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Monday, 25 October 2010

Teenage witch MKII?

Last weeks blog was intended as a pretty basic round-up of what I had been watching but it was missing one vital ingredient. I don't know why I missed it off, it certainly wasn't intentional, but it's kind of fortunate that I did because pretty much straight after knocking that post together I watched an episode of the show in question that I think warrants a bit of waffle all of it's own. That show is Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

Sabrina was one of the least funny teen sitcoms ever made I reckon but nonetheless successful enough to run seven seasons with a couple of TV movies in the middle. Normally, with a comedy as unfunny as this one was I'd question why it managed to last as long as it did but in this case I reckon I know. There was a charm to this show that transcended it's shortcomings and that charm came from it's cast. No matter how lame the jokes, the cast never gave it any less than their all and this, combined with the obvious chemistry amongst the leads, (although some of the supporting cast were less at home), meant that you never begrudged the 30mins you spent with them.

I watched bits and pieces of this show in my younger years and will admit to liking it quite a bit back then. This may have had something to do with the fact that it inherited a lot of goodwill by having the very lovely Melissa Joan Hart playing Sabrina. For myself, and indeed most boys my age, Hart had been a major factor in our first noticing girls, in that way, thanks to her lead role in Clarissa Explains It All. That lingering crush meant that our tuning in to Sabrina was pretty much a foregone conclusion, with our critical faculties unlikely to be fully engaged when we did so.

Sadly, like most shows aimed at the young, especially imported ones, it's scheduling was erratic to say the very least and so I'm currently engaged in a thorough, chronological re-watch. A re-watch which has thrown up quite a few surprises, not least the way in which the cast seems to be in constant flux with all bar Sarina and her Aunts (so far) being lucky to last a couple of years.Anyway, Season 5, which I am currently nearing the end of, sees Sabrina leaving High School and going off to college, leaving half of the supporting cast behind and gaining a whole bunch of new ones.

I've read a few comments here and there on the old interweb, putting down the new characters and bemoaning the loss of the 'much better' originals (forgetting that the 'originals' of which they speak were in fact replacements for even earlier characters) but to my mind it's academic since the support cast was always pretty interchangeable. Besides, the majority of the criticism was in the murky world of the youtube comments section and as we all know, there hasn't been a deeper pit of deranged mentalism than that merry lot since Torquemada and his lads were plying their trade.

One thing I have noticed about S5 is the distinct lack of magic in many episodes. At times the writers get so caught up with the soap opera aspects of the show that they seem to forget that they're writing about characters with magical powers. Given that the only reason I'm watching the show at all (sorry Melissa) is due to the supernatural aspect, this can become a trifle annoying and I hope it's something that is addressed in the last two seasons.

That's S5 in general, but what of the episode I mentioned up top which deserved it's own write-up? Well, it was called Witchright Hall. The basic idea was that Sabrinas cousin Amanda (played by Harts younger sister Emily) was sent to live in the mortal realm and in an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for her the family send her off to a boarding school for wayward magical youths. So off she goes, with Sabrina as chaperone (because the Aunts had a romantic history with the Headmaster that would have soured him against the family), to try and get admitted.

While I was watching it I got the distinct whiff of the dreaded 'backdoor pilot' from the whole affair and a quick Google search told me I was right.

The impression I got, (which may be right or may be wrong because finding out that it was definitely intended as a pilot was pretty much the extent of the background research I did) was that the mooted show was intended as a route back to the younger days of Sabrina. Being in college and quickly closing in on the point where the 'Teenage' part of the shows title would become redundant meant that the character of Sabrina was beginning to deal with more adult concerns. Perhaps the producers were keen to go back to the more innocent hi-jinks if the shows early years. By launching a spin-off with a younger witch they could do just that, while still allowing Sabrina to mature as she aged.

Choosing Amanda as the lead in this proposed spin off was a sound one because, well... I'm not sure how to word this without sounding slightly dodgy, given her age at the time and my age now but... Sod it, she looked a lot like her sister, which meant that young boys then would likely have come to the show for the same reason I and others like me came to Sabrina years earlier.

And that would definitely have been a factor, have no illusions, since sitcoms about teenage girls, with strong romantic elements, are not the first choice of viewing material for most young boys boys. On top of her aesthetic appeal though, Emily Hart had something else (and I'm not talking about nepotism) in her favour. She had proven, in her earlier appearances as Amanda, to have something of a flair for the style of over the top, slightly arch comedy the show traded in. Indeed, I've found during this re-watch that the (roughly annual) Amanda episodes were usually a highlight of each season. Not only did the younger Hart shine in the role but she brought out a little something extra in her sister as well.

As far as the rest of the characters introduced in this pilot, there really isn't much to differentiate them from their counterparts in early Sabrina. Two authority figures with an affectionate yet often bickering relationship, a cute boy for Amanda to moon over/get together with/split from ad infinitum, a best friend figure and of course, a talking animal. Where Sabrina had a talking cat Amanda would be joined by a talking dog, gym teacher at Witchright Hall and affecting a military drill sergeant persona. Strangely enough ,the dog animatronic was little better than the woeful cat animatronic that Sabrina had been dealing with for years. I say strangely because I have it on good authority (alright, a Doctor Who commentary track) that dogs are a lot easier to fake than cats. (The problem with cats being that they were too small to house the necessary machinery)

All in all, while I don't think a Witchright Hall series would have done anything particularly groundbreaking or epic with the premise, I also don't think it would have been any less of a show than Sabrina was. I certainly would not have begrudged however much of my time I would have inevitably expended on it. As it turns out, the show didn't go ahead, despite what a certain friend of mine (who knows about the Quest and delights in messing with me) insisted but the younger Hart continued to make occasional appearances on Sabrina until it's finale, so it wasn't the end of the world for her, although I'm sure she'd have preferred a show of her own.

Although technically she kind of got one, because she voiced Sabrina in the popular animated version of the show.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


No review this week. Nor even a quick and dirty, dashed off in half a minute, piss take of something eminently deserving of a good dose of the old urine extraction. This is due to the fact that the only truly 'new' addition to my schedule has been the revival of V, and such is my love of old school Visitor action I just can't bring myself to write about it until I can say something positive. So not yet then.

Elsewhere, things carry on much as before. Vampires continue to dominate, with no less than four shows; Forever Knight (just okay but it's early days and I've heard good things) Vampire Diaries (far better than it's Twilight-lite, if that's not compltely redundant, premise/publicity would have anyone believe, this show is poorly served by it's promotion, although it seems to be doing pretty well in the numbers game regardless) True Blood (sublime show with an 'A' cast down to the smallest roles) and Blade (woefully miscast lead, meaning the writers are forced to write a show which barely features him in order to minimise the damage he can do). A mixed bag to be sure.

Non vampire action is thinner on the ground. Other than the aforementioned V there is the latest run of The Sarah Jane Adventures (SJA), proving once again to be one of the smartest 'kids' shows of it's era (although pity poor Yasmin Paige, who is to SJA what Christopher Ecclestone is to modern Dr Who, ie best thing about it but largely forgotten because a vastly inferior replacement happened to stick around longer). Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Smallville chugs along nicely enough, building to a finale that manages to both satisfy (decent final punch up and despatch of bland villain Zod) and disappoint (compare and contrast this with some of the season finales Smallville provided us with in it's earlier years) in equal measure. And where was Kyle Gallner during that video conference, that's what I'd like to know.

I've still yet to watch the end of Heroes, although even as I type this I know that an episode is the next thing up on my tape. It's indicative of just how far this show has fallen for me that after sitting through an episode of (the abominable) S8 of Falcon Crest I actually turned off the tape when Heroes popped up next. Once upon a time I would have latched onto it as a very welcome antidote. (To S8, not Falcon Crest in its entirety, which I've loved for the most part) Now, I see it as more punishment.

DVDs of The Net and Robocop enable me to occasionally drop an episode of those into my viewing, although the weakness of each means that I'm rationing them so as not to breed contempt. The really good news on the DVD front is that I was recently able to pick up some cheap X-Men (90's series) discs, so my viewing of that show, previously stalled mid-S3, will soon recommence with The Dark Phoenix Saga. Sure to be a cracker.

All in all, the Quest trundles along, managing to keep me only moderately entertained compared to how I used to feel. Could Sci-Fi be losing it's grip on me? I don't think so. I argued recently, and do genuinely believe, that televised science fiction is better now than it has been in a long long time. That I know this to be the case, and yet still fail to be enthused, is perhaps a sign of my mood more than anything and I reckon all it will take is 1 or 2 truly spectacular projects to kick start my enthusiasm, in the way that The X-Files, Babylon 5, Buffy, Farscape and Lost did. Flashforward had the potential to do it, had it not died so prematurely. Perhaps The Event, due to begin airing in the UK this coming Friday, will be the one that blows my mind. Hell, it's got Laura Innes in it so it's gotta be at least a bit good.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Robocop : The Series

Okay, so here's the thing. Last week I posted a load of waffle about how I tried to get hold of some Robocop DVDs and failed. Well, not long after that post went up - the next day actually - I embarked on a day out that very nearly was, for real, as much of a fart on as the one I exaggerated. A bit of bureaucratic nonsense I needed to get sorted for my 'real' life sent me on a trip that severely taxed my patience. Silver lining though, I came across a branch of good old Poundland on my travels and managed to pick up the first two discs in the Robocop collection.

I have now watched the first disc, comprising Pilot 'The Future Of Law Enforcement', and the first episode thereafter. I have also composed a long, reasoned, analytical post about its (many) shortcomings and (few) saving graces. Which disapeared when my laptop died. So now your getting the dashed off in 5 minutes version instead.


The new characters are pale imitations of their movie counterparts, with even Blu Mankuma failing to do much to lift the material.

The Old Man, now The Chairman, has been neutured, in order to allow him to be a regular. He's like a loveable old Uncle or something.

The ways around the lack of killing are comically bad. Shooting cabinet legs so it topples onto someone? Realy? Or dropping chandeliers on them? Weak.

The CGI is broken. I know it was early days for the form but if all you're using it for is a cheap gag and it doesn't work, lose the cheap gag. Better than embarressing yourself.

The actress playing Murphys wife is both blatantly too old and also as wooden as hell. Seeing as how the "I love you very very much" memory is, as in the movie, one of the lead characters primary motivators, and therefore shown quite a few times, you'd think they'd hire someone who could actually say the line without sounding bored.

There seem to be some very awkward tonal shifts in the show. When we are with the cops it's all very earnest and damatic. When we are with the villains they are virtually cartoon characters, so over the top and played for laughs are they.

The biggy - there is a cute kid. Yes, a regular character, in the titles and everything. She hangs around the station and helps Robocop. She's like his little mascot or something. She is even allowed to be hanging around in the Robo maintenance lab, messing about with equipment, when none of the scientists are anywhere to be found. I mean,a cutesy kid sidekick? For Robocop? Had they no shame?


The animated inserts in which a superhero flies around espousing the virtues of capitalism are a much subtler (and funnier) way of satirising the greed culture than all that "I'd buy that for a dollar" stuff in the movie.

I know I said the tonal shifts were a bad thing but if I'm honest, the pantomime villains did, at times,raise a glimmer of mirth. You have to take your entertainment where you can get it with this show.

Sight gags - Street signs, business names (I'll admit I grinned at Ecoli meat packers), and computer graphics (the mad genius Dr Cray Mallardo is revealed to have the middle initial Z when Robo reads his bio) are full of little bits and pieces for the careful observer.

Andrea Roth. And not just because she's a attractive woman who seems to wear formal outfits a lot, though I do like a woman in a posh frock. She can act, for one thing, which puts her above most of the rest of the cast (Mankuma excepted) and she somehow managed, against all the odds, to take the dire writing seriously and actually conjure up an affecting performance.

So there you go. A quick and dirty Robocop write up. I'm a bit peeved actually, because the one I lost was the first, I think, halfway piece of proper, no messing about writing I've done for this blog. I was genuinely quite proud of it. I'd done research about the movies and everything. Oh well, maybe next time.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Terrible Disappointments

People, people people. Prepare thineselves (is that a word?, yeah, I'm sure it is) for a disappointment. It is, as I look at my calender here before me, Wednesday, and yet I have no musings of a televisual nature to share with you. I know, I know, it's a crying shame, but what can I do?

The only shows I've been watching since last I spewed forth my witless drivel, er, I mean sage words of wisdom, are The Net, True Blood, Blade... You know, the ones I've talked about the last couple of weeks and have nothing new to say about. Actually, that's a lie because I've also watched an episode of Forever Knight and last night I cast my critical gaze over the S2 premiere of The Vampire Diaries. You see my dilemma there though, right?

So what do I talk about? Well, I'm gonna tell you a really funny story. Well, a mildly amusing story. A story, anyway. It goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time, in a land called County Durham, there lived a boy. The boys name is not important but we shall call him Paul. This boy was devilishly handsome, as all heroes are, and exuded an air of casual awesomeness in his every action. The boy had only one failing, yes only one, and it was that he was completely useless when it came to computers. Didn't understand them at all. Which is why his online usage was confined to a couple of blogs (which he barely knew how to operate and were appropriately spartan), a twitter account (he was terrified by the looming form of the monster known as newtwitter, but that is a different tale) and membership of a discussion forum based around a comic he read.

It was on this very forum that Paul heard the wondrous news. At first it seemed too good to be true. He could scarcely believe his eyes. But there it was, in black and white, staring at him from the screen. Someone had posted a message, spreading the word that the discount merchant known throughout the land as Poundland was selling DVDs of Robocop:The Series for a mere £1 each. Several separate volumes with multiple episodes on each. Well, this was sheer poetry to the ears of Paul, for he was on a Quest (had I mentioned that part of the tale, I may have forgotten, sorry) to view every episode of every sci-fi show ever made. These DVDs would be very helpful indeed in his noble endeavor.

A problem though! Whereabouts would he find a vendor affiliated with said Poundland? He was unaware of any in the near vicinity. The answer was obvious, he would call upon the knowledge of his Sister, for if there was one thing that could be relied upon in the topsy turvy world of County Durham, it was that Pauls sister would know the answer to any question that had 'shop' in it.

And so Paul rang his sister and enquired of her the location of the nearest Poundland outlet. But what was this? Scorn, mighty and full of much meaty profanity. Whatever had our hero done to deserve such treatment?

Well, as it turns out, there was indeed a Poundland store in the very town Paul did all of his shopping in. Not only that, but it was situated directly between two specific places that he regularly used and directly opposite another. It seems that not having noticed it, given this somewhat obvious location, made him something of a fool in the eyes of his sister. Suitably chastened and feeling rather humbled, Paul had a bath and went to bed, this being his habit of an evening.

Saturday morning arrived. Paul was unaware of this because Paul does not rise before noon on weekends.

Saturday afternoon arrived and Paul prepared himself for his mighty pilgrimage to the next town. His goal, procurement of the kiddified, cheapified and bastardized offspring of a classic movie. His obstacle, pissing down rain and gale force winds. Undaunted, he set out. Now,I could, at this point, regale you with the many and varied travails of our intrepid hero but I fear that any attempt to describe the horrors he endured would sorely tax my descriptive prowess, not to mention curse your sleep with nightmares for at least 42 weeks, at a conservative estimate. Suffice it to say, it was the longest 37minutes of Pauls life.

Upon arrival at his destination, bedraggled but unbowed, our hero didst meet with a further problem. The storefront upon which he was casting his manly gaze did not cry out in bold font

Instead, and much to Pauls dismay, it read,

while several doors further down stood a store bearing the name

Could it be? Could the all knowing sister, so full of contempt for Paul and his 'stupid questions', have gotten it wrong. In any other field of expertise Paul would have no trouble believing such a thing but when it came to shopping? Surely not. She must just have been a little confused. So Paul set off, intent on finding the store he was looking for. An hour later, even more bedraggled and pretty resolutely bowed he realised that the truth could no longer be denied. She was wrong, no Poundland store existed in this town.

Vindication was his but scant compensation could he find in it. He had journeyed far and wide and faced oh so many dangers, not least the way the rain was making his hair all sticky-uppy at the back, and had naught to show for his ordeal. There was truly nothing else for it; he fell to his knees (getting his jeans all wet in a puddle), raised his arms to the sky and called out the most bloodcurdling of screams to the uncaring Gods. Then he went for his lunch in the cafe and caught the next bus home.

So there you have it. Had things been different I might have had a bit of something to say about Robocop but sadly you have been denied that rather dubious pleasure. We'll just have to wait and see what makes itself available for next weeks post