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

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?"
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