Ballot Monkeys

April 21, 2015 by  
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Ballot Monkeys 1

If any of the writers of Newzoids are paying attention, THIS is how you write a topical comedy show.

Ballot Monkeys is set on the campaign bus for the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, Labour and UKIP (Green’s once again get overlooked), with prospective MPs and campaign workers trying their best at getting their message to the public.

On the Tory bus, campaigner Martin Frost (Hugh Dennis) is getting sick and tired of people liking Boris Johnson; Lib Dem Kevin Sturridge (Ben Miller) is just fed up of everyone taking the credit for everything the Lib Dems have done and getting no coverage except for reversing their view on tuition fees; the Labour bus has problems with their campaign posters, ranging from Ed Miliband decisively stabbing his brother David in the back and portraying David Cameron as a Page 3 Girl; and on UKIP’s battle bus, campaigner Gerry Stagg (Andy Nyman) keeps having to stop candidate Kate Stadnen (Sarah Hadland) from making all sorts of racist cock-ups, such as suggesting Nigel Farage should slay a dragon with a Muslim’s face on it.

Created by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, who have considerable experience in writing sitcoms to a tight deadline with their work on Drop the Dead Donkey, this series certainly made me laugh more than Newzoids did. Despite the fact they are writing to much tighter deadlines than their ITV rivals, Hamilton and Jenkin are able to make a much funnier show. Much of the humour that I personally found best was visual, such as Labour’s poster ideas, or Miller’s character trying to keep calm by looking at a photo of Michael Gove.

There were some nice moments too outside of the visual, such as in the Labour party bus when it was brought up that Chilcot was being delayed and MP candidate Jack Pardew (Trevor Cooper) suggested it would not be released until Tony Blair got Alzheimer’s.

Probably my favourite character in the show was Nyman’s UKIP man trying to keep everything under control, a seemingly impossible task when it seems that just about everyone in the party apart from himself or Farage is a bigot. I hate UKIP personally, but you can’t help but feel sorry for the character.

Of all the satirical comedies that have cropped up during the election so far, this has been the best by far.

Orange is the New Black – Season 3

April 21, 2015 by  
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Orange is the New Black 1

Netflix have started to drip-drip trailers and sneak peeks of the new season of Orange is the New Black to whet the appetites of sad-sack, loser fans currently trying to stave off withdrawal symptoms by speed-reading Piper Kerman’s memoirs and taking quizzes on Buzzfeed to find out what inmate they are. (Miss Claudette, if you’re interested, and I’m pissed off about it given that the only thing I have in common with that character is the inability to pull off a convincing Haitian accent).

The big news is that Alex is back in orange and seeking comfort from her former paramour, the sickeningly self-centred Piper, clearly unaware that it’s all her fault that she’s here. “It’s so nice to see you two back together,” croons Lorna. Really, Morello? By this point, you must be the only one who thinks so. And so the scene is set for the continuation of the Piper and Alex psychodrama and all of the betrayal, counter-betrayal, sulking and passive aggression you can shake a stick at. The laws of physics dictate that dysfunction of such epic proportions will inevitably draw in satellites, and so, enter Ruby Rose to complete the love triangle, filling in the vacancy left by dearly departed Larry, bourgeois turd extraordinaire.

Also MIA, is the fantastic Rosa, last seen dispatching Vee before speeding her way to freedom, leaving a trail of traumatised nuns in her wake. Following that particular incident, Vee is also absent but her shadow looms large. Season three sees Poussey and Suzanne still at loggerheads. Poussey is convinced that Vee is dead, circumstances she doesn’t find unfavourable. Suzanne, on the other hand, longs for the return of her arch-manipulator maternal substitute and has managed to convince herself that it will happen against all the odds. (This is a sentiment Nicky fans will sympathise with – Litchfield’s finest is ominously thin on the ground in the previews). How the group will manage to rebuild itself in a post-Vee universe is clearly going to be a running thread throughout the season, which means lots of lovely screen time for Taystee and the gang.

Vee’s absence leaves two vacancies. The first is for prison top dog, a place slid into by default by a triumphant Red. The second is for season psycho. With Pennysatucky reformed both spiritually and dentally, the smart money for the job is new girl, Lolly, previously featured befriending Piper on Con Air before getting beaten in the yard of the Chicago Metropolitan Detention Facility while Piper gazed uselessly on. I see sweet, prolonged and mouth-wateringly cray-cray revenge on the horizon. Bring it on.

The C Word

April 16, 2015 by  
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The C Word

I would be lying to you if I said I did not cry while watching this movie. The C Word based on the true-life events of Lisa Lynch is not just another cancer movie. Yes, it may be a movie that deals with cancer but the bigger picture here is the portrayal of the beauty of life.

In this BBC One special, Sheridan Smith plays Lisa Lynch who as a young newly married 28 year old receives the news that she has breast cancer. Upon finding that out, Lisa decides to begin a blog to document her struggles and triumphs with “the Bullshit” aka cancer.

The blog becomes a place for her emotions but also for her family and friends to keep up with how she’s doing. As time progresses, she builds a community around her blog and eventually even gets to write her own book and beat cancer.

Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst when her cancer comes back full force and this time it’s terminal. As the movie progressed, I could feel the audience going through the ups and downs Lisa was facing. There were clear sounds of just out right sobbing and it was difficult to not root for a woman who was fighting so hard.

I must say that this is one of the best portrayals of cancer I have seen adapted on screen. Director Tim Kirkby does an amazing job at working out the difficult scenes and writer Nicole Taylor does justice to the book with her script.

The main message of this movie was not about death but rather about life. It showed the audience the importance of finding joy about every day and to also see that cancer is a true struggle and in no ways should be romanticized. It also brings awareness about checking for signs of cancer and to really open up a conversation about death.

I would highly recommend this film to everyone because cancer is a scary thing and the more we understand it, the less of a fear it becomes.

The C Word is to air on BBC One later this April.


April 15, 2015 by  
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Newzoids 1

Newzoids is a satirical impressionist show which features puppets, broadcast on ITV this week. It is a completely original idea – provided you ignore Spitting Image, which was a satirical impressionist show which features puppets, broadcast on ITV in the 1980s and 1990s.

Amongst the sketches and characters in Newzoids they include David Cameron (in full Bullingdon Club gear) being carried in a sedan chair by Eric Pickles and a seemingly grey George Osborne to a drive-thru; Mel and Sue being hired to break bad news; Kim Jong-un presenting his own take on The One Show called The Un Show (so they can do that pun too many times); Nigel Farage as a dodgy pub comic; and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge having to deal with the horror that Prince George is common.

There was nothing that really made me laugh in the opening episode. The closest was when the Duchess of Cambridge was outraged at being called “nouveau riche”, and a parody of “500 Miles” performed by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. There were some issues with one or two of the impressions themselves. I suspect that it was Simon Greenall doing Vladimir Putin; because the voice he used was very similar to the one he does for Aleksandr Orlov in the Compare the Market/Meerkat ads. There are also technical issues. One sketch features Cameron and Nick Clegg fighting on The Jeremy Kyle Show, but the problem there is that because the puppet fingers are fixed and cannot be moved, the puppets cannot clinch their fists and punch properly, like the ones on Spitting Image could. Plus the mouths seem to be CGI-ed on and don’t look as good as if they were just operated mechanically.

The big problem with this show however, is that no matter how good this show can be, it will always be judged against Spitting Image, and Spitting Image was such an iconic programme it’s hard to come up with an impression show that can be as good. It’s like someone today trying to make a sitcom set in a hotel, and trying to be as good as Fawlty Towers. The only other impression show which has been as successful in terms of longevity is BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers, which does not need to worry about such technical aspects, it just needs good voices. While a TV impressions show could be brilliant, Newzoids lacks originality (compare grey George Osborne to grey John Major for example).

Having said this however, it could be worse. During the adverts between Newzoids and The Delivery Man (another new ITV comedy, which was a lot more enjoyable), I was reminded there were worse puppets out there – I for one certainly have no Dolmio day.


April 13, 2015 by  
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Coalition 1

The night is dark and full of terrors, an austere winter is coming and when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you end up softly weeping in an IT suite. There is no middle ground.

May 2010. The British public has gone to the polls and returned an indecisive election result. Neither of the main parties have achieved enough seats to form a majority government. The burdensome role of kingmaker falls onto the shoulders of an idealistic and handsome prince by the name of Nick Clegg. The leader of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, very Scottish and moody with it, has lost the love of the people and yet hopes to cling to power by forming an allegiance with the Liberal Democrats, their ancient allies. However, the chinless champion of the Conservatives, David Cameron, the force of destiny weighing heavily on his heart, has different plans.

How Clegg treads through these treacherous waters will determine the fate of a nation, not to mention electoral reform, which he can’t stop blubbering on about every forty seconds.

For a contemporary drama Coalition is distinctly lacking in cynicism. None of these politicians apparently have egos; all they want is the greatest good for the country they love so dearly. This gets very tiresome, very quickly. Thank God then for Peter Mandelson (an uncannily accurate portrayal by Mark Gatiss) who slithers around Westminster oozing a snail-trail of chicanery and slime behind him who lights up the screen with a blaze of sinister trickiness. At one point, he looms onto stage in a puff of dry ice and someone refers to him as the Prince of Darkness. I’m not joking.

But if Mandelson is ridiculous, Paddy Ashdown, played by Donald Sumpter, is genuinely surreal. The elder statesman spends the entire run time observing the action with saddened, war-weary eyes like Banquo’s ghost at the feast. Even when Clegg’s in his private office trying to get on with making phone calls, Ashdown is there. Reproachful. Creepy. Presumably uninvited.

At one point, I realised that people moved passed Ashdown as if he didn’t exist and he was only ever shown speaking in direct conversation with Clegg himself. I started to wonder if perhaps if Ashdown was a figment of Clegg’s imagination. Perhaps Ashdown symbolised Clegg’s conflicted conscience? Or perhaps he was a manifestation of an impending psychotic break? After all, Clegg does spend an inordinate amount of time staring out of windows at nothing, muttering to himself about ‘real change’ without ever defining what that might entail like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

But as it turns out, Ashdown wasn’t a symbolic figure of the darker side of Cleggmania. He’s just a man who the Liberal Democrats all apparently respect. And so it is left to Ashdown to settle the nerves of the mutinous Lib Dem troops and seal the fate of the country by encouraging them to sign up for the coalition agreement with a rip-roaring speech which actually ends; “Fuck it, let’s do it.”

“Huzzah! Huzzah!” The Liberal Democrat MPs chant, and march cheerfully to their doom.

In a nutshell, Coalition is awkward, cloying and sometimes outright disorientating. It’s not even interesting enough to warrant the one and a quarter hour run time. But in fairness, with the material Graham had to work with, he can’t exactly be blamed for any of that.

Coalition is currently available on My4.

Code of a Killer

April 2, 2015 by  
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The new ITV series is based upon a crime committed in 1984 concerning two dead girls and a mysterious killer who became the first person to be caught using DNA evidence.

Detective David Barker (David Threlfall) has been working the murder of Lynda Mann for over a year when a killer with a similar MO strikes again. During this time Alec Jefferys (John Simm), a scientist, has been working tirelessly to figure out how to use each person’s DNA as an individual marker of their identity.

After many months, Jefferys is successful, and it is at this point that that Barker first stumbles upon his scientific findings. Barker, desperate to break his case asks Jefferys for his help. How this ends is up for viewers to find out in this two part series.

The beginning is a bit slow at first, with both plots being very separate and you’re not quiet sure how they’ll intersect. At first I thought Jefferys might be the killer until I realised that he was actually helping the case.

As the minutes ticked by, I found myself more and more captivated by the story. I was curious as to who the real killer was and the questionable actions of the suspect they had arrested. I wanted to know more about Jefferys and his findings and how the killer had managed to kill more than once without mishap.

Directed by James Strong and written by Michael Compton, the series has been adapted and approved by the family of the true crime. The mother spoke to Mirror, stating, I’ve read the script and although it brings back all those awful memories, I really believe it will do something positive and help keep this evil monster locked away for life.”

I believe that this series will give knowledge to people who may not be familiar with the case and/or the scientific discovery that started a crime solving revolution. It is well worth the watch.

Code of a Killer is on ITV1 at 9pm on April 6th

By Reason of Insanity

March 30, 2015 by  
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Due to the recent issues at the BBC with the Jeremy Clarkson ‘fracas’, Louis Theroux fans will have been pleased to see that his latest documentary, By Reason of Insanity, was moved forward a few weeks in the schedule and broadcast in March.

The two part documentary follows Louis as he spends a month with people who have committed crimes, but have been found not guilty by reasons of insanity, and sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. This presents a dilemma; how do we care for vulnerable but potentially dangerous people in society?

Although there are patients that have not committed crimes and are in the hospital because they have lost touch with reality due to their illness, it is those that have committed crimes under the banner of mental illness that Louis is focused on meeting. Louis delves into the day to day lives of the patients, which mostly consists of therapy, classes and medication.

As Louis travels around the wards of a hospital in Ohio, we see him talk to the patients, their families and the staff. Anyone who has seen any Louis Theroux documentaries before will recognise the gentle approach he has, in his questioning and tone. One of the reasons he is successful at getting responses from people is his non-judgmental style, and his ability to speak to everyone at the same level. He doesn’t push for an answer, but he will ask and move onto a different topic if he senses any hesitation.

From the outset, it is very noticeable that the majority of patients in the hospital are male, and also the range of differences each patient has with their illness. We see some believing the staff are trying to help them, whilst others, including the one female patient Louis talks to, thinking the staff are only out to help themselves. Additionally, some are also aware of how unwell they are, whilst others believe they are not mentally ill at all.

We also hear why certain patients have been admitted, for crimes including sexual assault and murder. We hear how one patient believed that his attacking a police officer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day led to Barack Obama being elected President. There is also a lack of guilt amongst certain patients, who realise they were not in the right state of mind when they committed their crimes. Others are fearful that they were, as they try to face up to what they have done.

In treatment, the patients are trying to come to terms with the crimes they have committed, whilst aiming to eventually return to society and lead a normal life. The main focus during treatment is assessing whether the patient will try to hurt themselves or others. Will this change as they spend time in the hospital? Will this happen when they leave? This poses the staff with a difficult question; when is someone ready to be released? We follow one patient, William, as he prepares to leave, and his clear anxiety at the new life that awaits him. The staff also face the realisation that anyone who is released could commit another crime, and potentially hurt or kill someone.

Life in the psychiatric hospital shows the great relationships between the patients and the staff, which appears very warm and friendly, showing the human reality of mental illness. They are rooting for the patients to get well and eventually leave. Indeed, it seems that the presence of Louis has also helped some of the patients, as he is told by one that he asked questions that he hadn’t been asked before and which he hadn’t thought about.

Without documentaries such as this, how would we see the treatment that mental health patients are receiving? This allows us a rare glimpse into the world of mental illness, from a non-biased point of view, with Louis asking the questions on behalf of the viewers. Fans of Louis Theroux will not be disappointed, and neither will those who wouldn’t immediately be drawn to this type of show; it captures your attention as the patients are presented and portrayed in their own words.

The Best of Mike Judge

March 26, 2015 by  
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The socially challenged underdogs of the lucrative world of tech start-ups are finally uncovered in the painfully funny Silicon Valley. So  here’s a look at the best of Silicon Valley alumni Mike Judge, and the projects he’s created with his own unique, brilliantly sharp and wonderfully offbeat humour…

Silicon Valley (2014-2015)

This critically-acclaimed HBO comedy takes viewers inside the high-tech gold rush of modern Silicon Valley.  Inspired by Judge’s own experiences as a Silicon Valley engineer in the 80’s, the show follows the trials and tribulations of awkward computer programmer Richard (Thomas Middleditch), who lives in a “Hacker Hostel” along with his friends Big Head (Josh Brener), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani).  Combining brilliant observational comedy with a fantastic cast and razor-sharp dialogue, Silicon Valley taps into the zeitgeist in a completely unique way. It shows, in the funniest way possible, how often the people most qualified to succeed are really the least capable of handling success.

Beavis and Butt-head (1993-1997)

Mike Judge first became famous for creating this animated MTV series turned phenomenon about two heavy-metal music loving high school burnouts living in a fictional Texas town that hate attending school, and love watching TV while “reviewing” music videos they watch.  The show aired for five years and was a massive cult hit, with Judge voicing both title characters and other supporting characters.  He brought back the comical hit in 2011 for another successful season.


King of the Hill (1997-2010)

Judge took another whack at animated comedy and successfully co-created an American adult sitcom with Greg Daniels.  King of the Hill centres on the life of propane salesman Hank Hill and his middle-class family, who also live in a modern fictional Texas small town much like Beavis and Butt-head.  His substitute-teaching wife is opinionated, his son is a disappointment, and his friends are losers.  Despite his problems, Hank is hard-working and keeps a level head, maintaining the status of “King of the Hill.”  Judge provides the voice for Hank Hill and delivers his character effortlessly.

Office Space (1999)

This amusing comedy film written and directed by Mike Judge is a take on the satirizing life and vapidity of American corporate culture.  A computer programmer at a software company named Peter suffers numerous humiliations in his bleak workspace, along with his other colleagues.  Peter, played by Ron Livingston, changes his mind set on his job and suddenly becomes lazy and carefree.  This plays out with the utmost hilarity as the results of his behaviour are not what he expected.  The supporting cast is strong, starring Jennifer Aniston and Gary Cole, and the film received positive reviews, with a 79% “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Idiocracy (2006)

Luke Wilson stars in this adventurous comedy film mainly set in the future year 2505 – where the ordinary is considered extraordinary.  In 2006, an average American named Joe Bauers (Wilson) is selected for an experiment in which he hibernates for a year, but he is forgotten and ends up sleeping for five centuries.  When he wakes up in 2505, the human race has become idiotic and Bauers is the smartest person on Earth.  Hilarity ensues as he attempts to take on the position of ultimate ruler of the human race.  Judge wrote and directed the film, with the cast including other well-known comedy actors such as Dax Shepard, Maya Rudolph and Terry Crews.

Extract (2009)

Judge wrote and directed this hysterical film about a flavour-extract factory owner who is about to sell his company and retire when a freak workplace incident occurs and his entire professional and personal life gets turned upside down.  The film was said to be Judge’s companion piece to his classic Office Space.  With a stellar cast, including Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, and J.K. Simmons, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called it “the funniest American comedy of the summer.”

Silicon Valley: The Complete First Season is released on Blu-ray and DVD from the 23rd March 2015, courtesy of HBO. 


Silicon Valley

March 26, 2015 by  
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In late 2011 I borrowed a copy of The Social Network for an evening’s entertainment. My date, blaming an 80 hour week, survived only long enough to see Mark Zuckerberg compare Harvard’s female students to the Old MacDonald cast. Although her snoring wasn’t the greatest addition to Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, it did allow me to second screen my own history with Facebook. Interrailing through eastern Europe with a couple of friends during our gap year’s second summer, we met a couple of enjoyable Americans who encouraged us to keep in touch via Facebook. It was four years after the social network’s launch and we’d never heard of the site.

Since most of the marketing emanating from southern California can be summarised as the promise to deliver your lifestyle a (first world-adjusted) Great Leap Forward, it is fair to wonder quite how far behind curve HBO’s Silicon Valley is. A new sitcom from Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge and dubbed “Entourage for geeks”, the show follows six twentysomething members of California’s tech working class. Comedian Thomas Middleditch has the lead role of Richard Hendriks, who during his time away from his job at Hooli (a Google parody), has developed an app containing a potentially revolutionary data compression algorithm which might be worth billions. Completing the socially maladroit cast are Kumail Nanjiani, Josh Brener and Martin Starr as his fellow programmers and T.J. Miller as their ambitiously indolent landlord.

Judge skewered corporate culture in 1999′s Office Space and in his return to TV has shown himself to be equally adept at deconstructing the absurdities of anti-corporate companies. Much of the comedy comes from the shibboleths which are repeated as dogma from the show’s titans to its coders, and underpinning the entire first series is their sincere belief that reduced file sizes could change their, and your lives. Glorious exaggeration to anyone outside the bubble but still utterly dead-on. There might be the occasional missed gag about dynamic tesselation, but for the most part Silicon Valley is a bitingly funny character-driven satire that you won’t need to speak Python to understand.

Silicon Valley: Season 1 is available to own now

Tom Felton Meets the Superfans

March 26, 2015 by  
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The idea of being a superfan is something that isn’t a new concept but in the past ten years has evolved into its own world. With technology making it easier to connect with celebrities and conventions being the new thing for fans to attend to show their obsession, Tom Felton dives into the lives of superfans to see why they do what they do.

Felton is widely known as Draco Malfoy from Harry Potterand overthe past decade, he’s become recognisable all over the world and has gained superfans of his own. The documentary decides to focus on one woman named Tina who has been avidly following Felton for years and has even become friendly with his family and friends.

This special chooses to use this as a running story line mixed in with interviews of other superfans and Harry Potter stars such as Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and the author herself, J.K. Rowling.

It was interesting to see how Felton narrated the whole thing. At times it was heartfelt, like when he met a fan who had overcome depression with the help of Harry Potter or when another fan battled bullying with advice from the series.

A scene I particularly enjoyed was when Felton got to meet and interview William Shatner. It went terribly with Felton stuttering and calling him Captain Kirk constantly, but really showed how starstruck one can get, and for someone like Felton to be so genuinely flustered was refreshing to watch.

What I wasn’t too fond of was how Felton flip-flopped constantly between thinking that superfans were extremely weird people and just ordinary individuals. I saw how he was trying to expose the stories each one of them had, but his changing perspective just seemed too quick and forced.

The redeeming factor that saved the documentary for me was the different perspectives you got. J.K. Rowling was able to talk about how people are not so much obsessed with her and rather the books she created. Radcliffe and Grint talked about the difference between being into a character versus the actor themselves. Felton showed a variety of fans that all had varying goals and perspectives.

This documentary is a good show of the positive sides of superfans and gives those who are superfans validation for their obsession and those who aren’t a better look into their world.

Tom Felton Meets the Superfans is on BBC Three at 9PM on March 23rd.

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