Posts tagged ‘TV’


A format so old, it’s new and radical

16.01.2023


Above: I spy Natasha Lyonne and a Plymouth Barracuda. So the car is part of her screen identity? So it should be, it’s television. I might have to watch this.
 
Two very fascinating responses come up in Wired’s interview with director Rian Johnson on the Netflix release of his film Glass Onion.

I’m not going to refer to it with the bit after the colon in the Netflix release because it doesn’t make any sense. If you’re that stupid to require its presence, you won’t be able to follow the film anyway. (Johnson was annoyed that it was added as well. I can see why.) The second Peter Ustinov-led Poirot film in 1982 wasn’t called Evil under the Sun: a Death on the Nile Mystery. Studios obviously thought we were smarter 40 years ago.

Anyway, the first quotation, on social media trolls, where Johnson believes they have to be shut down, not ignored. Between Wired’s senior editor Angela Watercutter and Johnson:

Wired: It does feel like a shift. Ewan McGregor issued a statement pretty quick saying that this doesn’t represent the fandom. And like you said at WIRED25, 99 percent of the fandom isn’t trolls.

Johnson: Well, and also, that 1 percent tries to do this shell game where they say, “Anyone who doesn’t like the movie is a racist.” That’s a bad faith argument. It’s so clear. We’re not talking about whether you like something or whether you don’t, we’re talking about whether you’re toxic and abusive online and whether you’re an odious sexist racist.

Just something to keep in mind if you still use Facebook or Twitter, where these sorts of discussions erupt.

Second one, and why I began blogging about the interview: Johnson is working on a TV series called Poker Face for Peacock, with weekly release and stand-alone stories.

Oh, so each episode is a standalone?
It was a hugely conscious choice, and it was something that I had no idea was gonna seem so radical to all the people we were pitching it to. [Laughs] The streaming serialized narrative has just become the gravity of a thousand suns to the point where everyone’s collective memory has been erased. That was not the mode of storytelling that kept people watching television for the vast history of TV. So it was not only a choice, it was a choice we really had to kind of fight for. It was tough finding a champion in Peacock that was willing to take a bet on it.

All my favourite series follow this format and I was deeply surprised that it’s been gone so long that it seems radical in the early 2020s.

It’s actually why I tend not to watch much television these days, because all those shows are history.

Who wants multi-episode story arcs? I want an hour of escapism and next week I want another hour and I honestly do not care if character A picks up traits or clues about their father’s brother’s roommate’s missing excalibur each week and its relevance to their superpowers. If the characters are reasonably fleshed out, then I’ll enjoy the standalone stories on their merits, thanks. Maybe give me a little bit of the underlying mystery in the first and last episodes of the season. Or maybe not, I just don’t care.

These are the sorts of things I have boxed sets of: The Persuaders, Return of the Saint, The Professionals, The Saint, The New Avengers, Mission: Impossible, UFO, Department S, The Sweeney, Dempsey and Makepeace, Hustle, Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei. By the 2000s, I did think it was odd that Hustle was being compared to The Persuaders and how it parodied the formula. What parody? The shows are not that alike. Now I think the writer must have been getting at the standalone nature of its episodes (though there were some that connected through various seasons). It was that unusual by the 2000s for Hustle’s structure to be considered parodic.

As many of you know, I have Life on Mars but only because by then that was the closest thing to the formula, even if Sam Tyler is trying to figure out what’s happened to him in the background each week. I also have recordings of The Paradise Club, and prefer season 2 to season 1 because of its standalone episodes. I have fond memories of the US shows such as Knight Rider, Automan and CHiPs but never went as far as getting the DVDs.

Johnson is roughly the same age as me—he’s a year younger—so he’ll have grown up with the same influences. His statement that this was how people watched TV for the majority of its history is bang on. Just on that alone, I might find out what Poker Face is about. Maybe we Xers will start getting things we’d like to watch after decades of reality TV and a decade of realty TV, neither of which interests me.


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January 2023 gallery

01.01.2023

Here are January 2023’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month.
 


 

Notes
Rosa Clará image, added as I was archiving files from the third quarter of 2021.

The Claudia Schiffer Rolling Stone cover came to mind recently—I believe it was commended in 1991 by the Society of Publication Designers, which I was a member of.

I looked at a few more risqué, but mainstream, covers to see what is appropriate, since the Lucire issue 46 cover was one of our more revealing though most glamorous ones in years. Vanity Fair and Women’s Health were useful US cases.

Lucire 46 cover for our 25th anniversary: hotographed by Lindsay Adler, styled by Cannon, make-up by Joanne Gair, and hair by Linh Nguyen. Gown by the Danes; earrings by Erickson Beamon at Showroom Seven; and modelled by Rachel Hilbert.


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An introduction to smart TVs for a complete novice

27.12.2022

Earlier in December, we decided to put a TV into our guest room. One catch: there is no aerial there, so initially we thought, ‘We have some great DVDs, let’s plug in the DVD player.’ But it didn’t quite feel right.

We’ve stayed at enough places with smart TVs, including some running the Android TV system. We’ve never really had a need to pursue this since most of the things I really love to watch have come out on DVD, and if Amanda and I wanted on-demand, there’s always the laptop with an HDMI cable. Simple.

I began looking into this and was intrigued by one suggestion on Mastodon for an Nvidia Shield, but alas, none were available in the time-frame (viz. before guests arrived). I was largely stuck with the Amazon Fire sticks, various Google-branded Chromecasts, and the DishTV Smartvu. The ever-knowledgeable Drew at PB Tech recommended the Smartvu, since he was in a similar boat: his place didn’t have an aerial, and he used the Smartvu to work as his regular TV. It also happened to be the most expensive of the lot.

My criteria were fairly basic. I wanted something that I could set up and sideload APKs on to, and never, ever go to a Google Play store. I began de-Googling in earnest at the end of 2009 and I sure as heck wasn’t going to intentionally invite the bastards back 13 years later—and actually pay to have their spyware in my home. The fact that Google’s offerings were more expensive than Amazon’s should be an affront to all consumers. Pay more to have them spy on you!

DishTV’s New Zealand distributor has comprehensive instructions on how to set it up, and sure enough, one of the first steps was it would take you to the Google Play store. No doubt that would be the same story with the Google Chromecasts. Which, unfortunately, left me with one choice: give Amazon money even though they owe me (and this is an ongoing dispute in which, since they are Big Tech, I believe they are lying).

But Amazon it was. PB was charging quite a lot more than Harvey Norman and Noël Leeming and, while Gerry Harvey might be a prized dick, he does seem to hire good people on the shop floor. I never had anyone at Leeming help. Nor could I even find the product at their Tory Street store.

Amazon does require an Amazon account, which I still have, despite all the BS; but once you are in, sideloading is not too difficult. And there’s no Google Play in sight, even if it is a reasonably stock Chromecast set-up.

Of course, I went through the privacy settings and made sure any data the gadget had collected to date were deleted.

I then proceeded to follow these instructions and enabled third-party apps.

The first method, sideloading from my phone using Apps2Fire, never worked. Waste of time. For whatever reason, the third method didn’t, either: ES File Explorer refused to sync with Dropbox despite all my credentials being correct. Of course I had to attempt the second one last—download the Downloader (yes, really), then go to the address where the APKs are.

It’s just as well, since some of the Amazon-hosted APKs don’t work (e.g. Euronews), so you need to find alternatives. Matt Huisman offers some New Zealand ones on his website, and getting the Freeview one was a no-brainer—the terrestrial channels are then all available, as though one had a normal TV. (I was very surprised to learn that this is not a common thing to do, and equally surprised that the APK was not available on Amazon; presumably it’s not on Google Play either.)
 

 

Amazon did suggest getting the Fire TV app for my phone, but when you scan the bar code, it offers two destinations from which to download it: Google Play and Apple Appstore (I still want to call it Ishop). This is pretty senseless, since Amazon has gone to the trouble of hosting so many APKs itself, why not its own one?

Maybe … it’s because it’s a lemon and doesn’t work. I grabbed the one at APK Mirror, and it was about as useless as a milliardaire running a social network. (I don’t believe it even installed.) No biggie, once everything was set up I had zero use for it.

Which leaves Alexa, which interested me from a technological point of view. The original Alexa will stop working on December 31, so I might as well shift to using the thing that Amazon now calls Alexa. And to ask it to make fart noises, which seems to be its only utility if you don’t have other gadgets wired into the network. Only problem: how does it work? Where do you talk into? The stick? The remote?

Strangely, Amazon does not say when I searched for information on its own site, so I guess everyone else automatically worked it out by telepathy.

All I know is when I pressed the button, as per the very few instructions provided in the box, the TV said to wait for the tone, then speak. Nothing ever happened, whether I spoke to the remote or to the stick.

One Mastodon user told me that I had to talk into the slot in the remote.

It was a week later that I tried keeping the button pressed down after the tone. Only then did it work.

I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to know that, especially as Amazon’s own instructions just instruct you to speak after the tone. There’s no instruction to keep the button pressed down. I would even say that implicitly, you’re instructed to let go of the button. You hear a strange noise, you release the button. That seems like a natural reaction to me.

Again we come to the usual conclusion that tech people make a lot of presumptions about how tech-savvy the public is. Folks, you need to assume that we are coming to these gadgets with zero knowledge about them. Yes, I realize Walter Matthau had to press the button on his mic to talk to Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, but Walt never had a computer tone beep back at him.

Now with hundreds of channels, there’s still barely anything to watch, though I did find the Jackie Chan movie Wheels on Meals in the original Cantonese. Once I finish watching that, it’s back to the DVDs for me. I just hope our guests are happy.


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My tribute to David MacGregor

28.11.2021


Digital art by David MacGregor

I hope the media will say more because David MacGregor had packed so much into his 50-something years on this planet. Here is my tribute on Lucire. Not everyone can claim to have discovered Rachel Hunter, created the Family Health Diary TV commercial format (and others), founded the first online men’s lifestyle magazine in New Zealand (Emale, or to give it its official form, eMALE), conceived and co-founded Idealog, and won a heap of advertising, marketing, and magazine publishing awards in the process. A brilliant man who never stopped creating.


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RIP Lionel Blair

05.11.2021

It’s not Harp Lager. It’s much funnier.

   Mind you, I watched this to remember Lionel today.


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The return of Van der Valk

08.09.2021

I came across an old post of mine on Euston Films remakes, at the time the American version of Widows hit the big screen. My last question, after going through Minder, The Sweeney and Widows reboots, sequels and remakes: ‘Now, who’ll star in a new Van der Valk?’
   Since local TV programmers and I have entirely different tastes, I only happened across the new Van der Valk from 2020 recently thanks to a French reviewer on Twitter. I wish I knew earlier: I rate Marc Warren as an actor, it has a great ensemble cast, and for those of us who are older, the theme tune is based on the original (Jack Trombey still gets a credit in each episode, though it should be noted that it’s a pseudonym for the Dutch composer Jan Stoeckart).
   As far as I know, few (if any?) of the Van der Valk episodes with Barry Foster were based on the Nicolas Freeling stories, so I didn’t really mind the absence of Samson and Arlette. Mentally I treated it as a prequel, pre-Arlette, till I found out that showrunner Chris Murray had killed her off in a flashback sequence in episode 3 (giving stuntwoman Wendy Vrijenhoek the least screen time of the four actresses who have played her in the British versions). Which is, of course, the opposite to how Freeling had it, since he had killed off van der Valk and had Arlette star in two novels.
   I read that one reviewer noted that the stories weren’t particularly Dutch, but then, were they ever? I didn’t really get into Broen or Wallander because of how Scandinavian the storylines were (though it must be said, I enjoyed Zen for its Italianness). I do, however, appreciate the change of scene from London or Los Angeles, which seem to be the home of so many cop shows. I even welcomed Brighton with Grace, starring John Simm, and produced by Kieran Murray-Smith (of the Murray-Smiths), or, for that matter, Sheffield with Doctor Who.
   But a Van der Valk sans Arlette does mean the heart of the old stories is gone, and we have yet another emotionally broken TV detective, a ploy that we’ve all seen before. But the casting is solid, and the very likeable Marc Warren shows he can lead a series ably.
   Of the Euston Films shows I followed as a youngster, it does appear they have all now been revisited in my lifetime, except for one: Special Branch. Bring back Craven!


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Nostalgia: Money for Nothing

06.09.2021


Money for Nothing—image from Amazon Prime, where, as of yesterday, you can watch a presumably cleaner copy than what’s on YouTube.

As a young lad, I enjoyed the Screen One TV movie Money for Nothing (1993), which aired on the BBC in the UK and TV1 here. Not to be confused with the John Cusack movie Money for Nothing (1993).
   As someone who started my career very young, I could identify with the lead character, Gary Worrall (played by Christien Anholt), a teenager who finds himself in the adult world—and in the TV film, well out of his depth in a massive property deal that takes him to New York. It’s one film where Martin Short plays it straight (and is really good), Jayne Ashbourne does a cute Scots accent, Julian Glover is his usual brilliant self, and there’s a fantastic Johnny Dankworth score, with his wife Cleo Laine singing. I had the good fortune to see them both perform in Aotearoa in 1994.
   Because it’s television, of course the deals that Worrall does at the start of the TV movie work out. And he’s audacious. It was a little easier to believe as a 20-something (Anholt and I are about the same age), not so much in middle age!
   I’m still a romantic at heart and the love story that screenwriter Tim Firth added for Anholt and Ashbourne’s characters comes across nicely and innocently.
   There’s a line, however, between actually having made something or being able to do something, then proving to the doubters that you’re capable (which is where real life is, at least for me); and BSing your way forward not having done the hard yards. As it’s fiction, Worrall falls into the latter group. You wouldn’t want to be in the latter in real life—that’s where the Elizabeth Holmeses of this world wind up.
   I hadn’t seen Money for Nothing for over 25 years, but on a whim, I looked it up on July 27, and there it was on YouTube. Enjoy this far more innocent, post-Thatcher time.

PS.: Only today did I realize that Christien is the late Tony Anholt’s (The Protectors) son.


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Is the sun setting on Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei?

03.08.2021

It does seem the sun is setting, after 25 years, on Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei on RTL.
   Last week, the network released three episodes from 8.15 p.m., and to heck with the low ratings of the last episode which would be far too late for younger viewers. They’re doing the same this week, and finishing up the season next week with the two last ones made.
   It’s no secret that the viewer numbers have been falling year after year, especially after the departure of Tom Beck, and the long-running actioner costs a lot to make—too much for a show that now nets around the 2 million mark each week, with increased competition from other networks and forms of entertainment.
   Last year, the show was revamped again, but unlike previous efforts, this was a very bumpy and massive reset. Shows don’t always do well after this, especially a revamp that was bigger than Martial Law abandoning most of its original cast in season 2 as well as not resolving the season 1 cliffhanger. Or each of the incarnations of Blackadder.
   Cobra 11 survived most earlier revamps, such as the seasons with Vinzenz Kiefer, because it maintained some continuity. We didn’t mind the anachronisms and the inconsistencies as long as the heart of the show was there. Over the first two decades, there was a humanity to the show, regardless of how much haters think it was a shallow actioner, and by that I refer to the home life of the main character, Semir Gerkhan, portrayed by Erdoğan Atalay.
   Viewers invested a lot into Semir and Andrea, and even with the 2014–15 seasons, we could count on that behind the emotional core of the series. It didn’t matter that the bright, cheerful years of Beck had become a sombre-keyed drama, with the happy couple’s marriage on the rocks, Semir sporting a full beard and not his goatee, and a major story arc.
   It was a return to the action–comedy tradition in 2016 with Daniel Roesner taking over from Kiefer, who I was surprised to see later in Bulletproof.



Semir and Andrea: the emotional heart of Alarm für Cobra 11.

   With Roesner’s departure, producers sought to get rid of everyone else on the show, wrapping up their storylines, so that 2020 would begin with only Atalay and Gizem Emre, who joined the cast in 2014, reprising their roles. We can deal with Semir pairing up with a female partner for the first time in 24 years (Vicky Reisinger, played by Pia Stutzenstein), having a new boss (a disabled character played by an able-bodied actor, Patrick Kalupa; and since we never had an episode about how the character became disabled, it seems a slap in the face to not cast a disabled actor), and an irritatingly dark set. But Andrea and the kids have been written out, not mentioned again; enter Semir’s estranged mother, who only became estranged a couple of seasons ago, since the character said previously that he called her every Christmas. To all intents and purposes, this was a new show with little connection to the old. And I think they may have gone one step too far in their efforts to present something new to viewers.
   There is a slight return to the structures of the older scripts in this second block of season 25, with an emphasis on the stories over the action (as there had been at the start). There are moments where you even recognize the show. But if the first half of the season had put you off, you never would have found out, especially since RTL hasn’t even bothered to show the action scenes in many of the press photos.
   The scheduling is exactly what you’d expect a network to do in order to kill a show, to say that the average viewer numbers had dropped again, too far to be viable. It’s the sort of show that might have a TV movie or two later on, but for now, I’m not that surprised there are statements that this 25th season (28th, if you believe the network) is the last ‘sein wird’ (for now). Another retooling for the 26th so it could return? Or time to wrap it all up?
   I don’t think it bodes well for us fans, unless they can tap into the Zeitgeist again for something that modern viewers are going to love.


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Why the British people still prefer Boris Johnson

27.06.2021

When you see the utter dog’s dinner the British government has made of COVID-19, namely turning their country into a petri dish for mutations while they plunder the place with impunity, you have to wonder why many there still prefer these current Tories, when even Max Hastings and Sir Nicholas Soames don’t. Is it because Labour has no direction? That they don’t like Sir Phony Blair? The latest balls-up is this, by the Cabinet’s own Karl Pilkington, (now former) health secretary Matt Hancock:

I jokingly Tweeted (italics added): ‘Terrible casting in the Hancock’s Half-Hour remake. I can deal with the sidekick now being a woman called Sydney James but you never saw scenes like this with Tony and the original Sid.’ Not many liked the post so I assume I am getting a bit on the old side for the mainstream to get these references. And I thought I was doing so well matching the grey from the original titles and the Clarendon type.
   The answer of why Boris Johnson still appears to be their preferred prime minister, how he can constantly fall upwards (reference below), appears to lie in Hancock, too, specifically Tony Hancock.

   For those of us old enough to remember Tony Hancock’s sitcoms (note: I saw them as repeats), he played a version of himself, but one who was poorer, more outspoken and exaggerated. (Surely as he was voted Britain’s greatest comedian this side of the 21st century, enough of you must know what I am talking about.) But most of all, he lived in a world of self-delusion, that he was the cleverest man around and if only the right people would just see his genius. This is part of the same British comedy tradition as Alan Partridge and David Brent. As I said in a Toot on Mastodon tonight (inter alia): ‘Audiences sympathize with failures, and none have failed as much as this PM.’


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Other than the ending, this is my only memory of St Elsewhere

18.05.2021

Conversation with Mum, some time in the 1980s.
   The credits for St Elsewhere begin rolling, and they read, ‘and starring William Daniels as Dr. Mark Craig’. Two taller actors flank Daniels as they walk toward the camera.
   I say, ‘Mum, that’s the guy who plays KITT on Knight Rider.’
   She replies, ‘He’s very short, isn’t he?’
   ‘Of course. How do you think they fit him under the bonnet of the car?’
   (At this point, I knew Daniels was dubbed in post, but I’d say my humour was pretty similar as a teenager as it is today.)


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