Wednesday, 30 November 2011

THE WALKING DEAD, 2.7 - "Pretty Much Dead Already"


We may have been given a regular-sized season order from AMC this year, but fans of The Walking Dead still have to contend with a mid-season break until February. Fortunately, "Pretty Much Dead Already" was a welcome return to season 2's early form, after a batch of farm-set episodes that started to spin their wheels. I'm a firm believer that a zombie story needs to either be ruthlessly restricted (a cabin, a shopping mall) or a fast-moving "road trip", and The Walking Dead can't really make up its mind. There's nothing wrong with spending time in one location (if only for some respite), but the story has to keep moving in an interesting way, and this season's stopover at the Hershel farm should have had some fat trimmed from its bones.

But never mind all that, because this mid-season finale was one of the show's best ever instalments. The character interactions were all strong and compelling—especially Maggie (Lauren Cohan) trying to make her idealistic father (Scott Wilson) realise he's wrong to keep walkers in his barn (hoping for a "cure"), especially now Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) group offer them genuine hope for a rosier future together. It was also fantastic to see Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) getting even more unnerved by wolf-in-sheep's-clothing Shane (Jon Bernthal), whose mask is slipping around the old man. Bernthal appears to relish playing a villain, and that's a much more entertaining use of his character. Shane's becoming the antithesis of Rick in many ways, and this fact is made even juicier because they were best-friends pre-apocalypse (still are, allegedly), and Shane's convinced Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) is carrying his child not Rick's.

It was Shane who kicked this episode into top gear towards the end, as he caught sight of Rick helping Hershel drag two fresh walkers into his barn on the end of catch poles. Just as Rick's beginning to compromise with Hershel's demand that the group can stay if they treat walkers like "sick people", Shane makes a grab for leadership by releasing the barn's walkers and cajoling the group into shooting them all dead. In Hershel's eyes, this is nothing less than the genocide of friends and colleagues he believes can be saved; but in Shane's and many other's eyes, it's a necessary extermination to ensure the safety of the living. I'm guessing Shane's going to be calling the shots from now on, as most people are so desperate to stay in the protective bubble of the farm and Hershel's authority has been compromised.

Plus the climax found an interesting and unexpected way to resolve the situation with missing Sophia (Madison Lintz), revealing she's been turned into a zombie and was hidden in Hershel's barn the whole time. The end sequence of this episode was masterfully handled by director Michelle McLaren (the woman behind many other superlative scenes in Breaking Bad), and it had a real weight and power to it. The search for Sophia has been one of this season's weakest elements, but I'm very pleased the ending was so strong and emotionally satisfying.

Overall, "Pretty Much Dead Already" was exactly the kind of episode The Walking Dead needs to be delivering more frequently. Maybe the show is doomed to rise and fall, but I'm hoping it finds some kind of comfortable middle ground that's more engaging. After a fantastic start, the story got stuck in a rut after Carl (Chandler Riggs) survived his gunshot wound, and the last few weeks have seen very little progress with anything. This mid-season finale was strong enough to forgive some of those pacing issues, but I hope the second half of the season remembers to keep things rolling. It'll be interesting to see what the second half's like next year, as less of fired Frank Darabont's fingerprints should be detectable.

Asides

  • I'm not sure about putting Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) together as a romantic couple, but it serves a purpose. Carol's the weakest of the regulars, alongside the grossly underused T-Dog (IronE Singleton), so having her hookup with one of the show's better characters is a win for her. Daryl also benefits from showing a softer side. It just feels a little artificial to me, as I don't really believe Carol would fall for Daryl.
  • On the flipside, Maggie and Glenn (Steven Yeun) are really great together and that's a romance I'm enjoying because it's hard to predict where it's headed.
written by Scott M. Gimple / directed by Michelle MacLaren / 27 November 2011 / AMC

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

DEXTER, 6.9 – "Get Gellar"


I think even Stevie Wonder saw it coming. Finally, the writers' painfully unsuccessful attempt to pull of a WTF twist resolved itself seven episodes too late. It was a risky decision to portray a villain like Gellar (Edward James Olmos), who only existed inside the imagination of the real villain, and unfortunately for season 6's showrunner Scott Buck it didn't pay off. Most fans, including myself, smelled a rat as early as the second episode, simply by virtue of the suspicious way Gellar wasn't interacted with anyone except his protégé, and we've had eight weeks to confirm the theory through observation. Consequently, this episode's last-minute reveal that Gellar's dead and Travis has been storing his mentor's corpse in a refrigerator elicited groans instead of gasps.

The Gellar reveal was Dexter's attempt at a Psycho-esque twist, and provided evidence that such a trick shouldn't be attempted in a serialized television show unless the writers gauge it properly—especially one with a fanatical following who are very likely to have seen similar twists in the likes of The Sixth Sense and Fight Club.

"Get Gellar" also reminded me of how much season 6 feels like a formulaic direct-to-video horror. There were so many moments that could have come from a trashy '70s or '80s chiller—such as the grisly Carrie-esque bowls of blood splattering the detectives who discovered the gutted body of an atheist lecturer, to the clichéd moment when Travis walked into a bathroom to find a message written in blood across the walls and a dismembered hand in the sink. Yes it's all good fun, but it also feels beneath the Dexter I enjoyed back in the early days. Even season 5, which I wasn't a big fan of, took things more seriously. This year is almost playing the show for laughs and treating its audience like idiots. I mean, who puts the year's big villain in a thick cream cardigan?

Funnily enough, a few of the developments in the subplots came as a bigger surprise to me. We discovered that LaGuerta's (Lauren Velez) been such a bitch to Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) about her homicide tally because she's trying to protect Captain Matthews (Geoffrey Pierson), who was involved in the dead call girl situation. I didn't see that one coming, probably because LaGuerta's very presence causes my brain to enter cerebral hibernation.

Geeky intern Louis was also revealed to be an obsessive collector who purchased the Ice Truck Killer victim's hand that his predecessor Ryan stole and put on eBay. I'm not sure if we should be fearful of Louis because of this reveal, but it throws up a lot of other questions. Is he in cahoots with Ryan, or was it a bizarre coincidence? And if he's revealed to be something more than a collector of the macabre (like a serial killer who preys on young nanny's?), then this is a loose copy of season 1's situation with Brian and Debra (her part played by Jaime Batista). And however things play out, it's all very silly.

Oh, Angel (David Zayas) and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) also had a fight in the street while trying to find Quinn's missing gun—but I can't think why anyone would care about this. Slightly better was Deb's therapy session with her shrink, which is doing a decent but slightly unnecessary job of explaining her character's psyche as the mother-less daughter of a father who spent more time with her introverted half-brother. At this stage, this appears to be the only way Dexter's writers can get Deb to question how weird and suspicious her brother's life and behaviour is, which will hopefully be the upshot of this subplot. But we've been waiting for a major breakthrough with Debra for years now, and I'm starting to lose interest.

That's as much as I can write about Dexter for this week, which is clearly having its worst season ever. (And two more have been commissioned by Showtime, which fills me with dread.) To try and be optimistic, now that all doubt has been removed about Gellar's illusory nature, the show has three episodes left to do something creative with the simpler situation of Dex having to catch and kill schizophrenic Travis before the cops catch up to his investigation. We've been here many times before, so this isn't riveting material at this point in the show's lifespan, but I live in hope the writers have something up their sleeve... because if the misguided Gellar-twist was their big surprise, then we're in big trouble.

Asides

  • It's worth mentioning that I'm sure many people didn't see the Gellar twist coming. If you read this blog, or others, it was almost impossible to avoid that theory... but maybe more "casual viewers" who don't wish to analyze things had a better experience? A part of me envies viewers who had a genuine surprise when Gellar was found on ice as Travis picked up a machete.
  • I know America is a very religious nation where many people still believe in Creationism (they really do!), but are atheist lecturers really subject to death threats over there? If so, Professor Richard Dawkins must be Public Enemy Number One, right?
written by Karen Campbell / directed by Seith Mann / 27 November 2011 / Showtime

Monday, 28 November 2011

MISFITS, 3.5 - episode five


Lauren Socha already feels like a more prominent member of the cast this year, thanks to her character's ongoing romantic subplot with hunky power-dealer Seth (Matthew McNulty), but here she takes centre stage for a body-swap drama that affords Socha the chance to craft a different character than the foulmouthed, stroppy brat we've come to know and love. Trouble is, she really wasn't up to the challenge, and because this story hinged on Socha's ability to transform herself into someone else, the whole episode wound up being a dud.

This week, the gang are assigned different community service duties by grumpy probation worker Shaun (Craig Robinson), which for most of them means tending to a nearby garden instead of cleaning the streets of dog turds. For Kelly (Socha), it means spending time at the local hospital, where she makes the mistake of touching a coma patient called Jen—whose power is one of mind transference. Consequently, Jen quickly took control of Kelly's body (becoming "Jelly" for want of a better name?), and was able to leave the hospital to be with her grief-stricken boyfriend Dom, while poor Kelly remained trapped in Jen's bedridden body.

Interestingly, this is the second episode of series 3 where the story's revolved around a case of mistaken identity (the other being Curtis's gender-bending story), and the second episode that's been driven by the super-power of a guest-star (after last week's time-travel adventure). I'm a little worried these are signs the show's having problems thinking up ideas that are entirely new, or that deep down creator Howard Overman regrets the (mostly) uninspiring new powers he's bestowed on his leading characters. But regardless of that, there were bigger reasons why this episode just didn't work for me.

As I mentioned above, a key reason is that Lauren Socha's performance as Jen should have been a complete 180 from Kelly's personality, but instead Jen just felt like a quieter and less combustible version of Kelly. (Socha didn't/couldn't even change her accent when playing Jen.) For me, a lot of the magic of this episode evaporated as a direct result of this, because we really needed to enjoy seeing "Kelly" speaking and behaving completely differently. Unfortunately, Socha's range as an actress appears to be limited and her Jen wasn't memorable. It also felt strange that so much of this episode was focused on Jen and Dom's relationship, as both those characters are just one-off creations. It wasn't enough that Socha was prominent throughout in the role of Jen, because nothing was being done to develop her real character at any point. A similar problem spoiled episode 4, where the entire cast were just alternate versions of characters we know, so nothing really mattered.

The subplots this week weren't too great, either. Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), in his female form, was almost caught having a wank in a cupboard by his ex-girlfriend Alisha (Antonia Thomas), and Rudy (Joe Gilgun) was astonished that his fortysomething "anger management therapist" was desperate to sleep with him! The latter story felt especially strange to me, as it  didn't ring true that Rudy's therapist would find someone like Rudy sexually attractive. It was almost as if the idea was intended for Robert Sheehan's character Nathan (who had a cheeky charisma you could better imagine appealing to a cougar), but it doesn't work with Gilgun. I think Gilgun's fitted into the group dynamic quite well and he's an amusing comic actor, but it's a stretch to imagine a middle-aged woman would want to give him a hand job in her office.

Going back to the central story of Jen and Kelly's body-swap (or mind-swap?), there was certainly some moments where the story started to find some shape. In particular, the ending of the episode went some way to redeeming the hour... to some extent. The show is always at its best when the whole gang are united in a  mission, so seeing them steal Jen's body from hospital with the intention of forcing Jen back inside was a lot of fun. I just wish the story had done more with the unsettling revelation that Jen was effectively signing her own death warrant by agreeing to return to her original body, as Dom turned her ventilator off once the Freaky Friday shenanigans were over.

Plus we had the surprising moment with Shaun getting stabbed by a cornered "Kelly" and actually dying from his injury, seconds after the gang revealed he's been looking after a bunch of "superheroes" all these months. I didn't expect them to kill Shaun, as he's been a source of more entertainment this series than many of the younger cast, but it was also an amusingly familiar situation for the gang to be burying yet another probation worker!

Finally, things moved on between Kelly and Seth in the denouement, as they kissed for the first time (in this timeline) and the gang appear to have accepted Seth as part of their clique. But I'm unsure about all this. I don't really understand why Seth's become such an important character on the show, as he doesn't seem to warrant this much attention. His romance with Kelly isn't a bad idea, on paper, but it hasn't been handled very well on-screen. I still don't get what Seth sees in Kelly, who's a wilfully belligerent person. She hasn't done anything to prove herself in his eyes, so it all feels rather woolly and forced to me. They simply want to give Kelly a love story and thought it would be easier to utilise Seth (who was a guest-star in the Christmas special), but the show hasn't done enough groundwork to make it feel plausible. Considering Misfits is also home to one of the best TV romances in Simon (Iwan Rheon) and Alisha, it's even more disappointing that Kelly and Seth is so weak and unconvincing in comparison.

Overall, episode 5 was the worst episode of series 3 so far—which has itself been worryingly weaker than previous series. This time last year I was giddy with excitement about the brilliant Superhoodie storyline, but this year has lacked anything as compelling to tie the show together. Maybe the aforementioned Kelly/Seth romance is supposed to be something we should be deeply invested in, in which case it's been a catastrophic failure in that regard. In terms of this episode, I'm afraid Lauren Socha's limited talent killed whatever fun was intended by the body-swap idea. She's clearly very comfortable and amusing playing an extroverted chav like Kelly, but anything too far removed from that character type doesn't seem to be in her repertoire.

Asides

  • This was the first ever Misfits episode not written by series creator Howard Overman. Jon Brown wrote episode 5, based on a story he co-created with Overman. I don't blame Brown for too much that went wrong here, as I thought he captured the characters quite nicely and there were some funny lines. It's just a shame Rudy's subplot felt intended for Nathan, and much of the basic concept didn't really come alive in front of the camera.
  • "WAKE UP!" You have to love Rudy's attempt to rouse a coma patient into consciousness.
  • Will the remaining three episodes feature the misfits trying to keep Shaun's murder a secret? If so, been there, done that...
written by Jon Brown (story by Jon Brown & Howard Overman) / directed by Will Sinclair / 27 November 2011 / E4

TV Picks: 28 November – 4 December 2011 (Black Mirror, Charley Boorman's Extreme Frontiers, Charlie's Angels, Desperate Scousewives, It's All About Amy, etc.)

Pick of the Week: BLACK MIRROR - Sunday, Channel 4, 9PM

MONDAY 28th
The British Woman On Death Row (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary about a British grandmother awaiting execution in Texas.
The Choir: Unsung Town Revisited (BBC2, 9pm) Follow-up to the series where Gareth Malone started a community choir in the small estate of South Oxhey in 2009.
Digging The Great Escape (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary where engineers and archaeologists travel to Poland to excavate the tunnel "Harry" used by 76 Allied airmen to escape Stalag Luft III in 1944.
PICK OF THE DAY Charley Boorman's Extreme Frontiers (Channel 5, 9pm) Series where adventurer Charley Boorman travels across Canada on his motorbike. (1/4)
Love On The Transplant List (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary about an engaged couple preparing to wed, where one of them only has six months to live unless she can find a lung donor.
Desperate Scousewives (E4, 10pm) Brand new reality-soap about a community of women living in Liverpool. (1/8)
American Nomads (BBC4, 10pm) Documentary about America's nomadic population: RV enthusiasts, preachers, runaways, anarchists and drifters.

TUESDAY 29th
PICK OF THE DAY Money (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary series about wealth gurus and their followers. (1/3)
America On A Plate: The Story Of The Diner (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary about the great American diner.

WEDNESDAY 30th
PICK OF THE DAY Charlie's Angels (E4, 8pm) Remake of the '70s US drama about three young women fighting crime on behalf of an unseen billionaire. Starring Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor, Ramon Rodriguez & Carlos Bernard. (1/8)


THURSDAY 1st
PICK OF THE DAY It's All About Amy (Channel 5, 10pm) Brand new fly-on-the-wall documentary series following former-The Only Way Is Essex star Amy Childs as she opens a beauty salon. (1/8)

FRIDAY 2nd
Nothing.

SATURDAY 3rd
Nothing.

SUNDAY 4th
PICK OF THE DAY Black Mirror (Channel 4, 9pm) Brand new darkly comic anthology series from Charlie Brooker. This first episode, "National Anthem", focuses on the abduction of a Royal family member, and how the Prime Minister copes with the crisis as public opinion changes on the Internet. Starring Rory Kinnear, Tom Goodman-Hill, Lindsay Duncan & Donald Sumpter. (1/3)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

MERLIN, 4.9 - "Lancelot du Lac"


The decision to kill Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera) in the premiere came as a surprise in a show where that's a rare commodity , but my enduring thought was how it prematurely ended a love-triangle that's always been a crucial part of the Arthurian legend. Thankfully, the writers were just toying with us and dashing Lancelot makes his return in "Lancelot du Lac"—albeit resurrected by Morgana (Katie McGrath) as a brainwashed slave to cause problems for King Arthur (Bradley James) now he's decided to get hitched to servant Gwen (Angel Coulby). Considering he's a royal with untold resources at his disposal, was anyone else underwhelmed by the extent of Arthur's quixotic streak when popping the question? Lighting too many candles in your girlfriend's own house, how romantic...

This episode couldn't escape many of Merlin's problems regarding originality (this featured another bewitched character, enchanted jewelry, and a jousting tournament as a big set-piece), but it managed to develop into something that gave fans some closure with Lancelot. I'm just a little disappointed such a huge event like Arthur deciding to marry a lowly servant girl didn't feel more special. It's perhaps because you don't really get a feel for what the everyday folk of Camelot think about their king, because the show is so focused on its core cast who have speaking parts. The more everyday characters are reduced to standing guard or applauding in crowd scenes. I'd love Merlin to develop some semi-recurring peasants and nobleman (like that Geoffrey of Monmouth character in the library), but it doesn't really work that way here. As a result, I think the magnitude of someone like Gwen becoming queen is lost because the only characters permitted to react do so in a way we've already predicted (i.e. slimy Agravaine (Nathaniel Parker) will be opposed, matchmaker Merlin (Colin Morgan) will be supportive.)

Angel Coulby's been horribly marginalized throughout series 4,, but she finally got a chance to shine here and remind us she's one of the show's better actors. (Or she can blub the most convincingly, perhaps.) I think the moment when Arthur and Gwen were seen a compelling couple has dimmed somewhat (especially now any troublesome disapproval's been removed after Uther's death), but hopefully now things are moving forward the writers will find ways to turn them into a credible and appealing couple.

Perhaps the best thing about "Lancelot du Lac" was how it wasn't so reliant on magic and monsters to sell itself, but was instead just a decent story about love and loss. In some ways it was a shame Lancelot was under a spell, because that kind of robbed his character of a chance to be himself instead of Morgana's undead puppet. If he simply hadn't died in the premiere (which necessitated some kind of magical comeback), we could have easily reached this same situation with Gwen pulled between the two macho men in her life. And that would have helped build a stronger story, in my opinion. Still, at least Lancelot wasn't treated like a totally clueless zombie, and for the most part felt like the character we've known for so long (albeit without any memory Merlin has magic, strangely).

It was also refreshing to have an episode end without tying up every single loose end, which is the best way of doing serialized stories. Having caught Lancelot and Gwen kissing on the eve of their nuptials, Arthur banished his cheating fiancé from Camelot and Lancelot later committed suicide (it's the honourably thing, apparently!) This truly is the end of the road for Lancelot, last seen being cast adrift on a flaming boat, with only Merlin attending his funeral. Did all of Sir Lancelot's alleged friends not go on principle? They must really look down on love rats in Camelot. And Gwen's still out there all alone, pulling her wagon of possessions, as we await the inevitable moment when Arthur realizes Lancelot was doing Morgana's bidding and he's exiled Gwen without knowing all the facts. This kind of thing happens so often you wonder why anyone acting uncharacteristically isn't immediately presumed to be under the influence of sorcery.

Overall, there was much to enjoy about the character-led "Lancelot du Lac" and I'm glad the show gave us a better conclusion to the Gwen/Lancelot storyline than felt likely nine weeks ago. I still think the whole love-triangle could have been done much better, but I suppose this was a unique way handling this particular part of the legend. Unique but slightly underwhelming.

Asides

  • I took more notice of the visual quality of this episode and it was indeed noticeably better than previous years because of the 35mm film. Deeper blacks, richer colours. The show never looked bad before, but I think when you're filming on expensive film you probably take more time to ensure the lighting and sets are at their best.
  • Lancelot wore black, just so you know he's a baddie. I'm surprised he didn't grow a goatee.
  • She was only in one brief scene, but that wizened old hag with no eyes lurking in a cave was brilliant. Bring her back!
  • Did anyone else think Merlin was a little creepy to be hanging around Gwen's window, eavesdropping on Arthur's proposal of marriage?
written by Lucy Watkins / directed by Julian Molotnikov / 26 November 2011 / BBC One

Saturday, 26 November 2011

DOCTOR WHO series 7, due autumn 2012

As many people speculated, it looks like Doctor Who won't be back for its seventh series until next autumn. Steven Moffat said as much in the latest edition of Doctor Who Magazine, saying: "Doctor Who in the summer? All that running down tunnels, with torches, and the sunlight streaming through your windows and bleaching out the screen? All those barbecues and children playing outside, while on the telly there are green monsters seething in their CGI-enhanced lairs? It's just not right is it? Be honest.

"For me, as a kid, when the afternoon got darker and there was a thrill of cold in the air, I knew that even though summer was over, the TARDIS was coming back! So yes, that's part of the plan, that's part of the reason for this little delay. But it's not the whole story."


I completely agree with everything Moffat says. I never liked the usual schedule of starting a series in March or April, ever since the show was revived in 2005. There's a certain atmosphere that comes from the atmosphere outside, and chilly autumnal evenings are perfect for Doctor Who. I wonder if this decision was influenced by the poor overnights of Series 6's premiere, which coincided with an Easter heatwave that impacted ratings.

Of course, this does mean we'll be without new episodes for eight or nine months after the Christmas special airs. And it's not known if Series 7 will run straight through 13 episodes and end with a Christmas special, or if the BBC will split the series into two halves again. If so, we could perhaps get seven episodes in autumn 2012, a Christmas special, and the final six episodes in spring 2013. That way the show could alternate with Merlin's fifth series in its Saturday timeslot.

It's still unclear how the BBC will celebrate Doctor Who's 50th anniversary in 2013, too. Will they commission a separate anniversary special, so we effectively get an extra episode? Or will Series 7's finale also work as a 50th celebration?

I'm sure we'll find out more very soon. The BBC are very very adept at drip-feeding information about the show when it's not on air, and they have many months to fill with gossip and news stories in 2012 now...

What are your thoughts on this decision? Do you agree with the change to an autumn run? Are you unhappy about the longer wait? Do you think it'll work if Series 7 has a Christmas special halfway through? Or should the show broadcast all 13 episodes before Christmas and forget about a split?

Friday, 25 November 2011

TRAILER: Christmas 2011 on the BBC


Let the countdown to the festive season begin! The BBC have just released a trailer to get us in the mood for Christmas: a sing-a-long of "Consider Yourself" from the musical Oliver!, starring David Jason, Graham Norton on piano, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan playing Twister with a Cyberman, Bruce Forsyth dancing with Michael McIntyre, Shane Ritchie and a tin of sweets, Tess Daly kissing under the mistletoe, the Outnumbered kids dancing, and much more.


Feeling Christmassy yet?

LIFE'S TOO SHORT, 1.3 - episode three


On the one hand, I preferred this episode to the previous two because it was more focused on Warwick Davies and, for the first time, actually felt like a sitcom about his showbiz life. On the other hand, this was easily the least funny episode yet, capped by a woefully unfunny cameo from Helena Bonham Carter—continuing the running "joke" that most people, especially famous people, sneer down their noses at dwarfs. Plus, as engaging as Warwick is, it's painfully obvious that all his lines come from the brain of Ricky Gervais in a quasi-David Brent patois.

Unless there's a remarkable turnaround next week, I think it's safe to say Life's Too Short is one of this year's big TVdisappointment. And I say that as someone who genuinely thinks Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are funny, clever writers. It's just too faithful to a "shock formula" that's now become very, very stale. When Warwick arrived at a school to condemn a 16-year-old schoolboy who'd been writing hurtful things about him online, was there anyone who didn't think the cyber bully would himself be disabled—to take the wind out of Warwick's righteous sails?

It's also very hard to see why Gervais and Merchant appear in this show, which somewhat undermines the whole project. It's like they think Warwick can't be trusted to carry a whole sitcom by himself, or Life's Too Short isn't marketable overseas unless they appear on-screen in some capacity (the same thinking that has cohorts Karl Pilkington and Stephen Merchant removed from the title of HBO's The Ricky Gervais Show). And while they're admittedly the funniest part of most episodes (sorry Warwick), they were surplus to requirement here.

Maybe the issue with this sitcom is that Warwick's character isn't appealing (on any level) and it's impossible for most "normal-sized" viewers to see our own lives reflected in him. How many of us are dwarfs, or actors, or run a showbiz agency, or know Ricky Gervais personally? Not many. So instead, we just see a small, manipulative man going about his day and encountering situations where he's mean to people (even fellows dwarfs), or people are mean to him. Then throw in token celebrity guest-stars (who either embrace their public persona, or flip it on its head), and some "cringe-comedy" that doesn't feel very shocking, insightful or unexpected. There just isn't enough here to keep me engaged for half-an-hour, as I find my mind wandering. It may be best to just scour YouTube for the three-minutes of celeb-based humour most episodes can scrape together to go viral.

written & directed by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant / 24 November 2011 / BBC Two

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Watch buy ALCATRAZ and GRIMM


I didn't expect this! Fox's mid-season sci-fi drama Alcatraz has been bought by Watch for broadcast in the UK. Considering it's one of the most anticipated TV shows for genre fans, I was expecting Sky to swoop in and buy it (especially considering their links to Fox). Maybe they thought Terra Nova was a safer bet and spent their money there? The fools.

Alcatraz is the latest big-budget sci-fi drama from producer JJ Abrams (Lost, Fringe), about the reappearance of dangerous prisoners who mysteriously disappeared from Alcatraz decades earlier. It premieres this January in the US.

Watch have also acquired the UK rights to fantasy cop show Grimm, about a detective with the ability to see "fairy tale" creatures that live secretly amongst humans. It's already airing in the US on NBC.

However, as Watch is more of a premium digital channel, this means less Brits will get to see Alcatraz and Grimm next year. So while it's great to see that Sky's money doesn't always guarantee first dibs on every big US show, in some ways its a shame when these smaller channels buy big American shows because far fewer people will ever see them.

On a positive note, Watch had the UK rights to superhero drama No Ordinary Family last year, and that show pulled in impressive ratings for them most weeks, so maybe British audiences are now aware Watch has US shows they might want to see.

Luckily I have Watch as part of my Virgin Media XL package, so I'll be tuning in for Alcatraz. I wish I could say the same about Grimm, but I saw its pilot... and no matter how much it improves, it will always star the charisma-vacuum David Giuntoli.

Filming begins on BBC/Cinemax co-production NEMESIS with Melissa George


Kudos (Life On Mars, Spooks) and Big Light Productions are teaming up for a new eight-part thriller called Nemesis, starring Melissa George as a spy who survives an assassination attempt by her own team and goes on the run.

The series—originally known as Morton and set to star Gillian Anderson until a scheduling conflict—has been written by Frank Spotnitz (The X Files, Strike Back) for BBC1 and HBO's Cinemax, echoing the arrangement Sky had with Strike Back.

Frank Spotnitz, writer:

"I'm incredibly excited about the ambition of this series. It's got action on a cinematic scale, huge story twists and turns, and intriguing characters who are both emotionally and morally complex."
Ben Stephenson, BBC Drama Commissioning Controller:

"Melissa George is a fantastic choice to play BBC1's new leading lady known as Sam, a complex and mysterious Bourne-style female spy unlike anyone we've seen on TV before."
Nemesis also stars Adam Rayner (Mistresses), Stephen Dillane (Game Of Thrones), Morven Christie (The Sinking Of The Laconia), Patrick Malahide (Game Of Thrones), Stephen Campbell Moore (Ashes To Ashes), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost), Lex Shrapnel (Captain America), Uriel Emil (Criminal Justice), and Oscar Kennedy (Toast).

Filming will take place on location in London, Scotland and Morocco.

Nemesis definitely has my full attention, given Kudos' success with Spooks and the example set by Strike Back when it comes to modern Anglo-American co-productions. It remains to be seen if Spotnitz will have to include as much nudity as Strike Back featured, in order to appeal to Cinemax's young male demographic, but perhaps the BBC's influence will dissuade that "boobs and blood" concession. Or the BBC will transmit a more sanitized edit.

I also find it very interesting that Spotnitz has chosen to work in British TV, even moving his family to London. Was he struggling to find work in the US, or did he just prefer the freedoms you get here? Here's great audio of Spotnitz talking about the pro's and con's of the US and UK systems, speaking as someone who's worked in both countries.

I'm also really excited by the beautiful Melissa George taking the lead, as she's a really great actress who deserves a headlining role. She may also draw fans of Alias to this show, which can't hurt.

Nemesis is scheduled for transmission sometime next year on BBC1/Cinemax.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

PRIMEVAL co-creator adapting best-selling novel LABYRINTH for television


I was doing some research recently and discovered news of a television project I wasn't aware of, so thought I'd blog about it here. It's a new four-part miniseries by Adrian Hodges (Primeval), adapted from the best-selling novel Labyrinth by Kate Mosse...

From the author's own website, a description of the basic plot:

In this extraordinary thriller, rich in the atmospheres of medieval and contemporary France, the lives of two women born centuries apart are linked by a common destiny.

July 2005. In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery-two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth; between the skeletons, a stone ring, and a small leather bag.

Eight hundred years earlier, on the eve of a brutal crusade to stamp out heresy that will rip apart southern France, Alais is given a ring and a mysterious book for safekeeping by her father as he leaves to fight the crusaders. The book, he says, contains the secret of the true Grail, and the ring, inscribed with a labyrinth, will identify a guardian of the Grail. As crusading armies led by Church potentates and nobles of northern France gather outside the city walls of Carcassonne, it will take great sacrifice to keep the secret of the labyrinth safe.

In the present, another woman sees the find as a means to the political power she craves; while a man who has great power will kill to destroy all traces of the discovery and everyone who stands in his way.
Labyrinth is currently filming in France for a 2012 release, starring Tom Felton (Harry Potter, above), John Hurt (Alien), Sebastian Stan (Captain America), Katie McGrath (Merlin, above) and Tony Curran (The Pillars Of The Earth). It's been developed by Ridley Scott's (Gladiator) production company Scott Free.

I hadn't heard anything about this, so just thought it was worth bringing to wider attention here. Has anyone read Mosse's book? If so, does this have potential to be something special?

HOMELAND, 1.8 - "Achilles Heel"


After last week's mostly terrific character piece, in some ways Homeland re-launches with "Achilles Heel"—with marine sniper Tom Walker now the CIA's person of interest, as they have fresh evidence his death in Baghdad was faked by Abu Nazir, thus allowing him to return to Washington D.C—posing as a hobo receiving instructions in rolled up banknotes from a passing diplomat.

This episode worked well to re-energize the show, even if I spent most of the hour concerned we may have spent seven episodes chasing the wrong man, effectively meaning the first half-season has been a waste of time (in one sense). This kind of thing used to be par for the course on 24 (the last-quarter of every season always had little to do with the first-quarter), but it would have been a bigger problem for a show like Homeland because it's not designed as a relentless domino-effect thrill ride.

I needn't have worried, because this episode ended on an effective moment that suggests Brody isn't as innocent as he passionately claimed in "The Weekend". He appeared to have just convinced Carrie (Claire Danes) of his innocence, together with most viewers at home, but there's definitely more going on here. Brody's either involved in a two-pronged attack with Walker that's slowly taking shape, or he's the backup plan if Walker gets caught. Or maybe he was genuinely never aware Walker was alive, so knowledge of that deception is what's made him renege on his mission—whatever that is?

The Achilles heel of the title referred primarily to Walker, whose love for his family is his weakness. He's been calling their voicemail most days since he got back to the States, just to hear their comforting voices, and the CIA are soon exploiting this weakness to their own ends with a phone trace. It seems Brody's Achilles heel may be the exact same thing, as he made serious progress with his family. For the first time since he got home, the Brody family were acting like a proper family: playing board games and watching movies, before Jess (Morena Baccarin) accompanied her husband to a fancy shindig thrown by Elizabeth Gaines, the Vice-President's aide who still thinks Brody is perfect political material. As I mentioned many weeks ago when Gaines first appeared on the show, maybe it's Brody's role in Abu Nazir's plot to become a government figure, to facilitate a more devastating attack? If so, the plan's working...

And again, the family theme returned with Saul (Mandy Patinkin) realizing he's powerless to stop his wife leaving him. His job's cost him his marriage, but it's a job that means the world to him. I especially enjoyed the touching moment when Carrie suddenly realized she'll probably always be alone, because this job and relationships aren't good bedfellows, and her mentor Saul's silence spoke volumes.

Overall, what more can I say every week? This is a brilliant drama that's keeping me on the hook every single episode. It's true there's potential for the writers to give us a finale that stinks of gross manipulation, but I'm hoping things will end in a plausible, exciting way. It makes dramatic sense for the show if Brody really is a brainwashed soldier, so I don't mind that last week's confession was likely a performance to put Carrie off his scent, but please don't end Homeland by pulling some kind of ridiculous twist that spoils the characters and how they've been developing. I just want this story to end well, as it should.

Play fair, please.

written by Chip Johannessen / directed by Tucker Gates / 20 November 2011 / Showtime

THE WALKING DEAD, 2.6 – "Secrets"


I wish I shared the writers' belief in these characters as fascinating people, but I just don't. "Secrets" was a character-focused episode that lived up to its title, as most of the show's secrets are now out in the open. Most notably, Lori's (Sarah Wayne Callies) pregnancy and the fact she slept with Shane (Jon Bernthal) while thinking her husband Rick (Andrew Lincoln) was dead. (The baby's Shane's, right? I've watched soaps.) I'm pleased The Walking Dead's giving us overdue movement on these points, but "Secrets" still couldn't avoid feeling like a drag.

It's just tedious watching this ensemble go about their daily lives while crickets chirrup constantly in the background. I'm not saying Walking Dead needs to be an action-packed gorefest every single week, but I do think there needs to be a more pro-activity and drive to the show. The premiere set things up nicely with the group on the road, headed for Fort Benning with clear intentions, but we've spent almost every episode since stuck on the remote Hershel farm... and even longer looking for a little girl who really shouldn't be this hard to find!

As for character development... well, you can see that Glenn (Steven Yeung) is beginning to grow now his ego's been massaged by winsome Maggie (Lauren Cohan), particularly after he saved her from a surprise zombie attack in a pharmacy. And there are moments when the show tries to shake some life into itself (Dale now suspects Shane's a threat), or otherwise deal a few minor surprises (the speed at which Glenn told Dale about Hershel's barn full of "walkers" fed on crippled chickens), but I just don't feel much attachment to these characters. Seeing them change, very slowly (although it's only been 12 episodes), isn't yet a compelling aspect of this show.

That said, I'm fairly interested to see how far they push Shane into the darkness. Will he confess to sacrificing Otis? If so, will he redeem himself somehow? Or will he become the show's villain and split from the group with Andrea (Laurie Holden) in tow? I wouldn't say I'm itching for the next episode to find out, though. The characters aren't why most people are watching Walking Dead, and they really should be. I commend the show for trying to ensure the characters are the stars, not the zombies, but it's not working. It just seems that, while The Walking Dead certainly has its moments, it's too keen to slam on the brakes and follow a great episode with a boring one. I'm beginning to think one reason showrunner Frank Darabont was fired by AMC (halfway through production of this season's episodes) is because they saw the completed hours and realized most were sluggish, dull and annoying.

Overall, as you can no doubt tell because of my brevity and decision not to cover everything that happened this week, "Secrets" didn't work for me. There are better ways to have revealed its secrets , other than having characters just tell each other anticlimactically. Still, a few things bode well for the future: Dale's made an enemy of Shane and is suspicious about what happened to Otis; Rick knows his best-friend slept with his wife; and Andrea and Shane are getting even closer after having sex (is it that guy's mission to sleep with everyone?) As much as I disliked this episode, it moved plenty of stuff forward, eventually, which I'm hoping subsequent episodes capitalize on.

However, after a great opening three episodes, Walking Dead's starting to falter mid-season, and many of my frustrations about the first season are coming back into play...

written by Angela Kang / directed by David Boyd / 27 November 2011 / AMC

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

DEXTER, 6.8 - "Sins Of Omission"


Slightly better than last week's fiasco, if only because it returned to this season's storyline, "Sins Of Omission" didn't do much to quell my fears that Dexter is plummeting like a stone right now. The writers are still being cagey about Gellar's (Edward James Olmos) physical status, and it's gone past being a weird irritation. It's downright insulting to the audience, whichever way it resolves. Gellar's either a figment of Travis's (Colin Hanks) imagination, meaning the show's wasted precious time on a twist everyone predicted seven episodes ago; or he's a real person, meaning the season's wasted precious time inspiring a pointless debate that's grown to overshadow things.

In "Sins Of Omission" the show was back to recycling the same basic storyline it's been doing most weeks, only now we're at the stage of the season where Dexter's having to rush his plans because the Miami Metro are beginning to catch up to his own solo investigation. (This happens every single season.) More pertinently, Travis is still shunning Gellar, who's pestering him at home in an unintentionally hilarious manner (seriously, if there comes a time when we can be sure Travis basically whacked himself in the face with a shovel, I don't think I'll be able to stop laughing for a week.) The one idea in this episode I quite liked was Dexter's wondering if the late Brother Sam passed some "light" to him through his teachings (our antihero didn't kill Jonah last week), and Dex has in turn passed on that same light to Travis after their brief meeting (as he now knows Travis is doing his best to keep bad influence Gellar at arm's length). It was quite a nice suggestion, that's all I'm saying.

I also wasn't expecting Travis's sister (Molly Parker) to become the "Whore Of Babylon" in the Doomsday Killer's latest tableau, and it's even more unnerving to think Travis may have killed his own sister while in his "Gellar guise"—especially given their history together and Travis's apparently genuine love for the sibling who raised him as an orphaned teenager. Hanks didn't really sell the emotion of the scene where Gellar told him what has become of his innocent sister, but I never really expected him to because he's been utterly miscast as season 6's antagonist.

Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) realizing her relationship with Dexter is very one-sided was also quite interesting, as the shrink she's seeing appears to be making her see her family life in a different way. How long until Deb's head clears enough for her to realize what her brother's been up to all these years? In the short-term, Dex won't appreciate Deb making an effort to put aside her own concerns and start focusing to him, as you get the impression he's probably kept his killing a secret for long precisely because his sister's so self-centered.

One thing that deflated a lot of this episode was the return of so many of this season's awful subplots: geeky intern Lewis making moves on Angel's (David Zayas) cute sister Jamie (Aimee Garcia), only to heed her overprotective brother's warning to stay away (who cares about this, who?); Debra again locking horns with LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), which just makes me hate a character who was previously boring but harmless; and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) got drunk with Masuka (C.S Lee) at a strip joint (I forget why this scene even existed, unless there's a female buttock quota the show has to meet for cable).

Still, at the very least we've arrived at a point where Dexter's discovered Gellar's secret lair (an abandoned church) and has gained a willing accomplice in Travis to avenge his sister's ritualistic murder. But look, can we just admit Gellar's a dark part of Travis's psyche who comes out to play every once in awhile? It's getting silly now. The camera even treated Gellar like he's an apparition throughout this episode, and it's no fun being several steps ahead of every dimwitted character on the show. Question: how many episodes can they squeeze from the idea of Dexter and Travis trying to find a man who doesn't exist anymore? A better question: just how terribly underwhelming is the episode going to be when they finally reveal Gellar's secret?

Asides

  • I liked the moment when Dexter half-raised his hand at Brother's Sam funeral, signalling that Sam had changed his life.
  • The scene where Dexter had his sins absolved by retired priest Father Galway was an interesting idea, but very poorly handled. They could have got a lot of mileage from that moment but it was over far too quickly. Considering Galway's dementia, I was hoping Dexter would go into more detail about what he's been doing, safe in the knowledge nobody would ever believe Galway and the poor man would probably forget everything in an hour anyway.
written by Arika Lisanne Mittman / directed by Ernest Dickerson / 20 November 2011 / Showtime

Monday, 21 November 2011

MISFITS, 3.4 – episode four


I can't argue against Misfits trying something more adventurous, but its own version of Doctor Who's "Let's Kill Hitler" gambit was an entertaining misfire. It didn't do enough that developed or stretched the characters (which was almost impossible considering this took place in an alternate timeline), and lacked the budget to bring its ideas to life in a vivid enough way. I didn't really buy into this altered world, where the Nazis won WWII and have occupied Britain, because beyond hanging a few swastika's around it never felt like a very oppressive state.

To backup, things got started when elderly Holocaust survivor Friedrich (Fred Pearson) used his acquired power of time-travel to turn back the clock and assassinate Adolf Hitler (David Barrass). A mission that didn't go according to plan when the geriatric time-traveller was overpowered by the Fuhrer and was forced to return to the present-day with a life-threatening knife wound. Unfortunately, Friedrich had also left his 21st-century mobile phone in the 1930s, and discovered that history had been rewritten in the favour of the Third Reich. From there we met alternate versions of the misfit gang: parole officer Shaun (Craig Parkinson) as a Nazi soldier; Alisha (Antonia Thomas) as Shaun's secretary and spy for the Resistance; Simon (Iwan Rheon) as a conflicted footsoldier; Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) as the leader of the local Resistance movement; Kelly (Lauren Socha) as Curtis' right-hand woman; and Rudy (Joe Gilgun) as someone on the run from the Nazi's who wants to join the fight.

There followed a mixed hour playing on this basic idea. It was great to see Shaun on a power trip (abusing his position to kiss Alisha), but none of the other character's roles really came to life for me. What was surprising is how central power-dealer Seth (Matthew McNulty) was to the episode, as the Nazi's knew of his ability to leech and transfer super-powers and wanted to force him into bestowing powers on high-ranking Nazi's by taking them away from the local population of reprobate kids. I'm just not sure anyone really cares about Seth as much as the show wants us to, despite the fact he's in a romantic storyline with Kelly—who even in this universe is head-over-heels for him. Lauren Socha has also been given a lot of material this year, probably because of her surprise BAFTA win, but I still don't find Kelly particularly appealing. She's good for a quip ("fuckin' Nazis") and sulky eye-roll, but I remain surprised she was singled out by BAFTA for a top acting award. As anyone who's explored this show's DVD box-set extras will know, playing someone like Kelly is hardly a stretch for Lauren.

The storyline was a little thin this week. It was simply a caper with the characters in a very different situation, not recognizing each other, but eventually coming together to rescue Seth before he destroys any chance of a super-powered uprising against the Nazi party. It was just hard to really care about anything, because similarly to series 2's finale it was obvious everything would be undone by the time the credits rolled. Even the idea of exploring the characters in a different context didn't work too well, because everyone apart from Simon was largely the same as they've ever been. Growing up under the boot of the Nazi's didn't seem to have changed them to any extent, and seeing characters behaving very differently to what's "normal" is a big part of why such "alternate universe" plots are so popular in science fiction. So without any big changes to the characters, it was hard to see the point... beyond the chance for some funny one-liners like "Oi, Hitler! Why've you got to be such a dick?"

A big opportunity missed is how I'd describe this episode. The idea of going back in time and killing Hitler is a hoary cliché, but Misfits usually takes the clichés of the superhero genre and gives them a very British, very coarse, very gritty rub down. Quite why the juicy notion of these delinquent, smart-talking characters living in a fascist state didn't amount to much is a puzzle. Maybe it was because they weren't aware of any changes to the timeline, and the only character who was (Friedrich) spent most of this episode in a prison cell not saying anything.

It was also odd that Kelly, having saved the day with twin handguns before travelling back in time to headbutt Hitler and steal back Friedrich's phone, is now existing in the restored timeline as herself. Logically, we now have an alternate-Kelly in the group, who's lived a totally different life under Nazi rule... but I don't expect the show to adhere to what that all means. It plays very fast and loose with logic, as we've seen many times before, and I'm sure that's going to infuriate a certain type of sci-fi fan.

Overall, episode 4 perhaps bit off more than it could chew; the production struggled to do full justice to the idea of a fascist England, and writer Howard Overman forgot that the most enjoyable thing about alternate universes is seeing established characters being given new and surprising personalities as a result of the differences in their timeline. I wouldn't say it was boring or devoid of highlights (such as the shocking moment Simon went through with killing poor Friedrich), but I will say I expected a lot better.

Asides

  • In this alternate universe, I guess Nathan still went to Vegas?
  • I could be mistaken, but I think this episode gave us the name of the district Misfits actually takes place. Wertham was written on a sign in one scene.
  • I'm not sure if it was intentional, but I liked the shots of the city's red skies and bright white sun, resembling the iconic swastika banner design.
written by Howard Overman / directed by Wayne Yip & Alex Garcia / 20 November 2011 / E4

FRINGE, 4.7 – "Wallflower"


There was nothing very remarkable about this episode's story or its freak-of-the-week villain, as Fringe often just recycles past successes with a few cosmetic changes. That's just how it is with US network sci-fi shows expected to churn out two dozen episodes per year, and I don't have a problem with it... provided it feels like it has something to say about the human condition. Fortunately, "Wallflower" was definitely one of the better standalone episodes because it tackled themes of personal connection and loneliness in a way I found engaging.

This week, Fringe Division were chasing a man called Eugene Bryant (Tobias Segal)—a former lab rat of a Massive Dynamic subsidiary whose unique DNA allowed scientists to turn him into a human chameleon. After a lab fire in which Eugene was believed to have perished, he's actually been living a lonely existence—literally unable to be seen by normal people, and therefore connect with anyone or form any friendships and relationships. So once again we had a very sympathetic villain to chase—who was committing murders across the city, but only so he could "re-pigmentize" his transparent skin and get a taste of what it's like to be seen. In one lovely sequence, the crushingly shy Eugene shares an elevator with an attractive woman, but can't bring himself to start a conversation with her, until another man enters and effortlessly does exactly that.

In the subplot, the everyday difficulties of forging personal connection was also being explored. Lincoln (Seth Gabel) is developing feelings for Olivia (Anna Torv), who in turn is beginning to doubt her own ability to put herself out on display emotionally. Has she been psychologically scarred by the Cortexiphan trials she went through as a child? Not according to surrogate mother Nina (Blair Brown), but it was a nice way to mirror some of Eugene's own issues in the show's leading actress. Even better, I was pleased that Fringe is avoiding a lazy love-triangle between Olivia, Lincoln and Peter (Joshua Jackson), as the latter totally understands that the Olivia of this timeline isn't the woman he's dating in the "real world" and actually helps Lincoln impress Olivia with a snazzier pair of glasses.

Overall, the mechanics of this episode weren't anything very exciting but simply having a decent theme is often enough to make me overlook some issues. Eugene's story had some similarities to how Misfits equated invisibility to social awkwardness, and they handled it very well. The cathartic scene where Eugene was astonished to find the woman in the elevator talking to him like the normal person he longs to be perceived and treated as, was well worth waiting for. Plus there was a very interesting denouement with Olivia being gassed by two masked men working for Nina, where she'll wake up with no memory of the past few hours. Seeing as Olivia was earlier complaining of a migraine, how long exactly has Nina been gassing Olivia, and to what end?

Aside

  • This episode marks the somewhat premature mid-season finale of Fringe, as the show won't return until 13 January 2012. In summarizing what we've had to far, I have to say I'm disappointed. It feels like a mistake to have given us yet another "alternate world" to explore. This Peter-less world just isn't different or interesting enough, like the writers overestimated the importance of Peter's character. (A Walter-less universe would be a different matter entirely!) Right now, Fringe is needlessly exploring areas the fans don't care about, as we were engaged with the dueling universes idea that's effectively been dropped since season 3's finale. I hope the show gets back on-track soon, as this is very likely going to be the last ever season, given the appalling Friday night ratings.
written by Matthew Pitts & Justin Doble / directed by Anthony Hemingway / 18 November 2011 / Fox

TV Picks: 21-27 November 2011 (Adventurer's Guide To Britain, Café, Chris Moyles' Quiz Night, Devil's Dinner Party, Tony Robinson's Gods & Monsters, etc.)

Pick of the Week: THE CAFE - Sky1, Wednesday, 9PM

MONDAY 21st
Trash To Cash (BBC2, 1pm) Series 3 of the show where people exchange their household rubbish for money. (1/10)
PICK OF THE DAY Britain's Greatest Codebreaker (Channel 4, 9pm) Docudrama about Alan Turing, the master codebreaker and godfather of computer science.
The Boarding School Bomber (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary about a former public schoolboy called Andrew Lincoln who was arrested for planning to blow up a Bristol shopping centre in 2008.
The Lost Orphan: Mirela's Story (Channel 5, 10pm) Documentary about Natalie Pinkham, a TV presenter returning to a Romanian orphanage she visited 12 years ago to find a particular little girl.

TUESDAY 22nd
PICK OF THE DAY The Adventurer's Guide To Britain (ITV1, 7.30pm) Series looking at some of the country's more adventurous terrain, locations and activities. Hosted by Gethin Jones & Charlotte Uhlenbroek. (1/6)
Ian Hislop: When Bankers Were Good (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on how bankers were perceived as a positive influence on life back in Victorian times. Presented by Ian Hislop.
John Steinbeck: Voice Of America (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on the great American writer, behind The Grapes Of Wrath, East Of Eden & Cannery Row. Presented by Melvyn Bragg.
Imagine: Vidal Sassoon – A Cut Above (BBC1, 10.35pm) Documentary on the world-famous hairdresser and stylist.

WEDNESDAY 23rd
World Cinema Awards 2011 (BBC4, 12.30am) Awards ceremony hosted by Jonathan Ross.
That's Britain! (BBC1, 8pm) Magazine series on the highs and lows of living in the UK. Hosted by Nick Knowles & Julia Bradbury, with contributions from Larry Lamb, Ade Edmondson, Grainne Seoige & Stanley Johnson. (1/4)
Your Money And How They Spend It (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on how corporations and the government spend and waste money. Presented by Nick Robinson. (1/2)
Searching For Summertime (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on the famous song "Summertime" and its origin.
The Devil's Dinner Party (Sky Atlantic, 8pm) Psychological gameshow where six strangers attend a dinner party designed to whittle them down to one victor. (1/20)
PICK OF THE DAY The Café (Sky1, 9pm) Brand new sitcom about a writer who returns home to help run a family café in Weston-super-Mare. Starring Ralf Little, Michelle Terry, June Watson, Ellie Haddington, David Troughton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge & Kevin Trainor. (1/6)
Chris Moyles' Quiz Night (Channel 4, 10pm) Series 5 of the celebrity comedy quiz. Hosted by Chris Moyles. Guests this week are Jeremy Clarkson, Katherine Jenkins & Jason Manford. (1/8)


THURSDAY 24th
Live From Abbey Road (Channel 4, 12am) Series 4 of the music show. Hosted by Laura Marling & Ryan Adams. (1/12)
PICK OF THE DAY Living With The Amish (Channel 4, 9pm) Series where five British teenagers go on a cultural exchange with an Amish community in America. (1/6)
The Manor Reborn (BBC1, 9pm) Series about the renovation of a 500-year-old manor house in Avebury, Wiltshire. Presented by Penelope Keith & Paul Martin. (1/4)

FRIDAY 25th
PICK OF THE DAY Prince: A Purple Reign (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on the famous singer-songwriter Prince.

SATURDAY 26th
PICK OF THE DAY Tony Robinson's Gods & Monsters (Channel 4, 8.15pm) Series investigating the superstitions of Britain, beginning with a look at why people thought the dead could come back to life. (1/5)

SUNDAY 27th
Nothing.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

MERLIN, 4.8 – "Lamia"


This was a strange episode. I appreciated some of its ideas—especially Merlin (Colin Morgan) replacing Gaius (Richard Wilson) as a doctor on a "house call"—and there was a wonderfully dark and insidious tone throughout, together with a fantastic Rastafarian squid monster and a moment of heroism from a sword-wielding Gwen (Angel Coulby), whose role's been reduced for no good reason this year. But despite all that, "Lamia" failed to capitalize on these positives (e.g. the Knights may have been more prominent for a change, but most were playing brainwashed versions of themselves, so there was no relevant character development).

It was a real shame, because there was potential here for something much stronger. I really liked the idea of Merlin in a position of true authority (notice how he spoke to the villagers with a commanding tone of voice), and the eponymous Lamia (Charlene McKenna) oozed quiet malevolence as every man fell under her spell, but there just wasn't enough going on in-between its highlights. I began to lose patience with the story halfway through and found nothing very interesting in Arthur's (Bradley James) and Agravaine's (Nathaniel Parker) attempt to find the missing Knights. There was a serious lack of humour to this episode, too, and the drama wasn't special enough to make you forget that fact.

Overall, "Lamia" just felt like filler of no lasting significance. I can't imagine anyone being excited by anything presented here... more disappointed writer Jake Michie didn't do more with the idea of Merlin as the official leader of a group. I was quite looking forward to an episode where the boy-wizard could be a hero more openly, by saving a village from disease, but it didn't come to pass. Instead we got yet another mysterious woman who's a "creature of magic", poisoning the minds of Camelot's finest, with Gwen just tagging along for the ride. I guess it made a change that Arthur was the one rushing to save Merlin's life for once, but I wanted a lot more.

Asides

  • A bugbear of mine, but I hate it when official sites suddenly stop making promotional photos available. (This commonly affects Chuck.) Merlin's a successful show that's already been renewed for a fifth series, so where's the photos, BBC?
written by Jake Michie / directed by Julian Molotnikov / 19 November 2011 / BBC One

Saturday, 19 November 2011

CHUCK, 5.4 – "Chuck Versus The Business Trip"


I love unexpected surprises. This was probably one of the best episodes Chuck's done in years. For the first time in ages there was enough story, twists, jokes, action and character moments to completely fill 43-minutes. It gave me a warm feeling I haven't felt from the show in a very long time, and intriguingly it occurred in an episode where there was no Intersect to provide some easy thrills. It was just the characters, on a mission that played fair and entertained, ably assisted by subplots that didn't detract, bore or frustrate.

This week, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) had the Intersect removed by a visiting General Beckman (Bonita Fiedericy), as a somewhat implausible measure to prevent him being assassinated by CIA agents under orders to kill him as an unacceptable security leak. Unfortunately, the villainous Agent Decker (Richard Burgi) wasn't so easily dissuaded from orders and a hitman known as "The Viper" was still very much on the hunt. This lead to Chuck (Zachary Levi) posing as "Morgan Grimes" and attending the Buy More's annual National Salesperson of the Year event in beautiful Riverdale, with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) along to try and lure The Viper out into the open to annul the threat.

I enjoyed a great deal of this episode. Chuck and Sarah enjoying themselves at the Buy More event (where it seems the rest of the company's employees aren't anything like the moronic Burbank branch) was entertaining to me, although the show's definitely covered the idea of two spies exploring a "normal life" before now. But it made sense to me that Sarah would be so taken with making a friend in Buy More employee Jane (Catherine Dent), seeing as the show always has to quickly invents friends and bridesmaids for Sarah because she's socially disadvantaged. It would also have been very easy for the show to give us a whole party full of Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) freaks, but I thought it was more interesting to go the opposite way.

Speaking of the Buy Morons, I'm relieved the show hasn't ignored the events of last week with Jeff—who's now cleared his head of carbon monoxide fumes and is a sensible bookworm that Lester can't tempt into fooling around at work. He even gave Devon (Ryan McPartlin) some intuitive advice about letting Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) return to a full-time role as Clara's mother and ease off being a house-husband. There was even some comedy that worked very well, with Casey (Adam Baldwin) giving Morgan bad advice about repopulating his memory gaps (like beginning a Star Wars marathon with The Phantom Menace) to teach him a lesson over dumping his daughter, before eventually coming around and giving him the Indiana Jones saga (minus the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull).

It's fair to criticize the central mystery of The Viper's identity (which boiled down to two guest stars), but I've seen Chuck do a far worse job with similar setups. And while it's impossible to feel anxious about anyone's safety on this show because Chuck just isn't going to kill one of its four leads, or even severely injure anyone too permanently, I've come to accept that as one of the show's quirks. I'd love Chuck to be a show where the week's villains may actually succeed in killing someone, but such moments are understandably reserved for special occasions (like the memorable murder of Chuck's dad). But I've made my peace with this, because Chuck's in the mould of '80s TV shows where the heroes were likewise protected from harm.

Second of Strahotness: eyes ahead, Chuck!
But even if you didn't enjoy what "Chuck Versus The Business Trip" was doing for the majority of the episode, I can't see anyone disliking the final ten minutes. It's here that Decker gave the order for the exposed Viper to continue going after the team (with the exception of Chuck and Sarah), before she was ruthlessly and unexpectedly assassinated by Casey, together with all her accomplices. After an episode spent musing on how the bad guys rarely pose a genuine threat to the good guys, it was as if writer Kristin Newman wanted to prove that Chuck could still have a certain amount of grit. The last act's dinner party scene was also great, with practically every character laughing and joking at a relaxed social occasion, with half the group keeping secrets (Sarah knowing she sent Casey to kill people, Casey knowing the deed was done, Devon giving up his paternity leave to please his wife, lovebirds Morgan and Alex on their recent split)

So now Casey's been arrested by Decker's men for murder, and I don't see how they'll get out of that tight spot. He really did murder a handful of CIA agents, and I'm guessing there's evidence for that. Are we headed towards a murder trial? Will Casey be forced on the run at some point? I'm guessing they'll have to prove that Decker and The Viper are rogue government agents somehow, to receive a pardon?

Overall, "... Versus The Business Trip" felt more like an old-school episode of Chuck to me. It had some faults and problems, but much of that's down to the fact Chuck's been around so long we can predict most of its moves, or remember instances when the show did something similar in a better way. I'm just glad this episode appears to have really punched season 5 up a gear, now that Carmichael Industries has no Intersect to rely on, and one of their team's just been arrested for murder. Decker is also going to be a tough season villain to beat, seeing as he's a "good guy" and is in many ways untouchable.

written by Kristin Newman / directed by Allan Kroeker / 18 November 2011 / NBC