Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Walking Dead (FX)

America's other new hit show of last year showed very soon after the US on FX. I don't know whether any of the networks have bought it, but they would be wise to: it is very excellent.

Masterminded by Frank Darabont (writer/director of Shawshank, Green Mile and The Mist) it tells the story of a group of survivors after a zombie apocalypse. Darabont wrote and directed the first episode and heavily rewrote the rest of the series leading to two of the other writers to quit the show. As long as Darabont remains so hands on I can't see this affecting the second, slightly longer (8 episodes as opposed to this series 6), series.

The first episode, which focussing almost entirely on the (Andrew Lincoln), is particularly brilliant and compares very favourably with the best zombie movies. The rest of the series never quite hits these heights again, but is always very very good. The advantage of being a series means the survivors are far more rounded and there's already a lot of potential for future series.

While The Walking Dead doesn't bring anything completely original to the genre it does have many interesting twists on things we've seen before. If you are a fan of zombie movies then this is pretty much a must watch.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Frankie Boyle's Tramadol NIghts (Channel 4)

Frankie Boyle was by far the best thing on Mock The Week and the live show I saw a couple of years ago was excellent so I was looking forward to his first solo TV show. Boy was I disappointed. Not because it didn't quite live up to the expectation I had of it, but because it was plain terrible.

It started OK with a stand up section to start, but having only around 5 minutes meant there was no structure to the comedy and instead it was just a series of "dark" jokes. On Mock The Week when contrasted against lighter comics and across a 90 minute show where the level of darkness can rise and fall this worked brilliantly. When strung together fast and unrelelnting almost everything good about Frankie Boyle vanishes and he just comes across as cruel and vulgar.

Yet the 3 stand-up sections were the undeniable highlight compared to the woeful series of sketches that filled out the rest of the show. One sketch was a funny idea done badly and the first installment of George Michael's Highway Code would have been funny if it had just been "mirror, signal, wank, crash, wank" instead of going on. Other than those two none of the sketches were anything better than utter dross. Crude ideas executed very amateurishly. Whoever shot and directed the sketches should never work in TV again as they looked cheaper than the sketches off that cheap sketch show that Michael Marshall Smith appeared on (I can't remember the name of it but hopefully someone (Al?) might). Thing is, that was very cheap while this is Frankie Boyle in a prime Channel 4 comedy slot and will have a budget.

Overall an unmitigated disaster that can't be fixed until a second series it doesn't deserve. So bad I genuinely mean this final sentence. Much worse than The X Factor!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

This Is England '86 (Channel 4)

Finally got round to watching Shane Meadows follow up to This Is England and how very good it was too. Not only was I surprised by how funny the first 2 episodes were, but by how light they were on the whole. The comedy far outweighed the weightier material and a lot of it was truly inspired. I actually think my favourite moment in the whole series was a comedy moment from very early when a gang of biker youths have to turn round in the road to bully Shaun; just a perfectly pitched comedy moment.

Meadows did not direct the first 2 episodes and when he does the drama becomes more prevalent, although the turn in tone is played perfectly across the episode climaxing in a tough final 10 minutes. Up to here this is a truly magnificent series and everything is set for a brilliantly finale, but it doesn't quite make it. The final episode is very good, just not great.

The main problem, for me, was one of predictability and convenience and it can be pinpointed on one character; the return of Combo. Suddenly you have a character appear who's completely changed from the one we know and love/loathe with no real explanation and can only ever serve the purpose of giving everything a neat end. He's a deus ex machina, essentially. By not appearing until the very end there is never any time to learn anything about him and he didn't really ring true because of this.

There's also an element of the other stories being pushed aside to make way for the big emotional hit and I missed them. Maybe if there had been 5 episodes with the final episode being extended into 2, the act of violence ending the 4th episode, it could have finished as brilliantly as it started. It probably would have been a more hard going ending, but it could've been phenomenal.

Still a very very good series that does the brilliant film justice. I'm looking forward to 4 years time when we may get, with a bit of luck, This Is England '90 when we get a music montage of Gazza crying while Gadget chokes on his own vomit after a smack overdose!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

X Factor (ITV1)

I managed to escape the whole show by going out this week, but what I did see of "Guilty Pleasures" week did raise 2 moments of slap yourself in the head dumbness.

1) As part of "gulity pleasures" week (ie, crap tracks you kinda like) one act performed Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love. Guilty pleasure... Led Zeppelin... reeeeaaaaalllllllllllyyyy!?

2) Cheryl Cole talking about pre-pubescent manufactured (at boot camp) boyband One Direction's encounter with hundreds of screaming girls on Oxford Street said "boyband's have to deal with screaming girls like you did. Even the Beatles". Boyband... The Beatles... reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!?

This is what Ted is completely right about. Having a singing competition to create a new mainstream pop star is OK if they understand that that's what they are. To compare anything it creates to The Beatles or dismissing such massively influential bands as Led Zeppelin is appalling and just wrong.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Event (Channel 4)

A few weeks ago I mentioned the new US show The Event. This Friday it starts on Channel 4 with two episodes back to back from 9. But is it still worth checking out? Having now seen the first 5 episodes I will say Yes!

Of course The Event is a network show and therefore a different beast to the HBO shows I've recommended, like The Wire, True Blood and Treme. HBO shows are filmed in complete, short (usually 10 or 12 episodes) series and aired in their entirety while the networks are filming while it airs; usually about 6 weeks ahead. This tends to mean network shows are easier to pick apart and can change as the series progresses, depending on the response. And as network shows are always fighting not to get cancelled (especially in their infancy) they need to do more to keep the viewer watching and therefore tend to have something big happen every week. When done right, in the likes of Lost and early series of 24, this makes great entertainment as long as you don't think too much about it. When done wrong it makes for some shoddy TV. For example, later series of 24 seemed like they were written in 4 episode blocks with a massive twist every time it got passed to the next group of writers leading to a series that bore no resemblance to the start within 8 hours; or every series of Heroes after the first where superpowers were turned on and off or characters turned from good to bad and vice verse on a weekly basis just to suit whatever was happening that week, nevermind what happened before.

After just 5 episodes I can't be sure that The Event won't turn into something balls in the future, but for now it's building quite nicely. It's fast paced, mysterious, mostly unpredictable and fun. The characters have been sketched quite nicely and have room to be fleshed out, something Lost did so well, but they are still just sketches; not the fully drawn characters of HBO. Despite everyone looking so beautiful, a constant irritant in network TV, I don't particularly want to slap anyone I'm supposed to like. There is a minor worry in episode 5 where a character did something very out of character, but I'll hold judgement until I see where they take it.

So, if you're at home alone on Friday with nothing planned then check it out. It's nothing on The Wire or Treme, it's much better than Heroes or Flashforward ever were and it's not too far behind where Lost started out. It won't change your life, but it will hopefully keep you entertained.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Film 2010 (BBC1)

The second edition of Film 2010 dropped the live outside broadcast which was so awful last week, but also didn't include any reading of viewer messages which leads me to wonder, why is this show live? Seemingly so Winkleman and Danny Leigh can't give closure to their reviews. Instead they have to just stop and move onto the next piece far too quickly. The two headed reviews weren't helped by this making them feel indecisive. It's by no means a terrible format and will hopefully improve over the series. I've been genuinely surprised by Winkleman who, for the first time ever, doesn't seem drunk and incoherent. Danny Leigh will hopefully develop some confidence because at the moment he comes across a bit wet. He needs to stop justifying himself so banally.

It will very quickly return back to what the BBC's Film show has been since Norman's heyday... something I'll watch if it's on, but won't make much effort remember.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Film 2010 (BBC1)

I forgot about this so I watched it on my Wii. The idea of Claudia Winkleman reviewing movies sounded a very wrong one. For one, she's a woman and we all know women can't concentrate long enough to watch anything over an hour long unless it includes moody vampire nonces, ABBA songs or a group of women suffering personal tragedies together, but being happy and empowered in the end. Thankfully she's accompanied by Danny Leigh, film reviewer for the Guadian and man. At least he will make sense. There are also spots fronted by the "team" of Chris Hewitt from Empire and Antonia Burke a novelist with no heart.

The show is broadcast live for some reason. The only reason seemed to be so
Chris Hewitt could interview Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and... Spider-man... fuck, I've forgot his name... not Tobey Maguire, the new Spidey... he's in The Social Network... Andrew Garfield! I remembered. Anyway, they did a live interview and it was a shambles. Other than that nothing was really gained from the live broadcast.

Winkleman and Danny Leigh both give their opinions on the films and Winkleman actually spoke coherently, so I was pleasantly surprised. This could be interesting when they get movies they don't agree on if they get to bicker live. Other than that it's not really much different.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss (BBC4)

The second part focusses almost completely on Hammer and was much better than the first. The story of Hammer is far more interesting and expansive than the story of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff for a start. Then there was the excellent section in the middle where we learn about Hammer's influence on Italian horror and Roger Corman, which made me want to watch the Edgar Allan Poe Vincent Price movies.

Gatiss loses most of the creepy paedo when talking about Hammer, although it does creep back in the middle section. My main problem is the style everything is presented. Shots of Gatiss walking around looking thoughtful while we listen to a voice over comes across almost pompous. There's even a protracted shot of Gatiss pouring a cup of tea that holds a good 10 seconds longer than makes any logical sense. It just irks me. I'd rather see footage relevant to the voice over.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

X Factor (ITV1)

Insult of the Week - Louie Walsh to Matt Cardle "You remind me of Bono". That's the polite way of saying "you're a cunt".

Highlight - Cheryl Cole had a new, red, hairdo which included a fake plait that sat on her shoulder like a bloodied rat.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss (BBC4)

The former star of League of Gentlemen and now novelist and writer on Dr Who and Sherlock brings us a documentary series about Horror movies. This first part looked at the first golden age of Hollywood horror, from the 1920's to the 1950's.

Gatiss openly admits that this series will be about very personal horror movies and he is clearly passionate with the films he discusses, but everything is somehow very dry. You expect such a creative, funny writer to bring some fun to the script, but he doesn't. Instead he delivers information in an overly theatrical way which, I assume, was intended to bring the fun to it, but he came across more like a paedophile museum guide for a school trip. Creepy.

I worried early on that this was just going to be another documentary about the same old films as the first 15 minutes mainly cover Dracula and Frankenstein, but things get more interesting after that with sections on James Whale, Freaks and RKO. By using Darcula and Frankenstein the episode does has an arc as Lugosi and Karloff stories litter the hour and finish it off.

Despite the dry yet perverse delivery this was a pretty interesting hour and I learnt quite a bit; the middle 30 being particularly good. The second episode looks like it's going to cover Hammer although I hope it covers more. And I hope there's more John Carpenter, I want to listen to him talk about Horror, not the (now) 100 year old woman who was in Dracula.

Monday, 11 October 2010

True Blood (HBO)

True Blood is the latest series from Alan Ball (writer of American Beauty and Six Feet Under), and based on Charmaine Harris's Sookie Sackhouse novels. It takes place in Bon Temps, Louisiana, now; only vampires are real and have "come out" after the creation of Tru Blood, a synthetic blood vampires can survive on.

The core of the series is Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a naive waitress who can read people's thoughts, and her relationship with vampire Bill Comption (Stephen Moyer) . Surrounding them are Sam Merlotte who runs the local bar, is desperately in love with Sookie and has a secret (he turns into a dog. I'm not ruining anything, it's bloody obvious from about episode 3), Tara, a fiery young black woman who is Sookie's best friend, Jason Stackhouse, Sookie's incredibly dumb and horny brother, Eric Northman, a 1000 year old vampire and former viking, Jessica, a 17 year old girl Bill is forced to turn into a vampire and has to care for and LaFayette, a flambouyant gay cook and drug dealer.

Series 1
The excellent first series gradually introduces the world and the characters quite brilliantly through 3 central stories: Sookie, Bill and Sam's love triangle, a murderer killing "fangbangers" (women who sleep with vampires) and the dealing of V (vampire blood's a drug). It is all pulled off really well, gradually building a solid lore. It is also surprisingly funny with a rich sense of humour throughout. And there's plenty of sex and blood.

Series 2
The second series starts out fantastic with Anna Paquin tits and gets better. This time round we learn more about vampire culture with Sookie and Bill leaving Bon Temps with Eric to find his maker, Jason joins the religious right's anti-vampire movement/army while back in Bon Temps the mysterious Maryann (Michelle Forbes), who has a past with Sam, turns up and possesses the town. The first two stories come together nicely and come to a satisfactory conclusion with a couple of episodes to go allowing Sookie and Bill to return home and deal with Maryann.

Series 3
This time round werewolves are introduced into the mix and they don't really add anything. The main story this series concerns the vampire King of Mississippi's attempts to take over vampires. The King himself is a fantastic character, supreme fun and this story was really good, sadly this series has far too many uninteresting subplots: Sam finding his birth parents and brother, Tara being kidnapped by a vampire, Jason wanting to become a cop, Jessica and Hoyt's love story, LaFayette falling in love with a witch (surely being a bloke he should be a wizard). This series also makes a massive mistake in explaining what Sookie is.

The first 2 series are quite excellent. Most of the irritating vampire traits are kept in check and there's some fun ideas added. There is also a good balance between drama, comedy and horror. And, best of all, the characters are great, in particular LaFayette, especially in series 1, is great fun, Jason is an extremely likeable idiot and provides plenty of laughs and Tara has some great putdowns.

The third series is less good, but still entertaining. As I've already said, The Mississippi vampire king is brilliant and there's some fantastic gore, but it's beginning to lose the balance it held so well for two series. The homo-erotic subtext that runs throughout the first 2 becomes less a subtext and becomes overplayed. It also suffers from giving too many characters too much to do. All the major characters have their own story and they don't fit together. This means that the better stories (the vampire stories) are sidelined so we can get enough screentime to major characters in previous series that should be taking a back seat (Sam, Tara and Lafayette). It is also starting to get a bit too silly with the amount of "magical" creatures. We already had vampires, shape shifters, Sookie and Maryann in 2nd series. Now we have werewolves, witches and Sookie's power defined on top. All in a town that has a population of 2,600 (according to the town sheriff). All a bit too soap opera.

It may be on the decline this year, but all is not yet lost. And if it is, at least there was 2 excellent series. Well worth it if you can stomach sex, blood and vampires.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

X Factor (ITV1)

So, this week the seemingly decade long live shows began and there was a "big twist". That was that each judge could put an extra act in the show which was one of the lamest "twists" ever concieved. So along with the 12 acts mentioned last week we have...

Over 28's - Wagner
A foreign chap in his 40's (at least) who would be brilliant if his singing voice matched his eccentricity. As it is his singing voice is the polar opposite to his eccentricity so "shit" would be quite a complimentary description.

Boys - Paige
A young black chap who's barber could be Kid 'N' Play. I was surprised he didn't make the 3 last week.

Bands - Diva Fever
If you genetically spliced The Scissor Sisters and Jedward together this is what you would create. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds.

Girls - Trayc
As Gamu is being deported Cheryl couldn't put her back in so we got a different young black girl with nothing memorable about her except the retarded way she spells Tracy.

This weeks theme was number ones, but sadly no version of Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter.

Highlight - during Wagner's medley of Ricky Martin's She Bangs and the B52's Love Shack the director cut to a close up of one of the lady dancer's asses. I'm assuming she was supposed to be seductively rubbing her buttocks, but it instead she pulled her cheeks apart.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

X Factor (ITV1)

This week the final 32 "acts" are split into their groups and they go to the respective judges house and are narrowed down to the final 12 who will go to the live show. The over-25's has now been changed to the over 28's after the chick from Pussycat Dolls suggested they change it because "some of the guys in the over-25's a still young". So, acccording to X Factor you are no longer young at 29.

The final 12 are:

Girls - Cheryl Cole's group

Cher - Touted as being "unique" and "original" but actually is more "tuneless" and "raps bad". I have a horrible feeling she might win it.
Rebecca - A young black girl with an excellent voice, but nothing memorable. Will probably "grow" as the show progresses. This year's dark horse.
Katie - A thoroughly annoying young woman who you will love or hate, depending on whether you're intelligent (hate) or a moron (love). Shouldn't be in the show as she bottled her final audition.

Boys - Dannii's group

Aiden - a guy with over stylised hair who I have no recollection of.
Nicolo - a strange Italian lad with a genuinely eccentric personality off stage who then becomes more normal when he sings. He's actually quite likable and will probably go quite a way.
Marlon - quite natural performing he deserved to go through after being made to sing If I Was A Boy.


FYD - five blokes that together look a bit odd; i can't imagine many teenage girls putting their posters on their wall. They are also the only group that entered as a group.
Bell amie - 4 girls who weren't good enough individually so Cowell turned them into a group at bootcamp. I have no recollection of them at all. My tip to be the first voted off.
One Direction - Another group created by Cowell at boot camp. Much better than the girls, but what's the point in having a group category if you are going to make one on the day and put them thru instead?

Over 28's - Louis's group

John - the only act in the over-28's with any hope of going far. He basically only sings one note so is the X Factor's answer to Ian Curtis.
Storm Lee - a non-entity who's most memorable feature is his stupid name.
Mary - a 50 year old Tesco worker who has no chance of selling records, but has a really good voice.

The big shock was Cheryl Cole's failure to pick Gamu Nhengu; hands down the best act in the whole competition. She could sing, had a quirky voice, was immensely likable and would sell records. I think she didn't put her thru because the producers were afraid the standard British punter wouldn't be able to pronounce her surname.

I didn't endure Xtra Factor this week, but I'm sure Konnie Huq was still bollocks.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Masterchef : The Professionals (BBC2)

And so the final variation of Masterchef (after Masterchef, Celebrity Masterchef and Junior Masterchef) began this week. Now I'll be up front about it, I really like Masterchef. It may have a template it follows rigidly every episode (like every reality show on TV), but I get a surprising amount of enjoyment out of watching these people cook. I shouldn't, but I do.

Now, I could talk about the excellent editing which gives the cooking some real dynamics, the wide selection of tunes (they actually used some drum n bass once) which drive everything or the hyperbole that angers Noise so much, but I won't. Instead here's the Masterchef drinking game, guaranteed to get you pissed.

Take a drink every time...
Greg Wallace says "Cooking doesn't get tougher than this"
Michel Roux says "unctuous"
Michel Roux's soux chef Monica refers to his as "my boss" or (double drink) "Chef Michel"
The beat pauses to be replaced by a cooking related sound (eg. the sizzle of a pan, the whir of a whisk, the sound of a knife slicing through a Jerusalem artichoke)
Someone cooks scallops
A plate of food is referred to as "rustic"
Someone puts "too many ingredients on a plate"
Someone drips sweat into their food
Any competitor states the competition is "life changing"
The person who states "I can win this" follows that soundbite with a shit plate of food and is eliminated
Greg Wallace compares a plate of food to something intimate (eg. that dessert is like a warm cuddle)
Michel Roux looks at one of the chefs and his eye bulge so wide it amazes you they stay in his head.

You will get paraletic every episode!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Panorama : The Secrets of Scientology (BBC1)

In this documentary, the follow up to 2007's Scientology and Me, John Sweeney tries again to uncover more about Scientology. This time round several "traitors" who have left the "religion" talk to him about it's inner workings and to add to the credibility all still believe the teachings of Scientology, just not the organisation.

There no Scientology spokesman stalking him this time, so no explosive rants spicing this one up, but it is none the less interesting for it. While it doesn't really uncover anything new about the "religion" itself it does paint a terribly creepy picture of powerful and very paranoid organisation. The extents they go to to protect their secrets are kinda fucking evil.

While not an earth shattering expose this is still a real good watch and well worth checking out on iplayer.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Lone Star (Fox)

The final new series I've tried this week is Lone Star. It stars James Wolk (a cheap TV version of George Clooney) as Bob Allen, a con man in love with two different women; his current and previous marks. He and his father are setting up a long con to steal from an oil company run by Bob's father in law, played by Jon Voigt.

There's a lot of potential in the concept: con man trying to juggle two lives, brother in-laws jealous about his progress in the company, a previous con catching up with him, the current con to take down an oil company. The execution does not match the potential. What should be a drawn out, character driven, drama is all just a bit too slick and shallow on a major network. Had this been an HBO show I think it would be much better. As it is it's all just a bit too glossy and simplistic leaving you struggling to give a shit about anyone. After all our hero is an adulterer who steals from people.

Disappointing, but still better than Undercovers. I doubt I'll bother anymore with either of those, but The Event was a success. I believe that might be starting on Channel 4 soon.

X Factor (ITV1) & Xtra Factor (ITV2)

The mediocrity continues. This week there's a double bill (oh joy) with the second part tomorrow. This week is "boot camp" where the 211 acts that weren't completely awful the first time round get to prove themselves again. First they are split into the groups (Boys, Girls, Bands, Over 25's (usually referred to as just "the overs"; ageist fuckers)) and each group sings the same song (sadly not at the same time, that would be too quick) and the 211 are whittled down to 100. They then all learn a dance routine and finally they sing a song of their own choice. This final stage will continue tomorrow were 6 acts from each group will be picked for next week's show.

The worst things this week were two different girls turning Creep into a power ballad which caused me great pain and another girl who achieved the remarkable by making a Coldplay song worse than the original. Somehow I think she's going to get through because she's "original".

On the Xtra Factor Konnie Huq continues to be shit. Producers are still trying hard to play it for laughs, but Huq's just can't do it. I did laugh once though, but it was nothing to do with her. When new Jedward wannabes Bijon froze while singing and the music cue to accompany it was the main theme from 28 Days Later. Just a tad excessive!

Friday, 24 September 2010

An Idiot Abroad (Sky One)

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's comedy punch bag Karl Pilkington is each week sent to one of the seven wonders of the world. Hilarity enshews (for the most part).

This week Karl is sent to China to check out the Great Wall, but first he wanders around a Chinese market where he gets wierded out by locals eating insects while he munches away on a bag of Monster Munch. He is less than impressed by the Great Wall when he finds out it was refurbished in the 50's and again in the 80's which leads him to the conclusion that it's no longer a great wall, just a wall.

Gervais and Merchant appear briefly at the start when they send Karl off (and rip the piss) and as disembodied voices on the phone giving Karl things to do, but other than that it's just Karl being Pilkington and very funny it is too; on the whole. Occasionally he doesn't have anything utterly ludicrous to say and these, admittedly short, periods come off as bad travelogue with someone who can't teach you anything. But generally this is consistently as funny as you'd hope.

Undercovers (NBC)

The second pilot I tried is co-created by JJ Abrams. He also directed the pilot. It is an action series about a married couple, the Blooms played by Gugu Mbatha Raw (from some angles she looks a bit like Beyonce) and Boris Kodjoe (who has a fascinatingly strange head), who run a catering company by day, but who also happen to be world class spies. Or at least they were 5 years ago before giving it all up to have a normal life.

Within 10 minutes they have decided to become super spies again and are off ona globe trotting mission to rescue an old friend and ex-boyfriend of the Blooms named Leo. JJ clearly wanted Seann William Scott to play Leo but couldn't so instead he cast someone else and directed him to explicitly mimic SWS poorly. The only other character of note introduced was a young, psychophantic version of Tom Arnold's character from True Lies. Oh, and the whiny sister who looks after the catering while the Blooms travel from the US to Madrid, Paris, Moscow and back in 2 days, all while tracking down Leo.

First I'll talk about what was good.

OK, that's enough of that, let's move onto what failed. Simply put, everything. It is doomed the moment we meet the Blooms. They have no charisma, no likablility and no chemistry. A show revolving around a couple can't succeed when the two actors are so bollocks. Yet somehow they aren't as bad as the Tom Arnold clone, an actor and character so unfunny an anal absess would be fun in comparison.

JJ Abrams tries to make it work by moving everything along at the speed of light so the next thing is happening before you get bored, but it fails so completely to engage the viewer you never get interested enough to even muster that.

The lead bloke's head is some kind of surrealist masterpiece though.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Event (NBC)

It is the time of year where a host of new shows begin on US network TV, each vying to be the new Lost or 24 and not the new Flashforward.

The first of these that I thought sounded fun is The Event. It is being sold as a cross between Lost and 24, but that's not fair on it. It's much more the new Flashforward, but that's not fair on it either. The overall basic concept of a global event may be similar, but here the global event itself is shrouded in mystery and not just the causes of it. Plus this single episode is comfortably better than Flashforward ever got.

The fast paced pilot sets up a framework where we follow a character for a section of the episode (about 10 minutes each character) and cut between what is happening in the present and the past; similar to Lost's character centric episodes, but with multiple characters. This lends itself nicely to gradually revealing pieces of the puzzle. We are introduced to Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, son of John) who is hijacking a plane in the present while only a week earlier being on a romantic holiday with his girlfriend, government agent Simon Lee, the President and Michael Buchanan, father of Sean's girlfriend. Through these characters we see the hijacking of the plane in the present from a variety of angles and hints of conspiracies surrounding 97 secretly held prisoners referred to only as "them".

There was a lot of scope for mystery set up nicely and it was good to have an high paced action show not revolving around the bloody FBI for a change. Plus the final 2 minutes are truly "what the fuck". I will undoubtedly be giving this show at least a few more weeks, but it still has the potential to blow up in it's own face. Any show that deals with any kind of fictional global event and features the US President is in danger of becoming very stupid, very fast. Here's hoping this doesn't.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Boardwalk Empire is HBO's new big budget drama series created by former Sopranos writer Terence Winter and whose first episode is directed by Martin Scorsese. Yes, that Martin Scorsese! Set in Atlantic City, 1920, at the start of prohibition it is a sprawling, epic gangster drama that revolves around Nucky Johnson (Steve Buscemi);treasurer of Atlantic City and also the man running the illegal alcohol trade in the city. So, part politician, part gangster.

The majority of this first episode revolves around Nucky and his protege Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) who's been under Nucky's wing since he was a kid who has just returned from WWI, and setting up his liquor deals with Chicago and New York. These two elements alone could probably sustain a pretty decent series, but there are hints at more.

Several characters that will surely become more prominent as the series progresses get barely any screen time. FBI agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is obviously going to be the face of law enforcement, but only gets a couple of scenes shadily watching people meet. Kelly McDonald (Trainspotting, No Country For Old Men) does very little as Margaret, a preganat woman who Nucky connects with. Stephen Graham (This is England's Compo) is a young Al Capone. Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) plays Arnold Rothstein, a very shady New York gangster who I guess will become Nucky's nemesis. And Omar Little himself (Michael Kenneth Williams) only gets one line as Chalky White.

In typical HBO style this is going to be a slow building series and is impossible to fully judge based solely on this opening, but it's a fairly perfect way to start. This really has the potential to be up there with the likes of The Wire, Deadwood, Galactica and Lost as one of the great TV dramas. But it could turn out to just be good and the added Scorsese elevates the opening. I've now got to decide whether to watch it week to week for just wait for it to completely air and then watch the series as a whole. That may depend on how good the other new shows this autumn are.

Pointless (BBC2)

Female Contestant - I've been a London taxi driver for 30 years. I was one of the very first.
Alexander Armstrong - Wow! 30 years! You must have been one of the first.

Even the host isn't interested enough to listen to her

Today's final question was "name anyone who's won the Nobel Peace Pirze"

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Pointless (BBC2)

The BBC's new(ish) afternoon quiz show hosted by Alexander Armstrong. The premise is a simple variation on Family Fortunes. Give 100 people 100 seconds to give as many answers to a question as possible. The contestants on the show then have to find the most obscure answers and score as few points as possible. For example, if the question was "name Harrison Ford films" you'd do bad by saying Star Wars or one of the Indy movies, but the likes of Regarding Henry, The Conversation or Hanover Street you'd do well. In the final round the contestants have to find a pointless answer (ie one no one said) to win the jackpot.

While Pointless is great fun, at 45 minutes there's just a little too much waffle. Why do quiz show producers think we, the viewer, want to know about the contestants lives? We don't, we just want to answer questions.

Today's final question was "name any books written by John Grisham". Can you guess the pointless answer without cheating?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Hells Kitchen USA (ITV2)

also known as Sweary Chefs.

Basically Gordon Ramsey screams profanities in the face of a bunch of chefs. This seems to be his attempt to motivate them to improve. The set up of red team (girls) vs blue team (boys) causes lots of people to get excessively pissed off at each other, but unlike better cooking shows you don't actually learn anything about food. You do get to chuckle at the utter stupidityof it all though.

This weeks highlights.
Ramsey screaming "Raw" at a woman while repeatedly punching the burger she's just made.
This was topped when the the naive Italian (Salvatore) gives Ramsey a ticket which is spelt wrong. Ramsey starts to get irate shouting "didn't you go to school" only for Salvatore to respond with "No. My family was poor and I had to work".

Sunday, 19 September 2010

X Factor (ITV1) & Xtra Factor (ITV2)

I must make it clear at the start that I do not actively seek out to watch X Factor, Helen does, but I also don't actively block it out like I do the soaps.

This week saw the final week of auditions, aka the weeks with idiots who can't sing so we can laugh at them edited around the idiots who can sing pretty well that will make the final. This is usually the period of X Factor's painfully epic run (it's on for almost 4 months) that is most entertaining, but this year it has failed. Instead of the usual crazies this year we were treated to nothing more than tone deaf idiots, each ones appallingness so blatantly obvious from the moment the camera cuts to them. And there's still 10 weeks of live shows where you get to watch the same mediocre singers perform lazy covers, a stretch that truly tests your patience as after 2 weeks you know the act that will have a pop career afterwards, but you have to watch them be whittled down only for the one with the closest approximation of talent to be beaten at the last by someone remarkably bland.

Xtra Factor is the hour long "behind the scenes" show that follows straight after on ITV2. This used to be the best part of the whole sorry affair as you could stare at Holly Willoughby's cleavage for an hour, but she's left now to be replaced by Mrs Charlie Brooker herself, the terrible Konnie Huq. I'm convinced the only way she gets work is by auditioning for the same jobs as June Sarpong.

Both of these shows were actually diverting in previous years I've had to sit through it, but this year even Simon Cowel seems to have realised it's run it's course.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Treme (HBO)

Treme is the new series from Wire mastermind David Simon. Set in the months following Hurricane Katrina it is another sprawling ensemble drama as much about the city and it's culture as it is the characters; although in true David Simon style they are wonderfully written, multi-dimensional people.

Our primary window into the world of New Orleans is through the music so several of the principal characters are musicians including young couple Sonny and Annie who make a living busking, rich kid DJ Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) who constantly champions the "real New Orleans" but has refused to grow up, and Wire veterans Wendell Pierce (Bunk) and Clarke Peters (Freamon) as freelance trombonist Antoine Fontaine (strictly a cooked fish eating mother fucker) and Big Chief Albert Lambreaux; plus a plethora of supporting characters around them. Outside of the music culture we have the Janette Desautel (played by the marvellous Kim DIckens, Joanie Stubbs from Deadwood and Sawyer's ex in Lost) as a chef struggling to keep afloat and middle class married couple Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) and Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), a lawyer and author. Goodman is quite fantastic as the angry voice of dissent throughout the show, his angry youtube tirades in particular.

Each of these characters, and those around them, are searching for meaning after the tragedy that has struck, but never is there any hint of schmaltz or any easy answers. This, like The Wire and Simon's other HBO show Generation Kill, never ties things up neatly or with any finality. While this series has it's story you wouldn't feel cheated if the show had been cancelled like, say, Deadwood. Thankfully it hasn't.

Along with the humour (this is comfortably SImon's funniest show), cracking dialogue and richly drawn characters every episode is filled out nicely with sustained music sequences. These will likely detract for anyone who doesn't like jazz, but every one shows us something new about the characters and the culture of the city.

The one element that sets The Wire apart from this (and everything else on TV ever) is that while this has its story, that story doesn't have a strong thread to draw you along whereas each series of the Wire had it's case (except, arguably, series 4). Therefore Treme is more like The Sopranos or Mad Men; great characters, no narrative thrust. I prefer this first series to any of the 3 series of The Sopranos I've dragged myself through or the half a series of Mad Men I've twice tried to watch mainly because the world and characters are far more expansive and interesting than either of those shows.

If you like intelligent, serious, adult drama (and jazz) I urge you to seek this out and watch it.