Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Too Much Telly

Forgive my rampant and shameless populism but today I am going to talk to you about telly.

Basically, I'm watching far too much of it. Far more than is conducive to the sanity of any one individual. Conservatively, I have counted no fewer than 19 television series of which I have watched at least one episode in the couple of years since I succumbed further to Rupert's evil plan and bought Sky+. Nineteen. Paul Hardcastle would have a field day with that figure.

I can't be the only one trawling through either the On Demand listings or endlessly looking for new shows to download to while away the hours between the end of work and the start of sleep. Everyone's at it aren't they? Other people have it really bad because they are also addicted to spirit-choking reality shows and soaps which endlessly loop for 50-odd years, disguising their cynical sensationalism as 'addressing taboos'.

Where shall we start? Revolution? Have you ever seen Revolution? If not you really must. It would bill itself as a futuristic science fiction thriller. I would bill it as seriously glorious silliness but quality entertainment for all of that. It is set in a United States of America which has basically become war-torn by the loss of all electricity. Except in one scene they managed to play a bit of Lionel Richie, but explaining how that came to pass would take up the whole of this piece. Let's stick to the plot in which post-loss-of-power, the Matheson family suffer the abduction of teenage son Danny by one of the tearaway, looting militia groups which now hold sway. Charged with getting him back are Danny's sister Charlie and her friends Aaron and Maggie. Aaron is a former Google executive, and so you can imagine how far out of his comfort zone he has become. Meanwhile Charlie has that Fergie from Black Eyed Peas quality of being rather funny looking but undeniably sexy. Her father Ben is shot at some point in all of this, leaving the group to seek out the help of his brother Miles.

Miles, along with his former friend and now adversary Sebastian Monroe (self appointed leader of the Monroe Republic and all around evil genius) is virtually indestructable in any form of combat. Which is handy when you are trying to complete a daring rescue in the company of two brave but limited women and a bearded nerd. Incidentally, Sebastian is more commonly known as Bass. Only Sebastians in a lecky-less future call themselves Bass. You can only get away with that sort of shit in a world gone mad. Miles' thing is that he can't really be arsed to get involved in Danny's rescue, but he feels a responsibility to do so for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he is the abducted boy's uncle, and secondly he is a reformed baddie starting to feel guilty about all of the terrible atrocities he committed at Bass' side owing to their thirst for power. Via a series of flashbacks the Miles-Bass back-story begins to unfold, as does the rest of your life as you become consumed by this limited but unmissable drama.

Equally unmissable is the The Following. I have just finished watching episode 2 of series 2 as I write. It's real edge-of-the-wheelchair stuff. The first series centres around a cult led by a creepy teacher and wannabe novelist turned serial killer. He's English of course, as any baddie worth his salt is. In series one he went on a lot about Edgar Allen Poe, kidnapped his son, then his wife, and somehow managed to persuade around 50 lost and lonely souls to do his murderous bidding. Some of this was achieved during a stint in prison. It's impressive stuff. Trying to stop the bad guy is EE advertising former Footloose star Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy. Hardy's a one-time FBI man who has been lashed out of the bureau for doing things his own way once too often. It gets personal between Hardy and the killer, Joe Carroll, for no less predictable a reason as they are both in love with Carroll's wife Claire. That's what Bacon might refer to as a no-brainer.

From then on the phrase cat and mouse doesn't really do it justice until now, after the latest instalment previously referred to, Carroll's cover as trailer park trash hiding out in the sticks is blown when he fails miserably to resist the temptation to murder a priest. A priest to whom he is pimping out his new girlfriend. So skilfully done is The Following that it can even make you feel a level of empathy with Carroll. I can't sit here with my hand on my heart and tell you that I have never wanted, on some level, to kill the local priest.

There's religious goings on in my newest distraction, a mysterious drama starring former ER geek Anthony Edwards called Zero Hour. Attempts to describe to you what is going on here are entirely superfluous but let me have a stab at the outline. Edwards' wife has been kidnapped by a man with strangely colour-less eyes and if he wants to get her back he has to figure out a clock-related puzzle that is so complex it makes your average 3-2-1 clue look like child's play. There's welve clocks involved, twelve apostles but disappointingly no dead priests. Complicating things further is the fact that the colour-less eye kidnapper is also responsible for the death of an FBI agent's husband. And she just wants to put a bullet in his head and bugger what happens to Edwards' wife. Now that's what I call conflict. To top it all off, a clock purchased by Edwards' wife on the day of her abduction leads Edwards and his employees to a snow-bound location where he runs into a frozen version of himself and some abandoned Nazi machinery. Somehow he was around in 1938 when all of this clock business is said to have begun. No, I don't understand it either but that won't stop me watching the next episode.

Want something that you don't have to concentrate on to understand? How about Friday Night Lights, a high school drama about the fortunes of the Dillon Panthers High School football team? It's like Grange Hill with helmets and pom-poms. Brilliantly, it takes a stab at addressing disability early in the first series when the Panthers starting quarterback Jason Street is practically sawn in half by a rampaging, burger-fuelled opposing linebacker. He never walks again. Naturally, Street's ludicrously beautiful cheerleader girlfriend has second thoughts about this going-out-with-a-crip lark, and promptly hops into the sack with his best friend, talented but lazy drunkard and ne'er-do-well Tim Riggins. In her defence, Riggins is played by Taylor Kitsch who can now be found causing hearts to throb in such cinematic gobshitery as Battleship and John Carter. Happily, Street soon forgets about his ludicrously beautiful girlfriend and gets to the brink of the USA's Paralympic wheelchair rugby team before miraculously getting laid, impregnating the girl in question and sodding off out of it before it gets really unwatchable. By the end of the fifth series the only thing holding your attention is Kitsch and the spellbinding Aimee Teegarden. That and trying to figure out how and why they found such an ugly baby to play her little sister.

So far, so silly, but the television show that everyone is talking about at the moment is the wonderful if slightly belief-sapping Breaking Bad. This is the story of a 50-year-old chemistry teacher who, upon learning that he has potentially terminal cancer, decides to raise money for his treatment and for the long-term betterment of his family by cooking and dealing crystal meth. The fact that his brother-in-law is high up in the New Mexico drug squad is no deterrent to our hero, Walter White. There's another disability angle in the form of Walter's son, Walter Junior, who has cerebral palsy. For reasons best known to himself Walter Junior decides at some point during series two or three that he would rather be known as Flynn. Then he drops that name, and picks it up again by the end. But what Flynn mostly excels at is wandering around aimlessly not having even half a clue what is going on with his own family. Even his baby sister seems to have a more enlightened grasp on proceedings than Flynn, but at least his baby sister is not as gruesome as Amy Teegarden's. I can't say too much else about Breaking Bad for fear of a hate mail response to spoilers. All I can say is that you must watch it, if only for the acting brilliance of Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a stupefying leap from Malcolm In The Middle's Dad, and Aaron Paul as Walter's former pupil and meth-using accomplice Jesse Pinkman. Watch out too for spectacular turns by Bob Odenkirk as bent comedy lawyer Saul, and Revolution's very own Giancarlo Esposito as a man who sells chicken for a living. And more besides.

So you can imagine that watching all of these added to the sacks full of football, rugby league, cricket and NFL that I gorge on every week would leave me with barely enough time to hold down my job. Quite how I find the time to write this column is a conundrum that even Anthony Edwards and his clock couldn't find the answer to. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Slow burning non-event Boardwalk Empire is somehow compelling, as is Game Of Thrones in which every man and his proverbial mutt vies for the chance to be king of somewhere but nobody ever seems to actually achieve it. But any series in which Alfie Allen gets his knob chopped off has to be worth a look. Gratuitous sex and violence is also the chief motivator for watching Banshee, a bizarre crime drama in which a random ex-con unbelievably steals the identity of the local sheriff and nobody notices. Not even his police colleague, last seen by this writer being even less observant as a bumbling FBI man in The Sopranos. Marrone.....

Honourable mentions here should also go to The Blacklist (with James Spader as an annoyingly smart-arsed super-criminal who may or may not be helping the good guys), Elementary in which Johnny Lee Miller portrays a Sherlock Holmes devoid of social skills and featuring female incarnations of both Watson and Moriarty, Homeland which boasts the most annoying on-off romantic story-line in the history of television but yet remains frustratingly watchable, Hannibal which relies on blood, gore and shock tactics to re-tell stories told much more palatably by the Anthony Hopkins films and Wentworth which takes on the unenviable task of recreating a series famed and loved for it's awfulness and turning it into a drama to be taken seriously. It doesn't always succeed.

But somehow I'll always find time to watch.

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