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The Fall Season.

25 Sep

from Elvis Presley news

September is an exciting time for idlers and layabouts. The warmth of spring approaches  providing a backdrop of glorious colour to sit inside and ignore, the football season ends providing a sweet period of respite before everyone starts to pretending to know things about cricket, and the new season of american television appears right at the time when certain people should be fucking studying. As with previous years, I watched a bunch of them and read reviews on the ones that looked less promising in case I missed a diamond in the rough. Here’s the bad news: It’s all rough, no diamonds.

It would be foolish to expect to find even half of it to be quality television, as Sturgeon’s Law clearly demonstrates that 90 percent of everything is shit. Even that, it seems, is optimistic. CBS (one of the big four networks) now has 13 separate police procedurals as part of its weekly lineup.  Thirteen.  I say that they’re individual now but I imagine watching more than two hours of that network would reduce your subconscious to a quivering mass of retro sunglasses and blue-tinged jump cuts. I don’t know  what it is that made this year so spectacularly shitty- maybe the loss of a few major shows  like 24, Lost, and ER made networks reluctant to try new things, maybe the GFC has made funding high concept or novel shows a riskier prospect, maybe the strike period in 08 is still slowing shit down, but this years offerings have ranged from ‘adequate’ to ‘actively puts back race relations several decades‘.

Fear not, gentle shut-ins, all is not lost. Cable still brought the goods, and the list is pretty much all the new shows you should watch this year. Lonestar isn’t getting included because its on Fox and after one fucking episode they’re already calling for life support and I have been burned by those bastards too many times to get hurt again.


This is the closest thing on this list to a sitcom. I not biased against them at all, if you like the format and you haven’t watched Community yet you should get onto that right away but Louie is easily the funniest new show this I’ve seen this year. It’s a weird blend of  Curb Your Enthusiasm style awkwardness and a cynical, matter-of-fact surrealism that’s refreshingly bleak. The unusual format (most episodes consist of 2 10-minute stories joined by clips of standup) and strong emotional center add up to a frank and compelling show I’d recommend to basically anyone.

AMC shows should come with a warning. Rubicon, much like Mad Men, starts off slow and that initial pace can be enough to put people off. It’s a shame, as Rubicon isn’t quite the critical darling Mad Men is, and it doesn’t have the novelty of another time period or a Christina Hendricks to draw in casual viewers, but I like to think of it as the scrappy underdog. Set in the vaguely-named American Policy Institute, the show has two major concerns and how much you get out of the show will be determined by how much you think those two things relate. The first is leading Will Travers’ attempt to unwravel an shadowy conspiracy in the vein of cool 70’s movies like Three Days of the Condor.  The second, less direct thing is an examination of how your career shapes the person that you want to be, and the emotional and psychological toll that being work can bring you, especially if you happen to work in intelligence. Oh, and Miranda Richardson is in it. That’s pretty cool too.

Despite the above mentioned glut of cop and cop related shows on this year, Terriers is the only one I really like. This isn’t a case of the least worst though, far from it, even if there was a surprising wave of great new police dramas I would still pick this one. Much of this is due to the fine creative staff, the show was created by the guy who wrote Matchstick Men (one of my favourite Nick Cage movies)  and the writing team boasts Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear who worked on  Angel and The Shield, so it’s at pictures-cut-from-magazines-stuck-on-bedroom-wall-with-glitter-hearts-and-kisses already. Terriers follows two unlicensed private detectives, one recovering alcoholic ex-cop and the other a man of more dubious status as they try and solve crimes for enough cash not to have a place to live and not starve to death. As well providing a compelling back story and a range of fun secondary characters, the setup provides the crucial element missing from most cop shows- the people doing the crime solving actually motivated for reasons other than  it being their job, which makes it so much more compelling. The acting is great and it’s often very funny so if you like detective stuff you should be watching this.

Out of what’s listed here this is the one I’m the least certain of, but since only one episode has aired it still has to time to meet my admittedly high expectations. “HBO spends a lot of money on a show about prohibition-era gangsters starring Steve Buscemi and directed by Martin Scorsese” sounds like a formula for success, and in many ways it is. The cinematography is amazing, the sets and costumes are impeccable, the plot, while not exactly new is compelling, and the acting is generally high quality. The downside is that’s all there is to it. HBO desperately wants a new Sopranos, and this is pretty obviously their bid to out-drama Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but the problem with Boardwalk Empire is that it’s too safe. That sounds like an unreasonable task for one episode to fulfill, but The Sopranos pilot did a lot of things that hadn’t been done before, and this just isn’t as groundbreaking as I think they’d like it to be. There were a few touches I really liked (the baby scene and the deer in the forest particularly) but for now it’s a very well produced period drama that isn’t the revolution I’d hoped it would be. Having said that, I’ll certainly still be watching.

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Semantics

20 Sep

I was walking to the train station the other night and I saw an ad much like the one above. There was some rigging around it and about half the sign had been repainted to its original quality. There’s a few more of these reappearing around the city, and it’s kind of great when you think about it. It’s the only instance I can think of where something’s value has completely reversed- advertising designed purely for delivering a message is being refurbished to its original condition, and the company who designed it doesn’t even exist any more so its only remaining function is pure aesthetics. Makes me feel a lot better about the future really.

I’ve been promising a new story for a while, and the best reason I can give for my slackness (slackitude? slackosity?) is that this one has been more difficult to write. I’ll make it post 200.

To The Dark Tower

10 Sep

By now you may have heard that Team Darlton abandoned their TV adaptation of The Dark Tower, which has been picked up by Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman. Their new (and slightly insane) plan is to switch between three feature films and two television series, incorporating the original 7-book series and the prequel comics.

In theory, I think it can work. In practice, it’ll be incredibly difficult. Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman are two of the most over-the-top, bombastic people working in Hollywood today and if nothing else they’ll give us a really beautiful world to look at. The big problem will be when they first transition from film to television. While television has gotten a hell of a lot smarter and more complex then a decade ago,  the budgets have not risen at anywhere near the same levelt. I’m fairly sure that the Lost pilot is still the most expensive ever made, and most of that money was spent on the plane wreckage. What this means is that they might lose a lot of viewers who’ll tune in to discover that the show is not as action-packed as the films.

This compounded by the choice of Howard and Goldsman. While they’re both more than capable of directing big budget crowd pleasing movies, neither of them are exactly known for emotional subtlety. In a two hour movie you can ignore that and just go with the pretty but 12 hours into a TV show you need to care about the characters in order to maintain interest. A big part of the fun of The Dark Tower is the minutiae, all the references to other King works and his skewed take on sci-fi, western and fantasy tropes and I feel like doing it this way will end up smoothing over all the little details in favour of the broader strokes. If nothing else it’s an interesting experiment.

Pete Campbell’s Bitchface

9 Sep

Annahinks, you are a scholar and hero to many. Bravo.

I know I go on about Mad Men a lot but I only do so because it’s amazing and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not watching. This week’s episode, The Suitcase, was a classic ‘bottle’ episode that deserves mention in the same breath as Breaking Bad‘s ‘Fly’, Red Dwarf’s ‘Marooned’ and Seinfeld‘s ‘The Chinese Restaurant’. The US fall season of television is fast approaching and most the big shows will be back on in the next three weeks. Like everyone else I’ll be saving up new episodes of Dexter and American Dad so I can watch them all in one night like the barely-sentient sack I am fast becoming, but in between I’ll be trawling through all the shitty crime dramas to find something worth watching. Here’s to hoping.

Tallest Man On Earth- Like The Wheel

8 Sep

I’ve watched this about 15 times in a row now, and it just destroys me.

A few months ago I started to teach myself to play the ukulele, with the idea of eventually having a vague grasp of tone and chord structure to write my own songs. As you can probably imagine, I’m in that period of history where Homo Sapien were still a few millenia from discovering fire and they just threw piles of everything at piles of everything and waited for something exciting to happen.

In this increasingly strained metaphor Tallest Man on Earth is the monolith that appears before the simple ape-men, singular in its mission to teach us how to love. As a culture we’ve inflated our language to the point where it’s almost impossible to truly describe a heightened sense of emotion anymore, but this is awesome. I am in awe of this.

Tales of Misery and Woe

4 Sep

Ezio Auditore: Smarmy Motherfucker

Given my recent block of free time (read: procrastinating as hard as I god damn can) I went and did something almost unthinkable – I started playing a video game made after 1995, and one from a proper studio and everything. I’ve been avoiding the vast majority of the major titles, not out of some desire to stick it to the man – although I suppose that’s a legitimate way of doing so, even if it is the lamest way possible- but because with a few exceptions they’re shinier variations of things I did a decade ago. Kill the demon,  drive the car, defeat the Nazis.

Assassins Creed 2 somehow manages to be better than that by offering a compelling narrative, a likeable protagonist, a rich and varied world to play in and an improvement of the gameplay mechanics of the first game. Essentially, what all game sequels say they’ll do, they actually did. AC1  had such a compelling free-running mechanic that it nearly compensated for everything else in the game feeling half-arsed. It also didn’t help that the protagonist, Altair, had two emotions: stoic and stoically confused. AC2 provides Ezio (pictured above) a spoiled, oversexed nobility brat who spends the course of the game becoming something that resembles a responsible adult. The game has an occasional sense of humour that’s so refreshing, and a welcome change of pace from the usual ‘YOU ARE THE SAVIOUR OF MANKIND’ stuff. The depiction of Leonardo Da Vinci is particularly good, his childlike awe and excitability for basically everything is a more compelling characterisation then the ‘learned-dude-with-beard’ that a less imaginative writer would’ve chosen, and the game gives character backgrounds for all the major villains which are filled with gory little anecdotes told with dry wit from the Snippy British Person helping out in the real world. At its best, it’s like you’re playing Medieval Iron Man– a pulp novel with enough twists on the formula to keep you entertained.

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about what videogames should be like in order to make them better. Some say they should be more like books, some say they should be more like movies, and others say you should stop being a faggot and put Master Chief in everything. Personally I don’t think there’s any single approach that’s the best, and that the idea that there is is detrimental to video games as a whole. Stuff like “everything needs a morality scale!”,  “everything needs MMO elements!” or “everything needs regenerating health” results in a dozen games a year being released without a single differentiating feature.

Take, for example, Fallout 3. By far the most compelling part of that game was picking a direction and walking until you find something cool. While the main quest was pretty dull stuff, the game shone in the margins, which I suspect was the work of the junior writers trying to impress dedicated players. If so, kudos. The wasteland was filled with weird things to discover: The crashed spaceship complete with awesome ray-gun, the vault where you trip balls and go back in time to the 1950s, the hamlet where the locals seem blissfully unaware that the apocalypse even happened and the Lovecraftian horror of The Dunwich Building. Fallout 3 was more  like playing through a short story anthology than a novel and was all the better for it. I have high hopes for Fallout: New Vegas, a quasi spinoff/sequel developed by Obsidian, which still retains some employees old enough to have worked on the best novel-as-videogame ever made, Planescape Torment.  Here’s to hoping.

The Wilderness Downtown

31 Aug

I love music videos, and I’m always looking for clips with a new twist on the format. This is  the most novel I’ve seen in a long time. It’s set to a new Arcade Fire song and it uses some fancy html coding and google maps to include your childhood home as part of the video. Of course, you could pick any address you like and have it use The MCG or a hole in the ground (a nicer hole if you grew up in Moe) but the emotional effect wouldn’t quite be the same.

This is probably the first video clip ever made that would be impossible to show on television, and in that its a unique and exciting piece of film.