Category Archives: TV

Killing In The Name To Trump Simon Cowell’s Seasonal X-Factor Gift In The UK Chart?

“Cynical” and “stupid” were two words Simon Cowell’s used to describe the Facebook campaign which aims to dethrone the Christmas single from his show The X-factor, before insisting that his hair did not attract felts like Velcro and he was proud of his work as an undercover Soviet agent between the years 1949 and 1975.  For four years in a row Cowell has supplanted the traditional garish and bland Christmas no.1 in the UK charts with an altogether more insidious breed of musical roadkill, giving such X-factor alumni as the anonymous Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson and Alexandra Burke a platform success they would later squander – okay, the Blog has heard Leona Lewis is a success, but the Blog is also unequivocally uninterested in her music, despite the big Avatar furore cooking up.

The group began with the intention to stir up a mass-purchase of arch-protest song “KILLING IN THE NAME” by the arch-protest band Rage Against the Machine. As much as this Blog would like to see an unestablished band being touted with ending this circus regime from Cowell – or even better a Christmas song that’s actually good – we will settle for RATM because we, as you can probably tell, are fed up of Cowell’s crossmedia gashgore machine. As little care as we have for the Christmas chart, let alone the diminutive UK sales chart, we feel that there is something positive in the mass-purchasing of a protest song owned by the same company as the X-factor song. That’s right, even a pro-active campaign to thwart music industry big shots ends up lining their pockets. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

Given as we are to cynicism ourselves, we also see the irony in a campaign encouraging a mass-purchase of one single in protest of mass-purchase of a single – although the latter is dressed up  in lights and Cheryl Cole (we finally found out who she is!).  But we are loathe to shovel them into the same shithole. RATM is and was always about mass protest and people power, a fundamental fact people seem to forget, usually those interpret lines such as “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” as existentialist. Which is by all means a fair enough interpretation:  you can have your little John Wayne boots and play in your fucking sandcastle. But RATM’s spirit transcends the individual and it remains one of the last unifying songs in alternative canon amongst an increasingly fragmented sphere of music. You ask people to get behind Belle and Sebastian and they’ll tell you to feck off. Too right, as well.

The Blog was not too concerned with this campaign however until we heard Cowell’s opinions on the matter. Forgetting the aforementioned “stupid” and “cynical,” Cowell also had the jiffy arrogance to claim that the campaign would “spoil the party” of the three contestants, as if the no.1 spot of the UK chart is roasting chestnuts by an open fire just waiting for the X-factor victor to knock on the door with a bottle of  cherry and recommend they canoodle for the rest of the winter evening, watching whatever forgettable Dickensian drama the BBC waste the Blog’s License Fee on.  It’s not a pre-determined contest*, so why should the X-factor victor be winner be default? Cowell seems to suggest that the X-Factor is an incredibly important facet of the national character, as if the cliffs of Dover will submerge in the Channel, or Bedford will be engulfed by sandstorms should the party be breached by those outside his influence.

*Although if it is, I’ll gladly supply your name to the Police – so put some effort into your ‘talent’.

If anything, forgetting the music, the campaign is simply a gesture towards the established order. The details, trivialities somehow become less important, as they always do with people movements. It goes without saying that little of the 700,000 approximate members of the group care for the UK singles charts but the Blog thinks the chances of something other than a unifying protest song from yesterdecade picking up enough steam to knock the X-factor off course is unlikely.

Some claim that the protest won’t harm Cowell’s finances, and they would be right. But they too are missing the point, for Cowell’s investment in the X-factor is not merely financial.  His formats thrive on their own self-importance and a Christmas no.1 is the de facto prize for 12 weeks of really hard work (auditioning, giving interviews, telling people your dreams, singing). If the dominance of the Christmas no.1 is challenged and Cowell’s shows are undermined then its cultural relevance becomes threatened and thus Simon Cowell’s reputation as music industry maestro is under threat. Has anyone realised that he already has enough money?  He doesn’t need anymore.  Now he’s just playing around, experimenting and trying, in his own macabre way, to affect peoples lives positively. Hence why he’s suggesting ludicrous phone-in elections – the like of which are a staple of dystopic sci-fi – because he truly believes what he is doing is good. And that is why it needs to be an equally self-important campaign that thwarts the X-factor and challenges its monogamy to our society. The more extreme the opposition to the X-factor, the more evident it becomes that a lot of people are fed up.

Of course, being an internet movement, the campaign is easily targeted by derisive cynics, of which the Blog can understand, even relate to. But Killing In The Name represents a time when the musical sphere was less fractured and music could be a unifying force rather than a divisive shatterpoint in the conversation. So shut up, take stock and buy the single. You may be able to exercise your democratic ability to criticise the Facebook campaign, but you must feel bloody hollow afterwards. What’s more, the campaign is closely tied to the charity Shelter. What’s more appropriate than that; this Blog rates!

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE FOR CHRISTMAS NO.1

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE FOR CHRISTMAS NO.2 – the original!

NOTE: Yes, yes, I’ve reposted this from a now demolished sister-blog, I know it’s old.

The death of Have I Got News For You

The satirical news panel show Have I Got News For You has been cancelled by the BBC.

If you greeted that piece of information with hysteria, disappointment or perhaps a dribble of urine running down your corduroy chaffed thigh, then there is no need to worry.  The BBC have not cancelled HIGNFY, nor would they have plans to.  Nonetheless, the Death of Have I Got News For You is upon us, whether you like it or not, sitting there with your fetid Aussie wine and M&S nibbles, in your dressing gown.  Granted, it’s not a quick, painful and obvious death. But its been suffering for a while now, courtesy of a bout of flu, but no matter the current crop of in-vogue germs strutting their stuff about global aerospace, HIGNFY’s problems have been endemic.

In truth, it all began with the dismissal of Deaton.  Now, the dismissal of Deaton was done for the right reasons et cetera et cetera, no need to get into that, but HIGNFY has since become a bit of a circus.  Of course there’s an irrepressible joy at seeing Brian Blessed rolling out the vowels like the gravy train’s delayed at Yeovil Junction and there’s been many other enjoyable guest hosts, but the novelty factor devalues the content.  Ian Hislop remains a difficult man to like, a caricature of the old guard, public schoolboy whose idea of mischief is to recite newspaper stories with a false sense of righteousness, until he trails off somewhere half way through, lost under his own new found modesty.

Paul Merton remains Paul Merton, playing a maverick from a bygone Vaudevillian age, which is all nice and fun, but he isn’t a satirist, and his wandering streams of consciousness and lightning retorts only further detract from the content of the show.  One wonders whether the BBC, in an age of ever increasing scrutiny, has shifted its quota for satirical content silently to Mock the Week, that brilliant,  low rent, ghastlier stand-up vehicle of a show, and left HIGNFY hanging on the laurels of cheeky banter and desensitised caption competitions; I mean really, is mocking the way Gordon Brown’s foggy eyes drift listlessly like a zombie across the picture satire? Is that what it boils down to?

HIGNFY needs to galvanise.  After 12 years (is it twelve years?) of mocking Labour for inadequacy, the Tories for the size of their inheritance and the Lib Dems for trying too hard, this is all getting a bit much.  It’s become too reverent, and reverent satire must not exist, it can’t exist, and HIGNFY runs the risk of simply sending up the whole charade of government as some kind of invite only, nice-but-dim socialite club with its homegrown brand of expensive yet innocuous corruption, rather than cut to any kind of politicised discourse.  They need to reinstate a regular host.  Alexander Armstrong was touted.  He’ll do.  He’s smug enough.  And let’s be happy that when the Tories swing the election and deprive our fair, small and invariably miserable country of art funding and empowerment and pride, our consolation prize will be years of memorable comedy, art and culture.  And this, of course, will lead to the immediate resuscitation of HIGNFY as a spotlight of the primetime BBC schedule.  That is if it isn’t already dead.

Just a little review on Stargate: Universe “Water.”

Ah. Another week, another elementally themed SGU episode. As expected – and mentioned, in the review of Light – the premise of these episodse are becoming a little draining for the discerning viewer, despite them delivering the goods in the end.

This week saw the crew search for water as they gather up the ingredients for the extragalactic picnic basket that is the good ship Destiny. Turns out that the water is running out at a frantic rate on the ship, sowing malcontent among the military personnel and the civilians as they search for the cause. Again, the fact that these disagreements seem petty rather than reasonable are indicative of the writers being unable to match the intensity of the rather more rationally motivated disagreements of BSG. Yes, I’m mentioning BSG again. But it’s really very good. The cause of the water evaporating (see what I did there) happens to be the sentient like ‘Dust’ from a previous episode, that seems to have stowed away on the ship.

This unexplained entity, presenting Scott with a mirage that ultimately saved him on the planet, should always have been more than a device to give us Scott’s backstory, and definitely more than the cause of water leakage on Destiny. It presented us with that rarest of things: a harmonious alien. It was peculiar because its interaction with a dying human, mimicking the devils of Scott’s past (ironically a priest: HAHAHAHA) was part of its very nature and for that, much, much more than our idea of the alien as a man in costume and prosphetics. Should the ‘Dust’ have remained a permanent feature of Destiny’s interior, it would have become a fruitful device for both exploring the stories of our characters pasts, but also for encouraging the larger narrative arc of the season to rear its head.

Which, of course, brings us to that unknown beast. We know our characters aren’t going to make it home for a long time yet – if they ever do – so give us something, please, anything to cling on to. Marauding Aliens will do, contact with ‘something else’ will do, mysterious happenings within the ship will do or things awakening inside the ship will do. The world is your oyster writers. The use of such a potentially fruitful sentient in this way was entirely redundant. A chance missed.

Meanwhile, some other stuff happened. Scott and Young went ice fishing; a red jersey got a facelift courtesy of the ‘Dust’; Eli got a little ratty at Rush; Rush was being difficult as per the norm; Dead Senator’s daughter got to cry a bit more. It was all a bit wishy-washy really. Not much to see, not much to ponder and our thirst for more is a little weaker than the week previous, hence why I was so lazy in typing up a review. Hopefully SGU can shrug off its slight dopiness and throw us up in the air a bit next week – with something other than a malfunctioning shower curtain and a look at a periodic table.

First impressions of V

I’ve not seen the original series of V, and when I heard it was being remade by ABC, I thought they were remaking the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. But that would be bloody treacherous to adapt in the first place. And foolish to remake it even then. But whatever the character of the original V show, the first episode of this remake is brimming with confidence and polish. That said, it’s conventional to the bone, and nothing is particularly spectacular. Oh, and the dialogue is, at times, dreadful.

The plot is that aliens reveal themselves to Earth peacefully but the slickness of the Visitors (Hence the V – tadah!) belies a more heinous intention and manner. We see, as ensemble shows love to do, all the characters we will follow through the course of the show, in their daily lives – the single mother badass cop, her bratty teenage son, the enfranchised black-american businessman, the priest with a strong jaw and the Journalistic lovechild of Tom Cruise and Michael J Fox playing an amalgam of Tom Cruise and Michael J Fox characters – before the events which send everybody into turmoil.

Everybody is, as US drama would have us believe, a normal working human in V, with the compulsory cautionary past, familial issues and wanderings of faith that typify us as a species, in comparison to, say, Goats, which are just stupid animals. There’s nothing really wrong with this – you can’t expect ABC to pull out anything resembling realistic characterisation like a BBC, HBO or AMC program would – but again, it feels same old, same old. Most are likeable, conventional types, even if the writers lack the spirit to push the Priest (name unimportant) to the level of Jesse Custer or the balls to make him anything other than a Mddle-of-the-Road beefcake with a lot of scepticism. The bratty son of the cop is annoying however; too sappy, too wet, and too full of himself to like. Of course, he’s want for frolicking with an attractive female Visitor and generally expatriating to the Other side, so there’s no loss for humanity there then.

As said however, ABC shouldn’t be expected to overcome the hurdle of dramatising realistic familial relationships in a way that doesn’t wreak of cringeworthy sentimentality. Things do get more interesting though, with Morena Baccarin as Anna, the seeming head honcho behind the media-frenzied visitation of the aliens, whose beauty often so distracts from her solid performances. Here, she is framed in such a way that her angelic features become stretched beyond normal human possibilities to reveal something entirely alien and frightening. The compulsary monstrous feminine she may be, but it’s a wonderful performance, and slightly unexpected for those used to seeing her doll about as a foil to Captain Hammer.

Alan Tudyk is always great to watch, and although he isn’t given much to do here, his presence is always reassuring in a sense – although this is in the sense that he looks like he feels just as marooned as us, and not in the sense of ‘everything is going to be alright for I, Alan Tudyk, am here’. Suffice to say, playing around with our affections for Tudyk worked brilliantly in that one decent episode of Dollhouse – swooping from jabbering pot-head architect to sinister mastermind in one of the biggest Ohhhhh! moments of recent memory – and the same device works great here too, if less masterful.

There are interesting places to go with V. The first episode sets up threads we not only anticipate, but actually want to follow; we aren’t teased in sick ways and told to endure horrific bouts of boredom before we are given answers (that’s for you David Goyer: Flashforward could take lessons from V on the subject of developing characters alright), but instead are fondled with in ways quite appetizing for a viewer. I’ll end the metaphor there, as it could go a tad blue. There’s also what appears to be a swipe at Obama’s healthcare plans in the show – although I hesitate to condemn it because the first episode seems to suggest that there’s more to the Visitors than a palatable lust for genocide – as the Visitors suggest a worldwide health service. This was nearly lost on me to be honest. Good idea, I said. Extend the NHS and that. And then I realised that the US is way behind on healthcare to those who need it. Silly me. I’m rooting for the Visitors now.

There’s a lot of asides and parallels to a staple of sci-fi themes in V, from the manipulation of the masses to the purpose of the media, and it could be rich territory for the show to mine in the future. I’ll be watching probably. Tuesday nights are pretty drab on the whole.

Dollhouse and Flashforward fail to ignite, The Office (US) misses its chance and Stargate: Universe impresses

These last few weeks, a host of shows have returned.  First off, let’s consider Dollhouse, the Joss Whedon’s offering that takes a lump of  Baudrillardian ponderings, digests it along with his usual cast of hip, All American actors (with a glossy edition of OK! magazine on the side) and shits it out.  The resulting dump is a thing of two sides.  On one hand, the concept of reprogrammable avatars (the dolls) living inside a brothel and used by its clientèle for things as varied as romantic engagements to bank heists to rewaking the dead to solve their own murders is rich with potential.  On the other hand, each episode feels plucked from the air with little interest in maintaining a strong narrative arc and impetus in being watchable.

Instead, episodes usually revolve around Echo – a doll who, as her name suggests, finds echoes of her past and the echoes of the personalities which inhabit her over the course of the series – on a mission, with Eliza Dushku playing a variety of characters to various levels of success.  The thing is, every single week there seems to be a hiccup during the process of acting out these missions, so we follow the same procedure of the Dollhouse’s “handlers” – those who look after the dolls while on these missions – as they try and sort out the mess caused.  One wonders how the Dollhouse can be a successful business enterprise and what its customer approval rating is.  Ultimately, the shows first season felt like a very long, extended pilot, whereby only the final reels indicate that the show is going anywhere.

Season Two, starting again after the mysterious 13th episode “Epitaph One” was placed on the first seasons DVD, dawdles about in the same manner as half the first seasons episodes, which is again a shame, because “Epitaph One,” set in an apocalyptic future where the technology programming dolls has run out of control, should have galvanised the shows creative energies.  One can despair already that Dollhouse has been a bit of a spoil sport for ideas, rendering the chance of a similar premised show, executed better in the near future unlikely.

Flashforward unlike Dollhouse has a very clear premise, and one in which the whole show is built around.  The thing is, as I have noted before, everyone is so bloody boring in it.  There may well be genial orchestration in the construction of its overall narrative and mythology – although that has yet to be seen; I’m just saying – but the show insists on only dripping tidbits of information regarding the mysterious flashforwards, and in the mean time documents the ongoing crisis these many characters are dealing with.  That, in itself, is not a bad thing and is a proven formula for success, and indeed that loathed beast Lost does it well with its compulsory flashbacks, but it requires the characters to be more than cardboard cut outs.  Characterisation requires more than everyone having their own dark secret – as contrived as Fienne’s Mark Benford having a drink problem – their one fatal flaw which apparently gives them a depth and  humanity lacking in the perfectly ordinary, average human beings such as ourselves.  Domestic American life has been proved a tale of status, depression and discontentment so many times before that its starting to become incredibly dull, especially when you have to sit there and wait it out to catch a glimpse of the greater narrative arc.  However, Jack Davenport is nice to see onscreen as always, and here brings a standard (for him) knowing performance to the table of absurdity that is Flashforward, a table that no one else seems to cotton on exists.

Jim and Pam finally got married in The Office (US).  Their romance has gone on for a while now and the writers have built upon expectation after expectation that this would be something like the icing on the cake for a very good show.   They seem to forget that the icing on the cake needs a chef to expertly lattice that fluffy pink drizzle over the rest of the cake.  The episode had a feeling of self-gratuitous contentment which just came across lazy; let’s put all these characters which have slowly developed to varying levels of success over five seasons and put them in a hotel near Niagara falls.  Let’s see what happens then.

And it happens pretty much as you would expect it to, in a way one could probably suggest it would after seeing merely the first season.  Michael will embarrass everyone with a speech.  Dwight will have to interact with other people.  Pam and Jim will through off convention with a secret wedding.  There seemed to be little effort or interest in writing a comedic show to it, and as Krasinski and  Fischer’s onscreen chemistry arguably rivals or even betters that of Tim and Dawn’s (which is definitely one of the most underplayed yet wonderful romances of recent memory) to have such a predictable effort for what should be a landmark moment in the shows chronology is a waste.

It’s not all doom and gloom, disappointment and disinterest though.  The Sci-Fi Channel (now regressed to the oh so postmodern moniker of Sy-Fy) has reinvigorated the Stargate franchise, a franchise which I must admit to have never cared for much to the extent of never watching more than a handful of episodes of SG-1 and completely avoiding Stargate Atlantis.  Why I began watching Stargate Universe is not something I can really answer considering my record with its precedents, but the casting of Robert Carlyle probably had something to do with it.   That’s right, taking up the mantle of the game-changing Battlestar Galactica, respected thespians are flocking to Science Fiction television regardless of the baggage of their original hammy incarnations.

Time seems to have moved on in the Stargate mythos – although only a few years to be fair – and us humans have spaceships and shit, with offworld military installations, and all this still unknown to the world at large, and yet we still have no solution to the increasing gut of Richard Dean Anderson.  Carlyle plays a Scientist figuring out what some 9th chevron on the Stargates does, which is something they obviously haven’t achieved yet.  What follows is that some kind of alien force attacks Icarus, the base that Carlyle works on this mysterious Stargate at, and events are pulled into motion that elicit the survivors of the attack to jump into the Stargate and thus into the unknown.  They end up on an old, old ship drifting through space with no way home.  Indeed, we soon learn through a modestly awe-inspiring slideshow that the ship is no longer even in the Milky Way, the zoom of the images drifting outwards until dozens of galaxies fill the screen.  I’m a sucker for stuff like that.

Carlyle, as a source of knowledge among a rag tag bunch of bureaucrats and grunts, occupies a situation similar to Gaius Baltar in BSG, although instead of James Callis’ effete manner, Carlyle rockets around the ship with the kind of fury a bookworm Begby might radiate.  It’s quite hard to stop with the BSG comparisons, and the look of Ron Moore’s remake is obviously a starting point for Stargate Universe, with the Destiny (the name of the ship they are stranded on) replicating not only the interior look of the Nostromo but that of the good old Galactica too, and any comparisons are only likely to do Universe favours considering the acclaim BSG commanded.  The situation too, gives a similar potential for collisons of morality and politik among the crew.

Where it falls short of Battlestar Galactica for this viewer is that while Robert Carlyle is a great actor to watch week in week out, none of those around him carry the same kind of gravitas as Mary McDonnell, Edward James Olmos or Michael Hogan.  Perhaps an arbitrary or ungrateful criticism, but it means that those opposing Carlyle and his brusque manner are unknowable and somewhat tame actors, without the bite of Edward James Olmos glaring and snarling at you, or Michael Hogan giving his excellent pirate impression.  They are certainly capable actors, but they don’t have the extra edge that the aforementioned BSG aluminaries give, and you get the feeling you could pick up remarkably similar performances from any line of queuing Hollywood actors, and a line that will not include revelatory talents like Katee Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer and Jamie Bamber.

What it does provide however, and very well, is the sense of wonder and awe that Battlestar Galactica, in its metaphysical, philosophical mutterings, ignored.  Not having been a fan of Star Trek in any sense until the new film (which borrows heavily from Star Wars, so criticise me for that) I’m loathe to reference a major part of that franchise, but the wonder of visiting these new, strange worlds and being alone in a very alien universe is a major part of what made me connect with Stargate Universe.  It’s a very strong start, and one that I will be following.