Wednesday, 26 January 2011

How TV Ruined Your Life (BBC2)

Charlie Brooker returns to the BBC with a six part series which aims to show how TV misrepresents reality. The format is essentially the same as his "wipe" shows and it benefits greatly as he has confidence in this layout. The only real difference is a lack of guest slots (no Doug Stanhope), instead replaced by the TV comedy show achilles heel; sketches.

I really enjoyed it, mainly because this is Brooker back in his full on miserable cynic persona only with a shit new haircut and a set instead of his living room. The sketches weren't fantastic, but at least Brooker wisely doesn't feature in them and they don't look as cheap and tacky as Boyle/Howard/Lee's (his director ,who I think is the guy who plays Barry Shitpeas and I think is called Ali Campbell (but he doesn't front UB40), deserves credit for all his BBC shows).

The thing I felt it achieved brilliantly was the balance between funny and serious, something 10 O'Clock Live still needs to iron out. When the point gets serious he doesn't try to force humour into it. This does lead to stretches where you don't laugh, but it doesn't matter because what you get instead is interesting.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

10 O'Clock Live (Channel 4)

Channel 4's new topical comedy show, hosted by Jimmy Carr, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne and Charlie Brooker, was something of a mixed bag. It's lumbered from the off with the baggage of being a satirical news comedy show and therefore has an instant hurdle to overcome in that any satirical news comedy show on TV has to live up to the original, and possibly still best, comedy quiz show in Have I Got News For You and Chris Morris's classic The Day Today and Brass Eye, which isn't really very fair; 1o O'Clock Live isn't trying to be either.

Instead it is trying to be everything and herein lay the problem. Due to the sheer volume of content they tried to pack into an hour nothing quite fully worked and some things (the horrific US news spoof) were appalling. I'm hoping that as they have a 15 week run they will tweak the format to make it work better. Here's how I'd do it.

First I'd get rid of Lauren Laverne. She seems like a spare wheel. Apart from being the closest there was to a host her only input was the aforementioned US news sketch. I suppose she's useful as the focal point of the round the table discussion (which needs to be tweaked by the other 3 letting Brooker talk instead of just talking over him). Second, get rid of the desperately poor sketches they take up time that will easily be filled with content already there.. For example, Mitchell hosting a debate with 3 people started chaotic and just as it was starting to work they had to end it for a Brooker video segment. Brooker was followed by a break and when it returned there was THAT sketch and a Jimmy Carr segment so poor I can't remember anything about it. Cut the crap after the break, move Brooker there and allow the debate to run longer.

The best between break part of the show was the one that started with Brooker's cynical rant and then had Mitchell discussing tuition fees with a single politician. Brooker was very funny, the discussion was interesting. This should be how the whole show plays then you'd have Intro, Carr monologue about the news, Mitchell does a serious bit, ads, Brooker video, Carr interviews someone interesting, Mitchell monologue if the interviewee is less interesting than he was this week, ads, round the table talk (preceded by Mitchell if the interviewee was as interesting as this week), ads, Brooker rant, Mitchell discussion, Carr sign off. Credits. Better programme.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

10 Best Shows of 2010

Belatedly here's my list of my 10 favourite shows from last year in no particular order.

Lost series 6
Lost came to a close extremely well and, on the whole, very satisfactorily. I would have liked more tragedy, but it did a great job of bringing to a close these characters stories while retaining the mystery that served the show so well. It will be missed and should definitely be checked out by those that passed on it.

David Simon's latest was another rich, dense tapestry of a city chock full of great characters, performances, music and writing. Essential for lovers of The Wire (aka humans) and jazz music.

Dr Who
The best British drama on TV and it's for kids. Within 2 episodes I'd forgotten all about David Tennant, so good is Matt Smith. An iffy Dalek episode aside this was a particularly strong series, possibly even then best since it's return. Steven Moffatt had much more control and vision of the series as a whole and the reset button wasn't gay. The Christmas episode was also very good.

This Is England '86
3/4 magnificent this suffered slightly from being one episode shorter than it should have been. It was still an excellent show and extremely funny for 2 episodes.

Boardwalk Empire
While it's never quite reached the height of it's Scorsese directed pilot this is another dense HBO drama that's well worth checking out. Steve Buscemi is excellent as Nucky Thomson. I will write more soon when I finish the first series.

The Walking Dead
Frank Darabont's excellent zombie drama again never quite reaches the peak of it's 1st episode, but is never less than really very bloody good. Bloody being the operative word.

The Trip
Coogan, Brydon and Winterbottom's pseudo sequel to A Cock and Bull Story is quite genius when the two leads out impression each other. It reminded me, in a strange way, of Spare Tyre.

Pete Vs Life
Rafe Spall's life is narrated by a Geordie and the Geordie from Partridge (who's not playing a Geordie) in a show that's 2 shows in one. The first is a blokes life being commentated on, which would be funnier if it was played straight, while the second is a British Curb Your Enthusiasm with Timothy Spall's kid. The first episode didn't quite work, but it developed really well.

Prequel spin-off from the remake of Battlestar Galatica (proof remakes can work) that was chock full of fantastic sci-fi ideas, but was split in half so it was only really half a series and ended as such. The second half, which has just aired in the US, will be the last which is a real shame as the ideas here have got real legs.

Dexter series 5
I will write more on Dexter soon, but all you need to know is it's a very excellent show. The 5th series wasn't the very best, but it was definitely not the worst either.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Walking Dead (FX)

America's other new hit show of last year showed very soon after the US on FX. I don't know whether any of the networks have bought it, but they would be wise to: it is very excellent.

Masterminded by Frank Darabont (writer/director of Shawshank, Green Mile and The Mist) it tells the story of a group of survivors after a zombie apocalypse. Darabont wrote and directed the first episode and heavily rewrote the rest of the series leading to two of the other writers to quit the show. As long as Darabont remains so hands on I can't see this affecting the second, slightly longer (8 episodes as opposed to this series 6), series.

The first episode, which focussing almost entirely on the (Andrew Lincoln), is particularly brilliant and compares very favourably with the best zombie movies. The rest of the series never quite hits these heights again, but is always very very good. The advantage of being a series means the survivors are far more rounded and there's already a lot of potential for future series.

While The Walking Dead doesn't bring anything completely original to the genre it does have many interesting twists on things we've seen before. If you are a fan of zombie movies then this is pretty much a must watch.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Frankie Boyle's Tramadol NIghts (Channel 4)

Frankie Boyle was by far the best thing on Mock The Week and the live show I saw a couple of years ago was excellent so I was looking forward to his first solo TV show. Boy was I disappointed. Not because it didn't quite live up to the expectation I had of it, but because it was plain terrible.

It started OK with a stand up section to start, but having only around 5 minutes meant there was no structure to the comedy and instead it was just a series of "dark" jokes. On Mock The Week when contrasted against lighter comics and across a 90 minute show where the level of darkness can rise and fall this worked brilliantly. When strung together fast and unrelelnting almost everything good about Frankie Boyle vanishes and he just comes across as cruel and vulgar.

Yet the 3 stand-up sections were the undeniable highlight compared to the woeful series of sketches that filled out the rest of the show. One sketch was a funny idea done badly and the first installment of George Michael's Highway Code would have been funny if it had just been "mirror, signal, wank, crash, wank" instead of going on. Other than those two none of the sketches were anything better than utter dross. Crude ideas executed very amateurishly. Whoever shot and directed the sketches should never work in TV again as they looked cheaper than the sketches off that cheap sketch show that Michael Marshall Smith appeared on (I can't remember the name of it but hopefully someone (Al?) might). Thing is, that was very cheap while this is Frankie Boyle in a prime Channel 4 comedy slot and will have a budget.

Overall an unmitigated disaster that can't be fixed until a second series it doesn't deserve. So bad I genuinely mean this final sentence. Much worse than The X Factor!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

This Is England '86 (Channel 4)

Finally got round to watching Shane Meadows follow up to This Is England and how very good it was too. Not only was I surprised by how funny the first 2 episodes were, but by how light they were on the whole. The comedy far outweighed the weightier material and a lot of it was truly inspired. I actually think my favourite moment in the whole series was a comedy moment from very early when a gang of biker youths have to turn round in the road to bully Shaun; just a perfectly pitched comedy moment.

Meadows did not direct the first 2 episodes and when he does the drama becomes more prevalent, although the turn in tone is played perfectly across the episode climaxing in a tough final 10 minutes. Up to here this is a truly magnificent series and everything is set for a brilliantly finale, but it doesn't quite make it. The final episode is very good, just not great.

The main problem, for me, was one of predictability and convenience and it can be pinpointed on one character; the return of Combo. Suddenly you have a character appear who's completely changed from the one we know and love/loathe with no real explanation and can only ever serve the purpose of giving everything a neat end. He's a deus ex machina, essentially. By not appearing until the very end there is never any time to learn anything about him and he didn't really ring true because of this.

There's also an element of the other stories being pushed aside to make way for the big emotional hit and I missed them. Maybe if there had been 5 episodes with the final episode being extended into 2, the act of violence ending the 4th episode, it could have finished as brilliantly as it started. It probably would have been a more hard going ending, but it could've been phenomenal.

Still a very very good series that does the brilliant film justice. I'm looking forward to 4 years time when we may get, with a bit of luck, This Is England '90 when we get a music montage of Gazza crying while Gadget chokes on his own vomit after a smack overdose!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

X Factor (ITV1)

I managed to escape the whole show by going out this week, but what I did see of "Guilty Pleasures" week did raise 2 moments of slap yourself in the head dumbness.

1) As part of "gulity pleasures" week (ie, crap tracks you kinda like) one act performed Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love. Guilty pleasure... Led Zeppelin... reeeeaaaaalllllllllllyyyy!?

2) Cheryl Cole talking about pre-pubescent manufactured (at boot camp) boyband One Direction's encounter with hundreds of screaming girls on Oxford Street said "boyband's have to deal with screaming girls like you did. Even the Beatles". Boyband... The Beatles... reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!?

This is what Ted is completely right about. Having a singing competition to create a new mainstream pop star is OK if they understand that that's what they are. To compare anything it creates to The Beatles or dismissing such massively influential bands as Led Zeppelin is appalling and just wrong.