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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.


September 30, 2013

Mini-review: Masters of Sex 1x1-1x2 (Showtime/Channel 4)

Posted on September 30, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Masters of Sex

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Channel 4. Starts October 8

Although most people rate the works of Einstein and Schrödinger as among the most important works of science of the 20th century, the Masters and Johnson report has perhaps as much claim to the title as those do. A pioneering exploration of human sexuality, it overturned millennia of incorrect thinking, revolutionised attitudes towards homosexuality and provided a radical new look at female sexuality.

The team behind it were almost as interesting as the report itself. William Masters was a noted expert on human fertility while Virginia Johnson was a twice-married former nightclub singer who wanted a job as a secretary and caught Masters' eye when he was looking for a female partner who could help him with his work - which, initially at least, somewhat unusually involved prostitutes and couples being randomly and anonymously assigned to have sex with one another.

The study is the basis for the biographical Masters of Sex, which sees the always fabulous Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan (gosh, The Class seems so long ago) play Masters and Johnson respectively. The series is a somewhat straight look at the arrogant, repressed and controlling Masters and the more-free spirited, personable Johnson, who is ultimately the one with the people skills to recruit volunteers. It's also a Mad Men-esque look at the mores of the time, not just sexual but attitudes towards women - a time when the married Masters could suggest to Johnson that they have sex to avoid 'transference' to the study and pretty much firing her for saying no.

As you might expect, there's more than a few sex scenes, with the usual greater female nudity than male nudity, even when not strictly necessary to the plot. Strangely, though, it's quite a coy show, not quite as ready to deal with discussions and depictions of sexuality as you might have expected. The story is engrossing, largely because of the personalities of Masters and Johnstone. The cast are all great, particularly Sheen and Caplan.

But it's not going to be for everyone, since the plot is a little drawn out, and after a couple of episodes, my interest has started to wane, despite being primed to enjoy this. I'll stick with it, though.

September 30, 2013

Review: Atlantis 1x1 (BBC1/BBC America)

Posted on September 30, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BBC1's Atlantis

In the UK: Saturdays, 8.25pm, BBC1. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturdays, BBC America. Starts November 23
In Canada: Space. Starts October 12

Ever since Plato first mentioned it (and perhaps even before that), people have been fascinated by the story of Atlantis, a fabulous city that eventually sunk beneath the waves at the behest of Poseidon. Depending on who you talk to (and leaving aside some of the more exciting and loonier of theories), it was either a morality tale that Plato entirely fabricated or a memory of a genuine place, possibly even the Minoan colony on Santorini, which was destroyed c1600BC. Finding, locating and exploring it have been dreams of men and women ever since.

Equally, TV has been fascinated by both Atlantis (witness BBC1's recent drama-documentary Atlantis, Stargate: Atlantis, Aquaman, The Man From Atlantis et al) and Greek myth (I ran down a big list of them a while back, if you're interested), so it seemed natural that sooner or later there would be a show that united the two*: in this case, Atlantis from the producers of Merlin and the creator of, surprisingly enough, Misfits.  

However, as we discovered with Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans et al, there is something of a temptation as soon as the setting is 'BC' and Greek myth and/or history is involved to take 2,000 years of history and countless cultures from across the Mediterranean and squish them all into one big lump.

So brace yourself purists, because here we find a (seemingly) modern day guy called Jason (possibly of the Argonauts) sent back in time to Atlantis, a city that looks very craggy and North African and almost everyone dresses like they're in a Sinbad movie (or even Prince of Persia or Sky1's Sinbad). There he meets Pythagoras (sixth century Greek philosopher and mathematician from the island of Samos) and Hercules (Roman name for the Greek hero Herakles, who in myth lived around the 14th and 13th century BC and pretty much everywhere in Greece except Atlantis).

Surprisingly, Atlantis is ruled by King Minos (13th or 16th century BC ruler of the island of Crete) and he has to preside over a tribute of Atlantean victims (originally, victims demanded in tribute from Athens by Minos in return for continued peace) to a half-man, half-bull creature called the Minotaur, who was a man cursed by the gods for some reason (actually, the son of Minos' wife Pasiphaë, who had a passion for bulls, after Minos decided to keep the bull Poseidon had given to him especially to sacrifice). Guess who's going to have to kill it? I'll give you a clue - it's not Theseus, future king of Athens.

Sigh.

Nevertheless, for all that messing around with myth, Atlantis is a relatively fun but flawed piece of Saturday night family entertainment that'll probably keep me watching for a while, at least. Here's a trailer - minor spoilers ahoy after the jump:

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September 27, 2013

Mini-review: The Michael J Fox Show 1x1-1x2 (NBC)

Posted on September 27, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Michael J Fox Show

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC

It's surprisingly hard to say what The Michael J Fox Show is about. Is it about Michael J Fox, you might wonder? No, it's about a former TV news anchor called Mike Henry who's played by Michael J Fox. But at the same time, it's also about Michael J Fox, since Henry quit his job after being diagnosed with Parkinson's, just like the actor. Then NBC (in the form of The Wire's Wendell Pierce) goes to Fox - sorry, Henry - and asks if he'd like to come back. So he does. Just like the actor.

So it's a show about TV journalism then? Well, no, because the first episode is largely a public information film about Parkinson's, its effects, what it's like to have it, the side-effects of its medicines and so on. While at the same time reassuring everyone that even if someone has Parkinson's, they can still do their job.

So it's a show about Parkinson's then? Well, no, again, because the show is also about Fox - sorry, Henry - and his family: his wife, his daughter and his two sons. Most of the second episode thinks it's Modern Family, with the kids up to various anctics involving mistaken lesbianism and trying to hit on girls, while Henry gets a crush on the hot upstairs neighbour (played by Henry - sorry, Fox's - wife Tracy Pollan) and his on-screen wife (Betsy Brandt) tries to be understanding about it.

It's all very confusing. As a result, the one thing it should be - funny - seems to have got lost along the way. While it's educational, heart-warming, intelligent and a whole lot of other worthy things, the whole "laughing" thing seems to have been forgotten about in the mad rush to put together a show about Michael J Fox called The Michael J Fox show that isn't simple a show about Michael J Fox but yet still is.

Fox is engrossing. Pierce is as great as always. The Henry family is well drawn. The show is well meaning.

But laugh out loud funny it ain't. You'll laugh a bit for sure. But only a bit. One to watch if you like Fox or want to learn a bit about living with Parkinson's. For actual laughs or anything very innovative, you'll have to look elsewhere, I'm afraid.

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