Friday, 30 April 2010

OWTV launches w/ Battlestar Galactica Blu-ray comp!


Following on from today's exciting news that I'll be splitting my time between blogging at DMD and writing for OWF, the new section I'm in charge of has just launched. You may be interested in reading my introduction, as it outlines my intentions for the Obsessed With TV column -- plus, there's a terrific competition to win the complete series of Battlestar Galactica on Blu-ray, by way of celebration! That's gotta be worth 5-minutes of your time, right?

Prepare to get Obsessed With TV


It's finally time to let you know the Top Secret News I've been sat on for the past 6 weeks...

To cut to the chase: I've accepted a position with Obsessed With Film (OWF) as their "TV Editor", a new role created as part of their site's evolution. The team there want to expand and build a larger and broader audience, by improving their site and spreading their wings to encompass other forms of entertainment beyond movies. If you visit OWF now, you can see the new-look site in its "Beta Testing" phase.

What does this mean for Dan's Media Digest (DMD)? Well, a few changes -- but nothing radical. I've been in two-minds about joining OWF since I was asked, because it's taken me 4-years to turn DMD into what you see here today. It's a one-man operation that's grown and developed in tandem with myself as a writer/blogger, and I'm proud of what's been achieved from such humble beginnings. I was therefore very nervous about dividing my time with another site, fearing that DMD will be left to dwindle and die. But the arrangement with OWF will enable me to run both sites in tandem (with some help at OWF and no strict "contractual" burdens), so you shouldn't really notice too much of a change here. Well, that's my plan!

But there will be alterations, and the two biggest things that spring to mind are:
  • The majority of TV news will be reported at OWF, as priority.
  • OWF will get exclusive reviews of TV premieres, finales and the occasional "important episode" (specials, mid-season finales, etc), all written by me.
I'll link to any OWF-exclusive reviews from DMD, don't worry, so my writing will only be one click away. I guess this is all similar to how my column at Newslite.tv used to work, just on a bigger scale.

Although some reviews are going to be creamed off to OWF, I'll obviously continue to review the vast majority of TV episodes here at DMD as usual. This blog is still my online "home", so to speak, and I have no intention of giving that up. An Englishman's blog is his castle, isn't that what they say? My film news/reviews also won't be affected and likewise anything of a more personalized nature (polls, competitions, quizzes, lists, talking points, trailer reviews, etc.)

So why am I doing this? Well, it's a combination of things:
  • I feel like a fresh challenge after four years of blogging, to take my writing to new eyes.
  • There are perks to joining OWF, such as easier access to screeners/box-sets and opportunities to interview industry folk perhaps. In some ways, I can relax and get on with writing without having to chase PR people and get bogged down with e-mail correspondence.
I hope everyone reading will bookmark my new section at OWF (known as "OWTV"), because the site's existing readership probably won't be aware of me or DMD, particularly as OWF has been film-centric up until now. For that reason, it would be great to see familiar names from here turning up and leaving a comment or two (or three?), just to help build a sense of community. Hopefully you'll like OWTV enough to make it a regular stopping point, too.

Oh, and if anybody wants to help spread the word about the new-look OWF (however you can), I'm sure they'd be very grateful for any shout-outs on blogs, sites and podcasts. Finally, if you have any questions or thoughts on all this, I'd be glad to hear them in the comments below. The OWTV column will officially launch either today or tomorrow with a big Battlestar Galactica competition and review of ABC's Happy Town.

Site: http://www.obsessedwithfilm.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/owfilm

Thursday, 29 April 2010

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES 6.13 – "How About A Friendly Shrink?"

WRITER: Jason Ganzel
DIRECTOR: Lonny Price
GUEST STARS: Vince Cefula, Jane Leeves, John Rubinstein, Mackenzie Smith, Richard Gilliland, Wendy Benson-Landes, Patricia Bethune, Aedin Mincks & Candance Brown II
[SPOILERS] For the most part, things seem to have settled down again in Fairview after the tragic, large-scale plane crash in "Boom Crunch". As this week's episode title alludes, we are back to observing collisions of a more private nature: relationship drama, petty squabbles, childish backbiting and mind games all feature in lashes. Not that I'm complaining, however, as "How About a Friendly Shrink?" still packed an explosive punch, fizzing with a quirky energy unique to Wisteria Lane's extrovert residents.

It was good to see fringe characters Bob Hunter (Tuc Watkins) and Lee McDermott (Kevin Rahm) get some more substantial screen time, as they are always good for a bitchy snipe and some colourfully witty banter -- even if it occasionally verges on the stereotypical -- and it is always a shame when they are pushed to the background or reduced to a line an episode. It is at a dinner party with the Scavo's that the gay partners disclose that they are in couple's therapy, with over-emotional Lee keeping a feelings journal which he works through at each session.

Following the loss of one of their unborn twins, Tom Scavo (Doug Savant) is instantly keen on working through his rough patch with Lynette (Felicity Huffman) in the same way, but his reticent wife is having none of it -- until she discovers he has been visiting therapist Dr. Graham (Jane Leeves) on his own and keeping a feelings journal. It was obvious that a nose around Dr. Graham's office would result in Lynette being won over, but I was surprised that the usually volatile housewife was so tolerable of her husband seeing a therapist in the first place. It was, however, amusing to see fellow Brit Jane Leeves hand out the counselling for once -- Frasier's Daphne has followed in her employer's footsteps, huh?

Juanita Solis (Madison De La Garza) has started at her new school -- coincidentally the same school Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) teaches at, and her son, MJ (Mason Vale Cotton), attends. It is smiles all round until it emerges that Juanita and MJ are in different animal groups for maths; their designation based on their ability. So, what are better: leopards or giraffes? Let the battle of the competitive parent's commence! It was fun to see Gaby and Susan squabble over such a inconsequential subject, and become the petulant kids they don't want their children to be – including a role-reversing visit to the principal's office -- but isn't it stretched credibility somewhat that even the teachers at the school are kept in the dark about pupil abilities?

Somebody still plagued by the life-changing injuries he picked up in the plane crash is the now wheelchair-bound Orson Hodge (Kyle MacLachlan), who continues his fiendish manipulation of repenting wife Bree's (Marcia Cross) good intentions. He is still hurt by her affair with the now deceased Karl -- at one point he shockingly brandishes her a "whore" -- and thus blames Bree for his disabled state. I am not entirely convinced Bree wheeling Orson outside, covering him in washing up liquid and hosing the shower-resistant man on the front lawn was quite the most subtle or sympathetic action to take, but as I said last week, his snide and treacherous nature do make him a hard character to empathize with, even at his lowest ebb. I cannot see how their marriage can survive this, but Bree is one stubborn housewife...

Taking time out from worrying about being on the run and avoiding a life in prison (as you do), Angie Bolen (Drea De Matteo) is not happy with son Danny's (Beau Mirchoff) new girlfriend Ana Solis (Maiara Walsh). Determined to split the odd couple up, she tries to speak with the frank and opinionated Ana, who is resolute in standing by her sensitive man. I am glad Ana is getting more screen time of late, however I am not convinced the writers know which direction to take her character. Is she meant to be a typically rebellious, blunt and defiant teen, or a loyal, lonely girl with a kind heart? She currently seems to be displaying both facets, leading to a somewhat incongruent character. Will she end up hurting Danny?

Considering her suicidal breakdown just weeks ago, Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delaney) has made a remarkably speedy turn around in the mental hospital. She is clearly still fazed by it all -- no doubt due to the powerful medication she is on – but she has confessed her imagined romance with former love Mike Delfino (James Denton) to physiatrist Dr. Avedon (Richard Gilliland). As the camera panned around a subdued Katherine recounting her mistakes on the couch, I was fully expecting her delusion of Mike to be revealed sitting next to her, but kudos to the writer for not playing this predictably kooky card. Clearly Katherine is beyond that now, though hardly relishing a return to Wisteria Lane.

Karen McCluskey (Kathryn Joosten) played the familiar role of friend to the friendless by making regular visits to the hospital, keen to show a stubborn Katherine that she is missed. It was a conventional and over-sentimental conclusion, but I will fully admit to being touched when the housewives -- including rival Susan -- rallied around their despairing friend ready to forgive and forget, full of smiles, hugs and gossip. Bless.

28 APRIL 2010: CHANNEL 4/HD, 9PM

BBC3 want to take your Pulse


I'm excited about BBC3's drama pilot season (starting this June), mainly because the last one gave us the excellent Being Human. The medical-horror Pulse is one of its three pilots (the others being dramas Dappers and Stanley Park), so I'm going to predict it gets picked up for a full series because it's more marketable. Being Human has done very well for the channel, drawing audiences that wouldn't otherwise tune in, so I think it's safe to assume they want Pulse to run when Being Human's off-air and inherit the same audience.

Pulse comes from the mind of comic-book writer Paul Cornell, who also wrote popular episodes of Doctor Who ("Father's Day", "Human Nature"/"The Family Of Blood"), and concerns a teaching hospital called St. Timothy's that appears to be a front for bizarre experiments. Trainee doctor Hannah Carter (Claire Foy) returns to the hospital to resume her course, following the death of her mother, and begins to glimpse the true nature of St. Timothy's, particularly when she notices her ex-boyfriend and surgeon Nick (Stephen Campbell Moore) acting very strangely...

Anyway, Pulse will be one to look out for this summer, I feel.

V, 1.9 - "Heretic's Fork"

WRITERS: Angela Russo Otstot & John Wirth
DIRECTOR: Frederick E.O Toye
GUEST CAST: Lexa Doig, Mark Hildreth & Charles Mesure
[SPOILERS] Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell) is asked "name one thing [the V's] have done that's bad?" twice in this episode, and fails to give any response. I still don't see why she can't tell her own son Tyler (Logan Huffman) about what the V's are up to, and I certainly have no idea idea why she couldn't tell a V sympathizer that they're blackmailing humans to do their dirty work, sending drone-bots to kill rebels, or injecting people with a drug that enables them to be tracked. In fact, there are still plenty of core problems with V's premise, and to keep a show like this going the writers have to keep finding ways for the rebellion to act like idiots. They should skin the corpse of a V and broadcast the tape, to at least make it known the V's are lying about their very appearance, right?

"Heretic's Fork" was a mild improvement over recent episodes just because there was a stronger pace, a surprisingly realistic response from Valerie (Lourdes Benedicto) after being told her boyfriend's a V (she doesn't trust him and ditches him), and more clarity with Chad's (Scott Wolf) allegiance. It seems the boyish reporter senses the V's are keeping secrets and have ulterior motives for everything they're doing to "help" the world, but -- perhaps because he has no family to protect -- he's happy to be complicit with their masterplan. This episode even ends with Chad setting a trap for Father Jack (Joel Gretsch), by going to him looking for help finding the Fifth Column, while actually intending to pass on whatever information he gathers to Anna herself.

The thrust of the story involved trying to exctract information from the human sniper they caught last week, who it turns out only agreed to kill Fifth Columnists out of gratitude for the fact the V's cured his daughter's paralysis. I actually like the idea of the V's securing the loyaly of humans in this way, as there's a thorn morality behind it. Ryan (Morris Chestnut) also helped Valerie dampen the R6 tracker fluid she was injected with at the V clinic, so she can no longer be traced by the V's (why not do the same for Father Jack, huh?), and I liked the idea that Anna wants to destroy Valerie's alien-human hybrid because its existence will encourage the Fifth Column to breed a generation of hybrids to fight against her. If she's so worried about that happening, I assume she knows a hybrid child will grow rapidly and reach adulthood within weeks of its birth?

As another nod to The Sarah Connor Chronicles (a show V tends to resemble in many ways, perhaps because a few T:tSCC writers are on staff) Anna also sent a "Soldier" to kill the pregnant Valerie. This felt like a good idea when it was first mentioned, as one thing V lacks is a sense that the aliens are something to fear physically, but the resulting Terminator-esque warrior was very uninspired. He was little more than an average guy in black combats with lizard-y eyelids, "super vision" that looks like he's staring through a goldfish bowl, a kind of visual sonar, and the ability to shrug off getting an axe swung into his chest. All very clichéd and boring.

Finally, Tyler was accepted to join the V's contentious "Live Aboard" program, but Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) suggests he refuse to accept the offer after hearing how much Erica doesn't want him to go. Lisa tells her mother Anna that she altered their plans because she needs Erica's firm support before proceeding, but it was all likely another sign Lisa's becoming more receptive to human emotions and is having second thoughts about her mission.

Overall, I like how the V's are securing loyalty by curing people's sicknesses (Chad's successful brain surgery seems to have persuaded him to side with the V's, the assassin only killed "terrorists" because the V's gave his daughter her mobility back), and the situation with the hybrid baby gives the show a readymade arc to follow -- as I'm sure the finale will involve Valerie giving birth to her baby. The rest was standard mission-of-the-week fare of middling quality, but there was enough progression to keep me watching. I'm just frustrated that every character beyond Anna and Ryan are so dull, and it's becoming increasingly apparent that V's premise means nothing about it can surprise the audience. Aliens have arrived to take over the world through kindness that will turn to malevolence once they're ingrained in society and have mankind dependent on their technologies, all while a feeble rebellion kicks at the giant's shins. Is that something that has longevity in this day and age?

Asides
  • Did you know that actor Joel Gretsch is married to Melanie Shatner, making him the son-in-law of William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk?
  • Ever notice that the V mothership's corridors are shaped like vaginas?
27 APRIL 2010: ABC, 10/9c

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

FRINGE 2.19 - "The Man From The Other Side"

WRITERS: Josh Singer & Ethan Gross
DIRECTOR: Jeffrey Hunt
GUEST CAST: Peter Bryant, Morris Chapdelaine, Katie Findlay, Shawn Macdonald, Ryan Mcdonald, James Pizzinato, Sebastian Roché & James Tsai
[SPOILERS] Maybe it's because the writers know their show's been renewed for another season and can think long-term again, or the simple fact we've entered a "sweeps" period in the US, but Fringe has really started to deliver the goods since it came back from hiatus. There's been some proper development of Walter's (John Noble) back-story and progression of the series' mytharc, which has all resulted in some excellent recent episodes, of which "The Man From The Other Side" was no exception...

Those biomechanical shape-shifters from the parallel universe are back, with two appearing inside an abandoned warehouse, looking like amorphous pink blobs from an Aphex Twin music video. Two of the monstrous humanoids quickly attack and imprint on a young couple who made the common genre mistake of parking their car in the creepiest part of town to canoodle, but the third 'shifter doesn't survive the inter-dimensional trip and is left behind. This allowed Walt to analyze the embryonic body, later managing to revive it using electrical charges and a dead corpse for it to use as a template, in some of the series' best sequences of pure pulp horror I've seen in awhile. The show is always at its best when it's pushing into David Cronenberg territory.

The overall storyline of "The Man From The Other Side" was actually very formulaic in some respects, as it amounted to another of those episodes where genius scientists race around the city doing cryptic things (stealing identities, installing equipment), which Fringe Division has to first make sense of before inevitably stopping whatever's been planning. We've seen it done a number of times on the show already, but it's fortunately still a trick that hasn't run out of juice just yet. Here, the two surviving 'shifters immediately made contact with their already resident comrade Thomas Jerome Newton (Sebastian Roché), who has a plan to bring something into "our" reality by planting "harmonic rods" at three points across town, set to trigger at a calculated time when the two universes are temporarily in sync with each other.

Away from the sci-fi, the relationship with Walter and Peter (Joshua Jackson) was also explored quite nicely, with Walt planning to tell his son he was stolen from "the other side", unaware his recent behaviour has convinced Peter that he's planning to explain that his wife Elizabeth actually committed suicide – a fact Peter's already long been aware of. What made things particularly difficult for Walt was noticing how much closer he's growing to his son, who even calls him "dad" for the first time in years, all while knowing he risks destroying the bridges they've made in their relationship by telling him the truth.

Speaking of bridges, the climactic moments were particularly good fun, with Thomas Jerome Newton targeting Charles Bridge as the gateway for a mysterious character known as "The Secretary" to crossover from the alternate-Earth -- while Walt, Peter and Olivia (Anna Torv) tried to disrupt the process using an opposing sound-wave created by a computerized pneumatic hammer. They failed, resulting in Peter being hospitalized for a few days for his actions trying to prevent the Secretary's ingress, during which time he an epiphany that because he survived the dimensional disruption at close proximity, this means he was immune and thus from the other side himself. It was certainly a surprise to see Peter confront Walt with his suspicion from his bedside, breaking his father's heart as he asked him to leave the room, before later checking himself out of hospital and disappearing.

Overall, there was a lot going on here to keep fans of Fringe's mytharc happy, despite the plot's similarities to a few storylines we've seen before, but the show's too fun when delving into its core mysteries to complain about too heavily. I'm just very grateful the show has started tackling its more interesting themes so regularly, and now appears to be pushing forward with a few new ideas. I'd be very surprised if the mysterious Secretary, who was taken to a secret base after traversing dimensions to recover, isn't "Walternate"; so the prospect of two Walters fighting over Peter around the time of the finale should be particularly entertaining. Would you choose the biological father you've never known, or a dimensional copy who was responsible for saving your life but stole you from your true family?

Asides
  • These shape-shifters aren't very clever, are they. If they'd simple dispose of the bodies of the people they kill to copy, Fringe Division would never be alerted to their presence. At least incinerate any of your compatriots that don't make it through alive!
  • Before it died, the half-formed shape-shifter urged Walt to "find Daniel Verona", so it'll be interesting to see who that person is and why he's so important. I assume his fellow 'shifters are aware of Daniel Verona, too.
  • I can’t help comparing the shape-shifters to the T-1000 from Terminator 2. That was clearly an inspiration. They even arrive in our reality as blobs that bleed mercury.
22 APRIL 2010: FOX, 9/8c

CHUCK 3.14 - "Chuck Versus The Honeymooners"

WRITERS: Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc (story by Allison Adler)
DIRECTOR: Robert Duncan McNeill
GUEST CAST: Bonita Friedericy, Carlos Lacamara, Lela Loren, Ron Provencal, Chino Binamo & Nico Cortez
[SPOILERS] After a short break, Chuck returns for its addendum season (six extra episodes that NBC ordered when the show returned to strong ratings), and given the big changes in "... The Other Guy" I'm sure every fan's desperate to see if the show hasn't ironically lost its mojo now Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) are an item. And to cut a long story: no, that hasn't happened. In fact, "Chuck Versus The Honeymooners" provides plenty of evidence that uniting its leads will actually take the show to new heights...

Following the unofficial "finale", Chuck and Sarah have gone AWOL from the CIA and are currently enjoying a romantic journey on a luxury train travelling though France, rarely venturing out of their carriage (or more accurately their bed.) Their relationship couldn't be better and both are making plans to leave the spy game behind forever, but naturally that proves harder than it sounds. Trouble brews when they independently notice they're sharing a train with Spanish spies, and comically both try to investigate the situation behind the other's back. Sarah sneaks off to snoop around a neighbouring carriage, forced to pretend she's a half-drunken Southern gal when she's caught, and Chuck likewise has a nose around the same carriage and is forced to escape through the window and onto the roof.

Back at Burbank, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and Devon (Ryan McPartlin) were about to leave for their Doctors Without Borders program to Africa, and both were desperate to hear word from Chuck so he could attend their leaving party. And they weren't the only ones anxious to locate Chuck, as General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) came to the realization that both her agents have gone AWOL and orders Casey (Adam Baldwin) to bring them back home, with help from Morgan (Joshua Gomez) because he understands Chuck's thought processes better than anyone.


Second of Strahotness: Oh my!

"... The Honeymooners" was a strong and spritely episode for the series to return with, most notable because it was a relief to see the new Chuck/Sarah dynamic works brilliantly. Despite fears that will-they/won't-they TV romances rarely work when the lovebirds finally get it together, I'm already certain this was a wise move. Both Levi and Strahovski are just a lot more engaging when they're having clear fun together, and while their character's relationship may lack a frisson of tension now they can just jump into bed together whenever they please, that's a welcome change of pace and a welcome development. Plus, as I've said many times, particularly this season, it's been almost criminal that the writers kept finding ways to make Sarah look solemn and uneasy throughout nearly every episode. Strahovski lights up the screen when she smiles, and I almost had to adjust the contrast on my TV with this episode.

It also gave us a flavour of what I'd hoped the show would be with Chuck and Sarah as a couple; something more fun and romantic, with both coming to realize they can't simply turn their backs on who they are. Sarah's a natural born spy, Chuck's ambition is to be a spook, so why can't they have their cake and eat it? A relationship is no barrier to a productive working life, is it. Considering the fact nobody had a problem with Sarah and Shaw dating earlier this year, it didn't really make sense that Chuck and Sarah were so unsure about going public with their relationship and carrying on as usual, but I can let it slide. This episode was too much fun to nitpick, with Chuck and Sarah deciding to deal with the Spanish agents themselves as "one last mission", only to later realize that the entire situation has been misunderstood because they're ill-informed, just as Casey and Morgan became embroiled in events.

Overall, "... The Honeymooners" left a strong impression of what the tone and style of these final six episodes will be like. Essentially, it's The Mr & Mrs Smith-style action show I was predicting Chuck could become and avoid losing its raison d'etre just because the guy got the gal. I also loved how Morgan has already started proving himself valuable as an asset (using his geeky knowledge of Italy to punch holes in an enemy agent's story), and the symbolism of Chuck and Sarah making a ferociously good duo when literally connected by handcuffs wasn't lost on me.

Asides
  • The return of Jeffster! at Ellie and Devon's leaving party was unusual, in that their choice of song was more subdued ("I'm Leaving On A Jet Plane") and it was clear that Lester (Vic Sahay) wasn't too bad of a singer. Like the Chuck/Sarah coupling, was that a sign of maturity creeping in, or will they be back to frat boy antics next week? Stupid question, I know.
  • Y'know, I wish Ellie and Devon would go already. No offence, both characters served a purpose once upon a time, but they've become dead weight. Chuck doesn't really need sisterly support and Morgan makes a better confidant than Devon.
  • General Beckman voices a whole fan community's thoughts on Chuck and Sarah revealing their love for each other: "... off the record, it's about damn time."
  • Will Chuck be back for season 4? There are promising signs, despite the fact the back-half of this season has slipped in the ratings. NBC like the show, they love the support it gets online, Subway are behind it, it's cheaper to make than it once was, they have a lot of hours to fill next year, etc. I predict it'll be back.
26 APRIL 2010: NBC, 8/7c

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

True Blood: Season 3 Poster


HBO have released the official season 3 poster for True Blood, which premieres on 13 June. I will, of course, be following this excellent vampire series throughout the summer months. If you haven't already, why not catch-up with my reviews before it starts?

BREAKING BAD 3.6 – "Sunset"

WRITER & DIRECTOR: John Shiban
GUEST CAST: David Costabile, Jose Avila, Charles Baker, Larry Hankin, Matt Jones, Tom Kiesche, Daniel Moncada, Luis Moncada, Tina Parker & Michael Shamus Wiles
[SPOILERS] I liked how "Sunset" was bookended by cops dealing with a problem at residences – in the teaser, a tribal cop discovered the Cousins (Daniel and Luis Moncada) have killed an old lady and moved into her home, and the final moments involved Hank (Dean Norris) finally tracing the meth-lab RV to a scrap yard and waiting patiently for Jesse (Aaron Paul) to come out from inside. There was a loose theme of people trapped, often literally, in situations beyond their control and trying to break free...

Walt's (Bryan Cranston) fooling himself into thinking his "job" at Gus' (Giancarlo Esposita) secret laboratory is normal and everyday, by packing himself a lunch (even labelling the paper bag with his name as perhaps his wife might have), and he's bought himself a pre-furnished condo as a way to slip into a new life as easily as possible. Unbeknownst to him, Skyler (Anna Gunn) may be calling to talk through details of their divorce, but the expression on her face is one of someone eager to get her husband back, although she won't admit it just yet.

And what of Walt's "dream factory"? Gus' underground meth lab is heaven for a chemistry geek like himself, and he's even been given a lab assistant called Gale Boetticher (David Costabile), a specialist in x-ray crystallography and undoubtedly a far more helpful and intellectually stimulating partner than Jesse ever was. Gale's libertarian attitude (that consenting adults should be able to take uncontaminated drugs if they want to) is how Gale sleeps at night, and he and Walt both share a passion for the "magic" of chemistry that most jobs in the field don't let them explore. Right now, Gale seems like an amiable fellow who quotes poetry (Walt Whitman's "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"), but knowing the kind of creepy men Costabile often plays (he was last seen as a hit man on Damages) I'm not so sure he's as harmless as he appears. Maybe he's putting on an act for Walt to ensure his transition into the big leagues goes smoothly, or has perhaps been installed by Gus to learn Walt's blue-meth formula so that he can sever ties with Walt after his three-months are up.

Jesse's own drug dealing operation is smaller in scale, but he's planning to sell his version of Walt's formula using friends Badger (Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), despite their reluctance over what happened with Combo. Jesse's new plan is to "sell it safe" and not get greedy like they did before, but he's unaware that danger is already lurking just outside because Han's surveilling his house as the last possible lead on the meth-lab RV he's been chasing. And given Breaking Bad's fondness for bad decisions, it was exciting just to watch the whole scenario unfold: Walt made aware of Hank's progress by a phone call from his brother-in-law curious about former-student Pinkman, Walt realizing his fingerprints are all over the RV but unable to warn Jesse in case the phone lines are tapped, and instead racing to the RV's scrap yard to arrange for the vehicle to be crushed himself, which in turn alerted Jesse to what's going on when Badger filled him in.

Every domino fell and we ended up with one of Breaking Bad's most gripping scenarios yet, with Jesse arriving at the scrap yard to face-off with Walt over his plan to destroy his valuable RV, unwittingly having led Hank to his prize. The moment Walt and Jesse found themselves trapped inside the locked RV, with Hank stalking the outside like some kind of animal smelling blood inside was wonderful. Not least because it wasn't easy to guess how Walt would evade capture. And I was pleased to see the manner of their escape made total sense; the scrap yard owner laying down some legalise about RV's being private domicile's, and Walt calling Saul (Bob Odenkirk) to fake a call to Hank's phone about his wife being rushed to hospital. That in turn led to a beautiful moment of directing by hyphenate John Shiban, with Hank arriving flustered at the hospital only to answer his merrily chirping phone and find the unharmed Marie on the other end. Fantastic sequences all round.

And what of the Cousins? The teaser felt unconnected to their story, almost treated like a black joke, but surely the backup that cop called will arrive and sniff around for clues? But their main involvement this week was to unsettle Gus by sitting silent in one of his restaurant's booth's, which he very clearly did not take kindly to. Rendezvousing with them at the titular sunset, Gus realizes the Cousins aren't prepared to wait for his business with Walt to be done, so he instead threw them a bone: his personal permission to pursue Tuco's true killer, DEA Agent Hank Schrader.

Overall, "Sunset" was brilliant mid-season episode that was every bit as gripping and involving as we've come to expect from this series. I'm intrigued to see where Walt's new life and job takes him, how Jesse will explain himself to Hank, and how Hank will possibly evade a swift death when the Cousins come calling. Unlike Walt, he doesn't have anybody looking out for him, so it's hard to imagine how he'll avoid getting an axe through the skull.

Asides
  • Sad to see the RV get crushed in the final moments, as it's been the location for many great moments of Breaking Bad and was perhaps one of the series' more iconic images.
  • There's something about Badger's throaty voice that reminds me of one of Top Cat's gang, am I alone?
  • The music playing during the Walt/Gale meth-cooking sequence was Vince Guaraldi's "Peanuts", made famous by Charlie Brown.
25 APRIL 2010: AMC, 10/9c

THE PACIFIC: Part Five

WRITERS: Laurence Andries & Bruce C. McKenna
DIRECTOR: Carl Franklin
[SPOILERS] It's been a long time coming, but Part Five was a much healthier mix of human drama and gripping action. It helped that Private Sledge (Joseph Mazzello) finally joined the ranks, because despite the fact he's very underwritten it's always easier to relate to a wartime experience through naïve eyes. Plus, you can't help but feel anxious for someone's safety when they're clearly in over their heads.

The first half of Part Five was all about the mystique of actual war, with various inexperienced characters asking veterans "what's it like?" Basilone (Jon Seda) is safely back home, courting questions from fans he's inspired to join the military with his "Back The Attack" campaign, and dating Hollywood actress Virginia Grey (Anna Torv). Life's pretty easy for him now, but it's clear he doesn’t totally agree with the spiel he's been asked to give, particularly when he becomes concerned his brother's going to follow in his footsteps and get himself killed trying to live up to his name. It's only a matter of time before Basilone grows weary of his celebrity, which he doesn't feel he deserves anyway, and makes a return to the Pacific.

On the island of Puvavu is Sledge, who's arrived to fight the war he's been excited by, but predictably gets something of a rude awakening. The camp is full of ugly crabs, comrades aren't so accommodating, and once he's shipped off to the island of Peleliu, we're given The Pacific's most terrifying action sequences yet, in broad daylight. There was a fantastic sense of burgeoning horror with all the troops assembled in their transporter, rocked by explosions in the water beside them, hearing distant gunfire and watching fighters fly overheard. And then the transporter's doors came down, bashing them all in a euphoric light that became instead the doorway to hell, as Sledge suddenly found himself crawling across a beach under heavy shelling. Dead bodies piling up in the sand, plumes of red blood in the hot air. The simple discord of an island paradise as the scene of such atrocity really sold these scenes.

And yes, as pure entertainment, it was about time The Pacific got down to business. Four hours has been too long to wait for the action everyone was expecting from this miniseries, particularly as the previous episodes haven't really done a great job building the characters, and its brief action sequences all took place at night. Leckie's (James Badge Dale) still the only character you feel like you know, or care about to any great extent, but Sledge's "country boy" nature is inherently easy to feel protective of. He's a great audience proxy, overdue a starring turn.

Sledge's friendship with childhood buddy Sid (Ashton Holmes) was also nicely played, with the two boys briefly reunited at camp. Sid even shared a moment on the beach with Sledge, where he used the length of the island as a way to illustrate the extremes of his wartime experience: "I slept with a woman in Melbourne. I'm not bragging. That's at one end, right? And then way down there, as far as you can go, that's what it's like. And that... that you can never imagine."

Part Five also continued that underlying sense of madness that's licked the edge of the miniseries so far, especially after last week's trip to the funny farm. Here, Sledge watches in horror as a bug-eyed "Snafu" Shelton (Rami Malek) extracts a dead Japanese soldier's gold tooth with a bowie knife, which felt like another "early warning" sign of madness akin to last week's scene of a US marine strangling an injured Jap to death. Or how about granite-faced Sergeant "Gunny" (Gary Sweet) practicing lancing Japs with his bayonet, in-between talking naked showers in the rain?

It'll be interesting to see how Sledge copes with everything going on around him, as a man of Christian faith who probably has a very green view of what war would be. You have to remember that these were times when the realities of war wasn't accurately portrayed in films, newsreels, comic books or suchlike. As Basilone's story is showing us, the US military need to recruit by pushing tales of heroism and excitement of a far-flung boy's own adventure.

Overall, I hope Part Five marks the moment when The Pacific finally bursts into life, because it's been a disappointment up until now. But this episode was by far the best mix of emotions and gruelling action the miniseries has given us, with some genuinely excellent and cinematic moments for the storming of Peleliu's beach.

Asides
  • You may recognize Rami Malek as a conflicted suicide bomber in the current Day 8 of 24, and of course Fringe's Anna Torv was playing Virginia Grey (a role she filmed before Fringe even aired, as The Pacific has been four years in the making!)
  • I may start skipping those opening documentary featurettes, as they just give too much away about where the story's headed.
  • The movie the troops were watching to pass the time was For Whom The Bell Tolls, starring Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper.
26 APRIL 2010: SKY PREMIERE/HD, 9PM

GLEE 1.15 - "The Power Of Madonna"

WRITER & DIRECTOR: Ryan Murphy
GUEST CAST: Jenna Ushkowitz, Jonathan Groff, Iqbal Theba, Naya Rivera, Josh Sussman, Heather Morris, Harry Shum Jr., Dijon Talton & Lauren Potter
[SPOILERS] In the first of many pop star tie-ins (a "sequel" to this episode is already planned), "The Power Of Madonna" saw an entire hour dedicated to the Material Girl's back catalogue. You can be cynical about Glee for being such an unashamed money-making venture (the iTunes money, the bestselling albums, and now this mutually-beneficial "special" where Madonna's records were even pimped in the ad-breaks), but there's really no point. TV is a business. The skill is in hiding the crassness that can sometimes leak out, while providing audiences with what they're after. And, let's face it, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) doing "Vogue"? We all need that in our lives.

This week, in a typically gear-crunching turn, it's revealed that Sue's entire life has been shaped and inspired by the work of Madonna, ever since she listened to True Blue at the age of (ahem) six. Having leverage with Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba), she forces him to blast out Madonna's hits through the school's PA system to inspire the Cheerios. At the same time, the episode used Madonna's reputation as its inspiration for several songs and the week's storylines: Mr Schue (Matthew Morrison) noticed a lack of spark amongst the glee club's females, so decided to give them Madonna homework to inspire some sisterly feelings towards one another. This empowerment led to three characters deciding to take responsibility for their bodies and pop their cherries -- Santana (Naya Rivera) made a play for virgin Finn (Corey Monteith) to further disrupt his relationship with Rachel (Lea Michele), who in turn decided to sleep with Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff) now he's moved to their district and has become part of New Directions, and Emma (Jayma Mays) agreed to lose her virginity to Mr Schue. No prizes for guessing which Madonna track each coupling decided to sing while they got down to business...

And because Glee is incredibly relaxed about allegiances and plausibility, we also saw Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) decide to split their time between glee and Sue's Cheerios, choreographing an impressive gym-set performance of "4 Minutes". At this stage in the show's evolution, I'd be wasting my breath to complain that characters act too impulsively or irrationally. The characters almost reset themselves mentally after every episode, which I guess keeps the show accessible to newcomers.

"The Power Of Madonna" wasn't as unforgettable as many had hoped given its hype, but it was certainly a very good episode that grew steadily better as it unspooled. I'm really enjoying the Jesse character (who is essentially an idealized version of Finn, sans the sports), and while I'm sure his intentions aren't good and he's been sent into McKinley High to sabotage New Directions after gaining their trust, I suspect he'll redeem himself because that's the power this glee club holds. Unlike its rivals, it has a heart and warmth that contemptuous characters like Quinn (Dianna Agron), Briittany (Heather Morris) and Santana find comforting.

The writing for this episode was a bit sloppy from Ryan Murphy, particularly when it comes to scripting Sue's dialogue. In fact, Murphy even made a joke out of the fact Sue constantly picks fault with Mr Schue's hairstyle, which kind of rescued the fact Murphy's putdown just aren't as good as co-creator Ian Brennan's. Also, while Sue starring in a "Vogue" music video was inherently fun, I think they missed a trick in not making it laugh-out-loud funny. It was too good, really. Lynch wasn't that bad of a dancer and the video was an accurate copy of Madonna's original. They changed some of the lyrics to mention Sue and Schue, but beyond that it was played too straight. They could have had fun and turned it into a comedy masterpiece, but it was too reverent. Maybe Madonna's people put certain guidelines in place, which prevented them going full tilt.

Overall, "The Power Of Madonna" was flawed and lacked bite, but there was a welcome emphasis on the music this week (with a great "Like A Prayer" finale), and it was kind of fun to have a theme going through the whole episode. The way Madonna's oeuvre inspired plots about identity, independence, sex and confidence was also astutely done. The "Like A Virgin" sequence was also very enjoyable, and I liked the end-result of Rachel lying about having sex for the first time, whereas Finn lied about not going through with it.

Asides
  • A relief to see Becky (Lauren Potter) back on the show as a cheerleader, because I was worried Glee only used her in "Wheels" to highlight disability and would promptly forget about her.
  • Sue was raised by "famous Nazi hunters"?!
  • Does news travel slowly to the US? Madonna isn't living in an English country estate now, Sue. Her and Guy Richie have been over for a long time.
  • "When I pulled my hamstring, I went to a misogynist." More Brittany, please.
  • Sue describing Emma: "You have all the sexuality of one of those pandas down at the zoo who refuses to mate." Beyond perfect. It's those beautiful descriptions and one-liners that often rescue Glee when its story's beginning to sink.
  • Schue to Sue: "Enough with the hair jokes. By the way, how's that Florence Henderson look working out for you? Maybe you should try a new setting on your Flowbee." Loved the look of joy on his face for finally delivering some zingers of his own.
  • I hear that the success of this episode has resulted in Britney Spears' people getting in touch with Fox about doing their own Britney special. Lea Michele already has the knee-socks for "Hit Me Baby (One More Time)", and it's clear that Britney's music would be a better fit for Glee. Madonna's work is a bit too risqué.
26 APRIL 2010: E4/HD, 9PM

LA LA LAND

British comedian Marc Wootton carves a recognizable furrow with La La Land, a half-improvised comedy that premiered on Showtime earlier this year. The US cable network were probably looking for something similar to HBO's Da Ali G Show (or more accurately its narrative-led spin-offs Borat and Brüno), so it's of no surprise that La La Land feels indebted to the work of Sacha Baron Cohen. The downside for Wootton is that his own characters lack the satirical bite and controversial edge of Cohen's repertoire, meaning this series feels more like an improvised Little Britain-style "mockumentary". The upside is that, while the material can be flaky (a particular problem when the unwitting public have roles in the storyline), Wootton's a fearless enough performer to elicit a sense of fun and danger in his many encounters.

The concept's easy to grasp as we're dropped into the show with little exposition: simply put, three deluded Brits have touched down in sunny Los Angeles, California, to seek fame and fortune, each blissfully unaware they lack any talent to make their dreams come true. Simply being in Tinseltown with a positive mental attitude is enough, right?

There's gobby Gary Garner, a loutish cockney cab driver who believes he's destined to become a superstar because he played a rat in a school production of "The Pied Piper Of Hamlyn" and his mates have foolishly inflated his ego. Gary's probably the funniest character, in that he's more forthcoming and therefore dangerous when interacting with people (like a celeb photographer who grows increasingly exasperated by Gary's know-all attitude when he arrives with the ashes of his dead porn star mother whose bequeathed fortune paid for his trip.)

It helps that Gary reminds us of a recent trend for ruffian Brits (Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones) who go to America and become ex-pat movie stars. The humour of an uncouth Brit infuriating Americans with his lack of social graces and arrogance is one of the funnier elements of the show, speaking as a Brit myself. The second episode's "networking" sequence, with Gary inadvisably telling everyone a painfully unfunny anecdote about a plate of spare ribs is particularly amusing, not least because Gary's lack of self-awareness and "big kid" idiocy seemed to eventually charm his beautiful mentor, Mina.

Next there's Brendan Allen; a pretentious documentarian who looks the part with his Spielbergian baseball cap and beard, but has little in the way of original ideas and filmmaking nous. In the first episode, Brendan holds a pitch meeting with an ageing movie producer on the bed of his crummy motel room, trying to convince the Hollywood bigwig that his brainwave to film sharks underwater from inside a steel cage isn't something that's been done to death.

As the most "normal" character of the three, Brendan thus attracts the most open hostility (like a pair of middle-aged mountaineering friends he infuriates my insisting they must be father and son), and while also the least interesting character, Brendan's paradoxically the one who inspires the most Cohen-esque moments. In episode 2, a film producer reveals he's open to the idea of Brendan causing a life-threatening "accident" to improve a documentary's storyline, while in episode 3 Brendan goes undercover in blackface as "Obo" (President Obama's Kenyan cousin) and is patronized by the hosts of a dinner party celebrating his arrival in the US. The Obo sequences may play like a less incisive Borat skit (with the illogic of Brendan mixing drinks and popping pills while incognito glossed over), but it's otherwise very funny to see Americans letting an "African tribesman" smear mouse guts on their forehead.

Finally, we have Wootton's earlier cult hit: effeminate spiritual medium Shirley Ghostman from the short-lived "High Spirits" series, a prissy charlatan with feathery hair who's on the run from British authorities and trying to rebuild his career in the US. An amusing riff on the likes of Derek Acorah, Shirley's an obvious fraud who can't even "cold read" people effectively, and persistently tries to use his "gifts" to hypnotize incredulous receptionists into upgrading his accommodation, or putting holidaymakers into a "trance" while using their credit card for purposes of "numerology" (i.e using it to sneak off and pay his hotel expenses.)

As a character, Shirley doesn't feel as prescient now as he did when "High Spirits" launched at the height of the public's fascination with shows like Most Haunted, but he's nonetheless good for a giggle. It's just a shame the psychic angle to him doesn't work quite so well in the context of La La Land's format, as a lot of Shirley's paranormal antics fall flat and Wootton's instead forced to just act like a simple sociopath. Or, too often, belch and retch when things get desperate.

Overall, La La Land won't change the comedy landscape because it's clearly following in the footsteps of superior trailblazers, but it actually tells a better serialized story than the Borat/Brüno movies managed and does land some unexpected punches that'll raise an eyebrow. This is certainly the best project Wootton's been involved with, and it kept me amused and entertained for three episodes, so I'll be tuning in for the second half.

PREMIERES - TONIGHT (27 APRIL 2010) ON BBC3, 10.30PM

Monday, 26 April 2010

Sorry about the lack of updates

Well, relatively speaking. There's just a few "quiet periods" in the week now, plus I've been watching a lot of TV I'm either not reviewing (Damages, The Good Wife, FlashForward), or plan to review as a season overview (In Treatment, The Wire.) Rest assured there will be plenty of updates tomorrow: Breaking Bad, Glee, The Pacific and a special preview of La La Land.

It's also worth mentioning that, because Sky are taking a week's break with Lost this Friday, I won't be doing likewise, so my reviews will slip into US-pace. See what happens when you take unnecessary breaks, Sky? You lose viewers! I may also publish my Lost reviews closer to ABC's Tuesday night premieres (maybe Thursday) as a result of that schedule change, but it depends on time. (Update: see comments for misunderstanding here, as ABC are likewise taking a break.)

Finally, my big "Top Secret News" will hopefully be revealed sometime this week...

24, 8.17 - "8:00AM - 9:00AM"

WRITER: David Fury
DIRECTOR: Milan Cheylov
GUEST CAST: Gregory Itzin, John Boyd, Bob Gunton, Nazneen Contractor, Reed Diamond, Mido Hamada, Frank John Hughes, Graham McTavish, Necar Zadegan, Joel Bissonnette, Navid Negahban & Sarah Hollis
[SPOILERS] We're given a sense of where 24's headed in its eight remaining episodes here, but it remains to be seen if the writers manage to make it all work. Unpredictability is a valuable commodity in 24, so it's at least nice to be engaged with a story because it doesn't feel so slotted on rails.

To briefly recap: Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) and Renee (Annie Wersching) left the scene of President Hassan's murder, disappointed that they failed to save his life; President Taylor (Cherry Jones) prepared to watch her peace treaty fail, but was given a lifeline when it's suggested that Hassan's wife Dalia (Necar Zadegan) take her husband's place in government; Novakovich (Graham McTavish) made it clear Russia won't sign the treaty without Hassan, forcing Taylor to listen to a plan from disgraced former-President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin), who believes he can get the Russians cooperating; Hastings (Mykelti Williamson) was relieved of duty over recent failures and Chloe (Mary Lyn Rajskub) became his interim replacement; the injured Samir (Mido Hamada) died before CTU could question him, having been drugged by an undercover Russian called Pavel (Joel Bissonnette) who is tying up loose-ends for his bosses; and soon after Jack and Renee finished making love back at his apartment, Renee was shot by Pavel from a rooftop vantage point and later died from her injuries at a hospital...

This was very much another turning point of Day 8, as seasons tends to develop in waves of four, making this the fifth "act" of six. Away from chasing nuclear materials and rescuing a dignitary's life, things take a more politicized path with Taylor and the Russians, while also bringing back one of the best 24 arch-villains in Charles Logan from the Emmy-winning season 5. I'm not sure if either will totally revitalize the show as it races towards its season/series finale, but it's at least good fun to see Logan back -- who apparently survived that stabbing in season 6. Previously used as a Nixon proxy, I also found it amusing how he apologized to Taylor for his criminal past in the manner of the infamous Frost/Nixon interview. And no, I don't think his intentions are as honourable as he's making out -- do you?

It was also an interesting episode in that Jack was sidelined for reasons of a very personal nature, getting to roll around in bed with Renee. The best way to unwind after a tough day, I agree. To my recollection, this the first time we've ever seen Jack having sex -- isn't it? If so, I'm glad the producers managed to tick that box before 24 went off-air, but I couldn't help feeling frustrated they've never gave Jack some bedroom scenes before now. He suddenly felt like less of an angst-ridden "action golem" and more like a real human being. Although his character paid the price for daring to seek comfort with a woman, as who else but Jack Bauer would come under threat from a sniper after sleeping with someone?

And yes, unexpectedly given last week's major death, it was a surprise to see Renee die of her gunshot wounds after Jack delivered her to hospital, ushering in the second "silent clock" ending in a row. Considering my appreciation of Renee as a character (the only truly plausible "female Jack" 24 has given us, and far more interesting than his other girlfriends), Renee's death didn't land much impact, curiously. I was just surprised the writers decided to kill Renee in this way, too, as I think she deserved to go out fighting or sacrificing herself for someone/something. Either way, Renee's death is certainly a good way to ignite Jack's fury and get him involved in avenging her death. It feels like a very long time since Jack had a compelling and believably personal reason to be involved in a mission (arguably since the early years when his wife and daughter used to get in trouble), so in that sense killing Renee was a wise move for the final episodes. It's just unfortunate that such a strong female character had to die purely to invigorate Jack.

25 APRIL 2010: SKY1/HD, 9PM

TV Picks: 26 April - 2 May 2010 (Dollhouse, History Of Safari, La La Land, Lewis, Sons Of Anarchy, The Story Of Science, and more...)


MONDAY 26th
South Africa Walks (BBC4, 8.30pm) Julia Bradbury visits South Africa and gives us a tour of some fascinating and beautiful scenery.
The History Of Safari with Richard E. Grant (BBC4, 9pm) The actor gives us a 90-minute insight into African hunting.
Mary Queen Of Shops Revisited (BBC2, 9pm) Follow-up to the series where Mary Portas tried to update charity shops.
The World's Richest Teenager & Me (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary series where comedian Mark Dolan meets the world's most wealthy kids.

TUESDAY 27th
The Story Of Science (BBC2, 9pm) Six-part series where Michael Mosley explores how politics and human foibles have steered scientific progress.
La La Land (BBC3, 10.30pm) Mockumentary following three deluded Brits (psychic medium Shirley Ghostman, filmmaker Brendan Allen and cockney actor-wannabe Gary Garner) as they try to become famous in L.A. All three characters are played by comedian Marc Wootton, who interacts with real people.

WEDNESDAY 28th
Dollhouse (ITV4, 8pm) Season 2 of the US sci-fi drama. Stars Eliza Dushku.
Sons Of Anarchy (Bravo, 10pm) Season 2 of the US drama.

THURSDAY 29th
Autistic Driving School (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary looking at how youngsters with autism are taught to drive.

FRIDAY 30th
Embarrassing Bodies: Kids (Channel 4, 9pm) Series looking at the embarrassing health issues children suffer.

SATURDAY 1st
I'm In A Rock N' Roll Band! (BBC2, 9.40pm) Six-part series looking at what makes the perfect rock n' roll band.

SUNDAY 2nd
Scream If You Know The Answer (Watch, 7pm) Duncan James hosts this gameshow where celebritites answer questions while on theme park rides. Features Ben Shepherd & Kyran Bracken.
Lewis (ITV1, 8.30pm) Return of the detective series. Stars Kevin Whately & Laurence Fox.
Modern Masters (BBC1, 9pm) Art series presented by critic Alastair Sooke. This opener focuses on Andy Warhol.
The Volcano That Stopped Britain (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary about the travel chaos caused across Britain and western Europe by Iceland's erupting volcano Eyjafjallajökull.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The CW to air British reality this summer


In an interesting move for US TV, The CW network are planning to broadcast two major UK reality series this summer. There's speculation these could be Big Brother 11 and The X Factor, although "non-live" formats like Britain's Next Top Model and Pineapple Dance Studios are apparently more likely. Whatever gets picked up, it's rare for a US network to show UK reality shows, despite the fact the UK are the global leader when it comes to selling reality formats abroad. American execs usually prefer to buy a format and make their own version. The CW undoubtedly have an eye on saving money by broadcasting readymade shows, of course.

Anyway, I thought this was worth a mention here. Here in the UK we get plenty of US reality shows (America's Got Talent, Dancing With The Stars, American Idol, etc), but it's always been something of a one-way street. So I'm glad that, for whatever reason, Americans may get to see something with a different flavour to it. Everyone knows The X Factor's superior to the dross of American Idol (hence Simon Cowell's decision to ditch Idol and start a US X Factor), and Britain's Got Talent is definitely more entertaining than its US namesake (giving the world Susan Boyle just last summer -- er, thanks.)

Which UK reality series do you hope The CW broadcast this summer? Is it true that the British versions tend to be better, or are some American versions an improvement on the originals?

DOCTOR WHO 5.4 - "The Time Of Angels"

WRITER: Steven Moffat
DIRECTOR: Adam Smith
GUEST CAST: Alex Kingston, Iain Glen, Simon Dutton, Mark Springer, Troy Glasgow, David Atkins, Mark Monero, Darren Morfitt, George Russo & Mike Skinner
[SPOILERS] Any concerns about Steven Moffat's creative direction that's arisen these past few weeks (thanks to two post-premiere episodes of middling quality), were swiftly erased by Moffat's own "The Time Of Angels", a suitably adrenalized sequel to his superb, award-winning episode "Blink".

In a brilliant dual time-period teaser, intrepid archaeologist River Song (Alex Kingston) escaped from the spacecraft Byzantium, having alerted The Doctor (Matt Smith) to her whereabouts 12,000 years later by lazering a message into a stone cube that she knew he'd read in a museum -- effectively summoning him for a rescue as she's blown out of an airlock into the materializing TARDIS.

Reunited across time and space, The Doctor, River and Amy (Karen Gillan) immediately fell into an adventure when the Byzantium crashed on the alien world Alfava Metraxis. The Doctor was told that a deadly Weeping Angel resides in the bowels of the ship, which itself has become embedded in a cliff-side labyrinth known locally as the "Maze Of The Dead". River and her team of paramilitary priests, led by Father Octavian (Iain Glen), need The Doctor's help in capturing the "dormant" Angel, which has now awakened...

Well, what can you say? This was absolutely great. Undoubtedly one of Doctor Who's most filmic episodes, it oozed expense with its cavernous underground location and sweeping score (particularly the use of that excellent new track that's been used as the series trailer.) The story also contained three gripping sequences: River's aforementioned airlock escape, Amy coming face-to-face with an Angel via a video-feed (a terrifying ordeal, playing like something from The Ring), and the realization that all the existing statues inside the maze are actually dying Angels who are stalking River's team whenever their lights flicker out.)

Kingston was clearly having great fun with the irrepressibly River, who's already one of the most fascinating recurring characters because she has so much future knowledge (or "spoilers") of The Doctor's life. Whenever she's around The Doctor becomes somewhat demoted, and it was fun to see Amy immediately sensing a marital vibe between them – although the truth behind River's identity appears to be more complex than simply being his wife, and would apparently result in her imprisonment if she ever told him. Did she do something terrible that he'd be obliged to punish her for?

The only slight disappointment about the return of River, but something I hope next week's conclusion will tackle, is the fact we know The Doctor's previous adventure with River ("Silence In The Library"/"Forest Of The Dead") resulted in her death, so there's a bittersweet element of him seeing her alive again. And he ultimately has the biggest "spoiler" he can't possible reveal to her. Nothing here reminded us of that fact, but we'll have to see if it's mentioned next time.

Matt Smith was back on good form after what I felt was a slight blip in last week's Dalek episode. You can't help enjoying his crazy young professor with wishbone legs take on the role, clumsily making his way through the adventure. And, while Amy and River both had their little victories that overshadowed The Doctor a few times (not least River's prowess flying his own TARDIS!), he had more opportunities to take the lead and remind us why he's so revered by River and is, after all, the star of the show. I was beginning to wonder if this new incarnation of The Doctor would become too goofy, but while he's certainly not as cool as David Tennant's version, Eleven's foibles make him more relatable, unpredictable and humourous.

Overall, with new facets of the Weeping Angels introduced to make them even deadlier (they cause hallucinations if you look in their eyes, for instance), and a compelling action-based tone throughout (Moffat says this was designed as the Aliens to "Blink"'s Alien), "The Time Of Angels" was a real treat and a definite success. The only negative is that it had to end so soon, yet it's always fitting when a cliffhanger's involved.

Asides
  • I love the witty, playful dialogue and banter Moffat crafts: phrases like "what if our dreams no longer needed us?"
  • After he was killed and his consciousness recreated by the Angels, wasn't Sacred Bob essentially a "data ghost" of the type seen in "The Silence In The Library"? Moffat seems to like certain ideas he's had, and has reused a few already. I just hope this means he won't run out of new ones.
  • Did you notice that the St. John's Ambulance sticker on the TARDIS door was missing when it materialized on the beach? The production designer must have added that detail later, ready for the premiere.
  • The "crash of the Byzantium" was referenced by River Song during her debut in series 3's "The Silence In The Library".
  • While on the subject of River Song, I wonder how far her character will be taken. It was risky of Moffat to include someone like her in his series 3 episode (a character whose entire premise begs reuse), but despite the fact Moffat's now in charge of Doctor Who and can bring her back, River Song's "back-story" seems to demand that she become a hugely significant presence. A companion at the very least, right? Is Moffat going to keep threading River into his era? Is Alex Kingston able to keep returning, or becoming a regular one day? I somehow don't think Moffat will risk leaving all of River's questions unanswered on his watch, as his successor in 4-5 years time may not pick up the ball, so I'm hopeful everything will be answered and a distant eighth series adventure will loop back to "Silence In The Library".
  • You may recognize Iain Glen (or his distinctive voice) from Hollywood action movies like Resident Evil 3, Kingdom Of Heaven and Tomb Raider.
  • Did The Doctor really read an entire book in a second, or was he just joking?
  • The iconic whirring sound the TARDIS makes when it appears/disappears isn't supposed to happen, it's just because The Doctor leaves the "handbrake" on! Indeed, he appears to even fly the TARDIS badly because it's just more fun that way, as there are buttons (or "boringers") that make the ride a lot smoother!
  • Yes, that was The Streets singer Mike Skinner as the guard who'd been kissed by hallucinogenic lipstick.
24 APRIL 2010: BBC1/HD, 6.20PM

Next time...

Saturday, 24 April 2010

ASHES TO ASHES 3.4

WRITER: Jack Lothian
DIRECTOR: Alrick Riley
GUEST CAST: Zoe Telford, Peter Guinness, Bryan Dick, Paul Moriarty, Paul Moriarty, Joseph Long, Geff Francis, Ryan Pope & Charlie Roe
[SPOILERS] We're at the halfway point of the final series already, so it was a relief to see a much stronger episode to mark the occasion. And despite the fact I tend to find the sci-fi trimmings more interesting than the show's cop show formula, this episode (written by Jack Lothian) was a great example of Ashes To Ashes getting its balance exactly right. The emphasis was on a down-to-earth plot that was well-told and contained some twists that really worked, while the sci-fi stuff was scaled back and all the better for that.

This week, Gene (Philip Glenister) and Alex (Keeley Hawes) were investigating the murders of local drug-dealers (who've been killed by forced injections), and came to realize that it's the handiwork of Gene's old adversary Terry Stafford (Peter Guinness). Complicating matters is the fact DI6 are operating on Gene's turf under the auspices of DCI Wilson (Paul Moriarty), who has an officer called Louis Gardner (Zoe Telford) working undercover as Terry's lover. After Louise is savagely beaten by Daniel Stafford (Bryan Dick), Terry's rival son who's suspicious of her, both cases collide and it's up to CID to both protect a fellow officer from harm and bring the Stafford's to justice in the process.

To cut to the chase: I really liked this episode. It wasn't quite as emotional, complex and revelatory to make it a classic installment, but it was an hour's procedural that I felt happy satisfied with, blessed with a great performances from Zoe Telford as the incognito 'tec who's become psychologically scarred by the demands of her job, and a nice turn from Bryan Dick as the miscreant who once raped her. It was also nice to see Chris (Marshall Lancaster) given a decent subplot, as he began to develop feelings for Louise's plight, and risked destroying the entire case by beating Daniel in his prison cell after hearing about how he treated her.

The mythos of Ashes To Ashes was also stoked in a way that didn't feel so incongruent and random, especially with Keats (Daniel Mays) now giving is a clearer idea of what his character's all about. He seems to be harvesting souls, and there's the suggestion that this episode's undercover theme in some way relates to Alex when he tells her "you belong here... you look like you're visiting, but you're not, are you... you're staying", which seems to suggest that she's been placed in this world on purpose and has just forgotten her "mission". Later, Alex herself says "you can't just put somebody in undercover and expect them to make sense of things by themselves", which might be a subtle tease that that's exactly what's happened to her.

Overall, episode 4 was the first instalment of this final season that worked on more levels than passing intrigue at its breadcrumb of clues. The story was tight and written effectively, and there was even enough time for some of the comedy that's been underused this year. Indeed, the sequence where it's revealed Gene was responsible for the infamous vandalizing of the Blue Peter garden ranks as one of my favourite ways the show's merged fiction with reality. "It's only a bloody garden!"

Asides
  • A new theory: could the disfigured officer with the 6-6-22 epaulette be a young Gene Hunt? If so, would that be a nod to the possibility Gene's in a coma in a hospital somewhere with those injuries, but has lived his entire life in this "mindscape"? Is he only able to exist there because other people are effectively participating in his reverie (chiefly Sam and Alex), and would that explain why Keats is trying to dismantle Genes.
  • Interesting to see how Keats handled the moment when Louise was dying in his arms, easing her very calmly into death. In fact, it's now harder to imagine that Keats is around for despicable reasons after that tender moment -- so perhaps we should doubt that Gene's the hero and Keats is wrong to hate him?
  • Great sequence of Alex imagining herself trapped in a coffin and about to be buried alive when she was knocked unconscious, but was that purely a visual metaphor of her mental state, or something more relevant to the story's bigger picture?
  • Does anyone else find it irritating that every sequence involving the Quattro takes place on totally empty London streets? I know it must be a challenge finding locations where contemporary landmarks, signs and people aren't always lurking in shot, but it makes it look like Ashes To Ashes takes place in a city that's been evacuated!
  • Was the final moment taking place in a mannequin factory of significance? Things designed to look like human, but aren't -- like most of Ashes' characters?
23 APRIL 2010: BBC1/HD, 9PM

LOST 6.13 - "The Last Recruit"

WRITERS: Paul Zbyszewski & Graham Roland
DIRECTOR: Stephen Semel
GUEST CAST: Dylan Minnette, Teresa Huang, Andrea Gabriel, Zuleikha Robinson, Sheila Kelley, Kimberley Joseph & Christopher Amitrano
[SPOILERS] It's funny, now the flashsideways have been given a sense of direction and we're assured of their relevance, the prime storyline has now started to flap in the breeze. Lost often struggles to juggle its many characters, but "The Last Recruit" proved particularly annoying because you could feel the writers simply moving people around into position. Characters decided to follow one person, then either had second thoughts, or were led by the nose somewhere else. I appreciate the problems, but what ruined this episode for me was the sense that characters are flip-flopping...

X-Timeline '04: Desmond, Claire,
Jack, Sun, Sawyer, Kate & Locke

It's a veritable smorgasbord this week, as the flashsideways storylines all start to get jumbled up. Sawyer (Josh Holloway) is questioning a smart-alec Kate (Evangeline Lilly), before being called away on a case involving a restaurant shootout where Sayid's (Naveen Andrews) the prime suspect; Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) played "guardian angel" to Claire (Emilie de Ravin) by offering to give her free legal advice on her planned adoption; Jack (Matthew Fox) and his son David (Dylan Minnette) went to hear Christian Shephard's Will being read and meet Claire, Jack's half-sister he's been trying to locate; and Sun (Yunjin Kim) was rushed to hospital with a stab wound and appeared to recognize Locke (Terry O'Quinn), who had arrived at the same time after getting run over by Desmond.

I genuinely don't have much to say. There wasn't much focus or a clearly defined story being told this week; people were just interacting and storylines have begun to intersect. Desmond's motivation for helping Claire and injuring Locke are the only really interesting element going on, although the fact Sun recognized Locke suggests more evidence that the flashsideways characters can remember their original lives at the point of neat-fatal death. I just wonder what Locke's experiencing, as he's dead in the prime timeline.

The Island '07: Locke, Jack, Zoe, Sayid,
Claire, Sawyer, Kate & Desmond

It was a big get-together on the Island, as two of the three separate groups merged because Hurley's (Jorge Garcia) got it in his head that they need to talk with Locke, not fight against him. Of primary interest was learning in a discussion between Jack and Locke that the ghostly presence of Jack's dead father was just Smokey in disguise (something fans have long suspected, but doesn't really hang together when you think back to old episodes.) For instance, "Christian" appeared to Jack while he was off-island in season 5, so how come Smokey was able to traverse the ocean he now claims he can't? I'm sure there are other nitpicks to explore, but I'm fortunately not too anal for it to ruin my viewing experience. In fact, it's probably going to be very true that Lost's ultimate "answers" won't fit together perfectly, so best to get used to that early.

The storyline here concerned Sawyer arranging to sneak away from Locke's group with his own party, to head for the Hydra Island aboard the "Elizabeth" sailing ship, which Jack agrees to help make happen. Time is tight because Zoe (Sheila Kelley) arrived to threaten Locke with destruction via missiles Widmore can launch on his position from the Hydra Island, unless he return Desmond. Locke has no intention of giving into demands, so instead puts his own plan into operation; sending Sayid to kill Desmond (who survived the fall into the well last week) and marching with his group to cross to the Hydra Island to leave on the Ajira plane.

In Summation

While it was great to see more happening in the flashsideways storyline, the fact it was a mix of storylines made it feel quite fragmented. In fact, the entire episode was very much a piece-moving exercise, and some moments worked better than others. For example: the reunion of Sun and Jin on Hydra Island (the first time the characters have seen each other since season 4's finale!) was an unfortunate damp squib, and there was just a general feeling that characters are more at the mercy of what the plot demands than what they want. I wasn't convinced by Jack suddenly having second thoughts and leaping off Sawyer's boat to swim back to Locke's group, for instance. However, I do quite like the idea that Jack's now the character who has blind faith that his Island experience (i.e. the show of Lost itself) will make sense if he just has faith, as that makes him something of an audience proxy. And it's fun to have a character who reflects what viewers are thinking and hoping for. And finally, Emilie de Ravin continued her season of two extremes: you can't help but like the demure flashsideways version of Claire (pregnant and discovering she has a half-brother), but her crazy-haired Island version just isn't convincing or very interesting.

Questions, Questions, Questions!
  • Did Sayid kill Desmond? If not, where is he? And if he spared his life, is that a sign people with Sayid's "condition" can be saved?
  • Where is Christian Shephard's body?
23 APRIL 2010: SKY1/HD, 9PM

Friday, 23 April 2010

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES 6.12 - "You Gotta Get A Gimmick"

WRITER: Joe Keenan
DIRECTOR: David Grossman
GUEST CAST: Orson Bean, Ben Lemon, Dakin Matthews, John Rubinstein, Josh Zuckerman, Brent Biscoe, Brianne Davis & Kevin Scott Allen
[SPOILERS] You would be forgiven for thinking we were still in last week's hypothetical parallel reality given how far credibility is stretched during the reading of Karl Mayer's last will and testament at the opening of "You Gotta Get A Gimmick". Even Susan Delfino (Teri Hatcher) makes a flippant fourth-wall-teasing aside to the heavens when it is revealed that the deceased lawyer has left his ex-wife his half of a business he was co-owner of -- without anybody knowing: "At least you'll finally get some rest."

In line with his womanising ways, Karl's business is no quaint tea room in the valley but a thriving Gentleman's Club called Double D's (or "Herpes on Parade" as Susan humorously denounces it), which, exotic dancer "Destiny" (Brianne Davis) informs the stunned new co-owner, is frequented by one Mr. Mike Delfino (James Denton). Busted. Well, at least the club's pipes are; Mike informs his infuriated wife that he visits strictly for plumbing duties, which isn't enough to stop Susan from forbidding her husband from entering the premises again. Bad move.

This incredulous and weak plot-strand was all-too-neatly tied up by Susan taking to the Double D's stage herself wearing the most stereotypical stripper-esque attire possible (as you do...) to prove Mike would be outraged at men ogling her, and, thus, was wrong for being outraged at Susan's prohibiting of him working at -- and amongst -- Double D's. Always good to have a moral attached to a story which starts and ends with woman degrading themselves by dancing provocatively around poles (!) Thankfully, the rest of the episode was far more endearing and far less ridiculous.

Felicity Huffman as a worn-down and wound-up Lynette Scavo was far and away the best thing in "If...", and she follows it up with another strong turn this week. Clearly not happy that husband Tom (Doug Savant, also excellent) has successfully stepped into her shoes at Carlos's (Ricardo Chavira) firm following the loss of one of her unborn twins, it becomes apparent that she doesn't want to be a stay at home mother this time around because she is struggling with the thought of only looking after one child where there should be two. In the month that has passed (on-screen) between episodes she has been keeping these feelings bottled up, but in letting her repressed emotions out, she leaves Tom a broken man. A broken man who takes a bottle of wine up to bed... isn't it about time the Scavo's had some positive storylines? None of the Fairview folks have an easy ride, but Lynette and Tom seem to come up against a constant barrage of misery and misfortune. I also hope the writer's aren't going to recycle the alcoholic storyline they have already put Bree through in previous seasons.

With youngest daughter Celia clearly making a decent enough recovery following her near-miss in the plane crash to not even garner a mention this week, Gabrielle (Eva Longoria Parker) and Carlos Solis were back to championing Juanita (Madison De La Garza) for a place in a private school. On the cusp of success in an interview with Principal Hobson (John Rubinstein), Juanita's clueless response to her heritage ("I'm Mexican?!") leads to a lesson in ethnic pride for Gaby, who has tended to associate being Mexican with her poor upbringing, and thus downplayed her heritage to her children. A reflective look back over old photographs, and an encouraging word from her (financially successful) husband and all's well again in de casa Solis.

I find Orson Hodge (Kyle MacLachlan) a hard character to sympathise with. He has been through hell what with his impending divorce, discovering wife Bree (Marcia Cross) was having an affair with Karl, and the plane accident which has left him wheelchair bound -- and this is only this season -- yet I cannot trust a man so crafty, devious and interchangeable. Feeling guilty over her adultery, Bree speaks with Reverend Sykes (Dakin Matthews), who suggests she atones for her sin by making it up to Orson and nursing her former love back to health. Neither Bree nor Orson really want this -- Orson would much rather stay with Karen McCluskey (Kathryn Joosten) and her man-friend Roy (Orson Bean) -- but Bree is determined to do right by God (plus she has already hired Mike to build an entrance ramp) and sly Orson spies an opportunity to take full advantage, starting with demanding a crème brulee. It's a meagre start, admittedly, but if I know Orson Hodge, this will soon escalate out of control...

Finally, and in lighter news, Ana Solis (Maiara Walsh) -- who you would be forgiven for thinking had left Wisteria Lane given how infrequently she has featured since episode 6.3 -- sets her sights on dating Danny Bolen (Beau Mirchoff), who up until now has only had eyes for Julie Mayer (Andrea Bowen). Following a painful stand-up routine at an Open Mike Night by irritating recurring friend to the local youth, Eddie Orlofsky (Josh Zuckerman), Ana makes her move. Despite initially being cold towards the snooty teen, Danny concedes that he finds Ana cute, and the seeds of a future relationship have been planted.

22 APRIL 2010: CHANNEL 4/HD, 9PM