From Two Zeros to a Ten: The First Decade

By Rev/Views
Well, a few more days and we'll be in 2010 (pronounced twentyten, all futuristic like); apart from wondering where the cool stuff like hoverboards, flying cars and replicants are it's been a pretty interesting decade. Especially in the world of the small screen, the hardware side has evolved to the point where I'm about five years out of date - oh yes, I have a second hand CRT and DVD Player and that's what I watch my television on. Not because I'm stubborn or retro, but because every time I look at television prices I go "You want how much?" And that's after the discount I get for working in the industry (or near it, I'm not exactly sure where I stand with regards to television, but I am involved in making sure people can watch it.)

I digress, it's enough to say that while I've failed in keeping up with the latest viewing technology I have kept up with the evolving and growing industry which is the small screen. A format where we invest in the characters and stories which are told, where we come back week after week in order to see what's next, where we go back and watch what's happened a second or even third time. Yes, there's a lot to get from television, a lot to experience. The heights, the depths, the action, the lulls - the good times and the bad; human experience turned up to the maximum and then distilled.

This past decade has brought us quality television beyond compare; there's no doubt that it has been the best decade we've experienced since it's birth. A large portion of the most critically acclaimed shows come from this side of the millennium, that's not bad for ten years and it bodes well for the future.

Of course, while the quality edge of television has extended and accelerated, so has the lowest common denominator. I'm not going to go into a huge rant about voting television (aka "reality" TV), it's just as effective as pissing in the wind, you just get your pants wet and end up having to change. But I will say this, I'm more concerned about what's going to come along after reality TV, because the only way I can see it being replaced now is by something even cheaper to produce and more degrading to the human condition. I'm not predicting Running Man style shows, at least not in this part of the globe, but I'm sure that Reality TV is not the bottom of the barrel, we're not there yet.

That's as negative as I'm going to get about this decade's television, because while the lowest form of television will continue to expand and accelerate it will be matched by the best television has to offer as well - maybe even exceeded, we'll have to see. That part remains in the hands of the viewers, it's really up to us to train ourselves and our fellows to expect more from the experience of watching television. It's a shared culture and it should have us thinking, talking, writing, arguing and pondering the state of the human existence.

First of all, I was looking to see if anyone had drafted together a timeline of major television shows listed in the order of their premiere air dates - I might not have been Googling hard enough mind you. Still here's a manual version of the significant moments in television over the past ten years.


Malcolm in the Middle opens up the decade for myself, first arriving on Fox in January - it continues until 2006. The Corner has it's mini-series run in April. Big Brother premieres in July on both sides of the Atlantic. The Weakest Link makes it's first appearance in August. CSI and Curb Your Enthusiasm first appear in October and November brings on of my personal guilty pleasure shows - Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.


Drama giant Six Feet Under arrived in June and changes the face of drama forever, Fear Factor makes it's first appearance that month as well. Samurai Jack slices it's way onto the screen in August, while September brings us the premieres for Alias, Enterprise and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Scrubs, Smallville and 24 are born in October. 24 in particular is a huge show and captures the American public, it was exactly the right time for it to arrive considering the events of the month before. Justice League arrives in November and finally Harry Hill's TV Burp pilots in December.


The Shield premieres on March 12th and like Six Feet Under before it the show heralds a change in cutting edge television drama. May brings the debut of BBC's shock-jock show Spooks (which still remains crap as far as I'm concerned and always will). June 2nd gifts the world with The Wire and nothing is the same again - also arriving is The Dead Zone . Monk investigates his first case in July. While September brings Firefly, CSI: Miami (the sunglasses, the horror!) and Without a Trace. Finally November brings the launch of the redesigned Top Gear.


January takes a look at the world and says "Enough with the lies!" Bringing not only Mythbusters to the screens but also Penn & Teller: Bullshit! February heralds the reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and fast becomes the definitive cartoon vision. State of Play premieres in May. Dead Like Me in June. Nip/Tuck in July. Then in an explosion of TV September brings the premieres of Carnivale, QI, NCIS , Little Britain and much, much more. October, November and December bring us Tru Calling, Arrested Development and Battlestar Galactica's mini series respectively. While Tru Calling never really reaches the heights it promises the other two shows become landmarks in their genres.


The Apprentice first shuffles on American screens in January, accompanied by the strange bedfellow of Shameless. March gives us the arrival of decadence married to reality in the guise of Pimp My Ride, but it also redeems itself with Deadwood's harsh cry of "I've arrived cocksuckers!" Stargate: Atlantis, Rescue Me, The 4400 and Entourage all arrive in July. September muscles up and drops The X-Factor on us along with Green Wing, Joey, Veronica Mars and of course the sci-fi giant Lost. October objects with Boston Legal and November revitalises the procedural genre with House.


Medium, Numb3rs and Battlestar Galactica start their runs in Jan. The UK version of The Apprentice arrives on BBC in Feb. While March gives us a so-so US version of The Office - it's second season would see the show finding it's stride and becoming comic genius. More importantly in March Doctor Who returned to our screens with Eccleston as the ninth Doctor, he has a short run which turned out to be a blessing. Also arriving in March was Grey's Anatomy. American Dad came in May, Weeds in June and Prison Break's amazing first season kicked off in August - unfortunately only the first season of this show remains quality. September's glut of shows included Supernatural, Bones, How I Met Your Mother, My Name is Earl and Criminal Minds (a show which lost it's lustre when Mandy Patinkin left two years later). Finally in the UK Deal or No Deal is a surprise hit, bringing Noel Edmunds back from the void and onto the screens.


Life on Mars opens up the year, proving that the BBC is still capable of holding it's own in the field of drama. Inspector Morse's spin-off Lewis also arrives in Jan. Whereas Feb brings The IT Crowd and March has The Unit and Big Love. Psych first appears in July. September bulges with new shows - the most notable of which are; Shark, Jericho, Ugly Betty, Men in Trees, Studio 60 and of course Heroes. October is just as generous; with Dexter, Friday Night Lights, Torchwood (bleah) and 30 Rock.


The superior Doctor Who spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures premieres in Jan, Feb gives us The Sarah Silverman Program and Primeval. June brings a show I correctly predicted would be huge - Burn Notice and the end of The Sopranos. July premieres Greek, Damages and most significantly Mad Men. September gives us The Big Bang Theory, Chuck, Reaper and Life.


The year of the writer's strike starts well with Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, In Treatment and Breaking Bad making their first appearances in Jan. Ashes to Ashes and Being Human turn up in Feb. March brings us the end of The Wire along with the mini-series John Adams. Generation Kill rolls across the screens in July. Then in September we're treated to Sons of Anarchy, True Blood, Fringe and The Mentalist. October premieres Argumental (a personal fav) and Charlie Brooker's riff on reality television - Dead Set. Finally November brings the amazing last episode of The Shield - and I'm never the same again.


Finally 2009 gives us Lie to Me (Jan), Dollhouse in Feb, Kings in March - which sadly failed to reach it's audience and was cancelled, April brought Parks & Recreation, May premiered Glee, July - Warehouse 13. The September glut included Community, Vampire Diaries, NCIS: Los Angeles, Modern Family, Cougar Town, Flash Forward, Hank and The Middle.

Which brings us up to date - we're now sat awaiting the final episode of Tennant's Doctor Who run, which will herald in the new decade and beyond that there are shows like The Pacific, Treme and Game of Thrones to bolster up the strongest runners which are still standing. I personally will be latching onto shows like Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad and three I just mentioned. But I'm also confidently predicting that the next decade will be even better than the one we've just had. Short of major societal issues gutting into the television industry's ability to deliver quality goods I'm confident we're sitting on the edge of a golden age for television. Sadly it's an age which will probably have to surf along a tidal wave of crap - but that's the television "bell" curve for you.

I for one will be looking forward to the next decade of television with anticipation...

(Have I missed any major shows from the past ten years?)
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Countdown to the Future: Best of 2009

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It's hard to believe that in just a few short days we'll be in the year twenty-ten (2010), I can't think of a year which sounds more futuristic until we hit twenty-twenty (2020). Of course, many things aren't that different from previous years, hardly surprising as most major inventions we rely on in modern society are generally things which were in truth thought of long before - those Greeks seem to have come up with a lot of it and we still haven't escaped their shadow.

But one thing which is clear, the past decade has been just astronomical with regards to television. It's come on in leaps and bounds when you compare it to the decades before it. That's something I'll take a look at later this week, but today the focus is on the last year - which for myself was the first year without any major shows I adored. Without The Wire and The Shield on our screens I've been a little anchorless to say the least, nothing yet has come to fill the void - but some shows have come close.

Best New Sitcom of 2009

This is probably the hottest category for myself, as I encountered a lot of new sitcoms over this year. Some of which, like Cougar Town, I dabbled in before deciding I couldn't be bothered watching them each week. I might pick them up later in the sales. I briefly entertained giving this one to Parks & Recreation, but the first season is pretty weak and the show has only just started to gain it's legs.

Better Off Ted was the front runner for a long while; the combination of cynical observations, amusing future tech, sharp writing and great acting made it hard to beat. This is the show that gave us racist motion sensors for cripes sake! Unfortunately it looks like BOT might be getting the chop, which makes it difficult for me to be completely enthusiastic about it anymore, I've fallen for too many shows that have been cancelled before their time - as such I'm cautious about giving my heart to any show which looks like it's having a rocky future.

So what managed to usurp Ted from the top slot? It's a sitcom which was brought to my attention by fellow (and better) blogger Rob Buckley, who tweeted about it and piqued my interest. It is of course NBC's Community - a show which I've compared to comedy giants Arrested Development and Seinfeld, a show which has gone from strength to strength and I predict will become huge within two years (or get cancelled because I like it - I seem to be the curse of death for shows).

Best Old Sitcom New to Me in 2009

As I also spend a fair amount of time looking backwards at great old shows from the past I also encountered a lot of sitcoms from years gone by. King of Queens was a strong contender for this slot for a long time, while it is most certainly a formulaic sitcom born right out of the previous decade it's got a lot of heart and remains consistently funny. Big Bang has hovered on the radar as well, but as I've only seen the first season at this point I'm holding back judgement.

The winner is a show I reviewed a while back; a brash, rude and hilarious show which really needs more recognition for it's genius. That show is "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Go watch it, seriously.

Best New Drama in 2009

What to say here? Most of the drama I've enjoyed this year has either been from previous years, in film format or as a mini-series. I haven't seen much in the way of brilliant new drama. But a large part of this comes from the hole left by 2008 - a year which saw the end of two of my favourite shows. Nothing that came out this year has come close to filling it, actually in truth I can't think of a new drama I started watching this year which was released in 2009. So I'm going to have to give this to Dollhouse, which I haven't even managed to watch a single full episode of yet - but I know it deserves the props.

Best Old Drama that's New to Me in 2009

On the other hand, this category is bursting to the seams with amazing television, a lot of which started in 2008. This includes shows like Legend of the Seeker, Fringe and more besides. Still there are two shows which have stood up ahead of the pack and it's been difficult picking between them to decide. Both had a solid - but not jaw dropping - first season in 2008, then lifted the bar up and punted into the stratosphere for their second season.

I am, of course, writing about Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad - two shows which have the potential to become my favourite shows over the coming years, it depends how they settle down in the future. As such, right now they're sharing the props.

Best Existing Drama in 2009

Mad Men - next!

Best DVD Set out in 2009

On the whole the DVD sets I've purchased this year have been solid but not inspiring when you're dealing with the production values. I personally feel it's important for a DVD set to not just contain great television, but it also needs to look good and take up as little space on the shelf as possible.

Some candidates are easily scratched off the list - every single DVD from the King of Queens series for example has the most horrible photo shopping on the covers of the boxes (a subject return to as I get annoyed with poor production values quite often).

The 4400's complete set came close to winning this, as did Deadwood and The Shield's respective complete sets. The Shield lost out because the packaging is stylish, but completely impractical for conventional storage. The other two shows lost out because they don't contain complete stories, both The 4400 and Deadwood ended up being cancelled as incomplete.

The newly released Complete Arrested Development was also a major contender, but it was pipped at the post by the re-designed complete box set for The Sopranos. It's an amazing show in a boxed set which is as small as it possibly can be, I don't think it's possible for it to take up less room without a completely new format for storage being created. It's nothing short of amazing.

Loveliest Woman of 2009

So who stole my heart this year on the small screen? Well Katey Sagal is always a solid choice in this category, certainly her performances in Futurama and Sons of Anarchy have cemented her as my top older woman. Likewise perennial favourites Jenna Fisher and Tina Fey have been wonderful in their respective sitcoms.

Other favourites like Tara Summers (Boston Legal) haven't really been present on my screens since their shows ended, so unfortunately they've not been eligible. But one lovely lass has been, Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men) and as such she's getting the prize.

Well, I think that's enough for one year. Later this week I'll take a proper look at the decade as a whole, an amazing decade filled with the best television we've ever had on our screens (and the worst also).
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Happy Holidays

Category: , By Rev/Views
I'm off away for a few days now, doing the family thing. So until I return have a great time, enjoy Doctor Who and I'll be back on either the 27th or 28th with a look at my favourite TV for 2009.

So stay safe till then!
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Favourite Festive Films For the Season

By Rev/Views
Each year at the Rev household it's a tradition to watch at least one of my 'definitive' Christmas movies on Christmas eve. These are the movies which I personally feel define the spirit of the holiday season for me - it's not a long list by any means, but as I only watch one of these movies a year it doesn't have to include a massive amount of them.


Without a doubt this is my favourite movie rendition of that old, tired out classic Dickens story. I've actually only watched this one a handful of times, unlike the others on this list Scrooged is a film I exclusively watch at Christmas time and never at any other. A big part of this is good old Bill Murray, during the 1980s and 90s he was involved in so many excellent films it's almost impossible to count them (for the record it's ten, but I can't count that high) and the man's ability to play a grouchy but ultimately redeemable character cannot be called into question.

Scrooged's modern retelling of A Christmas Carol puts enough of a spin onto it to keep the idea fresh, even when the movie itself now looks a little dated. But despite the technology of the time limiting effects and production I still think that the ghost of future yet to come looks fantastic in this.

Home Alone

Yeah, yeah. I know. This movie is at times almost annoying, but if you're a kid - or in the right mood - it's nothing short of absolute joy to watch. I can still recall the excitement I felt the first time I watched it, the idea of being left home alone in the house by my parents sounded like a dream come true - not even the menace of 'The Wet Bandits' was enough to disuade me from wishing I'd get left behind on one holiday for a few days.

Add into it the joyous fun of all the crude booby traps, slapstick and one of my favourite lines "One cheese pizza, just for me." (I don't know why I like that line. I just do.) And you've got a childrens movie I can rewatch again and again.


Sometimes I'm amazed this film franchise didn't make it to a third movie, but I suppose we should be thankful that we got the first one anyway (and the second one, which I do like, but it doesn't feel as much like Christmas). Whether you take it as a snap at consumer culture, a sharp and dark comedy or light horror with comedy elements it's a film with iconic moments and clever dialog which never fails to please.

Bright light! Bright light!

The Nightmare Before Christmas

It actually took me an exceptionally long time to get around to watching this film, I'm not entirely sure why - I just kept putting it off, I think in part because the character design was so stylised and in part because all the goths in the area were raving about it. And generally I avoid anything goths like, on principle. (Not that I've got anything against them, apart from their poaching and degrading of the word Goth, give me Visigoths and Ostrogoths anytime).

Still, once I did finally get around to watching the film I was instantly enraptured by it's mixture of dark humour, music and the celebration of the darker side of Christmas. I think it's already clear from my previous list of favourite Christmas episodes that I do like to see a black twist to my Christmas stories - and The Nightmare Before Christmas delivers on this.

Die Hard

I don't care what anyone else in the world has to say, this is the best Christmas movie in existence and has a good shot at remaining so. It's got everything I could ask for in a Christmas movie; a party, alcohol, a man reuniting with his wife in the holiday season, festive banter, bare feet, crawling about in confined spaces and so much more! It's practically a retelling of the classic Santa Claus visit, except Santa is a police cop and instead of presents he's delivering bullets.

Of course the thing which sells this movie is actually Alan Rickman's phenomenal performance as Hans Gruber, no matter how much you might like the lead character in a film series he's only as good as the villains he gets to bounce off. Which is just one of the reasons why John McClane never quite reaches the heights of brilliance in the sequels - especially the fourth one.

Still, ignoring the rest of the quadrology for the moment Die Hard is always my number one choice for the best Christmas film of all time.

In case you're wondering, I've never seen It's a Wonderful Life. But I keep meaning to do so.
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Holiday Season: My Favourite Christmas Episodes

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Christmas (and generally any "holiday") specials are something I have mixed feelings on, while there are some excellent moments out there; Halloween in particular seems to raise the bar for American sitcoms each year, there is a generally sickly, hollow, crass and commercial feel to Christmas on television. It could be my increasing cynicism about society in general and my historically terrible experiences at the Christmas period (I generally suffer tragedies or exceptionally hard times around this season - this year is no exception). But it could also be the vapid consumerism of it all.

Then again, when I'm back home with the family for a few days things are indeed good - spats, arguments, presents, Christmas dinner - it's all great, even last year's argument (which resulted in my not talking to my brother for months) was good fun. So I do like the togetherness Christmas brings, even if the present giving is a pain in the arse.

So baring that somewhat schizophrenic spirit in mind here are some of my favourite Christmas episodes:

Arrested Development - In God We Trust

I was tempted to go with 'Afternoon Delight' for my Arrested Development Christmas special, but I do feel that it's just pipped by In God We Trust. It's the pageant scenes which do it for me - recreations of famous works of art. Including George Michael wandering around in a muscular body suit to impress Maeby, at least until he sees the 'fronts piece' he'll have to wear.

The full development of Tobias's "nevernude" disorder is prompted by this entire escapade (it was mostly hinted at until this point) and the final scenes of George Sr, dressed as God and fleeing, before being wrestled to the ground just cap it all for me. It's a real dysfunctional Christmas.

Seinfeld - The Strike

Possibly the least festive of all the episodes listed here, The Strike is one of those phenomena which has actually managed to influence reality. On the 23rd of December each year, some people break out their aluminium pole, sit down for the airing of grievances and then partake in the feats of strength. All of which are parts of Festivius - an anti-celebration of Christmas in protest of all the commercialism and tacky nature of many parts in modern Christmas.

The Strike itself primarily focuses on Kramer's return to employment after an exceptionally long strike, but it's the events surrounding the Costanzas which make this such a memorable experience. If Festivus wasn't so clearly traumatic for children I'd celebrate it myself.

Blackadder - Blackadder's Christmas Carol

Many countless shows and franchises go for a retelling of the classic Christmas story 'Christmas Carol', but none of them pull it off with as much aplomb and style as the Blackadder version. Dripping with satire, sharp observations, wit and cracking performances from all the cast it's one of the finest Christmas moments on television pretty much ever.

Add in the fantastic spin on the moral of the story at the end, and we're left with something I can watch year after year and still laugh at.

Doctor Who - The Christmas Invasion

The Doctor Who Christmas specials tend to be somewhat uneven, this is mostly due to Russell T. Davies's crude use of blunt tropes and devices when dealing with science fiction. To give Rusty his props, he can write emotion with the best of them - but he's awful at science fiction. Tending to rely on the old trusty "magic button" to get his characters out of the situations he's stuck them in, making everything feel less earnt.

Voyage of the Damned is the pinnacle of this, it's an utter travesty which is almost completely wasted. The only really bright spots being Tennant himself, Clive Rowe (who is rather badly bumped off on the bridge, a shame because he's a fantastic actor) and Bernard Cribbins's cameo which would grow into one of the most amazing supporting moments in the show at the end of the Donna years. Likewise The Runaway Bride, as much as I adore Catherine Tate as Donna, is not great either.

But The Christmas Invasion is fortunately not one of the lame duck specials - it's an exciting tour de force which introduces us to Tennant's Tenth Doctor. One filled with witty lines, tense moments and even a little foreshadowing. I don't know exactly what it is which makes The Christmas Invasion stand out when compared to the others - but I do hope The End of Time this year manages it as well - even if it will be a bleak story.

Homicide: Life on the Street - All Through the House


Another Christmas episode with a relatively dark tone to it, Homicide's iconic third season Christmas episode follows the murder of Father Christmas. A winding journey walked by the cynical Munch which eventually leads to a bleak moment where he has to tell a young boy that his father is dead. Only to relieve the moment, by having the boy's father come home. Happy ending! At least until you remember that someone dressed as Santa was still murdered.

No-one can accuse Homicide of pandering to the season, that's for sure.

Supernatural - A Very Supernatural Christmas

Victims are apparently being pulled up the chimney by some form of Anti-Claus. Eventually Sam and Dean get on the trail and discover that they might be hunting after Holdenacar, the god of the winter solstice. It's an episode which harks back to the pagan traditions of Christmas, revelling in the darker aspect of the entire holiday. It also sheds a little light on the Winchester boys past and manages to bring a little of the Christmas spirit in at the end.

Actually, looking at most of those episodes it's quite possible that I am a real grinch. Very few of them seem to have positive things to say about Christmas. Perhaps Wednesday's list of my favourite Christmas Movies will be more upbeat!
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Legend of the Seeker - Season One

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Initially I planned to write this after watching about a dozen or so episodes, but I decided to wait until I watched the entire first season and then write about it. For reasons which will be explained below. This is for people who have read the series of books - anyone else be prepared to have events spoiled.

The Sword of Truth Series of Books

Many years ago I remember a friend of mine raving about a book series, the like of which (according to him) he'd never read before. A series with really a unpleasant villain, filled to the brim with violence and unrepentant nastiness. Hyperbole for sure, but about five years later, when I personally read 'Wizard's First Rule' I could see why my friend had been so thrown by the portrayal of Darken Rahl in the novel.

Spin forward over a decade and the "Sword of Truth" series reached it's finale - a series of books filled with magic, high adventure, monsters, wizards and an awful lot of misogynistic villains. I have read every single book in the series, but I couldn't call myself a fan - because while Terry Goodkind is an accomplished writer he also leans on the same trope for just about every. Single. Bloody. Book.

It was his own fault, the first book is a triumphant telling of adventure and true love conquering all. But Terry shot his bolt early by writing his two core characters together. The series continued beyond that first book, but it always felt that Mr Goodkind just didn't know what to do with Richard and Kahlan if they were a couple and together. So book after book the same thing happens over and over, one (or both) of them are seperated, dragged off - threatened with physical violation and eventually they get back together. Once is forgivable, twice - a little hackneyed; but doing it over and over for eleven books? It's trite.

This is not to say that the series is poor, it's just frustrating that the wonderful characters and setting are hampered by Mr Goodkind's inability to think of any new basic plot to use and his desire to string things out way beyond the required lifespan. The series could have been over in seven books - everything after the six book ("Faith of the Fallen") just doesn't hold up when compared with what came before it.

Finally special note has to be taken when you look at the eight book in the series - "Pillars of Creation" a story which is set in the world and in the timeline - but which doesn't bloody well feature the main characters and follows a character who was never mentioned before this point. It's not a bad book, but the first page needed a giant disclaimer stating "THIS BOOK DOES NOT FOLLOW THE STORY OF RICHARD AND KAHLAN". I know I spent the entire time I read it wondering when the b-story was going to kick in and bring back Richard. The answer was, right near the end - almost pointlessly.

I've written quite a bit here about the book series for two reasons - Legend of the Seeker is a series which has considerable trappings attached to it, we're not talking about a trilogy here - we're talking about an epic length ramble which few other series of books reach (In my own collection only Rankin's Rebus, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time and Brian Lumney's Necroscope series punch in at that weight - and of them only The Wheel of Time is in a similar style.) Also, while I have read the series I wanted to make it clear that I'm not really a fan of the books and as such I welcome a retelling of the story - especially if the show avoids the traps that the novels fall into.

Legend of the Seeker

One of my favourite television series is The Dead Zone - a "what if" riff on Stephen King's original story. It takes the characters and concept of the book, but spins them with an elegant concept. The entire reason that The Dead Zone novel and TV series deviate is the introduction of one character - Bruce Lewis (John L. Adams) the man who stablises Johnny Smith emotionally and thus creates an alternative story. I shan't go into it in detail here - it's enough to say that I love the show's alternative version of King's story and as such I'm open to an alternative telling of the Sword of Truth series.

Legend of the Seeker stars the ridiculously cut Craig Horner as Richard Cypher - a woodsman who discovers that he is in fact The True Seeker. A man destined to wield the Sword of Truth and slay Darken Rahl - evil sorcerer, tyrant and ruler of D'hara. He discovers this one day when he rescues a woman from a 'Quad' (for D'haran soldiers) - a woman who turns out to be Kahlan Amnell (Bridget Regan) here seeking The Seeker. A short while later Richard himself is proclaimed The Seeker of Truth by the crazy, naked old chicken man - aka First Wizard Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander (Bruce Spence). The three then embark on a series of adventures as they seek out Darken Rahl in order to kill him.

*Ting!* Check out that lens flare!

Craig Horner, whilst an incredible piece of eye candy for the ladies with his obscenely cut abs, isn't the best Richard Cypher one could have hoped for. He's adequate at the job, but often his acting pushes the sometimes corny dialog into serious cheese country - ultimately he's decent, but not the right fit for someone who is supposed to be a woodsman. He has the right level of naivety, but he's too young and definitely not skilled enough an actor. Fortunately as the season progresses he grows a little into his role.

The real draws to the show are the other core characters; Bruce Spence gives a fantastic portrayal of Zedd, even if it's not the Zedd in the books (who comes across as more of a crazy, spindly old grandfather type). He does manage to appear eccentric in this, but it's a different kind of loopy. He brings a crazy kind of energy to the role and though I can see he might be a little too overwhelming for some viewers I found him enchanting. In particular in the episode "Puppeteer" - which mimics events in the first book - is a delight, and it's his performance which makes it one of the best.

Craig Parker's portrayal of Darken Rahl is likewise fantastic, while he's not as menacing as his child murdering literary counterpart his is still a great draw, getting better and better the more time he has on screen to posture and (figuratively) stroke his villainous moustache. Jay Laga'aia is also wonderful as Chase, while he doesn't look anything at all the way I pictured Chase looking his acting closes the gap as he nails the character entirely.

But the real draw for the series is Bridgett Regan as Kahlan, she's remarkable in this series. Giving us a character who's complex, likable and more than able to make up for Horner's weaker performance. She completely and correctly looks and acts as you'd expect Kahlan to do so and as such is the main draw of the series. You can be forgiven for falling in love a little with Kahlan while watching this - then again, she is a confessor, so that's not surprising.

Set wise the show is spectacular, it quite frankly blows just about every other television fantasy series right out of the water - especially the ones on TV right now (pfft Merlin *eyeroll*), but the special effects themselves are a little uneven. Sometimes they're great, but at other times they're very ropey - especially for a show which runs at $1.5 million per episode. It's a little disappointing, but only occasionally.

There is one notable area where the show fails - Robert Tapert said this "We didn't want to have the '90s postmodern attitude where the audience is in on the joke. Seeker is much more serious than Hercules and Xena." Now, sorry Robert, but that campy level of humor still seeps through in more than a few of the episodes. Try harder next time. I'd call this Hercules/Xena: Part Two in it's tone - it's not as silly, but at times it skirts dangerously close.

Overall I'd call Legend of the Seeker a reasonable success, while it is frustrating for someone who's expecting a mini-series retelling of the (quite excellent) first book - especially as the show deviates from this wildly. It is the best fantasy series I've seen in years. Of course the caveat with that is I don't tend to watch much fantasy because it tends to be tripe written by people who seem to be stuck in puberty. Thankfully Legend of the Seeker avoids that, most of the time. Making it the best fantasy show out there right now, it's certainly the one with the highest body count, that's for sure.
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District 9: DVD Review

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I wasn't sure what to expect when I watched District 9, I sat down to watch the film with little more knowledge about it than the front cover, the blurb on the back and that it had an 8.4 rating on IMDB. The film's premise is constructed around the concept of aliens arriving and living on Earth openly, which in itself isn't original enough to warrant paying attention to (see Alien Nation and the two renditions of V for a start.) But District 9 places an original spin on this trope and manages to bring something new to the sub-genre.

The city where first contact occurs is Johannesburg in South Africa, and the aliens themselves are destitute, aimless and relatively simple on an intellectual scale. Instead of having a race bent on gradually assimilating the human race, or at least developing as equals - instead we have a race (nicknamed 'prawns' after a the Parktown prawn a species of cricket considered to be a pest) being subjugated and forced to live in a segregated slum area.

The film mixes a documentary style with traditional cinematic, unfolding in the early stages with a series of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" interviews which hint at the events upcoming. They talk about the film's protagonist, one Wilkus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) and soon the film begins to follow him, both in documentary style and in traditional cinematic, as the story unfolds.

Wilkus is a bureaucrat recently promoted by his father-in-law Peit Smit (Louis Minnaar) to oversee the eviction and relocation of the prawns from the slum area to a new camp. The new camp being located further away from Johnannesburg (and it's alarmed populace) and looking suspiciously like a concentration camp. This is one of the places where the film mirrors reality, playing on the racial tensions of South Africa's more recent history and using these (along with real locations) to heighten the speciesism in the film. Effectively the attitude that humanity has towards the prawns is a riff on the colonial attitude to the indigent populace of times before - except that the prawns are unruly and impossible to utilise as workers.

The film continues in mock-umentary style, following Wilkus as he heads out to issue notices of eviction to the prawns. Who mostly seem to be unable to understand the concept of eviction and are treated as little better than talking animals by the officials, Wilkus included.

There is no doubt that District 9 is an accomplished film, it attempts to straddle the lines between hard sci-fi (which makes you think, see Moon, Blade Runner or 2010) and more action based sci-fi (most of the rest). Instead it ends up somewhere in the middle, occupying the same space as films like Minority Report, ID4 and Aliens (a personal favourite of mine). There are thought provoking concepts in the film, things which reflect current (or recent) issues in our societies but the third act does pretty much throw those aside in favour of excitment, guns and explosions. It's still great cinematography, but don't expect to walk away from District 9 thinking "Now that was something to really think about..."

The DVD set itself is reasonable, but not overloaded with extras. There's a trio of 'behind the scenes' shorts, totalling over 30 minutes of footage, commentary and deleted scenes, but that's about it. The behind the scenes stuff is good, the commentary is solid - but not the best I've heard, I prefer commentary with multiple people rather than just the one.

District 9 is one of the best action based movies I've seen this year, and it's got enough excitement, clever dialog, fun characters and awesome set pieces to make it one of the best films I've seen this year as well. This is one which is easy to recommend.

District 9 will be out on DVD and Bluray in the UK from the 28th of December. Just in time for the new year!

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Why You Should Watch... Breaking Bad

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break·ing - To divide into pieces, as by bending or cutting. To snap off or detach. To force or make a way through; puncture or penetrate. To become cracked or split.

bad - Evil; sinful. Not fresh; rotten or spoiled. Disagreeable, unpleasant, or disturbing. Being in poor health or in pain. Being in poor condition; diseased.

break·ing bad - The act of challenging conventions, defying authority and skirting the edges of the law.

Breaking Bad is a relatively young show, with just two seasons behind it (and a third coming soon) - it stars Bryan Cranston (Tim; King of Queens, Dr Tim Whatley; Seinfeld and most famously Hal; Malcolm in the Middle) as Walter H. White - an ex-researcher turned chemistry teacher. He has a relatively normal life, and by that I mean the whole mundane domestic thing, complete with his beautiful wife Skyler (Anna Gunn - Deadwood) and son Walter Jr (RJ Mitte). He's a pretty average teacher, average husband and well an average guy all round - but his world is rocked to it's foundations when he finds out that he has lung cancer.

Walter soon runs into an ex-student of his, one Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul - Big Love) who now makes his living dealing meth. And from here the show charts Walter's path as he begins to 'break bad' and the pilot episode pans out in a pretty spectacular fashion with some vivid and iconic moments for the viewer. I'm not going to go into major specifics any further here, instead I'm going to write about what it is that makes the show so good.

The centrepiece of the entire show is of course Walter himself - he's a character who's been driven off the road by a mixture of the unfairness in life/society, his own impending demise, his desire to see his family provided for once he's gone and what can only be described as "the straw that broke the camel's back". Now as Bryan himself has a background mainly in sitcoms you could be forgiven for assuming that he might struggle a little with such a turnabout character. Instead of playing a supporting, lighthearted fun character he has instead taken on a heavyweight role with depth and darkness to it.

It sounds like quite a challenge, but it's one which has been achieved before by none other than Michael Chiklis who transformed himself from the happy go-lucky Commissioner Tom Scali in The Commish and Chris Woods in Daddio (both shows light sitcoms) into one of the darkest and most complex individuals to grace our screens Vic Mackey. Now I draw this comparison for a good reason, Breaking Bad has many parallels with The Shield and the two characters - Walter and Vic - have similarities in their characters as well. I also draw this comparison to express the respect I have for Breaking Bad, being compared to The Shield in a favourable fashion is a high compliment from myself as that show is pure gold.

So, as I think you've guessed, Bryan Cranston is more than up to the task - giving us a character who has depth and strength to him as he travels further off the road of society and into territory which is quite frankly criminal - overtly so at times. It's one of the biggest draws of the show and Bryan nails it. Giving us a compelling portrait of a man who's got nothing left to lose and is willing to embrace and follow his desperation. He's also a character with duality to him, on one side you have this loving family man who is struggling with his illness and trying to do what's right for his wife, son and upcoming baby. But sat on the other side you have a man who doesn't seem to have any boundaries left, you push him and he shoves back all the way - he'll just keep going in his desperate search to provide for his family. He is a bit like Paul Kersey in that respect (Charles Bronson in Death Wish for those of you who don't recognise the name) there's no telling what he'll do to achieve his goal.

So the core of the show is a solid lock, Bryan delivers the performance he needs to (and then some), which is absolutely vital because if he wasn't good the rest of the show would crumble. Still, no show is a one man band (except for this film) and the supporting cast are just as important. Fortunately they deliver and in spades. RJ Mitte is great as Walter Jr and I hadn't even suspected his lack of acting experience until I checked his entry on the imdb and Anna Gunn is so fantastic as Skyler that I fell in love with her a little. But the two people who really nail things down for me are the aforementioned Aaron Paul as Jesse - Walter's semi-streetwise (in his own mind) "partner in crime" and Dean Norris as Hank the DEA Agent. They're both fantastic characters, Jesse for bringing a little lightness and fun into the deeds he and Walter perform and Hank for giving us a solid extra piece of the world to follow - he's loosely connected to Walter both as law enforcement and as his brother-in-law. Something which just has to lead to a confrontation at some point, and who knows what will happen then.

Tonally Breaking Bad is a dark show, it's filled with quite visceral moments and some memorable scenes which push the boundaries at times. Things like bathtubs, RVs, removing your pants and even good old boring high school chemistry just won't seem the same after you watch this show. I know a few of the moments from the first season (I've not seen the second at this point) have stuck with me and will do for quite a while. It's a show which isn't afraid to go to unpleasant places and bring you along with it, it's a show which greatly reminds me of my perennial favourite - The Shield.

And that is close to the highest level of praise I can give it.

Breaking Bad, if you haven't seen it - you should.
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Procedural Shows

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Procedurals are something which I have a rather torn opinion on, there is no doubt in my mind that the style of show in general is frankly lazy television which appeals to the laziest and lowest common denominator of television viewer. Many of the shows in the genre seem to follow the old maxim which was best stated in Futurama by Fry (ironically) - "At the end of the episode, everything's always right back to normal."

Looking back at earlier shows in the history of television we can see this maxim being applied over and over, especially in the genres of drama and situation comedy. The two genres I prefer over any other. Now I couldn't say with certainty when the procedural was spawned, but the 1950s seem to be a likely spot - at least in the medium of television.

Now fine, it is important for an episode to hold self contained moments in it - or at least it seems important - as this makes it easy for the casual viewer to dip into an episode at almost any point in the series and enjoy it. That makes it easy to captivate channel flickers and hold them until the end of the show. Sprinkle in a few occasional two or three parters and you have something which fills up time and entertains without ever breaking outside of it's own boundaries.

There is a place for the procedural, in truth there are some exceptional shows which have used the format - many sitcoms hold up well with this structure (Seinfeld for example), because their relatively short episode length leaves little room for anything else. But is it really an acceptable standard to be used for dramas? I'm not convinced at all, especially not the the area of police procedurals - a sub-genre which has spiraled out of control so far that it's managed to spawn a sub-genre of it's own, the medical procedural (House - which is a great show, but that's in spite of it's procedural nature).

Looking at our screens and schedules these days reveals an absolute glut of these shows; we have the CSI and
Law & Order franchises, Bones, House, Psych, Lie to Me, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, NCIS and The Closer to mention just a few. And the past is even more damning, with a huge swathe of these shows running all the way back to Dragnet (and perhaps even before). Is there really a need for this many shows in the genre? What on earth distinguishes one from the next? The characters I suppose, that's certainly the appeal in Bones and House. Or perhaps it's the identical structure of the episodes, watching a procedural is like putting on a comfy pair of slippers, you know exactly what to expect from them and exactly what they'll do (keep your feet warm, rubbish to wear in the rain, fall off when climbing up stairs).

Maybe that's it, that's the big secret. Perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree when I go watching clever shows that employ an ongoing storyline like The Wire. Perhaps even the hybrid shows I adore - shows with self contained episodes AND ongoing story lines (like The Shield, The Sopranos and Arrested Development). Perhaps I should just forget about these kind of shows, because it's clear that the viewing public has become conditioned towards receiving their stories in neat self contained packages, all wrapped up in a bow and fuzzy edges. Maybe it's to much to expect that viewers want to be challenged by what they're watching - it's clearly too much effort and discomfort to try and remember what happened from one week to the next isn't it?

I think that my main gripe with the Procedural is not exactly it's existence, but the sheer quantity of them. It just feels so lazy, here we have this incredible method of performing one of the oldest ways of human socialisation - storytelling - and instead of using it to explore new directions and challenge humanity the networks are taking the same framework and slapping different paint on it before feeding it to us. And the worst part is we just lap this shit up like it's gravy. We just can't get enough of it, and the networks can't get enough of our adoration.

I often picture how pitches must go for new shows, the creator of the show turns up for the meeting and after sitting down and engaging in a little small talk he begins his pitch. Painting a picture of a show with a sweeping story arc that runs across the entire season and builds up into a climax which leaves the viewers amazed and asking questions. The network exes nod sagely and ask "but is it going to get them off their tractors?" The creator defends his work for a while and then realises that it's a lost cause. The exes ask him if he has anything else and he replies "how about a police show with a detective who solves a different crime each exes are more interested in this and "ask what's the hook?" The creator mugs for a moment before responding he's blind and his partner is deaf. I call it 'See No Evil, Hear No Evil'.

Instant hit.


On the flip side though I do have to admit that there are some exceptional procedural shows out there, shows which manage to transcend the rather pathetic design of the procedural and give us something which is genuinely special. The strongest example for myself is the 1990s show Homicide: Life on the Street - a show which was definitely a procedural show in structure but managed to play around with it's format and result in something which was a little less predictable. This wasn't a show which always delivered easy answers at the end of each episode, at times there would be hanging cases left unsolved or the criminals would get away with their crime. This uncertainty makes the show more enjoyable for myself because it's the outcome isn't a forgone conclusion, there was always a little doubt when watching each episode that everything would turn out OK in the end. This, added to the generally dark and pessimistic tone of the show resulted in a rather unique experience - many procedurals like to shock with visual "darkness" (autopsies, violent deaths and so forth), but Homicide went with a bleak tone that just made everything feel more real and more hopeless.

But the greatest triumph of Homicide lays in the two shows it spawned; both of which are the two shows I hold dearest to my heart. Shows which are the kind of innovation in the procedural I wish was more prevalent. The first is Homicide's direct descendant, the other Baltimore Cop Show - The Wire. Spinning the procedural show out by basing an entire case over a season rather than an episode. Allowing for a (more) realistic portrayal of the work involved in building a case against high level criminals. If you look at the ebb and flow of the episodes in each of The Wire's seasons they are structured like a procedural (and a novel), but the time line of events is played out in a more natural, less condensed (and less condescending) fashion.

It results in an experience which can be difficult to 'get into' and is impossible to pick up partway through a season, but it's a rewarding show which challenges the viewer and rarely offers the easy way out.

And if you're willing to buy into that theory it's also part of the Dreams of Tommy Westphall. But that's a discussion for a different time and place - so just enjoy this visual depiction of all the shows caught in Tommy's dream and note how incestuous the world of police procedurals actually is.

The second show Homicide spawned was The Shield; but in this case the show was partially inspired by Homicide rather than being directly descended from it. (As long as Clark Johnson's character "Handsome Marshall" wasn't actually Meldrick Lewis - which is a vague possibility). The Shield also perverts the nature of the procedural, this time by blending multiple story lines into the show - some of which take place over the entire season and many of which span just the one episode. While Vic and the Strike Team provided the main ongoing continuity it was Dutch and Claudette who gave us the 'crime of the week' story lines. This makes The Shield an easier show to dip into for the casual viewer (if you can stomach the material, which it seems many weak willed people can't), while still maintaining the 88 episodes combined into movie style of the show.

I raise The Shield here for two reasons, first - I unashamedly adore the show, enough said there. Second, and more significantly, The Shield offers a medium between the serial procedural and The Wire. You can have a show with contained story lines within the episodes and still provide an over arcing storyline. But you need to build it in from the start (Bones has attempted to do this - but falls a little short) and even if you don't know exactly where the story is going to end up you should at least be content that some plot threads will dangle for a while and get picked up later on in the shows run.

So I've meandered my way along in this and I've not really hit any genuine conclusion about procedurals, I do know that I feel they are a lazy way out for both television and the people who watch it. But there is also no doubt that the style of show has spawned some fantastic television as well.

I think I'd settle for less standard format procedural shows and more shows which attempted to push the boat out and take it in unusual directions. True these attempts might fail but there is uncharted territory out there and that could result in the unique shows I want to see on our screens.

Failing that I'll settle for less David Caruso, a lot less.

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Why You Should Watch... Sons of Anarchy

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Back in April 2002 a controversial young show named The Shield aired it's fifth episode, a piece titled "Blowback", featuring one disturbing Armenian foot fetishist hit man named Margos Dezerian. The actor portraying this memorable villain was also the writer of the episode - one Kurt Sutter - a man who would go on to pen the truly heartbreaking episode "Of Mice and Lem" and the incredible jaw dropping penultimate episode of the season "Parricide".

The same year that The Shield's amazing swan song came to a close (2008) a new show arrived on FX, penned by this same aforementioned Kurt Sutter. A show purporting to be something of a spiritual successor to The Shield in style if not in content.

Sons of Anarchy
is that very show, revolving around the lives and experiences of one chapter in the titular outlaw motorcycle gang this is a brutish show about men who live and die by the motorcycle (but more often by the gun). The show stars Charlie Hunnam (Undeclared, Queer as Folk) as Jax Teller the Vice President, Sons of Anarchy: California. Katey Sagal (Futurama, 8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter and of course Married with Children) as Gemma Teller Morrow - Jax's mother and wife of Club President Clarence "Clay" Morrow - played by Ron Perlman (Hellboy and hundreds of other things I mean come on, you know who Ron Perlman is!) Also joining these three are Mark Boone Junior, Johnny Lewis, Maggie Siff, Kim Coates and Tommy Flanagan.

The Sons live in the sleepy town of Charming, California and through an agreement with Police Chief Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie) they keep their business out of town and as such ensure that the streets are (relatively) safe. Well as safe as it can be when there is a gang of gun running motorcycle enthusiasts riding about with impunity...

Sons of Anarchy has been touted as the show to fill the void that The Shield has left behind, and there's no disputing that Sons is a spiritual successor in many aspects. It's even (tentatively) set in the same universe as The Shield and though there's little chance the indomitable Victor Mackey would make an appearance (especially after the events of The Shield's final season) the 1'9ers do indeed feature in the show, as does a familiar looking Los Angeles.

Likewise the show has that same brutish, action packed throttle to it. It's a show which brings macho to the table and isn't afraid to sit about grunting, scratching itself and drinking beer while strangling a bear. Similarly the show is about the good in bad people, really bad people in fact, but people with a code (no women, no innocents).

But that's sort of where the similarity ends, because while Kurt Sutter had significant input into The Shield he wasn't the guiding voice and as such he didn't shape the tone of the show. Sons on the other hand is entirely his baby and as such it brings differences in story telling and pacing. The show feels more immature than The Shield, while Kurt has the lofty (and commendable) ideal of basing the story around a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet - the first season does feel a little rough at times, it's lacking the same gravitas and edge it's parent show had.

At least, it's like that for a while. But the final few episodes of the first season do indeed kick things into a higher gear, setting the stage for what promises to be an enjoyable and gripping second season. Many of the cast give exceptional performances from the start (especially Ron and Katey), while others grow into their roles (as much as allowed by their characters anyway - I'm very fond of Theo Rossi as "Juice" for example). Many of the guest star performances are also great; amongst the notable ones are Ally Walker, Jay Karnes, Drea de Matteo and Taylor Sheridan. Ally in particular is fantastic as Agent Stahl, giving the show a character with surprising depth and menace for our erstwhile "heroes".

But the bottom line is this - Will you enjoy Sons of Anarchy? Well if you watched The Shield previously then I think it's safe to say that you'll be positively predisposed towards enjoying it. Just don't expect to be watching The Shield² and things should click with you. For everyone else; if you enjoy dramas with a sense of humor and a bit of unreality to them - like say Rescue Me. Or prefer things to have a mix of action, motorcycles, guns, Americans, Scottish and Irishmen then you're in luck. Sons of Anarchy could be right up your street, so take it for a ride.
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