23 May 2006

Not Feeling The Force...

So I watched a new comedy on BBC2 tonight. Actually, it might have been on for a few weeks, as I haven’t really been paying attention to Monday telly recently. But yeah, Feel The Force is currently on, and isn’t that great.

A comedy about a pair of inept police officers (but get this – the twist is they’re women! Genius), this is very much Chucklevision for grown-ups (I use the term loosely). Tonight, our incompetents (apparently named Bobbins and Frank) failed a million times to apprehend the Most Wanted Man in Glasgow and sighed and said ‘bloody’ a lot.

Their boss doesn’t like them, and they have straight-laced colleagues who are mildly miffed by them. They got charged with looking after the boss’ 7-year-old daughter, who wanted to go to the zoo. Well, she went to the zoo –and got arrested because Frank (I think) told her to shoplift. I know, professionals behaving irresponsibly for cheap comedic effect – a novel concept indeed.

I can’t say I ever saw The Thin Blue Line (I could, but I’d be lying, and let’s be honest –I wouldn’t admit it if I had), but it all seems a bit similar. Actually, I think the boss in The Thin Blue Line was played by Rowan Atkinson and therefore incompetent himself, so it won’t have been exactly the same.

What I’m trying to say is this wasn’t very good. Maybe I’m just too jaded by bad comedy, but I can’t really get behind a programme based around everything happening because of idiocy. Granted, idiocy was at the heart of Fawlty Towers, but it was a kind of really smart idiocy. Basil was a clever bloke deep down, and it was always some basic character flaw which saw to his regular undoing.

Similarly, Bilko was an intelligent character. There was always something small (or not so small) which did him in, whether it was his own bumbling underlings, fate, or his immense greed (or all of the above). In Seinfeld, the characters came off badly more often than not, but that was regularly due to their separate greedy, hate-filled plans criss-crossing and interfering with each other.

These great comedy characters weren’t just morons. What was so funny was seeing how their machinations would be undermined, how they would contribute to their own undoing and how they would react (be it Frasier Crane’s eyes popping out of his head, or a simple ‘another fine mess you’ve got me into’). It’s just not that funny if every event in the programme is triggered by your protagonists being stupid.

What you’re left with in cases like this is a deadheaded inevitability to everything. There is no suspense, and no anticipation of reaction; you know every act will end in failure and that it will result in a ‘bloody hell!’ and a telling-off.

Fortunately, not all is lost. In a wise move, Michelle Gomez was cast as Sally Bobbins and she is fantastic. She has been fantastic every time I’ve seen her, so it’s not much of a surprise. She was great in the sadly missed Book Group as the incredibly insecure footballer’s wife Janice McCann, and has found deserved fame more recently in a star turn as The Green Wing’s deranged liaison officer Sue White.

Gomez, complete with her bizarre facial expressions, great physical comedy and general loveliness, essentially carried this show on her own. Seriously. As she and the other character were pretty much constantly on screen, I cannot imagine how dull proceedings might have been with a lesser actor in charge. I swear, she is the best actor currently on a British programme.

Actually, not quite all would be lost without Gomez. There was one funny bit, where the four main police officers (plus seven-year-old) suddenly started fantasising outside a pole-dancing club about their ideal pole-dancer. Cue Bobbins dreaming of the middle-aged Police Chief, Frank of a male officer, the male officer in question fantasising about his (male) partner, and the male partner fantasising about his boss. Who, let’s face it, is attractive. The girl dreamt of a pony, as I suppose they do.

Not the greatest achievement in comedy ever (or even tonight, as the Have I Got News For You repeat was funnier), then. The bright side is that I am now more confident about getting the greenlight on my own ideas.

16 May 2006

Lily Allen and Corinne Bailey Rae: A Clever Strategy


So Leeds’ own Ms. Bailey Rae, complete with rictus perma-grin, is currently taking up a lot of radio airtime and, one presumes, making a lot of money. And good for her, some say. She’s a local girl done good, after having spent time in local indie bands, playing the Hi-Fi Club (yeah? Well I remember when it was Liquid…). And now she’s putting that honey-sweet voice to good use, soundtracking the non-summer of the nation.

So while she’s going about her (now big) business, and fronting that it’s all innocence and light, her CD case drifting, featherlike, onto the coffee tables of those who buy one album annually (‘oh, you have Corinne’s album? So do we!’), some people aren’t totally happy.

See, some people think that, as pleasant as her voice is, it’s not actually singing anything. And they’re right. She makes sound, but it’s all so bland and nicey-nice as to be akin to heading to the seaside and putting a shell to your ear. Except there’s a massive hole in the back of the shell, so all you can actually hear is the sound of your own hand.

The powers that be (be they labels, BBC programmers or whomever) are aware of this, and have a contingency plan. Knowing that as many people as there are who are impressed with the lovely singing of nothing, many others are resolutely unmoved, demanding something edgier, cooler; here is a singer they prepared earlier.

Debuting in the mainstream with a jaunty tune called ‘LDN’, Lily Allen is a cheeky chappess with a sort-of-Cockney accent and – the great pseudo-individualiser here – bags of ‘attitude’. The façade is hollow, but should be enough to tempt Radio 1 listeners who want their ‘edginess’.

Ostensibly a Reggae-fuelled (yeah, to about the extent you’ll find on UB40 and Robert Palmer doing ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’) observational piece à la Blur’s Mockney phase, it’s still woefully lacking in any real substance. Consciously more ‘edgy’ than CBR (she even mentions ‘crack whores!’), it has some brass sample, but really.

Accent and Tesco namedrops are all well and good, but in reality this is about as edgy and modern as Finley Quaye. Still, I’m sure she’ll be burning up the radio this summer and the people in charge (man, I sound paranoid) will be complacent in having both bases covered in terms of female Brit singers.

Still, rather this pair than the bloody Kooks.

06 May 2006

So Lost is back on British TV screens and throughsilver is very happy indeed. To be honest, I didn’t even know season two was airing so soon; I had assumed it would return when the current (disappointing) run of Desperate Housewives was over, but I received word last Tuesday that it was on that night.

Not that Channel 4 is ever one for overkill, but they would be showing the first three episodes of season two on one night. Good for me, but really. Tonight would determine if indeed it is possible to have too much of what is definitely A Good Thing.

When it came time for the show, I was so excited it was silly. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I watched the whole of the first season in three days and was hooked. I consider it easily the finest thing currently on television, and possibly my favourite slab of dramatic telly. That last bit should be taken with a swathe of salt, though, as there is so much I haven’t seen.

So, during that last break before ten o’clock, I was rushing around the house like a madman. Couldn’t watch it on my telly (with the great sound, thanks to my Cyrus amp), as I was taping it for Mum, and wanted to chop the breaks. But yeah, I was rushing from kitchen to sitting room, frantically making a pot of tea before the show started.

And what a start! I mean, it was crazy. Was that a Petula Clark song to kick off with? The preparation regime there was both really nice to watch and eerily reminiscent of the dude’s morning preparations in American Psycho. And I loved that. I must have zoned out for a second, because that camera journey through the dark and up to the confused faces of Locke et al was a brilliant surprise.

As nice as the details were, there was rather a lot of foreshadowing there, and I don’t know whether that was slightly dodgy writing or some kind of clever-clever ‘this is a programme’ self awareness that you see with things like Metal Gear Solid, the excellent video game.

Anyway, it just meant that when you get segments like Jack’s flashback to when he meets Desmond (brother), who says ‘see you in another life’, you know he’s going to turn up. That’s not clever or post-modern. It’s just a bit silly.

And when our raft boys (who bizarrely all survived getting shot at from short range and dumped into a shark-infested ocean) return to land and get imprisoned by ‘locals’, I had a feeling the dark-skinned, tribal-looking bloke would speak English. However, I was hoping he’d have one of those nasal Queen’s English accents, but alas that was not to be.

I am irked also that Michelle Rodriguez is in it. Not just at the fact that she is in it, because I think she’s great. Loved her in Girlfight, and I find her strangely alluring. No, I am irked because my boy Olympic Tom reckoned she would be one of the stars in the second season, and therefore that the people in the back of the plane would have survived.

I argued that she was just a famous cameo (rather like Michael Keaton would have been, if they followed the original plan of having a ‘famous’ Jack, who they would kill off in the pilot episode). Just because she was famous didn’t mean she had to recur; that’s pretty much the definition of her being a cameo. But I was wrong. Damnit.

The scene where Jack finally gave up resisting and joined in the code-typing fun was something I both liked and didn’t like. Didn’t like it in the sense that it was really against his character, but hey, I’m not against character development.

It was strangely cool because it reminded me of those old black and white Twilight Zone episodes. The Twilight Zone was divided into two main types of episode: you had the one where something weird happens to your protagonist, but is just an event (and Rod Serling’s voiceover remarks about how they ‘just paid a visit… to the Twilight Zone’).

The other type was the scarier strain, where the hapless character(s) were stuck there for good. There was one in particular, which starred William Shatner (didn’t they all?). His character and new wife wound up in some small town (car broke down, I think) and, in a diner to pass the time, decided to make use of one of those archaic ‘stick some money in, ask a question, pull the lever and get your answer’ deals. Like more of a scammy Magic Eightball.

So anyway, he liked the question-answer dynamic (easily pleased, is our Shat) and got hooked. He needed the machine to decide every choice he had! His wife was concerned. He had to stop! Eventually something happened (hey, I last saw that episode when I was a kid) and he did stop. Phew.

However, as the honeymooning couple sped off, out of Nowheresville, a particularly Stressed Eric and his middle-aged wife entered the diner. He made a beeline for the machine and frantically fired questions at it. He was stuck in the Twilight Zone, destined for a life dependent on the little curio on the table.

Err, where were we? Oh yeah, so when Jack finally lost his resistance and cynicism, prodding gingerly at the Execute button – how old is that bloody computer, to have such a key? – I was put in mind of the latter strain of Twilight Zone.

I know it’s related to the time when Desmond told him to believe in miracles, just before his eventual (late) wife miraculously regained mobility after a car crash, but really. One would have thought if he was to cave, he’d have done it a long time ago. Maybe he needed that nudge that seeing someone you bumped into in America years ago, now pointing a gun at your associate in a mysterious island will give you.

Good thing C4 decided to air eps 1 and 2 on the same night, though. Narratively, they both ended at the same point in time, electing to go all Run Lola Run on our arses. That's very smart and makes you think and stuff, but if the populace had to wait a week to get to where Des is aiming a gun at Locke's chrome dome, many would not have returned. So yeah, less of a favour to us Lost-ites than it was an act of self-preservation.

So it’s all a bit schmaltzy and weird, what with the Jack love story, Locke pining after his dad and Charlie just being an incidental wise-cracker in the first three episodes, but overall it’s still great.

It’s still great because Sawyer, Jin and Michael are in a potentially worse situation than being stranded at sea (and let’s be fair, they were never going to find civilisation and safety in a million years). Because there are other people, but blatantly not The Others who apparently stole Rousseau’s baby (not that I believe that anyway).

It’s still great because the voices are still knocking around and freaking people out, and because Shannon is hallucinating a soaking and scared Walt in the jungle. Is she some kind of psychic, or is Walt just such a Tetsuo-in-Akira top bloke that he can astrally project himself?

It’s still great because there is a highly-strung Scottish bloke running around the island, calling people Brother, and who only seems to be there to remind Jack of his past as lead in Chicago Hope. Because Jack himself seems to have fallen into the Twilight Zone – or he’s just messing with people. Because the ‘extras’ in group scenes suddenly don’t seem all that ‘extra’ anymore.

Most of all though, it’s still great because we are hours into the second season and, as the old song goes, there are more questions than answers.
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