DVD Review: Doctor Who – Revisitations Box Set

★★★★★

Spruced up with improved picture quality and beefed up with enough extras to fill the Pandorica a few times over, three classic Doctor Who stories are now back to entertain fans all over again.

The Talons of Weng Chiang sees Tom Baker’s Sherlock Holmes-inspired Fourth Doctor roaming the foggy streets of Victorian London with his very on Eliza Doolittle in the shape of Leela (Louise Jameson) while aliens and rogues get in his way.

Peter Davison’s swansong, The Caves of Androzani, is the type of multi-layered, fast moving and near perfect romp that we remember all of his stories to be (at least until we see Time Flight again), a doom-laden epic which pits the Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant) against Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable) and a gaggle of mercenaries.

Doctor Who: Revisitations Box Set

Finally, the 1996 TV Movie stars Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, destined to enjoy just one night only on our TV screens before vanishing off onto audio adventures for an eternity. The San Francisco of 1999 was the backdrop for his battle against Eric Roberts’ Master, an intermittently threatening presence with a great line in evening wear.

The downer for long-term fans with this set is the fact that they’ve all been released before, though that was near the start of the range, the technology and ambition available to the Restoration Team who put the DVDs together clearly improving over the years.

Now, in addition to all the previous extras, we get a bundle more, a substantial haul which it’s hard to fault. Talons is awarded three discs this time around, with a typically bonkers Tom Baker meeting ex-producer Philip Hinchcliffe in his kitchen to discuss their time on the story and a number of mini-documentaries examining every aspect of this much-loved tale.

Caves gets an informative new documentary from TV and film historian, and über-fan, Matthew Sweet plus an odd appearance on Russell Harty from Davison and the incoming Colin Baker, while the picture quality on the story itself is impressively clear.

The TV Movie does the best out of the bunch, with three in-depth documentaries: the first looks at the so-called Wilderness Years that lasted between the end of the series proper in 1989 and it’s rebirth in 2005; the second goes behind-the-scenes of the TV Movie’s pre-production; and the third is the second part of a series which shows how Who was depicted on kids’ magazine show, Blue Peter. Continue reading

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TV Interview: Hagai Levi, creator of In Treatment

Gabriel Byrne as Dr Paul Weston

Gabriel Byrne as Dr Paul Weston

It stars some of Hollywood’s finest actors, including a star turn from the always watchable Gabriel Byrne as therapist Paul Weston, has won a raft of awards in America and comes from the TV powerhouse that is HBO – and now In Treatment has arrived in the UK.

Based on the Israel “telenovela” series Be’Tipul, HBO’s In Treatment is a novelty in a world of reality TV and dumbed down soaps: stripped over five nights of the week, each half-hour episode follows a different patient as they meet with Dr Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) for their therapy session, while Friday’s episode sees Weston attend a meeting with his own therapist.

According to series creator Hagai Levi, psychology is a way of life for many Israeli’s, him included.

“I was very religious when I was a child and grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family. I started therapy at a very early age, growing up in a Kibbutz in Israel which pioneered it, and I’ve found it very helpful throughout my life, very natural,” says the softly spoken Levi. “It can be odd and a problem in itself because you’re used to sharing everything with a stranger, but basically it’s my language.”

To Levi, it seemed natural to develop a TV series focusing on therapy.

“I’ve directed a lot of television and feature films and I found the thing I enjoy most is two people talking, listening and getting involved with them,” notes Levi. “I worked for a few years in the telenovela/soap industry in Israel and hated it but I realised the power of a daily series.

“I wondered why there couldn’t be a good daily drama rather than a bad one, one that combined my love of conversation and therapy. Everything came together about six years ago when I came up with the concept of Be’Tipul.”

Rather than introduce the viewer to a group of kooks and crazies to be laughed at or ridiculed, In Treatment offers up a cast of characters feeling mental pain or anguish, each one with their own foibles and strengths.

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DVD Review: I Spy, Season One

I Spy

As the world once more goes Bond mad, with Quantum of Solace fever spreading across the globe as it opens in each new territory (pity poor old Uruguay where Bond fans have to wait another month for the film), it seemed apt to take some time to watch the first season of I Spy, a show which debuted in 1965 when the original Bondmania was at its peak.

The premise of I Spy was simple enough, though oddly the scriptwriters don’t go overboard attempting to explain it in the first few episodes: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) is an international tennis player, while Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) is his coach. Together they traverse the globe, Robinson accepting invitations from the rich and famous to play against them or simply taking part in tournaments.

But all is not what it seems as the pair are actually American spies working for the US Government, investigating nefarious goings on in various exotic locations. Mad scientists, rogue agents and gorgeous women are present in most of the first 28 episodes as the two spies move from Hong Kong to Vietnam to Japan and onto Mexico at the behest of their bosses.

There are a few things that make I Spy stand out from most of their contemporaries. Firstly, unlike most TV series of the day (and of the present day), the production team actually went on location to the places they were meant to be. The first batch of episodes are set in Hong Kong so we see the Culp and Cosby on and around the island, taking the Star Ferry and pacing the backstreets of Kowloon. This gives the series a fantastic energy and colour that is lost when series are filmed on back-lots in Burbank.

The other element that made me want to sit through this first season was the interaction between the leads. It’s fair to say that the show survives repeated viewing thanks to the banter of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, the two constantly bouncing off each other from scene to scene. I’ve mentioned my admiration for Robert Culp before on this site and it was nice to see a younger Culp on form once again.

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Return to Fraggle Rock: Victor Pemberton interview

Victor and Sprocket

In late 2007 I was lucky enough to spend some time chatting with veteran television writer Victor Pemberton about his time working on cult 80s series, Fraggle Rock as script editor and producer.

While today the phrase “dance your cares away, worries for another day” could be a mantra used on Strictly Come Dancing, twenty five years ago these words introduced viewers to a world of Fraggles, Doozers and conflict resolution in the programme conceived by Jim Henson.

Henson, a key contributor to the success of Sesame Street in 1969 and later the creator of the phenomenally successful Muppet Show in 1976, had a vision of an allegorical world of creatures that would reflect real world issues such as prejudice, social conflict and the environment. Heavy stuff for early afternoon on ITV…

Jonathan Melville: How did you get involved with Fraggle Rock?

Victor Pemberton: It was through a very dear friend of mine, Duncan Kenworthy, producer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, who I’d met while working in Kuwait for American television.

He’d joined forces with Jim Henson and said to me one day “we’re going to do new show, based on material shot in Canada and each country will do their own segments – can you come up with an idea for what we can do with the UK segments?”

Continue reading

James Garner: Legend of the West

James Garner. That’s the answer I always give when asked who my favourite actor is. Recently I had to try and justify this to someone who seemed to have some pretty major Garner prejudice.

James Garner as Jim Rockford

James Garner as Jim Rockford

Although I like my films and telly, I do try to steer discussion onto other topics when meeting new people, at least for a while. On this occasion I mentioned James Garner, only to be told I was wrong.

While trying not to appear too bothered with this slur, I felt I had to defend his honour in his absence. I like to think I did alright, even after a few Jack Daniels and cokes, but it left me thinking more needs to be done to raise the profile of America’s finest.

So I’ve dug out an article I put together last year for a film course I took (written just after watching The Americanization of Emily) and, before that, here’s what I said about Jimbo back in this blog’s first post:

The blog is dedicated to Mr James Garner: Bret Maverick in Maverick, The Scrounger in The Great Escape and LAs finest, Jim Rockford PI in The Rockford Files.

His work and style epitomise everything I like in my entertainment. Heroes that aren’t black or white, but black and grey. Characters that would rather talk their way out of a situation than fight (who would have the guts to fight someone with a gun in real life? A Garner character would rather leg it). Humour that is understated rather than puerile or OTT. And a bit of realism in amongst the nonsense makes for good entertainment.

And now the article…

James Garner: Legend of the West

For the lowly television actor, the road to movie stardom is one littered with casualties. For every Bruce Willis there’s a David Caruso, for every George Clooney a Matt Le Blanc.

TV audiences will happily sit down each week to watch their favourite show/actor/actress, so why should they pay money to go to the cinema to see them in their latest artistic endeavour? For James Garner, the road has been something of a hazardous one.

In 1956, Hollywood screenwriter Roy Huggins was working on an episode of anthology series Conflict. Huggins was in the stages of planning a new TV series, a Western different to the then-current glut of cowboy series. But he lacked a leading man.

While casting for Conflict, Huggins saw a new young actor in action, one James Scott Bumgarner. As Huggins remembers, “I really had stumbled on something wonderful, the rarest thing there is in Hollywood: an actor with an unerring instinct for a funny line.” That actor would soon change his name to James Garner.

Birth of a Maverick

Born in Norman, Oklahoma on 7 April, 1928, Bumgarner had served in the Army in the Korean War. Injured and awarded the Purple Heart, he ended up in Los Angeles, taking supporting roles in a host of TV shows and commercials. At 6’1”, dark haired and with a knowing glint in his eye, he was prime leading-man material.

Support your Local SheriffCollaboration between Huggins and Garner led to the creation of the both the role and the character type that would define the actor’s career: Bret Maverick, reluctant hero and gentle grafter.

Maverick brought something new to the Western genre: humour. The series divided its episodes between Garner’s character and his brother Bart, played by Jack Kelly. It soon became clear that Garner’s episodes were the more popular with audiences, his easy-going charm and laconic delivery of lines making him a primetime star. Then the movie people came calling.

During summer filming breaks, Garner started to make his mark as a leading man. Roles in Up Periscope (1959) and Cash McCall (1960) were diverse enough to show Garner’s action-hero and romantic lead credentials, while the 1960s saw Garner’s film career take off.

He was soon being offered scripts for a series of high profile pictures, including The Children’s Hour (1961), a complete tonal shift from most of his other work, The Thrill of it All (1963), second-billing to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964) and Support your Local Sheriff (1969).

At home on the Range

Most of these films allowed Garner to hone the characterisation of the relaxed, combat-shy Everyman, who’s idea of living an easy life is interrupted by events around him. While Robert De Niro may eschew the virtues of method acting, the ability to sustain a note perfect, reliable and audience-friendly character through each of his movies meant that Garner was seen as a safe pair of hands.

If the 1960s were a golden period in Garner’s film career, the 1970s brought new demands. Ironically, it was one of Garner’s friends and TV contemporaries, Clint Eastwood, who would help define the era in such films as A Fistful of Dollars (1954) and Dirty Harry (1971). Garner tried gamely to respond to this with A Man Called Sledge in 1970, a spaghetti western in which he played against type.

His own production company helped him develop more personal films, such as Skin Game (1971). It was as a cowboy that Garner had made his mark, and a cowboy it seemed he would remain. He returned to TV briefly in semi-western Nicholls (1971-1972), which bombed with viewers and critics, before making some little-remembered movies that didn’t appear to tax him.

Saviour came in 1974 from an old collaborator, in the shape of Maverick’s Roy Huggins who, had decided to do for the detective series what Maverick had done for Westerns. The Rockford Files brought something new to the genre of private eyes, and was to all intents an updating of Garner’s previous persona for a new generation. This return to the small screen would revive his career once again.

Moving on

Maverick (1994)Garner was once quoted as saying, “When I left Rockford in 1980 I decided I want to do films that have interesting characters, people with human emotions and feelings and I’ve been very fortunate to do that.” This seems to sum up much of his film career post-Rockford.

Cinema beckoned again with films such as Victor Victoria (1982) and Murphy’s Romance (1985), for which he was Oscar-nominated. He would go on to produce some of his most interesting performances in a number of acclaimed TV movies for which he was Emmy nominated, such as My Name is Bill W (1989) and Barbarians at the Gate (1993).

An appearance in the movie version of Maverick (1993) could be seen as something of a closure for the Maverick character, a dovetailing of his TV and film careers.

While it’s fair to say that Garner never had the cinematic draw of Clint Eastwood, his failure to break into the Hollywood A-list often attributed to his ‘safe’ persona that lacked the edge offered by contemporaries such as Steve McQueen, his presence has always been a sign of quality.

More recent appearances in films such as Space Cowboys (2001), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) and The Notebook (2004) have cemented his position as a respectable, dependable actor from old-Hollywood. His return to primetime television in family comedy Eight Simple Rules in 2004 showed that the small screen wouldn’t let him go and that perhaps that’s just the way he likes it.

To finish off, here’s a decent little interview with Jim on the Charlie Rose show from 2002:

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.

The Street: Series Two, Episode Two

Timothy Spall, copyright BBCClaiming that British drama is is currently in the doldrums is something I’ve been guilty of recently.

It’s often difficult to compare favourably the high quality American series that come back year-after-year (after year) for runs of six months at a time with the fare offered up by British broadcasters. Ongoing drama tends to mean the soaps, propping up the schedules that are otherwise chock full of “Reality” series.

So it’s refreshing to see BBC One have brought back Jimmy McGovern’s The Street for a second series. Last week’s episode was a cracking start to the series, as David Thewlis (co-star of one of my favourite series, A Bit of a Do, with David Jason in 1989) played identical twin brothers, both living in the titular street.

Tonight’s episode starred another icon of 80s television, Timothy Spall (Brummie Barry in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet) as Eddie. A chain of events are set in motion within the first 10 minutes that would be funny if they weren’t so tragic.

Alongside Spall was Ger Ryan as wife Margie who finds a lump while in the shower. The dawning realisation that her life could soon be filled with chemotherapy and pity from her peers is portrayed with both deep emotion and stunning direction: a dream sequence on the bus, as other passengers told their stories of living with cancer, was captivating.

And as the characters in this episode go through their story they briefly mingle with characters from other episodes who will take centre stage in future weeks.

I hope the ratings are as high as they deserve to be and that season three is commissioned soon. Either that or Tim Spall gets his own show…it’s been a while since Frank Stubbs Promotes.

US TV writers’ strike hits

As reported by most news outlets, American television networks have in recent weeks been working under the threat of an all out strike by writers, the first for two decades (back in 1988 I seem to remember some jokes in Moonlighting about off-screen strikes).

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has been in negotiation with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over various issues, mostly related to the impact new media is having on traditional contracts.

According to a mediaguardian.co.uk report:

“The WGA wants writers to receive a slice of the advertising revenue that companies make when TV shows and films are streamed over the internet. It also wants an additional reward for creating bespoke digital content for the internet or mobile devices.

Another key sticking point is how to split DVD revenue. Consumers are expected to spend $16.4bn (£7.9m) on DVDs this year, according to Adams Media Research, but writers receive only about 3 cents on a typ

ical DVD selling for $20.”

And over at the LA Times, the following quote sums it all up:

“If you look at iTunes, ‘Hannah Montana’ and several other Disney shows are among the most avidly downloaded shows — they are hugely successful on the Internet,” Steven Peterman, an Emmy-winning “Murphy Brown” writer and “Hannah Montana” executive producer said as he picketed Disney. “And we make no money from that — zero.”

Personally I’d like to see the people responsible for writing my favourite episodes of Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Boston Legal, Heroes and 24 receive a few more dollars in their pay packets.

The first casualties in the war of attrition include Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, screening in the UK on More4. The writers and production staff are now on the picket lines.

Other shows being hit include Heroes spin-off Heroes: Origins, (which has been cancelled), Scrubs (in its last season and threatened with losing its last six episodes), Smallville (which has around 14 episodes stockpiled) while Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives are waiting to hear their fate.

For anyone that buys DVDs or downloads TV or movies over the internet, this is something worth keeping an eye on.

Oh yeah, and about that Moonlighting episode…

Boston (is it) Legal

Boston LegalOne of the finest series to come out of America in the last few years is Boston Legal. Sadly it’s fanbase in the UK is probably a fraction of the higher profile Desperate Housewives or Ugly Betty as it’s hidden away on Living TV and now Virgin 1 (where??).

It’s a crime worthy of the series itself.

Created by Ally McBeal’s David E Kelly, it stars William Shatner as the brilliant-yet-bonkers attorney Denny Crane and James Spader as brilliant-yet-highly unethical Alan Shore.

Plots don’t unfold so much as explode onto the screen at breakneck speed. Nifty editing and a superb theme tune help things rattle along nicely.

Humour and the odd dash of pathos combine to tell stories that at first seem ludicrous but which more often than not shed light on aspects of the human condition and post 9/11 America that deserve an airing on primetime television.

There are also a myriad of intertextual in-jokes that make it clear the characters know they’re in a TV show – in one scene, a character even watches as the credits slide off-screen.

I love it.

And yet to be a fan in the UK is a traumatic experience. Trying to keep track of when and where an episode is going to turn up next is almost as bad as when Oz was screened by Channel Four.

A few months back Living TV kindly repeated season two nightly so the DVD recorder was working overtime. Then it came to an end and…nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not a sign of season three.

Then along came Virgin 1 and they started screening it from the beginning a few weeks back at 9pm on a Sunday. This isn’t the best time as it clashes with a few other decent series on the main terrestrial channels (and BBC Four), but beggars can’t be choosers.

So, imagine my surprise when I glanced through the listings the other night only to see that season three is three quarters of the way through back over on Living. At 3am. I’m hoping this is a prelude to the appearance of season 4, just started in America, but I’ve a feeling this could be an early-2008 kinda thing.

Anyway, while I still think there should be laws against this sort of thing, and crazy scheduling isn’t uncommon in our multichannel world, I’m moaning when I suppose I should be thankful we have so much to choose from. Thanks to Virgin I can see where it all started and that’s no bad thing…

[The clip below is from a first season episode screened last night on Virgin…great stuff…]

DVD Review: The Greatest American Hero

Hailing from a time when CGI was but a glint in a computer programmers green screen monitor and Superman had just done great guns at the box office, The Greatest American Hero was an attempt to revitalise superheroes for a 1980’s TV audience. On a budget.

The series was following in the footsteps of other small screen superfolk: Wonder Woman had finished in 1979 and The Incredible Hulk was fast running out of pairs of new trousers at the time of GAH’s appearance in 1981. Creator/producer Stephen J Cannell’s (The A-Team, The Rockford Files) aim was to bring his own unique mix of humour and humanity to a new genre.

Greatest American HeroRockford Files fans were used to seeing Jim get beaten-up each week in the pursuit of justice and Cannell decided that in his new show it was the suit that had the powers, not the guy wearing it. You’ll believe a man can fly, but can he land in one piece…? All three seasons are now out on DVD.

The Pilot introduces us to high school teacher Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) who, while taking his class on a field trip through the LA desert, teams up with world-weary FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) as they encounter a UFO whose inhabitants gift Ralph with a magic suit. The problems start when Ralph loses the suit’s instruction manual. Cue much crashing into walls, accidental invisibility and slightly ropey special effects.

Season One introduces Ralph’s lawyer girlfriend Pam Davidson (Connie Sellecca) and his class of remedial class schoolkids. Thankfully most of the screen time is given over to the pairing of Katt and Culp, both perfect in their roles. Culp in particular is eminently watchable, with Maxwell’s Commie-bashing, post-Watergate attitude constantly at odds with Hinkley’s liberalism.

Highlights of the season include My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, where Ralph, after a crisis of conscience, decides to give up “the jammies” (as Maxwell dubs the ridiculous red suit) for a quiet life. His meeting with TVs The Lone Ranger at a shopping mall makes him assess the concept of heroism and hero worship and makes interesting watching for all fanboys. Here’s Looking At You, Kid is another early classic, co-starring the original Mrs Robinson, Lost in Space’s June Lockhart as Pam’s mum.

Season Two is more of the same, but bumped up to a full complement of 22 episodes. Here the series format is fine tuned, with the classic episode The Beast in Black an exercise in prime-time horror. Ralph is now less bumbling, the scriptwriters ramping up the danger, not only to our heroes, but to the World at large.

Season Three would be a shorter season, and would be the end of the road for Hinkley and Maxwell. Only 56 episodes were made in total.

Up till now GAH has been something of an unknown entity to UK viewers, and there is little chance that these boxsets will be released on Region 2. If you’re a fan of sci-fi-cop-show-comedy series, want to make your friends jealous down the pub as they react with “never heard of it” or just want to immerse yourself in some classic 80s telly, then this is the series for you.

DVD Extras: Season One comes with just over an hour of new interviews with the cast. It’s also bundled with the unaired pilot for the proposed spin-off series, The Greatest American Heroine. It’s a curiosity, but doesn’t match the high standards of the original show. Season Two comes with an interview with composer Mike Post (the bloke who wrote the A-Team theme tune!) as well as, bizarrely, a Japanese language track on one episode. Why?

Can’t Stop the Serenity 2007

Can’t stop the Serenityun·der·dog
1. One that is expected to lose a contest or struggle, as in sports or politics
2. One that is at a disadvantage

You’ve gotta love the underdog. David or Goliath? Smiths Salt-n-Shake or Kettle Chips? Corner shop or multinational conglomerate? Muppet Treasure Island or Pirates of the Caribbean? Give me the little guy fighting for his right to party anytime.

The story of the good ship Serenity is one that starts way back in 2002, when the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon, created a new series outside the Buffyverse called Firefly. No teen angst or vampires here, just a rag-tag group of renegades slooping round the universe trying to make a dishonest living.

This had hit written all over it. Then it got cancelled after 11 episodes and the dream was over. RIP Firefly, we hardly knew ya.

Then, in 2005, Whedon managed to get a deal together to produce a movie version of the series – Serenity – with the original cast. The underdog lived to fight another day, David to the TV execs Goliath. Or something.

Fast forward to 23 June 2007 in the Filmhouse in Edinburgh and I’m watching the charity screening of the film at Can’t Stop the Serenity with an audience of Browncoats (the name given to the fans by the fans). It’s Joss Whedon’s birthday and the aim is to screen the film in around 47 countries around the globe to raise money for Equality Now.

I own the DVD but never got around to watching it, so this was a great chance to see it on the big screen. The audience were excited, the organisers, all fans, really enthusiastic.

I’m glad I went along, mainly because I got to see the film the way it was meant to be seen, but also to get a glimpse into a fandom that loves their wee show to death. I’m not sure what it’s like on a larger scale (I’m sure there are pockets of nastiness somewhere on the web if you look hard enough) but this was a good place to hang out on a wet Sunday in Scotland.

Shiny.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.If you’re looking for a Western/sci-fi/comedy/action cult TV series, you could do a lot worse than The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Set in the Wild West of the 1890s, Bruce Campbell stars as the titular Brisco, a Harvard educated lawyer turned bounty hunter following the murder of his father by the John Bly gang.

Running for only one season in 1993, Brisco merged elements of Indiana Jones (the series was co-created by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade screenwriter Jeffrey Boam), 1930s Saturday Matinee serials, the 1960s TV series The Wild Wild West and The X Files, to create a bizarre world of its own.

Most of the 27 episodes follow Brisco, his “partner” Lord Bowler (Julius Clary) and sidekick Socrates Poole (Christian Clemenson) as they try to round up the Bly gang. They occasionally sidestep this hunt to take on other adventures, giving a nice bit of variety as the series goes on.

Watching so many episodes in a row on DVD makes you appreciate how much effort went into making the show – it’s packed full of stunts, jokes and one-liners that keep the stories ploughing ahead full steam (or rocket if Professor Wickwire (John Astin) is involved) while the sc-fi elements are never too OTT to divert from the Western themes.

Bruce Campbell is a fantastic lead and it’s a real shame it was never commissioned for a second series. So get on the trail for a copy of this set, get those six-shooters ready and saddle up…or at least stick it in the DVD player and enjoy a few hours of great telly.

Oz: Season 1

Oz Season 1 DVDI’ve had a hard week. Arson, suicide, drug abuse, a prison riot and a few Nazis were involved, and the sight of a charred body put me off my tea last Monday.

If you lived in the UK between 1998 and 2005, and happened to be watching Channel 4 between around 11pm and 4am, there’s a chance you caught an episode of HBOs Oz. Considering that even dedicated fans had trouble tracking the series down from one week to the next, you did well.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching the Season 1 DVDs, eight hour-long episodes introducing Emerald City, an experimental unit of the Oswald Maximum Security Prison, or Oz. Here, rehabilitation is the aim, with Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) trying valiantly to maintain calm between the various factions – Latinos, Muslims, Aryans – that inhabit Em City.

Oz is hard going, partly because of the violence which permeates throughout each episode but also because of the complex allegiances created and destroyed every week. The writing is simply stunning, and what makes it even more remarkable is that one writer, Tom Fontana, was the scribe behind them all.

The cast are note perfect. Beecher (Lee Tergesen) is our eyes for the first few episodes, as his life falls apart following his incarceration, while JK Simmons as Schillinger is a character for whom the term ‘evil’ could apply if this wan’t too easy a label.

For something outside the norm, and the fact that you don’t now have to wait until after midnight to watch it, these DVDs can’t be faulted. Just don’t eat your tea while it’s on.

Remembering Jim Henson

Today is the anniversary of Jim Henson’s death in 1990.

I don’t remember exactly when I first saw The Muppet Show, but it started on ITV in the same year I was born. As that was July 1976 and it started in September, then there’s a good chance I was around when the first episode was on.

OK, that’s a bit of a stretch, but if everyone who claims to have watched the first episode of Doctor Who in 1963 had actually done so then the ratings should have broken all records for the time.

The show was loud and colourful, the characters all had unique personalities, the audience seemed to love it (though Statler and Waldorf weren’t too happy about it all) and Pigs in Space was…well, in space, so therefore brilliant. Some of the jokes went over my head, but it was half an hour of insanity and made everyone laugh.

Somewhere around the same time I watched Sesame Street, which, though aimed at a younger audience than me (and I was about 4 at the time so obviously gaining great critical faculties) was still worth it for Oscar the Grouch.

A few years later came Fraggle Rock. With a glorious theme tune, great songs and another bonkers cast of characters alongside the late, great Fulton Mackay, this was another weekly fix of Muppet madness that I never missed after school.

The last great Henson series I remember was The Storyteller. Visually stunning, this combined mystery and magic like few other series had done, with ‘The Soldier and Death’ a particular favourite.

Jim Henson’s vision and ideas saw me right through my childhood and set sky-high standards for everything I’ve watched since. Henson’s characters never seemed to take themselves too seriously while, at the same time, their own universe was as real to them as ours is to us.

Whether the messages of understanding, friendship and talking vegetables had a major impact on my psyche is difficult to tell, though if I ever see a cauliflower I still have to check to make sure it’s not about to launch into song with that tomato next to it… cheers Jim.