The 5 Worst TV Shows of 2017

I watched a lot of TV shows in 2017, a fair dollop of them crap, but none so utterly, irredeemably crap as the five failures below.

PRISON BREAK

The first season of Prison Break was truly great TV: fun, funny, shocking, silly, suspenseful, tense, exciting and beautifully, insanely ridiculous. But it never should’ve lasted beyond those first 22 episodes, much less another 4 seasons, a mini-movie and a revival season.

Was there anyone in the entire world who was actually looking forward to this revival, or who expected it to be anything other than a giant bowl of sick-whisked dog shit? I can understand wanting to watch this new ‘mini-event series’ out of morbid curiosity, or because you relish the prospect of picking it to pieces as you sort of half-watch-it, half-browse-for-stuff-on-Ebay, but surely only a die-hard fanatic of the first order, or a victim of failed brain surgery, would anticipate new Prison Break with any sense of relish.

My expectations started low – we’re talking sub-basement-level flat in Hell’s deepest underground multi-storey – and still they were unmet. Prison Break is a show where anything can, and does, happen, so ultimately nothing matters.This is a show where being electrocuted to death and having your head chopped off is no barrier to a return. It just requires waiting for the right preposterous, credibility-stretching conspiracy to come along.

Don’t get me wrong: the show’s bat-shit crazy, devil-may-care, fast-moving, twisty-turny-ness was one of its greatest and most entertaining assets in the beginning, but now it just feels tired and forced and lazy and formulaic. Plus, it’s more painfully obvious than ever before that the two brothers can’t really act for shit. Lincoln spends this season lumbering around the Middle East with all the grace and charisma of a zombie oak tree, while Ed Kemper is probably more effective at emoting than Michael (and I mean Ed Kemper as he is now). The prison break is boring and short-lived; the secondary characters hollow and unconvincing; the villains one step below panto; the Yemeni setting poorly realised and possibly border-line racist; and the various twists even more maddeningly preposterous than usual.

From the moment Lincoln survived being smashed through a windshield at top speed, to T-Bag’s unemotional ’emotional’ moment with his dying son, I sat completely and utterly spellbound – by my own fingernails. I kept wondering how long it would take to scratch my own eyes out with them.

Oh, and on a closing note, writing and production team: good work on the big showdown and shoot-out at a Yemeni train station: you know, Yemen?… The country that DOESN’T HAVE ANY FUCKING TRAINS.

Read my article about Prison Break seasons 1-4 HERE that was published by Den of Geek in 2013.

POWERLESS

Powerless boasted strong production values, a talented cast (most notably Danny Pudi of Community-fame) and an absolutely on-point, almost perfect title sequence – all of which was ultimately completely useless, because whatever else Powerless had or was, it simply wasn’t funny. And ‘funny’ is a pretty essential component when you’re making a comedy series. It was cancelled after only 9 episodes of the first season had aired.

I guess there have been a lot worse shows than Powerless, but it’s a tragedy that what could’ve been a zany, fresh and inventive comedy looking at life through the lens of a bunch of regular Joes in a WayneTech subsidiary working to protect the little guy from the constant battles between superheroes and supervillains became instead a lacklustre, generic workplace comedy that struggled to conjure up more than a handful laughs (tiny, breathy ones at that) and a smattering of smiles (flat, joyless ones, too).

Still, while the 9 episodes I watched were undoubtedly shite, maybe the show could’ve grown into something special given more of a chance. Shame on you, Powerless. But shame on you, too, American network television.

RED DWARF

The twelve-year-old me who spent his days regurgitating Red Dwarf’s catch-phrases and impersonating its characters would be very angry with fat, hairy thirty-seven-year-old me for placing Red Dwarf on this list, but never mind: I’m reasonably sure I could take twelve-year-old-me in a fight.

It’s fair to say that Red Dwarf has had a wildly uneven hit-rate in recent years; from the mild disappointment of its sheeny-shiny, oh-so-cinematic seventh season, to the post-lobotomy lock-down of its lads-and-lager eighth season; from the abominable Back to Earth, to the show’s present incarnation as a darling of Dave, the show has never quite made the case for its own cancellation, but neither has it given much cause for unbridled celebration.

That’s not to say that latter-day Dwarf has lacked classic episodes – there have been some triumphantly funny episodes, even in the midst of the most middling of seasons – but that still only adds up to 6 truly great episodes out of 31. You wouldn’t be happy to get a score of 6 out of 31 in a test, unless it was a test to see how attractive Kevin Spacey found you on a scale of one to 31. Still, despite the show’s somewhat scatter-gun run since the late 90s I felt weirdly, unfathomably optimistic about season XII. I should’ve known better, or at least lowered my expectations.

While the first episode and the last two episodes of the season were pretty good (or at least ‘good enough’), the third episode – Timewave – was so embarrassingly, blood-curdlingly awful that it made me want to remove all traces of Red Dwarf from my memories with a rusty axe.

Rob Grant’s pointless and puerile attempt to reflect the current political climate by placing the crew on a ship where all criticism was outlawed was the unfunniest thing since… well, since nothing. It’s literally the unfunniest thing that’s ever been produced, and that includes genocide and Mrs Brown’s Boys. It’s the single worst episode of any show I’ve watched this year, and quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and that includes granny porn.

Timewave effortlessly earns Red Dwarf its slot in the top five. It’s so bad it’ll keep Red Dwarf on this list every year for the next ten years, even if it never returns to air.

Read my honest and optimistic look-ahead to Red Dwarf series XII HERE that was published by Den of Geek in 2017.

THE WALKING DEAD

Never before has all-out warfare been so mercilessly, miserably, unforgivably dull. The Walking Dead has been shedding healthy flesh at an alarming rate since the beginning of its sixth season, and now shambles twice-yearly into our schedules a rotted husk of its former reassuringly-gory glory. While even in its younger, better days it was never in the same league as shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, or The Wire, The Walking Dead was at least exciting and emotionally resonant, and capable of turning out some truly powerful, haunting or barn-storming episodes. Season 8, thus far, has been full of action, but devoid of feeling and substance.

Rick is an infuriatingly inconsistent protagonist at the helm of an infuriatingly inconsistent show. Well, perhaps it’s not infuriatingly inconsistent anymore, because use of the word ‘infuriating’ would signify that I still cared about the content or direction of the show. And I don’t. I really, really don’t. Negan is a crushing bore of a bad guy (mishandled and miscast); the Saviours/war narrative continues to unfold without any concessions to logic, sense, physics or geography; the (Poor Man’s Mad Max) People of the Trash Pile are too dull to be kitsch, and too fucking ridiculous to be a credible threat; and there are too many characters on the show, especially when they’re all so thinly-sketched and bent so easily to the will of the plot. Game of Thrones gets away with having eight billion characters, because it’s a very well-written show and as a consequence its characters are deep, well-rounded and interesting.

I used to care about the show, I really did, but now I wouldn’t care if Carol and Daryl formed a Romeo-and-Juliet-style death pact and shot each other through the head, at the same time as Negan sewed Rick’s severed zombie head onto the neck of Ezekiel’s dead tiger. I didn’t even care about Ezekiel’s tiger, and I’m usually a sucker for animals in on-screen peril. And I certainly didn’t care when it was revealed that Karl had been bitten. Actually, that’s not strictly true. I did care, but only because I’m pretty sure he isn’t going to die, and I really, really wanted him to. In summary, then, let the tiger die. Let them all die. Let the zombies come back to life so they can all die again, too. The Walking Dead’s a dead show walking, and I wish they’d pull the plug so I wouldn’t have to keep watching the bloody thing, masochist that I am.

Read my own blog posts about a) Negan himself HERE, and b) season 7 of The Walking Dead HERE.

And my article about the decline of the show HERE published by Den of Geek in 2017.

THE MIST

Hey, it’s the beautiful, elven-looking woman from Vikings, and Clay Davis from The Wire; you know, the one who says ‘shhheeeeeeiiiiiiiittttttttt’ all the time. And Frances Conroy, of Six Feet Under and American Horror Story fame! Oh, and it’s a Stephen King adaptation; an adaptation of an adaptation, I may add, of a film of which I’m rather fond. Mist, monsters, madness, religious mania, a good old-fashioned struggle for survival: what could possibly go wrong?

Well… everything, in fact. Everything. Not even the massive foghorning beasts that lumber from the mist in the cinematic The Mist could rival the horror of this now-mercifully-cancelled misfire (and I mean ‘horror’ in its most pejorative sense here; I’ve just realised that ‘horror’ can serve as a compliment when discussing actual works of horror. There’s no compliment here, believe me). Most of what emerges from the mist in this adaptation comes in the form of hallucinatory supernatural visions , which – a few notably bat-shit moments aside – get incredibly boring almost instantly. Whilst a great deal of the action unfolds in the local mall (the short story and the movie were set almost entirely in a mid-sized supermarket) the series loses vital focus and tension by spreading its characters out across the town. I understand that having a bunch of characters rushing to a focal point for a big, meaty finale, especially when some of those separated characters hold different pieces of an explosive secret, can be thrilling to watch, but not if the writing and the acting has never moved you to care about any of the characters.

The ‘plot’, such as it is, is redolent of those post-watershed, too-hot-for-TV episodes that British soap operas occasionally indulge in, complete with sketchy characters you can’t seem to bring yourself to give a fuck about, heaped servings of am-dram histrionics, and narrative contrivances powerful enough to make your eyes roll back in your head like jackpotted Vegas slot machines. In the end, The Mist is just a bunch of people chasing each other down smoky corridors with spades, or being pursued by duff CGI, as you check the clock every 90 seconds, wondering why you aren’t doing something more worthwhile with your free time, like cheese-grating all the skin off of your face and feeding it to your cat.

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Derek Acorah is Great

ac1Yes, he really is great. Great at being a money-spinning mental-case.

The following isn’t really a book review. It’s a reproduction of selected text from ‘Derek Acorah’s Amazing Psychic Stories’ along with reproductions of some of the things I scribbled in the margins of the book after reading the populist, hocus pocus pish-fest for the first (and – unless there really is a hell – unquestionably the last) time.

The format is easy to follow. Derek ‘says’ something, and then my defacements follow in bold. I wonder if you can tell which emotion dominated my thoughts as I read Acorah’s delightful little book? Let’s do this:


‘However we think of these beings, we all have guiding influences in the heavenly realms who have been allocated to us from birth and who will remain with us for as long as we live on this Earth plane. We may not be aware of their presence, and indeed, some would say there is no such thing, but I can promise you that there is.’

very empirical, asshole


‘You may not be able to see them or hear them, but I doubt that there is anybody alive in this world today who has not at some time or other been inspired by spirit to make a decision which has altered their life quite radically in some way.’

vodka, certainly


‘Guardian angels, spirit guides and family members in spirit do not of course reserve the right to make their presence felt in our lives only when we are in mortal danger or when we need reassurance. Our guides and guardians are designated to us at birth to ensure that we conduct our lives in the manner chosen by us prior to our incarnation into this physical life. Because we have free will, our God-given right, we may put ourselves in danger of choosing the wrong pathway and veering away from our chosen life’s experience, and it is the job of our guardians and guides to make sure that we do not stray.’

so it’s their job to ensure that we can only exercise free-will insofar as we follow a pre-arranged pattern? sounds more like fucking Quantum Leap to me


 ‘I was allowed a certain amount of success as a footballer, but did not achieve the standard that I wished.’

i.e. you were shite!!!


‘I was feeling depressed. Life was not being kind to me. Nothing was going right. I had deep financial problems and my emotional life was in a catastrophic state. I felt that I had nothing left to live for. Ending it all and taking myself over to the spirit world seemed a very appealing option.’

(I’d underlined deep financial problems and simply wrote) BINGO


‘As I walked towards the murky waters I thought how easy it would be just to keep on walking and to disappear completely from this earthly plane. ‘What do I have left to live for?’ I asked myself.’

Good question


‘Physical circles are meetings of a number of mediums, usually between six and eight, who sit with the sole purpose of assisting one of their numbers to attain physical mediumship. Physical mediumship is the point where a medium goes beyond the gifts of clair-audience, clairvoyance and clairsentience and develops the ability to produce ectoplasm in substantial enough quantities to enable a spirit to be viewed by those who do not have the ability to see clairvoyantly.’

aka a bukkake wanking circle (I also underlined the name of one of the mediums in this circle – Ray Pugh. Classic.)


‘It is true to say… (continues for a long paragraph)’

no it isn’t


‘Although it may sound terribly appealing, I am afraid that there are no banks of winged angels heralding our arrival into the spirit world with celestial tunes played on long golden bugles. There is no heavily bearded Saint Peter, guardian of the pearly gates, waiting with a large book in hand to hold us accountable for all our earthly deeds.’

yeah, cause that’d just be fucking stupid, wouldn’t it, Derek?


‘As the spirit form gently rises, a silver cord linking them to their body becomes taut and then breaks, leaving the spirit free to float upwards and on to the realms beyond from whence it came.’

like a balloon. Neat. You horse fucker


‘Astral travel is where the spirit self leaves the physical body to travel through the astral planes. This is achieved through deep meditation and should not be attempted by everyone.’

OK, thanks for the fucking warning.


‘When we have experienced everything, both good and bad, then we remain in the world of spirit, dwelling in the higher realms forever.’

EVERYTHING? Like being stabbed to death by a man dressed as a clown? Obliterated by shoving a high-pressure tire pump up your bum? Being flattened by a steamroller while having a distracted wank at some roadworks?


Note to self: How does Acorah filter out hoaxes or separate genuine paranormal events from instances of stress and psychological disturbance. Or is his criteria: if people write to me, it’s ghosts.


‘Some people may undergo a number of serious accidents or dangerous incidents and will survive to carry on with their physical lives. The results of those incidents may impair their physical ability to live their lives as before, but that is what they have chosen to undergo on their life’s pathway in order to achieve soul growth in the next life. Other people may experience just one accident and will pass to spirit as a result. It is all down to our own personal choice, but at the end of the day we pass on to the spirit world when the time is right and no sooner.’

(flicks through catalogue) Mmm, I think I’ll have four minor accidents and a fatality this time, please. What do you have in the way of chromosomal deformities? I want to treat myself for my 80th incarnation.


‘Remote viewing is travelling astrally to a place with the sole purpose of viewing that place, be it an office, a home, etc. People may claim to practise it, but great care should be exercised when listening to such claims. I have heard of many where the remote viewing is basically a combination of guesswork and cold reading.’

Oh, NOW he’s a sceptic! Priceless. This is like when Scientology pisses all over psychiatry. Destroy the competition.


‘I am often asked why innocent babies and young people have to go through horrendous events in their short lifetimes here on earth, why some young lives are cut short by either accidents or acts of malice or cruelty by another person, why some children succumb to illnesses which take them back to the spirit world at an early age, why hundreds of thousands of young lives are cut short due to famine, disease or natural disaster. The answer is simple: those young souls chose to undergo those experiences before they incarnated here on Earth. And why? To take their spirit selves further up the spiritual ladder, and closer to the ultimate heavenly state.’

So, dead babies are really just angels about to get their wings? Fuck you, Acorah.


‘In subsequent incarnations they may choose an easier lifetime here on Earth. They may choose to be born into a loving family, wanting for nothing and with a relatively trouble-free and long lifespan. After such a life they will still become closer to the Godhead when their time comes to pass back to the spirit world, but they will only have climbed one rung as opposed to the many rungs they climbed in their harsher existence.’

How many rungs are there, you scientific bastard?


(on the death of a child) ‘It is, however, true that the spirit of their child chose to experience that particular method of passing. They chose it for their soul growth, just as the spirit selves of the parents chose to experience the loss of a child in a violent way.’

Match.com’s got nothing on Heaven’s sick-ass soul matching service. “Ah, little Timmy, I see you’ve put down on the form that you want to be matched with a set of nice, affluent parents, and you’ve stressed that they must have a good sense of humour, and also be keen to see their child brutally murdered before their very eyes. As luck would have it…”


‘I’m sure that everybody has at some point heard the statement “Oh, they’re an old soul” or “They’ve been here before!” being made about a small child or baby. And it is true.’

Hmmm, people use these largely meaningless non-literal expressions, so this must be empirical proof of the existence of the afterlife. WATCH OUT DAWKINS, ACORAH’S FUCKING COMING AND HE’S GOT SCIENCE!


CHAPTER 11 – A Joint Message

So THAT’S how he does it!


‘The people in the spirit world are no different. When they see a loved one in the depths of despair or worrying over a situation, they will draw close and give as much physical comfort as they possibly can.’

Is a hand-job from a dead ex-girlfriend out of the question??


‘”Was it my guardian angel, Derek?”

I was able to tell her that it was most definitely a loved one from the world of spirit placing a hand of reassurance on her shoulder.’

You fucking Scouse scumbag.


‘Sean breathed a sigh of relief. “So I’m not about to pop my clogs then?”

“No,” I told him with a smile.’

Is that ethical? Sean, mate, get on to NHS 24. Never take medical advice from a failed footballer whose best mate is a ghost.


‘Sean’s experience is unusual but not unknown. I have heard reports of people who can give such detailed information of events in a previous lifetime that it has been possible to check and confirm what they have said is correct.’

Then why not put these examples in your fucking book?


‘Sometimes when children are ill and have a high temperature they may start to hallucinate, as the medical profession calls it, and see beings who frighten them. They are not hallucinating at all. What they are seeing is spirit beings who are unfamiliar to them and so they are frightened, just as I was frightened as a six-year-old boy when I saw the spirit form of my grandfather in my grandmother’s house.’

Every doctor in the world on line 1! I hallucinated bees as a child, Derek. What were they? Ghost bees? 


ac2So there you have it. Like I said, not really a review. If you would like to see a review, here’s a five-star recommendation for the same book courtesy of Amazon…

This review is from: Derek Acorah’s Amazing Psychic Stories (Paperback)

GREAT READING FROM THE MAN WHO SOUNDS LIKE LILY SAVAGE , I LOVE DEREK ON MOST HAUNTED ,AND THOUGH SOMETIMES I HAVE DOUBTS ,DEREK IS ALWAYS THERE WITH A QUIP OR A OOEERR , GREAT BOOK ESPECIALLY THE LAST CHAPTERS ABOUT PETS !!, DEFINATLY HAPPENING IN MY HOUSE,

So there you have it.
If you want to read some more about how much I love Derek Acorah, have a click and a flick at the links below.

The Walking Dead Review: Season 5 Episode 9

rick

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. 

ty

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. 

gov

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…”

Biggest TV Disappointments of 2013: The Following

following

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

The Best Shittest Films: Twilight (2008)

twi4I don’t like Twilight. Hardly surprising, given that the film wasn’t produced with my nearly-dead demographic in mind. I’m an incredibly miserable, hairy and lumpy man in my early 30s, not an angsty, hormonally-unbalanced teenage girl who dreams nightly of being violated by moody, scowling vampires. In fact, the whole process of rubbishing Twilight is about as futile as criticising the dearth of symbolism and poor cinematography in an episode of The Chuckle Brothers.

That being said, I consider Twilight a boring, irritating, and thoroughly worthless piece of shite, so I’m going to do it anyway.

They'll drink your blood.

They’ll drink your blood.

Let’s put our cards on the table. If you’re a guy, you’ve probably watched this film a) because of a girl, b) because you’re a girl, or c) because you’re a connoisseur of crap films and enjoy shooting sarcastic wisecracks at the screen (or so you keep telling yourself, Mr b) ). And, girls? If you’re young, young at heart, or young at mind (a polite way of calling you a drooling, bum-houking simpleton), or all three, then you’re going to love this film. Vampirism aside, it ticks all of the traditional romantic boxes for a teen love film. There’s the new-in-town, pretty-but-awkward girl, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), whose personality has been forged in a cold fire of loneliness and intra-parental antipathy. There’s the mysterious, brooding outsider, Edward Cullen (played by a young Charlie Brooker), who puts up emotional ice-screens to protect his fragile, wittle, achy bweaky heart from being broken. Where the plot differs slightly from that of, say, Grease, is by virtue of its male protagonist being an immortal vampire who feasts hungrily on human blood.

Fit like, min?

Fit like, min?

The two kooks are brought together when Edward intervenes to rescue Bella from an out-of-control car, and in the process reveals to her his superhuman strength and speed (car-crossed lovers, you might say). Bella quickly figures out the entirety of Edward’s secret, which isn’t that much of a puzzler, to be honest: the deathly pale skin; the weird and pale family; the aversion to sunny days; everyone steering clear of him: he’s clearly from Aberdeen.

I’ll admit that the first twenty minutes or so of the movie weren’t irredeemably awful, and I was ready to give myself a slap on the wrist for letting my preconceptions over-ride my critical faculties. And then I realised that my preconceptions were bang on the money, and the film really was a massive and steamingly hot, six-storeyed tower of giraffe shit.

Call me cynical if you will, but it’s the speed and nature of the lovers’ relationship that had me groaning the most. Guys, I’m talking to you again. Bella and Edward, a human and a vampire, fall into deep, I-will-kill-and-die-for-you love within about four seconds of meeting. Maybe I can’t remember what teenage love feels like anymore, but Bella comes across like she could boil rhinos, never mind bunnies, and Edward seems like an emotionally maladjusted crackpot who’s a mere few missed meals away from using a hitchhiker’s jugular as a straw for his Irn Bru.

I'm furiously playing with my golden Gamesmaster joystick.

I’m furiously playing with my golden Gamesmaster joystick.

And let’s not forget that Edward – made immortal during the First World War by a bite from his now-foster-father – is 108, despite outwardly having remained a 17-year-old boy. He’s 108… she’s 17. I know my girlfriend’s younger than me, but come on? A 91-year age difference? Imagine if the film had opened with Patrick Moore mind-raping a boy and stealing his body, which he then spent the remainder of the film using to shag teenage girls… Actually, that’s a great idea for a film. Especially now that he’s dead. We’ll call it ‘The Pie at Night – New Moore.’

*(please note that this review draft has been on my computer for years and I’m only just amending it. I could have used a Jimmy Savile joke there, and didn’t. Too much class, you see?)

Bella meets Edward’s nutty vampire family; luckily for her they’re good vampires, in the respect that they eschew chewing humans in favour of getting stuck in about animals. Not long after this we’re introduced to some bad, human-eating vampires, who show up just as Bella and the Cullens are  enjoying a baseball game during a thunderstorm – isn’t that always the way? (Little note on the baseball game itself: it looked and felt so Quidditch-like that I half hoped and expected Harry Potter to whizz past on his broomstick, if only so that the bad vampires could catch him and rape his dead corpse) (I know that’s tautology, but there’s something so satisfying about a dead corpse: especially Harry Potter’s) (sorry for all the brackets).

twi3So, ace, right? We’ve got ourselves some bad vampires who want to kill Bella and rumble with her boyfriend’s family! Amazing! Some action, some bloodshed!! This film’s about to get good, right? RIght?? Wrong. By this point in the movie there had been twenty-million too many crummy pseudo-philosophical Bella voice-overs, and at least eighty-thousand million too many sickening professions of eternal love and sacrifice for the chase segment of the movie to kindle within me any sense of excitement. Not even the fact that Edward himself had problems controlling his urge to eat Bella – despite his insane love for her – could inch me closer to the edge of my seat. I just didn’t – and couldn’t – give a fuck. Bon appetit, mate. Have a wee chew on her thigh bones, Eddie. Sook the meat off them like they’re a pair of barbecue spare ribs from Wongs’.

I just wanted it all to end. End fast. And end like 30 Days of Night: with half a town torn to death and a man frittering away like burnt toast in a hurricane.

Avoid. These vampires are a total bunch of fangies.

The Best Shittest Films: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

s1The movie opens with a chorus of children singing the song-cum-mantra ‘Hooray for Santy Claus’, which is catchy in the same way that a song played over and over into a terrorist’s ear in Guantanamo Bay is catchy. Look out for the lyrics: ‘You spell it S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S / Hooray for Santy Claus!’ which contain a glaringly insulting error. These happy kids are made to look like spelling-spastics by the song’s rampant disregard for its own rules. Look out for my new song, ‘You spell it J-A-M-I-E A-N-D-R-E-W / Hooray for Jamue Androw!’ A minor quibble, perhaps, but in the end it’s the little things that’ll have you prising out your eyes with a rusty tea-spoon.

So what’s the plot of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians?

'I'll fucking conquer them alright!'

‘I’ll fucking conquer them alright!’

The movie’s title makes it all sound rather kick-ass, doesn’t it? Perhaps you’re already wondering how he conquers them. Does he get his hands on an assault rifle and rip into the alien scumbags John McClane-style? Does he bash those green bastards to death with a concrete candy cane? No, not really. In fact there’s no conquering at all. Not even a wee bit of subduing. The film should really be called: ‘Santa Claus is Really Nice to the Martians, Even Though They Kidnap Him, and He Ultimately Leaves Mars On Good Terms With Its People Despite the Behaviour of a Tiny Minority of Baddy Martians Who Want to Kill Him.’ Not as catchy, but definitely more accurate.

The story begins on Earth. A news reporter is at Santa’s North Pole Workshop conducting a live interview with the bearded chuckler himself, a role actor John Call brings to life by channelling both the lion from The Wizard of Oz, and a paedophile.

VERY Bad Santa.

VERY Bad Santa.

As we meet him, Santa is overseeing the global production of all toys. Quite a feat, considering his work shop is about the size of a small potting shed and his workforce consists of two dwarves. Two dwarves. That’s it. If magic isn‘t involved then Santa’s a more cruel and brutal slave-driver than all of the pharaohs put together, plus Hitler. The dwarves really should form a union.

'Whachoo talkin' about, Space-Willis?'

‘Whachoo talkin’ about, Space-Willis?’

One of the toys on the production line is a doll of a Martian, a wee piece of foreshadowing for our impending trip to Mars. Now, I don’t know if it was the poor lighting, the screen resolution on my laptop, or my own latent racism, but that Martian doll looked less like a Martian than he did… well… black. The toy was essentially a sci-fi gollywog. The news reporter picked up the doll and said, with some measure of fear and disgust: ’I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night.’ Of course you wouldn’t, you big Nazi.

So, Anyway, the Martians…

I'd be sad, too, if my Dad dressed me up like a total helmet.

I’d be sad, too, if my Dad dressed me up like a total helmet.

Meanwhile, across the solar system, the live broadcast of this interview is being watched by a duo of dead-eyed Martian kids, who thanks to their nasty TV addiction look like the offspring of a serial killer and Al Jolson. Their dad, Kimar, whose day-job is Martian supreme commander, is worried shitless about them. If he’d been an American dad he would have known what to do: dope the cunts up with beef burgers and Ritalin. Being Martian and ignorant of Earth ways he has to plump for a more locally-based two-prong solution.

Step one: put them to bed and knock them out with a sleep ray, without warning or consent. Nice work, Dad of the Year. Final step: get a crowd of mates together and go out into the rocky wilderness to consult a creepy 800-year-old man. We’d all do the same, and you know it. This old man, of course, needs to be summoned. ‘Dave? Hey, Dave? DAVE, YOU THERE, MATE?!’ No, that would be too easy. In any case the 800-year-old guy is called Chochum. Not Dave. Apparently Dave isn’t a very common Martian name. We’re all learning something today.

Chochum. A magical space mystic on Mars. That makes sense.

Chochum. A magical space mystic on Mars. That makes sense.

So, Kimar and a bunch of Martian elders band together and chant ‘Chochum’ into the unforgiving darkness, until the old fucker appears in a puff of smoke, complete with Gandalf-beard, standard-issue-old-mystic-guy staff and pish-scented wisdom. Chochum delivers his lines like a man receiving a sloppy blow-job as he fends off a stroke, which is pretty fucking funny.

What does Chochum suggest as a way of releasing the children from their torpor? Kidnap Santa Claus, of course. It’s so logical and sensible it’s a wonder they didn’t think of it themselves. So off they fly in their little spaceship, the operation of which is no more complicated than pressing buttons on a child’s fake calculator. The ship itself is a curious piece of inter-stellar engineering, looking for all the world like a burning condom whooshing through space.

The Search for Santa

s7The Martians reach Earth and begin their search for Santa – using a high-powered telescope, rather than any namby-pamby futuristic technology. To their horror they realise that there are thousands upon thousands of Santas in New York alone. With no way of determining which is the genuine article they do what any military group placed in a similar situation would do: they kidnap some kids. Bloody Martians. Always with the kidnapping! The kids tell the Martians where Santa Claus lives, and they all zoom off to the North Pole to get him.

The two kids, Billy and Betty, are incredibly annoying, and very shit at acting. It’s as if immediately prior to each take the director said to them: ‘The last one was good kids, but this time… NO EMOTION. Brilliant. And remember to deliver your lines in the style of a short-sighted, brain-damaged man struggling to read an autocue.’

Unfortunately, the kids learn not only that the Martians intend to whisk Santa across the solar system against his will, but also that they – being witnesses to the crime – must come, too, never to return to Earth. In fact, as if things couldn’t possibly be any worse, there’s an evil baddy Martian onboard who wants them all dead. His name’s Stevie. Yeah, alright, alright, I’m fucking with you. He’s called Voldar. Fortunately, there’s also a kind-hearted Martian simpleton onboard called Dropo, who succeeds in keeping the kids alive through a winning display of consistently retarded buffoonery.

About as scary as a tub of margarine.

About as scary as a tub of margarine.

The action at the North Pole is… shit. Adjectives fail me. It’s shit. The kids escape the ship and run off to warn Santa of his impending kidnap. In the process they get chased by the most unconvincing polar bear in existence. I know the director couldn’t unleash a real polar bear on the kids – some piffling Health and Safety law about not feeding children to large ursine predators, no doubt – but as far as guys-wearing-shit-animal-costumes go, Barney the Dinosaur is more authentically terrifying than this sorry excuse for a polar bear. Anyway, having escaped one near-death experience the kids then fall into the clutches of Voldar’s killer robot, who looks like the robot from Lost in Space if he was built by a class of special needs kids using cereal boxes, and the bin from Oor Wullie.

About as scary as... a second tub of margarine. And also made from tubs of margarine.

About as scary as… a second tub of margarine. And also made from tubs of margarine.

Don’t worry, though. Before the robot can crush the kids’ heads to dust like a couple of loaves of twelve-week-old bread, Kimar shows up to cool things down. The robot is then sent to retrieve Santa Claus, but is defeated when Santa Claus mistakes it for a giant toy, which inexplicably causes it to BECOME a toy, thereby rendering it harmless. Whoever programmed that robot shouldn‘t have been let loose on a hoover, much less a sophisticated cybernetic life-form.

‘Right, brilliant, my robot can kill a man with its bare hands, withstand gun, rocket and laser fire, smash its way through titanium and destroy whole cities with its nuclearised death beam. Pretty much its only weakness is being treated like a toy by an old man. But how likely’s that, right? I’ll leave that in the programming for some reason. What do you want me to build next? A robot dog that explodes whenever somebody makes it think about Sesame Street? I’m on a fucking roll here.’

The End…

'Ho ho ho! No need for mental health professionals, I'll cure your schizophrenia through laughter!'

‘Ho ho ho! No need for mental health professionals, I’ll cure your schizophrenia through laughter!’

Because I’m quickly losing the will to live I’ll speed up this review. Onboard the USS Flaming Spunk Sac, Voldar tries to kill Santa Claus and the kids by trapping them in the airlock and ejecting them out into the cold, remorseless void of space (lovely to see the threat of choking, exploding children in a kids’ film); unfortunately for Voldar (and all of us) they manage to escape through… well, magic. Yep. Santa Claus defies physics, and when quizzed on the specifics of his escape simply tells a few shit jokes, throws back his head and laughs.

Santa Claus then arrives on Mars and cures the Martian kids by… hmmm mmm, you’ve guessed it: telling a few shit jokes, throwing back his head and laughing. Kimar still slings him in jail, though, because he needs Santa to set up a toy workshop for the Martian kids, which he’ll work in until the day he dies. Ho ho ho!

Kimar (right) with his nemesis, Voldar, who looks like an evil Daley Thompson.

Kimar (right) with his nemesis, Voldar, who looks like an evil Daley Thompson.

Meanwhile, Voldar isn’t happy that everyone he twice tried to kill is still alive, and so forms an evil clique with a handful of the most stupid people on Mars. Why do baddies in kids’ films team up with complete idiots like this? They end up spending their valuable plotting-and-killing-time tip-toeing around like Panto villains, shooshing their bungling henchman as they do things like constantly trip over stuff and accidentally detonate bombs, always scratching their heads and saying, ’Uh, um, gee, sorreeee bosssss.’ Don’t hire them then, you fucking arsehole! There’s no equal opportunities directive dictating the make-up of your kid-murdering co-op. Employ real, ruthless killers and criminals; not the guys who turn up to the interview drooling with their jackets on back-to-front. Christ, your heinous plans deserve to get foiled.

This time, though, instead of murdering Santa and the kids, Voldar plans to discredit Santa by screwing around with his toy factory, causing it to spit out weird toy hybrids, like tennis racquets with doll bodies instead of handles. The plan doesn’t work; principally because it’s a shit plan. If he wanted to discredit Santa he really should have gone down the paedophile route. Cast-iron. Anyway, Voldar thinks, in defiance of all available historical facts: ‘Fuck it. I’ll just try to kill them all again.’

s12That plan doesn’t work either; because clearly one man with a death ray is no match for a bunch of kids with paper aeroplanes, water, bubbles and foam.

Santa, Billy and Betty then get to go home, but it’s OK, because Santa leaves the operation of the workshop in the hands of the mentally-deranged Martian, Dropo and a squad of under-age children. Congratulations! You’ve given the people of Mars the Christmas gift of an exploitative sweat shop. Now back to Earth with you, you fat cunt.

SPOILER ALERT: it turns out that Santa was dead all along and the children were the only ones who could see him. Oh, and he was Kaiser Szose.

The Legacy

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was a great stepping stone for the careers of its principal actors: a stepping stone into oblivion. After his role as Santa, John Call didn’t act for another seven years, appeared in one more movie, and then died. Still, we’ll always look back fondly at the iconic roles he played throughout his career, like Man With Bushy Hair and Ticket Taker.

Head Martian Kimar was Leonard Hicks’ only film role. He never even went on to work as a movie extra. He just must have thought to himself: ’Fuck movies.’

The two child actors, Victor Stiles and Donna Conforti, went on a drug-fuelled sex-killing rampage in the 70s, torturing their mostly elderly victims whilst dressed as polar bears. Either that or they never acted again.

Uncle Wally/Dropo

Uncle Wally/Dropo

The only ’star’ to achieve any modicum of success was actor Bill McCutcheon, who played Martian mongo Dropo. Bill went on to have a distinguished career portraying many more on-screen mongos, and ended his days working on Sesame Street, alongside other respected luminaries of kids’ TV such as Chris Langham.

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.

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Read all about the finale of Lost here.