Thursday, 28 August 2008

Generation Kill

I had initially given myself a set of rules, a guideline of what would be valid on this blog, or at least, I had imposed on myself one particular rule, that I would stick only to television programmes I watch on television. However, I've had to ignore that rule, if only in favour of cool points.

I haven't mentioned The Wire yet, partly because of my underlying blog law, but also partly because I was thinking of having an ultimate Wire special where I would allow myself to spew uncontrollably about every aspect of the show, from beginning to end. I would allow myself to break my rule, only after watching all five series'.

But, I haven't finished yet, I'm anxious about beginning series five, I know it is supposed to be conclusive, drawing together the themes and characters of the past by finally bringing in the media, but, well, I'm biding my time, at least for a weekend or so.

Instead, tonight, I took to watching 'Generation Kill' written by David Simon and starring our friend Ziggy from The Wire Series Two, it's a gritty drama delving into the sandy depths of the recent Iraq war. A hefty challenge and one that many others have undertaken, usually in feature format, and often quite easy to ignore.

It's not as instantly gratifying as The Wire, not for me anyway, perhaps because the issue is a little too close to home. I find it difficult to watch documentaries and dramas which concern themselves with the events of the past five years or so, I find little solace in any anti-war stance and sometimes I take offence too easily at any mistreatment of Iraqis.

Generation Kill does have a nice script, naturally, though perhaps verging on being a little too smart - it doesn't have the Baltimore twang that made The Wire smarts fitting and acceptable. But then perhaps, I want to be critical. It also has the satisfying difficulty of figuring out who you like and who you don't which came with the first few Wire episodes. I liked the comic relief, the gas mask situation particularly, and naturally the nazi walk. I like the ridiculous Godfather character and the reporter and even Ziggy is a bit less unbearable - not that he's called Ziggy.

In all, I could like it, but that doesn't stop me being cynical about war dramas. I worry about their ability to get the two sides of the coin quite perfectly sculpted. I wonder just how much of it really is bullshit, as I don't know how far the writers have been in all this. I suppose it is something I'll have to research.

I might be proved wrong as the ending of the episode hinted at a promising series; a group of Iraqi's who surrendered to the Americans were turned around, back towards death, the unified guilt completely erased all previous behaviour, however disgusting. Yet, the point is, they did engage in such behaviour, it's as though they don't know what they're thinking half the time; some proclaiming the Iraqi's humanity, other seeing them, dark skinned, foreign, wearing unfamiliar clothing, holding unfamiliar belongings and crying out to be mocked, face down in the mud. It needs to be sympathetic to the marines, but equally, it has to show their filthy habits, and I think, it might just be worth moving on to episode two, just to see if both heads and tails look as well drawn as the other.

Perhaps I'll break my rule again soon...

The Wrong Door

Thanks to a friend at the BBC (ha) I was made aware of BBC Three's new sketch show some time last week. Their attractive interactive website and numerous fake government organisation type sites to coincide with the show were enough pull to switch over from Charlotte Church's (olympic swimmer winner) Becky Bashing and have a gander at the sketches I didn't see online. I recommend the main site highly for its entertainment value and its quirky little games. However, exploring the Urban Zone will take you to the TIT website (Tactical and Intelligence Training) which induced real, out loud, laughter when I first saw it.

So, clearly, I had spent enough time on the website to see the destructively forgetful robot looking for his keys but it was no less amusing. The annoying little shit Nemesis III was as annoying as I could ever have imagined and Dance Mat Girl looked like she was having a whale of a time.

I was pleased to see Matt Berry pop up though he's becoming little more than a comedy cameo of late, it's almost as if putting him in will make everyone thing the show has more comic credibility. In some ways, it sort of works, he certainly manages it better than Rich Fulcher whose last effort (or at least, the last thing I saw) Trixie and Whateveritwas, was so unforgivably appalling that I barely lasted ten minutes into it before switching over in disgust.

The show made use of keeping it to a few sketches and giving each piece a little bit of a story but I know there's more to come. It felt a little bit of a slow burner but it was not entirely devoid of laughs, the bit towards the end with the car crashing into the lamppost was a personal highlight, but I don't think I'll ever get the dinosaur boyfriend bit.

Giving it that alternate universe edge is nice and it could really develop into a darkly funny bit of British comedy. I want more and just by looking at the website(s) I have no doubt I'll get more.

Start here: The Wrong Door, have fun.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

I'll make this snappy

My computer's having a slow day but it's only right that I mention something I caught on BBCThree this evening. I think it was called 'Britain's Most Disgusting Food' or something to that effect.

It was presented by a charming young man by the name of Alex Riley, with his rectangular, dark rimmed glasses and rather floppy hair he looked great in a lab coat and even better in a wet suit filled with 40% his own weight in water. He was out on a mission to find the mos disgusting, crap-filled food in Britain and it was a wonder what he came across. 'Bangers with Beef' was a favourite, with only 5% beef, these 'bangers' because it's illegal to call them sausages, were fall of the most appalling, sickening, science-experiment, lab rat crap you could imagine, E numbers, 'connective tissue', pork fat, reconstructed chicken (or something) and he made it all, into a lovely sausage, and fed people with it at the Good Food Show. He even tried to ask Gordon Ramsey about his endorsements of this Cash and Carry, at a book signing; this didn't go so well.

In some ways he was the antithesis to Hugh Fearnley Whittinstall (forgive spellings, I can't be bothered to Google him) in that everything he did was concentrated on 'food' that came barely anything close to a farm. He made pies, 'meaty' and 'sweety' and tried to fob them off. He, in true journalistic fashion, got told to stop filming, asked if he had permission to be filming he said: 'no', because he's a trooper.

Of course, he wasn't really the antithesis to lovely Hugh, he plays a supporting role to his quest, look at this bad food, so Hugh can kep plugging the good food.

I'm not even fed up of these programs though, in fact I want more, I want a constant reminder that I should, wherever possible, be cooking my own food using good quality ingredients. For example, this evening, I made burgers (to Jamie Oliver's recipe on the 'feed the family for a fiver' ads) and they were delicious and all good, aside from the fact that they were fried, I FRIED THEM. Well done Jamie, well done Mr. Riley.

Of course the best part about tonight's programme on disgusting food were all the comedy interludes, he set to market his pies and made a hilarious advert with a child asking for 'more connective tissue please' then at the end he goes to his 'mum': 'can i eat one' and she slaps the pie out of his hand: 'no, they're disgusting!' Beautiful.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008


I'll admit, there are a lot of reality TV shows that I only watch because of Alex James (because, let's face it, he pops up a lot, that rock band show for example, or that time he was in a jury). However, what resulted was not just his warming smile and farmer pot-belly but another reality TV veteran: GOLDIE! Not to mention some agreeable faces like: Peter Snow, cousin of news favourite Jon Snow and the delightful Sue Perkins, who, someone told me, was the Guarian readers' answer to Jodie Marsh. Nice. Such comments don't really bother me, perhaps Guardian readers need their own Jodie Marsh. Anyway, she's both intelligent and entertaining...Sue Perkins that is...not Jodie.

So, why might the BBC have brought these eight rather interesting celebrities together? (Bradley Walsh is another; balancing it out a little from the middle class-ness of it all.) Well, it's only to go and teach them all the be conductors for the BBC Concert Orchestra! What's more, they help those low-culture masses by using familiar pieces of classical music like, you know, the one that's used for the opening titles of The Apprentice, and the Fantasia one oh and err the Alton Towers tune...that way we can 'do do do do' along and flail about ourselves, really getting to grips with what the stars are going through.

It started with a demonstration of precisely why it's difficult to be a conductor, thanks to the delightful Alex James' sweetly nervous and frankly piss poor performance. Asking his orchestra for help and desperately unsure of the tempo of the piece he bumbles and stumbles and stop-starts his way through an abysmal version of 'Carmen' by Bizet (don't think the audience can't learn a thing or too as well, I learnt all about those four pieces of music, like, who they were by and, what they were called...) but it's all okay because he hasn't been taught a thing yet, we figure they will all be like that. Quite unfortunately for lovely Alex, they're not. It appears most people seem to grasp it pretty well, all considering.

It's feature-length and thanks to BBC, no loo breaks (I do find films on the BBC are just a little bit too much for my small-screen attention-span) but always absorbing as each of the eight contestants and their individual tutors support them, yell at them and laugh with them. Poor Goldie has to DJ somewhere along the way and gets a bit sleepy and David Soul enjoys acting out a silent short full of, er, passion, to his mentor. Katie Derham wiggles too much and Jane Asher is just a bit too much of a natural, not much fun to watch really I worry the women (apart from good old Sue, let us down).

The final showdown comes about and there's a royal fuck up to an unfortunate favourite character, it means an unsurprising end but a real shame. I worry that we'll lose the most entertaining individuals to stuffy, well-educated types, but at least Alex James is all over the front of the 'Maestro' webpage so I'd like to think he'll be sticking around another week or so. Not to mention Goldie's incredible final performance was an absolute treat to watch.

Great for a Tuesday evening, fun and absorbing and you can learn a thing or two about the subtleties of classical music...maybe. Hopefully they'll give the audience a bit more credit with some lesser-known pieces next time. Though, admittedly, I really have only heard the ones that are used on the telly so it's likely that if they did presume we were more intelligent, I'd certainly get lost and lose enjoyment.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Time Off

I went away from three weeks to Japan and thus had to take time off telly. I have no idea what's going on in Big Brother, who knows who's still in Beauty and the Geek. Home and Away probably had a few accidents, a wedding, three funerals and introduced a couple of new characters in a matter of days without me getting to see any of it.

But, alas, I return lost in a word of BBC dramas about Sadam Hussein. Something I caught a few minutes of last night before switching over to something more bareable: Why couldn't they either speak in an English accent or speak in Arabic?!? Why did they have to do that awful Disney style 'Arabic accent' it makes neither sense nor difference to anything. The guy looked like Sadam, wasn't that enough to demonstrate that this was a show about him and about Iraq?

I learnt a little about Japanese telly whilst I was away, not much, I'll admit, I saw no cool anime and they seemed to enjoy showing Western films dubbed in Japanese in all the hostels which was no use to anyone. However, the odd moment presented me with visual gems.

There was one riveting piece of weekday afternoon programming, presented by a woman so easily impressed and so talented at producing just the right sound to convey her awe. One episode involved a sort of magic man performing various tricks and illusions and seemingly (though, obviously I couldn't understand a word of it) he was teaching the viewers how to do them. All the while lovely lady was aaaah'ing and ooooh'ing and Japanese style 'ooaawwwaaahhh'ing' away quite wonderfully.

Another episode involved BUBBLES. Now, I think it could well be argued that just about everyone loves BUBBLES right? So, a couple of blokes were pissing about in the studio making bubbles. They demonstrated how to make the perfect bubble formula, they blew bubbles through their own hands, they made little bubbles inside big bubbles, they split big bubbles into two smaller bubbles, they even put lovely awe-struck lady IN A BUBBLE. Then, whilst she was still in said bubble, they shook her hand, bubbles in tact. Frankly, Richard and Judy need to step up with educational bubble and magic trickery. It's a winner.

The rest of my televisual experience, much like the rest of my experience in various cities of Japan involved a lot of bright coloureed and a lot of excitable Japanese talking, fast, excitable, loud, noisy talking. And more bright colours. There was also a lot of baseball, which I don't understand, oh, and some sumo.