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….

Last Week: Tears in Rain

Last week I picked up my old hardback of Frank Herbert’s Dune for a reread. Continued reading the frankly miraculous and perfect Vol.4 Amazing Spider Man Omnibus (it’s like I’m ten all over again), watched quite a bit of new stuff on tv and was saddened to read the news of Rutger Hauer’s death at the age of 75. We’re all getting older and 1982 seems such a long time ago, even more so with Rutger’s passing.

rutgerAs anyone familiar with this blog over the years will know, Blade Runner is my favourite movie- it remains the most intense cinematic experience of my life. Its a dark irony that we are now living in 2019, the year in which the film is set, which back in 1982 was still a lifetime away. To paraphrase Rutger, all those years lost in time like tears in rain. I have watched that film so many times, over 200 most likely (I used to keep count but gave up at around 100) and I have always been fascinated by Rutger’s performance as Roy Batty. Mercurial, bewitching, childlike, feral… one of the biggest achievements of the film was transforming a one-note and frankly incidental character from the book into possibly the true star of the film. Watching Blade Runner, there is always the sense that Rutger knew he was playing the part of a lifetime and seized every opportunity to maximise the performance and every magical cinematic moment. So many things came right for the film- the perfect director, the perfect composer, the perfect cinematographer, visual effects artists, editor, production designers and futurist… and Rutger was the perfect actor to play Roy Batty. He seems to know that in every single scene he is in.

Over the years I would be a bit of a Rutger fanboy, fascinated to see him in other roles (although somehow I never saw him in The Hitcher, must rectify that), from Flesh & Blood to Dark Knight and of course those Guinness ads. Nothing really approached the greatness of Roy Batty, and in particular the Tears in Rain speech that became one of the most famous and quoted scenes in film history. Nothing could ever equal it, I guess, and I marvel that Rutger evidently handled this fact well over the years. I imagine it might have haunted some actors to be in the shadow of something like that forever: thank goodness his biography wasn’t titled ‘I Am Not Roy!’

another1Katee Sackhoff  of course has a famous genre character of her own, as Battlestar Galactica‘s reimagined Starbuck. She’s continued a very successful career since and seems at peace with Starbuck being her defining role, but goodness me she’s backed a turkey with Another Life, the new sci-fi show on Netflix. Since my post the other day I’ve watched a few more episodes and Good Lord it’s just gotten worse. Its abominable, frankly, and I’ve not been cheered up by discovering that what I mistakenly thought was an eight-part show is in fact ten episodes. Its really becoming hard work to get through. The last episode was what I like to call the ‘Space:1999 episode’ which means it was so bad it’s like the last forty years of sci-fi television never happened. Shows are rarely that bad, although Nightflyers pulled it off too. Two episodes after the crew was nearly all killed by an alien infection from a rogue moon, they now land on an Earth-like planet and sample the native fruit etc by, er, just going ahead and eating it, breath the local air and don’t even wear gloves. One character gets a scratch off a thorn and nearly loses his leg in mere seconds from a deadly infection, and another two walk into a colourful forest glade from the Annihilation set and get intoxicated  by hallucinogenic drugs given off by the flora. In another episode, an alien hunts and kills the crew on the spaceship one by one until it turns out it’s all a hypersleep dream. In the last episode I watched, an alien bug brought onboard from that Earth-like planet fraks up some wiring which nearly wipes out the ship, everyone only saved by the obnoxious always-bitching communications woman who has continuously failed to get communications up and running, who sacrifices herself and ends the show as a bloody puddle. So I guess they’ll never get communications up. Maybe the show will amaze me with an amazing finale twist, but I doubt it.

The next season of The Expanse, not arriving until December, seems so long away.

While I dedicate far too much time here writing about Another Life, and also Star Trek: Discovery prior to that, I just feel I need to point out really bad scripts and creative choices. Another Life is truly abominable and should never have gotten filmed in the state its in. Sackhoff is actually a producer on the show so probably sees it as a career progression, but that only reinforces her guilt for the whole thing being so bad, it’s not as if she’s just an actor trying to make the best of the scripts she’s given. It is very true that some parts of the creative business in Hollywood and beyond are taking the streaming giants of Netflix and Amazon for a ride. There is no quality control, it seems, when the main objective is just to get access to that streaming pot of gold. I’ve ranted about this before and I’m certain I will do so again. Of course the streaming giants are party to the guilt themselves because they just seem to be throwing money at everything in the hope something sticks, but genre shows really are taking steps backwards of late and it’s a worrying development. I’m certainly no professional and have no story in print anywhere, but I could write a better show than Another Life – there should, surely, be a quality distinction between what passes for professional script writing and what is often dismissively termed ‘fan fiction’ but of late I have to wonder. Maybe us amateurs deserve a shot, doubt we could do any worse.

Except maybe that’s the point. Maybe, as I have noted before, the geeks finally have inherited the Earth (or Hollywood, certainly) and all this mess is simply because too many geeks/amateurs think they can write scripts or be showrunners. It does seem curious that Another Life seems to be ripping off a different tv show/movie every episode, and that Star Trek: Discovery was riddled with nods to Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Inception etc.  so much so that it seldom seemed like Star Trek at all.

 

 

 

Nightflyers Season One (2018)

nite1.jpgI’m scared, really quite terrified. The possibility that someone, somewhere, might do the unthinkable and actually unleash a second season of this batshit crazy abomination has me shaking. Usually I’d be content that common sense will prevail, and that in a world in which Firefly and so many others got canceled, there is no way something as diabolical as this rubbish might get renewed for a second season: Nightflyers (‘from the mind of George R.R. Martin’ we are told, as if that’s different from his pen or typewriter)  is a truly terrible, awful show.

In episode six, I think I’m watching a season one episode of Space:1999 and that all the years since 1975 never happened, and it is one of the most confusing and disorientating viewing experiences- I swear it could be an actual unfilmed ‘lost’ episode from that old Gerry Anderson show repurposed for Nightflyers. Its also the most miserable attempt at what the tv execs call ‘a bottle episode’ I have had the misfortune to see in years. Imagine for a moment going back to all the hoary old cliches of that dated old show, and how daft tv sci-fi was back then, the nonsensical ‘science’, the twists and revelations that you could see a mile off, the hammy acting… dressing it up in 2018 clothing and CGI and… It could be the worst 40+ minutes I have endured for years this side of the new Dr Who. 

The whole miserable season of ten episodes felt like that, to be honest, and if I had the time to write all the things wrong with it I would be here all night and it would be a terrible slog of a post. Oh ok, I have the time I guess. Lets get on with all the horror (remember, I watched this so you don’t have to):

The show starts with a scene of dramatic chaos. That’s dramatic as in lots of flashing lights and moving shafts of light from unfathomable sources (because, hey, this is THE FUTURE and this is still 1982?).  A blonde woman (Gretchen Mol, so utterly wasted) is chased down spaceship corridors by a bearded guy with an axe doing a maniacal impression of Jack Nicholson’s worst The Shining excess. There’s a struggle, she flushes a warning message out the wastedump and she kills herself.

nite2.jpgSo we then go back in time, and we won’t see this scene proper until episode 9, I think. But it was so gripping of course we’re going to stick at it for the next 8 episodes to see how we get there and why the hell all the bad shit happened to the good ship Nightflyer. Except, when we do get there it still doesn’t make any sense or explain why it happened. That bearded guy goes crazy and tries to kill two people (arguably succeeds) and in the following episode all is forgiven. I mean, wtf? This show does that shit ALL THE TIME.

In the last episode, the ship is about to blow up, the flashing lights are REALLY flashing like crazy, there’s steam and explosions and people dying and wounded being carried around in circles, and at the same time in the cabin where the woman killed herself, cleaners are mopping up the blood and tidying the room. I mean, wtf? There’s a gigantic alien motherfucking spaceship out the window and the ship is going to explode and someone’s on clean-up duty? Nothing. Makes. Sense.

Wait. Breath. Relax. This is a dream. Its not real. Nightflyers cannot be real. I’m in an episode of Black Mirror, surely?

Here’s a list of some of the daftest cliches in NIGHTFLYER-

1. He’s a goddamn robot. I won’t tell you who, but I could have forgiven them casting Yaphet Kotto in this if it meant him reprising his line from Alien, it’s all it was missing. Although of course the audience likely figured it out before the stupid characters.

2. He’s a goddamn Hologram.

3. The ship is possessed by its dead owner. She’s dead, she’s black, and she’s pissed. And she lives in a virtual Irish mansion. She’s a virtual/AI/ghost haunting the ship from a virtual ghostly castle, of course she is, carry on.

4. Oh, and her bully dad is prowling the castle because she’s been a naughty girl. No, seriously this is a virtual/AI/ghost with daddy issues on a spaceship racing into the void.

5. Turns out the bald guy on the bridge had a thing for the dead bitch who’s haunting the ship. I smell trouble in the name of love.

6. Shafts of light, piercing almost every scene, blinking/flashing lights on walls everywhere else. Because yes this is The Future and there is steam. Of course there is steam. Every spaceship has steam filling corridors, especially when things are tense.

7. There’s cameras all over the ship. The captain is watching everyone. Lets have sex. Let’s leave the light on. Lets ignore that red lens gawping at us. Lets get upset about feeling betrayed when I remember the captain is watching everyone. Wait. Is that a camera in the shower cubicle?

8. She’s not a girl. She’s a goddamn bio-engineered spacewoman who cries on demand and falls for the captain only -gosh he’s a hologram, no he’s a robot no he’s her goddamn brother! Actually, no, he was a hologram, he was a robot, and yes, he is her brother! Oh no! The ghost haunting the ship is her mom! I. Kid. You. Not.

nite4.jpg9. He’s a goddamn telepath. These guys are sulky and dangerous, but he’s brought his gorgeous therapist along for the ride. He has the hots for her.

10. Oh the irony about how big space is but how it’s such a small world- the chief scientist knows the therapist. There were lovers, years ago. Of all the spaceships in all the world we have to meet on this one, I know one telepath in a crazy spaceship doesn’t mean a hill of beans but this is my spaceship, and this is my telepath, and this is my hill of beans blah blah (I think I may have Space Madness myself at this point). You just know these two cute ex’s  have the hots for each other and will be in bed before episode 7.  It can only end one way. The therapist is a secret telepath. Gazooks!

Wait a minute. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, and I’m not talking about Event Horizon, although of course it is sitting over there in the corner. The central premise is that our chief scientist has detected an object outside our solar system and he has deduced it might be alien spaceship because it moves in a very off and peculiar alien kind of way. He joins the crew of the Nightflyer and brings a telepath with him because he has deduced only a telepath can communicate with the aliens who he has named the Volcryn. He has also deduced that the Volcryn can solve all humanity’s problems because they are alien and smart. All the way through this bloody show I was trying to figure out why the aliens were called the Volcryn and why everyone thought they could save humanity and why a telepath had to be aboard and why the scientist…. He’s a mad scientist, of course, because they all are in these things aren’t they. And he wants to go home to his dead daughter. Who he sees all the time. She’s wearing a red coat and Don’t Look Now but…

11. Have I mentioned the bee-lady in the dome? There’s this blonde hippy scientist in the dome (there’s more than one dome, yes there are forests, no this isn’t Silent Running, because damn they forgot the droids) who is friends/talks with the bees because obviously the bees are the most intelligent creatures on the ship at this point, well bee-lady she gets cosy with the bearded botanist and she gets pregnant and that doesn’t end well, really, space pregnancies seldom do and apparently there’s only one doctor/nurse available and she’s got herself a lung full of alien spore (well, whatya gonna do, shit happens) so with alien spores threatening the ship and no medical professionals to save the day, which is odd, you’d think they would have a medical team on a big spaceship to treat people attacked by bearded botanists with axes…

nite3.jpg12. That bearded botanist with the axe. A security team eventually (I mean eventually, he’s like gone all The Shining for half-hour butchering the crew and dismembering the robot before anybody with a gun turns up) catch him and they confine him to his cabin. To his bloody cabin! Where anyone -including mad scientists- can just open the door and recruit him for First Contact because only a murderous botanist can figure out alien telepathy shit.

13. Now, funnily enough, on a ship big enough to have a crew of hundreds (although we only see roughly seven at any one time?) there is only one escape pod and it’s only big enough for one person. Its like they never learned anything from the Titanic. Or Event Horizon, which was bloody brilliant compared to this rubbish. So with the Volcryn now outside wondering what the frack is going on with this Earth ship that’s turned up and is now about to self-destruct, everyone with any sense, including the Evil Ghost Bitch who has at this point possessed the I.T. expert (no, seriously, its true, if you survive bearded botanists with axes and alien spores you’re just likely to suffer a case of possession instead), yeah she is racing to the escape pod…

and then… well, no, I can’t spoil it for you.

Let’s go back a bit. Death by fire no wait he survives that has a bath and is fine.

nite5So anyway, since I’m feeling brave and my medication is now settling in for the night,  let’s go back to episode six,  which I like to call the Space:1999 episode because it pretends all the growing up that sci-fi did between 1975 and 2018 never happened. Our heroes stumble upon a derelict ship that happens to be drifting on the same course the Nightflyer is taking. So our hapless heroes from the Ghost Ship Nightflyer go over to the mysterious derelict last seen near Jupiter (was this in Event Horizon? Or was it Sunshine? So many homages, it’s hard to keep track) to try salvage its computer brain (one size fits all spaceships) and after fourteen years there are still survivors on board – but all the survivors are old ladies with Space Madness who are on a women-only crusade to live in peace on another planet and drain men of their, er, vital essences in order to grow clones for meat, as they sure as hell are not vegans, no sir not on this spaceship. Calling Captain Kirk- sorry wrong franchise…

Remember. I watched this so you don’t have to. Netflix really should be ashamed.

 

Two greats lost

Sad news today concerning the passing of Martin Landau and George Romero (good grief, as if losing one wasn’t enough, we lose two greats over one weekend).

spasemartinSpeaking as a Brit who grew up in the 1970s, Martin Landau will always be Commander Koenig in Gerry Anderson’s tv series Space:1999. I loved that show when it was first on; it was dark and serious and huge. And like all Anderson shows, it had a killer main title sequence, one of the best to this day.  Over the years it has perhaps not aged very well, but the adult me appreciates its 2001-inspired design and cutting-edge miniature effects, and also the irony of a logistics expert being put in charge of Moonbase Alpha just as all the shit cuts loose. Koenig is the anti-Kirk; intentional or not, it makes for fascinating viewing and it’s fun seeing Koenig so clearly out of his depth and clutching for solutions like some modern-day politician. The less said about the second season the better but the first certainly has some brilliant moments and it remains uniquely positioned as a tv-response to 2001- there’s nothing else quite like it.

But my very favorite memory of Landau remains his remarkable turn in Crimes and Misdemeanors. He’s absolutely fantastic in that film- he really deserved some recognition awards-time for that. It’s a deep and thoughtful film (Woody Allen’s best, for me) and Landau is just incredible.

And of course we also have the news that the Godfather of the Zombie Genre, the great George A Romero has passed away too. It’s a little unfair, but it’s probably only natural that when I think of Romero, I think of Dawn of the Dead. My God, what a film that is. Back in the video-nasty period of the 1980s, an uncut VHS copy of Dawn of the Dead was like some kind of holy grail for horror fans. I remember first watching it, thinking it was the greatest horror film I’d ever seen- so dark, brutal, graphic, twisted and funny. So clever too with its social commentary (as timely now as ever- it just needs shots of zombies with mobile phones to bring it bang up to date).

Of course there was more to Romero than Dawn, and even zombies (although, bless him for embracing it rather than looking down on it or its genre fans). I loved Creepshow. That was so much fun, and he did many great films. Just none quite as great as Dawn for me. That film was just the right film at the right time; it became something more than just a film. It represented something.

Yeah, a very sad news day. We keep on losing these great names that we grew up with. It is only natural I guess as the years march on and we ourselves grow older but it never gets easy- there is a weird feeling of my own past slipping away.