"A TV programme can
never be worse than its viewers; for the more stupid it is, the more stupid
they are to watch it."
- Clive James
~ British Programs
~ Irish Programs
~ American Programs
~ From The New York Times
~ The Art of TV Criticism
>> REVIEWS (BRITAIN)
"Watching them was
like watching two men who'd been thrown out of an aeroplane trying to share
the same parachute."
- Clive James, remembering "Little and Large"
"The evil genius of
the 20th century turns out to be a man most of us had never heard of until
BBC2's superb series, 'The Century of the Self'. He is one Edward Bernays,
a nephew of Signmund Freud, who more or less invented PR and advertising
as we know it, based on his uncle's theories. It was Bernays who taught
corporations how to tap into the primitive desires of consumers rather
than their needs.
'We are all individuals,' the mob roars in Monty Python's 'Life of Brian', and it is this delusion of consumer choice which the wizards spotted.
Bernays didn't hold with the 'public service' notion of giving the people what you think is good for them. He realised it was far easier to control them if you gave them what they wanted."
- Declan Lynch, "The Irish Independent"
There is a technical
term in the world of television criticism known as "jumping the shark".
This is the point at which a much-loved series begins its gradual but inevitable
decline. The term was coined after an episode of "Happy Days", when the
Fonz jumps over a shark while wearing water-skis. A lavish overseas trip
is usually a sign that a series has run out of ideas. Adam Hart-Davis began
strapping on his water-skis in "What the Ancients Did for Us"...
- Roland White, "The Times"
Television, in common
with, if I am to be honest, the rest of the media, is currently making
a huge mistake. This mistake is to think that, because large parts of the
British population are demonstrably stupid, it is therefore safest to assume
that everybody is stupid. This assumption leads genres such as TV history
to pursue stupid people with the sort of devices stupid people seem to
like. But, of course, stupid people are not going to watch a show on Helen
of Troy or the second world war. As a result, non-stupid people are just
irritated and baffled to find themselves being shown people getting on
trains or blowing things up.
- Bryan Appleyard, reviewing History on TV, "The Times"
Every so often, but
not nearly often enough, the BBC remembers what it's there for. It's there
not to target, but to unite, people with disparate interests. In the words
of Huw Wheldon, the BBC's managing director in the early 1970s, its role
is to make the popular good and the good popular, which makes you wonder
quite where "Traffic Cops" fits in.
- Lynsey Hanley, "The Guardian"
There is one great,
gaping flaw in the novel as far as television is concerned, and it’s the
thing that makes it so gripping: it’s a first-person narrative. Davie is
telling you the story. You never know much about him, so, as a reader,
you impose your own character, which is brilliantly engaging — but on television,
you have to be shown someone, which means you have a lead character who
is a sort of underage Zelig. It’s the same defect you get with Treasure
Island, Oliver Twist and Pip in Great Expectations. In all of them, the
supporting cast steal the show, are far more exciting and interesting.
Making Davie an attractive, believable protagonist is the main task of
an adaptation, and this latest attempt didn’t just fail, it never really
took a swing.
- AA Gill, reviewing an adaptation of "Kidnapped" for "The Times"
Good adaptations may
encourage people to inquire within, but clumsy, dull ones can turn millions
off whole genres. Because it’s cultural genocide — a bad revival is far
worse than no revival at all.
- AA Gill, reviewing update of "Much Ado About Nothing", "The Times"
Billie Piper is the
most contemporary actress imaginable and was lost in the politics, morality,
customs and clothes of the 18th century.
- AA Gill, reviewing ITV's version of Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park"
Fanny Price of 'Mansfield
Park' is an innocent of a less giddy and more melancholy kind, and the
actress Billie Piper plays her looking wrecked... Ms. Piper’s downcast
sensuality makes you long for the world to give her whatever she wants.
- Ginia Bellafante, "The New York Times"
Interminably, we were
told that everything we liked to believe about them was false, and there
was no evidence to prove anything else. We were left wiser but knowing
less, which, even for television, is an almost impossible trick.
- AA Gill, "The Times", reviewing "Blood of the Vikings"
Television is good
at telling you things, and it should teach those who want to know, not
confirm the intellectual snobbery of those who think they already do. But
telling it badly is worse than not telling it at all.
- AA Gill, "The Times", reviewing "Greek Gods and Goddesses"
Let me say without
the safety net of inverted commas that it was the funniest thing I have
ever seen on television. If I die with a smile playing on my pinched blue
lips, it will be because, through the haze of Alzheimer's, I've just remembered
- AA Gill, "The Times", recalling a "Fry and Laurie" appearance on "Saturday Night Live"
'Carrie and Barry'
is a comedy only because the Radio Times says it is... it's about as entertaining
as being pulled over by US customs.
- AA Gill, "The Times"
The only conceivable
reason for airing this was to bring the presenter to the greater public
ridicule he so gratingly deserves.
- AA Gill, reviewing "Time to Get Your House in Order" for "The Times"
While it’s a general
truth that critics would rather have a good time than a bad one, there
is the odd occasion when we all mutter a prayer for something really, really,
appallingly, life-threateningly awful to come our way, just for the masochistic
joy of it, and I had an inkling, when I saw BBC1's "The Impressionists"
flagged up, that it might be rubbish. But nothing prepared me for the wraparound,
jaw-dropping, pinch-yourself catastrophe it turned out to be.
- AA Gill, "The Times"
Q: What's the worst
thing anyone's ever said about you?
A: The critic AA Gill once devoted an entire column to slagging off No Child of Mine without having seen it. It seemed both the most pathetic and the most wonderful thing I had ever come across.
- Peter Kosminsky, director, interviewed in The Guardian
Jon Ronson is one of
the telly nerds, those presenters who use geekiness and cowardice as a
sort of cover for detective work, as if they were in a Spielberg movie
about smart, uncool kids who discover stuff in the woods. He’s an internet
Tintin, and he uses his vaporous readiness to confront bullies and those
who aspire to power. The juxtaposition is supposed to be amusing or enlightening.
- AA Gill, reviewing "Crazy Rulers of the World", for "The Times"
The continuing story
of a megalomaniac desperate to found a dynasty, whose paranoia turns a
court and a family into a stew of fear, resentment, plots and suspicion:
The Tudors (Friday, BBC2) are back for more. In my lifetime, Henry VIII
has gone from being Keith Michell to Ray Winstone and now Jonathan Rhys
Meyers, proving history is pretty much whatever you need it to be. The
story of Henry’s profligate misuse of wives was once all about heredity;
now it’s all about sex. The Tudors have gone from Burke’s Peerage to Mills
& Boon, and Rhys Meyers is definitely the chick-hist choice... The
enduring curse of the Tudors — and, indeed, quite a few of the Stuarts
— is that, despite living in the most rollicking, murderous, passionate
and attractive period in English history, their clothes were utterly naff
and completely ridiculous. How on earth did those titans of testosterone
and derring-do allow themselves to be kitted out in baggy nappies with
willie pouches and tights, beanbag shoes, bolero jackets and Worzel Gummidge
hats — or, worse, big dressing gowns with mad-granny jewellery? This production
sensibly dispenses with any historical accuracy and kits out everybody
like a cross between a Dutch brothel and Star Wars. In fact, to get the
full benefit of The Tudors, don’t think of it as a historical costume drama
at all, but as camp science fiction with a wooden dinosaur.
- AA Gill, reviewing "The Tudors"
There are moments on
television that show in stark relief the distance we’ve travelled in a
generation. This is one of them. It’s an imported high-pressure American
competition in which kids aged 11-14 are pitted against each other in regional
heats, then the national finals, until there is a winner at the weekend.
No television ever made is worth an 11-year-old’s tears. I was really shocked
by this show. How could anyone imagine that it was entertaining to watch
small children being pressured to the point of breaking down with so little
enjoyment? It was cruel, plain and simple.
- AA Gill, reviewing the BBC's "Hard Spell" for "The Times"
More and more television
is becoming the tyranny of a formula over interest, entertainment or common
sense. The decision to add a reality element to the Battle of Britain will
have been taken as a piece of television orthodoxy, regardless of the content.
Everything has to be accessible, young and relevant. Television can’t just
show and tell. It has to show, tell and empathise; or, in this case, show,
tell and patronise.
- AA Gill, "The Times"
The most consistent
and clamorous demand of young television audiences is: why can’t we have
more dinosaurs here and now? It is a paradox of 21st-century technology
that whenever a spectacular special effect or computerised hallucination
is invented, the first thing anyone thinks of doing with it is conjuring
up dinosaurs... We are now all familiar with computer-generated behaviour
for dinosaurs. Children know more about how they behave than they do about
the habits of meerkats. For instance, we all know that predatory dinosaurs
are shortsighted and, helpfully, can’t see things directly in front of
their noses as long as they don’t move... All carnivorous dinosaurs have
a spooky ability to be able to pick out from a milling group of humans
the one person who isn’t needed for the rest of the plot.
- AA Gill, reviewing "Primeval", "The Times"
Terry Jones's serious
point is that the barbarians who surrounded the Roman empire have been
given a bad press, principally by the Romans. Rather sensibly, I think,
the Romans arranged only to fight wars against people who couldn’t write,
thereby always getting a good press. The silence left by the unversed Celts,
Huns, Goths, Dacians, Vandals, Hobbits and Borrowers has been filled in
for us by Jones with a never-never society of happy, productive, cultured,
clever, decent, liberal nonconformists. At every opportunity he points
out how awful the Romans were and how obviously marvellous the barbarians
must have been by comparison if they’d left anything behind to compare.
This is TV contrarianism lifted verbatim from Alan Bennett’s "History Boys".
The actual evidence that Roman civilisation wasn’t just superior, but was
in a legion of its own, is so indisputably obvious that Jones believes
it simply has to be wrong. But, of course, none of this is really about
the 4th century, it’s all about now. Just as Boris Johnson used Rome on
TV as a symbol and argument for European union, so Jones uses the homespun,
organic, green barbarians as a sensitive, peace-loving analogy for us,
with Rome standing in as the cruel, decadent, industrialised superpower
America. This is the trendiest, leftiest piece of self-serving propaganda
I’ve seen on the box, though I’m sure his intentions are nuttily Glastonbury.
- AA Gill, reviewing "Barbarians", in "The Times"
Kenneth Clark once
told me a great truth about culture’s lost masterpieces: that generally
they weren’t masterpieces and they weren’t lost. Usually they’d been dumped
for a good reason.
- AA Gill, "The Times"
'Your 100 Best Flame
Throwers' and 'What if Sharks Had Torpedoes?'.
- AA Gill, on where The Discovery Channel is headed, "The Times"
When good actors hand
in bad performances, they’re an awful lot worse than when mediocre actors
- AA Gill, "The Times"
Brian Murphy is a naturally
appalling actor. He always looks as if he has been given a premature break
as his own understudy. And how come he’s been 60 for the past 30 years?
Most TV personalities work at staying young. He has worked at being agelessly
- AA Gill, reviewing "Booze Cruise 3", "The Times"
Drama made for men
is usually about thick heroes; drama for women is mostly about clever victims.
The mixing of the two stereotypes in 'Colditz' successfully rejuvenated
- AA Gill, reviewing Colditz in "The Times"
It’s funny how psychos
are always so much scarier when they’re pretty girls.
- AA Gill, reviewing "Fallen Angel"
Medicine lends itself
to small, high-tension dramas with emotional outcomes, set on cheap sets,
with few extras. But then so would vets’ surgeries, schools and, I expect,
post offices and Jobcentres; but only the police station has ever come
close to competing with the hospital when it comes to enthralling the viewer.
Bizarrely, medicine and medics have never really caught on in other creative
media. There aren’t dozens of paintings of nurses, or films or plays or
musicals or even poems about them. Medical drama is one of those precious,
rare things, an original television genre. I reckon one of the reasons
medical dramas are so popular is that, of all the professionals, doctors
and nurses are still untouched by cynicism. We will forgive them the hyper-melodrama,
the bad acting, the unlikely twists of character and unfeasible leaps of
story simply because we want to believe they are brilliant and good and
the workers of miracles.
- AA Gill, "The Times"
Party Animals is a
new political drama, except that it isn’t very dramatic. Maybe it’s supposed
to be a comedy, except it isn’t very funny. I expect what they were aiming
for was satire, except it isn’t awfully satirical... The trouble with Party
Animals is that, every day, the news doesn’t just make a mockery of its
story lines, it makes a mockery of the whole concept of political drama
or satire. Politics doesn’t need teasing, it needs invigorating. My long-standing
offer of £10 and a glowing review for anyone who can make a believable
and watchable series based on the concept that politics is a noble calling,
and democracy a cause worth devoting your life to, still stands. What we
need is something to remind us why we should vote... Political satire has
become an easy laugh. There is an embarrassment of material lying around.
You don’t even have to make it up, you could just read out Hansard. But
what’s missing is the point of satire. It isn’t laughter — that’s merely
comedy. Satire is about anger. It isn’t giggling, it’s snarling. Party
Animals doesn’t want to change anything. It wants it all to stay exactly
the same, so the scripts write themselves.
- AA Gill, reviewing "Party Animals", "The Times"
Most wannabe funky
dramas are still written by blokes whose female characters necessarily
display implausibly blokeish characteristics, while also looking like the
kind of girls the writer might want to cop off with.
- Kathryn Flett, reviewing "Party Animals", "The Observer"
Having seen the first
episode of The Trap, you wouldn't under any circumstances want to miss
the second one tonight, if only on the grounds that television this breathtakingly
intelligent and provocative is to be feasted upon, even if you don't believe
a word of it.
- Kathryn Flett, reviewing "The Trap" by Adam Curtis, "The Observer"
In the last part of
Adam Curtis’s weirdly brilliant documentary trilogy, The Trap: What Happened
to Our Dream of Freedom , Curtis’s favourite phrase was "as this series
has shown". I was not sure if it had.
- Andrew Billen, "The Times"
A remarkable piece
of drama, but unfortunately not for any of the right reasons. It was as
if writer Simon Tyrell had quite purposefully made every character do the
opposite of what anybody would do in a similar situation in real life,
and then sat back to see whether he could get away with it without anybody
- Kathryn Flett, reviewing "She's Gone" in "The Observer"
I watched a lot of
TV this weekend (well, it's my job), and have little to say about any of
the rest of it. I had mixed feelings at the end of the psychological thriller
If I Had You (ITV1) — pleased to have been right about the killer from
the beginning, and cross for sitting through two hours of tosh to find
out that I was right.
- Sam Wollaston, "The Guardian"
I was tickled pink
by ITV's "Primeval", an old-fashioned yarn with new-fangled computer graphics.
Douglas Henshall is Professor Cutter, whose wife may have been eaten by
a dinosaur... Primeval cost six million quid and there are far, far sillier
ways to spend money.
- Nancy Banks-Smith, "The Guardian"
You can gauge the popularity
of a programme by the number of people who say: "No, don't tell me!" Every
week Sam Tyler would asked himself: "Am I mad or in a coma or back in time?"
The answer is probably a bit of all three... It is arguable that nothing
on television is as truly in touch with its time as a cop show. It may
not mean it; it cannot help it. Dixon of Dock Green in the 50s, Z Cars
in the 60s, The Sweeney in the 70s... Life on Mars spoke of nostalgia for
a time when PC did not mean politically correct.
- Nancy Banks Smith, on the finale of Life on Mars, "The Guardian"
Why wouldn’t you just
watch reruns of The Sweeney? They’re far better. Except there aren’t reruns
of The Sweeney on terrestial TV, because they are properly, scarily politically
incorrect and not pretend ironically politically incorrect.
- AA Gill, reviewing "Life on Mars"
More original is ITV1’s
new back-to-back combo Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach. In fact, it’s hard
to believe there will be a more intriguing piece of programming in the
whole of 2008. Moving Wallpaper is a snappy, knowing, tongue-in-cheek comedy
set behind-the-scenes on a TV soap called... well, Echo Beach, actually.
- Gerard O'Donovan, on ITV's show-within-a-show idea, "The Telegraph"
Although I’m sure it
doesn’t show up on the accounts, it does now seem as if ITV1 has merged
all of its many departments — drama, comedy, factual, news, children —
into two, simple, easy-to-manage territories: Stupid and Non-Stupid. The
Stupid Department is run from a building 15,000 miles high, employing over
nine million people, all of whom spend their days watching ITV Play and
high- fiving each other for having turned the UK’s leading commercial broadcaster
into little more than Babestation. The Non-Stupid department, meanwhile,
operates out of a campervan, owned by Melvyn Bragg, parked on Waterloo
Bridge, and to which one can gain entry only by muttering: "I remember
World in Action".
- Caitlin Moran, prelude to a review of ITV's "If I Had You" in "The Times"
I laughed, I cried
(well, I misted up once or twice) and I wondered why they don't make dramas
like this anymore. Yes, This Life is back. Watching the repeats on BBC2
makes you feel old and nostalgic in equal measure. It also makes you wonder
why no-one told Miles to get a haircut. This Life was made in an age when
people watched edgy, homegrown TV drama.
- John Plunkett, looking back at the quintessential 90s series in "The Guardian" in 2006
The acting in "Conspiracy"
was superb. But then actors in general tend to play Nazis with such relish
on account of their own supreme powerlessness. The lot of the actor is
one of almost constant rejection. So the moment they get to don the old
SS regalia and to start barking the orders in a German accent, they seize
it with almost indecent enthusiasm. It is No More Mr Nice Guy.
- Declan Lynch, in Ireland's "Sunday Independent"
Most drama revolves
around the conflict between good and evil. What was notable about "Conspiracy"
was that everyone was evil. And it was still riveting drama.
Familiar from the voiceovers
on dozens of Irish TV commercials, Conor Mullen and Stanley Townsned are
famously orotund performers who declaim even the most mundane asides in
a tone of voice most of us would reserve for attracting the attention of
a bartender in a particularly boisterous pub.
- Liam Fay, reviewing "Rough Diamond" in "The Times"
Amanda Platell, one
suspects, might be a rather good interlocutor, but we don’t hear much of
her because Piers Morgan is hopping up and down all over the place like
a demented kangaroo with Tourette’s and a bad case of self-obsession.
- Rod Liddle, commenting on "Morgan & Platell" for "The Times"
There was comic relief
on BBC3 in the shape of "Man Stroke Woman", which has been widely touted
as "the new sketch show from the producer of The Office". This reminds
me of those desperate Hollywood campaigns ("from the editor of Jaws VI,
and the first assistant director of Patch Adams!"), which usually translates
as "you've never heard of any of the actors".
- Rupert Smith, "The Guardian"
"Early Doors" is a
faithful evocation of what it's like to stand eavesdropping while sipping
a pint in a dingy pub for half an hour of a quiet Monday night. There is
occasional wry wit, and long pauses. This is fine, but confuses me: if
I want to faithfully evoke the feeling of eavesdropping in a dingy pub
of a quiet Monday night, sipping a pint, I have a cunning other way of
- Euan Ferguson, "The Observer"
The series is deeper
than you expect. Unlike most, if not all American TV shows, Extras accepts
sadness as a condition of life, not a transitory effect to be obliterated
in a fourth act blizzard of good feelings, but something that can only
be kept at bay. That awareness is what pushes it towards greatness.
- Robert Lloyd, reviewing "Extras" in "The LA Times"
It's brilliant, because
squirming is the new laughing.
- Sam Wollaston, reviewing "Extras", "The Guardian"
The characters were
such rip-offs of popular characters in other soaps that viewers could be
done for receiving stolen goods.
- The Sun bashes Eldorado
This is the first time
a rat has saved a sinking ship.
- comment after Roland the Rat rescues ITV's breakfast ratings in the 1980s
A New Year resolution
for our friends in television — ban any series with the words: Garden,
House, Home, Property, Cookery, Restaurant, Chef, Diet or Fat in the title.
I'm aware that doing so would immediately wipe out half RTE's factual programming
and a sizeable chunk of Channel 4's too. That's the point.
- Pat Stacey, "The Evening Herald"
In the year that we
saw Jade from Big Brother naked and struggling with the inadequate resources
of her hands to stop her private bits overflowing into the public gaze,
this was a creditably balanced account.
- Roland White, "The Sunday Times", reviews "TV Treats of 2002"
Don’t you think that
Davina McCall, who shrieks like a fire alarm through a mouth as big as
a train tunnel, is just the epitome of feminine grace?
- Joe Joseph, with a tongue-in-cheek review of "Big Brother" in "The Times"
More than in any previous
year, this programme seems to demand reclassification as natural history,
along with a new script combining the dispassionate analysis of an ethologist
in the tradition of Tinbergen, with the whispery, interpretative flights
characteristic of the BBC's regular lionfest, Big Cat Diary. Earlier this
week, for instance, when "Jodie" and "Chantelle" went in pursuit of younger
males (disregarding repeated attempts to mount them by the big one researchers
have christened "Dennis", and risking the disapproval of older members
of the troop), the programme lacked only a Jane Goodall-style commentary,
pointing out the females' rituals - such as lying on their backs, legs
in the air, to signal receptiveness - to rival the acclaimed natural history
film March of the Penguins.
- Catherine Bennett, reviewing "Celebrity Big Brother 2005" in "The Guardian"
The celebrities' names
change year-on-year, but their personality types remain more or less consistent.
There's always a Quiet Pretty One, a Bitchy One, a Dopey Bloke and a pair
of Will-They-Won't-Theys. The chief innovation this year is the inclusion
of not one, but three Gnarled Grumpy Ones — Rodney Marsh, Lynne Franks
and John Burton Race.
- Charlie Brooker, reviewing the 2007 "I'm A Celebrity" series
Talking of women scorned,
I suggest you give the Rovers in Coronation Street (ITV1) a wide berth
at the moment. All the barmaids have been done wrong by local love rats
and gone into a huddle in the back room. You'll never get served.
- Nancy Banks Smith, "The Guardian"
I love it when soap
goes on holiday. It's always a total disaster which cunningly and subliminally
suggests to viewers that they'd be far safer stopping at home and watching
soap. Steve McDonald, this time, mistakenly snogged a pretty transvestite.
Steve's habit of attracting unsuitable women has slipped up a notch now
to women who aren't even women.
- Grace Dent, reviewing Coronation Street, "The Guardian"
I noticed that the
Salvation Army was to be found blowing bravely in Midsomer Murders, EastEnders
and Coronation Street. One must commend them for always heading bravely
for the noise of battle.
- Nancy Banks Smith, from her Christmas TV review, "The Guardian"
Over on Coronation
Street, the number of secrets threatening to boil over and scald the cat
is becoming ridiculous. Fiz still doesn't know about John and Rosie, despite
the latter being daily clad in unbuttoned blouses from Topshop's Jailbait
range. Gail still doesn't know about David, who is Still Evil! Still Evil,
Gail! Look behind you!
- Lucy Mangan, "The Guardian"
Coronation Street (ITV1)
was in a holding pattern for most of last night. Fiz and John have kissed,
despite the nation rising as one to shout advice to the contrary at the
screen, but they did not appear.
- Lucy Mangan, "The Guardian"
Despite the central
tragedy — or perhaps because of it — there were a lot of laughs in Coronation
Street last night. The day of Jason and Sarah's wedding has arrived...
two sweet souls, prettier than pictures and simpler than amoeba... Bethany
is the result of a one-night stand when Sarah was 13, which is unfortunately
the kind of thing that tends to happen when a girl is both pretty and easily
outwitted by single celled organisms.
- Lucy Mangan, "The Guardian"
The level of misery
in 'EastEnders' has long been a standing joke; Dante himself would have
blanched at the unrelenting suffering produced by the beatings, shootings,
extra-marital affairs (ideally with your husband's brother or mother's
boyfriend), abortions, addictions, rapes, overdoses, debts and false imprisonments.
- Lucy Mangan, "The Guardian"
Leo and Demi were EastEnders'
own star-crossed lovers. If they had read Romeo and Juliet at Walford comprehensive
— admittedly unlikely as they never seemed to go to school at all — the
outcome might have been happier. But they didn't. So it wasn't. They had
run away and were living in a squalid squat and increasing desperation.
Last night Demi took heroin. As the pusher put it: "You go there and you
ain't likely to come back." Finding her, like Juliet, unconscious, Leo,
like Romeo, assumed the worst. "Demi, don't leave me! I ain't nothing without
- Nancy Banks Smith, commenting on EastEnders in "The Guardian"
It is traditional for
police to turn up at a soap wedding. Personally, I think they come for
the cake. Last night, in Coronation Street, they arrived to say that David,
the bride's brother, seemed to have drowned himself... At this low point,
Sarah, convinced it was all a trick by her brother to ruin her wedding
day, showed unsuspected steel. Lashing her train like a crocodile losing
its grip on a gnu, she indicated to the groom that, if he backed out now,
she'd break his other leg. One must never forget that Sarah is the granddaughter
of Ivy Tilsley, a woman so formidable the scriptwriters finally sent her
to a convent. Refraining, in an effort of will, from walling her up.
- Nancy Banks Smith, "The Guardian"
In any episode of EastEnders
someone will always say "Wot's goin' on 'ere?" So here's what. Stacey,
a bit of a minx, is about to marry Bradley, as nice a lad as ever walked
blindfolded over a cliff. However, unknown to Bradley, she has been having
a torrid affair with his father, Max.
- Nancy Banks Smith, "The Guardian"
With the incriminating
wedding video finally out in the open, EastEnders felt free to undertake
one of those sudden lurches into existential misery at which it most excels,
with Jean, mother of faithless teenage bride Stacey, winning the bragging
rights for Beckettian angst. 'It's not real, is it?' she twittered, having
been stoking up her barely contained lunacy all week. 'It's not real. It
is real. Is it?' It was real, alas for duped husband Bradley, whose Pringle
jumper remained admirably if unrealistically pristine throughout numerous
subsequent skirmishes in the Queen Vic...
- Alex Clark, "The Observer"
People complain that
ludicrous storylines are killing EastEnders. In Footballers’ Wives they
are a USP (Unique Selling Point). The fourth series begins on ITV1 on Thursday,
but the juiciest storylines have been splashed over the red-tops for weeks...
Tanya arranges to have her baby swapped at birth with Amber’s so that her
rival will have to bring up the child of the husband Tanya murdered in
the previous series, while Tanya keeps Conrad’s baby by Amber.
- Paul Hoggart, "The Times"
There's something wonderfully
naïve about "Footballers' Wives," founded as it is on the premise
that enough pretty casting, melodramatic characterization and Victorian
plotting can make a hit television show. And they can. The wicked, characters
- soccer players and the women who love them — don't just cheat on, gossip
about and double-cross one another. They also murder one another, not infrequently...
"Footballers' Wives" is a simple success: a trashier, more suspenseful,
more intelligently conceived "Desperate Housewives".
- Virginia Heffernan, "Pulp, Circumstance and Chardonnay", "The New York Times"
It satirises a pretty
worthless section of society, and its intentions go no deeper than a bit
of surface scratching, but it remains for all that the most bracing, hysterical
show we have. Where else would you see a Pride and Prejudice themed wedding
at which the black guests turned up in slave outfits? ("Why are you dressed
like some bloody pikey?" fumed Bruno.) I feel bad for loving these things,
but not sorry.
- Rupert Smith, reviewing "Footballer's Wives" in "The Guardian"
"It's tapping into
the way we all are, sadly, slightly consumed by celebrity. We love to watch
people with lots of money, lots of success, lots of power still not be
- Zoe Lucker, one of the stars of "Footballer's Wives"
The scriptwriters now
seem to behave like Olympian gods messing with their subjects to a degree
that even this bunch of thin-lipped, scowling Neanderthals must feel is
- Ian O'Doherty covers "Eastenders" in his Christmas TV preview for "The Evening Herald"
Damn you, Discovery
Channel. Over the entire Christmas period there were hardly any of the
usual programmes dealing with sharks or Nazis. Let's face it, few things
can cheer the Christmas heart quite like a shark killing a baby seal.
- Ian O'Doherty's Christmas TV Review for "The Evening Herald"
Television drama is
gradually working through professions that can show twentysomethings working
and partying hard. We’ve had junior doctors (Cardiac Arrest), lawyers (This
Life), teachers (Teachers), police officers (The Cops) and nurses (No Angels)
in a whirl of sex, drugs and workplace tensions. I’m sure one day we’ll
get over-sexed, drug-fuelled accountants in a series called Sexy Figures
(well, that’s the working title for my script, anyway). Now Party Animals
offers us the ruthlessly ambitious underlings eyeing Westminster’s greasy
pole in what is apparently an attempt to “re-engage” the young with politics...
The episode was sometimes like Hollyoaks goes to Westminster or The Thick
of It without the laughs and abject humiliation.
- Ian Johns, reviewing "Party Animals", "The Times"
Krakatoa: The Last
Days (BBC1) was another big-budget, big-event dramamentary. There's been
a worrying plague of them recently - Pompeii, the San Francisco earthquake
(about which there's soon to be another, I think). They have neither the
authority of good documentary, nor the writing of good drama, so work as
neither. They should go away.
- Sam Wollaston, "The Guardian"
The Last Days of the
Raj was excellent in many ways... The subject was sensitively and intelligently
approached. There were some brilliant interviews and testimonies... So
why did they have to go and ruin it with bloody dramatic reconstructions?
This is 1947, not ancient Greece; there is actually footage... That's when
I went to YouTube to see the real thing instead.
- Sam Wollaston, "The Guardian"
A British characteristic
is the infuriating TV documentary. We now lead the world in documentaries
which are vehicles for the presenter to show off his courage, humour, sensitivity,
rudeness, ignorance etc... A documentary should let its subjects speak.
The presenter should be heard but not seen.
- Charles Moore, "The Spectator"
Thanks to this show's
bar-raising efforts, British TV is now one step away from making hungry
children beg for food in order to entertain the affluent young Friday night
audience. Nice one, Channel 4.
- Paul Stephens, of TheCustard.tv, reviewing gameshow "Distraction"
What's bad about it?
A severe case of voiceoveritis and fourth wall breakdown.
- TheCustard.tv reviews "Life As We Know It"
If half a billion years
ago organisms had shown as much ambition, innovation and desire for improvement
as ITV1, we’d all still be single-celled amoeba swimming blind in the primordial
- from "TheCustard.Tv"
It works as entertainment,
but don’t rely on it to get you through a History GCSE.
- The Custard, reviewing "The Tudors"
The plot of Little
Dorrit, as Martin Amis once pointed out, centres on someone leaving money
to his nephew’s lover’s guardian’s brother’s youngest daughter. Which may
be one reason why the novel has never been adapted for television before.
In a baggy 900-page book, Dickens could happily ignore the plot for long
stretches. The kind of TV drama hoping to attract a mainstream audience
can’t afford to be so blithe. And such an audience, of course, is exactly
what BBC1’s Little Dorrit is after, with its all-star cast, its script
by Andrew Davies and its twice-weekly half-hour episodes. Even so, last
night’s 60-minute scene-setter could not disguise the fact there was an
awful lot of narrative business to be done... On the whole, the result
so far is looking accomplished rather than inspired – but this is probably
because of that need to set so many plates spinning.
- James Walton, "The Telegraph"
"He Knew He Was Right"
proves that the death of the costume drama has been announced prematurely
- it's business as usual here, and with a glorious cast... I'm completely
addicted. The plot is as annoying as a Ray Cooney farce — everything could
be sorted out effortlessly if the boys stopped being so proud and the girls
stopped being so wilful and everybody just sat down and had a proper chat,
though obviously if they did that we would be watching reality TV rather
than drama. However the plot's not really the point.
- Kathryn Flett, "The Observer"
The biggest problem
with adapting the classics for our lascivious times seems to be striking
the delicate balance between the necessary sex and the appropriate retro
sensibilities. Thus Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson sometimes came
across as a modern couple inexplicably caught up in Edwardian roleplay,
as if they'd trotted off to Florence to play dress-up and pretend to be
'old-fashioned'... However, the performances were faultless.
- Kathryn Flett, reviewing ITV's "A Room With A View", "The Observer"
Why would anyone want
to remake "A Room with a View"? It’s the story of every sort of arch snobbery,
intellectual, social, emotional, sexual; of the trite and embarrassing
melodramatic incapacity of a lot of silly, idle people to do something
as simple as go on holiday and snog a boyfriend... The view from the fateful
window might have been the Manchester Ship Canal.
- AA Gill, letting fly in "The Times"
I sat down to Cranford
girded and gimlet-eyed, my modernist cudgel ready to bludgeon it to a silly
pulp. Then, in the very first minute, Eileen Atkins gave me a look – just
for a moment, a sideways look, more a glance, really, but it had such depth
of character, such promise of interest and intimations of stories to come
of hardship and parsimony, of steadfastness, piety, worldliness and a little
kindness, all packed together in that one tiny gesture, like an apothecary’s
spice box – and I realised it was all up. I was hooked, gaffed, netted
and filleted. .. Simply in terms of skill, range and honesty, television
buries film at the moment. And we have a particularly strong cast of actresses
who find themselves in their prime. The reason there are so many of them
in Cranford is that the only people who will write decent parts for them
are dead lady novelists, and that’s not just a shame, it’s a sinful waste
of a great national resource.
- AA Gill, reviewing Elizabeth Gaskell's "Cranford", "The Times"
Nobody with a surname
in Austen country has ever had a job. Nobody does anything except not eat
meals, leave cards, walk aimlessly, not read books in arbours and twist
their limbs elegantly. They have the least possible fun at dances and,
finally, marry a house with a view. Why does anyone think watching this
is an enjoyable way to waste an hour?
- AA Gill, beset by period adaptations, "The Times"
Over the festive period
especially it has been hard to avoid costume drama... The adaptations shown
recently have almost all been annoyingly good and cleverly differentiated
from their predecessors. They have to be because television audiences are
adaptation-literate now... No one knows this better than screenwriter supremo
Andrew Davies. His trick has been to flesh out the male characters, which
he considers one-dimensional in the literary original. "The predominantly
female audience want to know more about the men," he says. "They want to
know them more intimately and not as the distant figures they are in the
book. Jane Austen tended to be very strict with herself and write only
from the woman's point of view."
- Viv Groskop, "The Observer" (Jan'08)
If only Jane Austen
had foreseen the invention of the television costume drama, she might have
made this novel easier to adapt. The trouble is the plot. In a 19th-century
nutshell: dashing sea captain meets girl, dashing sea captain gets engaged
to girl, dashing sea captain goes off in huff when girl’s family forbids
engagement. This all happens, by the way, before we are allowed to join
in. What we are left with is: dashing sea captain and girl happen to bump
into each other after many years; dashing sea captain nearly marries somebody
else; girl nearly marries somebody else; but after two long hours they
finally fall into each other’s arms and, thank God, we can all go home.
The key to the drama is the tension between the couple: all that passion
subdued under the bows, curt-seys and small talk. And the trouble is, in
the first half of the drama there didn’t seem to be any tension. A look
here, a sigh there. Anybody who has ever met a former lover will know that
time does indeed pass very slowly. The camera simply didn’t linger for
long enough for us to share that unease. All that changed in the last half
an hour or so. At last — as events moved towards their inevitable conclusion
— there was real, buttoned-up emotion slowly unbuttoning between Captain
Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins).
- Roland White, reviewing Persuasion, "The Times"
"We don't do The Sopranos,
but we do this and it is equally potent."
- Imelda Staunton, picking "Persuasion" as her favourite period drama, "The Observer"
Foyle’s War is back
on Sundays, sporadically, with Kingdom filling in the gaps on ITV. The
BBC has followed Cranford with Lark Rise to Candleford, a series which
makes the intervening Sense and Sensibility look harrowing by comparison.
The danger to television is not dumbing-down but, on Sunday nights at least,
a sort of down-filled duveting-down. Apparently, the night before we go
back to work, we need our brains to hibernate. I’m sure that as the real
problems of earning a living loom we don’t want dramas about feral children
abandoned by junkie single mothers, or vicious crimes committed in the
hell that is urban Britain today. We want pleasant, sanitised murders solved
by Honeysuckle Weeks and her boss, Michael Kitchen, who plays Foyle. He
is a master of the minimalist, Sunday-night school of action: a faintly
raised eyebrow indicates astonishment; an imperceptible twitch of the lip,
disgust. And if he isn’t on, we want Hercule Poirot, or Morse’s old sidekick
Lewis. Or to see another few dozen people in Midsomer bumped off... This
downing-down process means that nothing at all can be challenging or upsetting.
So whereas life in rural Oxfordshire a hundred years ago involved poverty,
disease and back-deforming work, the villages of Lark Rise and Candleford
— their façades built specially for the series, since nowhere real
could possibly be so idyllic — are delightful... What I liked about this
absurd fantasy was realising that nowhere else in the world could anyone
make a drama series where the first episode depended on a close reading
of the postal regulations. You can imagine talking it over with the controller:
"No, there’s no sex, and nobody is killed. To be frank, almost nothing
happens at all. But there is a fascinating argument about the distance
within which a telegram can be delivered without surcharge..." I’d love
to hear the pitch to some studio boss in America. "You came from England
to sell us that?"
- Simon Hoggart, on Sunday night TV, "The Spectator"
I think of costume
drama as a visual madeleine — a sweet and potent reminder of the past but
mostly a reminder of our televisual past, given that the only truly accurately
realised sense of that past will be the costumes, while the drama, given
the necessary contemporary spin (look no further than Andrew Davies's A
Room With a View) can often be relied upon to tell you more about the year
it was filmed than the one in which it was set... The current cut-off for
period drama is probably the 1950s; after that we're strictly retro, in
Heartbeat territory. As the last decade in which ordinary people dressed
formally, the 1950s are good for art direction.
- Kathryn Flett, "The Observer"
Gemma Arterton's fabulous
as Tess: passionate, moody, enigmatic, naive, strong, determined, earthy.
Help, I'm falling in love with her (again), just writing those words...
she's in Quantum of Solace next, the new Bond movie. Good move, otherwise
she'd get stuck in the past, bonnet-cast, as Keira Knightley has done.
- Sam Wollaston, reviewing "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", "The Guardian"
If you prefer less
tumultuous television, however, you can always turn to Francesco's Mediterranean
Voyage (BBC2). Francesco da Mosto is a Venetian count with a simian face,
a shock of white hair and an accent that could make you pregnant by the
end of the programme. All that you need to know about the man can be gleaned
from his preparations for the three-month trip: 20 gift boxes of biscuits
for the crew and an armful of clothes thrown into an ancient suitcase,
a light trim of the exuberant hair, the purchase of a handtooled leather
logbook and he's good to go. Over the next few weeks, he will travel from
his ancestral home in Venice along the old trade routes to Istanbul. I
don't care where he's going. If he says he's catching the 8.25 to Purley
I'll follow him, in a gently fibrillating state of aural ecstasy.
- Lucy Mangan, "The Guardian"
Perhaps the greatest
recent prank caller has been Jon Culshaw. He made his most famous hoax
call in 1998, fooling the Downing Street switchboard with his impression
of William Hague and getting through to Tony Blair. That call was ultimately
a failure - Blair realised at once that it was not Hague, proving that
it takes an actor to catch an actor - but the series of spoof calls to
directory enquiries, bookies and caravan sellers as Tom Baker's Dr Who
on Dead Ringers were an unbroken string of triumphs. Not only were they
funny ("You're 'The Doctor'? Somebody here knows you, do they?" "How are
you spelling Gallifrey?"), they were oddly uplifting. Never have I been
prouder to be British than when witnessing the grace under pressure, the
enduring politeness, the utter, copper-bottomed decency displayed by fellow
citizens before they realise what is going on ("The Master plans to invade
Morecambe." "I see, sir, yes.") and the willingness to embrace the joke
after it does ("Can I place 200 Briteuro dollars on Alan Titchmarsh winning
a second term as prime minister?" "Yes," says the bookie, laughing in recognition.
"Can I do that?" "Certainly, sir.").
- Lucy Mangan, "The Guardian"
The department is supposed
to investigate apparently paranormal phenomena in a rational, objective
and scientific manner... as a stubborn rationalist agnostic who loves a
good ghost story, the show might be aimed at people like me.
- Paul Hoggart, reviewing "Sea of Souls" for "The Times"
One recent program
was devoted to testing the durability of a Toyota pickup - the sort of
trucks that, fitted with a set of wooden grates, serve as public transport
in much of Africa. The Toyota was bought used for a song, and looked it.
It was then driven into a tree, down a set of concrete steps, tied to a
boat ramp, washed out to sea, left on the sandy beach when the tide went
out, and set afire. After each event, the truck started up and ran. Finally,
the thing was parked atop a high-rise building, which was then demolished.
When the dust cleared, the Toyota drove off into legend. Fantastic.
- Denis Boyles picks "Top Gear" as the best program on BBC for America's "National Review"
There was something
tantalisingly familiar about the sight of that Mini hurtling down a steeply
snowy slope 'wearing' custom-made skis (Bond? Mission: Impossible?...)
but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. Still, it made me giggle,
as did almost everything about the Top Gear Winter Olympics. The Top Gear
Winter Olympics was entirely complementary to the Winter Olympics proper,
if only because it featured mad people sliding around on snow while utilising
the latest technology. And what with James May revealing himself to be
a handy shot during the Audi Quattro-driving and shooting 'biathlon', while
Clarkson was rubbish, TGWO proved almost as exciting as the real thing,
too. Not your definition of exciting? Well, how about Richard Hammond losing
the will to live at -40ºC inside a stationary Citroen C1? Or that
Jaguar XK8 driven by Clarkson getting lapped by a speed skater?
- Kathryn Flett, "The Observer"
Having exhausted Austen
as a source for costume drama, the Beeb now turns to her for costume documentary
- frockumentary... we found out little that an A-level student, or indeed
a moderately alert gibbon with a TV licence, would not already know.
- David Bennun, reviewing "The Real Jane Austen" in "The Mail on Sunday"
It combines gleefully
sadistic voyeurism with PC pussyfooting, treating its aboriginal and Maori
participants with that cringe-making deference which isolates minorities
as effectively as outright prejudice. Then it chucks in the obligatory
and risible period reconstructions.
- David Bennun, reviewing "The Ship", in "The Mail on Sunday"
On the cold night air,
an eerie sound floats — an indistinct cry, more animal than human. What
is this unearthly banshee wail, which chills the blood of tardy wayfarers,
and quickens both pulse and tread as they hasten nervously homeward? It
is your reviewer, who has just sat through "Hound Of the Baskervilles",
and can express his response only by sticking his head out of the window
and howling like a Carpathian timber wolf... In a shameless act of ham
cannibalism, Richard E Grant cribbed his entire stock of villainy from
Antony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter.
- David Bennun, reviewing "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in "The Mail on Sunday"
Tom’s winning streak
seemed to be continuing. His boss (and father-in-law) resigned as the chairman
of Arrow Oil, installing Tom as his improbably youthful replacement. An
Arab sheikh reacted to the news by giving him a fabulous car, which he
was soon racing along a handily deserted London street. Most importantly
of all, he had the full support of the sinister Mack (Bradley Whitford),
an oil lobbyist of fantastic influence and ruthlessness, who regards the
melting of the Arctic ice cap merely as an opportunity to create a new
sea route from Canada to Russia... Of course, it felt rather odd that Tom
had apparently never heard before about the idea that oil companies may
be damaging the environment. (Some viewers might remember the sketch in
That Mitchell and Webb Look where one SS man anxiously asks another, “Hans,
are we the baddies?”) Then again, this is a programme so determined to
make sure we get its ecological point that quite a lot, including dramatic
plausibility, has had to be sacrificed to the cause... Mack is allowed
to make the case for oil. Nonetheless, in the context, it’s obvious that
his defence isn’t meant to make us think — but only to boo and hiss.
- James Walton, reviewing "Burn Up"
Imagine writing this:
“It is my belief we are standing on the very edge of history.” Having written
it, what would a normal, sensitive, moderately intelligent person do? Well,
99% of us wouldpush the delete button with a faint shiver or tear up the
piece of paper so that the young and impressionable couldn’t read it. We
understand that it’s utter bilge, but, you see, that’s why we’re not scriptwriters.
It takes a very special person to write that sentence and think: “Yes,
high five, nice job, really profound! What shall I do next?” How about
adding onto that sentence: “A watershed”? Takes your breath away, doesn’t
This gem of the scriptwriter’s craft was brought to us courtesy of Burn Up (Wednesday/Friday, BBC2), the hugely expensive and very Canadian and cavernously vacuous thriller about Kyoto and global warming that starred Adam from Spooks and Josh from The West Wing. Watching it was a bit like being manacled to the table at a Notting Hill dinner party, or being lectured by a vegan vitamin salesman.
The finger-wagging about global warming was relentless and unabating, all couched in the comfy velour of the edge-of-history and watershed gibberish. The goodies were witty, brilliant, sensitive, imaginative, attractive, sexy and great dancers - rather, I suspect, like the scriptwriters. The baddies were, well,they were all American. This was film-making from the Soviet school of political subtlety, a childishly black-and-white premise, delivered with a patronising blog of a script, which overwhelmed the plot, pace, anything resembling a character and, finally, the audience’s sympathy. Last week, George Monbiot, The Guardian’s geography teacher, wrote that Channel 4 had done more environmental damage than any other organisation by showing its devil’s-advocate documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle. This was obviously before he’d seen this bloated, wasteful, gaseously hypocritical beached whale of a miniseries. Because it is this sort of toadying and special pleading that will poison the good intentions of the green movement. It’s not the arguments or the facts or the science that are in doubt, it’s the people doing the arguing. There is nothing like enough politically and socially committed fiction on television, but this dim, deaf drama was an object lesson in how not to make it; and the real inconvenient truth for the green movement is, as the old Jewish retail expression has it, in winning the argument they’ve lost the sale. They suffer the fatal flaw of being too smug to bear. There is a global resistance, not to the facts, but to environmentalists. It appears most of us would rather fry, drown or starve than be told what to do by a bearded git in sandals, and that’s a rather comforting and cussedly human truth.
- AA Gill, on the finger wagging of "Burn Up"
It's not just 1973
that Sam Tyler wakes up in. It's a super-concentrate of 1973, one that's
been boiled away until anything that merely happened to be around then,
rather than defining the age, has evaporated. What's left is, I'm sure
intentionally, a parody of the time. It's as if there's a voice shouting
from the telly: THIS ISN'T NOW, YOU KNOW, IT'S 1973!
Everyone has flares, a long leather coat and a collar like a manta ray. The wallpaper's not just a bad dream, it's your worst nightmare. There's not a surface that isn't covered in formica, a wall that doesn't have a dartboard hanging from it. The car isn't just a Ford Cortina, it's a Ford Cortina Ghia, with vinyl roof.
- Sam Wollaston, reviewing "Life on Mars", "The Guardian"
These aren't people
I'm having relationships with of course. They're high-octane, big-budget,
glamorous, silly and dangerously addictive American television imports
on commercial TV. But they require so much commitment they may as well
be relationships. Lost was 25 episodes — that's six months of your life
— before it ended so dismally (and there's another six months in the pipeline
if you fancy getting involved again). Invasion is 22 episodes, the new
Desperate Housewives 23 and Prison Break (Five), which started last night,
is 22. OK, so you don't have to see every single episode, but you can't
afford to miss too many if you want to stay in touch. And this new lot
are all running - concurrently. So if you do get involved with more than
one of them, then there probably won't be room for any other relationships
in your life. Or life in your life. Or even any other television - there's
always the possibility you may want to watch something else. A British
drama, even - they're far less demanding and last far less time. Life On
Mars (eight episodes) is well worth a two-month fling. But don't bother
with Hotel Babble On (eight episodes); it doesn't even deserve a one-night
stand. I felt dirty and guilty after mine.
- Sam Wollaston, "The Guardian"
"12 Books That Changed
the World" was a fascinating programme that Melvyn Bragg put on the telly
by mistake, instead of on the radio where it belonged.
- Sam Wollaston, "The Guardian"
I've Never Seen Star
Wars (Radio 4) is a great idea: getting people to try out new things on
air. As presenter Marcus Brigstocke explained, this might be because you
haven't wanted to do something before ("get a tattoo, eat in a Harvester
restaurant") or have been too scared ("to go through US customs and immigration
with a beard"). It is very funny indeed. Last night, Phill Jupitus tried
a Findus Crispy Pancake ("one of the words isn't true," he quipped), foie
gras, and pigs' trotters. The latter wasn't much of a revelation ("as you
might expect, Marcus, they taste of pork"), but an impromptu combination
of pancake and foie gras proved more exciting. "It's like class war in
my mouth," he said.
- Elisabeth Mahoney, "The Guardian"
Monkey was surreal,
imaginative, violent and hilarious. In other words, it was everything a
young man could want from a TV show. Since Monkey, shows aimed at the same
audience have become sanitised: the plots make sense, the dialogue rings
true and you can't see the support wires during flying scenes. I suspect
all these facets of modern, slick TV will be apparent in the forthcoming
remake. But producers, be warned: if you make Monkey better, you'll only
make it worse.
- Sam Delaney, "The Guardian"
I hear the whirring
of incoming helicopters. I see the sunbaked foliage, the blood sloshing
out of the backs of helmets, the terrified eyes staring out of mud-blackened
faces. Jim Morrison starts singing. Sorry, I’m having another Vietnam movie
flashback, brought on by Channel 4’s "The 100 Greatest War Films".
- Ian Johns, "The Times"
By the end of "To the
Ends of the Earth" I was glad to have stuck with Edmund Talbot’s beleaguered
sea journey to Sydney Cove and his own journey from arrogant social figurehead
to decently self-questioning human being. It’s thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch’s
superb central performance that I didn’t jump ship after the claustrophobic
first episode, a kind of 19th-century booze cruise-cum-Big Brother with
less than loveable characters. This evocative adaptation of William Golding’s
trilogy, which gradually stripped away the pretensions and defences of
the crew and passengers, proved to be laden to the waterline with a rich
cargo of practicalities and poetry, pain and hilarity, drama and exaltation.
And as in all nautical tales, the ship was a scene-stealer. I admit that
I shed a tear when it finally went up in flames.
- Ian Johns, "The Times"
One of the most annoying
lines you can hear is, ‘I don’t watch television myself.’ It’s usually
said with a small, indulgent smile, as if to imply that, unlike you, the
speaker spends the time saved working for charity, or growing organic parsnips,
or rereading Elizabeth Bowen, or learning Chinese with their children so
they can immerse themselves in the culture of the world’s next superpower.
There is a temptation to reply: ‘Well, we have 129 cable channels, and
so we keep the telly on all the time, from GMTV, through the property programmes,
those cookery shows, Countdown, Richard and Judy, then we can really settle
down in front of the soaps and after that a good three-hour police drama
in which a female pathologist solves a crime by analysing a missing eyelash.’
In fact, when you ask the ‘we never watch television’ brigade if they ever
watch any television, you can usually tease out an answer like this: ‘Of
course, we do try to catch the news, and some of the wildlife programmes
are wonderful, and Tim likes the Antiques Road Show, and we shout the answers
out at University Challenge, and hasn’t Bleak House been marvellous...'
- Simon Hoggart, "The Spectator"
>> REVIEWS (IRELAND)
I just don't like this
mixture of fact and fiction, in either literature or TV drama. I have written
about this recently, this obsession with the "true story" as a marketing
as well as a creative device. I'd like to see less of it for a while, on
all fronts. When we think of the great triumphs of TV drama, or any other
drama, they are not "based on a true story". They are just true, in the
most powerful sense.
- Declan Lynch, reviewing a dramatisation of the Stardust tragedy, "The Sunday Independent"
Regina Sexton managed
that rare televisual feat of being more in love with her subject than with
- John Boland reviews 'A Little History of Irish Food', "Irish Independent"
"Many TV programs suck
but none has ever sucked with such eye-popping abandon as this one."
- Colin Murphy, reviewing "Winning Streak" on "The Blizzard of Odd"
"You can sue McDonald's
if you get fat, you can sue Marlboro if you get cancer, you can try suing
Guinness for all the ugly people you've shagged, but you can't sue your
TV for exposing you to this."
- Colin Murphy, reviewing "The Big Bow Wow" on "The Blizzard of Odd"
"Only special in the
sense that some Olympics are special."
- Colin Murphy, reviewing the Daniel O'Donnell Christmas Special, "The Blizzard of Odd"
While Dan is a serviceable
enough actor, Becs is terrible. The dude shouldn't have casted a girl he
wanted to shag and instead should have gotten a actress.
- Starry Bud, commenting on "Dan & Becs" on Boards.ie
It was the visual equivalent
of Pringles: unfortunately, we couldn't stop watching it, albeit through
our fingers. Painful.
- Tanya Sweeney, reviewing "The Dinner Party" in Ireland's "Evening Herald"
This would-be educational
reality show is one of the dullest docusoaps ever produced, a survivalist
series that demands greater endurance from its viewers than its participants.
- Liam Fay, reviewing "The Colony" in "The Sunday Times"
For all their blokey
banter and cynical facades, Raymond, Michael and Barry are incurable old
romantics who remain naive enough to believe that virtually every woman
they meet is a walking antidote to their ailment.
- Liam Fay, reviewing "Bachelor's Walk", "The Sunday Times"
There are those that
say that the new national TV channel, TV3, is mediocre. The truth is, it
only occasionally rises to that standard.
- Gene Kerrigan, TV Review, "The Irish Independent"
>> REVIEWS (AMERICA)
There wasn't any television
in America (in the 1980s) because it was still stuck with the networks
and nothing was on them. No one could foresee what would happen next: that
the very paucity of the networks—their concentration of huge resources
on producing practically nothing—eventually produced cable and HBO. HBO
started making shows that were so good that the networks had to react to
it. You couldn't have had The West Wing on NBC unless these marvelous things
had happened on HBO. Now I think the main creativity in the states goes
into TV rather than the movies. Band of Brothers is better than Saving
Private Ryan. That's where the creativity will go from now on.
- Clive James, interviewed by "Slate Magazine"
Desperate TV critics
threw themselves at the feet of PBS suits and begged them not to debut
Ken Burns's new 14-hour documentary "The War" during so-called Premiere
Week — when most of the series on the commercial broadcast networks would
make their debuts — because it was sure to get buried in the avalanche...
It was, we think, the first time in the history of the TV Press Tour the
critics have actually begged any TV execs to let them be more effective
shills for their programs.
- Lisa de Moraes, "Washington Post"
This TV season, you
can't throw a brick in the prime-time landscape without hitting a British
actor. Nearly one-third of the new scripted series on the broadcast networks'
prime-time slates are led by actors from the United Kingdom.
- Lisa de Moraes, previewing the 2007 season, "Washington Post"
"It’s much more difficult
to sustain these shows than it is to break one out... One of the challenges
everyone faces is, are there more quality shows than the audience can humanly
- John Landgraf, FX President, on the 'bumper' crop of 2007 shows on cable
If "Threat Matrix"
made it onto the ABC schedule, imagine the shows that didn't.
- Phil Rosenthal, "Chicago Sun-Times"
If you kiss in front
of a sunset just before the climax, and then try to talk down four suicide
bombers, cinematic mathematics require you to die. It's in the numbers.
- Matt Baker, predicting "The Grid" for the "Tuesday Night Movie Club"
Geena Davis is Mackenzie
"Mac" Allen, an Independent vice president on a Republican ticket (my internal
logic meter is going berserk already) who's forced to step up to the plate
when the president, Teddy Roosevelt Bridges, suffers a fatal brain aneurysm.
- Dana Stevens, reviewing "Commander In Chief", "MSN Slate"
This is one of those
shows that wouldn't exist if characters reacted the way you and I would.
Instead of going to the feds with vital information, they stupidly decide
to go on the run as innocent fugitives... Then again, maybe they should
take flight, because this is also yet another show with a government-type
conspiracy in the shadows.
- Doug Elfman, reviewing "Traveller", "Chicago Sun Times"
The Oprah Winfrey Show
— Today: another celebration of dysfunction.
- The Irish Independent's TV editor's view of a show
Restores white males
to their rightful position in the captains chair.
- TheOnion.Com reviews "Star Trek: Enterprise"
I can't remember how...
I ended up looking at this... either aliens or strong liquor might have
been involved... there is something so hypnotically cheesy about it that
it is brilliant.
- Ian O'Doherty watches "Seventh Heaven" for Ireland's "Evening Herald"
Midget Aryan gods.
- Ian O'Doherty, describing the children from "Seventh Heaven"
History be damned:
this is a rapid trot through the cliches of Egyptology; the characters
speak in quasi-Shakespearian patois and 'acting' is clearly just a euphemism
for smouldering. Caesar is played by Timothy Dalton, clearly itching to
say, "The name's Caesar, Julius Caesar"... It is all hugely entertaining,
a welcome throwback to sillier times.
- Victoria Segal, reviewing "Cleopatra" for Britain's "Sunday Times"
Chilean import Leonor
Varela recognized her strengths. She pointed her bosom like a double-barreled
shotgun in this unintentionally hilarious miniseries that was the centerpiece
of ABC's May sweeps. It seems churlish to point out that she is one of
television's all-time bad actresses. The network bragged that it crammed
1,000 Moroccan extras, 600 horses, a ton of copper and 300 wigs into the
production. All that, and not one ounce of intelligence.
- John Carman reviews "Cleopatra" for the "San Francisco Chronicle"
Darn the luck, viewers
apparently have decided to demand competent acting, a direct threat to
- John Carman, "San Francisco Chronicle"
In no other television
program that I have ever seen has any other father felt called upon to
caution his children to be careful by saying, "Your mother has been reading
- John Leonard, reviewing "Terminal City", "New York Metro"
Raising the Bar is
professional television, but no more than that. Passion and purpose are
among the missing. Nothing here suggests that the law is a fulcrum, a point
of rest between magnitudes; that on these magnitudes the fulcrum imposes
a necessary relationship, a governing principle; that the law is balance
and proportion. One of Kellerman’s clients, a bipolar basket case when
he isn’t taking his meds, is told, “Just be yourself.” “Who’s that?” he
wants to know. Later, someone else says to him, “You’re free to go.” And
he replies, “Where would that be?” These are questions we ought to put
to any ambitious television program, questions that M*A*S*H and Hill Street
Blues and Northern Exposure would have had no trouble answering. Professional
television aspires merely to be whatever we want.
- John Leonard, reviewing legal drama "Raising The Bar", "NY Metro"
You had the sense that
your interest would increase as you got to know that characters — or at
least those of them who manage to get through an episode without being
hanged, shot or dismembered.
- John Boland, reviewing the pilot episode of "Deadwood", "The Irish Independent"
Thought seems to be
slowly simmering over an emotional fire, but it never comes to a boil.
- Lee Siegel, on CSI's Gary Sinise, "The New Republic"
We are living here
on a planet in shambles, terrorists running murderously amok, the Mideast
on the verge of exploding, humanity plagued by hateful prejudices that
go back centuries, poverty and depravity rampant, and when God decides
to intervene, it's to straighten out a few troubled folks in a small town
and solve a murder case?
- Tom Shales is unimpressed with the premise of "Joan of Arcadia", "The Washington Post"
I cannot recall a series
in which a greater number of characters seemed so desperately detestable
— a series with a larger population of loathsome dolts. There ought to
be a worse punishment than cancellation for a show that tries this hard
to be offensive and, even at that crass task, manages to fail.
- Tom Shales, reviewing "The Book of Daniel", "The Washington Post"
Now you, too, can hypnotize
your friends, and without all the bother of dangling pocket watches in
their faces and murmuring, "You're getting sleepy, very sleepy." Forget
all that. Just invite them over to watch "One Ocean View" on ABC. They'll
get sleepy, all right.
- Tom Shales, "Washington Post"
Characters wear cumbersome,
elaborate costumes — costumes that call too much attention to themselves
— in an attempt to evoke the age, but somehow it seems as though Warner
Bros. did it better 70 or 80 years ago. Do we ever feel as if we're really
there, in Henry's court, half a millennium ago? Perhaps not, but a splendid
cast and sumptuous production details make "The Tudors" a rollicking and
resplendent show, if never a deeply affecting one.
- Tom Shales, reviewing "The Tudors"
One of the abiding
operative tenets of the TV business is that viewers don't want new shows,
they want new shows that remind them of old shows. This doctrine is so
old that it led comic Fred Allen to observe, 50 years ago, that "imitation
is the sincerest form of television."
"Grey's Anatomy," the new medical series is only nominally new... it has the audacity to stand there and restage many scenes from medical shows of the past already restaged ad infinitum and ad nauseam It's a "new" show only in the sense that Dr. Frankenstein's monster was a new man.
- Tom Shales, "The Washington Post"
An old industry cliche
maintains that "no one sets out to make a bad TV show," but it's certainly
the easiest explanation for something as pitifully awful as this thing...
An apparently evil Secret Service agent had said consolingly to a colleague
earlier in the first episode, "Look, three months, it'll all be over" —
but if sanity prevails, it'll all be over much more quickly than that.
You have better things to do, like decide what to watch instead of "Prison
Break" at 8 o'clock tonight.
- Tom Shales, reviewing "Prison Break" in "The Washington Post"
In the realm of pop
celebrity, the bar has been lowered so far that there is no bar. People
can be famous for being famous, famous for being infamous, famous for having
once been famous and, thanks largely to the Internet, famous for not being
famous at all.
- Tom Shales, reviewing "The Two Coreys", "Washington Post"
One thing that the
season's rankings, top 10 and top 20, support this year is a pet notion
of mine, which is that the tastes of the public and critics are not very
far apart, even though network executives love to fall back on the myth
that critics are out of touch with the common person (then the execs get
in their S600s or Aston Martins and drive away). Critics for the most part
looked very favorably and lavished loads of praise on such populist hits
as "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," the "CSI" shows on CBS and most of the
46 or 47 "Law & Order" shows on NBC. The disconnect, to use a currently
inescapable term, comes with such shows as Fox's "Arrested Development."
Critics have loved it, adored it, swooned over it, mooned over it, done
everything but put a dress on it and taken it home to mother. But the public
still snores. The suspicion hovers, since Fox seems to sacrificially slaughter
one critical success each season
- Tom Shales on the 2004-5 TV Season in "TV Week"
Good guys and bad are
largely indistinguishable; the bad have their good sides and the good their
bad. That does not, however, result in complex characters in "Sopranos"
style. Instead you find yourself in the company of people not one of whom
is worth giving a hoot about. They scheme and connive and lie and cheat,
but lethargically. The least an audience can ask for is rats who enjoy
their rattiness, who go about it with gusto.
- Tom Shales, reviewing "Mad Men", "Washington Post"
"Friday Night Lights,"
based on the 2004 film, is the "Platoon" of high school football — the
story of the embattled infantry as well as of the officers in the field,
reverberant with metaphorical and microcosmic echoes.
- Tom Shales, "Washington Post"
Superheroes used to
be such happy souls, going about their business of rescuing people, or
all of humanity, with a chipper, positive demeanor. Then Tim Burton's "Batman"
— and other dour, sour revisionist works — unearthed their heroes' "dark"
sides, with superness sometimes depicted as a curse, a burden, a big fat
pain in the superneck. Super strength, unbreakable bones, clairvoyance
— whatever the boon, it comes with a bane.
- Tom Shales, reviewing "Heroes", "The Washington Post"
I don't love "Heroes."
I'll give you a moment to let that sink in. The good news is, I've finally
figured out exactly why. I'm not emotionally connecting to the characters.
I can watch an episode, even find it entertaining, but moments after the
episode is over, I've forgotten about it. It has left no lasting imprint.
- Amy Amatangelo, Zap2It's "TV Gal"
Are there stories happening
today that people will be writing about 500 years from now?
- Amy Amatangelo, reviewing "The Tudors", "Zap2it"
This show may well
exist on a plane where the awesomely terrible is equivalent to the terribly
- Troy Patterson, previewing "Bionic Woman", "Slate"
There's a trick to
making a successful soap opera: The writers have to let the characters
make mistakes and act poorly, but not screw up so badly that viewers don't
much care if the lovelorn people on the show ever find happiness or contentment.
For a while there, "Grey’s Anatomy" had that balance right. Then it slid
off a cliff during an annoyingly inconsistent, profoundly self-indulgent
third season... It was especially dispiriting that most of the female characters
had more or less been eviscerated. The women on the show started out as
flawed but funny, intelligent professionals, but by the end of last season,
they were a gang of mopey or vindictive whiners, each one obsessed, to
an alarming degree, with their romantic travails at the expense of their
friendships, self-esteem and careers.
Maureen Ryan, "The Chicago Tribune"
You can't watch it
without being convinced that the Americans are doomed, and this is a comforting
feeling for many, despite the fact that all of the most sophisticated TV
comedy is American. Springer assembles the white trash, not to mention
the black trash, the Hispanic trash, and every other category of bozo in
these United States, and sets them loose to abuse one another for our entertainment.
- Declan Lynch reviews "The Jerry Springer Show" for "The Irish Independent"
The show offers a unique
opportunity to watch a quartet of actors, each vying to be dafter than
the other. If there is a happier sight than that, I don't know what it
is. Jon Lithgow, undoubtedly, started it. I cannot possibly describe the
ebullience of his performance as Dick, the high commander, with only the
paltry resources of the written word at my disposal. You must watch. Someone
once said that the definition of jazz was seeing how far out you could
go and still get back. Watching Lithgow is like that. He can take 10 minutes
to catch sight of himself in a mirror and announce with a fervour more
generally associated with Messianic arrivals, "I'm G-O-O-O-RGEOUS!" The
others follow his lead. Sally has the body of a supermodel but throws it
around like a prizefighter. Tommy is an alien genius trapped and fizzing
with frustration in the body of a child. And Harry is a wizened sprite
who periodically goes into spasm either when used as a transmitter by their
ruler The Big Giant Head or when Mrs Dubcek's lascivious daughter walks
by. Always funny. Always.
- Lucy Mangan, rewatching "Third Rock From The Sun", "The Guardian"
self-aware and referential... On the surface a glossy romantic comedy-drama
set within the familiar conventions of the detective show format, "Moonlighting"
soon became a world-wide smash between March 1985 to May 1989, due to the
genuinely ground-breaking approach of literally sledge-hammering the infamous
"Fourth Wall" (which traditionally separates viewers from the characters
in a series), into a million tiny pieces.
- Stephen R. Hulse, assessing "Moonlighting" for "Television Heaven"
>> REVIEWS (ROME & HBO\BBC)
Has anyone ever thought
of casting Italians as ancient Romans? I mention it only because Romans,
like the Germans in war films, invariably turn out to be English... The
English character actors did their furrow-browed ancient Roman with cod
fortitude, picking their way through a script that sounded like Gibbon
rewritten by gibbons.
It also purveyed the well-thumbed Roman myths: that everyone in the ancient world was a backstabbing, double-dealing, amoral schemer, and that none of them could muster the self-control of a priapic ferret or the wisdom of a brick. How the Romans managed to gain, then rule, an empire, raise an arch or invent a world order that we’re still living in is utterly inexplicable in the context of these characters. It’s a tedious shame that the city that is a template for so much of our lives should regularly be reduced to a lazy formula: venality, vulgarity and violence.
- AA Gill, "The Times", reviewing "Rome"
Naturally, as is sacred
movie custom, most of the inhabitants of ancient Rome speak with a pronounced
British accent — the higher up you go on the social ladder, the more British
they sound... Most of the actors playing Romans sound very very British
(one member of the riffraff, ranting in a bar, affects a Cockney accent,
consistent with the internal logic of the piece). That isn't the case merely
because "Rome" is an HBO-BBC co-production; it's just the way things have
always been done in epics of epoch.
- Tom Shales, reviewing "Rome" in "The Washington Post"
Rome is a mystery.
A rambling plot, weighed down by Troy-like dialogue and devoid of suspense,
is interrupted — as if for commercial breaks — by inserts of copulation
- Simon Jenkins, "The Guardian"
I don't remember it
being like this when I did the Roman Empire at school.
- Sam Wollaston, reviewing "Rome" in "The Guardian"
Some newspapers have
complained about the graphic scenes of sex and killing, but frankly it
was the violence done to the facts that really made me squirm... What is
so irritating about Rome is its unerring instinct for missing the point.
Again and again, the astonishing truth of the fall of the republic is passed
over in favour of fictionalised soft porn. Why, if they were willing to
fork out £62 million on recreating ancient Rome, couldn't HBO and
the BBC have spent an extra few hundred on hiring a professional historian
who actually understands the period?
- Robert Harris, in "The Telegraph"
The final irony of
Rome is that it demonstrates that it is we, rather than the Romans, who
are the ones really declining and falling.
- Robert Harris, in "The Telegraph"
Mostly, "Rome" looks
like X-rated "Masterpiece Theater"... The creators of "Rome" took pains
to recreate Rome as it really was, crowded, fetid, brutal and corrupt:
as much "Mad Max" as Circus Maximus. But behind all that gritty squalor
the glory that was Rome gets lost.
- Alessandra Stanley, "The New York Times"
Then they gave a drama
prize to "The Girl With the U.K. Accent Who Ended Poverty", or some such
wet sack of prestige and good intentions from HBO.
- Troy Patterson, after "The Girl in the Cafe" wins an Emmy, "Slate Magazine"
"Watching HBO's surfing
drama John from Cincinnati is like sitting through a bad play at a tiny
experimental theater. The dialogue is loud pretentious nonsense signifying
nothing but the creative dangers of mimicking Sam Shepard, Edward Albee
and Samuel Beckett."
- Matthew Gilbert, "Boston Globe"
>> REVIEWS (FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES)
The problem with the
proposition that television is an art is that art is meant to be deathless,
while television shows are always being cancelled. New sitcoms, for example,
come on like your best friend forever the first time you meet, only to
vanish without a trace when the network pulls the plug.
- Virginia Heffernan, "The New York Times"
are the Candides of popular culture, eternal optimists finding hope in
the least likely places: lurking in the police precinct of "Brooklyn South",
hiding in "Veronica's Closet". Won't we ever learn?
- Caryn James, reviewing the 1997-98 TV season
The series bring a
sardonic wit to the genres they at once inhabit and send up, slyly using
escapist fantasies to address what really matters in high school and college:
finding love and an identity. The central message of these series is smartly
calculated to resonate with their young audience: putting yourself on the
line emotionally is tough and risky, whether you're an alien, a vampire
or just a human teenager.
- Caryn James, on teen shows such as Roswell and Buffy
"Ally McBeal" has a
heroine unlike any other on television. She is a bright, pretty and insecure
lawyer, capable of losing a foolproof case one day and winning easily the
next. She is all too likely to weep into her wine about an unavailable
love, even though she knows better. She is realistically flawed and likable,
tailor-made for countless accomplished young women to identify with. As
Ally, Calista Flockhart finds the perfect, appealing balance of self-confidence
- Caryn James, reviewing the pilot of Ally McBeal
People scheduled for
surgery may want to avoid this, or they may want to watch in self-defense.
- Caryn James, reviewing "Chicago Hope"
The test of believable
screen characters is whether we can imagine them going on after the cameras
stop. It's easy to see these four nattering at each other into eternity.
- Caryn James, reviewing the "Seinfeld" series finale
Just because television
is dying as a commercial enterprise doesn’t mean it has to die as an art
form. For producers looking to energize dramas and sitcoms, here’s one
solution: set more shows in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — eras when TV
wasn’t dying... Remember how from the late ’50s through the early ’90s
most people watched something, almost every day, and half-hated themselves
for doing it? If television producers want to re-energize the form of the
television drama on commercial channels, they’re right to kindle nostalgia
and create a costume drama from the second half of the 20th century. Any
year when the networks still got a decent market share in prime time would
work. They could do a grittier “Happy Days,” a “West Wing” in the Reagan
White House or a Seattle music show set in 1991. Most important, oh ye
producers: Give up on the idea of edgy, contemporary shows featuring characters
that mirror the audience producers hope to attract (“Will and Grace,” “Friends,”
“Seinfeld”). Hip quarter-life characters no longer watch television, so
why should their audience?
- Virginia Heffernan, on the success of Mad Men and Swingtown, "The New York Times"
There is no snobbery
more insufferable than the one-upsmanship of memory. "You think that's
bad? I was in Fenway Park in 1978 when Bucky Dent's home run destroyed
the Red Sox." And though it grates to admit it, the American version of
"The Office" is very funny - for viewers who never saw the original series
on BBC America.
- Alessandra Stanley, "The New York Times"
Only the uninformed
or disingenuous complain about the quality of American television. It has
a variety and breadth that no other nation can match. For every offensive
reality series or inane daytime talk show, there are comedies and dramas
that reach far higher in a single episode than most movies or Broadway
- Alessandra Stanley, "The New York Times"
"Trust", a new BBC
dramatic series about a high-powered London law firm on BBC America, has
all the familiar trappings of David E. Kelley shows like "The Practice"
and "Ally McBeal" grafted onto Tony Blair's cool Britannia. It may as well
be called "U.K. Law". What "Trust" lacks are all the Old World touches
that make British imports, from "Smiley's People" to "The Office", so exotic
and appealing to American viewers: restraint, pessimism and stifling class
snobbery in dark, shabby places.
- Alessandra Stanley, "The New York Times"
No cinematic look at
ancient Rome would be complete without a telltale anachronism or two --
those who dramatize history are doomed to repeat the present.
- Alessandra Stanley, reviewing epic mini series "Caesar"
The Tudor reign is
one of the best known periods in British history: the golden age of Shakespeare,
the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance; an epoch of war, diplomacy,
discovery and, for some reason, pheromones that rocked the ship of state.
Every generation wants a turn at those legendary figures.
- Alessandra Stalney, reviewing "The Tudors"
Westerns are a little
like men's wear or a sonnet: there is freedom in constraint, and some limits
can be liberating. In the essay "Movie Chronicle: The Westerner", Robert
Warshow described the western as "an art form for connoisseurs, where the
spectator derives his pleasure from the appreciation of minor variations
within the working out of a pre-established order".
- Alessandra Stanley, reviewing "Deadwood"
Mr. Milch’s new show
is not likely to fulfill the nation’s yearning to fill the void left by
“The Sopranos,” or, for that matter, "Deadwood". It’s more like "Big Love"
or "Carnivàle", smart, ambitious series that move unusual characters
around an unfamiliar setting imaginatively and even with grace, but that
never quite quit the surly bonds of serial drama.
- Alessandra Stanley, reviewing "John from Cincinnatti"
There may be nothing
wrong with performing Sapphic acts to entice the opposite sex, but it is
hard to reconcile such tableaus with gay or feminist ideals of independence
and self-respect. And it is surely belittling to reduce lesbians' sexual
identity to a form of heterosexual foreplay. The contradiction sticks out,
even if it has become fashionable to view it as post-feminist — a way to
exclude men while still attracting them.
- Alessandra Stanley, reviewing "The L Word"
"Bedford" seems to
take a more carnal look at young adult behavior than most WB shows, but
it actually keeps making the point that sex without love is an expense
of spirit in a waste of shame — though not in so many dead white male words,
- Alessandra Stanley, reviewing "The Bedford Diaries"
The show is not original
or funny, but it serves as an illustration of looks inflation, the Hollywood
version of the grade inflation that plagues colleges throughout the nation.
Since the days of Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern, actresses tapped
to play unlucky spinsters keep getting more and more ludicrously glamorous.
Jamie Lee Curtis's career as a sexpot was waning in 1989 when she began
playing a single woman in "Anything but Love". Since then, the Botox and
cosmetic surgery epidemic keeps raising expectations about women's appearance:
perfection is now considered a starting point. Ally McBeal had gaminelike
good looks, but she was neurotic enough to repel men believably. As the
central character in "Sex and the City", Sarah Jessica Parker's appeal
was that she was sexy, but not always stunning, more jolie-laide than belle
de jour. In "Emily's Reasons Why Not", Heather Graham is cast as just an
ordinary book editor who happens to have the face of an angel and the body
of a comic-book temptress. She too cannot find a decent man to date, which
suggests that the male shortage in Los Angeles has been drastically underestimated
— as if show business were like the Battle of the Somme in 1916, eliminating
or maiming the best men of a generation.
- Alessandra Stanley, reviewing "Emily's Reasons Why Not" (Jan'06)
In New York City, single
men have an unfair advantage over women, particularly women in their 30's.
"For a woman, now is the future," Tom's platonic friend Brandy tells him.
"Too late is just around the corner." Not that successful single men don't
have problems of their own. It's just that focusing on the romantic woes
of Manhattan bachelors is a little like exploring the hurt feelings of
Red Army troops occupying Poland after World War II: it's hard to muster
a lot of sympathy.
- Alessandra Stanley, reviewing "Love Monkeys" (Jan'06)
The trouble with mainstream
compulsions — smoking, drinking, gambling and promiscuity — is that they
are self-destructive: cancer, cirrhosis, financial ruin and H.I.V. And
that could explain why popular culture has a weak spot for serial killers,
the clever ones who feel no remorse and don’t get caught. Their obsessions
may be repellent, but on the other hand, only their victims get hurt. We
envy their ability to get away with their desires and our own darkest and
most sadistic impulses, which we ritually disavow by identifying with their
prey. There is also a streak of vanity to this fascination, the fantasy
of being the one person who can understand and tame the dangerous beast:
a Clarice Starling in “Silence of the Lambs,” Timothy Treadwell as Grizzly
Man, or even the scores of women who propose marriage to the likes of Ted
Bundy or Richard Ramirez.
- Alessandra Stanley, reviewing "Dexter"
What the Italians call
'Dietrologia' — the art of finding dark, ulterior motives behind the most
- Alessandra Stanley, from one of her reviews
Not since Thirtysomething
has a show divided its viewership so definitively between the camps of
'can't get enough' and 'what is this crap?'
- Dennis Hensley, commenting on Ally McBeal
The surrender of British
rectitude to rosaries and stakes-in-hearts is the central tragedy of this
- Virginia Heffernan, reviewing Dracula (BBC\PBS version)
“Hex” is a study of
English faces passing as a television series. There is a cruel, beautiful,
tawny face with pursed lips and shifty eyes. There is a taut black face
with tense temples and a hard jaw. There are many wide, white faces — some
nearly livid — with asymmetrical noses and tear-streaked cheeks. There
are sullen mouths, false smiles, drawn-in cheeks, scanty eyebrows, off-center
clefts. There are pocks, unshaven beards, oily makeup, wattles, odd swellings,
dark circles, bluish shadows, moles. The British know what suspense can
be wrought from sustained attention to a face — think of all those physiognomic
descriptions in Victorian novels — and “Hex,” is a distinctly British show.
- Virginia Heffernan, "The New York Times"
At Medenham are the
bad people — the popular girls, naturally — who are coarse and snobbish,
and the good people — the misfits, naturally — who are emotionally refined,
funny, yearning, romantic and sad. The good people are chiefly two: Thelma,
a lesbian who looks like a square-jawed Kelly Osbourne, and her roommate,
the witchy one, Cassie, who is distractingly gorgeous, with the coloring
of a Swede and the profile of Kate Bosworth. Suffice it to say that no
woman who ever looked like this, in the history of women, has ever been
- Virginia Heffernan, reviewing "Hex" in "The New York Times"
husband, Nathan, his pro basketball career curtailed, is having a midlife
crisis, a situation coinciding with the arrival of a nanny who looks like
Jennifer Garner and dresses as if she were competing for the title of Miss
Caracas. He is also depressed, and we know this because his hair is longer
than Brad Pitt’s in "Troy".
- Ginia Bellefante, reviewing One Tree Hill season 4, "New York Times"
It's about two people
who each fall in love — however unusually for television — with the other’s
sanity and good will.
- Ginia Bellafante, reviewing "Gavin & Stacey"
Those long views of
the desert do get repetitive, and some computer-generated creatures look
a bit hokey, but most of the visual details have been tended to with such
care that you almost believe that all this stuff could really happen. And
what if it couldn't? If you give your reason a rest, your imagination could
enjoy this ride.
- Ron Wertheimer, reviewing "Children of Dune"
>> THE ART OF TV CRITICISM
Serious criticism of
anything - sports, politics, music, whatever, depends on the tacit understanding
between critic and audience that the subject matters. Such an understanding
still doesn’t exist when it comes to television... Most of us use reviews
of other things - books, movies, plays, restaurants - as consumer guides
for choosing what we read, see or eat. Until recently, reviews of TV programmes
couldn’t be used that way because they appeared after a programme had been
aired or just before a programme that didn’t fit into one’s viewing schedule.
The videocassette machine may change that.
- Morris Wolfe, "The TV Critic - Tumbleweed in an Arid Wasteland", "Jolts" (1985)
"A television critic
would have to know everything, and who knows everything?"
- Kenneth Tynan, drama critic, on the range of shows a TV critic must review
The literary critic,
or the critic of any other specific form of artistic expression, may detach
himself from the world for as long as the work of art he is contemplating
appears to do the same.
- Clive James, form "Glued to the Box", a collection of his "Observer" TV columns
"It's a death march
- Tom Jicha describes the summer press tour of the American TV Critics Assocication
People assume that
TV critics hover in front of the box like vultures above fresh carrion,
licking - if such a thing were possible - their beaks in the gleeful anticipation
of blood. Not always true.
- Kathryn Flett, "The Observer"
What do years of exposure
to insipid sitcoms do to the human brain? Maybe nothing, since they may
bypass the brain altogether and register instead in some other internal
organ -- say, the gallbladder. Shouldn't science be studying this? More
to the point, shouldn't TV critics receive the equivalent of combat pay?
- Tom Shales, "Washingtnon Post"
For those of you who
were confused by my reviewing the episode of "The Long Firm" that was shown
on BBC4 last week instead of the one on BBC1, I apologise. For those of
you who didn’t notice, for God’s sake, try to keep up.
- AA Gill, slowing down for no one, "The Times"
It was the Edinburgh
Television Festival last weekend. I used to go; they used to ask me. You
have no idea what it means to be hated until you’ve walked through the
lobby of Edinburgh’s George Hotel as a television critic. It’s packed with
drunk, livid and technically insolvent independent television producers,
all staring gimlet daggers at you, as if looks could kill. But then, as
a critic, mine can.
- AA Gill, TV Critic for London's "The Times"
>> HOW TO RATE TV PROGRAMS
This is the ratings
system that TV Gal over at Zap2It.Com uses:
Five VCRs: This show is so wonderful I don't leave home when it's on for fear the VCR will fail and I'll miss an episode (examples: "Alias," "24" and "Buffy" ).
Four VCRs: This show is in my TV rotation and will be taped every week (examples: "The West Wing" and "Scrubs")
Three VCRs: I won't tape this show, but if I'm home, I'll make a point to watch it (example: "The Guardian" and "Third Watch")
Two VCRs: If I'm home and I need to watch something while I'm folding laundry and paying bills, I might watch this show. (example: "Judging Amy")
One VCR: If I'm home, I won't turn on the TV for fear this show will be on (example: "The Bachelor" and "Providence")
No VCRs: This show is so bad that it almost makes me wish I didn't own a television. (example: "Off Centre")
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