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.