Monday, March 30, 2009

Unlock And Unload

Trying to get around the clocks going forward to welcome in British Summer Time was bad enough, this morning I woke feeling like I had been kicked in the head by a mule. Trying to work at the computer or watch any of the reference material only made it worse, so for most of the morning I carried on with the clear out that started pretty much as the year began then continued in fits and starts around the current project.

Between clearing up and getting things squared away, one thing I found I don’t have to deal with anymore are magazines. Some time back I used to plough through a wide variety of titles voraciously. Now I either read their articles online or have simply let them fall by the wayside. In fact the only magazines they enter the flat now come with the weekend newspapers.

That said, amongst the deskside pile of papers I did find an issue of Empire from a couple of months back in what I can only deduce was bought during a moment of weakness. Picking up a magazine about upcoming movies when I hardly go near a cinema nowadays seems to be deliberately obtuse. Buying one that revels in regularly sucking up to George Lucas and Tarantino is an exercise in utter stupidity.

Still, skimming through that issue proved that it would be the last. What turned me off wasn’t its feature pages typically awash with the latest fangasm but something written to describe a portion of the monthly competition prizes. Obviously a certain amount if hyperbole is expected to make the selection of DVDs sound tempting, but I realised their opinions were no longer worth a damn when I read:

This collection features the hysterical antics of some of the biggest names in comedy past and present, including Will Ferrell, John Candy and Steve Martin.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Double Down

The project I’m working on has had me watching a slew of British movies from the 1970s during the past week. Tough, I know. Although one was so spectacularly dreadful that I was shocked into silence as a whole load of utter nonsense played out to the ridiculous end, there was something wonderfully endearing about the rest.

Even though some of the budgets were so low that the joins were definitely showing, I still found them far more entertaining than the contemporary nonsense served up that the studios spunk hundreds of millions of dollars over. After that weekend of marvellous 1950s science fiction movies, and then catching up with a selection of classic British war films that included Ice Cold in Alex, Dunkirk and Millions Like Us, it feels like I’m giving up on current movies.

Having lunch with the magnificent H late in the week, and then with Mister Mark on Friday, we got to talking about the films we would see as kids, back in the days when you didn’t go to the cinema or to the movies but to “the pictures”. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how it was a much more innocent time. Without the internet, without the plenitude of entertainment magazines repeatedly banging the drum about which new movies we had to see, without all the relentless fucking hype... we made our own, mostly impartial decisions about what to see.

Early last year I blew off about how back then, without these newer outlets relentlessly spewing out information about every new release, it was down to the eye-catching posters to sell each film. Robert E. McGinnis’ outstanding artwork for Live and Let Die was the first to really catch my attention as I stood in the queue taking in every detail.

As Boy’s Own adventures go, Where Eagles Dare has always been pretty hard to beat. The poster itself is just as unbeatable. To begin with it has that cracking strapline. Then comes the main illustration that, rather than slavishly reproducing actual scenes, attempts to encapsulate the film as a whole with an image so over the top it’s bordering on genius.

Of course these weren’t the actual posters that I would have seen back then. UK quads were produced in landscape format rather than portrait, which meant all the component parts would be shuffled around, with titles and credits placed to the side of the main illustration rather than above and below, scaled to fit the very different ratio.

In H’s den he had recently hung a framed poster for The Poseidon Adventure on the wall. As we discussed the aesthetic beauty of these posters from our childhood that went much further than just simply relying on lazy composited headshots of the various stars involved, H reminded me of the posters specially produced by distributors re-releasing films in a double bill.

One we both remembered well was for Diamonds Are Forever and Gold, which for me was the only time I ever saw a Sean Connery Bond movie at the cinema. Even though the second feature was a rather leaden story of intrigue involving a South African gold mine, they went all out on the poster, even if Roger Moore posed wearing a safety helmet and holding a stick of dynamite rather than the Walther PPK looks utterly hilarious now.

Still, it was better than the double bills that passed through local cinemas unencumbered with posters, where, to obviously save money on any new promotional material, the film titles were instead simply written on coloured paper and placed behind the lucite shield on the frontage of the cinema. In those instances you either went or you didn’t, it was as simple as that.

If I didn’t remember them as well, it was most probably because they were for movies I was too young to see or, living deep in the countryside, simply missed out on. Looking back, for those three years, trips to the cinema barely existed. Instead it was during that time, I suppose, that I sustained myself on a diet of the old Hollywood classics that were shown on the BBC2 afternoon matinees.

I could remember seeing Jaws with friends from the next farm along because such a big deal was being made about it at the time. Aside from that I would have to wait until summer holidays surfing in Cornwall, pitching up at the small cinema in a narrow backstreet of Padstow one evening in the week. On one such excursion I sat through a double bill of Alistair Maclean’s When Eight Bells Toll and Puppet on a Chain, even though we were expecting to see something entirely different.

When local cinemas announced a film’s title and viewing times in nothing bigger than a small ad in the back of the newspaper, sometimes they would only be showing it for a few days rather than a full week. If you weren’t quick enough something else would have arrived to take its place. On that summer evening, unbeknownst to us the cinema had moved on to its next presentation. I don’t remember complaining.

Then, once the old man decided to try a new business venture and we moved to the south coast of Devon, suddenly I had three cinemas with four screens virtually on my doorstep. For the next few years I went to the pictures almost every weekend. While I could certainly remember the first AA or X-certificate films I had each gotten in to see underage – The Wild Geese and Alien, respectively – there were still many titles that now escaped me.

Just barely remembering brief scenes or the names of actors involved, I hoped H could help me out. These weren’t big productions but it didn’t mean that they were so low budget the film crews had to rot around behind their sofa cushions for any spare change they might need. Instead they were mid-range films that audiences went to see simply because they were there.

Titles like Bear Island and Avalanche Express floated to the surface of our discussion; bog standard action-adventures that usually had a cast of character actors that either included the odd familiar face from television or possibly one of the true Hollywood greats in the twilight years of their career. Plots may have been relatively straightforward and optical effects for any films that were science fiction or fantasy-based were astonishingly mediocre, but in their defence the filmmakers tried to make the best of what they had, rather than lazily spit some nasty exploitation flick.

Though these films may not stand the test of time particularly well or be held in high regard by many, one thing they have going for them is that, free from the kind of relentless hype that nowadays can only result in disappointment, they were almost always entertaining enough to while away a couple of hours. And they more often than not made sense. Most of the time you can’t ask for anything better than that.

Midweek on BBC2, looking back on his long television career in the first part of Alan Wicker’s Journey of a Lifetime, the old gent declared, “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” I’m not sure I completely agree.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

God Is In The Details

At the end of January 2004 Sky Movies held an exclusive preview screening of the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries. It had played in America a month earlier and wouldn’t appear on UK screens for a couple weeks or so. I was glad to have snagged an invite though puzzled, when I arrived, to discover the relatively tiny theater they had hired was less than a tenth full.

Maybe it was because it was early on a Friday afternoon and most of the invitees had already planned a long weekend out of town. Maybe it was because, given the legacy of the show, nobody was really that interested. The reviews from America had been good but this was, after all, the re-imagining of one of the mindless space opera shoot ‘em ups that had been spat out in the wake of Star Wars for audiences who liked that sort of thing.

It had been a long time since I had seen any episodes of the original but, as memory served, the best word that summed them up was daft: and that was being kind. Once I borrowed the DVD boxset of the 1978 Glen Larson-produced series and watched it in full, that opinion was upgraded to godawful. Granted, a ropey television show that was twenty-five years old and aimed at the youth market probably wasn’t going to stand the test of time particularly well, but I was utterly astonished to find that it was riddled with the worst clichés imaginable.

Strangely enough, when I sat and watched the preview on that January afternoon five years ago I was certainly intrigued but oddly unmoved. Of course in the end that came down to the fact that Sky, being a big tease, only screened the first half of the miniseries. When I eventually saw the whole thing it all made sense; perfectly. When the preview tape of 33, the first episode of the new series arrived at the door months later, I was absolutely astonished by how they had taken the bare bones of the original story, stripped away all the rhubarb and replaced it with a level of intelligence rarely seen in this genre.

Instead of the kind of escapist flash-bang fantasy filled with the strange monsters and aliens that immature fanboys are guaranteed to blindly lap up, this was science fiction as a skewed reflection of current society. As the dwindling human survivors of the holocaust fought an escalating war on terror, Battlestar Galactica became an utterly remarkable commentary on what it takes to survive in the face of conflict. More importantly, amongst the themes of terrorism, human rights and reconciliation, was a deep-rooted treatise on theology, pitting the single god doctrine of the Cylons against the polytheistic belief system of the human colonists that made for a truly astonishing drama.

Last night on Sky One, after four years exploring these issues, the series reached journey’s end with the final two hours of Daybreak. As exciting and emotional and thought provoking as every episode that had come before, the finale typically divided viewers in the US who had seen it four days earlier. Finally reading a lot of the reasoned and emotional internet posts from numerous television critics and the multitude of pro and con comments their words elicited, it would have been interesting to know the ages of those commenting. Reading between the lines it appeared that older viewers liked how the series was resolved while the youngsters (or the incredibly stupid) felt short-changed.

Not surprisingly, one of the main criticisms was that not every plot thread of the show was tied up in a neat and tidy bow. But how could a drama with religion at the very heart of its story come up with a pat solution to their liking? Surely all belief systems have no easy to read, squared-away answers and are instead open to everyone’s interpretation. Also some of the kids who left comments asking what planet the crew ended up on seriously need to get hold of an atlas and bone up on basic geography before they start making inroads into religion.

As for me, I had faith in the show and it paid off beautifully. In turn laughing, crying and peppering the air with single expletives, during both the action sequences and quieter character moments, by the end I was a boggle-eyed emotional wreck, especially seeing every character get the ending they justly deserved. There’s a lot to say about the show but it’s best summed up by William Adama’s word as the ship prepares to go “around the Horn” one more time:

“Just so there’ll be no misunderstandings later, Galactica’s seen a lot of history, gone through a lot of battles. This will be her last. She will not fail us if we do not fail her. If we succeed in our mission, Galactica will bring us home. If we don’t, it doesn’t matter anyway.”

Not for one second did it fail. And that’s what mattered.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Post Of No Importance

For some reason Dollie thinks I need to reveal six things of no real importance about myself, and since she asked who am I to say no.

The rules are:

(A) Put the link of the person who tagged you on your blog.

(B) Write the rules.

(C) Mention six things or habits of no real importance about yourself.

(D) Tag six people adding their links directly.

So, (A) and (B) are done. (The fact that one of the rules is to write the rules seems odd to me. But then it may simply be that whoever came up with this piffle is just another of the illiterate gonads spreading their disease along the highways and byways of the internet).

My six things of no importance are:

01. I very rarely listen to music anymore.

02. A side effect, perhaps, of a childhood living in far-flung places is that I can go days without talking to anyone and it doesn’t bother me one bit, until it does.

03. I can’t remember any of the Latin I was taught at school.

04. As a teen, I didn’t master waterskiing until the last day of summer and after one perfect run across the bay and back had to wait until the next year to get back behind the speedboat.

05. There are times when I’m struck with an unrelenting sense of ennui and just simply can’t be bothered.

06. This is one of those times.

Still, I’ll make an effort to finish of by tagging Mister Dixon, Mister Sibley, Mistress Woo, Mister Thomson, Mister Gallagher, and Mister ED.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A New Dawn

After a long weekend in the Westcountry, surrounded by family, friends and relatives, some of which I hadn’t seen for years, it felt strange coming back to London and, after being surrounded by people, spending each day alone, writing at the computer and working my way through the homemade cakes brought back with me. Apart from a few brief telephone conversations for research purposes and a call to an actress friend to arrange lunch next week, the longest chat was with an apologetic supermarket checkout girl after all the tills went down and we waited for their system to reboot.

Ignoring the outside world, and even giving up newspapers and the daily crosswords to concentrate on the work, I’d even forgotten about bloody Comic Relief on Friday. Okay, it’s all for a good cause, raising money for charities and the like here and abroad, but I wonder how much more would be raised if the BBC pledged not to blow off the whole evening of regular programming for hour upon hour of such awful amateurish bullshit. Repeatedly reminding everyone to BE FUNNY FOR MONEY, based on what I saw the performers should be required to hand back any payment they received, ever.

If people want to something to help why don’t they help fix up shelters for homeless people or battered women? I never understand these idiotic stunts like sitting in a bath filled with mushy peas or baked beans, especially when it’s all done for a famine relief. Doesn’t anyone get the contradiction in wasting food to raise money to feed people dying of hunger? As for those D-list celebrities sent off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro... Hell, if they flew the lot to Hawaii, had them climb the Mauna Loa volcano on the Big Island and then threw them in once they reached the summit, that would surely bring in a lot more cash.

Instead I contented myself watching the special edition of Newsnight Review that asked: Is Television Dead? I’m sure it would have been a decent debate if they hadn’t asked the utterly useless Jana Bennett, Director of BBC Vision, to contribute to the round table discussion. Maybe she was nervous about appearing on live television but the idiot woman could barely string a coherent sentence together. Asked to name an innovative BBC programme at the offset, all she could do was gabble about Armando Iannucci‘s political satire The Thick of It, which, if we don’t count the two specials shown in 2007, was last broadcast over three years ago. Keep up woman!

If you had to divide the population between those who were given a new puppy and those thrown to rebel Hutu tribesmen to be raped and mutilated, Bennett certainly wouldn’t have to worry about popping down the shops for some Winalot. Asked later on why, Red Riding aside, British television couldn’t produce something as thoughtful and provocative as recent American dramas like The Wire, she avoided the question and blurted out that the BBC were going to show the drama, finally, seven years after it was first broadcast on HBO. Oh, well done her!

It’s good that BBC2 is showing The Wire. It means that all the little knuckleheads that are so desperate to write television drama and haven’t seen it yet have no fucking excuse. Although it seems bizarre that, with transmission dates still to be announced, the BBC has decided to strip the episodes in across the week. Is it because they think that the majority of today’s audience, having had their brains turned to mush by nonsense like Lark Rise to Candleford, wouldn’t be able to follow the narrative if only one episode was shown a week? Given the content, the drama will no doubt be shown on Monday to Thursday after Newsnight. Which means people can bemoan that it’s on too late as an excuse not to watch. The cocks!

In the meantime the finale of Battlestar Galactica is imminent, after which I will no doubt be inconsolable. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but that’s surely because the imbecilic post-Star Wars generation don’t understand that science fiction is supposed to be a reflection of contemporary times rather than the puerile antics of farting robots and all the stupid shit that goes with it. Then, to make matters worse, I recently read one blog post where the writer stated he didn’t like the re-imagined series simply because, rather than being black and white, the characters had too many shades of grey and were, at times, unlikeable.

I wasn’t sure whether it was supposed to be written tongue-in-cheek or the person putting these thoughts down was utterly retarded. But it helps prove that the problem with so much stuff today is that far too much is written by adults who haven’t grown up and can’t get beyond the juvenile crap they watched as kids. In other words: Useless dumb fucks! Anyway, to illustrate Battlestar Galactica’s true worth as a drama, this Tuesday, when the first part of Daybreak, the three-hour finale, is being shown on Sky One, the United Nations is playing host to a series retrospective and panel discussion.

Flagged up by Mo Ryan who writes the Chicago Tribune’s insightful The Watcher blog, the event will illustrate how, Battlestar Galactica examines the problems currently afflicting our planet issues such as armed conflict, terrorism, human rights and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faith. The panel will consist of, from the show, executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick and actors Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos, and, from the UN, Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for policy planning, executive office of the Secretary-General.

An invitation-only event, Alan Sepinwall the TV critic of The Star-Ledger will be in attendance and promises to report back on his equally entertaining blog sometime in the week. While we wait I’ve been trying to imagine that happening over here with...? Ah... Instead of going to Turtle Bay it would have to be convened at The International Court of Justice in The Hague. Once there that smug Welsh git could be dragged into the dock and relentlessly questioned about stealing proper creative writers’ ideas for his own worthless gains. If it led to a well deserved summary execution immediately afterwards, that would be something I’d certainly give money to see.

Friday, March 06, 2009

West Riding

Any criticisms of wishy-washy British television drama were silenced with last night’s transmission of 1974, Channel 4’s astonishing adaptation of the first book in David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet. The real shame was that the drama began with an audience of 3.4 million, falling to 2 million by the time the credits rolled, thereby proving what fucking idiots the general populace is, especially the 4 million who watched the repeat of New Tricks instead. Cocks!

Next week the drama moves forward to 1980, adding Paddy Considine and Maxine Peake to the cast, and is set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. I can’t wait. In the meantime I’m heading south (and west) where hopefully “they’ve got sunshine.” Tomorrow is my mother’s *cough* birthday – she isn’t happy about the number, which is divisible by ten – so they’ve hired a restaurant for the evening which will be packed full of relatives and close family friends, many of which I haven’t seen for a long, long while.

So, that’ll be me away for a while. In the meantime try not to waste time and money going to see Watchmen on its opening weekend. It may have the silly little fanboys staining themselves in trembling anticipations, but you only have to catch the odd trailer to figure out that, like the useless Sin City before it, the slavish reverence to the source material means it’s obviously going to be a piece of shit and not worth drinking the Kool Aid for.

When I get back, posts may tail off for a while. The past few months I’ve been trying to figure out what the fuck I’m still doing in London. The way things have turned out I hardly go anywhere and rarely see anyone, so what’s the point? There’s only one project currently keeping me here, which has been getting sidetracked because the person I’m supposed to be working on it with has been difficult to track down, although at times the delays are probably as much my fault as it is hers.

Leaving this distraction behind, I want to sit her down, get all the necessary face-to-face time sorted after which I can plough on with the work. Once that’s done I’ll have to see what’s next.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Nature Not Neglect

I’m a sucker for the nature documentaries made by the BBC Natural History Unit. Last night that proved to be unfortunate. With Nature’s Great Events on BBC1 following the unique sardine run up the east coast of South Africa clashing with the first part of BBC2’s Building The Olympic Dream, charting the preparation and performance of the official handover at the tail end of the Beijing closing ceremony, I was torn between what to watch.

One was about a group with a single purpose in mind being attacked on all side. The other was about the wankers who devised that fucking abortion involving a transforming red double decker bus and David Beckham punting a football into a crowd. Although the winter sardine run had previously been featured in an earlier documentary series, as much as I couldn’t take my eyes off these cretins making a complete balls up of everything and blaming everyone around them, I couldn’t help but flick back to watch as the shoal made up of hundreds of millions of sardines were attacked by one predator after another.

The footage was simply astonishing, whether it was the aerial views of the dolphin super-pod tracking the sardines north to ambush them at Waterfall Bluff or the seals floating in the calmer waters, sunning themselves as they waited for the fish to arrive in their neck of the woods. Once the narrow band of cold water pushed the shoal into the shallows, first the sharks arrived to have a crack at them, then the dolphins arrived, bringing the sharks back for another go.

Just when it looked like the little sardines were getting away a bloody great Bryde’s whale rose up from the deep to take out ten thousand fish in one big gulp. All the while the squadrons of dive-bombing gannets entered the fray, hitting the water at 60 mph and pursuing the fish to a depth of twenty metres below the surface. While their underwater exploits were utterly astonishing, footage taken from a distance, of the waves of birds crashing into the sea, made them look like raindrops splashing into a puddle.

I probably watched far more of the documentary than intended because every time I switched back to Building The Olympic Dream the head of ceremonies and his event producer were either being told they were brilliant or whining that everything was coming apart at the seems, putting them in the soup at The Bird’s Nest Stadium. All their ire apparently seemed to be directed at the Chinese for not helping with every little petulant demand because for those few weeks in Beijing they obviously had fuck all to do other than serve the Brits.

In the end, just as Channel 4 finished with their series of outlandish “toffs and crims” documentaries, now we had “tits and crips” twatting around the London 2012 bus while the whole world stared open-mouthed in disbelief at the shocking ineptitude of the whole enterprise. I wonder if everyone who ran to defend the absolute horror of that eight-minute handover ceremony, saying it was simply ace and skill, would still take the same misguided stance knowing that the whole sequence cost two million quid. I mean, Jesus Christ!

The strange this was that this evening, before the start of Red Riding, I was planning to re-watch the documentary in its entirety on iPlayer. Except, nearly twenty-four hours after its initial broadcast, the documentary remains listed as ‘Not Available’. Why? Did the 2012 Olympic Committee object to the fact that they were shown to be a complete bunch of inept tossers who obviously couldn’t organise (in the words of Malcolm Tucker) “a bum rape in the barracks”?

The Colour Of Tragic

Back in the studio days, when Nintendo’s N64 was still on the cutting edge of video game playing, come the end of the work day assorted animators, in-betweeners and clean-up artists would step away from their desks and gather in front the spare monitor the console was hooked up to. As long as we weren’t working to a tight schedule with a rapidly approaching deadline (in which case we would relieve our frustrations by shooting the shit out of each other playing first Goldeneye and later Perfect Dark) the game of choice was Mario Kart.

It was a given that the nimblest to the four controllers got to play the first race, with the loser having to surrender their handset to next in line to play. Meanwhile, the winner got to choose which of the sixteen circuits to race around. There were about a half dozen favourites, including Wario Stadium, Kalamari Desert, Koopa Troopa Beach and DK Jungle Parkway. The one track almost everyone loathed was the garish Rainbow Road. Its only supporter was one of the animation assistants who would sport an evil grin when he chose it, watching everyone’s face fall at his selection.

It was the longest circuit of the lot and the interminable laps, which not the most tortuous, constantly bombarded the contestants with an endless succession of bright, nauseating colour that almost drove us out of our minds. After a while, once that particular course was chosen, folk would begin to gather their belongings and push off home. The reason I bring this little morsel up is because I finally got around to watching Speed Racer.

Last year, back when I first caught the headache-inducing trailer, I noted that I was probably going to steer clear of this nonsense and the only way to watch it, if I had to, was with a bucket of Nurofen popcorn on my lap. Recently it was suggested that, in fact, Speed Racer wasn’t as bad as all that and I should give it a go. So I did. And fuck me, it was far, far worse than I expected. It was like someone took the scene from 1941, where the Sherman ploughs through the paint factory on its way to engage with the Japanese submarine, sped the footage up and put it on a continual loop.

For a start it seemed to go on forever. The two hour-plus running time alone seemed wholly unnecessary for what was essentially a thin, formulaic plot, frequently complicated for no apparent reason. That in itself was exacerbated by the fact that every thirty minutes or so, by which point my retinas were utterly frazzled, I had to repeatedly pause the film and go have a lie down in a dark room. The only way I could think of to make the experience even worse would be to watch it on an iPhone while sitting in the front car of a rollercoaster.

As for the races at the heart of the film, if those Wachowski idiots had pointed a cine camera at a Scalextric track it would have been far more exciting. Compiled from separate elements shot in a green-screen studio, with the camera firing off in all directions for no other reason than it can, the final composites, with their ludicrous circuits and exaggerated landscapes, lacked even a hint of the adrenalin rush brought about in the furiously-paced races from John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, made over forty years ago, or even the car chases in his later thriller Ronin.

Instead all that was on show was the crashing boredom of the faked, number-crunched antics. Still, even that was better than the moronic asides with the youngest Racer kiddie and his stupid monkey. Was their madcap pairing supposed to be funny? Or was it meant to be so bad that the racing sequences could only look good by comparison? Personally, if I had to piss away over two hours of my life I would rather have spent it watching the pair being beaten to death with mallets. That would have been far more entertaining.

Actually, what I would have preferred to have seen was the reaction of the Warner Bros executives after they had handed over $120 million and got this back in return. If they weren’t angry to see the money spunked away in such a retched and cavalier manner then surely they must have been ashamed that their studio name was going to be attached to it. Otherwise what hope is there?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Trot Off!

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight. At the end of January the BBC refused to air the charity appeal for aid to Gaza because, in the words of Mark Thompson, the Corporation’s Director General, “We are passionate about defending the BBC’s impartiality.” Yet it was somehow all right for the airwaves to be turned over to U2 last week so they could whore for their new album. How does that work exactly?

Usually a band hawking new material has to make do with a spot on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and the odd guest appearance on Radio 1 or Radio 2. Yet last week saw the bunch of annoying, self-righteous bog-trotters appear on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show (Monday); Radio 4’s Front Row (Tuesday); Jo “Terrahawk” Whiley’s Radio 1 show (Friday) and Chris Evans’ Radio 2 show (Friday). Meanwhile on the terrestrial TV channels, Tuesday’s edition of The Culture Show was given over to Lauren Laverne fawning over Saint Bonio and his lackeys before they rounded off the week, unsurprisingly, playing out the weekly edition of Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.

While they didn’t end up presenting Breakfast or appear on either Bargain Hunt or Eggheads, there was something about pressing the red button to see them perform live on the roof at Broadcasting House. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to press the red button again and do us all a favour by calling in an air strike on Portland Place in the way the irritating U2=BBC trailers had relentlessly carpet-bombed the schedules throughout February.

How did these poverty-fighting tax evaders, insightfully lauded by Worzel Geldof as not being “wankers” at the beginning of The Culture Show, get such unfettered access? Blackmailing Thompson with photographs of him fisting a swan seemed the logical conclusion until I skimmed through The Observer’s website and discovered an article by Miranda Sawyer that stated:

U2=BBC? Has Bono become Chairman of the Beeb? No, but Lesley Douglas has become Director of Programming and Business Development at Universal Records. That's Lesley Douglas, ex-Controller of Radio 2 and 6Music, who resigned following the Brand-Ross fiasco; and that's Universal Records, which owns Island Records, U2's record label.

Well, that obviously makes it all right then.

The Comedy Rule Of Three

I know I was supposed to be out living it up on Friday night because that’s what you’re supposed to do, but somehow over the years celebrating my birthday has either gone hopelessly awry or turned into a complete nightmare. So now I simply acknowledge the fact and then try my best to treat it like any other day, which meant that I was going to spend the evening with my feet up, watching a Brian G Hutton double bill on DVD.

That would have been all well and good, seeing me through until it was time to turn in. Just before loading the first disc (which would have been Where Eagles Dare in case you were wondering), I noticed that the schedules had somehow magically – or possibly tragically – fallen into place, allowing me to skip from one channel to the next, sampling what the various commissioning editors at ITV, BBC and Channel 4 considered to be good situation comedy.

For all ITV’s good intentions in trying to seek out half decent programmes, the channel still hasn’t managed to flush that massive great turd Moving Wallpaper, which has floated back onto the schedule. The reviewer for The Daily Telegraph may call the sitcom “a very sharply written and cleverly characterised comedy”, but I can only deduce that he wrote those words while recuperating in his hospital bed after suffering a particularly vicious blow to the head.

Maybe there are people who get a chuckle out of this listless look behind the curtain, but compared to the likes of The Larry Sanders Show and especially Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, which takes every opportunity to stick it to NBC, Moving Wallpaper is about as sharp and edgy as an old episode of Terry and June. First time around, the show’s only saving grace was that Echo Beach, the useless soap opera the characters in Moving Wallpaper were making, was an even bigger mound of crap. This time, all on its lonesome, the sitcom appeared weaker than ever.

Echo Beach was cancelled because it was shit and nobody watched it, so of course the wheeze in Moving Wallpaper was that the non-entities in the soap’s writing staff are told the decision behind their show’s cancellation is down to it being shit and nobody watched it. Wow, there must have been high-fives and back slaps all round as that glorious nugget was squeezed out at the table read. After that any fetid waft of a joke was few and far between. The writer keeling over in the middle of a pitch and having his idea stolen by the producer? Oh, my aching sides!

The fatal flaw with Moving Wallpaper is that it lacks the real bite and sharp wit of its American rivals. Whereas The Larry Sanders Show had a real bulldog of a producer in Rip Torn’s gloriously foul-mouthed Artie, Ben Miller’s Jonathan Pope tries to be the Machiavellian monster but simply ends up as a bumbling incompetent and far less likely to keep a hand grenade in his desk drawer. Maybe the audience is supposed to sympathise with him, or more likely the writers don’t have the guts to seriously take his antics over the line. Whatever the reason the lack of real guts makes the sitcom utterly redundant.

The only decent joke that arises from the whole sorry Moving Wallpaper affair is that on ITV’s shoddy website the programme is listed in the drama section. Make of that what you will. As the episode drew to a wearisome close on what I assume was supposed to be a sight gag that proved to be the least bit amusing, and wondering how many Germans Clint Eastwood would have mown down or blown up by now if I had stuck to my original plan, I flipped over to BBC1 and the Lee Mack vehicle Not Going Out.

The situation of two mismatched people sharing a flat is quite a familiar sitcom staple, but what the show has going for it is the witty repartee that fills it with more funny jokes per minute than any other sitcom currently on the box. I suppose by today’s standards, that’s rather groundbreaking. The fact that Not Going Out doesn’t have some kind of vaguely high concept attached actually works in its favour, especially compared to the appallingly lame first episode of No Heroics that served up the idea of superheroes in their downtime and then did nothing remotely funny with it.

Primarily based in an apartment set, when Not Going Out first appeared a few years back it initially struck me as an English take on Seinfeld, which is certainly no bad thing. It’s certainly better to draw on that than something far lower down the sitcom food chain. So what made Not Going Out succeed for me was that it doesn’t make me want to reach for the Seinfeld DVDs as an alternative. On the other hand Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon, which, though funny, can sometimes get quite laboured in places, usually has me digging out the first or second season of Curb Your Enthusiasm to watch in its stead.

After that it was straight over to Channel 4 for Free Agents. There are no obvious gags and of the two central characters one is still mourning the premature death of her fiancée while the other, separated from his family, is teetering on the edge of clinical depression, yet the show really is funny as fuck. If you don’t find the trails of Sharon Horgan and Stephen Mangan’s Helen Ryan and Alex Taylor remotely amusing there’s always Anthony Head’s turn as the sex-obsessed boss of the agency CMA, Stephen Caudwell.

There’s no real reason for the sitcom to be set in a talent agency other than it allows Caudwell to be spectacularly reprehensible in an environment that allows for that kind of behaviour. Surely this is what Jonathan Pope should have been more like if only he and the writers had actually grown some goddamned balls? Though, as bad language goes, even Caudwell is surpassed by Matthew Holness’ straight-to-the-point agent Dan Mackey whose first language is clearly Tourette's.

Perhaps the best thing about Free Agents is that three episodes in it’s obvious the sitcom hasn’t gone for the easy opportunity of drafting in various entertainment types to make cameo appearances. While Extras learnt from The Larry Sanders Show, understanding that the only way to do this well was have them play extreme and unpleasant versions of their public personas, in it’s first year Moving Wallpaper simply roped actors in to simply play themselves, resulting in stilted, uncomfortable performances.

This time around they have plumbed the depths with Kelly Brook starring in Pope’s stupid zombie drama. Not exactly known for her acting talent, the only reason I could see for the poor girl’s appearance would be if she was passed around amongst the writers, each of them wearing her like a feedbag.