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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Red Dwarf X

Red Dwarf, eh? Will it ever truly die? I hope not.

I didn't watch Red Dwarf at the height of it's popularity; I was too young and it was on past my bedtime. I came to it with it's later, less beloved series, before backtracking to watch the earlier shows on VHS.

One result of this backwards viewing is that I never really subscribed to the notion that the later seasons were somehow inferior; after all, they were good enough to hook me and make me go out and buy the earlier shows, so how bad could they really be? To my mind, none of the runs are flawless; point me at the show that is; but neither are any of them worthless.

The crew in the early days. Before Kryten.
These days I'm all caught up of course; because if you can't catch up on a show with as relatively short an episode count as this one has, and has years between seasons, then you aren't trying; so I can enjoy the current, 10th, season along with the rest of you.

There were some, and I won't name names but you know who you are, that scoffed at the very notion of Red Dwarf coming back; flogging a dead horse was a phrase I saw bandied about rather more than was seemly; and my question is, why? Why is it flogging a dead horse to make a new run of a show that has, in it's 25 year life, produced less episodes than the average US sitcom produces in 3? Was Cheers scraping the barrel after 3 seasons? 30 Rock? Friends? Don't answer that last one.

So I'm a long time fan who was all in favour of of the show's return from the off. Now that we've established where I'm coming from, what did I actually think of the new series so far?

The crew now. Hardly aged a day.

There's no Holly; of either version; but the rest of the core cast are present and correct and with the exception of a few wrinkles on the face and inches on the waist, look like they've never been away; they seem as comfortable with their characters, and with each other, as they do in any S4 or S5 episode. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised, since aside from their wealth of experience working with each other they're all accomplished comic actors in their own right; Chris Barrie in particular would have been a mega-star if there was an iota more justice in the world.

Best actors in the world would struggle with duff scripts though; just ask the cast of Doctor Who: The End of Time; so it's a relief that the old magic has been well and truly in evidence from series co-creator and writer since episode one, Doug Naylor. There's been the tiniest hint of Rimmer; never the subtlest of characters to begin with; slipping ever so slightly into self parody, which I suspect can be put down to Naylor trying a little too hard to please the fans and giving them too much of a good thing. Happily such tendencies were quickly reigned in and we're left with some incredibly tight stories. True to the 'glory years', these episodes work as 30 minute nuggets of top notch sci-fi, as well as comedy, which is just as it should be.

Personal highlight of the new series for me has been Lemons, which by all accounts has proven divisive. Partly because I do love a bit of time travel, partly because you have to give props for having Jesus as a central character (and figure of fun), and partly because the Church of Judas bit is a classic bit of 'insanity masquerading as logic' comedy. Mainly though, I love it for the palm calculator;

as perfectly timed a piece of physical comedy as you're likely to see on television this year. I'm telling you, Chris Barrie is a f*ck*ng legend.

It seems that the show is setting and smashing all sorts of records for Dave (the channel it now screens on) so I'm quietly confident (and begging on my knees) that this run won't be the last we see of the boys; indeed, there's no reason at all that that season 10 couldn't be the beginning of a regular run to rival the shows original BBC2 stint, in length and indeed in quality.

Come back next week when I talk about something or other. Could be Caprica, or I'm leaning towards something to do with Wizards Vs Aliens. Which, now that I've typed that sentence means it almost certainly won't be either. We'll see.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Antonio's Folly

After last weeks rant about Switch, I thought I'd go a different route this time around, and tell you a story, just to lighten the tone. I'm good like that you know; I like to give you a bit of variety.

The story is about a man, lets call him Antonio. Antonio wanted desperately to be an actor, and he was very good at it too, but for many years the only work he could get was in adverts for tea bags, in which he would romantically pursue his neighbour lady in a sinister ploy to steal her instant beverage aids. Luckily for Antonio, the ads proved surprisingly successful and he was able to parley his fame and/or sexually predatory notoriety into big time network television roles in the US.

Tony Head in the Gold Blend adverts

Unluckily for Antonio, his judgment when it came to these roles was less than sound and he ended up in a show called Virtual Reality VII; a show roundly derided and swiftly canceled. Poor Antonio.

All was not lost though, because fast forward but a little time, and Antonio would find himself playing a pivotal role in a TV show so influential, so longevitudinal*, so downright good, that he became loved by many, thus cementing his place in the history books as an adorable duffer.  Of course, even the most logevitudinal shows have to end sometime and after 7 years it was back to looking for work again.

After some guff about a pair of lovable ex-cons being lovable while pulling off loveabley naff lovable crimes and a guest stint as someone called The Demon Headmaster on Primeval, he struck gold once more when he was cast, as The King no less, in a major BBC drama series about some famous wizard or other; I think his name is Catweazle.

Now, in something of a departure for Antonio, The King is a bit of a villainous role; his first attempt to play the 'baddie' on a long term basis. And would you believe, he's good at it! Well, as good as he can be, given that any true nastiness has to be restrained for a family audience, meaning that he is forever being talked out of doing bad stuff, or being foiled in a comedic fashion, or having a tender moment with his Son. Aww, isn't he just a big teddy bear? Don't you just want to hug him? Well, no actually, I want him to chop someones head off and throw their body from the battlements, but it doesn't look like I'm going to get it.

Ironically enough, in recent years the show has become progressively darker to the extent that, while we're never going to see Spartacus levels of gore, there was definite room for some creative despottery; ironic because one of the major milestones in said darkening was the killing off of The King. Oh Antonio, will nothing ever go your way?

King Arthur. Uther thinks he's shit.

But wait, what's this? An episode set several years after The Kings death, which sees Antonio back to play his characters vengeful spirit, determined to put an end to his son and heirs uselessness at Kinging. Like letting commoners be Knights; solution, kill the knights; and letting a commoner be Queen; solution, kill the Queen.

Gwen the Queen. Uther thinks she's shit.

At last, an opportunity for Antonio to show off his inner nutter and really go to town as the psychotic villain he only hinted at as Tea Bag stalker! Except, well, that's not what happened. Instead we got, well, I don't know what we got. Did he think he was in a 20's b/w silent movie? Did he think he was in a pantomime? Did he think the script made no sense and so didn't give a f*ck?

Uther as a ghost. Is shit.

Wasted your chance there, Antonio. Wasted your chance.

All of which was just a really long winded way of saying 'What the Hell did Anthony Head think he was doing in Merlin this week? He's so much better than that!' Great episode regardless though.

*That means long running, or having longevity. Yes it does. Yes it does!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


Didn't do a Quest post last week, so here's just a brief rundown of my sci-fi/fantasy viewing in the last fortnight:

Doctor Who ended on an episode which wasn't Moffat's best but was still great; Merlin came back with an excellent 2-parter that was marred only by some dodgy CGI and a certain character surviving seemingly mortal injury yet again when it's as clear as day that she should have been  killed off ages ago; I finished off the commentaries for the first half of Caprica and moved on to the episodes from the second half; Wolfblood continued to be top shizz; and The Vampire Diaries came back for a fourth season of 'this person is dead, oh no they aren't, actually they might be, but they might not, no they're someone else who's pretending to be the ghost of the first person but is really a hybrid of the second person and a third person's goldfish, but no, hang on, no-one can die after all, unless it's a Tuesday and they have a hole in their jeans and a G in their name, because of the magic jellyfish.'

Oh, and some witches had a good laugh about raping a guy.

I didn't have high expectations going in to Switch. Everything about it screamed low rent Charmed rip-off. Just think about that for a second. Exactly. What I didn't expect was that it would not only be a charisma free bore-a-thon, but that it would also be a moral vacuum.

First things first, they killed a cat; by accident; and brought it back to life. I don't have a problem with that seeing as how messing with the veil is a staple of supernatural drama; and given that the show was trailed with a heavy emphasis on quirk and comedy I wasn't exactly expecting Pet Semetary; but some consequences would have been nice. Instead it was just a stepping stone to the next crisis, which was equally pointless. And resolved in a manner so predictable you wanted to slap them for taking an entire episode to figure it out. Imbeciles.

Boring and predictable do not amount to the same thing as 'moral vacuum' though. No, that's where the other main plot line comes in. One of the lead characters; I don't know their names yet, don't hate me; works in a shop with two men. One of them is her friend, and gay (which will be important later) while the other is a new guy that both she and her (shockingly camp) gay friend fancy. He shows zero sign of making a move on either of them though, so rather than do the obvious thing of perhaps asking him out, she goes home and recruits her friends to put a spell on a piece of jewelery so that he would be hopelessly attracted to the person wearing it.

Now, seminal Buffy episode Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (and the other 978 'don't mess with love' cautionary tales) have taught us that this will go wrong. She's doing it anyway though. Not a one of her friends objects, which is moment the first of making this whole cast seem like conscienceless monsters.

She meets up with him and as soon as he sees the brooch he's kissing her face off. Then it;s off home for lots of noisy sex. Anyone see the problem here? It's Torchwood's 'Owen and the pheromone spray' all over again. She essentially roofied him. It's rape. Which her flatmates respond to with wry smiles. Moment the second.

Now, if this was heading down a 'there will be repercussions' route I could tolerate it. So I kept watching, waiting for the shoe to drop, waiting for the moment of redemption.

 I thought we were going to get it when she met up with him in a club and he started showing slightly creepy signs of potential stalker-itis. Was she going to face the consequences? No, it turns out that's just what these writers think romance sounds like.

Then he tells her that she's changed his life, because 'I used to think I was gay, before I met you.' This obviously means that she can no longer see him, because apparently having a witless sex slave is no fun if that person would choose a different gender, if given the choice. Remember, she doesn't want out because she realises what she has done is creepy and wrong; she wants out because, well, she's a shallow person with very warped priorities.

The cast of Switch
Back at the flat, the coven get a lecture from a slumming Caroline Quentin, who is the mother of, er, one of them, and is disappointed in their skill levels. Desperate to impress her, they blurt out that they have raised the dead (the cat) and done the love enchantment. Oops, silly girls, that's dangerous magic that goes against the natural order and not to mention is fucking rape; talking about the 'love' enchantment there, not the cat. Quentin, far from being impressed, goes absolutely batshit mental with them, and tears them a new... No, actually, she's well impressed and starts having orgasms at the thought of the bragging rights she'll have at the next solstice. Moment the third.

After that some things happened and the various plots kind of meandered to their predictable ends and she figured out the way to get out of seeing her gay slave anymore. She gave the brooch to her gay friend. Yep. So now, the guy she coerced into bed is full on into her mate, and though we don't see it, we can probably surmise that some rampant animal sex is going on between the two of them as we speak. With the victim still having no free will and the other guy, who isn't in the know about magic, having no clue that he's essentially been given a sex doll as a gift. Moment the fourth.

At not a single point does any character voice an objection, however mild, to the messing with his head. At no point does any character voice an objection, however mild, to the fact that he is having sex against his will. At no point does any character voice an objection, however mild, to the fact that he has been consigned to this life, seemingly indefinitely. But I guess it's ok though right? I mean, he's gay, and he's been made the sex slave of another  gay man, so he'd probably be ok with it, right?

This show was never meant to be a hardcore, full on drama. It is quite clearly intended to be a bit of lightweight romantic fun. I have no doubt that the writers would protest the rape allegations, as the writers of Torchwood did with the Owen character; but it changes nothing though. Whatever their intentions; and I'm willing to believe they were innocent; the whole exercise was woefully misguided, wrong-headed, and offensive.

Or was it just me?

See you next week. No idea what I'll be talking about, but you never know, it might be interesting.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


The art of the successful spin-off is a very tough nut to crack; for every Xena: Warrior Princess or Angel, there's a Lone Gunmen or Crusade. So it's a brave writer/producer who takes on the task; and a brave viewer who gets their hopes up.

 The risk; or the biggest among many; is that in attempting to create a success, the writer will steer a little too close to the original show; which, if it's getting a spin-off is presumably popular; on the basis that that's what the audience wants, so why not give them more of it? All you get when you do that though, is a watered down copy, giving the law of diminishing returns a head start.

Compare, for example, Star Trek: Voyager to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The latter took risks, daring to deviate from the formula devised in the original Star Trek, and honed by The Next Generation. As a result the writers managed to craft a compelling epic that is fondly remembered to this day by not just Trek fans, but most fans of good sci-fi. Voyager, on the other hand, was as close to a carbon copy of The Next Generation as the writers could get away with, and told warmed up stories, using warmed characters, to a barely lukewarm audience. To most of those that remember it today, it's a joke; a bland mess.

Stargate: Atlantis is another example. Successful enough in it's way; 5 seasons is a respectable run for any show not being compared to a parent show that ran for 10; it nevertheless failed to ever truly capture it's audiences hearts and minds the way Stargate:SG1 did. And the writers knew it, which was why they scrambled around for the whole five years, changing this and tweaking that and changing the cast every season, in a desperate attempt to find a dynamic that sparked even half as well, or had a fraction of the seemingly effortless chemistry, of the SG1 cast. They never did manage it.

Which is why they took a leaf out of Deep Space Nine's playbook, and threw out the rules with their next spin-off, Stargate: Universe. A move, ironically enough, that saw them ending up with a show very similar in premise to Voyager.

Sadly, although most would tell you that Universe was by far the better show, the damage was apparently done. Maybe audiences were put off by Atlantis, maybe they were turned off by the darker premise, or  perhaps they were just worn out on the Stargate concept and the franchise needed a rest; but whatever the reason, Universe didn't come close to the longevity of even the lesser of it's predecessors, quality be damned.

So if neither method is a guarantee of success, even when done well, what's a writer to do? There's no answer, except to say that they do what they think is best at the time. And in the case of the Battlestar Galactica writers, what they thought was best was to make a show so far removed from the aesthetic of Battlestar as to be almost unrecognisable. What they came up with, was Caprica.

Whilst Battlestar was the quintessential space opera with the bulk of it's action taking place aboard various ships, Caprica could, in a great many ways, pass as being set in a world that was a contemporary of our own. While budgetary constraints were obviously a factor in making the decision to go that route the justification; that even in futuristic scenarios not everyone would have access to all the latest mod cons; is a sound one. I know I'm still waiting for my first go on an ipad.

For the 2 of you who don't know, Caprica was a prequel to Galactica; in itself a further justification for the lower tech levels on show. I've gone on record in the past as having a deep dislike of prequels in general; and I stand by that assertion; but I've also gone on record as not liking remakes and these writers proved with Galactica that they can do those pretty bloody well, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But do they pull it off?

Yes and no. The show isn't a classic. Let's get that out of the way first. But it so easily could have been and, given the talent involved, probably should have been. It's problems are not due to it being a prequel, nor are they due to it failing to compare favourably with it's progenitor. In truth, the problems facing Caprica are almost entirely down to the writing staff taking far too long to get anywhere.

There isn't a duff scene in this show, but there are too many, and the plot takes forever to develop. It's bizarre that the writers; some of the absolute best in the business; didn't realise that they were strangling the show at birth with their increeeeeeeedibly slow pacing. As I say, take any scene in isolation, and you'll get goosebumps; take 7 scenes in succession, you'll get bored. And it's a crying shame.

The biggest problem, I think, is that there is simply no threat. The danger in Battlestar was all pervasive and ever present, whereas here you'd be pushed to say exactly who the villains even are. They do exist, they just aren't particularly scary, and it's not until very near the half way mark of the show's run that any kind of cohesive narrative starts to take shape, and the protagonist/antagonist dynamic is properly established.

Stoltz and Morales. Pure class.
But let us put aside our disappointment at yet another hotly anticipated show failing to set the world alight, and discuss the cast. Lead roles Daniel Graystone and Joseph Adams/Adama are played by Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales respectively, so I don't think I really need to say much on that score; those two are gold. The real stars here were among the young characters. (Note: I said young characters, not young cast members)

The emotional core of the show is of course Zoe Graystone, as played by Alessandra Torresani, but her best friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz) will herself become just as pivotal a player once the storyline actually starts moving. Although both characters are played as teenagers, they are played by women in their mid 20's, which allows me to say phwoaaaarrr, with impunity.

*insert sexist comment about them being pretty*
Attractiveness aside though (and they are both very attractive), these two absolutely nail their parts. Without the ability of Torresani to scare the bejesus out of you one minute and break your heart the next the central conceit of the show would be dead in the water and Apanowicz, who has the lion's share of the derring do and dangerous activities plays a scared young girl getting in way over her head better than anyone you'll see. These two are keepers, for sure.

Sina Najafi. Future mega star

And then there's young Willie Adama. Just to show that I can appreciate a good performance beyond the ability of the actor to make me fancy them, Sina Najafi was a revelation. I don't know how old he is, but I can't imagine he's done much before this, yet he just owns the screen when he's on it, and his chemistry with the guy playing his uncle is spot on.

He's playing a young boy who finds himself all but abandoned when his father sinks into a depression following a family tragedy and is gradually drawn into the comforting embrace of the surrogate family provided by the local organised crime syndicate. It's astonishing to me that he can seem so equally at ease being the wide eyed kid in the candy store when doing kid stuff, yet effortlessly cynical and wiseguy-esque in the comfort of his gangland friends. This kid is going places, on that I would bet much in the way of money.

All in all, I honestly don't know whether I'd recommend Caprica or not. It has so much going for it, but those pacing issues just make it so difficult to fall in love with. I shall let you know when I've watched the 2nd half of the season. You never know, it could blow me away. Until next time, you lovely little oiks you.