Friday Night Lights

March 22nd, 2007

ITV4 have been showing Friday Night Lights for a few weeks now, and it's really grown on me. The show's portrait of life in a high school football-obsessed Texan town is much more than a straight high school drama, with plenty of attention paid to the newly appointed coach of the team, his family, his relationship with the team's interfering sponsors and, above all else, the way the town as a whole lives for Friday night's matches. If the team loses on Friday, the coach finds himself running into people on the street who politely (more or less) suggest that he up sticks and leave town before he destroys their season, the team's quarterback catches abuse from passing motorists, and the local sports radio programme spends the week speculating over the coach's team selections, tactics and so on.

The intensity of the town's interest in high school football seems very strange to a British viewer, but the programme sells the premise so well that I don't stop to think about how odd it is for an entire town to stop to applaud their team as their bus takes them to an away game. Whilst each week's show does revolve around that week's game I don't think you need to know a great deal about American Football to understand what's happening.1 As the series progresses we're starting to get to know the students better and all sorts of interesting subplots and character arcs are starting to open up; the show is starting to develop into something really special, quite possibly the best high school-based drama since My So-Called Life. According to Heather Havrilesky's recent story on the show in Salon2 there's some prospect that the show might not be renewed. That would be a real shame.

1 I used to follow American Football during the Channel 4 years, so it's hard for me to say for sure how a complete novice would fare. That said, I reckon the writers give viewers enough context for the relatively brief game sequences to permit any reasonably attentive viewer to figure out where the game stands and what the stakes are for the coach and team at any given point.

2 NB: non-subscribers will be required to view an advert before gaining access to the article

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"Why would Howdy Doody be sending people mail bombs?"

January 24th, 2005

Saturday afternoon's episode of Monk was, once again, enormous fun. As I've only caught on to the show early in season 2, I'm going to have to think hard about whether to fork out for the DVD of the first season. I've got to see what I've been missing, and I doubt that BBC2 will be repeating the first season any time soon.

One show I'll definitely be buying on DVD just as soon as I can scrape the pennies together is Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, which is due for release in Region 2 in just three weeks' time. I've heard nothing about the prospects of an outing for the two-parter on BBC2, but this post at but she's a girl…. reminded me that the show's proper finale had finally shown up in the UK, so a DVD release was bound to follow before long. Roll on February 14th.

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Team America: World Police

January 19th, 2005

It's hard to describe Team America: World Police in a word. There's no denying that some individual scenes are really, really funny. When Trey Parker and Matt Stone's script piles one action movie cliche upon another, then throws some gross-out humour on top just for fun, the effect can be hilarious: the puppet sex scene which got so much attention prior to the film's release is every bit as daft as it sounds, but the most cringeworthy puking scene since Mr Creosote's is another thoroughly memorable moment.

The trouble is, the gross-out moments are almost all the film has going for it. Some of this is because the script and the soundtrack expend a lot of effort parodying elements of post-9/11 popular culture – godawful ultrapatriotic country songs, left-wing celebrities espousing naive, simplistic anti-war views, ludicrously unbalanced news bulletins – which don't quite work for non-American audiences. Some of it is just because the whole thing comes off as utterly juvenile. If the pop cultural references had resonated more strongly then this might have been as much fun as South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, but as it was the results were too hit-and-miss for this to be worth another look.

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The Great Sperm Race

January 18th, 2005

No doubt within twelve months Endemol will be putting on a UK version of their latest bright idea.

Celebrity Sperm Race anyone?

[Via Mark Wants a Porsche]

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Fact to fiction

January 17th, 2005

The New York Times has a report by Sharon Waxman about the first attempts by US TV writers and producers to use the Iraq conflict into source material for a TV series.

As you'd expect, everyone involved takes great pains to emphasise that their number one concern is to tell the story of life for the people over there (at any rate, the Americans) rather than engaging with wider political issues, so it doesn't look as if anyone's aiming to produce the Iraq War's version of M*A*S*H any time soon. (Admittedly, one of the current projects is a sitcoms set at a US-funded Arabic language TV station in Baghdad's Green Zone. But I'd think that as long as active hostilities continue there's very little chance that a sitcom set in Iraq will make it to air.) The most promising project discussed looks to be Over There, which is being written and co-produced by Stephen Bochco.

Though the show does not yet have an official green light (and won't until FX sees the pilot), Mr. Landgraf said he was confident that it would make it to the schedule by summer. FX is known for tough, male-oriented shows like "The Shield" and "Nip/Tuck," and Mr. Bochco says he was attracted to the idea of writing for cable at a time when broadcast television seems risk-averse. […]

He and Mr. Gerolmo did not seek the Army's cooperation because they did not want to submit scripts for approval. Instead they have hired Sean Bunch, a former marine and an Iraq war veteran, as a consultant, and are privately renting tanks, C-130 transport planes and all manner of military props.

I wonder if any British producers are putting together similar shows. Would the markedly less pro-war attitude of the general public in the UK make them more receptive to stories which paint a bleak picture of life in 'free' Iraq, or would the imperative to "support the troops" trump all other considerations? I'd love to be proved wrong, but I suspect the latter.

[Via Fimoculous]

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Bad news

January 16th, 2005

It was bad enough that Bryan Singer dropped out of the third X-Men film. Now that I've read an excerpt from an interview with Simon Kinberg, the new writer for the film, I'm really, really worried:

Q: Who – or what – would you say has had the biggest influence on your career?

A: Who: Akiva Goldsman. He took me under his wing, and taught me not only how to write, but how to be a writer, how to survive in a system that doesn't value writing. […]

So Akiva "Batman & Robin/Lost in Space" Goldsman taught Kinberg how to write? Oh boy…

On checking the IMDB, I see that Kinberg has also written the forthcoming Fantastic Four film, and that Goldsman is producing Constantine. I reckon between them these two men could pretty much kill off the trend for big screen comic book adaptations.

I think Mark Steese, whose Usenet post pointed me in the direction of that interview, pretty much summed it up:

Now it makes sense! Always two there are…

[Via Mark Steese, posting to rec.arts.movies.current-films]

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Kraftwerk calculator

January 16th, 2005

It turns out that the U2 iPod wasn't half as groundbreaking as I'd thought. Way back in 1981, Casio brought out the Kraftwerk Pocket Calculator, complete with a songsheet so you could program it to play your favourite Kraftwerk tracks.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Darwin Awards: The Movie

January 15th, 2005

Yes, you read that right. A film called Darwin Awards is in production.

Next up, the big-screen adaptation of the Bulwer-Lytton Award.

[Via feeling listless]

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"Germs, needles, milk, death, snakes, mushrooms, heights, crowds, elevators."

January 8th, 2005

A few weeks before Xmas I happened to catch BBC2's Saturday afternoon schedule. Lately they've been filling the afternoon with runs of various detective series. Some, like the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes adaptations, are familiar – classics, even. (Can I just note that I'm horrified, having looked up Brett's series on the IMDB, to discover that it debuted more than 20 years ago. I suddenly feel very old…)

Anyway, this post isn't about the Holmes adaptations, fine as they are. It's about a show which I'd heard of but not seen before, not least because I don't think BBC2 ever tried it in an evening timeslot. Monk is as enjoyable an hour's TV as I've seen in quite a while. Tony Shalhoub's magnificently eccentric detective is clearly the heart of the story, but the supporting cast – especially Ted Levine as Monk's captain and Bitty Schramm as Monk's assistant/nurse – do good work, and the stories are great fun. It looks as if everyone involved is having a ball, which always helps.

As it happens, the detective show which followed Monk in this afternoon's BBC2 schedule was also worth watching. I've never read any of Rex Stout's stories, but by all accounts the A Nero Wolfe Mystery series is a worthy adaptation. As with Monk, you have a sense that the likes of Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton are having a ball with the material. I'm definitely going to have to go and hunt down the source material now. And to set my VCR if I'm not around on a Saturday afternoon.

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House of Flying Daggers

January 6th, 2005

I was looking forward to House of Flying Daggers quite a bit: after greatly enjoying Hero late last year I was relieved that Zhang Yimou's follow-up had avoided a similarly delayed UK release. For all my anticipation, I have to confess that I was a little disappointed in House of Flying Daggers. It's by no means a bad film, and to be honest I'm having problems putting my finger on the reason I felt it to be a letdown. Somehow House of Flying Daggers just didn't grab me in the way the earlier film did, so it felt over-long in places, to the point where I found myself checking the time once or twice towards the end during a certain ludicrously prolonged death scene; if you thought Trinity's death in The Matrix Revolutions took too long then you'll hate this one.

Which is not to say that there weren't some lovely moments – my favourite being a scene involving a running battle in the bamboo forest which would have looked right at home in Hero – and I have to admit that the performances of the three leads were just fine. It's just that somehow the spectacle and the melodramatic plot didn't quite do it for me this time round. I realise that I'm in a minority on this. Perhaps I just wasn't in the right mood or something.

Alternatively, allow me to completely blow whatever credibility I may have as a cineaste and martial arts connoisseur by noting that I had much more fun this evening watching John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China for the umpteenth time on TV than I did watching House of Flying Daggers last night. There, I've said it. And soon Google and the Internet Archive will pick that comment up and the evidence of my lack of taste will be preserved forever. How's that for an epitaph?

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