Happy Birthday to Rev/Views!

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I missed the actual date for my blog's birthday this year... Oops. It was actually the 27th of September 2007 when I started writing on here.

This year has been a reasonable year for television, not amazing if I'm honest - most of the existing shows I've watched have either been pretty OK (but nothing to go nuts about), or fallen by the wayside and been placed as "to catch up with on DVD". Only "Mad Men" has managed to stand tall, but Boardwalk Empire looks full of promise and I'm hoping it'll

But as for new shows, the world of DVDs has been most kind to me this year. Thanks to Dan Owen of Dan's Media Digest I discovered "In Treatment", thanks to my father I found "Mongrels", thanks to my sister I learned to enjoy "The Inbetweeners", thanks to Aaron of Snark and Fury I rediscovered "Robot Chicken", thanks to Lucia of Heroine TV I've started to watch "My So Called Life" and thanks to my random 'I'll have this' purchases in local stores (impulse buys trump internet purchases for me every time) I introduced myself to "Samantha Who", "Frisky Dingo", "Freaks and Geeks", "Wonderfalls" and "Better Off Ted".

Highlights of the year outside of the DVD spectrum include this year's Doctor Who (which I reviewed over at TV Geek Army) which was a triumphant urination on the head of Rusty's offerings from the years previous, writing for TVGA (I'll be reviewing Sons of Anarchy for them every Sunday) and podcasting for the first time with Lucia (Heroine TV).

I'm hoping in this upcoming year to do a couple of podcasts of my own, write some more guest reviews for other sites (just ask if you're interested, I have time to do a fortnightly slot for sure!) and catch up on some seriously great shows!
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Cancelled Gems Podcast: Part II

The second (and concluding) part of my podcast with Lucia of Heroine TV is now up on her site (here). We tackle shows like Frisky Dingo, Dollhouse, Pushing Daisies, Drive, Terminator, Better Off Ted amongst others; and we totally do not talk about Arrested Development (honest!)

It's around the three and a half hour mark as we got a little carried away. Enjoy!
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Heroine TV - Rev/Views Podcast - Cancelled shows

By Rev/Views
No full update today, instead there's a link to my first ever podcast which I did in concert with Lucia of Heroine TV.

This is the first of a two part show and in it we discuss Firefly, Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, Joan of Arcadia, Jack and Bobby, My-So-Called-Life and Darkplace. We also touch on why Star Wars makes me feel a little sad inside and what happened the last time I watched Star Wars: A New Hope (back in 2005).

The podcast can be heard here. Enjoy and feel free to comment over at Heroine TV on it.
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DVDs in Review #111: Mongrels

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Mongrels is a strange beast of a show to try and describe, it was initially recommended to me by my father - a lover of the following categories of shows Science Fiction, British Sitcoms, Documentaries and "sick" comedy (and probably others, but these seem to be the types he recommends to me). There's a fair amount of crossover between the shows we enjoy, so it's always enough for me to check out a show he's recommended.

To quote here's the recommendation I got from him with Mongrels "You've got to see Mongrels, it's this sick show about animal puppets. Really funny, but disgusting as well."

My curiosity was peaked enough to give one episode a try on the BBC iPlayer and I enjoyed it enough to pick up the entire first season on DVD.

I think you can encapsulate the essence of Mongrels with the following description; it's an adult orientated sitcom in the vein of the Muppet Show. It centres around five animals who live in (or near) the back yard of a pub. There's Nelson (voiced by Rufus Jones), a metrosexual fox and the slightly neurotic lead of the show; his best friend Marion (Daniel Tetsell), a stray cat of an indeterminate origion who is best described as being - off the wall and easily persuaded into bizzare acts. Nelson has a crush on Destiny (the beautiful and hilarious Lucy Montgomery -
whos performances here, in The IT Crowd and "The Armstrong and Miller Show" contines the trend of my favourite actresses being called Lucy - she's now in the Lucy Hall of Fame along with alltime favourite Lucy Porter) an beautiful afgan of questionable intelligence; Vince (Paul Kaye) a proper fox and general hard case; and Kali (Katy Brand) who is best described as a chav pidgeon with ideas well above her station. They're joined by Gary (Tony Way), Destiny's owner - who barely interacts with any of them apart from Destiny, existing as the token human in the show, while the animals can talk with each other, they cannot communicate in a meaningful and direct fashion with Gary (though they can communicate with other humans, it depends on the situation).

Visually the show is quite a treat, the puppets are distinctive and well put together, this combined with the superb voice acting and talented puppetering brings the show to life and is quite capable of imersing the viewer to the point that you forget that you're watching puppets. The stories are outlandish and deal with a range of "taboo" subjects including genocide, incest, murder, castration/neutering, forced "bum love", inter-species fornication and much more besides. Mongrels is a show that considers no subject too sensitive to lampoon and it gets away with it thanks to the inhuman appearance of its cast and the obviously "non-serious" intent of the show. It's there to make you laugh, maybe make you feel a little queesy and entertain you at the same time.

Mongrels is not a show to everyone's taste; it's often crude, low-brow and at times downright unpleasant, but it is also - most importantly - exceptionally hilarious and the DVD of the first series represents exceptional value. Two opposable thumbs up!
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The Shield: Urban Jungle - Throwaway & Dragonchasers

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Throwaway & Dragonchasers

Originally I wanted to write about just Dragonchasers, it's an episode worthy of a review/analysis all by itself, but my previous entry in the Urban Jungle series didn't include the episode Throwaway, so initially I'm going to write a little about that episode before moving onto Dragonchasers - the most important episode of the first season after the pilot episode.

Throwaway is the first episode that has the Strike Team dealing with a mess that isn't created by Shane, in this case it's Lem's **** up, shooting a man who turned out to be both a) unarmed, b) completely innocent and c) brother to a hot latina hairdresser. He shoots the man because he believes that he's armed with a gun and about to shoot Vic; this is the start of the pattern for Lem, he tends to get into trouble when he's protecting the people he cares about. In this case it's Vic, the man Lem considers to be something of a brother and a father figure. Lem himself has little family outside of the Strike Team and as such more than any of the others he considers the guys to be his family.

It is also the first episode to give Claudette (side note: Claudette was originally scripted to be a man, C.H. Pounder's performance convinced Shawn Ryan to change the characters gender with minimal other changes - one of the reasons Claudette is the strongest female personality on the show by a long margin, she's given the dominant role in the Claudette/Dutch relationship). It's also the moment where the Julien/Danny rift comes to a head, only resolved when Acevada himself steps in and breaks their heads against each other (figuratively) to force a resolution to the situation. For these two this is something of a turning point, the episode allows them to move forward and cements the foundation of a strong working and personal relationship. Julien and Danny working together is an important part of the show, they're often required to provide the story that contrasts with the Strike Team's high energy acts and Dutch and Claudette's tendency to journey in really dark places.

Mix into this a fantastic heist/set up performed by the Strike Team and Throwaway is a solid episode that works well and develops some of less well developed characters somewhat. Learning more about Claudette, especially Dutch's reactions towards her father, is welcome and entertaining; likewise having Julien and Danny come to some form of balance in their relationship as trainer/trainee is very important as it sets up one of the key elements in the following episode.

Dragonchasers is one of the episodes of The Shield where I experienced a television revelation, the very first episode was, of course, Pilot which stepped over the line of what was considered acceptable to show on television by having the lead character murder a fellow police officer at the culmination of it. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, The Shield then takes some time to distance itself from the pilot episode showing the return to normal that occurs after a fellow officer is killed on the job. Now, you'd be forgiven if you thought that considering the fact that Terry was murdered was going to be a large part of the shows initial thrust, but the truth of the matter here is that with only two people knowing the truth and a solid cover up clearing the evidence for every character in the show Terry's death looks exactly like it does on the surface - the bust went bad, Terry got killed. Police Officers die in the line of duty, everyone at the station knows that is a fact and they've all experienced it before - so they move on and back to the daily grind.

I've digressed, so I'll return to Dragonchasers and why it is the second episode in The Shield that changed the way I perceive television and raised the bar for what I accept as good story writing. Dragonchasers contains two monumental story lines in it, but for the first time neither one belongs to the Strike Team - instead the storys revolve around Julien and Dutch.

Up until this point in the series I considered Dutch to be little more than light relief and Julien to be a secondary character. Julien's antagonistic relationship with Danny (and being set against Vic for a while) made it difficult to access him as a character and Dutch for a long time had little more in the way of defining characteristics outside of "stereotypical nerd-cop".

Dragonchasers changes the game for both of them, for Julien the episode brings together his conflicted and angry emotions about being gay along with his new found resolve to do right by his patrol partner Danny. After a transvestite (played by Jazzmun) bites Danny (attempting to give her HIV - which he blames the police force for) Julien eventually agrees to throw the perp a 'blanket party' - a savage tradition where the perp is covered under a blanket in the back of a police van and then beaten with nightsticks. Julien not only cuts loose here, but his conflicted emotions over his own sexuality (and his commonly misguided notion that transvestites are the same as homosexuals in general) results in his turning the perp into himself in his mind. The resulting violence is exceptionally harsh, while the scene doesn't play out in graphic detail, the damage caused by the beating (as described by Danny) show just how far Julien went over the edge.

The real meaty story though belongs to Dutch, bringing to a head the 'face down' serial killer mini-arc, the initial thrust occurs when Julien and Danny happen upon a man masturbating in an alley - they let him go with a warning, but when mentioning the anecdote to Dutch he makes a connection most wouldn't. The man was jerking off near where one of the serial killings occurred (or at least where the body was dumped), this fits with the profile he was considering for the killer.

After first scoping Sean (the suspect) out Dutch has him come in, not to charge him with anything, but to sound him out and try to see if the man has any levers he can push. What follows is a tour-de-force performance from both Jay Karnes and Michael Kelly (as Sean), Dutch is quite literally broken apart by the intuitive and merciless Sean who disassembled every part of Dutch's personality in an exceptional level of mental bullying and showboating. Dutch himself sits there, trying to regain purchase and being humiliated - this humiliation is compounded even further when the rest of the station start watching Sean's performance for their own entertainment. You're left wondering why on Earth Dutch is willing to sit there and take this kind of abuse, is his obsession with finding the serial killer that large? Is he so desperate that he'll put up with anything to achieve this?

The revelation comes in the eleventh hour, when (watched by almost the entire force via CCTV) Dutch admits that he only took this tirade of abuse and humiliation with the intent of buying time to get a search warrant for both Sean's house and his aunt's. Once found out Sean soon changes track, admitting to everything and laying claim to his body count. The rest of the force watch as Dutch nails Sean and bags himself one serious serial killer - he walks out of the interview room to the sound of applause from his fellow officers. All of them are impressed with what Dutch did.

This just makes the closing scene of Dragonchasers all the more poignant, Dutch - still being congratulated - heads to his car and sits down inside before breaking down in tears. He may have scored a decisive victory (not just for Sean's victims, the public and the law in general, but also for himself and his status in the station), but Sean's attacks and how close they cut to the truth of Dutch's life, took their toll on him. Dutch may stand victorious but was it worth the price?

This entire storyline is amongst one of the best that Dutch and Claudette have, it's a great piece that portrays a lot about a man without needing to spell it out in a simplistic and 'dumbed down' fashion. Dutch doesn't need to vocalise his pain, it's all there for you to see in his actions and expressions.

Quite frankly it's a stunning performance and that's why Dragonchasers is one of the best episodes of The Shield (and possibly one of the best procedural episodes in the genre, it's certainly in a similar league to Homicide's Three Men and Adena).
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Kate - "What did you just say to me this morning?"
Jack - "What?"
Kate - "Don't use your testicle to justify your complete incompetence!"

I recently got my Wii set back up and it's now become my standalone BBC iPlayer. I suppose I could use it for other things, but I can't really figure out what else it would be any use for (having grown tired of the balance board that came with it). Fortunately for me the BBC iPlayer works pretty well on it and as such I've been using it to explore the various BBC programs that are on offer. On Demand viewing is pretty much my preferred viewing method these days, I don't want to be tied to watching the television at a fixed day and time, I want television to suit my lifestyle and my choices. If I want to go out for a cycle or an impromptu gathering I don't want to go through the hassle of having to remember to record any shows I miss.

Sure, I could set up series links and what have you, but again that doesn't suit my temperament. I prefer to look at a list of shows and pick one to watch immediately rather than draw up a list of shows that I want to record in order to watch at some point. I can now dip in and out of shows, taking a chance on things like Cowards, Mongrels (more on this one next week for sure) and returning to shows such as My Family and Armstrong & Miller whenever I feel like it.

This is how I came across the BBC 2 show Vexed; something about its entry in the comedy section of the iPlayer made me decide to click the play button. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the synopsis provided - "Police detectives Jack and Kate have very different approaches to the job and life in general. In fact they disagree on everything" - that just sounds, well bloody awful. And I know it wasn't the cast - I've never heard of Lucy Punch, Toby Stephens, Ronny Jhutti, Roger Griffiths or Rory Kinnear before and looking at their imdb entries it's not really surprising - none of them have performed any monumental roles, though they've all appeared in episodes of shows I have watched.

Vexed is best described as a comedy/drama/police procedural with an irrelevant sense of humour. It's a mild spin on the old cop buddy format with two somewhat disparate partners pushed together - in this case you have the talented and dedicated but somewhat neurotic DI Kate (Lucy Punch) partnered up with a man who seems to be permanently stuck in the 1970s with his misogynistic, womanising, lazy, cut corners attitude - DI Jack (Toby Stephens). It's an old formula and while it's not really a stretch for a show to partner a woman with a misogynistic pig it is one that works. The relationship provides a lot of bounce between the characters (as long as the man isn't too much of a tw*t).

Vexed has just three episodes at this time and with its production company Greenlit Right Productions in administration (or greenlit for termination as The Shield would have it), it's hard to say if there will be any more episodes - especially given the mixed critical reaction. I know that Dan of Dan's Media Digest had a rather adverse reaction when I tweeted about liking Vexed - I believe he threatened to unfollow me! Certainly many critics and reviewers have had negative things to say about the show, in particular about Toby's performance as Jack.

But frankly I disagree, I felt the show had a certain charm from a police based television series that I hadn't seen since Police Squad - Vexed is certainly grounded more in reality than Police Squad was, but DI Jack has a Frank Drebin feel to him - an ironically charged, ham-fisted performance that is over the top - but it's still pretty darn hilarious to watch him in the same way it's hilarious to watch Frank over act in every single scene. He's supposed to be charming and great with the ladies, but instead he tends to come across as ignorant, useless and piggishly chauvinistic and I think we all know those are traits that some women are drawn to like moths to flame. (I said some ladies, I didn't mean you of course!)

Lucy Punch's performance as Kate is the more grounded of the two performances, she's a lot of fun - a mix of a strong woman combined with a neurotic wife desperate to keep her home life together. She's the smarter of the pair by a long margin and tends to use her head in problematic situations - Jack instead seems to rely on a mix of intuition and dumb luck, he's a man who can't remember how to plant a tracking device properly, carries a gun without training (and then loses it) and electronically stalks women to pick them up. An awful piece of work if you met him in real life, but pretty darn hilarious on screen.

It is more than likely that Vexed won't have any more episodes after the third one, the combination of critical panning and the large factor of the production company being in administration seems the right mix to result in it being killed off before it has a chance to develop and that's a shame in my opinion, because there's a lot right about Vexed. It's something different enough to get my interest and it's one of the few new British shows that I found myself enjoying - it's energetic, crude, offensive and born in a timeless fashion that makes it feel like it would be just as much at home in the 1970s or 80s as it is in this day and age.

The three episodes that have been recorded cover a trio of cases - the first involves a serial killer hunting single women, the second a depressed banker under threat of assassination (in a rehabilitation clinic) and the kidnapping of Gemma G - a member of a girl band. Each episode is 60 minutes long and self contained.

In all I'd say you should consider giving Vexed a try, it's an uneven show that is in its infancy but there are times where the dialog and characters shine out with sheer genius and show what it could grow into. Jack/Toby and Kate/Lucy have some solid on screen chemistry that bubbles up in exceptional ways at times, especially when they are dealing with Jack's general incompetence. It's a fun show and something a little different - so spend three hours of your time and give it a go. I'm glad I did.
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DVDs in Review #110: Frisky Dingo: Season Two

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I recently watched and wrote about the first season of Frisky Dingo, a mad cap jaunt through the world of a supervillain named Killface and his newly acquired nemesis Awesome X (aka Xander Crews). Frisky Dingo is one of those shows you just have to watch to properly understand the brilliance of the show; it's energetic, funny, clever and frat house stupid all at the same time.

The second (and final) season picks up a short time after the cliffhanger ending of the first season, in an act of teenage rebellion Simon activated the Annihilatrix despite his father's plea not to do so. (un)Surprisingly the world was not plunged into the Sun, instead it was moved a short distance further away from the Sun, thus providing a solution to global warming.

Killface decides to take advantage of this gain in public opinion by running for President, something that the now destitute Xander Crews finds out about and decides to foil - if only he had the resources that is. Ka-Kow!

Much like the original season, Frisky Dingo 2.0 continues to develop and evolve both it's storyline and its characters, often in unexpected directions. This is, of course, a fresh and welcome change when compared to the format of many other cartoons (and indeed sitcoms), normally every story is, as you well know, self contained in a single episode. Frisky Dingo flaunts this by having each episode be a part of what came before, the ongoing storyline has some benefits and some disadvantages. It does manage to provide a narrative that you become invested in, it also gives you a wild ride that twists off to utterly unexpected places - it's only when you stop and take stock do you think "how on Earth did the story get to this point?" But, it also means that the show is almost completely inaccessable to anyone who hasn't watched it from the beginning. Events occurr on screen that make no sense when taken out of the context of the entire show and I believe that's at least one thing which contributed to the show's cancellation (and might also explain why it's spiritual successor 'Archer' has self contained episodes).

The first season of Frisky Dingo was a parody of current events, pop culture and the super hero genre. The second season retains this, but evolves it further by providing a strong parody of the US political structure. Killface, a viciously sociopathic individual 'cured' global warming - so he becomes the Democratic candidate; Crews on the other hand is a rich, decadent individual who lives almost completely alienated from normal society due to his bizzare isolation due to wealth - so naturally he's the Republican candidate. The pair are both moronic, have terrible habits and have no idea how to act like decent human beings (or even be one in Killface's instance).

Still, they push on - Killface supported by running mate (and rapper) Taqu'il, campaign manager Valerie and global warming poster child, the awesome penguine Baby Lamont. Xander supported by his wealth and Stan - his attempts to recruit a running mate prove a little... difficult to achieve.

Frisky Dingo was (and is) a shining example of how surreal and yet fantastic comedy can be. The ten minute episode structure the show follows really helps - much like it does in Harvey Birdman - there's no padding out of scenes, it's just plot, set up, gag, resolution - onto the next scene! This makes the show feel a lot longer than it is and absolutely packed to the (crab) gills with just about everything you could want from a comedy show with a sick sense of humour.

All that said, if still you're unsure about trying the show, perhaps this collection of clips from the show will help.

Second thought, that'll probably confuse you further, so let me try this angle instead.

Buy Frisky Dingo, it's the true American way. BOOSH!
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Film Review: Defendor

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Woody Harrelson
Elias Koteas
Michael Kelly
Sandra Oh
Kat Dennings
and Clark Johnson

The superhero genre is riding on a fair high at the moment, with the Marvel and DC heroes all making appearances in their respective films, films that range from the awesome (Hulk, X-Men: The Last Stand) to the truly awful (The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2) - wait, did I get that the right way round?

These films tend to cover exceptional individuals gifted with abilities that set them apart from the norm, Spider-Man has some kind of genetic ju-ju that powers his physical strength and then another suit that turns him into an Emo.

So... bad... (hit escape to stop him dancing... please!)

Superman on the other hand has a whole range of abilities, the core of which is being a colossal jerk and even 'ordinary man' Bruce Wayne has the super power of being mega ridiculously rich.

But, if you span back far enough you reach a different kind of superhero film, I of course refer to the most excellent Mystery Men. A film that deals with a lower key kind of superhero, those one step above 'the man on the street'.

Well the Canadian born movie Defendor has echoes of Mystery Men in it's construction, and along with it's showboating compatriot Kick-Ass the film deals with a more honest form of superhero, a man who has nothing more than his natural abilities as a human, marbles, wasps and a whole lot of heart.

Woody Harrelson stars as the titular Defendor/Arthur Poppington, a kind hearted but slow man by day and a masked vigilante by night. Defendor uses a catapult, marbles, jars of wasps and his grandfather's trench club in his tireless search for 'Captain Industry', the man who killed his mother.

Despite the subject matter of costumed avengers Defendor is an exceptionally low key movie, Arthur casts a stark contrast when compared against any of the more typical superheroes. He's a below average man of limited intellect who dons the persona of Defendor as a way of escaping from himself. His optimism and determination are pretty much all that keeps him going out onto the streets time and time again. There's no high level heroics, there's no dodging of bullets, there's just one very ordinary man doing extra ordinary things.

Comparisons to Kick-Ass are pretty much inevitable when you're looking at Defendor, but I honestly prefer Defendor. Kick-Ass is a film that may have originally had some real intent behind it's message (maybe), but Defendor wins out due to it's exceptional heart, sad story of a lonely man seeking to connect with a world that looks down on him and the powerhouse performance that Woody Harrelson brings to the screen.

Woody is no stranger to playing "lesser intellect" characters, as he's often taken the role of the below average man in the past, but this takes nothing away from his time on screen as Arthur/Defendor. He delivers a scorchingly painful performance that is both touching and funny. It would be easy to make Arthur seem like a character worthy of nothing more than comedic effect and pity, but Woody rounds out Arthur and makes you engage with him as a human being.

As the story unfolds Defendor meets a prostitute (Kat Dennings), who draws him into a conflict by revealing the location of Captain Industry. He spends time interacting with the always awesome Clark Johnson (Police Captain Fairbanks), hunting after and tangling with a rogue police officer (Elias Koteas) and being interviewed by a psychiatric (Sandra Oh) after he assaults a man in broad daylight. Defendor has his share of successes and failures during the course of the movie, nothing comes easy to him but he shines out as much as he falls behind.

Defendor is an exceptional movie with a great deal going for it. It's able to make you laugh and feel sad at the same time, it can engage you both viscerally and intellectually and it has a meaningful story with a real point to it. Add to this the driving powerhouse that is Woody's performance and you have an enjoyable movie that will stay with you after it has finished.
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