Posts Tagged ‘ #telosvision ’

#telosvision: fall shows up

greetings tellybox fans

summer has gone, and it’s that time of year when i share my thoughts and opinions about the treats that are being offered up by bosses in TVville for our Autumn/Fall delectation. please accept my apologies that this year’s offerings have arrived so late, but for some reason i’ve just not been able to sit down and get this post written before now. in my defence, there is a lot to consider this year, in fact, that in order not to overface you i’ve divided things up into two posts, this first one will handle shows from the States and a subsequent one will examine British programmes.

as far as i’m concerned it’s something of a vintage in terms of returning series in the US, with quality reigning over quantity – however, i have to say that i’m less enthused by the new offerings than i would like and suspect the opposite is true where they are concerned.

however, let’s just pause a moment to honour some shows to which we are wishing farewell as they prepare to wrap up for a long Winter sleep. last night, for example, saw the finale of another great season of Louie. i laughed (a lot) i cried (a bit) and the cameos by David Lynch are perhaps my favourite of all in the three seasons so far. while the final episode of this season was in the tradition of the more muted, reflective ones, the scene where Louie attempts to reattach the doll’s eyes, and in particular his use of the phrase “shit on my father’s balls” was up there with my favourites.

the other big loss to me was The Newsroom, which wrapped at the end of August and was definitely my favourite new show of 2012 so far. despite having possibly the sappiest credit sequence in television history and being sort of a remake of his comic-drama from 2006/7 Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – which i liked but was, despite being not really very similar, deemed too similar to 30 Rock to be renewed – Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV offering really grabbed me.

the performances were pretty much all-round excellent, with Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn (xxxx) and Sam Waterston deserving of special praise. possibly most impressive of all, however, was Dev Patel, who for the first time ever did acting that i didn’t TOTALLY HATE, but actually sort of liked. quite incredible. however … i don’t know what it is about Sorkin, but i always seem to like the stuff everyone else hates (A Few Good Men, Studio 60) and vice-versa (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball). i’m honestly not trying to be contrary, but if my track record is anything to go by, despite being renewed for a second season, The Newsroom might want to watch it’s back.

anyway, not wanting to dwell on what has passed, let’s turn to the shows that are being being unwrapped and placed back on the shiny shelf. (nb. when it comes to stuff i’ve already seen, whilst i will be mentioning some aspects, i will, as always, try hard not to drop any significant spoiler-bombs.)

for those of you who aren’t up to speed with any of the returning series mentioned but would like to be, this post comes to you sponsored by BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Hulu, HideIPVPN (which is just my favourite of the many online services that can help you to watch Hulu when not in the US or iPlayer when not in the UK) and probably most importantly of all watchseries.eu, which is the place to go to catch up with previous or current seasons of pretty much any major series that has so far eluded you. the internets are brilliant, peeps, use them.

returning shows

Treme: top of the tree, the long awaited return of the brilliant New Orleans-based drama created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, who as far as i’m concerned are giants among men in a metaphorical world where being able to reach high things is a sign of wisdom, decency, truthfulness and beauty. wheel number one of what i’m calling ‘the Sunday Trike of Awesome’, season 3 began Sunday last and is already right back up to speed. David Simon has always stuck to the same logic – “follow the money”. with two years now between itself and Katrina, NOLA (and the Tremé in particular) still has a long way to go. housing is still the hot topic, and there’s plenty of green notes to be made, if you know the right people. meanwhile, everyone else will just have to keep fighting just to stay put. [HBO, Sundays, 10PM ET – or here]

Boardwalk Empire: Sunday Trike of Awesome wheel number two stands in the shape of season 3 of Terence Winter’s artfully crafted, cruel and awkward prohi-era surviveathon. there are some series that it’s really not worth going back and starting on if you missed the boat first time round, but this is not one of them – for those who’ve been slow on the uptake hereabouts, you really need to get on board. that having been said, i won’t add too much by means of comment on this season other than to say that as long as Chalky White is around to see what becomes of AC under the redoubled if not exactly untroubled Thompson regime and to witness the inevitable increase in focus on New York and Chicago then i’m happy. [HBO, Sundays, 9PM ET – or here]

Homeland: wheel three is season 2 of Showtime’s big hitter from last Autumn (which i only caught up with when it was broadcast here in this Spring). as regular readers might remember, i took a few episodes to get into Homeland – again, the credits were a significant turn off – but i eventually became hooked. you might also remember, however, that despite my enhookedment, i had some reservations concerning both its sexual ethics and the role of mental illness. in the end, i was sad to see that it fell into a couple of the mental illness pitfalls that i’d laid out, and i’d say the whole thing about sexuality still has a way to go before all the cards are on the table. however, reservations not withstanding, this time round it has definitely been upgraded to my ‘watch US broadcast’ list.

season 2 premiered on Sunday, but don’t worry i won’t give anything away. he’s made it all the way from tutoring a terrorist’s son in Afghanistan to sitting in the US Congress, but deep down i think we all know that he’s still, he’s still Brody from the hole. expect a lot more drawn-out squinting and secret Muslimising to distrustful music from Brody, and pestering from the CIA plus drawn-out ambiguity over how long it will take her to remember the link between Brody and Nazir’s son (that inconveniently solidified in her head seconds before her ECT began) from Carrie. [Showtime, Sundays, 10PM ET – or here]

New Girl: i’m still not really sure why i like New Girl quite as much as i do. but i really do. like it. in spite of her name, i’ve always liked Zooey Deschanel and she’s definitely one of the reasons it works so well, but the thing i wasn’t really prepared for was the writing being so consistently great. from the outside it might look a bit flyaway, like it’s on the same level as something trivial like The Big Bang Theory, but it’s not. it’s actually really good. I can honestly say that i desire nothing more from season 2 than more of the same, please. [Fox, Tuesdays from 9th Oct, 9PM ET – or here]

new shows

Vegas: let’s start with CBS’s headliner, which sets out to tell the story of the early days of Sin City seemingly by mainly pitting just-in-from-Chicago casino boss Vincent Savino – played by Vic from The Shield (Michael Chiklis) looking more like a bulky Bruce Willis than ever – against Ralph Lamb, Dennis Quaid’s brooding old-skool-Nevada-rancher/lawman. at the start of the pilot, grizzed ol’ man Lamb, who was a distinguished MP during the war, is installed as an emergency Deputy Sheriff while the current Sheriff hides from some mobsters that he double crossed and ‘ratted out’ to the authorities. Lamb just wants to run his ranch in peace, but, since that stupid big dam got built, the small city that’s sprung up near his land is becoming a pain in his skinny, Lee-clad ass.

what he doesn’t want is planes to fly over his land, or fancy, arrogant Italian out-of-towners to climb above their stations. what he does want is to punch people in the face and wear his Stetson. can you guess who’s the Sheriff of Las Vegas by the end of the first episode? it’s good to see that Carrie-Anne Moss is slowly working her way back from Matrix-enduced shame, i’ve long rated her as an actor, and to my eyes she looks far better in a shift dress now than she did in leather trousers back then. while there is some crossover in terms of style, content or arc, Vegas definitely doesn’t have the requisite seriousness to be on par with Boardwalk Empire, or Mad Men, or Scorsese’s Casino, and after the pilot i can’t say whether it’s going to turn out to be worth watching at all, but i’d like it to be, so i’m in for at least the first three episodes. [CBS, Tuesdays, 10PM ET – or here]

Revolution: J.J. Abrams has really taken the whole ‘EPing a TV series is the new directing a movie’ thing to heart, but should we trust him after Lost? well, Jon Favreau directs the pilot of this slightly odd post-technopalyptic sci-fi-a-rama and despite it being slightly infected with the dreaded expositionitus, and genuinely containing of the lines “It’s happening, isn’t it?!”, “Family? Kid, I don’t even know you!” and “You know, I didn’t ask you to come back”, i almost liked it. basically, one day, everything electronic and also (for some unexplained reason) engines stopped working and fifteen years later a fragile society is living hand-to-mouth in a part wild-west, part medieval Europe type scenario. this society is ruled by some sort of warlord and one family is keeping a very powerful secret from him and everyone else.

we’re supposed to be wondering about this small, silver USB drive/scarab necklace thing that might be the key to what happened to the tech, but i spent the whole time trying to work out how twenty somethings in a small isolated community could have perfectly fitting jeans, leather jackets and make-up so long after the end of all mechanised industry. that, and why, despite relying on basically the same physical principles, guns fire and oil lamps burn, but combustion engines don’t work. why fifteen years after it fell (hilariously unrealistically) from the sky, there’s a perfectly untouched plane sitting in the middle of a field, why, if you lived in a world where someone holding a crossbow sideways above their head can repel downward blows from a sword at close quarters, would you not do mostly stabbing motions in that situation instead, and why the goofy, multi-millionaire former Googledouche has brand-new-looking glasses. in fact, i was just beginning to think that, by failing to properly think through the implications of its starting premise, it had fallen into the same trap as 2009 mega-flop FlashForward, when Giancarlo Esposito (the fabulous Gus from the fabulous Breaking Bad) showed up. that, on its own, has bought it another episode.

Last Resort: submarine, blaa blaa, Pakistan, missile strike, blaa, defying orders, fired on by own team, blaa blaa, T-1000 is an angry one, backup communication network, NATO early-warning station reminiscent of the control room from Jurassic Park on a remote island (always with the remote islands), local gangsters, blaa blaa, Washington, now shit’s got serious. etc. the pilot previewed weeks ago and i’ve been left with little inclination to seek out further episodes. [abc, Thursdays, 8PM ET – or here]

Elementary: Jonny Lee Miller as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes living in Brooklyn with Lucy Liu’s Dr Joan Watson, what could be boring and or ridiculous about that? if it continues to be as bad as the pilot, i’m guessing that by episode 3, the only people watching will be Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ lawyers. i’m out. [CBS, Wednesdays, 10PM ET – or here]

Arrow: this is one of the few Fall shows that will be broadcast in the UK this year, with Sky One having picked it up and due to put it out a month or so behind The CW from late Oct. it’s a teen-drama version of DC’s Green Arrow very much in the mould of Smallville, and i imagine it will strike the right sort of chords among its target demographic. i found the pilot pretty meh, but it’s very clearly not meant for me. [The CW, Wednesdays, 8PM ET]

Go On: despite Friends and several terrible movies, i actually really like Matthew Perry and, as you know, thought his work in Studio 60 (his last significant TV role) was excellent. here he plays a widowed sportscaster who’s undertaking counselling. i’ve long thought that group therapy scenarios are ripe fodder for comedy, which is one of the reasons why, along with two friends, i’ve been working on a screenplay for a sitcom which is set in just such a context. who knows if we’ll ever actually produce anything polished, let alone do anything with it, but the constant risk, however, is that in the time that we’re dealing with our creative blocks something else comes along and occupies a similar space – a 30 Rock to our Studio 60 if you will. happily, while i sort of like Go On, i’m fairly sure it’s not treading on our toes too much. [NBC, Tuesday, 9PM ET – or here]

• three real stinkers

Neighbors (abc): weak concept, poor acting, cheap gags. terrible.
Partners (CBS): no, guy who was in Numb3rs and The Newsroom, just no.
Ben and Kate (Fox): über-corny family sitcom. derivative and sloppily written.

#telosvision: mad men (and woman)

so, last night

brought along the UK broadcast debut of Mad Men season 5. of course, unless you’re total nobody and don’t even know anything about things, then you’d already downloaded and watched the doublebill a whole few days ago and have been busily acting special and tweeting about how you could, but won’t ‘spoil it’ for ‘everyone’.

well, i am a total nobody so i watched it ‘on broadcast’ with the prols. and i must say, despite the overarching Murdoch-claw of evil, congratulations are due to Sky Atlantic for putting on a good show. whoever’s decision it was to fill the advert breaks with vintage adverts, deserves praise.

given that i’m not (and won’t ever be) a subscriber, but use a generously donated online pass, when it comes to Sky, i don’t have my usual luxury of switching on fifteen minutes late and then skipping the adverts. however, i have to say that last night i was glad of that fact. when they weren’t busy being hideously misogynistic/racist, many old adverts did actually used to be quite charming.

*spoilers ahoy*

ironically, while we were studying the work of real-life 60s advertising agencies, the future of SCDP was looking evermore in doubt. the work space is still an issue, and money is as tight as ever, and the cracks seem very much to be showing. in fact, the overarching tone of the season’s start was fairly sour.

being 1966, the sixties are now swinging. the golden era of style is passing – the blazer that Roger wore to Don’s birthday party was hideous, the women are wearing bubblegum pink and orange and it won’t be too long till we see flared suits (*shudders*).

moreover, the onward march of civil rights is bringing out the racism in everyone, and the film stock now looks overly ‘glossy’ (although that might be more to do with HD than anything else).

and, as for the characters:

Pete still thinks too much of himself, Joan is more fragile than ever now that her matriarchal swagger has become a maternal wobble, Lane is still a vapid bastion of flimsy British cliché, Harry has turned into Dilbert, Peggy is drifting further from her roots and becoming evermore conformed to the ‘bitch at the seniors, dump on the juniors’ norm, and Roger has apparently lost even the modest amounts of class, grace, tact and purpose that he had.

then, of course, there are/is Don and Megan. well, having taken the easy option and dumped Dr Faye, it seems Don has ended up with what he wanted. despite some initial ‘resistance’ – “everyone here is so horrid”/”Zou Bisou” – by the end of the second episode it seemed that, thanks to some firm words and some rapey sex on a dirty carpet, Don had finally broken (in) his mare. presumably now he’ll convince her to  g e t  h e r  t e e t h  d o n e.

and, speaking of rapey sex, Homeland.

so i’m suddenly a bit worried by an apparent conservative undercurrent in what looked like it was going to be a refreshingly non-conservative Fox show. while it seems to be playing fashionably fast and loose with neo-con norms like ‘all terrorists are brown’, ‘all veterans are heros’ and so on (with regard to which we were all on high-alert), have the spectres of implicit misogyny and reinforced ‘family values’ snuck round the back and caught us off guard?

while it’s been a factor since the outset, the last two episodes seem to have placed very strong emphasis on Carrie’s sexual proclivities. despite relying heavily on the ‘married to the job’ and ‘spying + family = doesn’t work’ clichés, there is also seems to be a sense that sex is a particular ‘problem’ for her.

we learnt early on that she had a fling with David which led to the breakdown of his family. then, when in a tight spot, she seemed to make a frankly ridiculous error of judgement involving Saul. then, when discussing relationships with Brody she revealed that she “wasn’t exactly faithful” to her partner when she was in Iraq *wink wink*. and now, since her primary lines of spy inquiry (spyquiry) have been thwarted by damned bureaucracy and something bullshit to do with human rights and evidence, she seems to have decided to turn herself into a honeypot.

history of unfaithfulness/promiscuity, huge lapses of judgement with regard to sex, willingness to use sex as a tool, mental illness *POTENTIAL MISOGYNY ALERT* *REINFORCED CONSERVATIVE SEXUAL ETHIC ALERT*

on a side note, obviously the whole mental illness subplot is something i’m following very closely, and something i will no doubt write about once the season has played out. however, here are some thoughts so far: we don’t know yet exactly what condition Carrie suffers from, although we know that her sister provides her with Clozapine, which her father apparently also takes.

Clozapine is a strong, atypical antipsychotic primarily used in the treatment of schizophrenia, although it is also occasionally used to treat Parkinson’s and, very occasionally, the mania associated with bipolar disorder. i think we can safely rule out Parkinson’s (for Carrie), but it could be either of the other two.

the real inconsistency is that, as a psychiatrist, her sister would know that Clozapine is not at all suitable to be taken on the down-low, given not only its strength, but also a profound risk of damage to white blood cells (which must be monitored with regular blood tests).

these ‘issues’ to one side, here are my hopes for the mental health plot point:

o minimal fetishization (i think this hope is already dead)
o no ‘all mental illness is a savant-like power’
o no ‘just as i’m about to be right everyone finds out i’m mental and ignores me’
o no ‘i don’t need proper treatment, i just need to work’
o no ‘proper treatment means straight-jacket and psych ward’
o no ‘as things go well for me, my illness goes away’

anyway, we’ll see.

#telosvision: spring series

recently at RQT

we’ve all been too ill for doing blogs (not literally too weak to type, but too busy either sleeping, coughing, or catching up with essential stuff that we’ve missed through sleeping and coughing).

however, what we have mainly been doing between bouts of sleep and coughcough is watching TV, and in particular keeping eyes on the first wave of spring series.

while there’s some interesting stuff still to come …

o new seasons of Mad Men and Game of Thrones
o Hit and Miss – Chloë Sevigny’s long-awaited transexual-assassin drama
o Smash – all singing, all dancing razzmatazz with Angelica Houston
o not to mention The Voice and the Dallas reboot (glances towards noose-stool combo)

… recent weeks have seen this year’s class off to a decent start in some quarters, and with the premiere of Mad Men season 5 now less than ten days away, it’s probably important to talk about any other shows now before Don-fever engulfs everything.

in terms of comedy, despite the embarrassingly bad  Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy and the failure of BBC Four’s Australian journo-spoof Lowdown to gather any real momentum, we’ve been treated to new seasons of RQT favourites Archer and Eastbound & Down as well as the continuation of Parks and Recreation season 4 and the conclusion of season 2 of Portlandia.

alongside these established laugh-couriers, we have also been tickled by strong debuts from New Girl and the animated Napoleon Dynamite series.

drama, however, has mostly been “where it’s at”.

while there have been some good pickings round the edges – like the fact that BBC Four decided, off the back of their Italian season, to show the whole first series of Inspector Montalbano (which, despite hideous production value, brings the exploits of Andrea Camilleri’s phlegmatic Sicilian to life remarkably well) – it’s mostly been about the arrival on these shores of two new American heavyweights.

Channel 4 landed Homeland, Showtime’s slow-ish-burning security services thriller starring Claire ‘wherefore art thou’ Danes and Damien ‘i’m doing an impression of Michael Madsen now’ Lewis, whereas Sky Atlantic snapped up the Dustin Hoffmann/Michael Mann horse-racing-themed gangster vehicle Luck.

Homeland

given that it was produced for Fox 21 by Howard Gordon, the obvious comparison was with 24, although i tried hard not to let that put me off. given that we’re currently four episodes deep and so far there have been no explosions and only three shots have been fired (two of which were at a deer), i imagine most 24 fans will have already come to the end of their underworked attention spans.

Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a mid-ranking CIA officer at the centre of what seems to basically be a classic and slightly caricatured character study. [paraphrasing] “I made mistakes that day …” (can you guess which day she means?) *pops blue pills in front of mirror* “… I won’t let that happen again” [subtext] “I’m strong, but fragile. I have a flawed past, but also moral courage. I might be a bit mental, but just because I’m paranoid it doesn’t mean that Damien Lewis isn’t out to get us all”.

she is a workaholic. she doesn’t eat properly or look after herself and her apartment is sort of but not really a mess. because she is in a rush, one of the first things we see her do in the series is hurriedly wash her vagina with a flannel. i don’t remember Jack Bauer doing that.

Lewis plays grizzled Sergeant Nicholas Brody, or ‘Brody’ to everyone (seriously, even his wife), a US Marine (‘oo-rah) who is pulled out of a hole in Afghanistan-Iraq (the two seem to be basically interchangeable) after spending eight years as a POW of war. Brody resurfaces suspiciously soon after we’ve witnessed a flashback of Mathison learning from a then soon-to-be-executed prisoner in an Iraqi jail that an American military captive has been ‘turned’ by Al-Qaeda.

behind the back of terrible-accented boss David (played, oddly, by David Harewood off of ITV’s proto-Gavin-&-Stacey flop, Fat Friends) and to the despair of both her powerful behind-the-scenes-meddler-of-a-mentor, ‘wise jew’ Saul Berenson (played by a man called Mandy) and friend/wingman/tech guy Ray Vecchio from Due South – who, despite his concerns, is “fucking in it now, up to your fucking neck and so is your stupid kid brother” (again paraphrasing – what? i’m not doing ‘research’) – Carrie bugs Brody’s house with cams and mics and looks at him intensely.

occasionally she looks away, then writes things down – things about him, but which could often also apply to her. which is sort of what irony is.

[key plot so far (spoilers)]

Brody has torture scars. when (he thinks) no-one is watching, he sits in the corner. instead of sexing his wife, Jessica, right, first he rapes her, then, another day, he wanks over her. he lies about knowing a known bad man. maybe he killed a fellow captive because the known bad man told him to. he sees known bad man in his dreams/bathroom mirror. daughter-Brody, Dana, is angry that mummy-Brody had sex with best-friend-Brody, Mike, while brody-Brody was off being presumed dead for eight years.

no interviews. OK, interviews.

when and where the hidden cameras can’t see him, Brody sometimes (although certainly not five times a day) does Muslimy stuff, like washing his hands in a bowl, kneeling on a mat and praying toward the east. when he goes for a run, he likes to stare menacingly at Capital Hill. at a party, he shoots a deer. a concubine to the Saudi prince/untrained CIA-assest has a necklace, but then is also dead. then she doesn’t have the necklace. a suspicious inter-racial couple use the proceeds from the sale of the necklace to buy a house under a flight path. time up, no more cameras. pressure.

so far at least, Homeland isn’t amazing, but then so little TV drama is. compared to something like 24 it’s tense, visceral, stripped-down and gritty. however, it is also lays it on too thick in places – the opening credits being a perfect example. still, i really like Danes and Mathison, and Ray Vecchio and i’m belted in for the ride.

talking of rides …

Luck

created by David Milch (Murder One, NYPD Blue, Deadwood), produced and guest-directed by Michael Mann and starring Dustin Hoffmann, mumbling, recent Academy Award nominee Nick Nolte, Michael ‘Dumbledore II’ Gambon, long-standing Mann collaborator and Hollywood-go-to-chump-mobster Dennis Farina and a stuttering Richard Kind, there’s plenty of well known (male) names involved.

Luck is based in the world of Californian horse racing, and focuses on the way in which it is just clean and just dirty enough to be the perfect context within which disgruntled mobster Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein can take revenge on those who let him carry the can when his apartment was found to contain a large consignment of ‘product’; cocaine, which Mike Smythe (Gambon) had stashed there without consent.

following three years of prison time, Bernstein buys Pint of Plain, a promising Irish racehorse using chauffeur and factotum Gus (Farina) as a ‘clean’ proxy, and proposes that his former partners – on whom he wants to take his revenge – invest in a local track and build a casino there.

how these two schemes, and the parallel exploits of Nolte’s horse owner Walter Smith (the guy that thinks of surnames is pretty lazy), prickly track trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz), stammering agent Joey Rathburn, novice (‘bug’) rider Leon, washed-up jockey Ronnie (played by real-life Hall of Famer Gary Stevens) and four-strong, degenerate betting syndicate Marcus, Renzo, Jerry and Lonnie (who see a huge payday from a fattened ‘pick six’ in the pilot), are connected, well, that’s the ‘hook’.

there was a decent buzz around Luck since its pilot pre-aired in the States at the end of last year, but i have to say four episodes in and i’m on my way out.

the biggest problem is the uneven tones. on the one hand, the the decision was made to go for a David Simon-like approach to racing slang and gambling concepts, with the first few episodes being packed full of ‘triple bugs’, ‘singling the fourth’ and so on. however, despite (or perhaps because of) this and the potentially complex and twisting meta-plots, the scriptwriters have decided that several of the characters should do large amounts of exposition, usually whilst talking to themselves out loud.

several do this, but Nolte’s Smith is the worse offender. his character is a heavy drinking loner who might just have a little-known horse that can win the Derby. apparently, this combination of characteristics means it makes sense for him to spend 2/3s of his screen-time vocalising his thoughts – either mumbling to himself whilst looking through binoculars as his prize horse trains, or (indulging the only bigger cliché on offer) mumbling to the horse, whilst rubbing it down before or after a workout. you just can’t do the whole ‘corrupt animal sport as metaphor for institutional manipulation’ thing AND do this shit too.

basically, it’s as if some people who know what they’re doing wrote the screenplay, but then Scooby-Doo and Dr Dolittle were asked to make whatever changes they saw fit.

at one point, we’re actually expected to believe that a seasoned gambler (Lonnie) doesn’t know which horse he’s supposed to be cheering for even though (as he’s already pointed out) the board clearly shows how much he’ll pocket if each horse wins, and one of them is a much bigger number than the others.

this undulating terrain composed of a cluster of characters with several (seemingly) loosely related interests, a barrage of horse racing jargon which is obviously supposed to make the whole thing feel ’embedded’ and edgy, but also ridiculous levels of plot exposition and hand-holding (presumably there to make good on a no-viewer-left-behind pledge) has so far made for a very disjointed and largely suspense-less experience.

fans of the back pages who were watching Luck in the run up to Cheltenham might have noted a small amount of reality crossover related to the somewhat murky goings-on at Paul Nicholls’ stables with regard to champion and then Gold Cup favourite Kauto Star’s hushed-up fall in training.

furthermore, it transpired that what punters had been assured was a totally fit and ready to go Kauto Star was pulled up in yesterday’s Gold Cup, less than half way round the course. i suspect the closed nature of the sport, the very reason it suits a story like the one told in Luck, will mean the truth about exactly what happened and how will be very unlikely to emerge. however, the parallels between reality and fiction did not end there.

on Wednesday, the opening day of the festival at Cheltenham, three horses were badly injured while racing and were euthanised as a result – which (along with two further deaths the next day) have put the ethical spotlight back on steeplechasing in particular and horse racing in general. meanwhile, on the very same day, despite the filming of the second season being underway and a third in the pipeline, HBO announced that, as a result of a (third) horse being injured (and subsequently euthanised) during production, Luck had been cancelled.

the death of two horses during the production of the first season – one early on in 2010 and another towards the end in 2011 – had already meant that season 1 aired without the American Humane Association’s famous “No Animals Were Harmed in the Making” endorsement, and a third, was apparently a step too far for HBO – although the more cynical among us might well point to the surprisingly low viewing numbers that the second half of season 1 posted in the US as the real reason for the cancellation.

so, with Homeland reservedly impressing, but Luck fading fast, what seemed like it might be a tight, two-horse race looks now like it might prove to be something of a let down. whence then the value? well, perhaps, i might steer you towards an outside shot: you might have to run your eyes down the card a fair way, but i’d say, from the first couple of episodes, that NBC’s Awake, starring Jason Issacs, could well be worth the televisual equivalent of a savvy each-way punt.

#telosvision: rose-tinted window

while i

must admit that, unlike several people in my twitter stream (twitream), i have been quite enjoying Charlie Brooker’s well-observed if somewhat hyperbolic satire on current trends in entertainment, Black Mirror, in my opinion there was something else this week that provided an equal insight into the worrying nature of TV culture.

a few days ago, it emerged that some footage of a polar bear nursing her cubs that featured in an episode of the BBC’s latest flagship nature documentary, Frozen Planet, had been filmed in a Dutch wildlife park, and not in the Arctic, as viewers had ‘been lead to believe’.

despite the fact that the origin of the footage was documented in a ‘making of’ video posted on the series website, the response to the mass publicization of the ‘revelation’ in the press (and not just the trash rags) suggests that the incident has scandalised a significant section of the audience.

 
it doesn’t seem to matter that thanks to the editing work, the audience got to see an aspect of the lives of polar bears that would have been otherwise impossible to film without, as David Attenborough has pointed out, the mother killing either her cubs or the cameraman. the point of contention is that the audience was ‘left’ to assume that the footage was ‘genuine’.

the nature of outcry was perhaps best summarised by Conservative MP and chair of the Commons media select committee, John Whittingdale, who claimed that it would have been better for the series if (like all politicians always and everywhere) it had been ‘entirely open’ about the matter.

now the reason i think this story is so significant is not that it further evidences the tabloid obsession with stirring up anti-BBC (read ‘TV license’) foment, or that it demonstrates how worked-up some people will get about relatively trivial issues, or even that it suggests some worrying implications regarding how those in the government charged with over-seeing the media see the role of documentary film making – although those are all interesting and worrying aspects.

the reason i think this story significant is because it demonstrates very clearly how uneducated many people are about what television is and how it is made, and therefore how uncritical they are in their viewing of it.

in the earliest days, films consisted of one continuous shot captured by a single camera in a locked position running until its film ran out. There were no plots or actors; the simple ‘movements’ of everyday life (people or animals walking and running or buses and cars on the roads) were enough to captivate an audience.

as such, the first films made and shown were ‘documentaries’. part of the attraction of these reels of footage (which is obvious when you think about it) was the way in which life looked so different through the selective lens of the camera. film footage made the drab and ordinary, exciting.

 
despite its popularity, the scope for this new-found medium was very limited. that was until people began cutting film and splicing different sections together. not only did this increase the amount of time for which a film could run, it also allowed the possibility for story telling.

this profoundly important evolutionary stride is generally attributed to Edwin S. Porter, a former electrician who took a job at Thomas Adison’s film laboratory at the end of the nineteenth century. in Porter’s seminal 1903 film Life Of An American Fireman we see the realisation of some of the multitudinous possibilities that cut and splice editing allows:

a fireman on a ladder appears at the window of a smoke filled room. he lifts a woman through the window which is centre-screen, filmed straight-on. then, a cut, and we now see the fireman from the back, woman shouldered, descending the ladder.

this simple scene, and several others like it, shocked audiences – what kind of witchery was this?

soon a vocabulary of film-making emerged – a cut meant one of two things: 1. a change of perspective, or 2. a shift in time. cuts that showed a change of perspective would show the same event occurring from from a different angle. cuts that represented a shift in time showed the same subject(s) doing something else, which implied that time had passed.

as the use of this emerging vocabulary developed, the distinctions between the two blurred – a shot from a different perspective no longer showed the same thing happening again, but instead picked up the action from the new angle at the point in time that the cut occurred.

this innovation was key to the art. by no longer repeating the action when the camera moved, it became easier to create the illusion in the audience’s mind that there was only one camera; a single, but omni-present eye.

this feature of film-making remains essential to the medium. when swept-up in the world of a film, a modern audience no longer thinks of a cut as representing, in effect, a different perspective.

 
it’s an irony that early films used one camera but seemed like they were ‘seeing’ from many different perspectives, whereas modern films use several cameras to create the illusion of one, continuous perspective. but, of course, it’s not an illusion that we fully believe, is it?

to ‘play’ with cameras and cuts is fine in the context of drama, however, what the outcry about Frozen Planet suggests is that when it comes to documentary, much of the modern day audience are less sophisticated viewers than their nineteenth century equivalents.

although Edison’s audience marvelled at the novelty of the spectacle he created with his static, open camera, they were also entertained because they saw it as both familiar, and magical; unreal. Porter’s audience recognised this all the more once he learned to cut, rearrange and paste his film.

today, it seems, we have become so used to the tools of the film-maker’s trade that we are no longer aware of them. cuts are not magic tricks and cunning lies, but just ‘the way things are’. at the cinema, we still love to be taken in by the camera when it plays with and confounds our expectations – perhaps this cut means time went backwards, not forwards; maybe the person we’ve cut to from behind is not the same as the one we just saw from the front, etc.

it used to be, however, that a filmmaker achieved these results through a kind of agreement with the audience. this unspoken contract is often called ‘the suspension of disbelief’. this pact works because we, the audience, want to be entertained, and the filmmaker wants to entertain. what is more, both parties understand that this is impossible if the audience keeps what it knows about filmmaking and how editing works and so on at the forefront of its mind while it watches.

the Frozen Planet incident, however, suggests some worrying trends:

entertainment is so ubiquitous a goal in television that sections of the audience have got so used to suspending it, that they no longer start from a position of disbelief.

 we are losing sight of the fact that, as early cinema audiences so clearly recognised, even before you add cut-and-paste editing into the mix, reality is thoroughly different when viewed through a lens – or rather what we see through a lens is a different kind of reality (as Marshall McLuhan noted, “the medium is the message”).

audiences are increasingly essentialising TV along genre lines and in accordance with Modernist principles. i.e. if Sky+ says it is News or History, or Documentary then it will be ‘true’ and without ideological or other forms of bias, in a way that Drama or Entertainment might not be.

in 1985 Neil Postman wrote, in Amusing Ourselves To Death, that trends in the consumption and production of TV suggested that “culture-death is clear possibility”. while most of the time i try to hope that while sharp and timely, his perceptive critique has proved only partially true, every now and then i get the sense that it’s all worse than i care to believe.

yes, Charlie, a TV can be like a black mirror, reflecting back to us the full grotesqueness of our own appetites, but in order to recognise it as such, we’d have to turn it off. much of the time, however, it stays on and functions like a rose-tinted window on a world we increasingly believe is real.

#telosvision: treme (the third, fourth & subsequent lines)

long-time readers will recall me writing about the first season of Treme last year. the bitter-sweet story of the residents of New Orleans’ poorest and most historically and culturally vibrant neighbourhood trying to rebuild their lives and community following ‘the storm’, moved me greatly.

well, not only is the second season just about to come to an end on HBO (which will probably mean a migration to Sky Atlantic quite soon after they’ve finished showing season 1), but also the DVD of the first season is now widely available in the UK. i’m not going to talk in many specifics about the narrative arc, etc., of either season here, but if it’s not something that’s currently on your radar, then i’m sharing a few broad-ranging thoughts and insights which i hope will change that.

Treme places very few priorities higher than accuracy. like its illustrious forebear, Frank’s Place, it is made by and stars several daughters and sons of NOLA, and many of those involved who are not native, are clearly under the city’s spell. perhaps none more so than the creators, David Simon and Eric Overmyer.

the fact that the series was originally created by Simon and Overmyer, of (utterly deserved) Homicide and The Wire fame, was what initially attracted me. however, given how different it turned out to be, i must admit that it was a surprise to find that Treme was as engaging, as perturbing and as hard-hitting as anything of their’s i’d seen previously. Treme has a similar sense of scale and scope to The Wire, focussing on the concerns of a small geographical area but setting those concerns in the context of a large city with a large socio-political structure.

unlike the Baltimore of The Wire, however, the New Orleans of Treme is not a seething, brutal leviathan, swimming beneath a thin layer of political ice, but a beached whale. the waters have come and gone, and everything has been turned over, inside-out and left out to dry. Treme is about the resources for and possible of hope in the face of utter destruction.

the one resource that Treme focusses on more than any other is music. New Orleans, of course, has a musical heritage that few of the world’s cities can equal. arising out of its unique history, born largely of its position straddling the mighty Mississippi, New Orleans represents a collision of Western European, Latin American, African and North American cultural influences, and nothing illustrates this better than the city’s musical legacy.

in particular, the infusion of European instrumentation and African rhythms imbued New Orleans music with a strong culture of brass. add to the mix the influence of Cajun, Zydeco, Polka, Banda, Ranchera, Delta Blues and European sacred music. these diverse cultural intertwinings, and the fact that it was the first city in America to allow slaves to freely associate and to play music in public, NOLA was destined to be the birth place of jazz.

music and the many social customs that involve it are cast in Treme as the glue that holds the place together – the infrastructure that Katrina could not destroy. shaped by its French Catholic past, New Orleans is a city that rises to music and lays down to music; welcomes its new borns and mourns its dead to music. happy or sad, together or alone, in public and in private, it is always music that marks the comings and goings of everyday life. it is a sacred city with a sacred rhythm.

in this sense, Treme is about folk music. i don’t mean mumbling, beards, waistcoats and Morris-men – Folk music – i mean folk music, music of the people. every type of good music is folk music somewhere – emerging out of lived experience, speaking to and charming it and returning back to its source in the life of the community.

but, despite the tempo of its music, Treme is not an upbeat drama. it is (somewhat predictably) steeped, from the outset, in tragedy. aside from the colossal tragedy of Katrina, the project itself was steeped in loss. one the main characters is based on New Orleans-based academic, blogger and political activist, Ashley Morris, who wrote profusely and passionately about The Wire and as a result became close friends with David Simon. in 2008, Morris died from a massive heart attack at the age of forty five. two years later, another of Simon’s long-time friends and collaborators, David Mills, the first season’s co-executive producer and writer (and staff writer on NYPD Blue, Homicide, E.R., The Corner and The Wire), suffered an aneurysm and dropped dead in New Orleans twelve days before the premiere of season 1.

there is little doubt that these tragedies close to Simon, as well as the numerous testimonies of those who suffered through the storm, shaped the tone of both series of Treme. however, the most beautiful moments Treme offers are those flickers of light that peak through the gloom, when laughter and good eating and dancing take away the pain and renew the faith of the characters – but i would be lying if these are the rule within the emotional landscape rather than the exception.

just as in The Wire, people die – and with alarming frequency and remorseless equality (i.e. don’t ever go thinking that central characters are safe). post-Katrina New Orleans is a disturbed place wrapped around disturbed people. in a strange way, the losses that we witness, that we grieve, bring with them a sense of calm and order that Treme has few other ways of portraying. i cannot help but think this is how it must have felt for many New Orleans people after the storm with the finality, surety and neatness of death providing a kind of perverted solace.

as with The Wire, the faces come and go, but what remains, what is really the focus of our attentions, is the city. the New Orleans of Treme is like a child perpetually struggling in the surf – just as it splutteringly finds its feet, another wave, perhaps smaller, perhaps larger than the last rolls in. the kicking, the gasping, the jumping is never over. the only way out is when you have no strength left.

but there is hope yet. the cultural bonds – the songs, the marches, the dances – are so powerful, are down so deep, are spread so wide that life will, must go on. as one character notes, following the death of a friend, towards the end of season 2, “he was always broke, but never beat.”

Treme wants to say that post-Katrina New Orleans will forever be broken in a specific way, but will never be beaten. i don’t know about you, but that’s a message from which i can take hope. everywhere i look around i see the unmistakable signs of brokenness and sometime even the glorious moments of peace, or the beams of truth that shine through can’t make up for the unescapable reality that damaged people damage people.

however, when the short-term goals of protecting those we love and holding on to what is ours become frustrated by the ebbs and flows of existence, sometimes, that is when its possible to see clearest that however broken life gets, it will never be truly beaten. frustrated? yes. waiting, with eager anticipation, for a end to futility? sure. hopeless? never.

 
The City by Steve Earle (shown above in his role as Harley in Treme)

#telosvision: a.w.o.b.m.o.l.g

i’ve waxed lyrical about Adam Curtis before.

so all i have to say today is please watch BBC2 tonight at 9pm.

thanks.

———————————-

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Richard Brautigan

———————————-

#telosvision: stewart lee’s comedy vehicle

i like Stewart Lee.

he first came to my attention as the sulkier, more aloof and thinner half of the double act he shared with Richard Herring in and around the early nineties.

i never heard their first radio show, Lionel Nimrod’s Inexplicable World, but encountered them doing Fist of Fun on Radio 1 and subsequently reinterpreting it for a seeing-eye audience, after it achieved BBC2 TV show status. i’ve spoken of my love of FoF previously, at length.

however, lot’s have things have since changed. Ceefax, for example. and Stewart Lee is no exception. back then, he was like a long, cynical sliver of black, brummie denim with post-punk hair. today, however, while being no-less cynical, or brummie, his hair is some-less, and he, himself, is generally considerably more.

although he might today look like some sort of cross between ageing, whiny xenophobe Morissey and sad-dog faced BBC character actor Martin Shaw, stuffed into a cheap looking, ill-fitting and incorrectly buttoned jacket, he’s still alive and as funny as he ever was, if not in several ways more so.

despite his face and cynicism, Lee is a serious student of comedy and his obvious love for and considerable knowledge of the art form both fuel his comedy. like a funny Jimmy Carr.

his routines are notable for multiple call backs, repetition and persistence ad absurdum, imaginative flights combined with an absence of the forth wall, political, socio-cultural and socio-economic observation, and a fondness for playing with an audience’s perceived sophistication (with regard to the culture of comedy) or lack thereof (with a particular fondness for parodying the status of ‘that London’).

in addition to making several award and DVD-release winning stand-up shows over the last few years, and writing the most penetratingly insightful reflections on the recent right royal nuptials, Lee has recently returned to your screens for a new series of his comedy vehicle, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle.

last year’s Armando-Iannucci-produced first series was a breath of fresh air, arriving, as it did, not far off the back of Michael Mcintyre’s Comedy Roadshow.

it wasn’t an unreserved triumph, however, and i’m pleased this time round he’s decided to largely (if not entirely) leave behind the ill-conceived sketches that interspersed the segments of funny talking.

more appealing are the scenes of Stewart in conversation with Armando which have been upgraded from red button extras last series to ‘full vehicle’ cut-aways this. some of the more pointless full-on sketch sequences are still present though, like the one of Stu burning down a house at the end of episode one. to my mind, however, these short but annoying sketches and the aforementioned terrible jacket by no means count as reasons not to watch.

what is more, nostalgic fans have another reason to celebrate in the form of the news that, after so many years of the BBC refusing to do it, Lee and Herring are themselves putting out a Fist of Fun DVD using their own money. it’s due to hit the shop near Christmas, and I for one will be buying it. you should too.

feel free to find Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle on Wednesday nights on BBC2 at 11.20pm, or on iPlayer one hour thereafter.

#telosvision: the killing

so, dear friends, tonight is the night that we finally learn who killed Nanna Birk Larsen. or we better had do, unless my TV wants to be smashed.

yes, it’s the season one finale of the gripping Danish crime drama The Killing, or Forbrydelsen in its native tongue. can it be only ten weeks ago that we first met strong-headed, ambitious Troels Hartmann, grieving but shifty-eyed Theis and Pernille Birk Larsen, and keen minded, self-destructive, Faroe-Islands-snowflake-jumper-wearing sex symbol super-sleuth Sarah Lund? yes, it can, precisely that.

The Dr has been convinced since early on that Birk Larsen employee and surrogate family member Vagn (who she calls ‘Vadgen’ to annoy me) is the most suspicious of the characters. we also distrust Hartmann’s sultry assistant and on-off lover Rie, Theis (who The Dr thinks isn’t Nanna’s real father) and Chief Inspector Brix (who I call Hans Brix, in a Kim Jong-Il from Team America way and who we both suspect of killing Meyer).

who will emerge as a villain, and who (if anyone) will be exonerated? why and how did the killer do it? how will the delicate balance of the familial, the forensic and the political lie once the facts have all been unearthed?

will Lund, Hartmann and the Birk Larsens ever be able to put their lives back together? will Copenhagen be able to trust either their Mayor or his main opponent? will Lund ever get a different jumper? all we can do is tune in to BBC2 at 9:00 tonight and wait to experience the revelations.

#tirednewsflash: midsomer whites dream

the makers of ITVone’s suddenly controversial, but not in an exciting way, crime ‘drama’ Midsomer Murders have hit back at their critics by meating their challenge heads-on.

following a recent interview with the new look RadioTimez in which producer True Brian-May ill-advisedly let slip about the show’s theirtoofour secret “white’s only” casting policy, there has been increasing heat on the programme’s production team and the commissioning executives at ITV to reverse the shame-and-white faced practice.

initially, there appeared to be an initial disinclination to sway in time with the music of popular opinion – exemplified by the bruskly toned and somewhat confused interview Midsomer’s lighting engineer, D’shawn-Leroy Freeman, gave to the TLS yesterday. “if we”, he argued, “wanted browns, moslems or ladygays in it, we would have them, but we just don’t”.

in the early hours of this morning, however, an announcement was made that has rocked the world of dull detective drama to its very soul. in a statement issued (quite deliberately) at 4:44am, series chief Inspector Eamon Cleverly revealed that:

In the interests of a more progressive casting policy, a better future for all children and in immediate and total reversal of our former policy, we have decided that in the episode currently under production – which will air in seventy nine days – the murder (a gritty street stabbing) and the series of brutal muggings and drug-related burglaries that lead up thereto, will be committed by a hooded, but undeniably black, character.

We hope that this move will once and for all end the rumours that Midsomer Murders or its production staff harbours racist prejudices or upholds any racial stereotypes.

In a skilfully crafted piece of plot development, of which we are very proud, a young man, who goes only by the name ‘Blap’, will arrive in Midsomer from one of Britain’s larger urban settlements in order to visit his aunt, Glenys Blap – a Midsomer resident since series 4. It is our hope and belief that this momentous episode will be one of the most dramatic and baffling yet.

while we admit that we have been, in the past, a little reluctant to bring the realities of modern Britain’s ethnic regions to our sleepy corner or middle-bit of the country, now that we’ve forged a new identity, we are very excited about the new possibilities that now lie ahead for the programme.

in addition to this dramatic and revolutionary token, ITV bosses have announced that a new honorary production assistant will be joining the Midsomer team, who despite not being black/moslem herself, is a girl and has apparently watched Bend It Like Beckham twice and most of The Wire.

#telosvision: friday night dinner

Friday Night Dinner has put the proverbial cat among the pigeons of my knowing what to think about things.

as the experts – Bill Oddie, Chwis Packham, Leona Lewis, Jonathan Dimbledor etc. – will tell you, unlike their real counterparts, proverbial cats are no match for pigeons, and, soon after being put among them, die from an excess of peck wounds.

the problem is that it is a new Channel 4th sitcom (or ‘sit-down comedy’, for long) written by Robert Popper and starring, among others, Mark Heap and Simon Bird. now, while that might not sound like a problem, but merely a description, it is a problem for reasons that are as follows:

Robert Popper and Mark Heap are in my eyes like some kinds of geniuses.

Popper ran Channel 4’s Comedy Lab, was, along with Peter Serafinowicz, responsible for Look Around You – one of my favourite ever comedy series – and has also produced, edited and written for hilarious things like Peep Show, South Park, The IT Crowd, Spaced and Black Books.

Mark Heap is one of my favourite comedy actors, who brought life to brilliant characters in Spaced, Green Wing, Skins and The Great Outdoors, as well as doing top-notch sketch and bit-part work in (the amazing) Big Train, Look Around You, Brass Eye, Jam and Miranda. weirdly, he was also in Lark Rise To Candleford.

still, though, you might be thinking, there doesn’t yet seem to be any sign of that problem that you clearly mentioned earlier. well, the problem is Simon Bird.

i can’t nobbing stand Simon Bird. i think it’s mainly his stupid, grinning face. but it’s also his ridiculous affected posh-nerd voice and his utterly annoying wanna-be clichéd-geek shtick. he’s really annoyed me in every role i’ve seen him in and also in the several interviews/appearances as himself that i’ve caught. in particular (as i’ve mentioned here before), and (disappointingly) to many people’s apparent surprise/disgust, i HATE The Inbetweeners. i hate it, i hate it. i know most of you disagree, but i think that (despite having some top people involved) it’s really poor.

the uncomplicated conceit of FND involves two twenty-something Jewish sons (straight away it’s a step in the right direction to see Bird’s playing someone who isn’t supposed to be 16) who go back to their parents’ house each Friday for tea. presumably to comic effect. like a Jewish cross between Butterflies and Open All Hours, without the shop or butterflies, and more Friday based.

so, there we go – Friday Night Dinner: will it be brilliant, or will it be too Birdish to bear? well, i’ll be watching with badger-bated breath, expectant, but also plagued by the knowledge that, at any minute, he might make me have a stroke out of annoyance.

> Friday Night Dinner starts Friday 25th Feb at 10pm on Channel 4

#telosvision: 2011 in telly

right >

it’s more than high time we all had a little look together at what kind of telly-based treats will be coming our way this year.

remember, sensible TV fiends always live by the motto of both the scouting movement and, somewhat less congruously, Aston Villa FC – Be Prepared.

as such, here is a little run-down of some things that are already on our screens/internet catchup facilities, and some others than are worth planning ahead to catch later on:

☆ now and next

>Penn & Teller: Fool Us [ITV Player (first broadcast 07/01/11)]
we start with the ghost of Christmas past as celebrity atheists Penn & Teller – the fat one and the silent one from gruesome magicland – held a competition which they kept saying wasn’t a competition to see if anyone could fool them with a magic trick. whoever could fool them, would get to go to Vegas and open P&T’s show at the Rio – but that wasn’t a prize, ‘cos it’s wasn’t a competition. anyway, when i watched it, i assumed it was a new series, but in fact it was a one-off, which, actually, on reflection, makes it quite a lot worse. however, it’s worth a look on ITV Player, even if it’s just to see how well a man with a wandering (neigh, intrepidly exploring) eye can shuffle-about some cards.

>10 O’Clock Live [Thursdays, Channel 4, 10pm]
this has been getting me excited for quite a while now, so much so that i erroneously announced to my tweeps that it started last Thursday. in fact, it starts tonight. incase you’ve not read about it or seen the adverts, it’s got Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne and Jimmy Carr and is going to consist of live satirical reflection on the news.

it’s an interesting proposition in many respects. usually satire enjoys the liberty of prerecorded polish and deliberately shies away from confrontation with its targets, preferring to sling funny mud from a distance. herein, however, the 10 O’Clock team are not only going for a live performance, but are also planning interviews with politicians and the like. it sort of sounds like a comic relief night version of The Day Today. if it works, it could be brilliant. if it doesn’t, well, it’ll still have the lovely Lauren Laverne on it, so i’ll keep watching.

>The Brain: A Secret History [Thursdays, BBC4, 9pm]
staying with tonight, i’ve been rather enjoying Michael Moseley mumbling his way through the history of experimental psychology, the third part of which goes out at 9. while he’s been knocking about for a while, all of a sudden Moseley seems to have become the BBC’s top go-to-guy for biological science, which makes sense given that he’s a doctor turned presenter. this series, however, has been a significant cut above other stuff i’ve seen him do, perhaps because it touches on some really meaningful issues for him – apparently it was the nature of psychiatric practice that made him turn his back on medicine.

>The Killing [Saturdays, BBC4, 9pm]
no, not Kubrick’s classic film, but a police drama that’s taken a few years to work its way from Denmark around to the rest of the world and has been garnering all sorts of compliments on the way, even comparisons to The Wire. the Americans have remade it (of course) so that their people won’t have to sit through images of places outside of America, or get to grips with reading, but for those of us on this side of the pond, this is our chance to see the proper thing. it’s twenty episodes (two ten episode seasons) and they’re showing them on Saturday nights in double bills – no doubt with several repeats in between. i’ve been told by friends in the know to get very excited and not to dare miss it.

>The Justice Season [starts Sunday, 9pm, BBC4]
BBC4 has a season of programmes examining notions of justice in the modern world which seem as though they might be quite interesting. the season begins with a debate about the role and nature of fairness, liberty and rights.

>How TV Ruined Your Life [Tuesdays, BBC2, 10pm]
as of this coming Tuesday, the above mentioned moan-faced whingebag, Brooker returns to BBC2 following his Channel 4 exile with a 6 part series about how the conceptions of the world we find in film and TV are so wildly different to the drab reality of actual existence. given that it’s Brooker, it’ll probably be worth watching, but i can’t help feel that, conceptually, it seems like the weakest of all his vehicles so far.

the segment ‘If Pens Got Hot’ from the first episode – focussing on fear – bodes fairly well, with a nice line or two from the actor Kevin Eldon, but it does seem high-maintenance. also, if, in the in-between bits, he’s persisted with the same ‘my fake shitty flat’ set and has regular annoying contributions from Barry Shitpeas, i might not be able to stand it. if we must have talking heads – then more Stanhope, less Dent and no Shitpeas, please.

☆ for your diary

>Twenty Twelve [TBA, BBC4]
we were promised this six-part mockumentary about the London Olympics as part of BBC4’s autumn/winter schedule, but as far as i can see, no start date has yet emerged. given that it’s from John Morton, the writer and director of People Like Us and stars, among others, Jessica Hynes, Olivia Colman and Hugh Bonneville, i’m very keen to check it out. whatever happens, it certainly can’t be worse than BBC2’s witless Episodes with the off-form Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Grieg and Matt ‘I’m Not Actually A-List So It Doesn’t Make Sense’ LeBlanc.

>Archer (Season 2) [starts 27th Jan, FX]
dry your eyes fans of funny, all is not lost, laughs are on their way. as long-standing readers will know, here at RQT we loved Adam Reed’s ironic, post-feminist spy cartoon from the first time we clamped eyes on it. while it airs on FX in the U.S., last year’s first season was quite quickly picked up over here by Five. whether or not they plan to show season 2, i do not know, but if not, then those of you who are sensible enough to have a U.S. based VPN will be able to watch it on Hulu like me. in order to whet your appetites, i created a little video made up of all the short promo clips they’ve released – enjoy.

 

>The Bible’s Buried Secrets [TBA, BBC2]
another series that is definitely due late winter/early spring (March?) sees real-life’s answer to Lara Croft, and my former PhD supervisor, Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou drawing on her textual and archeological expertise to unveil some controversial truths about the Bible. undeterred by having been slagged-off by Ann Widdecombe for pointing out the rather trivial fact that it’s unlikely that Moses ever existed, on last year’s The Bible: A History, this year Dr Stavrakopoulou is back to reveal that King David is probably a fictive character too, that the God of Israel once had a wife, and several other juicy tidbits of biblical scholarship. incidentally, you might also want to watch out for her near-accidentally making one of the most important ancient near eastern archeological discoveries of modern times.

>Mildred Pierce
[starts 27th March, HBO]
Kate Winslet heads up a quality cast for what looks set to be one of the best mini-series of the last few years. this adaptation of Cain’s classic novel, set as it is during the Great Depression, seems a timely, if somewhat clichéd choice. however, given how much raving and praise has followed the series about since it was commissioned, i for one am not only expecting the political overtones to be sensitively handled, but also the performances to be something rather special. Mildred could well end up being this year’s Boardwalk Empire.

>Game of Thrones [starts 17th April, HBO]
another heavily anticipated series from the-almost-always-makes-brilliant-shows network HBO, GoT is based on some books i’ve not read by fantasy George R. R. Martin, who i’ve not heard of. apparently, however, it’s a dark, medieval-esque fantasy saga starring a majority British cast including Sean Bean, Mark Addy and Michelle Fairley. i’m not sure what to expect, but i’m hoping for something perhaps a bit like the brilliant BBC Gormenghast adaptation from yesteryear which starred Jonathan Rhys Meyes and Christopher Lee. we’ll see.

☆ a word about Sky Atlantic

for those of you who never put any hard yards searching for ways to watch all the great U.S. TV that doesn’t get shown over here, and who already have a Sky subscription, then Sky Atlantic is good news. it’s a new channel which launches on the 1st February and promises to bring you the best of American TV (so basically HBO plus a few extras).

soon enough, without doing anything, you’ll be getting treats like Boardwalk Empire (Martin Scorsese’s slow-burning, twenties gangster series, which was one of my favourites from last year), Treme (the utterly brilliant show from the makers of The Wire, all about post-Katrina New Orleans and how through all its loss, it kept its soul, just) and (at some point) season 5 of Mad Men (which y’all know all about – or should).

for those of us who don’t like to give Mr Murdoch any money, i imagine it will still turn out well, as i imagine webstreams on Veetle, Justin TV or via sopcast will be easy to find.

and finally …
☆ three things to remember to look out for in the summer

>How To Make It In America (Season 2)
>Entourage (Season 8)
>Louis (Season 2)

#showertune: ‘ophis le serpentaire’ by vincent geminiani

remember nostalgia?

boring, wasn’t it (like this overlong post)

given that i’ve come to the end of the project that had been keeping me from reflecting too much on the future, how old i was getting, or the fact that life was steadily moving on and becoming serious without me being ready, at the moment i’m coping with the terror of these realisations by means of romantic remembering.

as i’m sure you all know, nostalgia literally means home sickness [from the greek νόστος (homecoming) and ἂλγος (pain)], and was originally coined in the 17th century to describe what was thought to be a serious medical condition. the condition was also referred to as mal du pais or mal du Swisse, due to its apparent prevalence among Swiss mercenaries who (emotionally and physically) pined for their Alpine homes whilst fighting on the various lowlands of what are now Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

isn’t it interesting that as well as the fact that homesickness is no longer thought of as either serious or ‘medical’ (except perhaps in extreme cases, where it probably be counted as a symptom of wider mental illness), nostalgia has come to mean a wistful remembrance of/longing for the past? what was about place, has become about time.

despite the fact that my studies and understanding of history have (i hope) been usefully guided by the notion expressed in the famous opening line of The Go-Between by
L. P. Hartley – “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” – and that both ancient experience and modern physics point to intimate connections between time and space, i think something valuable might have been lost in the transition expressed by the shift in the colloquial meaning of nostalgia.

however globalised the world becomes, however easy travel and communication become, i don’t think, as humans, we can have story without also locatedness. as such, i feel it is not only necessary to talk about how great all the 60s/70s TV programmes that i used to love as a kid were (for it is these that have recently exercised my nostalgic juices), but also to speak about Edie and her house.

Edie was my next door neighbour growing up. She was a short, brash, thick-black-frame-spectacled, late-sexegenarian cockney, ensconced in our small, remote corner of West Cornwall. given her passion for London, she should have been more out of place, but she embraced the difference like a fish not only out of water, but sunbathing.

the porch that had been added onto the front of Edie’s otherwise-identical-to-ours house was filled with Mills and Boon books, piled high flat on their sides. she called everyone ‘babe’. before I was deemed old enough to have a house key, when my mum was at work, i used to go round to Edie’s after school. we didn’t talk that much, but when we did, i practiced charming her in the way i liked to do with adults.

her lounge was dominated by a thick, white-tassled rug which carried on its back a gilt-legged, glass-topped table with a scalloped edge. she sat in a high-backed green armchair, positioned so that it shielded the wooden TV cabinet from the afternoon sun. i sat to her left on the rug and placed my orange squash on the table, matching the fluting around the bottom of its glass tumbler to the curves that ran the table round. always.

we used to watch Countdown and 15 to 1 together, and then she’d put on children’s programmes for me and retire to the kitchen table to drink tea and smoke. despite the fact that it killed her Tom, smoking was Edie’s favourite hobby. that and cards. and erotic novels. sometimes we’d play cards – she taught me stud and draw poker, brag, cribbage, rummy, whist and even bridge and newmarket. some of the games we played properly, some of them she just explained to me because you can’t play them with two.

mum would usually get back mid-Blue Peter, but on some days she’d be late. at home, the once firm no-TV-during-meals rule had been relaxed in about 1990. the downside was that mum insisted on always watching Neighbours, then The Six O’Clock News, then Spotlight (shonky local news). as such, i liked the days when she was late – Edie didn’t care for the news and let me watch Thunderbirds while she smoked.

very occasionally mum would call Edie to say she was going to be unusually late, and ask whether she could make my tea. it was during one such occasion that it was suggested that at 6:30 we watch The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on BBC 2. i didn’t know what it was and had never ventured to watch it at home, but was immediately transfixed. Edie told me that she’d watched it when she first got a TV in the 60s, and that she liked the dark-haired one (Napoleon Solo played by Robert Vaughan). Edie was never really one for too many details – surprising, given the books she read.

once i’d been given reason, and courage, to watch one old programme that i didn’t know, i started to watch more, and it turned out that there was lots of 60s/70s TV that i loved: Mission Impossible, The Avengers, Ironside, The Prisoner, The Saint, Hawaii 5-0The Invisible Man, Batman, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the list goes on and on. soon enough, i was videoing these programmes and watching them the next day instead of the kid’s crap.

when i was 11, my mum gave me a key so that i could let myself in when i got home from big school. i was pleased for the flexibility – i could get out of my uniform straight away for one thing – but i missed going round to Edie’s. sometimes i’d go anyway. that was fine with her.

one of the things i now realise about the TV programmes that i discovered because of Edie was that almost all of them contained the kind of music that i now love: Lalo Schiffrin, Quincy Jones, Morton Stevens, Jerry Goldsmith, Walter Scharf, Henry Mancini, Alan Moorhouse, Alan Hawkshaw, Alan Parker (all the Alans), Ron Grainer and many more gave these shows their edge by means of jangling brass, running baselines and rasping drums, often all at the command of deliciously strange time-signatures.

today’s #showertune doesn’t come from any of the programmes above, or any at all as far as i know, but it is beautifully evocative of precisely the right mood and sounds to me like bits of all their soundtracks blitzed in a blender and served over french ice.

as such, it’s dedicated to Edie Collins, who eventually moved back to the South East and is now probably dead.

it’s Orphis Le Serpentaire by Vincent Geminiani

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#showertune: ‘beat me till i’m blue’ by the mohawks

yes? what?

i was put into a rage this morning by an idiot from off TV. The Dr insisted on putting on that one about getting a job, over breakfast, and one of the group of unbelievably stupid and annoying people thereon is a woman who apparently thinks that ‘manoeuvrement’ and ‘professionality’ are words. she was fired, but, according to her, the universe will avenge her death.

‘if the universe is on the side of such people, then all hope is lost’, i mused as i crunched my cornflakes.

speaking of pain, on, erm, recommendation from Dave Cameron, Nick Clegg recently made today’s #showertune the official song of the Lib Dem cabinet.

it’s Beat Me Till I’m Blue by The Mohawks

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#showertune: ‘brain’ by N*E*R*D

congratulations, and welcome to the week beginning today

“The problem with Feminism” Bono once observed “is that is has made clever women less attractive”. whether or not the South African-born quiz show host and international backgammon champion is not just a chauvinist or not, is, in both senses, moot. what could be true, however, is that of the people we see regularly on television, it is easier to think of men who are intelligent, articulate and engaging than women (who are).

where i you ask are the female Stephens Fry, Jons Snow, Jeremys Paxman and Davids Attenborough? Jnn Bnd? urrrrmmmm, she can’t say vowels. Fiona Bruce? well, perhaps. Kirsty Wark? ok. Clare Balding? look, stop ruining my point. one aspect of the Sue Barker? seems to be that we are far more open to men growing ‘wiser’ on our screens than we are women. once women get to a ‘certain age’ they disappear to Radio or Hades to be replaced by younger, glossier, often hollower specimens. of course, while age commands some sense of gravitas and experience can make you wise, being older can’t simply summon cleverness that was not previously there. it’s not just about the lack of older women in the media that effects all this, it’s also the apparent barrier to women who done got some smarts in they heads.

it wasn’t always like that though. when i was young, TV seemed stocked with middle-aged women who carried themselves with an air of seriousness and commanded at least some sense of intellectual authority: Judith Hann, Esther Rantzen, (how much wood could) Lynn Faulds Wood (fold, etc.), Valerie Singleton, Maggie Philbin, Angela Rippon, Sue Lawley, Judith Chalmers. i’m not saying these people were geniuses, but if Judith Hann explained something on Tomorrow’s World, it stayed splained. then, things all went a bit Philippa Forrester, Michaela Strachan and Tess Daly.

female presenters got younger and more attractive, but also fulfilled different roles that ranged from the ‘make it light-hearted, accessible and simple’, through to the ‘we just need you to be a clueless smile-pony’. it wasn’t important for these ones to be authoritative, even in science or current affairs programming, that aspect could be added elsewhere, by men in serious glasses. then the wind changed and it stayed that way.

whereas for a while a space had opened up for women to be more than just the ones in that hold the giant cards on Play Your Cards Right, it seemed to some extent to close up again. of course, it’s no where near as blatantly sexist as it used to be, but the dominance of the aesthetic over the intellectual does seem to prevail when it comes to women on TV.

if, however, you are both clever and attractive, then you probably can get in: Carol Vorderman played the role of ‘thinking man’s crumpet’ on TV for many years before recently having to be decommissioned and responsibly recycled into plastic cups and water bottles. now it seems her mantle has been grasped by Victoria Coren. however, as the looks begin to fade, it seems that as a woman in TV you will need to either inject yourself with every chemical known to humankind (Anne ‘the Ronsealed robot’ Robinson), and/or just slip away and die, please (Arlene Phillips).

today’s #showertune, by the way, is Brain by N*E*R*D

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#telosvision: the good, the bad and the ok

greetings

in the month that we took off to do secret important things, the calendar changed from ‘summer’ to ‘autumn’ which can only mean two things: 1) slippery leaves, bonfires, conkers, mists and mellow fruitfulness and 2) there is a whole new lineup of TV to enjoy.

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before we get stuck into the meat and two veg of the new ones, i thought i’d do a small round up of what i’ve been watching over the last few months, just so that we’re all on the same page:

Louie: the first season of Louis CK’s new sitcom premiered on American FX over the summer and it went down a treat in the penthouse. despite a couple of fairly unwelcome up-pops from Ricky Gervais – who once again proved his immense range by playing a tactless, annoying, English nob-end – here at RQT we reckon it was something of a triumph. look out for it on DVD fo’ shizzle. the good

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This Is England ’86: this has already had a mention, but i thought i’d put it in here anyway. like two Crunch Corners it was rough in some places and sweet in others, but overall truly a treat in four parts. the good

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Sherlock: Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s twenty-first centuried mini-series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman was something of a mixed bag. given the hype and the liberally apportioned praise that it received, i was left a little underwhelmed. the main problem with it was the fact that it couldn’t be both realistic and set in a world where Sherlock Holmes never existed and his literary legacy never changed the shape of the public imagination. you just can’t do modern investigative fiction without the legacy of Holmes and Watson. from where i was sitting it was fine, but ultimately a bit meh. the ok

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Entourage: despite being only ten episodes, season 7 was a welcome return to form for the guys and gals of LA town. why they’re only making six episodes for the next season i’ve no idea. we got cameos from Nick Cassavetes, John Stamos, Jessica Simpson, Queen Latifah, Stan Lee, Mike Tyson, Aaron Sorkin, Randall Wallace, Bob Saget, Mark Cuban, Christina Aguilera and Eminem, as well as season long performances from Sasha Grey and, most excitingly, the insanely attractive Dania Ramirez. A sad tone to the season overall. lots of destruction, but hints that things may come right for Drama and Turtle, if not for Ari and Vince. E was as boring as ever. the good

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Treme: i enjoyed Generation Kill, but wasn’t blown away by it, so i wasn’t sure what i was going to make of this new offering from David Simon. i’m glad to say, however, that it was in every way as good as i would hope a series about the music, culture, death and rebirth of New Orleans would be. the deep spirit of NOLA was alive and well in the fabric of every episode and the script, acting and music were just superb. it’s too early to watch it again yet, but hopefully soon it won’t be, so that i can. if The Wire is about power, fear and greed then Treme is about hope. if you didn’t catch it on HBO, find it and watch it asap. the good

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so … now we’re up to speed, let’s have a think about some of the newer stuff that’s around:

House: so, they finally did it. and now it’s all about the boring making it work stuff. after the dramatic end to season 6, the run-of-the-mill-ness of season 7 is something of a comedown, but at least we have a new title sequence. i like House, but i honestly don’t think this season is going to grip me – i’ll be dipping in and out. the good

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Boardwalk Empire: one of HBO’s new season big hitters comes courtesy of Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg and sees Steve ‘Shut the fuck up Donny’ Buscemi, Michael ‘I just look like a young Leo DiCaprio’ Pitt and Kelly Macdonald, among others, inhabit the murky, but sharply dressed world of Prohibition era Atlantic City. while i’ve not yet been blown away, i think it might have some legs. the good

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The Whole Truth: while it’s great to see the lovely Maura Tierney back on the tellybox after having successfully battled with breast cancer, i fear that ABC’s new courtroom drama is probably not going to end up making it into her ‘keepers’ box. it pits Tierney’s prosecution attorney against a defence lawyer played by the cop/normally-smart brother from Numb3rs in a ‘the way we want to beat each other in court reflects our obvious attraction for each other’ style cliche fest. however, the worst thing by far about the first episode was the way that it couldn’t resist using the last 5 seconds to remove all doubt about whether the convicted teacher really did kill his student and then carve chinese symbols on her dead body with a crucifix. why can’t the American public deal with even an ounce of ambiguity? the bad

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Spooks: yeah, the world’s most overworked intelligence officers are back. Ros is still dead, so a new woman has joined the team in the usual no interview, no questions asked kind of way. she looks like Kathy who used to be on EastEnders. Lucas is really called John, apparently, although we don’t yet know why. Harry just won’t have that inevitable heart attack, even after Ruth spurned his advances at Ros’s funeral. funerals eh, they give me the horn too. I guess that time when her husband got all shot is still playing on her mind. i still miss Malcolm, the new geek is terrible. the good

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Mad Men: some people are beginning to murmur that they don’t like season 4. i do like it. it’s fun to see everyone’s lives fall apart. Roger is a cockend and deserves to be hated. he will likely die soon leaving his annoying wife-doll to sling her stupid hook. the new Peggy is nicely spunky and it’s good to see Don’s veneer starting to crack. i still don’t like the new offices though, and i miss Sal. the good

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Pointless: yes, they made a new series of the dr’s and my favourite afternoon quiz show, and we are straight back in the groove of TiVoing it and watching it at teatime. Alexander Armstrong is a really good host and the banter between him and the answers-man Richard is verging towards classic. the fact that they zhooshed the format and changed the way several of the rounds work has detracted a bit from the pure experience of the first series, but we still like it. things do, however, get depressing when they have really stupid people on – so far in the new series there have been people who’ve thought that Hampshire, Orlando, Newcastle and Mexico were all US States. a preponderance of really camp men on this series too (obviously not a judgement, just an observation). the good

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Genius: another programme that’s had its format all messed around. the new way of doing things is frankly crapola. the whole point of genius was that it took itself too seriously, but now it’s like it’s trying to be too ironic about how it used to be so serious. this new approach pretty much makes everything a joke and is basically dull. the bad

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The Rob Brydon Show: “i can do impressions of Ronnie Corbett and Tom Jones – would you like to hear them?” we’re just all going to have to get used to that and that’s that. i basically like Rob, but he can be a bit samey. with good guests he’ll be fine though. to be honest, i’m surprised he has any time to film it the amount of adverts he does the voice for. already better than fawning, overpaid, boring, comic loving Wossy. Four Poofs and A Piano are missed though. the ok

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The Inbetweeners: why do people like this? i watched the first two episodes when it started and thought it was proper bollocks and that it would disappear gracefully, but instead it’s not, and now everyone seems to think they need to pretend to like it. i actually began thinking that maybe i was the one who was wrong, so i watched another two episodes of the new series. i am not wrong. it’s terrible. for a start, these are clearly 27 year old men pretending to be at school with zero apparent irony – it’s The History Boys all over again. then there’s the main one’s stupid grinning, squinting face and sniffy, posh voice. arrrrrggh, he’s so awful, i hate him. then there’s all the really bad jokes. in the four episodes i’ve watched, i haven’t even smiled, let alone laughed – not even once. the bad

#vidiotic: sans everything

it has come to my attention that there are some people, friends of mine even, who remain unaware of Fist Of Fun featuring the man once voted 41st best stand up ever Stuart Lee and Richard ‘i just want to get back on the telly’ Herring alongside the actor Kevin Eldon, Peter Baynham and several other humans. how? why? or what on earth these ignoramuses did on Thursday nights in the spring of 1995, are all intriguingly beside the point, but their loss is not.

if you like laughter, then you should know about this show – seek what remains of it out. it ran for two serieses, or, for pedants, seri,, and was known at the time for, and is still described in terms of, its lack of preparation and generally poor production quality. although it got several tens of sheds worth of views, this was back in the day when TV had to be seen to be well made as well as popular, and someone decided this wasn’t. now we have Horne and Corden and Hole In The Wall.

here is a clip from the last episode of series 1, featuring the death of my favourite character the real Rod Hull (he is him). watch it closely – there will be a quest.

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#hagiograph: in praise of… adam curtis

it’s not that many people who could go from teaching politics at Oxford to writing and researching for a TV magazine show specialising in consumer complaints items and segments about singing animals or people who’ve memorised the phonebook, and come out the other side with reason to have their head held high. that is, however, exactly what Adam Curtis did. after the academic peaks and the That’s Life! troughs, he emerged as a brilliant documentary film maker.

working in TV he learned the skill and power of using montages of archive footage and this came to be the trait by which he is best known and by which his films are most easily recognised. following early work on a documentaries about post-war housing in Britain and America’s involvement the First World War, in 1992 Curtis made his first series Pandora’s Box.

Subtitled A Fable From The Age of Science, the six part series traced the spread of what Curtis sees as a deeply cynical and unhealthy scientism and technocratic rationalism, through topics as seemingly diverse as Soviet industrialisation, the discovery of DDT and British economic policy in the 1960s and 70s. Choosing to refer to the series as a fable, rather than several, Curtis demonstrated his commitment to and skill for drawing links between diverse areas and constructing powerful meta-narratives across episodic series as well as in stand-alone films. The thesis of Pandora’s Box is strong and well argued, but most of all it at no point patronises its audience by either skirting around the key ideas at play (however complex) or collapsing into over-didactism or incessant repetition, qualities which, for me, are Curtis’ hallmarks every bit as much as his choppy, voice-overed montages. Pandora’s Box won him the first of the three BAFTAs for Best Factual Series that he has been awarded to date.

Curtis followed this success with another series, the three part The Living Dead. First aired in March 1995, it is a moving and insightful examination of the political role of corporate and individual identity and the ideological power of memory. Emerging out of the horrors of WWII and shaped by the ultra-paranoia of the Cold War era, The Living Dead skilfully and seamlessly weaves together reflections on the personal and the political arenas. This is a theme that runs throughout Curtis’ work, that there is in reality no definite distinction between the individual and the social and that what we call ‘the political’ in essence covers the whole of human experience.

In 1996 and 1997 Curtis made two one-off films, 25 Million Pounds, a study of Nick Leeson and the collapse at Barings, and The Way of All Flesh, which recounts the incredible story of Henrietta Leanne Lacks, the woman whose cervical tumour turned out to contain ‘miracle’ cells that didn’t die and which became the HaLa cell line which was used to create the polio vaccine and has made (and is making) countless other research projects possible to this day. Both of these films won awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

1999 brought The Mayfair Set, a four-part series about how a group of ‘buccaneer capitalists’, all members of The Clermont Club, defined, under Thatcher, a new relationship between politics and business which shifted the power base and set the pattern that persists. It brought Curtis his second BAFTA for Best Factual Series and further consolidated the stylistic traits for which his films are now almost instantly recognisable.

Next Curtis made the film for which he is most well known and most widely lauded, 2002’s The Century of the Self. Examining the legacy of Sigmund Freud and the way in which the Twentieth Century systemically embraced the Freudian vision of personhood, it uses as its narrative thread the way in which Freud’s friends and family members shifted his insights into the fields of advertising and public relations and how, despite the unpopularity of his ideas in many quarters, Freud’s vision of the self became central to late 20th Century social and political discourse. Originally broadcast by BBC Four in four episodes, The Century of the Self went on to be shown as a feature film across the US, and besides bagging several significant documentary awards was named by Entertainment Weekly as the fourth best movie of 2005.

Curtis’ next series is, in my opinion, his most bold, challenging, impressive and prescient piece to date and has certainly proved his most controversial. The Power of Nightmares examined the role of mythology in contemporary culture and political discourse, positing links between the rise of radical Islam and radical Neo-Conservatism as two ideologies designed to unite what are perceived as fracturing national/cultural identities, fuelled by the use of grand propaganda and especially the manipulation of fear. Several of the series’ more challenging claims, such as that al-Qaeda, as an organisation, was essentially a creation of the American government, have been widely discussed and critiqued at the highest levels of journalism, cultural commentary and academic discourse. Curtis returned to and honed the archive montage style of Pandora’s Box, remarkably combining a challenging, artful sensibility with serious and probing political argument. To my mind The Power of Nightmares is a masterpiece of documentary film making and stands among the greatest pieces of television ever made.

In his 2007 series The Trap, Curtis revisited some of the themes of his earlier work, notably Pandora’s Box, and wove some old material along with new into an eloquent and persuasive thesis regarding the origins and nature of the anthropology that underpins late-modern capitalist and Neo-Liberalist concepts of the individual, the state and the economy. Examining the arguments of thinkers such as John Nash, R.D. Laing, Fredrik von Hayek, Frantz Fanon and Isaiah Berlin and the actions of ‘leaders’ like Reagan, Thatcher, Pinochet, Blair and Putin, The Trap is a compelling and hyperopic film which stands a close second to The Power of Nightmares in my reckoning.

At present Curtis mostly engages in lower profile work within BBC Current Affairs, but occasionally still produces films such as the three short documentaries that he made for Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe and Newswipe and 2009’s It Felt Like A Kiss, a strange and beautiful multi-media montage piece produced in collaboration with Punchdrunk theatre company, Damon Albarn and Kronos Quartet, which draws on and expands Curtis’ montage and typographic aesthetic, but represents a departure from his usual straightforwardly narrative style and hard-hitting tone.

Curtis’ opponents, of which the right-wing broadsheets and Neo-Conservative think tanks are brimming, call him a propagandist, and conservative Americans in particular use him as one of the key pieces of evidence in the argument that the BBC is a hive of left-wing extremism, but for me he is far more than simply a producer of run-of-the-mill agitprop. His films may be often rhetorically provocative and tend towards a certain kind of didacticism, but they are always clearly and skilfully argued and engage with western culture’s most serious subjects and most important minds. Love him or hate him, Adam Curtis is a film maker to be taken seriously, and considering the shlock that fills the vast majority of TV slots, I for one am thoroughly glad we have him around.

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here are some links to the films discussed above:

Pandora’s Box

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

The Living Dead
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

25 Million Pounds

The Way of All Flesh

The Mayfair Set

* Episode 1 [pt 1] [pt2]
* Episode 2 [pt 1] [pt 2]
* Episode 3 [pt 1] [pt 2]
* Episode 4 [pt 1] [pt 2]

The Century of the Self

* Episode 1
* Episode 2
* Episode 3
* Episode 4

The Power of Nightmares

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

The Trap

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

It Felt Like A Kiss

Brooker film 1: TV News
Brooker film 2: Oh-Dearism
Brooker film 3: How All of Us Have Become Richard Nixon

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given that I have few qualms about this sort of thing anyway, and especially when it comes to programmes that have aired on terrestrial TV, if any of these links are broken or the quality is too poor for you to handle, then I can and do recommend a brief sniff around some of the more popular torrent deposits. my advice is to see these films however and as soon as you can.

#telosvision: most depressing gameshow ever?

just when i thought reality tv couldn’t get any worse, the race for the bottom has been reignited by Endemol and Channel 4’s latest ‘treat’ The Million Pound Drop….Live! no doubt simply filling a gap in the schedule which will soon be gobbled up (along with almost all other slots) by the new series of Big Brother, this Davina fronted reality quiz experience pits the non-existant wits of ‘people’, who can only be described as morons, against some questions, with the additional pressure garnered by the presence of £1m (this time a million pounds, not ‘a metre of money’) which they are forced wager on their lack of knowledge.

the ghoulishly simple concept is that a pair of quarter-wits are given a million pounds (but not really), told that they’re now millionaires (although not really) and told that they have a chance of staying that way at the end of the show (although not really). they must bet the money that they’ve been leant on eight multiple choice questions. they must wager all the money each time, but can spread it about amongst four possible answers (although one answer must always remain blank). any money wagered on incorrect answers ‘drops’ from the large pedestal stage that the game is conducted on and into the eager arms of fat men in suits with black shades – security guards apparently. as the game continues the available answers reduce to three, then for the final question, to two, meaning that the final wager is an ‘all-or-nothing’.

the first depressing thing about ‘The Million Pound Drop…Live! is the way in which the contestants are made to handle the money, bundled in £25K stacks, as they bet it. to absolutely guarantee that they look as much like the desperate, stupid paupers that they are, scrabbling around on the floor begging for all the money back that the banks and markets keep losing, they only have one minute to decide how much cash they want to risk on each answer and physically pile it on top of the appropriate trapdoor. we have yet to discover what happens if the time elapses and some of the wadges have not been placed, but we have seen plenty gleefully literal money grabbing.

the next most depressing element is added by the fact that as the game continues and the number of possible answers reduces, the questions become ‘harder’ (although this is a relative term) and the available options more difficult to choose between. the concept on which the show was advertised was that you become less sure of an answer you think you know to be right if someone actually gives you a whole stack of real money to risk on it…live! this, however, has turned out to be (at best) only an aspect of the early stages of the show when the stupid contestants are remotely within the Jeremy Beadle-esque grasp of their scanty faculties. in any case, as the eighth and final question looms, the nature of the question and the possible answers left to choose between mean that the role of knowledge is reduced to about that required to guess how many sweets are in the massive jar at the school fete (‘Which of the Cheeky Girls has the longer left big toe?’). as such, the format essentially means that if anyone with any form of general knowledge ever did get on, although they could potentially use their smarts to get all £1m through to the final question, they would be forced to gamble the fruits of their labour on essentially a coin toss in the last round.

clearly what we’ve ended up with is a gentrified version of the show Channel 4 wanted to make in which the best the contestants can possibly stand to do is have a 50% chance of keeping whatever pitiful amount of shiny coins their limited faculties have allowed them to scrape together whilst scratching around with their mouths, like the worthless poultry that they are, on the shitty floor of ‘Davina’s Cash Barn’ – a kind of Jimmy’s Farm meets the end bit of The Crystal Maze. in fact, why not just go out into ‘the worse kind’ of council estates and offer the people the chance to play Russian Roulette with three bullets in a six-shooter? at the start they stand to win all their hopes and dreams, but by the end it’s 50/50 whether they blow their brains out, or win a badge that reads ‘I’m poor, kick my face’.

last night’s instalment introduced Will and Gemma who were either stooges drafted in to steer the so-far dismal ship back on the intended course (i.e. to get some money through question 3 or 4) or they were the most depressing contestants yet. they started off well, knowing the answers to the first few questions and either managing to successfully risk all the cash, or lose only small amounts to entertaining last-minute fits of one-million-pounds-in-live-cash related doubt. they were clearly not what you’d call bright, but they seemed to know at least eleven things which is more than can be said for any other contestants i’ve seen ‘take the drop’ so far.

the episode hit an unbelievable low, however, when the subject for their fifth or sixth question was selected as Science and the following question was revealed: Which of these events occurred first – Pierre and Marie Curie discover radium, Fahrenheit invents the mercury thermometer or Isaac Newton formulates the three Laws of Motion? Will, the proud holder of an A* in GCSE Combined Science, was initially drawn to Isaac Newton but could not give the inquisitive Gemma a satisfactory reason as to why. after discussing whether the Laws of Motion were ‘when the apple fell on his head’, as if being able to confirm or deny that was all they needed to help them to alight on the answer, they put the majority of their money on Will’s Newtonian ‘hunch’, shifting something like ‘only’ £125K onto Fahrenheit as a backup. “I just don’t think radium’s been around for very long” was a treat of a comment from Gemma.

as if it weren’t enough that there was clearly tension in the room and on the faces of the contestants which should in no way have been there (million pounds or not) given that Fahrenheit was born only one year before Newton published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, to make matters worse, the Fahrenheit trap was dropped first (thus revealing it as an incorrect answer). so, now they knew that the answer was either Newton’s Laws (on which they’d bet around £900K) or the Curies’ discovery (on which they’d wagered nothing), and yet they didn’t seem any more confident. the ‘tension’ was cranked up ‘even more’ by the revelation that they would be cutting to an advert break before revealing the next drop. the fact that they didn’t know for sure which had occured first between an event from 1687 and another from 1898, or even who was around first, Newton or the Curies, was depressing, but the fact that the producers obviously thought that their ignorance would be shared by the majority of the show’s audience was quite sickening.

to my mind gameshows are supposed to be about the opportunity to turn knowledge or skill into rewards. the audience attraction is the giddy thrill of rooting for (or, in the case of some, (not mentioning any Judith Keppels) against) the contestants as they put themselves to the test. this programme is really about degradation. we’re presented with cash-strapped simpletons who’ve agreed to exchange their dignity for the chance to desperately fumble around with big blocks of money they are never going to win and in the meantime we’re supposed to enjoy the suspense of not knowing who was born more recently Cyrus the Great of Persia or Timmy Mallett.

on the show’s promotional youtube video, one of the production team asserts “it’s a massively life-changing thing to think about. Actually if i think about it too much, it makes me want to cry.”

me too.

#telosvision: sex and the city

i’d been preparing a #telosvision post about Sex and the City to coincide with the release of the forthcoming second film when the shocking revelation about the true and terrible nature of the show broke. i am as i imagine are you in a state of discombobulation the likes of which i’ve only before seen or felt in american department stores. of all the things that life could have taken from me, not this, please, not this. alas. this. i’m big enough to admit when i’ve been duped. damn you lars.

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/arts-&-entertainment/lars-von-trier-revealed-as-‘sex-and-the-city’-mastermind-201005102714/

#telosvision: archer – bond for feminists?

#telosvision: love it or just watch it anyway TV is arguably today’s central cultural medium and marker. in terms of shaping our shared experience and mediating the conscience collective televisual trends tends ends end en n and so on. you might say that charting the emerging geography of the small screen is like looking into a cultural crystal ball – and many experts do. so.

at RQT we’re beginning our critically engaged map of the box in a small corner called Archer. produced for Fox’s FX channel and premiering in january of this year the first season’s ten episodes open to us the hidden doors of ISIS (the International Secret Intelligence Service). located above a mid-town laundromat (“wash’n’fold…technically”) ISIS is a small intelligence agency sporting the most highly trained and most ninjaist operatives who are also a sorry bunch of total douche bags.

Douche-baggery not withstanding the collection of rag-tag incompetents soaks and sexual misfits that make up the ISIS staff are really as endearing a clutch of chumps as you will ever know (and you will know lots of chumps – i can guarantee that).

Code-named ‘Dutchess’, Sterling Malory Archer – son of former field agent and persistent sex-hound ISIS director Malory Archer and the Archer of Archer (the title) – is essentially your classic emotionally stunted gun-toting butler-needing lacrosse-playing rich mummy’s boy field agent. but more annoying than that. be careful though because like all ISIS agents he is highly skilled in Krav Maga – “Karate? Karate is the Dane Cook of martial arts”. his instincts are to be suave and wry but he’s much better at being crass and never being able to come up with witty retorts quickly enough. he’s essentially an obnoxious pig-headed misogynistic…wait i totally had something for this… Lana Kane […douche.] is a fast-talking tactical weapons expert with a short dress and breasts which stick out as much sidewards as they do frontwards. she is Archer’s field partner and never quite totally ex (they are named beneficiary on each other’s life insurance policies). she now goes out with Cyril Figgis from accounts who is a nervous and comparatively well-meaning bespectacled nerd and thus the butt of nearly all of Archer’s jokes. he has an extremely large penis and makes stir-fry for Lana every Friday (Cyril: “Guess what we call it…” Archer: “Stir Friday?” Cyril: “…Wow, that is…actually better”.) the admin side of things is handled by Cheryl/Carol/Cristal/Carina – who changes her name a lot and likes being strangled – and Pam who is fat and grew up on a ‘cheese farm’. Dr. Krieger is in charge of R&D and doesn’t really say much but what he does say is unremittingly dark (Pam: “And that’s the reason I never have sex with co-workers. That … and no one ever lets me.” Krieger: “I’ve had good results with ether”).

add in gay agent (gaygent) Gillette, Scatter-brain-Jane, (infil)trator Krenshaw/Kremensky, Archer’s long-suffering butler Woodhouse, KGB boss (Mallory’s on-off lover and probably Sterling’s father) Nicolai Jackov and Len Trexler the boss of rival agency ODIN (Archer: “Ugh, the Organisation of Douchebags in…wait I had something for this…..Nowheresville”) and another of Mallory’s former conquests, and you just about have the whole cast of characters.

Archer uses heavy doses of irony to transition all the social politics of the old-school spy genre into the world of equal opportunities legislation sexual harassment cases and diversity criteria. every character is almost equally as insecure shallow self-obsessed and sexually tragic as the next and very few social constructs or taboos escape the sharp edge of the writer (Adam Reed)’s pen. just like Reed’s work for Adult Swim – Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021 – Archer is parodic, sharp and laugh-out-loud-and-then-feel-ashamed funny. given that the first season has already won the plaudits of philosopher and wet-mouthed genius Slavoj Žižek, cultural critic, academic and celebrity hairstylist Cornel West, trance DJ and leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Archbishop Vincent Nichols, feminist activist Ron Jeremy and not-long-enough-since-dead actor/lobbyist/fascist and bi-sexual icon Charlton Heston, it’s probably no surprised that a second season is currently on the drawing board.

UK viewers can see Archer on thursdays at 10pm on Fiver or thereafter on Demand Five. US viewers should hit up Hulu.

yyyyuuuuuuppp