Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Geordie Shore: Review

May 29, 2011

Worst programme ever. Bar none.

Justified. Top Quality Television

July 31, 2010

For the last three months, I’ve been watching FX’s Justified. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, Fire in the Hole, it tells the story of cowboy hat-toting US Marshal Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant. Justified refers to his penchant for using his sidearm in the line of duty in what we might call an extremely clinical and efficient manner. He never points a gun without the intention to use it to deadly effect. The show starts, as can be seen in the trailer below, with Givens in Miami. He approaches a man having lunch at a table. It transpires he had given him 24 hours to leave Miami or be shot. The 24 hours are just about up. The result sees Givens transferred back to his home in Kentucky, where he soon comes into conflict with an old friend, and neo-Nazi, Boyd Crowder, played by the ever-excellent Walton Goggins. As fans of the absolutely superb The Shield will know, no-one does redneck better than Goggins.

The series then follows Givens’ tangled personal and professional lives, involving his criminal father, Crowder’s criminal father and sister-in-law, his ex-wife and her new husband, a sympathetic but exasperated boss, and gangsters from Miami seeking to kill Raylan. The various strands of the story are woven together over the course of the first series culminating brilliantly in the finale, while each episode contains its own strong main story as well. Although some of the clichés of the cop drama are present – the ex-wife for example – the show never feels stereotypical. It is very well paced, with each episode flying along, and never dragging (of course not watching it live and jumping through the adverts helps there). Add some top-quality acting, especially from Olyphant, to the strong writing, and you’ve got a great show.

That the show is so good is not a surprise when you look at where it came from. Not only is it based on Elmore Leonard’s work, but it was also part-written and executive produced by Graham Yost, whose credits include Band of Brothers and Pacific, as well as the greatly under-rated and much (by me) lamented Los Angeles cop drama, Boomtown. All in all, I can’t wait for the next series to start.


The Pacific: The End

July 2, 2010

Back in April, I put up a piece discussing the first two episodes of the Stephen Spielberg/Tom Hanks World War II co-production The Pacific. As I noted in that blog, I was a huge fan of Band of Brothers, and had been eagerly anticipating this series ever since I had first heard of plans for it. To be frank, it was a disappointment. I’ve had the last episode ready to watch for about a month, and only just did so, and that in itself is a reflection of a lukewarm response to the show. In short, it failed to engage you as successfully as Band of Brothers did. It’s difficult to make direct comparisons, given the different nature of the shows, but they are inevitable, and can’t be ignored when writing or even thinking about The Pacific. The Pacific concentrated on a much smaller numbers of individuals, and had much more on the home front, including a final episode about the return of the Marines to the US. It told the three invididuals’ stories more strongly, especially that of John Basilone, but the consequence was that the surrounding characters were much less developed. I think that was a large part of the problem. Band of Brothers had a large range of engaging characters and an ensemble of brilliant actors. The Pacific simply paled in comparison.

The Pacific was tremendous at showing the horrors of the war in the Pacific, and the sufferings of the troops involved there (as usual with this sort of thing, not a great deal of how the civilians were affected). Whether it was the horror and brutality of combat, the food and water shortages, or the humiliating and debilitating diseases the Marines were afflicted by, it gave a much rounder picture of the soldier’s experience than did Band of Brothers, which was pretty much the soldier-as-uncomplicated-hero. But, with the smaller number of characters properly sketched and the amount of space devoted to time away from the war, it didn’t have the same impact as the combat scenes in Band of Brothers, being to an extent more about the spectacle than the effects. That was a key, and disappointing, difference. I think the film-makers made a mistake there. The home front stuff was interesting, and well done; but again, being focused largely on Basilone, detrimental to the impact of the show. I can understand that it was important to show the experiences of the Marines in Australia and the like (not least with Australia because it was obviously so important to the men themselves), but you don’t really watch a programme about World War II for the love stories. That may well be my problem, rather than the producers’, but it slowed everything down, and added not a lot.

At least until the final episode, which I thought sent the series out on a high, dealing with the different experiences of the veterans, and their different attitudes. The return to work, the search for women, the attempt to understand survival, and to fit back in to the community and civilian life. These are common themes I suppose of people returning from war, but they were handled effectively, especially Sledge’s experiences at the Polytechnic when he explained to the young lady behind the desk what the Marine Corps had trained him to do, and then his relationship with his parents.

Maybe part of my different reaction is due to the smaller number of veterans interviewed, inevitable after another decade had taken its toll. But watching the documentary at the end of Band of Brothers I think did re-cast the experience of the previous episodes and give them an added depth, that the lack of a similar one for The Pacific failed to do. This could of course be Sky’s fault for not showing it if it exists. One quick point about some of the spin coming from Hanks and co, that I alluded to before, which was the point about the programme reflecting a racial element to the struggle. I still felt this was dealt with in a tokenistic manner, and there is of course the question of whether thinking that the word “japs” is automatically more racist than “krauts” during wartime. This is not to deny that there was a large racial element in the conduct of the war, just to say that didn’t come out as strongly as expected from the hype. Despite the strong finish, it’s hard not to agree with Bakunin’s comment on the previous thread where he said:

I’m six episodes in and I think it is nowhere near as good as BoB. The acting, stories, and writing are not as sharp nor interesting. I think The Pacific drops off the longer it goes on.

Which is a shame. None of us can deny the importance of the sacrifice of those who fought against fascism in whatever theatre and in whatever way, and that it is a good thing to see their experiences recorded in this way. It’s just unfortunate to come away feeling that it could have been done better given what we had seen this team do before with Band of Brothers. I felt there were more interesting stories lurking there that failed to come out because of the decision of the producers to concentrate on a much smaller number of men.

V and the Untouchables

May 5, 2010

Shame I don't know how to photoshop Costner into a giant lizard. Might suit him.

The Untouchables is a superb movie, featuring a deservedly Oscar-winning performance from Sean Connery, though it is probably not Connery’s best work. Perhaps Connery’s most-quoted line after those from James Bond is from The Untouchables, where he talks about the Chicago way.

But there was another line from that film that often gets quoted, when Connery confronts a knife-wielder intruder with a sawn-off shotgun, mocking him for bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The Untouchables included Brian De Palma’s hommage to one of the greatest scenes in cinema history, from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. A mother is shot by troops massacring demonstrators on the Odessa Steps, and her baby’s carriage careers out of control down the steps amidst the violence.

De Palma’s scene referencing Eisenstein can also be seen below, albeit dubbed into a foreign language.

What, then, has all this got to do with the new version of V? Tonight’s episode included several references to The Untouchables; the first was Erica telling the other members of her fledgling resistance group that Anna is fighting dirty, and that if they want to win this war they can’t bring knives to a gunfight. And the second was Erica telling Jack, the priest, that having recruited Hollis, of whom more shortly, she had done a deal with the devil, and broken every oath that she had sworn to protect, referencing the following words of Costner’s Elliott Ness as he pressurises a judge during Capone’s trial.

I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!

If you’re going to steal reference, steal from pay hommage to the best.

My favourite character when I first saw V: The Final Battle was Ham Tyler, played by Michael Ironside. I now realise that Ham’s politics, as reflected in his activities in Vietnam and Latin America, make him well dodgy. Despite that, he’s still my favourite character. Not only was he charismatic, mysterious, tough and capable, he also had an ongoing feud with Donovan, reflecting Donovan’s time as a cameraman in Latin America recording the effects of Ham’s work with the forces of reaction. And Donovan was a bit of a wuss, and his son annoys me. Ham was definitely the man you’d rather have along side you if your planet was invaded by alien lizards in disguise, and you wanted to get a little payback. And so to Hollis. Hollis is clearly the new Ham Tyler. And much needed he is too. I just hope that the current character – an ex-SAS (Australian SAS from the sound of his accent) member turned mercenary – retains some of the edginess that Ironside portrayed so well as Tyler. Added to which, I have to say that I have found the other members so far to be somewhat wet, and a bit of remorseless violence from the resistence would go down a treat. Speaking of which, Scyfy or whatever they are calling themselves now, should be ashamed of themselves for the blatant cuts in the fight scene that opened this episode.

Overall, V is bubbling along nicely. The scale of the alien conspiracy is being slowly revealed, the resistance is growing, there is an inter-species pregnancy that has been well handled so far, and Anna just got very nasty (in several senses, although one of those may have been cut too). Added to that, they are referencing a classic gangster movie, and calling to mind two of the three best baldy hard men actors of all time (Bruce Willis of course being also in the top three) in the same episode. Excellent. Shame they couldn’t shoehorn Lee Marvin, the hardest of hard men actors, in as well. My previous V post ended with the music from the original. I’m going to top that with the opening and closing music from The Untouchables for this one.

V: The Visitors Return

April 15, 2010

Anna: quite good, but no Diana

Diana: The original and still the best

So last night, on the newly re-named SyFy, began the much anticipated (by me anyway) remake of V, the classic 1980s mini-series and TV series that feature alien visitors to earth with a dark secret. For a generation, the sight of walking, talking reptiles eating birds and rats whole was the stuff of nightmares. It was great, and Diana, the evil scientist and beautiful visitor leader, was a character never forgotten. There was a certain amount of over-excitement when I heard that V was being remade. The first two episodes of the new series were on. How were they?

I liked them. They succeeded in quickly establishing the shock, uncertainty and excitement caused by the alien landing, the alien claims to being a benign force offering and advanced technology and medicine in return for water, and the harsh reality of their planning to do something – as yet unclear – very evil indeed that would wipe out humanity. Judging from the first two episodes, the new series is trading depth for breadth. There are fewer characters than the original, but we can expect them to be traced in more depth. The new show also, like the Battlestar Galactica remake before it, reflects on the war on terror. Visitors have already been on earth for some time, and the crazy people claiming to have had contact with aliens are in fact telling the truth, and some of them form the bones of a resistance. Equally, the fifth column is also in place. The new female lead is an FBI agent (rather than a scientist) involved in monitoring suspected terrorist cells, and I suspect that the current American paranoia about conspiracy and the enemy within will feature largely in the new show. It’s a good move, both dramatically and in terms of bringing it into today’s world. Other lead characters include a priest struggling with what the visitors’ existence says about his religion, the FBI agents teenage son who joins the visitor youth corps, an engaged professional couple, and an ambitious TV news anchor who seeks to ingratiate himself with the visitors. These characters reflect some of those from the original series, either directly or as composites.

And then there is Anna. Diana started out not as chief commander, but as head of the scientific mission. Anna is in charge. She is more understated than Diana, but also forceful and scheming like her predecessor. If Diana was a power female who could have fit into Dallas or Dynasty, Anna so far seems to be a different personality type, but equally ruthless. She is similar enough in appearance and personality to be something of an homage, but different enough to be her own person. This stripped down alien command structure will also make her a more effective figure I suspect. The new show is also liable to be a lot less silly than the original.

To over-analyse the show, the reduction in numbers of central characters has had the consequence of embourgeoisement. Whereas the original featured characters who were working class, like plant workers or Mexican labourers and their families, the new humans, so far anyway, are all noticeably more affluent and more middle class. That might reflect changing tastes within the US television audience, or a different target audience. Or it could mean nothing at all, though I suspect that it does mean that this show is chasing the young professional market, as well as teenagers seeking to stare at Laura Vandervoort. While the original was something of a kid’s show, this one doesn’t look like being so.

So overall, a good start. Gone however are the red uniforms and the funny voices that originally marked out the visitors, and the V grafitti has already taken on a different meaning than in the original. And also gone – and this was a big mistake in my view – is the music of the original. Enjoy.

The Pacific

April 5, 2010

Just finished watching the first two episodes of The Pacific, the quarter of a billion dollar HBO 10-part series from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks examining the Second World War in the Pacific from the viewpoint of a number of US Marines. I was a big fan of Band of Brothers which was made by the same people. Band of Brothers was such a great show partly because each episode began with an snippets discussing the events covered from some of the actual people involved who were members of Easy Company whose story the series told. You never knew who was who until the end of the series, and the documentary that accompanied it. I wasn’t sure if The Pacific would do the same, given that it concentrates on fewer people and that being made a decade later there must be significantly fewer survivors. Thankfully, this series also started with interviews with (still anonymous) veterans. It may be a false feeling, but seeing veterans talk, even if only for one or two sentences, before the events is a much more effective reminder of the reality of the war than even the best war film or TV series.

That said, is it any good? The short answer is yes. It was superb, just as good as Band of Brothers was, even if it skipped the training regimen that was covered so well by Band of Brothers. That meant less time for characterisation, but the quality of the writing and the whole production, including the battle scenes, was such that it didn’t matter. What The Pacific had that Band of Brothers didn’t was an element of the view from back home in the United States. And more bad language. Both of which gave added depth of a different nature. Tom Hanks, in the publicity for the show, has been making the point that the war in the Pacific was different to that in Europe. To paraphrase, he has been saying that in Europe, you had people who at least recognised each other as forming part of the same civilisation, and accepting of the same rules of war, such as taking prisoners. He has been saying that in the Pacific it was instead a battle between two sets of people who both believed in their own racial superiority and the barbarism of their enemy. It was thus a nastier and more lethal conflict.

These interviews may cause us to doubt Hanks’ grasp on the war on the Soviet front, but it seems to me there is a lot of truth in what he is saying about racism being an important factor in the way the conflict in the Pacific was fought (it seems to me no accident that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan rather than Germany). Having said that, in the first two episodes there was not much overt sign of the racial element, other than in the odd reference to Japs, Nips, and disparaging references to yellow monkeys and the like. They felt more of a passing nod than anything else, but that may change in the future.

Overall then, this was event television at its very best, bringing home the brutality of the conflict, the desperation and reckless courage of those involved, and doing so in such a manner that it flew by. I can’t wait for next week.

TJ Hooker: Legend

January 19, 2010

I’m lucky(?) enough to have access to the channel Quest, which shows some truly awful TV, such as this. However, much to my delight, it also shows TJ Hooker, a splendidly silly cop programme from the 1980s stariring William Shatner, which re-established itself in my affection some years ago when I caught the occasional episode on Channel 5. It is mostly remembered now I would say for having an extremely young Heather Locklear in it, and thus to act as a comparison for how she looks now, nearly 3 decades and much cosmetic surgery later. The Guardian has today given TJ Hooker its due, and fair play to it for doing so.

I realise that I ought to have done better for my first post for over a month, but there you go.

The Equalizer Dies

November 16, 2009

Sorry to hear today of the death of Edward Woodward, star of one of my favourite TV shows when younger, The Equalizer, which had the greatest theme tune ever, even better than that of Airwolf. In retrospect, The Equalizer was a phenomenon of Reganite America, and was in many senses deeply reactionary. As most readers will know, its premise involved an ex-CIA agent acting in defence of the weak and defenceless, often with the aid of old colleagues. I guess in that sense it was a bit like a darker version of the A-Team. It was still great though, and I loved it.

Celebrity Deathmatch: Terrorist Edition

May 30, 2009

A shorter version of this post is also at Cedar Lounge.

Gotta love the Yanks. This story will raise memories among those who heard it of a joke doing the rounds in Belfast during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It also raises memories of conversations had at school, including about whether the Provos would beat the Mafia. The Provo supporters were always very happy that they were generally regarded as the best terrorist organisation in western Europe. I’d still put my money on the people fighting real wars though.

More TV at Cedar Lounge Revolution

November 12, 2008

I have just stuck a brief note up on Cedar Lounge Revolution describing the first show in a new TG4 series about the use of informers during the Troubles here. Watching shows on TG4’s website is not totally straightforwad, and instructions are included there. The show was quite interesting, and had interviews with handlers and those convicted on the evidence of an informer.