Monster Mondays: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011 film)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Monster Mondays: Doctor Who’s Whisper Men

At the Eyeball we have a soft spot for Doctor Who, even though the increasingly convoluted plots and two Doctors on a perpetual sugar rush have led to more of a ‘dipping in’ strategy when it came to actually watching it.

However, once we heard that a certain horror icon was guest starring, we tuned in this time. We won’t spoil who that was here, as the whole internet can tell you what happened – or watch it on the BBC iPlayer if you can. The episode was stronger than earlier ones with a leisurely start that perfectly laid out what was at stake, with an impressive group of female heroes setting the scene.

But what we’ve come to comment on were the gloriously nasty new monsters known as the Whisper Men.

One of the Whisper Men

The Whisper Men are sinister henchmen for an ongoing Big Bad, played with sneery superiority by Richard E Grant. Incidentally, wasn’t Grant a former Doctor in a parody or web cartoon version? He keeps the Whisper Men around and has a nifty trick of morphing his consciousness into them if one of him gets destroyed. There’s a reveal of this that’s rather like The Invisible Man, revealing only hollow air inside his face before taking over another Whisper Man. Shudder.

Whisper Men corner the Doctor

Whisper Men corner the Doctor

So what else is impressive about them? If they stick around we hope they’ll do more, but they did manage a fair amount of menace in this one appearance:

  • Cadaverous, sharklike grins.
  • Those broad top hats, undertaker chic taken to extremes.
  • Faceless monsters. Can they see you, or are they just gonna sniff you out?
  • Their whispering nature. They seem to stalk you with words as well as appearances.
  • They can also reach into your chest and stop your heart on a whim. Yuk.
  • They can corner the Doctor!
  • The way they morph into Richard E Grant and look vaguely annoyed by the process.
  • The pale faced, towering humanoid is a foolproof horror classic, going right back to Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.

whispermen

The Haunted Eyeball figures that this makes a change from referencing Daleks and Cybermen when it comes to Doctor Who. Also, we’re quite looking forward to when the show returns at the end of November 2013. Please, writers of Who, cut down on the sugar for once, and it might even be watchable, just like this one.

Surviving Twin Peaks

Well, the big plan at the Easter weekend was to get through all 30 episodes of Twin Peaks. It didn’t seem like such a tough challenge at the time. However, I made it as far as episode 13, Demons, then had a call a halt to the experiment.

The first season was actually really good, and seemed to have a larger budget for outdoor shooting, which made the whole show seem more expansive. There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with Agent Dale Cooper and his quirky approach to investigation techniques. He’s actually the only reason we kept watching as long as we did.

For a while, it was a great ride. I loved the OCD stacking of donuts, the strangely chic dancing by adult straight men, the oddness of the town did draw me in at first. But, it was also its worst feature. Because it’s not the early 1990s anymore, and the soap opera elements began to stink. Also the music really started to grate. The cheesy acting went from endearing to relentlessly bad. It seemed that, after the terrifying references and appearances of Bob, and the mystery surrounding Laura Palmer’s murder, things sort of slowed. Right. Down.

It was the third full day of watching Twin Peaks when we cracked. I’m sorry, I will continue trying to complete the show, one at a time, with breathing space inbetween. But this weekend, meant for relaxation, was probably not the ideal time to race through 150 hours of a show created by David Lynch.

I read around it, and it just didn’t sustain the weirdness long enough. I’m pretty sure there’s some good stuff coming, but again, we’d reached our Twin Peaks saturation point by midday Saturday.

Also, we’d run out of Tunnock’s Caramel logs. Disaster!

We ended up watching all of Season 1 of Breaking Bad, and most of Season 2 instead, and actually LEAVING THE HOUSE once or twice. Then it rained over the entirety of Bank Holiday Monday. But that was OK, too, by then, mental balance had been restored.

I definitely think I’ll return to Twin Peaks, and before the year is out as well. This exercise has proved that, watched in a lump, one after the other, the show is just not that interesting. Or maybe I’m missing something. I know the show had some problems in Season 2, and that’s a pity as well.

I still love Agent Cooper, and can’t emphasise that enough. I’m also grateful that this show opened a door to quirky in everything from the X-Files to Buffy. Spotting Scully’s Dad in this was a treat and I still haven’t seen Mulder in Peaks yet, so I will be going back for that!

Instead, I got on with other writing, reading and capturing the last of the weekend. Lesson learned. Normal service will resume this week on the Haunted Eyeball.

Twin Peaks Easter Weekend: Day One

Twin Peaks opening title

Thursday night

Twin Peaks is a show I thought I’d ruined for myself by watching all those ‘top ten’ list shows and too many curious scans of wikipedia. So, now it’s all on Netflix in the UK, it’s time to mak the best use of the Easter weekend by, er watching all of it. Probably for the one and only time, so the plan is to make the most of it.

We are stocked up on Tunnock’s Caramel Logs (they’re called biscuits in England, and seem essentially the same as the ‘logs’). We’ve made some damn fine coffee (French blend, oh yes) and the cherry pie is on standby.

Now I’m trying to entirely forget what details I know about the show, and enjoy this iconic surreal melodrama in its entirety.

The Pilot (hour and a half long)
Nothing much happens at first. Poor Laura Palmer is discovered on a lakeshore, wrapped in plastic. The music already bugs me. Yes, poor Laura Palmer is dead. And the grief in the community is palpable. A cop called Andy cries buckets over the situation. Everything takes a looooooong time to happen, I think there’s always a problem with pilot episodes, but this one was suffering from 1980s TV show pacing. I hate the two teenage boys. There are a lot of people to keep track of.

When Kyle Mclachlan’s preppy Agent Copper finally shows up the show really bursts into life! He is definitely the draw for this show. He’s so enthusiastic about the location. He loves trees. He loves the snow bunnies. I spend the whole episode waiting for him to mention the ‘damn fine coffee’ and it never happens. Disappointment! If this show was made now, there’s a good chance he’s the first character we meet. As it is, he’s definitely worth the wait.

Then the episode ends in terror. Mrs Palmer has a vision. A weird gnarly guy with lanky grey hair is lurking and leering at the foot of Laura Palmer’s bed. Eeeeeeeeeee.

Episode One
The two douchebags are in jail, and so is the other boyfriend with the puppydog eyes. There’s lots of talk about drugs, and Agent Cooper finally says he loves that Damn Fine Coffee, and eats a great deal of cherry pie. Yay! We also meet log lady properly.

Episode Two
Robocop’s creator shows up (Bob Morton!) and Agent Cooper has to stop the rest of the law enforcement officers from decking him. Cooper also uses a unique method, inspired by Tibet, I think, to narrow down the list of murder suspects. It involves a rock, a blackboard, and a glass milk bottle. It’s also accurate. We learn about the existence of a seedy club called ‘One Eyed Jacks’ where gambling and hookers dressed like frilly anime girls (with a deck of cards theme naturally) are available to the Audrey’s dodgy dad and his brother.

Then Agent Cooper has a very weird dream set in a red room with a backwards-talking, dancing midget and a woman who whispers the name of the killer in his ear. He won’t say who it is until breakfast the next day! The titles end with more midget dancing. Awesome.

Episode 3
Agent Cooper only kind-of knows who murdered Laura; he and the cops must decode the finer points of his very strange dream.  We learn there’s a secret society called ‘the Bookhouse Boys’ set up to combat a dark presence in the woods, which sounds a little like Stephen King’s IT, actually, if The Losers Club were organised. It’s also very funny and tragic hen Laura Palmer’s grief stricken father won’t let go of her coffin – there’s no way that scene isn’t meant to be hilarious. The hunt is also on for the one-armed man. Also, I could care less about the power games at the Mill, although I’m sure that’s going to be important later, and Piper Laurie is fantastic.

Episode 4
They actually find the one-armed man, and the conspiracy about the mill and Audrey’s attempts to woo Agent Cooper continue. The episodes seem to be ending quicker and quicker, which is a sign we’re getting into it.

At this point, it was bedtime….

Favourite characters so far:

Agent Cooper – Kyle McLachlan is very funny, who knew? Why is he always cast as a kooky stiff? He’s great here.
Amy – Love her squeaky voice and OCD stacking of department donuts.
Log lady – I gather she’s important? Want to know more! what does that log have to say?
Ed – The big faced, tiny-nosed guy is having a clandestine relationship with RR Diner owner, Norma. His drape-obsessed, eye-patch wearing wife, Nadine, is NUTS.
Josie – that lady can carry off the early 90s androgyny.

Don’t love:

Leo – big ol’ psycho, wife beating nutcase. I have  a hunch he’s out to die soon, but who is the guy all dressed in black, hanging out with him in the woods?
Audrey – Flirts, sulks, sort of great and pushy yet irritating as hell. Really resembles Marilyn Monroe and she will probably grow on me.

So, now we’re over halfway through the first season, a few thoughts. Twin Peaks is slower paced than I was expecting, but it looks beautiful on HD. There are a lot of characters to get used to, but I do want to go back there. It’s a strangely absorbing show and Kyle McLachlan is fantastic as the boyish oddball FBI agent. In fact, he reminds me of Benton Fraser, the Mountie from Due South, which also channelled the surreal in the name of fighting crime.
There’s a lot to take in. More will be viewed over tomorrow. I think we’re gonna run out of Caramel Logs before too long! Also, gotta get some donuts in, and stack them appropriately. Probably on Saturday’s viewing.

Twin Peaking over Easter Weekend: Supplies

Plans are afoot to watch all 20 episodes of David Lynch’s notoriously surreal drama series, Twin Peaks (1990), over the Easter weekend block.

I was born slightly too late to appreciate or even remember it when it was first broadcast, (I’m from the slightly later X-Files era in 1993) but I am looking forward to finally seeing what all the fuss is about. This show is referenced in Witness, for crying out loud, it’s where I first even heard about it. Not sure just how big it was over here in the UK, either.

Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer

I can already hear that creepy music...

Was torn between doing a minute by minute recap of all the episodes as they appear (while realising I’m never a big fan of reading those lengthy scrolling entries, so probably not). Instead I’ll be summarising my response to each block of episodes at the end of the day’s viewing. Gibbering will be kept at a minimum, I hope.

Think the schedule will be something like:

Thursday eve – 6 episodes (recap on Friday morning)

Good Friday – 8 episodes (recap Saturday morning)

Easter Saturday – 8 episodes (recap Sunday)

Easter Sunday – 8 episodes (recap on Monday)

That ought to do it. That should leave most of Monday free for fresh air and blinking in the bright light of the external universe beyond our sofa.

I haven’t tracked down a copy of Fire Walk With Me, the film prequel to Twin Peaks, yet. I did it see many years ago, but think we’ll stick to the original series for now, care of Netflix.

I have already conducted a little research on Twitter to decide what vittles should be around to sustain body, soul and sanity during this marathon. Thanks to @joshuafklocek @barryhutchison and @MatthewDRyan1 for the following necessary nibbles:

Some Tunnock’s Caramel Logs

Donuts

Cherry Pie (may have to settle for Bakewell Tarts…..)

Anything involving creamed corn!

OBVIOUSLY some Damn Fine Coffee

***

Apparently there’s also a drinking game – one Google search later, it turns out there’s a boatload to try out. That’s to be decided later, I reckon. Any recommendations are gratefully received.

So we’ll be putting in the supplies order for Thursday and dodge the panic buying for the Easter Bank Holiday starts. I love supermarkets that deliver!  With this, and nothing too complicated to cook, the Haunted Eyeball will soon be reporting on its adventures in with Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.

Lovecraft Week: Real Ghostbusters ‘The Collect Call of Cathulhu’

People who love horror often started their fascination early on. For instance, if you grew up in the 1980s, it seemed you could scarcely move for cartoon monsters, demons and Dungeons and Dragons. Even My Little Pony had a particularly nasty beast at one point. But the The Real Ghostbusters in particular stand out from its animated peers. Spawned from the phenomenal success of Ghostbusters (1984), the early seasons of The Real Ghostbusters were created with the full blessing and influence of Dan Akroyd and co. It also had some very decent writers, most notably J Michael Straczynski. Upon revisiting, some twenty-plus years later, The Real Ghosbusters remains streets ahead of many similar shows at the time, especially in terms of unusual storytelling and enjoyably snarky adult characters.

Although the animation isn’t as lush or fluid when compared to modern cartoonage, it’s extremely well produced and the sheer inventiveness of the ghosts, and the cynical banter between the Ghostbusters themselves, are a real joy. The lesson here is that cynicism doesn’t age! No part of pop culture or ancient history, was out of bounds and it drew from anything and everything, ranging from Citizen Kane to Norse Mythology, and of course, good old Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

Which explains the episode ‘The Collect Call of Cathulhu’. Punning on Lovecraft’s famous Call of Cthulhu story, and written by Michael Reaves, we can assume that the misspelling of ‘Cthulhu’ in in this title is so the kids watching won’t be confused about how it’s pronounced. Equally, it could have been done to piss off rabid H P Lovecraft fans. Your call, Eyeballers.

Of course, the episode’s plot is just a little hokey – some mook from the Miskatonic University opts to display the notorious Necronomicon at the New York Public Library (did the Ghostbusters ever dispatch their first ghostly encounter there?) Of course the tome gets stolen, our guys are called in to find it, and the Ghostbusters soon face off against some aggressive and fast-regenerating Cathulhu(sic) Spawn underground. This sewer attack is actually played pretty straight, the guys look absolutely terrified (and they’re hardened ghost fighters after all!) so the Cthulhu/Cathulhu awakening is really a pretty big deal. It could even be considered pretty dark.

Cathulhu, Cthulhu, Ghostbusters, Collect Call of Cthulhu, H P Lovecraft, horror

However, including overt references to the Cthulhu Mythos (mainly from the August Derleth perspective, it seems) in a show ostensibly aimed at kids really isn’t so surprising. Let’s not forget that the first Ghostbusters movie is effectively a Lovecraftian movie all on its own. The live-action Ghostbusters battled Gozer the Gozerian, the Destructor, ender of reality and turner of innocent apartment dwellers into giant monstrous ‘dogs’. Oh, and several makers of the original Ghostbusters film also worked on Heavy Metal, an animated film not without its own blatant Chthulhu references (and a few more nekkid boobs, too)!

Including Cathulhu/Cthulhu in the plot here just seems like a natural step. It’s not taken too lightly, either, even though there are some priceless lines such as “Anything that looks like Godzilla wearing an octopus hat shouldn’t be hard to find.” – Pete Venkman.
To emphasise just how serious the threat of Cathulhu’s return actually is, Egon points out that Gozer is “Little Mary Sunshine” in comparison. Yikes. (Think how big that Twinkie must be!) This neatly provides viewers who’ve never heard of Cathulhu/Cthulhu (for instance, all the under-fives in the audience at the time of broadcast!) with a sense of the scale of a ‘dreaming’ god that could kick Gozer’s ectoplasmic rear back across infinity. Again, yikes.

So, how do the Real Ghostbusters cope with battling the greatest threat to humanity to world has ever known? Check out the video of the episode just below to find out:

For sheer fan service, The Collect Call of Cathulhu is an outstanding episode. From Pete Venkman lusting over Ms Derleth, then battling ‘Cathulhu’ with a proton pack from a moving rollercoaster, to Egon basically saying ‘we’re screwed’, and Ray’s love of Weird Science magazines helping them to win in the final showdown, frankly it’s all over a bit too fast.

Points if you spot the blatant Scooby-Do ending, too. Also, South Park also seem to have been influenced by this episode’s approach to the Mythos in their recent episodes. It can’t be a total coincidence that Cartman meets his own Cthulhu while he’s on a rollercoaster, can it?

Coming up tomorrow – Innsmouth Press presents Future Lovecraft stories

Coming up on Thursday – H P Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom by Bruce Brown

Don’t miss:

Lovecraft week, day one – James Pratt’s bite-sized Lovecraftian horror stories reviewed 

Also of interest

You know, for Squids!

Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8 reviewed

Review: The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster

The Machine Stops
The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FAIRLY SPOILER-FILLED REVIEW

How can a book from 1909 be so accurate about the way we live our lives today? OK, so we aren’t all trapped willingly in little cells isolated from the outside world and relying on a faceless machine of take care of our every need while we spout our opinions to the world from a screen…not ALL of us. Enough of us for this to feel very odd indeed.

Thanks to this uncanny accuracy in predicting the future, this is easily the most chilling dystopian future story I’ve read. It’s not “1984”, which takes ennui, despair and Government control in very different direction. No, this is the self-inflicted hell of regressing to childhood willingly. The humans in “The Machine Stops” are coddled into inhumanity, much like the humans on the spaceship in Pixar’s WALL-E movie. Moving around and doing anything for yourself has become socially distasteful, and the main protagonist, Vashi, exists purely to converse via screen (Web cams, anyone?) and to discuss and produce her ‘ideas’. The overall aim of her culture is to make true experience obsolete, to only allow any understanding of historical events through the many times removed interpretations of the current generation. Eventually, no one will know or feel anything. These guys don’t even pick up books when they drop them.

Vashti’s total disconnect from normal human emotions of awe is best shown during her reluctant journey to visit her son, who lives far away across the world. Here she takes a trip in an airship which passes over the Himalayas. She refuses to be inspired and all the other passengers find the view disgusting.

This is because most humans live beneath the earth in these cell like cubicles, which is something echoed on television recently, by Charlie Brooker in his Black Mirror episode ’15 Million Credits’. Humans rules by television and their interactive screens and disconnected from the real world is an ever more realistic scenario. Most terrifyingly, the story reminds us that this state of things cannot go on. the pinnacle of human civilization will corrupt and fail, as all human civilizations seem to have done before us.

Predicting that one day the machine WILL stop, the story ends on the question – and THEN what will we dependent children all do?

Truly chilling. Very highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Black Mirror (2011) – Charlie Brooker (All 3 episodes)

Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker of TV Wipe, the 10 O’Clock Show, and the  excellent zombie-Big Brother mini series Dead Set, has turned his hand to a three episode series on Channel 4 (UK) which feature would could best be described as ‘cautionary tales’ about the world’s current obsession with electronic media. Much like this blog, except with more viewers. Black Mirror’s last episode finished last week, but I just wanted to add a few words of praise for something a bit different and satirical.

You can argue that these stories have been covered before by other writers and films – Brooker himself admits that he was inspired by the Twilight Zone when creating this. I still believe it’s valuable to have a show like this.  Given how much uncritical dross actually is out on the TV and constantly mutating on the internet, I feel that something like Black Mirror which at least tries to remind us what we’re doing with technology and instant communication can’t be a bad thing. Of course there are shades of Orwell here, a shard of Bradbury’s Faranheit 451, the always echoed themes of Network. Frankly, this doesn’t matter. Black Mirror  explores the current obssesions with Twitter and mass culture, the dangers of being enslaved to public opinion and fast moving technology. Frankly, anything which suggests that instant communication, all the time, might be making us cruelly mindless, is a valuable entity on the TV.

Episode 1 – National Anthem

Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) faces a rather difficult and delicate decision.

The first of Charlie Brooker’s disturbing  tales has a memorable quandry for the British Prime Minister. It seems that the people’s beloved Princess Susannah has been kidnapped, and to free her the Prime Minister must perform a highly indecent act with a pig on national television. There’s a short deadline and increasing pressure from the public for the Prime Minister to accede to the kidnapper’s demands. But is the public about to get more than it can handle?

This story wasn’t so much ‘this could happen’ as ‘why hasn’t this happened yet?’ and it’s almost – almost – believable enough to be very effective. It ask several questions about the power of the media, highlighting the way that fast moving news delivery can skew and distort facts enough to destroy a person caught in its path. It also lobs a satirical missile at the quality of the Turner Prize winners.

While this is an extreme version of the effects of social media, it also seriously warns about how it outrage can whip up public hysteria to levels which panic governments into stupid and, it turns out, rather unnecessary decisions.

I mainly appreciated the point where the previously mocking TV audience understood the full horror of what they’d demanded to happen, although nobody seems to stop watching it. The Prime Minister was also surprisingly sympathetic. Humiliation makes great telly, or that’s how it seems, but what would we actually want to watch given the chance? I think we’re lucky that the worst of things must still be sought out on the internet, although perhaps we’re getting a little closer to true horror like this every day.

Episode 2 – 15 Million Merits

Downton Abbey star Jessica Brown-Findlay

This episode bears the most powerful resemblance to the three best known dystopian touchstones, mostly Orwell’s 1984, Farenheit 451 and a very big nod to Network. The protagonist, standing in for 1984’s Winston Smith, is a tiny cog in a terrifyingly bland but cruel vision of the future where humans are the wheels. People must pedal on stationary exercise bikes – its seems that they’re generating electricity. At night they live in individual cells where every wall is a huge video screen, which plays adverts you must pay to avoid. That does seem familiar. The only way to escape the daily grind is by appearing a hugely popular X-Factor style TV gameshow, but when our hero tries to help the girl he loves by lending her the entry credits, his mere existence turns into a complete nightmare. The big question it asks is, how can you fight against anything when your words are repackaged to be consumed?

This is the worry that preoccupied Bill Hicks (his oft-quoted ‘kill yourselves’  call to advertising people feels perfect for this situation) and the conclusion is very much an admission by Charlie Brooker himself that once you are part of the system, you must try to livewith yourself and make the best of it, whilst losing a little of what made you mad as hell along the way. Apology and warning, and worth a watch.

Episode 3 – The Entire History of You

Toby Kebbell plays Liam in the third and final episode of Black Mirror, 'In Memoriam'.

What would happen if we could record everything we ever saw, every minute? Are we that far from it now? In the third and last Back Mirror, Jesse Armstong (of Peepshow) has written a troubling tale of obsession and jealousy. While not quite as satirical as the previous two, it deals with the worst case scenario when a young lawyer believes his wife has had an affair with a smarmy friend. How much is worth remembering and does perfect recall simply make it harder to forgive and forget?

While the characters themselves were fairly smug and pretty unlikeable, it did feel like it was just a few seconds into the future and the dangers of going over and over something is much harder when a possible betrayal is all filmed in hi-def to pick over. In fact, my favourite example of this is foreshadowed at a party scene near the start, where one of the couple’s friends has arrived back from holiday and can’t stop obsessing over a tiny piece of frayed carpet glimpsed in the corner of the hotel room. A minor factor in the great scheme of things, but enough to ruin the entire memory of the trip when revisited again and again. The relationship between the lawyer and his wife soon undergoes a similar unravelling.

It wasn’t quite extreme enough, in the end, but once it got going the story was troubling, in a good way, and perhaps also a reminder not to obsess too much over all those Facebook photos from mad nights out?

Conclusion

I am very pleased that Charlie Brooker got a chance to create these stories and I only wish there were a few more of them. The world moves fast, technology is a callous master, and the news and TV in general needs to prod people now and then to point out it isn’t always a good thing. That’s what the best science fiction has always done. Real life is all in the interpretation. Although the show mocked the Turner Prize, perhaps true art, and our humanity, can be best revealed in the reflections we see in the Black Mirror.

After that gesture towards self-awareness, I guess we can all get back to watching X-Factor. Or not.

IT Crowd Season 4 (UK) 2010 Episode One

Make mine Moss!

Episode One: Jen the Fredo

Not being much of a Big Brother fan ( I will run screaming from the room), I end up avoiding Channel 4 for most of the summer – which is why I nearly missed the return of one the channel’s silliest, most loveable comedy shows. Moss, Roy and Jen are back at Reynham Industries, taking on the corporate world from the safety of their basement.

I was pleased to see that the basement still looks as though Forbidden Planet and Japan had exploded inside it. It’s full of references to everything from V for Vendetta to Zelda. Pehaps Moss (Richard Ayoade), the show’s uber-geek, is in charge of this scenery? Moss has always been the best part of the show, and is possibly the most deliciously awkward character on the planet, although he’s a little underused in this episode. I think he’s saving his geek powers for his appearence on Countdown next week.

Instead, the plot revolves around Jen (Katherine Parkinson), who wants a little more to her job than babysitting Moss and a lovelorn Roy (Chris O’Dowd) and applies for the position of Cultural Events Manager (the ‘Fredo‘) at Reynham Industries. Everyone says it’s not for her, and she soon discovers why – the businessmen aren’t interested in seeing Mamma Mia, they had something a little less disturbing in mind. They want ladies to, er, ‘dance’ with. So, naturally, Jen turns them over to the care of Roy and Moss. An emotional evening of playing Dungeons and Dragons awaits!

This show still loves its geeks, and the healing power of Dungeons & Dragons bonds everyone very sweetly. Jen has turned into a full on pimp by the end of it, but I think she’ll recover, even after she learned what happened to the Godfather’s Fredo. Douglas Reynham also survives a visit from the feminist lobby, who awarded him a very unflattering statue, and has to use his charms on Miranda (Dolly Wells), which goes rathr better than expected.

The series has shown steady improvement over the last few years – but it’s still very hit and miss. The last season relied heavily on its characters without really doing anything very interesting with them. It still does a good job of filtering topical ideas and making them into true sitcom situations, particuarly the one with the friendly German cannibal!

I felt this episode held together pretty strongly, with a sweet line in thwarted ambition and consequence free sexual harrassment. Of course it was obvious that D&D was going to be used to save the day, but I liked Jen’s Fredo payoff right at the end. This is still  the best show taking the piss out of the insanity of work since the Office, (UK version anyway), and delights in sending up those who squat at the top of the corporate ladder and those who crouch below it.

A great start to the new season, and you can watch it smoothly on youtube right here!

Lipstick Jungle (2008) TV First Episode

New ladies in the City

AKA: Two Mirandas and half a Charlotte

It’s incredibly unfair to judge a show on its very first episode. However, watching this at legal speed rather than on dodgy downloads tends to mean that we’re taking ‘em as they come. In Lipstick Jungle’s case, it’s clear that there’s a lot more work to do, and it needs to get over its ‘tick all the boxes’ obsession as it markets itself as the shiny replacement to the majestic glossiness of Sex and the City.

In Lipstick Jungle, we’re following the hugely complicated love-lives of three New York heavy-hitters, who just happen to be women. They get introduced in a fairly efficient data-blast from an E! Entertainment-style show, which is profiling the ’50 most influential ladies in Manhattan’. To my mind, they are best described in Sex and the City terms as – two Mirandas and half a Charlotte.

The “Charlotte” is Victory Ford. The youngest (or so it appears) leading lady with a once-successful fashion brand. Although she feels her current show is closest to being everything she’s ever wanted, the reviewers and the bosses are very unhappy. This sends her into the doldrums and she starts doing stupid thing – like dating Andrew McCarthy (clearly a beginner’s Mr Big character in all this). Luckily she has best mates who are ALSO on this fabulous list, who are more than willing to support her.

Victory Ford takes a phone call from 80s heartthrob, Andrew McCarthy,

whose character name in this I, er, can’t remember…

There’s Brooke Shields as Wendy Healy, an easily-flustered Studio Executive who can’t keep her movie directors in line. She has even more trouble with a Photographer husband (the guy from lacklustre urban-wizard show) who resents like her extreme success and whinges like a little baby about having to help out at home and ‘clean up cat sick’, whilst she schmoozes or whatever. Frickin’ wuss. He’s also got the MOST irritating Brit accent ever captured on the small screen.

Then there’s, Nico Reilly (Kim Raver), who is best remembered as Audrey from 24. She plays a highly strung Magazine Publisher who gets affronted when she thinks the Brit boss Julian Sands (another 24 actor!) is listening to a younger male editor instead of her. Whilst she points out repeatedly that EVEN THOUGH she’s a woman, he SHOULD trust her, I kept on expecting Jack Bauer to charge through the glass doors and shoot Julian Sands repeatedly in the kneecap. Sadly, nothing like that happened. But here’s hoping. *Fingers crossed*

L-R: Wendy Healy and Nico Reilly take time out at their mate Victory Ford’s fashion show

I think the worst thing about this opening episode is the way EVERY SINGLE THING is a MASSIVE FEMINIST ISSUE. Ahem. And it was handled in a way that loaded the speeches into the character’s mouths. The actresses clearly did their best here, but surely there must be subtler ways to get this across? And with all the wining and getting into huffs that they do, is it really possible that these are the three of the ‘Fifty Most Powerful Women in Manhattan’?

Perhaps this is where the escapism side comes into play, but there’s a fine line between escapist cashemere and Ugly Betty belly-button-fluff.

On the plus side, sex isn’t being treated like a ‘monster of the week’ as it was for the first 3 seasons on Sex and the City. It can’t get quite as naughty as SATC could on HBO but y-gud does it try! My concern is that it’s going to be concentrating on nothing but soap-dish relationships instead. We’ll be fine as long as none of them run off to Paris with some Russian who seems to hate her. *Paging series 6.5 of Sex and the City, oh yes*

To continue this unavoidable comparison to Sex and the City, and despite my own whines, Lipstick Jungle does its darndest to fill the gap. Anyway, the good news is that it isn’t ABSOLUTELY cringeworthy. The actresses are pretty strong, and their chemistry will no doubt improve. There’s a real effort to try and make the women friends and supportive of one another, which is actually nice to see – I feel that this could well explain how it’s survived to a second season.

Love, life, and great shoes. You’d think they’d be really happy but, you’d be wrong.

Cos no one is ever rich and happy in a TV show. Oh, hell no….

While I doubt I’ll obsess over it, I think I’ll be trying a few more episodes and be extremely grateful that this isn’t YET ANOTHER Desperate Housewives/Ugly Betty dabble in the shallow-end of drama. This is more of a Champagne Bath for the brain – although we have yet to see if it’s going to Cava or Moet… but the bubbles sure are pretty.