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May 01, 2010

Sex etc.

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There are only a few things that are certain in the modern world. Kerry Katona will get fat again, cry about being a coke addict, snort the ashes of one hundred thou sand crushed Atomic Kitten CDs and die, leaving nothing in her wake but a five page epitaph in the Daily Star.

We will always care more about Kerry Katona eating sushi than we will about Cleggmania, Sam Cam and that rabid Scottish bull dog, no matter how hard Rupert Murdoch tries. McDonalds will make you fat. Burger King will make you fat. Nick Clegg will make you fat. The Andrex Puppies will make you fat. Gok Wan will tell you that you’re fat but you’re fabulous, or something, and make you expose your stretch marks in front of your grandma and The Nation. Everything onTVis for and by The Nation, an anonymous group of twats who spend their Sunday afternoons masturbating to Racing on Channel 4 and deciding that Joe McElderry is now the voice of The Nation be cause he’s cute. Or something.

More than this, we all know that sex sells, apparently. Whenever anything vaguely sexual comes on TV, there will al ways be some pil lock near by who wants to justify the sudden awkwardness in the room with an oh-so witty anecdote about the economy of sex on TV. Say ‘sex sells’ enough times and it be comes about as monotonous a drone as the white noise that will forever leech onto my null and void collec tion of analogue TVs. Except the white noise isn’t quite as self-​righteous as the lager wielding, Times-​reading sofa commentator.

I’m not exactly the most clued-​up person on the economics of tele vision, and I am sure that TVprograms with lots and lots of fucking in them make lots and lots of advertising revenue for lots and lots of television executives. And good for them, truly! But does every single TVpro gram need to be reduced to a base, sexual level?

I’m not saying that Newsnighthas become a late night haven for Paxman fetishists waiting for the closing five minutes in which he strips down to his off-​white Y Fronts and performs a disturbingly erotic dance, but there is definitely a misplaced emphasis on sexual attraction and seduction across the entire sorry spectrum of TVshows.

There are, of course, overtly sexual TVshows. There have been for a long time. Sex and the Cityploughs on with its second movie com ing soon, and I’m sure that scenes of menopausal women hav ing their way with bare ly post-​pubescent boy toys will be titillating enough, but in com par i son to the bawdy romps of the TVshow, the new Sex and The Citywill always pale in comparison. Sex and The Cityis reflective of how stan dards of sex on TVhave gradually dis integrated from people fucking to make a point to peo ple fuck ing be cause there needs to be a sex scene in every single post-​water shed program. The once perky labia of your TVset is drooping lower than a fat man sleeping in a loosely strung hammock.

Every taboo has already been broken. Queer as Folkintroduced rimming to middle England at the start of the millennium. Joan Collins’ character in Footballers’ Wiveshad sex with her adopted Brazilian football megastar son. Channel 5 ran a documentary about a man who has sex with his car. Rebecca Loos masturbated a pig on The Farm. Kinga made sweet sweet love with a wine bottle on Big Brother. Every single combination of midgets, obese prosti tutes, eighty-​year-​old male strippers and inanimate objects have all cheated on each other on some godforsaken daytime chat show.

Sex can be innovative and in spir ing in the right context. The rim ming worked on Queer as Folknot be cause it was shocking but be cause it made gay sex beautiful. Footballers’ Wivesworked be cause it was campy and kitsch and the weird sex scenes were so extreme that they be came cartoonish. Rebecca Loos’ indulgence in bestiality was just shocking, crude and in appropriate.

And then there’s TV’s obsession with sexualising the seemingly in nocuous. Children’s TVpre sen ters seem to know the score, and it’s almost a rite of passage for every female ex-Blue Peterpresenter to appear in the glossy pages of FHM.

Perhaps Bob the Builderwill turn into Bob the Rent Boysoon enough to in crease ratings. Dora the Explorerhas already been given a more revealing outfit. Heck, in a desperate move, the final series ofBig Brothercould bring back Moira Stewart to per form lap dances.

Sex on TVis ridiculous and worthless. Expect to see David Cameron awkwardly writhing in dirty underwear in a desperate attempt at quelling Clegg-​mania in Thursday‘s debate.


March 12, 2010

The Undercover Princesses

Title:
The Undercover Princesses
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

princesses


The dating world can be a scary place. Bars and clubs are full of people who either want to  fight you or have sex with you. Everyone is incoherent, nobody can dance and the likelihood that a spilt drink will wreck your carefully selected outfit is incredibly high. That person you pull in Smack does not a partner make. Thankfully, I don’t have to suffer the pitfalls of danger-dating any more, but plenty of people march on like lemmings into its unforgiving abyss. 

Joining the plight of Britain’s singles are the Undercover Princesses, coming all the way from Germany, India and Uganda to find themselves the perfect English gent. In Essex. Sexy, classy Essex. I’m not even being sarcastic: at one point in the program Princess Sheillah from Uganda points to a picture of Jodie Marsh and declares that ‘she is sexy!’. Which is kind of a problem when these women are supposed to be princesses. Princesses should be worrying about their comportment and engagement with their subjects in a demure and dignified fashion, not about imitating Jodie Marsh’s style.

Then again, truly demure and dignified princesses would never appear on BBC3 full stop, let alone on a program which follows them on a path of almost certain rejection and humiliation. Something gives me the impression that these women are looking for something other than love. Princess Xenia is the German equivalent of Paris Hilton. Rather, Xenia thinks that she is the German equivalent of Paris Hilton. In her introductory video, they were demonstrating her fame by showing her being photographed by various members of the German public, each one looking more bemused than the last. I get the feeling that perhaps she isn’t as famous as she wants to be and doesn’t want to date an Essex lad, rather to make herself into an uber-star. 

Princess Aaliyah of Balasinor, India has the most rose-tinted view of her trip to beautiful Essex. I can only imagine the meetings that must have taken place between the producers and the Princesses. They probably pulled out some Victorian propagandist paintings of the quaint and sophisticated English countryside, coupled with a showing of Pride and Prejudice and a booklet of typical British bachelors comprising mainly of pictures of Hugh Grant, Robert Pattinson and Prince Harry. Whereas Xenia went into the program with her eyes wide open, Aaliyah is far more shy and is seen to break down on the streets of Essex towards the end of the episode. Knowing how reserved she is, surely the producers were gearing her up for an inevitable and embarrassing downfall?

I suppose that’s a bit of a ‘shame on them’ moment, but I genuinely enjoy seeing people breaking down on TV. It may be a little bit perverse, but some of the best TV moments ever come from seeing people in the flux of a mental breakdown. The intention behind the Undercover Princesses isn’t all that machiavellian, but it is an example of how all realityish television is just exploitative TV. The Undercover Princesses is an aftershock of the successful disintegration of Vanessa Feltz on Celebrity Big Brother, Les Dennis on Celebrity Big Brother, Leo Sayer on Celebrity Big Brother, Shabaz on Big Brother...well, actually, almost every single Big Brother contestant ever. Not that there is anything wrong with exploitative TV. It’s entertaining! The dating world might be a scary place, but sat at home watching The Undercover Princesses, we don’t have to experience it. All we have to do is watch three privileged women set themselves up for disaster. Brilliant. 


February 26, 2010

Kids

kids


Adverts never used to make me scream, but now I’m horrified whenever anyone on TV says ‘Hut’, whenever I hear the build up to the piercingly shrill shriek-fest that is a Boots advert and, more to the point, whenever those demonic Evian babies skate across my screen. Those babies are the hellish love-children of the Cloverfield monster and whatever kept freaking that couple out in Paranormal Activity.  Note to Evian advert people: seeing babies rollerskating and dancing is not cute, it is unnatural. The way you contort their bodies is repulsive and your disregard for the physical health of your CGI-Monsters and for the mental health of the unsuspecting viewer is almost as odious as the spectacle itself.


I fear that this advert is merely indicative of a trend that refuses to stop growing. There is an inexorable plague of children on TV. There are a couple more eye-stabbing Kid-centric adverts floating around at the moment, both supported by the government. The first is a swarm of children singing ‘I’ll Do Anything’ in a bid to stop their parents smoking, and the second a load of children talking about how alcohol is going to mess their lives up when they get older. Fact time. The smoking kids don’t care about stopping their parents from smoking. They just want to be on TV. Children love attention. They love attention more than chocolate, Spongebob Squarepants and certainly more than the state of their parents’ lungs. Children are selfish. The youngest members of the AA are probably looking forward to being able to get ‘mash-up’. One boy appears to promise himself a future where he will be offered drugs in a nightclub. He then proceeds to brush his teeth with such fervor for his ever so exciting future. One thing that children love more than getting attention is sticking it to their parents.


Now, humble reader, you may feel the need to interject at this point and tell your immodest columnist that I clearly have underlying issues with my own childhood, but this is not the case. This is how the ad-men want you to treat people who find the sight of children on TV abhorrent instead of cute, endearing and guilt inducing. The children in the public service announcements are menacingly attached to horrific social malaises as if they are the true victims of an uncaring society. We are being constantly asked to consider future generations, to make life better for them. All I envision is a new generation of apathetic droids emerging with a fag sticking out of their collectively foppish mouth and an enormous bottle of Cherry Lambrini in hand to chug on the way to the discotheque. 


So, perhaps I am uncaring. Perhaps I am soulless, and I should let myself be madly affected by the government’s children. Perhaps I should just sit back and relax while the three horsemen of the infant apocalypse scourge the ne’er-do-wells who dare to listen to their warnings, but I refuse to remain idle. Any advert campaign with children in it is destined to fail. I refuse to be conned by the acts of desperate ad-men who can’t think of a tool more convincing than shoving careless sprogs into the glare of the public eye to sell water, or to say that climate change is a bad thing, or that perhaps by eating sweetcorn one might turn into a big green giant. It adds a whole other specious dimension to the already mindless advert break. Rant over, it’s time to make myself a coffee. The adverts are on. 


February 12, 2010

Drugs

Title:
Skins
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

drugs


Drugs. They’re everywhere, apparently. And they look damn attractive. Skins is back and they’re all doing it. From Anonymous Suicide Girl in episode one, who performed the remarkable feat of parting a drunken crowd with nothing more than the anticipation of a fall, to Thomas, who can afford a modern house on the back of his drug pushing, it is obvious that drugs can grant you both superhuman powers and everlasting wealth. Pass me the syringe. I want me some of this life-changing ofcourseonlyinapositiveway elixir.


   Drugs have a great history on TV. In particular, weed. I cannot remember one bad weed-related incident on TV. Everyone seems to love it. Those crazy Peep Show chaps are always ‘stoked’ and they’re ruddy hilarious. Yes, their drug induced haze only ever seems to result in public embarrassment but at least they’re having fun... Even dour Betty Draper on Mad Men got in on the act recently. Cannabis not only got her in with the other ad-men, it also gave her inspiration to rise head and shoulders above her pesky male counterparts.


   Prescription medication has a slightly worse reputation. Dr. House’s addiction to Vicodin renders him totally and utterly unlovable because he’s always so ruddy grumpy. Nurse Jackie seems to be doing alright on her snort-and-relax pills but her increasingly short temper, forgetfulness and propensity to have nose bleeds can only lead to one thing: a major melt-down. Perhaps one on the same scale as Lynette Scavo from Desperate Housewives way back in season one, where her dependence on anti-depressants almost led to her suicide. Grim stuff. In all honesty, all this teaches me is that addiction to prescription medication is not the way forward: it’s a pathetic drug to be addicted to. It’s unglamorous, is only taken by mardy neurotics and doesn’t even produce a high.


   No. As keen followers of the deranged habits of ‘crazy’ Television characters, we like to stay up to date with all of the latest drugs crazes. Smoke opium with the Desperate Romantics! Snort coke with Skins! Take roofies with Hollyoaks! Of course, I am being silly. In most programs drugs are shown to have negative side-effects. If one takes drugs in Hollyoaks, one will either end up arrested or dead. There is no middle ground. Oh, actually, there is. Rape. You will end up raped, à la Sam-whatshisface from the Hollyoaks Late Night Specials. Everyone seems to die in Desperate Romantics. Granted, it is semi-historical and there were other underlying health issues like a complete lack of antibiotics in the nineteenth century, but drugs play a salient role. It’s only really in Skins that most people seem to come off relatively unscathed most of the time.


   Which leads me to the whole point of this drug-high diatribe. Skins. I used to like it because I was a 15 year-old public school boy. Bristol night life seemed so mysterious. I have now been out in Bristol many times. Life is not like that there. Life is not like Skins anywhere. Skins is about as representative of the youth of today as Jackie Stallone is of the elderly. When people take drugs in other programs, they turn away from being the vapid air-sacs that the writers of Skins dare to call characters. I bet they’re not even snorting cocaine, but indulging in a bit of Dip-Dab. Skins is a pathetic legal high. It is a classless, empty con of a drug. Give me Mad Men’s weed any day, because I’m not buying whatever Skins is trying to sell me.


January 28, 2010

Coming of Age

Title:
Coming of Age
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

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Sometimes, TV can’t be taken too seriously. Yes, it’s great that Mad Men’s back for a third series, that those angsty Skins kids will be snorting and self-harming their way to university and that Paxman’s perennial sneer is forever imprinted upon the hollow soul of the BBC, but sometimes it’s nice to lose yourself in half an hour of complete banality. Yes! From the makers of ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ comes the second series of ‘Coming of Age,’ a yoof sitcom that follows the oh-so-hilarious tribulations of five sixth form students.
However, we are being led to believe that the monster that is Recession-bot 3000 wants the BBC to take television more seriously. The Policy Exchange recently concluded that the BBC should cut the amount that it spends on popular entertainment and shows for 16 to 35 year olds and concentrate on providing a better quality output instead of chasing ratings. It also stated that money spent on reaching 16 to 35 year olds would be better placed on E4 and Channel 4 than it is on the BBC at the moment. Of course, being the cynic that I am, I tend to disagree. The BBC is a multi-faceted organization, with a platform for intellectual programming on BBC4, (‘Alice Sommer Herz at 106: Everything is a Present’ anyone?) popular entertainment on BBC1 and BBC2 and youth programming on BBC3. Heck, they even have BBC Parliament. If the Policy Exchange is concerned with wasted money, they should look no further than BBC Parliament. I don’t know why anyone would want to sit around and watch the televisual equivalent of a bunch of bleating walruses flogging themselves, as if we need any convincing that our parliament is little more than some perverse foreplay. I digress.
I spoke to Tim Dawson, the writer of ‘Coming of Age’, this week. Tim is a man who is, as one short search on Google reveals, widely applauded for achieving success as a scriptwriter at a young age. The first series of ‘Coming of Age’ was commissioned when he was just 19. Now, this makes me a little jealous. I am fast approaching the big two-zero and I have little more to show for myself than a dirty bedroom and a dubious collection of Victorian masks. Of course, I asked him the obvious question: what is the best way to break into the industry? He dutifully replied, “I had dinner last week with a very respectable writer who show ran Cheers in America and we were talking about this. He said no-one’s written a great script that hasn’t been made. So that’s all you have to do – write a great script.” Simples. So young, so wise...
More to the point, I asked whether he thought that programs such as ‘Coming of Age’ are vital to maintaining the diversity of viewers that the BBC should be striving to attract to which he responded, “I think BBC3 is an exceptionally entertaining and adventurous channel which I’m delighted Coming of Age is a part of.  The future of the BBC lies with the younger generations, therefore it’s imperative that we are catered for adequately.”
Which I agree with, in part. I wholeheartedly support BBC3 for employing new, fresh talent like Tim, but I also believe that it shoots itself in the face with a lot of the programming choices that it makes. It is home to the much maligned ‘Dog Borstal’ and programs that we have to look forward to include ‘I Believe in Ghosts: Joe Swash’. This might just be my own personal taste, but the prospect of watching an hour of someone who used to be in Eastenders walk around a house is totally unappealing, not entertaining and unlikely to attract viewers.
But I’ve been wrong before. You may or may not remember my denouncement of ‘Miranda’ a few weeks back, but Tim shocked me when he revealed that, “Miranda was both a critical and ratings success and is returning for a second series on BBC Two.” The further revelation that “My Family regularly draws 6 million viewers and 22 new episodes are currently in production” was even more shocking. I had no idea that it was still on TV, let alone that it was still inordinately popular. Tim refutation that the sitcom is still popular is drawn from “simple logic: if a genre is popular it is by definition relevant.”
‘Miranda’ and ‘My Family’ are both programs which are outmoded and feel stale. I truly believe that they only exist to be derided by joyless beasts such as yours truly, novice television critic. But why shouldn’t they be on TV if people are watching them? Who am I to say that people can’t watch TV that makes them happy?
Whilst I’ll admittedly be snorting along with the Skins kids, imitating Paxman, buying a vintage 60s ad-men suit and avoiding the BBC sitcom at all costs over the coming months, I concede that programs like ‘Coming of Age’ have their place. Tim asserts that “I think there’s plenty of room for us all.”And why not? ‘Coming of Age’ is fun enough, heck, I even laughed with it. It completely lacks pretension and is reassuringly human. If you don’t want to take television too seriously, ‘Coming of Age’ is the perfect show for you.


January 14, 2010

Take Me Out

Writing about web page http://www.itv.com/entertainment/takemeout/

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I have an announcement: TV dating is, yet again, back in vogue. After years of trying to spruce up the traditional ‘attractive person meets dubious partner, love?’ format, ITV decided to return to the unpretentiously crap cringe-inducing rejection-gasm train wreck to possible rape charge fare by commissioning ‘Take Me Out’, a dating show, refreshingly, without a difference.
I am a connoisseur of Bad TV. Granted; television programs which effectively force STDs upon their contestants can never, ever be called ‘good’, but they can be entertaining. Depressingly, program makers have recently leapt to the false conclusion that everyone is solely interested in watching debauchment and the successive spread of the afore mentioned groin-rotters. ITV’s previous dating flop, ‘Celebrity Love Island,’ was little more than a desperate attempt to recreate some Celebrity Sex-Tape magic on prime-time TV. However, the ridiculous idea that a group of people on a beach will eventually gang bang (note: ‘to gang bang’ is a verb) never came into fruition, and the dwindling viewing public couldn’t care less about Calum Best’s sex life. A whole series of ‘Love’ programs have emerged in the US (Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, Real Chance of Love, I Love Money) which solely serve to service the sexual needs of irrelevant, aging celebrities. Prostitution TV may be a ratings winner, but I think that (good)Bad TV should maintain its innocence. Blind Date was great because we never heard about the exchange of bodily fluids between the contestants. It’s crude and unnecessary.
OK, so ‘Take Me Out’ is a little bit prostitutey. Paddy McGuinness is the pimp to thirty ladies who are very willing to throw themselves at any given gentleman who comes down the ‘love lift’ for the sake of a few more minutes on television and a free meal. The basic premise of the show is that a man emerges from a lift to face inevitable rejection from the vast majority of thirty women. The women have a light which they can turn off at any point in the proceedings when they are themselves turned off by the man. If all thirty lights are turned off the man is sent packing, and if there are any lights left on at the end the man gets to choose who he wants to date. Simples.
However, the prostitutey element is not the predominant force in the program which helps to make it, in my not-so humble opinion, the greatest dating show ever. The pure volume of rejection and the visible depluming of bigoted peacocks is glorious. Equally so, the inevitable choice between the semi-wholesome good girl and the pole dancer the man has to make at the end of the process invariably results in the rejection of the good girl for Little Miss. Skankzilla. Basically, ‘Take Me Out’ demonstrates that all men are twerps who are solely interested in getting a leg over. It also shows most women to be attention seekers who are themselves solely interested in self-promotion and would actually never even dream of touching their suitor. The whole program is a series of dead-ends and pitfalls, but everyone carries on smiling and judging and giggling and clutching to their dignity with every ounce of their strength. I particularly like this one fat girl. She is clearly someone who half-attractive women stand next to in order to look better by comparison. Paddy ensures her, every week, that tonight is the night that she’ll be chosen for a date and she’s always standing there smiling at the end of the show. Oh, rejection is a funny game! My light, at least, is still on.


December 04, 2009

Cast Off Miranda and Big Top please, THANKSVERYMUCH!

Title:
Miranda, Big Top
Rating:
1 out of 5 stars

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I feel more confused than an obsessive Gary Glitter fan circa 1997. I thought that my relationship with BBC comedy was strong. The Office was funny. I love Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Outnumbered is laugh-a-minute hilarious and I am a big fan of The Mighty Boosh and The Thick of It. Heck, even Little Britain used to tickle my pickle back in the day. However, it revealed its dark side this past fortnight by bringing out two godawful new shows, Miranda and Big Top, and I don’t know whether I should starve the beast that is spawning such dross or simply carry on in forcibly blissful ignorance, pretending that these atrocities simply don’t exist.
Miranda is a program about a fat woman who owns her own joke shop but all she really needs to make herself happy is the love of a good man. Well, the love of any man will do, and by love I mean a five second grope in the back of a night-bus from a dirty stranger. Yay, feminism. This was a show that should have been released and dropped thirty years ago when the BBC realised that this was just a really very cheap rip-off of Are You Being Served?. Miranda doesn’t even try to veil its smut. It believes that innuendo is telling a joke with a phallus in hand as if the viewer is too stupid to grasp that a joke about sucking could have some sexual connotations. Interestingly, the BBC have also resurrected the cast waving goodbye at the end of the show one by one. I actually quite like that, but not enough to sit through another whole episode of this bilious twaddle.
Admittedly, I only sat through five minutes of Big Top. I maintain that that was five minutes too much. These five minutes consisted of Amanda Holden (the multi-faceted actress well known for her range of facial expressions and total non-ice-queen aura) reading a poster for their circus which had been defaced by a rival circus. I don’t think that Holden knew her lines. I don’t even think that she understood that she has to interact with the other people in scene. Moreover, the entire production was shot with more botox than Holden’s forehead. It was stiff, void of personality and less amusing than the 10‘O’Clock News.
Compare and contrast with Cast Offs on Channel 4. Whilst BBC is happy to gorge on its own rotting corpse, devouring any glimpse of inspiration and regurgitating it so that every single program that it produces is tainted by the stench of its dereliction, Channel 4 is softly mocking its identity as the channel for kooky reality TV shows. Exponentially a show about five disabled adults being told to survive unassisted on an island for six months, Cast Offs is one of the first television programs that I can think of that that presents disabled people not as victims but as actual adults. The characters drink, have sex, are bigoted, swear and, unlike every Channel 5 documentary that you will ever see, function in the real world. Because of this, Cast Offs is not self-conscious. It is littered with really very amusing black humour and led by a cast of characters who the viewer can identify with. It is innovative, necessary and, ultimately, everything that Miranda and Big Top aren’t, so it is truly depressing to see Cast Offs scheduled after 11pm and Miranda and Big Top on prime time. I’m starting to feel like a lone voice against the increase in imbecilic programs on television. Help.


November 25, 2009

Misfits

TV image
Title:
Misfits
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

Those crazy kids at E4 are at it again, making our disaffected TopShop generation their nonchalant muses. At least, that’s how it appeared in the adverts for new teen-dream drama Misfits or, as I wanted to call it, ‘Skins Series 4.’ We were promised a group of rebel scene-agers causing havoc and having sex with everyone but their parole officer, set to a soundtrack of bands that you’re not cool enough to know yet. The scent of E4 cashing in on the popularity of Skins was almost overbearing and I was quick to write it off before I even saw it. Calling itself Misfits was, and is still, crime enough in my book. I can only imagine the production meeting full of balding television executives trying to find a skewiff enough term for the alienated breed of teenager, skirting over ‘offbeats,’ ‘stray cats’ and ‘ne’er do wells’ before finally lumping for ‘misfits.’
Lazy marketing put to one side, and having exhausted all other possibilities on 4OD (including that god-awful and ill thought out 3D season), I sat down with my mug of piping hot white hot chocolate clearing my throat ready to grumble. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Less a rehash of Skins and more a mash-up of Heroes and Dead Set, Misfits opens its series with a promise of thrill. It is, shockingly, not about five kids who take drugs and occasionally look contemplatively into the distance because life sux, innit, but rather about five kids and their parole officer who are all given superpowers after a freak storm hits The City. Aside from the Irish kid, all the superpowers are revealed in the first episode. Chavvy Happy Slapper can read minds, Moody Runner can manipulate time, Actually Not All That Unattractive Moody Psycho Kid turns invisible, Can’t Do Better In Life Than Become a Parole Officer is some sort of zombie monster chav hunter and Pretty Slutty Girl can make herself irresistible to anyone she touches.
Though Misfits is hardly perfect. Whilst I admire the ingenuity behind Pretty Slutty Girl’s power (it is, if nothing else, original), it is a relatively pathetic plot device constructed solely for the introduction of gratuitous sex scenes. It’s got more plot holes than a Dr. Who Special (seriously; snow in 2059? In London? In November?) that cannot even be justified by saying, ‘but it’s magic.’ When the monster Parole Officer was chasing Chavvy Happy Slapper, he could have easily caught her. This is a creature who had no doubt spent the best part of her life living off of White Lightning and Curry and Chips. A girl who would skip PE to conceive her second baby at the age of 15 in an empty classroom if she went to school, or hanging with the tramps in the park if she didn’t because she’s street like that, yeah? In any case, there is no way that she would have been able to outrun a power-charged blood thirsty monster. Equally as unlikely is the kids’ acceptance of the discovery of a dead body in the locker. Thoughts immediately turned to cleaning and disposing of that body and that of the recently murdered Parole Officer. They had spent the day previous doing a pitiful job of cleaning up graffiti and a mutilated body would surely be enough to make someone be sick or faint or react with something other than a quip. If Misfits steers away from being Skins’ little brother and embraces its sci-fi elements as something other than something that can patch up inconsistencies, I might even enjoy watching it. Shocker.


Bowerbirds

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

(Note: this is a live review, not a CD review. Buy the CD anyway...)

I had the opportunity to indulge in my ever-so-grating-and-patronizing tendency of forcing bands so new they’re practically foetal onto my friends the other week when Bowerbirds came to London. After spending a few months asking everyone, ‘oh, do you know Bowerbirds?’, I finally dragged one of them kicking and screaming to the English leg of their European tour promoting their new album, ‘Upper Air.’ Although he really shouldn’t have resisted: we were treated to a magical evening of musical lore and delight.
   Bowerbirds are a folk band. Folk is cool. More to the point, Bowerbirds are a very good folk band. They are beautiful in every sense of the word. Their first album, ‘Hymns for a Dark Horse,’ is strung with warm nostalgia for some Bonfire dance or Summer after-party in a luscious forest. Phil Moore sings with an understated wisdom, lacing his bitterly saccharine voice around pointed observations on the intricacy of love. Beth Tacular’s backing underpins the lore of the ‘Hymns’ with a painful allure, made brilliant with the twang of their guitars and the swathed accordian. Their new album, ‘Upper Air’ is a similar branch on the Bowerbirds’ tree, superbly forming the foundations of what I hope will be a lasting musical legacy.
   As with every band I like, I walked into the gig with a terse apprehension. What if they weren’t that great? What if the magic I heard in private didn’t translate in the live arena? The venue itself was so achingly cool it was almost hilarious. There were far too many men wandering about with unnatural looking scraggy beards, checked shirts from East End vintage shops and shiny brown dress shoes. They were the crowd so frequently derided in The Mighty Boosh; I had the impression that if the bearded Phil Moore came out wearing a dirty boiler suit, everyone at their next gig would attend sporting dirtier boiler suits. However, it was a crowd that was more concerned with maintaining their quiffs and keeping the stub of their ticket as proof of their attendance than with actually listening to the music. This guaranteed me a spot at the front of the stage, within touching distance of the band. Hooray!
   After vaguely dancing to the support act - I can’t remember their name, but the lead singer looked like a constipated horse and they weren’t that great- I thought that was going to be my quota of dance for the night fulfilled. However, one of the many pleasant surprises of seeing Bowerbirds live was actually noticing their drum for the first time, justifying the cracking out of my awesome moves on the unwitting bar-cum-dance floor for my evening. They opened with ‘Hooves,’ which proved to be a fan favourite. I could see at least three other people singing along to Moore’s declaration that, “you’re the kindling still that burns below my heart, and you’re the hooves that lead me through the forest.” Other stand-out tracks were ‘In Our Talons’, a song that my friend described as folky-polka done good, the rousing ‘Teeth’ and ‘Beneath Your Tree,’ which melted the audience with its opening lines, “I could bleed, bleed, bleed for days but my heart would still beat for you dear,” sung without accompaniment leaving Moore’s voice electrifyingly naked.
   They sung as if the bonfire I always envisage them dancing around was there in spirit. They performed as intimately as if they were at a gathering in a bohemian loft at 4AM, soothing their closest friends to sleep. The greatest tragedy of the night was the audience itself. I didn’t have to fight for my place at the front of the stage. My friend even walked to the bar half way through and came back without any hassle. It was a frustratingly muted crowd, one that I hope will grow more voracious as the word of Bowerbirds’ arrival at the top of the nu-folk scene spreads. Hopefully one day I’ll ask someone, ‘oh, do you know Bowerbirds?’ and they’ll say, “why yes, of course!” because the very talented and brilliant Bowerbirds deserve acknowledgment. I bought a T-Shirt at the end of the night from Beth Tacular, she gave me a hug and wished me a good night. Thanks to Bowerbirds, I had one.


November 06, 2009

The Restaurant

Here is my column for The Boar this week.

hopper

____//.

I hope I’m not alone in saying that I like business based reality TV programs. I shouldn’t be: ‘The Apprentice’ is one of the nation’s least guilty pleasures. People seem to prefer it to hating on John and Edward (who, incidentally, need to win the X Factor), copying Victoria Beckham’s hairstyle (just FYI, it’s a little bit wavy at the moment), voting in elections and other trivial activities. Because everyone cares who that awful man with the pointy finger is going to propel to the dizzy heights of helping run a section of his recession-hit company that I think only makes computers for people who are still living in the 1980s. Correct me if I’m wrong, but every single winner of ‘The Apprentice’ always looks slightly disappointed. If Sir. Alan is the Willy Wonka of the business world, he’s giving the winners some rotten chocolate.


Of course, the contestants are all idiots. They are all infused with the passions of the Gods to achieve their lifelong dream of working with a cranky old man. Which kind of brings me to ‘The Restaurant,’ a program that could not be more obviously filling the Apprentice sized hole left in the BBC’s schedule even if it tried. The similarities are striking: another unlikely dream, another fairly cranky boss and another threat that all their dreams to feed the fat and take people’s money could be quashed at the snap of the ever-so-French Raymond Blanc’s fingers.


Kitchen based TV was always entertaining. I used to love Hell’s Kitchen! I used to love Kitchen Nightmares! I used to be vaguely interested in Ready, Steady Cook! However, I can’t help but feel that kitchen dramas are dying a slow and painful death. I really had no interest whatsoever in Jamie Oliver trying to make chavvy ingrates eat vegetables. The whole Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall loving chickens so much that he’s going to look after them but eat them anyway was, as a vegetarian, a little bit annoying and patronising. Anthony Warrell Thompson, in fairness, has always looked like a fattened, plucked turkey that someone accidentally freed from his cesspit, but that doesn’t mean that I want to see him every Sunday morning telling us how to frisson our porridge. Heston Blumenthal, the newest recruit in the TV Chef roster, encapsulates my growing disdain with his shiny, smug potato head smile. Instead of having a decent cause like not poisoning his customers, Heston decided to ‘save Little Chef,’ that great cornerstone of British civility. He is as greasy and charmless as the full English breakfasts he taught people who already knew how to fry an egg to cook.


However, this is not to say that ‘The Restaurant’ is awful. If anything, I believe that it is Kitchen TV’s last hurrah. A crossbreed of Kitchen Nightmares, Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook, The Apprentice and, improbably, Property Ladder, The Restaurant is much more than the program that fills the gap where the Apprentice wasn’t. On the very first episode, we saw couples try to open tins with knives, a prospect that was already more thrilling than watching Heston criticize pies. On the second there was macho posturing, there was a heartbreaking romance and, most importantly, not one person has mentioned how owning a restaurant is THEIR LIFE. Sure, they all seem fairly excited about working with Le-Blanc, but none of them have the same death-stare intensity as any given Apprentice contestant, which is oddly refreshing. This is Kitchen-Business-Reality TV, a concept so inbred it wouldn’t look out of place adorably grazing in an overgrown field in deepest darkest Somerset. What’s not to love?


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