Wednesday, 31 August 2011

E4 announce online MISFITS: VEGAS BABY!

E4's award-winning superhero drama Misfits is back for a third series in October, and intervening online short Vegas Baby! is now only three weeks away.

This eight-minute special will serve as the swansong for cocky Nathan (Robert Sheehan, having quit) and the introduction of his "old friend" Rudy (Joe Gilgun, replacing him as a regular).

The story finds Nathan on holiday in Las Vegas (joined by girlfriend Marnie and baby son Nathan Jr), using a new superpower to his advantage in a casino, only for his scam to go wrong, forcing him on the run...

MISFITS: VEGAS BABY! will premiere on 15 September at Series 3 will begin sometime in October, a little earlier than expected. (I have no idea if the online special will be broadcast on TV before the show returns, but they'd be foolish not to.)


I won't be reviewing Strike Back going forward, simply because it's obvious the show isn't worthy of much analysis. It is what it is: an entertaining, lively, exciting, silly action romp. I enjoyed the second hour as much as the diverting premiere, particularly because it's clearer Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton have genuine rapport, and the action's nicely staged.

Given my comment last week about how cleverly the show avoided the cliché of Jimi Mistry being a villain (simply because of his Indian ethnicity), it was both amusing and disappointing to see I was wholly mistaken. His character was exposed as terrorist mastermind Latif after all! Was that an intentional double-bluff by writer Frank Spotnitz, or did the director accidentally call attention to Mistry's villainous unmasking in episode 1?

I'll be watching this ten-part series every week, and might post insubstantial reviews if anything particularly clever or memorable happens, but that's as far as my commitment will go. Too many new shows will be filling the schedule by the time Strike Back's in full swing, so it's best to bail out of weekly reviews early.

What did you make of Strike Back's second episode? Last week's review stirred up positive and negative comments from readers, but do you accept the show for what it is? Is it really any worse than series 1, as some people believe? (I can't agree with that assessment.) Are you still pining for Richard Armitage, or are his replacements already far more entertaining than the stoical John Porter ever was?

STRIKE BACK continues every Sunday at 9PM on SKY1.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

LUTHER back for series 3

The BBC have recommissioned crime drama Luther for a third series; no doubt prompted by the fact series 2 was better received critically and rated higher than series 1. BBC1 Controller Danny Cohen revealed the news at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

It's no surprise the BBC want more, but there's always been doubt about its future because Idris Elba's US career could be about to skyrocket. Luther already had to reduce its episodes to fit around Ghost Rider 2 and Thor, and Elba could be even busier in future.

However, it seems an arrangement has been found that will allow Luther to return in some form. Maybe another four episodes is viable, or the BBC will be happy with a few feature-length specials scattered throughout the year? We'll have to wait and see, but DCI John Luther will definitely be gracing our screens again. For many people, like myself, that's cause for celebration.

And this news is the ideal excuse to embed a short video interview with Luther's creator/writer Neil Cross:

BREAKING BAD, 4.7 - "Problem Dog"

Time to pick a side, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Opening with a scene showing Jesse's still traumatized by killing Gale, who appears in his mind's eye while playing a violent first-person shooter, this episode was all about seeing where Jesse's loyalty lies. Does he side with partner-in-crime Walt (Bryan Cranston), the man who got him into all this mess and rarely treats him like an equal? Or does he ally himself with Gus (Giancarlo Esposita), who may be a ruthless drug baron, but has apparently offered him a position of respect as Mike's (Jonathan Banks) accomplice? There isn't really much of a choice, of course, which is perhaps this episode's biggest failing. After recent scenes that seemed to show Jesse edging away from Walt to embrace his role as Mike's protégé, he was surprisingly quick to agree to kill Gale for Walt...

It's notable how much of season 4 hasn't actually focused on Walt, which is probably by design. He's being kept at arm's length by Gus, and this is echoed in how much screentime has instead been given to Jesse, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Hank (Dean Norris). Walt's being steered around by other influences in his life; here forced to return the Challenger he bought his son, and protesting by driving it maniacally in an empty parking lot before torching it and getting a taxi home. A moment of recklessness that under-appreciated Saul (Bob Odenkirk) is forced to clean-up for his troublesome client.

The crux of "Problem Dog" was Walt's plan to kill Gus via Jesse, whose secondary job occasionally gets him close to their furtive boss. After creating a vial of ricin in the Superlab (right under Gus's nose), Walt found it unexpectedly easy to convince Jesse to kill for him again—perhaps because he reminded Jesse of the terrible things Gus has gone (butchering Victor, lying about targeting children in the drug war), or Jesse's beginning to sense that he's being hoodwinked by Gus and Mike. As I said, I think Jesse's decision to help Walt was slightly too straightforward, as I thought the story was going to send Jesse over to the dark side more completely, but maybe this is a sign the writers have something better in store.

Breaking Bad's no stranger to tense scenes, and the moment Jesse found himself in a position to poison Gus's coffee with the ricin was expertly done. The whole mood of the scene brilliantly captured the fear and now-or-never thoughts swirling through Jesse's head, as he stood over the coffee-maker, fingers trembling for the vial of ricin hidden in some cigarettes. It was especially great how we never saw if Jesse had spiked the coffee, even when Gus took a sip during a meeting with the drug cartel—here represented by Gaff (Maurice Compte), the hijacker of the Los Pollos Hermandos truck last week. But Jesse had indeed missed a brilliant opportunity, either through fear of recrimination or simply because he can't bring himself to murder again. Probably both.

Speaking of the drug cartel meeting at Gus's factory farm, that threw up some tantalizing clues about the situation between Gus and his rivals. They were offered a cool $50 million to stop muscling in on his operation and stealing blue-meth, but this was flatly refused and Gus was instead asked if his non-negotiable answer to their demand is "yes" or "no". We never heard what their demand was, so it must be something important. Is it possible the cartel want meth-cook "Heisenberg" for themselves? If so, what would Gus's response be to that? We don't know yet, so theories are all we have.

Aaron Paul's been tremendous on this show, and was given another Emmy-baiting scene at his N.A meeting here. A moment where Jesse was able to bare his soul about murdering Gus, by talking about the event as if Gus was a "problem dog" he killed, and it was excellent. Jesse is like a grenade in these rather staid meetings; here accepting the ire of another group member who was disgusted by his animal cruelty (pretty much the only punishment he's received for his crime), and the inane policy of acceptance and forgiveness the group's leader Jere (Jere Burns) promotes. His meltdown in that circle was itself a form of self-punishment, perhaps burning his bridges with the only people who've genuinely wanted to help him. Walt doesn't want to see any harm come to Jesse, and in many ways does see him as a son, but he often only valued their partnership because (a) he needs an ally in this dangerous underworld, and (b) he sometimes needs someone to do his dirty work.

While the episode was mostly concerned with Jesse, we also had two great scenes with Hank this week—whose mobility is progressing as quickly as his one-man investigation into Gale's murder. All he needed was a reason to live, it seems. Here, Hank used a visit the city's Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant with Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) to get Gus's fingerprints on a soda cup, while accepting Gus's typically effusive words about his status as a local hero. This all led to the brilliant final scene with Hank presenting his findings to DEA boss Meekert (Michael Shamus Wiles) and partner Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada), which included a link to the Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant and a German conglomerate who produce expensive industrial air-filtration systems that Gale was interested in. It was a particular delight seeing Hank's impressive presentation fail to totally convince his friends, until his trump card was laid on the table: indisputable fingerprint evidence that proves Gus has been in Gale's apartment.

So now Gus has three problems to deal with, and the least of them is Walt and Jesse with their homespun poisoning plot. The drug cartel are likely to make a grab for power, I'm guessing, given that even $50m isn't enough to halt hostilities, and the DEA now have some damning evidence that unassuming Gus Fring could be involved with the biggest meth-lab north of the Mexican border.

I suppose it's feasible Gus could explain why his fingerprints are in Gale's apartment (by claiming they were unlikely friends?), and that the connection between the German conglomerate and his restaurant is coincidence, but that's not going to keep the wolf from the door for long. The DEA now have every reason to investigate and keep tabs on Gus, perhaps even raiding some of the properties he owns. Will they find his secret underground Superlab? Can Walt keep his distance from these events and allow the DEA to investigate and perhaps arrest Gus, or would that lead to his own cover being blown? Maybe it's better to have Gus killed before the DEA collar him, and keep the Superlab safe for himself to use? Would Walt then have to deal with the cartel by himself, or would Mike lend a hand?

There are a lot of balls in the air right now, that's for sure, and this undoubtedly means the second half of season 4's going to make for gripping television. While I loved season 3, it was a year that delivered three huge highs with runs of comparatively routine hours in-between, but season 4's been on an upward curve since the impressive premiere. Hopefully that will keep going until the very end without disruption.


  • The scene where Skyler realized the car wash business is expected to launder $7 million per annum raised a problem I hadn't considered. Is the car wash going to be insufficient, meaning the Whites will need to expand their business interests at some point in the future? Or will Walt and Skyler be forced to keep large quantities of un-laundered money onsite? I wonder if Saul has any thoughts on how to launder $7m? Then again, his idea to buy a beauty parlour was surely even less capable of handling that level of income!
  • Do you think Walt Jr will take Gus up on his offer of work? Would Walt allow that? Would Hank? Is it possible Gus will start using Walt Jr as a way to control Walt, or is that too dangerous?
  • Did you catch the "white" (Walt) and "black" (Gus) symbolism of what Jesse was wearing in scenes?
written & directed by Peter Gould / 28 August 2011 / AMC

TRUE BLOOD, 4.10 – "Burning Down The House"

After last week's nadir, things improved with "Burning Down The House", but not enough to leave me psyched to see how the season resolves over the next few weeks. There were once again too many subplots getting attention that I feel indifferent about, and very little interested me about the dwindling witch's storyline. It feels like the writers aren't entirely sure what to do now, and the awkward pacing wasn't helped by spending so much time on trivial matters like the Bellefleur cousins...

This week, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard)  got his memories back after being struck by an energy blast from Sookie (Anna Paquin) to prevent him killing Bill (Stephen Moyer); Marnie (Fiona Shaw) fled to her Moon Goddess refuge after attacking the vampire's tolerance festival, trying to keep her mutinying coven in order and the spirit of Antonia focused on their goal to destroy all vampires; Jason (Ryan Kwanten) continued to feel guilty about sleeping with Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) behind his friend's back, even going so far as to ask Jessica to "glamour" his memories of their affair away (which she refused to do); Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) joined the fight against Marnie with Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), by pretending to be interested in joining her coven; Tommy (Marshall Allman) died from his savage beating from Marcus's (Dan Buran) biker gang, prompting brother Sam (Sam Trammell) to go looking for vengeance with Alcide's (Joseph Manganiello) help; and Terry (Todd Lowe) took cousin Andy (Chris Bauer) to their childhood treehouse after discovering the Sheriff's addicted to V.

"What's the deal with your little dairy maid and her lightning trick?"

True Blood's the dictionary definition of a mixed bag, that's been beyond question since halfway through season 2. It's just annoying when things that should be successful just flop, like the ramifications of Eric getting his memories back. Far from being the end of the Sookie/Eric romance, which could have been a tragic piece of relationship drama for the actors to chew on, he's simply reverted back to his old persona, but Sookie can still see the "good" in him? That's a disappointing turn of events, considering what could have been.

A little better was seeing Antonia realize her desire to slaughter vampires is ultimately doomed to fail and is now causing too much innocent bloodshed, but Marnie steps up to show she's the person with a thirst for vampire genocide. It doesn't really alter what's happening with their spiritual union, but it does mean that defeating Marnie won't be simply a case of exorcising her, or casting some kind of spell. She'll assumedly have to be killed in a physical way, or at the very least be persuaded to end her campaign. Maybe a vampire will glamour her into forgetting everything she knows about magic?

"He drank eleven of my beers, passed out and started farting. Continuously."

It was also a surprise to see Tommy actually die, with no loophole for the writers to reverse that fact. True Blood's rarely killed a character of any consequence since Sookie's gran, so to write someone out of the show was much appreciated. I only wish this was standard practice, as there are about seven other characters who should have died a long time ago. Hopefully this is a sign of lasting change, because a show like True Blood benefits from there being a real chance of beloved characters dying... otherwise we just assume the mortally wounded will sip vampire blood and be restored to full health. Tommy's death scene was also good; subtly performed by Allman and touchingly handled by Trammell, ignoring that ridiculous verbal statement of "I'm so sad". Did he accidentally read a parenthetical in the script out loud?

One thing that really dragged this episode down was the amount of time devoted to Terry and Andy, who were out in the woods talking about their messed up childhoods while shooting cans with rifles. It was admittedly one of the few times Chris Bauer's been given a chance to do anything on the show beyond act belligerent and stupid, and arguably the only time Todd Lowe's had the chance to speak more than a few sentences. And, to be fair, Lowe was pretty good here, making me wish his character was more interesting and central to the show, but I still can't imagine many people really care about the Bellefleur boys. To dedicate this much time to them was either by design (because the script was running short), or the writers mistakenly think those characters are anything other than filler in the minds of their audience. If so, they're very wrong.

"If you don't see something you like, I got the bows and arrows hid over there."

When you get down to it, not much actually happened in "Burning Down The House" until the last 10-minutes. Even the title refers to an act that didn't even happen in this episode! Jesus has convinced Marnie he's a devout and powerful ally; Marnie has subsequently teleported Jesus, Lafayette and Sookie to god-knows-where, and the witch-slaying foursome of Bill, Eric, Pam (Kristin Bauer) and Jessica arrived wearing leather and carrying flamethrowers to torch the Moon Goddess shop. And they just had to walk in slow-motion, naturally.

Overall, this was a fairly weak episode with just a few good moments, bolstered by the change in power dynamic between Marnie/Antonia, and the fact the writers actually killed a main characters. Although Tommy's demise does mean his subplot trying to swindle money out of Maxine Fortenberry's property was utterly pointless this season. There are only two episodes left of season 4, so we'll see if True Blood manages to pull everything together in the finale. The show has given us underwhelming finale's for the past two years, annoyingly, so I can't say my expectations are very high... but maybe that's for the best...

written by Nancy Oliver / directed by Lesli Linka Glatter / 28 August 2011 / HBO

Monday, 29 August 2011

Talking Point: how important is pace to you?

It's dawned on me that I've been mentioning pace with increasingly regularity this year, and have also read tweets grumbling about pacing on Twitter, too. Many TV shows seem to frustrate people simply because they're slow-moving, while others find they especially enjoy shows that "take their time" to tell their story...

I barely made it to the end of The Shadow Line's first episode because it felt so sluggish, yet savour every second of Mad Men (which many people hold up as an example of very slothful TV drama). What do you think? Are some shows genuinely too slow, or are some viewers just too impatient? Can you handle a leisurely pace if the characters, dialogue and story appeals? Is pace therefore not really an issue, it's just that unhurried shows with other problems tend to get ditched much quicker? The Hour's not much pacier than The Shadow Line, but I've stuck with that show—possibly because I responded more to the characters and premise.

The opposite problem is with shows that move too fast. The return of Doctor Who burned through its mid-season premiere with a great deal of speed, but some fans were left dizzy and confused as a result. Are you one of them? Is the solution for writers to ensure scripts keep the pacing brisk but digestible—or is it perfectly acceptable for a show to tell its story in a particularly speedy or slow way, if that's what's intended?

What do you think? Have you ever stopped watching a show you suspect you'd enjoy because the pacing didn't work for you? Or do such shows just require some commitment and patience? Game Of Thrones was widely criticized for being very slow to begin with, but the season's latter half felt much faster and engaging... yet the pacing hadn't really changed. It's just that viewers got used to the show's tempo and by episode 7 had accrued enough information to find even its slow scenes fascinating and revealing in themselves.

I'm keen to hear your thoughts on the issue of pacing. Do you have any good examples of times when pacing affected your loyalty to a show, for good or bad?

Over to you!

TV Picks: 29 August – 4 September 2011 (Appropriate Adult, Celebrity Juice, Field Of Blood, Jonathan Ross Show, Million Pound Drop Live, Outnumbered, Red Or Black?, Stephen Fry's 100 Greatest Gadgets, Treme, etc.)

RED OR BLACK? - ITV1, Saturday, 7PM

A Place By The Sea (More4, 5.45pm) Series 4 of the property show. (1/20)
PICK OF THE DAY Stephen Fry's 100 Greatest Gadgets (Channel 4, 8pm) Countdown of the hundred best gadgets and devices ever made; from the iron and iPod to the Soda Stream and tin opener. Hosted by Stephen Fry.
Soho Blues (Channel 5, 9pm) Series 2 of the fly-on-the-wall documentary series following the police and paramedics of London's West End. (1/6)
Elegance & Decadence: Age Of The Regency (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary series on the British cultural transformation between 1811 and 1820, known as the Regency period. Presented by Lucy Worsley. (1/3)
Dallaglio's World Cup (ITV4, 9pm) Series looking at New Zealand's previous rugby world cup campaigns. Hosted by former-England rugby union star Lawrence Dallaglio.
The Conspiracy Files (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary about the many conspiracy theories that surround 9/11.
Jamelia: Shame About Single Mums (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on the perception of single mothers in UK society. Presented by RnB singer Jamelia.
Ruth Jones' Summer Holiday (BBC2, 10pm) Chat show with guests Jonathan Ross, Sarah Millican & Stephen Mangan. Hosted by Ruth Jones.
Ladyboys (Sky Living, 10pm) Documentary on Thailand's transgender population.
The Field Of Blood (BBC1, 10.15pm) Drama about a newspaper employee in 1982 who gets the chance to become an investigative reporter when a high-profile murder case comes to her attention. Adapted from the novel by Denise Mina. Starring Jayd Johnson, Jonas Armstrong, Peter Capaldi, David Morrissey & Ford Kiernan. (1/2)

PICK OF THE DAY Inside Nature's Giants (Channel 4, 8pm) Return of the science series dissecting enormous animals. This episode focuses on a camel. (1/4)
Minute To Win It (ITV2, 8pm) Gameshow revolving around 60-second challenges using household items. Hosted by Darren McMullen, with team captains Caroline Flack & Joe Swash. (1/8)
Inside Gatwick (Sky1, 9pm) Fly-on-the-wall documentary covering the £800m overhaul of Gatwick Airport. (1/8)
Shameless (Channel 4, 10pm) Series 8 of the working class drama continues. (14/22)
Donor Mum: The Children I've Never Met (BBC1, 10.35pm) Documentary about one of the UK's first anonymous egg donors in 1991.

Location, Location, Location (Channel 4, 8pm) Return of the property show. Presented by Kirstie Allsopp & Phil Spencer. (1/7)
9/11: The Fireman's Story (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary looking at the actions taken by the New York firefighters on September 11, 2001.
PICK OF THE DAY Justin Lee Collins: Living Las Vegas (Channel 5, 10pm) The comedian experiences the world-famous gambling capital.

Watchdog (BBC1, 8pm) Series 28 of the consumer issues show. Presented by Anne Robinson, Matt Allwright & Chris Hollins. (1/8)
9/11: Day That Changed The World (ITV1, 9pm) Documentary about the infamous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The A To Z Of Crime (ITV3, 9pm) Countdown of TV's best crime thrillers. (1/6)
Jig (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on competitive Irish dancing.
PICK OF THE DAY Celebrity Juice (ITV2, 10pm) Series 6 of the madcap celebrity panel show. Hosted by Keith Lemon, with team captains Holly Willoughby & Fearne Cotton.

Outnumbered (BBC1, 9pm) Series 4 of the half-improvised family sitcom. Starring Claire Skinner, Hugh Dennis, Tyger Drew-Honey, Daniel Roche & Ramona Marquez. (1/6)
Wogan On Wodehouse (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on author PG Wodehouse. Presented by Terry Wogan.
The Million Pound Drop Live (Channel 4, 9pm) Series 5 of the gameshow where contestants bet £1m on multiple choice questions. Hosted by Davina McCall. (1/12)
Treme (Sky Atlantic, 10.15pm) Season 2 of the drama about a community rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Starring Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Kim Dickens, India Ennenga, Melissa Leo, David Morse, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce & Steve Zahn. (1/11)
PICK OF THE DAY Comedy Showcase (Channel 4, 10.30pm) Return of the comedy pilot season, starting with a sitcom set in the '30s about a group of men who haven't gone to war. Starring Simon Bird, Joe Thomas & Jonny Sweet. (1/6)
Comedy Lab (E4, 11pm) Return of the experimental comedy series, beginning with a sketch show by double-act Anna Crilly & Katy Wix. (1/6)
The Secret World Of Whitehall (BBC2, 11.05pm) Documentary on the Cabinet Office. (1/3)

PICK OF THE DAY Red Or Black? (ITV1, 7pm) Brand new gameshow where contestants guess the 50/50 outcome on various challenges, leading to the chance to win £1m with a spin of a roulette wheel. Hosted by Ant & Dec. Continues Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday. (1/7)
The Story Of Film: An Odyssey (More4, 9.15pm) Documentary on the history of cinema. Presented by Mark Cousins. (1/15)
The Jonathan Ross Show (ITV1, 9.45pm) Brand new chatshow, featuring Adele, Lewis Hamilton & Sarah Jessica Parker. Hosted by Jonathan Ross. (1/8)

Nature's Miracle Babies (BBC1, 6.30pm) Wildlife series focusing on species that are close to extinction. (1/3)
Nelson's Navy: Back From The Dead (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary where forensic scientists examine the skeletons of sailors who fought under Admiral Nelson. (1/3)
Inspector George Gently (BBC1, 8.30pm) Return of the period detective drama.
World's Most Dangerous Roads (BBC2, 9pm) Series where celebrities journey on some of the world's most perilous roads. In this episode, Sue Perkins & Charley Boorman drive the notorious ice road of Alaska's Dalton Highway. (1/3)
PICK OF THE DAY Appropriate Adult (ITV1, 9pm) True life drama based on notorious Gloucestershire serial killers Fred and Rosemary West, who were arrested in 1994. Starring Dominic West, Emily Watson, Robert Glenister, Monica Dolan & Anthony Flanagan. (1/2)
My Favourite Joke (BBC1, 10.25pm) Series where comedians recall some of their favourite gags, featuring Billy Connolly, French & Saunders, Joan Rivers, Rhod Gilbert & Jack Dee. (1/6)

Saturday, 27 August 2011

DOCTOR WHO, 6.8 – "Let's Kill Hitler"

Steven Moffat's mind is every bit as acrobatic, flexible and irrepressible as The Doctor's (Matt Smith), meaning episodes like this positively buzz with ambition and life, doing somersaults over the expectations of its audience. At times it gets a little exhausting, particularly as you suspect it's partly done to distract people from some underlying problems, but it's also so exhilarating I find it impossible to stop myself being swept away.

The provocatively-titled "Let's Kill Hitler" was another mythology-heavy mid-season premiere, so consequently impenetrable to newcomers. It was another mad spin through time and imagination, with Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) contacting The Doctor via elaborate crop circle, hoping for an update on his one-man mission to rescue their abducted baby daughter Melody Pond—who will grow up to become cheeky time-travelling adventurer River Song (Alex Kingston). However, things went haywire with the unexpected arrival of the Pond's best friend Mels (Nina Toussaint-White) in a stolen sports car, with flashbacks clueing us into the fact she likewise grew up believing in the "raggedy Doctor" of young Amelia's (Caitlin Blackwood) childhood. Unfortunately, Mels proved to be even more headstrong than her best friend, essentially forcing The Doctor to take her on a mission to kill Adolf Hitler...

"I'm trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I'm really trying not to see this as a metaphor." 

And by that stage, we'd hardly begun to scratch the surface of what happened in this episode: a shape-shifting robot piloted by a microscopic crew, hell-bent on punishing history's most notorious criminals who escaped justice; the startling reveal that Mels is a twentysomething Melody Pond, who'd grown up alongside her own parents as part of her brainwashed mission to find and kill The Doctor, before regenerating into the familiar physique of River Song with a very unfamiliar mindset (coming across as a flirtatious Terminator to slaughter and undress Nazis); and another life-or-death scenario for The Doctor to contend with as he was poisoned by kissing River and had to save the day as his life dribbled away in a scant 32-minutes! It was all incredibly well-handled, barely pausing for breathe, yet somehow easy to digest now we've acclimated to Moffat's style. I just worry that every non-Moffat episode, especially ones telling completely standalone stories, look worrying empty and sluggish in comparison. The show can't keep asking writers like Neil Gaiman to do a script, so everyone's going to have to raise their game.

It's sometimes difficult to parse the timeline of River Song without sitting down and thinking very deeply with a few diagrams to hand (how do you spend your weekends?), but I'm pretty sure this episode filled some lingering issues with how River's story will make sense when seen linearly from her perspective. This episode basically gave us the "birth" of River Song, by deprogramming her as Madam Kovarian's brainwashed soldier, but ultimately sealing her fate in "The Silence In The Library" two-parter. Touches like The Doctor giving River her TARDIS-shaped journal really helped bring some sense of clarity to events, as the mystery of River continues to dissipate in a very exciting and satisfying way. Now we just need to know who she kills in order for her to be imprisoned in the Storm Cage..

Overall, "Let's Kill Hitler" was a masterful triumph; passionate, hilarious, imaginative, witty, clever and surprisingly emotional. One criticism of Moffat's reign has been how he seems to lack the heart (or gross sentimentality?) that informed Russell T. Davies' era, but this episode was very effective in the emotional stakes. Matt Smith (delightful throughout, especially with some physical comedy involving a dinner suit and "sonic cane") was especially good in The Doctor's tense death scene, and Alex Kingston simply ravaged this material like a hungry wolf.

While there are moments that didn't work completely, and perhaps one too many ideas floating around at times, the sheer joy and energy bottled in this episode could keep the National Grid fully charged all year. Superb stuff and a fantastic restart of this sixth series.


  • Rory: "Miniaturisation Ray." / Amy: "How would you know that?" / Rory: "Well, there was the ray... and we were miniaturised." Love Rory.
  • Now there's a shape-shifting robot in the show, I suppose that could be another option to explain The Doctor's apparent death in the series 6 premiere at Lake Silencio. But that robot wouldn't be able to fake the beginnings of a regeneration, right? And is Melody definitely inside the Impossible Astronaut suit?
  • Interesting to note the introduction of a new, longer coat for The Doctor—perhaps appeasing the grumble from Matt Smith that his regular tweed jacket was very cold when filming. On a similar sartorial note, River's fondness for jodhpurs was revealed to have been inspired by Nazi uniforms!
  • Were the "micronauts" inspired by Beano comic-strip The Numskulls or, heaven help us, that Eddie Murphy movie Meet Dave? This is Moffat, so I'm hoping the former.
  • This episode was directed by Richard Senior, making his show debut, although he did helm the recent Comic Relief sketches "Space" and "Time". Senior has previously helped edit numerous episodes of the show since series 5.
  • I'm sure fanboys got a kick from seeing holographic projections of Rose, Martha and Donna in the TARDIS. Perhaps a missed opportunity to have not included Sarah-Jane, in light of Elisabeth Sladen's death earlier this year?
  • Rory's been developing his own cult following this year, as fans have realized the character actually keeps getting some rather cool moments to play. I'm sure the Roryites will be delighted their hero got to punch Hitler to the floor and lock him in a cupboard!
written by Steven Moffat / directed by Richard Senior / 27 August 2011 / BBC1

Next time...


Last week's episode had its detractors, but I thought "Immortal Sins" was the best installment of Miracle Day so far, if only because it ignored most of the regular story and focused on a flashback with Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and his Italian lover Angelo in 1920's New York. I was therefore quite keen to see "The End Of The Road", hoping it would continue this uptick in quality, but it was alarming how many scenes produced unintentional laughter or simply didn't work. Here we had to endure more of Gwen's (Eve Myles) ridiculously stroppy behaviour, Jack killing his elderly ex-boyfriend by kissing him (well, that's what it looked like), child killer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) dad-dancing in his hotel room, the irrelevant return of Esther's (Alexa Havins) screw-up sister, and Jack once again injured and lying on the backseat of a car...

I don't think Russell T. Davies is good at investigative storylines, as this episode again involved a huge amount of information-dumping from characters who've only just been introduced. Team Torchwood don't really solve mysteries through deduction and skill, they just blunder around follow their guts, eventually chancing upon people who tell them what they need to know. This week, Olivia Colasanto (Nana Visitor) took them to see her ailing father Angelo; Jack's old boyfriend, now bedridden after a life spent trying to reproduce Jack's immortality so they could be together. Quite why Angelo thought it would be a brilliant idea to capture and threaten Gwen's family in order to get Jack to see him is anybody's guess. Their split wasn't especially acrimonious. I'm sure Jack would have called round for a visit if Angelo's daughter had just phoned him with an invite. Confusingly, Angelo wasn't in any fit state to communicate with Jack, anyway, and I'm not sure why Olivia was so disdainful of her dad's old flame either.

Regardless of the ludicrous amount of exposition throughout this episode, at least we now have a handle on what may have caused Miracle Day: heartbroken Angelo assumedly partnered with the three Families (who siphoned Jack's blood while he was being tortured, killed and resurrected), and with their help succeeded in creating immortality—but far too late for it to be of any use to an old man. It's still unknown why the whole planet was turned immortal, but I'm guessing it was intentional so the Families could profit through their stake in the pharmaceutical company PhiCorp.

The Oswald storyline continued after a two-week break, but is now just a colossal failure I just wish it would go away. The show made the unforgivable mistake of making this character a paedophile, which means it was immediately impossible to believe in his transformation from Death Row inmate to global folk hero. This episode tried to humanize Oswald slightly, by having him request a prostitute he could go on a date with (showing he's trying to change and better himself), but that scene didn't work because I couldn’t believe a prostitute would be so upset about the fact a child-killer wants to pay her not to have sex with him. And the reveal that Oswald's manager Kitzinger's (Lauren Ambrose) been aware the government are readying a "Category Zero" status (to deal with criminals like Oswald who escaped justice thanks to The Miracle, by forcing them into ovens to be burned), felt very sudden and inexplicable. Equally so the fact The Families are so interested in Kitzinger she's been recruited by them outright, after dissolving her partnership with Oswald when he got violent with her. Why do these people need a headstrong PR girl on their side?

It was fun to see Star Trek's John de Lancie as CIA boss Allen Shapiro appear on the show, putting his fine comic timing to good use with a few quips at the expense of both Gwen and Jack ("what is it with you, Red Baron? You got Snoopy up your ass?"), and the return of Wayne Knight as Brian Friedkin to confirm he's working for The Families was appreciated. At least there's some attempt to tie up the whole season now, despite the fact Miracle Day has felt half-improvised week to week. Every time the show presents us with the supposed mastermind behind Miracle Day, they're proven to be either an oblivious underling (PhiCorp) or get killed within two episodes (Olivia, Angelo), which has become rather tedious.

Overall, we're finally approaching the end of Miracle Day and I'll be glad to see the back of it. There's just something about the writing and performances that's become increasingly irritating, with weird lines of dialogue and silly moments that don't feel natural. If I'm being honest, I have a funny feeling the explanation for The Miracle could be something that's not entirely horrible (provided you can swallow the inevitable pseudo-science behind it), but the way this story's been told leaves a lot to be desired. So many mistakes, so many wasted opportunities, so many laughable sequences, so many god-awful new characters. There just hasn't been enough good stuff to latch onto and pull you through the mire.

written by Jane Espenson & Ryan Scott / directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton / 26 August 2011 / Starz

Friday, 26 August 2011

The BBC clock up another HOUR

The BBC have renewed BBC2 drama The Hour, the '50s-set newsroom drama with a dash of spy thriller. I'm still a few episodes behind on this six-part series, which had its finale earlier this week, but I can't help feeling disappointed by it. It wasn't the Mad Men-esque workplace drama it was promoted as, nor was it a particularly engrossing espionage thriller.

There were times when The Hour's overall mystery would fade from my memory in-between episodes, as the show seemed unsure what it should really be focusing on: the workplace love triangle, the Suez Canal Crisis reporting, or the cloak n' dagger spy stuff? No, it fizzled for me, despite two great performances from Ben Whishaw and Romola Garai. I only persevered because (a) it's only six hours long, (b) there's not much else competing for my attention in August, and (c) there were occasional signs the story was going to kick into gear. But it averaged 2.1m viewers over its run, so that's not too bad.

It's been interesting to note the very positive response from US critics, but they tend to go nuts over anything British with the faintest whiff of quality (see Downton Abbey). I've always said it has something to do with exoticism, as US critics are more starved of foreign programming than their UK counterparts.

Without spoiling The Hour's ending for me (and any others reading), did you enjoy this drama, or were you likewise letdown? Do you agree it was too slow moving, often struggling to fill each hour? Or did you relish the slow-burn approach to writer Abi Morgan's storytelling?

THE HOUR will return for a second six-part series in 2012, set ten-months later and focusing on '50s celebrity culture.

Sky developing crime spoof A TOUCH OF CLOTH

Charlie Brooker (Dead Set) and Daniel Maier (Harry Hill's TV Burp) have joined forced to write a two-hour crime drama spoof called A Touch Of Cloth for Sky.

The one-off spoof will star John Hannah (Spartacus) as "maverick, heavy drinking loner" DCI Jack Cloth, Suranne Jones (Unforgiven) as his "plucky no-nonsense" partner DC Anne Oldman, and Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing) as their boss Tom Boss.

Charlie Brooker, co-writer:

"After you've seen A Touch of Cloth you'll never be able to watch another detective show again. Not because it's a devastating piss take, but because you'll have smashed your TV into pieces in a disappointed fury."
Daniel Maier, co-writer:

"It's like Airplane! for a detective series except for not being Police Squad."
The parody will see Cloth and Oldman trying to catch a devious serial killer who leaves a trail of increasingly grisly murders. Co-stars include Daisy Beaumont as forensic pathology Natasha Sachet, Navin Chowdhry as DC Asap Qureshi, Adrian Bower as DC Des Hairhan, Raquel Cassidy as Claire Hawkchurch and Theo Barklem-Biggs as Darren Crossway.

Annabel Jones, Executive Producer for Zeppotron:

"Having tackled zombies in Dead Set, A Touch Of Cloth is a very funny and reliably corpse-strewn homage to the best of British cop shows. We're delighted to have such a wonderful cast and such a great detective in John Hannah, who we're sure will get to the bottom of things. But not too quickly, or the final 15 minutes will consist of awkward whistling."
A Touch Of Cloth is part of Sky's commitment to original British content, which it's aiming to increase an investment in by 50% over three years, meaning it'll be spending £600m a year by 2014. Recent efforts towards this goal have included Mad Dogs, Thorne, Flying Monsters 3D, Trollied and Mount Pleasant.

Review: THE TWILIGHT ZONE, 1.16 – 1.23

Continuing my batch-reviews of The Twilight Zone's first season on Blu-ray (following part 1 and part 2), here are the next eight episodes that all aired in 1960, featuring a strange hitch-hiker, a time-travelling pilot, a gambling addict, scheming aliens, a duplicate of Earth, and a precognitive soldier...

Rod Serling adapted THE HITCH-HIKER from a radio play by Lucille Fletcher, making it the only episode of Twilight Zone to use audio as source material. In this half-hour, a 27-year-old woman called Nan Adams (Inger Stevens) is driving cross-country from New York to L.A, but keeps encountering a disquieting hitch-hiker (Leonard Strong) she first ignored on the roadside after a breakdown. Nan's journey continues apace, with the odd pedestrian somehow able to appear ahead of her, popping up in unexpected places along her journey, apparently invisible to everyone else.

Like many episodes, there are moments that look silly today (Nan's demure reaction to the impossibility of the hitch-hiker's movements, or a misjudged shot when the hitcher breaks the fourth wall), but overall this episode hasn't aged too badly. It works more in retrospect once the twist-ending's revealed, there's no doubt, but Stevens makes for a beguiling protagonist (particularly in the scene where the penny drops about what's going on during a phone call to her mother), there's a fun Hitchcockian flavour to the tale, and the eerie anxiety simmers nicely. / written by Rod Serling (based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher) / directed by Alvin Ganzer / 22 January 1960

Inspired by a trip to a casino by Serling himself, THE FEVER is a cautionary tale about gambling, wherein Franklin Gibbs (Everett Sloane), on vacation in Las Vegas with his wife Flora (Vivi Janiss), becomes addicted to gambling after encountering a one-armed bandit with a $10,000 jackpot. Initially so contemptuous of gambling as to be a cantankerous killjoy, this episode charts the descent of Franklin into an insomniac fruit machine addict, to the dismay of his wife.

"The Fever" doesn't feel like a Twilight Zone episode for the majority of its runtime; more a basic example of how dangerous gambling can be for the weak-willed. This works well, though, despite the slightly implausible speed in which Franklin becomes a slave to the slots. A particularly brilliant effect was to have Franklin imagine his name being called in the jangling sound of dispensed coins, enticing him back to the casino in the dead of night. Unfortunately, despite building a palpable sense of Franklin's desperation to win his money back, the story takes a silly twist when Franklin starts to imagine the slot machine's literally come to life, eventually leading to a fall through a closed window that snaps credibility. It's a shame Serling's added something silly to the end of this story, when there were more realistic options available for a resolution. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Robert Florey / 29 January 1960

THE LAST FLIGHT is another offering from the mind of distinguished author Richard Matheson, and is a definite season highlight. This is a delightful time-travel story about British pilot Flt Lt Decker (Kenneth Haigh) who lands his WWI biplane on the airstrip of a USAF base after fleeing German fighters in the skies of 1917. Decker's taken into custody by a Major Wilson (Simon Scott) and asked to explain his presence to General Harper (Alexander Scourby), with both Americans suspecting Decker's a prankster when it becomes clear he think he's from the past.

Time-travel's my favourite SF sub-genre and "The Last Flight" is a classic example, if unsophisticated by modern standards. But it's still a great "what if?" idea, neatly told and containing fine performances from Haigh as the out of time pilot and Scott as the Major who begins to believe this Englishman's tall story. The resolution is also satisfying and surprisingly poignant, given what we learn about Decker's cowardice, and it's largely impossible to dislike Matheson's tight, flowing story. It's predictable in terms of big surprises, but sometimes you just want to sit back and watch something trot along in an entertaining manner. For me, this is the best episode of The Twilight Zone so far. / written by Richard Matheson / directed by William Claxton / 5 February 1960

Rod Serling's real wartime experiences informed aspects of THE PURPLE TESTAMENT, apparently, but it's hard to see exactly how. The episode finds Lt William Fitzgerald (William Reynolds) serving in WWII, where he realizes he can predict which of his comrades are going to die, as the doomed can be seen with a strange light shining on their face. Naturally, nobody believes him, even after his precognition is proven accurate, until the inevitable twist-in-the-tale that befalls nearly everyone with the ability to predict death in SF. A decent idea, but sorely predictable. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Richard L. Bare / 12 February 1960

It begins propitiously, but ELEGY suffers from a dumb explanation of a situation with broad similarities to the pilot episode, where a man roamed a deserted town. Here, three astronauts from the future—Meyers (Jeff Morrow), Webber (Kevin Hagen) and Kirby (Don Dubbins)—touch down on a planet millions of miles from home, only to discover it's an exact replica of 1950s Earth. The only difference is that the human population appear to be stuck in a trance, or perhaps frozen in time? What's going on? Unfortunately, what's going on is unconvincing nonsense, explained by a jolly Englishman unaffected by the time-freeze called Mr Wickwire (Cecil Kellaway).

Charles Beaumont's script (adapted from his own short story) provides a fun starting point, but ultimately proves how important a mystery's explanation is. "Elegy" doesn't make a lick of sense, turning the whole episode into a wasted opportunity. It's also becoming noticeable how often Zone covers similar territory: how many peculiar towns, creepy strangers, and trios of astronauts have we seen this season alone? Too many. To end on a positive note: it never fails to amuse me when classic SF refers to "future events" that never came to pass in reality, and here it's mentioned that nuclear war almost destroyed the Earth in... um, 1985. / written by Charles Beaumont / directed by Douglas Heyes / 19 February 1960

Another tale, like "The Hitch-Hiker", about a female commuter haunted by the supernatural. MIRROR IMAGE concerns a woman called Millicent Barnes (Vera Miles) who begins to think she's losing her mind while waiting for a bus at a half-empty depot. At first it appears she's jumping around in time (her luggage is processed, then it's not; she infuriates a ticket agent for asking the same question multiple times, despite having only enquired once), but the episode doesn't go down the interesting route of a place where time's flowing non-linearly. Maybe that concept was slightly too complex for '60s audiences, so instead it becomes a less interesting case of a doppelganger who intrudes in Millicent's life behind her back—perhaps from a parallel universe that's overlapping with her own?

Sadly, there's no real time or intention to explore what's going on any more deeply than Millicent occasionally catching sight of her twin and screaming and/or fainting—much to the annoyance of the cantankerous ticket agent. That is until a kindly fellow passenger called Paul (Martin Milner) hears her incredible theory, but then the story's allowed to trickle to a pretty disappointing climax. Still, this episode's nicely directed by Brahm, unnerving at times (there's a fun first reveal of Millicent's double in a mirror), and I suppose the lack of any explanation gives you something to think about as the credits roll. / written by Rod Serling / directed by John Brahm / 26 February 1960

This disc rounds out with another classic episode, deemed the show's greatest by Time Magazine, although I wouldn't go that far. THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREET finds the residents of an idyllic neighbourhood turning on each other after witnessing a meteor/UFO streaking overhead. The weakest aspect of the story is how everyone's so quick to believe a boy's theory that aliens have landed and may already have planted human-looking spies on the ground as recon, based purely on the fact he read a comic-book with that exact same plot!

Ignoring that absurdity, the intentions behind the tale are strong and interesting, as the people of Maple Street slowly turn on each other as their unspoken prejudices turn into frightened hysteria. The big reveal—that aliens orchestrated everyone's breakdown, intending to slowly destroy humanity by needling the tensions that lie beneath society's skin—was also nicely done. An influential and clever piece of social commentary by Serling (inspired by the era's fear of communism and Soviet spies), but one where you have to swallow a few stupid moments to get the ball rolling. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Ronald Winston / 4 March 1960

Thursday, 25 August 2011


Hot on the heels of their supermarket sitcom Trollied comes Mount Pleasant, confirming Sky believe warm northern charm and familiar settings are key to attracting big audiences. There's little we haven't seen before in this middle-class suburban comedy: a temptress neighbour, an eccentric dad, a dippy work colleague, an inattentive boyfriend, the unlikely chick magnet husband—name your cliché, it's probably here.

But while there wasn't anything that felt original and edgy, it was efficiently done and promptly paced, telling a story that managed to introduce a large number of characters with economical skill. As first episode's go, I was impressed by how writer Sarah Hooper managed everything, in a show that feels designed for maximum Middle England appeal with its bubbly cast, good production values, and idyllic setting.

The main cast round out thus: overprotective recruitment consultant Lisa (ex-Coronation Street's Sally Lindsay), who's married to young-at-heart plumber Dan (Daniel Ryan); Lisa's fussy mum Sue (Pauline Collins), who's married to eccentric Barry (Bobby Ball); Lisa's best friend/boss Shelley (ex-Coronation Street's Angela Griffin), who's married to gambler Greg (Adrian Bower); cougar neighbour Bianca (Cutting It's Sian Reeves), who's set her sights on Dan; recently-widowed frumpy friend Kate (Liza Tarbuck); and bimbo work pal Denise (Ainsley Howard), who's infatuated with their boss Fergus (Peep Show's Neil Fitzmaurice). Even the casting has a snug coziness to it, with nostalgic faces like Shirley Valentine's Collins and old-school comedian Ball representing the older generation, and two actresses who found fame in popular soaps as leads.

Mount Pleasant is a place where neighbourhoods look like they were built last week (maybe for a Barrett residential advert), the streets are full of kids riding bikes, and the inside of each deceptively gigantic house are an interior designer's dream. Given the fact creator Hooper was involved with Shameless, I think it's safe to say this is her middle-class riposte to that Channel 4 hit: a cul-de-sac where people's days revolve around taking baths with scented candles, petty marital arguments, pub lunches, playing fruit machines, and dopey husbands caught staring at other women's pert bottoms. Not drinking, fighting, thieving, sex and drugs.

I found it tough to dislike this show, despite the fact it was more run of the mill drama than hilarious comedy, such was the quality of its characters. Worthwhile comedy-drama doesn't have to be cutting-edge or risqué, of course. Mount Pleasant is agreeable fun of limited ambition (like a toothless Desperate Housewives) but there's always potential in shows that revolve around friends, family and neighbours. I grew up watching inoffensive British comedy/drama that didn't really want to push boundaries, and there's nothing wrong with them provided they're done well. It's sometimes just nice to luxuriate in the TV equivalent of a hot, soapy bath. Hopefully this show will maintain the right temperature, and build on this first confident but middle-of-the-road hour.

written by Sarah Hooper / directed by Dewi Humphreys / 24 August 2011 / Sky1

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Showtime developing THE DAMNED

Deadline are reporting that Showtime are developing a television series based on Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's graphic novel The Damned, with the pilot to be written by David Hayter (X-Men 2, Watchmen).

The 2006 graphic novel concerns Eddie, a man living in Chicago who battles demons disguised as mobsters of the city's three major crime families: the Alighieri, the Roarke and the Verlochin. Eddie's also cursed with the supernatural ability to transfer injuries he sustains to the first person who touches him, against his will.

I haven't read the source material, but the ingredients of this concept sound fun. This also continues to validate my theory that cable networks are currently inspired by novels and comic-books. Dexter, True Blood, Game Of Thrones and the upcoming Powers are all based on existing prose.

What do you think? Have you read The Damned? If so, will it make a good TV show, or will Hayter have to make some changes? If not, does the concept capture your imagination? Who would you suggest to play Eddie?

Movie Review: SOURCE CODE (2011)

directed by Duncan Jones; written by Ben Ripley
starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga & Jeffrey Wright

This sophomore effort from Duncan Jones proves his mesmeric sci-fi Moon was no fluke, delivering another sci-fi tale just as brilliant and compelling. It's a more expensive and crowd-pleasing venture, but Ben Ripley's script refuses to sacrifice intelligence. Source Code may look like a popcorn action thriller splicing together Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day, but it soon reveals a distinctiveness that makes the journey that much sweeter.

Army helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up aboard a commuter train approaching Chicago, sitting across from travelling companion Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who appears to know him as teacher Sean Fentress. Unnervingly, Colter's reflection isn't his own, but before he can fathom what's going on the train's destroyed and derailed in a large explosion—with Colter jerking "awake" inside a cramped cockpit, where he's hastily debriefed by a Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) over a video-feed, before she sends him back to relive the last eight minutes of the train's journey again... and again... and again. The only way the loop will end is when Colter correctly identifies the mystery bomber responsible for blowing up the train, thus completing his recon mission, but can he save all the passengers and change history? Or is that against the rules and simply impossible?

The best thing about Source Code is how you start watching fully prepared to enjoy the ride, but largely believing it'll be predictable because the premise doesn't sound too exceptional, only to be pleasantly surprised by the handful of surprises up its sleeve. The film's unique qualities start bubbling to the surface halfway through, and suddenly you're peering into deeper questions with greater dramatic stakes. It's also a story that loses impact the more you tease it (so most things will have to remain vague beyond the establishing setup), but, suffice to say, you can add Source Code to the list of movies with endings that provoke a debate about the slippery nature of reality, time-travel, parallel universes, and quantum mechanics.

In the current landscape—where sci-fi movies are often thin excuses to show gigantic alien robots fighting each other or major cities being trashed—it's great to know there are filmmakers like Jones who are determined to tell stories that present ideas and don't patronize their audience. Perhaps the only questionable flaw with Source Code is that its science is very improbable, and only just manages to sound semi-convincing when hastily explained by Jeffrey Wright's egghead, but I didn't mind because it resulted in a different kind of time-travel tale. One where even the creator doesn't realize what has been achieved, exactly...

Gyllenhaal grabs his best role post-Brokeback Mountain as the army soldier determined to save the day, despite being treated as a lab rat by his superiors, as he slowly begins to comprehend the (alleged) futility of his situation. Monagahn makes for a very capable love-interest, even if the story ironically doesn't have time to do justice to that element of the movie. Instead, the focus in on Colter's own frustrations with his bizarre mission and the creeping feeling that important information's being withheld, and he's no longer an individual but instead cog in the gears of a time-machine.

This is a fantastic movie that balances the demands of a blockbuster (tight action, tangible jeopardy, moments of spectacle), with the demands of "real" sci-fi that merrily leads you down some fascinating, unforeseen, mental avenues. Throw in some great performances from everyone, an apposite vocal cameo from Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula, and one of the best movie endings of recent memory, and Source Code is one train you shouldn't miss.

Summit Entertainment; 93 minutes

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

TRUE BLOOD, 4.9 - "Let's Get Out Of Here"

Oh dear, this was a full-blooded stinker. As I've said more times than I care to count, True Blood lives or dies on the entertainment-value of its storylines, pure and simple, and "Let's Get Out Of Here" revolved around every useless and irritating subplot in season 4's arsenal. This was actually painful to sit through at times, with only a few witch-related moments taking the sting out of the hour.

Where to begin? There was a ridiculous extended dream sequence where Sookie (Anna Paquin) fantasized about having sex with Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), which didn't tell us anything we didn't know already (she loves them both), and just existed to titillate all the 'shippers watching. I can appreciate seeing Paquin in rose red lingerie, of course I can, but there was very little reason for this scene to exist. And is it true women fantasize about having a threesome where they're the only one stripping down to their underwear? Or was this episode channeling its male writer's fantasy? Stupid question. This may also explain why Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) decided to have sex in the back of a pickup truck (parked a short distance away), despite having the house all to themselves.

Then we suffered the dross of Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), now possessed by the ghost of a bereaved mother, forcing Hoyt (Jim Parrack) out of his home at gunpoint after snatching Arlene's (Carrie Preston) baby. A weak and unnecessary story at the best of times, this plumbed new depths with a bizarre stand-off involving Jason and a drugged-up Andy (Chris Bauer), ending with a stupid sequence where Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) reunited Lafayette/Mavis with the buried remains of her dead child. I don't know what was worse: Lafayette swishing around acting like a woman (doing his best Pepe Le Pew impression, "beh-bee"), or the fact characters like Arlene and Terry (Todd Lowe) didn't react credibly to their friend apparently suffering a mental breakdown and kidnapping their child. I mean, from their perspective, they have no idea Lafayette's a spiritual medium, so what was going through their minds when all this was happening? Seeing Terry offhandedly forgive Lafayette, seconds after getting his son back, asking for no explanation about behaviour, beggared belief.

And while it's all very sad that a young woman lost her baby and was murdered by her master over a century ago, who really cares? We didn't know who Mavis was, and she didn't even appear on-screen until a few episodes ago. It's hard enough to summon enthusiasm for Arlene and Terry, characters who've been on the show for years, let alone a Creole ghost mommy who's had less than ten-minutes total screentime. (That creepy doll had no deeper significance to the story, either.)

Elsewhere, Sam (Sam Trammell) took Luna (Janina Gavankar) camping to forget about her jealous ex Marcus (Dan Buran), while a shape-shifted Tommy (Marshall Allman) tried to build bridges with Sam by taking a beating on his behalf from Marcus and his biker gang. Yawn. A little better was seeing Debbie (Britt Morgan) help Sookie try and rescue the spellbound Eric from Marnie's (Fiona Shaw) coven (who are beginning to mutiny), which fed into the climax where witches gatecrashed a human-vampire "Festival Of Tolerance" event and enchanted the vamps into homicidal behaviour to frighten the crowd. Anything to do with the witches has been this season's saving grace (much like Russell Edgington's character in season 3), so these were the only scenes that raised "Let's Get Out Of Here" to an acceptable quality.

And, yeah, that's about all I can write about without depressing myself even further.

After a mid-season boom that was starting to turn things around, this was a violent slam back down to earth. True Blood could bounce back because it's see-sawing between good and bad storylines, but it's so irritating how the show's been built this way. They really need to ditch half the cast and focus on fewer, stronger stories that can sustain a dozen episodes without carrying any dead weight. I know I keep saying it, but someone has to. If only someone who could affect change was reading.

written by Brian Buckner / directed by Romeo Tirone / 21 August 2011 / HBO