For a four month period in 2002 while working for The Wire (a division of Trinidad Publishing Company), I co-wrote a television column, realizing they don’t existing anywhere else I’ve collected them here.
August 8 The Anna Nicole Smith Show
Who greenlighted this humungous steaming pile of feces—obviously their brains were sucked up in the vacuum created by the atmospheric displacement of Anna Nicole Smith’s breasts.
In the mostly brain deadening land of TV, this show epitomises everything that is bad. To paraphrase—I wouldn’t watch that show ever again with borrowed eyes. Or ears. A voice like that should best be used to scare birds from crops. The only redeeming factor is that it’s a half-hour during which she alternates between being vapid or being a complete bimbo.
What is it about reality TV that attracts us like vultures to a carcass?
Firstly—reality TV is an oxymoron. There is no reality that requires a person to be followed by a camera with lights; wearing a microphone through their every waking moment. Secondly, are our lives so vacuous that we have nothing better to than sit mindless and watch how other people live? The ‘un’-reality TV genre has always been bad, it’s just been a question of degree. This monstrosity—I can’t bring myself to call it a show—will hopefully put down the genre like the rabid dog it is.
August 16 The Replacements
From September to May, the major US networks ABC, CBS and NBC, and to some extent, FOX and UPN and the WB, rule the airwaves with their regular roster of shows. There are new episodes of the most popular shows on each almost every week during this time frame, but come June, all you’ll see on these channels are re-runs. All is not lost, in recent times, the cable networks—TNT, USA and SciFi, have all been producing their own original series that run during the time regular cable networks off season. Most of these shows don’t last more than a season.
TNT, however, seems to have a success on its hands with Witchblade (Monday 9 p.m., TNT). Originally conceived as made-for-TV movie based on a comic book, the movie received such high ratings the network decided a series was in order. The series follows the adventures of detective Sara Pezzini — played by a dour Yancy Butler, a New York city detective who has been chosen by the Witchblade as its current wielder. Witchblade proved to be so popular it’s now back in its second season, but viewers now tuning in can catch the first season on TV6.
Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Witchblade is driven by its strong female lead and occult themes. The show’s spectacular guest stars like the Who’s Roger Daltrey and Eric Roberts, great direction and an interesting soundtrack make a joy to watch week after week. The show’s strong supporting cast include Sara’s partner Danny (Will Yun Lee),a rookie detective Jake McCartey (David Chokachi), the mysterious Nottingham (Eric Etebari) and his boss Kenneth Irons (Anthony Cistaro). Witchblade is not your regular action adventure. The camera work and light seem more at home on big budget action movies. The dialogue can be a little cheesy at times but with a basis in comic books, it’s not as bad as can be expected. Although the season is almost over (three episodes left as of this writing) TNT reruns the most recent episode at least twice during the week and is guaranteed to run all the episodes of this season sequentially before the finale.
August 23 Contest Searchlight
Comedy Central, one of the most innovate and aptly named networks has done it again with their news original series. Produced and featuring perpetually bitter stand-up comedian Denis Leary, Contest Searchlight is, in theory, is a documentary following the creation of a new show for Comedy Central. If only it were that simple. Typical of the tongue in cheek nature of the entire network, the show — a documentary in it’s own right — pokes fun, not only in name at the Matt Damon & Ben Affleck HBO documentary series Project Greenlight.
The first episode begins with a confused Leary abusing the camera crew decamped in the offices of his production company, Apostle. From there the entire show just gets funnier. Before the next commercial break Leary’s original co-producer and the star Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart bails on the project unleashing another flurry of epitaphs from Leary as he struggles to find a co-producer for the project. The merriment continued as Leary called on a host of former co-stars including Renee Russo and Gina Gerson before settling on Lenny Clarke. Clarke and Leary were in the short-lived but brilliant ABC sitcom The Job.
Adding to the insanity of the first episode is selection of the three finalists, out of the 10 semi-finalist, some of whom get their 15 seconds of fame by appearing on TV. Providing all the hosts and guest with alcohol didn’t help matters particularly when one of the losers accosted and abused Leary. The festivities continues as the three finalist had to pitch their ideas to Leary, Clarke and some Comedy Central executives. The show ideas themselves were terrible but the pitches and the running commentary after each one made sitting through each one very entertaining.
Contest Searchlight airs on Wednesday night at 10:30pm after South Park.
August 30 I want my MTV (but that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong)
I don’t want to get off on a rant here but what the hell happened to MTV. Two words — Music Television. Not Real World, not Road Rules, not any of the other crappy shows. Just music, all day, all night. Maybe I’m dating myself but I remember a time when all there was on MTV was music videos, there were shows but they existed to present the videos. Sadly MTV isn’t the only network that seems to gone that route – VH1 and BET both seems to be suffering from show-itis. What makes it even worse is that quality of these shows—it would be excusable if the shows were any good, but I get enough of this crap from network television. The videos that do air are not much better either, mostly pop and r&b which all seemed to be produced from some formula. MTV’s Video Music Awards were held on Thursday which in itself is a recurring onanstic effort. Awarding mediocre artistes for rehashing already tired ideas. The concept was strong once, but now it’s an idea whose 15 minutes is years past expiration. This; of course, is my opinion; i could be wrong.
That rant allows me to segue beautifully into—Dennis Miller Live. Now in it’s in ninth season on HBO, the Emmy award winning series is based on Millers’ extensive vocabulary, acerbic commentaries, razor-sharp wit as he covers the news of the week gone by. Listed in the show’s credits as a 900lb gorilla, Miller throws his weight around in words, some of which will send you capering to a nearby dictionary as well as few that will leave you blushing. Singling out a single topic each week, Miller starts slowly with ‘I don’t mean to get off on a rant here…’ building to a crescendo of righteous anger. The focus of his rants have ranged from inconvenience to the loss of common sense to civil liberties. Each one incisive and thoughtfully delivered, all guaranteed to have you thinking.
Dennis Miller Live airs on HBO, Fridays at 11:30pm.
September 6 The Sunday Night Conundrum
On the 15 September, all the network TV stations kick off their fall line-up of shows. Herein lies the conundrum, everyone’s favourite angst-ridden mob boss—The Sopranos returns for a fourth season, also returning is the current holder of the ‘kicking your ass, taking names all while reapplying my makeup’ award—Alias and finally undead bounty hunter, Angel, all on a Sunday night at 9pm . If you’re a fan of all three, like my friend Pet, Sunday has just become your worst nightmare.
Making this dilemma even more interesting the advent of the scrambler boxes issued by CCTT, which require you to watch the channel you’re taping. I could describe what sort of idea this is, but this is a family paper.
So, what to do? The first airing of any Soprano’s episodes is on Sundays but if you can manage to get your friends quiet about what happened in that episode you can catch always catch the repeats during the week. Alias and Angel are a little more difficult to juggle. Aside from getting that second television just to tape one of them, you could form a pool with your other TV junkie friends and each one of you agree to tape something and then trade tapes. Your other choices include just giving one of them up and catching the reruns in the off season, or worse yet, watching them out of order on local TV. I don’t want to bash the local stations but does anyone there pay attention to the order of the episodes?
So if you missed it, The Sopranos starring James Galdofini et al, Alias starring Jessica Garner and Angel, Sundays at 9pm on HBO, ABC and WB respectively.
September 28 The Beautiful Ones (or the unmatchable standards of beauty of the stars of WB network)
If you’ve ever looked at the WB network you’d realise that it is populated by the most beautiful people on television, even the bad boys are stunning to look at. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) on Smallville, see what I mean? And it’s not just him, there is Cole (Julian Mcmahon), a demon —no less, on Charmed and the resident bad baoy of the Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow Jess (Milo Ventimiglia). I’m man enough to admit it, these men are hot. So where does this leave the women? I could go on and on.
The WB features no less than six shows driven by a mostly female cast, including a brand new series, Birds of Prey which adds another three beautiful women kicking ass and taking names to their prime time roster. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the beauty is just superficial. Their comedy series tend to be short lived and mostly due to bad writing but their dramatic series, especially for a fledgling network are very good and in the case of the Gilmore Girls award winning. So if you’re in the mood to get away from some of the ugliness in the world take another look at the WB.
October 11 Gentlemen start your engines
Unlike NASCAR, Formula One is not a series of left hand turns. Although both the driver’s and the constructors’ championships have been decided long before this Sunday’s season closer at Suzuka, Japan, Formula One is not with excitement and is not for eurotrash wannabes.
A mulitmillion dollar sport with fans worldwide, F1 consists of 11 teams with two drivers each competing in 17 races on four continents. The drivers compete with each other for the title of World Champion while the teams themselves compete for the Constructors Trophy. The 11 teams are Arrows, BAR Honda, Ferrari, Jaguar, Jordan, McLaren Mercedes, Minardi, Renault, Sauber, Toyota and Williams BMW.
This season which saw Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher equal the current record of five World Championships held by Juan Manuel Fangio. It started off with a bang in Australia with an accident in the first turn which took out 10 of the 22 starters. However this was one of the 11 races that Schumacher would take on his march to the title.
Formula One is a three day weekend beginning with the practice runs on fridays, followed by the qualifying on saturdays and finally race day on sundays. Qualify is one of the most exciting parts of the weekend with the cars running unfettered, trying to eek every advantage for the best position on the grid. This excitement is equalled on race day when the lights go out and the 22 cars jockey for position at the start of race. On some tracks there is enough room to pass another drive at speeds in excess of 200mph while other tracks it’s about strategy.
Formula One airs on the Speed Channel (ch. 33) with the practice session at midnight local time (Friday, well Saturday morning if you want to be picky)and qualifying right after at 1am and repeated at 10:30pm and the race itself at 1am Sunday morning.
October 18 White Teeth
Based on the Turner prize winner novel by Zadie Smith. It is in the author’s “an attempt at a comic family epic of little England into which an explosion of ethnic colour is injected”. It tells the story of three families, one indian, one white, one mixed, in North London and Oxford from World War II to the present.
The plot follows two multicultural families from the moment the parents meet and marry in the sixties through the main stages of their children’s lives. From 1960’s England, cultures start to mix and cross with different experiences. Archie is contemplating suicide until he meets Clara, who is fleeing an oppressive Jehovah’s Witness mother. Meanwhile Samad has arrived in England to meet with his old war-friend Archie and to complete his arranged marriage. The two couples have different experiences of multi-cultural Britain and this differs from their children as the story follows the two generations across the years.
The acting is quite good with a bunch or relatively new faces (to me at least) with the exception Omi Puri (quite possible the only old indian man know to any UK casting director) and Panjabi (Goodness Gracious Me). The other stunning thing about the cast is the beauty of the leads. It’s rare to see so many beautiful non-white people in place.
White Teeth aired in 4 parts on Channel 4, in the UK and will probably air on cable at sometime in the near future. Those of you who’ve read the book maybe sorely disappointed by the liberties taken, those of you haven’t should enjoy it on it own before seeking out the book.
October 25 Long live animation
I’m a big fan of animation and Saturday mornings are a great boon for me.
Between X-Men: Evolution and Jackie Chan adventures on Kids WB and original Xmen, Spiderman and Big Guy and Rusty the boy Robot on ABC Family. On Cartoon Network, there’s the new Justice League series on Saturday afternoons and the brand new series Samurai Jack, as well as the always enjoyable Powerpuff Girls.
Yes, I am an adult but I still enjoy an animated series—for X-men: Evolution and Justice League, it’s all about the animation and seeing what there doing with some of my favourite comic characters. Samurai Jack is the sheer visceral pleasure of watching a series that clearly created under the influence of class ‘A’ drugs. The Powderpuff Girls are a guilty pleasure, but there is so much adult subtext. Many of these series seem to have much more interesting themes than what I watched as a child.
The Sci-Fi channel used to run full length anime movies on a saturday morning as well and those are sorely missed. Anime or Manga are usually feature length films with generally adult themes but there are a couple of series that use the animation technique on most of the cartoon blocks including Pokemon (which should be banned for having no redeeming factor other than a marketing tool), Bey Blade, DragonBall Z (sadly in spanish on Cartoon Network) and Yu-Gi-Oh.
Don’t discount animated series, they are more captivating and entertaining than ever.
November 1 Where does bad TV come from?
Europe of course. Well no, that’s not completely true. A lot of the reality based TV that’s appearing on US television started out in Europe, including Big Brother, Survivor and Pop Idol – which translated to American Idol. Even Who wants to be a Millionaire started on British TV and has now been licensed all over the planet.
What is sad is they are now starting to feed off each other. One of the five non-cable channels have a show called Mr. Right, which from the small portion I viewed is similar to ABC’s The Bachelor.
It’s clear why the British spend so much time in pubs—there isn’t anything worth looking at most nights on television. That’s not entirely true, there are some interesting documentaries and brilliantly written series but the mindless television on British TV is so distressingly bad.
Primarily, there is the fascination with sex, on any given night of the week, either ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5 has some ‘documentary’ series about sex or sexuality. From Sex BC to Sex and Fashion to American Sex to shows about streakers and men’s unhappiness about the size of their penis, all for your perusal after 9pm. Even the venerable BBC was not averse to joining the fray with a series called Tipping the Velvet that promised ‘a Victorian lesbian romp’, as well as their urban (read black) drama—Babyfather—which is being billed as ‘sexier and raunchier’. Is it any wonder that almost 50% of British households have cable or satellite feeds?
November 15 The boys are back
Stan, Kyle, Cartman and to some extent, Kenny are back in a spanking new season of South Park.
If you don’t know, then get out of the hole you’ve been living in. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the boys started as an animated Christmas card which featured Jesus and Santa fighting over the true meaning of Christmas. Over the last five seasons, these four foul mouthed boys and their classmates, parents and town have taken on everything from the Catholic Church and Jesus, homosexuality and boy scouts to Saddam and the war on terrorism and in between all of this they found time to become a cultural phenomenon and make a feature film. Nothing has ever been sacred — as long as it was topical, it would appear in South Park.
Over the last two seasons the boys have tried to find a replacement pal for their foursome (the gag with Kenny dying every week—which brought the phrase “Oh my God, they’ve killed Kenny! You bastards!” to our lives has finally ended with his disappearance into Mexico and eventual death).
This season’s irreverence began two weeks with the boys building a ladder to heaven to find Kenny — to get a winning ticket. The shenanigans continued in this week’s episode with excesses of fandom being taken to task with the boys taking on roles from the Lord of the Rings.
South Park airs on Wednesday on Comedy Central at 11pm with repeats on the weekend.
November 22 Sex sells, but who’s buying?
Well the execs at CBS for one apparently, it’s back—more behind the scenes looks, more music, filled with more masturbatory images of women in thongs, lacy underwear, push up bras and cleavage than you can shake (or is that stroke) a stick at—The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Last Wednesday night, Tyra, Gisele, Adriana, Heidi, Karolina and a bunch of other gravity defying, extremely chesty, almost genetically implausible women paraded in a state of undress in what was an hour long commercial. Which has me wondering is Victoria’s Secret doing that badly? Who was this designed to appeal to? The purpose of a commercial is to sell a product or emote a feeling, this did neither, I think you’ve seen Tyra Banks or Heidi Klum in a push-up bra once, you’ve really seen as much as you’re going to. The only people the show was likely to appeal to were pubescent boys, young single men with bottles of lotion hoping for something to pop lose to add fuel to their fires which was really sad because the show had as much sexual charge as childbirth and neither of those demographics are buying.
I truly pray that the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show was not supposed to be a sales pitch, it was unwatchable and artificial, the entire show was about as real some of the implants on display. The Victoria’s Secret “Fashion Show” aired on Wednesday on CBS and thankfully there are no plans to re-air, but I’m sure it will be on sale or available for borrowing at some point in the future for those of you still with love on your hands.
December 2 Not quite TV, but damn entertaining
This column is not about television, exactly. It’s about the new series of BMW films available for download or streaming from their website. The Hire — now in its second season — is a series of short films created by and starring a number of Hollywood’s best and brightest.
The first season introduced Clive Owen as the driver, a wide range of BMW vehicles with the films directed by John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai, Guy Ritchie and Alejandro González Iñárritu. The cast of the first season films were relatively unknown with the exception of Madonna, in Star, Mickey Rourke as a jealous husband and a subtle cameo by Forest Whitaker in The Follow.
The second season features only the BMW Z4 roadster driven by Clive Owen, but the success of the first season has brought the stars out. The first film of the series — Hostage — stars Maury Chaykin and is directed by action legend John Woo. Ticker stars Don Cheadle, F. Murrat Abraham and features uncredited cameos by Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick and was directed by Joe Carnahan. The final film is the series — Beat the Devil — is directed by Tony Scott and features the godfather of soul James Brown, Gary Oldman as the devil, in a race to renegotiate James’ contract. The devil also has an interesting neighbour close to the end of the film who comes to complain about the noise, but I’ll leave that as a surprise.
These films offer more than your average chase sequence and are quite entertaining. In most cases more entertaining that most of the fare on television. You can view or download the first and second seasons at BMWFilms (http://www.bmwfilms.com)
December 9 Attack of the ‘B’ Movie
What do Eric Roberts, Dean Cain, Erika Eleniak and the spirit of Die Hard have in common? Christmas Rush of course.
Using the everyman in the wrong place at wrong time for right reason formula that made Die Hard a franchise cash cow, TBS has produced an original production, that features all the essential element but some how fails to translate.
The plot (and I use the word in the vaguest sense) as I was lead to believe goes something like this — recently suspended policeman, Cain, sees former adversary, Roberts, in the mall where his wife, Eleniak works. This leads to Cain, trying to stop whatever Roberts is up to — which is robbing the vault of the mall. Cain manages to procure the stolen loot and is chased by various Z-movie grade henchmen thought the mall. The rest of the movie drags along through the exchange of the money for Eleniak, Cain’s rescue of the other hostages and his betrayal by his former partner. All of this leading up to the worst chase sequence in the history of movie making.
The producer, scriptwriter and director, should be take out somewhere and flogged for foisting something that bad on a viewing audience. The movie was coasting along on cheesiness and bad acting up to that point but the low speed chase in the tunnels under the mall was just too much. No, you didn’t read wrong, I did type — low speed chase. Cain chases Roberts and a now hostage again Eleniak in what look like mini gocarts through the tunnels. I’m pretty sure Cain even as Clark Kent could catch one of these things on foot.
I can’t tell you what else happen, because they went to commercial and I fell asleep. However, if you desire to experience Christmas Rush for yourself it airs this Friday on TBS Superstation (CH. 18) at 9pm.
December 16 Lifetime, Television for women? No, more like, television for whiners or more specifically victims.
Originally conceived by the Hearst Corporation in 1984 as a 24-hour service offering programs on personal and family health, fitness, science and medicine, Lifetime became “Television for Women” in 1995.
Over the last 3 years lead by their first female President and CEO, Carole Black, the network has offered “the highest quality entertainment and information programming and advocating a wide range of issues affecting women and their families.”
Which sadly has translated into a bevy of movies and shows with women as victims. On any give day you can find a movie with a woman suffering any of the following: breast cancer, drug or alcohol addiction, loss of a child or spouse, an abusive, alcoholic, adulterous, polygamous husband (all four together or separately), abduction of children, you get the idea.
What saddens me, is although many of those are legitimate problems women face, but presented in such a trite and insincere manner, they lose all value and become parodies of themselves. This however does not stop people from watching. According to US media research Nielson — Lifetime is the #1 basic cable network in primetime and the leader in women’s television.
In my mind there are two explanations for this either the people who watch this have too much free time and no real problems in their lives and think they can live vicariously through the women they see there or wait… I don’t have any other explanation. Lifetime, sadly, airs on cable television on channel 29.
December 23 Don’t fuhgedaboudet!
Sopranos fans, people who have missed episodes or like me, who missed half the season and refused to try and catch up. This week is you time. From Thursday to Monday HBO is running all the episodes of season four of the Sopranos. On Thursday and Friday there are two episodes each night and Saturday through Monday there are three episodes each night.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, The Sopranos is the award winning series by David Chase. Chase also has numerous writing and directing credits on the series.
The Sopranos which premiered in 1999 is an innovate look at the life of Mafia Capo Tony Soprano (James Galdofini). The series began with Tony secretly seeking the help of psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) after blacking out and documented Tony’s ongoing struggles with his long suffering wife, teenage son and daughter, his vengeful mother, his jealous aging uncle, business rivals and the law.
By the end of the third season, Tony’s mother was dead but occasionally haunting his sessions with Dr. Melfi, his uncle was under constant surveillance by the FBI, his daughter in college and his son was in military school, some of his business rivals, former partners and informants were also dead. The Sopranos has been a complex and interesting ride over the last three years. I’m looking forward to catching up on the lives Tony and his families.
A warning for the faint of heart, the series airs on HBO so is not bound by the same rules as network television, so the language is appropriate in context, there is nudity and because it is a series about a mob boss, there is quite a lot of violence.
December 30 Farewell to the box
I haven’t given up television, as bad or as mediocre as it has become, but due to space and time constraints The Wire is no longer going to be running this column. So in this, my farewell performance, I would like to head to the other extreme of where this little joyride began (for those of you who missed it, the bottom of the barrel of the truly horrendous television this year — The Anna Nicole Smith Show) some of the best shows television, you’ve never seen. I wanted to pick one standout this year, but there were so many things that attracted me week after week and I was sorry that I missed while I was away. Here they are in no specific order…
Alias — the show, now in its second season follows the travails of Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) who believed she was working for the CIA until she tell her fiancé and gets him killed and she discovers she working for ‘the enemy’ — SD-6. She agrees to be a double agent for the real CIA so she can bring down SD-6 and avenge her fiancé. And by the way her father is also a double agent, as well as her mother who was believed deceased. It’s not as cheesy as it sounds, trust me. Alias airs on Sundays on ABC (ch 56) at 10pm.
Gilmore Girls — possibly one of the best written shows on television, the show centers around the lives of the Lorelai and her teenage daughter Rory Gilmore in the small town of Star Hollow. Filled with witty banter and evolving characters, Gilmore girls is always a joy to watch even if touchy-feely drama are not quite you cup of tea. New episodes air on the WB on Tuesday nights at 9pm with reruns of the first season on Sundays at 7pm.
City Confidential — part travelogue, part unsolved mystery, City profiles a US city and a crime committed there. Not the usual crime recreations or the usual crimes. City has tackled some of the oddest crimes in the strangest places. City Confidential airs on A&E.
There are many other shows that have caught my eye but I don’t have enough space to get into right now. Farewell and enjoy your televiewing experiences.