Archive for the ‘TV Reviews’ Category

Look! It’s That Mitchell And Webb…Look…

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

That Mitchell & Webb Look is a BBC Two sketch show starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb. The show in question is consistently excellent and has just started airing the fourth series, which has some of the funniest gags yet. I’ve included my three favourites from the first episode here. Links to all three are included.

Being a grammar nazi myself, the last five minutes of the show contains my favourite sketch. The basic premise is that Mitchell runs a company and fires people for grammar mistakes (the famous ‘specific/Pacific’ confusion makes an appearance here), but not quite in the way you’d expect…

It’s almost, but not quite, topped by this episode’s edition of the line crossing ‘Get Me Hennimore!’ sketch (a parody of 70’s sitcoms, featuring a perpetually scared Webb as Hennimore), which makes a return from previous series. It’s one of those sketches where you can see the gag coming as the sketch develops (as tends to be the tradition with all Hennimore sketches) but it is still funny when the payoff comes.

My last sketch choice is a new one (probably exclusive to the episode) about scientists working in the Garniér laboratory. It is a lot funnier than it sounds from that brief description.

Overall, I’d say that the new series is definitely worth watching if it keeps up this standard of quality throughout the run. Superb stuff.

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Rocky VII: Rocky Vs. The Review…

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Rocky is a mid 70’s (34 years old at this point) film that served as a star vehicle for everyone’s favourite mumbler, Sylvester Stallone. It follows the story of a Brooklynite/Pennsylvanian boxer who is chosen as a contender for the big time, which puts him in the ring against the heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali/Apollo Creed/Obligatory Black Guy. He is determined to either win or go the distance (stay upright for all fifteen rounds). Rather surprisingly, he loses the match in the first film but goes the distance.

He gets chosen for the big time due to Creed (/Black Guy) liking his nickname. Said nickname is the Italian Stallion, which makes him sound like a horse* or a Marlon Brando-like porn star (“I’ll give you a cum-shot you can’t refuse.”**).

When you think of the Rocky franchise, you don’t give it much credit for being clever, you just think of a clichéd boxing movie franchise where Stallone beats some guy up (to the series theme Gonna Fly Now), runs up some steps and wins every time. This, I feel, is a problem shared by his later Rambo films. Whereas the first was an interesting look at how veterans cope after Vietnam and highlighted the plight of those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the sequels just concentrated on showcasing Stallone as an action hero and just showed him kicking ass.I saw Rambo 1 (good), 2 and 4. After 2 (I watched them in a weird order) I didn’t even bother with 3.

The first instalment focuses more on characters and the relationships between them, such as the girl (called Adrian. And she’s a girl. Really.) that Rocky spends the film chatting up, as well as the relationships with his trainer and his best friend as well as his mob boss. The big fight itself takes up less than ten minutes of screentime, leaving the rest of the one hour and forty six minutes to focus on the character interactions. It works pretty well and is easily a contender for best Stallone movie I’ve seen (I realise that’s like saying ‘Which one’s better, ‘Highlander or Daddy Day Care***’ but you get the idea). Viewers who are only familiar with Sylvester Stallone through his later works may be pleasantly surprised by his breakthrough role, which is surprisingly well done considering the low budget and actor-written script they had to work with. It also focuses on one man living out the American Dream. Seriously, if you had to show someone what The American Dream meant, this is the form you’d express it in.

*Somewhat fitting; horses can’t talk properly either.

**I’m ashamed of myself sometimes, but not enough to take out that line.

***Rationale for choosing those two movies: one is shit and the other is awesome.

How Telly Has Aged Part 1…

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

This is the first in a hopefully regular series, where I watch old television shows to see how well they’ve aged.

The first programme that I will be looking at is The Young Ones, the early 80’s effort from stand up comics Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson and Nigel Planer. And Christopher Ryan, whom eagle-eyed viewers (known here as ‘IMDB’) will have noticed played the role of two different Sontarans in the recent series of New Who. Ryan was the only one of the group who wasn’t a stand-up comedian, which shows as his character isn’t really involved with the slapstick comedy of the other three, acting more as a straight man and making occasional witty puns and comments to camera. Tellingly, he was the only member of the main group not to be involved in their later follow-up ‘Filthy, Rich and Catflap’. The characters were named Rick, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike.

The essential concept of the show is three friends (and Neil) living together in a flat as students. Of course, they’re largely students in name only, as they are rarely seen studying and never seen attending university. It is also mental. They frequently diverged from the action to include little bits from puppets of various household objects (including a Glaswegian hamster).

If you were introducing someone to this series, the best episode to do it with would be the second series premiere, ‘Bambi’. It gets the characters and the concept across to viewers easily and it has some of their best work on the train journey and during the challenge. It also features appearances from the very young Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. This episode establishes, among other things, that they can teleport and that Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades is good music if you need to go somewhere fast. (To get a bigger budget, they got the show classed as ‘Variety’ by hiring bands to give performances in show, which is an example of how it’s aged badly if you don’t like 80’s music.)

Some parts of the series have aged worse than others, such as the near-constant references to Thatcher and the appearances of Alexei Sayle as their landlord, who regularly turns to the studio audience and starts basically doing stand-up.  These bits have dated because they are often about communism and how Thatcher is bad, etc. Topical references do not help if you want to make a show timeless, since it is in the nature of all things to change. I doubt they set out to create a timeless classic though. The non-political humour is very surreal, and this stuff tends to have aged better, as violence and strange stuff seems to never stop being funny. For one example of their random humour, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn1Y7nhB16U

I think that tells you all you need to know about this show, and it has possibly stood the test of time more than some other shows (I caught an episode of Fawlty Towers recently and thought it had aged terribly).

Scott Has Written Another Review…You’re Boned!**

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

After being cancelled and brought back for four straight-to-dvd movies (which were then turned into episodes), Futurama is back, baby! This is a good thing for me, as I liked it a lot before, but since the movies it’s one of my favourite shows.

Within minutes of firing up the first episode, you know that it’s like they were never away, and the writers have not lost their touch where reveals and surreal humour is concerned, thank God. As with the first movie (the excellent Bender’s Big Score – be careful typing that into Google), the first episode’s packed with metahumour aimed at the executives who cancelled them and the network that they’re on now (Comedy Central). So far there have been two episodes, so I will be reviewing them both today.

The first episode of the fifth series (sixth on American terms) is appropriately called ‘Rebirth’, and as I’ve mentioned, it features lots of take that humour against the executives who had them cancelled in the first place. It also takes a while to get back into the swing of things and re-establish the status quo (not the band). And it does this like a soap opera, with lots of reveals and deceptions falling down. It was a good episode to start with, and they seem to have kept some aspects of the show changed rather than resetting everything that changed over the course of the last four movies.

The episode itself was extremely funny, piling on moment after moment of hilarious jokes. There was one incredibly random and funny moment that had my brother and I in fits of laughter when it happened, and it came as much of a shock to us as it did to the characters, which was presumably the intention of the joke. Lots of jokes in the show seem to come out of nowhere, and that’s part of why it works, as it weaves the random element in with some clever writing.

The second episode, named ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela’ spends the bulk of its time leading up to an Adam and Eve plot with Zapp Brannigan and Leela, which Fry is not happy about. The enemy in this episode is a ‘Death Sphere’ which is making its way to Earth which turns out to be a homage to Star Trek: The Motion(less) Picture. The concept of a hostile being going through the galaxy destroying planets it encounters is nothing new, being used earlier in the series’ run with the Brainspawn and in the classic Star Trek episode ‘The Doomsday Machine’*.

Like the last episode, this one uses a series of reveals to pile on yet more jokes and yet again it works. The opening episode was funnier, but I feel that this one also works as a follow-up, and I hope they keep the show going strong like this. Rebirth was also a tough act to follow and I shall be eagerly anticipating more of the same.

*Seriously, this is one of the better episodes of the classic Star Trek run. Watch it if you can.

**My original title for this was ‘Scott’s reviews are like Scott’s love. Hard and fast!’ Then I realised the implications of this particular quote.

Yet Another Series Finale To Involve Daleks. Colour Me Surprised…

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

I have tried to keep the review spoiler free, but that’s quite difficult, as even the title of the episode is a spoiler. So I wouldn’t recommend reading this before you’ve seen the episode; same with Doctor Who Confidential.

After twelve suspenseful weeks, the Pandorica has finally been opened. For viewers unfamiliar with the Pandorica, it’s an arc word that’s been inserted here and there within various episodes of Doctor Who since The Eleventh Hour, along with ‘Silence Will Fall’. Both come into play in this episode in a rather intelligent way and old friends of the Doctor are used to good effect when they’re trying to contact him, even if their way of doing so doesn’t really make as much sense as it could (a phone that dials T for Time Vortex? Really?). Although, a couple of characters seem out of place, such as Edwin Bracewell (inventor, seen in Victory Of The Daleks and who was going to go and find some wench he loved) and Liz 10 (Elizabeth the Tenth, Queen of Starship Britain and almost 2 millennia out of place here).

There are a number of smaller questions that crop up in this episode, in which a large number of the Doctor’s past enemies gather to see the Pandorica open, but the answers to those will mercifully become clear within the episode itself. The solution will slowly dawn on you as to what the Pandorica contains (hint: the wording of the legend helps); it took me almost until it was explicitly stated to get it. Nice one Scott. Sharp as ever.

Of course, I do have some complaints about the episode (as usual). One of which is the Borg CyberHead that states word for word that “You Will Be Assimilated”, which just caused me to laugh at the scene. Especially when they decided to have the head behaving like a CyberOctopus on the floor and making it nearly bite Amy’s face off. And a Vortex call? REALLY?! And the plan of the villains(?) of the episode is quite similar to the one that the Doctor has to defeat in the earlier episode Victory Of The Daleks.

The actors were as good as ever, with some strong emotional scenes for the characters and a few I could relate to (although not in quite the same way, obviously). The tension keeps ramping up as element after element falls into place to make the Doctor’s life slightly worse, until the end where pretty much any hope is lost and something happens that I can’t see how they’re going to reset. As it’s a Moffat episode, the writing is of good quality, with plenty of continuity nods (similar to Journey’s End in that respect) and he did a good job of keeping the viewer’s interest throughout the episode while whetting my appetite for more Who. I eagerly await the next instalment to find out how it all ends*. It’s going to be one tough week.

*Knowing Moffat, Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff will cause everything to be alright again.

No Weak Jokes On Mock The Week…

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Much to my delight, I went on the BBC iPlayer in my boredom and found an old favourite waiting for me. The comedy panel show Mock The Week has made a welcome return to our screens to mock the current events of the world.

For the first episode, the regulars were joined by Milton Jones, old favourite Chris Addison and some bird called Diane Morgan. Milton came out with some god-awful puns, but then again, doesn’t everyone? The answer, of course, is yes. Chris Addison came out with some particularly good jokes, especially during my personal favourite round, Scenes We’d Like To See. Diane Morgan (who I’ve never heard of before this) was average and quite unfunny. It’s like if I got invited to go on there. There may occasionally be some funny insights (and even then that’s expecting a bit much of me), but nothing on the level of the professional comedians.

The regulars themselves were on top form (with some jokes at the expense of the other regulars), with the chemistry between Dara and the gang being apparent, as it’s obvious that they all know each other and have become accustomed to working together. A personal problem with this episode is that it didn’t have the excellent Stewart Francis in it. That’s nothing to do with the producers of the show, though, and if anything it’s wishful thinking on my part. He is a master of the one-liner. Look him up on YouTube. Some of his punchlines make you want to punch his line (what?) but you’ll be too busy laughing to care.

The Stand-Up Round (I forget its actual name at the moment) was good for showcasing the skills of three of the contestants (because there’s still the pretence of a game going on) at stand up. Well, two, Diane wasn’t that funny as I mentioned earlier. It was here that Milton unleashed many of the puns that make you want to punch him in a good-natured way. Having said that, he was pretty funny and I found myself laughing as well as groaning at some of the jokes that he came out with. He looked perpetually nervous, which was very odd as you would think he’d be used to it by now. He looked like a scared child who’d wandered onto the stage by mistake.

Scenes We’d Like To See was as brilliant as ever, with the scenarios (Commercials That Were Never Aired and Things You Don’t Want To Hear In A Hospital) proving to be great choices for the gang, as they put forward some fine suggestions.

After that round finishes, I turn off the programme as there is nothing worth hearing, just finding out which team won (which is completely random anyway) and the credits.

Which leads me neatly to the end of the review. I thought this particular episode could’ve been improved by having someone who was funnier than that Diane Morgan (not that she wasn’t funny, just not that funny). It kept me laughing most of the time though, which is better than most comedies that I watch. All in all, a good episode, and I will be watching over the weeks to come in hope of more like this.

“That’s No Moon, That’s James Corden…” (Last Time I Use That, I Swear)

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Popular World Cup loving fattie James Corden (that’s not as big, if you’ll pardon the pun, an insult as you might think; the BBC seem to be taking much the same attitude) is the undenied star of last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who. In true Corden style, this episode revolves around him and a co-star in a will they/won’t they relationship. Except it’s Doctor Who, so they obviously will. It’s not like she’s going to go into the sunset saying “it’s not going to work out. You’re too fat!” That would be incredibly depressing to the watching children.

As this is a companion lite episode, Amy and the Tardis are stuck in orbit around the planet Corden — I mean, locked in a dematerialisation cycle so she can’t land. Or something. Meanwhile, The Doctor has to spend some time posing as a human so he can investigate a weird house where people go up but don’t come back down…

As the Doctor has to pose as human in this episode (he’s never done that before…), the writers have given him some charming eccentricities and misunderstandings about human behaviour. In principle they’re correct, but they’re also weird. This leads to some funny moments within the episode, such as how he greets new human friends and his time on the football field. Oh, and the fact he tries to unintentionally bribe Corden to let him stay.

This episode was classic cheesy Doctor Who. There was a girl, the hero (and make no mistake, the hero of this episode is James Corden) gets her and there are some tragic deaths along the way. On the downside, this episode also felt like an extension of everything that James Corden has ever done, such as Gavin And Stacey, something about football and…er…next question please.

Something about the episode felt very much like it was the Doctor’s last chance for fun and games before things get real (as in ‘this shit just got real’) in time for the season finale. I’m wondering if the BBC have managed to do the impossible and keep Matt Smith on for only one season without having it leak like it normally does. I’d say you heard it here first but that’s tremendously unlikely due to the hints they’ve been dropping in show about it.

I’m hoping that the upcoming finale solves the ongoing plot threads of the series, such as the Glowy Time Cracks Of Death and shows us River Song’s first encounter with the Doctor. We might even see Rory again, but it’s doubtful. Who knows?

The story’s a pretty neat idea but in execution it feels like most other episodes of new Who, just with the added human touch, which has been used in Human Nature already. I like what Gareth Roberts (the writer, who I’ve met, nice chap) tried to do in this episode but if you’re tired of Gavin and Stacey style* rom-coms, I’d advise you to give this one a miss.

*(I say Gavin and Stacey style, it practically is Gavin and Stacey, apart from names, locations and events)

Apparently ‘Qualiteee’ Means ‘Shit’ Nowadays…

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Qualiteee! That might as well be the title of the new show from professional chav, Lee Nelson. Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show (which sounds like it should have an ‘innit’ tacked on the end) is a combination of Russell Howard’s Good News and Catherine Tate’s chavvy persona. Only without the comedy.

There are character based sketches in the show, such as Dr. Bob, a tactless doctor in a City Hospital style show, Jason Bent, a footballer who is supposed to remind the viewer of some certain famous footballers and Chris Young in Faliraki Nights, a holiday rep for a bunch of tossers. The humour in that particular sketch seems to come from the shock value rather than anything else, with the laughter track howling as the women are challenged to make the chaps, er, finish by way of a fast-paced intimate oral exam.

Nelson seems to get most of his humour from interacting with the audience, ripping on them and like so much comedy, it also comes from subverting your expectations of what will happen or what he’s going to say. During the duration of this BBC-Endorsed chav show (yes, someone actually thought it was good enough to commission. Incidentally, it was exactly this sort of establishment endorsed chavvery that turned me off watching Catherine Tate after Tony Blair was in it), I laughed precisely three times, all of them at the audience interaction.

I’m perfectly willing to admit that not being a chav or a Guvnor from good ol’ London Tahn, I might not find it as funny as another viewer might. However, I think that good comedy shouldn’t rely on the audience being a certain kind of person to appreciate it or coming from a certain background. If you aim for that sort of approach, it’s like you’re intentionally alienating the smarter viewers and trying to cover yourself by saying “you don’t get it because you isn’t black/white/human, yeah?”

Of course, the great irony there is that I write the same kind of comedy myself, which the average reader might not always get, so I’m one to talk. You know what, fuck it. Lee Nelson’s comedy is lowbrow. It features the same sort of catchphrases and sketch comedy that made Little Britain and Catherine Tate so horribly popular (not saying they’re bad shows, just incredibly formulaic and catchphrase laden). I despise any sort of comedy that almost seems to be deliberately lowbrow. The problem is that there are far more idiots than smart people in the world. I mean, just listen to a sound-bite of that ‘Qualitee!*’ thing included in the trailer below, the thing that he’s trying to develop into a catchphrase. Annoying already, isn’t it?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFNbKh5VOrQ

They say you should give most things a chance and try them more than once. But my TV doesn’t have a remote-shaped hole in it. That’s all the chance I’m willing to give.

*I love the fact that the auto correct is trying to change that to its correct spelling.

Ear-Cuttingly Good!

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

This week’s episode of Doctor Who, Vincent and The Doctor, (the tenth of the current Doctor’s tenure) deals with depression, Vincent Van Gogh (which is pronounced Hock but they either didn’t know that or they didn’t want to confuse the kids at home) and a preposterous monster. Put this into an episode with continuity nods and genuine laugh-out-loud moments and you have the recipe for an excellent Doctor Who episode.

The titular Vincent Van Gogh was portrayed well, not showing only the ‘pretty pictures’ side of his personality, but also the side that had depression and self worth issues that led him to take his own life. It was interesting to see what happened at the end and showed for all that The Doctor and Amy help, there are some areas where they don’t do a bit of good and change hardly anything. Having said that, it would be pretty good to see The Doctor fake Gogh’s death and take him on as a companion throughout time and space.

Convention seems to be that Doctor Who is best when the monster goes unseen (case in point: Midnight), which gives it an element of mystery, and this episode is no exception. An invisible monster is a great concept for an episode (how much more terrifying would the Daleks be if they were invisible as well?) so naturally they had to show the monster at some point. As stylophone-enthusiast Rolf Harris says: “Can you guess what it is yet?”

Turns out it’s a Giant Invisible (except when it’s not) Killer Space Chicken From Space. Which may join the Ugly Space Fish Of Venice as one of the funniest sounding monsters in New Who.

I spoke earlier of continuity nods, the main one could’ve cleared up some confusion on the part of fanboy geeks. Basically, the confusion is that we have seen all of the Doctor’s known incarnations on screen, yet back in the 70’s we saw faces representing The Doctor’s numerous incarnations, which were more than he’d had at the time (8 faces at the time of the Fourth Doctor). Logically, the other four are the faces of the Time Lord he was Brain-Battling against at the time, but since when has logic stopped the fans from coming up with crazy explanations?

The writer for this episode is one Richard Curtis, who film geeks will recognise as the writer behind, well, quite a lot of everything Hugh Grant has ever done. He is known for his romantic comedies (Four Weddings and A Funeral, Bridget Jones, among others) and it shows here that he still can be funny when he wants to be. In a way, he has gone back to the Doctor’s roots here by giving us an educational historical story with a touch of the fantastic (yet stupid, because of the Preposterous Invisible Giant Killer Space Chicken). Just think how many kids will feel like they know much more than they did about Vincent Van Gogh.

This episode was one of the better ones in this series so far, only really let down by a monster that The Colonel could catch and deep-fry.

“I’m Cold Blooded, Check It And See! Got A Fever In The Minus Degree…”

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

This review contains a punny title and spoilers, as usual.

Why, oh why do I surf the internet before watching Doctor Who? I went on one of my favourite websites (people on Facebook have gotten better at not letting stuff leak in their statuses…I wonder if I have anything to do with that?) and immediately learned what happened at the end of the episode. This, coupled with the opening narration, made actually watching the episode itself unnecessary for me.

In a way, this episode reminded me of a farce, such as Fawlty Towers. Many elements were planted throughout the episode so they could come back later to bite the main characters in their collective arses. Fawlty Towers uses much the same formula for comedic effect, and this two-parter conclusion for The Doctor, Amy and Rory does the same. Every element that makes the ‘stinking apes’ (which The Doctor calls them indirectly; Homo Reptilia would imply they evolved from apes like we did*) look bad comes into play at the worst possible time.

I will say this in the writer’s favour though: the characterisation for the episode was top notch. One of them was written to be the Resident Idiot (how do you say that in Welsh?) but the thing is, I think that any one of us could easily see ourselves in her situation. All she was doing was trying to help her family…in absolutely the worst way possible. Just when things are looking up, Drigiannydd Idiot (yes, I looked it up…what of it?) comes blundering in and sounding like the most racist human imaginable (I would say Hitler is the most racist human imaginable, but he didn’t know about the Underground Space Reptiles From Space).

I don’t like any story where the characters are forced to be stupid for the sake of the story, but sometimes (as appears to be the case here) it is unavoidable. I just wish it wasn’t, but it is hard to see how the writer could have done it any better when the characters were firing on all cylinders mentally. As it is, this show made me want to punch the gung-ho lizards (good name for a rock band) through the screen.

All in all, this was an okay episode. Nothing particularly spectacular, but it was an interesting piece on how reasonable people can go to pieces in an unfortunate set of circumstances. If I might draw on my vast nerdish leanings, I’d almost say that this episode was meant to share something with The Killing Joke (I bet that’s a comparison that you don’t hear every day), as it proves the point that the Joker was trying to make in that publication. And the ending was pretty surprising and effective (I can’t think of a more horrible fate for anyone to suffer, it’s literally a fate worse than death). Or it would have been if I could take my own advice and not spoil myself before I see the actual episode.

*Science Bonus!