The near-forgotten glory of the Hitman and Her

Back in the days of the late 80’s and early 90’s the idea of late night television was still fresh but TV companies weren’t too clued up on what to schedule so ITV in particular would be a Russian Roulette of anything remotely watchable to anyone. Of course the people most likely to be watching telly at 2am were either the unemployed or people staggering back from clubbing.

Which leads me nicely into one of ITV’s stalwart bits of programming in their Golden Age of late night telly (1987-1993), The Hitman and Her. The ”Hitman” was Pete Waterman, then riding incredible levels of success from his PWR record label who released works from the likes of Kylie Minogue. The ‘Her’ was Michaela Strachan, a TV presenter now best known for her work on the BBC’s wildlife programming bu from 1988 to 1992 could be seen each week standing near Darren from Mansfield as he spilled Fosters down his new chinos as he drunkenly tried to dance at clubs like the Ritzy in Nottingham.

Or the horror that was the Black Orchid.

Or yet another Ritzy, this time in Leeds.

Or astonishingly at Manchester’s famous Hacienda.

Or at any dodgy club where people would drunkenly attempt to pull, sort themselves out a knee-trembler down an alley before staggering home with a kebab and a fungal infection as you collapse on your sofa just as Darren from Mansfield is seen dancing in the backed trying not to look at Strachan’s arse. The Hitman and Her acted as a mirror upon people’s lives at a time when clubs were trying to still be neon-clad hellholes that attracted your average lad and lass, as well as the new, alternative rave scene with both often colliding onscreen in all the messy glory you’d expect.

Late night telly in 2017 is a depressing mess of quiz shows designed to rip the drunk/stupid/desperate or repeats with signing because programmers think the deaf never sleep. The Hitman and Her is a reminder of a simpler age when youth culture wasn’t so cynical and late night telly could throw up simple joys such as this. The past really is another country, and revisiting these grainy YouTube videos while sober brings back the days of staggering home, sticking the telly on and falling asleep laughing at Waterman and Strachan’s ludicrous antics. But Waterman may be many things but he loved and knew his music, even rave, and Strachan was just fun but we’ll never see anything like this on TV ever again and that’s a pity.

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What I thought of Star Trek: Discovery

The new Star Trek series, Discovery, has two shiny new episodes on Netflix and it really is interesting viewing purely for the fact it tries to do something different with the concept while at the same time ticking off as many boxes you’d expect from a Star Trek series as you can imagine in around 90 minutes.

Sonequa Martin-Green stars as Michael Burnham, the first officer of the USS Shenzhou, a starship commanded by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou.

Martin-Green plays Yeoh’s first officer and this shift in focus from the captain to a member of the crew pays off right away in that Star Trek: Discovery feels different. We’re not having a story told through the eyes of a captain, but rather a first officer, and one that is related to the original series Mr Spock.  So from the start everything is familiar but slightly new, fresher and it feels better rather than just go through the motions which considering the jaw-dropping amount of executive producers on the programme it’s a wonder the show actually got made in the first place.

Thankfully the names of Nicholas Meyer (director of Star Trek’s best two films, The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country) and Brian Fuller (ex of Hannibal) show there isn’t just someone who gets what Star Trek should be, but someone who gets how to make a series work.

The plot revolves round the Klingons coming back after a century as T’Kuvma (a sort of Klingon ultra-nationalist like Nigel Farage but with a Mars bar stuck on his head) hopes to reunite all the houses of the Klingon Empire to take the fight to the Federation to stop them for corrupting the purity of the Klingon race. Very topical and done surprisingly well as we see the Federation at first avoid conflict before being dragged into battle but only reluctantly.

In the middle of this Martin-Green holds the thing together from just being another Generic Space Adventure, which at times this does creep into being. She manages to convey enough conflict between what’s best for her crew and how that contradicts Starfleet’s ethics well, and it’s that conflict that drives these first two episodes. Backed up by a strong performance from Yeoh and some nice supporting performances, these opening episodes establish the world we’re in and the central character. Having the Klingons as the central antagonist keeps that sense of familarity too, though I’m not keen on the redesign at all.

There are flaws. Apart from the main two characters everyone else barring Doug Jones’s lanky alien is a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out so when people start dying there’s little emotional attachment to them, and for a programme named after a starship, the Discovery doesn’t actually show up in these episodes then again the basic design is an abandoned one for a Star Trek film from 40 years ago. Neither does Jason Isaacs who makes anything better by just being in it.

Overall this is a nice start. Dark enough to keep a section of fans happy while still being positive enough to be called Star Trek. How it develops remains to be seen but all those folk hating on this because it had a female lead, or there’s a gay relationship (this is in future episodes I assume) are just the sort of people who don’t get that Star Trek is supposed to be an inclusive vision of the future. These people are essentially like the racist Klingon zealots in these episodes. Anyhow,this is good stuff and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Crisis on Earth X

DC’s Arrowverse television universe is vastly more entertaining and fun than the tiresome films (though Wonder Woman is actually a sign someone gets the idea of ‘entertainment’) with The Flash being my favourite as it manages to capture the character perfectly. There’s now four series, Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. In November all four will be crossing over in a storyline called ‘Crisis on Earth X’, which is accompanied with this great Phil Jimenez poster.

Based upon the cover of JLA #207, this is a cracking wee bit of nostalgic fun.

The various TV series are doing a fine job of bringing a more comic-book based ideas and translating that for television, but this homage is something that cheers me up vastly. IT just looks so right

 

In celebration of Harry Dean Stanton

Harry Dean Stanton has passed away, and the acting world is a little bit lesser for it. Stanton was in my mind one of the finest actors of the last 50 years, and not as the BBC would have it, a ‘cult actor’. In fact it’s only when you look at his C.V. that you realise the man didn’t stop working for six decades so you can’t call someone who appeared in huge mainstream films and on massively popular TV series as a ‘cult’ actor. He was an actor who didn’t look like a leading man, but instead looked like ‘normal people’ and this was his attraction in a medium where people look extraordinary.

Like most people of my age I first noticed him in Alien. where he enjoys a great death scene.

Imagine Alien though without Stanton (or indeed any of the cast) and with traditional Hollywood actors and it wouldn’t work as well. In fact you only need to look at Alien: Covenant to see what that looks like. However as my education into film progressed it wasn’t hard to see Stanton seemingly everywhere from the glorious Cool Hand Luke to what’s still one of my favourite WW2 films, Kelly’s Heroes.

It is safe to say though that after Alien, Stanton became a higher profile actor and during the 1980’s carved himself a niche playing roles in some of the best (and in some cases vastly underrated) films of the decade. From The Rose, to Escape From New York, Stanton would appear in crucial roles but three films he appeared in during the 80’s also happen to be in my mind three of the best films ever made.

Death Watch is a SF film shot in a Glasgow still blacked by the industrial revolution and still dragging itself into the 20th century. It’s a fantastic backdrop for a story that seems prescient as reality TV vomited into the world a few decades later.

Repo Man is one of the few films that hits a perfect Punk attitude. The film shares some of its DNA with the comic Love and Rockets, and is wonderfully seedy in a way we never seem to get in film anymore.

Paris, Texas is one of the best films ever made.Stanton makes the film soar with one of the best openings you’ll ever see in a film.

In 1990 Stanton and director David Lynch finally linked up with Wild at Heart, then a few years later with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

He later worked with Lynch in a small, but crucial role in The Straight Story and Inland Empire, while seemingly never stopping working in films good, bad and just plain bloody awful or popping up in cameos in mega-blockbusters like The Avengers.

A few weeks ago the Twin Peaks return finished on a high with Stanton returning playing the same role as he did in Fire Walk With Me 25 years ago.

I could list more and more, but Harry Dean Stanton had a career like no other and will never be replaced because he’s a one-off who leaves us an amazing body of work. He’ll be missed.

Twin Peaks explained?

Over a week since Twin Peaks finished and people are still trying to make sense of it. Even I’ve tried to garble some sort of theory that I’ve pulled out of my arse, but two theories stand out with one providing some hints and the other being the best explanation I’ve read so far as to just what on earth Twin Peaks was about.

This long, and fascinating theory by David Auerbach is essential reading for fans, and indeed any viewers of the programme as it is without doubt the clearest, most convincing theory out there. Revealing the series has a symmetrical structure isn’t a massive revelation, but a lot of what Auerbach theorises isn’t just convincing, it seems too good not to dismiss as what Twin Peaks was about.

Next is this video that shows that the 2017 series isn’t just wrapped round the original series, but something on the road map to where we got to at the quite chilling ending.

I love the fact that we’ll be talking about this for years, even decades because Lynch never reveals what his films are about so we’ll have to rely upon people to come up with their own interpretations and so far, these two are ahead of everyone else.

Trying to understand the Twin Peaks finale

The return of Twin Peaks came to a conclusion this week and to say people are polarised is, well, a massive fucking understatement. Trawl the internet and you’ll find people praising it or decrying it in around equal numbers, but the agreement is that nobody actually knows what the series actually meant, but watching the final two episodes something clicked in my brain: A DC Comics series from 1985 has a hint as to how to understand what David Lynch and Mark Frost have done here.

From here on in lies spoilers. Be warned.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was a DC Comics mini-series designed to tidy up DC’s convoluted continuity that had built up over the decades, and to destroy all the multiple Earths into one. Central at the core is the idea of parallel Earths separated only by ”vibrational frequency”. These different realities all had an Earth where something is different, or history developed differently, or even history moved at a slower, or faster, rate than ‘our’ Earth. Basically the idea of parallel worlds is a tried and familiar concept in science fiction and Lynch and Frost are playing with these concepts so remember that what we’re seeing is a story being told. Sounds obvious but there’s a point where certain characters in season three become aware they’re in a story and I’ll get to that point in a minute.

In the Twin Peaks finale, Dale Cooper travelled back in time to the point where Laura Palmer was murdered and stopped it and in doing so created a parallel world where Laura never died.

Cooper creates a doppleganger Earth by his actions and remember, we’ve been told all series this is about doubles and duplicates, and not just that. From the opening shot it becomes clear we’re watching something that isn’t just not in chronological order, as this scene could easily slot into any of the final two episodes.

The series has always played with dopplegangers and played scenes that could be from any time in the character’s lives.

However the opening scene of season three sets out the road map. Whether one can interpret it to give us a clear road map is a matter of some debate, but the story of the finale shows Cooper saving Laura Palmer ensuring she’s never murdered and everything that comes after that event changes.

But ‘Judy’ is still around even though BOB is destroyed so Cooper’s job isn’t over so he and Diane travel to another world where they become Richard and Linda. Cooper changes to become a strange hybrid of himself, Dark Coop and Dougie Jones even though he’s still doing his mission which is to find Laura, something he eventually does except she’s not Laura, she’s ‘Carrie Page’, but even in this reality she’s corrupted (Laura was created in Episode 8 to be the opposite of BOB) by violence but she’s still alive.

By the time we get to the final shot it’s clear the evil of ‘Judy’ can never be escaped as ‘Carrie Page’ remembers who she is and what was done to her.

The reality Cooper and ‘Carrie’ are in could well be ours, or it could be a dream within a dream as alternate realities open up where Laura is brutally murdered, only to be saved by Cooper who is then thwarted by the ultimate evil, ‘Judy’ in an never ending cycle of evil defeating good as they move from one Earth through the frequencies forever. Cooper can never win. Laura will always die. Evil will always win but good (in the shape of Cooper) will always fight it.  The End.

Of course this is one theory and anyone with half a brain can work out a way for this to carry into a season 4, but if Lynch and Frost want to end on a grim, scary but oddly positive note (good will never give up fighting) then this is it. If they want to carry on there’s enough for them to come back and carry on telling their story, but part of me would like it to end now with the mysteries (and there’s enough to fill dozens of blogs) continued. Twin Peaks season 3 is a unique piece of television that challenged the very act of watching television and as such making more of it challenges the point of it so I’d like it to end with all these loose threads dangling forever.

Avoiding Twin Peaks spoilers…

The return of Twin Peaks has been a disturbing joy and the last two episodes are broadcast tonight in the US, which means a day tomorrow of avoiding spoilers before being able to sit down in the evening and soak in two hours of whatever David Lynch has in store for us. It can’t however beat this moment from Episode 16 can it?

Or realising that he’d turned David Bowie’s character into someone/thing floating in a tin can.

Then there’s Episode 8 which is the single greatest bit of telly in the 21st century.

Or the music which has been superb.

And how Lynch and writing partner Mark Frost have strung together the original series, the film, Fire Walk With Me, and strung them all together  for an 18 hour film that may, or may not, come to a satisfying end, assuming of course it does end. There’s no guarantee it will end or even whether it’ll come back if it doesn’t.

But whatever, this has been extraordinary telly at a time when that phrase is overused. What Lynch has done is challenge the viewer to actually watch what’s going on and if they don’t get it, I don’t think he gives a single fuck and in an age where the audience is spoon fed answers, and people demand art is exactly as they want Twin Peaks has been a fantastic surprise.

Now there’s only two hours of it left and I’m now going to avoid spoilers by avoiding the internet til tomorrow night when I’ll have the chance to finish off something unexpected and glorious…

Silence is golden.