Thursday, 30 December 2010

Of Supernatural Season 5

Hooray, another really late review that I should have got out of the way at the end months ago instead of waiting for the show to be half way through it's current season. But what the hell, I'm reviewing it now and it's the thought that counts...right? Anyway, the normal drill of spoilers ahead.

This was it for Supernatural, this was the big season, the one that the show had been leading up to for four years. This was the projected end point for the show and for a lot of the season it sure felt that way. Sam and Dean were up against the apocalypse, the end of days and all the rest of that shit. There's no coming back from that (although as Season 6 has shown, the writers are trying). This was the season they were going to deal with the religious tales of the end of the world. Hell, Satan himself is a major supporting character for the majority of the season.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles continued to be great as Dean and Sam Winchester, as did Jim Beaver as Bobby and Misha Collins as Castiel. Mark Pellegrino (Lost, Dexter) was also a great addition to the show playing Lucifer. But I think everyone knows that Jared and Jensen are exceedingly charismatic and great in every single scene they're in. I don't need to go on about that, but just reinforce the fact that these two put in a damn good performance every single week. It's not award worthy but they're just consistently great.

So what about the season as a whole? Coming off of the superb Season 4, my hopes were set extremely high for Season 5, to the extent it was almost impossible for the show to reach them. Which sadly the show didn't reach. That's not saying it was bad, and more often than not it was great even! Occasionally however (particularly in the early portion of the season) the show was putting out some really weak episodes, 'Fallen Idols' and 'Children Are Our Future' were definitely not all time great episodes. They weren't bad but when it's coming from a show that has delivered episodes like 'On the Head of a Pin' and 'In Our Time of Dying' they were definitely disappointments.

Most of my disappoint in Season 5 however didn't stem from the occasional weak episode but from the pacing of the season. The apocalypse was so huge that it just took over the whole show. The urgency that the Winchester's were facing the apocalypse just wasn't there in some episodes. It felt a lot like Season 3 which suffered from similar problems. Dean was supposed to die within a year but some episodes ignored this fact and went on like nothing was wrong. Of course I'd say Season 5 was probably a stronger season than that one, but it suffered from a lot of the same flaws (but luckily no Bella). When we go through entire episodes about Paris Hilton murdering people and not focusing upon the pressing matter that Dean and Sam are the vessels for Satan and Michael, then something is very wrong with the pacing.

Overall though the apocalypse story was exactly the kind of thing Supernatural does well. We got to meet the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with great performances from Titus Welliver as War and Julian Richings as Death who of course had the natural creepiness needed for that role. Then there was 'Hammer of the Gods' where the show branched out into other mythologies such as Norse and Roman, making the Supernatural universe that much larger (even if Lucifer did come in and decimate all of them). But for every 'Hammer of the Gods' or 'Abandon All Hope...' which featured the deaths of both Jo and Ellen, we got an episode like 'Children Are Our Future' which focused on the anti-christ and had absolutely no long standing consequences on the season.

But I'm not going to focus on the misgivings of the season, When everything was right, Supernatural did exactly what it does so well, a horror movie with a twist every week. Of course there were the occasional funny episodes such as the terrific 'Changing Channels' which wrapped up the Trickster trilogy with an episode riffing on TV shows that was not only hilarious but also tied wonderfully back into the main conflict of the season. Then there was more traditional fare such as the fantastic premiere, 'Sympathy for the Devil and two time travel episodes with 'The End' and 'The Song Remains the Same'. When Supernatural went for a story relating to the apocalypse it didn't hold back, it gave it's audience nearly every single trope relating to the biblical tales of the end of days even on it's very minimal budget, fuck, they even took Sam and Dean to heaven in 'The Dark Side of the Moon'.

All of this ambition though was for a reason, this was originally going to be the show's final season and it really shows. The 100th episode of the show 'Point of No Return' might not have had the world falling apart, but there was a pervading sense of doom and exhaustion that consumed the Winchesters. Kurt Fuller as Zachariah put in another great performance in this 100th episode trying to convince Dean to give his body to Michael which of course was never going to happen. 'Point of No Return' was where the season hit double speed and started the ball rolling for the epic final string of episodes and the finale, and boy, what a finale it was.

'Swan Song' was so obviously meant to be the show's final episode that in many ways the obvious changes made in light of the Season 6 pick-up weakened it (both Bobby and Castiel coming back to life, Sam appearing outside of the pit all of 5 minutes later) but it was still a superb cap to those first five seasons. Whilst the end of the apocalypse story wasn't as epic and crazy as many people expected it to be, it did stay true to the shows roots. It was emotional, with great acting from all involved and that sense of familial love that this show does so well. It was an utterly satisfying finale for the show and would have been a perfect series finale if the show had ended. I'm not upset that we have at least one more season of this show because I do love it, but I can't help but feel that any future series finale might not be able to top this one.

Overall, Supernatural 5 wasn't the perfect season of the show, but it did what the show does well. The pace might not have been spot on and it definitely wasn't as consistent as Season 4, but it still delivered more often than it failed. Supernatural was as ambitious as ever and more or less stuck the landing. Whilst this would have been a perfect point for the show to bow out, you can't really complain when you're getting essentially an extra season of a great and amazingly fun show. Hell where else could God be a white guy that orders hookers?

It might not have been the swan song for Dean, Sam and that Impala, but in the end it was just a great season of television and that's all we really ever wanted.


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Of Doctor Who - A Christmas Carol

I don't think it would surprise anyone to find out that the Doctor Who Christmas Specials are not the episodes that people hold up as their favourites. Really they are meant to be set apart from the rest of the Doctor Who mythos and just be a little stand alone special. The best of these Christmas specials so far has been 'The Christmas Invasion' and that was mostly because it was David Tennant's first episode and had the added benefit of actually being an integral episode. Last year we had 4 specials, but two of those were pretty much normal episodes and the last 2 were saying goodbye to David Tennant. so this year's 'A Christmas Carol' was the first Doctor Who Christmas Special we've had since 'The Next Doctor'. Which leaves with the question as to whether 'A Christmas Carol' was any good.

Well I'm going to answer that very bluntly and say that yes it was, very good in fact. By far the most Christmassy Christmas Special that Doctor Who has done in a long time and also quite possibly the best one. Now I feel I should get it out of the way and point out that of course I may be slightly biased because of my love of Steven Moffat, but really he's just a talented writer and brought all of his skill to this episode.

'A Christmas Carol' focused upon a very loose retelling of the classic Charles Dickens tale, 'A Christmas Carol'. There are still three ghosts, still a Scrooge like character and of course a poor family whom he must go visit, but this being Doctor Who there must be a twist. For starters, the ghosts were all a product of time travel, with the Doctor literally going into the past to influence events back then or taking someone to the future to show them what they will be like when older. 'A Christmas Carol' is such a Christmas classic, that it's no wonder that this story was chosen as the frame work and with the added benefit of already having time involved, Steven Moffat was able to utilise his patented timey wimey manipulation to genius effect.

This was an episode that heavily relied on guest characters, mostly that of Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon as the elder version) and Abigail Pettigrew (Katherine Jenkins). Katherine Jenkins didn't have to do much other than sing but Michael Gambon was great as the torn old man who had to suffer through life knowing he could only spend one more day with the person he loved. Amy and Rory* were involved in ancillary plot line about a spaceship they were honeymooning on crashing into a planet, it was the set-up for the main plot of the episode but they spent most of their time in a little exploding room.

The main plot of the episode focused on Kazran Sardick who had control over the planets weather and could quite easily save all 4,003 people on board the ship but because he's a Scrooge he doesn't want, so the Doctor is forced to go back in time to when he was a child and make him a better person as he grows older (yay timey wimey). Of course this inevitably leads to flying sharks and Kazran falling in love with a woman frozen in his fathers dungeon (not as kinky as it sounds). Kazran and Abigail spend every Christmas Eve together for several years, until eventually it is found out that every day she is let out leads her closer to death. So to save his love Kazran vows not to unfreeze her again as she will die.

Now I've skirted around what will probably be the most controversial element of the episode. The fact that fish on this planet fly around in the sky. Steven Moffat gives the Doctor a moment of incredulity to this but then he goes along with it in his normal enthusiastic sense. And really that's all I needed to go along with. It's Doctor Who, anything can happen so I was there from the beginning. Apart from the part when they went on Shark-led sleigh ride, but really that wasn't enough to pull me out. The fish float around in ice crystals in the sky which resonate at the frequency of singing which is why Abigail becomes so important.

Of course by the end of the episode, the ship has been saved and Amy and Rory are fine. But then we also had the show not shying away from the fact that Abigail will indeed die after this last Christmas Day. But she got that last perfect Christmas with the man that she loved which gave everything just the right tone to end the episode on.

This only scraping the surface of why the episode worked, Amy and Rory in those costumes (who knew they were into that?), The Doctor speaking to both the past and present version of Kazran over the video camera and the normal cornucopia of funny lines that Moffat is able to pen ("There isn't any lottery!"). All I can really say about this episode was that it was tremendously fun. It wasn't dark and heavy, it did exactly what it should have done and offered a light and enjoyable Christmas episode. Something feel-good to be enjoyed by the family. It didn't have to resort to childish humour or contrived plot developments, and that's what made it work. Overall an absolutely fantastic Christmas special. Now who can't wait for the main series in March?


*Nice to see Arthur Darvill being bumped up to regular now

Friday, 24 December 2010

Of Doctor Who Season 5

It's been a while since Doctor Who season 5 ended and since this years Christmas special airs tomorrow I thought I should get around to reviewing the season that preceded it before actually reviewing that tomorrow. So how was Matt Smith's first year as the Doctor and in turn, Steven Moffat's first year as the lead writer.

Well if you don't already know that Steven Moffat is one of the best writers in the world then really you should learn this little fact. Dude wrote 'Blink' which is proof enough. Overall the last year of Doctor Who continued to show how great a writer Moffat was, even if the episodes not penned by himself rarely held up to his normal brilliance.

But more importantly, how was Matt Smith? Well for starters he was different to David Tennant which was something the show definitely needed. They couldn't have found a guy to replace David Tennat because he was such a fine actor and played his incarnation of the Doctor with such relish and bravado that anyone hired to just replace him would have been awful. Matt Smith's Doctor has rarely had to play the moments of pure drama that David Tennant had to play. That probably came from the change in the writing though but Matt Smith was definitely not playing a carbon copy of David Tennant and for that I'm very thankful.

Of course you cannot speak about the Doctor Who without mentioning his companions. For Season 5 we had Amy Pond played by Karen Gillan. Of course she fulfilled the role of attractive female on the show by Gillan was also immensely likeable and of course added that human element that the Doctor lacks. Amy had to act as our gateway into the series and she did that tremendously well. Then there was the fact that she was the key to the biggest plotline of the season, which hadn't been done before on the show and was again handled very well by Moffat (but of course he is a master writer). Then there was Rory Williams played by Arthur Darvill who whilst not present as often as Amy Pond, was a nice addition to the team in the episodes that he featured in.

But of course the most important thing about Doctor Who is the episodes themselves and how they come together. Doctor Who shows probably the biggest flaw in the idea of having a team of freelance writers in that the writers will occasionally fluctuate so wildly in quality. Occasionally you will have a writer of Steven Moffat's calibre or Paul Cornell but then someone weaker will write the next episode and it'll be leagues worse than the episode that preceded it. So I'm going to separate the Steven Moffat episodes from the others and then say which episodes I enjoyed and which I didn't

The episode I enjoyed least this season was easily 'Victory of the Daleks', I mean this episode was pure wank. It went absolutely nowhere, it failed to have the Daleks as a remotely interesting villain (which honestly they haven't been since Season 1). Yes I enjoyed the look at World War Era Britain and the shows portrayal of Winston Churchill was fun but then was pure shite like the robot scientist who was a bomb but could switch himself off because the Daleks had given him real memories therefore meaning that he could be human as well. I mean fucking seriously? That's how they defuse the bomb, by making a robot believe he is a human. Not a noble sacrifice, not going dark but in the most convoluted and non-nonsensical ways possible. Easily one of the worst episodes the show has ever done.

Other episodes this season such as 'Vampires in Venice' and the Silurian two parter were both good but neither had anything special going on about them. Neither were really integral to the overall story of the season, neither were particularly memorable if I'm completely honest. What they did have going for them was that they were perfectly serviceable little episodes that didn't really anger anyone but didn't exactly do much to make them memorable. Really just average episodes for no fault of their own. What was memorable about the Silurian episodes though was the death of Rory, which was genuinely quite shocking as well as then having Amy forget that her fiancée had ever existed was a bold move on Moffat's part (even if it was undone by the finale, but it didn't feel like the slap in the face that RTD's death fake-outs used to be)

Now we move onto the really very good episodes of the season. 'Amy's Choice' was a very interesting foray into the dream world where things got really quite dark. The characters didn't know which was the dream world and which world was the real world and which was the dream world. Whilst I wasn't a big fan of the reveal of what the Dream Lord was (mostly due to lack of set-up) I enjoyed the sense of peril that the show put the characters and that the show was willing to put them in this place. 'Vincent and the Doctor' was a script written by Richard Curtis and he fit in wonderfully into the world of Doctor Who. It was a story that could only be told on this show featuring an historical figure and based around historical truths whilst mixing in the science fiction element of time travel. Of course it all got a bit weepy at the end, but Curtis does that so well and the episode had been fantastic that I can forgive that little pit of pathos. The episode was also held aloft by a fantastic performance by Tony Curan as Vincent van Gogh and awesome cameo by Bill Nighy. Then there was 'The Lodger', whilst normally these light-hearted episodes can be very hit and miss, 'The Lodger' worked in a very good way. It definitely wasn't one of the shows best episodes ever but for a light-hearted episode it worked very well and had a great James Corden performance.

But what I really want to talk about is Moffat. Moffat began this season by telling the story of the cracks in time, how silence would fall and this all tied into Amy. Whilst not every plot-line was wrapped up, Moffat actually used this season as well a way to tell to a longer narrative. Rather than a buzzword that was just dropped throughout the season, Moffat actually had a lot of the events play into a larger narrative, particularly in the opening of episode 12 'The Pandorica Opens'. Hell he's even spread out one plot line over two seasons showing he has bigger plan and really thinks ahead about the plots of the show.

But what about the episodes he wrote? Well 'The Eleventh Hour' acted as our introduction to the new Doctor and companion and was one of the best seasons openers that the new Doctor Who has had. Over the course of this first hour I got a really good picture of who this new Doctor was as well as the character of Amy. Plus it was fast paced and very fun. Sadly the second episode of the season, 'The Beast Below' was nowhere near as strong and is quite definitely the worst episode of Doctor Who that Moffat has ever written. Whilst it wasn't bad it just suffered from maybe being a little too ambitious and not coming together in a wholly satisfying way.

Now we get to the good parts however, with Moffat's two two-parters of the season, 'The Time of Angels'/'Flesh and Stone' and 'The Pandorica Opens'/'The Big Bang'. Holy fuck were these episodes amazing. The first of the two parters focused upon the return of the villains from the single best hour that the new Doctor Who has made, 'Blink'. Yup the Weeping Angels were back and they were just as creepy as ever. Just the idea of constantly having to look at something or it will devour is so creepy, like taking a fear of the dark to a whole other level. Not only that but River Song (Alex Kingston) returned to start paying off one of the most intriguing elements of Season 4. The Angels two-parter was so well done and is the only that the first two-parter of a Doctor Who season was in actually fact the better. So that left the finale and what Moffat would deliver there. Well he delivered and he delivered big. There was his trade mark time-wimey manipulation, shocking deaths, the return of pretty much every villain of the series (if only for a second), amazingly dark turns and hugely witty dialogue ("It's a fez, I wear a fez now"). If I'm honest I'm still finding it difficult to process just how good that finale was. If anything it cemented just how much of a genius Steven Moffat is, especially as he had begun seeding elements of the finale way back 'Flesh and Stone' in a small conversation between Amy and the Doctor.

Season 5 of Doctor Who suffered from many of the same things that Doctor Who had previously suffered from in that it is almost impossible to keep a sustained level of quality throughout an entire season because of the change in writers. Luckily the highs (particularly those written by the now ubiquitous Steven Moffat) looks so much better in hindsight. Yes 'Victor of the Daleks' was still utterly wank, and many of the other episodes were just average, but I look back on Steven Moffat's two-parters and am astounded by the level of creativity those episodes hold. If I were able to judge based on those episodes alone this season of Doctor Who would be my favourite yet but sadly I can't so the fifth season of Doctor Who has to settle for an:


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Favourite Albums of 2010 - 10-01

Well here we are, wrapping up my favourite albums of 2010 list, so what follows were the albums in 2010 which I truly loved, the ones that in the years to come I'll keep looking back on as having defined my 2010. My list may not to be everyone's taste but these albums were my favourites of the year that has been 2010.

10. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

Romance is Boring was the first album that I heard in 2010 and still stands as one of the very best. Whilst Los Campesinos! sound has become less poppier after their 2008 début Hold On Now, Youngster but still retains the sarcastic, almost morose humour of that album. What Romance is Boring does retain from Los Campesinos! past albums is the sheer loudness and noise, maybe not as loud as other albums this year, but Los Campesinos! don't shy away from the noise when the time comes. The lyrics are a true stand-out on this album with the lead singer Gareth penning some of the wittiest lyrics you'll hear in any song this year: "I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock/Feels like the build-up takes forever but you never get me off". Whilst the songs rarely follow any kind of lyrical pattern, you become more engrossed in the stream of conciousness story that is being told. Los Campesinos! might not have put out the most critically acclaimed or most recognisable album of the year, but it's one that I wanted to put out there so that hopefully more people will get around to hearing it.

'The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future' - Los Campesinos!

09. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles II

The first Crystal Castles album is noisy and messy as fuck. Songs like 'Alice Practicce' and 'Crimewave' sound like they could collapse in on themselves at any point. The second Crystal Castles is still noisy as fuck but it lacks some of the messiness that was to be found on their first album and whilst that may be a turn off to some fans, Crystal Castles II is still just as stand-offish as the first album. Whilst it might be less-punk, it makes up for that for being a more cohesive album. There are still the absolute highs in the form of 'Baptism' and 'Celestica' but the other songs on the album don't pale in comparison as much. Even though Crystal Castles strayed more towards pop, this album still isn't clean enough for radio play. Sure it's less raw, but the experimentation is still there and is the sheer balls to walls noise and dance ability that make Crystal Castles one of the best electronic bands around.

'Baptism' - Crystal Castles

08. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

The ArchAndroid is eclectic as all hell. Being a concept album telling the story about a messianic android in a future society, the album jumps into so many different genres over the course of it's 70 minute run time. Listening to this album for the first is almost overwhelming how many different genres it spans but it also becomes clear that the album is just a joy to listen to, especially if you let yourself be swept away by the ambition behind it. Of course The ArchAndroid is first and foremost an R&B album but then you can hear rap, rock and even an orchestral element. But most noticeably of all this album is just fun. It's lively and just creates a joyous atmosphere around its songs. Like so many other artists on this list, Janelle Monae gets what makes pop music fun and likeable, this album doesn't feel sterile and overproduced instead it bursts with so many ideas and so much ambition whilst still being inherently listen-able, making it one of the best full fledged débuts of any artist this year.

'Tightrope' - Janelle Monae feat. Big Boi

07. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

If This Is Happening really is the last LCD Soundsystem album then James Murphy and company will have left behind one of the strongest discographies to grace the 21st Century. Hell the guy wrote 'All My Friends' which is one of my favourite songs ever. We can debate for hours whether this album is as good as 2007's Sound of Silver (it probably isn't) but that doesn't take away from the fact that This Is Happening is so very good. James Murphy knows how to write great songs, songs that make you want to move and not in that shitty way that clubs do. Songs that tip their hats to the great music makers of yore such as David Bowie and Brian Eno. Over the years LCD Soundsystem have become the epitome of cool within the music industry and This Is Happening is no different in that respect, the songs barrel along with so much urgency but never outstay their welcome even though there is only one song on the entire album that is less than 5 minutes long. Songs like 'Dance Yrself Clean' still have that un-paralleled electronic build that LCD Soundsystem have perfected over the years. This Is Happening could have so easily been a disappointment and fallen into the shadow of Sound of Silver but it didn't and LCD Soundsystem cemented themselves as one of the best bands in the world and This Is Happening one the best albums of 2010.

'Dance Yrself Clean' - LCD Soundsystem

06. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

If I'm going to be perfectly honest, I didn't think that Gorillaz had this album in them. Sure songs like 'Feel Good Inc.' and 'Clint Eastwood' were good and enjoyable but they didn't even hint at how good Plastic Beach was going to be. If you've been paying attention, you'll realise that the cartoon figureheads of the Gorillaz have disappeared from everything but the music videos and now the band has just allowed Damon Albarn to collaborate with as many people as he wants. Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Mark E. Smith (The Fall), Gruff Rhys (Super Fury Animals), Little Dragon and even members of The Clash. The diverse range of people offering their voices to Plastic Beach could make the album seem bloated but amazingly it doesn't, Damon Albarn gives the album room to breathe an accommodate all the different collaborators. Little Dragon contribute the spectacular electro-pop wonder of 'Empire Ants' whilst Gruff Rhys and De La Soul rap out a cereal commercial on 'Superfast Jellyfish'. And yet it doesn't feel out of place because of Damon Albarn's fantastic production across the entire album and his presence on the fantastic 'On Melancholy Hill'. Plastic Beach is an eclectic assortment of alternative hip-hop songs that don't really sound like hip-hop. Instead, on this latest Gorillaz album, it feels like Damon Albarn has created something wholly unique. Losing the cartoon front, Albarn was able to stretch his creative roots to whole new levels and I can't wait to hear what else comes from this new era of Gorillaz.

'On Melancholy Hill' - Gorillaz

05. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

My love for Arcade Fire should come as no surprise to those that know me or are frequent readers of this blog, especially with Funeral topping my favourite albums of the decade a year ago, and I stand by that choice. Funeral and The Suburbs are too entirely different beasts though and it would be unfair to compare them. The Suburbs to many might seem overly long at over an hour, but so were The ArchAndroid and This Is Happening so that argument becomes mute. The length of the album goes a long to aiding the concept, it forces the listener to actually listen, to pay attention to what happens. The Suburbs like so many other great albums before it works as a cohesive whole, one that begs to be listened to all the way through to see the message, to experience the full brunt force of it. The album yearns for the days of youth, days of the Surburbs and whilst in many ways the subject matter is intimate, the sound is epic. Arcade Fire have made some of the most joyous music of the last decade and that doesn't change here. Tracks like 'Ready to Start' and 'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' still sound so very much like Arcade Fire but at the same time they don't. I could wax lyrical about this album but this might be the toughest album on the list to get my point across without having someone listen to it. The Suburbs is an album that needs to be experienced, The rock, the synths, the orchestral elements and the lyrics to get the full extent of why this album is as good as it is.

'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' - Arcade Fire

04. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Cosmogramma is unlike any album I've heard in my life up until this point. For lack of a better way to describe it, I can only say it sounds like electronic space jazz. But that threat of the unknown is what makes this album so irresistible to me. I wanted to hear more of it, more music like it, but of course that doesn't exist. Cosmogramma is unique in the world. Cosmogramma was born because technology has allowed everyone to make music using their laptops, but of course only the very best will every survive the competitive music world and that's exactly what Flying Lotus has done. Cosmogramma is dense, it doesn't take just one listen to get this album, you might like portions of it but as you delve deeper you notice more and more intricacies, more to get excited about, more that makes the album feel unique. Sure listeners will be able to pick up on traits of IDM and dubstep but trying to peg the album into either of those genres would just detract from the work that Flying Lotus has done. Flying Lotus is currently working as one of the biggest visionaries in the music world, he's working at a creative level unseen by anyone else working in the field of laptop electronica. Hell he even got the Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke to contribute vocals to '...And The World Laughs With You', and he made Kid A which is not only an incredible album but asure influence on this album. Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma, like so many other albums on my list, has succeeded in fusing so many different genres and creating something cohesive and unique. Flying Lotus seems poised to make something better than Cosmogramma for his next record and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it might sound like.

'...And The World Laughs With You' - Flying Lotus feat. Thom Yorke

03. Sleigh Bells – Treats

Sleigh Bells are noisy as fuck. They are a sensory overload. They are pop music on steroids. They were the best new band of 2010. Sleigh Bells were so many things but mostly they got pop music right. They knew that it was about the pure jubilation and joy. Yes you could quite easily think of them as a gimmick, with so much feedback that makes you think that songs like 'Crown on the Ground' have actually broken your speakers. Treats is 30 minutes of a non-stop sonic attack, the noise doesn't let up for that entire time. I've seen Sleigh Bells live twice this year and am going to see them again early in the new year and it still astounds that the level of noise that is coming from only two people, one of whom is only providing vocals. Other bands I've seen live with twice as many members cannot stretch the speakers to the level that Sleigh Bells do. Sleigh Bells might not be the deepest album on this list, the lyrics might be comparatively simple and the technical side comparatively basic but it's the lack of depth, the fact that it doesn't require multiple listens to understand what this album is about that makes this album so joyous. It's pop, plain and simple. Sleigh Bells achieved what they set out to do, create some of the most visceral and fun music they could. The opening bars of 'Tell 'Em' lay out exactly what you should expect from the entire album with Derek E. Miller's riffing and Alexis Krauss' wonderful vocals. There's so much to love about Treats, the moment where all shit breaks lose on 'Infinity Guitars', the entirety of the Funkadelic sampling 'Rill Rill' and of course the flat out 'Crown on the Ground'. Sleigh Bells had the best début album of anyone this year as well as easily the most fun and exuberant one.

'Rill Rill' - Sleigh Bells


01. The National – High Violet

This was album that was sat as my number 1 choice for months and months, and as you can see it still sits here at number 1. But I think it's safe to say that the album that The National's fifth studio album has tied with is so all encompassing that it just became an inevitability it would be first. High Violet is the sound a band who work together as well as any band could ever possibly want to work together. The National have become an entirely cohesive unit and over the course of their last three albums and have became a force to be reckoned with in the indie world, and have now created three pretty much perfect albums with Alligator, Boxer and now High Violet. Yes you can call them dour but you cannot call them boring. Everything that is done throughout this album has a calculated precision, every hit on the drum, every orchestral swell, every moment Matt Berringer is singing on the album. More than any other artist on this list, The National make albums rather than songs, everything is made to play better when strung together, to paint a bigger picture. Sure it makes it more difficult to pick out which song is the best but that's just because every single is so uniformly strong. There's the almost too fuzzed out 'Terrible Love' which opens the album with it's slow build and rumbling guitars. Or 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' which still stands as the most single worthy song on the album and has some of the best lyrics The National have ever committed with "I still owe money/To the money/To the money I owe". But that's not even the best sample lyrics on the album with Berringer proclaiming on 'Conversation 16' that "I was afraid… I’d eat your brains/Cause I’m eeeeevil". And whilst High Violet lacks a crescendo like 'Mr. November' on Alligator, second to last track 'England' is the closest the album gets to an emotional release with the rise and swell of the piano throughout, before bleeding into the hauntingly wonderful 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks'. The National's albums have always done better in hindsight (at least in the case of Alligator and Boxer) and if High Violet has hit me this hard within it's first few listens then it's hard to imagine it not becoming one of my favourite albums ever. Hell it's one of only two albums I'd give a 10/10 this year, but if you haven't figured what this album has tied with then you clearly haven't been paying attention to music this year.

'Bloodbuzz Ohio' - The National

01. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

A year ago if you had told me I'd be saying that Kanye West had put out one of the best albums of 2010, I'd have laughed in your face. How much I enjoyed this album was a complete surprise. I had been following all the news stories about Kanye for a while, the MTV breakdown, the ludicrous quotes he kept coming out with, THE ALL CAPS BLOG POSTS, the Twitter account, saying that George Bush hated black people, the hilarious smack down that South Park laid down on him last year, but I'd never heard his music really before. Of course I knew 'Gold Digger', I knew 'Stronger' but I'd never gone out of my way to listen to Kanye. In fact I found him so much of an insufferable douche that I decided I probably would never like him even if I did listen. But then 'Power' dropped back in May and somehow I found myself listening it, and then even more unlikely, actively enjoying it. This was quickly followed up by the surprising reveal that one of my favourite artists, Bon Iver, was not only doing some production work on Kanye's new album but was also contributing vocals to several tracks. Following this I started following the buzz leading up to the album's launch. There was the fantastic performance of the 'Power' on Saturday Night Live, the 30 minute short film for 'Runaway' and even the untimely leak of 'Lost in the World' which not only caused Kanye to stop his G.O.O.D. Fridays but was heavily based around on the song 'Woods' by Bon Iver. All of this was amazingly good and Kanye started to improve dramatically to me, but I've rambled on so long about what lead me to listen to the album and haven't actually talked much about why this album is so good. You could talk about how perfectly the album opener 'Dark Fantasy' sets up the album or how 'Power' features Kanye at his most big headed, but then is also just a damn likeable and huge sounding song. Or on 'Monster' where Nicki Minaj's delivers not just the best lyrics on any song in 2010 but the best vocal delivery on any song this year. What about 'Runaway' where the tinkling piano turns into a 9 minute epic that not only has Kanye deliver the self-deprecating line: "Let's have a toast for the douchebags/Let's have a toast for the assholes/Let's have a toast for the scumbags", which then morphs into the single best use of auto-tune on any song in 2010. Then there's 'All of the Lights' where the guests range from Elton John to Rihanna, and that's without mentioning the Chris Rock skit on Blame Game or the aforementioned Bon Iver morphing 'Lost in the World'. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has so many stand-out tracks and moments that it's impossible to list them all. This is the album that finally proved that maybe Kanye had a right to be as cocky as he has been. The guy has finally gotten around to creating his masterpiece. Of all the albums that were released in 2010, this is the one that will be remembered for years to come, the defining album of 2010. Hell it was Kanye's year all round.

'Runaway' - Kanye West

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Favourite Albums of 2010 - 20-11

Well here we are, the start of my wrap of 2010, I had aimed to do this post yesterday but instead went to London with a load of people from my old school and didn’t get back in until gone midnight so just went to bed and decided to this post and the Top 10 today. So as I posted on Twitter, because so much good music was released in 2010 I’ve decided to do a Top 20 list. So if there’s anything that looks at all interesting to you go and listen!

So now on with the list

20. Weezer – Hurley

This does not mean that Weezer are back at 90s level awesomeness, it just means that they put out a very fun album in 2010. Whilst not much will ever reach the level of how good Blue Ablum and Pinkerton are, Hurley is just a very solid dose of fun pop/rock tunes. Whilst of course there’s the normal Weezer corniness in songs like ‘Where’s My Sex’, this album as is the best collection of songs that Weezer has released in years. ‘Memories’, ‘Trainwrecks’ and ‘Smart Girls’ are absolute stand-outs of the album.

'Memories' - Weezer

19. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

The Winter of Mixed Drinks is not as incredible as 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight but it still shows that Frightened Rabbit are one of the best bands working in the United Kingdom at the moment. Of course this album doesn’t come with the pain that The Midnight Organ Fight, but it doesn’t suffer from it, in many ways this album is like the ray of sunshine that comes after the crushing pain and proves that Frightened Rabbit that can pull through almost anything.

'Swim Until You Can't See Land' - Frightened Rabbit

18. Girl Talk – All Day

Girl Talk is just one guy who makes albums out of other songs. Ever wanted to hear Black Sabbath mixed with 2Pac? How about Electric Light Orchestra mixed with Juicy J? All Day is an album that takes samples from so many different artists, Aphex Twin, Radiohead, Beck, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Daft Punk, Eminem, Fugazi and Michael Jackson. Whilst not as straightforward as other mash-ups, Girl Talk creates a tapestry of so many recognisable riffs and vocal samples that it makes for a damn good album.

'Oh No' - Girl Talk

17. Beach House – Teen Dream

Beach House’s Teen Dream was one of the first albums I heard in 2010 and it still sounds great, especially now we’re back in the winter months. Melodic vocals, hazy synths create just a warming atmosphere. Whilst lacking a hard immediate edge, Teen Dream created one of the most comforting atmospheres on album this year with songs like ‘Zebra’ and ‘Norway’. For lack of a better way to describe it, Teen Dream is a beautiful album that makes the most out of its shoegaze roots.

'Norway' - Beach House

16. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

Titus Andronicus have made a fantastic concept album The Monitor. Based around the American Civil War, the album stretches for over an hour. Hell the last song on the album is 14 minutes long. Titus Andronicus were aiming for the ceiling with this album and they pulled most of it off. ‘A More Perfect Union’ is one of the best songs of the year and that Jersey punk atmosphere gets me pretty much every time I hear it (see also Gaslight Anthem).

'A More Perfect Union' - Titus Andronicus

15. Spoon – Transference

Spoon are still the most consistent band in the world. Whilst Transference isn’t as uniformly strong as earlier albums such as Kill The Moonlight and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference was still one of the best releases of year. Transference is uglier as can be heard on the song ‘Written in Reverse’ where the piano sounds like it’s on the edge of breaking for the entire song. Transference is just a more raw album that the rest of Spoon’s back catalogue and whilst that might seem strange to those that fell for Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s poppier outlook, Transference is a more than worthy entry into the Spoon discography.

'Written in Reverse' - Spoon

14. Robyn – Body Talk

Body Talk is just straightforward pop album, but it’s a damn good pop album. Robyn has more originality than almost every single pop star going at the moment (apart from possibly Lady Gaga but she’s insane). There’s a sheer joy to songs like ‘Dancing on my Own’ and ‘Hang with Me’, and whilst it might be to everyone’s taste, Robyn has made some of the best dance songs in a while. At least in the way that I don’t feel like retching every time I hear them, and for pop music that’s an achievement.

'Dancing On My Own' - Robyn

13. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?

I have a feeling that this album could end up like Fuck Buttons, an album that I heard comparatively late in the year and that I feel in love with and regret not putting a lot higher. Emeralds, along with the next album on this list is one of the best instrumental electronic albums I heard all year and is quickly becoming one of my favourite sub-genres. The ambient swell of Emeralds is one of perfect rising and falling, with obvious elements of post-rock and shoegaze. Emeralds are one of those bands the work best when you just let the sound engulf and take you somewhere else.

'Candy Shoppe' - Emeralds

12. 65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway

This was an album I downloaded completely at random. Last year’s Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons was one of my favourite albums of the year and would probably land highly on my decade list if I did it again. So this year I tried to find an album that would fill the hole that Fuck Buttons, and 65daysofstatic came closest. Whilst not as perfect as Tarot Sport, We Were Exploding Anyway has the same post-rock influence, the same level of just sheer noise. 65daysofstatic’s new album feels in some ways to be a new generation of The Prodigy with so many great hooks throughout the album that I’m sure those guys would be jealous. 65daysofstatic are one of the few bands that get how to build on a song to an almighty crescendo and for that I’m thankful.

'Crash Tactics' - 65daysofstatic

11. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

This was Sufjan’s first proper album in almost 5 years. Whilst he’s been releasing music since his seminal Illinois, The Age of Adz is the first proper LP since that album came out. Whilst many people were expecting an enhancement of that sound from so long ago, Sufjan has seemingly gone in an entirely different direction. Although that’s a lie, The Age of Adz seems to be a synthesis of every style that Sufjan has been working with over the years. Illinois, ‘You Are the Blood’ from last year’s Dark Was the Night and even Seven Swans. Hell he even goes all out on auto-tune. Age of Adz needs to be listened to a lot to finally get but when you do it’s completely worth, being one of the richest and thematically rich albums released this year.

'Too Much' - Sufjan Stevens

Of Chuck Season 3

Now that we're heading towards the last week of the year, I've decided to go back and review a few seasons of television I didn't get around to earlier in the year, so those of you waiting for my thoughts on Chuck Season 3 and Supernatural Season 5 are in for a treat.

I'm going to open with the statement that Chuck Season 3 wasn't as good as Season 2. That's not in anyway a bad thing because Chuck Season 2 is an absolutely fantastic season of television. Season 3 mostly suffered from the fact that the show had had a reduced budget and some minor storytelling annoyances.

Chuck Season 2 finished with a fantastic twist in the form of the Intersect 2.0 and already a wealth of storytelling options were open for the show. Chuck was now able to claim that he was indeed a spy, he could perform kung-fu or even play an instrument without having any prior instruction. It's refreshing to see shows change up their formula slightly before the old status-quo became stale. We'd already had 2 seasons (although technically 1.5) of Chuck being a liability for a lot of missions with his natural abilities coming in handy throughout various missions such as the memorable Season 2 episode 'Chuck versus Tom Sawyer'. Now Chuck was actually able to go on missions on his own and handle them as seen in 'Chuck versus First Class' which had Chuck entirely alone on a plane to Paris where he had to arrest Stone Cold Steve Austin single-handedly. Whilst the changes made by the Intersect 2.0 it felt like there was a lot more mileage that could have been gotten from it. In the end the Intersect 2.0 became a little bit of a crutch for the writers to get Chuck out of bad situations. This wasn't the case in every episode, but it did become a regular occurrence for Chuck to just kung-fu his way out of problems in most episodes.

What Chuck did get very right this was dealing with the people who found out that Chuck was in fact a spy. Awesome had of course found out that Chuck was a spy at the end of Season 2 and the mini-arc that took place at the start of Season 3 was great with Awesome being roped into a number of spy missions and was one of the best uses of the supporting cast in a long time. Then there was 'Chuck versus the Beard' in which Morgan found out that Chuck was a spy. 'Chuck versus the Beard' was easily the stand-out episode of the season. The best episodes of Chuck will normally utilise the Buy-More in some way as well as the rest of the supporting cast and this episode used it fantastically. It was also just a purely fun episode which of course Chuck does fantastically. Then was Morgan actually finding out, whilst many people would have expected Morgan to be crushed his best friend never told him, Morgan turned out to be elated and over the course of the rest of the season became a more than welcome addition to Team Bartowski. Whilst he essentially filled the role that Chuck had filled pre-Intersect 2.0 it was still a feeling that had been missing through the early episodes of Season 3.

In Season 3 Chuck went for a darker tone than the preceding seasons and whilst some of that can be put down to the budget cuts in the wake of the near cancellation it did sacrifice the supporting cast in some episodes. Whilst this benefited certain episodes where having the Buy-More or the Awesomes would have made the show feel more cluttered, the show would go through long periods of not being as fun. Of course episodes like 'Chuck versus the Beard' showed the show could still be fun and the darker tone wasn't unwelcome it felt a little oppressive occasionally.

The biggest problems that Season 3 suffered from though were pacing issues. The biggest issue was in the "will they, won't they" of Chuck and Sarah. I wrote an entire post about the so called Chuck-pocalypse here earlier this year. This came from people who said that the show became awful purely because Chuck and Sarah hadn't gotten together yet and that characters such as Shaw (Brandon Routh) and Hannah (Kristen Kreuk) had been added to the show to purely act as a roadblock. In some ways those characters had been used in that way and a "will they, won't they" plotline does eventually become a little grating. But Chuck and Sarah did get together at the end of the 13th episode and created the memorable 'Chuck versus the Honeymooners' wherein Chuck and Sarah spent the entire episode having sex and fighting crime. The eventually hooking up was probably left a little too late and characters like Shaw were poorly implemented into this plotline, but the eventual hooking up was a well deserved pay-off.

Then there was the strangeness of the two mini seasons of Chuck. Both of which were satisfying but had their own issues. Such as The Ring was not nearly as well set up as Fulcrum in Seasons 1 and 2 but were then dispatched by the end of the season. The Ellie and Awesome trip to Africa didn't really go anywhere. But that can be laid at the feet of the network for adding the 6 extra episodes so late into production. Luckily only one episode of these extra was even slightly disappointing that was the Christopher Lloyd guest-starring episode 'Chuck verus the Tooth'. Mostly because the show didn't know whether it wanted to be dark or light in its tone.

But I'm being too harsh, Chuck Season 3 still succeeded on almost every level that Season 2 beyond those quibbles. I haven't even mentioned the rest of the cast yet with the normal great performances of Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski. Then there were the guests stars. Of course the most notable was Superman himself Brandon Routh. Whilst his involved in the romance portion of the show wasn't welcome, he became a fantastic Big Bad for the season and I was glad for the extended period of time that we spent with his character and his motivations. Then there were the single episode stars like Vinnie Jones, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kristen Kreuk, Robert Patrick, Mark Sheppard, Christopher Llyod and the return of Scott Bakula as Chuck and Sarah's father.

Chuck Season 3 wasn't the all out success that Season 2 mostly because of a few minor missteps with withholding the Chuck and Sarah pay-off and slight mishandling of tone. But everything was pure Chuck. Casey was still awesome, there were still pop-culture references, great music, fantastic use of guest-stars and JEFFSTER! Chuck is still one of the must and purely enjoyable shows on television and is still just a great all around show.


Of Dexter Season 5

Here we are, a little over a week after Dexter Season 5 finished. How did this fifth season compare to the preceding four and how much longer will I actually be sticking with this show, find out now!

Dexter's fifth season was like a solidification of every single problem the show has had in it's earlier seasons. Every single season of Dexter is a self contained story with almost all guest stars drafted for each season not making it into the next, and after five seasons of the same shit it's getting a little dull. Every promise that the show-runners have made that there would be a change in the formula in the show have proven to be false. This year, fans were promised that there would be no Big Bad, but a collection of them, and whilst in some ways this was true, the last episode still focused upon a single Big Bad. Dexter has now proven that it has a set formula and that the show is in many ways too scared to stray from its chosen path.

Dexter is not a show like Breaking Bad which takes risks and puts it's characters into compromising situations. In Breaking Bad, Walt's wife has now found out that he is a drug dealer, this happened 2.5 seasons into the show. In Dexter, Rita never found out, Deb still comes annoyingly close and any character that does find out has to be dealt with in some way by the seasons end. This year three new characters found out that Dexter was a serial killer. Lumen (Julia Stiles) the new love interest, Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller) one of the years Big Bads and Liddy (Peter Weller) a corrupt cop hired by Quinn to spy on Dexter. By the end of the year, two of these people were killed and the other has left Miami. Whilst it's nice to have Lumen out there in the world knowing Dexter's secret, it would have been better to keep her close-by. The show avoided a chance to add a new wrinkle to their formula, Dexter could have had a partner in crime, someone who knew and cared for him even though he was a serial killer. Dexter needed something like this to shake up it's formula five years in. Sadly this didn't happen and so Dexter is once again alone and no one knows that he is a serial killer.

The other thing that the show needs to stop doing is teasing that Deb will find out that Dexter is a serial killer. Five seasons in and Deb is still coming increasingly close to finding her brother is a serial killer. This year she was less than 10 metres away from him with only a dirty plastic sheet in between the two of them. Progressively over the season she began to see that the murders of certain people (i.e. the people who raped and almost killed Lumen) were necessary and decided to let the pair of vigilantes (her brother and Lumen) go without even seeing them. What makes this so annoying is that a moment like this has happened in every single preceding season. It would be alright if it was only a recent occurrence or used sparingly, but it's not, the show continues to use this plot point. I'm beginning to lose my faith in the writers at this point, if I can't trust them to go through with this then there's not much I can trust them with. I know it probably won't happen until the end of the show, as the writers themselves said that once Deb finds out the show is over, but then they need to downplay her finding out so it stops being infuriating. It would be a big change to the formula of the show but it doesn't have to be the end, of course if done wrong the show could spiral out of control, but done right and the show enters a creative renaissance. Five years into the show something big has to happen and clearly Rita's death at the end of Season Four was not it. Season 6 needs to rectify this in some-way or I might be done with Dexter.

But Dexter Season 5 wasn't horrid, just infuriating and that was purely from the formula that every season of Dexter follows. The show is stale but there's enough there to like. Michael C. Hall is still one of the best actors on television and Jennifer Carpenter is still enjoyable as Deb. The police side of the show is never as interesting as Dexter's but I still like characters like Masuka and Quinn. Then the new elements of Season 5 were all very good, Julia Stiles and Jonny Lee Miller were both great and I wish that Julia Stiles could stick around or show up in future seasons, because I did like Lumen as a character. But standing head and shoulders above those two was Peter Weller (aka Robocop) as Liddy. Whilst Peter Weller is no John Lithgow, he was just hamming it up and having a hell of a time as the corrupt cop. He was a joy to watch in every scene he was in, and I'm slightly annoyed he didn't live out the season to become a thorn in Dexter's side, but again that's not how Dexter works as a show.

I'm beginning to waver on Dexter, I still enjoy the core of the show, particularly Michael C. Hall as Dexter and I always enjoy the guest stars they rope in for each season, but it's getting stale. Something big needs to happen in Season 6 of Dexter, be it a large twist or just announcing that Season 7 will be the last year so they can create a story that extends on for more than one season. Dexter has my attention for at least one more year but unless it's starts to show some degree of risk taking I might be out come the end of 2011.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Of Walking Dead Season 1

Now that Walking Dead has been over for about a week, of it's very long hiatus, it's time that we reviewed this inaugural season. In case you haven't heard The Walking Dead has become something of a phenomenon, mostly because it's zombies, and as well know, zombies are awesome. So without further ado, let's get reviewing.

The Walking Dead is based off of the similarly named The Walking Dead comic book written by Robert Kirkman (who also wrote episode 4 of the TV show). It's also masterminded by Frank Darabont, the guy behind Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, meaning that there is an undeniable pedigree to this show. When the man who directed and wrote one of the greatest films of all time decides to 'lower' himself to television you damn well pay attention. The pilot that Darabont both wrote and directed, still stands as the best single episode of the Walking Dead.

Over the course of a very solid first season, The Walking Dead was able to showcase what viewers would eventually have to look forward too, albeit with some stumbling blocks forming lessons for the shows writers. If anything, it's most similar to both the US Office and Parks and Recreation in their shortened first seasons. Both Parks and Office had average first seasons and then quickly bounced back in their second seasons to become two of the funniest shows on TV. If this is the trend that The Walking Dead will be following then great things are ahead for this show. The writers (or what's left of them) will hopefully be able to take away a lot from this first season, find what did and didn't work and then reform the show around the good parts.

First of all what did work, the cast are all uniformly very good in their portrayal of the characters from the comics. Whilst no one on the show is a Bryan Cranston or Jon Hamm level actor, the show works well as an ensemble, but no one at the moment is really coming forward as the stand-out actor. Andrew Lincoln is very good as Rick Grimes and is a spot on interpretation of the Rick Grimes from the comic series, but again it isn't a showy performance, it's just a good one, similar to the work Matthew Fox was doing on Lost. The other performances on the show are enjoyable to varying degrees with Laurie Holden as Andrea being the most noticeable, particularly during the scenes where she is dealing with the death of her sister Amy.

Gore, is something don't see done well on television very often by The Walking Dead is producing the graphic nature of a zombie apocalypse every week and I couldn't be happier. There have been decapitations, mutilation of corpses, gunshots to the head, zombies eating someones entrails and some absolutely brilliant zombie make-up. The Walking Dead isn't shying away from making this show very gory and bleak. Whilst the zombies aren't present in every episode, when they are used they are used to great effect, in particular the end of the fourth episode showing how the sparse use of the zombies adds to the overall effect of the show. The zombies are a constant threat, always out there but the group of survivors aren't battling hoards of them off in every episode.

When it comes to adapting a piece of work from another medium, the question is always how close should this new adaptation be to the original, Darabont and the other writers have found the right balance of original and new ideas. Whilst the broad strokes of the comic have been followed, such as Rick finding his family outside of Atlanta and leaving the camp after a zombie attack which dealt them heavy loses, the show isn't afraid of going off on it's own. Entire storylines have been made from scratch such as the siege story found in Episode 2 'Guts' or the gang story found in Episode 4 'Vatos' and they have been integrated into Kirkman's world of the comics without feeling like they were just shoehorned in to using the original material too quickly. The season's final episode 'TS-19' was entirely divergent to the comics and whilst it probably could have benefited from another episode of development to help it feel less rushed, it was still a great hour of television. In fact on of the biggest divergences from the comics comes from the Rick/Shane/Lori storyline which has featured a subtle tweak from the comics (if you've read the comics you'll know what the difference is actually quite large) and gives their storyline a sense of not actually knowing what is going to happen, which is an exciting prospect.

However not all of these changes have been great. For the most part the new characters introduced to the show who aren't present in the comics aren't particularly memorable. T-Dog is just a stupid name for a character. It also doesn't help that they are underdeveloped. When some of these non-comic characters were written out towards the end of Season 1, it was apparent I didn't care about any of them, with the only ones I liked were the ones we'd spent prolonged time with (T-Dog and Daryl) and the ones who had been characters in the comics. This is of course more a fault of the shortened length of this season and the size of the cast. What was the fault of the writers was that Merle and Daryl (at least at first) were written very badly. Merle was an early red flag for that the show could handle itself wrong. Merle was so one dimensional that it was just hard to watch. It was obvious the show wanted us to dislike him from the start but it turned into a racist red neck sterotype. Luckily Merle's actor, Michael Rooker was able to salvage the character a little in a largely wordless appearance in Episode 3 'Tell it to the Frogs'. Even Daryl (Norman Reedus) suffered from similar faults but 'Vatos' spent a prolonged amount of time with the character and began to become more fully formed, however this could be laid at the feet of Robert Kirkman having fun with a character who wasn't in his comics and didn't have a hand in creating.

Beyond these character issues, and some dialogue problems the show was largely fine, it just suffered from a lack of time to develop. Had it had the full 13 episodes to develop a proper season the show could have quickly found it's feet and shown what it was fully capable of. But as it stands the show must have what may eventually be seen as a prologue season before the show starts proper. But I enjoyed an awful lot of Season 1 of the Walking Dead, the pilot was superb with Morgan (Lennie James) being a character I hope we see a lot more of, and not after as long an absence as found in the comics. Almost every scene at the camp was brilliant, the zombie siege in 'Vatos', Jim slowly realising his fate and Noah Emmerich's fantastic supporting role in the finale as Dr. Jenner.

The first season of Walking Dead had some rough spots but overall I can see the show as ultimately pulling through, as long as some of the new characters are made more fully developed and less one dimensional and the show is able to find some kind of arc to play out over 13 episodes, rather than just the prologue this first season turned out to be. Whilst this first season wasn't perfect, it was damn good. Most of the low points are quick fixes and for the most part the show works great, but with a bit more polishing it could become one of the best shows on TV.


Thursday, 2 December 2010

Of Terriers Season 1

Terriers finished it's first and potentially only season last night and now I'm here to review what has been one of my favourite TV shows of 2010. Terriers is absolutely fantastic, the lead actors had crazy amounts of chemistry and it had one of the best 13 episode runs of any television show I've ever seen. And today it was cancelled. Goddammit general public, why does this get to survive and complete trash get to continue. However this post isn't about me hating people not watching Terriers, but instead the wonderous single season that was Terriers.

If you don't feel the title has told you what the show is then you are not alone. One of the main reasons that people are saying that Terriers wasn't a hit was because no one really knew what the show was about and the title and cryptic advertising did not help matters at all. However the people who actually watched the show and stuck with it for all 13 fantastic episodes know exactly were treated to one hell of a ride. So here I go about to explain what exactly Terriers is about.

Terriers is (was) a show that centred upon the P.I enterprise of two men, Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) and Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James), and the general ebb and flows of the business. They're two men who are a long way out of their league and even called "too small to fail" (*sigh* if only that were true of the ratings). Behind the scenes, Terriers had an all star writing staff made up of Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven), Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Tim Minear (Firefly) and Jed Seidel (Veronica Mars) who get to work their usual magic here. The show is a deft mixture of comic and serious moments, and is able to go between the two tones with ease. Even though a pervading tone of the show is the messiness of their operation, you still get sucked in and want to watch these two succeed even though it's clear they are completely out of their depth.

Much like shows of a similar ilk, Veronica Mars and Justified, Terriers swaps between procedural and serial plot lines, and even stories which appear to be stand alone have personal or even serial elements buried within the plot. Just like Veronica Mars did in it's first season the serial plot develops at just the right pace to keep you on your toes whilst also managing the thoroughly engaging one off plot lines. It took Justified, earlier this year, a few episodes to get the tone just right but Terriers succeeds at this from the very first episode. There isn't a single bad episode throughout the shows 13 episode run which is something that not many shows can attest to.

The main overriding plotline of the season focuses upon a large land grab happening within Hank and Britt's home town of Ocean Beach and whilst it isn't present it is still the driving narrative of the season. However every single episode advances the personal lives of the two main heroes, be it Hank's relationship with his ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberley Quinn) or his ex-partner in the police Mark Gustafson (Rockmond Dubar). The ex-partner storyline in particular leads to a fantastic episode of the series written by Firefly alum Tim Minear who wrote 'Out of Gas' for that particular show, and if you've that episode then you know the sort of thing to expect from that episode. The relationships between the characters are key to development of the show, from Britt and his girlfriend Katie or Hank's with relationships with the aforementioned ex-wife, ex-partner and his sister Steph (Karina Logue, Donal's real life sister). However of course the key relationship to the show is that between Hank and Britt.

Luckily their relationship is so good that it's easy to forget that these two are acting. Logue and Raymond-James have such clear chemistry that it just bubbles through in their acting. Be it from the brilliant dialogue or just the looks that they give each other, it's easy to tell that these two men are the best of friends who will have each others backs throughout whatever it is they get involved in, even if it puts them both in serious mortal peril. Character relationship as good as these two are rare, but when chemistry like this happens within a show that is already got such a great creative team, it makes the whole show doubly better.

I could wax lyrical for ages about what makes Terriers work, the chemistry, the great parade of actors, in particular Logue who is doing something akin to career best acting, the writing, the humour and the fact that the show isn't afraid to punch you in the gut (Alan Sepinwall's line). Terriers has great emotional heft that just makes the show work, you care about these guys and their fate and when something bad happens (and bad stuff does happen) you feel hurt. Terriers is one of those rare shows where everything clicked from the start, and sadly has the same story as Firefly (sorry Tim Minear). Even though Hank and Britt aren't the most advanced P.I's in the game you want to spend time with them all the same and the messy ways in which they achieve their goals. Terriers is the an absolutely fantastic one-and-done series, and whilst I'd love to have a second season, this first and only foray into the world of Ocean Beach was damn near close to perfection.


Of True Blood Season 3

Another massively late review, however since my True Blood Season 2 review is apparently the most popular review on my site, how can I not review this third season? Spoilers ahead!

Looking back on my review of True Blood Season 2 review, I probably rated a bit too high. The main issue being that the show lost a lot of steam after the characters came back to Bon Temps. The Big Bad of the season just wasn't as interesting as the other stories that were happening away from the town in the form of the hunt for Godric and The Fellowship of the Sun. The finale was a clear indication of how Season 3 was going to go. Season 2 technically ended about 30 minutes into the last episode, the rest of the episode was devoted to set up for Season 3, where we visited almost every single character and gave them a new story to follow.

This is where we land in Season 3, with about 7 different stories happening and it being more than likely you'll only care about 1 or 2 of them. Going in I found myself only really caring about Eric, Sookie and Bill's story and the one devoted to Hoyt and Jessica. Even my goodwill for Andy and Jason was taken to extreme levels of not caring by having the great comic chemistry of those two ruined by the fact that they spent most of the season in stories unrelated to each other and rarely got to be as hilarious towards the end of Season 2 when they were together.

Sam trying to find his real family started off as interesting and eventually became tedious. Tara is still the most grating character on the show and the most fun I had was watching her be abused by Franklin Mott, and then that story just kind of ended. Terry and Arlene's baby woes sucked up far too much valuable and the only enjoyable part of that was the brief appearance by Michael Raymond-James returning as Season 1's Rene. Then there was Jason and the werepanthers which never really went anywhere at all, beyond the promise of more story next season. Hell even Lafayette lost all his Season 1 edge by being embroiled in an almost superfluous plot about V and the wonders that it does for prophetic dreams

That was the main problem with Season 3 was that it felt like the start of something much bigger. Because none of the stories really ended in any satisfying way what we were left with in the finale didn't really feel that final. It felt more like a pause before the Season continues...just not for another year. Season 3 was just an unfocused mess, and whilst the messiness is part of the fun of True Blood, Season 3 suffered for it. A good season of television is able to take a variety of different strands and create a compelling narrative out of them. Whilst these different strands might not connect at the beginning of the season, by the end it's kind of expected that they intersect in different and interesting ways. True Blood Season 3 didn't really do that at all. Occasionally certain characters would cameo in someone else's story, such as Tara helping Sookie and Alcide get Bill out of Edgar's house or Jason killing Franklin for Tara, but on the most part there was no narrative cohesion. Season 3 suffered because every character seemed to exist within their own bubble and didn't care for anyone else. Whilst everyone existed in the same universe, it just felt odd that no one really knew what was going on in anyone else's lives. Watching True Blood was like watching 7 different television shows crammed into one show.

That's to say that everything sucked, I stand by the fact that Deborah Ann Woll and Jim Parrack have insane amounts of chemistry and the main story of the Season with Eric trying to take down Russell was great all the way through. Of course there were a couple of weak portions, such as whether or not Bill was truly evil got tiring a few episodes into the season. Luckily everything with Eric continued to be create because of the presence that Alexander Skarsgård brings to the show. Then there was the new character of Russell Edgington this season played Denis O'Hare who was absolutely brilliant. He brought the right amount of crazy and sinister, especially in the way he dealt with many characters throughout the season. However even this plotline hit some pot holes. Sookie being a fairy (yes Sookie is indeed a fairy) went almost nowhere this season and is probably being held onto for next season and there was the handling of Russell towards the end of the season. When episode 10 ended, it felt like shit was going to hit the fan, but then it didn't. It felt like such a disappointment that the Big Bad of the season didn't actually make anything bad happen. He just kind of got burnt to a crisp and then buried in cement. Only issue was that Eric was also buried in cement but quickly escaped, leaving us to question whether or not it was actually the end of the villain.

However enough complaining, True Blood is still True Blood. It still offers a campy show about vampires. There's still an over abundance of sex and violence. Hell there were more than enough awesome moments in Season 3 to make up for the messiness. There was Bill and Lorena's oh so violent sex scene, Sookie verus Debbie and of course Russell's excellent appearance on the news (spine rip FTW). Hell there were even werewolves and I actually quite liked Alcide. True Blood Season 3 was messy as hell and the finale wasn't nearly satisfying enough as a finale. However there were enough enjoyable moments and story potential that I'm not ready to give up on the show, but if it continues with being this mess and unsatisfying I might have to consider dropping from my rotation.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Of Mad Men Season 4

I know that Mad Men Season 4 has been finished for nearly 2 months now, but I've finally decided to get round to reviewing it. Spoilers ahead obviously.

Mad Men Season 3 was fantastic, but Season 4 absolutely blew it out of the water. After the game changing finale to Season 3, the big question was what was going to become of the new law firm that Don, Roger, Burt and Lane started. Season 4 began almost a year after the firm had started and found them located in a far more luxurious location than the hotel room they were forced into at season's end, but still far small than the old Sterling Cooper offices.

Donald Draper was in a bad place for most of Season 4. Drinking heavily and attempted womanising. Of course Don was a womaniser in the old days, even when married to Betty, the key difference here was that he was failing, spectacularly at it. Whilst it would be easy to get annoyed at watching our hero fail at something he used to be good, it still led to a fantastic character study. With an early trip to California to see Anna, we were once again brought back to the Dick Whitman character and which version of Don was the real Don.

Which leads us on the to the fantastic episode The Suitcase. It's hard to describe just how good this episode was. Focusing almost exclusively on Don and Peggy and their relationship, Mad Men created one of the best single hours of television this year. Don hit rock bottom, drinking to excess in front of Peggy, getting into a drunken brawl with Duck Phillips, which he lost. Then of course in the background to all this was the presence of the death of Anna, and Don's reason for self destruction. Anna was the only person that knew Dick Whitman, the only who knew what Don was really like. With Anna's death, the torch of this knowledge was passed onto Peggy and Don was able to make an upward climb to his old self.

This led to Don Draper courting for a lot of the season, many potential love interests were introduced with Faye being the most likely. Faye was Don's equal, someone who knew what made him tick, someone he actually revealed some of his past to (obviously not all of it). Someone who looked to be a far better match than Betty. A true intellectual equal. But Don didn't choose Faye, he chose his secretary Megan. We the audience know just how bad a decision this is going to be in the long run, but the fascinating thing about Mad Men is that it is willing to let it's characters make mistakes. This marriage almost certainly work out, or at least won't make Done happy. Season 5 will obviously spend a lot of time analysing this new relationship and it's ups and downs which just makes me all the more excited.

Of course Don's relationship and life woes weren't the only story in Season 4. Roger losing Lucky Strike at the end of Season 4 which sent Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce into a tailspin as they lost their main financial backing. Not only did it place Roger's position within the company in question but gave us another key moment for Don Draper to shine (alright it is almost impossible t0 discuss the show without talking Don). His letter to the tobacco business was just awesome. Peggy manages to get a new client towards the end of Season 4, which might solve some of SCDP's worries but probably not. Whenever we come back it seems more than likely that they'll be hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

Then we have Joan now being pregnant with Roger's baby. Of course this will pose huge problems for both their marriages, although we should be more scared for Joan. After her husband raped her in Don's office, we know just how evil her husband can be, even if she is love with him. Hopefully whatever he does to (if he ever finds out) won't be too heinous because Mad Men can't lose Joan, the sheer amount of chemistry that she shares with Roger is mind boggling. Whilst at this point it would be counter intuitive to have those two end up together, as long as we get one scene with them together an episode I'll be satiated.

One of the key elements that made fantastic was Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper. Easily one of the best child actors I've ever seen. Whatever they have her do, from the oh so creepy masturbation scene, arguing with her mother, running away to her dads is fantastic. The show keeps asking her to do more and more complex things and it just amazes me how easily she handles it. I just hope that next season she keeps up having such a large role, although with her now being with mother further away this may be difficult.

My only down issue on Mad Men Season 4 was the lack of presence of Lane Pryce. Whenever he had a fair amount of screentime, be it when he and Don went out drinking and then slept with the prostitutes or his father coming over Britain and ordering to come back with him. Not only did we find out what made Lane tick, with his father smacking him around the head with a cane, but also that he is so much happier here in America than at home in the far more domineering world. Jared Harris is an absolutely superb actor and I desperately want to see more of him next season, of course that is difficult when there are 5 other actors who are far more pressing to the ongoing narrative of the show.

Overall, Mad Men Season 4 was the best seasons of television I've ever seen, much like all other seasons of Mad Men. It's hard to fault with it. The writing and acting continue to be exemplary and engrossing and the direction and art direction is pretty much faultless. The game changing end of Season 3 wasn't so much a kick in the rear for Mad Men, but more an interesting new narrative with so many potentials. Mad Men Season 5 can't come soon enough, and the fact that it will more than likely be airing alongside Breaking Bad Season 4 makes me more excited. Right now AMC have put out the two best shows of 2010 with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, the only hard part will trying to figure out which show was better this year....