Review: The Revolution Will Be Televised

A few years ago, I happened upon a little show on the BBC iPlayer when I was bored. That show was called “The Chaser’s War on Everything”. If you’ve never seen it, The Chaser’s War is a stunt and sketch comedy series by an Australian comedy toupee. They skewer the modern world – entertainment, politics and so on. It’s a great show and Australia’s National Broadcaster (The OTHER ABC) is rightly proud of The Chaser’s work. The BBC showed it here in the UK and I can only imagine they did so with envious eyes, because BBC Three’s latest comedy show “The Revolution Will Be Televised” is a fairly direct clone.

BBC Three, which bills itself as “Never Afraid to Try New Things” has a recent history of trotting out all-new comedy series. Some of these are frankly brilliant, like the puppet-based adult sitcom “Mongrels”. Unfortunately, they cancelled that show. Others among these BBC Three Comedy experiments are less funny. Like everything they have done involving Russell Kane – a man whose comedy I have yet to find a single person admitting to enjoying.

Unfortunately, “The Revolution Will Be Televised” appears to have come from the same BBC Three programmers who cancelled “Mongrels” and have been pushing Russell Kane harder than a Sixth Form Tutor pushes University applications and not from the people responsible for putting shows like “Mongrels”, “Bad Education” and “Wilfred” on BBC Three’s airtime. Because it’s painfully flawed.

PAINFULLY flawed.

Of course it’s entirely possible that all these shows were picked up by the same programmers. In which case I would definitely have to characterise their efforts as “hit or miss”. Speaking of which…

That’s basically the biggest problem with “The Revolution Will Be Televised”, at least as far as the first episode indicates. Too many of the stunts fall flat in their efforts to be funny. Actually, that’s not entirely it…

More accurately, almost all the stunts have some good ideas and funny bits in them (The exceptions from Episode 1 wold be the MI6 stunt – which was just utterly moronic from the moment it started to the moment it mercifully ended – and the Occupy Protests stunt – which took a good idea for a stunt and wasted it by having an unfunny halfwit try and do what “The Daily Show” correspondents have been doing successfully for years and failing miserably). The problem is…These guys just don’t seem to know when they’ve got the laugh.

The Daily Show Team
Jon Stewart with some of The Daily Show’s Correspondents

Once you’ve got the laugh, you stop. And you move on. To keep things fresh. Here, our would-be revolutionaries continue labouring the point well past the time the shock value wears off. The Chaser never did that. If the laugh came earlier than they were expecting, they simply escalated. That kept things fresh and replaced the shock value with refuge in audacity.

The Chaser
The Chaser

What’s worse though, is that most of these bits were repeated. Oh yes, not content to outstay their welcome alone, several of the episode’s stunts were broken up into chunks. Meaning that we were treated to a re-tread of the same joke later in the episode – a joke which had already been overused before the re-tread even started. Frustrating to say the least.

There’s something funny to be done with the ideas behind “The Revolution Will Be Televised”, but I’m not entirely confident that Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein are the right people to execute on it- at least, not on their own. I feel like with more than just the two creators putting stunts together and carrying them out, the’d be able to cover more ground. That’d really help a lot.

Still, maybe things will pick up with the later episodes. It happened for Ten O’Clock Live Season 2 after all.

E3 2012: Thoughts & Wishes

Get hype people! For the 2012 Edition of the Electronic Entertainment Expo is nearly upon us. In just over 43 hours, the biggest week on the video gaming calendar will kick off when Microsoft Entertainment & Devices/Microsoft Studios take to the stage to deliver the first of the E3 Press Conferences, which play host to the biggest announcements in gaming’s biggest week.

It’s always worth paying attention to E3, not just because you find out about all the coolest, most exciting news regarding upcoming games and hardware but also because of the spectacle. And the memes. Dear god the memes.

And so, I am suitably excited about the week ahead. So here’s a look at what it is about E3 2012 I’m looking forward to. And in case anyone’s wondering, I’m still planning to do a Post about the 2012 Eurovision Final and the fact Soluna Samay obviously should have won, but I’m holding off on it until the EBU releases the split jurors/tele-voting results, because I want to give them a look over first.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to my Thoughts & Wishes for E3 2012!

Microsoft

Oh Microsoft, what is with you guys anyway? You had it all. Mindshare, loyal users, buckets of income, a cornucopia of beloved franchises on your hardware…And yet you’ve spent the past three E3s wasting everyone’s time pursuing a fool’s understanding of the Nintendo formula.

I’m not sure what it is which has caused Microsoft’s Nintendo envy to swell to such incredible heights over the past few years…Certainly Nintendo’s considerable success with the Wii had them looking at the Big N with considerable envy – after all, Microsoft had it in their heads that this generation was their turn for dominance. Every platform gets two generations to call their own, right? Nintendo had two, Sony had two…Then Nintendo, in Microsoft’s eyes at least, stole another turn in the winner’s circle.

Winner’s envy has never been a good look or move for Microsoft. The same thing is what led to the stillborn “zune” line of personal media players. Nor has copying ever done Microsoft much good. Windows Vista was a straight clone of Mac OS X with the Windows legacy and it bombed. Windows Phone 7 in contrast, is critically acclaimed. Microsoft, for all its history of shamelessly ripping off other people’s work, is at its best when it’s doing it’s own thing.

Which is why I think they’ve dug themselves into a hole with the Kinect. Kinect is Microsoft copying Nintendo on a conceptual level. The problem with copying that, as it has been with all notable examples of Microsoft copying other people’s stuff, is that Microsoft doesn’t understand what it’s copying. The flagrantly shoddy user experience of the Kinect is the result of Microsoft’s under-developed understanding of the success Nintendo has had with the Wii. They boiled it down to “motion controls = casual audience”. Wrong, so wrong. So painfully, juvenilely over-simplified.

The casual appeal of the Wii was baked into its very being. It’s not motion controls, it’s simplicity that won the day. Simplicity breeds intuitiveness. Kinect is wholly non-simple, and thus counter intuitive. Microsoft failed to realise that while Nintendo fixed the over-complexity of controllers with the Wii, controllers themselves are not inherently complex. Quite the opposite. They abstract complex actions into simpler ones. Kinect does not. The result is a terrible user experience. But nonetheless, one Microsoft seems to have unwavering faith in. No doubt spurred on by inflated hardware sales. The software sales tell a different story. So the big wish for me this E3 in terms of Microsoft…

For the love of everything you hold dear Microsoft, stop banking on the Kinect. The Xbox 360 is awesome in its own right. You thought so once too. Remember 2007?

Do more of that. Don’t go another year spending half your presser showing off games and game features that most people don’t want, and which will suck. No, seriously, almost anything related to the Kinect can and will suck in some way. Because it’s a wrongheaded solution to a non-problem. You’ve done it now, so continue to pursue it if you will, but let’s have some stuff that ignores it, please?

Halo 4 is so far Kinect-less. Keep it that way. New Gears of War, huh? Do yourselves a favour and keep the Kinect the hell off it. If you absolutely have to use it, just use the voice commands. And let’s get some new game announcements which are also Kinect-free. I can’t think of a single game announcement from you last year that was Kinect-free except the two Halo titles.

Cut that shit out Microsoft.

I’d also like to see you un-tie some of the internet service on Xbox 360 from Xbox LIVE Gold subscriptions. It’s flat-out dumb to expect me to pay you for services other platforms provide free access to, especially (though not exclusively) those which are themselves subscription based services. Of course you’re not going to do that though, are you?

Majorly uncool, Major Nelson.

Sony

So…About time you cut the price on the PlayStation Vita, huh?

Sony seems to be a company taking two steps forward then (at least) one back lately. They got away with the PSN debacle last year with surprisingly few wounds to show for it, then set about repeating past errors in the handheld market for…No adequately explored reason. In launching the PS Vita, Sony didn’t learn from Nintendo’s troubles with the pricing. More egregiously, they did not learn from the mistakes of the PSP.

“But Paul!” I hear you cry, “The PS Vita has two thumb sticks and like, zero piracy!”

Yeah, see, those were actually by far the least of the PSP’s worries. The lack or a right stick and the poor security were periphery mistakes. They were lessons easily learnt. Even Nintendo quickly supplied an option for a second analogue input of the 3DS. The lack of a second stick was never as big a deal on the PSP or the 3DS as it was made out to be. The PSP was a failure because it was wrongheaded on a purely conceptual level (The basic system vision and design was fundamentally unappealing outside of a theoretical scenario).

And the Vita is…Identical. The vision and design are…Unchanged. It’s so much just the PSP again that not calling it the PSP2 is quite frankly a laughably transparent coverup of its sameness.

Still, while – like its predecessor before it and unlike the 3DS and DS – it fails to offer anything unique to justify its existence, it could still find a level of success akin to the PSP itself if they’d just drop the damn price. To the point I’ll actually be shocked if they don’t announce a price drop.

In contrast to the poor fortunes of the PSVita, the PlayStation 3 is ticking along nicely. The third-placed home console is nonetheless the most successful third-placed gaming platform ever. The Xbox 360 is only beating the PS3 to second place by a few million units despite a year head start and the PS3’s preposterously shaky origin story as the Five Hundred And Ninety Nine US Dollars PLAYSTATION 3.

Sony needs to continue with its efforts to one-up Microsoft on the entertainment services front, and it looks likely they will. Meanwhile, some of Sony’s special blend of “high profile exclusives” would do well to materialise this holiday season, to see off the juggernaut that is the mighty Halo franchise and Nitendo’s Wii U.

It’s probably tempting for Sony to push a lot of high profile developments to PSVita, but that would be an error. The PS3’s position for the next year is more important. Big games for the PS3 Sony, it has to happen. The Vita has time yet, especially if you drop the price. The PS3’s got a limited opportunity to strike the Xbox 360 dead. Don’t give up on that.

A fascinating rumour doing the rounds pre-E3 has Sony acquiring cloud gaming service OnLive and integrating the service into their gaming ecosystem. It makes some strategic sense – Sony seems to be in love with the idea of PlayStation Anywhere & EVERYwhere. Seems amazing they’d be able to pull off such a high-profile gambit though. Colour me intrigued by the prospect at least.

Nintendo

Oh boy, this is gonna be a big one.

Nintendo are the first platform holder to blink in the arms race that is developing the Eighth Generation Home Consoles, and last year showed off some impressive tech demos and introduced us to their latest wacky idea: “I know, let’s make the DS, but like…HUGE and with your TV!”

Snark aside, Nitendo heard you liked to iPad while you TV’d and TV while you Wii’d & iPad’d so they put an iPad in your Wii so you can iPad while you TV while you Wii.

Again, snark aside, the Wii U is Nintendo’s (unfortunately named) latest vision for disruption in the industry. They’re playing a risky game though – they’re going first. Ask perennial “first out the gaters” Sega, and most recent first blinkers Microsoft, how well going first in the home console arms race usually goes.

Nah it’s probably quicker if I just tell you: Poorly.

Still, Nintendo has never been one to play by the beat of someone else’s drum. The mere existences of the Wii/DS and the DS/Wii U are proof enough of that. What Big N sorely needs to do at E3 then is show us why this…Tablet thing is worth our attention. They need to showcase games which shift the paradigm the way Wii Sports did. Having a map on the tablet isn’t gonna cut it. Blown up DS games won’t either. It needs to be fundamentally disruptive, something totally game-changing. Wii, with Wii Sports, showcased approachability unparalleled since the NES. Wii U is more complex, so approachability will be the remit of the existing Wii Remotes (Which are part of the Wii U ecosystem too of course). The centrepiece tablet controller has to offer something else.

Versatility seems like the obvious pitch Nintendo is going to run with – not least because their promo video last year showcased a number of different use case scenarios.

To that end, Nintendo is in big trouble if they don’t get their online services house in order. Nintendo Network is already an improvement on WiiConnect24, but it needs to put on a pair of big boy pants if Nintendo’s power play on versatility with the Wii U is going to pay off. It needs accounts. It needs to have communication (Seems likely they’re at least planning on sorting that out, the tablet controller is confirmed to support video conferencing in some way at least). It needs periphery entertainment solutions.

Day one, Nintendo needs the Wii U to be as personal as its name and main controller imply, but it also needs to take Nintendo’s existing social strength and combine it with their weakness, online. Nintendo blows the doors off their competitors at local multilayer and intimate social interactions. Now they need to recognise the importance of broader social and networking features and do them right.

This is something they should try and do with the 3DS too. It would benefit from software updates adding these kinds of features. In terms of games, the 3DS is doing alright. There are already some great 3DS games slated to appear at the show (Luigi’s Mansion 2, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion) so Nintendo are probably in good shape there.

I’d like to see Pokémon Black & White 2 make some kind of appearance in the presser, but it’s unlikely. Game Freak and Creatures Inc seem to keep their own counsel on when to show off Pokémon franchise stuff. Still, Black and White 2 is probably the DS’s last major hurrah – to the point that it’s almost baffling the pair are not 3DS games – so it’d be nice to see Nintendo show off something.

Third Parties

We have got to see more about this:

Professor Layton Versus Ace Attorney (Née Professor Layton Versus Gyakuten Saiban) is one of the coolest collaborations ever. It’d be great to get a date for it – especially if there as a Western date alongside the obviously earlier Japanese one.

On a similar note, if Capcom could see their way to showing or telling us something about Gyakuten Saiban 5, confirmed as inbound in January. Who’s the star? What’s the platform (It’s obviously 3DS and probably Vita, but damn it I want you to say anyway)? And when can we play it!?

I hear EA is prepping a sequel (Or some kind of revival at any rate) to the most beloved of all Need for Speed games. If the mooted Need for Speed: Most Wanted title does materialise, you bet your ass the Fandom Will Rejoice. I’m really keen to see if they can recapture the magic of Most Wanted’s story, characters, modes and aesthetic. There was something about Most Wanted that was like lightning in a bottle. It was so correct it seemed obvious – hence Carbon was mostly a clone of it (A passable if unspectacular one) and the later Need for Speed games which diverged from its formula have been, to varying degrees, let downs.

Need for Speed needs a kick in the pants after the hugely disappointing  The Run (Failed to properly execute on an actually decent premise). Reviving Hot Pursuit did the franchise favours not too long ago, so there’s high hopes for reviving Most Wanted.

I also want EA to announce a Mass Effect Trilogy pack. It seems almost inevitable that such a product will come to be. Having not played Mass Effect but recently having finally found time for Knights of the Old Republic, I’d be very interested in such a pack. Meanwhile, EA also has a giant elephant in the room to deal with from the same developer: The Old Republic.

Despite EA’s repeated posturing that they have no intention of making TOR an F2P title, you have to wonder at what point the dwindling subscription numbers will force their hand. Perhaps they have another solution to the problem up their sleeves. Regardless, it will be interesting to hear what, if anything, EA has to say about TOR. Also, MAKE WITH THE MAC PORT ALREADY.

Jeez.

Another big one from the third parties is Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 3. After a serious bout of Capcom Sequel Stagnation, Ubisoft is finally bringing out an all-new AC and it looks fantastic. They never, in all they hyping of the previous fur games, gave me any idea of why it was I should care. But AC3 looks like it could win me over. In a similar vein, Hitman: Absolution looks like drawing me back to that franchise after some brief flirtations in its early days.

From our friends at Disney, there’s two new Epic Mickey games. The big budget sequel, Power of Two, and the first portable entry, Power of Illusion. They both look absolutely fantastic and I’m keen to see and hear more about them.

Those are the big third party games that spring to mind as being what I’m looking out for. I’ve doubtless missed a few.

Miscellany

As I tweeted earlier, one of the games I want to see isn’t even a real thing, it’s a nebulous wish for a certain kind of game with a certain theme. I don’t even care who makes it. I just…I want a dinosaur game, guys.

A big-budget, kick ass dinosaur game. I want someone to do for Dinosaurs what has been done to death for zombies. I want like Jurassic park: Trespasser done right with modern technologies or something. Maybe you can capture the dinosaurs and try to train them or something? I dunno. Just…Dinosaurs guys, come on. Jurassic Park: The Game from Telltale Games is pretty good (Not quite as good as their Back to the Future effort mind you), but I want something a bit less Heavy Rain and a bit more…Actual video game.

Hell I think at this point I’d buy a Turok game.

Just get it done. Dinosaurs are rad. Why is nobody making dinosaur games? Seriously, I saw like THREE new zombie games last year. It’s played out – and I LOVE killing zombies. Let’s shoot dinosaurs for a while, how about it?

Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Semi-Final 2 Thoughts

It’s that time again! After giving my thoughts on Tuesday’s Semi-Final, it’s now time for me to feedback on Eurovision Song Contest 2012 Semi-Final 2, which took place last night. If you want to remind yourself of context and so on, check out the introduction to the Semi Final 1 Post. You might even want to check out those thoughts before looking at these if you haven’t already red the other post.

Now, before we get to the actual competitors’ entries, I’m gonna go ahead and say that last night’s show was much better than Tuesday’s. There were two reasons for this. First, but less importantly, the BBC’s production was much smoother yesterday. Tuesday it seems as if the talent and production team had turned up five minutes before air and had no idea what they were going to be doing more than five to ten minutes in advance. Last night flowed much more smoothly, it felt a lot more planned & considered.

They also made sure Sara Cox was rarely without Scott Mills to balance out her irritating quirks (Cox is much more agreeable playing off Scott Mills than she is trying to be funny on her own).

Secondly, and most importantly, Azerbaijan’s Semi-Final 2 played host to one of the coolest Eurovision interval acts I have ever seen – I’m almost disappointed they wasted it on the Semi, it easily would have been at home in the Final proper. They got the most recent five winners of the ESC onstage together to perform a medley, including the relevant winning five songs and then a fantastic group cover of Waterloo.

It was awesome. The winners put in standout performances, it sounded great and as a Eurovision nerd it was simply cool to see. Plus, it means Lena was at the ESC for the third successive year.

And it’s no secret I adore Lena, having voted for her on both occasions of her entering the Contest. She’s lovely, and I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to find out she was back again.

Anyway, with that out of the way, on to the finalists!

Serbia

Serbia kicked things off with a rather mournful ballad – which frankly set the tone for what wound up being a fairly ballad-heavy semi. Serbia have won with a ballad before, but I’m not really sure it’s gonna work twice. The entry’s not awful, but it didn’t exactly ignite my passions. It did, notably, innovate. Yes, rather than falling into the “pretty lady with a violin cliché…

TWO pretty ladies with violins! Multiple nice-looking women playing lovely sounding string instruments! GENIUS!

Macedonia

I…Wait a minute…

Yep, it happens that quickly. Macedonia went second, and they too put on a mournful ballad (Albeit one which was a little bit more rousing towards the end) with a pair of pretty ladies paling violins. The similarity of the two acts first onstage is frankly hilarious. Luckily they’ve been separated a bit in the Final.

Not much to say about these two if I’m honest. They’re not really to my taste, I’ve only occasionally liked Eurovision ballads (Molitva deserved its win against the finalists that year in my opinion, though Salvem El Móm was the best song in the Contest overall). Still, there are worse songs than these two in the contest. In fact there’s worse songs in the final.

It’s Albania. I’m talking about Albania. That song is baaaaad.

Malta

I was slightly concerned this wouldn’t get through. It’s very good; and it has a suitably epic feel (Definitely plays well as a stadium performance, put it that way); but despite it’s catchy, poppy style it also flirts heavily with the rock music aesthetic. And as we know, rock songs have a history of being streets ahead of other songs in the contest and being left in the Semis anyway (Like Salvem El Móm).

Fortunately for Malta, it appears the maltese entry’s pop music stylings saved it from the rock music curse. It may have helped that there was another entry with more overtly rocky stylings to absorb the curse…More on that later.

Ukraine

Ukraine have been known to send some bizarre acts (Dancing Lasha Tumba? That was the Ukraine entry that year. Yeah), and it seems to work for them. Be My Guest continues that proud tradition:

And indeed, this is a particularly strong example. The song is actually pretty damn good, which always helps make a novelty act worth our attention, the singer is fairly easy on the eyes and the entry as a whole is very Eurovision. Definitely earning a spot in the final, I noted at the time that there was no way this song was failing to make the cut.

Sweden

Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the out and out favourite to win:

Euphoria, Sweden’s latest effort, leads the bookies’ odds and the buzz in the hardcore Eurovision crowd is that this is in with a really good chance of stopping the Russian Grannies (The number 2 seed, buoyed by the novelty factor).

And it’s…Actually not bad. It’s not my favourite song in the contest, but I do like it, despite initially not taking to it. I kind of felt like the verses were a bit incomprehensible last night though. It’s possible, however, that this was a technical thing and not related to the song, so it might sound better on Saturday. At any rate, not my pick, but I’d not be upset at it winning.

Unless it narrowly beats Denmark. Then Sweden can go to hell.

Turkey

Turkey sent a novelty act. Hahahaha, we get it, they made their weird costumes link together in the form of a boat around him. Isn’t that marvellous?

Not especially, no. Annoyingly, the song is actually alright. The problem, as I see it, is that the singer is not…What’s that word…Good? He’s maybe passable. But not good. The song has a relatively catchy hook, but I constantly felt the lyrics and the music were on keys which were not only quite far apart, but also so far apart it seemed unlikely the two had ever met.

Not great, might do well anyway though. Not especially bad either at least.

Estonia

This is an entry which elicits a “meh” from me. It’s in no way bad, but it’s not really my cup of tea (it’s another soppy ballad). THere was some amusement to be had with its singer though, who is Estonia’s answer to Zac Efron (He played Troy in Estonian High School Musical) and perennial nobody Chris O’Donnell.

So it’s a good looking guy singing a ballad eh?

And so it came to be.

Norway

More hilarious lookalike fun to be had here. Take a look at Norway’s entry:

It could also be that this guy is the magic offspring of Kutcher and Taylor Lautner.

Joking aside, Norway put in a solid effort. Nothing much to complain about here. Competent entry, decent enough song, no surprise it made the final. It’ll probably do quite well. I didn’t like it early on in the performance and felt like it might go out, but by the end it had flipped me and I was approving, though slightly concerned about what the judges would do with it. Concerns were ill-founded, since it made it in.

Bosnia And Herzegovina

Bosnia & Herzegovina sent Romana, one time Lord President of the Time Lords (Snark snark her costume is preposterous oh that Bosnia and Herzegovina etc. etc.) to perform an example of my least favourite Eurovision entry type, a weeper – a particularly soppy, miserable and downbeat ballad.

Not a fan, but apparently Europe is because it got in along with…

Lithuania

Who also sent a weeper – though at least theirs became a bit more rousing toward the middle and back half. Still not one of my favourites, and I certainly would;t have been sorry to see it go out. It capped off what turned out to be a very ballad-heavy Semi Final, and I have to say I strongly disagree with the sentiment of some other Eurovision geeks (At least ahead of Semi Final 2) that Semi Final 1 was the weaker Semi. Only a few good songs if you ask me – and precious few of those made it from Semi Final 2 to Saturday’s Final (More on that below).

Lithuania did provide me some amusement though, as 24 year old Donny Montell (4 years my senior) looks about half that age.

Anyway, with the Finalists out of the way, it’s time to move on to the unlucky eight who are going home early (Well, metaphorically speaking).

The Netherlands

See, I’m not sure if Joan Franka realised 120 Million+ People watch this thing. Because it certainly seemed as if she thought it was a little thing down the pub. Her jaunty little love-themed ditty wasn’t awful, but it was by no means good. It sounded weird and she looked high most of the time she was onscreen (She even seemed under the influence in the Green Room).

Still, the netherlands did decide to keep up the theme of innovation with violins from the two acts before them, by changing things up in a crazy new way:

Note for the record though that a male violinist did win for Norway in 2009. He was also the lyricist though.

Belarus

Belarus overturned the result of the national tele-vote to pick their entry because their country’s leadership agreed with the population’s sentiment that the vote had been rigged to prevent this entry from winning.

Well, you know what Belarus? You should have let BTRC rig the result. Lightspeed’s effort was incredibly mediocre. Another bloody Eurovision Song about succeeding against long odds, with clichéd boasts of presumptive triumph thrown in? Jeez, guys, 2007 called, they want their semi-finalist dropouts back.

No surprises this went to, and no huge loss to the Contest.

Portugal

The first big scalp, at least if the hype was to be believed. If you ask me though, a lone woman in a showy dress in front of a crowd of barely moving backup singers (take a shot) singing a ballad? Yeah, like we needed another one of those. Portugal sent a particularly uninspiring effort at a style already being overused, so they were always going out.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s entry had a lot of hype behind it because it had one of the least worthless gimmicks of all the gimmicks entered this year (And there’s quite a few of them, as per usual). You should check it out, because it’s actually not bad – in fact I had it pegged as probably getting through, though I did imagine it would endure anonymity in the final. I guess Europe had other ideas.

Slovenia

For my money, the biggest scalp of the night, was this rather enchanting entry from Slovenia failing to make it into the final.I really liked it, and it seemed like a lock to me:

But it seems Europe didn’t want that much variety in the finalists tonight (We’ll get to that) and so they decided the only song tonight which successfully took the “get a lady to sing a song” idea in a direction other than “make it a ballad because real art is sad!” should be shown the door. Kind of a big loss. This was a good one. One of my top five for sure.

Yes, it starts off as kind of a ballad, but unlike the others it quickly builds to something anthemic. The others stick pretty stubbornly to downbeat balladic themes. This one reminds me of Molitva, in that it becomes very powerful and catchy as it builds.

Also, she’s quite pretty.

Croatia

Croatia’s entry opted for an…Ahem…Innovative approach to preparing for the Contest.

Yeah…So that was weird. And not worth it because it didn’t go through. No huge loss, it merely joined the throngs of songs last night which were mournful dreary ballads sung by women. In fact, this one really took the cake:

Still, it did have one thing going for it, the most obvious example of an old friend to all Eurovision fans:

And yes, the Eurovision key Change did lead to it being a bit more upbeat, but enough of it was dreary and miserable that it failed to excite me the way Slovenia did.

Georgia

Baffling. Just baffling.

Not awful.

Just…Baffling.

Not a huge loss, though not abysmal.

Mostly? Baffling.

Slovakia

Simultaneously the biggest scalp of the evening (Semi Final 2’s best song – hands down) and the one I was least surprised was forced out. Slovakia, failing completely to heed my repeated warnings about rock songs frequently being among the best songs in the Contest and yet still going out in the Semi because apparently Europe hates rock music now, entered “Don’t CLose Your Eyes” and…Just listen to it:

How can you not want to rock out to that!? It’s fantastic. This is exactly the kind of song which would be played all over University Campuses.

I voted for it, despite knowing full well it was probably a waste of effort. I had to try. Andorra going out still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth (As you may have noticed). Alas, the curse struck once again, and so another of the top five songs in the entire contest has gone out at the first hurdle.

This was the dog with the best chance of unseating Denmark was my personal voice for winner. But Europe hates rock music, and so Slovakia’s chances are down the drain.

So then, I leave you with this:

Go Soluna Samay Go! Vote Denmark!

Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Semi-Final 1 Thoughts

Ah, the Eurovision Song Contest. Music as sport, with hilarious campiness and snark added for that little extra spice. As you might know, I ADORE it. I watch it every year and blow up Twitter with my ongoing commentary on everything that happens. And now, I’m blogging about it too (Ahead of having a mini Eurovision Party on Saturday for the first time!)

Here then I will be writing up my thoughts on Semi Final 1. I’ll do the same on Friday for Semi Final 2, and Sunday for the Final. Naturally, during the shows, my usual Twitter service will be in full effect. Saturday’s should be fun, as I’m going to be drinking Beer and playing a Eurovision Drinking Game and there’s nothing funnier than drunken live tweets. Now, for context, I take a semi serious approach to ESC. I treat it as a serious competition of musical performance but I’m entirely okay with it being light entertainment. And the fact is, if you take the show slightly seriously, it makes the campy nonsense even funnier to snark about.

With that in mind, I tend to favour serious entries, by which I mean heartfelt genuine efforts to produce a genuinely good song and performance, over the deliberately absurd gimmick entries – though if the song is good, I can appreciate the gimmick. I do, however, have a preference for more upbeat tracks. That said, I’ll support something more akin to a ballad provided it’s catchy enough or what have you.

With that out of the way then, here’s my thoughts on, first, the ten lucky entrants who will join the Big Five & Our Hosts (Azerbaijan) on Saturday.

Iceland

A heartfelt ballad duet song by a pretty girl and a handsome guy. Okay, first of all, take a shot. Take another because the pretty lady has a violin. Second…Meh? There’s almost always a song like this, and I can’t for the life of me recall it winning…Except, last year. Yes, that’s right, Iceland have turfed up as both this year’s cliche storm entry and the entry flagrantly ripping off last year’s winner (Another thing which also always happens – oh you better believe you should take a shot). It’s inoffensive enough like, so it was always getting through, but I predict (and hope for) relative anonymity on Saturday.

Greece

What’s that? Greece have sent a pretty girl with a sexually suggestive song who dances around provocatively giving us a good view of her legs and the occasional panty shot? Take another shot, and I hope you weren’t planning on driving tonight because you’re already wasted. Greece have pulled this exact stunt several times, as have other countries with admittedly less frequency than our cash-strapped Olympic inventing friends. Their best effort in this regard was 2008’s Kalomira, who at least seemed like a lovely girl on top of being pretty (it was also probably the best song they’ve sent with a pretty girl dancing suggestively, which helped). I doubt Greece are going to score big with Eleftheria and her “Aphrodisiac” (Subtelty has gone out the window incidentally), still the girl’s nice to look at.

Albania

Albania’s entry sucks. It just flat out sucks. This is an awful “song”, in a horrible style sung by a woman with what appears to be the weirdest hairdo in ESC history – think about that for a moment. How hard would it be to be that weird? She managed it. It’s mournful, a-melodic screeching and I’m frankly disgusted it got through. I have to imagine the judges are responsible for that (out of some pretentious belief that it’s artsy) because if Europe voted in droves for this dreck, I despair for humanity in general.

Romania

Another meh here. This is a song which left very little impression on me. I predicted at the time it would get through, as it had a distinctly inoffensive blandness, but I’d be amazed if it breaks the top ten in the final. Not much to say really. It’s okay, I guess.

Cyprus

Here we have Cyprus copying Greece’s signature play, which if you think about it is all sorts of hilarious given the relationship between the two nations. Yes it’s a pretty girl dancing about and singing a relatively catchy pop song. But, interestingly enough, it seems Cyprus may just have beat Greece at the latter’s own game. “La La Love” is undeniably a better song than Greece’s entry. And Ivi Adamou, whilst perhaps not quite as overtly sexy as  Eleftheria, is probably prettier than her Greek rival – and pretty girls tend to be more likely to succeed in ESC than simply sexy ones.

Denmark

Speaking of pretty girls doing well, Soluna Samay is very pretty. Although her fashion sense is a bit suspect, as noted in response to me by @SLomasSCFC1883:

Anyway, Soluna has entered a catchy acoustic pop song called “Should Have Known Better”. This song is fantastic. It’s a wonderfully pleasant listen. It’s technically a bit sorrowful if you listen to the lyrics, but it’s composed in a delightfully hopeful manner. This, for me, is the standout song of the Semi, and it’s my favourite so far (I’ve heard all the songs barring those in Semi Final 2 and the UK’s entry, which I usually wait until the final to hear unless there’s a public vote to pick it). I love this song, and Soluna is well on her way to getting my vote at this rate.

Russia

I’m in two minds about the infamous “Russian Grannies” entry. On the one hand, it is delightfully silly and genuinely endearing. Plus, it is appealingly catchy. After all, it’s a cheesy pop song. They tend to be catchy. On the other hand, it’s the Russian entry. This isn’t going to make sense to you if you’re not a Eurovision nut like myself, but we really don’t need or want to be going back to Russia, and the bitter taste of their last victory is still in my mouth. Unfortunately, this could be a lock. It’ll play well with the casual voters Europe-wide. The judges will take a dim view, but that could well not be nearly enough to keep this from winning. Apart from anything else, I’d like to keep it from winning precisely because it’s goofy. As noted above, I prefer genuinely good songs to win. Like “Should Have Known Better”.

Seriously, Soluna is this year’s Lena, I swear.

Hungary

Hungary’s was another entry which had “heading on to certain obscurity in the final” written all over it, with the the added bonus of being another example of those entries which seem to make an appearance every year (Yay for generic entries I guess?):

So, yeah. Not a lot to be said. It wasn’t awful, but I doubt it’s contesting the win.

Moldova

I’m a little disappointed this got through. I mean it’s not awful. And there were worse songs which were deservedly left behind. But I could have done without it (Though, given the choice, I’d pick it over Albania’s shameful waste of a slot any day). It’s a predictably absurd entry from the Moldovans, and I’m starting to wonder if they’re not a bit unhinged. From the weird costumes to the slightly bizarre song itself, it’s just a smidge too goofy for my tastes. And the fact it’s not even full on goofy makes it worse. It’s almost a normal entry. But with absurdity smeared all over it for no apparent reason. I’m not a fan, but it could possibly do well.

Ireland

Yeah, it’s Jedward. Back for another go. Funnily enough I actually like Waterline more than last year’s “Lipstick”. It’s a more sincere effort at a song. And the theatrics onstage with the fountain were pretty great actually, made a nice change to the usual fireworks and props stuff. Biggest mistake? Jedward’s needless shiny spacesuit outfits. Completely out of place with the song and just generally stupid. I know they’re supposed to have this quirky stage persona, but I just think it doesn’t fit this song and it’s possibly hurt their chances.

Incidentally, I’m not sure why, but the press (Or at least, the BBC) seemed baffled by the word “waterline” and kept asking “what is a water line?” of Jedward. The boys were equally baffled by the question. But I would suggest this was not, as it may have seemed, because they didn’t now, but because they weren’t prepared to be asked such a moronic question. It’s the surface of a given body of water. The metaphor, equally, is pretty self-explanatory. I really didn’t understand where the confusion arose from. But there you are.

Anyway, those are our ten qualifiers. Let’s take a look at the eight acts which have crashed out of the contest for the year now.

Montenegro

Montenegro it seems did not make a sincere effort, with their entry coyly describing his attendance at the contest as a “mistake”.

I’d have to assume this is because they don’t want to pay to host the contest next year  – fair enough, other nations have done the same thing. I do wish they had chosen to simply enter something which would just “never win” rather than this abomination of a time waster. I think it was supposed to be funny. But it wasn’t. It was just genuinely bad. Which is not a substitute for funny.

Latvia

Yes Latvia’s bizarrely staged “Beautiful Song” turned heads for the oddly broadway-esque style of its opening moments and the “vaguely attractive in an ugly sort of way” looks of is performers. Unfortunately, the heads turned were treated to an ironically bland and forgettably mediocre ode to a beloved and memorable song (Presumably it was supposed to be shaped like itself. It was not.)

Switzerland

Switzerland made two mistakes. First (technically second, but I’m addressing it first) of all, their lead singer was squinting distractingly in one eye as the song began. The effect was incredibly bizarre and unsettling. Second (really first), they entered a rock song.

And so it proved, as Switzerland became another example of a rock song failing to make it out of the Semis. Personally, I think it’s a shame, I’d like to see more rock songs in the final, even if just for the sake of variety. But alas, the trend continues. Still, at least it wasn’t as disappointing as 2007, when the best song in the entire contest (Andorra’s “Salvem El Móm”) didn’t make it out of the Semis having fallen victim to the rock song curse (Amusingly though, the contest was held in Finland that year because the previous year Finland broke the rock song curse by combining it with a gimmick – the oldest Eurovision trick in the book – in the form of Lordi, the monster make up performers).

Belgium

Belgium had a sweet entry, with 17-year-old Iris rivalling Soluna for prettiest girl performing. The entry was perhaps held back a bit though by the fact that it was a bit boring. The song started off seeming as if it was building to something which never really came. It could have done with an uplifting chorus, final verse or even middle eight to lift things. Instead it came across as a wee bit mournful. This and Switzerland’s efforts though, by far the least deserving of being ejected. I myself would have swapped this in for Albania and Switzerland for Moldova. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I originally thought the judges might save it, but it would seem not.

Finland

Finland have fallen a long way from winning six years ago. This year’s entry was a blandly uninteresting cliche storm, which I’ll let my Tweets summarise:

I guess they were trying to do an Iceland, but their effort fell flat. It was never getting through.

Israel

Hooray! Israel knocked out in the Semis! I really am sick of Israel turfing up to these contests and trying to make a mockery of proceedings. This year’s acid trip of a clanger was no exception, and I was not in the least bit sorry to see it go. It ranks in my bottom four alongside alongside Albania and our next two evictees.

San Marino

San Marino tried to enter a song called “Facebook (Uh Oh)” but were politely reminded commercial messages are banned. They renamed it “The Social Network Song” and inflicted it on us anyway. It stank. It’s bad. It’s terrible. It’s musically pathetic, lyrically awful and it falls into the “You’ve Got Mail” trap hard. Some of its apologists are pointing out that it’s meant to be satire. And, okay, yeah, it’s satire. Fine. That doesn’t excuse the fact it’s awful. It’s horrible to listen to. You wanna write a satirical song, go right on ahead, but make it a good song. San Marino’s crime is identical to that of…Ugh…Dustin the fucking Turkey.

Thankfully, like Dustin, this atrocious act of parody was shown the door in the Semis.

Austria

Austria just weren’t trying. From their TV-unfriendly artist name (Trackshittaz is clearly a corruption of Track Shitters, whether you admit it or not, BBC) to the pole dancing, to the awful lyrics to the douchebaggish nature of the assholes performing the song, Austria apparently sought to make a mockery of the contest and were promptly shown the door. Eurovision may be campy and ridiculous, but you will never get far trying to take the piss out of the Contest like this. Didn’t work for Dustin, didn’t work for those idiots who ‘sang’ “We Are the Winners (Of Eurovision)” and it didn’t work for this pair of assholes.

That then is Semi Final 1. I’ll be back Friday with my detailed thoughts on Semi Final 2 (And you can see my Tweets live during the show @TVPaulD). In the meantime, I leave you with my thoughts on the Automatic Qualifiers:

France: Good

Germany: Good

Spain: Okay

Italy: Very Good

United Kingdom: SIGH, I really wanted us to send something with a chance of winning this year, but we did not

Azerbaijan: Meh

Revolution: The Sky’s The Limit

Rupert Murdoch always saw himself as a revolutionary. He blustered onto the scene in the United Kingdom with a singular aim: to take on the entrenched elite – the highly conservative establishment and the liberal elites who went some of the way to keeping the establishment in check – and deprive them of their power. His attack was ruthless, long and, for a time, successful.

But as with all things under his domain, Murdoch singularly failed to see the world change around him when seeing that change wouldn’t suit his vision of himself, and the world. He was all too happy to enjoy the perks of the power he wound up wielding over the UK’s political class – the elite he came to conquer.

But what he failed to recognise was that they weren’t the establishment if they were singing to his tune. He was the establishment. And what goes around comes around.

There comes a time in the reign of any despot when he creates his own worst enemy, and even hands that enemy the weapon needed to beat him. It’s an unavoidable fact. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. And when you’re absolutely corrupted by absolute power, arrogance is unavoidable. And arrogance seeped out of every pore of the News Corp operation. From Rupert’s stubborn insistence that Paywalls online will work (When they patently do not – his own efforts at The Times and sunday Times are laughingstock loss-makers) to James Murdoch, the heir apparent, having the audacity to lecture the media on how the BBC is corrupt, News Corp has conducted itself with unmissable swagger over the past few years in particular.

The news colossus had thought itself untouchable because, rightly or wrongly, it was perceived as the opinion maker. Sometimes the appearance of the ability to sway opinion is as powerful as that actual ability. It’s like when someone says “I’m not saying so and so is a murderer, I’m just saying he hasn’t said he’s not”. The status as the opinion maker was enough to allow them to frame the public narrative their way.

This arrogance spread like a cancer. It started at the top, with Murdoch’s diabolical grip on the corridors of power in Whitehall, and spread all the way down. Until finally, it infected some of the journalists, who saw their leaders picking and choosing whose political careers flourished and therefore assumed their publications were untouchable – Murdoch always got his way. And repercussions were dealt out to those who wronged his people.

And that’s when News International signed its own death warrant. And probably that of (At least part of) its global parent, News Corp.

Which brings us to how the deed was done. It was all deliciously simple. People working for News International – under the watch of James Murdoch, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks – used illegal means to get their stories. And they did it a lot. And then they made the ultimate mistake: they let arrogance erode common sense and put themselves on the wrong side of certain public outrage.

When it was just celebrities and politicians believed to be victims of the widespread use of illegal investigative tactics, the sad fact is the vast majority of the public couldn’t bring themselves to care. This is pretty understandable. News International has orchestrated a culture of austerity, which has the masses more concerned with their own lives than the whinging of their oppressors (the politicians) and the better off (celebrities).

When you think about it, that was almost the perfect crime. Murdoch got his neo-conservative austerity programmes implemented and was able to use the atmosphere they created to smokescreen the dirty laundry used to get there. But then there’s that arrogance thing. The journalists responsible were blinded by their perceived invincibility.

They did the same thing to the public. Worse, to murder victims and grieving families. They crossed the moral event horizon.

And even more stupidly, they didn’t do a terrific job covering their tracks. Imagine that: journalists dedicated to finding scandalous scoops didn’t properly cover the tracks of their illegal dealings. What arrogance! Did they think that aside from being invulnerable to government and judicial intervention, the rest of the Fourth Estate was beholden to Murdoch just like the corridors of power? Or did they simply forget their power was not the result of superiority over their colleagues?

Whatever the manner of their hubris, they were undone by journalists doing real journalism.

The Guardian blew the doors off the whole thing over the course of a few years (They wanted to move faster, but judicial processes slowed things down). And once they blew the lid, everyone else seized the opening.

And really, it’s also amazing that News Corp didn’t see that coming too. The sheer arrogance of the operation is frankly incomprehensible. They were either so corrupt they were basically blind or else the outfit was run by a bunch of idiots. More likely, both.

For the truth is, News International and its parent have not done a great job making friends. All their “friends” were the politicians. And even they were never really friends. More brown nosers. Perhaps News Corp’s biggest error of judgment was in making rivals like the BBC, Trinity Mirror, Telegraph Media, Guardian Media and more not simply dislike them, but despise them.

Indeed, the enemies of News International in many ways needed to Kill the King to ensure their own survival. News International was the biggest game in town, and if they got a hold of the rest of BSkyB whilst managing to force the BBC – the only legitimate competitor to News International in terms of size – to cutback, scale down…Well the future was bleak for everybody else. Trinity Mirror, the sole remaining truly Left-Wing voice as it was would have been an especially big concern.

After all, what if The Sun crushed The Mirror, and then there was an election where the Indy and the Guardian endorsed the shamed Lib Dems again? All the papers in the UK endorsing the right wing and their lap dogs? That’s a chilling thought.

Meanwhile, what response could Virgin Media have had to the sudden massive escalation in size and power for its entrenched, larger rival – BSkyB? They already have to be in an uneasy partnership with them because of BSkyB’s borderline anti-competitive stranglehold on content. A combined News International-Sky could have snuffed out Virgin Media in a heartbeat. And all this whilst the BBC was thrown to the wolves by the News International attack dogs – the Conservative-led Coalition of the Losers.

So every player in the game had reason to let loose the dogs of war at the first sign of weakness in the King’s Castle. Worse still for News International, they had made an enemy of an old ally: they duplicitously went back to supporting the Tories after Gordon Brown’s (Initially hugely popular) Labour Party made overtures to going its own way on the back of Brown’s initial success. Call a snap election, win, and then be able to lead without Murdoch’s interference. That was the plan.

George Osborne, thinking himself clever, encouraged the ailing new leader of the washed up Tories to take the opportunity to become the new News International golden boy. Cameron went ahead with it. He hired Coulson, came to think of him and Rebekah Brooks as friends, followed their advice, did as Murdoch instructed. But more on the Tories later.

With the News International attack dogs forcing Labour out of power, the new boy came on scene. Ed Miliband. A politician in a mould so fresh the press kept trying to brush him aside rather than bother trying to comprehend it. The press had gotten lazy. They wanted politicians to be artificial people – puppets controlled by the Andy Coulsons of the world lurching from crisis to crisis with spin and PR. Ed Miliband is a straight-shooter. He talks like a human being. He was one of so-called “saints” of the expenses scandal. Murdoch, the epitome of press arrogance, dismissed Miliband because he didn’t understand him. The News Corp top brass didn’t consider this man a threat.

Oh how very, very wrong.

Miliband was the worst possible man for Cameron to face across the Dispatch Box when News Corp blew up in his face. Ed was on the right side of public outrage. Ed was no News International apologist. He wasn’t paying that game. He didn’t need to hop on the bandwagon, because in the political sphere he was the man driving it. Sincerely. And he was surely in no mood to be cautious. News International deposed his Party and assaulted his leadership.

Fitting then that is Ed Miliband who will probably Kill the King this coming Wednesday, by showing the leadership the Prime Minister lacks and leading the House of Parliament into a vote to block the BSkyB takeover bid which has so infatuated the Murdochs.

Welcome to the rise and rise of The Rt Hon. Ed Miliband, MP – The Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition and likely The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s Seventy-Sixth Prime Minister.

But let’s get back to the Tories, they who were the last ones tied to the News International Pole when the music stopped (And, really, the ones who have mostly been in that position – Murdoch is a dreadful right-wing dinosaur and his family are much the same. That’s part of why they hate Ed Miliband, he comes from the core Centre-Left bedrock of Labour, where the Labour activists mostly lie). You’re probably wondering why I’m now so certain Ed Miliband will ascend to the Premiership when last week it looked like a tough ask (At least according to some analyses).

The Conservative-led Coalition of the Losers is held together by duct tape and the fact Nick Clegg is spineless. Had he not made the Coalition pact, Clegg would have been politically finished. Most Party Leaders would resign for doing far better than Clegg did. Gordon Brown did, for example. Many of us gave the Coalition two years at most before collapsing when it was formed. It turned out, Clegg was even more toothless and spineless than we thought. So we revised our assessments: it was going to run to term. Meanwhile, the presumed dissenting voices in the Lib Dems failed to step up to the plate. Rather than voting “no,” they would abstain like cowards.

So the Coalition, with its politically gerrymandered foundations and supports, looked set to rock on. After all, it was politically impossible for the Lib Dems to leave the Tories, they had all the toxicity. The Tories had somehow escaped. The Lib Dems were finished if they rebelled and the Tories would call a snap election they’d likely win.

But now, the Conservative Party’s leader, the Prime Minister David Cameron, has allowed himself to be seen to be on the wrong side of public outrage, whilst the Honourable Gentleman opposite him was The Public’s Voice in Tough Times. Cameron has had to back down, capitulate to Miliband’s demands. And still he has failed to move from the wrong side of public outrage by failing to apologise for hiring Coulson, by failing to call for Rebekah Brooks to be immediately fired.

And we now know there are more awful things about News International’s actions set to come out. So how can Cameron afford to be seen to be standing by any of the Chipping Norton set? He can’t, not really. The time then is ripe for Clegg to recognise his folly last year and bite the hand which has had him by the collar.

The Lib Dems can whack the Tories mercilessly on this, leap to Labour’s side, the side of public outrage, condemn their partner’s actions. And all the toxicity is flung onto the Tories in one fell swoop. Memories are short. Sure, Clegg will probably still lose his seat if he stands at the next General Election, but if he grows some balls and punishes the Tories for the public, some of his failings will be forgiven and he can be safely deputised to Europe by the inevitable Labour Government.

Have the Lib Dems set a date? No. Ed Miliband has though. This coming Wednesday. This coming Wednesday, the Coalition Government will be rocked by the fact that Ed Miliband commands a Majority in the Commons, however briefly. But once the Lib Dems and the factions within the Tory Party who want Cameron out have rebelled en masse once, what’s the point in stopping? Especially if the situation with News International and Cameron worsens. How long can Cameron reasonably expect to command a Majority?

I give it till no later than the end of October at this rate. Something unforeseen may occur to allow them to cling on, or the Lib Dems might be cowards after all. But barring that, the Government will likely collapse once Coulson et. al. are hauled back into the Old Bill. I could see the Lib Dems publicly trumpeting their future independence at their conference, Miliband preparing his Party to return to power at theirs, and Cameron resigning at theirs. It’s so beautiful in my mind.

Of course, it’s just the dream right now. But this is the moment in time we’re at. Revolution. It’s exhilarating, especially for those of us on the left, the progressives. We live for this. And it’s all the sweeter to turn the cannons on Murdoch, a man who once claimed the mantle of revolutionary, only to out-establishment the establishment.

The trouble, as I see it, is that whilst the downfalls of News International and their attempts to ensnare BSkyB are both inevitable (More on that in Part 2), the downfall of the Tories rests with the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg, a man of no political courage or power at present.

Still, the prospect of News Corp losing its 39% of BSkyB (Never mind failing to get the rest) is plenty exciting. We stand at a fork in the road. Ahead lies a bold new future of media plurality here in the UK. That’s down both paths. But down one, the age of austerity continues.

On the other road, the age of austerity withers and dies. Labour rebuilds this country and we all get back on with fulfilling the British Promise.

Remember this moment in time when we eventually do go to the polls, whenever it may be. 2011, 2012, 2014, whenever. It was Ed Miliband at the forefront of the Revolution. Ed Miliband leading for the people.

Turn Left, Go Forth: Vote Labour. A Future Fair for All, Free from News International’s Influence.

Sky Diving: Digging into Sky Sports F1’s Launch

It’s upon us, Sky Sports F1 (HD) has launched. Sky Sports is now the Primary broadcaster of Formula 1 in the United Kingdom, a position of considerable prestige and an enormous responsibility and legacy for Britain’s biggest Broadcaster to live up to. Sky is a controversial company, notably owing to its ownership by unpopular media giant News Corp, so their coverage will sink or swim on its quality. Sentimentality will not help them. So how are they doing so far? Well…

The Channel kicked things off with a grandiose two-hour Season Preview. This was hosted by the Sky Sports F1 anchorman, Simon Lazenby. He was joined by the assembled poached BBC Talent of Martin Brundle, Ted Kravitz & Anthony Davidson. Along with them were Sky Sports’s own Georgie Thompson and newbie Damon Hill, the 1996 Formula One World Champion. Further poached BBC Talent in the forms of David Croft, the new Lead TV Commentator (Formerly of BBC Radio 5 Live, where he has been replaced by James Allen), and Natalie Pinkham were featured in inserts. As was the resident “lighter side” of Sky Sports, Fenners. More on his “pivotal” role later.

Podium Worthy Performances

The standout feature of the new channel is the in-depth technical coverage provided by the two men who started their F1 Careers as the few beacons of good on F1’s buttmonkey broadcaster, ITV. Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz both presented some decent packages looking more in-depth at technical features of the cars and the act of going racing (Or rather, testing).

Their performances were of the high standard F1 fans have come to expect of them, and both were and are clearly huge gets for Sky. Both men were at-ease on camera, they were clearly engaged and knowledgable and their features on the show were definitely the best segments.

Ted gave a fascinating look at some of the changes made to the cars aerodynamically using a 3D model which was superimposed in front of him on the set in an area known as the “Skypad” (More on the set and Skypad in particular later). He also anchored a decent Winter Testing Highlights package, which doubled as kind of a tease – fans are left to salivate at the prospect of Ted hosting all-day live coverage of the winter testing next season. Sky hasn’t promised this, but considering their resources, they’d be shortchanging fans enormously if it’s not at least being considered.

Martin, meanwhile, joined British Number 3 & 2011 Rookie of the Year, Paul di Resta, for the initial shakedown of the new Sahara Force India car, and was able to talk to di Resta over the Pit-to-Car radio as the new Flying Scot put the new challenger through its first minutes. It was a very cool bit of television and something a bit special – its rare for a broadcaster to get such privileged access to a car right as it debuts.

Anthony Davidson also impressed on his switch from radio commentator to expert TV pundit. He was totally at ease on camera, and he was clear and evidently well-informed. There was no talking-down to the audience from him, but he still managed to present things in an accessible manner and maintained a throughly pleasant demeanour throughout his time onscreen. He was also, along with Ted, one of the most natural feeling voices on the show – more on that shortly.

Scoring a Handful of Points

Damon Hill, always a thoroughly personable sort, did well enough on his debut as a pundit that his prospects look good. He was clear, his knowledge was evident and he was extremely friendly. There were a few slightly stilted interactions (Notably with Lazenby) but for the most part, Damon himself was impressive for a first-timer. With a few races under his belt, he will undoubtedly be right at home.

Natalie Pinkham didn’t get a massive amount of time to do her thing, but what she did do she did relatively well. She was called upon to conduct an interview with Mark Webber, which Sky took the questionable decision to conduct at a football match. This nakedly shallow attempt to connect with Sky’s pre-existing customer base almost ruined the segment, since it was hard for die hard F1 fans to take it seriously when the first half of the segment spent more time talking about Chelsea and Manchester United than it did Red Bull Racing and McLaren.

Pinkham managed, just about, to claw it back to relevance in the second half though. And her performance was decent enough, her genuine enthusiasm coming across well in the interview. Natalie isn’t the blockbuster hire that Kravitz and Brundle were, but she’s probably about as worthy of inclusion as Croft and Davidson. Certainly, she did a much better job justifying her pay check on launch night than Sky’s existing talent.

The show’s set is mostly functional, but it’d be a lie to say certain aspects of it aren’t a bit…Rubbish. The animated backdrop is fairly decent, generally showing a selection of old F1 cars rotating slowly but also able to show other things if need be (It notably changed at the close). The sofa and desk area though could probably use work. Thanks to Sky’s (baffling) insistence that on air talent wear suits, Lazenby, Hill & Brundle all looked slightly uncomfortable perched awkwardly on the edge of their seats. Ditching the ties did not do enough to make suits suitable attire for sitting somewhere other than at a desk.
Pasted Graphic 1

The “Skypad” section of the studio is also a mixed bag in terms of quality. The name, to begin with, is utterly and completely stupid. Every time on-air talent mentions “The Skypad” without a hint of irony, you can just about feel the entire viewing audience roll their eyes. The name is a (bafflingly moronic) reference to the giant touchscreen that powers the (In isolation, much more impressive) superimposed 3D car models and the highlights footage and statistics graphics the talent reference and analyse. It’s basically a giant iPad which lets the presenters and pundits call up statistics, video footage and so one by pressing onscreen icons.

This is, to be blunt, completely stupid. It’s pseudo-hip technological redundancy. There is nothing the Skypad touchscreen can do that someone in the Gallery could not do more efficiently without part of the screen having to be taken up by navigation controls or parts of the footage being covered by various parts of Anthony Davidson’s (Or whoever else has been stuck with the unenviable task of trying to make using the Skypad not seem preposterous on any given occasion) anatomy. The BBC sensibly did this the old-fashioned way. But Sky apparently want to convince us they have more whizzy cool technology. It’s twee and it’s stupid, but it’s a minor thing.

Toiling in the Mid-Field

The ad breaks are what will concern a great many of Sky Sports F1’s prospective customers. The broadcaster has promised uninterrupted coverage of the races along with the practice & qualifying sessions but commercials during the buildup and other content are a newfound nuisance. In this respect, it’s a little hard to judge based on the launch show. The first ad break came surprisingly late in the show, around 20-25 minutes after the start. Later on though, it seemed as if the breaks were longer than the parts of the show they were bookending.

So far then, no huge problems have emerged with the ad breaks in the launch show or the channel’s filler content, but judgment should be reserved until we see how much they hurt the build up etc. Particularly, how much of the 90 Minute Race Buildup is ads. 90 Minutes is the new record, but if more than half an hour is ads, the BBC still provided/provides more buildup than Sky.

The channel’s filler content so far has been pretty good. There seems to be a heavy rotation of Marmite-esque interview programme Legends of F1 (It’s well-liked by some, if considered too short, but I refuse to have anything to do with it because it’s anchored by Steve “The Lettuce” Rider, a man who actually managed to give the terribly produced Commentary of James Allen on ITV a run for its money as the most hateful part of their pitiful final years on air as the F1 broadcaster).

Also on offer is plenty of archival stuff for diehards to relive the glory days. Some of this is presented in a packaged documentary style, some is simply highlights – of note, the channel is playing the Official Formula One 2011 Season Review (And, presumably, will play others) which was previously only available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The prospect of being able to watch (And, on Sky+HD, record) these previously optical media-exclusive Season Review packages on TV is certainly a pleasant one. From watching the 2011 Review, it does seem like the ad breaks are well distributed in these. The review has been split up into four programming segments. I watched the first two, covering the first half of the season, in a back-to-back block. It works well.

As I said, so far the filler content seems good. If it continues to be this enticing, it will undoubtedly be worthy of positioning higher up the rankings than I’ve placed it here. I have kept it in the mid-field section primarily because it remains to be seen if Sky can keep the channel fresh and exciting for a whole year.

Getting Lapped Three Times

Just like in anything though, there are always aspects of any given broadcaster’s F1 coverage which leave a lot to be desired. The BBC’s post-ITV era spoilt fans by having fewer of these major niggles than ever – primarily, they were limited to Jonathan Legard’s grating commentary style and a distinct systemic Red Bull bias. There were other minor flaws with the BBC’s coverage (Eddie Jordan is a love or loathe prospect as a pundit – not because some people love him and some people loathe him but because sometimes he is contemptibly awful, while others he is extremely good) but for the most part it was lacking in deal breakers (Whether this continues to be the case in the new era remains to be seen, but is unlikely – the lack of 100% live coverage is already a huge minus point).

Sky, considering the act it has to follow and the fact it is the first primary F1 Broadcaster in the UK to demand payment from fans, had few excuses for weaknesses in their lineup. Unfortunately, they have two whacking great problems already, and we haven’t even seen their race coverage yet. However, it does not bode well that one of these flaws is the anchorman himself, Simon Lazenby.

Indeed, it is perhaps indicative of just why the BBC were so good at Formula One that Lazenby and Thompson, the only two human parts of Sky Sports F1 which are bespoke Sky components, are its weakest. Indeed, extrapolating that further, everything about Sky Sports F1 which is more Sky Sports than it is F1, is thoroughly in need of retooling. The set and baffling suits-only dress code – both Sky Sports mainstays – are equally dragging the show down. Formula One in suits, and Formula One on a set, just do not feel natural. ITV used a set for a number of years, but discarded it because it was isolating the buildup and analysis from the action – one of the few changes made later in their coverage which was an improvement.

Luckily, the set in question seems to be intended to be used primarily for The F1 Show, the weekly magazine show, and will not be involved in the race coverage.

UPDATE 11/3/2012: Alas, it seems Sky is planning to use a Studio for the race coverage, with their Insider Twitter account Tweeting a picture of its container being unpacked today. Whether or not it is a duplicate remains to be seen, but I will certainly be giving my thoughts on its role in the race coverage after Melbourne.

Lazenby and Thompson (Alongside, presumably, those damned suits) on the other hand, willbe involved in the coverage of Grand Prix weekends. And if that’s the case, they need to step up their game enormously from what they demonstrated on launch night. Lazenby was awkward, false and grating. His enthusiasm seemed fake, his questions for Brundle & Hill were frequently asinine, he was clearly lacking in knowledge about F1 and he even managed to cut off Brundle a couple of times. Cutting off the jewel in the coverage’s crown? Not a good move.

Yes, it seemed Lazenby had been plucked directly out of the rugby coverage and dumped onto the F1 set without a moment’s preparation. And considering we know he had plenty of preparation, that’s appalling. Lazenby’s performance is particularly atrocious compared to Jake Humphrey on the BBC. Humphrey is a BBC Lifer, he is Mr BBC, they have been grooming him to be their most significant talent for years. And yet, his presence in the F1 coverage always felt earned, right from the start. You never feel like Jake is just there because he’s the BBC’s golden boy. His enthusiasm is clearly genuine. Lazenby…Not so much.

Lazenby’s biggest crime though is probably his ill-informed nature. He provoked widespread face palming when he referred to drivers & team personnel changing teams and positions over the winter as the “transfer window”. This was also an example of another problem with bespoke Sky aspects of the show.

They’re dumbing the coverage down hard if the launch show is anything to go by. Yes, they’re offering some cool in-depth technical stuff with Martin & Ted, but the general presented segments are being approached the way Sky approaches football. Sky needs to learn – fast – that F1 fans are generally significantly better informed & engaged with their sport than football fans, who tend to be more casual simply by sheer force of numbers.

The worst part is that two different people are competing to be the poster child of Sky’s dumbed down coverage. One the one hand, we have Georgie Thompson nodding moronically as Antony Davidson speaks and asking Jenson Button preposterously vague and pointless questions along the lines of “so are you a good driver?”. It’s not lost on me that Thompson is an attractive lady. I like good-looking women as much as the next straight guy, but I also like women who are intelligent and I like on-air talent to come across as well-informed. Thompson seems to be setting about to single-handedly undo all the good work done by Suzi Perry or Lee McKenzie (And to a lesser extent, Natalie Pinkham) in raising the profile of women in motorsport broadcasting. Thompson’s presence smacks of being part of a Sky Sports “viewers are morons” policy which requires eye candy to keep the LADS interested.

Further evidence that Sky just doesn’t seem to get F1.

And if you want some more proof, it comes in the form of the other person trying to be the poster child of Sky dumbing down the coverage, Fenners. Fenners is, apparently, some dickhead who used to be slightly popular on Soccer AM and has since enjoyed a minor resurgence as a “lighter side” personality on Sky Sports’s Football coverage. I’m not a football fan, so I had no idea who he was or why I should care. I found out later – they didn’t bother explaining what he was doing there.

Evidently Sky felt the need to provide a touchstone for the dullards they (Apparently) take football fans to be in case they decided to check out the Sky Sports F1 channel (Terrifyingly, we were promised he will be back throughout the year). His whole schtick was wandering around during testing being uninformed. Not becoming more informed I hasten to add. His taped segment focused entirely on him being an uninformed twat and making an idiot of himself. If this is how Sky sees sports fans they need help. It was particularly grating having to put up with this nonsense in the launch show.

Who, aside from F1 fans, was really going to watch the launch show? You’d have to be at least a little engaged with F1 already to care about watching the launch show. So what was he for?

Anyway, there you have it. Those are my thoughts on Sky Sports F1 (HD) so far. I’ll be checking in with more thoughts on the F1 coverage throughout the year – including taking a look at the new BBC packages on TV & radio and comparing them to Sky’s offerings – so keep an eye out for more.

Christmas Letter 2011

Season’s Greetings Friends, Family & assorted hangers-on!

It’s that time of year once again where many people choose to send each other nice simple Christmas Cards – short, sweet indications that they’re thinking of you at this, the most wonderful time of the year. And, as has become tradition, I am instead wasting your time with this, my annual Christmas Letter, in which I reflect at unnecessary length on the year that was and, of course, the festive season.

So here I am, sitting in the glow of the unnecessarily large Christmas tree in my bedroom with my (infamous, and only partially accurately named) Xmas in Pompey 2 Spotify playlist filling the room with the sounds of Christmas cheer. Which sounds incredibly cheesy, but I’ve always said* it’s not cheesy if you can think of something either as cheesy, or more cheesy, which is also less appropriate for the given situation. And I have:

A Margherita.

Now, with that out of the way, on to the reflecting on the year. And frankly I think nothing this year says more about our modern era than the way that godawful “Friday” song by Rebecca Black infected every facet of our lives over the course of about a month earlier in the year – and it already feels like it’s ancient history.

Either the years are getting longer or we’re finding more ways to do stuff in them. Luckily, Mark Zuckerberg has come up with a way to find out in Facebook Timeline, whilst Twitter continues to give us an avenue to voice our every trivial thought (And say bitchy things about the way candidates on The Apprentice choose to dress). And I for one welcome our new Social Media overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted (Ahem) TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

Speaking of TV, the has been a great year for TV and I can prove it in just ten words:

The Simpsons has been renewed through its twenty-fifth season.

There have of course been some downsides though. The X Factor has unfortunately not been canceled yet, Big Brother was (Unfathomably) brought back and the BBC decided to hand over half their F1 (More on that in a moment) coverage to Sky Sports, which was probably not the best idea considering that they did so right at the same time as the entire country was furious with Rupert Murdoch, News Corp & Sky over the flagrant corruption & use of phone hacking. As own goals go, the BBC pulled off a belter there.

Oh and while I’ve got you, I still say Germany should have won Eurovision again. Yeah, I’m still bitter about that. And what?

Anyway, I said I’d say something about Formula 1. Ignoring the fact Vettel made the whole season rather dull with his overpowered Red Bull car (I really don’t think it’s fair that he gets a car which gives you wings), this was still a cracking year with some all-time classic races, including the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, the longest race in F1 history (A record it will hold forever as the rules have now been changed to prevent races running as long as that one did).

Also, over the two-year period since Jenson Button joined McLaren, he’s outscored Lewis Hamilton. At the risk of saying I told you so, I TOTALLY FRIGGING TOLD YOU SO.

Ahem…Anywho, I suppose I should say something about some other sports for the sake of balance, but they’re going to have to be eternally true platitudes because I barely pay attention to most of them so er…Manchester United are evil, cricket is dull & tedious, Rugby is vaguely homoerotic etc. etc.

Also if I don’t mention video games, the citizens of Giant Bomb (dot) Com will probably shoot me in the knee with an arrow. I don’t fully get that joke because I never played Skyrim (Too busy playing The Legend of Zelda IN THREE DEE on my 3DS), but they make references to it all the time on Reddit so I guess it must be pretty funny. The biggest thing in games this year for me was probably the return of Pokémon. Oh god how I played a lot of Pokémon.

So then, with that all out of the way, I leave you with this topical reference to both 2011 & 2012 in the form of a brain teaser:

If you ask Siri to schedule “the end of the world” for December 21, 2012, does that make you God if the world does end then**?

Have a
Merry Christmas,
Happy Holidays,
Helluva Hanukkah
Perfect Pancha Ganapti***,
Delectable Dies Natalis Solis Invicti***,
Dignified Quaid-e-Azam’s Day***,
Marvellous Malkh-Festival,
Kwazy Kwanzaa,
And a Happy New Year,

Your Pal,
Paul Douglas.

* Not true. I’ve never said that.
** No, no it doesn’t. That would be stupid.
*** Look it up.