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 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 clich├ęs 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