The Doctor Falls: A Haunting Look at Love, Loss, Death and Hope

Doctor Who is, and always has been, a family drama, so in theory it should be palatable and accessible to all points of the age spectrum at all times; in practice it’s always oscillated wildly between the worlds of childhood and adulthood. There are some episodes a little too silly or garish for my tastes, but which my son adores. Equally, there are episodes I consider mature, thought-provoking and insightful that my son considers confusing, boring or terrifying, or sometimes all three at once.

The show’s tone can change between and within seasons, and sometimes even within episodes themselves. From its inception the show’s been on a tone rollercoaster: from the stern and semi-educational stylings of William Hartnell’s grandfatherly doctor, to the karate-chop hijinks of Jon Pertwee, to the Mary Whitehouse-bating body horror and gothic grizzliness of Tom Baker’s early years, to the girny slapstick buffoonery  of Sylvester McCoy’s maiden season, to the multi-layered, sometimes senselessly intricate and confusing pseudo-nonsense of Steven Moffat’s stewardship.

Season 10 of Doctor Who (or season 37 if you’re that way inclined), its most recent, has grappled so ferociously and frequently with love, loss and the haunting spectre of death that it’s hard to imagine the gooey cuteness of the Adipose, Pex of Paradise Towers or the farty menace of the Slitheen existing in the same universe. While the show has also never been funnier – the impromptu appearance of the Pope in Bill’s living room being an especial highlight this season – Capaldi’s impending departure has cast a death-shaped shadow over the season that’s introduced a heavy, inescapable note of sadness to the show. If this sounds like a criticism, it most definitely isn’t. The marriage of mirth and melancholy has been a godsend for the show, as has the marriage of Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie, who have been uniformly excellent together. And let’s not forget Matt Lucas, who was an incredibly pleasant surprise – almost a revelation – as Nardole.

Steven Moffat is occasionally guilty of over-loading his narrative, throwing more elements and novelties into a story than its structure can bear, until the episode collapses in on itself, or disappears through a wormhole up its own arse. ‘The Doctor Falls’, however, was pretty much perfect in terms of pacing, mood, dialogue, plot, emotion, the loops and links within the double-episode finale and to the series’ own past, and the deft handling of some of Doctor Who’s most iconic monsters and villains. The Doctor Falls – haunting and affecting; immersed in hope, horror, sadness and goodbyes, and all draped in the cold white of death – was a fitting swan-song for Bill and Nardole, and a somberly satisfying sort-of send-off for both the twelfth doctor and Steven Moffat himself.

David Tennant’s pre-regenerative parting plea – ‘I don’t want to go’ – is regarded with a sneer by a vocal minority of fans, who consider it a particularly egregious example of Russell T Davies’ over-fondness for schmaltz and sentimentality. The Doctor would never behave like that, they snipe. He never greeted any of his previous regenerations in such a spirit of whiny arrogance before.  It’s not death, just change.

But it is a death. How could it be anything other? When we move towns, countries or houses, when we leave school, get divorced, become parents or start a new job, our changing brains and circles (of both friends and influence) and circumstances and stances and outlooks change so drastically – albeit slowly over time and not finger-click quick like a regeneration – that the new people we become are almost entirely disparate entities, with perhaps only a tangential connection to our ‘true’ or ‘original’ self. We break with our pasts, our youths, our lives, in a dance of perpetual reinvention. Imagine how we would feel if we routinely changed our entire body: face, physiology, biochemistry, height, weight, age (gender?), everything. Who would ‘we’ be?

Moffat managed to make the Doctor’s impending regeneration feel like the most final of goodbyes, despite the fact that we all know it isn’t. His handling of both the Doctor and the Master/Missy really hammered home the point that each new version of these characters is so distinct from the others as to be wholly separate beings. The Twelfth Doctor has moved away from the exquisite alienness of his first few years to embrace a deeply earnest sense of humanity and kindness. Missy found redemption, of sorts, through death at the hands of her previous incarnation. With that in mind, it makes sense to arrive at the conclusion that if Time Lords can counter their core instincts, if regeneration can favour revolution over evolution, then each regeneration is certainly a death. But the final message needn’t be fatalistic. Perhaps the feeling we should take away from the finale is that the power, and hope, of change resides in all of us.

The Doctor Falls lends legitimacy to Tennant’s farewell, and adds a greater poignancy and sadness to Capaldi’s upcoming exit, an exit I’m already very, very sad about. On the strength of this incredible episode (both of its parts) I may even miss Moffat, too.

The Walking Dead Season 7A: What happened, and what’s going on… and what went wrong?

It’s fair to say that the front-half of The Walking Dead’s seventh season has attracted a lukewarm response from audiences and critics alike, despite the arrival of Negan, everyone’s favourite trash-talking, bat-wielding sociopath.

So what went wrong? I’d contend that The Walking Dead’s biggest enemy has been the audience’s expectations. Never before has a show or a movie taken such a continuous, long-form look at the nuts and bolts of a zombie apocalypse. A zombie movie has a definite arc: there’s an outbreak, society collapses, the survivors endure horror and heartache, a plan is hatched or a quest undertaken, and slowly and painfully the survivors learn to adapt. The movie then ends on a note either of hope or nihilism. The zombies never linger long enough to lose their terror, certainly never long enough to become a manageable nuisance.

The Walking Dead has entered its ‘manageable nuisance’ stage, and many viewers now find themselves struggling to reconcile the show’s new direction with their expectations of it being a man-against-monster zombie survivalist saga. Nobody can talk such viewers out of their apathy or active dislike; however, it’s worth pointing out that if the show had simply continued to place its zombies front-and-centre – if the story hadn’t expanded to incorporate new challenges, obstacles and threats – we would have become as desensitised to the undead as the show’s characters have by this point in the narrative. The Walking Dead had to end or evolve, and if you’re willing to accept its evolution, then you have to cut it a certain degree of slack during its transition.

I only started reading the Walking Dead comics after the show’s sixth season finale. I very quickly gorged myself on them, catching up and then overtaking the TV show. By the time Lucille had crashed down on the heads of her flesh-and-blood victims, I was already in a post-Negan, Whisperer-infested world. I’d also decided that the quintessential Negan could only be the brutish, black-and-white, fuck-fuckity-fuck-stick version from the comic books (you can read my article about that here). It’s fair to say that Jeffrey Dean Morgan had something of an uphill struggle against my expectations. As did the entirety of the seventh season itself.

While the show doesn’t follow an identical trajectory to its source material – and has different characters and different versions of existing characters to boot – I already knew the main thrust of the narrative, meaning that when certain scenarios began to unfold on screen, I had a fair idea of what would happen next, and in some cases who would die. I wonder if these two related things – how much I’d enjoyed comic book Negan, and my knowledge of the main story beats to come – robbed me of my objectivity and sense of surprise, which in turn left me pre-disposed to view the show comparatively and analytically, instead of through the gut and the adrenal gland (which of course is the manner in which The Walking Dead is best enjoyed).

That being said – and while it’s obviously impossible for me to un-read the comic books and watch those first eight episodes again through untainted eyes – I do believe something has been severely off-kilter with season seven so far; problems that run deeper than the show’s new direction, and my foreknowledge of the source material. I can’t remember ever enjoying a fresh batch of episodes less. Sure, The Walking Dead has always had slower episodes, and weaker episodes, and filler episodes, but these are usually buoyed by a mix of competent, good and occasionally great episodes either side. Not so this season. All of the episodes thus far have felt lukewarm and lacklustre, and somehow lacking thrust and cohesion. Many of the big dramatic beats, especially the deaths in the premiere and Rick and Negan’s jolly RV trip, were handled clumsily and gratuitously. The show has never felt so coldly nihilistic, and that’s saying something in a series threaded through with so much death, destruction and misery.

I understand that in order for the coming war to mean something, and for the inevitable victory to provide us with a visceral dose of catharsis, our heroes must first be trampled deeper into the dirt than they’ve ever been trampled before. We have to fear for them, we have to feel their sense of pain, impotence and outrage. We have to be introduced to and start to care about all of the potential allies that are going to be thrown together in the back half of the season, and have a fair idea of the mechanics of the enemy camp, and the tenuous fear-soaked peace that keeps the Saviours in power. I understand the chess pieces have to be moved into place, and the pace slackened to prepare for the fireworks. But still… meh. At first I thought the problem was Negan. But I’ve come to realise that the real problem is Rick.

Not Andrew Lincoln, you understand, who has always done terrific work as Rick Grimes. But Rick the character, who suffers in comparison to his more effective comic-book counterpart. While it’s true that Comic Rick has had his lapses of judgement, spells of foolhardiness, and suffered the odd psychotic break, he’s always felt like a leader in both name and deed, fully deserving of the title and capable of handling the weight of the crown that goes with it. His ruthlessness and occasional recklessness is tempered by a strong conscience and a pragmatic outlook. I can see why his people like him, trust him, respect him and follow him.

The only real evidence that TV Rick is a great leader is the amount of times the other characters repeatedly tell each other that Rick is a great leader. To my mind, he only has two stock responses to most managerial and logistical problems: cry face, or full psycho. Case in point, Comic Rick only swallows down Negan’s brutality in order to lull him into a false sense of security. Even as Lucille swings down atop Glen’s skull, Rick is formulating a plan to take that mad, cackling bastard down, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against him, because that’s who Rick is, and that’s what he does. He’s strong and capable, even in his darkest and most testing moments.

Game of Thrones may be able to juggle the narrative demands of an entire world and its multifarious clans and characters, offering up a smorgasbord of delicious little interlocking short stories that served together are greater than the sum of their parts, but The Walking Dead – while definitely an ensemble show – really needs Rick as its focus, its point-of-view, its through-line. The lack of Rick – and especially the lack of a strong Rick more in-line with the comic book incarnation of the character – has been to the show’s detriment.

Unless of course this Ricklessness is part of a deliberate strategy. I’m thinking more and more that perhaps the ground is being prepared for a shocking shake-up that will serve as the biggest break from the source material imaginable: the death of Rick Grimes. One thing season seven has done particularly well is to promote the strength and resilience of the show’s female characters, especially Maggie, who is an obvious and believable contender for the top spot should Rick ever take a long, one-way walk into Walkersville. It’s worth steeling yourself for such an eventuality. For once in the show’s history, the possibility of Rixit doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

I sincerely hope that, whatever lies in Rick’s immediate future, the Walking Dead will return with a barnstorming, seat-of-the-pants, solid smattering of tense and exciting episodes, to exorcise the malaise of this season’s opening half, and perhaps even grant it a retrospective pardon. The first eight episodes may not have rocked my world or inspired much in the way of hope or enthusiasm, but there was still plenty to enjoy: Carol (she’s my ‘if x dies, we riot’ character); the introduction of King Ezekiel and his pet tiger; the effective and over-due fleshing out of peripheral characters like Rosita, Father Gabriel and Tara; Daryl’s stay at Dick Dastardly’s Dog-food Motel; and the mid-season finale, which was actually very good, and finally convinced me that Jeffrey Dean Morgan was the right man for the role of Negan; he really owned the character in ‘Hearts Still Beating’, seemed to swagger straight onto Alexandria’s twee suburban streets from the pages of the comic book. I’m sorry I doubted you, Jeffrey. Perhaps you just needed a shave.

One thing I didn’t enjoy – and which I gather had fans howling into their hankies – was the emotionally manipulative reunion of our band of heroes at the episode’s climax. Those few minutes of silent smiles, nods, tears, hugs and raised eyebrows, all set to uplifting music, felt a bit too on-the-nose, like a cross between a music video and an episode of a soap opera. I couldn’t help but remember a funny video I watched on YouTube a few years ago, where the musical score was removed from the scene at the end of Return of the Jedi, as the heroes are receiving their medals. It just looked ridiculous, and made me laugh like a loon.

I’m under no illusions about The Walking Dead. It’s a compulsive show, incredibly popular and lucrative, but it isn’t, and never will be in my opinion, a truly classic show; certainly not when stacked against worthy behemoths like The Wire, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. That’s not to say that it hasn’t produced thrilling narratives, or produced some truly great episodes: the pilot, 18 Miles Out, Better Angels, Seed, Clear, Internment, Too Far Gone, After, The Grove, No Sanctuary, Consumed, What’s Happened and What’s Going On, JSS and Here’s Not Here, to name the stand-outs.

Lest you imagine I’m launching an attack, it goes without saying that I’m very fond of The Walking Dead, else I wouldn’t expend so much time and energy thinking and writing about it. And while the show may never be uttered in the same breath as the true classics of TV’s first and second Golden Ages, it’s shown itself more than capable of greatness in seasons gone bye (sic). And I sincerely hope that it’s able to reclaim some of its past vigour.

So come on, showrunners, Let’s do it.

Let’s make The Walking Dead great again.

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MORE ZOMBIE ARTICLES I WROTE FOR ‘DEN OF GEEK’

Syfy’s Z Nation: fun, low budget and well worth your time

How will The Walking Dead end?

When zombies attacked … Neighbours (and other shows)

And another from this website, reviewing S05E09.

 

Negan: The Walking Dead’s Saviour? Emmm…

Negan in the comic books is physically imposing and plausibly psychotic. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a fine actor, but he somehow doesn’t feel like the right man for the role. Negan needed to be part Henry Rollins, part Tony Soprano, and part Wilson Fisk. For his interpretation of Negan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems to be channelling Ian McShane’s mid-life crisis. I’m convinced by neither his physicality nor his charm. He spends the bulk of his time on screen slinking about in his ‘geez a gobble’ leather-jacket, cradling a barbed cock-proxy and blathering about pussies. He’s little more than a post-apocalyptic, post-watershed Del Boy; a washed-up Fonzie after a long spell in AA.

TV Negan doesn’t seem especially cunning and, crucially, he doesn’t inspire dread, tension or terror like the Governor or the crazy cannibals before him. When he raises his voice to shout, employing his weirdly over-emphasised, sub-Shatner shtick, it’s not a mercurial, megalomaniacal, homicidal demigod that’s brought to mind, but a hitherto mild-mannered deputy head teacher losing his shit at the school assembly. TV Negan is simply a smug, sleazy, cheeky asshole, who just happens to have insinuated himself into a position of supreme authority while everyone was looking the other way. Not only does he not feel like a real and credible threat, he doesn’t even feel like a real guy; just a composite of hammy panto villains, a wicked step-mother that occasionally gets to stove people’s heads in with a baseball bat.

The Saviours themselves are an odd phenomenon, too. Here’s a band of maniacs hundreds strong, spread out across a wide geographical area, with outposts and spotters and tentacles everywhere, and yet the group from Alexandria never encountered them once. Not until Rick and his crew turned up dragging death and bad-luck behind them like a plough. These days, no-one can sneak out for a piss without a man with an AK47 jumping out from the bushes and demanding half. Negan himself was introduced as a near mythical figure, always spoken of in hushed tones; a living legend that was as elusive as a smile on Michonne’s face; a man who never revealed himself, and kept to the shadows, his people even employing the old ‘I Am Spartacus’ technique to keep his identity hidden from the masses… what happened to all that? Now the gobby fucker pops round for tea about six times a week, usually without back-up. He’s an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in an illuminous jacket with a GPS tracker in the top pocket. He’ll be doing a fucking book tour next.

I can’t wrap my head around the mechanics of how TV Negan managed to amass such a cowed and loyal, multifarious following of normals and nutcases alike; deeply puzzled as to why he hasn’t been assassinated. He doesn’t seem to have an especially sympathetic or trustworthy high command around him to act as his buffer, and any carroty behaviour he exhibits is rendered pretty much void by his vast preference for the stick. I get that other people’s greed and fear, and the carte blanche he gives them to unleash their ids while in his company keep them enjoying (or submitting to) Negan’s reign of terror, but that again begs the question: why hasn’t one of the innumerable violent psychopaths in his crew assassinated him?

All Negan seems to do is talk. And talk. And talk. And talk. Punctuating every other line with a triple knee-collapse, like he’s just finished a particularly tricky tap dance: ta-da! Or perhaps auditioning for a new, post-apocalyptic boy-band (sometimes I think he’s going to launch into that thing people do where they pretend to be walking down a set of stairs). And talk. And talk. And talk. And talk some more. Man, does that guy talk. Every episode in which he’s yet featured has consisted of five per cent Daryl scowling, five per cent Rick’s cry face, ten per cent Carl’s atrocious attempts at emoting, forty per cent people wandering in the forest, twenty per cent miserable people whispering in dark rooms, twenty per cent cheeky ‘I’m yer pal but I’m no really yer pal’ winsome grins, and six thousand per cent Negan talking.

In the comics, Negan’s talking is a joy to behold, principally because he’s allowed to talk as a real murderous dictator would, and not in a watered-down, neutered way to make his stylings appropriate for American network television. Negan does the ‘poopy pants’ line he utters upon first meeting Rick in the comics, too, but because he also peppers his sentences with a barrage of fucks, the discordance of the ‘poopy pants’ line renders it – and his entire subsequent speech – both scarier and funnier.

Here are some choice excerpts of comic-book Negan getting his swear on:

“So now I’m going to beat the holy fuck fucking fuckedy fuck out of one of you with my bat.”

“And here I am. Friendly as a fuckless fuck on a fuck free day.”

“You think I got all these little communities at my feet because I roam the countryside bashing in Asian-American skulls? That’s no fucking way to make friends. Everyone toes the line because I provide them a service. I keep them safe. We’re the saviours, not the kill your friends so you don’t fucking like us at alls.”

“I assure you, m’am, he’s dead as fuck.”

“So now our big swinging dick is going to swing harder…and faster, until we take off like a motherfucking helicopter and blow all these motherfuckers away.”

Isn’t it odd that the network and its advertisers aren’t too concerned about things like a man being literally torn apart in a set of revolving doors, or rotten corpses chasing after children, but absolutely will not tolerate the use of the word ‘fuck’? That’s the word I use when I stub my toe. I can only imagine what I’d say if a zombie tried to rip my cheek off with its stinking, contaminated teeth. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be ‘Cor blimey, guv’nor, this is a pickle and no mistake.’

I often wish that HBO had picked up ‘The Walking Dead,’ thrown a bigger budget and a more authentic cavalcade of sex, swearing and violence at the screen. More and more, I’m coming to prefer the insane inventiveness and all-round bat-shit craziness of SyFy’s Z Nation, which – while clearly ridiculous – always leaves me with a grin on my face. The arrival of Negan in The Walking Dead comics heralded an upswing in risk, excitement, tension, horror, hope and humour. I can’t say the same for the TV show, which appears to have slipped into a coma in its seventh season, awaiting a final and merciful headshot. Season six wasn’t perfect, but it at least had a smattering of excellent episodes to balance out the dreck and the crass manipulations. Season seven has Negan. That should’ve been enough. Sadly – at this stage at least – it isn’t.

Come on, Negan, Mr Poopy Pants. There’s still time for you to save the show by fulfilling your destiny as Mr Motherfucking Shitty Fuck Pants.

The Unspeakable Evil of Children’s Television

Whenever I watch contemporary kids’ TV with my young son I find myself yearning for the simplicity and innocence of my own, long-ago youth: back in the halcyon days when there were only four tightly regulated TV channels, and no mobile phones or internet to hold our attentions hostage with a cavalcade of frivolity, violence, and disquieting pictures of strangers’ genitalia.

Back in my day (as I hurtle towards the grave, I suspect that this is a phrase I’ll be uttering with ever more depressing frequency), kids’ shows were good, clean fun. Systems were in place to ensure it. Shows that fell foul of the era’s high standards of morality would answer to the Mean Queen of Clean herself, the ferocious Mary Whitehouse. If Whitehouse thought you were peddling filth to our nation’s kids, she wouldn’t muck about. She’d send hitmen to your door. Naturally, in-keeping with her credo, the severity of the assassinations would be commensurate with the time of day, with more violent murders being saved for after the watershed. Neck-breaking was okay at 9pm, just as long as both hitman and victim remembered that swearing was never permissible. A family-friendly lunch-time kill would typically involve a hitman passing a note to their target which read: “PLEASE DIE OF NATURAL CAUSES, BUT ONLY IF YOU WANT TO. LOVE, YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOOD HITMAN.”

In kids’ shows back then, there were no missiles loaded with sexual references – or clever deconstructions of TV itself – aimed above young heads. Instead, there were only the serene sounds of surf and seagulls down at Cockleshell Bay, the mesmeric chirping of birds in Postman Pat’s sleepy glen, and the gentle tones of Tony Hart as he tried to find nice things to say about the abominable artwork hanging in his gallery. “Oh, this one of a dog is really nice. I love the deep slash mark down one of its cheeks, suggestive of a recent knife fight. And just look at the sexual death threat the artist has scrawled at the bottom of the picture in his own faecal residue. Lovely work there from Harry in Glasgow, aged 4.”

My two-year-old son’s current favourite is the unspeakably hellish In the Night Garden: a garishly bright Nightbreed-ian nightmare that appears to be set in the Hungarian afterlife, as imagined by David Lynch. The show stars David Cameron as Iggle Piggle, a hideous, lop-sided blue peanut with a penchant for sailing on kids’ hands and making weird farting noises. Piggle’s best friends are a little girl with half-Peloquin/half-Predator hydraulic hair; an obsessive-compulsive zombie Teletubby who lives in a rock; tiny beings dressed as the Spanish Inquisition who continually abandon their 8000 children; and a trio of creatures that have crawled straight from a disturbed serial killer’s acid flashbacks. The characters travel around in something called the Ninky Nonk, which sounds like the sort of unhelpful slur once favoured by my racist grandfather. In the Night Garden is bizarre and terrifying, like waking up next to your dead grandmother who’s inexplicably dressed as a clown.

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I resolved to expose my son only to the healthy and wholesome kids’ shows of old, which I tracked down on-line and on DVD for the betterment of his tiny soul.

But then I actually re-watched some of them.  I quickly discovered – to paraphrase Herman Munster – that sometimes dead is better. Certainly my televisual era had been no oasis in the brain-deadening desert.There was horror and betrayal around every corner. He-Man had lied to me: told me that I could remove my clothes and go on a sword rampage without fear of being recognised. Bertha, lovely Bertha, had coaxed me into a life of low-paid drudgery by convincing me that factories were magical places with futuristic robots and vast sentient machines. Uncle Rolf had been exposed as the worst kind of crook. Goodbye wobble-board, goodbye didgeridoo, goodbye Rolf-a-roo. Off to maximum security memory prison with the lot of you (flicks through Rolodex of possible jokes based upon Rolf’s pantheon of catchphrases, and rejects most of them on grounds of obviousness and poor taste). How could the man whose famous catchphrase was a prolonged sexual pant have gone so completely wrong?

God damn you, TV childhood: you were a sham! What follows are the highlights (perhaps lowlights) of my journey through the chilling subtexts and undisguised horror of the shows that formed my youth. It’s certainly easy to see why my adult mind is such a labyrinth of depravity.

Let’s get izzy wizzy busy living, or let’s get izzy wizzy busy dying

sooty1Civil War rages in the Marvel Movieverse. Heroes – humans and Gods, mutants and monsters – clash over issues of moral authority. To whom are these heroes accountable? Does any government have the right to control or command them? Who will protect society from the excesses of our so-called saviours?

Whether you find yourself siding with House Stark or planting your feet firmly in Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood, there’s one thing on which we all can agree: at least the Marvel lot know how to put a shift in. At least they’re actually doing something about the horrors of the world, unlike some lazy magical bastards I could mention.

Yes, I’m talking about Sooty. Here is a bear more powerful than all of the Avengers combined, and who holds in his tiny, wand-packed paw the power to end world hunger, reverse global warming and bring the dead back to life, but who seems content to spend his days using his magic to splat pies into Matthew Corbett’s face. ‘Screw you, Africa,’ his little bear face seems to say, ‘I’m too busy continually assaulting a beleagured middle-aged man to tackle drought.’

Sooty is so callous he won’t even grant his best friend Sweep the power of intelligible speech, condemning the sad-faced little dog to a lifetime of squeaking like a bloody imbecile. And Matthew, poor Matthew, who is supposed to be Sooty’s closest friend, mentor and confidante, is forced – like his father Harry before him – to act as Sooty’s intermediary on earth, a relationship that’s clearly conducted in the same spirit as the one between Kilgrave and Jessica Jones. The little rat could speak if he wanted to; that Sooty never lowers himself to engage directly with the human race makes his disdain for us – and for Corbett – painfully apparent. Come on, Corbett, stick your hand up my little arse, you slag!

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MATTHEW: “What’s that Sooty? [whisperwhisper] You want to use your magic powers to make me a helpless vessel for your wickedness? I don’t think that’s very nice, Sooty, I… [whisperwhisper] What’s that, Sooty? [whisperwhisper] If I don’t do it the next pie will have hydrofluoric acid in it? [Sooty taps desk with wand].”

Sooty never even used his magic to cure Matthew Corbett’s cancer. Now THAT’S a cunt.

I’d also be interested to know exactly where Sooty was on the day Rod Hull took his tumble. I think it’s time to re-open the case.

The terrible truth about chipmunks

alvin-and-the-chipmunks1In the 1940s, Disney perpetuated the stork myth in its movies. It showed babies arriving by parachute rather than by the more conventional, and ickier, womb-based route. I guess the puritans of the time didn’t want children imagining animals – or, by extension, their own parents – rutting like beasts. In the late 1960s, Hannah Barbera gave Scooby Doo a nephew instead of a son, presumably for similar reasons. Scooby was a friendly, goofy, asexual pal to his young fans. This was no time or place for the birds and the bees. Kids couldn’t be made to imagine our hero hammering away at some horny street-bitch like a four-legged sexual machine-gun.

Unfortunately, by the time the 1990s rolled around it seemed that these varieties of restraint were already a relic of a by-gone era. I recall an episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks that showed one of the chipmunks getting all goggle-eyed over a beautiful blonde woman with a big bust. The chipmunk’s eyebrows jumped up and down in that old-timey hubba-hubba way that cartoons used to sell as cute, but which we now recognise as the unspeakably licentious gesture of a burgeoning sex offender. CHIPMUNK HAS HOTS FOR HUMAN WOMAN. I think I could’ve lived with that headline, had that been the end of it. But it wasn’t. Because the human woman flirted back: giving a saucy little wiggle and blowing a kiss at the sex-struck rodent. Yes, people. You have interpreted the subtext correctly: I had just watched a woman signalling her sexual availability to a chipmunk.

Thanks, Alvin, Simon and Theodore, you depraved little assholes.Every time I wake from a fugue state in the living room with a David Attenborough documentary playing on the TV and my pants round my ankles, I’ll think of you and your terrible sexual guidance.

One more rankle about the chipmunks. This was a show about a dude who lived with a trio of talking animals in a world where there doesn’t appear to be any other talking animals… and at no point did the government bust his door down to take these creatures away to be cut open and studied? What a load of rubbish.

Open Sesame: now please close it again

sesame_1973I ordered a copy of Sesame Street Old School on DVD to introduce my young son to the bygone era of Sesame Street I grew up with, and which I still remember fondly. I was taken aback to find a warning attached to the purchase: “These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grownups and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.” What? But Sesame Street is just The Muppets with an educational remit. Then as now, there are fluffy creatures teaching kids to count, and adults dispensing pearls of wisdom about sharing your toys, not being mean, and loving your neighbour. How could any of that fail to benefit my son, whatever decade of Sesame Street it’s sampled from?

So I watched a few episodes. The title sequence shows a gang of kids making their way through an industrial wasteland that’s bedecked with gang graffiti. Next they bound over an incredibly unsafe construction site. To compound the danger, they take to the streets on their bikes minus safety helmets. Just when I thought I was maybe being a bit woolly and overcautious, the first episode started proper and a grown man took a little girl’s hand he’d never met before and invited her back to his house for milk and cookies. Cookie Monster was up next, eating crockery and… smoking? Cookie Monster’s smoking? He’s actually smoking. And now he’s eaten the pipe too. As if that wasn’t hellish enough, in the next episode The Count takes out a Latino gang with an RPG, and laughs loudly at their delicious screams (OK, maybe that last thing never happened, but you get the point).

It looks like everything that’s ever been said about the 60s, 70s and 80s is true. What a bunch of savages we were (Please also see ‘The Muppet Show’, a viewing of which moved my partner to comment: “Why are you letting our impressionable young son watch a grown woman dressed as a slutty schoolgirl sing a song about kidnapping and murdering people as she locks puppets in cellars?”) Still, at least Sesame Street of old can’t be faulted for its promotion of an inclusive society where kids and grown-ups of all different ethnicities can co-exist naturally, peacefully and happily. That’s something that was sorely lacking in other televisual neighbourhoods of the time…

There’ll be knock, ring, BNP pamphlets through your door

patHow are you enjoying your 1980s Aryan paradise, Obergruppenführer Pat? Why not just fully commit and get yourself a white-and-white cat? Maybe take the kids on a Jew-hunt across field and dale?

I used to watch Postman Pat with my racist grandfather. The show’s hark-back to a less integrated time only served to reinforce his prejudices of white supremacy. Maybe if Pat’s creators had smuggled a little diversity into the mix we could’ve saved my grandfather, or at the very least modified his world-view a little. I wasn’t looking for a miracle. A tiny concession would’ve done. As it stands my grandfather went to his grave without ever uttering the words I had so longed to hear: “I guess Sidney Poitier’s alright.” And that’s on you, Pat.

Why are there so many wrongs about Rainbow?

rainbowitvLet’s talk about Geoffrey, a grown man who lives with a menagerie of bizarre and terrifying creatures in a house that’s been decorated like a children’s nursery. Geoffrey’s bunk-mates are Bungle, a seven-foot ursine version of Norman Bates; George, a sexually precocious passive-aggressive pink hippo; and Zippy, the kind of ‘whatever’ that even Gonzo would shun. How did Geoffrey come to live with these creatures? Did he abduct them? Did he create them with a needle and thread, a bucket of DNA and a set of jump leads? Doesn’t he have a wife, or an ex-wife? A family? Someone in his life to raise an eyebrow at this rather unorthodox living arrangement? Doesn’t the gas man ever come round to read the meter?

“Hello, sir, I’m just here to check your… AARRGGHH, WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING WITH THE ZIP FACE?!! HELP ME! OH GOD HELP ME! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!”

I’d be very interested to see how Geoffrey fills out his census.

Anyway, let’s talk Zippy. What is he? Was he born with that zip across his mouth, or was he cruelly disfigured in the course of some vile experiment? At this point, I’m imagining a Human Centizippy-style origin story, in which the poor creature was forced to spend long, hideous weeks with his mouth secured by zip to Big Bird’s quaking bumhole. Perhaps as Mopatop sobbed into Zippy’s back-end through a wet strap of velcro.

However it was that Zippy’s zip came to be, why would any sane and compassionate man ever use it to silence him? Hey, Geoffrey, why not just break a chair over Zippy’s head or shoot him in the shoulder if he starts mouthing off, you total psycho? And if somebody did that to Zippy – if some sick, pseudo-Nazi surgeon added a zip to his face without his consent – why would you compound his misery by continuing to call him Zippy? Surely you’d change his name at the earliest opportunity, call him James or Timothy or Geoffrey Junior or something. If I adopted a mute kid who’d been rendered paraplegic following a hit and run incident, I wouldn’t greet him each morning with a cheery: “Hey Chairy, what do you want for breakfast?” before wheeling him down a hill for not answering quickly enough.

zipNever mind just changing his name; we have one of the greatest healthcare systems in the world. Why has Geoffrey never referred Zippy to the hospital for surgery? That, I’m sure, is what any one of us would do if Zippy ever landed in our care. We’d help him. We’d fix his face and help him to reclaim his dignity. We probably wouldn’t look at him and say: “Cool zip you’ve got stitched through your face there, Zippy. That’ll be great for the times when I want you to shut the fuck up.”

The only scenario that makes sense is that the world of Rainbow exists only inside the mind of Geoffrey, who is in reality an unemployed alcoholic and heavy drug-user. He sits all day long in a dowdy, ply-panelled bedsit, with lank, greasy hair and no teeth, waiting for his social workers Rod, Jane and Freddy to visit, rubbing his arms raw and rocking and crying in the corner chanting: “Naughty Geoffrey, going to zip you up. Don’t zip me up momma, don’t zip ol’ Geoffrey up. Oh, I’m gonna zip you up, Geoffrey, no son of mine be lisping like some pink hippo. Gonna speak proper or momma gonna skin you like a bear and zip you up, zip you right up in the mouth. OH NO, MOMMA, DON’T ZIP OL’ GEOFFREY UP, I LOVES YOU MORE’N THE RAINBOW, MOMMA! MORE’N THE RAINBOW!”

——————————————————————————————————–

And with that, I’m off to buy the complete box-set of In the Night Garden.

The CW’s Arrow: one in the eye for logic

arrow1Enjoyment of the superhero series Arrow requires a steel-reinforced suspension of disbelief. Don’t come to Arrow expecting the gritty, heightened reality of a Christopher Nolan project, or the air-tight, all-bases-covered, intricate plotting of the likes of your Wires and Breaking Bads, and especially don’t come to it expecting rich and subtle dialogue a la Better Call Saul, Transparent or The Sopranos. Your only choice is to wholeheartedly embrace Arrow’s two-fingered salute to sense, logic and reality, and simply revel in its slick ridiculousness. Switch off your reason-circuits and enjoy the glamorous, steroidal throat-punches that punctuate its cartoonish narrative.

This is a CW show, after all (apologies to the hyper-popular Supernatural and the exquisitely compulsive iZombie for the derogatory sneer). You know the basic template. All of the characters are ‘beautiful’, chiselled and dazzle-toothed, even those supposedly from the wrong side of the tracks, and living on the proceeds of crime and welfare in the unforgiving murk of the ghetto. People seem to spend their days trading clumsy snippets of exposition with each other. That’s when they’re not busy spelling out exactly how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way, at all times. Themes are hammered into your eyes like nails. Plots are always wrapped up with healthy helpings of coincidence, contrivance or deux ex machina. Or sex. If someone dies, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be back in an episode or five with a barely believable explanation for their survival.  

Furthermore, Oliver Queen is a ‘superhero’ who is rendered wholly invisible by a baggy hood pulled loosely over his face. No one ever tries to whip the hood off, even when they’re standing a half a centimetre away from him. And John Barrowman’s… a bad ass?

John Barrowman as 'The Black Arrow' in the CW's 'Arrow'.

John Barrowman as ‘The Black Arrow’ in the CW’s ‘Arrow’.

You see? That little voice – the one that watches TV and delights in shouting out, ‘Wait a minute, that could never happen, because x, y, z’ – must be silenced when watching Arrow. I’ve always done a pretty good job of suppressing that little voice. Until this week, when the fourth episode of season two turned my little voice into a crazed drill sergeant turned auctioneer.

I’ll set the scene. A black gangland boss calling himself ‘The Mayor’ rolls up to an army of cops in an armored personnel carrier. Flanked by a series of machine-gun-toting goons, The Mayor proceeds to give an angry and impassioned speech about guns, and how he’s going to use them to rule the city, ostensibly by killing lots of people with them. The violence is heavily sign-posted, to the other characters as well as to the audience. In fact, The Mayor couldn’t have less subtly foreshadowed the violence had he ended his speech by saying, ‘And now, without any further ado, and thanking you for your patience during my angry waffle about killing you, I am very pleased to announce the beginning of our bloodbath.’

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All the while the cops hunch uncertainly behind their squad cars, their guns drawn, just waiting for a cue to act, a cue to say something, a cue to do something, a concrete cue, an indisputable, cast-iron cue, but blast it, they can’t, because that cunning gang hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary, other than stand on a public street armed with automatic weapons threatening to kill everyone. Then The Mayor and his guys open fire. People dive for cover. Bullets pepper the squad cars. The cops wait a full six seconds before half-heartedly returning fire. By which point a significant proportion of the cops are dead.

Hmmm. Arrow expertly somersaulting through a horde of bullets and emerging unscathed? Women always having perfect hair even when imprisoned on a nightmarish island? John Barrowman being tougher than Chuck Norris? I can just about buy all of that. But to believe that American cops would hesitate to respond when faced with a heavily armed gang of black males in a deprived urban area – and not just hesitate, but allow themselves to be picked off like teen sluts in a 90s slasher flick? I’m sorry. In a world – in an all too real world – in which a well-heeled, unarmed black boy brandishing a hotdog is liable to end his day on a mortuary slab with fifty-six bullets ploughed into his chest, that’s just too much unreality for me.

I’m off to watch something a little more authentic, like Ben McKenzie’s acting on Gotham…

PS: I still love Arrow, even though every fibre of my being tells me that I shouldn’t.

The Walking Dead Review: Season 5 Episode 9

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So, the Walking Dead is back from its mid-season break, and with it our appetite for gorging on the harrowing exploits of the only group of people in the world with less chance of happiness than the characters in Eastenders. It’s fair to say that The Walking Dead is a show low on hope, and high on showing what little hope there is being dashed. An average episode can often make you long for a more uplifting way to spend your recreational time, like reviewing CCTV footage of fatal road traffic accidents. 

The cancer of hope is the theme hammered home more explicitly than usual in the latest episode, What’s Happened and What’s Going On. Rick, Michonne, Glen, Tyreese and the group’s newest member Noah travel to Virginia to the gated community Noah and his family called home before the outbreak; a community that poor, naïve Noah believes will both still be intact, and safe enough to act as the group’s new home and fortress. It isn’t. And it isn’t. A combination of bad people and zombies has converted the once-safe haven into the kind of dangerous, dilapidated ghost town we’ve come to know, love and expect from the show. 

The episode’s pre-credits montage offers a haunting array of images chronicling the futility of hope in the new post-civilisation world: we see Woodbury, the Prison, a painting of a cottage – with blood seeping over it – that bears an eerie resemblance to the one in which Carol mercy-killed a kid. These are all places where hope slowly established itself only to be quickly, cruelly and brutally deposed. And yet it’s clear from the expressions on Rick’s and Glenn’s faces during their conversation early on in the episode that they allowed themselves to hope that Noah was right about his former home – that it was safe, that things would get better – despite all evidence to the contrary based on the unending disappointment and suffering they’ve endured across four and a half seasons of The Walking Dead. We’ll return to that feeling later. 

The images in the montage are interspersed with a eulogy that Father Gabriel is delivering, which we have no reason to suspect is for anyone but the recently departed Beth, especially when we see the grief-stricken reactions of Maggie and Noah. While some of the images – the prison, Woodbury – are there to contextualise the theme and set the tone of the episode, others, like the service itself, are actually flash-forwards, something that doesn’t become apparent until the episode starts moving towards its heart-breaking conclusion. The whole of the opening montage is a clever – and very artfully directed – piece of misdirection which pretty much buries the death of one major character in the grave of another. We don’t realise it at the time but what we’re watching, in essence, is a trailer for the death of Tyreese. 

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Inside the gated community Rick, Glenn and Michonne move off to reconnoitre, leaving Tyreese baby-sitting a distraught Noah, who has just realised that everything and everyone he had ever known, loved or taken for granted is gone. Gripped by grief and rage, Noah runs off to his family home to see with his own eyes what has become of his mother and brothers. Tyreese follows him into the house and there, in the room once occupied by Noah’s twin brothers, he stands staring slack-jawed at photos of happier times that are stuck on the wall. While he is lost in this fugue of empathy and horror one of the reanimated brothers staggers up and sinks his teeth into the big man’s arm. 

In the scenes leading up to Tyreese’s death there are many references and allusions to childhood, both direct and indirect: Tyreese’s recollection of his father’s words about the price to be paid for becoming a citizen of the world; the very site of the attack itself, a little boy’s room; how Tyreese wedges himself under a desk like a frightened child (it reminded me of the scene in Eternal Sunshine where Jim Carrey relives his experience of being an infant).

The bulk of the episode concerns Tyreese’s battle against the infection which manifests itself through hallucinations of people from his past, both the good and the bad: the Termite he lied about killing; the two little girls who met a grizzly end in the cottage he shared with Carol; his sister’s boyfriend Bob; Beth herself, and even the Governor, who returns in the only way possible without causing a fan revolt. His dialogue with these people, his dialogue with himself, revolves around his actions and decisions since the outbreak, his commitment to forgiveness, pacifism and being a good man, and the deaths that may have followed these commitments. Ultimately, Tyreese decides that the price that must be paid to be a citizen of the world is too high – in this world at least – and allows himself to slip away towards death and some form of peace. 

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Before that happens – and before the full meaning of the pre-credits sequence becomes horribly clear – there is a thrilling sequence in which Rick and co attempt to save Tyreese by employing ‘the Hershel method’ and cutting off his infected arm. They manage to get Tyreese to the safety of the car, and speed him away, but they’re too late. During this sequence the audience is put in the same position as Rick and Glenn were in at the start of the episode: of allowing hope to seep into their hearts. I must confess that despite acknowledging the scarcity of happy endings (middles and beginnings, too) in The Walking Dead I thought, just for a moment, just for a second, that Tyreese was going to make it, and found myself doubly crushed when he didn’t. 

A sad end, then, to Tyreese, a larger-than-life, loveable character. He was an overgrown child with a heart full of huffs, tantrums, love and absolutes; a man – despite his gentle nature and pacifism – that you’d always feel safe around. It’s a shame to see him go, and even more of a shame that he never got the chance to come into his own, or fulfil the promise of the character we first met in season 3 (or indeed match the original version of Tyreese that exists in the comic books). 

Overall, What’s Happened and What’s Going On was a robust, affecting and effective 42 minutes of television. Unfortunately, the many great things about this episode – its strong and ambitious narrative structure, its haunting air of melancholy, the stand-out acting chops of Chad Coleman – are rather marred by The Walking Dead’s time-honoured over-reliance on shoddy dialogue and silly, contrived plotting that stretches credibility. Here’s a selection of the most mystifying happenings in the episode: a limping Noah being easily able to outrun Tyreese; Tyreese letting his guard down and not sweeping the whole house for threats after all he’d seen of the zombie apocalypse thus far; and Noah being rather too conveniently incapacitated on his way to fetch help from Rick. And most of Noah’s actions in this episode were either jarring or too narratively convenient, which makes me suspect either that a) the writing was a little bit shit, or b) he’s one to keep an eye on, potential-baddy-wise. 

RATING 4/5

PS: Given the way our use of IMDB usually complements our viewing, I wonder if show-makers are deliberately bringing actors back for flashbacks and dream sequences after their deaths in a bid to throw future viewers off the scent. “Oh, so The Governor makes it to season 5? Ah, Bob’s in that episode, so he obviously doesn’t die from that bite. Maybe he’s immune…”

Sons of Anarchy Finale Prediction

OK, here’s how the finale’s going to go down, trust me. (WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE SOPRANOS FINAL SCENE – ERM… SORT OF) 

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Jax enters Holsteins diner, and takes a seat near the back. He puts ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ on the jukebox. It’s not by Journey though. It’s a cover by a little-known songstress by the name of Katy Sagal, who’s certainly never been heard on Sons of Anarchy before…

Each time the bell at the front door rings, Jax looks up. Wendy and Chibs enter. So do lots of suspicious looking characters: black guys with riding leathers, an Irishman with a massive green top-hat, Robocop, some miscellaneous prostitutes. Wendy and Chibs take a seat at the booth alongside Jax. We notice Hellboy sitting at the main bar, looking back over his shoulder and aiming decidedly shifty looks in Jax’s direction. Jax ignores him.

“Where’s Abel?” he asks.

“He’s just parking the car he stole earlier,” says Wendy, “I sure hope he doesn’t stab anyone to death on the way in here.”

Jax nods. And then stands up and takes a piss right into Chibs’ eyes. “We love you Jackie Boy,” says Chibs, wiping the fresh urine from his face. Hellboy gets up from his seat at the bar and heads to the bathroom. It’s tense. Real tense. The doorbell rings again. Jax looks up…

and then the One Niners, the Los Mags, the Mayans, the IRA, the Armenians, the Byz Lats, The Grim Bastards, The Devil’s Tribe, The Hells’ Angels, a platoon of marines, the Bolivian military, a legion of Roman soldiers, the hordes of Hades itself and Vic Mackey all storm into Holstein’s with their guns raised, and shouting angrily. There’s a massive gun fight, and one-hundred-and-eighty-five people die writhing in their own torn flesh, blood and guts. Who cares? Nobody can remember who’s who, what’s what, who did what to who and why. There’s some discernible rape amid the carnage, which is displayed to the audience through the medium of a tastefully scored montage. Wendy gets her head blown off, Chibs gets his rib-cage exploded by a shot-gun blast, and Jax goes down in a slow-mo hail of bullets. Hellboy exits the toilets, and surveys the scene with a shake of his giant head. He squats down for a shit on Jax’s dead face.

“Hmmm,” he says, “Everyone’s dead, all right. No ambiguity or subtext here. No siree. Just this crap.”

Then the doorbell chimes again, and Abel walks in with Hamlet. Abel throws back his head and laughs. “Who’s a boy got to gang-rape around here to get some onion rings?” Then he stabs Hamlet in the eye. The scene ends with a close-up of Jax’s bare ass, a trickle of blood running down the crack towards his impossibly white trainers. Fade out.

Then we fade in, and see a hairy-faced Dexter peeking his head into the diner. “Thank you, Kurt Sutter,” he says, dropping to his knees in the blood, a tear running down his cheek. “Thank you so fucking much.”

Scotland Decides… What to Watch on TV

Let’s take a look at what’s happened to TV in Scotland – and Britain beyond – in the wake of the referendum result. Welcome to a Scotland where every TV programme has something to do with independence, a lack thereof, or the wankiness of government. 

To contribute to a future edition of this TV Guide, please email your submissions to theotherjamie@hotmail.co.uk, including your name and location, and if enough people get involved I’ll do another one.

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Fawlty Powers

Cameron Fawlty is desperately trying to keep the guests in his run-down hotel happy so that his business doesn’t collapse around him. He does appear to be trying rather harder to please the rich guests, especially the ones with Home Counties’ accents, but let’s not get cynical, that’s probably just coincidence. Cameron is helped along by his luckless servant Man-No-Very-Well, of whom Cameron remarks to other guests: “I’m terribly sorry, he’s from Caledonia.” Get ready to shriek with laughter as Man-No-Very-Well is repeatedly struck over the head and threatened with a loss of earnings and a reduction of his liberty.

Tonight’s episode is everyone’s favourite, ‘The Scottish’, where we get to hear the immortal line: “Don’t mention the Barnett Formula! I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it alright. So, that’s two Scotch eggs, a dismantled NHS, a billion barrels of oil, a West Lothian question, and four deep fried Mars Bars.”

Not to mention: “Well you started it.” “No, we didn’t.” “Yes you did, you elected Salmond.”

Miliband of Brothers

Ep 6. A Scottish battalion – low on weapons and ammo – is coming under heavy fire from Westminster forces at the Battle of Referendum. General Miliband sends them a telegraph from HQ 800 miles away ordering them to stand down and allow their bollocks to be shot off by the enemy, who aren’t really their enemy, even though it might seem that way because they’re in the process of being attacked by them. Miliband vows that after the battle he’ll definitely send more weapons and ammo. Definitely. One hundred per cent. Possibly. Well, maybe. Put it this way, he’ll seriously think about thinking about talking about thinking about it. “Thufferin’ thuccotash, chaps,” signs off Miliband. “We’re all in this together! Thee you on the other thide!”

Lamonty Python’s Lying Circus

Johann Lamont and the Scottish Labour Party are back, and just as side-splittingly hilarious as you remember them. Includes the all-time classic ‘Dead Party’ sketch:

Johann Cleese: “Look, matey, I know a dead party when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.”

Michael Failin: “No, no, it’s not dead, it’s, it’s restin’! Remarkable party, the Glaswegian Red, int’it, ay? Beautiful plumage.”

Johann Cleese: “The plumage don’t enter into it. It’s stone dead. This party has ceased to be. This is an ex-party!”

Get ready to guffaw your head off at more of your old favourites, like the Argument Clinic sketch (“Hello. I hear Scottish Labour is going to be a strong, credible force in the next election.”  “No it isn’t.” “But Labour stands for the working man against people like the Tories.” “No it doesn’t.”), The Four Scotsmen sketch (“I used to get out of my bed and go down the mines to work for twelve hours a day, and when I got home, I’d always go to the polling booth to vote for Labour. But you try and tell the young people today that… they won’t believe you.”) and, of course, the funniest sketch of all, The Ministry of Silly Cunts.

The Far Right Stuff

Join your host Nigel Farage for his mirth-filled mid-morning magazine show. Joining him today are Nick Griffin and Paul Golding. Why not call in and share your views on immigration with the guys? (Unless you’re an immigrant, in which case don’t waste our fucking taxes on a phone call.). The Far Right Stuff hopes to relocate its studios to Westminster in 2015, and go on to ensure even better coverage for viewers in Scotland.

smash

BBC News

A new series of the hilarious comedy.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

The exciting tale of an ordinary faction of loyalist Rangers Supporters who use their super-powers to stamp out the twin evils of Republicanism and Nationalism. In today’s episode, the gang is threatened by a wee 9-year-old girl waving a saltire in George Square. Donning their trademark Union Jack body-suits and balaclavas, and with a cry of ‘WE ARE THE PEOPLE’, they bond together and crack out their mightiest super-powers of all: the powers of “kicking fuck oot ay cunts an’ that” and “settin’ fire tay some cunt’s bin coz he’s prolly a bleck or a Tim.”

Mighty Corstorphine Flower Arrangers

In this spin-off show, a group of rich old Tory women from Edinburgh form a guild, which they use as a cover to fight the forces of fairness, justice and progressiveness. Watch out for their special power of saying ‘NO THANKS’ really loudly, and their devastating super-attack of ‘not wanting to risk the value of their husband Gerald’s stock portfolio’.

Lamont and Eck’s Friday Morning Take-away

Johann Lamont and Alex Salmond are back for a special post-referendum edition of the popular studio-based game-show in which Alex Salmond desperately tries to give autonomy, prestige and democracy to the Scottish people, and Johann Lamont tries to take it all away again.

Look out for the hilarious round where Lamont has only five minutes to terrify as many old people as possible by phoning them up and telling them that they’re going to lose their savings. Tonight’s first special guest is the woman from that advert who thinks the best time of the day is when they’re all out and it’s nice and quiet. Tonight’s other special guest is Tommy Sheridan, who’ll probably try to fuck her.

Cameron-nation Street

Just to recap the story so far: The Cabin was forced to close due to the opening of the town’s ninth Tesco Megastore just two streets away. Ken Barlow hung himself once he realised that his state pension was only six pence a month. Twelve residents have died since it now costs £6000 for a tub of paracetamol. All of the street’s houses have been repossessed. Actually, nobody lives on Cameron-nation Street anymore. Tonight’s episode is just a 30-minute static shot of the street, accompanied by the sound of an unseen man screaming himself to death. Last in the series.

Or if you’re in the mood for a movie instead, how about Danny Alexander Champion of Fuck All or No Country Because of Old Men.

Biggest TV Disappointments of 2013: The Following

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Kevin Bacon should be commended for his savvy in snapping up the lead role in this bold, brutal, and exhilarating piece. Yes, the production values are high, the dialogue is crisp and knowing, and visually it’s slick and vibrant, but make no mistake: Bacon’s the real star here. Everything is lifted to another level by the power of his performance; every second he’s on screen reminds us why this talented actor deserves his place at the top of the A-list. In a word: unmissable. 

You’re confused, aren’t you? Here you are expecting me to be giving The Following a ruddy good thrashing – pants down, six of the best – and yet here I am lavishing praise on the bugger. Well, not exactly. In actual fact, the paragraph above has nothing whatsoever to do with The Following. I was applauding those EE ads Kevin Bacon stars in, which begin to look like a series of mini-Citizen Kanes when set against The Following.

bacon1Remember Kevin Bacon in Sleepers? Remember when he led those boys down to the basement? Well, watching The Following is like being one of those boys. You’ll say to yourself: ‘I don’t know where he’s taking me, or why, but I just know this is going to be an awesome experience! How could it not be? I mean, it’s Kevin Bacon! This is going to be brilliant, just brillia… uh… em… Kevin, what are you doing? WHAT… WHAT are you DOING… Kevin! Kevin?? … KEVI…OW!!… inOWWWWwwwwuuuu…uhm… erm… I think… I think KEVIN BACON just FUCKED me!’

The Following is a piece of dog-shit. It really is: a hot, slimy, sticky, dog-shit sandwich, where even the bread is made out of dog-shit. It’s not a BLT: it’s a BDS. Take a big bite and watch that dog-shit slush down your shirt-front. Rub it in. Take some and smear it in your eyes. Saw open your skull and lather it onto your lobes like it’s some sort of shitty sun-tan lotion. Get someone to flamethrow your head – really flambé that dog-shit. Melt it straight into your skull, scalp and throbbing mind-bollock. Is it excrutiating? Good. That just means it’s working. You’re not done yet, though. Next, let a dog – any dog – lick the disgusting, syrupy, melted, congealed faecal mush from your exposed and infected brain, and then wait for the greedy beast to vomit it all back into your mouth. Ah, drink it in. Gargle with it. Swish that sick-shit around in your gob like it’s Colgate mouth-wash. Mmmmm, feel the chunks in your cheeks. Let them marinate. Then French kiss the dog. Go on, kiss it. Do it! Let its big, slobbery, dog-dick-scented canine tongue investigate your inner-jaw. And why stop there? Fly the dog to Vegas and marry it. Cheat on it with a hooker who’s also a tiger, and then have sex with that slutty tiger – and the dog – live on webcam, and email the footage to your parents. And then – and ONLY then – shoot yourself through the throat. You’ll have a more entertaining evening, I guarantee you.

The Following: not even WHITE dogshit.

The Following: not even WHITE dogshit.

Still determined to enjoy The Following? Be warned: you’ll have to lower your expectations in order to extract even minimal enjoyment from this rancid semen-stain of a show. Did you deduce that? Have I been too subtle thus far? And, people, you won’t have to lower your expectations just a little. You’ll need to lower them so much that eventually your expectations will drop down through the earth’s molten core, pierce through the fabric of time, space and reality, and knock Dante clean into a coma.

In fairness… the first and last episodes aren’t entirely awful. It’s just the bit in the middle that’s agonisingly bad. And that’s over eight hours worth of dog-shit. This really should have been a movie, or at-least a three-part mini-series. Maybe they could have salvaged something. But it isn’t. And they didn’t. All that’s left is a squandered premise and wasted potential, and an idea stretched beyond breaking point.  And that makes me mad. And when I get mad… I do dog-shit analogies in which people fuck tigers. Ggggrrrrrreeeeeaaaaatttttt (‘Kellogg’s on line 1…’)!

What it’s about: The Back-story

Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy.

Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy.

Kevin Bacon plays former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, a retired, alcoholic cliché who has to hunt down escaped convict Joe Carroll, an allegedly charismatic serial killer – and former professor of literature – played by James Purefoy.

Hardy catches Carroll after the depraved don’s first round of brutal serial slayings, but takes a near-fatal knifing to the chest as he arrests him. Hardy’s injuries force him out of the FBI, and he hits the bottle big-time. I know what you’re thinking: a maverick lawman who turns to booze to fight the pain, and doesn’t know if he’s ‘still got it’? Yes. It’s a startlingly original conceit (actually, a lot of novel work can be done with stock characters and familiar scenarios, but in this case…). In a nutshell, life’s a bit shitty and bleak for Ryan, but he does get to pump Carroll’s hot but irritating ex-wife Claire, played by Natalie Zea, so there’s some degree of silver lining to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, he also falls in love with her, the silly boy, which complicates things somewhat.

James Purefoy as Joe Carroll.

James Purefoy as Joe Carroll.

Meanwhile, Joe Carroll, in prison for being a serial killer and all-round bad egg, is busy secretly assembling a cabal of murderous psychopaths, who’ll be on hand to help him escape, and carry out his evil masterplan. The plan, such as it is, involves Carroll winning back his wife and young son (Well, it’s more ‘kidnapping’ than ‘winning back’) and tormenting the living hell out of Ryan Hardy using the aforementioned newly acquired legion of head-cases. Oh, and murdering lots of innocent people as well, obviously. Be rude not to.

Fantastically – and I don’t use that word as a synonym for ‘brilliantly’ – Carroll manages to recruit the bulk of his mental, stabby cultists through the internet… which he has completely unfettered access to… while in prison. Yep. You read that right. He recruits hundreds of killers to his cause, on his computer, in prison, while in prison for murdering lots of women.

GUARD 1: ‘Hey, shall we check this brutal serial killer’s internet history, see who he’s been talking to?’

GUARD 2: ‘Why don’t we just monitor his every move, read all of his mail, lock his door at night, stop him from having blades, and pay close attention to the hundreds of psychotic strangers who visit him every week as well, you fucking Nazi?! Geez, let the guy relax and play some Candy Crush, Hitler!’

OK, he’s got one of the guards on side, but even still…

In addition, both Hardy and Carroll have written and published books: the former, a blow-by-blow account of his investigation into Carroll and the events leading up to his stabbing at the madman’s hands; the latter, a pretentious piece of shit novel that has savagely dark undertones. Ryan Hardy is in fact the subject of Joe Carroll’s difficult second novel, which we discover Joe is writing as a companion to and an account of the horrible shit he does to his nemesis over the course of the show’s first season.

Anyway,  The Following begins nine years after Carroll’s incarceration, at the very moment he escapes from prison.

Why it sucks so hard

1.) Joe Carroll is a Poe-ring Bastard

tf6

“Hmmm, I wonder what method I’ll use to kill my agent.”

Joe Carroll has a thing for Edgar Allen Poe. He’s obsessed by the man and his works, and aspires to write fiction of a similar quality; unfortunately, he’s a two-bit, psycho hack, who couldn’t write for RiverCity. He is quite good at killing, though, and with this in mind he resolves to build his cult and its murders around the theme of Edgar Allen Poe. Some of his bampots even wear rubber Poe masks when they’re out on a kill. Now that’s devotion fur ye.

The whole Poe thing’s a nice conceit, but one that gets old far too quickly, and becomes dull even more quickly than that. Luckily, the writers seem to agree, and the idea sort of fizzles out for a while after the first few episodes. You’ll be glad. There’s only so much tenuous, Poe-related cod philosophy you can listen to before you begin to wonder if Drop Dead Diva might’ve been a better choice of box-set.

tf8

Couples’ counselling.

We’re supposed to believe that Joe Carroll is the most charismatic man on earth. But he isn’t. He’s smug. And arrogant. And a little bit creepy. His only discernible talent seems to be that he’s a half-decent English teacher. Nothing in the acting or dialogue convinced me that this man could’ve enticed or bewitched a rag-tag assortment of insanely-loyal psychopaths to do his evil bidding. Get them a passing grade on an Edgar Allen Poe test paper? Maybe. But this? Midway through the series, one of his insanely devoted cultists offers himself to Carroll as a human sacrifice, ultimately because he thinks Carroll will have a right laugh stabbing him to death. He’s right! I did, too. I think I was supposed to be shocked, though.

So how does Joe Carroll’s ‘charisma’ work? How does he recruit his army and manage to provoke such slavish, unquestioning devotion in his would-be recruits? Beats me. On the surface of it, he just sort of stares at them intensely and then talks to them in a honeyed, husky whisper for a couple of minutes:

‘So you’re a fan of murdering, and you butchered your own mum? Ach, don’t worry about it, murdering’s cool. Extra points for a family member! Anyway, you’re awesome, and I’m definitely awesome, so how about joining my cult? We’ve got prose and everything, and sometimes we get to talk like we’re in a high-school production of Shakespeare.’

2.) Soap Cra-pera

Awful. I don't even care what their names are.

Awful. I don’t even care what their names are.

Too much of the action focuses on a trio – two guys, one girl – of young, trendy, be-quiffed and coiffured cockbags. After many years spent as dormant ‘sleeper-cultists’ living undercover as Claire Carroll’s neighbours and babysitter, their mission is activated: kidnap Carroll’s kid, and get him to Serial Killer HQ in time for big Joe’s arrival. These three characters are essentially 2-dimensional, knife-wielding haircuts, who seem to exist only to look pretty and spout pseudo-philosophical bullshit about how awesome it is to butcher people. And to shag each other, obviously.

The three losers eventually form a steamy, bisexual love triangle, which proves to be about as entertaining as having experimental groin surgery performed upon you by an angry monkey in the grip of meth withdrawal, and less convincing than Katie Hopkins’ impersonation of a human being. Whenever these three are on screen together The Following becomes like an episode of Hollyoaks Later with slightly shitter dialogue.

3.) Police

"God DAMN it! I can't get past level 358!"

“God DAMN it! I can’t get past level 358!”

OK, I know the stakes are supposed to be high in a policey/slashy/killy show. High stakes that gradually become higher still serve to ramp up the tension; create conflict and suspense; and drive the narrative in an exciting direction that makes the audience want to keep watching. I get that. And if the police were absolutely brilliant at their jobs, then the show would be over in less than an episode:

‘Ha ha ha ha, you’ll never foil my fiendish plans, never, never, NEVERMORE I say, NEVE… {click} Shit.’

Granted, the baddies’ plan is suitably fiendish. There’s an army of sleeper serial-killer cultists out there, drawn from all walks of life, and across the divides of age, race and gender. At the beginning, the good guys have no idea that the cult even exists, and even when they realise what they’re dealing with, they still have no idea how many members it has, or who they might be. They could be anyone: a cop, a prison guard, an FBI agent!

I get all that. But if the police are consistently shown to be about as effective as the Chuckle Brothers armed only with a bag of dead chickens, as they are in The Following, then it quickly destroys your willingness to suspend disbelief. Honestly, the cops don’t win at anything. Not once. Every strategy they adopt fails, everything they say is bull-shit, and everything they do is ball-achingly stupid: ridiculously, incompetently, fatally stupid.

tf10In real life, I’ve seen more and better trained police officers sent to deal with a noise disturbance in my street than The Following’s fictional FBI ever deigned to send in pursuit of a serial killing cult. No-one ever takes back-up with them, and when they do call for back-up, it’s always at-least forty miles away. Jack Bauer would never have found himself in such a sorry situation: no matter where he or his agents were in the world, it only ever took them ten minutes tops to get where they needed to be. Actually, bad comparison, because Jack Bauer never needed back-up at all; a fucking sharp pencil would be good enough back-up for him (I suppose 24 suffered from the opposite problem to The Following: Jack Bauer was too good at his job).

Really, though, it’s as if the police and the FBI have recruited all of their officers from the same pool of people who always die horribly within the first six minutes of a horror film. Considering there’s a cult out there whose members could be anywhere and anyone – essentially making every stranger a suspect – the police seem keen to adopt the curious tactic of suspecting no-one at all. Douchebags.

4.) Ryan Hard-ly

hardyKevin Bacon is a really great actor: Ryan Hardy is a really shit character. He just mopes, broods, and frets his way through the dark, grey, oppressive atmosphere of The Following’s suicidally un-cheerful fictional world. It’s not Bacon’s fault, I suppose. All he did was sign the contract. I hope the cash was worth it, because Ryan Hardy’s merely a poor man’s Jack Bauer. Imagine Jack Bauer with a pacemaker and a drinking problem, and then stop to realise that even with a pacemaker and a drinking problem Jack Bauer would be a hundred times more fun, likeable and interesting than Ryan Hardy – and Bauer kills and tortures people in almost every episode! Come to think of it, although the premises and subject matters are radically different, it feels to me like The Following wants to be a slasher-psych-thriller version of 24 (but without the real-time element, obviously), and fails miserably on all counts. Can you still taste that dog-shit?

And this is before we even delve into Hardy’s reputed ‘death curse’. God, the dialogue is execrable on this show. There’s a scene that shows Hardy in bed delivering a woeful chunk of expository dialogue, in which he reveals that almost every single person in his life has died or been horrifically murdered, a preposterous roll-call of hilarious deaths. It’s supposed to make us sympathise and connect with the character, I suppose, but it only served to make me roll my eyes and snort out a derisory laugh.

‘…and then all I had left was my turtle, Mr Jenkins, but somebody put a pipe-bomb inside him and threw him in my girlfriend’s face…’

The Best Worst Moment

One of Carroll’s acolytes is captured by the FBI. He’s injured, so they sling him in a hospital room, and place him under armed guard. As he lies there awaiting interrogation, the loyal idiot realises that he would rather die than betray his master. He proceeds to kill himself by eating his own bandages, suffocating himself to death with them. I’m guessing the intention was to chill and shock the audience by showing them just how deep and twisted a loyalty Carroll inspires in his sick-ass tribe of psychopaths, but it didn’t have that effect on me. I thought it was funny as fuck.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this scene from The Simpsons:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJEtonrIKP8

The Verdict

Do I really need to sum up this article for you? I don’t think there are any lines to read between here. The Following is shit. But it’s good shit, if you get enjoyment from deliberately watching shit things and then tearing them apart, like I know I do.

So, remarkably, I guess it’s good.

Now THAT’S a twist.

And, in closing…

zea

John Lewis Christmas Advert 2013 – Director’s Cut

Here’s a link to John Lewis’s 2013 Christmas advert, if you haven’t seen it.

John Lewis Christmas advert

Pretty good effort, John Lewis, but I can make the ending better. You want drama? Heart-ache? You’ve fucking got it.

johnlewisOK, this is what happens. The bear waddles out from hibernation. He makes his way down the snowy hill to be with his best pal, the hare and – oh my God… Christmas… and all my friends… and… and a big tree… and OH MY GOD, I’M SO OVERWHELMED WITH AWE AND EXCITEMENT, this is literally AMAZING – just then, a hunter steps out from the forest, takes aim with his rifle and shoots the bear through the back of the skull. BANG! A FOUNTAIN OF BLOOD! The bear’s dead body thumps down onto the snow, and an oil-slick of red quickly spreads over the white landscape. The owl is so freaked out by the gun-shot that primal instinct takes over. The owl swoops into flight, and heads straight for the hare, digging his sharp talons into the hare’s back, and snatching him up into the air. The hare’s too heavy, though, and the owl can’t cope with the burden, so he releases him earthward. The owl, snapping out of his fugue, and finding himself racked with grief and shame, heads straight for a tree trunk, and slams his revolving head into it at full speed. SNAP! He’s DEAD. At the same time, the hare tumbles and hurtles towards the ground like a cannon-ball, and lands – with a sickening crack – right  on top of the hunter’s head, killing the human instantly. The hare is alive – but only just. The hare rolls and rolls and rolls, his legs broken, his neck twisted, rolling and rolling down the snow, until he comes to a stop not too far from his dead pal’s giant slack-jawed body. The bear’s big dry tongue rests lifelessly on the cold, cold snow. The hare struggles to breathe. As the life drains from him, he looks into the bear’s wide, dead eyes, and starts to cry. The guilt is killing him as surely as his injuries. His best friend, the big gentle bear – thought the hare – would’ve been safe in his cave until spring, if only he’d kept his fucking mouth shut about poxy bloody Christmas.

‘It… was… my fault,’ he says. ‘I’m…sorry… old friend. The worst… thing is… Christmas… is shite anyway…’ Then he dies. And a caption flashes up on the screen:

WOULDN’T’VE HAPPENED IF THEY’D BEEN JEWISH.’

Then there’s an enormous nuclear explosion, killing everyone – man and animal – within a 60-mile radius.

Get filming it, John Lewis. And I want my cut.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Recipe for Kitchen Nightmares US

Gordon Ramsey Kitchen Nightmares

I know Kitchen Nightmares is a heavily-manufactured, manipulative piece of reality TV guff, but I can’t help but love it. I also can’t help but notice how each episode is constructed pretty much identically. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But you still watch them all, because they’re immensely entertaining. God bless you, Ramsey, you angry little shit. Here’s how things go down: every single time.

  • Ramsay arrives at the restaurant, and makes some bitchy comments about the decor/menu/the discovery of a rat on the doorstep.
  • The owner tells Ramsay that the restaurant is losing money, which they can’t understand because the food is awesome. Ramsay’s concerned frown and receptive eyes betray the fact that within the hour he’ll have them in tears after shouting at them like they’re the unwanted step-child of a second marriage.
  • Ramsay orders three items from the menu, and declares each in turn the worst dogshit he’s ever tasted in his life. The serving waitress agrees with Ramsay’s assessment, and adds that the owner, her employer, is a waste of space as a human being, and a terrible manager. She’s pretty sure the owner won’t mind her honesty once the show is broadcast.
  • Ramsay rampages into the kitchen and discovers a rotting corpse beside the pizza oven. The owner gets defensive and says, ‘What’s your problem? That’s our mascot: Davey.’ Ramsay then discovers that none of the food is fresh, and all of it is kept in plastic bags beside a heater, next to a cardboard box filled with arsenic and rat shit.
  • Ramsey’s jaw muscles go into over-drive as he unleashes a volley of vile swear words at the owner. The words are bleeped so we viewers are spared the horror, but Ramsey’s such a clever curser that even the rhythm of his bleeps spells out a verbal attack in Morse Code. The owner sulks like a baby, and then tries to blame the staff/their partner/the Norse God Thor for how shit they now realise their restaurant is.
  • Ramsey gathers all of the staff together. He itemises the worst things about the restaurant: the Chef’s Specials written in dust on the wall; the fact that semen is an ingredient of the clam chowder; the twenty-three cats that live in the dining room. He then says ‘bland’ and ‘no passion’ sixty-three times whilst jerking his finger around like a conductor having a stroke. The chef says he was only following orders and blames the owner for everything, including 9/11. The chef goes on to confess that he would rather brush his teeth with bird shit and gargle a vial of AIDS than eat the diseased muck his kitchen serves to customers. ‘Anyway,’ says the chef, ‘I’m a bricklayer and I don’t even like cooking.’ He further confesses that ‘he’s never heard of eggs before.’ Ramsey stares at the chef like the chef’s just sharted on a child, and then calls him a c***.
  • The owner threatens to kill the chef and then accuses the staff of being lazy thieves who spend their time texting instead of working. In fact, it’s so bad that they text the customers asking for their orders, and then text these to the chef, who promptly ignores them. A mouthy Polish waitress tells Ramsey that the owner spends every night crying at the bar, cradling his dead mum’s ashes and throwing olives at customers. The owner throws an olive at her, but a beef olive this time. The rest of the staff just sit there smiling and blinking because they’ve just arrived from Puerto Rico and can’t speak English yet. Ramsey tells them all to fuck off, and storms out.
  • Ramsey observes a typical night at the restaurant. The owner thinks, ‘This is my chance to show that British bastard how awesome my business is.’ We all think: ‘This show’s not called Kitchen Awesomeness, you fool.’ Lots of customers pour in because they want to be on TV. They agree that each dish on the menu is dogshit, and send everything back. A feral cat jumps up and steals some salmon from a customer’s plate, which is snatched from its mouth by a rat. The rat gets involved in a salmon-related mouth tug-of-war with a cockroach, which is only ended when a waiter crushes them both under his heel. The waiter places their fresh remains on a plate and serves it to another customer. He drizzles some sauce over it and says it’s their ‘Vermin of the Day.’ Ramsey rustles up a smile that conveys both smugness and hatred.
  • In the kitchen, Ramsey sees the chef vomiting over a breast of chicken, and then chucking it straight into the frying pan. Ramsey goes bat-shit mental, and the chef just shrugs, and then scratches his balls. With the chicken. The owner, too pissed by now to walk, starts crying because he can’t live up to his dead parent’s restaurant-running standards/is about to lose his marriage/can’t afford to keep his business going/it’ll make good TV.
  • Ramsey screams, ‘Stop what you’re doing! I’m shutting this kitchen down! You’re going to bloody kill someone.’ Sure enough, a customer keels over into a bowl of spunky clam chowder. The owner drags the customer’s corpse into the kitchen and puts it next to Davey.
  • The next day the entire staff watches a film on a giant cinema screen. It features every single person in town telling them how shit their restaurant is, and how much of a cock the owner is. The owner either a) cries and vows not to be such a cock in future or b) says it’s a Jewish conspiracy.
  • Ramsey gets the set designers from Prisoner Cell Block H to revamp the restaurant. Then he devises a new menu and cooks up some samples. Every dish is now ‘rustic.’ When Ramsey uses the word ‘rustic’ we know he really means ‘microscopically tiny portions at double the price.’ The staff are like, ‘Wow, these taste so good it’s like a world-class chef made them.’ Uh-huh. Because they were. By now the audience know that there’s zero chance Chef Cum Chowder is going to be able to match that standard once Ramsey buggers off.
  • Despite some before-the-last-ad-break editing that suggests relaunch night is going to be a disaster – it’s not. Well, we can’t have Ramsey’s reputation wrecked by a bunch of filthy plebs. Ramsey tells them they achieved it by themselves, and should be proud, even though they clearly didn’t, and they shouldn’t. Ramsey hugs them all, which is tense and unnerving, like watching a cobra giving somebody a hug.
  • Ramsey strides outside and gives an awkward recap to the audience, during which he swishes his finger like it’s a fencing sword, and keeps jerking his gaze down to the ground and back up at the camera again like a serial killer battling ADHD.
  • The restaurant closes down.

Red Dwarf X-pectations

Red Dwarf X premieres on Dave tonight at 9pm. In a few short hours we will know if that ‘X’ signifies buried comedy treasure, or if it will make us all think of a solitary dead eye on the corpse of a cartoon character that’s been drawn by a three-year-old.

And, yes, I know it’s Roman numerals for ten, before some clever cunt who genuinely thinks I’m some sort of drooling malcontent tries to point it out.

Lister and the Cat.

Red Dwarf was my favourite comedy as a youngster, and memories of the show are inextricably linked to memories of my childhood, and of growing up. I shared favourite quotes and crap cast impressions with schoolmates (I did an impressively shite Kryten). It’s fair to say that each new episode was ‘event TV’, and fellow geeks and I would spend the day after transmission reliving the entire episode to the point of suicidal tedium.

When the first series was released on VHS in two-parts I scrimped and saved summer holiday money to get my hands on it. £13.99 for three episodes at a time in good old combustible, snappable video format – and no Monster Munch for a month – but it was worth the sacrifice.

From the series 4 glory days.

And what a show: Smeg, Talkie Toaster, two Rimmers, the first Kryten (‘They’re dead.’ ‘But I was only away for a minute.’), Lister having twins, the Better Than Life video game, the fried egg, chilli, cheese and chutney sandwich, the Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society (or CLITORIS for short), Lister eating dogfood and burning books, inflatable Rachel, a self-destruct system that dispenses chocolate bars, Gandhi with a machine-gun, Kryten dating a blob, Lister fighting a curry monster, Kryten having a penis, Rimmer going nuts in a Gingham dress, Mr Flibble, group hallucinations thanks to aggressive marine life, Lister marrying a mutant, Rimmer being able to touch again, the Polymorph, Ace Rimmer, Dwayne Dibbley!

So many classic moments and characters have been etched into my brain. I was so obsessed with the show that I was moved to write this in my diary when I was 16:

“I brought down Red Dwarf with me that I’d videotaped the night before, because Papa likes it. I don’t mind watching it for the second time, as instead of concentrating on the programme, I like to concentrate on the reaction of the person watching it. Let me explain why: if you enjoy a certain thing on the television, it must contain elements you can relate to, therefore each one you enjoy reflects a facet of your personality. Every time my grandfather would laugh at one of the jokes, I would take that as a personal victory. It’s not as simple as merely saying, ‘Oh, he enjoys the show,’ because on some level his laughter is telling me, ‘Oh, he likes me.'”

I think it’s clear from reading that diary excerpt that I was a bit of a wanker. And incredibly creepy. After all the bizarre staring I subjected him to, my grandpa must have thought I was some sort of cross between Droopy and the little dead girls from The Shining. It also appears that my self-esteem was almost entirely based upon other people’s enjoyment of a 1980’s sci-fi comedy show. I must remember to write that one down for my psychiatrist.

Kochanski: Red Dwarf’s very own Yoko Ono.

Still, as much as I loved – and still love – the show, something went wrong: Rob Grant, one of Red Dwarf’s creators and one half of its writing team, quit the show after series six. It became clear that Rob was the writer responsible for the ‘com’ part of the ‘sit-com’ equation, and a noticeable dip in quality was evident following his departure. Series 7 still had some excellent moments – most notably the JFK-themed curry hunt – but the dissolution of Red Dwarf’s writing partnership, along with the decision to forgo a studio audience and film the show more like a comedy-drama, changed the atmosphere and ‘feel’ of Red Dwarf for the worse. Kochanski didn’t help either. She was shit (the character, rather than the actress) (yeah, add that rider to spare her feelings, Jamie, because she’s definitely going to be one of the three people who actually read this shite, you fucking egotist).

Danny John Jules as The Cat.

The Cat in particular became a one-dimensional retard, who seemed to spend his time pulling stroke faces and uttering the odd hackneyed and unfunny line about corduroy trousers. It was the cat’s almost sociopathic selfishness, vanity and callousness that made him funny in the earlier series, not his stupidity, which was never so much emphasised. Things picked up a bit with series 8, although I do agree with one Amazon reviewer who said that the show became like ‘Chuckle Brothers in Space.’ Also, in general, I feel it would have been better if the series had stayed with the six-separate-stories format and left the two-and-three-parters alone. I really liked the episode ‘Cassandra’, though, with the super-computer that could predict the future. It felt like classic ‘Dwarf’ again.

The pant-shittingly bad ‘Back to Earth’.

Then came the three-part special ‘Back to Earth’, broadcast on Dave in 2009, that was so hellishly bad it felt like Doug Naylor had travelled back through time to 1989 to personally spunk in my face. The entire first part – especially the tomato banter between Rimmer and Lister, and the distressingly cringe-worthy scene in which Rimmer conducted away to himself oblivious to the plight of his ship-mates as they battled a giant squid on the monitors behind him – almost made Citizen Khan look like the single greatest comedy ever produced. Fair enough, some of the ideas in ‘Back to Earth’ were inventive, if not a little derivative, but so what? It’s a comedy. It’s supposed to make me laugh, first and foremost.

Anyway, ‘Back to Earth’ was discussed on a comedy forum a few years back, and I found an interesting bit of chat about it from Scottish comedian Stu Who?.

Ok … so here’s a hypotheses … eh?

When we are younger and haven’t watched a vast amount of comedy, sit-coms, etc, we adopt some programmes which grow, with the passing of time, to be our nostalgic, firm favourites.

In their time, they were quite good, but weren’t really the classics of comedy that we think they were.

If the show is revived, we tend to compare it with the rose-tinted view of the previous series, rather than reality.

Or … in other words:

Red Dwarf was a pile of juvenile shite back then … and still is.

Discuss

I hope he’s wrong, and this isn’t just a case of me donning rose-tinted spectacles and staring at my childhood like… well, staring at it like a creepy grandchild who won’t leave his grandpa alone.

Red Dwarf was funny. Red Dwarf IS funny.

I know it’s just a TV show, and if I’d started watching it when I was 40 I probably wouldn’t give this much of a shit. I know I’m displaying a fanaticism and a personal stake in this akin to a religious fundamentalist defending his holy book. But please, please, please let tonight’s episode exceed my expectations, and blot out the years of disappointment I’ve suffered since Rob Grant left. Let the little embers and flickers of past genius that still glowed in the show, in some form or another, in the later series rage into a comedy bush fire. Let me love Red Dwarf again. Let me laugh.

Give me back my fucking childhood, Doug Naylor! And wipe that cum off my forehead.

The Show Must Stop: TV Finales – 24

24’s ending, unlike Lost’s, was pitch-perfect, as was its final season – admittedly after a slightly wobbly beginning. Season 8 showed us Jack Bauer with the safety off; a vengeful, brutal, half-mad slayer of wicked men; a man whose moral ambiguities about torture and killing had been flash-bombed from his soul following the execution of his girlfriend and the realisation of the extent to which evil and corruption had tainted the Oval Office – the hitherto incorruptible Alison Taylor included.

Jack went absolutely fucking ape-shit, and in his fury – and my imperfect use of English  – seemed even more indestructible and unstoppable than usual. His ass-kicking abilities were almost supernatural. In one scene, a few episodes from the end, he single-handedly ambushed a secret service convoy in a tunnel. Decked out in head-to-toe black body armour, complete with sinister black face-mask, he advanced on his enemies with the eerie, murderous calm of Jason Voorhees, spraying machine-gun fire this way and that, absorbing and ignoring their return bullets as if they were nothing more substantial than dust motes. It was a joy to behold. Genuinely thrilling and exciting, like 24 used to be.

Yes, 24 in its own way was just as preposterous as Lost; 24’s writers loved their nonsensical, character-destroying curve-balls, too. But we forgive 24 because we don’t – and were never encouraged to – take it too seriously. We let ourselves get swept away in the viciously fast current of its plot, our logic centres battered into submission by the insane rhythm of its non-stop, high-octane excitement. 24 has never had high or lofty ideals, or wished to stir our souls; all it’s ever wanted to do is to go to town on our adrenal glands.

Day 1 was great. Day 2 was good. Day 3 was a bit iffy, although the multi-episode arc with the hotel and the bio-weapon was thrilling. Day 4 was a bit shitty. Day 5, featuring our first taste of President Logan’s evil, was one of the best. Day 6 was one of the most preposterous and abominable outings for Jack, during which the series didn’t so much jump the shark as secure it to a space-rocket with a length of chain and tow it to Mars. 24:Redemption was pant-shittingly bad. Day 7 had its moments, but collapsed under the weight of its own ’double-double-double-double-agent’ ridiculousness: a certain someone should have stayed dead. Day 8, the last day, restored all of the series’ starting quota of intrigue, fun, thrills, scares, shocks and brutality, ensuring that past transgressions into illogic and shoddiness will be forgotten, and only the good times remembered. What a way to go.

In 24‘s final scene, Jack and Chloe share a goodbye. Chloe is in New York’s CTU, watching Jack on the screen, his image relayed by a CTU drone. They know this is probably the last time they’ll speak to each other. Because of the enormity of the scheme Jack has helped to expose, and the uncompromising brutality he’s visited upon its architects, he will forever be on the run from both the Russian and American governments. The peaceful retirement he was promised in the season’s opening episodes is now an impossible dream.

As Chloe deactivates CTU’s systems to aid Jack’s dash to anonymity and freedom, we catch one more glimpse of his face on the view-screen, looking searchingly into Chloe’s eyes.

I half-expected Jack to quote Jim Carrey at the end of The Truman Show: ‘Good morning. And in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night!’ Then he‘s gone. Jack Bauer: the man whose chase will never be over. Tortured. Hunted. Haunted.

We’ll miss him.

————————————————————————————————————————-

Read all about the finale of Lost here.

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Sieg Kyle – Daytime TV’s Case for Sterilisation

I wrote the piece below about four or five years ago. These days, Jeremy Kyle styles himself on a waxwork of a waiter from the Titanic, and has taken his hectoring talk-show to the States, its spiritual home – Jamie

Jeremy Kyle has become what many of his studio guests need: an institution. He is a mainstay of modern British media culture, along with Richard and Judy, Rolf Harris and Howard from the Halifax ads.

His long-running show serves us up a daily dose of poor, stupid and ugly people with which to satisfy our voyeurism, and generally make us feel better about our own pathetic little lives. Jeremy and his production team like to pretend that each edition is a sort-of pseudo trial, designed to expose dishonest behaviour before a furious Jury of the People, an act that will surely take away the need for any real social work, and possibly save the world. It’s all about reclaiming lost dignity, punishing the sinful, mending fences and repairing lives. Is it? Is it really? Then why does it seem that all Jeremy – and, by extension, we the viewers – are interested in is humiliation on a grand scale, with the added bonus of the threat of violence?

The typical guest is from the north of England, or Scotland, possesses little in the way of teeth or intellect, and has usually been – despite resembling a walking tumour – shagging their entire home town. Paternity and lie detector tests are the order of the day. The results of the latter wouldn’t be admissible in a court of law, but anything goes in Jeremy’s daytime Kangaroo Court. That’s why there are so many big, bald men with tattoos on stand-by as security; just in case any of the big, bald men with tattoos featured as guests decide to pop Jeremy’s head off and use it as a football.

The episode I watched featured the usual slideshow of human sputum, tears and tantrums. One of the segments told the beautiful story of an adolescent male who had met and ‘romanced’ a young lady, only to find out after their brief relationship ended that his ex-beau believed herself to be pregnant with his child. He disputed the accuracy of this claim, and thus demanded that she submit to a DNA test. Once his neckless, feckless, and dietarily reckless ex-partner thundered out on to the stage, I too was pretty eager for a DNA test: to prove she was human.

The ex instantly endeared herself to the audience by free-style swearing, and nervously yet aggressively hitting her shoe. I know it’s become something of cliché to describe an inarticulate, chavish girl as being like Vicky Pollard, but Neckless really is the closest match I’ve seen; in looks, speech and mental processing abilities. She couldn’t see any connection between her outright refusal to submit to a simple test that would prove she was telling the truth about her pregnancy, and Jeremy Kyle’s mounting disbelief at her story. As guests often do on the Jeremy Kyle Show, she stormed off backstage. He followed her, changing his tone from hectoring, Hellfire Baptist minister to wise, understanding uncle. ‘Never mind them out there, it’s just you and me, now,’ he said to her, or words to that effect, refusing to let the fact that millions of eyes were on them both destroy the sense of intimacy he was cultivating.

‘Why don’t you want to take the test?’ he asked her softly. Her response almost had me rolling on the floor. ‘I’m not going to go down to his level,’ she said, rolling her eyes and continuing to batter her shoe.

Some might say that once you’re sitting on Jeremy’s backstage sofa it’s a little too late to worry about dropping a level or two. This is it, Neckless. This is rock bottom.

Let’s put aside our role as collaborating spectators for a moment (yes, I’m talking to you) and ask ourselves why anyone in their right mind (I think I’ve just answered my own question) would want to appear on Jeremy’s show. I see it as a venal circus, from which few emerge with even a shred of dignity; and that’s true even of the protagonists who initially approach the producers to get their pound of flesh from someone who’s done them wrong. Why don’t the guests see it that way? I can perhaps see why a cuckolded husband would want to see an angry audience screaming at his scrawny, cheating wife; but why would the wife want to subject herself to this treatment, and vice versa where the sexes are reversed?

Who gets a phone call from the Jeremy Kyle Show and thinks, yes, yes, I do want to have a middle-aged man shouting at me in-front of two hundred people, who will also be shouting at me, while the people watching at home hiss things like ‘scum’ at me. Well, perhaps you would consider doing it if you were dirt-poor, trapped in a life you couldn’t escape, ill-educated, desperate and sincerely believed that the Kyle show was an institution primarily concerned with helping people and not with exploiting and humiliating them for advertising revenue. Or if you were getting an all-expenses-paid trip to London, and the chance for your fifteen minutes of fame, however grizzly.

Certainly one thing you won’t see on the Jeremy Kyle show is a top-hat-wearing male doctor arguing with his Gucci-clad lawyer ex-wife about who’s going to get custody of their Shih Tzu, Phillip. How do the producers sleep at night? I’m sure the Nazi doctors salved their consciences by assuring themselves that their work was for the good of mankind. Maybe that’s what they do.

Our society, and care industry, must be in one Hell of a shape.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Dead… I’m Dead… You Know it… I’M DEAD

I’m still cannibalising material from the previous incarnation of this website; hence why the following is my review of a television programme that aired more than three years ago. Still, it involves ‘getting it roond’ Derek Acorah, and there’s no expiry date on that. Enjoy. – Jamie

The Michael Jackson Seance – Sky 1

“If Michael was here, would he call you crazy?”

So asked presenter June Sarpong of David Gest moments before the big Michael Jackson Live Seance kicked off. This was a bit like asking Nick Griffin: ‘If Hitler was here, would he call you racist?’

June had just appeared on an hour-long programme preceding, and building up to, the main seance. She ratcheted up our sense of anticipation by reminding us that she had ‘got quite close to Michael’ during her LA quest. Hmmm. Close perhaps only in the sense that when I stretch my arm out as far as it can go, I get ‘quite close’ to the fictional planet of Cuntypandy in the entirely made-up Sookyermaw galaxy, fifty billion light years away.

‘He was a weird-faced, sinister-looking, child-like freak,’ said Michael Jackson.

David Gest was there to lend June a hand. Good choice. Gest himself is a man no stranger to planets billions of light years away. He cheerfully name-dropped his way through just about every celebrity he’d ever met thanks to Michael, careful to turn even the most bland and innocuous questions about Michael’s life into a story somehow involving himself and Stevie Wonder. And if it’s a tinge of credibility you’re after who better to have in the studio than a man who actually states that he’s ‘crazy’ live on-air, and then tells you that ‘he believes in leprechauns too’? If only he’d gone for the bampot hat-trick and started battering himself over the head with a hammer. Incidentally, top marks to the Sky controller who saw fit to run a Sky Real Lives’ promo about dwarves and little people immediately after this segment. Pot of gold for that man.

‘I’m bad.’

Still, who am I to mock? I’ve been waiting for this super-duper, supernatural event for months; salivating at the thought of King of Pap Derek Acorah getting his hammy gnashers into the King of Pop.

The venue for the seance was an Irish cottage in which Michael Jackson once stayed when he was putting together a new album. Already we could tell Derek loved a challenge. Never has the old cliche ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’ been more aptly analogised: in this case, looking for the ghost of one dead paedophile amongst a legion of pederast priest ghosts. I guess it would be more apt to say: ‘It’s like looking for a needle in a needle-stack.’

These cunts can vote and have children, you know.

Still, ‘renowned medium’ Derek Acorah was up for the sift. Alongside him at the seance table were four emotionally-unhinged Jacko fans, two of whom were King of Pop impersonators. The readiness to believe among them was running so high even before they’d formed their circle and sought spiritual protection, that if Derek had brought out a box of Weetos and claimed it was an incarnation of Michael Jackson they probably would have asked it to do the moonwalk. And then fucked it.

Sarpong asked the ‘superfans’, looking collectively like they’d fought in the Christmas Panto regiment of the Whackjob’s army, how they’d coped in the months after Jackson’s death.

‘You’ve just got to keep going, meditate, think through it,’ said the loony female one that looked a bit like The Joker’s even crazier sister.

‘I feel like a part of me has died,’ said another, ‘I miss him every day.’

‘It hasn’t sunk in that he’s passed away,’ said one of the impersonators. I thought to myself, ‘May I suggest that you let that particular nugget of information sink in quickly, son, because you’re about to raise him from the fucking dead.’

Anyway, there was no time to lose as Derek got word from his spirit guide, Sam, that Michael was almost ready to join them. I liked how everyone at the table seemed reassured of Derek’s abilities once his invisible friend had given the nod that Jacko was in the building.

Mad Hatters’ C.U.N.T Party.

They all joined hands, although Derek did allow them to connect with one of Jacko’s hats that he’d placed in the centre of the seance table. One of the spangly-gloved superfans seemed reluctant to stop touching it, long minutes after the rest of them had decided to salvage what little dignity they had left and keep their hands to themselves. Even when Derek was rabbitting on about ‘residual energies’ and ‘thought pattern residues’ and ‘love giving us the power to go on’, this guy was still stroking the brim of Jackson’s hat in an incredibly intimate, sexual way. It was like glove porn. Hot glove-on-hat action. Extreme brimming.

‘I just can’t believe that’s his hat,’ said another of the wide-eyed psychopaths. I just can’t believe, I thought, that you daft, ugly cunts are sitting there with a half-daft Scouse maniac thinking you’re about to chat to a dead, dancing paedophile with a melted face.

A digested Ghost Kebab threatens to tear Acorah’s arsehole apart like a chicken.

So, finally, to the seance itself. Derek’s channelling technique is a joy to behold. Strained and sweating, he looks like a heavily constipated man who occasionally sees a moth flying past his head. And can somebody please explain to me why every spirit Derek channels talks like a Shakespearian character? ‘Hang on, my aunty Betty never sounded like Ophelia.’

Sam, of course, is always there to help him. He’s the ghosty go-between. ‘Sam… Sam… Sam..,’ Derek kept saying. If he had any sense of humour at all, Derek would have shouted out: ‘Who the Hell is Sam Wheat?’ He didn’t, unfortunately. It is funny, though, how Derek can reel off these big, wordy, stage-script-like speeches – stuttery yet fluently – yet when he tries to evoke or decipher a person’s name it takes him about ten minutes and twenty attempts.

Derek eventually uttered the predictable names ‘Samuel’ and ‘lovely Crystal’. Wow, Michael Jackson’s grandparents! How could Derek possibly have known about them? Oh, Wikipedia. I see. Still, it’s quite uncanny how some of Jackson’s first words were ‘journalists…journalists…journalists… they tell lies upon lies upon lies (tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, oh where for art thou etc.)’. What, was there some recent tabloid controversy surrounding Michael Jackson or something? How could Acorah have divined such exclusive knowledge? How wholly and completely unpredictable for ‘Jackson’ to have come out with that.

The Thriller Who Became Vanilla. And then fucking melted.

There were many, many highlights during the seance. Derek channelling Michael Jackson with laryngitis being one. One of the idiots at the table breaking down in a flood of tears as Derek/Michael tells him that love ‘oozes’ from him was another. But the best was when Derek, clearly struggling for things to say, got ‘possessed’ by Michael and pointed to one of the superfans and said: ‘You, say hello to Quincy Jones for me,’ and the superfan looked Derek square in the eyes, all serious faced, and said: ‘Hello, Quincy Jones.’ You daft, deluded cunt-rag.

A triumph, then. A wonderful piece of entertainment. I haven’t enjoyed a television programme so much since one of the contestants on Countdown got the word ‘WANKER’. And I doubt I’ll enjoy one this much again until the day they broadcast Stevie Wonder and David Gest wrestling oily, disabled midgets for cash.

A closing word from Michael? ‘He’s going to go very close to his beloved children,’ Derek told us.

It’s a shame that Heaven hasn’t reformed Jackson.

He never asked about his fucking monkey, either.

THE END

 

 

Postman Pat – Kids’ TV Redux Pt1

''sup, motherfuckers?'

The first episode of the re-imagined Postman Pat opens on a misty moor on a frosty winter’s morning. Pat and farmer Peter Fogg are drinking strong, home-brew whiskey, as they lie propped up against a dry-stone dyke.

‘Foot and mouth, swine flu, Defra, the wife. They’ve all fucked me, Pat. I’ve got nothing.’

‘I hear that,’ says Pat, hurling an empty bottle and smashing it against a tree. ‘Fucking government. Sixty pence for a first-class stamp? It makes me so angry I could choke Mopatop dead!’

‘Give us a minute, will you, Pat.’

Justice has a long nose and a black pussy.

‘Yeah, sure,’ slurs Pat, wobbling to his feet. As Pat crunches through the frost covered field, he hears the silence broken by a single loud clap. He knows that Peter Fogg’s long misery is at an end.

It’s 2012. The countryside is in ruins thanks to the recession, underinvestment and the exodus of the young and their money. Crime, unemployment and despair are the orders of the day. Chicken rapes are up 200 per cent.

Postman Pat’s seen better days. Especially since the tragic death of his wife at the village fete, crushed under the wheels of a tractor driven by a joy-riding fox.

RIP OAP. Goggins' last stand: mailing her own dessicated jobby to Tory HQ shortly before doing herself in.

A few scenes in, the local post office is closed down by a laughing Tory bastard. Mrs Goggins, with nothing left to live for, takes her own life. She downs a bottle of Gordon’s dry gin, laces her false teeth with paraffin, pops them in, and then lights a petrol-soaked Cuban cigar. The fire is so large it can be seen from the house of the recently-outed Miss Hubbard.

Clutching Goggins’ withered, cooked fingers in his cold hand, Pat vows to avenge her and all of ruraldom. He paints a mural of a black fist on the side of his big, red van; wraps a bandana made from Mrs Goggins’ tear-soaked handkerchief around his head, shaves a mohican into Jess’s skull, claims the shotgun Fogg used to blow open his skull, and rides into the Yorkshire night looking to bring order into chaos.

Ted Glen - or 'The Ferret' as he was known by the SOCS.

The paedophile Reverend Timms is paper-cut to death by a stack of manilla envelopes. I guess he shouldn’t have tried it on with the Thomson twins.

A heroin smuggling ring, controlled by handyman Ted Glen and mobile-shop owner Sam Waldron, is brought to a swift end when Pat pulls up in his van of justice.

‘Package for Glen,’ Pat drawls, slipping an unfiltered cigarette into his badly animated mouth. He hands them the parcel, then makes sure he looks straight into their eyes with a menacing intensity before swaggering back to his van.

‘Ee, thanks, Pat,’ says a puzzled Glen, ‘But tha thought delivrees ‘ad ended.’

‘They have,’ laughs Pat, lighting his cigarette and blowing out a jet of smoke. Out comes a remote control. ‘For you. Privatise this, you drug-dealing cunts!’

Pat slapping them down, Terminator-style.

The resulting explosion takes out Ted and Sam, the mobile shop, three cars, two walls, an electric fence, a pot of cottage cheese, John Craven and fifteen sheep. Wiping from his face the bloody remains of John Craven, and a fragment of sheep’s arse, he looks down at Jess with an uncertain grin. The flames from the explosion reflect in his lenses, lending him the aura of hate and Hellfire. Jess miaows.

‘Maybe we’re too old for this shit, buddy,’ says Pat. ‘But retirement is a choice. My choice. And this letter-posting, big-nosed motherfucker says nobody sleeps till Greendale’s cleaned up.’

Much crime-fighting and indiscriminate fox-murdering ensues.

Pat stands on a desolate outcrop overlooking the hills and valleys of his new kingdom. In the sky above he sees a vision of Mrs Goggins.

‘Pat,’ she howls in her ghostly tone, ‘will the mail ever come back to Greendale?’

‘One day,’ says Pat, cocking his shotgun, ‘There’ll be knock. Ring. Mother-fucking letters through your door.’