Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Breaking bad season 5 part 2 episode 1

Tread Lightly

Sunday saw one of TV's most anticipated premiers of all time hit our screens. Breaking Bad season 5 part 2 kicked off to an audience twice the size as it was just 8 episodes ago. I admit I feared it couldn't live up to the hype but I should have known better than to doubt Vince Gilligan. As the Final credits rolled I realised I hadn't taken a breath in about a minute.

From revisitIng the flash forward to Badger's Star Trek fanscript to the confrontation, Sunday night's episode was the usual mix of nail-biting suspense, great comic relief and flawless dialogue that we've come to expect from breaking bad.

The episode kicked off by taking us back to the future, returning to the day of Walter's 52nd birthday. He arrives at his family home now abandoned and seized by the state. Various vandals and squatters have left the house in a state of decay possibly referring back to the Ozymandias poem used in the promo for this season about a king of kings who saw his kingdom crumble. A neighbour sees him and drops her bag of shopping in shock. He walks inside to see HEISENBERG spray painted in large yellow letters across his living room wall. The implication perhaps that Walter has become some kind of local legend like a New Mexican Pablo Escobar.

Breaking Bad has always make great use of musIc montages  and this episode had one of the best yet. We see Hank go through all the files for the Heisenberg case laying down photo after photo on the table. An excellent device that gave us a visual timeline of five seasons of television in about a minute and a half.

Breaking Bad's greatest strength is that not a second of footage nor line of dialogue is ever wasted. Even the most seemIngly insignificant of details can be called back or foreshadow huge events later to come. Take Badgers's star Trek babble for example. While we all got a kick out of the scruffy stoner rambling about science fiction. I had an inkling there was more to it. I'm by know means clever enough to figure it out myself but the good folks over on reddits breaking bad forum had an excellent discussion on it. A less cerebral link between the two series however is the implications of colours. A common staple of Star Trek was the use of the "red shirts", a phrase that's made it into the pop culture lexicon. Characters wearIng red shirts where there just to be killed in that episode. Hard core fans and the observant amongst us are likely aware of breaking bad's fantastic and significant use of the colour spectrum. The implications of various colours are debated on blogs and fan forums often. Red and yellow are thought to imply death is imminent. Of course this could be a coincidence but Breaking Bad generally isn't big on coincidence.

Of course the highlight of last night's episode was the confrontation between Hank and Walt. while lesser series might've dragged out a game of cat and mouse for weeks, Breaking Bad didn't get past the first episode and went in exhilarating fashion  from Hank knows to Walt knows Hank knows to Hank knows Walt knows he knows in all of 10 minutes. The fun in that final scene was in trying to guess what was running through the heads of the two brothers in law. And credit due to Dean NorrIs who made it easy by turnIng In an IncredIble percormance, saying more with his eyes than many actors can with theIr mouths.

Vince Gilligan has spent the last sIx years carefully weaving together elements of pop culture, ShakespearIan and classic literature, art, poetry and music to produce something ironically extremally original and undoubtedly one of if not the most compelling things on television. It's going to be a long week til next Sunday but at least we don't have to wait a  year for Hank to finish up in the bathroom again.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Newsroom
Aaron Sorkin returns to television after his wildly successful crack at film, with the well received and much rewarded Social Network. After tackling a subject matter as big as the inner-workings of the White House to massive critical acclaim Sorkin turns his attention to the people who report on the decisions made in the White House. The Newsroom centres around Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), who starts out as a likeable news anchor who, in the first scene of the first episode has a moment during a panel discussion where he suddenly realises that his life is worthless and from here on out he’s going  to whip his news team into shape and start delivering “real news”. So is it any good?

The Newsroom isn’t far off being a great show, but there’s just a couple of gaping flaws. Most notably and what a lot of people were quick to point out was that somewhere between the West Wing and The Social Network Aaron Sorkin forgot how to write women. The standard episode begins it coming to light that one of the women in the office has messed up by not covering an important news story or accidentally sending out a private email to everyone in the building. At this point Will and the boys will roll their eyes and set about fixing the screw-up in time for Will to go on the nine o’clock news so he can deliver eye-opening truth-bombs to American population. The bumbling incompetents in The Newsroom are a far-cry from the likes of CJ Cregg and The First Lady in the West Wing. But it’s all ok because every so often we’ll be reminded that they all have numerous PHDs. The whole thing just smacks of Sorkin saying “Women.  Am I right fellas?

One thing that becomes all too clear after a few episodes of The Newsroom is that Sorkin is treating it as his own personal soapbox to voice his thoughts and opinions on the state of things. This would be fine if the show itself wasn’t so self-assured. The characters are constantly telling each other how good their version of “the news” is and we’re constantly reminded how clever they all are. They walk around talking about how their news show is a cut above the rest and breaking down the likes of FOX and CNN and other lesser news stations so they can talk about what the lowly sheeple are responding to. Will of course gets most of this praise and it’s all too obvious that Will is Sorkins own thinly veiled avatar of himself. He walks around saying his quasi-catchphrase “I’m on a mission to civilize” (the show takes a few cues from the 1600s novel Don Quixote, a fact that they’re all too proud of and remind us every other episode)  Again there’s nothing inherently wrong with this until all the characters go around singing his praises. They talk about how he’s really a nice guy once you get to know him, and how he’s so clever and on far more occasions than is necessary, so handsome (thanks, but I think the viewers can make up their own mind on that one). The Newsroom feels all too often like Aaron Sorkin’s love letter to himself.

The Nesroom certainly has moments of brilliance there was a great episode where the staff hire a rogue reporter to get them the inside story on the violence in Egypt  and there’s a great commentary kicking off now on the phone hacking scandals There’s definitely flashes of that sharp fast Sorkin dialogue but this is not what we should expect from the writer of The West Wing. While there are plenty of programmes a lot worse than the Newsroom, The Newsroom’s shortcomings are magnified because it’s a show that really needs to be good. Because it’s the type of programme we need in the world where in The West Wing Sorkin gave America the perfect fictional president now he’s trying to give the world the perfect fictional news channel, one that cuts the bullshit and the spin. But it also needs to be good because it keeps insisting that it is. And most importantly it’s obvious that it could be really good. However it’s various problems means it keeps falling short of the mark.

There are moments when you see flashes of brilliance comparable to that of The West Wing but it’s usually quickly followed by Jeff Daniels looking smug or Alison Pill being irritable and scattered because that’s how women in top news stations act, right? To put it in perspective, if The West Wing and The Newsroom where to take the same exam, The West Wing would pass with first class honours while the Newsroom would be the guy who borrows his notes the night before and scrapes a pass. I hope lessons have been learned come season two. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

“Let's have a toast for the Scumbags

No one had much faith that it would happen. Some hardcore fans never gave up hope but most of us had moved on. I speak of course about the decision to resurrect Arrested Development from the sitcom graveyard. Was it an initiative of the Obama administration? Perhaps. Anyway they're bringing it back for a final miniseries and then a film to wrap it all up. Apparently it's long delayed return was caused by Michael Cera who didn't want to get stuck playing the same character (cough cough).
But what made this programme so fantastic beyond the overwhelmingly clever plotlines, which despite getting massively convoluted halfway through somehow managed to tie together in a neat little package by the end of the episode? It was very much a character driven affair and every single character was awful. When I say I awful I don't mean they were bad characters I mean they were terrible mean-spirited cold people and perhaps that's why it ultimately failed. Maybe people found it hard to watch a family of assholes screw each other over at every turn. However, it's this writer's opinion that all the best characters are, for all intents and purposes creeps, bastards, grumps and curmudgeons in their own right.
So consider this a celebration of the best of the worst, the characters you love to hate. The top five television characters that need a serious kicking.

No 5. Jay Cartwright of The Inbetweeners. Who among us didn't laugh uncontrollably when sex pest Jay Cartwright talked about "waiting for the gash to form an orderly queue" or scream "BUS WANKERS" at a crowd of innocent commuters. Jay embodied that one mate who you can't quite figure out why is always invited out and he's probably not as exaggerated as we'd like to admit.

No. 4. Dr. Gregory House of House. A doctor with zero empathy, narcissistic and casually racist but an indisputable medical genius making house the doctor that everyone who has an undiagnosible disease asks for but after ten minutes of his patronising snarky attitude would rather the disease.

No. 3. Pete Campbell of MadMen. A shameless suck-up, disloyal, unparalleled delusions of power just an all-round pest. Pete Campbell was like someone who was trying way too hard to be Don Draper and failing on all counts. He never made it hard to dislike him intensely and that's what earns him a place on this list. He wins a few points for being able to bust a move because to be fair it was hard not to be impressed when he pulled out the fox-trot with Alison Brie.

No 2.  GOB Bluth of Arrested Development I could have comprised this list entirely out of Arrested Development characters but I had to pick one. Rarely has there been a character quite as selfish as GOB Bluth. Played to absolute perfection by Will Arnett, Gob was a shameless womanizer a bad     brother and worst of all a terrible magician.

No. 1. Ari Gold of Entourage. It was no contest for the number one on my list and and definitely a contender for my favourite character of all time. Ari said some things that I dare not repeat in this article should my mother ever read it. Loud-mouthed casually racist, sexist and homophobic (his gay Asian assistant really wasn't in the best environment), rude, impatient, offensive, Ari ticked all the boxes of a true asshole but for some reason it was impossible not to like him because damn if he didn't get results. But he's the number one on this list for a number of reasons, his joy in making others miserable "I used to love firing people. It was one of the perks of my jobs!" His sexism "fire a man you create a rival, fire a woman you create a house wife". He embodied every characteristic of the egotistic and when it came to the final episode, his was by far the best ending.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Top Five television programmes cancelled before their time

Sometimes really bad TV shows seem to last forever, and sometimes really great TV programmes go on for far too long and by the time they finish they're a poor watered down version of the great shows they once were, but all too often really great television bursting with potential gets cancelled long before it's given a chance to find its feet. This is a celebration of those programmes that should have had a much longer run.

1) Arrested Development.

Whoever was behind the decision to axe Arrested Development made a huge mistake. Genius is a word that's often overused today (mostly by Kanye West) but this programme was nothing short of it. Flawless performances from a brilliant ensemble of talented actors, the subtle inside jokes rewarding loyal fans, the brilliant plotlines which within each 22 minute episode get massively convoluted and brilliant tie together in a neat little package at the end. It's the closest thing to a live action Simpsons that was ever made. It keeps me up at night that shows like Two And A Half Men are entering their 8th season while this get cancelled after two and a half ( Did that just happen I didn't even plan that). Make a movie I mean COME ON!

2) Veronica Mars.

 Ok, ok yes if you tell someone that you've been watching a television programme about a teenage detective who, when she's not busy with homework, solves crimes, it does conjour up an image of a bad, low budget, made for TV Disney film. However, Veronica Mars was one of the smartest teen dramas on the air. With a sassy heroine that falls somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a smorgasbord of brilliantly developed well rounded and diverse characters. Striking a perfect balance between scenes of eerie, dark and suspenseful drama and sharp witty comedy. Mars fans were left with a horribly unsatisfying cliff-hanger ending that left about a half dozen loose ends. Word on the blogosphere however, say that Kristen Bell is rallying the troops together and campaigning for a film to wrap it all up.

3) Freaks and Geeks.

Most TV programmes about teenagers fall into one of two traps, either they’re full of tried and tested clichéd characters, The jock, the cheerleader, the princess the basket-case, or they become obsessed with creating remarkably cool characters that everyone watching wishes they were. Judd Apatow created characters that everyone already is or have been. Everyone can in some way relate to the characters presented to us in this brilliant comedic drama beauifull capturing life in an eighties high school. I’d like to think I was one of the freaks but I guess deep down I know I was definitely (and in some ways still am) one of the geeks. This TV show did however launch the careers of Seth Rogen, James Franco and one of my favourite television actors, How I Met Your Mother’s Jason Segal and made Judd Apatow one of the most bankable comedy directors in Hollywood.
Fun Fact: Freaks and Geeks lends the name of its fictional high school “McKinley High to the insanely popular Glee.

4) Fire Fly

I’ll be honest I’ve only seen the first episode, I'm not much of a sci-fi geek but a friend of mine who is a massive one was pretty relentless in his demand that this make the list so here is Colum O’Toole’s argument for why FireFly should still be in the air.
Do you ever blue-ball for a mythological expansive universe but you’re too busy reading Pynchon for a college assignment or figuring out how to break the news to a loved one that they need to cop on and brush their teeth? Luckily, Joss Whedon made our lives a hell of a lot easier in short, 40 minute bursts of unparalleled escapism. Whereas Buffy was his opus extravaganza, Firefly was his finger to naysayers and fan boys alike which will, unfortunately, be remembered for departing this world far too soon.

5) J-Pod

Yeah you probably haven’t heard of it it’s pretty obscure. It turns out Canada is worth more than Trivial Pursuit and Justin Bieber. It’s more than capable of producing some dope television. J-Pod is an adaptation of a Douglas Coupland novel focussing on the hilariously dramatic lives of five people working in a video-game design lab of a software company. The show beautifully balances between the genres of comedy and drama. It knew no boundaries for plot (thier boss getting kidnapped and taken to china to work in a sweatshop where he becames a heroin addict was particularly out of the blue). It also featured a broad range of beautifully caricatured characters from the Asian mafia head Kam Fong to the homely Martha Stewartesque drug grower and seller mother. This show had it all.

Fans  of this wonderful television can only take solace in the fact that they didn't go on too long and decline in quality until they (for want of a better word) sucked. We’re looking at you Scrubs.
Honourable mention to Studio 60 on the sunset strip. It probably wasn’t good enough to be included but I really wanted it to be. But maybe if it had taken off Aaron Sorkin would have been too busy to write The Social Network. Anyway 30 Rock won that race for the TV show about a TV show but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Skins USA Review.

I waited until the second episode to pass judgement on the Skins US remake and I'm glad I did, because guess what? It's worth its salt after all. The first episode was a shot for shot remake of the first episode of the UK original and I think the main reason it fell flat for me was because it tried to replicate the British culture and characters of the original  but set it in a town in America and it just didn't translate. Imagine for example that you took the dialogue and characters of say Gossip Girl and set it in Dublin. It's Lego and mega blocks. It just won't fit.
The new episode instead gave us a completely new plotline unlike one we've seen before. It focused on Maxine (Tea Marvelli) , the most drastic change from the original cast but quickly became my favourite character though I was completely adverse to the idea of the gender swapping of Maxie, one of my favourite characters from the original, but after last nights episode she's really grown on me. Katie is a little different from her British counterpart Cassie going for a more unhinged, dead pan stare, serial killer vibe versus Cassie's dazed and confused act but each works in their own way. Everyone else however, is virtually a carbon copy.
The big Italian family makes for great viewing despite being a little clichéd. I'm also a little disappointed to see that the creators are not doing the whole minor celebrities playing the parents routine which I always got a kick out of in the original. Making Maxine of Italian descent was a nice move.
I've got to be honest, I'm finding it hard not to like Tony (James Newman). His acting leaves a little to be desired but I'd find it hard to deny that he's got that smooth charm required to play Tony, a charm that would come across as sleaziness in most actors.
 Skins is a mixed bag. I'm impressed by the creators gutsy decision to cast teenage actors as was intended, bringing on the 'wrath' of the Parents television committee who are lobbying to have it examined under child pornography laws and calling it "The most dangerous television show ever" (could they have asked for better advertising? They should quote that on their poster) . For the most part the acting is up to scratch, Not breath-taking but more than adequate. Some of the dialogue falls flat and doesn't quite feel natural and I think that could be part of the British influence not translating to American television. The humour is a little more obvious and things are spelt out lacking the subtlety of the original but that doesn't bother me too much. But let me tell you what does, the censoring. That bleeping of curse words completely snaps you out of any illusions you're under and makes you all too aware that you're watching a tv show. It's unnatural and reeks of producers sticking their noses in. If you're not allowed to say 'fuck' then say 'hell' or 'damn' not ideal but far more preferable to the annoying *bleep*. Also liking Tony's lesbian euphemisms "Worship at the Gucci shrine"..."Pluck the lady harp". Keep 'em coming.
Fans of the original will find it difficult to get over the idea of a remake of one of their favourite programmes and may be left cold by this but I think it could carve out a decent audience in the states (especially with the Parents television committee making it so cool). Skins USA is no masterpiece but it is an antidote to the 'rich kids spending daddy's money' formula that has dominated the teen drama scene since the late eighties. I watched the first episode out of curiosity, the second to do this review but I will be watching the third because I want to see where they go with it.
What's next?

Friday, January 21, 2011

First Post

So first things first. What's my blog going to be about? I'm a college student and a lazy one at that so more hours than is probably healthy are spent sat in front of the TV (well if we're being literal it's really in front of the computer. Who watches actual tv on an actual tv set nowadays?). Not the most noble of pursuits, I know.

I don't know where it got such a bad reputation from it was all the rage in 1950. But then it fell into disrepute and is up there with rap music and video games in poisoning the minds of the youth and turning our brains to mush and this has the added side effects of giving us square eyes. So yeah pretentious as it sounds I'm a bit of a TV buff (that's someone who watches too much tv instead of going out socialising and having conversations with girls to just about everyone else.)

So I'll be talking about current TV shows that I'm watching and maybe a film review here and there. Hopefully new stuff mostly but I might talk about some that have been around for a few years now and again. So keep reading if you're a TV buff (see above for definition)

My top ten favourite programmes right now and why I love them.

 1) How I met your Mother (Barney Stinson Is one of the reasons I started this blog)
    One of the sharpest comedies on the air growing hugely in popularity in the last few years especially this side of the Atlantic. definately worth checking out if you haven't already done so (and that goes for all the items on this list)

 2) Extras. I was slow of the mark with this one but I tore through it in a couple of days, It's that good. Hollywood actors playing twisted exageratted versions of themselves. Boasting quest appearence from Samuel. L. Jackson, David Bowie and Ben Stiller among others. Absolute genius.

 3) House MD. Hugh Laurie went to try and make it big in America, got a bit role on an episode of friends, followed by a role in Stuart Little to becoming almost over-night the star of the most watched television show in America. It's not hard to see why he can play an American better than most American actors.

 4) 30 Rock. Can't say enough good things about this programme. Constantly delivers every week. Hilariously charicatured characters and Tina Fey my absolute favourite woman in show-business.

5) Peep Show. One of my favourite british comedies following two hapless losers struggling thier way through life. A modern day 'odd couple'

6) Entourage. The life of a Hollywood actor is not surprisingly full of sex and drugs. But the show is more about male camaradarie and the importance of true friends and remembering your roots regardless of what life throws your way. Of course it would be nothing without Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) The loud mouthed obnoxious super agent.

7) The West Wing. Off the air for a while now but easily one of if not the best American Drama. West Wing Episodes

 8) Skins. A landmark in British drama. I'm holding judgement on the USA remake untill I see the second episode, but it's not looking good. Expect a review next week,

 9) Arrested Development It's an absolute travesty that this was cancelled so early I mean "Come On!" Though I've heard it's all systems go for a film.

 10) Seinfeld. Best American sit-com ever made. And it's about nothing. Credit due to Curb your Enthusiasm (Just short of making the list) for giving us Seinfeld fans the reunion without doing the reunion that we've always wanted.

Shoot! I forgot The Inbetweeners. That's up there with the best of them.