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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.


June 6, 2008

Review: In Plain Sight 1x1

Posted on June 6, 2008 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

In Plain Sight

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, USA Network
In the UK: They're all in hiding

Awful. Just awful.

What? You want more from that in a review?

Sigh. Okay. Here we go then.

Although at first sight the USA Network has a clear theme - it's the “network of characters” - that's not quite what it is. It's the network of 80s shows. These weren't shows made in the 80s, mind. These are shows that fit the show templates of the 80s.

For the most part, we're talking private detective shows – quite good ones at that. So, for example, we have Monk, the private detective who works for the police department and has OCD. We have Burn Notice, featuring the private detective who's an ex-spy. And we have Psych, the private detectives who also work for the police department and pretend to be psychics.

Typical story in any of these: helpless person comes to private detective, private detective investigates, finds clues, solves crime use his special “character” skills. The end.

Psych is in fact the purest of these retro 80s shows, since not only does it use the old script templates of the 80s, it references all the shows explicitly (I'm still guffawing at Gus's Airwolf jacket) and even has the same actors (Corbin Bernsen, for example).

As we can see the USA Network knows its audience: old enough to remember the 80s and its tele fondly; wishing they made tele like in the good old days.

Thing is, most 80s US TV was a bit pants. If we polish off our old Betamaxes of Riptide, Simon and Simon, Tucker's Witch, Jake and The Fatman, et al, we'd see how poorly they stand up compared to the far more sophisticated and intelligent fare (with exceptions) that modern US TV has to offer.

Except we don't have to, because here's In Plain Sight, starring Mary McCormack. It's an 80s police/action show lovingly recreated in every detail using modern television techniques. And it's rubbish.

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June 5, 2008

Today's Joanna Page: To The Ends of the Earth

Posted on June 5, 2008 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Joanna Page as Marion Chumley in To The Ends of The Earth

First, a couple of public service announcements. You can listen to Joanna Page and Kris Marshall on Tuesday's Daily Mayo (34 minutes, 16MB) talking about Fat Pig, and it turns out that absolutely everything I said about their interpretations of the play was right. I'm a theatre genius. You should listen to it purely for that reason alone, but it's also possibly the only time you'll hear either actor being asked to work out the volume of a hemisphere of radius 10cm. That might float your boat, too.

Our Joanna is also going to be on The Paul O'Grady Show this Friday (5pm C4, 6pm C4+1), discussing Fat Pig again - yes, I belong to a gym that has The Paul O'Grady Show (and Robyn and The Ting Tings) playing 24/7 on its TV screens: why do you ask?

Now, on with Today's Joanna Page, which is To The Ends of The Earth. As you might have gathered by now, I do loves a nice bit of naval fiction, particularly if it's set in the 19th century.

Not all period naval fiction is the same, though. CS Forester's series of books featuring Horatio Hornblower, personified on TV screens most recently by another Welsh god, Ioan Gruffudd, is about ambition, moral values, doing the right thing and the little details of life in the Royal Navy.

The Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian, on which the movie Master and Commander was based, are about many things including the mechanics of sailing, politics and the state of science and medicine during the times of the Napoleonic Wars. But principally they're about the etiquette and social life on board ships and within the Navy. You're stuck on board a ship of war for anything up to a year with a bunch of men who were probably pressed into service, rather than having volunteered, and you have very little to do: how do you keep charge? How do you while away your time?

William Golding's “To The Ends of the Earth” is a trilogy of books that follows young aristo Edmund Talbot as he makes his way down to Australia to become a politician. As you might expect from the author of Lord of the Flies, it's almost the flipside of the Aubrey-Maturin series: Aubrey, Maturin and the crews of the various ships Aubrey commands in the series are all jolly good chaps and fine company, with only a couple of exceptions; “To The Ends of the Earth” asks the more unpleasant question: what if you're stuck on board a ship populated by complete bastards and you're not too well laden with social skills yourself? What do you do then?

Book 1, the Booker Prize-winning Rites of Passage, concerns the downfall of one of Talbot's fellow passengers, the Reverend Colley and is something of a mystery story - what happened to the Reverend that brought him so low? Close Quarters follows on and concerns an obviously ill Talbot and his instant love for Marion Chumley, a passenger on another ship they encounter. The third book, Fire Down Below, concludes the voyage of the increasingly unreliable HMS Pandora.

In 2005, “To The Ends of the Earth” was turned into a series of three TV movies for BBC2. Guess who they got to play Marion.

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June 4, 2008

Win Porterhouse Blue on DVD

Posted on June 4, 2008 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

As promised, it's competition time again. This time, it's your chance to win a copy of classic Channel 4 comedy drama Porterhouse Blue on DVD.

Porterhouse Blue

In late-'80s Britain, Porterhouse College, Cambridge, is an anachronism, its students uniformly male and (in the vast number of cases) privately educated. When the incumbent Master dies (from a stroke brought on by overeating – a Porterhouse Blue) the government gets its revenge on Porterhouse by appointing as his successor an old graduate, the politician Sir Godber Evans. One of the tiny minority of state-school students the college has had forced on it over the years, Evans returns to his alma mater determined to drag this bastion of privilege into the twentieth century. The elderly academic staff cease their bickering and close ranks against him, but the new Master finds his most implacable and unscrupulous opponent in Skullion, the college porter.

First broadcast in 1987, Porterhouse Blue was based on the book by Tom Sharpe, and starred David Jason, Ian Richardson, John Sessions, Griff Rhys Jones, and a host of top notch character actors. It's still very funny, although even at the time of broadcast, it was satirising a Cambridge University of decades past, rather than the University as it was then: there were no men-only colleges or curfews; you couldn't move for condoms and sex advice being handed out to freshers and research students; and porters mostly rolled their eyes at any 'young gentlemen' who weren't so good at actual work. It's fairer to say it satirised the university's latent tendencies and attitudes with a college of extremes.

Having said that, the real-life Peterhouse College was still a bit weird.

All the same, it's still very well written, funny and some of its points still hit home, whether you've ever been there or not. The students who think they can solve all the world's problems so easily – by banning sex – the academic vs sporty divide: it's all recognisable.

Jason opened everyone's eyes to his acting potential with his portrayal of Skullion, the most fervent of Porterhouse supporters, and Richardson's lefty Master makes an interesting contrast to his later, more famous Machiavellian roles. Sessions is a little bit lacking as the swot who hates all the 'young gentlemen' and has a crush on his bedder, but he still manages to carry the b-plot well. And there's a cracking theme song by the Flying Pickets.

At three hours run-time, it's a little bit of a marathon but one that's probably worth running. No extras to speak of on the DVD, but we're used to that by now from 4dvd.

To win a copy of Porterhouse Blue, as per usual, all you have to do is leave a witty and amusing comment below or plead your case, explaining why you're the most deserving recipient. The deadline for entries is the 18th June 2008. Good luck!

Porterhouse Blue is available for £19.99, but you can buy it from Amazon.co.uk for £9.48.

Disclaimer: I went to Cambridge University. In mitigation, I'll just say that I did go to one of the more rubbish colleges, rather than one of the posher central ones. It's interesting to see, incidentally – despite the fact all the Porterhouse scenes were filmed elsewhere – how much the town has changed, and how much it hasn't. No bike ban on Trinity Street in 1987 for starters...

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