Tag Archives: television

You Should be Watching: How to Make it in America

Remember when Entourage was good? This was way, way back. Back before the writers went off on wild story-tangents that no-one cared about and before almost every character became completely unrecognisable, loathsome shells of their former selvesAri Gold as empathetic solver of personal problems? FUCK YOU.

Yeah, good times.

There’s definitely a sense that with their new show, How to Make it in America, HBO is trying to recapture the spirit of the early Entourage. At its core, the show about a couple of schmoes trying to… uh… make it.

In America.

New York, to be precise. And no, they haven’t quite managed to capture the fun, carefree spirit of early Entourage. My wife has yet to watch an entire episode without commenting on how much she hates the main character (“Look at his face! It’s so hateful!”). And it’s true, Bryan Greenberg comes from the school of acting where “emoting” means “look smug whilst simultaneously looking like you’re nonchalantly trying to pass a kidney stone”.

Which all sounds terribly negative, and it probably would be if this is all there was to the show. So thank goodness the show is more of an ensemble piece. People like Eddie Kaye Thomas, Shannyn Sossamon and Martha Plimpton pop up occasionally. HBO regular James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka from The Wire, Corporal Ray Person from Generation Kill) even appears in a blink-and-you-miss-him cameo. But, best of all, it’s got Luis Guzman. I mean this in a completely hetero way: I love Luis Guzman. His dreadful sitcom aside, I think Luis Guzman steals the show whatever he appears in, and, more importantly, he also makes things infinitely more watchable. He’s even one of the best things about Community, and that only has a statue of him. He’s perfect in How to Make it in America, playing a felon released from jail and trying to establish himself as a legitimate businessman (with his energy drink, Rasta Monster). He alone makes the show worth watching.

It’s still early days yet, and I’m not quite sure I know where the show is going, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

### Random notes ###
* Like Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind and the recent Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, this show is basically one giant love-letter to New York. Does any other city in the world get this much love?
* I think this is the closest we’re going to get to an American version of Only Fools and Horses
* The theme song for this show is “I Need a Dollar” by Aloe Blacc, and it’s fucking incredible.

Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar (Official Video) from Stones Throw on Vimeo.


Guardian’s Best TV Drama

Something very strange is going on in the offices of The Guardian.

Before, I thought maybe it was just a temporary blip – that someone had spiked the punch at their Christmas party, and that’s why they voted Team America as the fourth-best film of the noughties. I thought maybe they were just giddy with the excitement of 2009 finally being over – surviving the first decade of the Will-enium – and that’s why they voted Borat as the second-best.

Because it definitely seems as if they sobered up, realised what they’d done and made up for their moments of giddiness by finally doing the right thing and voting There Will Be Blood as the best film of the 2000s.

There’s no excuse for their list of the 50 best TV dramas of all time. A lot of the results are artificially inflated by bullshit sentimentality, or worse.  For example, your teenage boner for Sarah Michelle Gellar does not mean that Buffy the Vampire Slayer had better drama or was a better show than, say, Battlestar Galactica or even Band of Brothers.

But seriously, Mad Men at #4 and The Wire at #14? Did some wires get crossed somewhere? Let’s leave aside the fact that The Wire isn’t the clear winner and focus on Mad Men for now. I’m sure that if she was still around, Vivian Mercier would describe Mad Men as the kind of show where nothing happens, a lot. In fact, so much nothing happened in the second season that I’d be hard pressed to find any one of my friends who managed to watch the entire thing without having to go back and start again. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch Mad Men, and I still enjoy it. I just think it’s a little premature to put it anywhere near the top of a list like this.

As if to acknowledge that their list is completely pants-on-head retarded, the Guardian has launched a TV club to go through some of the shows that didn’t make their list, starting with the terrific Edge of Darkness. It’s a great idea and I hope it goes on for a while.

And maybe when it comes around to 2020, their next list will be better.


Jersey Shore

Are you watching Jersey Shore? You should be. It’s perfect car-crash TV. Self-obsessed guidos and guidettes living together, all boozed up, horny and aggro. It’s entertaining in the same way that nature documentaries are entertaining. The pure, primal instinct of a pack of lions is always fascinating to watch because you never know when things are going to kick off. Now, imagine those lions were drunk – how much better would that be? Well, that’s what Jersey Shore is like. Drunk lions, covered in fake tan.

How good/bad is it? UNICO, “the largest Italian-American service organisation in the USA” has called for it to be canceled, describing it as “trash television” and saying the show “relies on crude stereotypes” and deliberately highlights the worst aspects of guido culture.

Trash television? Crude stereotypes? Why not just put out a press release, saying “Everyone, stop what you are doing and go watch this show now“?

During a promo for the rest of the season, they showed a clip of one of the girls, ‘Snooki’, getting a full-on punch to the face. From a big, muscly dude. Now, I’m totally against violence towards women, but HOLY FUCK LOOK AT THAT SHIT! HE BOPPED HER RIGHT ON HER STUPID FUCKING NOSE!

Idiots like me have been posting this clip all over the internet. It’s huge. It’s, as they say, “gone viral”. And so, MTV have decided to cut the scene with the punch out of the episode. They said that “seeing how the video footage has been taken out of context to not show the severity of this act or the resulting consequences, MTV has decided not to air Snooki being physically punched in next week’s episode.” I’m no expert, but if they’re that concerned about the context of the clip, I would have thought that the best way to give some context would be to show it in full? If I search for this clip now, I just get a load of user-uploaded videos taken from the the promo clip. If MTV don’t show the full clip, with context, then this is all there will ever be. There won’t ever be context.

Oh well. Punch or no punch, this show is still ridiculously entertaining.


Trailer for “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” online

My girlfriend has a little lady-boner for Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. It’s where she gets her hard-ass attitude from. Except I can’t imagine she’ll be too thrilled about this – it’s a TV show based around the life of Sarah Connor between T2 (where she was awesome and kick-ass) and T3 (where she was dead). Full of embarrassing throwbacks to the movies, including “Come with me if you want to live”.

More clips here.


Show, don’t tell.

When I was doing the screenwriting course, we were constantly being reminded of one of the golden rules of writing: Show, don’t tell – describe the scene through actions, rather than words.

And this is why I love The Wire so much. Everything is shown, not told. The writers assume the audience is smart enough to figure out what the characters are doing, without resorting to have the characters ask each other what they are doing.

There’s a perfect example of this in Episode 4 of Season One, “Old Cases”. This is the entire dialogue (taken from the subtitles on the DVD) between McNulty and Bunk as they dig through an old crime scene. Gold star if you can figure out their actions from their dialogue.

– This is the one?
– Yup. Hasn’t been rented since.



Fucking fuck.



What the fuck?



– No.
– Fuck.

Fuck it.

Oh, the fuck.


Aw, fuck.

Fuckity, fuck, fuck.


Oh, fuck.



Fuckin’ A.


Check this.


Fuck me.


Life on Mars


Alright you ding-a-lings, listen up.

Life on Mars has easily been my favourite British TV show of the last 10 years, even beating the terrific return of Doctor Who. We’re halfway through the second and final series, and I don’t think there’s any sign of it slowing down. Remember that awesome Camberwick Green inspired promo for the second series? (if not, here’s a quick refresher). Want more? Well, according to Heat magazine* a portion of the next episode of Life on Mars will be done in this same style.

If you haven’t already been hooked by this incredible show, the first series is available in your favourite shops and on your favourite internets. You should really check it out. You owe it to yourself.

* Yeah, I read Heat magazine. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?


Channel 4’s “50 Greatest Actors”

Max Beesley talking about great actors? Channel 4 are getting desperate for pundits.

Favourite moment of the show was Brian Blessed saying… well, ‘saying’ is relative, since this is Brian Blessed, I think ‘bellowing’ is closer to the truth. Yes, Brian Blessed bellowing how he used to run after John Gielgud to pinch his arse. “COME HERE JOHN, I WANT TO PINCH YOUR ARSE!



Everything bad is good for you?

TV Shows I love

Life on Mars
I’ll admit that I’ve never been drawn to 70s British police dramas. Then again, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen a full episode of any of them. But Life on Mars is just fantastic. This and Doctor Who have renewed my faith in BBC drama.

Prison Break
When I’m about to head off to bed after a hard day’s TV watching, I tend to go for one last flick through the channels. I remember crying whenever I’d stumble across CSI at midnight because it meant I was stuck for another hour without any way of wrenching myself away from the telly. Televisual crack. I was addicted.

I get the same thing with Prison Break, the TV show with the most idiotic setup I’ve ever seen. It makes me think of that episode of the X-Files where Mulder discovers the TV networks are putting subliminal messages between the frames of TV shows. I don’t know why else I can’t pull myself away from these breathtakingly stupid shows.

Actually, I don’t love Lost any more. I watched the entire first season over the course of a weekend and was completely hooked but since then, I think I mostly watch it out of some hope that they’ll finally start dishing out some answers. So far, they haven’t. And now there’s talk of dragging this into four seasons, with a feature film finale. I think it’s time I cut myself free.

Anything involving people being chastised for being bad parents/children/pet-owners
Yes, they might be lowest-common-denominator TV, but these shows have saved my life on more than one occasion. However, this does not extend to anything presented by Gillian McKeith. She is the devil. A bitter, hump-backed devil

Grand Designs
This has been mentioned before, but I still can’t get enough of it. I love everything about it, from the creepy Harry Potter-esque theme music to Kevin McCloud’s shameless baiting of the absolute cocks he’s showcasing. I wish it had its own channel.

The IT Crowd
Apparently, this isn’t being as well received as I would have expected, which is a shame because I think it’s one of the best-written, best-acted comedies on TV today (or at least since Black Books went shit). The fact that it’s about a bunch of socially inept geeks – thus mirroring my own existence – only makes me love it more.

TV Shows I just can’t get into

Battlestar Galactica
I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I just can’t get into this show. I think this means I have to hand in my nerd badge or something.

Veronica Mars
It’s nice to have a female-led teen-oriented drama show that doesn’t involve someone being a superhero or a total fucking flake. But I just couldn’t care less about this show.

I used to love this show, but I’ve come to realise this was mostly down to my hetero boner for Noah Wyle. Now, not even John Leguizamo can save it.


Grand Designs

More4 launched a few weeks ago, and already it’s become a major part of my TV-watching habits. Well, less than I’d probably like. My girlfriend doesn’t think Jon Stewart is particularly funny (and, Crossfire appearance aside, I tend to agree with her) so we tend to avoid that.

But the most surprising thing has been a massive addiction to Grand Designs. In just a couple of weeks, that show has become such a massive part of my TV viewing habits, I turn it on even if I’m in the middle of doing something else like cooking dinner.

I’ve thought long and hard about this. I think there are a couple of things going on here. First, obviously, is the actual building. Nine times out of ten, the people being showcased are the kinds of insufferable assholes that most likely had no other choice than to strike out on their own because no-one wanted these cunts for neighbours.

This works for me because I like shouting at the TV. And these episodes give me plenty of opportunities to turn the air blue from the amount of obscenities I’m hurling at these people with more money than taste. For example, Grand Designs Abroad recently a couple who built a god-awful wooden house in France because this the husband really wanted to become a writer and the only thing stopping him was the lack of a badly-designed house in the middle of a French valley. That episode gave me lots to shout about.

But it’s not always like this. As I said, this is only nine times out of ten. The other time is typically a really heartwarming, reassuring story about someone who really is chasing down their dream. Like the one last week of a guy who worked in a forest in England and spent ten years living in a leaky caravan while waiting for planning permission to build an organic house in the forest. The end result was something so pretty and beautiful that it absolutely brought a tear to my eye. That he built it all by himself, right down to the carving of the 16,000 wooden slates only added to the beauty of this episode.

But there’s another reason. And I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I think I’m developing a bit of a hetero crush on the presenter, Kevin McCloud. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a major thing. Certainly not like my hetero crush on Peter Gallagher (more specifically: Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows) or my full-on hetero boner for Noah Wyle. No, no. This is much simpler – I just like his little soliloquies. These are perfectly judged breaks from the chaos of the actual home-building, providing just the right balance of caution and hope.

I was thinking of dressing as Kevin McCloud for Halloween (other ideas included: Hellboy, Arthur Dent, Biff Tannen). There wouldn’t have to be much to the costume, but I would occasionally step aside and offer my own soliloquies about the party, pausing occasionally for emotional effect.

“People… Are the life and soul of every party… And this party certainly has people… But are they they right people? … And will it be enough?”

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