DVDs in Review: #104 - Sledge Hammer! Season One

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"Trust me, I know what I'm doing."

The 1980s brought us a host of iconic, memorable moments/shows/films (and in reflection a lot of terrifying and naff ones), many of which are emerging as remakes/relaunches in various levels of quality (BSG, V, The A-Team etc etc.) Now it's entirely debatable if Sledge Hammer! is one of those former shows - there's certainly no signs of anyone rushing to recreate the show at the moment (but given the current trend for leaning on remakes and reality TV instead of working on quality new material, who can tell?) - but it certainly is an iconic example of "an 80s show" in many ways.

Sledge Hammer! is named for it's titular character Detective Sledge Hammer, portrayed by David Rasche - Sledge is a comedic pastiche on Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry character; with all the dials turned up to 11. A counter-culture dressed nihilist with only two loves in his life, the law and his gun. Considered a stickler for the law he's also something of a contradiction, his version of the law involves exceptional rough justice meted out in an increasingly hypocritical fashion. While he's brutish, lacking in intelligence and generally a pretty poor police officer he does deliver results - mostly through a combination of dumb luck and various levels of brutality.

Sledge's "carefree nature" and enjoyment of the job is threatened when he's partnered up with Doris Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin ) - who's not only a woman, but she's also intelligent and a talented cop who does actually follow the rules. I think you can see where this odd couple pairing is going can't you? And yes, the show does play with the 'mismatched cop buddies' theme as a part of it's satire. It also allows Sledge to display his massive level of ignorant male chauvinism here. ("What, you think all women should be barefoot and pregnant?" - "No, I encourage women to wear shoes") Doris is indeed everything Sledge is not.

Finally there's their supervisor - in a show filled with stereotypes used for comedy you'd expect him to be the loud shouting, high blood pressure "GET IN MY OFFICE NOW!" type. Well, he is! Captain Trunk (Harrison Page) is the archetypal long suffering police captain with an insubordinate, troublesome (but effective) detective. A man, who if events in the last episode of the first season hadn't happened [mysterious hint], would end up dead from high blood pressure causing a stroke.

Sledge Hammer! itself was a sitcom which did well with the critics but struggled to gain it's audience thanks to being placed in the dreaded Friday 9pm slot. But the show did manage to secure a second season on the numbers who watched when it was shifted to a better time slot. (Honestly I don't know why the American networks don't just pick cult shows with low audience numbers and relatively low costs to run on Friday evenings instead of constantly sending shows to die there. Suck it up guys, just air some cheap tat as time filler!)

Sledge Hammer! is something of an odd show; I don't find it laugh out loud funny, clever or exceptionally brilliant in any regard - but I wouldn't call it a shitcom, no not at all. There's something quite hypnotic about the broad characters, cartoonish villains and ridiculous story lines used in the show - it's almost as if the irony and slightly naff nature of everything brings it together in some transcendent form of brilliance. It's not one of the 'so bad it's good' shows, it's more one of the 'so self aware and ironically in tune with it's ridiculousness that it's good' shows - OK I made that type of show up, but it's the only way I can explain just how magnetic Sledge Hammer! can be.

Also, this season coined the phrase "Hammer Time!" three years before MC Hammer would use it and at least one of Sledge's lines is (unintentionally?) ripped off and used by Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun. Two pretty reasonable impacts on pop culture for a rather obscure show - one of which is still going strong today.

Now the thing is, it's very hard to recommend Sledge Hammer! because it's appeal is difficult to define. It's not got exceptionally clever things to say, it's not cripplingly funny and the action in the show is pretty ropey at times. But it does feel like it's relevant and that it has a strong message of satire at it's core, as such it's for these reasons and a few other intangible ones I do own the first season of the show and enjoy watching it on occasion. Perhaps it's because Sledge reminds me of Stephen Colbert, I don't know.
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DVDs in Review - Film Edition: Ong Bak: The Beginning

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Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior bounced onto our screens back in 2003 as Tony Jaa's breakthrough movie, putting him firmly in place as a martial arts action star to watch; with his speed, charisma and accomplished grasp of Muay Thai he managed to make the rather plot thin Ong Bak into an enjoyable martial arts movie.

This was followed by Tom-Yung-Goong (The Protector) a film I know very little about at all beyond the fact that it was endorsed by Quentin Tarantino(but we all know QT is a bit of a movie slut, he'll endorse anything if he enjoys it) and that it is the most successful USA released Thai movie.

Ong Bak: The Beginning purports to return to the original movie as a prequel to it. Now I'm going to out and out admit right here that I couldn't find a single way that OB:TB links to OB:MTW at all, not even the least bit. It's set in a different time, with different characters and apart from Tony Jaa himself being in the lead role it doesn't seem to have a single thing in common with OB:MTW - even the fighting styles used weren't similar. That doesn't mean it's bad - just that the title seems a tad misleading.

So as such it's best to look as OB:TB as being it's own story; mixing a blend of history and fantasy, which is interwoven with fast paced fight sequences and a plot which exists to do little more than string the various set pieces together. OB:TB is about the orphaned son of a warlord who learns martial arts from outlaws and then proceeds to beat all the salt in the seven seas out of a range of people with a variety of weapons.

The fight scenes themselves are a delight to watch, beautifully shot and choreographed with pinpoint precision. Tony Jaa is an accomplished martial artist with a great deal of showmanship and talent with weaponry and the time he spends training shows in this film. (However, there is one scene where he uses a pan long gun [three-section staff] and it feels that choosing to use this was a little overambitious because it's clear he's struggling to keep it under control at times and that's a little distracting.)

The visuals of the film are also stunning, the camera work gives us beautiful landscapes and scenes which are breathtaking. The dance scene is an awesome piece of visual cinematography and many of the panoramic setting shots are enough to make you want to pack your bags and run off to the Thai countryside.

However, there are a few fundemental flaws in the movie though, the first is the plot - which is exceptionally ropey and poorly laid out even when judged by the traditionally light and loose standards of the martial arts movie. Compared to classics like Snake in the Eagles Shadow, Young Master, Kung Fu Hustle, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Once Upon a Time in China; OB:TB is hugely deficient. In truth even compared to Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior it's hugely deficient in the plot department and that's really saying something because OB:MTW had a plot so thin I can't even recall what it was about.

Secondly the dialog in the film is rather laughable at times, the film bills itself as a heroic fantasy epic

Finally the movie itself isn't a complete piece, it ends on a cliffhanger and it is due to be completed with Ong Bak 3 - this is quite frustrating, but it does explain why everything in the movie (and I do mean everything) seems hugely underdeveloped. It's better to look on this in the same way people looked at Kill Bill: Volume 1. It's the first part in a larger project and as such it might look better when the rest of the story is released.

Anyway, don't get me wrong. OB:TB is an enjoyable film, it's just not in any shape or form a classic of it's genre. You'll watch it, enjoy it and then forget about most of it apart from the action sequences and the more brutal moments in the fights. And that isn't a bad thing.

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Southland on TNT

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Southland - NBC's cancelled cop drama, will be returning from the grave on the 2nd of March over at TNT. It's a show which has gotten onto my radar because of it's resurrection and the reason for it's original cancellation. NBC felt it was too dark for the time slot it was in. It was pulling between four and six million viewers at the time it got canned.

Dark television is something I have a great deal of time for; Millenium, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Shield, The Wire. These are all shows which are exceptionally dark and as such right up my street.

And so because TNT have decided to revive Southland it's something I've become willing to invest time in.

The first series of Southland had just seven episodes, dealing with an ensamble cast and serialised stories. Now the second series is looking to focus more around two of the characters and head a little more towards the procedural in it's nature. Not exactly what I personally want from a television show, but it is something that appeals to a wider audience - still, I'm reserving judgement until I've seen episodes from the second season. So there's a review of the show to come in the next few weeks.

Until then, here are a couple of teaser videos to let you decide if Southland is going to be for you.

Preview of the second Season
Behind the Scenes: The Overview
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DVDs in Review #103: Gavin & Stacey: Series Three

[Review for Series Two]

Make no bones about it, for myself Gavin & Stacey is the best British wait no, scratch that Welsh comedy to have come out in recent times (it is actually the best British one, but that's not as important). It's a show which has propelled Barri (That's Barry for all you philistines out there) onto the television map with it's wonderful, sweet story about two people and their families/friends coming together.

More than that though the show holds a little something extra where yours truly is concerned, this is because I grew up for a large portion of my life in the village next door to Barri and growing up it was a place we'd visit on the occasion. Gavin & Stacey embraces the town and the nearby areas by using parts of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan for it's scenes. Even the ones which are allegedly filmed in Essex are in fact filmed in Wales.

This does result in quite a few amused moments for people who are local to the area, but that's no more unusual than the reactions to various parts of Doctor Who - which has used Wales to represent many other places. And of course Torchwood has turned Cardiff Bay into a shrine for the now deceased Ianto. Certainly watching this show with friends and family does result in the 'name that location' game, something I'm only good at when they're using Cardiff itself, I'm not so great on other parts in the Vale.

I could carry on for a long while about the scenes and areas used in the show, and if I let myself - I would. Still, the important thing is the attention to detail the show uses. It's a series about the little things, things which make life the rich experience that it is. It's a series about romance, friendship and the differences between two cultures that geographically and historically are very close, but are absolutely adamant about drawing the line in the sand between them. So much so that people who live in England and Wales do not tend to identify as being 'British' but instead as English or Welsh. For those of you in the States (or elsewhere in the world) I guess this is kind of like the difference between New York and New Jersey.

Sadly for us the third series is the last series for Gavin & Stacey; which is on one hand a crying shame, but on the other hand it's following in the tradition of all the great British sitcoms of recent years - "leave them wanting more". With that it joins more recent shows like Spaced, Black Books, Phoenix Nights and classics like Fawlty Towers.

Like those shows I listed above, Gavin & Stacey also follows another of the great British sitcom traditions - having the writers of the show also act in them and give fantastic performances. James Corden is as great as he was previously in the role of Smithy, but Ruth Jones hits a new high as Nessa - her combination of rude charm, blunt responses and wild past experiences with famous people entertain more than ever; while her adaptation to her new situation with Baby Neil (as opposed to father Neil or grandfather Neil) is just a delight.

The rest of the cast are clearly comfortable in their roles by this stage and there's an innocent enthusiasm about the characters which I find both adorable and funny. Of course the absolute master at this is Rob Brydon, who continues to give a Shakespearean performance that is simultaneously deep and funny - but that should be no surprise for those of you who've watched him solo in Marion & Geoff.

All I can really say is that Series Three is every bit as competent, endearing, enjoyable and laugh out loud funny as the previous series (and specials) were. It's a shame that the show is over, but it's performance didn't have a single bum note and that's something to be proud of. Alongside being Welsh.

Which just leaves me to ask you.

"Oh, what's occurrin'?"

The Extras:
No Longer Occurrin'
Out Takes
Cast Favourite Moments
Photo Gallery

Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Rating: 12
Region: 12
Run time: 2 hours 52 mins
Soundtrack: English
Subtitles: English HOH
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DVDs in Review #102: How I Met Your Mother: Season 2

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[1st Season review here]

That's right! Its the all singing, all dancing special 102nd edition of DVDs in Review! Now I know you've been waiting with anticipation to see what boxed set would be the focus of this very special post and by now you'll have realised that it's the much requested second season of that wonderful comedy show - How I Met Your Mother.

I'm actually pretty astounded that it finally came out on DVD; it feels like I've been waiting for this release almost as long as I was stuck waiting for the third season of The Shield to be released in the UK (for the record that was 2 years, 10 months, 19 days of agony and surviving on downloaded episodes) - now it hasn't been that long, but it has been over a year, which is a little ridiculous considering that the show is on it's fifth season in America.

[Don't worry, I'm not going to rant about regions and slow releases creating an artificial market and encouraging piracy today!

How I Met Your Mother is a cream of the current crop sitcom designed as a self billed "love story in reverse". Narrated by Ted it looks back on the journey he undertook seeking 'the one' - the mother of his children, a poor, long suffering boy and girl who have to endure his unending story of how he met their mother.

This show is of course no secret by this time, it's a massive hit and one of the two shows which catapulted the wonderful Neil Patrick Harris back into the limelight (I guess Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle helped a little as well) by reminding us just how awesome he is. It's quite a turnabout from my perspective at least, because I remember him from Doogie Howser, M.D. - which in all honesty was a show I couldn't stand and only tolerated the end of because The A-Team was on afterwards. Yes, I think it's fair to say I hated Doogie Howser as a child - but I can honestly say I've got nothing but positive things to say about NPH.

I've digressed, onto the boxed set itself. It contains the second season, which can be considered to be the 'Robin' season in Ted's story arc. The first season was spent somewhat chasing after Robin and resulted in more than a few failed relationships on Ted's part. But it's also the season where Lily and Marshall approach their wedding, complete with all the pitfalls and issues that entails.

So many comedy shows are pretty much afraid of approaching a young marriage, preferring either to dance about with lots of close and "nearly" moments in order to avoid the "Moonlighting curse" (something I hate). Or they establish the marriage before the show starts and then deal with the comedy of a married couple. HIMYM instead takes the somewhat fresh route of charting Lily & Marshall's growing relationship and the course into marriage. Managing it with expertise and making it something both touching and exceptionally funny.

Cast wise things remain much the same as the first season; with Barney Stinson fully emerging into his role as the breakout character with the best delivery of lines, Robin gradually strengthens as a character and becomes more quirky and poor Ted remains the most boring member of the bunch - most of the time playing the straight man to everyone else.

HIMYM has been called 'Friends for the noughties', but I feel that's somewhat unfair a comparison, because in many aspects HIMYM is the more accomplished and enjoyable show - it has Friends to look back on and as such can see what will work and what won't - and as such it's surpassed the umbrella waving beau of the nineties as my favourite new york 30 something sitcom.

If you've not already started watching HIMYM, now is a great time to catch up on the first two seasons.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Languages: English, French
Rating: 12
Run Time: 7 Hours 38 mins
Region: 2
Subtitles: French, English, Swedish
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DVDs in Review: 101# The Sopranos: The Complete Series Four

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I was a little mixed with my feelings on the third season of The Sopranos, it had some great moments - but it was uneven enough that as a result The Sopranos won't ever be surpassing my perennial favourites - The Wire and The Shield - in my top ten. But that said it was still light years ahead of most (non-HBO) television.

The fourth season, I'm happy to report, was a far more solid and coherent piece of quality entertainment. The family is struggling with tough economic times (sound familiar?) Uncle Jun is heading for trial and Tony himself is still struggling with his internal conflict.

I could repeat myself here by gushing about the performances, as across the board they are enchanting. In particular James Gandolfini's performance as Tony - he has this one particular expression which looks like a mix of a shark that scents blood and a toad at the bottom of a deep putrid well. There's something completely predatory and unwholesome about it, and it's always a delight to see him use it to express Tony's reaction to the situation. It's almost like he draws a foggy curtain over the front of his mind and retracts back the humanity, leaving only an animal in place.

I'll leave a further look at Tony Soprano for a later post, one which takes a look at some of the more... unpleasant leading men in television and compares/contrasts them. Suffice to say Tony's in the top tier, especially after his performance in this season (the horse incident is just superb in the way it blindsides you and then reminds you just how brutish Tony really is - if you haven't seen it, don't worry calling it 'the horse incident' is not a spoiler ;).

As with series three, series four has a handful of episodes which outshine the rest by light years - this time the vast majority of them revolve around the always entertaining Ralphie Cifaretto who initially joined the show in the third season and fast became a hugely entertaining arsehole of epic proportions. Whoever Did This is one of the greatest episodes of the show I've seen so far as is The Weight. Both of which owe a great deal to Ralphie's presence and general douche-baggery.

I think at this point it's also worth giving large props to Tony Sirico's performance as Pauile Walnuts - I've always had a fond soft spot for the character since the start of the show - and that grew a great deal after the quite brilliant 'snow' episode in the third series (Pine Barrens). He goes from strength to strength in this season; I especially enjoyed his completely inappropriate overreaction towards Christopher in Everybody Hurts - you can almost bank on Paulie getting himself into some trouble that's entirely his own creation any time he makes a decision.

I think it's fair to say that the fourth series of The Sopranos is quite excellent, I still feel that the first two seasons pulled off the strongest story lines - but there is no doubt that number four is a more complete and enjoyable entity than number three was.

The Extras:
Audio Commentaries on four episodes.
Episodic previews and recaps (for the REALLY hard of memory)
Recaps of series 1, 2 and 3 (For those of you who want to get someone up to speed quickly without having to rewatch the previous seasons).
Cast/Crew Biographies
Interactive Menus (Seriously, this is listed as a bonus feature. I wonder what the non-interactive version is like, maybe it tells you that you're not allowed to watch the show.)
Scene Access (...words fail me)

The Details:
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Languages: English
Rating: 18
Region: 2
Run Time: 11hours 48mins
Subtitles: The box only says English, but I found German, Italian and French amongst others.
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HBO: How do I love thee, let me count the ways...

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Deadwood, The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under, John Adams, Generation Kill, In Treatment, The Wire, Carnivale, Band of Brothers, Flight of the Conchords and Big Love; these number amongst my favourite shows or mini-series and they all have one thing firmly in common.

They are all from Home Box Office.

In the world of American television there are three networks that I consider to be ones which provide a higher level of quality television than the rest. These are FX, Showtime and the aforementioned HBO. FX and Showtime are networks I keep an eye on and sample shows from them - sometimes I find greatness (Rescue Me and Weeds for example) and sometimes I find shows which I'm not that fussed on (Nurse Jackie), but HBO is a network which I've come to realise never has any of the latter type. Every single HBO production I've watched (and I've seen nearly all of them now) has been quality that is within the top percentile of television shows.

Three of the most significant shows of the last decade came from HBO (The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under) and collectively HBO shows represent around 10% of my personal top 100. That's a huge sweep for a single network, especially when you consider that I'm not an exception in this - many others have similar praises - TVGuide's top 100 episodes of all time features several episodes from HBO; and most critic's top ten "best shows of all time" lists will include at least two or three HBO shows. Empire's list has The Wire and The Sopranos; Time Magazine's has several, as does The Guardian and even Bloggers can't resist including them in their lists (for example here).

It's kind of incredible really, HBO is just one network - a subscription one at that - and in all honesty that's pretty much all I personally know about it. I don't live in America, I watch TV in a detached from timeline fashion that mostly involves boxed set marathons, I don't have any form of subscription television and yet my tastes in television shows are dominated by this one institution which consistently seems to raise the bar for storytelling in a televisual context by not seeming to compromise on depth and only occasionally where accessibility is concerned (out of the show's I've mentioned only The Wire truly requires one to work at their viewing to click with it).

I don't think every network has to be like HBO, there's room for most kinds of programming on the airwaves, but I do feel that more networks and shows should be aspiring to surpass HBO's standard of excellence. Right now there's no doubt (for myself at least) that HBO is my preferred source of television. That said there are networks who do seem to be working on becoming quality providers; the aforementioned Showtime is trying - but is suffering from a lack of consistency, same with FX. The other network which might rise up to become a contended is AMC; but at the moment all they seem to have is Mad Men and Breaking Bad, two most excellent shows, but they're going to need to bring some more big hitters to their lineup - and I suspect they intend to over this year.

In the UK, on the other hand, things seem to be at an all time low - the BBC has very few good quality new dramas or sitcoms and ITV has even less. British television has never been at the forefront of innovative TV - the best show on the screens right now is the frankly ancient Doctor Who, it's still brilliant - but it's hardly enough by itself. We're desperate over here for a quality subscription channel which provides strong and original British programming - but until then I'll keep watching everything HBO brings us.

So how about it HBO? How about giving us Home Box Office UK?
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DVDs in Review #100: The Sopranos: The Complete Third Season

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I've been meaning to write about the third season of The Sopranos for a while now, I'm actually close to watching the end of the fourth season at the moment of writing this. But I've been putting it off and it took me a while to understand why.

Now there is no doubt in my mind that The Sopranos is in the top 1-5% of television in history, and it's been utterly fantastic to watch. In particular the additional depth provided by the ongoing psychiatric treatment of Tony Soprano makes it a delight to watch. James Gandolfini (in addition to having a most excellent surname) continues to bring us a character who's both compelling and completely sociopathic - there is no doubt that he's brought Tony to life with such completeness that the character is amongst the greatest of criminal protagonists to have graced our screen. He's a likable monster who can make you forget the terrible crimes he's committed at times much like Vic Mackey, Shane Vendrell (The Shield), Stringer Bell (The Wire) and to a lesser extent characters Dexter Morgan (Dexter) & Walter White (Breaking Bad). He really is a complete human being, even if he's from the more loathsome side of humanity.

Likewise performances across the board are fantastic, to name everyone who puts in class work would be effectively naming the entire cast one after another. Returning (surviving) faces and new ones alike they're all spot on what they should be - even if that's annoying, amusing, disturbing or some mixture of negative traits. It's almost impossible to find fault with the performances as even if you dislike a particular character it's because you're supposed to dislike them.

The thing about the third season is this, while it's consistently better than (approx) 99% of everything shown on television, this season just doesn't feel better than the two seasons before it. The cardinal rule of seasons here at Rev/Views is "each season must be better than the one which came before it" and if I'm honest I enjoyed the first two seasons a lot more than this one. Don't get me wrong some episodes were amazing - Employee of the Month, University and Pine Barrens in particular blew me away with their stories - but a lot of the rest just felt par for the show, not terrible but also not great.

[Incidentally I found Employee of the Month a very difficult episode to watch, but the final scene in it was just superb. To take a character on such a terrible journey like that, and then to give them the power back is one thing. But to have a character so ethically strong as to not then use that power - it was just great.]

Additionally, the end of the season didn't have that same feeling of release as the first two seasons. They both built up to moments which blew me away and left me feeling justified for the investment of time. This season at the end instead felt more like things were just happening and it was setting up for the fourth season - there was no real over arcing plot to properly serialise the show. It was mainly life, happening one day at a time.

Maybe this sounds rather negative, and if so I do need to clarify that I was still enthralled by the show and it is no doubt one of the best shows in the medium of television - all time - it's just I was left feeling a little "that's it?" at the end.

Fortunately, the fourth season has been nothing short of fantastic so far. So seriously, if you're not watching The Sopranos (and haven't already seen it)... What's your excuse?

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Books on Television

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If there's one thing we here in the United Kingdom do better than anyone else it's get rained on; but we're also past-masters at complaining about things and in recent years the television has become an enormous target for the wonderful mix of irony, sarcasm and plain old world weary observation. In part it's because the world of television is such a large target, if you look hard enough (or for more than 30 seconds) you can always manage to find something on there which is offensive, stupid or tasteless with relative ease. Television has also become a 'lowest common denominator' format for that essential human social interaction - the telling of stories.

Books on the other hand have been around a lot longer, and while they are now available for very affordable prices they still require a greater amount of effort to digest and interact with than the television. Additionally books communicate to their readers on a different level when compared to television - there is a tendency for books to make assumptions about the common sense and intelligence of their readers, in short - if you read books you're able to make assumptions and come to conclusions without having exposition spoon fed repeatedly into your brain. (Not all books do this, there are still plenty of brilliant low brow books out there.)

Television on the other hand - it's not managed to make this transition and it seems to have gotten stuck in a feedback loop which has resulted in the vast majority of television assuming that it's viewers are incapable of 'getting it' unless 'it' has been served up at least once on an obvious platter labeled "VERY IMPORTANT PLOT POINT. TAKE NOTE!!!!111oneone". This has resulted in encouraging lazy viewing habits from a significant portion of the viewing public, which means they respond best to simplistic and nonthreatening television, which means they get it, which means they watch it, which means I can keep writing that over and over endlessly until we end up with a television show where people shout out what they're doing and why so the viewer isn't confused. ("I AM SITTING IN A CHAIR NOW BECAUSE I AM EATING BECAUSE I AM HUNGRY!")

Not all television is like that, but enough of it is getting that way - and because we British just love to be miserable and point out how bad everything is (especially the weather, it's been terrible here lately) there's a wonderful market for writers to gift us with books which in essence look down on the world of television with a variety of emotions and viewpoints.

What follows is a few of my favourite books on television.

Charlie Brooker's Screen Burn:
Television With it's Face Torn Off


Charlie Brooker's Dawn of the Dumb:
Dispatches from the Idiotic Frontline

Two collections of Brooker's Guardian television opinion pieces/critical reviews - Screen Burn spans from the years of 2000 to 2004 and it covers a lot of the significant events in television from this time, with a mostly British focus. This of television includes such significant moments as the birth of Big Brother, 24, The Wire and The Shield along with many others - and all of these shows make it into the book in some form or other. It's also the era where Simon Cowell first really started to gnaw at the knackers of the music loving public and move towards rinsing them for every penny he could get.

Dawn of the Dumb covers from 2004 to 2007 - the era which brought us the rather uninspiring Sir Alan Sugar (and his significantly more interesting minions), soft core porn cooking goddess Nigella Lawson [seriously, who names their daughter Nigella? That just screams "I wish we had a boy!"], and perennial laughing stock "Robin Hood(ie)" arrived on our screens (to be fair, the ending wasn't bad and Guy stabbing Marian is the greatest misogynistic moment on British television ever - stupid bint, don't taunt a heartbroken sociopath with a sword).

Brooker's style is punchy, frank, honest, open, straight to the point and most of all not afraid to mince words and call a spade a spade. Sometimes I do envy Brooker's tolerance for absolutely awful television, I've tried to watch it myself at times - because bad television makes for great ranting recaps. But I just don't have the stomach for it, my time is too precious to me to spend it watching stuff which drives me to rage - at least without being paid for it. Not even the perennial turd that is Casualty.

One of the most interesting (and possibly disturbing) things about these two books is how relevant they remain to this day. We're talking about short critical pieces from the last decade and yet nothings really changed in the world of TeeVee - the shit is still as shit as ever, maybe a little worse and the best is so rare it's a delight when you run into it. Everything else tends to land in the middle and pander to lazy viewing habits.

As such these books supply a look back on the past years of television through "not rose" tinted spectacles, but they also remain pertinent to this very day - and I'm not sure if that's brilliant, or completely depressing.

The Best of: Is It Just Me or is Everything Shit?

While "Is it Just Me..." is not exclusively about television, it is a quintessentially British book and it during it's full swing of moaning and bile it does indeed take several shots at television. The sections are organised in the old A to Z fashion and if I'm honest they vary a little in quality. Some of the single line entries are hilarious (The Chuckle Brothers one is a single word and still cracks me up), but others miss the point by a large margin.

The television entries naturally cover the "worst" of popular television (which is a subjective point I know) - and go from that old chestnut Big Brother and Casualty to shows like CNN and a particularly brilliant entry on Little Britain, but they also cover topics like "Calamity Porn" looking at shows that cash in on disasters (or potential ones) and items like Interactive media (aka The Push the Red Button trivia quiz!)

It's not as hilarious or even "enlightening" (and I use that term loosely) as either of Brooker's offerings but it's a fun, light read which raises a few interesting points to consider and passes the time well.

Shouting at the Telly

There is almost no attempt to disguise what Shouting at the Telly is, it's an unashamed example of the word looking down condescendingly on the picture and then proceeding to rip into television with both venom and fondness. Unlike the previous books this one is a collection of pieces from a variety of individuals grouped roughly into category chapters.

The articles cover subjects from the highly specific - like Alan Dale's career post Neighbours - through tropes like "The Evil Face Hug" (a brilliant piece about a hilarious television device) to broad sweeps about whole genres. My personal favourites - apart from the aforementioned "Evil Face Hug" include the HBO Boxed Set Love - something I suffer from myself, I've almost reached the point where I'll automatically buy anything with HBO's logo on it because I've never been let down by the network. The Doctors Who Weren't - covering a range of actors who almost became Doctor Who but didn't - and the fantastic "My Irrational Hatred of Reality TV Show Contestants" - a piece that sums up why Reality TV is so intoxicating for many.

Shouting at the Telly is a fast paced and entertaining book which is ideal for reading in short bursts, the changes in writing style are quite refreshing and even if you find one writer's piece boring it's no big issue because you know in a few short paragraphs it'll be time for someone else. [Unlike here where I can just drone on and on about The Wire and The Shield until you fossilize.] It's a great coffee table book, unfortunately it isn't about coffee tables.

Finally the other book I would have written about is The Wire: Truth Be Told, a fantastic companion piece to the series. But I wrote about it earlier...
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