Monday, 26 March 2007

TVOD (26.3.07.)

Yep, it's time to take a look at what's coming down your tube this week, with me acting as a kind of opinionated remote control.

MONDAY: Again with The Sopranos (11pm, Channel 4). Tonight's episode is a 'funny one', including such capers as Paulie (Tony Sirico) finding out a shocking secret from the past, Bobby Bacala (Steve R. Schirripa) shooting a wannabe gangster rapper and lots of metaphysical stuff about the interconnectivity of all things. Hilarity ensues.

Over on ITV1, there's the second part of Mobile (9pm), which I probably won't watch because I missed the first, but by all accounts, it's better than your standard ITV drama. Plus, someone I know is in it, but that's another story. Elsewhere, Michael makes a break for Panama in Prison Break (Five, 10pm) and Heroes (Sci-Fi Channel, 10pm)does one of those character development episodes, but this being Heroes, there's a lot more going on than that may suggest. Look out for Hiro (Masi Oka) and D.L. (Leonard Roberts) joining forces to save a woman from a car-wreck and the strange, incongruous, Mychael Danna-esque Eastern music that soundtracks Claire (Hayden Panettiere) chasing her brother around the front garden.

TUESDAY: Not much on tonight really. Well, there's Battlestar Galactica (Sky One, 9pm), but I'm nowhere near up-to-date with that yet. On the curiosity front, there's Marbella Belles (ITV1, 10pm), which, judging by the clips on TV Burp on Saturday, should be at the very least fist-chewingly entertaining. On Channel 4 at 11.40pm, there's a documentary called The Crippendales. One can only guess what that's about. If someone can pinpoint the exact moment that Channel 4 started to dumb down, do you reckon we could do a system restore on it?

There's always The Wire (FX, 10pm), which gets better with every passing week. Last week's was a doozy, seeing an end to the mayoral election storyline which has taken up a huge chunk of the start of the fourth season. The look on Carcetti's face when he found out he had won was less "Great, now I can start making this city a better place" and more "Holy fuck, what have I done?!". Cue the gradual erosion of Carcetti's morals as absolute power (at least in Baltimore) corrupts him absolutely.

WEDNESDAY: "You're fired!". I'll never get tired of saying that. Such a zeitgeist-nailing catchphrase. Anyway, poor-man's Donald Trump, SIR Alan Sugar launches a new series of The Apprentice tonight on BBC1 (9pm). It's mind-boggling who they give a business degree to these days, so let's all sit agog as the drones are paraded in front of us, all business 'smarts' and no common sense. Look at them! The fucking idiots!

It's either that or My Man Boobs And Me (BBC3, 9pm), as we all know that England play again tonight. I think the man boobs are a more inviting option, to be honest.

THURSDAY: BBC4 shows the first of a couple of interesting looking, music-skewing documentaries tonight, with Storyville: Screamers (10.30pm), which takes a look at the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 through the songs and actions of System Of A Down. Sounds like it might be a little tenuous but worthy and possibly engaging all the same.

Channel 4 has a humdinger of a double-bill tonight. At 9, there's Mummy's War, in which Carol Thatcher visits the Falklands on the 25th anniversary of the pointless, fruitless conflict her mother waged. Headline-grabbing stuff (it did actually make the front pages in Argentina) and sensationalist to a fault, but do we really need the offspring of arguably the most damaging PM this country has ever seen picking at her mum's old scabs?

After that, there's the Irvine Welsh-penned one-off comedy-drama, Wedding Belles (10pm), which looks as though it might actually deliver on its 'Trainspotting with women' premise. Michelle Gomez (The Book Group, Green Wing) stars.

FRIDAY: "I-I just took a ride/On a silver machine/And I'm still feeling meeean!". BBC4 are showing Hawkwind: Do Not Panic (9pm), about the legendary and enduring acid-rockers. Any programme that promises an interview with Lemmy has got to be worth watching.

Elsewhere, there's The U.S. Vs. John Lennon (BBC2, 11.35pm) and you lot going out for payday.

SATURDAY: Well, there's TV Burp (ITV1, 5.30pm), before ITV say bollocks to original programming and show a Harry Potter film instead.

Everywhere else, there's the usual substandard Saturday night fare, but Sky Arts is forging a path as a Saturday night haven for the intelligent amongst us. Tonight, they're showing Moog (10pm), which is a bit of a thin documentary, but hey, it's better than nowt.

SUNDAY: Lost (Sky One, 10pm) has really picked up the pace in the last couple of episodes, but it's hard to see where they're going to go with the whole Locke's-dad-bound-and-gagged-in-an-airing-cupboard thing. The fuck's all that about?! In 24 (Sky One, 9pm), Acting President Powers Boothe looks to continue menacing his way into a war with the Middle East over fudged information. Sound familiar?

Over on BBC2, Louis Theroux Meets The Most Hated Family In America (9pm) looks like it could be a good watch, although The Phelps', a family who picket the funerals of soldiers and gay pride events, preaching their belief that "God hates fags", might be a bit too much of an easy target. We'll see if Louis still has the cojones to tear them the new arsehole that they deserve.


One of my favourite Big Train sketches, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince hunting for jockeys.

The point where I realised that The Wire was the best TV show in the history of television, Bunk and McNulty investigate an old crime scene and communicate solely using the word "fuck" or variations thereon.

Needs no introduction; Mr Show: The Story Of Everest

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Monday, 19 March 2007

TVOD (19.3.07)

So here we are again, for our weekly look at what you can point your eyes at this week. I did want to do some more posts at some point this past week but, hey, it didn't happen alright. I haven't actually had a lot of time to watch TV, which is kind of important when you're writing a TV blog.

Anyway, enough chit-chat, what's on telly?

MONDAY: There's the obvious triumvirate of US behemoths tonight with The Sopranos (11.05pm, Channel 4), Prison Break (10pm, Five) and Heroes (10pm, Sci-Fi Channel or an hour later on their time-shift channel, if you so wish). In The Sopranos, Tony's still in a coma and there's a cameo from Steve Buscemi as Tony's cousin, Tony Blundetto (deceased) to liven things up. Also, there's an absolutely fantastic scene with Chris (Michael Imperioli) trying to get a near-catatonic T to sign off on his film idea. Better than last week, but this sixth season doesn't pick up for a while yet.

Meanwhile, on Prison Break, we should find out what happens to Lincoln and LJ after they were caught by the fuzz last week and also whether Sara and Michael manage to meet up. What's she doing?! She tried to commit suicide because of him! I have no idea what is happening in Heroes tonight and I want to keep it that way until I see it. The element of surprise is one that this show has used to its advantage so far. Did you see Nathan fly away from Dr. Bennett last week? Awesome! High five!

BBC3 unleashes a new sketch show tonight - Rush Hour (10.30pm) - and, although I haven't seen it, you can guess what it's going to be like from the ads. All flash, gross-out and no subtlety. I'll be the first to admit surprise if it isn't, but c'mon, they didn't learn from Man Stroke Woman, so what makes you think they'll start now?

TUESDAY: Not to sound like a broken record but The Wire (10pm, FX, Sky Channel 179) is on tonight. I'm starting to think that this is the best season to date, especially after last week's storming episode. Choosing to run multifarious story strands at once and gently nudging them towards each other or sometimes colliding them in shocking ways has proven to be a masterstroke. As has the decision to pretty much ditch Jimmy McNulty, as the character was starting to become a little broad. It's allowed the writers to flesh out the characters of Marlo (Jamie Hector), Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen), Mayor Royce (Glynn Turman) and the four new adolescent characters and, in doing so, they've just cast the net that little bit wider, throwing light on some of the more shadowy corners of Baltimore (the scene with Dukie, Randy and Michael searching one of the abandoned rowhouses for bodies was a masterpiece).

Also tonight is the second episode of new US drama, Kidnapped (10pm, Channel 4). Last week's first ep was unremittingly classy but it knew this. It was like being hit over the head by a hammer that was cast by Junie Lowry-Johnson. Delroy Lindo oozed gravitas and easy charm but the rest of the cast seemed to struggle to make their characters believable. For instance, you could tell that Jeremy Sisto wasn't going to be your average kidnap investigator because he had stubble. He's edgy, you see! I'm probably being a little harsh but you can kind of see why it was cancelled. Mind you, much more offensive shows have thrived. Sex In The City, for example.

Elsewhere, Roger Daltrey puts in a cameo role on CSI (9pm, Five). Supposedly he's going to actually do more than go "'Ere! That's moi song!" in a mockney accent over the credit sequence. Bet it's not a patch on his cameo in The Mighty Boosh though.

WEDNESDAY: Fuck all on tonight. Seriously, if you were going to pick one night to, say, read a book, spend quality time with loved ones or go out and get tore up, tonight's the night. If you absolutely, positively must watch something, then there's a promising looking documentary on BBC4 at 9pm, entitled Racism: A History. Watch and feel ashamed at your heritage, white folks.

Oh and, of course, there's always Friday Night Lights (8pm, ITV4, Sky Channel 120).

THURSDAY: I said it last week and I'll say it again until you get it into your thick heads, but you have to check out FX's hour of comedy power from 10pm, featuring the gut-bustingly hilarious Lucky Louie and Chappelle's Show. You need them in your life!

Other than that though, Five airs the opening episode of the new series of House at 9, before following it up with an encouraging-looking American import (because we really need another right now), called Shark (10pm). James Woods plays a brilliant criminal prosecutor who goes over to 'the dark side' (ie: he becomes a defence attorney). It looks like standard legal drama stuff but, hey, James Woods! On TV! And Spike Lee directs! Did I mention that James Woods is in it?!

FRIDAY: What I said about Wednesday could equally apply to tonight, but at least Channel 4's flagship music show, Transmission (11.40pm) is back on. When I say flagship, I mean that they've dumped it in the netherworld of post-pub scheduling. Still, tonight's show looks like it could be intermittent fun. We've got Joss Stone (boo!), Mika (double boo!), The Twang (who?!), Mark Ronson (why?!), Maximo Park (yay!), Bright Eyes (could go either way!) and Peaches "Fuck off!" Geldof (fuck off!).

You know that you'll stumble in at 1am, start watching Out Of Sight on ITV2, get to the sex scene part, remember that Jennifer Lopez/George Clooney don't actually get their respective kits off and doze off with the telly on full blast. Oh, what delightful fun!

SATURDAY: Football fans, shake off that hangover and make it a day of footy! Start with the institution that is Soccer A.M. (9am, Sky Sports One, Sky Channel 401), with Tim, Helen, Sheephead, Tubes and the rest of the crew for football-related hijinks. There's no Gilette Soccer Saturday today as there's a crapload of internationals for you to be bored by. First up, there's the first game from the new Wembley, an Under-21 international between England and Italy (12noon, Sky Sports One). Cue thousands of punters sitting down very gingerly lest the stand collapse underneath them.

Then it's a toss-up between Republic Of Ireland V Wales (2.30pm, SS1) or Scotland V Georgia (3pm, SS2). The choice, as they say, is yours! Have fun picking! Of course, then there's the obligatory letdown of an England Euro qualifier. We're playing Israel (5.30pm, SS1), which on the face of it should be a walk in the park. You just know it isn't going to be though. Might as well play some kind of drinking game to make it pass quicker. Make up rules like drink two fingers whenever the camera lands on Steve McLaren and he's doing that face that makes him look like he's staring directly into the sun while trying to force out a zeppelin-sized shit. Or how about drink a whole glass whenever Frank Lampard tries a hit-and-hope from forty yards only to watch it sail over the bar? Or here's one; take bets on how long it is before England fans get involved in some crowd hubbub with the local police. The winner gets to have his head shaved and an endless supply of patio furniture to lob at passing riot vans.

Not a sports fan? Well there's TV Burp (6.10pm, ITV1), which is still the most consistently funny show on TV. David Quantick really earns his money on that one. Also, The Arcade Fire, Rowan Atkinson and violinist, Maxim Venegrov are all on The Culture Show (7.10pm, BBC2), though not all at the same time, I hope, Channel 4 are showing The Shawshank Redemption (9.25pm) for what seems like the millionth time (maybe this time we find out just how Tim Robbins managed to put that poster back up from inside the tunnel) and Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy For The Devil - a mesmerising yet didactic audio-visual collage of those turbulent late-60s, intercut with The Rolling Stones recording the title track in the studio - is on Sky Arts (10.25pm, Sky Channel 267), for those with their minds on higher things.

SUNDAY: Heart-stopping television on Sky One from 9pm with 24, followed immediately by Lost. Actually, we're so used by now to 24 being so goddamn adrenalised that its taken on an almost zen-like quality. We're watching high-octane stuff where nukes go off, people are tortured and heads of state have a long-standing bounty on their heads, but six seasons in and there's a kind of comforting familiarity about the whole thing. "Oh look, Jack's just cut off one of the Russian consulates fingers. Go and put the kettle on dear".

With every passing week, Lost gets closer and closer to describing just what state the viewer is in. You're less likely to care now whether Jack will find his way back to camp or whether Charlie will reverse his death curse and more likely to forget about the plot completely and just chuckle at whatever nickname Sawyer comes up with for Hurley this week. Still, at least it's more plausible than Castaway (9pm, BBC1).


The Onion A.V. Club has an excellent feature entitled 22 TV Opening-Credit Sequences That Fit Their Shows Perfectly, with embedded YouTube vids for all the featured shows. Why no The Prisoner though?

Following on from last week's mention for Tim And Eric's Awesome Show! Great Job!, here is the full first episode for you to view at your leisure. Part 1/Part 2

Watch a brief preview of FX's forthcoming pitch black comedy-thriller, Dexter, which stars Six Feet Under's Michael C. Hall. Looks good.

Happy viewing!

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Monday, 12 March 2007

TVOD (12.3.07.)

The first in what will become a weekly round-up of what you have to watch this coming week on UK TV. Plus, at the end some links to YouTube vids that you might find interesting and can actually watch, like, now.

TONIGHT: Well, tonight you have the choice of three of America's big-hitters. At 11.35pm on Channel 4, you've got The Greatest Television Drama Of All Time (according to Channel 4 themselves, nonetheless), The Sopranos. Let's be frank here, the only people who watch The Sopranos these days are people who have followed it from the start, so I'm not going to implore you to start now if you've never seen it before. There are two reasons why I'm not going to do that: 1) You will be utterly confused; 2) Tonight's episode, 'Join The Club', is, as far as Sopranos episodes go, a bit of a dog.

A large chunk of 'Join The Club' is dedicated to one of The Sopranos' interminable dream sequences. With Tony (James Gandolfini) lying in a coma after Uncle June's (Dominic Chianese) near-fatal senior moment last week, we are 'treated' to a trip through Tony's subconscious. He dreams of being a businessman leading the straight life apparently. Yeah, yeah, we get it now. In fact, we got it ages ago. The whole of the series since inception has pivoted on Tony's misgivings or 'agita' with 'the life', so we don't need half an episode detailing this in a too knowingly cryptic manner. The Sopranos is an undeniably great piece of work, but it's episodes like this that stop it from being (heresy alert!) as good as The Wire.

Before all that, at 10pm, you have the choice between Prison Break (Five) and Heroes (Sci-Fi Channel). So it's either the progressively implausible caper of the improbably rag-tag bunch of cons or the surprisingly believable adventures of a gang of disparate superhuman freaks. I don't know which one to pick. To be honest, they're both ridiculously watchable and you're all probably going to Sky+ one of them or watch Heroes on Sci-Fi+1 or something.

TUESDAY: The Wire's on! You know the drill: 10pm, FX, Sky Channel 179. Sky's programme planner doesn't really do its best to sell this undervalued show. Here's what the i button tells us we're in for tonight; Valchek leaks details of the Braddock case to Carcetti, who considers how to leak it to the press. The ensuing negative attention turns Royce against Burrell. High octane mayhem ensues! Okay, the last part was a lie and, as any fan knows, action isn't really what The Wire's all about. Just watch it, dammit!

Elsewhere tonight, there's new US import drama, Kidnapped, which looks like it could be good if a little classy-by-numbers. But hey, you've gotta love anything with Delroy Lindo in the cast and More4 and BBC4 compete to see who can lower their standards the most. More4 are screening Harrison Ford's disastrous attempt to play Russian in K-19: The Widowmaker, while BBC4 throw in a rather pointless addition to their 1997 theme week with the Melinda Messenger-presented, I Love 1997, that features such cultural highlights as the rise to fame of the Spice Girls, Mike Tyson biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield and Ti-fuckin'-tanic. For shame, the pair of you!

WEDNESDAY: "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!". It's Friday Night Lights (8pm, ITV4, Sky Channel 120)! Leave all prejudice at the door and bask in its brilliance. Also, rising comedy star, Rasmus Hardiker (Saxondale, Lead Balloon) is in the latest edition of BBC4's fitfully funny comedy of manners, Tight Spot, alongside Nina Wadia, Douglas Hodge and Siobhan Redmond. Could be good.

Looking for something a little more intelligent? Well, Sky's new channel, Sky Arts (Channel 267) are showing Peter Greenaway's A Zed And Two Noughts. Or you could just watch Spurs Vs. Sporting Braga on ITV. Your choice.

THURSDAY: The best thing on tonight is FX's comedy double bill of Lucky Louie and Chappelle's Show from 10pm. I'll be writing more about these two on here pretty soon but I'll just say for now that you won't see a funnier hour-and-a-bit on telly all week.

Also tonight, Channel 4 are screening Goodfellas (10pm), ITV are showing more UEFA cup football in the form of the non-event that is Newcastle United away to Dutch team, AZ Alkmaar (maybe there'll be more Geordies in Holland this week than were at St. James' Park last week) and, in case you missed it last night (and with their complete lack of scheduling nous, I wouldn't blame you if you did), ITV2 are re-running the series finale of The Office: An American Workplace. Will Pam and Jim get together? Who will win the battle of wills between Michael and Toby from HR? Will Dwight and Angela finally come out as a couple? Why don't you tune in and find out at the unholy hour of 12.40am?

FRIDAY: It's Comic Relief night on BBC1 and 2, which means we get a mixture of the good (Borat, Mitchell And Webb), the bad (The Vicar Of Dibley, Take That) and the downright bizarre (whatever the fuck 'Top Gear Of The Pops' is supposed to be) of British comedy and light entertainment, but hey, it is all for charidee. Get your guilt and your comedy ears on from 7pm.

If you want to avoid Comic Relief, your options are a bit limited. The other three terrestrial channels are holding back on their a-game lest they get roundly savaged in the ratings stakes, which is understandable. Over on BBC4, however, they're celebrating Paddy's Day with a night of programmes dedicated to fiddle-dee-dee Irish folk music. I'd rather stick pins in my eyes although the always dangerous Shane MacGowan is listed as one of the performers. You could just watch Weird Science (10.50pm, Sci-Fi) with a warm, rose-tinted glow and realise that it's nowhere near as good as you remember it.

SATURDAY: Well, I don't think I need to tell you all to watch Harry Hill's TV Burp (6pm, ITV1), but I will anyway. If you're not going out, BBC3 are showing Fight Club (9.30pm) and Sky Arts have a Pixies acoustic set to share with us (10pm).

So much better than the post-pub fare that Bravo are misleadingly branding it as, you could do a whole lot worse than catching The Venture Bros. on the [adult swim] block at 1.45am. That is assuming that you're not asleep or too pissed to appreciate its greatness.

SUNDAY: Sky One (Channel 106) gets the nod for superior popcorn with the still heart-pumping 24 and the still fucking bewildering Lost from 9pm. BBC2 has the second part of uber-smart doc, The Trap: What Happened To Our Dreams Of Freedom (from The Power Of Nightmares creator, Adam Curtis), also from 9pm and Channel 4 have a run-down of The 100 Greatest Stand-Ups from 8pm. I'll bet Richard Pryor's number one.


This has to be one of the strangest things I've seen on YouTube in a while - eminent Slovenian sociologist and one of the greatest thinkers of our time, Slavoj Zizek, wasting his time on a Boston cable show.

A super-funny promo spot for Tom Goes To The Mayor creators, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim's new [adult swim] show, Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Looks very promising indeed and the more Bob Odenkirk, the better.

OMG! Bernard Manning sings The Smiths! If anyone can remember what sketch show this was on, I'd be eternally grateful.

And finally, because I never tire of seeing this and because of all the controversy surrounding TV phone-ins right now, Five Star on Going Live!

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Saturday, 10 March 2007

"Sometimes it is what it is"

Originally posted on my sister blog, Yer Mam!, but in the interest of verisimilitude, I thought I'd dump it over here too.

“How you expect to run with the wolves at night when you spend all day sporting with puppies?” – Omar Little

I’ve just watched last night’s The 50 Greatest Television Dramas on Channel 4 and while it was a refreshingly insightful list programme, free of input from the usual cavalcade of misinformed z-listers, choosing instead to coax talking heads from the people involved in the making of the shows and other such peripheral players like critics, it struck me that something was missing. The list was an undeniably classy one featuring such telly classics as Cracker, Boys From The Blackstuff, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, State Of Play and such, with the unarguably great The Sopranos sitting pretty at the top. However, considering it was voted for by the same people who the programme-makers were talking to, they missed out the one truly peerless television drama there is. They forgot about The Wire.

The Wire has recently returned to British screens (Tuesday 10pm, FX, Sky Channel 179) for its fourth season which aired to uniformly praising reviews in the States last year and the makers don’t look in danger of losing the plot at any time soon. A dense, morally blurred patchwork of American life dressed up as a cop show, The Wire is the most consistently rewarding, engaging television show of all time that, to its devotees, stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pantheon of modern American dramas such as Six Feet Under, Huff, The West Wing and The Sopranos itself. In fact, the only problem with The Wire is that not enough people watch it.

If it had been picked up by a brave terrestrial channel before now there’s no question that The Wire would have figured in this list, if not topped it. Actually, before watching The 50 Greatest Television Dramas, I thought to myself that The Wire was either going to be number one or it won’t be in the list at all. The fact that it fell into the latter camp is purely down to its limited viewership. In The Wire, creator David Simon has crafted a monumental piece of television that transcends its medium. The Wire is such a brilliant work of art that it feels denigrating to measure it up against other television programmes. It should be viewed as art in the same sense as you would a classic book, beautiful painting or particularly affecting poem. It really is that good.

Maybe I’m laying it on a little thick, but superlatives seem a little superfluous when conveying just how staggering I think The Wire is. Watching television is, largely, a passive activity, unless you’re one of these sociopaths who like to try to second-guess the writers by theorising about where the plot is going to go next (I hate these people. Why can’t they just give themselves up to the mercy of the writers? What kind of enjoyment do they get from finding out that they were right other than being able to say “I told you that was going to happen” and then feeling a little let down by the fact that the writers are no smarter than they are?) or you get particularly involved with quiz shows, so the engrossing, involving nature of The Wire is to be applauded. What other show would make a seasoned junkie and habitual thief (Bubbles, played beautifully by Andre Royo) the only real good guy? Where else would you find yourself sympathising with the plight of a ruinous fuck-up of a detective (Jimmy McNulty, inhabited by Sheffield-born actor, Dominic West) who manages to be both utterly charming and completely self-destructive? NYPD Blue may have had one at the heart of the show for years but how can you be expected to give a shit about Sipowicz when the character is so detestable. Despite the fact that the makers of The Wire ask you to side with people that you would cross the street to avoid in real life, they never rely on the audience having to make any leaps of faith. They just set about making their characters as real and believable as they possibly can and place trust in their cast to help flesh them out.

So does season four so far live up to the three untouchable seasons that preceded it? Of course it does. Once again the makers have broadened the programme’s rich palette of characters by adding four teenage friends to the cast in Randy, Namond, Dukie and Michael. Each of the friends seem to represent different points of view on the young black experience in America. Randy (Maestro Harrell) is the bootstrap capitalist, always out to make a buck by selling stolen sweets and drinks in school. Namond (Julito McCullum) is the spoilt, comparatively rich kid, helped along by his imprisoned father, Wee-Bey Brice’s former position as head soldier in the Avon Barksdale street army. Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) is representative of the abject poverty and broken homes some black American children are subjected to with his crackhead family seeing to it that he is destined to grow up without a strong role model. Michael (Tristan Wilds), however, is the most intriguing of the new characters. Michael is at that crossroads in his life where his future could go either way; a strong-minded, intelligent young man with a fearless heart and a belligerent streak a mile wide, it appears that the choice of whether to be a good citizen and a pillar of the community or be swayed by newly-appointed King of Baltimore, Marlo Stanfield’s imminent grooming will form the crux of the viewer’s emotional investment in the character.

The Wire’s way of introducing new characters with each season and weaving them into the show’s tapestry with consummate ease is what keeps fans coming back. That and the fact that it’s the most smartly-written, multi-faceted drama around anyway. Also, with each season more and more light is shed on the lives and actions of the already-established characters. Superficially the star of the show, although the rich ensemble makes the notion of there being a lead seem ridiculous, West’s Jimmy McNulty is back on the beat and shacked up with season two hangover, Beadie Russell (Amy Ryan). Domesticated to the point of boring, McNulty has finally found happiness. Therefore, it should only be a matter of time before the peace is shattered by his own penchant for kyboshing each and every good thing that ever happens to him. While it’s strange to see him emasculated and house-trained, thus losing the edge that made him so compelling in the first place, it’s also heart-warmingly comforting to see him finally settle down.

The Major Crimes Unit is in the process of being gutted from the inside out by Deputy Commissioner Rawls’ (John Doman) “very own Trojan horse”, Lieutenant Marimow (Boris McGiver), with Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) and Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) defecting to Homicide after having their probing assets investigation subpoenas swept under the carpet due to their targeting of major political figures in the run-up to an election. Oh yes, there’s an election going on, meaning that we are treated to more screen time for incumbent Mayor Clarence Royce (Glynn Turman. He was nearly Lando Calrissian, you know!) and opponent, Councilman Thomas Carcetti (Aidan Gillen, of Queer As Folk fame). The transformation of Carcetti from oily, super-ambitious, self-serving prick to genuine likeable good guy is one that the writers really haven’t had to strain for. Last season, Carcetti was the first character that you felt wasn’t easy to root for. That was until his post-Hamsterdam soliloquy where he indicted the Mayor for his neglectful attitude towards the Baltimore locals. Since then, you really believe that his actions are of an altruistic nature rather than being egotistical. Gillen plays his dead-eyed conviction perfectly too which makes you wonder why he’s not a star by now.

On the other side of the law, Marlo (Jamie Hector) has ascended to the height of ruler of the streets. A ruthless, cold-hearted gangster whose intelligence just makes him all the more frightening, the monosyllabic Marlo lets his actions do the talking. In the first episode of the new season, we see Marlo doling out money to the local kids for new school uniforms, the hidden agenda being that he’s trying to get the next generation in his pocket at an early stage. As a contrast, former police major, Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom) is trying to pick his life back up following his dismissal at the end of last season in the wake of the noble, yet doomed legalised drug-dealing fiasco that was the Hamsterdam project, by teaming up with a social worker to try to get youths on the straight and narrow. This, along with Michael’s story arc, throws into stark relief that the running theme this season is to be the choices that young people make and the lack of any kind of infrastructure that’s more likely to push them onto the wrong path than see them right. The people of Baltimore in The Wire are creatures trapped by a harsh environment and it’s the schools, the police and the governors who are to be blamed for their pursuit of a criminal way of life because they’ve been let down time and time again by a system that doesn’t work. Even Carcetti feels the futility of trying to do the right thing when he says about his upcoming televised debate with Mayor Royce, “I’ll kick his ass but tomorrow, I’ll still wake up white in a city that ain’t”, the colours signifying both the racial differences and the conflict between right and wrong, good and evil, straight and crooked.

Dark clouds are also hovering over another series stalwart. After the ritual dissembling of the Barksdale organisation at the end of the last season, Bodie (JD Williams) is now dealing semi-independently, getting his product from Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew), by way of Slim Charles (Anwan Glover). The first few episodes of season four have seen Bodie turn a dead corner into a thriving spot, leading to a conflict over ‘real estate’ with Marlo. While he acknowledges that this is a fight he can’t possibly win (“I’m stood here like an asshole, holding my Charles Dickens”), his headstrong attitude is leading him to fight anyway. While I stated earlier that I hate when people try to guess what’s coming, you just know that this war will end badly. As in life, there’s nary a happy ending in The Wire. The loss of right-hand man, Lex, due to a “nigger moment” (fans of The Boondocks will get the reference) with one of Marlo’s guys, Fruit (Brandon Fobbs, last seen feuding over money with Cutty last season) and his vain attempts to recruit Michael further add to the sense of dread hanging over Bodie.

Things are going okay for Cutty (Chad L. Coleman) however, with his inner city gym booming and his newfound status as West Baltimore’s most eligible bachelor has put a smile on his face and food in his belly. Cutty, with his puppy-dog eyes and slow, deliberate drawl, has been one of The Wire’s most likeable characters since his introduction last season. His storyline this season should tie in neatly with the new focus on the youth of Baltimore.

As it should with Prez (Jim True-Frost), who has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire since leaving the force last season due to the accidental murder of another cop, whom he mistook for a suspect. Prez is now a teacher at Tilghman Middle School, which finds him teaching Maths to the four new teenage characters. Possibly the least commanding presence ever to stand in front of a class of children, it’s not long before Prez realises that he’s got a lot of work on his hands if he wants to get his charges to respect him. He spends a whole lesson trying to get his pupils to work out a ‘fun’ maths problem, whilst dealing with a stand-off between two girls (ending in one of The Wire's trademark startling bursts of violence the next school day) and the clowning around of some of the kids. He manages to pose his question just as the bell rings, leaving him to sigh resignedly, “A – Who arrives in Philly first?... And B – By how much time? And C – Who gives a rat’s ass?”.

Another returning character who looks like he’s going to play a big part this season is Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi). His catching of the Mayor in a compromising situation has seen him make Sergeant via the back door and his decision to go to Major Valchek (Al Brown) for advice on what to do with this information could spell huge repercussions down the line for Mayor Royce. Carcetti has the Major’s ear and Valchek’s predisposition for acting in a spiteful manner (He kicked off Frank Sobotka’s downfall in season two, remember) will most likely signal the beginning of the end for the Mayor. Although it’s odd at first to see him separated from his partner, Carver (Seth Gilliam), who’s still a Sergeant in the Western District under Major Daniels (Lance Reddick), it becomes clear that their double-act had run its course and it makes sense to split the two up and let them become compelling creations in their own right.

But what of Omar (Michael K. Williams)? The greatest character in the history of television appears to be losing a little interest in “the game”. After dispatching of his nemesis, Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), with the help of Brother Mouzzone last season, he’s left in a bit of a rut. In the marvellous opening scene of the third episode, Omar heads out onto the streets of Baltimore, unarmed and decked out in a blue silk robe and matching pyjama bottoms to buy a box of Cheerios and a carton of menthol cigarettes. Stopping to light one up in front of one of the many boarded-up row houses on the streets of Baltimore, a big bag of gel caps of heroin is thrown down from the upstairs window. Realising that he can now get by on reputation alone with little actual work, a tussle with Marlo is surely on the cards.

Omar has long since been The Wire's trump card (not every TV drama has a homosexual stick-up artist up its sleeve) and the fact that, four seasons in, there’s never been a point where you thought that he was in danger of becoming a little too broadly sketched is a testament to the writing team that features such literary giants as George P. Pelecanos (Fun trivia fact: Omar’s boyfriend, Ronaldo is seen reading Pelecanos’ Drama City at the breakfast table in the aforementioned scene) and Richard Price. The choice of recruiting writers previously more entrenched in writing for the page rather than the screen has proved to be a masterstroke from David Simon. It has given The Wire the rich, multi-textured feel of a great novel and it’s all done with the detail and slow-burn atmosphere of the best crime fiction. A note to those Hollywood producers sitting on development hell-ensnared books by Pelecanos and Price; make sure you get these guys to adapt their own work, get David Simon in as producer and use the same casting director as The Wire. Oh, and if you’re ever developing King Suckerman, get Michael K. Williams to play Wilton Cooper and Seth Gilliam would be perfect as Marcus Clay.

Anyway, the oversight of leaving The Wire off a list of the greatest television dramas of all time may at first seem like a travesty, but when it’s in a field of its own anyway, pitting it against other, admittedly great television shows just seems unfair to all concerned. As far as 21st century drama goes, The Wire is unequalled.

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Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Save the cheerleader, save the world.

The TV schedules, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial (ie Sky), are packed with classy US imports these days. In fact, next week sees the launch of two more in the shape of medical drama, 3lbs (Sunday, 10.50pm, BBC1), starring the always excellent Stanley Tucci (Big Night, The Daytrippers), which was pulled from the air by CBS after just three episodes and Kidnapped (Tuesday, 10pm, Channel 4) which has one of the most impressive casts for a new drama that I've ever seen, with roles for Delroy Lindo, Timothy Hutton, Dana Delany and Jeremy Sisto among others. It seemingly couldn't fail but it came up against House in the States and was roundly whupped in the ratings stakes, leading to its cancellation after just one season.

I'm not going to talk about either of those just yet though, having not seen them, but I do want to talk about two of the more recent US dramas (both of which, coincidentally, emanate from the NBC stable) to be launched on this sceptred isle; one of which doesn't really need the publicity but the other could do with every push it can get.

I'm sure that, by this point, every man and his illegal crossbred fighting dog has told you about how good Heroes is. Or does it just feel that way? Heroes (Monday, 10pm, Sci-Fi Channel, Sky Channel 129) has received one of the biggest promo drives I've ever witnessed, but it's tucked away on the Sci-Fi Channel, so only people with Sky subscriptions can see it at the moment. It comes to BBC2 in June, when it should become the must-see programme for the summer, but for the time being, those of us privileged enough to enjoy the status symbol of having a clunky old black mesh dish stuck on the side of our houses can see what all the fuss is about.

Anyway, all those people prattling on about it at the watercooler or whatever your workplace's equivalent is are right; Heroes is really very good indeed. I was initially a little suspicious due to its superficial similarities to Lost and the lazy journalists who used this comparison as a crutch. Not that I don't like Lost, I do, I was just understandably apprehensive as to whether we needed another puzzling, sprawling, vaguely paranormal thrillfest clogging up our schedules. Thankfully, Heroes isn't that show. Admittedly, it's a little on the hokey side, but after just four episodes I've been well and truly sucked into its barmy/plausible miniverse.

Heroes is big, brash and more than a little daft, but its major saving grace is that its completely aware of this. Taking cues from a multitude of comic books and movie and TV adaptations of comic books (most notably X-Men, Smallville and Unbreakable), its like watching a distillation of everything that's brilliantly silly about the superhero myth but, because creator Tim Kring acknowledges that the mere premise of the show requires a sizeable leap of faith from the audience, he rewards that by creating a credible world and relatable, if archetypal characters.

So we get cutie-pie cheerleader, Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere), who just happens to have developed the ability of tissue regeneration, meaning that whatever scrapes or accidents she manages to get herself into (and they come with astonishing frequency), she just picks herself up and goes about her business. Rushing into a derailed train on fire to save a trapped man? No problem. Throwing herself off a 70ft bridge onto the ground below? A walk in the park as long as she pops her shoulder back into place afterwards. Being roughed up by the star quarterback before falling head first onto a log? Well as long as the pathologist pulls a twig from said log out of her cerebellum, it's just a case of throwing on a lab coat and getting the fuck out of the morgue.

Then there's Hiro (Masi Oka), easily the most likeable of the principles. Blessed with the ability to monkey around with the space-time continuum, he's spent most of the time so far grinning from ear-to-ear and enthusing about his newfound powers like the comic geek he is. This is in wonderful contrast to the rest of the characters' brooding and, let's be honest, if you found out that you could manipulate the world to your benefit (the excellent story strand in the third episode showing Hiro and his incredulous mate, Ando hitting Vegas and cheating at cards was a great example of this, Rain Man homage and all) and the benefit of others, you too would be laughing your arse off all the time.

There's also schlubby LA beat cop, Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg, who finally gets a crack at playing lead schlub after being the sidekick type for years in shows like Felicity and Alias) whose knack for reading people's thoughts comes in handy when catching the bad guys, struggling NY artist, Isaac (Santiago Cabrera) who can paint the future as long as he is strung out on smack (although it must be said, he can't manage to convince someone to buy his shitty etchings), and Vegas-dwelling web stripper, Niki (Ali Larter - sex on legs), who seems to be developing her own ultraviolent alter ego, Ms. Hyde type.

Filling out this motley crew are brothers Nathan (Adrian Pasdar - who can fly) and Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia - who can take on the other heroes' powers as long as they are in the vicinity). Their story hasn't quite taken off yet (pun totally intended) and this is largely due to the sleepwalking Ventimiglia, although the end of the fourth episode hints that he may have more to get his teeth into in the future. It's nice to see the underrated Pasdar get a little exposure though and he plays Nathan as half Jim Profit, half Caleb from Near Dark - slightly oily (he is a congressional candidate after all) but he clearly loves his brother.

Tying them all together we have Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy), a genetics professor from India whose geneticist father hit upon the existence of the superheroes before his sticky end. It's unclear yet what part Mohinder has to play in proceedings and the scenes in which he stands in his father's old dimly-lit NY apartment, spouting clunky exposition are the only times when Heroes drags a little. Maybe that's Mohinder's power; telling us all what we already know in a patronising manner.

Even though Heroes' faults are often glaringly obvious, it rattles along at such a pace that they are easy to overlook. It's a remarkably adult slice of popcorn entertainment too with an often startlingly high level of grue and gore. When you have a big chunk of your ensemble being stalked by a killer intent on lopping off the top of your head and stealing your brain however, a bit of bloodletting is to be expected. This being on a major US network though, swearing is out of the question. Sure, you can have a lead character wake up on a mortuary slab with her insides showing, but there's a swift edit just as she starts to let out the understandable "Oh shit!".

The most impressive thing about Heroes thus far is that it has found its feet and its rhythm in double-quick time. There's been more incident already than there was in the whole first season of Lost and its time-hopping structure feels less like unnecessary padding than that show's incessant flashbacks. Like I said though, they're different shows and it's unfair to measure a fresh, new series against one that's had time to grow frustrating. I'm confident though that, in time, Heroes will be considered the better show, mostly because it is more concerned with taking the viewer on a wild ride than the evermore baffling chicanery of Lost, where the only people truly enjoying themselves anymore are the writers.

Kring has hinted at a five season run for Heroes and, who knows, that may be stretching the point a little. Something tells me though that we're going to have a lot of fun finding out.

I don't like American football - rugby for softarses, as I call it - one little bit. It's too slow and contains far too much unnecessary jargon for my liking. So why have I fallen head-over-heels for Friday Night Lights (Wednesday, 8pm, ITV4, Sky channel 120)? You would think the fact that I feel so strongly in my dislike towards gridiron that I would steer clear of it, but the fact is, I hate the sport but I love to watch films and TV about it.

From the fondly-remembered, albeit admittedly shit Goldie Hawn vehicle, Wildcats, which seemed to be on telly every school holiday during my childhood through to Oliver Stone's balletic paean to the sport and the money men hellbent on ruining it, Any Given Sunday, I don't think you can underestimate the knack that America's film and television makers have for turning this most sluggish of sports into something approaching high art. I guess it's the stop-start nature of American football that makes it translate so well into nail-gnawing drama. Watched live it's coma-inducing, but edited down to the highlights, then it's heart-stopping.

Friday Night Lights is a spin-off from the Billy Bob Thornton film of the same name and claims to be "inspired by" the H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger novel on which that movie was based. The names have been changed but the spirit remains the same. We're still following the fortunes of a small town, Texan high school football team (this time, the Dillon Panthers) and the effect that those fortunes have on the community. We even get snatches of that film's score from TX post-rockers, Explosions In The Sky and Connie Britton reprising her role as the coach's long-suffering wife and calming influence.

It shares the film's vibe of poetic elegance and slowly-unfurling, Altman-esque character study. The principles in FNL actually talk like real people do, most of the time, with the odd bit of grandstanding bombast thrown in for good measure (the nature of its subject allows for a little bluster though). It also looks beautiful; the scorched, sun-drenched palette giving each frame an ethereal glow.

Most of all though, it's a smartly-written and brilliantly acted show. The deus ex machina of having QB1, Jason Street (Scott Porter) sever his spinal cord in the opening episode doesn't feel too forced either, as it allows nervy, insecure back-up quarterback, Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) to take centre stage and his lack of faith in his own abilities are mirrored by the Dillon citizens' own apprehensions.

Faith is the operative word here as the writers have hit upon a winning way of making the show's religious overtones more palatable, partly because belief, both in God and in the Panthers, is constantly being tested, but also because this is America's bible belt and considering how much of a hot button religion is these days, FNL's central themes end up taking on a deep resonance. When all's fucked up, you turn to God, but where do you turn when even He forsakes you? That's the lingering question posed here and even though the answers may seem pat (believe in yourself, take control of your own destiny, yada yada yada), the tangible sense that, to the townsfolk of Dillon, religion and football is all they have (echoed in the brilliant opening sequence of the second episode which shows various church congregations all across town praying for the wellbeing of their starting QB) is what anchors these cliches in believability.

Like I said, the cast is invariably excellent, with Kyle Chandler as conflicted everyman coach, Eric Taylor being the heart of the show and a master of understatement, while both Gilford and Taylor Kitsch essay different ends of the insecurity spectrum - Gilford's Matt Saracen is an introverted stranger to self-confidence while Kitsch's Tim Riggins over-compensates for his self-loathing by carousing and boozing away his talent or feuding with motormouth, egotistical running back, Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles). Connie Britton also brings surprising grace notes to what could have been a thankless role.

It's early doors yet for Friday Night Lights, but the signs are that this could be a classic. NBC have shown enough faith in it to commission a second season despite faltering ratings. Elegiac, poised and powerful, you owe it to yourself to give it a try, even though they do wear all that namby-pamby padding.

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Coming this spring.

Yes, I'm starting a new blog. What Yer Mam! is to music, so No Flipping! will be to television. Here are my three commandments...

  1. Watch TV
  2. Write about it
  3. Try to be funny
That is all, for now.


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