TV Preview: Being Human, Series Two, Episode Six

Please note that this preview doesn’t include any major spoilers, but if you’d rather know nothing about the episode then come back after you’ve watched it.

After last week’s glorious return of Herrick to the series, one of the reasons the flashbacks which open each episode are proving to be more than just gimmicks, this time we glimpse some of the back story of the mysterious Kemp.

Sticking to my promise not to spoil these episodes I won’t go into detail here, but it’s an introduction which more than explains Kemp’s hatred towards vampire kind, even if the details of the lead up to the events are left unclear.

In the present, Mitchell is still struggling with his addiction to blood, Lucy seemingly his only hope if he’s going to continue to abstain. Lucy, of course, is torn between caring for Mitchell and following Kemp’s cause.

It’s a shame that while every other character seems to get some light shed on their actions, Lucy remains something of a mystery. Then again, it’s arguable that we’re being fed too much information of the others and that there’s something to be said for keeping us in the dark.

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TV Preview: Being Human, Series Two, Episode Five

Please note that this preview doesn’t include spoilers, but if you’d rather know nothing about the episode then come back after you’ve watched it.

“It’s the library books isn’t it?”

Another week, another flashback and another shock ending which threatens to send Being Human off in another direction from the one we were expecting 55 minutes previously. Can this series lay claim to being the most surprising on British television today? Almost certainly.

It’s London, 1969, and we’re first introduced to…ah, but that would be telling. Typical of Being Human, there’s nothing typical about its opening salvo, a pre-credits sequence which is both shocking and hilarious, as is the programme’s wont.

The past is tied indelibly to the present in Being Human, this episode entwining the two as Mitchell recalls events from one night in the Sixties.

Back in 2010, Ian Puleston-Davies’ turn as Herrick-lite, Wilson, continues to impress, though the absence of Jason Watkins is still felt even with the new band of adversaries faced by Mitchell, Annie and George.

This week Wilson wants to recruit Mitchell to carry out a little job for him, one which goes against the new vampire code that demands that no blood is shed on his watch. This may seem a ludicrous turn of events but it’s given enough conviction from Aidan Turner that there seems nothing unusual with the idea.

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TV Preview: Being Human, Series Two, Episode Two

Annie

Please note that this preview doesn’t include spoilers, but if you’d rather know nothing about the episode then come back after you’ve watched it.

“I wanted to be a normal girl, kissing a normal boy. I wanted to escape, just for a second.”

If there’s one thing you can be certain about with Being Human it’s that you can never be certain about anything.

Over just seven episodes we’ve so far learnt much about Mitchell, George and Annie and their predicament, the how’s and why’s of how they each arrived in a house in Bristol laid out via flashbacks and dialogue in parts hilarious and heartbreaking.

In episode one of this new series we saw Annie branching out further from the house, taking a job at a pub just a few feet down the road. As with most elements of this series, humour and drama would inevitably ensue – remember her job interview? – but with this episode things take a turn which nobody saw coming…and it’s as ridiculous and terrifying as it should be.

Elsewhere, the vampire community are still reeling from the departure of Herrick from the scene, a hole having been created which it’s going to take some time to fill. The appearance of figures of Mitchell’s past forces him back into a life he wants to leave behind, and it’s a different side to the character on show.

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Being Human Revisited: the live blog

Being Human

I love BBC Three’s Being Human. That’s probably an important disclaimer for this particular blog post so let’s get it out of the way first. I watched the pilot back in February 2008, instantly falling in love with the story of a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf sharing a house in Bristol.

Screened as part of a season which saw six pilots made for the channel, the intention being to turn at least one into a fully fledged series, Being Human may have stood out as one of the most original but it almost fell at the first hurdle. The Powers That Be decided to commission comic book action fantasy-thingy Phoo Action instead and Being Human was dead…or would have been if the fans hadn’t got involved.

Long before Twitter was the force for social good it is (we can debate that one another time), fans set up an online petition calling for Being Human to be given another chance. The short version of the ensuing saga is that they won, Phoo Action high-kicked into oblivion and we now have series two about to start on BBC Three tomorrow night.

I’ve now decided to watch it all again. Starting with the pilot (which isn’t in the DVD set), I’ll run through the series, watching the series first six episodes shown on TV last year.

My comments won’t be the most in-depth on the Internet – it is live after all – but I’ll do my best to capture some of the feeling of the series as it develops. This may stretch into tomorrow depending on other commitments, but I’ll make sure I finish it all by 9.30pm Sunday night. Promise.

There’s no real plan to this live blog other than that. I’ll link off to a few other sites, drop in the odd YouTube clip and trailer if it’s relevant and generally go a bit OTT on the series. Feel free to leave comments if you’d like and follow me on Twitter for the odd interlude and to find out when I’ll be starting each episode…oh, and watch out for spoilers folks…

Here’s a look at the original trailer for the pilot:

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DVD Review: How Not to Live Your Life

How Not to Live Your Life

*****

Back for a second series of embarrassment and strange situations, Dan Clark’s How Not to Live Your Life continues to be one of the more unique comedies on British TV while still hidden away on BBC3.

Heartbroken after the departure of his housemate and not-so-secret crush, Abby, Don Danbury (Clark) still shares his home with friend and (almost) carer Eddie (David Armand) while trying to navigate the pitfalls of modern life.

When a beautiful new lodger arrives in the shape of student Sam (Laura Haddock), Don starts to realise that perhaps Abby wasn’t the most important thing in his life, while events continue to move into odder and odder territory.

As the season goes on it’s clear there’s more progression than in the first series, Don’s relationship with Sam frequently allowing for moments of emotion in among the jokes.

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The Return of Minder

Minder

Shane Richie as Archie Daley on Channel Five

It’s been all over the UK press recently that Minder, the classic 70s and 80s TV series starring George Cole as Arthur Daley and Dennis Waterman as Terry, is making a comeback.

Only this time we have Shane Richie as Arthur’s nephew Archie and Lex Shrapnel as his minder, Jamie.

I wrote a while back that I grew up watching Minder, at least in its latter years, and I loved its brilliant mix of drama and humour set among the seedy backstreets of London.

Even in its final few years, when Terry went to Australia, to be replaced by Gary Webster as Arthur’s nephew Ray, I would tune in to see what scam was being perpetrated this week.

A few years back I picked up the first series on Australian DVD, complete with a couple of George Cole commentaries, and admired the grit of the series and the clever plots, as well as the interaction between the leads.

Sadly it all ended in 1994, Arthur hanging his hat up for good and perhaps spending a few more evenings with ‘er indoors as he grew old disgracefully.

I have mixed feelings about the new show, even though I’ve not seen it yet (it’s due to start in February I believe). A review on the Guardian website this week was pretty evenhanded about the first episode, though they couldn’t quite work out who the audience is going to be for the series: the fans will think it’s a bad idea while the kids won’t think its cool enough.

I’ve read that the Winchester Club will make an appearance and it would be great to see the return of Arthur for a one-off appearance, or even Mr Chisholm (Patrick Malahide).

The makers have said they’d love to get Waterman or Cole back for series two, but we’ll have to wait and see whether this can run for as many years as the original or if it’ll be a flash in the pan. I truly hope this can do some justice to the classic series and that they don’t spoil the memory.

I’ll add a review to the blog following the first episode, in the meantime here’s a short trailer for Channel Five with some Minder clips followed by the revamped theme tune from Glasgow band the Attic Lights – I really hope that Richie’s annoying tie straightening gimmick seen in the music video isn’t going to be his “trademark” in the series:

Photo copyright Channel Five

Meta4orce Exclusive Part Three: Animation and Interactive team interviews

Meta4orce

In the third and final part of my exclusive series of interviews with the team behind the new BBC interactive sci-fi series Meta4orce, I speak to the Animation and Interactive team.

Jonathan Melville: Can you tell me a bit about your backgrounds?

John Denton (Creative Director): I’ve been working in the digital design field throughout my career, and the last 7 years of that has been here at Bloc.

Ron Ganbar (Animation Supervisor): I’ve been working in post production since 1996, on everything from commercials to feature films. Over the last couple of years I’ve worked on some high-end feature films such as Sunshine and Elizabeth – the Golden Age and also on animation shorts.

What has it been like working on the series? Is there a buzz surrounding it?

Ron Ganbar (Animation Supervisor): It’s been a lot of hard work! I knew that Alex Norris (who I worked with many times before) was starting to work on this exciting BBC Two series and I was booked to head up the animation team.

It was a daunting task as the time frame and budget we had were both tight, but we found a way of tackling the script and since then it was challenge after challenge, but I’m extremely happy with the results. Alex kept pushing us and we kept delivering as much as we could.

John Denton (Creative Director): Meta4orce has been a very different experience for us here at Bloc. We have had to work very closely with both the writer and the director in order to make sure the interactive experience is intrinsically interwoven with the story.

In terms of buzz – absolutely! We were all super-chuffed to get this job. I almost think if we’d known too much about what we were actually planning to achieve we might have all bricked it from the start as it turned to be a gargantuan task. Sometimes it really is better to just not know!

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Meta4orce Exclusive Part Two: Rick Palmer and Alex Norris interviews

Meta4orce

The second part of my three-part series of interviews looking at the creation of new BBC animated drama Meta4orce continues as Executive Producer Rick Palmer and Director, Producer and Editor Alex Norris take time out to discuss the programme and their hopes its future.

Jonathan Melville: Can you tell me a bit about your background?

Rick Palmer (Executive Producer): My background is in online. In the late 90’s I set up and ran the largest independent film site in the UK, Reelscreen.com, which I sold to Future Publishing PLC in late 1999. Subsequent to that I founded BLOC Media as a digital agency working for clients in the entertainment industry and more recently the company has started to develop cross-platform formats such as Meta4orce.

How did the idea for Meta4orce come about?

Rick Palmer: The BBC approached us with the idea to create a new Teen Detective Drama for BBC Switch, but the actual format, story and world were left to us to develop.

We really wanted to bring some comic book sensibility to the story and John, our Creative Director and Assistant Producer on the show, was pretty adamant the story be set in the future so that we could have some fun with technology and the world around them.

We then approached one of our all time favourite comic book writers about the series and were over the moon when he agreed to get involved.

How similar is it producing an interactive series to a traditional TV series?

Rick Palmer: I’ve no experience producing traditional TV so wouldn’t presume to answer this, however from many years of experience developing highly successful online formats for companies including CBBC and PlayStation, I would suggest that the addition of a fully interactive version of the show adds significantly to the overall work involved.

What has it been like working on the series? Is there a buzz surrounding it?

Rick Palmer: Meta4orce has been a fantastic series to work on and a significant commission for BLOC Media. Getting the chance to work with such a highly respected comic book writer, as well as an amazing animation and interactive team has made the series a joy to work on.

And the feedback from TV and web viewers and the client has made the project really worthwhile.

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Meta4orce Exclusive Part One: Peter Milligan interview

Meta4orce

Following my recent review of the new BBC animated detective series Meta4orce, the series production team have kindly answered some questions about the genesis and future of the series.

I’ll be publishing these in three parts, kicking-off with series writer Peter Milligan. Starting his comic career in the 80s with 2000AD, he has since gone on to work on a number of high-profile projects including The X-Men.

Jonathan Melville: How did the idea for Meta4orce come about? Did you come up with the story before deciding on the animated format?

Peter Milligan: I come from a comic book background, and wanted to draw on some of that peculiar comic book sensibility – bodies that are altered, identities changed, regular people becoming extraordinary – and ally it to a futuristic detective story.

I knew from the outset that this was going to be an animated format, but it could be that some germs of the idea had been floating around, with a view to them being used in a comic.

Was their ever any discussion of the series being live-action?

As the idea developed, and we all became excited by what we saw as the idea’s potential, there was talk about live action.

Were you given free range with the script?

Up to a point. Within the parameters of a story that the BBC agreed to, and the constraints on a story aimed at teens and to be shown in the afternoon on BBC Two, there was quite a bit of freedom for character development and plot twists.

How different is writing for animation compared to comics and films?

Not as different as you might imagine. The characters have to be three dimensional and seem to have a life outside of the story. The plot has to make sense, and hopefully surprise, and say something about your characters.

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Feel the Meta4orce

While pottering about the flat this morning I switched on the TV to BBC2, midway through an episode of an animated sci-fi detective programme called Meta4orce. I’m very glad I did.

Screening as part of the BBC Switch strand, which seems to be the latest attempt at “Yoof TV” (anyone remember Def II many moons ago?), this caught my attention with it stark subject matter and impressive animation.

Set in the London of 2034, a now flooded city where the survivors of a natural disaster are living with increased crime, a small group of genetically engineered detectives are on their first case. My initial thought was Torchwood meets X-Men – take a look at the trailer to see what I’m talking about:

While aimed at a younger audience, Meta4orce certainly doesn’t talk down to them, with Soma, the blood reading member of the team a slightly gory concept for one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.

The rest of the team are pretty well-rounded for the liitle time they get on screen, while the plot unfolds at a pace that’s fast but still comprehensible. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise considering the series is written by comics veteran Peter Milligan who knows a thing or two about telling stories in a compact format.

This is a smart little programme that packs a lot into its 10-minute run time. It’s a real shame that this show gets tucked away on BBC2 in the morning while it’s big cousin Torchwood is getting all the hype – it’s also a shame Captain Jack and his team weren’t relocated into a future Britain when the show started, as this might have been just what the Doctor ordered. Maybe Meta4orce is what we would have got…

If you missed the first two episodes (there are two more to come), take a trip to the Meta4orce website, to watch them again with a couple of interactive games thrown into the mix.

I’m looking forward to heading back to 2034 next week to see where the investigation leads and hope we get to see more from this world.

I’d advise you to do the same.

Veronica Mars: Season One

Veronica Mars Season One DVDI wondered something while watching devouring the first season of Veronica Mars this Christmas holiday.

Is there some sort of statute of limitation on how long you have to leave between a TV show being ‘hot’, subsequently cancelled and you finally watching the DVDs and realising you should have been watching it years ago?

There probably should be, though that might put a few people off buying the boxsets.

December 2007 saw those nice people over at amazon.com make me an offer on Veronica Mars DVDs that I couldn’t refuse and seasons one and two arrived a few weeks back.

I’ve spent the last week ploughing my way through twenty-odd episodes of sharp, witty and, at times, heartbreaking telly that I wish I’d watched when it first showed up in the UK on the Living channel.

Previously on Veronica Mars…Veronica (Kristin Bell) is a High School student in Neptune, California. Her dad was once the local sheriff, until Veronica’s best friend, Lily Kane, was found murdered and Mars Snr (Enrico Colantoni) blamed her death on her parents.

Nobody believed him and he was removed from office and Veronica now finds herself a social outcast in a place where she used to be one of the cool kids. Oh, and she’s also a teen private investigator.

That’s the synopsis for season one, but there’s much more going on here. The Lily Kane murder mystery is weaved in and out of numerous stories that end up on Veronica’s desk each week. Missing dogs, cheating spouses and mistaken identities vie for her attention as she continues to try and work out how and why her best friend died.

Although this is ostensibly a ‘teen’ show, it can be watched by anyone who enjoys intelligent television and/or crime drama. Plots twist and turn on a dime. Allegiances, painstakingly built up between viewers and characters over numerous episodes, suddenly vanish, to be replaced by mistrust and confusion.

Kristin Bell is outstanding as cute-as-a-bug Veronica, while Enrico Colantoni is the perfect dad. The supporting cast are similarly good and it’s great to see the odd guest character from early episodes cropping up again to provide consistency.

The show has never been short of supporters, including Kevin Smith and Buffy maestro Joss Whedon(the blonde and petite Veronica is often described as Buffy-like and a few Buffy actors pop up in the series, including Whedon himself in a cameo).

Watching all twenty two episodes in a short space of time is both tiring and rewarding. Just when I thought I had to switch of the portable DVD player and get some shut-eye, another u-turn takes place and I had to watch a bit more, just up to the title sequence this time…

I’d urge anyone who hasn’t seen the show to search it out, whether via repeats on cable or via the boxsets. It’s worth every penny and a few hours out of your life.

I’m five episodes into season two now and it’s as good as ever. Rather tragically there’s only one more season after this and then it’s bye-bye Veronica, as the show was cancelled in America early in 2007.

Only the good die young.

Torchwood: Series One

Torchwood, copyright BBCTorchwood was announced to the world in late-2005 as a spin-off from Doctor Who, only to stumble, blinking, into the neon-lit streets of Cardiff barely a year later.

It was conceived as an “adult” take on the Whoniverse, starring Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).

I recently finished re-watching the odd episode on BBC Three, a prelude to the start of series two in January over on BBC Two.

The first episode introduces new recruit Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) to Torchwood, an elite group of alien hunters working based beneath Cardiff city centre, under the radar of the British Government.

Extraterrestrials are fought while the members of Team Torchwood battle their own morals and relationship problems over 13 episodes.

Sadly, the perceived need to justify its post-watershed slot means that what at times seems to be a treatise on what it means to be a thirtysomething in noughties Britain, (how do you maintain a healthy work-life balance while fighting aliens for a living?) is often lost in a mire of soft-core titillation and half-baked plots.

In its defence, episodes such as ‘Out of Time’ and ‘They Keep Killing Suzie’ do punch above their weight, while the performance of John Barrowman is nearly always note perfect.

Recent series two previews have been positive. Here’s hoping they keep up the good work while we wait for Doctor Who series four…

Verity Lambert: 1935-2007

It’s one of those strange, sad coincidences that occur once in a while: on the same day Doctor Who fans are celebrating the 44th anniversary of the screening of the series first episode, An Unearthly Child, comes the news that the series first producer, Verity Lambert, has died.

Verity Lambert

Verity Lambert

The word that is often used to describe Verity is ‘pioneer’. Back in 1963 the BBC was very much an old boys network, a male dominated institution that reacted slowly to change.

To suddenly have a young female producer (she was the only one at the time) arrive to take the reigns of a fledgling sci-fi series must have been a shock to the system.

She and her production team made the decisions that would set Who up as one of the most (if not the ultimate) high concept series to appear on British television screens.

As Head of Drama at the BBC, Sydney Newman, commented in 1993: “I remembered Verity as being bright and, to use the phrase, full of piss and vinegar! She was gutsy and she used to fight and argue with me, even though she was not at a very high level as a production assistant.”

After Who she would go on to produce another cult classic in the form of Adam Adamant Lives! before heading to ITV in the 1970s to make Budgie with Adam Faith and Iain Cuthbertson. From here the list of high quality, highly rated and well remembered series starts to grow…

…and that’s just a sample of them.

I was lucky enough to meet Verity a few years ago in London. She happily signed my Dalek Invasion of Earth DVD cover, mentioned that the story was her favourite and I had my photo taken with her. I’m glad I made the effort to go to Riverside Studios that weekend.

On reflection, it was easy to forget that day that Doctor Who was a tiny part of her impressive career, something she did for a few years four decades ago. I hope I’m as enthusiastic about my current job in 40 years time!

If you’ve read this and think it’s a bit lacking in critical observation, then you’re right. If you really want to get a better handle on why TV fans around the globe will be pausing over the next few days to remember Verity Lambert’s legacy then I’d advise you take a visit to one of the links below and invest in one of her series on DVD:

It was a nice tribute to both Verity and Sydney Newman when, in Human Nature, an episode of the 2007 season of the new Doctor Who, John Smith referred to his mother, Verity and father, Sydney.

Here’s hoping the Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, has a tribute to her on the end titles. Maybe we can all raise a glass on Christmas Day in memory of her achievements – rest in peace Verity.

Here’s a clip starring one of TV’s best loved double acts from Minder, a Verity Lambert produced series I grew up watching…

Zatoichi meets Monkey!

ZatoichiI finally managed to see Kitano ‘Beat’ Takeshi’s masterpiece, Zatoichi, tonight. After missing it at the cinema, nearly buying the DVD a while back and forgetting to tape it off the TV a few times, I managed to record it the other night off Channel Four.

Well worth the wait.

Zatoichi (Takeshi) is a blind swordsman and masseur, who roams feudal Japan helping the helpless. It’s a violent, witty and tragic tale of revenge, directed beautifully by its star.

The music is noticeable but not intrusive, adding to the tension of scenes rather than guiding them or demanding emotion. I don’t claim to be an expert on Japanese martial arts films but this surely ranks as one of the better ones.

The last time I watched anything similar was a few years ago at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, when they held an Akira Kurosawa season. I’d read that 1958’s Hidden Fortress was a heavy influence on 1977’s Star Wars and had to see it for myself.

MonkeyOne last thought on martial arts films and TV… I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else in their 30s brought up on the weekly adventures of Monkey back in the early 80s, but I still hold that up as something of a benchmark for these sort of things.

Monkey had some superb scripts that had both comedy and a touch of (occasionally heavy-handed) morality. Granted, UK audiences only got a roughly translated version, but even these managed to tug at the heartstrings once in a while, usually just after Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka had liberated another village from demons during a bonkers, high-octane, dodgy effects-laden fight scene.

The fact that it’s stuck in my memory for 25 years suggests it must have done something right.

Anyone for ‘Zatoichi meets Monkey’?

And here’s the fantastic end title music…