Archive for the 'television' Category

The Sunday Review: Futurama

Monday 12 March (2007)


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Ricky Gervais meets Garry Shandling

Wednesday 27 December (2006)

ricky gervais meets garry shandling

Last year there was a program on TV called ‘Ricky Gervais meets Larry David‘ which came as a one-off and completely out of the blue. I watched it, because I was a huge Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fan and I thought that Larry David was a comedic genius. As for Ricky Gervais… well; I liked The Office (and before it was popular to do so – honest!) but I didn’t really think Extras was very good at all, and more importantly I didn’t like Gervais himself.

It had always bugged me the way that people here in England talked about the ‘cringe factor’ in The Office as though it was something that had been invented by Ricky Gervais. After all, I had downloaded episodes of Larry David’s new post-Seinfeld show, CYE, and that was exploring social etiquette faux-pas scenarios with style over a year before The Office premiered. The Office was a good show – but it wasn’t a great show. Everyone thinks that it is, and they’re entitled to their opinion, but it really annoys me that since its success Gervais has been cast as the ‘saviour’ of British comedy. Peter Kay was funnier (and cleverer) in Phoenix Nights, but he at least didn’t let it go to his head (although, to be honest, he’s turned into a bit of a wanker over the last few years too.)

Anyway, onto the point. Garry Shandling is not one of my comedy heroes like Larry David is, but I absolutely love The Larry Sanders Show. I remember when it used to be on Channel 4 late on a friday night, but I didn’t get it because I was young. But something about it stuck with me, because a few years ago I decided (probably after hearing it name-dropped in CYE reviews) to buy a ‘best of‘ DVD, which was the only one available at the time. It was frustrating because it only had random episodes selected from all six seasons of the show, but now that I was older I got it. Earlier this year I downloaded every episode when I realised that I could (thank you broadband) and it truly is one of the greatest comedy shows of all time.

So what is important here is that I have a lot of respect for Mr. Shandling, and not so much respect for Mr. Gervais. Part of it is personality, sure – but I really think Gervais is just a flash-in-the-pan who got lucky. Because, remember – American sitcoms are not always good, and indeed a great deal of them are dire, but the ones that are good have the edge over similar British ones for one simple reason: they’re more prolific. Sure Fawlty Towers is consistently hilarious, but at the end of the day there are twelve half-hour episodes – Seinfeld clocked in at over one hundred and fifty episodes, so even though they were only twenty-two minutes long, it’s a greater amount of consistently good comedy. Similarly with CYE – Larry David has given us over fifty episodes, in comparison to Gervais’ twelve episodes of The Office.

But for good or ill, Gervais is now the most famous English comedian in America, and he’s friends with Ben Stiller and David Letterman so he will only continue to be successful there. That is a fact; I accept it, I live with it. But for some reason, he seems to think he’s now the apostle of comedy – he’s ‘enlightened’ us over here in England, and now he wants to rub his American ‘heroes’ in our faces as if we weren’t aware they existed already. So the ‘Ricky Gervais meets…’ concept has been expanded, and now we have ‘… Garry Shandling’ (he also met Christopher Guest but it was such a sickening display of arse-kissing that I turned it off.)

This alone bugs me – the Larry David thing was a one-off, so I could have let it slide; but now he’s meeting a whole troupe of his heroes – on camera? What? If I suddenly became successful as say a film director, I’d definately want to use my success to start meeting people like Luc Besson and Johnny Depp etc., because they’re people I really respect – but I’d want to do it in a very subtle way! I wouldn’t film myself strolling up to Deppo and saying “Hey man! You’re were so fucking amazing as Raoul Duke!”

But maybe that’s just me.

So anyway, (finally) I watch Gervais meet Shandling. And to my complete surprise and absolute joy, Shandling seemed to completely agree with pretty much everything I’ve just said here. It was weird, actually – he came across as frankly rude at times, but it was hilarious watching Gervais try to cope with it. Whilst Gervais merely did his whiny annoying laugh every time Shandling made a joke (and he made several; whilst debatably rude he was certainly witty) and spent a great deal of time singing the praises of Shandling’s comedy, Shandling refused to tread the same path in return. He brought Gervais up on some aspects of Extras and basically said, “Why are you making comedy about this? Why do you think it’s funny to explore these agonising social situations?” Interestingly, Gervais didn’t try to defend his work, even when Shandling suggested it was childish to joke about people with disabilities (they showed a clip from Extras with a lady who had cerebal palsy, where Gervais jokes that she looked drunk or ‘mental’ and then squirmed around as he realised she had a disability.)

Another hilarious moment was when Shandling explained why he had done so many varied things throughout his career – writer for a straight sitcom, standup, his own sitcom, then the subversive Larry Sanders Show – basically, that it was easy to be successful by doing the same thing over and over but it’s only funny so many times. Basically, saying to Gervais: enough with the cringe-comedy already man. Try something new – start proving your worth as the new chairman of English funny.

It just looked to me like Shandling had Gervais and his show; the entire concept, pegged immediately and then refused to play ball. And it’ll probably not do his reputation any favours at all in the English press – but fuck that. Good for him! I respect him more than I did before, and I suspect Gervais will be a little more careful about choosing which ‘hero’ to ‘interview’ next, because I don’t think he could handle another one of them very skillfully saying (without actually saying it) “You’re not as good as me.”

Heh, sorry about the length… I got carried away I guess. Another two cents deposited.

The Sunday Review: My Name Is Earl season 1

Sunday 22 October (2006)

my name is earl

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Lost: Further Instructions (s3e3)

Thursday 19 October (2006)

I appreciate the irony that after my previous post, I am now posting about the latest episode of Lost which I was downloading even as I wrote that rant, but television is different – on the ‘perfect’ Internet it would probably be broadcast worldwide in HD (with adverts to fund it) and there would be no way to rip it or download it at the same time. You can’t see a new movie without paying for it in some way (legally) but watching new TV episodes is free. It’s not the strongest justification, but I don’t care because this latest episode of Lost was fantastic! (If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading now.)

Old John Locke. He’s certainly a great character for a TV show – as the weeks go by we see how he is motivated by tragedy and pathos, and at the end of season two he made another huge mistake when he lost faith, but at the same time he’s the person who understands the island best. He’s been mixing up his hallucinogens since the first season, and in this episode he does so again. I like how the producers of Lost don’t shy away from this shamanic concept that hallucinogens are genuine spiritual tools, not just recreational drugs (especially the ‘jungle’ ones like Ibogaine and DMT) but last night actually showed us where John got his knowledge of such things. The young kid being a cop was a clever twist (ingenious to make a traffic cop pull them over to give him absolute credibility early on) but as soon as I realised that John was living on a hippie commune I thought ‘LSD.’ That wasn’t mentioned, but the ‘sweat lodge’ John mentions is definately some kind of trip out room, even if the drug they use isn’t acid.

In fact it was a real drug soaked episode – Charlie talks about how he used to get high and watch wildlife documentaries on ‘the Beeb‘ whilst John, it seems, was part of a grass-growing gang. As soon as I saw the forbidden tent and the fertiliser I thought it would be grass in there, but to be honest I thought it would be for the commune’s personal use – not for selling for profit. But that’s by the by.

John’s dream (or trip, I suppose) was excellent too – Boone wheeling him around the airport, nicely edited, the colour slightly off to remind us that it’s not real, slight inaccuracies like Hurley working there – very entertaining. And then we get Eko and the polar bear, some funny scenes with Hurley and Desmond, and then a huge bombshell at the end: whatever happened to Desmond when the shaft imploded, whilst he can’t turn into the hulk, he apparantly can predict the future. Spooky stuff.

So that’s half way through season three part one, and it’s shaping up to be quite good 🙂

The Mint on ITV Play

Friday 28 July (2006)

Since I’ve been staying up late most nights melting in the heat and playing worms (and by that I mean idling on IRC cursing various people) I’ve come to notice this program that occupies ITVs schedule from midnight until 4am – The Mint. It infuriates me on many, many levels.

The premise of the show is this: a seemingly simple puzzle is displayed on screen. There is a phone number on the screen, and a down-on-their luck broadcaster who has to stay up all hours of the night saying things like ‘Call in now! Remember to turn the volume down on your TV!’ and other banalities. The call costs 60p, a flat charge, so you think ‘hey, I’m not going to lose any money really!’ and phone in. So why does it annoy me?

Firstly, because the puzzles are ludicrous. The most common one I’ve seen is a game where a word is displayed, like ‘eye’ or ‘super’ or ‘water’ and you have to phone in and suggest a word which goes with it, like watertight or watercress or supersonic. So, is it just me, or does this equate to guessing a random word from the dictionary? I mean sure, you think ‘how many possible words can there be?’ but after watching the fucking thing for four solid hours you realise there are hundreds of possibilities. If an hour or so goes by with no winners, they’ll insult your intelligence by giving you a clue (‘also a kind of mozzarella, _____ Bill, a cowboy’ – the answer was water buffalo) and then the presenters will stand around going ‘Why is no-one phoning in? This is so easy!’ which is a complete scam. Of course people are phoning in! Who wouldn’t? You can win £10,000 ($50,000) for saying a word that is blatantly obvious. Why is no-one actually getting through? Because the show isn’t letting them! They’re sitting around on hold for ten minutes whilst more and more people say to themselves ‘Jesus, it’s still up there… I have to phone in, I’m guaranteed to win!’ and give 60p over to the production company.

And when they’re not raping you with guessing games, or forcing you to wait ten minutes to get through to the show (where, incidentally, you go straight through to the presenter which disarms the majority of people) they get you with the puzzles. I saw one that went like this the other day:

Nineteen minus five
4 + 3 x 2
6 – 5

I mean what the fuck?? This requires some higher kind of logic. Or a set of rules. ‘Nineteen minus five’ is worded instead of numerated – why? ‘4 + 3 x 2’ is just plain wrong – I mean, is it ‘(4 + 3) x 2’ or is it ‘4 + (3 x 2)’? (In case you can’t figure it out, the former would yield 14 and the latter would yield 10.) ‘6 – 5’ is simple enough (I assume, anyway) but when you’ve figured it out, then what? I mean for God’s sake, do I add each result together? Multiply? Fucking integrate?? It’s a con.

The worst part about this is that it’s bad TV – it’s cheap TV, and it has no entertainment value. It’s about making money out of you, the audience, the viewing public. How do I know this? Because it’s the only show on ITV that doesn’t have an ad break. The only reason for this would be because they’re making more money from the phonecalls than they are from the ad revenue. This is just wrong, and horrible to boot. People have enough shit in their lives without having to get robbed by the TV. Channel 4 will give us premium, expensive drama like Lost because they pay for it through advertising. The BBC use the television license, and rewards viewers with the best quality broadcasting in the world. ITV… host a faux-gameshow which is a thinly veiled scam on the scale of a bloody pyramid scheme. And if they can give away up to £110,000 a night (the totalled value of the prizes for guessing words which follow ‘water’ tonight, which is the highest prize day (Big Money Thursday) and £40,000 of that is a ‘top prize’ which I’ve never seen won) then think about how much money they’re making themselves.

Other shows do this kind of thing – where you have to phone in to win a cash prize, and the show takes the money from all the calls put together and gives it out as the prize – but that’s fine. Why? Because I’d guess the majority of the money goes into the prize itself, and regardless of that, you’ve probably watched an exciting and suspenseful show. You’ve got your money’s worth.

I know this is from ITV Play, which is an entire channel dedicated to this kind of shit (I won’t get into it) which is a product of the digital TV revolution, and it just makes me think… wasn’t it better before? Companies weren’t spreading their budget over twelve channels, and producing piss-poor television, were they? I mean, Sky is one thing – you have to pay for it, but they have all the money to buy the syndication rights for most American shows before the terrestrial channels, so you do get quality programmes (albeit with a shitload of adverts, in keeping with the Americana) but digital has opened the floodgates for a whole load of shit. The only advantage I could ever see to more TV channels is the oppourtunity to repeat some classics from the vault which couldn’t find their way into normal schedules due to the quantity of good new stuff. To get repeated on terrestrial you have to be in the Only Fools and Horses or Fawlty Towers league, which is rare – so with dedicated channels you get to watch the less fondly remembered, but great, TV shows like Red Dwarf and The Fast Show.

And really, with DVDs, we don’t even need those channels anymore either. So, digital TV, please go away – or at the very least, someone take the money from ITV Play and put it into reducing the BBC TV license fee. Shit! It could probably pay for it outright.

The Sunday Review: The Mighty Boosh

Sunday 26 March (2006)

the mighty boosh is comedy genius

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