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January 27, 2016

Review: Baskets 1x1 (US: FX)

Posted on January 27, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

 Baskets on FX

In the US: Thursdays, 10pm ET/PT, FX

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell not only if something is funny but if it's actually trying to be funny. Consider the clown. The very name 'clown' evinces the ides that humour is his raison d'être. Yet all he does all day is dress up very weirdly, squirt others with water from a flower and have big shoes. 

Do you know anyone who finds clowns funny? I don't. Do kids, the alleged target audience, find clowns funny? Most seem to get nightmares about them and their horrifying nature is supported in all manner of movies.

Yet clowns continue to exist.

Consider then the irony of Baskets. It's written and created by Zach Galifianakis and Louis CK, both noted names in comedy. It stars Galifianakis not once but twice as twin brothers Chip and Dale Baskets, which again suggests the show is a comedy. And Chip Baskets is himself a clown, having gone to a prestigious clown school in Paris and who styles himself as 'Renoir'.

All indicators, surely, of comedy?

Yet sitting through it, I had to ask myself many many times: "Am I missing something or is this just not funny? At all." Is it supposed to be funny that Baskets has enrolled in a Paris clown school but doesn't speak French? Or that the first five minutes of everyone else's dialogue are in unsubtitled French? I didn't laugh. Maybe it was because I could understand what everyone was saying and you're not supposed to be able to, I thought.

So is it funny that when he has to return home to the US because he's run out of money, the Frenchwoman he loves agrees to marry him but with the proviso that "I don't love you. It's only because I want a Green Card. I do not find you attractive, so if I find someone who is attractive, is it okay if I go off with him?" It's dark. Very dark. It could be funny, if a little xenophobic. Maybe I'm supposed to laugh. I don't know.

Is it funny when Baskets has to get a job as a rodeo clown? Or when he has a crash on his moped and he meets a very low key, underplayed, monotone insurance agent (Martha Kelly) and asks to borrow $40 from her so he can pay for his fiancée's HBO connection? Is Louie Anderson in drag playing Galifianakis' mum funny? Is Galifianakis being pronged by a rodeo bull funny?

I. Just. Don't. Know.

It might well be that this is hilariously funny stuff for some people. The kind of people whom Aaron Sorkin thought would lap up commedia dell'arte sketches in a primetime Saturday night sketch show.

But not me. Is that funny?

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January 26, 2016

Review: Stan Lee's Lucky Man 1x1 (UK: Sky 1)

Posted on January 26, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Stan Lee's Lucky Man

In the UK: Fridays, 9pm, Sky 1
In the US: Not yet acquired

Stan Lee's the kind of guy who gets to have his name in the title of things. While opinion is divided about exactly how responsible he, rather than say Jack Kirby et al, is for creating Spider-Man, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Daredevil and Doctor Strange, he did enough that he gets to have movies and TV shows called Stan Lee's Mighty 7, Stan Lee's Superhumans, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels, Stan Lee's Academy of Heroes and Stan Lee's Oscar Campaign, and to cameo in pretty much all the Marvel universe movies.

By now, he has both name and face check familiarity with the general populace. At least in the US. In the UK? Maybe.

Anyway, that's what Sky 1's probably gambling with Stan Lee's Lucky Man, in which James Nesbitt is a London police detective with a gambling problem who gets possibly the worst thing in the world for a man with his addiction - a magic bracelet that gives him incredibly good luck.

Lee contributed a one-page synopsis for the show, so by normal naming rights, this should probably be called Neil Biswas's Lucky Man, given Biswas (The Take) developed the synopsis into the series and has written most, if not all of the first season's 10 episodes. However, Sky 1 almost certainly figures the show could do with a boost in the ratings/overseas exports sales through Lee's presence in the show's name since in the scheme of things, Lucky Man is probably on a par with Crime Traveller and other mildly science-fictiony/fantasy TV series without a huge amount of oomph.

Here's a trailer.

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January 25, 2016

Review: The X-Files 10x1 (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

Posted on January 25, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The X-Files

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 5. Starts early February

Behold! Feast your eyes! Do you know what this is?

The Pharos Project 2 #1

Well, firstly, it's epic testament to how sh*t I was at Aldus Pagemaker 4.0, 22 years ago when I was still at university. Did you know there's a difference between black & white and greyscale? I didn't, apparently.

But secondly, you are looking at what is the very first magazine in the UK to contain an article about The X-Files. Well, the second magazine to be exact, but it was the first article written by someone who'd actually seen it. It was certainly the first magazine to have one Fox Mulder and one Dr Dana Scully on its cover.

See, I'd recently read that TV Zone, which contained an article about The X-Files culled from a press release, saying how good it was. Intrigued and since I had Cambridge Cable (which became NTL which became Virgin Media), which carried that new fangled Sky 1 and therefore The X-Files, I decided to watch it. I was sufficiently impressed by the episode, Squeeze, to decide to dedicate the cover of the university TV society magazine I edited to The X-Files

Before you knew it, I was publishing the UK's very first X-Files (and Baylon 5) fanzine. Probably the only one, too. And learning about greyscale and even colour printing at the same time. And thus my career in TV-magazine publishing was born.

We did very well for ourselves, once BBC2 decided to show The X-Files and it became a national phenomenon. In fact, we lasted a good few issues.

The Pharos Project 2 #2The Pharos Project 2 #3

The Pharos Project 2 #5But to fill our pages, we came up with all sorts of exciting wheezes. We reviewed the episodes. In fact, we came up with the hugely novel and mind-blowing idea of importing NTSC videos of the episodes as they aired in the US, converting them to PAL, and then watching them so we could preview the episodes before they aired in the UK and tell people if they were any good. Can you imagine the cunning? 

How we thrilled as we watched FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the supernatural, particularly aliens who liked to abduct people, especially Mulder's sister. How we - or rather I - tried desperately to prove that Mulder and Scully were 'a thing' in 'The X-Files romance guide', while my partner in crime, Jonathan Templar, poo pooed the evidence right in front of his eyes. I wanted to believe… he didn't. How silly did he feel eventually, hey?

But all good things had to come to an end. In particular, we discovered, as young people often do, that time is not infinite and neither is energy, and if you're working two jobs to make ends meet, it's hard to publish a magazine as well. Particularly one that involves having to talk to that beardy bloke in Forbidden Planet who likes to have sex with teenage girls because they 'have no frame of reference'. 

Shudders.

Also, we went off The X-Files, which somewhat ruined the whole magazine. I can't remember the exact point we fell out of love with the show. Was it the first time or the second time it turned out that the previous definitive explanation for Mulder's sister's abduction was an elaborate government hoax? Maybe it was the third time. Perhaps it was when David Duchovny decided to leave. I can't even remember seeing those Doggett (Robert Patrick) episodes, let alone the ones with Annabeth Gish when she replaced Anderson. I think the last one I saw was with Scully staring at a spaceship underwater off the coast of Africa.

Or perhaps it was just because The X-Files was of its time. It fit the zeitgeist of the early to mid-90s nicely, with government conspiracies, UFOs, a man and a woman working perfectly happily and largely platonically together, mutually respectful of each other's skills (can you imagine that?). And then the late 90s hit and suddenly all those conspiracies seemed just a little bit passé.

Now, of course, conspiracy theories are back in vogue. Fox News used to have Glenn Beck literally drawing on blackboards to illustrate how the world is run by any number of secret conspiracies.

He may be gone, but Fox News carries on his work and with Edward Snowden revealing that Big Brother really is watching us all, some conspiracies don't look quite as unlikely as they used to.

And so it is, into this age of the Internet and smartphones and stealth drones above us, Fox has given us back The X-Files in a new series in which The Truth Is Out There, We Want To Believe, and it really all could be a case for Mulder and Scully. If only they were still together. And working for the FBI.

And even if I can't remember exactly why I stopped watching it the first time round, it did remind me of at least one reason: FFS, Chris Carter. Would you just quit it with "That thing we know definitively was true? That we actually saw happen? That was just an elaborate government plan. This is the real truth." 

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