Westworld? Anyone with the vaguest interest in the Western genre will remember Westworld, Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi-cowboy-shoot-em-up. So, it’s with little anticipation that this HBO/Sky Atlantic series hit screens last week.
Unfortunately, I just didn’t get it. Everyone else seemed to – the debut episode was HBO’s biggest series opener in three years. For me, it was a bit underwhelming and confusing and episode two did little to make things any clearer. It’s fair to say I’m not on the hook, yet – but it does show potential.
The plot is loosely the same: Westworld is a fantasy theme park where visitors pay to live out their dreams on the Wild West frontier – it’s an immersive all-in type deal where you have the choice to live alongside the state of the art robot citizens (known as hosts) – or you can do as most choose to and either kill or have sex with them. This is the sort of debauched fantasy theme park you’d expect Donald Trump to be championing; it’s a place where anything goes and holidaymakers are encouraged by the madam of the saloon/brothel to cast off inhibitions and “be whoever the f**k, you want to be!”
Everything in the park is scripted. Visitors are drawn into storylines depending on whether they want to be a goodie or a baddie. It’s a familiar kind of hyper reality where behind the scenes boffins play God with technology and surprise, surprise are unable to put back the genie once it has escaped the bottle. Chrichton, you’ll remember, redrew this theme for the hugely popular Jurassic Park – where the cowboys were replaced with living breathing apex predators and most of the human cast became menu items.
This is a big budget production and once the initial sparring stops and the real story emerges, this could be a winner. It is certainly a show with a stellar cast: Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright play the two lead creators whose fascination with AI and consciousness threatens to bring chaos; Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden play hosts who, particularly Marsden’s Teddy, are locked in an abusive, bloody Groundhog Day; Simon Quarterman and Sidse Babett Knudsen are the constantly manoeuvring corporate suits for whom everything comes down to cold hard cash.
The guests flit in and out and only Ed Harris has so far had any prolonged screen time to flesh out his sinister and sadistic man-in-black-ooooooh-he-must-be-a-baddie-type character. Harris plays a man, who’s been visiting the park for decades, but it’s more than the sex and adventure on offer that motivates his return to the park, he is seeking a doorway to the maze.
On-demand platforms have been a blessing to long-form storytelling. The likes of Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos and Game of Thrones all would have made good film franchises – but free of the shackled format of tying up a story in 120 minutes, these series have fledged into hugely popular, multi-threaded and complex modern classics. It is difficult to say whether Westworld can distill its crisscrossing intrigue into a fathomable plotline but it will be fun riding along to find out.
Westworld is showing on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday at 9pm.
The Red Dwarf crew has faced many horrors: emotion-sucking GELFs, rogue simulants, despair squids, evil versions of themselves, and have even witnessed Winnie-the-Pooh being shot by firing squad, but this time they face possibly the worst horror of all: Rimmer with power.
Rimmer (Chris Barrie), along with Lister (Craig Charles), Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) are on Starbug when they get a distress called from a uranium-powered ship called the Nautlius, trapped on the other side of an asteroid field. The ship has a “bio-printer”, which prints off crew members whenever a mission arises, and the members disappear whenever they are no longer needed. Admittedly, there is the problem of paper jams meaning that in the case of the ship’s captain Edwin Herring (Stephen Critchlow) his printout has a stretched-out head that is always looking at the ceiling, but that’s something you can get used to.
As the Nautilus is powered by radioactive material, Rimmer decides to destroy the Nautilus with a missile. The missile doesn’t blow up the ship however, it just knocks it away to safety. For this amazing piece of good luck, Captain Herring decides to promote Rimmer to the rank of “Officer” and to visit Red Dwarf. With his new rank, Rimmer immediately starts to abuse his powers, segregating just about everything on ship: having his own beautifully crafted lifts and corridors while the rest of the crew are left with virtual wreckage. When Captain Herring boards Red Dwarf, his mission is complete and thus his print out disintegrates, meaning that there is no-one capable of demoting Rimmer back to Second Technician. Rimmer then takes the bio-printer and starts making duplicate copies of himself, all ranked below him so they will obey his commands without question, and creates his own Officer’s Club purely for “himselves”. Things become even worse however when the bio-printer jams when trying to print out multiple copies of the smeghead.
This is probably the best episode of Series XI so far. When it comes to Red Dwarf nothing is quite as good as when we delve into Rimmer’s disgusting attitudes, behaviour and… well, everything really. Rimmer’s already wonderfully horrible, so when his bitterness, pettiness and weasel-like behaviour goes to its most extreme limits, the results are always going to be a sight to see, and the end result is probably one of the most memorable monsters Red Dwarf has ever had.
There are also good performances from the other regulars. Another great scene is where Lister discovers he is on the bio-printer files because he once accidentally sold his genome. He asks Kryten to help him delete the record, but Kryten “refuses” to do so, by telling Lister how do it while saying while he himself does not carry out the final act.
If there is a flaw with this episode it is that the ending is very abrupt. You suspect that there ending was going to be longer but it had to be cut as the episode was running too long.
Red Dwarf is on Dave at Thursday nights at 21.00.
This week Greg Davies’s game show featured condiment art, nudity and some furious use of a pair of corkscrews.
Tonight’s episode would see contestants Al Murray, Dave Gorman, Paul Chowdhry, Rob Beckett and Sara Pascoe fighting for five heavy items that can each fit in a shoebox. With a lump of marble, a possibly dangerous snake and a copy of Alan Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives among the things up for grabs, the first task proper saw each of them trying to surprise Greg’s assistant Alex Horne when he came out of his shed. Beckett may have won this task by dressing up as an old lady and firing water out of a pressure hose at him, but my personal favourite was Murray, who decided to bang a gong and firing four air horns with his feet, while wearing just shoes, socks, underpants and a flat cap.
We also witnessed the first team task of the series, with teams consisting of Murray, Gorman and Chowdhry (the bearded men) against Beckett and Pascoe (the sinister Aryan twins) as both followed a wild goose chase to release Horne from a pair of handcuffs. After this they then painted upside-down self-portraits using ketchup, brown sauce and other condiments; and tried to pop a row of balloons in as quick a time as possible.
The surprising Horne challenge was the best task of the series so far, because of the completely unexpected nature of what was going to happen. There was also some added sneakiness from the creators with them hiding a message in the balloon challenge which the competitors had to try and decode.
Taskmaster series three is keeping up the quality of the first episode, so things are going well.
Taskmaster is on Dave on Tuesday nights at 22.00.
This week the crew end up dealing with a serious medical emergency, and the only one that can save the day is the most selfish being in the universe.
Lister (Craig Charles), Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Kryten (Robert Llewelyn) come across a space station that is due to be destroyed in five hours by a meteor shower. The crew decide to board it in order to salvage anything useful. The space station is home to Asclepius, an advanced medical droif – although it doesn’t look advanced when Rimmer and Kryten meet it (it only has four buttons).
This is perhaps due to the fact that the droid they think is Asclepius is actually Snacky, a snack dispensing machine. The real Asclepius is now insane, kidnaps Lister and Cat, and begins operating on them. When Rimmer and Kryten encounter the real Asclepius, they destroy it, but also destroy something else in their crossfire – Lister’s kidneys, which the robot had removed in an operation. Escaping to Red Dwarf before the meteors destroy the space station, Kryten tells Lister that the only way to save him is to find a kidney and change its DNA using Asclepius/Snacky’s “advanced” technology. However, they have one big problem. The only other individual on board Red Dwarf with any working kidneys is Cat. How is Lister going to persuade the most selfish creature ever known to give him something when he has nothing to offer in return?
It has to be said that this episode didn’t seem as funny as last week’s edition. While again it was good to see more from the Cat with him developing more as a character, this episode didn’t have as many great comic moments. There were some highlights though. The best of these is when Rimmer sees Snacky to get some psychotherapy, which sees a montage sequence of Rimmer trying to explain all the horrible incidents in his life which have made him the smeghead he is, including him in near tears when he exclaims: “Why did she get the green crayon?”
However, out of the three episodes of the series so far, this one has felt the weakest. Hopefully things will pick up again next week.
Red Dwarf XI is on Dave at 21.00 on Thursday nights.
Dave’s challenge game show returns, complete with frozen peas, not-so-frozen snowmen, and some swede-on-Swede action.
Joining Greg Davies and Alex Horne for this series this time are comedians Al Murray, Dave Gorman, Paul Chowdhry, Rob Beckett and Sara Pascoe. After sorting out the prize task, with the winner of this episode getting five flamboyant clocks – only one of which really counts as a clock as they also consisted of a sundial, a stove and a microwave oven – the comics were challenged to get to a microwave before it finished cooking soup in as few steps as possible, in a path blocked by hurdles and crash mats. It seems Chowdhry is going to be the least likely contestant to win judging by this first task, as he just stepped on the hurdles.
Following this we had the challenge of propelling a pea the furthest, making sure it lands on some red carpet, in which we see Gorman coming up with a devious way to cheat; building a snowman when there is no snow outside, leading to Pascoe to make one out of ice cream and a horrific film of it melting; and the live task, which involves balancing swedes on some Swedish people.
The best bit about this opening episode is the inventiveness of some of the contestants, especially in the snowman task. Aside from Pascoe’s use of ice cream we also had Murray using ice-cubes (with horrific results), Beckett with marsh mellows, Gorman using powdered mash potato and Chowdhry combining Slush Puppies and a white rabbit.
It is a nice start, but we need to wait a bit to see how it compares to the previous two series.
Taskmaster is on Dave at 22.00 on Tuesday nights.
We’re smugly self-satisfied this week, resting back in a post episode three glow. After enduring the flailings of the various M to Z list celebrities who have been marooned courtesy of Bear Grylls on a south Pacific island, we can scoff indignantly that their lack of action has finally brought its comeuppance.
The catalyst for the humongous mentality shift is a session with Dr Dawn on the weighing scales, which reveals the group has lost more than 20 stones between them, and a night at the mercy of the mighty sandfly – a tiny beach dwelling parasite that enjoys a nocturnal feast courtesy of the celebs continued insistence of sleeping on the ground.
Bug-bitten and visibly diminished, the penny, at last, has dropped with the camp inhabitants and the serious business of trying to construct basic shelter and feed themselves is embraced with something that could easily be mistaken for real effort.
Unfortunately, real effort is no substitute for lady luck or common sense, and so in spite of their best efforts the group return to camp sans dinde. To compound the cloud of doom hovering over the camp, the fishing party also returns without bounty. When fortune isn’t smiling on you, you are offered hope – in the form of a fish – before being dashed when you realise it is a pufferfish; a creature that protects itself by producing the lethal toxin tetrodotoxin, which is up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide.
A sanguine Ollie Locke muses “The only fish we’ve caught, the only potential food we have – is one of the most poisonous fish in the sea. This island really does have the most extraordinary way of sh***ing on you!”
Exhausted and dispirited Mark ‘The Hotel’ Jenkins heads back to camp to see how the other islanders have fared in his absence. With no firewood visible, he falls into full micro-manager mode and critiques the efforts/work output of the rest of the group – particularly Karen Danczuk.
Having instigated last week’s coup and taken over as leader Mark’s casual sexism and belief that:
- He is the only person putting in the correct effort
- He is always right – and speedily succeeds in isolating him from the rest of the camp.
There is no carrot with Mark, it is 100% stick.
“He’s got a real problem with me that man, states selfie queen, Danczuk. “You know what it is? It’s woman in power.”
“He’s so sexist … he comes in here like a chihuahua, just attacking,” she bleats to the rest of the group. “That, for me, has all the ingredients for a very insecure man.”
To disprove his insecurity and reassert his masculinity, Mark opts to showcase his leadership qualities by hacking at logs with his machete before inventing an utterly useless turkey catching contraption.
Dom Joly with impeccable comic delivery queries whether it is the most efficient method for catching turkeys: “It’s not a well-known hunting method,” he says with tongue in cheek. “In fact, I think, I saw it on a cartoon once.”
Unperturbed, Mark sets off in his pith helmet into the jungle in search of his prey, only to return crest-fallen and outwitted by the birds. His failure signals the end of his time as camp leader and a populist revolt installs Karen Danczuk as the new decision maker supreme.
“When I set my mind to something I usually succeed,” she states. Thankfully her confidence is well-founded because the very next day two hapless turkeys stroll a little too close to camp and are promptly pushed to the head of the menu. Happy days all round and a huge morale boost for camp.
It’s rather strange that The Sun reported viewers were unimpressed that the starving celebs had caught, killed and eaten the two turkeys. If I been on an island with no food for 10 days, I wouldn’t give a second thought to wringing the necks of whatever edible unfortunate crossed my path. I don’t remember the synopsis of the show or the titles saying this was Celebrity Vegan Island with Bear Grylls. If you get squeamish at the site of poultry being killed next week, probably isn’t for you, but with Ollie Locke getting his shot at leadership it should have its lighter moments.
If you take one positive thing from this experience let it be your support of the Stand Up to Cancer campaign, you can learn more about what the charity does and how you can help at Channel4/su2c.
It is always interesting looking back at older TV shows, especially those aimed at children, because you get the feeling certain shows would not be made in the same way, or at all, if they were made now.
The animated adaptation of Colin Dann’s Animals of Farthing Wood novels, originally produced by the European Broadcasting Union and shown in the UK on BBC in the mid-1990s, appears to be such a show that would be made differently if it was produced today. For a children’s show there is a surprisingly high body-count, which you suspect is considered allowable because the characters are animals rather than humans.
The first of the three series see the titular animals leave Farthing Wood after humans come in to develop the land, making their way to White Deer Park nature reserve. They make an oath to protect one-another and not to eat each other during their trip. The animals are led by Fox, with the assistance of elderly Badger, pompous Owl, and their guide Toad. Along with them are the mischievous Weasel, sarcastic Adder, and cry-baby Mole. Their journey is full of danger, mostly caused by human activity. This ranges from a fire caused by a burning cigarette, crossing a motorway, and surviving a fox hunt.
In the other two series, the Farthing Wood animals come into conflict with other animals. In the second they come into a territorial dispute with a group of blue foxes, and in the third they deal with an invasion of rats. Several of the animals start their own families, such as Fox who in the first series finds his mate Vixen, and later their have children and grandchildren; other animals become part of the group, like Whistler the Stork who gets his name from the whistling sound his wing makes after a hunter shot a whole in it; and others fail to make through the journey, die in harsh winters, or fall victim to human activity.
As stated, the number of creatures that die in The Animals of Farthing Wood is surprisingly high. Characters die from being shot, poisoned, run-over, trampled, fighting with each other, natural disasters, old age, and failing to survive hibernation. You do see blood as well, which is rare for a series with a “U” certificate. You suspect that the blood would be one thing that might not be shown if the series was made now.
However, it is these scenes that make The Animals of Farthing Wood stand out from other shows at the time. It is a children’s drama that relied on action and plot rather than comedic elements. The thing that makes The Animals of Farthing Wood good is the danger, the tension and the suspense. It is like a proper drama, only aimed at children and made in a much more accessible way. Thus, the death scenes and violence are arguably a good thing, because it provides an alternative to the more escapist cartoons normally aimed at children. The series actually makes you care for the characters, which was a rarity then, and when you compare British children’s cartoons to those of the USA and Japan, still a rarity now.
The Animals of Farthing Wood: The Complete DVD Collection is released by Network and is available to buy now.
The latest episode of the sci-fi sitcom is a treat for fans of the original series, as well as dealing with what appears to be a major development in Series XI – the increasing prominence of The Cat (Danny John-Jules) as a major character.
The Red Dwarf crew pick up an escape pod from a ship called the SS Samsara, but before the people inside the pod can be rescued, they are vaporised into piles of dust. The crew thus decide to investigate the Samsara to see what it was that made it crash land on an ocean moon, with Lister (Craig Charles) partnering with Cat, and Rimmer (Chris Barrie) with Kryten (Robert Llewellyn).
A series of flashbacks reveal that the people in the escape pod, Col. Green (Dan Tetsell) and Prof. Barker (Maggie Service), were having an affair, but it was going badly due to the ship having a “karma field”. This is similar to something that featured in the original series: the “justice field”, originally in Series IV, in which criminals were placed in an area where it was impossible to commit any act of injustice – i.e. if you try to commit arson, it was you the caught on fire. The “karma field” has both a setting which punishes bad people, but also a setting which awards the good. However, the ship’s field appears to be backwards, as is evidenced when Lister and Cat are trapped together, with Lister being punished for a good deed by having to spend time with the idiotic moggy.
As a fan of the original sitcom, it was nice to see the current series referencing something from so far back, but to also put a new spin on it by having the system also rewarding – a system which gets exploited. The best parts however were two-hander scenes. One occurs at the beginning with Lister and Rimmer playing “Mine-opoly”, with Rimmer constantly bemused by the fact he rolls the same bad throw over and over again. The other is when Lister is trapped with Cat, and Cat tries to talk about his favourite inventor, when in fact he gets the stories of Archimedes and Newton completely mixed up and incorrect.
This is the first of a number of episodes in which Cat, traditionally the character that is most overlooked in Red Dwarf, begins to grow more. The next episode sees him having to do something which is completely against is selfish nature, and later episodes also see him being given more major roles.
Red Dwarf XI is on Dave at 21.00 on Thursday nights.
So here we are, episode 2 of Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls and after last week’s masterclass in how not to survive on a desert island, this week our modern-day Robinson Crusoes up the ante further still, exceeding even the abject incompetence of their previous failures.
This week’s highlights included:
- How not to catch a turkey.
- How not to build shelter.
- How to catch yourself instead of a fish.
- How not to prioritise your own survival.
The result was sixty minutes of anti-survival gold dust.
The idea of the show, which supports the Stand Up to Cancer awareness campaign, is to encapsulate that in hardship; even in the darkest hours, that anything is possible – that there is always hope! These guys may have surrendered their liberty for a month (and their fees, which have been donated to the campaign), but they don’t seem to have bought into the idea of what this is all about.
The castaways have been on the island for four days now, and they have not yet built any kind of shelter, their sole form of sustenance other than what they arrived with and water, has been limpets – with a calorific value of zero. It is a pitiful sight made sadder still by the knowledge that these people’s celebrity status puts them in the position of role models to many.
It came as no surprise that poor little Aston decided that he would be more use ‘keeping it real’ back in the UK than on the island. “I’m just not being 100 percent myself in here,” he reveals to the group. “… I’m just going to go home.”
Having soldiered through four whole days of the four weeks he signed up for, the little cherub harped: “I’m better off sitting in a studio writing songs and choreographing dance routines – it’s a different type of endurance.” Hmmm, just remind me how some of those JLS tracks went. Nope, I’m pretty sure you’re better suited to the island, Aston.
One down, nine to go. The remaining survivalists up-sticks and head off in search of a more amenable living space – I.E. a beach. Carrying with them the camp fire, precariously embered in two fragments of a termite nest. It goes without saying that one of the embers must die en route, and so it comes to pass – due in some part to the frailty of former BBC children’s TV presenter Zoe Salmon, who must surely now have her Blue Peter badge rescinded.
Thankfully, after a two-hour slog through the jungle, they reach sanctuary, and while Mark Jenkins starts to look forward to setting up a hunting party and getting much-needed sustenance inside them, the others decide to head off for a swim.
That’s right, they haven’t eaten for four days. Their only drink has been brackish water and they have no beds or shelter – but show these minor celebs a sandy beach and a blue sea and watch their troubles evaporate. Herein lies the critical errors made by the show’s producers – each of the participants has a GPS tracker and emergency cell phone, which they have used with the frequency of someone calling room service. They all know they have the comfort blanket of Bear’s ‘safety team’ within 10 minutes and so they wander round as oblivious as turkeys on a farm in the week before Christmas.
It is only the next morning when the exertions of the previous day really start to hit home, that they rouse themselves to action. Off in search of carbohydrate-rich yucca go Karen Danczuk and Zoe and off to the rocks to fish goes the posse of Thom Evans, Ollie Locke and Mark.
As with all their previous endeavours, the hunt amounts to nought; Zoe having had a turkey in her grasp lets it slip away, and Ollie keen to disprove the scurrilous claim that “he’s not just some stupid pink wearing guy that people think I am,” allows the only fish hooked to escape – and, yes, he did it while wearing pink! Good eatin’, though, is tantalisingly close and another hunting party is arranged.
Dr Dawn sets off with Zoe in search of wild turkey and yucca, while Josie Long and Lydia Bright try their hand at fishing. What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a lot. The turkeys disappear and rather than hooking a fish, Lydia decides it would be much more entertaining for the viewers if she hooked herself. Whoopsy!
The panic button is duly pressed in camp and off in search of the good doctor goes one of the chaps. Ambling through the jungle with camera in hand calling out for Dr Dawn, our hapless searcher pans left and spies a turkey – conveniently perched not 10 feet away. So, here’s the dilemma: Do you stretch the turkey’s neck while the opportunity presents itself (no pun intended) or do you continue on your quest so that your camp mate can have a fish hook removed from her finger.
Proving that chivalry is not dead but common sense most certainly is, he opts to carry on with the search. And after finding Dr Dawn the turkey wisely exits stage left and lives to witness at least one more sunrise.
However, a new day brings new hope and a leadership challenge from Mark Jenkins who has had enough of Dom Joly’s profound laziness and lack of any plan. The trouble is, although Mark is organised, nobody wants to follow him and after a brief honeymoon period, strife is sure to follow. He does though send out a foraging party to dig for yukka and, after a couple of hours graft, they return in triumph with a supply of the carb-rich root vegetable and stick it straight in the pot with a gaggle of starving diners watching on.
Dom Joly is given the honour of taking the first bite and to the horror of all present reveals that it isn’t yucca- they’ve spent the past hour boiling inedible twigs.
It is all too much for Thom Evans, the island’s male eye candy, who has shed 2 stones in a week and is so weak he can barely bring himself to stand manages to raise his tired hands and makes the call to remove him from the island. “Curses” wail the C4 execs as an army of female fans desert the show for the comforting embrace Aidan Turner in Poldark over on BBC1. And then there were eight!
In looking back at 2016, there appears to have been a great deal of celebrity deaths from the world of entertainment. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Ronnie Corbett, Prince, Caroline Aherne and Gene Wilder and amongst those who have passed this year.
In April 2016, a giant of British comedy passed away at the age of 62; Victoria Wood. It cannot be denied that Wood was multi-talented, and throughout her 40-year career, she composed & performed music, wrote sketches & sitcoms, and performed in dramatic roles as well as stand-up routines. Her work often centred on the observational, bringing a humorous insight into daily life and routines.
Her passing reminds us just how influential her work was on the British comedy scene, and her influence on future female comics in particular, such as French and Saunders. Wood was nominated for 14 BAFTAs over her long career, winning four and being presented with the BAFTA Special Award in 2005, for her work in television over the decades.
Wood Work, A Celebration brings together a great collection of work from Victoria Wood, showcasing her legacy as a writer and a performer. Included in this collection are three television plays written by Wood. The 1982 comedy sketch series Wood and Walters. Her 1988 stand-up show An Audience With Victoria Wood. The television drama Housewife, 49, based on the true story of Nella Last during WW2, whom Wood portrays. A bonus disk includes a one-off television special, Julie Walters and Friends, co-written and co-starring Victoria Wood.
Running at around 9.5 hours and across five disks, Wood Work, A Celebration is a showcase of the many talents of Victoria Wood, and her ability to make you laugh or cry with her writing and performance. We also see a great deal from her frequent collaborator, Julie Walters, who is equally as entertaining to watch on screen. This collection is a must-have for fans of Victoria Wood, or those seeking out the highlights of her brilliant comedy career.
Wood Work, A Celebration is available to buy now from Network.