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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Knightmare (1987–94)

As a young Faustus I loved all things fantasy and supernatural. Fighting Fantasy books, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels, HeroQuest gaming sessions, etc, so it's no great surprise that Knightmare fit perfectly into my life.

Four adventurers (kids under 16) entered the Castle of Confusion in the hope of conquering its dungeon. One wore the Helmet of Justice, which limited what he/she could see, and entered the dungeon proper. The remaining three stayed behind to act as guides, able to see on a screen where their friend was, to direct and keep the Dungeoneer from falling into imaginary pits of doom and suchlike.

The rules of the game were overseen by Treguard the Dungeon Master, pictured above, a noble(ish) born Saxon, he would give occasional clues and hints to either help solve a puzzle or feed the team's nervousness. Treguard rocks!

Even though it was all for the children, the adults were the real stars. They treated the chroma key (blue screen) locations as a kind of stage, treading boards that weren't there as enthusiastically as they would if they actually did exist. In short, they were a theatre troupe doing what they do best: bringing theatrical life to an otherwise empty space. In addition, they had to ad lib when the kids turned out to be more stupid than they'd anticipated for, which was often. It's not unfair to say that some of the contestants hit every branch of the stupid tree when they fell.

Each year the dungeon would shift, offering new challenges and presenting new recurring characters. Even Trequard (Hugo Myatt) got himself an aide or two, my favourite being the elf Pickle (David Learner), who started out a little annoying but grew into a truly memorable part of the show in his second year.

The rules were unevenly enforced; it could be overly-harsh one minute and too forgiving the next, depending on how thick the kids were. It started out pandering to them, but soon got bored with that approach. In S3 the cast toyed with humiliating them, successfully, and in S4 the level design almost sent a few of the clumsier ones to the casualty ward. When a team who knew what they were doing featured, the show became the thing that it was envisioned to be: magical.

112 episodes, approx 25 minutes each.

4½ watchers of illusion out of 5

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lipstick on Your Collar (1993)

You've maybe already guessed by the cover that Lipstick is set in the 1950s, which means music plays an important role. Dennis Potter has a peculiar knack for making existing music and lyrics fit his narrative in unusual ways. He plays with them, opens them up and in doing so changes the intent in an often playfully ironic way. It's so successful that in the future when I hear many of the tracks used in the production I'll be smiling while thinking of the scenes they're attached to.

Of all the Potter TV Miniseries I've reviewed so far, Lipstick is my favourite for a number of reasons, the first of which is mentioned above.

There's also the top-class characterisation to consider, and the way some of the principals drift into their own fantasy realm when life bores or distresses them. In a few of the author's other works the fiction spills over into the reality, but here the reality becomes a part of the fiction; boring old farts who would rather be dead than caught dancing in their underwear are launched into spotlights to spin and twirl their stuffy stuff in a hilarious manner.

At the centre of a majority of the daydreams is Pte. Mick Hopper (Ewan McGregor), a clerk who's desperate for his national service term behind a translator's desk at the Foreign Office in Whitehall to end so that he can live life to the full.

The blonde girl is Sylvia Berry (Louise Germaine), the kind of beauty they paint on the side of bombers, but she's as common as muck when she talks. Nevertheless, a number of people are utterly besotted with her, which invariably leads to trouble.

The lives of workers and residents intertwine at various points along the timeline, deepening our understanding of their situation and even on occasion changing our opinion of them. There's occasional nudity and the politically incorrect notions of the era aren't overlooked, so folks that are easily offended probably will be.

6 episodes, approx 60 mins each.

4½ barely bloody drinkables out of 5