Wednesday, 28 January 2009

TV Snark - Demons: Suckers OR Does The Title Refer To The Vampires Or The Viewers?

The fourth episode contains vampires, will this see an improvement in the show's quality?



Okay, the events of the episode in a rather long and protracted nutshell:

Mina is seen visiting a hospital in the early 20th Century where it's revealed that she's a vampire because she has pointy teeth. Then the rest of the episode turns into a poor man's Blade as the audience is treated to a few lame attempts at vampire culture. Here is a list of the radical elements of Demons' vampires:

1. They wear lots of black and red, just like Goths (or Dennis the Menace).

2. They sleep in coffins.
3. They hang around in dark and seedy clubs that play dance music (they didn't go for the metal loving version of vampires as that's probably not mainstream culture enough for ITV).
4. They're not repelled by garlic (that particular lack of weakness has now become a cliche itself).
5. They drink red liquid that's not wine (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) out of wine glasses.
6. They operate a blood bank, just like Blade 2.

The most bizarre element of vampirism in this episode though is their lack of weaknesses. Instead of going for anything traditional the writers decided to come up with something convoluted and, well I hate to use a "no-no word" but it's retarded. Vampires are inkillable (yes, that is a made up word) apart from when they get shot with their own DNA. It's because they're already dead and well, erm, SCIENCE causes them to instantly age and die! Which is fine if you're a centuries old vampire but if you were created yesterday then the forces of good just return you to the land of the living and cure you of vampirism instead... and then kill you. So yeah, the Slayers, sorry, Smiters have to get a piece of DNA off a vampire before they can kill it. The DNA allows the Smiters to make a magic bullet to kill the vampire. Of course.

Instead of having a ghoul servant or a Renfield, the vampires have a dude called Zippy. He has a zip in his neck that you can use to unzip and decapitate him. There is no known use for this ability other than using his head for a bowling bowl in a scene designed to eat up running time.

I also found out that vampires, despite being superfast, strong and inkillable, can be knocked out with a chair. How do Smiters get into trouble fighting these guys? It must be pretty easy to grab DNA samples off them if they can be knocked out by a bit of light violence.

Anyway, the plot sees Mina reunited with a vampire called Quincy. They have a past together and it's apparent that Mina has strong feelings for Quincy. She tries to warn him away from London before Galvin and Luke kill him. It'll be tough to kill him though because vampires are level 12 and have the fearsome level drain ability.

Galvin tells Luke that Mina is a vampire and gives him a copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula to read. Luke asks if he can watch the film instead because he's a member of the idiot elite (or teenagers to use modern vernacular). Ruby ends up reading the book for him even though REEDING IZ OMG REELEE BORRRING! LOLZ! Maybe this is ITV's new method for ensuring it has an audience for the next generation? "Hey kids, don't read a book! Watch quality programming like 'Demons' or 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' or '101 Ways To Eat A Hobo' or 'How Big Is Your Arse?'"

Ruby generally annoys everyone as usual but does useful things like obtaining a sample of vampire DNA and reading a book summary on Wikipedia. Unfortunately no one punches her in the face.

Mina is revealed to be Quincy's mother (not that surprising considering that Quincy was the name of the American character who was killed at the end of the original novel). She can control her vampiric urges through blood transfusion or something, it's not entirely clear but it is SCIENCE! Mina survived the events of the Dracula novel and had a son, Quincy. Quincy fought in a war (I presume World War One given the end of the 19th Century setting of the novel) and was badly injured. Mina, in a misguided effort, gave him some of her blood to heal him which turned him into a kill happy vampire.

Mina dithers about killing her murderous son but eventually decides to drink some blood and become a full vampire again so she can have a brief fight with Quincy. The fight is badly choreographed as usual and Mina doesn't defeat him. Luke turns up and shoots Quincy dead. Which was a tad anti-climactic.

For some reason Mina isn't blind when she's a vampire. This isn't explained. It's pointed out by Ruby but it isn't explained at all. Also why does Mina have psychic powers (other than the obvious plot convenience so the writers don't have to bother putting any detective work into the show)? Mina isn't an interesting character, she's a collection of attributes that don't mesh and make little sense. So far we've discovered that she's a (big breath) blind-psychic-half-vampire-original-character-from-the-book-concert-pianist-librarian. It wouldn't surprise me if she were also a werewolf or a ninja or a ninja-werewolf.

Next Episode - Luke gets a dragon for a girlfriend?

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

TV Snark - Demons: Saving Grace OR There's A Bomb But Everyone's Too Busy Moaning To Defuse It

Demons' third episode was an endurance test, as it pushed me to my limits. This episode became a battle of wills between me and this insult to television. Who would look away first?

Also before I begin I really have to moan about ITV's Catch Up player, it is absolute crap. It gave up on the episode ten minutes in and I had to close the window and load the page from scratch. Come on ITV, swallow your pride and give some money to the BBC so you can use the iPlayer tech. Watching Demons is hard enough as it is without having to fight with the tiny, crappy video with lousy audio.

Anyway, this week Galvin gets all vengeance filled when an old enemy arrives in town. Mr. Tibbs is a rat-demon-dude-thing or half-life if you want to use the show's terminology, I think mine is snappier. Galvin rushes off to confront the rat man and almost gets beaten up by the hyena-hoody-things but manages to rescue a girl called Grace from Mr. Tibbs' clutches. But oh no! She's actually a mole planted by Tibbs to gain access to the Stacks so he can blow it up. Meanwhile Ruby moans a lot about being useless (she's totally NOT a female Xander or anything) but finds out she can be useful by saving everyone from death. Mr Tibbs escapes so that Demons has at least one recurring villain, or "Large Evil" as the show will probably call him in that totally-not-a-Buffy-rip-off way that it has.

Below are some of my snarky thoughts that I jotted down while enduring the episode.

There's crap fight choreography at the start as Luke fights the hoodies (who are called the Noisy Boys - really? Was that the best name they could come up with?) and they just dance around a bit whilst he waves his arms at them in an exaggerated and slow manner. I take back everything I've ever said about Merlin and Robin Hood's fight scenes, none of them were ever as bad as the so called combat in this show. This is what happens when you save money in the budget by not hiring a fight choreographer.

At the end of the fight Galvin fails to quote Arnie when the last remaining mook shrieks about being let go. Come on Galvin you're supposed to say "I lied" and then kill him.

When Galvin visits the evil villain hideout there's quite a bit of dramatic slo-mo, is this a tribute to Garth Marenghi's attempts to extend the running time of his episodes of Darkplace?

When Galvin frees Grace from her comedy size bird cage, how does the magic demon (sorry, half-life) killing gun blow up a lock? Isn't it designed only to kill monsters and give a nasty bruise to anyone normal. Maybe it was a demonic lock - oooooooooooo! Spooky.

Why doesn't Mina's limo driver ever speak? Shouldn't he at least make alarmed noises when a bunch of demon hoodies are trying to tear the doors off his car? Maybe he's a zombie driver. Man, I've had two great ideas for a Demons episode already, a zombie limo driver and a demonic padlock. What an episode that would make.

Galvin gripes throughout the episode about his dead wife that we've never met. Oh boo hoo hoo. There isn't even an 80s montage flashback of Galvin and Mrs. Galvin frolicking together before she died; way to give us some emotional link to Galvin's hatred for Mr. Tibbs, stupid show!

Galvin's a Smiter? Definitely not a Slayer or a Watcher then. This show reminds me of one of those cheap knock-off, made of lead toys from Asia that eventually poison and kill you.

Mina gets smashed in the face with a bookend by Grace and there's not a mark on her. I know this is an early evening Saturday show but come on, they could at least have shown a bit of a bruise or a small trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth like in a martial arts movie.

Mr. Tibbs invades the Stacks and plants a bomb with a dramatically long timer on it. There's no need for this as he seems to travel across London in about 10 minutes in order to capture and gloat at Luke and Galvin. He also shoots Grace because her character didn't have anything to do after opening the Stacks for him. I guess Mr. Tibbs didn't need an interesting sidekick to explain his evil plans to in later episodes.

Ruby threatens to leave the show but doesn't. Boooooo.

So there's a bomb about to kill Mina and destroy the Stacks and the show decides to cut to a long and boring heart to heart chat between Ruby and Luke's Mum. Nice way to kill the tension. I don't remember 24 ever showing a bomb timer and then cutting to Chloe eating a 12" sub.

Not satisfied with the chat, Ruby wanders around the sewers talking to herself. Shut up, shut up, shut up! There's so much padding in this show, it belongs on the shoulders of a Joan Collins' 80's power suit.

Ruby keeps talking to herself while she defuses the bomb by using a bomb disposal book. Sheesh.

Luke and Galvin get trapped in a cliched water trap. The water in the chamber rises rapidly, apart from when Galvin and Luke have a heart to heart because then it magically stops so water doesn't get in their mouths and reduces the conversation to a series of complex gargles. That's convenient.

Ruby then proves herself by saving Galvin and Luke (well, technically she cheated when she saved Luke and Galvin because Mina did all the hard work with her psychic powers). Ruby is the anti-Xander, female and incredibly irritating.

Mr. Tibbs escapes probably to return in one of the three remaining episodes. Or in a spare moment when he's not making another pirate movie. I can't wait.

Next Episode - Vampires! Mina is the Mina from Bram Stoker's book. Shock.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

TV Snark - Demons: The Whole Enchilada OR The Holy Hand Grenade!

Demons is still going, will episode two improve on the woeful first instalment?

No. Well, slightly but that's mainly due to Richard Wilson's appearance as a grumpier version of Gaius Meldrew. His old wise man routine is used again as he's an undead erm, priest zombie guy from the Middle Ages who dispenses magical wisdom and owns a complete set of magic items from the Adventurer's Vault. The only difference to his character in Merlin is that he's less sociable and he's some kind of ill defined zombie person.

Anyway, the plot of this episode involves an angel that steals children. That's about it. Oh, and Luke has a driving test. As for the rest of the episode, here are a few thoughts I jotted down.

- The low budget version of the Matrix training sequence. In the course of an episode, Luke now knows kung-fu at a mystical, wire fighting level. Excuse me show, but could you stop for a second and explain WHY Luke is a superhuman fighting machine?

- The Stacks is supposed to be a library, how come the team have to rummage through a box of old scrap papers to find information on a demon? They had a name, surely the place should at least be alphabetised. That's what happens when you have a blind librarian I suppose.

- The accent, the terrible, teribble accent. All too horrible to contemplate. It's Alabama via Salford.

- There's an 'hilarious' driving test sequence that makes little to no sense. The holy hand grenade is used to attract the demon but all it seems to do is appear as a little girl, make a half-assed attempt at taking the grenade and then buggers off for the rest of the test. It seems like there was half an idea for that scene but no real point to it other than cause Luke to fail his driving test. Woo, that's high drama right there.

- Ruby's brother's (Jamie) birthday wish is to hang out in Luke's flat while he's out? That kid has the lowest demands for a child ever. Surely he should be demanding a party at Pizza Hut and a go on the ice cream machine at the very least?

- Naff action sequence alert! Rupert (after summoning the demon/angel) jumps into the ring of fire, shoots at the angel and then seems to just... fall over. I think he was supposed to have burned his arm but it just looked like he had a fall. That's pretty bad action choreography.

- Luke gets in on the crappy attempt at Ye Olde Dialogue with this effort, "Turn and face me or I will most surely smite thee." No. Stop it. And the sword fight that followed it was short and very poorly executed. Even Merlin had fight sequences that were more dynamic than that.

- What was the demon's plan?

1. Steal some kids.
2. Chain them up.
3. ?
4. Profit.

It made no sense. The demon just seemed to exist to be killed like an end of level boss in a console game.

- Back to Luke's flat for jelly and ice cream! Yay! There was no Snarf to make a joke though, just Luke's mum moaning that he's not telling her about his secret double life.

Next episode - Attack of the Hyena Hoodies. And Mr. Tibb. Yes, really.

Monday, 12 January 2009

DVD Review - Dead Set

Dead Set was a show created by Charlie Brooker for E4 and first broadcast over the week leading up to Halloween in 2008. The show was recently repeated on Channel 4 to coincide with the latest edition of Celebrity Big Brother so I thought now would be a good time to take another look at it and review the DVD.

Charlie Brooker is famous for being a curmudgeonly TV critic. Charlie has a show called ‘Screenwipe’ on BBC Four which is used as a platform for his insults and the occasional praise of current television. He also uses the show to educate his audience about elements of television, such as reality TV show construction, advertising, and moral outrages/TV crusades. Anyway, this review isn’t about Screenwipe (which is an excellent show) but rather this is to give you some background on the writer of Dead Set and the expectations of certain members of the audience. You see, Charlie is a TV critic and now he’s become an object of criticism by writing a TV show. Many of his fans expected Dead Set to be satirical and rich with Charlie’s misanthropic views on life and his gift for foul language. Did they get what they wanted? Well, yes and no.

Dead Set focuses on the cast and crew of a production of Big Brother and their efforts to survive a zombie apocalypse. The opening episode opens innocently enough with the production crew focusing on broadcasting a live eviction night episode of the show and the Big Brother housemates argue about eggs. The first episode introduces the threat of the zombies gradually, first via background hints and images, then suggestions of zombie attacks, before finally unleashing them on the protagonists. The Big Brother house soon becomes the only safe haven in the country…

What’s surprising to me as a viewer is that Brooker managed to create a show that wasn’t an outright snark fest or unsubtle satire. Brooker created a zombie film first and foremost. This is clearly the work of a fan of the zombie genre, from the dialogue tributes to other films (“She’s got a face like a Manchester morgue.”) to the familiar construction of the narrative. The zombie story itself is not groundbreaking, there are no twists on the zombie menace, no new theories on their origins or scenes that you haven’t really seen in other zombie films (well, apart from someone creating zombie ‘food’ or ‘chum’). What’s impressive about Dead Set is that Brooker has managed to create a drama that is compelling despite containing largely unlikeable but naturalistic characters. Jamie is the protagonist but although she’s bright and capable, she’s cheating on her devoted boyfriend Riq. The housemates conform to certain Big Brother contestant stereotypes, The Chav Couple, The Flamboyant Gay One, The Streetwise Kid, The Nice But Dim One, The Old Intellectual, and The Gobby One. The stereotypes are convenient narrative shorthand to create a believable Big Brother cast and an appropriately hostile atmosphere. Charlie saves his best dialogue for Patrick the producer (played with gusto by an excellent Andy Nyman) who spends his time insulting everyone within earshot and defecating into a bin. Patrick is an exaggerated character and he’s used to deliver Brooker’s patented tirades and insults to great effect, his rant about reality TV contestants in the penultimate episode is pure Brooker.

The show is shot well; director Yann Demange does a fantastic job of making the best of limited resources. The director has washed out the colour of the film giving it a naturalistic but bleak look and there’s frequent use of hand cameras during action sequences but without the frequent and choppy editing in modern cinema. It’s clear that some scenes suffered due to lack of budget, a car breaks down spontaneously rather than suffering a crash, and there’s a dialogue reference to the engine being covered in skin and blood despite no outward damage to the vehicle. The location shooting is obviously limited to the Big Brother studios and immediate surroundings and there are no ‘money’ shots of deserted city streets or scenes of zombies roaming vast urban areas. Despite these limitations the apocalypse is conveyed through background images, static TV screens and deserted outdoor locations.

The DVD contains a lot of short extras that don’t outstay their welcome. There are interviews with cast, crew, Big Brother host Davina, and Brooker himself. The interviews are all entertaining and never dull, Davina relishes her part in the show and Brooker explains his inspirations for the show. There’s a tour of the Big Brother house that was specially created for the show and there are some fun sequences involving the special effects guys and their gore effects. There are also a few deleted scenes that were originally cut for time.

I have one gripe about the DVD though, the episodes aren’t cut together as one long movie. Although Dead Set was transmitted as 5 separate episodes, it was later broadcast as an omnibus edition. It’s tiring to have to skip the ‘Previously on Dead Set’ recaps before each episode when you’ve selected ‘Play All’. As there are no end credits until the final episode, surely they could’ve cut the end title and the recaps from each episode for the ‘Play All’ feature? Still, it’s a petty gripe but one that annoyed me.

In conclusion, Dead Set is a fine addition to the zombie genre. It’s an entertaining series that captures the dark humour and spirit of Romero whilst using the modern, running zombies of 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

What's Robin Hood Without Robin Hood? *Spoilers*

There are some spoilers over here about season three of Robin Hood. I'm going to talk about them in the next paragraph so if, for some reason, you don't want Robin Hood season three spoiled then consider yourself warned.

Obviously this is one of my favourite shows to recap but is it going to be worth recapping if the main character doesn't bother to turn up? Actually, that would probably make it even more worthy of snark... The absence of the main character in season four will surely be the deathknell for the show. The 80s ITV show, Robin of Sherwood, managed to replace Robin but that led to Jason Connery. No one should have to endure another Jason Connery. If the rumours are correct and Richard Armitage leaves too, then not only have we lost the best Sean Bean impression from our screens but the show loses Guy of Gisburne. I also read a rumour a few months ago that Keith Allen was going to be leaving at the end of season three too. I've enjoyed Keith's pantomime performance as the Sheriff as he seemed to be the only actor that looked at the script and thought, "This is quite clearly crap. Sod it, I'm going to have a laugh with this and ham it up!"

So, we'll have a show called Robin Hood that won't feature Robin Hood, Guy of Gisburne, Maid Marian, or the Sheriff. They may as well rename it Generic Medieval Fantasy Adventure Show (and I believe that was the working title for Merlin until they decided to use the Merlin brand name *shudder*). At what point do the BBC decide to pretend that the first three seasons didn't happen and start again from scratch? If you remove the four main characters from the Robin Hood legend, you haven't really got much of a story, or at least not a Robin Hood story and that's kind of the point of a show titled Robin Hood.

Of course the other option is that the show just merely recasts everyone and give the viewers new actors in the iconic roles. This is always jarring for any show that's not Doctor Who but it could be a way of relaunching the show and jettisoning some of the baggage. The problem would be that the actors would still be inhabiting a series that has always been hamstrung by poor writing, costume and those Hungarian extras that don't react to anything.

Despite the article mentioning the appointment of a showrunner, I would be very surprised if Robin Hood was commissioned for a fourth season if it lost half its cast. A new start would probably be for the best, perhaps a couple of years hiatus whilst all the parts are recast and the filming relocated and the sets rebuilt? Obviously this would be an expensive option in these times of financial apocalypse. Plus, we may not even be watching TV in a couple of years, we'll probably be forming tribes and fighting each other over supplies of Sunny D and Extra Value beans in the burning ruins of Tesco.

Before the apocalypse occurs we will have season three and that should at least threaten to be interesting towards the end as we all wait for the farewell/death scenes of certain characters...

Monday, 5 January 2009

TV Snark - Demons: They Bite OR No, Actually They Suck

Demons is ITV's second attempt (Primeval being the first) at getting a piece of the BBC dominated, Saturday tea-time, pie. Our protagonist is Luke, last of the Van Helsings and heir to the supernatural creature slaying business. As you can no doubt guess, he spends the first episode finding out about his powers and moaning about destiny before realising that killing monsters is way more interesting than boring old college. So, plot aside, is it any good?


Okay, see ya bye!

Oh, alright, I'll tell you why. First of all the opening episode contains actors that should make the show tolerable; Phil Glenister, Zoe Tapper, and Mackenzie Crook. Unfortunately Glenister spends his time mumbling his dialogue through an awful American accent. This is a shame as his character is essentially Gene Hunt Monster Hunter which you would think equal ratings gold as it combines two of the most awesome things in the universe into one grumpy, middle-aged package. Alas, his accent is crap and so is his dialogue.

Tapper plays a blind Mina Harker, not the original Mina (I think) but a descendant of Jonathan Harker from the original Dracula story. She's a blind psychic that maintains a library full of monster killing knowledge and equipment so she's basically a combination of Willow and Giles from Buffy. Again, you would think that would be pretty awesome too. It's not.

As for Mackenzie Crook... he plays a teddy boy with a beak. Look out! He's an evil cockatiel!

And finally the Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh is in it.

He seems to have lost his Solo Polo Vision though.

What are the crimes committed by this show? Let me count the ways...

1. The theme tune is inappropriate. It's a jolly little tune that doesn't suggest supernatural menace, action, or well, anything resembling an interesting genre show.
2. When one of the characters, Ruby, is kidnapped by the baddies they play The Kaiser Chiefs song, "Ruby". That's TV crime right there.
3. Despite the fact that the show is called "Demons" they never call the monsters in it demons. No, they're "entities" or "half-lives". It's a bit late to be avoiding the D-word when it's the title of your show!
4. Phil Glenister's American accent and the lines he's forced to say are terrible. "Denial is not an option." and "Put the gun down or forever know my wrath, ya freak!" were my favourites.
5. The evil version of Dobby the elf that was created using CGI that would've been unconvincing ten years ago.
6. The bad guy's name is Gladiolus Thrip. Seriously. It sounds like a virulent weed.
7. The monster hunters give all of the monsters a level so it sounds like a poor game of Dungeons and Dragons. "He's a type 12 which means he's got three attacks per round and a THAC0 of 5!"
8. As I have better things to do on a Saturday night, I watched this on ITV's catch up service. It's pretty poor in comparison to iPlayer, especially as it forces you to watch adverts. That's not the fault of Demons but I'm in a bad mood so it goes against it anyway. In fact the player was so poor that it kept breaking whenever I paused and went back to take screen grabs.
9. Gladiolus Thrip's special power was halitosis that was so strong it could knock a man over. Fearsome.
10. The guy who plays Luke (Christian Cooke) was forced to parade around semi naked twice within the first ten minutes of the show. Got to keep the fan girls watching I guess. Or is it to balance out the Hannah Spearritt pant dancing from the first season of Primeval?

Demons is pretty awful and I won't be giving it the full recap treatment. What I will do though is present a few observations on each episodes to keep you all entertained.

Next week - Gaius Meldrew appears on the wrong show!

Matt Smith Is The Doctor!