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Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.


March 28, 2011

Review: Good Dog 1x1

Posted on March 28, 2011 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Good Dog

In Canada: Sundays, 8pm ET/MT, HBO Canada

Never let it be said that "What have you been watching this week?" has no effect. Last Friday, MoreTears pointed out that a new Canadian show called Good Dog had escaped my notice (I was on holiday when it started, to be fair) and I should give it a try. Well, I have, so here's a review of the first episode at least.

Now Ken Finkleman is probably a name you won't know unless you're Canadian. Amongst other things, he was the creator of CBC's The Newsroom, which first aired in 1996 and was revived nearly a decade later in 2004. A sort of cross between Larry Sanders, The Office and Drop the Dead Donkey, The Newsroom was a darkly satirical show looking at TV news broadcasting and starred Finkleman as a slightly mild-mannered TV producer called George.

Well, George is back - although this might be a different George altogether, even if he is played by Ken Finkleman and is a TV producer who's obsessed with ratings - in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Hang on, it's not Curb Your Enthusiasm. Maybe it's Lead Balloon?

Because we have here something that's suspiciously like both - so suspiciously, that most of the first episode is about how similar the show is to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Because we're in meta-land here.

See, George the TV producer has this great idea for a reality TV show in which he and his 30-year-old model girlfriend (Lauren Lee Smith - Riley from one season of CSI, as well as things such as The Listener and Mutant X) are the stars. It'll follow him and her around, doing their thing. And that's about the extent of his idea.

As a result, the network is worried. They don't even live together, so how's that going to work? Of course, she can't move in because she has kids and he hates kids, which makes the network worry their relationship won't last. So to get the show on the road, George proposes to his girlfriend and she - and her kids, her dog, her Austrian nanny and her furniture - all move in.

That causes George all manner of grumbles.

If you're in Canada, you can watch some clips of it over here, but if you're not, here's Ken Finkleman talking about the news for 15 minutes, instead.

Continue reading "Review: Good Dog 1x1"

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March 24, 2011

Lost Gems: Hot Metal (1986-1988)

Posted on March 24, 2011 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Hot Metal

Anyone who was around in the 80s will remember the fun Rupert Murdoch brought to the newspaper industry here in England. The move from Fleet Street to Wapping, his acquisition of The Times, his fights with the unions - I'd go on, but it would only depress me.

Such 'fun' was actually ripe for satire and David Renwick and Andrew Marshall, who'd written a previously vicious and satirical sitcom, Whoops Apocalypse, decided they would do the same for the Murdoch press. Made by LWT, Hot Metal (the name given to printing presses by the industry) ran from 1986 and 1988 and followed the fortunes of The Daily Crucible, the world's dull newspaper, after its acquisition by Terence "Twiggy" Rathbone (Robert Hardy). Its editor, Harry Stringer (Geoffrey Palmer), gets 'promoted' to managing editor and a new, more exciting editor found: Russell Spam (Robert Hardy - again. The running gag is, of course, that everyone thinks they're the same person, until they're spotted side by side; but metaphorically, Spam and Rathbone are two sides of the same coin, just as say Kelvin MacKenzie and Rupert Murdoch were).

Spam then takes the paper downmarket, turning The Crucible as its now called into a sensation-seeking red top. He's helped by journalist Greg Kettle (Richard Kane), who intimidates his victims by claiming to be "a representative of Her Majesty's press" and produces stories such an allegation that a vicar is a werewolf. Throughout the first series, there was also a running plot involved cub reporter Bill Tytla (John Gordon Sinclair) gradually uncovering an actual newsworthy story that went to the very heart of government.

Come the second series, Stringer has left after vanishing in a mysterious aircraft accident, to be replaced by former daytime chat show host Richard Lipton (Richard Wilson), while John Gordon Sinclair has been replaced by Maggie Troon (Caroline Milmoe). In all, 12 episodes were made as well as a Comic Relief special in which Rathbone moves into satellite TV (just like Rupert Murdoch) with the aid/opposition of the returning Stringer.

It was a delightfully funny, delightfully vicious satire of the industry that's as relevant more than two decades later as it was at the time. There's not much of it I can show you right now bar these two bits from the first episode and that Comic Relief special, but enjoy - it has a great theme tune by Alan Price, best known for his work in the pop group The Animals as well as the various Lindsay Anderson films O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital. Happily however, you can get it on DVD.

March 23, 2011

Review: Endgame 1x1-1x2

Posted on March 23, 2011 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Endgame

In Canada: Mondays, 10pm ET/PT, Showcase

"If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived." - Sherlock Holmes describing Mycroft Holmes in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter

It seems that no matter where you go in North America, more and more cable channels (and even Netflix) are reckoning that the key to getting good ratings and making money is to actually make TV programmes rather than simply air re-runs. HBO, Showtime, AMC, Starz: they're all at it.

Canada's no different and with CBC currently suffering budget cuts everywhere (and churning out crud like InSecurity instead of The Border ), we have to look to lovely subscription TV to find bolder attempts at quality TV.

Showcase, which has been having a brave stab at quality (with varying degrees of success) with the likes Lost Girl, Blackstone, Moderation Town, Cra$h & Burn and Haven, has now waded into the problematic world of detectives. I say problematic because there have been so many detective shows already. As a result, detectives in TV shows need to have quirks to stand out from all the others - that's the law. Everyone knows that.

So we've had fat detectives, thin detectives, gourmet sandwich-eating detectives, 80s-TV obsessed detectives, detectives with OCD, working class detectives, upper class detectives, detectives that live on house boats with their robots (Riptide, in case you couldn't place it), detective brothers and more. But generally they've all had one thing in common: they actually want to solve crimes. Okay, maybe not Jonathan Creek, but everyone else, largely yes.

So let's add to this mix a very unique detective: Arkady Balagan, a Russian chess grandmaster with agoraphobia. He can't leave his hotel so wanders around in his pyjamas and dressing gown all day. He's also a bit of an a-hole - is that why the KGB have been trying to kill him? But because he needs to pay his hotel bills, he starts solving crimes to claim the reward money rather than because of any sense of altruism.

And he turns out to be quite good at it.

Cue the trailers, one with a particularly funky bit of music, one with a bit more explanation.

Continue reading "Review: Endgame 1x1-1x2"

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