Pub Landlord gets his own US show

Al Murray’s travelling across the Atlantic to star in his own comedy pilot Union Jackass for Fox, according to Variety. He’s basically going to play the Pub Landlord again, but this time relocated to Santa Monica as he follows his ex-wife and son.

It could be good. It could be bad. Murray’s Landlord-based shows have never quite matched the wit of his stand-up performance, which relies a lot on the audience knowing the unwritten rules of pub culture and laughing as they’re actually spelt out by someone. The Landlord’s bigotry runs a risk of either being watered down or just being offensive in a US setting.

It’s clear, also, that this isn’t really another British invasion – the only invasion of the US we’re mounting at the moment is a format invasion, in which the US just buys the ideas behind our programmes rather than the programmes themselves. Instead, this is really just Fox looking for a new Al Bundy or its own version of CBS’s King of Queens and the various other “beautiful wife, slobby working class husband” sitcoms that are in vogue (well, just passing vogue) at the moment.

There is another advantage to importing your fall guys. Is there anything quite as funny as laughing at the backwardness of other countries? You can enjoy the nastiness while simultaneously looking down on the uncivilised foreigner and pretending to be above it all. That, after all, is one of the reasons for the success of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen’s other alter-ego.

Anyway, I’m sure it’s going to be interesting…

Review: Top 50 Break-Up Songs

I do like lists show, although Jimmy Carr’s omnipresence in them is something that’s barely tolerable. However, this was a Channel Five list show, rather than another Channel 4 show.

Two things I noticed:

  1. As I’ve been told by lots of audio and post houses, Five doesn’t give a monkey’s about sound quality. Did they even use microphones for their interviews?
  2. It was better than the Channel 4 list shows.

C4 list shows are generally populated by some talking head twats who had no recollection of the show in question until some researcher stuck a soundbite in front of them to read. The only exceptions are the people who actually made the film/TV show/song in question and the entire Guardian Guide staff – euphemistically always called “writers” rather than journalists, just to make it less obvious they’re all Stuart Maconie’s mates.

This particular list show, however, seemed to have a few people who knew what they were talking about and very few talking heads. It was also more intent on educating you about the history of the song, the artists and the era in which it was released than just trying to be post-modernly ironic or thick. How pleasant. Not exactly Reithian, but still better than a Channel 4/E4 sneer.

UK TV

Weekend tele? Okay. Tele I watched at the weekend

Caught up with some interesting tele at the weekend.

Armando Iannucci

The South Bank Show had a slightly shallow look at Armando Iannucci’s career to date. As is typical with most SBS documentaries, 50% of the interviews were dedicated to Melvyn Bragg rather than the subject, so clearly there wasn’t much time to left for anything but a cursory glance at Iannucci’s radio career: Lionel Nimrod’s Inexplicable World and The Mary Whitehouse Experience got ignored, since presumably they weren’t highbrow enough for Melvyn, while his latest work, Armando Iannucci’s Charm Offensive, didn’t get a mention either – presumably because Melvyn wanted to dwell on chattering-class fave The Thick of It instead. Notably, Chris Morris didn’t get interviewed, although his notorious reclusiveness is almost certainly to blame for that. Yet their web project Smokehammer could still have been discussed even without Morris’s presence. A bit shallow, but good to see Iannucci getting some justly deserved recognition.

William Petersen from CSI

In contrast to most shows, this season’s CSI had a shaky start but has scaled to new heights ever since. For once, a show that’s been worth sticking with. Amazing. Last Thursday’s CSI was just about the most downright disturbing thing I’ve seen since Requiem for a Dream. Still all a-quiver from it. Makes you realise just how shallow and dull CSI: Miami and CSI: NY are by comparison, and why William Petersen hates them so much as a result. If you’re in the UK, it won’t be on for a while, but when it arrives, you’ll know exactly which one I’m talking about.

Allison Mack, who plays Chloe in Smallville

Smallville had a nice Chloe-oriented episode on Thursday, too. It wasn’t exactly Dostoevsky, but the slightly spooky ep had its moments. Allison Mack got to chew the scenery (and her nails) a lot, for once, while poor old Michael Rosenbaum got to stomp about and sound aggrieved – pretty much all he’s had to do this season. Why keep your best two actors on the sidelines? Don’t know. Best ask the producers. Nevertheless, the show does have one truly realistic theme, I’ve just realised: Clark’s obsession with Lana. Given a choice between Lana and Chloe, any right-thinking person would immediately go for Chloe (the one with the personality). Yet Clark goes for Lana? How can this be? Because he’s an alien, children. His emotions are alien to us and are unfathomable. And that’s the one realistic part of Smallville.

Lucy Lawless in Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica had a pretty stonking episode on Friday. A siege on Cloud 9 run by Dana Delaney, it didn’t quite work, but had enough standout moments and shocks to keep even the most jaded viewer in suspense. After a drawn-out start to the season, it too is starting to pull itself together. It still hasn’t quite hit the initial highs of the mini-series and the first subsequent episodes, but it’s definitely on the right track again.

One worrying trend I’ve noticed though: Starbuck is starting to fall apart. Have you noticed how whenever a show builds a strong woman who’s better than all the men and is proud of this character, they still always end up making her a wreck, giving her dozens of vulnerabilities, etc? While it can be argued that much as Superman needed kryptonite to make him less than unstoppable, so any ‘perfect character’ needs flaws to make them interesting, Starbuck had plenty of flaws to start with. At the moment though, they’re drowning out her strengths.

The reality of the character or a typical male reaction to a strong woman? Don’t know, although if you’ve been listening to the podcasts by exec producer Ronald D Moore, you might err towards the latter. I say this not because he comes across a misogynist – quite the opposite. Just that a certain cluelessness about female emotions seems to be the trend in some of the writing. Exhibit A: his original intention for Gina to kiss Baltar a few episodes back, after he showed her some kindness, even though she’s been gang-raped for months and was almost catatonic when he found her. I’m not claiming any special powers of empathy for myself, but even I know that’s not a happening thing.

As a side note, it’s also good to hear that Lucy Lawless will be back, complete with her undyed blonde hair and natural New Zealand accent, as a regular in season three, since the show is starting to get a little cliquey and could do with some new blood. Plus she’s actually a pretty good actor when she doesn’t have tatty Xena plots to cope with.

Josh Hollway - Sawyer in Lost

Lost had a strong Sawyer episode on Wednesday, explicitly designed to make you hate him again. Tis good, after all this cuddlification of him, to remind everyone how he started off on the island and what he did before he got on it. Tis equally good, after a spell of dull episodes, to have a strong episode again, since the show has been slightly adrift this season. While Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who plays Mr Eko (or as IMDB would have it Mistereko) is a welcome addition to the cast, which is now gloriously swamped by English actors, the Ana-Lucia character (Michelle Rodriguez) isn’t, particularly since Rodriguez is playing the same role she always plays and most of the regular characters have been shunted to one side to make room for the new arrivals. Particularly noticeable by his absence is Sayid (Naveen Andrews), the coolest Indian-Iraqi the world has yet seen. We’re mid-season so a certain amount of looseness in the scripts is inevitable, but I’m hoping they pull it together again in the next few episodes.

Stargate SG-1 continues. That’s probably all that needs to be said on the subject.

UK TV

The Eleventh Hour: no original thought allowed

11th hour wallpaper

Every so often, a show comes along that is so derivative, so unoriginal, it becomes almost impossible to decide exactly what it’s ripping off. So it is with Eleventh Hour, a four-part series starring Patrick Stewart as a “government scientific investigator”.

Although it’s silly, that’s a pretty accurate job title, in fact. Stewart is charged by ‘The Government’ with investigating science, whether that’s Evil Scientists who try to clone human beings or Angelic Children who believe in the healing power of spring water. A pretty broad brief, given that as a physicist, he’s probably as qualified as the average PE teacher to talk about most of the medical issues Eleventh Hour focuses on, but that’s The Government for you.

Nevertheless, the countryside-patrolling Stewart is so important and vital to The Government that they’ve actually given him a bodyguard, played by Ashley Jensen. This could be a mistake, given she drinks any experimental samples Stewart takes, doesn’t bother guarding him at night, takes naps during the day in her Land Rover while he’s busy confronting angry parents, and rolls about on the floor having fights with blood-soaked potential smallpox victims. But we’re not talking police procedural here, so kooky bodyguard gets to stay and protect Stewart with her unconvincing gun work, no matter how much danger she lets Stewart get into.

With global warming and nuclear weapons research among the plots, it’s tempting for anyone versed in British television history to accuse Eleventh Hour of simply being Doomwatch reheated to a lukewarm temperature for the 21st century. But unlike Doomwatch, which literally plucked its plots from the headlines to warn society where it was going wrong, Eleventh Hour takes great pains to steer away from anything controversial. Instead of well-meaning scientists and civil servants who simply don’t think through the consequences of their actions, we get Hollywood-style moustache-twirling villains and fabricated threats that have no actual relevance to viewers. Why run the risk of complaints with an avian flu story when you can write about the risks of deranged researchers trying to cross-breed smallpox with other viruses? Lot of that happening, is there? Is that really something which we have to lobby Parliament to prevent? Thought not.

Equally, any resemblance to actual science depicted in the programme is purely accidental. When Stewart the physicist starts dipping pH paper in water as his sole test for contamination, anyone with even a GCSE in Combined Science knows we’re in the realm of science fiction rather than looking at a serious study of the potential dangers inherent to modern science.

Instead, to find the true inspiration for Eleventh Hour, we need to look at the show’s creator, Stephen Gallagher. While he’s best known for his equally irrelevant 1991 serial Chimera, Gallagher started out as a script-writer for Doctor Who. A pseudo-science spouting older man, always wandering into trouble with his naïve female sidekick? Ring any bells?

Just as Doctor Who is essentially an adventure show that uses aliens and technology as the MacGuffins that create and advance the plots, it would be wrong to think of Eleventh Hour as anything other than a thriller that uses ‘science’ and ‘scientists’ as an excuse for a jolly run round. However, while a good thriller, such as State of Play or Edge of Darkness, can leave you thinking about the issues and the characters long after it has finished, Eleventh Hour is nothing like a good thriller.

Stewart and Jensen do their best to inject life into their ciphers and Gallagher has an occasionally good line in humorous but predictable dialogue. But the show has next to no grounding in reality; the plots have more holes than a colander; the direction leaps from shot to shot without giving you any real idea of what’s happening; and when the usually incoherent plot explanation finally arrives, you’ll wonder what the five other impossible things you’ll be asked to believe before breakfast are.

Rather than provide warnings about the dangers of science, Eleventh Hour provides warnings about the dangers of not having a clear, original idea for your programme before you start filming it. With ratings of 3.8 million and Stewart’s schedule full for the foreseeable future, further instalments of the show look unlikely. But with no real raison d’être other than filling an hour and a half in the mid-week schedules, it won’t be a great loss to television.

New Baywatch movie in the works. Boy does it sound good.

How about this concept for a new Baywatch movie that’s (allegedly) in the works?

‘Baywatch’ creator David Hasselhoff has revealed the new film will include crime-fighting lifeguards. He said: “It will be set in different locations around the world. There will be lifeguards who are also sent on crime-busting sprees.”

That’s clearly what any sane government would do, faced with increasing crime in society: hire more lifeguards.