Friday, April 03, 2009

US And Them

A quick confession, dear blog reader. Yer Keith Telly Topping has been rediscovering the joys of home-made chips again after rescuing an old deep fat fryer from my mother's gaff which was gathering dust on top of a cupboard. And putting it to the use that God intended for it. First time I'd experienced home-cooked chips (I mean, proper chips, not those oven-made abominations which are the very spawn of Satan himself) in years. Yes, I do realise that I'm probably shortening my lifespan every time I so much as look at the pan, let alone actually use it. But, come on, chips, ladies and gentlemen! Lovely chips. Freshly peeled tetties, cut into interesting shapes, fried golden brown in fully-saturated Spry-Crisp-and-Dry®™ and then lathered in salt and eaten, in double-decker butties, with Warburton's bread and thick Lurpack butter. Who wants to live in a world where such things are not only socially acceptable but are, indeed, desireable? This blogger is a simple man, he has simple tastes. You've probably noticed if you're a regular reader of this blog. Oliver Reed is once reported to have stated that his only regret in life was that he didn't shag every woman in the world and drink every pub dry. That's overkill, frankly. For me, it's merely that there are still potatoes with my name on them and I'll never get to taste their sweet kiss on my throat. Ah well, them are the breaks.

It is time, I think, for a US telly round-up - something I've only touched on in passing so far this year.

Good old 24 has been rattling along merrily (and, of course, with its usual quota of quite insane, tool-stiffening violence) this season. I watched the two most recent episodes yesterday, back-to-back. I did enjoy the White House-under-siege plot from a few weeks ago and then the episodes immedately afterwards where, literally, everybody that Jack Bauer so much as looked at ended up getting shot to death. And, unusually, only a very few of them were shot by Jack himself. Which was a novelty. It's all transparently preposterious, of course but then, the best of 24 usually is - as comfortingly familiar and garishly outrageous as the yellow tracksuit Topper Headon wore in Rude Boy and twice as pleasing on the eye. Of course, now that Big Hard Jack has been exposed to this geet-big-nasty-MacGuffin-thing-in-Bad-Jon-Voight's-evil-cannister-of-doom-doodah, we can only wonder how long it's going to be before he starts bleeding from his nipples with the plague. Will Chloe cry? If those bastard producers make Chloe cry I shall have to smack them upside the head, I'm afraid. Yes, even David Fury. Nice eye-rolling performance by Mr Voight, I must say. You need your 24 villains to be just the right side of Bondian-cat-stroking (ala Mad Dennis Hopper in season one or Evil President Greg Itzin in season five) and Voight, I think, pulls it off very well. Additionally, it's nothing short of a big set of congratulations to the luscious, pouting Sprague Grayden - she's the girl who plays the Cross-Eyed Lady President's naughty double-crossing daughter, Olivia - for having gotten so far in life with such a goddamn stupid name.

Impressive, love.

Great episode of House this week - the one with Mos Def in it - very experimental and weird. But, AGAIN - this something of a running mantra this year - Cuddy is in one (very brief) scene, Chase is in one scene and Cameron is in one scene (and that almost seemed to have been added as an after-thought). A word to the production team: If you don't want to use them, guys, cut them adrift. At the moment, every time they're actually in an episode it feels like crass tokenism on your part. And if one of them, occasionally, gets a bit more to do (usually Cuddy) then you cut back on Wilson instead. Which will not do. (Also, be advised, if you DO try and cut Lisa Edelstein adrift, then I will have to kill you in a Jack Bauer style. With hammers.) But, for all of the above, when it's at its best - as, for instance, in that episode four weeks back featuring Dutch from The Shield (the excellent Jay Karnes) as a chap who couldn't lie - and when Hughie is being effortlessly brilliant (so that's, usually) then House just makes you want to sit and watch TV all day in your dressing gown. With a plate of chips.

It's been a rather good season for Bones, too. Again. (Third year running! This is becoming monotonous!) It really is turning into a splendidly decent little show. Who'd've thought that was going to happen when it started as a basic (very basic) CSI-clone starring "that guy who can't act out of Angel"? I particularly found the Cam's-ex-boyfriend-is-murdered story very involving. Boreanaz is so good in it now, it almost makes you cry to see how far he's come. He could do comedy rather well even back when he was in Buffy, something which his guru David Greenwalt always stressed. Playing Angel as a cheap and narcissisticly vain character. He was always good at that. But now he's added real dramatic muscle to his performances as Booth and he's aided by one of the best ensemble cast on TV. (I especially like the Tom Thyne/Michaela Conlin will-they-won't-they double-act which is both charmingly dizzy and yet, also, has some real emotional depth to it. Those two deserve their own series on the back of this.) If only Hart Hanson and his writing team could sort out their occasional - annoying - tendency to overdo the number of false-climaxes in some episodes, this would be very close to being the best series currently shown on US TV. But not, quite, THE best ...

... And so to Lost and, finally, proof for all to see that bloody Dr Jack Shepherd is - as we suspected all along - a complete and utter selfish and contrary bastard of a character. One who, frankly, needs a damned good fisting on general principle. We also know that both Kate-the-Completely-Mad-Murderess and Duplicitous-Bitch-Juliet are, in fact, better off without him. And that the real hero of this show is, of course, Yer Man Sawyer. Who's a complicated dude and no one understands him but his women.

Which we also kind-of knew all along. But, it's nice to have a bit of confirmation

Plus, the plotline which involved Ben Linus turning out the way he did/will be (s'cuse the screwed-up tenses, but this is a show about time travel) being entirely down to the combined actions - in the past - of Sayid, Kate, Saywer and, especially, Jack is quite simply the single funniest TV conceit in the entire history of the medium. Matched, perhaps, only by Hurley's singular almost Timelordesque failure to grasp in the inherent ludicrousness of any time-travel scenario involving visiting people whom you know in the future in their own past. The look on Miles's face when Hugo asks the extraordinary perceptive question of how come Ben in the future won't remember being shot by Sayid in the past and simply saying "huh? Never thought of that!" was marvellously po-faced. More (much more) of Miles, please.

I loved the cliffhanger to last week's episode, though. That's the first time I've stared numbly at a TV in ages and mouthed "But ... but ... but!" at the screen. That should happen far more often.

My only complaints about Lost are, frankly, rather minor ones. Whither lovely Desmond and Penny and their liddle boat? And, was Dessie the one who put Ben's arm in a sling? Where's Daniel gone? And, why didn't Sun go back to the seventies along with the other four? Those tiddly minor plot-pointettes apart, still lovin' it the mostest, baby as we hurtle towards the series' 100th episode. God help us all if this show should ever jump the shark.

The subject of acquatic acrobatics involving carnivorous ocean-life brings me nicely to the final episode of Life on Mars. Oh lordy...

I've just watched the last episode yesterday and I think, for the first time in a very long time I'm actually speechless. (Well, obviously not as this blog kind-of proves, but bear with me, I'm going somewhere with this...) Sixteen episodes and about thirty six minutes of a seventeenth that were, frankly, quite breathtakingly good TV and then ... that.

Not so much a 'cop-out ending' as you may hear it described elsewhere, dear blog reader. More an 'entire-bloody-detective-division ending ... which is only one tiny step, conceptually, removed from "... and-then-he-woke-up-and-it-was-all-a-dream-or-was-it?-The-end."' It was actually so bad it was almost brilliant! It's churlish, I know, to be too crushingly disappointed because the show, undeniably, gave me much unexpected pleasure from such unpromising beginnings. I'll remember it fondly and I'll plug it cromulantly if it eventually finds a UK broadcast home. I think, though, that when I get the DVD box-set I shall be doing a Phoebe-from-Friends-job and simply turning off before the "unhappy ending." 'Short episode that last one,' visitors will say as I hurriedly scramble for the remote control as Gene hugs Sam and says 'I'll miss you most of all, Scarecrow.' 'Is that it?' they'll chorus. 'Yeah,' I'll lie. 'It is. And they all lived happily ever after.' Sometimes, ladies and gentlemen, ignorance genuinely is bliss.

I'm still chuckling, now, forty eight hours later at how awesomely, spectacularly, criminally, mind-numbingly bad that final sequence was. It really was a sight to see, trust me. I'm torn between abject disappointment and a kind of grudging respect for the producers that they did something so unremittingly awful as, perhaps, a grand "up yours" to the glakes that cancelled the show in the first place. But I suppose, as noted, I really shouldn't be churlish. Not every show can have a final episode like Angel and go out, literally, fighting the dragons.

And, just to remind y'all what I thought about the last episode of the British version, faithful blog reader: "It may have started as a Godawful small affair but ended with a denouement that fitted neatly with the socio-realist themes that the series encapsulated. 'I've never belonged here,' Sam tells Annie at one point, but he's wrong. He discovers this when he finally gets back to the grey, opaque, non-stick world of 2006. The message of the final episode – that sometimes fantasy is actually preferable to reality – confused some viewers. But it shouldn't have if they'd been watching the previous fifteen. It was the end we all, secretly, wanted - everyone living happily ever after wearing Hai Karate aftershave and nabbing armed blaggers to a soundtrack of The Sweet. And the future, well, that's shaped like a bird it would seem. Ashes to Ashes, funk to funky. Next year, same place, another time, all right?"

Small difference.

... Two countries separated by the Atlantic ocean it would seem.

In other news, I'm still way behind on Smallvile and I've got the last four Battlestar Galactica's to watch - including the two-hour finale - at some stage. Probably this weekend. I have tended, in the past, to watch BSG in big, solid, comfortingly depressing lumps. It actually works very well like that, I've found. And, I've finally pretty much given up on Heroes. It's been limping along for too long to justify my postie's time and effort in acquiring it. Meanwhile ER, which I've never really followed too closely but which I know is very popular with many viewers, has its big finale tonight in the US after an almost fifteen year run. I'll be sorry to see it go. The big surprise this year has been the consistent quality of NCIS another show that I'd never really bothered with until stumbling across two or three episodes last year that made me, at least, consider it in a different light. It's one of those show that, it's kind of there, on in the background, and you don't really think you're paying that much attention to it until you suddenly find yourself shouting 'Oh, Gibbs, just shoot him, already, will ya!' or something similar. I am, I'm afraid, a sucker for ensemble pieces - always have been (Buffy, Angel, The West Wing, Pushing Daisies, Stargate) and, when the ensemble itself is good enough to cover most of the cracks, even the most formulaic and apparently tired of TV formats can have life breathed into them by decent acting and good character interplay.

Speaking of emsemble pieces, I'm still enjoying Dollhouse and the Joss Whedon-scripted episode from a couple of weeks ago in particular. That managed to effectively reformat some parts of the show which clearly weren't working and give it a new direction to start heading in. But, I still think it's going to have its work cut out to get a second season. What it really needs - well, apart from a couple of million more viewers, of course - is to sort out some of the (conceptual) moral ambiguity which remains, annoyingly, at its core. I like it, I really do, but it's still not, quite, pushing all of the right buttons on an emotional level. In the most recent episode, the seventh, for example they tried some interersting comedy things with the characters - notably uptight English chick Ms De Witt (the really very good Olivia Williams) and 'Psycho-Terry-out-of-The Shield' (Reed Diamond). Which was actually very effective. But the biggest thing troubling me about Dollhouse remains the character of Topher whom, I think, we're supposed to regard as kind-of the Xander substitute - the funny, smart-alec one. (Albeit he's much smarter than Xander ever was.) Fran Kranz plays him with an appealingly bumbling and humorous mad-scientist-nerd quality that is, indeed, very watchable. Which would be fine if the character wasn't, essentially, an emotional rapist. And, I think, that's my biggest problem with Dollhouse. None of the guys whom in any other series you'd rather like are, here, actually very likeable at all. Not even Boyd who's the obvious Giles character. Not even Echo herself because, underneath, she's nothing. And that's a big problem considering she's the character that we're supposed to identify with. (And, if she isn't, why is she the only one featured on the title sequence?) I must say, I did have a good chuckle at the suggestion made online by one reviewer that the first episode - with its motorbikes, hot chicks and guns - clearly shows Joss Whedon trying to write his way through what the reviewer described as 'his mid-life crisis.' No, I'm afraid not. He already did that. It was called Serenity.

Last night saw the return after three weeks of CSI which, as previously noted on Top Telly Tips has, effectively, been turned inside out by the inspired recruitment of Larry Fishburne. Great Nicky-centric episode a few weeks back, too (Turn, Turn, Turn). Why is it that most of the best episodes of CSI are often the ones focusing on Nick? (I mean this one was right up there was my own particular past favourite, the remarkable Snakes from series five.) This week's episode is the show's 200th and looks to be another winner.

Ho'kay, ladies and gentlemen of the blog, that concludes the entertainment for today with a look what's going down in the land of the free and the home of the brave besides Obama being less popular there than he is here. Listen, guys, if you don't want him, we'll have 'im. Most of the various series featured above (24, Lost, BSG, Bones) are available over here on Sky One, or Five in the case of CSI and, shortly, House. Those that aren't - Life on Mars and Dollhouse for instance - will, hopefully, be coming your way soon. Check 'em out when they get here, I think you might rather like them. And remember...You know it makes sense!

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