Monday, 3 November 2008

Is Britain devoid of talent?

British television screens are so awash with talent shows, I can’t help but feel that literally everyone with a modicum of singing, dancing or acting talent must have appeared on one already. Surely it can’t be long before Britain is completely devoid of fresh talent. A few more years of The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent et al and the government will have to act. I suggest they enact some serious immigration reform. For those of you who don’t know me personally I’m a third year Politics student so obviously I’m more than qualified to knock out the biggest reform of immigration law in British history. If anything, I’m over-qualified. Firstly they should offer an amnesty to any illegal immigrants in the country who can sing Whitney Houston’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ without sounding like a pissed up middle-aged woman doing karaoke on a hen night. The amnesty would also apply to those who can dance the tango without looking like they have rickets and those who can act at a level at least above Hollyoaks standard. We will hand out passports like candy to those who fit these stringent criterions.

From now on those applying for asylum shouldn’t have to prove that their lives are in danger in their home countries. Rather they should be subjected to grueling talent checks at border control, ascertaining whether their individual skills have a place on our plethora of talent shows. Unsuccessful applicants will be promptly directed to ape the mentally ill/retarded and apply for The X Factor where “acting like a mental” typically precipitates generous screen time for applicants in the early audition phase. Those who fail to even achieve this will be sent to build the Olympic village or to wander the streets unchecked until ID cards come in, at which point they will magically disappear. Or so the government seems to think anyway.


JAMES MORGAN

(published in an edited form in the Epigram 3rd Nov, issue 206.)

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Peaches Disappear Here - A Review

Just 8,000 viewers tuned in for the first episode of Peaches Disappear Here, in which Peaches ‘daughter of Sir Bob’ Geldof edits a new youth-orientated magazine. The crux of the show appears to be Peaches throwing numerous tantrums after she realises that editing a magazine isn’t as easy as getting money from her stupid twat of a father to spend on drugs and stupid clothes.

Audience reaction on internet forums has been overwhelmingly negative, tending to question Peaches Geldof’s suitability for the role of editor-in-chief of a magazine. Many viewers noted that her only real experience of journalism was a short-lived, poorly written column for the Daily Telegraph, which she used as a mouthpiece to slag off fellow socialites and those who unlike her, actually possess some kind of talent. Like when she branded fashion gurus Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine “upper-class bitches with no fashion sense.” Which she’s allowed to say because she dresses great and is really quite working class.

Peaches only real talent is for becoming famous off the back of her one-hit wonder, wallet-bothering, foul-mouthed father. Unfortunately for Peaches you can’t really stick “I possess the presenting skills of a mould-ridden bath mat, the journalistic ability of a dyslexic four year old and I have dated a couple of lead singers from crap, derivative indie bands” in the skills section of your C.V. Well at least she will soon be able to put “In 2008, I edited the first and last issue of Disappear Here magazine.”

The MTV show depicts Peaches as some kind of noble gadfly, pricking the egos of the pompous and the self-important. In actuality she’s a tedious little moron, about as suited to edit a magazine as Sarah Palin is for the US presidency.

Disappear Here? Please do.

JAMES MORGAN

Friday, 17 October 2008

Another shameless plug - the new Tart website

The Tart paper has a new website!

As previously mentioned on Cultural Wasteland our very own James Morgan is the entertainment editor.

The website revamp has been in the works for the last couple of months. While there's a few teething problems yet to be ironed out plenty of fresh content will be uploaded in the coming week.

So get on over to www.thetartpaper.com for some tasty satire.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Why I Went Right Off America

I’m not sure if the news has hit you yet, but I have renounced my Atlanticism. Before today, I was a lover of America, its people, and in particular American popular culture. For years now, I have consumed their films, television and music at a rate befitting of the silly little whore that I am.

But now, as the yellowed autumn leaves fall, so must my unfettered, unencumbered love affair with America. I am now an opponent of all things American, a rabid Gaullist, an opponent of America as fierce and outspoken as Hugo Chávez. For they, as a nation have gone too far – they’ve only bloody gone and started remaking loads of British television shows again.

Top Gear – this one may actually work, given that the show’s driving ethos is a thoroughly American one of rampant, blind individualism. They also like pretending that global warming is a myth, in order to keep driving big cars - which I'm sure will resonate with a large enough element of the American public to maintain a regular audience. Don’t be surprised if the hosts are even more afflicted with abject cretinism than Jeremy Clarkson, but without half his talent for sarcasm.

Spaced – thankfully this proposed remake of one our finest sitcoms has recently been shelved, following a largely negative response from fans, who perjoratively dubbed the proposal “McSpaced.”
If it had gone ahead, and have no doubt reader, it would have utterly shite, it would have served as a rather strange side show to the rising careers of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, two of the supremely talented triumvirate behind the original series. As mentioned by Pegg when he appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross to shill How to Lose Friends and Alienate People there are videos of the remake pilot floating about. And apparently it is appalling.

Life on Mars – if you bought into the critical hype this was the nearest thing we have produced that rivals the elite of US television (The Wire, The Sopranos etc) in recent years.
I imagine the US remake will be about as subtle as a brick to the face, and probably half as funny.

Worst Week - I can only echo what my colleague Stuart has previously noted. To see the massive posters for this one up in Times Square as I did was just plain strange. The original British version (The Worst Week of My Life) was high concept (man has a really bad week,) but low in humour (tired slapstick). Aside from being quite dull, it often erred on the wrong side of wacky.
If Americans insist on remaking British sitcoms why not remake a good one? Peep Show undoubtedly wouldn't work, they made a pilot for The Thick of It but it was subsequently abandoned, the same happened to Spaced (as mentioned above), Coupling didn't work, nor did Red Dwarf. So actually, don't bother.

I just spent a month travelling around America, and to be fair to them none of them could understand a word I said in my accent, inflected as it is with a delightful south-east London twang. It’s easy to forget that we Brits are infinitely more exposed to the various American regional accents, than they are to ours. So their common complaint that they simply cannot understand the accents in British shows may hold some truth. But other than that, is there really any legitimate reason to remake all these shows?

So forget universal healthcare, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the financial crisis, the real issue in November’s presidential election should be which one of the candidates will put a stop to this remake business.

JAMES MORGAN

(Published in an edited form in the Epigram 15th Oct, issue 205.)

Monday, 22 September 2008

Fringe S01E01 - A Review

Firstly may I apologise for the paucity of updates in recent weeks. I was holidaying in America and Canada for most of this period. Normal service will resume from this point on. Now that Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, The Wire and The West Wing are over, there’s a gaping void in American television where a real candidate for “best television show ever” should be. J.J. Abrams, America’s most irritatingly named, overrated fabulist, would like to fill that void. Most people who recognise the name know Abrams for Lost - every slack-jawed, pseudo-intellectual phillistine’s favourite show. Abrams has done little of note since Lost, with two unwelcome entries into the world of film - the distinctly underwhelming MI:3 (these missions are clearly not impossible enough if we've had 3 installments) and the sub-Godzilla, headache inducing Cloverfield.

Abrams new science-fiction series, Fringe, premiered in the US on August 8th. It is set to hit British screens soon, on Sky One. The show unites what we are to assume Abrams intends as wildly opposed characters – an FBI agent, her sullen boss, and a young, troubled genius - who tackle something called “The Pattern.” The Pattern is a series of seemingly unrelated strange happenings, that will obviously align into some inter-connected pattern by the season’s end. We are informed that they are caused by people toying with the so-called “fringe sciences”: pseudo-sciences like telepathy, reanimation, cryogenics etc.

The 80 minute, $10m pilot centres around a terrorist attack on a transatlantic flight involving some kind of weaponized biological agent that makes people’s skin go juicy, then transparent, and then kills them. Viewers are invited to accept many implausible scenarios - the Department of Homeland Security allows a young F.B.I. agent to investigate a case almost single-handedly that involves the aforementioned weapon. She chases after wild leads on a whim and cuts through red tape, waving the Patriot Act about with practically no supervision or backup. Given that it’s a science-fiction series, viewers will be more than willing to suspend disbelief for all the vaguely paranormal, pseudo-scientific elements, but the naïve depiction of the bureaucracies becomes irksome quickly. They are presented fallaciously as bottomless pits of manpower, resources and financial backing, a poorly-conceived crutch for the fantastical plot to lean on. Some political context and exposition would be welcome, but perhaps this will follow in future episodes.

The cast is predictably, uniformly attractive. Anna Torv, an Australian, plays Special Agent Olivia Dunham, a former investigator for the Marines now assigned to interagency liaison work. Other than her accent, which appears to be stuck somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, her performance is competent enough. Furthermore, she looks great in her underwear, which is convenient because the plot calls for her spend half her time in it. Joshua Jackson, as the science genius Peter Bishop, isn’t stretched much, as he’s simply asked to play his character from Dawson’s Creek, only less thick, and slightly more angry. Dunham’s boss is played by the shrewish, but handsome Lance Reddick. Last seen as Lt. Cedric Daniels in The Wire, the pilot episode of Fringe seemed to employ him in much a similar role (essentially using his piercing stare to cut down those under his command), except embodying a far lesser character, with a far inferior script.

Fringe is far from awful, but it is incredibly dull. You can only assume that most of the $10m budget was spent on cocaine for Mr. Abrams, because they certainly didn’t get their money’s worth from the special effects or the “star” cast. The plot is more pedestrian and linear than exciting and labyrinthine, planting few seeds that could invite viewers to return for future episodes. The interplay between the characters grows tedious quickly, and you can easily plot the course of the relationships from their initial dalliances and conflicts. Sadly, the most inventive, original thing about Fringe is the way in which they employ the intertitles explaining where the action has shifted to.

In a world with a million possible distractions, and several far superior shows (for instance The X-Files, which Abrams has so obviously plagiarised), Fringe really doesn’t warrant your attention. Unless of course you’re are a big fan of Lost. In other words – a complete moron.

JAMES MORGAN

(Published in a heavily edited form in the Epigram, 1 Oct, Issue 204).

Monday, 1 September 2008

'Tis the Season

Since the new television season officially kicks off tonight it seems like the appropriate time to take a quick look at the new shows on the horizon, with some speculation and for those that are cautious, zero spoilers. A further look at pilots was going to come but they don’t seem to have particularly leaked out into general consumption, True Blood and Fringe excluded and Fringe nearly gave me an aneurism watching it, let alone reviewing it in depth.

The CW has decided that what sells is money and sex after the success of Gossip Girl. Of course they seemed to have missed the point that while GG gained a lot of buzz this didn't translate into actual ratings. Because the show is aimed at young people who download their TV, rather than watch it. As Dirty Sexy Money was taken as a title one such new show gets the boring title Privileged, about two little rich girls and their poor tutor. From the previews available the tutor looks like she will be as whining and neurotic as Dawson’s Creek's Joey Potter. She comes with the obligatory male best friend completely in love with her, yet as per usual she remains completely oblivious to the raging erection he gets every time she so much as breathes near him. The actresses playing the two rich girls are attempting a mediocre impression of Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls yet only ever achieve a substandard Marissa Cooper, which is never a glowing commendation. The other big new show on this network is the much lauded 90210 spinoff/remake/revamp. About a group of rich kids... but everyone knows this premise already. Somehow the casting department managed to snag the actor that played Michael on The Wire, who will no doubt enjoy his new gritty material on the streets of Beverly Hills, moving from dealing with heroin addicts to shopping addicts. Oh and obviously he is playing both the kid from the wrong side of the tracks and fulfilling the "token" quota. Wire fans know he can do better. Further to this Jessica Walters, previously of the excellent Arrested Development, has been cast and the two show runners used to work on the classic Freaks and Geeks. For a show so shallow there really is a strong calibre of talent behind it that could give it depth, thus meaning it may actually be worth watching. A concern though is the way the show is being marketed, its simply baffling. The CW is trying to gear itself toward a teen audience, yet this show is doing all the stunt casting it can to pull in fans of the old show. Bringing back old characters and allowing them to dominate proceedings isn't going to win over any new fans, nor let the new characters develop and breathe on their own. Its pretty much going to alienate and annoy everyone, just actual rich kids.

Fox has Fringe, the new show from J.J. Abrams, about investigators into the paranormal with an overriding conspiracy built in. Basically it looks set to be a mash up of the elements of J.J.’s previous shows, mystery (Lost), silly spy antics (Alias), angst, angst and more angst (Felicity), it is overall and most importantly a completely blatant rip off of the X Files. With the failure of the recent feature film you have to wonder if there is still a viable market for this. Still, the fanboys will lap it up making it at least a moderate success as J.J. Abrams can seemingly do no wrong, despite abandoning most shows he produces to the ether as soon as he spots something new and shiny. As an aside another Wire veteran turns up here, Lance Reddick. He played Cedric Daniels in The Wire and here he also plays Cedric Daniels from The Wire (not typecast at all then). Dollhouse, from Joss Whedon is coming next year starring Eliza Dushku as an agent for a company who pulls off assignments varying from crime to sex fantasies for high paying clients/perverts, her mind being wiped and freshly imprinted with a new personality for each mission. It does sound rather like Alias, except with the useful happenstance that being an undercover spy created tension. It sounds like it will play more like a brunette Buffy being put into a variety of invariably tiny costumes designed to send the males in the audience into salivating fits of joy. Since the network already commissioned another brand new pilot for Dollhouse it may soon be sitting on the scrap heap beside Firefly. At least it can’t be any worse than last years Bionic Woman.

Speaking of Bionic Woman, NBC apparently did not learn their lesson in how to remake an old show. Not least another bad old show. The network doesn’t seem to understand that what made the remake of Battlestar Galactica a success was that it is completely and radically different to its original namesake. This season Knight Rider drives on to the airwaves and the showrunner promises that it will be like watching The Fast and the Furious every week. The only film I’d like to see even less week in week out is Van Helsing and I regularly thank God that didn't happen. To pair with this NBC also has a remake of Top Gear, which you can bet will feature generic, square jawed bland hosts and a whole bucketload of product placement. Afterall why give a fair critical review of something when you can get given a ton of money to give an entirely biased one, if you need a case in point simply pick up a copy of Empire, the magazine seemingly incapable of giving an average rating in a review.

CBS has Worst Week, a remake of a thoroughly pedestrian British sitcom. The plus point here is they couldn't really make it worse and can only really improve; however the only recent remake of a British show that has worked is The Office and that is mainly due to some fantastic casting, amazing creative team and a strong finished product to draw inspiration for. That an executive can think that The Worst Week of my Life was successful and creative enough to remake simply illustrates the dire state of the British sitcom at the moment (Peep Show excluded). A remake of My Hero can only be on the horizon and if the thought of that doesn’t chill you to the bone I don’t know what will.

STUART THORNILEY

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Jennifer Lopez Spin-Off Showcase

It was revealed yesterday that ABC is working with Jennifer Lopez to create a TV adaption of her mediocre film Maid in Manhattan. This is one pitch you can’t help but wish had been killed in its early stages as a result of the writers strike this year. But it did give rise to an interesting question: what could possibly be a worse J-Lo film to adapt for TV:

The Wedding Planner – This movie had Jennifer Lopez as a wedding planner (the title isn’t exactly misleading) who “breaks the most important rule of all: she falls in love with the groom”. Let’s take this to the next level. Re-establish the premise as a reality show where Jennifer Lopez plans a wedding for a random lucky couple (read: desperate fame seeking morons whose marriage will likely last as long as their 15 minutes of fame) all the while secretly trying to steal the groom for herself. Jennifer Lopez is perfect at the actual planning of a wedding since at this point she has said “’til death do us part” at least as many times as Pete Doherty has stated he’s clean. The finale should feature the wedding and Lopez making a grand attempt to ruin it, steal the sap from his unsuspecting bride and score ratings success win her man and find true love. And of course, edit the show so that Lopez looks heartfelt and endearing throughout, not like the fickle, heartless whore that she is.

Anaconda – In this film Jennifer played a director (laughable in itself) caught up in an attempt to catch an anaconda. As a TV show, J-Lo and her crew travel around the world, finding rare and dangerous animals, especially anacondas, and wind up in a variety of perilous situations. An anaconda on a plane, for example, that’s not been done at all. Shoot it like a documentary, handheld camera, Cloverfield style. This way you stand a chance of hiding the dodgy CGI snake and also if the camera is shaky enough then it might disorient people so much they are so busy vomiting they are unable to change the channel. Instant ratings smash.

Gigli – Simple one this: find some contractual obligation that requires Ben Affleck to return and play out the movie on a weekly basis: the same flimsy plot, same awful dialogue and the same terrible acting. But with Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck having to perform love scenes together now as exes the awful onscreen chemistry would create a new apex of cringe comedy. It could even surpass the level of awkward Showgirls managed to create by having Jesse from Saved by the Bell flop around like a dying seal while having sex in a pool. People would tune in just to see how big a train wreck it turned out to be. Plus it could do us all some favours in the long-term, the film did. It destroyed Jennifer Lopez’ career, sent Ben Affleck into hiding and toward better prospects and added the term “it’s turkey time, gobble gobble to the lexicon of things to never, ever say when attempting to seduce someone.

The Cell – The film is about a child psychiatrist played by Lopez who has developed a technique that allows her to travel through the minds of her patients and uses it to go into the mind of a serial killer. The show could be a decent twist on the standard procedural. Each week simply unveil a new mystery and have Lopez enter the mind of a killer to find clues so that she can solve it. Each mind could be vastly different and the concept leaves huge room for creativity, to create amazing, imaginative sets and worlds ruled by clever conceits such as a mind ruled by OCD or an adult with the mind of a child. It could create some interesting drama and raise intelligent questions. What makes a man kill? What happens when you begin to understand the motive for murder or even begin to empathise with a murderer?

Okay, so the last one could actually work. But the overall point is clear: Jennifer Lopez makes bad, trashy movies; we really don’t need her to start making bad, trashy TV too. We have The CW for that.


STUART THORNILEY

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Simpler Times: from 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' to 'Charlie and Lola'

For god’s sake man! You’re dealing with people’s childhoods here! In celebration of the 40th anniversary of a truly great piece of literature, Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I would like to place any blame about the state of modern society on the current-day equivalents, as well as give the caterpillar some well-earned birthday cake. Our offering to future generations is now Charlie and Lola, who are cute up to a certain point (the first page).
The incessant growth of the Charlie and Lola collection is driven purely by parent's inexplicable attraction to hilariously ungrammatical titles such as ‘I’m Really Ever So Not Well’ or ‘I Completely Know About Guinea Pigs.’ That and a shameless television show based on these hilarious adventures. It seems kind of ironic that the humour and appeal of the cute picture books is lost on the target audience, who, in their impressionable state, are presented with bad grammar and giggling parents who probably indulge in it. Perhaps then credit is due to the author (yes, the title of authorship is definitely earned, because these books are supposed to take a lot of thought,) Lauren Child, for not continuing these bad examples inside the covers.
The Charlie and Lola books aren’t the end of humanity as we know it **cough** Angelina Ballerina **cough**, but their biggest crime is a simple lack of imagination. If you ever wanted to pick one up, as I did out of curiosity, this step-by-step should be a spoiler: Charlie usually wants to do something (the boy seems to have an anachronically active social life for someone his young age) and Lola, ever the contrarian, needs/wants to do something else. Charlie, with his infinite brotherly patience and wisdom, ends up spending his time with Lola, and all without any amount of resentment for the lessons he has to give to his little sister in the place of absent parents. A metaphor for the child-parent dynamic when actually reading a Charlie and Lola book, of course.

Eric Carle and his mastery of this fiction should make Lola just not very keen on not spiders, especially not the ‘Very Busy’ ones. The protagonists of Carle’s books are remnants of a Disney untainted by adult in-jokes and innocently touching on the child’s fascination with the unknown world. Always accompanied by beautiful illustrations, Carle’s characters play on the colourful imaginations of their audience and subtly teach them simple lessons. The Very Busy Spider, The Bad-Tempered Ladybird, The Mixed-Up Chameleon and The Very Quiet Cricket each hold their own moral problems and resolutions. This is all without the questions being blatantly asked by an annoying little girl whose condition many of us wished had worsened after she exclaimed I’m Really Ever So Not Well.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the perfect example of how modern children’s picturebooks lack the simplicity of a past time. He was just hungry.


OLIVER HOLDEN-REA

Friday, 8 August 2008

Morgan Freeman is a HACK

I couldn’t be more bored of Morgan Freeman if I tried. The man has made a career off the back of one magnificent film in the mid 1990s, but what has he done since? Every appearance, whether it’s in a genuinely brilliant film like Million Dollar Baby, or utter dross like Evan Almighty, is exactly the same - wise, authoritative of voice, knowing, patriarchal. It doesn’t matter if the script calls for a different interpretation of the part, because he’ll deliver it in exactly the same manner every single time. It's patently obvious that he's a competent actor, it's just his refusal to deviate from the mind-numbingly safe performance he always delivers that I find irksome. This isn't a problem for actors like Sean Connery and Michael Caine who have that inherent charisma and congeniality that the post-Shawshank Freeman just doesn’t possess. Don’t agree with me? Think, for a moment, of the finest performances in Freeman’s best films since The Shawshank Redemption was released in 1994 - Million Dollar Baby (Hilary Swank), Gone Baby Gone (Casey Affleck), Se7en (Kevin Spacey), Batman Begins (Christian Bale), The Dark Knight (Heath Ledger) – not one of them is by Freeman. These films are great films in spite of Freeman, not because of him. Furthermore he has obviously has no barometer for the quality of the projects he takes on (by this I mean he’ll do anything if the money is right). For every Batman Begins there’s a Wanted, and for every Million Dollar Baby there’s a Sum of all Fears.

There are numerous other actors that could play the same roles he does, and deliver far more nuanced, interesting performances. So next time you exit the cinema and some slack-jawed moron turns to you and exclaims, “Morgan Freeman is such a legend,” please query it, because he clearly is not. He's a man who not only chooses to rest on his laurels, he’s set up camp there, fallen asleep and refuses to waken.


JAMES MORGAN

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Shameless plug: The Tart

The Tart is a satirical webzine, based in London. With news, entertainment and sport sections the Tart is "a blend of wit and observation, aiming to give student writers a national audience where they can share their satirical work."

Founded last year by Tobes Kelly, a graduate
of Bristol University, the Tart was initially produced in tabloid format and distributed at several top British universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and the LSE. It later switched to its current online-only incarnation, which has steadily grown in popularity with several thousand hits registered a week.
Cultural Wasteland's very own James Morgan is the entertainment editor, but also writes for the news and sports sections, hence the shameless plug.

It can found online here.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Great American television that did not find, or has not yet found, an audience in the UK (Part 2)

For better or worse, British television screens are awash with American imports. But for every 24, Friends and Desperate Housewives there are many other shows that failed to establish an audience across the Atlantic, including many that garnered vociferous praise from critics and/or great popularity with American audiences.
This is the second part of two. The first part can be found here.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
(2005-)

Imagine a show with episode titles like “The Gang Gets Racist”, “Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom”, “The Gang Goes Jihad” and “Sweet Dee Dates A Retarded Person”. This show is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – a situation comedy, where the situations include impersonating the mentally handicapped to become eligIble for welfare, feigning a physical disability to pick up women, running for political office to solicit bribes and as briefly seen in the video below, coaching young and disadvantaged children to play basketball in a very irresponsible manner.


The premise is simple enough – we follow a group of five deeply misanthropic, morally bankrupt, downright stupid characters, three of which co-own a Philadelphia bar, as they meander through life. So deep is their solipsism they appear oblivious to the real nature of their deeply flawed characters, and the dramatic way in they adversely affect the innocent lives that have the misfortune to become entangled with them. Rather brilliantly, even when they fail in their harebrained schemes they are never really punished for their actions – invariably, by the start of the next episode it has been forgotten that just one episode before, they had pretended to have cancer to get laid, or were, for a period, addicted to crack-cocaine.

To use a rather obtuse comparison for a moment, the other American show that It’s Always Sunny brings to mind is South Park. Both shows seem to focus each episode on some kind of serious issue or topic, be it political, religious or social – highlighting sensitive areas, and exploiting them mercilessly for comedic effect. Of course, this kind of approach is only really possible with the broadly-painted, extreme characters that both shows centre on. For this reason, the show is quite clearly not rooted in reality, but its all the better for it.

Unfortunately It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is not shown on any British television channels. It’s relatively obscure in its home country so don’t expect it to make the transition to British screens any time soon. However it is readily available on streaming sites such as alluc.org and on BitTorrent downloads (such as this one, with all three seasons).

NOTE: In a rather bizarre fusion of the banal with the brilliant, Big Brother’s Little Brother is currently using the theme from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia for a regular feature which ponders whether two housemates will get it together.

The Wire (2002-2008)

The Wire did eventually find something of an audience in Britain, largely thanks to the valiant efforts of the Guardian, and in particular Charlie Brooker (whose incessant and noble fanboyism can be seen in his regular Screen Burn column in the Guardian's 'The Guide' supplement and on his BBC 4 show Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe). Although the fan base established by a newspaper with a circulation of just over 350,000 and an obscure show watched largely by readers of the same newspaper on a little watched digital channel can hardly be massive now can it?

To get all self-referential for a moment (this is a blog after all) I feel I should quote myself on this one, paraphrasing slightly for the sake of brevity and readability - “The Wire examines the American city of Baltimore, and its broken, corrupted civic institutions - the police, the politicians, a union of dock workers, the schools, the regional newspaper. Its primary concern has always been the fallacy of the 'drug war', and the relationship between the drug trade and supposedly legitimate institutions like the police or the city council… the show is unique in that it was the only show to ever portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature. It was the finest show on television in this decade, if not ever.”

In fact I would even go beyond that last sentence – The Wire is not only the best television show ever, it transcends television. The typical manner in which we view, digest, and discuss television shows is not befitting of The Wire. We should talk of it in the terms of high art, for that’s exactly what it is.


JAMES MORGAN


Monday, 21 July 2008

Pilot Watch Part One - Bloody Mess

It’s the time of year that the pilots of upcoming shows leak out into the internet for all the contempt and bile we can pile upon them. Or vice versa, we take a show to heart and praise it widely and loudly to anyone that will listen. Of course then it hits the air, the general audience sighs and flicks the channel to Deal or No Deal. Then the little show that could is swiftly stamped with cancellation by the big network that can. Still, some shows are already picked up to air regardless of this and its always worth giving them a bit of face time before the tweaks are made (or in some cases the culling, massacre style of a show’s entire cast and crew) and the official television premiere arrives.

True Blood

This fantasy pilot revolves around the premise that vampires live among us and have for some time unnoticed (old hat) but when a new synthetic blood is released they decide to reveal themselves to the world at large (not so old hat). Obviously they don’t exactly become media darlings, being treated with the same fascination and scorn the press and public exclusively reserve for Britney Spears these days.

With Alan Ball, widely known for writing American Beauty and for creating Six Feet Under for HBO in the past, adapting this for television from a book series you’d assume we are in safe territory with this pilot. It not only features Ball’s favourite theme, death, and a cast packed with the quirky characters but for some reason the whole thing doesn’t really mesh together. This could have been a gloriously mad piece of work, the dark comedy of Ball’s previous work in a fantastic new setting where he can get away with playing his trademark fantasy sequences straight but (at least in the pilot) this isn’t the case.

It’s disappointing, imagine you watched a show that had glowing reviews throughout its run. So, you sit down to watch the other show they created, thinking all the while how fantastic it will be and how much you will love it. And yet when you turn the TV on you discover you are watching Saved By The Bell, with full knowledge that the gawky one Screech went from this to an insanely creepy porn career. You would vomit your brains out of your nose whilst simultaneously shitting yourself in horror.

The characters are the first problem. If this were a UK show I’d be convinced the writers were sat making notes on characterisation from a combination of Buffy reruns and Jeremy Kyle. Sookie, the main character, is essentially a demure version of Buffy, with her own superpower to boot. Although the most action Sookie is likely to see is at the diner where she works, hearing what the overweight, horny patrons imagine they’d do to her if she was to find them remotely sexually attractive. Sookie wound up lumbered with the superpower no one really wants: telepathy. The actress also played Rogue in the X-Men movies so at this point she must be wondering why she keeps getting stuck with crap, useless superpowers. Anna Paquin does turn in solid enough work here, but she looks as bored with the material as I was watching it. The primary vampire, Bill, plays to type with the usual mix of pseudo mystical bullshit and mystery shrouding him. This doesn’t really work either, perhaps the actor didn’t pull the material off but I generally find Count von Count from Sesame Street a more intriguing character, hell he has arithmomania which practically shouts to me spinoff (or just replace one of the leads on Numbers with him, it couldn’t be any worse).

The rest of the cast includes the main character’s African American best friend who is such a caricature that she is frankly uncomfortable to watch, an ex-Home and Away actor as Sookie’s brother who wanders around the pilot gormless and horny as if some pages from that show got mixed in to the script here. Two lesser characters are the stereotypical and overly camp homosexual chef and the lead’s grandmother, who you can’t help but fear will wind up being a wholesale ripoff of the grandpa in The Lost Boys. Making matters worse are the actor’s dreadful attempts at a Southern accent, which range from a slow Forrest Gump drawl at their least offensive to a vacant George W. Bush impression at their worst. The characters didn’t appear to have much depth to them beyond what the plot demanded and so were painted in broad strokes that didn’t make them particularly endearing. The best friend and chef in particular contrast appear like flimsy cardboard cut-outs behind Six Feet Under’s Keith Charles who managed to be both African American and gay without seeming like a parody.

The plot that wraps around the characters isn’t particularly compelling either. The change the vampires have had to society isn’t truly explored beyond a few whispers of worry, whereas you can’t help but feel if it happened in reality The Daily Mail would be having more than a field day, the pitchforks would be quite literally drawn and paraded through the streets. The rest of the plot seems to be idly ticking of a checklist of vampire fiction staples, for instance when Sookie meets Bill the show doesn’t even attempt to subvert your expectations, as you’d expect she instantly falls for him like an insipid schoolgirl. The pre-credits scene shows the potential of the premise, reminiscent of horror films it establishes the setting neatly, building tension and it manages to achieve a decent twist within only a few minutes that need not be spoiled here. But this sequence isn’t connected the rest of the pilot and by the end it seemed the show could have benefited from similar scenes with focus on building the world and the characters so that they are believable. Instead the pilot meanders; you can’t immerse yourself in the world and you find that you are drowning in its plot holes. Similar to my feeling on Lost really, except four years haven’t passed and the plot holes haven’t yet turned into a yawning canyon of lost hope and forgotten mysteries.

The True Blood pilot isn’t on par with the witty, subversive nature of Buffy’s early years, not enjoyably melodramatic like 60s vampire soap Dark Shadows nor does it really add anything new to the vampire genre on screen. CBBCs cheesy Young Dracula contributes more and for something that is basically a loose rip-off of The Munsters that is saying something. All in all, the only thing the pilot is comparable to is bad Anne Rice fan fiction. The show of course may end up doing well and HBO does need new drama at the moment with many of its old series having recently ended. Perhaps the show itself will improve as it goes on or the pilot will be tweaked before it airs, revealing a masterpiece that was hiding between the cracks.

But as it is, I’d rather watch a show about a Count… that counts. Preferably while solving crime.

Coming Up: A look at J.J Abrams upcoming Fringe, the X-Files ripoff dressed up in Lost trappings and Dollhouse, the new show from Buffy scribe Joss Whedon.

STUART THORNILEY

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Coffee, Food and TV

In the 1980s ‘scratch-and-sniff’ promised the worldwide screen-viewing public technological advancements directed towards the other dormant senses. This uncertain future died from a distinct lack of… well, certainty from the audience and since then the furthest humans have stretched in the entertainment industry is IMAX (article to come). However, in our modern day prime-time television audiences have managed to find a way to indulge not their neglected senses, but their dormant muscle, the brain.

A recent trend in television viewing has seen the growth in popularity of cookery programmes, as if executives realised (as Countdown should, similarly, be suffering) that their core fanbase for Ready, Steady, Cook are dying in large numbers, as is befitting of an audience that comprises almost entirely of pensioners. The face of cookery has shifted away from Ainsley Harriott’s loveable campness to the hard-edged, sleek presence of Gordon Ramsey, who has been banned from the set of Junior Masterchef after kicking too many children in the face. Along with 'Cash Gordon' (aptly named for his decision to attach himself to Channel 4’s entire prime-time schedule), Jamie ‘Geezer’ Oliver and Hugh F.W. (you know who I mean, I just can’t spell it) have sparked a passionate interest in food on television. The tragic progression is easily tracked: the toughness and drama of a professional kitchen (see: Geezer’s ‘Fifteen’ Project) mixed with Gordon doing his best to make it worse played on the middle- and upper-middle-class’s belief in quality food and the potential of amateur cookery. The world is now left with Masterchef, The F Word and everything in between.

Entitling my article ‘A Feast for the Eyes’ would have been too easy and would have been giving into an overwhelming urge prodding at me to gorge myself on all the potential food puns, but would have given an insight into the heart of my anger surrounding this matter (besides the banishment of Ainsley from the new trend of TV). My anger is tied to the supposedly fatal flaw of programmes about culinary culture… you can not taste the food. The harshest perpetrator of this atrocity is the new, revamped, post- Lloyd Grossman Masterchef and the detailed articulations of the two fat men presenting the programme. The merits submitted to the audience are unattainable and yet this audience (the demographic of which are accurately represented by my parents - tediously middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income suburbanites) are drawn into supporting a specific party (or chef). For once in a discussion about credibility of tv programming Big Brother wins, because at least the interest of the audience is sustained by a quality that is remotely accessible. The ramblings of one man who looks perpetually stoned (“yeah, food’s fucking brilliant! Please keep giving me more! Have you got any Frosties?”) and one man who seems to like everybody (“I like her, because she’s probably going to re-watch this and hate me”) are not the basis for any form of judgement. “The pheasant was overdone” completely alters the audience’s reception of the food by their brains when, if we’re honest, very few of us have had enough pheasant to know when it’s not just duck that we’re being swindled into paying more for.

The pinnacle of this tedium arrives at the point in which the key demographic (or target audience) were so well identified by the producers at Channel 4 that the middle-classes should feel ashamed to be so transparent. Come Dine With Me put dinner parties on television and has been met with great success. All the dressing-up, the politics, the competitiveness, the intimacy of a dinner party, but without the food. Perhaps dinner parties, like the programmes that are indulged in by dinner-party-goers/throwers, were never about the food. The only saving point is Come Dine With Me’s narrator, whose open cynicism perfectly embodies the sentiments of this writer and makes it essential viewing.


OLIVER HOLDEN-REA

Thursday, 17 July 2008

GIG REVIEW: The Mars Volta at the Camden Roundhouse, 16th July 2008

Invariably, The Mars Volta's experiments in progressive-rock, metal and jazz, have been embodied in concept albums, so it was certainly an interesting prospect to see how individual songs would fare stripped of their original context. It would be my first time seeing the band, and I was, predictably, extremely excited. They had chosen to eschew the traditional gig format - there would be no support act, they were due on at 8.00pm and would play for two hours straight, electing to hardly talk to the crowd, and playing no encore.

As is befitting of such an unpredictable and adventurous band, they did not open straight into a 'safe' favourite to get the crowd fired up. As a first timer my fanboyism does not extend as far as to know what this opener was, but to my virgin ears it sounded like a semi-improvised jam. Later research has identified it to be titled 'Intro Song', which isn't particularly revealing. Either way, it provided an apt opening, enabling the crowd to get accustomed to the aural and visual onslaught that would follow it.
Next up was an unexpected highlight in 'Viscera Eyes', a song that despite its 9:25 length (on the album anyway), is perhaps one of the band's most conventional efforts. Translated to the stage the band played it pretty straight, as they are not usually wont to do. Lead man Cedric Bixler-Zavala started to clamber up on one of the massive amps, and performing crowd-pleasing acrobatics. 'Viscera Eyes' features what Pitchfork has described disparagingly as a "meat-headed riff", which isn't entirely inapt. During the song my eyes were constantly drawn to guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who despite his slight frame, managed to completely dominate the stage as he delivered a fresh, controlled version of the track's sprawling solo.

Just a few songs were played in isolation, including the brief, but frenetic 'Wax Simulacra' off the new album Bedlam in Goliath. This was directly followed by another short track off the new album, 'Goliath', the bridge between the two punctuated by shrill King Crimson-esque saxophone calls. These two songs worked very well together, as they do on the album. Another Bedlam in Goliath track, 'Ouroborous' followed, sections of the crowd singing the repeated refrain "Don’t you ever, ever, ever trust my mercy." The epic 'Tetragrammaton' (nearly 17 minutes on the album) was another highlight, with its spiralling intro, calm passages and frenzied, muddled end. The concert ended, with perhaps the most energetic response from the crowd, with the oldest song of the night, 'Drunkship of Lanterns', off the 2003 debut De-Loused in the Comatorium.

The set was heavy with tracks from their most recent album, featuring just one song off their debut album De-Loused in the Comatorium, and nothing from their sophomore effort Frances the Mute and the utterly brilliant Tremulant EP, which as a first timer, is slightly disappointing. However as other reviewers have been at pains to highlight, a Mars Volta concert isn't simply about the individual songs. It's a far more isolated, singular experience than your average rock concert - each song bled into the next, the enjambment constructed by bridging jams and solos. As I exited the venue, a woman came up to me and asked what songs the band had played as she had missed a portion of the gig. I struggled to name them, as I was still trying to digest what I had just experienced. I had been so mesmerised by the intensity of the performance I had to come home and find the set-list online to remember the individual tracks with any real clarity.

Besides the actual music the gig was a visual treat. There seemed to be about ten band members. While the unsurprisingly heavy-set drummer Thomas Pridgen was going absolutely crazy for the duration of the gig, at the side of the stage you could see a couple other members nonchalantly shaking four maracas. The backdrop was static, with no light show or moving images to accompany the music - this was perfectly appropriate as the music and the energy conveyed on stage was more than sufficient to hold my attention for the near two hours the band played.

The crowd, perhaps unsurprisingly, seemed to comprise of a mixture of geeky long-haired metal types (I spotted Dream Theater, 65daysofstatic, At the Drive-In and The Fall of Troy t-shirts) and semi-poseurs. Quite an unthreatening lot, who at times appeared reticent to offer the band much reaction. For me this did not detract from the gig as I was held in thrall by the action on stage throughout. The venue, refurbished two years ago, is fantastic - a cavernous, yet somehow undeniably intimate space. The staff were helpful and friendly, and apart from the near ridiculous queue for the cloak room at the end the venue did little to mar the experience of the actual performance.

Set list:
Intro Song
Viscera Eyes
Wax Simulacra
Goliath
Ouroborous
Tetragrammaton
Agadez Jam / Aberinkula
Drunkship of Lanterns

(it seems as though the epic Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus was cut from the set at the last minute, possibly due to the gig over running)


JAMES MORGAN

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Great American television that did not find, or has not yet found, an audience in the UK (Part 1)

For better or worse, British television screens are awash with American imports. But for every 24, Friends and Desperate Housewives there are many other shows that failed to establish an audience across the Atlantic, including many that garnered vociferous praise from critics and/or great popularity with American audiences.

Seinfeld
(1989-1998)

By no means obscure, the fact remains that Seinfeld never found an audience in Britain. Just for the purposes of comparison, 76.3 million Americans watched the last ever episode of the show in 1998. That represented a 58% share of all television viewers, and even more staggeringly, 28% of the entire population of the country at the time. In its last four seasons only ER occasionally beat it in the ratings. In Britain however the scheduling for the show, initally on BBC2, was lethally erratic. As a result it never found a consistent audience, despite the reports from across the Atlantic of its growing success.

It has been regularly described as “a show about nothing” - a description which arose out of an episode in which two characters pitch a sitcom idea to NBC executives which is essentially their own version of Seinfeld (this use of a mise en abyme is rather characteristic of the show, the writers often toyed with postmodern touches and meta-humour). However this description does not really do the show justice, as it quite clearly has a strong focus – modern urban life, and inextricable frustrations that accompany it. In Seinfeld this extends from the grand narratives of romance, social mores and working life, to minutiae such as cinema queues, sandwich fillings and appropriate dinner party conversation.

Rather than constantly quipping, the characters actually hold conversations, talking about what real friends do – absolute nonsense. American audiences identified with this sense of realism, imbued by the real sounding dialogue and the ludicrous pastiche of moments which make up the oft-absurd, but utterly believable characters' lives. Certainly if it was not for the erratic scheduling Seinfeld would have undoubtedly recreated its American successes on this side of the Atlantic.

For me the real appeal of the show lies in the characters. It features what must be the finest sitcom character of all-time – George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander. Essentially a boiled-down, hyped-up version of writer Larry David (now known as the writer-star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing a near identical character to George), mired in neurosis and insecurity, George finds himself constantly at odds with modern life - for him, every situation has the potential to frustrate and confuse. He is in a way, quite a British sitcom archetype – a failure and an idiot, but wholly sympathetic at the same time.

The Colbert Report (2005-)

A spin-off of sorts from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (which is on weekdays at 8.30pm on More4, and also available on the official website to view for free), The Colbert Report satirises American personality-driven news shows that rely on narcissistic demagoguery over a fair, balanced account and discussion of the news. Anyone familiar with ridiculous Bill O’Reilly and his Fox News vehicle The O’Reilly Factor will know exactly the kind of show Colbert has in his sights.

The conceit of the show is simple – comedian Stephen Colbert plays a character of the same name which he describes as a “well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot,” a vicious parody of the aforementioned right-wing commentator character, taken to absurd levels - rigid in his aversion to the facts, immovably right-wing and simultaneously idiotic and egomaniacal.

Four nights a week Colbert tears through the day’s news through the narrow prism of this brilliantly realised character to hilarious effect. A particular highlight are the combative interviews that end each show where he attempts to “nail” interviewees, accusing them, irrespective of their various leanings, backgrounds and occupations of not supporting the President, anti-Americanism or even worse, liberalism.

Given its parody of a very American media culture, and focus on American domestic affairs it is understandable that the show has had little appeal for British audiences. However the strength of Colbert’s character, and the excellent writing hold more than enough appeal for anyone with anything more than a fleeting interest in American politics. FX has just started to air the show in the UK, at 11.00 pm Tuesday – Friday. Incidentally, The Colbert Report, like its father show The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is available to watch for free on the official site, which can be found here.



This is part 1 of 2.

JAMES MORGAN

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Judd Apatow - The Life of Kings

Judd Apatow was once famous for excellent, but ultimately doomed, television shows (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, the little heard of Ben Stiller Show). These shows were a testament to his talent as a writer and producer, poignant yet funny they stood out amongst the other shows airing at the time as something special. Except that they didn’t. The same audience who have in recent years been turned off by the outstanding caustic wit of Arrested Development and brilliant social commentary of The Wire acted as predictably as ever and changed the channel in search of more reality television. After all, Freaks aired in the year that Survivor launched the barrage of reality television that still drapes over television schedules like an unwanted STD today. So it is surprising that the same audiences Apatow’s style didn’t appeal to have suddenly made his films massive hits and his name arguably more famous than those of the celebrities starring in them.

Since last year with the runaway success of Knocked Up, Judd Apatow has been widely hailed as the current saviour of comedy. Knocked Up was refreshing because it was surprisingly candid for a romantic comedy, managing to mix sexual humour with charming sentimentality. The truth was, in a genre that had long begun to bore audiences with contrived misunderstandings and over the top romantic gestures, Knocked Up was funny because of chemistry between its two leads but more so because it was firmly grounded in reality, in a situation most of could relate to on some level. The lead couple at the end did not settle down to a happy ever after, they settled for less and simply settled for each other.

Throughout the past year, however, Judd Apatow has been churning out movies as frequently as Amy Winehouse has been released from rehab. Similarly with each release it’s getting a little less interesting and the box office and reviews are starting to reflect this with recent releases Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Drillbit Taylor respectively receiving both a lukewarm and poor reception. The preceding film Superbad was well received and like Knocked Up it used a relatable premise that was backed up by richly written characterisation. Although, unlike most, I will decline to include McLovin in that statement as despite the blitz of attention he received he really isn’t that great a character and doesn’t merit the Muse-esque fawning most teenagers attribute to him. If you want a geek that is a thousand times more interesting, just look to Bill Haverchuck from his earlier Freaks and Geeks.

And to be honest, that is part of the problem. If you look to Apatow’s earlier television work and compare it with the recent releases he has produced there is an undeniable quality missing that made you aware you were watching something special. You would presume that the recent release Drillbit Taylor which focused on a group of geeks once again, produced by Apatow and written by the usually reliable Seth Rogen who co-wrote Superbad and several episodes of Undeclared would be a strong, character driven piece reminiscent of the television shows but it instead didn’t fare particularly well with the box office or critics alike. So what was missing?

It is arguable that until this last year Apatow still had one vital quality that allowed him to give such depth to the underdog in his work, he was one himself. But now as he is widely proclaimed as the king of comedy you can’t help but wonder if that quality has vanished along with his pride, judging by just how many films he is willing to attach his producer credit to these days (five more movies due out in the next year). His movies are gradually veering away from those everyday situations we could all encounter. Sarah Marshall focused on a man dealing with his break-up with a celebrity, although it almost gets a pass on the merit that “we’ve all been dumped”. However the movie itself while likeable is largely a showcase for Jason Segal’s penis and his endeavour to find something to put it in, the supporting cast is mostly wasted and to be honest it is a much more generic romantic comedy that Knocked Up in most ways. However if Sarah Marshall is the disappointing child of Knocked Up (there’s a pun in there somewhere) then Drillbit Taylor, featuring Owen Wilson hamming it up as a bodyguard for geeks, is the cousin we all pretend we aren’t related to when asked. You mumble awkwardly and change the subject to anything else in order to avoid explaining your familial connection to that girl who shit herself in school that time. It isn’t particularly funny, not a good story and is just quite embarrassing. And shit. His next big release, the upcoming Pineapple Express which is being touted as a stoner action movie, too is clearly not particularly down to earth but does look to have the potential to be wickedly funny.

But more than losing his underdog status Apatow simply appears to be stretched thinner than a student budget, working on so many films he is entirely oversaturated and perhaps becoming exhausted. However, this has happened before. If we look back a few years to a time when the Farrelly Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) were holding the crown Apatow now wears. They too produced movies constantly and quickly, often featuring disabled characters as often as Apatow championed losers, however they have been scarcely heard of since the bizarre conjoined twin comedy Stuck on You was released in 2003 but the audience had grown bored with the schtick and the rigid formula that they stuck to. Apatow faces the same risk and though the backlash hasn’t truly begun, the reviews of Sarah Marshall and Drillbit more than indicate it could be on its way.

Regardless Judd Apatow is talented, with his television work remaining among many people’s favourite shows (including my own) and a particular talent in coaxing excellent acting and some brilliant unscripted dialogue from his actors (some would argue this makes him talentless and that it proves that he has little to no scripting ability but I don’t believe this). It could simply be a case of the breath of fresh air quickly becoming stale, like a crowded room with the smell of fart creeping across becoming a little too familiar. The simple answer appears for Apatow to focus on one main project, which gets back to his roots with the deep characterisation and irreverent sense of humour he is capable of. Of course we will all have to hope this was not the hope for the abysmal looking You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, written by Apatow and in which he seriously seems to think drawing a parallel between the competitive world of hairstyling with the Arab-Israeli conflict is a good idea.

Apatow has shown in the past that he knows what he is doing; he is certainly aware of his rapidly increasing bank balance and hopefully that this will give him freedom to create better, more personal projects that could become his new trump cards before the critical praise wanes. Perhaps Judd will not simply cast a loveable loser and in an even more groundbreaking move will cast a female lead. This in itself would be a revitalizing change, making such a film stand apart. As an extra note, Mr Apatow, if you decide to do so, please do not cast your wife. She does not need to play a major role in every one of your movies just so that you can enjoy your congratulatory jack off even more over the finished product. And maybe, just maybe, Apatow will consider casting people other than his friends to play roles in his films and again display his earlier ability at discovering amazing new talent when casting.

Get it sorted Apatow, we all know you’re better than Zohan, you’re Undeclared, you know what you are capable of.

Note: I quite happily decided to omit Apatow’s other sideline of produced films, such as the unbearably overrated Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and any other of the other films he has produced with a colon in the title as they are all generally vacuous and I’d rather pretend I had seen none in the first place. I will quite happily accept any words in their defence as beside them falling quite literally on one deaf ear, the other ear became immune after listening to inane bullshit spouted by characters such as the titular Ron Burgundy and anything that does get through will probably be funnier than his dialogue.



STUART THORNILEY

Sunday, 6 July 2008

What do Coldplay's lyrics tell us about Chris Martin?

Apparently Chris Martin does not relish the opportunity to communicate to his fans through interviews. Evidently Martin wants to his work to speak for itself - for a man of such obvious artistic integrity I feel that this should be applauded.

So what exactly are Coldplay’s songs meant to convey? What do they tell us about the man behind their success? What are the hidden meanings buried deep within Martin's abstruse, multi-layered lyrics?

----

“Trouble”, from Parachutes

"Oh no what's this?
A spider web, and I'm caught in the middle"

Martin is likening himself to a fly. Small, insignificant and often a carrier of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery.

----

“42”, off Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends

"Those who are dead are not dead,
They're just living in my head"

Hell is contained within Chris Martin’s head. In Hell you have to listen to his thought processes for eternity as he struggles to write songs and chats bollocks about yoga, veganism and ridiculous children’s names with Gwyneth Paltrow. Damn all those dead people in there for taking up the space where his songwriting faculties should be.

----

“Strawberry Swing”, from Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends

"They were sitting,
They were sitting on the strawberry swing"

This is a common pitfall for lyricists. They think that you can use this songwriting equation: "fruit + inanimate object = classic song." Well it worked for Prince (“Raspberry Beret”) didn’t it?

----

“Violet Hill”, from Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends

"Priests clutched onto bibles,
Hollowed out to fit their rifles"

Martin is actually revealing a little known detail about his health. He has suffered from strabismus all his life - a condition which adversely affects depth perception. He therefore is not aware that a rifle could not fit in a bible. It's a sensitive issue so his band members do not point out the regular mistakes he makes because of his condition. In the past he has reportedly bought a tiny child's hat for himself without realising it would not fit him and when he tries to kiss his wife Gwyneth he often ends up headbutting her - such is the severity of his condition.

----

“Speed of Sound”, from X&Y

"Some things you have to believe,
But others are puzzles, puzzling me"

Martin has stumbled on something incredibly profound here: puzzles are inherently puzzling.

----


JAMES MORGAN

Saturday, 28 June 2008

10 reasons why Glastonbury is actually not any good, from someone who, of course, has never actually been

Rumours abound that this year’s Glastonbury may be the last. About time too. I am sure “Glasto” (as its attendees insist on calling it) was an amazing experience back in the 70s when it cost a quid to get in and the line-up largely comprised of dodgy bands picked up in local pubs, but now it’s a festival that has lost its way. Before you comment that I can’t possibly dismiss the festival because I have never actually gone to it – I inform you that I have not tried eating faeces either, but I am more than confident that the experience would not be an enjoyable one. To put it simply, if Glastonbury was any good I would have gone to it already. So until the organisers rectify all the genuine flaws I have identified below I shan’t be going, and I will be forced to criticise it in the unflinchingly honest and journalistically sound way that this post embodies. Try and untangle that logic.

1. The highlights show on the BBC is presented by a gaggle of complete morons: Zane Lowe, Edith Bowman and Jo Whiley. Edith Bowman is a woman with a face that always begs the question: what on Earth happened there? It looks like a normal face that has melted slightly. Jo Whiley is a woman that should perhaps be applauded for managing to be the most vacuous, empty-headed and downright irritating DJ on Radio 1, an achievement in itself given the competition from her colleagues. Zane Lowe, the Antipodean arse who manages to praise every single band he talks about, without actually ever saying anything of any substance (every comment falls along the lines of, “they’ve really upped the ante on their new album, great stuff!” or “you know I love the album but I wasn’t sure it would work on the main stage, but you know...they really blew me away today...you know”). Any event that gets this triumvirate of human failure out of the house, never mind on national television, should not be continued.

2. The festival is organised by some bearded old posh tit called Michael Eavis, and his weird looking lispy progeny Emily. I don’t really have a criticism of any substance for those two, they just rub me the wrong way.

3. Glastonbury is reportedly full of hippies. I can’t emphasise enough how very tedious hippies are. You simply can’t get through to them can you? No it’s not the 60s anymore. No personal hygiene isn’t a bad thing. Yes, you can get clothes made out of materials other than hemp. I fear there might also be white people with dreadlocks in attendance. They are only slightly below hippies on the list of people that deserve crippling venereal diseases.

4. The supposedly alternative ethos of the festival is completely and indefensibly at odds with just how commercialised Glastonbury has become. The entire thing is a fraud.

5. The line-up this year is jaw-droppingly dull. Really, it’s so poor it’s almost great. Certainly if you like your sub-Strokes, sub-Libertines jangly NME endorsed indie (The Fratellis, The Enemy, We Are Scientists, The Pigeon Detectives etc) you’ll be satisfied, but if your taste in music happens to be broader than a hair’s width you will be bitterly disappointed. The whole Jay-Z headlining debacle was extremely amusing, given that the lack of diversity elsewhere on the line-up meant his appearance should have been lauded. Unlike his fellow headliners, Kings of Leon and to a lesser extent, The Verve, he is actually a massive act, worthy of headliner status at what is meant to be the world’s best festival.

6. They can’t even sell out the tickets, which is especially embarrassing when you take a look at how quickly the tickets for other major festivals like Reading/Leeds and T in the Park were snapped up this year. Get the message Eavis.

7. For some reason Glastonbury-goers (I imagine they call themselves “Glasties”, “Glasto-gos”, “Glassies” or something equally annoying) are rather proud of the fact that they have been to Glastonbury – especially when talking to people that haven’t been. You will find them all over Britain, the wristband to several Glastonburys still around their wrists, spouting nonsense about the “amazing atmosphere” and how “there’s just no other festival that can rival it.” If you encounter one of these smug people try and fight the overwhelming sense of despair that will inevitably engulf you.

8. Each year it rains and on the news non-Glastonbury goers are subject to picture after picture of morons sliding about in the rain or idiots prancing about in their Wellington boots which they’ve daubed “GLASTO 2008” on in a predictably child-like scrawl. Evidently the drainage at the festival site is as bad as at the St Jakob-Park Stadium which played host to the Switzerland-Turkey Euro 2008 game recently. Here’s hoping scores of attendees get trench foot.

9. You cannot see the stage for all the flags and stuffed animals on sticks that some members of the crowd insist on holding up. I am not sure of their motivation for this, maybe it’s so they can see where they are on the television highlights, or perhaps it is to make profound, powerful statements to the crowd and beyond that, the world. Watching the highlights earlier I noticed a flag with a picture of a toaster on it is obviously some kind of radical political statement. And the one I saw with “I love portaloos” on it is actually a biting piece of political satire critiquing the Labour government’s systematic erosion of civil liberties. Or alternatively, people who spend over a hundred pounds for a festival ticket and then stand about in a field holding a flag up all day are mentally deficient cretins.

10. Camp fire singalongs.


JAMES MORGAN