Preview: Hidden Palms

Hidden Palms

INT. OFFICE – DAY

We are in the office of a PRODUCER. He’s in his late twenties and full of coke and gym-induced energy. It’s sunny outside – it’s LA after all – but there’s the faint sound of a breeze. As the producer happily plays with his A-Team action figures, we slowly realise that the breeze is actually a whistling noise coming from between his ears.

There is a knock at the door.

PRODUCER

Come!

He giggles. He said come. That one always cracks him up. He returns to playing with Mr T.

Enter JUNIOR WRITER excitedly. Junior Writer is even younger than the Producer, Harvard-educated and has wanted to work in television his whole life. He hasn’t been paid in two years, even though his internship only lasted six months. But that’s all right: his trust fund is extensive.

The notepaper he carries in his hand contains The Idea.

JUNIOR WRITER

I have it! I have an idea for a new show.

Producer looks up. There’s only a slight glassiness to his eye from the coke. Slowly, he realises what this means.

Continue reading “Preview: Hidden Palms”

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UK TV

Review: Property Ladder

I love Property Ladder. I’m not desperately interested in property development. My strategy for property development, which amused my wife no end when I spelled it out to her, would be a simple three-step approach:

  1. Buy a house
  2. Hire a bloke to knock it down
  3. Hire another bloke to build a new one

Simple, really, yet probably not destined to make much money for me should I ever decide to implement it.

But I love Property Ladder all the same.

Continue reading “Review: Property Ladder”

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Preview: Rules of Engagement

In case you don’t know, screeners are what the press get given so they can preview shows that are either going to air or the networks are thinking about airing. Despite the first ever entry on this blog being about US screeners, this year I haven’t reviewed any. Sorry.

But I’ve now had a chance to watch a couple (busy, busy, busy). Tomorrow, I’ll review Hidden Palms, but today, let’s start with Rules of Engagement.

Rules of Engagement

Ah, time capsules. They’re so fun. You look inside and you get a glimpse into a distant past that you’d almost forgotten. My, how different everything was then! Wait. What’s this? Rules of Engagement was made this year? So why does it look so tired and old?

Here’s the set-up for this 30-minute, 4:3, studio sitcom with canned laughter (mmm, smell the 70s): a young guy proposes to his girlfriend of seven months and starts to worry about his decision. His girlfriend’s already picking out the wedding gifts from the catalogue, just a day after his proposal. And there’s nowhere for his Mets poster now he’s moved in with her!

If he’s going to make it work, he needs to know the ‘Rules of Engagement’. Oh! Do you see what they did there? They’ve made the show’s title explain the entire set-up for you in just three words. How clever.

Fortunately, there are people on hand to provide ‘advice’. Next door to his girlfriend live a married couple who have been together for years. Jeff, the husband, is bitter about all the compromises he’s made over the years and is happy to point out the problems with marriage. And there’s young guy’s wild single friend who gets to highlight all the things he’ll miss by being married, such as constant one-night stands and acting like a frat boy.

Gosh, if only everyone’s social calendar were so evenly balanced between archetypes at various points in the relationship cycle. No people living together happily. No single friends miserable they’re single. Just useful people who can illustrate situations and provide dilemmas and neuroses for our hero. It’s almost like they’re in some television show where everything has been written according to a strict formula, where the guy is a clueless idiot when it comes to women and relationships, the woman is wise yet willing to confess her own vulnerabilities, and every problem is solved by the end of the show in a touching scene where the two lovers reconcile their previous concerns.

It’s not all bad. Jeff, the next-door neighbour, has a nice line in world-weary dialogue, I guess.

But that’s it. Everything else is by-the-book predictable. No one acts or talks like a normal human being – there’s even the classic ‘insightful’ line, “If you don’t know what’s wrong, I’m not going to tell you.” Everyone makes the same classic sitcom mistakes that no one ever actually makes in real life. Nothing happens the way it would outside sitcom world. Salient example: the three heroes discuss young guy’s only having had three girlfriends – except they use code, of course, since this is primetime network TV and no one can actually discuss relationships using adult language. Single guy reveals that actually they’d ‘hired’ girlfriend number three for him. “But I dated her for six months!” Course you did. That’s exactly what would have happened. And you’d never have realised the whole time, would you?

Sigh. This will make it to a series. Of course it will. It’ll die within three episodes, but there you go.

PS If you wanted further proof that Joey isn’t coming back, the star of Rules of Engagement is Paulo Costanzo, who plays Joey’s nephew.

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UK TV

Review: Doctor Who – 2×12 – Army of Ghosts

Army of Ghosts

And thus season two of the new Doctor Who begins to crank itself up for the finale, while simultaneously winding itself down. There was good, there was bad, there was ugly. But, in contrast to the last few episodes, there was far more good than there was bad this time.

Doctor and Rose return to Earth in the “present day” and drop in on Rose’s mum, Jackie. As it happens, Jackie’s waiting for the scheduled appearance of her dead father. As you do. Needless to say, when a ghost turns up as predicted, the Doctor isn’t totally convinced he’s what she thinks she is and tries to work out what’s actually going on.

He eventually narrows down the source of the ‘ghost’ activity to Canary Wharf and Torchwood, the launch site of the new spin-off TV series a top secret government institute that investigates alien artefacts. There we find a ‘Void Ship’ of mysterious origin and before you know it, a bunch of cyber agents who have infiltrated our universe from the parallel universe we saw in The Age of Steel. Using the hole in the universe created by the arrival of the Void Ship, the cybermen manage to bring their entire army over into our reality. The world is theirs.

But wait! The Void Ship isn’t cyber-technology. Inside are… a bunch of Daleks. Cue end titles.

So all in all, very exciting. The usual RTD hallmarks were on display – cameos by people from other TV shows (not all of which were awful); movie references; ‘typical’ teenage behaviour (Here’s me washing, Mum!); very sly continuity references (“The Eternals call it ‘the Howling’.” Those would be the Eternals from the Peter Davison story Enlightenment and also from the 2005 Doctor Who Annual), etc, etc. But while the Ghostbusters bit was excruciating, the rest of it was actually kind of fun and forgivable.

David Tennant was giving a relatively calm performance this time round and Billie Piper had a return to form, finally getting something to do that was all about Rose. Graeme Harper did a reasonable job of directing but not outstanding – I don’t feel he’s quite had the dark story he needs to really show off his stuff. Murray Gold still can’t do incidental music. Oh well. But all in all, pretty good.

Now for the niggles. The plot was full of holes, which can be forgiven. But… Torchwood built Canary Wharf to investigate to the anomaly in the sky. So where the hell was the Void Ship all this time? Just lurking there in the sky? Funny, I’m pretty sure most of London would have spotted it. Or did Torchwood somehow manage to carry the ship back up to the top of Canary Wharf (even though they can’t touch it) once they’d built it, with presumably the Void Ship lurking in East London in a pub or something until it was time to come up. And how come Torchwood was telling everyone when it was going to conduct its experiments so there would be ghost forecasts? Renovation work on Canary Wharf? It’s not that old and wouldn’t Torchwood’s director know about it. And wouldn’t the Cybermen have come through the anomaly and be spotted? And, and…

But any Who plot has problems when exposed to the cold light of day, so let’s not get too caught up in that.

The Cybermen. Obviously going to turn up so no surprise there, but they’re still just not as scary as they should be. They’re too friendly looking. You want something that has a stench of the graveyard about it, really. Instead, we get flares and a friendly face. Not good. Still, there’s enough of them to be frightening: one cabbage patch kid isn’t frightening; 10,000 cabbage patch kids coming to get you – very frightening.

So actually a pretty good episode. Could have been better, but actually not bad. Now for a few notes:

Mickey: Nice to see him back. I had a vague inkling we were being led up the garden path on that one. Consider this. The return of the Cybermen was inevitable. They wouldn’t be this universe’s Cybermen, so it would have to be the new-look Cybies. That means there was a way for Mickey to come back. Couple that with the fact that in the Mickey send-off retrospective, Doctor Who Confidential didn’t once ask Noel Clarke what he was going to be doing next and there’s been no media blitz at all on that subject (unlike Piper) and it just suggested to me that he might be coming back. Mickey for the new companion anyone (now that whatserface that The Sun suggested has been dispatched into the sky)?

Piper: Still not sure she’s leaving. Still convinced this is a bluff, although the return of Mickey does make it more unlikely. After all, if she’s dead yet mysteriously on a seashore, how can she be narrating? Or is she in Heaven? Or, as Marie suggests, on the other side of the portal? She’ll be back at some point. Maybe she’s in Hell, as suggested by The Satan Pit. Maybe it’ll be like Search for Spock next year, with the Doctor trying to find a way back to the other universe.

The Daleks: Saw them coming. Sorry. A fun cliffhanger all the same.

Now there have been some complaints about the Daleks coming back. But they Daleks had to feature, I’m afraid. Here’s why:

Firstly, every Doctor has to meet the old enemies as soon as possible or else you end up like Jon Pertwee, Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston and not get a single Cyberman story – or, indeed, like Paul McGann and not get a Dalek story at all (see Footnote 1). With CE buggering off ASAP last year, getting DT to meet the Daleks was vital.

Secondly, the Daleks are the Doctor’s arch nemesis. You can only be an arch nemesis if you turn up regularly, despite all previous attempts to kill you. Otherwise, you’re rubbish. And since we’re looking at a new generation of kids who don’t really know that the Daleks are the Doctor’s arch nemesis yet because they’ve only had one series to work with, the Daleks absolutely had to be in this series as well to make kids understand all other enemies come second to the Daleks.

The important third point is that they’re necessary for the plot – or what I imagine the plot to be. If you think I’m likely to be on to something with my theory (which given my track record is unlikely), that it won’t be blindingly obvious and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further.

Footnotes

1) Technically, Paul McGann did get a Dalek story since they appear in voice over at the very beginning of Doctor Who: The Movie. Also Pertwee meets the Cybermen in The Five Doctors. Plus there are all those Big Finish audios where Paul McGann meets both Cybermen and Daleks. But they don’t count really. It’s just not the same, I tell you.

Continue reading “Review: Doctor Who – 2×12 – Army of Ghosts”

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US TV

Review: Blade 1×1 (US: Spike TV; UK: Bravo)

As you all know from yesterday’s blog, Bravo has bought the rights to air Blade: The Series in the UK. The first episode aired on Wednesday on Spike TV in the US. I’ve watched it and can now reliably inform you that it isn’t that good. Did you see that one coming?

Starring Kirk ‘Sticky’ Jones (aka Sticky Fingaz), presumably because he knows a little kickboxing and looks a bit like Wesley Snipes, Blade is a continuation of the movies. I would elaborate about the pilot’s plot but it adds nothing that you haven’t seen in the Blade movies already, bar the introduction of the series’ new characters: an Asian guy to help Blade; the big bad English vampire villain (Neil Jackson, last spotted in Sugar Rush); and a woman (Jill Wagner, a commercials model in her first acting role) who’s looking for the people who killed her brother. Naturally, those people turn out to be the vampires. Then – shock, horror – she gets turned into a vampire. Oh what will Blade do? What a dilemma!

But no one will actually be watching Blade for anything other fights and potential girl-on-girl lesbian vampire action so why waste time on plot description? Let’s get down to the ‘important’ stuff.

  • Martial arts: pretty average; some very obvious wire work; mostly kickboxing with a couple of locks added for good measure. Where’s Wesley with his capoeira when you need him?
  • Girl-on-girl action: not much at all – just a vaguely implied desire to kiss at one point. Sorry guys. Jill Wagner’s quite good looking though if that’s any consolation.

So basically, 90 minutes of wasted time. Naturally, though, the pilot got the highest ever ratings for Spike TV for an original series premiere, with 2.5 million tuning in. Tune in next week for more of the same.