Watching The Wire: Season Two: Episode One – Ebb Tide

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“Ain’t never gonna be what it was.”
-- Little Big Roy

Teleplay by David Simon
Directed by Ed Bianchi

Dominic West (Officer Jimmy McNulty), Lance Reddick (Lieutenant Cedric Daniels), Sonja Sohn (Sergeant Kima Greggs), Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale), Idris Elba (Stringer Bell), John Doman (Colonel William Rawls), Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland), Paul Ben Victor (Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos), Clarke Peters (Lester Fremon), Amy Ryan (Beatrice "Beadie" Russell) and Chris Bauer (Frank Sobotka) and J.D Williams (Bodie)

Domenick Lombardozzi (Detective Thomas "Herc" Hauk), Jim True-Frost as (Detective Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski), James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka), Pablo Schreiber (Nick Sobotka), Al Brown (Major Stan Valchek), Melanie Nicholls-King (Cheryl), J. D. Williams (Preston "Boadie" Broadus), Delaney Williams (Sergeant Jay Landsman) Chris Ashworth (Sergei "Serge/Boris" Malatov), Luray Cooper (Nat Coxson), Jeffrey Fugitt (Claude Diggins), Bill Raymond (Old Man), Ted Feldman (George "Double G" Glekas), l Monks (Father Jerome Lewandowski), The Nighthawks (Musical appearance), Elisabeth Noone (Joan Sobotka), Charley Scalies (Thomas "Horseface" Pakusa), Jill Redding (Delores), J. Valenteen Gregg (Chess), Harold L. Able, Sr. (Moonshot), Stan Stewart (New Charles), Richard Pelzman (Little Big Roy), Kelvin Davis (La La), Bus Howard (Ott), Doug Lory (Big Roy), Jeffrey Pratt Gordon (Johnny "Fifty" Spamanto), Robert F. Colesberry (Detective Ray Cole), Jeffrey Coleman (Coast Guard Officer) Richard Burton (Shaun "Shamrock" McGinty), De'Rodd Hearns (Puddin), Addison Switzer (Country), Perry Blackmon (Perry), Rico Whelchel (Rico) and Jonathan D. Wray (Tank)

The Summary:

Detective Jimmy McNulty finds the body of a woman floating in the water while carrying out his new assignment of “Harbor Patrol.” Major Valchek has his gift to a local parish trumped by Frank Sobotka, his rival in the local stevedores union. And on the waterfront, a shipping container destined for “The Greek” bakes in the sun with perishable cargo.

Read about stained glass windows, messing about in boats and passing the buck beyond the link…

The Recap:

A New Case Begins..

The second season opens with Baltimore Harbour; Jimmy McNulty is stuck on Harbour Patrol, exactly the place he didn’t want to be sent too. He was warned by Lester Fremon not to tell the bosses where he didn’t want to go, so there is a bit of a question as to how he got there. Its winter, they’re cold and they’re called in to deal with a distress call from a stranded boat. The harbour is a bleak place, closed down shipyards, debris dumped on the banks and so forth; much evidence of neglect and decay.

McNulty and Claude board the “Capitol Gains”, a party boat with the revellers in full swing. McNulty isn’t mechanically inclined at all, so the best they can offer is a tow to Hendersons. One of the party goers, assumedly the man who organised this asks if McNulty and Claude could hold off towing them back, but they’re in a shipping lane. So the man offers McNulty a little bonus to tow them somewhere out of the way until the party ends. It’s dark by the time they start back to harbour.

Roll Credits.

It’s worth writing about the credits here; they’ve changed when compared to the previous season. The theme “Way Down in the Hole” is still present, but instead of The Blind Boys of Alabama’s rendition we now have the original version from Tom Waits. This is a darker and gloomier version; its tonal quality echoes much of the nautical and blue collar themes of the season. The images used have also changed, showing many scenes from the docks mixed with the occasional shot of drugs being dealt and the classic shot of Bodie smashing the CCTV camera (from season one). This brings home the change in focus for the show, while also possibly teasing a little about the technology to be used later on in the season...

In Valchek’s office, Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski is talking with Major Valchek; his father-in-law about how the previous wiretap case has changed him, how it gave him a drive to do something. Valchek seems more concerned with the model of the stained glass window and the crates which the real thing have arrived in. Prez is used to Valchek and continues to push his point; he’s seeking a meaningful transfer into something similar to the work he performed in last season’s detail. You can see just how much he’s grown here, he even checks him self when he almost mentions how Valchek was part of the people who shut down the case prematurely. Of course, he does actually say it – and then quickly corrects himself, this is Prez of course and he’s not grown that much. But fortunately Valchek is more concerned with the dove from his window to notice. Unfortunately Valchek has other plans in mind, he’s planning to move Prez up the ranks and keep him safe. He wants to groom Prez into something like himself.

Bodie is in a van, heading out of Baltimore. They’re far enough out that they’re losing the radio station; they quickly cycle through some stations before reaching Philadelphia. Bodie heads out of the van and into a car park, picking up a car – noting the mileage and then heading out. They’re observed doing this and continue to be followed unnoticed by the second car.

McNulty is in dock, struggling to tie up the patrol boat when Bunk rolls around. The Gant case is coming up and Bunk needs to find Omar as he’s a key witness. Also reminds McNulty about the ten dollars he owes Landsman – if you recall Landsman bet McNulty ten dollars that he’d wind up on a boat. Jimmy surmises that Landsman probably told Rawls exactly where he didn’t want to end up; screwing with him and winning the bet at the same time. Bunk just admits (in his own way) that he misses working with McNulty.

Next we meet Frank Sobotka, head of the stevedores union and the “kingpin” of this season. He’s seeking to get the canal dredged in order to bring business, but he’s not got the full support of his other union leaders in this, Nat Coxson wants the grain pier pushed, it won’t add as many jobs but he feels it’s actually achievable and if it isn’t done soon it’ll become condos.

Frank walks out into the docks where hundreds of storage canisters are stacked up, being loaded, moved and unloaded. He stops for a cigarette when his nephew Nicky comes up to talk to him. They need to meet with “The Greek” the following day. He’s then told that Ziggy is ‘all over the place’ – once they arrive we see Ziggy, and he’s lost a hot box somewhere “in the stacks”. Frank fires him, but Ziggy isn’t concerned. Frank is his father.

Bunk arrives in evidence control, he’s looking to get the evidence for the Bird/Gant trial and prep it. He’s met by Cedric Daniels, who has been posted down here as punishment for not following orders and allowing the Barksdale case to drag on and balloon out of control (in the eyes of command). The two wax lyrical a little before the evidence clerk returns and lets Bunk know the evidence is lost.

Bodie arrives at his destination (a garage) with both other vehicles in suit. Meanwhile Frank also arrives at his local church with a donation and to see the window he had put in. It’s a beautiful piece which pictures the local stevedores in the process of unloading a ship. The priest is of course grateful, and Frank needs a favour; he wants some face time with Senator Barbara Mikulski. Frank begins to tell Father Lewandowski how tough things are, but with confessions Father Lewandowski is already aware of the situation and he would have helped even without the window. The priest notes the Frank has given a lot of money to the church and implies that he suspects Frank isn’t working entirely on the level for that cash.

In the garage Bodie and the other fellers are freaking out, the drugs which were supposed to be located in the now stripped car (normally in the car door) are missing. They’re concerned that they’re going to get blamed for this and that Stringer is going to be angry. Mirrored back at the station, Bunk and Daniels are tossing down the evidence room, looking for the mislaid evidence bag for the Gant trial.

Kima is working in an office in the Forfeiture Department, she’s clearly not cut out for desk work, both uncomfortable and lacking the skills needed. Kima is a born street cop; she’s at her best out there working cases, not sat behind a desk pushing paper – but she promised Cheryl she’d stop taking risks after her shooting last season. Herc comes in, he’s amazed how bad the white dealers are, compared to the Barksdales they are sloppy and very easy to catch. He suggests they’re so bad that they should get affirmative action to make up for their lack of street smarts and intelligence. Herc is looking to get her to fill out the paperwork on the raids, but she’s not willing to cover for him anymore, he then asks if she’d like to join him on raids. She’s tempted, but refuses due to her promise after being shot. Herc informs her she’s whipped and leaves.

In the bar McNulty and Bunk are having a few drinks and trying to figure out how to find Omar. While Bodie is travelling back to Baltimore with everyone, they end up waiting in the funeral home Stringer decided to use as a front at the end of the previous season. Stringer himself is watching the money being counted when one of his boys comes in and confirms that they’re sticking to their story. Stringer heads out to talk with the man watching over the mechanics, next he talks with the second drive before finally talking to Bodie himself. Apparently Bodie is three tenths of a mile out on his drive, Stringer confers with his men and then asks if Bodie had to take a detour and hurt his foot when kicking the jack. Bodie realises that this means Stringer had them followed.

Ziggy and Nick are in Delores’s Bar, Ziggy is keen to meet with The Greek when Nick goes to see him; Nick is a little reticent about that. The other stevedores are reminiscing about old times, so Nick and Ziggy roast them for it. A series of wisecracks and friendly jokes which are capped by Ziggy flopping his johnson out just before The Nighthawks breaks out into song. Cue a quick montage with the stevedores having a great time spliced with shots of the dock while The Nighthawks perform "Sixteen Tons.”

"Oh yes, that's exactly what you fear it is!"

The following morning McNulty and Claude are out on the water, McNulty is out on the back fishing the body of a young woman. The plan is to hook her and then tow her to the dock, if they bring her on board she might well break apart. Her legs are broken and Claude surmises that she’s a jumper from the bridge.

Nick wakes up looking a little worse for wear from the night before. He turns on “Search and Destroy” (by The Stooges) and heads up to try waking Ziggy and after failing he talks a bit with his mother. Nick partakes in a little hair of the dog and goes to get cleaned up. A bit later he heads out.

In the church Major Valchek has arrived with the window and a generous donation for the church. It’s a memorial to the Polish American policemen and fire fighters. He wants it put up in the nave, but Sobotka’s window is already up. Valchek offers to match their donations in order to take the nave spot, but it’s clear they offered more money than Valchek is willing to donate – over four thousand dollars. This makes Valchek smell a rat, he can’t understand how they donated so much and is planning to do something about this.

Ray Cole meets with McNulty over the jumper, after talking a little about the girl they mention Bunk. Who’s somewhat worse for the wear after last night’s drinking with Jimmy.

In the penitentiary Avon meets with Stringer about the problems with the connect; Avon thinks Stringer should head up and sort it out personally. Avon’s taken to prison life – he’s sold to doing his time and is holding up well.

Nick meets about getting some work; but hours are tight and he can’t get more than half a day. Ziggy arrives, seeking to meet with The Greek at the same time as Nick, he reluctantly agrees to let him come along, but warns him to keep quiet when they meet with the man.

Stringer is at the station while Nick and Ziggy arrive at a small dingy diner. They meet with Spiros and Nick introduces Ziggy to him. Ziggy shakes his hand and says “You must be The Greek”, to which Spiros shrugs and replies “Well, I’m Greek, anyway.” They sit at the table and Ziggy jokes, calling one of the men “Boris” in reference to his Russian appearance. The man corrects him, his name is Sergei and he is from the Ukraine. Ziggy continues to mouth off until Nick tells him to be quiet. So he goes and sits at the counter next to an elderly man reading a paper. Spiros hands Nick the details of the can and they settle on details. Boris/Sergei will be driving. After they leave Spiros shrugs about Ziggy’s attitude while outside Nick and Ziggy argue briefly about Ziggy’s conduct.

Frank sits in his office reading the paper, he enquires after Nick. While out in the docks Beadie (played by the lovely, lovely Amy Ryan) is on patrol. She drives up and chats a little with Frank. They joke about the stevedore’s reputation for theft before she drives away. Ziggy and Nick arrive with ‘My Sharona’ (What else would you expect from Ziggy?) blazing on the stereo, they hand the details to Frank and head off.

In homicide McNulty arrives, he briefly chats with Winona then heads in to talk with Landsman who admits he’s responsible for sending McNulty to the docks. McNulty enquires after the girl, turns out she was dead before she hit the water, but McNulty continues to show his detective chops aren’t dulled by asking a few pertinent questions. In part about the defence wounds on her hands, but also about her losing both her coat and shoes. As he turns to leave, Landsman informs McNulty that they’ve dumped the case onto Baltimore County; drifters are pretty difficult cases at the best of times. Especially ones like this, and statistics are what matters, easy to clear cases are what the command are interested in and because she was found east of the bridge she’s Baltimore County, not city.

Frank watches nervously from his office while the can for The Greek is left for Boris/Sergi to pick up. While Stringer meets with a lawyer about Roberto’s failure to deliver the goods, apparently Roberto’s operation has taken a serious hit so they’re unwilling to deal right now. Stringer thinks they should just get back in, but it’s hinted that Roberto feels Stringer and Avon might be responsible for the trouble. Especially considering how light Avon’s sentence was in the end.

In Frank’s office he and Horse face talk a little about the can (shipping canister), it hasn’t been picked up yet, Boris-Sergei’s sat waiting and not picking it up. He receives a phone call and then leaves without collecting the can. Frank decides to bury the can in the stacks in order to avoid risk as the customs seal on the canister is breached.

McNulty heads over to the computers and is checking out the currents, tides and the location of the body. He figures out that she hit the water in the City jurisdiction and begins to compose a letter.

Kima arrives back at her home and is greeted by her girlfriend Cheryl, she’s trying to get pregnant and they’re attempting to sort out a donor. Meanwhile Jimmy faxes the letter to Baltimore County - getting his own back on Rawls in a simple but ultimately clever fashion.

And of course Rawls is less than pleased the following morning when it’s clear someone in the Marine Unit faxed them a report about tides and wind currents.He and Landsman immediately know it’s McNulty behind this, but there’s little they can do about it. They screwed him and now he’s screwing them back as best he can.

Bodie is down on the street dealing, they’re concerned that there’s not much product left to sell. He passes on a little of the wisdom he learnt from Dee previously, and expresses his confidence in Stringer’s ability to handle things fine.

In homicide, the poor floater is back and goes up onto the board as a Jane Doe. Meanwhile, Beadie is on patrol in the docks again, just routine business until she spots a crate with a broken seal. She gets out and heads over to check it out. Upon opening the door she finds it almost filled with TVs but there is a corridor of space inside leading to a second back door which is bolted shut. She opens this and finds inside women, dead.

In Frank’s office the stevedores are relaxing when the sound of sirens cuts in from the background. The canister filled with girls has been called in and every single girl in there is deceased…

The Review:

Of course, the title of the episode “ebb tide” is a construct loaded with meaning; naturally it has the connections with the waterside setting of the season – describing a tide at its lowest point. But it also describes the positions of several of the characters; McNulty, Kima and Daniels are all in something of an ebb tide, their fortunes are down having all lost out at the end of the previous season. Likewise the Barksdales are in something of an ebb; both in their position on screen – as they are now more of a sideline story and are forced to share time with the stevedores – and in their business, product is running low, and previous suppliers are unwilling to deal with them.

Of course the first episode of The Wire's second season is quite a shock for viewers who are used to the familiar conventions of television. Not only has the focus of the show apparently shifted, moving away from the familar high and low rises of the western districts, but a huge wealth of characters are introduced for the first time. Many of them without names or any real indication as to who's important and who's not. You're left to discover these facts as time passes and the show's plot follows them. It's not quite as mammoth an effort as trying to watch the first few episodes of the first season is, but it's still quite disconcerting and as such you can understand why people may struggle. The Wire doesn't hold your hand here, it expects you to swim and swim well. Which, if you've watched the first season - you should be able to do.

There are quite a few parallels which can be drawn between the opening episode of this season and the previous one, both of them belong to the same slow build style of story telling, but close with a strong evocative image of death. The first season was Gant's murder, this season is the death of all these young women. It's a pretty powerful tool for hooking the viewer in and it does leave one thinking "Who were these girls, why are they dead? What's going to happen next?"

And that's what you want from an opening episode.

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Catching Up...

Well, I'm still behind the world of television, thanks mostly to moving house at possibly the worst time I could have managed and then being denied any sort of external television viewing - apart from the freeview channels - until all the various problems were sorted out.

But now I'm taking advantage of the summer lull to catch up with the various shows I was watching and I thought I'd share a few thoughts and the like on them. First up it's The Office's fifth season and How I Met Your Mother's fourth.

The Office:
Naturally after such a gap I had a little trouble recalling where things were when resuming viewing, but fortunately The Office is a pretty slow moving show where major developments are concerned. So it wasn't long before I was back up to speed and enjoying events. I'm still somewhat amazed that The Office has managed five seasons without a major dip in quality, it still provides entertaining and hilarious moments by the truck load. A particularly inspired piece of casting was the arrival of Idris Elba (The Wire, Obsessed, RockNRolla) as Charles Miner, Michael's new supervisor (a role previously filled by Ryan and Jan). Michael takes an instant dislike to him, then quits and forms his own paper company in a "where are they going with this story?" moment. Pam in one of her impulsive moments quits along side him, opening up a slot in reception - which is filled by Kelly Erin Hannon (Ellie Kemper) or "Erin" as she's refferred to in order to avoid confusion.

Of course, by the end of the season Michael and Pam are back working for Dunder Mifflin, but the events do have some lasting reverberations. Ryan is back with the company (despite defrauding them before) and ends up temping again, but Pam is now a sales person - which means Erin is staying (for the moment at least). Frankly I do hope she stays permanently; she's funny and the way she reacts around Michael is quite entertaining as well (especially as Michael isn't inappropriate to her the way he is with Pam). So I'm hoping she stays and adds a new dynamic to the show.

Idris was of course, fantastic. But all things considered it's hard to say how much more he will be involved with the show. Likewise the fantastic Amy Ryan (The Wire) returned as Holly Flax, and it seems that any story she has with Michael will be a long burn and I'm fine with that.

How I Met Your Mother:
Ah HIMYM, how you managed to move me and then dash my hopes and anger me. The single biggest moment I got from watching the back end of the season comes from the episode 'Right Place, Right Time'. There's an absolutely wonderful and life affirming speech which is given and the episode feels ripe for a huge moment. Then it drags out the whole episode in a rather funny manner, skipping the story back and forth before gradually building up to a reveal as to who he met in this right place and time. Is it the mother? Oh, no. It's Stella... bleah! Now no offense to Sarah Chalke, she's a fantastic actress, but Stella is just. I really don't have the words to explain how disappointed I was when I saw her there. Fortunately, we find out over the next few episodes Stella is just there to give Ted direction in his life. While I'd like to hope she's gone for good, it's clear she's due to return at least once more, but she's not the mother. Thank goodness.

Two other things impress me about HIMYM, the first is of course Neil Patrick Harris's portrayal of Barney; he remains the highlight of the show, and the number one reason I watch. But I've also come to really enjoy watching Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel as Marshall and Lily. It's rare a show, especially a comedy show, which manages to keep a pair of characters together and also make them entertaining. Normally you'd expect the married couple to be the boring straight characters, but while they are the voices of reason in the group - at times those voices get a little... deranged... but that's what makes them so much fun.

We end the season with Robin and Barney sort of, maybe, together, but they have expressed their feelings for each other ('bout time!) and Ted in a new job as a professor of architecture, and apparently the mother took this class. So we're maybe a year or two away from finding out, perhaps three. But to be honest, HIMYM continues to be entertaining and funny, so I don't mind. As long as they never provide such a moving speech just to rip the rug out from under the viewer's feet again, that was a cruel trick!
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Why You Should Watch Wednesdays... Firefly

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Writing about why anyone should watch Firefly is actually a lot harder than you'd first think; not because it's hard to think about good things about the show, but because it's hard to stop thinking about them. Joss Whedon is a (justifiably) celebrated writer and creator of shows; Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is simply sublime and Buffy & Angel both have massive devoted fan bases who just adore them. But I'm not an dedicated Joss Whedon follower, just because he's written something doesn't mean I'm going to immediately enjoy it, I'm can take or leave both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, they're certainly great shows, but I have no desire to watch them or own them on DVD. Likewise Dollhouse, I'm not that fussed about it either - I watched bits and I'm sure I'll get around to watching it all, eventually.

But Firefly on the other hand is without a doubt the jewel in Joss's crown, it's his single greatest work. Far outshining his other works, even the comparatively long lived Buffy and Angel. It's hard to believe a western/sci-fi/criminal/smuggler/drama could be such a concise and complete whole. Science Fiction is not really my preferred genre but Firefly ranks amongst my top ten all time favourite shows.

Every aspect of the show is delightful; the characters, the setting, the plots, the dialog. It's Whedon at his finest (props to other writers Tim Minear, Ben Edlund and Jose Molina also), evoking the spirit of the old great westerns and applying it to 'the next frontier' created a mythos which is enduring and nostalgic.

But it's not just the writing and the setting which makes this show, the entire cast is simply brilliant; Nathan Fillion really shows his acting chops as a leading man with his portrayal of Malcolm Renolds, captain of Serenity. Gina Torres makes for a superb action woman as Zoe, being hard, smart and beautiful all at the same time; while Alan Tudyk is great light comedy as her husband and the ship's crack pilot "Wash", Summer Glau provides a disturbing (if now rather typecast) portrayal of a troubled young girl named River Tam, permanently damaged by scientists who operated on her brain and Sean Maher is great as her prissy and stuck up brother, Doctor Simon Tam. Jewel Staite is just fantastic as Kaylee Frye - the ship's ever optimistic engineer, struggling with her unrequited (or badly requited) attraction to the doctor. Morena Baccarin is possibly the only weak link in the cast, her portrayal of Inara is a little stilted at times but that is at least in part due to the "proper" personality of her character (as opposed to the somewhat improper nature of her occupation).

But for myself the two stand out characters (outside of Malcolm) are Ron Glass as the enigmatic Shepherd Book a preacher with possibly something to hide in his past and Adam Baldwin as the ruthless thief/mercenary Jayne Cobb.

From its first episode right up to the last and even into Serenity, the movie which "finished" the story the show was telling, Firefly just grips the viewer. It provides entertainment and humour by the bucket load while also managing to deal with more serious issues without trivialising them. This vision of the future, where Chinese and American cultures have collided across a range of backwater planets much like the old American west is as inspired as the dialog.

Firefly is a show with a dedicated and loyal fan base, and unlike many such fan bases they're not deluding themselves in this case. Firefly is a show which comes close to achieving perfection in televisual storytelling. It graced our screens in a way few shows manage, giving society something new, unique and meaningful. It also gave us a scene which I always find funny, a naked Malcolm Reynolds standing in the middle of a desert throwing a fit of rage.

And its scenes like this, along with so many, many memorable moments and lines which ensure that Firefly will remain a show I adore and one everyone should watch at least once.

"You can't take the skies from me."

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DVDs in Review #62: Psych: The Complete First Season

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Fake Psychic. Real Detectives.

Psych's concept is a relatively simple one at it's core, Shawn Spencer (James Roday) was trained in the powers of observation by his ex-cop father Henry (played excellently by Corbin Bernsen) from a very early age. This talent combined with a photographic memory allows him to pick up on clues and details which most other people would miss. When he calls in a tip to the local police force he's suspected of being involved in the crime somehow and rather than explain that he knows this because he's an incredible detective he instead claims to be psychic just before being arrested. He's warned by the interim Police Chief he will be arrested if his "powers" turn out to be fraudulent and ends up trapped into this act.

The police continue to rely on Shawn's abilities, initially he works with the (correctly) sceptical Detective Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) and Detective Barry (Played by Anne Dudek, who would later become famous as Amber in House), but recasting after the pilot episode would result in Barry leaving (which is a real shame because Anne is just fantastic) and being replaced by Detective Juliet O'Hara (Maggie Lawson), the new Chief Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson) rounds out the core cast of Police Officers.

Fortunately for Shawn he's not alone in this masquerade, his father and his best friend Gus (Dulé Hill - The West Wing) are in on it and it's these two who provide the strongest performances in the show. Dulé in particular is a delight; his dry, sharp observations and witticisms make him very much Al to Shawn's Tim (To use a Home Improvement reference) and I find Gus firmly my favourite character. His somewhat level-headed and pragmatic approach to things provides a good contrast and relief when compared to Shawn's excessive "psychic" performances.

The first season runs for fifteen episodes and remains a quality mix of comedy and murder mystery throughout. During the course of the season Shawn and Gus confront a variety of murders, encountering "alien abductions", ghosts, urban legends and much more in a wonderful spin on the classic detective show. Psych is very aware of it's own absurd nature and embraces it completely, it's a show you just can't help enjoying with a solid freshman season.

Psych is one of those shows I just can't help but recommend and the first season is a quality piece of television.

International Pilot
James Roday's Audition Tape
Psych Revealed: Inside the Writer's Room
Character Profiles
Audio Commentaries
Blooper Reel
Deleted Scenes

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Soundtrack: English 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: None
Regions: 2, 4 and 5
Rating: 12
Run time: 10 hours 43 mins approx
Extras Run time: 6 hours 36 mins approx
PPM: 4.7p
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DVDs in Review #61: Monk - Seasons One to Six Collected

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I think it's almost safe to say you will have already heard of the series 'Monk' by now, this big hit comedy/drama detective series has been running for seven seasons with a final one airing in June. The show stars Tony Shalhoub as the titular Adrian Monk - a San Fransisco detective traumatised into a nervous breakdown by the brutal car bombing of his wife Trudy (played in occasional flashbacks first by Stellina Rusich then later by the lovely Melora Hardin). While he is currently off the force pending medical recommendation for reinstatement he does still assist Captain Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lieutenant Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) on cases as his powers of deduction and reasoning are almost unrivalled.

Monk suffers from a range of phobias alongside crippling OCD and originally a reclusive form of agoraphobia which resulted in him being unable to leave his house. But with the assistance of a nurse named Sharona Flemming (Bitty Schram) he was able to do so and continue to assist the Police Department as a paid consultant. Later on Sharona would leave and Adrian would hire Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard) to assist him instead.

Monk is a light hearted detective show which mixes the tragic and serious business of murder alongside lighter comedic moments. It delivers tightly written cases mixed alongside personal story lines for all the main cast members and it's a great piece of light entertainment.

But there are a few minor niggles and points which should be pointed out. For a start while it's great that there is a show highlighting mental illnesses, humanising them and bringing them into the public consciousness (I still get annoyed at the dissociative identity disorder/schizophrenia mix up Hollywood inflicted on the public). It often uses Adrian's quirks for laughs and pity, sometimes overly so. But he is still a great character and a mostly positive example.

Secondly the show is completely formulaic, while it does have the overarching mystery of "why was Trudy killed?" most episodes are self contained stories which are resolved by the end of the episode and rarely referenced again. There is little sense of continuity in the timeline, it's a 'stasis' show. This is absolutely fine if you enjoy shows like that as Monk is a great example in the genre, personally I've come to realise I prefer shows with a continuous timeline, reference to past events and evolution of situation, but I still was able to enjoy Monk greatly.

Third, while the box claims to have subtitles only the first season actually has them. Seriously guys, this is the kind of show my grandmother would like to watch, but without subtitles she has no chance. Subtitles aren't a nice optional extra in the world of DVDs they are an essential piece.

Last of all though there is the issue of packaging with this set. I've scaled back talking about packaging (and no-one has commented so it seems it won't be missed), but I do need to talk about this boxed set. From the picture above it looks like a great looking and practical piece. But this is not the case at all, each of the DVDs inside is held in a loose cardboard sleeve. These sleeves are thin and so they fall out of the case easily, but they are also all identical. So when they fall on the floor, or you're trying to find a specific season/put it back in, you have a devil of a time identifying them and have to open each sleeve up to check where and what order things are in. Just a simple white font saying "Season X: Discs Y & Z" on the cover and spine of each holder would have solved this with a fractional increase in cost. But Playback decided this wasn't necessary and this, combined with the subtitles issue have moved them in with Fremantle Media in the "DVD manufacturers I have a beef with" column. It's very frustrating, and as such I'd recommend if you're planning to purchase this you should pick up the individual seasons instead despite the increased cost.

Putting these issues aside Monk is a great comedy/drama crime show which is well worth watching for anyone who enjoys a good detective story/murder mystery.

If you enjoy Monk you might also want to try out Psych, there are several parallels between the two series - Psych is the far lighter and sillier of the two shows though.

Aspect Ratio: 4:3 (Season 1-3), 16:9 (Season 4), 1.78:1 (Season 5+6)
Regions: 2 + 4 (Season 1), 2, 4 + 5 (Seasons 2-6)
Soundtrack: English, French (Season 1 only)
Subtitles: English, French (Season 1 only)
Rating: 15
Run time: 65h 42 mins
PPM (at Recommended Retail): 1.4
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Watching The Wire: Season Two - Introduction

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The Wire: Season Two

Next week I'll be diving into the first episode in the second season of The Wire, a season which introduces a whole host of new characters while also continuing the stories and lives of returning characters from the first season. I can recall the first time I watched the second season I was a little jarred by the shift in focus, the second season is centered around the Baltimore port, the Stevedores who work their and their Union. But we do also get to see the continuing story of the Barksdale organisation and see how their fortunes have changed after the events of the first season. The second season is very much a look at the blue collar heartland of America and how unions like the Stevedores and their members are struggling to survive in their way of life.

In my opinion the second season definitely improves upon the first season, there can be some initial culture shock with the dynamic change in locale for many scenes. This can make it seem that the show has changed dramatically, but it is always worth remembering that at heart The Wire is a show about the institutions which affect and dominate peoples lives, unions are one such institution, they're powerful organisations which both absorb and protect the people in them.

In order to conceal any spoilers about the first season I will place the rest of this post behind a cut...

Read about the story so far beyond the link...

In preparation for next week I'm going to take a very brief look at what's happened to this date and then look at where the various characters from the first season are now.

The first season dealt with a long term investigation into the Barksdale organisation, a collection of dealers who controlled a huge section of the Baltimore drug trade without really bringing the attention of the police onto them. An outburst from one D'Angelo Barksdale resulted in a shooting which caught the attention of Detective Jimmy McNulty, who decided to attend the court hearing and then saw witnesses retract their statements - obvious victims of intimidation. He unwisely complained to the judge over seeing this case - one Judge Phelan - sticking his neck out and getting the judge fired up enough to put some political pressure onto the police department. Pressure with the intent of catching the Barksdales.

Gradually a detail was put together under Cedric Daniels, a talented officer who tended to toe the line. McNulty saw him as a "yes man" and the friction between the two was obvious, but gradually as Daniels began to commit to seeing this case to it's full fruition instead of looking for "dope on the table" (a quick bust) McNulty started to respect him and the two of them worked better.

The rest of the detail included the talented cool cat Lester Fremon - a detective who was busted down to Pawn Shop duty for not following orders, Sydnor - a young and relatively inexperienced cop, Herc and Carver - two narc cops who are a little fast and loose with the rules, Kima - a brilliant detective and Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski - a screw up with a powerful father-in-law in the department (Valcheck). They were often assisted by Kima's informant "Bubbles" a drug addict who lives on the streets of Baltimore.

For all of these cops this detail would change them, some in far greater ways than others. By the end of the season Jimmy's constant insubordination resulted in him being sent to the one place he didn't want to be - on Baltimore harbor patrol, Kima was confined to a desk job after being shot when undercover and Daniels had been passed over for promotion to Major. But it wasn't all bad, Herc, Carver and Sydnor had all learnt a great deal from the older detectives and even managed to pass a little of this onto others. Lester Fremon's skills had not gone unnoticed either, he had been promoted into homicide after his sharp insight was noticed - catching things many others would have missed. But possibly the biggest change occurred in Prez, who went from a being a genuinely incompetent screw-up into an exceptional paper trail chaser thanks to the supervision of Daniels and more importantly the mentoring of Fremon. Bubbles on the other hand didn't fair as well, he'd gotten himself clean thanks in part to Kima's influence, but after she was shot Jimmy was left to handle him and wasn't sensitive enough to understand how tenuous Bubbles's new found sobriety was. By the end of the season Bubbles had returned to old habits.

For the Barksdales the news was mostly bad, despite the detail's wiretap program being cut short there was still enough evidence to imprison a large amount of them. Avon Barksdale, his nephew D'Angelo and Wee-Bey were all locked up on various charges along with many others. But Stringer Bell managed to beat the rap, in part at least thanks to Poot and Bodie, who shot their friend Wallace and silenced anything he might have passed onto the police after he decided to inform to them. Poot and Bodie were not caught for their murder and remained on the street dealing in an area referred to as 'The Pit'.

It is from here where the second season starts, with McNulty on a boat, Kima at a desk, Fremon in Homicide (with Bunk), Avon and Dee behind bars and Stringer in control of the Barksdales. Over the next twelve episodes the second chapter of The Wire will unfold.

For a more detailed look at the events in the first season see my recap and reviews, the contents page is here.

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Summer Scheduling plans

By Rev/Views
So I've been back online for a short while now and I'm beginning to settle into a new update schedule. It has to be built around my work times because I commute a long distance to work and the days where I'm working I often don't t have enough time to watch shows and write about them. As such the days I'll be updating and the plan are as follows:

Monday & Tuesday:
DVD Reviews, catching up on the backlog of DVDs and shows I watched while I was offline.

Why You Should Watch
A general overview of a show I've watched (or are watching) with some highlights and information about it. A chance to decide if a given show is for you or not. I won't be dealing exclusively in shows I like here, I will be writing

No Updates

Friday + Saturday:
Occasional updates depending on my mood. I'll always update on one of these two days, sometimes with a short review, sometimes with a list of things I like. Sometimes just to plug another blog writer who's work is worth reading. Something for the weekend sir?

Sunday: Watching the Wire: Season Two.
The continuation of my somewhat epic attempt to recap and review every single episode of The Wire. Every moment from the first one to the last capped and hopefully discussed a little. You have no idea the time investment involved in writing just one of those, but they're the most popular pages on this site so I guess it's worth it. I will be including screen caps this time, I've replaced my broken DVD drive (after Spore broke it about half a year ago).

So that's the plan up ahead, it won't switch up until the fall season now because TV slows down for the summer. I'm also not sure how shaken up it will be when the US returns to winter programming because the pilot episodes. They really don't inspire me in particular. There's nothing much to fill the void the passing of The Wire, The Shield and BSG have left in quality drama. Mad Men helps, Sons of Anarchy is pretty good too, but the newer shows all seem rather tame, uninteresting or just not aimed at my demographic tastes.

I have a few questions for those of you who hung on during my absence...

What new shows coming up have grabbed your attention and why? Here's your chance to get me interested and write about them.

Are there any shows you'd like to see on the Why You Should Watch feature? Anything which has been hovering about your attention and you'd like a bit more info and an opinion on?

Same for DVDs, anything you want reviewed? If I have it or I can get it for a reasonable price I'll give it a go.

I may return tomorrow, but I will most certainly be back on Sunday with the opener for Watching The Wire 2.
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Why You Should Watch Wednesdays - 30 Rock

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For the immediate and foreseeable future I'm going to use Wednesdays to revive a series which I started a long while back and then left to languish. The "Why You Should Watch" series, where I take an in depth look at a TV series and try to highlight the appeal of the show. I almost called this "101 Shows You Should Watch Before You Die" in homage to the 1001 series of books, but I realised I'd be committing myself to nearly two years of this then and that seemed a tad unwise.

This week it's the turn of NBC's comedy beau - 30 Rock.

30 Rock

Created by Saturday Night Live alumni and Sarah Palin impersonator Tina Fey, 30 Rock is in it's third season at the time of writing. The title of the show refers to 30 Rockafella Plaza, the location of the GE building which houses NBC Studios and the show itself is a single camera show based around a fictional comedy sketch show called "The Girlie Show". Following the arrival of new network executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) the show is relabeled "TGS with Tracy Jordan" despite show runner/head writer Liz Lemon's (Tina Fey) objections after Jack decides to include the somewhat deranged movie star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.

The show contains an ensemble cast of ten members; alongside Liz and Jack we also have Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) a deeply insecure but talented woman who stars in TGS; Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit) producer of the show and Liz's closest friend; writer, inappropriate hat wearer and general slob Frank Rossitano (Judah Friedlander); Cerie Xerox (Katrina Bowden), Liz's assistant and wearer of inappropriately hot outfits; James "Toofer" Spurlock (Keith Powell), a Harvard graduate writer; Josh Girard (Lonny Ross) TGS co-star, writer and impressionist; and NBC Page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer).

Also of note are Grizz Chapman and Kevin Brown who play Grizz and Dot Com, members of Tracy's entourage, bodyguards and general common sense reminders for the star and Jack's PA Johnathan (Maulik Pancholy) who slavishly works for the man and handles many of his problems.

The series mostly focuses around the interaction between Liz and Jack, who often butt heads over conceptual changes in the show and the various problems raised by the writing team and the stars of TGS. Especially Jenna - who is something of an attention seeking diva - and Tracy - who is just plain loco. But 30 Rock is a show which also evolves over time, relationships between characters change and grow. Tracy takes Kenneth under his wing, Jack and Liz gradually become friends and Frank becomes a decent human being and stops ragging on Toofer - wait, no he doesn't.

Performances from the cast are fantastic right across the board; Tina is great as the hapless and insecure Liz Lemon - providing a real smart, sexy, funny combination, while Alec Baldwin gives one of the best performances of his career as Jack. Kenneth (Jack) is another stand out character, his combination of niceness, naivety and country charm make him the perfect combination to play off Tracy Jordan's intense energy, Scott Adsit's turn as Pete is great - he provides a lot of the exposition and straight man material (which in some ways is a shame as he's also a great comic) and Frank is just plain wickedly funny.

30 Rock is one of the finest sitcoms on television right now alongside The Office and How I Met Your Mother. It's great light entertainment which both lampoons and homages the entertainment industry. Tina's experiences on Saturday Night Live translate well as do the skills she gained from her time there; in 30 Rock she's created an exceptional comedy show with a unique voice.

Notable episodes:

"Cleveland" - Tracy discovers that the "Black Crusaders" are after him, a clandestine organisation with a long reach, initially sparked by a magazine article which stated that Bill Cosby hated Tracy. He decides to go on the run to Cleveland to survive. It's a great episode where Tracy's insane notions are played up to the fullest and as such it delivers a lot of laughs.

- the premiere of the second season; remains one of the stand out episodes of the show. Jack hits on the idea of using digitally edited footage from Seinfeld into his advertising campaigns and programs. In particular for his pet show MILF Island - a Survivor style voting reality game with contestants who are hot mothers (or MILFs). Unfortunately for Jack Jerry sees this campaign and is not to pleased with it, and Jerry is a powerful man. The results of this confrontation create one of the more subtle running jokes in the series - and one of the less subtle ones.

If you enjoy 30 Rock you should also consider trying The Office (USA), Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm and How I Met Your Mother.

Season One is available on DVD in Regions 1, 2, 4 and 5, Season Two is already out in R1 & R4 and will be released for R2 on the 25th of May in Region 2.

Official Site for 30 Rock
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DVDs in Review #60: Generation Kill

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War Unplugged

Baghdad, Iraq, 2003. Mission: Unclear. Enemy: Unidentified. Duration of Tour: Unknown.

It was impossible for the Marines of the First Recon Battalion to anticipate what would occur during those first 40 days of the Iraq war as they found themselves struggling with shoddy supplies, frustrated by the chain of command and questioning the mission at every turn.
---Generation Kill

Generation Kill is the latest offering from David Simon, Ed Burns and HBO, the team which previously brought you The Wire. Generation Kill is based on the book of the same name by journalist Evan Wright, who travelled with . It stars Alexander Skarsgård (Tru Blood), James Ransone (The Wire - Ziggy), Lee Tergesen (Wanted, Oz), Jon Huertas (Castle), Jonah Lotan (CSI:NY), Stark Sands and Billy Lush (The Black Donnellys) to name a few (there are twenty eight starring members in this).

The miniseries follows the members of Bravo Company's advance squad and the reporter who was assigned to travel with them (Evan Wright was this man in actuality - but he's not identified as such here), the members of this squad are Sergeant Brad 'Iceman' Colbert, Corporal Josh Ray Person and Lance Corporal Harold James Trombley. The reporter joins them and we follow them throughout the first phase of the Iraq war.

The themes of the miniseries are clear; the series highlights the difficulties which the marines faced during their time. Problems and challenges which came not just from external sources but also from within the company itself. Issues with the chain of command, incompetent superior officers, food supplies, equipment and much more all stand in the way of Bravo Company and this is without considering the Iraq army intent on defending their homeland.

This is a series which is merciless in depicting the harsh reality of war, this is no heroic war movie designed to make the Americans look like the liberating heroes fighting the cardboard villainous 'bad guys'. The Iraqi forces are often outclassed by the Americans and have little chance. The consequences of war reverberate throughout this series with the sound of mortar shells.

Generation Kill doesn't shy away from depicting the atrocities which were commit ed during this war, but it also doesn't vilify the marines. They are depicted as rounded human beings put into an insane situation, they deal with the situation as best they can. Whether it's a troublesome Captain who has a gun hoe attitude and the awareness of a young child or orders to abandon civilians they react and deal in a very human fashion. Generation Kill manages to walk that tightrope, able to show the terrible things which happened in the war without dehumanising the marines either.

Before finishing up I'd like to just say that the performances in Generation Kill are all uniformly superb but it is worth noting especially how fantastic James Ransone is in this. The character of his I'm most familiar with - Ziggy from The Wire - is often lauded as a (deliberately) irritating and unsympathetic character - something I don't entirely agree with, but I do see the sentiment. His performance in Generation Kill is so distant from this previous form I didn't even realise he was the same actor at first, it took a while to make the connection.

Generation Kill is not only an enjoyable and entertaining piece of television, but it's also an eye opener. The authenticity of this series is a palpable thing and the messages it delivers, while mixed, are powerful.

Generation Kill is quite literally bursting at the seams with extras, my copy is so physically full that the set itself bulges. This is because the "Basic Training" book included with the set is so large it doesn't quite fit inside the case properly alongside all of the DVDs.

This book is an essential read and should both be read before watching the series and also kept handy nearby. This is because Generation Kill has highly authentic dialog and uses Marine terminology and call signs throughout the series without providing much in the way of explanation. I did find myself wishing there was a set of subtitles which would put the "translation" up when terminology was used. But you get used to it all quickly enough.

Also included on the set are the following:
Generation Kill: A Conversation with the 1st Recon Marines
Making Generation Kill
Eric Ladin's Video Diaries
Audio Commentaries

Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Run Time: 451 Mins Approx
Languages: English
Hearing Impaired: English
Subtitles: English, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Region: 2
Rating: 15
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DVDs in Review #59: The Corner

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"Every City in America has a "corner". To parents, it's a place their children must avoid. To cops, it's the front line of the "war on drugs". But to the addicts who live and work there, it's the most vital piece of real estate in their desperate lives."
--The Corner

The Corner is an Emmy award winning six part mini-series which was first broadcast on HBO in the year 2000, it's based on David Simon and Ed Burns's 1997 book 'The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighbourhood' and was adapted by David Simon and David Mills for the small screen. Now finally the complete DVD set is available for general consumption in the UK, having been released on the 6th April, 2009. Just a meagre nine or so years after it first aired.

The Corner contains an unrelenting and direct look at a part of America which is often ignored or sometimes even villanised by popular conception and the media. At its heart it follows and chronicles the lives of a small family living in West Baltimore, near to the corners where drugs a sold openly to those who want them. The three core characters are Garry McCollough (T.K. Carter), his ex-wife Francine "Fran" Boyd (Khandi Alexander) and their son D'Andre McCollough (Sean Nelson). Each of them lives a life where drugs are not only a fact but an essential ingredient of everyday life. Garry and Fran are both addicts, having fallen from a reasonable life almost directly due to the influence of drugs, D'Andre on the other hand doesn't use drugs but he does deal them on the corners.

Often people like this are portrayed as being low-life, barely human scum. Existing only to be shaken down by a hard boiled cop needing information, to get shot and murdered or to murder someone themselves. They are dehumanised and used as little more than plot devices to drive the narrative and satisfy the stereotypical views of drug users. But The Corner refuses to accept this as the only version of events, it turns around and holds up the lives of these people to the harsh light and says to the viewer :

"Here they are, here are the people who are struggling with the drug problem in America every day. Don't hate them, don't pity them. Many of them seek to overcome their situation and better themselves.

See them, understand them, accept them. These are the people in the front line of 'the war on drugs' "

The Corner brings a great deal of humanity to the characters portrayed, not just the McColloughs but also the people who surround and intertwine with their lives. The dealers, users and working class individuals who all struggle with daily life in the inner city. The Corner introduces us to the lads who run with D'Andre, fellow users and dealers and much more. Providing not just a picture of one family but a portrait of the entire neighbourhood they exist in. Of particular note is the character of Fat Carl, portrayed by the always fantastic Clarke Peters as a run down dealer/user reaching the end of his days.

There is a lot in The Corner which have influenced sections of Simon's later masterpiece 'The Wire'; D'Andre is clearly the inspiration for D'Angelo (and not just in the name) and much of the message of the streets in The Wire is echoed in The Corner. Also several actors who would later appear in The Wire are present in The Corner, most notable is the aforementioned Clarke Peters (Who would later play Lester Freamon in The Wire), but also present are Clayton LeBouef (Orlando), Lance Reddick (Cedric Daniels), Delaney Williams (Jay Landsman) and Corey Parker Robinson (Leander Sydnor). Clarke's performance in particular is breathtaking but each one of these shows their acting chops off magnificently.

I knew going into watching The Corner that it was going to be a heartfelt and honest account of inner city life, previous experience with David Simon's work has taught me that he understands his characters, the situations they are in and cares about them as well - so I knew this was going to be an enjoyable watch even before I started. But it turned out to be much more than that, franklt this is a work which is essential viewing for anyone who enjoyed 'The Wire' and it's a real eye opener for anyone else. You can't claim to have a valid opinion on the 'war on drugs' until you've seen this masterpiece of contemporary media.


Audio: 2.0 Dolby Surround
Aspect Ratio: 1:33:1 Full Frame
Run Time: 335 Mins. Approx.
Languages: English
Hearing Impaired: English
Subtitles: English, Croatian, Dutch, French, Greek, Norwegian, Portugese, Slovenia, Swedish
Region: 2
Rating: 18
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Category: By Rev/Views
Yes, the inconceivable has happened. I am indeed back online at home and fully connected (well my xbox 360 isn't connected right now, but one step at a time...)

So in the words of George Costanza. "I'm back baby!"

So much has happened in the time I've been offline it's going to take a while just to adjust, catch up with a few comments and requests made on older posts and get up to speed with the various events I've missed, I've caught up with a few of them here and there, but not everything.

I am indeed pleased to find out Chuck has been renewed for a third season. Likewise for Dollhouse and Bones. Shame about Sarah Conner, it was a series I half watched and planned to get into if it had a third season, not going to happen now. I'm not so plussed about Scrubs being renewed, I've not watched all of the eight season, but from what I've gathered so far the last finale would have been a good note to end it all on - it feels a little like flogging a deceased equine.

I also have an awful lot of catching up to do, there are a lot of shows I've missed the back run for and would like to see. I've also got a fair wad of DVDs I need to break down and review. I'll be mostly posting DVD reviews and bits of news over the next few weeks while I get back up to speed with the world of Television. Then comes pilot season, exciting times!

But for now, here in the middle of the hilly countryside this is Rev/Views saying "It's good to be back... At long last."
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Connected (almost)!

Category: By Rev/Views
I should be on line tomorrow as that is the date my provider informed me everything would be connected. As long as the set up goes smoothly I should be back posting here on Monday, maybe Sunday if everything runs as smooth as a chocolate milkshake.

I apologise for the exceptionally long delay and I'll see y'all shortly!
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