Tuesday, 30 December 2008

THE IT CROWD 3.6 - "Calendar Geeks"

Spoilers. I still say this third season has been IT Crowd's best, but the latter-half definitely dropped the ball. The last episode of this latest run has writer-director Graham Linehan poking fun at nude charity calendars (riffing on the infamous Women's Institute charity publication, that inspired the movie Calendar Girls). Here, Roy becomes an unexpected hit with the office girls on Reynholm Industries' seventh floor, and agrees to become the photographer for a nude calendar they're planning, to help raise money for those afflicted with "boss-eyedness"...

Of course, as Roy salivates at the thought of spending time with dozens of naked ladies, Jen throws a spanner in the works by explaining to the seventh floor bimbo's how sexist their calendar idea is. So, a change of plan finds Roy pushed into taking pics of the girl's wrinkly grandmothers, before Jen refocuses the calendar again (once it becomes clear she'll be fired by Douglas if it doesn't make money) and opts for a "geek chic" theme. And that results in Roy taking erotic photos of nerds and geeks (half-naked, cavorting in balloons) without them realizing his intentions.

There's a streak of cruelty in this episode which wasn't much fun (regarding boss-eyed people, and the slightly creepy way Roy forced nerds into embarrassing themselves.) The calendar idea itself was quite thin, and it didn't help that we focused exclusively on Roy, either. Usually, episodes give us two supporting plots for Jen and Moss to take the slack, but that was dropped here. Sadly, Moss in particular was totally wasted and marginalized -- apparently to make a late gag about him having been on holiday for a week without anyone noticing. Actually, a small part of me suspects Linehan is growing tired of spoon-feeding jokes to cartoon-y morons like Moss, and has enjoyed writing for the more three-dimensional Jen and Roy this year.

The slack pace, cruel elements and paucity of belly-laughs was "Calendar Geeks" undoing, with only the geeky photoshoot providing a few guilty giggles. I didn't believe or enjoy the episode's listless punchline either -- as Roy's disastrous calendar still earned him the promise of sex with the seventh floor hottie Kimberly (Alexandra Weaver), but memories of grannies and geeks killed his libido. The IT Crowd is something of a live-action cartoon, resetting itself back to square one every episode, but I still find myself frustrated these characters don't progress or enjoy real successes -- particularly in a season finale. Why not give Roy a glamorous girlfriend for awhile, Mr. Linehan? Or have Jen accept another job, as threatened a few episodes back? Or have Moss seriously reconsider his ambitions? I'd certainly appreciate it if these characters started doing more than their weekly tricks.


26 December 2008
Channel 4, 9.50pm

Writer & Director: Graham Linehan
Cast: Chris O'Dowd (Roy), Richard Ayoade (Moss), Katherine Parkinson (Jen), Matt Berry (Douglas), Hazel Douglas (Joan), Jacob Edwards (Niall), Ty Glaser (Nadine), Hywel John (Dave), Ben Moore (Paul) & Alexandra Weaver (Kimberly)

Monday, 29 December 2008

DOCTOR WHO - "The Next Doctor"

Major spoilers. The fourth Christmas special heralds another extra-terrestrial attack on London, but writer Russell T. Davies wisely bends his festive formula into a slightly different shape. Firstly, this is a steampunk-influenced adventure set in a Dickensian Christmas of 1851, involving classic villains the Cybermen. Secondly, with companion Donna Noble having had her memories erased in season 4's finale, The Doctor is ironically assisted by an amnesiac Victorian (David Morrissey), whom he believes is a future incarnation of himself...

"The Next Doctor" is free of the bloat and silliness that sank last year's atrocious "Voyage Of The Damned", and generally kept things character-based and focused on the story, culminating in an effects-laden climax that earned its spectacle for once. Holding our interest through the comparatively subdued first half was the mystery behind the title; an enthusiastic, mildly arrogant, dandy adventurer calling himself The Doctor, whose indomitable spirit seems to recharge Tennant's Doctor.

Indeed, I don't quite remember previous Doctors being quite so enchanted by meeting their other selves, but the Tenth seems to relish it like a brotherly reunion (see also: Children In Need's "Time Crash".) Disappointingly, the joy of seeing two Doctors battling Cybermen on an equal footing didn't fully materialize, as Davies decided to answer the episode's identity riddle a tad early...

Around the time The Doctor was introduced to his other self's TARDIS (an impressive, but unremarkable hot-air balloon), the episode showed its hand: this future Doctor was Jackson Lake, an ordinary man whose wife had been killed by invading Cybermen, before he escaped the same fate by using one of their "info-stamps" as a makeshift energy weapon, that accidentally imprinted knowledge of The Doctor into his own mind.

A fuge state was certainly an unpredictable way to explain the central misunderstanding, but the downside to answering the mystery was how Morrissey's character accepted the truth. Morrissey's enjoyable performance wasn't allowed to upstage the hero as it threatened to -- and he swiftly became an affable, less compelling sidekick.

The Cybermen themselves are aesthetically perfect for the 19th-century, with their steampunk designed angles, but nu-Who still struggled to make the metal menaces a worthy threat. Essentially humanoid Daleks ("delete!" replacing "exterminate!"), they were also overshadowed in this outing by their human collaborator (Dervla Kirwan's icy Miss Hartigan) and the ill-explained "Cybershades" (subservient cyber-dog-apes?) Hartigan herself may be another lazy variant on a sci-fi pantomime Dame (blood-red dress, snow-white pallor), but Kirwan's glacial demeanour and cut-glass accent ensured Hartigan was an enjoyable cliché.

Once the double-Doctor mystery was satisfied, the seasonal special essentially reverted to full-on action mode -- involving a workshop of enslaved children building "The Cyberking"; an Iron Giant of Meccano that rose above Olde London and started flattening houses under its steel boot, once Miss Hartigan was installed as its brain. Only The Doctor, a scavenged piece of Dalek technology, and a rickety gas balloon could save the day, in an aerial stand-off high above the city... as Jackson drums up rare applause from the bewildered crowd below.

Overall, "The Next Doctor" was generally well-judged, nicely paced, and perfectly enjoyable Christmas Day entertainment for the family, laced with in-jokes (references to the Angels from "Blink", a gag involving a fob watch, a projection of the previous Doctors on a wall, etc.) As the first special of Davies' yearlong farewell, this did a solid job of foreshadowing his and Tennant's departure (note how The Doctor's taken to celebrate his victory at the Traveller's Halt) and we're left with the impression Davies will spend 2009 tying up other loose ends. Easter special "Planet Of The Dead" is already rumoured to revolve around Gallifrey; the Doctor's homeworld destroyed in the Time War that's served as the backdrop to nu-Who's mythology since Christopher Ecclestone first grabbed Billie Piper's hand in that Cardiff department store.

"Complete and utter wonderful nonsense!" was how Jackson Lake summed up the cavernous TARDIS interior. I wish I could say the same about "The Next Doctor", but this festive offering didn't come close to bettering "The Christmas Invasion" for compelling spectacle, or "The Runaway Bride" for pumping adrenaline. As far as regular episodes go, this was a sprightly and entertaining diversion; to be forgotten as quickly as the novelty toy in a pulled Christmas cracker.


25 December 2008
BBC1, 6pm

Writer: Russell T. Davies
Director: Andy Goddard

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), David Morrissey (The Doctor/Jackson Lake), Dervla Kirwan (Miss Hartigan), Velile Tshabalala (Rosita), Ruari Mears (Cybershade), Paul Kasey (Cyberleader), Edmund Kente (Mr. Scoones), Michael Bertenshaw (Mr. Cole), Jason Morell (Vicar), Neil McDermott (Jed), Ashley Horne (Lad), Tom Langford (Frederic), Jordan Southwell (Urchin), Matthew Alick (Docker) & Nicholas Briggs (Cyber Voices)

New Year TV Picks: 29 December 2008 - 4 January 2009

Pick Of The Week: "Demons" -- Sat, ITV1, 7.20pm

It's Auto-Dan here, again. Hope you enjoyed Christmas! But the festivities aren't over just yet, as we approach the 2008/2009 temporal buffer-zone, commonly known as New Year's Eve. The week's best, new television shows in the UK are:

MONDAY 29th
  • The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (Five, 7.15pm) Professor Chris Bishop presents the annual series of lectures, this one focusing on mankind's relationship with computers.
  • Tony Robinson & The Blitz Witch (Channel 4, 9pm) Investigation into the last British woman convicted of being a witch after revealing military secrets during a seance in the 1940s.

TUESDAY 30th
  • Shooting Stars Night (BBC2, 9pm) Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer host this evening-long look back at their popular '90s quiz show. A special one-off edition of the series will also be shown.
  • Around The World In 20 Years (BBC1, 9pm) Michael Palin travels from Dubai to Bombay, two decades after he made the same journey as part of Around The World In 80 Days.
  • Tony Robinson & The Ghosts Of Glastonbury (Channel 4, 9pm)
  • The Graham Norton Holiday Show (BBC2, 10.30pm) The Irish comic hosts a special edition of his chat show.

WEDNESDAY 31st
  • Top Of The Pops (BBC1, 5.35pm) Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates present a musical retrospect of 2008.
  • Last Of The Summer Wine (BBC1, 7.30pm) New series of the world's longest running sitcom.
  • The Weakest Link: West End Special (BBC1, 8pm) Stars from the West End compete in the Anne Robinson-hosted quiz.
  • Tony Robinson & The Medieval Reincarnation (Channel 4, 9pm)
  • New Year Live (BBC1, 10.50pm) Nick Knowles and Kate Silverton host the countdown to 2009. Featuring Alesha Dixon, Simply Red and Russell Watson.
  • Jools' Annual Hootenanny (BBC2, 10.55pm) Jools Holland hosts the countdown to 2009. Featuring Martha & The Vandellas, Dizzee Rascal, Annie Lennox, Duffy and Lily Allen.
  • Elton John's New Year Eve Party (ITV1, 11.15pm) Coverage of Elton John's concert at the 02 Arena.

THURSDAY 1st
  • Doctor Who At The Proms (BBC1, 1.50pm) Concert music from the TV show from London's Royal Albert Hall.
  • Three Men In More Than One Boat (BBC2, 8pm) Griff Rhys-Jones, Dara O'Briain and Rory McGrath sail from Plymouth to the Isles Of Scilly.
  • Jonathan Creek (BBC1, 9pm) Special episode of the mystery drama, starring Alan Davies and Sheridan Smith.
  • Agatha Christie's Marple: Nemesis (ITV1, 9pm) Another mystery for the elderly sleuth, starring Richard E. Grant, Johnny Briggs, George Cole & Lee Ingleby.

FRIDAY 2nd
  • The Kryton Factor (ITV1, 5.30pm) New version of the classic mental and physical gameshow, presented by Ben Shepherd.
  • Morecambe & Wise: The Show What Paul Merton Did (BBC1, 9pm) The comedian hosts this celebration of the popular comedy duo.
  • Celebrity Big Brother 2009 (Channel 4, 9pm) Davina McCall hosts the latest series, with more celebs put under three-week surveillance, 24-hours a day.
  • Rude Tube (Channel 4, 10.15pm) Countdown of the top 50 internet clips of 2008.

SATURDAY 3rd
  • Richard Hammond's Blast Lab (BBC2, 8.30am) Kid's science show.
  • Who Wants To Be A Superhero? (BBC2, 9pm) UK version of the US reality series, hosted by Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes, about trying to find "real" superheroes.
  • Doctor Who Confidential: The Ten Doctors (BBC1, 5.25pm) Special edition of the behind-the-scenes series, taking a look at all ten of the Time Lord's incarnations.
  • Total Wipeout (BBC1, 6.10pm) Richard Hammond and Amanda Byram host a gameshow where contestants have to get across obstacle courses.
  • Eurovision: Your Country Needs You (BBC1, 7.10pm) Andrew Lloyd Webber tries to find a winning British entry for 2009's Eurovision Song Contest.
  • Demons (ITV1, 7.20pm) An American mentors his British godson in the art of slaying demons, vampires and other supernatural beasts. Stars Philip Glenister, Zoe Tapper, Christian Cooke & Holliday Grainger.
  • A History Of Scotland (BBC2, 8pm) Historian Neil Oliver looks at Scotland's past.
  • Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Celebrity Special (ITV, 9.05pm) Hilary Jones, Andrea McLean, Jonathan Ansell and Connie Fisher try to win $1 million for their chosen charities.

SUNDAY 4th
  • Time Team (Channel 4, 5.40pm) New series of the archaeological show with Tony Robinson.
  • Creature Comforts (ITV1, 6.05pm) New series from Aardman Animations, giving voice to plasticine animals.
  • Celebrity Big Brother's Little Brother (Channel 4, 7pm) George Lamb delves behind-the-scenes of this year's CBB.
  • The Real Italian Job: James Martin's Mille Miglia (BBC2, 7pm) The popular chef competes in the Italian classic car race.
  • Swam: Nature's Incredible Invasions (BBC1, 9pm) Two-part documentary on swarms.
  • Above Suspicion (ITV1, 9pm) Lynda La Plante two-part drama about a police officer following in her late father's footsteps. Stars Kelly Reilly, Ciaran Hinds, Jason Durr, Shaun Dingwall, Daniel Caltagirone & Michelle Holmes.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

SURVIVORS 1.6

Spoilers. Adrian Hodges' modern twist on the '70s post-apocalyptic drama built to a fitting cliffhanger, with the group facing past enemies from all sides. Oddly though, after making Abby's search for her son Peter the narrative backbone of this six-part series, that particular storyline is restricted to a brief coda in the finale.

Instead, the story derived from the return of meddlesome MP Samantha Willis, who has implausibly started recruiting dangerous hoodlums into her "government" mere weeks after firing a bullet through the noggin of someone for petty theft. And who should be her right-hand man? None other than rifle-toting, weasle-faced Dexter from episode 2's forraging-based storyline; hired muscle to enforce her latest wheeze: the creation of a modern Doomsday Book...

Frankly, the finer workings of how the finale draws together past characters and storylines doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Bimbo Sarah's callous decision to leave her injured "boyfriend" to die was returned to -- with Dexter's cronies having unbelievably nursed Bob back to semi-health, apparently intending to reunite him with Sarah as his atoning nursemaid. And can breaking your leg can lead to incontinence? Poor Bob.

Regardless, Sarah's been a hollow, simpering character since her introduction, so exposing her as a selfish cow wasn't a surprise for anyone at home. And her friend's reaction to the news was one of mild confusion, as only Greg even knew about Sarah's history with Bob, and she's hardly endeared herself to the group with her distant demeanour, anyway. As recompense, a moment when Sarah revealed to Dexter's goons that Anya is a valuable doctor worked much better as a means to remove her competition for Tom's affections. Plus, having Anya whisked away to a life of enforced servitude at Samantha's eco-centre necessitated a brief but fun rescue.

But Sarah isn't the only character with a skeleton in the closet, of course. There's escaped felon Tom, who has been a snake in the camp from the very beginning. Sadly, his character has softened in recent weeks, so episode 1's sense of unpredictability regarding his motives has dulled him to lovable bad-boy status. I no longer believed he'd suddenly pose a real danger to Abby's group. Indeed, Abby is happy to be kept in the dark about Tom's criminal past once it's discovered, so long as his actions in the present are honourable -- and, having unofficially accepted the role of protector once trigger happy Dex shows his true colours, Tom's climatic actions confirm he's sided with the goodies.

10-year-old Najid finally got a half-decent story all to himself, as he ran away from the group to became a modern Oliver Twist -- taken in by a gang of street kids who are being manipulated by a cotemporary Fagin called Craig (Ada Kotz). Craig has coerced vulnerable children into stealing cooking oil to power his abandoned Ritz theatre hideout -- which he's outfitted with disco lights and gaming consoles to entertain his infant thieves as payment.

Interestingly, Craig's scheme had parallels to Samantha's own plan (recruiting people, rewarding work with luxuries, and reaping the benefits as their self-appointed leader.) This was hopefully an intentional echo, and not a sign Survivors is running low on angles for its villains to play. It was perhaps unwise to paint Najid as a total brat, sadly, but the Dickens-esque story was fairly diverting and solidified the "father/son" relationship that's formed between Najid and Al, who was compelled to trace Najid's whereabouts. Just a shame Najid didn't earn a slap for the trouble he'd caused.

Thankfully, this finale did provide worthwhile moments of tension, excitement and surprise in its final quarter. The return to the city (assumedly Manchester) enabled more of the post-apocalyptic imagery Survivors can't deliver every week for budgetary reasons (flooded streets, an apartment building on fire), and the sense of abandoment and eerie silence was magnified by this urban setting. The lonely countryside isn't really incongrous enough for a show like this, as so much of Survivors could be mistaken for a particularly awful family holiday, or social experiment. You need the empty city streets, silent motorways and ghost towns to really sell the idea -- and the two episodes that have bookened Survivors delivered, even on a limited budget aping 28 Days Later.

Another mild disappointment was the scientists, whose omnipresent black helicopters were revealed to be reconnaisance; tracking and identifying survivors against a medical database of immune citizens whose blood might provide them with a vaccine. It was quite obvious Abby would be the woman they want around episode 3, and sure enough the last few minutes saw a snatch-and-grab operation dovetail with Dexter shooting Greg in the chest. These stinging developments (is Greg fated to die if Paterson Joseph succeeds David Tennant in Doctor Who?) were the cumulative jolts of excitement that helped the finale earn its stripes.

Overall, I'm sufficiently interested in seeing what happens in season 2, but Survivors will have to get a lot grittier and dirtier to do this concept full justice. Anya, Sarah, Al, Greg and Najid could also benefit from deeper writing, as most of the effort was expelled on Abby and Tom's characters. Even Samantha was a more rounded and interesting person compared to some of the regulars, despite getting half the screen-time. Maybe each episode should have focused on one particular character and simulatenously explained their pre-disaster histories? Still, this was far from a disaster and was actually surprisingly good, particularly considering showrunner Adrian Hodges' primary claim to fame is the CGI-heavy, character-shallow monster romp Primeval. A second series will hopefully improve the formula, now they have six episodes under their belt to be assessed.


23 December 2008
BBC1, 9pm

Writer: Adrian Hodges
Director: Jamie Payne

Cast: Julie Graham (Abby), Max Beesley (Tom), Paterson Joseph (Greg), Zoe Tapper (Anya), Philip Rhys (Al), Robyn Addison (Sarah), Nikki Amuka-Bird (Samantha), Ada Kotz (Craig), Anthony Flanagan (Dexter), Chahak Patel (Najid), Ronny Jhutti (Sami), Daniel Ryan (Bob Murphy), Andrew Tiernan (Gavin), Danny Seward (Robbie), Anthony Hudson (Darren) & Kate Lyons (June)

Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas TV Picks: 22-28 December 2008

Pick Of The Week: "Doctor Who - The Next Doctor" -- Thu, BBC1, 6pm

It's auto-Dan here. I'm physically away gorging myself on mince pies and chocolates, but this Christmas edition of TV Picks has been scheduled to magically appear without me. So, without further delay, the best new television shows broadcast in the UK this holy week are:

MONDAY 22nd
  • QI Christmas Special (BBC1, 9pm) Guests are Dom Joly, Clive Anderson and Rob Brydon.
  • Crooked House (BBC4, 10.30pm) Three-part chiller set inside a haunted house, written by and starring Mark Gatiss. Co-stars Derren Brown, Andy Nyman, Jean Marsh, Daniela Denby-Ashe, Anna Madeley, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Lee Ingleby & Philip Jackson.

TUESDAY 23rd
  • Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (ITV1, 8pm) Celeb special with Anthony Cotton, Suranne Jones, Austin Healey & Gary Lineker.
  • Rab C. Nesbitt (BBC2, 9pm) Festive special with Gregor Fisher reprising his Glaswegian comedy icon.
  • Mock The Week (BBC2, 9.45pm) Christmas special.
  • Alan Carr's Christmas Ding Dong (Channel 4, 10pm) Festive special.
  • The Peter Serafinowicz Christmas Show (BBC2, 10.55pm) Seasonal special. Duh.

WEDNESDAY 24th
  • Have I Got News For You? Christmas Special (BBC1, 9.30pm) Alexander Armstrong guest-hosts.
  • The Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special (BBC1, 10pm) Gavin and Stacey's families unite for Christmas, as Gav debates moving to Cardiff.
  • Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe Review Of The Year (BBC4, 10pm) The rant-prone columnist takes a look back at television in 2008.

THURSDAY 25th
  • Top Of The Pops Christmas 2008 (BBC1, 2pm) Who is the Christmas Number One? X Factor's Alexandra, or Peter Kay's Geraldine?
  • The Queen's Speech (BBC1 & ITV1, 3pm) Elizabeth II speaks to her subjects.
  • Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC1, 6pm) The Doctor arrives in Victorian London, just as the city is invaded by Cyberman. Co-stars David Morrissey & Dervla Kirwan.
  • Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special 2008 (BBC1, 7pm) Festive special of the dance show.
  • Dancing On Ice At Christmas (ITV1, 8pm) Seasonal special to wet our appetites for the return of the ice-skating competition in the New Year.
  • Wallace & Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf & Death (BBC1, 8.30pm) Fourth animated short with the popular claymation duo, who are now working as bakers.
  • Dragons' Den Around The World (BBC2, 8.30pm) A look at the popular reality series' foreign versions.
  • The Royle Family (BBC1, 9.30pm) Seasonal special of the family comedy.
  • It'll Be Alright On The Night (ITV1, 9.30pm) Griff Rhys Jones hosts more TV mishaps, goofs and cock-ups.
  • Blackadder Rides Again (BBC1, 10.30pm) 25th anniversary documentary looking at the classic BBC sitcom. Features interviews with the cast and crew, including Rowan Atkinson.
  • Stanley Baxter: Now & Then (ITV1, 10.30pm) A look back at the veteran comedian's career.

FRIDAY 26th
  • Harry Hill's TV Burp Review Of The Year (ITV1, 7pm) The big-collared comedian gives us his skewed look back at 2008.
  • World's Strongest Man: 30 Years Of Pain (Five, 8pm) A retrospective on three decades of the world-famous competition.
  • Caught In A Trap (ITV1, 9pm) Connie Fisher stars in this drama about an Elvis obsessive.
  • 8 Out Of 10 Cats Christmas Special (Channel 4, 10.25pm) Jimmy Carr hosts a festive special of the poll-based comedy quiz.

SATURDAY 27th
  • The Weakest Link: Strictly Come Dancing Special (BBC1, 6.50pm) Anne Robinson hosts the popular quiz show, with celeb contestants from Strictly.
  • All Star Family Fortunes Christmas Special (ITV1, 7.05pm) The McQueens from Hollyoaks vs. The Dingles from Emmerdale.

SUNDAY 28th
  • Celebrity Mastermind (BBC1, 6.30pm) First in a week-long series of celeb specials, featuring Toyah Willcox, Mark Chapman, Jon Culshaw, John Sessions, Sally Lindsay, Mick Hucknall, Mel Smith, Phil Daniels, Rick Wakeman, Ian Lavender & Tim Vine.
  • The 39 Steps (BBC1, 8pm) Feature-length adaptation of the famous spy thriller, starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Alex Jennings, Eddie Marsan, and more.
  • Affinity (ITV1, 9pm) Andrew Davies adaptation of Sarah Waters' gothic chiller setb inside a Victorian prison.
  • Big Fat Quiz Of The Year (Channel 4, 9pm) Jimmy Carr hosts the annual comedy quiz about the previous year.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

TV Week's 12 Treats Of Christmas

Over at Newslite.tv, I have a preview edition of TV Week to cap 2008 -- the 12 Treats Of Christmas, which highlights a dozen television specials worth catching over the Christmas holidays.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

STRICTLY COME DANCING 6 – Week 14 (Final)

I, for one, will be sad to see the back of Strictly...

Just before I officially sign-off for Christmas, I thought it best to summarize the Strictly Come Dancing Series 6 Final, between Lisa & Brendan, Tom & Camilla and Rachel & Vincent. In a change to the usual format, I don't have the time for a proper breakdown of the dances (or, if you prefer, the womanly flesh on display), so take this as an open thread to discuss the outcome. Spoilers for anyone yet to see the final, after the jump:

Well, I really didn't expect Lisa & Brendan to finish third. It was sad to see Strictly superfan Lisa go, but she did get to perform a "freestyle" show-dance with Brendan that gave me heart palpitations! Set to Meat Loaf's "I Would Do Anything For Love", it was the cheesiest, silliest few minutes of dancing I've seen in ages – but, holy cow, wasn't Lisa's dress the sexiest garment since Ola's infamous spray-on cat-suit? I won't be seeing that much leg again until my Christmas turkey is served!

In the end, despite Rachel's best efforts, Tom won the show after an admittedly excellent show-dance. Maybe I'm just too damn cynical about the fickle public, but I felt his win was slightly tainted by last week's phone-vote mess up. I couldn't help thinking that Tom fans were voting en masse this week, determined to see him lift the trophy as pay-back for his likely dismissal last week (as I'm sure the judges would have booted Tom out after a dance-off, don't you?)

Oh well. I'm more pleased for Camilla than Tom, anyway. This win marked the Strictly veteran's first trophy after five years dancing on the show. And you can tell her from sometimes insane-looking grins and 110% energy levels that she really, really wanted to win it.

Other highlights? Well, the evening was stuffed to bursting with dances from pretty much everyone, past and present. But I particularly enjoyed:

  • Erin & Austin's reprise of that dance where Austin does his cheeky, show-off wriggle in front of the judges.

  • The return of saucy Ola Jordan dancing the Cha Cha Cha; a woman who eclipsed traditional hottie Lilia Kopylova this year. Hopefully Lilia will be partnered with a man with more coordination than a shopping trolley next year.

  • Rachel & Vincent's Flashdance-inspired "What A Feeling".

  • As mentioned, Lisa & Brendan's cheese-tastic "I'd Do Anything For Love" freestyle moment, where Lisa went all-out to wow with that tight costume.

  • Bruce's interview with Series 1 winner Natasha Kaplinsky, where he revealed what she said to him just before the first show: "Brucie, Brucie -- can you possibly get me off? Now." Well, it made me laugh, but not even a titter from the crowd.

  • The "Dance Of Champions" was good -- featuring Jill Halfpenny, Mark Ramprakash, Darren Bennett and Alesha Dixon (the only woman whose thighs start under her armpits.)
Plenty to enjoy for Strictly fans, but I still think this dance show would benefit from being about a month shorter. Bringing the results back to Saturday would also be nice, because there's really NO point watching Sunday's results show until the last 5 minutes.

However, it's the BBC's main reality show, and it's proven there's a captive audience willing to spend hours watching every Saturday and Sunday. The phrase "overkill" is clearly not in anyone else's dictionary! Fair enough.

So, was Tom the best dancer in the competition? Can anyone remember anything he did, beyond that Fred Astaire leap a few weeks back? Was Rachel robbed? Is she really related to her "brothers" (the cockney baldies in the audience)? Were people voting for Tom more in protest over last week's semi? Is Tess Daly the most irritatingly insincere blatherer on the box? Did people actually vote to see Camilla win, not so much Tom? Does this mean Tom will be a team captain on the next series of Hole In The Wall? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below. I will also be updating this post in slow-time, with a smattering of YouTube links.

To close, here's a gratuitous photo of the breakout star of the show, and a link to her greatest moment. Ladies and gentlemen, but mostly gentlemen, I give you... Ola Jordan:

It's Christmaaaaaas!

It's that time of year again. You knew it was coming. The Coca-Cola lorry advert told you so. That's right: "It's Christmaaaaas!" As Noddy Holder would wail. I'll be taking a break from DMD over the next few weeks (21 Dec - 5 Jan), but there will still be some updates:
  • Sat 21: Strictly Come Dancing 6 Live Final review.
  • Sun 22: "12 Treats Of Christmas" TV preview, via Newslite.tv.
  • Mon 23: TV Picks for Christmas.
  • Mon 29: TV Picks for New Year.
  • Thu 1: DVD/Blu-ray Releases for January '09.
Oh, expect a review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and whatever else begs for an appraisal -- but I won't be scrambling to ensure a review's posted at the usual speed. I'm also very likely to slip behind with my regular reviews over the festive period (like Survivors, Prison Break and IT Crowd this week.) I will catch-up, as and when. Basically: check back when you can, but don't be surprised if posts are very irregular until January. Wine, turkey and mince pies are the enemy of bloggers.

So that's that! All that remains is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Hope you enjoyed reading my blog this year. If not, please stop reading it, or you'll go insane. Special thanks to those who took the time to comment and get more involved.

See you in 2009, where I'll be listing the Sexiest Women On TV In 2008 (as the 2007 list proved so massively popular -- hmmm, I wonder why?), and my annual Top TV Shows Of 2008. There will also be a few new features and changes to DMD in the new year, too...

THE IT CROWD 3.5 – "Friendface"

The penultimate episode of this much-improved third season is sadly its weakest. The idea of satirizing social networking sites is rich ground for comedy, but nothing is taken to any particularly original directions by writer Graham Linehan...

Friendface is a Facebook-style website Jen (Katherine Parkinson) has become obsessed with. She makes quick converts of the discerning Roy (Chris O'Dowd) and Moss (Richard Ayoade) -- primarily be mentioning its online Scrabble facility and application for dating -- but things become complicated when Jen contacts an old friend called Deline (Claudia Harrison) and Roy meets a very clingy girl called Alison (Suzie Toase) through the site...

Jen is crushed to discover that Deline (and most of her other school friends) have become far more successful than her; a situation that forces Jen to lie about her social life and career achievements. After being invited to a big reunion party, Jen is forced to take Moss along to pose as her professional tennis player husband. In a lacklustre subplot, Roy's attempts to break up with the overemotional Alison (who he nicknames "The Joker" on account of how badly her make-up runs when she cries) hit a snag when it becomes clear how obsessed she is with him...

There were a few good ideas and moments here (like the advertising on the Friendface site influencing Roy into buying cans of "Cuke", or Moss' mum joining the site and updating her current mood as "sensual") and I always like to see Jen struggle with the insanity surrounding her. Unlike Roy and Moss (who are entrenched in their geeky world and content with their lives), Jen is more compelling as someone who wants to break out beyond the I.T basement and make it in the "real", mainstream world. For that reason, I just find her a more dramatically satisfying character.

Still, while Moss will always be the caricatured nerd played very broadly, it's nice to see Roy given a more rounded personality at times. There's a great scene here between him and Jen, where she gives him heartfelt advice over his to break-up with the needy Alison. No feed-lines, no surreal background gags, no silly punchline, no comedy interjection from Moss. For once, just a bit of realism that benefitted both characters and made them feel like close friends. A bit of maturity in the writing. More, please.

Overall, "Friendface" should have been a lot funnier given the subject-matter, but this was still a diverting half hour. A shame the final minutes were so choppy in their handling of each storyline's climax, which even the late introduction of Douglas (Matt Berry) in party-mode couldn't lift to any comic highs. It all kind of fizzled out in the end, but Jen's storyline was just about strong enough to see us through Roy's.


19 December 2008
Channel 4, 10.05pm

Writer & Director: Graham Linehan
Cast: Chris O'Dowd (Roy), Richard Ayoade (Moss), Katherine Parkinson (Jen), Matt Berry (Douglas), Claudia Harrison (Deline), Suzie Toase (Alison) & James Tovell (Terry)

APPARITIONS 1.6

Joe Ahearne's finale to his six-part chiller pulls elements from previous stories together, culminating in a deciding battle of wits between Father Jacob (Martin Shaw) and possessed Michael (Rick Warden). Following last week's climax, Jacob is now suffering a crisis of faith and physically weakened by his ordeal. Unable to read scripture or perform religious ceremonies without feeling ill, Sister Ruth (Siobhan Finneran) thinks he's been possessed and will need an exorcism himself...

Meanwhile, Michael is busy putting the finishing touches to his evil plan, which involves a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, to steal a relic. Cardinal Bukovak (John Shrapnel) assigns a psychiatrist, Dr. Elaine Errison (Claire Price), to help Jacob get over his alarming religious phobia – but Dr. Errison's atheist views and belief he's suffering from delusions only cause Jacob further problems. With time running out, Sister Ruth approaches Father Daniel (David Gyasi) about performing his first exorcism on Jacob, but Jacob himself comes to realize there's only one power who can end his torment: Satan.

Episode 6 is another hour of tension, scares and general uneasiness. The series quickly developed a compelling atmosphere in its first episode, and that ambience has been maintained extremely well. At heart, Apparitions is absolutely nonsense extrapolated from Biblical stories and religious history, by Ahearne's skill is in presenting everything with utter conviction, aided by actors who refuse to put their tongues in their cheek. Martin Shaw's performance was the secret weapon; even though we're denied knowledge about his family or personal history, Father Jacob's potentially one-note and boring personality never fails to engage. Shaw somehow manages to make him a convincing character with a lot of heart, faith and enviable strength. Seeing him at his lowest ebb makes his eventual success in episode 6 all the sweeter, particularly as help and guidance from divine forces finally arrive...

Michael's ultimate plan to assassinate the Pope gave this episode a pulp fiction quality, not unlike a Dan Brown novel. The location shooting in Portugal and Italy also helped give the production a greater sense of scope and importance. It was a shame the climax (set in a church, with Michael in the choir, ready to shoot the Pope), was slightly undermined by awkward editing and an unintentionally amusing levitation, but up until that point the episode hadn't really put a foot wrong.

In fact, one particular scene was a series highlight; Jacob being exorcised by his old mentor Monsignor Vincenzo (Luigi Diberti), whom he discovered had been a lifelong Satanist ever since his family were killed in the holocaust. During the ritual, Jacob implores his friend to renounce Satan himself, but Vincenzo is unwilling to do so... until Jacob is momentarily possessed by the soul of his dead father, who tells his son not to blame God for what happened to their family 60 years ago. Surprisingly touching and cathartic, it was a rare moment when good prevailed on this series.

Nice to see sceptical Sister Ruth side with Jacob during his ordeal, although drippy Father Daniel was again a disappointment – and his terrible secret wasn't anything to get worked up about. Rick Warden continued his enjoyable, disquieting performance. His role as Michael has been a delight throughout these six episodes, even though it largely resembles a lobotomised, bearded Phil Cornwell shuffling around like Rainman.

Despite her limited screen-time, Dr. Errison was also a fun addition; refusing to believe Jacob's stories, even when the truths slaps her across the face. The final scene, with Jacob showing Dr. Errison a miraculously-healed scar on his arm, was an excellent way to close the series. "Nothing can make you believe?" asked Jacob. "No," came the shrink's obstinate reply. After a well-timed pause: "you really should talk to somebody about that..."

Apparitions clearly wasn't for everyone. Moody, gruesome and with sardonic put-downs the only source of light relief, the ratings suggested only a hardcore of horror fans stuck with it. 4 million tuned in for episode 1, but by episode 3 half that audience had been scared away. I hope it returns (and develops Jacob's character into more personal areas), but if it doesn't... well, like Joe Ahearne's Ultraviolet, we at least have six decent episodes for a small clique to celebrate.


18 December 2008
BBC1, 9pm

Writer & Director: Joe Ahearne
Cast: Martin Shaw (Father Jacob), John Shrapnel (Cardinal Bukovak), Siobhan Finneran (Sister Ruth), Rick Warden (Michael), David Gyasi (Father Daniel), Luigi Diberti (Monsignor Vincenzo), Claire Price (Dr. Elaine Errison), Antonia Whillans (Girl), Cherie Lunghi (Woman) & Josephine Amankwah (Soprano)

Friday, 19 December 2008

Survivors survives for a second season

Post-apocalyptic drama Survivors has been recommissioned for another season by the BBC, ahead of next week's finale. Adrian Hodges' remake of the '70s show has averaged 5.9 million viewers (a 23% share of the Tuesday 9pm audience) over the past five weeks.

Box Office Charts: w/e 19 December 2008

In the US: Ecologically-themed sci-fi remake THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL reigns supreme at the box-office with a healthy $30m, despite bad reviews, but that figure is likely to drop off sharply thanks to word-of-mouth... NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS, a comedy drama about a Puerto Rican family having Christmas together, limps in with a poor $3m first week...

US TOP 10

(-) 1. The Day The Earth Stood Still $30.5m
(1) 2. Four Christmases $13.1m
(2) 3. Twilight $7.95m
(3) 4. Bolt $7.46m
(4) 5. Australia $4.17m
(5) 6. Quantum Of Solace $3.72m
(-) 7. Nothing Like The Holidays $3.53m
(6) 8. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa $3.18m
(R) 9. Milk $2.6m
(7) 10. Transporter 3 $2.35m

In the UK: Echoing its US success, Keanu Reeves' sci-fi remake THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is a new #1, but only just managed to nudge out CGI animation Madagascar 2... fantasy adventure INKHEART debuts at #4 ahead of its American release, which isn't bad considering the lack of advertising (beyond Brendan Fraser appearing on Graham Norton and Paul O'Grady)... and Bollywood romance RAB NE BANA DI JODI does extremely well to nab #5, although every film below #3 fails to break the £1m barrier this week...

UK TOP 10

(-) 1. The Day The Earth Stood Still £2.7m
(1) 2. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa £2.4m
(2) 3. Four Christmases £1.1m
(-) 4. Inkheart £700k
(-) 5. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi £403k
(3) 6. Transporter 3 £400k
(4) 7. Changeling £385k
(5) 8. Quantum Of Solace £328k
(6) 9. Body Of Lies £90k
(7) 10. Lakeview Terrace £74k

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

Stone Of Destiny

Adventure
. True story about a Scottish nationalist who stole the Stone Of Scone from England in the 1950s, returning the artefact to Scotland.
Director: Charles Martin Smith Starring: Charlie Cox, Kate Mara, Robert Carlyle & Billy Boyd.
Tomatometer: 30% (Rotten; based on 10 reviews)

The Tale Of Despereaux

Animated adventure. Three heroes -- a misfit mouse, an unhappy rat, and a bumbling waitress – are entwined in an adventure involving a castle's princess.
Directors: Sam Fell & Robert Stevenhagen Voices: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Ciaran Hinds, Robbie Coltrane & Tony Hale

Twilight

Fantasy drama. A teenage girl risks everything when she falls in love with a vampire.
Director: Catherine Hardwicke Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed & Jackson Rathbone
US Box Office: $123 million
Tomatometer: 44% (Rotten; based on 150 reviews) "Having lost much of its bite transitioning to the big screen, Twilight will please its devoted fans, but do little for the uninitiated."

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES 2.13 - "Earthlings Welcome Here"

Spoilers. The mid-season finale is of mild interest, but it's generally flawed and another frustating dip in quality. An intriguing and occasionally exciting season that bettered its first, Chronicles is now sagging under a growing burden of vague subplots and an unclear direction. Hopefully, when the show returns next year, it will refocus and find its second wind...

"Earthlings Welcome Here" has Sarah (Lena Headey) investigating the mysterious three-dot symbol again; her latest theory taking her to Desert Canyon in California, where a UFO conference is being held. Photos of "Californian drones" in the sky match the triangular dots Sarah is so obsessed with, and she's pointed in the direction of a mysterious blogger called Abraham (who claimed he was part of a top-secret research project, possibly back-engineering alien technology.)

Sarah meets with a ufologist called Eileen (sounds like "alien", ha-ha), who turns out to be a transsexual called Alan Park -- and used "Abraham" as a pseudonym when she blogged about her experience working for the government. Eileen was employed for her skill in light detection and ranging (Lidar), and Sarah begins to suspect the technology Eileen was working on has something to do with Skynet's origins. Unfortunately, Eileen was always taken to work in a blacked-out vehicle, so Sarah suggests using hypnotic regression to uncover clues about the whereabouts of the secretive research facility.

At home, Cameron (Summer Glau) is growing suspicious of Riley (Leven Rambin), despite John's (Thomas Dekker) insistence his girlfriend isn't a threat. Flashbacks confirm that Riley was recruited by Jesse (Stephanie Jacobsen) in the future, and the two women were sent back in time with a mission to keep John and Cameron separated.

The story with Agent Ellison (Richard T. Jones) is belatedly resumed, too; with the Federal agent tasked by Catherine (Shirley Manson) to help her A.I computer "John Henry" learn ethics. The system has now been hooked-up to the body of Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt), to provide a human face and tactile input, as Ellison plays chess with it and tries to develop its sense of morality.

Both subplots don't really advance the story very much. After 12 episodes of build-up over Catherine, her super-computer, and Agent Ellison's unwitting collaboration with the machines, I'm still waiting for the eureka moment to occur. There's only so long a mystery can be drawn out, before viewers need an answer… or at least a strong indicator that the writers have a direction and end-game in mind. I think the idea is that Catherine's been sent back to improve Skynet (we've been shown that the future is in constant flux), probably by making it more "human" and better able to predict behaviour and understand human values. I just wish that would be made more explicit in the show -- if, indeed, that is the intention behind this story.

As for Riley's story: it was momentarily enjoyable to see a character with no experience of a world before Judgment Day, when she arrived in the past and was fasinated by simple luxuries like pillows and showers. Beyond that, the idea of a time-travelling "honey trap" is a little bit laughable. I think we need to be shown how Cameron is unintentionally hindering the human resistance's fortunes in the future, thanks to her relationship with the adult John Connor. Then again, seeing a loved-up John Connor and his concubine cyborg sounds equally as silly as the Riley honey-trap idea -- and might further damage the mystique over Future John. People struggle to accept Dekker as a leader of men in this series, but at least his character's journey is intended to be a boy becoming a man. There's an excuse for his general wetness.

The main story is on Sarah's shoulders, and Lena Headey is a bit of a disappointment. She smoulders and sneers to fine effect, but her drab voice-overs and apathetic attitude to missions is a bore. Mind you, it was nice to see Eileen allude to how numbed and emotionless Sarah is after she survives a brush with death. Indeed, Sarah is often more impassive than the machines she fights against. This episode also appeared to have something to say about Sarah's evolution from pink-outfitted waitress to knife-wielding chick -- but the occasional visions Sarah had of her "alter-egos" didn't amount to much.

Overall, a lack of compelling action in Sarah's storyline, and the redundant nature of the Riley and Ellison subplots gave this mid-season finale a sluggish feel. Things picked up in the last five minutes, with Sarah apparently discovering a test site for flying machines (that appear to be prototype "Hunter-Killers" seen in the wartorn future), but it was too little too late. And didn't we already discover the three-dots were celestial coordinates a few weeks ago? Or was that just one possible answer?

Sarah Connor Chronicles will return next February, dumped into a Friday night slot for its last nine episodes. Unless the already low ratings miraculously revive in a worse timeslot (not likely), season 2 will mark the end of this TV spin-off -- just as Terminator: Salvation breaks the box-office in cinemas. I sincerely hope the writers plan for the worse and end on a high. On the evidence of "Earthlings Welcome Here", they need to sharpen some of the ongoing storylines quickly, which have blunted in the past four weeks.


15 December 2008
Fox, 9/8c


Writer: Natalie Chaidez
Director: Felix Enriquez Alcalá

Cast: Lena Headey (Sarah), Thomas Dekker (John), Summer Glau (Cameron), Richard T. Jones (Ellison), Shirley Manson (Catherine Weaver), Leven Rambin (Riley), Garret Dillahunt (Cromartie), Stephanie Jacobsen (Jesse), Dinah Lenney (Eileen), Michael Hyatt (Barbara), Barry Livingston (Pete), William Stanford Davis (Pastor Jonas) & Ned Bellamy (Winston)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Doctor Who: Christmas Special Press Launch

Mild spoilers. The Doctor Who Christmas press launch took place today. That means next week's Christmas special has been seen by lucky journalists and various guests. Sadly, David Morrissey and David Tennant couldn't attend the shindig. Tennant is still laid up from an injury sustained while acting in Hamlet.

Everyone's sworn to secrecy about "The Next Doctor" until it's shown on Christmas Day to the masses, but Gareth McLean at The Guardian has posted a brief review anyway. He claims it's on par with "The Christmas Invasion"; less reliant on empty spectacle than previous festive specials (which can only be a good thing), and "has a proper story" for once.

Graham Kibble-White at Off The Telly is keeping mum, but does let slip that all previous incarnations of The Doctor get a "fleeting cameo" (clips of old episodes, I assume), which sounds like great fun.

Digital Spy have chosen to just hint at ten things to get fans salivating; ranging from "The Other Doctor has a TARDIS -- and it's magnificent" to "The Other Doctor's fobwatch is a very important clue." Oooh.

"The Next Doctor" is on BBC1 next Thursday (Christmas Day) at 6pm.

HEROES 3.13 - "Dual"

Spoilers. Volume III splutters to its climax, courtesy of recently-fired writer Jeph Loeb. It finds closure at the expense of logic, and orchestrates a few moments of excitement, but is otherwise a drab, anticlimactic affair. The fact we're accustomed to disappointment helps take the sting out of the slap, but it still leaves a mark...

Sylar, Claire, Mr. Bennet, Meredith & Angela: This week, Sylar (Zachary Quinto) has decided he's…. evil. So he terrorizes Claire (Hayden Panettiere), Mr. Bennet (Jack Coleman), Meredith (Jessalyn Gilsig) and Angela (Cristine Rose) in the bowels of a locked-down Primatech. He's also started to take his cues from the Saw films, by trying to coerce his prey into killing themselves: promising Claire he'll spare her family, if she shoots Angela; and locking Mr. Bennet in a cell with an adrenaline-charged Meredith, who can't control her fire.

This was a mix of tedium and a few diverting situations -- particularly the tense dilemma inside a cell with the uncontrollable Meredith. Mr. Bennet's plan to kill Sylar by releasing the Level 5 criminals he spent the first third of season 3 re-capturing was a bit silly, but a last-ditch effort I could just about accept. What didn't make much sense was why puppetmaster Eic (David H. Lawrence XVII) didn't quickly manipulate Mr. Bennet into holding Meredith at gunpoint. Bennet had no leverage with Eric, really.

The deception over Sylar's parentage is now utterly boring (even with news that Volume IV will feature John Glover as Sylar Snr), but the eventual resolution was fairly good -- with Meredith dying (we'll excuse the cheesy "running away from a fireball" shot of Claire and Bennet), and Sylar incapacitated by a shard of glass through the neck.

Matt, Ando & Daphne: Hiro (Masi Oka) is stuck 16 years in the past according to Isaac Mendez's sketches, but how can a mind-reader and a speedster possibly rescue him? Ando (James Kyson Lee) believes he must use Kaito's formula to gain super-powers and… well, hope for the best. So, Daphne (Brea Grant) retrieves a vial from Pinehearst and injects Ando with it. The random power he's bestowed with is rather inane (he can boost other peoples' powers), but Matt (Greg Grunberg) realizes that a super-speedster can travel faster than light... and, thus, travel back through time. He knows about Einstein's Theory Of Relativity, that man! Voila!

Hiro & Kaito: In the past, Hiro manages to get back onto the Deveaux building's rooftop from his precarious flagpole, and tries to destroy his father's formula. It turns out he was the one who had originally ripped it in half, but before he can destroy it entirely… Daphne and Ando whisk him back to the present. What, they don't even stop to see what the situation is? The idiots. Technically, the whole of Volume III could be annulled if they destroyed the formula in the past -- as it would never have existed for Daphne to steal in episode 1. Cuh.

Peter, Nathan, Mohinder & Tracy: With Arthur dead, Nathan's (Adrian Pasdar) resolve to give ordinary folk super-powers just gets stronger. Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) is all that stands in his way… because, weirdly, The Haitian has decided to sod off. Peter smashes up Mohinder's (Sendhil Ramamurthy) laboratory, helped by Arthur's henchmen Flint (Blake Shields) and Knox (Jamie Hector) -- who have left it this late to reveal they follow The Incredibles' mantra: "if everyone is special… no-one is." Were they too scared to speak up when Arthur was around?

With Mohinder's skin condition bizarrely healed through exposure to the formula in liquid form (seriously, can anyone explain this? And I guess we'll never know what he was turning into), Nathan's life is threatened when a fire breaks out -- forcing Peter to inject himself with the last vial and fortuitously gain the power of flight, to snatch his brother from the flames and whisk him to safety out a window. Oh yeah, and spin-obsessed Tracy (Ali Larter) had a few scenes that didn't bring anything to the table, or progress her story. As I suspected, after her re-introduction as a clone, her story quickly went nowhere. And what happened to Bruce Boxleitner on this show?

Seeing Ventimiglia act against Pasdar is often like seeing a trembling child in a school play try to keep up with Brando. Not that Pasdar's that good an actor, but he's far better than most of his castmates. Indeed, the writers appear to have grown frustrated by weak villainous actors since Malcolm McDowell (Robert Forster promised so much, but delivered so little), so Nathan's now been passed the crown. I don't believe Nathan's change into Senator Evil after a three-episode U-turn that culminated in him beating his kid brother with a steel pole, but never mind.

The obligatory sneak peak at the next Volume ("Fugitives") closed the show: set three weeks in the future, Nathan sat in a limo with a mysterious stranger, showing him files on some of the "supers" and suggesting they all be captured and detained. And it turns out the stranger is actually the President of the USA (Star Trek alumni Michael Dorn -- a kind of bench-pressed Obama?) One question: wasn't The Company doing what Nathan's pushing for, with Level 5? I know they only locked up those who used their powers for evil and weren't a federal agency, but still…

And why does Nathan want his fellow supers detained anyway? A few weeks ago he wanted everyone to be given super-powers! There was a time when I'd be confident that questions like that would be answered nicely, but not these days. As demonstrated since season 2, Heroes' characters just do what benefits the advancement of the story, at the expense of common sense, loyalty, and motivation. Since season 1, the characters have also spent too much time dealing with problems of their own creation, or atoning for the sins of their predecessors (the Shanti virus, the Kaito formula).

Heroes worked better when the characters were all abnormal people in a normal world, struggling to adjust to their newfound abilities and reacting naturally to the surprises, mysteries and secrets. Infighting superheroes is a boring and insular way to develop this series. We need to go back to basics, and reacquire the Unbreakable vibe season 1 once had -- where the joy of watching super-heroes on television came from the contrast with everyday life, human interactions, and their desire to actually make a difference.

To end on a positive: finally, finally… near-omnipotent Peter is given only one power, and Hiro is rendered totally powerless. Both wise moves, long overdue. Hopefully, it won't be explained that Peter actually soaked-up Nathan's ability and is genuinely mono-powered. And Hiro's inevitable reacquirement of his abilities should come in a less potent form -- like having a consequence to teleporting (it's exhausting, or he can only teleport to places he's been before?), and his time-travel has limitations (he's dragged back to the present after a few minutes? He can only go forward?)

Season 3 will resume in February with Volume IV, which will hopefully be an improvement without Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander's creative involvement, and benefit from the return of Bryan Fuller in the summer. But as it stands, after 47 episodes, half the series has served up disappointment, and season 1 seems like a long, long time ago...


17 December 2008
BBC Three, 10pm

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Director: Greg Beeman

Cast: Greg Grunberg (Matt), Masi Oka (Hiro), Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet), Cristine Rose (Angela), James Kyson Lee (Ando), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Ali Larter (Tracy), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Zachary Quinto (Sylar), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Ntare Mwine (Usutu), George Takei (Kaito), Brea Grant (Daphne), Jessalyn Gilsig (Meredith), Jamie Hector (Knox), Blake Shields (Flint), Franc Ross (Danny Pine), David H. Lawrence XVII (Eric Doyle), Chad Faust (Scott), Kiko Ellsworth (Echo DeMille) & Michael Dorn (President)

Top 10 Signs You Watch Too Much Dexter

10. You have named two pets "Astor" and "Cody".

9. After shrink-wrapping sandwiches, you have an indescribable urge to spear the sarnie with a knife and carve it up into bite-sized chunks.

8. Spilling a glass of red wine on a new carpet isn't a disaster, it's a chance to analyse the "blood spatter".

7. You like to hide old family photo slides behind an air vent.

6. Everyone notices you muttering sardonic "voice-overs" after talking to people.

5. You've started to dispose of your rubbish by renting a boat and dumping the bin-bags into the local lake.

4. You like to surprise family by turning the lights off, jumping out from behind your sofa, and "injecting" them in the neck with a pen.

3. After protecting your furniture with plastic sheeting while you re-painted your livingroom's walls, you decided to keep the décor that way. Ironically, the "livingroom" may also be referred to as the "kill room" now.

2. You insist on buying everyone at work donuts every day, even if they make it clear they're diabetic.

1. You've started tying work colleagues to office tables after-hours, and showing them framed photos of staff they've been rude about. (If it gets this bad... please seek help. Seriously.)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

STRICTLY COME DANCING 6 – Week 13 (Semi-Final)

I'm not even going to mention the furore over the semi-final results -- where the judges scores placed Rachel and Lisa joint-first, which therefore made it impossible for viewers to vote Tom out of a dance-off. Oh, I just did! Well, the upshot of it all is simple: this Saturday's big final will have all three dancers participating -- which is actually better for the show. No photos this week, I'm afraid. But, I have a selection of video's instead!

LISA SNOWDON & Brendan Cole

Argentine Tango: Lisa looked super-sexy in a chocolate-coloured dress that hugged all her curves, helped immensely by the erotic music (Infiltrado by Bajofondo). Fantastic legs that spent half their time wrapped around Brendan, lucky bloke. Superb, sexually-charged excellence.

Quickstep: Nice, light fun. Pale blue dress, hair up, lots of style and grace.



CAMILLA DALLERUP & Tom Chambers

Jive: Really good fun, with Camilla putting on her usual overexcited schoolgirl act. Golden dress, short skirt, acres of leg, lots of verve and energy. Excellent.


Argentine Tango: Any acting before the start of a dance just looks cheesy to me, but never mind. Camilla's tango used the classic Por Cabeza by The Tango Project, and she looked devilishly sexy in a red dress, with long blonde hair and lightning quick legwork.

RACHEL STEVENS & Vincent Simone

Tango: The second raw and sexy tango of the evening. Rachel was a bit more refined than Lisa, but when you put her petite curviness into a tiny black dress, it's impossible to disappoint.

American Smooth: Gorgeous once again in a salmon-pink gown; great cleavage, perfect face, firm bottom. Very smooth and pleasant. The dance, I mean.


THE DANCE-OFF
Nope, no dance off. I want my money back!


13 December 2008 – BBC1, 6.10pm & 8.40pm

SURVIVORS 1.5

Spoilers. The best episode since the double-bill start, by a country mile. Adrian Hodges' script finally makes Survivors' group feel like a living, breathing, cohesive entity -- not just a rag-tag collection of archetypes and shallow characters.

Episode 5 focuses on John (Kieran O'Brien), bearded preacher to a religious group who have appointed him their spiritual leader in these dark times. Claiming he can converse with God, see mysterious patterns in his environment, and lead them to ultimate salvation, John's become a compelling beacon of light for his traumatized followers -- who include heavily-pregnant Linda (Claire Keelan). Najid (Chahak Patel) finds John giving a sermon in the woods, and takes them back to his own friend's house, where they can eat and find shelter.

Abby (Julie Graham), secular leader of her own merry band, isn't sure they can trust John's people, but a democratic vote sways the decision in their favour. The health of pregnant Linda is a particular concern, particularly when she goes into labour and forces Anya (Zoë Tapper) to admit to everyone she's a qualified doctor. Turns out Anya's traumatized over her inability to help the victims of the 'flu virus, especially when her friend/lover Jenny died in her arms. Yes, it transpires that Anya is a lesbian (or possibly bisexual), which draws out an ugly, homophobic reaction in Tom (Max Beesley).

Meanwhile, Al (Phillip Rhys) grows close one of John's "disciples", a young woman called Louis (Louise Dylan), before discovering she has a boyfriend and is using Al to get pregnant and repopulate the planet. Sarah (Robyn Addison) continues to sleepwalk through the whole episode; now sleeping with Tom, but jealous of his unspoken feelings for Anya. Addison's playing the role as written, but it's a shame Sarah's such an awfully bland and irritating personality. The justification for her becoming a regular after her introduction in episode 2 still isn't clear, such is her vapid uselessness.

While it's a cliché to stumble on a religious fanatic in post-apocalyptic times, it's a rich source for drama. Anya begins to suspect John is actually a paranoid schizophrenic, after he begins acting very strangely and suspecting people of wanting to steal or harm Linda's newborn baby. Kieran O'Brien is excellent in the role, and manages to make a rather jarring descent into full-on lunacy somehow work. Keelan (fresh from superhero sitcom No Heroics) also gives a good performance in a dramatic role, proving she's quite adept at both disciplines.

Greg (Paterson Joseph) almost sits this episode out, but it's made clear that his character has become invested in the group Abby helped create, and seems to symbolically act as the father figure, with Abby as his platonic other half. Tom has been one of the more interesting characters (if only by virtue of having an enjoyable dark side), and his selfish relationship with Sarah and bigoted views on Anya's lesbianism helped deepen him some more.

The real standout here was Tapper, whose character Anya has been pushed aside since episode 1. This episode capitalizes on Anya's only mentionable set-up (her secrecy over her doctorate), and Tapper manages to draw out some good, believable moments -- from her fear of getting involved with Linda's pregnancy, her suspicion that John is mentally unwell, and a standout clash with Beesley's Tom over her true sexuality. An actress on the precipice of big things (she co-stars in spooky drama Affinity this Christmas, and is the female lead in fantasy series Demons in January), this episode proves she's more than a diminutive, tomboy cutie.

Overall, episode 5 (why no titles?) put the emphasis on its characters and saw them open up to each other. It's this kind of human interaction that will keep us invested in Survivors, so I'd like to see more done with Greg, Najid and Al. Disappointingly, the mysterious scientist storyline (briefly returned to here) appears to be simple and straight-forward: they're after a 'flu vaccine so they can safely leave their facility. In the last scene, Sami (Ronny Jhutti) finds the video plea Abby made in episode 3, which mentions she survived the virus' full effects. As I predicted, Abby is who they've been looking for. Of course, there must be something more to their scheme, because I don't think Abby would have a problem helping scientists perfect a vaccine. Do you? I guess we'll find out what the full story is in next week's finale, when the survivors return to the big city…


16 December 2008
BBC1, 9pm


Writer: Adrian Hodges
Director: Iain B. MacDonald

Cast: Julie Graham (Abby), Max Beesley (Tom), Paterson Joseph (Greg), Zoe Tapper (Anya), Phillip Rhys (Al), Robyn Addison (Sarah), Kieran O'Brien (John), Claire Keelan (Linda), Nicholas Greaves (Whitaker), Ronny Jhutti (Sami), Chahak Patel (Najid), Andrew Grose (Mike), Louise Dylan (Louise), Bryony Afferson (Patricia Kelly), Heather Brady (Fiona Murray) & Robert Maxfield (William Arnott)