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TV Reviews: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

You have the right to remain silent. But you won't.
You have the right to remain silent. But you won’t.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is Universal Television’s (By way of FOX) effort to fill the hole in the sitcom landscape where a cop show parody should be. It’s also the latest vehicle for Saturday Night Live‘s biggest recent success story, Andy Samberg – following the decidedly uneven Cuckoo. Alongside Samberg are Terry Crews (Apparently Will McAvoy’s bodyguard Lonny went off to become a cop, explaining his absence from The Newsroom Season 2) and relative newcomer Stephanie Beatriz.

Samberg plays an immature but gifted detective whose “dammit I get results” stylings come into conflict with the “by da book” new Captain’s way of doing things. Despite that seemingly clichéd premise, the show isn’t going for a straight parody of cop show tropes, and instead opts for a more subtle (Yes, subtlety in an Andy Samberg vehicle – if only Cuckoo knew such luxuries) deconstruction, more along the lines of Scrubs.

It’s unclear from the pilot if the show will be able to develop the same dramatic chops as Scrubs did with its cast of beloved characters over the years, but there are early signs of deeper thought at least, with Captain Holt given a decent backstory which earns him the sympathy (and, more importantly, the respect) of Samberg’s Jake Peralta.

But while the dramatic underpinnings of a sitcom can give it the prestige and enduring appeal to make it a long runner (The SimpsonsFriendsScrubshow i met your mother…), any sitcom which isn’t funny will sink like a rock (I’m looking at you, majority of the pilots from Amazon Studios’s first Pilot season). So is Brooklyn Nine-Nine a comedic dud destined to end its run in a graveyard slot and be forgotten about by next Christmas?

No.

No, it’s actually pretty funny. Samberg’s smug performance actually manages to be charming because the show makes the wise choice to show us immediately that he’s actually good at what he does, and he is nevertheless more of a smartass than actually condescending. Meanwhile, the absurdity has been kept just about in check. There’s no lengthy fantasy sequences, and all of the hijinks the cast engage in are relatively grounded.

It’s all just stupid. And I don’t mean that as a knock. It’s the best kind of stupid. It’s the kind of dumb joking around you get into when you’re hanging around with friends or killing time in an office. Too often, this kind of dumb comedy doesn’t work out so well.  Microsoft published a video game example recently in LocoCycle, which just feels like you’re watching someone else’s inside joke. And it’s never explained to you. So it never becomes funny.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine invites you to laugh at its characters with the rest of the cast by constantly ensuring there’s someone to laugh with. The cast takes turns playing straight man for each other as the situation demands; mocking or being mocked, laughing along or hiding their shame. It’s relatable because that’s how people are in real life.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is part of a movement in sitcom writing to reflect the kind of humour people experience day-to-day. Rather than placing absurd caricatures in front of you and inviting you to laugh mercilessly at their failures (Two And a Half Men), Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows the formula successfully deployed by how i met your mother of allowing its characters to know exactly how funny the things that are happening are. And it mines that area mercilessly for extra yucks as Samberg or another cast member manages to deliver that extra quip at the end of the scene that perfectly encapsulates the audience’s feelings.

Oh and by the way, I think you’re overdoing it on the man-scaping.

Rating: Watch

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TV Reviews: BBC One’s That Puppet Game Show

PuppetGameShowThat Puppet Game Show is BBC One’s new Saturday Night Entertainment Show from Muppet-creators The Jim Henson Company; featuring the imaginatively named unlicensed Muppet-esque puppet cast, “The Puppets”, and celebrity contestants vying to win £10,000 for charities of their choosing. So is it worth watching or is it ‘Honey I Couldn’t Afford the Muppets Tonight License’?

It would be incredibly easy to hate That Puppet Game Show. It’s hard to look past the fact it’s clearly a Muppet franchise show without The Muppets license, even knowing it comes from the company who originally created and owned the characters (Who are now owned by The Walt Disney Company). It’s also a celebrity game show in an era where you can’t turn a corner without tripping over a competitive TV show featuring celebrities.

It does itself no favours in its introduction either, where it looks like it’s about to be exactly as cloying, try hard and false as you’d expect it to be – face it, the Americans are just better at being earnest about this kind of nonsense than the Brits. And this is a very British effort. Especially its host, Dougie Colon (It’s pronounced Cologne).

But if you stick with it past the painfully obligatory explanation of the show’s format and let yourself be drawn in…There’s a charm. Especially once some of the puppets with more creative voices and backstories start appearing. It also helped in this first episode that Jonathan Ross was making a triumphant (ish) return to BBC airtime after being made to jump ship to ITV a couple of years ago. While we’re on the subject, if you hadn’t heard, The Jonathan Ross Show got a Super Renewal late last month despite rumours 2013 would be its final year, so two new series will air in 2014, as well as ten more episodes starting this Autumn.

Back on That Puppet Game Show, Jonathan’s easy charm and spontaneous humour help the show through its first shaky minutes and into the meat of the show proper. Like Muppets Tonight and The Muppet Show before it, That Puppet Game Show divides its time between the show itself, and the antics of the puppets backstage. In this case, it is skewed slightly more heavily towards the show itself, with the scenes backstage serving as a series of brief, interconnected sketches (whose plot occasionally receives reference onstage too).

The celebrity guests do occasionally feature briefly in the backstage segments, but not to the extent they would have in the show’s Muppet-branded predecessors. But then, they also factor more heavily into the onstage sequences as well, so the distribution of Puppets to Celebrities screen time is fairly similar – there is possibly slightly more celebrity than previously as it happens, but it’s not at the expense of the puppets.

It’s not nearly as good as a Muppet franchise entry of course. More often the jokes here are a bit on the cringe-worthy side than they would be in a Muppets vehicle, and there’s probably a touch more humour relying on sheer shock value alone than you would see with the Muppet name attached. I was surprised to find though that “not as good” is the worst I could say about it. It’s a bit twee, and a couple of the games are rather stupid, but most of the backstage jokes land very well. Dougie’s banter with the Crab who calls the scores is generally good for a chuckle and the game based on giving humorous acceptance speech for a fictitious award (Life’s a Speech) is actually both funny and engaging in the same way as a more conventional game show, such as BBC One’s Pointless.

The quality of the guests is probably going to have a lot to do with how well the show does from here. The Puppets are doing a reasonable job eliciting laughs, but with the competitive part of the show dominating the runtime, it’s going to be important that the guests are as charming and game for the show’s brand of nonsense as Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins were in this first effort.

I suppose the biggest thing I can say about this show so far is that I actually enjoyed the first episode enough to decide I definitely want to see the second, and that surprised me. I was as skeptical as possible about this show from the moment it was announced. The name, the concept, the Dougie Colon mini-hype from BBC Entertainment’s PR team…I was finding it hard to imagine this would be anything less than an outright cringe-fest, on the same level as BBC One’s 2011 flameout of a trainwreck of a game show Don’t Scare The Hare. I’m still not convinced That Puppet Game Show will entice enough of an audience to avoid deathwatch status, but I am newly convinced that I’d like it to manage to escape such a fate. If you missed Episode 1, check it out on BBC iPlayer and let me know if you agree, or if you think it’s just as bad as it sounds.

Rating: Watch

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(The name is still really bad though)

Movie Reviews: The Hangover Part II

the-hangover-part-2-banner-imageThe Hangover Part II was the highly-anticipated followup to 2009’s sleeper smash hit The Hangover, and the middle part in the inevitable Hangover Trilogy franchise. You probably know that. It was released back in 2011 (Which you probably also know), but I kept missing out on seeing it until now – after the third part has already left theatres. So now I’ve seen it, what did I think? Well…

The Hangover is a great movie. It’s shocking, funny and (despite its absurdity), it’s still relatively believable. And as a result, it’s also relatively relatable. Sure, not everyone has gotten into quite such dramatic all-night benders, but many of us have had nights where we’ve done crazy things while under the influence and most of those us who have also have nights with huge gaps in our memories. It’s got a generally brilliant cast, fantastic and actually surprising cameos, and it was an even better movie when you saw it in a packed theatre.

The Hangover Part II is probably also better when seen in a packed theatre. Unlike its predecessor though, that’s probably the only time it’s any good at all. What might surprise you is that I don’t dislike it for being a rehash of the original. In fact, that’s kind of what I wanted. Another spin on the “crazy night we can’t remember” wheel is what I was looking for with this movie. No, what I dislike about the sequel is what they changed. Reusing the same bones, that’s fine. The problems with the sequel relate to turning some of the weaker elements up to eleven and contriving to reuse utterly inconsequential elements (like plot coupons) of the original for no good reason.

I still get plenty of laughs out of re-watching The Hangover. But the sequel left me cold even on this first viewing. There are some decent laughs in it, but almost all of them (with precisely two – it’s so few I can count them) come from characters the movie seems convinced are less funny than “the funniest character of all time”, played by “the funniest comedic actor of all time”: Alan Garner, played by Zach Galifianakis.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, those assessments are not my own, but those (apparently) of the writers, director and producers.

I say that because Alan gets a whole lot of focus in this movie at the expense, once again, of Doug – played by Justin Bartha – who is written out of the majority of the action in a way so contrived it’s brushed over as quickly as possible. It’s also at the expense of the far more interesting character of Mason Lee’s Teddy (Stu’s soon-to-be Brother-in-Law). Alan is a classic example of a character from an ensemble piece who was well-received enough to be forced to the fore of a later entry in the franchise.

In the original movie, Alan is an equally divisive figure. Some people, I know, love his schtick and enjoy Galifianakis’s style of “weird for the sake of it” humour. I’m not among them. But the first time around, I was okay with it. Alan was funny in the original because he was used (relatively) sparingly alongside the other members of the franchise’s core trio – as well as the rest of the ensemble – and he acts as a plot coupon. He’s the wild card which sets off the chain of events the movie revolves around, and his presence is justified well in the plot.

That is…Not the case here. Alan is forced into the movie with the flimsiest possible justification: Doug’s wife twists his arm about letting Alan attend Stu’s wedding, so he twists Stu’s. Stu, justifiably, wants nothing more to do with Alan who is clearly a deranged individual, who drugged Stu and his friends te first time he spent any time with them. Stu has every reason not to want him there. But Doug convinces him (it’s not particularly well justified), so they go and get him.

What’s worse is, before they even get to Thailand for the wedding, Alan furnishes them with (at least) four perfectly good new reasons not to want him around. By the end of the movie, there are at least five occasions where he should have been punched in the face, and arguably even more where he should just have been left to rot. These characters have absolutely no reason to like Alan and no earthly reason for putting up with his nonsense, which includes the revelation that he drugged them again, information which should in fact have led to Stu and Phil beating the living snot out of him on a public street. Instead he is quickly forgiven, for reasons which never become apparent.

See, the thing is, Alan is not their friend and never was. He insists on the idea that he is, but the only possible reason for them going along with this fantasy is pity. And that just doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about a guy who’s now twice drugged them, causing them no end of problems. Especially since – in this case – Phil winds up getting shot, Stu’s fiancé’s brother (who is a cellistloses a finger and Stu himself unwittingly cheats on his future-wife with a prostitute and gets a crazy Mike Tyson Face Tattoo days before his wedding.

But instead of getting the asshole incarcerated, or beating him within an inch of his life, they forgive him as if all he did was lose their crate of beer. In fact, eventually they go ahead and treat him as if he’s a hero and they’re best buds. It all plays out as if the movie is begging us to love Alan, whilst also expecting that we already do. But I just can’t. He’s the least funny thing in a comedy in which he is a starring player, and he’s an asshole. No justification the movies offer excuses how much of a colossal jackass he is. He’s not even a loveable jackass. He ploughs clean across the edge of unsympathetic comedy protagonist territory and winds up a straight up villain protagonist.

What’s worse is, the only character who could conceivably be justified in pretending to like Alan is Doug, and he is once again sidelined! I’d have loved to have seen a The Hangover story where Doug makes it through the night with the others, and then joins them in their efforts to suss out what happened, because he’s a likeable character. My ideal rewrite of this script would have been to change it so that Alan’s presence was a surprise (like Mr Chow’s) and Doug joined them on the night out instead of heading off to bed early. Teddy could still have served as the lost member of the group, but the first act could then have been spent letting us get to know him better rather than wasting our time reminding us that Alan is a creep who nobody in their right mind would befriend.

And so now you’re saying “but then how would they have gotten into the mess without Alan drugging them?”

Answer: Who the hell cares? Any number of things could have happened. Why did it have to be the exact same thing as in the first movie? Maybe the bartender offers them the “house special” shot free of charge since they’re with a wedding party, and it turns out to have some crazy local ingredient in it which is a powerful hallucinogenic. Contrived? Maybe a little, but as contrived as Alan being there just to do the exact same thing again? No way.

What really bugs me is, when the focus is on the others, it’s actually pretty enjoyable. Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper are both very entertaining in their roles, as is Justin Bartha (when he’s given a chance). Mr Chow’s nonsense and the the zany denizens of Bangkok also make for an enjoyable ensemble. It’s a crying shame that filmmakers’ sad devotion to one character from a movie built on the back of at least a dozen fantastic performances ruined its chances of a worthy sequel.

Dismayingly, I hear the third one is even worse.

Pilot Reviews: Community

community-02

Blinkbox by Tesco is offering users the chance to sample 28 Television Pilots. I’ve decided to take those 28 Pilots and give each a watch and then review them right here on my website. Next up, NBC’s perennial underdog cult sitcom ‘Community‘.

Community is not a show I’ve never seen before. Over the years it’s been on the air, I’ve had occasion to dip in to the series and see what it’s like. So I had an idea what to expect from the pilot – Joel McHale being a loveable jerk, Chevy Chase being humorously out of touch with modern social norms and Danny Pudi’s Abed being just generally weird. I was also familiar enough with the show’s general tone of absurdity, couched in painfully real observations about modern society.

The Pilot is fairly by-the-numbers, setting up the archetypes and roles of the various characters and giving the audience some idea of the relationships between them. Unusually though, it manages to do so whilst keeping the events in the service of comedy. Too often, a Pilot will be a relatively weak episode of a given series because it spends a good chunk of screen time on expository obligations. The best pilots, of the best shows, don’t have this problem. Community is one of them. Another great example is How I Met Your Mother, whose pilot manages to establish where its characters are in their lives and relationships almost entirely as part of jokes (many of which would become part of the show’s running gags). It’s the same here.

The best scenes in the pilot are those where Joel McHale’s Jeff is trying to trick the other members of the group into fighting with one another so he can slink away with attractive co-ed (As the Yanks say) Britta, played by Gillian Jacobs. His efforts prove to be in vain after she figures out what he’s up to and calls him on it, and he is ultimately banished (though the group takes pity on him and offers to let him study with them in the end, ultimately setting up the premise the show ran with once it was picked up). The events in these scenes also lead to a great moment where Jeff admits, wholeheartedly, that he is a liar and equates his former profession (A lawyer) with the act of telling lies. It’s not an original joke, but it’s well executed.

Other standout moments come in the interactions between McHale and recurring guest star John Oliver (as Dr Ian Duncan) who Jeff is attempting to con into helping him cheat his way to success. Particularly amusing is the scene in Dr Duncan’s Smart Fortwo, which he notes is “Good for the earth” (Jeff retorts, bitingly, that so is “wiping your butt with a leaf, but it’s not how a man gets around!”).

It’s a promising start to a series, and it gets you up to speed and invested in its characters very quickly. As soon as it’s over, you’re ready to see more of their escapades (and, undoubtedly, disastrous misunderstandings – it’s a sitcom). Having seen some of what the rest of the series has to offer, it’s also a very indicative Pilot. Not just in terms of quality, but also just with regards to what the show is like. That might seem a trite observation, but many a show has wandered away from its pilot with time. Community did not, it has stuck fairly well to the formula established here (aside from things like character & plot progression, plus slight variations in the episode structure for the sake of novelty) over the years. That’s probably a good thing.

Except of course, the upcoming fifth season. Which sees the loss of Chevy Chase, and another character (Troy) dropping from the regulars to the recurring cast. Only time will tell what toll those moves takes on the show; but the pilot makes a firm bet on the relationships between the characters being important. Tinkering with the group seems like a dangerous area.

Verdict: Order to Series

Verdicts Explained:

The verdicts on the Pilot reviews will be given as if the Pilot was being reviewed by Network Execs prior to announcing the Fall Lineup. Possible results, in descending order, are:

Order to Series, with Super Renewal (3 Season Commitment)

Order to Series, with Renewal (2 Season Commitment)

Order to Series

Order to Series, with Network Notes

Order Second Pilot

Order Second Pilot, with Network Supervision

Pass

Burn The Tapes

Pilot Reviews: Pan Am

pan-am-abc-tv-showBlinkbox by Tesco is offering users the chance to sample 28 Television Pilots. I’ve decided to take those 28 Pilots and give each a watch and then review them right here on my website. First up, ABC’s ill-fated high-concept drama about the crew of the eponymous defunct airline.

It’s always strange going into a pilot knowing  that the show it was pitching has already made it to air, been weighed & measured – and found wanting. It compels you to begin searching for any potential danger signs. What made this show fail? Was it doomed from the start, buoyed to the schedule on mere optimism? Or did it seal its fate later by squandering its premise on mediocre writing or poor decisions?

Sometimes, even with shows which go on to be successful, you can see signs of trouble in the pilot. Fox’s Glee is a smash-hit, one of which I was once a regular viewer owing to its creative premise and talented cast. But now I have disowned the show because of its inept writing, self-importance and wall-banger stupid characters and plot lines. I often said its writers should go back and watch the pilot to remember what show they were supposed to be making. But the truth is, the first signs of trouble were sewn in that pilot. Still, their presence wasn’t the problem. The fact they were allowed to germinate was.

Why am I talking about this? Because the Pan Am pilot calls it to mind for me. Pan Am has a fantastic premise, and a cast of very talented actors who are a delight to watch. Its pilot makes good use of both that premise and its cast to get you hooked. And yet, as much as I liked the pilot, I think I know why this show failed. The major reason of course is that it was colossally expensive, and the pilot (to its credit) looks exactly as expensive as it was. It is lavishly produced and gorgeous to look at with elaborate sets and costumes, plus a distinctly high quality filmic appearance.

But expensive shows can make it if they find a large enough audience of valuable viewers. So why didn’t Pan Am manage that? After all, the premise is appealing, the cast are great, the production values are sky high (pun very much unintended, but kept out of begrudging amusement)…What Is the problem? Of course, I can’t know for sure without seeing the other thirteen episodes, but I think I have some ideas.

You see, for all the love and attention the show seems to have lined up for its premise…It also decides to hedge its bets. You came here to see a show about the crew of an airplane in the golden age of passenger flight? TWIST! Here’s an international espionage plot!

Yeah. That sort of came out of left field, didn’t it? It’s not really clear what amount of the show will be taken up by the CIA-MI6 covert operations subplot, but it’s hard to imagine wasting as much screen time on it in the pilot (and linking it to several characters) if it’s not going to be a major recurring storyline. This is the kind of storyline showrunners attach to shows with high-concept premises, apparently to give them depth and broader appeal.

It’s also the kind of storyline which annoys the people who showed up for the premise.

Many a SportsNight fan wished to be rid of the interminable Casey/Dana romance subplot so we could instead focus on the crew making the Sports show. I’d be amazed if there was a single Glee fan who wasn’t contemplating throwing the TV out the window every second the “fake pregnancy” storyline was taking up screen time. 24 had so many around the middle of its original run it’d be impossible to list them all.

These are plot tumours. They don’t naturally live in the shows they’re part of, and really only serve to distract. Sure, we get it, Pan Am flew during the Cold War. But if we wanted to see a James Bond film, there’s plenty of them to choose from. The introduction to the subplot is especially lazy, with a cartoonish “Russian Spy” whose actions are far too suspicious to be believed. I won’t spoil the resolution, but you probably already guessed the gist of it. I know I did the moment he appeared.

That speaks to the greater problem.  It’d maybe be possible to put up with the Cold War Plot Tumour if it seemed like it was going to have something interesting and unique to say. On the basis of the Pilot, I would doubt that it does.

Fortunately, the rest of the episode’s plots are exactly what you’re looking for. Christina Ricci does a marvellous turn as an irreverent purser, breezing around cockily and in so doing introducing us to some of the zanier aspects of being a Pan-Am-Stewardess. Oh, and get used to “Pan-Am-Stewardess”, because every character who gets a chance to say that phrase in full, does so. The pilot really plays up the whimsy and wonder of the titular airline – even going so far as to treat the take-off of the plane as some kind of bold adventure. Admittedly, it is the particular plane’s maiden flight, but – the way the flight crew is acting – you’d think their destination was Mars, not London.

Unsurprisingly, the most compelling scenes are those in the air and in the airport. And when the concept is able to shine through the distractions, the pilot is very watchable indeed.

Verdict: Order to Series, with Network Notes

Verdicts Explained:

The verdicts on the Pilot reviews will be given as if the Pilot was being reviewed by Network Execs prior to announcing the Fall Lineup. Possible results, in descending order, are:

Order to Series, with Super Renewal (3 Season Commitment)

Order to Series, with Renewal (2 Season Commitment)

Order to Series

Order to Series, with Network Notes

Order Second Pilot

Order Second Pilot, with Network Supervision

Pass

Burn The Tapes

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.

Thoughts on Avatar

What follows is the stream of consciousness I wrote down on my recent watch of Avatar. I hadn’t seen the movie at all for around a year after it came out, primarily because I knew it wasn’t to my tastes and I refused to pay money to see a film I knew I wasn’t really going to enjoy. However, it became free for me to watch it, so I opted to see if I could at least figure out what all the fuss was about. I sat down, with TextEdit opened, and wrote down my reactions in real-time. Yes, I knew I wasn’t going to like it, but I was unprepared for just how much this movie annoyed and infuriated me. Read on to see my slow descent into madness.

But, do bear in mind, since this was written in real-time through the movie, I only had time to correct some of the more glaring typos and such, so a bunch may have slipped through. Try to ignore them.

It Begins:

Two and a half hours? This movie is two and a half hours?!? Fuck me.

Okay….Pretentious opening narration. Wonderful. I’m already regretting this. Okay….Joke about alcohol or something, I guess it’s supposed to be relatable? Just came across as forced, but whatever.

What the fuck is with the lighting? Everything looks like it’s the wrong colour. Is this supposed to be other wordily or some shit? It just looks weird. You’d think with all the money Cameron wasted on this thing he could have paid someone to colour correct it.

“Since your genome is identical to his”…You fail biology forever, movie.

Pandora so far looks like a cross between a quarry and a level from Halo 1.

In fact, now that I think about it, everything I’ve seen of this movie gives me a vaguely “Halo Ripoff” video game feeling…Microsoft, you might have grounds to sue. Just saying. It’s made quite a lot of money (for…some reason) so, you know…Might be worth thinking about.

Lemme get this straight, not only does the military not pay to repair its soldier’s wrecked spine even though such a thing is apparently possible, the human race has also apparently failed to improve on wheelchairs in any way. Indeed, they haven’t even given this pleb a motorised wheelchair. Why? What part of this makes sense?

Oh hey, cliched “grizzled military guy”. Wow James, you’re such an innovator in this industry.

…Wait…

Stop saying Pandora you hack, we know where we are. Lazy exposition is lazy. Oh hey, here’s Norm, (AUDIBLE COMMA) Spellman with more lazy exposition. I’m gonna call Norm AUDIBLE COMMA Spellman “Expo” from now on.

Why is nobody horrified or appalled at this? THis whole Avatar programme sounds at least as evil and insidious as openly attacking the Na’vi.

“Looks like you”. No, it doesn’t. It looks like a giant Cat-Smurf.

Wow, the far future and yet this prick is unfamiliar with a Video Log. Am I to understand it that whilst in the future we have failed to iterate on the wheelchair, we have so fundamentally changed human expression (WITHOUT losing the ability to speak English) that a video log is an alien concept to this retard?

Okay, font used for these subtitles wins the Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Elvish Subtitles Award for Jarringly Out of Place Subtitles font.

Oh and here’s Sigourney “I’ll do anything James Cameron Says Because I Seem To Have Forgotten He’s Not The Only Reason I’m a Success” Weaver.

TWIN BROTHERS DO NOT HAVE THE SAME GENOME YOU FRIGGING MORONS. Lady, you’re a scientist, POINT THAT OUT TO THIS PLEB AND YOUR PROBLEM IS SOLVED.

Unobtabium. I knew he was gonna say it, but somehow I had always fooled myself into believing people were playing a massive joke on me. James, I know that’s supposed to be an inside joke, but dude…That’s the laziest, stupidest inside joke I have ever heard. You know the “suspension of disbelief”? The thing that made me believe that Liquid Alloy dude in Terminator 2, the last good movie you ever made? Yeah, you just ruined mine for this movie’s entire premise.

Unobtanium. UNBELIEVABLE. It’s like he went to TVTropes.Org and decided he just wanted to piss off everyone who ever loved that website.

Wow, this guy who is I guess the hero…He has made literally no impression on me. Arnie this prick is not.

Also, he’s doing a very bad job hiding his accent. It’s not so much that I can hear that he’s an Oz, as it is I can tell his dialogue is stilted and inexplicably gruff. Either that, or he’s a shit actor. I could go either way on this.

Well that “Hey guys” sounded both badly acted AND Australian…So I think it’s both.

This guy is not endearing, he’s a precocious asshole.

And he’s hideous! HOLY JUMPING CRAP! THESE THINGS ARE DISGUSTING! I thought someone said they designed these things specifically so that they were aesthetically pleasing? I recall hearing JC didn’t okay the design till every castmember said they’d tap a Na’vi? Are these castmembers the people with the worst taste in the universe or something? Every one of these Na’vi is horrendous to look at.

“Don’t play with that, you’ll go blind”? Okay, so there’s one good joke.

Incidentally, Sigourney Weaver as a giant Cat-Smurf is just wrong.

Oh hey, generic “tough-girl military type”. “Hi, I’m James Cameron and I am not a sexist. Just ignore, you know, the entire plot of my appalling Oscar-bait flick ‘Titanic'”.

I find the scars on this Space Marine Cliche guy incredibly stupid, distracting and unnecessary.

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT. They have GIANT MECHS. They have HALF-ALIEN SEMI-CLONES WE CAN CONTROL BY REMOTE. But they DO NOT have a way for this dipshit to WALK, or at least a more efficient way for him to move around than manually pushing two wheels?

Congratulations movie, you are officially a broken universe.

I’m sorry, really, BLUE people? This is stupid. Teddy bears can be blue. Birds can be blue. Tiny little freaks who live in toadstools can be blue, but giant freaking cat people? THEY SHOULD NOT BE BLUE.

Eye Candy of a Space Jungle I guess? See, maybe it’s because I happen to be one of the apparently few people who actually thinks earth is pretty great, but I don’t find this that impressive.

Oh hey, look, E-Ink. Colour E-Ink. We already have that technology you know folks, it’s just taking an inexplicably long time to come to market…They should really get on with it, they’d make a fortune off of idiots by making phoney Avatar technology.

HAHAHAHAHAAHAHHHHAHAAAAAA! Are you kidding me?! A Hammerhead Shark crossed with a rhino?! You’re serious!? The only thing more ridiculous than that is this – is his name Jake? The crippled guy. Him. His mid-nineties trash-talking is at least twice as ridiculous both in and out of context. I’ve heard more convincing smack-talk and use of the word “bitch” from 12 year olds on Xbox LIVE.

Man we are way deep in uncanny valley here. There’s something about this CGI world which is just slightly less than photorealistic and it’s making me slightly uncomfortable. Everything has a falsely textured appearance, and the edges are just slightly too soft.

Oh for crissakes, there’s two more hours of this crap.

Oh hello obvious love interest….You’re…Um…Hideous. And having seen the actress that plays you, they must have gone to some considerable effort to make the Na’vi ugly, because apparently they’re supposed to look like the people who play them and Zoe Saldana is anything but ugly.

Okay, I know this is an alien atmosphere, but I have seen more convincing fire in video games. And quite frankly, I’m giving a “You Fail Physics Forever” badge to those flames because they just don’t behave believably, or consistently.

“I’m TOUGH. You can tell be cause I said ‘God-Damned’. Did you know you can’t say that on TV? It’s true. But this is a movie. So I can say it. And I did, because I’m badass Space Marine. Yeahhhhhhh”.

I find this Na’v language annoying and off-putting. And no, I do not buy into the idea that me thinking that is xenophobic, these are fictional monsters with a a culture cynically stolen from real ethnic groups. If anyone was being racist, it was the filmmakers in exploiting cultures like that. And for what? to make an appallingly heavy-handed message which nobody who saw this movie actually needed to hear and a few billion dollars.

Assholes.

This sequence with Jake and whatsername played by Zoe Saldana is a good indication of why this lost out on the Best Picture Oscar. For one, it’s awkwardly written. For another, it’s a cartoon. A jumped up cartoon with ideas well above its station, but a cartoon nonetheless. personally, it being a cartoon doesn’t bother me, I love Disney Cartoons, and Disney Pixar cartoons. It does bug me that they pretend it ISN’T a cartoon, because it clearly is. However, my point was that the Academy never gives the best Picture to a cartoon, even if they should (Wall-E says ‘hi’). Speaking of, if Toy Sotry 3 doesn’t get it, the Academy can go to hell.

Why are these subtitles in Yellow? It’s really annoying.

ARGH! This guy is the most hideous Na’vi yet! And he’s all shiny, like an unfinished effect or something. He looks out of place amidst the just-slightly-too-soft-focused-and-textured rest of the movie.

Well info individual Na’vi are ugly, a crowd of them just looks preposterous. I can’t look at this crowd without sniggering.

“Me Big Chief Na’vi. Zoe Saldana go-em fetch’s firewood”.

Yes, I’m suggesting that the design of the Na’vi Chief is incredibly racist against Native Americans, an yes I’m aware it’s not a new opinion and no I don’t care. It’s jarring and annoying.

I don’t get it though, are the Na’vi supposed to be African, Aborigine or Native American? Did the filmmakers just rip off all three of those cultures and combine them? I can’y decide if that’s better or worse. I feel like it’s worse.

Why is this moron continuing to speak english to every Na’vi he meets when to our knowledge, only a few seem to speak it? Which in and of itself is a minor miracle, very few creatures possess the vocal chords etc. necessary to reproduce human speech. That’s why Chewbacca in Star Wars may be able to understand Basic, but doesn’t even bother trying to speak it – and vice versa for Han Solo with the Wookie language.

Oh please stop saying Unobtanium.

You know, I’m going to be controversial here and say the Na’vi are at least as much to blame for the shit that goes down later in this movie. All the humans want is to get at the…Let’s call it the Oil. Thats what it’s clearly supposed to be. SYMBOLISM!!!!!111!!!!11!OMG!!WTF!!1BBQ!!1one!! Anyway, if the Na’vi would just stop being so stubborn about the superiority of their culture (Which is, itself, xenophobic. In fact, the Na’vi are at least ten times as xenophobic as the humans, who are going out of their way to be gracious, when it’s been made clear they could wipe the Na’vi out of they felt like it) and let the humans grab the oil and go, there’d be no problem.

The humans have no interest in staying, they’d have to either become Avatars (Expensive) or wear masks (Inconvenient).

Uh-huh. She’s teaching him their ways, the others dismiss him as being incapable of learning. Xenophobia. Like I said.

You know, I liked Expo much better in Dodgeball (Yeah, I just figured out that’s where I recognised him from). Anyway, I see he’s, once again, expositing. Lazy writing is lazy.

You know, I still don’t fully understand what happens to the Avatars when they’re not being controlled…I mean they just seem to be able to dump them anywhere, asleep. Isn’t that dangerous? Even if they pick a “safe” place to sleep, it’s an inhospitable jungle. Anything could happen!

The Na’vi doesn’t choose the weird pterodactyl thing, the weird pterodactyl thing chooses the wizard…Wait, this is bleeding into the various other fantasy universes James is ripping off.

Hah. She calls him moron. Accurate.

Horses with extra legs. I’d like to speak to a biologist about the feasibility of that.

Okay, come on, I have to be missing something. I’m an hour into this, and I still have no idea what people find so captivating about this crap. Is my capacity to be impressed simply by “the shiny!” really that much lower than the general populous’s? I find that hard to believe, I’m a Mac and iPhone user.

Tribal tattoo on his arm? This guy is such a douchebag.

Training montages without kickass music suck.

Mystical energy which flows through all living things? You’re ripping off Star Wars. You’re ripping off a series which itself consists almost entirely of borrowed ideas. You sir, are a hack, James Cameron.

Okay, I find the whole “clean kill” thing, and the mystic crap and all this BS and the way he’s started buying into it incredibly annoying and it’s one of the many thing which makes me fundamentally dislike the Na’vi. They’re bigots. They despise anyone who doesn’t buy into their religion. And what really annoys me about this is the fact the movie expects me to side with them, to the point of even implying that their religion is technically truth. FUCK THIS MOVIE. Stop talking down to me, I’m NOT a racist, I’m a supporter of Hope not Hate. Quit cramming “primitive cultures are really superior” white liberal guilt down my throat.

Hmmm…Weird pterodactyl’s who choose the wizard…Is this the part with the flesh USB Port…Yes. That’s ind of gross. There’s a presumably unintentional sexual undertone and it’s freakishly unsettling.

This entire culture is stupid and pointlessly dangerous and complex. In what way is this superior? They were openly cheering on the idea that he might die completing this entirely pointless task to prove his worth. What a fucking awful message to send kids James. “Unless your proving yourself through incredibly dangerous unnecessary risks, you’re mot a real man, and any worthy culture knows that”. FUCK YOU.

THIS IS JUST SHOWY. This whole pterodactyl sequence is 3D Eye Candy. And I ain’t watching this crap in 3D unless I can do so on the 3DS. So this is entirely pointless to me right now. I hate pointlessness in any movie, let alone a movie which is OVER TWO AND A HALF FREAKING HOURS IN LENGTH.

Oh hey very brief scene consisting entirely of exposit….Oh, it’s gone. Back to the showy cartoon nonsense.

Bored now.

Not even halfway.

Sigh.

This movie’s pacing is really inconsistent. It was racing along for the first forty-five minutes or so and now it’s dragging along like a broken down train.

Oh goodie, a mercy mission. How exciting. I’m convinced they actually made this movie with the idea that we sit and watch this mercy mission be successfully completed, because this totally is an independent arthouse flick, and not glossy, shiny, mainstream, populist schlock.

Waitaminute…This is Avatar. Sorry, I was fantasising I was watching a different movie. Replace that description with its opposites.

Sorry James, it’s gonna take more than glowy tentacle porn to win me over on this movie.

Blech. These Cat-Smurfs have totally the wrong bone structure in their faces to pull off human emotions like amusement and desire.

AND HOLY FREAKING GOD CAT-SMURF SEX SCENE. EWWW. EWWWWWW. This is wrong, wrong on so many levels. Gross. Dude is a fucking xenophile. Sick dude. Don’t fuck creatures of another species, inexplicable half-alien clone which you inhabit by remote or no. It’s still YOU in the re being aroused you sick creep.

Oh look, the exact thing I said about this whole leave them sleeping where ever they drop malarky has come to pass.

Yeah…Ummm..I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t know where the Avatars were at all times, or at least be able to identify them immediately, in case they themselves destroyed the damn things in exactly this way.

Oh hey, his Ozzie accent came back. I get it, he can’t emote and maintain his gruff American Marine voice at the same time. Ergo, poor casting.

I’m curious, what DOES happen if you interrupt a link in progress? Does the Avatar die, or the human or…What? I’m unclear here. Cos from what I understand of this movie’s plot going in, Jake goes back into his Avatar and goes native…So that means both he and it survive…So…Like…What’s the danger?

Electro-chemical communication between the trees? It’s a global network? Pseudo environmental crap! Hooray, I feel like I’m watching Fern Gully!

Wait, that’s a bad thing…

A deal can’t be made because the Na’vi refuse to move. It’s “move or die” and they’re not moving. Where is the problem exactly? They were given a freaking choice. I mean, I’m not saying the humans aren’t wrong to kill them, or aren’t incredibly greedy, I’m just saying the damn Na’vi are being pigheaded and doing little to nothing to help their own cause. If the humans are irredeemably evil, which seems to be the movie’s message, then the real message about the Na’vi is that they are idiots. Total fucking stupid savages. I think the message they WANT to send is that the Na’vi are noble and proud or some shit, but that’s real not what comes across at all. They’re just stupid.

Take Love interest’s angry reaction to Jake telling them:

A) You have to move on
B) I was sent here by them to learn your ways and convince you to move.

She, and the rest of the Cat-Smurfs are surprised and outraged by this news. WHICH WAS ENTIRELY OBVIOUS TO ANYONE WITH HALF A BRAIN. What the hell did they THINK he was doing there, sight-seeing?! Besides, he’s now CLEARLY trying to help. WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING HTE MESSENGER YOU SAVAGE FUCKING MORONS?!

These things are assholes, stupid fucking assholes. WHY should I sympathise with a people who SO CLEARLY want to die, or are otherwise too racist to accept help to prevent it.

They’re racists, they’re idiots or they’re both. Sure, the humans are racists and for the most part irredeemably evil (Incidentally, this many irredeemably evil characters? Bad writing James), but the Na’vi are hardly blameless.

Oh look, a token “I didn’t sign up for this shit” AWOL move.

Lazy writing.

You know, call me crazy, but these graphics really aren’t all THAT impressive. Sure they look great, possibly the best CGI to date in film, but they’re not SO MUCH better than other films recently. For the most part, excellent, but they’re incredibly uneven. Frequently I’m finding that the foreground looks almost real, but the background looks almost painted, or vice versa. It kinda breaks the suspension of disbelief.

Na’vi crying does not prompt sympathy from me. It’s just an incredibly annoying noise. And Love Interest anger is petty, and again, sounds annoying.

Turning don the colour on this sequence didn’t make it more dramatic James, it just made it look pretentious – and the shamelessly self-aggrandising dialogue did nothing to alter that perception.

Fifty Minutes left. How is it possible that the climax of this movie takes fifty minutes? Is James that and at directing?

Man, you’d think they’d have some kind of remote shut down for these Pelicans…Wait, this isn’t Halo…Sure looks like it…Anyway, you’d think they’d have remote shutdowns to prevent the expensive flying machines from being stolen like this…That kind of technology exists TODAY for crissakes, they have it in CARS.

“I don’t believe in fairy tales”. You’re in one, lady.

Now Jake just sounds British. This dialogue is dubbed, how can this possibly be the best take?

Hmm…WHile we’ve got time. I want to ponder why Sci-Fi universes always perceive other worlds as being mono-climactic and mono-cultural, when the only planet we know of with sentient life, earth, is the exact opposite.

In this context: why are all the Na’vi racist, xenophobic religious fundamentalists with an inexplicable technophobia?

Here comes the white man! The white man will save us!

For a movie dripping in white liberal guilt, this thing’s incredibly racist…The Na’vi can’t save themselves, and Jake makes a better Na’vi than the Na’vi.

Also, fuck the apostrophe in Na’vi. What the fuck is it for? What does it represent?

Spiritual crap. How incredibly offensive to those of use who are happily secular humanist.

SHE WAS SHOT. WE CAN HEAL BULLET WOUNDS NOW. They do not need to magic of some jumped up force knockoff to heal her. What a load of fucking bullshit.

…Haha, it didn’t even work. Awesome. I’m really loving this. Stupid Na’vi-loving prick. If you’d spent more time using medical science and less hauling her to a fucking prayer tree maybe you’d have been more successful at saving here you dick.

JAKE. You are NOT a Na’vi. I’m sorry, doesn’t anyone else find this sick? He has appropriated the cultural heritage of another race, indeed another species, as his own. It’s theft, horrible disgraceful theft. And not only that, it’s a terrible, awful betrayal of mankind. This guy is no hero, he’s an asshole. He has literally no redeeming qualities.

Good CGI on that water there though. Kinda pretty. That being said…WE HAVE WATER. ON EARTH. LOTS of it.

Wow, this movie seems to be implying that the soldiers sent into foreign territories collectively, uniformly, unquestionably support the thinking behind a given conflict. That is outrageously offensive to the military, who may do their duty, but that doesn’t mean they like it. Not every soldier sent to Iraq was in favour of Bush and Blair’s Oil-loving Islamophobic bullshit you know James.

STOP CALLING THEM SKY PEOPLE JAKE. They’re HUMANS. AND SO THE FUCK ARE YOU, ASSHOLE. You’re a fucking racist – against your own fucking people. There is nothing about you which is not evil and contemptible you detestable little shit.

Yeah…This movie sucks. Up to a point, I was of the opinion that it was merely “not good”, and that it was worthy of being hated purely based on the fact that a movie this expensive and successful ought to at least be good, and arguably ought to be mind-blowingly awesome. But at this stage, it has dramatically exceeded my expectations for sulkiness, and I knew going in it was unlikely I’d enjoy it. But I find myself hating every insipid, moronic, awful, offensive moment of it. This movie is an abomination. This movie sucks on a scale I haven’t experienced since Hulk. The Room may be incompetently made, but at least that movie just sucks. This movie sucks OFFENSIVELY. And unlike The Room, this was a vastly over-budgeted event film from a name director which went on to huge success.

The Room was an independent turd crapped out by some idiot which went on to obscurity outside of that little pocket of the internet that delights in watching crap.

Yeah, that’s sensible. Send your Commanding Officer right into the heart of combat.

This combat sequence is pretty, but I find myself distracted by the fact that the Na’vi are predictably going to win, because they’re the designated good guys…Despite the fact there is no credible way that a few thousand giant blue targets with bows & arrows, spears and the odd sword or gun could possibly beat an army packing rockets, machine guns and heavily armoured flying machines.

Stupid bitch, your hopelessly outnumbered and impossibly outgunned, Do as he says.

Oh look, hammerheaded deus ex machina. I hate lazy writing, so very, very much. Alas, it seems I cannot escape it.

Okay, now here, I’m pissed, the way they’ve made the Na’vi victory credible is to make all that mystical crap work. Now, fair enough you get to define the rules of your own universe James, but the Na’vi are a parallel for real peoples, here on earth, and they’re not even SUBTLE parallels for them. So that the solution to their inevitable destruction is “their pseudo-religion is right and hates the evil sky people”, is fundamentally the same as declaring western culture flawed, incorrect and basically unreservedly evil.

You’re basically saying “Fuck you” to the entire audience you asshole.

Oh hey you know, this Mech thing is like straight out of Killzone 2! Well at least James is being multiplatform with the games he’s ripping off. I’m sure there’s even something in here they knocked off from Nintendo.

Why does a mech that size have a knife.

Yeah, I know that should be a question mark. But I’m not gonna use one. Know why? BECAUSE THERE’S NO ANSWER.

There is no credible answer for what that Mech has a knife in its “hand”. If it needs to clear undergrowth or some shit, strap a chainsaw to its arm. This is bullshit, plain and simple.

About time someone asked him that General Asshole. I’m not saying you’re not as much of a prick as he is, you’re both evil pricks, but it’s about time Jake got a “What the hell, hero?” from someone. Though, quite frankly, I think it would have been better coming from someone who wasn’t so unrelentingly and obviously a villain.

Yeah, see, Arrow in you. That’s why you shouldn’t have opened the canopy, even if you couldn’t see.

Oh, yay! I think jake is dead! Well at least both the unrelentingly evil leaders in this movie have died. That shows some awarene…SON OF A BITCH. She saved him. Well, shit.

Oh god, seeing him with her as a human only serves to drive home how disgusting and wrong everything about Jake is.

And here he is, calling humans “aliens”. That’s not okay Jake. YOU ARE A FUCKING HUMAN.

EWWWWWW. GIANT CAT-SMURF IS KISSING ACTUAL HUMAN. THAT IS FUCKING GROSS.

Oh wow. It’s over. Good lord. That is one of the worst, most offensively appalling movies I have ever seen. I mean, jeez, I knew I wasn’t going to like it, but fucking hell…I mean damn, I knew I wasn’t gonna like Twilight either, and I came away from that with my opinion entirely unchanged. It sucks. Here, I went in expecting a movie which in no way justified its cost and popularity, with some plot holes and some lazy writing. What I saw was so much worse. It’s more offensive, and more…Simply BAD than I ever imagined, in its every facet and moment. There was literally five minutes total of this that I didn’t find either bad, offensive, stupid or some combination of those. It’s about ten minutes of spectacular imagery wrapped in two and a half hours of broken universe, plotholes, broken aesops, racism and a heavy-handed message its own makers seem not to have actually taken to heart.

I hated this movie. hated hated hated this movie. Hated every insipid, audience-offending minute of it. This movie is awful. This is everything which is wrong with modern filmmaking, and James Cameron can go to hell.

I am not open to opposing arguments on this. This is one case where I am invoking “Your opinion is objectively wrong” on anyone who tries to convince me this is a good movie. You can tell me you like it, you can even tell me it’s your favourite thing ever, and give me reasons why. But I will not hear any argument against the fundamental message of this Blog: this movie sucks. It sucks OUT LOUD.

TOTS: On Trial Show

Back in the so-called “Golden Era” of GameSpot, Ryan MacDonald and Richardine K. E. Gallup III IV Jr. created a live weekly show called On The Spot. On The Spot was the shit. It was perhaps the only Live video game show that actually mattered (Outside of E3). Certainly, it would be uncontroversial to say that in all its forms (Except its latter days with a certain bimbo proto-feminist) it was one of the best magazine shows, or shows of any kind, about video games, delivering a heart “fuck you” to the inept management of G4TV.

After the conclusion of last year’s run of On The Spots, GameSpot made the wise decision to put the show on ice and give it a revamp. At this stage, the show had been around for a long-ass time, so it was a good idea to take a step back and re-think things. It’s standard practice in Television, you just have to make sure your shows are fresh.

Unfortunately, GameSpot had the show off the air for months. Then finally, they announced a date. Then pulled it, explaining that they essentially wanted the show to be “even more awesome than we were gonna make it”. Naturally, with all the delays and promises and teasing, the expectations of the show were high.

Perhaps too high. The show that GameSpot took half a year (Including a quarter year delay) to produce was a radical deviation from the original On The Spot. It’s not the same show. Hence, it was given a fancy (And slightly mis-leading) new monicker “Today On The Spot”. It’s no longer live. And the producers are shooting for an average run time of 20 minutes, a minimum of about 15. What they have, is a prototypical web show run time.

Web show run times are not a good thing, even on the web. Programming needs to be thought of in half hour chunks. Why? Because most shows feel rushed if not programmed for a 30 minute or longer slot. Commercial television shows run about 20-22 minutes of content per 30 minute slot, but they don’t have to rush. They’re made into clear segments and the break (Whether it actually rolls ads or is just an act break like on DVD) gives the audience time to catch their breath.

You can do a 20 minute Magazine show. But the only way to do it is to cut back on the variety of content. And I still say don’t do it, because 20 minutes of programming is an anomaly in TV Shows caused by the presence of ads. where it can be avoided, it should because it can sometimes feel insubstantial. This only applies to shows setting a standard run time. Web shows often have varying run times, and there it is okay to have some shorter episodes.

The reason GameSpot opted for this radically curtailed run time is simple. The show is now on 3 days a week – although a casual reading of its name would cause one to believe the show was daily. Essentially, the same amount of content is produced as was before (Albeit now shot to tape and not live). On the face of it, that should be fine. But it just isn’t. Once again, the reason the run time is a problem has nothing to do with the quantity of content, and everything to do with the format.

This is a show that is fantastically well made. Production values are high and much of the talent is there (Tor Thorson, Brian Eckberg, Chris Watters and Co. do a great job “on air”). The format is the show’s elephant in the room. Despite being cut down to 20 minutes, the show is now trying to include a wider variety of content per episode – not per week, per episode. And that’s a big problem. Why? Because the show is too short for this many different things to happen. It feels breathless. Whether it’s Brian Eckberg going from receiving the throwback to throwing it out again via a mere few seconds of banter or Chris Watters flubbing a line as he speeds through a sentence, here we have a show which has no time to breathe.

And the rushed-feel of the show doesn’t just affect the hosts. It’s a tiring show to watch. The breaks between the segments aren’t long enough. It’s a subtle art, defining the different segments of a show. This is a bad example of how to get it done. The pauses and graphical splashes are short-lived and the cuts through black fast when there at all. Cuts and fades through black exist partly so the audience can catch their breath. This show is too short to waste time on filler between its already rushed segments. As a result, it comes across as way more “seat of your pants” than the old live show.

And it kinda suffers for it.

Other than the format, the other key problems with the show are the writing (Which runs the gamut from “Good” to “Corny” to “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh >_>”) and the on-screen personas of some of the talent, and how they interact. The writing is weak, and it suffers both from existing (These all seem like people who ought to just be going from an outline) and from the aforementioned pacing issues. The key to comedy is timing. We’ve already discussed how the show’s timing is screwed up, so what do you think you get when you introduce already poor comedy to poor timing?

Nothing good.

As for the talent personas and interactions, for the most part, they’re fine (If in most cases a little constrained – the show does tend to have a slightly repressed feeling, likely a result of both the fact it’s taped and it’s so short). But the real problems start when you have Chris Watters hosting, with Lark Anderson as his sidekick. These are both very obviously likable guys. But whatever chemistry they have is diminished by the shoddy writing and corny jokes, which makes it hard (As a member of the audience) to develop a rapport with them. It’s the chemistry between the talent that causes audience attachment. That’s why The HotSpot and The Bombcast worked and work.

Somebody also needs to give Lark some onscreen charisma lessons. There’s no problem when he’s talking, but when he’s sitting listening to Chris, he remains perfectly still staring semi-interestedly at Chris as the latter talks. No reaction, no animation until he is called upon. It doesn’t look so great and it makes it even harder for the audience to get in on the hosts’ chemistry.

Anyway, this is just my little critical analysis of Today On The Spot. I promised I would do one, and as you all know, media is kind of my thing. So here it is. Some of you might disagree, that’s cool. Explain why on the Twitters @Jensonb. Or whatever. But for me, this is a show which needs to be aiming for 30 minutes minimum, even with the same amount of content, before I could call myself a fan.

This Blog Post originally appeared on Giant Bomb (dot) Com

Movie Review: 8 Mile

So here it is, the (Admittedly belated) review of 8 Mile. It’s a natural choice to review this after Get Rich or Die Trying, both being vehicles for popular rap artists to launch (Potentially unnecessary) Acting careers. So is this one as bad, worse or is it (Gasp) actually kind of decent?

Well, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I enjoyed it. 8 Mile is a good movie. It’s hardly fine art and it’s not going to be remembered as the defining moment of a generation, but it’s decently entertaining and very watchable.

One of the crucial differences is the scale of the story on offer. Get Rich went for a preposterously overblown tale of a kid who becomes not only a drug lord, but also a rap star, On top of that, it is stuffed with over-dramaticised attempts at emotional weight. The resulting scenarios and story are implausible to the point of unwatchable.

8 Mile on the other hand focuses on a relatively small story. It’s not about grandiose ambition coming to fruition, it’s not a false-feeling attempt to portray a modern rags-to-riches tale. Instead, we have the real story of rap – the working class, Motor City and, of course, the streets.

And that’s not “the streets” in the eccentric “bullets flying every which way” sense Fitty Cent used it for Get Rich. It means real people. The youth, in the real world, just trying to pass the time in relative comfort and get by on what they can.

When guns appear in 8 Mile, it’s a big deal – they’re a real threat. People don’t just suddenly become drug dealers, or rap stars. They work day in, day out and blow off their steam however they can, and between that and work they spend their time surviving. It’s not the happiest portrayal of working class life, but it’s at least real.

The performances are pretty decent all round, and Eminem’s rapping is at its absolute best here. He was at the top of his game when this movie was made, and it shows in his epic Battle performances and the movie’s theme “Lose Yourself” – in my opinion, hands down his best ever track.

On first blush, Eminem seems rather bored with his part, wandering through the film with a lazy wide-eyed mild disinterest. But on closer inspection, and after watching the movie for a bit longer, this bewilderment seems more like his character’s persona. He seems constantly to be looking over his shoulder and lacks confidence.

He has just that right sense of mild but contained frustration with his lot in life that you would expect from a low-paid metalworker, and by the time he opens the taps and destroys the Leader of the Free World, you’re really rooting for him.

8 Mile is an easy film to recommend if you’re okay with Rap music. Those of you who can’t stan it are well advised to steer clear, but if you’re even merely okay with it, this is a move to check out. Stay the hell away from Get Rich though.

Movie Review: Get Rich or Die Trying

So I’m not going to waste too much of your time here, you probably don’t need me to. This movie is bad. BAD. The acting is terrible, particularly on the part of “Fitty” himself (The scene where he “learns to rap again” is particularly painful).

Worse is the story, with the scenarios it creates positively cringe-worthy at times (An eleven-year-old aiming to whack a drug dealing gangster with a steering wheel lock, an eleven-year-old drug dealer beating up a thug).

I mean, the music’s not bad if you like rap, but this movie seems to think it’s going to do for African-American Gang Culture what The Godfather did for Italian-American Gang Culture. Perhaps that’s why Fifty stayed on such a clearly awful movie (Out of a mis-guided belief it was high art – you know, where you want it so bad you think it’s there).

…Nah, he’s just an idiot.

Anyway, the movie just sucks. It’s painful to watch, filled with implausible characters and situations (That eleven-year-old writes an overtly sexual love rap to his sweetheart which is such an abomination to the ears her stepfather kicks her out).

And when it’s not implausible, it’s over-long, predictable or formulaic. Several times one of us was heard to say “lemme guess: X happens” only for X to occur moments later.

As for the over-long remark? It becomes pretty obvious exactly what events are going to play out and why as the movie draws to its (First) climax. Despite this, the movie makes you wait easily 10 minutes more than it needed to actually get to those events, instead tacking in some out of place emotional crap which does not achieve its (Presumably) intended goal of lifting the film’s tone in any way.

It’s a trainwreck. Next time, I’m reviewing 8 Mile. let’s see if the “Shameless Rapper Vehicle” formula for movies is inherently bad or if this one’s just bad on its own.