[tv] Is This Time Alan Partridge’s last Aha!? … Reviewing Alan Partridge’s latest TV series. ‘Thing is, as the Gibbons brothers have noted, by 21st-century standards of discourse, he is frighteningly plausible. When he mutters aloud about his wife being an “awful woman” on air, it reminds of Donald Trump’s “nasty woman” remark during the Presidential debates – there is too much about Trump that is Partridgean, or vice-versa. Similarly, that Piers Morgan now co-hosts a breakfast show has raised the suggestion that Partridge is redundant. Which is unfair on Alan – he is a psychologically complex, not entirely unlikable character whereas Morgan is a flat-out, flat-track tedious boor lacking Alan’s residual moral fibre.’
[movies] Why is pop culture obsessed with battles between good and evil? … An interesting look at why modern stories tend to be narratives about Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. ‘It’s no coincidence that good guy/bad guy movies, comic books and games have large, impassioned and volatile fandoms – even the word ‘fandom’ suggests the idea of a nation, or kingdom. What’s more, the moral physics of these stories about superheroes fighting the good fight, or battling to save the world, does not commend genuine empowerment. The one thing the good guys teach us is that people on the other team aren’t like us. In fact, they’re so bad, and the stakes are so high, that we have to forgive every transgression by our own team in order to win.’
[tv] ‘We’ve had a love-hate relationship’: Steve Coogan on bringing Alan Partridge back to the BBC … ‘But timing is everything, and the alchemy that sees Partridge back at the BBC on the cusp of such huge national change couldn’t be more perfect. Like King Arthur in Avalon, he waited for his time to come. And come it has. Although the show doesn’t directly reference Brexit, because it’s a train that is moving too fast, and they’re not in the business of political satire, it hints at the current divisions over everything from gender politics to the #MeToo movement and lets Partridge grapple with them. Coogan says Partridge’s lack of a mental gatekeeper is the gift that keeps on giving…’
[tv] Smart TVs Are Dumb … Alex looks at the business model around Smart TVs. ‘Earlier this month, Vizio’s chief technology officer, Bill Baxter, told The Verge that the reason his company can sell TVs so cheaply now is that it makes up the money by selling bits of data and access to your TV after you purchase it. Baxter called this “post-purchase monetization.” “This is a cutthroat industry,” he said. “It’s a 6-percent-margin industry, right? … The greater strategy is I really don’t need to make money off of the TV.” This is why your TV was so cheap.’
[tv] The Assassination of Gianni Versace review – a grim portrait of gay life … ‘In following Cunanan’s deadly joyride, the show also takes us from Miami to Minneapolis to Chicago to La Jolla. One moment, we’re at the Versace mansion, as chiseled butlers serve orange juice on silver trays, and the next we’re in seedy motels and lakeside cottages as characters snort heroin and hunt quail. The contrast says as much about class as it does the geographical scope of the murders; Cunanan is both killer and liar, but more than anything he’s a striver, with Versace advertisements thumb-tacked to his wall and an expensive wardrobe mostly gifted to him by the older, rich men whom he dates and, in some cases, slays.’
[truecrime] Is Our Love of True Crime Shows Really About Social Justice? … more analysis of the True Crime documentary genre. ‘While audiences were divided over Steven Avery’s guilt following the first season of Making a Murderer, most agreed that the evidence presented in the documentary and at his trial—at least what they saw—made a strong argument for it to be reexamined. Making is less about a case being closed and more about how Avery was prosecuted, which is why series co-directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos prefer to call it a “social justice” series, rather than a true crime one. “I think what scares me about [the true crime label] is often people think it’s fetishizing death or somehow exploiting someone’s tragedy, and that’s certainly not at all what we were about,” Ricciardi told Deadline.’
[moore] The Cardinal and the Corpse … Go watch this little-seen 1992 docudrama by Iain Sinclair & Chris Petit. Alan Moore appears as himself along with Derek Raymond, Michael Moorcock, Tony Lambrianou amongst others.
[comics] From Bond to ITV’s Strangers: why is everyone ‘fridging’? … A Look at why the “Women in Refrigerators” trope went mainstream. ‘WiR has been prevalent in superhero narratives since The Amazing Spider-Man comic shockingly killed off Gwen Stacy in 1973, inaugurating an era of darker stories in which actions had serious consequences (although these consequences were disproportionately suffered by women). Since comics writer Gail Simone gave the trend its name in 1999, publishing a list of “superheroines who have been either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator”, the term “fridging” has been used mostly about superhero storytelling. But it has seeped into mainstream pop culture too, particularly in the past decade as comic-book adaptations have dominated blockbuster cinema.’
[tv] Alan Moore on Patrick McGoohan’s “The Prisoner” Part 1 | Part 2 … Moore also discusses Twin Peaks in this focussed interview. ‘In my opinion, and possibly in Patrick McGoohan’s, the trick is to recall that your prison and its bars — at least the mental ones — are entirely of your own manufacture. Free the mind and, as they say, the body may well follow. Seen in this light, The Prisoner becomes a big and mouth-watering cake of a production, with succulent sultanas of plot and speculation, a frosting of cryptic mystery, and an enormous rasp-file at the centre of it.’
[movies] My Incredible, Agonising Quest to Find the Worst Movie on Netflix … ‘But my quest hit a snag. Though there were many truly awful sounding movies listed, every single thing I looked up seemed to have been removed from Netflix. InAPPropriate Comedy, a sketch comedy show directed by the Shamwow Guy that was widely accused of being racist? Gone. Avalanche Sharks, a horror film about, well, what it sounds like it’s about? Also gone. I was beginning to worry that, due to the constant reduction in the number of movies on Netflix, all the real garbage had been purged.’
[movies] David Lynch: ‘You gotta be selfish. It’s a terrible thing’ … A Profile of David Lynch. ‘There is another striking scene from childhood. One night, Lynch writes, he encountered a beautiful naked woman walking down the street, bruised and traumatised. “It was so incredible. It seemed to me that her skin was the colour of milk, and she had a bloodied mouth.” He was too young or too transfixed to find out who she was before she vanished. After art school, Lynch hustled for years to make Eraserhead, widely believed to be a response to the birth of his first child, Jennifer, who had club feet. Cineasts still debate what the onscreen infant was made of: skinned rabbit, lamb foetus? But when I ask Lynch he bats it away. “I don’t talk about the baby.”’
[space] Exploring the Secrets of Soothing Spaceship Sound … a look at the soothing white noise of fictional spaceships … ‘In the intervening years, Snell has taken it upon himself to sample and loop the ambient hums of dozens of science fiction ships, building an unlikely but sizeable YouTube presence of over nine million views and over a hundred videos. Whether it’s the calming tone created by the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or the throbbing pulse of Dr. Who’s Tardis, Snell aims to shine a light on an important element of science fiction that most people don’t often think about—what the spaceships sound like.’ [via MetaFilter]
[books] Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read … and what we watch and listen to.
‘The lesson from his binge-watching study is that if you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out. I used to get irritated in school when an English-class syllabus would have us read only three chapters a week, but there was a good reason for that. Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, [Jared] Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. “You’re never actually reaccessing it,” he says.’
[tv] Paradise found: how The Good Place divinely remixed the sitcom … Stuart Heritage on The Good Place … ‘Decency is baked hard into the DNA of The Good Place. It’s the show’s entire reason to be. Its characters are trapped in a terrible scenario, and they can’t escape unless they improve as people. They are in a hopeless situation, but hope is their only way out. Forget all the formal bells and whistles. Forget that they are learning to be better because they are studying the works of pre-eminent ethicists and philosophers – even if it has caused some bookshops to set out “Chidi’s Choice” tables laden with all his go-to literature – just the fact that basic positivity is the engine room of a sitcom in 2018 is refreshing.’
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January 22, 2018
[wormwood] The Bitter Secret of ‘Wormwood’… Another Look at Errol Morris’ Wormwood. ‘If Morris had simply recounted the facts, even in a way that emphasized the real suffering of the victims, that would have shocked nobody. They are the stuff of every spy movie, a genre that has successfully turned state surveillance and assassinations into seductive excitement. But unlike that genre, Wormwood—a word for a bitter poison, used by Hamlet to describe bitter truths—doesn’t produce dramatic tension by exploiting our desire to be in on the secret. It exposes us to the baser side of that desire: the narcissism, mean-spiritedness, and contempt that are so often the psychological realities of secrecy.’
[tv] The Sopranos to Blackadder – what are the definitive series of the best TV shows? … On Series 4 of Peep Show: ‘The elements that made Peep Show so brilliant are all here: the scene-stealing secondary characters in Super Hans, Sophie and Johnson; dialogue that is clever, funny and contains revelatory human truths. It feels like writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong felt bold enough to push the farce as far as they could. Their skill is making even the most outlandish feat – being an accessory to arson (episode one), eating a dead dog (episode five), urine soaking through the church ceiling on to the hats of wedding goers below (episode six) – feel believable, because we’ve been on the excruciating path that got Mark and Jeremy there.’
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“In its essence, Wormwood is a story about a very, very smart young boy, now a man in his 70s, who has been involved in an epistemological journey into the nature of his father’s death. And I like to think that the movie, in its attempt to examine these questions, matches his own sophistication about these questions. How do we know what we know? How do we know that my father was murdered? What does that murder mean? He asks this question again and again and again, particularly near the end of the film. It’s one of my favorite sections of Wormwood, when he asks, ‘What does it mean?’
“It’s the same question that I’m always asking: What does it mean? And this irony, which I learned from Eric, is not something I imposed on the material—the irony of, How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to know something? Knowledge comes with a cost. And to what extent is knowing something worth the price that we have to pay to know it? The other option is to live in a fantasy, but if you ask me if there’s anything that makes us great, it’s the pursuit of truth. It’s the fact that we attempt to reach outside of ourselves and to know something about the world around us, and ourselves.
[tv] The 1978 Radio Times: Christmas TV, before Thatcherism ruined it … a look back at Christmas TV in the late Seventies … ‘In 1978 we had “special guests”, “stars” and “presenters” but I could find only one mention of the word “celebrity” in the listings, used in relation to David Soul, in a programme on 29 December. “David Soul epitomises the star of today. He is the new-style Hollywood celebrity,” we were informed. We quickly got back down to earth, though: the programme was followed by Citizen Smith, the sitcom starring Robert Lindsay as Wolfie Smith, leader of the revolutionary Tooting Popular Front.’
[tv] The 50 best TV shows of 2017: No 6 Mindhunter … This new Netflix series is definately bingeworthy. ‘Mindhunter may be sold as a drama about serial killers. But it’s as much about Holden Ford’s relationships. With those rapists and murderers, sure, but also with Tench, with his cynical FBI colleagues and with his girlfriend, Debbie (Hannah Gross). But the central pairing, and certainly the creepiest, may be the bromance (of sorts) between Ford and Ed Kemper. Kemper, as serial killer enthusiasts may already know, is the intelligent, 6ft 9 Californian necrophiliac who murdered his grandparents, mother, mother’s friend and six female students before engaging in acts more despicable than even the darkest mind could conjure. He confessed before the police could catch him.’
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December 12, 2017
[tv] Steve Coogan wrestled with including Brexit in Alan Partridge’s return … Today in Alan Partridge news… ‘It was only after some soul-searching that the comedian opted to include the decision to leave the EU in his alter ego’s return to the BBC. “The world has coalesced into a situation that is sympathetic to Alan, which for me is quite depressing,” Coogan told the Radio Times.’
If you wanted to be unstoppably hectored by someone in tie and blazer about how the Edward Heath government had committed treason by taking us into the Common Market in 1972 and then find out the the name of the acrobat who performed a quadruple back-somersault on to a chair at the New York Hippodrome in 1915, and the artiste who caught him, Norris McWhirter was your man.
And you can add to that the fact that Norris, along with his twin brother Ross, created the Guinness Book of Records, which had sold more than 75m copies in 37 languages by the time his involvement ended in 1996.
We will never see his like again, not because the world doesn’t teem with libertarian ideologues, nor with grown men who know too much about the minutiae of stuff; but because combining these two disciplines successfully in public seems beyond our wit in 2017.
Higgins was set up to be Magnum’s stooge—the short, supercilious prig who Magnum repeatedly outsmarted, and in whose reflection our hero could shine still brighter. But as played by John Hillerman with a genuine sense of dignity and steely righteousness, Higgins was no joke; you loved him because he truly believed in a classical world of order and rules-following, and he wasn’t about to cede all of that tradition to a handsome young firecracker in a Hawaiian shirt. And every so often, Higgins would a deliver a barb that succeeded in cutting Magnum down to size. The smirk from Hillerman that would invariably follow was a thing of beauty and triumph—and a gentle exhortation to those of us suffering through grade school that the golden boys weren’t always going to be the ones who glowed.
Until he died last Thursday at the age of 84 in Houston, I confess that I had no idea that Hillerman—who was born in Denison, majored in journalism at UT Austin, and then retired back to Texas in 1999—wasn’t actually British. That’s one definition of a great performance, when an actor so wholly inhabits a part that viewers assume he must just be playing a variation of himself. (In real life, Hillerman reportedly spoke with a faint Texas drawl—akin to his character Howard Johnson in Blazing Saddles.)
[netflix] How Netflix works: the (hugely simplified) complex stuff that happens every time you hit Play … ‘Netflix works on thousands of devices, and each of them play a different format of video and sound files. Another set of AWS servers take this original film file, and convert it into hundreds of files, each meant to play the entire show or film on a particular type of device and a particular screen size or video quality. One file will work exclusively on the iPad, one on a full HD Android phone, one on a Sony TV that can play 4K video and Dolby sound, one on a Windows computer, and so on. Even more of these files can be made with varying video qualities so that they are easier to load on a poor network connection. This is a process known as transcoding. A special piece of code is also added to these files to lock them with what is called digital rights management or DRM — a technological measure which prevents piracy of films.’
[tv] It was acceptable in the 80s: why Magnum PI should be spared reboot hell … ‘Magnum PI, for crying out loud. Is nothing sacred? Sure, on the surface, the original Magnum PI was just one of a glut of post-Vietnam shows about vigilante justice with a charismatic male lead and storylines that wrapped up neatly at the top of the hour. But it was special. Everyone knows it was special. By some absurd alchemy Magnum PI ended up perfectly written, perfectly cast and perfectly soundtracked, managing to be both of its time and utterly timeless. You don’t mess with Magnum PI.’
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October 11, 2017
[tv] Your New TV Ruins Movies … ‘Filmmakers were not content to make movies with video cameras until those cameras could shoot 24p, because video, with its many-frames-per-second, looks like reality, like the evening news, like a live broadcast or a daytime soap opera; whereas 24p film, by showing us less, looks somehow larger than life, like a dream, like a story being told rather than an event being documented. This seemingly technical issue turns out to have an enormous emotional effect on the viewer. These days, any TV you are likely to buy, will, by default, have technology enabled that completely changes the emotional quality of the movies you watch. This is a cinematic disaster.’ [via Feeling Listless]
[documentaries] Unsolved Mysteries … another examination of the limits of what documentaries can tell us … ‘Almost every single moment contained in the 18-hour The Vietnam War could be treated in the “What really happened? And can we ever know?” style of contemporary, searching documentaries. Co-director Novick told Vanity Fair of the war, “There’s no agreement among scholars, or Americans or Vietnamese, about what happened: the facts, let alone whose fault, let alone what we’re supposed to make of it.” To have adjudicated all these questions on camera would have led to a documentary 1,000 hours long, one that told us so much more about the nitty-gritty subjectivity of the Vietnam War it might as well have told us nothing.’
[tv] Love On A Real Train … A look at the similarities between Mr Robot and Risky Business … ‘[Jonathan Bernstein] described De Mornay as a “frosty Hitchcockian blonde” whose chilliness is mirrored by the icy blasts of TD synth there and elsewhere on the soundtrack. In its way, Risky Business is a quintessential ’80s movie — it’s a twist on a mismatched-buddy caper, it prizes ruthless capitalistic innovation, absent parents fuel its plot engine, and it contains Curtis Armstrong — and if you swap in J.D. for Booger, you could say all of those things about Mr. Robot. There is a system to be gamed, so to speak, in both: Princeton admissions (and pimp vig); data storage. There is a battle against monopolistic power and influence that aspires to those things even as it turns them against themselves.’
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September 14, 2017
[books] Longtime Stephen King fans criticize new IT adaptation for not being bad … ‘While audiences and critics alike have praised 2017’s IT for its smart casting and big budget scares, the response from classic King fans has been scathingly negative. “Couldn’t it have been a cheap, PG rated primetime miniseries?” tweeted @AnnieWilkes45. Others criticized the popular new film for not including any demonic laundry machines, giant rubber bats, possessed big rig trucks, man ponytails, or Gary Busey.’
[tv] When good TV goes bad: how The Wire lost its spark … another jump-the-shark analysis … ‘Maybe it’s the sheer momentum of The Wire’s character-writing that led it to drop the ball with its favourite son: Jimmy McNulty. Of course we came to know and love him as the incorrigible loose cannon of Baltimore homicide. But it’s not just his partner Bunk Moreland who had to cock an eyebrow at his antics in season five: McNulty, outraged by the slashing of police funding, decides to fabricate evidence that a serial killer is stalking Baltimore’s homeless. Hmm. The seven episodes of the season – in which the whole of Baltimore is reeled into his fantasy – are the worst of The Wire’s run. Tied with the mechanics of the fakery – red ribbons around the victims’ wrists, heavy-breathing phone calls to the local rag – any tension in the storyline is stillborn. The Wire briefly becomes The McNulty Show. And a self-parodic McNulty at that, with some of Dominic West’s heaviest mugging; the series was teetering on the edge of the trap over-extended TV shows often fall into, indulging crowd-pleasing characters.’
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August 15, 2017
[tv] Noel Edmonds: TV’s emperor of folly … a look at Noel Edmonds new game show … ‘In Cheap Cheap Cheap, Edmonds plays the owner of a dilapidated general store. Sometimes the shop’s manager wobbles into view to drop a leaden one-liner. Sometimes the tenant of the upstairs flat pops down to blurt something in a mangled fake-European accent – she calls Edmonds her “rent boy” very early on – or a shop assistant will take a selfie, or a deliveryman will sort of wander around a bit. This is the set of the gameshow. There is no studio audience, and Edmonds doesn’t say hello or goodbye. It’s like this collection of weirdos have been trapped in this empty and possibly extra-dimensional shop for all eternity. It’s like Edmonds, having grown terrified by the horrors of the real world, has built his very own Red Room for sanctuary. Watching Cheap Cheap Cheap is like watching a weird piece of existential Lithuanian amateur community theatre. It’s like watching QVC, if QVC was beamed in from an irradiated wasteland four billion years in the future.’
[true-crime] How “Making a Murderer” Went Wrong… a sobering critique of True Crime Documentaries … ‘Yet the most obvious thing to say about true-crime documentaries is something that, surprisingly often, goes unsaid: they turn people’s private tragedies into public entertainment. If you have lost someone to violent crime, you know that, other than the loss itself, few things are as painful and galling as the daily media coverage, and the license it gives to strangers to weigh in on what happened. That experience is difficult enough when the coverage is local, and unimaginable when a major media production turns your story into a national pastime. “Sorry, I won’t be answering any questions because . . . TO ME ITS REAL LIFE,” the younger brother of Hae Min Lee, the murder victim in “Serial,” wrote on Reddit in 2014.’
[docu] The Keepers: ‘I’ve dealt with survivors and they’re sickened by the church’s response’ … Another look at Netflix’s True Crime documentary ‘The Keepers’… ‘The response of the archdiocese of Baltimore has been surprising, to say the least. “People in churches and schools in Baltimore started sending us literature that the archdiocese was sending out, on how to tell people what we got wrong. The documentary wasn’t even out. I just found it incredibly disappointing.” The @archbalt account retweeted a message that called the series “fiction”, a spokesperson subsequently admitting that this was “bad judgment”. “They’re trying to re-message. They’ve lost. It’s too late now,” says White.’
[tv] What’s the deal with translating Seinfeld … a look at the difficulty of translating Seinfeld (or any sitcom) from one language to another … ‘Lip-synch dubbing, despite its ultimate benefits, can get very complicated. It’s not just that the lines may not translate directly — they also have to take just as long to say in both languages and approximate, to the best of their abilities, the lip movements of the original actors. That can pose an added challenge when translating from laconic languages like English into verbose languages like German. And Seinfeld was already a very wordy show, making accurate translation that much more critical. The script-writing process for foreign translation is so elaborate that it’s a wonder even one episode gets done. Sebastian had to produce 180…’
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July 4, 2017
[tv] When good TV goes bad: the moment Columbo’s case went cold … When did Columbo Jump the Shark? … ‘If classic Columbo is good and late-era Columbo is bad, then the lieutenant must have jumped the shark with the 1989 return of the mac? In truth, you have to go further back – to 1976. In the fifth season finale, Last Salute to the Commodore, set among the yachting set, the victim is a crotchety, self-regarding millionaire who resents his drunken coterie and grasping family. When we witness son-in-law Robert Vaughn disposing of the commodore’s body at sea, it seems obvious he is the murderer. Then Vaughn turns up dead, and the format disintegrates. Everything seems off. The lieutenant has his head turned by transcendental meditation, attempting a lotus pose on a marina boardwalk…’
[tv] A dying habit: why the average BBC1 viewer is 61 … the slow death of Broadcast TV … ‘According to recent research by Enders Analysis, ITV’s average viewer is now 60; Channel 5’s is 58 and Channel 4’s is 55. Even at E4, birthplace of such yoof-targeting shows as Made in Chelsea and Hollyoaks, the average age is 42. The reason, of course, is simple: the internet…’
[curtis] HyperNormalisation … go watch this long, new, iPlayer documentary from Adam Curtis … ‘Our world is strange and often fake and corrupt. But we think it’s normal because we can’t see anything else. HyperNormalisation – the story of how we got here.’
[tv] Charlie Brooker: ‘The more horrible an idea, the funnier I find it’ … Charlie Brooker on the various subjects covered in the new series of Black Mirror … ‘I’ve scaled back my involvement with Twitter; it’s too easy to get dragged into an argument. It’s also completely futile. Is it helpful for trolls, is it cathartic? Does it prevent them from going out on a shooting rampage? It’s tricky. One person’s troll is another person trying to make a point. They’re trying to get you to listen to an argument. I don’t make sweeping statements on social media, mainly because I can’t be fucking arsed with the argument that follows.’
[tv] Netflix Original Series, Ranked (Again) … Vulture rates all 36 of Netflix’s current original TV productions … ‘House of Cards – One of Netflix’s first tentpoles, House of Cards is better at a prestige-y veneer than it is at actual prestige-quality narrative. While Kevin Spacey plays his character with embarrassingly visible excess, Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood is a stunning, implacable pillar of hard surfaces and internal machinations. Everything else veers rapidly between way-too-complicated plotting and underdeveloped surprise twists. Though initially absorbing, it feels increasingly unnecessary given the drama of real-life politics.’
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