Two Houses
previously: 1, 2, 3, 4 ...

Politics Statesman or Skatesman? "Last Christmas my Dad and me had a big argument. He'd found a picture of Enoch Powell on a pogo stick and claimed that politicians weren't as interesting as that any more ... " Jason Whiley disagreed and wrote to as many politicians as he could asking them if they'd ever used similar transport, such as skateboards, gokarts, BMX bikes and Space Hoppers. Over Eighty responded including "three Prime Ministers, five Chancellors, six Foreign Secretaries, four Home Secretaries, and three Speakers of the House of Commons. " [via B3ta]
Gatherings Flash Mob Liverpool. Enough said.
Cinemas I was surprised to hear that drive-in movie threatres still exist in some parts of America, and they sound idyllic:
"As pink clouds moved silently across the sky, a few more cars of people showed up mid-film to secure a spot for the next half of the doubleheader. Breezes blew gently, drifting the film's soundtrack throughout the car park. Dawn Carter sat on a blanket with her husband Mike, while their 3-year-old daughter Mikayla, in her pajamas, prepared to settle in for the night. A bright quarter moon vied with the film for attention."
Another fad which never appeared on British shores (the weather presumably) although the Stella Artois screen series tried something similar. Backbeat appeared at the Pier Head in Liverpool but was severely rained off so they haven't been back since. Perhaps if they'd actually shown a good film...
Travel The writer of The Guardian's A life inside has for some reason decided to write on of my old Commuter Tales columns. Oh the nostalgia:
"The time I spend on the train, going to and from work, has become my time for reflection and contemplation. Apart from the odd mobile-phone conversation and the sound of the wheels on the track, it is a very quiet journey. I'm well used to that now: the lack of acknowledgement. I've learned commuter etiquette: shuffle up, keep feet tucked in, avoid eye-contact. All in all, ideal conditions in which to simply sit and think and, along with nearly everyone else, mind my own business. "
Buses can be even worse than this. "I mean how far should I be squeezed up against the wall? If you push me any further I'll go though ..."
TV In the final episode of this season of e.r., Carter finally took the voluntership in Africa which had been hinted at for weeks. Luca was already there and being swamped and what with the death of his Gran, weird funeral and all it was the classic chance to get away from it all. Not all of us would pick a war zone, but there he was getting off the worst airline in the world for a few weeks of stress and madness to a soundtrack by Youssou N’dor.

This was another in a series of episodes which played about with the format of what has become a fairly standard medical drama. In seasons past these have included a live episode, a story set entirely in a hostage situation in a convenience store, a road trip and time moving backwards. Of late, these haven’t strayed too far from the medical room (for budgetary reasons presumably) so this was a welcome return to the fish out of water scenario.

Problem. Most of the above situations came out of the character, the place they are in the series, a way of continuing their arc. This episode hardly seemed to be about Carter at all. He became an observer in a place, as situations drifted on about him. Cleverly, as he tried to adjust to life in this new clinic, we saw glimpses of the boy we saw in the pilot ten years ago, that same helplessness in the face of ‘alien’ medicine. But the life and death situations seemed little different to those at home – he was simply stripped of his drugs and technology. What was this about? You should be happy with what you’ve got? Why go all the way to Africa to tell that story?

One saving grace was the strength of the new characters. Angelique the on-site NGO was a cunning riff on Weaver – the issue here wasn’t whether they could afford nurses, it was whether they had enough light for the two operations which needed to be performed. And Gillian, a French Canadian who had new main character printed on her forehead. Certainly one of the best written in sometime, she was sassy and sarcastic and it will be a shame if this is her only time around the block (best line to John and Luca “I’m going to bed. I’m hoping one of you will be joining me…”_. For some reason she had qualities which reminded me of George Clooney’s Ross and I relish the thoughts of her facing down the real Weaver sometime soon.

But having introduced the locale and the characters, nothing seemed to propel the story forward, we were simply seeing glimpses of his time there. Other than being scared out of his wits, the Carter who arrived at the start of the episode didn’t seem terribly different to the one who left in the end. Same haunted expression. Perhaps if this had instead been a ‘Heart of Darkness’ style draft through the jungle looking for Luca this might have worked. But throughout it seemed like the John Boorman film ‘Beyond Rangoon’ in which a political situation was seen through the eyes of Patricia Arquette.

[Speaking of Luca, what is it with him? He’s gone from the scared man grieving his family to an inveterate womanizer and back again. Now he’s in a remote part of Africa disease dodging and he still manages it. How is that possible? Are there any women in the world who can’t fall for his charms? I mean even Weaver’s been known to give him the odd googly eye.]

The most exciting moment came during the climax when a remote clinic was attacked by soldiers. Carter without much French to answer for himself somehow ended up with the barrel of a gun to his head, only to find himself saved because he had unsuccessfully treated the brother of one of the troopers. It felt hollow somehow, as though it had been inserted because of the need for an exciting climax to the season. But it wasn’t about the character trying to deal with something, and in a show which for years has only been about that it felt wrong.

All of which suggests I didn’t enjoy the episode. On it’s own terms it was a stunning piece of television, every bit as good as earlier similar stories. But as an episode of e.r. in this season, and considering the first episode (the one with the quarantine) and everything else, it didn’t ring true, and importantly didn’t suggest were the series would be going next season, a finger prodding the reset switch like mad.

[Television Without Pity: ER: Season 9 Episode 22 for a full synopsis]
Books Actual title: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which really should be a noir thriller from the 1940s.
Google Everyone else is linking this so I thought I might as well. Google is also a calculator now too...
Music I thought Nelly Furtado had been quiet for a while. It turns out she's been recording and is going to be a new mum. New album out in November.
TV I've written an extended piece about 24 for Off The Telly and you can read it here. It's mostly in English. If you are a fan (and if not why not) Season Three cast photos have been posted here. I don't think they feature any spoilers (other than saying which cast members will be taking part) [via the really great 24 weblog].
Film Kevin Smith has a few words about a newspaper article. Offering the kind of talk back we wish some celebrities would give over here, Smith challenges thoroughly and at great length the content of a New York Times article based on an interview he gave. Unsurprisingly they put a few words in his mouth to 'sex things up a bit'. Massive spoiler for 'Jersey Girl' his new film, so only read when you know what it is (which most of us do by now ...)
Game If only college had really been like this. Napier University offer you the chance to HOLLER!
The Internet America On-Line may be finished. Or rather the name. Because AOL is being ruined by people realising that the service doesn't work and actively inhibits how the user accesses the internet it's dragging the whole company into a bad light (not helped by the abbreviation to AOL in some news stories, ommiting the Bugs Bunny end). All very ironic as it was AOL who took over the mostly film company in the first place.
TV Noah Wyle is taking a break from the e.r. meaning that for the first time ever there won't be a first season regular on the show. Shame. This isn't to say that the current crop aren't interesting or useful, it just kinda ruins my post from last week about the whole series actually being about this one doctor ... [via tvtattle]
Furniture Lately I've been letting a parents pick the furniture. What I mean is I've been actively boycotting the shopping trips. I won't hopefully be living with the things for very much longer, but to be honest it's because they've got a really good eye. Our new couch which was delivered on Sunday is so big it needs to form a government and call itself a republic as quickly as possible before someone called Charles tries to take over. It's in Egyptian Stone apparently and frankly I'm expecting one of the arms to sprout a Sphynx some time soon.
Games FARK takes a swipe at Monopoly cards. Very funny indeed.
TV Now that Big Brother has drifted away, RI:SE plunges on with it's mediocre mix of reality TV and not so star guests. I would love this to be a defining moment. The non-appearance of Fed in subsequent episodes shows how impressed the production team were. It's just difficult to see were the show as a hole can go (pun intended). I'd like to see it look to the strengths of the presenters and become more more qualititive, with a conviction for in depth items. We know that Iain Lee is a Games expert so why doesn't he have a Thumb Bandits style slot were he reviews the latest games? Why isn't he doing the scripted comedy we expected? Why is he laying out this fluff? Why hasn't Kate Lawler been ditched for someone more professional who can actually carry an item without flubbing? What would be wrong with them attacking an serious issue like homelessness or make more of the local area, perhaps with short documentaries. All it lacks is a conviction, a realisation that GMtv is doing lowest common denominator and they can strive for something better. Otherwise it looks like they're just ticking over until the contract runs out next April which can't help anyone involved.
Anything that happens, happens.
[page turn]
Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen.
[page turn]
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
[page turn]
It doesn't necessarily do it in chronological order, though.

From: 'Mostly Harmless' by Douglas Adams
Counter Culture Sorry Avril, but record breaking Sk8ter boys are British:""The world's longest skateboard is 7.21 m (23.65 ft) long, 30 cm (11.81 in) wide and 7.5 cm (2.95 in) thick, and was made by Joel and Paul Spaven, and Jamie Manby (all UK). It was ridden in Bishops Waltham, Hampshire, UK, on June 6, 2003." I notice from the picture that the police were there for the occasion. For some reason I find myself wanting to say Dude! a lot ...
TV And so 24 ended in a scene from a seventies political thriller directed by Alan Pakula. You almost expected Warren Beatty or Robert Redford to turn up in a corduroy suite with some other piece of evidence they’ve picked up. For some reason it felt slightly wrong that after all the corridors, rooms and basements that the final scenes should take place in the baking sun and wide open spaces of a sports stadium. It created angles and vantage points, and places to pick people off, but overall it was a bigness which didn’t seem true to the rest of the series somehow.

Which sounds like I was disappointed, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There was a quality to the script which is missing from many season enders – the character pay off. Everyone got a moment: “Either fire me or get out of my chair.” “You’ll think you’ll be safe out there. You won’t.” “Mr President!” It took time to resolve the relationship arcs, such as Michelle and Tony, little things but they helped to give the entire series a shape.

Of the ending, ending – since I’d already known about this months in advance, I was mostly waiting to see how it would be accomplished and I wasn’t disappoint. Mandy was a great character and it was good to see her back, and cleverly in such a way that the new audience wouldn’t be lost. Will Palmer die? Hope so. What I mean to say is, the governmental influence has been done. I’d like to see the next series play out on a much smaller scale, perhaps a Magnificent Seven sort of thing with Jack, Tony, Michelle and Kim in a sort of alliance with Nina and Mandy on some kind of mythic quest deal into a jungle; something different which plays about with the format. Seasons One and Two had very similar structures and they need to try something new otherwise it could become quite old and stale.
"The record for the hottest day ever in Britain was broken on Sunday as temperatures soared to 100.2F (37.9C).", unless you're were I was standing in Liverpool watching the greatest downpour since King Lear stood on a hill. I hope this was the storm before the calm.


TV Another Off The Telly review, of the second season finale for 24, best remembered in the UK to some extent for the stirling work of Tamzin Sylvester in the Pure 24 live discussion programme which ran on BBC Three afterwards.


Sunday, August 10, 2003 by Stuart Ian Burns

As far as the extras who stood by knew, the President would collapse, then recover, get back in the car and drive off. So they would have been somewhat surprised when they watched the actual episode on television as Palmer lay on the ground gasping for breath, his heartbeat ticking out the final moments of this season of 24.

The subterfuge is revealed on the excellent documentary that appears on the DVD release of the series. The producers had lied to the crowd to protect the fidelity of this, arguably the most shocking of endings, from anyone who might want to post it on the internet – how could they trust them again?

Trust. It’s about an expectation from the viewer that the programme will take them on a particular journey from start to finish. In a cop show, the standard will be that a crime with be solved during the time we spend with the characters; in a sitcom something happens and hilarity ensues. 24 doesn’t care about any of that; it doesn’t have a genre exactly; it’s impossible even to tell what is going to happen from one episode to the next.

Events will occur in real time, but that’s all they’re promising. In the past there have been a number of artistic attempts to capture the real time events of a person or character or group of characters over an extended unbroken period, usually a day. German performance artists The Gob Squad recorded their vocal meanderings over a extended drive around Germany and presented it unedited in 18 half hour slices; on television the E4 feed of Big Brother captured much the same effect over a longer period. In TimeCode, Mike Figgis actually recorded an ensemble drama with overlapping plotlines in real time and presented the results in shots at four corners of the viewing screen. The John Badham film, Nick of Time offered a plot in which Johnny Depp’s daughter is kidnapped and he’s told he must kill a US Governer within 75 minutes or his child will die instead. The last two are the clearest influence on 24, at least in the first year; but it encompasses all of them to some extent, twisting them to offer a much richer experience. Real time is only part of the issue.

In the first five minutes of far too many shows to count it’s possible to clock the ending. In this series of 24 that has never been the case. By the end of the first hour the viewer knew that a bomb would be going off somewhere and that Jack Bauer needed to find out where. At this stage our assumption could only be that come hour 24 we’d be watching Jack’s last minute attempt to America the nuclear threat. At no point could we guess that instead he would be at a stadium trying to prove that a recording had been falsified in order to implicate three innocent countries in the bombing. And convince a new president that the retaliatory war, which could begin within moments, was illegal. Heck, the “baaamb” (as Jack insisted on calling it) was exploded mid-season.

The potential death of Palmer was another example of the sheer unpredictability of the series; that he may have been assassinated by Mandy, who had lit the fuse of the first series, simply could not have been foreseen. It was an utterly audacious move and offered the possibility that the hoods who had been buzzing about both series were at the behest of an even larger organization to be revealed in the following season. And we thought they were making it up as they went along.

This final episode was breathtaking entertainment, which wore its filmic influences in its sleeve. The aforementioned stadium scene looked like it had been cut in from a 1970s political thriller directed by Alan Pakula. You almost expected Warren Beatty or Robert Redford to turn up in a corduroy suit with some other piece of evidence. After all the scrabbling about in the dark at the end of the first series, they were making the most of the sunlight with this massive location. For some reason, though, it felt slightly wrong that after all the corridors, rooms and basements the final scenes should take place here. It created angles and vantage points, and places for Bauer to pick people off, but overall it was a vastness which didn’t seem true to the rest of the series. It could be mostly excused though because of the entertainment value of seeing Sherry Palmer legging it across the stalls, running away from having to have a confrontation which didn’t involve her silver tongue.

The most important aspect of the episode was that, before the cliffhanger, all the loose ends which might have been forgotten in lesser series were tied up. Having been proven right Tony and Michelle (whose brother was still knocking about the holding cells) got their old jobs back, the former glaring down his boss Chappelle: “Either fire me or get out of my chair.” They had their moment in which potential romance continued to blossom.

The Warner family so disliked in the early episodes because of their interminable wedding day were reunited. Silence of the Lambs was referenced as the now utterly psychotic Marie Warner simply sat chillingly as her father wanted answers and while sister Kate advised him that they wouldn’t get any. “You think you’ll be safe out there.” Marie whispered. “You won’t.”

Meanwhile Calamity Kim Bauer was finally re-united with her father after 24 hours and didn’t manage to trip over anything. Kim has been a real weakness this year taking part in storylines without any real connection to the main thrust. Her role just seemed to be something to cut to when everyone one else was driving their car or searching for something on a computer. The most shocking example of this kind of shoehorning appeared in hour 22 two when her father’s plot effectively paused while he talked her into defending herself.

Some have written that to end this series with a cliffhanger was an unsatisfying move. Personally I would have been disappointed if it hadn’t. For me the end of the first series hadn’t worked because the death of Teri Bauer had felt like an after thought and an appalling pay off considering what she’d been through that day (including the amnesia). The wait for the next series was more about what else can be done with the format rather than what is going to happen with the characters. In this series the opposite is true. We want to know what Jack whispered to former lover turned enemy agent Nina Myers all those hours ago; who were the men in the cafĂ© and on the boat, how do they fit into all of this; will the president survive? If the viewer is wondering from week to week, why not month to month?

Will Palmer die? I hope so. What I mean to say is, the governmental shenanigans have now been played out and its difficult to see what else can be done. The next series needs to be even tighter, even more about the characters and their lives, about the small emergencies rather than those on a global scale. Interestingly we know it’s happening three years hence (therefore in the future) which will be plenty of time for Palmer to recover (or not) and to give Kim Bauer a plotline which isn’t completely irrelevant to the main story, and for the status quo to change utterly (fingers crossed for Tony and Michelle). But whatever happens during those next 24 hours, I think we can be confident it’s going to be something very special indeed.

Ten years later and ...