Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Review: WHITECHAPEL, 3.1 - episode one




Whitechapel started as a silly but entertaining miniseries about a serial-killer copying the crimes of notorious Jack the Ripper in the same titular London district. Creatively, it should have ended there and then, but ratings were so strong (at a time when ITV was desperate for drama success) that it was recommissioned for a second series about the secret twin offspring of the notorious Krays. That bizarre follow-up has its supporters, but I found it to be so ludicrous and dumb that my interest nosedived quickly.

Upon hearing that Whitechapel was to then be remolded into a six-part series (telling three two-part stories), by losing its "copycat" basis and connecting to historical cases in a looser way, it felt like a logical step to take. (They've already exhausted famous Whitechapel cases, besides.) But it's also a change that erodes the show's USP, and essentially turns it into just another mismatched detective drama; albeit one where pathologists keep mentioning historical precedents and sepia slides of 19th-century newspapers are shown on overhead projectors.

The premiere two-part story of series 3 concerns the vicious and puzzling murder of four tailors working late inside their secure workshop. DI Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) and DS Miles (Phil Davis) are assigned to solve the "locked room" mystery, hours after Chandler's suggested they should use history as a "kind of map to guide us through present crimes". What better way to crack modern cases than by remembering valuable lessons from history, right? That's the kind of thinking behind the revamped Whitechapel (history repeats), but it doesn't wash with me. It makes sense when you're chasing someone who's purposefully basing their activities on historical crimes (i.e. reading the same library books as you), but you can feel the story straining to link this crime to the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 because of some superficial similarities.

It also doesn't help that, for me at least, the relationship between upper-class OCD sufferer Chandler and working class grouch Miles has run its course. Their differences made for a compelling first series, where they grew to respect each other, and mileage was squeezed out of the chalk-and-cheese dynamic in the second, but they're now best-friends who engage in light banter about each other's quirks and backgrounds. It just doesn't feel as enjoyable as it once did.

Plus the return of crime expert Buchan (Steve Pemberton) strains credibility. He started as an oddball Ripperologist tour guide, was revealed to also be an erstwhile expert on The Krays, and is now Chandler's official historical guide? Given a HQ in the basement of the police station, to browse archival files and find connections between the past and present, Buchan only serves to remind you how silly this show's become, and his insights don't feel like they should be taken seriously in a non-copycat context.

Whitechapel is what happens when a decent miniseries is forced into an ill-fitting shape because of unexpected popularity. It's still one of ITV's better crime dramas, but it's leagues away from equalling the BBC's atmospheric Luther or mesmerising Sherlock. The performances are adequate at best, the direction's rudimentary with cheap visual flourishes, and Ben Court and Caroline Ip's scripts are largely hogwash (especially now they can't lean on the enduring appeal of The Ripper.)

And yet, I wouldn't blame you for watching more. It's undemanding fun at times, and at least this series will give us quicker resolutions and a few different stories. But the lack of a truly compelling hook (like the previous "modern-day Jack The Ripper copycat" or "secret progeny of the Krays rebuild their East End crime empire"), means I just can't get excited about a bunch of dead tailors.

written by Ben Court & Caroline Ip / directed by John Strickland / 30 January 2012 / ITV1

Monday, 30 January 2012

FRINGE, 4.10 – "Forced Perspective"




I'm afraid bread-and-butter episodes like "Forced Perspective" will have to be given "capsule treatment" at the moment, as I don't have much to say. It felt like an episode we've seen frequently on Fringe, because it's essentially a variation on the show's freak-of-the-week formula; this time concerning a teenage girl who can sense the future and make illustrated predictions of people's deaths. This ability piqued the interest of Olivia (Anna Torv) because an Observer told her she's fated to die in every permutation of the future, and it became clear that this Peter-less version of the "prime universe" are less informed about the bald Observers and what they represent.

It wasn't a bad episode, but it was dispensable and only nudged the mytharc along in minor ways. Still, there were some impressive "frozen time" special-effects, and one of the best teasers in ages (evoking the Final Destination movies). It's just hard to get truly excited about these standalone tales, when the show has better and more urgent things to explore. But if you thought we needed a breather right now, this was your rest stop.

written by Ethan Gross / directed by David Solomon / 27 January 2012 / Fox

TV Picks: 30 January – 6 February 2012 (Being Human, Harry Hill's TV Burp, Inside Men, Prisoner's Wives, Spartacus: Vengeance, True Blood, Whitechapel, etc.)

BEING HUMAN - Sunday, BBC3 - 9PM

MONDAY 30th
Protecting Our Children (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on the child protection team of Bristol.
Whitechapel (ITV1, 9pm) Series 3 of the crime drama where contemporary cases are cracked by investigating local history. Starring Rupert Penry-Jones & Phil Davis. (1/6)
Royal Marines: Mission Afghanistan (Channel 5, 9pm) Documentary series following the Lima Company of the RM during their tour of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Britain's Gay Footballers (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary investigation into the lack of football players who come out as gay. Presented by Amal Fashanu, the niece of gay ex-footballer Justin Fashanu.
Lost Kingdoms Of Africa (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on the continent's four most sophisticated kingdoms, beginning with Ghana.
The Lying Game (5*, 9pm) Season 1 of the US drama about twins to meet after being separated after birth.
PICK OF THE DAY  Spartacus: Vengeance (Sky1, 10pm) Season 3 of the US historical action drama. Stars Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Manu Bennett & Viva Bianca. (1/10)

TUESDAY 31st
Alex Polizzi: The Fixer (BBC2, 8pm) Series where Hotel Inspector Alex Polizzi launches a campaign to save family businesses across the UK.
Terror At Sea (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary on the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia.
PICK OF THE DAY Prisoner's Wives (BBC1, 9pm) Drama about various women and the impact felt when their husbands are jailed. (1/6)
Wonderland: My Child The Rioter (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary series about the riots of summer 2011.

WEDNESDAY 1st
Love In The Wild (ITV1, 9pm) Reality gameshow where 10 people compete for a round-the-world trip by taking part in various challenges in Costa Rica.
PICK OF THE DAY Bouncers (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary on a Newport security firm who deal with high street fights and unruly behaviour.
Burglar In The House (BBC1, 10.45pm) Documentary on the state of the country's burglary rates.

THURSDAY 2nd
Motorway Cops (BBC1, 8pm) Return of the fly-on-the-wall documentary.
Raymond Blanc: The Very Hungry Frenchman (BBC2, 8pm) Culinary series where the chef reveals the dishes that inspired him into cookery.
PICK OF THE DAY Inside Men (BBC1, 9pm) Drama about employees of a security depot who plan a heist of their workplace to steal millions. Stars Warren Brown, Steven Mackintosh & Ashley Walters. (1/4)
Winter Road Rescue (Channel 5, 9pm) Documentary on the UK's snow plough drivers who struggle to keep our roads safe in bad weather.
Bullets, Boots & Bandages: How To Really Win At War (BBC4, 9pm) Series looking at how historical wars have been won or lost. Presented by Saul David.
Confessions From The Underground (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary on the London Underground, revealing many of the unknown problems and complexities hidden from daily commuters.
The Almighty Johnsons (Syfy, 10pm) Season 1 of the NZ fantasy drama about a group of reincarnated Norse Gods. (1/10)

FRIDAY 3rd
PICK OF THE DAY The Cutty Sark (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary on the historic Cutty Sark ship that was set alight in 2007, focusing on the vessel's re-opening to tourists after some restoration.

SATURDAY 4th
PICK OF THE DAY Harry Hill's TV Burp (ITV1, 7.15pm) Potentially the last series of this sideways look at the week's TV shows. (1/8)

SUNDAY 5th
PICK OF THE DAY Being Human (BBC3, 9pm) Series 4 of the supernatural drama. Stars Lenora Crichlow, Russell Tovey, Damien Molony, Michael Socha & Andrew Gower. (1/8)
True Blood (FX, 10pm) Season 4 of the US vampire drama. Stars Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer & Alexander Skarsgard. (1/12)
Bomber Boys (BBC1, 10.30pm) Ewan McGregor and his RAF pilot brother Colin investigate RAF Bomber Command during WWII.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

CHUCK, 5.12 & 5.13 – "Chuck Versus Sarah" & "Chuck Versus the Goodbye"




"Chuck, tell me our story..." – Sarah Walker

Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) and Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) have always been the heart of this show, so after five seasons it was a perfect decision to have the potential loss of their relationship be the driving force behind a double-bill series finale. By having Sarah's memories wound back to before "Operation Bartowski" by villainous Quinn (Angus Macfadyen), re-programmed to believe she's spend the last five years deep undercover pretending to be Chuck's girlfriend/wife, the emotional stakes of the final episodes were some of the highest the show's produced. That all helped counterbalance the pretty simplistic plots, and naturally the show had some fun making references to its own history and giving fans a few parting gifts.

Zachary Levi was particularly brilliant here, especially in the scene where he made a heartfelt plea for amnesiac Sarah to believe his side of the story. You sometimes underestimate just how good Levi is on this show, but it was clear from that scene how much he really cares about his character's life and he was able to communicate all the pain, sorrow and desperation necessary. I don't mind admitting I was welling up on two occasions, although I never quite cracked into full-blown weeping. But there was always this anxious ache for the story to take the expected, cathartic twist and get its two lead characters back together. The wait for this breakthrough almost became unbearable. And, rather controversially, it never quite came as we'd expected. Showing some uncharacteristic plausibility, Sarah's memories never magically returned, with their final kiss on the beach leaving the lovebirds' fate ambiguous. Did Morgan's (Joshua Gomez) romantic idea that one kiss would make everything better work? Or will Chuck have to slowly win Sarah all over again, which at least feels likely given her acceptance of his idea to kiss her? We'll never know for sure, which I'm sure will aggravate many 'shippers.

For the most part, these episodes didn't really have much more on their minds than torturing fans over the Chuck/Sarah predicament, but both were fast-paced and exciting when they wanted to be. I'm not sure Quinn ever really worked as a Big Bad, mainly because he was introduced so very late in the season, but at least his goal to acquire a functioning Intersect by using Sarah against Chuck was one of the better evil plans a villain's had on the show. I also really loved the various callbacks to things from the show's past: like the return of the Wienerlicious (including Sarah in her iconic pigtails and miniskirt), Linda Hamilton reprising her role as Mary Bartowski (despite still being a charisma-free zone), the Buy More officially taken over by Subway (the show's biggest commercial supporter since season 2), and a brilliant Jeffster performance of A-Ha's "Take On Me" during a tense sequence where Chuck had to defuse a bomb under General Beckman's (Bonita Fiedericy) chair.

It was only right the show focus on Chuck and Sarah, but a part of me wishes some of the other characters were given better concluding moments. Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and Devon (Ryan McPartlin) simply moved to Chicago for better jobs, Morgan and Alex (Mekenna Melvin) moved in together, and Casey (Adam Baldwin) left to find his beloved Gertrude (Carrie Ann Moss, sadly missing from this finale). The best farewell moment was arguably given to Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay), who were signed by a German music producer and are seemingly destined to become David Hasselhoff-style hits in the Fatherland.

Overall, for a show that's already given us about four different would-be finales in its hectic lifetime, "... Versus The Goodbye" wasn't the funniest or the most exciting, but by focusing on the Chuck/Sarah dynamic it was undoubtedly the most heartrending at times. Is it frustrating that the show didn't give us an unequivocal "happy ending" for the couple? Perhaps, but that's down to personal taste. I will assume that the kiss on the beach, after Chuck told Sarah their entire story, worked... but if not, I find it hard to believe they wouldn't just fall in love all over again...

As a wrap-up to the show, it did its job. To be honest, I haven't found Chuck as essential to watch since the end of season 3, but this final season had a terrific run of episodes and felt more focused than usual. I've never found Chuck especially funny, and often the drama doesn't always work because there are rarely any stakes, but there's always been an inherent likeability about the show that I've enjoyed. It exists to entertain, and is a great example of a fantastic cast making the material work in ways it probably doesn't on the page. You can always tell that the actors/writers are 100% committed to the show and very passionate about it, plus mindful of their fans and the role they've played in keeping it on-air. It's one of the best examples of a show that knows how to keep its fanbase on-side, through thick and thin.

And on a personal note, I've enjoyed reviewing Chuck. I haven't always had much to say that's vastly different, week to week, but it's always been one of the easier shows to watch and critique. So despite the fact I was never a big fan of the Buy More, or most of season 4, and I don't think the show is as amazing as most fans believe, it's been a fun and reliable place to be entertained. And if nothing else, I look forward to seeing Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski (especially) now get a chance to do something different, because five years is a big chunk out of an actor's career...

Asides

  • Things we learned: you can fit Sarah into an average-sized bag.
  • Did all the budget go on the sky diving sequence for Sarah? Or the helicopter landing sequence? Those were fantastic throwbacks to what the show could do in season 1 and 2.
  • There weren't many of the show's traditional guest-stars here, although Mark Pellegrino (Lost, Being Human USA) had a brief scene as a villain called Edgar.
written by Rafe Jenkins & Lauren LeFranc (5.12) & Chris Fedak (5.13) / directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (5.12) & Robert Duncan McNeill (5.13) / 27 January 2012 / NBC

Last Second of Strahotness: leather bikini

Friday, 27 January 2012

HUNDERBY: Julia Davis making Sky Atlantic black period comedy


Sky Atlantic have commissioned seven half-hour episodes of Hunderby, a new comedy from award-winning writer/actress Julia Davis (Nighty Night, Human Remains) about a shipwreck survivor in the 1800s who's washed ashore near an English village and found by a smitten pastor called Edmund.

From Sky's press release:

"Davis's inimitable style of black comedy has set her apart from her contemporaries as one of the most unique talents around. Now, she turns her attention to the 1800s in Hunderby, which features Helene, a shipwreck survivor washed ashore near a small English village. There, she is swept off her feet by widowed pastor Edmund and the two soon marry, the puritanical Edmund believing his bride to be untouched by another man. But she has a history, a dark past that she cannot escape.

As Helene moves into Edmund's home, she falls under the watchful eye of housekeeper Dorothy (Davis) who is more than a little involved in her master's life, and quite obsessed with his dead first wife, Arabelle - to whom Helene simply does not compare. While Helene battles to keep her past a secret, she must navigate Dorothy’s devious scheming, her husband's harsh critique and a potential new love interest.

In a gothic setting populated by the requisite cast of fiends, physicians, hunchbacks, wastrels, maids, crones, and an adorable puppy called Wilfred, Hunderby oozes with the dark and absurd humour that has become Julia Davis's trademark."
Julia Davis, writer/star:

"I'm so excited to be making a series for Sky Atlantic HD, a channel that has so many of my favourite shows from around the world. It's great to be working with [Sky Controller] Stuart Murphy and [Sky's Head of Comedy] Lucy Lumsden again."
Hunderby is produced by Baby Cow Productions and scheduled to air this summer. As a fan of Davis' relentlessly dark and twisted humour, this has more appeal than Sky Atlantic's other homegrown comedy This Is Jinsy. It's just a shame the more interesting Sky comedies are on their premium channel, while Sky1 viewers have to make do with the mainstream stuff like Trollied, Mount Pleasant and Stella.

Review: TOUCH, 1.1 – "Pilot"




Fox's new sci-fi drama magpies things from many nests; most notably its creator Tim Kring's own cancelled series Heroes, the interconnected narrative of the movie Babel, and elements familiar from Knowing. Touch concerns NYC luggage handler Martin Brohm (Kiefer Sutherland), a former journalist who lost his wife in the 9/11 tragedy, meaning he's had to raise their mute/autistic son Jake (David Mazouz) by himself. As is fictional tradition, Jake's neural disorder is really just the side effect of an incredible gift: he's able to see and cleverly predict the ebb and flow of life's design. And as we discover over the course of this pilot, that means Jake is basically a superior, human version of the supercomputer from Person Of Interest—able to divine the future, which in turn allows his father to use that foresight to help strangers.

This was a very decent pilot, although it didn't really offer anything unique. Kring appears to be a writer who, intentionally or not, recycles ideas that have been done many times before and merely gives them a little twist and shake of his own. There wasn't much that didn't remind me of something else I've seen or read, with similar premises or intentions, but it was a good redoing of those ideas with good performances driving it along.

Kring's essentially chosen one "super power" he might have explored on Heroes, and used it as the basis for an entire show. To be fair, it's a good foundation for a continuing drama, as it will undoubtedly be fun seeing each episode's disparate stories come together in satisfying, emotional, conclusive ways. The main reason you're left with positive feelings about Touch is how the storylines gradually knitted together here; some in surprisingly emotional ways, others less so. It helps that Sutherland treats everything so seriously, although I'm concerned about his casting as a loving father because, frankly, while he's brilliant at looking committed and passionate about his son's welfare, he looks awkward and unnatural doing scenes calling for genuine tenderness. Maybe so many years spent playing Jack Bauer has hardened him too much, but I suspect Sutherland just isn't a cuddly kind of guy, and copes much better when asked to look frantic, concerned, anxious, scared, angry or confused.

Looking ahead, you have to wonder if Touch will keep audiences hooked, because it feels like it's going to be very episodic and, obviously, extremely dependent on formula. Or maybe a few characters/plots will be weaved through multiple episodes, leading to a big finale? Time will tell. Unfortunately, Kring brings baggage with him from his days showrunning Heroes; a show that started brilliantly, flagged two-thirds through its freshman season, ended on a disappointing finale, and then proceeded to shed its audiences year on year until a fourth season cancellation. Has he learned lessons about how to develop a show over the course of many episodes and seasons? I sure hope so. Maybe that's why Touch has a far smaller regular cast than Heroes' ensemble—with the only support coming from social worker Clea (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and child psychologist Professor DeWitt (Danny Glover)—although he can still indulge his global interests on an episodic level. I just hope any international ambitions Kring has for this show are carefully thought through, because his track record with handling a complex with multiple characters isn't very good.

In terms of production, this pilot was nicely directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) and resembled a fairly expensive TV Movie. It looked great and the various storylines set around the world felt believably staged, from Ireland to Japan and Baghdad. Considering the unusual broadcast schedule of Touch (this pilot has "previewed" a few months before the show truly starts in March), part of me wonders if audiences will spend weeks desperate to see the next episode, or if they'll just be puzzled it's not on next week and suspect it was indeed a TV Movie! This gap between pilot and full season is something Fox had great success with when Glee debuted three years ago, but that previewed during the quiet summer and it was a clever idea to build hype before kids went back to school. I'm not sure what the thinking is here, because I don't imagine word-of-mouth is going to be particularly strong until March. It was a good pilot that showed potential as an ongoing series, but you need to see more before deciding if this is something to get your friends watching.

Overall, Sutherland's big return to television after a decade chasing terrorist is far from a disappointment, and what it lacks in originality it makes up for with style and heart-string pulling. I'll be watching more, most definitely, but the pitfalls are obvious and I'm not confident Kring can avoid them given how he presided over the unnecessary demise of a phenomenon like Heroes. Maybe with its more intimate cast, together with a disciplined format, Touch will allow Kring to flourish by crafting weekly dramas that don't lose sight of the plot.

Asides

  • You may recognise British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw from JJ Abrams' spy show misfire Undercovers and the infamously terrible Bonekickers. Let's hope she's picked a better project here. You may also have noticed Titus Welliver here, from Lost and The Good Wife.
  • Amusing to see that Kring still loves pretentious voice-overs, with David Mazouz narrating the series despite his character being mute. Other hallmarks familiar to fans of Heroes included a Japanese setting (including a Hiro-esque cubicle office), a mention of a character called "Ando", and the general idea of unconnected people from around the world coming together in strange ways. I wonder if Touch takes place in the Heroes universe, too... maybe Mohinder will find Jake in season 2?
written by Tim Kring / directed by Francis Lawrence / 25 January 2012 / Fox

Thursday, 26 January 2012

National Television Awards 2012: the winners, the losers, my random thoughts


I'm not the biggest fan of ITV1's The National Television Awards. They always seem to attract more celebrities than the more prestigious BAFTAs over on BBC1, and are generally treated as a bigger event, which I just don't get. Perhaps people associate BAFTA too much with movies

They're also tarnished by their association with family-friendly ITV, with the whole event resembling a big X Factor finale. It doesn't help that Cowell's ringmaster Dermot O'Leary also hosts this event, but I'm just glad the producers saw sense and axed Sir Trevor McDonald many years ago. A fine newsreader he may be, but he's the Fred West of comedy.

But perhaps my biggest gripe is how it's all voted for by the public. On the one hand, this means the nominees/winners are people/shows most people have heard of and likely seen, so that's great. On the other hand, it becomes a dull popularity contest, with most of the winners being shows/celebs with the biggest fanbases or better ratings. In other words, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and X Factor are a shoe-in for everything they're ever nominated for.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on last night's winners and losers.

TALK SHOW
I like the idea of having a separate category for talk shows, and was expecting Graham Norton to take this from Jonathan Ross simply because his three-guest format's so brilliant. Oddly, Alan Carr seems to be the most popular with audiences and walked away with the trophy. I enjoyed his latest series more than usual, I don't mind admitting, but still can't help thinking Norton was robbed because his show's often more memorable. Small mercy: Loose Women lost.

DRAMA
One of the night's biggest awards. People always expect Doctor Who to win this one, but Downton Abbey was victorious instead, despite having a second series most people consider inferior to the first. It would have been nice for Merlin to get the prize, seeing as it regularly achieves 6-7m viewers against X Factor every week, but that wasn't to be. Small mercy: school drama Waterloo Road lost.

REALITY TV
Another big award for the night, considering how popular Reality TV is on British TV. I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! took home the award, and it's hard to argue when its competition was The Only Way Is Essex, Come Dine With Me and The Apprentice. It's not the best show of that bunch, but it had the better run in 2011. Blame the jungle cockroach that went up Fatima Whitbread's nose!

TALENT SHOW
You always expect X Factor to win this award, and it didn't disappoint us this year. It's strange, though, because Strictly Come Dancing was markedly the better show last year and famously managed to beat its ITV rival in the ratings for the first time. Small mercies: the time-wasting Dancing On Ice and Britain's Got Talent (with its flop new judging panel and weak finalists) didn't win anything.

ENTERTAINMENT PRESENTER
Or "The Ant & Dec Award" because they've now won it 11 times in a row! But would you really give it to Michael McIntyre, Dermot O'Leary or Keith bloody Lemon instead? We need some new presenters on the box. Or a decision to split Ant and Dec into separate nominees, to cause rivalry between the pair!

ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMME
Great to see Watch's Dynamo: Magician Impossible nominated because it was a weekly hour or genuinely memorable street magic, but BBC1's Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow probably won because more people saw it. At least it wasn't as obvious as Harry Hill's TV Burp winning. Small mercy: grubby "dating" gameshow Take Me Out lost.

PANEL GAMESHOW
Why wasn't Would I Lie To You? nominated? Oh well, the execrable and witless Celebrity Juice won, probably because braindead ITV audiences are the demographic that can't resist a phone vote. The vastly superior QI, Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You all went home empty-handed.

SITUATION COMEDY
I've never actually seen it, but half-improvised family comedy Outnumbered won, perhaps as a last hurrah because its child actors are losing their cuteness to acne and greasy hair. Still, this award could have been as predictable as handing Miranda another win. Small mercy: comedy throwback Benidorm lost.

SERIAL DRAMA
In some ways THE best category for a show like this, because soaps thrive on popularity. Coronation Street won over EastEnders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks. I haven't seen much of any for about 8 years.

DRAMA PERFORMANCE - Male
A terrible bunch of nominees! Martin Clunes for Doc Marten? David Threlfall from Shameless? Scraping the barrel! John Barrowman for the inept Torchwood: Miracle Day? Just awful. Matt Smith deservedly won for Doctor Who, then. Frustrating that Benedict Cumberbatch couldn't be nominated because Sherlock didn't air in 2011, but there's always 2013.

DRAMA PERFORMANCE - Female
Doctor Who sweeps the drama acting board with a female win for Karen Gillan, pushing Waterloo Road's Jaye Jacobs, Scott & Bailey's Suranne Jones, and Torchwood's Eve Myles into loserville.

SERIAL DRAMA PERFORMANCE
Why do soap stars get their own acting award? Isn't that admitting they're second-tier in someone's eyes? Coronation Street's Katherine Kelly won, beating castmate Alison King, Emmerdale's Danny Miller and EastEnders' Jessie Wallace.

NEWCOMER
Someone called Jacqueline Jossa from EastEnders won, making Corrie's Chris Fountain and Emmerdale's Chelsea Halfpenny cry in their taxi home. The only newcomers in 2011 were from soaps?

FACTUAL
One of the least predictable categories, and This Morning won. I don't watch it, because I have a job. It was one of the biggest surprises, though, considering the extremely popular Top Gear and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding were both on this shortlist. Small mercy: the vastly overrated An Idiot Abroad lost, meaning Ricky Gervais' mantelpiece has been saved from collapse.

As for the ceremony itself? I wisely recorded it for about an hour, so I could later fast-forward through the dreary parts and adverts, meaning the whole affair only lasted about 40-minutes for me. A smattering of random thoughts to finish up: Who opens a big event like this with Bruce Forsythe crooning a song from his swing album? Don't the Downton Abbey cast look totally bizarre in modern clothes? How awesome are Karen Gillan's legs? Kermit the Frog is never funny in the real world, is he? It was great to see Jonathan Ross win a Lifetime Achievement award, and even better seeing archive footage of his '80s breakthrough on Channel 4. The Merlin cast looked like a good bunch, all sat together like best pals. Did Tulisa kill a pink flamingo to use as a dress? Why was everything so skewed towards ITV, regarding awards presenters? (Rhetorical question.)

That's it from me! If you have any thoughts/opinions to share on the NTAs, please do so below.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

ALCATRAZ, 1.3 – "Kit Nelson"




My feelings about Alcatraz haven't shifted after its third episode. It's doing a poor job making its primary characters appear interesting, simply because it spends almost no time focusing on them. Instead, the majority of every episode, so far, has been spent exploring the week's escapee—in this case child killer Kit Nelson (Michael Eklund)—and that's a puzzling decision to have made. A few scraps about Soto's (Jorge Garcia) past were alluded to near the end (he was kidnapped aged 11), and it seems more obvious than ever that Hauser's (Sam Neill) keeping the whole truth about the disappearance of the "Sixty-Threes" from his new teammates, but 95% of the episode is still spent fleshing out a glorified guest-star.

Fortunately, the character of Kit Nelson and his storyline was provocative and entertaining, on the level of a chilling tale about a man who murdered his younger brother, derived pleasure from that act, and went on to kill other children as an adult. Eklund (cast because of his brilliant performance in Fringe's "The Plateau"?) was both horrifying and sympathetic here, and I enjoyed all of his scenes simply because he was in them. The way the show flashbacks to a pre-'63 Alcatraz is also working quite well, even if everything happening in the '50s or '60s feels as realistic as a Sin City vignette at times. It's also becoming clearer that Alcatraz is to Fringe what Millennium was to X Files; a show operating in the same ballpark, but more interested in dealing with human monsters than issues of time-travel and whatnot. You can imagine a cameo from Walter Bishop, as the two shows feel like they exist in the same universe.

I wouldn't say Alcatraz is a big failure just yet, because I'm enjoying it more than most other sci-fi shows after three hours (i.e. FlashForward and The Event.) It's just difficult to see this show maintaining any appeal by the time we've caught the tenth, twentieth or thirtieth bad guy and thrown them back in the slammer... with potentially another 272 left to catch! (And how long are previous guest-stars expected to stick around to be filmed mooching around their new cells? Or have all the actors filmed numerous scenes that the creators can simply paste into future episodes?)

Overall, this was an entertaining and atmospheric episode, for the most part, but I think we need to get under the skin of Madsen (Sarah Jones), Hauser and Soto before they disappear into the background entirely. And it would also be nice if they could explain why every prisoner arrives in the present-day with negligible culture shock (having jumped 49 years into their future), with the odd compulsion to continue their crimes! Wouldn't most people, except maybe the true psychopaths, simply lie low and try to disappear into the fabric of modern society? Why are they all keen to continue their signature crimes that saw them thrown into jail to begin with? I know it's hard to have a show if they don't do that, but it's still a strange flaw in the show's logic they should perhaps try to answer.

Three hours in, what is everyone else making of Alcatraz? Is the procedural nature of the show too much of a turn-off, or are you enjoying watching stories that resolve every hour? Are the main characters appealing to you, or do you agree they currently exist to chase the more interesting weekly villains?

written by Jennifer Johnson / directed by Jack Bender / 23 January 2012 / Fox

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Review: BEING HUMAN (USA), 2.1 – "Turn This Mother Out"




I was planning to properly review the season 2 premiere of Syfy's Being Human, but then I watched it and remembered why I stopped bothering last year. It's not a bad show, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an inessential show... and a world away from the seriousness and ingenuity of the BBC original. It just feels too emotional lightweight to me, and the writers aren't so willing to take risks. This premiere introduced the tedious idea of a Mother of vampires, which is a seriously bland notion for supernatural fiction—and a very disappointing development considering one of last season's few unique successes were the show's trio of Dutch vampire bosses.

Elsewhere, things just kind of happened and my mind wandered on several occasions. I think it's the repetitive music score that does it, because it generally does the heavy-lifting trying to elicit emotion because the characters don't really connect with me. The best part of this US adaptation is the visual effects, which do things the BBC version could never afford to—like actually show a Tunnel of Light beyond Sally's (Meaghan Rath) doorway to the afterlife.

But I'm not going to be so relentlessly down on Being Human USA, because it's a decent version of a British show that's catering for a different audience. BBC Three may be a youth-skewing channel, but what was always impressive about Being Human is how grown-up it feels. Syfy's version is very much aimed at impressing college kids, with far less bite to anything. It's just a semi-engaging show that can build some entertaining runs, but it never quite manages to seal the deal. I'll keep watching because it's good TV wallpaper for when a pile of clothes need to be ironed, but I can't see me coming back to review Being Human USA with any regularity... unless something remarkably ballsy and unexpected starts happening to its tone and the quality of storytelling.

written by Jeremy Carver & Anna Fricke / directed by Adam Kane / 16 January 2012 / Syfy

Monday, 23 January 2012

Review: ALCATRAZ, 1.1 & 1.2 - "Pilot" & "Ernest Cobb"


"Pilot"
"Ernest Cobb"
The latest sci-fi drama from the company behind Lost and Fringe is almost an amalgam of those shows, crossed with the defunct Prison Break and a tincture of Whitechapel. On 21 March 1963, San Francisco's notorious offshore prison Alcatraz was closed and all remaining prisoners transferred off the island, but this series claims that was just a cover-story. In actual fact, everyone vanished in mysterious circumstances one night, and 49 years later those missing convicts have started to reappear and continue their crimes. It's up to plucky SFPD homicide detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones, the pocket-sized Anna Torv) to recapture them on behalf of enigmatic FBI Agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), with the help of comic-book writer and The Rock historian Dr Diego "Doc" Sato (Jorge Garcia), while trying to explain how and why these prisoners have travelled through time.

Stylistically, Alcatraz is as sophisticated and glossy as you'd expect from the team behind the luscious Lost and accomplished Fringe. You can't underestimate the soothing effect of knowing you're in safe hands when it comes to the technical demands of putting a show like this together, and if nothing else Alcatraz doesn't disappoint on a purely aesthetic level (even when, subsequent to its pilot, no filming actually takes place on the real-life Alcatraz). But that familiarity breeds a certain level of problems, because there are chunks of this show that evoke either Fringe or Lost—and not just in terms of production, like the return of composer Michael Giacchino to handle the music, Lost stalwart Jack Bender directing, or Lost's "whooshing" flashbacks being replaced by the "clanking" screen wipe of prison bars. In many ways this is just freshman-era Fringe with mad prisoners replacing mad scientists, chased by another triptych of archetypal characters: the gutsy blonde, the intelligent nerd, and the mysterious older man. Sure there are differences, but there's a pervasive feeling that co-creator Elizabeth Sarnoff (a staff writer for Lost) has taken ingredients she liked from JJ Abrams' other hits and only tried to disguise that fact halfheartedly.

Even the narrative device of flashbacks recalls Lost, as each week's story jumps back to Alcatraz's heyday to provide back-story for the criminals, so we can better understand their motivations and plans. Still, fair's fair, because that's a good format to use for this show, and Alcatraz feels better suited to standalone episodes than Fringe ever did. I just wonder how long the show can take its fugitive-of-the-week procedural formula, with each con eventually being returned to a modern version of Alcatraz secretly built below the original, to continue their sentences. There is a serialized element (namely the central mystery of what happened to the "Sixty-Threes" to deposit them five decades into the future), but how long can Alcatraz string that out for? Unlike Fringe, it's harder to see how this show can be opened up in future seasons, and that's a big concern for anyone wondering if it's worth investing time and energy into Alcatraz. I'm not sure how many episodes I can watch of something that's fundamentally a standard cop show with vague sci-fi underpinning the unseen "prison break", unless that formula proves to be incredibly rewarding in some vital way.

The pilot is surprisingly poor, which I really wasn't expecting to be true. There isn't too much to explain to viewers, but the episodes makes the mistake of spending far too much time on our first criminal—murderer Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce)—rather than get us interested in the show's regulars. After the first hour, I had alost no real feelings or positive opinions of Madsen, Hauser and Soto, and could barely even remember their names. Things don't improve that much for the second episode, "Ernest Cobb", although that story was much more enjoyable because the eponymous con's back-story and modus operandi was simply more entertaining than Sylvane's. There was also a decent ending which intrigued me enough to be considered a success.

Essentially, Alcatraz's first few episodes laid out its premise and planted a few seeds that could grow into something interesting, plus it looks and sounds great as a piece of television, but the stories did a bad job of getting us interested in either of the three main actors, and I'm very wary of SF shows that intend to be mostly episodic. That was exactly the thinking behind Fringe when it first began, until the writers realised that the key audience were responding more to the mytharc than the freak-of-the-week cases. Can Alcatraz course correct in a similar way, given its more rigid concept? Maybe, but it won't be as easy. Will audiences stick with it through these self-contained stories, if only to catch the occasional clue about the bigger mystery? Is it even possible that the big mystery won't be fairly predictable, like a company using Alcatraz's inmates in secret government trials into time-travel? It's always very hard to outwit fans of this genre, especially in this day and age when fan theories spread like wildfire online... and, as we saw with Lost, sometimes eclipse what the creators had in store for us.

Overall, "Ernest Cobb" was entertaining enough to draw me back, even if I can't shake my doubts about this show's overall chances of success. It helps that it's a mid-season replacement, so there aren't too many episodes ordered and less chance for audiences to get bored, and there's obviously time for the writers to make us care about the investigators. But this is the second weakest pilot of a JJ Abrams-affiliated show, behind Undercovers, and I was expecting something far more compelling and exciting.

written by Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt & Elizabeth Sarnoff (1.1) & Alison Balian (1.2) / directed by Danny Cannon (1.1) & Jack Bender (1.2) / 16 January 2012 / Fox

TV Picks: 23-29 January 2012 (God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, National Television Awards, Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy, Skins, Top Gear, We'll Take Manhattan, etc.)

SKINS - E4, Monday, 10PM

MONDAY 23rd
Secret Location (Channel 4, 11am) New property show with the twist being that house hunters have no idea what location each property is in.
Superscrimpers: Waste Not, Want Not (Channel 4, 8pm) Money series where a family who spend big have to live off £50-worth of food in a week. (1/5)
Seinfeld (Sky Atlantic, 8pm) Repeat of the hit '90s US sitcom from beginning to end.
Wonderland: The Real Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary about three teams of microlight enthusiasts.
Party Paramedics (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary about volunteer paramedics working in Colchester. (1/3)
PICK OF THE DAY Skins (E4, 10pm) Series 6 of the teen drama.

TUESDAY 24th
Farewell Becky (ITV1, 7.30pm) Celebration of the popular Coronation Street soap character.
Junior Doctors: Your Life In Their Hands (BBC3, 9pm) Series 2 of the documentary following newly-qualified doctors.
PICK OF THE DAY Survivors: Nature's Indestructible Creatures (BBC4, 9pm) Wildlife documentary looking at some of nature's most resilient and tough creatures.
The World Against Apartheid: Have You Heard From Johannesburg? (BBC4, 10pm) Series looking at the situation with apartheid in South Africa.
Confessions Of A Nurse (More4, 10pm) Documentary series following a group of Birmingham nurses. (1/4)
Death Row Dogs (BBC1, 10.35pm) Documentary about illegal dog fighting.

WEDNESDAY 25th
PICK OF THE DAY The National Television Awards 2012 (ITV1, 7.30pm) Annual TV awards ceremony, from London's O2 Arena. Presented by Dermot O'Leary.
Sun, Sea & Suspicious Parents (BBC3, 9pm) Series 2 of the show where teenagers take a holiday abroad, unaware their parents are watching.

THURSDAY 26th
Strictly Soulmates (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary series about different faith and their perception of the perfect partner.
PICK OF THE DAY We'll Take Manhattan (BBC4, 9pm) Drama about the relationship between '60s photographer David Bailey and model Jean Shrimpton. Starring Karen Gillan.
Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy (E4, 10pm) Brand new comedy series from the surreal comedian.

FRIDAY 27th
PICK OF THE DAY How Brits Rocked America (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary series looking at how British music conquered the US in the '60s, beginning with The Beatles.

SATURDAY 28th
Nothing.

SUNDAY 29th
Top Gear The motoring magazine returns. Presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond & James May.
Toughest Place To Be (BBC2, 9pm) Series where British workers travel overseas to see how foreigners do their own job. (1/3)
PICK OF THE DAY God Bless Ozzy Osbourne (BBC2, 10pm) Documentary on the Black Sabbath rocker.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

CHUCK, 5.10 & 5.11 – "Chuck Versus Bo" & "Chuck Versus the Bullet Train"




Owing to personal events last week, these reviews will be capsule-sized...

"Chuck Versus Bo" started with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) deciding to bring her spy career to an end, so she can live happily ever after with husband Chuck (Zachary Levi) and repurpose Carmichael Industries to fight cyber-terrorism, but naturally events went haywire from thereon in. In some ways you could feel this episode straining to reintroduce the Intersect back into the show, together with a new villain in Nicholas Quinn (Angus Macfadyen), the original CIA agent who was destined to become the government's super-spy, but it just about got away with it.

It was actually a fun idea to have Morgan (Joshua Gomez) investigate his own missing memories, realising that he stole and stashed some Intersect glasses while enjoying the high life at a ski resort as the egotistical Intersect version of himself. In some ways this was Chuck's version of The Hangover, with the team trying to piece together what happened with Morgan a few months ago, and there was a fun diversion in the shape of actress Bo Derek (playing herself, which is something that rarely happens with Chuck guest-stars).

The subplot with Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) was also quite funny, as the pair have come close to exposing their friends as spies but keep getting drugged and find themselves waking up halfway to Vegas in a flash car. At first it was very irritating to think the writers weren't going to have those characters realize the truth, but then the episode did a good job making it clear they weren't so easily put off the scent—resulting in a Groundhog Day-style adventure as their efforts kept getting reset to square one thanks to Casey's (Adam Baldwin) Men In Black-style amnesia gas. Unfortunately, this story eventually settled on having Jeff and Lester believing that Chuck and his friends aren't spies after all, which really bothered me until the events of the next episode.

If I'm honest, "... Versus Bo" started to drag after awhile, and I didn't find it a very funny episode (many jokes were ludicrously signposted), but it was entertaining for the most part and had some enjoyable moments. Plus it ended on a great cliffhanger, of sorts, with Chuck kidnapped by Nicholas, forcing Sarah to don the retrieved Intersect-glasses and effectively embrace the spy life she'd almost given up after "one last mission". Incidentally, given the fact Sarah is already physically adept as a character, I thought the stunt coordinators did an incredible job making us realise that "Intersect-Sarah" is practically a martial arts superhero. It certainly won't be easy stopping her from getting her husband back in one piece...

written by Kristin Newman / directed by Jeremiah Chechik / 13 January 2012 / NBC




Indeed, "Chuck Versus The Bullet Train" took less than 10 minutes until Sarah had rescued Chuck from the titular mode of Japanese transport, before Quinn could force him to work on creating another stable version of the Intersect. (I guess he doesn't have a lab in the US?) This was another variation on things we've seen Chuck do before, with most of the adventure taking place in the one location, but it was a really good example of Under Siege 2 in the Chuck universe. They even included unique opening titles, setting the episode up as a cheesy B-movie thriller aboard a high-speed train, and on that level this episode really worked.

Even better, the ongoing subplot with Jeff and Lester finally resolved after so much fooling around, with Casey forced to reveal their secrets when the two Buy More employees became the only hope of getting his daughter Alex (Mekenna Melvin) back safely from two hired goons. I'm relieved the writers have decided to go down this route, if only because it was getting really tiresome having them discover Chuck's secret and almost instantly have their memories erased multiple times.

As an episode showcasing Sarah as the Intersect, it was also a lot of fun seeing her operating on that level, with more very impressive fight sequences, and the inbuilt jeopardy that the Intersect essentially destroys most peoples minds (some people quicker than others, evidently!) gave the episode some welcome stakes. However, one problem with Chuck has always been its reluctance to go through with anything irreversible tragic, so it was hard to really feel that anyone was in danger here—be it Chuck, Sarah, Casey (when he was blackmailed into helping Quinn), or Alex.

As if to combat that fact, I liked how this episode instead ended with Sarah literally splitting from Chuck (in separate parts of the bullet train) and having her memories erased by Quinn, who's now convinced her she's an agent tasked with killing the husband she doesn't remember. While it's still obvious Sarah will get her memories back at some point, it should make for an interesting wrinkle for the young couple... in a season that's been all about them chasing the perfect ending that just doesn't want to come true. Certainly not without a fight, anyway.

written by Nicholas Wootton / directed by Buzz Feitshans IV / 20 January 2012 / NBC

I'm back...

... so things around here should hopefully return to relative normality fairly soon. Thanks to everyone who sent me their kind thoughts about my dad and his cancer—either here, on Twitter, or even by e-mail. I didn't reply to everyone individually, but everything was read and I was touched that so many people offered their support and a kind thought.

Blog-wise, things will undoubtedly change for the near-future. I won't be reviewing as many things, certainly not weekly, and anything that airs at weekends will be prone to delay. I may have to either "capsule" review things more (i.e. shorter reviews), or "double-bill" reviews (i.e write two short reviews covering two episodes). A few short-run shows may also get reviewed as a season/series once they're OVER, rather than episodically. My favourite shows will be the ones that suffer least, most likely.

But there's no hard and fast rule. Some weeks I'll be glad of a distraction with DMD, others it'll feel like a burden I'll have to put aside. I'm sure everyone understands, and I was pleased to see that page-hits didn't take a significant fall over my unscheduled break, too! (This does tend to happen, strangely! Maybe I should stop blogging more often?!) Please do keep checking back here, if only to browse my five-year archive.

I plan to catch-up with Chuck, Alcatraz and Being Human USA over the next few days...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

FRINGE, 4.8 & 4.9 - "Back To Where You've Never Been" & "Enemy Of My Enemy"


Back To Where You've Never Been
Enemy Of My Enemy





Owing to personal events and a sudden backlog, I've decided to turn the two latest episodes of Fringe over to you, dear readers. What did you make of them? Personally, I'm glad season 4 finally has a credible use for Peter (as the "variable" of two universes, neither of which he belongs in), and it was a fantastic idea to bring back David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) because he's probably the best recurring villain Fringe ever had. It also makes some sense that DRJ was the person behind the bio-mechanical shapeshifters, fulfilling my old theory that the two universes will unify over a common enemy. The decision to reveal that Walternate isn't such a terrible person, and that Nina's in cahoots with Jones also worked really well, giving me a good feeling about the rest of this season and its general direction.

My only concern, and it's a big one, is that getting Peter back to his own timeline will likely reset Fringe back to the end of season 3... and if that happens, this entire season will have been nothing but a diversion. And if the show is cancelled by Fox this summer (which is a very real possibility because it's now unprofitable on Friday nights), will the producers regret spending their final season on a storyline that's ultimately unrelated to most of the characters we were following until season 3's finale? I hope there's a twist I'm not seeing which will make me feel better soon, but I can't help feeling very uncertain week by week. In some ways this season reminds me of Lost's fifth—great fun at the time, but in hindsight fairly irrelevant to the story, and the bigger picture wouldn't suffer if it was removed.

So those are my brief thoughts on Fringe's past few episodes. I'd love to hear what you're all making of this season. Sound off below!

written by David Fury & Graham Roland (4.8) & Monica Owusu-Breen & Alison Shapker (4.9) / directed by Jeannot Szwarc (4.8) & Joe Chappelle (4.9) / 13 & 20 January 2012 / Fox

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A short break...

I'm afraid there's an unscheduled break from today (17 Jan) until Sunday. My dad's very sick, having been fighting cancer for the past four months, and the outlook has taken a turn for the worse a week before a planned operation. In fact, the doctors have said he probably only has months left.

I'm sure everyone will understand that blogging isn't a big priority for me now, although I'm sure it'll be a good way to take my mind off a few things over the difficult months ahead.

I will catch-up with missed shows next week (Alcatraz, Fringe, Mad DogsChuck, etc), but obviously there are going to be erratic periods where I'm unable or unwilling to write anything.

Things have taken on a different perspective. Please remember to appreciate the people in YOUR life.

Monday, 16 January 2012

SHERLOCK, 2.3 – "The Reichenbach Fall"




"We're just alike, you and I. Except you're boring." – Moriarty to Sherlock

Considering Steve Thompson wrote the worst of series 1's episodes, "The Blind Banker", and one of the least remarkable Doctor Who's last year, "Curse Of The Black Spot", you could forgive most people from raising eyebrows at the fact he'd been entrusted with writing Sherlock's big finale. However, Thompson acquits himself very well with "The Reichenbach Fall", which was another of the show's elastically-plotted thrills. It helped that this was the first adventure to truly focus on arch-nemesis Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), and that the stakes were high for Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) on a personal level, and it all came together brilliantly for a climactic rooftop confrontation and puzzling denouement.

Consulting criminal Moriarty simultaneously opens the Bank of England's vault and Pentonville Prison, while smashing his way into the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London to await his own capture by the alerted police. A quick and easy conviction is expected at the Old Bailey, especially as Moriarty offers no evidence in his defence, yet the jury make the bizarre decision to acquit him... allowing Moriarty to continue the next phase of his masterplan, to solve the "Final Problem" of having a nemesis like Sherlock as a thorn in his side. But it's not really as simple as that, because there's the mutual fascination and respect between the two men, very much opposite sides of the same coin. Moriarty comes across as a super-genius who's become psychotic out of sheer boredom. He's overjoyed that someone like Sherlock exists, yet suspicious that he's not his equal, and in some ways his mind games are just a test to see if Sherlock's worthy of his adversarial status.

The great thing about "The Reichenbach Fall" was realising how Moriarty's plan was going to work, as it became clear he's planting seeds of doubt in people's minds that Sherlock's a totally benevolent genius working for "the angels". After kidnapping boarding school children and feeding them mercury-tainted sweets at an abandoned warehouse, it became less about finding their abductor and more about preventing the police from acting on their suspicions that Sherlock (solving crimes on piffling evidence like a footprint) may actually be the culprit. Throw in the hilariously bizarre moment when Moriarty went to investigative reporter Kitty Riley (Katherine Parkinson) claiming to be children's TV actor Rich Brooke, forced by Sherlock to play the role of Moriarty in a sick fantasy, and the whole episode really started to take on a life of its own. While nothing here was completely plausible, the fact Sherlock exists in only a semi-realistic world really helps, and enables the writers to just have fun with sillier ideas.

As for Moriarty, he's been a divisive figure on the show since he made his entrance in "The Great Game" at the swimming pool, seeing as he's such a departure from most people's idea of that character. This episode definitely helped you see what creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were after when they devised him (an impish Irish version of The Joker) and Scott gave an engaging performance, but I'm still not completely sure Moriarty should be like this. He's unnerving and obviously intelligent, and a scene where he shared tea with Sherlock while tapping binary digits with his fingers and biting the letters "I O U" into an apple, was absolutely fantastic, but I still find myself wishing he was less of a "character" and more of a "person". It's slightly too cartoonish for me still, although I know others think that works really well against the show's others characters who are played straight.

Similarly to series 1's finale, most people will be discussing the ending over anything else. A marvellous scene with Moriarty and Sherlock on the roof of a hotel (instead of a waterfall in the books), where Sherlock realized the only way to save Watson (Martin Freeman), Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) and Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) is to commit suicide by leaping off the edge—which is the agreed signal to three snipers to lay down their weapons. What's going to puzzle people for many months, is how they've chosen to leave things. Moriarty's seemingly shot himself in the face, after realising he's the weakness in his own plan—but I suppose that's survivable depending on where the bullet went. Or perhaps series 3 will be a prequel to these adventures? More confusing was Sherlock's swan dive off the roof, smashing his skull on the pavement below, ending the show with Watson over his grave... before the last-second reveal of Sherlock watching from afar. How Sherlock cheated death is completely beyond me, and I'm not expecting an explanation that works perfectly when the show returns.

Overall, "The Reichenbach Fall" was a fine resolution of this improved second series. I loved how Sherlock's celebrity status was the summit of the social "fall" Moriarty set him on, and Freeman was given far more opportunities to bring humanity to what can otherwise be a mechanical plot-driven show. In fact, of the three episodes, this was easily the most emotional and human, with Cumberbatch's best performance in the role. Watson's scene at the grave was also genuinely moving, as he struggled to contain his emotions at the death of his most remarkable friend... who's left this world with everyone thinking he was a crazy fraud.

Taken as a whole, series 2 covered some compelling thematic areas (sex, fear, identity), and did a wonderful job updating three of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. It's hard to choose between them, as I've rated them all the same, but I probably prefer "A Scandal In Belgravia" because Moffat's twisty writing is such a perfect fit for the show. But the final two episodes seemed to justify the 90-minutes a lot better, especially this finale, and it would be a crime if various people's careers obstructed a third series next year...

Asides

  • It delights me how the deerstalker hat has become an icon of Sherlock Holmes in this update, with Sherlock himself hating that fact.
  • That was The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson as the reporter, I'm sure you know.
  • So how did Sherlock fake his own death? The best theory I've heard is that he threw a doppelganger off the roof, perhaps a corpse provided by Molly the doctor. But wouldn't DNA tests prove that wasn't Sherlock? Wouldn't someone like Watson have identified the body? How would Sherlock have found an exact double that would fool so many people?
written by Steve Thompson / directed by Toby Haynes / 15 January 2012 / BBC One

TV Picks: 16-22 January 2012 (American Idol, Big C, Birdsong, Gadget Geeks, Mad Dogs, Real Hustle, Room 101, Suits, etc.)

Mad Dogs - Thursday, Sky1, 9PM

MONDAY 16th
The Alan Titchmarsh Show (ITV1, 3pm) Return of the weekday chat show.
The Hungry Sailors (ITV1, 4pm) Seafaring cookery series, hosted by Dick and James Strawbridge.
Celebrity Coach Trip (Channel 4, 5pm) Return of the celebrity version of the Euro travelling gameshow. Starring Edwina Curry and her husband John Jones, Cannon & Ball, Derek Martin and John Altman, Nikki Grahame and Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace, and Paul Burrell and Jean Broke Smith.
Richard Wilson: On Hold (Channel 4, 8pm) Special on the widespread use of automated phone systems.
Gadget Geeks (Sky1, 8pm) Brand new gadget and technology show.
The One Griff Rhys Jones (BBC1, 8.30pm) Comedy special with the famous comedian/actor, one half of '80s double-act Smith & Jones.
PICK of the DAY Stargazing Live (BBC2, 8.30pm) Live astronomy special with Dara O'Briain & Professor Brian Cox.
The Rise Of Shoplifters (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary on shoplifting and kleptomania.

TUESDAY 17th
Masterchef (BBC1, 9pm) Return of the culinary challenge show. Continues tomorrow and Thursday.
15 Kids And Counting (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary series on some of the country's biggest families. (1/3)
Coming Out Diaries (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on gay people telling their friends/family about their sexuality.
PICK of the DAY Suits (Dave, 9pm) Season 1 of the US legal drama.
Horizon: Playing God (BBC2, 9.30pm) Documentary on genetic crossbreeds that are being developed by scientists to aide mankind, such as the bizarre-sounding "spider goat".
Crime Scene Forensics (BBC1, 10.35pm) Documentary following police officers of Hertforshire and Bedforshire.

WEDNESDAY 18th
PICK of the DAY Britain In Bed (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on the nation's changing attitude to sex. Presented by Jessica-Jane Clement.
Jonathan Meades on France (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on France, particularly the many areas most Brits don't think to visit. (1/3)
The Crusades: Holy War (BBC2, 9.30pm) Documentary on the 200-year long Crusades. (1/3)
My Secret Teens: Kate Thornton – Anorexic (Channel 5, 10pm) Special where the TV presenter shares her experience with anorexia as a teenage girl.

THURSDAY 19th
Putin, Russia & The West (BBC2, 9pm) Documentary series on the Russian President. (1/4)
Pole Dancing Diaries (BBC3, 9pm) Documentary on pole dancing.
PICK of the DAY Mad Dogs (Sky1, 9pm) Series 2 of the comedy-drama about four friends in over their heads abroad. Starring Philip Glenister, John Simm, Max Beesley & Marc Warren. (1/4)
American Idol (ITV2, 9pm) Return of the US singing contest. Hosted by Ryan Seacrest with judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez & Randy Jackson. Results tomorrow.
Gypsy Blood (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary about the violent habits some gypsy fathers pass on to their sons.
The Big C (More4, 10pm) Season 2 of the US drama about a woman with terminal cancer. (1/13)

FRIDAY 20th
PICK of the DAY Room 101 (BBC1, 8.30pm) Return of the panel show where guests condemn their pet hates. Hosted by Frank Skinner. This week's guests are Danny Baker, Fern Britton & Robert Webb.
The Real Hustle (BBC3, 8.30pm) Return of the conman drama for a final series.

SATURDAY 21st
Nothing.

SUNDAY 22nd
The Last Explorers (BBC2, 6pm) History series focusing on Scottish adventurers, starting with David Livingstone. Presented by Neil Oliver. (1/4)
Time Team (Channel 4, 7pm) Series 19 of the archaeology show. (1/11)
PICK of the DAY Birdsong (BBC1, 10.25pm) Adaptation of the Sebastian Faulks' novel about two lovers in WWI. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Clemence Poesy, Joseph Mawie & Marie-Josee Croze. (1/2)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Review: MILTON JONES'S HOUSE OF ROOMS




I'm not sure if this is technically still part of the Comedy Showcase season last year, which just stopped halfway through its six-episode run. The Angelos Epithemiou Show was resold as a comedy special for Christmas, there's still no sign of The Function Room, but now we have Milton Jones's House Of Rooms. The concept of which feels immediately entertaining and with clear potential, as we're introduced to mummy's boy Milton (Milton Jones), who still live with his mother (Susie Blake) in her guesthouse. One of their tenants is the beautiful but shy Alice (Cordelia Bugeja), whom Milton fancies but is himself too bashful to ask out, and Tony (Alexander Kirk) the middle-aged office worker coping with a painful marital split. Naturally, there's ample opportunity for guests/characters to come and go, revolving around this central quartet of regulars.

Given its simple but enticing premise, slightly reminding me of classic '70s sitcom Rising Damp, and Jones's own reputation as one of the UK's best "one-liner" deadpan comedians, I was eagerly anticipating House Of Rooms. I was rewarded with a sharp and snappy half-hour of nonsense, silliness, a half-dozen laugh-out-loud moments, and a likable way to merge Jones's style of comedy to something quite kinetic and cleverly shot by Ben Palmer (who's echoing the work of Spaced's Edgar Wright in some ways).

What this pilot set out to achieve, it accomplished. The relationships were instantly understood, the jokes flowed quickly, there were some brilliant sight gags, verbal funnies torn straight from Jones's joke book, and some good comic performances. I've never seen Jones as an actor until now, and although this character wasn't a million miles from his on-stage persona of "spaced-out man-child", it was still different enough to have you seeing him in a different light.

There was also great support from Susie Blake (Coronation Street) as his mother, who could have easily been written as an "older battleaxe" type, but they've wisely decided to use the fact Blake's relatively young and attractive. It somehow gave the show a lift, perhaps because it adds a sexual angle to her character. Cordelia Bugeja didn't actually have much to do, beyond make goo goo eyes and be an object of affection, but this could also have been a character who was the opposite of Milton and perhaps found him creepy and strange. But instead, it feels like she's his soul mate and they're well-suited together. Maybe this will cause problems if the show goes to series, because it could become tiring seeing them both get tongue-tied around each other. It made for a fun joke here, but will we still be laughing five episodes later, or screaming for them both to just say what's on their minds?

Let's hope we get the chance to find out. More than any other Comedy Showcase sitcom this year, I'd most like to see House Of Rooms become a full-blown series. Chickens and The Fun Police had merit, particularly the former, but it just feels like British comedy is missing something like House Of Rooms. And we're actually really good at making shows like this: the irreverent, madcap, surreal, twisted, yet likable sitcom.

Aside

  • Do you recognise Cordelia Bugeja but can't place her? You've probably seen her in adverts, particularly the Yakult campaign. She's also appeared on The IT Crowd and, more recently, two episodes of Sky's Mount Pleasant.
written by Milton Jones & Dan Evans / directed by Ben Palmer / 13 January 2012 / Channel 4

Friday, 13 January 2012

LUTHER series 3 confirmed for 2012/13


There's always been doubt Luther will return each year, because The Wire's Idris Elba is becoming such hot property in Hollywood. However, fans of the BBC's stylish crime drama needn't worry for now, because Ben Stephenson—the BBC's Head of Drama, speaking at the Broadcasting Press Guild lunch—has confirmed that a third series of four hour-long episodes is due later this year. (Other reports suggest early-2013.)

It's lucky Elba seems to be so taken by this award-winning series, which he also produces, so hopefully he'll continue to fit four hours of Luther into his annual schedule. He's also keen for the show to become a movie, as we know, and I wouldn't bet against that happening. The British crime thriller is an easy and relatively cheap genre to adapt for the big screen. If the show's 6 million viewers translate into box-office ticket sales (as The Inbetweeners Movie proved it can do), then the BBC will be very happy...

What do you make of this news? Happy Luther's coming back? Still think the show's ghoulish nonsense? Is that a bad thing? And would a movie version work, in your opinion?

ETERNAL LAW, 1.2 – episode two




A catastrophic follow-up to what was already a poor start, Eternal Law confirmed my worst fears. This is another of the UK's genre disasters, perhaps the cosmic balance to Doctor Who and Misfits, but it's so frustrating because the writers have proven they're capable of great work with Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes. But this show is just awful on every level; an embarrassing production full of clunky direction, horrible editing, hackneyed performances, and dull storytelling.

There isn't anything to focus condemnation on, because everything's infected by a certain ineptitude. The opening titles, now with a redundant and ridiculous voice-over from Orla Brady, make the show feel like a children's drama. In fact, if it wasn't for the dry backdrop of courts and lawyers, Eternal Law might have worked better as one. There are many terrible directorial flourishes, too—the worst being the moment when the camera reversed down a corridor, as actors stepped out on cue to have fake-looking arguments. Or moment that are just so laughable you wonder how they made it to the screen—like head angel Zak (Samuel West) puffing on a fat cigar in his wings, creating fireworks by way of celebration. Or how about when "fallen angel" Pembroke (Tobias Menzies) pushed a homeless man into a river after he'd asked for money a second time? Oooh, evil.

Throw in an awful plinky-plonk soundtrack, general apathy towards the week's case (two parents after custody of the world's worst child actor), and a reveal of Mrs Sheringham's (Brady) back-story that was predictable (she gave up being an angel to be with a human man she loved), and this episode was a resounding flop. It's not even logical that Mrs Sheringham would be so upset by her lover Billy's death, because she's living proof that there is an afterlife! Surely that should bring her peace of mind. And I didn't like the suggestion from Zak that a world without angels would result in death, war, famine and pestilence. We've had plenty of that with these do-gooding angels hanging around...

Overall, I have little to say that's positive after just two episodes. Eternal Law feels cheap, the drama's unearned, the characters are lifeless, the stories are boring, and the setups for an ongoing mytharc (the Zak/Hannah relationship, God sending the angels a doomsday clock from the Cuban Missile Crisis) aren't very interesting—and you have no faith they'll develop into anything worthwhile. I wish I could be more upbeat, because I was hoping for a charming and intelligent legal drama with an added supernatural twist... but something's gone very wrong. Maybe it all works better on the page... but the execution on-screen wobbles from inept to mediocre, at best.

written by Ashley Pharaoh / directed by Adrian Shergold / 12 January 2012 / ITV1

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Review: THREE INCHES (Syfy)




Developed in tandem with superhero drama Alphas, the similarly-themed Three Inches pilot wasn't taken to series by Syfy, who instead repackaged it as a TV Movie. Having watched the feature-length opener that aired before Christmas in the US, I can't say I'm disappointed we won't be seeing more, as this felt like a waste of a likable cast. It also continues to irritate me that so many US genre shows don't take risks, to give their audience something unexpected and unpredictable. That's what this genre is designed to do! Anyone could have thought up this Three Inches pilot, and it ultimately dies slowly because the characters are boring and the storyline equally so. There's almost nothing here to compel you to watch again, or beg for more episodes to be made, because it's nothing more than a collection of trite ideas—with the makers seemingly uninterested in giving us something fresh, innovative, or even tonally consistent.

Walter Spackman (Noah Reid) is the hero of the show: a 26-year-old still living at home with his mollycoddling mother (Andrea Martin), who makes him breakfast in bed every morning. On the day he plucks up the courage to admit his feelings for childhood inamorata Lily (Alona Tal), Walter's blown out by the girl of his dreams, then blown up by a bolt of lightning. A heavenly discharge that endows him with the seemingly trivial superpower of telekinesis over a three inch distant, which brings him to the attention of "contractor" Troy Hamilton (Buffy's James Marsters), who wants to add Walter to his team of superheroes. The gang include: quiet and sexy Watts (Stephanie Jacobsen), who can manipulate people's emotions; shy Annika (Naoko Mori), who can mimic any sound; outgoing Carlos (Antony Del Rio), who can emit stenches through his skin; scruffy Todd (Craig Eldridge), who can see two-minutes into the future at the risk of a migraine; gaunt Ethan (Julian Richings), who can communicate and control insects; and the team's handsome field leader Brandon (Kyle Schmid), who has no powers to speak of but is a great tactician.

It doesn't help that "superhero fatigue" is in the air, but Three Inches just didn't have enough of a must-see hook. The central joke that the gang's powers are silly doesn't even work, because most of the powers actually aren't that useless/crazy, and it's swiftly proven that Walter's own three inch limitation isn't so restrictive. You can do plenty of interesting things by giving objects a nudge from a short distance.

It's also not very funny, but to make matters worse it puts its funniest character—Walter's best buddy Macklin (Brandon Jay McLaren)—into the background, wasting him as a powerless sous chef! The characters closer to Walter's new life away from mom are unfortunately a rather dull bunch, who don't get a lot to do. Torchwood's Naoko Mori barely spoke a word, and Sarah Connor Chronicles' actress Stephanie Jacobsen is again playing an emotionally shutdown character. It's hard to enjoy this group's dynamic, because there isn't really one. They're just there; misfits thrown together. Admittedly pilots start from a base-level and we'd have hopefully seen progress over its non-existent season, but a good pilot does a better job of letting you want to come back to see that evolution continue. I had little to no interest in any of these people by the end.

But perhaps the biggest problem with Three Inches is the tone, which doesn't feel right. The show starts off being bright and silly as we follow Walter's during a typical sunny morning, only to turn quite dark after he's introduced to Troy and the others. This darkness persists, and nothing permeates it regarding Walter's interactions with his new friends. It just all starts to drag in the darkness, laughs evaporating, and you soon give up seeing this as a comedy (which it what it sounds like on paper), and instead realise it's wasting its own idea. This should have been approached with a lot more skill, panache, vigour, cleverness and wit. If you're going to do something with superheroes, especially in this day and age, you really need to bring a fresh new voice to the genre—as Misfits did a few years ago—otherwise what's the point of reworking the same old tropes? It's ultimately just another drearily executed superhero show with some genre-friendly faces, doing nothing of actual interest.

Three Inches won't be troubling you this year because Alphas was picked up by Syfy instead—and although that show shares some of the same problems, you can see it has a stronger sense of purpose, got a handle on its super-team a lot quicker, and knew how to pitch itself to audiences. Three Inches is comparatively a muddle.

written by Harley Peyton / directed by Jace Alexander / 29 December 2011 / Syfy