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

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

Why is No-One Watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

I don’t get it. 30 Rock is massively successful and gets nominated for all sorts of awards every year, despite coasting on fumes for the past three seasons. I can’t remember the last time that show made me laugh. Meanwhile, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia - the one show on TV that will consistently make me gut-laugh until I feel like I’m going to pass out - slips under almost everyone’s radar.

Okay, I understand that jokes about main characters developing crack addictions to get on welfare and finding dumpster babies aren’t exactly for everyone, whereas Tina Fey joking about eating pizza instead of going to the gym is something completely inoffensive that everyone can find adorable. But fuck, is that really an excuse for hardly anyone to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

Not only is this show funny, it’s also full of great ideas, especially if you’re on a race to the bottom. This show introduced me to the idea of drinking wine out of a soda can, which has immeasurably improved my ability to party. Now I can dance and gesticulate wildly while not spilling a drop of my wine. And then, of course, there’s Kitten Mittons:

Seriously, if you haven’t seen this show already, you should stop what you’re doing, turn off your phone and spend a weekend getting caught up. If you have seen this show already, wouldn’t now be a great time for a re-watch?

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 Wir_e 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.

16
  • This is the one?

  • Yup. Hasn’t been rented since.

17

Fuck.

18

Motherfucker.

19

Fucking fuck.

20

Fuck.

21

Fuck.

22

What the fuck?

23

Fuck.

24

Fuck.

25

  • No.

  • Fuck.

26

Fuck it.

27

Oh, the fuck.

28

Motherfuck.

29

Aw, fuck.

30

Fuckity, fuck, fuck.

31

Fucker.

32

Oh, fuck.

33

Fuck.

34

Motherfucker.

35

Fuckin' A.

36

Fuck.

37

Check this.

38

Motherfucker.

39

Fuck me.

Life on Mars →

lifeonmars.jpg

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!

Followed by GORDON’S ALIIIIIIIVE?!

TV recommendations - February 2006 edition

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.

Lost

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.

ER

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.

Ghostwatch →

Found a copy of Ghostwatch lurking in Tower records the other day. 13 years since its first (and only) broadcast, it still manages to scare the pants off me.

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