Thursday, 6 August 2009

Currently in my Sky+ Box...

(Other recording systems are available)

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now.

I write about TV each week, and from the shows that frequently compel me to write about them you can probably tell what I watch pretty well by now, but just in case, and in the spirit of sharing, here is what is currently series linked in my Sky+ box right now…

‘Top Gear’ – I don’t know what it is about ‘Top Gear’ – I don’t particularly have much of an interest in cars, beyond the fact that I enjoy that my car means I don’t have to catch the bus with people who smell like stale piss and biscuits, yet I feel like I’m missing out if I don’t tune in to these three idiots every week.

I would never have watched the show in its old format, but since its 2002 revamp, ‘Top Gear’ has rightly become one of the BBC’s biggest shows. The real star of the trio though if you ask me is not Clarkson or the BBC’s new golden boy Hamster Hammond, it is unsung hero James May. May is a very funny man without being equal parts irritating, unlike the other two, and he really makes the show.

The real magic of new ‘Top Gear’ though lies in the camaraderie between the three hosts, it really wouldn’t work without any of them, and as long as the three of them remain on the show, car-enthusiasts and non-car-enthusiasts alike will keep tuning in, because strange as it sounds; no one really watches ‘Top Gear’ for the cars anymore.

‘House’ – I feel ashamed of myself for not giving Dr. Gregory House a chance earlier than his fifth season. It has quickly become one of my favourite shows on TV and Hugh Laurie is simply astonishing as the titular MD and deserves every award he has won for the role.

I ignorantly dismissed ‘House’ as a medical-centred show at first, and while this is of course inescapable (given the fact that it’s set in a hospital and is about doctors) it is so much more than that.

The cast are universally flawless and away from the ‘case of the week’ relationships grow and fracture across the seasons. The calibre of guest stars they have been attracting as of late speaks volumes of just how good this show is and long may it continue.

Recent developments between Foreman and ‘Thirteen’ have given their respective actors something to really get their teeth into (no pun intended) after weeks of treading water and House himself continues to be scathingly funny and mean in equal parts – Laurie does a superb job.

If anyone has still not become a regular patient at Princeton-Plainsboro then do yourself a favour and stop by for a check-up in quality US television making and leave feeling nothing but utter disdain for the lame UK equivalents such as ‘Casualty’ and ‘Holby City’.

‘The Wire’ – There’s no other way of putting it – ‘The Wire’ quite simply is incredible – if it isn’t the greatest show in the history of television then its got to be up there challenging, because this is storytelling at its most visceral best.

To explain all the reasons why this show is so great would take a lot more than a few lines of text (look out for a more in depth study next week) so all I can really say right now is that for the BBC’s run of the show we have half of season 4 to come and then season 5, if you haven’t already dipped into this show you really should, don’t be put off by the dialogue, the culture or the violence, just take a while and let it wash over you – you’ll soon be hooked on every nuance of the most addictive and compelling show to ever be beamed into your home.

‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ – In another telling example of the lack of talent on these shores compared to our transatlantic brethren, can you think of anyone who could maintain a show of ‘The Daily Show’s calibre over here? Because I sure as shit can’t.

What Jon Stewart does four nights a week, albeit with the help of an army of some of the funniest writers Stateside, is nothing short of spectacular. ‘The Daily Show’ continues to be bitingly satirical, hilariously funny and more relevant than any of the 24-hour networks – it is no wonder that most of America, and now Britain for that matter, use a ‘fake news’ show to keep up with US politics.

It’s little wonder either that Jon Stewart was voted one of the World’s most influential men last year – I would take Stewart’s word over anyone in US politics any day (and that includes a certain Mr. Obama).

The show has launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s finest and is starting to rival ‘SNL’ in the decorated alumni stakes, so my advice is tune in now so you can be in on the ground floor when the likes of Jason Jones, Wyatt Cenac and John Oliver become ‘the next big thing’ and as for Stewart, I think he’s very happy where he is; one of the World’s most influential men, hosting a ‘fake news’ show.

‘Dollhouse’ – Joss Whedon’s latest TV venture has had a rough ride, memories of ‘Firefly’s heinous treatment at the hands of FOX were still fresh and very raw, and with apparent network meddling it seemed ‘Dollhouse’ was doomed from the get go.

After a few weeks of fair to middling episodes it seemed that Whedon was about to see another of his opuses shitcanned, but then something great happened – ‘Dollhouse’ got really, really fucking good.

Getting away from Echo’s engagement of the week and delving deeper and deeper into the mythology of the dollhouse proved to be a masterstroke and in my opinion single-handedly got the show renewed for what will hopefully be an awesome second season.

Shockingly Eliza Dushku is pretty forgettable in this (other than when she’s wearing ridiculously hot outfits) and it is the supporting cast of characters that really intrigue. Obsessed FBI agent Ballard, computer geek Topher and Echo’s kind-hearted handler Boyd are all joys to watch and the more we see of these compelling characters, the stronger the show gets.

With the still developing first season just about wrapping up, the signs are all very positive for an insane (in a good way) second season – maybe Whedon isn’t cursed after all.

‘You Have Been Watching’ – Charlie Brooker’s ‘Screenwipe’/‘Flipside TV’ hybrid is finding its feet week after week. I still don’t wholly buy Brooker as a quizmaster type figure, in fact how he is forced to behave on ‘YHBW’ is the sort of thing I would think that he would normally spew his televisual venom on, but that aside – this is a very funny show that shines a light on some of the more ridiculous offerings our televisions present us with on a daily basis.

The guests have become better as we’ve progressed – two weeks of Frankie Boyle and Reg D. Hunter this week have been very welcome, and the decision to start examining some of the more obscure and weird shows over more mainstream fare has definitely helped increase the laughs.

Brooker seems to have been left pretty much to be himself which is surprising given that this is on C4, but hopefully the success of ‘YHBW’ will not mean the demise of ‘Screenwipe’, because as good as this is, it’s no ‘Screenwipe’.

‘Sons of Anarchy’ – Quite simply, the best new show out there. ‘Sons of Anarchy’ revved (sorry) on to our screens with a swagger that has now been proved more than justified.

The first few weeks were often hit and miss but when the former Dutch Wagenbach, Jay Karnes showed up as a psychopathic ATF agent all hell broke loose.

See the ‘Sons’ feature SAMCRO Forever from a few weeks back for a detailed look at why this show is the best thing on TV right now.

‘Sons of Anarchy’s success stems from it’s ability to strike the perfect balance between light and dark, uplifting and disturbing, tears of joy and tears of sadness & love and hate.

The acting is insanely good, the characters have developed to a nice level for one season’s worth of writing and the town of Charming is poised for an explosion as the tension between most of the show’s major characters bubbles to the surface of this gritty melting pot.

With season 2 just around the corner in the States do yourself a favour and familiarise yourself with a show that can fill a void left by some of the most acclaimed shows of the last decade – I’m talking ‘The Shield’ & ‘The Sopranos’ – its that good.

‘Mock the Week’ – Not just the funniest panel show on TV right now but the funniest panel show of all time. ‘Mock the Week’ may be rehearsed and/or scripted as the naysayers love to tell you but who gives a shit – this is half an hour of comedy of the highest order.

Thanks mainly to Frankie Boyle who is a tour de force and leaves the others virtually gasping for air as he grabs every oxygenated globule of comedy out of the atmosphere (wow that’s a bizarre metaphor). Boyle is rightfully becoming a monster star on the comedy circuit and as long as he remains a regular fixture on ‘Mock the Week’, the show will continue to be one of the funniest things on TV.

Russell Howard is a distant second in the funny stakes, leaving Andy Parsons, Hugh Dennis and the two guests trailing very far behind. ‘Mock the Week’ could quite easily be renamed ‘The Frankie Boyle Show’ but for now it remains the single funniest show in the current schedules.

‘Reaper’ – See last week’s ‘Reaper’ feature (Don’t Fear) The Reaper for an in depth look at why this show is so great and why it is such a tragedy that it has been unceremoniously cancelled.

‘Reaper’ combines comic book geekery with dark surreal humour and fuses it together into a very funny, quirky little show about one slacker’s unfortunate relationship with Satan.

A great cast, larger than life performances and a nice soundtrack make this one of those hidden gems that deserves a fairer crack of the whip than it got.

Enjoy it while you can folks, because pretty soon ‘Reaper’ has a one way ticket to hell…

‘Lie to Me’ – Tim Roth is to ‘Lie to Me’ what Frankie Boyle is to ‘Mock the Week’ (I bet you thought you’d never hear that comparison!) – without him this would be just another show. Roth is outstanding as Dr. Cal Lightman, the show might not be on a par with ‘House’s quality but Roth gives Laurie’s scenery chewing a run for the money.

‘8 Mile’s Mekhi Phifer could be a very nice addition to a rather lifeless supporting cast and if they can get away from the ‘Scooby Doo’ air of predictability that each episode contains then ‘Lie to Me’ could achieve great things.

The show may be derivative, but the science of studying people’s faces gives Lightman and co. a power that can be both gift and curse and that is the side of them I want to see more of.

FOX supposedly believes it has a hit on its hands with ‘Lie to Me’ and with a bit of TLC they just might.

‘Entourage’ – We’re not reinventing the wheel here and nothing ever really happens, but ‘Entourage’ remains one of the most watchable and hugely enjoyable shows out there.

It’s a simple premise (that I will delve into deeper in a couple of weeks) but it works and then some. Always funny and often touching and sincere, ‘Entourage’ still manages to reel in huge stars and continues to be fresh and massively entertaining.

Kevin Dillon has rightfully, finally been acknowledged with an Emmy nod for his role as Johnny ‘Drama’ Chase and it is richly deserved, while Jeremy Piven’s Ari grabs most of the headlines and plaudits it’s Drama’s sad sack, everyman loser with ideas above his station that consistently gives us the biggest laughs and feel good moments.

If you’re looking for multi-layered, vivid storytelling, biting social commentary or hell, even originality – you won’t find it here, but what you will find is one of the most consistently feel good shows out there and when you pepper in some grade a comedy, what more can you ask for?

‘True Blood’ – The newest addition to my TV watching schedule, but perhaps the most exciting; ‘True Blood’ has the potential to right all the wrongs done by ‘Twilight’ and make vampires not just scary again, but interesting.

Set in deep, deep ‘Deliverance’ country, watching ‘True Blood’ makes you feel dirty, it just has a hot, sweaty, Southern aura to it and it works as a direct contrast to the suave, otherworldly gentlemanly ways of the vampires.

The concept is great, vampires walk among us but are treated as second class citizens – it allows for all manner of thinly-veiled social commentary on the treatment of minorities.

A cast of virtual unknowns act their socks off in ‘True Blood’, special praise reserved for Ryan Kwanten as the dumber than a box of squirrels Jason Stackhouse. This eclectic show’s equally as eclectic cast of characters make you feel as though you are living in the backwater vampire invested town of Bon Temps.

The ensemble townsfolk give a layering to ‘True Blood’ that is present in all the great TV shows out there at the minute but the out and out weirdness of ‘True Blood’ makes it something very intriguing and definitely the one to watch at the moment.

TV Moment of the Week:

- Daniel Sunjata turning in a very creepy performance on ‘Lie to Me’.

He plays womaniser Franco on the award-winning ‘Rescue Me’ but has proved with his performance as a gay fashionista in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and now with this guest appearance as a serial rapist and pathological liar, that he is a very talented actor.

This was the best episode of the season so far and it was largely due to Sunjata’s chilling performance – watching him pit his wits against Lightman truly was a battle for the ages.

Next week go Through The Wire with a special look at why ‘The Wire’ might just be the greatest TV show of all time.


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