Knightmare - A Blast from the Past

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Rather than review a DVD today I've decided to lament a little about a series which still has not been released on DVD for viewing. Knightmare. A children's show which was first broadcast on ITV in 1987 and ran until 1994 - giving the viewers a total of seven seasons of suspense, fear and adventuring in a computer generated dungeon.

Opening credits:

Knightmare was (and still is) a somewhat unique creation in the world of television; in it a group of four young people would arrive at Knightmare Castle and be greeted by Treguard of Dunshelm (Hugo Myatt) who functioned as the 'quizmaster' and presenter of the show, which itself was a mixture of drama and a 'quiz show'.

One of the four children would become the Dungeoneer, who would be transported into Knightmare Castle's dungeon wearing the Helm of Justice - a device which would block the sight of the Dungeoneer except for a small area directly below them. The story given was to protect the adventurer from the dangers, but the practical truth of it was to limit the amount of blue screen the Dungeoneer would see and keep things feeling more real for them. To be honest being a Dungeoneer didn't ever seem like the most exciting of roles in the game - you spend your time shuffling about almost blind while following directions from your friends who get to see all the neat and exciting things happening around you. Occasionally you got to pick things up and carry them for a while or hold conversations with the 'denziens' of the dungeon - but for the most part the Dungeoneers role involved shuffling about like a poorly controlled computer game character.

The remaining three players stayed in the Dungeon's ante-chamber with Treguard; watching the scenes on a television screen and directing their friend while taking copious notes. Knightmare was a game which would drop a hint once for the players and then rarely remind them, forget something and tough luck - you were probably dead. And death was a constant (and very real) threat in this game.

Initially Treguard himself initially took an independant position with regards to the Dungeoneer's exploits - functioning as a judicator simply there to oversee (and occasionally take perverse delight in the deaths of the Dungeoneers - his catchphrase "Ooh, Nasty!" was delivered with great relish when another life was claimed by the dungeon, it was originally ad libbed but fast became iconic) . But later on in the show (around series five) the forces of 'the opposition' headed by Lord Fear arrived and Treguard became a champion of the teams sent in, taking a more active role in helping them as opposed to celebrating just how often the dungeon won out over the players. From series four Treguard was assisted by a twerpish Elf named Pickle, he wasn't too bad despite being a twerp though - often he was more helpfull to the players than Treguard himself.

Of particular note in Knightmare was the exceptional level of difficulty the game displayed despite it's nature as a children's program. Contestants were expected to be capable of independent thought, deduction and quick thinking, and the punishment for failure was high - normally a mistake would result in the Dungeoneer "dying" and the team's adventure ending. While some threats just ended the adventure immediately others were more insidious, gradually eroding away at the Dungeoneer's life force, which was pictorially represented on screen occasionally by a helmed head which gradually broke apart, first losing the helmet, then the skin and finally the skull would break apart leaving the eyeballs flying towards and past the screen. A pretty bleak and disturbing image for a children's show, but this was no ordinary children's show that's for sure.

A Bomb Room - Better flee before the fuse runs out!

The dungeon itself was a work of beauty, combining hand painted backdrops along with blue screen technology and computer generated graphics which created something pretty sophisticated for it's time. It was this, combined with an unprecedented level of difficulty and an overwhelming sense of tension and fear which sets Knightmare apart from just about every other kids program you can think of. Much like classic Doctor Who this show was capable of making the people watch it sit on the edges of their seat or even hide behind them.

Now if a team managed to navigate all three levels of the dungeon and reach the item of their quest (which varied) then they were considered victors and left with their heads held high. In eight years of the show only eight teams actually completed their quest out of sixty nine teams total. This was not a show looking to take it easy on the young 'uns at all and that's one of the things which I still adore about this cracking show, it mixed a challenge along with drama and comedy with great ease. Comedy which is captured in this next video:

"Sidestep Left!"
(A related video of some self inflicted deaths caused to idiocy can be found here.)

Knightmare remains in my estimation the greatest of children's programs of all time; it's certainly the most unique of them and it's a show I often look back on with fondness; the style, the appearance of the show, the difficulty, the scary bits, the funny bits - it's all one wonderful experience which really expresses television of that era well. In this day and age it's hard to tell if such a show would be allowed on at half five in the afternoon, it probably wouldn't because it's too mean-spirited. But I like to think Knightmare taught it's viewers and contestants important lessons. Lessons like being able to spell Shroud correctly (with an O guys!), flirting with depressed gargoyles to avoid dying, the importance of eating properly and just how unfair life can be - go the wrong way, miss important information, die - pick up the wrong item, die - use the wrong spell, die - and so forth. Good solid life lessons for the young.

Unfortunately Knightmare has still not been released on DVD for watching and re-watching. But for those of are interested or fancy some nostalgia complete episodes (and possibly seasons) can be found on YouTube with a little light searching, and who knows - maybe one day Knightmare: The Complete Collection may finally arrive on shelves for general purchase, stranger things have happened in Knightmare Castle. Perhaps even one day we'll see a remake of the show, but considering the nature of television these days it'll probably take place in a bouncy castle and be almost impossible to lose at.

And screw that, because it's flying eyeballs or nothing!

Ooh, Nasty!

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DVDs in Review #72: Chuck: The Complete First Season

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Chuck arrived on our screens in 2007; giving us the world of one Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) - computer and technology 'Nerd Herder' who after receiving a high tech e-mail from his ex-Stanford roommate Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer) ended up with pretty much every American spy secret lodged inside his head just waiting to leak out. CIA Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski - Did I mention Dan placed her as sexiest woman on TV in his most recent list?) and NSA Agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin) are dispatched to retrieve this information and when they discover that it's lodged inside Chuck's brain pan they

Chuck now has to balance work at BuyMore, dealing with computer related issues alongside co-workers Anna (Julia Ling), Jeff (Scott Krinsky), Lester (Vik Sahay) and his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez). While concealing his new and exciting life in the world of SpyCraft from them and his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) who lives with Chuck and her boyfriend "Captain Awesome"/Devon (Ryan McPartlin).

Chuck is a fun and energetic show which mimics and parodies the spy genre well and reminds me a lot of 'that other spy show' Burn Notice. Now I shan't go into listing the common threads and differences between the two shows, but I shall say both of them provide an entertaining and light-hearted take on the world of spying while keeping a distinctive voice. I'd certainly put them on about the same level where entertainment value is concerned.

This first season spans for thirteen episodes and maintains a consistent level of quality, mixing comedy and drama with a lot of action to provide thrills and spills throughout. Zachary is very likable as Chuck, providing a bit of an everyman and managing to pass as a nerd thanks mostly to the haircut (without it he really wouldn't look that nerdy). Yvonne likewise is very watchable and not only looks good but portrays Sarah with depth and interest (even if her front teeth irritate me). But for myself personally it's Alec Baldwin's performance as Casey which sells the show, his acting here is best describes as 'with gusto'. He takes a great deal of relish and enjoyment in his scenes - but what else can you expect from the man they call Jayne? The rest of the cast are likewise immense fun and great on screen, Sarah Lancaster's haircut after the pilot does irritate me though, a lot.

Now I am a bit of a packaging enthusiast, mostly because I feel I've invested money in purchasing DVDs and as such I want them to look nice on the shelf and work well. The main difference between owning a legitimate copy and pirated ones (apart from various legal issues) is the packaging and appearance of the set. So naturally I get more than a little snarky when it seems like the creators of the DVD set aren't really trying (Fremantle Media's Homicide series for example).

Fortunately here the quality is obvious, I don't know if it's a new design or a one off for Chuck, but the package here is simply the best I've reviewed in seventy two sets. Hands down it's the best in my entire collection; appearance, design, functionality, it has the whole damn package all the way up and down the nine yards. If this packaging was a woman she would be so good looking you'd be too intimidated to talk with her in case she turned out to be a figment of your imagination - like sexy fight club.

In short the packaging is so full of win that it's actually worth writing three paragraphs about without even really trying to describe how good it is. There is one drawback - it took me over a minute to figure out how to open the darn thing. That might not be the fault of the packaging, it could just be myself being dense.

So if you're looking for a show which isn't afraid to provide tongue in cheek laughs, suspense, thrills and deliver it all with a heavy sense of irony Chuck's first season might be the spy you're looking for.

Chuck on Chuck - Series stars join creators for some point/counter point discussion
Chuck's World - Character development and original casting
Chuck vs. the Chuckles - Gag Reel
Chuck's Online World - Gallery of Web-Originated Mini-Featurettes

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Rating: 15
Region: 2
Run time: 8 Hours 51 mins
Soundtrack: 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Dutch
Direct Link

Watching The Wire: Season Two - Episode Five: "Undertow"

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“They used to make steel there, no?”
– Spiros Vondas

Teleplay by Ed Burns
Directed by Steve Shill

Dominic West as Officer Jimmy McNulty, Lance Reddick as Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, Sonja Sohn as Kima Greggs, Deirdre Lovejoy as assistant state's attorney Rhonda Pearlman, Wood Harris as Avon Barksdale, Larry Gilliard, Jr. as D'Angelo Barksdale, Andre Royo as Bubbles, John Doman as Colonel William Rawls, Frankie Faison as Acting Commissioner Ervin Burrell, Clarke Peters as Cool Lester Smooth Freamon, Amy Ryan as Beadie "Bea/Beadie" Russell and Chris Bauer as Frank Sobotka.

Seth Gilliam as Detective Ellis Carver, Domenick Lombardozzi as Detective Thomas "Herc" Hauk, Jim True-Frost as Detective Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski, James Ransone as Ziggy Sobotka, Pablo Schreiber as Nick Sobotka, Callie Thorne as Elena McNulty, J.D. Williams as Preston "Boadie" Broadus, Michael K. Williams as Omar Little, Al Brown as Major Stan Valchek, Richard Burton as Shaun "Shamrock" McGinty, Kristin Proctor as Aimee, Bill Raymond as The Greek, Shamyl Brown as Donette, Tray Chaney as Malik "Poot" Carr, Luray Cooper as Nat Coxson, Lance Irwin as Maui, Susan Rome as ASA Ilene Nathan, Chris Ashworth as Sergei "Serge" Malatov, Jeffrey Fugitt as Officer Claude Diggins, Method Man as Melvin "Cheese" Wagstaff ,Charley Scalies as Thomas "Horseface" Pakusa, Gary "D. Reign" Senkus as Frog, Gary D'Addario as Grand Jury Prosecutor Gary DiPasquale, Jeffrey Pratt Gordon as Johnny "Fifty" Spamanto, Kelvin Davis as La La, De'Rodd Hearns as Puddin, Kevin Murray as Special Agent Cleary, Daniel Ross as Drug Dealer, Lev Gorn as Eton, Paul Ben-Victor as Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos and Robert F. Colesberry as Ray Cole

The Summary:

Read about house prices, white dealers and red hot cars beyond the link...

The Recap:

Frog is out on the corners of Baltimore shifting product for Ziggy, who arrives looking to pick up the takings. Frog switches up the takings, giving Ziggy a short stack and he finds that there’s only two hundred and ninety dollars to collect. It’s supposed to be five hundred, and Ziggy attempts to give Frog some attitude (Ziggy’s never sounded as white as he does here). He then gets into “the princess” and begins to drive off when SUVs block him in from front and back and he’s forced out of his car. It’s Cheese Wagstaff, he wants his money but Zig doesn’t have it. He tries to hand over his new Italian coat to cover the difference, but Cheese isn’t having any of it and takes his car instead. Ziggy is left raging on the street impotently. He's getting shafted from all directions.

Cue the credits…

Carver is meeting with Daniels in the Detail’s new office, Daniels is asking Carver to join the Sobotka Detail and Carver is unsure why he’d want him. Carver was the leak in the original Barksdale Detail and is directly responsible for bringing the case down prematurely, especially the main stash house. He’s one of the reasons why Avon got just seven years and Stringer remains on the streets. Daniels responds, telling him that because Carver tried and was caught out once – which means he’s less likely to try anything again. Daniels assigns him under Kima (despite Carver’s technical superiority) and Carver is on board. He looks thrilled to be back and as he exits he’s met by Prez, Kima and Herc. Herc is exceptionally pleased to be back working with his partner.

Bubbles is standing outside the marine unit, he stops to admire the BBQ and asks about McNulty who’s just arriving at the docks in a boat. Bubs is here to talk with McNulty about Omar, Bubs survived his meeting with Omar last episode and has a number for McNulty to contact him. Bubs then goes on to complain about what he went through, Omar isn’t delicate with the way he handles people and Bubs didn’t appreciate staring down both barrels of a shotgun. McNulty hands him a little extra money “for his pains”.

In Homicide Rawls wants to know where things are with the Jane Does, Lester and Bunk are chasing up as best they can. But then Rawls drops an additional salvo on the pair, Lester is out of the investigation and into the Sobotka Detail – this means Bunk has to partner up with someone new for the rest of the investigation and let’s be honest, Cole and his ilk are not up to the same standard as old “Cool Lester Smooth”. Lester is concerned he’s been fucked over – but Rawls assures him he it’s not that, if it was that Lester would know.

Elena is showing various people around a viewing home, most notably Nicky Sobotka and Aimee, who are looking at the house because it used to be Nicky’s aunt’s place before the previous occupants bought it. The house is way out of Nicky’s price range sadly and they leave. Aimee comments that maybe they should rent instead.

Daniels is giving the initial brief on the task ahead to the Sobotka Detail, Prez and Freamon will be running DNRs while Kima, Carver and Herc will be running hand to hands. Herc points out that the area and dealers are predominately white, so it’ll be his time on the street – something he’s looking forward to with relish. Lester himself arrives and greetings are exchanged. Lester is surprised to discover that the Detail is chasing after Frank Sobotka, as he was pushing after him over the Jane Does.

Donette has finally agreed to visit Dee and is talking to him here about how good things are for her and their son; naturally she doesn’t express just how well Stringer is “handling” her. The offer is once Dee is out he’ll get something out of the business, something legit. Dee is understandably sceptical about the offer and is convinced they’re just playing him.

In the Pit the young'uns are getting restless, some of Bodie and Poot’s rollers start to beat on a man because he refuses to buy their stuff. It’s not surprising considering how bad their product has become, Poot tells them to lay off him, but after the man gives them lip they start back up. Bodie is called in and walks past the guy who’s just been beaten badly and tossed into street – he’s a mess. Bodie then walks up to talk with Poot about what’s happened, as far as he’s concerned the guy didn’t deserve the beating, not even for calling their new line weak – because it is. Poot just shrugs and says that he didn’t do it, it was the others. Bodie thinks it’s time to call for Stringer.

Zig and Nicky are talking in the bar, Zig tells Nicky about the beating he took and admits that it was over drugs. Ziggy hasn’t managed to turn the package around and has till Friday to pay up nearly three grand. But he’s screwed up the package entirely and Nicky isn’t willing to help out. He’s already handed over his money to Aimee so he can’t help here.

Valchek has received another letter and polaroid, this time from San Diego. He’s taking this exceptionally seriously, lifting a fingerprint from the newest Polaroid when Kima arrives to ask about getting a surveillance van, a van that Valchek can’t let them have because it’s currently taking a merry holiday around the U. S of A’s ports. He lies to cover instead of admitting that he’s been hoodwinked by Sobotka.

Stringer continues his business studies class; he received an A minus on his most recent test. He then goes on to ask his teacher Mr Lucas about what to do when you have an inferior product in an aggressive market place. His options are to perform an aggressive take over of competition, or reduce prices – as long as overheads are low enough to accommodate. The other solution; drawn from a real life parallel is to change the name of the product in order to keep customer faith.

Bunk, Cole and Beadie arrive and hand a Grand Jury summons to Horseface. Bunk heads inside to hand the rest across to Frank. There’s one for Johnny 50 and we find out why his name is as it is, I’ll leave the story for you to watch rather than repeat it here. Frank then goes on to tear a strip into Bunk over this, he’s angry over this accusation and naturally so – he didn’t kill those girls, he didn’t even know they were in that can, but he’s now the person in the frame for the events and it’s his union who are receiving Grand Juries. He and Johnny 50 then demonstrate why these summons are pointless, Johnny takes the fifth “commandment” (got to love that mistake from the working man) and claims to know nothing about nothing. Frank’s used to being Grand Juried before, the Union has open records and as far as he’s concerned the Union will live through this too. But Johnny 50 is still taken down town while Frank seethes.

Omar is meeting with the DA and going over his testimony in advance of the trial. Omar clarifies how he recognised the gun and the manufacturer. Bird always used the same gun and flashed it around while boasting. The DA asks Omar to wait outside while she talks with McNulty. She’s concerned that Omar will be a problem when facing Levy (who is a complete shark), at the very least he needs to be dressed up.

Kima and Carver start surveillance on White Mike and Frog while Bunk and Bea find out the Union members don’t crack. Bunk then goes to ask if Bea has a C.I., she doesn’t – Bunk then relates the old adage “A police is only as good as his informants” and they have none.

Omar shops with McNulty for a suit, McNulty hands him the money and tells Omar to make a decision while he heads over to the federal building for half an hour. Omar doesn't seem to impressed with the selection available at his state provided price range.

Carver and Kima are still waiting for Herc to arrive; he’s apparently getting his props. After a little discussion on the radio he turns up dressed in a coat with a toothpick. He has an easy hand over and boasts a little. Carver and Kima laugh at him, hardly surprising – he always was a clown.

In the federal building we see the seal on the wall for Immigration & Naturalization taken down and replaced with the Department of Homeland Security as McNulty arrives. It’s a sign of the changing times, or at least a re-branding of “the product”. McNulty meets with Special Agent Cleary about the floating Jane Doe, Cleary is willing to help out somewhat.

Nicky is meeting with Spiros Vondras about the Grand Jury, he’s there to tell them that Frank want to pull out of operations for a little while due to the heat and assure them no-one who’s been Grand Juried will say a single word, mostly because they don’t know anything (except for Horse and Frank). Vondras tells him that as the investigation is to do with the girls and the ship is gone it’ll hit a dead end. But Vondras agrees to meet with him, Frank wants to meet with the Greek though, no-one else. Vondras then moves on to talk about the chemicals he asked Nicky about previously, Nicky isn’t convinced by Vondras’s story that the Greeks plan to sell on the chemicals here and there.

McNulty is looking at undocumented European prostitutes pulled in by the department of Homeland Security, the nearest ones he could talk to are in Hudson County. He decides to take a day and head up there, Cleary is a little amazed at this and doesn’t understand why he’s doing it. McNulty explains he’s seen what happens to unidentified bodies at the morgue.

Bea knocks on Maui’s door and he answers (Mal is the guy who ended up with Ziggy’s penis displayed on his computer at the end of the last episode), they talk a little awkwardly and then he invites her in, Bea asks if they could go somewhere else to talk. Clearly Bunk’s talk about C.I.’s has got her thinking a little.

Stringer is in Donette’s apartment, Donette tells him how Dee reacted to the offer and how she’s been treated. He’s been asking to be left alone and Stringer isn’t sure how to react yet, but he’s thinking on it.

Nicky heads out to talk with Cheese about the car, the first corner lad he talks to is pretty aggressive and quick to show that he’s packing – just in case Nicky was planning some kind of violence, and a bit of power play as well (of course). Cheese then walks up to talk with him; Nicky offers to get Ziggy to sell Princess as the money it’s worth should cover the debt. Cheese agrees that’s clever and gives Ziggy another week to play, it turns out the car is around the corner on fire. Nicky watches, seething.

Bea and Mau are having coffee and talking, it turns they have a bit of emotional history and she’s looking to work the angle, maybe flip him and get him to turn on the union. Mau seems like he’s going to be no use, he draws a hard line and then suddenly turns. Telling Bea that everything used to be recorded on paper, but these days it’s kept on computers. She holds his hand in thanks and for old times.

Nicky arrives back to talk with Ziggy on the stoop. He has good news and bad, bad is that they’re going to kill him in a week; the good is that he should cancel his car insurance. Princess is toast and we hardly knew her.

Kima and Carver watch White Mike deal with Herc, the operation is frankly incredibly sloppy and poor, but Herc is thrilled with his ‘skills’. He seems genuinely convinced that it’s his talent which is getting the goods. Carver is more concerned about his trousers, the tar roof he’s on has melted somewhat in the hot sun and that stuff never comes out of your jeans, trust me. I know. But Herc and his toothpick continue to keep making deals, even if Carver wants to stab him up with it.

In the diner the owner of the place talks a little with The Greek before he leaves Vondras to talk with The Greek. Vondras explains about the Grand Juries and assures The Greek that no-one will talk, but then says that Frank wants to meet with The Greek. The Greek is unwilling to do this and just offers more money; he prefers to keep himself removed from the business and deal through Vondras.

Avon and Stringer are talking about the product issues at County, it turns out that it’s Eastside who have the good stuff, Prop Joe and so on. Stringer’s stuck with weak stuff and having to cut it even further, the Barksdales are screwed on the product front at the moment and eventually someone is going to spot and move, Avon says he’ll get on it. Stringer then enquires about Dee saying they should make a gesture, Avon agrees.

Vondras meets with Frank down at the waterfront, Frank is not pleased that The Greek has refused to meet with him and turns to walk away. Vondras tells him that the fee is being doubled and passes on The Greek’s regrets. Frank tells him that he’s done with this and turns to look across the water. Vondras talks a little about the steel works, mentioning how they are now silent and then turns to walk away.

Ziggy and Nicky are at the library looking up the chemicals that Vondras wanted them to look up. They’re using the internet to see what the stuff is used for; they find out that it’s all used to help process cocaine. (Bet that’s a surprise to you eh?)

Bea and Bunk arrive at the docks (whistles ahoy) to have a look at how the computer system for the cans work. Frank arrives shortly and takes charge of explaining how the computer system works. He then goes to highlight just how flawed the system is and how stacks get lost, not entered or entered incorrectly. He’s providing possibilities to cover any missing items. Bunk notes that the customs seal was broken, Frank admits things get missed. He’s attributing it all to human error and covering his tracks, Bunk feels he’s being played.

McNulty is up in Jersey County to see the women they have detained there. Stringer is talking with his men about changing the name of the product, it’s time to change up the name of ‘Death Grip’ and add new caps to make it look like new. Bodie goes one further than this, suggesting that the crews in the various towers supply product with different names, creating an artificial market of choice, many names, one product. Stringer is impressed.

At the diner Nicky meets with Vondras and Boris/Sergei about the chemicals, Nicky asks what they’re used for. He tells them he knows they use it to process cocaine, Vondras’s silence tells him all, he then goes on to say he’ll have the stuff for them. Nicky has no problems with helping the drug trade, but he would draw the line at supplying chemicals for bombs. Mind you the Greeks wouldn’t be involved in bombing Baltimore if there wasn’t profit in it.

McNulty hands over the pictures of the Jane Does to girls in the cell, they want to know if they id any girls they get to stay. They don’t, so they talk a little more then hand back the photos with no information for him.

Bunk, Bea and Lester meet with Daniels about getting a cloned computer to see what’s happened on the docks and why. They plan to fold both investigations together, but Daniels isn’t willing to suck up the Jane Does as well, he wants to just flip this quickly and get out. Bunk lays the case out and Lester agrees it should be let on, Daniels sighs and finally agrees to share information, but the murders remain on Homicide - unless they find a suspect.

Frank and Ott are feeling good; they’ve got a lot of ships in and plenty of work for everyone. Nicky walks up to Frank and hands him the Greek’s list. The rate is triple the normal, but Frank’s not willing to do it. Nicky tells him the writing is on the wall and that they should take this, Frank disagrees and walks away…

“Fuck the wall.”

The Review:

“Undertow” is another episode title loaded with meaning, an undertow is an especially dangerous kind of tidal current which can catch unsuspecting swimmers and drag them under the water to drown. Plenty of people in The Wire at the moment are suffering from one kind of undertow or another; McNulty's personal quest to find the identity of the floater is one such, also Ziggy's stupidity landed him in one - Cheese is a far more dangerous individual than "White" Mike, but the individual who's probably most affected by this is Frank Sobotka who's trying to pull himself free from the smuggling and involvement with the Greeks. They are dangerous bedfellows and he needs to be careful when trying to walk away from them.

If I'm honest Undertow and the episode which preceed it are not my favourite ones in this season, The Wire is laying down a fairly important lesson with this season, you'll notice we're up to the fifth episode and there's nary a whiff of any real investigation as such. You'd think that as this is the second season the show would jump in quickly and get to the meaty part, but it doesn't. The Wire instead teaches you a hard lesson here, which to learn how to watch it. The first half of this season is essentially the set up, just like the first half of the first season was. Now the pieces are in place and we've seen the actions of the players - next up is the consequences. Personally I do like this style, but it doesn't work well when watching just one episode a week. The Wire is definately a show best watched on DVD in stretches.

So Frank's trying to dig himself out of the hole he's in by shutting down any illegal activities, but he has several obstacles to this - the main one is actually Ziggy, he doesn't realise it but Ziggy's stupidity is forcing Nicky to perform tasks for the Greeks. Which leaves the door open for them to keep operating here, and as long as the Greeks have a toe in the docks and things aren't too hot to operate they'll keep pushing.

I believe I mentioned previously just how much I like Frank and Nicky Sobotka, despite the fact that they've only been around for five episodes they are both great characters driven by a real sense of honour and nobility - at least, considering their position they are. Frank breaks the law to protect and help his Union while Nicky does it to protect his cousin and provide for Aimee and his daughter. They're both very determined individuals with a lot in common, at times it's hard to remember that Nicky is in fact Frank's nephew not his son - Nicky seems a lot more like Frank than Ziggy.

Ziggy continues to dig his hole, this time his antics have cost him the pocket on his jacket and his car. As always his solution is to first lean on Nicky and then dig the hole deeper by turning to more crime.

I am always impressed with Daniels, he's a slick customer indeed - as shown by his manuvering in this episode. He's essentially taken on the fourteen Jane Does, but set it up so that he gets the credit for the success and none of the blame for failure. It's easy to forget just how cool and collected he is and how good he is at positioning things to help his career. He might have picked up a little "McNulty" in his operating attitude last season, but he's avoided the attitude.

Trust Kima to come up with the best name for Lester "Cool Lester Smooth" is just a keeper, it's how I always refer to Freamon and I think sums him up perfectly. Remember this is the guy who snapped up Shardene Innes, a beautiful woman about half his age right under the noses of Sydnor, Prez, Carver and Herc. Not one of them had a chance against him and I say "Bravo Sir!" Natural Po-lice, and his rolling the Jane Does into the Sobotka case is a great move, because now the Jane Does can reach into Valchek's considerable influence and have a larger chance of being solved - even if the men who committed the crime are now desceased themselves (as Vondras himself mentions in the episode).

While Undertow isn't the strongest episode of the season it is a fantastic set up for the episode which follows it. "All Prologue" is next and that episode is a doozy.

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Forced Viewing - Week Two

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Week two and I'm already struggling to find and watch bad television, it's not that there isn't enough to watch, because there is just loads out there. It's because I just instinctively blank out when the TV starts producing tripe and before you know it I've managed to zone out and clean the house instead of paying attention. Flip side of this is; my house has never been cleaner.

I did catch my first (and last) ever episode of Supernanny USA. I have no desire to repeat that viewing experience ever again. It's not that the show was bad; to be honest it wasn't, it was OK, but the show is just so shallow and meaningless. American family has problems with their kids because no-one in school teaches "Raising Children 101", Supernanny arrives and is very British as she observes them, then she dishes out some quick fix sugary solutions and in a short while the entire family is all smiles and functioning perfectly. I'm all for a show which teaches people how to raise their kids, goodness knows it's clear that the current generation of adults are completely unable to do it themselves (go go babysitting Telly Vision!) But Supernanny just kind of glosses all over it and leaves you pining for the good old days where the nanny flew with a magic umbrella, sang songs and had an affair with the chimney sweep.

At least it wasn't as bad as Animals Do The Funniest Things, which I caught while waiting for Robin Hood's last ever episode to air. By now you know the score, it's filled with animals acting up or out or just for the camera and it's played for the classic combination of "Awws", "Oooos" and "HAHAHAs" just like every other video clip show involving home cameras pretty much ever. Again like Supernanny it wasn't a bad show, but it was almost instantly forgettable. Just about all I can recall is a swan attacking a man who was swimming and an elephant stealing bananas. I'm not sure if those happened at the same time or not, perhaps it was a swan attacking an elephant stealing bananas from a man, I can't recall. I did catch myself smiling at the TV on occasion, and then immediately berating myself for being sucked in. But that's the thing, it is kind of funny and harmless.

Then there's Robin Hood, which pretty much ended it's run this evening. And honestly it didn't end it too badly, the front half of the episode was seriously cheesy and had more than it's fair share of lame duck moments. Skipping out on the various amusing oddities in the episode it's better to just concentrate on what worked and what didn't.

Poor Richard Armitage, he was pretty much thrown away in this episode. No real big moment for him, just a little banter, some running about, a brief sword fight with Vasey and then he gets double teamed in the following melee. Some hot sheriff/sheriff/Gisbourne stabbing there. But at least he got a dying speech in Robin's lap and it wasn't completely awful. Someone needs to now snap up Richard and put him into a show worthy of his talents. I've got a script for you Richard! Just give me a call, starring role and everything, right up your alley too. It'll be brilliant.

So Guy, Isabella, Vasey and Robin all pushed off and popped their clogs in this episode. That pretty much wraps up the entire show because all you're left with is "super cool" Archer and some not so merry men. They've vowed to carry on as they are "Robin Hood"; like some kind of co-op or passing of the torch. So no Robin sneaking off with his half brother Archer and telling him that there "must be a Robin Hood and now he's it". Which kind of leaves me thinking what was the point in Archer if he wasn't going to be the new torch bearer? Cue the fourth season where the merry men ride around with a stuffed version of Robin pretending he's still alive with clever rope tricks and ventriloquism.

That said Robin's passing was pretty well handled, sure it was a little trite and forced, but the emotional impact was pretty much spot on and bless him Jonas Armstrong didn't make me laugh. It was a good death, bravo.

I can't leave without mentioning Big Brother's latest eviction; I'm now convinced that the voting public don't quite "get" the point of this show after voting out the hilarious Cairon last week and the utterly barmy Angel this week. No British public, No! Bad public, don't make me use the newspaper on you.

The point is not to vote out the strange and weird people, it's to vote out the bland and boring ones so the house ends up an asylum filled with oddities and individuals driving each other nuts. Then we crown the biggest loony of them all the winner and ship them off to a nice padded cell. Crazy people make for good television! Granted Halfwit is pretty nuts in his own way (and must be feeling bullet proof by now to boot) but Angel was so barmy she should have been an automatic "keep in for as long as possible in case she starts eating someone".

Prediction for the winner is either Mr Generic (who's so bland I can't remember his name) or the blond who apparently has the big ha has. I can't tell if she does or doesn't because I'm still unable to distinguish between the two blonds, even when they're side by side. But I heard she's well liked by the housemates so I imagine it'll be a while before she gets voted and then the public will side with the largest cup size. Not that they're predictable or anything (watch me be wrong now).

And finally I'll close with an insight into the madness that is Twitter; after Rob (The Medium is Not Enough), Aaron (Snark and Fury) and myself speculate on the nature of the fouth season of Torchwood. Maybe I'm a little biased but some parts did make me laugh.
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Why You Should Watch - Better off Ted

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Yes, that's right. In today's Why You Should Watch I'm actually writing about a show which is relatively new. Currently occupying the summer burn off schedule over at ABC, Better off Ted has unusually been confirmed with renewal for a second season. That alone piqued my interest enough to decide to find out a little about it; and when I read the cast list I felt it was certainly worth giving a try.

Better off Ted stars Jay Harrington as Ted Crisp, head of R&D at Veridian Dynamics a company dedicated to making Life. Better. His boss is Veronica (Portia de Rossi) and the research team working under him includes Linda (Andrea Anders), Lem (Malcolm Barrett) and Phil (Jonathan Slavin). Veridian Dynamics is a company dedicated to improving life in a myriad of ways. Including such wonderful creations as cowless beef, the focus master (a chair so irritating it increases productivity) and the light sensitive motion people detector. Of particular note are the brilliant advert sections which spice up the show, I've included a few of the extra Viral gems at the end of this post for you to enjoy.

The show is a single camera sit-com which focuses around Ted, a relatively straight laced business man who vaguely reminds me of Don Draper from Mad Men - Ted also narrates the show, but instead of a voice over he actively breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the viewers during scenes, making the whole thing feel somewhat like a mock-umentary. Ted's the one who makes sure that things work and get done, and he enjoys a very personable relationship with both his boss Vernoica and the people under him, at home he supports his daughter Rose as a single father (Isabella Acres). Linda works under Ted in the testing department and while there is some obvious chemistry between Linda and Ted he hasn't acted on it yet.

Phil and Lem are the primary 'making stuff' scientists, they have a highly disfunctional relationship with each other but are clearly close friends despite this. While they are both capable of delivering results they are also rather prone to goofing off. They also have a fairly high risk job as Viridian Dynamics prefers to use staff members for product testing over other kinds of "volunteers". Phil and Lem are both funny individually, but together they're on another level - there's great synergy between the pair.

The show is genuinely quite likable and often funny, it really deserves the time it needs to grow and develop its charaters properly. Each episode is stuffed to the gills with storylines and funny moments - there's just about the right balance there, keeping things funny and pacey without being overwhelming or forced. It's on par with 30 Rock or Chuck in the comedy stakes and benefits greatly from experienced comedy actors (Portia in particular is great, her time on Arrested Development and Ally McBeal shows through here). Ted's tendency to talk to the camera instead of using voice overs is a little unusual and a tad jarring initially, but you get used to it quickly enough and it does deliver some real corking gags at times.

Better Off Ted is up to it's eighth episode right now and the remaining ones from the first season are being delivered until the 28th of July so there's a lot to watch and catch up on. Fortunately each episode is around twenty minutes to half an hour long. This means it's light enough to sit back and watch a few of at once, and you should seriously consider giving this show a try. Because it's original, fresh and most importantly good enough to deserve support and viewership.

Ted. Better.

Viridian Dynamics on Presidents:

Life. Better.

Genetic Improvement (Check out the list of side effects!):

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DVDs in Review: #71: Six Feet Under: The Complete First Series

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In 2001 Alan Ball, the writer of the Academy Award winning American Beauty released his newest creation on an unsuspecting public. A show about a family run funeral home located in Los Angeles, a show looking at the lives of people who live in a world focused on death. From the pilot episode people noted that this show was something exceptional and this boxed set contains the complete first season.

Six Feet Under follows the story of the Fisher family and the people close to them; eldest son Nathaniel Jr (Nate) Fisher (Peter Krause) having turned his back on the business for years returns to spend a little time with his family for Christmas. In the airport he meets a beautiful woman and has a spontaneous fling with her, unaware that his father Nathaniel Fisher Senior is killed by a bus on the way to the airport. This traumatic event changes his life forever and he reluctantly returns to the family business, taking over running and living in the Fisher & Son Funeral Home with his mother Ruth (Frances Conroy), his sister Claire (Lauren Ambrose) and his brother David (Michael C. Hall). The other three core members of the cast are their brilliant mortician Federico (Freddy Rodríguez), David's boyfriend Keith (Mathew St. Patrick ) and the lovely Rachel Griffiths as Brenda, the woman who Nate has his fling with at the airport and later becomes his girlfriend.

Six Feet Under is a show which works on several distinct levels, the primary one being a family based drama which deals with the problems each family member encounters. Nate is struggling to adjust to this new life, David is having problems coming out of the closet, Claire is utterly lost in the wilderness of adolescence and Ruth has lost her life long partner, husband and father of her children.

It's also a philosophical program which took a fresh look at the subject of death and made a bold decision not to shy away from it. Most TV deaths before Six Feet Under were in police procedural and were essentially little more than the initial drive for an investigation. Six Feet Under features at least one death per episode (some of them are exceptionally inventive) and builds the show around both life and death with a darkly comic perspective. It's a show which says, death is to be embraced. It comes to all of use, but there is something beyond, so don't be afraid.

The four disc set itself is wonderfully designed, it's dark and stylish with striking cover art and a brilliant pop up part to it's construction. When you open the box up the internal tray is lifted out slightly, making it easy to pick up the DVDs. Also, in theme with the shows black sense of humor the moving tray reveals a macabre message saying "Your whole life is leading up to this." It simply is an incredibly well thought out and superbly constructed product. The first time I saw that little message when opening the box I was simultaneously amused and provoked into quiet reflection about the truth of it.

Six Feet Under is one of the most significant shows of this decade and the first season is a spellbinding tour de force, if you haven't already seen Six Feet Under you haven't lived.

And who'd want to die without living first?

Behind the scenes featurette including interviews with the cast and Alan Ball
Deleted Scene from the pilot episode
15 min "making of" featurette
2 music tracks

Aspect Ratio: 1:33.1
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Language: English
Rating: 18
Region: 2
Run time: 11 hours 33 mins
Subtitles: English
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DVDs in Review #70: Everybody Hates Chris: The First Season

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Everybody Hates Chris is a CBS sit-com inspired by the experiences of comedian Chris Rock's life growing up in 1980s - Brooklyn, New York. Narrated entirely as a flashback by Chris Rock the show follows young Chris (Tyler James Williams) and his family - Julius; his father (Terry Crews), his mother Rochelle (Tichina Arnold), brother Drew (Tequan Richmond) and sister Tanya (Imani Hakim). Also starring is Vincent Martella as Greg, Chris's nerdy school friend and fellow victim of bully Caruso (Travis T. Flory).

The series opens shortly after the Rock family have moved to Brooklyn in an attempt to start a new and decent life. Chris has just recently started out in a new school, one where he stands out as the only non-white individual in the entire school. This being the 1980s (specifically 1982 which is when the series starts) racial tolerance is pretty much non-existent and the show mixes great moments of comedy with era correct racial slurs and a strong message about tolerance (without being preachy about it). At one moment Chris is standing up to the bully in his year (by out ghetto-ing him) and the next moment he's getting beaten up.

The show may take it's name as a parody of Everyone Loves Raymond, but the design of the show is more of a brilliant take on The Wonder Years. Chris Rock's narration shows a wise level of hindsight over events, often he will say exactly the opposite of the characters in the show, nailing home the truth instead of letting the characters get away with falsehoods or heart warming moments. Time changes your perception of past events and Chris Rock's narration remains a constant and often hilarious reminder of that.

While the show is mostly focused around young Chris's experiences, for myself the genuine break out character is Terry Crews's performance as Julius. Chris's penny pinching, hard working, wise talking father. From the first moment he's just great, and his performance in the season finale "Everybody Hates Father's Day" are probably the funniest and most entertaining scenes in the entire season. He's just fantastic.

I can't pass up a chance to comment on the box set for Everybody Hates Chris, it's just fantastic. While the set contains four DVDs it only contains two slim-line cases with one DVD on each side of the case. The discs themselves are stylish as well, there are no pictures on them. Instead they are silvered and look very swish.

Everybody Hates Chris's first season is a great look back on the 1980s; containing equal parts of nostalgia, comedy and a willingness to not ignore the bad which existed back then. There's no attempt to ignore or paint over the ugliness in people's attitudes here, but the comedy and wry nature of the show avoids it become just a show saying "look how bad people were about race back in the 1980s". Instead it's saying "This is what the 1980s were like, there was good stuff, there was bad. Enjoy the nostalgia and the comedy."

Good, fun light entertainment.

Everybody Hates The Making of Everybody Hates Chris
Deleted Scenes
Ali's Photos

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Rating: 12
Region: 2
Runtime: 7 hours 8 mins
Soundtrack: English 5.1
Subtitles: English HOH, English, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
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Watching The Wire: Season Two: Episode Four: Hard Cases

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“If I Hear the music, I’m gonna dance.”
– Kima

Teleplay by Joy Lusco Kecken

Directed by Elodie Keene

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)

Jim True-Frost as (Detective Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski), James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka), Pablo Schreiber (Nick Sobotka), Al Brown (Major Stan Valchek), Delaney Williams (Sergeant Jay Landsman), Luray Cooper (Nat Coxson), Ted Feldman (George "Double G" Glekas), Melanie Nicholls-King (Cheryl), Leo Fitzpatrick (Johnny), Robert Hogan (Louis Sobotka), Michael Kostroff (Maurice Levy), Elisabeth Noone (Joan Sobotka), Kelli R. Brown (Kimmy), Stanley "Scoogie" Boyd (Cherry), Leslie Elliard as (Officer Kevin Reynolds), Charley Scalies (Thomas "Horseface" Pakusa), Jill Redding (Delores), Jeffrey Pratt Gordon (Johnny "Fifty" Spamanato), Antonio Charity (CO Dwight Tilghman), Kristin Proctor (Aimee), Callie Thorne (Elena McNulty) and Michael K. Williams (Omar Little)

The Summary:

The Recap:

Frank Sobotka is sat out by the waterfront gazing out across the water, his nephew Nicky comes up and asks him what’s up. Apparently Frank phoned him up at seven and arranged to meet him here for some mysterious reason; Nicky is quite vocal in expressing his opinion about this. (Have I mentioned how much I like Nicky and Frank Sobotka by the way? Great characters). Frank’s concerned about getting shipments, there’s not a lot of reasons to use the Baltimore port, apart from good service with all goods being offloaded quickly and then being shipped to where they need to be fast and intact. Without being stolen. In short, he’s telling Nicky that those stolen cameras need to be returned, Nicky tells him they have already been flipped. Frank’s concerned about keeping work flowing through the port, Nicky’s concerned about making money as he’s not getting enough days to survive. Frank tells him if he needs money Nicky just needs to ask, and Nicky insinuates that Frank’s doing a bit too well for himself. Frank becomes very angry at this and tears a strip out of Nicky, explaining that the money he’s making isn’t for him – it’s for the docks. Nicky understands. Frank’s also angry that Ziggy was dragged into this. They leave and head in, Frank wants to know the details. Nicky admits how much, but doesn’t grass up Tommy for his part. Frank then tells him no-one should flash their cash around and Nicky agrees.

Cue the credits.

In the warden’s office at Baltimore County, the warden and his staff are discussing the hot shots which Avon had Butchie sell to Tilghman last episode. The opinion is that this might well be intentional, but there is a possibility it’s just bad junk. The warden wants this dealt with and he’s told he’ll need to get an informant to do that – if he’s willing to shave some years from their sentences.

A lift opens and McNulty arrives in Homicide, he walks past Rawls and salutes the man. Rawls can only watch in stunned silence as McNulty walks past. He passes Winona and is greeted by Landsman who calls him ‘Gilligan’ a reference to being stuck on the boat – if you recall it is Landsman who’s responsible for putting him there. McNulty attempts to chat a little, but gets the cold shoulder from Freamon and the Bunk, so he asks Beadie if they have any paperwork from the can where the girls were held. She tells him it’s down in evidence control and he retrieves the submission slips from Lester. Bunk then corrals him, telling him that he needs Omar. McNulty tells Bunk he’s got him covered. Needless to say Bunk and Freamon are a little incredulous that McNulty has Omar tracked down.

Burrell is meeting with Daniels about Valchek’s request. As far as Daniels is concerned he’s handed in his papers. But Burrell offers a clean slate and spins a story, claiming he needs “people he can trust” in the department, Daniels doesn’t by that, Burrell admits Daniels betrayed him before – but then goes on to say that Daniels seems to know his business and dangles a potential promotion in front of him. A good return on the harbour detail and Burrell will help angle Daniels in for position as a Major in the South East. Needless to say Daniels is a little suspicious, especially after the treatment he received after the Barksdale case. Burrell then moves on to tell him about the case and gets close to admitting that this is a political move and Valchek is involved. Daniels is sharp enough to realise the situation right there and then, he knows he has Burrell over a barrel here and makes a counter offer. If Daniels lands a case then the detail becomes a permanent unit in CID. Burrell agrees, but Daniels has one final condition – he gets to choose his own people. Burrell hesitates but agrees, Daniels is to give the list to Rawls.

McNulty is down in evidence control sifting through the shelves while at the cafeteria in Baltimore County the inmates are discussing the hot shots while Dee listens. McNulty digs through the evidence and finds a jacket, and some other bits.

In Dolores’s bar Ziggy is playing with one of the cameras and flashes his cash a little. He decided to keep one of cameras for himself, Nicky tells him to be a little more discrete with the cash and they talk a little about the camera. Nicky then tells him that Frank knows what happened because Horse told him. Ziggy agrees to keep a low profile for a while and they go back to talking about the camera. Ziggy then cracks out a shot of his Johnson in the bar. Enjoy the back view, I shan't be sharing the front one.

McNulty is at home, drinking, listening to his phone messages and looking at the photo of the floating Jane Doe. The messages reveal just how out of control his life is, as does his sighing and flopping backwards into bed. He's a driven man with an empty life.

Nicky is awoken by the alarm clock in his basement room, his girlfriend spent the night with him. They talk a little about the plans for the day and then she changes clothes. Nicky makes a grab for one of her breasts “because they were staring right at him” and then heads off. A little something for the gentlemen to balance all the man flesh we’ve had so far this season.

Bunk, Freamon and Beadie are sat in a car at the docks, they’re discussing how the container got off the ship and off the dock. The checkers are pretty much key to this and they need to talk to one of them. Beadie informs them that they won’t get anyone to talk with them about this, when asked how she makes cases she tells them just how routine her job is. Noting damaged or open containers and making reports is the extent of it. She’s done this for two years now, but it’s better than her previous job serving tolls at the Fort McHenry tunnel. She didn’t become police because she wanted to, but because she needed the extra money the job brought in.

In the cells, Dee heads over to Avon’s cell to talk with him. He’s curious why Avon told him to stop using just before the hot shots hit the prisoners. Avon refuses to admit he had nothing to do with it, but Dee doesn’t believe him – Avon virtually runs the prison from inside his shelf. Dee wants him to stop pulling stuff like this, Avon continues to deny and switches on to talking about getting them out of the prison earlier. Avon knows who brought the goods in – of course he does, as he’s the one who had Tilghman followed and the stuff spiked – and tells Dee he can pass on the name to him and get them out faster. Dee refuses to have anything to do with it and asks to be left alone to do his time.

McNulty pulls up alongside the burnt out remains of Omar’s van (remember when that happened in season one?) and leaves a note for the man. He then asks a group of kids if they’ve seen Omar. They don’t respond.

Ott and Nicky are pleased as they drive around the port terminal, they’ve had a whole six ships arrive with goods, which is good news for them all. Then Zig steps up in front of the cart wearing an Italian leather coat – so much for keeping a low profile on the cash front Zig… He then goes on to boast about how much he spent on the jacket (two grand) so Nicky climbs out of the cart and has words with Zig once Ott drives off. Zig isn’t listening, Nicky then goes on to say that the Greeks want to talk with them (as they pulled off a good job) and tells him to try and keep things on a lower profile.

McNulty is drive around the streets of Baltimore trying to keep an eye out for Omar. He pulls up on a street corner to the cries of “five-oh, five-oh” and the one ‘holding’ drops the drugs onto the floor in the gutter. He climbs out of the car and they turn to assume the position against the wall. McNulty tells them he doesn’t care about the drugs and isn’t here to bust them, but that he does care about the littering so they should “Pick up that shit when I’m gone.” Classic McNulty (have I mentioned how much I like McNulty recently?) He’s looking for Omar and after describing him he asks them if they’ve seen him around. They reply in a somewhat derogatory fashion and depart.

Stringer’s got problems with the new line from Atlanta, it’s more expensive than the old connect and it isn’t as good. He tells them to cut the stuff further, it might already be weak but they need to make their money back somehow. He really needs a new supplier.

Lester and The Bunk (Wouldn’t that make for a great spin-off show?) are in Rawls’s office talking about the case so far and how difficult it’s proving to be. Rawls feels they should have held up the Atlantic Light, had the scene scoured for evidence and interrogated every single crew member until they broke. Freamon attempts to reason with him about it, but Rawls drops the bottom line – the red Jane Does on the board must go black or they’ll end up taking the fall. McNulty continues seeking Omar when he spots no other than Bubbles and Johnny dressed up and boarding a bus. He decides to follow it.

Nicky and Zig meet up with Double G at the Greek’s diner; apparently the Greeks need Nicky and Zig to get their hands on some supplies, chemicals in large supply. Five or ten tonnes of them and they are willing to pay well for this. Nicky leaves without saying a word.

Bubbles and Johnny walk out of a store when they are hailed by McNulty, they’ve been stealing and McNulty calls in the tax on the items. They need to either show him a receipt for the items they shoplifted or find Omar for him, Bubbles reluctantly agrees.

Levy and Avon are talking with the warden about the hot shots (confirmed as heroin), Avon is willing to give them the name in exchange for an early parole hearing with the support of the prison institution in favour of letting him out. Levy and Avon move around on this subject and handle things well, providing themselves with plenty of leverage.

Nicky’s mother is cooking in the kitchen when Nicky returns, she tells him to go fetch his father Leon who’s at the bar virtually gambling. He runs the betting without actually placing money and he’s seven grand up, but he’s never actually bet a penny. They talk a little then head home.

Rawls is in his office with Daniels, he has the list of the people Daniels wants on the detail and he’s willing to provide assistance in whatever shape possible. With one exception, McNulty who will have to stay on his boat until he either leaves the force or drowns overboard. Rawls is not going to forget those fourteen red names in a hurry.

Kima is stuck in her car with Cheryl behind a bunch of frats who are messing about, she wants to get out and confront them but Cheryl talks her down, at least until one of the frat boys stands up and drops his trousers. Kima tells the lad to get down and he responds in the vulgar negative. So she hauls him off the bonnet of the car and handcuffs him. Cheryl watches disapprovingly.

Daniels is at home watching a dog show on the television; his wife Marla comes in and tells him to come upstairs. He hasn’t told her about the new detail yet clearly.

The following day Zig arrives in checking to talk with Johnny but there are none of the chemicals on the Greek’s list in the port. They’re over at Fairfield, Ott’s brother-in-law works there but that’s about it as far as a contact goes. Johnny then asks what the Greeks want with these chemicals, Zig says he doesn’t know. On the way out, Y scoots his chair back and spills coffee across it “accidentally on purpose” and then confronts him.

Daniels talks with Kima about the fresh new detail, Kima isn’t convinced Cheryl will be happy about this and Daniels understands because Marla will also be angry when she finds out. Daniels offers her a spot on the inside, but Kima tells him if she’s in – she’s In and agrees.

In Stringer’s office he hands over a package to one of his men. Bubs is in his flop house with Johnny talking about Omar, Johnny is reluctant to get involved, Bubs is more resigned to getting involved. (Girl Robber) is talking with an older woman in the place about a new stash house when Bubs rolls in and asks Pops about Omar while Kimmy listens. As Bubs leaves, Kimmy watches him.

Levy and Avon have a second meeting with the warden, this time to discuss terms and give Tilghman’s name. As long as Tilghman is found with evidence on either his person, his locker or in his car then Avon’s deal will go through. After Avon leaves, the head guard speculates (correctly) that Avon is the one who spiked the packages – but the Attorney says that they’ll make the case they can make and leaves.

Valchek receives another letter, this time from New Orleans where the surveillance van has made its next stop (wouldn’t it be amazing if this van made a cameo in Treme?) It goes without saying that Valchek is less than pleased, but he’s all smiles when Daniels walks in. Valchek brings Daniels up to speed on the case he wants made and then asks him to come along and see the offices set aside.

McNulty is getting the letter translated in hope of identifying Jane Doe #14 (The floater), the letter mentions an Anya; but the letter isn’t addressed to anyone specifically. But it is signed Nadya, so McNulty has a name – even if he doesn’t have an address. The only place mentioned is a Saint Volodymyrs (St Vladmir) and a priest Father Vasyl. These are common names, but the woman he asked for the translation from will try to find something out.

Nicky is out walking with Aimee and his daughter, he’s thinking there’s enough to buy a place and for them to live together.
Tilghman is heading to his car when the warden and his men head over towards him. They want to search the vehicle for goods. He refuses, claiming they have no warrant, but as the vehicle is on DOC property it can be subject to a search. Zig is sat at Y’s terminal while Johnny watches.

Meanwhile Tilghman’s car is seached and a familiar looking package is found. The very same package which Stringer handed over earlier on, Avon’s had Tilghman set up and he’s now done for.

Bunk, Freamon and Beadie arrive at the docks, triggering a lot of whistling from the stevedores. They’ve been marked out as police and everyone has been warned. Bunk heads over to Horseface, he’s unhelpful and they tell him to come with them to talk about this. Horseface refuses to go with them unless they arrest him, at which point he will lawyer up. Zig is walking out of the checkers when Frank slaps him around the head. He then sees Bunk and Co. talking to Horse.
Y gets back to his terminal and is greeted by a pleasant sight; Ziggy has transferred the shot of his wang onto his computer. Needless to say he’s not thrilled about this. I shall spare you the image from the screen this time; you’ve already enjoyed his backside in this recap.

Valchek has arrived with Daniels, Herc and Kima. Inside Prez is waiting as Polk and the other humps have been moved back to Burrell. The gang reunites and Valchek offers his support in any fashion possible. Herc then attempts to get Carver shifted into the team. Daniels then lays out the plan; they’re going to do what they can for a few weeks and see what happens.

Bubs and Johnny are walking along talking when they find some scrap metal. As you’ll recall from the first season (and The Corner if you’ve seen it) selling scrap metal is a common way for the less fortunate to make money, it’s only a few dollars here or there but to people with nothing that’s a fortune. As Bubs struggles with the radiator Omar looms out of the shadows behind him and calls his name. He’s armed with his signature shotgun which he cocks and aims with a quick “You be asking for me?”

There’s now one of those rare montages which are used in the Wire but only sparingly. In this case it’s a mix of the meals between Kima and Cheryl, and Daniels and Marla. Two different dinners with very much the same scenario playing out, there’s a very clever use of music here with some frenetic classical music being played out. It’s energetic and adds to the level of tension both scenes have. Cheryl and Marla are both exceptionally angry at their respective partners over these developments.

McNulty is at his wife Elena’s place, he’s gifted her the headphones and walkman stolen by Bubs - says a lot about McNulty there really. She wants to know if he’s had a lawyer look at the papers, apparently McNulty shouldn’t sign them because he’s giving away too much. But he signed them anyway, because he doesn’t care about the money. He wants to get back together with her and I can't blame him, because she's played by Callie Thorne.

In Stringer’s office the TV is turned on to show a news report about the arrest of Tilghman. Stringer remains as cool and collected as ever, simply remarking that he needs to get back to studying. But afterwards you can see he’s a little pleased.

Beadie, Lester and The Bunk arrive in Dolores’s place. Bunk walks up and eyes Horseface who gets up and walks over to the duke box. Horse puts some money in, but Bunk selects the song. Ott and Frank are elsewhere in the bar talking a little when Beadie, Freamon and Bunk surround him. He finishes his drink and looks at Bunk, he then asks after them. He’s never seen them before; normally he only gets involved with Port Police. Bunk informs him they are homicide, Frank asks who was killed, Bunk reminds him about the girls in the can, Frank claims it was an accident, Bunk disagrees. Frank makes his excuses and leaves. Nicky watches the whole thing. Frank heads to the bar’s bathroom and sticks his head in the sink for a drink of water. He then stares at himself in the mirror, regaining his composure before walking back out into the bar…

The Review:

The episode title “Hard Cases” refers to not just the difficulties being faced by Prez, Bunk, Freamon and McNulty in their respective cases, but also too many of the individuals present in the episode. McNulty is of course an original hard case, but likewise Horseface also proves himself to be one as well.

This is also the first episode of the season in which the teleplay wasn't written by David Simon; but Joy's work is more than up to the task and I think if I'm honest the episode is a little better than Hot Shots which preceeded it. There's some good flow to the episode and plenty of nudity for both the genders to enjoy, then again - there has been a lot of nude backs and fronts in this season, something which is somewhat reflected in the title credits. I wouldn't go as far as to call the season 'steamy' but it's certainly not something for the kids (as if the first season was...) On the other hand, much of the nudity in The Wire exists either naturally (as in he/she is naked just because someone would be naked in that situation) or for laughs (mostly where Ziggy is concerned).

As I've mentioned Ziggy, I think it's worth talking a little about him here. He's certainly a lot less annoying for myself on this rewatch, I think the first time I saw the second season of The Wire my attitude towards Ziggy alternated between amusement and annoyance, but now I've come to appreciate just how good James Ransom's performance is as Ziggy (it helped seeing him play a different role in Generation Kill). While the character is little more than a clown a lot of the time he's actually quite tragic as well, a definate example of disillusioned young adulthood in action.

At this point I think it's more than possible to see the wheels in motion, while there isn't that much character conflict in Hard Cases, the plot progresses in a most agreeable fashion. Despite the on screen exposure to Ziggy's manhood I really enjoy this episode - it's solid and exciting build up towards later events.

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