Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Walking Dead, it's not just about the characters you know...

Sure AMC's new zombie apocalypse drama has a bizarre love triangle at its core.  Sure we get an insight into how foolishly and un-heriocally any of us might act under extreme pressure.

But there's also a whole lotta zombies getting shot, stabbed, smacked, stomped and sworn at. Here is every zombie execution from Series 1:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A break from our usual programming: X-Factor final. And tarts and that.

I rather fancy i'm pretty unshockable. I've seen all your Frankie Boyles and your 2 Girls One Cup and such. And survived.

But I did think that the dance routine around Christina Aguilera's solo number was a bit rich. Fine for Zoo readers with their elasticated waistbands and muscly wrists, but not ideal for X-Factor's young, and substantially female audience.

What's the lesson there? If you want to make it in showbusiness, you had better get your arse out? It may be the truth, but like the non-existence of Santa Claus it's an inconvenient truth that as parents we postpone telling for as long as we can.

I was cross and tweeted about it a bit. My wife actually did something about it. Here's her email to ITV. You might find the email address or some key turns of phrase helpful if you felt the same way we did.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Walking Dead, and the mainstreaming of zombie horror

Every now and then, a TV show comes along that is worth making a noise about.

Not the noise of revulsion that you make when someone eats a rat-dick vol-au-vent on I’m a Celebrity. I mean the noise where you tell everyone you know how great it is and you get more and more vociferous in the show’s praise as they look increasingly skeptical.

So it was with The Sopranos and The Wire. Both reframed the cops and robbers format as something far more thoughtful and thought provoking, while still finding room for action, humour, and no small amount of sexy.

I’m old enough to remember when there was no sex on British TV. I’m old enough to remember when there was no sex in British-made movies.

The ‘X’ certificate, the equivalent of today’s commercial suicide ’18’, was awarded almost exclusively to horror flicks.

Looking back from today’s perspective on Hammer’s lovably camp output, it’s difficult to see why Christopher Lee’s conjunctivitis or Ralph Bates’s improbable transgender antics might endanger the equilibrium of young minds, but that was the age that we then lived in.

The age of the shambling monster; Frankenstein’s creature, the zombie and his exotic cousin the living Mummy seemed over as we segued from the shockable Sixties into the seen-it-all Seventies.

Serial killers and other assorted psychos moved into that space. The shamblers never really went away, of course - George A Romero almost singlehandedly kept their dim, brain-hungry flame alive.

The only creatures who seemed able to survive the end of the classic horror era were the vampires. The thing about vampires - as currently demonstrated in True Blood - is that it’s not much of a stretch to make them sexy.

Yes, even though they’re essentially talkative corpses.

Not even Michael Jackson could make zombies sexy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

‘I’m Desperate – Get Me Publicity’ - Your cut out & keep guide to the showbiz event of the season

Until a few generations ago, our forebears measured the passing of the seasons by the ripening of their crops, the migrations of the birds, and by noticing how bloody cold it was in their unheated hovels.

Now we know that Christmas is coming because X-Factor’s on, the Easter stock is in Tesco’s and a group of people that you half recognize from the pages of Hot Stars magazine are about to go on a pretty disappointing holiday. For money.

You can’t be bothered with all that nonsense though can you? You’ve got glamorous parties to go to, and The Walking Dead to watch.

Here, then, to save you all the tedium of watching 'I’m Not Quite A Celebrity, Please Remedy This' are the celebrated individuals to whom Ant and Dec will be feeding the ghastliest canapés in Christendom this Winter

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Elsewhere on the Web: Josh Burt EATS the X Factor for Sabotage Times

The practically peerless Josh Burt has got some revealing insights into next week's X Factor show.

Well, insights or some of those wicked American pain-killers that make you see little MC Escher lizards crawling around in your wallpaper pattern. it's hard to say which.

Either way, it's a fun read:

Next week, the favourite, Matt, who oscillates between wearing a hat and not wearing a hat, before singing songs initially intended only for women, will do a version of “My neck, my back” by Kia, cleverly redubbed “My penis, my beard”.

Aiden will continue in his quest to monopolise the misunderstood demographic by singing in the style of a man bleeding to death. Cher will start by singing, before whipping a shiv from her tracksuit top, and rapping from the side of her mouth like the woman in those hilarious having a stroke adverts.

Paige will remain outwardly unoffended when Louis Walsh tells him – without irony – that he reminds him of Lenny Henry, Luther Vandross, Frank Bruno, or Kris Akabusi

Spooks, cookery and the nature of reality

I’m no fool. Or, rather, I am – but not in the following context. I knew that it would be practically impossible to avoid discussion of the eighth and final episode of the current series of Spooks as part of my daily discourse with the great and the good on Twitter.

So, fresh from the Call Of Duty: Black Ops launch I settled down with a rum in hand and a good deal of Activision’s complimentary beer coursing through my bloodstream to watch the endgame for Section D’s identity-stealing field commander.

One might think that, given how much I had deliberately befuddled my critical faculties it would be a confusing hour but I found the show surprisingly easy to follow.

Spooks likes to flatter its audience with twists, turns and double-bluffs designed to make them feel clever but there was none of that last night. The pursuit of the team’s former leader was straightforward enough and within the context of the show’s established rules ‘plausible’.

There was of course the shooting of some unknown innocent on London’s streets that we all agreed to forget about and some time-saving IT jiggery-pokery from Tariq but the show’s an hour long as it and some of us had to get some sleep. It’s only reasonable to take a few short cuts.

This time-saving has connected in my mind with a directive sent to the BBC this morning about their content. They have been chided about the number of identikit programmes the produce about members of the public antiquing with their mothers in Eastbourne or buying houses to put all their crappy antiques in.

Rightly so, in my view. Reality shows seem to me to be part of a general societal trend towards de-skilling. The people perpetrating this crime against competence tend to talk about ‘democracy’ a lot but essentially reality shows are part of the trend to employ cheaper labour.

After all, reality shows are scarcely about reality. They’re fiddled with and edited and key parts are re-enacted to make reality seem interesting. If you were to film real reality, it would be as dull as Andy Warhol’s interminable art film about the Empire State building.

Without the realism.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Spooks, the Likely Lads, and the return of Lady Mary's Deadly Vajazzle

So for the first two days of this blog’s short life I have been rattling on about how social networking toys – most notably Twitter – enhance and expand the television-watching experience.

But there is of course a downside.

I’m very fond of Spooks. More specifically, I’m very fond of #spooks. That’s the hashtag that brings together a temporary online community which takes enormous delight in every improbable plot twist or convenient technological shortcut thrown up by BBC 1’s fast-moving and deliciously daft spy drama.

However, I have interests apart from watching the telly. Oh yes. I quite like brutally violent videogames too. Tonight I’m going to a press launch for Black Ops, the latest iteration of the Call Of Duty franchise.

I’m very pleased to be attending but of course that means missing the last Spooks episode of the season. It’s bound to be packed with incident and accident. Every twist and turn will be faithfully chronicled and discussed by that community on Twitter.

How will I remain ignorant of the outcome until tomorrow night when I can catch up on the iPlayer?

The twilight of wonders: Downton Abbey is gone...

This morning The Times devoted practically an entire news page to the first season finale of Downton Abbey. A cursory glance at the papers chosen my the other people pressed damply into the same train as me this morning suggests that other dailies have given similar coverage.

I’m a bit sketchy on whether there has been much real news this week. My primary news sources, John Humphrys and Evan Davis, have spent the past few days warming their hands at a brazier outside Broadcasting House and yelling “scab!” at Sandi Toksvig as she scuttles in to present the News Quiz.

Nevertheless, even if not much apart from the odd hurricane, cholera outbreak and Twitterati hissyfit has occurred, a fluffy Sunday night TV drama has to be doing something special to make the news, rather than telly, pages.

The best Sunday night TV is generally a big moving postcard. Picturesque views and unchallenging plotlines have been the foundation for shows as diverse as Heartbeat and The Royal.

But Downton, I’d suggest, has a wider and slightly more upmarket fanbase than ITV’s other ‘Ovaltine for the eyes’ efforts.

So what is Downton doing right?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sex on the box

When times get tough in the magazine business, and circulations are dipping, it’s time to roll out The Sex Issue. It’s normally a fairly standard issue of the magazine in question, but with a picture of a half-dressed starlet on the front and some coverlines that make the articles within sound as if they might be fairly fruity. With the upper shelves of our specialist newsagents heaving even today with periodicals of a markedly more forthright nature it’s unclear why this subterfuge might work, but work it does.

It’s not so different in the world of TV. Nothing attracts an audience quite like the prospect a younger scion of one of our great acting dynasties wriggling out of her vest in the name of popular drama.

Internet access is, despite what the admirable Ms Martha Lane Fox have you believe, well-nigh universal. What with the ubiquitous internet boasting an infinite variety of unapologetic muck, it’s hard to see why the tamer breed of TV smut might attract our interest.

Perhaps it’s because the enjoyment of online pornography is generally quite a lonely activity. By contrast, what could me more enjoyable than settling down to watch a cosy costume drama such as  Tipping The Velvet with your Mum?

Perhaps that’s a bad example.

The real third dimension of TV

The rush towards 3D in cinema and television isn’t, I don’t think, driven by the desire of creative artists to show us new and interesting things in new and interesting ways.

It seems more likely that it’s an accidental conspiracy. First you have hardware manufacturers who need a new buzzword to help shift the next generation of TVs. Working alongside them you have content owners (and by this I principally mean movie studios) who want to make the pirating of their wares as non-trivial an operation as possible.

That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing. Commercial motives drove the development of widescreen cinema, for example. The format soon provided new creative opportunities for the film-makers who had it foisted upon them by their paymasters. In went on to, belatedly, foster the wide screen telly market and the vocabulary of visual comedy as the production team at Holby City hilariously struggled to make any meaningful use of the new aspect ratio.

Now, I’m not sure that 3D is ready to replace mainstream 2D pictures. Maybe it’s just me but nearly everything I see in 3D has the air of a Victorian toy theatre, with flat characters sliding about in a series of discrete planes rather than a continuously three-dimensional field. And, while we’re on it, the screening of Alice In Wonderland that I attended a year or so back left me with a growling headache that still hasn’t quite cleared.

Meanwhile, the quiet innovation that has blossomed from the grassroots to give TV a real added dimension has passed the major channels by almost completely.

Mankind is a social animal. Television watching, ostensibly an indoor, private pleasure, was always enhanced by the so-called watercooler conversation at work the next day. Now, with the near ubiquity of Twitter, the banter that makes us human is as immediate and as thrilling as throwing an empty beer can out of the window and seeing who it hits.

Instant communities quickly accrete around significant TV events, such as Eurovision, the Big Brother final or the tragically predictable Raoul Moat endgame. Really terrible films, and I’m looking at you here Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus, are instantly transformed into kitschy interactive cult experiences. Even the ads between segments of major shows benefit from the rolling ‘directors commentary’ of online wags.

Despite the adage, not everyone has a novel in them. It does, though, appear that everyone has at least one 140 character zinger about Kerry Katona’s diction or Charlie Brooker’s hair.

Who am I, and what is all this stuff, and who are you?

Who Am I?
My name’s Michael Moran. At the moment I’m a journalist. I wrote for The Times for quite a while. I've also written a few books, my favourite is called SOD ABROAD: WHY YOU'D BE MAD TO LEAVE THE COMFORT OF YOUR OWN HOME. At The Times I specialised in fluffy info-tainment stuff about (mainly) films and stuff. Some of those stories attracted quite a lot of traffic, but the new regime at The Times isn’t really too interested in masses of traffic right now.

Consequently, around three months ago, I and some sixty of my little friends were invited to pursue new and exciting opportunities in the ‘freelance space’. I’m doing that right now, I’m spending many of my days writing news stories and such for the Daily Mail. There are worse jobs, but I do rather miss the world of fluffy info-tainment.

I think it was a reaction to the loss of fluff from my diet that drove me to spend a lot more time watching trashy TV shows and tweeting about them.