US TV

Greg the Bunny: a reason to watch ITV4, amazingly

Greg The BunnyI didn’t watch Doctor Who tonight. What can I say? I was playing ‘Settlers of Catan’ – damn those Germans make good board games, plus my mother-in-law’s addicted. Never mind: I’ll watch the repeat tomorrow or something. It didn’t look too brilliant so I’m not too worried. (Potted review, incidentally, of last week’s episode, since I never got round to it: nice video, shame about the script. For those familiar with classic Who, wasn’t it essentially Patrick Troughton’s The Invasion chopped in half and far less entertaining?).

So I didn’t catch the good Doctor, but I did catch Greg the Bunny on ITV4 afterwards. ITV4’s a great channel in many ways, with a lot of quality stuff, mainly programmes from the US (of course) and British programmes from the 60s and 70s, which is roughly when we could still make decent/entertaining TV consistently.

The trouble is it has ‘ITV’ at the beginning of its name, which makes you think it’s nothing but rubbish. You really have to force yourself to watch it and constantly come up with new reasons to switch the channel from Ulster TV’s pro-celebrity basket-weaving or whatever crud you’ve found on one of the other channels; ITV4 will almost certainly be guaranteed to be showing something that should be a gadzillion times more appealing but for some reason isn’t. Judging by ITV4’s viewing figures, it’s as though we’ve collectively been given aversion therapy and now have to summon our courage to the very sticking point just to watch a couple of minutes of even the best show, for fear of getting the electric shocks again.

So here’s a good reason to watch ITV4: Greg the Bunny, which airs on Saturdays. It’s really a very funny show (well, it was: it’s been cancelled, of course), put together by some cutting-edge New York comedians and with a pretty stellar cast. It’s basically about a TV show for kids that features puppets – such as Greg the Bunny – but the twist is the puppets are all real and are generally regarded as an ethnic minority. Tonight’s show revolved around some nasty graffiti found in the gents’ that used the s-word (sock), which forced management to send everyone to sensitivity training. Here’s a choice sample of dialogue I found on the Internet after doing some snooping:

“Let’s face it, humans have been mistreating puppets for centuries. It’s nothing new. We lure them to our country with the tartar sauce, and the lollipops, and the empty promises of sparklers which I believe are yet unfulfilled…”

Sarah SilvermanAnyway, I liked it, particularly because the cast includes not just Seth Green (Austin Powers and Oz in Buffy) and Eugene Levy (American Pie) but also the delectable but ever-so-slightly scary Sarah Silverman. In case you’ve not heard the name before, she’s commonly regarded as the Next Big Thing™ in edgy US comedy (the successor to Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Andy Kaufmann, Bill Hicks – delete according to your generation).

If you’ve seen her and actually remember her, it’s probably because you watched The Aristocrats, a documentary about comedians that was in the cinema relatively recently. It’s named after a particular joke told by comedians to other comedians. The joke only has an opener and a punchline, but the comedian has to fill in the gap in between, the idea being that it’s an opportunity to show off their comedic style and gross out or offend the others. Silverman’s version of ‘The Aristocrats’ is the only one that really offended people, despite descent into racism, sexism, necrophilia, coprophilia and the like by the other stand-ups. As I said, delectable but scary.

So catch Greg, catch Sarah and see if you can boost ITV4’s ratings in treble figures. Through the magic of YouTube, here’s a clip of Greg visiting a Sci-Fi convention for you to get your teeth into as a kind of sampler for you.

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US TV

Kung Fu to be made a movie now

Kung FuThere’s hardly an old TV series that hasn’t been turned into a movie. Knight Rider‘s rights have been signed away. Miami Vice is almost here. Now Kung Fu is to be turned into a movie.

I kind of liked Kung Fu in theory. It started out well enough, but each episode moved so slowly. Plus they spent the first two seasons doing judo instead of kung fu, except for the pilot episode, which was slightly disappointing to say the least – talk about false advertising. Hence, my resistance to buying any of the DVDs.

Then, of course, there was Kung Fu – The Legend Continues, which made Ultimate Force look like a credible action show. “Look there’s David Carradine! Blimey, the budget is so low they can’t even afford the edit room time to do slow-mo. So David Carradine is just going to do everything in slow mo anyway, even if everyone else is going to go at normal speed.” Who says drugs have no effects on reaction speed?

Anyway, I’m curious to see what they do with this. Amp up the fight scenes, amp up the Eastern philosophy or both? And who will play Kwai Chang? Can they find another completely Caucasian man willing to fake a half-Chinese heritage, or will they actually do what they should have done in the first place and hire someone Asian?

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UK TV

Big Brother has already gripped me, despite my best attempts

As per usual, I vowed not to watch Big Brother this year. I’ve vowed this every year it’s been on (well from season 2 because it wasn’t that important, season 1). I’ve always ended up watching it though. Last night was no different. My wife wanted to see it, I was doing the ironing. Ta da! I watched the launch show all the way through: I fell at the first hurdle. It’s a good job I’ve never had to give up smoking with willpower like that.

It’s usually a bit fashionable to say from the outset that this year’s contestants are the worst examples of humanity since the previous year’s contestants. I’m going to buck the trend and say, actually, they weren’t that bad. So here’s my potted take on all of them:

Continue reading “Big Brother has already gripped me, despite my best attempts”

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Mission: Impossible III

The TV series Mission: Impossible had a great formula. Spymaster would go to the shops or the funfair to check his dead-letter drops. He’d get a tape recording from his boss telling him to do something completely impossible. He’d then go home to his penthouse suite, pour himself a drink and leaf through his photo album, while working out a way to do the impossible thing. He’d pick a few people from his album to help him, they’d fly off to some Eastern European country where they’d mess with people’s heads, pull off the plan, then head off home. Cracking. Lasted seven seasons plus a remake show in the 80s that did. You don’t get much of that these days.

Anyway, a few years back, it got turned into a movie starring Tom Cruise. You may remember it. It wasn’t very much like the original show, as it was trying it’s very best to be a proper spy thriller with tradecraft jargon like “exfiltration” weighing down the dialogue and the plot. The second film, directed by John Woo, wasn’t very much like anything except a John Woo film. We’re now on the second sequel and for the first time we actually have a film that sticks to the TV show’s formula, more or less. The trouble is that it’s still not Mission: Impossible.

M:I:III as it’s called is directed by JJ Abrams. He’s the co-creator of Lost and the creator of Alias. He also co-wrote the script with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, both of whom wrote for Alias as well. So zero astonishment here when I realised after a few minutes of the film that I was watching an extended episode of Alias, but starring Tom Cruise instead of Jennifer Garner. Personally, I’d prefer to watch Jennifer Garner to Tom Cruise on any given occasion but others may differ. Plus she did star in the very sucky Elektra, effectively writing off her chances of appearing as the lead in another action movie for a while.

If you’ve ever watched more than a couple of episodes of Alias, you’re going to get some ridiculously strong feelings of déjà vu with every moment. There’s the opening scene set in China that’s actually a flashforward from the main plot (how will they get out of that? And how did they get into that in the first place?), which is straight out of the first episode. There’s the trademark location details in the corner of the screen whenever they go somewhere new (“Rome, Italy”. No! Not Rome in Italy! I thought that was some other Rome…). There’s the stupid technology, explosive charges planted in brains, etc, all served up by a dissembling techie, here played by our very own Simon Pegg whose few appearances actually steal the whole movie. Then there’s the artifact that needs to be recovered, the so-called Rabbit’s Foot, which has all the hallmarks of being produced by the House of Rambaldi. There’s even a cameo by Greg Grunberg, JJ Abrams’ life-long pal who gets a job in everything he does.

Similarly, there have been Alias-esque changes to the few recurring movie characters. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has gone from being a typical cocky omnipotent Cruise character to being an angst-ridden agent who’d really like to kick this spying gig so he can settle down and breed with his new wife. Ving Rhames appears again, but instead of the all-business moody character of previous films, he’s now giving relationship advice to Cruise and joking around the water cooler with him. There’s a stupid cover front for the Impossible Mission Force, just like Sidney Bristow’s merchant bank cover for SD6. Short of a menacing, untrustworthy father and a double-agent mother for Hunt, there’s not much more that could have been done to turn him into Bristow.

For the first half of the movie, bar that opening flashforward, the movie still tries to be Mission: Impossible though, right down to the re-use of Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme for incidentals. But where the TV show relied on misdirection and the agents’ abilities to instill paranoia in their quarries, M:I:III relies on guns, fights and stupid Alias technology to achieve the ‘impossible’. It’s all done a lot better than in M:I 2, but the subtlety of the original has gone. The second half of the movie is pure Alias though, with everything revolving around the rescue of a kidnapped family member.

Nevertheless, the movie is still pretty entertaining. There’s some clever dialogue that only occasionally veers into purple prose. It has a good cast, with Philip Seymour Hoffman throwing in an exceptionally fine turn as the baddie. Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are equally good and are actually given some character-development time – almost unheard of in a Cruise pic. Laurence Fishburne delivers his lines as though he’s getting paid by the minute, but is his typical mesmerising self. The Cruise gives his usual strong performance, although – again as usual – he doesn’t actually act with anyone, just acts at them, completely failing to alter his delivery in response to his co-stars’. The action scenes are pretty well executed and should provide thrills for all.

This isn’t a classic movie by any means, but if you want something to park yourself in front of for a couple of hours while you chew your popcorn, it’s better than most of the other tatt on offer at the moment.

As a reward for making it through this review, here’s the opening titles to season one of the original show. Note the lack of Peter Graves, who replaced Steven Hill from season two onwards.

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TV reviews

CSI: Miami – Some kind words for a change

I normally mock CSI: Miami and its silliness each week. It’s very easy to do, because it’s just so silly. This week’s episode was no different in that respect. However, I do think a few kind words for it are in order, because it remains one of the most visually impressive shows around. So here’s a little photo gallery of praise. Well done directors and DOPs: it’s nice to see someone on mainstream TV doing something imaginative with their visuals.

CSI Miami looking goodCSI Miami looking visually impressive

CSI MiamiCSI Miami