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February 26, 2008

Ashes to Ashes

Writing about web page

I loved Life on Mars last year, and so I’ve been awaiting the follow-up, Ashes to Ashes with some interest. And now that we’re a few episodes in, it’s… okay. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m not gripped by as I was with its predecessor, and I’ve been trying to work out why that should be. What I think is this:-

  • The ambiguity of LoM is necessarily gone; there, the writers could play with the question of whether Sam Tyler really was in a coma, or back in time, or really from 1973 and just delusionally convinced he was from the future. But since the premise of AtA is that Alex Drake meets the same characters that Sam Tyler did because she read his case file, there’s no room for doubt; she knows, and we know, that this is all in her mind and that she’s lying unconscious in 2008 having just been shot. This makes it harder to accept her engagement with the world and people around her; if she knows it’s all just in her mind, why bother conforming?
  • Life on Mars was an homage not just to a particular time, but to a particular show, The Sweeney, with Gene Hunt as Jack Regan. That gives Ashes to Ashes a couple of problems; (1) What show is it an homage to? What was the iconic cop show of the early eighties? (Minder and The Professionals were late seventies; Dempsey and Makepeace was 1985. I can’t think of a well known cop show that’s early eighties.) (2) Whatever the show(s) that’re being referenced (and the writers have name-checked Moonlighting as an inspiration, which makes sense), does Gene Hunt / Jack Regan really belong in them?
  • John Simm’s brilliant performance as Sam Tyler, and his inspired rapport with Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt, lifted the first series from engaging to gripping. I’m enjoying Keeley Hawes’ work too (though she’s either being directed, or has decided, to play too many of her scenes at near-hysteria levels) and it’s probably a good idea for them to shoot for Moonlighting-style sexual tension rather than try to recreate the chemistry of the first show. But it’s not the same.
  • Alex Drake has a child in 2008 to whom she is understandably desperate to return. This means that the ending isn’t in doubt – she will get back – unless there are some very big twists or revelations about what’s real and what’s not ahead. So another part of the fun of LoM – how will it end? – is diminished in AtA.
  • As with LoM, the art direction and soundtrack are a lot of fun, but AtA is clearly and self-consciously playing both of these up much more than LoM did, with hairstyles, clothes and a soundtrack which border on caricature. I liked the subtler approach of LoM more.

So it’s by no means a disaster and they haven’t tarnished the memory. But unless they have startling stuff ahead, it’s really just a retread, keeping the nostalgia factor which makes it fun to watch, but losing the drama and ambiguity which made LoM fun to think about.

July 06, 2007

Writing about web page

How the heck is still in business? It quite blatantly publishes complete episodes of current TV shows in high resolution, high quality format, available to watch in the browser (with a small divx plugin) or to download to your PC.

Here, for example, are episodes 18 and 19 of Heroes, all the episodes of Dr Who you could ever want, and Life on Mars series 2, episode 1. Have they got some sort of invisibility cloak or something?

July 05, 2007

An advert for…

See how long before the end you can guess what this is a commercial for.

July 01, 2007

Dr Who, Lolcats, SlashFic: Together at last!

Writing about web page

If you watched the penultimate episode of Dr Who last week, and all the words in the title of this entry mean something to you, then you’ll probably like this. If not, then there’s every chance it’ll seem tasteless, humourless and inexplicable.

April 12, 2007

Life on Mars: The ending

Follow-up to Life on Mars: The ending? from Autology: John Dale's blog

So having let a couple of days go past, it seems only fair to say that the ending of Life on Mars was as good as I’d hoped. There’s room for interpretation about what actually happened, of course – or at least, there was until this interview with writer Matthew Graham appeared:-

The truth is, when I wrote it, what I was trying to say is that’s he’s died, and that for however long that last second of life is going to be, it will stretch out for an age, as an eternity for him. And so when he drives off in that car, he’s really driving off into the afterlife.

So that’s that, then. Theories about whether he really did wake up in 2006 or not, or whether he really was from 1973 all along are interesting but kind of moot. He came back, he wasn’t happy, he jumped off a roof. it’s a tribute to the acting and the writing that even though this is an ending where the lead character commits suicide it is nonetheless an uplifting resolution.

But there’s one slightly mysterious question: if Gene Hunt and co were all in Sam’s head all along then how can there be a sequel? Ashes to Ashes will be set in 1981 and will feature Gene Hunt, Ray Carling and Chris Skelton. But how can imaginary figures from one man’s coma get their own show? Well, it was set up quite cleverly in the last few minute of Life on Mars; we see Sam talking into a tape recorder about his memories and experiences while he was in his coma. It’s this which provides the springboard for a new time traveller called Alex, a “sexy, intelligent, DCI who’s also a single mother to daughter Molly”. (Sam Tyler won’t appear in Ashes to Ashes.)

When Alex and her daughter are kidnapped, she makes a daring attempt at escape, resulting in a horrific accident. Alex suddenly finds herself in 1981 interacting with familiar characters, not just from her own life-time, but also from the detailed reports logged by none other than Sam Tyler, which Alex has previously spent months pouring over.

Clever. They’re imaginary characters, but they can nonetheless live on, by making the leap out of Sam’s sub-conscious and into someone else’s. I hope the new series doesn’t end up feeling as though they’re milking the premise and retrospectively taking the shine off Life on Mars itself. In the interview, Matthew Graham certainly seems to be aware of the possibility, which I think is a good sign. We’ll see. The interview is a great read if you’ve enjoyed the show, by the way; there’s much more in it than I’ve quoted here, including thoughts on Nelson the barman, why Sam came from Hyde, and the spooky test card girl’s final act of the final episode.

March 28, 2007

Life on Mars: The ending?

Writing about web page

Life on Mars TV showI’m thoroughly enjoying the current (second) series of Life on Mars. It’s a bit more issues-driven than I remember the first series being, but the fantastic lead performances and the clever integration of the episodic elements with the over-arching story arc make it hugely entertaining.

What I’m wondering about, though, is what the resolution is going to be. The makers have announced that this is the final series and that there will be an explanation/resolution of Sam Tyler’s predicament. We’ve now seen six of the eight episodes, so there isn’t long to go before the story has to get wrapped up somehow. There only seem to be a certain number of possibilities:-

  1. Sam wakes up back in 2006, and it’s made clear that all the events of 1973 only actually took place in his mind. Perhaps after he wakes up he checks the records and discovers that there never was a Gene Hunt working in Manchester in 1973.
  2. Sam wakes up back in 2006, and it’s made clear that he really did go back in time. Perhaps he gets to go and visit the – presumably rather elderly by now – Gene Hunt, or Annie Cartwright, (or, more sadly, visit their graves?) and they share their recollections of 1973. Be a bit freaky for the old people seeing Sam Tyler thirty-odd years later, aged not a day, though.
  3. Sam stays in 1973. I think it would be a difficult ending to pull off if we’re led to believe that he’s really in a coma in 2006 and by staying in 1973, the writers are also condemning 2006 Sam to remain in a coma indefinitely. But could 2006 Sam die but 1973 Sam survive? Or could we have the premise reversed on us, and discover that actually Sam has only ever existed in 1973 and he just has an exceptionally vivid imagination, a tendency to hallucinate, and a good strike rate for predictions of the future? It seems unlikely; we’ve seen 2006 Sam so clearly and unambiguously, and his knowledge is so comprehensive, that it would feel like a cheat to claim that none of it was real.

Until the latest episode (episode 6), I leant towards the idea that he’d get back to 2006. But in episode 6, Sam seemed to be moving towards severing some of his ties with his 2006 life, which makes me less certain than I was; I’m now evenly split between him staying in 1973 and getting back to 2006.

The other intriguing question, I think, is whether there’ll be some explanation or reason for the whole thing. If he really is back in time, was he sent back for a purpose? Is there something he has to do or realise before he can get back? If he was “sent” back, will the makers attempt to explain how, or by whom, or (more wisely, I think) just do a Groundhog Day and not explain how or why the magic happened. I suspect that there will come a point in episode 7 or 8 where it becomes clear to Sam what he has to do to get back (and that might involve dying in 1973) and he’ll be able to choose whether he does what’s needed, or elects to remain in 1973, and the suspense of the last episode will be seeing which choice he makes.

February 04, 2007

Babyshambles on Popworld

Writing about web page

“Can I just explain, this is quite a fast-paced pop show.”

January 30, 2007

Life on Mars series 2 teaser

Life on Mars was an unexpected televisual treat last year, so I’m really looking forward to the second (and final) series, which starts on Feb 13th, the more so after seeing this teaser trailer:-

January 16, 2007

On awards

I used to think that prizes were demeaning and divisive, until I got one, and now they seem sort of meaningful and real.

Bill Nighy, who last night was awarded the Golden Globe for best actor in a TV mini-series for Gideon's Daughter.  A significantly wittier and more cohesive remark than Hugh Laurie, who only managed:-

Thank you, thank you very much. My goodness, this is stunning, absolutely stunning. I am speechless. I am literally without a speech. Er...

when he received the best TV drama actor award. 

December 11, 2006

My Charlie Brown Christmas

Writing about web page

A Charlie Brown Christmas, as performed by the cast of Scrubs.

October 22, 2006


TV image
3 out of 5 stars

So, the well-trailled Dr Who spin-off aired tonight, though what with the teasers and the bus posters and the web site, I kind of felt as though I’d seen it already. Billed as an adult drama rather than a childrens’ show, it promised… what, exactly? Something in the style of the X-Files? Strong language? Adult situations? Sex and violence of the sort that Dr Who has always eschewed?

As it turns out, the answer is yes to all of the above. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. There was blood, there were acts of violence, there was plenty of sex, but it was all done with a sort of gratuitous, heavy-handed obviousness, as if the makers had a checklist of things they wanted to include in the first episodes just to prove that they could: spurting blood? Check. Characters saying “Fuck” and “Bollocks”? Check. Gay kissing? Check. Gun shot wounds? Check. The show wears its “adult” label a bit too blatantly on the sleeve of its dashing military overcoat.

The X Files is an interesting comparison; way back at the start of that show, before they had to invent ever more ludicrous plot convolutions, we were presented with charismatic leads, and a storyline which hinted strongly that there was More Going On than Met The Eye. It was intriguing enough to draw you in; Torchwood, by contrast, rushes to explain everything as quickly as it can, achieving ambiguity only by omission (how does Captain Jack come to be in Cardiff, given where we saw him last in Dr Who? Where and when is he really from?). Maybe future episodes will introduce more elements of mystery, and perhaps some arcs which span more than one episode, if the makers can get past trying so hard to prove their grown-up credentials. As it stands, Torchwood is a bit like a teenager who wants to be cool and grown-up; it wears lots of black and hangs around moodily, but it hasn’t yet quite grasped that swearing and trying to shock aren’t really the key to the thing.

July 14, 2006

Heat Vision and Jack

Writing about web page

What if I told you that there was a TV series starring Jack Black as a super–intelligent renegade astronaut and Owen Wilson as the voice of his talking motorcycle? If I added that the villain of the show was played by Ron Silver playing himself as a dual–identity bad guy and that the whole thing was written by Ben Stiller, well, I'm pretty sure you'd want to see it, right? I mean, talking motorcycle? Owen Wilson? Jack Black? If you aren't the least bit curious about what it would be like then modern culture has passed you by and you should move along.

If you haven't moved along, here's the 30 minute pilot. Enjoy: it's clearly the greatest pilot ever made, with easily the best opening credits of all time. Oh, and Mat, if you're reading this, cancel your vacation, come back and implement the [media] keyword right now so I can have this piece of wonderment here on my blog so that people can gaze in awe upon it.

And remember: it's okay to be frightened, aroused, or even entertained.

October 12, 2005

Good things come to those who wait… a very long time

There's a fantastic new Guinness advert out, taking the concept of "Good things come to those who wait" just about as far as it will go. We see three guys enjoying their pints in the pub, then we rewind time not just to see what happened to them on the way to the pub, but to trace their evolution all the way back to the beginnings of life on earth. Along the way we see London undo itself back to a Saxon settlement, glaciers, ice ages, canyon formations, dinosaurs, asteroid strikes and much more. It's a fantastic piece, even if it's slightly out biologically (we didn't evolve from birds!) and the look on the mudskipper's face at the very end of the advert as it sips, well, mud, is just priceless.

The music's cool too; Sammy Davis Jr singing Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity. Great match for the animation.

Watch the advert here and read about its making here. Whimsical facts: although almost all the advert is CG, the mudskippers at the end - the creature furthest away from man on the evolutionary scale - were real. And although you have to watch very hard to spot it, near the beginning of the ad the streetlamps change from electric to gas. Oh, and the name of the ad? noitulovE. Cute.

September 28, 2005

Gaiman & Whedon: Together at last!

Writing about web page,8599,1109313-1,00.html

If you're a fan of Buffy, Firefly, Sandman, Good Omens or any of a pretty long list of great fantasy work then this interview with Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman is a good read. They're both erudite, witty people, so their views on their own work and on pop culture generally are interesting and entertaining. Joss Whedon on the upcoming Wonder Woman movie he's working on:-

TIME: You're working on Wonder Woman now, right?
JW: I am.
TIME: How's that going?
JW: In my head, it's the finest film ever not typed yet.

And Neil Gaiman on the endless rewrite process that Hollywood insists on going through when adapting original work for the screen:-

JW: I find that when you read a script, or rewrite something, or look at something that's been gone over, you can tell, like rings on a tree, by how bad it is, how long it's been in development.

NG: Yes. It really is this thing of executives loving the smell of their own urine and urinating on things. And then more execs come in, and they urinate. And then the next round. By the end, they have this thing which just smells like pee, and nobody likes it.

I can't remember whether Time is one of those magazines that puts articles online for about a week and then moves them into a subscriber-only archive, so if you're reading this in 2008 and the link doesn't work then, you know, sorry.

September 21, 2005

Laurie & Braff: Together at last!

Two of my favourite shows on TV right now are Scrubs and House so I was amused to see that Zach Braff and Hugh Laurie co-presented at the Emmy awards last weekend. And the gag was a good one too, since one of the surprises of House is that Laurie's American accent is apparently good enough to fool most US natives most of the time:-

Laurie: Thank you ladies and gentleman. Young Master Braff and I are very honoured to be presenting an award in, er, er…

He hesitates as he becomes aware that Braff is looking at him quizzically.

Laurie: What?

Braff: Oh, nothing, I just didn't realise we were doing British accents.

Laurie: Well, er, we're not. I'm British; it's the way I talk.

Braff: (knowingly) Sure it is, Hugh.

He pauses, then in a dreadful, Dick-Van-Dyke-in-Mary-Poppins British accent continues:-

Braff: The nominees for best supporting actress are…

Huge laugh from the crowd.

Braff, soto voce: ... try and upstage me.

August 28, 2005

Chris Griffin & Morten Harket: Together at last!

Writing about web page

Fan of Family Guy? Remember Aha's Take on me video? You need to watch this clip right now.

May 05, 2005


I've written before about Scrubs, but I'm knocked out by the current series – series 4, I think – because it's usually around this point that sitcoms start to run out of steam. Either they've used up all their ideas, and have to resort to more exaggerated, cartoon-like retellings of earlier stories, or the characters start to feel stale and complacent. But Scrubs still feels fresh and the characters still seem interesting. Tonight's episode includes some brilliant physical comedy in the opening moments, starting with the line:-

The most important thing about hospital get-togethers is to make sure you don't do anything people will be talking about the next day…

Obviously nothing good can happen to a character who's rash enough to utter such words, but the pace and timing and the actions and reactions of everyone in the scene are just priceless. I'll say nothing more about it except (a) it really is true that you can't put out a fire with a pool cue; who'd have guessed?, and (b) that I'm still wiping the tears of laughter away.

April 27, 2005

Family Guy is back

Family Guy has achieved the rarest of feats; it's been uncancelled. The first of the new episodes aired last night, and it's as great as ever. From the opening scene where Peter lists all the recently cancelled shows, through "Passion of the Christ 2: Crucify this" (trailer voiceover: "This July… Let he who is without sin… Kick the first ass.") through to the Mount Rushmore ending, this is comedy genius.

As always, Stewie gets the best lines; to Brian, when he's forced into doing a nappy change, laughing maniacally, "How does it smell, dog? Does it smell like servitude?"

I hear that BBC2 have the rights to this new series. I can't wait to see what they do with it; given that this episode included framing a child by putting coke into his locker, it's difficult to see it going out in the early evening slot. But it doesn't seem like BBC2 9pm material either. Perhaps they'll just do an Arrested Development with it and bury it. Their loss.

April 26, 2005

C4 spoof PPBs

Writing about web page

Channel 4 has commissioned three spoof party political broadcasts and they are scarily convincing. I have no difficulty believing that had the ideas been presented to the three parties they would have embraced them; the tone of the videos is judged to perfection — they go only fractionally further than the parties have themselves gone in their attempts to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt.

As a matter of interest, I believe the three videos were made by the team which produced the viral "Suicide bomber" advert for the VW Polo a few months ago, and you can see the same sensibility at work here. Fantastic stuff, and well worth a viewing.

April 25, 2005

Feeble cliffhangers

I'm enjoying the new series of Dr Who, but I was surprised by the incompetence of the editing recently. They're including a trailer for next week at the end of every episode, and the last story was a two-parter in which part 1 ended with a cliffhanger in which everyone is in mortal danger. So you might think that showing a trailer immediately after the cliffhanger which clearly shows everyone alive and well slightly undercuts your narrative arc. But apparently this wasn't an oversight; here's an email from the BBC (via YakYak ):-

We're sorry that your enjoyment of the new "Doctor Who" series on BBC One has been marred by the trailers for the following episode. The aim of these short trailers is to demonstrate the range and tone of storytelling on offer week by week and we believe it's always important to tease the audience with details of the next adventure. Having said that, we appreciate that a trail that comes midway in a two-part story needs to be handled especially carefully. With hindsight, the BBC agrees that we probably did give too much away within the content of the trail for episode 5. The reason we did this is that we didn't want to leave our very young audience anxious for a whole week about the safety of the Doctor. In future we will take more care to find a balance between not spoiling the impact of the cliffhanger while leaving children thrilled but without anxiety.

It's nice, I suppose, that someone at the BBC is thinking about the anxiety levels of their very young audience, but isn't the whole point of cliffhangers that they should induce, well, anxiety? I remember Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee (the Doctors I watched when younger) routinely being choked, shot, zapped, exploded and lord knows what else at the end of the episode, and I survived without trailers showing them alive and well next week.

Mind you, Doctor Who has some way to go to beat Dragonball Z in the undercutting-your-own-narrative stakes. Also from YakYak, PurpleChair writes:-

"At the end of one episode, Goku (the main character) was poisoned by some kind of space virus that was going to kill him, and no-one knew the cure. There followed a trailer for the next episode, in which the other characters search for some magic bean that they think will cure him. The excited voiceover concluded thusly:



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