Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween!


I haven't planned anything special to celebrate Halloween here, sorry. To be honest, it's always too much hassle to organize themed events ontop of everything else. The best I can do is offer this link to some wonderfully sinister artwork by Joshua Hoffine (an example of which can be seen above). Oooh, freaky. Have a look, if you're feeling brave. Otherwise, feel free to chat amongst yourselves in the comments below about all things Halloween-y. Are you watching a scary movie tonight? What's the scariest television show you've ever seen? Maybe you have a real life spooky story you'd care to share?

'MERLIN' 3.8 – "The Eye Of The Phoenix"


While still afflicted by plotting and genre clichés, "The Eye Of The Phoenix" was counterweighted by a keener sense of adventure, a certain unpredictability (which nevertheless dissipated), a less ambiguous stance between Gwen (Angel Coulby) and Arthur (Bradley James), and saw the return of gallant Gwaine (Eoin Macken) to instill a feeling of cohesion to this choppy third year. The result was an episode that, while a miscellany of old movies (a dash of Monty Python & The Holy Grail, a smattering of Indiana Jones, a twist of The Neverending Story), nevertheless worked very well...

This week, Arthur resolved to go on an unaided quest to retrieve a Golden Trident belonging to the legendary Fisher King (Donald Sumpter), as rites of passage to his acceptance as future king of Camelot. However, after embarking on his solo quest, Merlin (Colin Morgan) noticed the prince is wearing an unusual bracelet gifted to him by Morgana (Katie McGrath), which he realized with Gaius's (Richard Wilson) help is an "Eye Of The Phoenix" -- a magical trinket that will drain Arthur's strength and lead to his death on the dangerous expedition, thus getting Morgana closer to the throne. To help his master triumph, Merlin set off in pursuit to warn him of the danger, acquiring the help of dashing rogue Gwaine along the way, as the unwitting Arthur struggled to make it through The Perilous Lands to reach his goal: The Dark Tower, last resting place of The Fisher King, encircled by vicious Wyverns...

"The Eye Of The Phoenix" reminded me of '80s fantasy movies, which is no bad thing. For a TV series that understandably lacks the budget to compete with contemporary fare like The Lord Of The Rings, it makes sense to go after an old-school feeling -- with an emphasis on character, tone and ideas. While this wasn't an appreciably character-driven story and its ideas weren't very original (did anyone else expect Warwick Davis's Grettir to pose three questions?), the episode has a keen sense of atmosphere and used its characters well. The scenery in the scorched Perilous Lands was a highlight (particularly the swampy plateau burning beneath a reddened sun), the Dark Tower itself was an impressively imposing visual, and the Wyverns were surprisingly excellent CGI beasties.

If, like me, you've been exasperated by Merlin's direction lately, this episode will feel like a tonic. Back at Camelot, Gwen finally came to realize Morgana's using black magic, which belatedly means her character's in a far more privileged position as a confidant of Gaius and Merlin. The episode also included scenes of more open affection between Gwen and Arthur, with him kissing her goodbye before his quest, which a welcome sight the writers will hopefully built on. Funnily enough, Merlin remind me of Chuck's own third year, which was similarly straitjacketed by secrets between its characters, but grew into a more appealing shape once it took a chance and revealed them. We're not at the stage where Merlin's going to admit his magic to anyone but Gaius – in fact, this episode went to comical extremes to ensure Gwaine and Arthur were never sharing the screen with Merlin when magic was being discussed – but I'm hoping the show has a few surprises up its sleeve.

A later sequence with Merlin trapped in The Dark Tower's Throne Room, helping the ancient Fisher King die using the Eye Of The Phoenix, in exchange for a vial of water taken from the Lake Of Avalon, was a juicy setup for assumed pay-off in the finale, too. It's always a delight when Merlin's shown to be so important and is treated with reverence by magical characters, and it made a change to end an episode with some genuinely exciting predictions buzzing around your head.

Overall, despite being a terrible waste of cult "small person" actor Warwick Davis (Willow, Harry Potter) and trotting out the usual plot-devices, "The Eye Of The Phoenix" was easily the best installment of Merlin this year, from a storytelling standpoint. It was fun and engaging, but more importantly it developed the characters and progressed the mytharc in a firm direction. If only episodes like this were the norm, rather than a rarity.

A far more imaginative and confident episode than usual, as Merlin heads into the final straight. What did you make of it?

Asides
  • Lovely touch with Merlin using his ability as a Dragonlord to command the Wyverns away, as cousins of the dragon species. Shame he didn't summon the Great Dragon to give him a lift to that Dark Tower, really. Silly boy.
  • The Fisher King mentions to Merlin he should "save her". Is he referring to Morgana, or perhaps the Lady Of The Lake?
  • You may recognize actor Donald Sumpter as the villain of Being Human's second series.
WRITER: Julian Jones
DIRECTOR: Alice Troughton
TRANSMISSION: 30 October 2010, BBC1, 7.55PM

Saturday, 30 October 2010

'NO ORDINARY FAMILY' 1.5 – "No Ordinary Quake"


This marked a turning point for the superhero drama, with the revelation of big secrets kept by the family, and the stronger emergence of its mythology. "No Ordinary Quake" made me more confident about No Ordinary Family going forward, which feels like it's taken the Bennet family from Heroes and given them ALL super-powers. In so doing, the show's likely to avoid the trap Heroes fell into (characters becoming mere playthings for the mythology), by keeping its fanciful nature rooted in everyday issues and relationships.

This week, Jim (Michael Chiklis) tried to find a super-girl stealing drugs from pharmacies across the city, using her ability to project concussive shockwaves; Stephanie (Julie Benz) continued to investigate the mothballed research of a doctor who may be able to explain her family's condition; JJ (Jimmy Bennett) came clean about his super-powers to his parents, before deciding to play a game of football by ignoring his gift; and Daphne (Kay Panabaker) jumped to the conclusion her classmate is sleeping with a teacher, after hearing incriminating thoughts cross their minds, only to be proven wrong...

I quite like how the show divvies up its storylines, as there hasn't really been a truly awful subplot on the series so far, and the weaker elements never overwhelm things. It feels like you're always less than five minutes away from a funny or entertaining sequence, and the performances are becoming tighter the more the cast get to know each other. Chiklis was especially good in a man-to-man chat with JJ in the locker room before his big game. Benz's character is something of a killjoy right now, as she isn't keen to use their powers to benefit anyone, but the actress is too likeable for Stephanie to become as annoying as she might be. And it remains true that Romany Malco and Autumn Reeser are really enjoyable and personable actors, making the most of small roles.

I'm glad the show has unburdened itself of the secrets setup from the pilot (Stephanie knows there are other "supers" in existence, everyone knows JJ is a ubergenius), and the idea that Stephanie's company are responsible for giving people these powers was returned to. I'm not really expecting the show to deliver hugely unexpected answers or a unique direction regarding its mythology, but so far it's unspooling at a decent rate and is providing lots of fun. It's a shame the series is slipping in the ratings (dropping from 10.6m to a series low of 7.38m with this episode), but I hope it'll hold steady from hereon in, and maybe coax people back through word-of-mouth.

Personally, I still think No Ordinary Family's too lightweight to appeal to a broader audience, as Heroes once did, but it's an agreeable series that's nicely acted and has a warm charm you can't help responding to. A lot of that's down to the cast and tone, so who knows what might develop if the stories start to take some risks...

WRITERS: Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer
DIRECTOR: Timothy Busfield
TRANSMISSION: 26 October 2010, ABC, 8/7c

'MAD MEN' 4.8 - "The Summer Man"


Summer heralds optimism, which is exactly what Don Draper (Jon Hamm) receives this week, following the death of Anna Draper, the only women he believes knew the real him. Don's swimming baptismal lengths in a public pool, and has taken to writing a journal to organize his thoughts, in lieu of a real person he can confide in. But the cool breeze of change is blowing across '60s society itself, as Don's noticing interracial couples walking the streets, and even the music (The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction") carries the swagger of a youthful, progressive generation making their mark on the world...

This was definitely the turning point episode for Don, having spent the majority of season 4 as a walking disaster zone when it comes to relationships and his treatment of other people, particularly women. The death of Anna appears to have forced Don to mature, and take more responsibility for his own happiness. I likened his relationship to Anna to as that of a son on great terms with his mother (well, the woman who unwittingly "birthed" Don Draper by allowing Dick Whitman to use her dead husband's identity), and some people believe children are always in the shadow of their parents until their parents die. It's only then that the torch is irreversibly passed to the next generation, as keepers of the family name, which strikes me as something that's happened here.

At Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, tensions rose between Joey (Matt Long) and Joan (Christina Hendricks) after he shrugged off a reprimand from her with the hurtful remark "what do you do around here besides walking around like you're trying to get raped?" This began a story of great discomfort, as Joey kept making disparaging remarks about Joan to his friends, including Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), who felt she needed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Joan against this bullying, sexist behaviour.

After Joan noticed a pornographic cartoon of herself having sex with Lane (Jared Harris), she dealt with the situation by upsetting Joey and his clique by remarking on their likely conscription to fight in Vietnam, where they'll be melancholic for the days of working alongside her. Joan's words seem to have delivered the required punch, but Peggy decided to take some action herself to show solidarity and opted to fire Joey from his job. But in recounting her act of sisterhood during an elevator journey with Joan, Peggy was astonished to hear that Joan considers her support extremely unhelpful ("all you've done is prove to them that I'm a meaningless secretary and you're another humorless bitch"). It just goes to show the disparity between these two women: Peggy thinks you need to demonstrate power and control in a man's world, whereas Joan believes in subtle methods of control and quiet manipulation (like dropping hints to Don about Joey's attitude). And in the latter's case, she's perhaps just too distracted by the fact her husband's leaving for two months of basic training in the army.

Back with Don, he appears to have regained his mojo when it comes to women; a dinner date with Bethany (Anna Camp) went well, and despite the uncomfortable presence of ex-wife Betty (January Jones) and Henry (Christopher Stanley) at the same restaurant, and fact Bethany seems to realize she's a double of Betty. For Betty, accompanying her new husband as he discusses a political campaign with an aide, she's reminded of her old life as she watches Don flirt with another woman -- seeing he's moving on and his evening is more romantic than hers. She retired to the rest room in tears, to the frustration of Henry on their premature car ride home.

The antagonism between the Drapers reared its ugly head again, with Don told he can't have the kids at the weekend, as it's baby Gene's second birthday, and he's unwelcome at the party, too. Henry even rang Don at work, to request he remove boxes containing his property (marked "DRAPER", almost taunting Henry in the garage, who hates how Don will always be his wife's first love). It felt like a way for Henry to keep some measure of control over Don, rubbing salt into the wound by suggesting he swing by on the weekend he's been denied seeing his children. Interestingly, once Don had collected his things, he simply threw them away in an alley's skip – perhaps symbolizing he's making a definite break from things of the past. He's growing, maturing, rising above things.

In asking Faye (Cara Buono) out on a dinner, for the third time, she actually agrees this time, as his approach felt less entitled, and he's cool enough to end their evening with a kiss in the taxi home, finding the restraint to leave her wanting more. In so doing, he used Faye's own advice in business: "kindness, gentleness, and persuasion win where force fails."

And if this episode saw maturity from Don, that filtered through into Betty, who came to realize she has more to lose than her ex-husband, so has to take stock of what she has and be deferential. Don arrived in the middle of Gene's birthday party, but the situation was coolly defused by Betty, who simply handed him Gene while she stood back with Henry. "We have everything," she told him. And as Faye reminded Don about Gene, "all he knows of the world is what you show him", so Don feels he can have an active role in Gene's life without having to worry that his family have been irrevocably stolen.

Essentially, let's all be adult about things. That'll last -- right?

WRITERS: Lisa Albert, Janet Leahy & Matthew Weiner
DIRECTOR: Phil Abraham
TRANSMISSION: 27 October 2010, BBC4, 10PM

Friday, 29 October 2010

TRAILER: 'Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge'


Steve Coogan has finally revived his signature character, pompous radio/TV personality Alan Partridge, for a series of webisodes called Mid Morning Matters. You can watch the two-minute trailer above, although it's just a visual tease set to maudlin piano music, and offers no actual comedy material (unless you split your sides over Alan's facial expressions). I find the trailer very disappointing, really, although I'm sure the webseries will be very funny. At the very least it'll fill a Partridge-sized gap until the long-long-awaited movie gets made.

Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge premieres 5 November at fostersfunny.co.uk.

'The Inbetweeners' gets extra special?


The recent third series of E4 teen-comedy The Inbetweeners was supposed to be the last TV adventure for the unruly students, before a movie and wrap-up TV special was announced. However, it's being reported that there will actually be two TV specials after the 2011 movie's release, thus extending the lifespan of E4's biggest hit. And if by "special" they're meaning hour-long installments, won't this effectively be four episodes of a regular six-episode fourth series, just stitched together?

Of course, if you're a fan of The Inbetweeners, news of another special is most likely music to your ears. But considering series 3's mixed response, I'm worried writers Damon Beesley and Iain Moris will find themselves flogging a dead horse before long. James Buckley (the youngest of the four leads) is already 23, while Joe Thomas (the oldest) is 27, so it'll be even tougher to convince people they're teenagers next year. Look at the photo above -- that's how they used to look when the show first started.

And should this comedy continue past the movie, which feels like the perfect celebratory end-point? If not, maybe writers will take the foursome into university, despite the plausability problem with dopey Neil? Or how about resetting The Inbetweeners and following a new gang of friends, a la Skins, while keeping teacher Mr Gilbert involved for continuity? Or is the success of The Inbetweeners down to those particular characters and actors?

Thoughts?

Update: Apparently, the writers have yet to agree to Channel 4's suggestion they write two specials, so we may still end up with one as originally planned.

'CAPRICA' 1.13 - "False Labor"


Despite the news Syfy have cancelled Caprica, I've decided to continue reviewing its remaining episodes, albeit in a more abridged fashion. It's become clear that my reviews, much like the show, has dropped in popularity since Caprica came back from hiatus, so it makes sense not to bust a gut trying to write something that's only of narrow interest...

"False Labor" was all about struggle, and introduced an interesting new angle with Sam (Sacha Roiz) getting into the gun-smuggling trade, intending to pass weapons to soldiers fighting a Tauron civil war that echoes a conflict he fought in alongside brother Joseph (Esai Morales). Sam's off-world smuggling drew the attention of a Tauron gangster, who wasn't happy about a competitor on his turf, so threatened Sam's life as a warning. Nevertheless, Sam chose a fight for his new business, by taking control of a Cylon and using it to slaughter his rivals during a shootout at a swanky bar. The likelihood a percentage of Graystone's mass-produced Cylons will be siphoned to Tauron by Sam, giving soldiers an advantage over their enemy, is an intriguing puzzle piece in the show's intention to explain how Cylons became such a menace.

It was also entertaining to watch Daniel (Eric Stoltz) struggle to replicate Zoe's avatar code, trialing different versions of his wife Amanda (Paula Malcolmson) in an attempt to elicit a spark of sentience that's key to producing a convincing copy of a human being. Of course, the science here is incredibly far-fetched (I don't see how linking an avatar to the entirety of someone's online history would enable them to remember memories of events they weren't present for), but the basic idea is still fun to see unfold. Even if the subplot relied too heavily on the trick of having a surprising scene play out, with the audience unaware they're watching a simulation. It worked once, but I was too on guard for it to work that second time.

The real Amanda was still trying to ingratiate herself into Clarice's (Polly Walker) large family, who haven't exactly welcomed her with open arms, but eventually made a connection with the household's pregnant matriarch (by making up a sob story about her own troubled maternity) to aide her acceptance.

This episode felt a lot better to me, if only because the raison d'être of Caprica (explain the rise of the Cylons) was a bigger part of the episode and appears to have found a way to get more Cylons involved on the show. And there were compelling moments with Daniel's attempts to replicate his daughter's genius, as you can sense his desperation to achieve his goal and cheat death through technology. The scene on a building ledge between Joseph and Daniel also crackled, reminding you of earlier episodes when the Graystone and Adama patriarchs clashed. But I'm still bored by Amanda, who only became interesting when she started having visions before the hiatus, so why haven't they returned to that yet?

It was still a rather slow and measured hour, but that has been Caprica's tone for most of the season, and isn't likely to change. The upside is there's some fine acting (Stoltz confessing his many crimes to avatar-Amanda was a highlight) and fascinating ideas floating around. It's just a shame Caprica's individual positives haven't coalesced into something substantially appealing.

WRITER: Michael Taylor
DIRECTOR: John Dahl
TRANSMISSION: 26 October 2010, Syfy, 9/8c

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Short Film: 'The Commuter'


Here's an entertaining short film called The Commuter (filmed using Nokia's N8 smartphone), starring Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as a commuter whose car gets clamped by Charles Dance's (Gosford Park) traffic warden, forcing him to exact his vengeance with inspiration from an action movie poster. Co-stars Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) and Pamela Anderson (Baywatch), directed by Edward and Rory McHenry. I think it passes 7-minutes rather pleasantly...

'THE EVENT' 1.6 - "Loyalty"


"Loyalty" appeared to commence The Event's "second cycle" after last week's mini-climax, suggesting the show will be hitting regular turning points. I'm increasingly likening The Event to 24, which also divided its seasons into "batches", accumulating into a full season's story. That feels like the correct direction to take for this series, as The Event doesn't have much depth of characterisation, so it might as well focus on delivering 5-6 episode waves of action, where the characters are gradually solving a deeper mystery.

There were three main storylines in play this week: Sean (Jason Ritter) told Leila (Sarah Roemer) about her mother's murder and sister's kidnapping, agreeing to take her back home to look for clues, where they met investigative reporter (Paula Malcomson), who revealed Leila's father discovered a secret facility called Inostranka in Alaska; the President's (Blair Underwood) team tracked Sophia's (Laura Innes) movements on the city's subway, unaware she's receiving help from CIA Agent Lee (Ian Anthony Dale) in avoiding detection, so Thomas (Clifton Collins Jr.) can reach her without blowing his cover; and flashbacks to 1954 revealed Lee was once in love with a beautiful woman, whom he was forced to leave in order to maintain his cover with Thomas.

The flashbacks were handled well for once -- actually shedding light on Lee's character and making him more sympathetic, while showing us the downside of slow-aging aliens falling in love with humans, when Lee was reacquainted with an elderly Val at the turn-of-the-millennium, 50 years after he left her without a word of explanation. It was an angle I expected The Event to explore, and while it deserved more screentime to sell it, I thought it worked as something character-based to break up the action. Dale was actually rather good in the bedside scene where he atoned for his actions to his aged sweetheart. It all showed that Lee's a benevolent man, as Sophia appears to be (despite being detained for decades!), which makes you wonder what they see in Thomas, who comes across as a hardhearted villain.

Now we know the Buchanan's were targeted because Leila's father discovered the Inostranka facility, which appears to be situated in an area of UFO activity, according to clippings in a scrapbook. That seems to suggest Carter (D.B Sweeney) and Vicky acted on behalf of Inostranka officials, who were against the President releasing the aliens they'd detained indefinitely, and hired them to kill two birds with one stone: assassinating the President using a plane piloted by the meddling Michael Buchanan. I guess that makes sense, if that's the case.

Overall, "Loyalty" was another enjoyable and reasonable episode, with a few standout sequences: the way in which Sophia escaped detection by having Lee generate multiple targets using spiked water at a coffee shop; and the visually stunning sequence towards the end, with Thomas escaping with Sophia as his hideout imploded with the appearance of another portal. I wonder if the rubble will be transported to Arizona, as the plane was...

How are you enjoying The Event so far? Is it taking shape, or becoming a bore?

Asides
  • My pet theory that the "aliens" are humans from the future appears to have smashed, as Lee mentions the lack of water where his people come from. Unless this was an intentional red herring (and Lee just didn't live near the coast), it suggests the planet the aliens come from doesn't have H20. So it can't be a future Earth, surely. But really, aliens that are only 2% different to human physiology, consequently comprised of water, come from a planet with no water? Ridiculous. So does that mean the aliens only assumed human appearance after their crash-landing?
  • I'm guessing this portal technology is what Thomas has been working on, as a means for his people to return home. As of right now, I'm wondering why the government don't just help these aliens get back home, seeing as how the ones who escaped detention in the '40s have done nothing but seek a way off the planet.
  • Paula Malcomson will be familiar to fans of Syfy's Caprica, where she played Amanda Graystone.
WRITERS: Leyani Diaz & Vanessa Rojas
DIRECTOR: Jonas Pate
GUEST CAST: Clifton Collins Jr., Paula Malcomsen, Julia Campbell, Holland Roden & Anna Clark
TRANSMISSION: 25 October 2010, NBC, 9/8c

'Him & Her': back for series 2


BBC3 comedy Him & Her has been recommissioned for a second series. The sitcom, about an unemployed and lazy couple (played by Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani), finished a few weeks ago, having received mixed reviews during its run. But this pickup is no surprise, as it was BBC3's most successful sitcom launch, and pulled in a weekly total of 2.1m viewers (including repeats).

Danny Cohen, Controller of BBC Three:

"Him and Her was beautifully written and brilliantly performed. It went on to become BBC Three's most successful ever sitcom launch. I'm delighted it's coming back for a second series."
Cheryl Taylor, BBC Controller of Comedy Commissioning:

"We're all looking forward to the second series of this original, funny and intimately observed sitcom."
Kenton Allen, Chief Executive of Big Talk Productions:

"The tremendous support that BBC Three has given to a lo-fi romantic comedy in which nothing much ever happens has been amazing. We are delighted that their faith has been repaid with a brilliant reaction from audience and critics alike and we can't wait to return to the tea, toast and unwashed bed linen of series 2 to enjoy the further adventures of Steve and Becky."
Initially, I really liked Him & Her, then it became repetitive and I started to lose interest by episode 4. However, compared to other sitcoms BBC3 produce, it was more interesting and oddly watchable than most. For me, this was mainly down to Tovey and Solemani's performances, which felt very natural.

Filming will commence sometime in 2011.

'GLEE' 2.5 - "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"


I'm not really a fan of sci-fi parody musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And I don't know the '70s movie well enough to get excited by the prospect of Glee using it as the basis for a Halloween special. Consequently, I was expecting "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" to leave me indifferent and bored, but it surprised me by provided an entertaining, camp hour with a strong theme holding its various pieces together.

Mr Schue (Matthew Morrison) was astonished to find that Emma's (Jayma Mays) mysophobia is starting to abate, seemingly because she's spending time with stress-free boyfriend Dr Carl (John Stamos), who's found a way to distract Emma's mind with fun dates, including a trip to a midnight screening of his beloved Rocky Horror Picture Show. Jealous of his love rival's moves, Schue decides to try and impress Emma by staging a production of Rocky Horror with the glee club.

However, given the musical's risqué material and lyrics, Schue found himself wondering if Rocky Horror was appropriate for high school students to perform. Elsewhere, Sue (Jane Lynch) was plotting to sabotage the show at the eleventh hour by offering negative criticism on local TV, as part of a deal with priggish station heads Tim Stanwick (Brian Bostwick) and Barry Jeffries (Meat Loaf). During rehearsals, Finn (Corey Monteith) started to become self-conscious about his body, knowing his role as Brad will mean walking around in his underwear, and Mercedes (Amber Riley) argued her case for starring at bisexual transvestite Dr Frank-N-Furter -- which is traditionally a male role.

There were some good ideas buzzing around this episode. I particularly appreciated Finn's subplot, highlighting his lack of self-confidence over his body, particularly because Sam (Chord Overstreet) is only too keen to show off his abs. It's obviously a little silly someone with Monteith's athletic physique would be quite so shy, as the idea would have worked better with Artie (Kevin McHale) or Kurt (Chris Colfer), but the thought was appreciated. It was a storyline that felt relatively fresh; certainly when compared to how often similar plots are given to teenage girls who lack the "hourglass figure" society favours.

The Schue/Emma love-story continued, although I'm just not convinced by the appeal of those characters as a couple. Maybe it's because Emma strikes me as far too dippy for a man like Schue, almost resembling a schoolgirl in his presence, or the fact they already got together in season 1 and it wasn't a very enjoyable partnership. Emma's squealing over hunky Carl is a little irritating, but I can't help thinking her character's better off with the likeable singing dentist. Carl is clearly a good influence on mysophobic Emma, so in many ways Schue came across as a meddling, bitter, covetous annoyance throughout this episode.

From a British perspective, I have to giggle at US network television when it comes to standards and practices in the media, as this episode went to great lengths to avoid having Rachel (Lea Michele) perform risqué number "Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me", by giving that performance to the adult Emma, and I suspect Mercedes playing Frank-N-Furter only came about because they daren't show a man in drag. To its credit, Glee actually commented on censorship and society's attitudes to envelope-pushing art, but it still amused me how the show itself was hamstrung by the somewhat puritanical rules of American broadcasting. If this episode had been produced in the UK, it wouldn't have been so neutered.

Overall, I get the feeling "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" will split audience, and perhaps only appeal to fans of the musical. I don't know many regular teenagers who are that aware of Rocky Horror, so this episode will perhaps feel like it's a treat for an exclusive club for many viewers. However, as someone with only a general interest and affection for the movie, I felt this was a fun and lively hour, and the musical numbers were all handled well. "The Time Warp" finale was especially good, although that song always seems to outstay its welcome by the third chorus.

What did you think? Was this a trick or a treat for Halloween week?

Asides
  • In case you didn't realize, guest stars Brian Bostwick and Meat Loaf were original cast members in The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- playing Brad and Eddie, respectively. It's a shame the more recognizable Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry or Richard O'Brien didn't cameo in this episode, though.
  • Did you notice that some of the Rocky Horror lyrics were changed so they could be broadcast on TV, too? "Transsexual Transylvania" becoming "Sensational Transylvania" was the most obvious alteration, and robbed the song of its impact.
  • The opening scene with Quinn's (Diana Agron) ruby red lips singing "Science Fiction/Double Feature", copying the opening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, was absolutely spot-on.
  • Jayma Mays auditioned for the role of Emma by singing "Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me", which she got to actually perform here.
WRITER: Ryan Murphy (story by Ryan Murphy & Tim Wollaston)
DIRECTOR: Adam Shankman
TRANSMISSION: 26 October 2010, Fox, 8/7c

'Caprica' cancelled!


When Syfy announced the development of Battlestar Galactica prequel Blood & Chrome last week, fans expected the worst for the existing spin-off Caprica. These fears have proven well-founded; Syfy have cancelled the low-rated sci-fi drama, which will be unceremoniously removed from their schedule next week.

Syfy's statement:

"The remaining first run episodes of Caprica -- airing Tuesdays at 10/9c -- will be removed from the schedule as of next Tuesday, November 2. These final five episodes of the season will be re-scheduled to air at a time to be announced time in the first quarter of 2011, and will conclude the run of the series."
Mark Stern, Syfy's EVP of Original Programming:

"We appreciate all the support that fans have shown for Caprica and are very proud of the producers, cast, writers and the rest of the amazing team that has been committed to this fine series. Unfortunately, despite its obvious quality, Caprica has not been able to build the audience necessary to justify a second season."
What do you make of this unsurprising news? I can't say I'm too upset, but it's a shame Caprica didn't find its feet. I wasn't so dismissive of the series compared to some (many people actively hated it), but I definitely agree it totally lost momentum after returning from hiatus. They had the chance to take stock of what was going wrong and fix it, but they didn't manage to.

Caprica's soap-opera elements just didn't appeal to BSG's audience, who preferred the epic adventuring, politics, philosophy, and thrilling action that BSG brought to the smallscreen. It also had more dynamic and appealing characters than Caprica's mix of gangsters, billionaires, teenagers, and terrorists.

Why do you think Caprica failed? And will next year's Blood & Chrome, set during the First Cylon War, have more success?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

'FRINGE' 3.4 - "Do Shapeshifters Dream Of Electric Sheep?"


This was a curious episode, because it offered only morsels of additional information relating to Fringe's mythology, but unfolded with such confidence that you barely noticed it was scraps. " Do Shapeshifters Dream Of Electric Sheep?" (a blatant nod to sci-fi author Philip K. Dick) mainly served to humanize the bio-mechanical "shapeshifters" from the alt-universe, while pushing the idea that "Fauxlivia" (Anna Torv) will have to up her game if she's to convince Peter (Joshua Jackson) she's the real Olivia...

The shot of someone involved in a car accident (filmed low from the passenger seat as the driver sits oblivious to an incoming vehicle in his side window), has become a modern TV cliché -- to my recollection, stretching back to Six Feet Under's pilot. Fringe adds to the popular trope here, when Senator Van Horn (Gerard Plunkett) is injured in a car accident after buying lemonade from two children on a quiet suburban street. Fighting for his life in hospital, family friend Broyles (Lance Reddick) is present when villainous Thomas Jerome Newton (Sebastian Roché) arrived to assassinate Van Horn, evidently because the trusted Senator is actually a shapeshifter from the parallel universe, sent to replace someone with political influence.

Van Horn's identity is exposed after Newton's forced to shoot his fellow shapeshifter dead, during a shootout against Boyles at the hospital, and Walter (John Noble) is tasked to repair Van Horn's lifeless body, by first mapping its neural pathways using visual stimuli such as the Senator's wife. Simultaneously, Fauxlivia knew that her identity risked being reveled by Van Horn if Walter managed to interrogate the shapeshifter's "brain-chip", so tried her best to sabotage the operation from within.

This episode was a success because of the idea it presented, however original, that the shapeshifters aren't mindless automatons coolly infiltrating society Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers-style. They're emotional beings, at risk to becoming attached to people missions force them to make connections with, which becomes a problem once a mission comes to an end. In this episode's example, shapeshifter cop Ray Duffy (Marcus Giamatti) was assigned by Newton to retrieve Van Horn's "brain" and then kill the family he's been living with for years to protect his cover.


While the episode avoided mentioning the unsympathetic fact Duffy must have murdered the real Ray Duffy at some point, it was nevertheless an emotive storyline when it became clear Duffy's feelings for his "adopted family" have become so strong he can’t follow Newton's orders. A scene where Duffy comforted his young son over a fear of monsters was a great moment, too -- knowing as we do that "the monster" isn't under the frightened boy's bed, but hiding in plain sight.

This episode also gave us our first look at Walter's role within Massive Dynamic, as the company's new owner. This involves giving erratic lectures to a roomful of bemused scientists, culminating in him removing his trousers to make a point. But it also means he has a bright, high-tech laboratory to work from, which is undoubtedly useful to the character, although I can't help thinking the show might lose a certain charm if Walter's stuck in such a starchy, clean environment. A mad scientist needs a ramshackle, dingy lab containing a live cow as his lair. Hopefully Walter will either return to his Harvard lab with Massive Dynamic equipment installed, or he'll split his time between the two locations.

Given the episode title, I think it's clear the writers want us to associate the shapeshifters of Fringe to the replicants of Blade Runner; both manmade creations almost imperceptibly different to humans, who are more sympathetic than first impressions would have you believe. Maybe the show will develop this idea further, perhaps with a few shapeshifters deciding to break rank and help broker some kind of peace with the other universe? I still think that's the end-game of this series.

Overall, "Do Shapeshifters Dream Of Electric Sheep?" was an alluring hour, despite the fact its story was quite simplistic under closer inspection. But I appreciated the development of the shapeshifters as more complex boogieman to contend with, and the idea of secret identities and the strain of cover operatives maintaining their cover echoed nicely in Fauxlivia's storyline. After four episodes, one thing's beyond question: season 3 of Fringe is off to a fantastic start.

Asides
  • Seriously, there's a YouTube compilation just waiting to be made using all the identical shots of a driver having a vehicle slam into his side door.
  • Do you think Van Horne was named after the devil summoned in The Witches Of Eastwick?
  • As I said, the car crash from the perspective of the passenger seat is an old trick now, but I admit Fringe's version made me jump!
  • There's certainly a key weakness in the alternate-dimension's plan if their shapeshifting "sleepers" can be reasoned with and form emotional bonds with people.
  • Guest star Marcus Giamatti is, as you may have suspected from his unusual surname, the brother of actor Paul Giamatti.
  • I suppose this is the end of Sebastian Roché's tenure on Fringe, having been a key villain since season 2. I guess Newton was overtaken by events somewhat, so is less relevant now. Still, it's a shame to see him go, but I hope Fauxlivia gets a new "other side" partner going forward.
WRITERS: David Wilcox & Matt Pitts
DIRECTOR: Ken Fink
GUEST CAST: Sebastian Roché, Marcus Giamatti, Shannon Cochran & Gerard Plunkett
TRANSMISSION: 26 October 2010, Sky1/HD, 10PM

'CHUCK' 4.6 - "Chuck Versus The Aisle Of Terror"


A somewhat premature Halloween episode, giving us the first extensive look at Mary Bartowski (Linda Hamilton) as a "ghost from the past", a toxic gas that causes frightening hallucinations, and Buy More shenanigans with Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) given free reign to decorate the store with a spooky theme. It was another hour that passed the time, but there's still something remiss about season 4 for me.

Maybe it's because Chuck has become tangled in its family backdrop, which has resulted in less episodes of fun untainted by melodrama or moralizing? It's great the show is developing its character's lives and relationships, but now that everyone's caught in the intricate web of Chuck's social life, the show has lost its nimble footing. I'd just like a few simple, energetic, funny spy missions, embellished by the winning chemistry of Levi, Strahovski and Adam Baldwin. Instead, the espionage is being slowly drowned in a sea of domestic syrup.

This week, a scientist called Dr Wheelwright (Robert Englund) steals the Atroxium gas he's developed for Volkoff Industries, intending to sell his powerful hallucinogen to the highest bidder on the black market. Meanwhile, Chuck's mother contacted her son to arrange a meeting, revealing she's deep undercover at Volkoff as part of Project Isis, but all the paperwork proving her story has been expunged. Chuck also goes on a mission to reaquire the dangerous Atroxium, posing as a buyer for Dr Wheelwright, which is an operation Mary takes advantage of to get her hands on the chemical. Elsewhere, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) struggled to stay convivial with her meddling mother-in-law (Morgan Fairchild) while lamenting the absence of her own mother, and the Buy More was installed with Jeff and Lester's "Aisle Of Terror" feature -- intended to scare shoppers by giving them a taste of what haunts Jeff's psyche.

For me, there was too much going on that sucked the drama from what would have been a better hour if it hadn't split focus from Mary and Chuck. It was a marvelous idea to cast Robert Englund (famous for playing dream master Freddy Krueger) as this episode's version of Batman villain The Scarecrow, considering the obvious link with nightmares, but he wasn't given enough screentime. The Atroxium storyline wasn't as central as it might have been in other weeks, or particularly sharp in its execution. The return of Mary was too much of a distraction, preventing you from really engaging with Wheelwright's scheme. And that's a shame, because Englund definitely registered as one of Chuck's most unnerving villains, so I wish he'd been given more prominence.

Second of Strahotness: the hostess with the mostest
As for Mary Bartowski, I remain unconvinced by the whole idea behind her character. She's a very unlikeable person, by design, and Linda Hamilton's acting appears to be rusty. Or else she just can't strike the right note for a blithe spy-comedy like Chuck. The actress isn't known for her comedic skills, so it's a shame the producers couldn't find someone to bring more humour and spirit to the role.

The show has also spent the past five weeks pushing the idea Chuck's on a big secret mission to find his mother, only for her to just walk back into his life on her own terms? It all felt very anticlimactic, given the groundwork. To her credit, Hamilton's performance improved as the story unfolded, with a nice scene of her eavesdropping on pregnant daughter Ellie in a shop, but I'm still unconvinced she's the casting masterstroke the writers would have us believe. Hamilton perhaps just sounded great on paper, given her connections to The Terminator and consequent status in geek culture, but they really needed someone with a lighter touch.

The Buy More subplot promised things it couldn't deliver with the underwhelming Aisle Of Terror "experience", which only existed to provide a means for a hallucinating Chuck to defeat psycho Wheelwright with imagery of old people, costumed babies and black liquorice, to cause a mental breakdown. I won't regurgitate the usual Buy More complaints, as you know my position there.

Overall, "... Versus The Aisle Of Terror" at least ended on a promising note, with Sarah and Casey having discovered Mary's been lying and is actually an enemy Volkoff agent, forced to kidnap her seconds before Chuck could reacquaint her with his sister. This will certainly provide some drama between Chuck and Sarah next week, and Mary's allegiance is still nicelt ambivalent. Is she undercover? Is she a double-agent? Is she a villain? Is she plain crazy? Can she be trusted over the damning evidence?

What are your thoughts? Am I being too harsh on this season, or has Chuck lost some of its flair this year? Is it just natural to grow a little weary of a show's formula by its fourth season?

Asides
  • If you haven't heard, NBC have picked up Chuck for a whopping 24 episodes. Whether that's a good thing is down to personal opinion, as I usually find the show starts to drag around mid-season. 13-16 is more than enough.
  • This episode guest-starred Roland Kickinger, a body-builder who often doubles for Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies. Given Linda Hamilton's obvious link to Schwarzenegger's career, I can't help thinking this was intentional.
  • The camera trickery to show people's hallucinations were handled well, and genuinely frightening in a few instances (such as Englund's face morphing into a demonic visage).
  • Morgan Fairchild made a forgettable reappearance as Honey Woodcombe, minus her screen husband Bruce Boxleitner (whom I assume was busy filming mega-budget Tron Legacy, or some crappy Syfy Original Movie, such is his seesawing career).
  • Project Isis? Isis was the Egyptian goddess of motherhood, magic and fertility. Oooh, relevance.
WRITER: Craig DiGregorio
DIRECTOR: John Scott
GUEST CAST: Linda Hamilton, Robert Englund, Morgan Fairchild & John Griffin
TRANSMISSION: 25 October 2010, NBC, 8/7c

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

'Misfits': returning 11 November


E4 have announced that Misfits series 2 starts on 11 November. I'm guessing everyone's excited about that? It's the hard-edged British antidote to ABC's No Ordinary Family, in a TV landscape that's now without Heroes. Coming off a BAFTA award for "Best Drama Series", this show is going to be huge now -- right?

'WHITECHAPEL' 2.3


Based on the amount of comments my reviews of Whitechapel has inspired, there seems to have been practically zero interest in this three-part ITV drama (despite how popular series 1 was), and that's understandable. I won't waste my breath dissecting Monday night's concluding part. Suffice to say, I was glad the sorry nonsense came to an end, and the storyline at least moved with more purpose. The whole thing was hobbled from the get-go because the premise was so laughable, and the writers didn't find a way to convince us of anything going on. It started silly and it got sillier, but not in an enjoyable way. It was actually a depressing waste of time and talent.

The sudden appearance of two Kray twins (sons of an original, bred from a sperm bank sample)? Ludicrous. What, did they materialize in the East End overnight? And three episodes weren't enough to make their Federation of Crime agenda feel plausible. The Krays seemed able to corrupt people simply by looking at them, too. Peter Serafinowicz was totally wasted, but at least his character had the decency to blow his brains out. Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davies must have known the scripts were terrible, as you could sense their disdain throughout. Supposedly, weighty things were happening, but none of it rang true, so it was hard to care.

The only real positive was seeing the story renege on the idea Jimmy and Johnny were genuine Krays. Instead, they were imposters told of their celebrity heritage by a mother who wanted to give them "the world". And with their status revoked, their empire crumbled to dust almost as quickly as it appeared.

Overall, hopefully Whitechapel will be a warning to other self-contained dramas that ITV insist continue past the point of plausibility. The climax of part 3 leaves the door open for the return of Miles and Chandler, tackling strange cases in a different locale, and I suppose that's a wiser way for ITV to get a third series out of this. But with a name change and, perhaps, a move away from copycats as a USP, you have to ask yourself a question: was it ever the characters and interplay of Miles and Chandler that caught audience's imaginations back in 2009? I have strong doubts. Jack The Ripper was the real star.

Oh well. I await the inevitable announcement of a Dick Turpin copycat that Miles and Chandler get assigned to...

WRITERS: Ben Court & Caroline Ip
DIRECTOR: David Evans
GUEST CAST: Sam Stockman, Ben Bishop, George Rossi, Craig Parkinson, Peter Serafinowicz, Steve Nicolson, Claire Rushbrook, Christopher Fulford, Daniel Percival, Chrissie Cotterill, Robert Putt, Nicholas Blane, Richard Clifford, David Mumeni, Martin Turner, Lacey Bond, Charlie Covell, Luing Andrews & Colin Campbell
TRANSMISSION: 25 October 2010 – ITV1/HD, 9PM

'DEXTER' 5.5 - "First Blood"


It's surprising to realize we're practically halfway through season 5. While there have been big developments earlier than usual, this season hasn't captured my imagination yet. I'm waiting for it to seal the deal. With the exception of season 3, there's usually a hook to hang your hat on in each premiere, but this year was quite rightly distracted with Rita's death early on. It's taken a few episodes to begin the season's story, and there were signs in "First Blood" of intriguing possibilities to come, although the episode itself was largely run of the mill...

Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and Lumen (Julia Stiles) are meeting daily in a seafront cafe, where Dex becomes alarmed by Lumen's desire to get revenge on the unknown accomplices of Boyd who gang-raped her. Dex understands her state of mind, but he also knows how vengeance doesn’t always bring the desired results (an allusion to how killing Trinity didn't save Rita's life?), and there's a risk a traumatized victim like Lumen would be mentally scarred even deeper if she gave in to her darker impulses. Dex tried to convince Lumen to return home to her family after refusing to help kill her tormenters, but then decided to use his time to research Boyd's acquaintances and kill her rapists to prevent Lumen getting her own hands dirty. His investigation leads him to a man called Brunner who is currently residing under the city's Tuttle Bridge, a notorious hangout for sex offenders and paedophiles.

Meanwhile, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) investigated the tattoo a victim of Fuentes (supposedly the Santa Muerte killer) remembers seeing on his attacker's arm, eventually coming to realize the symbol is a mystical "Third Eye" after discussing its design with Masuka's (C.S Lee) friend at a local tattoo parlour. Later, Debra joins Circa (April Hernandez) to investigate possible victims of Fuentes seen looking worried and withdrawing all their cash on ATM cameras, which leads them to a home containing two rotting corpses that are apparently Fuentes earliest victims.


It was fun to get another taste of Masuka's life beyond work via this subplot, even if a fondness for tattoos felt rather sedate for him. I also had to wonder if the "third eye" idea came from showrunner Chip Johannessen, as that symbol was often referenced in episodes of Millennium he used to write for. The overall Santa Muerte storyline didn't progress that far, and it still feels unconnected to the rest of the show in many ways. Maybe we're wrong to suspect it'll somehow feed into Dexter's storyline, as this season has already distanced itself from how previous years approached the storytelling. But if so, the idea of a season-long investigation for Debra, unrelated to anything else, sounds like a colossal waste of time.

The interminable Angel (David Zayas) and LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) storyline continued, with Angel now convinced his wife's started seeing the Internal Affairs officer behind his back because she keeps coming home late. Yes, really. However, after following her to a downtown motel, Angel embarrassed himself by interrupting a sting operation LaGuerta's helping with -- involving a disgraced cop (Peter Weller). Angel quite rightly asked why LaGuerta didn't tell him what she's been getting up to, and she had no persuasive answer. The script demanded this dumb deception, damn it.


Finally, Quinn (Desmond Harrington) decided to take leave from work to investigate his theory that Dexter is actually Kyle Butler, because LaGuerta doesn't believe his crazy theory. Only now, he's found an accomplice better equipped to sniff out the truth: the badass cop LaGuerta busted on her sting. To me, this development suggests even the writers realize Quinn's a boring character, so they need an actor with more gravitas to go after Dexter. The casting of Peter Weller (forever RoboCop to my generation) is a real bonus for the show, which regularly casts guest actors who are better than most of its regulars (see: Keith Carradine, Jimmy Smits, John Lithgow). It's just frustrating they don't let some of the dead wood float away (Zayas, Velez) and replace them with actors of that caliber. For actors, is the prospect of spending half the year in Florida really so bad? Anyway, Weller's a compelling actor, so the idea of him tracking Dexter, who has no reason to be as vigilant as he was back in the days of Sgt Doakes tailing him after-hours, will hopefully lead to some interesting places.

As usual, it was Dexter's storyline that held my attention the most, pulling the episode out of occasional lulls with some great scenes. I especially loved the moment Dex caught Brunner under the bridge and was all set to kill him, until the ghost of Harry (James Remar) prevented him making a rash decision by getting him to notice Brunner's electronic ankle-tag (meaning there was no way he could have escaped police attention to rape Lumen). There was also a wonderful scene with Lumen being frisked at airport security, having finally agreed to leave town, which elicited raw feelings of being manhandled and dominated -- feelings strong enough for her to reconsider her departure and instead stay in Miami. Great work from Stiles, who's bringing a strong sense of victimization and quiet fury to her role, all set to explode further down the line. But will it be a release of pent up anger that's beneficial to her recover, or just open a bigger wound deep inside her soul?


I'm not convinced by the suggestion baby Harrison scratching other children is a sign he's been adversely affected by seeing his mother killed, despite what Dexter thinks. That's certainly a rich vein to tap, but it's a shame Harrison wasn't a few years older, where it would be more of a genuine concern. I think the writers know it's silly (they've had a psychologist say as much already), but can't resist playing with the idea that a 10-month-old baby's experiences can shape his personality to a huge extent. And it's a way to echo the concern Dexter also has for baby-faced Lumen, who very much feels like a daughter he's adopted (giving her fatherly advice, stepping in to prevent her making mistakes).

Overall, "First Blood" was a solid episode that wisely focused more on Dexter than the other characters, although Quinn's subplot might start getting very interesting now he has a partner helping him get to the truth of the Kyle Butler mystery. The Santa Muerte killings? They're an okay breather from the Dexter/Lumen story, although they've lost some appeal now it's turned into a manhunt for a lone killer with a machete. Angel and LaGuerta? I'm hoping for divorce and a transfer before they drag this show down any further.

Asides
  • I'd love to read what Masuka puts on his CV under "hobbies and interests". Wouldn't you?
  • That pair of maggoty cadavers must rank as one of the show's grossest visuals. Excellent work from the effects team.
  • Can we get more of Francis at Miami Metro, please? She actually felt like a normal, likeable human being. Do I detect foreshadowing of a love interest for Dexter by season's end?
WRITER: Tim Schlattmann
DIRECTOR: Romeo Tirone
GUEST CAST: Julia Stiles, Peter Weller, Raul Bustamante, Chris Payne Gilbert & Tasia Sherel
TRANSMISSION: 24 October 2010, Showtime, 9/8c

Monday, 25 October 2010

State of the Blog: evolution

You may have noticed changes to DMD this past week. Most obviously, there's a LinkWithin widget to every post's footer now (a gizmo that suggests related posts to the one you're reading). Let me know what you think! Is it working for you? Are there any problems? I'm aware it doesn't display in old browsers like IE6 -- but that isn't a problem for most of you, right?

There is also a rotating video-advert in my sidebar, accompanying my Google Ads and VoucherCodes sponsorship. Now, I'm not going to arm-twist readers, but I'm sure you're aware that clicking on those ads benefits both the advertiser AND yours truly. I'll say no more...

I've also decided to stop linking to the IMDb pages of actors in my reviews. I've never been sure anyone clicks through on those, or if people find them useful. They certainly don't benefit me in any way -- they just eat up time having to create them. And while that isn't a huge undertaking, it can become a chore. Maybe I'll just link to IMDb if there's someone I want to draw special attention to in a review. Either way, such links won't be as common as they used to be. Sorry IMDb, I know you relied on me for 50% of your traffic...

Incidentally, does anyone ever click on the Amazon carousel of DVD/Blu-ray releases on my monthly listing of UK discs available to buy? Is that worth continuing with -- beyond the fact the carousel looks cool?

I may also start uploading larger photos in the body of reviews, instead of word-wrapped thumbnails. The original thinking was to conserve storage space on Picasa, while giving reviews more visual pizzazz, but now I've swung back the other way and think readers would appreciate bigger, clearer pictures. And I can afford to increase my Picasa account if I use up my free space. Do you agree bigger pictures would be best?

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts about these changes. Maybe you have ideas of your own you'd like to share, too? These alterations are preparation for an overhaul of DMD in the near-future. Not that there's anything wrong or ugly about this blog right now (um, right?), but I have ideas about how to improve things -- to take advantage of social networking like Facebook and Twitter, amongst other things. The web's constantly evolving, so you have to keep up with trends and developments.

Regarding that last point, if there's anyone reading who's a genius HTML coder and could help me fix some template code I'm having problems with... please do get in touch! There must be someone out there willing to help me. I can show my appreciation with a permanent link to your site/blog here, and will sing your praises in general. Anyone interested?

'Merlin' conjures a fourth series


Merlin has been recommissioned for a fourth series by the BBC, following strong ratings against ITV's X Factor on Saturday nights, where it's been drawing nearly 6m viewers most weeks. However, series 4 will only contain 10 episodes instead of the usual 13, and isn't likely to be broadcast until 2012 because Doctor Who's sixth series is being split across 2011.

Ben Stephenson, Controller of Drama Commissioning:

"Merlin continues to perform outstandingly well against The X Factor and offers audiences an alternative treat on Saturday nights."
Johnny Capps & Julian Murphy, Executive Producers for Shine TV:

"We are both delighted with the continuing success of Merlin, and relish the chance to take the series to the next level with the long-awaited arrival of the Knights of the Round Table."
What do you make of this news? Frustrated there won't be new episodes until 2012, in all likelihood? Excited by the hint that series 4 will feature the Knights of the Round Table at last? Or do you think that, despite its amazing performance against X Factor, Merlin has actually hit a creative slump and it's all downhill from here?

TV Picks: 25-31 October 2010 ('Armstrong & Miller', 'James May's Man Lab', 'Million Pound Drop', 'Monte Carlo Or Bust', 'Poirot', 'Psychoville', 'Stephen K Amos Show', etc.)


MONDAY 25th
The Hairy Bikers Cook Off (BBC2, 5.15pm) Eight-part series where the Geordie chefs search for the best British family of cooks.
Fat Families (Sky1, 8pm) Series where overweight people try to lose weight with the help of expert Steve Miller.
Freak Like Me (BBC3, 8.30pm) Comedian Russell Kane investigates the crazy, bizarre and weird habits that people have.
Denise & Fearne's Trek For Breast Cancer (ITV2, 9pm) Two-part challenge where Denise Van Outen, Fearen Cotton, Alexandra Burke, Gabriella Cilmi and Amanda Byram trek up the Peruvian Andes to raise money for breast cancer.
The Million Pound Drop – Live (Channel 4, 10pm) Series 2 of the live gameshow where contestants bet £1 million on a sequence of questions. Hosted by Davina McCall. Continued every weeknight.
Russell & Katy Get Married (Five, 10pm) Documentary on the impending nuptials of Russell Brand and Katy Perry.

TUESDAY 26th
Street Market Chefs (Five, 7.30pm) Food series travelling around various British market towns. Hosted by Amanda Lamb.
The Secret Life Of The National Grid (BBC4, 9pm) Three-part series about the creation of the UK's electricity grid.
Getting On (BBC4, 10pm) Series 2 of the dark comedy set in a hospital. Stars Jo Brand.

WEDNESDAY 27th
Poirot (ITV1, 8pm) Return of the Belgian sleuth in another Agatha Christie mystery. Stars David Suchet.
Buried Alive: The Chilean Mine Rescue (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary about the two-month ordeal of gold miners in Chile who became trapped beneath the surface.
Wonderland: Mad Cats & Englishwomen (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary about women who rescue stray cats in London.

THURSDAY 28th
Monte Carlo Or Bust (ITV1, 9pm) Celebrity duos go on a road trip from London to Monte Carlo. Features Jack Dee, Ade Edmondson, Jodie Kidd, Julian Clary, Penny Smith and Rory McGrath.
Child Genius (Channel 4, 9pm) Third catch-up with the genius children first documented in 2005.
Life After Armageddon (Five, 9pm) Documentary showing what would happen to the planet following a catastrophic worldwide disaster.
Wait Till Your Teacher Gets Home (BBC3, 9pm) Series where delinquent children are sent to live with their school teachers.

FRIDAY 29th
The Stephen K. Amos Show (BBC2, 10pm) Standup comedy, sketches and interviews with the comedian.

SATURDAY 30th
Apocalypse: The Second World War (Channel 4, 8pm) Six-part series looking at World War II, with archive footage that's been digitally coloured.
The Armstrong & Miller Show (BBC1, 9.45pm) Series 3 of the award-winning sketch show from comic actors Alexander Armstrong & Ben Miller.
Elton John Night (BBC2, 9.45pm) An evening of entertainment dedicated to the world-famous singer-songwriter.
Louis Walsh & Kian Egan's Next Big Thing (ITV2, 11pm) Documentary series where X Factor's Louis Walsh and Westlife's Kian Egan try to create an Irish girl group.

HALLOWEEN
Countryfile Special (BBC1, 6.30pm) Special edition of the rural magazine series focusing on the transition from summer to autumn.
Last Chance To See: Return Of The Rhino (BBC2, 8pm) Stephen Fry and zoologist Mark Carwardine attempt to transport rhinos from the Czech Republic to Kenya.
James May's Man Lab (BBC2, 9pm) Series where Top Gear's James May tries to teach modern men how to do a variety of manly things, like defuse bombs.
Psychoville: Halloween Special (BBC2, 10pm) Portmanteau special of the dark comedy, with four spooky tales being told. Stars Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Dawn French & Imelda Staunton
Paul McCartney & Wings: Band On The Run (ITV1, 10.15pm) The Beatle is interviewed by Dermot O'Leary.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

'MERLIN' 3.7 – "The Castle Of Fyrien"


The pendulum swings back to the mytharc, for a story that felt fresher because the situation was atypical. However, "The Castle Of Fyrien" eventually proved to be only an enjoyable distraction that, in the cold light of day, didn't offer any significant changes or breakthroughs. Merlin is a TV show that loves teasing its audience with the possibility of exciting changes (secrets revealed, nefarious plots exposed), but by the time the credits scroll the status quo is usually intact. In this week's story, the whole adventure and outcome was even kept hidden from King Uther (Anthony Head), while Arthur (Bradley James) continued to remain blissfully unaware of most things under his nose...

The episode began with Gwen (Angel Coulby) kidnapped from her home by soldiers of Uther's rival Cenred (Tom Ellis) and taken to the coastal Castle of Fyrien. Once there, she's made aware her brother Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun) is being held prisoner, with Cenred threatening his life unless Gwen lures Arthur into his clutches. It appears that Morgause (Emilia Fox) has been fed information from Morgana (Katie McGrath) about the prince's feelings for this humble servant, so Cenred's convinced Arthur's putty in her hands. However, upon returning to Camelot just as Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Arthur are growing anxious about her whereabouts, Gwen cracks under feeble scrutiny and reveals her brother's situation...

Fortunately, Arthur's chivalrous enough to want to save Gwen's sibling, so he mounts a rescue with Merlin and Morgana, while telling his father he's going on a two-day trip to purchase rare silk dresses to honour a gambling debt. Of course, Merlin suspects that Morgana's in league with Cenred (telling him about Arthur and Gwen's relationship, to inspire this trap), but he's unable to speak openly in front of Arthur, so instead has to keep a watchful eye on Morgana's movements during their journey. That said, Morgana's still able to meeting Morgause in the woods one night, informing her sister that Arthur's planning to attack Cenred from beneath the castle, via secret underground tunnels...

Structurally shaky and requiring suspension of disbelief, "The Castle Of Fyrien" was nevertheless an enjoyable hour. As an excuse for Arthur/Gwen scenes to promote their bond, it wasn't half bad. A camp fire between the "lovebirds", interrupted when they're about to kiss, was perhaps the emotional highlight of series 3, but it's still maddening there's no firm development in how Merlin is developing Arthur and Gwen as love interests. We're still just seeing mutual affection, with neither prepared to make things official because of their class difference, and I can't see that changing anytime soon. As I suggested last week, it would make sense for them to at least start seeing each other behind Uther's back, with their rendezvous kept secret by Merlin. Something definitely needs to happen that's of more significance, because their relationship's becoming quite tedious in its current form.

Having debuted in the two-part premiere, "The Castle Of Fyrien" gave us a clearer look at Cenred, but he was unfortunately as dull as I suspected: just another leather-clad baddie with a deep voice, with actor Tom Ellis and the costume department doing a tepid impression of Richard Armitage's Guy of Gisborne from Robin Hood. Emilia Fox's return as Morgause was more nuanced, although she's clearly accepted this role should be treated like a pantomime, and actually has a point. Meanwhile, McGrath was once again forced to punctuate every scene with knowing smirks for the camera, which is becoming very irritating and could form the basis of a drinking game.

However, the key thing in this episode's favour was how the situation felt different to anything I can remember Merlin tackling before, and it was fun to see the four main characters going on a mission together. This gave the story something of an unpredictable feeling for its first half, although things became progressively more predictable once they'd arrived at the castle and found themselves captured. I was holding my breath for an exciting moment when Morgause saw Merlin has magic, or Arthur realized Morgana is part of Cenred's plot, but instead the story resolved itself quickly and easily, with no repercussions for the future.

Overall, "The Castle Of Fyrien" didn't have a very logical setup and wasted more chances to invigorate this show regarding Gwen and Morgana's roles in the series, but it was otherwise an enjoyable episode with a good performance from Angel Coulby. At the very least we're getting some nice chemistry between Coulby and James, which bodes well for the time when this show grows bored of teasing its audience and starts delivering tangible developments.

Asides
  • I couldn't help wondering if a better plan would have been to kidnap Gwen, leave a clue to her location, then just wait for Arthur to turn up to rescue her at Fyrien. But clearly writer Jake Michie wanted an episode where Gwen and Arthur could interact throughout -– which is understandable, even if it meant Cenred's plan therefore felt a little strange.
  • Elyan was a pure plot-device here (a "damsel" in distress without distressing the actual damsel) but the character survived and is now living in Camelot, so hopefully he won't be forgotten about. It might help the show if Gwen has someone to talk to other than Merlin, particularly about her feelings for Arthur, and in general the show could do with a fresh face.
  • In a series where magic is usually reduced to levitating pots and pans, Morgause's "wall of fire" spell got the blood pumping, however briefly.
WRITER: Jake Michie
DIRECTOR: David Moore
GUEST CAST: Emilia Fox, Tom Ellis, Adetomiwa Edun & Jody Halse TRANSMISSION: 23 October 2010 – BBC1, 7.45PM

Saturday, 23 October 2010

'MAD MEN' 4.7 - "The Suitcase"


The Stateside buzz from this episode has been deafening, and "The Suitcase" thankfully justified the hoopla. For the majority of its run-time this was a two-hander between Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), together at work after-hours, and as two of the most compelling characters, it made for a gripping and informative hour for both.

On the eve of a boxing match between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, Don's stewing over a commercial for Samsonite suitcases, being unimpressed by Peggy, Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), Joey (Matt Long), and Danny's (Danny Siegel) pitch for a football-themed advert with an endorsement from NFL quarterback Joe Namath. Still, the idea of promoting the Samsonite's toughness and durability at least felt like the right direction, and prompted Don to start brainstorming campaigns using that angle. The Samsonite account became something of a welcome distraction, too, after Miss Blankenship (Randee Heller) informed him of an urgent phone call from Stephanie (Caity Lotz) in California, the niece of Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton), who's no doubt calling with bad news about Anna's terminal cancer.

With the workforce leaving to watch the big fight, Don instead retired to his office to create the troublesome Samsonite commercial by himself, refusing to join Roger (John Slattery) for an evening in the company of teetotal Freddy Rumsen and Pond's Cal Rutledge. Peggy is also leaving for a 26th birthday dinner with drippy boyfriend Mark (Blake Bashoff), but made the mistake of checking on Don before she leaves, finding herself on the receiving end of his sharp tongue over the Samsonite failure. Unwilling to reveal her dinner date, Peggy reluctantly agreed to stay behind and help Don think up a better commercial, and so began a long evening of arguments, revelations, and even a brawl...

Don and Peggy are two of my favourite characters, and considering how the world of Mad Men was first introduced through naive Peggy's eyes, I've always considered her the audience proxy, to an extent. An episode that pairs them together was always going to be fun, but "The Suitcase" found real heart, darkness and humour that took things to a higher level.

It was a joy to see Duck (Mark Moses) make a proper comeback, as I thought his appearance last week at the Clio awards was just a fun cameo, but here we saw him drunkenly trying to rebuild his life and career by lurking Peggy away from SCDP with the promise of making her his Creative Director in a fictitious startup agency targeting women. It was an offer that flattered her, although she sensed how Duck's scheme is pie in the sky.

Peggy's argument with Don over his poaching of her Glo-Coat idea, which earned him a Clio award in which he didn't mention her input during his acceptance speech, was also a wonderful flashpoint. Don fighting his corner, claiming she's being immature for wanting approval all the time, and saying the money she earns is thanks enough. This episode often felt like a psychological boxing match -- Clay versus Litton becoming Draper versus Olson -- as they battled for supremacy while trying to hammer out the Samsonite advert. There were even seconds-out with the pair returning to their "corners": Peggy in a rest room, crying in anguish; Don slumped in his sofa. The boxing allegory even became physical when Duck arrived in the office, steaming drunk and planning to leave an equally steaming turd on an office chair. Duck and Don then drunkenly fought over Peggy's honour, with Duck surprisingly getting the upper-hand over the tipsy Don -- perhaps because he's seen real wartime combat and knows how to handle himself better.

There were plenty of opportunities for Peggy to leave Don and the situation behind, especially when he realized she was giving up a birthday treat with her boyfriend and gave her permission to go, but she always found an excuse to stay. And after hearing Mark's arranged a surprise party with her family attending, it was obvious Peggy took his gesture as evidence Mark doesn't really understand her desires. That's not to suggest she thinks Don would be better boyfriend material, but she's certainly developing maternal feelings for him -- bizarrely, given she's younger than he is. And for Don their bond is becoming tighter, too.

When Don finally made the call to California in the morning, having seen an apparition of Anna in his office during the night (clutching a suitcase, off on her final journey...), the confirmation of her death caused him to break down in front of Peggy. A magnificent shot; asleep Peggy sudden revealed as sitting upright on his sofa, having overheard his most private conversation. Don reveals that "the only person in the world who really knew me" has died, and Peggy's response "that's not true" appears to signal that Anna's torch has been accepted by her. Indeed, Peggy's seen more of Don/Dick than most other people. Don's even told Peggy things about his past he'd usually be very tight-lipped about the night before, including how his father died after getting kicked in the head by a horse.

Overall, "The Suitcase" definitely ranks as one of Mad Men's best hours; packed full of funny, perceptive and emotional moments. It also marks a clear turning point in the Don/Peggy relationship, symbolized in the final scene when Don tells Peggy she can leave his office door open. He's no longer a closed book to her.

Aside
  • In an episode heaving with brilliant moments, one of my favourite was Don listening to Roger's audio-tapes with Peggy, revealing that Bert Cooper has had an unnecessary orchiectomy (castration) and once slept with "queen of perversions" Miss Blankenship! The mystery of Roger's earlier comment about a Dr Lyle Evans was also revealed: he was actually the surgeon who removed Cooper's testicles!
WRITER: Matthew Weiner
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Getzinger
GUEST CAST: Matt Long, Blake Bashoff, Alison Brie, Cara Buono, Jessica Pare, Jay R. Ferguson, Danny Strong, Melinda Page Hamilton, Caity Lotz, Randee Heller, Audrey Wasilewski, Jerry O'Donnell, Myra Turley & Mark Moses
TRANSMISSION: 20 October 2010 -- BBC4/HD, 10PM