Friday, 30 May 2008

Delta flies under the radar

There was something quite likeable about the latest BBC3 Comedy pilot, Delta Forever, a tale of obsessive book fans connected by a website.

The script worked hard to squeeze quite a lot of ideas into a very short space. The writing team of Jon Hunter, Misha Manson Smith, Holly Walsh, Greg McHugh and Ben Bond managed to cover the weirdness of media-two-point-wotsit better than almost any other script yet to tackle the subject. Many have tried and failed to nail online culture in a TV format, to our mind at least this is the first time it’s been done successfully, certainly such an effective satire of the web-wide-world we live in, is quite rare just now. Delta Forever manages to cover obsessive fans, video bloggers, ebay opportunists and creepy ad-men trying to get their head around web culture.

It helps that the whole thing was supported by a bunch of perky performances, notably by comic Greg McHugh (whose brilliant Gary: Tank Commander character debuted over on More4 this week), whose bitter obsessive chews up the webcam, and is easily the stand-out turn of the piece. Also of note was rentabitch Antonia Campbell Hughes, and sketch stalwart Jonny Sweet (the remaining third of the House Of Windsor not currently moonlighting as an Imbetweener over on E4)

We’re pretty sure that, unlike the baffling headfuck of Phoo Action or the dark twists of Being Human, there’s not enough lurking beneath the surface here to warrant a full series. It wasn’t well promoted, and flew in rather under the radar, which is a shame: Delta Forever had a lot going for it as a self contained little teleplay with something to talk about, proving at least that someone at BBC3 has more than a surface understanding of the interweb.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Half Time Summery: Doctor Who Series Four

As we’ve reached half time on Series Four of Doctor Who, it seems a sensible point to stop and take stock. Especially as we have been rather lazy and haven’t been writing blog entries since the current run began. Not that we haven’t been following the series, obviously

First thing to note, is that the beginning of New Who Vol. 4 came off the back of two important developments:

1) That series three had been the strongest so far. In fact, we’re continually baffled that more people don’t seem to think this. Series three was INCREDIBLE. It started with the strongest season opener yet (‘Smith and Jones’), had Russell T Davies’ most startlingly imaginative writing since the re-boot (notably ‘Gridlock’), the best hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment yet (Derek Jacobi’s reawakening as The Master in ‘Utopia’), and of course it had ‘Blink’- the single best piece of television this country has produced in ten years. Okay, we acknowledge that there were weaker moments (the Dalek two-parter springs to mind) and a slightly below-par finale, but the good out-weighed the bad by a long way. And we’ve not even mentioned how perfect John Simm was. The bar was set pretty high.

2) That, against all odds, the second series of Torchwood –winding up just as the Doctor Who starter pistol went off- was really, really good. Characters who previously had all the pathos of burnt sticks were suddenly living, breathing people, who we cared about after all. The finale had some genuinely brilliant moments. The bar just went up a bit.

As a result, when ‘Partners in Crime’ made its early-tea-time debut it had a lot to live up to. More than it could justifiably deliver, really. And though the witty script was actually one of the more original RTD efforts yet delivered, the episode itself just didn’t pull its weight. Things were looking up with a trip to Pompei for episode 2, with career-best CGI (those Lava monsters probably cost the entire budget of series one), with some decent scares and a solid Doctor Who story. Between the two episodes we get the general feel for the series: quirky and silly on the one side, weepy and emotive on the other, with Catherine Tate’s Donna acting both as a comic foil and moral compass for David Tennant’s ever active Doctor. We’re suspecting the whimsy has peaked with the recent ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’, with a slide towards hankie-and-sofa-cushion territory to come as the series progresses.

There has been plenty to enjoy. Catherine Tate has been a pleasant surprise, though –Kylie aside- still the least effective of the New Who companions. When she TONES DOWN THE SHOUTING she proves a much more subtle and affecting actress than the evidence of ‘The Runaway Bride’ would have suggested, and she and Tennant play off each other well as a double act. Occasionally she grates, and sometimes feels a little surplus to requirements (‘The Doctors Daughter’ could have done fine without her). CGI has been pretty exemplary (the Vespiform morph in ‘The Unicorn…’ aside), and there have been a handful of really stand out moments: Martha’s clone in ‘The Sontaron Strategy’, Georgia Moffat’s energetic freshness in (‘…Daughter’), Captain Darling.

Despite this though, and despite a lack of genuinely poor pieces, the whole doesn’t feel like it hangs together. It’s difficult to put your finger on, but as yet series four of Doctor Who feels less than the sum of its parts. There’s still time, and certainly the series as a whole is probably neck-and-necking with series 2. We have great hopes for the next 6 episodes, and with RTD moving on after the next round of specials his self-penned final 4 episodes, featuring Rose, Daleks and something mysterious that blocks out the stars are oozing with potential.

We’re hard not to predict what’s going to happen, although it’s fairly safe to say that Donna’s journey to the end of the series probably won’t be an easy one. We’ll actually be rather surprised if she survives…not to mention a little disappointed. Not because we dislike Donna, but because the new series has not yet had the courage to murder it’s companions, always a good way of delivering a thrill in the original series. We don’t count Kylie, we didn’t have much really invested in her. The companion-fest in the season finale (Donna, Martha, Rose, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane and Ianto and Gwen from Torchwood allegedly) might prove a bit of an over load. It’ll be interesting to see how RTD handles Davros (almost certainly on his way back), and whether he resists the temptation to bring back The Master after that teaser with the ring at the close of S4 in some sort of Dalek/Master face-off.

What's To Come:

Thursday, 15 May 2008

He’s Not A Prince, He’s Not a King

Occasionally there’s a show that you thoroughly expect to dislike, and for reasons you don’t fully understand ends up owning a little corner of your soul. Such a one is The Inbetweeners, currently finding it’s feet on E4 of an evening. Maybe it’s because there are few other shows in 2008 that give you the opportunity to re-visit Sleeper lyrics in blog headlines, but we like to think it goes deeper than that.

Inbetweeners follows four teenage boys in the first year of sixth form, and probably works best if you’re the generation that actually understand the cultural gap between year 11, year 12 and year 13, because those differences are crucial here. Inbetweeners is possibly the only TV show ever written that really understands the burgeoning freedom and weird sense of impending adulthood pushing it’s way through the brains of 17 year old boys, trying their best to be at the same time grown ups who like cars and girls, and schoolboys who like football and their Mum.

Our main way in to the world of adolescent shame and fumbling geekorama is Simon Bird as Will, a bookish posho with a fit Mum who finds himself at a suburban comp, eventually gravitating to the similarly likeable, hopelessly geeky Joe Thomas as Simon. Comedy nerds will recognise the pair as two thirds of excellent House Of Windsor sketch show, and the infamous Cambridge Footlights (no less) from a few years back. Simon is also in this years Chortle Student Comic of the Year finals for something like the 20th time. The duo are paired up with comedy sidekicks and class prats Neil (over-tall, not too bright) played by Blake Harrison and Jay (Loud mouthed, impressionable, bit of a wanker) aka James Buckley. The quartet are so recognisable as the likeable-but-not-faniciable-uncool group everyone who was ever in sixth form either knew or actually were part of. We’re going to come clean and say that was us, which is probably why Inbetweeners Resonates so well for us.

Probably more significant is the shows relationship to Skins: eg, none at all. Both deal with a similar age range, both are E4 products, but their the similarity ends. While Skins is the fast paced, shagging-and-booze life we either wish we had or suspect our younger sisters have, Inbetweeners is the awkward, gangly truth, celebrating the brilliant mediocrity of being 17, of your first mate to learn to drive, your mates inexplicable other mates, and cool people who don't look at you twice.

Who knows what the fates hold for Inbetweeners. It's not edgy enough to gain much media profile, not culty enough to be an underground hit. But it is honest, watchable and absolutely genuine.

Okay it's not a work of art, or's nothing special, it's not too's just The Inbetweeners.

Horne and Corden are not Pegg and Frost

James Corden and Matthew Horne are everywhere. It wouldn’t have surprised us if one of them had won the London election. Honestly, give them a BAFTA and they think they’re the new Python.

Well…actually, maybe the new Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as the pair are to star in Brit Horror-com Lesbian Vampire Killers ("Two no-hopers. One cursed village. One hell of a night!"), which probably would never have got a greenlight if the Pegg/Frost/Wright Romzomcom modern-classic (we’ll stand by that ‘Modern Classic’ claim if anyone doubts us, in a fight if necessary) Shaun of the Dead hadn’t been a hit.

The comparison doesn’t stop with forays into British genre films though. Both duos have presented the NME awards (2005 for S&N, 2008 for J&M), both have backgrounds in Sketch shows (Big Train, Man/Woman, The –Non-Award Winning-Catherine Tate Show, the new Corden/Horne project) both have broken new ground in Sitcoms (Spaced and Gavin and Stacey…Modern Classics again), and of course there’s a fat one and a thin one. But we’re not that superficial.

As for the flick itself, we’re not sure how we feel about it just yet. The presence of Horne and Corden (“so hot right now”) is probably a good sign: the duo would presumably have their pick of projects just now, so the fact they’ve chosen this as their vehicle at least indicates a decent script.

Aside from that though, nothing about Lesbian Vampire Killers really inspires much confidence: it’s written by a couple of jobbing TV writers who cut their comedy teeth on clips shows and utter dross like Ball of Steel, producer Steve Clarke-Hall appears to have never worked on a decent film in his entire career (Dungeons and Dragons 2: Wrath of the Dragon God, anyone?) and production company AV Pictures only notable release has been woeful Kelly Brooke vehicle School For Seduction.

And of course films that start from a title and work backwards –even if that title is done with tongue firmly in cheek, are seldom worth the admission price.

Still, who are we to judge, it’s not out yet and it might end up a masterpiece. Time will tell.


For the lapse in writing. Normal service will now be resumed...afterall, we know how many of you are disapointed at That Joke being off-air!