TV Meg on the difference between Jeremy Beadle and the 419 scammers: "Pranksters operate on a more elaborate scale, with less obvious gags and more planning. [...] Con Artists/Fraudsters aim is not to reveal, expose or gain status or noteriety, or even to enjoy the thrill of the deception, but simply put, to profit from others gullibility."
Magazines Fimoculous time travels back to the first issue of Wired Magazine: "Peeling back those matte pages now, one can't help falling victim to a bit of nostalgia for this town crier of the proto-digital era. There was no logical reason that this magazine should even have existed in 1993. Clinton/Gore had just been sworn in, and no one was talking about the "Information Superhighway" yet. Words like baud and Usenet and ISDN hadn't even been surrendered to the dustbin of digital history."
Music Dustin the Turkey, a puppet, may represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest this year: "A musical parody on the contest, specially written for Dustin and titled Irlande Douze Points, has made a shortlist of six songs from which the final entry will be chosen by TV viewers later this month. [...] Recognising a good joke when they see it, bookmakers have already made the turkey an odds-on favourite to be the Irish representative in Serbia on May 20."

"Oh, the 80s. Or rather THE 80s!" -- Sam Wollaston

TV Lord knows I'm not one to criticise the work of people who write reviews, particularly if they're making a living from it (as opposed to me thinking I could make a living at it) but I sat boggle eyed this morning at Sam Wollaston's fundamentally incorrect review of Ashes to Ashes in The Guardian. I've often quite liked Wollaston's writing in the past although the best column he ever wrote was on a documentary about people who take duvet days in which he decided to take one himself and the rest of the past was filled with a blank space so didn't actually feature much writing. That was clever.

This just seems mean spirited, and in some respects as though he decided he wasn't going to enjoy the programme from the beginning. I'll not dwell on this too much (as if I haven't already) but he does break one of the rules people writing review of film and television in particular have to be careful of, erm, breaking:
"And Keeley Hawes, as DI Alex Drake, is awful. She may be totally shagworthy and have a cracking pair of puppies (those are one of Hunt's sidekick's words, not mine, before you start complaining), but, as a copper, even a psychologist copper, she's very unconvincing. She's neurotic and unpredictable, moody and constantly out of breath, and just really irritating. She lies on the bonnet of the Audi, to compare curves, and again on the sofa to give Hunt a private show. I'm sorry, that's not a senior police officer (except perhaps in her male colleagues' fantasies), that's, well, an actor. She should tear a leaf out of Dame Helen's police notebook."
I mean I'll happily disagree on whether Hawes is a good actress -- I thought she was a pleasure actually and a welcome contrast to Sam Tyler -- but what Wollaston seems to do here is criticize the actress for the choices of the writer and director. Does he mean Hawes or Drake is unconvincing as a copper, neurotic and unpredictable, moody and constantly out of breath?

You can find her irritating if you like, but you have to be clear as to whether you think the character or the actress is irritating and everything else seems to be related to the character. In other words, it doesn't look as though he'd be happy with any actress in that role and actually throwing Mirren into the mix is just misjudged because the two have different functions within their respective dramas. Just saying.

[To be fair, here are several links to my own reviews, here, here and here and I'm sure I've made a similar mistake in the past but for some reason this one really hit a nerve, presumably because I enjoyed the programme so much. And I probably fancy Keeley a bit.]

"Do you remember a guy that's been in such an early song?" -- David Bowie, 'Ashes To Ashes'

TV Well that was good wasn’t it? Life on Mars spin-off/sequel (you choose), Ashes To Ashes began tonight (in case you hadn’t noticed) and turned out to be a far clever, far more complex prospect than the earlier series. In recreating the series to continue the adventures of Gene Hunt, the producers had the rather difficult problem of the audience having already been through the emotional arc once already. We’ve been there with Sam Tyler, why would we want to live through another false lifetime with some new character? Cleverly, their strategy is to produce a character in Alex Drake who has exactly the same awareness of this world she’s dropped into as the audience. We know she’s in coma, we know it’s a psychological construct and so does she.

Some critics churlishly suggested that the problem with this opening episode is that its all set up. Isn’t that the point though? We need to see the contrast between the modern world that Alex has left behind and why she needs to return. We need to be re-introduced to Gene and the gang (I miss Annie) and the new dynamics have to be established. You have to spend a whole episode on this, otherwise you’ll be spending the rest of the series catching up. In fact, despite everything Matthew Graham’s script spent much of its time asking questions, laying in details and I’d say providing far less information than in the first episode of Life on Mars and in fact reconfigures or purposefully confuses some of the things we already knew.

With this apparent waking life, rattling around her cranium, there are details which Alex couldn’t have been aware of but which continue the story of “Gene” and colleagues from where Life On Mars left off. They tell her, for example, that Sam stayed with them for another seven years before “dying” in a car accident (no body found though leaving the way open for a John Simm cameo somewhere down the line). As in that series, we see events which are outside of her point of view suggesting an autonomous world happening which he happens to have stumbled into. Like one or two of the episodes in the previous series her actions here seemed to effect the cause of future events effectively creating the situation which sent her into the “coma”.

There are other details, such as communications with the outside world happening through similar devices, but the overall feeling is that the producers are looking to tell a far grander story, develop a more complex mythology of which Sam and Alex are victims. As with Mars, everything can be explained away with an easier resolution (its her subconscious creating everything based on what she read in Sam’s notes) but those of us with a suspicious nature might wonder if in fact there’s something far larger at play, that as suggested previously, something is being done in the far future which is having these effects on police in the present day.

All eyes were on Keely Hawes too – would she and her character be a decent replacement for John Simm and Sam Tyler? More than a match, and in fact perhaps far more interesting. Tyler was a by-the-book officer mostly seemed bewildered by his predicament only really locking horns with the guv over this methods. Drake is constantly battling against the whole thing of which Gene is just one aspect – she’s more pro-active, using her brain and detective skills to find the way home. But she works well in the ensemble too and Gene clearly likes her, especially since she gives him the horn. Hawes’s stint in Spooks was useful, but this will the series that will make her a star, emotionally articulating her bizarre predicament. Cleverly too, DI Alex Drake actually has a proper goal, not just to get home, but to return to her daughter, whose image was used to torture her throughout this episode.

The big change for some of us though is that her story is happening in a period we remember. Although my memories of the nineties are clearer, I grew up in the eighties, became a teenager then. I finally get all of the references without having to ask my parents and even though the music isn’t as good at least I can recognise most of it. Visually the series is very different, unlike Life on Mars which was to some extent a time travelling remake of The Sweeney, this is taking its cues from the period itself rather than a fictionalisation of it, often emphasizing the fact that this is (or may be) a dream with quite stark camera angles even in those scenes which are apparently the reality. Even the main issue in this episode – drugs – spoke of the period, cocaine being tossed about like candy. About the only thing which seemed out of place was the sexism – even in this early breath of the eighties was this still so strong?

Similarly, rather than taking the obvious approach of putting Gene at the centre of the action, the writers have realised that he’s best viewed through other eyes, that this is how his iconic status is sealed. In the early eighties he’s slowly becoming an anachronism, watching the policing values he upheld eight years earlier disappearing, talking about the need for evidence rather than simply manufacturing it. Wonderfully played again by Philip Glenister, he’s a different man, and in one scene glancing towards a newspaper headline clearly effected by the death of Tyler. It’ll be interesting to see if he begins to note similarities between Alex’s behaviour and his ex-partners, and actually articulates them suggesting he isn’t simply a psychological construct in their heads but someone with a proper heart beating.

In one word then, squee. Or as this reviewer puts it 'OMG OMG OMG HOW AWESOME WAS IT PEOPLE!!!!!' and as is the way of things these days, the dvd boxset is already available for pre-order.


India Fisher (voice over): Next, Rhys, a haulage firm manager from Cardiff sees if he can impress the Masterchef judges with this pan fried alien served in a French mirepoix sauce with a krynoid garnish.
John Torode: Well Rhys, how do you think you did?
Rhys: I dunno – I didn’t think I’d get this far in the competition. I only ever cook for my fiancé when she manages to get home.
John Torode: Let’s take a bite … nicely cooked meat although there’s a slight smell of chlorine, I like the sauce although I’m not sure about the krynoid garnish.
Gregg Wallace: It seems to be growing … erm … Rhys I don’t think you gave it enough time in the pan … oh … I think we’d better vacate the studio … aaaaaagh!!!!!
India Fisher (voice over): For now, they can relax …

TV Wasn’t that a fortuitous bit of scheduling? A cookery programme just before Torchwood’s satire on the meat industry narrated by a Doctor Who companion. Luckily, the closest any of the cooks got to red meat was some lamb, so it will be possible for me to look at a steak again without making the juxtaposition. Oddly enough, carnivarianism isn’t a perennial subject of our favourite genre with only Buffy’s disappointing Doublemeat Palace in recent memory. So well done to this series for at least attempting to tackle the subject in an interesting and innovative way and for the most part this was another exciting, funny not to mention bittersweet episode.

Unfortunately it was largely spoiled at the climax which was a victim of the golden rule about massive alien beasties – do not show the whole thing and especially in motion unless you’re entirely happy with the design. Again we defer to mad Mat Irvine on the Warriors of the Deep commentary when trying to excuse the Myrka -- it has to be lit properly and you just need to see flashes of the thing. Up until then, the realisation had been very effective, particularly the eye, its opening and closing in the face of humanity reminiscent of a similar scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home when Kirk greets George and Gracie at the aquarium tank.

Alien Sadly, after the fourth or fifth pan across its glorious CG hide, all this dimension hopping, time traveling behemoth reminded me of was a cross between an elephant, a sperm whale and the pictured meanie from the old Bubble Bobble arcade machine. As it thrashed around, its front edifice opening and closing in my head I couldn't stop thinking about a quote from one of the truly great dvd audio film commentaries, Camille Paglia on Basic Instinct: ‘That of course is the phallus …’

My sympathy was blown. Of course we should be surprised that Owen is being a humanitarian in putting the beast out of its misery (and my suspicious mind wonders if Owen's niceness and total change of character isn't part of some story which is yet to be told) but in the final moments when everyone stood with their hand against it became slightly creepy not to mention hilarious at just the moment when us meat eaters are supposed to be reaching for some celery, renouncing brisket forever. Moby Dick indeed.

Catherine Tregenna script was a fascinating piece of work. I’m sure there have been other stories about the farming of alien meat but this is probably the first time we’ve seen it on television and to have the cowboy equivalent of Dewhursts involved and not some corporation was part of the thematic thread which reaches through much of Torchwood, that its always the oh so very common man of Cardiff who’ll get mixed up with these alien interlopers and their technology.

Many wonderful touches, such as said butchers getting the sharp end of the very thing that usually ends the life of a cow in an abattoir and the gaudy details of the semi-slaughter at hand -- you couldn’t help but squirm at the mention of the chemicals being pumped into the meat (although better that than the additive described in Fast Food Nation, the book and the film). Ianto's constant jappery still works ('And guess who'll be the one to feed it...'). He's turned into Chandler from Friends and look - he didn't even burst into tears when he was captured this time.

Last year Rhys was largely in the role of the harassed bystander, much of his time spent calling Gwen at inopportune moments. It seemed a forgone conclusion that at some point he'd manage it in person but his ensuing bravery was a real surprise -- well done to the writers for not simply putting him the position of a male damsel. The long awaited confrontation with Gwen was as explosive as it needed to be, potty words flying, shouting, screaming and a definite sense of a relationship shattering.

I think this is some of the best work we’ve seen from Eve Myles and Kai Owen finally demonstrated why he was cast in the first place, very much able to carry drama as well as comic relief. About the only disappointment was the non-addressing of Gwen’s fling with Owen from last year, but there’s plenty of time for that given that they’ve taken the bold move of not giving Rhys the white pill. How long to you think it’ll be before he’s out having a skin full with Dav and decides to tell about the things he’s seen?

Other than that only a couple of scenes of non-coupling between Owen and Tosh really failed to convince. It seems like a retrograde step for the latter after last week’s ‘awakening’ and a disappointing example of the writers still trying to have it both ways in terms of character arcs and stand alone stories with a personal focus. Also director Colin Teague though managing to carry off the action scenes pretty well this time, still favours the interesting camera angle -- what the hell was going on outside that door in the corridor?

It wasn’t that far away from that old Russ Abbot gag in which the camera spins to reveal exactly how Batman could walk up walls and if it had been like that any longer I’d have been like a team caprtain on A Question of Sport with my head cocked to the side. I would say though that he was largely to blame for the over indulgence with husky slug features presumably assuming that the audience needs to see the thing after all the build up having probably missed the fable about the wise blind men and the elephant at school.

Next week: Torchwood remakes the old Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Conundrum …
Elsewhere, I manage to mention Camille Paglia and Russ Abbot in the same review of Torchwood.
Comics Annotations to the Black Dossier: "The headline on the right, “Knightsbridge Ape-Men,” is a reference to “Quatermass and the Pit” (1958), the third Professor Quatermass BBC serial. In it, the bones of ape-men, unearthed in Knightsbridge, lead to the revelation of the Martian influence on the evolution of humanity."
Liverpool Life "But what about books? For me, the conclusive sign that Culture has arrived here – Culture with a big C and a big stick – is that Henry Bohn's second-hand bookshop has finally been forced to close. In a prime position just in front of the main station, it was notable not only for its choice of books but also for the consistently high standard of conversation among staff and customers."

Well that is that sad and odd to read it in an arts review from The Independent. At one time there were a fair few second hand book shops in Liverpool city centre, but with the closure of Henry Bohn, that's been reduced to one -- the shop on Mount Pleasant. Certainly there are charity shops here and there -- the Oxfam on Bold Street included, but the best of these shops are like libraries were you can buy and own the books.

If the plan for the front of Lime Street is the same as the one I saw at this presentation, they're not being replaced with more shops but instead a flat incline of steps leading up to the station designed to show off its monumental architecture -- along with a round office tower at the side whose shape seemed to have been influenced by this (although presumably without the lean).

"That's less true of the new BBC series, at least."

TV The AV Club lists 20 pop-cultural obsessions even geekier than Monty Python and what should we find at number thirteen? Actually, the paragraph spends much of its time noting that we're far nerdier than Trekkers/ies, but it is written from a US perspective in which case, considering that Peter Davison is apparently known more for All Creatures Great And Small over there (as revealed a rather good documentary about that show on BBC Four last night), it's probably true.

Does Doctor Who have an iconic catchphrase in the other of the clearly incorrect 'Beam Me Up, Scotty'? Can you really go up to the man (or woman) in the street and say things like 'Do I have that right?' or 'The time has come but the moment has been prepared for...' and they'll know what the hell you're talking about. I suspect shouting 'Nothing in the world can stop me now!' in the pub will only lead to a kick in the senorites.
Elsewhere Off The Telly has been generally mothballed but could return with a little help: "On a related note, if there's someone out there reading this who's got a) the technical know-how and b) the time, I'd love help in converting this thing from its current HTML-coded, hand-tooled form into a CMS-run website. Please do drop me a line on if you can assist ..."

"You need to go see the wizard. Ask him for some guts." -- Lamb, 'Veronica Mars'

TV Fox News Is in for a Very Rough 2008:
"The point is that Fox News years ago made an obvious decision to appeal almost exclusively to Republican viewers. The good news then for Fox News was that it succeeded. The bad news now for Fox News is that it succeeded. [...] Meaning, when the GOP catches a cold, everybody at Fox News gets sick. As blogger Logan Murphy put it at Crooks and Liars, "Watching FOXNews getting their comeuppance has been fun to watch. They made their bed, now they're having to lie in it and it's not too comfortable."
On Sky News this morning, Adam Boutlon said that he would be asking Fox News's Bill O'Reilly for his opinion on the presidential race. My skin literally crawled. In fact if I hadn't been quick I think it would have left home and gone to work without me.

"Even Hemingway wasn't good at being Hemingway." -- Gary, 'thirtysomething'

TV What's striking about these 279 opening credit sequences from the US in the late 1980s is how long they are and how so many are edited in exactly the same way. In this video, watch out for Lime Street featuring Robert Wagner. If only the real thing was that glamorous...

"Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.'' -- Voltaire

Journalism Despite my rant about Breakfast the other day, I do still think that the BBC produce the best television news in the world, particularly from their foreign bureaus. To see just how far their reach is, look at this rather good map mash-up which locates the various correspondents and feelancers on a world map with link to their profiles and the stories they've submitted to the news online website.

In some cases it doesn't look as though they've written much in the past couple of years, but that might have more to do with the way that searches are carried out and whether their work happens on radio and television more than online. Otherwise it's a great resource and which offers the chance to see a global area in a new light.

Which is precisely why Kim Ghattas, who has until recently been reporting from her home town of Beirut and the middle east, wanted to become a journalist:
"I was 13 and I was tired of my Dutch cousins asking me about whether I went to school and if we had enough food.[...] I did not understand why they were unable to grasp the fact that we were living a normal life, it seemed perfectly normal to us."
We don't tend to hear about most of these places until something has gone terribly wrong...