I'll be honest and say that I haven't even watched three of the final episodes. I didn't have much hope for this new series.

But... it's been good so far. Five episodes in, and we've had enough twists and turns than we did in previous series, everything seems believable so far, and for the first time since 2002, I'm watching the episodes once a week, as they air on TV. I usually wait til the end of the series and watch all 24 episodes in a day. I'm also doing something new, which is watch the new series with somebody whose never even seen 24 before. It's nice to get a fresh perspective on it.

It's also nice to know that in this reboot, we have a plot that I don't care about! It wouldn't be 24 without it. This time, it's Did The President's Son Roger Kill Himself Or Not? , a plot that I didn't welcome with open arms. But, luckily for me, we're five episodes in and the plot is beginning to make a connection with everything else going on! This excites me, as it's never been done before. But then again, when Chloe ended up looking after a baby in Series Three, I never did suspect that it was behind the virus attacks in any way. Would have been cool though.

I look forward to the rest of Day 7. Don't fail me, Bauer

Channel Flip is now on Twitter!

In case you thought checking this sparsely updated blog about television couldn't get more exciting, it just has! We're now on Twitter, where you can check to see if there are new articles or even watch some 140-character reviews about TV shows. We're just rolling aboutin Web 2.0 goodness. Lovely stuff.

Channel Flip on Twitter

Monday, 19 January 2009

Ad Absurdum

Adverts are annoying me again. Some in particular:

I'll Wear This Wig!

[Watch this dreadful ad] Just, no. It's just so awful. First of all, even after Quote-me-Happy-gate, they've decided to invent a character to represent themselves, named him 'Happy', and made a little film about him. But while they've chosen a voice (annoying) and a personality (none), they've not chosen a face for Happy, so to avoid showing it the entire ad is shot in first-person, where the viewer is Norwich Union. That's just surreal. I presume the ad is supposed to be humorous, with the hapless comic foil for Happy (whose name is not mentioned, but I shall call 'Dopey') agreeing to wear a silly wig in the very old and very tired (or 'Sleepy') "Our Prices Are Crazy!" tack. Well, it doesn't work.

But the worst part is, I nearly couldn't find a link for this ad because I honestly heard the character's name as "Abbey" and so never knew who it was advertising. (I don't pay much attention to ads -- I feel it's the ads' job to grab me.)

Mister Muscle: Super Scientist

[Watch this dreadful ad] This advert is bad for several reasons, principally that it makes no sense. It makes no sense in terms of dialogue: why does Mr Muscle say "no, thank you"? What, for having their kitchen cleaned? It also makes no sense in terms of message: the whole point of Mr Muscle's adverts for as long as they've been going out has been that 'Mr Muscle' is a weedy guy who can still clean the tough grease because of the power of the product. When he's a muscly superhero it says nothing about the product: that guy could clean all the grease with tapwaterand a sheet of Bounty. There's no reason why he should be CG, that I can see, except that it makes it simpler to redo his video to match his localised voice... but they didn't even do that.

And a 'super scientist' is not the same thing as a 'twat in a white coat'.

Your Dress? No, My Hair!

(I don't know which particular version of this tripe is on just now, but they're all basically the same so here's the first I found.)

Who wrote this one? It has exactly no merit at all. It features Davina McCall and appears to have been filmed after she was turned into a zombie but before Andy Nyman thankfully put a lamp through her. In the ad, she talks to her mother -- who again isn't shown (although this time at least it's shot in the third person and Davina is on the phone). Whether this is because they couldn't find an actress who could pass for Davina's mother or to stop her actual mother from suing isn't clear. Personally, I think it's because they couldn't bring themselves to feature anyone who could be a 41-year-old's mother in their advert.

The dialogue is awful even by the standards of other hair-dye adverts (except perhaps the Just For Men one where some guy's kids try to get him a girlfriend using dye) and the voices are, too. I just can't see what part of this advert is supposed to get people to buy the product. Girls, does this shit work on you? If so, I'm going to try talking vacuous crap in bars (more so).

I'm sure there are more ads I hate running at the moment, but I can't think what they are just now. Oh, and while I'm here, I'm not what you might call 'impressed' with what think constitutes an embedded video. A thumbnail and a hyperlink isn't embedded media.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

At Least If Joseph Fritzl was in Big Brother, There'd be Cameras in the Basement this time.

This weekend, me and my flatmate Hugh have been able to have a rare insight about how certain aspects of television are made. The decision that we'd embark on this adventure occurred after a tipsy remark on Friday night, where we joked about auditioning for the next Summer series of Big Brother. The logistics were easy enough... the auditions were just down the road from us, and it'd be a nice easy way to kill time on a Saturday. I'm not saying the decision was that easy; we were able to fit in a couple of pints before arriving at the auditions at 1.30pm. To ease ourselves into it, you see.

We arrived at St. James' Park, and found a very interesting sight. Just at the entrance to the audition room stood two people in their mid-twenties, one holding pamphlets and the other with a large camera. As we approached the entrance, they turned to us and asked "Big Brother auditions?". We agreed. We were then asked to pose for a photo of us holding one of these pamphlets. The experience was an odd one. It was only when we walked inside that I realised what they were doing. In the off-chance that one of these hundreds of applicants would finally get into the house, they were able to take photos of them all endorsing their product. Six months down the line when the housemates are announced, they can trawl through the thousands of photos they have to find anybody who is remotely famous holding one of their pamphlets. It's a very arduously planned method for a cheap photoshoot with a potential future celebrity. How tedious.

One claimed to be gay for ten years, and then worked out that he'd only been gay for six years.

Walking inside St. James', we were greeted with a queue of people on the stairs- all of which were about 20-23. It is interesting how many young people a show like Big Brother attracts. In the hour we were in this queue, we then went to join a second queue. This was a task in itself. A queue for queueing. Seemed a bit pointless. After our extensive double-queue, we were asked to join participants in groups of ten to do a number of activites. This included yelling, contact improvisation, knot tying with our hands and me getting acquainted with the insides of people's legs. After our team won (for, it seems, doing nothing), we were all asked through to the next room for the next stage. Hopefully not involving queues.

In our team of ten, we had to get to know each other with interesting facts. I pulled out my gem of "I have no toenails"; but there were a few facts from others that topped this. One claimed to be gay for ten years, and then worked out that he'd only been gay for six years. One person had a glass eye. Another was a fireman. One person claimed to have a wooden leg, then told us that this fact wasn't true. We all thought he was a bit odd. After this, one person at a time had to line up the team in order from "Most" to "Least"., but wasn't allowed to say what the category was. According to the people, I was the least arrogant (which is fair enough) but one of the most likely to have murdered somebody. So, I'm a serial killer, but I don't let it go to my head. At the end of this, the people through to stage 2 were stamped with the Big Brother logo on their hand. Fake-fake Appendage man and Dyscalculaic Homosexual were the only two in our group not to go through to the next round.

Quite happy that both of us were through, me and Hugh went to the next stage- which consisted of having our photo taken and filling in a little form. Questions involved "What do you do" to "What's the most shameful thing you've ever done" and "Is there anything you haven't told your parents?". We both answered the questions with a bit of humour about ourselves, as none of us were taking it seriously. After the form was filled in, we had our one-to-one interviews, which were designed to provoke us:

"So, what's your name?"
"Stephen Frizzle"
"Do you prefer a nickname?"
"Friz, if you don't mind"
"Friz? What if we called you.. Frizzy?"
"Friz is fine"
"What about Frizwald?"
"What? Well.. if you want to"
"I'm not German"
"Please don't call me Fritzl"
"Are you posh? You sound posh? Are you posh, Fritzl?"

At least if Joseph Fritzl was in Big Brother, there'd be cameras in the basement this time.

Then, a bit of a wait, until I was directed to another part of another room.. where I was asked if I had a fun time, and then was told that "unfortunately, we won't be requiring you for any more stages. But, thanks for coming". This was good. I'd done what I planned to. At least I could say that I tried. And, at least I hadn't travelled miles to attend like a lot of other people. It was literally a twenty minute walk. I text Hugh to see if he was ready to go as well. I was text back: "Go home, got more writing to do!".

Excellent! Hugh was let through! Our day wasn't wasted at least. I head off home, prepared for a night out. Hugh joined me later, and mentioned what Stage 3 was like.. basically questions about his life, relationships and creativity. I was happy for the guy. But I was even happier at about 8.20pm when my phone rang.

"Hi Stephen, it's Julie from Big Brother"
"Hi there. Just thought you'd like to know... at the end of the day, we go through other contestant's videos.. and we've changed our minds about our decision with you. Do you want to come in tomorrow at about 11am?"
"... Excuse me?"
"Yeah, just say that Julie called you back. Okay! Thank you!


Check that out.

I told Hugh the good news, and we both were very happy about the turn of events. And that's where I've been today. Filled out the 52-page giant form of giantness. Had a discussion with other potential candidates; one of which didn't know who Barack Obama was. No doubt he'll end up in the house. I was then taken to an impromptu Diary Room, and was asked questions by one of the Big Brother producers/voices. I was mainly asked about my humour, my background, my songwriting and my veiws on life. I was then asked for a 20-second soundbyte to say why I should be chosen.

It's a weird feeling. Part of me doesn't want anything to do with Big Brother, part of me thinks "this is so funny I've been able to get this far without trying", and the tiniest part of me thinks... this might be fun.

Only time will tell.

Is It An Argument Against Flimsy Pretexts For Putting Mildly Amusing Pictures At The End Of Panel Shows?

Dave has commissioned a second series of Argumental. The TV channel Dave, that is, not my mate Dave, who almost never funds or broadcasts comedy panel game series. For those of you who haven't seen Argumental, the idea is that two teams of comedians debate topics in various silly ways and the audience judge who is the best and they win nothing. It basically works, but there are a few things that I noticed in the first series that spoil it somewhat. These things are centred around Rufus Hound.

Hound is one of the team captains, the other being Marcus Brigstocke. While Brigstocke is polite, well-spoken and usually very funny, Hound has an annoying habit of attempting to use Argument By Volume and Argument From Length Of Rant as his two intellectual mainstays. And that's not bad, in its place, but it's place is not when Marcus Brigstocke is trying to say something which is probably cleverer or funnier than whatever Hound is shouting over it. I'm pretty sure I've seen Hound 'win' an episode simply by being the only person who got a word in.

What I'm getting at is that Hound Vs. Brigstocke would be a perfectly good setup if the show had a decent compere. It doesn't. Argumental is presented by John Sergeant, who is an accomplished political commentator but knows as much about compering a comedy panel show as he does about ballroom dancing: he can turn up and go through the motions as well as the next man, but it's not his strong point. He almost never intervenes in the debates -- in the first series I think it happened once, and that was to correct Hound about history.

If your compere isn't prepared to wade in, you need polite and respectful contestants, and if you have shouty, ranty contestants then you need a strong compere to rein them in. Hound and Sergeant are both returning in series two, so either Dave has not noticed that the setup isn't working as well as it could or else they're going to have a stern word with Sergeant and tell him he needs to stop Hound sometimes so other people can play.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

If It Ain't Broke, Update It: The Secret Twin Motto Of Microsoft and ITV

In retrospect it was inevitable after the success of Doctor Who that ITV would realise the potential of ressurecting popular shows that were axed long ago. And so, The Krypton Factor is back. I notice disapprovingly that the show has been entirely ITVed.

It's not all bad by any means. They've kept the green K that morphs into symbols for the rounds, albeit in a more modern incarnation. (The change is probably for the best given that today's new generation of nerds would look at the old logo and say, 'I never knew they made a game show out of Slashdot.') The new set is very impressive, too, if about four sizes too large. They've even kept a couple of smaller touches from the old series, such as the links between questions in the general knowledge round.

They've changed the scoring system slightly. In the old days they'd generally tiebreak the rounds based on some secondary factor, usually time, and give out 10, 6, 4 and 2 points come hell or high water. That wasn't ideal, since a photo-finish could result in an 8-point gap, so the new series doesn't do that, and (learning nothing from Strictlygate II) allocates 10, 6, 4 and 4 in the event of a tie for third place. Potentially, this means you could lose an extra 10 points on the other players just because they happen to tie. I think you'd then have legitimate grounds to feel hard done by. What would be wrong with splitting the total points (i.e., 10, 6, 3, 3 in a tie for third) I don't know. More generally, why TV producers are so repeatedly incapable of inventing scoring systems that work is something of a mystery.

Other changes are more unambiguously bad. The show is now hosted by Ben Shephard, a basically okay but woefully generic presenter who ITV and the BBC seem to drag out whenever a show is so unremarkable that Nick Knowles refuses to do it (this despite Gordon Burns working within walking distance of the studios). The Mental Agility round now takes place in something called The Cube, an idea presumably taken from Families At War. This is a flimsy plastic hut in which questions are delivered by a mechanical female voice, but not until Shephard has "Activated" the Cube. There is also a heart-rate monitor in there for no adequately explored reason. As is TV practice, the heart-rate monitor's output is shown as an graphic designed to look like an ECG trace by someone who clearly knows less about ECG traces than can be easily derived from watching Casualty. The Observation round in the first new episode featured a clip from Emmerdale. The theme music has been replaced with that tune that ITV always use for theme music on game shows. The series winner will be the "Champion" and not the "Superperson". The assault course seems to be much longer and has been totally redesigned in such a way that only two contestants can run it at once and it's in a forest so you can rarely see them both at the same time. The second race is shown interspersed with the first, but delayed, so you're left with utterly no idea what the hell is going on until the times are shown at the end. The order the players are shown crossing the line is certainly not a clue. All it needs now is a phone-in competition.

I also noticed that the show didn't have any flight simulators in it. The Response round had been totally removed. You can't do that! That's like an episode of Jonathan Creek without a mystery: you might watch the show and enjoy it if you didn't know anything was missing, but when you know what is supposed to be there it feels like you're being short-changed. Especially since one would hope that flight simulators would, by now, be better and cheaper to use. Possibly there were fears of terrorists appearing on the show to get practice at flying planes into buildings.

It's as though ITV actively want to make shit television. They've bought a successful show with a sizable following and set about systematically changing things that didn't need changing. I'd chalk it up to plain old incompetence -- after all, few shows from a decade and a half ago could be shown now without seeming preposterously dated -- but let's not forget they did the same thing to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? after no break at all. Hell, it was probably ITV's meddling that killed The Krypton Factor in the first place.

Seriously, ITV, why must you always break everything?