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.