Archive for the TV Category

Jonathan Creek

Posted in Jonathan Creek, TV with tags , on April 24, 2014 by pieman70

Back in the 90s the BBC produced an intriguing murder mystery series named Jonathan Creek.  The series starred Alan Davies as magician’s assistant who uses his skills at devising magic tricks to solve seemingly impossible crimes.  Usually with the assistance of a touchstone character to act as a foil/audience sounding board. This character has changed over the years, starting with Caroline Quentin’s true crime writer Maddie Magellan, later replaced by Julia Swahala and later Sheridan smith.

 

The series was always clever and kept you guessing and while it ran for a good while it had more recently been reduced to occasional specials which I always assumed was due to the creative team only making the show when they had a new idea.   It was with this in mind that I looked to the new 3 episode series with some trepidation.

 

Spinning out from a recent special Creek has now retired from advertising, married Sarah Alexander and got a job in advertising which is a decent way of filling in the years between specials.  They move to the country and encounter some new mysteries.

 

The first story was a real let down.  The mysteries themselves are Ok, although the only ones that are left at all mysterious involve a roomba and a magically appearing newspaper cutting. The actual mystery is revealed as it happens which is a bit strange.  Aside from a friendly jab at Sherlock there wasn’t much there.

The next too were improved but, as the kids say, I wasn’t “feeling it”. Possibly fixing the setting in one village is part of the problem, diluting the mystery with zany small village antics, but I also think Alexander doesn’t help.  It is hard to place but she doesn’t seem to work as well as her predecessors.  I can’t help but feel the series would have worked better if Smith had been retained to create a bit of friction, with Alexander being an anchor to normality and smith dragging creek to the next mystery.

Overall it is definitely weaker than the older stories.  I’ll keep watching if more are made but at the moment I think.this was best left alone.

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10 O’clock Live

Posted in Channel 4, TV with tags , , on June 5, 2013 by pieman70

As always, life and laziness have got in the way of blogging.  I have also decided to drift away from the more overtly political blogging, quite frankly because there are people who do a much better job than me, they research and everything In a sort of farewell to the politics side of things, I thought I’d talk about Channel 4’s irreverent political show 10 O’clock Live.  For those not in the know it is a show which mixes humour and satire with political discussion fronted by Lauren Laverne, Charlie Brooker, Jimmy Carr and David Mitchell.  10 O’clock Live initially started life in 2010 as the one off “Alternative Election Night” on Channel 4, a show designed to give a more light hearted take on the live election proceedings.  At the time I surfed between this and the regular BBC coverage and while the BBC was still the best the alternative was a welcome break, particularly early on when not much was happening and the Channel 4 presenters, after the polls closed naturally, could have a bit more fun than their serious counterparts.

The Alternative election night was obviously a success because later that year Channel 4 commissioned 10 O’clock Live, essentially the same show but covering topical news instead of an election.  Many were initially unimpressed, and indeed I was rather annoyed that they had put the show up against Question Time.  As a devoted Question Time tweeter this meant that I ended up watching on a repeat or +1.  The show itself was a mixed bag.  It was obvious that most of the presenters were not used to live TV, Jimmy Carr is a bit of a Marmite comedian at best and they didn’t have much of an idea what to do with Lauren Laverne.  I have to admit that when that series ended I expected that would be the last we would see of this show, however in 2012 it returned.

The show seemed to have been streamlined quite a bit, with several items dropped, one which I wish they had kept was David Mitchell’s interviews.  While Mitchell was definitely not an attack dog like Paxman or Humphries, I actually liked his interview style, essentially, he knew he wasn’t going to get the better of these people, and didn’t go out the way to humiliate anyone, however his easy going style allowed him to often surprise a guest with a comedic barb or even a well placed question.  In all that time Mitchell still appeared like a reasonable man asking reasonable questions and I think this could have grown.

Again, after series 2 finished I thought “It’s gone now” but it is back for 2013 with some improvements.  Most of Jimmy Carr’s skits have gone, and he now just does his regular review of the week stand-up routine.  All the hosts have only one segment, and in fact poor old Lauren Laverne doesn’t generally get a segment at all, a shame as her guides to various events and her piece on Serco were actually one of the better bits.  What has been added is much more round table discussion between the three hosts and this actually works really well and was something that was inexplicably kept to a minimum in the last two series.  I will still say that David Mitchell does not chair a debate particularly well (Perhaps Laverne would do better) and the new skit with a fake American news anchor is pretty dull.  However overall the show continues to improve.

I’m glad Channel 4 will give successful one off or event shows a go as a regular programme.  (See “The Last Leg” as another example) and they also do seem to have the commitment to refine the format, drop what isn’t working and improve on what is.  A couple of more tweaks and 10 O’clock live will become must watch TV.

Outcasts

Posted in BBC, SF, TV with tags , , , on April 3, 2011 by pieman70

Yes, I know we have had the budget (I wasn’t keen) and one of the biggest marches of recent history, but I feel I have to comment on Outcasts

For those who didn’t know, outcasts was the BBC’s latest attempt at a big budget, grown up SF series. In itself this is a good thing, I love Dr Who but I always had fears that the old beeb would assume this was all that was required for its SF output, so it’s good to see them branching out a bit.

The BBC certainly didn’t skimp, it was filmed in South Africa, written by Spooks scribe Ben Richards and brought in some fairly big name actors such as Daniel Mays (Ashes to Ashes) and Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) and it had an audience who were willing it to be good to show that grown up SF could work in a prime time slot.

Outcasts was set in and around the human settlement of Fort Haven on the planet Carpathia and followed the colonists as they struggled to survive on an alien world. They would face conflict from without, in the form of the genetically modified ACs and a mysterious alien force, and from within as the charismatic and manipulative Julius Berger tries to unseat Tate, the colony’s president.

First, I quite liked it, it was flawed and often slow, but the concept was intriguing and some of the characters grabbed me. Of course this may say more about me, I found joy in Bonekickers.

So, what went wrong? Why did it end up graveyarded on sunday nights? Why did it turn off both sci-fi fans and mundanes alike?

Sadly most of the blame has to fall at Ben Richards feet. The first episode had many mildly intrigued, but not blown away, and the slow pacing sent viewers switching to Gypsy weddings or whatever else was on in droves. This flaw would have been fine on its own and it could have earned a solid audience from genre fans alone, sadly Richards didn’t help himself there.

I can’t confirm this, but Ben Richards appears to be a bit snobbish about SF. His first error was to wax lyrical about how Outcasts wasn’t really SF, it was more a frontier western but on an alien planet, more about people that aliens, space ships and lasers. Yes, anyone who knows SF will roll their eyes at this, it shows a writer who dismisses SF as childish space ships and bug eyed monsters which is kind of insulting to the genre that gave us Brave New World and Blade Runner. This alone did not put people off.

The main problem in my eyes was that the writers, and richards as show runner has to take some responsibility here, hadn’t watched or read any SF before making an SF drama, the net result of that was they didn’t know a hoary old cliché when they dreamed one up. The warnings were there, in interviews the writers spoke of the “space western” as if it was a brand new idea. Old concepts themselves do not make a series bad, but some background knowledge of the genre would have highlighted where the ideas had been tried previously and where they had been better executed. This may have changed some directions and perhaps forced the writers to drop some dead ends and develop some ideas more completely. For example, they had a brief “gold rush” idea with diamonds, and it could have developed further, with people slugging it out for stones that were precious on earth but common as pebbles on carpathia, showing the odd things we value, but it was forgotten pretty quickly.

Finally, Outcasts biggest problem was a lack of internal consistency. People aquired abilities, gizmos that would easily solve problems disappeared entirely (brain reading machine, I’m looking at you) this just seemed like lazy writing and did affect my enjoyment, and I was massively sympathetic before it started.

So, what was good, Cass and Fleur, the two P&S operatives (police) were engaging and likeable and even Tate, who started off giving the impression that they really wanted Patrick Stewart for his role grew on me. The stories picked up as it went on as well, and the reveals of some mysteries were actually pretty good (Cass’ backstory in particular) but it sadly was too little, too late.

I may later post about an alternative way I would have run outcasts if I don’t decide it makes me too much of a monday morning coach

The Pie Man Television awards 2010

Posted in Ashes to Ashes, BBC, Being Human, Channel 4, Chuck, Defying Gravity, Dr Who, Heroes, James May, Lost, Misfits, Reaper, Sherlock, Sky, Sparticus, Stargate Universe, The Deep, TV, Virgin 1, Wonders of the Solar System with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2010 by pieman70

Ok it’s a bit late, but since the US is slowly disbanding the traditional dates of seasons it has meant that I have had to wait a bit before really trying to pull together last years TV, so technically this covers late 2009 as well, basically think of it as covering any TV that was made after last years television awards.  As always there is an SF bent to proceedings, and this year things are a bit sparse, not because of a lack of new shows, although there is a bit of that, but because with me now having a family I just can’t log the hours of TV I once managed.  So, arbitrary awards ahoy.  As always this will be littered with spoilers, spelling errors, bad grammar and generally poor quality writing, proceed if you dare.

Best TV show.

This one was tough, although truth be told the US isn’t nearly pulling its weight like it once was.  So what did we have, well there are many shows I liked, but how many would I actually judge as “best?” Ashes to Ashes was definitely good in its final season, Stargate Universe has become must watch TV even if it took me a while to get into my head that it wasn’t like the last two Stargate series, Lost had a great final season, Being Human S2 was great and of course we had the two masterful newcomers in Misfits and Sherlock which nearly qualified for best show on their first years.  Instead I’m going with…

It’s a bit of a hard one to judge, see if I have my timeframes right, and if I don’t tough, my 09/10 period catches 3 of the specials and the new series, so I’m spoiled for choice.  I know the specials weren’t as well received by everyone, although there is very little hate for Waters of Mars the Xmas and New year end of time 2 parter has taken a lot of flack.  It was a little flawed and very overindulgent in its last act, but it was a goodbye to the team that have brought our show back, and for that I can forgive anything, I cried manly tears.  Then we have the new series with Steven Moffat at the helm and Matt Smith and Karen Gillen playing the Doctor and Amy Pond, and you know what, its different, but Matt Smith has definitely taken to the role like a duck to water meanwhile the feel of the show is different but also much fresher, perhaps a little more kiddie friendly as well which is no bad thing, it is a family show.  The standout episode of the series was “Vincent and the Doctor” but credit where credit is due, the final 2 parter was great, with a mix of action, drama and comedy.  In fact that could be said of the whole series.  Downsides are the iDaleks and a slightly off 2 parter featuring sort of Silurians but in general I wait with baited breath for the Xmas special.

Best New Show.

Again, a little spoiled for choice, and again very much dominated by British TV, obviously Stargate Universe is an option, and I’d even consider Caprica, although I have to confess that I gave up half way through and came back at the end, none the less, while it took its sweet time to get going I was warming to it.  Truth be told it was very nearly Misfits, Channel 4’s ASBO superhero show, and if I can’t come up with an award for it from the usual categories then expect a spurious award near the end because it deserves some love.  However, best newcomer is non SF, it was short, but daring and once again it’s Steven Moffat.

Sherlock

This was a surprise, the BBC were running a set of new dramas, some one offs or week long events like The Deep, but then there was Sherlock, a modern take on Sherlock Holmes.  Epically named Dominick Cumberbatch took on the role and gave a great young Holmes in his performance, managing to keep the character enjoyable even if you know in real life he’s pretty unlikeable.  Martin Freeman took the role of Watson, now a veteran of Afghanistan drawn into holms’ world.  The show had a real energy and pace, so much so you really didn’t notice its quite staggering 1hr30mins running time per episode, yes each episode was a mini movie, that in itself is bold enough and kudos to the Beeb for letting them try it.  So far we only got 3 episodes but with a further 3 planned these could be short bursts of brilliance.

Best Finale

We had quite a few series end this year, or indeed be axed.  In the end though there were two real contenders for this prize, and oddly enough both had similar finales.  Lost didn’t win it, now I’m not a hater of this finale, yes it was a bit annoying that the island’s secret was basically “It’s a magic island” and I know that many found the “Alternate” flash sideways turning out to be the afterlife a cop out, and I would have perhaps preferred it to be a parallel world and the solution not to be turning the island off and on again, but regardless Lost’s finale was emotional and offered a sense of closure for me at least.  But it’s not the winner, no that has to go to…

So, it was all a sort of limbo for coppers who died on duty and Gene Hunt was to usher them to the next world, it makes sense, fits in with the Life on Mars Finale, and in general works.  It shouldn’t, it should be a cop out (pardon the pun) but it explains so much.  And of course we had the villain of the piece, Jim Keats, the more modern DCI and very possibly an agent of Satan himself trying to lure genes cops away, he managed to really create a nemesis for Gene, initially subtle and menacing his final few scenes where he was all out evil mad were a joy.  Taken as a 5 series story Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes is going to be one of my must own on DVD (Hell I’ve already got Life on Mars) I think re-watching now I know the secret will only reveal even more.

Most Improved Show,

This is a tough one this year, possibly because most of the series are either new or the returnees were pretty damn good already.  So I reckon I may be pretty controversial when I say the winner is

You may think I’m just making sure chuck gets an award this year, and you may be right, however stay with me.  Chuck was good already, but I really do think that it has been consistently improving over its run.  S3 gives us chuck with a new intersect, one that gives him kung fu skills.  Not just that but its one of the few series I know that can take getting a sudden series extension and not have the latter half turn out rubbish.

Most Gratuitous T&A in a series

I didn’t catch too much of Dollhouse this year, so I can’t say if it qualifies.  In fact T&A is clearly something ion this age of austerity we can’t afford, or perhaps its just I’m watching fewer shows that lend themselves to it.  I should probably watch the Hawaii Five O remake as it’s meant to be littered with it so I can have this award in next year.  I could use Misfits but what T&A it had wasn’t particularly gratuitous, so instead I’m opting for a non genre show that I’ve watched a bit of, because I like this award.

I’ve seen a few episodes of this and wow, you thought Knight Rider was bad, women seem to wonder around topless just for the hell of it.  The scene that I thought really exemplified this was during an episode where there had been a drought and at the end it rains once our titular hero has killed someone in a gladiatorial bout.  Apparently in ancient Rome rain made women in crowds fall out of their tops.  Similarly a fringe benefit to being rich was that you could have topless slaves hanging around your house and your wife wouldn’t bad an eyelid.  I get the feeling at script meetings someone did ask ‘How can we get more boobs into this series?’

Best Factual series

I’ve realised I watch a lot of documentaries, due to the unique nature of various channels I often don’t know if I’m watching something new or something ages old.  I have also decided to have two separate categories.  Shows like the excellent Wonders of the Solar system are clearly factual, however entertaining they may be while something like Top Gear is technically factual but is first and foremost entertainment.  I thought this was an important distinction.

This year I’ve been fairly spoilt for choice.  A good start was the badly advertised and barely plugged “The Digital Revolution” presented by Dr Alex Krotski, this had a lot going for it, not only was it an interesting insight into the social impacts of our information age but it was presented by the presenter I liked the most from 1990s games review programme Bitz.  Mythbusters is also a worthy candidate, straddling the boundary between factual and Entertainment factual with aplomb.  The winner this year must be.

This is one of these things that the BBC has everyone else beaten by a country mile.  Professor Brian Cox takes us through some of the wonders of the solar system.  That’s kind of it.  The content was factual but presented in such a way that it wasn’t stuffy or dry.  Brian Cox is an excellent presenter and speaks with a genuine and infectious enthusiasm for the subject matter and the visuals that are presented are truly awe inspiring.  Seriously try to watch this.

Best Entertainment Factual

And so from the less noble end, again we have Mythbusters as a possibility and the ever present Top Gear, in fact all we were short of were a few drama-documentaries which seem to have been in short supply.  However my award goes to.

I’m a big fan of James May, I think he’s a good presenter, particularly when given a subject matter he is interested in, he can usually add a touch of humour to whatever he’s presenting.  This series spun off from three one-off programmes he did, concerning toys.  In this he takes a toy, tries to convince some kids its fun and works towards a giant challenge.  This series had May building a life size Airfix model Spitfire, building a bridge over a river using only Meccano, re-creating the brooklands racing circuit full length but using Scaelextric, Living in a house made entirely of Lego and re-instating a branch line in Hornby double-0 gauge.  His success sis often varied but in the process it was nice to see kids taking an interest in toys and the way James May and a TV crew could get families and communities out together.

Best UK Network/Channel

To be fair there’s only a little competition in this, Virgin/Channel one are improving but look set to be dismantled after a Sky Buyout, Living will probably qualify for a Pirate Bay award next year, Channel 4 made a good effort with Misfits and now that Big Brother is gone I expect wonders.  Sky1 itself is on a bit of a decline, having far fewer shows that I’m interested in this year than last now that Lost is gone however their recent purchase of exclusive rights to all of HBO’s output is promising even if their proportional budget on home grown series is miniscule.  Bravo is still Bravo with nothing particularly new or interesting and with SyFy running V, Eureka and Warehouse 13 its fast becoming the channel filled with series I should watch but don’t.  No, the winner this year is,

Its not perfect, and there are criticisms, but this channel this year has given us, Dr Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Merlin, Sherlock, Ashes to Ashes, Top Gear, James May’s Toy Stories, The Digital Revolution, Survivors, Vexed, Miranda, Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe and many others.  All thoroughly entertaining, all home made.  It runs very few bought in series these days which is good as all the money from these series goes straight back into the BBC and into British pockets, surely worth supporting.

The RIAA award for harm caused to Bit-Torrent

Most networks are beginning to understand that getting stuff on screen as soon as is humanly possible after US screenings is the best way to stop people downloading stuff.  So this year the award has been flipped to recognise those who do their best to keep you off the Bit Torrents.  A credit here should go to ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC who have made their on demand service for catching repeats available to as many people as possible (Living only allow on demand on premium packages and sky only allow their Anytime service on sky) Sky have got anytime and have the best record for putting shows on usually in the same week they air.  I’m torn though.  See Sky’s protectionism is driving people like me to bit-torrents when we miss things (There were a few episodes of Lost I had to catch up on through “Alternate” means) it’s a small thing but it’s the only thing this year that pushed me to Bit Torrent.  In the end it has to be

Both are as good as each other, most of the channel’s main output is available, most are on for a week at least and they have back catalogues available for free or very little.  This could well be the future of TV.

Only the Good Die young award.

Not too many entries here.  I could say Defying Gravity but I may sound like a broken record next award.  Instead I’m going to go for,

I know it was 2 seasons old, but it was really getting moving.  They had found a groove, were building a mythology, and now we’ll never know how it was to end.  I miss my dose of supernatural fun.

Never given a proper chance award

This one should be obvious

It was shafted by Fox, let down by the Beeb, graveyarded and left to die.  A shame because this was a series that really got under my skin.  Space exploration where exploring space is the main source of peril, it was drifting near documentary territory at times.  I just wish everyone involved had been a little more confident in the series to push it harder.  I think this could have been a classic.

Most Promising 1st Season.

Again, a crowded year, Sherlock, Caprica, Stargate Universe, Defying Gravity. But in the end of the day the series which had a season that made me sit up and take notice was.

It shouldn’t have worked, it was badly marketed, with the creators seemingly telling as few people as possible about the show, it epitomised the joke Channel 4 Mindset of any new series being something crossed with Skins and the cast seem pretty dislikeable from the get go, but it worked.  A good combination of humour, drama and character this series drew you into its world.  A mysterious storm gives a group of youngsters on community service Super Powers, but how will they use these abilities and how will they explain why they killed their hulked-out probation worker.  See, the premise is even hokey, and it often had a “Storm powered person of the week” format that reminded me of Smallville’s early “Kryptonite powered baddy of the week” format, but it worked, and worked well.  The characters grew into full fledged personalities and the final episode in particular, which involved an evangelical Christian able to turn anyone who could hear her to her way of thinking had a real night of the living dead vibe to it.  Season 2 has shown no dip in quality either.

Most off the Boil series.

No pre-amble it has to be

So off the boil its been axed, Heroes, I would say its not you, its me, but it is you and I can’t do this anymore, I can’t sit through dross just to have the one or two great episodes, it just isn’t working for me.  Yes, I gave up through Season 4.  Can’t fault the networks decision here; however I have a concept for a sitcom starring Ando and Hiro if you’re interested?

The Reilly 2040 worst padding award

It’s a tough call, I could hit Heroes a bit more but that would be cruel, and if Padding was the only problem with “the Deep” it would be a mercy.  It could be Caprica, I don’t know because I faded out mid season and came back nearer the end.  No, it’s a tough call but I think it will be

I suppose it usually wasn’t a padding episode, but more some episodes were padded, So much of the Earth based body swap stuff is just tedious and most of the time you’re just waiting to see people in dark corridors whisper at each other to let you know that you’re seeing the interesting bit.  If you extracted the padding and re-distributed destiny sub-plots I reckon you could have shaved a couple of episodes off this series.  Overall though USTV, you are improving.

Pie Man Special Award

This is an award for something I think is good but has been sidelined by better, newer or just by accident.  This year it is

It nearly warranted the “Worst Treatment” award, see last year Team Chuck only thought they were getting 12 episodes, wrote a tight 12 episode arc and once ratings were ok were then surprised with another 10 eps.  I don’t give the award because wheat we got from this was something more akin to 2 seasons rolled in one.  It may have actually removed some padding.  Chuck is still a Joy, and a greater involvement of the extended cast meant we got more Buy More antics, a greater involvement for Morgan and best of all, an end to the will they/won’t they Chuck and Sarah question, they did and it stuck.  Plus we got at least 2 new Jeffster Numbers.  I can’t say this enough but a Jeffster Album?

Graceful Retirement Award

I think we only had one real contender, Heroes’ retirement being anything but graceful the award goes to

It was big finale time, and to be fair a cracking final season, obviously there is some disappointment from not having the Island’s secrets revealed in any way beyond “Magic” and the flash “Sideways” transpiring to be the afterlife was a slightly wasted opportunity, but it left me satisfied and gave a sense of closure which was welcome.  The story is complete; we need not worry about Lost any more.  And I for one cried like a baby at the finale, although the way Michael giacallo Scores episodes I’m sure he could make the Go-Compare adverts seem like stirring pathos laden masterpieces.

Worst Treatment of a series

Virgin/Channel One were a possibility, but chuck wasn’t as badly treated as last year.  I reckon Living are already getting much of my Ire for next year over Chuck as well, so lets have a different perpetrator this year.

The BBC has had one major problem this year.  Its Schedule or lack thereof.  It seems that either the IPlayer has spoiled them or they it is in fact incredibly difficult to put a programme on at the same time every week.  For its big hitters like Sherlock ad Dr who it’s often a matter of 30mins or so but I really shouldn’t be checking an EPG to see when Dr Who starts this week.  For others like James May’s Toy stories, it roved quite freely, so much so that I watched every episode on IPlayer.  But the worst has to be their treatment of Defying Gravity.  It was graveyarded, that I don’t mind, but there were some weeks we got two episodes, some one, some none, never at the same time, sometimes on different days.  Again IPlayer was my friend but how the hell can we be expected to support a show when it isn’t on the same time every week.  The BBC really needs to sort this out even if On Demand is the future.

Biggest Missed opportunity

I was tempted to say Caprica, but it was improving towards the end of S1, instead I think I’ll shoot at a one off Drama the BBC produced initially as a 5 day TV event, but were so worried about its poor quality that we had to endure 5 weeks of torment.  I speak, of course, of.

The Deep

James Nesbit, Minnie Driver and a crew of other “Him off of that things” take a submarine to the Antarctic undersea volcanoes to try and find out what happened to the previous mission (Containing Nesbit’s wife) and carry on their research.  What followed was a horror of dodgy premises, poor acting, poorer scriptwriting and mind boggling stupidity.  Note to writers, you should not see a twist and say “Was that meant to be a twist”

Various plot elements only made sense if you accepted that someone would pay to shove idiots underwater.  Here are two examples, presented in time honoured “Choose your own adventure Style”

You are on an evil giant Russian sub that looks suspiciously like that factory they film Dr Who in a lot.  To repair your sub and get everyone away from the soon to explode nuclear reactor you need to find the last sub and salvage a part from it.  You are using two pods to double your search chances.  One is your own, its controls labelled in English but it lacks the ability to dock with an airlock.  The other is the Russian one; it can dock but has all its controls in Russian.  You have two pilots, one, Clem speaks no Russian, does not know what part to look for and will have a long drawn out trauma about his wife who was killed on that sub, the other, Svetlana speaks Russian and knows what part to find.

If you put Svetlana in the Russian pod and Clem in your own, go to Paragraph C

If you Put Clem in the Russian pod and Svetlana in your own, go to Paragraph B

B Congratulations, you are churning out daft decisions suitable for a writer of The Deep, situation 2 is here.

You are a sonar operator and know your boss is on the take to corrupt Russian oil barons.  You suspect your boss knows you are on to you when he comes in holding a pistol, but the slide is frozen.

If you rush your boss to try and wrestle the gun from him before he can free it up go to Paragraph C

If you stare at him with a gormless expression, akin to a cow looking at a slaughterhouse wondering what goes on in there, go to Paragraph D

Paragraph C Bad luck, your decisions are good but do not draw out enough “Drama” you will never make it as a scriptwriter of “The Deep”

Paragraph D Well done, you are probably dead, of your own stupidity, but if you have survived the terrors of using a spoon to eat breakfast you could have a future writing any sequel to “The Deep”

Think this sums up what I thought of the show, it could have been interesting, educational, tense and claustrophobic, but it failed to hit any of these.  The money should have been given to the poor.

So am I a Syfy fan now?

Posted in SF, TV with tags , on April 20, 2010 by pieman70

The UK Sci-fI channel has followed its US companion and re-branded to SyFy.  This is despite most people thinking the re-branding was stupid and pointless.  Presumably it is in aid of something like “Brand Cohesion” or “Reflexive corporate image synergy” or some other meaningless marketing rubbish, probably dreamed up by the same person who said “Why are we just selling to geeks, if we call it the Syfy channel instead of Sci-Fi we’ll remove that stigma that has stopped people watching it for ages.  It even has a tagline “Imagine greater” and why when I am World dictator marketing people will have a hard time of things.  I can’t believe anyone looks at Syfy and thinks “hmm” then sees “Imagine greater” and says “I’m sold”

No, marketing dude, that was probably the period, which Sc-Fi is only just coming out of, where the channel seemed to be trying to show as little Sci-Fi as possible.

I remember the old days of the sci-fi channel, it was unashamedly geeky, Bionic Wednesdays, where a whole afternoon was filled with repeats of the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman, MST3K, Quantum Leap.  Sure, it lacked anything you hadn’t seen before, even its films were usually old, and not the blockbusters either.  But damn it I watched it, because sometimes I want to see old SF series.  The channel evolved a little in the early 2000’s, taking a slightly “Weird” approach it almost looked like the guy who is an enormous geek but tries to claim he’s more “Alternative”  Still, it hadn’t lost too much of its geeky content, and even netted some of the better leftovers from Sky and BBC clearing the US Schedules.  Without Sci-Fi then I wouldn’t have seen Now and Again.  They also introduced themed slots, like saturday morning carrying a couple of hours about Anime, with reports on japanese culture and usually a couple of Anime series (To my memory it was the excellent Neon Genesis Evangelion and the odd but fun Martian Successor Nadesco) along with themed horror nights on friday nights.  These two periods represent in my opinion some of the best programming on the sci-fi channel.

It went a bit downhill from there, the channel seemed ashamed to keep showing its old repeats and similarly didn’t buy anything particularly expensive, what resulted was a mass of duff “Direct to DVD” movies, usually involving Dean Cain fighting some giant reptile.  It got worse, as they expanded (And I firmly believe the SyFy name change was part of this) into showing documentaries on dangerous wildlife and extreme weather.  Now you may show Killer Shark vs Giant octopus IV, and I’d even allow some sort of super storm/volcano/asteroid drama as a kind of “What if Disaster movie” but the documentaries were pushing it.  Similarly sometimes they’d show duff action films, no objection in principle but let bravo sho the non SF ones.  I refuse to believe there is a shortage of duff SF themed action films.

Recently things have been improving.  Sci-Fi got some fairly high profile series like Knight Rider, Warehouse 13, Sanctuary and Dollhouse.  In fact the name changing away from Sci-Fi has preceded an increase in actual Sci-Fi on the channel, as if the marketing bod was distracted by his re-branding excercise and the geeks got to pick the programming.

My advice, Capitalise on this success, try and get some more original series, but remember, you need schedule padding, people will watch repeats of Quantum Leap and I know will definitely jump at anime series and MST3K if you can get those.  New programming isn’t the be all and end all.  I have no objection to the crappy B Movies, I watched Warbirds (WWII female pilots and US soldiers vs dragons) and it was poor, but enjoyably so.  Things like this need a home and Sci-Fi or even Syfy could be a place for them.  Avoid turning into Bravo 3 and there could be a future in the old nerd yet.

Xmas TV

Posted in BBC, Channel 4, TV with tags , , on January 20, 2010 by pieman70

Yes, all these posts will be behind schedule, but I reckoned Xmas TV was worth mentioning this year, why?  Because it was a mess.

Now Xmas TV isn’t what it once was.  In previous years (read, when I were a lad) the Xmas schedule was mainly about big film premiers.  This was the tent pole to every channel’s schedule and I’m sure many of us remember sitting around marking off films in the radio times arranging who got to see what.  The prevalence of Sky Movies and cheap DVDs now means that people are more likely to have seen the big films at home before a normal channel gets them; this takes a lot of the power out of these films.  The thing is Xmas TV is hard.  For close to two weeks you have to act as if everyone now wants to watch TV all day, not just between 6pm-11.  People are on holiday after all, you can’t get away with Diagnosis Murder here.  A good few premiers fill up hours of schedule, but now a film premier is less of a ratings guarantee the main terrestrial stations have been a bit confused.

In the vacuum caused by this state of affairs, the BBC has definitely done the best.  This is despite the tabloids normal BBC bashing announcement about the number of repeats on over Xmas; this is despite calling ITVs higher number of repeats “Classics”.  The BBC has risen to the challenge with a variety of Xmas specials.  In fact, on Xmas day it was BBC1 all evening.  The mainstay is of course now the Dr Who Xmas special, which brought me out in fanboy delight this year, because such a big deal was made of it.  David tenant was in everything and the Beebs Xmas idents were Dr Who themed.  This year Dr who was Xmas.  We also had specials from programmes for all tastes, a Catherine Tate special, more Gavin & Stacey, strictly come dancing, plus on other days we had Xmas specials of QI, Russell Howards good news, a 2 part mini-series of Day of the Triffids and the Top Gear South America special.  In fact the BBC should be praised.  They filled a hole normally occupied by films, new or repeats, with new, self made programming.  So what did they do wrong?  Well, on the run up quite a few shows got mucked about in the schedules, specifically for me Defying gravity and James May’s Toy Stories.  Second, there were some very odd repeats, such as the Top gear special being on two consecutive days.  Finally there was a missed opportunity, the big film this year was Pirates of the Caribbean 3, shown on Boxing Day.  However, later that week they showed Pirates of the Caribbean 2, when they could have shown 1&2 on the run up to Boxing Day making 3 a bit more of an event.

Still, like I said, the BBC was odd, but overall good, if still messy.  ITV, C5 and C4 were worse.  ITV and C5 just outright failed to have anything worth watching at all neither did Sky 1 or Virgin 1, the former showing the two Discworld minis on a loop (not a bad thing but not great for anyone not wanting to watch Hogfather twice in one day) and the latter just not changing its schedule at all.  In fact only C4 had anything, mainly the Big fat quiz of the year, along with all quizzes from yesteryears repeated.  C4 however was rather confusing as they had 2 films that could have been big over Xmas, The Simpsons movie and Slumdog Millionaire, however bizarrely they chose to show these after the Xmas period.

Overall other stations could learn a lot from the BBC on this one.

Defying Gravity & Virtuality

Posted in Defying Gravity, SF, TV, Virtuality with tags , , , on January 12, 2010 by pieman70

In my preview of this years TV I may have mentioned Defying Gravity as a show I was interested in seeing, well its been and gone and I’ve managed to catch it thanks to BBC’s IPlayer and no thanks to BBC’s bizarre roaming schedule.

Defying gravity was made as an international co-production, loosely based on a BBC Drama doc about a more realistically themed tour of the solar system.  Defying gravity ditches some of the hyper realism of its documentary predecessor, a technobabble nanotech idea explains gravity in most parts of the ship (Although they are very consistent in showing the “Gravity Suits” under clothing) and eventually uncovers a mystery surrounding what is in Pod 4, however for the most part the Antares is a realistic ship, its slow and low tech.  This meant that the series would mainly focus on the crew interaction and the dangers inherent to space travel.  This is added to with some focus on mission control and the politics there, and with flashbacks to the training and selection process.

I really warmed to the characters, both in their training and on the mission.  This I think was the show’s strength or weakness; basically if you don’t click with the characters you won’t enjoy the show as a lot of it is people in a tin can naval gazing.

I will agree with the critics on one thing, the Final episode was fantastic, the show’s critics say this is how it should be.  I say it showed what something like Defying gravity could do where other SF would have a space battle.  They really highlighted the risk of landing on Venus, a very hostile place and still managed to advance several plot threads in the process.

Perhaps DG was a little slow, but then so is the Antares on her grand tour of the universe.  Shame we won’t see the rest of the solar system, however for those who want to know where it’s going an interview with the creator exists here.

A quick aside, It may have been a couple of years ago, Ronald D Moore made his attempt at a similar idea.  He even also lumbered it with a duff title, Virtuality.  It never made it beyond pilot, and I won’t say how I saw that.

Virtuality follows the crew of the Phaeton, an international mission to find a habitable planet outside of the solar system.  The reason, because Earth is dying.  However, in order to keep funding the mission is also a giant Reality TV show, with cameras on the ship recording the crew’s conflicts.  In fact two of the crew serve as director/producer and presenter.  This leads to some nice asides, like some of the food supplies being donated by a ready meal company, the crew having to wear different clothes, depending on that day’s sponsor.

The virtual bit comes from the way the crew get to escape from their tin box.  Each crewmember has access to a VR module, however, there is a ghost in the machine and he seems to be intent on doing cruel and nasty things to the crew while they’re in VR.  However the twist at the end of the pilot could reveal something more.

Overall Virtuality is grittier and less sanitised than Defying Gravity, and many thought more interesting.  I can’t judge, Defying gravity had many hours for me to bond with its crew while virtuality had a pilot, still it’s a shame it never got commissioned.