Category Archives: Television

Four months of reading, TV and film…

In the four months since I went dark on the blog I’ve been ploughing through all sorts of fiction.

On the literary front, I ploughed through the back-catalogue of Jack Campbell, reading through his militaristic space-opera. Readable, entertaining, and demolished at great pace, if not of any great literary merit. I read the Peter F Hamilton short story collection, Manhattan in Reverse (some great concepts in there), two Ben Aaronovitch PC Grant novels (great dark urban fantasy set in London, reminding me lots of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books), the latest Terry Pratchett (wonderful, wonderful – more sophisticated and engaging that some of his other recent Discworld books), and a book by a client’s wife, Death at the Chateau Bremont – a fun murder mystery set in the South of France. I’ve got through more of Brandon Sanderson’s back catalogue (including the fantasy/Western the Alloy of Law – great fun!), and now I have a stack of books to get through from Amazon’s 12 Days of Kindle (currently reading the End Specialist about a world in which death is cured (99p on Kindle!), and the final Eragon novel) and from various Christmas presents (including the new Holmes, and some exciting fantasy and SF from Arvind).

TV-wise, thanks to my brother I’ve gotten into Modern Family (funny ‘cos its true), Community (funny ‘cos its off the wall and geeky), and via other recommendations/my own recognizance, Transformers Prime (after the horror of Michael Bay, this was a true wonder of storytelling – absolutely brilliant), Young Justice, Batman: the Brave and the Bold (thanks Arvy, brilliant) and Fringe (trashy but entertaining). I’ve dipped into Terra Nova (meh, Outcasts with dinosaurs) and Parks and Recreation too (not sure yet). I’ve been enjoying the Christmas specials too – Doctor Who nearly made me cry, Eastenders had me on the edge of my seat, and the AbFab specials gave me pause to giggle. Our sole cinematic expedition was to Mission Impossible 4 (a great ad for BMW, and fun as you’d expect it to be), and we watched Kung Fu Panda 2 on DVD on the bank holiday Monday. The Inbetweeners Movie awaits me on DVD…

So I’ve not been idling from that perspective, at least! More recommendations / comments on my reading/viewing history appreciated!

A new LED world

sony40My parents’ TV was reaching a certain age (I bought their Samsung Plasma in 2005), and I’d been longing for a new LED TV with enough HDMI ports for my consoles, Internet connectivity and some other good stuff. A seasonal cash back offer from Sony later, and a quick bit of horse trading with my folks, and we’re the proud owners of a new Sony KDL40EX723BU LED TV (catchy name, eh?).

Now, it’s hardly a dramatic world away from the old TV in terms of picture quality (the last TV was an LCD HDTV from Sony), but the frame is substantially smaller, and the software is a WHOLE lot cleverer; Wifi-enabled, the IPTV services are great (although my ADSL still sucks), the picture-in-picture Nav is awesome and the integration with our Sony DVR works much better.

I’ve not (and am not really intending on) bought any 3D glasses, despite the fact the TV is 3D capable. I’m not that curious about the format, so we’ll have to see whether anything really compelling happens in time to help me make the jump there. I have got, in my ageing but evidently still useful PS3, a 3D Blu-Ray player, so am ‘future-ready’ – assuming the future is 3D… but I’m open to persuasion!

In defense of Torchwood

From Torchwood: Miracle Day ep 107 "Immortal Sins"

So, Torchwood finished last week and as the show reached its climax, the complaints on this blog slowed to a trickle. Whether that’s because people lost interest or started to get drawn into it, it’s hard to say, but from my point of view – whilst the show didn’t reach the heights of Children of Earth – it was good (I’m not the only one that thinks so).

There’s always a challenge for writers when they decide to ‘reboot’ a show (or, as in this case, are forced to by funding circumstances), and the benefit of shows like Dr Who and even Star Trek – is that when they are rebooted, fans know what to expect. That’s not meant to be the same Doctor, or the same Captain Kirk; the settings are different, the context is different, the cast is different. In this case, Captain Jack and Gwen brought continuity and expectation with them, and so many loyal fans, it seems, found the changes a bridge too far.

I have to admit, as someone that is a big fan of American TV, I’m totally baffled as to some of the criticisms leveled at the show; it was too "Americanized"? Really? Why do you think Spooks, Doctor Who, etc., have got more exciting over the years – because they’ve ignored the conventions of American TV production? I’d argue the opposite is true; the episode lengths dictated by most American TV, the scheduling, all of it – has forced British serial writers to think beyond six episodes to longer story arcs, and learn how to tell stories within the stories.

I’ll freely admit Miracle Day wasn’t perfect. Elements of it were slower moving than they needed to be; the episodic sub-arcs didn’t grip and the overall ‘crisis’ only made marginal sense (which is par for the course with Torchwood, but when you’ve waited ten episodes for the climax… you expect more!), but it seems (and this is reflected in a few of the comments) to have been successful at drawing a new audience in. So perhaps it did what it was designed to do.

We don’t know if there’ll be a season 5 yet, but for more insights into the show production, have a read of this interview with Jane Espenson, one of the writer/producers on the show with Russell T Davies, and a longtime cohort of Joss Whedon. I’m hoping there’ll be more.

Dealing with negative commenters

One of the consequences of the BBC’s redirecting a large swathe of the discussion around its television shows to bloggers writing about them is that instead of the BBC having to manage the comments and discussion around the shows, people like me do. Unlike the BBC, I don’t have a massively evolved comments policy – before I wrote about Outcasts, I’d had a total of 500 comments on my blog in 8 years, most of them from me, replying to the occasional comment from someone random.

Then my blog posts about Outcasts and its cancellation and the Apprentice came and I tripled the number of comments on my blog in a few months. And it wasn’t a problem, as for the most part people were quite  nice – venting mutually in their upset over the Outcasts cancellation or offering an opinion on Lord Sugar’s judgments, mostly ignoring what I’d written, often tacitly thinking or hoping the BBC would read their comment here (no evidence of this as yet) or whatever. Again, no issues.

But now I’ve written about Torchwood, a show that’s upset some people because of a number of (not particularly graphic) scenes of gay sex, arguably slow pacing and a distinct lack of a single dramatic monster-shaped climax each week (I’ll write a defense of the show soon, because I think its better than people are giving it credit for, but want to see it play out first).

But the comments situation has me scratching my head… a significant number of the comments are prefaced with "I’m not a homophobe, but…," a few are straight out "gay sex is wrong my kids can’t watch that" (despite Torchwood being a post-watershed adult-targeted programme). Do I let these comments through? Do I bin them? After all, even if some of these people are narrow-minded (IMHO) conservatives, they have a right to an opinion, don’t they? Then part of me thinks "this is my site, and I can control it all however I like. Bwahahahaha…"

Truth be told, I don’t have enough time to moderate these comments carefully enough, and the nuances of what constitutes hate speech are probably beyond the spare minute or two I have to go back through the comments and delete stuff. But for those uncertain, I’d like Currybet’s rule for news website commenting to apply here. The golden rule: “don’t be a dick.” This is a nice place, for nice people to have reasoned discussion. Follow Mr Bet’s helpful flowchart to check if you are being a dick, in case you’re not sure. A minority of you on the Torchwood posts? You’re definitely being dicks.

The heartening thing in all of this is that there are a number of stalwart defenders of the show and the choices its made calling people out for being narrow-minded et al. Hoorah for you, good people*. You’ve helped me maintain my faith in the Interwebs.

The ease of anonymity and the impersonal nature of website commenting still makes it too easy for people to Troll or vent in unpleasant ways they wouldn’t do in real life. I’m open to suggestions on how to make this harder on here… Facebook comments/true name policy only/non disposable identities only?

* I should flag: I am very happy for people to take any of my opinions and the show (or anything else I write about) to task; that’s why I enable comments. The world is made of differing opinions. But I don’t have time or the emotional energy to deal with people being dicks, so please abide by that rule if you can.

The Doctor returns

Doctor Who: Let's Kill HitlerDoctor Who’s return was suitably triumphant and exciting, although as Tom commented to me in person at the weekend, bewildering interwoven with pretty much every episode shown in the earlier part of the season. The number of internal references is truly astonishing and perhaps an indicator of the show growing up, in some sense or another, or perhaps just appropriately intricate for the kind of passionate fans the Doctor attracts.

Time travel does give me a headache, though. I’m sure Doc Brown would agree.

Smallville finale

TOM WELLING 5I watched the Smallville finale the other week. It’s been a pretty average series over the years; moments of ‘alrightness’ interspersed by fairly long tranches of mediocrity. But the cast and story lines have been kind of fun, and I’ve always found it hard to walk away from a DC superhero franchise (I even watched the woeful Green Lantern).

The finale delivered all it promised – the final resolution of the various story lines – and was therefore appropriately triumphant, original John Williams score playing and all. But it was extremely cheap – essentially the same story told every season about how Clark needs to embrace both his Kryptonian and Earth heritage to become the hero he needs to be.

[Worse spoilers follow, so turn away now if you need to…]

Which, by itself is fine. However, the resolution to the ‘final crisis’ in the series involves Clark pushing Apokolips out of orbit.


First, that makes his power scales meaningless. Second, it totally demeans the entire season and half they’ve spent building up Darkseid’s arrival. Also, Oliver Queen taking out Granny Goodness, Desaad and the other avatar of Darkseid who’s clearly not that memorable with a single shot (admittedly of three arrows) seemed a bit too easy… And third – it’s Deus Ex Machina in the extreme. They ran out of TV minutes so they resolved everything stupidly quickly with a meaningless and internally inconsistent display of ‘magical’ powers.

Garr. Ah well, it’s done now. What’s the next thing? Running low on series to follow, other than Torchwood (which I still like, despite the fan fall-out on this blog). Doctor Who starts again soon too…

More thoughts on Torchwood: Miracle Day

From Torchwood: Miracle Day ep 105 "The Categories Of Life"I’m beginning to understand* (if not entirely agree with) some of the criticism that’s coming through my Torchwood post about Torchwood: Miracle Day. We’re nearly caught up now (one episode behind) and the pacing of the show doesn’t quite feel right. Where in the earlier seasons Captain Jack was nearly constantly running, he seems to be down to about 20% of the time. This negates some of the energy of the earlier seasons and leaves you slightly confused as to what’s happening the rest of the time.

The reason I don’t think this is entirely a bad thing – and I don’t think its unquestionably a good thing either – is that it allows for more nuanced character development and intricate writing. Of course, some people don’t want that – after all, it’s been years since Captain Jack has knocked an alien unconscious (or vice-versa) – and most of the writing is focussed on the new characters. We’re already familiar with the tortured Captain Jack and the excitement-hunting (albeit family focussed-ish) Gwen Cooper).

Whilst individual episodes don’t hold my attention in the way the old seasons used to, I’m still pretty gripped by the season on the whole. I think the premise is fascinating and the way they’re exploring it is intriguing in the extreme. I think the production values are high and the writing is reasonable. I like the new characters and I’m looking forward to see what they’re doing with them. I’ll grant that the pacing is more LA Law than ER but give it time…

* I really don’t understand the people that have a problem with the gay sex scene. Seriously, its 2011, and the version shown on the BBC is hardly pornographic…

Lord Eddard Stark’s parenting qualities

Eddard-StarkLast night Amanda was away and I was feeling slightly ill – so an evening of extreme vegetation was called for – recorded / downloaded episodes of Chuck and Smallville. A proper veg-out.

Was amused by Chuck’s late season-4 line: "Come on, Eddard, that’s a crazy idea. You can’t let your sons keep direwolves!"

It was a piece of uniquely poor parenting, come to think of it. Eddard, for all his lordly gravitas and honour, caring fatherly looks and love, made a number of poor parenting decisions. Em is never getting a direwolf – maybe a puppy, but that’s where I draw the line!

Here are a few of his parenting highlights:

  • letting all his children, age 4-17, keep direwolves, giant man eating wolves
  • letting his eldest (bastard) son make a permanent, unalterable life choice at the age of 17
  • bringing his two daughters into the most dangerous city in the world

Anyone else pick out any other particularly poor parenting decisions by Lord Stark?

Also, this 16 bit RPG summary of season one of Game of Thrones is brilliant:

Tivo’s return to the UK

TiVo everywhere at the momentI’ve been looking on, with not inconsiderable envy, at the Virgin Media / Tivo adverts that seem to be everywhere at the moment.

We were early fans of the Tivo service, signing up via its then-partner Sky in 2000 for the service. The market wasn’t ready for the expense or complexity of it, however, and despite phenomenal expenditure on PR and marketing (I briefly worked for Sky/Tivo’s then PR agency in 2004 and the campaign was regarded as a massive success).

Now, after years of Sky+ and Freeview PVRs, the market is unquestionably ready. But I still don’t live in a cable area and so am exempted from the service. Damnit.

Still, the fact that Tivo’s back is a good thing. I’m sure that they’ll maintain exclusivity with Virgin for a while but I would pay good money for a Freeview PVR, I think, in spite of the fact that I have a glut of DVB and Freesat receivers via my media centre, TV, and old Sony PVR…

Torchwood-is better than I thought

Torchwood Miracle Day 101_46We watched episode two of Torchwood: Miracle Day on Sunday (still behind, I know, sorry!) and have noted the negative comments appearing on my last post. I’m not sure how fair some of these are – most of them coming from disgruntled longtime fans. Fans: please bear in mind that reinventing a show for a new country, new audience, new production regime, new cast – this is a Hard Thing to do, and I think Russell T Davies et al have been pretty bold with setting up the single premise.

Granted, I’m only two episodes in so don’t know quite how well it’ll sustain itself – the one criticism I thought sounded fair was the idea that the plot of the season might well have washed out happily in a couple of eps – but it feels like its building nicely to me.

Exposition in the early days of a lot of new television series is often slightly painful (it doesn’t need to be but its hard to avoid). The premise needs playing out, the characters need developing, the universe needs staging. It’s understandably frustrating seeing this happen with a show you already know, characters you’ve followed for years. This is one of the reasons that novel adaptations are often (not always) regarded as inferior to the original – they are necessarily different to meet the demands of the new medium – and I think American TV does count as a new medium in some respects.

If we cast our minds back to the early seasons of Torchwood, if we’re being fair, we’ll remember that it was a pretty dire thing that the Beeb had made. And yet it matured by season three into a thing with millions of fans. We’re only up to episode three of the new series – give it a chance, it feels like it’ll weather well.

That said, none of the negative comments indicate people are going to stop watching, so perhaps you are all giving it a chance – just needing a place to vent and lament the passing of the Torchwood of old. To you, I say, if you wanted it to stay made in Britain, you should have been willing to pay a bigger license fee! The BBC couldn’t afford to produce a show like this by itself; heck, even Dr Who only got 1.5 seasons worth of television this year. Auntie is hurting, and admittedly it is a slightly bureaucratic mess at times, but its output is remarkable and I’ll be sad if its star wanes with the cuts we have ahead of us.

FWIW, I’m loving the Beeb’s co-production strategy. I think change is good, if unsettling, and we’ll see a whole new breed of television that works in a way we simply couldn’t manage if we were left to our own devices.