Still Game, after all these years

stillgYou won’t need to be eagle-eyed when my summary for May gets posted to notice that this month I watched all nine series -59 episodes, missing just 3 specials not currently available on Netflix- of Still Game, a Scottish sitcom created by Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill, who also play lead characters Jack Jarvis and Victor McDade. Recommended by friends some time ago, we finally got around to watching this and, well, once it took it quickly became an irresistible binge, filling quite a few evenings. I may not be able to go to Scotland this month (my holiday cancelled thanks to Covid19, like many other people’s holidays this year, alas) but thanks to this show, a part of Scotland came to us instead.

Its inevitable, I suppose, with most of us self-isolating and staying at home, and sitting in-front of the tv looking for something to hopefully both cheer us up and momentarily allow us some respite from the current state of affairs, that we turn to ‘light’ material like this. Still Game certainly ticked all the boxes for us, an absolutely hilarious and surprisingly touching series. It concerns a bunch of pensioners living in the fictional area of Craiglang, Glasgow, focusing mostly on the two OAPs Jack and Victor and their acquaintances/neighbours. As the series unfolds over the nine seasons (shot from 2002 to 2019, originally ending with season six in 2007 the show eventually returned with seasons seven to nine between 2016 and 2019) we see more of their backstory and lives and the community of this blighted urban landscape. There’s a truth and honesty to it, a gentle warmth that’s similar to that of other popular British sitcoms like Only Fools and Horses. Okay, it may not be High Art, but at times such as this, its absolutely perfect.

As far as sitcoms go, for me Frasier always stands tall, but Still Game is pretty high up there. I suppose sitcoms are like comfort food; short bursts of funny, comforting, familiar material, whether it be shows like Steptoe and Son, Fawlty Towers, Bottom, Black Books, The IT Crowd, The Middle, Count Arthur Strong… The most popular one here in the UK is likely Only Fools and Horses, which is a genuine national institution and never off-air, it seems. Indeed part of a sitcom’s appeal is the re-watch, soaking it up again, the jokes becoming familiar but seldom tired (see Only Fools and Horses always being on, and the endless popularity of shows like Friends (no, never watched it), The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons on streaming services etc.) the safety and comfort of experiencing their situations and jokes all part of their charm and appeal. I’m sure during all this Covid19 nightmare many are retreating to their favourite sitcoms for escape. The last episode of Still Game ended on a bittersweet note- a vignette of the various characters literally fading away onscreen, old age finally getting the better of each of them, until only an ageing Boabby remains, still tending the bar, the old crowd all gone. All things fade, I guess. As endings go, it was surprisingly sad, but maybe perfect, too. Having only ‘known’ these characters for the last few weeks, I cannot imagine how it must have felt for longtime fans from all the years the series was on the air.

For my part, never one to be permanently reliant on streaming etc I’ll be investing in a DVD boxset of Still Game soon enough (added bonus: the complete box also includes the three specials) to place alongside my Steptoe and Son, Frasier etc sets. Yeah, there’s me going on about too many discs on the shelves and I’m adding another set. Go figure.

The Quatermass Xperiment

quaterm1Continuing this recent Hammer marathon, my delve into Hammer films I haven’t seen before means we now go back a little further in time, to 1955. The Quatermass Xperiment is widely considered the beginning of the Hammer line of films that fantasy and horror fans hold dear and would both cement the company’s name in British film history, and put its films on the world stage.

The Quatermass Xperiment was based on Nigel Kneale’s BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment (note the subtle spelling change for the film version) from 1953. which had been hugely successful for the BBC. Hammer producer Anthony Hinds immediately saw the possibilities in a film version and  chased the film rights as soon as the six episodes were aired.

Three astronauts have been launched into space in the first launch of the British-American Rocket Group, which crashes back to Earth in an English field after straying off-course and out of contact with Ground Control. Of the three crew, only one remains, the only sign of the other two astronauts being their spacesuits, still sealed but empty. The sole remaining crew member is Victor Carroon (Richard Wandsworth) who is badly injured and incoherent.  Professor Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) who is in charge of the project desperately tries to find out what happened to the flight while it disappeared for a number of hours, and what happened to the two missing crew. Meanwhile Carroon baffles his doctors, never becoming coherent and slowly deteriorating. Recovered from the crashed ship, in-flight footage from during the period in which the ship was out of contact suggests an extra-terrestrial encounter with something unseen that killed the missing crew. Carroon breaks out of hospital abetted by his wife, beginning to transform into some monstrous creature to terrorise London and threaten the whole world.

quaterm2One of the chief pleasures of material like The Quatermass Xperiment is its vantage point at the start of the Space Age, back when anything beyond the Earth was alien and unknown and full of mystery. Space has inevitably been ‘normalised’ over the decades since, but back in the early 1950s (and of course in all the 1930s/1940s pulps prior) space was unknown, full of dark mystery. There are wonderful moments in this film when people wonder at the astronauts having been somewhere no-one else had ever been, experienced things no-one has ever seen or felt, and an almost palpable sensation of the fear of a dark frontier. There is an almost Lovecraftian theme of humanity transgressing where we should not go, or of the Outer Dark of Space infecting us, changing us. A contemporary sci-fi/horror film loses that.

The Quatermass series by Nigel Kneale has always had a dark and foreboding theme questioning our place in the universe: Quatermass and the Pit (both the 1967 Hammer version and the earlier BBC serial) has always been a personal favourite of mine, the Hammer film scaring me witless when I was a kid.

For once, the casting possibly hindered my enjoyment of this Hammer effort. For one thing, Brian Donlevy’s American Quatermass proved especially troubling- the guy is portrayed as a bully and a jerk, striding around like he’s got a broom up his ass. Quite unlike the portrayal I’m familiar with from the two versions of Quatermass and the Pit I’ve seen. This seems to have been a concious decision of the film-makers and one that original writer Nigel Kneale (who had no input in the film) was particularly unhappy with- so incensed was Kneale that he refused to allow Hammer to immediately make a sequel (which is what X: The Unknown was intended to be, necessitating that Dean Jagger’s character be changed from Bernard Quatermass to  Dr Adam Royston).

quaterm4The other particularly sour point in the casting is Margia Dean as Carroon’s wife, Judith. On the evidence of this film, Margia Dean simply could not act: its like watching someone from some amateur acting group thrown in front of the camera, not helped by being horribly dubbed in post as if by someone hellbent on making her look/sound even worse (so jarring its a little like Harrison Ford’s ‘deliberately bad’ narration in the theatrical prints of Blade Runner in 1982). So bad in fact was Dean that I looked her up and wasn’t really surprised to read of sources alleging that she was cast in the film because she was the girlfriend of 20th Century Fox president, Spyros Skouras (I’ve since been surprised that she appeared in quite a few films, despite her apparent lack of talent, before retiring in 1965 upon marriage to an architect). It did strike me a number of times just how much better the film would have been had June Thorburn played the part- it seems the kind of role that Thorburn would have excelled at.

Better casting includes Jack Warner as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lomax (predating his most popular turn as Dixon of Dock Green), Richard Wordsworth who is absolutely brilliant as the doomed Victor Carroon, and good old Lionel Jeffries as an harassed Government minister who constantly complains to Quatermass regards his recklessness (not unfounded, as it turns out, with Quatermass coming across as some modern Frankenstein by the end of the film through a sobering epilogue).

With a typically great soundtrack by James Bernard (who deservedly went on to become a Hammer regular), a score that prefigures some of the techniques of Bernard Herrmanns Psycho, the film is a great thriller, the source material raising above the limitations of some of the cast. Certainly, its inevitably somewhat dated but its pre-Space Age perspective adds a certain mood of horror and Lovecraftian atmosphere. Some of the imagery is terrific- particularly that of the crashed space rocket. The Quatermass Xperiment is one of those films that I’ve heard about for many, many years and yet somehow never got around to. Well, I’ve rectified that at long last and I’m so glad I did.

It was rumoured a year or so ago that the film was going to be getting a remake; I don’t know how that has been progressing but do I think that bringing it up to date into our current times might lose much of the charm of the piece.

The Quatermass Xperiment is currently available streaming on Amazon Prime

 

Devs: The emptiness of Causality?

devAlex Garland continues to be one of the more interesting writers/directors working today- frustratingly, of course, his recent films have all suffered difficulties; Annihilation being sold straight to streaming via Netflix in territories outside the United States, while Ex Machina had a switch in theatrical distributor that did it few favours.

Leaving movies behind him, Garland seems to have found new and exciting freedom and opportunity in television:  Devs, currently airing here in the UK on BBC2 and available in its entirety on iPlayer, is a deeply thoughtful and intellectually challenging tech-thriller, entirely written and directed by Garland – presumably ensuring he was afforded complete creative control. Deeply thoughtful, it is also graced with some gorgeous photography and art direction, with some arresting and quite chilling imagery (there are few moments that literally set the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end): its ironically, perhaps, very cinematic. Like both Ex Machina and Annihilation, its cinematic with ideas, and compliments those two films (particularly the first) very well indeed, with questions about identity, freewill and the nature of Reality.

What anyone really takes away from the series, though, likely depends on what they think of the series finale. Devs is a one-off, with Garland clear he does not envisage a second season being likely. On the one hand, its refreshing to watch a series and not be left with a tease for another season next year- instead, across its eight episodes the show has a definite beginning, middle and end. The issue is of course, after eight hours of deepening mysteries and tantalising possibilities, that some viewers might be left frustrated by how Devs concludes, especially when one considers that it demands some work from the viewer to interpret what they are seeing and what everything means.

Devs is definitely, deliberately high-concept.  Its a dark tech-thriller about Quantum computing, the dichotomy of freewill in a deterministic universe, the alternatives inherent in multiverse theory, virtual time travel…  its certainly rich with ideas and has lots of twists. Its like the absolute antithesis of stuff like the recent Star Trek: Picard. It also looks great, too, sumptuously designed and directed with a great cast and interesting characters, so again, yeah, the absolute antithesis of stuff like the recent Star Trek: Picard.

I really enjoyed it (binged it over three nights) and would love to expound upon what I think it was all about, what the ending really meant, etc. but as the series is still being aired over here I think I’ll refrain from this for awhile, at least until the comments section (if anyone has seen the whole thing and want to chip in with their thoughts please do). Suffice to say it really is very, very good and deserves to be seen by as many people as possible- certainly it would be nice for Garland’s work to get a wider audience this time around. So yes, I’d heartily recommend it, and hopefully it will lead to more such projects in future.

 

Still Open All Hours: Season Six

Well, here’s a strange one to post about here, but I thought it might be apt, tying in with a few thoughts regards some genre shows etc of late.

still1First, a moment to explain what this show is for anyone outside the UK unfamiliar with the programme. Still Open All Hours is a British sitcom which airs on the BBC, and is a belated spin-off (how timely is that, in this day and age) of Open All Hours, a sitcom that aired between 1976 and 1985 (the pilot episode of which actually dates to 1973 when it formed part of an anthology show). Like the original series, Still Open All Hours is based around a corner shop in Balby, Doncaster; once run by his late uncle Arkwright (whose ‘ghost’ still gently haunts the shop), Granville, who used to be Arkwright’s assistant  now runs it with his son Leroy.  Its a very old-fashioned, very traditional show that really feels totally out of its time- which is, I suspect, much of its appeal with viewers. Having now totalled 41 episodes over six seasons Still Open All Hours seems to have quietly had some considerable success, arguably surpassing that of its shorter-lived predecessor (ratings not withstanding). Much of this is likely the charm of  David Jason, who has had a decades-long career on British television across all sorts of programmes, chiefly of course his role as Derek ‘Del-Boy’ Trotter in Only Fools and Horses, which is most probably the most successful British Sitcom of all time. Possibly its because it must be fairly cheap to produce, and is in this day and age, frankly, the ratings don’t have to be as high as they used to when such programming was more popular.

I never used to watch Open All Hours– back when that show aired I was a kid more interested in playing outside and my viewing was mostly more exciting stuff like Star Trek, Space:1999, The Tomorrow People or Dr Who. As I have grown older though, I have to admit its clearly part of Still Open All Hours charm and appeal that it calls back to such old-fashioned and gentle comedies of a bygone era. I’m sure many people sneer at it and some (the majority, even) think its quaint and traditional comedy old and irritating, but for an harmless thirty minutes of escape from modern-life anxieties its rather perfect. Comfort food, perhaps, for those who think the world has passed them by.

still2The success of the show is largely due to its ensemble cast, who on the whole are pretty good comic actors the majority of whom are old veterans of the genre clearly in the twilight of their careers (if not indeed actual semi-retirement). Much of the comedy is predictable, even hokey, but I suspect that’s part of the appeal, the audience being ‘in on the joke’ and ahead of things the majority of the time. While much of it centres on Granville and his relationship with Mavis (Maggie Ollerenshaw), a woman he met during his youth and whom he still loves- its something that mirrors Arkwrights pursuit of Nurse Gladys of the original series, the appeal for many are the recurring plot-lines surrounding the ensemble cast of characters. There’s Mr Newbold (Geoffrey Whitehead)  trying to escape the attentions of ‘The Black Widow’ Mrs Featherstone (Stephanie Cole)  Eric and Cyril’s (Johnny Vegas and Kulvinder Ghir) comic duo of foolish men somewhat frustrated by their middle-age and lost youth- its quaint and silly really, like the banter between the middle-aged and elderly women bemoaning the antics of their men. The (currently) final episode was a Christmas episode that ended with a surprising, and really quite effecting, coda that perhaps indicates the series is better than even its fans think, and while it manages a fitting moment of closure, it also suggests a certain affection for the characters and the humour that surprised me.

My point is, this show is not trying to be anything groundbreaking. It knows it audience and is quietly, gently efficient in being what it needs to be. The cast aren’t going to win any awards, and neither is any of the writing, but it works, and while the ratings possibly are somewhat niche, I suspect (and certainly) hope that they are sufficient enough to merit a seventh season. All the episodes have been written by Roy Clarke, a veteran of British television who is now ninety years old and clearly someone of another era who is writing what he knows as a throwback to those days of old, as he did in his other popular sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine (which incredibly ran for 295 episodes over thirty years). Clarke is just writing what he does best, and it works.

Compare this to some of the current incarnations of other long-running and ‘classic’ genre shows like Star Trek, Dr Who and film series like Star Wars. Taken over by a new generation of creative teams and aiming to update the franchises for modern audiences and more up-to-date social agendas, the series seem to be struggling to succeed at pleasing both old fans and new, and managing to sustain the properties of the originals with all the new updating. It suggests that possibly some of these shows should be less ‘new’ and more familiar (or ‘honest’?) to the originals. While there might be frustration with that, it does seem to be the dichotomy inherent in trying to bring back franchises of old if show-runners are going to take them in unusual or odd directions and lose the appeal of those originals. It would be much more preferable, I think, to just do something entirely new (like The Expanse, for instance) than keep on trying to utilise the old and familiar as a mechanism to exploit established IP and fanbases. Maybe.

So anyway, maybe that excuses writing a post about a show like Still Open All Hours. Normal service resumes tomorrow….

Dracula (2020)

dracIt took David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ten years to do something the BBC managed in just three nights. This show managed to encapsulate the eight-season Game of Thrones experience into just three episodes: it started so well, solidified that achievement in the middle, and then screwed the pooch spectacularly at the end with some absolutely shocking creative choices that still have me wondering what they were thinking. Its no mean feat, but it also pointedly mirrored the experience of the same creative team’s Sherlock series too: but its quite remarkable how quickly this thing went wrong. It also managed an ending so rushed and sudden, so ‘did-I-blink-and-miss-something‘ that I really think its not an ending at all but another Mark Gatiss/Stephen Moffat misdirection trick and we’re going to get another season next year. Not that I think anyone will be coming back to watch it.

The War of the Worlds (2019 BBC Mini-series)

rwar1The Good: I quite liked the title sequence. It had the flavour of the old Quatermass or Dr Who shows, rather dark and foreboding – I thought the period movie-reel footage was a nice scene-setter and helped establish the time-frame of the show, which in itself was a welcome decision returning to the source novel rather than re-imagining it for contemporary time frames the same way that the George Pal and Steven Spielberg versions did. I think I quite liked the title font (hey, I’m trying to find the positives about this turd, its tricky).

I liked the conceit of continuing the story beyond after the Martians themselves perished (where the story usually ends), instead showing us the world after the war, and those trying to survive and reestablish civilisation- it seemed to offer something a little new. That being said, it infuriatingly made no sense whatsoever as from what I remember in the novel the red weed perished alongside the Martians, killed by the same micro-organisms and bugs of Terran nature that saved humanity. The suggestion that the Martians were infact killed from eating contaminated humans (themselves infected by a typhoid outbreak) and that the red weed (and the Martian Terra-forming) would continue unabated until scientists (well, okay, Amy, our heroine) dumbly figured out that we needed to battle the red weed with the same Typhoid disease etc. was just an incredibly stupid way of doing it.

Er… that’s about it for the Good.

The Bad: Pretty much everything else. The silliness and reliance and poor CGI spectacle was infuriating. I hate nonsensical production design, like the Martians themselves- three-legged monsters that looked like rejects from Pitch Black or any other creature design in the tired-out style of Patrick Tatopoulos, which had fiendish-looking claws etc. but no way (I assume) of actually piloting or even building the War Machines they used to attack the Earth or indeed build the Spaceships to invade it. They didn’t even have opposable thumbs (a requisite of using tools, writing etc) or mouths to communicate with (instead some silly proboscis to eat with).  Sure, they looked creepy, but as a scheming intelligent inter-planetary life form able to build huge war machines and space ships, it made no sense whatsoever. It seems to be where we are now; silly writing, silly design, nothing thought-out.

war1

war2Likewise those spaceships/canisters- hardly large enough to contain a Martian, never-mind the Tripod War Machines that they use to wage war on humanity. I think Spielberg’s movie, as I recall, had some ridiculous conceit that the machines have been buried under the earth for millennia waiting for the invasion to commence- this BBC edition, per its general intelligence level, didn’t feel the need to even bother explaining it. We’ve got some silly spinning levitating sphere that burns people with a heat ray and then the Tripods show up from nowhere.

The flash-forwards to the Red Earth were jarring and managed no real purpose. I assume it was a decision in the editing stage, an attempt to establish some sense of mystery or foreboding but it just irritated me personally, taking me out of one situation into another, and as I have mentioned earlier, typically for this show that Red Earth sequence when it came ‘proper’ in the final episode never really made any logical sense anyway.

The Ugly: Well I feel like I’ve devoted to much of my time and effort on this show already, but  lets see- the cast felt wrong, the pacing was all wrong, the effects were sub-par (which I don’t usually mind, as I can manage my sense of disbelief regards visual effects as long as the narrative is interesting enough, but this one wasn’t). The oddest thing was the period setting, and what it offered visually and narratively (simply not having the narrative bogged down with excuses why they couldn’t use their mobile phones or the Internet etc) was completely wasted. There was no real sense of tension nor terror. It wasn’t so much a War of the Worlds as a skirmish with a few villagers and dumb scientists when all is said and done. The leads of the show,  George (Rafe Spall) and Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson), share absolutely zero chemistry. We are supposed to believe that charisma-less drip George is married to another woman who cruelly refuses to grant him a divorce and that Amy is pregnant with his child. We are supposed to believe that this frustrated love affair between these two lovers is the soul and heart of the entire drama. Instead its this hopeless void, ensuring we simply don’t care about either of them. Considering everyone seems to be starving and dying in the Red Earth five years after the War, Amy not only doesn’t seem to lose any weight, its alluded to that she may have been one of the very last women to have given birth, and its up to Amy and her scientist buddy to finally figure everything out and save the world from the red weed.  Its such a good thing that Amy is around to save us. There’s some very 21st Century anti-Colonial message shoved down our throats towards the end that’s as hackneyed as anything else across the turgid three hours but I won’t comment on it, its just one last example of the kind of thing that ruins modern Dr Who too.

No wonder it took the BBC so long to finally air the thing, it was obviously so bad they were wondering where to dump it in the schedules, so they went ahead and spoiled Christmas.

Inside No.9 Season One (2014)

number9Its a funny thing about misconceptions, something I have noted before. In this case, I came across this series while looking through Netflix offerings, and while I had certainly heard of the show before, as I’ve seen it advertised on blu-ray over the years and seen it highlighted on the BBC’s schedule in the past, somehow I expected it to be some kind of quirky sitcom. As it turned out, while it does have moments of comedy, its of the notably dark kind, and is indeed more of a Tales of the Unexpected than the sitcom I initially expected.

So rather than see a bunch of characters having weekly adventures in the usual sitcom mode, this is actually an anthology show featuring totally different characters and (mostly) new actors with each story. Its perfectly fine and really very enjoyable, with some great casting and plenty of surprises and twists with each episode, but it was, shall I say, a rather disorientating experience, initially. Just one of those rare times that I have managed to see something without any spoilers at all but also no idea at all what I’m going to actually get.

At least I’ll be more prepared for season two when I decide to take the plunge. As it is, I think I watched all six episodes of this in just three nights. Might take a bit of a break though, before I do turn to that sophomore season, as maybe binge-watching wasn’t the best approach- I did have some very disturbed dreams those nights. In hindsight, maybe someone should have warned me…

 

Loathing Luther

lutherSo I watched the last part of season five of Luther last night (it aired over four consecutive nights last week, but I caught up with it Tuesday & Wednesday) and I have to say, the whole thing was fairly abominable. There seems to come a time when a much-hyped series/franchise just ends up in a sea of fan-service and self-parody, and the much-loved Luther seems to have succumbed. Too many coincidences, too many shocks purely for shock’s sake, too many leaps of logic, so many things that simply made no sense, too much really awful editing. Idris Elba seems to think he just has to stand there and slouch in his coat and that’s enough, and sure, the guy is the epitome of cool but on the face of this, I hope the persistent rumours of him one day being James Bond never come true. I like him, he’s a fine actor, but you can’t phone-in performances like this, particularly in one-note scripts like this (late Christmas) turkey. An embarrassment for all concerned (even Ruth Wilson), this is certainly my first disappointment of 2019; really, it was terrible from start to finish.

Actually, I’ll qualify that last remark- the Dr Who New Years Day special was probably worse but it wasn’t as big a disappointment because I hadn’t expected much, if anything, because if there’s one thing that you can count on, it’s that the Doctor always disappoints.

What a shame, Luther, what a shame. Off to jail, then son, and here’s hoping Auntie Beeb throws away the key.

 

Two Doors Down Series Two (2016)

two-doors-downI don’t very often drift into sitcom territory here. I don’t really watch them- in today’s enlightened age sitcom’s simply aren’t what they used to be, usually for fear of upsetting somebody, somewhere, which has resulted in most of them being, well, pretty anaemic. On the one hand, I can see it as progress, on the other, it’s a bit of a shame; comedy can be a good tool to enlighten, and ridicule some beliefs and prejudices through humour. I might cringe a little at some moments in Steptoe and Son from the 1960s and 1970s, but it’s nonetheless bloody funny and I don’t think it does any harm to realise (and appreciate) how times have moved forward while having a good belly-laugh.

Sitcoms of course have always been a mainstay of British television, but times change. The days of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials bringing the nation together with audiences of over 20 million are long gone (the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show attracted 28 million viewers – around half the total UK population at the time, sitting around their television sets when it was aired; imagine that). Video recorders and more recent advances like the iplayer have meant that people simply don’t all watch the same programme at the same time anymore, and of course we are no longer limited to just three channels here as we were back in 1977. Its a bigger, more fragmented world now.

Indeed, it’s so easy for things to pass me by now. I didn’t come across The Detectorists until it was all over, and was late coming to Two Doors Down. I saw its original pilot (set at New Years Eve) when it was repeated on New Years Eve 2017, purely by chance, and subsequently watched its third series that aired a few weeks later. So I came around to series one on repeats on UK Gold this summer and a Christmas present of the DVD boxset has given me the chance to (finally) catch up with series two, and a festive binge through all three series. Its been a slice of Heaven this past few weeks with what’s being going on here of late, being able to escape ‘real-life’ through it- I’m almost bereft at finishing the last episode. Fortunately the show is popular enough that a fourth series is starting next week, so more lies ahead.

There is something quite comforting about being able to settle into a DVD boxset of your favourite sitcoms. I guess it’s the comfort-viewing equivalent of a comfort food. In darkest winter as it is now, with short days and long dark nights and a political climate as poisonous and dystopian as they come (LA 2019 far more welcoming and pleasant than anything in UK 2019- if only Ridley knew back  in 1982 that he needn’t have bothered with Syd Mead and Douglas Trumbull, eh?). Losing oneself in several episodes of sitcom-land is such a welcome escape. Two Doors Down has some great characters, marvelous acting and comic-timing to deliver some really quite witty scripts. I simply adore it, laughing both with and at the characters, wincing painfully at some and sympathising with others (particularly the put-upon Beth and Eric whose home is usually the setting for all the comedic revelry).

I don’t think I’m alone in coming upon the series late- I’ve read that the programme is one of the best-kept secrets on television now. I hope its success continues and that maybe we’ll get a series five some day. If you’ve never watched it, I urge you to give it a go. Its rare these days for a sitcom to strike me as genuinely funny and involving as this one does- sitcoms almost seem a lost art, but maybe there is hope yet…

Barnyard Daleks

sonic

Cripes, some days you just can’t flog a new Microwave. I’ll lug it around with me, it might come in useful…

Last night I watched the Doctor Who New Years Day special. Usually this seasonal offering airs on Christmas Day but somebody somewhere decided it would be best to schedule it on New Year’s Day for a change. I suppose its further indication that the creatives behind this latest incarnation of the show wanted to establish a break from what came before. New Doctor, new companions, new showrunner, new composer, new effects team etc. Unfortunately I really do think that the more things change, the more they stay the same. For all its positives regards gender and racial politics and the praise it gets for this approach, it seems to have blindsided critics to all that’s wrong with the show these days. Doctor Who is not unique in this- quite a few series/films have jumped on a progressive bandwagon and left the basics (i.e. good storytelling and cohesive plotting) back in the dust.

How do we kill this Dalek? How did they do it centuries ago? Look- it’s in this book I have over here, full of pictures of this historic battle in which this monster was killed….

I have decided that maybe I should simply bid the Doctor farewell- it simply isn’t for me anymore. I haven’t seen every episode this season (four still languish on my Tivo) but those I have simply frustrated me no end. I think perhaps I just take it too seriously and expect too much. Take this special. Its lazy in the extreme (Ryan’s Dad turns up and is trying to sell a fancy Microwave and a blind man/Eastenders fan can see its a plot contrivance for wrapping things up later, and don’t get me started regards how the most dangerous alien in the galaxy can be melted down by a Microwave machine). A Dalek scout-possessed Archeologist from a sewer dig under Sheffield (there’s something you don’t see everyday) knicks a piece of alien tech (which just happens to be a Dalek exterminator gun) from a tech firm that just happens to be near Sheffield and she is somehow able to zap people with it just holding it without any power source, clever girl/alien. She then drives (after killing two police officers who are then forgotten) out to the sticks and a farm that has a workshop in a barn that a) has a forge and b) sufficient scrap to build a Dalek suit, complete with missiles and jet engines and sensor arrays etc.

I really expected them to break out with the A-Team theme at this point, it was that patently ridiculous and farcical. But nevermind, the Doctor can always be counted on to frown seriously and point her sonic screwdriver at any problem. And there’s no bigger problem than this dastardly Dalek bringing down the Internet and (horrors!) forcing families to hold a conversation with each other on New Years Day. How I laughed (not).

You see, I get it. Its supposed to be fun. Its not supposed to be adult or serious or anything. The rebuilt Dalek flies off and lands near a bunch of military personnel who it promptly exterminates/destroys amidst loud explosions and Dalek missiles destroying a tank and then flies off again and you know the Doctor will save the day with Ryan’s newly-arrived Dad ready to be dramatically imperiled but what you don’t know (unless you were paying attention for ‘Plot Contrivances 101’ half-hour before) is it involves melting it with a weapon built from jury-rigged Microwave innards (thankfully Ryan’s Dad is a jerk of a father but a great engineer).

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting too old for all this nonsense. Or maybe I just don’t ‘get it’- today there seems to be so many wildly positive reviews for this show that I wonder if I saw the same episode or maybe I should reduce my expectations for decent writing somewhat. I thought it was terrible, frankly.