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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

THGttG is an adaptation of Douglas Adams’ most famous work and provides proof positive that you don’t need a huge budget to create entertaining television science fiction, you just need a really good script and a towel.

Somewhere there’s someone who hasn't seen it, heard it or read it (it was a radio play and a novel before being turned into a show), so a quick synopsis: it’s the tragic tale of a regular Joe who wakes one morning to find his house is to be bulldozed that very day. The Joe is named Arthur Dent. Unbeknownst to Arthur, that particular toe-stub is small change in the galactic sense of the word because high above Earth hangs a Vogon ship with an even more destructive intent.

The Hitchhiker's Guide itself contains information to educate the galactic traveller and help them steer relatively clear of danger, or at the very least avoid the kind of embarrassing faux pas that taints even their unborn grandchildren. When read aloud it’s accompanied by cheap illustrations that appear to have been created on a two slice toaster powered by a potato; they somehow won an award. The voice is actor and radio broadcaster Peter Jones because if you’re going to give a book a voice it better be a damn good one. Quite often scrolling text extrapolates or expands upon what the voice is telling us. If you want to read it all you’ll need to make use of the pause button. It might seem like a chore at first but it's well worth the small amount of effort required. Stop being unfathomably lazy.

Everything has a very British parlance, so expect dry humour, comedy cynicism and cups of tea. At times it resembles a less tangential version of Monty Python's Flying Circus, particularly the episode which takes place at the restaurant.

If you're too busy to sit and watch a TV show, the radio play is equally as good and provides much the same experience minus the visuals, obviously.

6 episodes, approx 30 minutes each.

4 strange coincidences out of 5

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When Games Attack (2004–05)

I was excited to see Dominick Diamond in another video games review show, because GamesMaster (1992-98) had been so good, but the excitement was short-lived. When Games Attack was a bit of a turd. If it was a gaming peripheral it would be a Virtual Boy or a Nintendo Power Glove—a used one!

It was a Gamer.tv production for the cable/satellite channel Bravo. Bravo was a kind of schizophrenic entity; it had a large roster of quality series from yesteryear that I could watch all day long, but its original content was made up of shows that seemed to have an alternative universe King Midas handling them, turning them not to gold but to shit. What's worse is that much of their output was targeted primarily at the kind of people that would routinely browse the top shelf of a magazine rack but leave instead with a copy of FHM or Loaded. If you have friends like that get them to seek help, forthwith.

It stuck to a rigid formula each week. Dom, rounder of face and paunchier, much like myself, indulged his passion for all things football by having a large portion of each episode dedicated to an ongoing footy game tournament. I'm not a fan of the sport in any form, so could skip that part without remorse.

'Behind the Game’ did what it claimed, giving information on the inspiration, development and release of a specific game, both retro and modern.

A weekly Top 5, such as Most Pathetic Games or Crappiest Game Plot, seemingly researched by juggling ducks, was stretched out over the running time.

Queeny and Cugly, a parody of Sooty and Sweep style puppets, would pit two similar games against each other. It was a disaster.

Perhaps the worst feature of all was a semi-regular rhythm game section where glamour models, I'm guessing on loan from the likes of the aforementioned magazines, bounced around amateurishly while lecherous commentary made the fiasco even more unbearable, if that's possible.

And finally, although sometimes outside the games-related remit, the on-location features hosted by either Dom or Caroline Flack were occasionally fun.

20 episodes, approx 25 mins each.

2½ letters of dubious origin out of 5

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 5 (1991-92)

Amid the twenty-fourth century problems tackled—coolant leaks, transporter malfunctions, stubborn settlers on other planets, etc—are a large number of issues and moral dilemmas that affect people of all eras, meaning the show continued to be both universal and timeless. One of the most successful was an exploration of gender and attraction that the sci-fi genre is well-equipped to deal with.

It’s perhaps a coincidence, but more than any of the preceding seasons there are episodes centred around or featuring children: there’s a birth, an orphan, an imaginary friend, more than one single parent story, and an episode in which Picard has to deal with a trio of kids all by himself. The later isn't a particularly memorable episode in itself, but it highlights how funny the Captain could be when allowed to step down from the pedestal of seriousness. Speaking of Picard, he gets a stylish new coat that no one else gets - the perks of captaincy!

Standout episodes include the fan-favourites I Borg, which starts out slow but gets better and better, and Cause and Effect, an old idea made to fit the Trek mould. I would add The Inner Light to that list, too, because despite its flaws I love the idea.

Elsewhere, a new semi-recurring character is introduced and quickly becomes a pain in everyone’s ass; she’s like a prototype Kira Nerys (DS9). There’s an Irwin Allen style disaster movie story that should’ve felt even more perilous because of the environment, but somehow doesn't.

As is customary by this stage, the last episode is the first part of a two-parter that isn't resolved until the beginning of Season 6.

On a sadder note, it was during the production of Season 5 that Trek creator Gene Roddenberry really did go into the final frontier; he died on 24th October ’91. :-(

26 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

4 frequently exploited subspace distortions out of 5

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Day of the Triffids (2009)

The BBC had successfully made a more faithful adaptation of John Wyndham’s excellent Triffids novel (1951) almost three decades before (1981), so they can be forgiven for straying from the path a second time around. The same thing with better production values might appeal to people allergic to the past, but it would be largely pointless from a creative perspective. What they did instead was team up with a Canadian production company, set the story in modern era Britain while somehow eliminating any real sense that it's actually British, and then foolishly shift much of the underlying focus away from Wyndham’s original intent.

Leaving aside the deviation, it was made at a time when the channel was trying hard to keep up with stylistic trends set by the kinds of US TV shows that were screening almost unceasingly on rival channels. Auntie wanted a piece of that audience, so they began to employ ‘edgy’ filming techniques that can be summarised as wobbly, handheld sickness. The most infuriating trend was the use of quick zooms in scenes that didn't require any such thing, scenes in which there’s nothing of importance to highlight. It’s as if a toddler has gotten hold of an expensive video camera and discovered buttons for the first time.

Making what’s essentially a walking carnivorous plant appear scary would be no easy task, but the Triffids are really quite good and believably frightening. The music does much of the work, but it helps that they tower over the humans by a few feet or more and have an extended reach. With skill and some luck it would be possible to outrun one, but when they shuffle around in packs like hoodies at a mall then escape becomes more a wild dance of defiance for most victims.

Comedian Eddie Izzard is cast in a serious role. He does a decent job despite his character being written as nothing more than a dozen clichés personified.

2 episodes, approx 90 minutes each. Episode 02 has some of the best individual scenes but is the weakest and most infuriating half overall.

2½ reaction tests out of 5

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mrs Biggs (2012)

An ITV miniseries based on the life of Charmian Biggs (played by Sheridan Smith), wife to the most well-known of the Great Train Robbers, Ronnie Biggs (played by Daniel Mays). If you don’t know the historical aspect, in 1963 Ronnie and fifteen other men robbed an English Royal Mail train that was carrying £2.6 million (approx £48 million in today’s money) and they did it without using guns.

The series begins a few years prior to that, though, in 1957. Charmian Powell is an innocent, dependable young woman who holds a steady job and has a strict, controlling father. Ronnie is a part-time petty crook, a Jack the Lad, Jimmy Chancer, etc, and also a bit of a charmer. The inevitable happens.

The journey from youthful innocence to reluctant accomplice avoids pure melodrama. It’s often difficult to sympathise with a criminal and easier to have those feelings for a criminal’s wife, but covering up the truth even for noble reasons is still an immoral act. The series doesn't force you to abandon the judgements you’d naturally have toward that kind of behaviour, so you’re free to dislike Charmian's choices if you choose to and still enjoy the ride.

Sheridan is radiant—when she smiles she lights up the entirety of a scene—but it’s not all smiles and money spending, there’s plenty of tears and hardship too, because they’re on the run from the law every minute of every day. Even when it seems as if they've gotten far enough away, it takes only a knock on the door or a second of doubt to bring it all rushing back to mind.

It drives home the truth that an influx of money doesn't instantly wipe away existing domestic troubles. In some cases it can even cause them. Speaking of truth, the disclaimer at the beginning of each episode tells us that creative licence is in play, so bear that in mind while viewing. However, the real Charmian Biggs was a consultant on the series, so that gives it some credibility.

It’s not the type of series I usually watch, but after taking a chance on one episode there was no way I wasn't seeing it through to the end. It’s a quality Sunday evening style drama that doesn't glamorize its subject matter for extra thrills.

5 episodes, approx 50 minutes each.

4 good runs out of 5

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Andromeda Strain (2008)

At time of writing, director Robert Wise's 1971 version of The Andromeda Strain is one of the better films that I've seen based on the works of Michael Crichton, so there was some trepidation when I decided to watch an updated version made for TV, but curiosity won me over. Happily, it turned out to be pretty good.

The previous film had a distinctly 70s appeal with a fascinating visual look, whereas the new one just looks like every other modern TV show that features shady governments run by self-important, ambitious pricks with more money than morals; but it looks great, if that’s your thing.

The team have a lot more high-tech equipment at their disposal this time and consequently the danger level within the lab is lessened. When you see multimillion dollar mechanical marvels your first thought is no longer, 'That shit could break any minute! Emergency exit, please, timely manner!'

A second story runs concurrently outside the underground lab environment. I can’t say if that was in the original novel or not, because I've not read it. It injects some action scenes into what could've been an otherwise static display of scientific methodology by having a journalist poke his nose into the military’s response on the surface. The aura of secrecy is carried through into the low key way they respond to the external threat. It was my least favourite aspect but that doesn't mean it was in any way irritating, because it wasn't.

My only real dislike was the way the story (or the final cut) neglected to follow up on the human subjects that were held in the lab. Did they survive? Are they still under quarantine? Did they become overnight reality TV sensations?

The music by Joel J. Richard is good on occasion. The action moments in particular reminded me of John Murphy’s work and anything JM gets my attention.

2 episodes, approx 90 mins each. Alternatively, split into 4 episodes, approx 45 mins each in some regions.

3 growing concerns out of 5

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Justice League (2001-04)

Seven heroes fighting as one unit, each bringing individual strengths and weaknesses, creating opportunities and anticipating reactions, kicking villainous ass in dramatic set-pieces that give way to relatable human drama is what made Justice League one of the best cartoons that I’ve ever seen, especially Season 2.

Quite often it’s the City of Metropolis under threat, but, while not explicitly stated, the War of the Worlds style attacks in the very first arc make it clear that the danger isn't just going to be of global origin, it’ll be intergalactic. The typical focuses are there, of course, such as the folly of those with power, the corruption of the weak-willed in the face of that same power, and the way in which good intentions ill-conceived can be catastrophic to all, but like the comic from which the show took its name the stories aren't unwilling to stray into surreal situations in its exploration of such things. JL is storytelling without constraints.

Superman and Batman will be the big draw for most people, but not all heroes have an active role in every episode. The writers were wise enough to know that specific character-centric episodes would suffer if someone who adds nothing of value to the story was shoehorned in for appearances sake. Hawkgirl is somewhat underused in the early episodes, but they make up for it in spades as things go on and she develops into one of the most interesting of the seven.

Each personality is unique: Batman and Superman are similar to how they were in their respective series; Flash is impetuous; Green Lantern is tactical; Hawkgirl is hasty and combative; Jonn is resourceful; and Wonder Woman is inexperienced because, unlike in the comics, she’s new to the whole superhero thing, having left her home just prior to the team forming. Despite the differences and personality clashes, a mutual respect and well-placed trust binds them (and everyone who isn't Batman likes to laugh at the Dark Knight’s Mr Serious attitude).

What’s equally as exciting is that, with the exception of just one episode, every story is at least a two-parter! The one standalone is a Christmas episode that’s more entertaining than anything 'festive' has any right to be.

52 episodes, approx 22 minutes each, split over 2 seasons. The show changed name to 'Justice League Unlimited' the following year, but I consider it more of a sequel than a typical next season, so it's not included here.

5 chest-emblems out of 5

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Stephen King’s The Shining (1997)

A TV miniseries directed by Mick Garris, based on Stephen King's 1977 novel of the same name. It's essentially the story of a family forced to confront the underlying feelings that threaten to tear their already not very happy home apart. The addition of a supernatural aspect turns the process dial up to dangerous levels.

Jack Torrence (Steven Weber), a struggling writer, ex-alcoholic and regular screw-up takes a job as caretaker of a remote hotel that's routinely closed over the winter months. He brings his wife, Wendy (Rebecca De Mornay), whose over-protectiveness of their seven year old son, Danny (Courtland Mead), is justified somewhat because young Danny has a gift, or a curse depending on your point of view: he can sense emotions, danger and even occasionally see the future.

The quiet, creative retreat for three that Jack was hoping for turns out to be more eventful than he'd predicted. The Overlook Hotel has many ghosts and they'd just love to get to know the Torrence family better.

The teleplay was written by King, so all the little things carry over in a natural way, such as Jack telling people what he thinks they want to hear because it helps him stay in the game; the accusatory glances and subtle, snide remarks orchestrated to recall lingering guilt; a mother's jealousy of the bond between her son and his undeserving father; and the changing mannerisms of each family member as the story progresses and obsessions take over.

The boiler room gets the attention it deserves; the actual boiler being symbolic of the raging monster inside of Jack, building in force until the pressure is so great that it needs to be manually released or the whole thing will explode. Jack's fury is vented in much the same way. He needs to 'blow off steam,' as the expression goes, or his anger will consume him.

The biggest change to the story is during the finale; questionable coda aside it's not radically different from the original but it's been rewritten, making it tighter and more interesting. It's one of the things that help keep everything from falling foul of the usual third act plummet in quality.

I'm not going to add to the 'which filmed version is best?' debate other than to say if you want an unsettling, finely-crafted cinematic vision then the Kubrick film fits the bill, but if you'd rather see a more faithful adaptation of the novel, with intricacies of character intact, then the miniseries will provide it. If you're open to the possibility of one thing evolving into two uniquely different things, get both.

3 episodes, approx 90 minutes each.

4 party invites out of 5

Sunday, October 5, 2014

GamesMaster (1992-98)

For the people that saw GamesMaster back in the day, that watched Dominick Diamond in his presenter pants talk straight-faced about waggling his joystick in public, the warm fuzzies of nostalgia that accompany this post are for you.

For everyone else, yes, the disembodied head in the picture above is the one and only astronomer extraordinaire Sir Patrick Moore. He was the godfather figure on the first ever dedicated video games show on UK TV.

GM went to places that other shows didn't. It plumbed the furrows and poked the holes. It even reached around without being asked because it cared. It was dangerous. In truth it was nothing more than innuendo, but if your mother walked in at the wrong time she’d be outraged. That just made it better!

As an adult now, I can see how Dom’s “verbose vernacular” could be perceived inappropriate and occasionally borderline pornographic by the emotionally stunted, but it didn't stop me chuckling the same all over again.

Dom left after Series II and was replaced by Dexter Fletcher, who was arrogant and shouty. It was a disaster. That’s all I have to say about Series III.

Mercifully, Dom returned for Series IV - VII. The innuendo was slightly curtailed, but the elevated icy sarcasm more than compensated. It’s as if he thought ‘I don’t give a toss about decorum or Channel 4. If they sack me, I’ll go out a winner.’ He'd perv the ladies and ridicule the men equally. The weekly mocking of Dave Perry, an act Dave seemed unaware of for the longest time, was pure gold.

Commentators and reviewers were from popular games magazines of the time, such as C+VG, Game Zone and my favourite, the one my paper round money paid for, Mean Machines. They dished out ridiculous scores of 80 and 90% for games we found out were turds when we rented them illegally from the unscrupulous but enterprising video store owner at the arse-end of town. Every town had one.

It was the era of the Mega Drive, SNES and Amiga; of Sensible Soccer, New Zealand Story, Alien Breed, and micro spring joysticks that broke about a week after purchase (but could we ever find that damn receipt?). Sonic 2, the slowed down PAL version, was a cutting edge new game! Bloody hell.

As the years went on the fast-loading, cartridge-based systems were forced into retirement as a cocky newcomer, the optical disc, arrived and seductively stroked the pockets of gamers the world over hungry for innovation. Little did we know it would lead to draconian business practices, patches, DLC and Season Passes.

126 episodes, approx 25 minutes each.

4 tight right-handers out of 5

Friday, October 3, 2014

Neverwhere (1996)

Richard Mayhew is a nice guy who lives in London. (Those two things are generally mutually exclusive, but Richard is a Scotsman who lives and works in the city, so it’s all good.) His fiancée is an asshole. His friends are assholes. If Richard could meet the criteria he believes constitutes success, he’d become an asshole too. But instead he meets Door, a pretty young woman in need of the kind of help that he in his privileged position is able to offer.

Richard becomes aware of London Below, an underworld with its own laws, both societal and physical, that coexist with the London Above. The two worlds can interact from time to time but must inevitably return to their own individual aspects. If Richard is to help himself then he must continue to help Door, and that means stepping into an unknown world of underground passageways, weird happenings and (not very menacing) cut-throat assassins.

It required a believable, fantastical aura to be effective, something like Hensen’s Labyrinth (1986), but instead it ended up looking more like Eastenders. The reason being that all footage was shot on video with a subsequent filmisation process planned, so the lighting needed to allow for that. When the filmisation process didn't happen, the resultant footage was released as is and it looks bad. It’s easy to imagine the morose ghost of Arthur Fowler lingering behind a market stall someplace, which doesn't do it any favours. I've gotten used to it over the years and can easily ignore that aspect, but newcomers might be less forgiving.

What drew me to the series initially was that it was written by the author Neil Gaiman. I was a fan of his storytelling style back then, which was influenced by classic literature. It’s watered down by oceans and time, but there’s an unmistakable element of it beneath the surface, giving it life. Richard is a kind of modern Aeneas; he’s an Argonaut; he’s Theseus walking toward a confrontation with the Minotaur. He isn't consciously aware of any of that, but the workings of fate exist and direct him in the same orchestrated manner. History has shown that even the Greeks viewed their myths as mutable, adaptive to the times and the teller, so at its most basic level only the setting is changed.

6 episodes, approx 30 minutes each.

3 forgotten route stops out of 5

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Legit (2014)

Jimmy's on a bad luck run, yo.
Season 2 picks up mostly where season 1 left off. Jim has lost his girlfriend Peggy, fired from a lucrative acting gig after making the lead actress uncomfortable with a rape joke and then is possibly diagnosed with a sex addiction by Dr. Drew after he drops his phone in the toilet while using it to masturbate in the shower. Steve is spiraling out of control as well with a growing alcohol addiction and frequent drug fueled binges that threaten his already strained relationship with his ex-wife and young daughter. Billy deals with the progression of his muscular dystrophy and while Jim resolves to dig himself out of their ruts, they all have varying degrees of success. Jim tries therapy, charitable shows for the disabled and veterans, and reconnecting with old flames, but they don't always work out either because of bad luck or just his crass nature. They will also test his resolve and possibly threaten his career.

The season is the same as the first with hilariously black comedic plots often pulled verbatim from Jefferies' stand-up routines, but adds a bit more dark themes that he is also somewhat familiar with like addictions toll on loved ones and depression. The show might seem to lose some of its comedy, but becomes better with the stark mixed with the hilarious. The season was just full of the hilariously raunchy jokes like the thin walls during a happy ending massage or Jim falling for a supposedly perfect woman except for being incredibly racist. It really seemed to hit a stride which is too bad that it was moved to the obscure spin-off channel FXX where no one watched and was cancelled at the end of this season. At least it had some resolution and went out on a high note.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on iTunes and Amazon Instant video.

4 binges ending on the beach in your undies with no recollection out of 5

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Batman Beyond: Complete Series (1999-2001)

aka Batman of the Future

The team that created Batman Beyond achieved the near-impossible: they made a show that's the equal of Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95) and they did it without having Bruce Wayne as the lead! Holy Personnel Changes, Batman.

It's set in 2039, forty years after TAS' successor, The New Batman Adventures (1997-97), and continues the continuity set up by both it and TAS. The era of the original crusader has passed. The world has moved on. Gotham has evolved into Neo-Gotham, a towering, high-tech megalopolis wherein the crime and corruption is as rife in the shiny office buildings as it is on the late night docks. Bruce (Kevin Conroy) is still around, possibly because, like one of his contemporaries said, he's too stubborn to die. He is, however, a retired, cranky and cynical recluse that rarely leaves the Manor.

Enter Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), a seventeen-year-old high school student with a criminal record. Terry has the kind of family upbringing that was denied Bruce, but they have something in common nonetheless: they share a similarly strong moral belief and a desire to see justice carried out. When Terry takes up the mantle he becomes both the symbol that teaches and the student. Bruce, through a two way communication device in the new bat suit, gives advice and support, but it's Terry that takes the weight (and the punches and kicks, etc).

The show references the past in many ways. One of which is the biker gang that terrorises the city and its citizens. They're like a cross between the typical garden variety thug and the Clowns from Akira (1988). They're the painted-faced Jokerz, styled after the original Joker that caused Bruce grief decades before.*

It'll occasionally go further and build an entire episode around something from the past, but never as a means to milk old glories or hide failings. Instead, it's a knowing nod to TAS fans, because BB stands firm on its own two (rocket) feet.

Alongside the criminal of the week it introduces a new roster of regular villains and madmen, some more memorable than others. My personal favourites are the tricky Spellbinder (Jon Cypher), the mysterious Inque (Shannon Kenny), and the clumsy but dangerous anarchist, Mad Stan (Henry Rollins).

52 episodes, approx 22 minutes each, split over 3 seasons.

5 critical lifesaving clues out of 5

*There's a feature length entry titled Return of the Joker (2000) that's a must-see for fans of both BB and TAS. If possible seek out the uncut version.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger (2013-14)


Kyoryuger follows Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters as the 37th Super Sentai series and was brave enough to make some unprecedented decisions for the franchise. In the past, individual Kyoryugers opposed the invading Deboth Legion alongside their mechanical dinosaur partners, the Zyudenryu. Across time, Kenjin Torin has guided them but as this series starts he is finally poised to create an entire team of Kyoryugers to stop Deboth himself from reawakening and destroying the planet wholesale.

The historic decisions made for this series would be very mundane if they ended at having a senshi associated with each mech (for a total of ten), in a new rainbow of colors. Thankfully, they don’t. The original plan for the series seemed to include a core team of six with the other four simply coming in for several feature episodes, in which they’d turn over use of their Zyudenryu. This changed dramatically due to events surrounding the production of the show and those four roles were increased greatly. Because of the structure already established, and a changing of powers, one of them became the first, full, female Sixth*

This didn't happen immediately and I was initially enraged, blinded by an agenda. In truth, however, it occurs step-by-step and what I originally considered the series’ damning failure blossomed into its biggest strength. Further, I consider all of the senshi who were originally only going to be cameos to be the most compelling. Of course the core six show growth over time, but for a few it’s lacking, questionable, or outright stalls. This is partly because a large amount of time is first dedicated to spotlighting the other four and then to the main plot. In short, large casts have been balanced better in the past (e.g., in Engine Sentai Go-Onger).

Themes explored include: being true to oneself and to others, recognizing signs of healthy relationships, overcoming hate, the cost of caring, sources of strength and bravery, finding strength through weakness, change and redemption, and learning to stand on one’s own. The villains are mostly fun and two manage to out-develop their core team rivals. The overall execution is closer in spirit to Kamen Rider with individual efforts being clear to see but the heart of Sentai is maintained via clever cheats and a Deus ex machina.

Flawed, but worthwhile if the themes appeal and you’re willing to see it through to the end.

48 episodes, approx. 24 minutes each.

3 Spirit Rangers to Rule Them All out of 5

*Jetras is not a stand-alone humanoid mech, hence I consider Go-On Silver to be part of a ‘Sixth Team.’

Nutted by NEG.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The A-Team: The Complete Series (1983–87)

I was reminded recently that the question, "Why do you watch that crap?" makes me less inclined to validate the reasons for my own choices and instead more aware of the hidden agenda of the person asking it. It's not a genuine inquiry. It's a thinly disguised insult. With that in mind, I feel sorry for anyone who didn't have The A-Team in their front room as a kid. Not having Sergeant First Class 'B.A.' Baracus, Colonel John 'Hannibal' Smith, Lieutenant Templeton 'Face' Peck and Captain 'Howling Mad' Murdock to provide escapism and feed the imagination is like having an integral part of a happy childhood denied you. It's like having never played with LEGO. It's like having never tasted strawberry sherbets in summer.

Being a fan of The A-Team was a privilege; one that was available to every sighted person who owned a working TV, whether it was the rich kid with a silver spoon feeding both ends simultaneously, or the ostracised, abused kid with an alcoholic father whom everyone thought was destined to be the same.

The show taught us that with good friends and a little ingenuity we could stand up to the bullies. (It made me want friends that I could rely on as much as the team relied on each other. I don’t know if I ever had them. I like to think that I had.)
It taught us that money isn't important to happiness, which was the opposite of what most corporate 80s TV programs wanted us to think, and it repeatedly showed that a selfless good deed is its own reward.
It taught us that Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together.
It taught us that villains will always get up afterwards with nothing more serious than dizziness and a bruised ego. But that part was a lie. In so doing, whether intentional or not, that same lie taught us that real life wasn't always like TV.

In the past year I've thought more than a dozen times that whichever post I'm working on at the time is the last one I'm making on this particular site, but I keep coming back. It's now clear to me why: I want to give all the people who get asked "Why do you watch that crap?" an incentive to revisit the reasons why they did watch it and to remember what it was that they gained from doing so. If you love something, scream it from the rooftops.

(What you're reading isn't the kind of review I was expecting to write when I sat down. I'd planned some jokes about B.A.'s bad acting, Hannibal's bad disguises, Murdock's tee-shirts, Face's shameless sexism and how in a pinch the team could build a tank from an egg box, but you've heard all those jokes before. This way, when the time comes for me to ride off into the sunset, I'll be entirely satisfied.)

98 episodes (5 Seasons), approx 47 minutes each, split over 27 discs.

5 wheel cams out of 5

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tabitha: Complete Series (1976–78)

It was sad to see Bewitched (1964-72) end but it had a heck of a good run and it struggled in the final season to keep the format interesting. A series that focussed on a grown up Tabitha Stephens seemed like the next natural choice.

There were two pilots; neither of which stray too far from the established format. The first was set in San Francisco and acknowledged the changing times, specifically the role of women who were no longer unfairly depicted as dutiful housewives. It had Tabitha (played by Liberty Williams) working as an editorial assistant (secretary). She’s joined by her brother Adam (David Ankrum), a Warlock who relies on his powers frequently. The comedy is targeted toward a slightly younger adult demographic than Bewitched had been.

It was unfairly scrapped and a second, inferior pilot commissioned. Liberty Williams was replaced by Lisa Hartman. The drama was moved to Los Angeles and Tabataha became a Production Assistant at a Television studio. She follows in Samantha’s footsteps by choosing to live among mortals as one of them.
In a complete reversal, her brother Adam, who is inexplicably older than his sister despite having been born second, struggles to get her to refrain from using her twitchy-witchy powers. He essentially becomes Darrin, expect he’s not married to his witch because that would be weird.

Samantha’s flamboyant Aunt Minerva (Karen Morrow) is a regular. Her character is a desperate attempt to compensate for the lack of Endora, but you can’t replace Agnes Moorehead no matter how much you may want or need to.

I don’t think it’s the travesty that many people claim, but the magic is absent - I mean the character type, not the witch type. It was beholden to something much better than it could ever hope to be, so from day one it was caught between a rock and a hard place; i.e. Bewitched and a Bewitched fan’s expectations.

13 episodes (inc. pilots), approximately 24 minutes each.

2 family secrets out of 5

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Unusuals (2009)

Be on the lookout for a male wearing a hot dog costume, last seen running west on Halston Street. Suspect may or may not be wielding a samurai sword.
Casey Schraeger is young detective working in the Vice department of the NYPD when she is suddenly transferred to homicide to replace a cop who was just murdered. That is all on the surface, but she is also tasked by her new sergeant to secretly uncover any secrets and improprieties of not only the murdered cop, but also his former partner/her new partner, Jason Walsh as well as the other detectives in the department. Detective Banks is so paranoid that he will die that he sleeps in his bulletproof vest, has foam padding around the edge of his desk, and replaced all his furniture with inflate-able chairs. Detective Delahoy has recently found out he has a brain tumor, but hasn't told anyone and refused treatment out of fear of what the treatment might do to him which ironically has made him somewhat more fearless in contrast with his partner, Banks. There is also Detective Cole who is a hardcore Christian whose faith is unwavering and his partner Detective Beaumont who is a tough, no nonsense Hispanic woman.

They will all work to solve cases that are rather unusual with the gritty atmosphere mashing with comedic insanity. Like the murder of a naked man running down the street, or the disappearance of a nursing home patient despite him being declared dead. What seems like another police procedural is actually a black comedy that is focused less on the procedure and more on the characters who are all interesting and nuanced and only become more so as viewers get to know them and as Casey learns more about their secrets. The shows premise is a good one even if the whole secrets shtick is finished about halfway through the 10 episode run. The conclusion of that particular plotline would have made a decent finale other than the episode that became the finale because of cancellation. It was a fine episode, just not a spectacle like most finales are, but the episodes after that are still good, one of them being my personal favorite. Great characters, full of wit and some decent action. I only torture myself wishing it would come back for more than 10 episodes when I know it won't.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on a 2 disc DVD set, the dvd mail part of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and for free on digital streaming service Crackle.

Unusual interrogations of cat murderers out of 5

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Silicon Valley (2014)

Kid Rock is the poorest person here aside from you guys. There is 40 billion dollars of net worth walking around this party and you guys are standing around drinking shrimp and talking about what cum tastes like.
Richard Hendricks is a programmer who works at Hooli, a fictional facsimile of tech companies like Google, who lives in an incubator: a group home for programmers who pay rent with a share of any future programs they may or may not sell. When a piece of code he writes shows promise, he is quickly thrust into the high stakes world of Silicon Valley venture capitalists and billionaire CEO's, a situation which he is completely unprepared for with just being a stereotypical tech nerd who is prone to panic attacks and anxiety induced vomiting. To help build his new tech start-up he enlists his incubator roommates, Dinesh and Guilfoyle, along with the incubator landlord, Erlich Bachman, who comes along since the terms of the incubator gives him 10 percent of the new company. They all bring something to the table despite their idiosyncrasies like Dinesh and Guilfoyle's constant competition with each other and Erlich's penchant for grandstanding and taking copious amounts of drugs.

Mike Judge uses his insider knowledge of the tech world to make a hilarious and witty send-up of tech culture. The humor from the show uses nerd stereotypes, but in a way that isn't watered down with offensively inoffensive sitcom jokes. It both prods and revels in geekdom  like Big Bang Theory wishes it did. There is much less of the technobabble that is part of most other shows since the creators and producers are steeped in the culture or did their research so jokes made about, say, videogames sounds natural instead of forced and borderline insulting and derisive. The show is well produced which isn't surprising given the HBO pedigree and the only real shame is there is only 8 episodes.

Buyer's Guide:
Available streaming on HBO GO and iTunes as well as DVD and BluRay sets from hbo.com.

5 Fucking Billionaires out of 5

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Daimajin Kanon (2010)

A Japanese tokusatsu show that has the usual explosive combat scenes scattered throughout, but the masked heroes aren't the main focus of the narrative. Instead, the story revolves around a pretty, young University student, Misaki Kanon, who moves to Tokyo in the hope of becoming a successful lyricist and singer. In order to survive in a harsh environment we need to adopt an equally harsh attitude; for Misaki the city is that environment. Her usual sensitive, fragile personality will be eaten alive if she doesn't do something uncharacteristic to protect it.

If you've watched any amount of anime you’ll likely have encountered a similar set-up, but Misaki isn't as simpering and hateful as the full-blown animated stereotype typically is. The ups and downs are mostly predicable and there are times when you could legitimately accuse her of making a mountain out of a molehill, but the setbacks and departures from the daily routine add to the overall story when you consider her role in each one. Remember, character growth needs challenges, irrespective of whether they're real or imagined.

Action is courtesy of a small group of masked heroes known as Onbake. They go where needed to fight Ipadada, evil spirits that can possess a human and use him/her to summon soul drones. If the Ipadada aren't stopped in time they’ll consume and destroy everything in their path. There is, of course, a connection between the Onbake and Misaki that ties everything together, but, like I said previously, they play second fiddle to her story.

The all-important first episode sets the tone for what follows. It’s thoughtful but also light-hearted. It never feels the need to quicken the pace too much, so it may bore anyone seeking a typical action series. It’s not complex or filled with hidden depths but nor is it too self-indulgent or wispy. Some stories are best told simply; Daimajin Kanon is one of them. It came along at the perfect time for me and I really, really enjoyed it.

The current Wikipedia article claims the series is a retelling of the original Daimajin movie (1966), but if you've viewed both film and series you’ll know that’s not strictly true. There are similarities to how Majin (here called Bujin) transforms and in the scarcity of his actual appearances but the differences in every other aspect of his personality outweigh them. It's a new story, not a retelling. The Daimajin name was in all probability an easy way to create interest. Change his appearance and you’d never know he was supposed to be that old stone god.

26 episodes, approx 24 minutes each.

3½ responsibilities out of 5

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tremors: The Series (2003)

The short-lived series takes place after the events of Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001), so it’s advisable to watch T3 first. I'm going to proceed under the assumption that you already have. If not, then any spoilers you encounter for the first three films from this point onward aren't my fault.

Were back in Perfection Valley, Nevada, home of gun-loving Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) and his very own Moby Dick, the state protected Graboid known as El Blanco. The small community refuse to move, and the indigenous El Blanco is unable to move because of the mountainous regions on either side, so a co-existence is the only answer. Luckily, for us viewers but not for the residents, Perfection Valley has other secrets under its sands, so there’s more than just El Blanco to keep the watchful eye of Burt twitching.

A new guy, Tyler Reed, rolls into town eager to stretch his liability insurance to breaking point by earning a living in the place that does for giant worms what Roswell does for little grey men. Tyler is the everyman, there to balance out Burt’s paranoia with occasional bouts of rationality. A few other returning movie characters cameo from time to time. And what’s even better in my book is that Christopher Lloyd drops in once or twice! A crazy doc makes every show better.

It’s been squeezed to fit the small screen but it’s unmistakably Tremors. The creature of the week scenario is a little overused but it's often a catalyst for the community to come together and for the characters to bond. They’re strongest when standing side by side and sharing a common goal. If that goal turns a profit then it's all the better, because dangerous living costs money.

13 episodes, approximately 43 minutes each.

Six of the episodes are part of an ongoing story arc involving a shady organisation that had been dabbling in things they ought not to have been dabbling in. Burt (not good with people) is tested more than he ever thought possible by the new developments. Sadly, the series was cancelled, so we never got to find out what would've happened when _____ went to _____ and opened _____. Oh, my!

3 twitchometers out of 5

Monday, July 21, 2014

Titus Seasons 1 & 2 (2000-2001)

"The Los Angeles Times states "63% of American families are now considered dysfunctional." That means we're the majority. We're normal. It's the people that had the mom, dad, brother, sister, little white picket fence, those people are the freaks."
Christopher Titus comes from a family that would be considered "dysfunctional". The half hour episodes would open with Titus in a black and white room talking directly to the audience and often relay some quote or story that is thematically part of the plot of the episode which are pulled almost verbatim from his one man comedy show Normal Rockwell Is Bleeding which was itself based on his real life. He grew up with his father who was a hard drinking, smoking, womanizing, 5-time divorcee who perpetually berates and belittles Titus and his idiot, stoner brother Dave in what he sees as a tough love approach to parenting. His mother was a violent, alcoholic, manic-depressive schizophrenic who was in and out of mental hospitals. As an adult he now runs his own hot-rod body shop with his brother and his best friend Tommy who is anxious and effeminate, which means he is constantly the butt of gay jokes despite being heterosexual. Titus is often only managing this craziness with the help of his girlfriend, Erin, who also comes from a dysfunctional family of alcoholic thieves and drug dealers, but has managed to grow into a somewhat normal person. The episodes would then end in the black and white "neutral space" where Titus would reiterate what he said before but now with the meaning skewed and turned on its side.

The show would often take on subject matter that other shows would fear to tread except in a special episode with a viewer discretion disclaimer. Titus would revel in it and crack fun at them while still treating the subject matter with respect whether it was sexual harassment, substance abuse, murder, suicide, etc. This puts the show squarely in the section of black comedy and it was actually part of the show's downfall. The battle with censors and the network over content was constant with Titus relaying one story about how he had to read the script for an episode page by page to an executive on the phone to convince him how it could be funny that they have to convince his father to resume drinking rather than quit because sobriety made him boring and listless. The shows were also different in shooting style as it was shot in real time in front of a studio audience on a set like a play usually in just one location. The laugh track is actually the audience members. Flashbacks and the neutral space interruptions were also played for the audience so it was seen almost exactly as it would be on air. Episodes were mostly self-contained with no overarching story with only a few bits of continuity which was only really thrown out of whack when the network would push episodes out of order for fear of its controversial plot. With its mostly untread material on network TV, its sharp and witty comedic timing and very non politically correct characters, there was nothing quite like it at the time. While it may feel a little dated now, the show still holds up on repeat viewings.

Buyer's Guide:
The DVD sets are now out of print and only available second hand which is a shame as this would be perfect for binge viewing on Netflix or other streaming service. There is a decent amount of bonus content on the discs if one does manage to grab a set.

Don't be a wussy out of 5

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Coma (2005)

A South Korean miniseries set mostly inside a hospital that's almost completely abandoned, having been marked for closure. A young professional woman, Yoon Young (Lee Se Eun), is sent in to check insurance criteria are being met by the few remaining staff members, all of whom are reticent about why there's a single female patient still in the ward. The patient, Lee So Hee (Cha Soo Yun), is in a coma, unable to speak for herself. Why she's there and why she's comatose opens a door to a horror/mystery that leads to a dramatic and creepy conclusion. If you already have a morbid fear of hospitals, then you may want to avoid watching.

The building has ghosts: the dead kind that act independently, with long, face-obscuring hair and a grudge, and the haunting memory kind that are trapped in a moment, destined to replay a tragic event over and over.

Subsequent episodes simultaneously expand upon the sleeping girl's past and offer up new stories with new characters, each somehow tied into it. Within that framework are a small number of different time periods overlapping.

The narrative throws around a lot of what appear to be red herrings as it gathers the disparate threads together, but they weave into a satisfying conclusion, so don't get too frustrated if you feel a little lost from time to time.

It's lit in a very precise way. A lot of the time the colour is either drained out of the picture or the cold, murky appearance of the concrete is extended to every other aspect of production. The closest approximation I can think of is the aesthetic of most survival horror games: the flickering corridor lights, the shit-smeared and blood-stained half-tiled walls, etc.

An over-reliance on the now clichéd Asian horror sounds (clicking/grinding bones and scratching/shuffling corpse) was tiresome, but the series was aired in 2005 and that may have been less of an issue then. Had I been lucky enough to see it in 2005 I'm positive that I'd have liked it more.

5 episodes, approx 55 minutes each. The final episode is the best.

3 unsanctioned after hours operations out of 5

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Royle Family: The Complete Collection (2013)

A fly on the wall style comedy about a stereotypical Manchester family who spend their lives on the sofa watching crap on television. They’re average Joes; common as shit, with a sideboard full of useless tatt and a TV remote held together with some quick-fix insulating tape. Until you warm to the flawed characters, or recognise something of your own family in them, it’s hard to see how it could possibly be entertaining. It may take more than one episode for that to happen. Waiting a week for one instalment is the worst way to experience anything episodic, but happily the series has ended, so you can binge.

The head of the family, Jim Royle (Ricky Tomlinson), is the star. His every second outburst is some kind of sarcastic, critical reproach or joke at someone else’s expense. When not making friends that way, he’s scratching himself or picking his nose. Jim unashamedly does all the things publicly that most men do privately (expect that!). There’s a little bit of Jim in everyone.

His long-suffering wife Barbara (Sue Johnston) is cook and cleaner. She likes to gossip but has a heart of gold beneath the outer shell. Somehow she and Jim mustered up the enthusiasm to have two children: twenty-something layabout Denise (Caroline Aherne) and her dogsbody brother Anthony (Ralf Little). He gets less screen time than the others, but he’s my second favourite character.

Outside of the core family, a small number of friends and neighbours pop in when they need something. It’s a small cast but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better written set of characters in a sitcom. They share mannerisms and exhibit inherited traits like a real family who spend all their time together would.

In the three years that the weekly show ran, the camera never left the house interior. We were given glimpses of the outside world but it wasn't until the specials came along that the exterior was explored. When it happens that first time, have your hankies at the ready because it’s one of the most unforgettable and emotionally powerful TV moments I've ever witnessed. Really.

20 episodes, most of which are approx 30 minutes each, and 5 specials that run longer. Everything up to and including the 2006 special is quality, but everything afterwards was less successful. There was an attempt to wed absurdest comedy into the mix, which really didn't work.

3½ bacon-butties (made by Anthony) out of 5

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 4 (1990-91)

TNG didn't have the same level of continuity as the subsequent DS9 and VOY incarnations of Trek had, but not all events passed without consequence. More than any of the preceding years, Season 4 made an effort to address that.

It begins by concluding the Season 3 cliff-hanger, The Best of Both Worlds. The following episode explores the feelings that one key member of the crew was left to deal with after his ordeal at the hands of the Borg.

In the remaining episodes there are at least a dozen returning characters from previous years, most of whom upset the apple-cart in some way.

Speaking of which, Lwaxana Troi is a wonderfully rich character. She gets an opportunity to show that she’s more than just a thorn with an elevated libido in Picard’s side. (It makes me grin when she converses with the ship’s computer.)

The writers also capitalised on the level of trust that the crew had built up over the years. It’s used not just to help the dialogue feel less formal, but the closeness and familiarly meant they were each able to anticipate what the other would do, and that in turn was often used as a catalyst for puzzle solving when one or more of the team got in trouble.

The uneasy peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire is further explored. Also, the Romulan and Cardassian races grow in significance, showing that the feelings of resentment toward the Federation’s position within the Alpha quadrant are increasing; it’s something that we were always supposed to assume but it was rarely shown so openly.

Everyone will have their favourite, but some of the best episodes are undoubtedly Data’s Day, in which we’re given an insight into the Android’s daily life, and The Nth Degree, an episode that revolves around one of the more exciting returning characters that I alluded to above.

There are a small number of episodes that aren't up to the standard set by the others, but mostly it’s another strong year for the Enterprise D crew.

26 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

4½ motivating mysteries out of 5

Friday, June 6, 2014

That Peter Kay Thing (1999)

Like most mockumentaries, TPKT is an uneven split of hit and miss comedy. It’s a difficult format to engage with. The balance needed to keep it realistic and also provide belly laughs is something I'd not ever wish to attempt. Peter Kay does a grand job of it, though. It’s a series of six mocks each focussed on a different character. Mostly they’re jaded or unsympathetic pricks who take themselves too seriously and work hard to maintain a level of didactic self-importance that few others recognise. The clash between their ego and the personalities of the more down-to-earth people that they employ is a recurring theme.

You’ll get to see Peter Kay in various guises including in drag, in a cowboy hat and ponytail, with a mullet, and as the stressed-out owner of an Ice Cream van.

The importance of small details is something that Kay understands and uses perfectly. Alongside mannerisms is a careful use of accents and stresses that bring a number of regional gags into play. He’s a human chameleon.

Having Andrew Sachs provide narration gives it credence and authenticity. Sachs has one of those calming voices that you instantly trust.

The first episode set the template and introduced many of the characters that would go on to be regulars in the Phoenix Nights (2001-02) series, including bouncers Max and Paddy. Despite that, it’s perhaps the weakest of them all.

The highlight of the short series is episode 5: Leonard. It focuses on a strange guy who isn’t the sharpest tool in the box but is notable for being Britain's oldest paper boy. The camera follows him as he prepares to receive an award for his dedication. If you only watch one episode, I’d recommend it.

6 episodes, approx 25 mins each.

You get 'The Services' as an extra that brings the tally to 7. It was a one-off for Channel Four's Comedy Lab but also functions as a kind of pilot for the show. Don’t overlook it, because it’s one of the better ones.

3 Billy Bunters out of 5

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Brooklyn Nine Nine (2013)

"I'm super glad you're here right now. Are you smelling that weed smell? Cuz a dude broke in, smoked weed and bolted."
"Do you think it's the same dude who left that bong there on the floor?"
"...yes?"
Police are not new to being TV show fodder, but it is rather rare to have the comedic version rather than a drama one especially with all the CSI's and Law and Order's out there. Even more rare that it is actually funny and entertaining. Brooklyn Nine Nine follows the detectives of the 99th precinct as they go through the idiosyncrasies of the NYPD while dealing with each other. Andy Samberg plays the main character Det. Jake Peralta who despite being a great detective is regularly dealing with the consequences of his crippling debt and man-child tendencies that irk his new, almost robotic Captain Holt played expertly by Andre Braugher. There is also his partner Det. Amy Santiago who is always out to prove herself and creepily latches onto the Captain as her would-be mentor. There is also Det. Rosa Diaz, who frequently scares everyone around her, cops and criminals alike. And there is Sgt. Terry Jeffords who would be a great cop if he wasn't plagued by crippling anxiety about police work since becoming a father.

It is quite hilarious as they go solve cases while clashing with each other as much as the criminals. All the characters are well realized and get more so as the season moves along. This adds good gravitas and endearing traits to the characters and their relationships in addition to the comedy which makes for a much more watchable show and only increases the surprise that more people aren't watching it. The episodes are also pretty self contained which means perfect for syndication which may be what some executive is going for as that means more money. An overarching plot doesn't really present itself until the end and it is then only set up as a launching point for season 2. Stellar writing, acting, and comic delivery.

Buyer's Guide:
Available streaming on Hulu, Amazon, Google Play, etc.

4 graffiti penises on minivans out of 5

The Fosters (2013)

The Fosters is an ABC Family drama about a modern, diverse family in San Diego, California. It seems to go out of its way to be so different that it has gone down a checklist of what they could include to be as far from traditional as possible. Lesbians? Check. Interracial lesbians? Check. Interracial lesbians raising foster children? Check. Everyone is mostly cool with it including the ex-husband who fathered the one biological kid in the group. Despite this lean towards the non-traditional, it still gets caught up in typical soap opera tropes at times which is a shame because it actually shines when using the setup it has to explore more exotic story lines.

There is an ensemble cast, but the plot mostly follows protagonist Callie; a teenage girl who has become hardened by years in the foster care system. She is released from juvenile detention into the care of the titular Fosters and struggles to acclimate to an actual safe and loving environment and eventually overcome her compulsive decisions and let her guard down. There is also the 2 mothers who struggle with juggling so many kids as well as discrimination and the dangers involved with one of them being a police officer. There is the biological son who is as straight-laced as they come as well as the adopted fraternal twins, Jesus and Marianna, who both struggle with teenage libidos while Jesus also struggles with ADHD. This setup is rife with drama opportunities and can actually be compelling like dealing with the twins drug addict biological mother or surprisingly well done arcs about sexual assault as opposed to more boring traditional plots like dating and such. The drama gets overblown in the latter half of the season as things just keep piling onto each other and one really weird and seemingly out of place bit that really just encapsulated the overblown drama.

A very non-traditional setup with an often very traditional soap opera execution, but I found myself quite enticed at times.

Buyer's Guide:
Currently available streaming on the ABC Family website with a TBA home release.

schools right on the beach out of 5

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Eden of the East: The Definitive Collection (2011)

Saki Morimi is a young woman who's soon to leave University. She and her friends are fearful of becoming NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training). The economic state of Japan needs the youth to pull them out of a fix, but, with so many NEETs around, the older generation are reluctant to let go of the reins.

Japan needs a saviour, so twelve people are secretly chosen to attempt the task, but there can only be one winner and there's a severe penalty for those that fail.

Akira Takizawa is number IX. Akira has no memory of who he is or why he's naked by the side of the road in a foreign country. More worryingly, he's no memory of the "game" in which he's a part and the clock is ticking.

The first half a dozen episodes each reveal a new aspect of the game or its players. Inside that reveal it effectively deepens the mystery surrounding the event, but everything is from the perspective of people who don't really know what’s going on, and as viewers neither do we. We're in the dark for too long and when the lights do come on the room isn't as exciting as I imagined it would be.

Part of the problem was that I was focussing too much on the mysterious organisation, trying to understand its goals, whereas it's the relationship of the two leads that deserves closer attention. So I stopped and went back to the beginning. I enjoyed it more the second time.

11 episodes, approx 24 mins each + 2 movies: Movie I: The King of Eden, approx 82 minutes; and Movie II: Paradise Lost, approx 92 minutes.

The box contains a third movie titled Compilation: Air Comminication. It’s a two hour recap of the series using footage from the 11 episodes with a new narration by Saki. It was designed to be watched before the two movies if you'd not seen the series or had forgotten stuff. Its inclusion is redundant, but it was cheaper to use the existing single release discs than press new ones, so it remains.

3 default states out of 5

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere (2004)

Max (Peter Kay) and Padddy (Patrick McGuinness) got their own series. Ding dang doo! The pair were last seen as bouncers on the door of the Phoenix Club in Phoenix Nights (2001-02) and had appeared in That Peter Kay Thing (1999) prior to that. If you're new to Peter Kay's world, don't worry, it's not necessary to have seen either of the previous series to enjoy Road to Nowhere.

Max sees himself as a tough but sensitive intellectual. He reads the newspaper.

Paddy sees himself as a rock hard Love God.  He reads Razzle.

The two friends live and travel around in a shoddy motorhome that has a Mr T bobblehead on the dash. Why? Why not!

The reality of their 'Easy Rider' lifestyle is simply two gobshites in a cramped space. The comedy is split between that and the scrapes they get into when they stop the vehicle and venture out into the real world.

If the show had maintained the quality of the first two episodes, it'd be a classic, but the four that followed weren't quite as good. It's still hilarious most of the time, I don't mean to imply otherwise. What made it special was that it'd occasionally drop a sensitive moment on you when you least expect it.

6 episodes, approx 25 minutes each.

3 cherry bakewells out of 5

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Transporter: The Series: Season 1 (2012)

British actor Chris Vance replaces Jason Statham as the ex-SAS man Frank Martin in a spin-off from the Transporter movies. Frank’s house is well-ordered and he carries a spare suit in the boot of his car. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s also a resourceful driver that transports packages from A to B with no questions asked; discretion is paramount. He lives by his own code and is a stickler for the rules:
01. Never change the deal.  |  02. No names.  |  03. Never open the package.
He’ll often quote one of them a few minutes before he invariably breaks it.

Vance’s portrayal of the character is more sympathetic than Stath’s. He’s a sucker for righting an injustice. He needs to be because it isn't just 90 minutes of explosive escapism. It’s an ongoing development in which the hero operates in a gray area of morality and law. He doesn't know what he’s carrying but he’s aware that it’s more than likely illegal. That willingness to facilitate criminals needs to be offset by something if we’re to continue to like him; we need to know that he’s a nice guy beneath the ‘out of sight - out of mind’ ideology. Besides that, his mannerisms and his penchant for using objects in creative ways during fights are the same as they were in the movies.

Frank is assisted by his mechanic Dieter (Charly Hübner) and his agent Carla (Andrea Osvárt). Dieter is the comic relief much of the time but it’s never goofy and he’s a solid, dependable guy. He was my favourite.

Carla is less successful but only because she’s purposefully mysterious. She’s an enigma. All we really know in the early episodes is that she arranges deals and acts as a liaison between Frank and the clients. She’s like Batman’s Oracle.

The only returning actor from the films is François Berléand, who plays Inspector Tarconi; he drops in occasionally to keep Frank on his toes.

You’ll need to make some small allowances for the fact that it’s a TV production, but if you liked the movies then chances are good that you’ll like the series.

12 episodes, approx 45 minutes each.

3½ elegant solutions out of 5

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3 (1989-90)

There'll always be exceptions, but in my experience, whether by accident or design, within forms of entertainment patterns emerge if you care to look for them: book two of a trilogy is often the weakest; tracks one and seven of a CD are often the strongest; and season three of a TV series is often one of the best. TNG is no different. Mostly it’s business as usual with Picard having to accommodate self-important assholes at the behest of his superiors and play diplomatic mediator in heated situations, but there’s also a lot of new directions taken.

Wesley matures and develops into less of a dick. His mom, Dr Crusher, returns to sickbay, so the argumentative Katherine Pulaski is out. There’s no mention of why or where Pulaski went but I like to think she married an Antedean dignitary and now lives as a cold and miserable fishwife on Antede III.

There’s an increase in Romulan and Klingon activity and an attempt to show how a political and cultural setting influences their warring tendencies. As you’d expect, Worf gets to play a pivotal role in a major part of that. Every day is a good day to die for a Klingon, but it seems that some days are better than others.

A small number of supporting characters that would reappear in subsequent episodes/seasons make their Trek début; among them are Andreas Katsulas, Tony Todd and Dwight Schultz, all of whom bring a unique personality.

If that wasn't enough to keep fans happy, some of the best episodes from the entire seven year run of TNG feature, such as Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Offspring and The Best of Both Worlds Part I. The latter is an end of season cliff-hanger, so make sure you have Season 4 nearby because when those credits roll you’ll want to go directly to Part II of the story as soon as possible.

26 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

5 holodeck romances out of 5

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pramface (2013)

We're not in a relationship. We're barely even mates. 
We're just two people who had a kid.
Series 2 begins with Jamie and Laura now dealing with the trials and tribulations of being new parents. Jamie must juggle schoolwork, a job and parenting while Laura feels isolated and ignored by anyone she might be able to even converse with. Both suffer judgement and shame from strangers and even family while mostly tolerating each other. The series becomes more of an ensemble this season as the large cast of supporting characters get much more screentime and plotlines of their own. It was only a problem in that the supporting characters were often much more interesting than the leads. Mike continues his never-ending quest to lose his virginity while Beth sabotages him at every juncture and the various grandparents manage unemployment and rough spots in their respective marriages.

While the two leads are a bit overshadowed, they are by no means bad. It is deliciously wonderful to watch them awkwardly fumble around each other. Jamie tries his hand at dating and Laura trying to make adult friends are particularly cute, but the nature of the situation always comes around like in the quote above. Though it never veers to serious. Whenever it moves close to that line, the mood will be lightened by Mike doing something idiotic or Laura's father Alan will be quirkily doing something weird because of his recent head trauma. Still a decently watchable show, even more so if you like the rest of the cast.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for US audiences on HULU.

Magic Mushrooms out of 5

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 2 (1988-89)

Season Two took the formula that had been suitably refined by the end of Season One and shook it up a little. Not straight away, the majority of it follows the same safely laid path, but as it nears the end a dangerous element that upsets the equilibrium is introduced. The Federation’s sense of superiority (that they’d never openly admit to having) is challenged and, much to Picard’s disdain, ideologies need adjusted. It’s no longer just about exploration.

There were some new additions to the crew roster. Two of them are significant for different reasons, although technically they can both be called healers.

The first is Commander Katherine Pulaski who replaced Beverly Crusher as the ship’s Chief Medical Officer. Pulaski appears to be modelled on TOS’s Dr McCoy but they never go so far as to have her say the famous line.

The second is Guinan, who becomes a semi-regular fountain of wisdom for young and old, ensign and captain, etc. She gets used in a very specific way that anyone who has studied literature will recognise instantly, but her warmth and one-on-one tactics are a welcome departure from the Conference Room.

There are a few episodes that misfire completely but Season Two also contains some of my personal favourites:

-Measure of a Man: a Data-centric story that tests the loyalties and pride of more than one key member of the crew and offers up some palatable philosophical questions for the viewer.

-The Royale: It’s not a standout episode for any specific reason and the sets are cheap, but it feels like a short story from the golden era of sci-fi. It takes elements from other genres and uses them in a new way and by doing so it shows the versatility of ideas and proves that sci-fi truly has zero limitations.

Without a doubt the best thing about S2 is that Commander Riker grew a manly beard. His smug grin is better suited to having hair surround it.

22 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

4 games of chance out of 5

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jonathan Creek: The Judas Tree (2010)

The Judas Tree had Jonathan's spirited opposite, Joey Ross, return for another of the feature-length outings that kept the series sporadically alive for years after the regular weekly format ended. The unlikely duo investigate a macabre mystery involving a ghostly apparition and an unexplained death.

The Adam Klaus character is again shoehorned into the story, but it's less forced this time. However, I did get the feeling more than once that David Renwick was overcompensating for something by filling the story with multiple twists and turns, some of which ask the viewer to make some sizeable leaps of faith and logic. Perhaps the BBC's decision to chop the budget had him worried. To his credit, he managed to not let that aspect visibly weaken the production, and it looks just as good as what he delivered previously.

It employs some clichéd horror movie techniques that I wasn't enamoured with; it's effective in creating atmosphere, sure, but dragging an intellectual drama like Jonathan Creek down to that kind of level cheapened the experience for me.

It excels in other ways, though: the comedy is timely; both Alan Davies and Sheridan Smith play their roles well, with the relationship between them clearly defined and unlikely to be misunderstood; and at one stage it even exposes and draws attention to its own workings, which is a brave thing to do.

Running Time: 94 minutes.

3½ drawing boards out of 5

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jonathan Creek: The Grinning Man (2009)

A feature-length adventure (two whole hours!) that saw the wooly-haired sleuth return to our screens after a lengthy five-year absence.

It's written and directed by creator David Renwick, so the quality is high. The only dip is with the inclusion of an entirely superfluous subplot featuring magician Adam Klaus. I mean no disrespect to Stuart Milligan, but it goes nowhere interesting and serves no purpose other than to give him something to do; its removal would've strengthened the pace of the main plot considerably.

Jonathan (Alan Davies) has been superseded by a younger demographic with less duffel in their wardrobe. When last we saw him, he was being tormented by Carla Borrego (Julia Sawalha), but she's since moved on to graze in pastures new. (What is it with the women of the series? They never stick around for long enough.) Filling her role is Joey Ross, played by Sheridan Smith. Joey performs the same function as the women that came before, which won't surprise anyone, but Sheridan's gung-ho attitude and willingness to get her feet dirty enables the viewer to envision her as having a very different background than Maddie or Carla.

The case involves a sealed attic room in which someone disappeared without a trace over seventy years prior, in 1938. The room's secrets remained hidden, as did the motivations of the designer, but that's only because JC hadn't been around to poke into dusty corners and tempt fate with his trickster’s intuition.

Running Time: 120 minutes.

3½ reality checks out of 5

Friday, February 28, 2014

Legend of Korra: Book 2: Spirits (2013)

"Many things that seem threatening in the dark become welcoming when we shine a light on them."
Season 2 of Korra kicks off 6 months after the events of season one. Korra has learned the elements and gained access to her spiritual side unlocking the Avatar State, but is still working on mastering them all. When dark spirits begin encroaching into the material world and causing havoc, she will once again have to do her avatar duty and regain balance. However this will be challenging as spiritual things are still not her strong point and she has little experience balancing non-human crises. The season maintains the same break-neck speed as the first season, but is much better paced and introduces some fine new characters, villain and ally alike. The season delves deep into the Avatar mythos which produces one of the finest episodes  and goes along with the new themes of tradition vs. change and light vs. dark. The action is smooth and satisfying with the same great bending martial arts we all have come to expect as well as the interwoven character relationships and family friendly comic relief.

The main criticism is the new animation studio that handled the CG was sub-par this season with lower quality effects that are glaringly obvious. Also there is a slight problem that crops up when a lot of what they show of the avatar history and a lot of character backstory was much more interesting than whatever Korra was actually doing, particularly around the middle of the season.
It picks up splendidly at the end with a quite rousing finale. The creators seem to have a knack for finales. Shame that the pro-bending was mostly absent this season, but understandable since it has nothing to do with the plot. Loved a lot of the throwbacks to the original series as well. Overall, much improved over the first season despite some minor pitfalls.

Episodes to See:
The Beginning: A 2-part episode that serves up some fantastic world-building with a unique artstyle.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in the usual haunts, iTunes, Amazon, Dvd, etc.

4 Misinformed knowledge foxes out of 5

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Serial Experiments Lain (1998)

Lain Iwakura is small for her age. She's reserved, quiet and emotionally inexperienced. She has a small group of friends but their connection is tenuous, based more on shared location than on similar interests. That's the nature of the world in which Lain exists. But there's more than one reality; the real world exists alongside the Wired. Among other things, the Wired is a network that allows communication between distant parties. It connects the individual to other individuals and enables information to be passed along. The synergy between the two existences has a profound maturing effect on the young Lain.

I've watched the series twice and I'm positive there are things in it I still haven't found. It's densely packed with subtleties and philosophical concepts. Where do we go when we die? How do we know we're alive? Did God create us? If so, then who created God? It's possible to skim the surface and still enjoy it, but to really get to grips with its message you'll need to delve a lot deeper.

It's vital, even in the early episodes, that you pay extra close attention because sandwiched between the primary narrative and the subtext sits a commentary on how people interact with each other—not just the things they say, but whether or not they were clearly understood or even acknowledged by the recipient(s). That intangible midpoint between speaker and listener, between creator and participant, becomes ever more important to the overall structure.

The audio doesn't always strive for realism. It's frequently used to convey Lain's mood or emotional state in an exaggerated, expressionistic way, but it's always superb. So too is the animation. The depth of emotion that the Triangle Staff studio animators were able to express behind the eyes is remarkable. There are even some scenes that are really quite disturbing.

Don't expect to be given simple, direct answers to all of your questions. If we had all the answers there'd be no more questions, and if that was the case what would be the point of existence?

13 episodes, approx 24 minutes each.

4½ protocols out of 5