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Monday, 29 November 2010

Top Blokes

I thought I'd do some lists. Top 5 type things, you know, because everyone likes lists right? So I put on the old thinking cap, and came up with some of my favourite shows, favourite actors/actresses, favourite characters, favourite episodes, etc. etc.

It made me stop and think. If anyone asks me what my favourite genre is, I tell them that it's science-fiction/fantasy. Always has been, always will be. Hence the Quest and this here blog. Yet the majority of my individual faves that I came up with are from other genres. How does that work? So while cumulatively, sci-fi remains my first love, and the primary focus of the Quest and these ramblings, I will be posting a few bits and pieces about other genres when doing my lists. Which I'm thinking will be roughly once a month. Or whenever I'm at a loss for a show to waffle about come Tuesday night.

First things first. Favourite (recent/active) Actor. Which means I'll probably struggle to crowbar in any pictures of luvverly ladies this week. Or will I?

5. JD Williams.

Whether it be naive and perennially in over his head Kenny 'Bricks' (bless) Wangler, the tragic Bodie or the (I'm guessing, cos, I aint seen the whole thing yet) doomed Mr Cat, Williams has the enviable ability of being able to make flawed, even downright unpleasant, characters likable. So likable in fact that when Kenny and then Bodie suffered the inevitable fate of the drug dealing murderer, you felt genuine grief at their passing. Good writing played it's part, no doubt, but it would have been much more difficult with a lesser talent in the roles, to get the viewers so passionately on-side with these flawed individuals.

4. Bruce Campbell

Now, he of the chin may be known, primarily, for his B movie roles but he's far from quiet on the small screen either. Pick pretty much any genre series and he'll have made a guest appearance at some time or another and I can think of but one (Charmed) that managed to drag him down rather than him elevating the material. Plus of course, his recurring and starring roles in any number of classic (if not always successful) shows. He basically plays the same role over and over again; the cocky but charming hero, never short of a quip or a sarcastic put down, but also actually capable of backing up his words with deeds.

Witness Autolycus, king of thieves, from the Hercules/Xena franchise,

or Brisco County Jr. from the rather wonderful show of the same name.

Most recently of course, he has managed to steal the show from the supposed lead in his current gig; Burn Notice. Bruce Campbell playing Bruce Campbell, long may it continue.

3. Mark Valley.

Currently to be seen as the lead in Human Target, but a veteran of many a cracking show like Fringe and Boston Legal, Valley actually came to my attention first in a little show called Keen Eddie. Destined for early cancellation Eddie was, for a brief shining moment, my favourite show in the whole wide world. It was funny, it was charming, it had a (then relatively unknown) Sienna Miller being very foxy and it had one of my favourite 'buddy' partnerships since Starsky & Hutch. The idea was that a New York cop (Valley) was 'loaned' to Scotland Yard and partnered up with a British copper (Julian Rhind-Tutt) to investigate crimes in London. It remains, to this day, the closest an American show has ever come to an accurate depiction of England. Not perfect, mind you, but very close.

Valley was a revelation, because to look at him, he's a bland meathead (sorry), but he has a charisma about him that major movie stars would kill for. Quite why he isn't a household name by now is a mystery to me.

Not an actor...

...but in a show with vampires, just like this guy.

2. Chris Bauer.

A God among actors. Simple as that. Put upon husband in Third Watch, tragic victim of circumstance and poor judgement in The Wire and bumbling but lovable cop in True Blood, Bauer invariably steals every scene he's in. In fact, it was only the quality of his performance in Third Watch that allowed me to forgive the way that family pretty much hijacked the show for a long time.

I'm a season behind on True Blood, having only just seen the finale of S2 (which saw Bauer play a much more prominent role than he did in S1) and I'm always keen to avoid spoilers but I've been getting the impression that Andy could be getting an even higher profile role to play in S3. This can only be good for the show, in my opinion. In particular, the Andy/Jason partnership is pure gold and needs to be explored.

1. Bradley Whitford.

The West Wing and Studio 60. Two of the greatest TV shows ever made and this guy was a huge piece of the puzzle in both of them.

It's hard to say just what makes him so great. He's not especially good looking, insofar as I can tell and he doesn't do anything anyone else doesn't do. It's just that, well, he does it with such seeming effortlessness. It's like he oozes sincerity and class from every pore and you just can't help but like the guy.

Oh, I don't know, I just watch the shows, no-ones paying me to analyse them. It's not like I went to film school or anything. All I know is, when he is on screen, you aren't watching anyone else, and with ensemble casts of the the quality West Wing and Studio 60 had, to command the screen like that you'd have to be pretty bloody special. I could watch him all day. And I often have.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Slayer talk

Disclaimer : The picture of Alyson Hannigan that will appear randomly at some point in this post is in no way relevant to the point Im trying to make. I just like Alyson Hannigan and figured, I'm talking about Buffy so what the hell.

So there are plans afoot. Plans to make a new Buffy Movie. Yay, you might say. Well, that wasn't exactly the reaction when the news hit on Monday night. What's this? A Reboot? No involvement likely by any of the TV cast? No JOSS? Madness, Blasphemy, The End Is Nigh. And so on and so forth.


Here's my thing. I don't, as a general knee-jerk rule, approve of remakes. Remakes, reboots (except the show of course), and the dreaded re-imaginings are, to my mind, a product of lazy storytelling. I feel roughly the same way about prequels and the dreaded 'missing story' approach, where writers try desperately to cram new adventures into every 5minute gap they can find in the original chronology, just so that they can use a character during his or her most popular period.

All of that said though, it can sometimes work. Case in point; I read a lot of comics. I tend to avoid Superhero titles, but by frequenting comic book internet forums I have met any number of people - people whose opinions I trust - who tell me that modern Batman comics are some of the best superhero comics they've ever read. How many times has that character been rebooted?

Not Batman

Or just look at his screen history. A TV show that spawned a movie. Then rebooted into a movie franchise that gave us 4 (variable) outings. The modern movies, again rebooted, are gearing up for their 3rd outing and are being touted as classics; not just classic comic book movies, but classic movies, full stop. The animated version of Batman has also been rebooted twice since I first showed an interest in it, with the Batman:Animated Series/Justice League/Batman Beyond franchise giving way to year one revamp The Batman (Note the use of the definite there. Trifle optimistic in my view) and now of course we have Batman:The Brave And The Bold.

The geek in me would of course be remiss if I didn't point to Battlestar Galactica. Oh the consternation when Richard Hatch s long mooted and fan craved faithful sequel was shelved forever by a total remake from some bloke who used to do Star Trek. It's not like that turned out well, or anything, is it?

Further afield, Nikita. A movie which spawned a reasonably succesful TV show (5 seasons is nothing to sneeze at) is now back on our screens as, yes, a new TV show with no connection to the proto-24 Peta Wilson starrer. Doing quite well for itself too, from what I hear.

The fact is, my own (perhaps irrational) prejudices aside, I have long since come to appreciate that - in the sci-fi/fantasy genre especially - remakes are gonna happen and that is not neccesarily a bad thing. I mean, how many people were crying out for a crazed man-child to 'reimmagine' Planet of the Apes and look how well that... ah, well, you get my point.

Ah, but you see, and here be the rub of the nub, we aren't just talking about a reboot here. No, we're talking about a reboot of Joss Whedon, The Mighty Joss, The Whedonator, er, Joss The Boss, ..., hang on a minute, ..., no that's it, I'm out.

We all know Joss Whedon is a genius. He is one of the best television writers alive today and he's no slouch with a camera either but the fact is, he doesn't own Buffy. The producers own Buffy. And the producers want to make a movie. So I say let them make the movie, and wish them well in the endeavour. Best case scenario, we get a decent Buffy movie. Worst case scenario, we don't. In which case we can all go back and watch the 12 seasons of fried gold Buffy-verse magic that we already have. And do you know what? It'll still be great. It won't have suddenly turned to shit, any more than Star Trek turned to shit when they made Voyager or Law and Order when they made Law and Order : UK.

Here's something else to think about. An awful lot of people are using the old 'raping my childhood' argument. Now, if you feel this strongly you could always, you know, not watch it, but try this on for size; maybe, just maybe, this new version will affect a new generation in the same way. Who are you, or we, to begrudge them that.

After all, as great as Joss Whedon is, he wasn't the only person writing that show. Not by a long chalk. Others 'got' it. Maybe this new woman (Whit Anderson) will as well. I mean, I'm not sure of her qualifications, since most of the discussion seems to be based around her looks, or rather a certain sites reporting of her looks, but being an attractive woman (and she is an attractive woman)
doesn't preclude you from being abe to write a decent Buffy script. Just ask Marti Noxon.

And so, to sum up all of the above waffle in one sentence - Instead of assuming it'll be shit, try hoping it'll be good, because we've nothing to lose and everything (well, a good movie) to gain.

Until next week : grrr, aaargh

and Phwoarr

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Sarah Jane Adventures Mk1

The Sarah Jane Adventures (SJA). Sounds a bit naff doesn't it. Well, it isn't. Far from it in fact.

SJA is, for those who don't know, the second spin-off to come from Doctor Who (the first being Torchwood) following it's very successful relaunch 6 years ago. It stars the perpetually lovely Elisabeth Sladen as the intrepid investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, who traveled with the 3rd and 4th incarnations of the Doctor back in the day and now carries on the good fight, assisting nice aliens and foiling nasty ones whenever they arrive on Earth. Or at least, whenever they arrive on Earth near where she lives, which to be fair, seems to happen pretty regularly. She is aided in this by a group of youngsters, including her adopted son Luke (who has been effectively written out recently), Lukes best mate Clyde and neighbour girl Rani, who is fine as far as she goes but not a patch (the character or the actress) on Maria, whom Rani replaced when the actress left a short way into S2.

Say what you will about Russell T. Davies, the Head Writer/Executive Producer/Showrunner/Whatever you want to call it, of Doctor Who when it relaunched (and I have, oh I have, at length and with naughty words), but it's only fair to point out that whatever his failings as a writer (or more accurately, a writer of science-fiction), he did what few others would have even bothered to try to do, and he did it with style. He brought Doctor Who back, and he made it a force to be reckoned with, not just on British Television but around the world. Crap writer* he may be, but as a producer and a showman, he got the job done.

SJA (and Torchwood) may actually be a bigger deal than Who, when you stop to think about it. Who ran for 26 seasons first time around. 26 seasons, with numerous producers and writers at the helm at different points in it's run, and numerous very popular characters coming and going. Yet at no point did any of those producers manage to launch any of those characters into a successful spin-off.

The closest anyone got was John Nathan-Turner, who had a pretty mammoth stint as producer on the show towards the end of it's life. He managed to produce a pilot episode for a proposed spin-off series. Guess who the lead character was. Yes, I know you all know, I'm not claiming for a second to be telling anyone anything they don't already know on here because frankly most people know more than I do about this stuff. I'm just doing a bit of preamble to make myself feel clever, OK?

Anyway, the Adric spin-off. In which the deceased maths troll returned as a ghostly spirit to work alongside the Brigadier in a Randall and Hopkirk-esque journey into the heart of darkness that is Skegness in the off season. No, hang on... It was Sarah Jane wasn't it?

Of course it was. Although you wouldn't know it from the title. The show was called K9 and Company, and would have focused on Sarah Jane (the Company, presumably), working with K9, the robot dog who had also traveled with the Doctor for a time.

I had never watched this pilot, despite owning it on DVD for a good long while. I had intended to slot it into a full chronological re-watch of Doctor Who, but circumstances beyond my control meant that I couldn't buy any more DVDs and many of those I already owned were lost so that idea went for a burton. It sat, languishing at the bottom of the pile, forgotten and neglected.

So I'm at a loose end at the weekend, having lost my internet connection for the umpteenth time and being deprived of my beloved twitter, and I'm ruminating on the fact that the current series of SJA is about to end, and one thing leads to another and in goes the disc. It doesn't get off to a particularly promising start, it has to be said, but the title sequence has been mocked before, by wittier men than I, so I shall move on.

What of the actual story? Set in a none more cliched rural community the story sees Sarah Jane and K9 up against a coven of witches, intent on a human sacrifice to get a decent crop. You know, like every other rural horror of the last 9trillion years. (Shamefully, the Whoniverse would return to the concept of rural folk all being dodgy psychos as recently as 4yrs ago, with the God-awful Torchwood episode Countrycide) There aren't really a lot of ways to big up a story where the villains of the piece are a fat old farmer and the lady from the post office. I will say that the revelation of the female villains identity did come as a bit of a surprise, so there's that, but it was a surprise based more on the facts that a) the character was barely present for most of the show, and b) another, much more prominent character could not have been more obviously played as a villain. Fair play to them for giving it a go but the swerve felt like a cheat rather than clever. (Had the eventual villain been around more and the red herring played more subtly, dividing suspicion and keeping you guessing, the finish would have had more impact. As it stands, I barely recognised the villain when she was unmasked.)

Even Elisabeth Sladen, and by God it pains me to say this, comes across as somewhat lacking. Without a decent foil, be it The Doctor or, as in SJA, strong support from her younger castmates, her natural charm has nothing to bounce off. Her relationship with K9 is the same one that everybody else has (he's a snarky know-it-all and she rolls her eyes) while her cousin/nephew/I'm not really sure is exactly the kind of stuffy and obnoxious character that we narrowly avoided when Luke turned up in SJA. Both are abnormally smart for their age but whereas in the modern series it is played with a knowing, self deprecating air the guy in K9 and Co. is just stuffy and obnoxious. Not to mention redundant; since this was meant, on paper at least, to be K9's show, why did they need another brainbox?

And in perhaps the biggest disappointment, it's not even sci-fi. Well, it's got an ex-time traveler and a robotic dog so in that respect, of course it is sci-fi, but the actual mystery they are trying to solve...? There is no sign that these people are achieving anything with their rituals. They are simply misguided local yokels with one foot in the past. What is the point of doing a Doctor Who spin-off if you aren't going to embrace the genre?

I'll be honest, it's hard to be completely objective about the whole thing, given that we now know, thanks to SJA, what the possibilities really are but even allowing for artificially heightened expectations and giving a bit of the old benefit of the doubt to compensate, it's still difficult to muster up too much enthusiasm. Sadly, the budgetary and shooting limitations that were becoming all too apparent in the Doctor Who shows of the day were all present and correct here, with none of the 'push the boat out' attitude you might have expected from a high profile launch. On the contrary, the whole thing looks rushed and cheap. It's telling that Sladen, normally a very enthusiastic presence on Who DVDs, finds it difficult not to slag off this show on the audio commentary. It seems she spotted a lot of the flaws herself at the time but was unable to do much about it.

So all in all, a bit of a failure. Points have to be given though, for getting the thing made at all. Well done, John Nathan-Turner. A forger of new paths.

* Crap writer may seem very dismissive and not particularly constructive. This post is not about him though, and the comment was designed purely to move past him to the meat of the piece. I would not dismiss any writers work out of hand and have very defined reasons for disliking his work. I shan't go into them here though because I'm trying to watch my blood pressure.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Pretty Little Liars

You know that thing? Sure you do, that thing? The one where you watch a show and some sweet little girl in pigtails comes skipping on and you go "aww, isn't she cute", and then a few years pass and she's still there only now she's 15 and you think " Hmm, she's quite pretty, I bet she'll turn a few heads when she grows up" and then a few more years go by and she turns 18 and suddenly you can't move for bikini shots in the tabloids and pin up calenders on canteen walls and she's getting her norks out in the lads mags and wearing a piece of string to red carpets and you're thinking "Phwoar yeah, I definitely would". And then you catch a repeat of that old show and you suddenly feel really old, and not a little bit dirty. Yeah, that thing. You know what I'm talking about. Well, if you're a man you do. Can't speak for the fairer sex.

All of which is why I don't have all that much of a problem with the American casting method of having 20 year old pre-pubescents and 40 year old teens. It eliminates a lot of the guilt. Alyssa Milano and Hayden Panettiere aside of course.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, it's my transparent excuse to post a shedload of rude pics of hot young women,, actually it's because I've just looked up the actresses in a show I'm watching, in which the core characters are High School girls. There isn't one of them that's under 20. One of them is older than I am and was playing teenagers 10 years ago. Sickeningly, she looks no different now than she did then.

Pretty Little Liars is a strange one. I'm not going to lie, I love me some teen based soap opera. So when I saw that Lucy Hale, the best thing about Privileged (and one of the few people to come out of Bionic Woman with anything resembling credibility, which gives her some Quest validity), was all set to star in a new mystery/thriller/soap about a bunch of teens with a secret I was a wee bit chuffed. Not least because all indications where that there was set to be a supernatural basis for at least some of what was going on in the show.

Three episodes in and I have to say that, while they are still trying to tease a ghostly presence, I'm not buying it. I've not read ahead on the internet, nor have I read any of the books on which the series is based so I can't say for sure but I reckon a good old fashioned psycho/blackmailer is at the heart of it all. When it comes to the supernatural aspect, I'm not sure their hearts are in it to be honest. Feels a bit perfunctory. However, while the possibility (however slim) remains, I am taking the opportunity to write a little bit about it for The Quest because the show does have a lot of the elements I look for in a genre show.

Premise is simple enough : Four teenage girls are reunited at the start of the school year, having spent the Summer apart. Their bond is rekindled as a dark secret from the previous year comes back to haunt them in the form of text messages and threatening notes. The notes are signed 'A', which just happens to be the initial of the missing girl. When the girls body is discovered, they realise she couldn't be behind the messages. Or could she? Dun Dun Durr...

It's all a bit "I Know What You Did...", to be fair. Obvious inspirations aside though, the strengths are many. For a show aimed primarily at the teen market it has managed to amass a pretty full blooded cast. The 'teens', whether the core four or the supporting characters, are pretty decent, and the adults are played by household faces, if not household names, like 'The actress on Charmed who wasn't Alyssa Milano or Rose McGowan'. "Who McMahon?" Or that "Hey, he looks a bit like Rob Lowe only not as good looking" guy.* And Laura Leighton, who should qualify as a household face but somehow doesn't, on account of how she seems to have turned into a completely different person. As someone who knows her primarily from Melrose Place it took me three episodes to figure out who she was meant to be playing. I kept seeing her name in the titles but I'm buggered if I could recognise her. She got, well, not old as such...

The show was described by some as being similar to Gossip Girl (a show I'm yet to see but I get the impression it revolves around text messages?) and a junior version of Desperate Housewives. Housewives is a show I have watched. I came to it on the basis of the Mary Alice ghost character, assuming the show to be supernatural in nature but once it became apparent that that whole thing was just a gimmicky excuse for a voice over I stayed, at least for a while, for the murder mystery and the shadiness of the Mike character. Once the mystery of the first season was tied up, and after the second season arc proved such a damp squib, I drifted away. Of course , that show is still chugging merrily away and could well have regained it's early form for all I know but I'm afraid I don't have the stamina to find out.

The biggest vibe I'm getting from the show is more of a Veronica Mars deal. It's not as good as that show, and the cast lacks any real stand out characters like Veronica herself,
or Logan (who remains one of my favourite television characters ever), but there is that feeling,which Neptune had, of the whole town being a hotbed of deceit and absolutely everyone having something to hide that makes me think that if they play their cards right, fading numerous mysteries in and out, paying off on their clues and keeping things fresh, Pretty Little Liars could well turn into something a little bit special.

Having said all of that, I am prepared for the fact that it could just as easily finish off the 'A' plot and quickly devolve into just another soap. Or that b) it could stick slavishly to the books. Since I haven't read them I don't know whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing. I'm debating whether I should pick up the first one to check it out. My problem is that without knowing beforehand how close they are I'm wary of spoilers. I'll probably leave it until the show has a few more episodes under it's belt.

*I do actually know who they are, by the way. I is only joshing like.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Connery, Greene and Costner? This guy pisses on 'em

Way back in the dark and desolate wastelands of this blogs archive there is an entry entitled 'How The Quest Got Started'. It documented my childhood love of old Irwin Allen shows and how I'd rush home from my paper round on Sundays to watch Channel 4 and its classic shows like the Allen canon and the Planet of the Apes series. The entry ended with me getting my first proper job and declaring that MVC didn't know what was about to hit them.

I really did spend a ridiculous amount of money in MVC. If Sci-Fi was my religion then that shop was my cathedral. Every payday I'd make the trek into Durham and splash a good 40-50% of my wages in one swoop on VHS tapes (yes, everything was still VHS then, I am old) of things like Blakes 7, The Prisoner and of course Buffy and Angel boxsets. Gerry Andersons UFO was another one, which had the added advantage of the ultimate nerd bait, a Vol 0. Of course, had we but known what was coming, a scant couple of years later, none of us would have been buying these tapes at all. For those too young to remember, the average price was £12.99 per tape and for that you'd get 2 episodes. 3 if you were very very lucky. That's gonna work out at well over £100 to collect an average US season of 22 eps. And you'd have to rent a warehouse to keep all the tapes. Hard to reconcile with todays DVD world.

Of course at the time I didn't begrudge it. I'd spent years reading about all of these legendary shows and never having the opportunity to judge them for myself.I was in heaven, and probably the biggest delight of those heady days was the first time I watched Robin of Sherwood. This show was spoken of in awed tones by all who'd seen it, not just in the sci-fi and fantasy press but also in my family. Normal people that usually had no time for anything other than Eastenders or Emmerdale Farm would, when it was mentioned, talk of it's brilliance. It was at the top of my list of must sees and MVC provided it to me.

I was wary when I played the first tape. I didn't know what to expect. Could it possibly live up to the hype? How would I feel if it disappointed? I had waited so long to see it, was I setting myself up for a crushing comedown? No way. Robin of Sherwood was, and remains to this day, an absolutely classic piece of television. I had purchased the first 2 seasons at the same time and I was transfixed from the first moment until the final, heart rending finish. I had managed to avoid being spoiled as to the ending of Season 2 and I won't give it away here, because I believe that anyone coming to it now unspoiled would be as genuinely shocked and moved as I was by it. If you've never seen the show, watch it, and if you don't already know how it plays out, lucky you.

Seriously, Robin Hood has never been done like this and no-one, from Richard Greene to Jonas bloody Armstrong, by way of Sean Connery and, dear lord, Kevin Costner*, has made Robin a more sympathetic, honourable and tragic figure than Michael Praed. He was backed up by a stellar support cast as well. As good as the chemistry was between Jonas Armstrong and Lucy Griffiths in the recent BBC series (and it was, even if everything else about the show was execrable) it couldn't hold a candle to the sheer poetry when Praed and Judi Trott are together on screen.

Ray Winstone gives one of the best performances of his career as the borderline psychotic Will Scarlet. Clive Mantle and Phil Rose could have stepped right out of your bedtime story books, so perfect are they as Little John and Friar Tuck respectively.

And Nickolas Grace as the Sheriff was a masterpiece. Ridiculously camp at times but never overstepping to the point that he was no longer credible as a villain, he was the Sheriff Keith Allen could only dream of being. This was a cast that knew what it had with these scripts and played them for everything they were worth. Here was a show that was infused with magic, literally in it's stories but also in it's storytelling, able to evoke in it's viewers emotions that no other family action/adventure show would aspire to, let alone be capable of achieving.

I knew going in that the show ran for 3 seasons but I could not for the life of me see where it was going to go after the events of the S2 finale. And in truth, it would never reach those heady heights again. But it was never a poor show, and the 3rd year, whilst perhaps suffering from being the same length as the 2 previous ones combined, meaning genius writer Richard Carpenter had to outsource a number of scripts to lesser talents** to make up the numbers, was still a brilliant slice of fantasy drama that, without wishing to be vulgar, pisses over any version since.

*Although at least his version gave us the single greatest pop ballad ever written. And no, that's not irony.

**One of whom was Anthony Horowitz. I am well aware that today it seems perverse to call Anthony Horowitz a 'lesser talent' but at the time he was a total newcomer and lesser talent is exactly what he was. I'd pay good money to see him write this show now though.