TV First review of the US version of Steven Moffat's Coupling. Might as well start playing now ... Which one's Sarah Alexander? Which one's Jack Davenport?
Big Brother The thing iiiis... Thank god Jon's still there -- I'm just surprised it was so close. The fact that Justine couldn't understand why he was getting all of the press coverage and that she thought the bland but beautiful Tania would be the media darling pretty much tells its own story. Tonight's pass the parcel was a deeply disappointing effort considering the speculation (it's a secret pub with a famous person / attic / cellar). But it is only the end of the second week, so something really good is bound to come along soon. I've begun this thread at Digital Spy to discuss the maths of the challenge.
Film Geography means I'm left out, but if anyone wants to go and see the new Jason Lee / Julia Stiles / Selma Blair comedy 'A Guy Thing' for free on Tuesday night you can print off this voucher here and take it along to a cinema beforehand. I'd read the fantastically complicated Terms and Conditions before hand though. It'll be interesting to see Lee do comedy when he's not saying Kevin Smith's words ...
Work Joshua Allen has had to live in a motel while he looks for somewhere to live to accompany his new job. He seems to have found all of the minor irritations:
"The toilet seat won’t stay up. I have a smallish heart attack when it slaps down while I’m in mid-stream, not paying attention. I feel obligated to clean up after myself since I’ll be running into the maids all month. I desperately want them to like me, to confide in me about the other guests, the things they find in the rooms."
He doesn't include the one I encountered in Paris, "The way maids leave your room unlocked all day after turning your bed over so that your room could be burgled"
Fashion I'm really missing Patrick's work, and I did think about filling the breech but no one could be that good so really what would be the point? But I thought I would bring you this interview with an up'n'coming model from Germany called Julia. She is natually photogenic, and a decent communicator even if the questions are pure fluff. I'm just wondering if all models say things like this at the start of their careers ...
"Stay normal. Don’t take it too seriously. Be ambitious but don’t go into this thinking “I have to be the next Claudia Schiffer” because then if that doesn’t happen, you take it as a personal failure when maybe all along you had a different path. You have to take modeling one day at a time. Be careful.. It’s a hard business. Keep your friends and family from before. I need that. Without my friends and family …without them, it would be so much harder to do this job. I’m very lucky to have them behind me."
...and if they do what turns them into Naomi Campbell or whoever. How does catwalking harden them so much?
Buffy Now that Season Six has passed through the BBC filter, I thought I’d add a few comments to the debate as to whether it lived up to the Buffy mark or whether it’s a whole bunch of episodes which should be skipped over as a bad dream. I should say that any series which lasts through to a sixth or seventh year has got to be really good not to be in trouble. There are very few shows still showing consistent quality in such a late year (I’d offer Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as an example of doing things right). The poorer shows will just continue to churn out the same old schtick, the good ones will develop, change, and try and offer something new. To my money, Buffy is one of those.

The seasonal structure of the series is actually fairly brave. A main arc based about a 'big bad' which runs through all twenty-two episodes, weaving its way through the stand alone episodes. It's a middle ground between the Classic Star Trek model in which the reset switch in the characters is effectively pressed at the end of each episode no matter how life changing the moment and The X-Files in which a conspiracy story carried on interminably for nine series and still wasn't resolved. It gives the seasons a form very similar to film, albeit over a much more extended period. By having a massive foe it also offers a good shorthand of good guy / bad guy for casual viewers.

The problem is that over the successive seasons the 'big bad' had to get progressively more powerful, offer an even greater challenge, peaking in Season Five with a God. Many have seen this as proof that the series happily finish it's story at the end of that Season and anything else is apocryphal, which simple doesn't work. The easier route would have been to have gone for an even stronger opponent (two gods?); instead they back peddle, relax slightly and talk about how in fact, once you have overcome your greatest challenge, there is the issue of what now. Once you've walked on the moon what else there to do. That's what Season Six is about, it's about getting on with your life and that struggle is the 'big bad' here. Some look for highs in other ways.

It is easy to criticize the fairly obvious drug metaphors at play in the season, especially in the episodes Smashed and Wrecked; but it’s at least a subtler exercise than Tasha Yar's speech in the Symbiosis episode of The Next Generation ("You think the drug expands your universe -- but it actually shrinks it. Shrinks it to where you and the drug are all that's left. Pretty soon, all you care about is getting your next dosage. You'll lie, cheat, steal -- anything to get that fix.”) What Willow’s subplot in particular extrapolates is what drug use is actually about – recreating the high created in the first dosage. Will is trying to recreate the moments of discover she had in earlier episodes when she was discovering what magic was about for the first time. We very rarely see her repeat a spell – how often do we hear her say ‘I’m pretty sure I have a spell to ….’ That’s similar to a user going from dope to coke to heroin, which each new drug, a new experience. When Dark Willow surfaces in the final few episodes it isn’t because of one malevolent magical being controlling her mentally – it’s a reaction to the death of Tara and it’s her way of coping with the grief. Like an alcoholic forgetting their problems through drink, the old Willow forgets all of her responsibilities in the Black Magic all of the things she’s fought for over six years forgotten. It’s entirely brave thing to do in a tv series such as this and puts a lot of trust on the fans shoulders.

So Season Six isn’t the greatest. It doesn’t flow properly and there are some episodes (Doublemeat Palace) were you wonder what they were thinking. You wish that there were more episodes which follow the old structure of something weird happens/they research/Buffy kills it; there were more weird funny demon of the weeks; that Buffy still fulfilled her job title (watch how many times she doesn’t slay vampires for the sake of it even when she’s patrolling); in using my name for a demon they spelt it incorrectly; that their weren’t so many Spike scenes dropped in for the sake of it; that there series left Sunnydale once in a while. But it’s still more entertaining than most shows knocking around and I’m eagerly awaiting Season Seven (although I’m going to skip Sky and the BBC and just wait for the DVDs. A much less painful a prospect).
Blogger Wasn't able to post last night because Blogger seemed to be playing about with the new look. Bit scary as it looked as though they'd deleted the weblog. I'm working a late shift but I'll post later ... I've got something really good about Buffy to share with you...
Liverpool Life To be honest, I thought Newcastle had won it, although I certainly didn't think they had the stronger bid. But then at 8:30 this morning it was announced that Liverpool would be European Capital of Culture 2008 I have to admit to giving out a little cheer. It really is great news -- although Liverpool is hardly a cultural desert, any new investment is much appreciated, especially as one of the cornerstones of the scheme is an events stadium large enough to stage concerts -- no more traipsing over to Manchester to see anything good. The best comment of the day came from the leader of Liverpool City Council, Councillor Mike Storey:
"This is like Liverpool winning the Champions League, Everton winning the double and the Beatles reforming all on the same day - and Steve Spielberg coming to the city to make a Hollywood blockbuster about it."
The BBC's website offers some useful resources.
Art And just because I seem to have linked the BBC a hell of a lot today (and without any kind of an offer to reduce my license fee) I thought I might add in this keen little quiz I found at Metafilter. Art or Crap?, I'm not embarassed to say I got 9/16 -- since most of the crap could just as well have been. I mean JEFF KOONS?
Cleaning I blame Trinny and Susanna. There seems to be a new trend in television in which two experts on a subject grab an unsuspecting member of the public and subject them to unmittigated embarassment in order to educate them into realising how stupid they are. The very worst example of the is the BBC show, To Catch A Thief in which two reformed cons case a respectable village or district until they find a vulnerable house and then invite the owners to be terrorised as they watch it actually being burgled to show how easy it is to burgle their house. It's one of the most shocking things on tv.

The latest is the Channel 4 show How Clean Is Your House? in which two cleaning experts find someone living in utter squaller and try and get them to change their ways. In the first programme they found a chemistry teacher who hadn't cleaned ever and really should have known better and described to him how germs and bugs can be carried about his house. It's almost as though the once minority facing channel is actively looking for things they can take clips from for their annual new year TV Treats programme. Any this is all pre-amble for an article from The Guardian in which the two harridans are let loose on their offices (although surprisingly they don't bump into John Simm and Kelly MacDonald while they are -- sure off chasing a conspiracy no doubt)...
"Kim Woodburn is standing in the shower room of the ladies' toilets on the second floor of the Guardian office building, ordering me to sniff a damp green towel that has been left to dry on the radiator by a (fortunately for her) unidentified staff member. "Do you know what that smells of? Dirty bodies. They're using it on their lower bits and their face, and that's totally unhygienic," she huffs. "They think it doesn't matter because they keep it at work, and it hasn't seen a wash since Napoleon."
I'm looking around my bedroom right now and I know it isn't perfect with its piles of clothes and cds, but I'm pleased to say do have a good mug cleaning regimen.
TV When the recent Columbia tragedy occurred I was shocked, amazed and stunned. I hung on the television for much of the rest of the night waiting for news of what might have happened. But I wasn’t speechless. For most people 9/11 put paid to any such stay at home watching TV feelings. But for me it was years before when Challenger went down. I don’t actually have all that many memories of watching tv when I was young. Then as now I tended to be fiercely loyal and followed some shows to death, but other drifted past. But it was the event programming I really remember. Staying up until all hours while Gallileo flew past Halley’s Comet, for example. And a remember the details of sitting on my Mum’s lap (the last time I would do this) watching the Newsround report about the shuttle. People complained about seeing the World Trade Centre fall so many times? The BBC played the explosion footage over and over for the kids and speculated. In that half an hour, my young mind saw how frail humanity and its dreams actually are and I wasn’t the same again.
Star Struck Gordon Krypton Factor Burns near the Radio Merseyside building in the city for some miscellaneous reason.
Big Brother Just vote Justine out will you? As someone at the increasing indispensable Digital Spy said. 'It's an admin thing...' In related news, really nicely designed site Big Big Brother's Extremely Little Brother which reduces the whole thing to electonic cartoons featuring lego figures. In this shot BB takes pity on Federico ...
Film The issue of remixing other director's film work hasn't really been explored. Most studios essentially remix what the director wants before a film is released anyway. Much of anything else happens underground. The Phantom Edit was a good example, and here is another as the creatively named Spooky remixes WG Griffith's Birth of a Nation:
"Last week, Spooky projected the film onto a large screen, adding layers of visual effects. An image of a fully robed Klansman underlay the scene depicting the South's surrender at the end of the war. An image of a young Southern woman looking at cotton cloth for a dress was followed by an image of slaves picking the cotton. Spooky also added material, such as images of a dance performance inspired by Southern history. And the soundtrack was of course his creation, a mix that ranged from a rendition of "Dixieland" to the type of beat-driven music one would hear in a club."
Not sure if this will be the next big thing. More than music, film has a narrative flow, the disruption of which tends to negate the whole point of making it in the first place. We'll see.
Education It’s the first day of junior school and there is a massive introductory assembly where we would meet out new teachers for the first time. Presumably to put us all at ease, one of the teachers asked a series of questions. I can’t remember why now, but I remember the first clearly:
”Do any of you know the name of a famous local composer.”
I thought for a moment. I was the one to raise a solitary hand (something I’d get used to). Teacher pointed.
“Tchaikovsy.” I said. It was the only name I could think of at seven.
The teacher grinned. My classmates looked at me, realizing they’d found the kid they were going to be bullying for the next four years.
The teacher grinned.
"No …. Anyone else?”
The answer was John Lennon I found out later. But by actually knowing the name of a …… composer my academic career was set. Knowing a lot about everything, but never anything useful or important. I put that down to watching Blue Peter. It was the ideal counterpoint to school. It offered me a strong lineup of interesting stories on a range of subjects, described in an interesting way. It’s a cliché, but it made me think about the world. Unlike the ponderousness of school where learning about a subject would frequently amount to reading from a book or copying, on Blue Peter a subject was given its ten minutes, about the concentration span of a child on anything and made it interesting. What it essentially did for me, at least, was to diversify my interests so that I would have a good knowledge of everything.
Film DVD aspect ratios. There is a difference between 1.78:1 and 1.85:1. For some reason I find this useful to know.
Life Time then to tell the story of why I don't like football, in other words, this was the match which put me off football for life, Everton vs. Manchester United FA Cup Final 1985. Although I wasn’t an avid follower of football, I did watch the live matches on television and turned on every year for the build up (the speculating, the video clips about the players) and then the match. Actually I only ever watched when a Merseyside team was involved, but during the Eighties this seemed like every year. I’d become an Evertonian in a family of Liverpudians because of the influence of my Nin (Gran to other people). She’d died the year before and whether my young brain thought that they boys should be winning this one for her I’m not sure. But for some reason I was extra specially excited about this match. I remember sitting in the living room on the edge of the couch shaking and rocking. And the match played. I don’t actually remember the match itself.

I remember getting tenser and tenser eith each passing minute, because Everton would not score. I was screaming “Score” at the screen. I think I must have said something like ‘They have to win, they have to win’. I think it went into injury time. Then Manchester United scored. I was annoyed but I kept will the team. Then the final whistle blew. I ran outside into the back garden. And started to cry and scream. My Mum came out to comfort me and I remember just asking her over and over “Why didn’t they win? Why didn’t they win?” There wasn’t really anything she could say. But I didn’t watch as much football after that. I think it was because of the amount of emotion which got piled in with so little in return. I know for some people that’s the story of their fandom, but I didn’t want to know. Which as you can imagine makes pub conversations fun for people – right now I’ve absolutely no idea who the Everton manager is.
Food Vicki offers a fascinatingly thorough description of the choices on offer at salad bars across the country. I had a Cheese Salad from Boots today and it was bloody awful. The mayonnaise seemed to be on the turn, and the water from the carrot had slipped to the bottom of the cheese compartment and congealed. I'm slowly of the opinion that sandwiches and fruit are the only way to go.
Cartography! There is something extraordinary about any map. If you look across the carefully drawn roads and country sides it's possible to see history rolling forward or spreading from the centre. It's amazing to me how early in man's history he was semi-accurately able to work out the coastlines of the planet. So I'm deeply excited by this fascinating weblog about maps.
Film Anyone who has any kind of awareness of screenwriting will know about the three act structure.In the first act Set up to first plot point, in the second act run around for a while until the second major plot point happens ready for the third act resolution. All (well most films) fit this structure and it's there as much for the audience to hang their coat on as the writers. So any film which seemingly ignores the rules or doesn't care for them can be an unsettling experience.

Watching Down To You, the Freddie (Mr. Buffy) Prinze Jr, Julia (Shakespeare) Stiles teen film is infuriating for this reason. Boy meets girl in bar, they fall in love, they break up, they get back together. And that's it. But the film begins as though something major will happen in the first half hour, some mcguffin to send the relationship in a spin. Typically in other films this could range from they're brother and sister / he's an alien I she's dying of cancer lone of them is gay (see 'Chasing Amy'). But nothing happens. She gets pregnant at one stage but it's treated in such a cursory manner and so little worry she could have had the baby anyway and we might not have noticed.

It's fairly obvious that writer / director Kris Isacsson is attempting recreate the feeling of 80s teen films. So we have a rerun of Ducky's miming scene in Pretty in Pink, the art gallery scene from Some Kind of Wonderful, the fantasy sequences of She's Having A Baby; but it doesn't go anywhere, there isn't some big story constantly driving things forward, and at times the dialogue is unremittingly banal. Which is a shame, because just sometimes there are funny lines and characters (one of his friends is rerunning Orson Wells' early career); this is one of those cases where allowing the leads to break the forth wall isn't a bad idea; the cinematography is very vital in places. And if you just let it wash over you, it's just fine. You'll just feel a bit empty afterwards, like you've tucked into a Milky Way.
Comedy Amusingly, as you know, I went to school with The Now Show's Mitch Benn, even sharing a spot once on the debating team. As well as promoting a new cd, he'll be doing some concerts here and there, as NOT BBC report. I see him around now and then. I met him first at the Edinburgh Festival were he remembered me totally. I've seen him since then at a comedy club and he signed his last album. I've subsequently bumped into him in both Manchester and Liverpool. In the former I simply pointed at him and said his name loudly, startling the hell out of him. In the latter just fixed me with a stare as if to say 'I know you don't I?' Next time I'll jog his memory again ...
TV The new issue of Off The Telly is out and the big feature this month (apart from this about Rentaghost) reveals the results of a survey amongst readers of the site as to how television effected them growing up and if it influenced their life choices. It's really interesting stuff and filled with really choice comments from people including Stewart Lee, Gary Russell, Paul Cornell and, well, me. I could quite happily include many here, but I want you all to go off and read the article so I'll just offer one. Ian Jones (the one contributor I've been fortunate to meet) is talking about whether television has got worse or not:
"It's neither better nor worse, just different. The TV of the late 1970s and 1980s did what it could do and was supposed to do extremely well, while the TV of today does what it can and is expected to do extremely well also. You don't have a passive relationship with your TV set. You take from it what you want, and make of it what you want. It's up to you whether you want to enjoy a programme or not, and not the fault of the programme itself. To slag off contemporary TV just because it's contemporary says more about the person doing the criticising than the object of their scorn. TV will always be great, because it's TV, and it's a wonderful, magical creation."
Too true. I have a love hate relationship with my set. I love that it allows me to catch up on all the films I've missed, and to watch some really good exciting television, that it's taught me about the world in a vivid way that I can remember. In doses, television has been as much of an eductaional tool as books and newspapers and certainly school. But I also hate what it's done to much of society -- that were all guilty of sitting, watching something which has no intrinsic value beyond moment after visceral moment, and that in some cases it can make people's live a solitary one. In the great digital switch off, the worry amongst some is that pensioners might not be able to cope with this new technology which is being thrust upon them and that they would lose a major part of their lives. How sad.