Tag Archives: TV

Failed Critics Podcast: Trilogy Trashing Triple Bill

matrix-revolutions

The Earth still spins, the sun still shines and Hollywood still makes trilogies that nobody in their right mind wants, with Ron Howard’s third Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno, hitting cinemas last weekend.

Rather than expend any amount of energy reviewing the Tom Hanks led mystery thriller, the Failed Critics instead run through a triple bill of film franchises that should have ended before getting to the trilogy stage. Boy, were there plenty to choose from!

With regular host Steve Norman off celebrating his birthday, we drafted in Matt Lambourne to swivel on the comfy high-backed armchair and guide Owen Hughes, Brian Plank and Tony Black through another podcast. There’s no quiz this week, but a discussion about the new Star Wars: Rogue One trailer arose, as did a short summary of this year’s London Film Festival.

In What We’ve Been Watching, the team cover Netflix series Luke Cage and half of their newest feature-length comedy, Mascots. There’s even time for a chat about HBO’s latest smash hit, Westworld, up to episode three (spoiler free!)

Join us again next week as we’re back with a Halloween triple bill, resurrecting the dead… Spooky!

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Failed Critics Podcast: TV to Film Triple Bill

Mathlete's_Feat_24

Influenced by this week’s triple bill, getting ideas above their station and blowing a huge amount of money on an extravagant holiday because they didn’t quite know what else to do with it, Steve Norman and Owen Hughes return in a feature-length edition of the Failed Critics Podcast. With the help of their good friend Liam, the trio ramp things up to 11 and have a great time doing it!

I mean, that’s what you do when you turn an otherwise weekly serialised show into a big-budget production, right? Send all your mates on holiday to piss about in the sun whilst blowing huge wads of cash on a subpar (albeit much, much longer) episode of what you normally do?

Well, at least this episode isn’t subpar, even if it is longer than usual, as the Failed Critics each choose their three favourite movie adaptations of TV shows and/or characters.

Everything was up for grabs, from “much loved” family flicks like The Simpsons Movie (nobody chose it), PopEye (not a chance) and The Flintstones (you must be kidding), to big-budget Hollywood re-inventions like Mission:Impossible (not a sausage), The Man From UNCLE (close but no cigar) and The Equaliser (I hate to break it to you, but…). It really could have been anything. The Sweeney! (nope), Dad’s Army (nuh-uh) or even The Last Airbender (absolutely not, no way, not a snowflake’s chance in hell!)

As mentioned, this was a pretty full-on episode. Not only did we pack in all of the triple bill choices, but we even found time for Owen to review 1960’s classic horror The Innocents on Liam’s recommendation, for Steve to dissect modern-war drama Lone Survivor, and for Liam to scratch his head over the documentary Spellbound. The news this week also saw the team look back on the work of the recently departed Caroline Aherne and Michael Cimino as well as Chris Evans stepping down from Top Gear.

Join us again next week as something strange happens in our neighbourhood. Where’d I put that phone..?

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Front Row with Owen and Paul: Eating Hats

Front Row Logo

Welcome to the series finale of Front Row with Owen and Paul. Even though there wasn’t a radio show this week, hosts Owen Hughes and Paul Rutland still got together to record a special podcast-only episode. As an extra special treat, they even dragged along another special guest in Helen Thain for a chat about BBC drama The Night Manager and binge-watching box-sets.

As ever, we still included both a movie review and sports round-up. Owen tried to find the positives in the latest DreamWorks Animation, Kung Fu Panda 3, whilst Paul has a bone to pick with Owen over a comment from last week.

The show will be back on Bucks101 Radio in some form or another within the next 3 weeks, but for now, thanks to everybody who listened to the radio show and downloaded any of our podcasts. If you’d like to leave us a review on iTunes, you can do so here.

There was no actual music played on this week’s podcast, but here’s a playlist of the stuff we would have played anyway:

Listen to the full playlist of every track we’ve had on Front Row via YouTube.

Right click and choose ‘save as’ to download the podcast as an MP3

Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special (S3 Ep2)

game of thronesWhen you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground. But the game of the Failed Critics Podcast is a bit more accommodating and has more of a flexible work-life balance. Plus it has much less incest too.

This episode is part two of our third TV Special podcast, featuring Owen Hughes as host in place of Steve Norman. As in part one, Owen is joined by Matt Latham from The Bottle Episode and Failed Critics founder James Diamond.

With the Emmy’s chat firmly done and dusted, the team move onto answering some tough, insightful and deeply ponderous questions such as “what TV show did you used to hate but now really like”, and “what is the best new TV show of the year”. You know, the sort of questions you just don’t hear anybody else deal with.

We’ll be back to our regular output next week with Steve returning to hosting duties as we review Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

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Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special (S3 Ep1)

emmyThe Failed Critics TV Special revolution will not be televised, brother. Although, it will still be a conveniently downloadable audio podcast. No change there, then.

However, what is different, for our third TV Special episode, there’s no Steve Norman. Instead, Owen Hughes leapt into Steve’s upholstered velvet host’s chair whilst it was still warm, swivelled himself around, and read questions from the teleprompter to our special guests for this episode. Owen was joined by both Matt Latham from the TV blog and podcast, The Bottle Episode, and returning to us like the prodigal son, former head-honcho at FC HQ, James Diamond, now co-running the Diamond and Human podcast.

With so much content to get through, you may consider saving this episode and box-set binging later in the week with the release of Part Two. Going massively over-time and blowing the entire Failed Critics Entertainment Budget on one two-part special, we just had so much to talk about that we’ve had to split our TV Special in half. In part one, we have our Primetime Emmy Award themed quiz, inspired by the recent announcement of the nominations for the 67th annual awards and our reactions to them. And to give you a taste of what’s to come in part two, the trio also respond to the first question asked of them, “what is the best ongoing show of 2015?” Spoiler: it wasn’t Masked Spooner.

Join us again later in the week for less Emmy’s chat and more Q&A’s, and the team each pitch an idea for a TV show that they’d like to see brought back from the dead.

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Pusher (S3 Ep17)

In a brand new entry to our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, Tony Black of Black Hole Cinema fame inducts one of the most iconic TV villains of all time, Pusher, from one of the most iconic TV shows of all time, The X-Files.

by Tony Black (@BlackHoleWriter)

i want to believe“You mean you killed this man for nothing, you sick bastard?”

“Oh haven’t you figured it out yet, Mulder? They all kill themselves.”

One of the chief inspirations for FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, erstwhile and dogged investigator of The X-Files, was the master of detection, Sherlock Holmes. Chris Carter himself has cited Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary literary figure as a touchstone for Mulder, with his remarkable leaps of logic to explain the unexplained, not to mention his eccentricities and detachment from traditional life & relationships – plus he has a ready made Dr. Watson in fellow Special Agent Dana Scully, yanked out of her normal existence, swiftly enraptured by Mulder’s world. Up until ‘Pusher’, the seventeenth episode of The X-Files‘ third season–as the show was really hitting the mid-90’s zeitgeist–Mulder had never found his Professor Moriarty, his nemesis. He arrived ready made in Robert Patrick Modell, the eponymous ‘pusher’, and the result saw Vince Gilligan deliver the finest X-File in the show’s (to date) nine season run.

The genius of ‘Pusher’ is that it’s one of those concepts, even for an X-File, that is breathtakingly simple yet beautiful in construction; a man capable of talking another human being into doing whatever he desires, a form of mind control inducement thanks to the cadence of the person’s voice. Giving that power to a twisted, bitter sociopath who wants nothing more than a worthy adversary is a stroke of brilliance, and that’s the central key to ‘Pusher’ being such a perfectly constructed hour of television. The X-Files by its very nature, much like Doctor Who, had the freedom to go almost anywhere and tell a myriad of stories, such is the vast canvas of the paranormal & unknown in our world; when it wasn’t about global alien conspiracies, man eating monsters or natural pathogens or predators, often the more intriguing character-based concepts would come into play – the reality bending seduction of ‘Milagro’, the unnerving fetishism of ‘Irresistable’ or cold hearted pain of ‘Paper Hearts’. With ‘Pusher’ it was a battle of wills, a chess match between two adversaries, as Mulder desperately begins to realise that Modell simply wants to watch the world around him burn, look into the face of the man good enough to beat him, and smile. Indeed though he wants to be Moriarty, in truth he’s more like the Joker. Scully describes him at one point as “a little man who wants everyone to believe he’s big” and that’s the tragic, sometimes jet black comic ideal driving ‘Pusher’ as an episode.

“Modell psyched the guy out, he put the whammy on him!”

“Please explain to me the scientific nature of ‘the whammy’.”

Enormous credit must go to guest star Robert Wisden as Modell, because it’s his performance that truly sells Gilligan’s marvelous writing; he’s sly, calculating, quippy and strangely charming, a hugely tricky balance to pull off, but Wisden is able to flip between these styles at will. At one moment Modell may be calmly talking a court judge out of sentencing him, almost the friendly neighbour next door, then the next he’s inducing a cop to immolate himself, taunting Mulder jokily over the phone or, in arguably the second most memorable scene of the episode, talking bullish local detective Frank Burst into having a heart attack over the phone. It’s truly chilling and the moment of complete shock and horror on the faces of Mulder, Scully and the team of detectives around Frank at that point still sends a chill down the spine – topped off when Modell then calmly gives them the pay phone number Frank was keeping him on the line to trace. Wisden manages to craft the finest ‘human’ monster the show ever created – especially given that tinge of tragedy to the man; he’d spent his life being average, amounting to little, and only upon discovering his ‘power’ was he able to make any kind of mark, styling himself after the Japanese Ronin, a ‘warrior without a master’. Gilligan manages to tap into this psychology while always keeping Modell alien enough to be frequently terrifying.

In many of the stand alone episodes of The X-Files, you got the feeling it was just another case for either Mulder & Scully, sometimes having a deeper impact on the guest stars than they themselves. For Mulder in particular, ‘Pusher’ you know stays with him. That’s borne out indeed two seasons later in sequel episode ‘Kitsunegari’ which while vastly inferior, actually serving to hugely neuter Modell’s power, does show how much Mulder felt strongly Modell should die for his crimes in ‘Pusher’. Often he can saunter through a case facing a few scrapes but coming out the other end proven right and unscathed bar some cuts & bruises, but both times he encounters Modell he’s marked; you can feel the moments in ‘Pusher’ where Mulder is being pushed, being drained, such as his vociferous prosecution and frustration at the judge after he catches Modell, and later his aforementioned fury at Frank Burst’s chilling murder (and his desperate attempts to save him when he realises what Modell is doing). It all culminates in, appropriately, the show’s final act, an absolute master stroke in narrative tension from Gilligan and particularly director Rob Bowman, which sees a ‘pushed’ Mulder led by the dying Modell into a final battle of ‘Russian roulette’ in an evacuated hospital, with an emotional & shaken Scully acting as arbiter at the table. David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson give it their all, you can feel the power, tension and emotion at that table as Modell strives to win his final victory.

“It was like you said. He was always such a little man. This was finally something that made him feel big.”

“I say we don’t let him take up another minute of our time.”

The reason that ‘Pusher’ might be the greatest X-File ever made isn’t just because of Vince Gilligan’s supreme script, or Rob Bowman’s expert direction, or indeed the magnificent guest performance of Robert Wisden, but rather because for a show built around the unknown, about the monsters within and without, Robert Patrick Modell was never truly a monster at all. He committed horrific crimes. He was deeply twisted and hateful. But he was also a sad, lonely, desperate figure who’s only way of making a stamp on the world was by controlling the whims of others and, perversely, trying to grab the attention of the man he no doubt wished he could have been. That wonderful sense of twisted humanity is what drama, what great storytelling, is all about.

As for this reviewer, as Modell’s victims might say, he had to go.

You can listen to Tony’s previous appearances on the Failed Critics Podcast here or read the rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles on our website.

Training (S1 Ep4)

With one episode of The Office (US) already entered into our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series by Kate, Failed Critics podcast host Steve has taken it upon himself to induct his favourite episode from the original UK show. And it’s about damn time!

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

the office trainingI could quote The Office endlessly. It’s funny how a good show can permeate the mind like that. For some, it’s Only Fools and Horses or Monty Python. For others it’s The Mighty Boosh or I’m Alan Partridge. For me, it used to be Phoenix Nights.

Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant’s creation is a work of genius and lives long in the memory. The jokes range from side splittingly hilarious to cringe inducing laughs.

Undoubtedly the best episode comes from Series One and is titled ‘Training’. It has the three main protagonists of the show, Tim, Gareth and David, all at their best. It also taught me that a postage stamp is legal tender and should be accepted by bus drivers.

The episode centres around staff training at Wernham Hogg and Brent is at his obnoxious best. Constantly interrupting the outside teacher Rowan, thinking he knows better. Who can forget the exchange ending in ‘I THINK THERE’S BEEN A RAPE UP THERE….GET. THEIR. ATTENTION.’ Or the equally brilliant ‘There is no room 362 in this hotel. Sometimes the complaints will be false.’

It also introduces his back catalogue of tunes from the sombre Princess Di tribute ‘Goodnight My Sweet Princess’ to the epic ‘Freelove Freeway’ (which incidentally I think I know all the words to).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEtQj9wuqhs]

Gareth is at his moronic best – ‘Shouldn’t be allowed around animals then’ and ‘two girls, sisters, me just watching.’ Tim, who the viewer should be watching the show through the eyes of – the downtrodden office worker with a lack of ambition and drive and one small glimmer of hope in his life, Dawn – suffers the agony of rejection as the receptionist gets back with massive dickhead Lee and shows his frustration towards his irritating colleague and clueless boss.

Whilst Gareth and Brent are giving you the laughs in abundance, Tim is, well, not so much making you tear up, but making you annoyed with his co-workers . You genuinely feel for him and are frustrated for him. You will him to get Dawn and leave ‘The Office’. You want him to succeed, but deep down know he won’t.

The Office was always able to make you crack up with laughter but also feel genuine sadness or happiness for its relatable characters. Whether it’s Tim getting with Dawn, or Brent getting one over on Finchy, or Brent pleading for his job. It’s what all the best sitcoms do and this episode’s is that at its very best.

You can catch up on all of the entries to our 100 Greatest TV Episodes here and find Steve every week on our film podcast.

Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special 2.5

true detectiveWelcome to possibly the most offensive, extraordinarily explicit episode of the Failed Critics Podcast to date. Which probably suggests our guests this week need no introduction! But for the sake of posterity, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Andrew Brooker and Paul Field.

To tie into last week’s release of Entourage: The Movie, a spin-off from the popular HBO series, “the boys” have turned this episode into a TV Special. Not quite a full continuation of the first two entries to our previous TV Specials (part 1 & part 2), this is more like a TV Special 2.5 with a full third entry coming in the next few months.

In it, the quiz gets a TV-make-over, the team talk about what TV shows they’ve been watching lately and we have a full review of the Entourage film. We’re even releasing this episode a couple of days early as it will take you a week to finally finish listening to it as it comes in at an impressive (daunting?) 1 hour and 45 minutes long.

Join us again next week as Callum Petch joins us to review the animated comedy Minions, a spin off from the highly successful and popular Despicable Me franchise.

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Innocence (S2 Ep14)

In another new article for our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, first time writer for the site Matthew Latham looks back at one of the most pivotal moments in Joss Whedon’s hugely popular show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

by Matthew Latham (@theBottleEp)

buffy angel“Growing up is hard”. It’s the clichéd phrase that’s thrown around pretty much everywhere you look. There’s been a lot of TV shows that try to highlight this, but perhaps some get a little carried away in their own spectacle. They can show an over-exaggerated view of teenage life that doesn’t fully exist and creates high standards to live up to. Skins, for example, its first series is brilliant drama series but isn’t an exact representation of teenage life; it’s a character study for Nicholas Hoult’s character. Whilst other teenage shows of the last ten years appear to go for kitsch soapy drama (Gossip Girl and 90210) in niche areas of society.

In every TV generation, a show is born. It alone will be able to take a more mature look at growing up with a more level headed respect for its audience. With relatable characters that are more like the average viewer. In this modern era, the closest we have is probably Awkward (if you finish watching it at the end of the third season), but even that descends into sometimes dodgy soap territory alongside some genuinely smart story-telling techniques. Before then you had Friday Night Lights that explored growing up in the context of a small town environment. There’s also Freaks and Geeks, which was aimed towards adults who were teenagers in the 1980s.

Okay, okay, so shows involving a blogger and football are a tad more realistic than a girl who fights mythological creatures. It’s not exactly My So-Called Life (the quintessential show about growing up) is it? What Buffy had was a clear goal: to show the struggles of growing up and the pressures that go with it; juggling school work, social lives, family, possible jobs alongside the fear of entering the adult world and preparing for it. Buffy throws in a bunch of metaphors involving mythological creatures that still was more relatable than those rich kids with that famous zip code. Felt ignored? There’s an episode about a girl who ended up turning invisible because of it. Pushy mum that wants you to do something that she did as a teenager? There’s an ep for that. It’s more apparent in the first season and the first half of the second, and the episodes aren’t superbly fantastic (and not to mention dated). The show couldn’t keep doing this forever, so it had to get to a point when it risks going for the bigger issues and extended arcs.

Innocence concludes a two-part story that started with the previous episode, Surprise. It’s when Buffy, the show and the character, begin the process of growing up. It has had arc plots before, but this sees a massive turning point in the season arc involving Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Geller) relationship with the vampire Angel (David Boreanaz). Since the pilot the attraction between them has grown from when Angel mysteriously popped up to give Buffy cryptic advice, and then vanish. Buffy (inevitably) ended up being drawn to him and vice versa before he revealed that he was vampire. Only one with a soul. It transpires Angel used to be an evil git in the past, with this life finally catching up with him after killing a young gypsy woman. Scorned, the woman’s family cursed him with a soul so he would be haunted in an eternal life of guilt.

It turns out that these gypsies had a pretty questionable loophole in that if Angel had a moment of true happiness, then he’d lose the soul. This episode sees the result of Angel losing his soul via sleeping with Buffy at the climax (ha!) of the previous episode. Thus he reverts back to Angelus. Immediately Buffy, her friends and the audience are taken out of their comfort zone. Whatever trace of Angel there was, and what we’ve seen in the past has gone. We meet the real “Big Bad” of the season as Buffy has to enter a war against a man who used to be the man she loved.

“But where is the relatable metaphor?” I (don’t) hear you cry. Innocence kicks off an extended arc which deals with the boyfriend that you sleep with and doesn’t call or seem interested in. Angel turns into the kind of guy who leaves after “doing the deed”, breaking Buffy’s heart in the process. Geller has to do a lot here, and she pulls it off effortlessly. The first scene between Buffy and Angelus (the name used to differentiate between him and Angel) sees him being incredibly crude; commenting on Buffy’s sexual prowess and cutting her down emotionally. It’s a heart-breaking scene and it helps you get on Buffy’s side immediately. The mystical events are a backdrop to a conversation that could happen in real life or any other “straight” (with no-fantastical element) dramas, as Buffy has to come to terms with the guy she thought she knew has gone. In his place is…well, a jerk.

And what a jerk Angelus becomes. Boreanaz is a delight, revelling in the fun as this darker incarnation of Angel. The previous episode introduced the show’s usual “Demon of the Week” villain in the form of The Judge, a being that “burn humanity” out of people. It’s very much a plot device that’s clearly set-up for the scene where The Judge tries to burn a recently de-souled Angelus but doesn’t. It’s another scene that whilst convenient, the writing is indicating that the show is different now. Characters are different. Angel is gone and we’re using every viable method we can to show this.

As the drama around Buffy and Angel’s relationship crosses its own Rubicon, other characters find significant changes within their own arcs. Willow (Alyson Hanningan) discovers that Xander (Nicholas Brendan) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) have…well, whatever the hell they’ve been doing. Alyson Hannigan gets one of her many great moments in the show here, laying into Xander and delivering the breaking: “it means you’d rather be with someone you hate, than be with me.” But it’s good in the long term, because in Willow’s quest to “even the score” she offers a make-out session with new love interest Oz (Seth Green) in a van whilst the Scooby Gang (the name given to Buffy’s friends) are sneaking into an army base. In perhaps the best piece of writing where you’ll find yourself loving a character, Oz replies with a “no”, spotting the reasons behind it in one of his better moments in the show. Even Giles (Anthony Steward Head) gets his own place to shine, acting as the father figure Buffy deserves and showing his loyalty to her in despite of the revelation that his girlfriend Jenny (Robia La Morte) was part of the Gypsy tribe that cursed Angel (Though I’ve always felt that they may have been a little too harsh towards Jenny).

The writing is incredibly strong in this episode and you can pin that down to Joss Whedon, the guy behind those recently successful Avengers movies you may have heard of. I often recall a quote he once said; “The two things that matter the most to me: emotional resonance and rocket launchers. Party of Five, a brilliant show, and often made me cry uncontrollably, suffered ultimately from a lack of rocket launchers.” This sums up his attitude to the show: the emotional relatability is there to see, but to have that impact you need to make sure you have something exciting alongside it. This works from the opposite angle as well, as action sequences need a layer of emotional resonance for the audience to be attached to them.

In terms of Innocence, this is represented by an actual rocket launcher. It’s as if Whedon wanted to be subtle by not being subtle at all. It’s what her friends break into an army base to get; as “any weapon forged” can’t kill The Judge – so they get one that was made in a factory instead. It’s a very cool visual, one that will linger in the title sequence for seasons to come. The climax of the episode sees a fight between Angelus and Buffy in which she can’t bring herself to kill him, so she kicks him in the nether regions. It’s a great thematic end to the episode as the power that Angelus took via that conversation in his apartment is transferred back to Buffy. It isn’t much, but it’s enough. “Give me time,” she tells him.

Points of no return have been crossed. With Buffy’s loss of innocence, the show follows suit and the rest of the season spirals into a darker turn. Buffy’s mother asks her what she did for her birthday, and she replies with one word: “older”. Buffy had to grow up, and so did the show. Sure, the show would still dabble in the stand-alone metaphorical tales (like the late season episode Go Fish), but there was now more layers of characterisation, characters would react to situations differently. The show’s mission statement was in full effect: this is what Buffy the Vampire Slayer is capable of.

It isn’t an episode to watch in isolation; nor is one to introduce people in the show. But it’s a pay-off for those that stuck with it, accepted what the first season is and started to fall for the characters. The ramifications of this episode end up affecting the entire run of the rest of the show, and forms the backbone of the later Angel spin-off. If that doesn’t show the episode’s case for one of the best forty-five minutes of TV ever, then I don’t know what will.

The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.

Dish and Dishonesty (S3 Ep1)

In the latest entry to our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, we’re introducing Nicholas Lay, a new guest writer to the site, who’s inducting one of the most intelligent episodes from the BBC classic comedy, Blackadder.

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

dish and dishonesty 1In the spirit of the frantic general election that last week, as per usual, made a mockery of the political and social system in the UK, it seemed only natural that my contribution to Failed Critics 100 Greatest TV Shows should be the timeless send up of British politics that is the opening episode of the late 80s sitcom, Blackadder the Third. While II and Goes Forth are arguably stronger seasons, certainly in terms of consistency, and are no doubt more popular, I find it difficult to hold any single episode in higher favour than Dish and Dishonesty. Set during what could perhaps be considered a ‘brave’ time period selection – the turn of the 18th/19th century British Regency (a historical period lodged primarily in further education compared to the primary school-taught, everyone-knows-a-few-facts-about-them Elizabethan and WWI periods of II and Goes Forth respectively) – the episode features some of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s finest, altogether smartest writing, terrific performances and comic timing across the board, as well as probably my favourite Blackadder sequence of all time.

Right off the bat there are jokes aplenty regarding the rather backward electoral structure of the age, with facts presented that could essentially produce the humour out right due to the almost tragic nature of their genuine existence. Curtis and Elton of course sprinkle their delicious sense of exaggeration on virtually everything, but as is the case throughout Blackadder the comedy stems from the reality that, while ridiculous, each social and political aspect ridiculed to the extreme isn’t actually that far away from the truth. Within the first five minutes or so we’re treated to a brief history of the unfair manner of voting procedure (“Look at Manchester…population, sixty thousand; electoral roll, three”), an introduction to the running joke of an overly adolescent Pitt the Younger, and the outrageous class divide as depicted by Blackadder himself, who describes MP Sir Talbot Buxomley’s interests as “flogging servants, shooting poor people, and the extension of slavery to anyone who hasn’t got a knighthood”.

Although helped by the fact that period pieces tend to stand the test of the time with greater success than their contemporary cousins, Curtis and Elton were evidently masters of the sitcom set up of their day. Immediately punching out lines and gags of this ilk over and over again, they really allow the old day BBC studio audience to get their teeth into things from the off, thus pulling the whole thing off spectacularly well throughout. Incidentally, the episode is a fine example of a time when a live audience laughter track genuinely did drive and enhance the comedy, from the perspective of both the working actors and the end user, so to speak, in the form of the audience at home.

Working in tandem is the superb delivery provided by the cast, led by Rowan Atkinson’s legendary title character, whose bitter sense of both curiosity and utter loathing alike manifest themselves marvellously with each straight close-up of his subtle, completely apt facial expressions. His calm, permanently sarcastic demeanour in the face of complete buffoonery, both above (Hugh Laurie’s elite thicko, Prince George) and below him (Tony Robinson’s ever-present dogsbody, Baldrick), results in punch line after spot on punch line. Laurie excels opposite as the brain dead Prince, the non-state related concerns of whom remain consistently at the forefront of the comic proceedings (“Socks are like sex…tons of it about and I never seem to get any!”). The nauseating guest characters are as close to perfection as one is likely to find in sitcom history, with Dennis Lill’s grotesque, flushed elitist Buxomly’s brief cameo matched by the depiction of two-time Prime Minster Pitt the Younger, played wonderfully by Simon Osborne. Like the “Darling” gag during Goes Forth, the joke that the PM is a mere teenager is simple but genius in both subsequent connotation and all round execution, as he continuously spars with Blackadder in fantastically immature, highly patronising fashion.

The highlight of the episode is the development of the by-election held in the fictional corrupt rotten borough of Dunny-on-the-Wold, discussed first by Blackadder and the Prince (in no other context could the lines “a small hen, its late forties” and “window tax” be delivered with such understated aplomb and work so damn well), before culminating in the eventual election declaration. One of the all time great moments of British television, the fourth wall-breaking election result – presented as a BBC-type event with contemporary political commentator Vincent Hanna speaking directly to the camera/audience – is a masterpiece of witty political satire. From start to end it precisely dissects the sometimes seemingly insane practice and nature of politics in the late 18th/early 19th century, alongside modern day politics and the ugly, concurrent themes of power, wealth, and corruption. The sight of Prince George holding Colin the dachshund and approving Mr. Hanna’s acknowledgement of the beast sets the tone for a scene in which each scenario, portrayal, and line is pure, side splitting gold. Baldrick’s old timey version of political “gagging”, Pitt the Even Younger crying to his mother in defeat, the Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party’s policy of the compulsory serving of asparagus at breakfast, and Mr. Hanna’s Country Gentleman’s Pig Fertilizer Gazette media outlet are just some of the standout moments, all held together by Blackadder’s treacherous, completely transparent rigging of the vote. Never again did a single scene have my heavily inebriated weeknight YouTube-watching first year history university student-self on the floor quite as long as this.

A momentous, everlasting piece of British comedy, Dish and Dishonesty opened a season that deservedly won the BAFTA for Best Comedy Series in 1988, with the episode itself a cornerstone of its success. The blend of quirky, restricted staging and cynical writing forever associated with the series is at its absolute strongest here, a factor from which the cast rose to the occasion to produce a practically flawless thirty minutes of television. To any fan of history, comedy or political satire who may have missed it, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. If you still don’t wish to give it a try, then I say, in the words of Mr. Pitt the Younger, poo to you with knobs on!

The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.

Into The Bunker (S2:E2)

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @Callum Petch)

Spoilers of varying degrees for Gravity Falls abound throughout this article, up to and including a short scene from Season 2 Episode 8 “Blendin’s Game”.  You are strongly advised to go and watch Gravity Falls before reading this article.  Trust me.

gravity falls“Mabel, how can everything be so amazing and so terrible all at the same time?” – Dipper Pines

Throughout Secondary School, I had a crush on a very close friend of mine.  From pretty much the moment I saw her, I was rather head-over-heels – she was funny, tough, kind, smart, good-looking, and she voluntarily chose to acknowledge and associate with me, which meant a lot since my first year or so at Secondary School was a relentlessly lonely and miserable experience otherwise.  We hung out a lot, talked a lot, there were frequent out-of-school-hours email conversations (not IM or anything like that cos have I ever mentioned that I was a really weird kid), and became really rather close.

I also never properly told her how I felt.  I hinted a lot, wrote godawful blatantly manipulative blog posts expressing my feelings hoping that she’d never read them but steering her towards them anyway (because goddamn was I ever a sh*tty teenager), and one time – during a really, really stupid idea that our school only implemented once – I bought her a Valentine’s Day rose from our school reception and explained it away as a friendship thing.  She almost certainly figured it out because I was nowhere near as subtle as I thought I was and she was not stupid, but we never openly acknowledged it, as if we realised that bringing it into the open would make things uncomfortably weird.  And I planned to never tell her, because I could live with just being her friend.

Except that I couldn’t.  I really couldn’t.  Save for one very short and incredibly bad experience at the outset of Secondary School – another reason why my first year or so was awkward and horrible – I had never had a girlfriend (still haven’t to this day), but Secondary School is Secondary School and damn near every last one of my friends – and the majority of the people I was at least on good speaking terms with – ended up in romances of varying degrees of seriousness and success, which left me feeling left out and lonely, because I never had that experience.  Further compounding the problem was that, as friends of mine typically tend to do, we started drifting further apart the older we got, going from tight-knit buddies in Year 8 to very occasional acquaintances by Year 10.

Having realised this, and likely spurred on by the fact that my crush on her just would not die, I asked if she could meet me one lunchtime to talk.  I couldn’t have been any vaguer or, as far as my memory recalls, slightly creepy, which would have been part of the reason why she never turned up.  I took this incredibly personally.  Soon after, I arranged, through the school’s Student Services, to have her meet me for about half an hour so I could get an explanation and tell her everything, as if that would somehow change things.  That second part didn’t happen.  Instead, I non-specifically and non-committedly alluded to things in sh*tty ways, refused to accept her excuse of her having her own life and her own friends, and generally acted like a horribly possessive jerk.  The meeting ended with neither of us satisfied and, for the remaining 18 months of Secondary School and 2 years of Sixth Form that we shared, we basically never spoke to each other again.

You know how I said earlier that I was a sh*tty teenager?  That transcends just being a sh*tty teenager, for me; that was me being a pure bona-fide grade-A asshole.  I have regretted everything to do with it for the past five and a bit years.  I regretted it the moment I stepped out of that room and I still did nothing to make it right due to the resultant awkwardness between us keeping me from trying to make amends no matter how much time passed.  Seeing her was just this constant reminder of how badly I screwed up and how utterly sh*tty of a person I was, how I refused to just accept being friends with her instead of slightly creepily possessively crushing on her, and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for it.


The Dipper Pines-Wendy Corduroy runner throughout the first season of Gravity Falls – where the 12 year-old Dipper develops a major crush on the 15 year-old Wendy – is a very divisive subject for fans of the show.  In one camp, it’s a funny, sweet, and often painful to watch plotline that constantly finds new ways to cover seemingly old ground, and excellently and realistically handles the difficulty of being friends with somebody you are quite possibly in love with, especially accentuated by the fact that, since Wendy is 3 years older than Dipper, there is only one way this story can end.  In the other camp, it’s pointless re-treading of familiar ground that wastes Wendy’s character potential by limiting her solely to stories about Dipper’s crush on her and her relationship with jerk-ass teenager Robbie, especially since there’s only one way this story can end so why bother dragging it out.

I fall into the former camp and it’s because of my experience with that girl – whose name I haven’t divulged here because she deserves better than being associated with my dickishness.  That extended awkward push-pull between having a crush that causes you tangible physical anxiety every time you accidentally think of them in that way, versus wanting to not blow that friendship you’ve built up with them by openly admitting that feeling to them, is excellently represented in Dipper Pines, which in turn resonates deeper in me and causes multiple conflicting feelings every time the plotline is brought up.  I sympathise with Dipper’s situation, I cringe and suffer along with him whenever he puts his foot in his mouth, I laugh at his jealous hallucinations of people like Robbie, I desperately root for him to beat his crush or to just admit to Wendy his true feelings, since I’d gone through all of this before myself – just without the age gap as she was in the same year as me.

It helps that Dipper shares multiple aspects with me when it comes to this type of thing: he stumbles over his own words frequently, he overthinks and over-plans every last scenario because he’s terrified of failure, he’s at his best when he just lets the situation overtake him, and he will never admit the truth to Wendy because he’s afraid of what will happen, but he also can’t just stay friends at this moment in time because the crush is killing him.  This is not meant to short-change Wendy, incidentally, who is a funny, cool, sarcastic, well-rounded and flawed character who feels like a person, someone who clearly exists outside of the show’s usage of her.  These two are incredibly well-drawn characters who feel real and that extra resonance that I have with the material wouldn’t be there if that depth wasn’t there.

This all comes to a head in “Into The Bunker”, the second episode of Season 2.  It starts off like it’s going to be yet another episode in which Dipper trips over his feelings, which I don’t have a problem with as again this kind of constant circling really can happen, in a B-Plot whilst the A-Plot pushes forward the overarching mysteries of Gravity Falls, Oregon – which are way too numerous and in-depth to touch on here; seriously, this show has the kind of attention to continuity and plotting (without ever sacrificing them at the expense of character work) that would make most live-action adult dramas feel like they’re half-assing it.

Instead, the mysteries of Gravity Falls take a backseat to bringing this runner to its logical end-game.  Despite his insistence otherwise, Dipper cannot keep hanging out with Wendy without telling her of his feelings.  When he exposes Robbie’s deception and brainwashing in “Boyz Crazy”, he’s mainly doing it out of selfish desires of wanting to have Wendy to himself, although he doesn’t realise so until after he pushes his luck too far.  By “Into The Bunker”, it’s reached breaking point, he even brings along his planned feelings speech, that he scrunched up at the beginning of the episode, in his jacket pocket because he can’t let it go.  His twin sister Mabel, fed up with all of this and realising that the sooner that he admits his feelings to Wendy the better, proceeds to shove the pair of them into what turns out to be a Decontamination Chamber to make sure that Dipper has no way of avoiding the issue.

In the end, his constant dodging and inability to come right out and admit his feelings nearly gets himself and Wendy killed by a shape-shifter, and he once again only realises this when he thinks that she’s been killed.  Running from his problems has solved nothing and if it hadn’t turned out that the ‘dead’ Wendy was actually the shape-shifter and that the real Wendy was just off-screen and heard every word of Dipper’s anguished and regretful admission of his true feelings, then he would have gone through the rest of his life carrying that regret and guilt, never letting him go.  It is, to me at least, the literalising of what metaphorically happened to me, as my refusal to just come out and say it cost me one of the strongest friendships that I ever had.

That’s what makes the conclusion of the episode so goddamn beautiful to me.  With the truth now out in the open, Wendy and Dipper sit down and talk.  They actually talk.  Wendy admits that she kinda always knew – “You think I can’t hear that stuff you’re constantly whispering under your breath?” – she lets him down easy, Dipper understands, and the two resolve to remain friends because that, above all else, is what matters out of all of this.  And though Dipper doesn’t actually feel any better at the time by getting these feelings out in the open, the change sticks and Wendy’s subsequent appearances with the gang exist in awkwardness-free purely platonic friendship stakes.  Hell, to further drive home the point, when Dipper and Mabel travel back in time about 10 years in “Blendin’s Game” and bump into younger versions of Wendy and Tambry, he feels super-awkward when Young Wendy mentions how cute he is, as if he now understands how he made Wendy feel.

And as I sat there watching the conclusion of “Into The Bunker”, through non-stop waterfalls of tears, the awful way that I handled the first friendship that I made in Secondary School came into clear-as-day focus.  I always knew that I treated her sh*ttily, that I should have handled the situation better, that I was as pure an asshole as they come with regards to how things ended, but I don’t think I realised the extent of it and how much different things could have been until Gravity Falls laid it out in front of me like that.  Because Dipper and Wendy are so well-drawn, because the writing felt so natural, because I saw so much of myself and my own experiences in the story’s progression, it hit me like a jackhammer-shaped freight train when the inevitable conclusion came around.  “I should have just told her and moved on,” I thought to myself constantly over the next several days as the episode refused to leave my brain.  “The aftermath may not have been as smooth, but at least we could have moved on.  At least we may still have been friends.”

There is a tonne more to “Into The Bunker” – the absolutely terrifying John Carpenter’s The Thing-referencing shape-shifter villain, the outstanding animation, the way that the narrative excellently pulls the bait-and-switch on the seemingly answers-focussed plotline in favour of character-work, the badassery of Wendy, the way it balances horror and drama with comedy, The Gravity Falls Bargain Movie Showcase – and they are all individually reason enough as to why the episode could be inducted into this wing of Failed Critics, but they’re not the reason why this episode hits me so.  It’s the payoff.  It was always going to be the payoff, and though the show has and will improve even on this in the years to come – “Not What He Seems” exists, after all – for me it’s probably never going to top that final scene in the woods where Dipper and Wendy sit on the fallen tree branch and just talk.  No other scene in television is going to hit me like that scene did the first time.

In a perfect world, I would have been more like Dipper Pines in that moment, where I accepted what happened, accepted the consequences, moved on, and tried to retain that friendship.  I didn’t do that.  That will stick with me for the rest of my days, but at least I know that Dipper will be OK.  He did it right.  One of us did.

Callum Petch has got love to kill from a man of steel.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Fifteen Million Merits (S1 Ep2)

I haven’t got a speech. I didn’t plan words, I didn’t even try to. I just knew I had to enter the Fifteen Million Merits episode of Black Mirror series one into our 100 Greatest TV Episodes list!

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

fifteen million merits 2 Despite churning out a tidal wave of daytime TV shows, borderline freak-show “documentaries” and surprisingly off-kilter comedy shows, Channel 4 have a knack for occasionally producing intelligent, entertaining and edgy TV dramas. For example, Babylon began this week after a successful pilot / one-off episode (directed by Danny Boyle) back in February. In the past few years, they’ve also been responsible for shows like Charlie Brooker’s zombie-satire Dead Set, the comedy-drama Misfits and more recently the really quite excellent Utopia.

However, I want to focus on a mini-series they produced almost three years ago; the Twilight Zone-meets-Tales of the Unexpected anthology series, Black Mirror. Each episode of Black Mirror was different; entirely new cast, different story set in different realities, with different writers and directors even. The one thing that linked the series was creator Charlie Brooker’s influence on the absurdly twisted humour and satire of the “Twitter generation”.

Whilst the series as a whole (and last year’s second series) was fantastic, one episode in particular that stood out was the second episode from the first season starring the vastly underrated Daniel Kaluuya & Jessica Brown Findlay in a futuristic anti-utopian society. Living in stacked glass rooms no bigger than a prison cell, the occupants of this shiny facility are constantly bombarded with adverts, propaganda and strict rules flashing uncontrollably on the screens around them. Imagine living inside a Facebook news feed that simultaneously has constant porn-pop-ups. It’s that. Inescapable promotions, videos and nonsense.

To survive costs the characters in the story money – or, rather, it costs them merits. Whether for a squirt of toothpaste or a piece of fruit from a vending machine, it all costs varying amounts of credit. Merits can be mainly earned by watching certain shows or by pedalling on exercise bikes to produce enough energy to keep the self-fulfilling lifestyle going. Which is exactly what Kaluuya’s character does in order to earn enough merits to send Abi, the girl he’s fallen for, to a talent show. If her singing impresses the judges and she’s successful, she could be saved from this worker-drone life. But if not….

Looking at the entire six episodes of Black Mirror, this episode, written by Brooker’s wife Konnie Huq and directed by Euros Lyn, it might seem like the least subtle of the lot. Obviously the satire is focussed on the need to constantly be instantaneously satisfied, of the social media culture that has developed and the supposed Generation Y. But it’s so exceptionally well executed that any lack of subtlety it may be accused of can easily be forgiven.

I remember finding out that Konnie Huq – primarily known as a presenter of Blue Peter – had penned Fifteen Million Merits and being utterly flabbergasted. Not because I didn’t think Konnie was intelligent! But the writing here was so vastly superior to a million other Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four dystopian knock-off films and TV shows that I half expected it to be been written by a seasoned veteran film writer, not a children’s TV presenter. It deals with social class, of the workers and them, with an awareness and sophistication often lacking in similar narratives.

On top of all that, the story is heart-stopping, emotional and completely absorbing. Consumerism is given a kicking alright, just as you might expect, but the despair-driven tension surmounts any obstacles presented by the relatively short run time of 60 minutes or the desire to get a message across to the viewer. Certain scenes are overwhelmingly moving and left me open mouthed, gasping at what I’d just witnessed. It also features one of the best conclusions to any TV episode aired in the UK. Call to arms speeches are so passé these days but this is something else! The delivery and performance by Daniel Kaluuya is exceptional.

It’s bleak, it’s relentless but it’s an incredible hour of modern TV. So many films released in the last few years have tried to tackle a similar scenario. The penultimate film in the Hunger Games franchise is due out this time next week, but this one little episode of TV says so much more – and way more eloquently – in a snippet of the combined run time of the Hunger Games movies.

I’ll end it here in true sixth-form rebellious nature with a quote from a punk song called The Decline by NOFX. It somehow seems strangely apt. “And so we go on with our lives. We know the truth but prefer lies”. Well said, Fat Mike. Well said.

The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.

Shrek The Third

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


shrek third14] Shrek The Third (18th May 2007)

Budget: $160 million

Gross: $798,958,162

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 40%

Do you know how absolutely fucking aggravating it is to watch a series that built its reputation on subversion, modernisation, and going against the status-quo fall back on the same tired old fucking stereotypes when it comes to its female cast of characters time after goddamn time?

Shrek The Third splits its cast into exactly the same configurations as Shrek 2 did, with Fiona stuck at the palace whilst Shrek, Donkey and Puss In Boots go off on a wild adventure.  This time, however, Fiona gets an actual plotline when Prince Charming shows up with a united band of villains, intending to take over the kingdom for himself and get his Happily Ever After.  For the next half hour, Fiona, her mother and the princesses that she is stuck with – Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty (Aurora, if you want to get technical) and Doris The Ugly Step-Sister – wander about the castle aimlessly before being captured.  Once they’re joined by Donkey and Puss and find out the Shrek has been captured, they band together to escape and take down Charming.

Sounds all well and good, right?  After all, Fiona, in both films prior to this one, has spent the finale as somebody who gets no agency of her own and is left at the mercy of the villain until Shrek and co. burst in to rescue her or fight over her.  Letting her and the other ladies take charge, shape their own destinies, break out of their pre-written roles as damsels in distress – a running theme of the film with regards to the villains – is a good subversive move for a film in a landscape and genre dominated by the men saving whatever day it is supposed to be.  Not to mention the feminist undercurrent of the women essentially being tired of being forced into such passive roles.

Except that it’s not.  Not in the slightest.  Well, technically, one could argue it to be, but to do so would be to give a pass to the most watered-down, man-skewed and man-approved version of feminism imaginable.  One that still doesn’t see women as anything other than one-dimensional stereotypes to laugh at and be annoyed by, except that these ones can kick ass when the plot calls for it, but not too much ass as they still need to be shoved back into their damsel roles so’s a man can turn up and resolve everything with his man ways.  Y’know, cos god forbid a group of female characters get to wrap up a story or anything.

Now, of course, this was a problem in Shrek, as well, where Fiona, who had previously been established as being somebody capable of taking out a group of 6 or 8 highly trained merry men without breaking a sweat, was left helpless due to the dreaded Wrist Grab.  But the reason why I only sighed disapprovingly at it in my piece on the film, instead of what I’m about to do (which is subject you to multiple A4 pages of me getting angry at the thing), is because Fiona is a character despite that.  She may still fall into traditional fairy tale and just plain film tropes – because the first film, as previously established, is a sappy romantic for that stuff at heart – but she’s always a character.  A fully-formed three-dimensional character who the film asks us to like and sympathise with.

What she is not, is a one-dimensional whiny, privileged, irritating, girly-girl stereotype who we are conditioned to laugh at for being too much of a girly-girl and who we are supposed to hate for being so very, very annoying.

Yet, that is the fate that befalls the princesses who are stuck in Fiona’s company – with the notable exception of Rapunzel, who is all of those things and also gets to be evil.  Also, her long hair is a wig that covers up the fact that she’s bald because, you know, parody.  None of the princesses are remotely interested in anything other than the man that will come and rescue them from their predicament, that and being snippy to one another as those women folk just end up doing when more than one of them are located in the same general vicinity as each other, amiright, fellas?  They are vain, shallow, materialistic, and pretty much every trope listed under “Annoying Gal Pal Friends”.

Except for Doris.  Her entire character is still “she has a face like a man and is voiced by Larry King despite supposedly being a woman.”  Because… it was 2007 and that gag was still funny and not-offensive to somebody?

Anyways, as you may be able to guess, the audience is not supposed to like these girls.  The audience is supposed to laugh at their terrible behaviour, their bitchy asides, the time when Snow White gives Fiona a dwarf as a present at a baby shower – the gag is essentially human slavery because parody – but they’re not supposed to like them.  They’re supposed to find them shallow, unlikeable, whiny, and petulant.  Therefore, their characters do not go beyond the one-dimensional “shallow popular girl” stereotype.  You know, the bitchy head cheerleader you see in every high school movie ever?  The film doesn’t sympathise with them, the film doesn’t give them any further depth than that stereotype, and they only exist to get on the nerves of the audience watching the film or to have us laugh at their expense.

Now, I get what the intention may have been when starting out.  The idea being to make the women like this in order to show what happens if you don’t take charge of your life and just wait for a man to come and whisk you away from all of your problems, and how such a lifestyle isn’t really a desirable one.  And I get that.  I really do.  Heaven knows that films should be empowering young girls and women with a message that they can and should strive for more than what our biased patriarchal society has dictated their aspirations in life to be.  If that was the end goal and that came about through character development, I would applaud the film and not be spending 3 A4 pages railing against it.

If you’ve been watching along with this series of articles then, first of all, I am so sorry for putting you through certain titles.  But, more to the point, you’ll know that that is not what happens.  No, instead, the princesses realise that they can beat up men and so they go and do that in a montage backed by a cover of Heart’s “Barracuda” by Fergie, the third least hated member of The Black Eyed Peas.

There is a fantastic tweet by television critic Todd VanDerWerff from a couple of years back, one that I would like framed and hung on my wall if it all possible, that goes “Just because your lead female character can kick somebody in the face, doesn’t make them a strong female character. #justagoodfacekicker.”  I have long since forgotten what it’s supposed to be in relation to specifically, but it fits worryingly well into most films and TV shows’ attempts at “strong female characters,” including this one.  Shrek The Third seems to believe that it’s OK to have a whole bunch of really vapid, annoying and one-dimensional female stereotypes, and to give its two actual female characters nothing to do, as long as they kick a certain amount of ass at the film’s climax.  Don’t need no stinking character development when you can have Snow White ordering woodland creatures to attack by howling lyrics to “Immigrant Song”!

The problem is that the film has given the audience absolutely no reason to enjoy these characters.  They still don’t seem to have learnt anything, they haven’t had any actual development, the only difference is that they do that thing they’re famous for to beat up people.  That’s not character development!  That’s shallow, borderline offensive stereotyping desperately trying to justify itself with the laziest attempt at female empowerment possible.  Are they taking control of their destinies?  In the barest possible terms, yes; but have they actually changed?  Have they grown as people outside of that fact?  We will never know, because they get captured as soon as they get to the finale, disappear completely after that fact, and I near-guarantee you that they won’t be turning up in the sequel.

The clearest possible indicator, though, that the film’s various writers just don’t get it, comes from the short little lock-and-load montage prior to the ass-kicking scene.  Just watch the embed below (start at 1:20) and see if you can get why.

These ladies aren’t even allowed to kick ass on their own terms.  They have to do so after “manning up”.  Dress rips, tattoo reveals, war-paint application, and that goddamn fucking bra burning.  The worst part is that absolutely none of this bit matters; the very next scene they are dressed exactly as they’ve been for the entire movie and do end up kicking ass on their own terms – by doing that thing they’re known to do but in an offensive capacity.  This isn’t feminism in the truest sense, in the way that the filmmakers think they’re being.  This is the male acceptable version of feminism where, to become a strong independent woman, one must first cut ties to their femininity and embrace the commonly accepted male way of doing things.

All this subtext – actually, it’s more straight text, considering how awful Shrek is at underlying themes, but whatever – is planted, then, for one.  God.  Damn.  Fucking.  Joke.  A joke that has no bearing on the film itself.  It is literally just there for a laugh.  A really cheap fucking laugh that only serves to undermine its barely-existent message.  And that 1 second shot of the fuck fucking bra burning perfectly encapsulates the thoroughly misguided and overall shitty male view of the affair.  It angers me… no, it enrages me to see a film aim for something relatively noble and miss the mark so wildly and so blatantly.  All in the service of a god.  Damn.  Fucking.  JOKE.

For those keeping score; yes, I have just spent 3 A4 pages talking about one relatively minor segment of a 90 minute film.  What else do you want from me?  It’s another Shrek movie.  In fact, it’s Shrek 2 all over again, to be precise.  See, as I noted in that piece a few weeks back, critics lauded all over Shrek 2 despite it having absolutely no central reason for existing.  By the time of Shrek The Third, however, the DreamWorks critical honeymoon was well and truly over.  Hence the drop of a good 49 points between Shrek 2 and The Third.  Many critics noted the lack of heart, the lack of intelligence in the jokes, the lack of quality material and, most damningly, the fact that the film keeps recycling prior material and hoping that nobody notices.

There’s a part of me that wants to sit here and go, “Well, duh!  Where were your brains during Shrek 2?”  However, the sheer blatant recycling and reusing of prior material really does deserve a dive into full-on detail, here.  I counted at least two instances, there may have been more, where the score simply reuses pieces from the first film and buries them low enough in the mix to try and keep people from noticing.  “Better out than in…” is used again, like there’s a quota per film to fill or something.  Donkey and Puss perform a duet cover over the cast list portion of the end credits.  There are not one, but two new Eels songs (and they’re uncharacteristically poor for Mark Oliver Everett’s usual standards).

And then there’s the fact that Shrek himself has gone through literally the same character arc in every single film so far.  Now, admittedly, and as my friend Jackson pointed out to me after I had finished watching the thing, this is something that a lot of franchises fall victim to; after all, a character has completed their arc at the end of the first film and that can leave the writer struggling to think of where to take said character from there.  Hence why most will simply just reset the character and do it all over again, but the better ones at least change the particulars of said arc so that one can at least get the illusion that they’re not just watching the first film again.

The Shrek series, as should probably surprise nobody by this point, doesn’t do that.  Instead, it does the exact same beats in the exact same way and almost to the very second.  Shrek starts the film as a grumpy, unhappy ogre in a situation he doesn’t want to be in, he goes on a journey to find someone to help get him out of said situation accompanied by a companion he doesn’t particularly want, despite his reluctance the pair grow closer together as the journey goes on, he has a moment of jerkiness just before the “third act” but then comes around to the situation he’s been forced into and becomes less of a jerk for the finale.  Now, am I talking about Shrek, Shrek 2, or Shrek The Third?

Admittedly, with The Third, it’s a little more muddled than that.  The situation that Shrek doesn’t want to be stuck in is twofold, kingly duties and the inbound threat of becoming a father, and the companion he’s stuck with doesn’t actually enter the film until just over the 50% mark, but the beats are still the same and can be nailed down to the second if you have had any previous experience with these films.  The only non-cosmetic – as in, names and places, although there will apparently always be a forest battle in the middle of these things – difference is that Shrek is slightly less of a jerk at the outset of each movie than he was in the prior instalment.  It’s all so lazy, and so unashamedly proud of it too.

The Third has one funny joke – the one where Pinocchio tries to avoid cracking under Prince Charming’s interrogation via double-negatives and clever sentence structures – and one brilliant thematic concept – the villains rise up because they just want their Happily Ever After – that it wastes by doing virtually nothing with.  Otherwise, this is a film that has absolutely no reason to exist.  The sole reason it does is because Shrek 2 was inches away from a billion dollars and DreamWorks Animation needed something to keep shareholders relatively happy.  After all, nobody cuts down a lucrative franchise like Shrek at instalment number 2 when said instalment was the highest grossing film of the year bar none, and DreamWorks had only one full-on Hit since becoming publically traded, in the shape of Madagascar, so they could do with the safety blanket.

In that respect, Shrek The Third can be called a success.  Compared to the last three films from the company, one of which cost them $109 million when it flopped majorly, Shrek The Third was the equivalent of a rich dead uncle leaving all of his finances to his favourite child, which in this metaphor is DreamWorks.  The film opened at number 1, naturally, with a haul of $121 million making it the second biggest opening of 2007 behind Spider-Man 3 which opened to $151 million two weeks earlier – and is currently the 15th biggest opening weekend of all-time.  But then something happened.  The film would fall off hard over the following weeks.  Compared to Shrek 2’s 12% drop between opening weekend and Memorial Day weekend, The Third sank 45% between weekends.  In fact, its weekend totals would drop by half with each week that went by until the film finally dropped out after only 6 weeks in the Top 10.

Now, in its defence, Summer 2007 was a very stuffed and competitive one.  The prior mentioned Memorial Day weekend brought out the third Pirates Of The Caribbean, whilst Shrek 2 only had to hold against The Day After Tomorrow, for example.  Plus, when all’s said and done, the film still finished as the second highest grossing film domestically of 2007 – behind Spider-Man 3 – and soundly beat Pixar’s Ratatouille at the box office.  But despite all that, it still looks bad if your sequel ends up making less money at the box office than the film it’s following on from.  Even worse if it spends less time in the Top 10 than both of your prior films.  Couple that with the lack of critical success, capped off by a total snubbing in the Best Animated Feature category at the 2008 Academy Awards – Surf’s Up, of all sodding films, would take its place – and one token nomination at the 2008 Annie Awards for Direction, and one can be more than justified in putting Shrek The Third down as a failure overall.

I mean, it’s certainly a failure creatively; there is so little to talk about that my giant feminist rant over a minor segment of the film encompasses about 3/5 of the article that you are near the conclusion of.  Financially… well, one can’t call The Second Highest Grossing Film of 2007 Domestically a financial failure.  What one can do, however, is note the shaking of public confidence.  That opening weekend fell off majorly in comparison to how well prior Shrek films did in their second weekends and over time.  One can blame an overly-competitive Summer, where seemingly every other week brought about a new film that was aiming for the same sort of audience, but there’s still the underlying root cause of Shrek The Third being a boring and terrible movie.  And once word gets out about that fact, no amount of brand recognition or good will can save you, especially if the overall word-of-mouth is of the “it’s not very good” variety.

Kids likely loved it.  I remember going by myself to see it just as I was turning into a stupid teenager and hating it, but being stuck next to a kid of about 8 years old who spent the runtime alternating between loving every second and trying to talk to me.  There’s also the fact that it did rather well on home media sales, for those who’d prefer cold hard facts to weird anecdotes, where parents would only have to pay the once for a way to keep their kids quiet for a few hours.  But at the cinema, where kids are at the mercy of parents being the ones who have final say over what everyone sees, the film struggled to keep its legs.  After all, those parents may want something to keep the kids quiet for a few hours, but they’re not going to keep forking out cash for repeat showings each weekend if the film is bad.

And Shrek The Third is bad.  It is a bad, bad, bad film with nothing to say, nothing going on, and no reason to exist.  But its worst sin, aside from that brief moment that managed to get my anger parts all riled up, is that it is unimaginably boring.  There’s a part of me that feels like the Shrek movies and I just won’t ever get along, I was even lukewarm on the first Shrek remember, but when the films are this cynically made with the sole goal of maximising a company’s profits, I’m going to be perfectly fine with disliking them.  At least there’s only one left!  Plus the prequel spin-off.  And there’s going to be a sequel to that spin-off in the future…  This series is never ending, is it?


A dud with critics and with relatively short legs at the box office, Shrek The Third at least gave DreamWorks a big win in terms of pure box office gross that they certainly needed after the inconsistent two years prior to it.  Their other film for 2007 would be nowhere near as much of a success, despite featuring the voice and significant creative involvement of one of the most famous and critically acclaimed voices in comedy during the 90s.  The film is question was entitled Bee Movie and we shall cover that… in several weeks’ time.

Next week, the DreamWorks Retrospective takes the week off because doing these non-stop for the last 4 months (almost) is burning me out.  Plus, that gives everybody time to get into the topic of our next entry, where we take a detour and look at the early days of DreamWorks Animation’s work in television via Toonsylvania, Invasion America, and the very public crashing and burning of Father Of The Pride.

The DreamWorks Retrospective will resume in a fortnight here at FailedCritics!

Callum Petch’s vocab is powerful, spit sh*t subliminal.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Week In Film – 16 October 2014: Four-Four-F***ing-Two

If there’s one thing that gets Steve more excited than football related news, it’s football related film news. And we’re not referring to the revelation this week that Michael Owen hates all movies.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

mike bassettFailed Critics: England Manager

One of my favourite, and most under-rated comedies, Mike Bassett: England Manager, has a sequel. Personally I’m worried it will not live up to the original although a title of Mike Bassett: Interim Manager hints that it may still take a witty, satirical look at the beautiful game.

For £5k I could have a speaking part. So come on, put your money where your mouth is and get me on the big screen.

The Viewing Dead

Zombie series The Walking Dead broke all US cable records this weekend with the premier of its fifth season. 17.3 million tuned in to see Rick, Daryl and their group of survivors fight back against their captors at Terminus.

This beat the previous record of 16.1 million set by the shows fourth season premier. The show’s popularity was further enhanced due to the fact that over 12 million illegal downloads were made worldwide within the 24 hours after it aired.

The action packed opener will hopefully set the tone for a good series. Most previous seasons have featured strong beginnings and ends but have sagged in the middle. With the story taking slight deviations from the comic book we may see some fresh and interesting ideas and characters.

Where’s the News?

A lot of the time when researching this weekly article websites pass off new trailers or posters as news.

Is that actually news? Not in my book. It’s advertising.

Why Are Pirates Called Pirates? Because They Javi-ARRGHHH

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tells No Tales looks set to be the fifth POTC movie and is due for a 2017 release. Former Bond villain Javier Bardem has been linked with playing the protagonist to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

Superhero Section

Big news coming out of Marvel this week with the announcement that Robert Downey Jr. will play Iron Man in Captain America 3.

No plot details have been revealed as of yet but the poster/artwork released may suggests, and will no doubt fuel the Twitter rumours that Steve Rodger’s third solo movie will take the Civil War storyline from the comic books to the big screen.

In Civil War Iron Man and Cap go head to head along with many other superheroes, good and bad, and has far reaching implications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even more so than Cap 2.

Of course this could all be bluff and double bluff and the film is comprised of completely original material.

Elsewhere in Marvel Ewan McGregor is the latest actor to be linked with the Doctor Strange role joining the likes of Keanu Reeves and Ethan Hawke as the frontrunners to play the sorcerer?superman batman

Outside of Marvel Michael Keaton has revealed that he would be up for playing Batman again. Hardly a huge revelation, I’m sure Adam West would be as well if you asked him.

DC have also said that Wonder Woman’s origins will be revealed in Batman vs Superman but rather than an Amazonian she will be the daughter of Zeus, according to producer Charles Roven anyway.

Quite why the origin of a popular and well established character needs to be changed is beyond me, and most people and it just gives another reason for people to doubt the movie.

Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Apéritif (s1 ep1)

It’s about time somebody entered Hannibal into our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, and Andrew is just the man to do it. Starting with the pilot episode of the hit NBC show about a cannibal psychologist seems as logical a place to begin as any.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

Hannibal 2It was always going to be a tough sell. Basing a TV show or a film on a well-loved book, or series of books, always brings the nutters out of the woodwork. The same can be said when you try to make television shows with a much doted on film series as your inspiration (we all remember that Robocop TV show, right? Or the immeasurably bad decision to make a Rambo cartoon?). So surely any TV exec worth their salt would know not to entertain an idea that would attract rabid, feverish fans from both directions. Surely.

The announcement of a TV show based on Thomas Harris’ novels had many, myself included, going extra-strength crazy at the mere notion. Any project that included the recasting of Sir Anthony Hopkins was sacrilegious and a recipe for complete disaster. The announcement of Mads Mikkelsen taking the role made it even worse. My reaction was not dissimilar to how others have reacted at, say, Heath Ledger being The Joker, or Ben Affleck playing Batman. I’m a fan of Mikkelsen, but I was convinced it was a poor choice. Wait, what? Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford? What are you playing at? I haven’t been so dead against a TV show since someone likened Mad Men to The Sopranos!

A few months later and I’ve given in. I can’t say it’s pants until I’ve tried it. So I grab my coffee and my remote and, not completely willingly, wade in.

Starting in the only way a show with this kind of pedigree in its name could, we are thrown into a fresh crime scene. Blood splattered across walls and oozing across the floor as a corpse is unceremoniously zipped into a body bag. A mysterious figure is standing, watching as police and CSI tackle the unimaginable scene in front of them.

I’m still not convinced.

I turn to my wife. Angry. “They’ve gone and made it a bloody procedural! It’s NCIS-fucking-Hannibal! CSI-Goddamn-psychotherapy!”

Without a word of dialogue being spoken, the figure, which fans will quickly recognise as being Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), appears to walk backwards through the scene. With the crime apparently reversing itself and the bloody display returning to the serene home it was, we begin to see how Graham’s mind works.

Replaying the crime, the psychologist walks us breath by breath through the scene and the events of the evening. Giving us as deep a look at Graham as he wants with the killer, uttering the words soon to become synonymous with Will and his methods, indicating that what was done was planned, premeditated and coldly calculated. “This is my design”. The scene plays out with an air of menace and moves on.

“Ok. I’m up for this. Let’s see where it goes” I say to the other half.

The next ten minutes or so, we are treated to the standard cop drama steps. We are introduced to Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford, the man at the top of this particular FBI food chain and the man about to pull Will Graham into this story for us. Some background info, a little forensic work, lots of scene setting and a quick glance at a suspect and his inspiration. All typical shots for a crime show’s pilot. A post-mortem scene, a stroke of brilliance from Graham and a line of dialogue sure to put some off their dinner softly walks us to what we came for. The first appearance of our titular character.

In a surprise move for a show clearly trying to break out and be its own thing, introducing Hannibal to the viewer with Bach’s “Aria” as musical accompaniment was a strange move. But it works. It instantly conjures up images of Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal and we’re given time to relate to that as we watch him eat.

I wasn’t sure how to react if and when Mikkelsen’s real accent came from my speakers when Lector speaks. It’s not something I would usually fixate on, but it seems an important detail for a franchise known for Hopkins’ dulcet tones. In truth, I was simply indifferent. It didn’t matter. Hannibal’s mannerisms are the important thing and Mads brings them beautifully. His calm demeanour, the air of danger and his penchant for civility all acted in such a magnificent way that even the harshest of critics were starting to relax.

It takes a little over twenty minutes for Hannibal and Graham to be in the same scene. And boy is it tense. Will’s damaged, misfiring psyche clashing with Lecter’s cold calculation. It’s an uncomfortable scene as the men are presented immediately as polar opposites, but there’s a strange and intriguing atmosphere suggesting they are more alike each other than different.

The pair’s next meeting is the most poignant of the episode, and maybe the season. Visiting Will at his home, Lecter brings a dubious breakfast for the pair to share as they discuss Jack, the case, and size each other up. Substituting his couch for the breakfast table, Hannibal psycho-analyses Will over scrambled eggs and a coffee. It’s a beautifully dark scene. Superbly shot and oozing with tension.

It’s this scene you’ll remember. As the episode wraps up and the foundation is set for an edgy thriller, it’s this scene that left an impression. The pessimist in me has accepted the show, it’s been brilliantly introduced and it feels new and I’m very willing to give it a few more episodes to see if it holds up (it does, very well). But that breakfast scene feels like genius the more I recall it. As if they weren’t just talking to each other, they were talking to the audience. Not all of them. Just the few, like me, that went in ready to hate it. We went in jaded and cynical and this tense scene between the pair was absolutely speaking to us as Hannibal suggests that they could perhaps be friends.

“I don’t find you that interesting”

“You will”

‘Brooker’ is the latest debutant writer for Failed Critics (although he has written extensively on video-games in the past) and can usually be found over on Twitter – at least until we coax him back here to write some more! The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.