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.