Archive for the ‘ Television ’ Category

“It’s like science has won.”


Last week, I was struck by a moment during the first of Torchwood’s five episodes.  Gwen Cooper, Torchwood agent, was talking to Doctor Rupesh Patanjali, someone who could potentially be brought in as a new member of their team.  His explanation of his interest in alien life was intriguing:

The past few years, suicide rates have doubled and that’s ever since the first alien.  My first case… my first… death, was a suicide.  D’you know why she did it?  ‘Cause… she’d written all these letters, been a Christian all her life, and then alien life appears.  She wrote this bit, she said “It’s like science has won.” [Gwen comments ‘Lost her faith?’] More than that.  She said she saw her place in the universe.  And it was tiny.  She died because she thought she was nothing.

Leaving aside the fact that we can’t necessarily trust what the charming Dr Patanjali was saying, as his motives in the conversation were not quite as Gwen or the audience believed, this is an intriguing statement, and I suspect it may reflect the views of the scriptwriter (for Day One, Russell T. Davies) to some extent – that the existence of alien life would terrify some, amaze others, and cause believers to lose faith and hope.  I wonder – is this true?  If alien life were to make itself known somehow, whether in peace, war or otherwise, would faith suddenly become meaningless?

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Torchwood: Children of Earth


Torchwood, the adult spin-off from Doctor Who, has had its ups and downs.  Some excellent episodes and some truly awful ones, and a steady progress from its beginnings on BBC3 to last week’s special storyline in prime time on BBC1.  A week-long series, one episode per night, which told a five-hour storyline which is surely the show’s best output yet, but may also be its last.  Yes, I enjoyed it an awful lot, and yes, spoilers follow below.

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Belatedly, Susan Boyle


It has taken me a while to catch up with the Susan Boyle phenomenon.  I’m not a fan of ‘reality’ talent competitions as a rule, so I didn’t see the episode of Britain’s Got Talent where this woman wowed the judges and audience with her rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Miserables.  Just in case you are one of the few people who, like me, had not seen this, the video is up on Youtube.  Have a look and listen, then pop back here.

Right.  I had read about the performance in various blog posts and newspaper articles, but it wasn’t until a colleague asked my opinion that I finally investigated it.  I have to confess I was cynical.  Was this performance really going to wow me?  Was this just the first of the inevitable tabloid stories that such television series inevitably generate?  Still, I was intrigued.  It’s not often that the nation starts discussing someone singing a showtune, even from such a popular show as Les Mis.  So I tried to approach Ms Boyle with an open mind, but I wasn’t expecting anything special.  My first observation was that the singer was nowhere near as ugly as I had been expecting, in fact, ugly is definitely far too harsh a word.  The various reactions in the press had made me expect someone truly hideous, but this was not the case – plain, perhaps, and not having had the dubious ‘benefit’ of a makeover of any kind, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  The reaction of the judges and audience, though, was fascinating – here was someone who is not beautiful, who wanted to be a professional singer, they thought, clearly this is going to be a disaster.

And then she sang.  The crowd went wild, and expressions of shock abounded.  It was immediately obvious that here was a woman with a great singing voice.  Unrefined, yes, and sometimes there was a feeling that she wasn’t really connecting with the lyrics, but in this case Britain has talent.  I have heard better renditions of the song.  Quite a lot of them, in fact, given how very many people have recorded it, and I have heard much worse versions as well.  There were no moments when she went horribly off-key, as there so often are on these shows, and no flights of histrionic nonsense.  She certainly connected with the live audience, and the way they responded gave me chills.  They adored her, and surely that’s all that counts?

However, with my cynical head back on, I couldn’t help but wonder what will happen the next time she sings for us – the surprise is gone, we know she can sing now, and all the media attention will lead us to expect great thinks from her.  If a large part of the appeal is the difference between the expectations her looks and her nervous personal demeanour evoke and the voice that appears when she sings, then what more has she to offer? It seems obligatory to talk about her story, not just her talent, and I fear that this story may well outshadow her abilities.  If she ever appears in a designer dress, or has a new hairdo, will the British public turn on her?  I hope not.  She has truly great potential.  And my goodness, she’s so much better than the terribly overrated Paul Potts.

The Singing Librarian looks back on 2007


This time last year, I looked back over the previous 12 months from a personal perspective of achievements, experiences and lessons learned.  This year, to avoid creating an annual tradition, my year-end post will look instead at some bests and one or two worsts.

Theatre

There’s really no contest for me.  Parade was not only the best production I’ve seen this year, but the best production I’ve seen for a very long time.  I was fortunate to see a number of excellent productions this year, but this one was head and shoulder above the rest.  It was emotionally moving, intellectually engaging and theatrically inspired.  I haven’t seen Hairspray, the winner of this year’s Evening Standard award, but from my position of ignorance, I cannot see how it can in any way be considered better, unless ‘better’ means ‘more profitable’.  I waxed lyrical on Parade when I saw it, so won’t repeat myself.  It really was extraordinary, though.

Television

It may be odd, but the best thing I’ve seen on television this year is ‘Blink’.  Why odd?  Well, it’s a single episode of Doctor Who, a science fiction drama for a family audience.  It is, however, a series that attracts very talented writers and actors and this episode was wonderful.  Deeply scary (what could be more disturbing than statues that move whenever you stop looking at them?) and probably produced on a lower budget than your average episode with an emphasis on characters being drawn in to the Doctor’s strange world of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff” though meeting him only briefly.  The new incarnation of Who has had some stunning episodes and for me, this was the best thing I caught on the small screen all year.

On the opposite end of the scale is a show that shares the same time-slot when Doctor Who is not being broadcast.  Robin Hood.  It has become traditional for the denizens of my house to gather round and watch this together and although I rather enjoyed the first series, I have found other things to do as this year’s batch of episodes has gone on.  It has taken preposterousness to new heights (or rather depths), which is really saying something since my favourite piece of television this year features a time traveller and living statues.  I didn’t mind the occasional anachronism, the odd bit of perturbing erotic subtext and what have you, but several of the episodes I’ve seen recently have made me despair.  Perhaps not the worst thing I’ve seen, but by far the most disappointing.

Cinema

The Simpsons Movie is probably the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year, with the choral arrangement of ‘Spider-Pig’ over the end credits being a particular delight, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  Enchanted was almost as entertaining, nodding and winking to Disney movies of the past and containing a few wonderful musical moments, but that wasn’t the best of the year either.  Stardust was the most anticipated, and I enjoyed it, but that wasn’t the best.  Atonement was very moving, but that doesn’t clinch it for me.  No, my cinematic highlight of the year is a film I hadn’t even heard of before I arrived at the cinema, and which I only saw because we arrived too late to an attempt to see Stardust.  A drama called Lions for Lambs, which is essentially composed of three conversations, each in a static location (though one of those locations is a mountainside in Afghanistan with Taliban fighters approaching, so static is perhaps not the right word).  Six people.  Talking. 

But it was incredible.  Tom Cruise was superb (not something you’ll hear me say very often), Meryl Streep and Robert Redford proved that they deserve their longevity in the business, and the three younger actors more than had what it took.  It was a film about choices.  Right choices, wrong choices, right reasons, wrong reasons.  Highly politically charged, it managed not to preach any particular angle without sitting on the fence either.  And it left things open.  At least one key choice remained unclear as the credits rolled.  It made me think very hard, and that’s always a good thing.

Music

Leaving aside theatre music (the London cast recording of ParadeNoise Ensemble recorded!  Me and Julietreleased on a public domain label!), the music charts provided some interest for me this year.  John Barrowman’s pop recording debut was underwhelming to these ears, but he was far from the biggest disappointment of the year.  That was Paul Potts, an opera-singing average bloke who won a TV contest called Britain’s Got Talent in June which led to a recording contract and an appearance on the Royal Variety Performance, which is where I finally saw and heard him.  My goodness.  Worst opera singer I’ve ever seen or heard.  He hit the notes and had a fairly pleasant voice, but there was no soul behind the performance, no special spark at all.  I totally fail to see what all the fuss was about.  Meh.

More positively, Michael Bublé released another album, Call Me Irresponsible, which contained many pleasures, though perhaps not as many as previous albums.  Mika was an impressive newcomer, the Plain White T’s had me hooked on ‘Hey There, Delilah’ but my favourite singles this year are perhaps two by Take That.  I know, I know, and I may even have ridiculed some people for liking the group in my time.  But ‘Shine’ and ‘Rule the World’ (the latter written for the film Stardust) were infectiously enjoyable singles.  So much so that I downloaded them from i-Tunes.

Books

This has not been a fantastic year for reading chez Singing Librarian, and much that I have read was not published in 2007.  In fact, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may well be the only 2007 book I’ve read this year.  The books that I have most enjoyed reading this year have been The Moonstoneby Wilkie Collins (I find I enjoy Collins more than I enjoy Dickens, though I still feel that Dickens is in some way ‘better’), Night Watchby Sergei Lukyanenko and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  All were read over the summer months and all were excellent.  The only execrable book I’ve read this year is The Alchemist.  Blah.

I was given the latest Terry Pratchett and the original illustrated novel of Stardust for Christmas, though, and am greatly looking forward to reading them.

Comics

I don’t appear to have blogged about comics this year, but I have been reading them.  52 concluded well after a dip in excitement and interest levels, going out with a bang in May.  It introduced new characters, brought others to greater prominence and  was followed up by a rather less well-produced weekly series called Countdown.  It has spawned a number of followups and Countdownis a spinoff-producing monster which I have been ignoring more and more as the year plods on.  Most entertaining 52-followup is definitely Booster Gold.  Time travel, egotism, heroism, betrayal and comedy is a heady mixture.  Ongoing series in the DC Universe (home of Batman, Superman et al) which have been most enjoyable are probably the most obscure.  Blue Beetle has introduced a great new hero, and Checkmate, which features political skull-duggery where the lines between superheroes and the United Nations blur, is quite simply an excellent read.

But my favourite is less mainstream and sadly, much less regular.  Rex Libris features the black and white adventures of a librarian who will travel the universe and the time-stream to recover an overdue book, saving lives and defeating monsters along the way.  It’s silly but intriguing and I am thrilled each time it appears.

End

So what do we make of this?  My favourites of the year include a musical about a miscarriage of justice, an episode of television about killer statues, a film about the war on terror, the return of a boy band and the adventures of a gun-toting librarian.  I think we can gather that I have eclectic tastes and that 2007 has managed to cater to them.  2007, I salute you!

The world will always welcome lovers?


…or Torchwood and the gay agenda’.

The first series of Torchwood came to an end this week in the British Isles, managing to bring many of its threads to a close while still hanging a huge ‘to be continued’ sign on the final scene.  I have greatly enjoyed this series, even during times when it seemed there was more hole than plot and the all-too-frequent occasions when the best character (quiet young Ianto) was relegated to the tiniest of supporting roles.  Good, quirky fun.  Less entertaining, often, is the rather unpleasant reaction it gets in various corners of the internet which object to the show’s ‘gay agenda’.  It has not shied away from showing sexuality in many manifestations and has thus probably made an enemy of the Daily Mail and similar British institutions.  And, it would seem, a large number of the internet’s denizens.

Watch out if you haven’t seen all of Torchwood.  Some spoilers will follow.

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Whose High School Musical?


Over the festive season, the BBC decided to screen the phenomenon of 2006 – High School Musical, a Disney production that took the teenage world (or perhaps just the female portion of it) by storm.  I sat down to watch it, not entirely sure what to expect, and found it to mildly entertaining with one annoyingly catchy song and a couple of fairly clever set pieces set in the school canteen and gym.  I can see why teenage girls love it, and thus being neither a teen nor a female, it’s hardly surprising that I didn’t find it quite so thrilling.  I am pleased it exists, though.  It has a better moral message than that other teen favourite, Grease (the opposite message in fact – Grease says ‘conform to get the guy’, High School Musical says ‘be yourself’).  And the inevitable, very swift release of a stage version for amateur performance should hopefully encourage more youngsters to get involved in live theatre.  I dread to think how many productions of the show will spring up in America this year.  It’s also nice to see a musical do so well in the music charts, even getting a top 10 single in both the US and the UK with ‘Breaking Free’.

Having watched the film, and decided that I have no need to buy the soundtrack or the DVD, I was interested to discover that the success of High School Musical is causing a bit of a stir with regard to intellectual property.  A man named Paul Cozby has filed a lawsuit against the Disney Corporation (which is terribly brave of him), as he feels they stole his idea.  He wrote a stage show called High School Musical a few years ago, which received a number of productions in Texas, and he feels that as well as the title being identical, the film shows a striking resemblance to his own work.

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The 21st century’s when everything changes…


…apparently.  According to Captain Jack Harkness, that is.  Having mentioned dreaming about John Barrowman being at a recent audition, I thought it would be polite to mention his latest televisual exploits in Torchwood.  Now I like science fiction, me, as it can do things that other genres of literature, film and television just can’t.  It can take a perfectly ordinary relationship difficulty, moral dilemma or whatever and take it far beyond ‘realistic’ genres.  Plus, it’s an awful lot of fun.

Now Torchwood is a spin-off from Doctor Who, if you didn’t know.  The titles are anagrams, isn’t that clever?  Well, maybe not.  Anyway, it tells of the adventures of a fictional paranormal investigation team who are ‘beyond’ the government and the United Nations, based (for very sensible reasons, which have nothing to do with convenient shooting locations in the area) in an underground complex in Cardiff.  It’s led by Captain Jack (said Mr Barrowman), a character who appeared in the Doctor Who series, and it all happens in the same universe.  The Doctor, the TARDIS, Cybermen and other ideas from the main series have been referenced, but it’s an entirely different beast.  For a start, it’s an adult show, definitely not suitable for the Doctor’s family tea-time audience.  The characters say naughty four-letter words (though not to excess, it has to be said), do a lot of kissing, get their kit off from time to time and most definitely have active sex lives.  None of your metaphors about ‘dancing’ here.

But the show is adult in more than just a certification sense. Continue reading

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