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What did you watch this fortnight? Including It's Kevin, Plebs, GI Joe: Retaliation, Parks and Recreation, and Arrow

Posted on March 28, 2013 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What did you watch this week fortnight?", my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I've watched this week fortnight that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

First, the usual recommendations:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV)
  • Archer (FX, 5USA)
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV)
  • Cougar Town (TBS/Sky Living)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Go On (NBC)
  • House of Cards (Netflix)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4)
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4)
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1)
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic).

These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can't be sure which.

A combination of pluses and minuses in terms of time means that although I've nearly watched all of House of Cards, there's still a lot left in my viewing queue, including the latest episodes of The Bates Motel, Modern Family, Archer, Cougar Town and Southland. I'm sure they'll survive without me for a bit, and the Easter weekend should give me a chance to catch up. All the same, I have had the chance to try out a couple of new shows:

It's Kevin
Kevin Eldon's been one of the stalwarts of British comedy for the last 20 years or so - his Big Train appearances, especially his George Martin impressions, were all great, as were his appearances on shows like Fist of Fun. So I had high hopes for this, his first leading comedy role. And it's all right. The second episode was considerably funnier than the first, but largely it's the kind of show that's intellectually interesting and raises the occasional smile, but nothing laugh out loud funny.

Plebs
I had firm expectations of disliking this, ITV2's Roman era answer to The InBetweeners. And it certainly fits The InBetweeners mould, with three lads - two mates, one sensitive, one all mouth (but no trousers - literally) and their slave - moving to Rome from the country where they get office jobs (apart from the slave) and try to pull girls, with minimal success. But despite my expectations, it is actually surprisingly funny. Although essentially it's an ahistoric transposition Up, Pompeii/Flintstones-style of modern society onto an ancient society, the show manages to maintain some degree of in-story excuse for it - that the lads are from outside Rome (hence plebs or plebeians) and the girls are from Britain, so are culturally backward - and have the actual Romans sex-happy, nudity-happy, etc, in a more accurate way (although bouncers at clubs, women without male Romans to be in charge of them, an emphasis on scrolls rather than wax tabular, and a Venus sculpture without arms because, you know, the Venus de Milo doesn't have arms, are just some of the minor infractions that still take place for comedic purposes). Those minor niggles aside, it's still funny, if a little conventional, the CGI to make it seem like Roman times is pretty good, and you have the likes of Doon Mackichan, Adrian Scarborough and Joel Fry to make the funny happen, so it's a cautious semi-recommendation from me. Just don't think of it as being "as good as revision" as some viewers have suggested.

Parks and Recreation
Yes, I have actually watched episodes of this before, but seeing as there's a movement that seems to think P&R is funny, I thought, since BBC4 was showing them all from the beginning, that I'd give it yet another try. So far, I've seen all of season 1 and although it does get better towards the end of the season and I actually began to laugh at other moments and characters, for the first few episodes at least, the basic flowchart was: Is Ron Swanson on? No - not funny; Yes - funny. It was literally that simple. I'm told it gets better in the second season. I hope so.

Watch this trailer and you'll see what I mean.

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV): One of those shows where if the show runner's name is on the writing credits, it's really good, but suffers when it's not. Fortunately, last week's saw our Joe return to writing duties, and we had a lovely cold piece about how spies can't trust one another, even if they're married.
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1): So now we have Alex Kingston (River Song from Doctor Who) in scenes with Paul Blackthorne (also British), both pretending to be Americans, not 100% successfully. And there's John Barrowman, too. So weird. Anyway, two episodes, one utter rubbish, one pretty good - as usual, it's Huntress (about a million miles from her comic book persona) who's to blame, since she's Geoff Johns' baby and Johns appears to be a quality curse when it comes to Arrow. Felicity should also get a panic button, I reckon. But last night's was a lot better, and the Batman Begins-inspired plot that they've been hinting at (potential spoiler: Merlin/Barrowman having gone off to the land of the League of Assassins/Shadows to learn how to be the Dark Archer) looks like it's coming to fruition. Odd to see the lengths they're going to to keep Arrow's Chinese mentor out of the flashbacks' main narrative, but they're definitely going for the long game now. And is it my imagination or are they hinting that Felicity has the hots for Oliver?
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy): Two episodes, one funny, one less funny. The first gave us Sam Witwer's attempt at an English accent. Or maybe it was Irish. It also showed us that essentially the whole season has been a diversion, with everything likely to return to the status quo that was the beginning of the season, after experimenting with changing more or less everyone's set-up (spoiler: Aidan being the only vampire, more or less, before they all start coming back again; Sally being alive, then a zombie, then a ghost again, probably; Josh not being a werewolf then becoming a werewolf again). But at least Deanna Russo is getting work after the horror that was the Knight Rider remake.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV): A story that was suspiciously about Asperger's without actually being about Asperger's, which was interesting. Also a fun look at what Australian TV was like at the time, with an appropriately fun ending where (spoiler alert: they all decided to play Pontoon instead of watching any more). Not necessarily the most plausible plot line, though.
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4): A couple of funny episodes, with William H Macey really make Frank his own now. Plus Bradley Whitford playing gay (or is he gay?)!
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1): After seasons of women being raped to provide plot motivation, Spartacus finally moves into male rape with the rape of (spoiler alert: Caesar) no less. And quite an important couple of deaths, too, although given everyone knows that Spartacus's slave revolt failed, it wasn't hugely surprising. Good to see them breaking up the important deaths, though, rather than offing everyone in one go, so that everyone gets their time in the sun.

And in movies:

GI Joe: Retaliation 3D
A surprising movie. Or should I say movies?

While ostensibly a sequel to 2009's GI Joe, with a few of that movie's cast members returning (Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Byung-hun Lee, Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo, some of whom are more or less just cameos, but I won't spoil it for you by saying who), largely it's a reboot, designed to get rid of some of the deadwood (Christopher Eccleston, that's you, but so are most of the original Joes), and introduce a new cast to the franchise led by The Rock, almost-Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki, possibly Bruce Willis as well (he's in it, anyway) and… some other guy (DJ Corona from Detroit 1-8-7 and Windfall. Yes, him. Remember him? No, me neither.)

But it's a weird movie(s) that beyond a few elements is very little like the original. Essentially, it consists of one movie that's a proper war movie, with people behaving like proper soldiers, with firefights and Apache gunships, and that features The Rock, Palicki and Corona. Then there's another spy movie, where they're sneaking into places in disguise, that features the same bunch, as well as Ray Stevenson (Rome, Dexter, The Punisher: War Zone) with a dodgy southern accent. Then there's a third movie that's basically Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with ninjas and its own, more or less separate cast (Park, Lee, Elodie Yung). And then it all finishes off by becoming Megaforce.

But despite having that core base layer of stupid, largely derived from its source Saturday morning cartoon to which it pays homage on more than one occasion, it does have some surprising touches. Cobra Commander's plot to take over the world is impressively not stupid, involves actual science and hasn't been done before. Some of the action sequences are well shot and choreographed. Palicki is over-sexualised, including a couple of quite voyeuristic points when she's taking off her clothes, and her ability to attract any man, no matter what, is implausible, but largely she's treated as an equal of the other Joes, she's given some background story and a lot of the time, she gets to wander around in jeans, not being sexy (Michael Bay this is not). And since there's the addition of Jinx to the core roster, there are actually two kick ass women, rather than just the usual token one. The motivations for the villainous Lee are also even more nuanced than you'd suspect.

It's still epically stupid most of the time, the fast action makes the 3D malfunction, and it still somehow feels like a 1980s action TV show that's been given a phenomenal budget, but it's a damn sight better than the original.

"What did you watch this week?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid - and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I've watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you've seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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Arthur Mathews' The Golden Age is coming to Radio 4

Posted on July 2, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

This one looks interesting – good cast, great writer, interesting set-up. It's going to be on Radio 4:

The Golden Age
The Golden Age is a brand new sitcom written by Arthur Mathews (Father Ted, Big Train) and set in the rarefied world of BBC Broadcasting House in the 1930s.

Featuring an all-star cast including Robert Bathurst (Downton Abbey, Hut 33) and Vicky McClure (This Is England, BAFTA Best Actress 2011). Also starring Ford Kiernan, Kevin Bishop, Malcolm Tierney and Pippa Evans.

The Golden Age documents the various challenges faced by the BBC's Director of Programmes, John Tharb (Robert Bathurst) and his strong-willed young assistant Mabel (Vicky McClure), as they struggle with the day to day problems of dealing with the foibles and fragile egos of radio's biggest stars. This includes managing the sexual ambitions of Ronaldo, the flamboyant band-leader and keeping up the spirits of Roger Eves, the most depressed newsreader in history. And all this is done whilst trying to politely navigate increasingly bizarre orders from the irascible Lord Reith (Ford Keirnan).

Tharb and Mabel face many problems, such as when the police visit Broadcasting House, concerned by the discovery of people dying in front of their wireless sets - what or who could be behind the mystery? Likewise, how does Tharb negotiate his way out of broadcasting Lord Reith's controversial new pastime: grouse-hunting with artillery guns? And what about that real hot-button topic - how does the 1930s BBC go about making programmes for women?!

To hear the answers to these silly questions and much more, please join us at the BBC Radio Theatre on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 July. Doors open at 7.15pm.

To apply for tickets, visit the BBC Tickets Website.

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A bit of A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Tricky Linguistics

Posted on November 30, 2011 | comment | Bookmark and Share

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie

For no other reason than because I feel like it and because people seemed to like the old Big Train feature, today marks the start of a new regular feature of the blog: 'a bit of A Bit of Fry and Laurie'. For those who don't know, A Bit of Fry and Laurie was a sketch show that ran between 1989 and 1995 in the UK. It starred the now very famous Stephen Fry and the globally famous star of House, Hugh Laurie. And it was very, very funny.

And between now and probably 2020, I'll be sticking up one sketch a week from the show to prove it. This week, we're going to start with a sketch about language that clearly shows that Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were at Cambridge.

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