All 50 entries tagged TV

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January 06, 2010

New podcast!

So sometime in 2008, Anna and I did a podcast. Well now there is another one. Of it.

The Lowman and Love Podcast – Episode 2

It sounds pretty good, there’s still some hiss and a few annoying peaks, mostly as everything I learned about editing podcasts 18 months ago I’ve now forgot.

Show notes below, and apologies for neglecting the blog of late, am planning a “TV shows of the Decade” mega-feature, but need to decide what they are first.

The Thick of It
Ashes To Ashes


The Duckworth-Lewis Method
Frank Turner
Gavin Osborn

Mark Watson
Tim Key
Stewart Lee
David O’Doherty
Tim Minchin

Doctor Who

All music by How To Swim

January 09, 2009

TV Review: Total Wipeout, BBC1

Schadenfreude, noun, enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

Total Wipeout isn’t the sort of show I’d normally watch, but I happened to bump up against it while watching TV last week and spend the next 45 minutes in slack-jawed amazement and disbelief.

I can understand the concept: a modern-day cross between It’s A Knockout and Gladiators, as contestants race across massive assault courses competing for a £10,000 prize. But a few odd choices in the creation of the programme somehow led to it taking a left turn and ending up closer to Takeshi’s Castle meets the embarrassing audition rounds from Pop Idol.

The first half of the show gives us a whole bunch of people (some fit, some most definitely not) racing for the fastest time on an obstacle course. Over half the contestants aren’t cut out for it, so constantly fail and end up falling from great heights into mud with the consistency of quicksand. Just to ensure we can laugh at everyone, the last obstacle, a series of slippery rubber balls which must be jumped across, appears to be genuinely impossible to complete without taking the fall into the water below. Meanwhile Richard Hammond sits on his own in a studio watching the action on a video screen and making snide comments.

One can understand the appeal. Schadenfreude. But then after this first round we’re left with people that are actually in decent physical shape and it becomes a straight competition with the odd sarcastic comment from Hammond dropped in.

It’s this strange disparity between the two halves that makes you wonder if something went wrong during the creation of the show. It’s presented as a light-hearted comedy game show where we can laugh at people making a fool of themselves. But it has a grand prize of £10,000. Also, when watching it, it dawned on me about ten minutes in that I was watching BBC1 and not Challenge TV, and that it was approaching prime-time on a Saturday night.

I can’t shake the feeling that the BBC wanted this to be something along the lines of Gladiators, but when the footage filmed on location at the course in Buenos Aires came back it was far, far too silly. So perhaps they bought in Richard Hammond to anchor it from within a studio and add in a flippant Harry Hill-style commentary to play up the ridiculousness of it all. There’s further evidence for this in the fact that Hammond never interacts with his co-host in Argentina. Obviously they’re being filmed at different times, but it’s not difficult to fake it by having a few bits of scripted, pre-recorder banter.

But the truly odd thing about Total Wipeout, the thing that makes it feel so odd and gives it that slightly wrong feeling, didn’t hit me until very near the end of the show: there is no audience. Understandably there isn’t one in the studio with Hammond, but nor are there any spectators on site at the assault course. No-one is cheering them on (except for the eliminated contestants in the final rounds) and there aren’t even any family members there for them to commiserate or celebrate with. As such, the whole thing just feels weird and vaguely unsettling. It’s one thing for a man to to dodge mechanical boxing gloves trying to knock him off a ledge in front of a crowd of thousands. It’s another for the same man to do the same thing in front of a couple of camera men so the footage can be sent to Richard Hammond to laugh at. It just makes the entire thing feel that more exploitative of the contestants.

Were I to credit the programme makers enough I could suggest that maybe this is the point. Yes, we’re meant to laugh at the poor souls that have been clearly invited to struggle through something they’re just not cut out for. But by cutting out the traditional cheering crowd, and relaying the whole thing via video link to a solitary presenter in the studio, we do so in such a clinical environment that we can’t help but step back, consider what we’re doing and perhaps feel slightly guilty about our schadenfreude.

But more likely the BBC just screwed up.

November 05, 2008

Why I Care. The US Election.

So I am staying up watching the election results. Some people that know me think I’m crazy to do so. It’s a view I sympathise with, after all, it’s so far away. And I pay far more attention to this election then the ones in the UK.

I made a resolution at the start of the year to watch every episode of The Daily Show and Colbert Report for the entire year, in order to keep up with US news, in a fun way. Because they are electing the de facto ruler of the world.

That alone should be enough. It’s generally as far as I go. Sometimes I’ll also point out the fact that there are still fundamental idealogical differences between the two main parties, and they’re differences reflected in policy. Back over here you can barely tell the difference since ‘New Labour’ came about in ‘97, and elections are now run on the basis of polling people in marginal constituencies, and promising whatever they want. For everything they can be criticised for, the US really do do democracy how it should be done. Even if they often use that system to make really bad choices.

But I didn’t follow the 2000 and 2004 campaigns and elections in such detail. This one is different.

The entire world is at a turning point. So much stuff is going on: the economic rise of China and collapse of the Western economies, global terrorism, shortage of oil, global warming… The world is really at a tipping point and whoever is running the US for the next 4 years will have the power to determine exactly how the Western word reacts to all these issues. Do they look after everyone, try and make the world a better place and strive for peace? Or do they look after the rich Americans at the cost of everyone else.
It’s hugely significant, and the thought of living in a world run by John McCain is just depressing. And while I don’t think Obama is a magic pill that will cure all the world’s ills, I do think he at least gives us a chance.

I jokingly compared McCain to Thatcher in an earlier live-blog entry, but I can sort of see things going that way. McCain might be a stronger hand to provide a short-term fix for the US economy, but a generation down the line we’ll see the true cost.

Still, things are looking rather good at the moment, touch wood.
Check the live blog for more:

October 09, 2008

Michael Grade (Or: Chris Morris said it best)

ITV head Michael Grade is annoying me. Check out this story over on TV Scoop for the full thing.

Basically he’s saying it’s impossible for ITV to compete commercially if they have to do public service broadcasting. If you don’t know, the government legally own the airwaves in this country. That’s why you can’t just set up your own TV channel and start broadcasting. There’s only room for a few such channels with 2 of them funded directly by the tax-payer (BBC) and the other three being given to companies to look after.

Now obviously it’s a pretty nifty deal. Imagine being given a chance to broadcast to the entire nation, your programs watch able by anyone with a TV. More to the point, your adverts, which you get paid for, watched by anyone with a TV. The government don’t just give that away for free. So what’s the flip side? When you get a broadcast license you agree to terms over what sort of programming you will show. That includes a certain number of weekly hours of educational and news coverage.

It’s a fair deal.

But it doesn’t work for Grade.

“ITV does not itself want any direct public money. We wish only to operate as a free-standing commercial business, with less rather than more regulation.”

To which I say, they’re welcome to. Just give up the rights to the airwaves. As I said earlier, the airwaves are owned by the government. Hence, the airwaves are owned by the public. They have an intrinsic value, because if you can’t do the job, we (ie. our government) can sell them to someone else instead. So you are asking for public money, just not directly.

“Universality: ITV1 is a popular national service. Viewer expectations and economics dictate that it must retain the widest coverage of the UK.”

Sorry, you don’t get to do that. You want wide coverage, you follow the rules of the agreement. You don’t, you fuck off. Simple.

“Certainty: After years of discussion, consultation and regulatory adjustments, and with an existing right to licence renewal, there is no value in the distraction of any protracted tender process for future licences with modest value.”

Basically: we want the license guaranteed.

“We expect to operate in a free market, and on fair market terms with our competitors, customers and suppliers. All future regulatory requirements beyond our commitment to programme investment and news must reflect this.”

In complete contradiction to the above they want a free market. This basically means they want to be able to compete with other broadcasters in any way they want. Except they always want to have one-up on every other broadcaster because they have one of only three analogue licenses.

Sorry but that’s not operating in a free market. In a free market we re-open negotiations for the license every 5-10 years and see if anyone else can do a better job cheaper. That’d be frustrating and annoying but if you want to compete on a totally free basis that’s the cost. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t do whatever the fuck you want in terms of programming, and expect to retain the license to the airwaves by going “But I’m fucking ITV, don’t you know who I am.”

ITV of course, feels it needs to do this because profits are down. It only made £288 million in 2006 so it’s clearly in trouble. Sure, Sky make around £400 million but that’s with internet, phone and other services oh and Channel 4? Who also have a license, arguably more restrictive than ITVs? £14.5m in 2006.

But making over 20 times more than their closest direct competitor isn’t enough.

Fuck off ITV. You don’t make anything good anyway. Either suck it up, take a drop in profits and cut the wages of the big-wigs, or fuck off. And by fuck off, I mean take your chances elsewhere. Get yourself on FTA digital, on Sky and on Cable. Then you’ll have your level playing field free-trade utopia with everyone else and can do what you want.
In the meantime we’ll see if Murdoch or someone else wants the airwaves and can manage to follow the rules.

And the bit of the blog title in parenthesis:

October 04, 2008

Gutted: No Preacher on HBO

This falls into the category of “News stories I missed while in Edinburgh”.

I’ve moaned before about HBO just not being as good as they used to be, but there seemed to be a renaissance in the offering with True Blood looking good (turned out to be not as brilliant as hoped) and more importantly a full episodic 5-season version of Garth Ennis’ comic-book classic Preacher.

So I Googled it the other night to see when it was due to air and instead found this

Turns out HBO were right behind it, but then a new guy took over and decided it was too dark, violent and controversial. Well yeah that’s sort of the point. So it’s been nixed.

This is a show that truly had the potential to be the single best piece of TV ever made. I’m genuinely gutted.

August 07, 2008

In Defense of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival

The Edinburgh Comedy Festival is an idea that’s taken a lot of flack. Basically the big four Fringe venues (Pleasance, Underbelly, Assembly Rooms, Gilded Balloon) decided to get together and market all their shows under the banner of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. Now this isn’t that new. For years the venues have been pairing up to help with promotion, producing joint programmes and so forth. Most of the consternation comes from the name: it implies that they’re the only comedy shows on the Fringe, ignoring the smaller venues.

It’s a valid complaint, but it’s hardly the first time someone has pulled something like this. Some years ago Avalon (a comedy management company) produced a “Fringe Highlights Guide” which was styled like the official Fringe program and had just their own acts in. Still nothing has been done on this scale before and the argument appears to be that it discriminates against the smaller acts that can’t afford to play the big venues, which is against the spirit of the Fringe (though the organisers have suggested other venues could join the “Comedy Festival” banner in future years).

I’m not so convinced it’s that clear-cut. For a start pick up the Fringe programme and thumb through it. 1000s of shows, but adverts for only around 10% of them. If you can afford an advert in the programme you get better advertising. If you can afford and convince one of the ‘Big 4’ you should play there you get better advertising. It’s most certainly a question of degrees rather than a fundamental issues.

The other issue that gets raised with this one is how comics lose thousands of pounds putting on a Fringe show. One interesting thing to note is that those on at the bigger venues are paying a lot more for those rooms, they’re taking a much bigger financial risk. Sure they get better positioning, more advertising and so forth but if they’re not good enough or don’t take advantage of it they’ll lose more money.
Now lets be honest, there’s a lot of shit on at the Fringe. There’s a lot of acts and productions that frankly shouldn’t be there. The open nature of the Fringe is that anyone can put on a show which is a good thing, but a lot of those shows are going to be rather poor. And the smaller and less auspicious the venue gets, the higher the proportion of really bad shows.

Now before you have a fit, I’m not denying there isn’t crap on at the Pleasance, nor am I denying there are some truly brilliant acts performing at the Free Fringe. The former is a case of acts with either more money than sense or over-inflated egos. The latter tend to be the opposite, or those acts that simply don’t have the money to risk. But at least when it comes to the bigger venues, the acts have put their money where their funny mouths are. They’re saying that they know they’re good enough to be playing there and put cold hard cash behind it. Meanwhile there are acts playing the Free Fringe that know they are far from having a sold hour of material, but are doing because it’s fun and not too costly.

So there does exist an argument that bringing these acts willing to risk their own livelihoods playing the big venues under one banner helps the consumer. And meanwhile it also hopefully sells more tickets overall so the acts don’t lose as much money.

The most interesting thing of all is that a number of the acts openly criticising the Edinburgh Comedy Festival are performing at The Stand. The Stand is a great place, but has the advantage of running comedy all-year round, so has a solid infrastructure already in place. It’s also a fairly small operation. All this means that those acts lucky enough to be picked by The Stand to play at their club don’t lose money. In fact, most of them turn a profit. Which is why it’s a little disconcerting to see them attack a system that’s designed to help out their fellow established circuit comics that are stuck performing at the Underbelly et al.

Sure, the whole thing could have been handled better, and under a different name I doubt half as many people would have been upset. But to automatically dismiss it as ‘a bad thing’ seems to be something of a swift judgement.

And of course, after the horrendous ticketing cock-up at the Fringe office, from a purely practical point of view it’s very useful to be able to buy and collect tickets for all four venues from one box-office!

TV Review: True Blood pilot

To say I’ve been anticipating this show is something of an understatement. It’s about vampires, it’s on HBO, it’s by Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball and it features Anna Paquin in the lead role. They couldn’t have appealed more to the demographic of ‘me’ short of casting Alyson Hannigan as an evil vampire girl. Nevertheless I haven’t really been following the show, but caught this trailer which makes it look like Buffy with added-gore and more Rice-esque vampires. Thankfully having now seen the pilot that’s not the case, though it’s far from perfect.
Paquin and Sterotype
The first thing that grabs you is the setting, or perhaps I should say backdrop. Two years ago the Chinese developed synthetic blood which provides all the nutrients a vampire needs to live. As such, they came out of the shadowy closet. In True Bloods world, not only are vampires real, everyone knows they’re real, even if only a small number of people have ever seen one. It’s a concept that grabs you immediately. What I’m not so sure about is the specific geographical setting. It all happens in a small village in Louisiana, Southern USA. It’s an understandable choice – the racial divide between vampires and humans appears to be a central theme of the show, so setting the show in a town where those attitudes will be at the fore seems a good idea. It’s just settings such as this are a little difficult to watch: it’s a community soaked in acts of casual sex and violence there’s something really nasty about it and it makes it hard to emphasise with any of the characters as you know they’ll either turn out to be horrible or have horrible things happen to them. But even elements of this setting don’t strike true: our heroine’s sensitivity to swear-words for one, or the “I’m better than all of you but still stuck here” friend. Maybe it’s a setting more common and clearly defined for US viewers but from a Brit perspective it seems that what should be a drama based around introducing an unfamiliar concept (vampires) to a familiar setting in fact plays more like an unfamiliar concept in an alien setting. It damages the show as it’s impossible to know what things are normal and what have been added as part of the show’s mythology.

There are other issues too. Our lead Vampire seems incredibly hokey and boring. The pre-titles teaser pulls a lovely bait and switch which seems to exist to point out that the vampires of this world are not what we’re used to in Rice-esque fiction. Then once the show proper gets underway it drops a hulking great stereotype in the middle. A few of the lines are truly cringe worthy.

I don’t want to be too harsh as it’s a decent show. Paquin’s Suki Stackhouse is an interesting character, with the ability to read minds which is played rather well but for a HBO show one expects something more. Perhaps the most damning criticism is that the whole thing was hugely predictable. The show didn’t surprise me once and it all seemed to be marching in a startlingly obvious direction. I should stress that this review is based on an unaired pilot and some of my smaller gripes may well be fixed. There is potential here and I enjoyed it, but I was hoping to be blown away and so am somewhat disappointed.

August 01, 2008

TV Review: Last Comic Standing, Finals Round 3

I have a confession to make. Despite my disappointment at Paul Foot being eliminated, and the mocking I did in my review, I really enjoyed last week’s Last Comic Standing. It had an interesting challenge that forced the comics out of their comfort zone and really demonstrated who could think on their feet, while the interactions and discussions in the house highlighted the differences between the acts comedic stylings and produced some interesting insights into how it all works. I liked it enough that I was really looking forward to this week’s episode. You can see where this is going.

It actually starts interestingly. Louis Ramey tries to get everyone to not pick Iliza if it comes down to it as he’s worried, somewhat rightly, that with it coming down to an audience phone-in then if Iliza keeps getting picked the entire show becomes about her constantly triumphing over adversity and hence she’ll get a lot of votes. It makes sense. Shows like this try and weave interesting narratives and make the contestants into characters in a story. They’re at risk of forcing Iliza into the hero role. That said, this particular show isn’t that good at creating such narratives so I wouldn’t worry too much.

They go to a Sushi Bar where they have to make female body-builders, the Deal or No Deal girls, some frat boys and some “little people”. It’s mostly just really cringe-worthy and embarrassing. Some of the comics are happy that they can finally perform their own jokes to someone as many of them haven’t gigged for nearly a month which is a long time for a jobbing comic that performs every night. They play “I’m Turning Japanese (I Really Think So)”. Yes, it’s that bad.
Louis Ramey
The clue for the task are those fake plastic breast insert things that you can put inside the bra to make things appear larger than they are. Sean Cullen goes off discussing a Star Trek episode: “Maybe we’ll be attacked by gelatinous monster creatures. Who knows?”. Alas, he’s not right. We end up at The Playboy Mansion. The challenge? They get allocated a random story title and have to come up with a funny ‘bedtime story’ and read it to three Playmates. They decide who wins. They’ll obviously be picking the funniest one, and not for instance, the cutest. The girls might be pretty but I can’t see under the two inches of make-up they all have on and the breasts are impressive but probably fake. Given those two factors, they’re really not that hot at all. Anyway.

They giggle lots at Ron G as he’s cute. Or at least the one girl does. He mostly just flirts. Adam Hunter gets off to a bad start as he reads the title “I’m The Same Age As My New Mommy” and they go “Huh”. Bit unfair really. They could have at least chosen titles the bimbos could understand. Adam Hunter does a joke filled story, the vast majority of it going over the head’s of the girls. Iliza does a good job: the jokes are pitched well (ie: low) and includes references to Playboy and such. But she’s not going to win because she’s a girl. Louis Ramey is a bit rubbish again when he has to improvise. It’s not embarrassingly bad but it doesn’t get any big laughs.

Sean Cullen mostly just scares them. Dragons eating people and stuff. It’s brilliant. Clearly he won’t win. Marcus does his movie impressions again. He weaves them together quite well and movie-star impressions are pretty much the level for dim blondes. Jim Tavare again falls into the trap of being far too clever for the crowd by y’know, having jokes. Jeff Dye sort of does okay. They don’t laugh at the bits he expected them to laugh at, but giggle uncontrollably at some throwaway lines.

Hugh Hefner makes a cameo.

One of the girls like Ron G because she has a crush on him. They like Iliza and Jeff but eventually Marcus (“Tattoo”) wins immunity. And: twist. There will be no voting, instead, everyone will perform and the nation will vote, and then someone will be eliminated. Maybe two. We don’t really know. It seems like they’re pulling the entire structure apart this year. Last year there were three head-to-heads followed by 4 weeks of “public elimination” where they all perform 5-minute sets each week, the public votes, and the one with the lowest number of votes each week is eliminated until there are just 2 left for the final. This year it looks to be 2 head-to-heads, this weeks weird one to narrow it down to 6 and then next week is the final final, where the most votes wins.

Interestingly, this could be the sort of twist which will open the door for someone other than Louis Ramey to win. As I have mentioned before, Ramey is solid enough that he’ll never finish last, and when it comes to the final two chances are any of the stranger acts will have been eliminated after 4 weeks leaving just traditional comics, and he’s the strongest ‘traditional’ comic in the line-up. But while he’s solid, he’s not exceptional. He’s nothing special, he’s not particularly memorable. Had we had last year’s structure he’d have made it to the final but he certainly wouldn’t have been first every week. With people instead voting for who they think should win out of 5 or 6 people next week, it’ll be a lot harder for him to win. And the more novelty-focused acts (Cullen and Tavare at this point) have a much better chance. It works out like this: in a small contest between 2 or 3 people, viewers won’t just vote for someone they like, they’ll vote against someone they don’t like. Novelty acts that appeal to a niche audience are therefore at a disadvantage, and those catering to the lowest common denominator at an advantage: “I didn’t like A that much, but I didn’t get B at all so I’m voting for A”. With 6 people to choose from it’s much, much more important to secure votes for yourself, because people that don’t like a given act have 5 other places to go to. So say Tavare and Cullen make the finals with their somewhat different style of performance. People that like their style will vote for them. People that don’t have 4 other places to cast there vote. It splits the vote of the comics that cater for the typical MTV audience. It certainly makes things more interesting.

Still, while that potentially makes next week interesting, this week still sucks. They have dinner. Sean Cullen does the walk of the dead Survivors. Well, he sits in a confessional for 2 minutes and chats briefly about the people that got eliminated. He’s funny: “Little Footy, with his elf-like charm”.

The down-side of everyone (except Marcus) competing is we don’t see the other comics chatting and reviewing their sets. Boo. Adam Hunter… is really really good. I mean he comes alive with this energy and almost feral aggression. The material is decent but there’s a real strength of delivery there. Iliza is up next and she’s doing a lot of new stuff. I don’t understand why, unless she really is running out of material. She’s quite good, but a lot of her jokes, while different, riff off the same ideas and themes. I’m not sure she’d be that interesting for anything more than ten minutes. She does a call-back at the end but it doesn’t work. There’s an awkward moment where Bill Bellamy has to do the “Here’s the number to vote for her” bit but she goes to walk on but he just holds on to her arm without her noticing and ends up getting pulled back and it looks sort of painful. By the way, you can vote by phone or online. Limit of 10 votes per method. Oh, fuck off.

Sean Cullen does a few jokes and then a song about farming. I like it, but it’s not actually that funny. It has a bunch of good lines, but not enough of them. In fact, Cullen is sort of funnier on the show than he is on stage. Which is odd. I finally know where I know him from now. He was in Corky and the Juicepigs with Phil Nichol. If that means nothing to you, watch the YouTube video on this post and it probably will. He’s the larger guy on the right. Would it be cheating for him to pull out that song for the final? I mean Nichol still does it live all the time… He pulls funny faces while Bellamy reads the numbers out.

Tavare is up next. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that he’s actually bothered to go out and find US cultural references to do jokes about which I think impresses the crowd due to the English accent. He does some great one-liners and some funny stuff with the double-bass. And while Bill Bellamy reads out the number to call he climbs up on the double-bass. Awesome.

Jeff Dye isn’t great. A lot of his stuff just doesn’t work and it doesn’t hold together. Ron G is the same. He’s out of his depth and still has a strange tick. He dances and touches his nipples while Bill reads out his number.
Louis Ramey is on last. Again, he’s strong, handles the crowd well and gets laughs and applause. Nothing brilliant, and he utterly fails to understand the point behind bringing food into sex. He over-runs a bit as well but still, good job.

So who’s getting eliminated this week? Well turns out they do reality shows differently over in Yank-land. Although the lines are only open for two hours after the show, we don’t get to find out till next week. Fuck off.

This whole episode really wound me up to be honest. It was a massive let down. I doubt next week will redeem it but we’ll see. At least Fearne Cotton has gone.

July 26, 2008

TV Review: Last Comic Standing, Finals Round 2

I know this is later than I planned, but I’ve been somewhat distracted this past week, pleasantly so

So it starts with…err… a car wash. The comics wash cars. There doesn’t seem to be a point. Jim Tavare is on crutches. No explanation is offered. If they do a good enough job they may receive a clue for their next challenge. They don’t. Some comics tell the customers jokes. Paul Foot is a nutcase: “I was so wet I was drenched through, and so then became highly erotic”. I’m not sure what the point was.

Still, it soons gets good. No reallly. There are carrots at the house, which appears to be the clue. Sean Cullen: “Maybe we have to mate with a number of different rodents”. Heh. Turns out they end up at a department store. The carrots: famous prop comic Carrot Top is going to be judging them doing some prop comedy. They have 20 minutes to find props, and an hour to plan a routine. To give them all due respect, they all get laughs. Which is more than I could have managed. Which is why it’s an interesting task, as it actually seems to stretch them.
Paul Foot
Everyone’s favourite to win Louis Ramey is again pretty crap at the task. Again, great at what he does, not so good at thinking on his feet. So happens that what he does is what you need to do to not get eliminated. He’ll never win a task but he’ll win the show. Papa CJ sort of falls apart… he doesn’t do any actual prop comedy but instead he does jokes vaguely related to the items he’s found. It’s sort of cheating really, but it’s not like he gets many laughs so who cares. Sean Cullen is brilliant. He has a crap load of jokes. They don’t all get laughs but he does it so quickly it doesn’t matter if he has a few bad jokes, or even a lot of bad jokes, as there’s so much there he keeps the energy up and is very good.

Jim Tavare has actually written some decent, clever material that doesn’t rely on easy jokes or crazy surrealism. He’s very good. Doesn’t get the most laughs but he’s most believable as someone who does prop comedy professionally. His act is by far the most polished.
Iliza really wants to win as she doesn’t want to have to perform again this week, as nominating the same person each week until they run out of material for the showcase appears to be a viable tactic. She does well, but clearly not good enough.
Paul Foot is a glorious disaster. The comics think he looked unsettled and confused on stage but that’s pretty much his stage manner even when he’s doing his own material. He actually runs out of time and it’s sort of awkward but funny. He’s far too odd for the crowd.
Jeff Dye is on last and is great. He has a load of jokes all linked to scenes from movies. It all ties together really well and while some bits aren’t great (and there appears to be a Flight of the Conchords lift in there) it works and whole and he deservedly wins.

The comics are annoyed, as they wanted to vote for Jeff as he’s young. So instead they shoot nerf guns at Paul Foot because he a Brit and weird. Paul takes the gun and throws it off the balcony. People are pissed. Some people applaud. We don’t see who. Apparently the ‘Brits’ are at risk. Which makes sense, since they’re playing to hugely different crowds to what they normally do. And y’know, pack mentality. So to the vote. Paul Foot and Papa CJ are tied, so have to choose someone else to perform against. They agree quietly outside who they’re going to go for, then make a big display of debating who they’ll choose inside. We see the video, they don’t want to vote for Iliza as it seems unfair. So they decide to vote for Adam: “We know we’re funnier than Iliza Schelsinger”. Heh. Okay it was a dick move. But then, Iliza did shoot Paul with a nerf gun earlier. Still, it was probably a bad call. I’d have actually gone with Adam. Or maybe even Jim Tavare to eliminate the home advantage. I mean did they see last week? She won with nearly 70% of the vote.
Papa CJ
So to the showdown. A lot of the acts think Paul Foot might win: if he gets the crowd behind him he might take it. No-one thinks Papa CJ will win.
Paul is on first. That’s not good. He’s better with a warmed-up crowd. There’s not enough laughs. He get a round of applause early on mid-routine but the main punchline barely gets a laugh. It’s sad, as he doesn’t connect with the crowd and it’s clear he’s going home. The comics still think he seemed rattled, missing that that is his stage persona: “He got off on that hallway thing and lost everybody”.
Iliza kills it and it’s clear it’s not just a quiet crowd. Papa CJ does a good job and gets a lot of laughs, though his last joke is beeped out entirely which is a bit weird. Sean Cullen: “Same set as he did in Las Vegas” and it pretty much was. Again, does anyone know the rules about repeating material?

The acts are split on who they think will win: 4 for Paul Foot, 1 for Iliza and 2 for Papa CJ. The actual results: Paul Foot goes home first, then CJ. It’s odd as it seems the comics are either giving the crowd too much credit, that they’d go for someone like Foot, or too little, that they’d go for something as polished as CJ’s. With a UK crowd, Foot might well have won, he certainly had the most original material. Much like last week, Iliza looked physically sick while waiting for said result.
I did wonder for a sec if CJ might actually pull it out, it’d been a horrible shame if he did as they’d just vote him back next week when he had no material left.

The real disappointment? Next week they’re going to the Playboy Mansion and have to charm the Playmates with jokes in bed. Aww Paul, look what you missed out on! The last time I saw Paul play he had a whole bunch of girls fawning over him after the gig, lucky sod. It would have just been so brilliant to see him in that situation. They’d have either loved him or thought he was a freak. Ah well. Oh and there’s some audience vote or something too.

July 19, 2008

TV Review: Last Comic Standing, Finals Round 1

So here we go, 12 comics left, on a bus going to their house. God’s Pottery try and steal the girls’ room as it’s pink and pretty. Paul Foot is now classed as being from Buckinghamshire, UK and not just “London”. That’s what happens when you make the finals. Fuck knows what the next 15 minutes is about. They dress up for a calendar shoot in weird outfits. First, who the hell buys a Last Comic Standing calendar? Second, 10 minutes into the first episode we dress up our 12 finalists in outfits that render them unrecognisable. Not really a smart choice when most people are struggling to keep up with who’s who. One comic says “Foot’s a freak” and I think we’ll be hearing that a lot more in the next few weeks. His outfit falls off and he has a joke rant about how he’s ruined his chances of winning. But it’s cut with spooky music and out-of-context reaction shots to make it look like he’s actually throwing a hissy-fit. Cute.
Esther Ku
Then they drink eggs, and we reach the immunity challenge. This is fun. There’s a boxing ring, and the comics go head to head throwing insults at each other. In the first round Ron G is up against God’s Pottery, and while they’re warming up the latter talk about how they’re going have some fun and the former seems genuinely pissed off. It occurs to me that as he’s a Christian, there’s a good chance he’s actually genuinely offended by their act. Especially as he now has to live with it 24 hours a day as they really do never break character. God’s Pottery take a different approach, and actually throw compliments at him “Your mother is so terrific she was elected mayor of awesome-ville” “She was! By a landslide”. Ron G appears quite narked off, and it’s understandable, because they’re not playing the game. Which is why they’re so awesome for this show. They turn stuff like this entirely on it’s head. Interestingly Louis Ramey (he who stormed it at the semi-finals and is the clear favourite to win even amongst the other contestants) does a bunch of un-inspired “Your momma’” jokes that are older than he is. The judges clock this and he doesn’t make it past the first round.

Sean Cullen is up against Korean Esther Ku and comes up with “Your mother is so Korean she has a demilitarised zone around her waist, her breasts are ruled by a dictator and she hosted the Olympics in her underpants”. I like this guy. He also has a tendency to fantasise about killing the other contestants in interviews. He’d fit in well on the UK circuit, and is instantly my favourite of the non-UK guys. I was going to say favourite US contestant but he’s Canadian, which I guess makes sense given the large amount of crossover there is between the UK and Canadian comedy scenes, far more so that UK/US.

God’s Pottery win the second round against Adam Hunter who is also pissed off and feels cheated as again, God’s Pottery aren’t playing the game. But they’re still funnier. That said, both their opponents so far haven’t put up much of a fight with some fairly dull put-downs.
Sean Cullen takes on Brit Jim Tavare, and I thought Cullen had won this one but Tavare takes it. Cullen is going to smother him in his sleep. Heh. So we have Jim Tavare versus God’s Pottery in the final, and God’s Pottery get a bit nasty “Hey Jim, tou’re dumber than a ding-dong in a ho-ho factory”. Tavare wins it though. This is interesting. He did a decent job but I didn’t think he was particularly great or imaginative. And that’s why I think he’ll go far in this competition. Because he has the gimmick of performing with his double-bass, but his straight stand-up is extremely traditional, albeit traditionally British. It’s what Americans expect when told the comic is from the UK and so it makes them comfortable and gets the laughs of familiarity while the double-bass makes it memorable. Much like Paul Foot mixes eccentricity with strong writing, Tavare mixes a gimmick with a style that’s instantly recognisable.

So then it’s the vote. Tavare can’t be voted for. They go to a graveyard and cast their votes in a crypt (Paul Foot: “So what happens to the losers? Are they killed?”) and then Bill Bellamy plays back thier voting in front of everyone in a shock twist. It gets a little awkward. Esther Ku gets the most votes by miles. Partly because people find her laugh annoying to live with, but partly because unlike the judges I think the rest of the comics recognise that her act is fairly flimsy and even somewhat one-note, relying very much on the whole Korean heritage thing. She picks God’s Pottery and Iliza to go up against in the comedy showcase.

Here’s my favourite bit of the show. The other comics sit around talking about who might win and commenting on the proceedings. There’s more insight on the nature of comedy here than in the whole show, because these guys know their comedy. Adam Hunter points out that God’s Pottery and hit and miss, and he’s totally right. If they get the crowd on side they’ll win by a landslide, but it’s far more like it’ll go over the heads of the majority and they won’t. Especially as in this round only the winner stays in while the other 2 are eliminated. Plus it’s an audience vote (the live audience, not a phone in) and unlike the showcases in the heats which were held at local comedy clubs, this is a venue that holds thousands of people who got free tickets to a TV show filming. They won’t be voting based on who’s the most original or interesting or innovative, just who makes them laugh the most. As such the writing is on the wall for God’s Pottery. And Esther Ku for that matter.
God’s Pottery do “Team Jesus” and I was going to say that they should have done “Jesus I Need a Drink” as it’s funnier but I don’t think it would have helped. Maybe they’d have made 2nd instead of 3rd but for too many of the audience it just wasn’t their thing.

Iliza Shlesinger storms it with some material that might be quite good but it’s mostly about a US reality show that I haven’t seen so it goes over my head. I do like the irony of a contestant competing on a reality show doing so by mocking reality shows though. She also displays a fine line in physical comedy which is something new, so there’s a few more strings to her bow.

Interestingly half the comics think God’s Pottery are going to win when in fact they’re first out. And Iliza got an incredible 68% of the vote, which means they had 15% at most.

I have to say, with the structure of the show, I find it hard to see how anyone other than Louis Ramey will win. He might not impress the judges much but if it all comes down to an audience vote I can’t see him losing unless he messes up badly. He knows exactly how to work a crowd and the sort of crowds that turn up for this sort of thing are exactly the type he knows how to play to. Unless there’s some twist where one round is elimination-by-judge he must surely have it in the bag. His only real threats are the wild cards: God’s Pottery was one, Jim Tavare is another and Sean Cullen the last. Maybe Paul Foot, probably not. The three are all acts that are somewhat ‘alternative’. They offer a very different style that really is “love or hate”. 95% of the time Ramey will beat them out for laughs and votes with this kind of audience. But that other 5% of the time something clicks with the crowd, they completely storm it and everyone loves them. But that’s rare. Chances are Ramey has this wrapped up. Some think there’s maybe a chance Iliza could beat him at his own game, but I remain unconvinced.

It really is a shame that God’s Pottery are out too, as they do make it a better show, the producers probably felt the same way too, so at least we know it isn’t fixed!

Dean is going to blog the second episode of the finals tomorrow, then will be caught up

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