John Walker's Electronic House



by on Sep.30, 2008, under Television

Oh happy day! My favourite show of last year, Chuck, is back. And it remains glorious.

It also remains critically ignored. Not a single Emmy nomination last year, while utter shit like Two And A Half Men appeared all over. But then in a year when the smug Mad Men beat Dexter, Damages and House for Best Drama, nothing should be too surprising. Anyhow, bitterness aside, join me in recognising the happiest writing and funniest performances on TV.

Season two opens with the most wonderful gag. The premise of the show… it’s unlikely. So Chuck, dangling from a high window as a thug demands to know who he is, is in a predicament. Explaining that all the secrets of all the governments have been accidentally downloaded into his brain and now he can identify every enemy agent, access all top secret data, and so on. The guy doesn’t believe him – it’s too silly an idea. The show knows it. The show doesn’t care.

The programme has a large capacity for spinning off unlikely spy stories, Chuck spotting something, or someone, which triggers the Intersect in his head and, with the FBI and CIA agents assigned to look after him, they fight crime. Well, Chuck hides from it and trips up. But there was always the weight of knowing that as soon as a replacement Intersect was created, it would mean FBI agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin – Jane from Firefly) has to kill him. It’s this theme that begins season two, with Casey’s conflict over killing Chuck playing the episode’s serious tones.

Chuck spends his regular life working in a Buy More – a perfect clone of Best Buy – a store so well realised by the show that it becomes hard to remember they’re not real. And that’s endemic throughout. So many programmes that attempt to be contemporary are of course the most embarrassing. But Chuck appears to have been made by people who’ve been outside. Which is bizarrely refreshing. Buy More’s tech team is called the Nerd Herd, and is staffed by people you believe have ever used a computer. In fact, it’s staffed by gamers, who reference real games from this decade. The latest episode has a wonderful callback to Morgan’s (Chuck’s best friend, and colleague at Buy More) plans for winning at multiplayer Call Of Duty 4. (Schematics on huge rolls of paper). Season one consistently namechecked the right games, in the right context.

There were so many fantastic jokes in just the one episode, from Casey’s target practise (a visual joke that can be done no justice in text) to Morgan’s amazingly delivered lines when he counsels Chuck. Yvonne Strahovski is brilliant again as Agent Walker, delivering some really stunning fight sequences. And Zachary Levi, Chuck, once more creates a character who is real, warm, frightened and brave.

NBC are clearly behind the show, trusting Levi as an anchor for their recent preview shows for the new season, and bringing it back post-strike without any cast changes or formula meddling. While it may once more be critically ignored because it’s a 42 minute comedy and critics are inexplicably confounded by this model, hopefully it will sit comfortably enough in the ratings to secure a full run. There’s nothing else that deserves to as much.

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CBS Shows Hardcore Porn (Possibly Untrue)

by on Sep.30, 2008, under Television

I love September, and all the new TV shows starting. What a happy fun time. I shall do a rundown of what’s great, and what’s terrible, soon enough. But first, I think it’s important to share a picture from this week’s premier of Survivor, where CBS accidentally showed a Marcus Lehman’s winky on national television.

One for the laaaaaadies.

There are billions of versions of this pic about – apparently it’s the fourth most searched for thing on Google today, which is hilarious. But this is my very own snap. Mum and dad, you must be so proud.

The guy’s name is Lehman, so perhaps this is some sort of clever social satire about the evil banks being exposed? I imagine that’s definitely it.

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by on Sep.09, 2008, under Television

My latest TV post is up on Giant Realm. This time I desperately try to get people to watch Psych. I expect USA to see an astonishing spike in ratings this Friday, and look forward to the resulting credit.

It begins:

Mention Psych and most people react in the same way. “That show? Really? I saw maybe one episode – it seemed all right.” I want to put this situation right. I want to convince you that Psych is the most entertaining show on TV this summer. To accomplish my goal I will use a collection of silly names and a pineapple.

Meanwhile, this is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in over 300 years:

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Step 2

by on Aug.12, 2008, under Television

You may have noticed I often write about TV shows on this blog. You have a keen eye for details like that. And for as long as I have, Kim has teased me by paraphrasing South Park saying,

Step 1: Write about TV
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit!

So much so that the phrase “step 2” has entered our vocabulary as a term to mean, “that mysterious job where I get to write about TV shows.” Well, finally I’ve achieved Step 2.

Giant Realm, the blog conglomerate and site that provides “stuff that doesn’t suck”, has let me write things about television in exchange for money. A wholly reasonable deal. The first piece has just gone up, is about The Middleman, and begins like this:

“Javier Grillo-Marxuach originally intended The Middleman to be a TV pilot. Yes, clearly this happened, but years after he set his work in motion. The established television writer (Lost, Medium, Charmed) first had ambitions to create a show about the sort of heroism and science fiction that had decorated his childhood in 1998, when he wrote the original pilot. Deemed too peculiar by his peers, he sat on the project until the mysterious Middleman and his fresh recruit, artist Wendy Watson, were first seen “fighting evil so you don’t have to” in a four-part comic book in 2005, published by Viper Comics. Three comic volumes later, and everything has come full circle: ABC Family optioned the comic into a show.”

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Sesame Street

by on Jul.23, 2008, under Television

Okay, I can’t leave it at that. The promo highlight reel for season 39 is, thank goodness, embeddable, so here it is:

If you’ve talked to me about the Muppets before, or read anything I might have written, you’ll know I always end up blubbing with happiness. (Or you know, with RAGE that one time).

It’s hard to stress how seriously I mean this: Sesame Street is one of the greatest examples of how humans are amazing. It gives me hope. The astonishing amounts of love and work that go into it, from the educational research and curriculum development, to the artistry of the Muppets, to the quality of the performances from all involved, is overwhelming. And it’s all for a show aimed at children under 4.

I use it as a measure. Celebrities willing to go on the show are the ones worth my time. So who knew LL Cool J was on that list, but the moment he hugs Elmo and sings a song about addition, he’s in. Neil Patrick Harris – well, he’s already the greatest human alive for HIMYM and Dr Horrible, but this transcends him beyond mortal man. Just watch through that highlight reel, and spot the names, and the gags. “Are You Smarter Than An Egg Layer?”, 30 ROCKS, Preschool Musical. Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Will Arnett… and then, when Mike Rowe appeared out of Oscar’s trash can, yup, I cried.

It’s just such pure goodness. Yes, it’s deeply tragic that despite being on PBS it still requires sponsorship from evil companies like MacDonalds and Pizza Hut – businesses that should be nowhere near pre-schoolers, let alone promoting their products to them. It’s incredibly sad. It’s the sort of sad that should be addressed by someone of unimaginable wealth who could fund the otherwise publically funded project such that such names need be nowhere near it. But Sesame Street remains a goodness that transcends the corporate commercials that appear before and after, and the canny parent would switch off after and before. Or Tivo past it.

It’s often described as being written on two levels, one for the kids and one for the adults. And to a great extent that’s true. No 2 year old is going to appreciate the Tina Fey spoof for 30 ROCKS. But there’s a third, greater level on which it’s written, which is for everyone. It’s written and performed with passion, and it’s that love that makes it so appealing to any age. As adults sneakily watching clips, we get to fall about laughing a spoof of Deal Or No Deal (Meal Or No Meal, with a perfect Mandell Muppet, and Cookie as the shadowy banker), while kids get to learn (that a plate of cakes is not a meal, but protein and vegetables is). But the real reason we’re both watching is because it’s so entirely wonderful. It’s Henson’s greatest legacy, and it’s the one remaining aspect of the Muppets that is worthy of his memory.

So, here’s Cookie on Colbert from a few weeks back:

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Television: Factory

by on Jul.22, 2008, under Television

One of the creators of Strangers With Candy, Mitch Rouse, has created a new show – Factory – the first original comedy for Spike TV. And it’s great.

It’s sort of about four guys who work in a factory, but it’s really about four people pissing around, demonstrating how good they are at improvisation. It’s conversation led, with a stupendous sense of reality and banter. It’s single camera, filmed on location, and without an audience. While it’s routed in reality, that doesn’t confine it to the possible – when attempting to regail the others with memories, the memory itself will appear for them to watch, and the memory is usually a woman they saw. The first episode was a little too plot heavy, trying too hard to introduce the cast with awkward devices. Still great, but episodes two and three have been just splendid.

Think the conversational style of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with the inanity of Carpoolers. It’s superb. One of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages. And so, so childish. It proves once more that a group of people repeating something someone said in stupid voices is always funny.

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Television Television Television

by on Jul.01, 2008, under Television

The new TV comes piling in, some for the summer season, some leaking for next season.

Mark Loves Sharon – ten (Aus)

Mocumentaries are increasingly relevent, as everything on television takes on characteristics of the documentary in some attempt at validity. From the lowest lows of Big Brother, to David Attenborough’s Life In Cold Blood having a ten minute behind-the-scenes doc tagged on the end of each episode, we’re increasingly seeing the cameras filming the cameras. There will presumably come a time when the mocku will become over-saturated, inevitably resulting in a behind-the-scenes look at how their made, when someone will create a spoof behind-the-scenes doc of the moc… In the meantime, they’re few and far between, and those that exist tend to be superb. As is the case here.

Mark Wary is an Australian sporting champion (the programme brilliantly doesn’t nail done in what sport or sports, but keeps implying success in an increasing number of fields) who has become more famous for his behaviour out of the field/ring/stadium. He lives in his giant house with his girlfriend Karen Sharon, who likes to kid herself that she stays with him despite his money and success, and yet for someone reason sticks around despite his constant philandering. His manager, Jerry Dabblestein, provides the comic foil, the straight man in Mark’s life, trying to micromanage his every moment, but spending the majority of his time in damage control for the last couple of incidents. Then there’s Sledge and Tomo, two childhood friends who moved in when he became successful.

It’s odd that it’s the only mocu I can think of spoofing the current spate of celebrity fly-on-the-walls. Perhaps it’s because, as a genre, it’s already so deeply salf-parodying that people don’t feel the need. And if anything, Mark Loves Sharon doesn’t even tiptoe toward going as low as many of the for-real versions. Keeping Up With The Kardashians, or Denise Richards: It’s Complicated, are hard to out do. Instead it focuses on a Ricky Gervais-style of naturalistic conversation and hopelessness. Mark’s constant enthusiasm, and his misplaced confidence that his inept lying will ever work, is great. But best is Jerry’s imprisonment in this vapid world. Like the best creations in this genre you feel sympathy for his horrible job, while at the same time having that niggling feeling he deserves it. His being the smartest of the group isn’t the highest compliment, and during his interviews to camera he reveals that he’s about as redundant as the rest. My favourite example of this was the following, delivered as if a profound observation:

First telephone conversation ever: Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you. Alexander Graham Bell. I don’t think he realised at the time the potential impact phones would have. Especially when they became mobile. Of course nowadays he could simple say, “Mr Watson, stay where you are, I’m sending you a photo. Of my genitalia.”

Wipeout – ABC

Everything about this programme is wrong. It’s the world’s largest assault course! It’s entirely based on those Japanese gameshows we see clips where people hurt themselves on camera for our entertainment. It appears to deliberately pick people incapable of walking in a line, let alone bouncing their way across building-high rubber balls. And it has two campish commentators whose job is to insult everyone. Flipping heck, I enjoyed it.

It’s not worth describing when you can watch it for yourself, so see below:

It turns out you can never get bored of watching people slam their faces into padded platforms before falling fifteen feet into water. This programme is going to be on until someone dies, and then it will never be spoken of again. Until then, I’m going to gleefully enjoy it and not care what type of person this makes me. Best commentary line so far: “She stops before this obstacle to gather her thought.”

Black Gold – Tru TV

If you’re going to rip something off, go the whole way. Black Gold is the oil well drilling copy of the mighty Deadliest Catch. And there’s not one aspect of the Discovery show that isn’t mimicked. There’s an opening theme that sounds like a tribute to DC’s Jovi song, there’s three rival rigs competing to be the first to reach oil, each with its own camera crew. There’s danger, death and people getting fired. Well, actually, there’s one thing they don’t have: Mike Rowe doing the narration. And it’s a big loss, on what’s otherwise a stupifyingly watchable show.

Leverage – TNT

A pilot that promises a fantastic amount. It’s Ocean’s 5, basically. A reluctant team of master thieves teaming up for only one job (fnarr), with double, triple, and quadruple crossing going on between them and their marks. It crams so much into 57 minutes, and is constantly enormous fun. FX tried a thieving show last year with, well, Thief. It was a great concept, but focused on just one job after the first episode, and moved far too slowly. Andre Braugher was of course incredible in it, but it never really found a groove. 2006’s Smith was closer to Leverage, but after a promising pilot descended into drivel. I really hope Leverage can keep up the level it sets here, because its pilot is great. Presumably it will receive an editing to get it down to 42 minutes, or perhaps bump it up to 63.

Meebox – BBC3

If you’ve been following Adam Buxton’s YouTube posts the last couple of years, you’ll probably be excited to see the pilot of the TV version. And then be disappointed to find out the result is a very muddled affair. Added to the clips that worked the best, like the Songs Of Praise subtitles and the frightening Sausages song, are some really awkward sketches that in no way resemble the things people post on online video sites, which is surely the point of the programme? If he couldn’t think of enough clips for a half hour pilot, it seems extremely dubious that there’s a series in this. Which is a huge shame. Especially as he couldn’t get clearance for some of the better stuff, like You Say We Pay.

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Swingtown – CBS

by on Jun.22, 2008, under Television

I’m really glad it’s not 1974. I like gadgets. And I’m not entirely clear how everyone didn’t live in constant fear that everyone they knew was dead, not having mobile phones or any of the three thousand other methods of instant communication. Nevermind the fashion, and tidalwaves of brown. Swingtown has the fashion, the music, and the brown in abundance, but somehow isn’t a cloying nostalgia-fest. In fact, it’s remarkably sparing with key news events to flag the era.

Bruce and Susan Miller (Jack Davenport struggling with an American accent, and Deadwood’s Molly Parker being endlessly brilliant in every scene) are a couple with teenage kids who move into a wealthier neighbourhood, a few blocks from their previous home. They leave behind Janet and Roger, former best friends of the family, and immediately befriend new neighbours, Tom and Trina. Who immediately introduce them to the world of swinging, something Bruce and Susan, inspired by quaaludes and booze, go along with.

It’s a lot like Pretty/Handsome in that it’s such a well written and performed drama that it’s central premise isn’t the reason to watch. Much more interesting are the conflicts all around it. Janet and Roger are both jealous of Bruce and Susan’s new lives in their own ways, Susan outwardly hostile and Roger inwardly confused. Their son Rick and Bruce and Susan’s son B.J. are best friends, but reaching puberty and with distance between them are trying to work out what shape their friendship will now take. Laurie, the Miller’s teenage daughter, has a crush on her young English teacher, and it looks like it might not only be one way. And there’s something more significant going on in Trina’s life than she’s letting on, as if her open marriage isn’t quite the bliss she suggests.

But of course the sex is key, and if the really engaging and sharply written drama falls down anywhere, it’s that it’s on terrestrial TV. CBS is not the natural home for a show focused around sex, and the awkwardness of trying to depict couples in bed, sometimes more than one couple at a time, in a way that won’t see them have to hand the company over to the regulatory bodies is breaking the programme’s back. The result is that staple of television: the bed sheet constantly pulled up to the woman’s neck, no matter what’s going on. It just ends up looking very silly. Clearly it’s pushing boundaries, and will likely get itself in trouble with every grumbling group of right-wing “save the family” lunatics (or “the FCC” as they’re known), but it really is a show that belongs on HBO where it would be able to relax.

It’s telling that a programme that seems to be going out of its way not to lapse into tiresome “REMEMBER THE 70S? THEY WERE DIFFERENT!!!” nostalgic nonsense, has a title sequence that couldn’t be more the opposite. Thank goodness it’s all concentrated into those 30 seconds, but you can tell there’s executives sniffing around desperate to make it into something they can sell more easily. On-screen captions advertising that you can listen to the programme’s soundtrack again on Last.FM are remarkably incongruous.

Molly Parker is remarkable. Every scene she’s in is stunning, her internal conflict and confused emotions never cloying or cliched. A scene in the third episode, where responding to her belief that Bruce is having an affair she demands a family breakfast and then drags him and the kids to church, could have been hideous. But as out of character as the moment is, you believe in her panic. And unlike every other programme dealing with marital difficulties, Susan quickly confronts the subject with Bruce and the matter is resolved.

The morality of the central subject is handled so well, with the extremely liberal Tom and Trina countered by the deeply conservative Janet and Roger, and then given intelligent balance through Bruce and Susan (who by the beginning of the second episode make a pact to never swing again – clearly a pact that will be revisited, but not one the show is rushing to get to). Hopefully the refusal to be a I Love The 70s fest won’t hinder its ratings (and it does remember to throw in references to fondu sets and Dylan concerts, and has already joined every other hour-long drama ever by having a closing montage to You Can’t Always Get What You Want), and it gets picked up for an in-season run.

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This Is Your Pilot Speaking

by on Jun.21, 2008, under Television

It’s leaky pilot season, earlier than ever this year.

Life On Mars – ABC

ABC’s remake of the BBC series is peculiarly similar. As in, word-for-word in some scenes. Even shot for shot occasionally. Except, thank goodness, the American version does it without constantly lapsing into utter, utter awful cliche. Instead it’s just slightly awful cliche, and presumably more palatable to my English tastes as American shows always have that extra degree of unreality. Impressively, neither show falls into the “everything from the 1970s happened on this day” that most shows fall into. (See Journeyman for this. Or at its absolute worst, the recent execrable Indiana Jones film).

But for an excellent example of the improvements made by the US version, take the scene when the cops are interviewing the old lady who makes reference to the noise from her neighbour’s music finally stopping. It is at that point that they, and we, make the connection between this fact and the soundproofing material found under the victims’ fingernails. In the US version the moment is electric, they glance, and they move. In the UK version they do a remarkably embarrassing double-take, just shy of the noise of a ruler being twanged, and then jump over the desk in slow motion.

As an ABC show, it’ll be interesting to see how they spin a 12 episode story into a 22/24 part first season. Hopefully they’ll have the sense to move away from the UK material post-pilot. They’ve already made some dramatic improvements, not least removing the focus from the Carry On levels of “oooh, weren’t the police sexist” the BBC version constantly slaps about the viewer’s face. There’s also a great deal more visual imagination with the invasions of modern-day hospital noises and out-of-context characters. And the final scene of the first episode – the jumping sequence – thank goodness it was completely re-written to not be half-arsed dreadfulness. In fact, it shows that the scene can have some genuine gravitas, and far more effectively muddle you about Sam’s reality. Life On Mars was always a really brilliant idea, unfortunately suffocated by the BBC’s insistence on stagomg everything as if it’s about to turn into Confessions Of A Window Cleaner. It might have a chance of escaping this in the US. And Colm Meaney is over four thousand times better as DI Gene Hunt.

Fringe – Fox

When Chris Carter created his pilot about FBI agents who investigate unexplained phenomenon, he crafted a subtle, funny, and most importantly, original show. Mulder, his open-minded FBI agent had been given too much freedom to explore his nutball ideas, and was assigned a skeptical partner whose job was to reel him in. But he was left with extraordinary freedom, and while his bosses disapproved, he got his way.

When J.J. Abrams created his pilot about an FBI agent who investigates unexplained phenomenon, he somewhat forgot the subtle, the funny, and oddly enough, the original. But oh good grief, there’s no shortage of the cliches and exposition. His Olivia Dunham is forced into having infinite freedom to do anything she likes with the help of the institutionalised Dr. Walter Bishop, and his reluctant son, Peter. Together the three of them run around with high-beam torches, investigating a dreadful story about a strange pathogen causing people’s bodies to go transparent. And Dunham’s boyfriend has the disease! There’s some extended gibberish about hooking her up mentally to him, and what was presumably supposed to be hilarious sequences with a dairy cow in their laboratory. It’s hopeless, and so shameless an X-Files clone that you have to wonder if the writers think Carter’s creation was an obscure deep cable show that no one would notice their ripping off. The writers of Transformers, it should be stressed.

But standing out most is the dialogue. Oh boy. Here are some choice highlights.

Dunham: I’m an inter-agency liason.
Grumpy Black FBI Boss Cliche: Liii-ason on an interrr-agency taskforce. Gotta love that. Kinda like powdered sugar on a glased donut.

“What kind of terrorism is this?” someone shouts in zeitgeisty horror. The oh-so earnest reply,
“Who says it’s terrorism?!”

There’s no end of people shrieking, “EFF BEE EYE!”, and at one point it peaks with,


But my favourite line was Dunham idly chatting with someone about Grumpy Black FBI Boss Cliche:

“Bastard. He’s pissed because his best friend sexually assaulted three marine privates and I’m the bad guy because I put him away.”

Apparently Fox were interested to find out what people thought of the leak. To answer that question: spend another $10,000,000 editing the hell out of it. I think there’s a show in there somewhere, but flipping heck, it’s not that edit.

True Blood – HBO

This is a deeply weird one. Vampires “came out” two years ago, and society is trying to figure out how they fit in. With a massive lack of trust, naturally. But it’s HBO, so there’s unending swearing and a good few boobs. The leaked pilot is very unfinished, with entire scenes missing, so it’s not yet fair to criticise its confusing plotting. The programme, bizarrely, is about a girl who can read minds. She works in a small American town bar, a town that has its first vampire move in. More bizarrely, it’s Anna Paquin playing the telepathic waitress – Rogue from the X-Men movies.

The allegory for the vampire “coming out” is heavy-handed, but it does bring some excellent new phrases. “Fang-banging” is when humans seek sex with vampires. And vampires “came out the coffin.” There’s some rather awkward HBO tail eating, beginning with a horribly forced Bill Maher interview, and later someone even referencing something “being like an HBO show.” It needs some hefty tightening up, and could do with losing about a third of its scenes before it’s finished.

Raising The Bar – TNT

Odd one this. A lawyer show about lawyers doing lawyering, without a single original feature, that’s completely watchable and oddly engaging.

The Middleman – ABC Family

Not a leak, but an aired episode. And one of the best things I’ve seen in forever. Imagine Joss Whedon banter in a Brian Fuller world. Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s graphic novel, about a struggling artist who gets hired to work for a secret organisation that deals with monsters and evildoers, is brought to TV by JGM himself. It’s just lovely, constantly beautifully written, as Wendy Watson learns the ropes of her new job from The Middleman, a stoic, endlessly calm agent who speaks like a gosh-darned 1940s comic hero.

A real highlight of the episode, made family-friendly throughout, is the swearing. Watson, exasperated by the Middleman’s remarkable politeness in the face of extraordinary circumstances, lets loose a volley of swearing, entirely bleeped and even black bars appearing to block her mouth. It’s a programme that’s heftily self-aware of its santised nature, and plays on it wonderfully.

There’s a clear lack of budget, but despite this CGI sets are really evocative. A laboratory has a giant, multi-storey contraptions that looks as though it were built by Fisherprice. But just so it’s clear, this is an episode about a gorilla terrorising the mafia. Yes. It’s adorable, and hilarious. It’s the best thing since Pushing Daisies, and deserves a kerbillion viewers.

Pretty/Handsome – FX

Nip/Tuck (a show I’ve never seen) creator Ryan Murphy creates, writes and directs a new show for confused cable channel FX (wants to be HBO, isn’t deep cable enough to be HBO). It’s about a gynaecologist (Joseph Fiennes), his complicated, upper-middle-class family (although you’d think being married to Carrie-Ann Moss would help), and his secret cross-dressing. Clearly that’s the hook, the premise at its pitch, that the dude wears panties. But oddly it’s everything else about the programme that’s so good. If anything, you could remove the T-V story and you’d have a really strong family drama. The older son’s highschool girlfriend has hidden her pregnancy and is now at 8 months, the younger son is ten, but with an adult IQ, and is attempting to get interested in girls, and his father (and partner in his surgery) is cheating on his mom. Fiennes and Moss are having issues in the bedroom, and Fiennes is faced with a pre-op transexual wanting him to give him/her a hysterectomy, and all the accompanying complications that would arise from that in such a Republican neighbourhood.

The programme is at its weakest whenever it focuses on Fienne’s underwear. Fantastic dialogue and decent perfomances give way to clogged up cliche. The biggest problem is the impression that we’re supposed to think Fiennes is being faced with issues over his desire to cross dress for the first time, despite incessant flashbacks telling us he’s been compelled to wear women’s clothing since childhood. Talk of sex change operations causes him to stop in his tracks, dumbfounded as if suddenly struck by the notion. But of course he’d have encountered the subject numerous times before. Just because we’ve invaded his life at this point should not reset his experiences to zero.

However, it comes together nicely when Fiennes and Moss go to a Halloween party dressed as the opposite sex, with the first decent pay-off for the key subject matter. Fiennes’ opportunity to dress as he desires in public results in enhancing his relationship with his wife. Sadly this gives way to an enormously awful final scene, where the ten year old explains to the family that his recently acquired pet seahorses have the male carry the young, etc etc blah blah sigh.

“Why not call the chick seahorse the guy and the guy seahorse the chick?”
“Because nature, at its best, is complicated.”

How very convenient for him to have just happened to adopt pets that provide such a perfect metaphor! Presumably in episode two he’ll add some Wrinkled Frogs (Rana rugosa dontcha know) and we can all learn how they’re able to change sex if the needs arise. In fact, if Murphy hears of this I bet he’ll kick himself. “That metaphor would have been even more laboured!” Anyway, stupid ending to a really strong programme.

Do Not Disturb – Fox

There was a nagging feeling of familiarity all the way through the pilot of Fox’s new sitcom hopeful about a five-star hotel in New York, and its staff of mismatched misfits. It was toward the end, when the big fat girl who wasn’t allowed to work with the public because she was so big and fat, burst into song to prove her worth even though she was big and fat, that I recognised it: it’s the sitcom Andy makes in the second series of Extras. Admittedly a middle-class version, but the face-pulling, woeful-stereotyping and grotesquely false pathos are all in place.

Jerry O’Connell, who last year was just so brilliant in Carpoolers, plays Andy (his character really is also called Andy) – the gurning, overwhelmed manager of the hotel, bossed around by his female staff even though they’re only women, and always in fear of his tyranical father-figure and hotel owner. Niecy Nash is his fiesty black second-in-command Rhonda, and she sure is black and fiesty! Then there’s Larry, who we find out when overhearing a conversation with someone who is obviously his partner is… gay! A real gay in a TV show! But just in case the look-at-us knowing reference to a male on the phone wasn’t enough, it’s spelt out for us when he shouts, “I KNOW WE’RE GAY!” Stunning. There’s Nicole, a stick-thin member of the front desk staff, whose character arc appears to be played out in the opening episode when her entire personality is transformed from epic bitch to lovely friend. (It’s an unashamed attempt to mimic Amanda from Ugly Betty – one of the most sophisticated and beautifully written and performed characters on television today – it’s safe to say they don’t quite achieve this). And there’s the big and fat Molly, who is big, and also fat.

Without a scrap more personality for anyone, what results is 22 minutes of racist, homophobic and sexist remarks, all apparently justified because the people who say them are ignorant. We’re supposed to be laughing at them, not with them, as they regurgitate gross stereotypes, which makes it all okay. Of course, we’re not laughing at all.

The story, such as it was, appeared to be about how Andy only wants pretty girls to work on the front desk, and how Molly is big and fat, and that those two don’t match. This builds to the point where Molly is threatening a justified lawsuit, and then is given an opportunity to expose Andy in front of the press, but in the most hideous scene imaginable, backs down from all this in order to maintain the status quo. That’s right Molly, don’t get ideas above your station, you are big and fat after all. Instead they both hilariously fall down the stairs together, and in this pratfall we’re supposed to move on from the “know your place, fatty” theme of the episode. Then when whining about how she wants to be a singer for a second time, she’s told, “people don’t need to see you to know you’re a good singer.” Just wow. She says, “What am I supposed to do, answer the phone like this…” and then warbles in a voice that would get her to seventh place in American Idol before they voted off the ugly ones, while the cast stare in gobsmacked amazement, and the audience shrieks in delight at this glimmer of talent appearing on stage. Molly is justified as a human being even though she’s fat. She’s allowed to be visible once a week or something, because she can sing, and er, I dunno, it was the longest 22 minutes of my life and I sort of lost track.

How on earth did Jason Bateman (director) and Abraham Higginbotham (writer) create this ghastly, offensive mess? Arrested Development it is not. In fact, it’s about as opposite a sitcom as you could imagine.

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Eurovision, Of Course

by on May.25, 2008, under Television

Not watching it makes you the worst sort of pariah. There’s something for everyone, so long as what you want is a cavalcade of nonsense and confusion, presented by grinning mannequins speaking a language they learned that morning, and a collection of songs from another dimension where ABBA and The Cheeky Girls bred the entirity of humanity. And if that’s not what you want, then I don’t want to know you.

France made the rather enormous mistake of entering a really excellent song. Naturally it stood no chance, and not just because the majority of Eastern Europe voted for Russia in a desperate plea not to be invaded and/or have their gas cut off. Decent songs are to Eurovision voters as cow manure is to ice cream toppings.

It’s a song so good it’s been stuck on loop on my computer this morning. By Sébastien Tellier, apparently produced by Daft Punk (according to Stu, who has listened to it about 39 times more than I), and in a break-out move for France, isn’t a tedious French-language misery-ballad sung by one of France’s few grotesque women. Instead it’s what would happen if Jarvis Cocker fronted the Polyphonic Spree. Accompanied by bearded-lady backing singers. It’s perfect and joyous and real. Watch it again and again:

The other highlight was certainly Bosnia-Herzegovina with what I have named, “The Washing Line Song”. Much more in the spirit of being a bonkers Eurovision song, it then went a step higher by having the most fantastic piano backing. If Sigur Ros did children’s parties.

I’d link to Spain’s, for its proper batshit insane song about other dance crazes, including excited cries of “ROBOCOP!”, but I can’t find a version from last night, and I feel most of the magic would be lost without the English subtitles.

Meanwhile, buy Tellier’s album here!

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