Friday, April 12, 2013

Yams

A Review (of sorts)

A few years ago now, 2004 to be exact, there was this new TV show on Channel 4. It was created by Paul Abbott and it starred some well known actors - David Threlfall, Maxine Peake and the excellent Dean Lennox Kelly - and a couple of kids with massive potential - James McAvoy and Ann-Marie Duff. It took British TV by storm when it first appeared and had the Daily Mail frothing at its proverbial mouth because of its glorification of scum-bag Britain. The TV show was called Shameless and for a couple of years it was pretty much one of the most excellent TV series. But most of the talent got pinched for films, other TV or prison and eventually Abbott left because his dream, his vision, couldn't really be fulfilled.

The thing about Shameless was that it was just that - shameless. The lead character, the 40-something drug and drink casualty Frank Gallagher, would literally stoop lower than snake shit to a) get pissed b) get stoned c) avoid responsibility and it was all down to his eldest daughter, Fiona, and eldest son, 'Lip, to look after the menagerie of kids that Frank and his estranged wife have managed to pour into society. In the current climate, think Mick Philpott but with heaps of comedy thrown in and no burning children. The problem was all of the supporting cast were so good and there was no agreement binding them to the show, so this tight-knit family soon became disparate and almost became a sideline in their own show as new characters and families were introduced to fill the void left by the departing Gallaghers and the absence of Kev and Veronica, the next door neighbours who acted as a safety net for Fiona, despite them being almost as irresponsible as Frank.

Set in the dodgy part of Manchester, the series focused on the scams, the illegal activity and the underbelly of society, which, to be fair, no government can govern. A comedy-drama based around dislikeable characters who all managed to become not just likeable but loveable too. But, you know, all good things come to an end and after 5 series, we gave up because the focus was drifting away from the centre, the new people in the show were not nice people and the 'nasty but harmless' feel was replaced with a certain amount of sardonic malevolence - in other words, the Maguires just didn't cut the mustard; plus Frank was there even if his family were disappearing all around him, so while the series tried to make it about the Chatsworth estate where they all lived, this massive spectre of the first four superior series loomed every week, even if it was just to gurn at the camera and fall off his bar stool.

Most of our friends gave up with it and it has just been announced that it will finish very soon.

Paul Abbott has always said that he never got the chance to tell the story he wanted to because he lost all of the actors he wanted to work with and even if he tried, it just didn't feel right especially if it wasn't the Gallaghers doing it. So imagine his delight when Showtime, a kind of slightly 2nd rate HBO, approached him about doing Shameless as a US drama series. Showtime do Dexter and have a growing rep for excellent drama, so it was a no-brainer really and Shameless US was born. We gave it a try; not through any loyalty to the British show and more to do with it being a very quiet period for good TV - the New Year. We were hooked pretty quickly.

I have been very disappointed by most of the TV shows I watch final season endings recently. it's like the TV world has forgotten how to make cliffhangers and/or finales that have you salivating for the next season (at least not me anyhow). I felt the finale to the latest season of The Walking Dead worked but that is an exception to a rule. Shameless US concluded its 3rd series at the weekend with a finale that could quite easily have been the final ever episode and I turned to the wife at the end of it and said, "There really isn't another TV show on at the moment that's even close to that. I just love it to bits!" She feels the same way.

Shameless US makes Shameless UK seem like a kids programme. The US version is possibly the most brazen and jaw-dropping piece of TV I have ever witnessed. The US version really is completely and utterly shameless and yet whatever situations the family get themselves into you kind of can see it happening in real life. The ensemble cast has been together for 3 years; there hasn't been any departures from the series, so its been allowed to grow and develop the way, I'm sure, Abbott wanted it to in this country. Some things which were slight in the UK have been focused on in the US, probably because of the different cultures and with half the cast featuring children you are gobsmacked that these kids are even allowed near the set let alone star in it. 50% of the storylines in the last two seasons of the US show would never be done on British TV screens and the irony of that hasn't escaped me - the USA make a TV show that Britain would struggle to make.

William H. Macey as Frank Gallagher is the most despicable human piece of trash you will ever see. He is the antithesis of the comedy caricature Frank Gallagher that Threlfall has perfected and while he provides 50% of the laughs in this show, much of it is with a hand over your mouth because you cannot believe you are laughing at him pretending one of his kids has cancer so he can get tickets to a ball game.

While Macey is undoubtedly the star of the show, the two real stars are Fiona - Emmy Rossum and Lip - Jeremy Allen White (who steals the show for me, almost every week). These two characters are almost identical to their Manchester counterparts; Fiona is strong and matriarchal, struggling to make ends meet while dealing with a father who doesn't give a shit and Lip is still the boy genius, but this time the genius angle really has been played extremely well. Lip is this enigma; a brilliant lad with a sentimental heart and a loyalty that's almost heartbreaking - yet capable of being nasty, being a sadist, a masochist and a victim - he's a salvation wrapped up in a tragedy.

Unlike the UK version, which seemed stymied by its lack of real storylines for the lesser Gallaghers, doesn't have the same problem in the US. All the kids are important (apart from Liam who is still too young to be part of it and the only thing about the series that doesn't seem to fit properly in that in 3 years he's still less than 2 years old) and Debbie, Ian and Carl all have major roles in the series and their stories are as important as their older siblings. Ian's gay dilemma has been handled in a completely different way than the UK version and a damned sight more explicit and violent. And what about 'Steve' - the car thief who swept Fiona off her feet in the UK? Well, he does the same in the US, but Justin Chatwin, for how good he is, is no James McAvoy, so his character has been allowed to develop and now he appears to have been written out of the series because it has grown too big for him - his character was the least used in the last 12 part series.

I really can't recommend this TV series enough. I heard a rumour it was being shown on one of the lesser ITV channels, but it's three box sets worth buying if you can't track it down some other way and the good thing about it is it leaves the UK stories well behind at the end of season 1 and goes off in directions you would not believe.

The news it has been renewed for a fourth series is the 2nd best bit of news I've heard all week, yet, you get the impression that its all change for the series. Like I said there was a finality about the last episode that could be an excellent jumping off point. I expect next year we might see a change in the series - maybe a couple of years later? All the kids are growing up really fast and people are moving on, going to greener pastures or to new horizons. I just hope they can move the series on but keep the majority of the cast, because they really do inveigle their way into your heart, even the horrendously vile Frank - and there's a scene in the finale of season 3 where I dare you not to have a tear in your eye.

I casually remarked recently that Shameless US is the best thing on TV. I said that because there isn't another TV show that even gets close to it.


Another Review (of sorts)

I am, as many of my friends will attest, something of a Stephen King aficionado. I've read (just about) everything he's ever published and have wide reaching opinions of his work from brilliant - The Stand, to pants - The Dark Tower re-workings.

Over on The Guardian web pages there's this bi-weekly/fortnightly series called Re-Reading Stephen King and I have been reading it since the turn of the year, despite the fact it has now been going for about 6 months. It has been fascinating reading, especially given that James Smythe is but a mere slip of a lad.

One of the books King wrote has never been re-read by me and yet is one of his oldest novels. The Shining has been soured by the film. I am one of those few people who thought The Shining - Stanley Kubrick's own personal imagining of King's novel and essentially a vehicle for Jack Nicholson to do his One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest act but take it up a dozen notches or so - was a load of shit. Yet, as the years have elapsed, I lost the reason why I hated so much. Probably because it reshaped my memory of the book, made me think the things in the film appeared in the book and, of course, very little of what appears in the book ends up in Kubrick's film, at least nothing that would have made his film scary.

The Shining is a remarkable book because it is so short by King's modern standards. The characters are not as painstakingly rounded. There aren't several subplots going on. It is a small, select cast, in a tight spot and yet over the space of 450 pages you get an idea what these people are about but you don't get to know them inside out, the way King likes to write his characters nowadays. This, in many ways, was the foretelling of King's own alcoholism and one wonders if it had already begun to take its toll on him when he wrote this. Jack Torrance's battles with his addiction demon sounded like they were written from experience and not from an imagination and the 'inner voices' that pervade Jack's story sound like ones that had already visited King, possibly late at night while drunk or stoned.

It really is quite a simple story; family moves into haunted hotel and haunted hotel fucks them up big time. There are extras - a sort of post modern deus ex machina (in Dick Halloran) and some of the peripheral things that contribute to the story, but all in all it is actually very slight and very very creepy. Your memory of Kubrick's largely cerebral horror movie intrudes on this book, especially if you've already read it prior to the film and you keep wondering when the twins are going to turn up and why didn't Dick die and the fact there is probably more schlock horror attempted frightening bits in the film than there is in the book - yet the latter is still head and shoulders scarier than the film will ever be.

It's also quite conceivable that King would want to return to Danny Torrance; apart from Charlie 'Firestarter' McGee possibly (and King used to joke that Danny and Charlie hooked up, had kids and etc etc), Danny is one of those characters that you immediately think, "I wonder what would have happened to him?" So with Dr Death on its way with a 40 something recovering alcoholic Dan Torrance, a new youngster to protect and a finale that takes place on the ruined site of the Overlook, King seems to be trying to close a vicious circle, mentally, perhaps.

On conclusion of reading The Shining I had a tear in my eye; it's a peach of a book; the simple story works on several levels and you see the energy that King had back then, when the world was a place to take on and the most outrageous thing he did this time was destroy a hotel - not a town (or the world as he was soon to do). It is not a book to read before you switch the lights off and its not a film to watch if you read the book and really like it. Kubrick's film is something of a curate's egg; it is a brilliant film, visually stunning and using a lot of the creepy elements of King's book, but I don't think it has a soul and the ending has to be one of the least satisfactory endings I have ever seen, despite it being a supposedly happy ending.

A Kind of Review (Kinda)

Over the last two weeks I have been playing my latest fave band to death. With a brilliant Bowie album out there; an equally fantastic House of Love and some dazzling rock from Amplifier, I've been swayed into the post-rock genre and have been enthusing madly about Irish band God is an Astronaut of GIAA as they appear to be referred to.

I'd like to sit here and wax lyrically and review all their back catalogue, but, you know, I know that I'm pretty much in the minority amongst my friends as far as post-rock is concerned, so I won't bore you. But, if you are interested in them and check them out via You Tube or Spotify then this is the order you should listen/buy:

  1. All is Violent, All is Bright (2nd)
  2. Far From Refuge (3rd)
  3. A Moment of Stillness (EP between 1st & 2nd)
  4. The End of the Beginning (1st)
  5. God is an Astronaut (4th)
  6. Age of the Fifth Sun (last album and more Mogwai than anything prior - it still has tunes, but they've discovered heavy riffs and feedback by now)
Or you could just go listen to Psy's new single and contemplate North Korean culture.


Effercio et Ineptia

  • I am delusional, apparently.
  • The above statement relates to Spurs, allegedly.
  • We have won £642 in prize money since moving quizzes. If I wasn't such a mercenary git it would be embarrassing (but it means free food more often and with no income coming in from me that's not to be sniffed at, even if we miss our good friend One El and his fine (and more difficult for us) quizzes.
  • I'll be 51 next week. It seems worse than 50 in some ways.
  • This blog is a direct sequel to Wibble.
  • Some people don't know how to use full.stops
  • Some of my friends have peculiar tastes (and I'm not referring to two people who will think I'm referring to them).
  • The Guardian ran a front page story last week suggesting that I was absolutely on the money with my North Korea forecast/scenario; now I'm thinking I'm still probably right, but it would appear that North Korea is really run by a bunch of knuckle-scraping army generals with less intelligence than one of the dogs they probably ate for dinner.
  • How do they spell the word 'prize' in the USA? I just ask because I mention it above and after running the spell checker it's thrown a yellow line under it and claims it's not a word. The internet - as it gets older it gets more fucked up.
  • Nothing untoward happened in Sainsburys yesterday... 
  • Fuckwit has been quiet... 
  • Fishwife is just avoided like the plague, especially now the weather is warming up... 
  • The mother of one of the two sexually-explicit members of the Sexually-Explicit family has, presumably, gone back to Lithuania (and taken her collection of sex toys with her probably). All is calm in the street at the moment, so now that fate has been tempted, get ready for a barrage!



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