“You lost me at carrots, which was the first draft of ‘You had me at hello’”

TV As the Big Brother season once again holds us in its grip (is this the worst crop of contestants we’ve ever had?) I thought I’d note two things.

Firstly, that unlike the previous few years, E4′s schedules haven’t been cleared to make way for live coverage from the house, with only an hour’s worth of shouting peaking through in the middle of a weekday afternoon, then through the night footage of them either sleeping, trying to sleep, being drunk, or doing some more shouting. Secondly, the channel has suddenly seen fit to begin broadcasting one of my favourite series of this past decade, the Emmy Award-winning Gilmore Girls , with the same daily episode appearing at 8:50am and 11:30am.

Gilmore Girls began in the US late in 2000 and quickly became one of the highest rated shows on network television. The premise sounds twee and horrible. It’s about the relationship between a single mother and her daughter – the daughter having reached the age the mother was when she gave birth. They live in a small town. The daughter, Rory who’s smarter than everybody, is going through the usual teen angst about not being the most popular girl in school and fancying some boy. Her mom, Lorelai, is the manager of a hotel and has her own issues dealing with her own – up until recently – estranged mother.

I was hooked after the second minute of the first episode.

A woman, who we later discover is Lorelai, walks across the street. On the soundtrack is There She Goes by The Las. Which is a bit of a cliche, but keep watching. The woman walks into a coffee shop and approaches the counter. The owner won’t serve her coffee. He’s cutting her off. She pleads with him and eventually he relents. Somewhere in there I realise that it’s being played as though she’s a junkie and he’s her dealer. Then I remember that one of the few things most TV producers (and Sixpence None The Richer when they covered the song) also miss is the fact that There She Goes is reputed to be about heroin. “The racing through my veins” lyric being a dead giveaway. At which moment I realise this show is intertextual. It selected the music and then played a scene based on the audience being able to understand a really, really zetgeisty pop culture reference. Wow.

Then the real dialogue begins to flow between the woman and her daughter and it’s funny. Not in a forced, sitcom, stream of punchlines way, but like a 1940s screwball comedy, reams of smart dialogue. Apparently each script for a 40 minute episode ran to eighty and it shows. I’ll say it again. It’s really, really funny. At one point, the dynamic between mother and daughter is compared to the Iran-Contra affair. This is one of those occasions when the premise of a show and its potential plotlines are transcended by the script, the performances, the direction, the editing and the production. It doesn’t treat the audience like idiots, yet manages to be accessible. Just look at this mile long memorable quotes page at the imdb.

It feels authentic. It has realism. People pay for taxis. They have snappy arguments that don’t mean anything in the long term. People have to catch a bus to get places. But there’s a weird undercurrent of darkness too. Something that isn’t being said. It’s Capraesque that way. Everything seems sweetness and light but … It’s set in a Bedford Fallsian town and you really get the sense of a community trying to be a what a community should be like. One of the (very) few problems I always had with Dawson’s Creek was that you never felt that there was anyone living in the place outside the main cast. Stars Hollow is teeming with people, people saying hello to each other even if (and this is important) they’re not a massively important element of the plot of the week.

The show eventually ran for seven seasons, the first six of which were largely written by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (before an unresolved contract negotiation led to her and her husband leaving the series), aided by the likes of Jane Espenson, a Buffy alumnus who would go on to write Battlestar Galactica. It has wobbles here and there, apparently in the later seasons which I haven’t had a chance too see yet. But the first three seasons are as good (in their own way) as any of the imported series which have tended to be lauded over here and if this had been broadcast in a prime time slot I’m sure it would have been mentioned and remembered along with the likes of ER or Desperate Housewives (even though its certainly more entertaining than that). Instead it’ll hopefully build a loyal following in these early slots, even if it deserved much better treatment.
Elsewhere I've begun to catalogue my books at Google.
Elsewhere Gilmore Girls is finally on 'terrestrial' television, and I've posted about it at the Off The Telly blog.
Books This is funny in isolation, the rest of the discussion, the rest of which appears at this Overclockers forum is also amusing as their peers pile on to underscore their madness and we get a sense that this isn't an isolated case. To be fair though, when you look, their question isn't as stupid as it sounds [via].
Film I would be remiss in not mentioning this surprising addition to McSweeney's, what could well be the first film review, written by one Maxim Gorky about the work of the Lumiere Brothers. It's introduced by Walter Murch and though Gorky's words amount to little more than a description of what he sees, his excitement is infectious. If that wasn't enough, the linked page also includes very early colour photography from Russia, images taken in 1909! Intrigued, I attempted a Google search and found pages and pages of them, a technicolour world more usually seen in black and white. Though there were certainly experiments before then, I don't remember the results being quite so breathtakingly vibrant [via].
People James Moran, director of the film Severance and write of several episodes in the Whoniverse celebrates his blog's fifth birthday by listing all of the things he wished he'd known and what he's learned:
"Doesn't matter how good you are, if you're a nightmare to work with, then people won't want to work with you. You don't have to fellate everyone, but turn up on time, be polite and approachable, and don't be a dick. You would be amazed how many people don't bother with such trifles. There are some utter cocks out there, time wasting, useless fuckwits, both in front of and behind the camera. And when their names are mentioned in meetings, everyone rolls their eyes, and says "no thanks". I've seen two separate people state flat out that they would never, *ever*, under any circumstances, work with a certain person. To the point where they'd walk off the show if that certain person was hired. And that certain person is incredibly talented. But they're a twat. They still get work, but lots of people won't ever work with them. Don't be that person."
Oh, do tell.
TV Kevin from the main news site for Joss Whedon's Dollhouse reviews the pilot, and seems largely confused by what he saw:
"So, what doesn't work? I'm not sure I understand how it works on a weekly basis particularly well. Episode two is going to be important here. If people are tuning in to not engage their brains at all, I'm not convinced they will follow what's happening, as the opening 10 minutes are all over the place. The first 10 minutes, in fact, pull you through so much material and situations it's difficult to identify exactly who (or what) we're supposed to be watching for - which, in a way, is probably the point. It is well written, though. And that is, ultimately, about as flawed as it gets, I think. It's clear right from the beginning you're not going to be watching Every Other Show on your telebox. Goodbye, Gil Grissom - welcome to the Dollverse."
Kev says that he didn't think Firefly's pilot was too great though, something which I think was one of the best series openers I've seen in terms of defining the premise, introducing the characters and making you want to watch episode two. Not even nu-Who's Rose did that.

Essentially we can deduce two things from this review. Firstly that Joss has once again produced what sounds like a show based on an amazing concept which should generate a passionate audience which will either run and run Buffy style or not make it much past its initial order -- in which case join the campaign as soon as you can. Secondly that 'squick' (a word I've not heard before) must be the opposite of squee.
TV BBC Two's The Net was a mid-nineties attempt by the channel to capture the state of technology and online culture such as it was back then with Gophers, Compuserve and Virtuality. In the past few weeks, Waxy.org's posted episodes one, two and five. Andy offers a good intelligent description of the concepts and what to look out for. As I noted in the comments, 'it does look terribly dated with all of the deliberate way of describing everything, anunciating the jargon etc. I can't help thinking though that it has much the same magazine format as Click the BBC's current show about the web and technology.'

Watching, I realised that despite having credited the programme with introducing me to internet related concepts a year before I covered them properly at university during my undergraduate Information Studies degree, I only properly remembered two things about it. Firstly, the theme music, a jangly bit of new age noodling featuring what sounds like a gamelan. But also the games reviews and specifically Jules, who I remember rather liking quite a bit (I was at that age etc). Wonder what happened to her.

I think Andy's a bit unkind about those reviews though, especially since it was one of BBC television's first real attempts at doing that kind of thing and they are done in a very fun style that attempts to suggest the excitement of games to the kinds of people who wouldn't generally play them. Television and computer games have never been good bedfellows and only rarely with shows like Bits, Thumb Bandits or Gamesmaster has it suceeded. So two cheers at least to Jules and the production team for at least trying, even if eventually tv decided that the internet and magazines would become the main source of news about the platformers or whatever it is the kids are playing now.

”I’m not keen on Paul McGann’s portrayal of the character in the TV Movie”

TV Fans of a certain age will love this. Lance Parkin, writer of some of the best of the Eighth Doctor novels and AHistory explains what he really thought of the book series:

"“There are some bad ones, yes, and – worse than that – there are some mediocre ones. I’d rather have a story that was trying to do something interesting and failed than one that just ticked things off a list of Things That Happen In Doctor Who. I think that particularly from The Burning to, say, Time Zero, they’re just about all as good as the NAs, which is about the highest praise I have for Doctor Who. [...] “In retrospect,” he continues, “the problem with destroying Gallifrey wasn’t destroying Gallifrey, it was that the Doctor wasn’t forced to live with the consequences. The new show does that so beautifully. Often, watching the telly series is a bit like peeking at the answers to a test I sat years ago … ‘oh, that’s how you do it’.”

See also. [via]

"you average somewhere in between being assertive and social and being withdrawn and solitary"

Quiz! I can't deny, this sounds fairly accurate:

Big Five Test Results
The Big Five is currently the most accepted personality model in the scientific community. The Big Five emerged from the work of multiple independent scientists/researchers starting in the 1950s who using different techniques obtained similar results. Those results were that there are five distinct personality traits/dimensions. Here are your results on each dimension:
Extroversion (54%) medium which suggests you average somewhere in between being assertive and social and being withdrawn and solitary.
Accommodation (62%) moderately high which suggests you are, at times, overly kind natured, trusting, and helpful at the expense of your own individual development (martyr complex).
Orderliness (70%) high which suggests you are overly organized, neat, structured and restrained at the expense too often of flexibility, variety, spontaneity, and fun.
Emotional Stability (54%) medium which suggests you average somewhere in between being calm and resilient and being anxious and reactive.
Inquisitiveness (60%) moderately high which suggests you are intellectual, curious, imaginative but possibly not very practical.
Take Free Big Five Personality Test
personality tests by similarminds.com

Not really one thing or another. See also Scorpio. [via]

"There's no right, there's no wrong, there's only popular opinion." -- Jeffrey Goines

Film It's July 1997 and BBC Music Magazine's Barry Fox is investigated this new invention, DVD...

The first commercial dvd in Europe was Twelve Monkeys. Seems apt somehow. In yesterday's Guardian: Going the way of VHS: DVD industry braces itself for march of the download. That didn't take long did it?
Comics NYT profiles Garfield minus Garfield and interviews Jim Davis, but fails to link the actual blog. I thought I'd email and tell them. I'll let you know what happens.

I love to freak out salespeople. When they ask me what size I need, and I say, "Extra medium" -- Steven Wright

Commerce The Liverpool One shopping area had its soft opening this weekend and I managed to take a look this morning. The only choice these circumstances is to put your best Tom Hanks in Big wide-eyed face on and let the commercial experience wash over you. So far there’s not much there, the structure of South John Street and Paradise Street, roughly the area which runs parallel and at right angles to Lord Street. As promised at the presentation I attended this time last year, it’s a two tear shopping experience, so far basically a shopping mall like the new(ish) Bull Ring in Birmingham without a roof.

There’s no denying the novelty of finding that at the end of my usual bus route into town. It is slightly under whelming though to see so many of the same shops that are already in residence in Liverpool sometimes on a smaller scale and what seems like a general state of unreadiness There’s also a lot of clothes shops and since I can be quite comfortably described as Man at Asda when it comes to fashion I’m not the person to ask for a review of those. A Lakeland Plastics shop is opening soon though so at least I'll be able to get the latest pointless kitchen gadgets without having to travel all the way to Chester or wait for mail order catalogues.

Since John Lewis inhabited the old George Henry’s for so long, I’ve noticed that people are still calling the new edifice Lees even though it’s in an entirely new building. The Lees building was my first introduction to department stores and the best kind with all of its dead ends, massively inflated haberdashery department and old fashioned make up counters, oh and being in two different buildings and having to keep reminding yourself which building you were in.

In the new Lees (see, I’m doing it too) there’s none of that, the departments spread across the massive space, blocked out like a city, and even though there are maps available you don’t really need them, since every product area is visible from every other product area, the televisions from kitchenware, the stationary from china. Which was helpful today actually because on the couple of occasions I needed help and asked about spatula variety and Father’s Day card price coding (I'm a nightmare shopper) both of the assistants said that they weren’t in their proper department.

All veryuseful, but I can’t help but feel something’s been lost, an empty sense of history probably. No such problem with Debenhams of course and that’s very impressive with its black painted walls and central escalator/lift configuration. I was quite excited about Debenhams moving to Liverpool because I thought the last Debenhams I’d visited had also included a Muji within its walls. Then as I stood in the clothes department trying to decide if there really was someone called Ben Sherman (there was) I remembered that the Japanese gift shop is usually found in Selfridges.

But you know the best part of the visit? The hand driers. Both the visitor centre toilets and John Lewis have fitted Dyson Airblades; you put your sopping wet hands into a kind of metal socket and as you draw your fingers out, jets of warm air hit them from either side, shifting your skin on your bones (think Roger Moore's face at G-force during Moonraker). Dyson have a demonstration animation on their website and it looks like something from Bladerunner, which is apt. Am I wrong to think less of Debenhams because they haven't invested in any of these and have the boring old ones were you have to press a button? Less germs too.

Early days then and until the grand opening in September when the workmen have left the site and everyone (meaning the chains old and new and Oscar Schindler's cinema chain) have moved in, we’ll not really know the impact it’ll have on the city. Personally I’m a bit miffed that WH Smith is moving to the top end of Lord Street, will be half the size, have half the magazine selection and have the main Post Office within its walls. At least HMV’s opening a whole new extra shop and staying where they are on Bold Street, or my whole Thursday routine would really be broken. I’ll keep you posted on future developments. Literally.
Communications Andrew Collins gives 118 118 a question they have difficulty answering: "In what way is paying 118 118 to answer a question better than looking it up on the Internet for free?"
Music The BBC officially refuses to apologise for broadcasting Eurovision. Good for them: "The result of the Eurovision Song Contest is clearly frustrating for a number of viewers and while naturally disappointed at the outcome of the competition for Andy Abraham, who we feel had a great song and gave a brilliant performance, the Contest continues to be extremely popular with BBC viewers."
Film I've just noticed that one of the best food films, Stanley Tucci's Big Night has finally been released on dvd. I defy anyone to watch this story of two brothers who own a restaurant and reach the timpano reveal and not want to go and find as much Italian food as possible -- and it eat it obviously. A restaurant in Austin, Texas once served a meal which emulated the one in the film. Yum.

Silence in the Library.

TV Blimey. Last week’s strategic announcement that the writer of this episode Stephen Moffat would be taking over the stewardship of the franchise was perfectly timed to keep the series in the public mindscape during the Eurovision stink and add to our expectations for his next story. All eyes would be on this opening episode, perhaps with some viewers not wanting to watch the dancers, acrobats and jugglers on the other side tuning in to see how good a writer this new producer is. It’s a disappointment to report then that at just the moment when the franchise had to produce one of its best stories ever we were presented with Moffat’s worst script, a cloggy, poorly written disappointing dirge that all seemed to take place in the same room, lacked mystery or excitement and frankly if any of his writing for the fifth series is this bad then there’s unlikely to be a sixth.

David Tennant in particular was at his most expressively annoying, Catherine Tate undid all of the depth she’s brought to her character in the past seven weeks, Alex Kingston brought in a career worst performance, Steve Pemberton reran all of his old League of Gentleman ticks, Euros Lynn showed that he'd lost his touch and couldn’t direct traffic let alone television these days, the crashy version of Murray Gold returned and just layered sound all over the visuals in a desperate attempt to have them make sense and The Mill brought some unintelligable excesses proving the point made before the revival was a glimmer which said it’s logic would be ruined by special effects.

It's a Doctor Who episode set in a library. Yawn.

Yes, this episode was rubbish and I’m not sure what else I can say. Except that it clearly wasn’t. Everything written in the first two paragraphs is a lie and I just wanted to see what I felt like to write a thrashing review of a Steven Moffat episode because the man’s a genius who can’t do wrong (expect fake pull quotes). From the opening teaser in which we were introduced to a mysterious girl in a bedroom rather than the formulaic Tardis dematerialisation onwards it simply feels like a different series, like Douglas Adams pitching up and writing an episode for Season 24 with Bob Holmes as his script editor, a wholly new, expressive way of presenting the status quo. At heart, the Silence in the Library was a fairly classic base under siege story but trust Moffat to set it within a library the size of a planet, literally with a kind of hush all over the world (with thanks to Karen and Richard).

In a perfect bit of timing, the script was also doing many of the things which are anathema in Davies written and rewritten version of the franchise, perhaps reflecting the future. The one character who’d clearly survive a Russell T Davies script, the cute, cuddly, likeably dim one with the low self esteem is killed first and then (like Astrid) when she lingers on its to a certain death not to live on as stardust (sigh). Presumably because in this episode, the stardust will kill you. The aliens of the piece are mute, and live in many shadows which means that no one is safe (although expect them to be living in the cracks in the pavement in the next series), especially those of us on Earth since they’re living here too. I've already seen criticism of the Doctor immediately knowing and telling us who the enemy is, but Daleks In Manhattan demonstrates what an first episode looks like with the timelord spending most of the duration discovering who the enemy is and its not fun. Moffat wants us to be scared of the shadows as soon as possible and he wouldn't get that if the Doctor was spending most of his time testing everything.

It just wasn't funny. Where was the Moffat of the screwdriver envy, the horse, Nightingale and Sparrow?

On top of that to runs a parallel, dayglo story about a little girl, which though echoing The Matrix, the Buffy episode Normal Again, the odd episode of Star Trek, and probably a bunch of stuff I'm too tired to remember it feels fresh because it just doesn’t fit with anything else and is so unexpected. The Girl (who like Marwood in Withnail and I lacks for a name unless like Marwood in Withnail and I it’s in the script and/or will be revealed next week) and the Morbeus-a-like Dr Moon and the reality they are living is just one of the mysteries set to explode next week (or whatever).

Doctor Who Confidential rather stole my thunder on this, but Moffat understands more than most that in information rich, media intensive, Prozac scoffing times, a ‘How do they get out of that?’ type cliffhanger simply isn’t enough to hook the audience in to watch the following week because we know he will. There have to be greater mysteries at hand and here the writer includes a raft full. How did those travellers land in the library and what does the symbolically surnamed Strackman Lux want with the place? And just who is Professor River Song, a question which is bound to fill up the discussion on a fair few blogs and discussion boards in the next week until some ming-mong who knows more than we do gives it away and spoils it.

We’ll probably find out next week just how good Alex Kingston’s performance is but so far I’d say it’s one of the best of the series simply because in this dvd/iplayer/illegal download world when such stories will be watched in one block in this first half she simply couldn’t give too much away, but just enough that in the next episode everything matches up. Hopefully. To offer some random speculation, she’s either (just) a companion from the Doctor’s future, Bernice Summerfield made flesh and giving a false name for some reason, adult Jenny or my favourite, since some timelords apparently survived the suck, would be Romana or the Rani or another timelady with a name beginning with R. As I said in the previous paragraph, we didn’t see how she arrived at the planet (there was talk of a ship but that could mean anything) so she could have her own Tardis too. Much of her text was redolent of Lalla’s Romana but if Moffat’s being devilish it could simply be that Rani’s either turned over a new leaf or pretending to. The diary (or merchandising opportunity) could just as well be his as hers for all he and we know.

Catherine Tate's back to not being bovvered. Fail.

Until one or two of them became stiffs, none of rest of the cast were, well, stiffs either. To an extent, Moffat underwrites these characters and only provides enough information about them for us to have an idea of what they’re like. He understands that with a limited screen time there’s probably little point in building up the part of someone whose going to die horribly and quickly. When I was in call centres there were always multiple Daves and they would be called things like old Dave, new Dave, blonde Dave or probably Dave Dave (because he was the Daviest) – that’s a very real bit of scripting and the explanation was played with sitcom brilliance by O.T. Fagbenle channelling someone from The Office or The IT Crowd, but none of them stunk the place up and like the Briggsian ensemble which turned up on The Impossible Planet and 42 seemed like a group which had been travelling together for some time rather than having just met at the read-through.

I appreciate that with the exception of the shocking opening couple of paragraphs this has been a rather bland set of plaudits masquerading as a review but I do tend to get very wigged out when Moffat’s episode’s scroll around. I didn’t even bother to write about The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace merited but two paragraphs, and my reaction to Blink was deliberately more of a personal journey than anything else. So if I note that David was flawless, Cathy was clever, Euros took full advantage of the massive interiors at his disposal and The Mill produced some of the best landscape special effects yet seen in the series it’s simply because I wish the show was this straight down the line entertaining and clever and everything I’d want to be, all of the time. When the only thing you can find to criticise is that the location used is going to be demolished or turned into flats and we need to start a campaign to save it and have it turned back into a library if only so that there’s somewhere for tourists to go, it means my critical faculties have failed. Now back to thrashing mode for people who only read the first two paragraphs, the pull quotes and the final paragraph. That'll learn them.

This was so bad it made The Long Game look like the work of Dennis Potter.

What now then for the future of Doctor Who. For all we know, next week’s episode might be a work of genius and Moffat might have saved all of his imagination for his second script. But I’ve the desperate feeling that the cliffhanger’s going to be resolved in seconds and once again we’ll have to sit through another forty-five minutes of boredom, distracted only now and then by the colour of the décor in the alternate reality which looks like it was saved from the skip of an old Big Brother house. Moffat needs to get away from employing so many clichés and return to the good honest scares of gas masks and statues and the depthful characterisation of a Sally Sparrow. Otherwise 2009 is going to be a very long wait to see how quickly the show is decommissioned and he'll be asked to return his Hugos and Baftas.

Next Week: More of the same presumably.
Elsewhere Ssshhh .... And yes, I know it was a cheap trick.