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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Massive Moan

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a bit of a whine and a moan about something that most (all) of you came to terms with years ago, if it ever bothered you at all. It's also something which, given the advances in technology in recent years, is pretty much irrelevant now anyway. That said, I'm still writing it, because it wound me up recently and this is my blog, so nyah!

Oh, and I'll be making several references to The TVTimes (other listings mags are available). It's just cos that's what I buy. I am in no way endorsing it especially. (If any other listing mags would like to to pay me to endorse them, I'm for sale. Not TVEasy though; there's not enough money in the world.)

On Saturday 7th of January 2012, ITV began a repeat run of Murder, She Wrote, the classic US murder mystery show starring Angela Lansbury.

Whether it's intended to be a full repeat run, or just there to fill space in the schedules until they can find some new, 'totally unsuited to the timeslot but we didn't realise because we bought it based on the premise without ever actually watching it, but it'll be all right because we'll just skip the particularly difficult episodes and cut the others to ribbons cos no-one will notice, cos it's just wallpaper anyway, and oh look no-ones watching, we'd better shift it to a graveyard slot and never bother buying past S1' show to delight the weekend crowd, I don't know. It's possible of course, that ITV don't have the rights to screen a full run; I haven't looked into it. Regardless, they started from the pilot, so I thought I'd give it a go; I do like a chance to watch a long running show from the beginning, and seeing how it develops.

The pilot being a feature lengther, it was split in two, and we got the second part on the 14th. After which we were told, by the announcer, that the next episode would be on the following day. That's Sunday 15th. Sunday 15th rolls around and Murder, She Wrote is not on. The TVTimes (other listing mags are available, some of them are pretty good) (TVEasy isn't though) backs up the words of the announcer. Murder, She Wrote should be on. What do we get instead, without any explanation? I'll tell you; Doc 'Glorified Sunday Night Granny Telly' Martin. Now, I'm not surprised that Doc Martin was on; you can usually find it somewhere on the ITV network, whenever there's a Y in the day, but at this particular time, I had been promised a bit of JB Fletcher magic. I was livid! (I wasn't really. But I was genuinely annoyed.)

The following week, the TVTimes (other listing mags are available, email me for my competitive rates) (not TVEasy, those knobs; I mean, massive fucking spoilers on the FRONT COVER!) promised more Murder, She Wrote. I settled in, and waited to see what would actually appear on my screen. Lovejoy? Dixon of Dock Green? Bad Girls: The Next Generation? No, wonder of wonders, it was Murder, She Wrote. And here is my complaint... what do you mean you thought the last paragraph was my complaint? Don't be silly; my complaint is as follows...

We got episode 3. The episode that had been advertised but never materialised the week earlier (episode 2, in case you weren't paying attention, come on, keep up) was just forgotten about. Now, you might argue that missing out one episode from a series that's decades old and has little to nothing in the way of ongoing storylines, should not be considered a major deal; you know, by sane people; and it's possible that you're right. Maybe. I guess.

Except actually, no, it's not possible you're right at all.This particular instance is mild, I'll admit, but it's typical of the kind of indifference that big broadcasters have in this country when it comes to imported shows. There is simply no respect (I refer you back to the start of the post; those italics? yeah).

Whether it's shoving shows ever further back in the schedules until they disappear forever amongst the Roulette wheels and chatline ads, or stripping shows across 5 nights a week, making it virtually impossible for anyone with even a semblance of a life to keep up; and yes, we have recordable TV and series link buttons and all that jazz, and people like myself (read; sad cases) will always find a way, but it still means a commitment, which most won't be willing to make, of 5hrs a week devoted to one show; or just not bothering to show stuff at all past a certain point (ITV viewers have only been waiting 15 years for S2 of Millennium); the fact remains that the major terrestrial broadcasters in the UK show little to no respect to their acquisitions. Which means, by extension, they're showing little to no respect to those viewers who might want to watch said acquisitions.

ITV viewers only saw 1/3rd of this show.I've just been through next weeks TVTimes (other listings mags are available; seriously, I'm skint) (not skint enough for that, Mr 'Lets announce on the cover that a major character dies even though all the trailers and hype are built on speculation over his fate'). In it I see yet another example of what I've been moaning about here. BBC2 is going to screen US thriller serial Rubicon (previously seen on BBC4), starting from Tuesday night. Will they give this intelligent, critically acclaimed show with a strong over-arching narrative requiring close attention a prime time slot and decent promotion? Of course not. 11:20, with the 2nd episode straight afterwards at gone midnight. It's a travesty, is what it is.

Anyway, there's my moan. Doesn't really apply to Sci-Fi, specifically, although I did manage to cram a Millennium reference in there, for appearances sake. And now that I think of it, ITV''s treatment of Beauty and the Beast back in the day is probably as perfect an example of what I was talking about at the start as you're likely to find. And CH4's scheduling of Stargate isn't far behind. Yeah, all broadcasters are shit!

With the possible exception of CH5, who are like clockwork with their scheduling of imports. It's just a shame they're so limited in what they buy; there's more to US TV than glossy cop shows, lads. Although, back when they did have more range in their shows, they bought Cleopatra 2525 and never screened S2, so far as I can tell, so that's them in the bad books as well. Sods, the lot of 'em.

EDIT: I've had a comment on twitter by someone who read this post, to say that their complaint about TV broadcasters is down to stations not delivering on promised subtitles. Now, as someone who doesn't require that service I can't say that I've ever noticed a problem but if it's true (and I have no reason to doubt this persons word), then it puts my own petty rantings in the shade.

In this day and age, can they expect to get away with stuff like that? Does the same thing happen with sign language? I don't know, but it just seems really off to me.

In fairness, this person did single out the BBC as being very good with this stuff, so well done them, but the rest need to buck their ideas up.

Next week, I shall have a nice praise filled post on here (and I know I said that last week as well but like I say, Murder She Wrote got me riled up), about an actual show I've watched and enjoyed. I just haven't decided which one yet. Wait and see.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Witches Of Oz

I didn't post over Christmas and New Year, which is probably just as well because had I done so I almost certainly would have been talking about Doctor Who, which would have led me to a mention of Sherlock (which doesn't really qualify for the Quest otherwise) and that would have resulted in me getting dragged into the whole 'is Steven Moffat filled with a burning hatred of all things woman?' debate. Which wouldn't have been good for any of us.

Of course, once the New Year was over with, I still didn't post. Why? Because I'm lazy, basically; lazy, unmotivated and hard to get moving again once I've stopped. I did try, honest guv; this post was originally going to go up last week, but I didn't finish it in time. Not to fear though, it's here now. And what a post it is! (Actually, scrap that, it'll only give you false expectations. It's pretty much the same as all the other posts.)

So, what shall I talk about for my first (belated) post back after the break? Surely, even if I weren't posting, I must have watched shedloads of stuff while I was gone? Well, there are a couple of things that I watched on DVD, but I'm kind of determined to find something in the terrestrial schedules. Luckily, Channel 5 came through big style over the break, with its screening of Baum based mini-series The Witches Of Oz.

I say Baum based, but it's pretty loose, to be fair. What little we see of Oz is, and I really don't want to be mean here, utterly atrocious. The special effects are fake and cheap looking, the performances are hammy and Christopher Lloyd (Christopher Lloyd, for heavens sake!) is obviously extracting the urine with his performance as the Wizard; I mean, he's always been known for his, shall we say, eccentric, performances but this is just... I haven't the words.

Luckily then, if we can call it luck, the Oz based action is relegated to a few flashbacks (and a deeply unnecessary coda that seems, chillingly, to hint at a sequel) and what we end up with is one of those stories where the writer wants to do a big epic fantasy, but is hamstrung by a failure either of budget or imagination (or possibly both) and so all the major events take place in the 'real' world. Because why would the kids want magic and wonder when they can have skyscrapers and cocktail bars?

We spend much of the first episode following our heroine, Dorothy Gale.

As an adult, Dorothy has achieved a level of success writing children's books based on her childhood 'dreams', which explore the weird fantasy land of Oz. She is lured to the big city by a literary agent, under the pretense of selling the movie rights to her stories, when in fact the real goal is to discover how the final book ends; this ending, you see, will reveal the whereabouts of a magical mcguffin that the baddies need, in order to go about their conquery business.

Yes, it's a thrill-a-minute as she attempts to fit in with the glamorous city types (which mainly seems to involve wearing too much make-up and making incredibly risky passes at total strangers in nightclubs); and you'll be on the edge of your seat as she meets up with her old friends, all 'cunningly disguised' as real people. One of them even has the line "Oh, and your little dog, too" which, I'm sorry, but come on!

Although, and I must give credit where it's due, the show does actually pull off something of a blinder in this regard, with one of the characters being so obviously set up in this fashion, to the extent that when the big reveal happens and he heads into the final battle on the strength of it, the audience is all, "well, duh!" And then it turns out he's just an innocent bystander and the real (???) is someone else entirely. It's a clever deception, paid off well, and results in one of the few genuinely amusing moments in the show.

Which is handy, because the designated comic relief characters, who so far as I can tell are barely relevant to the plot, if at all (and if this thing can be said to have a plot), are just utterly, utterly, atrocious.

Frick and Frack (Sean Astin and Ethan Embry) are, actually I can't remember what race they're meant to be, but they're little gnome type creatures, and they spend the duration causing mischief in Dorothy's flat. Yes, yes, they are there to dope her up with some kind of dream inducing drug, but that aspect is dispensed with early and from that point on they just bumble around her flat looking for all the world like a couple of slumming actors prancing about in front of a green screen so they can be superimposed over a kitchen counter in the fakest looking example of the technique since the technique was invented. And it's an old technique.

Of course, there are shining beacons of hope in the whole thing. Jeffrey Combs is always good value and so he proves here, playing Dorothy's Father. It's not a huge role, but it's a fairly pivotal one, and his scenes allow brief periods of respite from the unrelenting Am-Dram awfulness of the main plot. Lance Henriksen meanwhile, seems to be under the impression that he's in a completely different production, and it's to this productions benefit, giving us at least one genuinely warm and likable character.

It's in Henriksen's Uncle Henry that we see our only real glimpse of the heart that should be coursing through any Oz show worthy of the name.

All in all then, something of a failure all round, with cardboard characters played by wooden actors, bringing to life a story so riddled with plot holes as to be borderline unwatchable. But wait, what's this? A genuinely clever twist on an iconic Oz moment? One that the viewer (or perhaps just this viewer) didn't see coming and is, though loathe to admit it, properly impressed by? Yes, it is!

It goes a little something like this; The villain of the piece is defeated, her plans in ruin around her. The heroine refuses to finish her off, choosing instead to appeal to her better nature and bring her to the side of the angels. The villain is receptive (and to be fair, she is fairly sympathetic at points, so this isn't totally out of the blue). In an emotional bonding moment, heroine and villain share a tear. So far so saccharine. It's here that the clever twist comes in. Tears are water, yes? And we all remember what happens when the Witch gets wet, yes? That's right, by bringing her in touch with her softer side, and making her cry, Dorothy has killed the Witch! Ha! You didn't think it through, love!

Don't get excited though; they only go and ruin it. I don't know if it was scripted, or if someone got cold feet and added it in ADR, but there's a line added at the end of the scene that just robs it of any bite it may have had. Cop-Out central, so it is, and we're back to slating them again. Still, it was nice while it lasted.

And that's The Witches Of Oz. I hope that if you had any intention of ever watching it, I've gone some way toward changing your mind. And if you've already watched it, you have my sympathies, you poor poor person. Join me again next week (possibly maybe) when I shall discuss some other show which I haven't decided on yet. I think I'll pick something I can be nice about though. Bit of positivity; does wonders for the soul. See you then.