Date for the Wire

Public service announcement:
(For Wire fanatics and potential converts)

It seems that 23 July is the date when FX starts showing all the existing series again. This news came courtesy of a Guardian comment on a post asking where to find decent TV.

FX begins a complete run of seasons 1 – 4 Mondays at 10pm starting July 23rd. Once they’ve done that they will launch staight into the 5th (and, sadly, final) series in 2008.
Posted by vertigowooyay on June 19, 2007 12:20 PM.

Penultimate Dr Who – Blimey

Oddly there is not very much I can say about this weeks Dr Who. It was excellent, a proper “edge of the seat” type episode with surprisingly good acting. Even Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) has won me over and I’ve lost the urge to vomit every time he speaks.

As the story (and this series) concludes next week, I am largely lost for things to say. I have no idea what the little flying baddies are, and while they were the weakest part of the story they didn’t take away from the overall quality. Well done to the BBC and Russell T Davies. I just wish, I really wish, they could try to keep the doctor away from London, 2007. It is getting annoying now.

Overall, this series (especially the last few episodes) has been fantastic. The stories (largely) have been compelling enough to keep adults and children watching. There is enough tension to make them mildly scary without relying on the gore that “adult” horror relies on (can you ever look at scarecrows or statues in the same way?).

It really will be a shame when the series finishes next week. Shame on the BBC for such a short season. David Tennant may even be a match for Tom Baker…

[tags]Doctor Who, Dr Who, BBC, Timelords, Television, Master, Captain Jack Harkness, Captain Jack, David Tennant, Tom Baker[/tags]

Real royalty?

On Discovery Civilisation (UK version) today, Tony Robinson claimed to have unearthed the “real” heir to the British throne. (I assume this was a repeat of old programme, which I never saw. Noone needs to catch history and science programmes on terrestrial TV if they have cable…)

Humbug! “Real” heir to the throne, indeed? It turned out to be an English Lord somebody who was living in the Australian desert. As an English Lord, albeit no longer owning stately acreage, it was hardly a surprise to him that he was an aristocrat. He hardly needed the genetic fingerprinting, but it got thrown in anyway , so the progarmme seemed more like serious science.

This is the sort of nonsense that passes for history programmes on TV. How do you define “real heir” to the throne? It appears you

  • ignore 6 centuries of history, in which the monarchy was abolished and reinstated, and in which contenders to the throne have been imported from Holland or brought as marriage partners from Greece and Germany
  • assume the House of Windsor (nee Battenburg) is somehow functionally identical with the House of Tudor
  • go back no further than the Plantagents. No need for stressful searching out of Harald’s family or Cnut’s or Aelfred’s, let alone the descendants of Boudicca and the other pre-Roman ruling families
  • base your whole claim on one missing marriage from the times of the Plantagenets
  • assume the whole nature of royalty is passed on in the blood rather than struggled over in the real world

This is taking the history – the struggles over power and wealth – out of History and replacing it with a strange genetic determinist alternative pesudohistory.

I have ranted before about how TV archeaology’s 3-day-limited bulldozing of sites makes it necessary to find something amazing everywhere – or at least to make an impressive 3-d graphic reconstruction if the best find is a chipped piece of pot.

Is there now also an audience for this absurd genetic determinism? Some dumbing down is more than stupid. It can distort the very nature of how we understand history and society.

You were good in BlackAdder, Tony. In fact, you can get a better understanding of the past from the average Black Adder episode than from 30 Time Team episodes or, Toutatis forbid, Real Royal Family shows.

Dr Who’s scary statues

A good and very effectively scary Dr Who tonight.

This episode was a mixture of a traditional Victorian ghost story and the sort of sci-fi that’s about the nature of time rather than about space battles. It had frightening evil angel-statues. Well statues can be frightening.

The nature of time is quite frightening too. It was refreshing to see Dr Who actually doing the timelord thing. He’s supposed to be a Timelord, after all. It’s certainly about time (argh, sorry) he showed it.

Extra geek-pleasing points for the dvd-shop nerdishness. (Which referenced Clerks.) There was a nice bit where the non-love-interest dvd shop man was shouting at the TV screen, with words to the effect of “Just go to the police. Idiot! Why does no one ever go to the police?” We’ve all been there. OK, then, I have…

(And, satisfyingly in narrative terms, she actually did go to the police.)

Also good geek points for the Easter Egg bit – the Doctor’s message hidden as a secret DVD extra.

Minor geek points for there being Internet forums devoted to decoding the interview transcripts.

Good but overly formulaic Dr Who

Normally, I find myself agreeing with Heather’s comments on Dr Who, however having been able to watch tonight’s episode on time (not as easy as you would think), this time I don’t. Well, I don’t fully agree…

Basically, I thought both episodes of this two parter were quite good. Dr Who has had a tendency to find it has good plot lines but the squash to make everything fit 40 mins really effects it. The breathing room these two episodes had showed in the plot development and subsequent deliverance. If the BBC had any sense (which, sadly, it doesn’t) then it would give Dr Who a longer run each year and allow every story to have at least two episodes. The pinnacle of Dr Who (Tom Baker, obviously) normally had around four episodes in which to deliver a story line. The difference is startling.

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Not a good Doctor Who

The natural order of the universe has reasserted itself. There will be no uncharacteristicallly pro-Doctor Who enthusiasm today. This week’s Doctor Who is just poor. (And that’s despite having Jessica Stevenson, who I admire on principle.)

For a start, it was basically the sort of cut-rate episode that shows the BBC has already spent up its effects money.

When all else fails, an Edwardian-style episode of any scifi is cheap enough because all the costumes are already there. But Edwardian sets and costumes are generally completely uninteresting. Your eyes turn away from them. You know what to expect, Upstairs Downstairs, and so on. The yawning reflex kicks right in.

An unwillingness to watch the screen tends to make you lose interest in the plot, so I have only the vaguest idea about what it involved.

The lighting has ceased to be interesting, either. And has partly given up trying to follow the laws of nature. There was at least one scene – where the doctor is supposedly talking face-to-face with his assistant – which you know was filmed at different times.

Her face is lit with (a very high-contrast coloured shadow effect, so you can’t miss it) from the right. When the camera switches to his face, he is not lit from the left, In fact, it appears that his bit was recorded with a completely different set of lighting. So, as the camera switches from one to the other, she looks like she’s on set, doing her best to play the part, while he loooks as if he camera-phoned in some footage while he was on holiday somewhere.

Come on, if you must have totally dominating atmospheric coloured lighting, at least get the simple bits right. There are pedants out there…

We will get fooled again

Oh dear. It appears the kidney transplant thing is now supposed to be a hoax… That’s a relief, anyway.

Well, I got taken in by it. Bah. Though, in the true academic tradition of self-defence by malicious referencing, I did quote the BBC – thereby passing the blame buck to a more authoritative institution.

Argh. No iI didnt even remember to do that. Oh shame.

Endemol programmes are still dross though.

New TV low

Endemol has excelled even its own proud record of providing “entertainment” in the true tradition of the Roman arena.

It’s about to produce a reality show on Dutch tv where three people who need transplants will compete for the kidney of a dying person.

What can you say? What fun. Life for one winner. Death for 1 person for sure and possible death for the 2 losers. Continue reading

It’s all in the game

A job in any sci-fi movie or tv series is a job for life.

Actors get constantly recycled within the genre. Think of the self-effacing officer from the original Star Trek turning up as the sinister Bester in Babylon 5. Officer Sun and the captain from Starscape becoming SG1 crew members. Quark from Deep Space Nine in Buffy. The Doctor from Voyager in almost everything. Even the Quantum Leap man became the captain of Enterprise (did I mention it doesn’t have to be good sci-fi?) And so on.

The same applies to tv cop shows. (There is a certain amount of cop/sci-fi crossover but I guess that probably just constitutes an acting career rather than a pattern. E.g. The blonde woman out of last year’s series with the fishy aliens is in more cop & medical shows than she was in fish episodes.)

I am now going to make a mockery of my pure and true love of the Wire by sharing my personal TV trivia game.

(Don’t judge me too harshly, here. I’m just following HBO’s lead. They offer downloads of “Naimond’s” choice of classic hip-hop, or such.)

The original game consisted of trying to spot the entire cast of the Wire in old LawnOrder episodes. Anything from the LawnOrder stable counted (classic Law and Order, Special Victims or Criminal Intent. Or even the new spinoff, with lawyers, that’s set slightly outside the format, that I haven’t really got into. In fact even old episodes of Homicide might count, if I am feeling pushed for successes.

So far, I can only really claim Avon Barksdale, Omar and the female cop for definite, because I only recently realised the gameplay was up to a really extended scoring system. Bit I think I’ve seen Stringer Bell in one. And I’m sure I started squealing with joy because Marlow was spotted in an episode.

Then I thought, even with the most intense TV watching, it wouldn’t be possible to match the whole cast to Law and Order spinoffs or precursors.

So the new challenge is to match every speaking part actor in the Wire to EITHER a Law and Order character – 1 point each episode – OR the most comically different role in any visual medium – 5 points, but it’s got to be REALLY funny.

This lets me score points for McNulty in the 500 and Bodie in the Cosby Show. Omar scores 10 in anything, for being so extreme. Naimond’s mom would score 10 as well, but I’ve never seen her in anything else.

My ambition is to find the whole Barksdale crew. Contributions welcome. All the same, it only counts if I actually see it. Shortcuts like searching IMDB cost 10 conceptual penalty points for nerdiness above and beyond the call of duty.

My alternative ongoing games include:

  • “spot the musicians turned actors” by music genre –
  • e.g. Method Man and IceT – LawnOrder and the Wire –
  • Spandau Ballet – now TV/movie villains in a crasser version of the “Ray Winstone loveable
    Cockney villian” archetypes
  • Phil Collins, ditto,
  • One of the bros out of Bros.. ditto..
  • I just refuse to count Will Smith and Kylie as I think they took the reverse direction. And in any case, people only count if they are either respected and/or unspeakably naff in either genre.

Sci-fi cliches

This is further to the post about Dr Who’s references to other sci-fi and some very knowledgeable comments, one of which pointed out that sci-fi movies owe a fair bit to Dr Who.

Spotting the refences and cliches makes up a good part of the enjoyment of sci-fi. There’s an inclusive list on cthreepio among other sites. Here are a few of my own favourites:

All alien races speak English. This is very convenient, of course. (Although, unusually, Klingons do have their own language.)

The most advanced computer can be completely confused into breaking, by being asked to process a contradictory statement.

Any high spec computer will become sentient. And homicidal. It can then only be defeated by making use of the surprising design fault listed above.

Non-humans usually look exactly like humans or exactly like humans with insect heads or with some wierd ear, nose, eye or forehead attribute.

About 70% of all non-earth civilisations are identical to those of medieval Europe. A further 20% are basically the same as Ancient Egypt.

The crew of any spaceship will happily mate with non-humans but there is less than 1% chance of crew members of different earth “races” ever getting involved with each other. Which is odd, given that space travel is only achieved when the earth becomes one big happy international family.

The holodeck is always broken in such a way that game characters will come to life and threaten the life of the crew, while the crew will never be able to end the game. Nevertheless, the holosuite is never dismantled. The crew will still go blithely into it. They will always choose Nazi Germany or an interplanetary war or some other blatantly dangerous setting.

Any Stargate crew member that you’ve never seen before who speaks a few lines at the beginning of an episode is doomed to die in the next few minutes. Being assigned to SG6 is a death sentence

Dr Who – Alien meets 24

Another pretty good Dr Who episode tonight.

Visually, Dr Who is getting better and better. There was better rendering (a good space ship and a bubbling sun) and more interesting lighting (red and blue on the face close-ups) than we’d expect from normally cash-short British tv.

Altogether, it had the look and feel of “proper” sci-fi. Racing headlong into the sun is par for the course. (Solaris, and the film where Bruce Willis has to destroy an asteroid.) So is being trapped on a space ship with an unknown evil entity. (Alien, 2001.) As well as being stalked by a mechanical humanoid figure. (Predator, Terminator, Judge Dredd.) The computer female voice that keeps giving out unemotional messages of the pressure of time (can’t think of a reference sorry, but it seems standard…)

The main visual influence seemed to be the Alien movies (with a nod to Das Boot, but maybe that’s just me.) Both male and female technicians looked like the crew of Alien (vests, combat suits, artfully arranged sweat) . The ship also had the same sort of look and there was an intense claustrophobic feel to the plot, as well as to the sets.

This episode was called “42”, with a nod to Douglas Adams (the “answer to the universe”) and to “24” (the episode was supposed to be in real-time and there was a 42 minute timer countdown providing constant pressure).

So, a bit of an art-house-for-nerds episode. This series is shaping up to be the best one ever. Although this is from someone who loves sci-fi clich̩s. And who thinks that the very first Dr Who series Рwith that weird Quatermassy feel and the old man with long white hair Рand the mainly-played for laughs Tom Baker Dr Who were the only really good bits, out of what was often dire.

[tags]42, dr-who, episode, rave, sci-fi, sci-fi-cliches, television, tv, BBC, Douglas Adams[/tags]

Dr Who on the road to nowhere

A fair bit of social comment from Dr Who in another good episode.

I guess that makes it proper sci-fi. It certainly “referenced” lots of existing sci-fi. The sky traffic flows brought to mind the Fifth Element; the people changed into animals looked like they’d stepped off the set of Dark Angel. There were still some specifically British elements, like the old ladies singing inspirational hymns in way that brought to mind both Vera Lynn (who is astonishingly still alive and giving lucid interviews) and Songs of Praise.

For a change, the setting wasn’t London, it was set in a future dystopic New York, although you certainly couldn’t tell from the accents. Which has got to be better than actors trying to fake American accents, given how few have the gift of getting away with it. The acting standard seemed to be up a few notches in any case.

People in the lower levels of the city chase away unwanted thoughts by patching on medication. The rest are on the motorway. Everyone on the motorway lives in groups of one or two, on an endless commute to nowhere. Communication is through receipt of central instructions from the tv. The police put you on infinite hold until you finally get through to two women who can offer almost no assistance. Everyone is expressing a borrowed “individuality” while remaining isolated. (See what I mean about the social comment)

Their cars are a cross between old Volkswagen Travellers and Tardises laid on their sides. With skirts instead of wheels, bacause they fly. They are fitted out with all the necessities of life, like human wastes recycled for food.

I’ve just watched the accompanying “Making of” show on BBC4 (?) where the scene designers discussed what they’d done and why. There was a great bit – that I must have missed through the dsitractions caused by defragging – where they played Snow patrol’s Chasing Cars to a scene of the flying cars. (Sorry, I just really like Snow Patrol.) THe making of programme is pretty good as well.

British sense of humour?

Apparently, a subtle Iranian disorientation technique involved likening captured Brits to Mr Bean.

I can see how that would work. It would be hard to think of a more devastating putdown.

Mr Bean is beyond repellent. But he’s just an example of the criminally unfunny programmes that Britain makes as comedy and sells around the world. The Simpsons did a brilliant bit in one episode where they had the writer of Bridget Jones complaining that Americans don’t get our subtle irony. (Obviously taking the piss, this being the Simpsons, that always comes with a side order of extra irony.) (Continued after the fold)

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Great Dr Who & Shakespeare episode

Granted it was still set in London, and granted the no-longer-new Dr Who still has an annoying face, this episode was a blinder.

THe plotline was a bit Shakespeare in love meets Charmed. There are witches, who turn out to be evil aliens, using their witch skills to turn the the Globe Theatre into a conduit for more evil aliens. To do this, they remote control Shakespeare (who falls for the Dr’s new assistant) and hypnotise him into inserting a spell with planetary co-ordinates into the end of his new play “Love’s labours won”.

It was obviously made with at least one eye on global sales. So it was streets ahead of most British tv in looks. Beautiful lighting, beautiful sets, more beautiful people than you would ever expect to see on home-grown British tv and some quite fearsomely effective – if simple -special effects. Shakspeare, the Globe, medieval London, Elizabeth I – you can hear the English Tourist Board’s tills ringing in joyful anticipation.

In case the adults got bored, it threw in lots of Shakespeare quotations. and in-jokes. All the obvious ones but still satisfyingly erudite for mass tv. (Maybe it will make some schoolkid get interested in Shakespeare, it’s always possible.)

It even tied together the flirtation between Shakespeare and the new Dr Who assistant at the end, with Shakespeare planning to write a sonnet to his Dark Lady.

Virgin really crying out to be sacrificed now

Grrr. Virgin Cable TV:-

Sky One= no great loss.
FX = only channel you can legitimately watch the Wire on UK TV.

Happily rewatching series 4 tonight, ready to catch all the smart bits of dialogue that I didn’t quite get the first time or read the messages supposedly coded into Omar’s t-shirts by the costume designers that I wasn’t paying attention to. And so on.

Screen goes blank five minutes after the credits.

Ominous blue box comes up, holding the words that I’m not authorised to view this channel.

So it costs about £80 a month – for broadband, tv and a phone I make barely half a dozen local calls on – no matter what the ads say – and they can’t even pay out the Wire now?