Sunday, 28 December 2008

Xmas indigestion...

So how was it for you? T'was lovely here ta, very nice and foody and drunky and friendy and that.

As for telly....

Er, well, wasn't Doctor Who a little disappointing? Having read Russell T's fantastic book on how he came up with it, I'm kinda sorta not surprised really. He had to rush it to film it at the end of the last series, through a horrible cold and nasty flu, genuinely finishing pages the morning they were about to be shot. Obviously the book didn't say much about the content but when you know that's the background, the general unspecialness of this special isn't unexpected.

The other doctor was boring - am I the only one not to rate David Morrissey at all, in anything he's been in? He was boring playing Gordon Brown in that thing about him and Blair (method acting?) and the worst actor in the otherwise sublime State of Play. He's just tall, blank, miserable and shouty. Mind you that didn't do Christopher Ecclescakes any hard (oooh, controversial!)

The story had a few hoho smiley bits in it, like the Tardis/balloon, but seemed like Who-by-numbers to me. Mrs M&S Dirty Voice was OK I s'pose, in the way that the bossy-evil-lady usually is in these eps (even when dressed as a giant spider in the two-Xmases-ago special), but again I've seen this before.

Don't get me wrong, I watched from start to finish and enjoyed it a lot, best drama on the box so far this festive season, but I'm very glad Mr T Davies is passing the baton on to someone else. Now write the Big Gay Thing you know want to, Russie, it's time for you to do something different.

Funnily enough I was with neighbours who'd never seen New Who - they don't watch telly at all... I know, it's a crime, but there you are -  so I got the Titanic Xmas Special from last year for them. Second time around, I loved this more than the first time, and they were amazed at how good the SFX were, how funny the script was, Kylie being in it and the whole disaster movie schtick. A good intro to the series - they're off to rummage for it on the cheap in the End Of The World sales currently on at every shop ever.

As for everything else I've watched:-

Royle Family - Dave and Denise's Xmas dinner was somewhat over the top in their stupidity but it was sublime from start to finish (although I missed the last few mins as friggin' EastEnders overran by seven whole minutes. Grrr)

Harry Hill - superb and peerless

Charlie Brooker - my Tivo took a dislike to him and recorded a repeat of The Soup instead. It's on again soon and it's set proper this time.

Wallace and Gromit - nicely nice niceness. Supernice. Nicer than Nannette Newman. Not that funny, or that dramatic, but just the perfect 8:30pm Xmas Day thing. With my Animationiser hat on... well, I take it off and doff it to Aardman in an exaggerated stylee. Wonderful. A few CG things, I noticed, just adding sheen to the superb handmade oddness of the thing. A Brazilian friend Facebooked me about it, never seen it before - despite being in the UK for 18 years - and thought it was quite the strangest thing he'd ever seen. "Eet is for kids, no? Why does doggie not speak? And that man, that Wallarse, he is an eeeeediot. Why does Eeengland like him, huh?".

(Promise not to write any more comedy accents)

The IT Crowd - not the strongest of episodes to be frank. Moss not being in it, despite the "you didn't even notice I was on my holidays" gag, doesn't help as he's the best character in it. Didn't seem to have much of a story and then kinda fizzled out. 

What else? Well lots of eps of Frasier and Will and Grace, as always when inside at Xmas, very good they were too. Have we ever had a sitcom as clever as the former, by the way? Erudite, clever, pompous (and revelling in it) but such great writing. The episode on today where old DJ Bulldog comes back, becomes Ros's babysitter and scares off her potential suitors, only to declare his love for her, was funny and yet intensely sad in the end.

Right, off now to run on a treadmill watching an ep of Family Guy. Having seen almost all of them in the last month or so, off of iTunes, the formula is obvious but it's still one of the most inventive and gag-packed things around. Makes the cross-trainer seem less of an instrument of torture and more a place of comedy and smileyness.

Happy oh-nine and that!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Festive Felicitations

Here's a seasonal round-up of what I've watched so far...

Er, didn't watch it - I watched a few from series 1 which made me smile vaguely in a 'ah yes this is somewhat amusing' way and haven't bothered with it since. 

Proper good telly, in that it's well-researched, well-made and interviews the right people. To hear Spitting Image's 'I've Never Met A Nice South African' again was worth sitting through some of the less, er, comedy comedy songs. Stutter Rap anyone? I didn't think so... 

Anyhow, BBC Four normally repeats the hell out of things, so it'll be on again. Mind you, some of the clip shows don't resurface very often, probably because all that music clearance costs money. Their good series on advertising had hardly any repeat screenings that weren't in prime time, for example, and I normally record things at 2.30am when the other channels have gone to bed and there aren't any recording clashes.

QI on BBC One! It's like telly is dumbing up! Miracles do happen! And it stays on BBC One for the next series. Yay! And it was a fab show, as ever. Although - small carpy comment - it is a bit sad how it's all just middle-aged men. Far be it from me to be too PC but surely they can book one ladywoman out of four guests? It's not that hard to find funny females, is it?

I saw the end with the Xmas song video. I did smile at the 'you'll be singing this over and over and over again' on a loop bit, and it's for charideeee, well done... but there's something creepy about a fat Northern man dressed up as a fat Northern Irish transexual/transgender/whatever singing slightly funny songs in a voice that's been in no way changed for being a lady.

Maybe they could get Geraldine on QI, to even up the sexes?

I accidentally caught some of this today - the first time I've seen Zac Effron actually speak as I've only seem papped shots of him on the interweb and never any of his, er, products. Boy this was lame. The Kids from Lame.

Ha hah! They've got Wallace and Gromit in them. And probably cost a trillion pounds. And look... um, well, boring really. Not very special at all. Lame direction and ideas and even the animation's somewhat workaday.

I'll still watch the Xmas special though. I'll be full of festive spirits by then so will no doubt think it's uproarious and/or tragically sad and sob all the way through. Depending on which variety of spirits I consume the most of. (Clue: whiskey - NO!)

Well, Doctor Who obviously, that's got the lady off of the M&S ad voiceover dressed in red - "I'm not a comedy panto sci-fi villain, I'm an M&S top-of-the-range evil nasty lady with something hidden under my big red frock I reckon". The Royle Family, one of my fave sitcoms ever - hopefully no-one will die this time as last timedid have me (and the nation) bawling and sobbing like babies.

Shooting Stars is back for some reason, and I'll watch mainly because I used to adore Reeves and Mortimer, and the BBC have decided they're not funny any more and won't let them on telly much now. Boo hiss BBC! The Two Most Different Television Reviewer Cum Performers You Can Possibly Imagine - Harry Hill and Charlie Brooker - are in my To Watch list. Mr B had my eyes moistening with his wonderful tribute to Oliver Postgate. I disagree with some of his conclusions - the programmes haven't held up that well - but totally agree about Mr P's superb voice, pacing, sparse music (no doubt mainly because they couldn't afford it) and unique Britishnessnessness. The We Will Fix It song was perfect...

Oh, and the last IT Crowd of this series, loving it so much. I've got a feeling Mr Linehan isn't the world's best person at writing for lady performers (ooh look, the blog's got a lady theme now I've mentioned it three times, it's like it was planned and that). That Joker woman was a bit poor, and Jen isn't in it much despite being a fantastic performer, but you have to admit watching Moss pretend to be her husband was the bestest comedy treat for a while.

And, er, ummm, well, I'll end up watching EastEnders as it's on every hour over Xmas, and probably some crap fillums, and totally forget to watch something I really don't want to miss... and I have 3 eps of Survivors to catch up on too - I couldn't face them when ill with the flu, I even had swellings in my armpits just like the doomed victims in the show had...

So have a wonderful Winterval and all that. I'll more than likely post more telly ramblings over the inbetweeny period, such as why are there no decent end-of-the-year shows any more, just things with Nick Knowles or Jools Holland when we used to have Clive James (another person the Beeb just dropped for no reason) and Angus Deayton. 


Thursday, 4 December 2008

Writing for tv

If you saw Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe t'other night, then you'll have seen a treat. If not, switch on BBC Four any time after 10, it's usually on. Or iPlayer, if you're technofancy. But sit on a proper comfy chair, zoom out to fullscreen and watch like you would a normal telly.

It was about tv writers - fairysnuff, Charlie is a one himself (confession: I didn't see his Dead Set thing as I was away and E4 ain't repeated it yet, but any show that zombifies Davina has gotta be good) but the thing that made this show stand out were the toppermost top names they had.

Russell T Davies. Them two wot writ Peep Show. Graham Linehan. Tony Jordan. Paul Abbot. All of them brilliant, brilliant writers, yet all so different. I can recommend (again) R.T.D's book on writing Doctor Who - ok, so it's geeky in the extreme about the series but it shows the labour and sheer bloody love that goes into every episode.

And it has Russell expounding on writing in a way that makes you want to sit down and write, something I've never encountered when reading about writing before. He's such a one-off, but full of funny advice.

Anyway, back to the writers with Mr Brooker. R.T.D. went on about how characters pop into his head fully-formed. Fascinating. Sam and Jesse off of Peep Show said they writ big detailed storylines for months. Tony Jordan said when he writes Spooks he loves to paint himself into a corner, with no idea why or how to get out of his plot. Then get out of it. Paul Abbott said how one ep of genius drama State of Play took three days to write, the next seven weeks.

They all said how they hated first drafts but by draft four it was easier, something I can't quite get to yet. Again, they all said it was good to learn the craft writing whatever, be it links or kids or sketches. That made me feel good, with 'many tens' of episodes of telly under my belt but none of them sitcom.

Here are some random bits of writerly advice that made me smile, laugh or nod sagely:-

Mr Linehan: "Writing is like doing a poo. You can't force it. You need to go away and read or surf the web or watch tv and think about the idea until you simply have to go"

Mr Davies: "Finish something. FUCKING finish it. Two pages is nothing. No-one is going to read it. Or love it. Or buy it. Or publish it. FINISH IT! You can't call yourself a writer until you do."

Mr Abbott: "I employ people to make me do the writing. I hate them. But I still pay them so it must work"

Mr Peep Show Duo: "We can't write unless we plan everything."

Mr Jordan: "I hate planning. I hate writing. I like it when it's done though."

Mr Brooker: "..."
(he didn't say much)

Mr Davies again: "90% of dialogue on telly is shit. Worst I heard, first line of a new drama series, a man said to a woman 'Happy Wedding Day, sis!'. I mean, what? No-one says that. No-one calls their sister 'sis'. Good dialogue are two monologues that occasionally cross. No-one actually listens"

Mr Brooker (in reply) "Yeahh. Sorry, wasn't listening. Was planning my next question..."

Anyhoo, if you want to write for the telly, watch this show. Fascinating.

(And extra smiley-thumbs-uppies to Mr Linehan for last week's IT Crowd, sublime. The robbery stuff was superb.)