Archive for the ‘TeeVee’ Category

Now That’s What I Call Glee: Volume Two

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

The second season of Glee ended with a bit of a wet fart last week. I don’t agree with the common wisdom that the show suffered from a sophomore slump, but the last few episodes were definitely a disappointment, and the season introduced a raft of new flaws to replace some of the ones it fixed from the first season. The erratic personality swings were still there. The overwrought, over-familiar make-ups and break-ups kept coming. The horrific mash-ups still made themselves heard.

Yet the show’s biggest crime is over-familiarity. That’s usually what ’sophomore slump’ really means; that the thrill of novelty has gone. The show has to work harder to keep its fans interested. Next year they’re moving beyond their three-man writing staff and  introducing a writer’s room, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a bounce-back.

And the show still gets one thing right. It still knows how to put on a performance. Last year I talked about the fifteen best numbers from season one. This year felt like it had more songs, but the total was actually about the same, so I think what it actually had was more good songs. This year I’m giving you my top 25. Click on the titles or play the videos to hear the tracks. (No original songs feature on this list, and nor do any Matthew Morrison numbers. Take the hint, Glee.)

25. The Most Wonderful Day of the Year
New Directions (Ep 10, A Very Glee Christmas)

The Rudolph TV special has no cultural cachet for me, but this song about misfit toys was a perfect fit for Glee’s first Christmas episode. It had tons of charm and character, and was that rare ensemble number that gave a little something to everyone - like Santa!

24. Baby
Sam/Chord Overstreet (Ep13, Comeback)

It’s a Justin Bieber number but, as Santana says, ‘this song is actually really good’. I know that can be a hard thought to process, but it’s a future classic and a new karaoke staple. Hearing someone with a more pleasant voice than Bieber’s helps sell it. (Justin Bieber is a talented young man, but that pubescent squeak is something only a tween could love.)

23. Don’t You Want Me
Rachel & Blaine/Lea Michele & Darren Criss (Ep 14, Blame It On The Alcohol)

Season two has leaned too heavily on contemporary songs, neglecting its season one diet of Broadway and American rock. The 80s have barely ever got a look in, so it was a strange and welcome delight to hear this Human League song from the show’s biggest voice and its most engaging performer.

22. My Man
Rachel/Lea Michele (Ep 21, Funeral)

Rachel Berry does Barbra Streisand (does Fanny Brice). In theory Barbra is untouchable, but Lea Michele seems to walk that walk every day, and on this number she elegantly threads the needle between an admirable Funny Girl and a very Rachel Berry moment.

21. Thriller/Heads Will Roll
New Directions (Ep 11, The Sue Sylvester Shuffle)

Glee cannot do mash-ups. Or so I believed, until the Super Bowl episode came along. Thriller/Heads Will Roll was a mash-up in the modern sense; a dance remix weaving two numbers into a workable stomp.

20. Unpretty/I Feel Pretty
Rachel & Quinn/Lea Michele & Diana Agron (Ep 18, Born This Way)

And this was a mash-up as well! Actually, as a medley it was less successful - the West Side Story elements should have been dropped - but the women’s voices flattered each other so well on the TLC parts that it was a delight to listen to.

19. Landslide
Holly, Santana & Brittany/Gwyneth Paltrow, Naya Rivera & Heather Morris
(Ep 15, Sexy)

Glee’s stunt casting has usually tended towards Broadway stars that most people have never heard of, so the arrival of Gwyneth Paltrow was a big deal, and in her first episode at least it actually worked. ‘Sexy’ was her second episode, where she started to outstay her welcome, but Landslide was a great moment in spite of her slightly nasal tone, because it spoke to the ‘Britana’ story, and because the harmonies were lovely.

18. Listen
Sunshine/Charice (Ep 1, Audition)

The other bit of stunt casting was a smaller name unless you’re Filipino, in which case Charice is a huuuuge superstar. She’s certainly a huge voice, and though the show never did as much with her as it could have, she got a few showcase moments, and the best of them was on this, the lesser of the big Dreamgirls ballads.

17. Billionaire
Sam & Artie/Chord Overstreet & Kevin McHale (Ep 1, Audition)

I still don’t fully know who Bruno Mars is or why he got a near-Gaga number of his songs featured this season, but this number (introducing us to the show’s new blond pretty-boy Sam) was fresh and lively, and I find Chord Overstreet’s voice very easy to like.

16. Baby It’s Cold Outside
Kurt & Blaine/Chris Colfer & Darren Criss (Ep 10, A Very Glee Christmas)

The big story on-screen this season was the homophobic bullying that pushed Kurt to a rival school where he met dreamboat Blaine. The big story off-screen was the making of a new star in Darren Criss. This romantic winter duet between two gay teenagers was an unprecedented TV moment that kept the cold roaring winds of the haters at bay.

15. Marry You
New Directions (Ep 8, Furt)

Musicals are all about big emotional moments, and Glee has pulled off more than a few of them, but I didn’t expect I’d be made to care about the wedding of two minor supporting characters. This feel-good ensemble number, replete with dorky dancing, worked that magic - and YouTube will show that real-life couples are already trying to recapture it.

14. Hey Soul Sister
Blaine & The Warblers/Darren Criss & Tufts Beelzebubs (Ep 9, Special Education)

Tufts Beelzebubs are the sort of vocal group I expected Glee to be about when the show first started; preppy, primped and a capella. The show turned out to be about a rougher bunch with a lot more pop than prep, but it was nice to get a few glimpses of this other world and to enjoy the sterling showmanship of the Beelzebubs on numbers like this. The song is contemporary, but the performance is old school.

13. Dog Days Are Over
Tina, Mercedes & New Directions/Jenna Ushkowitz & Amber Riley (Ep 9, Special Education)

As an apt comparison to the Beelzebubs; this is the sort of group number that the New Directions kids excel at. There were no big Journey numbers this year, and weirdly they were actually missed, but this was as good as the ensemble got in year two. Joyous and energetic.

12. Take Me Or Leave Me
Rachel & Mercedes/Lea Michele & Amber Riley (Ep 13, Comeback)

Back before it became clear that the show would not neglect its lesbian constituents, there was some grumbling about the de-gaying of this passionate lesbian hate duet from Rent, but it also works as a diva-off  between the show’s leading belters. As a rock opera it perfectly bridges Rachel’s Broadway background and Mercedes’ big soul voice. For the record, they called it a tie but Mercedes won.

11. Le Jazz Hot
Kurt/Chris Colfer (Ep 4, Duets)

Kurt Hummel transforms himself into a one-man Berlin cabaret performance. Looking back, this was one of Glee’s boldest musical moments, a great character moment, and an extraordinary piece of staging. It was also incredibly, brilliantly, indulgently camp.

10. Songbird
Santana/Naya Rivera (Ep 19, Rumours)

The one sour note of Gwyneth Paltrow’s landslide was that I wanted the focus on Santana when it came to her same-sex Stevie Nicks serenade. Four episodes later, this was the do-over, and it was everything I wanted it to be. Naya Rivera usually excels at angry singing; it was a revelation to hear her perform with such sensitivity and sweetness.

9. Ain’t No Way
Mercedes/Amber Riley (Ep 17, A Night of Neglect)

If you’re going to do an Aretha number, do a lesser-known Aretha number. Amber Riley was given a gift with this song, because I had never heard it before but I will be sure to want to hear it again and again, and it will be Riley’s number that I come back to. Riley had way more chances to showcase her vocals this season than last. This was her best solo.

8. Never Going Back Again
Artie & Sam/Kevin McHale & Chord Overstreet (Ep 19, Rumours)

This beautifully bare Fleetwood Mac number will be a popular choice for a new generation of sensitive boys with guitars thanks to its Glee revival.

7. Sing
Tina & Mike/Jenna Ushkowitz & Harry Shum Jr (Ep 4, Duets)

Jenna Ushkowitz does not get much love on this show. Most of her solos are used as punchlines, and most of them aren’t very funny. This one was brilliant, introducing us to the voice of the one member of the Glee club who sings even less than she does, the dancing sensation Mike Chang. It’s worth watching online if you can find it, because this one is all about the performance.

6. Ohio
Sue & Doris/Jane Lynch & Carol Burnett (Ep 8, Furt)

Jane Lynch doesn’t get a lot of numbers - in fact I think this was only her second - but this was an ideal choice for her and guest star Carol Burnett (brilliantly cast as her mother, the Nazi hunter). Sue Sylvester was a mangled wreck of a character by season’s end, but this vaudevillian two-hander showed her at her very best; hilarious, absurd, but still recognisably human.

5. River Deep, Mountain High
Santana & Mercedes/Naya Rivera & Amber Riley (Ep 4, Duets)

If Glee continues to slide into nonsense in season three, we may look back on the episode Duets as its peak, and this duet in particular as the summit of all its joyful exuberance. Lea Michele deserves the respect she gets for her Broadway vocals, but for my money these girls are the best singers on the show, and hearing them let loose together is a too-rare treat. (I apologise for using an Italian video clip, but it was the only Fox-approved clip I could find.)

4. Rolling In The Deep
Rachel & Jesse/Lea Michele & Jonathan Groff (Ep 20, Prom Queen)

As on American Idol, when you hear a fresh arrangement of a hit song on Glee it’s often a safe bet that it’s a cover of someone else’s cover. I was disappointed to learn that this inventive version of the Adele song was a faithful copy of John Legend’s cover, re-imagined as a duet. Nonetheless, it was powerful and impressive, and absolutely perfect for the characters.

3. Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy
Rachel & Kurt/Lea Michele & Chris Colfer (Ep 4, Duets)

Speaking of apt choices; this number was not only right for the characters’ stories, but also right for the characters. A Barbra/Judy duet? For Rachel and Kurt? It’s what God intended! This was a medley from the days before they called all medleys ‘mash-ups’, and a master class in how these things should be done.

2. I Want To Hold Your Hand
Kurt/Chris Colfer (Ep 3, Grilled Cheesus)

It’s a little strange that Glee hasn’t done more Beatles songs, though I’m sure plenty of hardcore Beatles fans are relieved. Chris Colfer sang two in season two. One was the solemn Blackbird, made to seem goofy because he sang it to a dead budgie. The other was this usually goofy upbeat pop ditty, made beautifully solemn in this canny arrangement as a testament to Kurt’s love for his sick father.

1. Teenage Dream
Blaine & The Warblers/Darren Criss & Tufts Beelzebubs (Ep 6, Never Been Kissed)

This was the moment that we met and fell in love with Blaine and/or Darren Criss, the dreamy diminutive brown-eyed be-blazered boarding school heartthrob with the shimmying dance moves and an ever-present back-up posse of male harmony singers. Who could resist? This became Glee’s top-selling iTunes release of all time, and deservedly so, because it’s an infectious and charming re-imagining of the Katy Perry song. Yet what makes it especially extraordinary, and guaranteed it the top spot on my list, was that it was a gay kid serenading another gay kid with a slightly saucy love song on primetime network television. It was a cultural breakthrough moment.

Fact: Before this song and video became a huge hit, only 44% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. After this song, 53% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. This is because Glee changed the world.

I am only slightly kidding when I say that.

Throne A Bone: The Men of Game of Thrones.

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

got

HBO’s new epic fantasy series Game of Thrones starts on Sunday. This is the sort of thing that I’m expected to be excited about because I’m a nerd, but there are many shades of nerd in the world, and I am not an indiscriminate fantasy fan. Once was enough for Lord of the Rings, and I’ve never bought a book with barbarian on the cover. All I know about George R R Martin is that his middle name is the noise that an excited seal makes.

Yet I am a nerd all the same, and I am open to new nerdy things, and I actually am excited about Game of Thrones. I don’t know what it’s about, but it sounds ambitious, spectacular and sordid, and those are appealing features in any TV show. It also appears to be full of attractive men with big swords, and I’m all for that.

Game of Thrones is going to spark a thousand new crushes, and it’ll probably take a few episodes for viewers to decide who their preferred objects of affection are, but I’m always ready to leap to snap judgements - so here are my preliminary picks for the top ten men of Game of Thrones.

Some of them are familiar names, and some of them are new faces. For all I know, some of them may play characters who die in episode two, and some fresh-faced Guildhall graduate I haven’t mentioned could show up and out-hunk all them all.

finn-jones

10. Finn Jones (Loras Tyrell)
This skinny blond mop is really too much of a twink for my tastes, but you never know; his dewey-eyed peach-skinned prettiness could grow on me if his character shows a bit of grit.

joseph-dempsie1

9. Joseph Dempsie (Gendry)
Dempsie was my favourite as Chris on Skins. He’s a bit of a dweeb, and he looks a bit like Sandi Toksvig, but he has ample charm. Of course, on Skins he mainly had to compete with Nicholas Hoult’s wonky mouth. It remains to be seen how he’ll acquit himself now that he’s graduated to MAN action.

sean-bean

8. Sean Bean (Eddard Stark)
Bean is the obvious bridge between the two big fantasy franchises of our age - but I was more of an Aragorn guy. At 51, Bean is probably now playing kings rather than princes - but he was blessed with the sort of handsomely weathered face that it’s difficult to grow too old for.

peter_dinklage

7. Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister)
Dinklage is perhaps… shorter than the guys that most of us would typically go for. Even so, he’s become one of our generation’s more unconventional sex symbols. He may not be tall, but he is dark and handsome. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones has him playing a blond, and that could ruin everything.

gethin-anthony

6. Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon)
Anthony looks like a cross between Tom Hardy and an otter, and those are two things that make everyone happy! However, the name ‘Renly Baratheon’ makes me very unhappy. ‘Renly Baratheon’ is the sort of name that has stopped me reading books with barbarians on the cover. ‘Renly Baratheon’. What is that meant to evoke? It’s a good thing you’re cute, ‘Renly Baratheon’.

kit-harington

5. Kit Harington (Jon Snow)
Harington is a milky-skinned, dreamy-eyed whippersnapper with a silly Elizabethan name, so he’s basically a male Anne Hathaway. Or he’s Taylor Lautner after nasal reconstruction surgery. Either way, my money is on Harington to be the biggest hit with the Tiger Beat crowd (which includes most gay men in their thirties and forties).

nikolaj-coster-waldau

4. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister)
Coster-Waldau has a leading man face that has long been in need of a leading man role. I don’t know if the great Dane has finally found it in this character, or if he’s playing against his looks, but so long as he gets to don chainmail and dash about a bit, I should be very happy.

richard-madden

3. Richard Madden (Robb Stark)
Given an appropriately swoonsome role, Madden’s big blue eyes and pretty lips could make him a huge star, and they may help him stand out from all the other boys in Thrones who have had to grow out their brown curls and short beards. I’m calling it; five years from now, Madden will probably be playing James Bond.

harry-lloyd

2. Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen)
Lloyd is another victim of an unfortunate enblondening in this show, but maybe he can make it work. He already has a look of teutonic superiority, like a boarding school head prefect that you crush on despite your best intentions. He’s just so commanding on the lacrosse field! Lloyd is also one of the best young actors in the business, and talent is sexy.

jason-momoa

1. Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo)
Momoa not only plays a barbarian savage in Game of Thrones (and I speak in the most savage-positive sense, here), but he’s also the star of the Conan reboot, making him the new model Schwarzenegger. This is alarming for a lot of straight men, who know on an instinctual level that old Conan was profoundly unsexy and therefore meant only for them, whereas new Conan is strikingly beautiful and therefore appeals to a broader demographic, and that is a threat to their straight boy cultural hegemony. Well, suck it, straight boys. Barbarians are pretty now. Khal Drogo even wears make up.

Reflections on a Golden Gong

Monday, February 28th, 2011

If you had asked me a week before the Oscars if I thought James Franco would be a good host, I’d have given you a ‘maybe’. He can be funny, and he certainly seems confident, smart, and proud of what he does. If you had asked me again a day before the Oscars, after his prissy response to Ricky Gervais in which the actor lectured the comedian about what is or isn’t funny, and I’d have given a more confident answer. He was going to suck, because he thinks that his business is too important to be mocked, and the Oscars isn’t entertaining if it isn’t a roast.

It’s easy to joke that Franco looked stoned, but of course it isn’t a joke. With his eyes half closed and his face slack, he brought down the energy in the room every time he appeared, and that was a big room with a lot of uppers going on. Even when he strode on to the stage in Marilyn drag, it was more stunt than gag, with no payoff or punchline.

younghiposcarYounger, hipper Oscar

Anne Hathaway was better. She was by no means good, and I doubt she’ll ever be invited back. I thought she would be a total non-presence, but next to Franco’s sleepy stiffness she had a gushing affability, like this was the superest gymkhana that daddy had ever taken her to.

Every Oscars gets dubbed the worst Oscars ever, and it is hard to remember a good one, but no-one watches the Oscars because they expect the whole show to be good. It’s the moments that matter. What made this such a bad show was that it had so very few moments. Taken as a whole, the Oscars are never good. People speak fondly of the Billy Crystal years, but when Billy Crystal hosted I always felt like I was watching a daytime game show. Yet I admit that his brief appearance was one of the scant few highlights. Melissa Leo’s bad language was another. I’m struggling to name a third, as I found Kirk Douglas’s stroke-afflicted mumbling more frightening than charming.

None of the speeches stand out in my memory. Colin Firth’s speech was good for the first half hour, but it waned as the leaves turned. I would have enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s speech more if he had delivered it while walking to and from the podium. Christian Bale’s speech ought to have been spectacularly mad, but in the end it was only remarkable because he forgot his wife’s name.

Lowlights were many, mostly in the form of the hosts’ strained attempts at banter, delivered with all the art and dexterity of a Slap Chop, but all their horrors paled next to the holographic ghost of Bob Hope, an exploitation of the dead that seemed to drag on much longer than the too-abrupt In Memoriam package.

Who should host the Oscars next year? The job usually goes to comedians - stand ups and talk show hosts. Hugh Jackman two years ago and Franco and Hathaway this year have been failed attempts to do something that’s both new yet conversely a little more ‘old Hollywood’. Last year’s Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin double act bridged the actor/comedian gap, but failed to live up to its promise. If an actor is picked again next year, it needs to be someone with enough wit and charm to win over audiences both in the theatre and at home, and preferably someone heavyweight, yet able to laugh at themselves. Robert Downey Jr, George Clooney and Kevin Spacey spring to mind.

If they go back to comedians, Tina Fey would be a laudable choice. Ricky Gervais would be too untamed, and the Oscars probably wouldn’t want the Globes’ cast-offs. Perhaps Ellen DeGeneres deserves a second chance, and Jimmy Fallon might deserve a first chance, except that he’s on the wrong network, which makes the most plausible contender for the job one Jimmy Kimmel.

On second thoughts, James Franco might do better next time, right?

Glee: The Alignment Chart

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

My friend Christopher Bird has a thing for alignment charts. If you don’t know what that means, these people will explain it to you.

This week Christopher made the Mad Men alignment chart, followed by the DS9 alignment chart, and since he’s declared Alignment Chart Week at his his blog, I suspect there’s more to follow.

It seems like the sort of nerdy thing I like to do, so I thought I’d have a go at it - hey, it’s Alignment Chart Week! - and because I thought it was a fairly safe bet that Christopher wasn’t going to do one for Glee, I decided to step in to the breach. The world needs a Glee alignment chart, right? It was either this or classic Warner Brothers musicals. Maybe I’ll do that one next.

Click to make big.

ac-glee1

I know someone will surely call me a misogynist for putting women in all three ‘evil’ slots, when I could have put Sandy Ryerson or Dave Karofsky or Brian Ryan in there. My response to that is, shut up; evil women are awesome.

Watch More TeeVee More!

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Pause the Tivo! It’s time for part two of my guide to the shows to watch (and maybe a couple to avoid) this new TV season.

Undercovers (NBC, Wednesday 8pm)

This is a new JJ Abrams joint, which is not quite the guarantee of success that a lot of folks think it is. He has more hits than misses - Felicity, Alias and Fringe have all found audiences, and Lost is obviously a phenomenon - but he does have misses. What About Brian lasted 26 episodes. Six Degrees lasted 13.

Undercovers is a show about two spies who are also husband and wife, hence the egregious title - they’re undercover agents and they’re under covers, do you see? They’re shagging! And the twist is that they work together, rather than trying to kill each other, so it’s totally not Mr & Mrs Smith. Assuming the show is any good, I hope it will add one more to Abrams’ hits column - but I have some concerns that it won’t.

undercovers

You see, Undercovers is attempting to do something bold and subversive that you simply don’t see on primetime. It’s trying to do a one-hour drama series with black people in the leads. This is a first for network television. More than 25 years after The Cosby Show first aired, a black man and a black woman sharing top billing in a drama is bold and new. Is America ready for it? Well, it bloody well should be, of course, but America has been known to let itself down before.

It’s worth noting that they chose two especially attractive people to play the leads, which might mitigate their possibly scary blackness. If redneck America is ever going to let a black man into their homes, it’s going to be a sexy black man who looks good to their daughters. Wait, that’s not right…

Hellcats (CW, Wednesday 9pm)

A show about cheerleaders is guaranteed light frothy fun, right? This show should do for dance what Glee did for singing - make it brainlessly chipper! Except, two episodes in, I’m of the opinion that the cheerleading routines in Glee are actually better than the cheerleading routines in Hellcats - and while Hellcats certainly isn’t heavy drama, it lacks Glee’s campy joie de vivre. The pilot had its charms; the second episode was a snooze. Let me say it again; this is a show about cheerleaders. It should never be a snooze.

Hellcats is also boringly heterosexual, which just makes no sense to me. It’s not like the show is strenuously trying to avoid clichés - the main characters are the anti-pep rebel and the preppy Christian. If you’re giving me cheerleaders, I expect gay cheerleaders. It’s almost as if Hellcats is trying to keep its tongue out of its cheek, which is surely its natural habitat. Cheerleaders.

nikitas

Nikita (CW, Thursday 9pm)

There have been many Nikitas. There was the 1990 Luc Besson movie. There was the 1993 US remake with Bridget Fonda (Point of No Return). There was the 1997 TV show La Femme Nikita, which always aired at awkward o’clock in the UK, probably on ITV. It was one of those shows for insomniacs, full of actors you’ve never seen anywhere else, and with that odd whiff of cheap desperation that usually marks a show out as Canadian. (Imagine my surprise when I learned that Highlander: The Series was not Canadian.)

This new show is the fourth Nikita (fifth if you count Khrushchev), and it’s still about a down-on-her-luck young woman who is trained as a government assassin, but in this series Nikita has gone rogue and means to bring her former handlers down. It’s a colourful premise, but the first episode proved pretty tedious in its execution. Sexy deadly lady ninjas! That’s almost as much of a no-brainer as cheerleaders!

Supernatural (CW, Friday 9pm)

This is the sixth of Supernatural’s five seasons, which in itself is a little eerie. This show was meant to die last year. Now it is undead!

I love Supernatural, but I actually wanted it to end last year. There was a five year plan. An arc. Despite mediocre ratings, the show actually got its five years and played out its full arc. It was going to be that rarest of things, a TV show that tells its whole story and then gets off the stage of its own accord. Now that’s not going to happen. Now the show is going to trot on for another year, maybe two, and get cancelled. Probably on a cliffhanger.

So, I’m braced for disappointment. But, on the other hand, we do get another season of hot boys fighting demons - and that’s a no-brainer concept that they actually followed through on. With a new showrunner in charge, and a fresh slate on the Apocalypse, this sixth - and probably final - season should offer up some surprises. Bring it on, zombie show.

Dexter (Showtime, Sunday 9pm)

If you didn’t watch last year’s fourth season of Dexter, you’re a damned fool. With Jon Lithgow as the Trinity Killer, the show achieved such a high that everyone involved was probably slightly dreading coming back for the fifth season. That was it. That was the peak. And now the show has to come back from that.

I’m actually looking forward to the new season, because although it can’t hope to match the last, it is starting from an enviably strong position. I’m confident that it will plateau, rather than crash. I don’t know what’s on the cards for the plot this year, but there’s a lot to deal with - seriously, if you haven’t watched season four, you have to do it now - and there’s an epic cast coming on board, including Julia Stiles, Shawn Hatosy, Chris Vance, Jonny Lee Miller and Maria Doyle Kennedy. Exciting!

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Desperate Housewives (ABC, Sunday 9pm)

This show is now in its… I’m going to say seventh season, which means it has gone through all kinds of peaks and troughs - a sterling first season, a weird sophomore slump (the Applewhites), an awkward attempt to settle into its own soap rhythms, and a moderate return to form in the last couple of years - hampered by some weird stunt nonsense. And I’ve stuck through it all these years, because… well, I’ve never really asked why. Maybe that’s why? That, and Bree Van De Kamp Hodge.

And now I get my reward, because this season there is a new housewife, and she’s played by Vanessa Williams, Mz Wilhelmina Slater herself. There has always been a Vanessa Williams-sized hole in this show, and now that Ugly Betty has finished, Williams’ arrival on Wisteria Lane feels like destiny. This cannot go wrong.

And then I remember the cheerleaders, and the ass-kicking ninja women, and how TV messes everything up. Please don’t mess this up for me, TV.

Watch More TeeVee!

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

TV is full of antioxidants and Omega-3 oils. That’s science. Experts say that you should consume at least five hours of television every day. It is a historical fact that people who died of plague, smallpox and scurvy had close to zero traces of TV in their systems, whereas 99% of Olympic athletes watch at least some TV as part of their training regimen and/or lives.

So we’re agreed that TV is good for you. Now that the new TV season is starting up in the US, it’s time to ask what shows you should be watching as part of an idiocy-controlled diet. And here I am to tell you! Specifically, I’ll tell you what I’ll be checking out this season  - and what I’ll be avoiding. After that, you’re on your own. I’m not your personal fitness instructor.

This post deals with Monday and Tuesday nights. I’ll be back for the rest later.

teddydonovan

90210 (CW, Monday 8pm)

Let’s start with a terrible idea; Watch 90210!

No, don’t watch 90210. Watch House, or Chuck, which are both on at the same time (not that anyone watches shows in their timeslot any more). You don’t have to watch 90210. I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about it.

I’ll be watching it, but only out of a sense of blogger obligation. A spoiler follows. That young man in the photo above is Trevor Donovan. As you have surely already worked out with your extraordinary deductive skills, he is a former Abercrombie & Fitch model and former daytime soap actor. If there is such a thing as ‘too blond’, he is the Joseph Goebbels propaganda poster boy for the concept. And this season, his character is coming out as gay.

This is new. They never make the All-American jock the gay guy. Yet this year we may see it happen on two shows (and I won’t tell you what the other one is). Whether it’s the pudgy guy, the artsy guy, or the flaming guy, the gay guy on TV is almost always the most ’sexually unthreatening’ guy on the show. That’s not to say that gay characters are never objects of lust - everyone on TV is sexy to someone - but it’s never the actual pin-up guy. I’ll be watching 90210 this year to see how they handle it. You don’t have to. I’ll probably let you know.

Hawaii Five-O (CBS, Monday 10pm)

This is the third time CBS has tried to make a star of Alex O’Loughlin, an actor with good abs and no charisma, and if they can’t make America love him with this heavily hyped remake of a well-known show, it’ll be time to put him out to pasture wherever Martin Henderson is now. The pilot was hugely expensive, so it might be worth checking out, but I don’t expect I’ll stick around. I slightly resent that they cast white guys in the two lead roles, and cast ethnic actors as the sidekicks (a Korean-American and a Korean-Canadian).

ian-anthony-dale

The Event (NBC, Monday 9pm)

The officially designated Lost replacement is being promoted in the most frustratingly nebulous way. “It’s a mystery show! We can’t tell you what it’s about! Watch it anyway!” It’s a technique that didn’t work for Flashforward, and I think there were other recent mystery shows that were so short-lived that I don’t even remember them. Lost didn’t open big because it was a mystery show - no-one knew it was a mystery show when they started watching it - it was a hit because it started with a spectacular plane crash, and because the set-up posed some specific, definable questions.

That said, Lost has left a gap in the schedule. I suspect audiences don’t want to watch two mystery shows in one week, and that’s why nothing else could survive alongside Lost, but The Event stands a better chance than most of finding an audience hungry for New Lost. It also boasts a strong cast including Laura Innes, Blair Underwood and Željko Ivanek, and eye candy in the form of dreaaaammy Ian Anthony Dale (above) and Jason Ritter, who dances a delicate line between ‘hunky’ and ‘eerily like his dead father John Ritter’.

Glee (Fox, Tuesday 8pm)

If you don’t know how you feel about Glee by now, there’s no hope for you. It’s back, and this time it’s Britney, bitch.

Raising Hope/Running Wilde (Fox, Tuesday 9pm)

What I’ve come to think of as the ‘Verbing Name’ Comedy Hour. The concept of Raising Hope can be ascertained from the title - it’s about a young man left raising a baby. It’s a cringe-inducing concept, but I saw a preview a few weeks ago and found it surprisingly funny and endearing. It’s from the same creator as My Name Is Earl, and it has the same wit and intelligence - and it has Martha Plimpton and Garrett Dillahunt.

The other Verbing Name show is from the creator of Arrested Development, and stars Will Arnett, so you don’t really need to know what it’s about. It’s probably hilarious.

goodwife

The Good Wife (CBS, Tuesday 10pm)

This returning show was a very pleasant surprise last year. Juliana Margulies? Chris Noth? Lawyers? Surely it’s a show for mothers to watch with a large glass of Chardonnay? And so it is, but I know I’m not the only thirtysomething male who happily uncorks the Chardonnay every Tuesday evening for this splendid show.

Although The Good Wife is another lawyer show, its emphasis on footwork rather than court cases helps it to stand out. But that’s just a sweetener; what really makes this show work is its ripped-from-the-headlines main story. Margulies plays the scorned wife of a scandalized state’s attorney, a character based on disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. That creates a great driving conflict for Margulies to sink her teeth into, making her the most compelling female character on TV right now - and she’s brilliant in the role. The cast also features some wonderfully subversive characters played to perfection by Christine Baranski, Alan Cumming and Archie Panjabi. It’s an exceptional ensemble, and I’m unashamedly excited to see this show return.

Excuse me, I need to buy more Chardonnay.

Hot Blooded: True Blood’s ‘Barrage of Homosexuality’

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

I do not particularly care for Anna Paquin’s nipples.

annapaquinWork-safe Anna Paquin (nipples not pictured)

But we’ll get to that later. Recently, a man who plays some kind of sport for some American sports team or other tweeted, “Caught up on True Blood. Not a fan of how they get u hooked with the 1st 2 seasons then bring on a barrage of homosexuality.”

Management must have clamped down on him in a hurry, because he quickly apologised, but the incident was enough to prompt Zap2It to ask if it was possible to be a fan of True Blood and a homophobe. (Though they used the term ‘anti gay’, which is the sensitive way that homophobes would like us to refer to their homophobia, because it’s so prejudiced to call them homophobes.)

One reader replied that he/she was “using the fast-forward button more and more as the shows morphs into nothing but a gay porn fest”. Another objected to the gay storylines “because in some instances they are pointless and obviously just added fluff on this show”. Another said, “Whenever there is any gay sex scenes (which is often) I switch channels for a minute or two”.

Apparently I’m watching the family edition of True Blood, because I’ve missed the gay porn fest. The guy who says there are often gay sex scenes, and who changes the channel whenever he sees one, has been changing the channel a little prematurely, because thus far - in three seasons of the show - there has been only one all-male sex scene. One. I rather doubt this fellow was changing channels at the first glimpse of Sapphism. In bigot maths, one gay sex scene is ‘often’.

For the record, that one sex scene - between vampires Eric and Talbot - was very obviously edited down to as few seconds as possible, and it ended with a literal ‘penetration = death’ metaphor. It was not a positive sex scene. So the number of romantic male-male sex scenes in three years of True Blood? Zero.

The scene certainly was not fluff; one character seduced another so that he could get close enough to kill him, as revenge for the murder of his family. In any other show, the introduction of gay sex as an entrée to death-by-phallus would set off alarm bells about the show’s attitude to homosexuality.

True Blood gets more of the benefit of the doubt than other shows, because it has a gay showrunner in Alan Ball, a positive central gay character in Lafayette, and a generous attitude to the display of male flesh, as epitomised by Ryan Kwanten’s Jason Stackhouse (though that’s probably meant to serve the show’s huge female audience rather than the gays). Even so, the show is not as gay-friendly as most people tend to believe.

It’s true that the show has got a lot gayer this season, but it still approaches the subject with a dainty touch that it doesn’t apply to other sexual relationships. Lafayette has been living like a monk for two seasons. Now that he finally has a boyfriend, the pair of them seem to be the only couple in the show to do their canoodling off-screen. They spend an astonishing amount of time lounging around indoors with their clothes on.

billsam

There was also Sam’s dream about Bill, of course. People who drink vampire blood sometimes have sex dreams about the vampire. We know that Lafayette had these dreams about Eric, but we never saw it. Sam’s dream about Bill was hilariously porny in tone, but the characters didn’t even touch, let alone kiss. Finally, the latest episode showed the gay villain of the season in bed with a rent boy - but there was no sex scene, only another violent penetrative death.

Then there was the relationship between Eric and Godric in season two. This was an intense loving relationship between two men, but it was never presented as sexual, even though similar relationships have been, especially when they involved two women - Maryann and Daphne; Sophie-Anne and Hadley; even Pam and Yvetta. The same season showed an entire town engaging in Bacchanalian orgies, but it was all inexplicably heterosexual.

As the orgies suggest, True Blood is a shameless show. It is not shy about straight sex or nudity, either male or female. Nor does it skirt around the existence of gay characters or gay relationships. It’s just a little coy, and a little evasive, about showing male-male relationships off with the same salacious indulgence. True Blood is a gay-friendly show - one of the most gay-friendly shows I’ve ever seen - and I don’t mean to hold it to a higher standard than lesser shows, but it’s so revealing that even this show applies a double standard. When audiences accuse the show of becoming “gay porn”, it’s easy to understand why.

The reader who couldn’t tell the difference between ‘once’ and ‘often’ also said of the gay sex scenes; “As a straight man it is hard for me to watch a male sex scene. It repulses me.”

Sir; I have seen more of Anna Paquin’s nipples than I have ever wanted to see, and it does not please me in the least. However, I assume that you rather enjoy it, so I’m prepared to put up with it as a kindness to my fellow man. Maybe you could show me the same generosity?

Now That’s What I Call Glee: Volume One

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

The first season of Glee came to an end last week, and a great sadness chilled our hearts. The show’s delicious mix of theatrical camp and outsider sentimentality will be sorely missed on this sofa over the summer months.

There has never been a show quite like Glee, and it could easily have bombed, so it’s a relief to see a show about gays and divas and boys who dance has become a hit – and more than that, a minor cultural phenomenon. It’s also a delight to see Jane Lynch finally getting her long-deserved superstar turn.

Glee has a lot of faults, some of which I would normally find unforgiveable – the characterisation has been especially horribly sloppy at times – but if you buy in to the conceit that this is a musical, with bigger emotions and crazier people than you’re used to seeing on TV, then it’s much easier to bite in to the sweet, sweet Glee confectionery.

It’s also much easier to forgive flaws in a show that gives you fantastically staged foot-tapping musical numbers every week. The very point of musicals is that they’re the best kind of escapism. People who don’t get them tend to complain that they can’t get to grips with the idea of people breaking into song and dance all the time. It’s too unrealistic. People who love musicals might argue that ‘unrealistic’ is the point. Musicals are impressionistic. They capture the intensity of a moment in emotional full bloom. Sometimes with a shuffle ball change.

The music has its faults as well. For example, there have been way too many numbers centred on Rachel and Finn. As the show’s central couple, their spotlight is inevitable, but it draws too much attention away from a splendid ensemble, and puts too much weight on actor Cory Monteith’s still developing vocals. There has also been a horrible tendency to get Broadway star Matthew Morrison to sing (and dance to) hip-hop and R&B. Gold Digger was fine. Bust A Move was too much. The Thong Song was unforgivable.

Then there’s the show’s biggest problem: Auto-Tune. The pitch correction was egregious in the first half of the season. It seemed to settle down slightly in the second half.

But when the show is good, it’s great. These – in my opinion – were the fifteen best performances in season one. Sometimes it’s the vocals, sometimes it’s the dancing, sometimes it’s the story, and ideally it’s all three. (I’ve included videos and audio links, but these may be taken down at any time.)

15. Four Minutes – Mercedes & Kurt (Ep 15: The Power of Madonna)
There were a lot of highlights to the Madonna episode – most famously the Sue Sylvester version of Vogue, and the cheerleader stilt dance to Ray of Light. Four Minutes is not usually one of my favourite Madonna numbers, but it was my favourite here, thanks in no small part to the presence of a full marching band.

14. Lean On Me – Artie, Mercedes & New Directions (Ep 10: Ballad)
Glee’s song choices are eclectic, ranging from little know contemporary pop numbers to 80s classics to show tunes. Of course, there’s always room for a hoary inspirational standard like Lean On Me, but Glee has a pretty good track record of finding something new to do with them. In this instance, they turned it into hand-clapping gospel roof-raiser and gave the song a much needed spark.

13. Keep Holding On – Finn, Rachel & New Directions (Ep 7: Throwdown)
Who knew that an Avril Lavigne song could have so much pathos? This one is a favourite despite some particularly obvious Auto-Tune and some weirdly mangled vowel sounds. Sung by the choir in support of Quinn when she was thrown out of her parents’ home for being pregnant, it was one of the show’s best acted and most affecting numbers.

12. Somebody To Love – Finn, Rachel & New Directions (Ep 5: The Rhodes Not Taken)
Queen has cropped up in three episodes of Glee. As one of the most theatrical acts of all time, it’s a good fit. This show-stopper was perhaps the first time that the show got the vocal layering right. It’s still dominated by Finn and Rachel, but the other voices all came through – most notably Amber Riley’s incredible wail.

11. Dream A Little Dream of Me – Artie (Ep 19: Dream On)
Kevin McHale’s vocal on this was beautifully emotive and felt utterly sincere, but what made this a performance was the tap routine by Jenna Ushkowitz and the incomparable Harry Shum Jr. Shum rarely gets a showcase, but his dancing always catches my eye. He’s one of the show’s most magnetic performers, and hopefully more will be made of him in season two.

10. Sweet Caroline – Puck (Ep 8: Mash-Up)
Cory Monteith as Finn is meant to be the show’s schoolboy heartthrob, but bad boys are always so much more interesting. Mark Salling as Puck has been one of the big TV crush objects of the past year, and it helps that the actor has a surprisingly lovely voice when given the chance to show it. The only thing better than a bad boy is a bad boy who can make you swoon.

9. To Sir With Love – New Directions (Ep 22: Journey)
The season finale was packed with great performances, but this one was the emotional core. It’s not the Lulu number I’d have expected to hear on Glee, but of course it makes perfect sense, and it gave us the most satisfying coda we could have asked for to the characters’ first season journeys.

8. Poker Face – Rachel/Shelby (Ep 20: Theatricality)
The immediate consensus on this number came in two parts. First of all, why in the world did they choose this ‘bluffin’ with my muffin’ number for a mother-daughter duet? Second, who cares – it was amazing! This is a completely unexpected Barbra Streisand-meets-Cyndi Lauper reinterpretation that’s absolutely blissful. It’s a pleasure to hear Idina Menzel and Lea Michele having so much fun.

7. My Life Would Suck Without You – Rachel & New Directions (Ep 13: Sectionals)
This was the closer to the first half-season, but it was as good a season-ender as you’re ever likely to get; a tremendous feel-good performance. What really sells it, and makes it a favourite, is the dance routine, which recaps dance moves from throughout the first twelve episodes.

6. The Lady Is A Tramp – Puck/Mercedes (Ep 18: Laryngitis)
This is Puck letting his mask slip again, this time to show us his best Rat Pack slide. That alone would make this a wonderful number, but then Amber Riley unleashes an even more splendid surprise – she’s not just a great R&B wailer; she can also do an impressive Ella Fitzgerald.

5. Run Joey Run – Rachel, with Finn, Jesse and Puck (Ep 17: Bad Reputation)
This is one of the most delightfully cheesy things I’ve ever seen on television. I didn’t know the song, but the execution is witty and exuberant enough to make it an easy sell. Rachel as a winking angel? Sandy as a shotgun-toting father? Puck in an undershirt? Bravo!

4. Hate On Me – Mercedes (Ep 7: Throwdown)
Amber Riley is a powerhouse vocalist who, as the show’s own joke goes, is brought in to deliver the killer note at the end of every big number. But sometimes she gets a whole song to herself, and it’s always amazing. This was her best – a triumphant R&B ball-buster with plenty of brass (literal and metaphorical).

3. One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not a Home – April & Will (Ep 16: Home)
Here was the purest musical theatre moment in the show - two stage pros performing a pair of amazing Bacharach numbers as they expose their inner turmoil through song. Endlessly re-watchable.

2. The Safety Dance – Artie (Ep 19: Dream On)
The show’s most entertaining dance number is a bit unexpected, both because it’s an unlikely song, and because presenting it as a flashmob should have felt stale and predictable. Director Joss Whedon did a terrific job with his episode of Glee, and this fantasy sequence –Artie getting out of his wheelchair and setting off a dance routine in the mall – is the highlight of the episode. Energetic choreography, superbly directed.

1. Maybe This Time – April/Rachel (Ep 5: The Rhodes Not Taken)
Kristen Chenoweth is Glee’s secret weapon, and while it’s tempting to wish that she could be in every episode, perhaps it’s better that we keep her as a special treat. This number pitted two of the show’s best voices head-to-head on a wrenching Cabaret classic. Cheno is an amazing vocal actor, and this number breaks my heart every time.

Deadliest Warrior: Huns On The Run

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Note: This blog entry contains spoilers for the second episode of the second season of Deadliest Warrior.

I’m a big fan of Deadliest Warrior. It’s the best sort of silly television - a drunken pub conversation about whether a Roman gladiator could beat up an Apache, except in this pub conversation they bring in a champion knife fighter to throw the Apache’s knife, and then they get former UFC champion Chuck Liddell to punch a side of beef with a bladed boxing glove, and when they’ve done all that they feed some numbers into a computer, generate some ‘kill’ statistics, and get some stuntmen to play dress-up and act out the final fight.

These final fights probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously. This is really a show about weapons, where they test the lethality of everything from katanas to flame-throwers against dead livestock and gel torsos. The big fight really just hangs the tests together. I don’t think a computer can really predict the outcome of a completely hypothetical fight.

Even so, this week’s episode was a big disappointment. Actually, that’s not fair; this week’s episode was terrific, but the result was a disappointment.

It was Attila the Hun (below) versus Alexander the Great. Usually the show picks classes of warrior, not individuals, but they’ve gone down the historical figure route before with William Wallace versus Shaka Zulu, and they’ll do it again several times this season.

attila3

Now, Alexander is a bit of a personal obsession. I’ve read probably a dozen biographies of the man. I think he’s a fascinating character and a titanic military mind. So I’m obviously biased. Even so, I think this was an easy win for Alexander, and I thought I would be devastated if he lost.

And then… he lost. And I was more disappointed than devastated - because I remain utterly confident that he wouldn’t have lost. He was the better combatant, the more brilliant tactician, the greater all-rounder. Unlike Attila, he was never defeated in battle - so it seems a bit presumptuous for a computer program to hand him a defeat when his enemies never could. Alexander would not lose to Attila. Which means that this show - which I’m almost as obsessed with as I am with Alexander - got it wrong. They got it badly wrong. And it wasn’t all the computer’s fault.

Here’s my pub conversation starter; ten reasons why Deadliest Warrior was wrong about Attila versus Alexander.

10. Computers Aren’t People
We, the audience, don’t know what fancy algorithms drive the computer program that runs the fight simulations. We don’t even know how much data goes in. However, I’m willing to bet there isn’t a field on their front-end for the personality profiles of famous dead people. Inputting the velocity of a spear is one thing; how do you tell a computer that Alexander was so fearless that he once threw himself behind enemy lines to force his army to surge after him? The computer isn’t running an Alexander simulation; it’s running a simulation on a generic Macedonian and a generic Hun.

ballista

9. You Don’t Bring A Ballista to a Sword Fight
The show usually tests four weapons for each warrior. And sometimes it’s pretty obvious that they choose weapons not because they’re what the warrior would have chosen, but because they want to have a go with them. I’m sure the conversation at the production office for this one went; “Hey, we could test a ballista”; “Hell yes we could”.

A ballista is a spear-chucking catapult. It’s an awesome machine - for siege warfare. Alexander was one of history’s greatest practitioners of siegecraft. But he was also a brilliant tactician, and a master of choosing the right tool for the job, and in a direct fight againt a mounted opponent, he would never have relied on a catapault. The ballista scored seven kills out of a thousand simulations. It was a terrible choice.

8. You Don’t Bring A Belly Bow Either
Of Alexander’s other three weapons, two performed very well. His spear racked up 225 kills in a thousand simulations. His sword got another 120. These two weapons got more kills than three out of four of Attila’s. But for his fourth weapon, Attila got a Hunnic compound bow, while Alexander got something called a belly bow - a slow-loading, awkward-to-aim giant crossbow that’s held against the archer’s belly.

Here’s an interesting thing about Alexander’s army; they had the same bows as the Huns! The show called these composite bows Hunnic bows, but they’re actually Scythian bows, and Alexander used Scythian archers. Now, I don’t know if Alexander often carried a bow, but he was a huntsman, so he’d have used one if it were appropriate. If you’re going to give him a bow, you wouldn’t give him a belly bow, which he couldn’t use on horseback - you’d give him a Scythian bow.

7. Two Out of Four Weapons Ain’t Bad
As I said, Alexander’s spear and sword performed very well, both in the tests and in the simulation - but Alexander would never have used the ballista or the belly bow in this type of fight, which means he’s down by two weapons. Even if we give him a Scythian bow, he’s still down by one. So give him his axe, or his club, or his short sword, and let’s run those numbers again! Or give him some spiky caltrops to throw under the hooves of Attila’s horse, and let’s see how Attila copes with that. (In fairness, Attila got one crappy weapon as well; a lasso. And that scored thirty kills!)

alexander3

6. Armour Is Not For Wimps
Attila wore light armour because he thought it gave him better mobility. Fine; but it didn’t give him much protection. The episode showed us how badly Attila’s armour fared against a Macedonian spear, and how well Alexander’s helmet fared against the Hun’s axe. What we didn’t see was how well either armour fared against arrows or swords, and that leaves a huge hole in the data. If they didn’t run those tests and include that data, the simulation is meaningless. Attila’s inferior sword would have bounced off Alexander’s armour.

5. Attila’s Inferior Sword and Attila’s Superior Swordsman
Oh yes; Attila’s inferior sword. Despite the judges claiming that Attila’s sword had the advantage over Alexander’s, it scored only 117 kills to Alexander’s 120. Alexander’s sword was better (or at least the equal of Attila’s), but it tested worse. How can this be? I assume it’s because the guys doing the testing were mismatched. The mounted weapons specialist on Team Attila was amazing. The two guys testing Alexander’s weapons didn’t have anything like the same proficiency. Attila’s guy was probably close to the competence level of a Hunnic warrior; Alexander’s guy was not trained to the level of a Macedonian soldier. Give Alexander’s sword to the Attila guy, and then let’s see what it can do. (But don’t tell him what it is, or he’ll throw the fight.)

4. Sparta!
In last week’s Deadliest Warrior special, we were told that the Spartan was the best ancient warrior of all the guys the show had tested. The Macedonian army of Alexander’s age faced and defeated the Spartan army - while led by a lesser general than Alexander! So, Alexander’s Macedonians are better than the best. This. Is. Faaaaaact. (Admittedly it wasn’t the Spartan army at its peak, but they had the same weapons that the show tested, so the comparison applies.)

wrestling

3. He Likes to Wrestle
The show brought in another UFC fighter this week to test the killing potential of pankration, the martial art that Alexander was trained in all his life. It looked fairly deadly, proving that Alexander was a fearsome opponent even without a weapon in his hand. If the ballista could get seven kills, and even a blowgun could get four kills in a previous episode, and a lasso can get thirty, then pankration surely would get at least one, right? Nope. Despite testing it, I suspect they didn’t include it in their simulations. It’s almost as if they only brought the UFC guy in to cross-promote their show with one of the channel’s other most popular programmes! Crazy!

2. When Attila and Alexander Did Fight, Alexander Won
OK, they never did fight, because they were almost eight centuries apart. But Alexander faced horsemen every bit as expert as the Huns, and enemies every bit as wily, and he defeated a cavalry much greater than Attila’s. Attila eventually went into retreat against a disciplined Roman field army that was nowhere near as formidable as Alexander’s.

Alexander conquered the greatest empire of his age, and Attila… scored a stalemate against the declining great empire of his age. The show knew they weren’t an even match; just look at how it presented the two warriors in the reconstructed video clips. Alexander built an empire by defeating larger armies through tactical superiority. Attila built a smaller empire by shooting fleeing peasant women in the back. Advantage: Alexander (as narrator David Wenham might say).

1. The Numbers Don’t Lie, Except When They Do, But Let’s Pretend They Don’t
Of course, it all comes down to numbers. Take away Attila’s bow, and he scored 242 kills. Take away Alexander’s silly belly bow - and, for the hell of it, his ballista as well - and he scored 345 kills. Now, let’s give both men the composite bow and see how they fare. Assuming equal kills, Alexander wins. But let’s say that Attila was better with a bow, because it’s likely he was. Let’s give him 60% of the kills with a bow, and Alexander 40%. Then the number of kills is 510 to Alexander, and 490 to Attila. Alexander still wins.

Then let’s give Alexander his armour. And let’s let him use his pankration if it comes to close combat. And let’s be crazy and give him a fourth useful weapon! Caltrops? Short sword? Or, hell, forget the weapon; let’s factor in the power of his legendary horse Bucephelas. I’d let Attila use his legendary horse as well, but apparently his horse wasn’t as famous. Perhaps the superior Hun horseman kept getting his horses killed? Put some serious data into this simulation, and the result is going to be very different.

What I’m saying is, Alexander the Great didn’t lose this fight; Deadliest Warrior did.

Right, it’s your round. I’ll have a bitter.

What do you mean, I’m bitter enough already?

Are We Being Served? Gays on TV

Monday, March 15th, 2010

AfterElton has a rundown today of the top 50 gay and bisexual male characters on TV, as voted for by the site’s readers (who are mostly gay men).

I’ll let you go over there to read the list, but I had some observations I wanted to share. The main thing to notice is that the vast majority of these characters debuted in the last decade; 41 of them, in fact. Of those, 28 debuted in the last five years (with a further three debuting before 2005, but coming out after).

gaysontvGlee, Southland, True Blood.

Memories are short, of course, and recent characters are always likely to have an advantage in a popular vote. Controversial early groundbreakers like Mr Humphries and Steven Carrington clearly weren’t popular enough to make the cut, but there is good reason for them to be unpopular. There clearly aren’t a lot of missing characters from before 2000. When AfterElton did the same poll in 2007, they only offered a top 25 - there probably weren’t enough popular gay characters of note to fill a top 50.

There are now, though they come from just 29 shows, of which 19 are still airing (though two of these are on their way out). It’s notable that sister site AfterEllen compiled its own list and had to allow characters from movies to get to a list of 50 gay and bisexual female characters.

Some other breakdowns for your consideration. Only 14 of the characters come from US primetime network TV. Nineteen are from cable shows. There are four from daytime soaps (two couples). Thirteen characters are from outside the US; eight from the UK, four from Germany and one from Canada.

Twelve characters come from soaps, and eleven from three queer dramas - six from Queer as Folk USA, one from the UK original, and four from the short-lived black gay drama Noah’s Arc. Of the remainder, three characters come from sci-fi, five from sitcoms, four from comedy dramas and five from teen dramas.

jackontvTorchwood

Eight of the characters are black, and four of these are from one show aimed at a black gay audience. Two are Latino. Only one is South Asian and none are East Asian. None of the characters identify as bisexual. Captain Jack Harkness is ‘omnisexual’; four characters fell in love with men but didn’t otherwise identify as gay; two are still in denial (Ugly Betty’s Justin and EastEnders’ Syed).

More than half the list is comprised of couples, albeit not always model couples. Only two of the couples come from US primetime shows - Brothers & Sisters and Modern Family, both of which are ensemble shows about extended families with gay members. All the other primetime gays are usually single.

What can we learn from all this? This isn’t a survey of all the gay characters on TV, but it does represent the gay characters that gay audiences actually like, and there is the suggestion of a positive trend here. There appears to have been a rise in positive gay representation on TV in the last few years, thanks to shows like Ugly Betty, Modern Family, Glee and Brothers & Sisters on network, and shows like Caprica, True Blood, United States of Tara and Greek on cable.

But that still isn’t a lot of gays, and that isn’t a lot of shows. Only 24 of these characters are on air now, and at least six of them won’t be by year’s end. (Oliver and Kyle, the gay couple from One Life To Live, who had US TV’s first male/male love scene, have now been dropped from that show.)

willontvThe Gold Standard?

It’s also noteworthy that all the gay characters currently on air are supporting characters in ensemble shows. There hasn’t been a gay leading man on US primetime since Will Truman on Will & Grace, and he was famously sexless for years and years. Outside the US, the only leading man is Captain Jack. Of course, this is not the least bit surprising. That there was ever a Will Truman is the real surprise.

In terms of diversity, more gays of colour would be nice, but when there are neither enough gay characters nor enough characters of colour on TV, that seems like a hopelessly optimistic wish. Bisexuality could clearly be a lot better represented - self-identified gays who dabble with women seem more common than self-identified bisexuals, and self-identified straight men who dabble with men are completely unheard of. While we’re on a diversity tip, one might argue that fabulous bitchy comedy gays with an idiosyncratic fashion sense are a little overrepresented, but characters like Greek’s frat jock Calvin and Southland’s bearish cop John Cooper are finally providing some balance in that regard.

The most interesting element of this list is that many of these characters have actually had storylines. To the best of my knowledge, only about a third of the characters have had ‘coming out’ storylines, which is nothing short of a miracle, and very few of them have been violently attacked by homophobes. Remarkably, some of these characters have been involved in love stories. Even more remarkably, some of these characters have been involved in stories that have nothing to do with their sexuality. Soap operas are both the best and worst in this regard; they frequently have coming out and gay-bashing stories, but they’re also more likely to do other things with their gay characters.

We’re approaching level three here, people. Level one is when gay characters appear. Level two is when gay characters appear, do gay storylines, and then disappear. Level three is when gay characters appear, have love interests and do non-gay storylines, and don’t disappear.

Level four is when we stop talking about how extraordinary it is.