oh boy

TV season has begun again. Well, i really mean New Show Season. It’s where I choose, against my better judgement, to watch a new show, having seen the previews all summer, and get utterly turned off of its absolute cheesiness and lament the failed opportunity of what might have been a good idea were it not in the hands of network tv producers. Last year it was Heroes, this year it is Journeyman.

The pilot aired last night, a show about an accidental-time-travelling-journalist, who (and I doubt the show’s producers meant this) is probably the least charismatic character ever invented. To be honest, it’s a good idea with some seriously bad writers, extremely bad execution, dire casting, and already no mysteries, due to its unbelievably predictable storyline. Perhaps they wanted it to be an updated Quantum Leap, but Journeyman has less heart than a group of tax-collectors and absolutely no humour whatsoever. It is set in San Francisco (i counted every major SF landmark except the pier 39 sealions cropping up somewhere in that first episode) though it is clear that the producers are not from san francisco, and know nothing about the place (my wife spotted historical discrepancies instantly), and don’t mind throwing in an insult, either. The first moment the protagonist steps goodnight-sweatheart back through time, we can tell it’s the past because the 49ers are celebrating some big victory or other; I’m sure all ‘9ers fans were gritting their teeth and thinking, yes thanks for reminding us we haven’t won anything for years). Worst of all, the soundtrack was absolutely dreadful. Bad reality show cheese.

I might watch it next week, to see if it improves. Or perhaps I too will be mysteriously sent back in time, maybe to when TV was good.

Originally posted at 20six.co.uk/petescully

cash cab

My feelings about American telly are well-documented. Two many (loud) advert breaks, schedules being the same every single day, endless reality shows modeled on the worst of British (with cheesy soundtracks and editing) (most American shows these days are modeled on something British), crap asinine game shows requiring little or no knowledge of anything (Jeopardy being the huge exception), news shows fronted by giggling imbeciles with huge hair, faux concerned looks, enormous teeth and absolutely no sense of when to shut up and stop prattling pointless nonsense. Yes, I try not to watch much TV.

I tell you one fairly enjoyable quiz show my wife and I have discovered recently, though: Cash Cab. Set inside a taxicab on the streets of New York, unsuspecting passengers climb into the cab, state their destination to the driver, and suddenly colourful lights appear on the ceiling and they are told they are on a game show. The driver, New Yorker Ben Bailey (who looks like a younger De Niro mixed with Elliot Stapler from Law & Order), asks them a series of questions as he takes them through the congested city streets, and each time they answer a question correct they get cash. If they get stuck, they have two ‘shout-outs’ they can use, one mobile (like phone-a-friend), and one street shout-out, whereby they pull over, and ask someone from the sidewalk to help with their question. If they get three questions wrong, that’s three strikes and the driver kicks you out of the cab, no matter where you are, with no money (a free cab ride though). If you get to the end, you can either keep the cash, or go double-or-nothing with a bonus question. It’s an interesting concept for a game show, and good fun. Now I thought to myself, it’s a very New York show, set inside the iconic yellow-cab; given the trivia-soaked black-cabbies in London you could have it there too. Maybe you already do?

Well I looked it up, and yes it seems you do, and yes, like all shows these days, you actually had it there first, on ITV, since 2005 (the year I left). Jeez, it makes me feel like I’ve been away for ever.

Originally posted at 20six.co.uk/petescully

the smoking gun

The Disney Corporation, I’ve just heard, are going to be the first studio to ban images of smoking in their movies. Now while I am all for smoking bans, I’m not entirely sure how you can be affected by second-hand smoke from a cinema screen. However I can see what they’re doing – they don’t want to glamorize it, especially to younger viewers. Fair enough. They’ll have to edit out the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. But to ban it completely…it does seem a very big move against artistic freedom, I’m not sure how I feel about it. So why don’t they ban depictions of people being shot?

I was thinking this the other day while watching TV (I think it was a movie; I rarely watch TV these days unless it’s a quiz show or travel show, or football with Mexican commentary), and I noticed that the swear-words had been edited out (with anomalous moments of silence), and yet the random bloody shooting of people remorselessly by what were being portrayed as normal people, not psychopaths, was absolutely fine for these sensitive viewers. Watch a guy have his guts blasted across the living room wall, you can even smell the lead, but you can’t hear it when he says ‘fuck’. Heaven forbid. It’s one of the famous seven banned words on American TV. Obviously, you hear someone saying fuck, you’ll want to tear down society, whereas watching the casual use of guns, that won’t affect you. Just a thought.

Originally posted at 20six.co.uk/petescully

move over david

Considerez ceci:

Never mind Beckham. Something else has finally arrived, albeit slightly different. Pepsi Max, as anyone who knows me knows it’s my favourite drink, is here in the US, known however as ‘Diet Pepsi Max’, with all the same shit as in the original, zero sugar, plus the addition of ginseng, meaning I can also wash my hair in it. Pepsi Max! Here in America!

Never mind Beckham. They (the mysterious ‘they’, who make things happen) have remade the Bionic Woman as a new series, and starring as the bionic lass herself is…Zoe Slater! Off Eastenders! There we are, watching the TV, and a preview comes on, and there she is. She’s supposed to be ‘involved in a near-fatal car accident’ before being rebuilt as an android…I really hope this accident takes place new year’s eve, outside the Vic, just for old times sake. I wonder if Dennis Rickman will show up as the six-million dollar man.

Never mind Beckham. Tomorrow is Harry Potter Day, and downtown Davis is having a big feast of activities in the run-up to midnight, when the books will be released. I saw the latest movie, Order of the Phoenix, twice already – the first time, I really enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help but notice all the things that were missing or different. The second time, I enjoyed it a lot more, because I was watching it as a film.

Never mind Beckham. I bought the new Art Brut album recently, “It’s a Bit Complicated”. I’ve followed them for years now, and I was worried that a second album would not, could not, live up to the punch of the first. This second album, however, doesn’t even. I can see what they’re doing, and musically they’re more accomplished (not always a good thing), but the themes are a bit tired, a little samey, there is none of the rough-and-readiness of Bang Bang Rock’nRoll. Whereas their first album seemed effortless, on this one they just didn’t make an effort. I’m still a fan.

And finally, never mind Beckham, here in Davis, in the middle of July, it RAINED! I remember this time last year, sweltering in the ridiculous central valley heat, thinking it would never be cool ever again. It was about 115 F…this week it was in the low 80s, and it even rained. I read in the paper that the last time we saw rain up here on July 18th was in the days of the Gold Rush. I didn’t live here then. And nor did Beckham.

Originally posted at 20six.co.uk/petescully

Year 2, Week 80: Antiques Roadshow

I hated Sundays when I was a kid, for many reasons. There was none of the sense of hope you got on a Saturday. Saturday’s were brilliant, weren’t they? Getting up and watching the cartoons and the loud and colourful morning shows, with the likes of Timmy Mallett, Michaela Strachan and Noel Edmonds, then later on there’d be the A-Team and football down the park, followed by the final scores (back when Spurs were great and Arsenal were shite); Sunday morning meant Grange hill repeats and being dragged around car-boot sales. And there was that awful dead period of TV on a sunday, from about 5pm (by when any possible footy that might have been on was over) until about 10, when Spitting Image would start. This dead period would be punctuated by such shows as Highway, Songs of Praise, Credo, Last of the Summer Wine, and – as if the car-boot sale experience wasn’t enough – Antiques flipping Roadshow.

Well guess what – they have it here too. But it’s not on Sundays, it’s on weekdays – it just feels like Sunday when it’s on. Oh, now don’t get me wrong – I actually do like the show. Really. The American version is very much like the British version, it’s not a glitzy win-fabulous-prizes in-your-face copy, and it’s on PBS, which means it has some dignity and no commercials. It doesn’t have Hugh Scully, but it does have Mark Walberg, and it’s not the guy from Planet of the Apes. I’ll tell you what I like about it though. While the British show ambles about the country from village hall to community centre, parading sensibly embarassed old folks trying their best not to show their elation / disappointment at the valuation of their old coronation teapots, the American one is a true roadshow, which really does get about – this is a big country, and yokel Americans can be really, really funny.

Last night’s one was in Mobile, Alabama (the place namechecked by a stuck Dylan on Blonde on Blonde), and you gotta love the Deep South, their colourful stories and their rocking-chair-on-the-verandah accents. One old fellow was talking about some event that happened back in his own history that was only vaguely connected to the rug or whatever that he was showing, saying how “we hadda rootin-tootin-good-tahm, yes sir!” They show such genuine love for their old family junk, especially such traditional Americana as blankets, and they really do practically fall off their chairs when told that the lampshade they picked up in a junk store in 1957 is worth ten thousand dollars. More than the human side though is the sense of American culture and history that, as an outsider, it’s often difficult to find otherwise. An old ‘Duke’ football, means nothing to me, but it turns out it’s from the ‘golden age of football’ (their football, not ours), which again doesn’t mean anything to me, but at least I could understand the warmth with which they spoke about it.

One of the more interesting historical artefacts that was evaluated was an old Confederate Army belt buckle. This guy, whose accent had such a twang you could play the fiddle with it, dug this belt up in his cotton field and was going around wearing it for many years. It turns out it’s a highly desirable item and, with it’s deep-rooted southern history, could easily pick up twenty grand at an auction, much to the evaluator’s excitement and old Zeke’s astonishment. What they never brought up, but I’ll bet they both thought it, is that this very same belt may well have been used to beat poor black slaves in that very same cotton field; it’s hard to escape that sinister image of the south. When you start to imagine the hidden history in such a seemingly innocent item as a belt buckle, well, it kind of puts complaining about Last of the Summer Wine on a Sunday evening in Burnt Oak into a little perspective.

Week Forty-Six: The Dirty Soap Box

Elections are usually held in November in the US, but the campaigning runs almost year-round. Throw the various Primaries into the mix, and it is hard to escape the presence of toothy-grinned candidates and well-polished slogans – but then, we’re all supposed to be interested in this democracy, aren’t we? I’m sure Joe Lieberman, King George’s favourite Democrat, wishes a few fewer people were interested, after a massive turnout of anti-war Americans rejected him in favour of Ned Lamont as the Connecticut candidate (try saying that five times, George). Here in California, this November will see Arnold’s job as Governator up for grabs, along with the various Propositions on various issues, and the biased and misleading television advertising is already in full throttle. Kind of.

The TV spots began a few months ago, shortly before the vote for the Democratic gubernatorial (yes, peculiar word isn’t it) candidate, when Phil Angelides’ clever showcasing of his three daughters helped him fend off Steve Westly’s far-superior hairstyle. Arnold (‘Arnie’ sounds so British) didn’t need to worry about having an alternative Republican contender, and his adverts ran with the friendly, feel-good but uttelry meaningless slogan, “his heart’s in the right place”. Shame his hands weren’t. Well now the two parties have gone head to head once more, with Arnold’s people showing how much Angelides hates the environment and lets the big oil companies do what they want. Seriously, this from the Republicans. “What if Steve Westly was right?” they ask, darkly, telling Democrats that the right person for the job is no longer standing; how that helps Arnold is beyond me. Angelides, on the other hand, really goes for the jugular – showing Arnold as the Terminator, but riding that big motorbike backwards (oh, it’s a metaphor for the State going backwards, thanks Phil). And he says he’ll take money away from the corporations and put it into schools, that’ll learn ’em.

Yes, hardly the nasty quality of vitriole you see in Presidential elections (when real money is at stake, and the Republicans really pull out the stops). The spots this time just make me laugh; one of the most laughable is the one that asks voters to vote “No” on Prop 87, which proposes spending $4 billion on reducing oil and gasoline usage by 25%, researching cleaner ways to produce energy, taxing the oil companies and prohibiting them from passing this back to the consumers. The woman in the ad is at the pump, linking ‘clean energy’ to ‘bureacracy’ and ‘waste of money’ and telling people what they least want to hear – that it will cost you more at the pump. Ok, well let me introduce you to Mr Irony here, my dear, because you are standing there with your great big gas-guzzling earth-destroying SUV. Another ad asks us to Vote No on another Prop because it would mean that your tax money would go to – heaven forbid – hospitals. Like it’s a bad thing. It’s almost as if they want you to vote no for these Props! Their heart really isn’t in it, is it? Perhaps they are waiting for the Big Vote for a new (and possibly female) President in ’08. That’ll give the ad-makers something to sink their teeth into.

Week Three: American TV – may cause drowsiness

Coming from the BBC culture of the UK, it’s easy to forget just how insufferable American television can be, whether it be the overblown news shows, the stomach-churning chat shows or the constant stream of asinine commercials.

“Do you have genital herpes? Ask your doctor for ‘Itch-ditch’. Contains acropolyurinothaloethylene. May cause drowsiness or amnesia.”

I’ve sadly been watching a lot of box lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that what I am really watching are commercials with bits of show added in every so often. Channel hopping is impossible in this climate. I’ll be flicking through like a gunslinger from the Old West, and still find nothing but wall to wall adverts. A half hour show such as Seinfeld or South Park will have between three to four commercial breaks, inserted at the most random moments.

“Why am I happy? I just saved money on my car insurance with E-Z-Sure! More money for me to spend on burgers.”
“In theaters this Friday – from the director of ‘The Cop’ – He was a Cop, on the Edge, and he was Back, for More: ‘The Cop II’ – rated N for Not Sure”

It begins as soon as the opening credits are in – break one. A couple more leap unannounced into the show, and then a final one just before the final credits roll in. Adversely, there will very often not be one between shows – gee whizz, folks, that would be overkill. So why are there so many advert breaks? It surely can’t be so people can check what’s being advertised on the other side. So it’s tilme to check the TV listings in the paper. Americans all have cable, so they all have about seven thousand channels, rather than the standard five most Brits have to choose between (or three if you don’t count ITV and Channel Five, which are shite). So what’s on? A mind-numbing stream of comedy repeats, both American and British (including a worrying double-bill of ‘Are You Being Served?’), bloated ego-centric news anchor shows, dire daytime soap-operas (24 hours a day), serious-browed cop and lawyer shows, over-exposed and under-thought-out reality shows, vacuous talk-shows, the odd multi-channel publicised serial such as ‘Lost’ or ‘Desperate Housewives’ – oh, and the US edition of ‘How Clean is Your House’. You cannot escape Kim and Aggie, even here.

“New at Taco Bell, huge stuffed meat beef chicken lamb and bacon burrito with jack cheese, stringly lettuce and too much rice, chili, cheese, chipotle, chihauhauas and chewing gum (ask your doctor about side effects)”
“America’s most trusted urine remover – Urine-Gone (TM) – rids your carpet of any yellow stains – gets your floor so clean you can wipe your bum with it – call this 0800 URINE-GONE now – not available in shops”

And then the movies – Americans watch a lot of films, throughout the day. Now unlike Britain, which seems to air it’s best films after about 11.45 at night, they are shown all day here. And I love how they rate them in the listings – The Godfather, for example, is rated ‘R – contains violence, adult situations, nudity, language.’ Language? What, Italian? The interesting thing is that this exact same description is used for Jerry Maguire, not a film known for its gangland murder scenes. And ‘adult situations’? Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone is listed as containing ‘adult situations’, as does Back To the Future II. Which situations would those be? When Marty flies off on a hovering skateboard? Yet in the same listings appear Platoon, Hamburger Hill and Braddock: Missing In Action III, none of which have any rating. No language, no violence, not a sniff of an adult situation – what sort of soppy friendly war was Vietnam?

“The new Monster SUV – guzzles more gas than the entire population of Bratislava – for when you absoultely positively have to go off road – protect America, buy the new Monster SUV (may cause dizziness)”

At least, after all of this, they still have The Late Show with David Letterman. Half an hour with Dave and you know it’s all been worth it…


Originally posted on 10/18/2005