Archives for posts with tag: television

Some mysteries are easier to solve than others. I for one wouldn’t want to unpick any of those impossible maths challenges. I can however solve the case of the UK’s terrible run at Eurovision.

All the clues are there, but the problem is too many people look at the symptom, the grand final in May, rather than the cause, which in this case is the national selection process, the final of which occurred on Friday. I present to you, the criminal that is Eurovision: You Decide.

The format this year was a little different from normal, with six acts divided into pairs and having a song each. In other words, three songs in two different styles. In theory this is a good idea, as you can pair up the arrangement and the singer better to the song. It does prevent self-written songs though, with all the tracks produced by committee.

Of course, that relies on the three songs being quality to begin with. I don’t think any of them were. ‘Freaks’ was infuriatingly catchy but had awful lyrics. ‘Sweet Lies’ never really hit top gear as either a dance track or a ballad. ‘Bigger than Us’ was the cheesiest of cheese-fests. A stronger performer on all three was fairly self-evident, although if true justice occurred the public would have been able to vote on both versions of ‘Bigger than Us’ and ‘Freaks’ eliminated straight away.

Michael Rice’s take on ‘Bigger than Us’ was the best vocal of the night and an understandable winner. It fails the charisma test though. Some proper performance arts training will help, as will someone teaching him how to keep the microphone in the right place at all times. There is too much arm flailing in the choreography at present and a cruel draw in the final will guarantee us last place.

In some respects the problems run deeper than the songs though. The mocking tone we associate with Eurovision is present here. There is an amateur hour standard of production, with Mel Gidroyc and Mans Zemerlow frequently looking at the wrong camera and Gidroyc even at one point wandering off the set. I doubt you would see such sloppiness on any of the Scandinavian selection shows.

It is this feeling we are taking it as a joke that costs us every year. We can send whatever song we like, but if it is done with a sneer or a giggle we will get punished.

I argue we need to promote Rylan Clarke-Neal from head judge to presenter (he is surprisingly professional for a reality TV graduate). I also think that as good as the matching exercise was in theory, it didn’t work in practice. If they want a twist, make is self-written songs only. This encourages the performers to sing sincerely, a common theme amongst previous winners. And make the whole thing more professional. If even all that fails to produce a result, then we may need to make a second exit from Europe.

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I’m going to start this post with a confession. I totally intended to watch new drama Pure this week, but then didn’t, which has ruined my best shot at finding something new to talk about. Instead, I find myself going through what I watched the rest of the week to talk about instead.

The best I can do is revisit Cold Feet, the drama that used to be about a group of people learning to be adults and settling down and now seems to be a study of aging and differing attitudes to lost youth. Of course, it’s so well written and acted, it always feels like it is more than that.

One of the biggest strengths is that it tackles some of the bigger issues in a way that avoids the melodrama but doesn’t allow itself to be sterile. The past couple of series have seen it tackle depression and the care of elderly parents. This series sees cancer and homelessness take centre stage, but both in such a way as not to be bleak.

The cancer storyline surrounding Jen in particular is being well crafted. Burying it deep down, she is instead trying to live life to the full, but not explaining to anyone why she is acting out. The scene in the most recent episode where she realised the possibility of not seeing her children’s future was brilliantly done in that did just enough so the viewer understood without walloping us about with ‘feels’.

There are lighter storylines as well. Adam (who no matter what else is happening somehow always commands attention) is finally realising that chasing after young bits of skirt is not endearing. Again, the scene where he opened up to his son about his motivations (previous episode) demonstrated a good balance.

The show can sometimes let itself down with childish humour. I could have done without the storyline where David accidentally ate a batch of cannabis cookies, especially as it seems so slight juxtaposed with his threat of homelessness.

It is still overall a good way to pass an hour. Emotional but not sentimental, light-hearted but rarely trite. Plus it makes Manchester look genuinely stunning. Pure can wait when there is other things like this on.

Last week I talked about the way Charmed handles discussing big social issues. I found it clunky and too obvious, to the point it became a distraction from the plot rather than a driver. You have to get it right when you are making strong points about society, gently shepherding your audience to the moral point you want to make rather than whacking it out there.

A show that gets it right in my view is The Orville. It tackles issues in a way that makes you aware and hints towards the conclusion you should make, but are never forced towards it. It perhaps helps that with sci-fi you can introduce culture clashes in an organic way – religious, racial and sexual differences all are obvious barriers when you cross species with each other.

Yet it also nods towards some of the smaller issues in our society. One episode tackled porn addiction. Another referenced the anti-vax movement. Whilst you were given a strong sense of what is wrong and right, both sides are given some compassion. Very few figures are out and out villains. At the heart is the constant debate we have in society – how much can we respect someone else’s views when they not only clash with our own, but actually come into full-on conflict?

It helps there is a dollop of humour in the plots as well. Sometimes it is small, other times larger, but it is the spoonful of sugar that helps the narrative go down. It can sometimes trip over into the silly and crass, one of the few weak points, but even in then it is over in the blink of an eye.

The pace of each episode varies as well. It is a unique skill to make a show that is not predictable. Some are all action, others on a more emotional slow build. And, as with all great sci-fi and fantasy, it can deliver a surprising sucker punch. Check out episode three of the current season if you don’t believe me.

Is it a clarion call to liberal values? Probably. This is a show that is proud to demonstrate the importance of diversity, tolerance and science. It has taken pot shots at religion, conservative social movements and the abuse of technology. Yet, as I have said, you are given the choice as the viewer as to whether this how you live your life or just a show you watch for entertainment.

In short, this is probably one of my favourite things on TV. It is clever but not smug, warm but not smushy, funny but not stupid. It can give you action if you want it too. In these interesting times, it is a near perfect tonic.

The fashion for reboots is showing no signs of slowing down. The latest to enjoy such a privilege is Charmed. I never watched the original series, which both aids and detracts from my ability to analyse this show. Aids because I am distracted by a nostalgia for the previous version that could cloud my judgement. Detracts in that it means I cannot judge how much it is living up to the initial spirit of the show.

Anyway, Charmed should be right up my alley. Regular readers know I find it hard to resist a bit of supernatural hokum, the wittier and slightly dafter the better. I have slowly come round to The Chilling Adventures if Sabrina, although I still feel they missed a trick not having a talking cat. But once it settled more into the pattern of background long-term villain and short-term crisis points a la Buffy I began to fall for it.

At the moment, Charmed is suffering from a similar problem, in that it is trying to set out its premise, and is therefore currently lacking a natural rhythm. The first episode in particular seemed to be doing too much and had three scenes that could have all worked as a suitable ending that instead just got left hanging as the next situation came up that needed to be resolved. In other words, it was rushed.

The second episode was better. There was a tighter structure and slightly fewer distractions from the main thrust, although I still felt there was a battle for airtime between the plots at points. I once read a companion book to Buffy that suggested all you need is a plot and a subplot in each episode and all character development should span from that, and this is advice this show needs to follow.

My other big problem is that the show seems to be at pains to be as woke as possible. It’s fine to beat the drum by making strong female characters, LGBT themes and the current political background a key part. But it needs to be subtle. Again, I call upon Buffy as an example of it done well. It was only when people started discussing it as feminist and pro-LGBT you realised that it was. Charmed rather smashes you with it. And if I feel like that as someone who is pro #metoo and LGBT rights, I can only imagine what those who are more ambivalent or opposed feel.

What this show needs, and what I am going to give it, is time. It needs to find its rhythm and a means of telling its stories that works. The plots are good, the characters a little cheesy but capable of growing over time and there is a strong mystery hook. It has all the ingredients it needs. It just needs to blend them a little better.

I can be a contrary creature at times. Shows at their peak can often appear wooden and uninteresting to me. Meanwhile, the greater depth that comes with time is like manna from heaven, yet this is where audiences fall away as they are dazzled by a new shiny object elsewhere.

How to Get Away with Murder is a case in point. I found the first couple of seasons cold and too driven by sensation. The characters seemed empty stereotypes and at the mercy of the plot, rather than driving it. By contrast, season four, which I am currently indulging in, to me feels like everything is pulling together. The characters feel fleshed out and likeable, even the most amoral, and the plot works to build upon that, rather than hindering it.

For me, the biggest sea changes are in Michaela and Asher. Who knew the two most instantly dislikeable characters would actually become my favourites when they got together? Perhaps it is because they exposed each other’s soft underbellies beneath the cold, cruel ambition both initially presented.

I have even warmed to Annalise herself. Strangely it is not the constant tragedies of her life that have done that, as I find myself desensitised to her tales of woe. She is a classic example of the character that has had so much misery heaped on her it stretches your belief too far. Instead, it is because she is now truly being on the side of justice. She is fixing her past faults and trying to at the very least not burn anymore bridges.

The flip side is that the mystery plots are weakening. It feels as if we jumped the shark a long time ago, possibly even in the first season, and these are now a distraction rather than a driving force. It makes you wonder if the show would benefit from being more of just a straightforward legal drama rather than something more sensationalistic. Or for it to just be told in a linear fashion, rather than drip feeding the sensation over each episode.

For me, the show has got better. It is people driven, as all good dramas should be. It still has its frustrations, not least that everyone seems so permanently angry or moody, but I can live with that. It is a shame the rest of the audience couldn’t.

At the turn of the century, the biggest show on TV was no doubt Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Millions were hooked by a deceptively simple format – answer 15 general knowledge and get a million pounds. You had help along the way but it was limited. Drama was cranked up by the host and the first time someone won the million it felt like a landmark moment.

Then it faded. People got bored of it, and attempts to liven it up only made it worse. The introduction of a timer on the opening questions and trimming back of them felt like an unnecessary fast forward to the tenser points. People no longer had that period of calm that the first few questions gave you. Also, the ‘switch’ lifeline, where you could change the entire question, felt like a cop out. The whole point of a quiz is to show what you don’t know as much as what you do.

But now it is back, in largely its original form. Chris Tarrant has been replaced by Jeremy Clarkson and there is a new ‘Ask the Host’ lifeline. But the race against time has gone, as has the switch lifeline.

I got surprisingly addicted to it all over again. It helped that the first player was incredibly smart, although I felt a high level of smug of knowing the £500,000 question when she didn’t. Having said that, her knowledge of Greek mythology was far superior to mine. But that is the joy of a quiz, you switch from feeling the smartest person in the world to the dumbest.

I also warmed surprisingly to Clarkson as host. He is more scathing than Tarrant, yet gets away with it by staying just on the right side of wit. He is also surprisingly warm and generous with his support when he needs to be.

In some respects it is a shame they stripped the show over the course of an entire week instead of maybe showing a couple of episodes over a number of weeks. It meant I wasn’t able to watch all of them and lost the narrative of some of the players, which is always a problem for the obsessive viewer like me. There is now reason why they couldn’t do say an episode twice a week for six weeks or so, or even just one for roughly 10.

I have fallen back in love with it anyway. Maybe on a dark, cold night where nothing else is on (Wednesdays in particular look sparse for me) I might catch up with the few I missed. And who knows, I might even apply myself. I could use a few grand.

TV is rubbish over Christmas. The desire to please a broad, captive audience means that the mainstream thrives at the expense of anything interesting. No Christmas special of Killing Eve for those of us who loved it, at least not this year. Instead, updates of Poirot (albeit supposedly grittier), accompanied by the usual Call the Midwife and Mrs Brown’s Boys.

No wonder I have turned to the Planner, where, in a Christmas miracle, I found dozens of episodes of Bob’s Burgers. I have declared my love for it before, but with so little else on I am unashamed in doing so again.

One of the key things I love about it is that, in what seems to be an increasing rarity in comedy (animated or live), the characters actually love each other. I have got to the point with Family Guy and American Dad! Where I have stopped buying into them as loveable but dysfunctional. They just have pushed each other all too far.

But not the Belchers. There is genuinely a united front in the family and a sense of support for each other, even with the craziest of ideas. I know I may be reading a little too much into a cartoon, but it is a massive mood boost not to watch a family that brims over with resentment.

This means you can focus on the plot and the lines, both of which are at the top of their game. Again, some comedies by now in their lifecycle go for bigger targets and overreach. Suspension of belief is fine but there is a definite sense at times that they are going for plot at expense of humour. With Bob’s Burgers I can still buy into that this is just the regular adventures of a family.

The show isn’t scared of making the audience pay attention either. It can at times shoot rapid fire lines between the characters (Gene in particular goes for off the cuff remarks that you could miss if diverted) and that is one of the joys.

Of course, the greatest two characters are and always will be Tina and Louise. The former is an introvert dying to be an extrovert and fiercely individualistic. She is a hero to anyone who just wants to be themselves and finds themselves half in/half out of the popular group. Louise, meanwhile, is beautifully cynical and strongminded. She is one of my favourite characters from any show ever.

My last point in praise for the show is that even the minor characters are well drawn out (pardon the pun). They may only get a few minutes in an episode once or twice a year, but you still know them. Two of my favourites are Felix, the brother of Mr Fischoder, and Gayle, Linda’s sister, both of whom have the kind of nuance some shows struggle to get into their main characters, never mind secondary ones.

This show has got me through Christmas. It might even need to get me through January at this rate. Mind you, there are worse things. I could actually have to talk to my own family.