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The Great Travel Hack (2019)
What do you do if you're a big dirty oil company and want to clean up your image? Make a reality TV series about all the environmentally friendly projects you support!
Two teams of millenials - Alpha and Omega (why the Bible reference?) have to travel across the USA while producing the lowest carbon emissions possible.
The series is saved a bit by Kaley Cuoco and some beautiful scenery, but the other performances seem a bit contrived. Like most "reality" TV there is a sense of irreality, but I can just about forgive that. The novelty of some of the modes of transport will win over the nerds.
Carmilla Hyde (2010)
Cheap and nasty
With a thin plot, and low production values, Carmilla Hyde looks like a student film. The plot concerns an uptight woman who becomes sexualised after losing her virginity (was she raped? It's never made enrirely clear). She discovers her dark alter ego (the Carmilla Hyde bit) which leads her to sleep around with most of the men and women that cross her path. This might make it sound graphic, but it's not. There is little to no real nudity, although it milks lesbian kissing (which is a bit overexposed these days.) People who are interested in such things will doubtless be more turned on by the leather gear.
The acting is meh, and there is a psychobabble aspect added to try and give it legitimacy. As a psychodrama it fails miserably and doesn't know what to do with herself. I'm not sure what if any mesaage ir has. It lacks any degree of originality.
David and Olivia? (2018)
Where are the Scottish people?
A road movie (minseries?) with an unconvincing plot, mainly written as a two hander for the two main characters to chat a lot in tbe car. Oh, and at least one of them is naked most of the time. There is a convoluted crime subplot, and a more convincing one about an ex-girlfriend. All the while Highland scenery can be seen in the background...the humour is a bit hit and miss.
A Scottish set drama with no Scottish actors? (Even those putting on Scottish accents don't do so convincingly!) Given that it's set in Scotland, they could have included some. Yes, I'm well aware England rules Scotland and some parts of the country are full of English, but really? Next time you make a series about Scotland, at least include some!
Star Trek Continues (2013)
The best fan tribute
I have seen many unofficial Star Trek tributes, and this is far and away the best in terms of acting, attention to detail and production values e.g. music. (The only other contender is the Axanar film, which I have only ever seen clips of and which has been withdrawn)
The series takes two or three episodes to find its stride, but after that it is pretty excellent. It is let down a bit by the intrusion of contemporary political ideas in the later episodes (some might say SJW themes), which are handled ineptly, but otherwise highly watchable, and better than some of the later Star Trek franchises such as DS9 or Enterprise. Despite this, it often feels like watching the original series in a good way.
The casting is excellent, except for Bones. A better Bones was found part way through. The depictions of Kirk, Spock, Uhuru and Scotty are on point. A counsellor called McKennah is introduced, presumably to create a bridge to the Next Generation and the Counsellor Troi character In it. This is less successful, but I can just about put up with the character.
The best episode is "Fairest of them All" which is a sequel to the "Mirror Mirror" episode in the original series, and I recommend starting with that.
The entire series is available on YouTube, should you wish to watch it.
Moving and atmospheric
I caught this film by accident on late night television. In the past, I've not been very impressed by most films coming out of the Middle Eastern countries but Theeb rapidly won me over. The acting was excellent & felt authentic and the cinematography makes good use of the dramatic natural locations. At times it feels a bit like Lawrence of Arabia told from the Bedouin or child's POV.
It moves a bit more slowly than most Hollywood films do, but it is better for it. I could write a lot more on this film but won't for the sake of brevity.
Surprisingly low quality
I had heard a lot about this film and expected it to be a bit more professionally produced, given it had been commissioned by a politician. However, much of it feels like a medium length amateur Youtube video, at under twenty minutes, and contains poor editing, extensive use of clips, no narration etc. It looks as if it was cobbled together on an old version of Powerpoint.
In regard to the content, it mainly consists of clips of Islamic hate preachers, and excerpts from the Islamic scriptures condoning violence. This is pretty much what I expected from the hype.
As this film is trying to build a case against Islam, I didn't expect to see any of the other side, and I didn't. No surprise there. But I felt that Fitna also ignored a number of factors in the growth of radical Islam. For one, it focusses a lot on immigration and birthrates, and very little on the fact that the west has actively financed and armed Islamic fundamentalists in various parts of the world to bring down various governments e.g. in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The role of western ally Saudi Arabia in financing such organisations is also largely ignored although Iranian leaders are seen. The role of war in driving large numbers of Muslims into Europe was also ignored, whereas it should have been a central part of Wilders' premise. If western governments, and NATO had spent less time making war on these countries and funding extremism, then there would be fewer Muslims coming to Europe in the first place.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (2018)
Bum notes from the Get Go
A lot of misjudged decisions in this version. Even the opening shot seems to be inappropriate here, along with other factors. I always saw Picnic as representing Colonial/Frontier life in contrast to the Bush, and sexuality which is supposed to be repressed/sublimated in the original is far too much on the surface here. There are some serious casting errors in this series, and there are also cack-handed attempts to bring in modern day style and to try and make it cool.
This series owes more to Peaker Blinders and the recent TV version of Psycho - Bates Motel.
A shame really since a lot of money has been ploughed into this series, but it falls flat on its face in so many areas from writing to acting ro costumes to music.
Il deserto dei tartari (1976)
Very underrated film
I've only ever had the chance to see this film once in a cinema years ago but it's stuck with me. On the face of it, the plot is not very interesting- soldiers holed up in a remote fort in a non-place waiting for an enemy who never turns up... but the locations are incredible, the score is by Ennio Morricone and there is a constant tension between the characters and within themselves... they are just waiting around for the war to begin. The real war is within themselves.
Moby Dick (2011)
Not bad, but the wrong Ahab
The best thing about this adaptation is the cast, featuring decent actors in even fairly minor roles, e.g. Gillian Anderson who plays the captain's wife, and Donald Sutherland who plays the preacher. Eddie Marsan, an extremely underrated actor, is probably the star turn here, playing a very thuggish Stubb. Starbuck (Ethan Hawke) and Queequeg (Trujillo) are also well portrayed.
However, the film falls down on the two main (human) characters Ishmael (Cox) and Ahab (Hurt). Cox isn't bad, but he's also not that good either. William Hurt, though is miscast. He mumbles through a lot of the performance, and does not look fanatical enough. Sometimes when he's delivering angry speeches, he comes over as a kind uncle. Shame really, since Hurt has turned in decent performances elsewhere.
Both Nantucket and the Pequod are recreated well. The CGI is respectable, showing that a decent amount of money was spent on the production. However, cynics will notice that with the exception of a single storm scene, the ship seems to sail on ridiculously calm seas.
Moby Dick doesn't transfer to the screen well, as many of the book's fans constantly remind us. This adaptation is one of the better ones. This version is probably not as good as the Peck film, but I think it's better than the Patrick Stewart miniseries. (Stewart - again a good actor, was miscast as Ahab). As for the liberties taken with the storyline - I think these have been exaggerated - the inclusion of Ahab's wife is a major change, but not as intrusive as you might think.
Eaten by greens
Fairly average low budget monster romp, with the Doctor actor from Star Trek Voyager (Robert Picardo) and some native American stuff thrown in.
Evil oilman wants to drill on Indian land, Indian spirit of giant wolf gets revenge. Woman gets saved etc.
The wolf effects are cheap, the environmental message is a bit trite, and the native Americans are cliché, but hey it's what you expect.
It's not worth buying on DVD, but if it's on the television and you have some time to kill (no pun intended), you might find it quite a fun way to spend an hour and a half.
I think my favourite bit is when the villain tells the Indian chief that his views are "unamerican"!
The Day After Tomorrow (1976)
Lost in Relativity
This was actually for a pilot for a series by Gerry Anderson, around the same time he was making Space 1999. However, the idea was never taken up.
The premise is simple - a family (two men, a woman, a boy and a girl) are sent in the Earth's first faster than light ship to try and establish colonies in other parts of the galaxy. But "Lost in Space" this is not. They never leave the craft as such, but get to witness various scientific wonders, such as collapsing stars etc. There's a lot of exposition, especially from the boy, who seems to be some kind of child prodigy - which helps keep some scientific accuracy.
The characters are not well drawn (Although oddly Brian Blessed's one doesn't bellow or roar once), but this is more about spectacle than plot or characterisation etc. The music though is great, and really adds to the sense of excitement.
There are a few quirks. They never leave the craft as such. And though the craft has a cockpit, it seems to have no "leisure" space, or general living facilities for such a long journey.
There are some memorable scenes such as when "dad" has to fix the drive for the ship, and the finale, and this is well worth looking up. It's difficult to get hold of, but I believe that there are some badly synched copies around the net. I saw it as part of Brian Cox's night on BBC4. This was the first time it was shown on British television since the seventies...
Most of the energy and delight in this series comes from seeing Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi's characters laying into one another with bitchy queeny comments. They both loving hamming it up, and to an extent sending themselves up. Their forever thwarted female friend, played by Frances de la Tour, provides a nice counterpoint.
Most of the enjoyment comes from their delivery of the lines, rather than the script. For this reason, it will be loved by some folk, and hated by others.
McKellen's character is an aging actor, whose career is less than stellar (he was voted the twentieth most popular Dr Who villain - something like that). They have a decrepit dog, Balthazar, which is most of the way to death. They all live in a house that looks like something out of Rising Damp or a bad seventies sitcom in which the curtains are hardly ever opened. McKellen's mother seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that her son is a raging queen who lives with a man. It's fairly set bound, and doesn't move around much, but all of this, including the retro flavour, is deliberate.
On the downside, the theme music is totally inappropriate, and the Ash character is a stock in trade attempt to bring in a young guy. (He can't act either) He only really works when the older characters including Frances de la Tour, all get crushes on him.
The Job Lot (2013)
That's Your Lot In Life
It was inevitable that this programme would draw comparisons with "the Office" and "Vicious" (in which it appeared in a double bill.
The first scene has Russell Tovey's character Karl complaining that he has an Art degree, and that he "shouldn't be reduced to this". You think he's a job seeker, but in fact he's "reduced" to working in this sterile ugly job centre.
It's actually quite watchable, and better than the average ITV sitcom.
The most amusing characters are Trish, the neurotic, anxious manager (who has just been through a divorce, and tries to steal her chocolate labs Ferrero and Rocher back from her ex-husband) and the bitchy Angela, who works to rule, generally undermines the others, and throws her weight around. The security guards are laughable - one's a tiny woman, and the other's a nut with military pretensions. Then there are the bizarre job seekers, one of whom is like an English Rab C. Nesbitt, and an undercover agent who attempts to catch benefit cheats. Only trouble being that he's bearded and Asian, and sticks out like a sore thumb in many environments.
Yes, it's another sitcom about tedium, but it's quite fun. I think it suffered from being on too late at night and was overshadowed by its admittedly better sibling "Vicious", but it's worth a look.
Patchy - for completists only
I love the Alan Partridge series, but this was, well, patchy.
There are some good lines in it, but some elements are overplayed, e.g. the robot interviewer (Digital Dave), and "real life" interviewer Ray Woolard, who is clearly out of his depth and being manipulated by Partridge. There *are* a few laughs here, but not many compared to "Knowing Me, Knowing You", or "I'm Alan Partridge".
Also included are clips from Partridge's "Ramble in the Countryside", an attempt by Alan to show himself off as some kind of rural gentleman. (Presumably to help placate the farmers he annoyed on his radio show.)
The feature includes some clips from other Alan Partridge enterprises (including "The Day Today"), but it fails to impress overall.
And so the BBC decides to jump on the Scando crime bandwagon! What you get though is something a bit more British, and less ponderous.
The result is a reasonable crime drama set in Shetland. the actors turn in a reasonable performance, but the only Shetlander, and the only one with a Shetland-sounding accent - Steven Robertson - got put into a supporting role. He's a really good, underrated actor, and I would like to see more of him. Dougie Henshall is the lead, and works well on the small screen. But that's it - reasonable... not particularly good or bad, but "reasonable".
The story itself is okay, but it could have done with better pacing and direction. There's no real tension as such, although it's not too predictable.
As you might expect, the landscape (or should I say "seascape"?) is very much the real star. One thing though - this was set around about New Year, yet the days appear to be long and sunny... anyone who knows Shetland, knows that they're extremely short and dark at that time of year!!! Worth seeing if it's on TV, but not worth looking out for otherwise.
Doors Open (2012)
Badly paced, and almost colonial
At least half of this badly paced and poorly written crime caper could have been cut. Most of the first hour drags... the "heist" is mildly entertaining, but doesn't make up for the rest.
All the educated, middle class people, apart from Douglas Henshall's character are English, or have English accents. And all the schemies/working class people have Glaswegian ones. (Apart from some Geordie criminals!) Edinburgh is not like that, and it seems all too reminiscent of the Alasdair Gray row. Is Scotland colonised? Well, watching this, you'd well think so. Apparently almost all Scots live in council house schemes, are football obsessed and don't get involved in the art world. The hegemony implicit in this is outrageous!
Mysterious Two (1982)
I got the chance to watch this twice on an obscure cable channel. Otherwise it's very difficult to get hold of (it didn't appear on IMDb for a number of years).
It's by turns quite dated and cheesy, and oddly creepy and atmospheric. We never do really find out what's going on. In that sense, it's quite close to "Picnic at Hanging Rock". Two cult leaders start indoctrinating people, and one by one they start disappearing. The lesson here, perhaps is about giving yourself over to the unknown, particularly when you don't know what its intentions are.
Basically this film is a reaction to the various UFO sects that have sprung up over the years (especially in the decade or so before the film) - Heaven's Gate, Raelians, Share International ("Maitreya"), George Adamski, the Aetherius Society etc, and also some of the tragedies resulting from New Religious Movements in general, e.g. the Jonestown Massacre, the Manson Gang etc. As it turned out, the film demonstrates a real concern, as there have been many more such tragedies since then. It's also about the souring of the hippie/New Age ideal, about peace and love distorted and gone horribly wrong.
Hingin Aboot in Nyowcassell
This is an episode which doesn't really go anywhere in more ways than one. The lads spend their time in Newcastle, biding their time, and getting into trouble with the local radgies. It starts with the lads in passport control, and ends more or less the same way. There's a few cheap laughs in here e.g. Ally's gym.
We do catch a glimpse of another side of Wayne, but in the end, he just can't help himself. This and Barry's tap dancing and snooker skills just about bump this episode up one point for me.
All said and done though, this episode's a bit of a filler. "Marjorie Doesn't Live Here Anymore", at least dealt with Oz's trying to be a dad. This is just "hingin aboot the toon."
High Point: Barry's tap dancing... classic.
Low Point: The hairstyles in Cannibals. Certain things from the eighties don't deserve to be remembered.
Look out for: Barry's snooker trick shot. The fight in Cannibals – Moxey can certainly handle himself.
Upper Class Twits
This is the worst episode in series two, perhaps even all of AWP. (It's a while since I watched series three and four, so I can't compare it with them just now) This is saying something, as series two was much weaker than the original series.
Most of it is taken up with how the lads interact with the local nobs and would-be gentry, who live around Thornley Manor. Most of the upper class characters are one dimensional Hugos and Henriettas, with only Sir James and Celestia having any depth. Cue lines like "Why are you annoying my dog?" and "Someone should throw these people out." You get the picture. We know Oz can be a wee bit coarse and gauche, but shoving him into these scenarios is predictable, and not very clever. The only thing which lightens the mood is Barry's ridiculous spiel about the SDP being the "party of the future" which would make the "class war meaningless" (it ceased to be a year or two after he said this and turned into the Lib Dems). It would have been better if the snobbery was dealt with more subtly (there are some hints of this with the Mrs Bellamy character), which could have been done with better writing perhaps.
That said, Arthur Pringle's in this episode, which was always a bonus in series two. It's interesting to hear exactly how his children turned out. His daughter turns out to be a good character, not just a woman for Wayne laying.
High Point: Oz and Barry going poaching.
Low Point: "What are you annoying my dog for?" – A pointless scene with a cardboard cut-out character. The scene in the Cross Keys is almost as bad.
Look out for: Sir James' son, who's actually played by Jimmy Nail's real life son.
No Tax Please, We're Strikers
One of the big ironies of Series Two of AWP was that Arthur Pringle, the pub landlord, often made a a more formidable villain than Ally Fraser. He was also a lot funnier. In "No Sex Please", Arthur has a dastardly plot to get one over on the lads, but when they find out who was behind it, they leave him a nice surprise going-away present.
The lads' strike action proves effective, forcing Ally Fraser to cave in, and use proper building materials. Fraser is also forced to waive Dennis' debt. But when Ally comes up with the offer of a few weeks' work in Sunny Spain, which the lads find impossible to resist... In the meantime, some of the lads return home, and some of them remain at Thornley Manor. The last lot, Oz included, try the impossible – pulling women at the Barley Mow. Barry forces Hazel into a non-ultimatum, but Neville is onto "certainties". Dennis bumps into Marjorie, who has a message for Oz...
This is a so-so episode, AWP by numbers. It does have its moments though: Oz lectures Barry on how to handle his fiancé, "You should have laid the law doon man, bang, early on, y'knaa. You know the way you deal with Alsatians.Terrorise the little bastards when they're puppies, and then when they get older ye get nae beef from them." Barry replies quite rightly that this is insulting to women, and that "you turn complex human relationships into bloody Crufts!" Or Moxey's admission that "It's funny you should say that about footballers... 'cos the only older woman I ever had, looked like Billy Bremner."
The subplot with Mrs Chatterley isn't convincing. She doesn't seem like the type to be married to the customs officer character. It's a good idea badly done, which is unusual for AWP.
High Point: "Wall Meet Again"
Low Point: I would have liked to see Harry Blackburn get more dialogue.
Look out for: Barry's personal grooming; Howard's snack offer.
Neville was a Carpenter
I have a soft spot for Auf Wiedersehen Pet, because I used to work on building sites, and I've spent a lot of time in Germany as well. The lines in this are so well delivered, that they sound exactly like the things real people would say, and they don't sound scripted at all. I've met people who could have stepped right out of it. I've experienced things that could have been in it. But the jokes are probably better than a lot of the real "banter" I've heard.
Auf Wiedersehen Pet was always a comedy drama – or comedy/drama, and the first episode is more drama, than comedy. It's mainly a set up, but there are still some great comedy lines in it. Some folk say that it's very male-orientated, which is true, but there always were strong female characters in it, and we get to see a few of them too.
I've always loved this series. I never got to see it when it was originally broadcast, but I've seen it many times since. It's certainly one of the best acted and best written British sitcoms of the eighties. Most of the other sitcoms of the time have dated horribly, and were usually set in comfortable middle class suburbs in the Home Counties. AWP was different from them, in so many ways. It showed what many ordinary people were going through at the time.
In the 1980s, nearly 30,000 people from the UK had to go to work in Germany to make ends meet. AWP is about a group of seven English builders who work in Düsseldorf, and the culture shock that they experience. It's also about the relationships between them and their families, each other, and between them and the Germans. They are forced to live in a wooden hut on site, because the hostel's full, and at the weekends, they get into all kinds of trouble on the town. Although there are frequent references to World War Two, the show avoids stereotyping the German characters themselves as being some kind of Nazis. True, the German gaffers are a bit too serious (many Germans are in real life), but the Germans are treated as human beings throughout the series.
It's also one of the few shows I can think of which shows the full variety of English working class people as well. There isn't much attempt to poshen up their accents, or have them all speaking like Londoners. Three of the characters use Broad Geordie all the time, one's from the West Midlands, and another's West Country. They're just shown as they are. Oz is a rough diamond, whose Gateshead accent and blinkered attitudes lead to a lot of misunderstanding. Wayne is a chirpy Cockney who spends half his time listening to music, and the other trying to seduce women. Dennis manages to solve everybody else's problems, but has trouble enough with his own. Barry – my favourite– is a kind of bizarre (and occasionally boring) Brummie philosopher, "the Prince of Trivia". Neville is deadly serious, a loyal husband, and someone who wants to be somewhere else all the time. Bomber is a larger than life Bristolian, who keeps on losing his money through gambling, partying and womanising, in some kind of attempt to regain his youth...
The characters are some of the most memorable on British TV. They're all lovable in their own way. Even Oz and Wayne are good guys in the end up. They're the best mates you never had.
It's sad to think though, that at least three of the main actors are dead – Gary Holton (Wayne), Pat Roach (Bomber) and Vera. Before this programme most of the cast were unknowns – Pat Roach (Bomber) had appeared in "Raiders of the Lost Ark", and "Barry Lyndon" already, and was a notable wrestler, but he was the exception. But by the time the series had ended, the seven actors were all stars. They went on to greater things. Jimmy Nail became a successful solo artist, selling a million albums and appearing in "Spender"; Kevin Whateley got the sidekick role in "Inspector Morse", and his own series in "Lewis" and Timothy Spall has gone on to serious roles in stuff like "The Damned United", "The King's Speech" and "Pierrepoint" etc. Tim Healy (Dennis) hasn't made such a big impression as the other ones perhaps, but he's still instantly recognisable, and has done some good work. Gary Holton, like I said, was taken from us too soon, as a result of bad lifestyle choices...
And if you want to know why they're famous, watch this! Anyway, enough of my guff.
High Point: Just great to see this legendary series coming together.
Low Point: Exposé, the band that taste forgot (who dress in baseball gear) Also no Moxey! Christopher Fairbank fans have to wait til the next episode.
Look out for: Dennis giving building advice to Dutch custom officers; The German building site (now known as "Eastenders"' Albert Square!); A German bridge that looks suspiciously like one in Newcastle (and in Sydney).
Mentioning the War
British TV has long had a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Hitler and the Second World War. It hardly ever faces up to the fact that most modern-day Germans weren't even born when it happened, that they sincerely regret what did happen, and that Germans are ordinary people, not just some kind of cut-out villains. It's inevitable that Auf Wiedersehen Pet, which revolves around a gang of English builders in Germany would have to run up against this at some point.
In this episode, the War is brought up by a couple of disconnected events. Neville, one of the Newcastle lads, makes friends with one of the German builders and gets to meet his family. At one point, Neville is left alone with an old man who can't speak English, and who turns out to have been on a U-boat which sank a ship that Neville's relative was in. Now in a lot of British comedies – let alone serious dramas – this situation would be dealt with cack-handedly, using sentimentality, making some kind of jingoistic British point, or exposing the old man as some kind of closet Nazi or mass murderer. Instead, AWP deals with this as a matter of fact, and doesn't use it for cheap laughs or point scoring.
A lot of British people remember "The Germans" episode of "Fawlty Towers" for all the wrong reasons. What most folk forget is that the German characters in it are actually Basil Fawlty's victims, and that it was mainly sending up his own bigotry and xenophobia... not making fun of the German tourists. Now if there's one character who's as stupid, blinkered and pig headed as Basil Fawlty in this episode, it's Oz whose stupid remarks constantly threaten relations between the English and Germans on site. However, unlike *that* episode of "Fawlty Towers", it's always clear who's being laughed at.
High Point: This is the first episode we get to see Moxey, and he's only allowed into the hut because he's got a darts board! Low Point: Oz's idiocy, although it is funny.
Look out for: The extra man in the hut who appears in several scenes. and appears to have had some extra dialogue; Neville on German TV.
Never Mind the Set Up
It's an unconvincing excuse for a reunion, but maybe it was one we all wanted to see. The first half is taken up with the lads reminiscing, scenario setting etc, but there is one mildly entertaining scene set in the Falklands (Probably one of the few dramas involving the Falklands, which doesn't involve the war or soldiers - at least not directly). Things get a whole lot more convincing when Oz turns up about half way through and gives his political lecture on "Fascist intimidation".
There are some good lines dotted about: "Always seemed strange to me, all those seven foot American Negroes playing for Milton Keynes," "What do you expect to find up there? Eh? A striker for Newcastle United?" and "They'll probably be in the Bel and Dragon, drinking penis coladas til dawn." Unusually, there's a good scene with Moxey in the prison - "Didn't have a lot in common with him... except acne." Moxey suffered from weak writing in most of series two, but his character works here. I've always felt a lot more could have been done with the Trev character as well.
In some ways though, this is mostly a TV episode, i.e. for people who hadn't seen the previous series for at least a few months before. If you're watching this these days, you're either seeing it on DVD (with series one) or on some digital channel (in which case they'll probably be showing them back to back.) There's too much set up, too much flashback, too much nostalgia... Watch it to get into series two, but don't bother with repeated viewing.
High Point: Oz on Thatcherism.
Low Point: Bloopers, lots of them. I don't just mean the ones that anoraks pick up, but some really obvious ones. A lot of the outdoor scenes have spectators, and I don't just mean Barry on the intercom.
Look out for: Pippa, played by a little known Sammi Davis; "I want this done by nightfall, even if it takes til tomorrow morning!"
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet: Cowboys (1986)
The Best of the Rest
I rate this particular episode as being amongst the best of Auf Wiedersehen Pet, and certainly the best of the second series. It's funny, it's engaging and it's good drama.
There's some great ideas in this one. There's country music, and a western style showdown. There's also some great dialogue, such as Barry's pronouncement on Country music - "Not so much Heavy Metal as Thick Grass. I would think prolonged exposure to this would make you grow udders." – or Kenny Ames on his exile in the Costa Del Crime "This is a real prison, this is." Even Neville gets a great comedy line, and he shines in this episode.
Series two had some really laboured (no pun intended) story lines about class conflict and snobbery, but in "Cowboys", we're spared the dreadful upper class stereotypes of "Another Country", and the political points are much better made. Ally perhaps represents the Thatcherism of the time, with his get-rich-quick scheme, which rides roughshod over the pride/self-respect of the lads, and is not ashamed to use force if necessary. Someone rightly describes Ally's proposed old folks' home as a "cardboard death trap". More obviously, "Cowboys" tackles the (now largely complete) Americanisation of England.
The drama works really nicely too. The lads manage to do Dennis a good turn, and stand up for his (and their) rights, and justice is served. It's also one of the few times that the villain Ally Fraser gets to show his true nature.
While series one of AWP was full of good episodes, series two wasn't. I just wish the rest of series two – and indeed series three and four – were this strong. Maybe Harry Blackburn should have been brought back, instead of that "Wyman" character. (Even Trev would have been better)
High Point: The showdown (Barry's contribution cracks me up)
Low Point: The ghost subplot doesn't work very well, particularly when we find out what the cause is.
Look out for: Big Willie Osbourne's number, Kenny and Ally in the jacuzzi, a young Gina McKee.
The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff (2011)
Normally I'm a great fan of surreal humour, but someone please tell Mitchell and Webb that they're not funny, and that Stephen Fry always plays himself (at least not since Jeeves and Wooster). This was mostly a bunch of random, and not very funny lines strung together.
Oh, and it's riddled with cheap CGI too.
This was a great opportunity for sending up Dickens, but it went down like a lead balloon. I watched "Rev" and "Life's Too Short" not long afterwards - and was stunned by the contrast in writing, acting etc. This programme was written and acted by people who are incredibly self- satisfied, and think they're cleverer and funnier than they actually are.
All the usual suspects turn up on this programme - you know the ones always on QI, Have I got News for You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Mock the Week. All of these shows are quite good, but you have to ask exactly why the BBC is hiring these same folk repeatedly, or using the same production companies/agencies. Bit of a closed shop really.
I give this show two stars for one reason, Johnny Vegas is its saving grace as the Artful Codger. Definitely one to avoid...