Prison Break getting more and more impressive. And Lost, get your skates on

Okay, Prison Break is still immensely stupid at heart, but I’ve actually been surprised by how well the show is progressing in the US. Last week, we had the flashback episode that showed most of the inmates on the outside and how they all wound up in jail. This week we had the “it’s all falling apart” episode. What I liked about it was the economy of writing. In a show like Prison Break that has a weekly cliffhanger and an ongoing plot, there’s a tendency on the part of the viewer to assume that any obstacle that gets thrown up is purely for the sake of the cliffhanger.

This week’s episode threw back two events that had almost been forgotten from last year. I won’t spoil it for UK viewers by saying what they were, but by episode end, you’ll be thinking to yourself “Ooh, that’s clever” and you’ll have new respect for Michael and his planning skills. And, incidentally, for the other inmates, who aren’t so bad at planning either, it turns out.

Plus it had Michelle Forbes in it. Anything with Michelle Forbes in it has to be good by definition.

By the way, for those of you not watching Prison Break and wondering if there’s going to be six more seasons of people trying to break out of jail and constantly being foiled, it’s already been revealed that season two is going to consist of the escapees on the run after their first season break out – although not everyone manages to escape. So it’s not going to be Lost – The Prison Days.

On that subject, could the writers get a move on with Lost please? It’s starting to irritate? Still, I was expecting that. After all, it comes from the writers of Alias, the show that was all tease, no real plot development and no real payoff. From what I hear, Alias‘s final episode isn’t even going to mention Rambaldi. No Rambaldi pay-off after five years? Bastardos! On that track record, I’m confidently predicting they’re all still going to be stuck on that island with no explanations at the end of the seventh season.


Review: Pepper Dennis 1×1

Let’s play a game. It’s a new game I’ve just invented. I promise it’s better than my last one. It’s called Through the D Hole. The D stands for demographics. It was originally going to be Audience, but A doesn’t rhyme with ‘Key’. Plus the game would have had a whole host of other connotations I didn’t really intend. So demographics it is.

This is how it works. It’s pretty much like Through the Keyhole in that through a series of clues about a TV series, you have to guess the target demographic of the series. The fewer clues, the cleverer you are and the more derivative the show. Simple, huh?

To show you how it works, we’re going to run through an example. The show we’re going to use as an example is Pepper Dennis.

Pepper Dennis

So that’s your first clue. Let’s study the punctuation carefully. It’s not Pepper, Dennis?, which would probably be some arch comedy of manners in the vein of Keeping Up Appearances. It’s not Pepper Dennis!, which would probably be a game show in which people throw various powders at the eponymous Dennis. It’s Pepper Dennis. Since shows need to have reasonably descriptive names or else no one will watch them after spotting them in TV Guide, we can assume Pepper Dennis is the name of a person rather than a boat or law firm.

So what kind of person is called ‘Pepper Dennis’? No real human being, so that’s a problem. Since US TV shows named after the lead characters have this Dickensian idea that names are a clue to personality, we know that ‘Pepper’ has to be sparky. Furthermore, we can assume it’s a woman, not a man, because it sounds too wimpy for a made up male name on TV (it would have to be something like ‘Semtex Dennis’ if were to be a man). Wow. We’re doing well already.

So we have a sparky female lead in a show named after her. That gives us two possible demographics: women and teenage/young men. But shows with female leads that use two or more names of the character are always targeted at women (think Ally McBeal, Sue Thomas: FBEye) rather than men (think Buffy, Tru Calling, etc), except when it’s a sitcom (Roseanne, Reba, Blossom, etc). So Pepper Dennis is targeted at women. Pepper isn’t quite a grown-up name so we’re talking young women.

Ta da. I’ll name that demographic in one, David.

See how easy that was? Given just the name of this one show, we were able to work out its exact demographic. And since it only took one clue, we already know, well in advance, just how derivative it is, thus saving us all from having to watch it. It’s a useful game, as well as fun.

Let’s compare with the facts though, just to make sure we didn’t skimp on the workings out and to make sure this game works.

Pepper Dennis stars Rebecca Romijn as Pepper Dennis, one of those journalists who exist purely to prey upon the weak in TV dramas. It’s true in real life of course. I’d have taken over the world by now, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

Piper is always after a story and being beautiful, aggressive and otherwise perfect, always gets it. She has high standards in men, too, and only someone at least as good as her will ever woo her.

But wait. A new anchor arrives at her station. Before she’s met him at work though, she ends up sleeping with him! Hilarity results, as you can imagine, particularly when it turns out he’s as good as her. Has Pepper found true love? Will the return of her loser sister to her life make her a better person?

Of course she has. Of course she will. Are you nuts? The show has as much originality as the “sisters bonding over a tub of ice cream while they share their woes about men” scene at the end. I could write down for you – now if you wanted – the exact formula used to pick every single nuance of character in each role. I’m surprised they even credit a writer on the show, given that every element of it was determined by focus group and watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls and Dawson’s Creek.

Pepper will continue to seek out stories, episode by episode, find out that the way forward in her career – and love – is to embrace not suppress the woman inside herself. Only then, when she has accepted her vulnerabilities make her strong, will she get everything she wants. No need to watch it, now.

So there we go. Game proven. Over to you audience. Your next challenges: Thief, currently airing on FX; and if you haven’t already read my review of it, Teachers, airing on NBC. Enjoy your trip through the D hole…


Review: Teachers (US: NBC)

Only one episode to go on so far, but Teachers is shaping up as distinctly average. A re-make of the Channel 4 show, it’s been turned into a bog-standard NBC sitcom: frankly, if it weren’t in widescreen, I’d have assumed I was watching something from the mid-80s. Plot for those who don’t know it: teachers at a school aren’t really the altruistic providers of knowledge to kids that propaganda would have you believe. Except (NBC twist here), they secretly are and are just playing at being rubbish in case that stops them being cool. Oh dear.

There aren’t really any saving graces: the characters are all stereotypes of the genre – there’s the nerdy one, the cool one who really isn’t the total slacker he pretends to be, the ‘babe’ who the cool one fancies and who’d go for him if he wasn’t such a slacker and oh God I’m falling asleep just listing them. The dialogue is actually surprisingly clever in places, but is delivered badly and is mostly drowned out by an awful laughter track; Sarah Alexander is Sarah Alexander but with a slightly exaggerated Englishness (“What’s your favourite thing in the world?” “A perfectly brewed pot of tea”. Give me strength, guys. You couldn’t do better than that for an English character when the whole show was lifted from a British comedy series?); and the rest of the cast is pretty uninspiring.

Predictions: liable to be cancelled very soon. Probably won’t be picked up by the UK except on late-night satellite (maybe Paramount Comedy).


The Heist hijacks more genres than you could shake a stick at


Scottish boy Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible 2, Ever After) has landed himself his own series in the US. It’s not brilliant, but it’s not half bad.

Exec-produced by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mrs and Mrs Smith, Go), Heist has much in common with Liman’s other work as well as with many other genres. Scott plays a jewel thief with the cracking plan of robbing every jewellery store on Rodeo Drive in the US on the same night – Oscar’s Night. Its dialogue makes more than a few passing nods to Tarantino and Guy Ritchie and the plots are just as implausible. There’s a female cop chasing after Scott, with whom he tries to strike up a romance, for just a hint of Out of Sight. And there’s more than a few nods to the con jobs of Ocean’s Eleven and Mission: Impossible.

But despite being about as derivative as they come, there’s still a certain sparkle to the show. Scott, despite his fake American accent, is a compelling lead and his burgeoning relationship with the lady cop does have some chemistry, at least. The dialogue may not bear the full stamp of Tarantino approval, but it’s still amusing enough. And the various contrivances of the plot aren’t as staggeringly obvious as they might have been.

Worth watching for a couple of episodes at least.


Review: A for Andromeda (UK: BBC Four)

Wow. I know A for Andromeda was on a week ago, but I’ve only just got round to watching it. To rephrase a famous quote from 2001/2010: “My God. It’s full of arse.”

I can’t believe how mind-numbingly dull it was. Seriously, how do you compress six episodes of an old serial down into an hour and a half and still produce something so unbelievably tedious?

There was a good plot in there, trying to get out. I could see it. It had some nice moments and occasional touches of atmosphere. There were even some good actors. But direction and script? Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Fair enough that the original wasn’t much cop, but it still had some interesting ideas in there. With a bit of nurturing we could have something really worthwhile. But we didn’t.

So, it looks like this might be the last of the BBC4 “classic” remakes, then. So much for The Road: I was really hoping they could redo that, given it’s been wiped from the archives and it’s got one of Nigel Kneale’s finest scripts behind it. But on this performance, I’m guessing we won’t be seeing much more in a similar line from BBC4, especially with FictionLab given the shutdown orders.

Can’t believe that’s an hour and a half of my life wasted, as well as my childish enthusiasm totally dashed. There is no Santa Claus, after all.