24: I knew it wouldn’t last, Jack

This new “no-torture” policy of Jack Bauer’s wasn’t his real intent at all! He was just rusty.

In case you missed it, Monday’s episode saw 24‘s Jack Bauer threatening to cut someone’s eye out unless they ‘fessed up (which they did, of course).

Welcome back, Jack.

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UK TV

Lewis producers cracked Morse’s code

Kevin Whately Lewis: Reputation, which aired on Sunday night on ITV, showed once again that detective-show formulas are often a bigger draw than the detectives themselves. Just as Taggart outlived Taggart himself and Rebus is going strong despite the replacement of John Hannah by Ken Stott, so Inspector Morse seems to be able to go on even though Morse has passed the investigating torch on to his former stumbling foil Lewis.

Reputation was pretty much by-the-book TV Morse. In fact, it was concentrated Morse, with more Latin and Hamlet per square inch than any previous Morse mystery – as though the producers were trying to assuage any fears that the Philistine Lewis would take things downmarket.

As per usual, various academics and students were either murdering or being murdered. For two, very long hours, Lewis proceeded to stumble cluelessly around Oxford, no doubt with the kind cooperation of the Oxford Tourist Board, which must have been desperate for some new Morse to bring some interest to the town again. Like a Knights Templar conspiracy theorist, at no point did he use any investigative technique that remotely resembled actual police methods, preferring instead to search for answers in crossword puzzles and mottos. Again, so far, so old-school Morse.

Nevertheless, it was clear that the old Morse production team weren’t simply going to cross out His name in the titles, replace it with ‘Lewis’, and hope nobody noticed. Lewis remained resolutely the same character as before, despite his promotion, with the requisite erudition being passed on instead to former theology student turned police officer, DS James Hathaway. They made for an interesting team, with Hathaway essentially getting the really bright ideas but Lewis having the experience and wider knowledge to know what to do with them – a subtle shift in the Morse-Lewis dynamic. However, Laurence Fox (son of James, cousin of Emilia) followed in his father’s footsteps by playing Hathaway as rather a stiff individual, even in his lighter moments, leaving Lewis as the ‘heart’ of the central crime-fighting duo once again.

The final revelation of the murderer came as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Columbo school of whodunnits, although said murderer’s motivation for his crimes made so little sense, you knew in an instant you were still watching classic Morse in action. The names may change but the structure stays the same.

With astonishing ratings of 11.3 million, Lewis will undoubtedly be making a return to our screens in the near future, barring equally astonishing incompetence or bad luck. That means Morse fans can finally relax in the knowledge that the proven formula of a couple of murders, Oxford scenery and some posh people getting their comeuppance over the course of two interminable hours will be theirs to enjoy again. After all, just as a crossword is a crossword is a crossword, so a Morse mystery remains the same, whether you call it Lewis or not.

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The IT Crowd is actually funny. Amazing.

I’m flabbergasted. I’ve just downloaded and watched the first episode of The IT Crowd from the Channel 4 web site. It was funny. I laughed. Out loud.

Ignore the nay-sayers who’ve complained about stereotypes and laughter tracks, The IT Crowd is a traditional, studio sitcom in the same vein as Father Ted, and potentially as funny. It’s The Office but relying on observational and silly comedy instead of cringe comedy. Make a date for it in your diary.

PS If you’ve ever used the slideshow feature in iPhoto, you’ll practically wet yourself during the end credits.

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News

The F-Word’s coming back – with tweaks

Gordon Ramsay in The F Word
Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word has been recommissioned for a second season. However, it’s going to be tweaked, apparently.

I can’t imagine what they’re going to do with it. I liked it as it was, a kind of mélange of every other food show under the sun: a bit of Naked Chef as Gordon shows you how to make something, while roaming around at home; a bit of Watchdog, with that Giles Coren reporting on something we should all be concerned about (food in bins, double tipping, the sewers); a bit of Masterchef, as Gordon tries to make a better dessert than a guest celebrity; a bit of a Nigella, as Gordon chats briefly with another group of celebrities; and so on. There was nothing outstanding about any of these amuse-bouche, but together they made something reasonably tasty and fun to watch.

In shows like this, without resorting to a dozen focus groups, it’s hard to see what people might like and what they might dislike, there are so many different things. All I can imagine they’ll do is strip out a few parts, give it a bit more focus and maybe add in a few things to see if they might work instead. But that’s why I just write about this stuff rather than make it.

PS If you’ve arrived here via a Google search looking for the theme tune, it’s Babybird’s The F Word

PPS Went to Gordon’s restaurant in Chelsea on Wednesday. He wasn’t there. Damn.

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US TV

24 – Season Five: The Jack Bauer power hour is back full force

Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in 24

The fifth season of 24 (aka ‘Day 5’) has been airing in the US for a couple of weeks now, so it’s time for a review. Don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers.

After a stupendous four-hour premiere spread over two days, we’re into the standard weekly drip-drip-drip of hours and the initial ratings grabbing gimmicks have been dispensed with for now. We’re into serious plotting and this year’s season can reveal its true colours.

So far, I’m pleasantly impressed. Compared with season four, season five is a model of restraint. Fox News plugs have been kept to a minimum. The first fifteen minutes of the show was packed full of surprises that would have shocked many long-term fans of the show in a “I can’t believe they just did that” kind of way – and not just because Chloe gets a boyfriend. And in the whole of the first four hours, there was no torture, no decapitation, no anything that could remotely be construed as excessive in a show like this. Indeed, Jack “softy” Bauer, as he should now be called, even promises to get a suspect medical aid rather than shoot him in the leg until he confesses everything. It’s a world gone mad, I tell you.

24 alternates its terrorists between years. Odd years we get European terrorists, even years we get Muslims, so we’re faced with Russians at the moment. Or are they Chechnyens? Or are they Canadians, given that Geraint Wyn Davies of Airwolf (Canadian fourth season only) and Forever Knight ‘fame’ is chief baddie?

Whoever they are, they’re not as threatening as Muslims. Last year’s über-terrorists had the best planning ever, with a back-up scheme even more impressive than the previous scheme ready to go at a moment’s notice: kidnap the Secretary of Defense. Damn. He’s rescued. Okay, we’ll blow up all the nuclear power stations in the US. Oh they’ve stopped us. Okay, let’s steal a stealth fighter and shoot down Airforce One. Ooh not quite. How about we steal a nuclear missile and blow up Los Angeles? Curses. Und so weiter… I’m sure Osama would be happy with just one of those, so to pull them all off in 24 hours is pretty impressive.

This year, we’re on a slow burn. These terrorists really don’t have the drive of your fundamentalist, apparently, and they like to pace themselves. That’s the trouble with us Europeans: no sense of work ethic. But it’s all going reasonably well and they’re being modestly quiet about it all. My hat’s off to them. Let’s hear your demands, Mr Wyn Davies, and we’ll consider them over a leisurely cappuccino.

Despite this slowish start by the terrorists, which is still packed with 10 pounds worth of C4 surprises (you can tell I’ve just finished watching an episode, can’t you?), we’re in recognisable 24 territory: lots of cyber-talk for the techies, a demonic mole in CTU for Patriot-Act supporters, lots of kung fu-ing and weaponry for the martially-minded, and a little bit of soap (and a fruit-flavoured beverage) for the ladies as various men and women pine for each other while routing IP phones and discussing protocol filters. For Hobbit-lovers, there’s also Sean Astin.

If you can put aside your brain for an hour, 24 still gets your adrenal glands pumping like nobody’s business. Season five has kept to the traditional 24 formula, refined it and made it better. I’m still waiting for the real kicker of a plot thread that every season has, but I can be patient. The bad guys might not be so evil yet, but the show’s the better for it since it becomes ever so slightly more believable.

I’ll leave you with one last thought: if you don’t have a Keifer Sutherland poster above your bed by the end of the series, no matter what your age, gender or sexual orientation, I’ll be very, very surprised. That man is just the coolest.