Mini reviews of Television seasons old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional bunnies.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Legit (2013)

You're an asshole, Jim.
Legit is a semi-autobiographical comedy show in the same vein as Louis C.K.'s own FX show Louie which will be even more apparent to anyone familiar with the stand-up of Jim Jefferies. The 1st episode in particular is a straight re-enactment of one of Jim's bits about taking his disabled friend in a wheelchair to his first time with a prostitute (based on his actual experience doing just that).
This may tip you off that the show is not particularly interested in being politically correct. One would be correct in that assumption as the show takes its whole attitude directly from Jefferies stand-up which also can be crass and vulgar, but with some heart underneath.

The rest of the show is an extrapolation of the first episode in that they take the disabled friend, Billy; who is also the brother of Jim's best friend and roommate,Steve; out of the home he was living in so that he can spend quality time living. Jim's roommate is a typical straight man character who admonishes Jim for his behavior, but then frequently becomes part of the shenanigans possibly because of lingering doubts about the straight and narrow lifestyle stemming from his divorce from a cheating ex-wife.

They then go about helping Billy get more life experiences despite his disability which is very sweet and uplifting despite them being frequent users of profanity, prostitutes and drugs. Whether one can enjoy the show seems to depend on if the viewer can look past the non-PC humor particularly those directed at the disabled. For the record, the disabled community has by and large accepted the show because despite the jokes aimed at them in both the show and in his stand-up, Jefferies still treats them like people. So viewers may be irked by Jefferies himself, but the show is solid in its humor and writing.

Buyer's Guide:
Airs on FX and is available for download on iTunes, Amazon and PSN.

Waiting for the dramatization of the "egg in his ass" bit out of 5

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete First Season (2008)

A Doctor Who spin-off aimed primarily at teenagers might not sound very exciting, but The Sarah Jane Adventures is something really special. It addresses questions that every Doctor Who fan has asked themselves more than once: what happens to the travelling companions after they go back to their boring life? How do they readjust after the wonders they've seen?

It was created by Russell T Davies, the man credited with making the parent show such a renewed success, and offers the same kind of action packed flights of fantasy, grounded regularly by relatable emotions, and characters guided by concern for each other. It expands the same fictional universe, populated by the same kind of threats, and through it all remains faithful to the existing continuity, while creating some of its own. You can call it Doctor Who diluted, but it's just as exciting as the real thing, no matter what age you are.

It stars Elisabeth Sladen as the titular character, Sarah Jane. She's a kind of surrogate mother figure to more than one of her co-stars. She first appeared in a 1973 episode alongside the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, and stayed as his travelling companion for a while, even after his regeneration into Tom Baker. For adults watching the show, she provides a link to their own childhood.

Elisabeth is fantastic in the role. She has no TARDIS to hop around in, so unlike the Doctor she's localised, meaning you'll need to accept that all the danger happens within close proximity of her house, but it's an easy adjustment to make.

It strikes a comfortable balance between teenage concerns and adult concerns; there are references to growing old that teens won't notice, and there are references to the trials of adolescence that the teens will relate to and the adults will be sympathetic to, provided they haven't forgotten what it was like.

The stories get progressively darker in tone as it nears the end of the Season. It begins to feel more like a regular Who episode that's undergone some minor rewrites. The episode Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? is especially notable.

It launched with a 1 hour pilot that was followed by 5 two-part stories (10 episodes), approx 25 minutes each.

4 fake I.D cards out of 5

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Podge and Rodge Show: Poxy Box (2006 - 2010)

After A Scare at Bedtime ended, the twins from Ballydung (County Ring) weren't ready to lie down and call it a day. Luckily for us and them they didn't have to because some clever fool at RTÉ gave them their own chat show! Guests would join the brothers in their Manor kitchen for a candid chat that was guaranteed to include their public shames. They'd occasionally get lucky and have people with some actual talent (Sinéad O'Connor and… er… Dirk Benedict) but mostly it was a who's who of who the hell is that?

The original incarnation of the show ran for 4 glorious seasons, and each one got its own 'Best Of…' DVD collection that separated the wheat from the chaff. The Poxy Box collects together all the sexy wheat, delivering the cream of the crap pulled direct from the arse-end of good taste.

Podge and Rodge weren't shy about their feelings; if they didn't like someone they told them, leaving no room for doubt. Some guests clearly had no idea what they were getting into. The ones that had watched the show in advance knew the ass-ripping they'd get, and still they came. They earned some respect.
When Foster and Allen guested I almost lost my shit; there was no indication they knew about Fester and Ailin.
Women also got it pretty rough, being subjected to Rodge’s perversions.

The show was a well-deserved huge success. According to Wiki it was so popular that it even beat Lost and Desperate Housewives in the Irish ratings game.

There's a heap of extras on each disc, including a previously unseen pilot, the Ballydung weather report, the Miss Ballydung Pageant, Ballydung Idol, a sex toy show, and obligatory bloopers.

4 discs, approx 145 minutes each (581 minutes total).

4 scuttering gobsheens out of 5

Friday, July 5, 2013

Louis Theroux: The Strange and the Dangerous (2009)

Five compelling documentaries that range from light-hearted fun to uncovering deeply unsettling activity. If you watched any of the Weird Weekends you’ll notice a slight shift in Louis’ methodology this time around. He still relies heavily on that awkward pause in the hope that his target will fill it with candid info, but he’s less passive than before. When children are involved he’s more inclined to struggle with an urge to speak out in favour of common sense, which is something many of the people he meets are deficient in.

Gambling in Las Vegas
Louis hits the Casinos in search of addicts. He tries to understand why they do what they do by throwing some of his own money on the line. It’s not particularly revelatory, but it’s fun in an inimitable Theroux way.

The Most Hated Family in America
Louis boldly goes where no sane person has gone before, through the doors of the Westboro Baptist Church. He struggles to attain any kind of truth or reason beneath the assault of cheaply made signs, weak arguments, dismissive dogma and angry Christians that need to get laid.

Under the Knife
Vanity and shallowness of character go under the microscope. Three months at the gym or fifteen minutes under the knife? Will Louis take the plunge and have his love handles sucked out for the sake of journalistic integrity?

Behind Bars
Louis enters San Quentin to interview both prisoners and guards in the hope of finding out how an individual can carve out a life in such an impersonal environment. It’s depressing. He even eats prison food! That’s what I call taking one for the team.

African Hunting Holiday
Louis travels to a park in South Africa where tourists can pay a set amount of money to kill their animal of choice in a controlled environment with no fear of personal risk. The more endangered the animal the higher the cost. I found this one very upsetting. To everyone who took part in the activity: I wouldn't even piss on you if you were on fire. Bastards.

4 holes in the bank balance out of 5

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Langoliers (1995)

TV miniseries based on Stephen King's novella from the book Four Past Midnight (1990), adapted and directed by Tom Holland. There's no Mick Garris this time.

Imagine waking in a room that had been filled with people before you went to sleep, but is now almost empty. You'd be slightly concerned. Imagine that room is actually an aeroplane cabin and the plane is still in the air. You'd be very concerned. That's the basic setting of The Langoliers.

Part One introduces the characters and sets the template for the way they interact. King's stock types clash with one or two that aren't instantly recognisable. There are ten people in all, meaning there's plenty of opportunity for conflict to arise. Being confined the way they are forces them to open up emotionally and reveal their secret, hidden selves.

The dialogue never sounds naturalistic; it sounds homogeneously scripted at all times. It doesn't take long to realise that all your attention should be focussed on what the characters say, not how they say it. They aren't just actors, they're players in a play that has a stage much bigger than the norm. Of course, that's just one way to look at it. You could take the opposite approach and say that it never feels real and that no one actually talks like that in real life. It's up to the viewer to decide. People who love the art of storytelling should understand. People who just want to be entertained, without needing to explore the mechanics of a thing, will likely find it lacking in any kind of value. I'm okay with that. Viewers that don't turn it off after twenty minutes are the people it was made for.

Part Two deepens the mystery. It continues the same level of ambivalence and frustration for the players. The danger level never really reaches threatening proportions, but the idea of the danger, the unknown factor just beyond the horizon, is really intriguing. It feels like an extended episode of The Ray Bradbury Theatre or The Twilight Zone. You want to get to the end of it but not too quickly because you know the tension is the best part.

Part Three is a disaster. Why do these kinds of things always fall to pieces in the third act? When the credits roll there's been character growth but the consequences of the actions taken to get there are weightless. With the exception of one individual, I got the feeling that five minutes later the survivors would go back to their lives and forget all about their time together.

3 episodes, approx 60 mins each (also available as 2 episodes, 90 mins each).

2½ flat beverages out of 5

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Best of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends: Volume Two (2002)

Louis is a journalist but unusually for someone in that profession he's a likeable guy. What sets him apart from his peers is that he celebrates the weirdness of people, and enthuses about things meaningful to them. He’s non-aggressive and reassuring. He can encourage people to open up in unique ways, while remaining respectful of boundaries. Quite often he’ll get attached to people; he calls them friends and seems to genuinely care about their well-being.

He’s been accused of feigning naïveté but it's hard to make a judgement call on whether that’s true or not. I think perhaps people feel sorry for him, so they give him the exposé he seeks. Doing so also helps them feel superior. He’ll partake of an opportunity to play up a situation but he’s always honest about his feelings, chooses his words carefully, and his methods of eliciting responses are a far cry from the manipulation that the people he interviews often rely on to preach their own agenda. They do a better job of ridiculing themselves than he ever could.

In this collection he meets a happily married Southern Californian couple that host swinging parties in their home; he meets Afrikaner separatists in post-apartheid South Africa (there’s a tension filled interview during that episode that I’d have run a mile from; it seems that scrawny Louis has balls of steel); he meets professional wrestlers from the WCW and gets subjected to actual physical and mental abuse for his troubles; and then he gets hypnotised... or not. He's not quite sure.

Like Volume One the box contains just five episodes (two from S2, two from S3, and a bonus episode from a series called 'When Louis Met...' which saw him visit British celebrities in their homes).

5 episodes, approx 55 minutes each.

4 black and white arguments out of 5

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm (1996)

Animated MK nonsense that did almost everything wrong from the get-go. The animation is awful but I suspect the budget was too, so it'd be wrong to expect something as sophisticated as what Marvel or DC put out. I’m willing to overlook that aspect of it, but there are plenty of other problems to focus on.

Being aimed at kids meant it was bloodless, but it was also soulless and guilty of flat, emotionless dialogue. Kids want to be Batman or a Ninja Turtle, not these clowns. If I ever meet a kid that wants to be Liu Kang, I’ll slap the parents.

The show had some familiar voice talent, such as the always reliable Olivia d'Abo, the bad-ass Ron Perlman and good old Clancy Brown (who’s in every cartoon ever), but the characters they had to voice and the stories they were squeezed into were scraped from the bottom of a very old barrel.

The combatants had a super-secret high-tech base from which they monitored 'dimensional rifts.'  The rifts appeared all over Earthrealm and enabled the bad guys to come through from Outworld (and various other places); they’d then cause havoc and upset the happy equilibrium. If the rift happened to be on the other side of the world, then the team jumped in their super-fast high-tech Dragon Jets (that can even go underwater) and traversed the globe in seconds. Then, destination reached, every episode they’d fight a horde of similar looking villains/creatures/brain-dead henchmen and win. If there was a moral lesson to be learned at the end of it… well, you’d be lucky to get that kind of depth.

The worst aspect, the thing that made me physically wince with pain, was the awful, unending techno music. It accompanied every battle and even sometimes the journey to and from the super-secret high-tech base. Any time a quick fix was needed to fill the emptiness of the story they’d blast the music. Bastards!

It managed 13 episodes before getting the chop, which, frankly, was an achievement in itself. Only 2 of those 13 episodes were passable.

1 pair of bleeding ears out of 5

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Stand (1994)

TV miniseries based on Stephen King's novel of the same name. It was a lengthy novel (either 823 or 1152 pages, depending on which version you have), so a miniseries made a lot more sense than a regular feature length movie.

I haven't read the book yet, so I can't comment on casting or get upset about how faithful it is (or isn't), but the teleplay was written by King himself, so I'm going to assume the characters are at least pretty close to his original text.

It's a traditional story of Good Vs Evil. The battleground is America (just when you thought it was safe to go back to Maine!), and the armies are the survivors of yet another unimaginative post-apocalyptic event.

It's split into four feature-length parts. Parts I and II were good. The many characters each get time to develop; it helps if you're already familiar with King's method of character building, because you'll recognise the types.

It was during the first half that I got to thinking that TV is where Mick Garris should be focussing his efforts, but then Part III happened. With everyone in their proper place and motivations established it was time to get to the meat of the story, but things started to unravel. A weighty action is undertaken that serves no purpose other than to enable a quick fix to be pulled out of thin air in Part IV. Did it make sense in the book? If so, then it lost that sense when it made the jump to film.

By the time Part IV got underway the situations were becoming ridiculous, the motivations unnatural, and the pace, which should've increased and become more critical, slowed to a soupy crawl. Both the story and the production quickly plummeted. It turned into a steaming pile of religious shit stacked as high as the hill of Golgatha, with a neon sign atop.

4 parts, approx 90 mins each (366 mins in total inc. credits)

2 biblical failures out of 5