Archive for November, 2008

The Last Millionaire

November 27, 2008

The Apprentice isn’t back till March.

If your thirst for asinine entrepreneurs wasn’t quenched by the borderline unwatchable Natural Born Sellers on ITV, then you could do worse than flick over to BBC3 on a Wednesday night for The Last Millionaire. It’s like The Apprentice in reverse and without the flawed concept of Sugar as some figurehead of business ethics and success.

What you get is a bunch of youngsters who’ve  crucially already made their first million and are on the show simply to strut and show off their imagined business acumen. If they win the weekly task they can go home – but if they lose they stay on and run the risk of ultimately being the outright loser in the final week. And it seems that losing is the thing they most fear – whereas in The Apprentice, all but one will lose, so only being the first to go really carries any shame.

All these bright young things are dropped in a foreign clime, week upon week, and paired up. They’re given about 60 quid each, tossed in a hostel and told to make as much money as they can within seven days. A borderline impossible task, you might think. 

There’s clearly a little help from the production team in terms of providing contacts and offering inspiration, but for the most part it seems they’re left on their own and many minutes of quality chuckles are reaped from their absent-minded bull-headedness, pig-ignorant self-belief and vain lack of self-awareness. As seven days is too short a time to set up a legitimate business beyond selling bottles of water to tourists (which is what one pairing did one week, while others were selling high end night out to models), most of the participants resort to scamming bar owners, museums, tourist agencies and holiday-makers. And sometimes their arrogance is breathtaking.

Last week’s winners, for example, sold a Spencer Tunick style installation at a German bar. The owner was impressed by the non-tacky pitch and would provide cash for the publicity as well as use of the bar. A photographer who was asked to generate that publicity was also asked for some money – he could use the prints as he liked afterwards. So, with money made, all the lads had to do was find some dudes who were happy to be nudes.

Having promised a jam-packed barful of naked folk, all of them rendered anonymous by their sheer numbers, they managed to get about seven very uncomfortable people to take part through sheer, sneaky manipulation. The bar looked half empty so the photos that were eventually produced must’ve resembled the opening shots from a C-grade group porn pamphlet. But – amazingly – they got the money from the photographer.

On the other hand, the bar-owner turned from an easy going cool-cat into a rage-filled German stereotype, ordering them to get out of his bar without payment in a thick, furious accent in one of the most satisfying sequences I’ve seen on TV this year.

They won the task. And they won it through sheer audacity, front, bullying, smarm, charm and bullshit. Where The Apprentice makes out that there is still a huge amount of honour in the business world and uses the stooges as bad-example scapegoats, The Last Millionaire proves that the real way to make money in this ‘orrible old world is to con people into handing it over. Just ask anyone who bought the Amstrad Emailer.

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Survivors

November 26, 2008

survivors

Watching BBC One’s shiny new drama Survivors is a strange experience. Having grown up watching the usual glut of zombie movies, I expect to see them jump out at the characters at every turn. You see, the show – which sees a group of people survive a worldwide pandemic that wipes out most of the earth’s population – has all the elements you’d expect of a zombie movie … just no zombies.

It’s weird.

Take last night’s episode for instance. It had a classic zombie movie set-up:

A young boy goes into an empty sweetshop and starts filling his boots with the array of goodies he finds inside. So distracted is he by his good fortune, he doesn’t see the danger lurking in the shadows.

Now, in a zombie movie, the kid would be attacked by a wailing goon and would either be killed, bitten and infected or fight off the zombie using Sherbet Dips and Flying Saucers. The scene would end with the undead monstrosity crashing back into the display cabinets with a packet of Refreshers buried in his head. Job done – move on.

But in Survivors, this is not what happens. Where you’d expect a relentless cadaver raised from the dead, you actually get an old man with a baseball bat. Where you expect lots of screaming and bone crunching and blood ‘n’ guts, you get the old fella pushed into a display stand and then dying. And that’s it.

How shit is that?

Maybe it’s just me? Maybe I should get it out of my head that the armies of the undead are just around the corner? Maybe I should see this show for what it is – a survival story that’s a mildly distracting way to pass the time before the news comes on?

BUT I CAN’T!

Every time I see the characters get out of their cars on an empty motorway, my zombie movie watcher head shouts,

“NO! Get back in the car! The zombies are coming!”

Every time I see the plucky band of survivors go foraging for supplies, the part of me that sees shuffling corpses round every corner bellows,

“WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU GOING IN THERE? DON’T YOU REALISE WHAT’S IN THERE? ZOMBIES, THAT’S WHAT!”

And then sod all happens. It’s really odd.

So, to sum up, if you’ve ever seen a zombie film, or a futuristic mutant film or one of those films where a nuclear war has turned most of the world’s population into flesh-eating, cyberpunk shitbags, then Survivors is a disappointingly anticlimactic experience. If you haven’t seen those sort of films, you’ll probably get on with it. To me, there’s something missing at the show’s heart – something that can only be stopped with a blow to the head.

Or a packet of Refreshers.

NewsGush – Wild Celebration as Krypton Factor Returns

November 26, 2008

Sometimes good news is so unexpected.

The Krypton Factor had almost faded into the status of legendary in its years outside of the limelight. It stood as a figurehead of a time just out of memory – something whose existence we began to question, attempting to conceive whether anything so stupendously brilliant could actually exist.

It had a bit with an assault course. It had a bit with some big puzzles and, more than that, it had a memory test. And it was all presented by Gordon Burns – an unassuming taskmaster blessed with wit, verve and tenacity.

Shame they’ve put Ben Shephard at the helm this time round. And in truth, I can’t see why this is due a return… are ITV trying to combat the Hole In The Wall fever that’s flowing through the country with a reminder of the good old days? If it’s shown on a Saturday and is up against Hole In The Wall’s might, I know which one I’ll choose when waiting for Harry Hill to start…

BRING ON THE WALL!

NewsGush: Ramsay’s Cookalong Dead

November 25, 2008

Poor old Gordon Ramsay’s PR people. And a twinge of sympathy, if you will, for old scrotum-face.

First his indiscretions are made public by the gutter press and then his ratings come in quite some way below expectations. It’s not often that Gordon gets two doses of bad publicity in a week, and it feels like the world’s started turning in another direction all of a sudden.

Are people sick of his barking, bullying, self-righteous schtick? Have his vainglorious, tedious televisual displays of self-love finally rubbed his public up the wrong way?

Have the people, after all this time, finally realised he’s a complete and utter arsehole?

Not sure if you’ve seen Cookalong Live, but it’s a fine example of a presenter being prised into a format they really, really can’t handle. For a reference point, think Davina on her eponymous chatshow as she made millions change channels, as they realised there was less to her than they’d originally thought.

Ramsay is forced to be nice to people whilst working within a very limited timeframe and he can’t handle it. I watched the first episodes and found myself feigning a posh, Glasgow-inflected accent, shouting ‘Ey! Big boys! Where’re your balls?!’ as he fluffed link after link and hopped up and down on the spot in pure panic so much that my household now bursts out laughing every time we see him. ‘Hippity Hop’ we call him. Cookalong is a hop off more than it’s a cooking show.

From 11.3% of the viewership to 6.3% is quite a shocking drop over the course of three weeks, but if  you’re hoping we’ve seen the back of him, you’ll be disappointed as he, Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall return to our screens again sooner than you may have expected with another series of patronising lectures and book advertisements in the coming months.

Hooray! Yes?

Yes?

Yes?

Twilight

November 24, 2008

If like me (until yesterday morning) you hadn’t already heard of this Twilight phenomenon, I’ll try and explain. I should also point out that I haven’t read any of the books (though we were given complimentary copies at the cinema), mainly because I read grown up books these days, or badly written books with vast amounts or gore in them.

Before the curtain was raised, someone from E1 films came out to give a little speech (this was half industry screening, half fan-base). He quoted amazing box office figures from America at which all the teenagers in the audience whooped. This movie has performed better than Harry Potter or Quantum of Solace and will no doubt be a huge success over here too – the cult of the ‘Twilighter’ is ready to kick off. It was bizarre, this self celebration – like the kids were cheering the suit’s economic nous rather than any artistic achievement. There were a lot of teenage girls in the room. And a lot of them cheered the figures, then cheered the names of all the actors. This is a serious cult that’s about to go overground.

The film opens like The OC crossed with Lost Boys. In fact, there are so many elements of the latter in the film’s opening few reels that to start comparing would take all day, listing the borrowed ingredients. Apart from that, there’s some interesting stuff concerning native Americans in the opening – the best character being Jacob who explains the background. Apparently a pact was made between the ‘wolf-tribe’ of the indigenous folks and the blood-suckers back in the day causing an uneasy truce between the two.

In practice, at one point this brings up the uneasy sight of the ultra-slick, white-yuppie, all-American vampire being hostile to the far better intentioned native American lad, which looks very awkward onscreen. Was this a comment on settled Americans agreeing to stem their blood-lust to live in harmony with red indian-folk, or was it a just a clunky bit of ill-thought through scripting?

Hard to tell. Maybe in the book these ideas are fleshed out more. As it is, the film is all about love, love love. It’s aimed at teenage girls, so in looking for a low certificate the film-makers go for heart-throb of the day, Robert Pattinson as male lead and half the film is his face filling the frame looking all moody and pale. His character, Edward Cullen has fallen for Bella Swan played by Kristen Stewart. Sadly, she is a human and he is a vampire. All boys are vampires. They only want one thing.

Given the writer, Stephanie Meyer’s Christian background, I think it’s fair to say that the heavy-handed allegory is one of abstinence. He tries his damnedest not to bite huge chunks of her flesh out throughout the film, suggesting this is a story about the dangers of getting too close. It’s not that huge a twist on the usual vampire tale. The fact the female in the equation doesn’t care about the danger and, in fact, urges him on, implies that this is the woman’s fault. Weird.

In fact, the vampire element is pretty much redundant, aside from a silly baseball scene where the players use their supernatural skills to play a beefed up version of the game. In the end, this is just a cautionary tale about virginity and teenage lust dressed up with an edgy, blood-sucking twist. The fact that these vampires can walk around in daylight adds to the misery – apparently they avoid direct sunlight because it makes their skin go all sparkly. Strange – I always thought it was because beams of sunlight made them crumble or melt into a slush of flesh and bone. Silly me.

What bothers most is that teenagers are lapping up the movie and its message because of its emo-lite soundtrack and hunky leading male. It’s such a straightforward story with all stereotypes intact that it doesn’t do anything for the genre and, like superheroes in Smallville and the rich-without-responsibility in Gossip Girl, it sacrifices its best and darkest asset for smoochy, pedestrian relationship tales, almost lowering it to the Mills and Boon-for-kids level of entertainment we’re largely sick of – but not quite. It’s still watchable trash.

To sum up, and without wishing to patronise:

If you enjoy Twilight, download, rent or steal Martin by George Romero. It says a hell of a lot more than this mildly entertaining but ultimately throwaway stuff does. Failing that, The Lost Boys has got a proper cool bit with a vampire, a bath and shitloads of holy water in it. Death by stereo!

The Friday Question: Host With the Most?

November 21, 2008

maggie philbin

‘Good morning! And welcome to this week’s Friday Question – brought to you today from the arsehole of the internet!’

That’s how a qualified TV presenter might open proceedings if this was a television programme – but it’s not! It’s a blog which is hidden in an unread corner of the interwebs.

Today’s question provides an open forum for discussion of TV presenters of the past and the present. The ones who give you that warm glow every time you see them.

Perhaps you fancied Maggie Philbin all those years ago and looked forward to Tomorrow’s World on that basis?

Maybe you saw John Craven as a slightly stern but kindly Uncle?

Perhaps Brian Cant reminds you of your alcoholic Dad?

Of course, the door’s always open for discussion of the opposite end of the scale.

Maybe Steve Jones makes you want to peel your own eyes off with a teaspoon so that your retinas won’t be burned by the vision of his big wooden head ever again?

 Maybe Alexa Chung’s vacant, sterile, ‘indie’ faux-kookiness makes you want to heave?

Who’s your favourite / least favourite presenter?

NewsGush: John, I’m Only Dancing

November 19, 2008

I don’t watch this, I don’t like dancing and I’m too busy watching the X Factor. But apparently this is news to some people.

I do like that footage from Strictly Come Dancing of John Sergeant dragging his blonde along the floor, mind you. It’s classy.

I wonder what his wife thinks?

Is Christine Bleakely still in it?

Horizon: How Mad Are You?

November 19, 2008

how mad are you?

Do you know what I like?

I like TV reviews.

I like writing TV reviews because, given the throwaway medium, you don’t really have to put much effort in. I especially like reviewing reality TV because everyone, including those who work within the industry, takes the piss out of it. Getting paid for reviewing it? Even better – you make a few pre-judgements on the characters involved, watch the opening ten minutes and then go and do some knitting and listen to LBC. The copy writes itself.

Not my thought process, readers – but I assume this was what was going through Kathryn Flett of The Observer’s mind when she was pushed for time last Tuesday and decided to review half of Horizon’s How Mad Are You? on BBC2, presumably without even watching the bloody thing. You’ll get the picture from the laboured, unsuccessful pun that heads the piece.

I’m a lobotomy, get me out of here

Completely unfunny and guilty of trivialising the experiences of the people the TV show’s about. But – benefit of the doubt and all that – let’s assume a sub-editor wrote that piece of crap and move on to the piece itself. Brace yourselves, it’s just as bad. 

In her article, she accuses the programme of being ‘a game show, by any other name’ which simply isn’t true. The only clunky thing about How Mad Are You? was the title. Beyond that, it was a series of psychiatric tests which 10 people took part in – five of whom had a history of mental illness and five of whom were all mentally sound (as far as they knew).

There was no points system and no prize trolley. If Kathryn thought this was a gameshow, then that’s more a tribute to the fact she clearly watches too much shit TV, gameshows being her only point of reference when she sees normal people being tested on the box.

The whole point of the show was to highlight that diagnostic tests are simply an aid to diagnosis. Case studies are crucial, and the show set out to prove that three scientists can’t sit together and label mental illnesses from behaviour systems without a case history to work with. It was all about how dangerous labels can be and to prove that the brain is a complex beast that can completely cover its tracks when breaking down. Furthermore, it can completely heal or at least develop coping systems in the face of a potentially debilitating illness.

But that doesn’t bother old steamroller Flett!

She puts the word ‘science’ in inverted commas, as though this is science with a whimsically light touch. What really grates is the fact that she subtly accuses the show of being exploitative but then kicks in with a couple of tasteless ‘mad’ gags of her own. ‘But can Yasmin really be as sane as she appears… find out after the break…down!’ she jests. Brilliant stuff, right? She claims they may as well have called the show ‘bonkers’. She talks about ‘a small but strident voice in one’s head’ and then hits us with the hilarious aside: ‘yup, that’d be the old paranoid schizophrenia playing up again’! – because it’s great fun, undermining the paranoid schizophrenic for chuckles.

Perhaps the worst aspect surrounds participant Yasmin. In what was actually quite a thought-provoking piece of television, in episode one Yasmin – who in the past had spent three years plagued by depression causing her to give up work and become so detached she couldn’t leave the house – managed to elude the attention of the psychiatrist panel. They all judged her least likely to have a history of mental illness.

Flett says that Yasmin smiled ‘smugly’ when told the news. Yasmin’s recovery has been so successful that experts couldn’t see a single trace of her past condition. She rightly smiled – her struggle with her own brain had reached a point where even people who are paid to spot this stuff judged her to be completely normal. That’s not smug – it’s vindication.

A more definitive case of ‘smug’ could be, for example, the act of writing an article about a sensitive subject, jumping in feet first, completely misjudging the whole concept and then enjoying your earnings off the back of another piece of shit copy.

Well done Kathryn – quality journalism there.