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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Titus Season 3 (2001)

Horrible, heinous, brutal stuff happens to everyone. So if something tragic happens in your life, go ahead, take some time and grieve. *DING* Time's up! Movin' on.
Christopher Titus is working on regaining his reputation and getting his finances in order for his failing hot rod business. That is the overarching plot, but it is actually largely unimportant and mostly forgotten later in the season. The show continued with its dark subject matter, moving on to episodes focused on child abuse, murder, severe mental illness and hate crimes against LGBT. The latter actually won the show a GLAAD award since even though the characters were crass about it, it still put forth that gays deserve equal rights. Pretty radical stuff for 2001 TV. The latter half of the season is probably the best, both in laughs and subject matter as the severe mental illness of Titus' mother affects almost everything in the show. The black comedy was in fine form with hilarity mixed with a sincerity that comes from Titus having actually gone through real life situations that inspired the show.

The show was hitting a stride despite the networks' continued objections to the crude content that caused a few episodes to air out of order and mixed with a plot about a disturbance on a plane in THAT year caused a delayed airing that further threw the schedule out of whack and a meeting with executives that Christopher has talked about several times caused the show to be cancelled. As Titus puts it, "Call your boss an idiot enough times and they will fire you." The silver lining is the show went out before it became too formulaic like other shows that also have heavy use of cutaway jokes and flashbacks, but the theatrical play filming was still fairly unique. Like the other seasons, it can feel a little dated now, but still worth the time to watch.

Buyer's Guide:
Only available on out of print DVD box sets that at least have some decent extras.

4 taking out 4 armed guards with a pair of tweezers out of 5

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cilla (2014)

I was born in the decade after the swinging sixties had swung their last, so my experience of Cilla Black while growing up was primarily as the woman on TV who said “lorra lorra laughs,” and “…here’s our Graham with a quick reminder.” I knew her musically from having performed the emotionally stirring theme song to the film Alfie (1966), the UK version at least, but I knew nothing of how she rose from being a music fan to embracing fame as a singer, so watching 'Cilla' was a real eye-opener. It’s also damn good. It ought to be because it's from the same writer, producer and director team that made Mrs Biggs (2012).

It begins in 1960, Liverpool, the same year and location in which The Beatles formed. Cilla’s own evolution runs parallel to theirs and even overlaps on occasion. As you’d expect, almost everyone speaks in a Liverpudlian accent. The hard ‘g’ and ‘–ckk’ sounds are better performed by some of the cast than by others, but everyone is easily identifiable as being Scouse.

Cilla is played by Sheridan Smith. She’s not a dead ringer, but when topped with the famous red hair and outfitted in the correct period fashions she definitely looks the part. The aesthetic trappings could've been all for naught if the voice wasn't authentic. Thankfully, Sheridan can really sing. She performed all tracks live on set, in both of Cilla’s unique styles, and it’s genuinely superb. I’d link an example on YouTube but removing them from context wouldn't be a good idea.

While the miniseries is primarily about the titular character, she didn't make the journey alone. It’s also the story of the devoted Bobby Willis, who played a pivotal role, and to a lesser extent the record producer Brian Epstein.

Directly after viewing the final episode I went looking for clips of the real Cilla singing in the studio to see how Sheridan compared. Doing so was instrumental in my developing a new appreciation for Cilla's talents. I see her now first and foremost as an artist, whereas before it was as presenter of crap TV.

3 episodes, approx 45 minutes each.

4 edge of the step moments out of 5

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Kingdom Hospital (2004)

aka Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital

American author Stephen King took Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier’s eight episode miniseries, Riget (1994), turned it into a thirteen episode English language series and relocated it to Lewiston, Maine. There's sure to have been many other changes too, but since I've not seen the original I can’t say what they are. Von Trier shares an executive producer credit, suggesting he was agreeable to the adaptation or at the very least happy to whore the concept out.

Peter Rickman, the person we’d traditionally most readily identify as the main protagonist, is admitted to the titular hospital after a serious accident. An accident, incidentally, that mimics King’s own hospitalisation almost verbatim; although I suspect the talking anteater is very much fiction. Peter is a painter, not an author, but his onscreen role is similar to King’s background role: both men help rewrite a story as it happens from a point that's both distant and crucially central. Even though he's a key player, perhaps even the most important one, he’s only one part of a larger whole, one small element in the daily workings of the institution.

The building is modern but has foundations that extend backwards in time to the Civil War era. Before it was a hospital it was something else entirely, and before it was a place of saving lives it was a place where many lives were lost. Yes, it’s the old 'I built new shit atop some old shit and now the ghosts won’t leave me alone,' scenario. Part of what makes it different is the aforementioned talking anteater. It’s CGI but it’s really rather good considering it’s a TV production.

The show's appalling camerawork, direction and oddly placed music made me hate it. If not for Diane Ladd’s character, self-professed psychic Sally Druse, and the mystery surrounding the little girl pictured on the cover (Jodelle Micah Ferland) I’d have given up long before the end. Things do start to get better by episode four, but there’s so much wasted potential that it’s a struggle to make it that far.

A large percentage of the many subplots serve little purpose other than to extend the running time or increase the level of weird. More effort to make them a valuable counterpoint to the core story would've helped tighten the narrative.

The highlight of the whole endeavour is the opening credits that resemble a Dave McKean and JK Potter-esque hybrid of imagery that does eventfully have some relevance even if it appears not to for the longest time.

13 episodes, approx 40 mins each (the first and last are double length).

2½ jonesing rats out of 5