Tag Archives: TV

1904: 21st Century TV

The Internet has brought with it many things both good and bad, but by far my favourite thing about it is to do with video.

No, I’m not talking about YouTube generally — the whole “anyone with a webcam can make videos!” culture it promotes feeds into modern youth’s unhealthy obsession with “being famous” — but rather the fact that, between the various streaming services out there, both legitimate and… less legitimate, there is probably some way of watching all those programmes/adverts/movies you wish you still had 1) the VHS tapes for and 2) something to play them with.

This last week, for example, Andie and I have watched Police Squad!, the TV-based precursor to the Naked Gun movies. Only six episodes were made, and back at university, when I “discovered” the show for the first time, I had a VHS cassette with two of them on it, so I had only ever seen those two episodes. Now, however, some helpful Polish person has kindly uploaded the whole lot onto YouTube for anyone to enjoy at their leisure. No waiting for TV networks to license them and show them again. No tracking down video tapes and VCRs. Just click and go.

The ability to rediscover old favourites is one of the best things about streaming video, then, as my rewatch of Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time in about ten years will attest. But the fact that streaming services makes new favourites easier than ever to discover, too, is rather wonderful. I doubt I’d have become so interested in anime without my Crunchyroll subscription, for example; prior to widespread streaming video, the only real way to get into anime was to buy VHS tapes or DVDs, and with anime being niche-interest and somewhat “exotic”, particularly when it first hit these shores in the mid-90s, it was a rather expensive hobby. Anime DVDs and Blu-Rays still cost up to twice as much as a regular ol’ Western film even today, making online services like Crunchyroll much better value.

This is the TV of the 21st century, then; it really is the vision of the future we had twenty, thirty years ago: decide what you want to watch, then just watch it. In most cases, that’s possible to do, even if you have strange, bizarre and peculiar tastes. And even if you’re more fucked up than most, I can almost guarantee that there’s some dark corner of the Internet out there somewhere more than willing to cater to your particular interests, whatever they might be… for better or worse.

In these days of people seemingly constantly yelling at one another on social media and comments sections on large sites being widely (and, sometimes, justifiably) regarded as fetid cesspits, it’s easy to forget the great and wonderful things that the Internet has brought to modern life. I’m a strong believer that its ability to “archive” — for future generations to be able to enjoy movies, TV shows, animations and other videos from years ago — is one of the best things about it. And as technology improves and we find more and more ways to interact with this world-wide network, I hope we never lose sight of these simple pleasures that it’s allowed us to enjoy like never before.

1867: Golden Time

Started watching a new (well, new to me) anime a little while back after finally finishing Silver Spoon. It’s called Golden Time, and I’m not entirely sure how I became aware of it, but it was in my Crunchyroll queue and had intrigued me, so I decided now was the time to check it out.

On paper, it’s a fairly straightforward slice-of-life anime. Protagonist Tada Banri is starting his new life at university, and in the process meets a number of new friends, including the obligatory harem of potential romantic interests. Of the main cast, however, the most interesting — and the one highlighted in the show’s opening and ending titles — is Kaga Koko, a strikingly beautiful young woman from a privileged background who has shown up at Banri’s university in pursuit of her childhood friend and supposed love of her life Mitsuo. Mitsuo, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with Koko, having surreptitiously switched universities in an attempt to get away from her, but she wasn’t about to let him escape that easily.

Central to the show is the developing relationship between Banri and Koko as the former tries to help the latter come to terms with the constant rejection she gets from Mitsuo. It’s a troubled and unconventional relationship, and doesn’t follow the usual tropes of anime romance stories, largely because Koko is such an unstable but delightfully fascinating character.

When Koko is alone with Banri, we see what is clearly the “real” her. She’s frank, candid and honest, and willing to open up about her feelings — though she’ll pretend that she’s putting on a front to garner sympathy from others. Occasionally she lets some obvious, genuine feelings slip, however, such as in one of the early episodes where she complains to Banri that no-one will talk to her because she has the reputation of being “that rich, beautiful girl that is out of everyone’s league”. Banri consistently gives her the time of day, however, and quickly falls in love with her; she rejects him, however, and puts him well and truly in the “friend zone” with her constant and emphatic reiteration of What Good Friends They Are.

When Koko comes across Mitsuo, though, her whole personality changes. She becomes obsessive, jealous and irrational. When she sees Mitsuo with the adorably cute Chinami, whom Mitsuo has taken a liking to, she is extremely rude to Chinami; Chinami, however, is a lot stronger than she looks, and brushes off the torrent of abuse she gets, even going so far as to deliberately try and befriend Koko in later episodes. Koko claims to Banri that the person she is when she’s with Mitsuo is the “real her”, but it’s abundantly clear that the complete opposite is true; the only person with whom she can truly be herself is Banri.

The other interesting twist in the tale, aside from the complex and difficult relationship between Banri and Koko, is the fact that Banri is an amnesiac. Prior to the events depicted in the show, Banri was in an accident that cost him all of his memories from before he turned 18 and left for university. He doesn’t remember who he is, what his personality is or what his relationships with others were like. As the show progresses, he starts to uncover things about his past — and I’m only a short way in so far, so I’m not sure how far it goes, but it has a lot of potential to be very intriguing indeed.

Interestingly, Banri’s amnesia is depicted not only by him struggling to recall things, but by a ghostly apparition of his past self that occasionally narrates short sequences. The ghost describes himself as having “died” the day of the accident, and that the current Banri is nothing but an empty shell. Again, things aren’t that simple, though, as amnesiac Banri starts discovering ties to his past — and the fact that people whom he thought were strangers and new friends actually have a lot more to do with him than he initially thought.

There are two big things I like about the show as a whole: one, that it’s constantly raising new questions and drawing the viewer in through Banri’s journey of self-rediscovery; and two, that a lot happens in each episode. So often with slice-of-life anime, things just sort of pootle along for a while and nothing really happens; this is fine, so long as the characters are strong enough to carry this sort of nothing-really-happens story, but Golden Time sidesteps this style of slice-of-life in favour of something that, while obviously the stuff of fiction, is plausible, believable and emotionally engaging.

I literally have no idea how things are going to turn out by the end of the 24-episode run, but I’m looking forward to finding out. I’m enjoying the show a whole lot so far, and cautiously recommend it to anyone looking for a slice-of-life show with a bit more depth than many other offerings.

1860: Silver Spoon

silverspoonI finally got around to finishing off the anime series I’ve been watching off and on for some time now: Silver Spoon. And I enjoyed it a whole lot — the amount of time it took me to watch the damn thing from start to finish was more a matter of time than the fact I wasn’t enjoying it, I should add.

Silver Spoon is an interesting anime because although it technically falls in the “slice of life” category, it eschews the usual “high school harem” situation that genre usually favours, instead presenting an uncompromising, realistic, educational and non-judgemental look at the world of agriculture.

Now, you may not think that sounds like a particularly thrilling premise for an anime, but it really works. At least part of this is due to the fact that the protagonist Hachiken is put in much the same situation as most members of the audience when they start watching Silver Spoon: he’s bewildered, doesn’t know much about agriculture and is frequently surprised, distracted and horrified by some of the things he finds out. Over the course of the show’s two seasons, both the audience and Hachiken go on a journey of discovery and learn a lot about the sometimes harsh truths that members of the agricultural industry have to deal with every day.

The show doesn’t shy away from matter-of-factly explaining about how livestock is reared only to be sent to the slaughterhouse — and how animals that aren’t “good enough” are treated differently — though it doesn’t resort to shock tactics like actually showing the slaughtering process. (There is plenty of poo, though, and the occasional cow giving birth — though again, you don’t see full gory detail; it’s mostly about Hachiken’s reaction rather than shock value.)

It also doesn’t shy away from depicting the grim realities many modern farmers face: rising debt levels, ranches having to close down due to insufficient business, and children of long-standing farming families feeling forced into taking over the family business when they’re barely out of school. There’s a nice degree of drama to the whole series, delivered in an interesting, compelling and occasionally heartbreaking manner through Hachiken’s interactions with his classmates, all of whom have ended up at the agricultural high school in which the show is set for different reasons.

The show’s run is currently for two seasons, and while the second season does wrap up on a satisfying, suitably “final” feeling episode, there are still plenty of unresolved plotlines to explore that I believe have been covered in the manga the show is based on. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to see a third season someday, because it really did turn out to be one of the most surprisingly enjoyable anime series I’ve had the pleasure of watching for quite some time. It’s witty, it’s funny, it’s heartfelt and it has something to say without beating its audience around the head with The Message.

If you’re looking for something a little bit different from your usual fare to watch, I can highly recommend checking it out.

Check it out on Crunchyroll.

1839: These Are the Voyages

Andie and I have been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation recently. We started watching from the very beginning (yes, even the dodgy early ones) a while back, but picked it up again recently. I’ve been delighted to discover 1) how well it holds up after all these years and 2) how many of the individual episodes I’ve forgotten about.

I mean, sure, I still remember particularly noteworthy episodes such as any involving Q, Data or the Borg, but I’m finding the episodes in between to be almost as if they’re brand new to me. This is a good thing.

One of the big strengths of Star Trek: The Next Generation — and, indeed, many of the other Star Trek series — is the amount of variety there is between the different episodes. One week there might be an action-packed adventure with lots of space combat, zappy phasers and horrible alien monsters; the next there might be something like the one we watched this evening, which was skin-crawlingly creepy without veering into full-on horror; the next still there might be something that proves to be a genuinely emotional tearjerker.

Part of this variety comes from the fact that the series’ setting has the whole universe to play with; any time things are getting boring, they can just warp the show to another part of the galaxy and bring in another alien race with their own quirks, variations on the “bumpy forehead” look and even, in some cases, languages. There are recurring cultures that have been around since the original ’60s series, of course: the classic Klingons, the insidious Romulans, the devious Cardassians and the proud Vulcans all make numerous appearances. And there are new recurring cultures that have been introduced by The Next Generation: the empathic Betazoids, the symbiotic Trill (explored in considerably more depth in the follow-up series Deep Space Nine) and the deeply spiritual Bajorans (likewise), to name but three. And, of course, the rather upsetting Borg, who remain just as chilling as they did the first time they graced our screens with their biomechanical nature and curious, cube-shaped ships.

This aspect of Star Trek at large is one thing that the ambitious but flawed online RPG Star Trek Online didn’t quite get right, despite doing a lot of other things very well indeed. That variety just wasn’t there, though it was at least partly due to gameplay constraints rather than an unwillingness to be true to the source material. It’s difficult — though not, as we’ve seen on several occasions, impossible — to make a compelling diplomacy simulator, for example; it’s much more fun to give players control of a heavily armed starship and invite them to blow seven shades of snot out of anything that dares to cross their firing arc. (Star Trek Online’s space combat is one hell of a lot of fun, if you’ve never tried it; while it’s true Star Trek feel may be a little questionable, there’s no denying that it’s a fantastically enjoyable space game, pure and simple.)

So, to get back on point: I’ve been enjoying Star Trek: The Next Generation very much indeed, and when the time comes I’m looking forward to revisiting both Deep Space Nine and Voyager and watching them both through to their conclusions — something I’ve never done. Yes, even as someone who would consider himself a bit of a Trekkie/Trekker/whatever you want to call it, I’ve never seen Deep Space Nine beyond the fifth season, and I’ve never seen Voyager beyond I think the third season. While I know the latter in particular is nowhere near as fondly regarded as its two predecessors, I’m curious to finally explore the entire universe in full detail, and thanks to Netflix, I can now do just that without filling up an entire bookcase with VHS tapes.

1802: Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas to one and all! I hope you had a thoroughly pleasant and restful day — or, depending on your timezone, are still currently having a thoroughly pleasant and restful day. Andie and I spend ours over at her mother’s house, and it was a fairly traditional family Christmas all round — get up late (I must confess that this wouldn’t fly in my parents’ house, since my mother insists we all get up early to open presents; out of all of us, she has always been the one who has actually managed to hold on to Christmas enthusiasm), eat food, eat more food, open presents, sit back and ponder how much food has been eaten, maybe pick at a bit more food (particularly that which has been acquired as a present, such as those boxes of chocolates and Danish butter cookies that you only ever seem to see around Christmas time) and then gradually sink in to perusing your presents in more detail, perhaps accompanied by some appropriately rubbish Christmas TV.

Neither Andie nor I watch much TV generally these days: we typically watch the things we want to watch at our own pace via on-demand services. As such, it was actually a semi-interesting experience to catch some real-time TV, and watch some of the sort of things that we’d probably never choose to watch deliberately.

First up was Professor Branestawm, a name which I recognised from my youth, but which I couldn’t remember a whole lot about. If I remember correctly, the character was the star of a series of children’s books, but the actual content of them hadn’t stuck in my mind all that much. As I watched the new BBC adaptation, starring Harry Hill in the title role (and incorporating numerous other respected names like Charlie Higson, David Mitchell and numerous others), it came back to me, though; they were some enjoyably silly and distinctively British stories that retain their “children’s story” feel even to this day (though inevitably, someone had to go and find the “social outsider” angle of the wacky professor problematic, joyless arses that modern entertainment journos are). The adaptation itself was a lot of fun: the cast was excellent, Hill played the title role with aplomb, and the whole thing didn’t outstay its welcome, in fact arguably being over a little too quickly if anything.

Next up, today we caught an animated movie called Gnomeo and Juliet. It will probably not surprise you to discover that this was a retelling of Romeo and Juliet through the eyes of some garden gnomes, with the dispute between the Montagues and Capulets replaced by a bitter feud between the red- and blue-hatted gnomes in the gardens of two neighbours who disliked one another very much. It was an enjoyably silly affair with some nice animation and an excellent voice cast — including the masterful casting of Jason Statham as Tybalt — though I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t have the guts to go through with the full tragic ending. At least it was lampshaded by a pleasingly witty statue of William Shakespeare, voiced wonderfully by the inimitable Patrick Stewart. And I guess you can’t really have what is clearly a children’s film ending with suicide. Probably a bad message to send to the young ‘uns and all that.

Finally, we watched the Doctor Who Christmas special today. I haven’t watched Doctor Who for ages; I got into it a little bit in the Christopher Ecclestone/David Tennant years and watched a few of the Matt Smith episodes — primarily for the vision of loveliness that is Karen Gillan, I must admit — but I haven’t been following it closely for several years now, and haven’t seen any of the Peter Capaldi episodes to date.

The episode in question was an enjoyable affair, albeit somewhat convoluted and totally ripping off Inception with the whole “dream within a dream” deal. It stood quite nicely by itself — I didn’t feel like I needed to know much of the background about the characters, so even not having seen any Capaldi episodes I was able to feel like I could enjoy it on its own merits. I’m not sure it particularly made me want to jump on board the Doctor Who hype train — Capaldi’s script in particular was a bit flat and uninteresting, with little of the Doctor’s usual personality about it, and the tension between him and the female assistant character was entirely too predictable — but I don’t feel like it wasted an hour of my life or anything; it was decent enough Christmas evening television and an appropriate enough accompaniment to biscuits and prawn rings.

Anyway. That’s that. I hope you all had a suitably acceptable haul of presents to enjoy — I got a copy of the board game Betrayal at the House on the Hill, which I’m extremely excited to give a go soon, along with a bunch of other nice goodies.

And lots of food. I think we’re good for snacks for the next six months or so.

Anyway. On that note, a merry Christmas to you, and to all a good night, or something.

1799: I Eat In a Lot of Italian Restaurants

I’ve mentioned this a few times before on these very pages, I think, but I’m not generally a fan of any sort of “reality TV”, be it the utterly pointless like Big Brother, or the vapid sort of “talent” competition coupled with obviously over-scripted “drama” from stuff like The X-Factor or The Voice.

I make one exception, however, and that’s The Apprentice.

I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly dedicated viewer of it — out of the ten seasons to date, I certainly haven’t watched all of them — but I always find it to be quite enjoyable television. It strikes a good balance between the guilty pleasure of just observing people with strong personalities clash with one another and a degree more “structure” than many of these sort of shows. There are clear tasks and objectives for the participants to strive towards — though on occasion the measurement of success is somewhat ambiguous — and, at the end of the whole process, the reward for the winner is genuinely meaningful rather than pointless. Originally it was to become Alan Sugar’s apprentice — hence the name of the show — but in more recent seasons the winner has simply gone into business with Lord Sugar, with the main bulk of the “prize” being the combination of this opportunity and a substantial initial investment from the big man himself.

The most recent series came to a close last night, and it once again proved to be quite enjoyable. It’s also been interesting to see, over the course of the last ten years, how the business world as viewed through the lens of this TV show has changed. This year’s victor Mark is set to start running an online marketing business for Lord Sugar — an entry into a crowded market, for sure, but something which Mark himself clearly believes in… and also a kind of business that really didn’t exist in the way it does today back when The Apprentice first launched. (It was quite telling to see in the You’re Hired! segment of the final show that a lot of people seemed genuinely to have no idea what Mark’s business would involve — Internet marketing and search engine optimisation is still largely black magic to a lot of people.)

I won’t pretend to know anything about business, however, so the appeal elements of the show for me largely relate to people-watching. And this year’s cast was made up of a pleasingly diverse array of different characters. There was the youthful exuberance of Solomon, the eccentricity and arrogance of Sarah, the almost-unflappable nature of Katie and, of course, the bromance between Mark and Daniel. Notably, unlike many other reality shows, there was a mix of both likeable and dislikeable people in there, meaning that most people watching would probably be able to find both someone they could relate to and someone they really wanted to see suffer at the hands of Lord Sugar and his aides in the boardroom.

It’s disappointing to hear that Nick will be leaving the show after this series, but I thought it wouldn’t quite be the same after Margaret left, too, so I’m sure it will adapt in next year’s installment.

By far the best thing about this 10th year anniversary of the show, however, is that there’s a brand-new Cassetteboy video in the same vein as the one at the beginning of this post — and so, what better way to sign off than with that very video? Enjoy!

1773: Panel Beater

It was fashionable a while back to hate on that staple of British TV, the comedy panel show. I’m not entirely sure what there was to complain about — aside from the sheer number of this type of show on our screens, of course — but I never quite fell in line with what appeared to be popular (well, Twitter) opinion.

Why? Well, because I really enjoy panel shows. They’re simple, enjoyable, lightweight, eminently disposable entertainment that are perfect for vegging in front of the TV, watching over dinner or falling asleep in front of. They don’t place any particular demands on the audience, though if they’re a topical show they can be one means of viewing the week’s happenings, albeit through a comedically skewed lens.

And some of them have been running for a very long time indeed, which is impressive in itself. Have I Got News For You is, I believe, one of the most long-running examples, but I was surprised to discover the other day that music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks has been running for double-digit years, too.

These shows have remained fairly true to their original format over the years, though Never Mind the Buzzcocks has degenerated into chaos in an extremely enjoyable manner as the years have passed, with the latest series fronted by Rhod Gilbert being more like a bunch of slightly drunk mates sitting around pissing about than an organised game show.

The format has given us some true greats of television in more recent years, too. Few could deny that the show now most readily associated with the plummy tones of Stephen Fry — Q.I., of course — is an absolute classic of entertaining, educational television that masterfully combines cheeky humour with genuinely interesting facts about the world we live in and the people we share it with.

I’ve even pondered experimenting with the format myself in the form of a video games podcast in the panel show style. I still think it has a ton of unexplored potential in non-mainstream TV spaces, and think it would be an interesting thing to do at some point. It would also require a ton of preparation, however, so I’m not sure how practical it would be to do on a regular basis. Something to ponder, though!