Category Archives: TV series

TV roundup: Skins, Camelot, The Cape, How Television Ruined Your Life

Skins (2007-)

There’s no such thing as a real, honest portrayal of teenagers on television. It’s just a setting, a trope, like “crew on a starship flying about in space”, and all that matters is whether it has soul. This does. In fact, it may be the only show that does at the moment. Score another one in the “British show so good the Americans will make a horrible copy of it” category.

Recommended: Yes

Watched: Three seasons and counting

Camelot (2011)

Oh yes we need even more of these good-looking modern-sounding assholes parading around in the ancient past, trying to make it “fresh”.

Recommended: No.

Watched: One episode.

The Cape (2011)

You had me at vigilante teams up with circus freaks and being unashamedly cheesy. You lost me with the horrible horrible horrible writing. Possible there is a connection here, but there oughtn’t to be.

Recommended: No.

Watched: 5 episodes

How Television Ruined Your Life (2011)

Charlie Brooker doesn’t just hate television, (for many good reasons), he also believes that love is futile, and takes half an episode just to explain in tedious detail how even the most promising relationships must eventually break apart. Not the finest example of what life without television does to you, this.

Recommended: Not really, but his rants are entertaining. I miss Adam Curtis, though. He would have done this right.

Watched: All of it, so far.


Year: 2007-2010

Creator: Damian Kindler

Premise: Supernatural investigators roam the CGI world of who cares where or when, it’s just a show and you should really just relax

Primary audience: Stargate Atlantis fans whose knees go a little wobbly at the thought of Amanda Tapping speaking the Queen’s English

Worth watching: Yes, if you can appreciate visionary stupidity

There’s a line in TV sci-fi, and on one side are those shows that hide their stupidity behind a Serious Mood and Serious Plotlines, and on the other are those that understand that they need to embrace their stupidity in order to be truly unique and visionary.  (Genuinely non-stupid hasn’t done since Babylon 5). It’s Battlestar Galactica and Lost vs Doctor Who, Stargate Atlantis – and Sanctuary.

Sanctuary will never be the subject of academic analysis or “omg the mainstream really respects us” press.  It’s a stupid show about CGI monsters.  Viewers who can’t appreciate that won’t watch beyond the first episode, and good riddance.  The reward for the rest of us is an excellent take on the good old Scooby gang tropes.  It’s partly visual: Sanctuary is shot extensively against a green screen, and they’ve done what George Lucas couldn’t, and actually turned that into a strength.  Even when it looks fake, it feels true, has personality.

The rest is ambition.  Respect for the genre.  Knowing that just because you’re making a show about CGI monsters is no excuse to be a lazy hack.  That’s more than can be said for the writers of certain more prestigious shows.

Max Headroom

Year: 1985, 1987, 1988

Type: Cyberpunk

Premise: Society is falling apart, and all you get to choose from on television is 60 Minutes and some goofy AI talking head

Primary audience: People who are nostalgic for a time when everything was going to hell and there was no future, no future for you

Tics: Evir Japanese megacorroporationos

Worth watching: The original standalone episode, yes

Asian businessmen are the scariest people 80′s scriptwriters can imagine.  They come here and throw some money around, and then they expect to be treated as our overlords.  But they’re getting a crappy deal.  In the future, everything is ugly.  Nobody cares.  Punks control the streets.  All that’s left is TV, and, for some odd reason, investigative reporting.

Max Headroom was made in two batches, a 1985 television movie called 20 Minutes Into the Future, (above), and a 1987-88 series.  The first episode of the series is a remake of the movie, allowing us to see how the concept was dumbed down along the way.  The series has the same visual style, but is kind of upbeat.  The evil hacker is now a good hacker.  The team of good guys win stupid little victories every episode.  It goes against the grain of the original.  20 Minutes was odd and cheap, but at least it stood for something.  It stood for believing that everything was going to hell.  The series stood for the family friendly version of that, ie. nothing. Nothing at all.

Boardwalk Empire

Year: 2010

Genre: History with swearing

Subgenre: Lovable sadistic gangsters and cops battle it out in 2000’s New Jersey / 1870’s Deadwood / 1920’s Atlantic City.

Primary audience: People who want to be reassured that everyone in the past were hedonists too.

Tics: Every man’s a gangster, every woman a whore.

Worth watching: Not sure.

Let’s call it the Ian McShane smirk, even though he’s not in this series.  It’s the look of a character out of the past who knows it’s all a charade, that there are no truths, no right or wrong.  It’s the character who at heart is really one of us, only slicker.

And this has been the mode now for about a decade, hasn’t it?  It’s beginning to feel dated.  It used to say: We’re daring and honest.  Now it says: We know nothing about the past, nothing about people, and we have nothing to say.  So we’re settling for the same old polished grittiness that makes you grin because you still think it shocks other people.

It doesn’t make you think.  It doesn’t make you feel anything.  It doesn’t even make you uncomfortable.

But hey, it looks good.

The Pillars of the Earth

Year: 2010

Type: Historical

Subtype: Could all the nobles who are fighting over this shitty little kingdom please quiet down a bit, we’re trying to build something over here?

Primary audience: People who want to find out if folks in the dark ages talked, behaved and had sex just like we do. (They did.)

Tics: Witch hunts, Ian McShane and other anachronisms.

Worth watching: Yes.

There’s little to live for in England in the 12th century, unless you can take part in one of the four worthwhile pursuits of the age: Scheming, murdering, incest and witchcraft.  And possibly cathedral building, if you’re up to it.  It’ll take you a couple of lifetimes.  And you’ll have to contend with a class of nobles to whom chivalry and the Peace and Truce of God movement are just some fancy schmancy continental innovations.  But at least you’re not a peasant or cannon fodder like everyone else.

You don’t get a sense that religion matters much to these people.  Everyone feels like secular people who have occasional flashes of religious feeling.  But nobody watches this for the history, right?  And it’s actually those few religious moments that separate this from Rome-me-too’s like The Tudors: The work on the cathedral.  The fake relic.  Or that brilliant scene where the monks intimidate the workers of a quarry to give them the stones they are entitled to.

And then all the enjoyable-annoying Ian McShane Deadwood shenanigans fade away, and reveal something beautiful: A story about the joy of building.