Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Few Words: Jamie's Dream School

Jamie's Dream School is a show in that particular genre of reality show that tries to pretend it has any profound influence on the rest of the world. Lamenting on "Broken Britain" stereotypes, the show often seems a little pretentious, trying to educate children who have failed their GCSEs. A School-dropout himself, Jamie has enlisted celebrities to teach his brood.
     The two major drawing forces of the show are the teachers and the pupils. The teachers often show their own incompetance as they're faced with the unexpected ignorance of their audience; one in particular was reknown historian David Starkey, whose first lesson consisted of a slanging match with a pupil. The biggest hit was Scientist Lord Robert Winston, whose practical science lessons (including looking at sperm samples - provided by the classes' boys) helped to stimulate the kids.
     The pupils themselves are chilling charicatures of modern Britain, students chosen that were just ignorant enough to be annoying, and yet just cockey enough to pick out the teachers' flaws. They draw real parallels with my own education, frighteningly, while being covered up by the series editting to look either better or worse (it changes depending upon the edittor's mood, it seems.)
     Jamie's Dream School has a lot of interesting ideas, but like its contemporary Waterloo Road it turns more into a "spot the flaw" game every week. A nice try, Jamie, but this show is entertaining for all of the wrong reasons.

Thanks.

Return and Review: Lost 4.8: Meet Kevin Johnson

Michael ponders whether to activate his "bomb".
I'm back! As promised, I've come back from my hiatus with the next episode of Lost. I'm not going to get into exactly why I was gone (mainly because it's not very interesting), so let's get on with the show! I'm not going to start with one of those disclaimers anymore; if you want to know more about the show in more detail, look at some of my previous reviews.
     Michael, this episode's focus, was a character long gone by the time I started to watch the show. Suffice to say he wasn't a "fan favourite," with his irritating mannerisms, similar to Abby Grant's sole motivation, annoyed viewers for two seasons. At heart the character was something that quite a few of the viewers should have been able to empathise with: a father concerned for the welfare of his son. If anything, Michael was brought down by execution rather than writing.
     Meet Kevin Johnson is a new start for a character once reviled for his idiosyncracies, and in that respect it's an interesting turning point for the character. Suspending this season's flashforward device for yet another week, the episodes' subplot time is instead used for one large flashback straddling the middle of the episode. One of the things I really like about this Season is that it isn't afraid to juggle its format to make things more interesting; that really worked with the preceding episode, Ji Yeon, and especially for The Constant. By contrast, its use here feels forced and contrived, as if the writers couldn't find any other way to fit in their explanation of what this character has been doing for the past month or so.
Michael meets Kevin Johnson.
     In spite of this, the flashback itself is quite a good one. Michael, guilty for telling his young son about his two murders and having to make him live with said information, has been trying to kill himself. After finding himself unable, he is stopped in an alley by Other Tom Friendly, who tells him that "the Island isn't ready yet" and that he still has work to do. Said work is what leads him to the freighter; he has apparently been assigned by Ben to board the ship, now revealed to be owned by series-baddie Charles Widmore, and blow it up. After some early jitters, an encounter with the violent Martin Keamy and his gun-toting team makes him try to use the device. A phone call from Ben, hiding on the island, reveals that Michael's job is rather to sabotage the ship, and there are good people on it.
     This expositional flashback is neatly bookended by events in the present. The flashback is triggered when an astonished Desmond and Sayid quiz Michael on what the hell he's doing there, and afterwards they turn him over to the captain. The Island storyline leads neatly into next episode at the freighter gunmen get closer to Ben, kidnapping his adopted daughter Alex. It's a little odd, even for Lost, that all of the episode's events surround the central character in some way or another, directly or indirectly. I suppose it was an attempt by the writing staff to put more emphasis on his new character; one that instead makes his return feel underwhelming.
Sayid forces Michael to confess.
     The episode's main purpose was as a transitional and expositional aid, and it succeeds in both areas as well as keeping Lost's known emotional force pulsing throughout. In the Season as a whole it really doesn't feel as if it fits as neatly as I would like, but that's surely to be expected when the episode is trying to clean up a mess left from events two years prior. Job well done, then.

Thanks.
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I'm going to be giving Being Human Series One and Two a break, as well as Ashes to Ashes. I'll continue with Lost (it's getting good now!) and I'm considering beginning reviewing every episode of Jeeves and Wooster.

Thanks.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Review: Becoming Human (Omnibus)

Adam, Matt and Christa
The backdoor pilot to this online drama was thrown into the plot of Being Human 3.2 ("Adam's Family"), noticably one of the worst episodes of the series. However, the brief episodes, published on the Becoming Human blog, actually served as a more creative outlet for the writer's talents, managing to compress in a lot more drama and humour tan in the parent show.
     Adam (Craig Roberts), having arrived from "Adam's Family", is a bit more mature but still stuck with his teenage eighties mindset. There he meets reluctant werewolf Christa (Leila Mimmack) who's being stalked by ghost Matt (Josh Brown). Concerned, Adam tries to find out the cause of Matt's death. When Matt simply uses the two to pick on his old bullies, they focus on what he can remember of his death, and face mafia-daughter Brandey Crompton, who Matt was perving on in the changing rooms. After that goes down like a lead balloon, Matt reveals to Christa that he fell in love with her before he died.
Matt confesses all.
     Now suspicious of P.E. teacher Mr. Swan, the group check the CCTV camera but find all records missing. They hide out in the gym at night, planning to use Christa's enhanced sense of smell brought on by the Full Moon. She transforms inside a sports closet, and ends up trapped inside. When Adam lets her out in the morning, they discover Matt's corpse locked away. After being confronted by the teacher, they realise that detention teacher Mr. Roe was behind the whole thing, killing him in a fit of rage after having his car keyed and a career of irritating children. Matt begs Adam to spare Mr. Roe, and his door appears, but before he can pass over he is forced to send Mr. Roe through instead.
   For a teen drama, the acting is surprisingly sound; despite his experience, Craig Roberts is pretty much on-par with the rest of the trio, especially Josh’s moody and comic acting. Elsewhere, the series compliments the main show nicely; for example, it explains the exact reasons for the vampire-werewolf hatred (fear of their strength and envy of their “part-time” status). The plot's episodic format and dilution with badly timed teenage angst serves to muddle up the plot somewhat, but as with the parent series the characters themselves are enjoyable to watch in said environment.
     I would have, at least, wanted a better and more satisfying conclusion to the series than what eventually arrived, but all in all Becoming Human was a lot better than most would have expected - a more quirky take on the Being Human universe with a lot more humour. It's as if Being Human has moved so far away from its original student demographic that something like this was necessary to bring its universe back in line.
     Despite its muddled and hormone-addled plot, Becoming Human was an enjoyable weekly comedy/drama that still stands up in its omnibus format.  

Thanks.
(Next time... Lost 3.8: Meet Kevin Johnson)

Review: Being Human 3.8: The Wolf-Shaped Bullet

Herrick helps Mitchell to escape.
I am firm, now, in my belief that Toby Whithouse's abilities lie more in characterisation than in plot. This finale was running on an emotional high, but the intense, exciting plot offered by the rest of the series failed to materialise. The Wolf-Shaped Bullet's tangled mess of a plot leaves a lot to be desired, and leaves the series in a place where there's little chance of returning.
     As expected, Herrick kills everyone at the police station and then takes Mitchell away to the Werewolf-cage with George in tow, and in an attempt to punish them both he tells George about Nina's fate so that he starts trying to kill Mitchell. A vengeful Tom MacNair turns up and the distraction allows Mitchell to escape with Herrick. Nina, meanwhile, survives in hospital as Annie takes a trip to Purgatory and visits Lia. After Lia tries to explain her murderous motives, Annie brings her down a peg and gets her to end her rampage; it turns out that there never was a "prophecy," and that Mitchell's been running on his own paranoia.
Lia brings Annie back to Purgatory.
     After Herrick tries to escape with Mitchell to South America, Mitchell stakes him once and for all, walking back to the house where the other three are waiting. Edgar Wyndam (Lee Ingleby, who played Sam's father in Life On Mars) clears up the beurocracy and then visits the house, where Mitchell has begged George to stake him. Edgar is a vampire lord who wants to keep the four as his pets; Nina's baby is the first of its kind, Annie is possibly the most powerful ghost ever, and he wants Mitchell as his personal attack dog. Rather than make him kill again, George stabs Mitchell and he dies. 
     It's interesting to note that the series' "prophecy" and the related paraphinalia have all been the machinations of Lia's own personal vendetta. It puts a better and more familiar face on Mitchell's personality - ruthless, fickle and determined to survive no matter the odds. It was ripe, then, for Mitchell to go. The series' unpredictability means that there was some excellent tension during that final scene, and it wasn't obvious which way it would go. 
     The question, then, is whether the strong emotive presence in the episode makes up for the cop-out nature of its plot. And the answer to that, for the most part, is yes - the emotional content of the episode acts as its backbone and without that powerful context most of the episode wouldn't work properly. It was just a shame that the resolution to this series-long plot fell into such a shambles on paper.
     The Wolf-Shaped Bullet was a fickle episode that while being negatively affected by the imperfect resolutions to last week's cliffhanger still showed us each character's emotional cores and gave us a tear-inducing farewell for Mitchell.


Thanks.
(Next time... Becoming Human).

Review: Being Human 3.7: Though the Heavens Fall

"Another barbarity? Bloody Southerner."
Series creator Toby Whithouse returns for the final two episodes of this so far tremendous third series, as we march on ever closer to the series finale. Our penultimate tale at times feels a little sluggish, but in its stronger moments manages to catch the tension that the series has built up so excellently this year. It's a bit of a mess; an often jarring mix of comedic asides and stark dramatic tension.
    After the MacNairs decide to stay at the B&B for a while on account of Daddy MacNair's injured leg, Annie gets all investigative and tries to clear Mitchell's name by "inviting" police officer Nancy for a third visit to the house. This doesn't end well; Nancy works out that Mitchell is lying and serupticiously takes a sample of his DNA. When this sample is sent to the labs, Police superior Cooper reveals that it matches with the Box Tunnel 20 and reveals his vampiric nature, but before he can convert Nancy she is saved by a suddenly corporeal Annie, who is obviously feeling betrayed after working out Mitchell's lies. Mitchell is arrested by the police and despite his struggling his picture is taken, blowing his secret into the open.
Cooper tricks Nancy
     Meanwhile upstairs, Herrick was growing ever more deranged, nearly killing Nancy and facing Nina with his fears about Mitchell. When MacNair confronts him about the events which led to his lycanthropic curse - notably, being the survivor in a vampire-run werewolf cage fight - and transforms, Herrick's thirst for blood is ressurected. After massacreing the house, Herrick confronts Nina and seems to spare her, but stabs her at the last second. We're left to wonder whether Nina's and her baby will surive.
     Despite the shambles, we're left with a satisfying and gripping pre-finale scenario, one that's well-acted and written. That said, Annie is given a serious Idiot Ball this week as she doesn't seem to see the consequences of letting someone take a picture of a vampire. It's the writing that's at fault here and not, as I've often said, Lenora Crichlow. Also improved was Sinead Keenan as Nina, who this week I felt put across a much more sympathetic and human character. 
"But... you were kind to me."
     I was a little disappointed with how the MacNairs were put on the back foot for the majority of the episode; there wasn't even any interaction between them and Nancy to join the dots. It's like the revelations in The Pack haven't made any difference; Thomas is still the raised-by-wolves man-child slaving away under his vampire-hating father. It's very rare that Being Human so blatantly ignores character development like this, so I can let it pass, but it's not a good omen for the finale.
     "Though the Heavens Fall" wasn't perfect; it was enjoyable to watch and it set us up quite well for the finale. However, its problems, like MacNair's leg, need seeing to urgently - most notably the odd charactisation issues. I look foward to the finale.
      Notes: Amy Manson's character, Daisy, has been killed off-screen after her Outcasts fiasco, and I love this episode's ironic soundtrack, with songs like, "Hunger Like The Wolf" and "History's Repeating".

Thanks.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Hiatus

A general lack of written will has led to a general sparsity in reviews. I think it's healthy to take a break, and so for the next forthnight I will be on a hiatus. In the meantime I will be able to tot up a few reviews and hopefully get back into the scheme of things; for now, my dual review of Being Human 3.7 and 3.8 will be published on my return on the1st April.

Thanks.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Review: Lost 4.7: Ji Yeon

Note: If you want to understand these reviews, I'd direct you to Lostpedia's Season Four portal. All of the images in my Lost reviews have been taken from Lostpedia, and the plot there goes into greater detail.

Jin and Sun, having the same conversation every year.
Jin and Sun aren't a particularly interesting couple in the long run; the potential is there, of course: a low-level businessman winning the heart of his boss's daughter and transforming as her "betrayels" make him into a better partner and all-round human being. That sounds all well and good on paper, but in practice it often seems like the writers of their episodes follow the same basic pattern and adapt it to fit the context of the season. Luckily, for Ji Yeon the writers have used the format to spice things up a little bit on the sides, as well as giving us a few trips to Sayid and Desmond's progress on the freighter.
     On island, and this is an episode where remarkebly little happens in a very short space of time. Following the pattern with these episodes, Sun upsets Jin. Jin gets upset. Jin forgives Sun and both learn from the experience. It isn't much to ask in a series with as much scope as this one to at least vary the interaction between these two characters - this edition added in a few loose ends from Season Three like Sun's affair (which ultimately has very little effect on the overall story between the two).
     Sayid and Desmond, on the other hand, are getting somewhere on the freighter - they have a meeting with the boat's Captain, who explains that they're supposedly here to find out who planted the false wreckage of 815, who they've been led to believe is Ben Linus (but as we'll later find out, is their employer Charles Widmore).This sublot was the most interesting, merely due to the fact that something significant to the plot happened within it; notably, Ben's spy on the boat was revealed as ex-Survivor Michael who betrayed his friends in Season Two for a boat off the island.
Michael reappears, as "Kevin Johnson"
     Ji Yeon's main area of interest is the flash timeline. For the majority of the episode we are led to believe that we're looking at a flashforward - Sun is in labour, calling out for Jin, while Jin tries to get a present. Jin's side of the storyline provides some mild comic relief but they don't really get interesting until Jin mentions exactly how long he's been married. The mixture of flashback and flashforward feels a little gimmicky and doesn't pay off the theme that had been running through the episode. It turns out Jin is dead in the future, apparently, and Sun's baby is named Ji Yeon because that was his choice. None of this sentiment articularly hits the spot, but it also manages to ruin anything in the present, because we now know that Jin is apparently going to die.
     This episode was an attempt to juggle up the componants of a well-tread formula, but at its heart it remains a stereotypical Jin and Sun episode. I really don't think the couple have any dramatic potential anymore, and quite frankly they won't get anywhere close until the end of the series, when they both die horribly. The episode's sole saving grace was the Freighter storyline, which managed to advance the plot and throw in another bundle of intrigue about the series as a whole.

Thanks.

Review: Being Human 1.1

Mitchell, George and Annie.
When BBC Three revamped itself in 2008 for a more student-focused market, it ran a series of Pilots which were, supposedly, to be made into series. These were low-budget experiments with outlandish synopses; the other series supposedly comissioned from them was Phoo Action, a comic-book inspired tale of a Hong-Kong cop fighting monsters on the streets of London using Karate. In that case, the tale of Being Human sounds almost sober.
      The concept of a house-share between a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost is admittedly one stuffed to the proverbial brim with cheese, and sounds as clichéd and painful as most children's television shows. Head Writer Toby Whithouse, however, knows his stuff, and the series' emotional complexity manages to push past the cliché (most of the time). But, more to the point, how does the first episode of this premier series set-up shop after the pilot?
      Well, there are a few casting changes. Russell Tovey remained as werewolf George, but vampire Mitchell is now played by Aiden Turner and ghostly Annie by Lenora Crichlow. The episode is a "reboot" of the ilot, but tends to just rumble along in places as if trying to set up a status quo. In short; George and Mitchell are visited by vampiress Lauren, whom Mitchell transformed by accident in the pilot, and isn't keen to help seeing as he's trying to stay "clean" of blood. George meanwhile is forced to change in the house as his old transformation spot (as seen, again, in the pilot) is being used by construction workers. We're also introduced to their landlord, Annie's ex-fiance Owen.
George transforms at the full moon.
     Speaking in hindsight, the episode presents us with a much different picture to later on in not only this series but in the series as a whole; it thrives mainly as a comedy with some incedental horror tidbits here and there. The low-budget werewolf transformation actually looks more realistic for all of its slight cheesyness, and Annie's general greyish colour scheme helps to connotate her ghostly presence (not that anything else does; she can apparently pick things up and be seen, making her supernatural presence not all that impressive so far).
     Being Human starts with a fun and well written comedy piece that while not being particularly overwhelming does sow the seeds for a lot of dramatic potential. It's got decent characterisation for its principle cast and is a generally entertaining hour of cheesy supernatural antics.

Thanks.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Josh: No Ordinary Family: Episode Eight (recap) & Nine (review)


Last week was my mother's birthday so I was unable to watch or review episode eight and this is late because I was busy last night. Anyway, here's a recap of eight and a quick review of nine.

1.8 - NO ORDINARY ACCIDENT - Recap
Jim's enemy, a group of carjackers, crash into Mr. Litchfield, JJ's math teacher, and pierces Litchfield's aorta, prompting Stephanie and JJ to operate on him. Meanwhile, Jim starts to lose his powers, and Daphne tries to impress Brett by lying about her speaking Japanese (from Wikipedia).

1.9 - NO ORDINARY ANNIVERSARY - Review
On Jim and Steph's eighteenth wedding anniversary a series of arson attacks on random buildings are being undertaken by another super. George persuades Jim with help from Steph to leave their posh dinner to take on the task on tracking down the criminal. They soon do and in the process discover Jim is fire-retardent as he does battle with the serial arsonist who is finally clobbered by Steph. But, the Watcher breaks the arsonist out of a police van but Jim and Steph stop him by crushing him to death. In punishment in his failure to release the genetically modified arsonist, the Watcher does not receive what seems to be a regular dose of 'powers'. Doctor Francis Chiles, who works at Global Tech and has been spying on Steph for Dr King, sees Dr King dispose of the Watcher's injection fluid.
Elsewhere, as the parents are out JJ in a bid to gain money for a stereo, sets up a poker game against the jocks of school. He starts to win with his super-brain but when the rules change he has to ask Daphne's help to win. But, after Katie and new boyfriend Will (secretly the Watcher) visit and Will blocks Daphne's powers, Jim's anniversary present is broken. So, the siblings venture to their school to fix it giving away their prize money to a dim-witted night guard. The gift is repaired and the parents do not find out.

Another example of just how good No Ordinary Family can get with the write dialogue and action. It seems ABC has saved wisely before splashing out on inch-perfect CGI with the arsonist/Steph warehouse chase scene. This episode was jam-packed with superb high octane action which saw Julie Benz's Steph introduced to Jim's crime-fighting ways. Also, it's good to see the heroes aren't so good and perfect as they finally kill the arsonist. Sadly, the sub-plot concerning the siblings was just another repitive storyline where they used their powers for money or greed. If only the pair were put into a proper plot which was the main one and was much more interesting than what they're constantly put in. However, the return of the heavily featured story arc cheered me up as the mysterious Watcher's story is unveiled and Dr King is slowly turning into the dominating villain.
Thanks, Josh,